This week’s running – 23rd July to 12th August 2018

andy_yu_finsbury_parkrun

Tourism at Finsbury parkrun with Ian Saunders

Yikes! Almost a month since my last proper post… It’s simply been a case of some weeks with not very much happening and other weeks with too much!

Without further ado, let’s start from the top – the week leading up to the Magor 10k and finishing on the London Summer 10k. A post covering the 13thto the 26thof August to follow shortly…

5k recovery

The preceding weekend had wiped me out, though I still somehow managed to feel really positive on this recovery run. My heart rate came in low to suggest I was not overly worked nor in need of any major recovery…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Enforced recovery

Ha! I spoke too soon, didn’t I? The following day, I felt rough like I had developed the early signs of a cold. My heart rate was elevated and I couldn’t stop snivelling; I also seemed more sensitive to fluctuations in temperature.

Deciding that the then upcoming Magor 10k at the weekend was the priority, I took four whole days off from running – something practically unheard of for me apart from when injured, ill or recovering after a marathon. In fact, it probably was just after the 2017 Yorkshire Marathon when I last took a similar amount of time off from running.

The break did the trick, and just in a nick of time. Truth be told, the several days off from running were quite welcome from the effort of running in the warmth!

Magor 10k 2018 review

Click here for the full write-up on the 2018 Magor 10k.

5k recovery

This was so long ago, I can’t remember if there was anything of note!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles with 3 at marathon pace-ish

This was incredibly challenging and did little to boost my morale. Not only was I running constantly into strong winds, but my Garmin also decided to flake out on me, suffering greatly from GPS interference from almost every tunnel I went through, whether short or long.

I should have just made this a fartlek session!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile run-commute

This run was a little shorter than normal because my beloved run-commute bag needed picking up from a tailor, who replaced a worn zip for me. Very much a case of make-do-and-mend – the replacement zip and labour came to £22, whereas an entirely new bag would have set me back at least £60! And before anybody asks, I couldn’t get it replaced as a warranty job because the bag itself is almost three years old…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

I could tell within minutes of starting that this would be a run of attrition. The humidity was really something and, for me, the least favourable weather condition. It’s just doubly-draining to run in humidity, where I’m losing sweat from trying to cool down, but not actually cooling down at all due to the sweat having nowhere to evaporate to!

I was wiped out upon finishing and quite glad that I didn’t have a looming marathon to train for.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The parkrun Running Challenges Google Chrome extension

andy_yu_parkrun_challenges

Running Challenges extension – available for Google Chrome and Firefox browsers

Fairly recently, a parkrun Running Challenges extension for the popular Google Chrome web browser (and even more recently, Firefox) was launched.

I realise that the above heading may make little to no sense for many, so allow me to elaborate.

What’s an extension?

An add-on, of sorts. They provide additional functionality not natively available in the Google Chrome browser.

What are the “Running Challenges”?

In parkrun parlance, there are some phrases and terms that frequently crop up from time to time. Terms such as Groundhog Day (two identical times, achieved consecutively), Stopwatch Bingo (every second, from :00 to :59 achieved), Regionnaire (all events in a region visited), so on and so forth. These are unofficial challenges that make parkrun even more fun than usual – kinda like sprinkles on ice-cream.

These challenges existed long before the existence of the extension, but what the extension does is handily do all the tallying and cross-referencing for you! For example, I had no idea I had :01 in the Stopwatch Bingo challenge elusively preventing me from completing the challenge!

The extension also provides fascinating statistics, such as furthest event visited from your home event, closest event yet to be visited, and more.

I’ve since been poring over the additional detail afforded. If you do choose to install, be prepared to waste a lot of time – you have been warned!

Coventry parkrun

With Cannon Hill parkrun temporarily utilising their alternative trail course on Holders Lane, I opted to take the opportunity to head away for a spot of tourism. I’ve nothing against trail courses, and actually quite enjoy them from time to time, though I had little desire to venture on to this route based on local feedback from various friends. With the above said Running Challenges extension in place, it was brought to my attention that Coventry parkrun was the nearest event that I’d yet to visit; the deal was done, for I had originally eyed up Cannock Chase parkrun.

Situated in Coventry’s War Memorial Park, it took me some 40 minutes to drive there from Kings Heath, even on a quiet Saturday morning. Parking was plentiful and free, courtesy of the neighbouring Park & Ride site that borders the southernmost section of the route.

Size-wise, the park felt pretty vast and you’d have little idea you were in Coventry, based on the lack of visible surroundings. The start and meeting area are situated next to the War Memorial monument, which aren’t difficult to miss.

Embarking on my warm-up, I could feel the undulations that a number of my peers had warned me about from their own racing experiences within the park. I was pretty tired from my spate of summer training and racing, and there were noticeable gusts of wind that struck – trying to stay under 20 minutes was the goal for the morning. The toilets at the café weren’t open before 09:00, and the additional toilets that were open beforehand couldn’t be found…

The War Memorial monument casts an impressive presence over the pre-run briefing. Looking around me, the crowd in attendance was as diverse as Cannon Hill’s, with a similar total number. There are few neighbouring events that take place on exclusively paved paths, so Coventry parkrun largely suffers from the same situation Cannon Hill parkrun finds itself in. Kenilworth Running Club fielded much of the volunteers for that morning, also taking the opportunity to promote their upcoming half marathon.

The start line funnel felt very similar to Cannon Hill, where I slotted myself in on the second row to allow those that knew the route to lead the way.

The start was frantic, with a horde of Kenilworth runners charging off. I chose to hang back and cruise at sub-20 pace to see who would drift into contact with me, hoping to use them for drafting assistance on that blustery, sunny and humid morning. As luck would have it, a Coventry Triathlete running a steady pace came into view, allowing me to lazily drop into place within his slipstream.

The two lap course takes in more than the southern half of the park, entirely on undulating paved paths. On tired legs, I found this deceptively challenging and upon reviewing the elevation profile after the fact, very little of the course takes place on truly flat ground.

Out volunteering was an older gent, who had racked up 200 volunteer stints at the event to much applause. Marshalling around 2/3 of the way into the lap, he wore a large comedy foam hand to receive many high-fives from passing runners. I laid one on him and thanked him, though quickly realised that the foam hand had probably never been washed… Yuck! Thankfully, I later found out that it only debuted that morning and had never been seen before.

Entering the second lap, the wind and humidity were getting to me and other runners. The Coventry Triathlete backed off the pace and I had to fend for myself. When it wasn’t windy, the course climbed and when the course descended, the wind struck! The second time around, I was able to better capitalise on the long downhill stretch to put me back in touch with two runners further ahead in the field that I’d wanted to latch on to. Pace-wise, I was doing fine and would comfortably finish in fewer than 20 minutes.

With around 800m remaining, I opted to speed up and finish strong and overtook several flagging runners. With around 200m remaining, I kicked once more, only to narrowly avoid calamity when another finishing runner drifted into my path whilst chasing a better racing line; I warned him of my presence, to which he was incredibly apologetic and drew side-by-side with me. With just 100m to go, he verbally challenged me to a sprint; I accepted and the duel was on! Whilst I had the initial lead, he was better placed to take advantage of the rapidly approach narrow funnel and had a little more in reserve as he hadn’t kicked from 200m out, beating me to the line by less than a second.

We finished in 19:42 and 19:43, respectively, and he was definitely the better runner with an 18:32 course best to his name. Adding to that, I measured the course long by almost 70m to officially be the longest parkrun I’d ever participated in to make that 18:32 even more impressive.

Speaking with Sam and a few of the locals afterwards, they agreed that the course is more challenging than it first appears, though commented that a reverse version of the course was utilised in the event’s earlier days, which was perceived to be slightly easier.

It was nice to have visited, and I’m sure I would probably visit again if I lived closer.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Brindley Place and back

Sadly, it’s been so long since completing this run that I don’t remember anything from it, apart from the warmth and humidity!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Another break from running

I had a week away from work to take care of some DIY projects around the home, followed by several days in London with Lis.

Due to the aches from said DIY projects, I had no appetite to head out even for easy runs. In total, I abstained from running for a whole five days, beating the previous fortnight’s four!

Finsbury parkrun

With four days in London, including a Saturday, I had my pick of the litter in terms of events to visit. There are some handy write-ups online of people that have attained Regionnaire status (Lon-Done), helping me to narrow down my choices.

Having already visited Bushy and Fulham Palace parkruns in 2015, the logical choices were events closest to our King’s Cross-based hotel: Highbury Fields, Mile End and Finsbury. Highbury Fields was the closest by around 800m and has the reasonably unique honour of featuring 5x laps. Mile End was the furthest away, again by only a negligible difference, and featured a section on canal towpath. Finsbury parkrun was the closest to what a traditional parkrun would be considered, i.e. taking place within a park. I settled on Finsbury parkrun, which was also a doddle to get to by Tube, being only a single station away on the Victoria Line from King’s Cross. I invited my fellow 2017 Yorkshire Marathoner buddy, Ian Saunders, along for the jaunt for a catch-up, to which he accepted.

Arriving at the park, very vague memories of a former visit to the Fleadh Festival in the early 00s came back to me. My embarrassing music fascination – The Corrs – headlined the event and also played some unreleased songs from their then upcoming album, so I couldn’t resist…

The contrast between then and the now was very much like night and day – the park was largely unrecognisable without the thousands in attendance and all the stages and facilities erected. A friendly local on a bike behind me stopped to ask if I was a parkrun tourist. Stood there in my 250 Club t-shirt (its debut outing), we got talking and she very kindly pointed out the start and meeting point, along with a brief description of the course. Before parting ways, I asked her if it was that obvious I was a tourist that morning. She laughed and explained her reasoning to me: it was only 08:20 and I was very early (she actually had an errand to run before running) and she didn’t recognise me, aided by the fact that there are very few 250 Club member regulars at Finsbury parkrun. London gets a bad reputation for being cold and uncaring, but I’ve found all of my London parkrun encounters to be the complete opposite!

Warm-up completed, my assessment was similar to that of Coventry parkrun: undulations and plenty of them!

Before long, Ian appeared. It was great to see him again after the Yorkshire Marathon, where he’s only gone from strength to strength to smash the 3 hour barrier with a near sub-2:50 finish at Edinburgh, and a 1:20 at the London Big Half. If you want to really know somebody, you run a marathon with them and see how they conduct themselves – Ian was the perfect race companion that day in October 2017 and, needless to say, we’ve kept in contact since.

He was nursing an Achilles injury, brought on by a challenge to cover at least 5km every day for a year. I had the London Summer 10k the following day, so only wanted an easy run to reacquaint myself with running after five days without.

Interestingly, like the time I visited Bushy parkrun, Finsbury parkrun assembles everybody in the start funnel and then begins their pre-run briefing. Finsbury parkrun has the unusual feature of a closed to traffic road inside the park, much like you’d find in New York’s Central Park, enabling runners to not be in anybody’s way.

Ian and I were those annoying guys, chatting away at 4:50 per km pace and taking it easy whilst those around us were huffing and puffing in their own challenges. Even with a warm-up under my belt, the undulating course took some getting accustomed to. Paths frequently narrowed and widened, though it mattered not as neither of us chased a time on the two lap course. It was a beautiful morning for running in London, if a touch humid. A vest would have been preferable to the 250 Club t-shirt.

Facilities on our tour of Finsbury Park were impressive, with a 400m athletics track and small accompanying stadium also on view.

Towards the end of lap 1 was a ghastly climb before the course flattened out on its way into the second lap. Continuing with our discussion, I noticed one chap who had largely remained with us since the start and assumed he was using us for pacing, due to remaining fairly stable.

Nearing the finish, Ian had suitably loosened up and decided to kick for the remaining few hundred metres whilst I continued to sit steady. We finished in 23:20 and 24:07, in positions 94 and 112 out of 332, respectively. As you can see, not a huge turnout for a London event, of which they are plentiful. Impressively, a youngster ran 15:55 on the undulating course that very morning to leave both Ian and I wincing in awe.

We stuck around for a coffee afterwards in the café, though there were few who did the same. I was curious to get Ian’s take on his 2:50 marathon and 1:20 half marathon, and whether he had the desire to take them even further. The response was much like my own, where the additional work required does not always measure up against the outcome and we both ultimately concluded may not be worth it.

Travelling back on the Tube, we both bid each other farewell until the next time a race brought us back together.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

London Summer 10k 2018 review

For the full write-up of this race, please click here.

Advertisements

London Summer 10k 2018 review

london_summer_10k

Big bling from the Big Smoke

My only race to date in London that isn’t the London Marathon! And like both London Marathons, this was anything but easy…

Pre-race

Lis and I were due to be in London for a couple of days and her suggestion was that I look up a race. London, much like New York, seems to have no shortage of races at most weekends; I counted at least 3x events within central London, and a total of 4x if I was willing to travel within the M25 for when I was in town. Originally, I declined and instead wanted to re-focus on September’s Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon, but after feeling like there was some unfinished business after the Magor 10k, my mind was changed and I duly entered the London Summer 10k.

The race wasn’t cheap – coming in at £20. A similar event outside of London would likely cost £12 to £15. Taking place exclusively within Regent’s Park, it’s not like there were any road closures to drive the cost up, though I guess there were probably planning fees involved that went to the park, and some of the proceeds going to charity, so I mustn’t grumble too much.

Race prep wasn’t great. I hadn’t run for five whole days, with just Finsbury parkrun the day before to reawaken my legs. Why so long between runs? I was busy decorating the nursery for mine and Lis’ new arrival due in October. I simply had no energy or appetite for running after spending Monday to Wednesday on various home improvements; throw in three days of London sightseeing from Thursday to Saturday, along with a late night on the latter, and I was tired before I’d even raced a step!

Race morning was not kind to me, either. With all the showers that had struck in the days prior, London had become incredibly humid. Throw in some persistent gusts of wind for further salt rubbed into wounds. Warming up, I knew I was probably going to be in for a tough time, given how sweaty my t-shirt was after only 15 to 16 minutes of low intensity jogging. Covering a portion of the 3x lap course, the ground underfoot was very well maintained as one would assume for a royal park; the paths did undulate slightly more than I’d hoped for, though not enough to be a major concern before the main event.

Looking around at my fellow participants, I tried to identify those who I would likely be competing against. There were just a few who looked swift and a top 10, maybe even a top 5, finish position looked likely. Earlier that morning, I said to Lis in passing that I wouldn’t recognise anybody at the race – well, I spoke too soon… A club runner in blue and white caught my eye and I paused to consider why he looked familiar. My lightbulb moment arrived – I recognised him as the Royal Sutton Coldfield club runner from the Walsall Arboretum parkrun I attended back in June. From memory, he had good 5k and 10k PBs to his name. Speaking with Mark, and like me, he was in London for the weekend with his girlfriend (and Aldridge club runner), and both of them were due to race, though an administrative error meant only he would actually be running. We both admitted we weren’t particularly keen that morning, but had both paid up so it would be a waste not to.

Stood on the start line, there was reluctance from everybody to come forward. The race director asked if any of us had covered the route before, paying particular attention to both Mark and I. We both declared ourselves as first-timers, though it transpired that one of the sharper looking runners stood behind us had in fact run 36 minutes on the course before. I ushered him to move forward and not be shy, for the risk of everybody else following somebody unfamiliar with the route was rather high!

The race

Off the line, I probably got a little carried away along with my peers. Not helping were the several hundred metres of flat that gently sloped downwards towards the first turning. I felt pretty reasonable, though quickly found myself in no-man’s land and fifth place. Helpfully, Mark was pretty tall and his Sutton Coldfield club colours were a nice contrast to the grey and green surroundings of the park, so I was always able to spot him as he edged away into the distance. I was on PB pace, though it soon became apparent that the wind had further picked up since my warm-up, and the race was not going to come to me without a fight. 1km came in at 3:47.

Early into the second km, two runners from behind overtook me to then sit steady some 50m ahead – why they couldn’t sit steady closer in front of me, I didn’t know! The second km gently undulated upwards and I became quite exposed to the harsh gusts of wind that blew. There was some respite, for there was a brief stretch of around 200m where the wind was not felt at all – lucky me, because that equated to around 600m out of 10,000m for the entire race… 2km came in at 4:00.

The last time I was in Regent’s Park, I was probably only six or seven years of age, based on a photo of me, sat on one of the benches overlooking the neighbouring London Zoo. During 3km, I ended up running past said bench, with the giraffe exhibit on my right for one of the more exciting sightings within a race. This stretch was quite cluttered with visitors to the park; a 10:30 start meant the park was suitably teeming, and much like parkrun, the organisers stressed that race participants did not have right-of-way on the paths. I ended up going off-course on to grass a few times, simply because it was easier than bellowing a warning, only for it to fall on deaf ears… 3km came in at 3:57 and almost brought me back to the start point for the end of the first lap.

Lis had set up camp on one of the benches close to the start line, affording good views of the race. Being a three lap course, this also meant I passed the water station twice – most welcome on such a humid morning. Passing a volunteer, I successfully received a cup from her to much cheering, which I can only assume stemmed from the six guys before me each fumbling the pass. The refreshment from the water did the trick and got me back up to speed to see 4km coming in for 3:53.

Nearing halfway, one of the pair that overtook me earlier began drifting backwards. I took my foot off the gas to draft in his slipstream for a few moments of recovery from the wind that seemed to near-constantly seek me out in the vast park. I sensed him slowing further and my Garmin confirmed as much; I regained the lead and told him to take a break in my slipstream in the hope that he would listen and stick it out with me. Before long, he’d dropped right off to leave me on my own once more. 5km came in at 4:09 and halfway for 19:49. Even if I was to finish in under 40 minutes, I knew I had some work cut out ahead of me…

I began encountering lapped runners on the course, making for a welcome distraction from the monotony of largely running alone; combine this with the brief spell in the park without wind and I was in bliss. Sadly, the pace rot continued and 4:06 marked the growing difficulty of a sub-40 finish.

The humidity was hellish and had grown to be my most despised weather condition of the summer. Returning to the start point for the end of lap two and the beginning of lap three, I seriously considered dropping out. Continuing at such a pace was not going to cool me down any faster and motivation had receded to an all-time low. I almost came a cropper at the water station, where the first cup was crushed when the volunteer’s hand and mine were too firm and collided. Thankfully, I was able to quickly grab another cup from the second volunteer. I dread not think about how the final lap would have gone without those precious few sips! My pace perked up a touch for 3:58 for 7km.

On tired legs and with little appetite to keep pushing, what I really could have done without was the wind continuing to slam into me. Earlier that morning, I had hoped that my Nike Vaporfly 4% would give me that little something that I needed, or at least make up for any shortfall. Sadly, even with the well-maintained paths of a royal park, I still wasn’t able to tap into the shoes’ sweet spot and I did wonder whether a lower profile shoe would have produced a different outcome that morning? 8km was my slowest split of the race for 4:17.

More and more lapped runners appeared on the course. I was thankful that my race would at least be over with in fewer than 9 minutes, whereas everybody else had more than a lap remaining. Nearing the beginning of the wind-free stretch, I saw the runner that had a prior 36 minute run to his name on his way to the final km; judging from our relative positions, he would comfortably finish in fewer than 37 minutes. I managed to capitalise on the momentary lack of wind for a 4:10 9th km.

With just a single km remaining, I was around 25 seconds shy of a sub-40 finish, and that was assuming that the course finished precisely on 10km. Nonetheless, I opted to go for broke and kicked on with what was left in the tank. My lack of recovery and the humidity of the morning saw my heart rate continue to climb into the high 190s, with my maximum at around 202bpm. Like before, the path was cluttered with fellow runners and park users, forcing me to think nimbly and choose my line and position wisely for fear of being blocked in. Strangely, I could hear footsteps with a quick cadence coming up behind me. There was nobody within striking distance of me for practically the entire race – had I slowed that much to allow them to sneak up on me? Reaching the final corner, the volunteer encouraged me to kick on and to try and beat the other guy to the line. Looking over my shoulder as I turned, I could see somebody in jogging bottoms closing in on me incredibly quickly. How was he running at such a pace in jogging bottoms in such warmth and humidity?! I kicked as hard as I could for the line, besting him by just a few seconds, only to realise he wasn’t in the race at all as he had no bib, detouring away from the finish to leave the park. Why he wanted to race me, I’ve no idea!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

As disappointingly expected, I only managed 40:17 for sixth place out of some 200 participants. I quickly got over it and runbritain was even kind enough to calculate the race as having a 2.4 course condition score, which is quite high when 1.0 is considered as average conditions.

I was in agony from the effort and pulled myself out of the finish funnel so as not to get in the way of others, though this was unnecessary as the next guy along was almost a minute behind me. Catching up with Mark, he shared many of my own thoughts and we both concluded the race was not worth the effort that morning. This is no slight on the race itself – just that we were unable to capitalise on the event in any meaningful way. As numerous people have said since, I will at least have taken the training effect away with me as consolation.

Lis and I high-tailed it out of there to be back in time to check out of our hotel, marking the end of an exhausting trip to the Big Smoke.

 

 

 

 

Magor 10k 2018 review

magor_10k_2018_andy_yu_01

All aboard the pain train! Photo by Robert Gale

Between this and its sister-race – The Gwent Race for Wildlife – this course is now my most frequented race.

For previous races, please click the following:

Pre-race

I had reasonable confidence of a PB opportunity going into this event. Only in 2017 did I fail to bag a PB, due to focusing my efforts on marathon training and acknowledging I’d lost too much top-end speed from injury earlier in the year.

If there’s one thing runners will remember from 2018, it will be the weather. We’ll all look back in years to come and ask ourselves whether the snow or the sun robbed us! Going into this race, there was yet another elemental foe I was concerned about it for it wasn’t the sun, but rather the wind… Checking the forecast with great interest in the days beforehand, I watched aghast as the wind speed increased from a challenging 12mph to an all-bets-are-off 19mph! Given how flat the course is, facing a stiff headwind for much of the first half of the race would be akin to slotting in a climb or two, nullifying the otherwise perfect profile.

In the days leading up to race day – a Saturday – I felt like I’d picked up the beginnings of something. I felt drained with no get-up-and-go to me, so I took the decision to sharply taper with no running at all for four whole days. The unscheduled break did me a world of good, for I felt pretty reasonable once again come race morning.

Staring outside the window, all I could see were grey skies, swaying trees and rain to literally put a dampener on things. Over breakfast, I mulled over my race approach of pigheadedly going out at PB pace and hoping for the best, or going out conservatively into the windy first half and trying to claw back some of the damage in the second half with tailwind? The decision was yet to be determined and I decided to wait and consult with Darryll Thomas, who I’d cajoled into attending, for his outlook on conditions.

With Lis and my mother-in-law in tow, we headed over to race HQ, which was once again a church and hence the Saturday race. The weather did not improve, for when Darryll and I went for our warm-up, we were almost brought to a standstill at times from the gusts we faced… I reasoned aiming for under 39 minutes would give me enough wriggle room to either ramp things up or dial things back, covering any eventualities.

Assembling for the start, and almost by divine intervention, the poor conditions eased off dramatically for a break in the wind and rain. On the starter’s orders, we were off into the south Wales countryside.

The race

In those crucial few opening seconds, I opted to be pig-headed and went for it, seeing 3:24 per km flash up on my Garmin from time to time! After a few hundred metres, I scaled things back to PB pace and slotted myself into a small group of similarly paced guys. Just a few metres ahead of me was Darryll, doing the same. The effort was undeniably fast, though still felt just about in control, paving the way for an opening split of 3:46.

A few guys from behind crept past me and I was left with just another chap. Thankfully for me, he had just a touch more strength at his disposal, so I was able to take shelter in his slipstream and allowed him to dictate the pace into the wind. The next group ahead included Darryll, though they were just a little too far from reach to reel in quickly without doing damage to ourselves. My companion agreed with me that we should have taken the opportunity to go with them when the gap was much, much smaller.

Being the no-nonsense kind of race that it is, the only real novelty of the course is its flatness. As such, there wasn’t really much of anything to report on for 2km to 4km, other than the splits coming in at 3:50, 3:53 and 3:54.

Reaching the return at Redwick Village, we felt the full force of the wind and boy was it ghastly! It was at least brief with a water station to take the sting out of a tricky km, coming in at 3:51 and halfway clocking in at 19:15. Hallelujah, for I was still in business! Another 19:15 and a modest PB was all mine!

With a tailwind for some assistance – and you never fully receive back what was taken away by a headwind – the pace began escalating once more. Also helping to pull me along was the guy I spent much of the first half with, though he continued to just marginally creep away and eventually ended up with the remnants of Darryll’s small group before it broke apart. Speaking of Darryll, he found solace behind one of the (tall) guys that scooted past me from much earlier in the race. 6km and 7km were almost identical for 3:47 and 3:48.

I could easily identify the effort was right up there to be 9/10. The sun had come out overhead to further add more stress to the mix. Prior to race day, I was going to have my father-in-law kindly be on standby with a few bottles of water at around 7km for Darryll and me. Based on that morning’s forecast, it was to remain wet and windy, so his services were not needed. The guest appearance from the sun was both welcome and unwanted in equal measure. I was kicking myself for turning down the offered assistance, for some water would have most definitely made the remainder of the race more tolerable.

Approaching the out and back section, I saw second and third place exit just as I entered, with first place having already cleared through. I gave Darryll some encouragement to keep pushing, estimating him to be some 15 seconds ahead of me. Rounding the cone, I prayed that it was in the correct place and not overly wrong in either direction. One iteration of the race in its Race for Wildlife guise back in 2015 was short by almost 200m; I left empty handed that day, despite the certainty that I still would have recorded a PB over an accurate distance. Inevitably, the switchback cost me by a few seconds, due to the turning and the direction change back into the wind. I gave Tony Cover, a Strava buddy and a participant I drafted behind for much of the 2017 race, a high-five to break up some of the monotony. 8km and 9km came in at 3:54 and 3:53, so that break in momentum really did cost me some 10 seconds or so.

With just a km remaining, some mental arithmetic reminded me that I was still just in contention of a PB if I could ramp up the pace, and if the distance was not overly long. 2017 clocked in at almost 70m too long, most likely due to the switchback cone being placed too far out.

magor_10k_2018_andy_yu_02

Will or won’t I PB? Photo by Robert Gale

Alone, I began reeling in those ahead, including Darryll who had slipped from the pace ever so slightly. Anguish was written all over my face as the effort skyrocketed. I willed the right-hand turn to appear for it meant only some 300m remained. Lis and my mother-in-law appeared for some encouragement, shortly before my Garmin beeped with almost 50m remaining. Acknowledging that my finishing kick isn’t quite what it used to be, I thrusted my arms forward and threw my legs behind me as far as they would go for the finish line. It was nerve-wracking stuff!

Post-race

Upon finishing, I let out a few exasperated cries in a bid to ease the momentary suffering. I shook the hand of the guy I drafted behind, who had finished some 10-15 seconds ahead of me. And my own finishing time? 38:35 for a very modest 5 second PB on the DK10K from early May under far more clement conditions. Were the distance closer to 10km on the nose, I’d have likely had 38:15 to 38:20 to my name; Darryll was just 5 seconds shy of a PB, so I mustn’t complain. What I can complain about is the 38:45 I ran in the 2016 race; without such oppressive heat, who knows what I could have run back then…

A warm-up jog with spectators clapping and cheering both Darryll and me on wrapped up a satisfactory morning. I still greatly dislike the 10k distance, where it’s just too far to go out hard and hang on like it’s a 5k, but not going out hard enough also means you can’t approach it like a half marathon that can be eased into.

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2018 review

wythall_hollywood_10k_2018_01

Would 888 bring me luck?

For previous years’ races, please click below:

This was my sixth outing at this race, making it the most attended event from my personal running history.

Pre-race

A common trend in 2018 will be remembered for weather conditions wreaking havoc on race plans. In March, it was snow and freezing temperatures. In June and July, it’s record-breaking warmth. Here’s a little fun-fact for you readers: only 20% of the energy we use in running goes towards motion; the remaining 80% is expended as waste heat. This is obviously welcome in cooler conditions as it’s free central heating, but in warmer conditions, it’s a double-whammy energy cost as we use precious calories to also shift the unwanted heat that we generate from running.

The recent warm Wilmslow Half Marathon left me feeling well conditioned to the heat and I was pretty confident a fresh 10k PB was mine for the taking; after all, this was my PB course from 2016 until only a few months ago! Rather than get greedy and potentially blow-up, I had my sights set on a very modest finish of only 38:30, with a slower first 5k and a faster second 5k to better suit my racing style.

Arriving at race HQ with Lis, Dave and Simon in tow, it was good to see the race in rude health. This was the first iteration with chip timing and by the organisers’ own admission, they’d also outgrown the previous registration room to spread out more widely across the venue. I collected bib number “888”. Ahead of time, the organisers invited people to pick bib numbers of their choice from a certain range; 171 was unavailable to 10k runners, so I went with “888”, which is considered very auspicious in Chinese culture. The logic is the Mandarin or Cantonese pronunciation of “8” sounds like the word to strike it rich. By contrast, “4” is considered very unlucky because it sounds like death. Would the bib bring me luck or only misfortune?

There were many familiar faces dotted around the place as is typical for a race that borders upon several local running club stomping grounds.

Simon and I split from Dave to complete our own warm-up. Whereas I normally like to cover 2 miles before a 5k up to the half marathon, the heat was incredibly noticeable at only 08:30, prompting me to chop it down to just a mile. Staying cool became the new goal!

With chip timing in place, there was no need to pitch up on the start line like in years’ past, but I guess old habits die hard. Huddled together, the air was thick with anticipation or perhaps it was just the humidity?

The race

Even at 09:15, the mercury had already reached 22°C and with nary a cloud in the sky. Off the line, I could already tell I was working harder than I wanted to be. One could almost cut through the air with a knife as it entered my lungs, and my legs were heavy despite a lighter second half to the taper week. Most of my peers hared off into the distance, but as tempting as it was to go with them, self-preservation for the first half was the aim of the game; an average of 3:50 per km was the target to allow for the above said modest 38:30 PB.

Shortly after turning the first corner, everybody almost came to a standstill when a flatbed truck, with what looked like a cement mixer on the back, partially blocked the route and prevented the lead vehicle from going any further! Cries of, “Keep right,” filled the air as we tried our best to nimbly pass the blockade. I spoke with the 5k winner after the event, who ended up making a wrong-turn with no lead vehicle and fewer marshals on hand, many having relocated temporarily to get the flatbed truck cleared off.

The first km came in as expected at 3:51, though it still didn’t feel as easy it should have for the opening split of a 10km, especially when I purposely held back…

The dreaded second km signalled the first of two not-insignificant climbs on the course. This was my opportunity to draw a little closer to the groups that had formed ahead of me, especially as I hugged the racing line of the course, though by consequence ended up running clear of any shade on offer. 4:14 popped out, whereas I’d targeted closer to 4:05; it was at this point that I decided chasing a firm time was no longer sensible in such conditions and I withdrew to largely running by feel.

Over the brow of the hill came the instant relief of the fast downhill stretch all the way to the Phoenix complex. It took a little while, but my legs began turning over more quickly to capitalise on the descent. Even with gravity on my side, I could still only manage to push out a 3:55 split, confirming my thoughts that a scaled back effort would pay dividends in the second half. Average pace hovered at 3:59 per km, so it was still uncertain if I could even break 40 minutes on such a warm morning!

A number of years ago, I was interviewed for runABC Midlands and I waxed lyrical about this particular race. One stand out feature is the gentleman with a hosepipe to cool runners as they pass the Rose Bank Stores & Saddlery premises. “Full blast, please,” were my words as I neared him, to which he kindly obliged to give me a thorough drenching. Ah, bliss! A momentary lapse in concentration from the relief meant I only had enough time to target the final cup of water from the nearby volunteers. Guess what… We both fumbled it! “Shit,” I cursed. Thankfully, a chap behind had grabbed a spare in time and handed it over – my saviour! Down the hatch it all went until the next scheduled water stop within the Phoenix complex.

As I entered the Phoenix premises, exiting was Damian Cartland, giving me a cheer in the process. 4km came in at 3:52, so the pace was finally starting to come to me.

On the approach to halfway, I finally caught Barry Fallon. Without even looking back, he knew it was me. Like a Bond villain, he mused, “I was wondering when I would encounter you, Andy.” It must’ve been my cadence, because Barry wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to recognise me from my pitter-patter footstrike. I told him to focus on reeling the lead woman in (she turned out to be a 5k runner), who remained just 10m or so ahead of us.

A little further on was Lis waiting for me with a par-frozen bottle of water. Whilst in years past, such a bit of assistance was a welcome nice-to-have, this year it became an essential. Cracking the bottle open, I glugged some of the refreshingly cool water down for immediate relief. I offered it to Barry and the others in the vicinity, though there were no takers, so I poured the remnants over myself. Right away, I felt super-charged from the cold water and I was able to power on to halfway, netting a 3:57 km and a 19:51 5k split.

As several runners made their way towards the finish for the end of the 5k race, I veered left for another lap. This was the first time in all the years I’d run this race where I looked longingly at those finishing the 5k in envy – the warmth changed everything. I also found myself running solo, with Barry’s group behind me and Andy Piddington way off into the distance.

Unexpectedly, a sudden rush of strength enveloped me. The effort, in spite of running alone felt manageable. I would even go as far as saying the fifth and sixth km were the most comfortable of the entire race! 6km clocked in for 3:57, remaining steady.

Turning for the climb once more, I steeled myself to graft. Andy Piddington was still ahead, but his margin on me had decreased slightly from before. I repeatedly told myself that each step I could close on him was additional time chipped away to get under 40 minutes, which was still not a guarantee at this point with only 3:58 average pace on my Garmin and the knowledge that the course measured slightly long from past experience. Slowly, I worked my way up to Andy; neither of us had ever met before, but we both knew of each other and shared some pleasantries. 7km came in at 4:06 to be, annoyingly, just a second outside of my 4:05 best. One year, I will get under 4:00 for the exclusively uphill km…

I continued to stick with Andy for some company, hoping that he’d take advantage of the descent and push the pace on. Ahead of us was a pair, clearly working together to drive onwards. Whilst our pace did rise, I wasn’t satisfied it was fast enough so I went it alone and broke off from Andy partway through the split for 3:50.

Passing the man with the hosepipe once again, I made the same request for a full blast once more. Grabbing a cup of water was faultless on the second occasion.

Gradually, I drew closer to the two runners in front of me. Bad timing struck as I wasn’t fast enough to get clear of them before the switchback in the Phoenix complex, and nor did I want to purposely slow to avoid clattering into them. With mere metres remaining and without a single word from me, they both parted for me to run through and be first at the switchback! I thanked them both as I tried my best to navigate around the cone with my Titanic-esque turning circle. There really isn’t an elegant method on this part of the course, due to the narrow path and the lack of anything physical to swing around. 9km came in at 3:45.

wythall_hollywood_10k_2018_02

Hot, hot, hot at the 2018 Wythall Hollywood 10k – photo by Lis Yu

Exiting Phoenix, I knew I had fewer than 4 minutes to tolerate before I could stop. Barry and Dave were on the other side of the road, both receiving cheers from me to keep plugging away. I began encountering lapped runners and a bicycle paramedic who insisted on incessantly getting in my way, just as I wanted to up my tempo. In the distance by no more than 100m was somebody in a white t-shirt, who became my final target to try and pull in; I was reasonably confident I had enough gears to shift up to in my pursuit before running out of road. Lis continued to lend her support, providing a few brief moments of welcome distraction as the effort notched upwards. As I closed in on the finish, I came to the realisation that the guy I tried to chase down had also increased his pace for the gap between us to be frustratingly maintained.

With fewer than 200m remaining, I kicked in the hope he had no response. Whereas he took the wider line around a straggling 5k runner, a small enough gap on the race line remained for me to creep past her in a bid to close the precious few metres. I received a few cheers from the Kings Heath Running club volunteers on hand for a welcome boost. Sadly, this also alerted the runner to how close I was to keep the pressure applied in his kick for the line, beating me to it by just one or two steps!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

Despite this being easily in my top 3 warmest races, I finished feeling not too shabby at all – I guess that’s the result of me capping the first half’s effort. I finished in 17th place with chip time coming to 39:21, which I was pretty pleased with in light of the conditions and how my peers fared. runbritain rewarded me with a handy -0.7 performance based on the 2.2 condition score (1.0 would be considered average conditions for those of you unfamiliar with runbritain’s handicap system).

wythall_hollywood_10k_2018_03

Thankful for no hosepipe ban! Photo by Neil Croxford

I caught up with Damian afterwards, sharing my revised race strategy of basic survival before I sat down in a makeshift shower to cool down.

I’m confident I would have achieved a PB that morning under cooler temperatures, though I’m serene about the outcome. The heat easily cost me by about a minute, so here’s hoping the upcoming flat Magor 10k is much cooler, otherwise that’s it for my spring-summer season.

Depending on how things go, I may be a no-show at the 2019 10th anniversary race due to potentially racing at the Swansea Half Marathon. Without the clash, I’d be there in a heartbeat – it’s such a good event!

Aldridge 10k 2018 review

andy_yu_aldridge_10k_2018

Yes… I forgot my yellow vest… Photo by Lis Yu

Fourth outing over the years at this hilly 10k. Read on to find out how things went.

For the 2013, 2016 and 2017 races, please click below:

Pre-race

The fairly recent DK10K surprised me with its very minor PB; had I have taken the race more seriously and dug in a little deeper earlier on, I’d have likely gone sub-38:30. I did achieve a PB back in 2013 at the Aldridge 10k, and 2016 saw me narrowly miss a PB by only several seconds because my heart wasn’t in it. It all depended on how soft I felt my 38:40 had become post-Shakespeare Half Marathon and Cotswold Hilly 100.

Rocking up with Lis in tow, horror struck as I realised I had somehow left my signature yellow race vest at home! Due to some carelessness, I didn’t pack it into my bag; I warm-up before races in a t-shirt, so it was too late by the time I came to notice. Coincidentally, I was wearing the 2013 Aldridge 10k race t-shirt, so I was at least not out of place… You could argue it’s just a vest and would make little difference, and perhaps there’s some truth to that, but I may as well have been running without racing flats in my mind. Pre-race rituals and familiarity are so important for that mental edge; I simply couldn’t focus, especially as the conditions began hotting up overhead…

There were plenty of familiar faces about, including Simon Rhodes, and Nathan Warren & Ashley Fawke – 20% of the Cannon Hill Crusaders. Simon Bull was also in attendance, taking great pleasure in mocking my temporary lapse in race preparation finesse!

Warmed up, it was now my mind that wasn’t in it. I felt I was at a disadvantage, especially as the warmth continued to escalate and I wasn’t dressed for such conditions. I wear a vest when training in warm conditions, so what would racing in a t-shirt with the sun overhead do to me?

Simon and I assembled on the start line. “Blind” Dave Healey was the morning’s starter, who chose to joke about with the countdown and reminded me of the time Tony Audenshaw pretended to fire a starting hooter, only for all the race participants to expectedly dash off ahead of time…

The race

PB pace equated to 3:51 per km; not impossible if everything worked in my favour, which the morning certainly wasn’t shaping up to be! Whilst the pace came initially due to the start line scramble, it very quickly dissipated within a few hundred metres and I found myself hovering at around 4:00 per km. The pace wasn’t coming to me and I couldn’t figure out why. It’s only on post-race reflection that I realised the route climbed for much of the opening 3km!

Just slightly ahead of me was the lead woman along with a couple of packs that had formed, no doubt in pursuit of a sub-40 finish. In the distance and creeping ever further away from me were Nathan and Ashley, both working together to crush the testing reputation of the race. Oddly, I couldn’t hear anybody immediately behind me to conclude that I brought up the rear of those looking to finish in fewer than 40 minutes… Really not my morning!

Arriving at the first of two significant descents, I was conscious of the need to increase the effort down the hill to make up for damage from elsewhere on the undulating course. I ended up in a small group consisting of a Boldmere Bullets runner and a guy in an aquamarine coloured t-shirt, both remaining close to my pace.

Reaching halfway, I was warm and couldn’t stop looking enviously at those around me running in vests! In fairness, the humidity was reasonable and I could have been a lot worse off whilst racing in a t-shirt. Nonetheless, I had Lis waiting at The Croft with a bottle of cold water for me to throw over myself and to take a few sips from. For the second time in as many weeks after the Shakespeare Half Marathon, this race also provided sponges for runners to cool themselves down with, though I declined once more to take one.

The second downhill section of the course followed, with everybody kicking it up a notch to capitalise on the free speed on offer. The Boldmere Bullets runner took serious advantage of the situation to put around 5m between me and the chap in the green t-shirt. Slowly being reeled in on the horizon was the tall figure of Simon Rhodes – would I be able to catch him, or would I run out of road?

The aggressive downhill running irritated my left foot to result in some tightening of my arch. What else could the race mock me for?

Turning the corner, I very quickly caught up to Simon through a combination of me surging slightly to make contact and him losing pace. I gave him some encouragement to keep plugging away, also recalling that it was the exact same spot where I overtook him a year ago. It appeared neither of us had changed our approaches to the race!

Time-wise, I had around 30 – 40 seconds in the bank to go under 40 minutes, largely dependent on how I tackled the monstrous final climb that lasts for almost a mile. Fortuitously, a runner drifted backwards towards me to sit just inside my slipstream to keep the pressure applied. I tried to break free from him, only for him to creep up behind me each time.

In spite of having run the course several times over the years, my memory of the route is spotty and vague at best. Reaching the brow of the hill, I’d convinced myself that the turning for the field was just around the corner… A number of corners came and went! Finally, we were ushered into the field, marked out with snaking tape taking us all over the place – all that was missing was Benny Hill music to complement the situation!

I could sense the other runner was no more than a few steps behind me; I took advantage of my lead to claim the race line around the numerous turns, forcing him to go around me if he wanted to overtake. I spotted Lis on the final corner, taking a few snapshots to add to the collection. With only 50m remaining, I thought I had the other guy beat, but he surged for the line to narrowly take me by the finest of margins!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I finished feeling not too shabby, confirming my own feelings that my body was quite happy cruising at the pace it did for the race. Checking my Garmin, I finished in 39:25 to be only 2 seconds slower than 2016, which benefitted from the wet and cool conditions to dissipate any heat I generated. Oh, and the wearing of a vest would have been advantageous, too!

Following behind me some 30 seconds later was Simon Rhodes – the final runner to go under 40 minutes that morning. My own estimations earlier on when I found myself at the rear of the sub-40 group weren’t so far off, after all.

Meandering through the finish funnel, I was stopped by a volunteer – a member of Aldridge Running Club – who informed me that I’d won a spot prize for wearing the 2013 race t-shirt! Every cloud has a silver lining and all that. The prize turned out to be a 1 day pass to use the gym and spa facilities at the Village Hotel for two.

Not a spectacular day for me, but as people keep telling me, it’s a blessing that I had a poor start to the day at what can largely be considered a training run with faster 10k races coming up later in July.

DK10K 2018 review

dk10k_2018_andy_yu

The DK10K – not the easiest of 10k races

First 10k race since July 2017, and first in any real anger since 2016! Read on to find out how things went…

For the 2015 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

Once May rolls around, there’s no shortage of 10k races, both at the weekend and mid-week. The DK10K takes place on the first Wednesday of May, often just before or just after the Great Birmingham 10k. At £16 with chip timing, a t-shirt and water, it’s almost half the price of the Great Birmingham 10k and continues to be popular in spite of competition. I missed this gem of a race last year due to coming back from injury and tapering for the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, though ran it in 2015 and 2016. It’s not the fastest of courses with near-constant undulation, though it does attract a decent field, especially from 36-45 minutes; ideal if you’re the sort of runner that needs contact with others in a race.

Taking the afternoon off from work to facilitate a stress-free build-up, two questions remained at the top of my mind: what should I eat beforehand, and when? Don’t judge me for this, but I ended up wolfing down 2x chicken & mushroom Pot Noodles and 2x jam donuts… A concentrated beetroot juice shot helped wash all that down. In no way do I recommend this concoction!

Traffic on the way to the race HQ (Dudley Kingswinford Rugby Club) was horrendous as it always is, especially when living on the wrong side of Birmingham in this case. Simon Bull and I travelled separately, but were both caught up in various tailbacks, roadworks and breakdowns that are atypical of British roads from 16:00 to 18:00 during the week.

Arriving on site and parking up, it was perhaps 60 seconds before I bumped into Chris Harrison – the first of many familiar faces – such is the local running community nature of the DK10K.

The weather had been incredibly unpredictable all day. Wearing a full tracksuit, I began my 2 mile warm-up jog in a bid to try and awaken my slumbering legs. Within some 800m, I concluded I was overdressed. I anticipated the warm-up would feel sub-par and it didn’t disappoint. I regretted my choice of pre-race fuel, feeling bloated with everything sloshing around inside, and this was despite 3 hours having passed already! Thankfully, my stomach was convinced to cooperate and began digesting its contents more effectively after 2 miles.

Upon ending my warm-up, my Garmin flagged up my condition score: +4! Somewhat dumbfounded, I began considering my options. I’m lucky if I see +3 usually, so would covering the race at planned half marathon pace be selling myself short? The following week’s Shakespeare Half Marathon is the A-goal and the DK10K was always supposed to be just a training run to get 6 miles at pace in. A stiff headwind blew from the west, which would impact the first 3 or 4km, putting any PB attack into jeopardy early on. “Stick to the plan,” I reassuringly convinced myself. There would be plenty of 10k races over the spring and summer to make a dent into my 10k PB.

Meeting up with Simon, more familiar faces from the West Midlands running scene came into view, including Craig Watters (a rival from Great Run Local at The Vale) and his daughter. Because you can never be too warmed up, Simon and I embarked on another few hundred metres around the rugby pitch with a set of strides. Conditions had rapidly improved from all the rain that battered the region earlier in the day – it was bone dry underfoot, even on the grass!

We were ushered over to the start line along a back route rather than via the rugby club’s main entrance as per previous years; this detour was likely to allow the road outside to remain open for a little while longer and to keep local residents sweet. The slow-zombie shuffle over to the start line ensured we were all like tightly wound springs, ready to launch at any moment. Simon and I seeded ourselves accordingly into the start field; in spite of the chip timing as standard and the wide road ahead of us on offer, there was the usual assortment of clowns that decided to park themselves into the first few rows. Start where you think you’ll finish in the field! A near-inaudible safety briefing was given, which nobody paid any attention to, followed by a very abrupt starting order. Go time!

The race

andy_yu_dk10k_2018_01

Start of the 2018 DK10K – photo by Brian Smith

Expectedly, due to the flat-come-subtle-downhill nature of the opening km, everybody around me went hooning off like it was the start of a 5k race. I had my eye on certain individuals who were likely to finish at around my target time, yet they were quickly drifting away into the horizon… “Stay calm,” I said to myself. This was a test of half marathon pace and if I wasn’t able to finish 10k feeling comfortable, then there would be no way I could finish 13.1 miles at the same pace. I ended up overshooting my target of 3:55 per km (6:18 per mile) to end up with 3:50 per km (6:10 per mile). The pace felt too easy and effortless!

During 2km came the significant climb of the course. Inevitably, many of the people that shot off from the start line came back to me, providing ample drafting assistance from the headwind that blew. Whereas many around me were already huffing and puffing, my breathing remained near-silent. I dropped down a gear to 4:03 for the km with the knowledge that a high-speed section followed shortly afterwards to make amends.

Surprisingly, even with the steep descent, not a single person overtook me on this stretch or for the remainder of the race for that matter. I allowed my stride to open up and for gravity to carry me to the bottom, almost bounding with each step. 3km came in for 3:45 to be the second fastest split of the evening… So much for half marathon pace!

The route took runners left into a tree-lined portion of the course. Whilst undulations continued, one could consider this the next flattest stretch after the opening and final km. I continued to reel runners in, including the third place female – a Tipton Harrier. I’d already overtaken Craig’s daughter, which gave me a big dose of confidence as I’ve always finished behind her on previous encounters. Approaching the sole water station of the race, I signalled to the volunteer I wanted, only for her to drop the cup just as I went for the grab! I quickly signalled to another volunteer, only for him to grip the cup too tightly, resulting in both of us crushing it and leaving only a small sip of water behind… Oh well, at least it wasn’t a warm evening!

Passing through halfway, there was no clock on this occasion. Checking my Garmin, I’d just ticked over to 19:26 to be slightly outside of 10k PB pace. A modestly faster second half would see me through to a cheeky PB, maybe. I took a look inside for some feedback. My breathing remained calm and steady. My shoulders and posture were relaxed. Conclusion: I felt great and with no struggle! I dropped the third place Tipton Harrier girl and progressed onwards to a small group consisting of the second place female – another Tipton Harrier – along with male Aldridge and Wolverhampton & Bilston club runners. I sat steady at the back of the pack, especially as they were running so metronomically to result in 5km and 6km splits of 3:53.

Remaining in the tree-lined section of the course, I wondered if it would ever end? Having only run the race twice previously, my memory was somewhat hazy of the landmarks and how long certain portions lasted. Sensing the pace was slowing, I gave some verbal encouragement to try and rally the group together into a shared goal. The pace continued slipping, so the Tipton Harrier and I allowed the Aldridge and Wolverhamton & Bilston runners to drop off whilst we pushed on. The monotony of the landscape began taking its toll on me, resulting in 7km at 3:56 and my second slowest split of the evening. Was everything about to fall to pieces?

Turning left on the course, it was freedom at last! We exited the tree-lined stretch and moved straight into a climb… The Tipton Harrier really struggled to keep the pace up, forcing me to run wide of her so as not to take my foot off the throttle. I took advantage of the shallow descent on the other side to regain some of the damage from the slow 7thkm. This split was spent largely running solo, with the next guy ahead too far to reel in quickly. Facing the east, I was able to enjoy a very slight tailwind to facilitate a 3:52 for 8km.

Glancing at my Garmin’s elapsed time, I’d clocked in at just shy of 31:00. Wow. Definitely on PB pace, even if only by a few seconds. I reasoned that another steady 3:53 km and a fast finish would perhaps net me a sneaky PB. Spurred on, I eventually caught the runner ahead, also with thanks to a short but steep descent. The effort rapidly mounted upwards with my breathing reflecting the uptick. A grimace formed on my face as I ran through the metaphorical treacle that we all encounter in the late stages of a race. I thrusted my arms more vigorously in the hope that my legs would go with them – fortunately they did. With nobody immediately behind or ahead of me, the cheers and encouragement from the Navigation Inn were solely mine. I lapped it up, especially as I had yet another short climb to tackle! 9km came in for 3:53.

andy_yu_dk10k_2018_02

Sprinting for a PB – photo by Brian Smith

I began feeling a little queasy from the effort and possibly all the food I’d previously eaten. Taking another look at my Garmin, I noticed it ticking over to 35:00. I just needed a 3:44 or faster and a shiny new 10k PB was available for the taking, despite not setting out for one originally. Two Halesowen club runners bobbed up and down some 50m in the distance. Despite my best efforts to reel them in, they too began wrapping their races up to leave us in stalemate. The aptly named Mile Flat created the illusion of lasting forever with no change on the horizon. My face was strained; closing my eyes periodically on the long and predictable straight helped soothe some of the burn. Passing the gate that we all exited to reach the Mile Flat, I began my kick, and so did the Halesowen runners for the distance between us remained at approximately 50m! Staring into the distance, my eyes were trained to detect anybody turning right. There were some flashing lights ahead, which belonged to the lead car parked on the corner. Runners indeed began turning right to begin their re-entry into the rugby club and for the finish. Back in 2016, the barriers and narrow space the organisers had set aside for runners to follow caught me out; I wanted to kick harder, but I was boxed in by other runners on that occasion. Not so this time! Whilst I’d reclaimed some distance from the Halesowen runners, I still had ample berth to get my sprint on. Back in the rugby club, I was spurred on to throw down one final kick for the line. I pumped my arms and lengthened my stride to increase my speed. The cheers from the crowd grew louder with each step; the compere mentioned my bib number and name for one last incentive to leave nothing behind as I charged through the line…

Post-race

I gingerly took a few steps through the finish funnel, whilst chugging down as much air as possible. A quick glance of my Garmin confirmed all I needed to know – 38:41 (38:40 courtesy of chip timing) meant a new PB by just 5 seconds! This was significant because the last PB was achieved on a pancake flat course, albeit on one of the warmest days of the year.

I found a quiet spot on the finish funnel floor for a few brief minutes of recovery whilst shaking the hands of those I ran with during the middle of the race. Once recovered, I joined the spectators to cheer a few familiar faces back in, including Andy Wadsworth of Sparkhill Harriers, Rich Turvey of Halesowen Triathletes (and runner-up of the Stoneleigh Park Reindeer Run 20k), and of course, Simon. Stopping to chat with Andy and Rich, Simon asked if we would ever do a race where I didn’t at least know somebody. “Only in Iceland,” came my reply – the first place I could think of which fit the bill!

24 hours later and upon reflection, I’m reasonably confident I could have probably run 10 seconds faster for only marginally more discomfort. I felt at ease for much of the first half of the race, and I know I can suffer a lot more in the final stage. This not only bodes well for the plethora of 10k races I have scheduled for the summer (Aldridge 10k, Wythall Hollywood 10k, Magor 10k, maybe even more), but primarily next week’s Shakespeare Half Marathon. 82:XX suddenly doesn’t look so foolhardy anymore!

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

Draycote Water 10k February 2018 review

draycote_water_10k_february_2018

Windy when flat and undulating when not windy…

10k season is normally late spring through to the early summer for me, so how would I fare during one in February with no recent practice? Read on to find out…

Pre-race

In a bid to throw everything including the kitchen sink at the upcoming Newport Half Marathon, I entered the February edition of the Draycote Water 10k Series of races for some further pace and race preparation. Historically since 2015, I’ve always struggled to better January’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon until the autumn rolls around; I want to reverse that trend and expectation, especially as the Newport course is not nearly as flat, nor will it be nearly as well attended so some additional work will be required. Dave Burton also tagged along on this outing, citing that he hadn’t raced in a long while and also wanted to address that.

After the previous week’s win at the Stoneleigh Park Reindeer Run 20k, confidence was incredibly high whilst also factoring in the PB near-miss from back in November. Unfortunately, I managed to pick up a mild cold at the beginning of race week! Truth be told, I more than expected it as I’d been hitting both volume and intensity for a number of weeks without any cutback, so it was simply my body rebelling and crying for attention. Thankfully, the cold shifted as quickly as it arrived and I felt right as rain once more come race morning.

draycote_water_reservoir_10k

Runners on the out leg of the switchback – photo by Lis Yu

Getting to the Draycote Water reservoir was pretty simple from South Birmingham; for Lis, our chauffer, it was pretty much her daily work commute! Arriving at the venue with 45 minutes to spare, we were met not by a queue to park but rather a queue to pay for parking! There were only so many ticket machines and with some 400 participants, it was what runners trying to remain calm did not want! Thankfully, we had Lis who kindly stood in the ticket queue for 15 minutes so that Dave and I could grab our bibs and visit the toilets before those queues grew as well, due to there simply being too few of everything on site. I really felt for runners that were on their own! It’s understandable why race organisers like using ready-made venues like leisure centres or similar to stage races, but they’re simply not suited to hundreds of runners and spectators arriving en-masse over the space of an hour. What would have been ideal would be several temporary portaloos to relieve the strain from the permanent toilets, and runners being exempt from parking charges or at least pre-paid parking via some sort of agreement between the race organisers and the venue management.

Dave and I thought we’d gotten away with murder on the out leg of our warm-up jog. Everything felt easy and relaxed, and then we turned around… BOOM! We faced the full fury of the strong winds (estimated to be 15mph) from the west! My outlook for the morning remained the same as before, even if the PB wasn’t going to come without a fight.

Toed up at the start line, I suddenly felt very self-conscious wearing even less than a week ago… There were just a select few brave enough to wear vests and shorts, though I did have to fall back and stick a pair of gloves on. Thankfully being huddled close with my peers, and without too much of a wait, we got running pretty swiftly on the sound of the hooter.

The race

One lap of the reservoir is almost exactly 5 miles, so we were sent north-east for a 2km out-and-back stretch. As anticipated with fresh legs from several days without running, the first km felt rather effortless and I found myself having to rein my pace in several times – 3:3X was not uncommon on a few occasions! The wind was also on the side of us runners, though its effects were hardly felt as is usually always the case with a tailwind. The first km came in for 3:48.

Rounding that bollard for the return – wowza! The wind that hit my face made achieving that Elvis impression that bit easier! Thankfully, a timely surge allowed me to take some minor shelter from the headwind via a small group of runners, including a rather tall bloke and the lead woman. Dave, Lis and I discussed the reservoir being the home of a local sailing club, so I can’t say I should’ve been surprised by the ferocity of the wind! Lis overheard a conversation, where a regular at the race series cited it’s rarely ever calm at the site. 2km clocked in at 3:50 to still be on it for PB pace.

andy_yu_draycote_water_10k_2018

Into the wind! Photo by Lis Yu

Returning back to the visitor’s centre, we began our clockwise lap of the reservoir and were introduced to the first climb of the day. In isolation, it would be perfectly manageable, but facing strong winds at pace and it was a whole different story. The group I ran with suddenly fell apart and couldn’t maintain the momentum up the hill so I was left in no-man’s land to face the wind alone, destroying my pace to leave it at just 4:00 for the third km.

As I did before, I made a tactical decision to surge to a group ahead for some respite from the battering I received. Rolling undulations struck and I sensed the group was at its limit on that pace; every time we went up, I pulled away and I would hope they would catch up to me on the down. Before too long, they stopped pulling alongside me to leave me on my lonesome again. My pace was left in worse tatters than before for the slowest km split of the morning for 4:03. There was at least a friendly trio of women out running on the upper level to cheer me on, so the slowest split wasn’t entirely joyless!

Turning north and out of the strong gusts of wind, I breathed a sigh of relief and shared my delight with a fellow runner that I’d thankfully come into contact with. He’d pulled away from me early on from the start, but had settled into a reasonably stable pace and we likely had similar abilities, otherwise he’d have been part of the large group that was some 150m further ahead. Wearing a jacket around his waist, I wondered how much faster he could have been without the makeshift sail slowing him down. Having somebody to work with once more, I was back in business with 3:53 and reached halfway in 19:37. Some serious work lay ahead of me in the second half to reverse some of the damage… Easier said than done!

6km featured a not insignificant climb to further rob me of yet more time. Even with throwing myself down the descent on the other side, it wasn’t enough and my fragile pace continued slowing to 4:01 for the split. The sole water station for the race appeared during this secluded section, which I chose to pass by and take nothing on.

Out of nowhere, a runner in a charity vest stormed past me and the other guy in front of me. The sudden appearance of this mystery athlete with so much power to his stride shook both of us up and we began our pursuit in a bid to latch on for a brief tow. Brief it was, for it lasted just a few seconds before neither of us could hold on anymore! He continued to pull away into the distance and I reasoned he must’ve adopted an easy first half to be able to zip away in such a manner. 7km came in for 3:53.

As the morning drew on, the sleepy reservoir began waking up and I encountered more and more members of the public using the venue for their Sunday activities. There were, of course, cyclists, walkers and fellow runners not participating in the race. There were also bird photographers with ginormous cameras and lenses, and no sense of how to walk straight, causing the other runner and I to take evasive sidesteps to avoid catastrophe. My pace returned to 3:50 for my joint-second fastest split of the morning, and the final time I would be out of the wind…

Turning the corner for the final 2km, I squared off with my nemesis once more. I glanced at my Garmin for the elapsed time and reasoned the remainder of the race at 3:45 average pace would get me within striking distance of my 38:45 PB, and a kick at the end may nab me a few additional seconds. The wind had other ideas! Leaning into it and pumping my arms with authority, strong gusts nullified any semblance of finishing power I had in my arsenal. I only had the other runner ahead of me by some 5-10m to keep pulling me along for feedback that I wasn’t slowing. Disapprovingly, I couldn’t generate any more than 3:55 for the penultimate split.

Whilst I knew I would comfortably finish in under 40 minutes, that wasn’t enough for me especially as my 10k PB dated back to June 2016. I threw everything into finishing as strongly as possible, but the kick did not come. I felt like I was towing a rubber tyre behind me whilst also wearing shoes lined with lead – that’s how heavy I felt! The finish line was non-distinct and only the crowd milling around the area gave me any indication of its location on the horizon. The large group appeared to have just gone through, so I possibly had another minute or so remaining. The other guy, amazingly, still had his jacket tied around his waist but began slipping from the pace. Sensing that he probably had a little something left, a spectating woman confirmed as much and gave me indication that he was ramping back up for one final kick; I took her warning on board and threw down one final surge for the line. To give you an idea of how strong the wind was, you all know by now that I love to have a fast final split with a big kick at the end. The closing pace for the final km was just 3:59 through no lack of trying!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I gasped for air as I finished in front of Lis, hunched over with hands on my thighs and a strong feeling of nausea bubbling away. Thankfully everything was under control and recovery was reasonably swift, aided by a few choice curse words. I had 39:19 based on gun time, which I deemed to be pretty damn close to my own chip time given I was just one row away from the start line. We cheered Dave back in, who looked strong and pleased with his morning’s performance of 41:39.

Just before departing, I caught in the corner of my eye the runner in the charity vest that stormed away. I went over to congratulate him on a strong run, where he revealed he’s normally a high 37 minute runner, but he and several club mates had arrived late to start right from the back.

Goodie bag-wise, the spoils weren’t bad at all. A decent medal, a protein recovery shake, some water, chocolate, Haribo and the choice of a hat or some fleece ear warmers! A final nice touch from the organisers was the provision of on the spot printing of your race gun time, chip time, position and more. I’m aware of this at some triathlon events, but it was my first experience of such a facility at a running event. Normally if lucky, runners are directed towards a laptop to view the live results.

Debriefing with Dave and Lis over lunch, I shared my thoughts of the race. Whereas I was glad to have dipped my toe into the oft-heard of Draycote Water 10k series, I’m not sure I would likely return outside of the need for a 10k race for pace practice. When it was flat, the wind was ferocious and when the wind wasn’t blowing, the course undulated, and that seems to be the norm. The single lap of the reservoir course made the race feel arduously long and hid any sense of progress. Guess I’ll have to wait until May, June or July for better conditions and my next attempt at a 10k PB…