2015 – A year in review


New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black background

Welcome to 2016!

“Another year over, and a new one just begun” as the lyrics go. Welcome to 2016!

So, let’s break down how 2015 went for me…



2014 with a marathon saw 1,307 miles logged. 2015 without a marathon saw 1,605 miles – that’s the equivalent of running from London to Bucharest, Romania with distance to spare!

2015 also saw December as my densest month ever of running, clocking in at 201 miles.

All in all, I’m incredibly pleased with the increase in mileage – it should yield some good results to come in longer events, such as the imminent Brass Monkey Half Marathon and the Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships in March.


My PB producing power reduces each year – 2013 saw me smash out 17x PBs and I enjoyed 8x PB performances in 2014. 2015 dropped a touch to 6x PBs:

  • Brass Monkey Half Marathon – 87:27
  • DK10K – 39:38
  • Magor Marsh 10k – 39:16
  • Cardiff Half Marathon – 86:41
  • Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run (10 mile debut) – 64:17
  • Cannon Hill Parkrun – 18:49

It’s with some logic that my weaker distances would yield the biggest improvements, which is exactly what happened. My half marathon PB came down by 2 minutes and 10 seconds in total for the year, and my 10k improved by 28 seconds. 10 miles produced the biggest surprise when it became my strongest PB of all time relative to other performances – the original prediction was to sneak under 65 minutes, so imagine my surprise when I finished closer to 64 minutes. It stands to reason that I could see the largest improvement in the marathon where it wouldn’t be ridiculous to look at taking minutes off in the double digits.

Race highlights of the year

One from way back at the beginning of 2015, is the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. Organised by runners (York Knavesmire Harriers) for runners, the race has an awful lot going for it. It’s comparatively cheap for a half marathon at £24 for unaffiliated entries; it’s also almost exclusively flat to offer great PB potential, giving me an almost 90 second PB. Lis and I made a proper weekend of it and we’re looking forward to the race again in a few weeks for what’s quickly becoming an annual pilgrimage. We’ve yet to see whether the recent flooding will have an impact on the race or not; it would be a shame if the race is cancelled because it brings tourism and additional revenue to the area through hotel stays, dining out and so on.

Another oldie from very early on in January was my first place finish at Perry Hall Parkrun. I went there merely to clean up my performance and get it under 20 minutes. Little did I know that I’d be the fastest runner that morning, thanks to a local cross-country event that took place later that afternoon. Didn’t get the sub-20 minute run, mind, which must be one of the slowest first finishes on the Parkrun books!

I ran a helluva lot of 10k races throughout the spring and summer, so much so that I even had to cancel one or two for fear of burn out. The one that stands out is the Magor Marsh 10k. It absolutely bucketed down with rain, but offered a stellar field by playing host to the British Masters Championship. Weather conditions aside, I executed the race by the book and produced a rewarding 22 second PB. As with the Brass Monkey Half Marathon above, it’s cheap, flat and organised by the local club, Chepstow Harriers.

Finally, the recent Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run caught me off-guard by playing host to an ability defying PB that was almost a minute faster than estimated. The race really opened up my eyes to what I could potentially run in my next race in only a few short weeks.

2016 targets

Targets are great and keep me on the straight and narrow, so long as they’re not ridiculous flights of fancy… Targets for 2015 were:

  • 5k – sub-18:30: FAIL
  • 10k – sub-39:00: FAIL
  • 10 miles – sub-65:00: Woohoo!
  • Half marathon – sub-87:00: Woohoo!

Looking at the above, I’m almost embarrassed that I put a sub-18:30 5k down as a target. I didn’t appreciate how hard it would be to break 18:51.

Sub-39:00 for 10k is more realistic, and it’s with some confidence that it should come good in 2016, especially seeing as I won’t be running 10k races until late spring for additional development.

So, my revised 2016 targets look like this:

  • 5k – sub 18:35
  • 10k – sub-39:00
  • Half marathon – sub-85:00
  • Marathon – sub-3:15:00

Yes, you do see a marathon target in there. Whilst I entered the Berlin Marathon ballot, I didn’t get in. In fact, none of the runners I personally know were successful with Berlin. I’ve got my eye on an autumn race, with the Yorkshire Marathon catching my attention. It won’t be nearly as busy as Berlin, with a crowded field scuppering my previous two London Marathons. Watch this space to see how the marathon project develops…

Have a happy New Year, everyone!

This week’s running – 12th to 18th of October 2015

Great Birmingham Run 2015

Waiting for all those PBs to happen…

This week was about getting back on the training bandwagon, and not running my home town race.

5k from work

Brrr! The first chilly run in a long, long while and boy did I relish it.

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun really did a number on my left hip – it wouldn’t stop creaking during the gentle 5k home from work!

Light levels really dwindled, convincing me to attach my flashing red light to the bag for others to see me from behind, especially cyclists.

I could tell the Great Birmingham Run was just around the corner because there were next to no runners out, with their tapers having begun.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

Due to dropping something off (the wrong sized Flipbelt) for return at a collection point, I was taken onto Ladywood Middleway for the opening 1.5 miles of this fartlek run.

Surprisingly, the first injection of speed wasn’t actually that fast at all and came in slower than half marathon pace. Not a bad thing at all, given I wanted to ease into the fartlek and run through the gears. I was consciously focusing on my stride length in an attempt to gain more power from a more forceful toe-off, and largely, I was able to prove to myself that adding even just 10cm to my stride saw some gains to be had.

It was an odd sensation to be running in the dark again after months of daylight. I’ll have to dig the high-vis out from the back of the wardrobe in anticipation for the next few months.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

And as if by magic, there were no runners on the canal again, bar me.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

After the three recent 40+ mile weeks, I really noticed a difference in my aerobic capacity. With my next fully-fledged race not until mid-January, I decided I would try and make 40 miles per week the norm, rather than the exception, so out rolled this 10 miler on the canal towpath. At the time, this was actually the longest run I’d completed since the Cardiff Half Marathon…

Typically taking around 80 minutes, I knew I would finish well after the sun would set so out rolled the head torch, also.

The first half of the run to Bournville Station wasn’t too bad. There was enough ambient light to see with, so I had the head torch on strobe mode for others to see me. I was caught off-guard by how much more perceived effort was required to hit paces I achieved with relative ease only several weeks ago. A pleasant surprise was the fancy upgraded lighting system in the tunnel immediately below Church Road – no expense spared there!

The return leg was much less forgiving. Night had completely set in, and I don’t know whether I just need to get used to running in the dark again, but my sense of pace was thrown off even more so than before. My head torch was just about up to the task, but there were a few hairy moments where I needed both directional and peripheral light spread to see exactly where I was going, and what was coming up underfoot. Add to this a pair of socks that really should have been thrown away weeks ago that were shredding my feet to pieces…

It was pitch-black on some stretches of the canal and the number of idiotic cyclists I saw that were riding at speed, dressed in black, with no front or rear lighting, or bells to alert others, was astounding. To be fair, there were a few runners and walkers also dressed entirely in black, but the cyclists far outnumbered them.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I planned to hit this one hard for two reasons. Firstly, to try and claim the sub-19 finish that should have been mine but was denied due to a timing discrepancy from a few weeks ago. Secondly, to try and get a boost to my runbritain ranking handicap that has sat between 5.0 and 5.2 for far too long; with the Great Birmingham Run the next day, most in attendance were taking it easy and any performance from me would be given stronger weighting.

I reached Cannon Hill ridiculously early, so much so that it was only me, Martin Foster and Nigel Beecroft at the bandstand. Nigel and I went for our usual warm-up jog, discussing his half marathon plans; I was confident he would PB at 13.1 miles after his recent 5k PB.

Firmly planted at the very front on the start line, I could see the management team had purchased an air horn in a bid to end complaints from false/unheard starter’s orders. I congratulated the Sparkhill Harrier lad on his recent PB performance and promised myself I would try and keep him in my sights, even if only in the distance. Hooter hooted and off I went…

Despite the race the next day, there were still a few fast folks around me to work with including the lead girl. The pace had some spice to it, but I had actually gone faster two weeks ago and with less effort – this occasion felt like a true blue 5k PB attempt. Unlike last time, I chose to go with it and did not rein myself in to give myself as big a buffer as possible for a 3:42 opening split.

The effort to maintain such a fast pace shot up in the second km, not helped with those around me splintering off into smaller groups. The Sparkhill Harrier was maybe 15m ahead and kept pulling away – the likelihood is that I was actually slowing. My breathing became heavy, so I concentrated on keeping my stride long as a distraction. Conditions weren’t as favourable as two weeks ago either, when there was much less wind on the course.

The third km proved tricky. I was trailing a chap in a football top who’d gone out hard, but began to drop back. “Stay on the pace, no.12. We’ve got this,” I said to him to try and spur him into action. “Can’t. You-go-on” he said, so I overtook. In and out of the triangle, I got a few cheers from the folks coming through on the other side, including Nigel and Simon who were running at a super-easy pace. The aim for this km was to keep it under 4 minutes, which I did by the skin of my teeth for a 3:59 split.

I don’t remember much at all from the fourth km apart from being in my own personal hell, running entirely alone. Thankfully, I managed to keep this one under 4 minutes as well for another 3:59 split.

The final km was upon me and I had no idea how far or close I was to target – I didn’t bother to check the virtual pacer on my Garmin. Unhelpfully, I was still alone. I passed the MAC and I switched over to the stopwatch to see I’d just ticked over to 17:30. Caught by surprise, it took a few takes before I realised I was still in with a very real chance of going under 19 minutes for the coveted course PB! I pressed on and did my best to shut off the pain that ravaged my body. Reaching the final hill, it was fully laden with marshals and volunteers to cheer me on my way. I kicked with whatever remained inside and pumped my arms to drive up the hill. At the top, I sprinted on my toes to put my fast cadence to work. My Garmin said I had a couple of seconds left – it was touch and go whether it would happen or not…


BOOM! That is all.

I crossed the line and it was finally over. I stumbled my way through the funnel and a quick peek at my Garmin was all the confirmation I needed – boy done good with an 18:57 finish! I collected my token (15th) and hunched over, unsure of whether to throw up or not.

For clarity, it’s a course PB i.e. the fastest I have ever run around  the Cannon Hill course; my fastest 5k ever still belongs to Cardiff Parkrun at 18:51. It bodes well that I’m back in 5k PB contention, despite not having focused on any 5k training since July.

And the runbritain handicap result? The run was ranked as a 1.5 in terms of difficulty and I achieved a -1.3 handicap; annoyingly, it’s moved me from 5.2 to just 5.0 again! I’ll have to wait that bit longer before that 4.9 is mine once more…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The Great Birmingham Run

The EDF Energy Birmingham Half Marathon back in 2010 is the race that got me into long distance running in the first place. I’d run the local half marathon for five years straight and finally decided to take a break from it, opting instead to be a spectator this year.

Living in the Jewellery Quarter, I had a couple of spots on the route to choose from and of course, I went for that hill at mile 11. Tactically, it would be the best place to give friends support when they would most likely be feeling at their worst.

Walking along Broad Street, it was shocking to see plenty of runners that were still nowhere near the start area when the race had already begun. I overheard some that hadn’t read their race packs and even assumed the start was still on Sand Pits like previous years! The 20 minute walk there would at least get them warmed up.

Walking down St James Road, I decided to plant myself a little further up from the church – arguably the steepest point on the course. I got speaking to two security guards sent in from Leeds (yeah, figure that one out) who only realised they were working a half marathon once they arrived on the scene.

Some 20 minutes later, the front-runners came through – Helen Clitheroe followed a short while afterwards. The fun really began once I started spotting people I actually knew, below in order of appearance (click to enlarge). There were many others I saw and cheered on – apologies if I didn’t get a photo of you.

At times, mile 11 didn’t make for pleasant viewing and there were different magnitudes of detonation I had to witness. Some slowed to a walk to make it up the hill. Others stopped completely to stretch out cramped muscles. A few dropped out entirely. One guy I saw was deathly pale, with his eyes darting around, unable to focus on anything…

All said and done, I had a great time as a spectator. Lis was especially curious to see how I would take to it; it was relatively easy to spot people up to around the 1:50 mark and only Ben had to grab my attention first. After that point, it became increasingly difficult due to the wall-to-wall flow of runners coming through.

Congrats to everyone that ran – there are some very nice PBs and times that were produced on a very difficult course!

Not the Great Birmingham Run

AKA my 13.1 miles I covered on the canal.

A few people after the race asked me if I’d have preferred to run versus spectate. I have no regrets with my decision, apart from having to run my own solo half marathon on the canal towpaths later in the afternoon. I could have participated and run it as a fast, catered training run with others…

Running through Brindley Place, a few people shouted out things like, “The race is over! You can stop now!” Comedians, eh. I was surprised to find a handful of runners out on the canals – and there I was thinking everybody was racing.

I kept things easy and under control, having smashed myself to pieces the day prior. My hips were a little tight and my stomach was a little unsettled from the monumental effort along with something I’d eaten that wasn’t agreeing with me.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The only other thing of note about this long run was the second field test for the Flipbelt. I finally received the small size and the fit was like night and day in comparison to before; there was no bounce at all and only required minor readjustment from time to time. If like me, you find you’re in between sizes, go for the smaller option – a tight fit is crucial to it doing its job by staying out of the way. A capacity test saw me pack it with an iPhone 6 (wrapped in a freezer bag), 6x Isogels (bulky), and some keys with room to spare. Reportedly, it can even stretch to accommodate the ginormous iPhone 6 Plus, but you’d have to be really desperate to want to take one of those out on a run with you. I can finally retire my years old gel belt, which required anchoring down with safety pins for the right fit.

Time for this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

When elastic is gone, man, it’s gone

Men. This one is for you.

You paid good money for those shorts. You love those shorts. You have worn those shorts in the heat and the cold, sun and rain, over hill and dale. You’ve raced in those shorts – maybe even set a personal record in them.

But, my brother, listen carefully: Sooner or later, there will come a day when you pull those shorts on and feel roomy gaping where once there was a snug liner. This means that the elastic down there has gone slack.

You will be tempted to shrug this off and wear them running anyway.

Don’t. Trust us on this one.

You know what? Let’s just move on.

Magor Marsh 10k 2015 review

Magor Marsh 10k 2015 review

ABC. It’s easy as… 234…?

For previous races, please click the following:

This was it. The big one of the season that carried my 10k PB hopes and dreams on its shoulders. Would it deliver or would something else scupper me in the process? Read on to find out…

I’ve been quite unlucky this spring-summer season where my fitness has been in the right place, but weather conditions or course accuracy had other plans for a number of near-miss opportunities.

The Magor Marsh 10k is a race I sort of stumbled upon by accident a number of years ago, surprising myself by how flat the course profile is. This race provided me with my first sub-40 10k last year and turned out to be a great proving ground to consolidate all the faster training of the spring and summer. The only things that are missing to make the race truly great are a stellar field and chip timing.

Under ideal conditions, I truly believed I had at least a 39:15 10k inside me. Had the Gwent Race for Wildlife in May have been distance accurate, I’m confident I would have achieved such a time there and therefore would have had the balls to target a sub-39 on this occasion. The risk was too big with my eggs in one basket; 3:55/km versus 3:53/km may not be a big jump, but it could be the difference between glory and utter defeat.


The weather forecast for race day grew progressively worse and worse. What started out as 10mph winds eventually became 16mph winds and heavy rain. Iain, my best man, tagged along to spectate in truly awful conditions – another reason to get my race wrapped up as quickly as possible!

We concluded that the race would continue, but would likely see fewer fun runners in attendance. To counter the lower fun runner numbers was the influx of masters runners, competing as part of the British Masters Championship. I quietly looked forward to this, because it likely meant a reasonably deep field for me to work alongside in the process.

Iain and I drove into the club grounds of Undy Football Club, doubling up as race HQ for the morning. Already at 09:15 were plenty of cars parked up to confirm my thoughts of a not too shabby turnout. We bumped into the ever pleasant Daniel Luffman from Cardiff Parkrun, whom I’ve shared a lot of Welsh racing history with. Stepping into the club house and we were met by dozens of runners milling around and taking shelter from the elements outside.

As ever, registration was a simple process thanks to my name appearing at the very end of the register. I was given number “234” – my first sequential number after years of uninteresting bibs. This was a day where the organisers must have been thankful that they paid extra for the water-proof Tyvek bib material! Those in the British Masters Championships had their own registration desk, with an additional age category number to pin to themselves. This was serious stuff!

Visiting the loo, two guys were ahead of me in the queue for the cubicles. They clearly knew each other and were having a good old natter and continued their catch-up once they were inside their respective cubicles. Several moments later, still having their conversation, they both stepped out of their respective cubicles at the same time; they both paused and looked at each other, only to then gleefully exclaim, “Synchronised shitting!” in unison. The rest of us in the queue couldn’t help but smile at the hilarity taking place in front of us.

Given the uncontrollable weather outside, I decided to further take control of things I did have a grip on, so Vaseline was applied liberally to chafe-prone areas.

Joining me on my warm-up mile were plenty of keen masters club runners, all looking very stern and serious. The wind was certainly noticeable, but not as bad as I had feared; with some luck, I hoped it would only remain as a cross wind for majority of the course with its full effects likely to be felt only on the section between 5k and 6k.

The rain came to a halt but by then, everything and everyone was soaking wet. The safety briefing took place out on a water-logged field. Iain and I took a look around and there weren’t many non-club runners at all. Most of the club vests were expectedly for local clubs, such as Les Croupiers, San Domenico, Bryn Bach, Lliswerry and so on. Tipton Harriers and Wolverhampton & Bilston AC even had a few participants in the fray. The race director ushered runners slower than 50 minutes to make their way to the start line first; there weren’t many takers – perhaps only 30 or so. Next up were the 40 to 50 minute runners and again, not many takers. Finally it was the rest of us, making up the majority of the field. I figured a few from this crowd were being a bit disingenuous, but given the narrow start line and the race for positions, who could blame them?

I got briefly talking to a guy from Southampton and one all the way from Doncaster, so there were a few from further afield. I tucked myself into the left of the start line, only 3 rows back from the front. A chap stood next to me said he recognised me from my blog where he read my report on last year’s race as preparation for the morning’s exertions.

I’m not sure what seems to be the issue of late, but I’ve seen a fair few events give inaudible starter’s orders to races. Last year’s Magor Marsh 10k suffered from this very problem, where Vince and I missed an entire 4 seconds before we realised the race had kicked off, and we were stood almost at the front! Again, a very softly spoken “3-2-1” and “Go” were given, and everyone was sent off on their way.

The race

My start wasn’t bad at all and I only lost a second or two. The rain resumed, almost right on cue to join the gusts of wind as we made our way on to the main part of the course. I spotted Iain and gave him a wave to lighten the mood of the sober atmosphere.

Tearing off into the distance was the Tipton Harrier lady, and I was certain that I was faster than her over 5k if memory served. She was joined by a lady from Wolverhampton & Bilston AC, and both became perfect targets for me to reel in steadily.

Before I knew it, I passed through the 1k marker and came in with a 3:59 split. A touch slower than the 3:57 I hoped for, but I at least felt relaxed so there was definitely more to be had. Others around me were already breathing quite hard at such an early stage and with 9k left to go…

Like during my warm-up, the wind was certainly present but could have been a lot worse. I took shelter behind runners wherever the opportunity appeared and cautiously progressed through the field so as not to expend too much effort. I eventually caught up to the Tipton Harrier at around 2k, who had drifted backwards from the Wolverhampton & Bilston runner; no doubt due to her enthusiastic start now making itself known. Before too long, I managed to make contact with the Wolves & Bilston runner and sensed she was also slowing, so I decided to grow a pair and went off on my own to chase down the group in front.

Except I wasn’t alone, and a San Domenico runner followed me in my pursuit. We had traded places a couple of times up to that point, but for some reason I’d taken no prior notice of him. We quickly put some distance between us and the group behind, but were unable to get any closer to our target who maintained the rough 30m gap by annoyingly running at the exact same pace we were moving at.

I started to tire and dropped back a touch to sit in behind the San Domenico runner. He was a good couple of inches taller than me and provided decent cover from the wind, along with a moment of calm to assess the situation. Surprisingly, my Garmin virtual pacer reported I was only 2 seconds down on total target, and over the course of the minute or so I was drafting, this number remained rock solid and never moved. I began to closely observe the San Domenico runner with great interest; his form was smooth and relaxed and he seemed almost metronomic in his approach to pacing.

We continued to trade places and the pace remained resolute. I was entirely convinced he was going for the same finish time as me, so I proposed that we work together for the rest of the race. He agreed, stating our pace and strategy of chopping and changing complemented each other.

On the approach to 6k, the group we were so diligently chasing began to splinter and a Les Croupier runner fell off the back, giving us an interim target to work towards. I had a feeling we would catch him on the turnaround, and my instinct was right; he slowed dramatically to go around the cone and came clattering into both the San Domenico runner and I to get in our way. I put a very short, quick surge in to get us both back up to pace. I saw Daniel Luffman on the approach to the cone; a quick bit of two-way encouragement and a high-five did just the trick to lift the mood of the challenging middle portion of a race.

The straight to 7k featured a gentle, almost imperceptible gradient, but on tired legs, it became more apparent. The San Domenico runner and I were no longer as fresh as we once were, and it showed by how much more frequently we traded places to get out of the wind. The pace was still bang on target, so we were getting something right. The group ahead continued to maintain their 30m lead and gave us no opportunity to attack.

We went through 8k and started to suffer that little bit more, requiring even more regular changing of places. “Just a little over a mile” I kept saying to myself and my comrade. I glanced backwards and there was a chasm between us and our pursuers, so there was no rescue party to pick us up from behind. Those in front were still too far to move towards, however the gap had shrunk. I only had to keep things going and a PB was almost a done-deal.

At 9k, I began to ramp the pace up and urged the San Domenico runner to stay with me. He managed to stay on my tail for 100m or so before he let me go to attack the splintered field in front of me. Nobody had a chance and I went past everybody almost as if they were stood still. Had I left a little too much in the tank? Possibly, but it was oh so satisfying to be in full flight.

Andy Yu at Magor Marsh 10k 2015

Wet. Wild. Windy. The Magor Marsh 10k in 2015 – photo by Iain Davie

With about 500m to go, I spotted Iain just ahead, stabilising himself against a wall to take a few photos. I had run out of people in front of me to chase down, bar a V60 gent I recognised from the start line rocking mutton chop sideburns and a handlebar moustache, moving at one helluva clip. I shifted gears again and charged up the shallow rise, growling in the process from the ever-increasing intensity and lactic acid in my legs. He ran through a large puddle on the final corner before returning to race HQ and the finish line. I copied his line exactly and sensed he was slightly unstable on the broken surface; the time to attack was now!


Here’s the Garmin data.

I managed to pip the old boy to the line by no more than 2m before stopping my Garmin and then swiftly ducked out of the finish chute and collapsed on the sopping wet grass. My breathing and heart were expectedly racing, just as I had done. The Garmin was still on the Virtual Pacer, but showed I was zero seconds ahead or behind to be exactly on target pace. 39:16 presented itself to me after a few button presses – a 22 second PB and redemption after so many failed attempts at proving my potential.

I quickly located Iain and we must have had our wires crossed because he didn’t realise I had PBd based on my laid-back manner!

The San Domenico runner came over to shake hands. We thanked each other for the great pacing and drafting strategy we utilised, and it turned out he’d bagged a 35 second PB in the process for his first ever sub-40 finish. Double success!

There was no medal or goodie bag to collect – the race and the PB were reward enough. Iain and I hightailed it out of there whilst we had a chance and before it got any wetter.

Thoughts and conclusions

Having the San Domenico runner to work with was almost like divine intervention. Drafting behind him took so much of the mental and physical stress away that is all too often present during PB attempts. Crucially, he was able to maintain the target pace with no slow-down.

Stattos will love the next section. The results are an interesting beast to look at (214 participants):

  • Only 5 runners below V35 out of the top 50
  • Only 5 runners were not affiliated to a club out of the top 50
  • The slowest time out of the top 50 was 38:51
  • There are 3 V60 runners in the top 50 (1 in the top 30)
  • Only 12 runners finished outside an hour
  • 34:00 minutes wouldn’t have made it into the top 10
  • I normally finish in the top 4-5% of a large-ish race, whereas here, I’m in the top 27%
  • Despite the 37 second improvement on last year, I finished over 20 places lower this time

Andy Yu on runbritain

I thought I’d never drop below 5.0!

There is some good news for me, statistics-wise. runbritain gave the race a 1.3 difficulty score and deemed my performance a -1.3 (I rarely do better than -0.5 these days) to bring my handicap down to 4.9! For months, I was stuck hovering around 5.0 and 5.1, so to make it into the 4.Xs has tickled me pink.

Finally, it would seem the McMillan calculator is as pleased with the outcome as I am where my 10k PB is now pretty damn in-line with the rest of my PBs, bar the marathon:

  • 5k – 18:54 (McMillan) / 18:51 (actual)
  • 10k – 39:16
  • Half marathon – 97:32 (McMillan) / 97:27 (actual)
  • Marathon – 3:04:14 (McMillan) / 3:34:02 (actual)

Could I have gone sub-39? Not sure, at least in those conditions; when you break it down as just 2 seconds per km faster, it suddenly sounds more feasible. I’m sure I’d have been in tatters at the end if I’d have pulled it off. Clearly, my next target will be a sub-39 finish and if the Cardiff 10k organisers would be kind enough to revert to their 19 year old, non-NATO conference course, that would be greatly appreciated!

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015 review

Wythally Hollywood 10k 2015 review by Andy Yu

Another year, another Wythall Hollywood 10k medal and bib

For the 2013, 2014 and 2016 races, please click the following:

Third time the organisers have laid on a 10k version of this race, and my third appearance. Read on to find out what happens when Andy goes to Hollywood (lame, I know…)


I’ve only ever run this race in its 10k guise, but have known about its 5k version for a number of years. Its popularity really shot up with the introduction of a 10k option, and I guess that’s due to the likes of Parkrun claiming their stake on 5k events – others I’ve spoken to also share this view.

It’s usually sweltering whenever this race takes place, but doubles up as a good source of heat training in the process. Unusually this year, conditions were grey and cool to be pretty optimal for faster times; despite this, I was still offered the choice of downgrading from the 10k to 5k, much like in 2013’s scorchtastic event.

The race doesn’t boast the fastest of 10k courses out there, mainly due to the 1km of incline that needs to be tackled twice. Granted, there is a long descent on the other side, but most of us never truly do the ups or the downs justice. With this in mind, I didn’t want to set anybody’s world alight and simply aimed to dip under 40 minutes with as little distress as possible. No real rhyme or reason involved; sub-40 just looks good on paper! This would call for a minute’s improvement on the 2014 race and with little to no 10k specific prep in the last couple of weeks…

Lis and I rocked up at race HQ and bumped into Ed Barlow in the car park. I shared that I felt like I was truly in 40:15 shape on the Wythall Hollywood course, but Ed reckoned I could go sub-40, referring to my much better shape than a year ago when I could only scrape 40:58.

Race bib collected, I bumped into Paul Harris, another Cannon Hill Parkrun regular and we had a chat about his chance encounter with Paula Radcliffe the previous week along the canal towpath. Other familiar faces present included Ben Clarke, along with many others from Kings Heath Running Club and Bournville Harriers.

What’s nice about the Wythall Hollywood 10k and 5k is the size and location of the event; both allow for a decent warm-up beforehand without much planning required. The surrounding roads were quiet even though they had not yet been officially closed to allow for a stress-free build up.

Mile jog and 300m effort done, I ventured back inside to grab Lis and we began loitering by the start line. It was there that we were forced to endure a dodgy techno version of Human League’s “Don’t you want me” that accompanied the mass warm-up taking place at race HQ. A Birchfield Harrier also shared in our disgust of the butchering of an 80s classic. Speaking with the Birchfield Harrier further, I quickly learned that Simon and I had both competed at the farcical Worcester City Half Marathon last summer. He too was aiming for a sub-40 finish so there were likely to be a fair few gunning for the time out there.

Start line of the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015

Anybody suffer from vertigo? Photo by Lis Morgan

Soon, the rest of the field made their way over to the start line, marked out ingeniously by flour. Interestingly, the organisers shared that the UKA official wanted to sit-in on the pre-race tour of the course so any fears of a short course were quickly dispelled (should have taken note of this in my pacing strategy). Bang on at 09:15, we were released into the wilds of the surrounding countryside.

The race

With the 10k and 5k races taking place at the same time, there were plenty in the opening scrum but things quickly settled down and groups formed. Chris Callow, a KHRC member and fellow Cannon Hill Parkrun regular caught up to me and revealed he too sought after a sub-40 finish; we ended up sticking together, trading positions every once in a while.

Turning left on to Packhorse Lane, the pace nosedived by a good 15 seconds or so. I found myself at the front of my group but with a sizable gap to make it to the pack ahead; I decided to stick with my group and would let those ahead come to me instead over the duration of the first lap. In spite of the cool conditions, there were awkward gusts of wind that seemed to hit from all sides. As the race progressed and the field thinned out, there were few people to hide behind and take shelter from – such is the disadvantage of smaller races.

On the other side of the climb, I was shagged. My breathing was erratic and I was on the cusp of working too hard for the first half of the race. My legs lacked any freshness or zip, most likely due to the enthusiastic Parkrun the day before. I eased off the gas on the descent when I really should have taken more control of the distress. I’m perfectly fine with suffering through fast 5ks, and fast half marathons can be eased into, but 10ks are just a constant barrage of discomfort pretty much all the way from start to finish when run properly.

Entering the Phoenix business park, the awkward switchback slowed things down further. The turn was incredibly tight and there wasn’t much room to go wide to maintain speed either.

Andy Yu at the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015

Almost at halfway – photo by Lis Morgan

Lis was stood between 4k and 5k with a bottle of ice-cold water – something she’s done for me every year at this race. It’s simply so much easier drinking from a bottle than it is trying to grab a cup, spilling it everywhere and then accidentally waterboard yourself by choking on the water!

I managed to pull away from my group on the home straight of the first lap and decided to try and make it to the next group. Time-wise, I was down by 8 seconds or so on target, so I’d managed to undo some of the damage from the 1k climb earlier.

I was reeling runners in and claimed the scalps of a couple of Bournville Harriers and a BRAT. One elusive Bournville Harrier remained in the distance regardless of what I threw in to try and catch him – he turned out to be the same chap that got me back on track during my recent Cannon Hill course PB.

The 1k climb on the second lap was a solo affair with nobody around me at all to work with. A shocking 4:20 split stuck its tongue out at me – I was well and truly haemorrhaging time and the Garmin further revealed a 36 second deficit on target. I kinda lost hope of a sub-40 finish and moved over to my B target of 40:15 along with some much needed recovery on the descent.

I audibly groaned a few times from the suffer-fest. A Dudley Kingswinford member pulled up alongside me and gave me some encouragement to “dig deep”. I tucked in behind him for some shelter from the wind and things instantly felt much calmer. In hindsight, those few minutes of tranquillity probably did me more harm than good in the long run…

We passed by the lady on the water station, this time impressively dual-wielding cups of water with both hands. The guy with the hosepipe gave me a good drenching and a cheer – he’s been there every year. With only 2k left to go, I began to wind the pace up in an attempt to get closer to a sub-40 finish again. I tried to get the DK club runner to stay with me but he was already redlining and pushed me on. The descent had done its job of recovery and I managed to find second wind for a strong entry into and exit out of the Phoenix complex.

Andy Yu at the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015

Form deteriorated in the last couple hundred metres… Photo by Lis Morgan

With just 1k remaining, I mustered what was left for an aggressive final assault on the course. Conveniently, the organisers placed a clock next to the 9k marker, which happened to read 36:15 as I ran past. All of a sudden, sub-40 was possibly back on. A 3:45 1k split was certainly achievable, but in between the finish and me was a 3m climb along with the awkward twists and turns to get back into race HQ for the finish. Once over the Hollywood Bypass, I had Lis spurring me on to kick. A couple of stragglers finishing up their 5k, or entering the second lap of the 10k, drifted into my path and required sudden evasive manoeuvres to avoid – not easy when you’re charging down the home straight on tired and unsteady legs.

I hung right, then left, then right again and I was back at race HQ. I caught a glimpse of Khalid Malik, who had finished his 5k whilst in the midst of fasting for Ramadan – truly impressive stuff. A female voice cheered me on by name, whom I unfortunately did not catch sight of (very sorry). I had to evade one more 5k runner who seemed unsure of which line she wanted to run, so I ended up running wide around her for the finish. The clock was on 39:55 and I still had a couple of metres to go. “WHATEVER YOU’RE GOING TO DO, DO IT NOW!!!” I screamed at myself inside my head. I closed my eyes and charged for the line, legs at full tilt…


Pain. Lungs on fire. Quads and hamstrings tight. Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

I scooted off to the side of the finish chute and lowered myself down on one knee for a moment or three. I screamed a few times – something I seem to be doing with much greater regularity of late… The Bournville Harrier that proved so elusive to catch came over to help me up, and I duly shook his hand in the process.

Just shy of sub-40 at Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015

Just shy of a sub-40 finish at the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015

I looked at my Garmin and 40:01:26 stared back at me. “Damn it!” I cursed to myself. I’m sure I could have found an extra 2 seconds somewhere out on the course, and hence my earlier comment about easing off just a little too much when I came into contact with the DK club runner on the descent. Still, a reasonably substantial course PB.

The chap with the medals was placing them around finishers’ necks; I simply asked for mine in my hand so that I could duck out of the funnel and lean against something.

Simon and Andy at the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015

Simon and I have unknowingly faced off a couple of times at races – photo by Lis Morgan

The DK runner and Simon Rhodes came through shortly afterwards. I gave the DK runner a knowing nod because he seemed like he was in a rush to get out of there, but Simon was keen to talk. A very nice guy he was and it seemed we’d actually had many more close encounters than first thought at a number of races over the years.

Ben and Andy at the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015

Soggy and cold after the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2015 – photo by Lis Morgan

Lis and Ben Clarke caught up to me just as the heavens opened up to soak everyone in the process. Moving inside, we bumped into Paul Harris and Dave Johnson, also taking shelter from the rain. We ended up having a good old natter with Ben, who explained the timing failure at Cannon Hill Parkrun in more detail (he wasn’t to blame!) Just as we decided to leave, some volunteers came over to offer us a king’s ransom in leftover cookies and bananas – the perfect end to any race surely?

Thoughts and conclusions

I’ve not had a near miss of a target like this since the saga of trying to go sub-20 over the 5k distance (20:00 on the nose on one occasion). I made the schoolboy error of not factoring in for additional distance and in this case, that 20 – 30m extra equated to about 4 seconds.

There are some positives, though. In 2013, I ran 42:28 and then improved by 90 seconds in 2014 with 40:58. The pattern of improvement, whilst beginning to tail off, still continues with almost a minute’s difference this year. 40:01 on a less than ideal course bodes very well for the flat as a pancake Magor Marsh 10k in two weeks; I’m praying that it’s a legal course because I’m running out of opportunities this year to produce a respectable 10k time that’s in line with my current ability.

Sticking with trends, I continued that of poor race preparation where I never seem to enter this event with the best of intentions. 2014 involved pigging out on too much meat the day before and also breaking in new racing flats during the event. This year saw me blast out a 19:28 at Cannon Hill Parkrun the day prior (slow up to 4k, and then a 3:40 final k).

All said and done, I’m pretty happy with the outcome. Let the training continue!

This week’s running – 22nd to 28th of June 2015

Feeling under the weather

Hang in there, bud – know how you’re feeling!

This week was unconventional, so it’s pretty short as a result.

You’d better not turn into a cold…

Seemingly out of nowhere, I picked up a sore throat and a bout of lethargy on Monday that forced me to call it a night at 8:30pm! I prayed and prayed it wouldn’t become a full-blown cold and with some luck, I was largely over it come Wednesday.

Dodged a bullet there, and it was most likely my body’s response to the fast 5k, the late night, poor food and half marathon distance training run from the weekend just before.

5x 800m at 5k pace

I delayed this session until I felt like I had a fighting chance of completing it. Once actually out there at Edgbaston Reservoir, it became obvious that conditions were much more challenging than the week prior, with obstacles like head wind on the out reps and high levels of humidity for disruption.

I fell just shy of nailing the 3:45/km pace last week by just the odd second or two on most reps; I knew I’d have made progress if I were to at least equal what came before. The end result wasn’t too bad at all and by comparison, looked to have just beaten last week’s splits by just a smidge in terms of accuracy. I’m hoping the next session will see me hit the target with pinpoint precision!

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

5k from work

Geese proved to be my antagonist again as I ran home from the office. Iain and I had reasoned that geese preferred the Smethwick stretch of towpath due to fewer passers-by; the repaved towpath out towards Bournville has no doubt boosted the number of users, especially during peak gosling season.

Geese had taken up the entire width of the towpath, requiring quick steps to navigate through. Just as I neared the end of avian congregation, a gosling unexpectedly moved into my path and started chirping away, alerting an overly-aggressive parent to start hissing at me for intruding.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Fit for purpose

This 5k and the 800m rep session and were the only two runs I completed for a total week’s mileage of under 10 miles – not even a third of my normal quota. I think I can be forgiven because it was my stag weekend (expertly organised by Iain). We had great fun shooting the hell out of each other with paintballs, shooting the hell out of clay pigeons with shotguns, and driving the hell out of dirt tracks with dune buggies.

Trying desperately to shoe-horn a mention of the day into this running-focused blog, I just want to take a moment to talk about being fit for purpose. 48 hours later on Monday, my legs were still aching in strange places from the numerous games of paintball; I’m not talking about the impact from the paintballs themselves, but rather muscle aches. With a decent running-base behind me, I was expecting to be able to bear the brunt of the games but I’ve been left with sore quads and knees. I think if I were more of a trail runner and practised more lateral movement (most likely the cause of my knee woes), I’d be aching a lot less right now.

Remember kids, fitness doesn’t necessarily transfer between sports!

Flexiseq Sport

Flexiseq Sport

Will Flexiseq Sport pass the Yellow Runner test?

I was telling Iain recently about how I occasionally receive products to try out and review, and one such example is Flexiseq Sport – a non-medicated pain relief gel.

I’ve tried all manner of gels and creams over the years, especially when I was suffering from near-chronic knee pain due to dodgy running technique. Volterol gel proved to be the most beneficial based on previous experience, though that meant not using it at the same time as other NSAID products like ibuprofen or paracetamol for fear of overdosing. With Flexiseq, one can at least use it along with controlled doses of ibuprofen and paracetamol due to different active ingredients. Another of its billed talents is the ability to replenish the lubricating layer over joints. I was more sceptical of this claim, though was willing to give it a try in the name of sport science.

So, did it actually work? I first trialled it a number of weeks ago after a 5x 800m session on tight and aching calves, and the gel did make a noticeable difference within an hour after application. Like Deep Freeze gel, it also had a slight cooling property to it and was largely odourless. I used it sparingly over the last couple of weeks and I believed it to work as described, coming in quite handy on my sore quads over the last few days!

There’s got to be a catch, right? Well, the fly in this ointment (pun intended) is the eye-watering cost of £19.99 per tube! Granted, it’s a 100g tube so there’s plenty in there, but a comparable 100g tube of Volterol is only £12.99 from Boots and £11.80 from an online only pharmacy. You would have to be incredibly concerned about using medicated gels, or allergic to them, to consider paying an extra £7 for Flexiseq. This is a real shame because it’s always good to have an alternative choice out in the market, but I fear the market won’t tolerate such a high price especially if the benefits aren’t immediately obvious on a crowded pharmacy shelf.

Enough rambling – it’s time for this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Scoot through the chute

Don’t clog up the finish line chute if you can help it. Keep moving as best you can. If you’re wearing a timing chip that must be snipped off, follow the same rule that you do with aid station tables: Pass the first one and the second and third ones. Everyone else will clump around them. Keep moving, and approach a volunteer snipper a bit farther down the line.

This week’s running – 8th to 14th of June 2015

Two Castles Run 2015 warm-up

No, I didn’t participate in the mass warm-up! Photo by Leamington Observer

This week was all about getting primed to race again.

8 canal miles

Taking two complete rest days over Sunday and Monday seemed to do the trick. I felt fresher than of late and was ready to head out and hit the canals.

Something was occurring at the NIA, so I chose to run out towards Smethwick and back for a bit of quiet time. Funnily enough, I had only just returned from work from that very direction… There was a spring in my step and leg turnover that was both odd but pleasant to experience; my form was poised and I felt unstoppable.

Hitting the switchback, everything suddenly fell apart when a ferocious headwind hit. I remained aerobic, but I’m sure if I had worn my heart rate monitor, an upward spike would have appeared for the second half.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run. Unusually, Strava has interpreted the paces per mile differently.

5k from work

Sadly, writing this entry up almost a week later means I’ve largely forgotten how this run went. Garmin Connect offers the only clue of a royal flush, so it can’t have been that bad…

Canal 10k

What a shocker of a run this was. I headed out on the usual stretch of canal out towards Bournville; before I’d even left Brindley Place, somebody had barged me into the wall of the tunnel to scrape up my shoulder pretty badly. There was plenty of blood and the sweat made the raw flesh sting like a mofo.

I decided to continue with my run instead of calling it quits, but things didn’t get any better. I struggled to hang on to the pace in the second half due to under-fuelling again. I just can’t seem to fuel up adequately at the moment, where it’s always a balancing act of eating enough for performance but also to maintain weight.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

What? No Parkrun?!

In a bid to freshen up as quickly as possible, I opted to not even put my name forward to volunteer at Parkrun. It was dreadful weather-wise, so I was quite glad to give it a miss in exchange for a much needed lie-in.

Two Castles Run 10k 2015

Find out how the Two Castles Run went for me by clicking here.

And for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Be cordial with your rivals

Did you shadow another runner in the final stretch of your race, or vice versa? Perhaps pushing each other to go a bit faster or out-and-out fighting to be first to the line? Good for you. (Both of you!) This competitive give-and-take is one of the best parts of racing.

Once you’ve crossed the line, a gracious gesture is always appropriate. Offer a kind word, an open hand, or pat on the back to anyone who was with you in those closing minutes of your race. Whether you egged each other on verbally, or wordlessly coaxed a bit more kick out of each other, you’ve just shared a bit of sportsmanship that deserves to be noted.

Hugs and kisses? Maybe not – unless your rival is also a spouse or significant other. Or European. Or both.

Two Castles Run 10k 2015 review

For the 2014 race, please click the following:

Now with karate chop action

Now with kung-fu chop action. Accessories sold separately – photo by Lis Morgan

I’m not normally one for novelty races, but who could resist a 10k that starts in one castle and finishes in another?

Read on to find out how storming the castle went.


After last year’s initial foray into the Two Castle’s Run, I fancied another stab at the race but this time with more focused training behind me. The event has a reputation for selling out very quickly; within three hours this year, which broke the previous record, though this was aided by a 12pm weekday registration launch versus the previous 8am Saturday launch. Elsa also wanted a shot at the race after she withdrew last year due to injury.

My three previous 10k races leading up to this saw me finishing in under 40 minutes, so I had it in the back of my mind to keep the streak going. Sadly, the course has a reputation for being quite aggressive in terms of the frequency and the aggressiveness of its climbs. This still didn’t stop me from having a go to see what came out on the other side.

Some take-home lessons from last year’s pre-race admin: ensure I visited the loo more than once and also to try and find somewhere with a long stretch to carry out my warm-up. Bonus because I managed to find two largely unused portaloos and a 400m stretch of flat path over on the far side of the castle grounds!

I felt a tad fresher than I did going into the recent Bristol 10k, though noticeably, there was a distinct lack of sharpness in my arsenal. The warm-up jog within the castle grounds felt excruciatingly tough at even a jog pace and my 300m effort at 10k pace never even made it to 10k pace (a conservative 3:58/km)… Oh dear. Were things about to unravel and become rather messy?

There was one other lesson learned from last year and that was to stake out a good spot in the start pen. Dave and I left this task a little too late in 2014, so there was a lot of dodging and weaving to contend with during the first mile or so. This year I found myself only a couple of rows behind the front runners, with almost everybody around me in a club vest of some description. I had a chat with a BRAT runner stood next to me to while away the time.

We were ushered over to the line shortly before the 9am start. I nervously joked to the BRAT runner, as we were stood under the thick canopy of the trees, that that was the point when people’s Garmins would lose GPS signal. Almost jinxing myself, my Garmin only went and lost signal only moments before we were due to start running… Thankfully, it regained lock-on with only 20 or so seconds to spare. At least my heart was pumped and ready to go!

Almost with precision timing, the hooter went off at 9am sharp and like a marauding medieval horde, we were ejected from the castle gates to begin our campaign towards Kenilworth Castle.

The race

After only a couple of seconds, I joined the scramble to get out of Warwick as quickly as possible. Things felt uncomfortable rather early on, which was worrying. I felt completely out of sorts and the lack of race pace training of late made itself known to me.

Earlier in the week, an 11mph tailwind was predicted but this never materialised and instead turned into an 8mph headwind; not the end of the world but also incredibly unhelpful on a net uphill course.

The 1k marker ticked by very quickly, at least in my head. A 4:05 opening split with an uphill section wasn’t bad at all, but it meant I had to be much stricter with future splits to be within a chance of target.

Being much further up the field, in and amongst faster club runners, meant most were following the shortest line on the course, so I almost always had others around me most of the time. My memory’s a bit fuzzy of the early portion of the race where I was simply trying to keep things under control, managing the discomfort with a need to keep the pace in check.

I made a sharp left turn at Leek Wooton and began the first significant climb on the course; all the others were relative small fry in comparison! I found myself running steadily with two other guys whilst a large gap developed between the group ahead and us. I used my old trick to try and drum up interest with the other two fellas to collectively shrink the gap. They weren’t having any of it and didn’t even make an attempt to follow me, so I went it alone… At least I got the climb over and done with!

Unusually for a 10k race, there were three water stations out on the course and all served bottled water (yeeeees!); this still didn’t stop me sucking down an Isogel because why fix what ain’t broke? The 5k marker was close by and my Garmin showed 20:20ish for the first 3.1 miles; I more or less knew at that moment that my quest for a sub-40 on the course was over with too much to do in the steeper second half.

I began a mini-battle with an older club runner in a blue and white vest (wasn’t Centurion) where, familiarly, he would gain some ground on me via the descents and I would take the lead again on the rises. I managed to break free from the battle after one incline too many had left my opponent drifting backwards.

One opponent defeated, another stepped in to take his place. This was one cool cat, dressed entirely in black, with black shades and flouting the rules by wearing earphones. He also had impeccable taste in racing flats, owning the same Nike Flyknit Racers as me but in – you guessed it – black! As with the other chap, this guy was able to pull away slightly on the descents whilst I was dominant going uphill. He put some daylight between us at around 7k, but crucially, a strong gust of wind hit; I remained in his slipstream and slowly reeled him in and gained a wee bit of recovery in the process. I continued drafting for another 15 seconds or so and sensing my opponent was tiring, I used the temporary breather to surge away and left him in my dust. I never did see him again and unexpectedly, I was never overtaken again on the course from that point onwards by anyone else.

Another water station appeared and credit where credit’s due, the organisers knew how to lay on a water station. It was plenty long and well-manned so nobody needed to cut in front of others. I identified a girl wearing a pink hat and began shouting “Pink hat! Pink hat!” to grab her attention. After the successful bottle pass, I could hear her saying to her friends, “Did you see that? He called to me and I gave him the bottle without dropping it! Yeeeeeah!” I guess they must have already dropped quite a few bottles with the faster runners up ahead.

With less than 2k to go, I began drawing things to a close. My cadence picked up and I continued to reel runners in that had faded from over-ambitious starts. I turned one corner and an enthusiastic crowd clapped and cheered as another guy and I made our way towards Kenilworth Castle.

I passed the 9k marker with 36:30 on my Garmin. Yep, defo no chance of a sub-40 finish on the largely uphill final km.

I reached the castle entrance and prepared to swing myself around the awkward 180 degree turn for the final 200m of the course. Made up of broken path, I began the inklings of a sprint but wasn’t entirely convinced there was much traction to be had so I stayed cautious. With about 100m remaining, I could see a female club runner ahead and finally decided to throw caution to the wind and kicked hard to chase her down. I heard a random cheer of “Beetroot” from the crowds; so that’s where Lis and Iain were hiding. I was able to close in very quickly to the club runner, but it wasn’t enough so I finished a second behind her for 40:39.


Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

I wasn’t too bad in the finish funnel, at least compared to usual, and regained my composure quickly. The organisers had clearly listened to feedback because water and cereal bars were also handed out as part of the goodie bags that traditionally comprise of only a medal and a t-shirt.

The cool cat dressed in black appeared towards my left. I congratulated him on a good performance and thanked him for duking it out with me during the second half of the race. It turned out that this was his first ever running race and had only ever trained on a treadmill in the gym previously! Get this guy on a proper schedule with some coaching and he’d be a force to be reckoned with.

Andy Yu and Ben Clarke at Two Castles Run 2015

Bumped into Ben Clarke from Cannon Hill Parkrun at the after-show party – photo by Lis Morgan

I made my way over to where Lis and Iain were stood in the crowd to wait for Elsa. They’d seen Neil Muir and Simon Bull come through already, and for a moment, I thought I’d caught a glimpse of Ben Clarke from Cannon Hill Parkrun pass by. Minutes later and as if by magic, Ben caught up to me in the crowds and shared his tale of how he’d almost missed the race entirely due a start time mishap.

Thoughts and conclusions

Even in peak shape and condition, I don’t think I’d have been able to get under 40 minutes with a likely 40:15 as the best result I could have hoped for. Looking through the runbritain rankings for the race, it’s a similar situation for most others where PBs were on the light side who are registered with the service. I was still over 30 seconds faster compared to the same time last year, which as a direct comparison is still a positive improvement.

As I type this up on the Monday afterwards, I’m feeling pretty good, which is no surprise considering I eased off just a touch in the race once a sub-40 finish was well and truly out of reach. With no races for another four weeks, I can get back to a routine that’s been largely missing since early May; I’m looking forward to a nice block of 5k training to hopefully better prepare me for the next batch of challenges to come my way.

Bristol 10k 2015 review

Andy Yu's Bristol 10k 2015 race review

Third 10k race in 4 weeks…

Ah. The big “B”. Read on to find out what went down in Bristol town.


The Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k was a disappointing outcome, so PB redemption was needed via a crack at the Bristol 10k. The race was only ever intended to be a fast training run that plugged a gap in my schedule between events!

Like many city races, the Bristol 10k attracts a sizable crowd; with a capacity of 15,000 and at least 11,000 expected to run, it was always going be busy. But busy can also be a good thing by providing additional people to work with towards a common goal. Looking at the previous two years’ worth of results, I was hoping to finish anywhere between 250 and 290 with 39:20ish to give you some idea of how deep the field can be.

Darryl Thomas of Bromsgrove & Redditch AC advised me to get to the start with plenty of time for both a warm-up and also to stake a solid position in the start pen. With a race start of 09:30, this meant getting up at the ungodly time of 05:45 to depart at 06:15 from Birmingham. Before anybody asks, there was no Lis in tow who preferred a lie-in; I couldn’t blame her because I felt much the same!

Expectedly, the roads were dead and traffic only began to appear once I neared Bristol. Rain lashed and gusts of wind rocked the car; a PB wasn’t going to come to me without a fight.

I parked up at Cabot Circus and made my way to the runners’ village, using the jog as a warm-up. I considered myself early, but the whole place was already heaving with runners and well-wishers at only 08:15. Thankfully, baggage check-in for the white wave was in a secluded area with plenty of space to spread out, relax and complete some strides to conclude my warm-up.

Conscious of the time, I made a beeline towards the start pens, following the atrociously marked signs that took me to the wrong place. With so many runners in attendance, simply getting into the start pen was a bun fight due to the crazily narrow opening to cover two different waves (four in total). I was horrified to learn later that the white wave covered sub-elite runners all the way up to 45 minute runners – a real mish-mash of abilities indeed!

I successfully claimed my spot, only four or so rows behind the elites, to facilitate a smooth start. With a few minutes before the hooter was due to blow, the organisers wheeled out Mara Yamauchi and another former Olympian, whose name I didn’t catch, to try and offer some advice through their experience. The organisers continued to harp on about how fast the course is and how lucky we were to avoid the rain; no mention of the white elephant in the room that were the strong gusts of wind hitting us! The elites were ushered over to the start line and I immediately spotted the awkward running gait of Louise Damen; there were mutterings of Claire Hallisey also running, though a bit light on famous male faces (Scott Overall and Chris Thompson have previously featured).

The air turned tense and everybody readied their fingers on GPS watches. “3-2-1” and the hooter fired – time to get my game face on!

The race

I kept myself to the right-hand side of the course for the first few hundred metres (straight road, no extra distance added) whilst the stampede behind me spread itself out. Latching on to a couple of club runners at around my target pace of 3:56/km, they prevented me going off like a crazed loon. I certainly wasn’t feeling as fresh as I had hoped to be with an early start and a couple of hard races under my belt; I somewhow managed to convince myself that I’ve had some shocking starts to races, only for them to come good in the end – the Cardiff 10k in 2014 was a prime example.

Shortly after 1km, the much-billed flat course presented the only real rise in the form of an overpass that took us out towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This particular part of the course was horribly exposed to the elements with wind tearing into runners. The pace was still on target, but I felt like I was working ever so slightly too hard for it so early into the race. The field had largely settled into its stride, so there was only minor jostling for position on an already wide road.

At only 3km, I could see my PB attempt fizzling away with a 4:01 split. My breathing rate had increased and discomfort began to ratchet upwards. What didn’t help was the seemingly everlasting Portway; I had cleared the Clifton Suspension Bridge and knew 5k was well past the switchback point. Thirst crept in and I couldn’t wait until the water station, forcing me to tuck into my Isogel at only 3km.

I can’t remember much at all during the fourth km, so let’s just skip to the fifth… I ran past the first couple of volunteers offering bottles of water (thank the lord for bottled water and not cups). Some fool in front of me went for a bottle but somehow missed; he’d already moved away from the tables before realising he failed to grab some water, and then proceeded to cut me up on his way back for another bottle; this forced me to abandon going for a bottle of my own to push him out of the way before he tripped me up! I finally managed to secure a bottle of water from the penultimate volunteer, cutting things rather close – the hullabaloo at least woke me up a bit!

Largely, my Garmin wasn’t far off at all from the km markers. I was confident the race would not be short, given the reasonably prestigious nature of the event – imagine the embarrassment!

Spectators started to return to the sides of the course, signalling we were close again to Bristol City Centre. I locked on to a chap with an Iron Man t-shirt (triathlon, not the superhero) and began to reel him in. Just beyond him, I mentally took note of two female Bristol & West AC runners that had managed to creep away from me on the Portway but were now coming back into contact.

I made the turn for 7km and took solace that there were fewer than two miles left to cover before I could collapse. Cumberland Road presented a nice, long flat stretch that was free of wind to reclaim some damage from the clock. In 2013, Iain, Lis and I were amongst the crowds cheering Elsa on somewhere along this point; if you take a look at some of my photos from the 2013 race, many people are hurting and in my head, this was etched as the point to begin ramping up the pace. Ramping up the pace I tried and ramping up the pace I failed – I could only manage around 4:00 splits.

Despite the road only having a slight right-hand turn, I went solo to run the apex in a bid to bring the total distance back into sync with my Garmin. I actually have no idea whether this worked or not because I didn’t see an 8km marker anywhere. Unexpectedly, my solo manoeuvre brought me ahead of the Iron Man fella and the Bristol & West AC girls – wayhey!

At the end of the road, we made a turn for the other side of the harbour. Annoyingly, this part of the course is made up of cobbled streets; I wanted to go faster but on tired and unsteady legs, I deemed it too much of a risk so stayed very much in control. There was only 1km left to cover and slap bang in the middle of the split was a hairpin turn for further slow-down when everybody’s tearing away for the end! Looking at the elapsed time of my Garmin, I was left with around 3.5 minutes on the clock to make it under 40 minutes. Grimace firmly on my face, I was willing the finish to appear and began my kick from about 400m out along with two other guys. Once the finish gantry was in sight, I searched inside me for anything to spare but there was nothing. The two guys with me were also running on fumes and must have also sensed they were touch and go for sub-40.

Glancing upwards above the finish, I saw 39:59 and with the few seconds it took to cross the start line, I at least managed to salvage something from the morning!


Andy Yu at the 2015 Bristol 10k

I think I’d be inconsolable if I didn’t at least make it in under 40 minutes…

Here’s the Garmin data for the race.

Garmin stopped on 39:55, I slumped myself over a barrier along with another guy doing the same. A marshal came over to check on us, advising that we slow our breathing down after the sprint for the line. He checked on us again a minute or two later, and still incapable of speech, I gave him a half-hearted thumb-up. Once recovered, I asked my fellow slumpee how he did, “39:59 at last as a 42 year old!” was his reply, so clearly thrilled with his result.

Race spoils weren’t bad and the goodie bag contained:

  • A nice chunky medal
  • A technical t-shirt
  • Cadbury’s chocolate
  • Biscuits
  • Regular water
  • Coconut water
  • High-5 Zero tabs
  • High-5 energy gel

Exiting the über long finish funnel, I thought I spotted Emma Stepto going off for a recovery run.

Reclaiming my bag was somewhat shambolic (the reports are the same each year), and it immediately became apparent why space blankets were handed out at the finish.

Knackered, I went and drowned my sorrows with a fry-up before making my way back to Brum to be delayed by no fewer than three multi-car pile-ups.

Spying through the results, Paul Sinton-Hewitt of Parkrun fame also ran and finished 30 seconds ahead of me. Another participant of note was Martin Rees, though I don’t believe he broke any world records today.

Closing thoughts

What a difference a year makes. I would have been on cloud nine with a finish of 39:55 to cheekily dip under 40 minutes 12 months ago, whereas now, I’m disappointed. That’s the joy and misery of progress – goals have to keep moving! Vince and Darryl both pointed out the positive, though, where a bad 10k is now sub-40.

I do genuinely believe I have a 39:15 or better inside me. I do, sadly, also believe that I peaked two weeks ago on that short 10k course, which infuriates me even more so now than it did originally.

What now? I don’t have any fast 10k races lined up until July, so I’m going to schedule in some recovery and then focus on 5k paced work for a change of scenery. I’ve got a few opportunities to be at Cardiff Parkrun coming up, so I want to capitalise on such a rarity before the summer is over.

DK10K 2015 review


Only 2 from the devil!

For the 2016 race, please click below:

Mid-week evening 10k race, you say? Read on to find out whether this would help or hinder my performance. As ever, jump straight to “The Race” if you’ve no interest in the pre-race jibber-jabber.


I’ve had my eye on the DK10K for a couple of years, but due to the close proximity to the London Marathon, it’s always been a no-go.

But not so this year! This spring and summer are firmly locked in 10k land in a bid to get my PB more in-line with my 5k and half marathon equivalents – McMillan reports I should be much closer to 39:10 or so.

DK10K elevation

That initial hill is gonna hurt…

I wasn’t expecting the race to be the fastest, based on the elevation profile above. The dodgy weather of late also did little to inspire. However, Saturday’s 18:52 at Cardiff Parkrun did my confidence some good, converting into a 39:11 on a flat course, so sneaking into sub-40 looked possible on paper. My 39:44 10k PB from September 2014 also had the possibility of falling, though seemed incredibly unlikely.

The mid-week, evening element of the race had me scratching my head somewhat in the lead up. In the end, I had a bigger lunch than normal and made my other meals smaller to compensate. I’d also been told by multiple folks that I should be more awake for an evening race, and that’s in spite of me being a morning person.

I opted to park off-site to facilitate a quick getaway after the race. Dumping the car half a mile away also allowed for a warm-up jog into the DK club grounds, finished off by a couple of laps around the grass pitch to bulk up the distance. I felt fresh, even after the heavy week prior.

Wandering into the changing area, I bumped into Darryl Thomas of Bromsgrove Redditch AC who I needed to find anyway! We’d provisionally agreed to stay together for the early portion of the race at a target pace of 3:59/km. We parted ways and agreed to meet up again on the start line, a few rows back from the front as an estimation of our ability versus the rest of the field.

Vacating the changing area, I bumped into Darren Hale, another Bromsgrove Redditch AC member. We had a good, long chat about various races past and yet to happen. Our mutual love of Parkrun was also spoken about at length. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Darren, particularly learning more about his return to running in recent years – his work hard and work consistently approach was all very inspiring ahead of the race.

We made our way to the start line and I threw in a 300m effort at 10k pace as a final warm-up before go-time. The wind was blowing right into us for the out portion of the route, but thankfully the clouds above cleared up to leave a rather pleasant spring evening, all things considered.

Being a chip timed race didn’t stop the usual array of slower runners starting too far forward. I looked over to my left and there were two ladies quietly discussing that they felt they were stood in the wrong place, surrounded by lean and sinewy club runners. Darryl caught up to me again and, nerve-rackingly, he decided to crouch down and adjust his shoe laces with maybe only a minute or so before we were due to start…

On “3, 2, 1 – Go”, we were off.

The race

Andy Yu at 2015 DK10K

Can you see me? Photo by Brian Smith

I launched right into my target race pace of 3:59/km, feeling smooth and steady. Darryl was right on my shoulder, following diligently. Very early on, a clear division in terms of grouping occurred, where I found I was leading one pack in pursuit of the bunch ahead. I reminded myself to stay calm and relaxed; it was a 700 odd field stacked with strong club runners, so there would be plenty for me to work with later on and there was no need for heroics within the first stretch.

The wind hit me hard and due to the snaking trail of runners all taking shelter behind each other, I felt it wise to follow and draft behind others, rather than go out on my own to run the shortest line on the course.

After only a mile, the first and only significant hill of the course arrived. In total, it amounted to almost a 100ft climb spread across only 400m, and coupled with the strong headwind, made for an unpleasant couple of minutes. At least it was early on in the race, so runners could recover and recalibrate their goals afterwards. I think Darryl was still with me at this point, but I heeded his advice to focus on my own race and to ignore him if he started drifting backwards.

I floated into contact with two Stourbridge RC members, both of whom were at around my pace. Our positions chopped and changed frequently, particularly on the undulations where I gained the lead on the rises and they covered me on the descents. I really, really need to pay some attention to my lack of downhill technique!

Distance markers were provided in 1km increments, though sadly these were completely out of sync with where they should have been placed; 1km appeared at roughly 800m and was rather off-putting. After 3km, their positioning still hadn’t improved and the fear of a short race crept into my mind.

I was faring well, time-wise. A slightly fast opening section due to the downhill had bought me some buffer for any eventual slow-down in pace. My Garmin’s virtual pacer continually fed back that I was drifting in and off target by no more than a couple of seconds, so all was good in the Black Country-hood.

On the approach to the water station, I sank an energy gel in an attempt to quench my thirst a touch. I wasn’t relying on getting much water from the cups on offer, with most of the one I grabbed spilling everywhere. An elapsed time clock appeared nearby, also doubling up as the 5km marker. I knew it had to be in the wrong place from the displayed time alone of 19:10; there was no way I had covered 5k in what would be a course PB for me over at Cannon Hill Parkrun in the midst of a 10k race!

The course continued to undulate, sapping the limited resources I had available. There was no rhythm to be had and if the course wasn’t undulating, it was windy and vice-versa. I traded blows with a Tipton Harrier girl, eventually gaining the lead on a rise somewhere. A similar scenario occurred between me and a Bromsgrove Redditch AC runner, though he managed to steadily creep away from me when I eased off a little too much on the descents for recovery.

The 7km marker finally aligned with the distance on the course. My shoulders tightened up from the tension, but the rest of my body still performed well. There was no fatigue in my legs, but once again it was my lungs that were letting the team down – some VO2 max efforts should sort that right out as an item to go in the training schedule. I drifted off target by 13 seconds and moved my sights to simply finishing in less than 40 minutes; this alone would have been a strong performance at the beginning of my 10k season to build upon (we’ll ignore the Ronnie Bowker 10k for a moment…)

8km was my slowest split at 4:08/km, though that was due largely to the climb back to the “Mile Flat” (yes, it’s actually called that). I had a bit of a bipolar moment when I suddenly convinced myself that a PB attempt was back on. Looking at my Garmin, I had a little over a mile left to cover and the elapsed time ticked over into 32:00; all it took was for the two remaining splits to clock in at 3:50/km each. Not impossible, especially as I was fully warmed-up.

The long stretch back to the club grounds and the finish took what felt like an age to traverse. I picked up my cadence and began chasing down the guys further ahead. Sporadically, spectators began to show on either side of the course, spurring me on to close the gap. My shoulders had given up on me and in turn, my t-rex arms returned. My core was still going strong and I tried taking deeper breaths to calm myself down – nope, didn’t work, so I welcomed the return of the Choochoo train impression™ in a bid to get as much oxygen into my system as possible.

Awkwardly, the “Mile Flat”, banked towards the right to create the illusion that runners were turning for the finish. Sensing there wasn’t much of the race left, I began my assault to finish strong. Just in the distance, I could see the traffic lights at the end of the “Mile Flat” where runners were turning right for the final few hundred metres. The guys ahead weren’t getting any closer to me and I don’t think there was anybody behind me either, at least I couldn’t hear anybody on my tail.

On board the pain train at DK10K 2015

On board the pain train at DK10K 2015 – photo by Brian Smith

Cheered on by a few more spectators, I turned for the club grounds and the finish, creating a sense of déjà vu akin to my experience from The Magor Marsh 10k and its clones under other guises. There were just 200m left and I kicked hard to try and reclaim a few valuable seconds. 100m left and more and more spectators lined the route back into the grounds and the finish gantry was just in front of me. With 50m left, I accelerated with everything I had left for the line, gaining a place in the process whilst I careered through the finish.

Here’s the Garmin data for the race.


I was in agony and my breathing was all over the shop. I crouched down and crawled to the side of the finish funnel for a breather, giving some of the spectators a good chuckle. Sat down with my back to the barrier, I checked my Garmin and a fist pump into the air signalled I’d done it – a sneaky, cheeky PB by 6 seconds for 39:38! As is so common with runners these days, I was over the moon but quickly started grumbling to myself that I’d have been at least 20 seconds faster on a flatter course and calmer day – never satisfied are we?

I got back up from the ground and moved gingerly through the funnel. My stomach was quite unsettled from the exhaustive effort and also the concentrated beetroot juice shot I had prior to the race.

Shortly after, Darryl came through with a 41:15, citing that he’d lost me during the first couple of km, but always managed to keep me in his sights. We collected our goodie bags (no medal, rather a technical t-shirt instead) and embarked on a magical mystery tour of the club grounds, trying to locate the chip time results. A laptop had been set up with a link to the results feed, so runners could verify their times almost immediately – this was a fantastic arrangement and clearly, the organisers knew their target audience well.

After a chat about race plans and training methodology, we parted ways until the next race (likely to be Wythall Hollywood 10k) and I had a gentle jog back to the car as a warm-down to close off a successful evening of racing.

Closing thoughts

I had a thoroughly good time at the DK10K. Everything from the organisation, the chip timing, to the facilities for runners was present and accounted for. I did have concerns over the numbers attending with the Great Birmingham 10k only three days prior, but need not have worried – there was plenty of quality in the field that I was never really running on my own. I’ll certainly return again next year when hopefully, the weather will return to its normal plans for the time of year.

In terms of 10k training and racing, I know I definitely have more to give over the distance and people’s estimations that I would have been 20 – 30 seconds faster on a flat course and calm day look accurate. A 39:10 10k translates into 3:55/km pace; a touch faster than what my training focuses on at the moment. I am resisting the itch to increase my training pace to match that, and will instead stick to my guns by increasing the number of 1600m reps I cover to 4x. I want to reach a stage where I can confidently maintain a set pace over the 10k distance, rather than relying on surges late in races to make up any shortfalls that creep in.

Watch this space for the further developments in the upcoming 10k races:

  • 17/05/15 – Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k
  • 31/05/15 – Bristol 10k
  • 14/06/15 – Two Castles Run
  • 21/06/15 – Caerphilly 10k
  • 12/07/15 – Wythall Hollywood 10k
  • 26/07/15 – Magor Marsh 10k