2016 – Year in review

2016

Plenty of ups and downs during 2016!

Let’s use Clint Eastwood’s 1966 movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to filter through this year’s ponder over 2016.

The Good

2016’s targets and PBs

I purposely softened a few of 2016’s targets after some of 2015’s became too ambitious to chase. The good news is I achieved all of my goals, with some by quite a margin!

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

And the below are the associated PBs:

Now let’s have a look at 2017’s targets:

  • 5k: sub-18:00
  • 10k: sub-38:00
  • Half marathon: sub-83:30
  • Marathon: sub-3:00

These days for me, any 5k PB is welcomed with open arms. Finding those 15 seconds to get from 18:14 to sub-18 will not be easy, though breaking it down to just needing to shave 3 seconds per km makes it much easier to stomach.

The 10k goal is around where I should have been at multiple points in 2016, but just didn’t come good. It taunts me and is more a case of luck rather than ability.

My half marathon goal remains in line with 2014’s through to 2016’s estimations of 90 to 120 seconds improvement per year; hopefully more likely the latter due to only one half marathon PB in 2016.

The big-Kahuna that is the sub-3 hour marathon goal doesn’t need much introduction or explanation now. By late spring, I should have a very firm idea of the sort of shape I’ll be in and what work will be necessary to get me there for the autumn.

Mileage uplift

2015 saw 1,612 miles covered.

2016 welcomed an increase to 1,737 miles. I basically ran an additional month’s worth of mileage in the same amount of time, no doubt helped by the marathon focus. The total would have likely broken 1,800 miles had I have not also moved house during April.

Memorable races

This one’s easy and couldn’t be anything other than the Yorkshire Marathon. There are no guarantees in running; you simply do the work required and hope for the best on the day, whilst not doing anything too foolhardy in the race. I placed my heart and soul into the preparation and was met with an incredibly rewarding outcome. If I suddenly had to give up running or chasing the marathon, I think I could be satisfied with that performance despite my next goal of going under 3 hours.

Notable mentions also go out to this year’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon and Walsall Arboretum Parkrun.

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon defied my own expectations of what I could have produced that day, and like all good breakout performances, still remains out of reach almost a year later. Perhaps the 2017 edition of the race will finally jump start my half marathon development once more?

Similarly, the 5k PB at Walsall Arboretum Parkrun came from nowhere. The morning was wet and miserable, the field was sparse, and I was fatigued from being elbow-deep in marathon training. I’ve not come close to that performance for months!

 

The Bad

Races I’d rather forget

Eugh. The Kenilworth Half Marathon really should have been cut and dry, but was marred by illness. But I at least finished the race! I didn’t dwell too much on the outcome, mainly because the race was just a stepping stone towards a greater goal.

The Cardiff World Championships Half Marathon was also a let-down due to the weather gods unleashing a monstrous storm at around 9 miles during my race. Up until that point, I was in contention for a minor half marathon PB, which would have at least made the race’s £60 entry fee more palatable!

 

The Ugly

The race I’d rather hadn’t taken place

This last spot can only go to the Telford 10k. A stinking cold and the resultant DNF that followed made for incredibly bitter pills to swallow, thusly continuing the trend of why my 10k PB is so far out of line with the rest of my performances.

Illness

I’ve said enough on this topic recently, but felt I had to include it for posterity. What I would give for a boosted immune system right now!

 

Make 2017 a good one

Whether you’re just starting out as a runner, or chasing after elusive goals, I hope 2017 comes good for you!

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Conductive Education 10k 2016 review

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Nice race and nice t-shirt!

For the 2017 race, please click the following:

Given this was approached as just a training run, I’ll spare you folks a lengthy write-up after the tome-like Yorkshire Marathon report!

Pre-race

I’ve been aware of this race for a number of years, but it’s always fallen on the calendar when Lis and I have been out of town for reasons X, Y or Z. Not so on this occasion, where it also lined up nicely as an opportunity for a tempo run and as a sighter for the upcoming Telford 10k, which will be my final chance for PB redemption after the disastrous Magor 10k from back in July.

It was a beautiful autumnal morning, but also cold and blustery to leave me thankful I wasn’t chasing after anything apart from dipping under 40 minutes. Gloves and arm warmers came out for the first time since they were packed away back in March sometime!

Lots of faces from the local running community were in attendance, with a notable guest appearance from Neil Muir.

Shortly before go-time, I bumped into Shaun Hemmings, a regular from Perry Hall Parkrun that I’ve become better acquainted with of late. It just so happened he also had an eye on a sub-40 finish to have me fist pumping the air in my head; the last time I ran a 10k in Cannon Hill Park saw me running almost exclusively on my own in no-man’s land.

The race

With the knowledge of a downhill start, I was cautious not to get caught up in the start line scramble for positions in this race that wasn’t a race. Shaun and I found ourselves working together early on, though he pulled away shortly before completing 1km. I felt pretty good in spite of the delayed return to regular training, and yesterday’s Parkrun that was probably a tad too swift. 1km to 3km came in pretty much where I wanted them for 3:57, 4:04 and 3:58.

At 3km, I had to make a sharp 180° turn around a bollard to run face first into 13mph headwind. This gave me a chance to regroup with Shaun and a few others. I took the opportunity of a few seconds of recovery in the group’s draft before moving forward to try and get the pace back on track.

Re-entering the main perimeter of Cannon Hill Park, I came into contact with Chris Callow, who was also targeting sub-40 based on our exchange prior to the race. I sensed his swift start and the relentless headwind on the return into the park had done some damage, so I told him to shelter behind me for a while as we approached halfway. 4km and 5km came in at 4:00 and 3:52 (subtle downhill) respectively to contribute towards a 19:51 first half. Right on target!

I’m not entirely sure when it happened, but I lost Chris at some point shortly after passing the Mac. I was once again firmly in no-man’s land, though spied a few individuals further ahead that appeared to be fading from an enthusiastic first half.

Sub-consciously, I knew I had to lift the pace slightly with the knowledge that the headwind would wreak havoc once more as I neared the switchback point. 6km and 7km clocked in for 3:59 and 3:50 respectively.

Turning around for the final time, I faced the nemesis that was the headwind once more; unlike the first lap, there was nobody to hide behind on this occasion for the first moment in the race where I felt like I was actually working. Seeing the others come through on the other side, I began doling out encouragement to various folks. The headwind did a number on me and left 8km with a 3:58 in its wake.

Before starting the race, I bumped into fellow-Cannon Hill Parkrun regular, Paul Harris, who advised me to begin winding my race up once I re-entered the park. I mis-understood his words and thought he meant I should pick up the pace from the triangle onwards! The approach back to the main perimeter of the park was a confusing affair, due to traffic flow arrows that faced the wrong way; I found myself having to flip-flop from one side of the route to the other a couple of times before it became clear that I was on the correct path. 9km clocked in for 3:48.

The final km remained solitary, though was well supported by familiar faces. I came to the realisation that I’d never before finished a 10k feeling quite so comfortable, nor having taken on no water as I scooted through the water station for the second time. There was also no need for a sprint for the finish line to keep things nice and steady, safe in the knowledge that I’d made it back in under 40 minutes and then some for 39:13.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

Upon finishing, I felt like I had only set foot on a long Sunday run and recovered my breath within seconds. I got the tempo run I wanted without any distress, so mission accomplished.

A few sociable catch-ups with people afterwards (thanks for the tea, Neil!) rounded off a thoroughly pleasant morning.

If I’d approached the race in slightly aggressive manner, I would have been incredibly close to surpassing my soft 10k PB of 38:45. That will have to wait until the hotly anticipated Telford 10k in 5 weeks where the outlook is to get as close to 38:00 as possible.

That’s your lot – I told you all it would be a short write-up!

This week’s (lack) of running – 10th to 16th of October 2016

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The best sight in the world for many this weekend at The Great Birmingham Run 2016

Understandably, there was no pressure to run!

Last week’s update

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted there was no weekly update to cover marathon race week. I’d pretty much summed it up in the race report, but for those curious, these are the runs I completed:

A return to sports massage

Lis strongly suggested I seek out a walk-in sports massage appointment with my time off from work. As luck would have it, the Guildhall Practice was just an 800m walk from home and could squeeze me in that Tuesday afternoon.

Whilst incredibly pricey at £42 for 45 minutes of work and a 15 minute consultation, I would seriously consider returning there, albeit not on a regular basis for cash flow reasons.

My practitioner (Sam) was confident, thorough and, importantly, listened to me. He was very good at reading a person in just a few minutes of dialogue; after his assessment of my posture and feet, he remarked that I had low arches and whether I had appropriate footwear. I quickly commented that I wear neutral shoes to compliment my running style, and very rarely pick up niggles or injury, backed up by taking almost a year between 2011 and 2012 to learn how to become a forefoot striker. “If it’s not broken, then we don’t need to fix it,” was his approach, which was a tick in the right box for me. He told me a story of how one of his clients is a 60 year old, life-long power-lifter that suffered from extreme back pain from a lifetime of training loads. Sam said rather than chop out the power-lifting entirely, he worked with the guy to minimise the pain as much as possible so as to still allow the client to lift, citing that removing the lifting completely would have done no mental good, either. It was genuinely refreshing to see such an approach, versus other practices where I was essentially paying to be told I was doing everything wrong and made to feel incredibly small.

45 minutes on the physio table was enough to remind me of why it had been over 2 years since I last spent time on one! Sam worked on all the problem areas: quads, adductors, IT bands, calves and glutes, whilst skipping over my naturally tight, but not troublesome hamstrings. Expectedly, I was sorer after the massage than post-marathon! The temporary trauma was worthwhile, because I felt near-perfect the day immediately after.

The Guildhall Practice can be found in Kings Heath, on Alcester Road South. Not cheap, but not arseholes either!

4 miles from city centre

This was my first run post-marathon, with the aim of the game to run s-l-o-w!

Dusk was quickly falling, but Cannon Hill Park was positively bustling with runners getting in last minute workouts ahead of the Great Birmingham Run.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

It was a shame I was still firmly in recovery mode, because I’d have otherwise gone out hard at Cannon Hill Parkrun for an artificial boost to my runbritain handicap, what with all the tapering runners around.

Instead, I ran a personal worst 5k with the goal of keeping Nigel Beecroft’s friend, Alex, under control to keep him from wrecking his half marathon the following day. A couple of last minute tips were also thrown in to give Alex the best chance of success on the day.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Birmingham Run 2016

My second year of not running my hometown half marathon; I know my limits and left my best back in York last week. Come rain or shine, though, I was ready to get some spectating done on that notorious hill.

Joined by Carl Stainton and his son, Marc, we were there with plenty of time to see the elites come through. As a big fan of Andy Vernon and Chris Thompson, it was a shame not to see the two duking it out on the climb, having decided their fates some 4 miles earlier.

I think I saw everybody I aimed to see, plus many others I wasn’t expecting to. Good to also have so many blog readers recognise me – hope my cheers were of some use to you!

A selection of photos from the day below:

Magor Marsh 10k 2016 review

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Quite a handsome medal for a cheap as chips race to enter

For previous races, please click the following:

My annual 10k PB attack on this pancake flat course. Read on to see how things went…

Pre-race

As somebody from Birmingham, there aren’t many local flat 10k races to truly test myself on. It’s with some luck that a few years ago, Lis and I were visiting her family and this local 10k happened to take place at the same time.

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You’d probably have to race 10,000m on a track to find something flatter!

The race has previously always delivered on PBs, thanks to no more than a few metres of climb to contend with. This year, the organisers modified the course slightly to include a new start and finish, and also a different out and back section. A certificate of accuracy was awarded several months ago, though with all the shenanigans from Manchester and its surrounding areas, distance approval literally isn’t worth the paper it’s written on – only running the debut of the modified course would satisfy…

The target was somewhat ambitious. My 10k PB stood at 38:45 from the Wythall Hollywood race around a month prior, whereas various ability calculators had me pegged at sub-38 based on my recent 18:14 5k PB and my likely soft 84:54 half marathon PB. A time of 37:59 equated to 3:47 per km, with a recent track session of 4x 1600m in blazing 34 degree heat suggesting it was possible with some graft.

Race morning was warm with no cloud cover. My warm-up also confirmed a swirling strong breeze was present to complicate things further. I did my best to balance hydration whilst minimising toilet visits due to the limited facilities at the race headquarters; lengthy queues were already in place with around an hour to go before the race start!

There were plenty of club runners present, including the highly regarded Emma Stepto. I identified one particular runner that’s been a few steps ahead of me in a number of recent Welsh races and planned to lock on to him as a target to pull me along to a hopeful PB.

Stood on the modified start line, it was a clear improvement over the previous versions with additional width to accommodate more runners. There was distinctly less of a fight to get as close to the line as possible, minimising mis-matched paces from people desperate to get an accurate time from the non-chip timed race. On the starter’s orders of “1, 2, 3, GO”, we were sent off on our way.

The race

As always, the first few hundred metres were a mad dash of tightly wound runners. I found myself falling into target pace very quickly and began looking around for the chap I wanted to follow, though he was nowhere in sight and I figured he must’ve went off with one of the lead groups.

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Incredibly warm, torrid conditions at the 2016 Magor 10k – photo by Lis Yu

Groups quickly formed and I had to make some decisive moves about who I wanted to remain with and follow, and who to drop. The first km flashed up exactly according to plan for 3:47.

The pancake flat course offered almost no respite from the sun overhead. I grew warmer and warmer, though shrugged it off as a recreational hazard of summer racing. I had to surge a couple of times to ensure I latched on to a correctly paced group, which pleasingly was made up of five or six guys to help block some of the strong gusts of wind that hit. The second km slowed to 3:53, though I still had plenty of distance left to recover some of the damage.

The guys in the pack dictating the pace began to slow; their breathing grew laboured and at such an early point in the race, I knew they wouldn’t be able to sustain the effort for much longer. I took the reins and moved to the front of the group to keep the pace consistant, and looking at my Garmin, the split remained rock solid with little movement. The group continued to slow and drift further behind me; clearly they had all been a little over-enthusiastic and all began to suffer for it. I gave one final motivational push to try and spur any would-be takers to come with me; “Come on guys! We’ve got to close that gap ahead of us!” Nobody went with me and within a few seconds, I was left on my own for what had unhelpfully become a solo time trial. The next group ahead were probably no more than 100m away, but it was too big a void to tackle on my own whilst running unprotected into the wind. I did toy with the idea of dropping back a touch to regroup, though I’ve always been too stubborn to try it and decided to march alone instead for the next 2km, producing very consistent splits of 3:52 and 3:51.

The effort to keep the pace steady whilst on my lonesome took its toll on me. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor due to the distraction of it slipping off in the last couple of 10k races; coupled with the conditions, I’m certain I was working too hard, too early. What I should have done was adopt the same negative split approach as I did in the Wythall Hollywood 10k, though it was too late for that. The one and only water stop of the race arrived, serving water out of plastic cups, as is the norm for a small race. I grabbed one cup from a volunteer, being especially careful not to spill any of the precious liquid. The quantity wasn’t nearly enough for such a warm summer’s day and only afforded enough for one sip, with the remainder going over my head. An article I read recently actually found water to be more beneficial on you than in you if a choice has to be made! The split clocked in at 3:54 with some slight slowdown to factor in a sharp turn and some fumbling for liquid, with the 5km halfway split registering as 19:18 to be about 10-15 seconds off target.

A 2km long straight presented itself and kept me focused on the group ahead; I was positively willing it to break apart to send somebody back to me! The effort to maintain pace continued to ratchet upwards, and whilst Garmin Connect recorded a tailwind for the direction the race took, the reality was actually cruel gusts of headwind to mock any foolhardy runners that dared to seek out a PB. The sixth km remained steady at 3:52.

Somewhere on the approach to 7km, a club runner I dropped much earlier in the race crept up on me, eventually gaining some daylight. I gave him some encouragement, impressed that he was able to shift his pace upwards at a relatively late stage in the race, factoring in that I wasn’t slowing down either. I tried latching on to him, though the fictional elastic snapped almost immediately. The group in the distance finally fell apart and one runner began drifting backwards to incentivise me to keep at it. Thanks to the brief moments of company, the seventh km came in at 3:49 for one of the faster splits of my race.

I cannot stand out and back sections of courses, so it’s laughable that I’ve got the Yorkshire Marathon in early October with two sizable switchbacks in place to bulk up the distance to the required 26.2 miles. The Magor 10k moved its previous switchback from around 5km on the route to its new home at 8km. Why? I’ve no idea, though in my mind, I reasoned it would make for an easier encounter nearer the end of the race rather than in the middle where pace can usually sag. I saw the race leaders approaching on the other side before too long, though had completely missed the first place guy who was four minutes further up the road by then! I took the turning wide to minimise any pace slowdown and immediately felt the hotspots on my feet flare up. If you hadn’t guessed by now, I was having a pretty dreadful time out there! 8km clocked in at 3:56.

None of my usual tricks worked to draw any more out of my dried out husk of a body – I’d definitely gone out too hard, too soon! The runner that overtook me sailed away into the distance, whilst the runner that fell from the group ahead was still out of reach. 9km was a real struggle, both physically and mentally, and produced my second slowest split of the race for 3:55. Everything would have immediately felt more pleasant if I’d have eased up, though I was still stubbornly hanging on to whatever threads of a PB opportunity that remained.

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Just a little something left for one last kick – photo by Lis Yu

This was it now – just 1km left to suffer through. I was now within reach of the runner in front by just a few strides, but there was nothing left at the bottom of the well to call upon. I was on the doorstep to blowing up, whilst the wind continued to tear strips from me, and the sun overhead scorched my skin. We were soon upon the turning for the modified finish that took us towards the back of race HQ, avoiding the broken gravel driveway, though replacing the final few hundred metres with a narrow alleyway that led to a grass straight. With about 400m remaining, I was finally able to make contact with the runner I’d so diligently aimed to reel in along with another unidentified club runner. Somehow, I managed to convince the central governor in my head to let me have something and I was able to inject a small surge to beat the unidentified club runner to the passageway. I made the last turn to draw neck and neck with the guy I’d targeted, kicking for the grass finish and spurred on by Lis and her parents. I was sprinting on fumes and a quick peek at my Garmin indicated a PB of maybe only a second or two was possible. 10m. 5m. 1m. C’est fini!

Post-race

This is where things got messy and took a turn for the frightening…

I stumbled a few metres through the finish funnel and very quickly realised something wasn’t right. My legs were like jelly and my senses suddenly became clouded. I was gasping for air, but my breaths were so quick and shallow that I now believe I was actually hyperventilating! I took a few more steps to be given a medal, found a clear spot adjacent to the finish funnel and then fell sideways to hit the deck with a thud. I don’t know how long I was out for, but what felt like only seconds must have easily been minutes in hindsight. It wasn’t until Lis and her parents reached me that the true extent of how hard I’d pushed myself came to light. The heat and effort from the race had made me dehydrated and delirious; all I could produce from my mouth was gibberish. My skin was red hot to the touch and my breathing remained unsteady. Lis finally had the bright idea to grab a few bottles of water from the volunteers to pour over me; it was instant relief and was just what was needed to quickly stabilise my temperature. It’s anybody’s guess what my internal core temperature actually was!

All of that effort would have been for nought if I didn’t get something out of the race. Checking my Garmin, the result came up as 38:44, though Lis said she saw 38:45 on the clock above as I passed through the finish gantry. The race official, processing the paper results for prize purposes, confirmed 38:45 was my official finish time. Just bloody fantastic – I almost literally wrung myself dry only to equal my existing 10k PB! To say that I’m disappointed is an understatement. It’s an often too regularly used adage, but in this case, there actually wasn’t any more I could have done out there without ending up in a hospital at the end of the race. On a positive note, it does confirm that I, without doubt, would have been faster in more mild conditions; runbritain agrees and gave me a -0.7 performance score versus the race’s 1.5 condition score, bringing my overall handicap down to 4.1. To give myself a chance at redemption, I’ve entered the Telford 10k that takes place in December, where you’ll find me racing in exactly the same attire without a single moan!

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

Tonight, I learned a fellow runner and supportive friend of mine very recently passed away. Darren was always a source of inspiration to keep me pushing beyond my own limits – it seems only fitting that this race report’s dedicated to him. R.I.P. Darren – you will be missed.

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2016 review

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Global warming, my arse!

Read on to find out how the 2016 Brass Monkey Half Marathon went for me.

For the 2015, 2017 and 2018 races, please click below:

Pre-race

I love this race but caveat emptor sure does apply upon entering! I normally play the weather game with any race, be it major or minor, and will stalk various weather services in the days before toe-ing up on a start line. With the recent flooding in York, it was anybody’s guess what the actual conditions would be like on race day, let alone if the race would actually go ahead. A cold snap arrived during race week and brought the mercury hurtling down to -2 degrees. That said, it actually felt colder in 2015 despite being several degrees warmer! This lead to all manner of race kit discussion, with me finally settling on my trusty yellow vest, shorts, arm warmers and gloves.

With Dave Burton in tow, Lis and I arrived at York Racecourse, which once again doubled up as race HQ for the morning. We randomly bumped into Dave Johnson – a member of Kings Heath Running Club and fellow Cannon Hill Parkrun regular.

With temperatures so low, we concluded it was more critical than ever that a good warm-up was key to an enjoyable and successful race. Dave was unsure of his ability after missing the chance at a dead cert sub-90 half marathon back in the autumn of 2014 due to injury; recent niggles did nothing to raise his confidence and he was settled on a finish just outside of 90 minutes. I was looking for a time under 85 minutes as my A-goal, with all of my recent training indicating such a time was possible; a PB of any magnitude would be satisfactory as a secondary goal. A 200m effort at my target race pace of 6:26 per mile completed my pre-race admin.

Pre-race timing seems to have grown increasingly worse for me. I had to get back inside race HQ to pick-up a few bits and pieces from Lis (Dave had already made his way back), just as everybody had been sent off to make their way towards the start pens! I made it back – just. Dave and I then had the problem of seeding ourselves into a decent place in the start pens, so a cheeky detour through the crowd-free car park brought us to the very front without any pointy elbows required. Starting grid positions chosen, we played the waiting game for the tensest five minutes I have experienced for a long time. We were finally ushered forward for a bang on 10 o’clock start, as one would expect of an event in its 34th year.

The race

It took me about ten seconds to cross the start mats. Unlike many races I’ve participated in, there seemed to be no urgency off the line and there was a distinct lack of position jockeying. I didn’t start that far back and I quickly found myself kinda boxed in and unable to make many moves to break away and settle into target race pace. Thankfully, through sheer luck, I started on the right-hand side of the route for full advantage of the racing line during the congested opening mile! Rather unimpressively, it came in at 6:39… Yeah, I know – some serious graft lay ahead of me if I was to even have a shot at a sub-85 minute finish.

Mile 2 thinned out a touch, and it was very clear that runners either consciously or sub-consciously forged groups to attack the route. This was fine and dandy for folks who were happy to just settle in and stick with a group, regardless of any pace drop; for me, the pace was still below target, so I found myself surging between groups and then gaining some brief recovery in between from each slipstream. But this still wasn’t enough to lift my pace; my legs seemed reluctant to turnover any more quickly, and I began to question whether I had tapered a little too much in the days leading up to this race. Fellow runners must have looked on at my haphazard approach with raised eyebrows, because not a single person went with me! The second mile came in at 6:36, so I was at least beginning to move in the right direction…

Going into mile 3, I identified a runner ahead in a brown top that appeared to be moving at a tidy clip; a tidy clip that looked damn close to the pace that I wanted to be running at! I surged to latch on to him and largely stayed in his slipstream for much of the third mile. I had to up my stride and cadence at times to stay with him; such was his strength to hold on to the faster pace. The first of three water stations appeared mid-way through the mile and whilst I wasn’t exactly thirsty, I still took water on to stop my mouth from feeling so dry from the cold air. The chap I followed ran straight past the volunteers handing out water to create a sizable gap whilst I struggled to get water down my neck; more ended up going down my vest for a sobering shock to the system! I never did shut the space down between my target and me and moved my sights to another group that was easier to chase down. The mile closed with 6:29 on my Garmin – we were finally open for business!

I stashed three Isogels for the duration of the race, with the first consumed between miles 3 and 4. The hit of caffeine really did a number to perk me up!

I felt superb during miles 4 and 5. Clearly, I had warmed up to produce splits of 6:27 and 6:26 to be bang on target pace. I continued to adopt my tactic of moving from group to group, though I rapidly found groups were getting smaller and the distances in between were growing greater and greater. I hate running on my own during a race and am at my strongest when working with others to share the effort.

On the turn for Acaster Selby, the southern most point on the course, I was reminded of last year’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon and its ground frost. There was none of that this year, thanks largely to a very dry Saturday that preceded, and a fleet of gritters for perfect terrain underfoot for racing. I remained in high spirits and felt indestructible, even with so few runners around me. Miles 6 and 7 produced 6:28 and 6:25 respectively to still be firmly in target PB pace.

What goes up must come down and I began to feel like a bipolar sufferer. The gaps between groups grew even greater and the highs of miles 6 and 7 quickly faded away. The group ahead of me was too far to reel in; one particular runner in red shone like a beacon to taunt me. I wasn’t sure what a sustained effort at such a stage in the race would do to me and I reluctantly erred on the side of caution. This of course meant I was in no-man’s land hell for 4 solo miles on my own, and it’s no coincidence that these were also some of my slowest splits since the race began (6:31, 6:30, 6:35, 6:34).

Somewhere during this awful stretch also saw the arch in my left foot tighten up horribly. Running on my toes occasionally alleviated the pain, though it was no guarantee and before too long, the tightness remained regardless. I tried heel striking with my left foot and this seemed to do the trick; I looked ridiculous heel striking with one foot and mid-foot striking with the other, so I reverted to full time heel striking until the pain subsided once more.

My final gel was the hardest to tear into. I was tired, my form had altered and my cold, gloved fingers simply did not want to co-operate! Ripping the sachet with my teeth, more of the sticky contents ended up on my face and vest than inside me…

Mile 12 saw me return through Bishopthorpe for the first lot of spectators in a long while that weren’t marshals out on the course. A cheeky hill over the motorway also sent a few runners back towards me to finally break the tedium of running alone. A single decker bus came out of a side road just in front of me before pulling into a bus stop. Its stop was temporary and quickly closed in on me from behind; I’m sure my cadence picked up at this point to try and outrun it! I moved to my left to allow the bus to safely overtake me; comically, it was travelling at exactly the same speed as I was for what must have looked like a runner chasing down the bus for a lift to the finish! Nonetheless, the bus played its part in restoring some vigour to my race for a 6:25 split.

With just a little more than a mile remaining, I did my best to visualise the final mile from Cannon Hill Parkrun to give it all some context. Earlier that morning whilst discussing race tactics, I advised Dave to begin to wrap things up once the racecourse became visible in the distance during the closing stages. With the pain in my left foot completely absent, I took a dose of my own advice and started my drawn out kick for the finish. Much like last year, my eyes scanned the horizon for any motion from runners ahead that were moving back into the racecourse complex. A runner to my side sensed I was close to my limit and encouraged me on by telling me there was just 1km left. His words were like music to my ears and prompted me to check my Garmin to see “1:21:15” staring back at me. I knew a quick 3:40 km – something I run most weeks at Parkrun – would allow me to sneak under 85 minutes. I needed no further motivation and pumped my arms and raised my cadence, overtaking a few runners, including that runner in red from earlier. Maybe 50m in front of me was that club runner in brown that slipped away during mile 3.

The 400m sign flashed by, but I was in too much of a frantic panic to think straight and do the calculations to work out whether a sub-85 minute finish was still possible or not. I hoped it was and continued my charge and finally made the left turn for the racecourse.

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Doing my best Sylvester Stallone impression – photo by Lis Yu

Marshals cheered me on as my eyeballs bulged from their sockets from the effort that was more akin to 5k than half marathon pace. I heard the familiar voice of Carl give me a cheer – he provided race support for another friend of his that was running. I turned for one final corner and only 200m remained between the end and me. Having run this 200m stretch as part of my warm-up, there were no surprises at all and I went hell for leather; Garmin Connect reports the final scraps clocking in at 4:53 per mile pace!

Post-race

Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

With the knowledge that a sub-85 finish was touch and go by mere seconds, I uncharacteristically ran through the line without so much as a glimpse of my Garmin. A quick button press once clear of the finish line and I stumbled over to the banked grass verge in the funnel. Lis was on the other side of the barrier and wondered whether I’d hit my target or not. I myself wasn’t sure, so took a look at my Garmin. A few takes later and my eyes finally believed what had been presented: 1:24:55 and a near 2 minute PB since October. I did it by just a few seconds, and chip timing was gracious enough to gift me with an extra second for 84:54 officially.

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I rendezvous’d with Lis to quickly get some warm clothes on. Thoughts quickly turned to keeping an eye out for Dave coming through, where we believed he would be due back any moment for a 91 or 92 minute finish. As I turned around to scope out my surroundings, Dave was stood only metres away with his finisher’s t-shirt in hand and a beaming smile on his face. Caught completely off-guard, we quizzed him for his finish time and whether he had made it back in under 90 minutes or not. Not only did he achieve his long awaited sub-90 finish, but he also completely smashed it for an 88:25 PB – he’s only 16 months behind schedule is all!

Closing thoughts

6:26 per mile was a theoretical race pace derived from December’s Sneyd Christmas Pudding 10 mile race. Whilst this running of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon wasn’t my finest example of steady pacing execution, I’m still pleased that I averaged 6:28 per mile to get pretty damn close. Could I have gone even faster if I had others to work with during the second half? Definitely.

Plugging my race into the McMillan calculator produces some wide-eyed predictions:

  • 5k: 18:20 (18:49 actual)
  • 10k: 38:05 (39:16 actual)
  • 10 mile: 63:39 (64:17 actual)
  • Marathon: 2:58:41 (3:34:02 actual)

Pretty insane, huh?

With the Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships just 10 weeks away, I’m scratching my head somewhat about what I may want to target at the Welsh capital. The course isn’t nearly as fast as the Brass Monkey route, so any improvement would be marginal, if there will be any improvement at all. Me thinks 84:1X looks achievable with some race pace graft over the coming weeks…