Conductive Education 10k 2017 review

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Just a few hundred metres left – photo by Yvonne Morgan

For the 2016 race, please click the following:

Second outing for me and second ever 10k for Lis at this gem of a local race.

Pre-race

I’d heard of this race for several years from friends, but only took notice of it and first participated a year ago. Run almost entirely within Cannon Hill Park, the route naturally shares several similarities with the various parkrun courses of yore, so will be quite familiar to many. Naturally, there were many, many faces from the local running community, both participating and volunteering. Lis continued her focus on 10k events and also signed up, with her parents in tow to spectate.

It’s a charming little race, with the proceeds going to the NICE charity, helping children with movement disorders.

A year prior, I ran this race feeling like I’d barely worked. I was in much better all-round then, with results proving as much. From 5k up to the marathon, I felt like I could put out respectable performances without too much forewarning, such was the magnitude of the training improving all of my energy systems and paces. Recent parkruns have felt tricky, with a distinct difficulty in moving up to and staying in higher gears. A morning’s target of simply finishing in under 40 minutes was fine by me! My race strategy? Just dip under 20 minutes for the first half and race the second half like a 5k. Speaking with Chris Callow beforehand, he too sought after a sub-40 finish, not having done so since 2016’s Telford 10k, which I’d so miserably DNFd at.

The race

I’ve not done many races with fast downhill starts, so the novelty has yet to wear thin. Expectedly, everybody went bananas and used the advantage to bank a few valuable seconds early on. Once the course flattened out, I had to do a double take when I saw 3:29 per km pace being covered! I shared with Chris that I was dropping the anchors to pull back a touch, getting back on my plan of covering the first half of the race in just shy of 20 minutes. The 1st km with its generous descent came in for 3:50.

So early on in the race, there were plenty of people around me to run alongside, and coupled with my consciously scaled back pace, it all felt rather effortless. The next 2km were coasted along at 4:05 and 4:01 pace as the race took runners to the furthest point of the course.

My ability to negotiate switchbacks had not improved, especially when it involves running around a bollard! Even at a more controlled pace, I ended up grabbing the bollard with both hands to swing myself around in an attempt to not lose too much momentum for the return. Whilst my switchback talents left little to be desired, it seemed everybody else’s ahead of me was worse, because I found myself closing in on a few that had escaped me earlier.

With such a narrow path back into the main park, everybody was forced to run no more than two abreast in both directions, making for quite a useful slipstream for me to take shelter from the gusts that blew. Feedback from the other side from Neil Muir and Lis indicated I was roughly in 15th place. As the group I was following slowed and splintered, I began to move from runner to runner, resulting in a not un-welcome uptick in pace to pave the way for a 3:53 4th km. Unexpectedly, I was tailing Zack Minchin, who I hadn’t seen at Cannon Hill for months. He proved to be a reliable pacer, dragging me to halfway with a 3:51 split and 19:43 for 5km.

When those around me tired, I continued to jump from runner to runner to keep the pace from dropping too much. By my estimations, I’d moved up to 12th or 13th; placing in the top 10 was another goal alongside finishing in under 40 minutes.

With the course somewhat slick from prior rainwater, I struggled to maintain traction on a number of the tight twists and turns that were thrown my way, especially as fatigue mounted. Wearing the Nike Streak LT3 racing flats certainly required nimble feet that morning as I nearly discovered their limits a few times! 6km came in at 3:55.

Back on the long straight and heading out of the main park for the final time, I got a good glimpse of those immediately ahead of me and the leaders returning on the other side. Carl Stainton was firmly in 2nd place, with too much of a gap in front or behind him to likely change his podium position. Shaun Hemmings was in a small group for 4th, with a chance of climbing to either third or dropping down to fifth. Up ahead of me, I could see I was closing in on Darryll Thomas and the difference between us had likely reduced to just 30 – 40 seconds or so compared to the first lap.

Rounding the switchback, I once again swung myself with both hands to slingshot me for the return. Unsure of what was taking place immediately behind me, I pressed on to claim two scalps ahead. Conflicting feedback from the other side suggested I was either 7th or 8th, or just outside of the top 10. My pace sat steady and did not drift from 7km onwards for 3:54.

Just ahead of me was a BRAT runner, where the distance between us grew and shrank like an accordion. At one point, I was within 10m, and at other times, he easily had more than 50m on me.

The finish for this race was awkwardly located within some of Cannon Hill Park’s inner paths, making identification of the actual finish line and big sprint finishes quite a challenge. I’ve lost a lot of finishing power this year, and with nobody immediately in front or behind me, I could only muster a half-hearted attempt despite cheers from the side lines.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I finished feeling pretty damn good and certainly better than recent parkruns at a reduced pace!

Darryll came over to share that he scored a PB by some 30 seconds or so, continuing his triumphant year of achievements (including an unexpected 1st v40 prize). It was only when he commented that I must have been close to a PB that I remembered to check my finishing time. 38:47 stared back at me – just another 3 seconds would have secured a fresh 10k best! I really had no clue I was so close, especially as I’d consigned myself to just wanting a sub-40 finish and a top 10 position, which I just sneaked into with 10th.

Carl finished in 2nd place as anticipated, agreeing that there was too much of a gap either side for a major podium shakeup. Shaun finished in 4th, improving upon a year ago by 3 minutes. Lis improved upon her 10k PB, originally set at the Wolverhampton race by some 4 minutes. Despite her protestations, I keep telling her that she’ll easily go under an hour with 2 months of consistency behind her.

Post-race thoughts

I care not that I just missed a PB by such a fine, unknown margin. I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning in the company of some fine members of the local running community, who I’m pleased did achieve PBs and prizes. Lis knocking 4 minutes off her 10k best meant the Yu household was not devoid of PBs to be celebrated.

What this race has highlighted is that I’m not in bad shape at all after the Yorkshire Marathon. Targeting 83:30 or better in January’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon doesn’t look like it’ll be a fool’s errand, with plenty of time between now and then to capitalise on the improvements from a change in stimulus, namely a focus on lactate threshold and half marathon pace. The next upcoming race will be the Sneyd Christmas Pudding 10 mile, which should prove to be a reliable gauge of potential as well as being a potent stimulus in and of itself.

 

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Yorkshire Marathon 2017 review

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Marathons never get easier. Goals just get loftier!

For the 2016 race, please click the following:

First things first, I promise this year’s write-up of my Yorkshire Marathon experience won’t be nearly as long as last year’s edition! Congratulations to all who ran and I hope this race account inspires those of you yet to run your autumn marathon.

The build-up

3:03:05 from the 2016 Yorkshire Marathon was incredibly satisfying to achieve, especially as my two previous attempts at the 26.2 distance left me feeling cheated. The London Marathon is the marathon for many, but not for me, so Yorkshire Marathon 2017 it was. Of course, being so close to a sub-3 hour marathon meant the next attempt had a very firm finish time in sight. I’ve repeatedly said of late that running more marathons doesn’t mean they get easier – the goals just get loftier!

So, what would it take to run under 3 hours? That’s 26.2 miles at 6:50 to 6:52 pace, give or take a little bit of error either side. I decided last year’s modified P&D Advanced Marathoning 22 week plan would serve me well again, with a few more modifications here and there; a very modest uplift in mileage and more opportunities to run at marathon pace, for example.

Training went incredibly well up until mid-August when Lis and I went away to Crete on holiday. I’d racked up some strong training runs and even broke 60 miles in one week for the first time. Returning from our break, I soon picked up a nasal infection that robbed me of two or so critical weeks in the plan. Once healthy again, it soon became apparent that I’d gone off the boil for too long (three weeks including the holiday and illness); my training paces slowed slightly and I lost some resilience, forcing me to begin dropping easy runs in favour of rest days.

All was not lost, however. I hit my long run goal of breaking 100 miles spread across five runs (103 miles in total) and marathon paced training runs at the Wolverhampton and Robin Hood Half Marathon indicated I was in good aerobic shape, but that I absolutely had to stick to the script of just sitting steady at 6:50 to 6:52 per mile in the main event because my body was unlikely to react well to anything faster.

Maranoia – it’s real!

Leading up to race day, I did what I could to stay healthy and illness-free. Judicious and frequent hand washing, backed up with liberal use of antibacterial gel, became the norm. So, imagine my horror when symptoms began manifesting less than 24 hours before the race!

Once more, Lis and I checked into York for a two-night stay in a bid to ensure I at least had a chance to acclimatise to the unfamiliar bed and surroundings. And yes, leaving nothing to chance, I did take my own pillow from home again.

Unfortunately, I slept dreadfully on Friday night and woke feeling groggy and dazed on Saturday morning. By mid-afternoon, I began to feel weak and flat and was ready to head back to the hotel for a nap. Post-nap, I felt no better and struggled to get food down over dinner with a constant feeling of wanting to throw up. I suffered from cold flashes, where everybody in the restaurant appeared to be fanning themselves to cool down, whereas I was struggling to stay warm!

In a complete reversal of roles, Dave Burton, who I’ve been coaching to run his own marathon, became my mentor. He suggested it was all in my head and was merely the fight versus flight mechanism kicking in. I was in unknown territory, recalling only ever feeling as such the day before Lis and I got married. Races don’t make me break out in a cold sweat, or so I thought! Reading through the Wikipedia article on the subject matter, I had almost all of the textbook symptoms; this did nothing to reassure me of the horror that unfolded and, ashamedly, for somebody that’s normally incredibly positive and upbeat about running and racing, I began re-evaluating my options and jacking the race in suddenly became a very real and inviting prospect. If the symptoms were not psychosomatic and I really was coming down with something (bad luck happens to everyone – just look at Therasa May), attempting to run 26.2 miles whilst ill would be a very bad idea and I could do without another DNF to my name.

Another early night it was in a bid to shake off whatever it was I was going through…

Pre-race

Unhelpfully and unsurprisingly, I had yet another poor night’s sleep due to what played on my mind. Adding to the anxiety was the comparison to the 36 hours before the 2016 Yorkshire Marathon, where everything went according to plan.

But! Many of the symptoms appeared to subside and only the queasy feeling in my stomach remained a concern. I managed to force some breakfast down whilst still contemplating my options. I agreed with Lis that we would rendezvous back at the hotel, whatever happened…

Suited and booted, I made my way over to the race village at the university. I began running through different mantras in my head, but the only ones that seemed appropriate to quell the feeling of nausea were “Keep cool” and “Stay calm”.

Firmly on university grounds, I spotted a runner wearing a sombrero hat, looking lost. I approached him to see if he was looking for the baggage tents, and indeed he was. I immediately began making small talk with David, querying whether he planned to wear the comically large hat for the entire race. He assured me the hat would be discarded shortly after starting the race and that it was more of a prop, where he and another friend would be guide runners for their blind comrade (the Three Amigos, get it?) Chatting with David did me a world of good, calming my nerves. Reaching the baggage tents, we wished each other luck before going our separate ways.

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Yep. I’m that guy from the race guide…

I was on the lookout for one Dave Johnson, whom I only ever tend to see in Yorkshire despite both of us living within a mile of each other. But, no joy on this occasion – he was nowhere to be seen. I did spot a Bournville Harrier and we both joked we were an incredibly long way from home, with neither of us feeling particularly well. Whilst getting my stuff prepared for storage, one chap asked if I was the guy featured in the race guide. Sheepishly, I acknowledged it was me and quickly interjected that I wasn’t feeling in race-form that morning. Incredibly, he too was also from the West Midlands, namely Walsall. Unsure of his ability, Ross did say he was capable of sub-3 pace at up to 11 miles in training and would attempt to keep me in sight for as long as possible. I wished him well and said I would keep an eye out for him on the course.

Bag checked in, one final toilet visit beckoned and I was pleased to see the organisers had once again provided urinals. It’s the little things that make or break races and the Yorkshire Marathon organisers are absolute pros at this – many other larger races could learn a thing or two from them!

In the start pen, I felt like I had a bull’s eye on my back and couldn’t shake the feeling that everybody was staring at me. I felt like a fraud from the interview I gave for the race pack guide. A few people did come over to say “hello” and to thank me for my write-up of the 2016 race, citing it as a useful reference. One such guy, Ian, stuck with me and we continued to chat. He, too, wore the Nike Vaporfly 4% in the same colour as me and also sported a Garmin 935. Behind me, I could see the sub-3 hour pacer a good 20 rows or so back and I wondered just how soon it would be before I was swallowed up by them and left for dust?

I continued to straddle the line between a daze and reality, paying no attention to the countdown. It was only when the hooter fired that I realised it was go-time!

The race

Miles 1 to 3

I was incredibly conscious I had not warmed up, opting to conserve as much energy as possible, and so had to use the first mile to ease myself in. Thankfully, the generous descent from the university to the main road helped to keep the effort relaxed and comfortable whilst cold starting.

“Keep cool,” I repeated to myself as people charged off. Before I knew it, mile 1 came and went in 6:57. Faster than the year prior by a few seconds, so perhaps all was not lost…

Approaching mile 2, the thunderous footsteps of the sub-3 hour pace group roared past. The group was huge, though they somehow managed to navigate around me without so much as a bump or nudge. I latched on to the coat tails of the pack, joined also by Ian, who I spoke with in the start pen. Mile 2 was clearly boosted by the sub-3 group to come in with 6:49! “Keep cool,” I continued to whisper to myself!

Passing York Minster, I completely missed it due to trying to concentrate on those around me during this narrow section. Noticeably, compared to a year ago, there were definitely more runners about, and not just because of my closer proximity to the sub-3 hour goal time. Once the road widened up, I was able to more freely run my own race line and positioned myself to catch Lis shortly after the 3 mile marker. Mile 3 continued to be swift for 6:48.

Miles 4 to 9

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Mile 3 of the Yorkshire Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

Spotting Lis, I soaked up her support until I was due to see her once again at mile 24.

Ian and I came back together and we both remarked how the sub-3 hour pacer was without a doubt going too fast, even factoring the slightly more undulating second half. We agreed that anybody that was on the cusp of running a sub-3 hour marathon would be pushed too hard at such a pace. Mile 4 returned to target pace of 6:51.

Bizarrely, I found miles 5 and 6 slipping from the pace for some unknown reason. Wind was low and both Ian and I commented how spectacular the morning was for racing. Even a high-five from the famous high-fiving vicar was not enough to lift the pace, resulting in 6:55 and 6:57 for miles 5 and 6 respectively.

Looking behind me, a decent sized pack of perhaps 7 or so of us had formed. I took on the role of tour guide, explaining how the course would pan out, where drink stations would appear, and so on. Ian and I remained chatty, helping the miles to fly by. He turned out to be an ultra runner with some impressive multi-day 100 mile events to his name. I commented that 26.2 miles would be a breeze for him, but he was absolutely right to correct me that any distance at race pace would feel difficult. As we conversed more, it quickly became apparent that he had a very similar outlook and mindset to myself when it came to running – it was almost like my personality had been transplanted into another body and I joked we were like brothers in arms! Another member of the group revealed that his only other marathon was dressed as a banana… I don’t want to come across as overly sentimental, but the group I found myself in was exactly what I needed that morning. The positive energy of the pack was practically tangible!

Miles 7, 8 and 9 came in at 6:53, 6:53 and 6:59 respectively. I regularly reassured the group that we were doing just fine, pace-wise, and that we had to remain calm and patient up to halfway.

Miles 10 to 13.1

Entering the heavily tree-lined section of the course, I reasoned that the pace was likely to rise and fall due to fluctuating levels of GPS signal. Also not helping with pace stability was the undulating terrain underfoot; I advised everyone that there was a high-speed downhill section on the approach and to just let the pace flow at that point, rather than applying the brakes.

By now, we had completely lost sight of the sub-3 hour pace group, with the field ahead and behind growing incredibly sparse. The group remained encouraging and positive, firmly in the knowledge that it was likely to be a lonely race if anybody fell from the pack.

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Me and the less aggressive sub-3 group

Miles 10, 11 and 12 came in at 6:52, 6:58 and 6:50 to still be on the cusp of sub-3 hour pace.

As we neared the halfway point, I reiterated the importance of staying calm and patient. We only needed to skim under 90 minutes to leave ourselves in the best possible shape for the second half. Passing the halfway clock, we registered 6:49 for the mile and 89:56 for a perfectly executed opening half. Nonchalantly, Ross revealed that he’d never gone under 90 minutes for a half marathon before!

Miles 14 to 17

Approaching the first of two switchbacks on the course, the crowd support swelled and was most welcome after a couple of quiet miles. I mentioned to Ian that this was now officially the longest run I had undertaken at such a pace to date; he shared my sentiments and we acknowledged the effort beginning to ratchet upwards.

Unfortunately, the pack we’d spent much of the first half of the race with imploded due to the change of pace from the switchback and the mild headwind we ran into. Only Ian and I remained and he suggested we take turns at blocking the wind for each other. This guy really was reading my mind the entire way!

Some of the fastest runners of the day appeared on the other side. As with last year, there were no African runners, so the winning time would be slower (2:24:13) than at many larger races.

Ian and I found ourselves connecting with another runner going at roughly the same pace. The wind increasingly picked up at this point, so the three of us opted to form a chain gang to take the edge off the gusts that blew. Mark revealed that he was running purely to heart rate, as instructed by his coach. I commended him on the sterling work, recognising that the effort skyrockets somewhere beyond 18 miles. Mark spotted the Autobot tattoo on my leg, to which I apologised for not being able to transform into a car. “If you could transform, it would only need to be a 2-seater. You’d be the car. One seat for me and one seat for [Ian]!” He shared that he was looking forward to seeing his wife and son somewhere out on the course; I concurred that I was greatly looking forward to some much needed support from Lis at mile 24.

The first of two gel stations appeared and I lucked out when they offered me a caffeinated Isogel – exactly what I was carrying on my person!

Physically and mentally, I was fully aware of needing to graft all the way to the end. For a stark contrast to only several hours earlier that morning, I felt alive for the first time all weekend and was committed to staying on target for as long as my body and mind would allow. I was reminded to stay cautious; on the other side of the road was one of the lead women, convulsing on the floor in the arms of a medic as they comforted her…

Miles 14, 15, 16 and 17 came in at 6:48, 6:53, 6:50 and 6:50 for a modest uptick in pace.

Miles 18 to 20

Approaching the second and final switchback of the route, Ian and I clocked the sub-3 hour group on the other side of the course; they were a good 1.5 to 2 minutes ahead of us and, incredibly, still appeared to be as large in numbers as before.

Rounding the turning point, I noticed Ian beginning to slip from the pace by a couple of steps. I slowed on the shallow descents to allow him to regroup with me, but it was never long again before he slipped backwards by a few strides. I pointed at the floor below my feet and urged him on to get back to me. At the same time, I had my other eye on Mark who was powering on in front. Ian urged me on as he drifted backwards…

Somehow, Mark found a boost from seemingly nowhere as he ploughed on ahead. I fixated on keeping the 5m or so between us static, at least until the left turn at mile 20. On the other side of the course approaching the second switchback were various members of my pack from the first half; I cheered them all on in deep appreciation of the company they gave me earlier that morning.

With Mark’s aid, we reeled in an increasing number of runners that had splintered off from the main sub-3 hour group ahead. The effort to hold pace became really quite noticeable and I began questioning how long I could possibly hang on for. Rubbing salt in was the direction of the wind, which had reverted back into a headwind, forcing me to increase my own pace to keep up with Mark and use him for drafting assistance.

Miles 18, 19 and 20 came in at 6:44, 6:48 and 6:58 to still average out as being on target.

Miles 21 to 22

Turning the corner beyond mile 20, Mark somehow slipped from the pace and began going backwards from me. Up ahead, it was very quiet with few other runners to latch on to and work with. A lone Harrogate runner was my closest target, so I worked up to him and sat steady. I began counting to 100; so tired was I from a lack of sleep that I even messed that up and skipped out whole sections of numbers!

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Teeth gritted. Time to dig in!

I’d reached the second and final energy gel station of the course and, quite conveniently, they’d marked out which flavours they were providing on either side of the road. I opted for a banana gel with the knowledge that the flavour change would help perk me up after slurping down nothing but orange and berry flavoured gels all morning. With the sun also making a guest appearance, I grabbed two bottles of water – one for drinking and the other to throw over myself; the shock of the cold water did wonders to wake me up and took my mind off my ever tightening body and limbs.

In the distance on the left, I could see a flag flying in the air. Getting closer, I realised it was the sub-3 hour pacer’s flag and he was walking! I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. As I neared, I asked if he was OK; he looked defeated and simply replied with, “Yeah. I’m fine.” He looked quite different to the published photo of the 3-hour pacer from several weeks ago and I immediately wondered whether it was the same guy at all, or whether the organisers had to find a backup pacer for whatever reason?

Runners from the 10 mile race began to come into view. Looking for any brief bit of distraction, I began encouraging them, many of which were walking by this point.

Miles 21 and 22 came in at 6:51 and 6:55, respectively, so still on target, but only just.

Miles 23 to 25

Reaching mile 23, I could see my pace was drifting in the wrong direction and for the first time during the race, my Garmin displayed a pace starting with a 7… The average pace ticked over from 6:52 to 6:53 and I knew it was now make or break; did I have the courage, strength and desire to invite the pain and fatigue in and get back on to 6:52 pace? I tried treating the section as a fartlek run with mini injections of pace for a few seconds to try and reverse the damage. The problem, at such a late stage in the race, was that everybody around me had slowed and that messed with my brain’s perception of speed. What felt like a casual jog earlier when everybody else was running at the same pace as me now felt more like a sprint!

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Mile 24? More like mile 24.9! Photo by Lis Yu

As I neared mile 24, I began to look forward to the sight of Lis out supporting. I needed a friendly and familiar face after having lost all of the comrades I’d started the race with at numerous points earlier. The mile 24 marker came and went, but no sign of Lis. Puzzled, I wondered what had happened. We’d spoken about a nearby pub beforehand, which would have made for a good base of operation with toilet facilities and what not. Perhaps she was in the toilet and I’d missed her? A big part of me died when I realised that may have happened, especially after waiting for so long to see her again. Well, readers – fear not! It turned out to be some confusion; Lis was unsure if she was actually at the right pub or not, so relocated further up back on to the route (24.9 miles…) to be certain!

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In my own personal hell of my own making – photo by Lis Yu

Any semblance of a poker face to mask the torture I was going through was long gone. My IT bands and hips were tight, restricting the stride range I had access to. My shoulders and neck were also knotted, and my arms were doing the tyrannosaurus-rex claw thing once more… Not a strong look at all! Running in a straight line became increasingly difficult and I drifted from left to right on occasion; so long as I continued to move forward at the same time, my form mattered not!

On the approach to mile 25, the crowd support began to swell once again. More and more runners also began drifting back into contact with me, giving me interim targets to work towards and jump from one to the other. As I’d remarked on earlier, there were definitely more runners out in the field, especially so close to the 3 hour time, whereas a year ago, I was largely running alone and in between groups going for a London Marathon Good For Age time of 3:05 or sub-3 hours. Unexpectedly, the Harrogate runner found second wind and pulled up alongside me to then move ahead! This was exactly what I needed and I followed him in pursuit.

Miles 23, 24 and 25 came in at 7:07, 7:01 and 7:09. The sub-3 game was up and I knew I couldn’t bust out a 6:20 mile at the end of a marathon. My goal immediately switched to finishing as close to 3:00 as possible. At least I could then say I’m a 3 hour marathoner…

The final mile and a bit

I’ve frequently said before that unless you’ve absolutely rinsed yourself out on the course, the final mile kind of looks after itself.

In the distance, I could see the petrol station that signalled the left turn back towards the university. And that hill. I knew it was going to sting this year, much more so than 2016, due to the more aggressive overall race pace on this occasion. Over 50 feet of elevation spread across 400m at the end of a marathon… To my left was a bloke who just suddenly stopped running and began to walk. Out of nowhere, his two teenaged sons came to his rescue and began spurring him on. “Don’t stop now, Dad! You’re so close! Come on, we’ll run with you up the hill!” Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it?

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Once at the brow of the hill, I knew I had a descent all the way to the finish, so I picked up my stride. I could hear the compere announcing names of finishers coming through, but there was no mention of time or the sought after 3 hour cut-off point on the clock. I knew I was outside of target, anyway, and simply sprinted for the line in a bid to finish as strongly as possible. I received a mention over the PA system, prompting me to raise my arms in victory, firm in the knowledge that I still had a generous PB to my name.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I immediately dropped down to lie on my side, inspired by another chap lying on his back. A marshal rushed over to check I was OK, to which I told him I just needed a breather. Once recovered, I checked my Garmin out and I had finished in 3:00:34. Not the sub-3 hour goal I originally set out for, but it was still a 2 minute and 31 second PB over last year. And yes, I can now legitimately call myself a 3 hour marathoner!

I waited in the funnel to cheer in the various faces that I’d come into contact with over the duration of the race. First back in was Mark, who had dragged me on through the 18 to 20 mile section. Next up was Ross, followed shortly by Eric, both from the pack I belonged to for much of the first half. Finally, there was Ian, my brother from another mother for the day (for his account of the race, check out his blog here). Whilst we’d all PBd (and half marathon PBs for some!) by decent margins, I did have to break it to them that I’d missed sub-3 by just 35 seconds…

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Ross, me and Ian – marathon PBs for all!

A stroll back to the baggage tent with an alcohol-free beer to celebrate the achievement is not a bad way to end a race at all!

Thoughts and conclusions

So, the sub-3 hour marathon remains elusive. But really, I’m not disappointed at all because I did everything within my power to finish in the time that I did. Sure, if training had gone more to plan, or if I hadn’t lost two to three weeks from illness or my holiday, I may have made it, and maybe I wouldn’t have. Equally, if I had a perfect night’s rest before the race with no feelings of nausea or anxiety, I may have been fresher to squeeze out another 1%. With all that had happened in the 24 hours prior, I’m absolutely delighted with my finish time!

Stats-wise, things look interesting (2017 versus 2016):

  • Total campaign mileage: 894.94 miles vs 843.52 miles
  • Average weekly mileage: 42.12 miles vs 42.14 miles
  • Positive split difference: 38 seconds vs 35 seconds

Total campaign mileage-wise, the ambition was to modestly increase overall volume. I also hoped to increase my average weekly volume; my largest weeks had grown even more compared to a year ago, but conversely, my lightest weeks also became lighter, where I found I was in need of rest instead of recovery. This resulted in the incredibly similar average weekly mileage results above. Finally, I originally assumed I had a larger positive split in 2016, but that’s not so. I’m coming around to thinking that I’m unlikely to run a negative split and that another sub-3 hour attempt will require banking perhaps 30 to 45 seconds in the first half, anticipating such a slowdown in the second half due to fatigue.

Will there be another roll of the dice for the sub-3 hour goal? Not for 2018. My mind is frazzled from the past few weeks of marathon training and I need to recalibrate and get back to baseline. I want to regain some of my speed and revisit shorter distances like 5k, 10k and half marathons, running them in anger once again. Taking the rather crude marathon prediction calculation of doubling your half marathon best, and adding 10 minutes, only gives me an 11 second margin of error; getting my half marathon PB below 84 or even 83 minutes will be time well spent for any future outing at the 26.2 mile distance.

Very few successful marathon outings happen because of one sole runner alone. There’s often an invisible team behind the performance, all playing their part to get the most out of an individual. You all know who you are, even if you don’t think you’ve helped all that much, to which I’m incredibly grateful.

With that, we’re at the end of another marathon campaign. Many of you will be embarking on autumn marathons of your own very soon, which I wish you the best of luck with.

Tewkesbury Half Marathon 2017 review

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Final few hundred metres at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

The first of several half marathons scheduled in as training runs – read on to find out how things went.

Pre-race

I almost signed up for this race in 2015 and 2016 – the latter especially so because of the PB near-miss at the Cardiff World Championship Half Marathon. For whatever reasons, I opted not to, but decided to give it a whirl this year to kick-start my marathon programme with gusto!

As touched upon recently, I intend to use various half marathons as marathon pace training runs to better prepare me for October’s Yorkshire Marathon. 13 miles of marathon pace as a solo run is quite taxing, whereas it’s far more tolerable in the company of others in my experience. Whether any of these races become PB attempts is completely up in the air at the moment; I’ve no pressure for a half marathon PB with the marathon being the priority.

Taking almost an hour to get to the leisure centre-come race HQ meant leaving Birmingham shortly after 08:00, factoring in race number collection into the mix along with other pre-race admin.

“Chaotic” is how I would best describe the scene as we arrived. Key locations such as number collection and toilets were located in the midst of cars meandering into the field, with general confusion high. Bib collected, I made a bee-line for the already lengthy toilet queue, and this was with just under an hour to go! With a 1,000 expected runners, plus spectators, there were only 10 or so portaloos, with none of the urinal variety to speed up the queue and make things more efficient for everyone. With around 30 minutes to go, the queue had at least tripled in size and snaked around the car park, prompting me to instead seek out a quiet and secluded spot for a pee…

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, I didn’t recognise a single face before or during the race.

Also surprisingly, or perhaps not again, finding a spot towards the front of the start area was incredibly civilised – I’ve encountered more pushing and shoving at parkruns! On the sound of the hooter, we were off.

The race

I’m going to split this section up into two halves, since that’s largely how the race transpired for me.

The first half

Weather conditions indicated I was likely to be in for a rough ride; temperatures of around 16°C and strong winds of up to 12mph hit and meant there was little wriggle room for error. Even at 10am, I was working up a sweat due to the unfamiliarity with the warmth, so I hung on to my bottle of Lucozade to sip on.

I homed in on marathon pace quickly, though did identify the slight uptick in effort required due to above said conditions at play. Lots of runners were targeting a sub-90 finish, so there were plenty of others to run with in a bid to keep the effort low.

Whilst the course was reasonably well marshalled, much of the time was spent on live or semi-live roads with very few closures in place. Jumping from pavement to road grew tiresome, so I quickly planted myself just a few inches away from each kerb for the remainder of the race.

Miles 1 and 2 ticked by for 6:51 and 6:52 respectively; nit-picking, I’d have liked to have been firmly at 6:49, which will be the target to lock in to on the next race-come-training run.

A water station appeared shortly after mile 2. Whilst a touch early by traditional race expectations, it turned out to be rather welcome as it got warmer. Giving runners small bottles was a God-send, where I was able to successfully drink half and spray the other half over myself, rather than fumble with cups.

Runners around me grew sparse, with many falling back as the unideal conditions took their toll. I had to make a few decisive moves to join groups ahead for fear of being left in no-man’s land early on.

Miles 3 and 4 stuck to pace for 6:48 and 6:51 respectively. I could feel the effort to stay on target marathon pace ratcheting upwards, which was hardly surprising as this became my longest stretch of continuous effort at such a pace since January. What the race gave me was valuable, tangible feedback of where I stood in relation to where I wanted to be.

Shortly after mile 4, another water station appeared for yet more welcome relief. Quite why they had 2 water stations in the first 4 miles, I’m not sure – a combination of ease of set-up on the course, and wanting to give runners water early on, I suspect.

Finding a rhythm on the course proved challenging. If it wasn’t undulations that distracted, it was the presence of cars driving alongside and overtaking runners that meant my attention was never fully immersed in either task.

The course began to climb significantly from mile 5 onwards and proved too much for one chap, causing him to start walking. I slowed to check on him, which turned out to be a combination of too much sun and a stitch before he ushered me on.

Miles 5 and 6 were still just about on target, though cracks began to form for 6:54 and 6:51…

The second half

The climb from mile 5 onwards cleared the board significantly and left me with few other runners to work with. All of the compounded factors worked against me for a pretty ghastly time out there as I hung on to marathon pace that was slowly slipping away.

Unusually, I did pass two Italian runners who were liveried up as if they were running a big city race.

The climb finally peaked shortly after 8 miles to produce splits for miles 7 and 8 respectively of 6:55 and 6:59 – not a train wreck, considering the struggle to maintain pace earlier on the flat, though this prominent feature of the course did probably push me over the edge.

Turning the corner, I allowed my legs to loosen up a little to take advantage of the descent. Unhelpfully, I was now following a straight-line route all the way back to the finish with a face full of headwind! I’d picked up a blister underneath my right toe along with a swollen nail, whereas my left foot was seizing up at the arch to make for a pretty sorry time of it all.

Running alongside me was a chap that was the spitting image of Jort from Cannon Hill parkrun, though I knew it couldn’t possibly be him as he was in the Cotswolds with the rest of the BRAT club. This didn’t last long as he crept away to join the pack in front.

Miles 9 and 10 held steady at 6:56 and 6:59, which I probably could have maintained except another sharp climb disrupted my rhythm again whilst going into the final 5k. Mile 11 became my worst offender at 7:22 and that’s when I decided to back it off for good and just coast back into town. I was spent and had little appetite to slog it out and prolong my recovery.

A random spectator on the side of the road shared that it was all downhill back into town, leaving me with just the headwind to frustrate. The group ahead were some 20 to 30 seconds away, with roughly the same behind. The crowds swelled on both sides of the road to cheer me on, so I reciprocated with a few waves and thumbs up for their generosity.

I steadied the ship for miles 12 and 13 to come in for 7:09 and 7:11. Even at the very end, there was little desire to sprint the remainder, where I almost sauntered in to cross the line…

Post-race

I finished with 1:31:15, so some 75 seconds lost exclusively in the second half. Being kind, I at least covered 6 miles at marathon pace. Being charitable, you could even say I covered 10 miles at marathon pace with the warmth, climbs and headwind factored in.

Those three challenges above will need some work. Becoming better heat acclimated will take care of itself; we’re entering summer shortly and there’ll be no shortage of hot and humid conditions to train in. The climbs and headwind will take a little more elbow grease to crack, perhaps with some 800s at pace on long inclines. I lost a lot of strength from my left leg due to the injury, and it was already the weaker of the two when I was in peak shape, so possibly some additional strength work with weights may yield results.

There’s no sour grapes over yesterday – only onwards and, hopefully, upwards!

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

Ronnie Bowker 10k 2017 review

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Whoops. Wrong Ronnie…

For previous years’ races, please click below:

Sod all training and a warm race day meant it would be a tough day at the race office…

Pre-race

Despite this race being virtually on my doorstep, it was not originally on my radar for this year. Suffering my post-injury funk, it was Dave Burton that suggested I enter this and the Great Birmingham 10k as soft targets to work towards. Well, the Great Birmingham 10k ain’t happening for me (mix up of dates and availability), and Dave didn’t participate in the Ronnie Bowker 10k, though I did manage to rope Simon Bull into signing up.

Deciding to jog to Cannon Hill Park as my warm-up, I definitely left it a bit late to get to race HQ. Reaching the MAC, a lengthy queue awaited leaving less time than ideal to collect my number and get all of my pre-race admin in order. Being a local race also meant a lot of folks to talk to from local clubs and Cannon Hill parkrun – apologies if I had to cut any of my conversations short before the race!

Whilst I had a target of skimming sub-40, I had a feeling such a finish would be unlikely. I’m only just getting back into regular training, with this week being my first without interruption or injury since December for 35 miles. Running parkrun the day prior, even whilst at a slower than usual pace, meant there was no taper, either. Oh, and throw on the sudden heat wave to the pile of excuses, too!

The race

The scramble off the line was nuts; it was like the start line of a 5k in much cooler temperatures rather than a 10k on the warmest day of the year.

I settled into target pace with the aid of drafting behind another runner. My aim was to keep the first half feeling as relaxed and composed as possible to allow for a swifter second half at around normal 5k pace.

I could bore you all, but the first half really was quite relaxed, producing the following splits:

  1. 3:58
  2. 4:09
  3. 3:59
  4. 4:07
  5. 4:00

Not my finest pacing, but I was at the mercy of the other bloke doing much of the hard work to shield me from the wind. Only thing of note in the first half was almost having to wrestle a cup of water away from the volunteer to throw over myself!

By halfway, everybody was feeling it and the pace noticeably slowed for all concerned. I could now see Darryll Thomas on the horizon, whereas the previous occasion was just before the start. Based on the info received from marshals out on the course, I had moved from 16th to 11th in a matter of minutes. I also found myself in the dreaded no-man’s land, running alone and with no shelter to protect me…

I was able to maintain the momentum briefly for a 4:01 6th km, though my pace also deteriorated. An ugly 4:16 7th km signalled a sub-40 finish was probably no longer possible, leaving too much work left to do in too little time.

On the return from the turnaround point on the second lap, I received new information that I had moved up a few additional positions to sit at 9th place.

Re-entering the main park, I gritted my teeth in an attempt to squeeze more out of my under-trained and withered body. It resisted and even gave me cramp in my left foot for daring to attempt something so ridiculous!

By the time I’d reached the MAC for the second time, retrieving two cups of water to throw over myself was much more successful.

8th place was within striking distance as I was finally able to free up some resources for an injection of pace. Encouraging the Warley Woods Pacer on, little did I realise it was Carl Stainton’s club mate, Mike Harrison – somebody I should have recognised as he’s in my network of Garmin Connect and Strava followers (epic fail).

Rounding the final corner, I kicked on and could see Darryll was now perhaps 150m away, and that sub-40 was perhaps back on. I threw in everything I had left whilst willing the finish line to move closer by a few metres. My Garmin had yet to beep to indicate I’d reached 10k, so maybe, just maybe, I was in with a slim chance still?

Post-race

I crossed the line and exhaustion immediately set in, commanding that I sit myself down. My breathing continued to chug away like a steam locomotive, whilst sweat dripped profusely – there was little more I could have done given the hand of cards I’d been dealt.

Checking my Garmin, I learned I’d crossed the line in 40:15 and that I’d only logged 9.87km/6.1 miles to explain why my Garmin had yet to beep.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Being a glass is half full kind of guy, I guess the good news is I still came away faster than the 2015 race which will have had an uninterrupted build-up along with two half marathons (one a PB) as part of the cycle. Work to be done, for sure, but I haven’t drifted backwards nearly as much as I feared in the grand scheme of things. The data indicates this will have been a rather powerful training stimulus, so it’s onwards and upwards from here!

This week’s running – 26th of December 2016 to 1st of January 2017

2017

I was finally on the mend after the misery of being ill! Oh, and welcome to 2017!

The Big Run Commuting Survey

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Being interviewed for Simon Cook’s Big Run Commuting Survey

Many months ago, I completed a survey about my experiences as a run-commuter. In fact, it was so long ago that I’d completely forgotten I participated until I received an email from its organiser, Simon Cook, asking if I would participate in an interview to cover my responses in more depth. Despite not formally belonging to any sort of running group affiliation, I do very much identify myself as a member of the running community and feel duty-bound to help where I can.

During the interview, we deep-dived into questions, such as what equipment I utilise when run-commuting, my choice of route, what I think about, and much, much more. Originally stated to last between one and two hours, Simon and I were discussing my thoughts for more than three hours by the very end! I didn’t think there was possibly so much to review, especially for what I still consider is a niche within running, though I was clearly proven wrong.

I promised Simon I would share the link to his survey for further quantitative data, and here it is: The Big Run Commuting Survey. Please complete it, even if you think your experience of run-commuting is limited – Simon wants to also explore why more people don’t run-commute.

6 miles whilst still ill

I grew more and more conscious that with the Brass Monkey Half Marathon looming ever closer, I had missed a few too many long runs as part of this training cycle due to circumstances beyond my control. On this particular day, it was almost two weeks since my previous distance run of any significance; prior to that run, it was another two weeks since the last one… Missing: aerobic and endurance ability. Reward for its safe return.

Grabbing the bull by the horns, I embarked on the long-delayed 15 mile run that was scheduled.

After two miles or so, I very quickly identified I was still unwell, albeit at least coming to the end of my ailments. The perceived effort of running was far greater than anticipated, and empirical feedback from my Garmin and heart rate monitor confirmed as much. Prior to being hit by the lurgy, I was able to run between 7:30 and 8:00 per mile at distance, in exchange for around 70% of maximum heart rate. On this occasion, I was barely clearing 8:40 per mile and clocking in at 75%+ of maximum heart rate! Needless to say, I cut the run dramatically short and turned around for home after just over 3 miles.

Here’s the Strava data for this rather demoralising run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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Cheeky drafting assistance – photo by Geoff Hughes

This was the first of three Parkruns over the weekend, thanks to the next day’s New Year Double. It was nice to be back at my home event with the familiarity doing my soul a lot of good. The strategy was to keep the effort and pace at around half marathon levels for some specificity, but also to avoid crocking myself before having completed all three planned runs.

Spending much of the run with Huw Jones and Matthew Lewis, I cheekily took shelter in their slipstream to facilitate the need for ease. We even spotted GB triathlete elite, Jodie Stimpson, as we approached the triangle.

Splits were pretty much bang on to pave the way for a 19:44 finish:

  1. 3:57
  2. 3:58
  3. 4:02
  4. 3:59
  5. 3:48

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

New Year’s Day Double

Brueton Parkrun

This was my third New Year’s Day Double, and second specific pairing of Brueton and Perry Hall events. I was joined by Simon Bull, who I had convinced to come along after successfully talking him into also partaking in a Christmas Day Parkrun a week prior.

The challenge of the New Year’s Day Double isn’t so much being able to run both (pace and effort management), but rather simply being able to stay loose and warm between runs – tricky with the 2017 weather of freezing cold rain… There were plenty of familiar faces as mad as Simon and I, taking on their first of two Parkruns.

The organisers opted to move the start and finish a few hundred metres to facilitate swift getaways for those moving on to a second event afterwards. What this meant for runners was an incredibly slow and congested start, not helped by an inaudible “Go”, and the initially narrow path and several turns thrown at us.

With the slow opening, I had some work (14 seconds or so) ahead of me to jump back on-board the sub-20 train. Within just the first 2km, I was pretty much soaked to the bone and struggling to stay warm with the wind also tearing into me. I still wasn’t fully recovered from the previous day’s 5k, and lack of sleep meant I was pretty much running on fumes.

Even with a kick at the end, I still narrowly missed out on a sub-20 finish to land 20:02. Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Once regrouped with Simon, we hightailed it out of Solihull and made our way over to Perry Hall’s event.

Perry Hall Parkrun

We first had to make two pit stops: one to pick-up my wallet from home, and two to fuel up the car. Thankfully, we were still lucky enough to bag one of the final spaces in the car park before it filled up shortly after our arrival.

With not enough time to get an adequate second warm-up in, the perishing cold rain hit us hard and then the shivering began… A knowing nod, like a badge of honour, was given to those we identified earlier from Brueton Parkrun.

Out on the course, it became obvious very quickly that I wasn’t going to even come close to sub-20. My legs were fooked, my clothes and shoes were heavy from the rain, and the wind picked up to slam into runners.

I ran Perry Hall’s new course for the first time several weeks ago, though I was unsure of whether I preferred it or not. I’ve now concluded I prefer the former two lap configuration with grass over the new three lap course with multiple switchbacks; I find the turnaround points have a tendency to kill pace and momentum and require a certain skill or finesse to navigate efficiently – talents that I lack.

In the end, I finished with 20:45, though was pleasantly surprised to finish in sixth place, and could have finished fifth with just a little more welly at the end.

A well-deserved rest and a hot shower beckoned! Here’s the Strava data for this run.