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.