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!

This week’s running – 8th to 14th of February 2016

falling_asleep

Tired. So very, very tired…

Eugh. Some much needed downtime after this week!

5k from work

Hmmm. The saga of my Achilles tendon continued… At the moment, it’s never painful but it does still tighten up on occasion; simply leaning forward shows the one in my right leg has less flexibility than the left leg.

Slowly, I’m starting to regain more and more daylight on my evening runs. I’m finding I don’t even need to switch my head torch on until maybe a mile from home at the moment!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Through my own carelessness, I ended up leaving my keys at work and only realised when I was mere minutes from home. I tried calling Lis for her whereabouts, but there was no answer, so I assumed she was stuck somewhere on the M6. Back I went to work, only to discover that she had been at home all along! With all the to-ing and fro-ing, I lost almost an hour before I had even started my scheduled run…

Once I finally started running, I was at least more warmed up than usual to allow me to dive straight into the fartlek run. As before, the top end paces didn’t really appear and were once again maybe 10 to 15 seconds off from what I wanted them to be. Technical details aside, I felt tremendous by the end for a very positive run; I’ve not started going backwards yet, so clearly this approach is still working!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6k from work

Darryll Thomas made me laugh when he commented on this run from the office, “What’s going on? It’s 5k from work. Always 5k!”

The irony of this longer commute was so I could pop into Tesco on the way home to pick up some Deep Heat for my inflexible Achilles tendon, likely caused by too much running… It’s amazing how quickly you get used to the smell of Deep Heat, though Lis has requested I limit its use to when I’m at work or outdoors only.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Training for a marathon, using a marathon?

With my autumn A-race set as the Yorkshire Marathon, I already know I want to get one last hard effort in about four weeks before race day. Whether that hard effort is a half marathon (possibly Kenilworth), or a fast 10k (Cardiff), my choices are limited and would have to coincide with one remaining long run in the region of 23/24 miles. Ideally, I’d like to schedule in a 20 mile race, but my research shows there are hardly any of that distance in the autumn. Most occur in the spring as a way for people to get a catered marathon training run in with other people.

Browsing the autumn race calendar, I did see the Wolverhampton Marathon listed as taking place on the 4th of September, so roughly five weeks before race day. And then came my slightly crazy idea of using Wolverhampton as a training run…

It’s common belief that to race a distance well requires being able to run beyond said distance, except when it comes to the marathon, when it becomes a balance of training just far enough to get away with it without leaving the race behind in training. But what if I were to cover the first couple of miles (2, 3 or even 4) at a very easy recovery pace, with a view to completing the remaining distance at target long run pace? Or alternatively, hitting target long run pace from the gun and then dropping out of the race after 23 or 24 miles.

I spoke with a few peers and the responses were varied. A handful thought it was a risky idea if I wasn’t able to be disciplined and hold back. Dropping out with only 5k or less remaining as an option was also contrary to what I’ve ingrained in myself over the years about never dropping out from races.

Another handful thought it would be an ideal primer ahead of race day. Wolverhampton’s on my doorstep and would allow enough time for recovery, so long as I was strict with my pacing. Others shared that it would offer valuable insight to reacquaint myself with how I should feel in an actual marathon with no performance pressure.

Just an idea for the moment…

10 canal miles

The combination of lower leg stretches, ankle mobility exercises and Deep Heat seemed to do the trick – both Achilles tendons felt like their old familiar selves once more!

It was a rare, wind-free evening, so I took the opportunity to cover a bit of marathon pace on the out leg; the return featured the usual 2 faster paced miles. Disappointingly, GPS interference scuppered my chance at perfectly formed splits.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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Don’t let the clothing choice fool you – it was cold! Photo by Geoff Hughes

Gah. How I needed sleep!

For the first time in what felt like ages, Cannon Hill’s course was bone dry but in its place was a vicious headwind that was maximised due to the new route.

I wanted to hit the run hard with a scheduled cutback week due shortly.

After promising myself I would run more steadily from the line, I still managed to shoot off like a lunatic. A bit of start line confusion also meant there were a few improperly seeded folks to box me in, requiring a few surges to get into the right place. I spotted Richard Keep with a handful of other guys ahead, prompting me to try and reach them but forgetting that Richard is a sub-18 runner… The inner-lap around the lake wasn’t nearly as claustrophobic as it was last week, with ample room to freely move about. I finished lap 1 feeling generally over-worked and motivation flew out the window to try and hang on – 3:41 for my troubles.

The headwind smacked me about as I approached the bandstand. After being dropped once already, I again spotted Richard and his group about 15m in front. I had about 400m with a slight descent to utilise, so I daringly surged again to reach them. Success! Contact was made! I managed to stay with them for another 400m before they crept away once more.

I grew progressively slower and slower, and continued to further lose time as I entered and exited the triangle.

The stretch from the little bridge to the MAC was fully exposed to headwind, robbing me and others of more time on the clock. 17:00 ticked by on my Garmin; most other days, I’d have been convinced to kick the remaining 400m to the end but I really wasn’t feeling it that morning. One chap came past me to at least give me an interim target to chase down and broke the monotony of running alone. I was able to take him on the hill, finishing with a 19:08. I really should have been more disciplined and held myself back to simply running sub-20 pace!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Afterwards, Dave revealed he was just behind me by a couple of seconds. He ran progressively and it transpired that I would have been his next target to stalk; it was only thanks to the final hill that he was kept at bay from reaching me!

An extended warm-down with some of the Cannon Hill Crusaders and Neil Muir rounded things off for another week.

This Parkrun wasn’t a total loss – my upward trend on runbritain continued with a -1.2 performance, pushing me to an overall 4.1 handicap. It was only October when I was on 5.2!

14 canal miles

I began to feel ropey after Saturday’s Parkrun; thoughts turned to whether a 14 mile long run the following morning would be such a good idea. Thankfully, a good night’s rest did just the trick and I was right as rain once more.

It was positively gorgeous out there. Sunny, dry and chilly – the perfect winter’s morning for a long run. The only fly in the ointment was some aggressive headwind that unusually appeared on the return, coming straight from the north.

Rather than tempt fate, I purposely kept the pace dialled back. Given how cold it was, I took an absolute age to warm-up, so I couldn’t have gone much faster even if I wanted to!

Whilst out there, I began thinking about how to extend the distance to accommodate training for a marathon. Including the loop out to Spaghetti Junction and the Aston Junction would make for 20 to 21 miles, and chucking in a lap of Edgbaston Reservoir could bump the distance up to 22 miles or so.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

This week’s running – 1st to 7th of February 2016

turn_around

Cannon Hill Parkrun in reverse? This is madness!

This week saw Cannon Hill Parkrun roll out its new course.

8 mile canal fartlek

Due to a sudden meeting on Monday evening, I had to call off my run from the office; given how windy it was outside, I had no regrets at all. Tuesday became the first run of the week, so I was already playing catch-up on the week’s mileage target…

The fartlek run itself wasn’t bad at all, but I found it a struggle to hit faster paces – my Garmin is always set to lap pace (instant pace is too erratic), so it’s difficult to gauge how fast I’m actually going for a short stretch within a lone mile or km.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6k from work

Conscious of the mileage shortfall for the week, I boosted my run home from the office to 6k from the normal 5.

Recently, Dave (of the Burton variety) and I had a discussion about our approach to running on the canal towpath, specifically which side we favour. I expressed a preference to be away from the water’s edge, though would be happy enough to stick to the left if there was a lot of traffic – we drive on the left after all. A cyclist, who also preferred to be away from the water’s edge, came towards me from the opposite direction; he was unwilling to concede to me already being in the left lane and it was only mere metres before he finally moved over, tutting at me as he went past. Damn cyclists…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

Work did a number on me with a major 10 month project finally coming to an end. Knackered as I was, I knew I had to get this 10 mile run in to ensure the week’s mileage made it into the 40s.

I held the pace back for the first half with a view to open up the throttle for two miles at marathon pace in the second half. My theoretical marathon pace right now is around 6:50 per mile; I failed to rein myself in properly, so 6:46 and 6:42 popped out on the other side. Oops…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

It was all change at Cannon Hill, with the debut of another new route; by my calculations, it worked out as the fifth course change in the four years that I’ve been actively running there (six in total for the event). Whilst many of the last couple of course roll-outs have been minor, this was a major change with much of the route run in reverse to what regulars would be familiar with!

cannon_hill_parkrun_new_route

Sixth course iteration by my calculations

Trying to explain it is too difficult, so I’ll simply use the map above that the core team conjured up. In many ways, the route could be called a compilation or greatest hits of all the previous iterations, with the lone new feature being the use of the inner path alongside the lake to try and separate runners completing their first lap from those completing their second.

Had my alarm not have gone off, I could have very easily remained in bed beyond the 9am start time. It was wet and miserable outside, though there were 58 counted first timers and an unknown percentage of unknown runners that would have bulked that number up.

I was genuinely excited to trial the new route after a preview of it some weeks ago, courtesy of Andy Young who designed it.

From the word “Go”, I shot off and a peek at my Garmin indicated 3:27 per km pace; the first 300m or so felt very fast, thanks to a boost from the slight descent. I eased off the throttle once clear of the corner to run through a part of the park that hadn’t been officially covered for a good while, albeit in reverse.

Usefully, the organisers laid on lap signs to indicate which side of the lake runners should take. Dave and I had several discussions beforehand about the inner path utilised on the first lap; everything from goose shit to how narrow the path would be came up as concerns. I’m ready to admit that even as somebody that now regularly finishes in the top 30, I felt boxed in. The runners around me were running two, maybe three abreast and I found myself jostling for position, either clipping somebody’s heels or having my own clipped. I spotted a gap and surged through to break away and get back on sub-19 pace. I looked ahead and some 15m in front was Jort van Mourik, drafting behind Carson Tweedie – both strong runners that I knew could hold a steady pace, so I continued my surge to reach them and formed a three-man chain gang.

Running behind Jort and Carson took the edge off the climb back towards the bandstand. Before I knew it, we were enjoying the long stretch with a subtle descent once more to launch us into the second lap. Glancing over my shoulder occasionally, I couldn’t make out anybody on my tail to reinforce the importance of sticking with the group. Each time Jort took an additional stride, I cranked up my cadence to close the gap down.

En route to the MAC, we passed a couple of the backmarkers. It was so refreshing to not run through a gauntlet of people completing their first lap, so the new route certainly delivered on its aim of reducing clashes amongst different paced groups. The route dictated that we went right of the lake, out towards the long drag to the triangle. With nobody coming in the opposite direction yet, it felt no different to the historic course, but we were quickly reminded to keep right as the front-runners neared.

Going around the triangle in an anti-clockwise manner was not nearly as bizarre as I imagined it would be. I grasped the wooden signage pole and swung myself around the sharp turn as always, except this time it was with my left hand. What was odd was seeing everybody’s approach on the opposite side of the path!

andy_yu_cannon_hill_parkrun_new_route

Three-man chain gang with Carson and Jort – photo by Geoff Hughes

I was huffing and puffing but remained resolute in my chase, with Jort remaining immediately in front of me at all times. Heading back to the MAC, the new route became identical to the one it replaced, with no further changes all the way to the finish line. I neared breaking point and could sense Jort and Carson had another gear each to shift into. Ed Barlow stormed past us like we were stood still with 300m to go. As I turned for the approach to the final hill, Jort made a move to kick on and gained a few metres; Carson also began his assault for the hill to finally trigger me to do the same. They continued to pull away from me and I could do nothing to reel them both back in. At the brow of the hill, I planted down one last sprint for the line and reclaimed a few strides from Carson, whilst Jort blasted ahead to cross the finish a few seconds faster than us.

Once clear of the line, I let out a tortured cry and began gasping for air like a fish out of water. I was pulled along to an 18:46 finish; my fastest ever 5k at Cannon Hill and just three seconds shy of a new all-time 5k PB, set only a week prior on a perfectly flat course. I thanked Carson profusely for leading the group and realised once more that a 5k breakthrough for me was brewing away, and all it needed was some specific focus to fully utilise it…

I also saw a nice performance jump on runbritain from 4.4 to 4.2 thanks to this run. Woohoo!

I thoroughly enjoyed the latest iteration of the course, which did just the trick to freshen things up. Though my view was distorted by running with others, it felt faster out there with a slightly lower total elevation; others agreed and Dave reckons there’s five to ten seconds to be had. In spite of running much of the route in reverse, it felt much like the classic route of old that I popped my Parkrun cherry on way back in 2011.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

14 canal miles

Oh, what a difference a day made. The sopping wet conditions of Saturday morning had made way for blue skies and sunshine, though strong winds remained. I lost count of how many runners there were out on the towpaths; many of them in the midst of marathon training, I’m sure.

In a bid to make the closing miles more mentally manageable, I swapped things around and ran what would normally be the last two miles at the beginning by heading out near the Soho Loop and then turning around.

The Achilles tendons in both of my legs continued to feel tight, occasionally pinching to make me shift regularly between a forefoot strike and a mid-foot one. Thankfully, they loosened up after a couple of miles and I was finally able to run unimpeded. I really need to get these niggles looked at…

I decided to cap the faster miles between 7:40 and 7:50 to keep things feeling easy; I wasn’t in the mood to smash myself senseless after Saturday’s swift Parkrun.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

So, we’re now at the end of the Runner’s Rule Book after first starting to include items during 2013. I’ve no plans to fill the void with anything and hope you enjoyed them while they lasted.

This week’s running – 25th to 31st of January 2016

Speed limit 40

Back on the 40 mile week!

This week was about a 5k PB attempt and trying to get back to 40+ miles.

5k from work

Man, oh man. I’ve not had anything even remotely resembling a normal week since I picked up that cold at the beginning of January, so I was determined to get back on it and kicked things off with this simple 5k from the office.

The warmer climes from the weekend continued to roll over into the week; even in just a t-shirt and shorts, I was working up a sweat!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Normality was still in full flow, though forecasted strong winds were on course to derail me.

Running straight into the headwind on the out leg was horrendous at times, and probably slowed my peak paces on this fartlek run down by maybe 10 seconds or so. The return leg was much more pleasant with a tailwind for support.

During the closing stages as I ran through a tunnel, I began to hear footsteps of a runner on my tail. Rather awkwardly, I found myself repeatedly overtaking the runner, and then slowing down for him to overtake me, due to the nature of the fartlek run. On the final surge, I ran past, apologised and explained I wasn’t racing him in a haphazard manner; he smiled and forgave me as I went off into the distance.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

The fartlek run must have had a positive influence on me; I felt like I was flying as I ran home to produce a nice royal flush. I still spotted a fair few New Year’s Resolution folks out there, though there can’t be many of them left, surely!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

It was good to return to this weekly staple run. A nasty headwind smacked me about on the out, forcing me to slot in two miles at marathon pace into the return leg to stand some chance of hitting the right speeds. I’ll be honest: the marathon pace miles weren’t great and I could feel my right calf and Achilles tendon tightening up in the process. I reached the conclusion that it’s all down to my knackered shoes. Both pairs are nearing 500 miles, and whilst I’m not a heavy runner and have half decent technique, I still find my non-racing shoes breaking down at around the 400 mile mark.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

Ah! My home Parkrun away from my home Parkrun! I had a PB attempt on the cards with the knowledge that the training boost from the Brass Monkey Half Marathon would have soaked in almost two weeks later. A quick message to my buddy, Vince Nazareth, for pacing assistance and the stage was set.

Aside from the wind, the weather was actually pretty damn pleasant with blue skies and cool temperatures. I soon bumped into another Cardiff Parkrun regular, Daniel Luffman, who joined me on my warm-up jog. I felt completely out of sorts due to a lack of sleep for the days prior. I also still had an eye on my right Achilles; extensive massage and heel dips/raises successfully loosened it up, but I continued to pray it would stay silent for the run.

Only minutes before everybody was due to set off, Vince finally appeared. My target was somewhere around 3:40 to 3:42 per km for an 18:30ish 5k, with around 10 to 15 seconds of wiggle room built in should the pace likely slip in the middle splits.

Off the line, I took things much steadier than usual and allowed Vince to lead the way. There were a few gusts of wind that hit, though nothing to cause too much concern. A gap of 2 or 3m developed between the two of us and despite my best efforts to try and shut it down, I wasn’t able to turn my legs over any faster; they were heavy and leaden with no pop in them at all. I reached the 1km marker with a 3:42 split feeling reasonably relaxed and hoped there was more to give.

The course became more exposed and the gusts of wind became more of a hindrance. I still wasn’t able to close in on the space in front of me, and as the field thinned out, I struggled to find runners to draft behind. The incredibly heavy rain from the night before caused one particular corner to flood, so I observed the line runners ahead of me took to best determine the shallowest route. I really shouldn’t have bothered; the Nike Flyknit Racers I wore did nothing to keep the water out as I ran through to leave my feet soaked and freezing cold! The second km came in at 3:44 to still be within tolerance.

Ah. The awkward middle stretch. The only significant turn on the course appeared for a brief moment of slow down. Everyone around me also slowed to further distort my own perception of pace. Vince was still ahead by roughly the same distance as before, so I knew I simply had to keep this split under 4 minutes to still be in contention for a new PB. Towards the end of the third km, a lone dog was wondering around at the point where there’s two-way runner traffic for maximum hazard potential. A marshal whistled for the dog to come to her and the owner finally made herself known, remarking “Oh. He’s alright where he is. Don’t worry!” I managed to scoot around the dog, though that pinch point on the course would have only become busier! 3:57 was clocked for the third km.

My breathing once again resembled that of a steam locomotive; Vince later commented on how unusual it was to hear me exhaling with two short, sharp puffs and then inhale with one longer drag. I have no idea if this is efficient or not, though it works for me and only rears its ugly head when I’m really worked. The fourth km was largely forgettable, coming in at 3:55 when it really should have been more like 3:50…

andy_yu_cardiff_parkrun.jpg

Andy and Vince at Cardiff Parkrun – photo by Paul Stillman

A small group of us runners formed to tackle the final km together. We had closed in on a runner in red that faded pretty badly; I snatched a few words to encourage him to stay with us as we passed him. The places in the group chopped and changed; for the first time in the entire run, I found myself running side by side with Vince as we approached the 400m marker. My cadence lifted as I clocked one member of the group attempting to kick on. I ushered for Vince to go with me, though I sensed he was close to his limit. I prayed for the 200m marker to make itself known and once it came into view, the chap who tried to break away only moments earlier put in one final kick for the finish with me in tow. He created a gap of 2m or so, though I managed to close it down to almost zero as I sprinted for the line.

I let out a strained growl as I made my way through the finish funnel. Staring at my Garmin, I couldn’t compute what the recorded time was actually trying to tell me. I finally realised I had an 18:44 PB to my name for a 5 second PB; slim pickings, for sure, but most welcome nonetheless.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

A debrief over coffee with Vince, Lis and Yvonne rounded off a great morning in Cardiff. With some focussed 5k graft, I’m sure 18:30 will come to me later this year, though my next 5k PB attempt in the Welsh capital will have to wait until I get the World Half Marathon Championships out of the way first.

14 miles – Llanhennock, Caerleon and back

Along with trying to get this particular week back to some normality with six days of training, I also wanted to get the mileage back into the 40s after several weeks of just 20s and 30s.

Unsure of how flooded my regular flat route into Usk would be, I opted to go back towards the Llanhennock hills, through to Caerleon and back for around 14 miles.

nike_pegasus_32

Nike Pegasus 32s – like fluffy clouds on my fleet

This run also pulled double duty by also breaking in a new pair of Nike Pegasus 32s. I love the Nike Pegasus as an affordable and reliable neutral training shoe, owning several pairs over the years. This latest iteration claimed to be several grams lighter than its most recent predecessor, whilst also being more breathable. Crucially, Nike chose not to play about with the outsole or midsole for a very familiar feel to the pair replaced.

I kept the pace incredibly easy, not wanting to smash myself two days on the trot. Bar the opening slow uphill mile, none came in any slower than 8:50 or faster than 8:04 (extreme descent) for a largely steady paced run.

Completed, I welcomed a return to 43 miles for the week and hopefully more steady training for coming weeks with only a multi-day trip to Germany with work for disruption.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here are the next 10 shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 61 to 70

  1. If you can’t race without it, don’t put it in your checked luggage.
  2. At a fluids station, always try and make eye contact with the person whose cup you want.
  3. Shin discomfort while running is okay; while walking, not okay. See a doc in that case.
  4. You lose fitness faster than you gain it.
  5. If you never have a “bad” day, you’re probably doing something wrong; if you never had a “good” day, you’re definitely doing something wrong.
  6. If you’re going easy, really go easy; if you’re going hard, really go hard.
  7. The faster you run uphill, the steeper it seems.
  8. Running any given route in the rain makes you feel 50 percent more hard-core covering the same route on a sunny day.
  9. The more often you check your watch, the longer the run will drag on.
  10. Every rule of thumb has an exception – except for this one.

 

 

This week’s running – 4th to 10th of January 2016

flu

Time for the seasonal cold to strike!

This week was mostly about recovering from a cold…

5k from work

My throat was still kinda sore, and just in time for the much dreaded return to work. I was still in the early signs of a cold, but I’d been able to dodge them in the past through extensive gargling with warm salt water. My head still felt like it was packed with cotton wool and general fatigue lingered on the periphery, but I decided to run home from the office anyway ala my usual “MTFU” attitude when it comes to running; the pace was definitely slower than normal!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Achoo!

Dear, oh dear. I felt ropier and ropier as the week progressed; not helped by the incredibly busy schedule at work due to various projects starting and nearing completion. With the Brass Monkey Half Marathon less than a fortnight away, caution was the plan of approach and I reluctantly took an enforced running break from Tuesday through to Friday.

Truth be told, the several days of rest did me a world of good. Not only did my body get a chance to recover, but mentally I was able to recharge as well. I also slept incredibly well, with some nights clocking in with over 10 hours’ worth of ZZZs!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

andy_yu_cannon_hill_parkrun

Time to give my confidence a kick up the arse – photo by Geoff Hughes

My return to running for the week coincided nicely with Cannon Hill Parkrun. I felt much more with it, aided by a lovely cocktail of potions and pills to have me feeling in positive spirits.

History has typically shown the first one or two events at Cannon Hill each New Year draws in vast numbers of runners, new or not – I’m sure it’s the same at other events. Saturday didn’t disappoint with 688 in attendance (second highest attendance), and could have still been higher had there not have been a cross-country fixture that took place later that afternoon.

The warm-up with Nigel felt fantastic. My legs felt incredibly fresh, as one would expect from four days without running, whereas the norm would be only one or even zero rest days and heavy legs. There was a bounce in my step where I couldn’t recall the last time it was experienced. Our 200m effort was equally as good, prompting me to have a good old bash out on the course to see what effect the cold had on me, if anything.

Bizarrely during the run briefing, a large crowd of people suddenly walked off for the start line to leave only more-learned regulars behind. I had to make a beeline for the front to avoid being hemmed in. I’m still scratching my head over what triggered the random mass exodus from the bandstand!

Off the line, I went for it and was surprised to see myself in fifth place, with the Garmin screaming to slow down from the 3:21 per km pace and eventually settled at 3:39 for the split.

I continued to feel strong, but knew it couldn’t possibly last. Several runners came past me to send me down to twelfth place and then eighteenth place. I lacked fellow runners around me to work with, further increasing the effort to maintain pace. 3:46 came out on the other side for my troubles.

I was all aboard the pain train for the third and fourth km. My breathing was laboured and my body refused to go with the effort due to the lactic acid that was in free flow. I pulled all manner of gurns on my face in the hope of externalising the torture. 3:58 and 4:01 were the third and fourth km splits, respectively.

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A one-way ticket on the pain train – photo by Lis Yu

With only a few hundred metres to go, I reached the MAC and was helpfully informed by my Garmin that I’d just ticked past 17:00 minutes by a few seconds. A lady running with a dog, though not with Parkrun, weaved all over the path to cut me up pretty badly. “ON YOUR RIGHT! ON YOUR RIGHT!” I bellowed with only mere steps before I went clattering into her; thankfully, she finally maintained a straight line and a quick evasive sidestep from me prevented an all mighty pile-up. I ratcheted the pace up one notch, though my Garmin confirmed there would be no new PB that morning as I ran past the tearoom; a sub-19 finish was still available to signal one final kick that carried me up that infernal hill, producing 18:58 after being ill for much of the week.

I was in bits at the end and had to kneel down once clear of the finish funnel. A younger runner thanked me for pulling him through to a new PB on much of the course; it was a shame he couldn’t keep up with me where we may have been able to push the pace to another level entirely.

Whilst not a PB, I got the confidence boost I wanted and this run became my tenth sub-19 5k – it’s no longer just a fluke! runbritain rankings enjoyed watching me put myself through hell and has rewarded me with a -1.7 performance handicap, also resulting in a drop from 4.6 to 4.4 on my overall handicap.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Canal half marathon

The weather outside was deceptive on this long run. Whilst the sun shone brilliantly and encouraged me to break out my sunglasses, the temperature was bitterly cold, especially when faced by a headwind.

This was the final long run before next week’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon. Whilst there was little new fitness to be gained from going long, I knew the several days off from running required some attention to get me back on track before things began to feel too alien. In spite of being doped up on all manner of cold remedies, I still had to make liberal use of “snot rockets” to clear myself of all too regular congestion.

There were plenty of runners out on the canal towpaths, with many regular faces including Toby Close and Dave Burton popping up; embarrassingly, I recognised Dave’s Cardiff 10k t-shirt before I realised it was him!

I wanted to slot in two isolated miles at target half marathon pace in a bid to become reacquainted with the effort required. The first mile left me feeling very uneasy, though I’m willing to put that mostly down to the angry headwind that tore into me at the same time. Rather than send my recovery back into a downward spiral, I jettisoned the idea of a second mile at half marathon pace with a view to tackle it again on Tuesday evening’s run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the next batch of shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 31 to 40

  1. A long-sleeved shirt and shorts will always look better than a short-sleeved shirt with tights.
  2. Owning your own timing chip is like carrying your own pool cue into a bar.
  3. If an injury is bad enough to keep you from running properly, it’s bad enough to keep you from running, period.
  4. You can never have too many safety pins in or on your gym bag.
  5. Increase your mileage no more than 10 percent per week.
  6. For winter runs, a man never regrets opting for wind briefs.
  7. No one sleeps well the night before a race; the night before the night before your race is the important one.
  8. The first runner to crest a hill is the strongest runner of the group.
  9. The last runner to crest a hill is the funniest of the group.
  10. Don’t wear racing flats unless you can back ‘em up.

This week’s running – 30th of November to 6th of December 2015

keep-calm-and-do-your-personal-best

This was always gonna hurt…

This week was all about getting primed for one last 5k PB attempt for the year.

5k from work

Going into this jog from the office, there was still some slight nervousness around my Achilles tendon from the previous couple of days. Once I actually got running, any fears were quickly dispelled and the normal sense of routine came flooding back to me. Co-ordination was also much improved over the previous day’s 10 miles, with each step planted down more confidently than the one prior.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

Due to a prior engagement that took Lis and me over to the Stirchley side of Birmingham, I decided to take my running gear along and kill two birds with one stone by getting my fartlek run in whilst heading for home.

Unlike a week earlier, there was no distress from the Achilles tendon to leave me convinced I was over it. I wore different shoes to also reach the conclusion that the temporary injury was footwear induced. The Adidas Adios Boost 2s from the week prior hadn’t been touched since mid-September, so coupled with an 8 mile fartlek run with sharp accelerations and decelerations simply meant everything was just out of tolerance enough to make the tendon go *ping*. It was rather good to be running in full flow again, especially form-wise, in the build-up to Saturday’s 5k PB attack.

It may have just been because it was later in the evening than normal, but there were no other runners out on the canal towpaths, despite conditions being very mild and favourable, compared to the recent cold snaps and high winds that have battered the nation of late.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

The fartlek run must have sharpened me up because my legs felt great. Even with a bag on my back and running into a headwind, I was able to open the throttle a little more than usual – all was positive ahead of Saturday’s visit to Cardiff Parkrun.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

This was a character building run of two halves – both as unpleasant as each other! Strong winds and heavy rain were forecasted for Thursday evening, right when I’d be due to cover 10 miles…

The rain stopped before I headed out, but I knew it was simply delaying the inevitable… With 5 miles straight into a headwind, I dialled the pace back and in terms of effort, almost certainly equated to a faster pace on a still day. No pain at all from my Achilles tendon, but it was quite stiff during the early miles before it loosened up.

On the return, I threw in a single mile at marathon pace just to temporarily shake the slower speed up. The heavens opened up and I was drenched in a matter of minutes, leaving me rather soggy for the second half.

This run also saw the return of “Twat cyclist Thursday”. I could see a cyclist was already inside the narrow tunnel and despite the heavy rain, I decided to wait by the entrance for him to come through. He exited and rode past me, without as much as a word of gratitude. I said to him, “Think the word you’re looking for is “Thanks””, though it probably fell on deaf ears. As I turned to enter the tunnel, another cyclist appeared beyond halfway so I waited again… This cyclist at least had the decency to say, “Thanks a lot. Have a good run.” as he exited from the tunnel.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

This was the Big Kahuna. It’d been marked on my calendar for several months as my last remaining shot at a sole 5k PB for 2015. No pressure, right? As timing would have it, this day was exactly a year since my 18:51 PB was achieved. And much like a year ago, nature saw fit to scupper my plans, though not with ground frost, but rather strong winds.

I was genuinely anxious going into this run. My game plan was as follows:

  • 1st km in 3:35
  • 2nd km in 3:45
  • 3rd km in 3:50 – 3:55
  • 4th km in 3:45
  • 5th km in 3:40 or faster

I don’t do even pacing when going for 5k PBs. Holding back at the start simply doesn’t leave enough headroom when you’re too fatigued in the later stages.

Attendance was a touch light on arrival, revealed to be down to the Gwent XC league taking place that afternoon – not great for me as someone looking to work with others at the sharper end towards a fast time.

My warm-up did little to inspire me to great things, with even a gentle effort feeling like it was getting the better of me. Bumping into Daniel Luffman lifted my spirits and I congratulated him on his recent sub-19 performance after chasing it for what felt like months. I invited him to join me on my quest for PB glory, but he admitted that going under 19 minutes had nearly finished him off and politely declined. So much for runners having short memories regarding pain and discomfort!

On the start line, there was none of the usual jostling for position with plenty of space up front for anybody that wanted it. I dived straight in when given the go-ahead and quickly found myself in third place. My mind couldn’t compute what was happening and I remained in third place all the way up to the 800m marker, which was remarkable for a large urban Parkrun. The first km came in at 3:39, so a touch slower than what I’d set my sights on, but still within tolerance.

andy_yu_cardiff_parkrun_start

Third place off the line! Photo by John Ross

A few of the faster guys finally overtook me and quickly created large gaps to leave me on my own. A few strong gusts from a crosswind made running in a straight line rather awkward, but I counted myself lucky that I wasn’t getting a face full of headwind at the very least. The second km settled into target at 3:46.

I was entirely in no-man’s land during the third km. The chap in front of me was too far away to chase down with the levels of fatigue I’d lumbered myself with. A few glances backwards gave me no confidence that anybody would be along to give me a tow; it really was just the clock and me from there on out. Reaching the point on the course where I could see the runners approaching the second km, I was reminded of how few runners were in attendance that morning, with only stragglers left at the back when it’s normally chock full of runners that have yet to come through. I managed to hold the third and fourth km steady at 3:54 and 3:55 respectively.

Crossing over into the final km, I needed my Garmin to say 15:00 or so to be in with a chance of a decent PB. To my horror, I saw 15:17 and knew instantly that my buffer had been eroded away with a too lax fourth km. I originally wanted 15:30 on the clock with 800m remaining, safe in the knowledge that I could push out 3 minutes for the distance, but that ship had already sailed… I was gaining on the guy in front of me, though I wasn’t entirely sure if it was because I was speeding up or if he was slowing down. With only 400m remaining, I couldn’t do anything more to lift the pace. Even at the 200m marker, I had a distinct lack of explosive finishing power that I’ve so readily banked on in the past.

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Has the lucky yellow vest finally run out of luck? Photo by John Ross

I crossed the line to match my 18:51 PB. Disappointed, I clutched the 11th place token before exiting the queue to try and calm my stomach that was doing cartwheels. I felt it gurgling away during the difficult middle portion of the run, but managed to keep it from taking control.

Here’s the Garmin data.

Having thought I’d wrung myself dry out on the course, Lis, Yvonne and I witnessed a bloke that literally collapsed crossing the line. He wasn’t moving once he hit the deck to convince various First Aiders that action was necessary. We later found out he’d simply pushed himself beyond his limits in the chase for a PB, which he did at least achieve. Lis and I began to wonder whether it was us, because this was the second collapse that we’d witnessed in the space of only several days, where the first involved a diner in a restaurant we visited.

Having had some time to digest the result, I’ve come to some peace with myself. On a different day with a loaded field, I’d have PBd. I had no 5k focus going into the run, so being able to at least match my year old PB under less than ideal conditions does show some improvement. runbritain liked the performance, giving me a -1.2 result that has handily returned me to a 4.8 handicap.

I still have a couple of weeks of 2015 left – perhaps Santa Claus will bring me a 5k PB at Cannon Hill?

11 miles – Usk and back

Surprisingly, my legs felt great despite the eyeballs out run at Cardiff Parkrun the previous day. There was no tightness at all when I let my stride stretch out, allowing me to also actively work on my form at the same time.

I normally see a few runners out on this route but it was just me on this occasion. Plenty of cyclists riding chain gang style, though.

The 2 miles or so leading into and out of Usk are hands down the best paved roads I’ve ever had the privilege to run on. They’re pancake flat and the tarmac that was used has just enough give to return energy without dulling legs that harder surfaces do. Finally, the texture is just right for road running, with enough grip to maximise the power from each toe-off without feeling lumpy or sharp underfoot. Running bliss!

Reaching Usk, I made the mistake of turning around through their Christmas market. I was starving and the smell of turkey sandwiches and hotdogs were exactly what I didn’t need!

What I also didn’t need was the 15mph headwind for much of the return leg.

Saint Andrews Walk Climb

41 seconds between me and the next guy

I’m not normally one to be competitive over Strava segments, but several months ago, I was alerted when I became the course record holder of a stretch near where Lis’ folks live. It’s a 0.5 mile climb with a 5% average gradient that peaks at 10%. Ouch indeed. Achieved passively, there were only 10 seconds or so between me and the next guy, though his stake dated back to 2014. I decided to up the ante and make it tougher for any would-be challengers to take the record from me, so I steeled myself for a full on attack to stop the weekend from being completely devoid of glory. Two women that had just walked down the hill stopped to watch me hurl myself up the “Saint Andrews Walk Climb”. At one stage, I was actually running at 5k pace! I knew it was unsustainable, so I dropped back down slightly to somewhere between 10k and half marathon pace for the second half of the climb. Wowza – were my legs and lungs ever shot at the top, but I was full of confidence that I’d done enough to ward off any segment chancers.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

When in doubt, opt for pants, not tights

Tights are funny things. Not everyone can pull off tights. For starters, there are the superhero jokers. Then there are the obvious anatomical issues. Let’s face it: Not every body type is cut out for body-hugging garments. And, for men especially, wearing tights can be a bit too… revealing.

All that said, tights can be very satisfying. They hug your body in a very “second skin” sort of way, compress your muscles, and can show off whatever lean mass you’ve managed to build up.

On the wrong runner, however, tights can be a train wreck. Rule of thumb: If you’re asking yourself whether you should wear tights… you probably should not.

 

This week’s running – 2nd to 8th of November 2015

Gale force wind

OK, a bit of an exaggeration but you get the idea…

A little less mileage and a little less intensity this week.

5k from work

On Monday, running home from the office was a little more problematic than usual due to the fog. With the headtorch on, I was able to see maybe 5 – 10m directly ahead before the fog particles began reflecting light back at me; in the end, I aimed the light upwards where the fog actually acted as one big softbox to give a nice wide spread.

Pace-wise, I kept things incredibly easy with my limited vision in mind. I’m not one of these folks that believes everybody’s out to get me on dark and foggy nights, but I can’t deny that my heart was beating a little faster than normal given the spooky surroundings.

Incredibly, I did see one runner braving the unlit and unpaved section of towpath on the other side that’s now particularly hazardous with plenty of fallen leaves to obscure the path even further.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Hagley Road 10k

Another easy paced run, though navigating Hagley Road was anything but easy!

I’ve come to the conclusion that motorists just don’t see things that aren’t car sized or larger, given how frequently I was cut up on this run by vehicles (mostly taxis) leaving or entering various driveways along Hagley Road. And it’s not even down to what I wear anymore (high vis colours, additional reflective strips, headtorch and rear red light) because I’m cut up just as often in the summer with perfect visibility.

I think I’m just going to call the canal my home all year long!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Yet another easy plod from the office to keep the body ticking over during the lighter week of training.

Once again, another cyclist without lights decided to tell me my headtorch was “too bright, mate”. One, I’m not your “mate”. Two, don’t look directly into the beam. And three, if you decided to be sensible and actually had your own lighting, your eyes wouldn’t be going straight from the dark and then not adjusting in time to the light.

The rant about cyclists continues, where Ed Barlow shared that he had to fish a cyclist out of the canal. The cyclist failed to alert another runner when attempting to overtake, ploughing straight into the runner before the cyclist went head first into the canal.

The canal towpath is shared by all of us. Let’s be sensible and not be dicks whilst we’re on there.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Canal 10k

Thursday was wet, cold and windy, which meant the canal was quiet – hooray!

Not so good was I seemed to lose all my mojo – boo!

Since September, my Thursday mid-week long-ish runs have all felt pretty tremendous, so it was only a matter of time before I knew I would come a cropper with one. I’ve said before that running in the dark, even with lighting, disrupts the way I perceive effort; throw in some rain to further obscure my vision, along with some headwind to contend with, and even 8:20 minute miles felt tough.

The original intention behind this was to cover 8 miles but given how arduous the task was, I chopped it down to 10k before calling it a night.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Perry Hall Parkrun

I fancied a change of scenery and with heavy rain and wind forecasted for Saturday morning, I set my sights on a visit to Perry Hall Parkrun just to make things as tough as possible!

Reaching the park, rain was being blown sideways by the gale-force wind – there’s most definitely a positive correlation between me running at Perry Hall and less than ideal weather conditions… I completed an entire 1.5 mile lap of the route as my warm-up, along with a short sprint at sub-20 pace; I knew I was in for a torrid time when I was almost stopped entirely in my tracks by the raging headwind.

I caught up with former Cannon Hill regular, Andy Wadsworth, not having seen him since sometime in May; a few other faces also looked familiar from Parkruns past, in and amongst the crowd. In all, I estimated there were roughly 50 to 60 people in attendance for a stark contrast to Cannon Hill’s 500+ regular field. I spotted a few younger Birchfield Harrier runners that looked capable of swift times, and would stop the sharper end of the field being so strung out.

Once given the command to start, the next generation of Birchfield Harriers all took off as anticipated. I took chase along with the lead girl, with both of us at the upper end of the top 10. After only a km, all but one of the Birchfield Harriers drifted behind us having burnt themselves out so quickly in the challenging conditions.

The lead girl and I battled it out for fourth and fifth place; her strength was evident on the flat gravel and tarmac sections of the course whilst I, surprisingly, made the biggest counterattacks on the grass where she lost a lot of speed. I was wearing trail shoes whereas she wore racing flats, which went some way to explain our respective biases.

We entered the second lap and she managed to creep away, utilising the longer stretches of gravel and tarmac to her advantage, and leaving me with too much distance to recover on the shorter grass section. I estimated her lead to have been in the region of 20 seconds at its largest.

With just a km left to cover, I could hear somebody on my tail; an older gent confidently strode past me as we moved towards the most elevated portion of the course. I managed to keep the distance between us steady for a minute or so, allowing me to reach the conclusion that he would have put in a bigger surge to break clear of me if he could. With 500m or so remaining, I ramped up the pace as we inconveniently began to turn towards the headwind. He responded initially, but decided to let me go as I hurtled down the short but slippery descent at sub-20 pace. As I turned for the penultimate corner, a cheeky glance to my left confirmed I had only a few seconds’ lead on him – not enough to become complacent until I was over the line.

I was able to maintain my fifth place position all the way to the end for a 20:44 finish. Worryingly, my sole three finish times at Perry Hall have all subsequently gotten slower on each occasion for a trend I hope does not continue. I’ll have to try another time to go sub-20 on the course!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

Lis and I went out for a meal with my brother to celebrate his 30th birthday, and were introduced to his girlfriend’s brother and father; with 5k PBs of 15:20 and 15:50 respectively, I did the mental arithmetic and worked out they’d both have crossed the finish line by the time I’d reach 4k!

Due to the late finish the previous night, a 10 mile run on Sunday morning was not at the top of my agenda; somebody persuasive could have very easily convinced me to sack the run off, that’s how weak-willed I was! Guilt is a powerful motivator and being free of it was enough to convince me to head out there in spite of the weariness.

There was some hangover from the previous day’s windy conditions; thankfully it was more of a cross-wind that I was largely sheltered from whilst on the canal towpaths. Once past Gas Street Basin, I could see two runners up ahead. I caught up to the one closest to me in a matter of only a minute or two, but the one furthest away proved more elusive and took a mile or so to reel in. Once I reached her, it was none other than Alex from Cannon Hill Parkrun! I very rarely train with others, but it made for a really nice novelty to complete a long run with her; the time really flew by whilst we both put the world to rights on hard hitting topics such as marathon training.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

A cap with a bill can be your best friend

From a running-gear-and-apparel perspective, it’s hard to imagine a smarter or more versatile investment than a billed cap. Whether it’s cotton or synthetic or whatever, a billed cap can keep the sun off your face, or snow or driving rain out of your eyes. Wake up late for a group run (or, heck, a dentist appointment), and it can disguise bed head. More than once, I’ve stashed energy gels under my hat, during races and long runs. Works like a charm.

If you happen to be an urban runner, you can even use a cap to flag down a taxi.

Buy several, preferably with the Runner’s World logo.

This week’s running – 5th to 11th of October 2015

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun: friendly and welcoming – photo by Lis Yu

This week was mostly about the two Rs: rest and recovery. Oh and a trip “up Pomphrey”!

5k from work

Nike Vapor Lite bag

The Nike Vapor Lite bag

This was the maiden voyage of the Nike Vapor Lite running backpack that I received for my birthday. The bag I was using for all my other run commutes, whilst a perfectly good running backpack, was literally more bag than I needed. Bought years ago when I was new to this running malarkey, I didn’t know what to necessarily look for in a bag. It had plenty of straps for a locked down fit, but with regular use, it became apparent it was designed for a much larger/taller individual than me.

The Vapor Lite is just that – it’s a lite version of the bag I was replacing. It’s smaller without being useless (I can fit in a pair of trainers, a running top and shorts, a jacket, my lunch, and a few other small items) – the ergonomics are just all round better for my frame. The best feature? It has quick access pull cords that allow me to tighten the fit on the fly if it starts sagging. It performed admirably and stayed out of the way.

I wish I could say I performed as admirably! This was the first run after the Cardiff Half Marathon and boy was it painful. DOMS was in full effect on my quads from the hard downhill final mile in the race. The situation was not helped by having to go up and over numerous canal bridges with reduced grip from the rain – not fun. Light levels were on the home straight to disappearing entirely and it won’t be long before I need to break out my headtorch again.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5 canal miles and The Vale

This week’s training was almost identical to the previous taper week: half as often and half as long in distance. Despite being under control, I was surprised to find how heavy my legs were still feeling.

For a slight break from the norm, I detoured over to The Vale for one loop (a little more than 500m) before re-joining the canal. Short of visiting a running track, I can’t think of many flatter locations with lighting during the darker months and the intention is to head over to The Vale for future speed sessions.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun course and elevation

Flat and fast it ain’t at Pomphrey Hill Parkrun…

Months ago, I half-seriously mentioned that I quite fancied the idea of visiting a chilli farm for a tasting experience as a possible stag-do activity – it’d be like visiting a vineyard, but for teetotallers like me. Well, Lis took note of this and bought me such a thing for my birthday!

The visit took us to where the South-West meets the Cotswolds, and being the occasional Parkrun tourist that I am, I decided to look into potential events that were nearby. Two immediately sprang to mind in the form of Ashton Court near Bristol, and Bath Skyline, near err Bath. Upon closer inspection, Pomphrey Hill Parkrun turned out to be only 10 minutes’ drive from where we would later need to be, so it was decided that this would be my 11th different event and also home to my 150th run.

“Fail to prepare and prepare to fail” is the familiar adage. Pomphrey Hill’s event name gives a clue as to what I was to expect from the course profile, with a 50ft/20m hill that was to be tackled three times, made that much harder with a wood chip bark terrain underfoot for minimal energy return. Looking at previous weeks’ results, the course didn’t have a large attendance either, only having started 18 months ago; a sub-20 performance could be enough to sneak into the top 5 during some weeks to give you an idea.

Dave was particularly excited to learn I’d be paying the event a visit because a friend of his calls it home. Ian’s a regular at Pomphrey Hill; so much so, he’s actually at the very top of the male points leader board and also has a 19:38 course PB to his name there. I was told to look for a chap in an orange t-shirt and long compression socks, and Ian to look for the likely only Chinese guy in the park.

It turned out Pomphrey Hill Parkrun also had a claim to fame with a published author as one of its run directors. If the name Ira Rainey sounds familiar to you, it’s because he’s the titular guy from the book, Fat Man to Green Man: From Unfit to Ultramarathon.

Lis and I were one of the first to arrive at the event, which uses the outer perimeter of some playing fields as its course. We were very quickly welcomed by some regulars, all very curious to hear which event Lis and I called home. We were also introduced to a couple in their 70s who semi-regularly made the trip from Poole Parkrun to join their son; he was the most flexible and spritely 70 year old I’ll ever meet, leaving me in awe with his stretching routine!

I excused myself momentarily for a warm-up lap of the course. I was advised to wear trail shoes for the pick and mix terrain underfoot, consisting of concrete paths, gravel, wood chips and grass. My legs had some bounce back in them again and stretching my stride out felt very comfortable. Going up the hill once certainly got all cylinders warmed up. What goes up, must come down with a very steep descent on concrete to end the lap.

Continuing the theme of being welcoming, the new runner briefing was given by an incredibly bubbly and cheerful lady with infectious enthusiasm. I think Pomphrey Hill Parkrun just stole Fulham Palace Parkrun’s most friendly event prize in my book!

Briefing done and Ian found his way to me. He began pointing out who the faster runners were amongst those present, a number of which had dressed up in wedding themed attire for a regular that was getting married later that day.

3rd place for the first km

Third place for the first km – photo by Alex Christofides

Being a smaller event, the run briefing was given on the start line. Ian and I stood together, both feeling that we were in similar shape and on the starter’s orders, I went off like the clappers. By the first corner only a few hundred metres later, I was comfortably in third momentarily before two guys overtook me on the gravel straight. I was feeling great and full of adrenaline to complete the first km in 3:45; “Shit. I’ve gone out too fast,” I thought. And then we approached the Hill of Pomphrey for the first climb. Surprisingly, the two guys ahead of me were slowing quite dramatically and I was able to catch them with relative ease by the time we turned for the brow of the hill, moving me into third place again. I was able to maintain this going through the straight at the highest point on the course, but boy did I know I’d overcooked it too early on! Lis was cheering from the sidelines, and carried on to Pomphrey Hill to offer more support on the next lap. The second km came up horrifically as a 4:15; even pacing on a non-flat course clearly wasn’t a skill that came naturally to me! I was overtaken again by the two guys I’d gone past on the hill to move back into fifth.

The fast downhill section arrived and I didn’t have the balls to go full pelt down the path; I half considered moving on to the grass for a less jarring experience. Shortly after entering the second lap of the course, my Garmin ticked over and reported I’d completed the third km in an even more shocking 4:21. I was haemorrhaging time all over the place and I knew my sub-20 attempt on the course was over. Ian overtook me somewhere along this point and I began to give chase to try and get back into the top five.

Andy and Ian, going “up Pomphrey” – video by Lis Yu

We began to lap some of the back markers on the course that had yet to finish their first lap. I dreaded each step as it brought me closer to that hill again! Lis was positioned on Pomphrey Hill this time, shooting some video of the suffering I was putting myself through. Much like on the first lap, I was gaining ground on Ian again with my fast cadence and for the briefest of moments, I overtook him and another runner just before the peak. It wasn’t long before they shot past me again on the straight at the very top…

More and more lapped runners appeared as I hurtled down that steep descent once more. I could feel that my quads hadn’t fully recovered from the pounding they received at the Cardiff Half Marathon last week.

Andy Yu at Pomphrey Hill Parkrun

The pretty surroundings masked away that hill… – photo by Lis Yu

“One more mile to go,” I thought to myself as I entered the third lap. Lapped runners actually gave me a target to work towards in the distance to make this one of the faster km splits of the run. Lis appeared once more, this time at the foot of the hill – given the long and narrow-ish nature of the course, it was quite easy for her to dart from place to place, not dissimilar to Fulham Palace Parkrun.

For much of the final lap, Ian remained roughly 25 seconds ahead and nothing I could muster brought me any closer to him. He had local knowledge and experience of where exactly to push, ease off, and hold steady on the course versus my go off like a bull in a china shop approach. We maintained our positions with me firmly and comfortably in sixth place all the way to the slightly uphill finish.

I was shagged by the end. I had to hunch over from the lactic acid that had pooled in my legs for much of the run to leave me looking like a wheezing mess. Ian looked fresh as a daisy and was just shy of a sub-20 finish by only a couple of seconds.

Recovery was swift

Ian and Andy in fifth and sixth place, respectively – photo by Alex Christofides

Scanning was located back along the last 100m of the course, to the side of where runners were coming through. This was a contrast to Cannon Hill where scanners are positioned as far away from the finish as possible so as not to interfere with any runners yet to come through. I was told the Pomphrey Hill scanners used to be just beyond the finish line, but due to its close proximity to the car park, many runners simply scanned and then went home rather than stick around for a chat or coffee.

I got to speak briefly to Ira Rainey afterwards, where he asked for my opinion of the course. I thoroughly enjoyed it in a sadistic kind of way; I explained I’m firmly a road runner, but appreciated the opportunity to literally be taken out of my comfort zone on a challenging course.

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun: friendly, welcoming and the course will put hair on your chest! Here’s the Garmin run data.

8 canal miles

Flipbelt

Flipbelt: imperative you get the sizing right!

This should have been at least 10 miles, but I was suffering from major run equipment failure and decided to call it quits when I had the chance to peel off for home. I received a Flipbelt as a birthday gift, designed to stash a phone when running in unfamiliar locations (don’t want another Peterborough to happen again!) and gels when racing. Awkwardly on paper, I was at the lower end of one size (medium) and the upper end of another (small), and had the medium one to hand. The belt itself is a great concept, but requires a tight fit to prevent it from bouncing, especially when carrying a phone, so we’re now awaiting a replacement in small.

Field test failure aside, I ventured out on to the canal towards Spaghetti Junction for the loop back to the Aston Junction. I’d not been on that stretch of canal in over a year and it was nice to see the towpath upgrade was complete; shame I don’t have a marathon to train for to utilise the miles and miles of towpath now on offer!

I didn’t see a single fellow runner out there. In fact, I didn’t even see any cyclists either; only a few guys fishing. Nice to see that neck of the woods hasn’t lost its sketchiness…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run. Oh, one thing that did tickle my funny bone was what somebody decided to call that segment on Strava!

Riding the Sky Rocket Nob

10th overall on this unusually named Strava Segment

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

Cotton socks are the devil

Cotton sheets are soft and lovely. Cotton dress shirts are crisp and smart. Cotton candy is mouthwatering. Cotton socks? None of the above – at least not when you’re running any distance to speak of. Doubly so when it’s hot and humid and you begin to wonder, about an hour into your sweaty run, whether you need to be in a jungle, per se, to get jungle rot.

When you’re running, opt for synthetic or wool socks.

Thailand running – 12th to 22nd of August 2015

Visited

Personification or Engrish – you decide!

Post holiday blues are in full swing!

For our honeymoon, Lis and I travelled 11 or so hours to reach Thailand. We had two stops planned; a couple of days in the capital of Bangkok, and a further week on the island of Koh Samui.

There wasn’t much running done, though I will take this opportunity to muse over what I did do.

Bangkok

Bangkok’s a pretty crazy place. Not organised chaos crazy, like Vegas, more real working city chaos crazy that seems to typify most Asian cities.

We arrived in Bangkok on the Queen’s birthday, which made it a public holiday. Whilst Lis and I were on the Sky Train (effectively an overhead subway), we noticed a few people board in running gear with bibs on their chests and medals around their necks. Digging around showed it was a half marathon with mini marathon (10.5k) and fun run options (6.2k). Like many things in Thailand, entry also looked super cheap with the half marathon costing only £10.90 after conversion to enter! Part of me was gutted to have dropped the ball and not done my research before the trip, and in retrospect, it looks like there were a few events I could have potentially entered. Mid and southern Thailand really only has one season: summer. The mercury reached the low 30s by 8am each day, and peaked in the mid 30s by lunchtime – I’m not sure if I quite fancied the 5:15am start time for the race!

Andy Yu in Bangkok

Bangkok was too warm and crazy to run outdoors…

Given the warmth and humidity, I resigned myself to the hotel gym whilst in Bangkok and only managed to complete one 10k run on the treadmill. For a city centre hotel gym, it wasn’t half bad with nice and cool air conditioning, plenty of treadmills, and mirrors all around to help me focus on my form. Despite the recent wedding, jet lag and fatigue from the heat, I felt super fresh – I also hadn’t run for almost a week, which probably helped! The two attendants in the gym probably didn’t see many using the treadmills at all, and so seemed utterly fascinated by this mad man completing a 10k on there. Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Koh Samui

After Bangkok, the island of Koh Samui has got to be in the top three most popular tourist destinations in Thailand with 300,000 visitors each year outnumbering the 50,000 local residents.

For similar reasons as in Bangkok, I completed all but one of my runs indoors at the hotel gym. It was far more basic compared to the facilities I had access to in Bangkok, with the gym resembling something an individual would have at home rather than at a 4.5 star hotel. There were issues with the air conditioning each time I ran in the gym; it would either be turned off entirely (WTF?!) or would be set to a fairly high temperature (22 degrees on a tropical island – seriously?!) to make for a few uncomfortable runs. Neither the treadmill in Koh Samui or in Bangkok had a built-in fan either! Here’s the Garmin data for the treadmill runs:

Koh Samui 5k elevation profile

Pretty hilly for just 5k

The one run I did complete on the roads of Koh Samui had to be cut down from the intended 10k to just 5k. The plan was to make it to Chaweng, the nearest major town, and then turn back for home. I was welcomed by the 31 degree morning sun, but it was the hilly route that broke me. All the locals I ran past shook their heads as if to say, “Crazy foreigner fool”. The only solace I found was a nod from a fellow tourist also out on his morning run, acknowledging that I wasn’t the only crazy out there. The roads themselves were much like the country lanes you’d find around the UK, except a 40-50cm width was marked with a white line for pedestrians. I treated the roads much like in the UK and I ran facing the traffic, only switching sides if a corner restricted my view. And to be fair to the Koh Samui drivers, they all gave me a very wide berth as they drove past; with tourism as the main industry of Thailand, it probably wouldn’t have helped if I were to be mowed down! Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Ed Caesar's Two Hours

Perfect reading material for lazy days on the beach

Ed Caesar’s Two Hours came out just in time for the honeymoon. It had received pretty favourable reviews and looked like perfect reading material for a two-week trip. Written with a primary focus on the sub-2 hour marathon, Geoffrey Mutai (he’s a Joffrey, don’t you know) provides a secondary human element for readers to relate to. I particularly enjoyed the history lesson behind the amateur origins of the marathon along with the science behind a sub-2 hour marathon. Easy to read and at times, it felt like a spiritual follow-up to Adharanand Finn’s Running with the Kenyans, which is no bad thing at all.

In all, we both had a fantastic time away but it’s now time to get back to reality and shift some of this honeymoon weight (6lbs!). I have the Cardiff 10k next week and the Cardiff Half Marathon at the beginning of October – neither of which I feel completely prepared for…

Time for the next entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

No spitting on the track

Hold it in. Please. If you can’t, at least spit into the infield. Or onto someone who’s barking, “On your left!”

(Just kidding)

(Not really)

This week’s running – 3rd to 8th of August 2015

Race or a wedding? You decide!

Race or a wedding? You decide!

This week was all about the big day!

6 mile fartlek

The wind was blowing too hard for 800m reps, so I had to settle on the 6 mile fartlek run instead. Things felt a touch easier compared to last week’s blast, due entirely to not paying attention and ending up on the other side of Hagley Road.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

14 miles

I didn’t think it would be too wise to run my long run on the morning of the wedding, so hence why it showed up on Thursday afternoon instead.

I wonder how I ever managed to complete 18+ mile marathon training runs when this outing broke me so badly. The temperature crept back up again after a few weeks in the mid-teens. Humidity was also way up there and I’ve now come to the conclusion that I never want to train for an autumn marathon – give me cold, harsh winters anytime!

Bizarrely, I stopped sweating after 5 or so miles, which didn’t help. I was reasonably well hydrated going into the run, and even carried a bottle of electrolyted water, so what gives?

By mile 12, I was in pieces. It felt like the last 6 miles of a marathon!

Ultimately, I’m glad I completed it but it’s a far cry from what I’ve been capable of in the past in terms of half marathon training runs. This upcoming autumn season will be interesting to say the least!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

The wedding gang

The wedding gang (Dave, Dan, Andy, Lis, Elsa and Iain) – photo by Geoff Hughes

My final run as a single man!

Back in January, Lis and I designed and produced our wedding invitations that actually doubled up as mock race bibs. Printed on water proof, non-tear material, they were so authentic that we actually fooled a couple of people when they landed on doorsteps!

The gang all donned their numbers, along with a surprise last minute entry from our best man, Iain. Dan also appeared as our photographer but ran out of power after only a few snaps.

It was a tough day at the office, I won’t lie. I was still feeling it from Thursday’s 14 miles and I was mentally and physically fried from all the last minute wedding preparations. I tried putting in a fast final km, but even that wasn’t enough to undo the damage from a couple of slower than 4:00 splits.

Dave went on to have a cracking sub-20 (the first since his return from injury), and Iain looked like he could have gone around the the course once more (we’d love to see him back again).

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Over and out

So, this post is purposely early given this weekend’s rather significant event. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, so wish me luck and in the mean time, here’s an entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book to tide things over:

No barking

Yes, we know the adrenaline is flowing and the lactic acid is like batter acid in your veins, but please, be courteous. No need to snarl “On your right!” or “On your left!” as you brush past slower runners or even (gasp!) walkers on the track.

Shouting “Track!” is worse, as 99 laypersons out of 100 will have absolutely no idea what you are saying, and will probably just turn around, bemused, directly into your path.

If the track is really that crowded, and you feel fear a collision, do what you would do off the track to alert others to your presence: Clear your throat or cough as you approach.

And give those slower, unfortunate folks wide enough berth as you pass. There’s room for both of you. And who knows? One day, you might just be the one “in the way.”