This week’s running – 28th of March to 3rd of April 2016

house_move

So, which burns more calories? Running or moving house?

Not all that much running last week due to the need to move house…

Moving house and running are not compatible

Your eyes do not deceive you; there was no weekly blog update to cover the 21st to 27th of March apart from my World Half Marathon Championships review. Aside from the race, I only did two maintenance runs that particular week to keep things ticking over, so nothing really interesting of note.

With the task of moving house, running had to take a back seat and I imagine it will be a few weeks yet before normal service resumes. We’re pretty much all moved in now, bar a smattering of belongings that are still in the Jewellery Quarter.

The longer commute from Smethwick to Kings Heath has meant I’ve had to re-think how I fit certain runs in. For recovery runs, I’ll be dressed to run and simply travel into the city centre via the Metro and will then begin my run-commute. For my longer 10 mile runs on Thursdays, I plan to run-commute straight from the office via the canal towpaths all the way home; plotting the route measures it at a touch under 10 miles, so I can always scratch around for some additional distance at the end to bulk it out. Now that we’re entering warmer climes, run-commuting will be a doddle; it’s the winter that I anticipate to be a problem with the juggling of coats etc, but that’s almost a world away right now.

As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I will now be providing Strava data instead of Garmin data for my runs; those of you I’m already connected to via Garmin Connect will still be able to view the data.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Come Saturday’s Parkrun, I had not run for an entire week for the longest break from running in several years. In fact, I ran more frequently on my honeymoon! I was curious to see how I would fare, especially with no training in the higher gears for nearly two weeks.

Attendance was noticeably light on the sharper end, due to an event later that afternoon that took away many of the regular club runners.

As anticipated, I lacked sharpness. My lungs couldn’t provide enough oxygen quickly enough to fuel the intensity; for a complete contrast, my legs felt incredibly fresh from one week’s break and could have continued at that pace for much longer. I ended up pacing the young lad from Sparkhill Harriers to his second fastest 5k. Dave, despite declaring he was going to take things easy, managed to squeeze out a cheeky sub-19 by a couple of seconds!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to Shirley and back

Moving house means new routes to explore, without hopefully getting too lost!

The target was to cover 10, maybe 11 miles to serve as my long run, so I decided to head out towards Shirley via the A34 and A4040, with the knowledge that it would be incredibly flat, bar a hill on Brook Lane.

My body was creaking from all the heavy lifting and crouching of the days prior, so it was good to finally let my legs stretch out at a sedate, steady pace.

I took detours to run around both Swanshurst and Shirley Park, which messed up the total distance I’d covered in my head to have me running almost a half marathon before I finished! I’ve never been somebody that’s needed interesting or picturesque surroundings to accompany my runs, but I can’t deny the change of scenery provided some good mental stimulation from the familiar canal towpaths I favour.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 29th of June to 5th of July 2015

Who called for a heatwave?

Who called for a heatwave, anyway?

This week was all about taking the heat.

Hot, hot, hot!

We Brits bitch and moan each year when it’s too cold, wet and miserable. When it does eventually warm-up, we then bitch and moan about it being too hot, humid and miserable.

They say it can take up to two weeks to better acclimatise to warmer conditions. Such changes include learning to sweat more to keep us cool and releasing less salt whilst we do so, amongst other adaptations.

4x 800m at 5k pace

Brave or stupid, I guess I was a little of both. I was reluctant to let the weather derail my training plans unless where absolutely necessary.

With 5x 800m reps down on the schedule, I did wonder how my body would fare when faced with a 10+ degree temperature difference compared with previous weeks and little to no time to acclimatise.

1km into the warm-up, I was well and truly warmed-up. Sweat was in free-flow and my heart rate was suitably ramped up due to loss of liquid volume, despite having hydrated all day and necking a pint of diluted Nectar Fuel before heading out the door.

Arriving at Edgbaston Reservoir, there weren’t many out running at the warmest time of the day. There weren’t really many out walking either, clearly having decided it was too warm for much of anything.

I charged into the first rep and came out the other side unscathed, and importantly on target pace.

The second rep was tougher as it gained about 2m in elevation and the final 400m were straight into a 10mph headwind.

Two more reps and I was finished. The effort in the heat left me in tatters, which equated to a fine training effect. Project new 5k PB was coming along nicely!

One further bonus came during the third rep when one guy caught a glimpse of me zooming past; he said to his two friends, “Now that’s stamina!” No coincidence either that the third rep was the fastest of the bunch.

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

5k from work

Second day of oppressive heat and thankfully, all I had to do was make it home in one piece at whatever pace my body allowed. Oddly despite the heat, this somehow ranked as one of my fastest runs from the office according to Strava, so go figure!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 canal miles

What a difference a day made to the temperature with it dropping by half! The rain was such a welcome and refreshing relief, freshening everything up in the process. The brief rainfall also had the nice side-effect of keeping fair-weather canal users off the towpaths for a frustration-free run.

Feeling good, I decided to run progressively with each subsequent mile clocking in between 5 and 10 seconds faster than the last. If not for the final mile cool-down, this would have made for a nice royal flush.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6x 800m at 5k pace

Andy Yu's return to the track

Firm, yet forgiving – it was great to be back on the track!

With Cannon Hill Parkrun cancelled and wedding errands that required my attention, I decided to slot in another session to make up for the lack of a fast 5k that morning.

The track beckoned and I couldn’t quite believe that it had been a year since I last set foot on the tartan. I always adore running on the track; the completely predictable nature simply can’t be beat in my book.

The plan was for 5x reps at 3:45/km. Earlier in the week, Dave suggested I attempt to target 6x reps in a bid to boost strength for the final push during a fast 5k. This was a pretty ballsy ask of myself considering I’d always maxed out on 5x reps.

Rocking up at Fox Hollies Leisure Centre, the track was expectedly dead during the height of the afternoon sun. At the desk to pay, the staff ended up giving me a free pass for the day because they couldn’t figure out how to process my request for track access!

There was a bit of headwind on the first bend and on a portion of the home straight. The planned 5x reps were completed without issue, with the slowest of the bunch being the fourth by only a second at 3:01 for 800m /3:46 per km.

I was tired after 5x reps and incredibly warm, but a quick look inwards suggested I could keep going for a sixth rep. Turned out there was nothing to worry about at all and the split clocked in at 2:58 / 3:43 per km for the fastest of the day! And there was probably enough inside me for a seventh to really destroy me if I so wished.

Project new 5k PB made a huge leap and bound, with Wolverhampton Parkrun, Saturday 19th of July earmarked as the big day to test things out.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

8 canal miles

The plan was for 10 miles out to Bournville and back, but that never materialised. Lis and I were due to be in Worcester for 12pm and with the run only starting at 9:30am, I didn’t have long at all.

Almost certainly down to the track session the day before, nothing felt right or wanted to co-operate with me. In the end, I turned around for home to come in at just 8 miles. Sods law, everything loosened up and I was able to open up the throttle a bit after 5 miles! Thankfully, I still have nothing longer than 10k until early October, so out and out endurance isn’t quite so important just yet.

I do have to mention twice bumping into Mary and Helen – two of the core team behind Cannon Hill Parkrun. They were both running with another two ladies, all of them dressed in yellow vests (love it) and on my approach back to Brindley Place, they started shouting something about “Paula Radcliffe”. Warm and slightly out of it, I thought they were comically comparing themselves to the women’s world record holder for the marathon. Browsing Twitter only an hour later, British Athletics retweeted the following photo and I finally twigged what they were on about:

Paula Radcliffe on Birmingham canals

Mary, Helen and co. meeting Paul Radcliffe – photo by Carol Austin

I could not think of two more deserving folks for such a chance-encounter!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And so we’re on to this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Your medal is wearable for a reason

Will you look a little cheesy walking (or limping around town postrace with a – let’s face it – chintzy medal hanging from your neck? Yes. Should that dissuade you from doing so? No way. You’ve earned the right to indulge in a little cheesiness.

So go for it. Loop that thing around your neck. Wear it after the race, wear it out to dinner that night – heck, wear it to work the next morning. Anyone who wants to judge you can do so just as soon as they earn their own medals.

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

All the people at Bushy Parkrun

All the people (at Bushy Parkrun)… So many people (at Bushy Parkrun)…

This week was about more consistency and paying pilgrimage.

10k fartlek

After last week’s sharp fartlek sesh, I was fully expecting this week’s scheduled run to be much the same. But the sting never arrived, and whilst I was working hard, I was always just about on the edge of control.

I also decided to use manual splits to better determine the distance of the fast and slow sections, along with the pace. Previously, it was simply a case of run as fast as I could and to make the most of the (sometimes short) recoveries. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the paces spanned my 5k to 10k spectrum, and went some way to explaining the decrease in perceived effort at Parkrun.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

There was one tale of woe in this session: my Adidas Adios Boosts are pretty much shot in terms of outsole grip, or at least the right shoe is. My right foot rolls outwards ever so slightly, which means the outsole edge of shoes takes the brunt of the impact and wears away first. Compare this to my left foot, which is perfectly neutral in its landing, with barely any outsole wear and tear at all. A cracking pair of shoes, which were gratefully received as Parkrunner of the Month for July last year – I’ll be sad to see them go.

5k from work

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I was able to run majority of the stretch from the office in daylight! It wasn’t until I hit Brindley Place when it actually became dark and required I switch my head torch on.

I think with another few weeks under my belt, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to head back to Edgbaston Reservoir for sessions in the evenings.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10k along Hagley Road

Depending on whether you look at the splits for this run in miles or km, I either royal flushed or I didn’t.

I wasn’t intending to run it progressively, but you know how it goes occasionally; when you’re feeling good, sometimes it’s best to just go with the flow.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Bushy Parkrun

Map of Bushy Park

Bushy Park is ginormous!

For fans of Parkrun, the Bushy Park course is the equivalent of Elvis’ Graceland. Originally known as Bushy Park Time Trial, the venue is home to possibly one of the most important grass roots sports movements. Bushy Parkrun regularly sees in excess of 1,000 runners per week, with a proportion of that bulk made up of people like me looking to pay pilgrimage to the hallowed venue. I’ve participated in road races that have had fewer participants!

One 6am start and a 2 hour drive later, Lis and I had arrived. Because we needed to dash off to London afterwards, we parked the car at Hampton Court train station, less than a mile’s walk away – perfect for a jog warm-up en route. The on-site car parks at Bushy can seemingly become a bit of a bun-fight to both get in to and out of.

Bushy Park is bloody huge. The course only utilises the eastern half of the park, sticking mainly to the outer perimeter paths where possible, and taking runners on to grass when not. Bushy Parkrun has a reputation for being flat and fast, but I still I wondered whether the grass sections would have much impact on me in terms of speed. Looking at the last few weeks’ results, there appeared to be plenty of people in the 19:00 to 20:00 minute bracket to work alongside as compensation; a luxury outside of big city races.

400m effort at 5k pace done to get the cylinders firing, and I was ready to earn my breakfast. Lis and I stopped to talk to Tim, a Bushy Parkrun regular, for some tips and advice. Tim had recently completed 102 runs, all exclusively at Bushy, and he explained that Bushy Parkrun actually holds its pre-run briefing on the start line. This made a lot of logistical sense, with no point having 1,000 odd runners meet at location A, only to then walk them over to location B if it could be avoided.

Andy Yu at Bushy Parkrun

Vest? Check. Shorts? Check. Pneumonia? Pending…

Stood on the start line, the reality of the morning’s near-freezing temperature hit home, with most others around me in long-sleeve tops and tights; only a select few were mad enough like me to don vests and shorts… Due to the large field, the organisers at Bushy even had their own portable PA system! Impressively for such a large event, we also started almost bang on at 9am.

The Bushy Parkrun start line is super-wide

The start needs to be wide to regularly accommodate 1,000+ runners

With such a wide start line and the initial 1km straight, the mass of runners I found myself in dissipated quickly. I still had to keep my wits about me due to the grass terrain potentially masking a few dips and bumps. I had set my Garmin virtual pacer to 3:50/km for a rough 19:15 to 19:20 finish. My pace hovered at just faster than target; I felt like I was just on the cusp of working too hard to maintain the pace, due to the lack of energy return from the grass.

Turning the corner into the 2nd km, the terrain underfoot became a firm path. Runners around me were still jostling for position, causing me to go wide at a few points. Not being familiar with the course also made choosing the shortest line tricky. The rest of this particular split had me drafting behind a few guys to try and regain some composure from the fast opening km. One strange thing I saw was one lad running in studded football boots… The boots may have helped on the grass at the beginning and end, but must have been difficult to run in during the 3km of solid path!

For the next 2km, I slowly picked away at runners ahead. Noticeably, a lot of them were fading and had probably gone out too quickly. I continued to work hard, but still remained in control with only a few seconds short on target.

Andy Yu at Bushy Parkrun

Racing an old boy at Bushy Parkrun

Entering the final km, I could see the front-runners through the trees in their dash for the finish line. The closing stage of the course took me back on to grass for an awkward loop around some trees for further slow-down. I continued to reel runners in, but the field thinned dramatically and left only a few people to chase down. Once I had reached the closing straight, I kicked hard to overtake a further two guys before reaching the finish for 19:18.

19:18 and 31st at Bushy Parkrun

I’m glad I went sub-20, otherwise I’d have to go back for another attempt!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Safely over the finish line, the final guy I overtook congratulated me on a good run, not expecting me to come out of nowhere behind him. I was gasping for air and could only manage a handshake with him whilst we made our way through the longest finish funnel ever. I didn’t get a chance to witness the double/triple funnel in action, where it seems they’re utilised most around the 25 to 28 minute mark when it’s not unusual to see over 100 runners coming through per minute. Scanned in and confirmed as 31st, Lis and I made a beeline to get out of the park and into London. Seeing the sheer volume of runners yet to finish was a sight to behold at Bushy.

I had a thoroughly good time at Bushy Parkrun and it was worth the effort to get there. The one lap configuration worked well, creating a real sense of progress through the run that multiple laps simply can’t match. It was also such a novelty having plenty of people to run with, even into the late stages of the course.

Oh, and it seems I even made it on to their weekly run report, too!

Andy Yu made it into the Bushy Parkrun run report

Totally worth the 5:15am get-up and 2+ hour drive!

10 canal miles

Surprisingly, getting up at 5:15am and going to bed at 1am didn’t have too much of a negative impact on me. Nonetheless, I chose to keep the scheduled 10 miles easy to keep things in check.

It was absolutely gorgeous outside, with blue skies and enough sun to convince me sunglasses were the right move. There were plenty of runners and cyclists out on the canals, including chance encounters with Darren Hale and Iain.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

You will hear the theme from Rocky

For road racers, hearing the theme from Rocky isn’t a question of “if,” but “when.”

During any given race, the chance that you will hear the theme from Rocky blaring at the start/finish line, or from a spectator’s stereo along the course is 75 percent. If the race is in Philadelphia, that probably soars to 98 percent.

Little-known fact: Regardless of location, age, gender, ethnicity, or income, precisely 67 percent of runners will react to hearing the Rocky theme during a race by raising both arms and pumping their fists.

This is the real-world manifestation of what mathematicians call the Stallone Constant.

Strange but true!*

*This is not true.

This week’s running – 24th to 30th of November 2014

Another week that didn't go according to plan

Another week that didn’t go according to plan

Things still didn’t go according to plan this week.

Run commutes from work

My intention to run six times a week still hasn’t materialised. Despite adding one or two additional run commutes from the office, I’ve still yet to have a week where I’ve been able to run Monday to Thursday and Saturday to Sunday. This is only going to get more disrupted as we approach Christmas so perhaps I should just write this off until the New Year?

Anywho, click here and here for the Garmin data for the two commutes home from work.

6 mile fartlek along Hagley Road

I’m not sure what it was about the opposite side of Broad Street and Hagley Road, but I felt like I was working much harder when compared to my previous two runs on the other side.

Road maintenance was in full swing, with barriers making some portions of pavement rather narrow; normally not a problem but occasionally became tricky when passing people.

Here’s the Garmin data for this fartlek sesh.

Running – An inspiration

Nigel running his 50th Parkrun

Running – An inspiration

Recently, I received a request to plug Summersdale Publishing’s upcoming release: Running – An inspiration. Summersdale are the same folks who publish the very entertaining Keep on Running – The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict by Phil Hewitt.

Clearly, like many new book releases at this time of year, it is intended to appeal to those searching for a Christmas gift for the runner in one’s life. A coffee table book in hardback format, it’s packed with images along with inspirational quotes (some athletic, some not). I had a flick through with Lis and we concluded that it would be ideal for those that are just getting into running, or those that need motivation to get out there during those cold winter months.

Because it is the season of giving, I have decided to give my promo copy away to one lucky reader. I don’t make any money from this blog so can only afford to send it to a UK-based individual – sorry overseas readers, I still love you!

To enter, all you have to do is answer this question:

What is my current half marathon PB?

The answer is, obviously, somewhere on this blog. But where could it be? And by “current”, I mean like right now and it’s not a trick question.

Just simply drop me an email with your answer to andy@runtowin.co.uk and somebody will be randomly selected out of a hat (OK, email inbox) on the evening of Thursday 4th of December. I’ll then be in touch with the winner for postage arrangements etc. Best of luck!

Cannon Hill Parkrun – the Nigel Beecroft edition

Nigel running his 50th Parkrun

Nigel running his 50th Parkrun – photo by Geoff Hughes

Saturday took me back to my home stomping ground of Cannon Hill Parkrun. It was a big day for Nigel, who would be running his 50th Parkrun and also wanted to make it a good’un and by that, we mean sub-20 minutes. Without a real plan for myself, I was more than happy to pace Nigel through to the end.

It was uncharacteristically warm and muggy that morning and probably caught a few people off-guard. A last minute panic ensued when Nigel realised he had forgotten to take his espresso shot; I told him he didn’t need it despite me being a regular user of caffeine before races. “Liar, liar, pants on fire” indeed… As is now customary, we found ourselves at the sharp end of the start line.

On “Go”, we were off. And boy, were we off! Well, Nigel was. I was pacing from my Garmin at a steady 3:58/km and Nigel had already created a vast 10m gap between us. This gap increased to about 15m when he found himself in the thick of a nicely paced group to work alongside for a common goal. I decided to hang back and stay steady so that I would be there to help if the time came. On occasion, I even saw Nigel leading the group.

After 2km or so, Alex Mold passed me and I asked if we would see a PB from her. She joked that, “We would see” and settled in about 5m ahead of me for much of the remainder of the run.

At around 4km, I had more or less caught up to both Alex and Nigel by upping my pace slightly. I gave Nigel some feedback that I was right behind him along with some encouragement to keep going. I also gave Alex some motivation to go for that PB, sensing that she wasn’t far from one.

We all exited Fergal’s/Dave’s corner and I gave some more encouragement to Nigel and Alex, which was easier said than done. I awkwardly had to hang back a little so that I was behind Alex but also still ahead of and in contact with Nigel. Both of them were blowing hard and I could sense the agony they were going through, having been there many times myself before on that very spot in Cannon Hill Park. I spurred both of them on again as we approached the final hill and finish line.

Looking at my own finish of 19:38, I was confident Alex had PBd crossing the line just before me. Nigel followed behind with a tidy comeback PB of 19:44 – more than 20 seconds faster than his recent best from the last couple of weeks. I was thrilled for him, where he committed to and delivered the plan and then some – well done Nige!

Here’s the Garmin data for this Parkrun.

In other Parkrun news, we later worked out that the two of us would have been in with a chance at the podium had we have attended Perry Hall Parkrun instead; first to third place finished between 20:04 and 20:28. One day, Andy, one day…

13 miles of south Birmingham

I was disappointed last week that the canal towpath towards Bournville had been closed again. Not wanting a repeat and because I couldn’t work out whether it was still closed, I routed a course that would take me down Bristol Road, through Bournville and back into town via Pershore Road.

The sun was out for a very pleasant morning. I went out fasted again with only a coffee and some weak orange squash to jump-start me.

Without any fast fuel to call upon, I felt rather out of sorts for the first few miles, almost like I had forgotten how to run. Once warmed-up, things ticked along like clockwork.

The route would have given me around 11.5 miles; as I passed Cannon Hill Park, I decided to take a detour inside to boost the total distance to 13 miles or so.

Finishing up the run back at home, I was kinda whacked. I ran on empty; the route undulated far more than anything else I had recently ran, and was also further too. Hours later whilst I’m writing this, I’m still slightly out of it…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Now on to the real reason you read this blog, it’s time for another entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

The whole pasta thing is way overblown

Distance running and pasta are so closely associated, it makes you wonder if the two industries aren’t in cahoots. (It’s probably a coincidence that the last journalist to explore this theory was found dead soon after he started asking questions, buried under 3 tons of elbow macaroni in a Long Island warehouse.)

I should stress that eating pasta the night before a long race is not a bad idea. It’s great, if that’s what you’re hungry for. Or what you’re used to. I often enjoy a plate of penne as a prerace dinner.

But there’s nothing magical about the stuff. It’s just flour and water, folks.

So have whatever you like the night before a race, assuming it’s reasonably healthy and reasonably “safe.” (Steak tartare is probably not the smartest choice, nor is the habanero bean burrito platter at that new hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint.) And for Pete’s sake, don’t eat anything you’ve never tried before.

Don’t overthink. Let your gut guide you. You’ll be fine.

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of November 2014

Warning! Diversion!

I hate it when a plan doesn’t come together!

This week didn’t quite go according to plan…

5k from work

After the heavy weekend of a Cannon Hill Parkrun course PB and a mind numbing 10+ miles exclusively again at Cannon Hill, I was determined to get some easy miles into my legs for recovery. The plan was to increase run days to a total of 6 – my highest ever. Sadly, whilst the Monday run from work did happen, Tuesday was a write-off due to an unexpectedly late finish at the office. My 6 run week will have to happen another time.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10k fartlek along Hagley Road

I really enjoyed this run last week; this repeat of it more or less cements it into my winter schedule until it starts to get brighter again in the evening.

Largely uneventful, apart from one dick driver that decided to pull up and mount the kerb, requiring evasive manoeuvres from me. He clearly didn’t see me, even though I had my head torch on strobe mode. Stay safe out there, peeps!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Perry Hall Parkrun

Perry Hall Parkrun course

The Perry Hall Parkrun course

It’s been a long time coming but the second city finally has a second Parkrun.

Perry Hall Parkrun is roughly the same distance from me compared to the usual haunt of Cannon Hill, so the schedule remained pretty much unchanged to most Saturdays. The course terrain covered tarmac, grass and gravel for a cross-country feel. I used to hate cross-country as a fat kid at school, so this would be interesting…

Arriving at the venue, it was immediately apparent that parking on-site was at a premium. Whether this was due to limited spaces to begin with, or a larger number of visiting vehicles than the site can support, I’m not sure. More spaces are supposed to be made available next week, but I wasn’t certain where they would materialise.

We quickly met up with Nigel Beecroft, making up the Cannon Hill Unattached ©. Our warm-up consisted of one lap of the two-lap course, roughly resembling a figure of 8 or an hourglass. Clearly, the park was in the middle of some redevelopment; tarmac paths began and ended abruptly, and orange plastic netting blighted the landscape. The recent rain had saturated the grass sections of the course for a squelchy warm-up, making me think again about my sub-20 ambition for the morning.

Perry Hall Parkrun event number 1

Start line of the inaugural Perry Hall Parkrun – photo by Perry Hall Parkrun

Everybody regrouped by the finish line for the briefing. Expectedly, almost everyone present was an existing Parkrunner, and a Parkrun tourist at that. Despite this being my eighth different venue, this was my very first inaugural event. We made our way to the start line for what was a very civilised affair with plenty of room up front, where I found myself standing next to Cannon Hill speedster, Darren Hale.

Once into the run, I was able to stick with a group of runners at around the sub-20 pace. Developing a rhythm on the course was tricky; the tarmac and concrete paths were a touch slippery due to the rain and the grass sections absorbed a lot of energy from each foot strike. I slipped off the pace and had to let the group go, falling back to the next group behind me. Positions changed rapidly between four or five of us and I eventually settled down to draft behind the lead girl.

I normally have a decent judgment of distance, and I was certain I had run through the first km, but my Garmin kept schtum. The pace looked right and was set to minutes per km; that’s when I realised I had left it to auto-lap for every mile, which simply wasn’t regular enough given the changing pace and terrain.

Running a clean line was near impossible on the course and often, the shortest route was not necessarily the easiest. Trying to maximise traction, I ended up running wide to utilise dry patches that were less churned up. My group continued to jostle for position, but one positive was we had collectively overtaken several runners that had over-egged it in the early stages.

Andy Yu at Perry Hall Parkrun

Mud everywhere at Perry Hall Parkrun – photo by Lis Morgan

Reaching solid ground, the group kicked things up a notch and I started to go backwards from them. I had to throw in a few small surges to stay in contact; one well-timed surge actually took me ahead of the group to lead again. We rapidly closed in on two younger Sparkhill Harrier runners; one of whom was the lad that I’d pushed on a few weeks ago for a vomit inducing PB. They were both fading and we were only at the start of lap two…

I was breathing pretty hard from all the regular pace and terrain changes. The stabiliser muscles in my legs are definitely less developed due to the near-exclusive road running I do; I simply didn’t have the necessary drive to push hard on the grass or mud.

Andy Yu finishing Perry Hall Parkrun

Just missed a sub-20 finish by a few seconds – photo by Perry Hall Parkrun

Once I was back on tarmac and in my element, I cranked the pace back up to try and reclaim as much lost time as possible. I thought I was safe but out of nowhere, an older chap in a 100 Club t-shirt stormed past me. I tried to close the gap but I was out of gears to shift into. His downhill technique was far superior to mine and the gap only increased; I gave up on the chase and looking behind, there were a good couple of seconds between the next guy and me, so a sprint finish was not necessary. I crossed the line in 20:07 to be just outside of target; I could have found an extra second or two per km if I had set my Garmin up correctly.

Nigel finished only about 15 seconds after me and looked dramatically fresher for it. We both enjoyed the change of scenery and Nigel even planned to attend Perry Hall Parkrun for their Christmas Day run if Cannon Hill decided not to hold one themselves. I’m not sure how often I will run at Perry Hall Parkrun, but I would like to tackle it again before 2014 is out.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10.5 miles out and back to Birmingham Uni

Without a critical marathon to train for, I’m using this winter season for some training experiments, one of which is to try and boost my body’s ability to utilise fat. There’s been a lot of hubbub out there about running on fewer carbs, or running in a fasted state leading to improved endurance. I’m also interested in getting my body fat down to 10%, where it currently flits between 11.5 and up to 13%. So today, I set out on my long run with nothing but a coffee and some diluted orange squash for breakfast.

I wanted to head towards Bournville via the canal towpath and imagine my disappointment when I discovered it had been closed off again! A quick detour back on to street level and I decided to cruise along Bristol Road for an impromptu tour of Birmingham Uni. I felt great considering I’d skipped breakfast – there was no sluggishness at all and the pace always felt comfortable. To top off an already positive run, I even bumped into Jort out on his own long run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Approach the expo with caution

Race expos are mystical places where the usual laws of retail and consumption do not apply.

Don’t need another singlet? Another pair of shorts or tights shoes? Another bagful of energy gels or a new pair of shades?

Who cares! You’re at the expo! You’ve trained hard to get here and denied yourself for months and months. Now it’s your weekend, dammit, and you owe it to yourself to indulge a little in the form of purchasing that commemorative race plaque, those hats, and this what-the-heck-is-this-thing, anyway? You know what? Who cares? You’ll take it!

If you have the disposable income to handle this sort of indiscriminate splurging on stuff you frankly don’t need, then have it. Enjoy.

This week’s running – 3rd to 9th of November 2014

5:55am get-up for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon

Up before 6am to register for a race?!

A fairly standard week apart from one pre-6am get-up for positive reasons…

10k along Hagley Road

Brrr… It was cold as anything on Tuesday and a little damp too, so I threw on the running tights and a long sleeve top for a jaunt up and down Broad Street-Hagley Road. Fired up the head torch on strobe mode too and almost as if by magic, people on the street could see me and made room accordingly.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Easy 5k from work

Yep. Still keeping up with the Wednesday run home from work. I am tempted to start doing an easy run home on Mondays as well for six runs a week.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Jewellery Quarter hill reps

I had to be somewhere pretty sharpish on Thursday evening, which didn’t leave me with enough time to get much of a run completed. I opted to go with 4x reps of the nearby hill here in the Jewellery Quarter for something short and sharp. Despite the short reps, they were uphill and into strong headwinds to leave me shagged for a mission accomplished.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Softly, softly, catchee monkey

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2015 registration

All systems were go for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon registration process

Back when I struggled to break 2 hours for a half marathon, I did some research into pancake flat races; one event regularly appeared in lists of PB-friendly events and that was the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in York.

Taking place in mid to late January, the name is certainly apt. The 2013 race was called-off due to snow and last year’s race, whilst it went ahead, was a bit of a wash out. But the race still manages to sell out, thanks to its 7.5m elevation gain between the start and finish to make it one of the flattest half marathons in the UK (does anybody know of a flatter one?)

Anywho, I was determined to get in and tick this race off from my bucket list. The organisers (York Knavesmire Harriers) scheduled the registration to begin at 6am on Saturday… I’d had a tiring week at work, a late night on Friday, and despite setting the alarm to go off at 5:55am, I was already more or less awake beforehand.

Logging onto the registration site, there were already at least 396 other people with the same idea as me, trying to bag one of the 1700 or so places on the start line. After a few minutes in the very efficient online queue system, I was a fully paid up entrant with all available places sold out within a few hours. Looking at the race participant list, it reveals that I was the 20th person to register, so I can only guess that setting up my username and account beforehand saved me a few precious minutes in the process.

I know I won’t be in peak condition by the time the race rolls around on the 18th of January. I’m fairly sure I’m not alone on this one but the quality of my training takes a nosedive in the winter in exchange for more endurance and volume. The race will serve as a good fitness benchmark to see where I will be in the run up to the Silverstone Half Marathon. Finally, the Brass Monkey should also keep me on the straight and narrow through Christmas and the New Year, where temptation is rife.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

The weather was predicted to be a very wet one for Saturday, with the rain due to hit just as Parkrun was due to take place.

I felt more out of sorts than normal during my warm-up, no doubt due to the lack of sleep during the previous 24 hours. Like the previous week, there were plenty of notable absences from the field of regulars, but also plenty of newcomers to make up the numbers. Just as we were due to head to the start line, the heavens opened up right on schedule…

Similar to last week, I was unsure about how I wanted to run the course. I felt great last week and was confident I could push a little harder without much more discomfort – the lack of faster sessions has left me soft!

The run went pretty much by the numbers. Only in the final km did things start to get interesting when a young Sparkhill Harrier lad started to fade just ahead of me. With 800m or so to go, I had all but caught up to him and just as he started to slow again, I gave him some encouragement to keep going and stay in front of me. He picked the pace up and went with it until 400m when he started to fade once more; I spurred him on again and told him there wasn’t much more left to do. We managed to take a few people down on the hill and crossed the line 23rd and 24th for 19:37 and 19:38 respectively. The lad thanked me for my help and then proceeded to throw up only metres into the finish funnel and continued to throw up a further two times… I prayed that he at least PBd to justify the torture I put him through and a bit of stalking shows a 13 second improvement – massive in 5k terms.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Heading back to the bandstand, somebody stopped me to reveal he was a reader of this blog – Carl, here’s your shout-out! I had a nice chat with him and I was left in awe when I found out he’d run 18:31 as part of a long, soggy wet run. Carl also had similar ideas to me earlier that morning and had registered for the Brass Monkey Half.

Oh and this piece of info is hot off the press – I just found out there will be a new Birmingham-based Parkrun, due to take place on the 22nd of November at Perry Hall Park. I’ve said for a while that the exponential popularity of Cannon Hill is not sustainable and I for one am pleased as punch to see another event springing up. You can bet I’ll be there on the 22nd!

11 miles out and back to Stirchley

Skipping last week’s long run meant my feet were positively itching to get out and go long. After several days of miserable weather, things bucked up and there was nothing but blue skies and light winds on Sunday.

The entire stretch of the canal towpath was re-paved, though some sections still didn’t have the stone chips in place.

Largely, the run went by without incident bar two things. The arch in my left foot tightened up a few times and I’m almost convinced it’s because my Nike Pegasus (both pairs) are pretty much at their limit. Both have well over 300 miles on them and whilst they were fine through the summer, the recent lower temperatures seem to have stiffened up the already diminished cushioning properties of the shoes. Both have served me well for over a year but alas, it will soon be time to move on, probably to the Pegasus 31.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And as ever, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

(It’s a bit short so I’ll throw in a bonus entry to even things out)

Don’t complain about the race entry fee

Hey. No one is holding a gun to your head. (And if they are, you’ve got bigger problems.) Don’t like the fees? Find a smaller (read: cheaper) race. But whatever you do…

Pay your way

Bandit a race, and you’re stealing, pure and simple.

If you’re preparing a spirited defence – a laundry list of all the rationalizations you’ve dreamed up to justify running a race without paying for it – save your breath. I’ve heard ‘em all. And they’re all nonsense.

Staging a race costs real money. If you can’t afford to pay your share, there are plenty of other roads for you to use on race day.

Running is free. Racing is not.

This week’s running 20th to 26th of October 2014

This is how I looked

This is how I looked on Monday. Except for the awful bling watch. Don’t have one of those.

This week was about illness and a having new toy to play with.

Struck by illness… For a few hours…

I like to think I’m quite a hardy soul and it’s rare that I pick something up that brings me down completely. Sure, I get pangs of paranoia once I get close to an important race, but that’s only because I’m a competitive person and want to eke out every bit of potential from myself.

After the early start on Sunday for the Great Birmingham Run, I was also up early the next day at 5am to get to a former colleague’s funeral over in Norwich. Despite running the race and fulfilling my filming duties comfortably, sitting as a passenger for almost 4 hours is still not recommended.

To make matters even worse, I then ended up driving said uncomfortable car for almost 4 hours back to Birmingham. When I got out, I somehow went weak at the knees and struggled to walk. Muscles all over my body, not just the ones used for running, were aching. I felt light headed and had a splitting head ache. And most worryingly, I was shivering due to a major chill and couldn’t get warm.

Once back home, I quickly threw myself into a blistering hot shower and whacked the heating to full blast; both of these things helped to bring my temperature up but I still felt cold and weak. Lis had never seen me in such a state and I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had been felled so badly from whatever it was that I had picked up.

Miraculously, I started to perk up later in the evening and was my normal self again by the following morning. I have no idea why my body reacted the way it did – perhaps it was simply a sign that I’d pushed it too hard in such a small space of time?

5k around Edgbaston Reservoir

Black Diamond Spot 90

Let there be light!

I decided to take the plunge into winter training and bought myself a Black Diamond head torch. It’s not particularly fancy or powerful, but does have the following features:

  • 90 lumens
  • Spot, wide, strobe and red modes
  • 3 degrees of tilt

The perfect field trial for the head torch was Edgbaston Reservoir once dusk had kicked in. I originally wanted to run 4x laps but I ended up with a stitch I couldn’t shift – the point where this happened is quite clear from my cadence chart on Garmin Connect (click here).

Anywho, the head torch worked a treat. It offered enough light to brightly illuminate roughly 5m in front of me (and up to 10m reasonably) – more than enough to see any upcoming hazards on the ground. Crucially, the beam of light was also steady, though I suspect this probably has a lot to do with one’s own running style (I tend not to bounce). Comfort-wise, it was stable on my head without being too tight or heavy. I will try it again whilst running at threshold pace and 800m reps, which should be really put it to the test.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Attendance was expectedly light at Cannon Hill, given it was less than a week since the Great Birmingham Run and half term had begun. The weather was cool and crisp; perfect running weather and the first outing in months for my arm warmers since the winter.

I managed to pull off a 19:43 finish without feeling too uncomfortable and had I have really stepped down on the gas, I think I could have finished nearer 19:30. I was rather pleased with the splits, all looking rather steady bar the final km when I kicked things up a notch. Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Jort and Andy at Cannon Hill Parkrun

“You ran 2 minute mile splits during the race???” – photo by Geoff Hughes

Having a bit of a catch-up with Jort, we had a chuckle about his performance at the Great Birmingham Run (screen grab from Ed Barlow). All joking aside, I also learned that over 80% of his 60+ miles a week are run at around 8 minute mile pace. If it’s good enough for Jort, it’s gotta be good enough for the rest of us, right?

11 miles out and back to Stirchley

After a busy week, I was waiting for my long Sunday run with bated breath. Many have asked why I don’t train with others more often. Truth be told, the long Sunday run (and other runs to a lesser degree) is in many ways a great form of therapy for me. It gives me some time to myself on my terms and allows me to review the week that’s just happened, along with the week that’s yet to come. It’s also a chance to review my training and how my body is feeling while at ease; something that’s much harder to get an accurate picture of when you’re blowing hard during 800m reps!

I headed out towards Stirchley along the canal. Bar some short un-tarmac’d sections, the repaving project was more or less complete. Sadly, the sections of towpath immediately underneath tree cover were accumulating dead leaves and mulch at an alarming rate, so much so, the ground below no longer even looked paved!

Expectedly, just like Cannon Hill Parkrun, there were few runners out and about. The Great Birmingham Run was done and dusted and people were either resting up, or had no purpose to run anymore. I did however bump into Sean and Laura from Kings Heath Running Club, and also nearly had a massive pile-up with Iain on his bike when we inadvertently met around a blind turn.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

To make up for the light week of running, here’s a beefier entry than normal from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Imagine the worst

I hate to sound pessimistic. Really, I do. But thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios can make you a happier, healthier runner. This rule holds true across a variety of everyday situations, in decisions large and small. For instance:

 

“I bet I can make it through this intersection before that RV does.”

BEST CASE: You sprint across the road and save a few moments.

WORST CASE: You sprint into the road and die.

FINAL CALL: Wait.

 

“I probably won’t need a hat in the race this weekend.”

BEST CASE: You leave the hat at home, do not in fact need it, and your suitcase is 2 ounces lighter.

WORST CASE: You leave the hat at home, wake up on race day to record-low temperatures, drop out at mile 9 with hypothermia, and find yourself being “warmed up” by a race volunteer who smells like garlic.

FINAL CALL: Pack the hat.

“You know, I usually eat oatmeal before a long run, but those leftover chalupas are looking pretty good.”

BEST CASE: You consume the leftover chalupas and complete your long run as planned.

WORST CASE: You consume the leftover chalupas, begin your long run as planned, and end it 2 miles later, doubled over and feeling as if Satan himself is travelling through your lower intestine with a pitchfork made of fire and dipped in taco sauce.

FINAL CALL: Boil some water because you’re taking the whole grain train to Quaker-town.

The list goes on and on. But you get the idea: prepare for the worst; hope for the best. And stick to oatmeal.

This week’s running – 13th to 19th of October 2014

Great Birmingham Run

It was that time of year again for Birmingham to get running

This week was all about getting ready for a different kind of race experience. Oh and apologies for the late entry – life got in the way!

Tuesday two

After a thoroughly good summer of training outdoors, I wasn’t ready to head back indoors again for treadmill training. I didn’t want a full-on run, so I opted for a simple two mile effort at my recent half marathon pace at Edgbaston Reservoir.

It was incredible how much less light there was compared to even just two weeks ago. Most of the two miles were ran in near-darkness (and I was foolishly wearing all black); there were a few hairy moments when I had to second-guess where the holes and dips in the ground were to avoid turning my ankles in ahead of Sunday’s Great Birmingham Run. Thankfully, I finished unscathed and lived to tell the tale.

I think I’m going to seriously look at head torch options out there – anyone got any recommendations?

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

As per usual, I had the run-commute bag ready for my weekly 5k from work. We’d just had the mother of all down-pours and expectedly, I received a few strange stares from colleagues as I was about to head out on to the canal for home.

Somebody up above must like me, because the rain miraculously stopped during the walk from my office to the front of the building!

Out on the canal, it was good to see a few other hardy souls out, wringing the last few ounces of training from their bodies ahead of Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6 miles along Hagley Road

I’d not completed this route for a few weeks and almost grew nostalgic about it… Until I started to hit every single traffic light. I hate being interrupted during a run and recall one time years ago in Cannon Hill Park when a random park-goer next to the MAC stopped me to ask for the time. It was during the height of summer and there were dozens of people around, but he stopped me as if there was some pressing urgency, only to ask for the sodding time! Another occasion whilst I was at Fox Hollies track, some lads had kicked their ball out of the AstroTurf cage and asked me to go retrieve it for them whilst I was completing 800m reps…

Anywho, the run wasn’t bad and I started paying attention to what other runners were wearing. Some, like me, were wearing t-shirt and shorts. Others were dressed like they were on an arctic expedition and had hats, gloves, tights and jackets on-board.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Great Birmingham Run 2014 review

For the full lowdown, please click here to read my Great Birmingham Run 2014 review.

And as ever, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Never underestimate the value of a trite slogan

Don’t ask me why, but the sappiest, most maudlin dime-store platitude – when used in the context of running – can be genuinely inspirational. It’s a kind of alchemy.

I’m talking here about such phrases as, “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.” Or “Adverisity causes some men to break, and others to break records.” Heard anywhere else, such corny aphorisms might inspire eye rolling. But, for whatever reason, seen or heard in or around a race, they work.

I distinctly recall running a half-marathon near my home in eastern Pennsylvania. It was somewhere between miles 10 and 11, and I was starting to hurt, running nearly alone at that point and fighting the urge to ease up and just coast to the finish. Who would know? And what difference would it make?

That’s when I looked up and noticed the back of another runner’s shirt. On it was a quote from Steve Prefontaine: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

I nearly cried. Seriously.

Oh, and if you want a slogan that’s not trite, try this one, attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

“Things that hurt, instruct.”

I’m pretty sure Ben wasn’t a runner. But that quote makes you wonder.

Great Birmingham Run 2014 review

For the 2012 and 2013 races, please click the following:

A different kind of Great Birmingham Run

Not your standard Great Birmingham Run…

So I’m back-pedalling on this one after making a huge song and dance last year about not running it again for a while. Read on to find out what happened.

A different kind of race

It’s kind of strange how things happen when you stop trying so hard. It was never my intention to run this year’s Great Birmingham Run due to cost and lack of PB potential, but then as we edged ever closer to race day, everybody around me was both talking about the race and training for it. I started to debate to myself whether I should just run for fun or not.

A couple of weeks ago, the Birmingham Mail posted a competition online for a free place in the event. “You’ve got to be in it to win it”, as the saying goes so I duly entered. A week later, I was pleasantly surprised to discover I’d actually won! So, 2014 would become my fifth running of the course.

Just recently, Ed from Birmingham Running and Triathlon Club and Cannon Hill Parkrun approached me with a request for help. He does a lot with BBC’s West Midlands edition of Inside Out and said the host, Andy Akinwolere, would be running his first half marathon. Ed needed somebody to run with Andy to capture some footage of him. Knowing that I’d recently thrashed myself at the Cardiff Half Marathon and was in no fit state to chase after another PB (lesson learned from last year), I was happy to simply cruise through the course and agreed to help out (this is the short abridged version of the story – won’t bore you guys with the full edition).

Pre-race

Race morning arrived and I went to meet Ed, Andy and the BBC crew at the Copthorne Hotel. It was pretty nice inside and despite having lived in Birmingham for almost 25 years, I’d never actually set foot in there before.

Ed introduced me to everyone and handed me the camera that I would be using to film Andy. Being a geek, I’ve been paying great attention to the ever-evolving world of action cameras like GoPros and the Garmin Virb, with the intention of recording some of my races from my POV. The Drift camera seemed easy enough to use, with one button for on/off and record/stop. It also featured a very wide-angle lens to keep it usable without too much accuracy required. We parted ways so us runners could get a warm-up in, to reconvene closer to the race start.

Ed, Andy and Andy at Great Birmingham Run 2014

Ed Barlow, Andy Akinwolere and Andy Yu at the Great Birmingham Run 2014

Pre-race gubbins done, I made my way back to the start line and quickly found the film crew, also bumping into Fergal from Parkrun en route. Andy and I made our way into the start pen – after four years of running this race, this was the closest I had ever been to the start line at Birmingham. A sudden sense of vertigo hit me when I looked back at the long, snaking line of runners. I also couldn’t help but notice all the cameras everywhere and reasoned that I stood a good chance of making it on to the Channel 5 coverage…

Ed says I’m now a “media tart”

I recorded a short segment where I was giving Andy some advice regarding the mofo hill at mile 11, though this segment didn’t make it into the final cut for Inside Out. Just in the distance, I could see a few of the elites including Steve Way and Jodie Stimpson. I felt like a bit of a fraud, surrounded by the fast club runners when I wasn’t about to run myself into the ground.

Before too long, Jodie started the air horn and my race that wasn’t a race began.

The race

It was pretty insane up front with fast runners darting off everywhere. All I had to do was stay with Andy, film him from time to time and also act as pacer/motivational speaker if times got dark. I kinda just followed for the first half-mile or so, just to get a feel for how Andy wanted to run. Ed said that he should run something around 1:40 or so based on previous training runs, so comfortably within my own abilities to keep up.

Passing by the Bullring, Mike Deakin from work called out to me, so he saw at least one person he knew!

Running through the 1 mile marker, my Garmin beeped with a sub-6 minute mile split. Crikey! I wouldn’t even run a sub-6 mile as part of my own chase for a half marathon PB; I pulled Andy back and slammed on the brakes before things got too carried away.

I started shooting some short segments with the camera, mostly of Andy from the front, back and sides. If something of interest was coming up, I’d shoot to try and capture that in the background. Passing by the cheer bus, located at the junction of Pershore Road and Edgbaston Road, Rob Foster from Cannon Hill Parkrun called out to me.

Our pace was decent and that quick first mile would act as a buffer of sorts for the much tougher second half of the race. At this point, a time under 1:40 was very likely.

I’ve got to take my hat off to the organisers for the very well laid out drink stations. They were sign-posted well in advance and were long enough that you could carry on running for ages before you reached the end and missed out – so much more runner friendly compared to other races.

Further on up the Pershore Road, Alex Mold from Cannon Hill Parkrun came storming past and called out to me. One advantage of running your hometown race – you’re more than likely to bump into people you know along the course. This became a theme that continued for much of the race and one I was welcome to have.

Whilst running up the hill on Kensington Road, I began to shoot some more footage of Andy, only for the camera to lock up on me. The screen reported a “low speed card error” and refused to let me do anything else, becoming completely unresponsive. I tried removing the battery but this involved unscrewing a pretty hefty compartment door, clearly designed to keep things like water and me out! Once I managed to open it up, the battery then refused to eject and the screen remained frozen and still lit up like a Christmas tree! Great, just great. I decided to give up on the camera and would try resetting it again later.

Andy Yu at Bournville

Andy, Andy and Darryl at Bournville – photo by Elsa Tam

Approaching Bournville, I had another bash at resetting the camera. Success! The compartment door opened up and the battery unclipped – we were back in business, and not a moment too soon because Cadbury’s World was quickly approaching on our right for an interesting backdrop opportunity. Iain and Elsa were also somewhere along here and managed to catch our attention. Both of us being called Andy made things easy and I told my companion to soak it all in. Somewhere else along this point, I noticed a Bromsgrove and Redditch AC vest just slightly ahead with “DT” printed on it – it was indeed Darryl Thomas, who I got speaking to at the Wythall Hollywood 10k during the summer. Here’s your shout-out, Darryl! Shortly afterwards, Nigel Beecroft also came into contact with Andy and me. He looked superb and I had wondered whether a 1:37 target was selling himself short, so I ushered him on to keep going (I later found out Nigel had run 1:32:59 – a stunning time). Running through Bournville and back on the other side of the station, Iain and Elsa emerged again for some more support (they’re good, aren’t they?).

Andy and Andy on the other side of Bournville

Andy and Andy on the other side of Bournville – photo by Elsa Tam

Passing through Stirchley, I heard another voice call out my name from the right. Initially, I thought they might have been calling out for the other Andy but upon closer inspection, it was my old friend and ex-work colleague Martin Hamer. Whilst I was disappointed to see he wasn’t running after a cracking debut PB of 1:45 last year, it was really good to see him out spectating after years of heckling me as a runner. I went over for a high-five and carried on with my merry way.

The camera was still misbehaving from to time, but I had got the battery reset down to an art. Hopefully some of the footage I had shot would be of some use to the Inside Out crew (EDIT: loads of my footage was used!). I was really enjoying the task, offering up something different to a run that I was otherwise going to simply complete without any real goal or purpose in mind.

On the approach to Cannon Hill Park, Jonny Costello caught up to us and shared that he wasn’t having a particularly great time. Passing by the bandstand where Parkrun takes place, we got a few cheers from Kings Heath Running Club supporters (Mike and Barbara), with the club also well represented in the race.

I continued to feedback info about the course to Andy, letting him know we had about 2 miles of flat or steadily downhill running ahead of us before the big hill. Andy clearly loved the experience with a massive smile on his face throughout.

Entering Lee Bank Middleway, I told Andy to steel himself for some hard work, giving him plenty of encouragement to get him fired up to tackle the hill. We were touch and go whether we would go under 1:40 or not at this point, and whilst I think he would have been happy with whatever result he ended up with, there was no harm in trying to help him get the time he deserved based on his training. Once on the Charlotte Road/St James Road hill, I ran ahead to get some footage of him working at his absolute hardest. I did feel a little self-conscious because there I was, taking everything in my stride, whilst everybody around me was grimacing and in bits. I spotted Khalid Malik on the other side of the Road and got a cheer from him.

At the brow of the hill, we were almost home free with the toughest part of the course behind us. At around 12 miles, almost everything came undone when Andy nearly tripped on a stray conker… This was some sort of cruel intervention from fate – both of us named Andy and both of us almost came a cropper at mile 12 (I nearly stumbled on a speed bump in Cardiff)! He tweaked his hamstring, so I eased off the gas to get him to the finish line in one piece.

Andy Akinwolere sprinting for the Great Birmingham Run finish

Filming duties almost complete – photo by Lis Morgan

On the approach to Five Ways, the organisers had set up speakers blaring out the Chariots of Fire theme for that last bit of inspiration before the sprint down Broad Street for victory. I spotted Lis, Iain and Cheryl to my right and gave them a wave during some footage capture (who says I can’t multitask?). I ran alongside Andy for some side-on shots and then ran ahead to shoot him on the run in to the end, moving over to the right and out of the way when I saw his film crew just beyond the finish line. Andy comfortably came in under 1:40 for 1:38:55 – a fantastic debut and a time he should be very proud of. Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

And for your viewing pleasure, here’s the episode of Inside Out, featuring the footage I helped shoot:

Post-race

Andy’s film crew were busy shooting footage of him after crossing the line, so I left them to it and handed the camera over. I heard Jonny Costello’s name called out over the PA so I decided to hang back and walk through the finish funnel with him.

I loved the overall experience and would do something similar again or lead a pace group if needed. Today offered a very different Great Birmingham Run and was what I needed to reboot the whole event for me after four previous attempts with strict time goals in mind. I’m certain I could have made a big attack on my course PB, but for little gain. As I said at the beginning of this write-up, it’s funny how, sometimes, things happen when you stop trying so hard.

See you all again in 2015 for the Great Birmingham 10k and the half marathon!

This week’s running – 6th to 12th of October 2014

Recovery week

Time to kick the feet up for just a little while

This week was mostly about recovery. And eating. Lots of eating.

Recovery is also training

Racing well also means there’s a need to recover well. My quads were well and truly fooked on Monday and Tuesday after the Cardiff Half – much more so than last year’s race, so I must have seriously thrashed them during the final downhill mile. That first time on the foam roller after the race was not a pleasant experience…

I’ve been eating almost everything in sight as well. Cookies, sweets, cake, huge meals. The body needs fuel to recover after all!

On Wednesday, I ran my easy 5k from work along a very damp and soggy canal towpath. It’s remarkable how much the climate and conditions have changed in just two weeks. To quote Ned Stark of Game of Thrones fame, “Brace yourselves… Winter is coming.” I don’t know whether it was simply a matter of not acclimatising to the temperature, but I seriously felt how cold it was. I had a similar problem last year and I anticipate it won’t be long before the running tights, arm warmers and gloves come out again.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Thursday saw me run to Edgbaston Reservoir for two easy laps. It won’t be long before I’m no longer able to use the reservoir during weekday evenings. As per recent weeks, there were plenty of folks out and about putting the finishing touches to their Great Birmingham Run training.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

It had been a couple of weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill; the last time had me going for a new course PB and failing miserably. But boy, was it was good to be home. Apart from a few larger puddles on the ground, the weather was spot on for anybody wanting a crack at a PB.

Conscious of how hard things felt last year the week following the Cardiff Half, I reined my expectations back somewhat with the intention of just finishing in under 20 minutes. The run did indeed feel tough, but I managed to hit my target almost perfectly with a time of 19:54.

Post-run, everybody was talking about the hot topic that is the Great Birmingham Run. I remember seeing so many fellow Parkrunners during last year’s race and will be on the look-out again on Sunday.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

11 miles via the canals

Sunday morning made for a nice change from all the dodgy weather this week had brought. On Iain’s advice that the canal towards Bournville had ‘unofficially’ reopened, I ventured out on to the towpath for 11 miles. The tarmac surface was fantastic to run on; the tarmac and stone chips less so. I was surprised by how noticeable the impact of running on the bricked path through Brindley Place felt on the return back home. I’d also eaten a tad too much the day before so I purposely ran in a somewhat fasted state, leading to a runner’s high – something I’ve not experienced in months.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Great Birmingham Run tips and advice

For the last month or so, I’ve seen an increasing number of visitors in the analytics for this blog reading the accounts of my 2012 and 2013 Great Birmingham Runs. I figured I’d put together a few tidbits of advice for anybody that’s running it for the first time (or improvers looking to shave a few extra seconds off here and there) and for what to expect. Please note, these are purely my own thoughts and opinions and are by no means gospel – I’m just a regular enthusiast runner that’s run the race a few times before.

Great Birmingham Run elevation

Start on the right-hand side of the dual carriageway

The startIf you are focused on going for a time and want minimal congestion or slow-down, start from the right-hand side as if you’re facing the start line and about to set off. The start funnels are divided into two waves for each colour (striped for elites, orange, white, green and pink), with the right-hand side going first (it goes orange-right, orange-left, white-right, white-left etc). This holds true for each coloured start, so whether you’re in a faster coloured start pen or a slower one, starting from the right will always mean the group that went before you will be faster and should give you a better chance of a clear run.

Great Birmingham Run elevation

There’s pain in them there hills!

Hills, hills and more hills – For anybody that has run the course before, but not since 2012, there have been two modifications. Starting last year, there’s the inclusion of a new hill on Kensington Road (approx mile 4), off Pershore Road. It isn’t particularly long, but it will slow you down unless you can make up the time lost using the descent on the other side. This was done to simplify the final mile of the course where it used to twist and turn, albeit on the flat – I’d have preferred a flat over the addition of another hill any day!

Altogether, there are three significant inclines on the course, and a few minor ones here and there. Save something in the tank for the mile long drag up Charlotte Road/St James Road – this part is tricky because it’s preceded by a climb out of Lee Bank Middleway with only a short flat afterwards for minor recovery.

Use the pacer or not?My advice would be a big fat “no”, based on a previous experience. Last year’s sub-90 minute pacer completed his first mile in 5:54; an 89:59 half marathon is roughly 6:52 per mile, so people would have inevitably blown up if they followed him. Last year’s sub-90 minute pacer also failed to hit his target, finishing in 90:41 – simply unacceptable especially if you’ve dragged people through with a stupidly fast mile. Pacers should be running well within their own capabilities on the day, so there’s a strong likelihood they’ll run even splits, even when going up hill. Run your own race and if during the later stages you happen to come back into contact with a pacer, use them to your advantage, but I would strongly dissuade following a pacer for the entire race.

Finally, make sure you enjoy yourself out there. The crowds are good and there’s nothing quite like a sprint down Broad Street for the finish to thousands of cheers. I’ll be out there along with Nigel from Parkrun running at around 1:37 pace – do say “hi” if you see us on the course.

And as usual, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Dogs are harmless except when they aren’t

Most dogs, when they see a passing runner, will bark. This is the natural order of things. Just continue along your way – and don’t make eye contact with the dog, which he may consider threatening. The dog will yap until you’re out of sight or until something else captures his attention, such as a blade of grass. And that will be that.

Occasionally, however, you may encounter a dog who is not content simply to bark at you, but who wants to put parts of your body between his teeth. Dogs like this are known, in veterinary science, as bad dogs.

Avoid such dogs whenever possible.

If an aggressive dog does threaten you, yell “No!” in a deep voice and try to put something between you and the dog, such as a bicycle or a small child.

Just kidding about the small child. They can bite, too. And they don’t recognize the word no.