This week’s running – 8th to 21st January 2018

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Apologies for the delay, folks – I’ve rolled two weeks into this one mega edition to compensate.

5k recovery

Holy bejesus was it cold!

Strangely, my legs were both tired and spritely from the previous day’s long distance. I was cautious to keep things feeling incredibly easy due to having been on my feet all day building an exhibition stand at work; now what do they say about not trying anything new the week before a race and keeping labour-intensive activities to a minimum?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

I employed strides in most of my non-pace specific runs in a bid to keep my legs revved up without overexherting myself ahead of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. And do you know what? They’d worked an absolute treat!

My form felt swift and my legs felt nimble; my mind also felt sharper and more connected to the rest of me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute with strides

Run-commuting in the winter is especially challenging, mainly due to the sheer amount of kit I have to lug around. In the summer, my holdall looks pathetically empty as I take everything I’ll need for run-commuting into work on Mondays. A couple of t-shirts, vests, pairs of shorts and socks are all I need. In the winter, I’m taking long sleeve tops, t-shirts for layering, gloves and more in. By the end of the working week, I’m currently returning home with several coats, scarves along with work clothes I’ve changed out of at the office! As I said, much easier in the summer, even with the oppressive heat!

Once again, the strides interspersing the slow recovery pace on this run-commute were perfect to keep my legs from getting ploddy.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2018 review

For the full write-up on the 2018 Brass Monkey Half Marathon, please click here.

5k recovery

Even with the windier than ideal conditions at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I’d say all of us participants were very fortunate, and practically got away with murder, for the conditions rapidly deteriorated only a day later.

In spite of the new PB, my legs felt tremendous and I was clearly still riding that race high. This would eventually end later in the week…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What goes up must come down…

My legs finally began to tire and I was in need of some sleep from all the racing shenanigans. Apart from a couple of splits, most for this run were in the high 8 minutes and I dared not push much harder.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor kit review

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Thanks to Under Armour UK and Synergy for the review kit – photo by Lis Yu

Back in November, I was contacted by Under Armour’s UK representatives at Synergy with a chance to sample and review some of their winter running kit. I jumped at the opportunity and here are my thoughts for your consideration.

For full transparency, the sample kit I’ve reviewed below was supplied for free. My views are mine alone and have not been influenced by either Under Armour’s or Synergy’s generosity.

Under Armour is a brand I’m somewhat familiar with, already owning a number of their HeatGear vests. As a relative new kid on the sportswear block, they’ve taken on the giants, Nike and Adidas, and are winning in some of the battles.

Starting life as a manufacturer of compression tops, they’ve since moved into a much wider variety of sportswear disciplines, including football, rugby, tennis, basketball and golf. We can also add running to that list. Funnily enough, most of the major sportswear manufacturers aped Under Armour’s compression wear and practically all have something akin to the form fitting clothing.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fitted long sleeve

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Initial thoughts

Upon first receiving the top, my immediate impression was that it was too much for the task at hand. It felt far too structured and would be too warm for all but the coldest of conditions.

Inspecting it superficially, it’s certainly well made. The fabric is of a high quality with good construction to it. The cut is what I would call semi-fitted, aided by a slight stretch to sit reasonably close, but not constrict like Under Armour’s traditional compression wear.

Size and fit

The sizing is consistent with the three HeatGear vests I already own, that is to say it’s very long… As you can see from the above photo of me, the hem is ridiculously low and seems to bear little relation to the length of the sleeves, which are surprisingly almost perfect for a small size. Whereas I’m short at only 5ft 6, my height and limbs are not wildly out of proportion; I can only assume Under Armour’s sizing is aimed at taller people, because I could easily lose 3-4 inches from the hem before the top no longer looks like a dress on me. I can sort of understand why Under Armour have gone down this path because it allows them to capture a much larger slice of the population; the top still fits me well across the chest and in the arms, whereas I can forgive the silly length or even have it re-hemmed by a tailor. If you’re slender and tall, you should seriously give Under Armour clothing a try as it’ll likely be a perfect fit.

In use

I’ve said already that I was initially sceptical of the ColdGear Reactor long sleeve. I took delivery of it when temperatures sat at around 10°C, which was too warm for its intended purpose. Even on an easy warm-up run, I was sweating after only 10 minutes of wear and deemed the product to be overkill. That suddenly all changed once the thermometer mercury plummeted and that’s when the top really came into its own…

If you’re a runner that typically feels cold, you’ll love the Under Armour ColdGear Reactor top. For everybody else, I’d say this top is right at home in temperatures of 5°C or lower, or when strong cool winds are prevalent. I dislike layering up when I run, so having a single layer that’s just enough has proven to be ideal. There are are some really nice touches that make this top a great cold weather training companion, such as the raised neck line to retain more of the body’s natural warmth and the technical fabric that’s designed to increase surface area and trap heat without overly increasing weight or bulk. The fabric is pleasant against bare skin with no signs of chafing in the half-dozen or so runs I’ve attempted whilst wearing the top. The underarm area and sides are a mesh to allow for some slight heat dissipation, should things get too warm. What would make the top perfect is the addition of a zip for the neck to the chest as a way to shed heat more quickly, especially during more vigorous runs.

Closing thoughts

I’ve grown to really love the Under Armour ColdGear Reactor top, especially as we’ve gone back into a cold snap in the UK. I’ve found myself readily grabbing this top as my default choice of late, especially on easier paced runs where I’m not necessarily out running for long enough or hard enough to even warm up. Only the odd sizing and the lack of a neck zip stop it from being perfect.

Pros

  • Effective single layer warmth
  • Raised neckline
  • Comfortable
  • Little to no added bulk
  • Wind resistant

Cons

  • Size and fit versus length is odd, unless you’re tall
  • Difficult to shed excess heat once too warm
  • Reserved for the coldest of conditions

Available here via underamour.co.uk.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fleece tapered trousers

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Initial thoughts

Whereas I was at first doubtful of the ColdGear Reactor top, I was scratching my head even more upon taking delivery of these trousers…

The first thing that struck me when unpacking and handling the trousers is how bulky they are! The waistline and ankle cuffs are incredibly chunky, where a more is more approach seems to have been adopted. The trousers, whilst claiming to be tapered, look sloppy and baggy – I had to double check they were actually intended for running, where something sleeker and more fitted is the norm from most manufacturers, even for trousers.

Size and fit

The length of the trousers, like the ColdGear Reactor top, measures up on the long side. The overall fit as a result makes me look like MC Hammer in the photo at the top of this review section! I may be wrong here, but I would dare say most runners want something more form fitting; they don’t need the solution to always fit like a pair of tights, but something less bulky and closer to the skin than these trousers would be preferable.

In use

Sadly, the ColdGear Reactor trousers are disappointing in action. There’s simply too much trouser than is needed! I’m not sure about others, but my legs are doing most of the hard work when it comes to running, so they generate far more heat than my upper body, where more protection from the elements is needed and welcome – my legs just don’t need this much protection. Whereas I’ve been readily wearing the ColdGear Reactor top as it’s gotten colder, I’ve not once felt the need to wear these trousers beyond for review purposes.

Even as trousers reserved for warming up before races and cooling down afterwards, they’re flawed because of the chunky ankle cuffs. There’s no zip on the ankle, which makes changing out of the trousers impossible without taking my shoes off first, which isn’t always ideal or possible, especially when outdoors.

Sadly, the positives of these trousers are also marred! There are plenty of zipped pockets for things like coins, keys and a phone, but one of the additional pull tabs on the zips somehow came off in my washing machine and almost jammed in the rotating drum mechanism!

Closing thoughts

Can you tell that I’m not a fan of these trousers? I feel like I’ve fought against these trousers each time I’ve worn them, where they should instead be blurring into the background as I run. If you’re on the tall side and feel your legs frequently run cold, these may be for you, but I think most people would be better served by a pair of more traditional running tights from Under Armour.

Pros

  • Generous length for taller people
  • Lots of pockets
  • Warm for those that need leg insulation

Cons

  • Poor fit that’s distracting
  • Bulky and baggy
  • Zip tabs somehow dislodge in the washing machine
  • Too warm for the majority of people

Available here via underarmour.co.uk.

9 miles from work with strides

I was sure to take in the joy of the simplicity of this route ahead of the planned St James Road tunnel closure. Fewer than 2 miles of the route are covered away from the canal towpath, whereas the detour I have planned from Monday 22nd of January onwards for 3 months will probably double the amount of running on street level to around 4 out of 9 miles.

The strides unfortunately failed to perk my legs up, with race recovery firmly having taken hold…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With temperatures having dropped, treacherous black ice formed in a few spots around Cannon Hill Park. Due to the rain, it became near impossible to tell what was ice and what was simply water glistening on the ground! Nearby Sandwell Valley and Perry Hall parkruns had already cancelled, but it was deemed just about safe enough for Cannon Hill to remain open for business on the normal route.

Whereas I’d had plans to tackle this parkrun hard, my legs had other ideas – they simply didn’t want to turnover any faster and without any more power than around 20 minute 5k pace. My breathing was, however, perfectly fine by comparison…

With about a mile to go, a Birchfield Harrier youngster drifted into contact with me from ahead. He’d held on to a good pace for much of the run, but it was clear it started to get the better of him. I stepped in and gave him some encouragement to get behind and stay close to me. He eventually crossed the line just a few seconds later, having done well to keep the invisible rubber band from snapping.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I had to hightail it out of Cannon Hill Park to make my over to the next item of this week’s entry…

The National Running Show

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Susie Chan speaking at The National Running Show 2018

What’s this? A running trade show in my backyard? Why, don’t mind if I do!

Taking place at the Birmingham NEC, this was the debut of The National Running Show. It’d been years since I last visited a running trade show that stood independently of a race (The Running Show, Sandown Park back in 2012), and as a frequent visitor and worker of trade shows, I was curious to see how it would play out.

In tow were Lis and Dave, with the guest speakers being the main draw for them. Reaching the NEC at about 11:15, the place was surprisingly very busy, so much so that we spent some 10-15 minutes queuing to get in! Once inside, it was unbearably chaotic due to the small hall utilised and poor placement of certain exhibitors (I’m looking at you, Saucony).

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Steve Edwards at The National Running Show 2018

Kelly Holmes, Jo Pavey and Jenny Meadows had already given their talks, which I was disappointed to have missed out on, but I did get to sit-in on sessions from Steve Edwards (800+ sub-3:30 marathons and counting), Luke Tyburski (ultra-runner with a propeller hat) and Susie Chan (regular person turned serial ultra-runner). The talks were pretty good, but timings were a mess due to the organisers not budgeting enough time between sessions for changeovers. It’ll be interesting to see which guests appear next year, with Paula Radcliffe already announced.

Exhibitor-wise, the variety was OK and perhaps only slightly worse than what you would typically see at a big city pre-race expo. Expectedly, there were none of the big dogs like Garmin or Adidas that you normally see on the expo circuit; presumably, they steered clear having already agreed their budgets and would wait out the first year before making any future considerations.

There were exhibitors selling nutrition, recovery products, clothing, shoes, and so on. Also present were a number of races touting their wares. I spoke with the guys from Run For All – the organisation behind the Yorkshire Marathon – who were pleased as punch to hear I’d run their race twice and have been spreading the good word ever since. My conversation with the Swansea Half Marathon was, however, far less productive. Enquiring about whether they had a show discount of some sort, they looked at me like I was some sort of buffoon that dared ask such a stupid question, but they did offer to sign me up there and then. I declined and said I could do that from the comfort of my own home once having read the T&Cs… They’d obviously exhibited at the show to ply for more participants, so it was entirely bizarre that they didn’t have something to seal the deal with would-be entrants like me. ABC – Always Be Closing!

All in all, it was an entertaining way to while away a couple of hours. If not for the guest speakers, I’d have easily navigated my way through the event twice in an hour or so to give you a sense of the size and scale.

15 snowy-slushy-rainy miles

Back in 2013 when training for my very first marathon – the London Marathon – I was caught out by a freak drop of snow to coincide with my final long run of 22 miles… I needed the run and had no choice but to head out on to the white stuff. I don’t recall much from the run; not how I felt during or after, so I must have wiped it from memory.

Looking outside today, I let out a long sigh when I saw more snow, albeit just a light dusting of it on the pavements.

Things started off very well, with the fresh snow proving to be no issue at all as would be expected. I regretted not donning my Oakleys with a pair of high contrast lenses; the falling snow would occasionally blow into my eyes, proving to be quite painful. It was good to see so many of my fellow runners out getting the miles in, with everybody proving especially friendly and acknowledging our collective dedication/craziness.

Once on the return leg, things got much tougher. Rain started falling to turn the snow into slush, which proved much more difficult to run on than snow. Each step continually soaked my feet and caused freezing cold water to slosh around in my shoes, adding to my already heavy feeling legs.

Once back at my front door, my hands, despite being gloved, were too cold to rummage for my key from the tiny zipped pocket it lived in! I had to knock for Lis to let me in and duly jumped straight into a hot shower to get some feeling back into my extremities.

No more snow, please!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2018 review

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Fourth appearance at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon

For the 2015, 2016 and 2017 races, please click below:

After injury prevented me from going all-out in 2017, I was back for vengeance at this classically flat and fast race that’s older than me!

Pre-race

Sometimes, even having the will doesn’t mean there’s a way. After an intoxicatingly satisfying Yorkshire Marathon PB, my only PB of 2017 at that, I wanted to put the year’s injury aside and get back to scoring a handful of PBs again. The Brass Monkey Half Marathon is a great way to kick off the training year, so I re-jigged the Pfitzinger and Latter half marathon plan into something that I could work with from early November to January to get me there.

Things started off well enough with a couple of solid weeks behind me and confidence was high ahead of the Sneyd 10 Mile Christmas Pudding Run, except the race never happened. Not only did I lose the best part of a week tapering for a race that would never materialise, but the snow that cancelled the race then also wrote off the following seven days of training. Whilst I managed to recover some of the plan with a few strong runs, Christmas then landed and a mild bout of food poisoning and some more tapering for the Gloucester New Year’s Eve 10 Mile robbed me of yet another week. In all the years I’ve been training with some intent, December 2017 has to be my most disrupted. A further slap in the face was the hacking cough I picked up during the taper week for this very Brass Monkey Half Marathon! At its worst, the sputum-triggered coughs woke me several times a night to leave me feeling pretty ropey throughout the week. So, yeah. A poor build-up for what was supposed to be my A-goal half marathon to kick-start 2018…

I realigned my goals for the day to give my fragile mind a break. My A-goal was a sub-84; my B-goal was a PB of any magnitude (84:54 to beat); finally, my C-goal was to merely equal my PB as closely as possible, which was no mean feat as I was relatively strong across all distances that I raced in 2016.

So, on to race morning…

Lis and I stayed at the Holiday Inn on Tadcaster Road – one of the main roads into York. In spite of its incredibly dated exterior, the rooms inside were modern and, importantly, quiet due to being further out of the city to be less likely to cater for the boozy weekend crowds. I rarely sleep well in unusual environments but would heartily recommend this hotel if you’re in need of accommodation for the race – I’m told England Athletics club runners can expect a discount upon booking, too. The distance to the racecourse was perfect for a 1.5 mile warm-up, feeling much more thorough than laps of the car park I’m traditionally accustomed to.

Carrying a phlegmy-hacking cough, I feared I had some sort of low-level bug inside me; how profusely I was sweating whilst only sitting down after my warm-up did not bode well and reminded me of the fateful 2016 Kenilworth Half Marathon and Telford 10k, with the former not ending well and the latter ending prematurely… I like to have a mantra going into a race, and this scenario strongly reinforced 50% of it: don’t be a hero in the first half – don’t be a pussy in the second half.

Regrouping with Lis, I changed into my race gear and almost forgot to wear the race timing chip on my shoes! Speaking of shoes, I’d packed both my Nike Zoom Streak 6 and Vaporfly 4% due to being unsure of which pair to wear. The recent Gloucester New Year’s Eve 10 Mile left me unimpressed with the Vaporfly 4%, where they felt too unstable and appeared to offer no advantage by wearing them. I almost went for the Zoom Streak 6, but reasoned the flat and straight Brass Monkey course would play to the Vaporfly 4%’s strengths, so a last minute change of heart it was.

Unlike years prior, I wanted a calm and relaxed start to the race without any panic. I was so on point with all of my pre-race admin timings that Lis and I were some of the first people in the start pen! As the crowd swelled, I finally caught sight of Carl Stainton and Shaun Hemmings, the latter who would be running for the first time on the course. Carl shared he wasn’t in good health and Shaun shared he wasn’t in great shape due to December. With me being a bit of Column A and Column B, the three of us had travelled a long way for possible disappointment. Nonetheless, I wished them both well and knew Shaun was still likely to have a good race, me citing the flat course and competitive field playing to his strengths. To my right in the start pen was a guy sat on the grass in the lotus position, trying to find some peace and tranquillity whilst hundreds of runners milled around him and blaring music played over loudspeakers…

We were ushered forward and, with very little warning, released into the south York countryside.

The race

Miles 1 – 3

Starting perhaps 10 or so rows back from the front, the start of the race was never going to be the fastest, which suited me perfectly fine as I had such unreliable feedback of my own ability and condition going in. The 2016 Kenilworth Half Marathon saw me tearing off like a lunatic whilst mildly ill; lessons were learnt, so I merely went with the flow of traffic on this occasion and found myself sitting in at 6:30 per mile pace. On such a flat course and with a descent at the end of the first mile, everything felt almost too easy, so I reminded myself once more of the morning’s mantra: don’t be a hero in the first half – don’t be a pussy in the second half.

The crowd around me was pretty stable, so I’d chosen my start position well. Of course, there were a few outliers that had started too far forward or too far back, but congestion was otherwise the best I’d seen over four years of attendance.

Weather-wise, it was grey overhead and the air was cool to work in our favour. The only fly in the ointment was the 10mph headwind we all ran into for the first half of the course… Even tucked in amongst the masses, I could feel the wind hit periodically as it worked its way through the field.

Speaking of fields… A few guys and I noticed one of the swifter women snake her way across and in front of us, from the left-most side of the course over to the right. At first, we assumed she was just aggressively going for the racing line, but then she stepped out of the race and on to a vacant field. Then, she unexpectedly pulled down her shorts and began squatting to go for a piss! “Fair play,” I thought – no time for embarrassment or self-consciousness when a PB is at stake! Within seconds, she’d finished her business and rejoined the fray by zooming off into the horizon!

As the field thinned, groups were forged and I proactively jumped from one to another as they slowed from the prevailing winds that we faced. The effort still felt low with my very relaxed breathing as confirmation. Pace-wise, I was perhaps a few seconds up on my 2016 outing, but this time with far more participants around my ability to run with.

Miles 1, 2 and 3 came out as 6:30, 6:34 and 6:31 respectively.

Miles 4 to 7

I found myself latching on to a pack that appeared to feature one female club runner being escorted by three of her fellow male club members. After a few minutes of running amongst their group, the reality was she was actually pacing them, based on how relaxed she looked and the blokes sounding like their breathing was more on the uneasy side.

The field continued thinning and there was a growing reluctance from people to swap from one pack to the next as I did, so I increasingly went ahead to surge on my own when I felt the pace slipping. The groups I did join never seemed to last all that long before they splintered and I’d have to repeat the entire process again.

I made contact with one chap who, like me, was running a very stable pace with little to no fluctuation. I tucked into his slipstream, trying not to clip his heels but also trying to maximise the drafting effect at the same time. He seemed to be unphased by me being there, so I cheekily remained but occasionally drew shoulder-to-shoulder with him so as not to outstay my welcome. As one particular strong gust of wind hit us, I shared my hope that we would get a tailwind on the return to claw back some of the damage we were taking. He shared my sentiments and we both agreed that we needed to get out of the wind and join the group ahead – ideally two ahead as it was larger and seemed less transient. I liked Alex’s style and our alliance was set!

Alex turned out to be a York local, living in Bishopthorpe, so we’d actually passed his home on the out leg of the race. He’s a distance guy with several excellent marathon PBs to his name, including an impressive 2:58:04 from the 2017 Manchester Marathon. By comparison, his half marathon PB came up soft at 85:48 from a prior Brass Monkey Half Marathon; I revealed that I was looking to get under 85 minutes again as a minimum and that it was worth us sticking together for as long as possible. As one would expect from a strong marathoner, his pacing was impeccably metronomic and he even gave me a run for my money.

Turning the corner for the southern-most point on the course, we received some relief from the wind and continued to bide our time. Passing the halfway point clock, that was actually a few hundred metres too far forward, I registered 42:10 and shared with Alex that a faster second half without the wind would very likely see us finish with 84:XX. Our discussion startled a fellow participant who hadn’t quite realised how far in we were, so in the zone was he!

Miles 4, 5, 6 and 7 came in at 6:31, 6:32, 6:35 and 6:27 respectively.

Miles 8 to 10

It was incredibly satisfying to finally be rid of the wind. We could instantly feel it as the pace on our Garmins lifted for mile 8, finally settling at around 6:25. Crucially, the pace remained as comfortable as before and our breathing continued to be relaxed from the more conservative first half. We reeled runners in that had gone out more enthusiastically at target pace into the wind, taking advantage of their tiring states for an added boost. We got the chit-chat out of the way and settled into several miles of focus to simply crank out the distance.

We passed one guy that had previously drifted in and out of contact with us earlier on, but made a push at some stage to plough ahead. Some encouragement to tag on to our coattails was offered, to which he momentarily tried but quickly acknowledged it wasn’t going to last as our pace continued climbing. He – Peter – asked if it was my blog that he had read; I confirmed it would have been and he thanked me for the write-up that finally convinced him to give the race a shot.

Alex and I continued to power on, passing most ahead of us with authority. In the distance was a chap in an orange vest that had somehow slipped away from us at the halfway point – one of the very few to do so. We agreed to begin wrapping things up in the final 5k.

Miles 8, 9 and 10 came out at 6:25, 6:25 and 6:21.

Miles 11 and 12

The pair of us continually pushed each other on, regularly reminding the other not to hold back should the opportunity to progress appear. We’d come that far together and neither of us showed signs of slowing, so the alliance continued. The effort noticeably ratcheted upwards by a few notches and for the first time all race, I finally felt like I was working for it. I flipped my Garmin over to show the elapsed time and by my calculations, continuing at circa-6:20 pace for the remaining distance would net me an 84:30 PB or so, and that’s without a finishing sprint.

The little bridge reappeared to signal the “business end” of the race as Alex put it. Spectators began to pepper the course once more as we neared Bishopthorpe again, with Alex’s family out on the course to cheer him on.

Turning the corner for mile 12, we agreed to part ways and would catch-up again in the finish funnel. I steeled myself for the climb over the A64 York Bypass, presenting the steepest part of the course with 24ft of climb, knowing that I not only had to fight the novelty of gravity in such a flat race, but that I also had to keep the pressure applied all the way to the finish… Gah! The effort was ghastly and I began gritting my teeth and more vigorously swing my arms to carry me up over the A64.

Miles 11 and 12 came in at 6:20 and 6:18.

Mile 13 and a bit

In the distance was the racecourse, so I took a dose of my own advice that I’d shared with Shaun earlier that morning to wrap the race up and begin kicking. I sliced my way through the field ahead of me, letting nobody get between me and a redemption PB that grew larger and larger with each faster step. For the first time in a long time, my choo-choo train impression returned as I forcefully attempted to cycle as much air into my lungs as possible. Pair this with a feeling of nausea and I knew I was close to maxing out, if I wasn’t at that point already.

Bizarrely, I didn’t feel like I was pushing for that long because I soon unexpectedly saw runners turning left for the finish area. I crossed the 800m to go sign. “Come on, Andy! Less than 3 minutes to go!” I said to myself, interspersing that with, “Don’t be a pussy! Don’t be a pussy! Don’t be a pussy!”

I crossed the 600m to go sign and began making my way back into York Racecourse, gaining on a few more runners in front of me.

The 400m to go sign appeared and I knew I just had to make it to the end of the path and turn right for the finish line.

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Yu gotta earn the gurn! Photo by Lis Yu

The 13 mile marker came into view as I rounded the corner, prompting me to take one final glance at my Garmin. Wow! A 5:57 mile?! Just 200m remained between the finish line and me; handily, I’d covered this stretch specifically as part of my strides earlier in the morning and knew full well how long it would feel. In the corner of my eye was Lis, capturing the above instant classic of a race photo…

I swung my arms in a bid to catch the closest runner ahead of me, but no dice – he too had some fight left in him and kicked all the way for the line just as I did. 20m. 10m. 5m. Done!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I swiftly navigated over to the banked grass verge on my right to hunch over and cough my guts up. Nothing came out, not even all the phlegm that had plagued me for days. I checked my Garmin out and it fed back that I’d finished in 84:12, which was later corrected via the mystery of chip timing for 84:08. A 46 second PB off disturbed training and windier than ideal conditions was not to be sniffed at, though I was slightly disappointed to not have gone under 84 minutes. Had I pressed on earlier in the race, I’m certain I would have found those 9 seconds without much more difficulty, but then I would not have likely teamed up with Alex to make for such a memorable race, speaking of which…

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Alex, me and PBs for both of us at the 2018 Brass Monkey Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

He crossed the finish line some 30 seconds after me for 84:39, taking over a minute off his PB. He was over the moon as he was only expecting something around 86 minutes for the morning. Both of us are already discussing a future team-up at the 2019 race to see whether 82 or even 81 minutes is possible!

Peter the blog reader came back in not long after, also netting a sizable PB and thanked me for the write-ups – he too wants to return for a crack at going under 85 minutes.

I caught up with Shaun, Carl and Carl’s friend, Vince. Shaun did incredibly well, leap-frogging sub-80 minutes to go under 79 minutes and also finish one place ahead of the female winner. Carl was obviously under the weather and wisely dialled his effort back to still finish in 80:36.

So, how about some stats? Both Garmin Connect and Strava tell me the following:

  • Fastest 10 miles ever – 63:42
  • Fastest mile ever – 5:46
  • Final 5k – 19:16

Fastest 10 miles ever. That’s pretty insane that a) I ran 35 seconds faster than my 10 mile PB of 64:17 from the 2015 Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run, b) I ran 3 minutes faster than the Gloucester New Year’s Eve 10 Mile from a fortnight ago, and C) that it happened within a half marathon!

Fastest mile ever. Also bonkers that I recorded my fastest mile ever since I originally began recording my runs. At the end of a half marathon, no less, and not within something like a 5k as one would expect.

A final 5k of 19:16. Probably the most eye-opening of the bunch because this was my third fastest 5k since November!

Over 24 hours later and by process of typing up my tale of the race, I remain incredibly pleased with the result and acknowledge that it’s one of the best outcomes I could have realistically hoped for. The race has reignited that spark within me to go and attack all of my aging PBs again. The fact that I was able to pull off a 46 second improvement with less than stellar training and less than perfect health, and to be so close to a 10k PB back in November’s Conductive Education 10k, strongly supports that I’m in better shape than I’ve lead myself to believe. I’d lost touch with racing, especially the half marathon where it was two years prior that I last made a dent into the 13.1 mile distance – here I am only two weeks into 2018 and I’ve already equalled 2017’s PB count!

I’ve always said my best races are the ones that leave me satisfied, but also hungry for more with unfinished business; a poor performance can lead to despondency, whereas a huge breakout performance can lead to laziness and apathy because little can be done for further improvement. Let’s see what I can pull off in March’s Newport Half Marathon…

See you again in 2019, York!

This week’s running – 16th to 22nd October 2017

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Welcoming some new faces to parkrun

Still not an awful lot of running going on, but there was some parkrun tourism!

5k easy

Guilt began to strike and the desire to get out and run started to return. With the night firmly drawn in, this also marked the first run of this season with my trusty Petzl head torch. After two years of pretty extensive usage in the darker months, I was pleasantly surprised to see the rechargeable battery was still in pretty damn good condition!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Southwick Country parkrun

Lis and I were away from home for our third out of four weekends, spending time with her school chums in the Somerset countryside. Of course, I took a peek at the parkrun website to work out where the nearest event would be; it so happened there was one just 10 minutes’ drive away. It would be just plain rude not to, right?

What was originally likely to be just me and Lis attending, grew arms and legs as word spread of the plan, with a whopping 6 out of 13 of us from the group toeing up on the start line. There was no pressure or sales pitch from me, so I was mightily impressed by everybody’s can do attitude; some admitted there may be walking involved, but the 5k distance would be covered, whatever it took.

Reaching the venue, I was surprised to learn it was on its 323rd event and was only a year or so younger than Cannon Hill. Doing a warm-up lap of the 2.5 lap course, the terrain reminded me of the unpaved portions of Edgbaston Reservoir. Billed as “hard trail”, I did consider if I was possibly wearing the wrong shoes and should have opted for my Nike Kiger trail shoes – the only reason I didn’t was because they’re the shoes I wore when I picked up my Achilles injury back in 2016, and have not touched them since…

I purposely plonked myself a few rows back from the start line, opting to observe on the first lap. The rest of the gang positioned themselves in the remaining third of the starting grid. I became quite conscious that I was the only non-Caucasian runner that morning of nearly 300 in attendance, but given the local demographic, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Nonetheless, I looked around me to better assess who the big dogs of the morning were likely to be. Reviewing the past several weeks’ results, I was fairly confident I would finish in the latter half of the top 10 with a circa-20 minute effort.

The controlled start did me a world of good, whilst everybody else charged off. In spite of being heavily jacked up on caffeine (explanation later in this post), I remained calm and went with the flow until the density of runners died down as people tired.

The course was deceptively tough. The ground underfoot was quite uneven, and the most efficient racing line wasn’t always the most efficient racing line! Mud and deep puddles collected in the tree-lined sections, reminding me of Newport parkrun at times. Finally, Storm Brian threw in some powerful gusts that kept things from getting boring.

Having completed the opening 0.5 lap, I was pleasantly surprised to see I was sitting quite steady at circa-sub-20 pace and feeling quite comfortable. Whereas I crossed the start line in likely 25th place, I’d probably worked my way up to 15th by this stage with relative ease. A female Hillingdon club runner began drifting back towards me from up front before steadying beside me. It was evident she was working hard from possibly too much enthusiasm earlier, so I gave her some encouragement to stay with me; on my advice, she took shelter behind me from the wind, but continued fading to disappear from sight as I approached the finish line for the second time.

I’d caught up to Lis, Rachel and Jess, who were just about to complete their first lap, giving them some encouragement to keep at it. There was no sign of Ben or Rhys, so I figured they were well on their way to finishing in under 30 minutes.

As observed of late, my lack of anything much faster than marathon pace locked off any higher gears I thought I had access to. Identifying who was on their first or second lap grew increasingly difficult, made more complex by having to provide advanced warning that I would be passing on the right; everybody was quite obliging and made no fuss of tucking themselves in to allow me to overtake.

Nearing the finish line, I passed Lis for the final time and she did her best to share info with how many runners were ahead of me. I didn’t catch the number, but I remained confident I could make it into the top 10. As one guy began his kick about 70m away, I gave chase to try and reel him in on the uneven ground. Unwittingly, I was able to keep my own pursuer at bay for just long enough with aid from the fast downhill final straight.

20:07 officially and indeed I’d snuck into the top 10 in 10th place! Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Before too long, Ben came through with a strong finish just outside of 27 minutes. Rhys was up next, defying his own expectations by running the entire distance. Lis, Rachel and Jess brought the rest of the group in for some upbeat performances.

Southwick Country parkrun pushed the cafe harder than any other event I’ve visited, and with good reason. The cafe provides the only toilets on site, but more importantly, is staffed mainly by employees with learning difficulties or other disabilities. Naturally, we stopped by for a coffee and some post-run discussion. I think the parkrun concept was a hit for the newcomers, with Ben identifying Newport’s Riverfront event as his closest, Rhys and Jess identifying Black Park as theirs, and Newport’s Tredegar Park as Rachel’s. Welcome to the family!

Brass Monkey Half Marathon registration

This week’s post is a bit backwards in terms of chronological order of events, but it’s easier for me to write and comment in this manner.

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon is a strong contender as one of my top 3 races. Flat and fast, its reputation is well known with many willing to make the jaunt to York in mid-January for a crack at a half marathon PB. Expectedly, places become harder to gain each year, too. Bagging three places in three consecutive years requires preparation and a willingness to get up at 05:40 on a Saturday… This is why I was so heavily caffeinated at Southwick Country parkrun!

Being away from home made things more challenging in that I was presented with a slow and unreliable internet connection. More critical to success was the change made to the online queue system. Previously, it was a simple first-come-first-served approach once registration opened at 6am. On this occasion, it morphed into a two-part system. The first stage required I join a pre-queue – a holding pen, if you will. Here, it mattered not whether I was the first or 1,000th person, because once registrations went live at 6am, we were then all allocated a random place in the true queue to then begin registering. It became a game of chance, where it was entirely possible for the last person to join the holding pen to be put in first place, and vice-versa.

I was dismayed to see I’d been given a place in the low 1,200s. Some quick mental arithmetic did my anxious mind no good, where I knew there would be individuals in the queue registering more than one person, meaning there was every possibility that I could miss out.

As I waited, the page auto-refreshed every 30 seconds; pleasingly, the queue moved along swiftly and before I knew it, I’d moved to a position in the 800s. Then, the page hung! I panicked, fearing that my place had been lost. A manual refresh saw me jump 200 places into the 600s, so I’d seemingly kept my place. The connection hung again, so I relocated to sit only a few metres from the WiFi base station for better connectivity. Movement in the queue slowed and an update was published, citing that over half of the available 1,700 places had gone within the first 20 minutes, with a warning that the system would begin to slow further as places became more limited. A final warning even went as far to state that it was entirely possible to be allowed on to the registration form, only for the final places to be snapped up whilst people entered their details!

I had to do a double-take when the registration form eventually presented itself to me. Never had my fingers ever typed so quickly before! Paid up and confirmation email received, I stayed put to observe how near to the end I was; another five minutes was all it took for all 1,700 places to sell out completely, prompting me to breathe a long sigh of relief.

Whilst I was fortunate enough on this occasion to bag a place, I’m not a fan at all of this new registration format, but I fear it will be here to stay in the interests of fairness.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2017 review

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Apologies for the late report!

A late change in focus shook up this annual staple of a race from becoming yet another item on my growing list of recent setbacks.

For the 2015 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

Regular readers will know I’ve had a particularly troublesome time of late – first with two bouts of illness, and then injury. This naturally meant 2017’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon would be the first without an eyeballs out PB attack on the agenda. So very, very disappointing, especially on such a fast and flat course!

Dave Burton was once again in tow on mine and Lis’ now bi-annual jaunt to York. We also covered his race entry fee as a 50th birthday present for him – only runners could possibly get away with giving a gift that’s equal measure pain and joy! Sadly, Dave didn’t feel like he was in PB shape, either, even after last year’s surprise sub-89 performance from him. With neither of in great condition, we opted to simply aim to get under 90 minutes with as little distress as possible.

Then out of the blue, an interesting request came my way. It seemed Carl Stainton (also racing) and Darryll Thomas both have a mutual friend that was participating, with hopes of going under 90 minutes for the first time. Madeleine had a 90:50 to her name, so certainly within reach without overstretching.

Reaching York Racecourse, we proceeded to set up camp and went on our warm-up. Dave had to confirm whether the 10 minute mile pace he was seeing was correct, and indeed it was. I hadn’t run in over a week by this point, and doubt quickly entered my mind. How reliable a pacer would I actually be at crunch time?

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Does my bum look big in this? Photo by Lis Yu

Warm-up completed, none of us had spotted Carl. Dave Johnson, a fellow runner from Birmingham who we see more often in York than Birmingham, also eluded us. Having run out of old tops to throw away, I opted to break out an unused poncho from the Cardiff World Championship Half Marathon to keep me dry and warm whilst waiting for the race to start. The thing was huge – don’t believe the lies that one size fits all! With time pressing on and not wanting a repeat of last year’s fiasco of trying to go against the horde of runners exiting the Ebor Stand, we made our way to the start area.

We soon spotted Dave Johnson and Carl, who introduced me to Madeleine. We made our way forward to seed ourselves into the correct place, though noted there appeared to be many more people ahead of us than in previous races, even factoring in that we started a few rows further back.

The race

Mile 1 to 4

Stood further away from the start line than normal, it took Madeleine and me some 20 seconds to cross the row of timing mats. Congestion was clearly present, but not of major hindrance; I did have to concentrate on where my feet landed and did come into contact with one guy that seemed insistent on running right next to me at an identical pace. With the opening mile being largely downhill, too, the temptation was always there to go haring off in the hope of gaining a few extra seconds. I reminded Madeleine to stay calm and relaxed, letting those around us get their adrenaline surges out of their systems.

Only having been introduced to Madeleine minutes earlier, I broke the ice and got to learn a little more about her. She’s a big fan of marathons (and a fellow Marathon Talk listener) and I was in awe of her 3:10 marathon PB – a time that would beat most men at the London Marathon, let alone the fairer sex.

My pacing strategy was to start off conservatively, allowing us to ease ourselves into race pace over the first mile or two. Mile 1 came in exactly where I wanted it for 6:52, and with the descent, factored in, it would have felt even easier and more like a 7:00.

I could still see both Daves ahead of us by some 50m. I knew it couldn’t be long before we at least realigned with Dave Burton, pacing for sub-90, too. Madeleine pointed out a training partner-come-rival of hers, also ahead of us in the distance and in a similar situation to us.

Mile 2 clocked in at 6:49 for an imperceptible uplift in pace, avoiding any sudden surges as much as possible.

The crowd began to thin a little in places to provide a bit more breathing space. I couldn’t help but notice how laboured some runners around us sounded already, and we were only on the approach to the third mile! Madeleine appeared to be running well within her capabilities, and her ability to converse with fully formed sentences confirmed as much. Looking inside myself, I also felt pretty damn good in spite of the dramatic drop in training mileage and intensity due to illness and injury of late.

Mile 3 produced a 6:48 and continued to feel really comfortable for the two of us.

Conditions would have been perfect, if not for the surface water left behind by the rain. Whilst cool, this iteration of the race was by far the warmest of the three I’ve run. The arm warmers I wore were completely unnecessary, so I rolled them down to my wrists. One could only imagine how warm Carl was in his compression shirt with vest on top!

Madeleine and I finally reached the two Daves somewhere within mile 4, but only Dave Burton stuck with us. Dave Johnson had participated in a Parkrun and also some cross-country action only 24 hours earlier, so it was no wonder he didn’t have the capacity to maintain the pace. This particular split came in at 6:46, so by all means still pretty static, though we continued to reel in and overtake runners as they flagged.

Mile 5 to 9

I tucked into my first of two gels, whereas Madeleine stuck to just the water offered out on the course.

Whilst our pace remained pretty resolute, the feedback from our Garmins was skewed by the trees lining the southernmost section of the course. We found GPS reception was dampened somewhat, presenting a pace that was typically nearer 7:00 than 6:50, with mile 5 eventually settling on 6:47.

That rival of Madeleine’s? Well, we passed her at some point early on during mile 6, coming in again at 6:47 – I did say my strategy was to run steady! I had a weird sense of déjà vu and recalled she was one of the two women I found myself running with and overtaking at exactly the same point on the course, two years prior.

Passing the halfway point, the clock read 44 minutes or so. Madeleine was still running superbly with no labour at all to her breathing. Dave, who was regularly just behind us by a couple of steps, chimed in that we were both making a sub-90 attempt look far too easy with the level of conversation we had going on… We did, sadly, lose Dave at some point during mile 7; a combination of a perceived pace slip that wasn’t actually there and the tree coverage spurred us on to an uncharacteristic 6:43.

My companion came clean and admitted that she was beginning to feel the effort ratchet upwards slightly, recalling that the stretch between mile 8 and 10 in a half marathon were usually her downfall. I did my best to dispel any doubts that we wouldn’t make it back in under 90 minutes, and we agreed to keep chatter to a minimum. I, too, was feeling the uptick in required effort but donned my best poker face. The lack of training and intensity also began catching up to me, but at least my Achiles was holding up without a peep from it at all.

Miles 8 and 9 produced 6:47 and 6:44 splits, respectively. Noticing the mile markers were beginning to grow increasingly out of sync, I directed Madeleine to hug each and every turn or corner in an attempt to recover a few precious metres and seconds from the route.

Miles 10 to 13.1

The crowd grew sparser as we progressed back towards Bishopthorpe. We maintained our pace whereas many of those around us dropped off theirs, providing us with a powerful mental boost. Whilst Madeleine’s breathing grew a little more laboured than before, she continued to show little struggle in keeping up with me.

Being there to help, and not hinder, I had already been warned not to say, “Just a Parkrun left to go” at mile 10, so I kept schtum whilst a Cheshire Cat-sized grin grew across my face. Didn’t stop other people around us from using the phrase, though! Miles 10 and 11 remained steady for 6:45 and 6:46.

Approaching the second of just three total climbs, Madeleine shared that she would slow slightly on the ascent but would reclaim it on the other side with a slight surge. Amusingly, I was struggling to keep up on the descent as somebody that’s dreadful at running downhill…

Spectators began to litter the sides of the course as we returned to civilisation, providing welcome support and the villages offering a change of scenery.

As we made the left turn back on to Bishopthorpe Road, I knew the ghastly-in-context climb over the A64 would soon be upon us. I told Madeleine I needed her to “dig deep” because there wasn’t much of a drop afterwards to compensate for the damage from the ascent. Helpfully, a chap that we had tracked for much of the latter miles of the race was still just a few metres ahead of us as we climbed. I told Madeleine to focus on him and to not allow the gap to grow any larger. She tackled the climb wonderfully as I spouted all sorts of encouraging nonsense. The mile 12 marker came into view, and even with two climbs to conquer, became our fastest split so far of the morning for 6:41!

With only a mile remaining, we continued to pick off runners that had faded on our return to the race course.

I switched to elapsed time on my Garmin and continued to spur Madeleine on. She was increasingly checking her own Garmin, which I told her to ignore and to keep pressing for the finish. The numbers confirmed we had a healthy margin in place from the consistent 6:45 to 6:47 paced miles, and it even looked like a sub-89 finish was within reach. I wasn’t sure if Madeleine knew how close we were to such a target, so I sneakily began recalling the time but withheld the preceding minute – 1:45 became just 45 seconds, and so on. Nothing like the panic of failing to eke out a little bit more effort! The pace continued to rise and we rounded mile 13 off with a 6:39.

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And she said she didn’t have a sprint… Photo by Lis Yu

Once on the finishing straight, I gave the orders to kick and boy did she kick. My Garmin averaged 5:48 for the remaining distance, with a peak of 5:22!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

I came in just a step behind Madeleine, who threw her arms up in victory once over the line. Her grin quickly turned to a look of revulsion as she proceeded to throw up in the finish funnel; for a few seconds, I thought I’d pushed her too far… She, thankfully, bounced back quickly enough and was thrilled by the race outcome. Forget about dipping under 90 minutes; we made it back in under 89 minutes with change for 88:43 and 88:44 respectively, and some 2 plus minutes hacked off from Madeleine’s former PB.

Dave Burton followed shortly after, finishing in 89:38. We didn’t catch Dave Johnson, but later found out he finished in 1:35:10, causing a few winces. Causing a few more winces was the news of Carl’s battered feet en route to his stunning 76:31.

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Madeleine, Andy and Dave – all under 90 minutes. Photo by Lis Yu

Congratulations and farewells sorted, Dave, Lis and I made a beeline back to our B&B and for some grub. Capping off an enjoyable weekend and race, we were then greeted by a car breakdown of all things… Whatever happened to karma, eh?

I’m now taking a break from running for a few weeks to give my Achilles a chance to recover. Weekly blog updates will obviously be a bit light on content, but will continue – I’ll still be found volunteering at Parkrun – either Cannon Hill or Cwmbran.

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of October 2016

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My new bible for the next 12 weeks

Big news of the northern variety this week…

A return to Yorkshire x 2

It comes as little surprise that I’ll be returning to the frozen north again in January to tackle that race favourite of mine, the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. Once again, I’ll also have my good friend, Dave Burton, in tow. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing that he’ll be running his final race in the 45 to 49 age category!

So, what’s the other visit to Yorkshire?

Well, it turns out I’ll be returning to the 26.2 mile distance sooner than anticipated, participating once more in the 2017 Yorkshire Marathon!

“Wait! I thought you said you’d return to marathon running in 2018?” I can hear some of you querying.

Lis felt my best chances of going under 3 hours for the marathon would be a year later in 2017, and not 1.5 to 2 years later in 2018. I’ll have one cycle to get back to regular development, and then it’s all guns blazing for another autumn marathon. Summer training, boo and yay in equal measure…

The timing works incredibly well because Dave will be embarking on his very first marathon just a week after my next 26.2 mile outing. Looking to add some extra value and a different angle to this blog, Dave and I have discussed the possibility of him writing a short guest entry each week, sharing his thoughts on the highs and lows of marathon training as an older runner of a decent standard. Watch this space for developments!

“Today I don’t feel like doing anything. I just wanna lay in my bed…”

I’d even packed my running gear with a view to covering another 5 easy miles from Birmingham city centre on Tuesday, but I really couldn’t be bothered. I wasn’t tired and even felt quite fresh, but the mood to run really wasn’t there. There was no guilt or pressure to run and the evening was even topped off with a great, big, dirty kebab for dinner. I did eventually cover the 5 mile easy run several days later – click here for the data.

The break was necessary and I enjoyed the spontaneity while it lasted, but knew a new half marathon training plan was just on the horizon with an urge to revert to type…

Pfitzinger & Latter – Faster Road Racing: 12 week half marathon training plan

The P&D – Advanced Marathoning 18 week – up to 55 miles plan served me well, so I figured I’d go elbow deep into the P&L – Faster Road Racing equivalent to get me ship-shape for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in January. By sheer coincidence and dumb luck, it just so happened that the race is exactly 12 weeks away to the day, so the plan will kick-in over the coming week.

The plan can be found here for folks to have a gander at.

I approached the 12 week plan with the same ethos as my marathon plan, trying to make as few changes as possible to allow for maximal training gains. The biggest adjustments saw me shifting training paces slightly, which will allow me to both complete the core sessions and also recover; both important for mental motivation as well as training development. A soft 10k and a PB effort 10k have also been included to keep interest up, along with some movement of long runs to factor in the additional Christmas and New Year Parkruns I so enjoy.

Whilst I’m not expecting a breakout performance of the same manner as the Yorkshire Marathon, I still have hopes that following the P&L plan will reverse some of the slight performance decline I’ve begun encountering over the half marathon during the last 2 years.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I was a touch bleary-eyed due to a 5:50am rise to get me and Dave into the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, but felt fine otherwise thanks to a near-2 week recovery window.

From the line, I went with the flow of faster runners and surprised myself by how much motion range my legs had in them. During that opening km, I even saw 3:27 pace flash up a few times; a suicidal pace I hadn’t seen in almost 2 years since that incredibly painful Christmas Day Cardiff Parkrun… Things eventually settled down for a 3:34 split.

Thankfully, I found a nice little group to latch on to and stuck with them for the entire remainder of the run, producing splits of 3:48, 3:46, 3:49 and 3:37 to leave my lungs searing.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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Me: “Why am I the only one that looks like I’m enjoying myself?” Carl: “Youth.” Photo by Kerry Allen

Initially, I was somewhat indifferent to the 18:34 result, though some post-analysis revealed it to be my third fastest run at Cannon Hill, and my joint-fourth fastest Parkrun to date. Not bad less than 2 weeks after an eyeballs out marathon with virtually no 5k focus!

10 miles – to Solihull and back

I do rather like 10 mile runs in training; long enough to get some tangible benefits, but short enough that it can be squeezed in when pressed for time and won’t leave you destroyed when covered at an easy to moderate pace.

Much like the fast Parkrun the day prior, I wanted to use this run as a sighter for any post-marathon issues that called for my attention before re-immersing myself back into normality. And much like the Parkrun, there was nothing to worry about, bar some minor stiffness from said Parkrun! I’m still cautious that just because nothing bubbled to the surface doesn’t mean I’m entirely out of the woods just yet, and will tread cautiously during the opening week of the half marathon plan.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 11th to 17th of January 2016

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Another annual pilgrimage to York for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon

This week was all about getting my A-game ready for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon.

8 canal miles

Wowza! Was it cold on Tuesday evening’s run! Personally, I run a little warm and will regularly be found in the winter wearing shorts and a t-shirt whilst out training, but not so on Tuesday! I squeezed into a compression vest, stuck a long-sleeve top over that, pulled on a pair of tights and finished the whole ensemble off with some gloves! And I was still able to feel the cold whilst I was out there…

On the out leg, I threw in one mile at marathon pace and on the return, I traded up for one mile at half marathon pace. I was reminded to reintroduce some glute activation exercises – they weren’t present at all during the run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

The mercury was still low on Wednesday, so out came another winter ensemble. I also had to lug my heavy winter coat home in my backpack, and after weeks of commuting with a virtually empty bag, the additional weight was most noticeable.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Canal 10k with strides

Even with multiple layers, I was never able to warm-up on this particular run – I lost all feeling in my fingers after 2 miles or so!

The aim was to cover 10k and intersperse it with the odd short burst of strides to get my legs turning over. Largely achieved, though I never felt like the strides really had the anticipated outcome of restoring speed and mobility.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2016

For the full low-down of how my race went, please click here.

Time for a few more running rule shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 41 to 50

  1. If you “need” music in order to run, you’re kind of missing the point.
  2. On a long run, it’s always better to have a bit of toilet paper and not need it, than vice versa.
  3. Wearing a terrycloth headband ironically is more annoying than wearing one in earnest.
  4. To help keep your upper body relaxed during a run, imagine you’re carrying a potato chip in each hand.
  5. If you wear it running, keep it out of the clothes dryer.
  6. The shorter the race, the more important the warmup.
  7. If a road is busy enough to make you wonder if runners are “allowed” on it, avoid running on that road.
  8. Two types of runners raise their arms in triumph at the finish line: the runner who has just won the race, and any runner who wasn’t even close to winning.
  9. Nobody has ever watched Chariots of Fire from beginning to end. Not even the people who made it.
  10. When the announcer says a race is “tactical,” he means “slow.”

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2016 review

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Global warming, my arse!

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

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

Pre-race

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

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

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

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

The race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

andy_yu_brass_monkey_2016

Doing my best Sylvester Stallone impression – photo by Lis Yu

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

Post-race

Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

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

andy_dave_brass_monkey_2016

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

Closing thoughts

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

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

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

Pretty insane, huh?

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

This week’s running – 19th to 25th of October 2015

Zoidberg

Dr Zoidberg didn’t think it was a good idea to enter Berlin

This week was about Berlin and Brass Monkeys.

Berlin Marathon 2016

Berlin Marathon

I find out in December whether I’m in or not…

After a few shaky runs marred by warm conditions throughout the summer, I concluded I did not want to go through the training for an autumn marathon. But then I got thinking and comparatively, my performances in the autumn are usually much stronger in relation to the spring. I was inspired watching a few guys I know at around, or just below, my ability over 5k, 10k and half marathon go on to run sub-3:15 autumn marathons. There had to be something in toughing it out through the summer!

So, my finger accidentally slipped and registered my name for the 2016 Berlin Marathon ballot… Immediately afterwards, thoughts of, “What the hell have you done???” went through my mind, but revisiting the P&D Advanced Marathoning book briefly for a peek at the schedules reassured me that I’m now in a much better place to take on another marathon. I may actually be disappointed if I don’t get in at this rate!

There were a few quirks with the Berlin Marathon ballot versus the London Marathon ballot. Notably, you have to submit payment information upfront to cover the €98 should you be successful, with nothing being taken if you’re not. This contributes to why the odds of getting into Berlin are quite good – London not requiring payment information upfront probably encourages more people applying on a whim who’ll figure it all out later.

The other quirk relates to finishing time submission. A bit like Boston where you have to qualify, Berlin asks you to provide your marathon PB (3:34:02 in my case) to seed you into an appropriate start pen. If you’ve never run a marathon before, you’re automatically seeded into Pen H (reportedly around 25,000 in this year’s race…) It’s a double-edged sword system because on the one hand, it keeps people honest and completely eradicates the problem of people predicting finishing times of complete fantasy/inexperience – “You’re only as good as your marathon PB” is their view. And on the other hand, it unfairly penalises first timers and faster runners that train their guts out and would be perfectly capable of achieving or beating their targets. My marathon PB would likely see me seeded into Pen F, designated for those with PBs of 3:30 to 3:50. My goal is to at least run sub-3:30 and I think I could even go sub-3:15 with almost 10 months of preparation.

Anywho, the above is only something to worry about should I get in!

5k from work

Hip flexibility was still low after the recent weekend’s antics, so I kept this one easy.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

Whilst this wasn’t my fastest overall fartlek run along this route, it did produce the fastest final stretch where I clocked in at 5:53 mile pace over 550m with a stride length of 1.35m (that’s long for me!)

No major issues to report, other than cyclists on pavements with no lights and groups of people walking three abreast.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Not good at all. Felt really low on energy from the off due to a lunch that was probably too light. Even at a slow pace, it was a real grind.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles/Petzl Tikka RXP field test

Petal Tikka RXP

Let there be light with the Petzl Tikka RXP

After last week’s anxiety on the unlit canal, I started looking into headtorch upgrade options. My Black Diamond Spot, whilst perfectly adequate for jogging home from work at low speed, just wasn’t really cutting it on the longer run in the dark at a faster pace. I narrowed my choices down to two from Petzl: the Myo and the Tikka RXP. The Myo is not a pretty thing to look at with a back of head mounted AA battery pack, but it’s insanely bright at 315 lumens on its maximum setting. The Tikka RXP is much more conventional looking, sporting a USB rechargeable battery pack built into the main lamp, but only 215 lumens on its brightest setting. Both eclipse the Black Diamond Spot with its paltry 90 lumens (budget option).

In the end, I went for the Tikka RXP. It was the cheaper of the two by almost £30 online (only £10 difference on the high street) and the USB rechargeability meant I’d be able top it up at work before each run-commute home, rather than having a stash of spare AA batteries in case it ran dry. It also featured an auto-brightness feature, much like on smartphones, where the power output adjusts on the fly to changing situations (can be overridden).

So, how did it go?

I broke out the Tikka RXP on a 10 mile run, once again utilising the unlit canal towpath. I covered a range of paces and the headtorch held up wonderfully, and importantly, required no readjustment of the headband, even at faster speeds. The reactive sensor always gave me just a little more light than I needed in any given situation; if I ran into a tunnel, it dimmed itself due to light bouncing off walls, and if I ran into cyclists with their own lights, it dimmed so as not to blind those oncoming. That last one only holds true if cyclists have lights; one idiot without any wasn’t able to adjust his eyes quickly enough from the darkness and received a face full of maximum brightness.

The available range was fantastic, with it faintly reaching up to 100m away – obviously things got brighter the closer they were to me, but it was more than sufficient to pick up things in the distance that I needed to focus my attention on.

The only negative is the battery life – it’s quoted as only lasting up to 2.5 hours with access to maximum brightness and requires a 5 hour charge from empty. On reduced mode, it can last up to 10 hours, or a balance between the two can be reached by plugging it into a Mac or PC and adjusting the power profile (I deleted this option).

The run itself was great, with 3x miles at just faster than marathon pace. The additional lighting made it easier adjusting to the faster pace compared to last week. Stopping it from scoring a 10/10 was some minor indigestion before I even started and a sudden urge for a toilet visit halfway through…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2016

As my alarm went off at 5:55am, I couldn’t quite believe that it had been a year since I registered for my first Brass Monkey Half Marathon. At £24 for unaffiliated entry, the race provides a stellar field and is superbly organised. Oh, and did I say the route is pancake flat for PB hunters like me?

Of course, it could be £24 wasted if the race gets cancelled due to inclement weather – more than likely in mid-January as was seen in 2013 due to snow.

Carl also made it in again, as did Dave for the first time, by the skin of his teeth before the cut-off of only 1750 available places.

If I can keep the momentum going until then, there’s a chance I could be in reach of a time in the low 85s. Here’s hoping!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

By 8am, I’d already had two coffees to try and perk up in time for Parkrun due to the pre-6am start to enter the Brass Monkey. Not a good start. And I was going to take a chance and attempt to squeeze out another fast time ala last week, too…

I caught up to Nigel for a joint warm-up lap around the park along with a debrief of his Great Birmingham Run (a splendid effort with a second half full of true grit).

On the start line, I had another pep talk with Zac Minchin of Sparkhill Harriers, now quickly becoming a weekly thing. He’d hoped to hit 18:40, which sounded reasonable enough to me to try and keep on the horizon. Ben Clarke was run director for the morning and had the honour of giving the starter’s orders to send us all off on our way.

The start was very, very fast. As always, some had started too far back and one guy came tearing through a few of us to get ahead – he should have saved him and us the trouble and just started at the very front! By the first corner, my Garmin was registering 3:25 per km, which felt totally unnatural to me. I decided to go with it and just let nature take its course…

The first km clocked in at a swift 3:37. Target average pace for the entire run was 3:45/km, so it certainly gave me a slight bit of breathing space for the inevitable slow-down in the later stages. Confidence was still high, though my breathing was just a smidge faster than I’d have ideally wanted it.

The effort noticeably crept upwards in the second km. I still had a grip on things to produce a 3:43 split to be still ahead of target.

Wheels started to come off the wagon in the third km. The shortened lap around the park didn’t help where the sensation of progress felt like it was missing. Carl in an attempt to shoehorn himself into this week’s entry (it worked!) pulled up in front of me whilst he covered the course in a progressive manner. He told me to drive my arms and elbows more to gain more thrust from each stride; I took shelter in his slipstream to also gain a few hundred metres of recovery, though this was short-lived when he crept away on a slight descent. The split came in at 3:55, but I was still on for average target pace.

The fourth km was a shocker. I was still on the tail of the lead girl, but the effort had already taken its toll on me and mentally, I abandoned the plan and resigned myself to simply finish in a respectable time not too far off target. Zac the Sparkhill Harrier had also sacked his effort off and was walking by the side of the course. I hollered out to him to rejoin the chase and he slotted himself back in just in front of me before moving into my slipstream. The cursed triangle robbed me of a few more precious seconds and even a small surge on the exit wasn’t enough to undo the damage of the tight turns. The split came in as an ugly 4:01…

The lead girl and another chap managed to put 15-20m between them and me. I couldn’t hear anybody behind me, to put me in no man’s land when I needed a fast final km. My teeth were firmly gritted but nothing I threw down got me any closer to the two of them. On the approach to the hill, Ed Barlow’s familiar voice told me to attack the climb as he pulled away from me. “I’m maxed out” I told him, with the knowledge that I was off target by about 10-15 seconds, not providing any inspiration either.

runbritain handicap

I’ll take a runbritain handicap improvement!

I finished in 19:10 for a fourth fastest time on the course. Whilst not the time I wanted, it did bear an unexpected gift in the form of a strong runbritain handicap rating to put me back at 4.9! Much like last week, many were undoubtedly taking it easy after the Great Birmingham Run and other races to give my performance a nice boost up the backside.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

14 canal miles

Sunday was such a contrast to the previous day, with still and bright conditions.

I fancied trying my hand at boosting the long run to 14 miles; the eventual plan is to top out at 15 miles as part of training towards January’s Brass Monkey Half – a race that flat and fast really can’t be squandered!

Gloves were donned after checking the weather report, though in hindsight, I need not have bothered; the sun warmed everything up including me in my black t-shirt…

Ignoring the mile warm-up at the start and mile warm-down at the end, I opted to cover the middle 12 negative split style. The slowest mile came in at 8:07 and the fastest at 6:58; the final 3 had me grimacing, good and proper! I finished feeling slightly broken. Think I’ll take it easier next week…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Know when and where it’s okay to wear running apparel

ALWAYS

  • During a run or race
  • At a race expo
  • Milling around at the gym
  • In a running store
  • Before, during, or after a sports massage
  • In bed (to save precious seconds the next morning, before an early run)

NEVER

  • In church
  • At weddings
  • At funerals
  • At court appearances
  • At chamber music recitals
  • For job interviews
  • In a rowboat (don’t ask why; it would just be weird)

SOMETIMES

  • In hotel lobbies (before or after a run)
  • At work (if you are an elite runner or personal trainer, or if you work at Runner’s World)
  • At picnics (if you have to run to the picnic or plan to run from it, or if other picnic-goers are also wearing running apparel)
  • At the supermarket (depending on amount of sweat and/or aroma you’ve generated)
  • On a date (if your date is also a runner, and the two of you are running, have run, or are about to run)

This week’s running – 12th to 18th of January 2015

What is a brass monkey anyway?

What is a “brass monkey” anyway? This is what Wikipedia says…

This week was all about final preparation towards the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, so this entry is purposely short.

10k fartlek along Hagley Road

In an ideal world, I wanted to have completed this run more frequently this month before the Brass Monkey, but last week’s cold put an end to that.

There was no fitness goal in mind behind this run; it was just something faster to keep the legs turning over at a decent rate until Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

I probably didn’t need the run home from work seeing as I had already committed myself to using a Joker towards Jantastic, but part of me wanted to try and get back into a routine of sorts.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Fear the niggle

Any fans of 24 out there? Lis and I just recently started to watch the adventures of Jack Bauer, so I had been sitting down a lot more than usual.

They say sitting is slowly killing us all. Whilst I lived to tell the tale, my right knee picked up some sort of niggle. There was no ache or soreness present; simply a feeling that something wasn’t mechanically right with it on the inside. Loading it with my body weight appeared fine, so I wrote-off all of the week’s remaining runs up to race day to give it a chance to settle down.

Thankfully, normal service resumed come Friday. Not a single peep out of the knee on the walk into and out of work, and an entire day’s walking in York on Saturday was all the confirmation I needed.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2015

For my full race review, please click here.

Lis recently asked me what I would do once I ran out of things to quote from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book. I don’t actually have an answer right now, but what I do know is that I’m getting dangerously close to the end of the book…

Fight the urge to drop out

If you’re doing it right, at some point you will want to drop out of just about every race you run. This is normal. Recognize this fact and expect it. During your training, anticipate how you’ll respond when this happens, when your body rebels and your mind urges you to stop.

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2015 review

brass_monkey_definition

I wonder how they came up with the name for the race?

For the 2016 and 2017 races, please click below:

With regular racers, there tends to be two distinct camps: those with masochistic tendencies, who opt for the hilliest and most aggressive courses out there, and those who are all about fast times and flat courses. I fall into the latter, which is specifically why Lis and I made the trip up to York for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, now in its 33rd year.

The route begins and ends at York Racecourse, taking runners through Bishopthorpe, Acaster Selby, Appleton Roebuck, and back through Bishopthorpe for the finish. With a reputation for being fast and incredibly flat (the only real hill is the hump over the motorway on the way out and back), the race regularly sells out within hours despite the strong potential for poor weather; 2013 was cancelled due to snow and 2014 was a wash-out, but still continued.

Read on to find out how things went. As ever, skip straight to “The race” if you want to avoid the ramblings of a running-bore!

Pre-race

All week, blog-reader Carl and I had been chatting about our respective plans for the Brass Monkey, along with the ever-changing weather conditions. Carl first popped his half marathon cherry at this race a year ago and had his sights on a rather tasty sub-80 minute finish. I wanted something in the region of 87:XX. I felt like I had held back ever so slightly at the Cardiff Half (also ran long for 13.18 miles) and with the flatter course on offer in York, I believed this would be achievable. 6:40 per mile was all that was required; at only 5 seconds faster than Cardiff’s average pace, this was not a big ask at all. If things went very well, just dipping into 86:XX may have also been possible.

Lis, my wife-to-be, had never visited York before and I had vague memories of a brief visit for a couple of hours over 10 years ago en route to a wedding. We ended up exploring what the city had to offer and according to my iPhone’s built-in pedometer, I had covered almost 240% of my daily 10,000 step quota. This apparently converted to over 10 miles of walking; we were both somewhat sceptical of the distance travelled, feeling 6-7 miles was more realistic. Not ideal pre-race prep but we enjoyed the sights and sounds of York nonetheless!

Also less than ideal was the tough week at work. With two meaty projects to supervise, I was pretty much mentally spent come Friday evening.

What else can I add to the list of pre-race faux pas? The fire alarms went off in our hotel at 6:30am on race morning. At least I wasn’t going to be late! I had a look outside the window and there was frost everywhere… great. All I had were my Nike Flyknit Racers, which are really minimal…

Frosty conditions aside, race morning was absolutely gorgeous, with brilliant blue skies and sunshine. I hoped the sun would work its magic and melt some of the ice ahead of the 10am start.

York Racecourse - Brass Monkey Half HQ

York Racecourse – one of the finest race HQs I’ve ever visited – Photo by Lis Morgan

Once at York Racecourse, it was pretty obvious that this was a serious event. There were club runners everywhere sporting their respective colours. The site actually made for a superb race HQ, with plenty of toilets for runners, both inside and out. The paved path surrounding the racecourse was also accessible for runners, though I only spotted a few hardy souls apart from myself actually using it for warm-up purposes; everybody else chose to stay inside the heated venue.

I still hadn’t spotted Carl and had to make my way over to the start area. These things somehow have a way of working themselves out because I soon bumped into him next to the finish chute. We’d both recce’d the finish straight and agreed it was lethally icy and prayed it would defrost. We parted ways, only to meet again in the start pen. Stood in the direct light of the sun, I actually felt pretty comfortable despite only wearing a vest, some shorts and arm warmers. The collective warmth of runners around me probably helped, also.

We were walked over to the start line and given a safety briefing, asking runners to beware of perilous ice at around the 6 – 7 mile stretch of the course. As expected of a race in its 33rd iteration, the hooter went off right on time at 10am and within a couple of seconds, I was over the line. Game time!

The race

Even up in the sub-90 minute section, there was a lot of scrambling for position with the usual problems of slower runners starting too far forward, and faster runners starting too far behind. I managed to tuck myself into a fairly steady-paced pack with mile 1 ticking by in a flash as we made our way south and away from York.

6:40 miling felt relaxed and at ease. The forecast of 12 – 15mph wind had died right down and was almost non-existent bar a gentle breeze at times. Apart from the warnings of ice, everything was in place for a PB despite me not being as race-fit as I would have liked.

The only real hill of the course arrived in the form of the hump over the motorway below. I knew I had to tackle the hump again on the return to the finish later on, which was likely to sting after covering 12 miles of near-flat terrain.

Thankfully the field started to thin out after mile 2. I found myself running in a pack consisting of three female club runners, each running at around my target pace. They were all distinctly identifiable and gave me something to home in on when I started drifting backwards. What was interesting to observe was how cautiously the three girls took the icy sections of the course; slowing down dramatically to end up behind, only to then speed up again when traction returned to then overtake me. At this point, the ice was just a small annoyance. Only a minor adjustment of my running gait and outspreading my arms for additional balance was all that was required.

I sank my first of four gels at around mile 3 for some added perk and rehydration. Why so many gels? Water was readily available from three different stations out on the course, but it was served in cups. I’m totally crap at drinking from cups on the go, but didn’t want to risk going thirsty if I spilt it everywhere. You’d be surprised how dehydrated you can get, even in a winter race.

Passing by the mile 4 marker, my Garmin took a little while to beep and tick over into the next mile. It had been consistently doing this and I wondered whether the organisers had placed the signs in the wrong place. I found it hard to believe that such a well-established race would measure the course short. I knew my race would already come up a little long due to not running the shortest line through some of the early corners because of crowding, but as long as I came up with 13.15 miles or less, I was a happy chappy.

Unsurprisingly for a half marathon with only 1,700 participants, the field became quite strung out at points. I detected the pack was slowing from time to time, prompting me to make a dash to join the group ahead. This became a regular theme, rather than grinding things out alone.

I turned the corner for Acaster Selby at around mile 5. The ground underfoot gave way for treacherous ice and runners began to resemble Bambi on a frozen pond. There were icy patches before this point, but they were easily navigated. This stretch at the southern-most point on the course proved to be a real challenge and required my wits to be on call at only a moment’s notice. The three girls were still just ahead of me, but two fell by the wayside before too long to leave only one. When we exited this section, she started to slip from the pace and gave me a chance to run alongside her for a while. I gave her a bit of a pep talk to spur her on. She drifted backwards again and just when I thought I’d lost her, she came storming past and thanked me. She joined the pack ahead and that was the last I saw of her, despite me continually reeling runners in.

I checked my pace regularly and I was always behind target by a few seconds. The icy stretch had cost me about 20 seconds and the constant start-stop pace had taken some out of me, and others too I’m sure. Surprisingly, I didn’t see anybody fall at all for the duration of my race.

Around mile 8, I noticed I was at the back of a nicely sized pack. I looked behind me and there was nobody on my tail for a good 10 seconds. I reasoned that I had to do my best to stay with this group or risk being dropped to run in no-man’s land for a while. They were pulling away at just faster than what was comfortable for me at that stage of the race, but I stuck to my guns to follow them, which explains the 6:30 mile that appeared. I stayed with them until a few runners started to splinter off, which allowed me to ease off slightly before any further damage occurred from over-exuberance.

Miles 9 – 10 were pretty dull. I did spot one guy walking, who had clearly had a tough day at the office. This was it from what I could see so far in terms of runners that had dropped out.

Some comedy relief presented itself just before mile 11. Three guys came storming up behind me, with conversation in full flow. With a smile, I said to them that they must have been feeling pretty “fresh” to be so relaxed. One of them replied with, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and another added, “We’ve got good poker faces – we’re all seriously hurting inside”. I laughed and wished them well before they charged ahead.

I switched my Garmin over to the stopwatch – it had ticked over into 1:15 territory and I thought Carl would have only been half a mile or so from the finish if everything had gone according to plan for him. For me, I had just over 12 minutes to cover a little under 2 miles to be pretty much right on target.

My sights were on a runner in front. I’d been tracking him for a while and wanted to reel him in to try and recover some of the damage from the ice. We approached the hump over the motorway and it was as if somebody had slammed the brakes on the runners around me! I effortlessly strode past them all and then did my best to use my advantage once past the brow of the hill. This slight lead lasted all of 15 seconds before everybody came past me… I really need to get some downhill training in. I was side by side with the runner I had followed and then all of a sudden, a car slowly pulled out from a side road to appear right in front of us. I joked to the guy next to me that all we needed was a timing clock on top of the car and we’d have been sorted. We urged each other over the next climb, to join one of the “poker face” guys, who had faded a touch. “Just over a mile, boys. You can see the racecourse and the finish – go for it”, were his words of encouragement.

I did what I could to lift the pace. I was fatigued, both mentally and physically, and couldn’t take much more. My breathing was laboured and I had also picked up a minor stitch. I tried holding my breath to stretch out the stitch, which helped somewhat, but did no good for my oxygen-starved body. You know that point in a race when the mile markers seem to move further and further away from each other? That was mile 12.

I was finally on the long straight where we had all started. Unsure of the distance remaining, I raised the pace once again and looked ahead to try and spot runners turning left into the racecourse. “Damn it! When are they gonna start turning?!” I kept thinking to myself. Not a moment too soon, marshals on the horizon began directing runners into the complex. Only a few hundred metres of suffering left and then it would all be over. My Garmin ticked over into 1:26:XX territory and I knew it was then or never, so I began to wrap things up with a cautious kick, unsure of the ground underfoot that had been so slippery before. Traction held up, so onwards!

brass_monkey_finish_line

Earn the gurn! – Photo by Lis Morgan

I had no idea if Lis was even in the crowd around me. I turned the last corner for the finish straight and my feet quickly decided there was enough grip for one last kick. There wasn’t much left in the tank, so I did what I could before fumbling for the stop button on my Garmin whilst crossing the finish line.

Post-race

Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

Andy and Carl at the Brass Monkey Half

Two photos and each time, Carl had his eyes closed… – Photo by Lis Morgan

I was wrecked. Well and truly wrecked. I had to use the grass in the finish chute to steady myself. Shoulders, hips, and calves – everything was aching. Lis called out to me from the other side of the barrier and once I’d recomposed myself slightly, I stumbled over like a drunk at closing time. We checked my Garmin and 1:27:28 (1:27:27 chip time) was my spoil for the morning – a PB by almost 90 seconds and ahead of the 1:27:51 minimum goal I had given myself. Carl joined us, having finished almost 10 minutes prior and fairly confident he had scored 1:18:54 for a strong sub-80 finish; there was simply no stopping the man with a 10 minute improvement only one year later, running at an already high standard!

There’s no goodie bag at the Brass Monkey Half, but rather a bottle of water and a long-sleeve technical shirt. This year’s is a handsome green (as modelled by Carl above) rather than the retina-burning fluorescent yellow of last year.

We parted ways with Carl before having to high tail it back to the hotel, which had kindly given us free late checkout.

Closing thoughts

Near 90 second PB at the Brass Monkey Half

Onwards and upwards to sub-87

“High risk, high reward” springs to mind immediately when summing up the Brass Monkey Half. It’s a real gamble for runners and the organisers to participate and stage a race at a time of the year when the weather can be friend or foe. Without the ice, today’s conditions would have been spot on for producing even faster times.

I can also see the Brass Monkey Half serving as a good tester for those entering marathon training schedules, offering a true benchmark race to either increase or decrease targets and training paces before fully committing. With my own marathons, I found races in March a little too late to act as confirmation of progress, or lack of. A long distance race in January is the perfect springboard to kickstart a marathon campaign with a nice training boost in the process.

As I sit on my sofa and type this report up, I’m absolutely whacked and can’t remember the last race, excluding marathons, that has been able to do this to me. Lis has reasoned that the ice and minor running gait adjustments had possibly caused some eccentric loading on my legs to account for the aches and soreness. She’s also confident that the ice triggered a heightened sense of awareness to explain the fatigue in my noggin. One thing’s for sure – recovery will take priority, so nothing but easy runs for the next week, me thinks.

Half marathon potential achieved!

Half marathon potential achieved!

EDIT – Curiously, I decided to enter today’s 87:27 finish into the McMillan Running Calculator to see how it stacked up in comparison to other PBs of mine. Well, I was pleasantly surprised to see I’ve pretty much hit my half marathon potential if my 18:51 5k PB is anything to go by. The 10k and marathon PBs now stick out even more like sore thumbs…