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.

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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.

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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.

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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…