This week’s running – 26th of December 2016 to 1st of January 2017

2017

I was finally on the mend after the misery of being ill! Oh, and welcome to 2017!

The Big Run Commuting Survey

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Being interviewed for Simon Cook’s Big Run Commuting Survey

Many months ago, I completed a survey about my experiences as a run-commuter. In fact, it was so long ago that I’d completely forgotten I participated until I received an email from its organiser, Simon Cook, asking if I would participate in an interview to cover my responses in more depth. Despite not formally belonging to any sort of running group affiliation, I do very much identify myself as a member of the running community and feel duty-bound to help where I can.

During the interview, we deep-dived into questions, such as what equipment I utilise when run-commuting, my choice of route, what I think about, and much, much more. Originally stated to last between one and two hours, Simon and I were discussing my thoughts for more than three hours by the very end! I didn’t think there was possibly so much to review, especially for what I still consider is a niche within running, though I was clearly proven wrong.

I promised Simon I would share the link to his survey for further quantitative data, and here it is: The Big Run Commuting Survey. Please complete it, even if you think your experience of run-commuting is limited – Simon wants to also explore why more people don’t run-commute.

6 miles whilst still ill

I grew more and more conscious that with the Brass Monkey Half Marathon looming ever closer, I had missed a few too many long runs as part of this training cycle due to circumstances beyond my control. On this particular day, it was almost two weeks since my previous distance run of any significance; prior to that run, it was another two weeks since the last one… Missing: aerobic and endurance ability. Reward for its safe return.

Grabbing the bull by the horns, I embarked on the long-delayed 15 mile run that was scheduled.

After two miles or so, I very quickly identified I was still unwell, albeit at least coming to the end of my ailments. The perceived effort of running was far greater than anticipated, and empirical feedback from my Garmin and heart rate monitor confirmed as much. Prior to being hit by the lurgy, I was able to run between 7:30 and 8:00 per mile at distance, in exchange for around 70% of maximum heart rate. On this occasion, I was barely clearing 8:40 per mile and clocking in at 75%+ of maximum heart rate! Needless to say, I cut the run dramatically short and turned around for home after just over 3 miles.

Here’s the Strava data for this rather demoralising run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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Cheeky drafting assistance – photo by Geoff Hughes

This was the first of three Parkruns over the weekend, thanks to the next day’s New Year Double. It was nice to be back at my home event with the familiarity doing my soul a lot of good. The strategy was to keep the effort and pace at around half marathon levels for some specificity, but also to avoid crocking myself before having completed all three planned runs.

Spending much of the run with Huw Jones and Matthew Lewis, I cheekily took shelter in their slipstream to facilitate the need for ease. We even spotted GB triathlete elite, Jodie Stimpson, as we approached the triangle.

Splits were pretty much bang on to pave the way for a 19:44 finish:

  1. 3:57
  2. 3:58
  3. 4:02
  4. 3:59
  5. 3:48

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

New Year’s Day Double

Brueton Parkrun

This was my third New Year’s Day Double, and second specific pairing of Brueton and Perry Hall events. I was joined by Simon Bull, who I had convinced to come along after successfully talking him into also partaking in a Christmas Day Parkrun a week prior.

The challenge of the New Year’s Day Double isn’t so much being able to run both (pace and effort management), but rather simply being able to stay loose and warm between runs – tricky with the 2017 weather of freezing cold rain… There were plenty of familiar faces as mad as Simon and I, taking on their first of two Parkruns.

The organisers opted to move the start and finish a few hundred metres to facilitate swift getaways for those moving on to a second event afterwards. What this meant for runners was an incredibly slow and congested start, not helped by an inaudible “Go”, and the initially narrow path and several turns thrown at us.

With the slow opening, I had some work (14 seconds or so) ahead of me to jump back on-board the sub-20 train. Within just the first 2km, I was pretty much soaked to the bone and struggling to stay warm with the wind also tearing into me. I still wasn’t fully recovered from the previous day’s 5k, and lack of sleep meant I was pretty much running on fumes.

Even with a kick at the end, I still narrowly missed out on a sub-20 finish to land 20:02. Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Once regrouped with Simon, we hightailed it out of Solihull and made our way over to Perry Hall’s event.

Perry Hall Parkrun

We first had to make two pit stops: one to pick-up my wallet from home, and two to fuel up the car. Thankfully, we were still lucky enough to bag one of the final spaces in the car park before it filled up shortly after our arrival.

With not enough time to get an adequate second warm-up in, the perishing cold rain hit us hard and then the shivering began… A knowing nod, like a badge of honour, was given to those we identified earlier from Brueton Parkrun.

Out on the course, it became obvious very quickly that I wasn’t going to even come close to sub-20. My legs were fooked, my clothes and shoes were heavy from the rain, and the wind picked up to slam into runners.

I ran Perry Hall’s new course for the first time several weeks ago, though I was unsure of whether I preferred it or not. I’ve now concluded I prefer the former two lap configuration with grass over the new three lap course with multiple switchbacks; I find the turnaround points have a tendency to kill pace and momentum and require a certain skill or finesse to navigate efficiently – talents that I lack.

In the end, I finished with 20:45, though was pleasantly surprised to finish in sixth place, and could have finished fifth with just a little more welly at the end.

A well-deserved rest and a hot shower beckoned! Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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This week’s running – 28th of December 2015 to 3rd of January 2016

The miles and training are going up

Feeling like a car odometer these days…

A week chock full of running and mileage milestones.

4 miles – Llangibby and back

Flooding was still an issue in rural South Wales, so I ventured on to this non-pedestrian friendly route. There was no pavement or even path at times, which saw me sinking into the grass and mud. Not great for what was just a simple recovery run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles – to Usk and back

Finally, the flooding subsided and all was right with the world again. Despite how mild the temperatures have been of late, the sun and blue skies made a guest appearance during this run for a dose of much needed vitamin D. I chucked a couple of marathon-paced miles in to restore some turnover into my legs; they actually felt pretty damn decent towards the end!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Edgbaston Reservoir out and back

Sometimes, waiting a few hours for a break in the rain can help make all the difference between enjoying a run and suffering through it. And sometimes, waiting all day can mean just that – there may never be a lucky break!

These 4 miles were kept incredibly easy with an eye on the rest of the loaded week. Parts of the reservoir had flooded; my choices were to either wade through the ankle deep puddles and get my feet wet, or risk diverting on to slippery mud and falling over. I chose getting my feet wet every time!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

14 canal miles

Whilst browsing through my annual and monthly mileage, I noticed that all I needed to break 200 miles for December was a 14 mile run. With it being the final day of December and 2015, I couldn’t even split the run up. At least the sun was shining!

I’d not had a fasted run in quite a while, but figured the additional calories from the Christmas and New Year break would make up for any deficit. With a headwind on the out, I kept the pace relaxed until the turnaround. The final 3 miles were pretty torturous due to a persistent headwind that hit me no matter which direction I faced. But boy, it was so satisfying to hit 200 miles in a single month!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Brueton New Year’s Day Parkrun

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First Parkrun of New Year’s Day – photo by Louis Satterthwaite

I first participated in a New Year’s Day double Parkrun at the beginning of 2015 when I visited both the Brueton and Cannon Hill events in the space of 90 minutes. Completely normal in the world of Parkrun, but utterly bizarre to those on the outside looking in!

Unlike a year ago, I made sure I reached Brueton Park with plenty of time. The car park was much busier than on Christmas Day, with visitors only minutes after my arrival being forced to park on the street. There was a real sense of déjà vu, bumping into the same faces as only a week prior; Steve Hankinson, Dave Sansom, Kings Heath Running Club et al were all in attendance once again.

My warm-up alerted me to a few icy patches out on the course that had formed from the sudden drop in temperature. The organisers also took note and decided to modify the course at the last minute – the start was moved back and a few diversions were put in place to avoid a catastrophe, so my chances of a time faster than on Christmas Day was unlikely.

Toby Close and his wife, Helen, were also in attendance. Spreading himself evenly, Toby held himself back with a view to do it all over again 90 minutes later at Kingsbury Water Parkrun. Running just marginally faster than me, he proved to be a perfect target to chase out on the course.

I myself was also chased down, with my pursuer gaining a lead on me at around 800m in. The marshals directed us into the wooded area for the first diversion, where I sensed some reluctance from him. Whether it was the infirm and unfamiliar terrain underfoot, or maybe he too was holding back for another Parkrun elsewhere, the opportunity to press on became available, so I briefly surged to regain the lead. A few hundred metres after exiting the diversion, I glanced behind me to see a gap of no more than a couple of metres; thanks to a few twists and turns that I seemed to be able to enter and exit at a faster pace, I was able to add a few more metres between us as the run progressed.

Toby was still ahead by some 10 seconds and provided the perfect target to lock on to as I entered the second lap. There wasn’t much movement at all around me in terms of position, which no doubt influenced the slight slow-down during the third km.

The pace returned for the fourth and fifth km and saw me finish with 19:05. The distance came up about 100m short due to the diversion and approximated new start line, so I really should have been closer to 19:20 or so.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Perry Hall New Year’s Day Parkrun

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And the second Parkrun of New Year’s Day – photo by David Payne

First out of two Parkruns completed, I trotted my way back to the car and wondered how many would also make their way to the Perry Hall New Year’s Day event at 10:30am. Turns out there were quite a few of us, all giving each other a nod of acknowledgement for our favourite past time.

The wind speed picked up on the exposed fields of Perry Hall Park, which meant misery for a course that’s already slower due to its cross-country style terrain. I bumped into Richard Gibbs from Cannon Hill who was about to make his debut on the course; I gave him a few pointers with a focus on casting aside any split comparisons with Cannon Hill. To give you an idea of how much slower the course can be, I would quite readily accept a sub-19 finish at Cannon Hill as a good, honest performance on my part, whereas a sub-20 finish at Perry Hall still eluded me!

I charged off from the start line and felt surprisingly swift. I recall feeling suitably warmed up last year at Cannon Hill, only having run at Brueton 90 minutes prior.

I settled quickly into a three-man chain gang, moving at a nice clip. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was led by Simon Rhodes, who I originally befriended back in July. The three of us stuck together, though I cheekily hid at the back of the pack to take full advantage of the slipstream and shelter from the prevailing winds.

After the first lap of the course, Simon began to tire and drifted behind me and the other guy. Out of nowhere, a Tipton Harrier came storming through from behind. I wondered how he was capable of such a speed that made us look like we were stood still, and then it dawned that he wasn’t around on the start line and must have arrived late to start from the back. My comrade and I worked together to try and bridge the gap, but it was no use; the Tipton Harrier’s runbritain handicap is listed as 1.0 versus my current 4.6 to give you some idea of the difference in ability!

Running into the headwind took its toll on my partner in crime. I took over pacing duties and encouraged him to keep going, with the knowledge that we would soon be out of the wind’s gusts. He stuck with me until the grass section, but had little left to stay with me. I too had little left in reserve, with each step sinking into the churned up mud and costing me valuable seconds on the clock. I purposely went wide of the racing line to find some firm footing, believing additional distance to be the lesser of two evils.

Once clear of the grass, I turned right on to a paved path and I took a quick glance behind me and there he was, the same chap that had chased me down for much of Brueton Parkrun earlier that morning! A fire was lit beneath me and I consciously began to raise my cadence, both to flee from my pursuer but also to recover some much needed time from the clock if I was to make it home in under 20 minutes.

With 1km remaining, I knew I had it inside me to run a sub-4 minute split. I could hear the footsteps behind me closing in to really lay on the pressure from all angles.

Only 400m remained and whilst I dodged and weaved my way around puddles on the first lap, I decided to simply run through them all as I stalked the clock.

With fewer than 200m to go until the finish, a peek at my Garmin showed I had around 35 seconds to make sub-20 happen. I kicked hard, knowing it would be down to mere seconds between victory and utter defeat. I sprinted for the line and was able to finally put the Perry Hall demon to rest with a 19:56 finish and a top 5 finish.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I was feeling it by Saturday’s regularly scheduled Cannon Hill Parkrun, so dialled it back to just sub-20 5k pace, which now conveniently coincides with my new target half marathon pace.

Everybody around me shot off from the start line at an incredible pace; slowly but surely, I reeled quite a few people in by holding a steady pace.

By halfway, I had almost caught up to Dave and finally made contact with him once we re-entered the main perimeter of the park. I tried coaxing him to stay with me, slowing down just a touch to allow him to close the gap. With one eye on Dave and the other on my Garmin, I knew I was cutting it very fine for a sub-20 finish, so I pressed on and hoped Dave would follow suit. I crossed the line with 19:54 in hand, whereas Dave made it back home with 19:59 by the skin of his teeth!

Job jobbed and in fewer than 25 hours, I’d completed 3x sub-20 Parkruns, with one at almost sub-19!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Self-inflicted recovery

I thought I’d managed to dodge the annual end of December/beginning of January illness that struck me down in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Have an excess of spare time and will run after all! Come Sunday, I began to feel a bit ropey and under the weather; a sore throat, fuzzy head and general lethargy were tell-tale signs that I’d pushed too hard.

I opted to duck out on a 14 mile run I had pencilled in. If completed, it would have taken me to over 60 miles for the week, but instead, I had to settle for just 47.

Maybe I should just accept that I’m going to become ill at the end of every December and be done with it?

The Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon

And so it’s done – I’ve entered the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon. If after the third marathon attempt and I still can’t make it work for me, then I’ll just have to accept I’m not cut out for 26.2 miles.

With some 7,000 places versus London’s circa 38,000, I’m sure it will be a very different experience, but one I’m thoroughly looking forward to. Training through the summer will be a very interesting process with its own challenges to overcome.

Time for the next batch of running rule shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 21 to 30

  1. You almost never regret the runs you do; you almost always regret the runs you skip.
  2. Sick? If the symptoms are above the neck, you can still run.
  3. If you can remove your running shoes while they’re tied, they are not tied tightly enough.
  4. Recover 1 day for every mile in the race you’ve just finished.
  5. If both your feet are off the ground simultaneously, you are running.
  6. Stretch after your run – not before.
  7. Not everyone who looks fast really is, and not everyone who looks slow really is.
  8. Buying a piece of running gear just because it’s on sale is always a bad idea.
  9. Buzzing your hair with clippers before a race will make you feel 8 percent faster.
  10. Watching a marathon in person is the easiest way to motivate yourself to sign up for a marathon.

This week’s running – 21st to 27th of December 2015

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Was I good enough this year to receive a new 5k PB from santa?

Merry Christmas everyone! Welcome to this festive edition of “This week’s running”.

4 miles – out and back to Edgbaston Reservoir

“Work’s out for Christmas! Work’s out forever!” (well, for 2015 at least)

In total, I have 15.5 days away from the office for the festive season, which inevitably means more opportunities to run and sneak in a few extra miles. Much of this week’s mileage was covered at a relaxed pace to compensate, with this particular run to Edgbaston Reservoir and back clocking in at around 10 minutes per mile.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile fartlek

Despite all the time off, I still ended up slotting this fartlek run in once it became dark – Christmas errands took priority during daylight hours.

A very strong headwind tore into me on the out leg as always. Heavy rainfall further dampened my spirit. Due to the sudden change in routine and rhythm, I simply didn’t feel right out there. The return leg wasn’t much better, though I at least had a slight tailwind to push me along.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k around Edgbaston Reservoir

For what was just an easy run, I felt terrible out there. The plan was to cover 3x of the 1.5 mile laps around Edgbaston Reservoir, but given how sluggish I was and how mentally un-stimulating multiple laps can be, I only managed 2x to ultimately make up 5k.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

My brother and his girlfriend cooked breakfast for Lis and me, and foolishly, I didn’t leave enough time before hitting the road. As somebody that doesn’t eat that much meat, it caused all manner of distress as it worked through my system, most notably triggering a stitch at around mile 3 that almost caused me to stop running entirely.

Stitch aside, I didn’t want to push the pace on this one with grand plans for later in the week to have a stab at a 5k PB, and to also make an attempt at hitting 50 total miles.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Brueton Christmas Day Parkrun

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Festive colours for the season – photo by Lis Yu

It’s now a tradition that I run a Parkrun somewhere in the world on Christmas Day – with the average person consuming around 6,000 calories on the day alone, every bit of exercise is most welcome for a guilt-free January!

Lis and I made our way to Solihull’s Brueton Park for their festive event, along with some 200 other Parkrun devotees, including strong representation from Kings Heath Running Club and BRAT. I quickly realised this was my penultimate chance to produce the 5k PB goods for 2015; the shocking performance from last week’s Cannon Hill Parkrun shook my confidence somewhat and left me wondering what I’d be capable of.

Stood on the start line, I found myself surrounded by some fast looking runners. Once permitted to go, I was caught up in the red mist and was pulled along with the other racing snakes. There were some parts of the course that had minor flooding, so nimble feet were required to avoid running through ankle deep water. I felt quite spritely and surprised myself with a 3:45 opening km.

Thoughts immediately turned to whether the pace was sustainable or not. I’ve only ever run at Brueton Parkrun when it’s Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, so the novelty of the course has yet to wear thin. I’m convinced this added bit of mental stimulation helped to keep the pace up, especially between 2km and 4km when I was pretty much running on my own. The splits came in at 3:54, 3:50 and 3:55.

With only a km remaining, I could see I was just within reach of a coveted 5k PB if I could throw down a fast final split. I pumped my arms and lengthened my stride with the knowledge that it would be down to just a couple of seconds either side of a PB. I crossed the line as a wheezing mess, but had I done enough? Nope! Santa didn’t deliver the PB I asked for… I was off by just 7 seconds with an 18:57 result, but still pretty pleased all the same and figured I’d get something back for my runbritain handicap.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Christmas 2015 running presents

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Adios Boost 2s in yellow, of course!

I love Christmas and birthdays because they keep me in stock of running shoes! I hope you all received a couple of running related goodies under the tree on Christmas morning.

A few bits and bobs:

  • Adidas Adios Boost 2 Haile Gebrselassie edition
  • Nike long-sleeve technical top (hoping it cools down a bit so I can wear it!)
  • Like The Wind issue 7
  • Box of Isogels (not pictured)

Cannon Hill Boxing Day Parkrun

Confusingly, the gates to Cannon Hill’s main car park were closed, so I ended up parking outside the posh flats when I saw the traffic backing up on to the main road.

I went for the usual warm-up jog with Nigel and was delighted to hear he was a fellow turkey briner (seriously, try it). I shared my tale of woe about that morning’s Cannon Hill Parkrun acting as the battleground for one last opportunity to try and score a 5k PB for 2015. Conditions weren’t at all inspiring, with strong headwinds and water overflowing on to the course from the main lake in the park. I even mused about running at half marathon pace with Dave, unsure of how the previous day’s sub-19 5k performance would affect me.

Stood on another start line for the second time in 24 hours, I found myself positioned next to Zac Minchin, who’s always a good comrade to help push the pace along. I thought, “Sod it,” and decided to grasp the final opportunity of the year with both hands and really give it everything.

It was an incredibly fast start with runners all jockeying for position. I scooted past one guy with a very odd and wide running gait, doing my best not to come into contact with him. The first couple hundred metres had some assistance from a tailwind.

As I turned the corner to complete the first km (3:44), the roar of the headwind made its presence known and I immediately searched around for somebody to draft behind. As if by divine intervention, a young chap in headphones and a baseball cap (didn’t recognise him) drifted into contact and I tucked myself in behind him. Remarkably, he wasn’t slowing down and had no pacing aid from a Garmin or similar.

Entering the second lap, the tailwind returned and I stepped out of the mystery runner’s slipstream to take full advantage of the boost. He was still on my tail, along with another runner that had latched on, to keep the pressure up. The second km was unusually faster than the first at 3:38. Once more, I fell back into his slipstream as we turned the corner for the third lap. He started to fall off the pace on the slight descent, so I took up pacing duty as we approached the long straight towards the triangle. Unsurprisingly for a km that went entirely into a headwind, the pace dropped and came in at 3:51.

With the triangle on the horizon, I could see Zac Minchin had stopped to walk; I gave him some encouragement to join my group and he slotted himself in just ahead of us. Exiting the triangle, I chucked a slight surge in, attempting to recover some of the damage from the sharp turns. The split eventually clocked in at a fairly typical 3:56.

With a tailwind on my side, I opened up the throttle to reach the MAC with as much time in the bank as possible. Zac had pulled away by 50m or so to leave me on my own in the chase. I knew it would be close, by no more than a few seconds either side of a PB. Turning the corner before the hill, I was reacquainted with the headwind and a further reminder to check my Garmin. “18:25” appeared on the display, leaving me with just 25 seconds to charge up the hill, and charge up the hill I did. I closed the distance down between Zac and me to cross the finish line with just a second’s difference.

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My one and only 5k PB for 2015!

Once again, for the second time in 24 hours, I found myself wheezing away unsure of whether I had done enough. “18:49” was paused on my Garmin’s screen, so naturally I let out a massive, “YES!” whilst fist pumping the air. The volunteers around the finish line looked at me, puzzled; I explained I’d secured my one and only 5k PB for the year and all was right with the world again. Nothing like mounting pressure to get your arse in gear, is there!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

15 miles around Llanhennock and Caerleon

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Due to localised flooding, the normal 10 mile route I cover whilst in Wales (with options to bulk it out) was a complete no-go. After 30 minutes with a route planner, the above monstrosity was created – it’s a 17.5% gradient at its steepest point!

In all the years I’ve been running, I’ve only ever once had to stop to walk and that was during the 2011 Cardiff Half Marathon when I blew to pieces at around mile 10. There were two occasions during this run that nearly beat me. Mile 9 was a vicious climb to a place called Trinity View that affords pretty decent views of the surrounding area. I ran past an old lady walking her dog, who stopped in her tracks to watch this nutter attempt such a crazy feat. At the brow, my legs were saturated with lactic acid and I was close to throwing up! The second point on the route that nearly broke me began at 11.7 miles, and didn’t offer any recovery until almost a mile later (this climb featured the 17.5% gradient)!

With the boosted mileage of the week, it still wasn’t enough to carry me over into the 50s, where a discrepancy between Garmin and Strava caused me to fall short by just 0.15 miles. I couldn’t be arsed to get back out there once I’d realised, so hopefully next week will produce the goods.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the 10 more running rule shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 11 to 20

  1. One glazed donut = 2 miles.
  2. When tapering before a race, don’t stand when you can sit; don’t sit when you can lie down.
  3. Drink when you’re thirsty.
  4. If you vomit at the finish line, you kicked too hard. Or just hard enough.
  5. The more expensive the car, the less likely it is to move for you.
  6. All other things being equal, treadmill is easier than road.
  7. Whenever possible, begin an out-and-back run into the wind.
  8. Try to eat some carbs and protein within an hour postrun.
  9. If you can’t maintain a conversation during an “easy” run, slow down.
  10. In the real world, cars have the right of way.

 

 

This week’s running – 29th of December 2014 to 4th of January 2015

Happy 2015 everybody!

Another big week along with plenty of other highlights!

This week was all about the New Year, a lifetime achievement and big mileage. Muchos long post ahead so drinks and snacks are recommended!

10 miles – to Usk and back

I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but Christmas knocked the stuffing out of me. I was knackered come 28th of December and had to abandon the Sunday long run for some recovery. It’s not all bad, though, because throwing the 10 mile run into Monday allowed for a boost to this week’s total mileage.

The day’s break did a world of good because I felt fresh and rested. The splits for this run were far faster and comfortable than I ever would have anticipated, where typical long run pace would be anywhere between 8:30 and 8:00 per mile.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10k fartlek along Hagley Road

Outside of Parkrun, doses of speed this Christmas and New Year season have been in short supply. A fartlek sesh was just what the imaginary coach ordered to dust off the cobwebs and sluggishness from all the festive food.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Edgbaston Reservoir recovery

The ice and frost, as lethal as it could be, looked gorgeous on New Year’s Eve morning; the beautiful view from my living room window was positively begging me to head out for a run. With daylight on my hands (oh what a novelty!), I headed over to Edgbaston Reservoir for a slow lap.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

New Year’s Day Brueton Parkrun

Christmas and the New Year are glorious times for Parkrunners because it means additional events! I volunteered on New Years Day in 2014 but was determined to do the legendary double run at both Brueton Park (9am) and Cannon Hill Park (10:30am). Similar double run opportunities presented themselves all over the UK.

I didn’t give myself enough time to get to Brueton Park (woke up late, lack of parking spaces) and arrived about 30 – 45 seconds after the run had started – d’oh! I slotted myself in just before the first turnaround and estimated I was short on distance by maybe 200m. I decided that if I finished in dramatically less time than what I would normally be capable of, then I would not scan the result against my name; if the finish time was around the norm for me, or slower, then I would accept it.

There were a fair few running clubs present and it wasn’t too long before I spotted Mike Green and Barbara Partridge from Kings Heath RC. Khalid from Birchfield Harriers was also sighted.

Without a warm-up, I was working hard to keep to a sub-20 pace; this would either serve as an effective warm-up for Cannon Hill Parkrun an hour later, or leave me feeling completely shagged! A howling headwind on the straight towards the east of the park was added to keep things interesting…

Two laps of the course later, I was on the final few hundred metres for the finish. I could hear somebody right on my tail from his heavy breathing; sensing him on my shoulder, I kicked with about 300m to go. My Garmin had 18:45 on its display, so I guessed I would finish just under 20 minutes. I was distracted and with about 50m to go before the finish, the guy behind me kicked and pipped me to the line by a few seconds. He told me he’d finished in 19:51, so I knew I was definitely in the right place. It was then onwards to Cannon Hill!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

New Year’s Day Cannon Hill Parkrun

Whilst I was the last to arrive at Brueton Parkrun, I was officially the first at Cannon Hill Parkrun! I had plenty of time to get my warm-up done and I wasn’t feeling too bad at all; Brueton Parkrun definitely loosened everything up, including my cardiovascular system. I had reasonable belief that I could go under 19:30 without too much difficulty, so that became my target.

There was a good turnout with a fair number also chasing after the New Year’s Day double like me. It was nice to catch-up with a few regulars about how their Christmases and New Year celebrations had gone.

Once actually in the run, I found myself in and amongst a nicely sized pack at around my pace.

The first lap of the park whizzed by in a blur. My breathing was nice and steady and the pace felt perfectly manageable. Then the second lap hit and my legs became saturated with lactic acid, leaving my quads heavy and my calf muscles tight. Each step felt like a tremendous effort so I did what I could to minimise the pace rot, and that was to close the gap between the guy in front and me.

A few short surges here and there and I was still bang on target pace. The final mile hit and I largely ran it alone with nobody for immediate company. A few overtakes later and I finished in 19:25 for my third fastest 5k at Cannon Hill. Had I have been fresher on the start line, Ed Barlow and I reckoned that my Cannon Hill course PB could have fallen. Rather oddly, I’d never actually finished in 19:2X at Cannon Hill before.

Oh, and a quick shout-out to blog readers, Simon and Johanne, who I bumped into whilst leaving the park. Always good to meet readers – do come on over and say “Hi”!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

In other Parkrun news, Adidas has bowed out as the t-shirt sponsor, to be replaced by Tribesports. The signs were all there before the announcement: huge delays on the club t-shirts, Adidas no longer appearing on the Parkrun website, and only a one-line mention of them in the recent Parkrun book. As a marketing guy, I can only comment on this being one helluva opportunity for Tribesports. Had any of us heard of them before their involvement with Parkrun (they’re also the kit supplier for Jantastic)? And how much would it cost them otherwise in traditional advertising to reach their core audience? Finally, volunteers will be recognised for their efforts with a unique t-shirt for those who have given their time on 25 occasions or more. Hopefully this will ease some of the problems that events have convincing people to come forward.

Perry Hall Parkrun

Actually running to win!

Actually running to win at Perry Hall Parkrun – photo by Adam Wilkins

I had originally planned to be at Cannon Hill, but decided to continue the momentum of going under 20 minutes at various events, so headed north to Perry Hall Parkrun. I was only 8 seconds off a sub-20 finish at the inaugural event and figured some prior experience of the course could only help with my endeavour.

On the drag up Walsall Road, I was following a car with their satnav on and when they made the left turn towards the park, I was certain it was somebody heading to Perry Hall Parkrun. But who was it? Reaching the car park, we were the only two cars there and it was none other than Darren Hale who stepped out of the other vehicle. My chances of finishing first disappeared right there! Walking and talking with Darren, it turned out he was tapering and had volunteered to be the timer for the morning. My interest was piqued, and then Darren hit me with the final blow that the local XC league was on that afternoon, meaning there wouldn’t be many fast club runners in attendance! Result! Regular readers will know that Nigel Beecroft and I have been eyeing up opportunities for high finish positions at Perry Hall as of late, so it was time to make it happen.

At the meeting point, there were plenty of volunteers but I was the only runner present. We all joked that if I remained as the only runner, I could simply wear a high-viz vest and serve as my own tail runner! Thankfully after my warm-up lap, more runners appeared. On the start line, there was no tussle to get to the front for a nice change from the norm at other events. On “Go”, I went for it.

I opened up a gap of a few metres between me and the two guys on my tail. Glancing over my shoulder periodically, the gap continued to grow and I decided I was reasonably safe to concentrate on my own run. Never having led a race before, it was an odd sensation indeed!

One of the major benefits of Perry Hall Park is the wide view of the rest of the field it affords. I was able to see exactly where the second and third place guys were in relation to me, along with everyone else coming through.

The grass sections of the course did their usual best to sap the speed from my legs.

Entering the second lap, Darren gave me feedback on how I was doing and he estimated I had a 15 second lead. Perfect news! I still wanted my sub-20 finish as well, so I ploughed on.

The pace slipped a little, having nobody to work with; I made use of whatever landmarks there were in the distance to try and reel in, though this proved futile. The wind was howling and my legs were shagged from the Parkrun double on New Years Day. But I still had the lead and that was the primary objective.

Looking over my shoulder, I realised the gap between the second place guy and me had increased again to approximately 30 seconds. With a km left to go, I did what I could to put my foot down. Before too long, I could see the finish area and ramped up the pace again for a final kick for the line.

First place finish for Andy Yu at Perry Hall Parkrun

Woohoo! First place finish!

It took a moment for the first place finish to sink in, but boy did it feel good! I’d never won a race (I know Parkrun isn’t a race – work with me here!) before and it’s unlikely I ever would again. I waited for the second and third place guys to come back in to shake their hands. Darren broke the news that I had missed my sub-20 target and didn’t even set a new course PB for myself; oh well, can’t have it all!

I stopped to chat with Perry Hall regular, Andy Wadsworth. Humorously, we both recalled a moment from Cannon Hill Parkrun when a marshal said, “Well done Andy”, to which we both replied, “Thanks”, neither one of us entirely sure who it was actually meant for. Doing our bit for the community, we did our warm-down lap of the park and collected up the cones and markers to help the organisation team out.

A brilliant morning at an intimate Parkrun. If you ever fancy a change of scenery from Cannon Hill, do head over there and help boost their numbers.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Don’t talk to me about Dryathlon

Time for a bit of a moan.

Some of you may have heard about Cancer Research’s initiative to get people to stop drinking during the month of January. Dry Januarys are nothing new, but what I’m annoyed about is how people seem to now need sponsorship to stop drinking. What ever happened to good old-fashioned will power and when did not drinking become such a hardship?

Simply take the money you’ve saved from not drinking and give it to a worthy charity of your choice, without any need for a song or a dance.

12 canal miles

Rounding off a bumper week was the final proper long run before the Brass Monkey Half Marathon on the 18th of this month.

I decided to head on to the canals now that they had finally reopened after several weeks of closure. It was a bright morning with gorgeous blue skies and importantly, little to no wind making the low temperature rather bearable. I chose to run fasted again with only a strong coffee to power me through.

There were plenty of runners out on the towpaths, either resuming their weekly long run schedules or embarking on their New Year fitness regimes. In contrast, there were only 3 cyclists sighted during the 100 or so minutes whilst I was out there.

On my Garmin, I was fed up of seeing the erratic and jumpy pace feedback so I had swapped out “immediate pace” for “lap pace”. This seemed to do the trick, where lap pace was much smoother, with only minor erratic changes at the beginning of each lap whilst it settled down.

At mile 9, I slowly caught up to a guy on the horizon. As I went to overtake him, he chose to speed up and maintained the small gap between us. I decided to hang back a little and see how this would play out over the next 200m or so. He started to fall back again and I was finally able to overtake; this was short lived because he upped his pace again to get back in front of me! I fell back in line behind him once more. He faded again when we entered Brindley Place and I took the opportunity to get ahead and end the faux race shenanigans.

The remaining 2 miles of the long run really took it out of me. I was starving and started to get dizzy, but wanted to maintain the pace so I soldiered on, chalking the experience up as character building for the closing stages of race day when the going would get tough.

47 mile week!

Wowza. Bit of a jump from 40 to 47 miles…

Including this long run, I logged 47.6 miles this week – my biggest ever by 7 miles! Time to dial things back a touch, me thinks…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the weekly dose from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Double knot before the gun

Of all the forehead-slappingly preventable snafus encountered during a race, the untied shoelace has to be at the top of the list. This one has bedevilled elites as well as amateurs, and there is absolutely no excuse for it.

Do yourself a favour and take a few extra seconds to double knot your laces after your warmup.

This week’s running – 15th to 21st of December 2014

40 miles this week

BOOM! In December too!

This week was big. 40 miles big. And there’s not even a marathon on the horizon!

Six day run week

After weeks of trying, I finally made six runs a week happen for me, thanks to relatively clear work and personal calendars.

Monday was an easy 5k recovery run. Click here for the Garmin data.

Tuesday finally saw me get to The Vale for 2 miles at half marathon pace (along with hitting the wall on the way home). Click here for the Garmin data.

Wednesday was my run-commute from the office. Click here for the Garmin data.

Thursday was 7 miles to Bearwood and back. Click here for the Garmin data.

Friday was a day of rest.

Saturday was Cannon Hill Parkrun. Click here for the Garmin data.

Sunday was a 14 mile long run. Click here for the Garmin data.

Why the push to increase my number of runs per week? Total volume. I am nowhere near my limit for volume and therefore running more should still equal improved performance for the time being. My total weekly mileage normally hovers anywhere between high-20s to low-30s; modest numbers that could be pushed higher. As I said a few weeks ago, this off-season is being used for experimentation and I wanted to see how much mileage I could accumulate without dramatically more effort.

Turns out there wasn’t much change required, with only minor tweaks here and there apart from the additional weekday run. I was cursing when I saw my total add up to 39.6 miles; off back outside I went for a gentle 0.5 mile jog to bring it all together for the 40 mile week.

Wishing you a merry Christmas

Ironically for my biggest week of mileage, I don’t actually have an awful lot to say. I’m saving things up for a horribly clichéd end of year review.

I intend to run at Cardiff Parkrun on Christmas morning to try and snatch a cheeky PB and possibly the last for 2014. I will also be double running on New Year’s Day at both Brueton Parkrun and Cannon Hill Parkrun.

Whatever your plans, I hope you all have a great Christmas and get a geeky running gift or two under the tree – I know I’m hopeful!

And for the penultimate time this year, an entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Bib numbers go on the front

Not on your butt or on the back of your shirt. On the front. Otherwise, you’ll look like a bandit to every official who sees you coming.

Worse, how will the race photographers identify you? How?!

This week’s running – 23rd to 29th of December

Welcome to this Christmas week edition of the blog. Read on to find out what I got up to over the Christmas break, running-wise. This update was published from a car on the M5 motorway – how’s that for road warrior skills? I’ll follow this entry up with an end of 2013 blog post, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the next day or so.

Christmas Day Brueton Parkrun

Andy, Sean and Mike at Brueton Parkrun

The Three Wise Men at Brueton Parkrun – photo by Sean Whan

It took a lot of explaining to friends and family that I’d be attending Parkrun on Christmas Day. Some were in awe of my dedication. Others were in disbelief. And a few thought it would just be me running around a park on my own…

Cannon Hill opted not to stage a Christmas Day run so the nearest runs to me were either Brueton Parkrun in Solihull or Walsall Arboretum Parkrun. Since I was staying over at my folks’ place in Kings Heath, Brueton made the most sense and Mike from Kings Heath Running Club tagged along.

Leaving at 08:20, this turned out to be plenty of time to get to Solihull on Christmas Day, taking no more than 15 minutes or so. Arriving at the park, we bumped into a fair few of the Cannon Hill Parkrun contingent that had similar thoughts to Mike and me:

  • Suz West
  • Khalid Malik
  • Helen Bloomer
  • Joseph Stone
  • Gillan Stone
  • David Sansom
  • Sean Whan

Unsurprisingly, all of us are in either the 50 or 100 club or are Parkrun management; well and truly addicted.

The organisers took the decision to make a few small detours to the course due to icy patches. This turned what was otherwise a run entirely on tarmac into one that became slightly cross country-esque if the state of my shoes were anything to go by!

A few of us agreed to head out at 7 minute mile pace, so nothing too strenuous. Mike, Sean and I stuck with it for the first mile or so before I started to loosen up and wanted to go a bit faster. Blair from Piston Heads noticed me and said hello – we Parkrunners really do get about! I spent much of the remaining two miles running alone with each split getting progressively faster even with the muddy grass sections. At one stage, I thought I was possibly on for a sub-20 finish so I really picked up the pace with a few hundred metres to go. Sadly, my estimations were wildly off and I finished officially with a time of 20:39.

It was great to bring in Christmas with a Parkrun. Here’s the Garmin data.

Running gifts from Santa

So what running pressies did we all receive?

Lis gave me a pair of Nike Kiger trail shoes and my family got me a Withings WS-50 scale.

kiger

The Nike Kiger trail shoe

Whilst in New York, I did actually look at the Kiger trail shoes but for one reason or another, I chose not to get them. Ever since the bad winter we experienced last year, I wanted to try and pro-actively do something to minimise any disruption to my own training which I simply can’t afford to lose in the lead up to my marathon. I have yet to take the Kigers out on a test run (wasted opportunity at Brueton Parkrun!) but will report more on my findings once I do. These babies should be perfect for the muddy and slippery conditions of the canals and I’ve already decided to give these a blast at Forest of Dean Parkrun in the New Year sometime.

Withings WS-50

The Withings WS-50 smart body analyser

The Withings WS-50 scale is the very same one that I almost purchased in New York. As an upgrade to Withings’ original model, the WS-30, it adds body fat, heart rate and air quality analysis to the mix along with the online data tracking. We all have a habit of embellishing our weight loss improvements or downplaying any lack of improvement; with the WS-50, there’s no hiding from the cold hard truth when the data is logged automatically for you thanks to it producing a trend line for you to rule out any anomalies.

Cardiff Parkrun

Andy Yu at Cardiff Parkrun

Welsh Pride at Cardiff Parkrun – photo by Paul Stillman

It’d been absolutely ages since I last ran at Cardiff Parkrun where I scored a rewarding 19:23 PB on the last visit. I regret not being able to test myself towards the end of September when I was at my 5k peak and I’m confident I could have hit 19:10 or better.

I had introduced Lis’ cousin, Morgan, to Parkrun a few months ago and he’s really taken a shine to the event, so much so that he and his wife, Kim, decided to come along with me for a Saturday morning 5k.

The weather for the day started out poor with dark clouds, wind and rain battering the terrain. Thankfully, this had largely cleared up by the time we arrived and just in a nick a time for my warm-up. I bumped into Daniel Luffman out on the course who I hadn’t seen since the summer; his 5k PB is coming along nicely with a 19:45 to his name and only narrowly missing out on beating this several times in recent weeks.

I had received a lovely Welsh flag running vest from Yvonne and Philip for Christmas and I was wearing it proudly in Cardiff. Speaking to Daniel, we joked that it may give me the boost I’m after. As ever, we started somewhere in the second row to gain an early positioning advantage.

The opening mile felt superb for me with everything feeling loose and relaxed. I surprised myself when my Garmin beeped to tell me I’d just completed the first mile in 6 minutes flat; my fastest ever recorded mile. To give you some context, pacing calculators estimate that based on my 5k PB of 19:18, I am theoretically capable of a 5:34 mile best. Personally, I think I could go below 5:30 because I seem to have a speed bias with my body composition where the further I go, the slower I seem to become even if it’s only marginal.

I tried to keep a female Serpentine club runner about 5 – 10m ahead of me at all times but this was slipping away from me during mile 2. The fast opening mile was taking its toll on me with a shocking 6:36 second mile split. A few folks began to overtake me and despite my best efforts to hang on to them as they passed by, I simply didn’t have another gear to shift into.

The third mile was tough as it always is. There were very few people to run with given the time of the year but oddly, the distance markers actually proved helpful as indicators to start ramping up the pace for the approach to the finish line. At 200m to go, a 50 Club member and I began to duke it out, pushing each other on. He managed to slip away with 100m left to go, clearly fresher than I was having paced his run better than I had. I shook his hand afterwards and congratulated him on a good race close. Daniel Luffman wasn’t far behind in pursuit and was only a few seconds off a PB again.

Morgan ran well, earning himself a new course PB at Cardiff but still way off from his 20:00 PB set at Hackney Marshes. Kim had committed the cardinal Parkrun sin of forgetting her barcode so we have no idea what time she finished with or what position for that matter.

Here’s my Garmin data for Cardiff Parkrun.

7 miles of Llanhennock Hills

Praise the lord for an easy running week in my schedule!

I had planned to run around the Llanhennock Hills for 7 miles to make up this week’s long run. Morgan wanted to come along so we ventured out into the wilderness.

I donned a long sleeve Nike shirt with a zipped neckline that I had received from Pete and Jo for Christmas. It was exactly what I needed; it’s light enough with coverage and the zip can help with ventilation if things start to heat up.

Neither Morgan or I had estimated how icy and treacherous the roads were. Some of the downhill portions of the route had us sliding downwards and the inclines proved challenging with gravity working against you. My only advice to Morgan was to keep his stride short to better react to any slips. Thankfully, neither of us fell and lived to run another day.

Have a look at the Garmin data here.

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

Keep unsolicited advice to yourself

If you’re the type of person who enjoys giving others advice, whether they ask for it or not, running offers a world of opportunity.

Before races, during races, after races; on training runs; at the track; at the gym; even in online forums and blogs, you’ll encounter runners who choose to do things differently than you do them. You will want to show each of these people the light. Resist that urge.

Unsolicited advice rarely gets a warm reception no matter how tactfully it’s offered, and you must admit the possibility – as crazy as it may sound – that you do not in fact, have all the answers. Even if you do have all the answers, the advisee may not be in the mood to hear them.

So keep your opinions to yourself unless someone asks for them.

If that person at the gym really is “doing it wrong,” he will figure it out soon enough. And if he doesn’t, maybe he wasn’t so wrong in the first place.

Exception: You see a runner putting himself or others in imminent danger; see “Do not tempt fate” from before.

*By purchasing this book, you implicitly sought my advice. So I’m in the clear. Ha!