This week’s running – 7th to 13th of March 2016

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500km and 100 fewer Saturday lie-ins for Nigel – photo by Lis Yu

Second highest mileage week of running for me! Oh, and Nigel joined the Parkrun 100 club!

6k from work

If it weren’t for the low temperatures outside on Monday evening, it would have felt just like a late summer’s evening as I ran home along the canal. I’ve now abandoned wearing my headtorch on the run commutes, but anticipate I’ll still need to wear it on longer training runs until perhaps the end of the month when the clocks move forward by one hour.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Running through Brindley Place, a couple flagged me down to grab my attention and opened with, “Sorry to stop you, but…” My response? “Sorry, can’t stop!” There were dozens of other people around at 6pm – why did they feel the need to single me out when they could have stopped anybody else that wasn’t literally in a rush?!

It reminds me of the time I was running through Cannon Hill Park on a summer’s evening, and a guy stopped me to ask for the time when there were plenty others he could have asked… Grrr! I’ve also heard stories of runners being stopped under the pretence of a request for aid, only to have stuff like milkshakes and eggs thrown at them as some sort of sick, practical joke. Unless I’m on some sort of warm-down or recovery run, I ain’t stopping!

Anywho… Rant over!

I aimed to really push through the speedier sections of this fartlek run in a bid to replicate last week’s efforts. To help achieve this, I wore a pair of lower heel drop race shoes that were admittedly on their way out.

Based on the recorded splits, I was able to go a touch faster compared to last week during most of the faster portions. My form felt great; tall, fast and flexible. I truly felt like I got the workout I wanted and it’ll be interesting to see what everything translates into once I begin structured intervals again later next month.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6k from work

This wasn’t good – I was tired, hungry and lethargic. Heavy rain had done its worst to the unpaved sections of the canal towpath, requiring I weave all over the place to avoid deep puddles that spanned the entire width of the route; not great when you’re low on mojo.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

I think the previous day’s recovery run ended up doing more harm than good; I felt incredibly ropey on Thursday morning and thoughts of sacking off that evening’s 10 mile run began to seep in. Throughout the day, I perked up somewhat but still felt slightly off key by the time I finished up at work and headed for home.

I decided to stick with the programme and went out anyway! There was a very slight tailwind on the out, which was unusual as it’s usually a headwind on the out and a tailwind on the return. The miles ticked by nicely at around 7:45 pace without any distress or sluggishness; my form felt tall and strong, whilst my stride got a boost from my glutes that decided to activate.

On the return, I chucked in two miles at marathon pace. I wasn’t able to hit my target pace of 6:50 per mile, instead hovering just above at around 6:55. What was odd was how easy and natural 6:55 per mile felt – must be the addition of running into a headwind…

It’s rare that I regret a run and this was such an example where going out turned out to be the right choice in the end.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

This was Nigel’s big 100th Parkrun and his targets of a sub-20 5k slotted in nicely with my aim of some half marathon race pace work. Nigel was completely down with going for a new PB, and coupled with how fresh I felt, the stage was set.

Almost in a complete reversal of last week, Nigel and I shot off from the line whilst Dave held back. With a couple of people in tow, we finished the first km in a very speedy 3:40, which was on par with my own sub-19 5k runs! I felt fresh as a daisy, no doubt helped by not going absolutely bananas last week and the 10 hours of sleep from the night before.

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Nigel with his amateur pacemaking team – photo by Lis Yu

As Nigel and I eased off the accelerator on the second lap, this allowed Dave to close in on us and tag on to our pack. With several of us to share the effort with, the edge was taken off the pursuit of a fast 5k. Our second km clocked in at 3:58 to restore some balance to the overall average pace.

On the approach to the triangle, we picked up Ben Frost, the young Sparkhill Harrier that PBd last week. Remarkably, the group actually grew faster as the run progressed – 3:56 and 3:52 were logged for the third and fourth km respectively!

Firmly into the final km, I gave regular time feedback and encouragement to both Nigel and Ben; I was certain both of them would PB by a wide margin unless something unexpected scuppered the run in the remaining few hundred metres. When we reached the final hill, a few barks from me dispelled any thoughts of slacking off and launched everybody into a massive kick for the finish.

Looking at my own finish time of 19:10, I already knew PBs had been achieved; Ben had PBd by around 20 seconds (19:09) down to finishing just ahead of me, and Nigel took some 15 seconds off his own PB from back in September (19:12). Chris Callow also PBd by sticking with us, as did a few others according to the official results. Well done all!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Afterwards, Dave and I both agreed the conditions were spot on for a fast 5k; runbritain confirms as much with its course condition score of just 0.2, with 0.0 representing perfect conditions.

16 canal miles

Looking at a number of my peers in and around my ability, some of them have leapfrogged over me in terms of translating their training into race performances this spring. The only difference between us? They’re training for marathons whereas I’m topping out at just a half marathon. I firmly believe the mileage boost has given them a competitive edge, from 5k through to half marathons of late.

I can’t remember the last time I ran a long run that wasn’t 14 miles; the distance, even with a couple of faster marathon and half marathon paced miles chucked in, has felt quite comfortable from beginning to end. And that has meant that my body has made the necessary adaptations for that to happen; the lack of new stresses has resulted in some slight stagnation, whereas my marathon-bound friends are still enjoying their improvement curves.

So, what’s a guy to do? With fewer than two weeks remaining until the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, I decided to boost this final long run to 16 miles (next week will be 10 or 11 miles, tops). To accomplish this, I mapped out a convenient 16.34 mile route to follow, incorporating the Soho Loop.

Conditions were phenomenal; the best I’ve seen this year, with blue skies, low wind and dry terrain underfoot. Crucially, I remembered to get the Soho Loop stretch out of the way early on to make the closing miles less of a mental battle. Returning from there, I came across Stacey Marston and a few of her fellow Bournville Harriers out on their long runs.

Yesterday, Dave and I had casually discussed our intended start times with an eye on getting our paths to cross, much like last week. Neither of us traditionally trains with others and we found it incredibly refreshing to cover some mileage with each other. Shortly after The Vale, we made contact and stuck together for some 7 miles at a fairly leisurely 7:45 to 8 minute mile pace, interspersed with technical running chat that only the two of us could appreciate.

Once I’d covered 13 miles, Dave had run his 9 out of 11 miles and left me to it and exited the canal for home. The effort shot upwards to simply maintain pace; I definitely found myself gritting my teeth a few times during the remaining 3 miles, but then that’s what I’d set out to do so can’t complain! It’s strange to think I haven’t run this far since my last marathon campaign from two years ago…

The taper will begin with a slight drop in mileage planned for next week, before a sharper taper during race week itself.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

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This was always gonna hurt…

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

5k from work

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Third place off the line! Photo by John Ross

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data.

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

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

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

11 miles – Usk and back

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Andrews Walk Climb

41 seconds between me and the next guy

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

When in doubt, opt for pants, not tights

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

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

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

 

This week’s running – 16th to 22nd of November 2015

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Curse you, Barney!

This week was mostly about Storm Barney battering the nation.

5k from work

I was positively full of beans on the Monday run-commute from the office. There was a nice, natural pick-up in pace that was unexpected, but certainly welcome. Oh, and my ninja friend was out on the towpaths again, dressed head to toe in black, but at least on this occasion, he was running with the torch on his phone enabled…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Fort

Even the Fort Shopping Park sign was no match for Barney!

A few people I know were able to get their Tuesday runs out of the way before Storm Barney hit to have me green with envy. I wasn’t looking forward to the forecasted 40 – 70mph winds, no sir-ee.

Walking back home from work, I was almost blown over a number of times to convince me that a fartlek run, where set pace was not of consequence, would be appropriate for the evening. Fighting against the wind would ensure I’d at least get the desired hard workout!

There were a surprising number of people out on the canal towpath in spite of the strong winds. I was further taken aback by how many of them were runners, convincing me I’d made the right move not to sack the run off for a night indoors instead.

That first effort into the wind was like running through treacle whilst wearing a parachute. Regardless of how quickly I pumped my arms, or how fast I made my cadence, progress was hard to come by. I was conscious not to overdo fighting the wind for fear of leaving nothing in the tank to make it back home. I soon warmed up and the task became more bearable, thanks to some strategic bursts of speed when the wind temporarily retreated.

I always lull myself into a false sense of security regarding tailwinds. A headwind on the out always means a tailwind on the return, right? Wrong! The truth, whilst not stranger than fiction, was certainly harsher. The tailwind only materialised on a few occasions, with a strong crosswind filling the void the rest of the time. There were a few hairy moments, especially on the exposed bridge at Selly Oak, when I was almost pushed into the water…

Once back at home, I stuck two fingers up at Barney to celebrate my completed fartlek – not even the purple dinosaur elements could stop me!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

I felt sluggish after the previous evening’s fartlek run, so kept the pace low and slow. Secondarily dictating the slower pace was me forgetting to pack my headtorch… I’ve truly been spoilt by how much power the Petzl headtorch pushes out; by comparison, the iPhone torch was only bright enough to illuminate my feet and maybe 1m of the ground ahead.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

I’m loving the increased mileage I’m cranking out, with 8 of the last 11 weeks (the remainder were taper or recovery weeks) sitting around the 43 mile mark. I’m seriously getting twitchy if I don’t hit at least 40 miles.

This particular 10 miler is one I most likely would have binned were it not for my pursuit for mileage consistency. I still felt somewhat beat up from Tuesday’s fartlek run; in my mind, I’d already decided to cover the first 5 miles at just under 8 minute pace to keep things in check, before pressing on with 3 miles at the slower end of marathon pace (7:10 or so), with 2 miles at the end to cool down.

Getting home from work took much longer than anticipated and then once I reached my street, it started raining to further dampen the mood. My Garmin also decided to get in on the conspiracy to make this run not happen. Normally, I leave it on a windowsill to achieve satellite lock on; used daily and not travelling very far, the Garmin’s cache of satellite data is usually always relevant, with lock on achieved within minutes at most. After two failed attempts and two reboots, a signal still wasn’t found and I was running out of time to get 10 miles completed for the evening. I didn’t fancy waiting outside for the Garmin to find a signal, but alas, it had to be done – I feel naked without run data! Within just a couple of seconds of stepping outside, the Garmin finally locked in on some satellites to have me rolling my eyes.

Thankfully, after the delayed start, the run was entirely without incident. It was also nice after Tuesday’s lack of lighting to be reunited with my headtorch and actually be able to see my surroundings! The 3 miles at marathon pace were really positive. My form felt efficient and the pace was smooth and relaxed.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

There was a sharp intake of breath on Saturday morning to welcome in the coldest Parkrun I’d experienced for months. An easy jog with Nigel Beecroft and Paul Shackleton soon took care of the warm-up and a 200m sprint at race pace helped to keep the warmth around. I paired my vest with gloves and arm warmers; Jort, also wearing a vest through error, quipped, “Real men don’t wear arm warmers!”

I really wasn’t sure of my game plan for the run, but I did think to have a bash at bringing my runbritain handicap down further; the cold and windy conditions were more than likely to have the run’s difficulty higher than normal for a slight boost to any decent performance.

Off the line, I went out reasonably hard but certainly didn’t feel as fresh as I’d hoped. I eased off the gas, allowing the pace to hover around 3:44, and settled into a decent-sized pack. I’ve no idea what’s happened of late, but Cannon Hill seems to be attracting a strong field of runners at the sharper end again; there was some backlash from a number of faster runners when the course was modified last year to feature a hill at the end, slowing down one of the faster and better attended courses in the West Midlands. I estimated I was somewhere in the low 30s on Saturday, position-wise, whereas I’d have been in the high teens a year ago whilst at a lower ability.

Entering the second lap, I made a move to take shelter from the wind and surged to draft behind one bloke that was just slightly ahead. He had a lengthy stride, which made staying in his slipstream somewhat tricky; I didn’t want to get too close to potentially trip him up, but also had to stay within a certain range to actually receive any benefit. I couldn’t actually see the ground properly and trusted in his steps, though nearly came a cropper when he quickly jumped to avoid a stray tree branch, only for me to go clattering into it!

I continued to tail the guy into the third km and took up front-running duties when I sensed his pace slipping. We’d picked up a few stragglers along the way to make the entry into the triangle rather crowded; this proved to be incredibly motivating to break away from the group on the exit for the fourth km.

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Brrr – photo by Geoff Hughes

Once into the final km, I could hear a couple of runners right on my tail to keep me on my toes. Whilst I had plenty of strength throughout the run, I did feel like I had a certain oomph missing from the final split, almost like there was a distinct lack of finishing power. I’ve always felt a strength of mine was the ability to produce a big kick at the end. I crossed the line for 19:05 and 27th place; over 19 minutes but I was fairly confident I’d done enough to make a small dent to my runbritain handicap if the results were anything to go by.

Here’s the Garmin data for this Parkrun.

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Moving in the right direction again!

And my hunch was correct! 4.8 down from 4.9!

Canal half marathon

Due to the need to be somewhere at 11:30am, I headed out for 13.1 miles a touch earlier than usual and boy did I feel that temperature drop. The long-sleeve top and gloves keeping me company were most welcome!

Freezing temperatures aside, it was a beautiful winter’s morning. Plenty of other runners, walkers and cyclists must have thought so too, because it wasn’t ever long before I encountered another soul out there.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with me at the moment, but the most comfortable stretch of this long run were the 3 miles I covered at marathon pace. I never really felt at home during the first 6 miles, nor the final 4, both run at a lower effort.

I did bump into Carl out there, though couldn’t stop to chat due to above said time constraints. Had we have stopped, I’m not sure how long we’d have lasted before we got moving again due to the biting cold!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Judge not the runner in the cotton t-shirt

Back in the day, according to ancient cave paintings, runners wore cotton shirts. Strange, but true.

Fast-forward a few decades, and today we have “technical” shirts, designed to wick moisture away from the skin, keeping you drier and more comfortable. Technical shirts have the added benefit of looking cool, like something astronauts might wear while relaxing, after hours, with a freeze-dried gin and tonic.

Yes, everyone loves tech shirts.

Still, you will encounter the occasional oddball old-timer who runs in cotton (usually cotton race T-shirts, though even those are becoming rare). Treat him with the respect he deserves – for two reasons, at least:

  1. Chances are good that he has been running a lot longer than you have, and even if he’s not faster than you today, he probably was at some point.
  2. Deriding another runner based on what the runner is wearing is just lame. Such an attitude says a lot more about the derider than it does about the one being derided. And what it says isn’t pretty.

Besides, someday – if you’re very lucky – you might be an oddball old-timer yourself. And how will you feel if someone sneers at you and your old, outdated tech shirts?

 

 

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

Who called for a heatwave?

Who called for a heatwave, anyway?

This week was all about taking the heat.

Hot, hot, hot!

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

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

4x 800m at 5k pace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

5k from work

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 canal miles

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6x 800m at 5k pace

Andy Yu's return to the track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

8 canal miles

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

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

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

Paula Radcliffe on Birmingham canals

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Your medal is wearable for a reason

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

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

This week’s running – 8th to 14th of June 2015

Two Castles Run 2015 warm-up

No, I didn’t participate in the mass warm-up! Photo by Leamington Observer

This week was all about getting primed to race again.

8 canal miles

Taking two complete rest days over Sunday and Monday seemed to do the trick. I felt fresher than of late and was ready to head out and hit the canals.

Something was occurring at the NIA, so I chose to run out towards Smethwick and back for a bit of quiet time. Funnily enough, I had only just returned from work from that very direction… There was a spring in my step and leg turnover that was both odd but pleasant to experience; my form was poised and I felt unstoppable.

Hitting the switchback, everything suddenly fell apart when a ferocious headwind hit. I remained aerobic, but I’m sure if I had worn my heart rate monitor, an upward spike would have appeared for the second half.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run. Unusually, Strava has interpreted the paces per mile differently.

5k from work

Sadly, writing this entry up almost a week later means I’ve largely forgotten how this run went. Garmin Connect offers the only clue of a royal flush, so it can’t have been that bad…

Canal 10k

What a shocker of a run this was. I headed out on the usual stretch of canal out towards Bournville; before I’d even left Brindley Place, somebody had barged me into the wall of the tunnel to scrape up my shoulder pretty badly. There was plenty of blood and the sweat made the raw flesh sting like a mofo.

I decided to continue with my run instead of calling it quits, but things didn’t get any better. I struggled to hang on to the pace in the second half due to under-fuelling again. I just can’t seem to fuel up adequately at the moment, where it’s always a balancing act of eating enough for performance but also to maintain weight.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

What? No Parkrun?!

In a bid to freshen up as quickly as possible, I opted to not even put my name forward to volunteer at Parkrun. It was dreadful weather-wise, so I was quite glad to give it a miss in exchange for a much needed lie-in.

Two Castles Run 10k 2015

Find out how the Two Castles Run went for me by clicking here.

And for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Be cordial with your rivals

Did you shadow another runner in the final stretch of your race, or vice versa? Perhaps pushing each other to go a bit faster or out-and-out fighting to be first to the line? Good for you. (Both of you!) This competitive give-and-take is one of the best parts of racing.

Once you’ve crossed the line, a gracious gesture is always appropriate. Offer a kind word, an open hand, or pat on the back to anyone who was with you in those closing minutes of your race. Whether you egged each other on verbally, or wordlessly coaxed a bit more kick out of each other, you’ve just shared a bit of sportsmanship that deserves to be noted.

Hugs and kisses? Maybe not – unless your rival is also a spouse or significant other. Or European. Or both.

This week’s running – 1st to 7th of June 2015

The road to recovery

OK, recovery by my standards at least…

This week was all about active recovery.

8 canal miles

I promised myself that after the Bristol 10k, I would lay off some of the harder running for a wee while and get back to a state of feeling fresh again. That began with an 8 mile run that covered my approximate marathon pace range. Not having run a marathon this year, or one to the best of my ability ever, it’s a pretty big range from 7:45 to 7:10 minute miles.

The canal towpath renovation was complete, with all stretches paved over and covered with rather excessive amounts of gravel. Early on in the run and when being smacked by a head wind, the lack of traction made me feel like I was being dragged backwards at times. Nonetheless, I felt great out there and took the opportunity to focus on my breathing, which was rather out of sorts during Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work with footpod calibration

WARNING – NERD TALK AHEAD!

I love the ability of my Garmin to utilise the footpod to both measure cadence and distance if the signal ever craps out (newer Garmins have this built in and don’t require a footpod). I don’t believe it needs calibrating for cadence – after all, it just needs to detect when the foot makes contact with the floor – but calibration for distance is of more significance, and was something I hadn’t completed in over a year. Oops… Thankfully, it’s rare that my Garmin loses its signal entirely apart from inside long tunnels.

The advice given regarding calibration was to find a relatively straight course with good GPS coverage. Given I was running home from the office along the canal towpath, I incorporated this task into the mix and hence why I don’t have a data track for it on Garmin Connect.

The calibration took roughly 0.8 miles to complete and gave the footpod a correction factor of 1,083 from a default value of 1,000. Rather pleasingly, the previous calibrated factor was 1,082 for almost no change in over a year.

Panorama: Catch me if you can

With little to no warning, a Panorama feature aired on BBC One with a focus on doping within athletics and shared many parallels with the Lance Armstrong investigations from years past. A main draw of the feature concerned the Nike Oregon Project, namely its coach and one of its stars.

In the feature, a journalist set out to dope himself with EPO to see just what the effects would be on his performance, but also to better gauge just how much or little EPO it would take to trigger a positive test. All that was required were a few micro-doses to improve his VO2 max by tangible levels and crucially, still avoid detection by the biological passport system. Due to the low amounts of EPO used, it simply wasn’t significant enough to cause a dramatic change in his blood samples. Of course, one could argue that had he have been tested specifically for EPO use or over a longer period to amplify the changes, he may have been caught. But what the experiment did highlight was just how little it took for a performance increase and for elite athletes, that’s possibly all it would take to beat your rivals for the win. Worryingly, it appeared incredibly easy to obtain vials of EPO for personal use. There have been a number of reports of late citing increased doping amongst amateur athletes, and I can only see this increasing.

At the centre of the feature were Alberto Salazar, possibly the world’s most famous athletics coach of recent times, and Galen Rupp, one of the USA’s most famous long-distance athletes of recent times and Mo Farah’s training partner. Numerous witnesses, including the high-profile Kara Goucher, came forward to discuss cases of Salazar pushing the boundaries of what it would take to trigger positive doping tests, and also unethical behaviour by bending rules when it came to non-banned substances. Galen Rupp was targeted as his project of sorts, though the programme was quick to add that Mo Farah was not accused of doping, though was inevitably caught in the cross-fire.

I’ve been a fan of both Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp for a number of years. As a geek that’s into running, I’ve found Salazar’s approaches to training to be most fascinating, and Rupp is one of the few Americans to give the east-Africans a run for their money. Like a lot of Lance Armstrong fans back in the day, I’m naively still holding out for some hope that these allegations are just allegations, but I can’t ignore the accounts of those that did come forward. It’ll be a dark, dark day for athletics if all this proves to be true; this is just what the sport doesn’t need right now, what with the controversial Justin Gatlin who has twice been banned from competition due to positive tests, yet is somehow running faster than ever before, whilst also older and supposedly clean.

The airing of the feature appeared to have been timed for maximum disruption, at least to Mo Farah, who decided not to race at Sunday’s Birmingham Diamond League meet. Can’t blame the guy really; I know how mental stress can affect your mojo before a race, so what’s the point of him going in to lose at a distance that isn’t one of his strengths anyway?

If you haven’t caught the programme yet, it can be found on BBC iPlayer if your territory is supported.

8 canal miles

Returning to the canals, I kept to my promise of not running anything faster than marathon pace at least during the week temporarily. I also opted to make this out and back run steadier and less progressive, with most of the miles between the warm-up and warm-down coming in at around 7:30 to 7:40.

I dusted off and donned my heart rate monitor for a peek at what the ticker was up to. I was pretty tired from work, and the warmer temperature coupled with the beginnings of hay fever meant I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. The strap of the monitor managed to chafe my chest to bits where there’s now a nice chunk of skin missing. Downside out of the way, I was pleasantly surprised by the heart rate data where I’m now approximately 15 – 30 seconds faster per mile at the same heart rate compared to seven weeks ago.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

It had been so long since the last time I was at Newport Parkrun that I had to remind myself of how many laps the route entailed! I also probably left for the Newport event a touch on the late side and arrived with about 15 minutes remaining to visit the toilet, get my warm-up done and have a natter with Nigel. Father Time must have been on my side because I managed to do all three with two minutes to spare before the start line scramble!

Nigel’s very much a facilitator at Newport Parkrun. He knows most regulars that run there and will frequently try to pair runners with pacers to make PBs happen. He introduced me to a young lad, Lloyd, who had previously broken 20 minutes when the sun, moon and stars aligned in his favour, but not again since. I was pretty confident I had what it took to go under 20 minutes, though had also only ever done it once before at Newport on the winter-route, which has a reputation for being faster, yet more prone to congestion. We agreed to stay close and as luck would have it, the event also laid on pacemakers for the day with the talented Emma Wookey (first Welsh lady in the Cardiff Half) leading the way for us.

The start at Newport was fast – it always is – and you really need to watch your footing on the trail-like terrain made up loose gravel and stray tree roots. A nasty headwind introduced itself from an awkward angle that couldn’t be avoided without going out of one’s way. Emma the pacer zoomed right past me and Lloyd, with him taking immediate chase; I took a peek at my Garmin and I was pretty much bang on target for sub-20 pace and remained faithful to it, guessing that there was some GPS discrepancy at play (there always is at Newport).

After 2km, I was dead cert that Emma was going too fast to simply dip under 20 minutes and assertively shared this with the couple of guys I was running with; one chap agreed that she was at around 10 seconds too fast for the target.

Inevitably, the pack thinned. Emma was still way ahead but Lloyd had dropped off the pace due to his enthusiastic start. I encouraged him to stay in front of me, but he was drifting backwards at an alarming rate.

With 1km to go, I found myself pairing up with a guy in a cycling jersey and a Fairwater club runner to keep the pace going. As we moved into the forested portion of the course, congestion became rife due to the lapped runners. The cyclist jersey guy suddenly kicked to storm ahead; puzzled, I wasn’t entirely sure why he threw in a sudden injection of pace and then remembered there was a small single file bridge rapidly approaching. I second guessed he was trying to put himself into a gap to avoid being boxed in by slower runners, which was enough to convince me to join him in pursuit along with the Fairwater runner.

Safely through on the other side, we wound things up and began a final surge on the home straight with a tailwind for assistance. The cycling jersey guy managed to put significant daylight between us for a massive lead of almost 10 seconds. I urged the Fairwater runner to stay with me, but he was spent and had nothing left to give, so I had to reel a guy in a 50 Club t-shirt in to keep me ticking along until the end.

Crossing the line, I paused my Garmin for 19:46; a PB on the summer course but 8 seconds shy of an all-time course PB at Newport set in much cooler conditions. I felt pretty good; tired but not completely shagged with something left in the tank. I thanked the cycling jersey guy for predicting the congestion with precision, and for pulling me through it in the process.

I stopped to watch Nigel come through just before the 23 minute mark, annoyed with himself that his PB was almost a year ago via our collective efforts.

Unexpectedly, I bumped into Brian Dias from Cardiff Parkrun who partook in some tourism along with the Nike Store Running Club. Lately, we’ve been facing off against each other at the Cardiff event, but I was dead impressed by his 19:10 that would be out of reach for me even on the best of days. Clearly, he’s been holding himself back when we’ve met, whereas I habitually go hell for leather at the Welsh capital.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Dave and Elsa ran their 50th Parkruns

About bloody time, too!

Oh, and congrats to both Dave and Elsa for finally reaching the 50 Club! They now join the long, long wait to get their t-shirts…

Rest for the wicked

Shattered. Knackered. Destroyed. Whatever colloquialism you can think of for tired. I couldn’t bear the thought of a long, Sunday run to cap off the week; clearly, I love running and for it to get that bad, I knew to back it off.

The hope is to freshen up before the fast approaching Two Castles 10k. I’m unsure how I want to tackle the race, either to treat it as a glorified training run, or to hit it all guns blazing. The more I think about it, the more I want to do the latter. I’ve decided to not run at Caerphilly to give myself some much needed recovery and to knuckle back down with some semblance of undisturbed training.

Looking at last year’s performance, I finished right about where I thought I would be both in terms of time and position in the field. Dave and I reasoned the climbs had cost us in the region of 20 to 30 seconds in 2014, though we’d neglected to factor in the 8mph tailwind that must have also minimised some of the damage. Scoping out the weather for Sunday, an 11mph tailwind has been forecast, which is a massive boost on the point to point course. Oh what the hell, I’m gonna give sub-40 a bash and see what comes out the other side!

Here’s this week’s excerpt from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Do whatever it takes to finish ahead of a costumed runner

Because being outkicked by Elmo is too much to bear.

This week’s running – 20th to 26th of April 2015

The UK went marathon mad

Suddenly, every member of the general public’s a marathon expert despite not knowing it’s 26.2 miles long…

The UK had a bout of marathon mania this week.

Core strength

I seem to do this every year where I neglect my core in the colder months, only to begin focusing on it again in the spring and summer. There is most probably a positive correlation here between me having a strong core and my performance.

As somebody that sits for most of the week in front of a computer at a desk, I have a tendency to hunch forward; this slouching is further depicted in a number of photos from my last few races where I simply lack the core strength to be able to support my own upper body whilst fatigued.

There’s nothing special or fancy about what I’m doing at the moment; simply 2x sets of 10 sit-ups and 2x sets of 10 sit-ups with some rotation. There’s likely some correct terminology out there, so apologies for butchering the description up…

I’ve been doing these workouts for a couple of weeks now and already, I have noticed a positive impact whilst I run. The most obvious benefit is I can feel myself running taller, with my chest held high. An additional perk of this is that running tall seems to have re-activated my glutes. I have a horrible habit of relying on my quads for power whilst I run, rather than the glutes where the majority of the power of each stride comes from. On my last few runs, I feel like I’ve been able to run at a faster pace with a little less effort and part of it must be down to this.

Long may the core workouts continue!

3x 1600m at 10k pace

These 1600m reps could be the other reason why I’ve felt stronger lately.

This was the second occurrence of this session and from about halfway through the first rep, I could feel there was an improvement on last week. Previously, I was busting a gut to simply stay on pace but I found myself having to dial the speed down a touch to stay on target. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a walk in the park; where last week’s session left me feeling trashed for at least 36 hours afterwards, I felt pretty reasonable in comparison.

I’m also going to try a different approach this spring/summer. I traditionally keep the number of reps static, but will increase the pace or decrease the recovery as improvements materialise. This year, I want to increase the reps whilst keeping the pace static (to a certain point). This should provide that endurance boost that I’m seeking.

So, why did I only do 3x reps if I was feeling so good? I always take a bottle of water when I run intervals where I’m sweating like a pig from the increased intensity. Some thieving scumbag had other plans, where they’d found my hidden bottle of water between my first and second 1600m rep, leaving me pretty damn parched going into the third rep. A new hiding place is needed for next week, me thinks…

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

5k from work

More of a plod than anything else. I didn’t see any other runners, but I did spot plenty of geese stood to the side of the towpath watching me, almost like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. It’s surely only a matter of days or weeks before all the goslings hatch and the parents become hyper-aggressive…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 miles with 2 at near half marathon pace

This was a continuation of last week where I boosted the mid-week 6 mile run to 8, but now with added near half marathon pace goodness. Why near half marathon pace? I couldn’t quite make it to my target of 6:35 per mile, instead hovering around 6:45 per mile. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I suspect it involved the heavy tree-lined canal towpath also interfering with my Garmin, where the lap pace seemed out of whack and refused to budge.

Despite the pace shenanigans at play, I was pleased with the run where it showed progress in the right direction. Onwards and upwards!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Looking surprisingly decent!

Looking surprisingly decent – photo by Geoff Hughes

Continuing the theme of shaking things up in my quest for improvement, I opted to jog the 5k distance from my home all the way to Cannon Hill Park. Yes, some thought this was mad and could not even contemplate covering the race distance as warm-up before the actual main event. General rule of thumb out there is the shorter the distance, the more critical the warm-up becomes.

I usually always feel shitty during the warm-up before a Parkrun, where I’m stiff, lethargic and clumsy. This extended warm-up was no different. Lis was also running, so I sent my kit bag with her in the car to meet me there. Once I was at the park and after a few minutes of recovery, I actually started to loosen up and felt pretty good. By the time we were ready to walk to the start line, I was positively raring to go.

In a complete reversal of roles, I ended up trailing behind Nigel for the first 3k or so. This wasn’t planned, but certainly for the opening splits, I found myself struggling to turn my legs over at a faster rate, where the pace naturally settled at around 3:57/km or so. There was no discomfort at all and it’s no coincidence that this is also my 10k pace I’ve been working hard to acclimatise to.

Entering and exiting the triangle, I sensed Nigel slipping from the pace and went ahead to latch on to a small group of three guys or so. I stayed with the group until the final 400m before going on my own for the finish, which clocked in at 19:37.

Did the warm-up help at all? Yes and no. Yes, because I felt superb on the start line from a cardio vascular perspective. No, because superficially, it had little to no bearing on my finish time. That being said, I have upped the ante in training so I wasn’t nearly as fresh as I could have been. I’m going to give the extended warm-up another few tries, especially when I’m more 5k focused to really gauge whether it works or not.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Oh and one final note – Cannon Hill is trialling a new course next week. Several weeks ago, I was speaking with one of the run directors, Mary, and she expressed some displeasure with the current start line. Concerns include the flow of people into the start line, along with a number of runners with dogs and pushchairs not starting within the funnel and instead choosing to join from the side. One solution suggested was to move the start line over to the bridge, next to the entry to the out and back portion of the route, which is simple enough to instigate; what’s trickier is the team wants to also continue using the finish area at the top of the hill, which would require some shortening of the route elsewhere to accommodate this. I won’t be at Cannon Hill next week, so you readers will have to let me know what the final changes end up being.

10 canal miles

Due to the morning being devoted to watching the London Marathon, I ended up covering my long run much later in the day whilst the sun was shining and all the fair-weather amblers had over-run the canal towpath.

Despite the numerous obstructions, it was a fantastic run. The pace was progressive and felt comfortable, even with the heavier training load and angry headwind blasting away at me. I also intentionally focused on my form again to run tall and from the glutes.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time to dial things back a touch next week, me thinks!

London Marathon 2015

As mentioned above, I spent all of this morning watching the BBC’s London Marathon coverage. It was most certainly odd not being part of it, where for the past two years, all I’ve ever known on race day was to steel myself physically and mentally to run 26.2 miles through the Big Smoke, rather than to sit with my feet up on the sofa.

Twas a most enjoyable race to watch, with the elite female and male races producing nail-biting finales. Paula’s run must have also been truly motivational for the club runners that came into contact with her throughout the course. Equally as nail-biting as the elites was watching the progress of various friends via the online tracker with the final results coming in below:

  • Phil Cook – 2:34:45
  • Ed Barlow – 2:52:53
  • Nick Bensley – 2:57:25
  • Peter Ingason – 3:33:24
  • Suz West – 3:38:14
  • Nigel Foulkes-Nock – 3:54:42
  • Selena Wong – 4:12:44
  • Sean Whan – 4:32:12

Congrats to all and I hope the recovery process is swift and problem-free!

Right. Enough gassing and over to the latest entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Pee if you must

If this were a rule book for humans at large, one of the first rules would have to be: When You’ve Gotta Go, You’ve Gotta Go. This goes double for tightly wound, highly hydrated, slightly nervous humans who are standing around (i.e., runners waiting for a race to start). If you simply can’t hold it any longer, do your best to locate a porta potty. Failing that, find a stand of trees or bushes as far from the action as reasonably possible. Failing that – if, for instance, you’re stuck in the middle of a packed corral at the start of a large marathon and you’re about to bust – well, pop a squat or take a knee, and do what you’ve gotta do. Be as discreet as possible, apologize to those around you, then stand up, and return your focus to the race.

And before your next race, hydrate just a little bit less.

This week’s running – 13th to 19th of April 2015

A great week of training

A positive week of training at long last!

3x 1 mile at 10k pace

I knew for certain that I’d slacked off at the Ronnie Bowker 10k based on how fresh my legs and body were feeling come Tuesday morning. No DOMS for me! With this in mind, I decided to go ahead with my plans of 4x 1 mile reps at 10k pace over at my familiar stomping ground of Edgbaston Reservoir.

The previous two sessions, featuring 1x 1600m, 2x 800m, 1x 1600m had gotten me used to structured quality again after what felt like an eternity over the winter. I knew I would be able to get up to at least 3x mile reps with 90 second recoveries based on that alone.

The first rep felt perfectly fine with little to no stress at all in spite of the head wind. The second rep was definitely much tougher and I began to feel Sunday’s race in my quads after about 800m in. Crucially, the third rep remained aerobic even at effort. The 3x reps had finished me off for the evening and I decided to claw my way back up to 4x reps another day. Pacing-wise, I was very happy where I was only either 1 second above or below the 3:58/km target.

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

5k from work

I underestimated how knackered I would be from the 3x 1 mile session where even this easy 5k recovery run from the office felt like a struggle. My breathing was erratic where each breath had me almost gasping for air!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 canal miles

In a bid to continue the theme of shaking things up, I opted to boost the distance of my mid-week medium run to 8 miles. The original plan was to get to 10 miles, but I didn’t have the energy or the will to run all the way to Bournville train station and back.

The return leg, as is so often the case, was directly into a head wind… Things got interesting when I could hear running footsteps behind me, along with fairly rapid but shallow breathing. Reaching the narrow tunnel, a cyclist on his way out forced me to stop and also gave me a moment to give a nod to the girl pursuing me. Through to the other side, I picked up my pace ever so slightly and the girl continued to stay with me for another 2 miles or so before she called it quits, thanking me for the pacing assistance!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Waking up on Saturday morning, my legs felt like somebody else’s. They were dull and lacked that snap crackle and pop, clearly still fatigued from the week’s increase in distance and quality. I dialled my expectations back to a finish under 20 minutes and anything faster would be a welcome bonus.

My old school buddy, Jaswant, decided to make his debut at Cannon Hill. Despite being a runner long before I ever toed up on a start line, it was somewhat surprising that he had never completed one of the weekly 5k runs before – better late than never as the saying goes.

Kings Heath Running Club had organised another of their popular and well-received pacing events, with Scott Williams leading the 20 minute charge. I always seemed to be a few metres behind the pack, though this seemed be down to the pacing disparity between my Garmin and Scott’s. Winding the pace up in the final km, I managed to clock in with 19:43 despite the heavy legs and surprisingly, my lungs felt like they were in tip-top shape.

And the highlight of the day? Steven Dunsby defied the naysayers by finishing in first place!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

I was due to be at the NEC later on Sunday to build an exhibition stand. I was feeling particularly fresh for some reason and decided to continue with the schedule as normal, covering 10 miles along the canal towpath out towards Bournville and back.

There was no pace target in mind, considering the hard graft that I would later partake in. I wanted to concentrate on my form and core, running tall from the waist up to try and overcome any slouching that so regularly hits me late into a run. Running tall also had the unexpected side-effect of activating my glutes for what felt like an additional power boost.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And without further ado, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Never miss a chance to thank a volunteer

Even if you’re running the race of your life and trying to make every movement count, you can still manage a bit of eye contact and a nod as you grab a cup of water from an outstretched hand. Even if it feels like your quads are quite literally on fire, you can manage to sputter a short “thanks” to the course marshal standing in the intersection.

It will make the volunteer feel good. It will make you feel good. Try it.

This week’s running – 14th to 20th of July

Birmingham canals

The home of many a long run

This was an odd week without much to report…

4x 1 mile reps

Having conquered the sub-19 minute 5k challenge I had set myself, I swiftly moved my training attention to a sub-40 10k – the toughest goal for me to achieve according to the McMillan pace calculator for races.

I last ran 4x 1 mile reps a couple of weeks ago on fresh Sunday morning legs and it was tough; how would I fare on tired legs after work? I jogged over to Edgbaston Reservoir and kicked off the first rep at target 10k race pace. Unlike my 800m rep sessions, I really felt out of sorts with the mile and ended up running it about 10 seconds off target. Not a major problem – I simply wrote it off as getting into my stride. Reps 2 and 3 were much more like it, nailing the pace and feeling much more in tune with the effort required. The 4th and final rep was torturous and I wanted to jack it all in by the halfway mark. Looking at my final splits, I am very pleased to see a nice consistency that should pave the way for very good autumn 10k and half marathon campaigns.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

10k out and back along the canals

Fancying a change of scenery, I opted to head out for a 10k along Birmingham’s waterways. I wanted to complete this run by feel with no pressure to perform. Turned out I was feeling pretty damn good! One mile was under 7 minutes and another just over, with most of the remaining splits hovering at around 7:30 minutes – pretty nuts for a simple mid-week run. I felt fine afterwards and despite not wearing a heart rate monitor, I’m almost certain it would have shown effort levels of somewhere between 75% and 80% of max.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

3x 800m reps aka “power racing”

On Friday night, we all had a good chuckle when Lis’ mum queried whether I would be “power racing” in the morning. Sounds extreme!

During last week’s long run, I’d clocked a nice, flat stretch of road for 800m reps. Due to another wedding that Lis and I were due to attend (Jane and Martin’s), I chose not to visit Newport Parkrun to keep timings sensible.

After an initial warm-up, I thought it would be the perfect time to re-calibrate my footpod. Worryingly, it went from 991 on the previous calibration to 1088; should I simply average the two out?

Reps 1 and 2 were bang on the money for pace and distance. Rep 3 was all over the bleeding shop, with the pace suddenly going from 0-1 second ahead to 7 seconds behind. The distance of the rep was benchmarked beforehand on the earlier rep and what I can’t get my head around is how the Garmin managed to cock up the tracking on a long, straight road with no near-by obstructions! In the end, I had to manually intervene and press the lap button. I know it makes no difference to the actual speedwork carried out but it still doesn’t stop me from wanting my splits to look tidy and symmetrical.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

10 miles out and back along the canals

With the autumn A-race of the Cardiff Half Marathon quickly looming, I’ve started to prioritise a bit of distance on the Sunday runs.

When warm and dry, the canals out towards Bournville are really rather pleasant to run along. Little did I know, large chunks of it had been hacked up as part of a bid to improve cycling around Birmingham – had I have run 200m further on Thursday evening, I’d have known to wear my trail shoes instead! The small parts that had been repaved with tarmac were fantastic underfoot with a nice, stable surface to plant my feet down on. Apparently, the stretch will be closed off to the public for seven weeks until the project is completed. Oh well, gonna have to find an alternative long run route; perhaps I’ll give the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon course a try…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

A PR is a PR forever, but…

You may advertise a personal record (PR) time, or otherwise claim it as your own with no further explanation or context, for 2 years after setting it.

After 2 years, however, it becomes uncool to tell people, “My marathon PR is 3:12” without providing a disclaimer – e.g., “My marathon PR is 3:12, but I ran that 63 years ago.”

In short: A PR has a shelf life of years. After that, it’s still a PR – just with an asterisk.

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

Andy Yu joins the Parkrun 100 Club

100 Parkruns accomplished. Only 150 more before Club 250…

This week was all about my 100th Parkrun and working on going faster.

So very, very tired

I’m struggling to identify where being tired ends and being over-trained begins. I ended up cancelling my Tuesday run entirely because of how lethargic I was feeling. I guess that’s what several weeks of high quality sessions and races will do to you:

  • 31st of May – 19:31 at Cannon Hill Parkrun
  • 3rd of June – 4x 800m reps at 3:50/km
  • 8th of June – 41:10 at 2 Castles 10k (10k season’s best at the time)
  • 10th of June – 4x 800m reps at 3:50/km
  • 14th of June – 19:08 at Wolverhampton Parkrun (5k PB)
  • 17th of June – 6x 400m reps at 3:30/km
  • 21st of June – 20:22 at Newport Parkrun (course PB)
  • 22nd of June – 41:01 at Caerphilly 10k (current 10k season’s best)

I recall feeling very tired at this point in time during last year’s schedule, which is not dissimilar at all to this year’s. It may not even be the intensity of the training I’m taking on at the moment, but rather a lack of quality sleep. My body has gotten used to getting up at 7am each Saturday for Parkrun, but adding another 7am (or earlier) wake-up call on Sunday to arrive at a race startline is taking its toll.

4x 800m reps at Edgbaston Reservoir

Sometimes, all you need is a break to feel refreshed and not running on Tuesday did just that for me. My legs felt more like their normal selves and I felt quite perky for the session.

Due to car-related shenanigans, I decided to run to Edgbaston Reservoir as my warm-up, which actually made an awful lot of sense in terms of time savings. It probably takes me 10 minutes, door to door, to get to the reservoir car park and I then have to run 1.5 miles anyway. Factor the warm-down on the return leg and that’s roughly 20 minutes saved.

I increased my target pace from 3:50/km to 3:45/km. I typically run the splits 2 or 3 seconds faster than prescribed anyway, so anything between 3:47/km and 3:43/km would be within the tolerance.

First rep felt fine as always and nailed it at just under 3 minutes. Each rep that followed grew tougher to hit, but I did it time and time again at under 3 minutes.

I was destroyed by the end of the session, but I was incredibly pleased to see that I was consistently running at roughly 3 to 4 seconds faster per rep than on previous occasions. Furthermore, these are the paces I need to be hitting if I am to break into the sub-19 minute 5k territory.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Anybody for cake?

Lis’ cakes went down a storm at my 100th Parkrun

100 fewer Saturday morning lie-ins and 500km later, I finally made it into the Parkrun 100 Club! Lis made a variety of cakes to celebrate the occasion and share with the good folks at Cannon Hill.

I only wanted to dip under sub-20 due to how tired I was feeling, a heavy protein-packed dinner and a late night on Friday. Once I had started running though, I actually felt pretty decent and decided to follow the target pace more loosely, opening up the throttle if I wanted to. Despite a reasonably quiet morning in terms of attendance, there was a good number of folks for me to run with and reel in, allowing me to finish feeling very strong for 19:42.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Congratulations also go out to Ed Barlow who also hit 100 runs; he managed to run a tidy comeback PB but turned up 20 minutes late!

A big thank you to everybody that’s helped me along the way (in no real order before you all start bickering amongst each other), but in particular:

  • Elsa for joining me on our first Parkrun outing on 24th of December 2011
  • Lis for coming along and spectating on many a Saturday morning when she’d rather stay in bed
  • Iain for also coming along most mornings/sacrificing his bike ride to spectate my 100th run
  • Dave for motivation and rivalry; that 19:18 joint-PB for both of us is stuff of legends
  • Yvonne and Philip for driving me to and spectating at Newport and Cardiff Parkrun

4x 1 mile reps

With some focused VO2max work in the form of 800m reps, my 5k ability is starting to move in the right direction again and I feel a sub-19 minute finish is only a matter of weeks away. All I need to do is keep at it, stay injury-free and then simply make it happen at Cardiff Parkrun (flattest and fastest course I have access to).

Now with all that in mind, you’d think my 10k times would be making similar gains, right? Wrong. Whilst I have taken almost 40 seconds off my 10k times in the last 3 races, I’ve still yet to come close to my PB of 40:39, let alone my target of a sub-40 minute 10k by the time of the Cardiff 10k in September. I’m definitely faster than this time last year but my 5k ability doesn’t seem to be translating upwards to my 10k as much as I had hoped.

To remedy this, I’ve done some research and asked a few talented runners what their go-to 10k strengthening session is. One session was above and beyond the most popular: 6x 1 mile reps at just a smidge faster than 10k goal pace. Looking at it, this makes perfect sense; get the body used to running at target 10k pace as much as possible without actually running a race at goal pace. I’m all for doing things differently because after all, if you always do what you’ve always done, you only get what you’ve always got, right?

It was a coin-toss between Edgbaston Reservoir and the recently repaved canal towpath out towards the Soho Loop. In the end, the towpath won out but I wish I’d have laced up my low-heel drop trail shoes instead of my racing flats; due to the slightly loose terrain underfoot, I simply didn’t have the traction I needed to firmly plant my foot down and then push off.

Anybody that’s been watching the British Athletics Championships on the BBC will have heard the commentators repeatedly say how windy the conditions were out at Alexander Stadium; the same was also true for me out on the canals with each of my splits away from the city centre being bombarded by a 10mph headwind.

All said and done, each rep felt pretty good but definitely had me working. My max heart rate at 90% of max was about where I wanted it to be. I reckon I could have pushed on for 5x reps, but 6x would have definitely finished me off. Better to live to fight another day and work my way up to 6x reps.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

And here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book (he’s American and I’m quoting directly, hence the spelling of some words):

Non-runners don’t care that much about running

It’s fine to chat about running with non-runners. If they ask you about it, of course, it’d be rude not to. But for everyone’s sake, know your limits.

Here are some examples of what’s acceptable and what’s not, when socializing with civilians.

 OKAY

 NOT OKAY

Mentioning your last marathon  Reciting the mile splits of your last marathon, along with your heart rate when each split was recorded, the relative humidity on race day, what you wore (and why), and exactly what happened just shy of that porta potty at mile 17
Describing the color of your favorite running shirt Describing the color of your urine (“It’s pretty dark, almost like iced tea, which means I’m dehydrated. Speaking of which, can I get you a drink?”)
Quoting Sebastian Coe Quoting Sebastian Coe, then becoming belligerent when no one recognizes the quote as being from Sebastian Coe
Showing off the weight you’ve lost since you started running Showing off the toenails you’ve lost since you started running