This week’s running – 12th to 18th March 2018

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Brrr! It was a cold one! Photo by Geoff Hughes

*Sigh* The Beast from East returned to defy everybody’s expectations and ruin several more races…

5k fartlek

Ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing? You can only make decisions based on the knowledge available to you, and at the beginning of race week, I fully expected to be racing a half marathon. As such, I wanted a sharp taper with minimal volume and just some effort to keep things ticking over.

Here and here is the Strava data for the two fartlek runs.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Still believing/in denial about the following day’s half marathon, I volunteered as a marshal at Cannon Hill parkrun. Whereas there was no snow, there was plenty of bitingly cold wind to make standing still for the best part of an hour difficult to bear. I was paired up with volunteer newcomer, Naomi from Kings Heath Running Club, showing her the ropes of my familiar patch around the little bridge. She made for fantastic company and was a natural at marshalling; I’d be pleased to work with her again, albeit under more favourable weather conditions!

Setting up the cones, we were both caught off-guard when somebody stopped to ask us for a brief overview of the course. I described the route to him as best as I could without a map and followed up by asking if he was likely to be one of the leaders. He admitted he wouldn’t personally be in the lead, but did point out that he was with a bunch from Bud Baldero’s Uni of Birmingham group, of which some of them likely would be placing highly. I recommended they listen in on the new runners briefing for more detail. Little did I know that we would be some pretty stellar times in spite of the strong winds. Looking at the results, the top 10 finishers all came in under 17 minutes. The top 7 all finished under 16 minutes! It’s reasonable to assume that most of the unknowns in the top 10 belong to Bud Baldero’s group. It’s a thing I’ve began noticing of late that coached athletes either purposely don’t have their personal barcode scanned, or don’t have one to begin with, to evade detection or to hide from competitors.

The return of cancellations

Anticipating that the Newport Half Marathon would take a while to reschedule their cancelled race from the original 4th of March date, I thought I was ahead of the curve by entering the Coventry Half Marathon as my replacement. As it turned out, Newport’s organisers were able to mobilise incredibly quickly to announce 18th of March as their new date – the same day as Coventry. Still with me? Good. Fantastically, they offered options to please everybody, including refunds, deferrals to next year and transfers to others.

As many of us will know, the weather deteriorated as we edged closer to the new race day. Many races heeded the advice of UKA and the amber weather warnings from meteorological offices. Coventry, Newport, Ashby and many others declared themselves out on Friday-Saturday. I was desperate for a chance to race, so my attention was drawn to the Wilmslow Half Marathon bravely ploughing on despite everybody else folding. Transfer place acquired, I played the waiting game and around 05:30 on race morning, they finally conceded defeat and bowed out like most other races (Reading, too). That’s four races since December that I’ve had cancel on me from a previous zero since I began racing in 2010!

I can only do the taper-dance so many times before it starts hitting my overall fitness and sharpness levels, so I’ve pretty much admitted defeat. Wishing to knuckle down and refocus, I’ve opted to tackle the Shakespeare Half Marathon on 13th of May. Early May also sees two 10k races in quick succession to serve as half marathon race pace sessions. Maybe this outcome isn’t so bad, after all?

Imaginary Newport/Coventry/Wilmslow Half Marathon

Somewhat dejected, I was in two minds about sacking Sunday’s run entirely. I convinced myself that I should head out, if only to burn some of the calories that I’d been loading up on in preparation for races that would not be.

The snow underfoot was still pretty fresh, especially in the lesser travelled sections of my route. Concerning my route, I was in no mood to be measuring splits so I just made things up as I went along! The net result was almost like a greatest hits of the familiar stretches I cover, all stitched together like some kind of tapestry.

I witnessed some pretty shoddy driving whilst I was out and about. On the Yardley Wood Road, one lady poorly anticipated the lights turning red; she blipped her brakes a little too hard, resulting in her car spinning 270° whilst oncoming traffic approached!

Fingers crossed we’re out of it now, though I’m sure that’s what we all said a fortnight ago…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

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This week’s running – 26th February to 4th March 2018

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Oops! Wrong Beast from the East!

Gah. The Beast from the East left a trail of destruction and calamity in its wake.

Duisburg 5k tempo

It was that time of the year again where work saw me in Germany to exhibit at a retail technology trade show. A ghastly 06:05 Sunday flight from Birmingham to Amsterdam Schipol to Dusseldorf meant I was knackered before I’d even done any work. Whilst on the flight, I was amazed by the number of 400m tracks I could see from the air and reasoned that, like the US, most schools likely have their own on site.

A fun German running fact for you: the founder of Adidas is the brother of Puma’s founder.

At this point in the week (Monday), I had little to no doubt that I would be toeing up on the startline of the Newport Half Marathon; I wanted an easy taper and this 5k tempo around the streets of Duisburg was my only planned dose of speed in the lead up to the race.

Early signs of the Beast from the East struck Duisburg, leaving me wondering what I was doing in sub-zero temperatures. Leaving the hotel, I had the choice of going left or right on my planned loop; I chose badly and went left, straight into the headwind, which persisted for much of the loop… Each time I passed the same guy on the main street, I could see him looking at me in despair! One of the few things that made finishing more bearable was the thought of the hot power shower in my room and the breakfast buffet waiting for me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles run-commute

Damn. The cold temperatures and biting wind followed me home from Germany…

Running on Pershore Road, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of anything. On almost any given day, I can expect to be hit by winds from the south; turning east towards Cannon Hill Park – ah, that’s where the wind was hiding!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Snowy 10k – to Cannon Hill Park and back

Shattered from my several days in Germany and then straight back into the office, I opted to take Friday off in a bid to freshen up ahead of Sunday’s Newport Half Marathon. Except the dreaded Beast from the East had other plans and dumped a whole load of snow across the nation. This was enough to cancel not only my target race, but also the Bath Half Marathon and the Warwick Half Marathon. The only races to survive were the Cambridge Half Marathon and the Big Half in London. I was kicking myself because I’d seriously considered the Big Half, and even had a Good For Age place that I’d chosen not to take up. Rubbing salt into my open wound, the Big Half also turned out to be one helluva fast race; my buddy, Ian Saunders, who kept me company for much of the 2017 Yorkshire Marathon, went on to run a blistering breakout performance of 80:39 (congrats!)

Full of energy from a light week, I headed out in the snow to Cannon Hill Park for 10k. The worst of the snow had not dropped just yet, so it was rather odd to see long stretches in the park with no snow at all, and then long stretches, several inches deep. Conditions only worsened as Friday rolled into Saturday…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

8 miles inc Freedom Cannon Hill parkrun

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The two Andy Ys at Cannon Hill Park – photo by Andy Young

With no race for me to attend on Sunday, I was on the lookout for at least a parkrun to visit. No such luck, either, as it was a complete cancellation blanket for the West Midlands. Rather than waste the morning, I still made my way to Cannon Hill Park in the hope that a few die-hards would also be looking to cover a freedom run on the course.

Getting to the park was challenging, as the snow on the pavements had been churned up quite badly. Once I was in the park, things got easier but I still felt like my shoes were at their limit on occasion; they’re just trail race shoes, so feature a lot less traction than something more purpose-built. Completing one lap of the park and with few other souls about, I was about to wrap things up and head for home when I bumped into the other Andy Y – Andy Young! We had the same idea and got right to it.

We discussed the cancellations of the region, both unequivocally agreeing that it was the right thing to do. Whereas we’d both ran in several of the snowed-out Cannon Hill events of 2013, the parkrun landscape was very different back then; anybody who ran in the snow was likely better able to handle themselves and probably had appropriate kit, whereas nowadays, the field is so varied and diverse that a much more holistic view to safety needs considering.

Upon finishing, I declared myself ready to head back for home, whereas Andy Young opted to get another 5k in to work up to half marathon distance for the morning!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 snowy-slushy miles – to The Vale and back

Eugh. Now that was hard work! The Beast from the East finally departed our shores and temperatures began returning to normal, meaning I had snow and slush to contend with.

I wore my trail shoes again, but anybody that owns trail shoes will know how jarring they can be for running on the road and pavement. And that was a regular occurrence, as I found myself moving from pavement to snow to slush and back again… Slush turned out to be the most difficult terrain to run through, as it absorbed my energy and soaked my shoes for added weight.

I’m hopeful majority of the remaining snow will have cleared by the middle of next week, returning conditions to normal for March. Unsure of when the postponed Newport Half Marathon will be rescheduled for, I duly entered the Coventry Half Marathon for 18th of March in a desperate bid to try and capture and benchmark some of this newfound fitness. Let this be a lesson for everybody that when you’re feeling good on race day, capitalise on it as you never know what might step in your way!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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

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

5k recovery

Holy bejesus was it cold!

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute with strides

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2018 review

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

5k recovery

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What goes up must come down…

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor kit review

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

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

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

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

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

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fitted long sleeve

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Initial thoughts

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

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

Size and fit

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

In use

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

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

Closing thoughts

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Available here via underamour.co.uk.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fleece tapered trousers

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Initial thoughts

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

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

Size and fit

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

In use

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

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

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

Closing thoughts

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Available here via underarmour.co.uk.

9 miles from work with strides

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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

The National Running Show

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Susie Chan speaking at The National Running Show 2018

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

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

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

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Steve Edwards at The National Running Show 2018

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

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

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

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

15 snowy-slushy-rainy miles

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

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

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

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

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

No more snow, please!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 18th to 24th December 2017

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Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!

Merry Christmas, folks! Hope you’re having a good one wherever and whatever you’re doing!

5k recovery

Having completed the fastest 15 mile run of recent times, I knew to take it easy on this 5k recovery run. Also having broken up for Christmas several days prior, both my body and mind felt fresh and I probably could have handled a faster pace if needed.

I sought to get at least a week of over-reaching in, so I respected the easy-hard notion that had to be observed.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 x 1km at half marathon pace

What a palaver this day turned out to be!

Normally, I would’ve phoned ahead to check if the Fox Hollies track was in use. Normally, it’s always been available when I’ve wanted to use it, so I didn’t bother to check on this occasion. You can already guess what happened next…

Cutting a long story short, I left the leisure centre disappointed and considered jogging the 5k back for home. I didn’t want to squander the day and further lose out on intensity, so I stuck my thinking cap on and reviewed my options. The nearest track was at the University of Birmingham, though I was under the impression it wasn’t officially open to the public, though a few peers had managed to sneak in via some side entrances. Concluding I had nothing further to lose, I hopped in an Uber and asked to be dropped off in the track’s vicinity. Trying not to look suspicious as I walked into the shrubbery and sidestepped some temporary fencing designed to keep people out, I felt like an explorer that had uncovered a lost city! There were some gardeners tending to the surrounding greenery to keep me company, and not one of them seemed perturbed of my presence, so the session was finally good to go!

Setting foot on the 400m synthetic track, it was immediately obvious how responsive it was from the energy returned with each step, making for an incredibly pleasnt experience.

And the session itself? It felt utterly satisfying to cover each 1km rep. My form was tall and smooth, and my glutes were once again on side to help me glide effortlessly as the intervals counted down. Half marathon pace was a breeze to hit!

Here and here is the Strava data for this session. I’d accidentally triggered a new lap on my Garmin with my butterfingers, so I had to break the session into two.

6 mile recovery

After several weeks of firmly needing long-sleeves, gloves and tights, it made for a pleasant change to be out running in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts! For insurance, I wore a pair of gloves but they came off after just a mile from how warm the conditions were!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3 x 1 mile at half marathon pace

Sharing my tale of potential trespass with Dave, he also wanted in and thus marked my second visit to the University of Birmingham’s utterly brilliant 400m track. I continued to feel fresh in spite of the higher than normal run volume and intensity – such is the power of ample recovery and sleep.

3 x 1 mile was quite enough for the two of us, making for an especially potent session for Dave – my target half marathon pace is nearer to his 5k pace!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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This was actually pretty comfortable! Photo by Pete Hickman

This day marked six years of parkrunning, comprising of 239 runs and 29 stints at volunteering. Who’d have thought that very first Christmas Eve parkrun of 2011 would stick quite like it has?

I could feel the week’s amped up training in my legs with the freshness of several days prior distinctly missing. My warm-up confirmed as much, with each step and breath feeling a little more laboured than I would have liked.

Starting more conservatively, I was able to tuck into several groups and work my way through the field. I surprised myself by being able to surge ahead whenever I felt groups slowed, once again agreeing with a theory of mine and Dave’s where listless warm-ups correlate against strong main performances, and vice-versa.

I was pleased as punch to sneak under 19 minutes for 18:58 – this year’s second fastest 5k after an 18:56 back from back in July. Also boding well ahead of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon was a new VO2max reading of 67, though this quickly dropped back down to 65 only 24 hours later…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – beyond The Vale and back

There’s a first time for everything. I’m typically a solitary runner that prefers running alone out of convenience, though I fully acknowledge running with others taking the edge off almost any effort.

Shortly after joining the canal towpath, I bumped into Dave and we were then also shortly joined by Paul Shackleton. After Dave left me and Paul, he was then soon replaced by bumping into Toby Close! A few miles later and I was left alone again as I wanted to get some more distance in.

The solo return leg was a real slog whilst running into 16mph headwinds, also not helped by me wanting to stick to sub-8 minute mile pace. Finishing on plan was pretty damn joyous, especially after climbing Fordhouse Lane back to Kings Heath!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 4th November to 10th December 2017

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Overdressed? No chance! Photo by Lis Yu

So, muggins here only went and fell over whilst running… But not in the snow!

9 miles with 2 at marathon pace

With a 10 mile race scheduled for the end of the week (obviously, didn’t happen!), I reduced the number of runs for a mini-taper, whilst maximising the potency of the times I did run. Sadly, Mother Nature had other plans for me…

Originally, this session should have been at half marathon pace; with the wind howling towards me, the best I could manage was marathon pace without pushing too hard ahead of the upcoming race that wasn’t to be.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Remember last week’s initial thoughts on the Nike Vomero 12? As I ran home from the office, I concluded after 3 miles or so that the shoes were definitely around ½ a size too big, which was frustrating as I’m normally a UK 7.5 in all Nike shoes; it’s only this pair and a recent other that appear to have been sized with different lasts.

As comfortable as the Vomero 12 were, I grew increasingly aware that I felt disconnected from my feet, due to the sizing. Then, with just a mile to go until I reached home, horror struck – I tripped going over a low kerb due to the oversized shoes!

Everything went into slow motion, but my flailing hands weren’t enough to regain balance. I hit the deck with a thud, and my left knee, wrists and chin took the brunt of the fall. I lay there for perhaps 10 to 15 seconds as I tried to work out whether anything was broken… My thoughts quickly moved to whether anybody had seen my moment of embarrassment; this was the first time I’d fallen in over seven years of running! Dusting myself off, I’d torn a hole in my tights and badly scraped my knee underneath. I’d also torn two holes in my practically new gloves, whilst also taking chunks out of my wrists and knuckles on both hands. Luckily, whilst my chin had also come into contact with the floor, you’d never know, as there was no visible damage. Oh well, skin will regrow and things can be replaced – there’s no detectable injury and my running gait has not been affected at all.

And the shoes? I boxed them straight up as I got home and sent them packing!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cancelled Cannon Hill parkrun

Much of the UK received a dusting of snow overnight on Friday, causing many a parkrun and race director to cancel or postpone events. Cannon Hill parkrun and the Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run were called off, leaving me with a very low volume week and little to show for it.

A few others and me caught up over coffee, with the topic of discussion revolving around the rather poor organisation of the fairly recent Birmingham International Marathon and Great Birmingham Run. Their return having been announced (£58 for the marathon!), I asked my cohorts of the morning if anybody would consider running the marathon again. There was only one possible taker, and only if he didn’t get a club place for the 2018 London Marathon. The overriding feedback was there are plenty of better organised and cheaper marathons around the UK, increasingly with the autumn options now rivalling the spring.

Here and here is the Strava data for the runs to and from Cannon Hill Park.

6 miles in the snow

With Sunday’s race postponed until January, I wasn’t prepared to be defeated and go without a run, so I covered up as much skin as possible to head out. Rounding out my ensemble was a hat (I never wear hats!) and a neck gaiter, along with my Oakleys with special contrast enhancing lenses popped in.

Only having covered a mile, I came across my first casualty of the snow. A nurse who was heading home from a night shift had gotten her Citroen C1 stuck as she tried to climb a shallow hill. She slowed too much exiting a roundabout and then lacked the oomph to get back up to speed, without traction and fighting gravity. I tried giving her car a push whilst she drove, but it wasn’t happening, so I offered to drive instead. She made the mistake of trying to drive in first gear, throwing down too much power; I shifted into second and gently applied some throttle, which managed to slowly move the car on to a patch with more traction available. Good deed number 1, done!

Some 2 miles later, I encountered another car attempting to climb the hill on Salisbury Road near Cannon Hill Park, and getting in the way of traffic trying to descend the hill. Three guys and me worked together to push and steer the car to get it on its way, though the worst of the hill was yet to hit him…

My third and final car that needed help was found on Holders Lane, where the snow had been churned up just enough to greatly reduce traction, even on the flat. All the car needed was a few nudges from me to get going.

Full of the warm and fuzzies, and not having fallen once, I called it a morning – quite enough excitement for one day!

Here’s the vague Strava data for this run. My Garmin wasn’t playing ball, either from the low temperature, or due to knocking the start-stop button when pushing cars, so I’ve had to approximate the distance and pace.

This week’s running – 23rd October to 5th November 2017

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Shall we try this again?

Back in full training flow now, also ending the week with a race. Being lazy, I’ve combined the past two weeks together.

P&L half marathon plan version 2.0

Some readers will recall my P&L half marathon plan from 2016 that was going to bag me a shiny new PB at the 2017 Brass Monkey race. Some readers will also recall how it may or may not have contributed to my Achilles injury that I picked up a mere three weeks out from said race… Not to be defeated and recognising that the plan contained plenty of the good stuff, I’ve decided to dip my toe back in, whilst softening and modifying it – completing just 75% of the plan and getting to the start line fit and healthy is better than aiming for 100% of its original form and breaking myself again!

Click here for the P&L plan in PDF format.

The biggest changes from a year ago are a general reduction in the time spent at lactate threshold (LT) and half marathon pace. The plan was much more aggressive previously and one LT paced run earlier this fortnight convinced me it was far too tough in its default state.

And how have I concluded what my LT and half marathon paces are? Funnily enough, I found myself needing to use my recent marathon PB to reverse engineer some training paces, as it’s the only reliable performance I have for this year! The McMillan calculator suggests my LT pace is roughly 6:18 to 6:21 per mile, whereas my Garmin helpfully suggests 6:24 per mile for not much variance. Just the ticket for that sub-84 half marathon!

9 miles with 17 minutes at LT pace

This is the session that convinced me that something had to give in the P&L half marathon plan.

The 17 minutes at LT pace were originally set as 22 minutes, divided up as 12 minutes at pace, 4 minutes rest, and 10 minutes at pace. Whereas I managed the first 12 minutes, the pace sagged slightly at 6:30 per mile due to tree coverage, prevailing headwinds and plain old unfamiliarity.

Entering the 4 minutes of rest, I thought I was going to throw up! How would I manage another 10 minutes? I chopped it down to just 5 minutes at LT pace, which whilst still tough, was at least achievable at a not too shabby 6:17 pace. Clearly the first 12 minutes had warmed me up.

Once back at home, I pared all of the LT pace sessions back to give my body and mind a bit of slack!

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Whereas I’d recently waxed lyrical about the Nike Vaporfly 4% for my Yorkshire Marathon outing, I also identified they did not mesh well when I trialled them across the 5k distance and pace. They lacked stability due to the ride height and I found cornering incredibly difficult with them. I’ve historically preferred shoes with a very low to the ground heel drop, so out came a box fresh pair of Nike Streak LT3 that I’d squirreled away for a rainy day (bought during a sale of some such).

Pleasingly, they added a nice bounce to my step to highlight just how past their use by date their predecessors, the Nike Streak LT2, were.

Whilst I only bagged a 19:16 finish, I’m pretty happy with how the splits shaped up, showing some strength in the second half in spite of a near complete absence of faster training in recent weeks:

  1. 3:52
  2. 3:57
  3. 3:58
  4. 3:49
  5. 3:40

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to Solihull and back

I felt extra productive by heading out earlier than I normally would, thanks to the additional hour from daylight savings. A complete fallacy, I know…

This was the longest run I had taken on post-marathon and it’s amazing how much additional headroom you can lose in just a few weeks. Whereas the baseline fitness was still there, I readily acknowledged that it didn’t feel as easy as it should have. Of course, downtime periodically is no bad thing; the body is not a machine and reaching a new level of fitness can’t necessarily be sustained forever without some rest to be catapulted into the next phase, if indeed there is one.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5k recovery

It’d been weeks since I last did one of these, but you know what they say – absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I love these low effort runs for thinking, or sometimes just getting lost with a lack of thoughts.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

18 minutes at LT pace (12, 4 off, 6)

After the previous week’s suffer-fest, I can happily report that progress has been made!

The initial 12 minutes certainly felt more tolerable, though the bizarre quirk of not being able to push faster than 6:30 per mile pace occurred once again.

I tacked on an extra minute to the second part, which came out a smidge faster than the previous week for 6:17 pace, and that was with me purposely dropping the anchors a few times when the pace climbed up to 6:10 (target was 6:24).

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Did anybody else think Pershore Street and Pershore Road from the city centre smelled of fish on Wednesday evening? No? Just me, then…

This was the first time I’d run through Cannon Hill Park in the dark this year, armed with a head torch. Unsurprisingly, I was the only runner in the park, though there was an abundance of cyclists with the same idea as me, using it as a cut-through.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I adore running on the canal during autumn-winter evenings. It’s quiet and all the annoyances of the summer are long gone!

A lady out for a walk stopped to enquire about my head torch, feeling that she needed one to keep up with her walking over the darker months. Showing her how bright it could go, along with the nifty proximity sensor function, I think she was sold!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With the Conductive Education 10k the following morning, I didn’t want to go bananas and ran incredibly conservatively, just to keep my legs turning over. Simon Bull and I purposely plonked ourselves further back than normal with no pressure of a finish time, aside from approximate 8 minute miles/5 minute kilometres.

Simon being Simon shot off on the final climb, citing that he’ll always take the opportunity of finishing in front of me where available!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Conductive Education 10k 2017

For the full write-up of this race, please click here.

This week’s running – 9th to 15th of October 2017

sports_massage

Thankfully, I have a high pain threshold!

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a whole lot of running from me, but rather from everybody else instead with the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon in town!

Massage Monday

I opted to take Monday and Tuesday off from work to cover whatever eventuality I’d be faced with, post-race.

The keen eyed amongst you will notice there was no weekly post to accompany last week’s Yorkshire Marathon race write-up. There really wasn’t very much of note that happened during the week that wasn’t touched upon in the race review, bar going for a sports massage at the exceptional Guildhall Practice. They did absolute wonders for me, pre-race, unlocking my full range of motion and undoing any pent up tightness from weeks and weeks of repeated training abuse. With time available to me, I booked myself back in for a post-race session, albeit at a much lower intensity!

Simon Bell saw me once again, but was incredibly surprised to see how good shape my legs were in! Even post-marathon, he noted how much less tightness there was compared to a week prior. I shared that I’d run in Nike’s Vaporfly 4%, which perceptively took a lot of the impact out of the race from my legs, though did appear to put more strain on my quads, especially the one on my right side.

I won’t lie – there was yelping at times… But, I felt immediately better and the dreaded Tuesday legs never materialised! Of course, it is entirely possible that I suffered less post-race due to more training volume and specificity; the amount of damage I seem pick-up after each marathon has decreased to the point where I’m now only perhaps marginally suffering more than an eyeballs out half marathon.

Insomnia woes

Just what I didn’t need after poor sleep leading into the race was poor sleep after finishing the race…

There must have been so much adrenaline coursing through my veins, requiring several days to come back down from the temporary high. By Wednesday, I was really feeling it, but at least I began my return to work to kickstart getting back into a routine.

Cannon Hill parkrun

My first run in almost a week proved to be a rather strange experience in more ways than one.

Getting changed into running gear felt odd and out of routine, requiring much more thought than originally anticipated to make sure I had everything I needed. The pace the run was covered at (just shy of 8 minutes per mile/5 minutes per km) felt challenging on my body, not helped by the amped up temperature and humidity of the morning.

I will not rush my return to regular running; I probably dived back in too soon a year ago, following it up with a challenging half marathon plan that likely led to my injury downfall in late December.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The Birmingham International Marathon

Since 2014, I’ve firmly been a spectator and supporter at my hometown race, now with a marathon option to bring back the 26.2 mile distance to the streets of Birmingham, which hasn’t seen a marathon since the 80s.

Marathon fever struck and it was almost odd to encounter runners that were not looking to go long, so Lis, Simon and I had a rather lengthy list of people to keep an eye out for. Due to rather light nutrition provisions on the course from the organisers (Great Run), I also became a moving gel and energy drink station for two runners that I had particular vested interests in providing assistance to.

The first runner that I would be assisting was Dave Burton. I’d coached Dave to best prepare him for his first and possibly only marathon, and wanted him to be able to do the best he could without any regrets. His nutrition request? Bundles of 2x High5 Isogels, which were to be provided at approximately miles 9, 18 and 24.

The other runner I assisted was Darryll Thomas. Throughout the summer, we’d both been working towards our own respective sub-3 hour marathons, trading encouragement, training advice, and even participating in the odd race together. Missing my own sub-3 hour goal meant doing what I could help Darryll achieve it on race day. His nutrition request? Lucozade with small bags of jelly babies strapped to the bottles, and to be handed out at the same points as above.

Tactically, the points on the route I’d chosen were perfect. They afforded long straights leading up to us, so we could always see Dave and Darryll in the distance with no surprises. We were able to freely cross the road to change sides, and I was also able to run with both of them as I handed their gels/drinks over, allowing them both to not break stride, especially in the later stages. For the other runners we kept an eye out for, we were able to see some people up to four times, courtesy of the two-lap configuration that broadly covered the middle section of the marathon route.

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First fuel drop complete – photo by Lis Yu

First up was Darryll, nailing sub-3 pace.

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All handed over and nothing dropped! Photo by Lis Yu

Dave came through next, looking so relaxed and executing the plan he and I had devised to perfection.

Sadly, Darryll began fading at around 16 miles by his account, citing the brutality of the course for his demise (a sentiment shared by many I’ve spoken to since). Every cloud has its silver lining, and he did go on to achieve yet another London Marathon Good For Age qualifying finish, allowing Darryll to return to the capital sometime in the future.

Dave went on to have a blinding debut, also looking like he’d thoroughly enjoyed it, too. Very few people get the opportunity to experience both of those things, so my hat goes off to him. Keep an eye out for the interview with Dave as an imminent post.

Below is a gallery of the photos Lis and I took of the day. Whilst we did see many, many familiar faces, we simply couldn’t take photos of everybody due to the density of runners at times…