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

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

5k recovery

Holy bejesus was it cold!

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute with strides

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2018 review

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

5k recovery

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What goes up must come down…

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor kit review

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

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

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

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

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

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fitted long sleeve

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Initial thoughts

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

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

Size and fit

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

In use

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

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

Closing thoughts

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Available here via underamour.co.uk.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fleece tapered trousers

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Initial thoughts

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

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

Size and fit

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

In use

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

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

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

Closing thoughts

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Available here via underarmour.co.uk.

9 miles from work with strides

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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

The National Running Show

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Susie Chan speaking at The National Running Show 2018

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

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

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

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Steve Edwards at The National Running Show 2018

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

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

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

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

15 snowy-slushy-rainy miles

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

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

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

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

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

No more snow, please!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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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 – 27th November to 3rd December 2017

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Wowza! Who turned off the heating???

5k recovery

Whilst I still loathe running in the heat, I now seem to have lost my ability to endure the cold. Most of my runs in the second half of November have seen me wearing tights, which is no bad thing as I need to keep my calves warm to prevent any regression of my Achilles injury anyway.

Running at a gentle recovery pace, having as little exposed skin as possible was certainly welcome!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 x 1km at half marathon pace

Originally in the P&L Faster Road Racing book, this session was down as 6 x 1km; fearing for my weakened Achilles from the cold, I softened the session to just 4 x 1km reps at target half marathon pace. And do you know what? I don’t think it needed softening at all!

The effort felt completely manageable at all times, in spite of running into the wind, and I could have comfortably completed the original default session as depicted in the book. There was actually enough canal towpath to complete one more 1km rep, but I decided against tempting fate. I’ll either return to the default 6 x 1km configuration, or will switch to 4 x 1 mile reps – both sessions will have me running at pace for a similar amount of time, with the former being the easier format of the two with more frequent recoveries.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

AKA the Nike Vomero 12 initial thoughts run! What better than a slow paced plod home from the city centre to test a new pair of shoes?

I’ve been a fan of Nike’s venerable Pegasus shoes for quite a few years, starting with the 28, and 2015’s 32 being my favourite iteration. Praised for being the Jack-of-all-trades running shoe, it really did cover most bases for me, from recovery runs all the way up to slower-paced tempo runs (only just). Sadly, Nike has been on a trajectory for some time to get the Pegasus feeling faster and faster, namely by firming up the feel underfoot from version 33 onwards. Version 34, after some 200 miles, has left me unimpressed; the firmness, especially in the cold, is not particularly comfortable to run in apart from at faster paces.

So, what’s a guy to do? I like the fit of Nike shoes and I get a nice 20% discount courtesy of Lis’ education establishment association, so I’ve tried my hand (foot?) at their cushioned shoe – the Vomero 12.

Initial impressions are positive. It’s a physically chunkier and heavier shoe than the Pegasus, but the cushioning underfoot is plush with a touch of responsiveness still present. These days, I’m very firmly a runner with specific objectives for each run of the week. Recovery run? I won’t be running fast, so cushioning is needed and welcome. Threshold run? I’ll stick a pair of tempo or race shoes on. The Pegasus’ Jack-of-all-trades approach no longer gels with my training workflow. Rumour has it that version 35 will feature Nike’s miracle ZoomX foam, borrowed from the Vaporfly 4% shoes; I may be persuaded to return to the Pegasus if so, but otherwise it’s now the end of what has been a beautiful partnership.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Brrrrr! The first 10-15 minutes were bracing, to say the least!

Running from the office for home in Kings Heath almost always means I’m running into the wind, which is incredibly challenging when it’s bitingly cold. In a bid to stay warm, and somewhat counter intuitively, I ran faster than I normally would to generate more heat; as I ran faster into the wind, the wind-chill had a greater impact and took increasingly more body heat away from me! You can see the dilemma I faced…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

All the work at lactate threshold pace seems to be paying off, as I felt particularly energetic going into this run. Conditions weren’t quite as dry or positive as a week prior, but sometimes you can only play with the hand you’re dealt. A pleasant catch-up jog with new father, Barry Fallon, extended my warm-up to become longer than the main parkrun event itself…

I went off in a much more controlled manner to almost constantly be gaining and overtaking people, almost through to the very end. Out of ten, I’d have said I spent most of the run sitting at around eight, thanks to almost always having people around me.

Annoyingly, I’d left just a little too much work to do at the end, finishing exactly on 19:00, though I was able to at least push somebody else on to a new PB and their first ever sub-19 performance.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – beyond The Vale and back

This was part 2 of my Nike Vomero 12 trial, taking me on my recovery loop around Kings Heath, and Billsley, and about 0.5 miles beyond The Vale and back. 14 miles is actually the furthest I’ve run since the Yorkshire Marathon in one sitting.

Things started off well enough, but started to go south after halfway. I found the Vomero 12 quite heavy, where they’re a good 20-30g heavier per shoe compared to the Pegasus 34. I may not have noticed the weight difference if I was fresh, but because I’d been on my feet almost all of Saturday night, the additional mass was obvious.

Further clouding my initial impressions of the Vomero 12 was the arch of my left foot cramping up after 9 miles. To be fair, my foot may have cramped up anyway in spite of whichever pair of shoes I wore that morning. What’s certain is I need to spend more time with the Vomero 12; Nike is currently offering a very generous 60-day money back guarantee with no questions asked, so I’ll make a decision to keep or return them in once I hit 50 miles or so.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 20th to 26th November 2017

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Great Run Local at The Vale – photo by Great Run Local

Ye gads! A blog post out on time?!

5k recovery

Bizarrely for a cold Monday evening, there were definitely more runners out and about than usual; normally, it’s just me but I counted no fewer than five of us pounding the pavement in the darkness.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

22 minutes at LT pace (14, 4 off, 8)

Whilst I’m most definitely lacking in out and out speed that I get from VO2max runs, I do feel I’m reclaiming some aerobic strength from these lactate threshold sessions; whilst I wouldn’t go as far as saying I enjoy them, I do find myself relishing in the satisfaction of the hard work.

Oddly, I’m finding I can only maintain the same paces in these sessions as they’re being pushed out by 1 or 2 additional minutes each week. I’d have expected my pace to modestly increase, along with going further at the same time as I become stronger each week. The table below better illustrates this quirk.

17 mins @ LT pace (12, 4 off, 5) 6:30 per mile & 6:17 per mile
18 mins @ LT pace (12, 4 off, 6) 6:30 per mile & 6:17 per mile
20 mins @ LT pace (13, 4 off, 7) 6:31 per mile & 6:17 per mile
22 mins @ LT pace (14, 4 off, 8) 6:31 per mile & 6:17 per mile

There’s only minimal pace throttling going on, especially as I’m gasping for air in the final few hundred metres of each section. Averaging the two paces out, looks like I’m targeting the Brass Monkey Half Marathon at around 6:23 per mile!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Eugh. Running from the city centre on the windiest of days in recent memory was pretty unpleasant, even at recovery pace; with a bag on my back acting as a sail, the gusts sent me zig-zagging as I headed for home.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Despite me having completed this session for the past 18 months or so from the office, my colleagues seem to regularly forget the near-10 mile distance I cover twice a week. Nonetheless, I still do get a kick each time I reveal my plans to see their eyes bulge with awe!

There was an awful lot of debris on the canal towpath from the strong winds the night before. Making matters worse, many of the fallen branches blended in seamlessly with the leaves that littered the ground, with my headtorch not being able to pick them up. I’d have hated to be a cyclist that evening, with more limited room for movement on the narrow towpath.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Whilst it was bleeding cold on Saturday morning, I don’t think anybody could knock the glorious blue skies and dry conditions we also had on our hands.

Looking at the bigger picture, my P&L half marathon plan commanded I cover 13 miles on Sunday, with three of those miles at half marathon pace; things had to be kept reasonable at parkrun to better give Sunday the most chance of success. Marathon pace felt like the best compromise, where it stopped the morning from becoming just another plod, whilst offering some minor stimulation without over-taxing my body.

Marathon pace at circa-6:50 per mile was rather strange to cover, in spite of spending months focusing on it ahead of the Yorkshire Marathon. The effort, whilst perfectly manageable, felt rather alien – guess it doesn’t take long to fall out of favour with a particular pace!

Props to my friend, Iain, who decimated his 5k PB by a few minutes.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Run Local – The Vale

Also known as 13 miles with 3 at half marathon pace!

As this week drew out, I discussed my idea with a few others of running to The Vale at the University of Birmingham, participating in Great Run Local, and then running for home afterwards. Everybody agreed it was a logical idea and favourable to completing 3 miles at pace alone. My only reservations were those damn hills… Previously attending Great Run Local in April, I still had vivid memories how challenging they are over 5k!

Leaving with plenty of time to spare unlike last time, I was able to leisurely jog along the canal towpath to the university. It was a stunning morning and everybody I encountered was in high spirits; dog walkers, cyclists and fellow runners either smiled, waved or wished me a good morning! It was bitterly cold, however, so I donned a pair of tights, a long sleeve top and some gloves. I hoped this ensemble wouldn’t come back to haunt me during the 5k…

Reaching The Vale, I chatted with a few familiar faces, including Afshin from Kings Heath Running Club, James from Tipton Harriers (first place at the first Sandwell Valley parkrun) and, of course, Craig who beat me to first place back in April. Third place was the best I could hope for, also factoring in that Craig had brought his speedy daughter with him. The organisers were thrilled to see so many of us after several weeks of very low attendance (only five runners, three weeks ago).

From the line, those expected to take the lead, took the lead. I found myself in what could be considered the chase pack, along with Craig, Rob Dowse from BRAT and a student from BUAC Cool Runnings. We all traded places almost constantly, helping to keep the effort reasonable, especially on the initial climb. I was particularly conscious not to overstretch myself on the climbs, noting that tactic as the downfall of my previous visit.

Working our way up the hill for the final time as a pack of four, I noticed the chap in third place ahead of us gradually coming back. “Third place is fading. We can reel him in!” Everybody agreed and our collective cadence increased a notch to carry us over the hill that bit faster. Reaching the brow of the climb, we noticed the guy in third place turning his neck to look back at us and we all knew we had him.

I charged down the hill on the other side for joint-third place. I couldn’t hear any footsteps immediately behind me, so I took a moment to encourage the other guy on, in the hope that we could work together to increase the gap behind us. “Keep at it, fella. We’ve got three guys chasing us down!” He was spent and began drifting back from me, leaving me to run around the lake alone. I laid on a kick and I was confident I had third place in the bag, until I came to the final corner and became unsure of whether to cross the bridge or not; I couldn’t see an arrow and there was no marshal, so I concluded it was the next corner for the turning. From behind, I could hear Craig calling out to me and I knew instantly that I’d gone off course. Backtracking, I rejoined Craig as we hit the bridge in unison; I urged him to kick on as I’d ballsed things up to give my lead away. Like the original third place guy, Craig was also spent and had nothing more to give, so I kicked on for the second time after the interruption to finish in third place.

Recovery was very swift and I thanked Craig for his sportsmanship, whilst also chastising him for not taking advantage of my wrong-turn. I’d have not lost any sleep over losing third place and I can tell you now the course is well and truly committed to memory! I had a whale of a time racing and it was probably the most fun I’d had running since the Yorkshire Marathon. I have a similar session in store three weeks’ time and me thinks I’ll pay The Vale another visit!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 13th to 19th November 2017

achilles_tendonitis

The new normal I can look forward to?

Apologies for the delay, folks. Netflix’s The Punisher series has taken up far too much of my free time!

Achilles woes

The title makes this sound worse than it actually is, but it’s the best I could come up with!

Long-time readers will be familiar with the Achilles injury I picked up almost a year ago in my left leg, with January and February becoming write-offs to allow it to recover.

In recent weeks with the downturn in temperature, I’ve noticed it playing up again, and it can’t be a coincidence when I factor in what I was able to push on to in the summer training. It’s not sore or swollen, but it most certainly is much less pliable and flexible compared to the Achilles tendon in my right leg. I do, however, find it behaves itself if I’ve been diligent with massaging for a few minutes before running, especially if I use a dollop or two of Deep Heat, too, though much to Lis’ annoyance…

I guess this is the new normal I can look forward to each winter!

5 mile run-commute

This was the eve of the city centre’s German market opening, with additional anti-terrorism measures in place, along with the various stalls taking up valuable space on the already congested and narrow New Street. I spent much time on this gentle run-commute considering my alternative routes and concluded heading via the Bullring’s Spiceal Street and past the markets would be sound for the next occasion.

Once in Cannon Hill Park and climbing towards Holder’s Lane, a friendly dog walker wished me luck on the ascent, citing that he gets out of breath just walking back up it. Expectedly, I got a little boost from this – thanks, random dog walker!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Poor nutrition throughout the day made this run a lot tougher than it should have been. Not eating enough at lunch and leaving it too late to snack on a banana in the afternoon was all it took to make the last few miles feel a little whoozy!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

andy_yu_cannon_hill_parkrun

Pleasant it was not! Photo by Pete Hickman

What a foul morning this ended up being! I was thoroughly soaked from the rain by the time I’d jogged from home to Cannon Hill Park, leaving my fingers too cold to even tie my shoelaces…

I wanted a hard effort to see what sort of VO2max shape I was in, and a hard effort is what I got.

The ground was slick with surface water, even in my Adios Boost 3s, which happen to be my most grippy shoes. I’d gone out marginally too fast in the opening km, followed by another fast km thereafter. Expectedly, the middle of my run sagged from the pace unfamiliarity, though did offer some slight recovery. Two battles in the second half stopped the pace rot, though I have to say I was still disappointed to not dip under 19 minutes.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to Solihull and back

Within minutes of starting this particular run, I came to regret not simply heading on to the canal…

Approaching an open-plan car park, I saw a mid-sized 4×4 start up its engine and begin a reverse manoeuvre out of its space. It was the only car in the carpark; at all times, the front of the car faced me and there was no excuse for the driver to not see me, either, especially as I was wearing fluorescent green in excellent daylight conditions.

I’d reached the entrance to the car park, but the 4×4 driver still had not seen me and proceeded to carry on driving into my path! I had to jump to my left before the driver finally saw me some 50cm from her car before stopping.

Pumped with adrenaline, I slammed my fists on to the bonnet of her car, not once but twice, to grab her attention. I was furious and if this was the comic books, I’d have mutated into some sort of green-tinged gamma radiation beast… Rather than get out of her car to check if I was OK, she simply sat there as I yelled that she had to give way to me on the pavement. Her response? She had not seen me, and what I was stood on wasn’t pavement because it had a dropped kerb! “You’re a f***ing idiot,” I hurled back at her! “What if I was a kid that hadn’t jumped out of the way?!” I slammed my fists a final time on her car, flipped her the finger and continued on my way.

Thankfully, the rest of the run went off without issue!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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

faster_road_racing

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.