This week’s running – 14th to 20th of August 2017

illness

Week 15 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Suppose feeling bleh had to happen eventually…

Searching for for 4% improvement

nike_vaporfly_4_percent

Some of you may remember that I waxed lyrical after trying on the Nike Vaporfly 4% for just a minute or so a number of weeks ago. Well, the itch needed scratching and I was fortunate enough to land a pair of them whilst taking advantage of my Vitality 50% discount for a very hefty saving. If only the tale was as simple as that and ended there…

On the day I was due to receive them, I received an email to alert me of my order being cancelled due to mis-forecasted stock levels! Suddenly, my want of the coveted Breaking2 shoes for my own Breaking3 project became a need. After a lot of palaver with Sweatshop and Vitality, I was able to track down a pair (0.5 size smaller, but , luckily, a better fit) and reactivate my discount, so all’s good with the world again. Marginal gains – making sure things I can control are maneuvered in my favour!

5 mile run-commute

There were a helluva lot of people out running on Monday evening. It must be peak training season ahead of autumn races!

This was another test of the prior week’s heat training in Greece and I appeared to pass – even running with a bag on my back, I was considerably less sweaty than on similar run-commutes.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 5 at marathon pace

I felt ropey all day, but gave myself a stern inwards talking to that the planned 11 miles with 7 at marathon pace were needed. I had everything prepared – the route, nutrition before and during, and the right gear. Setting foot on the canal towpath, the wind was howling in the wrong direction towards me and I knew I’d be exerting more effort than necessary to achieve marathon pace, or so I thought!

The pace felt quite manageable, even into the wind. My heart rate also corresponded well to the effort in spite of the conditions and mild feelings of carrying some sort of low level bug. Having a reasonably fast run-commuter to chase down and Richard Keep of Bournville Harriers on his bike to cheer me on also helped to take the edge off things. Ultimately, I opted to call it quits at 5 miles of pace work, wishing to prioritise the planned 22 mile long run for later in the week.

Jogging past the Red Lion pub in Kings Heath, a large group were huddled and drinking underneath a beer garden umbrella. One lady, upon seeing me running in the rain, shouted out, “Look at him! I’m having this for him!” I encounter a lot of idiots when I run, so it’s always a pleasant surprise when I don’t.

Here’s the Strava data for the warm-up, 5 miles at pace, and warm-down.

Cannon Hill parkrun

andy_yu_adam_gemili

Darryll, Adam, Matt, and me

Cannon Hill has had a few special guests over the years, with Adam Gemili being the latest, albeit as just a volunteer ahead of the following day’s Birmingham Grand Prix at the Alexander Stadium. Did we give him the bad juju? He false started and had never false started before meeting us lot…

I still didn’t feel right come Saturday morning, concluding that I’d come down with something similar to what afflicted me before and during last year’s Kenilworth Half Marathon, although some two weeks earlier this time around.

Starting off with Darryll Thomas, we stuck together for the first 2km before I ushered him on to creep away. I found myself unable to go much faster, but did become an impromptu pacer to help get Harry Fowler across the line with a cira-10 second PB.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

19 miles – aborted 22 miles

Oh, dear… I’ve never had to abandon a long run and cut it short in quite such a dramatic fashion before!

The plan was to cover the first of two 22 mile runs before race day. Whilst I’d not felt right all week, I did at least wake feeling more like myself and figured I’d still be good to go, though keeping the pace scaled back and conservative in the name of self-preservation.

Route-wise, I headed out along the canal towpath to my once-upon-a-time stomping ground of Edgbaston Reservoir. Not having set foot on the 1.5 mile loop for a year or so, I was caught off-guard by how low the water level had become. I did spot a family attempting to pet a pair of very large swans, clearly never having watched Hot Fuzz…

The wheels began coming off sometime around 14 miles. Up until then, the effort aligned reasonably well against the more conservative 8:30 per mile pace… From then onwards, I struggled to be able to call upon more from myself, where it felt like my heart rate simply wasn’t prepared to go beyond 80% of maximum.

I continued plugging away with the feelings of wanting it all to end growing stronger with each step. Somewhere around 17 miles, I picked up a debilitating stitch that I couldn’t shake, which of course also contributed to rising effort levels.

I reached 19 miles and a sudden shooting pain along my lower ribcage convinced me the game was up and it was time to stop. I was put out of my misery at long last, but I had a new problem – the 2 to 3 mile walk home from Bournville train station on Mary Vale Road…

Not being too despondent, I made the most of a shitty hand of cards that I’d been dealt. Effort-wise and time on my feet, the 19 miles won’t be too incomparable from a faster-paced 20 or 21 mile run. I have opted to cancel next week’s Severn Bridge Half Marathon, which I would have covered at marathon pace, in favour of another 20 or 21 mile run – hopefully illness free. I do have the Wolverhampton Half Marathon in early September, and the Robin Hood Half Marathon a fortnight after that for plenty more marathon pace work ahead of race day, but I can ill-afford any more poor 20+ mile runs.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Cause or effect? It’d been a particularly stressful week, so I do wonder whether I could have sidestepped the low level bug (likely a nasal infection) if my cortisol levels were lower? Or was I always destined to come down with something, given last year’s similar timeframe?

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of July 2017

bon_jovi_livin_on_a_prayer

Can you ever not think of Bon Jovi when referring to being halfway?

Week 11 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Yep. Scarily, I’m halfway there…

5k recovery

Surprisingly, the lack of anything from the previous day’s 19 miles rolled over into this particular week. My legs continued to feel resilient and energy levels remained reasonably high, though I was conscious to keep the effort incredibly easy, with an average pace of 9:50 per mile at cira-60% of maximum heart rate.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Garmin 935 thoughts

garmin_935

It’s actually smaller on my wrist than the image implies…

After a little over a week with the Garmin 935, I thought I’d share a few musings about it.

GPS distance accuracy is in line with what my former Fenix 3 produced, but with far cleaner results in previous fringe situations and locations, such as Brindley Place and its artificial canyons. As a result, even the stable lap pace measurement has benefitted by becoming even more reliable and with less fluctuation.

Comfort-wise, it’s like night and day comparing it to the Fenix 3. At almost half the weight, the overall design is much sleeker and crucially offers a better fit, even on my slender wrists. This is critical for the next major feature to work…

Up until taking delivery of the 935, my only experience with optical heart rate monitoring was via Fitbit’s Charge HR. That Fitbit experience was and still remains poor, with my heart rate, and therefore resting heart rate, regularly being over or under-estimated. Community feedback on Garmin’s efforts has also been a mixed bag, and after my two efforts at Cannon Hill parkrun being under-reported, I feared the worst. Some fine-tuning of the position on my arm (further away from my wrist) and going one notch tighter on the strap, I need not have worried because the tracking was pretty much spot on, and aside from parkrun, efforts tracked well across a variety of paces.

All in all, I’m thrilled with it. True, it doesn’t do much dramatically different to what I had before via similar or alternative means (optical versus chest strap heart rate; on-board training load versus Strava’s Fitness & Freshness algorithm), but what it does do has been further refined. Everything feels more polished than the Fenix 3, such is the two years of learnings Garmin has been able to apply to the 935 and Fenix 5 line.

12 miles from work

After the previous week’s dreadful 11 miles from the office, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to tack on another mile… I switched this run up with the originally planned 10 miles with 6 at marathon pace, due to cooler conditions later in the week being more conducive to work at effort.

The first half confirmed my predictions that I would feel dreadful, with nothing falling into place at all. My stride felt heavy with no snap and my energy levels flagged; I couldn’t understand how this could be, especially as I had purposely gone out of my way to ensure I had enough calories on-board.

Thankfully, I perked up around halfway to at least make the second half tolerable. The planned 14 miles after work is going to be miserable, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Whilst the temperature dropped some, the humidity was jacked right up to make this an incredibly unpleasant experience, even at an easy pace. I could tell within minutes of starting that the air was muggy as sweat clinged to my skin, not doing what it should have.

Like Monday, I wanted to keep this effort easy, slowing to a 10:15 per mile average, also keeping my heart rate in check at circa-60% of maximum.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 6 at marathon pace

Wind. My natural nemesis. I knew I was in for a rough ride when I saw the water in the canal being blown along and leaves of trees overhead being whipped up.

I had to adjust the beginning of the route slightly, starting from the Jewellery Quarter rather than the office, to give me enough time on the canal towpath whilst bypassing Brindley Place early enough for it not to be a distraction.

Jumping into marathon pace after only 2 miles of warm-up and straight into headwind was a big ask, and one that failed somewhat. My opening split at pace was a way off the mark 7:12, when I needed it to be 6:50 or faster. Split 2 was getting closer at 6:58, but it wasn’t until split 3 where I’d cracked it with 6:46, with all remaining coming in at 6:47 to 6:42.

In spite of running into the wind, my heart rate seemed quite well-behaved, staying at around 80% of maximum; I’m reasonably confident that on a calmer day, I’d have been closer to 75%, for a general downtick in required effort for marathon pace. The shoes I wore didn’t help (Pegasus 34), feeling more like boats on my feet rather than tempo workout tools.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With a big run instore for Sunday, I opted to keep this effort dialled down. I found myself running with Ed Barlow, something I hadn’t done since 2014 when I was busting a gut just to stay with him at under 20 minutes. On this occasion, we were jovially catching up whilst maintaining that same 2014 pace!

I commented above that the 935 failed to effectively track my heart rate during this 5k effort at around threshold pace. What I suspect happened was a combination of the 935 not getting a good heart rate lock as the run started (it’s not like I can stall things) and the explosive start causing my body to divert blood flow to the areas that needed it most – if there’s not enough blood to track, a lower than expected heart rate is reported, which is exactly what I found happening. For parkrun, this is not an issue where I can always revert to the chest strap; 5k isn’t far enough for the strap to irritate, albeit the vigorous motion of my upper body can still cause it to slip.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

20 miles with Darryll

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20 miles done!

“Do the same as you’ve always done. Always get what you’ve always got.” Whilst this year’s marathon training plan is largely the same as last year’s, I’ve been conscious to adapt and exploit a few tweaks and modifications in the quest for marginal gains that hopefully add up to over 3 minutes’ worth of improvements.

One such improvement has been to train more frequently with others, namely using races as training runs. Whilst not a race, it just so happened that Darryll Thomas and I were due to cover 20 miles over the same weekend. We’re both close enough in ability and with similar enough end-goals that it was complementary to team-up and share the effort.

Conditions were perfect for a long run in the summer with cool temperatures and overcast skies, almost autumnal in ways. We couldn’t believe our luck and geared up accordingly. Entirely unfamiliar with the route or surrounding areas of Bromsgrove that Darryll guided me on, the terrain was not unlike running on south Welsh country lanes around where my in-laws live.

Conversation flowed whilst we put the world to rights; the first half felt rather effortless as we regularly commented on how easy and casual the run felt. And then the sun came out…

Both of us were caught off-guard with the sun from halfway onwards. Little shade meant we both felt the effort ratchet upwards slowly, with a few undulations stinging far more than they should have. Positively, the two of us held on to the pace; had it have been our respective solo runs, we may have been convinced to back it off in the last couple of miles.

Upon finishing, aside from being incredibly thirsty, the two of us agreed sharing the effort undoubtedly took the edge off the 20 miles, but also will have reduced the amount of recovery needed. And whilst we‘re on recovery, Darryll checked me in as a guest to the gym he’s a member of to take advantage of some of the facilities on offer. A Jacuzzi, steam room and a dip in the pool all had a part to play – there was no soreness or tightness as I typed this out, so there’s something to be said for his recovery routine.

nike_vaporfly_4_percent

Fastest shoes in the world? Quite possibly!

Oh, and there was something that had been delivered for Darryll to further get the recovery endorphins flowing – the newly released Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes from the Breaking2 challenge! We both tried them on and the sensation is unlike any shoe I’ve ever experienced before, and I’ve tried a lot of running shoes over the years. It feels like springs have been embedded into the midsole and the carbon fibre plate almost encourages the foot to roll and propel forward, saving the wearer some valuable energy and effort with each stride and foot strike. Just from wearing them for a minute or so, I could quickly see there was some black magic contained inside Nike’s latest marvel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

1 mile for a 60 mile week

Sometime during last year’s marathon campaign, there was one week mapped out that was all set to become my first ever to feature 60 miles. For reasons I don’t exactly recall, though likely due to sacking off the jog back home from Cannon Hill parkrun, a 60 mile week failed to materialise, settling on 56 or 57 miles instead.

After totting up this week’s mileage, I had to laugh when I saw 59.00 miles; I was conflicted as to whether to ignore it and wait for it to happen organically sometime in August, or to just head out and jog a mile because I may miss the opportunity again? Well, I ended up heading back outside for one single easy mile, before being alerted by various folks on Strava that a further 3 miles would have equated to a 100km week. I did not go back out for a third time that day.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

For the second week on the trot, I once again feel like the training is taking shape and adaptations are happening. Aerobically, I’m feeling stronger than I’ve felt all year. Fitness can’t be rushed and it’ll hit when it’s good and ready, and often with no announcement.

The next two weeks will see some disruption due to racing and being away. The race is the flat and fast Magor 10k, which broke me so badly last year that I blacked out after crossing the finish line from heat exhaustion. I’ve no intention of racing that hard again if it’s warm, so will instead treat it as a fast threshold session; anything between 39:15 and 39:30 will be satisfactory in my book.

The other disruption is a one week getaway to Crete that Lis and I have planned. Temperatures will likely be in the high 20s to low 30s with no cloud cover, so there won’t be much running outdoors, bar a few easy efforts. I do have a VO2max workout in the plan, so will head to the hotel gym to accomplish that. Joy of joys, I also have a 15 mile run to welcome me back to the UK on the same day as we land…

This week’s running – 10th to 16th of July 2017

19_miles

Longest run since the last marathon!

Week 10 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

10 miles with 5 at marathon pace

Give with one hand. Take away with the other. The temperature dropped back down to an ideal training range, but with it came the rain.

Once I’d warmed up to marathon pace, I found it largely achievable, though not without additional effort. Heavier clothes from being wet and lack of traction on block paved sections of the canal towpath meant I was working to a few beats higher than I would have expected.

Strangely, my legs really felt it on this outing, where they were a bit lifeless in spite of the reduced volume of last week. My heart and lungs, whilst certainly working, coped much better by comparison.

Here’s the Strava data for the bulk of the run and the warm-down.

5 mile run-commute

An impromptu extended meeting meant I didn’t actually hit the ground running until much later in the evening. I was thankful this was just a casual recovery paced run with no expectations other than to turn my legs over.

I have begun catching up on podcasts whilst I cover these run-commutes. Recently, I stumbled upon The Runner’s World Show, from the producers of the US Runner’s World magazine. It is glossy and rather American, but don’t let that put you off – you can’t judge a book by its cover. Episodes vary in length from 30 minutes to an hour, typically, and cover a range of topics from training to interviews with professionals and regular runners like you or me.

Expectedly, many of the angles carry a US-bias, whether it be race reports or products referred to, but one episode really stood out and was the right length to accompany me on this run-commute. “Running in China” had one of the hosts share his experience of a week-long stay, representing the podcast and magazine on tour. It was really quite fascinating, highlighting the differences and the similarities between the US and Chinese running movements, possibly even paving the way for future episodes comparing other nations’ running habits (any podcast producers reading this, please consider this).

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

Well, that was harder than expected! Both Dave and I had the same scheduled run to cover, albeit separately, and both of us struggled. For me, I ballsed up fuelling; time flew by at the office, and before I knew it, it was too late to eat and properly digest a banana in time for the run.

I had no energy and my legs did not want to respond. Choppy gusts of wind frequently slammed into me to also ensure I had a mare of a time.

If 11 miles after work felt this dreadful, what will the 14 miles in a few weeks feel like, especially as I took the day off a year ago to complete it, but am not so privileged this year? Me thinks I’ll need to carry a gel and some liquid, along with having a more substantial lunch to avoid derailing it…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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The hill never gets easier! Photo by Kerry Allen

With the longest run since last October’s marathon planned for Sunday, I opted to scale back parkrun to threshold pace. I normally don’t feel too bad on training runs following parkrun, where the faster leg turnover and form efficiency seems to carry over, and the post-run coffee with the gang helps to jumpstart recovery.

I also had a new toy to play with in the form of the Garmin 935. Watch this space as I test it out and incorporate it into my routine.

Almost right on cue, the heavens opened up shortly after starting, blurring the lines between where sweat started and rain ended…

True to my word, I ran to a steady, threshold pace with a faster finish for the following splits:

  1. 3:57
  2. 3:58
  3. 3:57
  4. 3:53
  5. 3:43

Given how wet it was, I opted not to run home from the park, but naturally the rain ended once we were all finished…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

19 miles – to Soho Loop and back

Sometimes you just can’t predict how a run will turn out – Thursday’s 11 miles hammered this one home. Not wanting to end up with another demoralising run, I ensured I was well fuelled with a hearty pasta dinner and some pudding to boot. Coming along with me was my ultra vest, loaded up with the same two-flask combo from several weeks ago of flat Coca-Cola and electrolyted water.

I kept the first half easy-to-steady, also mimicking the 18 mile run from several weeks ago. Humidity was jacked up, though at least it was overcast (give with one hand, take away with the other again, right?) I bulked up the mileage at the beginning of the run, rather than run right past my home with another 2 miles to go until clocking the prescribed 19.

At halfway, I consciously picked up the pace with the aim of running progressively for home. I felt great and even had to rein the pace in on occasion, no doubt due to the slightly different and fresher muscle and tendon groups being utilised, along with fuelling doing the trick.

I saw Simon covering the same 14 mile route I assisted him with last week. Thankfully, he’d taken my recommendation of having breakfast beforehand and looked dramatically better for it!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Today’s 19 miles is probably the joint-best run I’ve had of this marathon campaign and will hopefully pave the way for the 20 to 22 mile runs yet to come. Typing this up, I don’t even feel like I ran 19 miles today, highlighting the performance and recovery benefits of the prep beforehand. I’m definitely going to stash some gels at the office, just in case from now on!

 

 

This week’s running – 26th of June to 9th of July 2017

recovery

Some much needed recovery!

Week 8 and 9 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

I’ve merged two weeks together here, seeing as this past week was actually pretty light on running and heavy on recovery.

5k recovery with Lis

After seemingly weeks of absence, Lis and I resumed couples running, though it wasn’t without its issues…

Lis’ several week break from running meant she was almost starting from scratch again, so it’ll take some work to get her back up to being able to cover our 5k route once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work with strides

Whilst I was carrying some fatigue from the Wythall Hollywood 10k, the combination of the punchy race-effort and the cooler conditions made for quite a potent mix to have me feeling pretty good. I casually aimed to keep my heart rate below 70% of maximum, and largely achieved this, bar on a few climbs and the odd set of strides to encourage some leg turnover.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Oh wow. What a joy it was to run in cooler temperatures with a bag on my back and not feel like I was trudging through a rainforest expedition!

My heart rate was a good 5 to 10 beats lower for the same pace, such is the additional strain the heat and humidity places on our bodies.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

A fortnight ago, I broke away from my usual mould of 9-10 mile runs along the canal towpath from the office. After weeks of rinsing and repeating the same route, the change of scenery and its ever changing elevation made for a nice refresher; so nice, I decided to cover it once more with a view to training more specifically for the Yorkshire Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon

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

5k recovery run

Kickstarting the week of recovery were these easy paced 5k runs on Sunday and Monday. 60% of maximum heart rate was largely achieved, ensuring the effort was low enough.

Here and here is the Strava data for these runs.

10k recovery

By Tuesday, I knew I was long overdue for a recovery week; in my defence, I’ve not felt like I’ve needed one until this week just gone.

It’s a happy coincidence that running to Cannon Hill Park, covering two laps, and then running home equates to exactly 10k. A few sets of strides stopped the easy pace from feeling too ploddy, also helping me to practice good form with no pressure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Rest is training

After a very warm and stressful commute for home, I decided to sack off my planned easy run. The sudden upsurge in temperature would have made even an easy pace feel more challenging than normal, so I reasoned I would gain more by not running. I’m grateful it wasn’t a regular training week!

By Friday, the near-three days of no running did the trick and I began to feel fresher once more.

Cannon Hill parkrun

It’d been more than five weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill and boy was it good to be back at home. Conditions appeared pretty decent, though I sadly was not feeling quite as fresh as I was just 24 hours prior on Friday. I’d suspected for a few weeks that I probably had a sub-19 5k in me if everything went well, so it was time to put some graft in for a morning of benchmarking…

Within the first few hundred metres, I found myself working with Barry Fallon, who’s a pretty close match in ability at the moment. We settled into our place in the crowd with enough breathing space to run unimpeded. Unexpectedly, especially of late, I had a deep focus on the task at hand and tried to ensure I was running smoothly with a good range of motion. Before we knew it, we had a 3:45 opening split on our hands for a small buffer should things have gone pear shaped in the middle, as they can so often do in a 5k.

Barry and I continued together before he slipped off backwards by a few steps or so, though remained inside touching distance. The pace overall had slowed by a few seconds to a more manageable 3:51 for 2k.

I was entirely conscious that large chunks of time could be lost from fading concentration, so I was on the lookout for people to chase down. As luck would have it, I’d inadvertently been caught tailing Scott Williams, who so happened to be pacing a club mate of his. Nearing 3k, he ushered me on into no-man’s land as he slowed to regroup with his follower. As luck would have it, maybe 10 or 15 metres away from me was a chap covering the ground at what looked exactly like my pace, due to the distance between us neither growing nor shrinking. Two short surges allowed me to latch on to him and to take advantage of his slipstream. 3k came in at 3:50, remaining steady.

Looking further ahead of the chap, there was nobody within easy reach to lock on to if my pacer slowed, or if I opted to make a move. As it so happened, he continued to run metronomically and I really had to focus to stay on his tail. My choo-choo train impression reared its ugly head again after a long absence, so I knew I wasn’t slacking off. 4k unbelievably also clocked in at 3:51!

The distance between us repeatedly grew and shrank during the final km. Looking at my Garmin, I knew it would be close for a sub-19 finish. Turning at the Mac, I managed to pull up next to him for the first time in the entire run. Losing the pace by a step or two, he momentarily began drifting backwards. I tried coaxing him back. “Keep going, fella. Not far,” I desperately snatched with what little breath was available. It did the trick, as he regained his momentum and pulled forward ahead of me. I was running on fumes and easily lost a second or two on the sharp turn for the tearoom, and several more on the final climb for the finish. He had just a smidge more strength than me, taking 16th by just a second, and me, 17th.

My lungs were on fire, but I cared not because I’d successfully gone sub-19 for the first time since my injury in January, with 18:56 flashing on my Garmin. I thanked my unwitting pacer, Gareth, and introduced myself. “Yeah. I guessed that was your name from all the people cheering you on.” Sheepishly, I smiled and replied with, “Yeah… I’ve been running here for a few years…”

So often, I’m reliant on everything coming together for a good performance to happen; it was almost like divine intervention that the conditions were favourable, I was rested, and there were always people around me to work with. I’m still over 30 seconds away from my best at Cannon Hill, but I’m still ecstatic by this small, personal victory.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to the Cube and back

With just an easy 12 miles on the schedule to cover, I teamed up with Simon to help him get 14 miles in, which became his longest ever run.

Almost timed to perfection, he ran past my front door just as I was setting out, so there was no need to stop and regroup.

Simon won’t mind me sharing this with you all, because it’s of benefit to everybody. Please, please, please have something to eat before you embark on your longest runs to date. Hell, it may not even be your longest run, but unless you’re well fat adapted, you’re gonna have a pretty shitty time.

Within just 2 to 3 miles (flat/downhill) at what should have been an easily achievable pace for him, his breathing was already quite laboured. I finally got it out of him that he was running on an empty stomach because he didn’t have anything in for breakfast…

Marathon training is hard enough if everything goes well, so there really isn’t any need to knee-cap yourself and make runs more challenging than they need to be. The mental boost and confidence developed from a string of well executed runs can’t be quantified, but it all helps to propel and motivate for the next block of training, and the block after that, and so on.

Despite the big setback, we got him to his 14 miles in one piece. With the lack of energy and new distance, I warned Simon not to take recovery lightly for the next few days, where his body was likely to think of the run as closer to a race in terms of effort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

So far, so good. I’m pretty content with how things are progressing, and Strava’s crude Fitness & Freshness chart suggests the same.

I’m inching ever closer to some big runs and sessions, so the past week of recovery has been most welcome. The coming week calls for runs of 10 miles with 5 of them at marathon pace, and 19 miles. The former is expected to take place during heavy rain, so at least the canal will be clear and I’ll be reasonably cool!

This week’s running – 5th to 11th of June 2017

andy_yu_suz_west_cannon_hill_parkrun

No cock-ups whilst on our watch!

Week 5 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

“Ones to watch” at the Yorkshire Marathon

Having blogged about running for some five or so years, my contact details have been added to a lot of PR mailing lists. Sometimes, I actually get some decent products to try and review, or complimentary entry into races (Nottingham’s Robin Hood Half Marathon, as a notable example). Often, it’s PR junk.

Without thinking, I recently received an email from the PR team behind the Yorkshire Marathon and assumed the communication was yet more junk. Filtering through my emails, I realised it was actually addressed to my personal email, and not the one I have listed on this blog. The author of the email asked if I would be willing to participate in an upcoming feature for this year’s Yorkshire Marathon race pack magazine. Provisionally titled, “Ones to watch”, they arrived at me by identifying that I’d entered the event with a predicted time of 2:59 or faster.

Initially, they wanted me to answer some fairly open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of my background and how I reached the target time. Reading through the question set, it was easy to tell it was fairly generic and some of the questions were tailored towards charity runners with lofty fund raising targets, making for a diverse cross-section for the proposed feature. And there’s the keyword, “proposed”; they stressed the caveat that the feature may not run at all, or I may be too much of a running bore to be included. We shall have to wait until closer to the time to see if I make the cut, or not!

5k recovery

Lis has had the misfortune of a minor foot injury, so no running for her for a couple of weeks.

It was particularly wet and windy, so I donned a long-sleeve top and tights whilst I shook my head in disbelief. Surprisingly, my legs felt great and you’d never have guessed I ran 17 miles just a day prior.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

The spate of poor weather continued and I side-lined any thoughts of work at pace for later in the week. Turning the corner on the Gas Street junction of the canal, I physically had to lean into the wind to gain some traction to give you an idea of how strong the gusts were!

I forgot how regularly I chew through shoes during a marathon training cycle, with three pairs, that were otherwise in decent health only several weeks ago, now needing replacement due to reaching their lifespan (500 miles for training shoes, 250 miles for racing shoes). How do I know when their time is up? I have a nerdy shoe spreadsheet that I’ve maintained for years before the likes of Garmin and Strava included a shoe-logging feature (and Nike+ actually had such a feature before the rest), where I record the mileage used against each pair. For the training shoes, I apply a secondary factor of how much cushioning they have left in them by feel; if after a medium-long run and the cushioning feels dead, then it’s time for them to go. For race shoes, I eyeball them, especially in the upper for tears and the sole for thin or missing rubber.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

The adage that you don’t regret a run largely holds true for me. The only one I do regret is the when I tweaked my Achilles tendon before Christmas, but all the others have been worthwhile in some way, shape or form. That said, I really was not in the mood for this run-commute. I was tired from an entire day’s worth of training at work, and I felt like I was coming down with something where I felt fuzzy and was carrying a chill. I also had limited time to run and have dinner before heading out to catch Wonder Woman at the cinema (great watch).

I decided to sack the run off, despite carrying all of the gear into the city centre for the run-commute home. Reaching the bus stop, all of the ETAs for my bus were snarled up due to the cricket taking place at Edgbaston, so I let out a sigh and got dressed into my run gear rather than wait the travel situation out.

I felt perfectly fine by the end of 5 miles and probably took just as long as if I was sat in traffic. Regretting runs? Nope. Not me!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

The canal by my workplace has finally been paved after several years without, and several weeks with the annoying gravel foundations in preparation. Whilst not an athletics track, the buttery smooth fresh tarmac was an absolute joy to run on, with just the right amount of give and traction.

With no runs at a taxing pace up to this point in the week, my legs were noticeably fresher than normal and so I allowed the pace to sharpen up slightly. Only the knowledge of covering the then upcoming Aldridge 10k at marathon pace stopped me from going completely bananas.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

The summer brings a lot of scope for interruption to Cannon Hill parkrun. There are countless festivals, live shows and whatnot that makes holding an organised run with some 800 plus participants especially challenging. It was the England versus Australia cricket match across the road that nearly cancelled parkrun, but dissuading as many runners as possible from attending and a trial temporary course allowed business to sort of continue as usual…

Lis and I both volunteered; she was positioned by the Mac along with Liz Dexter, whereas I and Suz West had the slightly nerve-wracking role of holding the makeshift lap number board and directing runners towards the finish. Starting over Fergal’s Corner and where the Ronnie Bowker 10k kick-off, runners were to cover three laps of the main perimeter of the park, cutting out the inner paths and excursion towards the triangle. Suz and I had to keep our eyes peeled for anybody that had miscounted and, thankfully, nobody did from what we saw. Scouring through the results, it would have been obvious if an entire lap had been cut out because PBs (of which there were very few) would have been minutes, and not seconds faster.

Cannon Hill parkrun will unavoidably be cancelled on Saturday 24th of June as a warning.

Aldridge 10k 2017 review

Please click here for the full race report.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Not a bad week of running at all and marathon pace continues to feel both less challenging and more manageable across longer distances. Compared to a year ago, I’m a few beats lower for the same effort, though I’m now thinking I need to add more variety to the marathon paced sections I cover, instead of just running the miles on the flat canal repeatedly…

There’s still a lot of work to do, with meatier 18 mile plus runs soon to become a regular fixture in the plan.

This week’s running – 29th of May to 4th of June 2017

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No camels on the Camel Trail. Disappoint!

Week 4 of the 22 week marathon schedule, with part of it in Cornwall!

7 miles to Padstow and 6 miles to Wadebridge

After mine and Lis’ Scottish break back in April, we both discussed going away again at the end of May for a couple of days to Cornwall as something to look forward to. We ended up in Wadebridge for a couple of reasons – mainly cost, but also because a friend of mine lives there and recommended it as a base of operations to visit surrounding areas of North Cornwall. Imagine my delight when I also discovered the Camel Trail was less than a mile away from the hotel and could take me all the way to Padstow! Disappointingly, I later found out it got its name from the adjacent Camel River, and not because it was used to transport camels from Britain’s colonial trade days…

Bleary eyed, I woke on Bank Holiday Monday with the intent of getting 13 miles in by running to Padstow and then turning around for the return back to Wadebridge. As a bank holiday, there was already a decent level of activity on the Camel Trail from cyclists, walkers with and without dogs, horse riders, and of course, runners. Unsure of the etiquette in that part of the world, I decided to adopt what I do whilst running in Wales and simply wished “morning” to everybody I came into contact with.

Whilst it was overcast, there was a lot of humidity in the air to add to my lack of mojo whilst on the trail. I can’t pinpoint what was up with me, but I lacked that spark I normally have when I’m running whilst on holiday in a new locale.

I began to perk up once I neared Padstow, and was surprised to see a lot of hustle and bustle at only 8am or so. Turning around for Wadebridge, the sudden need to visit the loo took over, and no, a tree would not have sufficed… Thankfully, with Padstow being a tourist town, there were plenty of toilets available for free-of-charge use.

The run back to Wadebridge seemed more picturesque, with more users of the Camel Trail joining me. Returning to town, I had the joy of tackling 0.8 miles of climb along Trevanson Road and West Hill, with the gradient peaking with 9% at its steepest point. I guessed that there was likely a Strava segment for that portion of the run and as luck would have it, there was one and I ranked third on the all-time list. We’ll revisit the segment further down…

Not a bad morning’s work, though I was disappointed that I had to break the run into two, but when nature calls and all that… One thing I was surprised by was how much of a thrashing the Camel Trail gave my legs, with a dull ache present in my calves, quads and glutes at not even that fast a pace. I suspect when it was converted from a railway line to a cycle path, they simply filled it with concrete and finished it off with some paving. Whilst it was incredibly flat, it was akin to running on block paving that you sometimes find on seaside promenades to really take it out of your legs.

Here’s the Strava data for the run to Padstow and the run back to Wadebridge.

9 miles with 4 at marathon pace

I concluded that some days you have it, and some days you don’t, to explain why I found Monday’s split run challenging and this run far more approachable. The sun was out in full force but I’d somehow left my sunglasses behind at the hotel. At least I wouldn’t have panda eyes to worry about!

Much like Monday, there were already a few souls out and about, getting their runs in, walking their dogs or simply commuting into Padstow by bike. Most nodded or responded back with a reciprocal greeting of, “morning”; one couple running were positively beaming as they approached me, acknowledging that I was just like them and part of the running whilst on holiday tribe.

Just outside of Padstow, I turned around to begin my scheduled 4 miles at marathon pace. The old adage of having “nothing to fear, but fear itself,” held true – the pace felt perfectly manageable, even with trashed legs from several days of walking and sight-seeing. Rather embarrassingly, I was covered from head to toe in dead black flies from how sweaty I was…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Trevanson Road climb Strava segment

Upon finishing the above 9 miles, I paused for 90 seconds and looked inside to see whether I had it in me to tackle the Strava segment I’d identified earlier in the week. This was my last chance to do it, and after telling Lis I felt I had a realistic chance of taking the segment record, I didn’t want to go back home empty handed; it was then or never and I’d at least already warmed up from the marathon pace miles.

The night before, I reviewed the segment’s elevation profile, along with its beginning and end points so as not to over or under-do it. I knew exactly which points to hit hard and which to hold steady on.

The first 200m or so were relatively flat by comparison and allowed for some strong, early gains to be had.

Once on Trevanson Road and West Hill proper, the climbing began; gradual at first, allowing for not too much of a drop in speed before hitting a sharp section in the middle. My legs quickly saturated with lactic acid and my face turned to a grimace, whilst my arms pumped harder as I tried maximising any forward and upward motion up West Hill.

Towards the end of the sharp middle portion of the segment, a truck pulled out of a driveway just ahead of me, but then decided to reverse back in as I got closer… Unsure of whether he would pull out again (he did), I ended up having to look over my right shoulder to make sure the road was clear as I went wide of the truck whilst signalling with my hands for him to stop, costing me perhaps 1 or 2 seconds.

The record stood at 5:19 for the 0.8 mile long segment, with my result from the Monday ranking me third at some 30 seconds slower. With the knowledge that the segment flattened out significantly after the hill’s steepest portion, I went hell for leather as if Olympic gold was on the line, stopping only when I was certain the segment had ended.

I was a wheezing mess and understandably had to walk the remaining few hundred metres back to the hotel. With crappy signal in the room, I had to wait for what felt like an eternity for my Garmin to upload the data before I could check Strava. Turned out boy done good and by 10 seconds for 5:09! I quickly grabbed a screenshot of the results table before the former champion reclaimed the top spot as a local…

A pretty decent souvenir of my time away in Cornwall! Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile run-commute

With my schedule shifting by a day or so, I opted to cover the run-commute from Birmingham city centre and drop the 9 miles from the office to give myself a slight break.

Whilst others enjoyed the summer surroundings of Cannon Hill Park, I found myself in peak pollen season, even though heavily medicated; it’s going to be hellish for the next two months, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run. Excuse the distance – my Garmin really struggled as I started the run within an artificial canyon.

Cannon Hill parkrun

A rare occasion where I had to drive to the park, due to dropping Lis off at New Street Station beforehand, meant a warm-up that was almost halved, though was at least spent catching up with Carl.

I shan’t bore you with the details, but it was a very average and steady 19:36 performance and I continue to remind myself that I’m not training for faster 5k times, rather I’m in the process to achieve a sub-3 hour marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

17 miles – to the Soho Loop and back

This was a day of firsts, for 2017 at least. This was the first outing of the Salomon race vest, loaded up with electrolytes and a gel (not needed), and also the first run of the year that was longer than 14 miles. The schedule only called for 16 miles, but doing some preliminary mapping showed heading out for a full lap of the Soho Loop equated to over 17 miles, so that became plan A.

I bumped into Dave Sansom on the way out and joined him for a couple of the early miles, whilst he sold me the benefits of joining the BRAT club and helped the time pass by rather quickly. Whilst the last 2 miles were somewhat of a challenge as anticipated, I finished feeling pretty strong with stiffness or soreness to speak of. Typing this up the next day, my legs feel chipper with no evidence that I’d covered a not insignificant distance with a mile in the middle at marathon pace thrown in for good measure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

After the 9 miles with 4 at marathon pace and the 17 mile long run, positivity for the marathon schedule is high. Marathon pace feels more manageable than ever and 17 miles provided tangible psychological boost, paving the way for more regular 18 mile runs to come in the not too distant future.

Later this week, I have the Aldridge 10k coming up. Whilst I was in pretty sharp shape going into it last year to run sub-40 with plenty of change, I know I’m in nowhere near the same form and would only be setting myself up for failure; instead, I’m going to treat it as an opportunity to cover another 6 miles at marathon pace as a view to playing the long game. There will be plenty of 10k races for years to come, but this may be the last chance I have of a sub-3 hour marathon before life’s responsibilities beckon my attention elsewhere…

This week’s running -22nd to 28th of May 2017

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Tomfoolery with Simon at Cannon Hill parkrun…

Week 3 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Apologies for the later than usual post – Lis and I have been away in Cornwall, which will make for a more interesting read for the next entry.

5k recovery

Due to schedules not coming together, Lis did not join me for the normal Monday 5k recovery jog. Even at a gentle pace, it was clear the amped up temperature was taking its toll and bringing me out in a sweat… It’s going to be a long, old summer, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles with 4 at marathon pace

I dreaded this planned run, really I did. With the heat jacked right up and four miles at marathon pace to contend with, I knew it was going to be a rough ride with the splits reflecting as much, where only the final mile on target:

  1. 7:04
  2. 6:59
  3. 6:55
  4. 6:48

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Running through Cannon Hill Park at the height of winter and summer makes for some pretty stark contrasts. In the winter, I’m led entirely by the light of my headtorch and only occasionally spot the odd other soul. In the summer, I’m assaulted by harsh sunlight and fighting my way through throngs of other park users.

This run-commute was the first time this year where I was able to change at the office and hop on a Metro straight into the city centre, leaving almost all of my work gear behind. I am still carrying a bag on my back, and even at a slow pace, sweat is still collecting on my back for an unpleasantly warm time of it all.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

Much like the previous day in Cannon Hill Park, the good weather brought a noticeable uplift in canal towpath users to accompany me on my run back home.

I fully acknowledge it’s a shared space and treat it as such. I run on the left of the path, following normal UK road traffic rules so that cyclists pass me on the right. The problems creep in when people have other plans, such as walking three abreast on the towpath, or racing me into the tunnel, only to then bumble their way through. The worst offender on this run was a cyclist that decided to turn to speak to his companion rather than keep his eyes looking ahead; he unpredictably weaved all over the towpath, leaving me little room to negotiate around him, so I clapped loudly to grab his attention and yelled, “Oi! Watch it!” In exchange, I received a glare as if I dared to question his cycling ability or spacial awareness! Grumble over…

The onslaught of warmth continued and the first few miles were a real slog. I was tired from work and tired from a lack of sleep due to said warmth. Unexpectedly, even with only a modest reduction in pace, my heart rate sat lower than I would have pegged it to show positive adaptations are starting to creep in.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Gah. Humidity struck to make this a pretty challenging run.

Drawing my curtains, a grey and damp morning greeted me, which was actually quite welcome after the onslaught of warmth. Problem was the weather decided to perk up again once I hit the park, with the sun coming out to dry everything up, leaving ghastly, humidity behind.

Adding to the challenging conditions was how tired my legs felt. The last couple of weeks have been pretty full on to leave my legs without a certain snap, crackle and pop. This was quite readily apparent when I struggled to maintain the same pace for the awkward middle splits, which were both 5 or 6 seconds slower than the opening km.

At the end of the sweat-fest, all I had was 19:34 to show for my troubles. I did at least drag one guy along to a PB, though recommended he lose the compression vest and tights he wore underneath his vest and shorts for an almost guaranteed PB on the next occasion under such warm temperatures!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

There was no long run as part of this particular week, instead opting to cover it whilst I’d be in Cornwall for a change of scenery from the Birmingham canal towpaths. As commented on earlier, the last couple of weeks have been taking their toll, so having a Sunday with no run planned made for quite a refreshing change, even if it was only deferred for just one day.