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

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

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

5k fartlek

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

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

Cannon Hill parkrun

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

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

The return of cancellations

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

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

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

Imaginary Newport/Coventry/Wilmslow Half Marathon

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

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This week’s running – 5th to 11th March 2018

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How embarassing! Guess we didn’t get the memo… Photo by Dave Duncan Williams

One big over-reaching week before tapering, again…

11 miles from work with 3 at half marathon pace

With the Coventry Half Marathon the following week, and suffering from tapering for a race that didn’t happen, I opted for a few days of over-reaching in a last minute attempt to squeeze the last few drops of training potential from my body.

Conditions turned out to be pretty damn favourable on Tuesday evening with little to get in the way of my planned miles at pace. Whereas I’d packed tights, shorts were the logical choice for the return to March temperature normality. The positive conditions had me feeling good, especially after a faux taper week and no recovery 5k the evening prior; I was surprised to see my pace sitting firmly in the 7s after an equally unexpected, faster than usual, opening mile.

The planned three miles at circa-half marathon pace (6:20 to 6:25) were daunting, to say the least. It’s a pace I frequently cover at parkrun with little difficulty, but that’s with other people around to work off and follow. Once at pace, I almost instantly regretted my decision and the effort quickly escalated to something that felt incredibly unnatural to me. I began willing my Garmin to signal the end of the first mile, but was pleasantly surprised to see 6:26 for the split. Fully warmed up, I anticipated the second mile would drift to 6:18 as it’s historically done over the past few months, but nope – it sat steady at 6:28 and didn’t want to budge. The effort continued climbing and I felt like I was in the second half of a 10k rather than the second split at half marathon pace! I came so close to ending the pace work after 2 miles, but the monkey on my shoulder screeched away at me to keep going for all 3 miles. I reluctantly obeyed my imaginary simian-friend… In spite of giving it everything I had, steady 6:27 pace was all I could muster whilst trying to keep feelings of nausea down. The relief I felt when my Garmin beeped to signal the end was incredible! I slowed to a jog as I gasped for huge lungfuls of air.

Not entirely satisfied with what I’d been through, I then opted to bulk up the route for home by adding on additional distance for 11 miles in total. Guess I wanted to be sure I was genuinely over-reaching!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles run-commute

What a pleasant evening Wednesday was! As the nights grow shorter, I was able to get away with not wearing my headtorch as it only became dark once I was a few streets away from home. I’ll probably be able to do away with it entirely by April.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

After several weeks of feeling good on runs from the office, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had one that felt off. Whereas the pace was still one of my faster runs after work, the sensation of running straight into headwind for almost the entire duration kept my spirits low; I cursed every time a strong gust slammed into me! Further adding insult to injury, the wind robbed me of body heat to leave me feeling cold and listless.

Be careful what you wish for, Mr Yu…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Traditionally, I like to fit a fast parkrun into the week before a big target race, where I find the effort helps to wake up any slumbering speed inside me. Equally, I was told recently that I should, “make hay when the sun is shining;” I know full well the disappointment of not seizing the moment when it presents itself, only to then ponder when the next occasion would appear.

Jogging over to Cannon Hill, it was near impossible to believe that the event was cancelled due to snow only a week prior. Adding to the incredulity was the amped up temperature for the morning; I was sweating profusely in my long-sleeve top and jogging bottoms once I’d reached the park bandstand.

From the line, I went out hard. I felt alive and allowed myself to get drawn along by the swift Kings Heath Running Club member that remained just a few steps ahead of me. I did raise an eyebrow periodically as I glanced at my Garmin displaying a pace in the 3:30s… The opening km settled on 3:37.

With a climb in the second km, I lost 10 seconds or so but continued to draft behind the Kings Heath runner. My breathing grew more audible and laboured as the effort ratcheted upwards. 3:47 for 2km.

I began crashing at 3km as we became more exposed to the headwind. The freshness was long gone and I was still only halfway at an experimental effort that I came to realise was unsustainable. The rot made itself known with a 3:57 split.

Reaching the triangle for the turnaround, the brief but not insignificant slow-down killed any chance of recovering any speed I had in mind. Exiting the narrow path, it was not long before I was overtaken by several including Andy Young. He gave me some encouragement to latch on to him, but it was to no avail and I could not generate any more from my lactic acid-saturated legs. At least I managed to steady the ship for a 3:58 4th km!

With the final km remaining, I had no appetite left to push any harder because I was certain to go under 19 minutes. Just in case there were any residual hunger pangs left, the final km of the Cannon Hill course is another speed-killer, further dampening any remaining desire to speed up towards that hairpin turn and final climb. 18:49 was my spoil for the morning; conclusion: I’d somehow equalled my fastest 5k in 18 months, set several weeks ago, but with far more effort and less comfort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The morning took an unexpected turn as Dave and I jogged over to the Mac to meet Simon for a coffee.

Whilst chatting away, I clocked a dog jumping into the lake in the middle of Cannon Hill Park for a swim. The mother, with her young son on a bike and another dog on a lead, went over to the water’s edge in a bid to coax the rogue dog back to shore. The next thing Dave and I knew, the kid had ridden straight into the water!

We dashed over to help. The mother was in a blind panic, unsure of who or what to rescue first. I calmed her down and helped pull her crying son out of the water, then the bike, with the dog taking care of itself.

The kid was clearly distraught, crying and coughing up water, but otherwise OK. Whereas the dog on the lead remained with us, the other dog had run off into the park; I tasked Dave to retrieve it, whilst I got the mother and son into the Mac’s first aid room. A fellow runner had spotted the incident and alerted the Mac beforehand, so they were prepared for the kid’s arrival with towels, space blankets and heaters. Less encouraging was the jobsworth site manager, who insisted that the dog on a lead be tied up outside irrespective of the situation unfolding! Returning outside with the dog, Dave returned with the other one that triggered all of this only to release him too soon… We gave chase again – all that was missing was some Benny Hill music! Thankfully, we got hold of him again pretty quickly and tied him up before he could cause any more havoc.

Debriefing with Simon, he couldn’t quite believe our tall tale from that morning. Naturally, many references to Baywatch accompanied our coffees.

15 miles including Great Run Local – The Vale

On paper, I’m not so sure a long run with 5k of target half marathon pace work was necessarily the wisest choice the day after a race effort parkrun, but if that’s what I had to do to over-reach, then that’s what I had to do…

Trotting over to The Vale along the canal towpath, I came to regret my clothing choice very quickly for the warmth and sun came out to play. The positive conditions brought many others out, some no doubt making up for the previous week’s white-out.

Reaching The Vale and re-grouping with Dave, we quickly set about identifying who the big dogs of the morning were likely to be. There was one swift looking student, adorned in a Birmingham University track t-shirt. Two other speedy looking students were likely to vie for the podium, so at least I was likely to have company in my pursuit of pace and a sub-20 finish.

As anticipated, the guy in the Birmingham University track t-shirt hared off whilst I remained with the other two guys. As we gave chase, our positions chopped and changed, though I mainly stayed back to take advantage of their draft assistance. Hitting the hill for the first time, I continued to be patient having learned from a previous outing that the best strategy is to drop down a few gears and remain steady on the climb, taking advantage of the steep descent on the other side. Surprising myself, I was able to keep up on the downhill with the other two guys as we entered lap 2. The ground was bone dry, convincing me to give it even more on the next lap’s descent.

The pace continued to feel about right for a sub-20 finish and translated well into my target half marathon pace. Three became two as one member of the group dropped back. Nearing the hill for the second time, I could see we were gradually chipping away at the distance between us and the lead guy. I asked the other chap if he felt we could reel him in; breathing laboured, he gasped, “No”. Moments later, the lead guy stopped and pulled over off the course! My companion changed his tune and gasped, “Yes” for perfect comedic timing. Checking if the lead guy was OK, his breathing was effortless and he ushered us to continue. I took advantage of the situation and upped my cadence ever so slightly to gain a small lead on my companion, who had suddenly become my opponent. Reaching the brow of the hill on Mason Way, I took a quick glance to my right and I’d gained around 10m. I threw myself down the hill on the other side to create an even larger margin between us, bounding from step to step to minimise any slowdown from my high cadence.

Entering lap 3, I began encountering lapped runners from both the 2km and 5km courses. The gap between me and my pursuer had increased again to some 20m and was likely to grow again as I approached the Mason Way hill for the final time. A strained look formed on my face, with the marshal at the top of the climb offering me some relief and encouragement to keep digging to the end. Another glance to my right and I easily had in excess of 30m to my advantage, though I was still not deterred to hurl myself down the hill one last time.

Reaching the bottom, I was disappointed to learn from the marshal that we had to negotiate the hairpin turn once more. Returning to the lake, my Garmin registered a time in the 17:30s; I was confident I could pick things up to cover one last lap of the lake and still go under 20 minutes with change to spare. Mentally, it was difficult to pass the finish line only to keep going. Thankfully, I had the opportunity of a first place win and a sub-20 finish to keep the pressure applied and coax more out of myself! End in sight, I took one final glance behind me and I had around 50m on the next guy, though I still kicked for the line to finish the job properly.

Hunched over and hands on my knees, I gulped down fresh air. Whereas the previous day’s parkrun provided seemingly little in terms of fitness feedback, checking my Garmin revealed a 19:40 finish and that all my training had come good; my previous best on The Vale course was 20:09, so I absolutely have to take no prisoners at the upcoming Coventry Half Marathon based on this. I cheered the next guy in, who I was surprised to see had come back from fourth place when I last left him. Next back in was Dave, finishing in third place, once again, but pleased with his performance having chosen to race it tactically.

Jogging for home with Dave, we took things nice and slow given what we’d been through on both mornings of the weekend. That and I had another 5.5 miles to cover, feeling quite hungry and tired…

Here’s the Strava data for this Great Run Local.

This week’s running – 19th to 25th February 2018

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That’s a lot of Saturdays without lie-ins – photo by Lis Yu

1,250km later, I finally joined the parkrun 250 club!

5k recovery

Slow, slow, slow was the order of the evening! My calves were like bullets, even with judicious massage the previous day and whenever the working day allowed.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work 2 at half marathon pace

For the first time in a long time, conditions were largely in favour of me getting some faster paced work in along the canal towpath. Even with the beginnings of the Beast from the East, I suspected I would struggle with the opening split, so I threw in a purposely faster than usual mile in beforehand in an attempt to better warm my legs up. Sadly, it turned out even worse than the previous week for 6:39 (target of 6:23-6:25), which is actually closer to my marathon pace! With the shoddy split out of the way and all cylinders firing correctly, I brought it all back home for 6:18.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I used this easy paced run to break in a box fresh pair of Nike Pegasus 32 in – the very pair that I luckily found in the Nike Factory Store at Gloucester Quays Outlet. They felt perfect and actually needed no attention, unlike the awful Pegasus 34 I tried switching to. It’s often tricky to tell just how knackered shoes are until you lace up a new identical pair – it was like night and day!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

It’s been refreshing to leave the office on my runs in the company of daylight, albeit only for some 20 minutes or so before I have to switch my head torch on.

Turning the corner on Gas Street Basin, I glanced at the water and could see it being swept in the same direction of travel as me. I audibly let out a cheer of “Yes!” when I was met with a tailwind, and not the atypical headwind that so often derails these runs. I took advantage of the assist by cranking the speed up marginally and extending the run out to 11 miles from the usual 9.7. Travelling to Germany for business on Sunday, I wanted to get one final double-digit length run in ahead of tapering for the Newport Half Marathon the following week. I felt fantastic at the end and partially regretted not adding the entire recovery 5k loop on for 13.1 miles.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun – my 250th!

Well, folks – I finally made it to 250 parkruns! If we’re going to be picky, it was actually my 251st as I once forgot my barcode; I’ve not made that mistake again since as I now have spares stashed everywhere, just in case!

Rather than wax lyrical about my 250th run (here’s the Strava data for this run), I’m instead going to share how it all started on Christmas Eve of 2011. I Googled for 5k races in Birmingham and Cannon Hill parkrun appeared at the top of the rankings; I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading for it sounded like weekly-organised 5k races that were free to attend! Not being entirely sure of what to expect, I went along with printed barcode in hand and ran my heart out, finishing in 25:30 and 114th place out of 180. The bug took a while to catch and it was almost 2 months later before I returned to Cannon Hill parkrun, finishing even slower than my initial outing with 25:50… It was another 2 months until I returned once again, and the trend of finishing even slower than before continued, this time with 26:12. Reasoning that if I ran every week, my times could only improve; 2 weeks later, I went back for more and improved by almost 2 minutes for 24:19. The rest is history, as they say! Onwards to the 500 club…

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

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

5k recovery

Holy bejesus was it cold!

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute with strides

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2018 review

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

5k recovery

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What goes up must come down…

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor kit review

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

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

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

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

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

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fitted long sleeve

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Initial thoughts

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

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

Size and fit

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

In use

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

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

Closing thoughts

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Available here via underamour.co.uk.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fleece tapered trousers

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Initial thoughts

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

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

Size and fit

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

In use

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

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

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

Closing thoughts

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

Available here via underarmour.co.uk.

9 miles from work with strides

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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

The National Running Show

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Susie Chan speaking at The National Running Show 2018

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

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

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

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Steve Edwards at The National Running Show 2018

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

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

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

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

15 snowy-slushy-rainy miles

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

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

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

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

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

No more snow, please!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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

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Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!

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

5k recovery

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 x 1km at half marathon pace

What a palaver this day turned out to be!

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

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

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

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

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

6 mile recovery

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3 x 1 mile at half marathon pace

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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This was actually pretty comfortable! Photo by Pete Hickman

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – beyond The Vale and back

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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

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Overdressed? No chance! Photo by Lis Yu

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

9 miles with 2 at marathon pace

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cancelled Cannon Hill parkrun

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

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

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

6 miles in the snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week’s running – 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.