The World Half Marathon Championships 2016 review

world_half_marathon_championships_2016_bib

Toughest race conditions I’ve ever faced!

Read on to find out how things went in Cardiff for the most expensive race I’ve ever paid to enter.

Pre-race

I woke to glorious sunshine, dry and wind-free conditions. Hold on a second… No, that was Good Friday. Easter Saturday was anything but with grey skies, rain and gale-force winds.

A further complication was how off-key I felt all week long. I don’t know whether it was because I was a touch over-trained, had caught some sort of underlying bug, or both, but I felt quite run-down during the taper, even with just 8 miles of mostly easy running to keep me ticking over. There wasn’t much appetite for running, let alone racing.

With a 14:10 mass start, I was able to have a very relaxed morning getting ready for the race. Having run the Silverstone Half Marathon a number of times over the years with its 12pm start, I was dubious because getting to Silverstone still requires a reasonably early departure, and that’s from Birmingham!

Lis, Yvonne and I still consciously made our way into Cardiff with ample time for me to avoid any undue stress. Well, it turned out to be a very civilised affair and with the race taking place on a Saturday, everything was open to the public so there was no shortage of toilets around the place!

Whilst I’d already had an early lunch, Lis and Yvonne opted to kill some time by having lunch at Wagamama. Amazingly, there were people dressed to run having full-blown meals of ramen or yakisoba in there! I couldn’t imagine having something of that nature before a race, but I guess with the mass-profile of the race, there must have been a lot of newcomers to the sport who wouldn’t have known any better. The window seats we had afforded great views of a number of the elite teams, including USA, Japan and Australia, making their way over to Cardiff Castle’s IAAF warm-up area.

For much of the week, I’d been in touch with both Darryll Thomas and Vince Nazareth regarding the race. The plan was to try and stick together with the belief that we were all in similar shape, albeit with different biases of speed versus endurance. I also had to get Darryll’s bib to him, which I’d picked up a couple of days prior from the expo.

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Vince and Andy at the World Half Marathon Championships

Once bags were all checked in, Vince and I parted ways from Darryll to get a warm-up in whilst he joined the scrum for a portaloo, agreeing to meet-up once more within the start pen. Through pure chance, the two of us found a closed off main road for us to cover an easy mile with the final minute at target race pace. It became evident the wind would be our biggest nemesis for the day; running straight into it, even at low speed, felt like we were hauling a tyre behind us!

Venturing into the start pen, it was good to see the marshals were seriously scrutinising bib colours and numbers to weed out anybody that was trying their luck to promote themselves forward. Stood in and amongst my fellow runners, I finally perked up and the desire to race and chase after a PB bubbled to the surface. York’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon was covered at an average pace of 6:28 per mile for 84:54; factoring in the potential to cover a slightly longer distance (13.16 was likely based on previous outings in Cardiff), an average pace of 6:26 was needed for just a marginal PB by only a few seconds. Slim pickings for sure, what with the atrocious conditions on display!

With the world’s media locked-in, the race started at exactly 14:10 without delay, though we were all blissfully unaware of Geoffrey Kamworor’s fall on the start line!

The race

I roughly worked out the opening few miles would be into the wind, and cautioned Darryll and Vince to run accordingly by drafting behind others and to hold steady. In spite of the controlled start, the opening still came in almost ten seconds faster than six months ago for a 6:30 mile without feeling too shabby. Needless to say, there were people darting off all over the place, with some that had started too far forward, such as the sub-90 Pacers, and some too far behind.

I felt relaxed and calm, no doubt benefitting from the light week of running during the taper. Incredibly, I spotted a couple of guys withdraw from the race during just the first two miles. Mile 2 sped up to 6:26.

Whilst I appreciated the cool conditions, I was still working up a sweat and poured most of my water bottle over my head. Darryll and Vince were still firmly with me, though they began to drift backwards as we crested the hill at 5k. Once over the hill’s brow, I glanced behind me and they were both still within sight, but the gap continued to grow. Just a few hundred metres later, Vince and Darryll had completely disappeared from view, though this didn’t stop me from checking  behind me for another mile or so in the hope that they would reclaim some of the distance. Miles 3 and 4 both clocked in at 6:31 and left me feeling superb.

I noticed a rather tall Les Croupiers runner was still around me and had remained so since the start line. Assuming he didn’t slow, he would make the perfect wind break for me to draft behind. Each time I’ve run this race, I’ve always approached the Barrage with much trepidation due to its exposure to the elements – especially so on this occasion. I need not have feared because a tailwind provided just the assist I was looking for! I peeked over my shoulder once more to try and locate Darryll and Vince, though there was no sign of them and I thusly gave up my search.

Suitably warmed up, the pace lifted and I approached Cardiff Bay exactly on target pace of 6:25 per mile. Disappointingly, the course took us on the same diversion as back in October to bypass Lloyd George Avenue to take us on to a dull dual carriageway with a slight rise. Nonetheless, the pace remained resolute and stayed at around 6:27 for miles 6 and 7.

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Mile 8 of the World Half Marathon Championships – photo by Lis Yu

Running through Cathays at mile 8, I caught sight of Lis and Yvonne for a much needed mental lift. Literally moments after posing for the camera, the heavens opened up and soaked me to the bone. The downpour was sobering and at least did the trick to cool me down! Rather bizarrely, I witnessed one lean runner utilising a fartlek style strategy; he sprinted off for maybe 200m or so and then slowed dramatically to recover and would then do it all over again! Miles 8 and 9 clocked in at 6:27 and 6:23 respectively and a PB was still in contention, so long as I could hold on to the pace.

As my Garmin beeped for mile 9, I looked around for the marker but it was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t until I turned the corner and experienced a face full of headwind that I realised it had been knocked over! The force of the wind was incredible, and coupled with the rain made for an incredibly unpleasant mile. Looking ahead, the next group of guys was just out of reach by about 30m; not a huge distance under normal circumstances, but I simply couldn’t muster the strength to reach them with the gale blowing. Looking backwards, the next group was also too far behind for me to even consider slowing down any further to join. I was conscious of the climb towards Roath in mile 10 and had to save a little something for that. The remainder of mile 9 was ran on my lonesome to produce the slowest split of the day at 6:42; this was the critical moment in the race that ultimately dictated whether I would PB or not…

The steady climb towards Roath graciously threw some runners back to me, getting me out of no-man’s land. There’s always a decent crowd in Roath to cheer you on and plenty of kids’ hands to high-five for some momentary distraction from the mounting pressure; I’d always wanted to tap one of those “Touch for a power boost” boards and was finally able to tick that off my list. I reclaimed the distance between the tall Les Croupier runner and me; firmly locking in that I would cover him, stride for stride, to the end. I turned for home at mile 11 with 6:34.

With a little over 2 miles remaining, I switched my Garmin over to the stopwatch display and began pressing for the finish. Unfortunately, the wind had other plans and in spite of the largely downhill remainder of the course, I couldn’t generate anything faster than 6:23. I was knackered and my legs grew increasingly unsteady as the descent did its best to shred my quads. Arriving at the short, sharp climb at the end of mile 12, a female Kenilworth runner audibly gasped, clearly not expecting to see yet another ascent on the course; the Les Croupier and I reassured her that was it and the rest was plain sailing until the finish line.

I had less than 7.5 minutes remaining to cover what was likely to stack up to 1.16 miles, and there was still no guarantee of a PB at the very end. I allowed my stride to stretch out and broke away from the Les Croupier runner. I knew I was capable of a 6:12 mile or faster in the closing stages of a half marathon based on my performance at the Brass Monkey, but the headwind persisted to stand in my way and reduced me to another 6:23 split.

The mile 13 marker arrived and I heard Lis and Yvonne’s cheers. It was down to mere seconds whether I would snag a cheeky PB or not. I launched myself into a final kick, head first into the wind, and claimed a few scalps on the finishing straight for the line.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I stumbled over to the barrier and the over-powering need to throw my guts up took over, except nothing came out.

My Garmin revealed I’d failed to come good and missed a PB by only 9 seconds for 85:02. Considering the conditions and overall distance covered (13.17 miles), this wasn’t bad at all and if not for the ferocious headwind, especially between miles 9 and 10, I’d have done it.

I waited for Vince and Darryll to come through. Vince too was also just shy of a PB by only 6 seconds, whilst Darryll was sadly over a minute off. The pattern continued and only a select few I know made the race a success for themselves, such as Daniel Luffman who finally bagged his sub-90 performance.

Soaked from the rain and quickly cooling down, we changed out of our sopping wet race tops and donned our souvenir Adidas tech t-shirts before parting ways to gather bags, meet with loved ones and so on. I really cursed not having a foil blanket, though have now been informed there was a limited supply of them that were handed out by volunteers at the end.

Conclusions

Were this race and the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in January swapped around, I’ve no doubt I would have produced a PB around 84:30 or faster on Saturday. Whilst this is all theoretical, I’m going to use the equivalent marathon pace of 6:47 in training.

I’m in bits as I write this review and due to the Saturday mid-afternoon start, I’m finding muscle soreness is kicking in at unexpected times of the day than what I’m used to. What would normally be “Tuesday morning legs” within Marathon Talk circles is more like “Monday afternoon legs”…

Disappointingly, I don’t have any half marathons planned between now and the Yorkshire Marathon in October and feel I’ve missed an opportunity to capitalise on the training of the last two months. Vince is looking at the Tewekesbury Half in May, whilst Lis and I have discussed visiting Swansea again in the past and could always dovetail it with their half marathon.

The plan for the next two months or so is to recover properly and to begin working in earnest on my 5k and 10k PBs before knuckling down for my marathon campaign formally in June.

Well done to all that ran – not an easy day at all!

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This week’s running – 28th of September to 4th of October 2015

Cardiff Half Marathon route

Time to put the training to good use at the Cardiff Half Marathon!

This week was all about final race prep for the Cardiff Half Marathon.

5k from work

I was certainly ready for the taper by Monday. Three heavy training weeks had taken their toll on me and I needed to feel perky again. With tired legs and a headwind slamming straight into me, this particular recovery run had me averaging 10:15 miles for possibly my slowest ever time from the office.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

1.5 miles at half marathon pace

This was the final hard run ahead of the Cardiff Half Marathon. I wasn’t going to get any fitter come Sunday, but I wanted my body to feel familiar with what race pace felt like, so hence this sharpener.

Much like on previous occasions, I completely misjudged which direction the wind was blowing; by running anti-clockwise around the reservoir, I ended up maximising my exposure to the headwind to make race pace feel much harder than it should have. I was reasonably confident that had I have completed a second lap, it would have felt easier once fully warmed up.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Rest day

Rather than cover another 5k from the office on Wednesday, I opted for an evening of rest with some foam rolling to straighten out any kinks in my legs (far fewer than when I foam rolled on Monday!)

4 miles with strides

I went out to cover 4 miles along the canals with a handful of fast stretches to let my stride out, and as expected, I felt a bit sluggish there. My coordination was off after only one full rest day – the curse of the taper!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Like the Wind magazine

Like the Wind

If anybody has a spare issue 1 for sale, let me know!

A guilty pleasure of mine is magazines. Being a guy that’s always had hobbies and interests, magazines have provided me reading material where books have so often tried and failed to get me reading. I have stacks and stacks of running magazines: Runner’s World, Running Fitness, Men’s Running, Running Times, Competitor. You name it and I’ve probably had a subscription to it at some point. Due to poor and repeated content, I cancelled them all apart from Running Times, which I now subscribe to digitally at £13 a year for 6 issues.

Last year some time, I remember hearing some hub-bub about a new kid on the block called Like the Wind. Published independently and overseen by running enthusiast and blogger, Simon Freeman (and his wife), it promised to be different from the rest. Rather than churn out the same material that many of the other running related magazines do, Like the Wind is a “collection of running stories”. I finally got my hands on two issues (purchased from the poshest newsagent I’d ever been to in London, with a further three issues purchased in Bath a week later) and I was immediately struck by how personal the magazine’s content felt. Each story read like it was the individual’s own column or blog, though possibly to never be repeated. The other thing that caught my eye was the overall look and feel of the magazine – the design was simply sublime. It’s the sort of thing that you would proudly have on a coffee table at home.

At £9 an issue, it ain’t cheap. But then it does only come out once every three months, so at £3 a month it’s more palatable with the promise of fresh content compared to the yearly churn that some of the more regular titles go through.

Newport Parkrun

Over the last couple of years, I’ve experimented with running a Parkrun the day before races. I’m still yet to fully commit to the camp of do run, or the camp of don’t run; the only conclusion I seem to have reached is that if I feel like running, then I shouldn’t fight the urge.

Lis and I woke up to a chilly morning – perfect running weather for somebody that relishes the cold! The management team of Swansea Bay Parkrun were in attendance, with their inaugural event due to take place in late October (24th to be precise, but they pleaded for people to not flock to the first run, so you didn’t see that date here…)

The order of the day was to simply cover 5k at a relaxed pace of somewhere between 7:30 and 7:45 per mile. It felt entirely at odds to be running 5k at such a restrained pace with people blowing up all around me (they had pacers provided). I finally let go of the reins in the closing straight for a 200m burn-up and a finishing time of 23:05.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

A brush with greatness

Cardiff Half Marathon faq panel

Susan Wightman, Jess Coulson, Mike McLeod, Steve Jones and Geoff Wightman

My birthday usually coincides with the Cardiff Half Marathon, which means no rock & roll style antics for me. My saving grace for something to do came from the Cardiff Half Marathon organisers: they laid on a seminar of sorts with a panel of familiar, and not so familiar, guests:

  • Steve Jones – British marathon record holder and former world record holder
  • Mike McLeod – 10,000m silver medalist of the 1984 Olympics
  • Geoff Wightman – MD of runbritain
  • Susan Wightman – Team GB marathon runner in the 1988 Olympics
  • Jess Coulson – U20 3000m England Athletics champion
  • Dewi Griffiths – Reigning Welsh Cardiff Half Marathon champion

It was an informal talk with maybe 30 people in the room (and free food!), chaired by the Cardiff Half Marathon race director, Steve Brace. One stand out moment came from an audience member:  Steve worked through the crowd to get people to share their PBs, with times from 2:15 all the way down to 1:24, when one guy pipes up and shares he has a 66 minute PB with hopes to get under 65 minutes the following day. Geoff Wightman took immediate interest as a selection committee member for the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships, but was disappointed to learn the mystery audience member had no such aspirations.

Cardiff Half Marathon 2015 review

For the full report on my 2015 Cardiff Half Marathon, please click here.

Time for another one of Mark Remy’s entries from The Runner’s Rule Book:

Save the race shirt for postrace

Wearing the official race shirt during the race is like wearing a U2 t-shirt to a U2 concert.

Not cool. Don’t do it.

Cardiff Half Marathon 2015 review

Andy Yu at the 2015 Cardiff Half Marathon

My autumn A-race beckoned…

Back in 2011, I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon in 2:17:10. Oh, how times have changed…

For the 2013 and 2014 races, please click below:

Pre-race

I look forward to each autumn on the racing calendar with great joy, much more so than the spring season. It’s a chance to consolidate that year’s training to really see what I’m made of.

In a year that was decidedly light on PB performances, I knew I had to make this race count. Given the choice, I’d have preferred a longer half marathon training window, but when given lemons, you simply have to make lemonade. I decided three weeks of functional over-reaching (a step below overtraining) was needed to convince my body to go with me on the journey to Cardiff; the result was three uninterrupted weeks of high mileage and high quality training that restored confidence and vigour.

The race day goal had three tiers:

  • Goal C – to simply PB by any margin
  • Goal B – to PB with 86:30 or better (about a minute’s PB)
  • Goal A – to hit 85:XX territory

Goal C was low risk, small reward. I was confident I would be able to beat my PB from the Brass Monkey Half Marathon (87:27) set back in January of this year. Goal B had some spice to it, but would not be unreasonable so long as I kept a cool head and ran 6:35s per mile. Goal A… Well, Goal A was asking me to run a little slower than sub-40 10k pace for a race that was more than twice the distance.

I didn’t sleep particularly well the night before the race, so I didn’t feel quite as fresh as I’d have liked. The taper wasn’t as effective as I would have liked either, but hey-ho. Too late for shoulda, woulda, coulda and I just had to give it my best effort and hoped it was enough to hit one of the above goals…

Lis, Yvonne and I reached Cardiff with over an hour spare – last year taught me this race pretty much requires that you’re firmly parked up at least an hour before to get all your pre-race admin and checks done. In retrospect, I don’t think I quite nailed it this year either, but then where does it end? Do you turn up 90 minutes before? 2 hours before? I excused myself to head off for a mile warm-up, which felt truly awful. There was no bounce in my step and everything felt off-key; I reminded myself that some of my best performances have come from warm-ups that haven’t sat right. I’ve always felt a bit self-conscious completing a warm-up before big city races with non-runners and fun runners staring at me like a mad man; “He’s running more than he needs to? Nut job.” must be going through all their minds.

I dumped my stuff with the girls and made my way over to the start pens via what I thought was the long way round. Big mistake – I hadn’t gone far enough. I found myself caught up in a sea of people made up of runners trying to get to their respective starts, and spectators getting in the way with prams! A fellow runner and I looked at each other and came to the same conclusion to just barge our way through; not our proudest moments for sure, but with only 10 minutes to go until the start, it was absolutely critical that we made it into the pen. Of course, the two of us avoided making any eye contact with those around us… The Cardiff organisers really need to sort out the immediate vicinity of the start pens and make them runner only, especially if they’re looking to grow the event in size.

On the other side of the barriers, I spotted Vince Nazareth and made a beeline towards him – for once I was the one fashionably late to the party! For some bizarre reason, the queue we were in was leading us to the back of the white start wave whereas we wanted to be much closer to the front. We spotted a gap between the fences and just as we began to make our way through, a jobsworth security guard stopped us in our tracks, telling us to go around the long way. She didn’t seem to appreciate we now had only 5 minutes to go before the start and needed to be on the other side of the fence. Vince just confidently went under her arm and went through anyway! I attempted to follow but she stopped me and more assertively told me to “go around”. She was messing with the wrong person now! I told her she’d just let Vince through and now had to let the rest of us pass; I ignored her, ducked under her arms and told her to ban me if she wanted – the look on her face was priceless! A club mate of Vince’s followed suit for some more pre-race anarchy.

The Welsh national anthem was already playing so Vince and I knew how fine we had cut it. I casted my eyes over the crowds a few times to try and spot Darryll Thomas or Charlie Williams, both readers of this blog, who were both looking to run very similar times to me. As if by magic, Darryll appeared for a brief catch-up and pre-race pep talk. We primed our Garmins, and on the sound of the gun, started making our way towards the start line.

The race

We crossed the line only 3 or 4 seconds after the gun for a swift start to the race. Expectedly, people were darting off all over the shop. The two sub-90 pacers were on our right and after only a few hundred metres, the flags on their backs had completely fallen apart almost in tandem. Surprisingly, Vince was still within spitting distance of us for a guy who was firmly in 85 minute shape if his recent 5k and 10k PBs were anything to go by.

Darryll and I were targeting 6:35 as an opening split. If I’m going to be honest, I should have held back ever so slightly for a 6:40 or even a 6:45 mile instead; I felt like I was working just a smidge too hard so early in the race. We traded positions a couple of times and I shared what course info I had with Darryll where appropriate as the first two miles ticked by.

Nearing mile 3, Darryll pointed Charlie out to me; he wasn’t difficult to spot as a tall bloke ahead in a yellow vest. We eventually made contact with Charlie and I finally got to meet him. The three of us stuck together in a nice little pack for the remainder of the mile until we hit the first climb on the course on the approach to Penarth. Regular readers will know I have a short, fast stride, which is great for covering hills without losing speed. Darryll and Charlie didn’t go with me, but I hoped they’d catch-up on the descent. Nope. No sign of them on the other side and so my race sadly became a solo affair. I could still see Vince ahead by maybe 15 seconds; a club mate of his moving at a similar pace to me served as a good interim target to try and stay with to bridge the gap.

Conditions were pretty good with the skies overcast to leave the air cool and crisp. I had largely been sheltered for much of the early stages of the race, but my thoughts quickly moved to the potential for strong gusts as I approached The Barrage (apparently, I say it far too poshly…) My fears were well founded because the wind did indeed pick up as I set foot on the crossing. I did my best to tuck in around larger runners for some relief. Wind aside, I had finally warmed up properly and felt pretty damn good. The Garmin reported 6:25 pace a couple of times on its display to remind me to dial things back a touch.

I reached Cardiff Bay feeling positive. The first of the race’s timing mats appeared at 10k to let Lis know I would only be 12 to 15 minutes away from her spectating spot at around mile 8. MaxiFuel were handing out their gels, though I didn’t see many going for them, reminding me to slurp down one of my own for a hit of sugar and caffeine.

Due to road works between miles 6 and 7 on what equated to last year’s course, the organisers plotted a slight but not insignificant detour to bypass Lloyd George Avenue entirely with an alternative road that ran parallel. Disappointingly, this move cut out a good mile of crowd support by sending runners on to a barren dual carriageway instead. I’ve historically relied on a mid-race pick-me-up from spectating friends at around this point and it’s no coincidence that I started to lose my grip on the race on this occasion. Mile 7 was tedious and produced the first ugly looking split: a 6:40 mile.

Andy Yu at the cardiff half marathon

An impromptu gun show at mile 8 – photo by Lis Yu

Reaching mile 8, I looked forward to seeing Lis and Yvonne for a mental break. Pretty much exactly where they were last year, they gave me a few cheers to push me on my way before I would see them again before the finish. The race began to take its toll on me; my legs started to slow and the effort to stay on pace crept upwards. I was still in control, but only just. Vince had disappeared from sight, but his clubmate I tracked was still hovering around me; all I had to do was cover any moves he made to try and stay with him. I finally saw Lis and Yvonne, and postured a bit for the camera. Mile 8 came in at 6:32 to get me back on course, though I was pretty sure an 85:XX was no longer possible.

The penultimate water stop on the course appeared at mile 9. I was cautious to not get distracted by those handing water out like last year and instead had my heart set on a sweet, sweet bottle of Lucozade – the only time they would be handed out on the course. I wasn’t disappointed and managed to bag one for a much needed sugar and liquid hit. I offered the remainder of my Lucozade, just in case anybody had missed the opportunity to grab some as I had previously, but there were no takers. The guys around me had remained consistent for the last couple of miles, so I was in good company.

Mile 10 saw the ascent towards Roath. Oddly, the climb neither felt as steep nor as long as I remembered it from previous years. I’m a stickler for running a clean line in races and a couple of times already, I found myself running on one side of the road with nobody ahead or in tow. I could clearly see the road turning towards the right, but everybody else stuck to their guns and remained on the left-hand side. I took the initiative once again to move over, gaining a few places in the process for free, but also in prime position to high-five a kid for a moment of distraction from the mounting effort of the task at hand. I took to running on the pavement for a minute or so to give my feet a break from the chunky road underfoot – the joys of wearing such minimal racing flats… As I followed the line around the northern end of the lake, I breathed a small sigh of relief that I was finally on my way home.

As I began sucking down my final energy gel, Vince’s wife, Heather, appeared at pretty much the mile 11 marker and caught me off-guard with a cheer. I quickly downed the remnants of the gel to give her a wave and thank her for the support. The effort of the half marathon was beginning to reach breaking point for me; I was mentally and physically fatigued and let out a few grunts and groans. Charlie caught up to me and looked immaculate – clearly his patient game was paying dividends compared to my ever so slightly enthusiastic first half. We gave each other some encouragement and I added a warning to hold a little something back for a short, sharp hill at the end of mile 12 that was rapidly approaching. The course started to descend and Charlie took full advantage of this with his lengthy stride; I simply couldn’t get back to him where my short stride length was proving to be a hindrance acting as a subtle brake with each step. A few metres in front, I saw Chris, the San Domenico runner I worked with in the Magor Marsh 10k and caught up to him, trying to drag him along with me as I bowled down this hill. After Magor, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stay with me and let me go, but wished me well on my way.

The sharp hill arrived and after a steep descent downwards, it was jarring to suddenly have to climb again. But the climb was completely worthwhile because on the other side was an almost entirely downhill final mile towards the finish line. Charlie was still just ahead of me by no more than a couple of strides and I once again tried to reel him back in, but to no avail. I let out a few more grunts and groans to soothe the fire inside. My form had gone to shit by this stage, with my arms and shoulders flapping about with no control. A mysterious runner dressed in black ran alongside us for a brief moment, offering encouragement just when it was becoming most unbearable to continue. Darryll and I later realised we’d both had interactions with this mystery runner (he offered water to Darryll); had we just witnessed the Good Samaritan of the running world?

Pain at the Cardiff Half Marathon

Sprinting for the line at the Cardiff Half Marathon 2015

I began to wind up the pace, with only the slight hump over the railway line to slow me down. My Garmin reported only 500m or so remained between me and a shiny new half marathon PB. Charlie was still just ahead but I was steadily closing the gap. I turned the final corner and just in front of me behind the barriers were Lis and Yvonne for one final cheer. Firmly planted on the home straight, it was time to kick. A chap in a red top responded and went with me as we hurtled down towards the finish line. Charlie was now within spitting distance but was also in full flight with that long stride of his – had we have had another 10 – 15m of road to cover, I’d have got him but alas, he deservedly pipped me to the line by 2 seconds or so on gun time.

Post-race

Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

So many times previously in Cardiff, I’ve finished as a heap over a barrier to the side of the finish funnel and this occasion was no different. A marshal asked me a couple of times if I was OK; the first time, I tried speaking but nothing came out – only the desire to throw my guts up from the hard racing. I tried again and finally, I managed to muster a few snatched words of “Just. Need. A moment. To catch. Breath.”

Checking my Garmin, I PBd with 86:44, though this was later confirmed as a couple of seconds faster for 86:41. I must have started my Garmin a little too early and stopped it a little late, but I’m not complaining when free time’s on offer!

Once recovered, I got back on my feet to find my left quad twitching from cramp. I waited for Darryll to come through and to try and also locate Charlie to congratulate him. Darryll shared he had suffered some stomach complaints that undoubtedly cost him a bit of time, yet he still managed to produce an 87:39 in the process for his second fastest half marathon. On a different day, he’d have run his PB, I’m certain. Charlie scored an 86:40 to beat me by just a second on chip timing – a very well earned PB from what looked to me to be a perfectly executed race.

Vince, Andy and Darryll at the Cardiff Half Marathon 2015

Vince, Andy and Darryll at the 2015 Cardiff Half Marathon – photo supplied by Darryll Thomas

I caught up with Vince who got his long awaited half marathon PB. Not the 85:XX territory he wanted, but a PB nonetheless of 86:13. With Vince in tow, we bid farewell to Charlie and made our way over a couple of busy main roads on unsteady legs towards the baggage stores. I bumped into a few familiar faces en route, notably Daniel Luffman (didn’t get his sub-90, sadly) and surprisingly, David Sansom – a regular BRAT member from Cannon Hill Parkrun.

Darryll and I headed over to the Hilton to rendezvous with our respective families. It was fascinating to hear of the ins and outs of his “run less, run faster” training schedule; to me as an observer, it looked like the right change in stimulus to get him back in PB contention shape.

To round off a pleasant birthday weekend, I was stopped on the way back to the car by two guys that had stumbled upon this blog whilst searching for “fast Parkruns in the UK”. James and Will were from the Newport area and James commented that he’d noticed my Autobots tattoo on my leg during a couple of races past, notably this year’s Magor Marsh 10k. Always good to bump into readers!

Closing thoughts

In an unexpected turn of events, my half marathon PB of 86:41 now ranks as my strongest PB of all the distances I regularly run. The McMillan Calculator reports the following equivalent performances:

  • 5k – 18:43 (18:51 actual)
  • 10k – 38:53 (39:16 actual)

This has never happened before with my 5k historically as my strongest PB due to the regularity of PB attempts. Looking at the above, it’s now crazy to think that I ever even had a glimmer of 85:59 in my sights – that would have simply been too big a leap when using the equivalent 5k (18:34) and 10k (38:34) performances as a barometer.

A few stats from the race:

  • Finished 429th out of 15,989 in the top 3%
  • Gun time of 86:48
  • Chip time of 86:41
  • First 6.5 miles covered in 42:51
  • Second 6.5 miles covered in 43:04

I’m content and satisfied with how the race went. If I were to nitpick, I could have potentially taken off an additional 10 seconds if I was to have held back ever so slightly in the first half, but that’s really it. There aren’t any feelings of unfinished business, unlike after January’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon where ground frost forcibly caused me to slow my splits. One training modification I’d have definitely made was to include a half marathon or 10 mile race covered as a fast training run. The last time I raced a half marathon was at Silverstone in March and there was a lot of unease inside me at Cardiff over the distance and effort. As farcical as the Worcester City Half Marathon was last year, it did just the trick to give me the confidence I needed before the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon.

With the racing season over for me until next year, the attention now shifts to simply having a crack at my nearly one year old 5k PB – Mr McMillan seems to think I have the right credentials!

This week’s running – 24th to 30th of August 2015

Andy Yu at Cardiff Parkrun

The fastest running I’d done in weeks – photo by NiallS

Back in the saddle after a near two week honeymoon lay-off.

10 canal miles

Jet lagged and under trained, but with fewer than six weeks remaining until the Cardiff Half Marathon, I needed to get this particular long run in to kick-start the return to serious graft.

I had hoped that two weeks in Thailand’s tropical climate would have prompted some adaptations to make running once back at home feel easier. Nope. None of that. I returned to a warm and humid weekend to make the ten miles feel less than stellar. The additional 6lbs of luggage I was carrying didn’t help either!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

First day back at the office and what better way to mark my return than the staple 5k run back home? Colleagues were amazed that I was even willing to entertain this run so soon after returning back to the UK, but once I explained how important the Cardiff 10k and Half Marathon were to me, they quickly understood why I was so keen to get back into some semblance of a training routine.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

2x 1600m at 10k pace

I was probably a little premature, jumping back into sessions, but I guess the only way to find out whether I was ready or not was to just get on with it.

I wasn’t ready at all and the effort to reach the paces was completely off kilter from what I was expecting. I sacked the session off after just 2x reps and turned for home with my tail between my legs. This was enough to convince me to side-step my attentions from the looming Cardiff 10k to the Cardiff Half Marathon; I was pretty satisfied with my recent 10k PB of 39:16 whereas my half marathon PB needs a bit of work to get it into 96 minute territory.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

Cardiff Parkrun

Ah, Cardiff Parkrun. My home away from home.

After my botched 2x 1600m session, I knew I had to scale my expectations back on this one to better manage potential disappointment. I felt like I was capable of a 19:15 5k and any extra would be a bonus.

Whilst I was away in Thailand, Vince and his family were holidaying in Portugal and we traded various training stories. He was fortunate enough to enjoy flat morning interval sessions in much cooler temperatures compared to my 30 degree runs. He was feeling primed to “go for it” and eke out a new 5k PB, whilst his son and I planned to stick together.

Somewhat foolishly, I decided to follow Vince for the first mile or so before he crept away on his quest for a PB. Joined by his son, Dylan, we unfortunately let too much time slip through during the middle km meaning fast times were completely out.

Vince went on to claim his 18:31 PB, whilst Dylan finished with 19:08 and I trailed in with 19:11. Here’s the Garmin data.

I was reasonably happy with my performance, but damn was the effort stressful. I was still 15 to 20 seconds shy of where I would normally be on Cardiff’s ultra fast course to further convince me to cast aside any ambitions for the Cardiff 10k.

Andy Yu and Vince Nazareth at Cardiff Parkrun

Competitors turned friends – photo by NiallS

We had a good old natter afterwards and it was funny to think just a year ago, Vince was an anonymous rival of mine during a 5k PB attempt. The above photo, fantastically and candidly captured by NiallS, sums up perfectly why Parkrun has been such a positive influence on my running these last four years.

11 miles – to Usk and back

I somehow didn’t get the memo that the Severn Bridge Half Marathon was on to wonder why my long run was so devoid of fellow runners, yet so accompanied by so many cyclists.

My legs were stiff and lacked any bounce due to the hard Parkrun only 24 hours prior. Thankfully, speed was not the intended outcome but rather the development of endurance, which I’d been sorely missing out on over the summer due to focus on shorter distances.

Nothing particularly noteworthy on this run, bar the 800m hill at the end with a 5% gradient. Strava tells me I recently lost top dog on that segment a few weeks ago; part of me thinks it might be worth a focused effort solely on the climb to reclaim glory…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Right. Time again for the normal entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Becoming a human metronome is fun

Running on a track can be deathly monotonous. But there’s a payoff, too, if you’re patient enough to discover it. That payoff? Becoming a human metronome.

By that I mean learning to sense your own pace, to the point where you can run scary-precise splits for quarter-mile after quarter-mile, without even looking at your watch.

It doesn’t come easy. And, depending on how often you’re able to run on a track and how disciplined you are, it might not come at all. But for those who are willing to put in the time and work at it, developing this talent can be pretty satisfying.

It works, of course, by paying close attention to your watch – at first – on every 200- or 400-meter repeat. Gradually you’ll notice that your times are grouping closer and closer to a single mean. Soon you’ll discover that you’re nailing this time, or something very close to it, without using your watch at all.

This means that you’re getting a better feel for pace and meting out effort and all that stuff. Which is good.

Me, I just think it’s cool.

Cardiff Half Marathon 2014 review

For the 2013 and 2015 races, please click the following:

2014 Cardiff Half Marathon bib and medal

Same race. Different year. Different result.

You know the drill by now. Grab a drink, along with a snack and let me share my Cardiff Half Marathon tale with you. As ever, skip right to “The race” for the good stuff.

Pre-race

Throughout the years, I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with half marathons. The half marathon for me is a classic distance and the original reason I got into long distance running in the first place, but it’s also been the distance that I’ve failed most at, trying to live up to my own potential over the years.

My three targets for the summer season featured a sub-19 minute 5k (done), a sub-40 minute 10k (got two of those in!) and a sub-90 minute half marathon. Cardiff was my last chance to do it in 2014 and if I failed, I would have to wait until a spring race to come good again.

Dave was meant to be in tow with exactly the same targets, and in just two weeks had managed to decimate my 5k and 10k PBs. Sadly due to injury, he had to pull out of this race at almost the eleventh hour rather than risk further long-term damage. I had his and my own hopes and ambitions resting on my shoulders – extra motivation for when the going got tough out there. It would have been great for both of us to shoot for sub-90 and see what we were made of, but alas, the running gods above deemed it not to be.

All I needed was the right day, the right weather and some luck to make magic happen one last time in 2014.

Race morning

I’m normally meticulous when it comes to pre-race prep but I wasn’t quite all there in the morning. Here’s a list of the things that didn’t go according to plan:

  • Forgot to fill in the emergency contact details on the bib reverse (seriously folks, don’t take the risk that I did – fill it in)
  • Forgot to drink my strong espresso shot
  • Peed in a bottle due to lack of toilets
  • Couldn’t find Vince Nazareth of Les Croupiers Running Club
  • Less than stellar warm-up (no 400m at race pace)

Yup. Not a great start to an already stressful race morning. Apart from that, I was 100% ready to do what was needed to go under 90 minutes. I felt fresh from the taper and I was well fuelled. And lastly, I believed in my training from the last few weeks. “Commit to the plan. Execute the plan” was my mantra to get me to the end.

After parting ways with Lis and her mum, I made my way over to the start pens for my first bugbear of the day – none of the marshals or volunteers knew where the entrance to the white start pen was! I finally convinced one of the start line marshals to let me in via a gap by the photographers’ barrier. I actually crossed under the start gantry, noticing a distinct and audible beep – had I just activated my race chip?!

The white start pen was tiny with no more than a few hundred runners in there, including the elites at the front. I bumped into Nigel Foulkes-Nock of Lliswerry Runners and Daniel Luffman of Les Croupiers at the front of the pen just behind me. Nigel’s son, James, was just ahead of me, also chasing after a sub-90 minute finish. I finally spotted Vince on the left of my pen but couldn’t grab his attention – he was my lucky charm, where in every single race I’ve participated in with him, I’ve managed to score a PB of some sort.

Very fine rain began to fall from the heavens to keep things cool and fresh – near perfect race weather. After a rendition of the Welsh national anthem and an intro from Colin Jackson, we runners were freed from the shackles of the start pen to begin the race.

The race

I ran with James for a few hundred metres and let him go at the first bend – I had a feeling I would catch him up later in the race. Vince finally saw me and I made my way over to him at the first opportunity. He was hoping for a PB of sub-87 but felt a sub-88 minute finish was all he had due to a few too many races over the summer. I ran with Vince for the first mile but eventually let him go due to a slight pace mis-match between us. I wanted to run a smart race without any heroics to jeopardise the plan – goal creep was not available on the menu.

At about mile two, somebody behind me yelled out, “How you doing, Andy Yu?” – it was only Gerwyn from Cardiff Parkrun! I’m not even from south Wales and the number of people I recognised in the race was pretty incredible. Gerwyn stormed off into the distance at a very nice clip and I was certain he’d post a huge PB after a good summer’s training.

I began drafting behind people of a similar pace to me to reserve as much mental and physical stamina for later in the race. When the first hill arrived, naturally everybody’s pace began to drop so I charged on up to keep my target pace in check – 6:49 per mile at that. Due to how fresh my legs were feeling, I had to rein them in because they constantly wanted to go faster – a positive sign that the half marathon paced sessions had worked. On the descent from the hill, I decided to let my legs stretch out a little and along with the aid of going downhill, my pace climbed. And climbed. And climbed some more, until I was 18 seconds ahead of schedule… I sank one of my three Isogels to keep fuel topped up, also receiving a nice pick-me-up from the caffeine.

Cruising through Penarth, I noticed an older chap from Aberysywyth AC just in front of me. Being an Aber graduate, I shouted out “Go Aberystwyth!” to him, and received a thumbs-up in return.

I was a touch nervous about reaching the Barrage due to the winds, but need not have worried – conditions were spot on and the breeze actually helped cool me down; some cheeky drafting here and there helped to eliminate much of the slow-down. Passing by a DJ blaring out tunes, he reminded us all that we had reached mile 5 by declaring, “You’re at mile 5! Almost there!” Not helpful at all with over 8 miles left to go. The Garmin virtual pacer reported a 26 second lead, so I decided to stop worrying and simply let my legs do their thing. It was pretty crazy where only a week prior, I was struggling to run 2x 2 mile reps at this pace, yet I had raced 5 miles without really even breaking a sweat!

Things got a bit tight on the approach to Cardiff Bay with runners bunching up. The course took us through a less picturesque part of town where road conditions were pretty shoddy and wire fences made up the scenery. Motivation to run faster perhaps? I reached Cardiff Bay and saw no sign of the MaxiGels that had been advertised to be handed out – disappointing for people who would have relied upon them.

Passing by the Wales Millennium Centre, I had to keep my eyes peeled for Kate, Ben et al who were waiting in the crowds for me. They cheered me on during last year’s race and really helped to push me along during those tricky middle miles where runners experience a lull in energy and motivation. It wasn’t long before I spotted Ben’s mum, Kate, Ellie and Ben and laid high-fives on them all for a renewed race boost. Thanks guys!

I found myself running alongside a guy in a silver morph suit for the rest of Lloyd George Avenue. He must have been a strong runner under the suit to manage sub-90 pace and with limited vision!

Time to flex the gun!

Time to flex the gun!

I was rapidly approaching Cathays where the crowds were huge, lining the street on both sides. There were banners, bells and all sorts to distract weary runners. I placed Lis and Yvonne further up from the crowds for some more motivation. The pressure from the task at hand started to take its toll on me, and the group I was chasing managed to create a sizeable gap of several metres. I finally spotted Lis and her mum, so I waved, pointed and had a bit of fun before taking advantage of the motivational boost.

Mile 9 took an age to arrive and when it did, the marker was waaay out for me. Most of the previous markers were out anyway, due to them being attached to lampposts, railings and whatever else was convenient on the course but this one was out by almost 80m or so. I had run a relatively clean line, though a few sloppy moments here and there had caught up to me. The Lucozade station wasn’t particularly well sign-posted either and if you read through the official race literature, there was no specific mention of where the station would actually be! I went to grab a bottle of water and did the courteous thing, moving out of the way for others to then filter in, only to then realise that a very short row of Lucozade marshals were just a few metres further on. I couldn’t stop and turnaround so I went without. Not good because I’d only budgeted three gels and a few swigs of Lucozade to get me through the race… Thankfully, a saintly runner had finished half of his Lucozade and offered the rest to me, which I was grateful to receive. Welsh runners – love ‘em!

Roath marked the 10th mile of the course and another climb to track around the lake (I recently ran this in reverse for the replacement Cardiff 10k course). I gained a few places on the ascent and told myself there was “just a hard Parkrun left” to bring the closing race into context. I noticed a Hyde Park Harrier girl – a club mate of Tom Williams from Marathon Talk. All I had to do was get to the other side of the lake and a nice downhill section would launch me on my way to the finish. I clocked Nigel’s son, James, just ahead and grabbed his attention; he was clearly fading and his breathing sounded quite laboured. I spurred him on to stay with me for a sub-90 minute finish and he diligently followed for the next 800m or so before he started going backwards again.

Mile 12 was almost my undoing. I had worked so hard to get to that point and due partly to me not paying attention and marshals not being vocal enough, I stumbled on a speed bump whilst grabbing a gel from my pocket. Everything went into slow motion like something out of the Matrix, and I could hear people all around me going “ooh!” as I was about to hit the deck. Thankfully, the running gods above bestowed me with cat-like reflexes, even at such a late stage in the race, and I regained my footing just in the nick of time to carry on and sink a gel. Phew! A short, sharp hill made itself known and clearly finished a few runners off around me. Reaching the brow, I was knackered too and had to slow slightly to regain some composure. It was almost all downhill from that point onwards (in a good way).

I began to pick my pace up and use the downhill straight to my advantage. I was now 29 seconds ahead of schedule and knew this would only increase until the very end. Out of nowhere, people started aggressively charging off into the distance. I had no idea what had spooked them and looked around, only for the sight of one of the sub-90 minute pacers to make me go into a blind panic! I stared down at my Garmin and I was 32 seconds ahead of schedule. What had gone wrong? Had I run such a sloppy line that the official pacer had caught up to me? Or had he gone too fast for his target? Another guy in the rough group I ran with for the last few miles remarked that this particular pacer was definitely too fast and that we would “comfortably go under 90 minutes”. This was enough to signal that moment was the right time to begin winding things up, and to claim back as much time as possible from the clock. My stride lengthened and I began my charge towards the new finish line on North Road. I also switched up my Garmin to elapsed time, where it ticked over to 85 minutes; I was certain I would go under 90 minutes but by how much?

80s kids and Transformers fans will understand my song choice…

The final short hill over the railway line arrived and an announcer declared there were just 600m left until the finish. One guy piped up with, “Let’s do this, boys!” and I carried things on with, “Only a lap and a half of the track! Come on!” along with a kick. I swung my arms and came tearing around the final corner. I knew Lis and Yvonne would be somewhere in the crowds but I was sprinting too quickly to clock either of their faces (sorry!); the only sign that I knew I had passed them was Yvonne’s shout of “Go beetroot!” This was my Olympic final; the moment I had been waiting for to take down as many places and seconds as possible. I increased my cadence and laid down one last effort to overtake a huge group of runners to finally cross the line.

Post-race

88:51 PB for Andy Yu at the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon

Not sure what happened at mile 10 – I didn’t slow down that much!

As ever, I was majorly unsteady on my feet and fair play to the finish area marshals, they could see this. Somebody grabbed my arm and started walking me over to the St Johns Ambulance area; I told him I was OK and just needed a moment to catch my breath, so he lead me to a nearby barrier. Remarkably, I was back to my usual self after only a minute or two. My Garmin proudly displayed 1:28:49 on its face (now chip verified as 88:51) – woohoo! I had a grin on my face as big as the Cheshire Cat’s and thus marked the final part of my holy trinity of a sub-19 minute 5k, a sub-40 minute 10k and a sub-90 minute half marathon. Jobs jobbed and missions accomplished for 2014!

I saw James come through shortly afterwards, with his Garmin reporting an 89:53 finish. Sadly, his time oddly came up as 90:10 on the official results. The chap that had said that we would “comfortably” go under 90 minutes came up to me to say “well done” for my closing sprint. James and I video-bombed an interview going on, so we may appear on the race broadcast due out in a few weeks!

Vince and Andy at the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon

Vince and Andy. Ouch! Bloody nipple for me!

I caught up with Vince who had run a superb 87:40 – a time I would have been blown away by had I have run it, but it was just short of a new PB for him. Whilst we were chatting away, I inadvertently bumped into my cousin (didn’t even know he was running!), Bruce, who posted a 1:34 PB.

A good day for all, indeed. Cardiff, you were beautiful and I shall see you again in autumn 2015!

For the data junkies, here are some stats:

  • Gun time – 88:57
  • Chip time – 88:51
  • Gun position – 623
  • Chip position – 657
  • First 6.5 miles – 43:51
  • Second 6.5 miles – 43:59

Based on my finish positions, I pretty much started in exactly the right place within the start pen with only 34 people passing me. Ignoring the final few hundred metres of sprint, I ran 13 miles with an ever so slight positive split of only 8 seconds. The second half of the course has more climb than the first half, so had I have not lost 10 seconds during the uphill miles 10 and 11, I’d have finished with a very minor negative split.

Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

This week’s running – 22nd to 28th of September 2014

Somebody call for a half marathon?

Somebody call for a half marathon?

This week was about partial recovery and near-final half marathon preparations.

Rest and recovery

Those more experienced than me recommend an easier week after every three weeks of harder graft. I’ve not really had a light week in almost 5 weeks, so I chose to take it easy on Monday through Wednesday. Last week’s appalling Parkrun performance, whilst partially down to lack of 5k focus, was also likely down to a lack of feeling fresh. Now is not the time for me to be doing more because it’s almost taper time for the big autumn A-race: the Cardiff Half Marathon.

Cardiff Half Marathon

And since we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the Cardiff Half Marathon.

This year, I will be running/racing it with Dave (of the Burton variety). We’re both hoping to go under 90 minutes, with all signs currently pointing to “yes”. The more fascinating question is “by how much?” Both Dave and I have come a long way since the Great Birmingham Run of 2012, where he had never run that sort of distance before and I had yet to dip under 2 hours for 13.1 miles. I remember a number of years ago reading the training plan and experience of a sub-90 minute half marathon runner, thinking that was borderline elite; it’s now funny to think I’m only a matter of days from having a bash at it myself.

We’ve both made it into the white start pen; the fastest and smallest of them all. Those with good memory will recall my farcical mix-up last year when the organisers had turfed me into one of the slowest pens and required I obtain a correctly coloured wristband to be promoted.

All my half marathon training has been geared towards a rough 6:45 per mile pace, which equates to an 88:30 finish. This has been in line with my 5k and 10k PBs, however, I have lost a little top-end speed in recent weeks so I think 6:50 per mile, at least for the first half will prove to be a safer bet. This is also taking into account the potential that I will end up running long – last year saw me run 13.22 miles, so 180ish metres extra. Considering I can cover 400m in 90 seconds at the end of a 5k, I could have reclaimed those 70 seconds last year for a sub-90 minute finish had I have run a cleaner line. Now you can see why I obsess so much about running the shortest, legal distance in a race!

Dave is a completely different kettle of fish right now, re-writing his own history book of what’s possible. He PBd again on Saturday at Cannon Hill Parkrun with 18:47; punching that time into the McMillan Running Calculator returns a potential sub-87 minute half marathon!

Racing weight

Last week at Cannon Hill Parkrun, I bumped into Jort for the first time in months for a brief catch-up. He remarked that I looked trimmer compared to the last time he saw me. As anybody knows, when you see yourself in the mirror every day, it’s hard to see small changes in a short space of time. Had I actually lost weight? I remember a funny segment on the Marathon Talk podcast where Tom Williams was discussing how he knew when he was nearing race season, and it all hinged on how regularly people told him how awful and gaunt he looked.

This week, the scale did not lie because my weight hovered around 9st 3ish for a few days and has finally stabilised at 9st 1.5 – this is the lowest weight I have been at as an adult! I haven’t done anything special diet-wise apart from a small shift to 1 or 2 meat-free meals a week. My training volume has, however, increased. My weekly volume as of late has been incredibly close to my heaviest weeks during marathon season. Compare this to the peak of my 5k and 10k ability during the summer, when I was at my fastest but also not really shifting any weight.

Why all the fuss about weight? Like sports cars, the less weight I’m carrying means the higher my power to weight ratio. This is all assuming that I haven’t lost any muscle mass, and thankfully, I don’t think I have.

2x 2 miles at target half marathon pace

Thursday saw the last time I would run this session in full before the Cardiff Half Marathon. I was expecting a hurt fest and certainly got one in the second rep, but rather oddly, the first rep felt easier than ever (probably down to the recovery days beforehand).

I was pleased as punch at the split times, with only a second’s difference between the laps. Despite the struggle with a mile to go during the second rep, I remained aerobic throughout the entire session and crucially, the pace remained very stable throughout.

I’m looking to run a single 2 mile lap next week as a finishing touch ahead of race day, with 2x 800m reps at 5k pace later in the week to sharpen things up.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

Due to schedule conflicts, I had to miss the Kings Heath Running Club takeover of Cannon Hill Parkrun back at home. So, I popped over to one of my Parkrun homes away from home at Tredegar House, Newport.

Nigel Foulkes-Nock and I had been speaking earlier in the week and he was in the mood for a stab at a new PB, one under 21 minutes. I wanted to run at my target half marathon pace, so the two married up perfectly for me to serve as his personal pacemaker.

We anticipated that we would lose time on a few of the twists, turns and the forested section that we had to run through twice. Nigel also likes to run a constant negative split with each successive split faster than that before it. Marathon Talk recently discussed the importance of transparency between a pacemaker and their chaser as to how the pacing would work; I promised I would never let him drift more than 5m behind and would slow down to let him close the gap, which just helps to keep the task psychologically manageable.

I almost lost Nigel a few times out on the course but managed to bring him back. With just 1km left to go, we were down on target by 18 seconds and I fed this back to him along with some encouragement. I picked the pace up to get us out of the forest ASAP and on to the home straight. Only 600m remained and I continued to feedback time status to Nigel, also urging him to begin kicking.

I asked Lis beforehand to capture the final sprint for the line using the iPhone 6’s new super slow-motion camera and this was the result (great song choice, no?):

Nigel Foulkes-Nock and Andy Yu at Newport Parkrun

I knew Nigel would do it with quite some margin once we passed the 200m point. And quite some margin it was for a 20:40 PB – 22 seconds faster than his former best! He looked rather fresh at the end and I think there was possibly some more in the tank to give. This should pave the way for a stellar half marathon performance from him next week in the Welsh Capital.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

11 miles to Usk and back 

I wanted one last long run before next week’s Cardiff Half Marathon. Granted I won’t get any fitter between now and next Sunday, I can of course lose fitness and I can’t shake the niggling feeling that I’ve not done quite enough distance work this summer.

Conditions were spot on for a long run and the route offered a good balance of long, flat straights and a few testing inclines and descents. Only criticism was the temperature – a touch too warm for this time of year.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

As ever, here’s this week’s entry from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy:

Be cool when you meet an elite

Among most sports, road racing is uniquely egalitarian. You get to run the same clock. You cross the same finish line, albeit minutes or hours later.

This has been noted, and celebrated, many times by many authors.

What hasn’t been explored, in any satisfactory way, is how you should behave when you encounter one of these elite runners. Here’s what is OK, and what is not.

Acceptable behaviour

  • Smiling and or waving at the athlete
  • Telling him or her that you are a “big fan”
  • Congratulating him or her on a recent performance
  • Wishing him or her luck on an upcoming performance
  • Asking for a photo an/or an autograph, if the time and place are appropriate (i.e., not while the athlete is dining or worshiping or sleeping or bathing or racing)

 Unacceptable behaviour

  • Offering the athlete training advice
  • Asking the athlete how much he or she earns
  • Becoming so anxious that you vomit on the athlete
  • Asking him or her to sign any part of your body typically covered by beachwear
  • Kissing
  • Requesting a lock of hair
  • Trying to bum 20 bucks

This week’s running – 7th to 13th of October

Andy Yu's rainy week

This week was all about recovery and rain

Sports massage

After Sunday’s Cardiff Half Marathon and after a suggestion from Iain, I decided to pay a visit to the trusty UCB Sports Therapy Clinic. Because they’re all trainees in their second or third year of study, the sessions are just £5 each and not based on time at all.

I was tended to by Kirsty and Kieran which meant I had the most intense sports massage ever; they worked on each side of me independently and thus didn’t suffer from fatigue. They said they were rather impressed by my pain tolerance telling that they regularly see blokes twice my size screaming like girls when they’re worked on. The massage itself was brilliant and really helped to loosen me up. Whilst my foam roller does a great job of being easily accessible after a run, it’s no substitute for a real sports massage which concentrates on all the key trigger points.

One thing that did petrify me was when Kirsty revealed to me that she was getting over a cold. My immune system was probably at its weakest after the half marathon and her cold became a real risk for me at that moment in time. Unclean!

Thursday recovery run

My first run after the half marathon was on Thursday in the freezing cold and rain. I actually had to break out my running tights and compression shirt to cope! The run was just a simple 3 miles at an easy pace, helping to work some of the kinks out after a few days of sedentary.

Having two A race half marathons over 2 weeks is actually quite awkward to work your life around. If they were only 1 week apart, I could simply kick my feet up and do some short but sharp work later in the week before race day. With 2 weeks, I have to recover and then resume training temporarily only to taper again next week!

The Garmin data for the run can be found here.

Failed 19:10 Parkrun attempt

Historically, I’ve usually been able to squeeze out a Parkrun PB on the Saturday immediately after a race.

Sadly, this was not the case at Cannon Hill (maybe it’s because I’m in the 30-34 age category now?). I wanted to eke out a 19:10 PB; a whole 8 seconds faster than mine and Dave’s showdown several weeks ago and despite being at my race prime only a week earlier, I was not in great 5k shape that day. The shorter days have not facilitated much speedwork and I think the benefit of my summer of speed has now tailed off in exchange for endurance.

My old colleague, Martin, came along to Parkrun on my advice as part of training for his first half marathon at the Great Birmingham Run. Like many people that will be toeing the startline in a week’s time, Martin has only trained alone and has never run with another person, let alone several thousand others. His training seemed to have gone well and he was hoping for a sub-2 hour finish like many half marathon virgins. We went for a 1 mile warm-up and I talked him through the course and how Parkrun works in general. Martin was excited and looking forward to a shorter, sharper effort – it was a shame that the weather wasn’t on our side for his inaugural Parkrun!

At the start, I took off like a bat out of hell with 19:10 in my sights. The first mile was run exactly on target with Dave not far back in tow. Going into mile 2, I slowed dramatically and growled at Dave to do some pacing work – I clearly wasn’t in a good place! Mile 2 was 20 seconds behind target pace and I didn’t have much hope in a second wind come-back for mile 3. I’d caught up to Jonny Costello, another Parkrun regular that I see quite often. We had a chat and he told me to go for it, impressed that my times had tumbled by so much recently. I replied that it wasn’t happening that day and we continued to run together right up to the finish.

Dave had clocked a very commendable 19:40 whilst I finished in 19:57, which I didn’t think I fully deserved. My run was an absolute shocker with mile almost 40 seconds slower than mile 1 for a huge positive split.

We caught up with Jonny and I was quite honoured that he said he’d been following my Parkrun career with some interest. He said he’d let out a huge “YEEEES” when he found out I’d finally broken the sub-20 minute barrier after several weeks of close-calls (20:03, 20:02, 20:07, 20:00…), which was quite touching.

Martin came back home with an impressive 23:50 – this was almost 2 minutes faster than my very first Parkrun back in 2011. This was a very good sign for his sub-2 hour half marathon, indicating a potential finish time of something in the 1 hour 50 territory.

Take a look at my Garmin data for the run here.

Sunday long run in the rain

Andy Yu's Camelbak

My long run training partner

I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t entirely sure how to play out these two weeks between my half marathons. Discussing my plans with Dave, he agreed and felt 9-10 miles today would be just right to re-enforce the endurance training in my legs.

Sadly, mother nature’s plans were wildly different to mine, unleashing several days’ worth of rain in one go. The south Birmingham canals were a no-go zone due to how churned up the mud would be, making a 10 mile run incredibly tiring. The north Birmingham canals tend to be in much better shape, even in the rain so I ventured out for the 9 mile loop.

I took my new Camelbak hydration pack out with me too, loaded with 1 litre of Nectar Fuel. I bought one for marathon training where a few of my longest runs earlier this year proved very difficult towards the end due to dehydration and low energy levels.

The run itself was actually quite refreshing despite the difficult conditions. I ran with a Sandwell Valley club runner for a short while, both of us joking that we were both nuts for running in such heavy rain. He asked if I was a club runner (I’m honoured I can pass off as one) and when I said I was “unattached”, he recognised the Parkrun lingo and asked if I did any of the local events, telling me he occasionally ran at Cannon Hill, Brueton Park and Walsall Arboretum.

The Camelbak performed well. The weight was definitely noticeable but because I was consuming the contents as the run progressed, there was a steady rate of effort required to carry the pack. It’ll be an interesting experiment to see if my legs gain additional strength when I complete long runs without the Camelbak on my shoulders.

Whilst my clothes were absolutely sodden, my shoes and feet actually managed to remain quite dry for most of the run. Irony of ironies, my feet only started to get wet from puddles once I left the canals and ran back home on the roads!

My Garmin data for the run can be found here.

Goal setting and goal achievement

I figured this would be a good time in the running calendar to consolidate my goals, both in terms of setting them and what I’ve achieved.

This post is partly inspired by an old Marathon Talk episode (it may have been 17 or 18) where Tom and Martin discussed the importance of setting realistic goals that would be achievable with some work and effort. They also mentioned the need to clearly define the differences between the goals, especially if they lead into a bigger, final result.

Back in July, I set myself the following time goals/milestones:

  • 5k in sub-19:30 minutes
  • 10k in sub-40 minutes
  • Half marathon in sub-90 minutes
  • Marathon in sub-3:30 hours

5k in sub-19:30 minutes

The only goal I can tick off my list is a 5k in sub-19:30, which I’ve achieved by running 19:18 and 19:23 at Cannon Hill Parkrun and Cardiff Parkrun respectively.

Hitting sub-20 was an incredible struggle where my fitness didn’t seem to improve. I had maxed out my training available to me and neglected speedwork where Parkrun became my only weekly dose of faster running.

Once I hit sub-20, everything else seemed to fall into place and my 5k times tumbled several times over the summer.

My new 5k goal is to hit sub-19 minutes by the end of the year. Saturday’s Parkrun has now left me in doubt over whether this is possible or not. My friend Kevin has just proven that marathon training hasn’t robbed his speed, posting a massive 5k PB of 17:49, a whole 39 seconds faster than his last 5k PB. Here’s hoping the long runs will filter down for me as well before the year is out!

10k in sub-40 minutes

This is a bit of an odd goal for me. I really enjoy racing the 10k distance, but it’s kind of a stepping stone between the 5k and half marathon.

In the space of 5 months, I managed to shave off almost 3 minutes from my 10k PB. I’m confident it’ll happen organically without too much attention, so long as my 5k times continue to drop and I maintain some semblance of a long Sunday run (22 mile marathon training runs, woohoo!).

Half marathon in sub-90 minutes

The half marathon is another strange one for me. After trying for several years to dip under 2 hours, everything seemed to just fall into place once it finally happened a year ago.

After my recent PB of 1:31:09 in Cardiff, I have an inkling that I’m capable of dipping under 90 minutes and will have a go at that during the Great Birmingham Run. I’m still suspicious of the 13.22 miles I ran, so I probably lost at least 40 seconds with the extra distance. The congestion at the start also cost me 10 seconds, so there’s almost a minute that I can reclaim right there. My only concern is heartbreak hill at mile 11; I know that’ll cost me time so I’ll have to be as strict as possible with my pacing and will need to take advantage of every downhill opportunity.

Marathon in sub-3:30

My marathon PB of 3:52:31 sits horribly out of line with the rest of my performances. As my first attempt, the London Marathon was a huge learning curve and many other contributing factors affected my overall time. Fatigue, the wrong starting pen etc etc all played their part in a race that did not go according to plan.

Pacing calculators are telling me that based on the above half marathon PB, I have the capacity to achieve a time just under 3 hours and 12 minutes. That assumes I’m as well trained and go for it as hard as I did over 13.1 miles.

I’ll be aiming for a time in the region of 3 hours and 20 minutes. What this means is that I’ll train for that particular time to give me some buffer if things start to go awry. That’s a race pace of roughly 7:40 per mile, which means I’ll be doing long training runs at around 8:30 – 9 minute mile pace. To become tuned into race pace, I’ll also be scheduling in km repeats at race pace periodically as well as throwing in a few miles at race pace during long runs.