This week’s running – 22nd to 28th January 2018

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Cardiff parkrun, one of the fastest courses in the UK – photo by John Ross

One helluva training week that had me feeling like I was at least close to my 2016 best.

5k recovery

I don’t know whether it’s the additional oxygen flowing through me, but I always feel like I’m more perceptive of little details when I’m running easy. Case in point was how many people there were out and about on this particular Monday evening. Not just fellow runners, but also people simply out for a walk. I can normally count on one hand the number of folks I see on a Monday evening recovery run, but there were easily 30+ souls spotted. Checking afterwards, there didn’t appear to be anything going on in the neighbourhood to prompt so many to be out and about to make for another unsolved mystery…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with fartlek

I have a confession to make – I think I’m in love with fartlek! The unstructured nature shouldn’t work with my Type 1 personality that craves symmetry and perfection, but I’ve really come to embrace the unpredictable.

Driven mainly by how strong the headwind can be as I run along the canal towpath to south Birmingham, fartlek stops me from writing speed off simply because I can’t accurately or reliably hit certain paces or splits. When the wind dies down, or I find some brief shelter, it’s an opportunity to rev my legs up. Upon finishing, I felt a real sense of accomplishment to offset the feeling of nausea that struck at the end!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

On Tuesday’s 9 miles from the office, I was surprised to see the St James Road tunnel closure was not in force yet. I’d even gone out of my way to go around the closure in anticipation, but a chat with a cyclist that came from that direction confirmed it was still open. Heading back on to the canal towpath two days later, you can already guess what happened next…

Yep. The sodding tunnel was closed several days earlier than announced! I had to climb the stairs by Fiveways train station to re-route towards The Vale, though this did mean I had to cross far fewer roads than Tuesday’s detour reccy. At least this is only until March and the payoff will be a much wider path through the tunnel, meaning runners, walkers and cyclists can co-exist in harmony like never before!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cardiff parkrun

Feeling in good shape post-Brass Monkey Half Marathon, and seeing as I was in Wales for the weekend anyway, I opted to return to Cardiff parkrun – my second most visited event after Cannon Hill. I have incredibly fond memories of Cardiff, where it provided me with my first ever sub-20 and sub-19 performances, along with some great battles with locals, Daniel Luffman and Vince Nazareth. I was thrilled to finally return to my home away from home!

A lot can change in 24 hours… The weather on Friday was pretty damn ideal for running, however it turned wet and blustery come Saturday. Whereas I also felt pretty energetic on Friday, I woke feeling less than stellar on Saturday. My heart rate was elevated and 2 miles as a warm-up confirmed I was a little worse for wear. A performance to test myself with wasn’t going to come easily, was it?

The start is always fast at Cardiff, so I was conscious not to get dragged along with something I couldn’t sustain, which has painfully happened in past outings. In hindsight, I should have pushed a little harder because I very quickly ended up in no-man’s land after just 800m… Just what I didn’t need that morning! The group I wanted to be with was just outside of reach, whereas I couldn’t sense anybody immediately behind for me to even drop back to. All was not lost for my form felt swift and benefitted from the recent regular strides I’ve injected into even the slowest and ploddyest of runs. Also of major help were the Nike Zoom Streak LT3 – my 5k and 10k weapon of choice. They’re my most minimal shoes with just 4mm heel to toe offset to really maximise the spring-loaded effect of my calves. Reserving them for only my shortest and fastest efforts, I find simply lacing them up gives me a mental boost in preparation for battle. 1km came in for 3:50.

Unusually, I didn’t pay much attention to pace despite setting my sights on a sub-19 finish. I knew I had to average 3:48 to 3:50 per km, but I simply went with the flow and concentrated on catching the group ahead of me, featuring Daniel Luffman and Carys Hughes – 1st female regular. Still running alone into the wind, I somehow managed 3:43 for 2k!

Thinking that it couldn’t possibly last going into 3k, I lost almost 15 seconds for 3:57 as I entered the critical “float” stage of the 5k. Up ahead, everybody else slowed also and I reclaimed a few metres from them. Behind me, I could hear somebody coming up fast and it turned out to be the second fastest woman of the morning. I took advantage of the brief tow to finally connect me to Dan and Carys’ group that I’d chased for so long. Positions chopped and changed, but Carys and I eventually took to the front of the pack as we watched the former second place woman creep away for the lead.

With just 1km left to go, Carys began slipping from the pace. I urged her to stick with me; a few well-executed surges from her and she was back in the game to chase down first place once more. The familiar 800m sign appeared and everybody began kicking. The 400m sign appeared and Carys surged once more to draw level with the other woman, throwing in another kick at 200m to pull away and eventually take the win. It was one helluva kick because I gave it everything I had and only managed to pull in some 6 seconds later!

I was pleased as punch to finish in 18:49 for my fastest 5k in over a year. If my resting heart rate was lower going in, I believe I could have taken another 10 seconds, but hey-ho. Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Post-run, I met with my old buddy and former-rival, Vince Nazareth, for a couple of hours of sharing stories and glories from the past year. Since turning 55, he’s been sweeping up all the local age group prizes and has set his sights on a sub-3 hour goal at the Manchester Marathon. I’ve every confidence he’ll do it, as he’s been consistently a few steps ahead of me since we stopped being rivals a few years ago. Good luck, Vince!

15 miles – to Monkswood and back

A week prior, I was running in snow and sleet. A week later and I was like a frankfurter, boiling in my own skin from being overdressed. 3 miles in, I had to stash my gloves in a bush for later retrieval!

Adding to the uncomfortable conditions was the 17mph headwind I ran into for both the out and return legs…

Yet, in spite of everything that should have worked against me, 11 of the miles came in under 8 minutes and 7 of them were faster than 7:45. Everything just clicked into place for some good old flow state.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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This week’s running – 19th to 25th of December 2016

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Curse that Ed Miliband…

I hope everybody had a merry Christmas; mine was anything but and I’ve really struggled to find motivation to write this entry up…

4x 1.2km at 10k pace; 800m at 5k pace

As is quite typical of the P&D and P&L training schedules, paces began edging closer to VO2max. I’ve touched upon this before, and I particularly look forward to the final few weeks of faster pace focus; I don’t know whether it’s the strong training stimulus, form efficiency improvements, or both, but I always feel supercharged afterwards, and this occasion was no different.

I pretty much nailed all of the intervals and paces (well done to Dave for spotting I’d left the below blank!):

  • 1.2km – 4:39
  • 1.2km – 4:37
  • 1.2km – 4:37
  • 1.2km – 4:35
  • 800m – 2:55

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

Little did I know my return to form was short-lived and premature…

Illness, part two

Lis and I travelled to Wales to spend several days leading up to Christmas with her family. Not even having spent 24 hours there, I was felled by flu-like symptoms for the next bout of illness in what has been my most disrupted block of training that I’ve endured in years!

I ached all over and experienced hot and cold flashes, writing off the day’s planned 15 miles. My PB attack at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon was disappearing before my eyes in a splutter of phlegm… I now have my suspicions regarding who I picked the bug up from, though the damage by then was already done.

As I write up this entry, I feel like I’ve been ebbing and flowing through recovery; some days I feel pretty much back to full strength, and then several hours later, I’ll feel shitty all over again.

Cardiff Parkrun

Christmas Eve was one of the rare days where I felt decent enough to at least run 5k. Meeting up with Vince at Cardiff Parkrun, we were greeted by wet, windy and miserable conditions.

Cutting a long story short, 19:14 popped out of the other side for my slowest time at Cardiff in several years. Woo…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

Since 2013, I’ve been found on Christmas morning at a Parkrun somewhere. This year, Newport’s Tredegar House played host to me and some several hundred of the dedicated.

Conditions didn’t improve from Christmas Eve, and coupled with Newport’s cross-country style course meant everybody was caked in the unavoidable mud.

I felt worse compared to Cardiff 24 hours earlier and only managed to get the heat inside to a simmer rather than a boil; 21:17 was all I could muster, for fear of making things go south even more than they already had.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 14th to 20th of November 2016

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The St Andrews Walk Climb – over 800m of Strava segment hell…

A scheduled cutback week with a little less running than usual.

9 miles with strides

With the schedule dictating that I take it easy, and a planned visit to Cardiff Parkrun on Saturday, who was I to argue about dialling efforts back?

The pace was purposefully easy, but interspersed with a number of strides to get my legs turning over at a faster rate in preparation for Saturday.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

The plan was to hit Cardiff Parkrun hard. Conditions decided it was a fool’s errand to try and outdo my previous best… It had been a while since my last sopping wet and cold Parkrun, so this outing more than made up for the deficit. Within minutes of my warm-up jog, my racing flats and the long-sleeve top I wore had become completely sodden to further weigh me down.

Vince and his son, Dylan, made a guest appearance. Vince, like me, felt there was a gap in his 5k pace training; Dylan was confident of a new PB and I guesstimated he was in the region of 17:30 to 17:40 based on his recent track and cross-country performances.

With such poor weather on show, the start was free of congestion to facilitate a speedy getaway from the line. Dead leaves littered the path and made for a hairy opening few hundred metres! I tried keeping Dylan in my sights for benchmarking purposes, though he had speed and youth on his side to quickly pull away; by 1km, he was a mere dot in the distance.

I was able to nestle into a group of three for much of the middle portion of the run, taking advantage of the shelter on offer. Positions chopped and changed periodically with the group ultimately falling apart by 3.5km, prompting me to push onwards alone.

By 4km, the effort felt completely devoid of familiarity. Once more, like several weeks ago, I wasn’t able to shift into higher gears, exposing my wider training’s lack of VO2max work in favour of lactate threshold and tempo pace.

With roughly 800m to go, I was overtaken by a faster runner that was clearly taking it easy by chatting away with supporting marshals. I was on the verge of a blowout based on my laboured breathing; he gave me a few words of encouragement and pulled away slightly to give me a target to chase down. At the 400m marker, I had caught up to him but was very much at my limit and had nothing more to give. I was a couple of seconds either side of a new course best for myself, but still some 20 to 30 seconds away from cracking a new PB to ultimately finish with 18:37.

Vince finished about 10 seconds behind me, whereas Dylan landed his PB for 17:36; pretty much exactly where I estimated he would be!

Here’s the Strava data for this run. Strangely, I also clocked 5.02km on the Cardiff course, which has never happened before. Historically, I’ve always registered 4.96 or 4.97km, with the odd 4.99km here and there. Looking at the GPS trace, there aren’t any obvious tell-tale signs and I usually run the cleanest line available to me; only conclusion I can draw is the stormy cloud cover played some part.

10 miles – out and back to Usk

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Joint-first on the St Andrews Walk Climb Strava segment!

Still licking my fresh wounds, I embarked on an out and back run to the town of Usk, with the intention of a stab at reclaiming the top spot on a Strava segment that ends near Lis’s folks’ farm.

The St Andrews Walk Climb segment is an 800m climb with an average gradient of some 5%, peaking at 11%. I lost the title much earlier in the year; the person that took it from me fully deserved it, proving himself worthy of the title during a 22/23 mile long run!

With the knowledge that I’m certainly faster now than when I last set my record in December 2015, and when I lost the title in May, I gave it a bloody good go and quickly remembered why I decided to leave it for so long before having another crack!

To reclaim the top spot, I had to beat 3:37… I ran 3:37 to become joint leader on the segment! My excuse for not finding that extra second is I had to sidestep an oncoming car about halfway up the climb, clearly costing me dearly. Grrr…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 25th of April to 1st of May 2016

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Think all of Cardiff could hear my cries of anguish! Photo by Paul Stillman

Finally! Back to 4x runs for the week!

Training to race, or racing to train?

In a bid to get myself out of this training funk, I’ve entered a couple of 10k races to try and refocus:

  • DK10k
  • Aldridge 10k
  • Wythall & Hollywood 10k
  • Magor Marsh 10k

All are spaced sufficiently apart from each other so should allow for adequate training, recovery and some taper. Recalling my end of 2015 review, I’m now thinking my target of a sub-39:00 10k looks a wee bit soft; I guess we’ll see in just a few days when I run the DK10k…

5x 800m at 5k pace

The weather really wasn’t making things any easier for this session, what with chilly temperatures, sleet and wind to contend with. Thankfully, I’d invited Simon to join me, which kept us both accountable.

Adding to the growing list of things to derail the session was technology failure. My Garmin was consistently reporting its GPS signal was 50m out and required a hard reboot to get it to play nicely. Simon’s interval function on his Garmin also failed to record early splits properly.

I kept the 2:00 minutes recovery from the past several weeks with a view to extending the total rep count to 6x, whilst Simon had 5x in mind. I’d warned Simon not to go at my pace of circa 3:41 to 3:43 per km and instead to shoot for around 4:00 per km to best facilitate his ambitions of a sub-20 5k.

The first 2 reps were easy as pie and we barely felt them. Simon maintained a rough 15 second tail on me, though started each new rep at the same time as me to have his recoveries more like 1:45 versus my 2:00 minutes.

The next 3 reps began to sting and take their toll. The tarmac was slick from the wet conditions and my Adidas Boosts weren’t coping so well due to being near-retirement age. My form began to change at roughly halfway into each remaining interval and I had to consciously pick my cadence up to get back on pace. Simon did well and continued to maintain the rough 15 second gap behind me. The final rep slowed towards the end to avoid head on crashes with some of Kings Heath Running Club who were rapidly approaching!

Whilst I could have eked out one final rep for 6x, the sleet returned and Simon had completed his lot, so I decided to fight another day.

Splits came out as follows:

  1. 3:03
  2. 2:57
  3. 2:58
  4. 2:58
  5. 3:00

All within tolerance of each other despite the conditions and I’m sure they’d have been a smidgeon faster in the dry.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10k – Cannon Hill Park and back

The crazy weather did its best to convince me to stay indoors, preying on my diminished running mojo, but I wasn’t having any of it! As I laced up to head outside, I heard a massive thunderclap and did wonder what I was letting myself in for. Stepping through the door and just 30 seconds later, I was soaked to the bone; running into the rain was actually quite painful at times, such was the intensity of the rainfall. I did receive a few puzzled looks from bystanders on Kings Heath high street as I ran past…

Once in Cannon Hill Park (after getting momentarily lost on Holders Lane), I wanted to chuck one mile in at around marathon pace to see how the effort felt after weeks of neglect. It wasn’t too bad at all, even with wind and wet conditions to contend with.

I closed down the run with another blast up the almighty Cartland Road to earn myself a new Strava segment PB. Spying the leaderboard showed Andy Young has the top spot with a time almost a minute faster for the half mile long stretch!

Definitely felt better for getting some mid-week distance out there, even in such grim weather.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

With being in Lis’ motherland for the bank holiday weekend, it would have simply been rude to not visit Cardiff Parkrun for a stab at bringing my one week old 5k PB down even further.

The odds were already against me from the Friday beforehand. Minor sleep deprivation and a drive that should have only taken 1.5 hours took over 2.5 hours meant I was already pretty damn tired before I’d even taken one step in Bute Park…

Numbers at Cardiff were a touch down due the local summer series kicking-off the day before and a 10 mile race taking place the next day. Conditions were decent, though a noticeable headwind on the return leg during my warm-up indicated a new 5k PB wouldn’t just serve itself to me on a silver platter without some graft.

The start was fast as it always is at Cardiff. Very clear groups sprang up around me and I consciously went with one of the faster pairings. The first km came up as 3:35.

I began to feel the mounting effort of the task at hand by the second km. I took shelter behind a taller chap in a hat and hung on, hoping he would pull me along. My breathing remained reasonably steady, though I knew it wouldn’t last. This split clocked in at 3:42.

By 3km, the chap in the hat began to slow a touch. A hipster-looking runner went past me and this was enough to convince me to latch on to him for a tow through the awkward middle stage. Numbers around me were definitely down and I wasn’t able to stick with the hipster for long whilst running into the headwind, leaving me in the dreaded no-man’s land. I knew I had to make it through this section as quickly as possible to be in with a chance. My pace began deteriorating and I ended the split with 3:53 on the Garmin.

Due to slowing down, a small group formed around me, along with the chap in the hat returning to me – I should have just stuck with him for a much steadier run in hindsight… I hoped somebody would take the lead and move in front to give me a break, but I ended up taking charge. The wind continued to take its toll and contributed to the slowest split of the morning for 3:56.

Passing by the final km marker, I pressed on to recover as much damage as possible. I broke away from the group and chased down two guys ahead. With just 800m remaining, a glance at my Garmin flashed 15:47 on its face; I knew I could cover 800m in less than 3 minutes, so it was still worth a punt to see what would come out on the other side. I somehow missed the 400m marker, so delayed my kick until the 200m marker came into view. I was red-lining and prayed to Steve Prefontaine up above that I’d done enough to sneak under 18:30…

It wasn’t to be. 18:35 was all I could muster, but I’m confident a calmer day would have been just the ticket. I’ll be back in Cardiff again in a few short weeks, so hopefully the weather will be more forgiving!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to Usk and back

The pace was kept easy due to the previous day’s effort, but also with the DK10k quickly creeping up.

Little drama apart from rural drivers not quite realising how vulnerable pedestrians are on country lanes with no pavement. I always run facing the traffic on rural roads to buy myself a bit of extra wiggle room should the situation become hairy. The exception to this is on a right-facing bend where I can’t see oncoming traffic and they can’t see me, so I’ll switch over to run with the traffic where they should then have clear visibility of me from behind. The number of drivers that were signalling for me to get over on to the other side of the road on the bend! In all the years I’ve covered the route to Usk, I’ve never had an issue and this was the very first time I encountered such a problem.

Nearing the end of the run, I did debate with myself internally to have a crack at bringing down the Strava segment course record near the farm, though the prevailing headwind convinced me otherwise.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 25th to 31st of January 2016

Speed limit 40

Back on the 40 mile week!

This week was about a 5k PB attempt and trying to get back to 40+ miles.

5k from work

Man, oh man. I’ve not had anything even remotely resembling a normal week since I picked up that cold at the beginning of January, so I was determined to get back on it and kicked things off with this simple 5k from the office.

The warmer climes from the weekend continued to roll over into the week; even in just a t-shirt and shorts, I was working up a sweat!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Normality was still in full flow, though forecasted strong winds were on course to derail me.

Running straight into the headwind on the out leg was horrendous at times, and probably slowed my peak paces on this fartlek run down by maybe 10 seconds or so. The return leg was much more pleasant with a tailwind for support.

During the closing stages as I ran through a tunnel, I began to hear footsteps of a runner on my tail. Rather awkwardly, I found myself repeatedly overtaking the runner, and then slowing down for him to overtake me, due to the nature of the fartlek run. On the final surge, I ran past, apologised and explained I wasn’t racing him in a haphazard manner; he smiled and forgave me as I went off into the distance.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

The fartlek run must have had a positive influence on me; I felt like I was flying as I ran home to produce a nice royal flush. I still spotted a fair few New Year’s Resolution folks out there, though there can’t be many of them left, surely!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

It was good to return to this weekly staple run. A nasty headwind smacked me about on the out, forcing me to slot in two miles at marathon pace into the return leg to stand some chance of hitting the right speeds. I’ll be honest: the marathon pace miles weren’t great and I could feel my right calf and Achilles tendon tightening up in the process. I reached the conclusion that it’s all down to my knackered shoes. Both pairs are nearing 500 miles, and whilst I’m not a heavy runner and have half decent technique, I still find my non-racing shoes breaking down at around the 400 mile mark.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

Ah! My home Parkrun away from my home Parkrun! I had a PB attempt on the cards with the knowledge that the training boost from the Brass Monkey Half Marathon would have soaked in almost two weeks later. A quick message to my buddy, Vince Nazareth, for pacing assistance and the stage was set.

Aside from the wind, the weather was actually pretty damn pleasant with blue skies and cool temperatures. I soon bumped into another Cardiff Parkrun regular, Daniel Luffman, who joined me on my warm-up jog. I felt completely out of sorts due to a lack of sleep for the days prior. I also still had an eye on my right Achilles; extensive massage and heel dips/raises successfully loosened it up, but I continued to pray it would stay silent for the run.

Only minutes before everybody was due to set off, Vince finally appeared. My target was somewhere around 3:40 to 3:42 per km for an 18:30ish 5k, with around 10 to 15 seconds of wiggle room built in should the pace likely slip in the middle splits.

Off the line, I took things much steadier than usual and allowed Vince to lead the way. There were a few gusts of wind that hit, though nothing to cause too much concern. A gap of 2 or 3m developed between the two of us and despite my best efforts to try and shut it down, I wasn’t able to turn my legs over any faster; they were heavy and leaden with no pop in them at all. I reached the 1km marker with a 3:42 split feeling reasonably relaxed and hoped there was more to give.

The course became more exposed and the gusts of wind became more of a hindrance. I still wasn’t able to close in on the space in front of me, and as the field thinned out, I struggled to find runners to draft behind. The incredibly heavy rain from the night before caused one particular corner to flood, so I observed the line runners ahead of me took to best determine the shallowest route. I really shouldn’t have bothered; the Nike Flyknit Racers I wore did nothing to keep the water out as I ran through to leave my feet soaked and freezing cold! The second km came in at 3:44 to still be within tolerance.

Ah. The awkward middle stretch. The only significant turn on the course appeared for a brief moment of slow down. Everyone around me also slowed to further distort my own perception of pace. Vince was still ahead by roughly the same distance as before, so I knew I simply had to keep this split under 4 minutes to still be in contention for a new PB. Towards the end of the third km, a lone dog was wondering around at the point where there’s two-way runner traffic for maximum hazard potential. A marshal whistled for the dog to come to her and the owner finally made herself known, remarking “Oh. He’s alright where he is. Don’t worry!” I managed to scoot around the dog, though that pinch point on the course would have only become busier! 3:57 was clocked for the third km.

My breathing once again resembled that of a steam locomotive; Vince later commented on how unusual it was to hear me exhaling with two short, sharp puffs and then inhale with one longer drag. I have no idea if this is efficient or not, though it works for me and only rears its ugly head when I’m really worked. The fourth km was largely forgettable, coming in at 3:55 when it really should have been more like 3:50…

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Andy and Vince at Cardiff Parkrun – photo by Paul Stillman

A small group of us runners formed to tackle the final km together. We had closed in on a runner in red that faded pretty badly; I snatched a few words to encourage him to stay with us as we passed him. The places in the group chopped and changed; for the first time in the entire run, I found myself running side by side with Vince as we approached the 400m marker. My cadence lifted as I clocked one member of the group attempting to kick on. I ushered for Vince to go with me, though I sensed he was close to his limit. I prayed for the 200m marker to make itself known and once it came into view, the chap who tried to break away only moments earlier put in one final kick for the finish with me in tow. He created a gap of 2m or so, though I managed to close it down to almost zero as I sprinted for the line.

I let out a strained growl as I made my way through the finish funnel. Staring at my Garmin, I couldn’t compute what the recorded time was actually trying to tell me. I finally realised I had an 18:44 PB to my name for a 5 second PB; slim pickings, for sure, but most welcome nonetheless.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

A debrief over coffee with Vince, Lis and Yvonne rounded off a great morning in Cardiff. With some focussed 5k graft, I’m sure 18:30 will come to me later this year, though my next 5k PB attempt in the Welsh capital will have to wait until I get the World Half Marathon Championships out of the way first.

14 miles – Llanhennock, Caerleon and back

Along with trying to get this particular week back to some normality with six days of training, I also wanted to get the mileage back into the 40s after several weeks of just 20s and 30s.

Unsure of how flooded my regular flat route into Usk would be, I opted to go back towards the Llanhennock hills, through to Caerleon and back for around 14 miles.

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Nike Pegasus 32s – like fluffy clouds on my fleet

This run also pulled double duty by also breaking in a new pair of Nike Pegasus 32s. I love the Nike Pegasus as an affordable and reliable neutral training shoe, owning several pairs over the years. This latest iteration claimed to be several grams lighter than its most recent predecessor, whilst also being more breathable. Crucially, Nike chose not to play about with the outsole or midsole for a very familiar feel to the pair replaced.

I kept the pace incredibly easy, not wanting to smash myself two days on the trot. Bar the opening slow uphill mile, none came in any slower than 8:50 or faster than 8:04 (extreme descent) for a largely steady paced run.

Completed, I welcomed a return to 43 miles for the week and hopefully more steady training for coming weeks with only a multi-day trip to Germany with work for disruption.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here are the next 10 shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 61 to 70

  1. If you can’t race without it, don’t put it in your checked luggage.
  2. At a fluids station, always try and make eye contact with the person whose cup you want.
  3. Shin discomfort while running is okay; while walking, not okay. See a doc in that case.
  4. You lose fitness faster than you gain it.
  5. If you never have a “bad” day, you’re probably doing something wrong; if you never had a “good” day, you’re definitely doing something wrong.
  6. If you’re going easy, really go easy; if you’re going hard, really go hard.
  7. The faster you run uphill, the steeper it seems.
  8. Running any given route in the rain makes you feel 50 percent more hard-core covering the same route on a sunny day.
  9. The more often you check your watch, the longer the run will drag on.
  10. Every rule of thumb has an exception – except for this one.

 

 

This week’s running – 30th of November to 6th of December 2015

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This was always gonna hurt…

This week was all about getting primed for one last 5k PB attempt for the year.

5k from work

Going into this jog from the office, there was still some slight nervousness around my Achilles tendon from the previous couple of days. Once I actually got running, any fears were quickly dispelled and the normal sense of routine came flooding back to me. Co-ordination was also much improved over the previous day’s 10 miles, with each step planted down more confidently than the one prior.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

Due to a prior engagement that took Lis and me over to the Stirchley side of Birmingham, I decided to take my running gear along and kill two birds with one stone by getting my fartlek run in whilst heading for home.

Unlike a week earlier, there was no distress from the Achilles tendon to leave me convinced I was over it. I wore different shoes to also reach the conclusion that the temporary injury was footwear induced. The Adidas Adios Boost 2s from the week prior hadn’t been touched since mid-September, so coupled with an 8 mile fartlek run with sharp accelerations and decelerations simply meant everything was just out of tolerance enough to make the tendon go *ping*. It was rather good to be running in full flow again, especially form-wise, in the build-up to Saturday’s 5k PB attack.

It may have just been because it was later in the evening than normal, but there were no other runners out on the canal towpaths, despite conditions being very mild and favourable, compared to the recent cold snaps and high winds that have battered the nation of late.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

The fartlek run must have sharpened me up because my legs felt great. Even with a bag on my back and running into a headwind, I was able to open the throttle a little more than usual – all was positive ahead of Saturday’s visit to Cardiff Parkrun.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

This was a character building run of two halves – both as unpleasant as each other! Strong winds and heavy rain were forecasted for Thursday evening, right when I’d be due to cover 10 miles…

The rain stopped before I headed out, but I knew it was simply delaying the inevitable… With 5 miles straight into a headwind, I dialled the pace back and in terms of effort, almost certainly equated to a faster pace on a still day. No pain at all from my Achilles tendon, but it was quite stiff during the early miles before it loosened up.

On the return, I threw in a single mile at marathon pace just to temporarily shake the slower speed up. The heavens opened up and I was drenched in a matter of minutes, leaving me rather soggy for the second half.

This run also saw the return of “Twat cyclist Thursday”. I could see a cyclist was already inside the narrow tunnel and despite the heavy rain, I decided to wait by the entrance for him to come through. He exited and rode past me, without as much as a word of gratitude. I said to him, “Think the word you’re looking for is “Thanks””, though it probably fell on deaf ears. As I turned to enter the tunnel, another cyclist appeared beyond halfway so I waited again… This cyclist at least had the decency to say, “Thanks a lot. Have a good run.” as he exited from the tunnel.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

This was the Big Kahuna. It’d been marked on my calendar for several months as my last remaining shot at a sole 5k PB for 2015. No pressure, right? As timing would have it, this day was exactly a year since my 18:51 PB was achieved. And much like a year ago, nature saw fit to scupper my plans, though not with ground frost, but rather strong winds.

I was genuinely anxious going into this run. My game plan was as follows:

  • 1st km in 3:35
  • 2nd km in 3:45
  • 3rd km in 3:50 – 3:55
  • 4th km in 3:45
  • 5th km in 3:40 or faster

I don’t do even pacing when going for 5k PBs. Holding back at the start simply doesn’t leave enough headroom when you’re too fatigued in the later stages.

Attendance was a touch light on arrival, revealed to be down to the Gwent XC league taking place that afternoon – not great for me as someone looking to work with others at the sharper end towards a fast time.

My warm-up did little to inspire me to great things, with even a gentle effort feeling like it was getting the better of me. Bumping into Daniel Luffman lifted my spirits and I congratulated him on his recent sub-19 performance after chasing it for what felt like months. I invited him to join me on my quest for PB glory, but he admitted that going under 19 minutes had nearly finished him off and politely declined. So much for runners having short memories regarding pain and discomfort!

On the start line, there was none of the usual jostling for position with plenty of space up front for anybody that wanted it. I dived straight in when given the go-ahead and quickly found myself in third place. My mind couldn’t compute what was happening and I remained in third place all the way up to the 800m marker, which was remarkable for a large urban Parkrun. The first km came in at 3:39, so a touch slower than what I’d set my sights on, but still within tolerance.

andy_yu_cardiff_parkrun_start

Third place off the line! Photo by John Ross

A few of the faster guys finally overtook me and quickly created large gaps to leave me on my own. A few strong gusts from a crosswind made running in a straight line rather awkward, but I counted myself lucky that I wasn’t getting a face full of headwind at the very least. The second km settled into target at 3:46.

I was entirely in no-man’s land during the third km. The chap in front of me was too far away to chase down with the levels of fatigue I’d lumbered myself with. A few glances backwards gave me no confidence that anybody would be along to give me a tow; it really was just the clock and me from there on out. Reaching the point on the course where I could see the runners approaching the second km, I was reminded of how few runners were in attendance that morning, with only stragglers left at the back when it’s normally chock full of runners that have yet to come through. I managed to hold the third and fourth km steady at 3:54 and 3:55 respectively.

Crossing over into the final km, I needed my Garmin to say 15:00 or so to be in with a chance of a decent PB. To my horror, I saw 15:17 and knew instantly that my buffer had been eroded away with a too lax fourth km. I originally wanted 15:30 on the clock with 800m remaining, safe in the knowledge that I could push out 3 minutes for the distance, but that ship had already sailed… I was gaining on the guy in front of me, though I wasn’t entirely sure if it was because I was speeding up or if he was slowing down. With only 400m remaining, I couldn’t do anything more to lift the pace. Even at the 200m marker, I had a distinct lack of explosive finishing power that I’ve so readily banked on in the past.

andy_yu_cardiff_parkrun.jpg

Has the lucky yellow vest finally run out of luck? Photo by John Ross

I crossed the line to match my 18:51 PB. Disappointed, I clutched the 11th place token before exiting the queue to try and calm my stomach that was doing cartwheels. I felt it gurgling away during the difficult middle portion of the run, but managed to keep it from taking control.

Here’s the Garmin data.

Having thought I’d wrung myself dry out on the course, Lis, Yvonne and I witnessed a bloke that literally collapsed crossing the line. He wasn’t moving once he hit the deck to convince various First Aiders that action was necessary. We later found out he’d simply pushed himself beyond his limits in the chase for a PB, which he did at least achieve. Lis and I began to wonder whether it was us, because this was the second collapse that we’d witnessed in the space of only several days, where the first involved a diner in a restaurant we visited.

Having had some time to digest the result, I’ve come to some peace with myself. On a different day with a loaded field, I’d have PBd. I had no 5k focus going into the run, so being able to at least match my year old PB under less than ideal conditions does show some improvement. runbritain liked the performance, giving me a -1.2 result that has handily returned me to a 4.8 handicap.

I still have a couple of weeks of 2015 left – perhaps Santa Claus will bring me a 5k PB at Cannon Hill?

11 miles – Usk and back

Surprisingly, my legs felt great despite the eyeballs out run at Cardiff Parkrun the previous day. There was no tightness at all when I let my stride stretch out, allowing me to also actively work on my form at the same time.

I normally see a few runners out on this route but it was just me on this occasion. Plenty of cyclists riding chain gang style, though.

The 2 miles or so leading into and out of Usk are hands down the best paved roads I’ve ever had the privilege to run on. They’re pancake flat and the tarmac that was used has just enough give to return energy without dulling legs that harder surfaces do. Finally, the texture is just right for road running, with enough grip to maximise the power from each toe-off without feeling lumpy or sharp underfoot. Running bliss!

Reaching Usk, I made the mistake of turning around through their Christmas market. I was starving and the smell of turkey sandwiches and hotdogs were exactly what I didn’t need!

What I also didn’t need was the 15mph headwind for much of the return leg.

Saint Andrews Walk Climb

41 seconds between me and the next guy

I’m not normally one to be competitive over Strava segments, but several months ago, I was alerted when I became the course record holder of a stretch near where Lis’ folks live. It’s a 0.5 mile climb with a 5% average gradient that peaks at 10%. Ouch indeed. Achieved passively, there were only 10 seconds or so between me and the next guy, though his stake dated back to 2014. I decided to up the ante and make it tougher for any would-be challengers to take the record from me, so I steeled myself for a full on attack to stop the weekend from being completely devoid of glory. Two women that had just walked down the hill stopped to watch me hurl myself up the “Saint Andrews Walk Climb”. At one stage, I was actually running at 5k pace! I knew it was unsustainable, so I dropped back down slightly to somewhere between 10k and half marathon pace for the second half of the climb. Wowza – were my legs and lungs ever shot at the top, but I was full of confidence that I’d done enough to ward off any segment chancers.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time for an entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

When in doubt, opt for pants, not tights

Tights are funny things. Not everyone can pull off tights. For starters, there are the superhero jokers. Then there are the obvious anatomical issues. Let’s face it: Not every body type is cut out for body-hugging garments. And, for men especially, wearing tights can be a bit too… revealing.

All that said, tights can be very satisfying. They hug your body in a very “second skin” sort of way, compress your muscles, and can show off whatever lean mass you’ve managed to build up.

On the wrong runner, however, tights can be a train wreck. Rule of thumb: If you’re asking yourself whether you should wear tights… you probably should not.

 

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.