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.

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…

andy_yu_cardiff_parkrun.jpg

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.

nike_pegasus_32

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 – 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.

This week’s running – 31st of August to 6th of September 2015

Cardiff 10k 2015

Start of the 2015 Cardiff 10k – photo by Cardiff 10k

(A little later than usual – sorry!)

This week was all about gearing up for the Cardiff 10k.

10k fartlek

With a few weeks of quality and endurance missing from my training diary, I was fully expecting this fartlek session to sting like a mofo. And the first two stretches of speed most certainly did. But then once I’d warmed up into the session, I unusually felt like somebody had pressed a button to free up a whole bunch of resources for me. I was on fire and feeling fantastic! My form felt strong and the recoveries were spot on almost every time.

With the way I was the previous week after a two week lay-off, I was almost entirely convinced to treat the Cardiff 10k as a fast training run; this gave me the confidence to approach the race with all guns blazing.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Two out of the ordinary remarks about this staple run from the office. The first was a group of three out on a fartlek run; they would catch me with each burst of speed, and then they would stop right in my path! I threw in a couple of minutes of faster pace and finally broke free of them. This was only supposed to be an easy recovery run…

The other oddity about this run was the speed of it, with Strava recognising it as my fastest from work by some 50 seconds. I hoped the upward momentum would continue through to Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 canal miles

Royal flush! Whilst the first half of this run didn’t feel all that great, I was able to fully warm up for the return leg to make it progressive.

Unexpectedly, I felt rather fresh at the end of the run, even with the climb on Newhall Hill to contend with. This left me in good spirits regarding Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun (not!)

It’s incredibly rare that I back-off from a Parkrun if I’ve decided to attend one. A couple of recent late nights had taken their toll on me and I was in serious need of a lie-in come Saturday morning, so my Newport Parkrun appearance was cancelled. Had I have gone along, I would have taken the first 4km easy and then blasted the final km to prep myself for the Cardiff 10k 24 hours later. In hindsight, I do now wonder whether I should have gone to Newport Parkrun afterall…

Cardiff 10k

For the full write-up of the 2015 race, please click here.

Not many more of these entries left from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book (these have been going for nearly two years!):

Call them running shoes

They aren’t sneakers or tennis shoes or kicks or trainers (sorry, Brits). They are running shoes. So call them that.

Cardiff 10k 2015 review

For the 2012, 2013 and 2014 races, please click the following:

Can you find Andy at the Cardiff 10k 2015

Can you see me yet? Photo by Wales Online

This was my last chance in 2015 at another 10k PB. Read on to find out what happened in the Welsh capital…

Pre-race

After last year’s course change due to the NATO conference, I purposely waited until the route was formally announced before committing myself. I was worried that somebody in the organising committee had taken a shine to last year’s course due to lower road closure costs, but somebody saw sense and restored what I like to call the “classic” course.

The next hurdle to overcome was that of fitness, or lack of. Going into the Magor Marsh 10k at the end of July, I carried over a lot of sharpness that I picked up en route to a 5k PB attempt (the 5k PB never materialised). I was in top form and as many of us know, holding on to new found fitness can be tricky. My honeymoon brought my training log crashing to the ground, along with some weight gain – a new 10k PB was going to be one tough cookie for sure.

A few positive training runs over the last couple of days convinced me I should still brave a 10k PB attempt, especially if Vince Nazareth was also targeting a time under 39 minutes.

I didn’t sleep particularly well the night before, waking up at 4am due to a strange dream involving a serial-killer posing as a Sainsbury’s security guard and a multi-storey car park (don’t ask).

Conditions looked incredible on race morning, with cool temperatures and very little wind. Regular readers will know I’ve had a few races scuppered over the spring and summer due to challenging elements, courtesy of Mother Nature. Sadly, things started to hot up very quickly due to brilliantly blue skies with nary a cloud in sight.

My warm-ups felt spot on; the 1 mile jog helped to loosen things up and the 300m effort at 10k pace gave me the confidence that my legs had the speed for the morning’s exertions. I did unfortunately lose one of the nose grips from my sunglasses for a 5 minute pre-race distraction.

Can you find Andy at the Cardiff 10k 2015

I have no idea what I was pointing at – Photo by Wales Online

I bid Lis and Yvonne farewell and headed over to the start pens. Cardiff 10k’s start pens have been chaotic for me in the past, so I like to stake out a spot nice and early. I bumped into the ever-affable Daniel Luffman who was targeting something around 40:XX. I also spotted the San Domenico runner, Chris, who I worked alongside at the Magor Marsh 10k for our very rewarding PBs. A short while later, Vince and his son, Dylan, joined us in the fray as we were ushered to move forward. When I looked around at everybody beside us, everyone was lean and sinewy with a hungry look in their eyes – the air was serious and there were no costumed runners in sight!

We waited patiently for the hooter. One guy kept reaching to the sky in a desperate attempt to gain some GPS signal, eventually achieving lock-on with only seconds to spare. The hooter blew and “Go-time” was upon us.

The race

Vince and I had discussed working together towards the common goal of a sub-39 finish. I stuck with him like glue to follow his line and run in his slipstream. Lis’ mum, Yvonne, appeared to my left but Lis was nowhere to be seen.

The first corner seemed to catch a few people off guard, and the number of times I was cut up and almost tripped was ridiculous – look ahead and you can see what’s coming up, folks!

By 1k, I was still on Vince’s tail but I was definitely working hard to keep on pace. I wasn’t seeing any benefit from drafting at all to convince me to let Vince go and possibly salvage my race. I watched him tearing off into the distance, increasing the gap between us with each step. Randomly on my left as I approached the castle, I heard a “Go Andy!” from the crowd and thought it must have been Vince’s wife, Heather, if the cheer was indeed intended for me.

Firmly past Cardiff Castle, Chris from San Domenico caught up to me and said, “I must be going too fast if I’ve caught up to you.” My reply: “Nope! I’m going too slow!” We agreed to work together, much like in the Magor Marsh 10k, except even 3:55 kilometres were feeling a little too tasty here and I continued to struggle even in Chris’ slipstream. I was able to stay with him up to 4k before I had to let him go as well. The lack of intensity the last couple of weeks meant nothing felt familiar at all and my PB attempt became a fight to simply finish in under 40 minutes.

Going through halfway, I spotted Daniel Luffman again just ahead of me by perhaps no more than 20m. If he was able to maintain the lead on me, there was a possibility of him hitting 39:XX territory. A few ugly kilometre splits starting with 4:XX littered this part of the race…

I continued to keep Dan in my sights until 7k when I made myself known to him, pushing him on to stay in front of me. I heard a spectating mother say to her daughter that that part of the race would be one of the most difficult for runners due to fatigue; she wasn’t kidding! At 8k, I tried convincing myself to press on but it just wasn’t happening; my legs felt like somebody else’s and did not want to co-operate at all. Dan began drifting backwards, so I did my best to drag him along with me, gesturing for him to follow.

Cardiff 10k 2015

Dead impressed by the large fella behind me running a sub-40 10k! Photo by Lis Yu

With just 1k left to go, my Garmin reported I was averaging 3:59 kilometres – a little too close for comfort if a sub-40 finish was what I wanted. Finally, the old Central Governor decided to free up some resources for me to begin my push for the finish. I reached the top of Museum Avenue and with just over 400m remaining, I knew I had a sub-40 finish in the bag so long as the distance was accurate (highly likely – great race reputation) and I kicked with everything I had left. I heard Lis and Yvonne cheer for me, followed shortly by Vince’s wife, Heather, who I caught in the corner of my eye. The finish line grew in size with each forward step and each pumped arm. I went through the finish and my fingers were crossed, hoping I had done enough to go sub-40…

Post-race

I had to kneel down and catch my breath, but recovery was swift and in a minute or two, I was back to my normal self – clearly I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough. To my left was a guy lying on his back, who had most definitely pushed himself to his limits.

Upon checking my Garmin, 39:48 was all I was able to muster – a positive given the lack of recent training intensity. The Garmin also reported I ran exactly 10km (I said this race was accurate)! Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

Cardiff 10k 2015

A perfectly executed PB race for Vince – photo by Lis Yu

I collected my medal and caught up with Chris from San Domenico. He pulled off a 39:22, so had I have been able to stick with him, I reckon I’d have bagged a cheeky PB by a couple of seconds with a big kick at the end. I made my way over to Vince and Dan who were both beaming from their PB performances. Vince earned himself a fantastic 38:42 and Dan got his sub-40 thanks to a 39:53 finish. I finally got to meet Heather, too, after multiple conversations with her on social media over the past year.

So, not the race outcome I had in mind. Rather eerily, it’s exactly the 10k finish I would be predicted to achieve upon entering last week’s 19:11 Cardiff Parkrun into the McMillan Running Calculator… Disappointingly, this also ends the three year PB streak I had going at the Cardiff 10k. Oh well, nothing lasts forever in athletics, apart from Paula Radcliffe’s marathon world record seemingly.

I have just a few short weeks remaining until the Cardiff Half Marathon at the beginning of October. It’s now time to completely shift my focus to make the most of that opportunity.

This week’s running – 18th to 24th of May 2015

5k PB attempt

It’s been too long since the last 5k PB

Another week, another PB attempt!

5k from work

Surprisingly, there was almost no reaction from my body at all on Monday after the race. I felt lively with no detectable fatigue at all, despite being unable to push any harder during the race.

Normally, I would have taken Monday off as a day of pure recovery. Faster Road Racing reminded me that even with the mini-tapers, my average weekly volume was still down given I hadn’t covered 5k at Parkrun and I was approximately 3 miles down on Sunday due to racing. Their suggestion is to bulk up the volume by extending warm-ups and warm-downs, and tacking on a few extra miles here and there where possible, which led to this 5k recovery run.

Even during the run along the canal towpath, things felt right as rain from my body with the average pace logged as one of my faster recovery runs.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

3x 1600m at 10k pace

Due to how fresh I still felt on Tuesday, I decided to plough on with this session as originally planned despite advice from blog-reader Carl to take things easy given I wanted to try and break new ground at Cardiff Parkrun later in the week. Had I have felt trashed then I most certainly would have dialled things back.

So, more of the same was ordered. The promotion to 4x reps last week was tangible progression; reassurance on top of racing that training was coming good.

The wind had really picked up and was awkwardly blowing in a direction that was difficult to hide from, whether on an out or return rep. The first two reps were fine, but fatigue struck on the third from fighting against the gusts. My form deteriorated quite significantly during the final 400m of the rep and prompted me to call it quits.

I wasn’t quite as fresh as I thought I was, but still felt a damn sight better immediately afterwards compared to previous weeks.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

5k from work

Wednesday saw another easy recovery run from the office. No further geese and gosling sightings along the canal towpath, so all was good!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

It burns like a bad curry

Going for a 5k PB burns like a bad curry – photo by Paul Stillman

With a 5k PB attempt lined up for Cardiff Parkrun, I opted to do no running of any sort on Thursday and Friday in a bid to get myself feeling as fresh as possible.

One further change I made was switching my normal dose of a strong espresso before the run with a few Pro Plus pills. Reading up on caffeine consumption, there are many that recommended the pill form for convenience but also dosage consistency. 3 – 6mg per kilo of body weight (57kg for me) is the general consensus for a boost, which would have worked out as anywhere between 3x and 7x pills for the desired effect! I decided to go with the lower end of the scale of 4x to test things out. With the pep pills and a shot of beetroot juice in my system, I’m thankful there wasn’t any dope testing!

The target pace punched into my Garmin was 3:44 per km, which would equate to an 18:40 5k; gutsy, given I have not trained at that pace in recent times.

Vince Nazareth was also fired up for a PB attempt after last week’s 10k PB that wasn’t a PB after the race organisers officially declared the course short.

I went off hard from the line; I have to to even be in contention for a PB nowadays to offset the eventual slow-down in the middle. I stuck with the faster guys and was pulled through for a 3:35 opening km. I looked around me and there was no sign of Vince, who was utilising his tactic of hanging back.

Unusually, the second km also came up fast and only a smidge under target pace. I prepared myself for the eventual slow-down to come! Vince passed me somewhere between 2km and 3km as he always does and opened up 10 second gap. He looked strong and was clearly on to a breakthrough this season.

Passing by the 3km marker, I was close to my limit but was surprised to see a 3:54 split appear on my Garmin. “Not bad at all”, I thought to myself but reasoned that the eventual slow-down or blow-out couldn’t have been much further away.

I ran out of people to work with. A few guys had dramatically fallen off the pace to end up behind me, and a few folks managed to find second wind to storm by. The lead girl was part of the surging group and despite my best efforts to try and latch on, my body wasn’t having any of it to result in a 4:01 split.

I brought up the stopwatch on my Garmin. “15:30” was displayed, leaving just over 3 minutes to cover 900m; not impossible but also not very likely. Nonetheless, I figured I could tough out 3 additional minutes of suffering, so continued marching on. I reeled a few guys in ahead of me to reach the “400m to go” marker. I ignored the Garmin feedback and decided that whatever would be, would be. I kicked on and gained a few more places once I reached the 200m marker. Go-time! I gave it everything I had left and was even challenged by somebody for the line, but managed to find a little extra va-va-voom to get there first.

I grabbed my token and exited the funnel sharpish. Dripping in sweat from head to toe, I sat down on a log and checked the time on my Garmin. “18:57” it teased; sub-19 as should be for me at Cardiff but not enough for a new PB. Scanned and registered, I re-joined Vince who had finally beaten his years old 5k PB for 18:38.

Digesting the run data, I’m not sure I could have done much more to go faster. Even if I had been able to bring the rogue 4th km down to 3:55, that still would have only allowed me to equal my existing PB of 18:51. I’ve done next to no running faster than 10k pace, so some familiarisation at that pace will do me some good before the next PB attempt.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

I decided to sack off this week’s long run for bank holiday Monday, so straight over to the entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Races are all about energy management

I don’t know who was the first to say this, but truer words were never spoken.

The only thing worse than running out of energy a mile from the finish line is finishing the race with energy left over.

This week’s running – 27th of April to 3rd of May 2015

10k training

It’s hammer time!

This week was all about prep and finishing touches towards next week’s DK10K race.

3.5 mile errand run

I needed to get to the Royal Mail sorting office so I ended up treating this out and back as a recovery run. As luck would have it, I also got caught in the rain on the return leg only for the rain to cease once I’d reached home…

The Garmin data for these runs can be found here and here.

3x 1600m at 10k pace

Lis decided to tag along to Edgbaston Reservoir to get her run in, though I hasten to add that she did not do the session with me and instead did her own thing!

There seems to be a swirling vortex of strong winds circling the UK at the moment, but this did not deter me from trying to get all 3x reps as precise as possible. Foolishly, I allowed the pace on the first rep to step up imperceptibly; it was only recently that I said I wouldn’t do this and would look to extend the number of reps at the same pace. 3:55/km over 3x 1600m did not feel too bad but it did leave me umming and ahhing over a fourth and final rep. I ultimately decided against it for fear of overdoing things, but the good news is that if I had hit all 3x at 3:58/km like I should have, a fourth rep would have certainly followed.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

DK10K preparations

We’re starting to approach the 10k season with races springing up left, right and centre. The DK10K is a local, mid-week race that’s been going for nearly thirty years and I’ve finally pulled my finger out to enter it.

Yeah, it’s not the flattest course around, but it has a good reputation for attendance from club runners. At £15 for unattached runners and with chip timing to boot, what’s not to love? My only reservation is how many runners will have defected to run the inaugural Great Birmingham 10k today?

This will be my very first mid-week and evening race. I’m curious to see how I feel out there as a morning person, if there’s any difference at all.

The target, as ever, is to get under 40 minutes. I anticipate it’ll be quite tricky on an undulating course and with 16mph winds forecasted, I’ll have to wait and see. Darryl Thomas of Bromsgrove and Redditch AC is also running and I’m hoping our abilities align to allow us both to work together towards a common goal.

Come back again to see my next blog post and to find out how things went!

5k from work

Several weeks ago, I donned a vest for the first time this year on a training run. I ended up wearing a long sleeve top again on this run home from work, due to the sudden drop in temperature.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 canal miles with fartlek

I was pretty tired come Thursday and almost ducked out of this run entirely, so it made perfect sense to not only cover the 8 miles but to also throw in some fartlek as well!

The fartlek sections during the second half were really to get the legs turning over at a faster rate – not an easy task on the loose stone chips of the canal towpath.

I almost forgot that this was also my sixth day of consecutive running for the third time. Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

Lis and I were back in Wales for the weekend so I’d arranged to be at Cardiff Parkrun. No face-off with Vince Nazareth this time since he was volunteering and tapering for a race the next day, and it was probably for the best since I’ve only ever beaten him on one occasion out of six…

The weather was pretty miserable and right on cue for the bank holiday weekend. I didn’t fancy my chances of anything spectacular, recalling last week’s struggle at Cannon Hill Parkrun to go much faster. Also, many of the local faster runners were either recovering from recent races, or were tapering for upcoming races, so there would be few to work with.

The warm-up felt much better than usual, with none of the heavy legged-ness that had plagued me last week, despite the six consecutive training days earlier this week.

Toeing up on the start line, there was indeed reluctance from folks to come forward and I found myself a nice spot in the second row with plenty of breathing space around me. Lis was not so fortunate and resigned herself to the rear of the pack for fear of being trampled to death by being too far forward. On Phil Cook’s “Go” (he was filmed running alongside Paula Radcliffe in last week’s London Marathon), we were off.

I stuck with the lead pack for the first 800m or so before the leaders started to pull away. My Garmin reported a pace that was 13 seconds ahead of target; the sensible side of my brain begged me to slow down a touch and I duly obeyed to fall in-line with and lead the chase pack. My legs felt remarkably fresh considering all the hard graft I’d been putting in over the last few weeks, though my lungs felt a smidge uncomfortable with the fast pace.

I passed through 1k with a 3:37 split, which was waaay ahead of the 3:45 target I had in my mind. Everything continued to feel decent despite early reservations, so I didn’t think too much of it. The ground, whilst wet, didn’t appear to pose many problems for traction and the wind was not nearly as harsh as weather reports had made out.

My pack broke up to leave just one other guy and me on our own. Each time he crept away, I was able to cover him and stayed in his slipstream, straying no further than 2 or 3m behind at worst.

Through 2k and my split came in at 3:51; slower certainly but I was still up on target according to the Garmin virtual pacer and crucially, I was still feeling pretty damn good. I tried to focus on my breathing to stay calm and relaxed, taking in deep breaths from the belly to maximise the capacity on offer.

I reached 3k with 3:55 for further slow-down. I had overtaken the guy in my group, sensing that he had slipped from the pace. Another guy from behind came from nowhere to shoot ahead and gave me a new target to chase down, though he was always just out of reach to leave me on my own. I spotted Lis on the other side, approaching the 2k marker looking in good shape. I’d big-upped the Cardiff course to her many times over the years and was quietly confident it would produce a new 5k PB for her, even if only by a small margin due to the flat route.

The guy I had dropped found second wind from somewhere and surged past me just before 4k to join the chap ahead. I was breathing hard and my lungs were in flames, but my legs remained free from fatigue to make no sense at all! I glanced backwards for the first time and the next person behind was nowhere near me, unable to provide a tow to the guys in front. My Garmin beeped with a 3:50 split, so I was speeding up as I got closer to the finish. I switched my Garmin over to the stopwatch and I was actually pretty damn close to a new PB if I could muster a big kick.

As I said, face like thunder

Like I said, a face like thunder – photo by Paul Stillman

I had a face like thunder as I went through 800m, which must have been a real sight for the marshals as I passed by. I let out two very audible cries of “Argh” that surprisingly helped to ease the anguish my body was going through. I kicked the pace up just a notch in an attempt to close the gap between the two guys in front and me, but to no avail; they too had sensed the end was nigh and did exactly the same. I was maxed out and could only manage a lame sprint to bring me home with a season’s best of 18:52, and only 2 seconds shy of a new 5k PB. Had I known how close I actually was, I’m sure I could have found a few seconds, especially during the 3rd km.

Here’s the Garmin data for this Parkrun.

After a brief moment of composure on the side lines after grabbing a finish token, I checked my finish position and had netted no.18 to also equal my best finish position at Cardiff. A real morning of nearlies and almosts, right?

Lis Morgan at Cardiff Parkrun

Lady in red – photo by Paul Stillman

Lis came back in with 32:25 for her fastest 5k yet and proudly exclaimed she ran the entire distance. She’s making good progress and with a little more work, should break 30 minutes before too long!

Not a bad morning’s work and confidence inspiring ahead of next week’s DK10K.

10 miles – to Usk and back

I didn’t want to overcook the long run given the enthusiastic 5k the day before, so kept this one sensible. Unexpectedly, conditions were pretty hot and humid on the out leg to Usk where I even considered going bare chested!

The return was straight into a headwind, but thankfully this was just a minor annoyance at the gentler pace.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Run the mile you’re in

Especially for longer races (but even for short ones, like 5-Ks), it can be tempting to dwell on the total distance or on how far you are from the finish line. Try not to. Instead, focus on the mile you’re running at that particular moment.

Be mindful of the full distance, of course; mentally and physically, you should be aware of how far you’ve got to go. Primarily, though, keep your head in the here and now.

That’s a nice metaphor for life, too, by the way. In case you were looking for one.

This week’s running – 29th of September to 5th of October 2014

Andy Yu at the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon

Andy Yu at the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon

This week was all about the taper for the Cardiff Half Marathon.

2 miles at target half marathon pace

Training regularly at Edgbaston Reservoir serves as a constant reminder of the time of year that we’re in. Thanks to the sign at the entrance, drivers are warned of the gates locking at dusk where at the height of summer, 9:45pm was the cut off. Now, it’s 7:15pm and continues to drop at an ever increasing rate.

I wanted to get one last target half marathon paced session in but without over-doing it. A single 2 mile lap of the reservoir would be all it took to remind the body of what the pace should have felt like. Due to poor timing on my part, I wasn’t as fuelled going into this as I would have liked. My stomach was rumbling and I really should have necked some energy drink or something before heading out. Hey-ho. The wind outside was also picking up, an ominous sign that the weather reports have all been picking up on. Getting down to it, the 2 mile effort felt fine and the pace finally came quite naturally to me.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session (can one single effort really be called a session?).

2x 800m at 5k pace

I have been conscious to keep some faster paced efforts in my training for a larger overall range. Like on Tuesday, I didn’t want to go absolutely bananas during the taper and felt 2x 800m reps would suffice to keep the body ticking over until Sunday’s race.

Once again, the reservoir was heaving with runners, all in training for their own local half marathon in a little more than two weeks’ time.

My two 800m reps felt fantastic. My cadence was high and I never felt like I was too stressed – a good sign that half marathon pace would feel manageable on Sunday.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

Taper time

Historically, I’ve never quite gotten the taper right before big races. Taper too much and I’ve felt sluggish come race day along with my legs forgetting how to run fast. Taper too little and I’m knackered come race day.

For this year’s Cardiff Half Marathon, I seemed to have gotten things just right – the Goldilocks approach to tapering! I took Friday off because it was my birthday, although others believe I took it off to better prepare myself for the race (and they’re probably right). I was positively charged and raring to go and the same held true on Saturday as well.

A couple of short, race pace sessions really was all I needed.

Cardiff Half Marathon 2014

For my full report on my 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon, please click here.

Where to now?

I love racing and that’s the primary driver behind why I train. To stay motivated, I always start booking up my next block of races to give me something to work towards.

So, what are the next targets to strive towards?

For 5k, I already said I wanted to hit 18:30 or better earlier in the summer. I was possibly a little hasty in my decision and am now back-peddling it to sub-18:45. With dramatically less daylight than before, it will increasingly become difficult for me to get speedwork completed without the aid of either a floodlit track or a treadmill. I really don’t want to sign back up to a gym because I can’t tell whether the treadmills have been calibrated accurately or not (probably not). This goal may have to go on the back-burner until next spring/summer, sadly.

The above 5k goal of 18:45 or better translates into a sub-39 minute 10k – a nice round target to lock on to. My worry about this goal is I usually use other 10k races to get myself race-fit and unfortunately, there’s a distinct lack of 10k races in the winter. This target may also have to wait until the summer or even early autumn to come to fruition.

Conveniently, an 18:45 5k also equates to a comfortable sub-87 minute half marathon. This I would like to try and aim for with a spring race, though I feel a lack of faster paced stuff could make this one tricky as well. Sub-88 minutes is realistically attainable and I would be disappointed in myself if I couldn’t achieve that. Dave and I are looking at a potential spring half marathon to tackle, so watch this space.

Of course, there is one more factor to consider and that’s the lack of a spring marathon for me. For the last two years, I’ve thrashed my body during the cold winter months to get it fighting fit for two London Marathons; without the need for monstrous mileage, a little more quality should creep through. I’ve kinda proven to myself that a dramatic increase in mileage does not automatically lead to faster performances in all distances.

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

Warn before passing

As a runner, you will pass other runners. This will happen no matter how slow you happen to be because there will always be someone slower than you are. As a courtesy, you should first alert them to your presence.

The proper distance from which to issue this warning is 12 to 25 feet, depending on your speed relative to the runner being passed. The greater your speed, the earlier you’ll want to issue the warning. The idea is for the passer to give the passee’s brain enough time to process the warning before the actual passing occurs.

The warning can take any number of forms: a cough, a shuffling of your feet, a verbal heads-up such as “Heads up!” Sometimes something as simple and subtle as a loud sniff can work. Other times – for instance, in a relatively loud, crowded park – you might want to ramp things up with a polite “Excuse me!” or “Passing on your left!” It’s a judgment call.

Note: Handheld air horns are not an acceptable form of warning. Even if they are hilarious.

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.