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

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Suffering at the 2016 Magor Marsh 10k – photo by Tosh Simpkin

Magor Marsh 10k race week was upon me, which meant a welcome mini-taper! This was also week 13 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

10 miles with 6 at marathon pace

As much as I enjoyed the previous week’s jaunt on a 400m track, it was nice to get back to marathon specifics with this particular run. Equally as appreciated were the cooler climes to add to the contrast.

These runs have really felt beneficial from a physiological standpoint, but also for mental confidence. This session, in slightly warmer conditions than a few weeks ago, popped out:

  1. 6:41
  2. 6:37
  3. 6:39
  4. 6:41
  5. 6:43
  6. 6:38

Comparing as like-for-like as possible, I was a few seconds faster for each mile, including the additional 6th, for the same effort if my heart rate readings are to be relied upon. Similarly, the previous week’s 4x 1600m in 34 degree heat showed a 5 to 10 second improvement per rep versus a previous 18 degree run of the same session.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles with strides from city centre

Like previous race weeks of late, I chopped the overall volume down and compensated by injecting some strides whilst run-commuting home from New Street Station. Running with a bag is always easier said than done, where the literal weight on my shoulders made achieving a smooth and fluid motion when striding somewhat tricky.

Humidity was amped up once more after several days without, and an impromptu rain shower only made things worse. I got what I wanted from the 5 miles and knocked running on the head until Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cwmbran Parkrun

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The finish area was brimming with Pokémon, or so I was told by the surrounding graffiti… Photo by Tanwen Cross

Given we were in Lis’ motherland for the Magor Marsh 10k, I opted to make myself useful and volunteered at the recently launched Cwmbran Parkrun only minutes away from her family’s farm. I really enjoyed myself at the inaugural event back in June and Lis’ folks wanted to take their new puppy for a walk to introduce him to some new surroundings.

Upon reading my email, the Cwmbran team couldn’t quite believe somebody all the way from Cannon Hill wanted to barcode scan, but were all the more welcoming for it. When I shared with them that Cannon Hill had recently hit in excess of 1,000 runners, they were all very curious about how Cannon Hill copes with the numbers that it does.

Lis, her parents, and I also got talking to a lady from the former Little Stoke event, who was dividing her Saturdays amongst the various events closest to her; all happened to be about a 30 minute drive and I was rather bemused that it was just as quick to go to an event in Wales as it was to visit an event on the other side of Bristol.

A really pleasant morning seeing what makes a small, new event tick!

Magor Marsh 10k review

For the full write-up of this annual 10k pilgrimage, click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

A week of two halves, with the marathon pace session filling me with confidence and then the 10k race knocking me back down to lick my wounds! Next (this) week sees a 14 mile mid-week long run – I can’t face running 14 miles after work, so I’ve taken the day off as leave to give myself a bit of a helping hand to get it done.

This week’s running – 13th to 19th of June 2016

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Longest run this week in over two years!

Week 6 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

Aborted Garmin lactate threshold test

I’m gonna kick things off this week with another tech focused section. Apologies in advance if it bores you to sleep!

My Garmin Fenix 3 has the facility to produce a VO2max number  and also a lactate threshold reading.

I already had a VO2max number (fluctuates between 57 – 60), but lactate threshold proved elusive, even with “auto-detect” enabled. With some 8 miles scheduled in, I figured I’d substitute it with a formal run through of Garmin’s lactate threshold test, which has you going through various heart rate zones and gears to derive a threshold number. Some rough fag packet calculations had the test with warm-up and warm-down coming out at around 8 miles.

After a very thorough 3 mile total warm-up, the test began and turned into a bit of game requiring I kept my heart rate in the correct range. The first 3 zones were an absolute doddle to hit and frequently required I dial back a touch to stay below the limit. Zone 4 required some serious concentration to run fast enough to hit the right zone intensity. And then came the kick in the nads; I’d reached zone 5 but very quickly realised that I’d miscalculated my turnaround point on the canal towpath to leave myself with too little distance to complete the test before having to climb some stairs and hop on to the other side of the canal! I wasn’t prepared to wring myself dry and not have a test result at the end, so I jumped ship and aborted the test there and then.

Some tweaking of heart rate zones by utilising heart rate reserve (difference between resting heart rate and maximum heart rate) has shifted all of my zones down by approx 10bpm and has crucially broadened zone 5. In theory, this should allow for the Fenix 3’s auto-detect feature to pick up the readings more readily from training and racing.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles recovery from city centre

I kept this run incredibly easy and thankfully missed the rain. The only drama I witnessed was a fistfight between a motorist and a cyclist on Pershore Road for a minor distraction.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

The humidity did its best to sap me of energy and not having completed a mid-week medium-long run for a fortnight meant re-familiarising myself with it.

My pace naturally gravitated towards just shy of 8 minute miles, with the odd glance at my heart rate showing about 70%. I couldn’t have gone much faster, and nor was the will or desire there to do so.

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Where Pershore Road meets with Cartland Road – photo by Peter Whitfield

The heavens opened up about five minutes from home to leave me absolutely drenched – my drying t-shirt actually created a puddle underneath it! I’d also missed the flooding that occurred at the bottom of where Pershore Road meets with Cartland Road – an area that’s not prone to flooding but lost in the fight against a month’s worth of rain that fell in only a few hours…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cwmbran Parkrun

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Cwmbran Parkrun’s course has the potential to be very fast

It’s never been a thing for me to purposely go out of my way to attend inaugural events, and even Parkrun themselves dissuade people from doing so where it unfairly swamps new event organisers.

My original plan was to attend Cardiff’s event for a flat and fast blast at the 5k distance. Thursday’s 10 mile run didn’t leave me feeling particularly clever, and I was convinced by my rational side not to pummel myself into the ground at Parkrun. Hearing news that Cwmbran’s debut event was starting whilst Lis and I were in Wales was like manna from heaven; an unknown course and an unknown participant field would keep any performance comparisons in check, so the deal was sealed.

Cwmbran Parkrun is now the closest event to Lis’ folks; only 6-ish miles away by car, it only took some 20 minutes to get there versus the 13 miles to reach Newport Parkrun and the 23 miles to reach Cardiff Parkrun.

The primary car park was already quite full at 08:25; there were more than 200+ runners expected along with a band of volunteers and local press.

The route is incredibly flat and mostly on paved paths. There’s a couple hundred metres in the middle of the out and back course that takes place on grass/wood chips due to going underneath a dual carriageway. Pleasingly, the single lap route avoids any issues with lapping runners and has the potential to become very fast, especially if there’s a strong field at the sharp end to work with.

I recognised a few faces in the crowd, most notably Chris Medcalf from the San Domenico club where we teamed up last year to both PB at the Magor Marsh 10k. Catching up with him, he still didn’t feel like he had fully recovered from his spring marathon.

The start was reasonably fast; one chap shot off ahead alone and I joined the second chase group in pursuit. The ground, whilst paved, was a real pick and mix in terms of quality. Some stretches were buttery smooth underneath my racing flats, and other sections were lumpy, bumpy and potholed to hell.

I stuck with my group, with a Fairwater club runner leading the way. His pace remained pretty solid and even broke away on occasion to spur me on to surge and stay with him.

Reaching roughly 1km in, we were diverted off the paved path on to grass to go underneath the dual carriageway I spoke of earlier. Thankfully, the rain in south Wales had not been nearly as bad as it had in Birmingham, so the grass underfoot was still quite firm with some traction. The change of terrain caused a few guys from the group to slow and drop out of the group, leaving just me, the Fairwater runner and another fella to plough on.

The course continued on grass for another few hundred metres before we returned to a main path in what looked like a completely different park; there was far more light available due to fewer trees and the quality of the paving was top notch to make for a welcome change from the temporary slow-down.

Running around the boating lake, there were a fair few tents set-up with people fishing looking on, bemused by all of us running. The third man in our group fell away and I sensed the Fairwater runner was also tiring. Several hundred metres later, he slipped back a touch and for the first time in the entire run, I ran alongside him. I uttered a few words of encouragement in a bid to keep him going, but it was fruitless and he drifted further and further backwards with each step I took.

The next guy ahead was still a touch too far to surge and reach. It turned out I didn’t have to wait too long because once we were back on the grass, he slowed dramatically like he was running through treacle. I passed him just as we went underneath the dual carriageway once more and like the Fairwater runner, I did my best to tow him along but he’d reached his breaking point and instead spurred me on.

The next two guys further ahead were a few hundred metres away in the distance, working together to keep the pressure cooker situation going. I was in the dreaded no-man’s land and unless somebody came along to rescue me, I knew I would be firmly on my own until the finish.

Roughly 1km later, I could see Lis and Philip in the distance cheering me on. The runner in front was close and one final kick from about 200m out got me within striking distance; if only I had a bit more path to cover, I’d have got him but alas, it wasn’t to be (he later revealed he’d put in a slight kick to keep me at bay).

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Sprint finish at Cwmbran Parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

I crossed the line for 18:48, finishing 7th out of 233 for not a bad morning’s work.

A nice event, hosted by an enthusiastic run director where she was an absolute natural. They’re launching Welsh events faster than I can visit them!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

17 miles – to Monkswood and back

This was originally only going to be 16 miles, but seeing as I felt so good out there, I extended it to 17 miles on a whim! This run now qualifies as the furthest distance I’ve ever covered in Wales, and the furthest I’ve run in over two years.

I also field-tested the Salomon S-Lab Sense Set ultra vest I acquired about a fortnight ago. The fit was superb with zero bounce and after 2 miles or so, I didn’t even notice I was wearing it apart from occasionally accessing the soft bottles for some water with electrolytes. A most welcome addition to my running arsenal to catapult me into the 20+ mile runs over the summer.

Unlike Thursday’s medium-long run, I felt fantastic and did my best to cap the pace range at 7:50 to 8:00 miles, which I largely achieved bar the stray 10th mile that clocked in a touch faster. I was firmly daydreaming at the time and only glanced at my Garmin towards the end of the mile before noticing the breakneck pace. Bizarrely, it didn’t feel fast at all, even with the descent, and looking at the Strava pace graph shows it spiked and I’m confident the pace blip was due to GPS error.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

Today’s 17 mile run did just the trick to fill me with confidence as I hit 25% of the campaign. I’ve never been too worried about the long runs, but the absence of a marathon for over two years still leaves one questioning their ability from time to time.

My next long run milestone will be 18 miles in a month; I’m less worried about 18 miles but instead dreading the 15 mile run, featuring 9 miles at marathon pace at the end of this month…