This week’s running – 30th April to 6th May 2018

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Andy Vernon at the Great Birmingham 10k 2018

The taper for the Shakespeare Half Marathon begins!

5k recovery

With the DK10K on Wednesday, I wanted one full rest day ahead of the race, so this was the final run before then. I’m now firmly in the camp of no running the day before a target race!

Nothing strenuous at all – just an easy 5k at recovery pace to keep my legs moving.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

DK10K 2018 review

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

Cannon Hill parkrun

After the DK10K, I was in the mood to take advantage of the taper window, newly found fitness and excellent conditions on offer at Cannon Hill. Being the John Enright-Darren Hale Memorial Run, attendance lived up to expectations, though no attendance records were broken due to the Great Birmingham 10k the following day.

3:41 per km was the target pace to beat for a new PB. Sadly, I felt like I was still suffering the effects of the DK10K. My legs had little resilience to them and my Garmin reported a -5 condition score – ouch…

From the line, I remained in control and found myself tailing Ed Barlow and kept the effort low. 3:45 felt sustainable, so that’s what I sat at for the 1st and 2nd km. It was a strange morning, as many of those traditionally faster than me were on my tail, whereas several traditionally behind me, were ahead! Andy Young was one of those in my rear view mirror, whereas Chris Callow had a sizable advantage of some 15 seconds.

That awkward 3rd km struck, with everybody around me slowing slightly, so my natural reaction was to also slow. I ended up drafting behind Matt Lewis and a Bournville Harrier – both taking it easy ahead of the following day’s 10k race. This was quite a pleasant spot to be in, as they comfortably paved the way for me and allowed me to just switch off and follow, resulting in a 3:49.

Moving into the 4thkm, they were both casually chatting for a total contrast to my quiet suffering from the exertion. “You’re both making this look far too easy,” I shared with them from behind. “You’ve gotta go for it, Andy,” Matt instructed. He and the Bournville Harrier gave me some more encouragement and both created a gap for me to slip between them. “OK. I’ll go for it…” came my pensive reply. I crept away by a few steps to chase down the next person ahead. Andy Young latched on and came along to overtake me. The collective effort and encouragement got me back on track for a steady 3:46.

One final swift km, with Chris Callow as a rabbit to chase down, got me back in with 18:35, perhaps 18:36 in the official results. Sadly, some sort of barcode scanning error means I’ve not been recorded! Fingers crossed the organisers will manually add me – the generally practiced etiquette is that anybody that turns up to run with a physical barcode, even if it cannot be scanned, will be added into the results.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to The Vale and back

With a warm day on hand and spectating duties at the Great Birmingham 10k, I opted to head out earlier than normal. It appeared many other runners not racing also did the same, for I was rarely alone for long on the canal towpath.

Passing Bournville Station on the out leg, all was silent. On the return, it was heaving as runners and spectators filled the platform that headed in the direction of the city centre.

I did not envy those participating in the race. I was working up a sweat just casually running at around 8:00 per mile with occasional shade from trees that lined the towpath. 10 miles was more than enough for me – thank you to the taper!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Birmingham 10k

Lis and I spent some time spectating the race, shortly after the 5k point and next to Cannon Hill Park. As runners, we largely see little of the organisation behind a race until it directly impacts us in some way. As spectators, we both saw some of the shonkiest organisation either of us had ever seen, and Lis has spectated plenty of races!

A van had somehow found itself on the route before the race started, yet the two security personnel for the patch we found ourselves in were largely clueless as to what to do with him! They eventually got him on his way, but it was so painful to watch.

The next calamity occurred when an ambulance had to get on the course. Neither the security guards, the highways agent, nor the marshal knew what to do! Eventually, they teamed up and separated the runners from the ambulance, but it still shouldn’t have taken nearly as long as it did.

Finally, fellow-run-blogger Shaun Hemmings was the official 40 minute pacer, yet was instructed not to start in the first wave, which would have contained all the people looking to run under 40 minutes. What madness!

Anyway…

Well done to everybody to that ran, especially those that PBd under such brutal conditions.

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DK10K 2018 review

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The DK10K – not the easiest of 10k races

First 10k race since July 2017, and first in any real anger since 2016! Read on to find out how things went…

For the 2015 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

Once May rolls around, there’s no shortage of 10k races, both at the weekend and mid-week. The DK10K takes place on the first Wednesday of May, often just before or just after the Great Birmingham 10k. At £16 with chip timing, a t-shirt and water, it’s almost half the price of the Great Birmingham 10k and continues to be popular in spite of competition. I missed this gem of a race last year due to coming back from injury and tapering for the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, though ran it in 2015 and 2016. It’s not the fastest of courses with near-constant undulation, though it does attract a decent field, especially from 36-45 minutes; ideal if you’re the sort of runner that needs contact with others in a race.

Taking the afternoon off from work to facilitate a stress-free build-up, two questions remained at the top of my mind: what should I eat beforehand, and when? Don’t judge me for this, but I ended up wolfing down 2x chicken & mushroom Pot Noodles and 2x jam donuts… A concentrated beetroot juice shot helped wash all that down. In no way do I recommend this concoction!

Traffic on the way to the race HQ (Dudley Kingswinford Rugby Club) was horrendous as it always is, especially when living on the wrong side of Birmingham in this case. Simon Bull and I travelled separately, but were both caught up in various tailbacks, roadworks and breakdowns that are atypical of British roads from 16:00 to 18:00 during the week.

Arriving on site and parking up, it was perhaps 60 seconds before I bumped into Chris Harrison – the first of many familiar faces – such is the local running community nature of the DK10K.

The weather had been incredibly unpredictable all day. Wearing a full tracksuit, I began my 2 mile warm-up jog in a bid to try and awaken my slumbering legs. Within some 800m, I concluded I was overdressed. I anticipated the warm-up would feel sub-par and it didn’t disappoint. I regretted my choice of pre-race fuel, feeling bloated with everything sloshing around inside, and this was despite 3 hours having passed already! Thankfully, my stomach was convinced to cooperate and began digesting its contents more effectively after 2 miles.

Upon ending my warm-up, my Garmin flagged up my condition score: +4! Somewhat dumbfounded, I began considering my options. I’m lucky if I see +3 usually, so would covering the race at planned half marathon pace be selling myself short? The following week’s Shakespeare Half Marathon is the A-goal and the DK10K was always supposed to be just a training run to get 6 miles at pace in. A stiff headwind blew from the west, which would impact the first 3 or 4km, putting any PB attack into jeopardy early on. “Stick to the plan,” I reassuringly convinced myself. There would be plenty of 10k races over the spring and summer to make a dent into my 10k PB.

Meeting up with Simon, more familiar faces from the West Midlands running scene came into view, including Craig Watters (a rival from Great Run Local at The Vale) and his daughter. Because you can never be too warmed up, Simon and I embarked on another few hundred metres around the rugby pitch with a set of strides. Conditions had rapidly improved from all the rain that battered the region earlier in the day – it was bone dry underfoot, even on the grass!

We were ushered over to the start line along a back route rather than via the rugby club’s main entrance as per previous years; this detour was likely to allow the road outside to remain open for a little while longer and to keep local residents sweet. The slow-zombie shuffle over to the start line ensured we were all like tightly wound springs, ready to launch at any moment. Simon and I seeded ourselves accordingly into the start field; in spite of the chip timing as standard and the wide road ahead of us on offer, there was the usual assortment of clowns that decided to park themselves into the first few rows. Start where you think you’ll finish in the field! A near-inaudible safety briefing was given, which nobody paid any attention to, followed by a very abrupt starting order. Go time!

The race

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Start of the 2018 DK10K – photo by Brian Smith

Expectedly, due to the flat-come-subtle-downhill nature of the opening km, everybody around me went hooning off like it was the start of a 5k race. I had my eye on certain individuals who were likely to finish at around my target time, yet they were quickly drifting away into the horizon… “Stay calm,” I said to myself. This was a test of half marathon pace and if I wasn’t able to finish 10k feeling comfortable, then there would be no way I could finish 13.1 miles at the same pace. I ended up overshooting my target of 3:55 per km (6:18 per mile) to end up with 3:50 per km (6:10 per mile). The pace felt too easy and effortless!

During 2km came the significant climb of the course. Inevitably, many of the people that shot off from the start line came back to me, providing ample drafting assistance from the headwind that blew. Whereas many around me were already huffing and puffing, my breathing remained near-silent. I dropped down a gear to 4:03 for the km with the knowledge that a high-speed section followed shortly afterwards to make amends.

Surprisingly, even with the steep descent, not a single person overtook me on this stretch or for the remainder of the race for that matter. I allowed my stride to open up and for gravity to carry me to the bottom, almost bounding with each step. 3km came in for 3:45 to be the second fastest split of the evening… So much for half marathon pace!

The route took runners left into a tree-lined portion of the course. Whilst undulations continued, one could consider this the next flattest stretch after the opening and final km. I continued to reel runners in, including the third place female – a Tipton Harrier. I’d already overtaken Craig’s daughter, which gave me a big dose of confidence as I’ve always finished behind her on previous encounters. Approaching the sole water station of the race, I signalled to the volunteer I wanted, only for her to drop the cup just as I went for the grab! I quickly signalled to another volunteer, only for him to grip the cup too tightly, resulting in both of us crushing it and leaving only a small sip of water behind… Oh well, at least it wasn’t a warm evening!

Passing through halfway, there was no clock on this occasion. Checking my Garmin, I’d just ticked over to 19:26 to be slightly outside of 10k PB pace. A modestly faster second half would see me through to a cheeky PB, maybe. I took a look inside for some feedback. My breathing remained calm and steady. My shoulders and posture were relaxed. Conclusion: I felt great and with no struggle! I dropped the third place Tipton Harrier girl and progressed onwards to a small group consisting of the second place female – another Tipton Harrier – along with male Aldridge and Wolverhampton & Bilston club runners. I sat steady at the back of the pack, especially as they were running so metronomically to result in 5km and 6km splits of 3:53.

Remaining in the tree-lined section of the course, I wondered if it would ever end? Having only run the race twice previously, my memory was somewhat hazy of the landmarks and how long certain portions lasted. Sensing the pace was slowing, I gave some verbal encouragement to try and rally the group together into a shared goal. The pace continued slipping, so the Tipton Harrier and I allowed the Aldridge and Wolverhamton & Bilston runners to drop off whilst we pushed on. The monotony of the landscape began taking its toll on me, resulting in 7km at 3:56 and my second slowest split of the evening. Was everything about to fall to pieces?

Turning left on the course, it was freedom at last! We exited the tree-lined stretch and moved straight into a climb… The Tipton Harrier really struggled to keep the pace up, forcing me to run wide of her so as not to take my foot off the throttle. I took advantage of the shallow descent on the other side to regain some of the damage from the slow 7thkm. This split was spent largely running solo, with the next guy ahead too far to reel in quickly. Facing the east, I was able to enjoy a very slight tailwind to facilitate a 3:52 for 8km.

Glancing at my Garmin’s elapsed time, I’d clocked in at just shy of 31:00. Wow. Definitely on PB pace, even if only by a few seconds. I reasoned that another steady 3:53 km and a fast finish would perhaps net me a sneaky PB. Spurred on, I eventually caught the runner ahead, also with thanks to a short but steep descent. The effort rapidly mounted upwards with my breathing reflecting the uptick. A grimace formed on my face as I ran through the metaphorical treacle that we all encounter in the late stages of a race. I thrusted my arms more vigorously in the hope that my legs would go with them – fortunately they did. With nobody immediately behind or ahead of me, the cheers and encouragement from the Navigation Inn were solely mine. I lapped it up, especially as I had yet another short climb to tackle! 9km came in for 3:53.

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Sprinting for a PB – photo by Brian Smith

I began feeling a little queasy from the effort and possibly all the food I’d previously eaten. Taking another look at my Garmin, I noticed it ticking over to 35:00. I just needed a 3:44 or faster and a shiny new 10k PB was available for the taking, despite not setting out for one originally. Two Halesowen club runners bobbed up and down some 50m in the distance. Despite my best efforts to reel them in, they too began wrapping their races up to leave us in stalemate. The aptly named Mile Flat created the illusion of lasting forever with no change on the horizon. My face was strained; closing my eyes periodically on the long and predictable straight helped soothe some of the burn. Passing the gate that we all exited to reach the Mile Flat, I began my kick, and so did the Halesowen runners for the distance between us remained at approximately 50m! Staring into the distance, my eyes were trained to detect anybody turning right. There were some flashing lights ahead, which belonged to the lead car parked on the corner. Runners indeed began turning right to begin their re-entry into the rugby club and for the finish. Back in 2016, the barriers and narrow space the organisers had set aside for runners to follow caught me out; I wanted to kick harder, but I was boxed in by other runners on that occasion. Not so this time! Whilst I’d reclaimed some distance from the Halesowen runners, I still had ample berth to get my sprint on. Back in the rugby club, I was spurred on to throw down one final kick for the line. I pumped my arms and lengthened my stride to increase my speed. The cheers from the crowd grew louder with each step; the compere mentioned my bib number and name for one last incentive to leave nothing behind as I charged through the line…

Post-race

I gingerly took a few steps through the finish funnel, whilst chugging down as much air as possible. A quick glance of my Garmin confirmed all I needed to know – 38:41 (38:40 courtesy of chip timing) meant a new PB by just 5 seconds! This was significant because the last PB was achieved on a pancake flat course, albeit on one of the warmest days of the year.

I found a quiet spot on the finish funnel floor for a few brief minutes of recovery whilst shaking the hands of those I ran with during the middle of the race. Once recovered, I joined the spectators to cheer a few familiar faces back in, including Andy Wadsworth of Sparkhill Harriers, Rich Turvey of Halesowen Triathletes (and runner-up of the Stoneleigh Park Reindeer Run 20k), and of course, Simon. Stopping to chat with Andy and Rich, Simon asked if we would ever do a race where I didn’t at least know somebody. “Only in Iceland,” came my reply – the first place I could think of which fit the bill!

24 hours later and upon reflection, I’m reasonably confident I could have probably run 10 seconds faster for only marginally more discomfort. I felt at ease for much of the first half of the race, and I know I can suffer a lot more in the final stage. This not only bodes well for the plethora of 10k races I have scheduled for the summer (Aldridge 10k, Wythall Hollywood 10k, Magor 10k, maybe even more), but primarily next week’s Shakespeare Half Marathon. 82:XX suddenly doesn’t look so foolhardy anymore!

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

DK10K 2016 review

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Short term memory loss led me to think the course was much flatter…

For the 2015 race, please click below:

Second outing for me on the DK10K course. Read on to find out what happened.

Pre-race

For the second year in a row, the DK10K kicked-off the start of my season of 10k races that normally spans from May through to September. I had an absolute whale of a time last year, so there was no doubt I wouldn’t enter again.

I’ll be the first to hold my hands up and admit to not liking the 10k distance, race-wise. It requires training at around threshold level, which I greatly struggle with. Ask me to thrash out 800m intervals to prepare for a 5k and I’m there, and similarly, ask me to put in lots of long run mileage and I won’t hesitate. Ask me to run a few miles at threshold pace and I’ll suddenly become more reluctant… As such, my 10k performances are historically much weaker than my equivalent 5k or half marathon results. Just setting the scene is all!

I roped Simon Bull from Cannon Hill Parkrun into entering this on the promise that it’s almost half the price of the Great Birmingham 10k, with an elevation profile that’s probably no better or worse. The lure of a technical t-shirt at the end sealed the deal. We both got our excuses in early; he had a head cold and had come straight from work, whilst I was dehydrated and just all-round knackered…

We bumped into a fair few familiar faces from Cannon Hill Parkrun, including Dave Brayne and Barry Fallon. I did expect to see more people I recognised, though given the close proximity to the Great Birmingham 10k only days prior and the 1 hour ball ache of a drive in rush hour traffic to get to the race, I guess I was fortunate enough to see those I did.

Warm-up completed, Simon and I loitered on the Mile Flat waiting for the race to start. Whilst the organisers had closed off one end of the road to traffic, they’d neglected to close off the other end so we occasionally saw cars coming towards us, trying to get through several hundred runners…

Despite chip timing in place, the start line was a mish-mash of different paced runners all trying to get a lead on each other.

Bang on the dot at 19:15, the hooter fired and off we went.

The race

Rose tinted glasses from last year’s PB run on the course suggested magic was possible once more, especially with a string of strong 5k performances of late for confidence. Rose tinted glasses also blocked out how undulating the route actually is!

Running into a 6mph headwind, target pace of 3:55 per km was rather tricky to come by. Loads of people stormed ahead, either completely unaware of the rather lengthy and steep climb coming up after 1km, or trying to get as much time in the bank as possible to offset the damage from said climb. Continuing the trend from last year’s race, the 1km marker was some 250m out from where it should have been. The first km came in at 3:59.

Right at the start of the second km was the steepest and lengthiest climb on the course, equating to some 30m of elevation and over 700m in distance. Runners all around me fell back, though Dave Brayne made contact and did his best to latch on. I lost Dave somewhere on the climb and never did see him again out on the course. 4:01 for the second km, so I was definitely off PB pace but steady and consistent at least.

The third and fourth km were a bit of a blur. I recall feeling uncomfortable with the undulations having taken some out of me. I was also incredibly thirsty due to poor hydration during the day along with the ramped up temperature – it was only a week ago that Simon and I ran 800m intervals in sleet! I tucked into my one Isogel in an attempt to quench my thirst and also shake things up with a hit of caffeine. This section was also marred by several long stretches of running in no-man’s land, with the next group some 30m ahead and nobody from behind willing to join me. The splits came in at 3:57 and 3:58 respectively, so still as steady and consistent as before.

I was gagging for halfway to appear because it also meant a water stop was nearby. “Looking good, young man!” cheered the gentleman that passed me a cup of water. Spectators and volunteers spout all kinds of lies during races, but I took what was being verbally handed out. Slowly, the undulating course claimed more and more victims and sent a few runners back towards me to run with. The first was a swift girl that I drafted behind for a few hundred metres before making a move to join a West Bromwich Harrier. He had slowed as well, forcing me to sidestep him and move on. 5km produced 4:02 for one of the slowest splits of the evening.

Going into 6km, I was wishing for it all to be over. I was unaccustomed to the pace and effort, and the undulations were relentless. I tried focusing on my surroundings to give my mind a break and that’s when I realised somebody was really close behind and on my tail, based on their footsteps and breathing. Glancing to my right, the runner turned out to be Barry Fallon that I’d bumped into earlier beforehand. “Go on, Barry!” was my encouragement, to which he replied with, “We need to stay on this,” or words to that effect. Within just a few strides, Barry managed to put a gap of some 20m in between us and showed no signs of slowing down; I at last had a target to chase for the second half of the race. This split came in at 3:59.

I spent much of the seventh km with my eyes focused on Barry, occasionally shouting out for him to follow the racing line when he ran wide. 4:01 was produced for this split.

For somebody that’s not bad on hills, I was positively quaking in my racing flats because I had the climb back towards the Mile Flat to contend with. We passed the Navigation Inn once more, with many of its clientele straddling the route to cheer weary runners on. The smell of meals being served up was heavenly and did little to put out the fire from the lactic acid pooling in my legs. This was the slowest split of the race for 4:04.

I’d advised Simon to pick it up once he was back on the Mile Flat and looked to do exactly the same. I began by letting my stride lengthen and also increased my arm swing to help things along. I was able to chase down a few runners and made contact once more with Barry. A Halesowen Triathlete and I spurred each other on for a few hundred metres where I would create a gap, only for him to claim it back. 9km came and went to produce 3:59 on the Garmin.

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Barry having yet another phenomenal race this spring – photo by Brian Smith

I willed for the race to end once more, but there was no sign on the horizon of the right turn back to the club grounds and the finish line. I consciously upped my cadence and broke away from the triathlete for a few seconds, only for him to come storming past both Barry and me to take the lead. I muttered a few words to Barry to keep at it with the knowledge that this was soon to be a PB run for him. Finally, we made a right for the last remaining stretch of the race. Whilst it didn’t affect my race, it was disappointing to discover 150m of the final 200m was single-file due to the open traffic nature of the finish area. Barry pipped me to the line by less than a second; such was his strength in the second half of the race to maintain the lead.

Post-race and conclusions

I claimed 39:40 on chip time and 36th whilst Barry scored 39:30 and 35th. It was a sizable PB for Barry, outdoing his previous 10k best by almost 90 seconds; it was also his first sub-40 performance on a route not without its challenges. Next in was Dave Brayne for around 41:18 and then Simon for 46:52.

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

So, not the outcome I was looking for and some 2 seconds slower than last year. runbritain has at least had the decency to not rub salt into my wounds by declaring the race condition scoring as 1.5, which converted into -0.3 for my personal handicap, but no change to my overall score.

“Train your weaknesses” said somebody more learned than me. This race highlights my need to focus on my lack of threshold work – the pace that sits around the middle that’s neither too easy nor too difficult (despite my aversion to it). Back on the horse I get!

DK10K 2015 review

DK10K

Only 2 from the devil!

For the 2016 race, please click below:

Mid-week evening 10k race, you say? Read on to find out whether this would help or hinder my performance. As ever, jump straight to “The Race” if you’ve no interest in the pre-race jibber-jabber.

Pre-race

I’ve had my eye on the DK10K for a couple of years, but due to the close proximity to the London Marathon, it’s always been a no-go.

But not so this year! This spring and summer are firmly locked in 10k land in a bid to get my PB more in-line with my 5k and half marathon equivalents – McMillan reports I should be much closer to 39:10 or so.

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That initial hill is gonna hurt…

I wasn’t expecting the race to be the fastest, based on the elevation profile above. The dodgy weather of late also did little to inspire. However, Saturday’s 18:52 at Cardiff Parkrun did my confidence some good, converting into a 39:11 on a flat course, so sneaking into sub-40 looked possible on paper. My 39:44 10k PB from September 2014 also had the possibility of falling, though seemed incredibly unlikely.

The mid-week, evening element of the race had me scratching my head somewhat in the lead up. In the end, I had a bigger lunch than normal and made my other meals smaller to compensate. I’d also been told by multiple folks that I should be more awake for an evening race, and that’s in spite of me being a morning person.

I opted to park off-site to facilitate a quick getaway after the race. Dumping the car half a mile away also allowed for a warm-up jog into the DK club grounds, finished off by a couple of laps around the grass pitch to bulk up the distance. I felt fresh, even after the heavy week prior.

Wandering into the changing area, I bumped into Darryl Thomas of Bromsgrove Redditch AC who I needed to find anyway! We’d provisionally agreed to stay together for the early portion of the race at a target pace of 3:59/km. We parted ways and agreed to meet up again on the start line, a few rows back from the front as an estimation of our ability versus the rest of the field.

Vacating the changing area, I bumped into Darren Hale, another Bromsgrove Redditch AC member. We had a good, long chat about various races past and yet to happen. Our mutual love of Parkrun was also spoken about at length. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Darren, particularly learning more about his return to running in recent years – his work hard and work consistently approach was all very inspiring ahead of the race.

We made our way to the start line and I threw in a 300m effort at 10k pace as a final warm-up before go-time. The wind was blowing right into us for the out portion of the route, but thankfully the clouds above cleared up to leave a rather pleasant spring evening, all things considered.

Being a chip timed race didn’t stop the usual array of slower runners starting too far forward. I looked over to my left and there were two ladies quietly discussing that they felt they were stood in the wrong place, surrounded by lean and sinewy club runners. Darryl caught up to me again and, nerve-rackingly, he decided to crouch down and adjust his shoe laces with maybe only a minute or so before we were due to start…

On “3, 2, 1 – Go”, we were off.

The race

Andy Yu at 2015 DK10K

Can you see me? Photo by Brian Smith

I launched right into my target race pace of 3:59/km, feeling smooth and steady. Darryl was right on my shoulder, following diligently. Very early on, a clear division in terms of grouping occurred, where I found I was leading one pack in pursuit of the bunch ahead. I reminded myself to stay calm and relaxed; it was a 700 odd field stacked with strong club runners, so there would be plenty for me to work with later on and there was no need for heroics within the first stretch.

The wind hit me hard and due to the snaking trail of runners all taking shelter behind each other, I felt it wise to follow and draft behind others, rather than go out on my own to run the shortest line on the course.

After only a mile, the first and only significant hill of the course arrived. In total, it amounted to almost a 100ft climb spread across only 400m, and coupled with the strong headwind, made for an unpleasant couple of minutes. At least it was early on in the race, so runners could recover and recalibrate their goals afterwards. I think Darryl was still with me at this point, but I heeded his advice to focus on my own race and to ignore him if he started drifting backwards.

I floated into contact with two Stourbridge RC members, both of whom were at around my pace. Our positions chopped and changed frequently, particularly on the undulations where I gained the lead on the rises and they covered me on the descents. I really, really need to pay some attention to my lack of downhill technique!

Distance markers were provided in 1km increments, though sadly these were completely out of sync with where they should have been placed; 1km appeared at roughly 800m and was rather off-putting. After 3km, their positioning still hadn’t improved and the fear of a short race crept into my mind.

I was faring well, time-wise. A slightly fast opening section due to the downhill had bought me some buffer for any eventual slow-down in pace. My Garmin’s virtual pacer continually fed back that I was drifting in and off target by no more than a couple of seconds, so all was good in the Black Country-hood.

On the approach to the water station, I sank an energy gel in an attempt to quench my thirst a touch. I wasn’t relying on getting much water from the cups on offer, with most of the one I grabbed spilling everywhere. An elapsed time clock appeared nearby, also doubling up as the 5km marker. I knew it had to be in the wrong place from the displayed time alone of 19:10; there was no way I had covered 5k in what would be a course PB for me over at Cannon Hill Parkrun in the midst of a 10k race!

The course continued to undulate, sapping the limited resources I had available. There was no rhythm to be had and if the course wasn’t undulating, it was windy and vice-versa. I traded blows with a Tipton Harrier girl, eventually gaining the lead on a rise somewhere. A similar scenario occurred between me and a Bromsgrove Redditch AC runner, though he managed to steadily creep away from me when I eased off a little too much on the descents for recovery.

The 7km marker finally aligned with the distance on the course. My shoulders tightened up from the tension, but the rest of my body still performed well. There was no fatigue in my legs, but once again it was my lungs that were letting the team down – some VO2 max efforts should sort that right out as an item to go in the training schedule. I drifted off target by 13 seconds and moved my sights to simply finishing in less than 40 minutes; this alone would have been a strong performance at the beginning of my 10k season to build upon (we’ll ignore the Ronnie Bowker 10k for a moment…)

8km was my slowest split at 4:08/km, though that was due largely to the climb back to the “Mile Flat” (yes, it’s actually called that). I had a bit of a bipolar moment when I suddenly convinced myself that a PB attempt was back on. Looking at my Garmin, I had a little over a mile left to cover and the elapsed time ticked over into 32:00; all it took was for the two remaining splits to clock in at 3:50/km each. Not impossible, especially as I was fully warmed-up.

The long stretch back to the club grounds and the finish took what felt like an age to traverse. I picked up my cadence and began chasing down the guys further ahead. Sporadically, spectators began to show on either side of the course, spurring me on to close the gap. My shoulders had given up on me and in turn, my t-rex arms returned. My core was still going strong and I tried taking deeper breaths to calm myself down – nope, didn’t work, so I welcomed the return of the Choochoo train impression™ in a bid to get as much oxygen into my system as possible.

Awkwardly, the “Mile Flat”, banked towards the right to create the illusion that runners were turning for the finish. Sensing there wasn’t much of the race left, I began my assault to finish strong. Just in the distance, I could see the traffic lights at the end of the “Mile Flat” where runners were turning right for the final few hundred metres. The guys ahead weren’t getting any closer to me and I don’t think there was anybody behind me either, at least I couldn’t hear anybody on my tail.

On board the pain train at DK10K 2015

On board the pain train at DK10K 2015 – photo by Brian Smith

Cheered on by a few more spectators, I turned for the club grounds and the finish, creating a sense of déjà vu akin to my experience from The Magor Marsh 10k and its clones under other guises. There were just 200m left and I kicked hard to try and reclaim a few valuable seconds. 100m left and more and more spectators lined the route back into the grounds and the finish gantry was just in front of me. With 50m left, I accelerated with everything I had left for the line, gaining a place in the process whilst I careered through the finish.

Here’s the Garmin data for the race.

Post-race

I was in agony and my breathing was all over the shop. I crouched down and crawled to the side of the finish funnel for a breather, giving some of the spectators a good chuckle. Sat down with my back to the barrier, I checked my Garmin and a fist pump into the air signalled I’d done it – a sneaky, cheeky PB by 6 seconds for 39:38! As is so common with runners these days, I was over the moon but quickly started grumbling to myself that I’d have been at least 20 seconds faster on a flatter course and calmer day – never satisfied are we?

I got back up from the ground and moved gingerly through the funnel. My stomach was quite unsettled from the exhaustive effort and also the concentrated beetroot juice shot I had prior to the race.

Shortly after, Darryl came through with a 41:15, citing that he’d lost me during the first couple of km, but always managed to keep me in his sights. We collected our goodie bags (no medal, rather a technical t-shirt instead) and embarked on a magical mystery tour of the club grounds, trying to locate the chip time results. A laptop had been set up with a link to the results feed, so runners could verify their times almost immediately – this was a fantastic arrangement and clearly, the organisers knew their target audience well.

After a chat about race plans and training methodology, we parted ways until the next race (likely to be Wythall Hollywood 10k) and I had a gentle jog back to the car as a warm-down to close off a successful evening of racing.

Closing thoughts

I had a thoroughly good time at the DK10K. Everything from the organisation, the chip timing, to the facilities for runners was present and accounted for. I did have concerns over the numbers attending with the Great Birmingham 10k only three days prior, but need not have worried – there was plenty of quality in the field that I was never really running on my own. I’ll certainly return again next year when hopefully, the weather will return to its normal plans for the time of year.

In terms of 10k training and racing, I know I definitely have more to give over the distance and people’s estimations that I would have been 20 – 30 seconds faster on a flat course and calm day look accurate. A 39:10 10k translates into 3:55/km pace; a touch faster than what my training focuses on at the moment. I am resisting the itch to increase my training pace to match that, and will instead stick to my guns by increasing the number of 1600m reps I cover to 4x. I want to reach a stage where I can confidently maintain a set pace over the 10k distance, rather than relying on surges late in races to make up any shortfalls that creep in.

Watch this space for the further developments in the upcoming 10k races:

  • 17/05/15 – Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k
  • 31/05/15 – Bristol 10k
  • 14/06/15 – Two Castles Run
  • 21/06/15 – Caerphilly 10k
  • 12/07/15 – Wythall Hollywood 10k
  • 26/07/15 – Magor Marsh 10k

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.