This week’s running – 12th to 18th March 2018

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Brrr! It was a cold one! Photo by Geoff Hughes

*Sigh* The Beast from East returned to defy everybody’s expectations and ruin several more races…

5k fartlek

Ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing? You can only make decisions based on the knowledge available to you, and at the beginning of race week, I fully expected to be racing a half marathon. As such, I wanted a sharp taper with minimal volume and just some effort to keep things ticking over.

Here and here is the Strava data for the two fartlek runs.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Still believing/in denial about the following day’s half marathon, I volunteered as a marshal at Cannon Hill parkrun. Whereas there was no snow, there was plenty of bitingly cold wind to make standing still for the best part of an hour difficult to bear. I was paired up with volunteer newcomer, Naomi from Kings Heath Running Club, showing her the ropes of my familiar patch around the little bridge. She made for fantastic company and was a natural at marshalling; I’d be pleased to work with her again, albeit under more favourable weather conditions!

Setting up the cones, we were both caught off-guard when somebody stopped to ask us for a brief overview of the course. I described the route to him as best as I could without a map and followed up by asking if he was likely to be one of the leaders. He admitted he wouldn’t personally be in the lead, but did point out that he was with a bunch from Bud Baldero’s Uni of Birmingham group, of which some of them likely would be placing highly. I recommended they listen in on the new runners briefing for more detail. Little did I know that we would be some pretty stellar times in spite of the strong winds. Looking at the results, the top 10 finishers all came in under 17 minutes. The top 7 all finished under 16 minutes! It’s reasonable to assume that most of the unknowns in the top 10 belong to Bud Baldero’s group. It’s a thing I’ve began noticing of late that coached athletes either purposely don’t have their personal barcode scanned, or don’t have one to begin with, to evade detection or to hide from competitors.

The return of cancellations

Anticipating that the Newport Half Marathon would take a while to reschedule their cancelled race from the original 4th of March date, I thought I was ahead of the curve by entering the Coventry Half Marathon as my replacement. As it turned out, Newport’s organisers were able to mobilise incredibly quickly to announce 18th of March as their new date – the same day as Coventry. Still with me? Good. Fantastically, they offered options to please everybody, including refunds, deferrals to next year and transfers to others.

As many of us will know, the weather deteriorated as we edged closer to the new race day. Many races heeded the advice of UKA and the amber weather warnings from meteorological offices. Coventry, Newport, Ashby and many others declared themselves out on Friday-Saturday. I was desperate for a chance to race, so my attention was drawn to the Wilmslow Half Marathon bravely ploughing on despite everybody else folding. Transfer place acquired, I played the waiting game and around 05:30 on race morning, they finally conceded defeat and bowed out like most other races (Reading, too). That’s four races since December that I’ve had cancel on me from a previous zero since I began racing in 2010!

I can only do the taper-dance so many times before it starts hitting my overall fitness and sharpness levels, so I’ve pretty much admitted defeat. Wishing to knuckle down and refocus, I’ve opted to tackle the Shakespeare Half Marathon on 13th of May. Early May also sees two 10k races in quick succession to serve as half marathon race pace sessions. Maybe this outcome isn’t so bad, after all?

Imaginary Newport/Coventry/Wilmslow Half Marathon

Somewhat dejected, I was in two minds about sacking Sunday’s run entirely. I convinced myself that I should head out, if only to burn some of the calories that I’d been loading up on in preparation for races that would not be.

The snow underfoot was still pretty fresh, especially in the lesser travelled sections of my route. Concerning my route, I was in no mood to be measuring splits so I just made things up as I went along! The net result was almost like a greatest hits of the familiar stretches I cover, all stitched together like some kind of tapestry.

I witnessed some pretty shoddy driving whilst I was out and about. On the Yardley Wood Road, one lady poorly anticipated the lights turning red; she blipped her brakes a little too hard, resulting in her car spinning 270° whilst oncoming traffic approached!

Fingers crossed we’re out of it now, though I’m sure that’s what we all said a fortnight ago…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

This week’s running – 13th to 19th of March 2017

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Running of a different kind…

An unusual week, culminating with running from the undead and on a treadmill run of all things…

5k fartlek

As somebody that likes structure, the fartlek run would normally fill me with fear. “Make it up as I go along?!” As somebody that’s making a return to prime time training, the fartlek run is actually perfectly suited. If I crash and burn by going out too hard, then so be it; if I’ve still got some welly left after halfway, then I simply press on a little more.

Completing these runs in 30 minutes or less continue to be refreshing – something I’ll savour until the marathon training plan kicks in again sometime in May.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10k – to Cannon Hill Park and back

This route defeated me several weeks ago, so it was incredibly satisfying to complete it and not feel beaten up.

Everything seemed to click into place; my form felt tall and strong, my heart rate was controlled, and the pace felt swift for the effort (mostly). Having not run at all in the dark since December, it was notable how much harder things felt again once I got beyond dusk or twilight on Thursday evening.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Treadmill 5k

On Saturday, I attended a stag-do I co-organised that featured a zombie apocalypse-style activity (airsoft with actors in zombie costumes). For practicality, I opted to wear running gear underneath the supplied overalls for sweat and temperature management; I had to smile when a fellow runner in the group had exactly the same idea, with no prompting from me – great minds think alike, no?

So, what’s the relevance of this, I can already imagine you asking?

Well, the hotel we all stayed at had a very good health and fitness offering, featuring a pool, a large gym and a hard floor court for basketball, badminton etc. Being an almost exclusive non-drinker, even the low amount of booze I’d consumed by everybody else’s standards was enough to wake me early on Sunday morning. “I’m surprised you haven’t already been out for a run,” my room-mate shared. “Wasn’t planning to, given the weekend’s activities,” came my response. Almost urging me on was this final seed of an idea, “There’s the Manchester canal below us, or the gym downstairs.” I had my running gear from Saturday’s activity, so why not?

Not having set foot on a treadmill in over 18 months, some re-familiarising was needed – it took a few minutes to work out whether the distance being recorded was metric or imperial! I’d also forgotten how warm it can get running on a treadmill, even in a well air-conditioned room – with no fan to replicate the natural airflow of running outdoors, I was sweating profusely whilst only running at a pace that was no challenge at all. The boredom of running on a treadmill also needs to be mentioned; never has 27 minutes of running been so mind-numbing! Whilst I had the time available to cover 10k, I grew increasingly antsy to step off the moving belt from 3km onwards to limit myself to 5k only.

As with most runs, it’s rare that I ever regret having run versus not running. It helped clear my head as well as relieving me of some of the guilt of a pretty indulgent few days!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

This week’s running – 22nd to 28th of August 2016

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How I’ve felt for much of this summer…

Week 16 of the 22 week marathon schedule was another tough one.

7 mile fartlek (and 2 mile warm-down)

The schedule originally planned for 8 miles with 5x 800m at 5k pace. Phoning around the three different 400m tracks nearby (Fox Hollies leisure centre, Abbey Stadium, Alexander Stadium), all were obviously reserved for local running club use, being a Tuesday night and all.

In place of the 800m reps, I swapped in a fartlek session instead, which better complimented the unpredictable nature of the canal towpath. Also, I found the shorter and longer stretches at effort easier to stomach in the amped up heat versus trying to meticulously hit 800m in 2:55 (and probably fail).

I didn’t fare too badly out there, with a particular highlight being a 400m stretch at 5:42 per mile pace. Expectedly, the fartlek session had taken a lot out of me and I had to uncharacteristically stop immediately afterwards for several minutes before continuing with my warm-down.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles recovery

Nothing more than a gentle and casual plod home from New Street Station. Keeping me company were snippets of an interview via the Marathon Talk podcast (episodes 70 to 72), with a focus on training and racing in the heat. Two interesting points were highlighted:

  • Only around 25% of the energy output from running goes towards forward motion; the remaining 75% is waste heat generated by muscles
  • Our own effort during a run has a far bigger impact on how hot we get versus the ambient temperature and humidity

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles from work

Whilst not particularly warm (yessss!), it was still unfavourably humid (noooo!) outdoors to leave me completely soaked in sweat, requiring that I literally peel my clothes from my skin upon finishing.

I really wasn’t in the mood for this medium-long run; my legs agreed with me, feeling particularly tired. And that’s the point of these medium-long runs, where they’ve worn me down for weeks so that I’m almost always in a state of accumulated fatigue.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

With the impending doom of my lengthiest marathon paced session to date at the end of the week, I knew I had to keep things easy at Parkrun. Dave and I covered the distance at a conversational and leisurely pace of just under 8 minutes per mile, with a faster final km to stretch the legs out. I also achieved a personal worst in terms of finishing position for 201st, even factoring in my early days at the event when I was only capable of running 5k in circa 25 minutes for an idea of just how much the Cannon Hill event has grown in 5 years.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

17 miles with 13.1 at marathon pace (plus up to 15 seconds)

In a bid to make this run as successful as possible, I unusually separated my warm-up from the bulk of the main run. Having set-up a makeshift transition area in the hallway of my house, I used the 10 or so minutes of recovery to swap shoes, tops, re-hydrate and holster some gels.

Carrying some fatigue and with a noticeable cross-wind to contend with, I allowed for around 15 seconds of drift per mile to get the job done. Rather oddly, I couldn’t actually dip into the magical 6:47 per mile pace target, instead hovering between 6:50 and 7:04 as my best and worst efforts. I felt pretty comfortable out there for majority of the distance, though did find concentration was required on occasion to maintain pace, especially when the terrain changed underfoot or elevation increased or decreased. Overall, I felt pretty good and were it not for the steep climb up Brook Lane, I’d have continued all the way for 14 miles at pace as per the schedule.

I had hoped my Adidas Adios Boost 2s had received enough break-in from several 5 mile runs, though was disappointed to experience some major and minor hotspots and blisters on my right foot. Hopefully this run will have done just the job to break them in ahead of the Kenilworth Half Marathon…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

With a mere six weeks to go, the big day is now fast approaching. I have a few more key runs remaining, including the following:

  • Half marathon (Kenilworth Half Marathon; PB attempt)
  • 22/23 mile long run
  • Marathon paced run (Robin Hood Half Marathon)
  • 5k (PB attempt)

Whilst I’m most certainly tired at the moment, I remain feeling positive. I feel physically fitter than ever before; scoring a number of PBs across different distances during this campaign cements that the training is working and paying dividends.

This week’s running – 7th to 13th of March 2016

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500km and 100 fewer Saturday lie-ins for Nigel – photo by Lis Yu

Second highest mileage week of running for me! Oh, and Nigel joined the Parkrun 100 club!

6k from work

If it weren’t for the low temperatures outside on Monday evening, it would have felt just like a late summer’s evening as I ran home along the canal. I’ve now abandoned wearing my headtorch on the run commutes, but anticipate I’ll still need to wear it on longer training runs until perhaps the end of the month when the clocks move forward by one hour.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Running through Brindley Place, a couple flagged me down to grab my attention and opened with, “Sorry to stop you, but…” My response? “Sorry, can’t stop!” There were dozens of other people around at 6pm – why did they feel the need to single me out when they could have stopped anybody else that wasn’t literally in a rush?!

It reminds me of the time I was running through Cannon Hill Park on a summer’s evening, and a guy stopped me to ask for the time when there were plenty others he could have asked… Grrr! I’ve also heard stories of runners being stopped under the pretence of a request for aid, only to have stuff like milkshakes and eggs thrown at them as some sort of sick, practical joke. Unless I’m on some sort of warm-down or recovery run, I ain’t stopping!

Anywho… Rant over!

I aimed to really push through the speedier sections of this fartlek run in a bid to replicate last week’s efforts. To help achieve this, I wore a pair of lower heel drop race shoes that were admittedly on their way out.

Based on the recorded splits, I was able to go a touch faster compared to last week during most of the faster portions. My form felt great; tall, fast and flexible. I truly felt like I got the workout I wanted and it’ll be interesting to see what everything translates into once I begin structured intervals again later next month.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6k from work

This wasn’t good – I was tired, hungry and lethargic. Heavy rain had done its worst to the unpaved sections of the canal towpath, requiring I weave all over the place to avoid deep puddles that spanned the entire width of the route; not great when you’re low on mojo.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

I think the previous day’s recovery run ended up doing more harm than good; I felt incredibly ropey on Thursday morning and thoughts of sacking off that evening’s 10 mile run began to seep in. Throughout the day, I perked up somewhat but still felt slightly off key by the time I finished up at work and headed for home.

I decided to stick with the programme and went out anyway! There was a very slight tailwind on the out, which was unusual as it’s usually a headwind on the out and a tailwind on the return. The miles ticked by nicely at around 7:45 pace without any distress or sluggishness; my form felt tall and strong, whilst my stride got a boost from my glutes that decided to activate.

On the return, I chucked in two miles at marathon pace. I wasn’t able to hit my target pace of 6:50 per mile, instead hovering just above at around 6:55. What was odd was how easy and natural 6:55 per mile felt – must be the addition of running into a headwind…

It’s rare that I regret a run and this was such an example where going out turned out to be the right choice in the end.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

This was Nigel’s big 100th Parkrun and his targets of a sub-20 5k slotted in nicely with my aim of some half marathon race pace work. Nigel was completely down with going for a new PB, and coupled with how fresh I felt, the stage was set.

Almost in a complete reversal of last week, Nigel and I shot off from the line whilst Dave held back. With a couple of people in tow, we finished the first km in a very speedy 3:40, which was on par with my own sub-19 5k runs! I felt fresh as a daisy, no doubt helped by not going absolutely bananas last week and the 10 hours of sleep from the night before.

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Nigel with his amateur pacemaking team – photo by Lis Yu

As Nigel and I eased off the accelerator on the second lap, this allowed Dave to close in on us and tag on to our pack. With several of us to share the effort with, the edge was taken off the pursuit of a fast 5k. Our second km clocked in at 3:58 to restore some balance to the overall average pace.

On the approach to the triangle, we picked up Ben Frost, the young Sparkhill Harrier that PBd last week. Remarkably, the group actually grew faster as the run progressed – 3:56 and 3:52 were logged for the third and fourth km respectively!

Firmly into the final km, I gave regular time feedback and encouragement to both Nigel and Ben; I was certain both of them would PB by a wide margin unless something unexpected scuppered the run in the remaining few hundred metres. When we reached the final hill, a few barks from me dispelled any thoughts of slacking off and launched everybody into a massive kick for the finish.

Looking at my own finish time of 19:10, I already knew PBs had been achieved; Ben had PBd by around 20 seconds (19:09) down to finishing just ahead of me, and Nigel took some 15 seconds off his own PB from back in September (19:12). Chris Callow also PBd by sticking with us, as did a few others according to the official results. Well done all!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Afterwards, Dave and I both agreed the conditions were spot on for a fast 5k; runbritain confirms as much with its course condition score of just 0.2, with 0.0 representing perfect conditions.

16 canal miles

Looking at a number of my peers in and around my ability, some of them have leapfrogged over me in terms of translating their training into race performances this spring. The only difference between us? They’re training for marathons whereas I’m topping out at just a half marathon. I firmly believe the mileage boost has given them a competitive edge, from 5k through to half marathons of late.

I can’t remember the last time I ran a long run that wasn’t 14 miles; the distance, even with a couple of faster marathon and half marathon paced miles chucked in, has felt quite comfortable from beginning to end. And that has meant that my body has made the necessary adaptations for that to happen; the lack of new stresses has resulted in some slight stagnation, whereas my marathon-bound friends are still enjoying their improvement curves.

So, what’s a guy to do? With fewer than two weeks remaining until the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, I decided to boost this final long run to 16 miles (next week will be 10 or 11 miles, tops). To accomplish this, I mapped out a convenient 16.34 mile route to follow, incorporating the Soho Loop.

Conditions were phenomenal; the best I’ve seen this year, with blue skies, low wind and dry terrain underfoot. Crucially, I remembered to get the Soho Loop stretch out of the way early on to make the closing miles less of a mental battle. Returning from there, I came across Stacey Marston and a few of her fellow Bournville Harriers out on their long runs.

Yesterday, Dave and I had casually discussed our intended start times with an eye on getting our paths to cross, much like last week. Neither of us traditionally trains with others and we found it incredibly refreshing to cover some mileage with each other. Shortly after The Vale, we made contact and stuck together for some 7 miles at a fairly leisurely 7:45 to 8 minute mile pace, interspersed with technical running chat that only the two of us could appreciate.

Once I’d covered 13 miles, Dave had run his 9 out of 11 miles and left me to it and exited the canal for home. The effort shot upwards to simply maintain pace; I definitely found myself gritting my teeth a few times during the remaining 3 miles, but then that’s what I’d set out to do so can’t complain! It’s strange to think I haven’t run this far since my last marathon campaign from two years ago…

The taper will begin with a slight drop in mileage planned for next week, before a sharper taper during race week itself.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

This week’s running – 14th to 20th of December 2015

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I hoped the Force would be with me as I continued my quest for a 5k PB…

5k from work

My legs felt surprisingly chipper on Monday morning and you’d have been none the wiser that I’d raced 10 miles the previous day. By Monday afternoon, my quads were starting to suffer from DOMS, no doubt due to the faster stretches of downhill running at the Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run. I feared the dreaded “Tuesday Legs” would make a reappearance after a long absence…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile fartlek

Gah. “Tuesday Legs” did indeed reappear on Tuesday morning. My quads and IT bands were tight, despite vigorous stretching and foam rolling on Monday evening when I got in. My core and lower back were also aching, which were completely new ones on me. I have consciously been trying to improve my form and posture whilst I’m running hard, so I guess the soreness was simply another by-product of Sunday’s race.

With yet another 5k PB attempt lined up for Saturday’s Parkrun, I chose to keep Tuesday as a fartlek run to allow for enough recovery time.

What I wasn’t prepared for was quite how easy it all felt. Even running into a 16mph headwind on the out leg, my stride felt long and swift, and my form felt tall and strong despite the earlier protestations from my body. The return leg felt just as positive, if not more thanks to a slight tailwind behind me.

The sheer number of runners out on the canals on Tuesday was astounding. I’m lucky if I see another runner out there at all during winter evenings, but I counted 10 or so of us; all independent of each other before you think it was a club out on a run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

4 miles out and back to Edgbaston Reservoir

I wasn’t able to run home from the office on Wednesday due to a post office visit (hellish at Christmas), so I braved a trip to Edgbaston Reservoir for one lap. It was my first trip there with my current headtorch and it held up beautifully; the spread of light was more than enough to light the immediate vicinity and some distance ahead.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

Iain and I went to a midnight launch of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, finally getting home to bed at around 03:30. Several hours later, I went to work feeling worse for wear, though thankfully, only for the morning. My afternoon was freed up to make way for this run in daylight – such a novelty!

Needless to say, I didn’t feel great out there; an intense headwind slammed into me on the out leg to further chip away at my waning resolve. To try and give the run some sort of higher purpose, I slotted in 3 miles (1 on the out, 2 on the return) at my adjusted marathon pace of 6:55 per mile. They each came out on, or just a smidge faster than target for an injection of positivity.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Carl kindly volunteered to pace me for this 5k PB attempt. The goal was somewhere between 18:35 and 18:45, which worked out at around 3:43 per km, or just under 6 minutes per mile.

The odds were stacked against me, even with Carl’s help. Strong winds blew that morning and it was unseasonably warm. My endurance has come on leaps and bounds in recent months, but speed has sorely been missing with the fastest run of each week being a Parkrun. Throw in being a tad under-recovered from the busy week and it looked incredibly unlikely to happen.

Carl and I started a little further back than I would normally be for a PB smash up, with the plan calling for controlled and even splits. The first km started quickly, but balanced out with a slower second half to come in exactly on target.

Race pace effort was killing me; it felt unnatural and completely at odds to what my training bias was aligned with. The second km still came in close enough on target with 3:45 for the challenge to still be on.

The wheels finally fell off in the third km. I wasn’t able to hide from the wind, even whilst drafting behind Carl. The gap increased between us and I simply wasn’t able to regain contact with him; I told him the game was up and to continue with his run without me. The third km produced an ugly looking 4:09 split…

The fourth km was run solo, with only the odd straggler for the briefest moments of company. Surprisingly, the split came in at 4:11 so I’d at least stabilised myself with some recovery.

I managed to inject some much needed pace into the final km, thanks to a couple of guys that were close on my tail, eventually producing a 3:54 split and an overall 19:44 finish.

Yep, a massive positive split and an incredibly difficult run under difficult conditions. I’m consoled that my performance wasn’t that poor in the grand scheme of things; others that I normally finish with or close to also produced comparatively slow times on Saturday. runbritain has only ranked the conditions as 1.0, suggesting there were too few with handicap profiles to generate an accurate course condition score that should have been higher.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run. Thanks go out to Carl for his help – I’ll produce the goods next time!

Injury woes – part 2

All week, in the back of my mind, I could tell that a potential injury was brewing. I’d been incredibly busy, both in and out of work, yet still managed to get all of my scheduled runs in. Stretching, foam rolling and massage took a back-seat to everything else.

Predictably, a niggle did appear after Cannon Hill Parkrun. My left Achilles tendon became tight and a tad sore and mirrored the niggle I picked up only a few weeks ago in my right Achilles tendon. Me thinks some strengthening exercises need to be continued because there’s clearly some sort of breakdown in my biomechanics somewhere.

14 canal miles

I was conscious that my last couple of Sunday long runs were a little short on distance, capping off at 11 miles being the longest. Injury, recovery, racing and so on made their contributions to the mileage deficit. With only 3 weeks remaining before I taper for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I needed to get my arse back into gear and get a few 13 and 14 mile runs in.

The intense wind stuck around to be the only thing that marred an otherwise beautiful winter’s Sunday morning. I kept the first half easy so as not to be wrestling with the gusts that came my way, but also to give myself a fighting chance of 3 continuous miles at marathon pace on the return leg.

Annoyingly, this was one of those runs where the presence of headwind was felt at every turn. This didn’t stop the 3 marathon paced miles coming in on target (6:55, 6:52, 6:52), though the increased effort of staying on pace took its toll eventually in the closing stages with around 2 miles to go. The metaphorical well was empty to make for an incredibly unpleasant end; further proof that the lack of longer runs had caught up to me.

There was some good news – I finally clocked in with over 45 miles for the week; a new record high!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Christmas plans

By the time you good folks read this, I’ll have finished with work for 2015 until Monday 4th of January. Plenty of time to get some good running in during daylight hours for some much needed vitamin D.

On Christmas Day, I’ll be found at Brueton Parkrun, followed by Cannon Hill on Boxing Day. New Year’s Day will see me run the double at Brueton Parkrun and then Perry Hall Parkrun only 90 minutes later. With all the additional Parkruns slotted in, I’ll have to move my rest and recovery days to accommodate; I’ll also have to make sure my recovery runs are very, very easy to compensate for the additional mileage, though I also welcome to possibility of a 50+ mile week. Without work to worry about, I should just about get away with it…

Whether you decide to get some extra running in over the festive period like me (remember, calorie deficit means more food to be eaten), or choose to put your feet up, I hope you have a merry Christmas/joyous other religious holiday/successful secular gift exchange!

10 running rule shorts for you from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

  1. If you see a porta potty with no line, use it. Even if you don’t need to.
  2. If you have to ask yourself, Does this driver see me? The answer is no.
  3. If you have to ask yourself, Are these shorts too short? The answer is yes.
  4. When packing for a race: If you ask yourself, Will I need this? the answer is yes.
  5. When running in winter: If it’s shiny, it’s slippery.
  6. If the person on the next treadmill can identify the music on your iPod, the volume is too high.
  7. For an estimated marathon finish time, double your half-marathon time and add 10 minutes.
  8. Never take a cup from the first fluids table.
  9. When running winter: If you’re warm before you begin running, you’re overdressed.
  10. Err on the side of too much massage.

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

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This was always gonna hurt…

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

5k from work

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Third place off the line! Photo by John Ross

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data.

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

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

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

11 miles – Usk and back

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Andrews Walk Climb

41 seconds between me and the next guy

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

When in doubt, opt for pants, not tights

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

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

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

 

This week’s running – 23rd to 29th of November 2015

achilles_tendinitis

Over-use? Wrong shoes? Gypsy curse? You decide.

Eugh. Down, but possibly not out with an injury…

5k from work

I received a few strange looks from colleagues as I left the office in shorts for the recovery run home. Setting foot outside of the building, I regretted not wearing a base layer and given the easy pace, I never really warmed up for a rather unpleasant 3 miles.

For one reason or another, the nicely paved towpath was closed, forcing me to cross over on to the other side that was caked in mud and dead leaves. Yuck!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

The previous evening, I was speaking with Carl about injury resilience and physiotherapy. Out of nowhere and BAM, my right Achilles tendon started playing up on this fartlek run. The only cause I could think of was the Adidas Adios Boost 2 shoes I wore, which are the lowest heel drop shoes I currently own. Either that or it was down to age-old overuse…

The sensation was a dull feeling of soreness that responded to deep finger presses. Superficially, it didn’t change my running gait or form; I still had the quick pitter-patter cadence and the pain was intermittent in its appearance, with no consistency in how it was triggered.

As somebody who doesn’t often get injured (besides this, the last injury was almost 2 years ago), this is kinda new territory for me. Rest, ice and anti-inflammatories seem to be the recommendations along with some stretching to keep it mobile.

Besides the niggle, it was great to get some faster paces in without any storms or hurricanes to contend with. I didn’t see any other runners out there, which was most odd considering the previous week with Storm Barney appeared to not put anybody off. Cyclists that were present all behaved themselves, too!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

4 miles from work

With the towpath still closed, I was once again forced to venture on to the rather grim, unpaved side of the canal. I was almost ankle deep in mud during some sections, no doubt churned up due to the rain and increased footfall from the diversion.

This run home had another purpose…

For weeks, if not months, I see the same homeless guy in Brindley Place as I pass through on all manner of runs. I’ve always wanted to do something for him, but I don’t carry any money when I run, nor do I have any food on me. On Tuesday night’s fartlek run, I saw him again out in the bitter cold and it got to me. Even with heating and a roof over my head, I’ve felt the colder temperatures of late and it was difficult not to think of him in such difficult conditions.

Once I reached home, I dug out an old water-proof North Face coat that no longer fitted me – it was always a little big on me to begin with, even before I started seriously running! It had barely been worn and I wanted it to go to someone that would directly and immediately benefit from it, so off it went into my bag for the next day.

Running through Brindley Place once more, he wasn’t in the place I saw him on Tuesday. I took a chance that he’d be in his normal spot over by Gas Street Basin and The Cube, and as luck would have it, there he was! The coat was a perfect fit and big enough to go over what he was already wearing, which needless to say, wasn’t very much. I stopped to have a chat with Paul for 5 minutes or so and learned that he’d been homeless for a couple of years before I bid him farewell.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Better safe than sorry

That Achilles niggle from Tuesday night’s fartlek run? I decided to listen to my body and take a couple of days off from running, hoping the soreness would subside in time for next week’s 5k PB attack. Achilles tendinitis has a reputation for being notoriously lengthy to recover from due to restricted blood flow – self-massage, stretching and ibuprofen gel became my new best friends in a bid to speed things along.

It’s easy to dish out advice, but oh so hard to follow one’s own recommendations!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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Marshalling at Cannon Hill Parkrun

It was only a few days prior that I was talking about volunteering at Parkrun. With injury in tow, I put Lis’ name and mine forward to marshal at Cannon Hill.

Commiserations were offered when I revealed I was injured. I was quite envious of those running that morning because conditions were pretty much spot on for fast times – the forecasted wind never materialised and the temperature was just right for 5k pace.

One issue both Lis and I observed was that of identifying Parkrunners from those that are just running in the park. We saw two slower women leave the main pack and head out towards the triangle along with some of the sub-20 minute folks (potentially cutting out the 2nd lap). My attempt to run after them and ask if they were part of Parkrun failed miserably and we concluded they appeared sure of what they were doing, so were unlikely to have been with Parkrun – we never did see them again for further confirmation.

Another issue we witnessed was that of the main pack of runners spilling out all over the path just as the front-runners were finishing their second lap. Without a marshal by the old pub to tell runners to keep to the right of the path, the front-runners had to clear their own way and were pretty much screwed out of fast times.

10 canal miles

Prodding and poking my Achilles tendon gave me some hope that any inflammation was temporary. The lower leg was a little stiff, but pain was non-existent to convince me to head out for an easy 10 miles.

With strong winds, cold temperatures and heavy rain forecasted, I unusually wore a base layer vest underneath a long-sleeve top. Stepping outside, I was comfortable for once before having warmed up, though later regretted the attire decision when I couldn’t shift the excess heat.

I felt like Bambi on ice out there, not because there was actually ice on the ground, but because I’d lost a lot of co-ordination from only 2 missed runs (one long, one fast). I kept the first 5 miles easy – between 8 and 9 minute miles. There wasn’t a single peep from my Achilles tendon in terms of soreness; I was cautious not to put too much force through my right leg to further add to the feeling of loss of control.

On the return, I decided to test the tendon out with a single mile at marathon pace; it felt spot-on, and dispelled some of the co-ordination problems by making me focus on my form. We were almost back in business, which was good enough for me!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The Sneyd Striders Christmas Pudding Run

What better way to celebrate side-stepping an injury than to enter a race! Whether I make it to said race is a different matter, but we’ll worry about that at a later date…

I said a number of months ago that a 10 mile race before a half marathon would make for an ideal simulation-come-training run. At the moment, I have a reasonable idea of what I’m capable of, but I’d like a bit more confirmation – fail to prepare and prepare to fail and all that jazz. With this race appearing on the calendar at pretty much the perfect time, it’d be rude not to. The clincher was the Christmas pudding as part of the goodies at the end.

The intention is to run it at target half marathon pace, which is somewhere between 6:30 and 6:32 per mile. The McMillan calculator is suggesting a full-on 10 mile assault would be in the region of 6:25 per mile; my eyes are watering at the thought of sub-20 5k pace for 10 miles!

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

When in doubt, wear gloves and a hat

Is it cold out? Wear gloves and a hat.

Is it just chilly? Wear gloves and a hat.

I guarantee you: You will never regret wearing gloves and a hat. Ever. And eventually, you will regret not having them.

Just wear ‘em.

This week’s running – 16th to 22nd of November 2015

barney

Curse you, Barney!

This week was mostly about Storm Barney battering the nation.

5k from work

I was positively full of beans on the Monday run-commute from the office. There was a nice, natural pick-up in pace that was unexpected, but certainly welcome. Oh, and my ninja friend was out on the towpaths again, dressed head to toe in black, but at least on this occasion, he was running with the torch on his phone enabled…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Fort

Even the Fort Shopping Park sign was no match for Barney!

A few people I know were able to get their Tuesday runs out of the way before Storm Barney hit to have me green with envy. I wasn’t looking forward to the forecasted 40 – 70mph winds, no sir-ee.

Walking back home from work, I was almost blown over a number of times to convince me that a fartlek run, where set pace was not of consequence, would be appropriate for the evening. Fighting against the wind would ensure I’d at least get the desired hard workout!

There were a surprising number of people out on the canal towpath in spite of the strong winds. I was further taken aback by how many of them were runners, convincing me I’d made the right move not to sack the run off for a night indoors instead.

That first effort into the wind was like running through treacle whilst wearing a parachute. Regardless of how quickly I pumped my arms, or how fast I made my cadence, progress was hard to come by. I was conscious not to overdo fighting the wind for fear of leaving nothing in the tank to make it back home. I soon warmed up and the task became more bearable, thanks to some strategic bursts of speed when the wind temporarily retreated.

I always lull myself into a false sense of security regarding tailwinds. A headwind on the out always means a tailwind on the return, right? Wrong! The truth, whilst not stranger than fiction, was certainly harsher. The tailwind only materialised on a few occasions, with a strong crosswind filling the void the rest of the time. There were a few hairy moments, especially on the exposed bridge at Selly Oak, when I was almost pushed into the water…

Once back at home, I stuck two fingers up at Barney to celebrate my completed fartlek – not even the purple dinosaur elements could stop me!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

I felt sluggish after the previous evening’s fartlek run, so kept the pace low and slow. Secondarily dictating the slower pace was me forgetting to pack my headtorch… I’ve truly been spoilt by how much power the Petzl headtorch pushes out; by comparison, the iPhone torch was only bright enough to illuminate my feet and maybe 1m of the ground ahead.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

I’m loving the increased mileage I’m cranking out, with 8 of the last 11 weeks (the remainder were taper or recovery weeks) sitting around the 43 mile mark. I’m seriously getting twitchy if I don’t hit at least 40 miles.

This particular 10 miler is one I most likely would have binned were it not for my pursuit for mileage consistency. I still felt somewhat beat up from Tuesday’s fartlek run; in my mind, I’d already decided to cover the first 5 miles at just under 8 minute pace to keep things in check, before pressing on with 3 miles at the slower end of marathon pace (7:10 or so), with 2 miles at the end to cool down.

Getting home from work took much longer than anticipated and then once I reached my street, it started raining to further dampen the mood. My Garmin also decided to get in on the conspiracy to make this run not happen. Normally, I leave it on a windowsill to achieve satellite lock on; used daily and not travelling very far, the Garmin’s cache of satellite data is usually always relevant, with lock on achieved within minutes at most. After two failed attempts and two reboots, a signal still wasn’t found and I was running out of time to get 10 miles completed for the evening. I didn’t fancy waiting outside for the Garmin to find a signal, but alas, it had to be done – I feel naked without run data! Within just a couple of seconds of stepping outside, the Garmin finally locked in on some satellites to have me rolling my eyes.

Thankfully, after the delayed start, the run was entirely without incident. It was also nice after Tuesday’s lack of lighting to be reunited with my headtorch and actually be able to see my surroundings! The 3 miles at marathon pace were really positive. My form felt efficient and the pace was smooth and relaxed.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

There was a sharp intake of breath on Saturday morning to welcome in the coldest Parkrun I’d experienced for months. An easy jog with Nigel Beecroft and Paul Shackleton soon took care of the warm-up and a 200m sprint at race pace helped to keep the warmth around. I paired my vest with gloves and arm warmers; Jort, also wearing a vest through error, quipped, “Real men don’t wear arm warmers!”

I really wasn’t sure of my game plan for the run, but I did think to have a bash at bringing my runbritain handicap down further; the cold and windy conditions were more than likely to have the run’s difficulty higher than normal for a slight boost to any decent performance.

Off the line, I went out reasonably hard but certainly didn’t feel as fresh as I’d hoped. I eased off the gas, allowing the pace to hover around 3:44, and settled into a decent-sized pack. I’ve no idea what’s happened of late, but Cannon Hill seems to be attracting a strong field of runners at the sharper end again; there was some backlash from a number of faster runners when the course was modified last year to feature a hill at the end, slowing down one of the faster and better attended courses in the West Midlands. I estimated I was somewhere in the low 30s on Saturday, position-wise, whereas I’d have been in the high teens a year ago whilst at a lower ability.

Entering the second lap, I made a move to take shelter from the wind and surged to draft behind one bloke that was just slightly ahead. He had a lengthy stride, which made staying in his slipstream somewhat tricky; I didn’t want to get too close to potentially trip him up, but also had to stay within a certain range to actually receive any benefit. I couldn’t actually see the ground properly and trusted in his steps, though nearly came a cropper when he quickly jumped to avoid a stray tree branch, only for me to go clattering into it!

I continued to tail the guy into the third km and took up front-running duties when I sensed his pace slipping. We’d picked up a few stragglers along the way to make the entry into the triangle rather crowded; this proved to be incredibly motivating to break away from the group on the exit for the fourth km.

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Brrr – photo by Geoff Hughes

Once into the final km, I could hear a couple of runners right on my tail to keep me on my toes. Whilst I had plenty of strength throughout the run, I did feel like I had a certain oomph missing from the final split, almost like there was a distinct lack of finishing power. I’ve always felt a strength of mine was the ability to produce a big kick at the end. I crossed the line for 19:05 and 27th place; over 19 minutes but I was fairly confident I’d done enough to make a small dent to my runbritain handicap if the results were anything to go by.

Here’s the Garmin data for this Parkrun.

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Moving in the right direction again!

And my hunch was correct! 4.8 down from 4.9!

Canal half marathon

Due to the need to be somewhere at 11:30am, I headed out for 13.1 miles a touch earlier than usual and boy did I feel that temperature drop. The long-sleeve top and gloves keeping me company were most welcome!

Freezing temperatures aside, it was a beautiful winter’s morning. Plenty of other runners, walkers and cyclists must have thought so too, because it wasn’t ever long before I encountered another soul out there.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with me at the moment, but the most comfortable stretch of this long run were the 3 miles I covered at marathon pace. I never really felt at home during the first 6 miles, nor the final 4, both run at a lower effort.

I did bump into Carl out there, though couldn’t stop to chat due to above said time constraints. Had we have stopped, I’m not sure how long we’d have lasted before we got moving again due to the biting cold!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Judge not the runner in the cotton t-shirt

Back in the day, according to ancient cave paintings, runners wore cotton shirts. Strange, but true.

Fast-forward a few decades, and today we have “technical” shirts, designed to wick moisture away from the skin, keeping you drier and more comfortable. Technical shirts have the added benefit of looking cool, like something astronauts might wear while relaxing, after hours, with a freeze-dried gin and tonic.

Yes, everyone loves tech shirts.

Still, you will encounter the occasional oddball old-timer who runs in cotton (usually cotton race T-shirts, though even those are becoming rare). Treat him with the respect he deserves – for two reasons, at least:

  1. Chances are good that he has been running a lot longer than you have, and even if he’s not faster than you today, he probably was at some point.
  2. Deriding another runner based on what the runner is wearing is just lame. Such an attitude says a lot more about the derider than it does about the one being derided. And what it says isn’t pretty.

Besides, someday – if you’re very lucky – you might be an oddball old-timer yourself. And how will you feel if someone sneers at you and your old, outdated tech shirts?

 

 

This week’s running – 19th to 25th of October 2015

Zoidberg

Dr Zoidberg didn’t think it was a good idea to enter Berlin

This week was about Berlin and Brass Monkeys.

Berlin Marathon 2016

Berlin Marathon

I find out in December whether I’m in or not…

After a few shaky runs marred by warm conditions throughout the summer, I concluded I did not want to go through the training for an autumn marathon. But then I got thinking and comparatively, my performances in the autumn are usually much stronger in relation to the spring. I was inspired watching a few guys I know at around, or just below, my ability over 5k, 10k and half marathon go on to run sub-3:15 autumn marathons. There had to be something in toughing it out through the summer!

So, my finger accidentally slipped and registered my name for the 2016 Berlin Marathon ballot… Immediately afterwards, thoughts of, “What the hell have you done???” went through my mind, but revisiting the P&D Advanced Marathoning book briefly for a peek at the schedules reassured me that I’m now in a much better place to take on another marathon. I may actually be disappointed if I don’t get in at this rate!

There were a few quirks with the Berlin Marathon ballot versus the London Marathon ballot. Notably, you have to submit payment information upfront to cover the €98 should you be successful, with nothing being taken if you’re not. This contributes to why the odds of getting into Berlin are quite good – London not requiring payment information upfront probably encourages more people applying on a whim who’ll figure it all out later.

The other quirk relates to finishing time submission. A bit like Boston where you have to qualify, Berlin asks you to provide your marathon PB (3:34:02 in my case) to seed you into an appropriate start pen. If you’ve never run a marathon before, you’re automatically seeded into Pen H (reportedly around 25,000 in this year’s race…) It’s a double-edged sword system because on the one hand, it keeps people honest and completely eradicates the problem of people predicting finishing times of complete fantasy/inexperience – “You’re only as good as your marathon PB” is their view. And on the other hand, it unfairly penalises first timers and faster runners that train their guts out and would be perfectly capable of achieving or beating their targets. My marathon PB would likely see me seeded into Pen F, designated for those with PBs of 3:30 to 3:50. My goal is to at least run sub-3:30 and I think I could even go sub-3:15 with almost 10 months of preparation.

Anywho, the above is only something to worry about should I get in!

5k from work

Hip flexibility was still low after the recent weekend’s antics, so I kept this one easy.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

Whilst this wasn’t my fastest overall fartlek run along this route, it did produce the fastest final stretch where I clocked in at 5:53 mile pace over 550m with a stride length of 1.35m (that’s long for me!)

No major issues to report, other than cyclists on pavements with no lights and groups of people walking three abreast.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Not good at all. Felt really low on energy from the off due to a lunch that was probably too light. Even at a slow pace, it was a real grind.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles/Petzl Tikka RXP field test

Petal Tikka RXP

Let there be light with the Petzl Tikka RXP

After last week’s anxiety on the unlit canal, I started looking into headtorch upgrade options. My Black Diamond Spot, whilst perfectly adequate for jogging home from work at low speed, just wasn’t really cutting it on the longer run in the dark at a faster pace. I narrowed my choices down to two from Petzl: the Myo and the Tikka RXP. The Myo is not a pretty thing to look at with a back of head mounted AA battery pack, but it’s insanely bright at 315 lumens on its maximum setting. The Tikka RXP is much more conventional looking, sporting a USB rechargeable battery pack built into the main lamp, but only 215 lumens on its brightest setting. Both eclipse the Black Diamond Spot with its paltry 90 lumens (budget option).

In the end, I went for the Tikka RXP. It was the cheaper of the two by almost £30 online (only £10 difference on the high street) and the USB rechargeability meant I’d be able top it up at work before each run-commute home, rather than having a stash of spare AA batteries in case it ran dry. It also featured an auto-brightness feature, much like on smartphones, where the power output adjusts on the fly to changing situations (can be overridden).

So, how did it go?

I broke out the Tikka RXP on a 10 mile run, once again utilising the unlit canal towpath. I covered a range of paces and the headtorch held up wonderfully, and importantly, required no readjustment of the headband, even at faster speeds. The reactive sensor always gave me just a little more light than I needed in any given situation; if I ran into a tunnel, it dimmed itself due to light bouncing off walls, and if I ran into cyclists with their own lights, it dimmed so as not to blind those oncoming. That last one only holds true if cyclists have lights; one idiot without any wasn’t able to adjust his eyes quickly enough from the darkness and received a face full of maximum brightness.

The available range was fantastic, with it faintly reaching up to 100m away – obviously things got brighter the closer they were to me, but it was more than sufficient to pick up things in the distance that I needed to focus my attention on.

The only negative is the battery life – it’s quoted as only lasting up to 2.5 hours with access to maximum brightness and requires a 5 hour charge from empty. On reduced mode, it can last up to 10 hours, or a balance between the two can be reached by plugging it into a Mac or PC and adjusting the power profile (I deleted this option).

The run itself was great, with 3x miles at just faster than marathon pace. The additional lighting made it easier adjusting to the faster pace compared to last week. Stopping it from scoring a 10/10 was some minor indigestion before I even started and a sudden urge for a toilet visit halfway through…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2016

As my alarm went off at 5:55am, I couldn’t quite believe that it had been a year since I registered for my first Brass Monkey Half Marathon. At £24 for unaffiliated entry, the race provides a stellar field and is superbly organised. Oh, and did I say the route is pancake flat for PB hunters like me?

Of course, it could be £24 wasted if the race gets cancelled due to inclement weather – more than likely in mid-January as was seen in 2013 due to snow.

Carl also made it in again, as did Dave for the first time, by the skin of his teeth before the cut-off of only 1750 available places.

If I can keep the momentum going until then, there’s a chance I could be in reach of a time in the low 85s. Here’s hoping!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

By 8am, I’d already had two coffees to try and perk up in time for Parkrun due to the pre-6am start to enter the Brass Monkey. Not a good start. And I was going to take a chance and attempt to squeeze out another fast time ala last week, too…

I caught up to Nigel for a joint warm-up lap around the park along with a debrief of his Great Birmingham Run (a splendid effort with a second half full of true grit).

On the start line, I had another pep talk with Zac Minchin of Sparkhill Harriers, now quickly becoming a weekly thing. He’d hoped to hit 18:40, which sounded reasonable enough to me to try and keep on the horizon. Ben Clarke was run director for the morning and had the honour of giving the starter’s orders to send us all off on our way.

The start was very, very fast. As always, some had started too far back and one guy came tearing through a few of us to get ahead – he should have saved him and us the trouble and just started at the very front! By the first corner, my Garmin was registering 3:25 per km, which felt totally unnatural to me. I decided to go with it and just let nature take its course…

The first km clocked in at a swift 3:37. Target average pace for the entire run was 3:45/km, so it certainly gave me a slight bit of breathing space for the inevitable slow-down in the later stages. Confidence was still high, though my breathing was just a smidge faster than I’d have ideally wanted it.

The effort noticeably crept upwards in the second km. I still had a grip on things to produce a 3:43 split to be still ahead of target.

Wheels started to come off the wagon in the third km. The shortened lap around the park didn’t help where the sensation of progress felt like it was missing. Carl in an attempt to shoehorn himself into this week’s entry (it worked!) pulled up in front of me whilst he covered the course in a progressive manner. He told me to drive my arms and elbows more to gain more thrust from each stride; I took shelter in his slipstream to also gain a few hundred metres of recovery, though this was short-lived when he crept away on a slight descent. The split came in at 3:55, but I was still on for average target pace.

The fourth km was a shocker. I was still on the tail of the lead girl, but the effort had already taken its toll on me and mentally, I abandoned the plan and resigned myself to simply finish in a respectable time not too far off target. Zac the Sparkhill Harrier had also sacked his effort off and was walking by the side of the course. I hollered out to him to rejoin the chase and he slotted himself back in just in front of me before moving into my slipstream. The cursed triangle robbed me of a few more precious seconds and even a small surge on the exit wasn’t enough to undo the damage of the tight turns. The split came in as an ugly 4:01…

The lead girl and another chap managed to put 15-20m between them and me. I couldn’t hear anybody behind me, to put me in no man’s land when I needed a fast final km. My teeth were firmly gritted but nothing I threw down got me any closer to the two of them. On the approach to the hill, Ed Barlow’s familiar voice told me to attack the climb as he pulled away from me. “I’m maxed out” I told him, with the knowledge that I was off target by about 10-15 seconds, not providing any inspiration either.

runbritain handicap

I’ll take a runbritain handicap improvement!

I finished in 19:10 for a fourth fastest time on the course. Whilst not the time I wanted, it did bear an unexpected gift in the form of a strong runbritain handicap rating to put me back at 4.9! Much like last week, many were undoubtedly taking it easy after the Great Birmingham Run and other races to give my performance a nice boost up the backside.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

14 canal miles

Sunday was such a contrast to the previous day, with still and bright conditions.

I fancied trying my hand at boosting the long run to 14 miles; the eventual plan is to top out at 15 miles as part of training towards January’s Brass Monkey Half – a race that flat and fast really can’t be squandered!

Gloves were donned after checking the weather report, though in hindsight, I need not have bothered; the sun warmed everything up including me in my black t-shirt…

Ignoring the mile warm-up at the start and mile warm-down at the end, I opted to cover the middle 12 negative split style. The slowest mile came in at 8:07 and the fastest at 6:58; the final 3 had me grimacing, good and proper! I finished feeling slightly broken. Think I’ll take it easier next week…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Know when and where it’s okay to wear running apparel

ALWAYS

  • During a run or race
  • At a race expo
  • Milling around at the gym
  • In a running store
  • Before, during, or after a sports massage
  • In bed (to save precious seconds the next morning, before an early run)

NEVER

  • In church
  • At weddings
  • At funerals
  • At court appearances
  • At chamber music recitals
  • For job interviews
  • In a rowboat (don’t ask why; it would just be weird)

SOMETIMES

  • In hotel lobbies (before or after a run)
  • At work (if you are an elite runner or personal trainer, or if you work at Runner’s World)
  • At picnics (if you have to run to the picnic or plan to run from it, or if other picnic-goers are also wearing running apparel)
  • At the supermarket (depending on amount of sweat and/or aroma you’ve generated)
  • On a date (if your date is also a runner, and the two of you are running, have run, or are about to run)

This week’s running – 27th of July to 2nd of August 2015

Fulham Palace Parkrun map

Fulham Palace Parkrun called whilst I was in the Big Smoke

This week was unconventional, to say the least!

10k fartlek

Lethargy and life put a dent in my training diary for the early part of the week. I was pretty shattered from the Magor Marsh 10k and wedding related tasks took priority.

But it wasn’t long before I was back on the training bandwagon with a fartlek session up and down Hagley Road. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I took this session on, but all the unpleasant memories came flooding back as soon as I hit that first fast stretch that went uphill and into the wind.

What I do vividly recall is how much of a sharpener this particular sesh is for me. The varying fast stretches and recoveries really had a sting to them; some of the shortest recoveries were only 40 seconds long or so and really force my body to adapt, and adapt quickly!

Here’s the Garmin data for this sesh.

Canal 10k

The plan was to head out for the usual 8 miles along the canal towpath. The plan was derailed when I realised I had fuelled up inadequately, cutting the run short at 10k.

Amusingly, a canal boat full of drunken revellers (all donning captain’s hats no less) kept cheering me on with, “It’s the Captain! You can do it, Captain!” It appeared the boat was fickle, and they cheered everything and everyone on that they came across. No loyalty at all these days!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Fulham Palace Parkrun

A buddy of mine and Lis’, who we studied with when we first met, was in London for a couple of days. Flying in from Taiwan only every few years, this was a rare opportunity to see him so to the Big Smoke we headed.

Of course, I had to get a bit of Parkrun tourism in, but which event? People naturally recommended Bushy Parkrun, but I’ve already ticked that off my list, and fancied something more low-key. We were staying in the Hilton at Olympia/Kensington, and geographically, the nearest event was Fulham Palace Parkrun; only a couple of minutes’ Tube ride away and the decision was made.

Naming conventions for Parkruns are normally simple, but Fulham Palace bucks that trend. The course itself is actually held in Bishop’s Park, which neighbours Fulham Palace; the organisers originally held their briefing inside the gates of Fulham Palace to be able to use that name. The event now takes place entirely within Bishop’s Park but has maintained the original name.

The course is just under 3x laps of the outer perimeter of Bishop’s Park. Flat and with a reputation for being fast, it had all the hallmarks of a great Parkrun course for me. One fly in the ointment was a reputation for the course also being a touch short by about 150m. I was dubious of this claim, having noticed the course is almost entirely lined by thick tree coverage. We would see how this played out…

Lis and I arrived with plenty of time for my full warm-up routine. I had a good look at the park, and what a park it was. With the Thames as a neighbour, familiar scenes from the Oxford and Cambridge boat races were called up instantly in my mind.

The Parkrun bear

Say “Hello” to the Parkrun bear – photo by Lis Morgan

It seemed we weren’t the only tourists visiting; some Parkrunners from an Australian event were also in town, along with a guy running his 100th Parkrun, with every single one at a different event, to name but a few.

The event is one of London’s younger events, not even having reached its second birthday. With only circa 200 or so runners each week, it’s also much smaller than most of the events I tend to frequent. But numbers can be deceiving and a gander at a typical week’s results will highlight a pretty deep field that’s not dissimilar to Cannon Hill’s, which attracts over twice as many runners. This boded well in my quest to try and go under 19 minutes.

Briefing completed, we were ushered over to the start line that was maybe 200m away. It was a real bun fight to make it to the first few rows; clearly a competitive crowd!

Congestion was atrocious in the first few hundred metres, not helped by the near immediate sharp left turn, followed by another sharp left turn before runners hit a long straight. My Garmin was indeed fluctuating a bit too much due to the tree coverage, so I pretty much abandoned GPS pace and relied on pacing by feel and those around me. I latched on to a guy in a blue t-shirt who seemed reasonably steady and stayed with him for the remainder of the first lap.

Whilst the course was flat, the pavement had seen better days and a few cracked portions and exposed tree roots made sure my attention wasn’t just fixated on the guy in front.

Due to long, but narrow nature of the course, Lis was able to hop from one side of the park to the other with ease.

The first km came in just under 3:55; even with the slight headwind, I wouldn’t have slowed by that much whilst feeling worked, which confirmed my earlier thoughts about the course probably being 5k accurate.

Andy Yu at Fulham Palace Parkrun

Second lap at Fulham Palace Parkrun – photo by Lis Morgan

Entering the second lap, I chopped and changed from runner to runner to draft behind to keep the pace up; the middle mile always has a tendency to sag from all the effort at the beginning. Confusingly, one Fulham RC runner in front shared the same name as me, which made me wonder how the marshals knew who I was! I eventually found myself trailing behind a guy that was able to regularly put in a short injection of pace to try and shake me off, though I always managed to work my way back to him. As we neared the end of the second lap, we passed the tail runner and a couple of ladies who were determined to walk the route and not run a single step.

Into the third lap and I was still on the coat tails of the chap from the second lap, doing my damndest not to be left behind. Lapped runners became more frequent as we worked our way ever closer to the end. GPS was still crocked, so I switched over to the elapsed time, which I knew was at least accurate. The guy threw a few more surges in to really test my limit, but I counter-surged to stay with him.

Final lap at Fulham Palace Parkrun

Feeling the burn in the final lap – photo by Lis Morgan

We turned for the final corner, which probably worked out at about 400m from the finish. The runner I had so diligently followed made a break away and kicked to leave me in his dust. I searched inside for some fight to go after him, but there was nothing – only a feeling of flatness. Lis cheered me on with about 200m left to go and only then did I muster something up to finish in 19:05.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

I had to sit down for a moment and catch my breath. The Fulham RC runner came through shortly after and shook my hand, pulling me up in the process. His fastest 5k turned out to be only a few seconds slower than mine, and on the right day, I’m sure we could have worked together towards something. And that guy that surged away from me? Well, he ended up PBing by a couple of seconds to explain where he managed to find the strength to kick towards the end.

After debriefing with Lis and about to embark on a cool-down lap, a younger chap came over and asked if I was from Cannon Hill. Alex was also visiting London for the weekend and like me, couldn’t resist the urge to get a bit of Parkrun tourism in. Small world or what?

A really friendly and enjoyable event, it’s one of the fastest courses I’ve ever run on. Overcome the GPS issues and Fulham Palace Parkrun has easily got PB potential.

14 miles of Birmingham

Not training for anything longer than a 10k felt like it had taken its toll on my ability to go long. With one eye on the looming half marathon season in October, and the other on my honeymoon to derail any serious training, I sought to remedy this with a 14 miler.

Tired and weary from around 20 collective miles of walking whilst in London, I laced up and hit my usual route that took me along Bristol Road to Selly Oak, through Bournville to Cotteridge, on to Pershore Road and through Cannon Hill Park, and then back on to Bristol Road for home.

Expectedly, there was no snap, crackle or pop in my legs. A head wind tore into me for pretty much the entire time I was on the Bristol Road. The sun, that had been absent over recent weeks, also decided to make a guest appearance to heat things up.

I was in two minds about skipping the Cannon Hill Park portion of the route entirely, but managed to convince the old Central Governor to work with me, along with a promise of a cool frosty glass of Coke once we reached home.

I was wrecked by the end. Hungry, tired and warm; I still had a day of wedding related shenanigans to work on. So much for a lazy afternoon of recovery!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Run in the inner lanes; recover in the outer

Just like with highway driving, rules exist on the track to make behavior predictable and, therefore, conditions safer for everyone. The most fundamental, universal rule: Fast runners stick to the inside lanes. Slower runners or walkers occupy the outer ones.