This week’s running – 4th to 10th of July 2016


Closing my eyes on an unfamiliar course probably isn’t the best idea – photo by Ronald Reynolds

Week 9 of the 22 week marathon schedule saw me cut back slightly on volume along with getting some Parkrun tourism in.

9 miles from work with strides

The injection of some strides at the beginning of each new mile helped to prevent this run from becoming too ploddy.

Interestingly, my Fenix 3 lost its way through Brindley Place again, this time near The Cube, where it looked like I ran in a circle on the spot. I’m not surprised the Fenix 3 struggles through that particular stretch of canal with the artificial canyon, though I must say my Garmin 910XT almost never skipped a beat under identical terrain.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles recovery from city centre

The temperature picked up once more and I was glad there was no pace target for this run in the schedule!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

This was not a good run for me, mentally, so I apologise in advance but I’m gonna have a bit of a moan. Feel free to skip this section entirely!

The original plan was to cover 9 miles from the office for home, but several things stood in my way, one of them literally.

You’ll have just read about my woes with my Garmin Fenix 3 whilst running through Brindley Place. The high walls of the canal create a canyon-like situation, which is notoriously difficult for GPS accuracy. Chuck in the tunnel that goes beneath Broad Street and it’s any wonder it stays on course at all. My issues started because these days, I’m hitting Brindley Place several miles into a run versus when I used to live in the Jewellery Quarter and the locale appeared within the first or last mile typically. Currently, I’ll be cruising through Brindley Place during the third or fourth mile of a run at a typical 7:50 per mile pace; suddenly it’ll shoot up to 7:20 or so with no intervention from me. As well as an increase in recorded speed, the Fenix 3 also suddenly thinks I’ve gone further than I actually did, due to the GPS trace going incredibly wide (sometimes, by as much as 200m). Looking at previous runs through Brindley Place recorded on my former 910XT, the GPS traces weren’t perfectly clean, though the recorded paces are better masked and smoothed out, whereas it’s almost impossible for me not to spot a 30 second pace increase on the device display. It’s the perfect storm situation where I can’t un-see what I have seen; I’m now constantly on the look-out for it!

I slotted 2 miles in at target marathon pace during the middle portion of this run, thinking it’d be a doddle to cover, but didn’t factor in the effects of the headwind that blew right into me. The first mile came in almost 10 seconds too fast due to over-compensation; the second was too slow for the opposite reason.

Disheartened, but not yet defeated, I continued on through Selly Oak when a shifty-looking bloke on a bike stopped ahead of me and started waving me down. I now make it a habit of not stopping during a run if somebody wants my attention – that’s not me being an arse, but a result of previously being stopped for all manner of stupid reasons (crowded Cannon Hill Park and man stops me for the time). Basically, if you don’t look injured, I ain’t stopping for you! Anywho, I replied with, “Sorry bud, in the middle of a run,” as if it wasn’t obvious enough. He shouted back at me with, “Wait! You can’t go that way!” He was absolutely right and maybe 100m ahead of me was a fast flowing gush of water from street level on to the towpath and into the canal itself. Fortunately, I was able to suddenly detour back on to street level through a nearby housing estate, which lead back to Oak Tree Lane and Linden Road. Running past the entrance to Raddlebarn Road, a copper had blocked the road off with his car. Water was in free-flow from one of the new housing developments on the former site of the hospital, which later turned out to be a burst water main. I eventually tracked back on my way past Cadbury’s World to come out at Stirchley, making the second half of this run much hillier than originally envisioned.

I got the distance in, but not without a few wounds…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Walsall Arboretum Parkrun

With Cannon Hill Parkrun closed for the first of three weeks, Simon Bull, Nigel Beecroft and I went on tour again, visiting the Walsall Arboretum event. It was over three years ago that I was last there, albeit on a temporary course in light of development around the lake; the current course on paper definitely looked faster with substantially less climb by comparison. Whilst it was never on the training schedule, I quite fancied an impromptu 5k PB attack and kept it quiet for this reason; no pressure if nobody knows about it!

Continuing the trend of a disrupted British summer, I was greeted by torrential sideways rain and had to make it over to the other side of the park as a warm-up… I quickly met up with the guys and recognised a few other fellow Cannon Hill refugees.

Much like at Arrow Valley and Cwmbran a couple of weeks ago, there was some slight nervousness inside me from the unfamiliarity – all very positive and welcome ahead of the unplanned challenge at hand. Stood on the start line, I strategically placed myself a few rows back so as to allow for people to chase down.

The start was incredibly controlled, even with people dashing off all around me. A few hundred metres later, gaps formed and I began ditching those around me to reel in those in front. Unfortunately, my recorded splits aren’t reliable because I’d set my Garmin to smart recording from Thursday’s GPS investigations… I felt pretty comfortable and that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t to be a fools errand.

More runners from ahead were sent back to me, giving me some interim targets to focus on during lap 2. Halfway through this lap, I came into contact with the backmarkers, whom were easy enough to scoot around for no disruption to my rhythm. I stalked a solid looking group of 3 about 50m ahead. A lucky break presented itself when the group broke apart and one guy lost his flow by a couple of steps, allowing me to creep up on him. I gave him some encouragement to keep going with me, though his breathing suggested he’d reached the limits of his ability and sent me onwards into lap 3.

I think the last time I ran a true-blue 3 lap course was Wolverhampton around this time last year. I don’t handle laps all that well, and the thought of my buddy, Vince Nazareth, running a track 10,000m race later that evening sent shivers down my spine. Slowly but surely, more and more of the mid-pack runners began drifting into contact with me. It was all incredibly civilised and everybody instinctively knew to keep left on the course. The increased density of runners around me undoubtedly helped to keep the perception of speed up and keep me company, where the next group of runners were definitely too far ahead to latch on to.

About halfway through the final lap, a Shabbarunner came out of nowhere to overtake me. This was significant because it was the first time anybody had come past me since the start line! He moved at just a few strides faster and gave me the perfect opportunity to lift my pace in an attempt to match his. It was almost like we were attached at the waist by elastic; the gap grew larger and smaller as he tried to break away and I did my best to cover his moves. With only a few hundred metres remaining until the finish, the volume of lapped mid-pack runners reached its peak and I suddenly had to divide my attention between them and chasing down the Shabbarunner. The lapped runners won; approaching the narrow bridge before the long final straight, I had to shout “KEEP LEFT!” to prevent anybody drifting into my path as I teared around the corner.

The Shabbarunner’s lead grew by a few metres as he shifted into a final kick. I lifted my cadence as I tried to do the same, but I’d run out of gears to shift into due to a complete lack of 5k work in favour of 42.2k focus. Throughout the run, I felt like a simmering pot of hot water, only occasionally showing signs of bubbling over. The run didn’t feel like a traditional 5k attempt of mine and instead felt much more like an even dispersal of effort over the course – did the very flat 3 lap route play its part? I crossed the line a couple of seconds behind the Shabbarunner, who simply had more strength in the closing stage.

As per usual, I wanted to throw my guts up from the lactic acid that flooded my body. And my finish time? 18:14. 18 bloody 14! A 17 second improvement from April and a massive 35 second jump from the very end of 2015!

Here’s the Strava data for this run, though as I already mentioned above, the splits are pretty useless due to the screwy distance from having smart recording enabled versus 1 second recording… I’ve now reverted back to 1 second recording!

Breaking down the race run with Simon Rhodes afterwards, he concurred that the change of venue must’ve helped because he experienced the same when he visited the unfamiliar Cannon Hill recently, also producing his own PB away from home turf.

Obviously, I enjoyed my time at Walsall Arboretum and I’ve no doubt the course would be even faster in dry conditions, though I also have the nagging feeling that dryer conditions would have also increased the overall volume of runners; I’m not so sure the 3 lap course would have quite the same speed with increased numbers.

12 miles – to The Cube and back

Or just outside of Brindley Place, so as not to tempt the dreaded GPS drift on my Garmin!

Lis and I had a few errands to run earlier in the day, so I had to delay this run until the warm and humid mid-afternoon…

No dramatics and largely run by feel. The second half was into some aggressive headwind, though it at least cooled me down and shifted some of the sweat that was clinging to me! I picked up the pace in the final 3 miles, including the climb up Cartland Road (yeah, I can’t figure out why, either…)

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

My last marathon campaign was devoid of any PBs outside of 26.2 miles. No 5k, no 10k, no half marathon. So it’s entirely bizarre, though most welcome, that I’m setting new PBs at 5k and 10k at the moment and I’m also confident I’ll break into new half marathon territory come September despite the less than ideal course.

Next week sees me back in the land of marathon specifics and potentially in 50 mile territory…

This week’s running – 6th to 12th of June 2016


Can you see me yet? Photo by Brian Smith

Week 5 of the 22 week marathon schedule, which meant a taper week to prepare for the Aldridge 10k.

Garmin Fenix 3 initial thoughts

I’ve had the Fenix 3 for a week or so, trialling out the various functions whilst on simple recovery runs, long runs to intervals. Below is a summary of what I like and dislike compared to the 910XT:


  • Looks and behaves like a normal watch (910XT didn’t have a low power watch mode and needed a kinda-sorta hack!!!)
  • Colour screen is very easy to view outdoors without backlighting
  • GPS accuracy (Arrow Valley Parkrun was 5.00km, and Aldridge 10k was 10.00km)
  • Very fast GPS/GLONAS satellite lock-on via pre-caching
  • Ability to calculate VO2max and lactate threshold from heart rate variability when aligned with pace
  • Auto WiFi upload/Bluetooth upload (frees up a USB port on my Mac)
  • Loads of data fields and configuration options
  • TracBack functionality actually works (crippling bug was never fixed on 910XT)

No likey

  • Some functions are slow/can crash the Fenix 3
  • Data heavy workout uploads can crash the Fenix 3
  • Virtual Partner implementation renders it near useless

I shan’t delve into the positives because they’re self-explanatory, but I will shed some light on what I don’t get on with.

Clicking in and out of menu items is on the whole pretty nippy, which makes the occasions where lag does occur all the more jarring. The lag tends to take place when trying to recall data, such as past workouts, but I’ve also observed lag when trying to generate an elevation chart or when simply bringing up a battery charge meter.

I already mentioned the recall of data heavy workouts crashing the Fenix 3. Well, I also managed to crash it whilst uploading the previous week’s 16 mile run. Upon reboot, the Fenix 3 said there was a workout to upload to Garmin Connect, so I allowed it to do its thing once more. After a generous 10 minutes, it was still in the process of transferring and showed no signs of finishing any time soon; a peek at Garmin Connect showed it had already been uploaded from the original attempt before it crashed and was trying to overwrite its own data. Thankfully, rebooting it once more cleared the upload queue and it’s been pretty happy ever since.

The Virtual Partner on my Garmin 910XT was one of my most used features and kept me company on many races. Changing the pace was easy as navigating to the top-level data page and changing the intended target. Not so on the Fenix 3! One has to navigate to the Virtual Partner setting with no fewer than 10 button presses to dive down 6 menu levels before you’re able to change the target pace. Once you’re finally there, only 5 second increments are available, so you’re probably going to end up running a touch too fast unless your target pace happens to end with a “0” or a “5”. I realise this is a by-product of Garmin introducing more aggressive pace smoothing into all of their watches from the last 2-3 years, but I’ll be sticking with lap pace moving forward, which does allow for 1 second increments to be displayed.

Above niggles aside and on the whole, I’m very pleased with the Fenix 3 where it does everything I need, and almost everything I want.

4 x 1600m at 10k pace

Bar the Aldridge 10k that took place at the end of the week, this was my only other effort-focused run to allow for sufficient recovery and a short taper.

Whilst Aldridge 10k is by no means a PB course due to its elevation profile, I didn’t want to turn up and embarrass myself, so I had a pace of 6:15 or so in mind for the session along the canal towpath to reacquaint me with 10k requirements.

Conditions were expectedly warm and humid; I already had a sweat on from just jogging to Bournville train station and, thankfully, I’d chugged down loads of water throughout the day (with the odd electrolyte tablet for good measure).

Besides the first rep, the remaining three felt very consistent in terms of effort, though sadly my heart rate monitor slipped and flaked out from me being too sweaty.

The splits were as follows:

  1. 6:08
  2. 6:09
  3. 6:12
  4. 6:11

Contrast this with three weeks ago when the splits (albeit on different terrain and different conditions) were:

  1. 6:18
  2. 6:16
  3. 6:12
  4. 6:25

Improvements ahoy! Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5 miles from city centre

Thursday was a simple easy run from Birmingham city centre with some strides thrown in to keep my legs turning over ahead of Sunday’s race. Conditions were very warm with temperatures hitting low 20s on the thermometer and enough humidity in the air to render sweating next to useless.

I don’t function well in the heat at all, so what I want is a block of consistently warm weather to initiate some adaptations, which I’m simply not getting right now with the constantly disturbed conditions from one day to the next.

One positive from the warmer, sunnier days is that people are genuinely in a better mood and I’ve had the privilege of being sincerely cheered on a number of times of late by random strangers I pass out on the streets.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

With the Aldridge 10k the next day, I opted to volunteer at Cannon Hill in a bid to remain fresh. Joined by Dave, I’m happy to report nobody was sent in the wrong direction on our watch!

Reportedly, there is some chance that Cannon Hill Parkrun may be called off for a few weeks in July due to the conflicting “In the Night Garden” event due to take place elsewhere in the park. Not the end of the world and it introduces some opportunities to get some more Parkrun tourism in. I’ve yet to visit Kingsbury Water Parkrun and am not against revisiting Walsall Arboretum Parkrun since they’ve moved back to their permanent course (2013 was the last time I was there). And of course, Arrow Valley needs another bash before it fades into distant memory.

Aldridge 10k 2016 review

For the full race review, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

I’ve decided to create this small section as a marathon specific summary of each week towards October’s Yorkshire Marathon.

The Aldridge 10k hasn’t left me too badly beaten up, so I should be able to jump back into normal training as per the plan. Last week was also incredibly light with only 21 miles covered for a touch of recovery.

5 weeks into the 23 week schedule and I’m feeling positive, both in terms of training plan achievability and also the outcomes beginning to manifest. Mileage for the next couple of weeks (excluding Wythall Hollywood 10k race week) will hold steady between 42 and 44 miles, though the intensity will ratchet up a notch or two with continued focus on marathon pace work.

So far, so good!


This week’s running – 30th of May to 5th of June 2016


Arrow Valley Parkrun wants you to return their finish tokens – photo by Lis Yu

Week 4 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

8 miles with 4 at marathon pace

What a difference a week makes! After Sunday’s 13 mile long run leaving me pretty fatigued, I wasn’t sure how productive this session would be in terms of hitting marathon pace. Turns out I need not have worried at all.

Weather conditions continued to be dire with drizzly rain and strong winds, though this helped clear the canal towpaths dramatically. Somebody passing in a Ford Fiesta recognised me and tooted their horn to give me a thumb’s up – if it was you, please let me know!

After a 2 mile warm-up to Bournville Station, I was welcomed into the first marathon paced mile with a face full of headwind. Effort-wise, I felt much more at ease with the 6:47 target compared to last week and at times even had to rein myself in for fear of drifting off to a faster pace. The splits came out as follows:

  1. 6:45
  2. 6:44
  3. 6:44
  4. 6:44

Heart rate data was pegged at 165bpm average for the marathon paced miles to be about where I anticipated it to be.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5k recovery

Whilst this was meant to be a 5 mile recovery run from the city centre as per usual, I only went and left my run clothes at home, though somehow still managed to take my running shoes with me to the office…

So, I had to return home first and change before I could get going. I wanted to explore a neat 5k loop I’d plotted out that could be useful for bulking out longer runs without scratching around for additional distance.

Since switching to the superior Polar heart rate monitor strap, I’ve found myself using it on every run to try and gain a better understanding of what my ticker is doing and trying to tell me. The objective was to try and keep my average heart rate at or below 60% (125bpm-ish) of maximum (around 205/206bpm), which I just managed by the skin of my teeth. I have no problem maintaining a steady pace, but maintaining a steady effort by heart rate is a skill that needs further development.

I did go off-course ever so slightly on Yardly Wood Road; my mind was elsewhere and instead of making a left turn as intended, I carried on straight before correcting my path.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

Thankfully, lightning did not strike twice and I remembered to take some run apparel with me to work! For a complete contrast to Wednesday’s chilly and drizzly conditions, Thursday featured blue skies and reasonable warmth.

Besides covering 10 miles, the secondary objective was to keep my heart rate at or below 70% of maximum. In the end, I averaged 71% for the entire run, so just missed it by the skin of my teeth and would have succeeded were it not for that pesky climb up Cartland Road.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Gadgets and gizmos galore

Who doesn’t like purchasing some new kit?

Whilst there was nothing wrong with my Garmin 910XT, it was showing its age on the outside and in. The exterior had signs of wear and tear after three years of very regular use all over the world, and the inside was lacking in some of the whiz-bang features that newer GPS watches of the last few years now boast as standard.

The Fenix 3 won my attention, chiefly because of its casual good looks but also because of the plethora of data that can be collected. The only fly in the ointment was the dodgy reputation it had for GPS accuracy; failing at its primary task was a big no-no and purchasing it came with the potential for serious buyer’s remorse if not for a good returns policy from Amazon et al.


A big watch and girly wrists can be compatible!

Upon first unboxing the Fenix 3, the damn thing is huge! I’m used to wearing big watches having owned the 910XT, which nobody would ever call small; the Fenix 3 on my wrist was in a complete league of its own, but at least the display was easy to read as consequence!

I would have to wait until Saturday to test out its accuracy…

The other bit of new kit I purchased was to help me through the dog days of summer whilst training for an autumn marathon. Whilst my Camelbak had served me reasonably well on two prior marathon campaigns, it wasn’t without its faults. The fit was only so-so with only a chest strap to lock it down, and said chest strap also shredded running tops to pieces.

Whilst Camelbaks used to be the defacto go-to for ultra running events, a new kid on the block took its throne: enter the ultra vest (otherwise confusingly known as race vests).

For my needs, I just need to be able to carry two smaller bottles of fluid with a gel or two to keep my thirst at bay whilst on my longest marathon training runs. It will also be utilised on my medium-long runs from the office (topping out at 14 miles), where I’m having to carry a phone, some keys, a wallet along with some liquid refreshment.


The Salomon S-Lab Sense Set – un-catchy name aside, it’s had good reviews

The ultra vest I’ve settled on is the Salomon S-Lab Sense Set. It’s Salomon’s most minimal design and the mesh back also makes it the most breathable in their range. Ultra running guru, Ian Corless, gave it top marks in his review, which helped cement in my mind that I’d made the right choice. Initial thoughts to come once I’ve test it out.

Arrow Valley Parkrun

With Cannon Hill Parkrun cancelled due to another event taking place in the park, the gang and I headed south to Arrow Valley Parkrun. Only Simon had been there once before and that was run on a modified course due to a nearby funfair causing disruption. For Dave, who had only ever run at Cannon Hill previously, it was his first stint at Parkrun tourism.

Lis, Dave and I arrived with plenty of time for a warm-up lap of the route before meeting up with the others. It was immediately obvious that Arrow Valley Country Park’s paths are in better shape than Cannon Hill’s, with nary a pothole in sight to fall into. People have previously told me that Arrow Valley’s course is flat; whilst it certainly is fast, it’s by no means flat when compared to the likes of Cardiff Parkrun because it features a climb that appears in the middle of each of the two laps, accompanied by a few undulations here and there. Unlike Cannon Hill’s final hill that gives nothing back in return, Arrow Valley’s course at least provides opportunities to reclaim time after each rise with a few descents.

Assembled on the start line, there were many other familiar faces from Cannon Hill in attendance; others went to Perry Hall or Brueton to get their weekly 5k fix.

From the line, the pace was rather reserved and I found myself with the lead group for the first mile or so. I felt positively great; it was like my lungs were supercharged from all the marathon pace work I’ve embarked on of late. Huw Jones and Matthew Lewis pulled away and I decided to regroup and draft behind Jort.

Nearing the end of the first lap, Huw and Matthew went off-course due to some sloppy marshalling – the marshal made no attempt to shout out to them and call them back, either! Before too long, they realised their error and rejoined the run about 10 seconds behind me.

Entering the second lap, I decided to kick things up a notch and began chasing down people ahead of me.

I started lapping some of the back runners and, surprisingly, they were all very vocal with their cheers to power me on. I’ve only ever seen this happen at very small events and even then, there’s no guarantee.


Lovely terrain for fast times at Arrow Valley Parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Turning for the penultimate corner, I shifted into another gear and began a breakaway from my pursuer before laying on a sprint for the finish.

Once across the line and with my finish token in hand, I had to collapse on the grass from the effort. To my surprise, I’d made it on to the podium with third place to my name! Now clearly, I should have really been either fifth or sixth had Huw and Matthew not been sent off-course.


All that’s missing is the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack – photo by Lis Yu

The gang all agreed that Arrow Valley made for a most enjoyable venue and the change of scenery was most welcome to shake things up.

And the recorded distance on the Fenix 3? Exactly 5.00km or 3.11 miles! More detailed thoughts of the Fenix 3 to come once I’ve had a bit more time with it.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

16 miles – to Brindley Place and back

I thought I’d lucked out when I looked outside the window to see overcast skies to accompany me on my 16 mile run. The weather forecast continued to confirm the temperature would rise and the sun would appear, though the question of “when” loomed.

The first half was rather pleasant. Like on Thursday’s 10 mile run, I wanted to keep the pace and my heart rate stable, though this was easier said than done. Whilst the pace was pretty steady, the mercury shooting up did the same to my heart rate, courtesy of what’s known as cardiac drift.

During the second half, I trailed behind a guy wearing a long-sleeve top and ran alongside him for a while when he wanted a quick chat to break up the monotony. He explained that he’d love to not have to wear a long-sleeve top in the summer, but his skin was particularly fair so his clothing choice was in the name of self-preservation.

I survived to write this blog entry, but I suspect 16 miles is my limit for a run without taking any fluids on-board; I can’t wait to test out my Salomon ultra vest!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The World Half Marathon Championships 2016 review


Toughest race conditions I’ve ever faced!

Read on to find out how things went in Cardiff for the most expensive race I’ve ever paid to enter.


I woke to glorious sunshine, dry and wind-free conditions. Hold on a second… No, that was Good Friday. Easter Saturday was anything but with grey skies, rain and gale-force winds.

A further complication was how off-key I felt all week long. I don’t know whether it was because I was a touch over-trained, had caught some sort of underlying bug, or both, but I felt quite run-down during the taper, even with just 8 miles of mostly easy running to keep me ticking over. There wasn’t much appetite for running, let alone racing.

With a 14:10 mass start, I was able to have a very relaxed morning getting ready for the race. Having run the Silverstone Half Marathon a number of times over the years with its 12pm start, I was dubious because getting to Silverstone still requires a reasonably early departure, and that’s from Birmingham!

Lis, Yvonne and I still consciously made our way into Cardiff with ample time for me to avoid any undue stress. Well, it turned out to be a very civilised affair and with the race taking place on a Saturday, everything was open to the public so there was no shortage of toilets around the place!

Whilst I’d already had an early lunch, Lis and Yvonne opted to kill some time by having lunch at Wagamama. Amazingly, there were people dressed to run having full-blown meals of ramen or yakisoba in there! I couldn’t imagine having something of that nature before a race, but I guess with the mass-profile of the race, there must have been a lot of newcomers to the sport who wouldn’t have known any better. The window seats we had afforded great views of a number of the elite teams, including USA, Japan and Australia, making their way over to Cardiff Castle’s IAAF warm-up area.

For much of the week, I’d been in touch with both Darryll Thomas and Vince Nazareth regarding the race. The plan was to try and stick together with the belief that we were all in similar shape, albeit with different biases of speed versus endurance. I also had to get Darryll’s bib to him, which I’d picked up a couple of days prior from the expo.


Vince and Andy at the World Half Marathon Championships

Once bags were all checked in, Vince and I parted ways from Darryll to get a warm-up in whilst he joined the scrum for a portaloo, agreeing to meet-up once more within the start pen. Through pure chance, the two of us found a closed off main road for us to cover an easy mile with the final minute at target race pace. It became evident the wind would be our biggest nemesis for the day; running straight into it, even at low speed, felt like we were hauling a tyre behind us!

Venturing into the start pen, it was good to see the marshals were seriously scrutinising bib colours and numbers to weed out anybody that was trying their luck to promote themselves forward. Stood in and amongst my fellow runners, I finally perked up and the desire to race and chase after a PB bubbled to the surface. York’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon was covered at an average pace of 6:28 per mile for 84:54; factoring in the potential to cover a slightly longer distance (13.16 was likely based on previous outings in Cardiff), an average pace of 6:26 was needed for just a marginal PB by only a few seconds. Slim pickings for sure, what with the atrocious conditions on display!

With the world’s media locked-in, the race started at exactly 14:10 without delay, though we were all blissfully unaware of Geoffrey Kamworor’s fall on the start line!

The race

I roughly worked out the opening few miles would be into the wind, and cautioned Darryll and Vince to run accordingly by drafting behind others and to hold steady. In spite of the controlled start, the opening still came in almost ten seconds faster than six months ago for a 6:30 mile without feeling too shabby. Needless to say, there were people darting off all over the place, with some that had started too far forward, such as the sub-90 Pacers, and some too far behind.

I felt relaxed and calm, no doubt benefitting from the light week of running during the taper. Incredibly, I spotted a couple of guys withdraw from the race during just the first two miles. Mile 2 sped up to 6:26.

Whilst I appreciated the cool conditions, I was still working up a sweat and poured most of my water bottle over my head. Darryll and Vince were still firmly with me, though they began to drift backwards as we crested the hill at 5k. Once over the hill’s brow, I glanced behind me and they were both still within sight, but the gap continued to grow. Just a few hundred metres later, Vince and Darryll had completely disappeared from view, though this didn’t stop me from checking  behind me for another mile or so in the hope that they would reclaim some of the distance. Miles 3 and 4 both clocked in at 6:31 and left me feeling superb.

I noticed a rather tall Les Croupiers runner was still around me and had remained so since the start line. Assuming he didn’t slow, he would make the perfect wind break for me to draft behind. Each time I’ve run this race, I’ve always approached the Barrage with much trepidation due to its exposure to the elements – especially so on this occasion. I need not have feared because a tailwind provided just the assist I was looking for! I peeked over my shoulder once more to try and locate Darryll and Vince, though there was no sign of them and I thusly gave up my search.

Suitably warmed up, the pace lifted and I approached Cardiff Bay exactly on target pace of 6:25 per mile. Disappointingly, the course took us on the same diversion as back in October to bypass Lloyd George Avenue to take us on to a dull dual carriageway with a slight rise. Nonetheless, the pace remained resolute and stayed at around 6:27 for miles 6 and 7.


Mile 8 of the World Half Marathon Championships – photo by Lis Yu

Running through Cathays at mile 8, I caught sight of Lis and Yvonne for a much needed mental lift. Literally moments after posing for the camera, the heavens opened up and soaked me to the bone. The downpour was sobering and at least did the trick to cool me down! Rather bizarrely, I witnessed one lean runner utilising a fartlek style strategy; he sprinted off for maybe 200m or so and then slowed dramatically to recover and would then do it all over again! Miles 8 and 9 clocked in at 6:27 and 6:23 respectively and a PB was still in contention, so long as I could hold on to the pace.

As my Garmin beeped for mile 9, I looked around for the marker but it was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t until I turned the corner and experienced a face full of headwind that I realised it had been knocked over! The force of the wind was incredible, and coupled with the rain made for an incredibly unpleasant mile. Looking ahead, the next group of guys was just out of reach by about 30m; not a huge distance under normal circumstances, but I simply couldn’t muster the strength to reach them with the gale blowing. Looking backwards, the next group was also too far behind for me to even consider slowing down any further to join. I was conscious of the climb towards Roath in mile 10 and had to save a little something for that. The remainder of mile 9 was ran on my lonesome to produce the slowest split of the day at 6:42; this was the critical moment in the race that ultimately dictated whether I would PB or not…

The steady climb towards Roath graciously threw some runners back to me, getting me out of no-man’s land. There’s always a decent crowd in Roath to cheer you on and plenty of kids’ hands to high-five for some momentary distraction from the mounting pressure; I’d always wanted to tap one of those “Touch for a power boost” boards and was finally able to tick that off my list. I reclaimed the distance between the tall Les Croupier runner and me; firmly locking in that I would cover him, stride for stride, to the end. I turned for home at mile 11 with 6:34.

With a little over 2 miles remaining, I switched my Garmin over to the stopwatch display and began pressing for the finish. Unfortunately, the wind had other plans and in spite of the largely downhill remainder of the course, I couldn’t generate anything faster than 6:23. I was knackered and my legs grew increasingly unsteady as the descent did its best to shred my quads. Arriving at the short, sharp climb at the end of mile 12, a female Kenilworth runner audibly gasped, clearly not expecting to see yet another ascent on the course; the Les Croupier and I reassured her that was it and the rest was plain sailing until the finish line.

I had less than 7.5 minutes remaining to cover what was likely to stack up to 1.16 miles, and there was still no guarantee of a PB at the very end. I allowed my stride to stretch out and broke away from the Les Croupier runner. I knew I was capable of a 6:12 mile or faster in the closing stages of a half marathon based on my performance at the Brass Monkey, but the headwind persisted to stand in my way and reduced me to another 6:23 split.

The mile 13 marker arrived and I heard Lis and Yvonne’s cheers. It was down to mere seconds whether I would snag a cheeky PB or not. I launched myself into a final kick, head first into the wind, and claimed a few scalps on the finishing straight for the line.


Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I stumbled over to the barrier and the over-powering need to throw my guts up took over, except nothing came out.

My Garmin revealed I’d failed to come good and missed a PB by only 9 seconds for 85:02. Considering the conditions and overall distance covered (13.17 miles), this wasn’t bad at all and if not for the ferocious headwind, especially between miles 9 and 10, I’d have done it.

I waited for Vince and Darryll to come through. Vince too was also just shy of a PB by only 6 seconds, whilst Darryll was sadly over a minute off. The pattern continued and only a select few I know made the race a success for themselves, such as Daniel Luffman who finally bagged his sub-90 performance.

Soaked from the rain and quickly cooling down, we changed out of our sopping wet race tops and donned our souvenir Adidas tech t-shirts before parting ways to gather bags, meet with loved ones and so on. I really cursed not having a foil blanket, though have now been informed there was a limited supply of them that were handed out by volunteers at the end.


Were this race and the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in January swapped around, I’ve no doubt I would have produced a PB around 84:30 or faster on Saturday. Whilst this is all theoretical, I’m going to use the equivalent marathon pace of 6:47 in training.

I’m in bits as I write this review and due to the Saturday mid-afternoon start, I’m finding muscle soreness is kicking in at unexpected times of the day than what I’m used to. What would normally be “Tuesday morning legs” within Marathon Talk circles is more like “Monday afternoon legs”…

Disappointingly, I don’t have any half marathons planned between now and the Yorkshire Marathon in October and feel I’ve missed an opportunity to capitalise on the training of the last two months. Vince is looking at the Tewekesbury Half in May, whilst Lis and I have discussed visiting Swansea again in the past and could always dovetail it with their half marathon.

The plan for the next two months or so is to recover properly and to begin working in earnest on my 5k and 10k PBs before knuckling down for my marathon campaign formally in June.

Well done to all that ran – not an easy day at all!

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


Not long to go now until Cardiff – photo by Wales Online

A rarity for me, I’m actually looking forward to the taper!

6k from work

Man was I feeling Sunday’s 16 miles on Monday’s recovery run! The milder temperature at least meant I was able to run in a t-shirt.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

I do feel like these focused fartlek runs are restoring some of the explosive power that deteriorated throughout the winter.

Very much a repeat of last week, this was the final time I ran it in its entirety before bringing the distance down as part of race week’s taper. I could tell it was the third week of a training block due to having to work just a smidge harder to hit similar paces as before.

During the return on the closing two fast stretches, a stocky fella was also out on the towpath completing a fartlek workout of his own. He looked like some sort of rugby back player – big, but he certainly had some speed in him and it took me some effort to match his pace. On my recovery, I complimented him on his speed, which made his eyes light up. I motioned for him to join me on my final blast; he followed suit, though I was able to just about hold him off.

My warm-down was completed incredibly slowly, which surprised me some because it didn’t feel slow at all.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

In my haste, I packed a t-shirt rather than a long-sleeve top for the commute from work. Whilst the sun was indeed out, it was neither particularly warm, nor was I running long enough or fast enough to really work up a sweat. I received a few strange glances from fellow runners that looked like they were dressed more for Arctic expeditions!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

I was well and truly knackered on Thursday. All the recent training density had caught up to me, but I still decided to go out for 10 miles against my better wisdom.

A tailwind on the out made the first half deceptively more manageable. Two different guys running at around my pace were also 100m or so ahead of me, giving me targets to work towards.

Turning around at halfway, the tailwind very noticeably became a headwind. Darkness also fell; powering on my headtorch did little to prevent the pace perception skew from starting my run in daylight, resulting in a significant step up in effort.

Feeling rather hungry, tired and slighty dazed by the time I returned home, I was well and truly wrecked. Dinner and an early night beckoned!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun


Easy does it – photo by Greg Robinson

Disappointingly, I ducked out of a scheduled attempt at a fast Parkrun because I simply wasn’t feeling quite all there. My body was screaming out for the taper, so I granted it mercy and erred on the side of caution once more; a sub-20 5k was and some half marathon race pace training was all that was on the menu that morning.

I stuck with Nigel early on; not quite recovered from last week, he ushered me to press on with my target pace and I found myself moving through the field. Aggressive wind confirmed what a wise choice it was to save smashing myself over 5k for another day.

With just a mile remaining, I looked ahead and saw Dave only 150m or so in front of me. Moving through to the final km, I’d shut the gap down to just 50m and decided to leave it at that all the way to the finish, crossing the line in 19:52.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

11 miles with Dave

For somebody that claims to rarely train with others, Sunday became my third long run in a row with Dave – this time, covering almost 11 miles entirely with him.

A pretty leisurely pace was maintained as we put rights to the world. A mystery runner wished me well for the World Half Marathon Championships, who I assume is a blog reader (thank you!)

Seriously ready for the taper now…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

JQ to KH


Back to my old stomping ground of Kings Heath

I delayed this post on purpose to be able to slot this little snippet in – Lis and I are moving to Kings Heath! We’ve spent four years calling the Jewellery Quarter our home, which has been fantastic for me as a runner, with easy access to the canal network, race start lines and the like.

With this move will come a slight tweak to this blog – I will no longer be making my Garmin run data public and will instead publish my Strava data with a privacy exclusion zone enabled. Living in a flat, amongst many other blocks of flats in the Jewellery Quarter, has meant I’ve enjoyed anonymity and security – things I can no longer take for granted. Those of you in my Garmin Connect network will still be able to view my run data.


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


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.


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 – 29th of February to 6th of March 2016


Three weeks to go!

Training got serious once more with the World Half Marathon Championships only weeks away…

6k from work

The previous week’s long Sunday run really did a number on me; my abs, neck and lower back all had a dull ache to them from the pursuit of strong tall form.

Running home, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I counted no fewer than ten others including myself out in the dark and cold on a Monday! Me thinks the realisation that people have entered races and have done sod all training has finally sunk in.

There was just enough light out that I didn’t bother to switch my headtorch on at all – roll on the spring!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

I’ve fought against the use of measuring times and splits whilst out on a fartlek run, believing that it went against the ethos of what fartlek is all about: speed play that’s free from formal structure.

Identifying a severe lack of VO2 max development, I reluctantly began clocking different segments to gain better visibility of how fast I was actually running. All in all, a very good session that had me working hard in the right places. One of the splits saw me race a cyclist; he was furiously dinging his bell from behind me just as I entered a fast stretch around Selly Oak, so I pressed on to stay ahead of him to account for the dramatic upshift in pace.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Owning an older Garmin 910XT, I don’t get to enjoy the benefit of pre-cached GPS satellite data that’s available to newer models. Instead, I periodically switch mine on and simply leave it on a windowsill at home to achieve lock-on, whether I actually need it for a run or not – that way, its cached satellite data is never too out of date.

In my haste to get to work on Wednesday, I did need said Garmin but left it on the windowsill…

As silly as it sounds, I’m one of these “if it ain’t on Garmin/Strava, it didn’t happen” types. I love poring over data! I decided to give the Strava app on my phone a go whilst I ran home from the office; with more than enough run commutes to benchmark the app against, I was curious to see how it would fare across the different metrics.

To give the Strava app the best chance of succeeding, I carried my phone in my hand and disabled it from going to sleep – it was on constantly and tracking, just as my Garmin would have been doing if it were on my wrist.

Getting the app to start recording was simple enough, though despite it already achieving satellite lock-on ahead of time, the screen remained still with only elapsed time moving to show any sign of life; I had already run for 30 seconds and covered around 100m, but no pace info showed until nearer 2 minutes… Once pace data finally appeared, it was incredibly smooth and given how steadily I ran, it almost fooled me into thinking it had locked up completely if not for the elapsed time that remained in constant motion.

The first mile marker notification appeared at pretty much the right point on the route, though bizarrely, the app itself was still only showing 0.9 miles in terms of distance… The second mile ticked by and there was no notification at all, only for it to randomly return once I hit the third mile!

Recorded distance-wise, I was pretty impressed. The actual distance of the route sits somewhere between 3.84 and 3.86 miles based on the many occasions I’ve covered it. Whilst the Strava app (and the website) annoyingly only shows distance in X.X format, I watched the distance tick over to 3.8 miles with a further 100m to approximately run for home – this would have brought me to 3.86 miles or so to be pretty much in-line with my benchmark data.

Getting the app to stop was difficult – my phone was not responding to my finger presses, either due to how wet the screen was, or how cold my fingers were. I had to manually kill the app to get it to stop. Thankfully, I clocked the elapsed time and created a manual entry on both Garmin Connect and Strava’s main site, discarding the recorded activity after scrutinising it (the recorded track was actually no better or worse than my Garmin).

So, in a nutshell, the Strava app made for an OK-ish back-up during this easy recovery run and for casual use. It seemed pretty accurate in regards to distance, but the pace data stalling at the start and the app’s overall responsiveness left me questioning its reliability, especially for longer and more critical runs. If my Garmin broke the day before a race, I would dash out immediately and buy a replacement, it’s that simple.

10 canal miles

Every once in a while, we all experience a run where nothing goes well. For this run, I wanted to cover a 2 – 3 miles at marathon pace in the second half. But that never happened…

Even wearing a long-sleeve top, I felt like I had a constant chill out there, and that’s coming from a guy that prefers running in the cold! I was also hungry and tired, so this run of attrition really wasn’t welcome; the pace was kept hovering at around 8 minutes per mile because I simply couldn’t sustain anything faster.

Once back at home, I knew I was shot from the headache I’d picked up. After a shower, dinner and a few emails, I hopped straight into bed and expected to feel dreadful the next morning. As luck would have it, I woke feeling not too bad at all – just one of those bad runs, I guess!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

With the World Half Marathon Championships only three weeks away, I wanted to make a focused effort towards race pace training. Parkrun was the perfect outlet for this, where my target half marathon pace (sub-84) dovetailed nicely with sub-20 5k pace.

Off the line, I watched both Dave and Nigel shoot off into the distance as I held back. Before too long, they had more than 200m on me and I decided to leave them both to it and would assist if I ever made contact with them again.

It was great to run with no screeching pace monkey on my shoulder; I was able give encouragement to those around me with no fear of blowing up for a break from the norm!

3km in, I reached the triangle and I could see both Dave and Nigel were within reach.

By 4km, I joined their gang and brought a couple of guys of my own to the party that had stuck with me.


Helping out the next generation of Parkrunner – photo by George Mardall

Reaching the MAC, a young Sparkhill Harrier runner began drifting back towards us; I urged him to latch on to the group and to stay with us until the end. Reaching the final hill, he was still with us, so Dave and I continued to give encouragement, and ran the kid all the way into the finish for what turned out to be a 10 second PB for him.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Afterwards, a visiting runner stopped to have a chat with me, citing that he’d stumbled on this very blog for info on Cannon Hill Parkrun. Proving what a small world it is we live in, Kevin mentioned he was a member of Cardiff’s Les Croupier club and even knew my buddy, Vince Nazareth. I was curious as to why Kevin was in town; he revealed he’s a bit of a serial Parkrun tourist and checking out his profile highlights no fewer than 109 different events (out of 251 runs) he’s run at, including the two US events in Florida and San Francisco!

14 canal miles

Being Mother’s Day, I had a table booked for my dear Mum at a Thai buffet. I was positively salivating at the thought of an all-I-could-eat protein fest, but had to earn it first with my staple long Sunday 14 mile run.

In a bit of a daze, I completely forgot to run out towards the Soho Loop to get that out of the way, rather than cover it on the return. At the end of a long run when you’re nearly home, the last thing you want to do is go on a near 2 mile diversion, but oh well!

A couple of miles in, I crossed paths with Iain and we both connected with a perfectly executed high-five.

The wind on the out was certainly noticeable, but I stayed in positive spirits that I would enjoy a tailwind on the return.

Leaving the canal at Bournville train station, I began my 2 mile turnaround to head back towards my departure point for a further 7 miles. The wind followed me and never relented – I know I should stop being surprised, but I’m still amazed how a headwind can remain a headwind even when I’ve spun 180 degrees!

Back at Bournville station, I noticed Dave running through and tagged along with him for the stretch until University station, taking the edge off the solo effort up to that point for both of us. He aborted his progression run and judging by his laboured breathing into the headwind, it was definitely for the best. Hilariously, Strava’s Flyby functionality indicated he was only mere minutes behind me for much of the first half of my run!

All in all, not a bad long run and yes, I did indeed gorge myself over lunch.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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


A map for my time in Duisburg. Just in case!

This week saw me running in Germany, and trying to get back into some sort of a routine once I returned.

Duisburg runaround

Whether on business or leisure, it’s no surprise that I take my running shoes with me almost everywhere; I’ve covered some distance on three different continents.

Not wanting a repeat of my work trip to Peterborough last autumn, I made sure I was better prepared to avoid becoming lost whilst in Germany. Firstly, I only had enough time each morning to cover about 5k at a leisurely recovery pace, so that prevented me from wandering off too far from the hotel. Secondly, I plotted routes that utilised laps around the hotel. And thirdly, I printed off a map!

The routes were simple, thanks largely to the layout of Duisburg with its easy to navigate roads. Aside from Parkrun, it’s rare that I run before 9am, and my body reluctantly went with me on the early starts, ignoring pace in the process. The late nights, copious amounts of German food and beer also did little to help each morning as I laced up… Weather and temperature-wise, there was no difference compared with the UK; a t-shirt and a pair of shorts sufficed, though did attract some strange looks from locals.

I enjoyed my plods in Duisburg and found the part I stayed in to be pretty conducive to running, unlike the time I tried running in Manchester city centre, where everywhere conspired to derail me.

Here and here is the Garmin data from the two runs.

10 canal miles

With all of last week and half of this week dramatically scaled back, I desperately wanted to restore some normality. With only four weeks until the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, that leaves me with only three training weeks and one taper week to get ship-shape. That and Germany left me 3lbs heavier than normal…

Thursday was my usual ten miles along the Birmingham canal network. I couldn’t bring myself to slot in several miles at marathon pace, and instead settled on nine steady miles at 7:30 pace after an initial one mile warm-up. It was refreshing to not have to battle with any gusts of wind out there for a change!

Thick cloud cover meant there were some GPS issues out on the run. Lock-on was easily achieved, but I could tell distance tracking was off, based on my normal checkpoints arriving early or late relative to what was recorded. Strava, which does some slight pace and distance smoothing, is never normally too far out from Garmin Connect, but it was absolutely useless on this run where it wildly over-estimated how fast mile 1 and 3 were compared to reality.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

After two weeks without a fast 5k, my mind was itching to get back out there. If only my body was so willing!

I decided to have another bash at running a slightly slower opening split of 3:45/km (success) in a bid to try and even out the middle section from sagging too much. Well, easier said than done; I ended up running large stretches alone and even when Dave went past me at about halfway, I didn’t have the necessary oomph to go with him. He went on to run a very tidy 18:54, claiming his stake on last week’s results blip of being issued somebody else’s 18:57 result. I dragged my arse back in with 19:10 on the Garmin, though seem to have been promoted to 19:07 through yet another results blip.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

I know exactly what happened with this performance. I was still dog tired from Germany and the fastest bit of running I’d done up to that point was a bit of marathon paced running almost 10 days prior. I’m sorely lacking in VO2 max development, so will address that with some focused pace work during next Tuesday’s fartlek session, even if it goes against the free-form ethos of what a fartlek run should be.

14 canal miles

Whilst my short runs are getting slower, my long runs are getting faster. Specificity reigns supreme!

I knew I wanted to get the majority of this run in at around sub-7:30 miles, with a sprinkling of marathon pace for two miles or so. Mission accomplished, with the sub-7:30s coming in a little closer to 7:20s, though the marathon paced miles were much tougher than they should have been due to fairly strong headwinds that hit on the return leg.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

This week’s running – 15th to 20th of February 2016


Relatively speaking!

Not a particularly exciting week, I’m afraid, and it’s one day shorter than normal due to heading out to Germany with work…

5k from work

The combination of a hard Parkrun and the 14 miles over the previous 48 hours had left me rather stiff, particularly in my hips. Lots of heavy lifting at work did nothing to help with my upper body mobility, either, to leave me creaking all over on this recovery run home.

Here’s the Garmin data.

4 canal miles

This particular week was always scheduled as some cut-back time, hence this much shorter than normal canal run. Not wanting to be completely devoid of speed, I threw in a number of strides that lasted no more than 10 seconds.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Yuck. It rained for most of the day and just before I was due to head home, the heavens opened up for a heavy downpour. With several dry days prior, the 1.5 mile unpaved stretch was actually rather pleasant to cover; all that firm, dry ground was completely undone in a matter of hours.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The Sports Gene: What makes the perfect athlete


Disappointing and I personally found this quite difficult to read

I had high hopes for this book and sadly, it missed the mark. I was expecting a bit more of the science behind what makes a great athlete, though it only dabbles and is instead mostly made up of anecdotal stories. Some may prefer it that way, but I wanted something more technical with perhaps just a few anecdotes to support the theories.

It does explore the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, along with the notions of nature versus nurture. The conclusion was somewhat inconclusive, apart from the somewhat obvious statement that a talented athlete in the right environment will thrive.

A so-so 3/5 from me…

Cannon Hill Parkrun

With me off to Germany on Sunday for a couple of days, I wanted to prioritise one last long-ish run before I headed out, so to allow for that, I opted to volunteer at Cannon Hill. I’m just nine more volunteer slots away from a new purple t-shirt, though I’ve promised myself I won’t go out of my way beyond the five or so occasions each year; by my calculations, I’ll probably pick-up my 250 t-shirt at around the same time…

Walking over to the bandstand with Steve Dunsby, we joked that I would end up marshalling the complex junction over the bridge. Well, you’ll never guess where I ended up…

The first lap was easy as pie, with runners only needing to turn left back towards the bandstand.

The second lap was when things began to get tricky! Rob Foster led the way on his bike with Will Richardson in tow. Problem was the runners in second, third and fourth were a good minute or so behind; the second place chap at the time had no idea where he was supposed to be going, and clearly didn’t see the cones laid out on the ground. He took my instructions of “keep right” a little too literally and began heading into the car park at one stage, before we called him back; he then began to head into the wooded section, needing to be called back once more to finally be put back on course!

It doesn’t end there… As Rob Foster led Will Richardson back towards the MAC, there were runners covering the entire width of the path and needed reminding to keep right to allow Will and others to come through. Most obeyed my instructions of “keep right”, but a few were on another planet and ignored my pleas until more runners came through on the other side. “OK! We get it!” one runner retorted to me in an annoyed manner; he may well “get it”, but many of those behind him sure didn’t! We’re just volunteers doing our part and could do without the agro *sigh*.

10 canal miles

With the cutback week still in flow, I knew I only wanted to cover 10 miles or so with some sections at marathon pace to stop the run becoming too ploddy.

Mistake number 1: I was overdressed. I wore a long-sleeve compression top, not realising it was actually 11 degrees outdoors. The faster paced marathon miles weren’t all that comfortable whilst I overheated…

Mistake number 2: Brindley Place on a Saturday afternoon, even in drizzly conditions, is heaving. Thankfully, I was either warming up or cooling down as I ran through, so not mission critical at all that I had an unimpeded path.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

I plan to get a few easy paced runs in whilst I’m in Düsseldorf next week – let’s hope I don’t do a Peterborough and turn a 6 mile run into a 10 mile one by getting lost!

This week’s running – 8th to 14th of February 2016


Tired. So very, very tired…

Eugh. Some much needed downtime after this week!

5k from work

Hmmm. The saga of my Achilles tendon continued… At the moment, it’s never painful but it does still tighten up on occasion; simply leaning forward shows the one in my right leg has less flexibility than the left leg.

Slowly, I’m starting to regain more and more daylight on my evening runs. I’m finding I don’t even need to switch my head torch on until maybe a mile from home at the moment!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Through my own carelessness, I ended up leaving my keys at work and only realised when I was mere minutes from home. I tried calling Lis for her whereabouts, but there was no answer, so I assumed she was stuck somewhere on the M6. Back I went to work, only to discover that she had been at home all along! With all the to-ing and fro-ing, I lost almost an hour before I had even started my scheduled run…

Once I finally started running, I was at least more warmed up than usual to allow me to dive straight into the fartlek run. As before, the top end paces didn’t really appear and were once again maybe 10 to 15 seconds off from what I wanted them to be. Technical details aside, I felt tremendous by the end for a very positive run; I’ve not started going backwards yet, so clearly this approach is still working!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6k from work

Darryll Thomas made me laugh when he commented on this run from the office, “What’s going on? It’s 5k from work. Always 5k!”

The irony of this longer commute was so I could pop into Tesco on the way home to pick up some Deep Heat for my inflexible Achilles tendon, likely caused by too much running… It’s amazing how quickly you get used to the smell of Deep Heat, though Lis has requested I limit its use to when I’m at work or outdoors only.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Training for a marathon, using a marathon?

With my autumn A-race set as the Yorkshire Marathon, I already know I want to get one last hard effort in about four weeks before race day. Whether that hard effort is a half marathon (possibly Kenilworth), or a fast 10k (Cardiff), my choices are limited and would have to coincide with one remaining long run in the region of 23/24 miles. Ideally, I’d like to schedule in a 20 mile race, but my research shows there are hardly any of that distance in the autumn. Most occur in the spring as a way for people to get a catered marathon training run in with other people.

Browsing the autumn race calendar, I did see the Wolverhampton Marathon listed as taking place on the 4th of September, so roughly five weeks before race day. And then came my slightly crazy idea of using Wolverhampton as a training run…

It’s common belief that to race a distance well requires being able to run beyond said distance, except when it comes to the marathon, when it becomes a balance of training just far enough to get away with it without leaving the race behind in training. But what if I were to cover the first couple of miles (2, 3 or even 4) at a very easy recovery pace, with a view to completing the remaining distance at target long run pace? Or alternatively, hitting target long run pace from the gun and then dropping out of the race after 23 or 24 miles.

I spoke with a few peers and the responses were varied. A handful thought it was a risky idea if I wasn’t able to be disciplined and hold back. Dropping out with only 5k or less remaining as an option was also contrary to what I’ve ingrained in myself over the years about never dropping out from races.

Another handful thought it would be an ideal primer ahead of race day. Wolverhampton’s on my doorstep and would allow enough time for recovery, so long as I was strict with my pacing. Others shared that it would offer valuable insight to reacquaint myself with how I should feel in an actual marathon with no performance pressure.

Just an idea for the moment…

10 canal miles

The combination of lower leg stretches, ankle mobility exercises and Deep Heat seemed to do the trick – both Achilles tendons felt like their old familiar selves once more!

It was a rare, wind-free evening, so I took the opportunity to cover a bit of marathon pace on the out leg; the return featured the usual 2 faster paced miles. Disappointingly, GPS interference scuppered my chance at perfectly formed splits.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun


Don’t let the clothing choice fool you – it was cold! Photo by Geoff Hughes

Gah. How I needed sleep!

For the first time in what felt like ages, Cannon Hill’s course was bone dry but in its place was a vicious headwind that was maximised due to the new route.

I wanted to hit the run hard with a scheduled cutback week due shortly.

After promising myself I would run more steadily from the line, I still managed to shoot off like a lunatic. A bit of start line confusion also meant there were a few improperly seeded folks to box me in, requiring a few surges to get into the right place. I spotted Richard Keep with a handful of other guys ahead, prompting me to try and reach them but forgetting that Richard is a sub-18 runner… The inner-lap around the lake wasn’t nearly as claustrophobic as it was last week, with ample room to freely move about. I finished lap 1 feeling generally over-worked and motivation flew out the window to try and hang on – 3:41 for my troubles.

The headwind smacked me about as I approached the bandstand. After being dropped once already, I again spotted Richard and his group about 15m in front. I had about 400m with a slight descent to utilise, so I daringly surged again to reach them. Success! Contact was made! I managed to stay with them for another 400m before they crept away once more.

I grew progressively slower and slower, and continued to further lose time as I entered and exited the triangle.

The stretch from the little bridge to the MAC was fully exposed to headwind, robbing me and others of more time on the clock. 17:00 ticked by on my Garmin; most other days, I’d have been convinced to kick the remaining 400m to the end but I really wasn’t feeling it that morning. One chap came past me to at least give me an interim target to chase down and broke the monotony of running alone. I was able to take him on the hill, finishing with a 19:08. I really should have been more disciplined and held myself back to simply running sub-20 pace!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Afterwards, Dave revealed he was just behind me by a couple of seconds. He ran progressively and it transpired that I would have been his next target to stalk; it was only thanks to the final hill that he was kept at bay from reaching me!

An extended warm-down with some of the Cannon Hill Crusaders and Neil Muir rounded things off for another week.

This Parkrun wasn’t a total loss – my upward trend on runbritain continued with a -1.2 performance, pushing me to an overall 4.1 handicap. It was only October when I was on 5.2!

14 canal miles

I began to feel ropey after Saturday’s Parkrun; thoughts turned to whether a 14 mile long run the following morning would be such a good idea. Thankfully, a good night’s rest did just the trick and I was right as rain once more.

It was positively gorgeous out there. Sunny, dry and chilly – the perfect winter’s morning for a long run. The only fly in the ointment was some aggressive headwind that unusually appeared on the return, coming straight from the north.

Rather than tempt fate, I purposely kept the pace dialled back. Given how cold it was, I took an absolute age to warm-up, so I couldn’t have gone much faster even if I wanted to!

Whilst out there, I began thinking about how to extend the distance to accommodate training for a marathon. Including the loop out to Spaghetti Junction and the Aston Junction would make for 20 to 21 miles, and chucking in a lap of Edgbaston Reservoir could bump the distance up to 22 miles or so.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.