This week’s (lack) of running – 10th to 16th of October 2016

great_birmingham_run_2016

The best sight in the world for many this weekend at The Great Birmingham Run 2016

Understandably, there was no pressure to run!

Last week’s update

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted there was no weekly update to cover marathon race week. I’d pretty much summed it up in the race report, but for those curious, these are the runs I completed:

A return to sports massage

Lis strongly suggested I seek out a walk-in sports massage appointment with my time off from work. As luck would have it, the Guildhall Practice was just an 800m walk from home and could squeeze me in that Tuesday afternoon.

Whilst incredibly pricey at £42 for 45 minutes of work and a 15 minute consultation, I would seriously consider returning there, albeit not on a regular basis for cash flow reasons.

My practitioner (Sam) was confident, thorough and, importantly, listened to me. He was very good at reading a person in just a few minutes of dialogue; after his assessment of my posture and feet, he remarked that I had low arches and whether I had appropriate footwear. I quickly commented that I wear neutral shoes to compliment my running style, and very rarely pick up niggles or injury, backed up by taking almost a year between 2011 and 2012 to learn how to become a forefoot striker. “If it’s not broken, then we don’t need to fix it,” was his approach, which was a tick in the right box for me. He told me a story of how one of his clients is a 60 year old, life-long power-lifter that suffered from extreme back pain from a lifetime of training loads. Sam said rather than chop out the power-lifting entirely, he worked with the guy to minimise the pain as much as possible so as to still allow the client to lift, citing that removing the lifting completely would have done no mental good, either. It was genuinely refreshing to see such an approach, versus other practices where I was essentially paying to be told I was doing everything wrong and made to feel incredibly small.

45 minutes on the physio table was enough to remind me of why it had been over 2 years since I last spent time on one! Sam worked on all the problem areas: quads, adductors, IT bands, calves and glutes, whilst skipping over my naturally tight, but not troublesome hamstrings. Expectedly, I was sorer after the massage than post-marathon! The temporary trauma was worthwhile, because I felt near-perfect the day immediately after.

The Guildhall Practice can be found in Kings Heath, on Alcester Road South. Not cheap, but not arseholes either!

4 miles from city centre

This was my first run post-marathon, with the aim of the game to run s-l-o-w!

Dusk was quickly falling, but Cannon Hill Park was positively bustling with runners getting in last minute workouts ahead of the Great Birmingham Run.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

It was a shame I was still firmly in recovery mode, because I’d have otherwise gone out hard at Cannon Hill Parkrun for an artificial boost to my runbritain handicap, what with all the tapering runners around.

Instead, I ran a personal worst 5k with the goal of keeping Nigel Beecroft’s friend, Alex, under control to keep him from wrecking his half marathon the following day. A couple of last minute tips were also thrown in to give Alex the best chance of success on the day.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Birmingham Run 2016

My second year of not running my hometown half marathon; I know my limits and left my best back in York last week. Come rain or shine, though, I was ready to get some spectating done on that notorious hill.

Joined by Carl Stainton and his son, Marc, we were there with plenty of time to see the elites come through. As a big fan of Andy Vernon and Chris Thompson, it was a shame not to see the two duking it out on the climb, having decided their fates some 4 miles earlier.

I think I saw everybody I aimed to see, plus many others I wasn’t expecting to. Good to also have so many blog readers recognise me – hope my cheers were of some use to you!

A selection of photos from the day below:

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This week’s running – 12th to 18th of October 2015

Great Birmingham Run 2015

Waiting for all those PBs to happen…

This week was about getting back on the training bandwagon, and not running my home town race.

5k from work

Brrr! The first chilly run in a long, long while and boy did I relish it.

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun really did a number on my left hip – it wouldn’t stop creaking during the gentle 5k home from work!

Light levels really dwindled, convincing me to attach my flashing red light to the bag for others to see me from behind, especially cyclists.

I could tell the Great Birmingham Run was just around the corner because there were next to no runners out, with their tapers having begun.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

Due to dropping something off (the wrong sized Flipbelt) for return at a collection point, I was taken onto Ladywood Middleway for the opening 1.5 miles of this fartlek run.

Surprisingly, the first injection of speed wasn’t actually that fast at all and came in slower than half marathon pace. Not a bad thing at all, given I wanted to ease into the fartlek and run through the gears. I was consciously focusing on my stride length in an attempt to gain more power from a more forceful toe-off, and largely, I was able to prove to myself that adding even just 10cm to my stride saw some gains to be had.

It was an odd sensation to be running in the dark again after months of daylight. I’ll have to dig the high-vis out from the back of the wardrobe in anticipation for the next few months.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

And as if by magic, there were no runners on the canal again, bar me.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

After the three recent 40+ mile weeks, I really noticed a difference in my aerobic capacity. With my next fully-fledged race not until mid-January, I decided I would try and make 40 miles per week the norm, rather than the exception, so out rolled this 10 miler on the canal towpath. At the time, this was actually the longest run I’d completed since the Cardiff Half Marathon…

Typically taking around 80 minutes, I knew I would finish well after the sun would set so out rolled the head torch, also.

The first half of the run to Bournville Station wasn’t too bad. There was enough ambient light to see with, so I had the head torch on strobe mode for others to see me. I was caught off-guard by how much more perceived effort was required to hit paces I achieved with relative ease only several weeks ago. A pleasant surprise was the fancy upgraded lighting system in the tunnel immediately below Church Road – no expense spared there!

The return leg was much less forgiving. Night had completely set in, and I don’t know whether I just need to get used to running in the dark again, but my sense of pace was thrown off even more so than before. My head torch was just about up to the task, but there were a few hairy moments where I needed both directional and peripheral light spread to see exactly where I was going, and what was coming up underfoot. Add to this a pair of socks that really should have been thrown away weeks ago that were shredding my feet to pieces…

It was pitch-black on some stretches of the canal and the number of idiotic cyclists I saw that were riding at speed, dressed in black, with no front or rear lighting, or bells to alert others, was astounding. To be fair, there were a few runners and walkers also dressed entirely in black, but the cyclists far outnumbered them.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I planned to hit this one hard for two reasons. Firstly, to try and claim the sub-19 finish that should have been mine but was denied due to a timing discrepancy from a few weeks ago. Secondly, to try and get a boost to my runbritain ranking handicap that has sat between 5.0 and 5.2 for far too long; with the Great Birmingham Run the next day, most in attendance were taking it easy and any performance from me would be given stronger weighting.

I reached Cannon Hill ridiculously early, so much so that it was only me, Martin Foster and Nigel Beecroft at the bandstand. Nigel and I went for our usual warm-up jog, discussing his half marathon plans; I was confident he would PB at 13.1 miles after his recent 5k PB.

Firmly planted at the very front on the start line, I could see the management team had purchased an air horn in a bid to end complaints from false/unheard starter’s orders. I congratulated the Sparkhill Harrier lad on his recent PB performance and promised myself I would try and keep him in my sights, even if only in the distance. Hooter hooted and off I went…

Despite the race the next day, there were still a few fast folks around me to work with including the lead girl. The pace had some spice to it, but I had actually gone faster two weeks ago and with less effort – this occasion felt like a true blue 5k PB attempt. Unlike last time, I chose to go with it and did not rein myself in to give myself as big a buffer as possible for a 3:42 opening split.

The effort to maintain such a fast pace shot up in the second km, not helped with those around me splintering off into smaller groups. The Sparkhill Harrier was maybe 15m ahead and kept pulling away – the likelihood is that I was actually slowing. My breathing became heavy, so I concentrated on keeping my stride long as a distraction. Conditions weren’t as favourable as two weeks ago either, when there was much less wind on the course.

The third km proved tricky. I was trailing a chap in a football top who’d gone out hard, but began to drop back. “Stay on the pace, no.12. We’ve got this,” I said to him to try and spur him into action. “Can’t. You-go-on” he said, so I overtook. In and out of the triangle, I got a few cheers from the folks coming through on the other side, including Nigel and Simon who were running at a super-easy pace. The aim for this km was to keep it under 4 minutes, which I did by the skin of my teeth for a 3:59 split.

I don’t remember much at all from the fourth km apart from being in my own personal hell, running entirely alone. Thankfully, I managed to keep this one under 4 minutes as well for another 3:59 split.

The final km was upon me and I had no idea how far or close I was to target – I didn’t bother to check the virtual pacer on my Garmin. Unhelpfully, I was still alone. I passed the MAC and I switched over to the stopwatch to see I’d just ticked over to 17:30. Caught by surprise, it took a few takes before I realised I was still in with a very real chance of going under 19 minutes for the coveted course PB! I pressed on and did my best to shut off the pain that ravaged my body. Reaching the final hill, it was fully laden with marshals and volunteers to cheer me on my way. I kicked with whatever remained inside and pumped my arms to drive up the hill. At the top, I sprinted on my toes to put my fast cadence to work. My Garmin said I had a couple of seconds left – it was touch and go whether it would happen or not…

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BOOM! That is all.

I crossed the line and it was finally over. I stumbled my way through the funnel and a quick peek at my Garmin was all the confirmation I needed – boy done good with an 18:57 finish! I collected my token (15th) and hunched over, unsure of whether to throw up or not.

For clarity, it’s a course PB i.e. the fastest I have ever run around  the Cannon Hill course; my fastest 5k ever still belongs to Cardiff Parkrun at 18:51. It bodes well that I’m back in 5k PB contention, despite not having focused on any 5k training since July.

And the runbritain handicap result? The run was ranked as a 1.5 in terms of difficulty and I achieved a -1.3 handicap; annoyingly, it’s moved me from 5.2 to just 5.0 again! I’ll have to wait that bit longer before that 4.9 is mine once more…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The Great Birmingham Run

The EDF Energy Birmingham Half Marathon back in 2010 is the race that got me into long distance running in the first place. I’d run the local half marathon for five years straight and finally decided to take a break from it, opting instead to be a spectator this year.

Living in the Jewellery Quarter, I had a couple of spots on the route to choose from and of course, I went for that hill at mile 11. Tactically, it would be the best place to give friends support when they would most likely be feeling at their worst.

Walking along Broad Street, it was shocking to see plenty of runners that were still nowhere near the start area when the race had already begun. I overheard some that hadn’t read their race packs and even assumed the start was still on Sand Pits like previous years! The 20 minute walk there would at least get them warmed up.

Walking down St James Road, I decided to plant myself a little further up from the church – arguably the steepest point on the course. I got speaking to two security guards sent in from Leeds (yeah, figure that one out) who only realised they were working a half marathon once they arrived on the scene.

Some 20 minutes later, the front-runners came through – Helen Clitheroe followed a short while afterwards. The fun really began once I started spotting people I actually knew, below in order of appearance (click to enlarge). There were many others I saw and cheered on – apologies if I didn’t get a photo of you.

At times, mile 11 didn’t make for pleasant viewing and there were different magnitudes of detonation I had to witness. Some slowed to a walk to make it up the hill. Others stopped completely to stretch out cramped muscles. A few dropped out entirely. One guy I saw was deathly pale, with his eyes darting around, unable to focus on anything…

All said and done, I had a great time as a spectator. Lis was especially curious to see how I would take to it; it was relatively easy to spot people up to around the 1:50 mark and only Ben had to grab my attention first. After that point, it became increasingly difficult due to the wall-to-wall flow of runners coming through.

Congrats to everyone that ran – there are some very nice PBs and times that were produced on a very difficult course!

Not the Great Birmingham Run

AKA my 13.1 miles I covered on the canal.

A few people after the race asked me if I’d have preferred to run versus spectate. I have no regrets with my decision, apart from having to run my own solo half marathon on the canal towpaths later in the afternoon. I could have participated and run it as a fast, catered training run with others…

Running through Brindley Place, a few people shouted out things like, “The race is over! You can stop now!” Comedians, eh. I was surprised to find a handful of runners out on the canals – and there I was thinking everybody was racing.

I kept things easy and under control, having smashed myself to pieces the day prior. My hips were a little tight and my stomach was a little unsettled from the monumental effort along with something I’d eaten that wasn’t agreeing with me.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The only other thing of note about this long run was the second field test for the Flipbelt. I finally received the small size and the fit was like night and day in comparison to before; there was no bounce at all and only required minor readjustment from time to time. If like me, you find you’re in between sizes, go for the smaller option – a tight fit is crucial to it doing its job by staying out of the way. A capacity test saw me pack it with an iPhone 6 (wrapped in a freezer bag), 6x Isogels (bulky), and some keys with room to spare. Reportedly, it can even stretch to accommodate the ginormous iPhone 6 Plus, but you’d have to be really desperate to want to take one of those out on a run with you. I can finally retire my years old gel belt, which required anchoring down with safety pins for the right fit.

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

When elastic is gone, man, it’s gone

Men. This one is for you.

You paid good money for those shorts. You love those shorts. You have worn those shorts in the heat and the cold, sun and rain, over hill and dale. You’ve raced in those shorts – maybe even set a personal record in them.

But, my brother, listen carefully: Sooner or later, there will come a day when you pull those shorts on and feel roomy gaping where once there was a snug liner. This means that the elastic down there has gone slack.

You will be tempted to shrug this off and wear them running anyway.

Don’t. Trust us on this one.

You know what? Let’s just move on.

This week’s running – 13th to 19th of October 2014

Great Birmingham Run

It was that time of year again for Birmingham to get running

This week was all about getting ready for a different kind of race experience. Oh and apologies for the late entry – life got in the way!

Tuesday two

After a thoroughly good summer of training outdoors, I wasn’t ready to head back indoors again for treadmill training. I didn’t want a full-on run, so I opted for a simple two mile effort at my recent half marathon pace at Edgbaston Reservoir.

It was incredible how much less light there was compared to even just two weeks ago. Most of the two miles were ran in near-darkness (and I was foolishly wearing all black); there were a few hairy moments when I had to second-guess where the holes and dips in the ground were to avoid turning my ankles in ahead of Sunday’s Great Birmingham Run. Thankfully, I finished unscathed and lived to tell the tale.

I think I’m going to seriously look at head torch options out there – anyone got any recommendations?

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

As per usual, I had the run-commute bag ready for my weekly 5k from work. We’d just had the mother of all down-pours and expectedly, I received a few strange stares from colleagues as I was about to head out on to the canal for home.

Somebody up above must like me, because the rain miraculously stopped during the walk from my office to the front of the building!

Out on the canal, it was good to see a few other hardy souls out, wringing the last few ounces of training from their bodies ahead of Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6 miles along Hagley Road

I’d not completed this route for a few weeks and almost grew nostalgic about it… Until I started to hit every single traffic light. I hate being interrupted during a run and recall one time years ago in Cannon Hill Park when a random park-goer next to the MAC stopped me to ask for the time. It was during the height of summer and there were dozens of people around, but he stopped me as if there was some pressing urgency, only to ask for the sodding time! Another occasion whilst I was at Fox Hollies track, some lads had kicked their ball out of the AstroTurf cage and asked me to go retrieve it for them whilst I was completing 800m reps…

Anywho, the run wasn’t bad and I started paying attention to what other runners were wearing. Some, like me, were wearing t-shirt and shorts. Others were dressed like they were on an arctic expedition and had hats, gloves, tights and jackets on-board.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Great Birmingham Run 2014 review

For the full lowdown, please click here to read my Great Birmingham Run 2014 review.

And as ever, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Never underestimate the value of a trite slogan

Don’t ask me why, but the sappiest, most maudlin dime-store platitude – when used in the context of running – can be genuinely inspirational. It’s a kind of alchemy.

I’m talking here about such phrases as, “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.” Or “Adverisity causes some men to break, and others to break records.” Heard anywhere else, such corny aphorisms might inspire eye rolling. But, for whatever reason, seen or heard in or around a race, they work.

I distinctly recall running a half-marathon near my home in eastern Pennsylvania. It was somewhere between miles 10 and 11, and I was starting to hurt, running nearly alone at that point and fighting the urge to ease up and just coast to the finish. Who would know? And what difference would it make?

That’s when I looked up and noticed the back of another runner’s shirt. On it was a quote from Steve Prefontaine: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

I nearly cried. Seriously.

Oh, and if you want a slogan that’s not trite, try this one, attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

“Things that hurt, instruct.”

I’m pretty sure Ben wasn’t a runner. But that quote makes you wonder.

Great Birmingham Run 2014 review

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

A different kind of Great Birmingham Run

Not your standard Great Birmingham Run…

So I’m back-pedalling on this one after making a huge song and dance last year about not running it again for a while. Read on to find out what happened.

A different kind of race

It’s kind of strange how things happen when you stop trying so hard. It was never my intention to run this year’s Great Birmingham Run due to cost and lack of PB potential, but then as we edged ever closer to race day, everybody around me was both talking about the race and training for it. I started to debate to myself whether I should just run for fun or not.

A couple of weeks ago, the Birmingham Mail posted a competition online for a free place in the event. “You’ve got to be in it to win it”, as the saying goes so I duly entered. A week later, I was pleasantly surprised to discover I’d actually won! So, 2014 would become my fifth running of the course.

Just recently, Ed from Birmingham Running and Triathlon Club and Cannon Hill Parkrun approached me with a request for help. He does a lot with BBC’s West Midlands edition of Inside Out and said the host, Andy Akinwolere, would be running his first half marathon. Ed needed somebody to run with Andy to capture some footage of him. Knowing that I’d recently thrashed myself at the Cardiff Half Marathon and was in no fit state to chase after another PB (lesson learned from last year), I was happy to simply cruise through the course and agreed to help out (this is the short abridged version of the story – won’t bore you guys with the full edition).

Pre-race

Race morning arrived and I went to meet Ed, Andy and the BBC crew at the Copthorne Hotel. It was pretty nice inside and despite having lived in Birmingham for almost 25 years, I’d never actually set foot in there before.

Ed introduced me to everyone and handed me the camera that I would be using to film Andy. Being a geek, I’ve been paying great attention to the ever-evolving world of action cameras like GoPros and the Garmin Virb, with the intention of recording some of my races from my POV. The Drift camera seemed easy enough to use, with one button for on/off and record/stop. It also featured a very wide-angle lens to keep it usable without too much accuracy required. We parted ways so us runners could get a warm-up in, to reconvene closer to the race start.

Ed, Andy and Andy at Great Birmingham Run 2014

Ed Barlow, Andy Akinwolere and Andy Yu at the Great Birmingham Run 2014

Pre-race gubbins done, I made my way back to the start line and quickly found the film crew, also bumping into Fergal from Parkrun en route. Andy and I made our way into the start pen – after four years of running this race, this was the closest I had ever been to the start line at Birmingham. A sudden sense of vertigo hit me when I looked back at the long, snaking line of runners. I also couldn’t help but notice all the cameras everywhere and reasoned that I stood a good chance of making it on to the Channel 5 coverage…

Ed says I’m now a “media tart”

I recorded a short segment where I was giving Andy some advice regarding the mofo hill at mile 11, though this segment didn’t make it into the final cut for Inside Out. Just in the distance, I could see a few of the elites including Steve Way and Jodie Stimpson. I felt like a bit of a fraud, surrounded by the fast club runners when I wasn’t about to run myself into the ground.

Before too long, Jodie started the air horn and my race that wasn’t a race began.

The race

It was pretty insane up front with fast runners darting off everywhere. All I had to do was stay with Andy, film him from time to time and also act as pacer/motivational speaker if times got dark. I kinda just followed for the first half-mile or so, just to get a feel for how Andy wanted to run. Ed said that he should run something around 1:40 or so based on previous training runs, so comfortably within my own abilities to keep up.

Passing by the Bullring, Mike Deakin from work called out to me, so he saw at least one person he knew!

Running through the 1 mile marker, my Garmin beeped with a sub-6 minute mile split. Crikey! I wouldn’t even run a sub-6 mile as part of my own chase for a half marathon PB; I pulled Andy back and slammed on the brakes before things got too carried away.

I started shooting some short segments with the camera, mostly of Andy from the front, back and sides. If something of interest was coming up, I’d shoot to try and capture that in the background. Passing by the cheer bus, located at the junction of Pershore Road and Edgbaston Road, Rob Foster from Cannon Hill Parkrun called out to me.

Our pace was decent and that quick first mile would act as a buffer of sorts for the much tougher second half of the race. At this point, a time under 1:40 was very likely.

I’ve got to take my hat off to the organisers for the very well laid out drink stations. They were sign-posted well in advance and were long enough that you could carry on running for ages before you reached the end and missed out – so much more runner friendly compared to other races.

Further on up the Pershore Road, Alex Mold from Cannon Hill Parkrun came storming past and called out to me. One advantage of running your hometown race – you’re more than likely to bump into people you know along the course. This became a theme that continued for much of the race and one I was welcome to have.

Whilst running up the hill on Kensington Road, I began to shoot some more footage of Andy, only for the camera to lock up on me. The screen reported a “low speed card error” and refused to let me do anything else, becoming completely unresponsive. I tried removing the battery but this involved unscrewing a pretty hefty compartment door, clearly designed to keep things like water and me out! Once I managed to open it up, the battery then refused to eject and the screen remained frozen and still lit up like a Christmas tree! Great, just great. I decided to give up on the camera and would try resetting it again later.

Andy Yu at Bournville

Andy, Andy and Darryl at Bournville – photo by Elsa Tam

Approaching Bournville, I had another bash at resetting the camera. Success! The compartment door opened up and the battery unclipped – we were back in business, and not a moment too soon because Cadbury’s World was quickly approaching on our right for an interesting backdrop opportunity. Iain and Elsa were also somewhere along here and managed to catch our attention. Both of us being called Andy made things easy and I told my companion to soak it all in. Somewhere else along this point, I noticed a Bromsgrove and Redditch AC vest just slightly ahead with “DT” printed on it – it was indeed Darryl Thomas, who I got speaking to at the Wythall Hollywood 10k during the summer. Here’s your shout-out, Darryl! Shortly afterwards, Nigel Beecroft also came into contact with Andy and me. He looked superb and I had wondered whether a 1:37 target was selling himself short, so I ushered him on to keep going (I later found out Nigel had run 1:32:59 – a stunning time). Running through Bournville and back on the other side of the station, Iain and Elsa emerged again for some more support (they’re good, aren’t they?).

Andy and Andy on the other side of Bournville

Andy and Andy on the other side of Bournville – photo by Elsa Tam

Passing through Stirchley, I heard another voice call out my name from the right. Initially, I thought they might have been calling out for the other Andy but upon closer inspection, it was my old friend and ex-work colleague Martin Hamer. Whilst I was disappointed to see he wasn’t running after a cracking debut PB of 1:45 last year, it was really good to see him out spectating after years of heckling me as a runner. I went over for a high-five and carried on with my merry way.

The camera was still misbehaving from to time, but I had got the battery reset down to an art. Hopefully some of the footage I had shot would be of some use to the Inside Out crew (EDIT: loads of my footage was used!). I was really enjoying the task, offering up something different to a run that I was otherwise going to simply complete without any real goal or purpose in mind.

On the approach to Cannon Hill Park, Jonny Costello caught up to us and shared that he wasn’t having a particularly great time. Passing by the bandstand where Parkrun takes place, we got a few cheers from Kings Heath Running Club supporters (Mike and Barbara), with the club also well represented in the race.

I continued to feedback info about the course to Andy, letting him know we had about 2 miles of flat or steadily downhill running ahead of us before the big hill. Andy clearly loved the experience with a massive smile on his face throughout.

Entering Lee Bank Middleway, I told Andy to steel himself for some hard work, giving him plenty of encouragement to get him fired up to tackle the hill. We were touch and go whether we would go under 1:40 or not at this point, and whilst I think he would have been happy with whatever result he ended up with, there was no harm in trying to help him get the time he deserved based on his training. Once on the Charlotte Road/St James Road hill, I ran ahead to get some footage of him working at his absolute hardest. I did feel a little self-conscious because there I was, taking everything in my stride, whilst everybody around me was grimacing and in bits. I spotted Khalid Malik on the other side of the Road and got a cheer from him.

At the brow of the hill, we were almost home free with the toughest part of the course behind us. At around 12 miles, almost everything came undone when Andy nearly tripped on a stray conker… This was some sort of cruel intervention from fate – both of us named Andy and both of us almost came a cropper at mile 12 (I nearly stumbled on a speed bump in Cardiff)! He tweaked his hamstring, so I eased off the gas to get him to the finish line in one piece.

Andy Akinwolere sprinting for the Great Birmingham Run finish

Filming duties almost complete – photo by Lis Morgan

On the approach to Five Ways, the organisers had set up speakers blaring out the Chariots of Fire theme for that last bit of inspiration before the sprint down Broad Street for victory. I spotted Lis, Iain and Cheryl to my right and gave them a wave during some footage capture (who says I can’t multitask?). I ran alongside Andy for some side-on shots and then ran ahead to shoot him on the run in to the end, moving over to the right and out of the way when I saw his film crew just beyond the finish line. Andy comfortably came in under 1:40 for 1:38:55 – a fantastic debut and a time he should be very proud of. Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

And for your viewing pleasure, here’s the episode of Inside Out, featuring the footage I helped shoot:

Post-race

Andy’s film crew were busy shooting footage of him after crossing the line, so I left them to it and handed the camera over. I heard Jonny Costello’s name called out over the PA so I decided to hang back and walk through the finish funnel with him.

I loved the overall experience and would do something similar again or lead a pace group if needed. Today offered a very different Great Birmingham Run and was what I needed to reboot the whole event for me after four previous attempts with strict time goals in mind. I’m certain I could have made a big attack on my course PB, but for little gain. As I said at the beginning of this write-up, it’s funny how, sometimes, things happen when you stop trying so hard.

See you all again in 2015 for the Great Birmingham 10k and the half marathon!

This week’s running – 6th to 12th of October 2014

Recovery week

Time to kick the feet up for just a little while

This week was mostly about recovery. And eating. Lots of eating.

Recovery is also training

Racing well also means there’s a need to recover well. My quads were well and truly fooked on Monday and Tuesday after the Cardiff Half – much more so than last year’s race, so I must have seriously thrashed them during the final downhill mile. That first time on the foam roller after the race was not a pleasant experience…

I’ve been eating almost everything in sight as well. Cookies, sweets, cake, huge meals. The body needs fuel to recover after all!

On Wednesday, I ran my easy 5k from work along a very damp and soggy canal towpath. It’s remarkable how much the climate and conditions have changed in just two weeks. To quote Ned Stark of Game of Thrones fame, “Brace yourselves… Winter is coming.” I don’t know whether it was simply a matter of not acclimatising to the temperature, but I seriously felt how cold it was. I had a similar problem last year and I anticipate it won’t be long before the running tights, arm warmers and gloves come out again.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Thursday saw me run to Edgbaston Reservoir for two easy laps. It won’t be long before I’m no longer able to use the reservoir during weekday evenings. As per recent weeks, there were plenty of folks out and about putting the finishing touches to their Great Birmingham Run training.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

It had been a couple of weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill; the last time had me going for a new course PB and failing miserably. But boy, was it was good to be home. Apart from a few larger puddles on the ground, the weather was spot on for anybody wanting a crack at a PB.

Conscious of how hard things felt last year the week following the Cardiff Half, I reined my expectations back somewhat with the intention of just finishing in under 20 minutes. The run did indeed feel tough, but I managed to hit my target almost perfectly with a time of 19:54.

Post-run, everybody was talking about the hot topic that is the Great Birmingham Run. I remember seeing so many fellow Parkrunners during last year’s race and will be on the look-out again on Sunday.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

11 miles via the canals

Sunday morning made for a nice change from all the dodgy weather this week had brought. On Iain’s advice that the canal towards Bournville had ‘unofficially’ reopened, I ventured out on to the towpath for 11 miles. The tarmac surface was fantastic to run on; the tarmac and stone chips less so. I was surprised by how noticeable the impact of running on the bricked path through Brindley Place felt on the return back home. I’d also eaten a tad too much the day before so I purposely ran in a somewhat fasted state, leading to a runner’s high – something I’ve not experienced in months.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Great Birmingham Run tips and advice

For the last month or so, I’ve seen an increasing number of visitors in the analytics for this blog reading the accounts of my 2012 and 2013 Great Birmingham Runs. I figured I’d put together a few tidbits of advice for anybody that’s running it for the first time (or improvers looking to shave a few extra seconds off here and there) and for what to expect. Please note, these are purely my own thoughts and opinions and are by no means gospel – I’m just a regular enthusiast runner that’s run the race a few times before.

Great Birmingham Run elevation

Start on the right-hand side of the dual carriageway

The startIf you are focused on going for a time and want minimal congestion or slow-down, start from the right-hand side as if you’re facing the start line and about to set off. The start funnels are divided into two waves for each colour (striped for elites, orange, white, green and pink), with the right-hand side going first (it goes orange-right, orange-left, white-right, white-left etc). This holds true for each coloured start, so whether you’re in a faster coloured start pen or a slower one, starting from the right will always mean the group that went before you will be faster and should give you a better chance of a clear run.

Great Birmingham Run elevation

There’s pain in them there hills!

Hills, hills and more hills – For anybody that has run the course before, but not since 2012, there have been two modifications. Starting last year, there’s the inclusion of a new hill on Kensington Road (approx mile 4), off Pershore Road. It isn’t particularly long, but it will slow you down unless you can make up the time lost using the descent on the other side. This was done to simplify the final mile of the course where it used to twist and turn, albeit on the flat – I’d have preferred a flat over the addition of another hill any day!

Altogether, there are three significant inclines on the course, and a few minor ones here and there. Save something in the tank for the mile long drag up Charlotte Road/St James Road – this part is tricky because it’s preceded by a climb out of Lee Bank Middleway with only a short flat afterwards for minor recovery.

Use the pacer or not?My advice would be a big fat “no”, based on a previous experience. Last year’s sub-90 minute pacer completed his first mile in 5:54; an 89:59 half marathon is roughly 6:52 per mile, so people would have inevitably blown up if they followed him. Last year’s sub-90 minute pacer also failed to hit his target, finishing in 90:41 – simply unacceptable especially if you’ve dragged people through with a stupidly fast mile. Pacers should be running well within their own capabilities on the day, so there’s a strong likelihood they’ll run even splits, even when going up hill. Run your own race and if during the later stages you happen to come back into contact with a pacer, use them to your advantage, but I would strongly dissuade following a pacer for the entire race.

Finally, make sure you enjoy yourself out there. The crowds are good and there’s nothing quite like a sprint down Broad Street for the finish to thousands of cheers. I’ll be out there along with Nigel from Parkrun running at around 1:37 pace – do say “hi” if you see us on the course.

And as usual, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Dogs are harmless except when they aren’t

Most dogs, when they see a passing runner, will bark. This is the natural order of things. Just continue along your way – and don’t make eye contact with the dog, which he may consider threatening. The dog will yap until you’re out of sight or until something else captures his attention, such as a blade of grass. And that will be that.

Occasionally, however, you may encounter a dog who is not content simply to bark at you, but who wants to put parts of your body between his teeth. Dogs like this are known, in veterinary science, as bad dogs.

Avoid such dogs whenever possible.

If an aggressive dog does threaten you, yell “No!” in a deep voice and try to put something between you and the dog, such as a bicycle or a small child.

Just kidding about the small child. They can bite, too. And they don’t recognize the word no.

This week’s running – 14th to 20th of October

Andy Yu met Mo Farah

This week was all about tapering, racing and meeting a hero of mine

Meeting Mo Farah

Andy Yu meets Mo Farah

Please excuse the dodgy photo, taken by Waterstones’ finest…

People often say not to meet your heroes because they’re often nothing like what you would hope for. I had the privilege of meeting the legend that is Mo Farah yesterday during a signing of his new book, Twin Ambitions.

The only regret I have is that I only got to spend about 2 minutes with him due to the rather large queue that had formed outside. I wished him “Eid Mubarak” in light of the religious day for him, which he appreciated. I asked him to wish me luck in my sub-90 minute attempt at the Great Birmingham Run on Sunday, and he told me “You’re gonna run 1:29”, which I’ll use as my mantra on the day. He signed my book and I had a rushed photo with him and that was it. All very brief but an incredible experience to speak to an athlete of such calibre.

I’ve yet to start reading his book, wanting to set aside a good block of time when I can really savour it.

Tuesday 5 miles

After my encounter with Mo, I felt inspired to go out for a longer run than I would normally do on a Tuesday. Conscious that I had a half marathon to run at the end of the week, I wanted to keep the distance and the pace under control so that my week would get progressively easier.

It was also pretty cold so I slipped into my running tights and compression shirt again. I’m currently hovering around 11% body fat, which is great for racing but I seem to be feeling the cold a little too easily. It may just be me not having acclimatised to the lower temperatures yet after our warm summer, but I do seem to be struggling.

The run was decent, but I did feel lightheaded again going into the 3rd mile – thankfully I’d anticipated this so I slurped down my Isogel.

I had laced up my orange Flyknit Racers as well, which appear to be on their last legs. The cushioning wasn’t what it used to be and I’m questioning the integrity of the upper now that they’ve covered more than 250 miles; most racing flats don’t survive to 300 miles.

Due to heavy traffic, I had to take a detour off the Hagley Road on my return which shortened the initial 6 mile target to just 5.6 miles.

The Garmin data can be found here.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Suz West of Bournville Harriers was in the mood for a PB attempt at Cannon Hill Parkrun so I volunteered my pacing services. Not wanting to go all out the day before a half marathon, my target race pace synced up quite nicely with Suz’s 21:30 target finish.

We churned out an ambitiously fast first mile but the pace dropped in mile 2 and 3 for a finish that was just a few seconds off a new PB.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

The Great Birmingham Run

Click here to read the full Great Birmingham Run 2013 review.

Great Birmingham Run 2013 Review

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

Andy Yu's Great Birmingham Run Review 2013

Tough day, tough course

Another year over, another Great Birmingham Run completed making for 9 half marathons since 2010!

As ever, please skip straight to “The Race” if you’d rather not read all the stuff beforehand.

Race Day

I managed to get a semi-decent night’s sleep and woke up feeling ready for the task at hand. The TV coverage from the Cardiff Half Marathon I ran two weeks ago was playing on Channel 4 and served as perfect pre-race inspiration for a sub-90 minute attempt. I had my usual breakfast of two slices of toast with honey, an energy drink and two beetroot juice shots.

Sometime on the Saturday, possibly at Cannon Hill Parkrun, I was bitten by an insect on my right leg which had caused my right calf and ankle to swell considerably. There was no pain walking or running, but my leg looked visibly fat!

Living only a few hundred metres from the Great Birmingham Run start line has its advantages; I can use my own toilet without queues and I can leave it quite late to walk down to the holding pens.

Team Beetroot at the Great Birmingham Run 2013

Elsa, Iain, Lis in the left photo – Derek, Iain, Lis in the right photo

Team Beetroot (Elsa, Iain, Dave, Derek and Oli) arrived in good time, allowing Dave and I to go for a short warm-up run and Oli to go collect his timing chip from the NIA. Oli had only decided to enter the race two weeks beforehand on the back of no run training. He’d done a lot of cycling but non-specific training will only get you so far – he’s braver than I am!

We runners made our way towards the start line and the spectators headed over to the Bullring to stake out a place during the first mile.

It was always mine and Dave’s intention to start from the right-hand side of the road; you get a faster start because you follow immediately after the elites and going for a sub-90 attempt would require every helping hand available. We meandered our way into the right-hand start pens where we spotted some pacers including a sub-90 minute one! Dave and I then decided to venture back towards the left-hand start pens to take advantage of the pacer, so back we went. We bumped into Keith Hill from BRAT; I’d been having some decent battles with Keith at Cannon Hill Parkrun in the early part of the summer where we were both going for sub-20. Both Keith and I had a good chat about how our seasons had gone and also what we had lined up for the rest of the year and in the spring. I spotted several fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunners in the right-hand pen, including Khalid Malik and Helen Bloomer, wishing them luck as they were about to start.

After a short wait for the other side of the road to clear, we were ushered up to the start line for a few photos. Ellie Simmonds fired off her air horn and we were off!

The Race

The first mile of the Great Birmingham Run is pretty much downhill before it flattens out. Taking this into account, everybody seemed to storm off at an alarming pace including Dave and me; 6:36 as an opening mile possibly wasn’t the smartest move but knowing that most of the course is uphill in the later stages means that you need to take every advantage that’s handed to you. Looking at various online debriefs of the race, a lot of faster runners adopted the same approach with mixed results.

The sub-90 minute pacer had more or less disappeared from view entirely within half a mile! Dave and I agreed that he probably adopted a positive split strategy, purposely running a faster first half to compensate for the damage from later on. EDIT – I have since found out that the sub-90 minute pacer completed his first mile in 5:54! That’s 10 seconds faster than any recorded mile I’ve ever posted! He missed his target as well, finishing in 1:30:41, so I’m really glad I didn’t try and hang on to him.

Andy and Dave at the Great Birmingham Run

Andy and Dave at the Bullring

We approached the Bullring where we saw the gang waiting for us. They’d already seen Oli go by and were confused over why they hadn’t seen us yet. Thankfully, Iain convinced them all that we’d possibly yet to come through and as if by magic, Dave and I appeared.

Exiting Digbeth, a chap caught up to me and said he was a fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunner; he was also a reader of this very blog! Here’s a shout-out to you Nigel! He was hoping to run about 1:34 or so and decided to stay with me for as long as possible before making a call to carry on or ease off slightly.

We ventured on to Pershore Road but sadly, I don’t remember much of this portion of the race. The mile 2 marker seemed slightly off by the time I went through it, so I knew I had to start running a cleaner line to avoid adding excess distance to my race. I’d lost Dave at some stage here and I decided to let him go rather than risk a blow out by trying to catch-up and keep up with him. Nigel and I ran past our first water station and I spotted Richard from Parkrun, shouting out to him.

Pershore Road is a good, long straight portion of the race which allowed us to get some good progress under our feet. If you’re running well, Pershore Road should just fly by but if you’re running poorly, it never seems to end.

Great Birmingham Run 2013 route

The changes DID NOT make the course any easier!

The latest addition to the Great Birmingham Run arrived in the form of another hill on Kensington Road. The reason for this new hill on the course was to simplify a part of the route later on in Edgbaston. Mile 12 was originally a flat but twisty-turny affair that introduced some slow-down on what should otherwise be a faster portion of the race. What the organisers did was re-route mile 12 into a shorter, smoother run through Edgbaston and to compensate, they had to introduce some additional distance somewhere else on the course. The Kensington Road hill was a doddle in training but felt hard as nails at race pace. I really had to hunch over and shorten my stride to keep the pace up. I can see the organisers receiving many a request to swap the route back to the 2010-2012 version. The downhill on the other side allowed me to get my cadence up (can’t be sure, left my footpod at home…) but I knew I’d never make up the lost time from the incline.

At some stage, I ended up losing Nigel accidentally. The path narrowed due to maintaining the return route on the other side and we started to catch up to some of the slower orange wave runners from the first wave. I was getting frustrated with the weaving so I saw an opportunity to surge on to the pavement and come out on the other side, not realising Nigel had stayed back.

I spotted Mary from Cannon Hill Parkrun going into Stirchley. I also spotted Dave maybe 30 – 40m ahead of me and I decided to try and reel him back in. Running past Cadbury’s World, I managed to catch him again but our times were still down on target; my Garmin was reporting we were already 1.5 minutes behind and would require a monumental effort in the latter stages to get us back on track for a sub-90 finish. The short but sharp hill in Bournville hit me and I ended up letting Dave go on the return to Stirchley; he was running fresh compared to my less than stellar legs  and my mentally tired noggin.

Noticing that my Garmin was starting to show a huge discrepancy from the mile markers, I decided to make a move to correct this. I saw a guy cut a corner by running on the pavement heading back into Stirchley and I followed in pursuit. This seemed to do the trick and the 6 mile marker and my Garmin synced up perfectly again! All I had to do now was to focus on running a clean line and hug the corners to maintain the status quo.

Approaching the 10k marker, I ran past Martin Foster from Bournville Harriers and Parkrun. He looked like he was running a good, controlled race and I wished him well. Running through 10k, Dave had already kindly worked out for me that I needed to achieve 42:48 or so to remain in contention for a sub-90 minute finish. What I actually ran through 10k in was 44:20 or similar, so I knew it was over. I immediately stopped caring about my splits and decided to run based purely on effort, which explains my somewhat erratic splits.

Back on the Pershore Road, I’d caught up to Keith Hill, who seemed to be slowing slightly. I told him to stay with me, which only went and made him surge off again into the distance! I spotted Sean Whan of Kings Heath Running Club and yelled out to him, just catching him as I ran past on the opposite side of the road. I finally managed to feel comfortable here and felt like I was running at a good pace.

Heading towards Cannon Hill Park, I knew my parents would be spectating. I’d practiced with my Mum the day before to pass me an energy gel if I gave her a sign. I gave her the sign and she quickly withdrew the gel! I just about managed to convince her to give me the gel before I ran past and high-fived my Dad whilst passing by.

Andy at Cannon Hill Park, Great Birmingham Run

My Mum played paparazzo to capture this photo

Going into Cannon Hill Park, we ran through the eerie car park again, which was now just a bit wet and miserable from the previous day’s rain. Running the Parkrun route in reverse introduced another hill to contend with for yet more slow down. Free Radio had set up their cheering station in the park and were handing some green sweets of some kind (were they jelly babies?). Mike Green and Barbara Partridge of Kings Heath Running Club saw me for a quick cheer which worked a treat to lift me up. Suz West of Bournville Harriers also gave me a cheer after the tea room for another mental boost. I managed to catch-up to Keith Hill again and hung on to him for a bit longer before letting him escape again by just a few metres, which quickly became 10 and then 20.

Leaving the park I arrived at another, you’ve guessed it, hill! Only a short one, mind, but when you’re already tired it’s the last thing you need.

Balsall Heath presented nice wide roads and I started to run with two girls just ahead of me. They must have had no idea I was behind them because they kept cutting into my path. People need to look over their shoulders if they’re going to change their line suddenly! I actually started to point in the direction I wanted to move in, indicating like you would whilst driving which seemed to work quite well. The shower in Balsall Heath was brilliant at cooling me down. Despite the overcast skies, my face was very warm and I reckon I must have been quite dehydrated as the race progressed.

The Leebank Middleway gave me a moment of recovery on its downhill portion before I had to grit my teeth for a tough mile of hills. Two guys behind me started saying they were going to push it until the end, not knowing the mother of all hills was coming up; I warned them about it just in time and they slowed themselves down slightly as we exited the Middleway.

Approaching the Charlotte Road – St James Road hills, I began to get my energy gel ready but only went and dropped it on the floor! For a moment, I wondered whether I should have stopped to pick it up or let it go? I really could have done with a sugar hit to help me through to the end, but suddenly stopping in the middle of the road probably would have caused a pile up…

The hill hit me hard. I was tired and an annoying head wind was working hard against me. I’d have tolerated the hill or wind in isolation, but not both and I reckon I was close t breaking point. I hunched forward again and pushed to get through the hill as quickly as possible, with the logic that the slower I went, the more time I would waste there. Reaching the top, I was almost completely shot and I had to slow down temporarily to catch my breath and recompose myself.

Just a mile and a bit remained before the end, so I tried to lift my pace. It was here where Bupa debuted their “Boost Zone”, which consisted of jelly babies, music and Vaseline. I felt somewhat cheated by this, because it appeared that we lost an energy drink station at mile 4 in exchange for this! An earlier energy drink stop would have been far more beneficial. If a runner had made it to mile 12, surely they could make it to the end without jelly babies and Vaseline?

Making it on to Hagley Road, I tried to lift my pace again. I couldn’t tell if I was actually going faster because everybody else around me seemed to be doing the same thing. Going under Five Ways island, I decided to start an “Oggy Oggy Oggy” chant and people actually responded with “Oi Oi Oi”!

Dave, Andy and Oli at the Great Birmingham Run 2013

Dave, Andy and Oli on the home stretch of the Great Birmingham Run

Coming up on the other side, the gang would be somewhere on the right between Gatecrasher and the traffic lights. We spotted each other and I fired off a few Mobots; apparently, I wasn’t looking too good compared to the fresh looking Dave that was just ahead of me. I began to lift my pace again, noting that my watch had ticked over into 1:34:XX territory; I would have been happy with a sub-1:35 performance so I began to sprint from 400m left to go. I visualised the last 400m of Parkrun and noted that this was all downhill. I kicked hard with 200m left to go and managed to overtake a good few people, crossing the line in 1:34:45 – my fastest ever Great Birmingham Run/Birmingham Half Marathon by some 11 minutes!

Andy Yu's finishing time at the Great Birmingham Run 2013

I still finished in the top 6% or so

The sprint had made me go anaerobic and I had to hang on to the side barrier for support. A paramedic asked if I was OK and recalling my finish at the Cardiff Half, I assertively said I was “fine” and caught my breath back after a minute or so. I caught up with Dave who had PBd with 1:33:07 – a 4 minute all time PB on a tough day and course.

We removed our timing chips and caught up with Nigel afterwards. Nigel ran a good time too and we wished him well until the next Cannon Hill Parkrun.

Nice t-shirt design

I like this year’s t-shirt design, but not so keen on the fabric

We collected our goodie bags and managed to bump into Seth from Parkrun and also Birmingham City Striders. He’d run a time of 1:33:22, which was great considering he’d only recently run a very good 1:32 three weeks ago at the Nottingham Half Marathon. James from Parkrun also bumped into us for a pow-wow. See? Parkrun really does bring the larger running community together!

Dave and I finally made it to Nandos, with Oli not far behind us for some much needed sustenance.

Take a look at my Garmin run data here.

Conclusion and Closing Thoughts

Whilst I’ve run four Birmingham Half Marathons/Great Birmingham Runs, I think this 2013 edition will be my last at least for a good while. Discussing my race yesterday with Lis, we both came to the conclusion that I’m simply too familiar with the course now and it lacks the mental stimulation it once had.

I didn’t even run a bad race in the grand scheme of things posting a very solid time on a tough course under sub-optimal conditions.

The Great Birmingham Run just doesn’t give me what I’m after anymore, the most important of which is PB potential. I love my PBs and that’s the primary reason that motivates me in training and to keep pushing my own limits. If you work your ass off, you’d want to squeeze almost every last ounce of potential out of yourself and the only way we can all measure this performance is down to the times we post. The Birmingham course just isn’t conducive to huge PBs. I’ll go after another sub-90 minute attempt in the spring; the race has yet to be decided but Lis is putting in another strong vote for an event that doesn’t begin with “Silver” and ends in “stone”.

So what will I do at next year’s race? I’m considering the option of volunteering as a marshal or simply spectating. I’m investigating the Nottingham Half Marathon as an autumn race option, perhaps even Bristol.

The other conclusion I have reached is that I simply can’t race two A-race half marathons so close together. Even with two weeks apart, I still felt fatigued yesterday in both body and mind. I was so fired up for Cardiff that it would be near impossible to wind myself back up again so soon afterwards.

Finally, I need to mention my friend and ex-colleague, Martin Hamer’s performance yesterday. For years Martin heckled me for running, thinking I was a mad man for putting myself through what he considered torture. He ran his first ever half marathon yesterday and posted an incredible beginner’s PB of 1:44:19; a whole minute faster than my attempt last year. He even admitted that he sandbagged a little in the final mile, safe in the knowledge that he’d blown his sub-2 hour target into oblivion. He’s a great example of what committing to several months of consistent training will produce and I’m confident he’ll dip under 1:40 on his next half marathon.