This week’s running – 19th to 25th of May

It's time to burn rubber!

It’s time to burn rubber

This week was all about going fast. To quote Maverick and Goose from Top Gun, “I feel the need… the need for speed!”

4x 800m reps at Edgbaston Reservoir

I’ve been persevering with my weekly dose of speedwork and you know what, it’s genuinely had a positive impact on my overall speed. Everything from my basic sprints through to longer distance training runs all seem to have benefited from the regular high intensity training.

I increased the target pace by 5 seconds, which worked a treat for the session. I think I’m going to hold on to the 3:50 per km pace for a little while longer to really become accustomed to the intensity, which should hopefully pave the way towards a new PB sometime during the summer.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

6 miles along Hagley Road

After racing on the warmest day of the year last week, it was quite a contrast to then complete the wettest run I think I’ve ever covered. And despite all the rain, I felt bloody fantastic during the 6 miles; effort levels felt lower than usual whilst hitting the same paces and I also managed to royal flush too!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Continuing the trend of wet weather, Cannon Hill was a particularly moist Parkrunday. Arriving at the bandstand, Suz informed me that Darren Hale, a regular 17:30 runner, would be providing pacing at sub-19 minute pace. I was urged to have a bash and upon toeing up on the start line, I decided I’d give it a go as a test to benchmark where I realistically was in terms of fitness and ability.

The first few hundred metres proved a little too quick for me, so I let Darren’s group charge off into the distance. I joined a chasing group after half a mile or so and pretty much remained with them for the entire duration of the 5k distance.

A chap with a pushchair was creeping up on me and this was enough to spur me on to a 19:35 finish – a season’s best in less than optimal conditions. I had even managed to beat a rival of mine on the final hill where he had clearly run out of steam in his pursuit of Darren, who finished in 18:43…

Oh – only 5 more Parkruns to go before I hit the big 100!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 miles of Llanhennock hills

Whilst in Wales visiting the future in-laws and scoping out possible wedding venues, I decided to return to the particularly tough Llanhennock hills for my Sunday run.

The route isn’t easy by any means; rolling hills offer few opportunities for recovery and there’s no rhythm to be had at all. Yet, I somehow managed to royal flush with each subsequent mile becoming steeper and steeper (yeah, go and figure that one out)! It’s a great training run but as I’ve said before, training specificity is very important – I see little point in doing loads and loads of hill runs if all of my races are pretty much flat and I’d be better off getting faster runs in on flatter surfaces.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And that brings us to this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Stretch if you want to

If you’re looking for hard evidence of stretching’s benefits (or lack there of), good luck. Fact is, it just doesn’t exist. And if you want to ask other runners or doctors or physical therapists or high school track coaches or the guys replacing your neighbour’s roof for their opinion, for it. Just be prepared to hear a different opinion from each one of them, delivered with exactly the same level of conviction. (The only thing most folks seen to agree on is that if you’re going to stretch, do so after you run. Or at least after a warm-up.)

Runner’s World’s advice? Save yourself a lot of grief, and follow this rule:

If stretching seems to help you run better and feel better, then stretch. If not, then don’t.


This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of February

Another 20 miler this week

This week was all about going long  and going fast again

The aftermath (or lack of)

All of my recent long solo runs have left me a little drained and worse for wear. And that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do, forcing the body to become stronger and more resilient with regular stimuli.

I was dreading how I would feel on Monday after the Bramley 20, or even Tuesday as Tony Audenshaw’s song, “I’ve got Tuesday legs” depicts. Imagine to my surprise when I woke up feeling pretty damn good on Monday. There was no stiffness in my legs, no aches or blisters on my feet (it must be the More Mile socks) and judging by my appearance, you’d have been none the wiser that I’d ran 20 miles at race pace just a day earlier. I can only put the lack of any soreness down to the high protein KFC lunch, helping to rebuild damaged muscle fibres and also the recent sessions of sports massage.

I had booked myself in for a session with the sports therapy clinic at the college, just as a precaution in case anything did flare up. Damian was treating me again, this time on his own, and we started with how the race went. The students at the college love to see patients coming back because it shows progression (or sometimes, lack of) with any treatments and remedies that have been provided. He was as surprised as I was with my range of motion and my report of no adductor issues out on the course. He did some flexibility measurements to compare against my data from a few weeks ago. In my left leg (the good one), flexibility had increased by 5 degrees; nothing to write home about but an improvement nonetheless. In my right leg, we measured a whopping 19 degree improvement compared to before! And this was after a 20 mile race – imagine what it could have been before 20 miles?

We went on to do some sports massage work along with some assisted stretches, which were both a relief and quite painful, but clearly helping so the old adage of “what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” certainly holds true.

I’m back in at the sports therapy clinic again in a week’s time – an absolute bargain for just £5 per session.

Tuesday speedwork

My treadmill interval session just wasn’t happening on Tuesday. The Bramley 20 and starting a new job had left me pretty tired and I simply didn’t have the mojo to blast out my usual 5x reps at 5k pace. I only managed 3x reps and whilst I could have possibly pushed on to 4x, I was conscious of how I was feeling and squeezing out one or two further reps had the potential to push me over the edge.

What was also frustrating was I ended up on yet another treadmill which seemed to skew my pacing. I really don’t know which machine is accurate anymore and I need to get to a running track to try and accurately calibrate my footpod again for indoor use.

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

6 miles along Hagley Road

Ah, the frustrating run. Everything about this run annoyed me from my pace, my Garmin and the traffic.

I used the custom workout mode on my Garmin again to help me run a mile warm-up at a slow pace, followed by 5 miles at around marathon pace. The warm-up was fine but I struggled to hit the target pace despite efforts to speed up. I eventually managed to hit marathon pace but this was short lived; my Garmin started to whine at me incessantly for creeping outside of the 7:55 maximum speed! I am only going to use the Virtual Pacer at the London Marathon, where if I’m on target, the timer will read “0 seconds ahead”; if I’m ahead by a small margin, then I’m in a good place; and if I’m behind, then I can always just switch to another screen to take my mind off pacing rather than having some inane chime ring every few seconds to remind me of my failings!

As if the run couldn’t get any worse, I also managed to hit each and every traffic light on Broad Street and Hagley Road, causing me to go long to avoid having to stop. Some days, I’m lucky to never hit the traffic lights but I guess you can’t win them all.

Here’s the Garmin data.

Pacing Mr Andy

After several weeks of slower paced Parkruns and increasingly longer Sunday runs, I wanted a faster effort with the target of dipping under 20 minutes. Dave seems to have a magical ability to run consistent 19:5X performances each week, so I enlisted his pacing assistance to help get me there. This would be a complete role reversal where it’s normally me that paces Dave.

Elsa also made her much welcomed return to Parkrun after an extended period of absence.

It was a near-perfect day for Parkrun, with cool temperatures and blue skies, prompting me to break out my sunglasses for their first Parkrun outing in months. Following Dave took out a lot of the pressure and stress of a fast effort; if he slowed down, then I would slow down and if he went faster then so did I. On a few occasions, the gap did widen and I almost let Dave go, but I managed to muster the strength to chase. At one point, I even jumped ahead to try and lift the pace going into the triangle, a notorious point of slowdown, but Dave resumed pacemaking duties almost immediately.

In retrospect, I definitely didn’t feel like I was working too hard to maintain the effort. On a bad day, or a PB attempt, I’m normally huffing and puffing from the little bridge onwards until I reach the finish line. On this occasion, there was none of this; sure, I was working hard but definitely within myself and under control.

I had no intentions of beating Dave; all I wanted was a fast finish time and with just 400m left to go, I simply did my best to hang on as we went through the gears. The final hill took a tremendous amount of grit to tackle with a final push at the end to cross the finish line. To my shock and surprise, Dave had paced us around the course in speedy 19:34 and 19:36 efforts respectively! I was wrecked and had to sit down next to Jonny Costello for a few minutes to regain some composure. I was elated and it showed I hadn’t lost too much fitness despite the marathon training (Nike+ says I’ve covered more than 140 miles in the last 30 days!). Dave has also equalled my second fastest 5k time at Cannon Hill so we really are quite evenly matched, broadly speaking.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Mike was celebrating his 100th Parkrun and is officially the first Kings Heath Running Club member to reach the hallowed number.

Last week, the team behind Cannon Hill Parkrun had to reluctantly cancel the event due to a lack of core management available. They put out a plea for people to come forward who would be happy to be trained up as potential run directors and other core roles, of which I volunteered my time and services to learn how to process the results. I love to run and traditionally, most of the volunteer roles preclude you from running; the beauty of processing the results is you need only do them after the run has taken place! I sat down with a chap named Ben Clarke from Kingsbury Water Parkrun, with Rob Foster showing us the ropes. There are a few steps involved to get the results working, for example the times are recorded on one device and the positions are recorded on another and must be paired; this is why it’s so important that people stay in the right order until they’ve collected their finisher’s token. The position and time data can be manually edited for corrections, such as when people have recorded their own time and there’s a large discrepancy compared to the official time. The hardware involved is rather temperamental to say the least, where the primary timer actually failed and the backup timer was called in. Rob revealed that previously on multiple occasions, the data would not pair together and the team had to manually enter positions and times into the database for processing. Watching what the team goes through to lay on a free, timed 5k run for us each week has really opened my eyes to what’s involved. Next week, Ben and I will be unleashed on real data to work with so I apologise in advance if the results are late or non-existent!

The long run dilemma

Remember a few months ago when I was speaking of A races and B races? Well, clearly London is my A race and everything training-wise has been geared to complement that, sacrificing the Silverstone Half Marathon in the process to treat it as a faster paced training run. As Dave recently put to me, it is a horrible waste to use fully-fledged events as training runs but then it is growing increasingly difficult for me to be in PB shape for every distance I run at all times, so something’s got to give.

With all of the above in mind, I have decided to train through Silverstone with minimal taper. That means I went out and completed a 20 mile solo run yesterday! Distance-wise, I had two obvious routes that I could utilise. The first was the north Birmingham canal loop, running underneath Spaghetti Junction three times; the second was two laps of the north Birmingham canal loop with a stretch out towards Edgbaston Reservoir for three laps there. Ultimately, I went for the latter option for the greater range of scenery and environment it provided.

Clif Shot Bloks

Sugary goodness for them long runs

I wasn’t in the best condition venturing out on the long run. I didn’t get much sleep due to a late night out (for me) and excessive caffeine consumption as part of it; if I was lucky, I reckon I caught maybe four or five hours’ worth of ZZZs. Dressing for the long run also proved troublesome, with predicted rain and already present high winds to contend with. I also planned to take a pack of Clif Shot Bloks out with me as part of a nutrition experiment. I’ve seen this product before and my local Boots has started stocking them; the lure of cherry flavoured chews laced with caffeine was too good to resist!

I also took a few episodes of Marathon Talk along with me for company. Again, I don’t need to rely on it but keeping my mind occupied for almost three hours is a feat on its own.

The target pace was the usual average of 8:55 per mile. Running down Newhall Hill as part of my first mile, I was immediately smacked by an incredible headwind – I could tell already that this wasn’t going to be an easy day! Setting foot on the canal, I was sheltered from a lot of the wind and tried settling into my target pace. It proved tricky at first and a complete contrast to the Bramley 20 where Kev and I were in the thick of it almost immediately. Ironically when not being battered by the wind, my long sleeve top and running tights were almost too warm for the conditions. I kept my gloves on but had to roll my sleeves up and unzip the top all the way down for some much needed ventilation; I was sweating already and with limited fluid in my CamelBak, I didn’t want to be in a position where I would use up all my supply with several miles left to run at the end.

Running steady splits on this stretch of the canals is always tricky, with locks, kissing gates, and steep descents to contend with. On this particular run, my Garmin seemed incredibly sensitive to running underneath Spaghetti Junction, where the immediate pace would freak out but then struggled to correct itself via the Virtual Pacer. The problem with the Garmin setup is that even with my footpod attached, it will only kick into footpod mode when a complete loss of GPS signal occurs; if you’re running in an area with crappy signal, but a signal nonetheless, it will utilise this when in actual fact, the footpod would probably be more accurate and stable. Nike’s configuration was far superior, where it used the GPS signal to feed into the footpod constantly, so it was always technically calibrated. It would also switch over to footpod mode if the signal became weak, rather than relying on a total signal loss. The end result was a far more stable immediate pace, whether I was running under bridges, through tunnels or on open roads.

After three or four miles, I sampled my first Shot Blok. The flavour was pleasant and the texture was very similar to the cubes you get from a pack of jelly. They dissolved very easily once you started chewing them, though I can’t say I felt any immediate benefit from them unlike some other gels or drinks I’ve used in the past. I can only guess I was merely maintaining my already ample energy levels, rather than allowing for spikes and troughs.

Running past Star City, the wind was back in full force and I had to wrap up warm again. The headwind really did feel like I was running straight into a brick wall at times and a real drain on resources. There were several runners out that day and all but one of them were running in the opposite direction to me, really taking advantage of the tailwind.

Heading back towards the Aston Junction, the tunnels caused my Garmin to jump about again where I was either penalised on pace (slow-down for no reason), or given a free boost. Going into the second lap, it was very much a repeat of the first but felt a touch easier since I was fully warmed-up. At various points, I would even go as far as saying I felt great!

Finished with my stint on the northern canals, I ventured back to Brindley Place to detour out towards Edgbaston Reservoir for the remaining 5 miles. My pace was now smooth and I felt relaxed and ready to finish the long run off. Once I stepped off the canal, everything suddenly became a struggle and I faded a little. Entering Edgbaston Reservoir via the rowing club exit, I was immediately greeted by that troublesome headwind again. As before, every other runner there was running in the opposite direction to me for that tailwind boost. I really had to concentrate and hone in on the target pace (which was now averaging 8:53, bonus!) for three laps before hitting 20 miles.

Memories of the time when I ran eight laps of Edgbaston Reservoir came back to haunt me and I hadn’t even finished the first lap yet of the day. This was not going to be easy… Thankfully, the tree lined portions of the reservoir offered some much needed protection from the elements and the flat terrain helped me get a steady rhythm on. Like running a 5k, it was that middle lap of the reservoir that proved the most challenging where I was exactly halfway; neither as fresh as I was at the beginning of the three laps and still some way from the end. This was exactly like how the closing stages of last year’s marathon felt where the mind plays tricks on you, with a mile feeling dramatically longer than it should. I used all the tricks I’d picked up to get me through, like breaking the distance down into more manageable and measurable chunks, such as running to that bench or tree there, or catching up to the dog walkers ahead of me.

On my final lap and with just 1.5 miles left to go, I did my best to keep it all together. I wolfed down my remaining Shot Blok and emptied my CamelBak to leave it all out there. Whilst there was a distinct lack of blowing at Parkrun on Saturday, this final lap of Edgbaston Reservoir more than made up for it with a triumphant return of the choo-choo train impression. I was staring at the distance counter on my Garmin like a man possessed; 1.0 miles left, 0.5 miles left, 0.25 miles left. The beep of 20 miles sounded and it was all finally over!

I had already planned with Lis to pick me up at 13:45, estimating that it would take me around 3 hours to complete 20 miles at target 8:55 pace. The actual finish time? 2 hours and 57 minutes for near precision timing! After a quick call to Lis to confirm the pick-up and to request a bottle of water, I slowly jogged to the carpark as part of my warm-down.

I was incredibly pleased with the effort and whilst I ran a minute per mile slower than at the Bramley 20, the perceived effort by my body and mind of running 20 miles alone was near identical to last week so I know I’m in a good place with my training.

The Garmin data for this run can be found right here.

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

Love your tan lines

You may be tempted to “even out” any tan lines left from your running watch, socks, and/or ID bracelet. Don’t. Those tan lines aren’t something to be ashamed of. Far from it. They are hard-won emblems of accomplishment. Sport them proudly!

This week’s running – 3rd to 9th of February

Andy Yu will be racing at the Bramley 20 and Silverstone Half Marathon

It’s nearly time to race! Silverstone Half Marathon and Bramley 20 race bibs.

After three weeks of full on training, this was a much needed scale back week.

Threshold Tuesday

Whilst it saddens me that I’m some way off being in contention of my current 5k PB (and probably the 10k, too), I do have a rather important marathon to run in just nine weeks and with that in mind, what I do now will ultimately make or break that marathon.

Threshold pace should have more benefit to me than 5k pace, which ultimately convinced me to run my 5x 800m reps at approximately 6:45 pace to get the lactic juices flowing through my muscles. For comparison, 6:52 is my target half marathon pace to hopefully some day break the 90 minute barrier.

The session was manageable with only the final rep feeling tough on the treadmill. The air conditioning in the gym is understandably not very high at the moment due to the cooler temperatures outside, where going full pelt for prolonged periods time quite difficult. The lack of airflow means the sweat you produce just clings to you and never evaporates, similar to running in high humidity. I also opted not to wear my heart rate monitor for fear that it may have triggered another stitch like last week.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

6 miles with the Garmin 910XT’s custom workout mode

After last week’s successful pacing experiment with the Garmin 910XT’s custom workout mode, I set about editing the program slightly to rectify some of the previous quirks. One such quirk that proved annoying was the inability to record mile split data if you create a block of mileage at a particular pace, i.e. 4 total miles at 8:00 pace. To correct this, I actually need to create each mile individually or set the first mile up as one step and have the program repeat this step a set number of times.

So, I headed out for my 6 miles along Hagley Road in the wind and rain. The first warm-up mile went by without issue. The second mile at 8:00 pace (with a wider 15 second tolerance) also went by without a peep. I was bang on target pace and rather pleased with my metronomic performance; I then entered mile 3 and the 910XT started spazzing out, telling me I was now all of a sudden 45 seconds too slow, and then 15 seconds too fast!? How do you go from running a rock steady 8:00 minute mile into the next for the pacing to suddenly be all over the bleeding shop? I did my best to stabilise the pace again with the usual run a little faster, then a little slower to try and coax it back. Going into mile 4, the pacing schizophrenia occured all over again. What appeared to be happening was with each new mile split, the 910XT seemed to need to relocate my position again, requiring I wait for the pace to settle. This continued for the entire run and grew tiresome.

So it seems I can either block miles together and have the steadiest pace feedback I’ve ever experienced, but no individual mile splits, or I can have individual mile split data and pacing feedback that has a tantrum at the beginning of every new mile. Helpful, Garmin, helpful. I think I’ll stick with the virtual pacer from now on.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Saturday rocked up and off to Cannon Hill Lis and I went. I wanted to score something around 19:45 to get my legs turning over and given it was my easy week, I should have been fresh enough for the task. Seth was also back after a bit of an absence, joining Dave for their first experience on the new winter course.

I bumped into Ed on the startline who had just completed 17 miles, with a planned total run of 22 miles that day. What was more amazing was he was happy to pace me around at my planned 19:45 pace! Incredible fitness indeed. The first mile was very congested, with Dave zooming off into the distance amongst the crowds. Just when I thought he was gone for a 19:3X finish time, he somehow reappeared behind me! Clearly, he’s perfected the art of race teleportation but uses it sparingly to avoid potential disqualification.

Impressively, there were three girls taking part in a three-way battle with each other at around our position out in the field of runners.

The wheels came off at mile 2 and I was forced to let Dave and Ed go. One of the girls had slipped off the pace and was now just ahead of me, giving me a target to work towards and for much of this mile, the two of us would repeatedly overtake and surge past each other.

Approaching the hill in mile 3, I simply didn’t have enough get up and go to really push on. My legs were heavy and refused to go any faster up the hill, but I did manage to find a little something at the very top to return home for 33rd out of a total of 514 runners and a time of 20:08.

Congratulations are also in order for Barbara Partridge of Kings Heath Running Club, winning Parkrunner of the month.

10 miles with Dave Burton

Apart from in half marathons, Dave and I have never actually run together for more than 6 miles before. I wanted to take on a shorter long run of just 10 or 11 miles but at slightly faster than target marathon pace. Long, slow runs are the bread have been the bread and butter of my build-up so far with sprinklings here and there of specific marathon pace work. This run was meant to really zone in on what the pace feels like.

We ended up on a tour of Bournville and the surrounding areas for a nice change of scenery for me. What was also pleasant was running with somebody else with the miles simply flying by. The pace was nice and steady, with neither of us two physically taxed if our conversations were anything to go by. Running with Dave really did seem to take the edge off the intensity, where I most likely could have completed 10 miles on my own at the same pace, but with a lot more added mental stress.

It was almost like therapy, having a fellow runner of similar ability to talk to about upcoming races, targets and plans for the rest of the year. The whole experience was so positive, we’ve agreed to try and collaborate on long runs more often to reap the benefits!

Take a look at the Garmin data and route right here.

Upcoming races

I do love a good race and as the above bibs show, I’m gearing up for the Bramley 20 and Silverstone Half Marathon in just one and three weeks respectively.

A 20 mile race is a relatively unknown territory for me, where I’ve only covered the distance in training or as part of last year’s marathon. To say I will be racing 20 miles is disingenuous; rather, I will be using it as a catered training run where I plan to run at just slower than marathon race pace to hone into the feeling of 8:00 minute miles over a prolonged distance, but also to aid recovery by not going all out. If I feel good at the end of the ordeal, it’ll really boost my confidence for London, which is what I really need right now. My old uni buddy, Kevin Yates of Lordshill Running Club, will also be there for a good catch-up.

Whilst on our 10 mile run, Dave and I did discuss how we would both approach the Silverstone Half Marathon. I’m almost 100% confident Dave will be able to PB there, given its much flatter course profile in comparison to the Great Birmingham Run from last October. Me on the other hand, I’m definitely at least 2 – 3 minutes away from besting my 1:31:09 set in Cardiff last year. Given Silverstone’s close proximity to the London Marathon and also my need to still complete 21 and 22 mile training runs, I’ve decided not to go all out and hammer myself in the race, merely using it as a fast training run and a fitness benchmark. Target pace will be around 7:10 and then if I have more to give after 6 miles, I’ll try and up the pace.

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

Join a local running club

I am a proud member of a running club called the Lehigh Valley Road Runners. (Don’t ask me for proof, because I don’t have any. They have never sent me a membership card.) My membership dues get me a sporadically published newsletter, a discount on some local races, and 10 percent off at the local running store. I think.

Truth is, I rarely take advantage of those perks. And even if I didn’t get them at all, I’d still pony up my 20 bucks a year to be a member of the LVRR. Why? Because my running club is full of nice people doing nice things. And it makes me feel good to be a small part of that.

They sponsor a scholarship. They organize races, including a fantastic kids’ series every summer. They have a potluck after their Wednesday night 5-K Summer Series races. It’s good stuff.

Plus, the LVRR clubhouse down in the Parkway has a nice bath-room. That perk has come in handy more than a few times.

This week’s running – 27th of January to 2nd of February

Mentally tough for Andy Yu

It’s getting tougher now, mentally and physically…

This week was a tough one. Every workout seemed to take its toll on me!

The speedwork session that wasn’t

With all this emphasis on slower paced running, I was game for getting a burst of speed in my legs. The session I had in mind was 8x 800m reps at threshold pace; not as intense as 5x at 5k pace but the benefit is geared towards endurance rather than out and out raw speed.

So I stepped on the treadmill for my 1 mile warm-up and everything seemed fine. The first rep also ticked by without issue. The second rep proved to be my undoing with a stitch that was characterised as a stabbing pain; I couldn’t shake it off and had to abandon the session mid-way through the rep. I really can’t imagine why this had happened; I did wear my heart rate monitor but a stitch has only occurred once before due to the strap being too tight. Perhaps I’d eaten too close to running and the intensity combined to produce the perfect storm?

To try and redeem myself, I ran one mile as a warm-down and called it quits after that. Another fantastic start to the week!

Not much to look at but here’s the Garmin data.

Teaching an old dog new tricks

When I was new to the world of GPS watches, I bought what I felt was appropriate for me at the time. I had invested a number of years into the Nike+ ecosystem and not wanting to lose all of my historical data, I opted for the Nike+ GPS Sportwatch. Not a bad watch in its own right, but definitely a bit slim on features and run metrics available. One feature I had thought of and began to crave was some sort of facility to produce a custom workout, where each mile had a target pace associated and the watch would alert you if you ever ran too fast or too slow.

Fast forward several years and I simply made do without. If I wanted to incorporate a mile’s warm-up into my run without it affecting the overall average pace, I had to run the warm-up and quickly end it, transitioning into the main run. Or I have to accept the easy first mile will skew the average results and have to run each subsequent mile using the immediate pace and mile splits.

Whilst resetting the interval workout on my Garmin 910XT, I noticed an option called “Custom workout”. Having a nose around this sub-menu, it seemed to be exactly what I wanted several years ago – the facility to create pace targets for each and every mile of a run! I decided to test it out for my upcoming 6 miles along Hagley Road by programming in the following:

  • Mile 1 @ 9:00 (tolerance of 8:55 and 9:05)
  • Miles 2 – 6 @ 8:00 (tolerance of 7:55 and 8:05)

Starting the run, my pace was all over the shop and the Garmin was beeping and vibrating at me every 10 seconds or so, telling me to slow down or speed up. After 0.5 miles and on flat terrain, my pace finally settled and the watch stopped beeping at last. What was unusual to see was despite my pace being off target, the immediate pace feedback being reported appeared much more stable than on the main display of my 910XT, almost as if some pace smoothing algorithm had been enabled.

Going into mile 2, the incessant beeping returned until I was able to settle into 8 minute miles. It’s easier said than done but I found trying to accurately speed up by a minute per mile without any wastage to be very difficult. If the Garmin said I was too slow, I ran faster to compensate and would then overshoot the target; if the watch said to slow down, I would slam on the brakes and sandbag by too much. Speeding up steadily and imperceptibly is an art in itself and a very energy efficient way to run – a skill I’m trying to hone for the London Marathon in April.

Once the pace did settle and the watch stopped beeping, I was amazed at how steady the Garmin feedback was. It was locked on 8:00 for so long that I thought it was broken at one stage; it did eventually fluctuate by a second either side. I did begin to question whether the immediate pace algorithm used by the Garmin was actually more accurate in custom workout mode, or whether it genuinely was me that was controlling the steady pace?

Looking at the pace chart afterwards, this appears to be one of the steadiest paced outdoor runs I have ever completed. Sadly due to the way I created the custom workout, I don’t have precise mile split data. Not understanding how the function behaves, I assumed each mile split would be logged regardless but the custom workout appears to over-ride this setting, much to my annoyance. If I want each mile split to be recorded and paced independently, I need to create each mile as a new step. This is an absolute ballache to configure on the Garmin 910XT directly but thankfully, there is a way to create the workout via Garmin Connect and upload it straight to the watch.

There are some other caveats with custom workouts. You need to be quite reasonable with the pace tolerance you set. Too wide and you could slow down by too much and never know about it; too narrow and if you struggle to hit the pace, you’ll be pestered repeatedly by alerts with demotivation to follow. I found the 10 second tolerance I gave myself was just about acceptable, mainly because I knew it was a pace well within myself and also because of the predominantly flat terrain of Hagley Road. In a race environment, I will be sticking with the virtual pacer where I am safe in the knowledge that I have until the very end of the race to make up any deficit, or if I’m performing very well, I may even have time in the bank.

Here’s the Garmin data to see what all the fuss is about!

Cannon Hill Parkrun winter course

Remember last week when I said Cannon Hill’s run directors were toying with the idea of a winter course? Well, they actually went and did it. When Martin Foster told me to look at the new finish funnel area at the top of the hill, my heart sank and my face must have looked like I had just received news that my fictional dog had been run over.

Thankfully, I was only intending to run at threshold pace so my performance would not suffer. Nigel was also along for the easier paced run, agreeing that we’ll have to be more decisive about PB attempt days.

We were quite good on the pacing front, more or less on the right speed and with the odd conversation here and there. Personally, I found the pace required more of my concentration on the approach to the triangle. This could be entirely psychological where you’re at the furthest point from the finish and the narrow path encourages a slight slow down anyway.

We were both dreading the upcoming hill, which apparently featured a 48ft difference in height. The bottom of the hill was well marshalled with volunteers cheering and urging you on. I like to attack hills hard, using my small stature and low body weight to my advantage; after all, the more time you waste on the hill, the slower your overall time becomes and the more suffering you must endure! Several runners that were just ahead of me on the approach now appeared to be running through treacle, severely slowing down on the uphill climb. I was perfectly fine on the incline itself but I then found I had to muster up some additional steam to carry on driving on the flat 50m or so at the top to the finish line.

I’m really not looking forward to the next occasion where I smash myself senseless on the course…

Here’s the Garmin data.

Go long or go home

What’s that bright yellow thing in the sky? And the blue stuff around it? It’s making my eyes squint and my skin feels warm when it’s facing me. Oh yeah, it’s the sun. Where, oh where have you been old friend?

The sun really did come out to play on Sunday, just in time for my long run of 19 miles. After last week’s faux pas of heading out on the south Birmingham canals towards Bournville, I chose to head north towards Spaghetti Junction for my typical two loops to be followed by a trip to Edgbaston Reservoir for 3 miles there. I really don’t like the up and down rises of this particular stretch of canal, making an otherwise strenuous long run even tougher than it should be. But in its favour, the overall condition of the paths is far superior due to better drainage, less cover for better aeration and simply fewer people traversing the stretch.

I decided to rein the pace in ever so slightly to a target average of 9 minute miles. I’m getting to the stage where the length of the runs will really take their toll on me, which is what I want ultimately as part of marathon training, but not if it means I’m too crippled and knackered to do any training on the following Tuesday and Thursday. Consistency is key and being able to spend regular time on my feet is just as important as spending loads of time on my feet in one session.

One significant change I made was taking my iPod shuffle with a few episodes of Marathon Talk loaded to listen to. 3 hours on your own, doing nothing but running can take its toll mentally and I wanted some external focus to concentrate on. So long as my pace didn’t suffer, I was happy to indulge myself this once. I also wore my Marathon Talk t-shirt for all the help I could get!

The early miles ticked by quite quickly but my right IT band reared its ugly head every now and again. I tried switching dominant legs so that I produced more toe-off power with my left leg; this appeared to do the trick and would also have the side-effect of strengthening the left side of my body for more balanced power output in total.

There were very few people out and about, so no surprises there. The stretch from about mile 4 onwards still stank to high heaven, so no surprises there either.

My pacing was quite consistent throughout, with most miles around 9:14 or 8:50 pace; if it wasn’t for rises and dips on the course, I think the evidence supports my feeling that I could have comfortably run at 8:55 pace for the whole 19 miles.

Running past the canal exit that leads on to Sandpits was very difficult to ignore; so close to home and the suffering would have ended if I made that choice. I resisted all temptation and knew I’d only be disappointed in myself had I have taken the easy way out.

I was a little nervous heading out towards Edgbaston Reservoir because I had become lost two weeks ago, taking the long route there. I checked the route from the canal exit before leaving home, but you’re never entirely sure if you’re going the right way until you actually get there; thankfully the sailing club entrance to the reservoir appeared before my very eyes and thus the closing stage of my long run began.

Mentally, it was slightly refreshing to be running in a new environment after the solitude of the canals. There were plenty of people about including idiotic dog walkers with too much slack on their leads. There were plenty of runners around as well; two were absolutely hammering themselves into the ground with very unstable looking gaits.

I ran the first loop of the reservoir, trying to push the pace slightly but topped out at 8:35. I had one mile left to try and get as close to marathon race pace as possible and boy did it hurt. Whilst it was only 35 seconds faster to get to 8:00 mile pace, it felt like a substantial effort to get there. Marathon training totally messes with your perception of effort and speed; 8:00 minute miles are something I can run with ease but 26.2 of them at that pace or faster? Well, we’ll have to wait until after April 13th to see if it’s possible for me or not…

An easy 1 mile warm-down back to the flat finished me off for the day. This week is thankfully a scheduled easy 7 days, which actually means a pared back long run of 10 – 15 miles but everything else scheduled continues as normal.

Have a gander at the Garmin data here.

It’s that time of the week again for another entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book (it’s quite fitting given what I’ve been writing about this week):

Know your pace

I have a colleague who loves to innocently invite me and other hapless Runner’s World staffers out for “easy” lunchtime runs that invariably turn into sub-7 minute  pace gasp fests. And like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy (yet again) to hold the football, hoping against hope that this time she’ll stay true to her word, we always end up flat on our backs, hurting and cursing our naivety.

It’s not her fault. She’s so fast that her “easy” just happens to be our “tempo pace”. (Did I mention that this colleague is an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier?) Really, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves. And it does wind up being a great workout, whether we were scheduled for one or not.

But in general, please: if you ask a friend to join you for an “easy” run, it’s no fair to take her out and clobber her at 10k pace. Equally uncool: inviting someone to accompany you on a “short” run, then dragging him along on an out and back 12 miler. If you don’t know each other well enough to understand implicitly what “easy” and “hard”, “short” and “long” mean, then make it explicit: say, “I’m going to go 4 or 5 miles at around 8:30 pace. Wanna come?” Then stick to the plan.

This week’s running – 30th of December to 5th of January

Welcome to 2014

This week was all about getting my groove back after Christmas. Warning – this is a fairly long post so grab yourself a snack and drink.

Hill reps

After a hectic couple of days in Wales and a day out in London, I was wiped out. I seem to have a habit of filling up my free time with things to do, leaving me more fatigued than if I’d have gone to work instead of having a Christmas and New Year break!

We got back into Brum a bit too late in the afternoon for me to go to the gym and complete my usual Tuesday speedwork session on the treadmill; due to being New Year’s eve, the gym decided to close at 3pm which baffles me for a 24/7 gym.

Neither Lis or I are big fans of New Year’s eve celebrations, so I opted to simply run some hill reps on a nearby hill in the Jewellery Quarter, clocking up as my very last run of 2013 for over 1,144 miles run in total for the year.

I was a little rusty on hill reps and it took the first two repeats before I finally settled into a good rhythm; this was despite a full mile’s warm-up before embarking on the session. There were several cars and people about, which always makes me feel somewhat self-conscious when doing hill reps because to the casual observer, it must look a little strange running up and down the same hill repeatedly.

That night, I went and undid all of my hard work by pigging out on a curry!

Here are the splits for this hill rep session.

New Year’s Day at Cannon Hill Parkrun

Whilst Cannon Hill opted not to lay on a Christmas Day run, they did arrange for one on New Year’s Day and I chose to volunteer.

230 hardy souls turned up for the later than usual start time of 10:30am. I was assigned as a barcode scanner which I was dreading slightly, knowing that the scanners can be temperamental in the rain and cold. And boy was there plenty of rain and cold!

Largely, most barcodes presented to me were scannable with only a few that had either disintegrated or just outright refused to scan despite looking ship-shape. It’s not essential that people carry their barcodes when they run because the finish line token marries up with it later on – keep your paper barcodes in your bag or jacket that you’ve stashed away at the start!

Because I volunteered, I’ve now shot up several places on the annual points table at Cannon Hill. I’m comfortably in my position on the leader board, score-wise, where there’s nobody behind me for over 30 points but also nobody in front of me for over 60 points. So long as I keep my consistency up, I should make it into the top 10 soon; maintaining my position in the top 10 will be a much tougher beast.

Thursday 6 miles

Remember my hectic Christmas and New Year break I mentioned above? Well, it came back to haunt me and I began to feel the effects of a looming cold on Wednesday. By Thursday, I had developed a bit of an all-over body ache along with sinus problems and I really wasn’t in the mood to tackle the 6 mile run I had in my schedule.

My two mile walk back from work gave me plenty of time to debate with myself whether I was going to run or not. Ultimately, I thought I would feel slightly better and wouldn’t be guilt ridden if I at least ran at an easy pace.

I decided to also test out my new Nike Kiger trail shoes. The fit of the right shoe did feel a little odd on the initial lace up so I hoped it would better mould to the shape of the foot after a break-in.

I popped 8:45 minute miles into my Garmin as the target pace and headed out the door. This in my eyes was a pace that should have been comfortably achievable, even in my less than stellar state. The first mile ticked along as a gentle warm-up but surprisingly, the rest of the run continued to feel easy and manageable prompting me to pick up the pace slightly with each new mile. By half-way, I was most definitely royal flushing and this spurred me on to continue to speed up, but what was remarkable was how easy the entire run felt; you can clearly see from my recorded heart rate that I was never really taxed bar the incline at the beginning and end of my run (max heart rate is 206bpm). I felt a-ma-zing after this run and I was so glad I decided to go for it; after all, Jantastic started yesterday and I don’t want to start ducking out of scheduled runs.

And how were the Kigers? I cannot confidently say they didn’t have a measurable impact on the pace of the run, but they certainly made me feel swift on my feet. They sport a lower heel drop than even my Flyknit Racers and as such, really encourage you to run on your toes. The combination of Nike’s “sticky rubber” compound and the aggressive lugs on the sole made for amazing traction in what were wet conditions from the earlier rain.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Saturday’s Parkrun really wasn’t a shining example of how to run a 5k race. I’ve said before that I struggle to run competitive times over the 5k distance when I try and run even or negative splits.

The opening mile felt relaxed enough at target pace of 6:20 minute miles. After this, I struggled to keep the pace up and miles two and three were as slow as they are typically for me running a huge positive split. I just need to take advantage of the fresher legs in the early stages of the run and hang on for as long as possible.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

17 mile long run

I don’t know what it was but the last 17 mile long run I completed on the streets of Brum left me knackered beyond belief, both physically and mentally.

This time, I opted to complete the marathon training run along the south Birmingham canals, which seemed to work well for me on a previous 16 mile long run. There aren’t many hills and it’s traffic free, allowing me to simply get the miles done and not need to worry too much about my surroundings.

I intended to test out my Kiger trail shoes on the muddy canals where they would be most at home. I was slightly cautious about the low heel drop possibly causing too much stress on my achilles tendons and my calf muscles, especially over a longer distance, but this proved to be worry over nothing; the Kigers performed admirably and gave me enough grip in all parts of the run.

It was pretty cold out there and I surprised myself by keeping my sleeves down the entire time. It was also a mud bath out in the covered sections of the canal with plenty of deep puddles out there as well.

I ended up running to Kings Norton and back, hoping this would make up the 17 miles needed for the day. Sadly, I was about 2 miles short by the time I arrived back at Brindley Place, so I ventured out towards Edgbaston Reservoir for a mile and then headed back, completing the day’s mileage quota. I felt pretty decent at the end; fatigued but pleased that I had run 17 miles almost a minute per mile faster than this time last year.

Have a look-see at the Garmin data here.

A summary of 2013

I know this is a few days late; it was originally supposed to be a stand-alone post but I couldn’t get enough meat together to justify it on its own.

2013 as a whole turned out to be a very rewarding year of running for me.

I will always remember 2013 as the year of PBs. I successfully scored new personal bests in every distance that I ran, from 5k through to half marathon. In 5k, I managed to shave off over 1.5 minutes from my best 2012 time. In 10k, I took a huge 6 minute chunk off my 2012 time. And in the half marathon, I also tore off a mahoosive 14 minutes from my 2012 best.

2013 was also my first foray into the marathon, with my debut at London. Toeing up at the startline in Blackheath made me feel like a complete novice runner again and it didn’t matter that I was already a seasoned racer – the marathon distance forgives nobody. The training to get me to the startline was an odyssey in itself, shared between me, friends and family. Whilst my 2013 outing at the London Marathon did not go according to plan, I will use it just like Mo Farah did to make sure my 2014 race leaves nothing to chance.

Parkrun became an even bigger part of my running obsession in 2013. I remember back in the early days, Elsa and I used to text each other on Saturday mornings to clear up whether we were going to Parkrun or not. The texts have stopped because it seems almost silly that I wouldn’t be at a Parkrun at 9am on a Saturday morning. My dedication finally saw me join the elusive 50 Club in June when I received my red t-shirt. 2013 also saw me volunteer a number of times at Cannon Hill as a marshal, each time thoroughly enjoyable and also in polar opposites for weather conditions. I’m well on my way towards joining the 100 Club now, with just a shade over 20 runs left to complete giving me an estimate of June before I retire my red t-shirt. I know I wax lyrical about Parkrun but it really is the biggest boost that I’ve had to my running.

Training also stepped up for me in the year. Looking back at my marathon training, I’m now shocked at how little structure there was. I realised very soon after my marathon that I needed to train smarter as well as more consistently. The summer saw me introduce weekly interval sessions along with a clock-work long run at the weekend with no compromise.

For the race of the year, it’s got to be a coin toss between the Cardiff 10k and the Cardiff Half Marathon. Both saw me post times that surpassed my own expectations for what I thought was capable for me, finishing with 40:39 and 1:31:09 respectively. My buddy, Dom, also ran superbly at these two events (perhaps his participation is also key?).

So what gets my running gear of the year shout-out? Hands down, it has to be my Garmin 910XT watch. When my Nike GPS Sportwatch died for the second time, I knew I had to change and the 910XT was exactly what I needed. It had all the metrics I needed to help me train with major plus points for the Virtual Pacer and the Interval modes. It’s a touch pricey at £250 but that’s the cost for a running watch that does everything and more. Rumour has it that Garmin are due to release the successor to the 910XT this year, so we may even see the price come down to nearer £200.

What does my 2014 running calendar have in store for me? For starters, I know already that I’ll be PBing with far less regularity and I will need to start cherry picking the races and days that I will work towards PBing at.

The first race of the year is the Bramley 20 with Dom. I intend to only run a portion of it at race pace, treating it more as a 20 mile training run with other people.

I’m set to race all-out at the Silverstone Half Marathon at the beginning of March. This will be a good fitness benchmark to see whether I’m on track for a sub 3:30 marathon or not. Sadly, I don’t think I have the speed to be able to pull off a sub-90 13.1 miler even with all this marathon endurance under my feet. As Dave recently said to me, it is potentially too early in the season with the wrong kind of training to be expecting a performance leap.

Post-London Marathon, I plan to try and dip into 18:XX territory for 5k and also work towards achieving sub-40 at the Cardiff 10k in September.

I have nothing confirmed for my autumn half marathon yet, but it’s likely to be Cardiff again. They have announced a price increase from £32 to £35 for unattached runners due to kick-in at the end of this month, so I need to make a decision soon. With a target time of 1:29:59 or better, that’ll see me pushed into the white start pen along with all the other super fast folks.

As ever, I’m going to wrap things up with another entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

The open-ended question is your friend

Running with someone who’s faster than you or just having a better day? Is this person oblivious to your gasping and lagging. Or – worse – aware of it, but uncaring? If so, it’s time to deploy that surefire weapon of struggling runners everywhere: the open-ended question.

The idea is simple: you ask the offending speedster a question so broad, he or she could spend 10 minutes answering it. And just might! Meantime, the speedster uses precious oxygen for talking while you use it for breathing.

This is particularly useful on long climbs.

Sample open-ended questions:

  • “Say, how’s the job?”
  • “Any vacation plans this year?”
  • “Popular culture: how about it, huh?”

Related rule: if your running partner is always asking you open-ended questions, consider taking the pace down a notch – or finding a faster running partner.

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

In need of a recovery week!

Anybody else in need of recovery?

This week was the final of a 3 week hard cycle and boy was it hard!

Chicken biryani is not ideal pre-run fuel

A colleague of mine recently found £20 in the carpark at work and offered to buy me lunch, so who am I to say “no”? If I wasn’t to be running later that evening, this would have been an amazing lunch but unfortunately, the biryani was giving me major heart burn and also continued to repeat on me during my interval session. Throw in a developing stitch and we were off to a great start.

The reps felt ever so slightly harder than usual, irrespective of the speed bump to 16.1kmph. I had an extra day of recovery due to a slight schedule shift so I should have been extra fresh, but my legs didn’t feel like their usual self. All said and done, it wasn’t a bad session and I’m glad I convinced myself to complete all five reps – I could have done without the massive downpour that hit me on the walk back home afterwards.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Thursday 6 miles

I didn’t want the schedule shift to impact on this week’s training so I went out for an easy 6 miles along Hagley Road, taking in the sights and sounds of the opposite side of the road. Nothing remarkable other than I needed to get the mileage in to hit my week’s quota.

Have a gander at the Garmin data here.

The Parkrun that didn’t go so well (for me)

I really don’t know what happened at Cannon Hill Parkrun on Saturday other than I was probably still fatigued and recovering from Wednesday’s speedwork and Thursday’s run.

Andy and his Santa hat

Perhaps the hat slowed me down this year? Photo by Geoff Hughes

The day started off normally bar the inclusion of a Santa hat. I opted not to don the beard again like last year after it robbed me of a PB by a mere 2 seconds!

All the usual faces were running with a guest appearance from “Chinese Andy” (not me, I’m technically “Japanese Andy”) visiting from Hong Kong. A big congrats to Joseph Stone for hitting 100 runs; a real achievement and one to be proud of.

I started off at roughly 6:17 mile pace with Dave in close pursuit; Nigel joined us after a short while and we all ran together. Somewhere going into mile 2, my pace slipped and I was unable to hang on and continued to fade. Nigel and Dave went on without me. My legs were heavy and my breathing was laboured, with every step taking real effort. Coming to the end of mile 3, I could hear Mike behind me with bells jingling away. I urged him on and kept a few metres between us going into the final 100m. He started to flag but I continued to push Mike on for a sprint to the finish.

Nigel managed to PB by about 5 seconds which I was really pleased to hear. I knew he was on for a good time so long as he and Dave stuck together – what a brilliant way to end the running year.

Jim also managed to PB by a good margin and he’ll be stalking the sub-20s before too long.

Because I had to slow myself down, I didn’t feel wrecked at the very end. I’ve arranged to attend Brueton Parkrun on Christmas day with Mike and potentially a few others from Kings Heath Running Club and Cannon Hill Parkrun.

Here’s the (embarrassing) Garmin data for this run.

My magical mystery tour of Birmingham

Due to all the rain over the last few days, I decided not to venture out on to the canals for my long marathon training run. Instead, I opted to use Hagley Road for 7 miles and then would make up the rest by using Bristol Road and Pershore Road.

My target average pace was 8:45 per mile though I later found out this was ever so slightly ambitious.

Hagley Road ticked by nicely as did Bristol Road. Pershore Road proved slightly more challenging mentally and I had a few brief conversations with myself (I’m not mad). Entering Stirchley, I realised that I would have to add additional miles on to make up my 17 miles for the day, so I started to mimic the half marathon route by going into Bournville and back on to Pershore Road again.

There were roadworks everywhere which made it tricky navigating some sections of pavement with raised boards. Some sections were even blocked off entirely and required I run on the road!

Heading back into city centre, I realised that I’d miscalculated a mile somewhere and would end up short if I ran straight back towards the Jewellery Quarter. I ended up adding some additional mileage in – not ideal on tired legs and a frazzled mind.

In the end, I averaged 8:55 per mile but this is still well over a minute faster than the same distance training runs I was completing this time last year, so I’ve definitely acquired more speed since then.

Have a look at the Garmin data here.

Finally, another entry from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy:

Do not tempt fate

The scene: a residential neighbourhood street on a mild January morning.

The players: three-middle aged guys dressed in cotton sweats, jogging and chatting.

The audience: me and my dog, out for a walk.

So far so good, right? Except that these guys were jogging three abreast… an arm’s length apart… in the dead centre of the street. Oh, and they were headed straight for a steep, blind hill. Which they proceeded to run up.

I cringed, waiting for a truck to zoom over that hill and send those guys flying like three bowling pins. Didn’t happen, thank goodness. But to this day, I kick myself for not having spoken up, even if it would have made me sound like a scold: “Guys, that’s really not safe. A car could come flying over that hill and not see you till it’s too late.”

I mean, I’m all for taking calculated risks when the situation calls for it. But that was just dumb.

The moral: don’t tempt fate. Keep you wits about you.

Live to run another day.

Merry Christmas from the Yellow Runner

I have a recovery week scheduled for this week where I’ll be running at Brueton Parkrun on Christmas day (probably at 7 minute mile pace), Cardiff Parkrun on the 28th (full pelt) and 7 miles around the Llanhennock Hills in Wales on Sunday.

To all my readers and running compadres out there, I hope you all have a merry Christmas. Don’t feel guilty about lacing up on Christmas day to go out for a run – you’d be surprised by how many of us are actually out there!