This week’s running – 8th to 21st January 2018

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Apologies for the delay, folks – I’ve rolled two weeks into this one mega edition to compensate.

5k recovery

Holy bejesus was it cold!

Strangely, my legs were both tired and spritely from the previous day’s long distance. I was cautious to keep things feeling incredibly easy due to having been on my feet all day building an exhibition stand at work; now what do they say about not trying anything new the week before a race and keeping labour-intensive activities to a minimum?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

I employed strides in most of my non-pace specific runs in a bid to keep my legs revved up without overexherting myself ahead of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. And do you know what? They’d worked an absolute treat!

My form felt swift and my legs felt nimble; my mind also felt sharper and more connected to the rest of me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute with strides

Run-commuting in the winter is especially challenging, mainly due to the sheer amount of kit I have to lug around. In the summer, my holdall looks pathetically empty as I take everything I’ll need for run-commuting into work on Mondays. A couple of t-shirts, vests, pairs of shorts and socks are all I need. In the winter, I’m taking long sleeve tops, t-shirts for layering, gloves and more in. By the end of the working week, I’m currently returning home with several coats, scarves along with work clothes I’ve changed out of at the office! As I said, much easier in the summer, even with the oppressive heat!

Once again, the strides interspersing the slow recovery pace on this run-commute were perfect to keep my legs from getting ploddy.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2018 review

For the full write-up on the 2018 Brass Monkey Half Marathon, please click here.

5k recovery

Even with the windier than ideal conditions at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I’d say all of us participants were very fortunate, and practically got away with murder, for the conditions rapidly deteriorated only a day later.

In spite of the new PB, my legs felt tremendous and I was clearly still riding that race high. This would eventually end later in the week…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What goes up must come down…

My legs finally began to tire and I was in need of some sleep from all the racing shenanigans. Apart from a couple of splits, most for this run were in the high 8 minutes and I dared not push much harder.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor kit review

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Thanks to Under Armour UK and Synergy for the review kit – photo by Lis Yu

Back in November, I was contacted by Under Armour’s UK representatives at Synergy with a chance to sample and review some of their winter running kit. I jumped at the opportunity and here are my thoughts for your consideration.

For full transparency, the sample kit I’ve reviewed below was supplied for free. My views are mine alone and have not been influenced by either Under Armour’s or Synergy’s generosity.

Under Armour is a brand I’m somewhat familiar with, already owning a number of their HeatGear vests. As a relative new kid on the sportswear block, they’ve taken on the giants, Nike and Adidas, and are winning in some of the battles.

Starting life as a manufacturer of compression tops, they’ve since moved into a much wider variety of sportswear disciplines, including football, rugby, tennis, basketball and golf. We can also add running to that list. Funnily enough, most of the major sportswear manufacturers aped Under Armour’s compression wear and practically all have something akin to the form fitting clothing.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fitted long sleeve

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Initial thoughts

Upon first receiving the top, my immediate impression was that it was too much for the task at hand. It felt far too structured and would be too warm for all but the coldest of conditions.

Inspecting it superficially, it’s certainly well made. The fabric is of a high quality with good construction to it. The cut is what I would call semi-fitted, aided by a slight stretch to sit reasonably close, but not constrict like Under Armour’s traditional compression wear.

Size and fit

The sizing is consistent with the three HeatGear vests I already own, that is to say it’s very long… As you can see from the above photo of me, the hem is ridiculously low and seems to bear little relation to the length of the sleeves, which are surprisingly almost perfect for a small size. Whereas I’m short at only 5ft 6, my height and limbs are not wildly out of proportion; I can only assume Under Armour’s sizing is aimed at taller people, because I could easily lose 3-4 inches from the hem before the top no longer looks like a dress on me. I can sort of understand why Under Armour have gone down this path because it allows them to capture a much larger slice of the population; the top still fits me well across the chest and in the arms, whereas I can forgive the silly length or even have it re-hemmed by a tailor. If you’re slender and tall, you should seriously give Under Armour clothing a try as it’ll likely be a perfect fit.

In use

I’ve said already that I was initially sceptical of the ColdGear Reactor long sleeve. I took delivery of it when temperatures sat at around 10°C, which was too warm for its intended purpose. Even on an easy warm-up run, I was sweating after only 10 minutes of wear and deemed the product to be overkill. That suddenly all changed once the thermometer mercury plummeted and that’s when the top really came into its own…

If you’re a runner that typically feels cold, you’ll love the Under Armour ColdGear Reactor top. For everybody else, I’d say this top is right at home in temperatures of 5°C or lower, or when strong cool winds are prevalent. I dislike layering up when I run, so having a single layer that’s just enough has proven to be ideal. There are are some really nice touches that make this top a great cold weather training companion, such as the raised neck line to retain more of the body’s natural warmth and the technical fabric that’s designed to increase surface area and trap heat without overly increasing weight or bulk. The fabric is pleasant against bare skin with no signs of chafing in the half-dozen or so runs I’ve attempted whilst wearing the top. The underarm area and sides are a mesh to allow for some slight heat dissipation, should things get too warm. What would make the top perfect is the addition of a zip for the neck to the chest as a way to shed heat more quickly, especially during more vigorous runs.

Closing thoughts

I’ve grown to really love the Under Armour ColdGear Reactor top, especially as we’ve gone back into a cold snap in the UK. I’ve found myself readily grabbing this top as my default choice of late, especially on easier paced runs where I’m not necessarily out running for long enough or hard enough to even warm up. Only the odd sizing and the lack of a neck zip stop it from being perfect.

Pros

  • Effective single layer warmth
  • Raised neckline
  • Comfortable
  • Little to no added bulk
  • Wind resistant

Cons

  • Size and fit versus length is odd, unless you’re tall
  • Difficult to shed excess heat once too warm
  • Reserved for the coldest of conditions

Available here via underamour.co.uk.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fleece tapered trousers

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Initial thoughts

Whereas I was at first doubtful of the ColdGear Reactor top, I was scratching my head even more upon taking delivery of these trousers…

The first thing that struck me when unpacking and handling the trousers is how bulky they are! The waistline and ankle cuffs are incredibly chunky, where a more is more approach seems to have been adopted. The trousers, whilst claiming to be tapered, look sloppy and baggy – I had to double check they were actually intended for running, where something sleeker and more fitted is the norm from most manufacturers, even for trousers.

Size and fit

The length of the trousers, like the ColdGear Reactor top, measures up on the long side. The overall fit as a result makes me look like MC Hammer in the photo at the top of this review section! I may be wrong here, but I would dare say most runners want something more form fitting; they don’t need the solution to always fit like a pair of tights, but something less bulky and closer to the skin than these trousers would be preferable.

In use

Sadly, the ColdGear Reactor trousers are disappointing in action. There’s simply too much trouser than is needed! I’m not sure about others, but my legs are doing most of the hard work when it comes to running, so they generate far more heat than my upper body, where more protection from the elements is needed and welcome – my legs just don’t need this much protection. Whereas I’ve been readily wearing the ColdGear Reactor top as it’s gotten colder, I’ve not once felt the need to wear these trousers beyond for review purposes.

Even as trousers reserved for warming up before races and cooling down afterwards, they’re flawed because of the chunky ankle cuffs. There’s no zip on the ankle, which makes changing out of the trousers impossible without taking my shoes off first, which isn’t always ideal or possible, especially when outdoors.

Sadly, the positives of these trousers are also marred! There are plenty of zipped pockets for things like coins, keys and a phone, but one of the additional pull tabs on the zips somehow came off in my washing machine and almost jammed in the rotating drum mechanism!

Closing thoughts

Can you tell that I’m not a fan of these trousers? I feel like I’ve fought against these trousers each time I’ve worn them, where they should instead be blurring into the background as I run. If you’re on the tall side and feel your legs frequently run cold, these may be for you, but I think most people would be better served by a pair of more traditional running tights from Under Armour.

Pros

  • Generous length for taller people
  • Lots of pockets
  • Warm for those that need leg insulation

Cons

  • Poor fit that’s distracting
  • Bulky and baggy
  • Zip tabs somehow dislodge in the washing machine
  • Too warm for the majority of people

Available here via underarmour.co.uk.

9 miles from work with strides

I was sure to take in the joy of the simplicity of this route ahead of the planned St James Road tunnel closure. Fewer than 2 miles of the route are covered away from the canal towpath, whereas the detour I have planned from Monday 22nd of January onwards for 3 months will probably double the amount of running on street level to around 4 out of 9 miles.

The strides unfortunately failed to perk my legs up, with race recovery firmly having taken hold…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With temperatures having dropped, treacherous black ice formed in a few spots around Cannon Hill Park. Due to the rain, it became near impossible to tell what was ice and what was simply water glistening on the ground! Nearby Sandwell Valley and Perry Hall parkruns had already cancelled, but it was deemed just about safe enough for Cannon Hill to remain open for business on the normal route.

Whereas I’d had plans to tackle this parkrun hard, my legs had other ideas – they simply didn’t want to turnover any faster and without any more power than around 20 minute 5k pace. My breathing was, however, perfectly fine by comparison…

With about a mile to go, a Birchfield Harrier youngster drifted into contact with me from ahead. He’d held on to a good pace for much of the run, but it was clear it started to get the better of him. I stepped in and gave him some encouragement to get behind and stay close to me. He eventually crossed the line just a few seconds later, having done well to keep the invisible rubber band from snapping.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I had to hightail it out of Cannon Hill Park to make my over to the next item of this week’s entry…

The National Running Show

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Susie Chan speaking at The National Running Show 2018

What’s this? A running trade show in my backyard? Why, don’t mind if I do!

Taking place at the Birmingham NEC, this was the debut of The National Running Show. It’d been years since I last visited a running trade show that stood independently of a race (The Running Show, Sandown Park back in 2012), and as a frequent visitor and worker of trade shows, I was curious to see how it would play out.

In tow were Lis and Dave, with the guest speakers being the main draw for them. Reaching the NEC at about 11:15, the place was surprisingly very busy, so much so that we spent some 10-15 minutes queuing to get in! Once inside, it was unbearably chaotic due to the small hall utilised and poor placement of certain exhibitors (I’m looking at you, Saucony).

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Steve Edwards at The National Running Show 2018

Kelly Holmes, Jo Pavey and Jenny Meadows had already given their talks, which I was disappointed to have missed out on, but I did get to sit-in on sessions from Steve Edwards (800+ sub-3:30 marathons and counting), Luke Tyburski (ultra-runner with a propeller hat) and Susie Chan (regular person turned serial ultra-runner). The talks were pretty good, but timings were a mess due to the organisers not budgeting enough time between sessions for changeovers. It’ll be interesting to see which guests appear next year, with Paula Radcliffe already announced.

Exhibitor-wise, the variety was OK and perhaps only slightly worse than what you would typically see at a big city pre-race expo. Expectedly, there were none of the big dogs like Garmin or Adidas that you normally see on the expo circuit; presumably, they steered clear having already agreed their budgets and would wait out the first year before making any future considerations.

There were exhibitors selling nutrition, recovery products, clothing, shoes, and so on. Also present were a number of races touting their wares. I spoke with the guys from Run For All – the organisation behind the Yorkshire Marathon – who were pleased as punch to hear I’d run their race twice and have been spreading the good word ever since. My conversation with the Swansea Half Marathon was, however, far less productive. Enquiring about whether they had a show discount of some sort, they looked at me like I was some sort of buffoon that dared ask such a stupid question, but they did offer to sign me up there and then. I declined and said I could do that from the comfort of my own home once having read the T&Cs… They’d obviously exhibited at the show to ply for more participants, so it was entirely bizarre that they didn’t have something to seal the deal with would-be entrants like me. ABC – Always Be Closing!

All in all, it was an entertaining way to while away a couple of hours. If not for the guest speakers, I’d have easily navigated my way through the event twice in an hour or so to give you a sense of the size and scale.

15 snowy-slushy-rainy miles

Back in 2013 when training for my very first marathon – the London Marathon – I was caught out by a freak drop of snow to coincide with my final long run of 22 miles… I needed the run and had no choice but to head out on to the white stuff. I don’t recall much from the run; not how I felt during or after, so I must have wiped it from memory.

Looking outside today, I let out a long sigh when I saw more snow, albeit just a light dusting of it on the pavements.

Things started off very well, with the fresh snow proving to be no issue at all as would be expected. I regretted not donning my Oakleys with a pair of high contrast lenses; the falling snow would occasionally blow into my eyes, proving to be quite painful. It was good to see so many of my fellow runners out getting the miles in, with everybody proving especially friendly and acknowledging our collective dedication/craziness.

Once on the return leg, things got much tougher. Rain started falling to turn the snow into slush, which proved much more difficult to run on than snow. Each step continually soaked my feet and caused freezing cold water to slosh around in my shoes, adding to my already heavy feeling legs.

Once back at my front door, my hands, despite being gloved, were too cold to rummage for my key from the tiny zipped pocket it lived in! I had to knock for Lis to let me in and duly jumped straight into a hot shower to get some feeling back into my extremities.

No more snow, please!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2018 review

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Fourth appearance at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon

For the 2015, 2016 and 2017 races, please click below:

After injury prevented me from going all-out in 2017, I was back for vengeance at this classically flat and fast race that’s older than me!

Pre-race

Sometimes, even having the will doesn’t mean there’s a way. After an intoxicatingly satisfying Yorkshire Marathon PB, my only PB of 2017 at that, I wanted to put the year’s injury aside and get back to scoring a handful of PBs again. The Brass Monkey Half Marathon is a great way to kick off the training year, so I re-jigged the Pfitzinger and Latter half marathon plan into something that I could work with from early November to January to get me there.

Things started off well enough with a couple of solid weeks behind me and confidence was high ahead of the Sneyd 10 Mile Christmas Pudding Run, except the race never happened. Not only did I lose the best part of a week tapering for a race that would never materialise, but the snow that cancelled the race then also wrote off the following seven days of training. Whilst I managed to recover some of the plan with a few strong runs, Christmas then landed and a mild bout of food poisoning and some more tapering for the Gloucester New Year’s Eve 10 Mile robbed me of yet another week. In all the years I’ve been training with some intent, December 2017 has to be my most disrupted. A further slap in the face was the hacking cough I picked up during the taper week for this very Brass Monkey Half Marathon! At its worst, the sputum-triggered coughs woke me several times a night to leave me feeling pretty ropey throughout the week. So, yeah. A poor build-up for what was supposed to be my A-goal half marathon to kick-start 2018…

I realigned my goals for the day to give my fragile mind a break. My A-goal was a sub-84; my B-goal was a PB of any magnitude (84:54 to beat); finally, my C-goal was to merely equal my PB as closely as possible, which was no mean feat as I was relatively strong across all distances that I raced in 2016.

So, on to race morning…

Lis and I stayed at the Holiday Inn on Tadcaster Road – one of the main roads into York. In spite of its incredibly dated exterior, the rooms inside were modern and, importantly, quiet due to being further out of the city to be less likely to cater for the boozy weekend crowds. I rarely sleep well in unusual environments but would heartily recommend this hotel if you’re in need of accommodation for the race – I’m told England Athletics club runners can expect a discount upon booking, too. The distance to the racecourse was perfect for a 1.5 mile warm-up, feeling much more thorough than laps of the car park I’m traditionally accustomed to.

Carrying a phlegmy-hacking cough, I feared I had some sort of low-level bug inside me; how profusely I was sweating whilst only sitting down after my warm-up did not bode well and reminded me of the fateful 2016 Kenilworth Half Marathon and Telford 10k, with the former not ending well and the latter ending prematurely… I like to have a mantra going into a race, and this scenario strongly reinforced 50% of it: don’t be a hero in the first half – don’t be a pussy in the second half.

Regrouping with Lis, I changed into my race gear and almost forgot to wear the race timing chip on my shoes! Speaking of shoes, I’d packed both my Nike Zoom Streak 6 and Vaporfly 4% due to being unsure of which pair to wear. The recent Gloucester New Year’s Eve 10 Mile left me unimpressed with the Vaporfly 4%, where they felt too unstable and appeared to offer no advantage by wearing them. I almost went for the Zoom Streak 6, but reasoned the flat and straight Brass Monkey course would play to the Vaporfly 4%’s strengths, so a last minute change of heart it was.

Unlike years prior, I wanted a calm and relaxed start to the race without any panic. I was so on point with all of my pre-race admin timings that Lis and I were some of the first people in the start pen! As the crowd swelled, I finally caught sight of Carl Stainton and Shaun Hemmings, the latter who would be running for the first time on the course. Carl shared he wasn’t in good health and Shaun shared he wasn’t in great shape due to December. With me being a bit of Column A and Column B, the three of us had travelled a long way for possible disappointment. Nonetheless, I wished them both well and knew Shaun was still likely to have a good race, me citing the flat course and competitive field playing to his strengths. To my right in the start pen was a guy sat on the grass in the lotus position, trying to find some peace and tranquillity whilst hundreds of runners milled around him and blaring music played over loudspeakers…

We were ushered forward and, with very little warning, released into the south York countryside.

The race

Miles 1 – 3

Starting perhaps 10 or so rows back from the front, the start of the race was never going to be the fastest, which suited me perfectly fine as I had such unreliable feedback of my own ability and condition going in. The 2016 Kenilworth Half Marathon saw me tearing off like a lunatic whilst mildly ill; lessons were learnt, so I merely went with the flow of traffic on this occasion and found myself sitting in at 6:30 per mile pace. On such a flat course and with a descent at the end of the first mile, everything felt almost too easy, so I reminded myself once more of the morning’s mantra: don’t be a hero in the first half – don’t be a pussy in the second half.

The crowd around me was pretty stable, so I’d chosen my start position well. Of course, there were a few outliers that had started too far forward or too far back, but congestion was otherwise the best I’d seen over four years of attendance.

Weather-wise, it was grey overhead and the air was cool to work in our favour. The only fly in the ointment was the 10mph headwind we all ran into for the first half of the course… Even tucked in amongst the masses, I could feel the wind hit periodically as it worked its way through the field.

Speaking of fields… A few guys and I noticed one of the swifter women snake her way across and in front of us, from the left-most side of the course over to the right. At first, we assumed she was just aggressively going for the racing line, but then she stepped out of the race and on to a vacant field. Then, she unexpectedly pulled down her shorts and began squatting to go for a piss! “Fair play,” I thought – no time for embarrassment or self-consciousness when a PB is at stake! Within seconds, she’d finished her business and rejoined the fray by zooming off into the horizon!

As the field thinned, groups were forged and I proactively jumped from one to another as they slowed from the prevailing winds that we faced. The effort still felt low with my very relaxed breathing as confirmation. Pace-wise, I was perhaps a few seconds up on my 2016 outing, but this time with far more participants around my ability to run with.

Miles 1, 2 and 3 came out as 6:30, 6:34 and 6:31 respectively.

Miles 4 to 7

I found myself latching on to a pack that appeared to feature one female club runner being escorted by three of her fellow male club members. After a few minutes of running amongst their group, the reality was she was actually pacing them, based on how relaxed she looked and the blokes sounding like their breathing was more on the uneasy side.

The field continued thinning and there was a growing reluctance from people to swap from one pack to the next as I did, so I increasingly went ahead to surge on my own when I felt the pace slipping. The groups I did join never seemed to last all that long before they splintered and I’d have to repeat the entire process again.

I made contact with one chap who, like me, was running a very stable pace with little to no fluctuation. I tucked into his slipstream, trying not to clip his heels but also trying to maximise the drafting effect at the same time. He seemed to be unphased by me being there, so I cheekily remained but occasionally drew shoulder-to-shoulder with him so as not to outstay my welcome. As one particular strong gust of wind hit us, I shared my hope that we would get a tailwind on the return to claw back some of the damage we were taking. He shared my sentiments and we both agreed that we needed to get out of the wind and join the group ahead – ideally two ahead as it was larger and seemed less transient. I liked Alex’s style and our alliance was set!

Alex turned out to be a York local, living in Bishopthorpe, so we’d actually passed his home on the out leg of the race. He’s a distance guy with several excellent marathon PBs to his name, including an impressive 2:58:04 from the 2017 Manchester Marathon. By comparison, his half marathon PB came up soft at 85:48 from a prior Brass Monkey Half Marathon; I revealed that I was looking to get under 85 minutes again as a minimum and that it was worth us sticking together for as long as possible. As one would expect from a strong marathoner, his pacing was impeccably metronomic and he even gave me a run for my money.

Turning the corner for the southern-most point on the course, we received some relief from the wind and continued to bide our time. Passing the halfway point clock, that was actually a few hundred metres too far forward, I registered 42:10 and shared with Alex that a faster second half without the wind would very likely see us finish with 84:XX. Our discussion startled a fellow participant who hadn’t quite realised how far in we were, so in the zone was he!

Miles 4, 5, 6 and 7 came in at 6:31, 6:32, 6:35 and 6:27 respectively.

Miles 8 to 10

It was incredibly satisfying to finally be rid of the wind. We could instantly feel it as the pace on our Garmins lifted for mile 8, finally settling at around 6:25. Crucially, the pace remained as comfortable as before and our breathing continued to be relaxed from the more conservative first half. We reeled runners in that had gone out more enthusiastically at target pace into the wind, taking advantage of their tiring states for an added boost. We got the chit-chat out of the way and settled into several miles of focus to simply crank out the distance.

We passed one guy that had previously drifted in and out of contact with us earlier on, but made a push at some stage to plough ahead. Some encouragement to tag on to our coattails was offered, to which he momentarily tried but quickly acknowledged it wasn’t going to last as our pace continued climbing. He – Peter – asked if it was my blog that he had read; I confirmed it would have been and he thanked me for the write-up that finally convinced him to give the race a shot.

Alex and I continued to power on, passing most ahead of us with authority. In the distance was a chap in an orange vest that had somehow slipped away from us at the halfway point – one of the very few to do so. We agreed to begin wrapping things up in the final 5k.

Miles 8, 9 and 10 came out at 6:25, 6:25 and 6:21.

Miles 11 and 12

The pair of us continually pushed each other on, regularly reminding the other not to hold back should the opportunity to progress appear. We’d come that far together and neither of us showed signs of slowing, so the alliance continued. The effort noticeably ratcheted upwards by a few notches and for the first time all race, I finally felt like I was working for it. I flipped my Garmin over to show the elapsed time and by my calculations, continuing at circa-6:20 pace for the remaining distance would net me an 84:30 PB or so, and that’s without a finishing sprint.

The little bridge reappeared to signal the “business end” of the race as Alex put it. Spectators began to pepper the course once more as we neared Bishopthorpe again, with Alex’s family out on the course to cheer him on.

Turning the corner for mile 12, we agreed to part ways and would catch-up again in the finish funnel. I steeled myself for the climb over the A64 York Bypass, presenting the steepest part of the course with 24ft of climb, knowing that I not only had to fight the novelty of gravity in such a flat race, but that I also had to keep the pressure applied all the way to the finish… Gah! The effort was ghastly and I began gritting my teeth and more vigorously swing my arms to carry me up over the A64.

Miles 11 and 12 came in at 6:20 and 6:18.

Mile 13 and a bit

In the distance was the racecourse, so I took a dose of my own advice that I’d shared with Shaun earlier that morning to wrap the race up and begin kicking. I sliced my way through the field ahead of me, letting nobody get between me and a redemption PB that grew larger and larger with each faster step. For the first time in a long time, my choo-choo train impression returned as I forcefully attempted to cycle as much air into my lungs as possible. Pair this with a feeling of nausea and I knew I was close to maxing out, if I wasn’t at that point already.

Bizarrely, I didn’t feel like I was pushing for that long because I soon unexpectedly saw runners turning left for the finish area. I crossed the 800m to go sign. “Come on, Andy! Less than 3 minutes to go!” I said to myself, interspersing that with, “Don’t be a pussy! Don’t be a pussy! Don’t be a pussy!”

I crossed the 600m to go sign and began making my way back into York Racecourse, gaining on a few more runners in front of me.

The 400m to go sign appeared and I knew I just had to make it to the end of the path and turn right for the finish line.

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Yu gotta earn the gurn! Photo by Lis Yu

The 13 mile marker came into view as I rounded the corner, prompting me to take one final glance at my Garmin. Wow! A 5:57 mile?! Just 200m remained between the finish line and me; handily, I’d covered this stretch specifically as part of my strides earlier in the morning and knew full well how long it would feel. In the corner of my eye was Lis, capturing the above instant classic of a race photo…

I swung my arms in a bid to catch the closest runner ahead of me, but no dice – he too had some fight left in him and kicked all the way for the line just as I did. 20m. 10m. 5m. Done!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I swiftly navigated over to the banked grass verge on my right to hunch over and cough my guts up. Nothing came out, not even all the phlegm that had plagued me for days. I checked my Garmin out and it fed back that I’d finished in 84:12, which was later corrected via the mystery of chip timing for 84:08. A 46 second PB off disturbed training and windier than ideal conditions was not to be sniffed at, though I was slightly disappointed to not have gone under 84 minutes. Had I pressed on earlier in the race, I’m certain I would have found those 9 seconds without much more difficulty, but then I would not have likely teamed up with Alex to make for such a memorable race, speaking of which…

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Alex, me and PBs for both of us at the 2018 Brass Monkey Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

He crossed the finish line some 30 seconds after me for 84:39, taking over a minute off his PB. He was over the moon as he was only expecting something around 86 minutes for the morning. Both of us are already discussing a future team-up at the 2019 race to see whether 82 or even 81 minutes is possible!

Peter the blog reader came back in not long after, also netting a sizable PB and thanked me for the write-ups – he too wants to return for a crack at going under 85 minutes.

I caught up with Shaun, Carl and Carl’s friend, Vince. Shaun did incredibly well, leap-frogging sub-80 minutes to go under 79 minutes and also finish one place ahead of the female winner. Carl was obviously under the weather and wisely dialled his effort back to still finish in 80:36.

So, how about some stats? Both Garmin Connect and Strava tell me the following:

  • Fastest 10 miles ever – 63:42
  • Fastest mile ever – 5:46
  • Final 5k – 19:16

Fastest 10 miles ever. That’s pretty insane that a) I ran 35 seconds faster than my 10 mile PB of 64:17 from the 2015 Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run, b) I ran 3 minutes faster than the Gloucester New Year’s Eve 10 Mile from a fortnight ago, and C) that it happened within a half marathon!

Fastest mile ever. Also bonkers that I recorded my fastest mile ever since I originally began recording my runs. At the end of a half marathon, no less, and not within something like a 5k as one would expect.

A final 5k of 19:16. Probably the most eye-opening of the bunch because this was my third fastest 5k since November!

Over 24 hours later and by process of typing up my tale of the race, I remain incredibly pleased with the result and acknowledge that it’s one of the best outcomes I could have realistically hoped for. The race has reignited that spark within me to go and attack all of my aging PBs again. The fact that I was able to pull off a 46 second improvement with less than stellar training and less than perfect health, and to be so close to a 10k PB back in November’s Conductive Education 10k, strongly supports that I’m in better shape than I’ve lead myself to believe. I’d lost touch with racing, especially the half marathon where it was two years prior that I last made a dent into the 13.1 mile distance – here I am only two weeks into 2018 and I’ve already equalled 2017’s PB count!

I’ve always said my best races are the ones that leave me satisfied, but also hungry for more with unfinished business; a poor performance can lead to despondency, whereas a huge breakout performance can lead to laziness and apathy because little can be done for further improvement. Let’s see what I can pull off in March’s Newport Half Marathon…

See you again in 2019, York!

Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017 review

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Marathon pace dress rehearsal at the Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017

For the 2016 race, please click the following:

Darryll Thomas and I took advantage of our golden ticket prizes from last year to once again run this race for free! Read on to find out what happened in Nottingham.

Pre-race

Covering this race at marathon pace in 2016 did wonders for my confidence before going into the Yorkshire Marathon only a fortnight later, so I looked to repeat this strategy in as similar a fashion as possible. This was very much a marathon dress-rehearsal, using all of the clothing and kit that I plan to utilise in the main event. Including the Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes (more on this later).

Arriving in Nottingham, it was immediately apparent that the race organisers had managed to boost numbers. Compared to a year ago, there were now significantly more cars on the road and dramatically more runners in the race village with over an hour before the start time. Everything felt chaotic, especially with the well organised and recent Wolverhampton Half Marathon still in memory.

Due to logistics, Darryll and I got separate warm-ups in. My legs felt incredibly disconnected from a very light week of running; co-ordination was severely lacking, though thankfully began to return as I neared the end of a 1.5 mile jog, with 200m of strides helping significantly.

With more than 20 minutes remaining until the gun, I wondered over to the start pens only to find serenity incredibly lacking. Spectators got in the way of runners trying to make their way into start pens, not helped by the narrow path. A mother with a pushchair repeatedly rammed into the back of my ankles! The organisers really need to cordon off the zone immediately adjacent to the start pens from non-runners, at least until the race has started.

Once in the start pen, I learned my lesson from a year ago and ensured I was positioned far enough ahead of the sub-90 pace group for an unimpeded start and opening 5km. I even spotted Richard Whitehead mingling with the crowd, but no sign of Darryll Thomas. The pen was filling fast and given we’re both short, it made spotting each other difficult. I fretted not as we’d both eventually connect on the course from covering sub-3 hour marathon pace.

Further adding to the mayhem of the morning, there was no countdown or warning before starting – simply, “Go”!

The race

Miles 1 to 3

As anticipated, everybody charged off, including me! The Vaporfly 4% shoes felt sooo good on my feet, I actively had to drop the anchors when I saw I was creeping into 6:20 mile pace territory… I had a decent lead ahead of the sub-90 pace group, which I wanted to maintain all the way to the climb to and from Nottingham Castle; everybody slowed significantly at that point a year ago to make for a massive pinch point so early on in the race.

Storming past me was a chap wearing red cotton jogging bottoms and a thick cotton t-shirt, puffing like a steam train. He continued to pull away and whilst I thought he couldn’t possibly last, I don’t actually recall ever seeing him again for the rest of the race.

Mile 1 came in a touch faster than target at 6:44, but I learned from last year that the Robin Hood course is quite tricky to pace evenly and wasn’t something to get worked up about.

Approaching the castle whilst also climbing, I purposely ran wide of the race line so as not to get caught up in the shenanigans of people slowing. Mile 2 came in a touch slower at 6:54 to factor in the ascent.

Many people will have blown their races during mile 3, almost exclusively made up of climb with several twists and turns to really disrupt pace. Most of the race’s 522 feet of elevation occurs in the first 5k, so it really isn’t a PB chaser’s course. Mile 3 came in for 7:07, which wasn’t too bad considering.

Miles 4 to 6

A very steep descent was most welcome in mile 4. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from everyone! Once again like last year, water was served in clear plastic pouches. Whilst I found them quite novel previously on a cool day, I was less enthused at having to use them whilst the sun was beating down on me. Chewing a bigger hole through the packaging ended up wasting half the water, though allowed for more water to flow out, providing much needed immediate relief overhead.

I’d been consciously looking behind me a number of times to try and catch a glimpse of Darryll, but to no avail. With the knowledge that he’s much better at running downhill than me, I estimated he would likely make contact with me before too long; my gut was correct and he made himself known just as the route flattened out again. It turned out Darryll had become caught up in the sub-90 pace group, though shared how good a job the pacer was doing of communicating the plan and strategy to his runners, unlike last year’s pacer who went off like a bull in a china shop to try and outrun the damage from the early climbs. Mile 4 and its near-freefall resulted in 6:28 to recover some damage.

It boded well that we were able to keep up with marathon pace whilst casually chatting away and with the sun above us. Time was flying by and due to our shoulder-to-shoulder formation, quite a few runners dipped in and out of the slipstream we provided. Mile 5 (correcting for the incorrectly placed marker) clocked in right on target of 6:50.

A long, false-flat in mile 6 was the last of the big climbs for the rest of the course, leaving only minor undulations here and there to contend with. Mile 6, thankfully, occurred on a tree-lined street, affording some welcome shade. 6:58 popped out, becoming our second slowest mile of the race.

Miles 7 to 9

A short but sharp climb up to Wollaton Park paved the way for a nice, gentle descent for the remainder of the mile, again under tree cover. Awkwardly, the set of large gates in the middle of the park were once again locked and required runners divert on to grass temporarily to go around! That being said, I recall mile 7 feeling so easy and effortless, with a split of 6:41 confirming as much.

Mile 8 was completely unmemorable, but must have been quite easy to produce 6:43 on the clock.

Reaching the mile 9 switchback, we both recalled the moment we caught glimpses of each other from a year prior, almost like déjà vu. Speakers blaring out Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” pushed us on to our fastest split of 6:40, before slamming on the brakes to regain control…

Miles 10 to 12

With how warm the morning had become, we counted our lucky stars that an impromptu water station had been created, using the remnants of the mile 3-4 water station. Two volunteers handed out what was left of the water pouches, but due to some bad timing, Darryll and I passed just as they’d run out and reached into the box to replenish stocks… Neither of us were willing to stop mid-stride to grab one and I caught sight of the lady’s horrified face as she realised what had happened. It was going to be a very hot and sweaty final 5k, indeed!

Sometime shortly after last year’s race, both Darryll and I were contacted for our feedback concerning the course. We shared our dislike of the two switchbacks occurring in miles 9 and 10 in quick succession, along with our utter dislike of introducing so much climbing in just the first 5k of the race. Well, the organisers sort of listened to us and sort of didn’t. The switchback in mile 9 and the early climbing obviously remained, but they did re-route mile 10 to eradicate the second switchback. Unfortunately, the adage of, “give with one hand, take away with the other” held true, for the replacement featured several jarring undulations instead… Comparing the two splits side by side, the 2016 switchback version was a good 12 seconds faster (6:40) compared to the 2017 non-switchback version (6:52). Be careful what you wish for, folks!

Mile 11 was unmemorable and sat steady at 6:48.

We found ourselves in a small group that had remained consistent for the last couple of miles. Nearing mile 12, I told people to push on as it was almost completely flat from that point to the finish. It turned out all of us were either treating the half marathon as a marathon pace training run, or were in the marathon and wanted to sit steady – a nice bit of camaraderie to wrap up the race. Mile 12 clocked in with 6:46.

Mile 13 and a bit

Returning to base, we continued to sit steady, though I could sense Darryll was beginning to falter by falling behind by just a few steps. Turning right for the start pen area, I slowed a touch to allow him to reconnect with the group, but he opted to hang back, citing an overwhelming sensation to throw up as what was slowing him down. I continued on with Jason, one of the guys from the group covering the race at pace ahead of the Chester Marathon.

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Who wears short shorts? I wear short shorts! Photo by Lis Yu

We saw Lis on photo duty. I think I look even happier than a year ago!

I’d somehow forgotten that the final 200m or so took place on grass, so I was thankful a sprint was not needed, especially in the tall off the ground Vaporfly 4% shoes…

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I knew I would be close to last year’s finish time. Turns out I was officially just one second faster with 89:21!

Jason and I shook hands as I waited for Darryll to come back in. We collected our goodie bag spoils and loitered with intent, hoping that we would get lucky again with this year’s golden ticket promotion for free entry into next year’s race, but no joy.

Recovery-wise, my Garmin quoted 67 hours, whilst Strava concluded with a 300 point suffer score – last year, under much cooler conditions and with nobody to gas to, only came to 189 points!

I’m incredibly pleased with how comfortable and casual marathon pace felt, giving me more confidence that having a crack at a sub-3 hour marathon in Yorkshire won’t be a fool’s errand. With a thorough taper and carbohydrate loaded, I’m optimistic that it can happen, albeit with the finest of margins.

Wolverhampton Half Marathon 2017 review

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A glass medal from the Wolverhampton Marathon, Half Marathon and 10k

As is now customary in my marathon plans, Wolverhampton became the lucky venue to serve as a glorified pace session in the build-up to the big race.

Pre-race

After last year’s dreadful Kenilworth Half Marathon experience, marred by illness, I had little desire to return there. I hasten to add the race was well organised, but I simply wasn’t able to capitalise on it due to being under the weather. The alternative – the Wolverhampton Half Marathon – became Plan A, backed also by Lis’ debut in the 10k race.

Rather than put myself through unnecessary suffering and potentially delay recovery again, I opted for caution and limited my goal to just marathon pace, or a touch faster, so as not to pile on too much stress in the remaining crucial weeks ahead of race day. A short taper beforehand gave me a fighting chance of success. Dave Burton was in tow for similar reasons, whereas Darryll Thomas, and Shaun Hemmings who we bumped into, were in the pursuit of some new PBs over 13.1 miles.

With a 09:15 start (Lis’ 10k kicked off at 09:40), we made sure we were firmly on site in West Park with an hour to spare to take care of any necessary pre-race admin. For the size of the event, the organisers actually did a damn fine job; toilets were plentiful and they even had urinals to ease some of the congestion. Warming up in the park was also a novelty, where so often it’s incredibly difficult to find space immediately next to the race village (I’m looking at you, Bristol).

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We’re about halfway through the photo on the left – photo by Express & Star

Once in the start pen, it was all very civilised with plenty of space and no sense of panic. The majority of participants were there for the half marathon, which we later discussed would make for a rather lonely race for the marathoners going on to do their second laps.

The race

With such a small field, getting away from the start line was smooth and unimpeded. I dialled into my marathon pace target of 6:50 almost immediately, with the effort feeling incredibly easy in light of the blowy conditions we runners found ourselves in. Groups of runners quickly formed and whilst I instinctively wanted to speed up to join them for the wind break they offered, another part of me reasoned that I needed to stick to plan for the pace practice, and organically attaching or detaching from groups was the best approach. Mile 1 beeped in for 6:49 to be right on target; rather than bore you all, I’ll only make reference to pace or mile splits when they dramatically deviated from the norm.

In the distance, I could see a rather large group had formed with local BRAT runner, Mark Ince, leading the way. He looked far too relaxed and steady to be racing, so I reasoned he must’ve been down for the marathon. Mild spoiler: he ran the marathon as a long training run and won it in 2:53!

I was warned of the many twists and turns through Wolverhampton suburbia. I was readily reminded of the Sneyd Xmas Pudding run and I could only imagine how soul destroying such sections of the route will have been for those caught in no-man’s land in the marathon. Mile 2 benefitted from a nice downhill stretch for the fastest split of 6:43 for the morning.

For miles 3 and 4, there were few around me to run with. I bought into the idea early on that if I couldn’t handle marathon pace for long stretches alone, then what chance would I have come race day? Thankfully, marathon pace continued to feel incredibly relaxed, and with the strong gusts of wind factored in, confidence was high. Dave being his usual meticulous-self had studied the course map in great detail, highlighting a few novel sights to us beforehand. Such novel sections of the route included the local sewage refinery (which we passed no fewer than three times) and some random detour through a school.

Looking at the time, Lis was due to start her 10k race debut. The last couple of miles of both the half marathon and 10k course converged and we roughly figured we would all come into contact in the closing stages.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was caught off-guard shortly after mile 5 when we entered what appeared to be a long and narrow park that ran adjacent to the canal. The path narrowed and I latched on to a runner ahead for a break in his slipstream. His breathing was incredibly heavy at not even halfway, so I prayed for him that he was only running the half marathon. Mile 5 slowed just a smidge to 6:52.

Continuing the theme of unexpected course elements, I was directed to make a sharp right on to an unpaved off-road section of the route where it was largely a case of running single-file, or running on the grass to overtake… Whilst I was already in a bemused state, I then found myself being paced by a cyclist and one of the official race motorbikes! To their credit, they maintained a very steady pace ahead of me for much of this section and took themselves off the course when they identified they could no longer overtake ahead and would only slow me down. The crazy as a box of frogs mile 6 clocked in for 6:47.

Leaving this section, I merged with a group of runners that managed to creep away from me earlier on in the race. I most definitely did not speed up to reach them, so they definitely slowed. To further disrupt their pace, an up-down-up-down set of underpasses appeared, leaving only me and one other still on it. Marathon pace continued to feel comfortable, especially in refreshingly cool conditions.

My memory gets a little hazy at this point for miles 8 and 9. Mile 8, in spite of featuring liberal doses of twists and turns through housing estates and a sharpish climb, still managed to produce a 6:45 for the third fastest split of the morning.

In spite of what the elevation graphs depict, mile 10 was not nearly as steep as one would imagine. Having said that, it proved no less challenging due to where it appeared on the course. I accepted the 6:58 to 7:00 pace that appeared on my Garmin and reasoned the descent on the other side would get me back on track for a 6:49 average.

Somewhere between miles 10 and 11, the 10k route merged with the half marathon and a stream of additional runners came into view. Psychologically, this was quite welcome after long stretches of running alone as it introduced bite-size chunks of progress. I kept a look out for Lis in the distance and finally spotted her just after mile 11, running alongside what looked like the Grinch that stole Christmas… Giving her a cheer and some encouragement to stay strong for another 2 miles, she shared that she’d already seen Darryll go past minutes earlier, so I knew he was on to something big. I alerted her to Dave’s incoming presence that was likely to be no more than a minute or two away. Doing some quick mental arithmetic, I was travelling at almost twice Lis’ speed, and with 2 miles remaining, I would have plenty of time to finish and get back into the crowd to see her.

The number of 10k runners swelled with some running on the pavement and others on the road. Just in front of me, a very vocal runner that cheered on many of the 10k participants came to a stop when orange wedges and sweets were being offered by a family. Unsure of whether he was in the 26.2 or 13.1 mile race, he re-joined the course just behind me and continued his cheers. “You’re making this look far too easy,” I joked with him. “I’ve got another lap to go! Gotta keep my spirits up,” was his jovial response. Advising that I should have been “kicking on”, I revealed that I was out on a marathon pace training run. “Ahh! Well, in that case, you’re looking like you’re bang on pace. Keep it up!” I thanked him for his encouragement and wished him well – he wasn’t even at halfway yet…

Straddling the outskirts of West Park, I could see and hear the commotion of the finish line. Frustratingly, the course took runners away from the park momentarily to bulk out the distance to make up 26.2, 13.1 or 6.2 miles. Darryll and I researched typical recorded distances beforehand and we were both confident the race would measure very precisely with very little to no excess. With so few other runners around me, I had run a very clean race line and was upbeat that I wouldn’t have to put in a mad sprint to make it back in less than 90 minutes.

On the approach to re-enter the park, a trio of 10k runners got to the narrow gate just ahead of me. “Sorry! Coming through,” I had to holler to avoid clattering into them. On the grass finish straight, I knew I would finish on target with change. I got a mention over the PA system and gave a few thumbs up, feeling very much like a fraud. Mission accomplished!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race that wasn’t a race.

89:11 in 22nd place were my spoils to leave me pleased with the morning’s efforts.

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Darryll (84:23; PB), Dave (1:33:23), Lis (1:12:42; debut), Andy (89:11)

I collected all the finisher’s paraphernalia on offer and made a beeline for a gap along the finish to catch Lis coming back in. Unsure of whether Dave had finished already, or not, I was just able to catch him finishing in 1:33:23. He and Darryll (84:23 for a PB) soon joined me to cheer Lis finishing her first 10k race (1:12:42). Bumping into Shaun as we were leaving, we learned he had also PBd with 81:48 to finish 6th overall.

In all, I was very satisfied with the event and organisation. It did exactly what I needed of a build-up race in that it wasn’t too expensive, there were more than sufficient water stations and facilities, and the distance was damn near perfect. Whilst Wolverhampton can’t compete with the raft of other city races on offer in the autumn, I’m not sure it necessarily needs to because it does what it does incredibly well.

Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon 2017 review

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Final few hundred metres of the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

A mass participation half marathon? On canal towpaths? What madness is this???

Pre-race

Sadly, I have to start this write-up on a downer. Some of you will already know that there was a breach of data protection from the organisers in the build-up to this race. Nothing nefarious or as sinister as being hacked by another country, but rather just a good old-fashioned cock-up.

So, what happened? Some 100 participants (likely the first 100 by start allocation time) received an email from the organisers (StuWeb) with an attached spreadsheet containing the personal details of all 1,700 race participants. The data included such things as home address, phone number, email address, date of birth, next of kin, medical notes, and so on. Five days after the accidental data leak, there is still no apology or explanation from StuWeb, where it now appears they’re burying their head in the sand in the hope that runners forget and move on. Future participants of this race, you’ve been warned!

Several years ago in a bid to diversify my training routes, I opted to try and mimic the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon. All started out well as I commuted to Wolverhampton city centre, navigated to the canal and began my run back to Birmingham. Then, I came face to face with a closed off tunnel somewhere in the middle of the route, needed to backtrack and ended up re-joining the canal much further away, adding another 3 miles to my long run…

Memories fade and with a distinct lack of locally accessible races during the summer, I made light of this opportunity for a training run at marathon pace, with Dave in tow. We bumped into Barry Fallon at New Street station whilst commuting, and a few other BRAT guys beforehand to emphasise the local feel of the race.

The intention was to simply cover the distance at marathon pace for both Dave and me. Recalling where I was roughly a year ago in the training schedule, 13.1 miles at 6:50 per mile would be a big ask, especially on the uneven terrain of the canal towpath route. The longest I had successfully run at marathon pace up to this race was the Aldridge 10k almost a month ago. I was also carrying some fatigue from several weeks without a cutback, along with this Saturday race robbing me of an extra day of recovery I would normally enjoy from a Sunday event. Further to my tale of woe, the organisers were unwilling to bump me up to a slightly earlier and faster wave, meaning I was likely to be one of the fastest of my grouping and likely to be running long sections without company…

I decided to break from tradition and this was one of the rare race occasions where I did not don my yellow vest and also decided to carry my own drinks. Not trusting my own ability to drink from cups on the course, I didn’t want to leave myself exposed and potentially prolong recovery.

Assembled, Dave and I were close to the very front of our wave’s safety briefing. Unknowingly, we were mere metres away from the start line and were both somewhat caught off-guard when we were released on to the canal for our journey back to Birmingham.

The race

Very quickly, I zoned into marathon pace and found myself in the top three of my wave, trading positions with the second place guy periodically. The effort felt manageable, given I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice a week of training in exchange for being fresh for the race.

Within a mile or so, the second place chap dropped back as his breathing grew heavier, leaving me in chase for first place in my wave. Shortly after moving into second place, I closed in on first place and sat steady for a while longer. Miles 1 and 2 came in at 6:45 and 6:48 respectively.

With no additional effort, I began edging closer to first place as he slowed. Practically drafting behind him, he urged me on to pass him as we made our way towards mile 3. The pace held steady for a 6:49 split.

I’ve got to give some applause for the volunteers acting as marshals and manning the water stations – the support was fantastic and well received, especially once I began running solo.

After some time, I spotted two runners in the distance, clearly together. I began wondering whether they were part of the race, or not, with some doubt thrown in given how far off the pace they were to have made it into wave B (1:29 to 1:26 target finish time). Any of you that marshal large parkrun events will know how increasingly difficult it becomes to gauge whether runners towards the rear of the pack are actually part of the event, or simply out on a solo run. Some that aren’t part of the event get really offended when you begin cheering them on! Well, it turned out they were part of the race, after all, and moved into single file whilst encouraging me onwards.

Increasingly, I began encountering more stray runners from the back of wave B. The worst offender wore headphones on the narrow path, despite being asked to only have one ear plugged in. “Passing on your right,” I hollered several times, with no reaction. As I crept around her, she began freaking out, clearly surprised that I was there. My annoyance that I wasn’t allowed to be bumped up to wave B increased. Grrr…

I’d finally arrived at the infamously long and dark tunnel within mile 5. There were a few lights attached to the hand rail, but nothing significant enough to illuminate the uneven ground beneath my feet. I adjusted to a mid-foot strike, allowing for as much ground contact as possible, just in case. Meeting a lady at roughly halfway into the darkness who slowed to a walk, she allowed me to pass. “You’re braver than I am!” she shared with me. “Nope. I’m just more stupid!” was my reply, as I tried to minimise any slowdown. Amazingly, some of the fastest finishers are completing the course in some 71 minutes, so they’re either dramatically faster than that and slowing to safely get through the tunnel, or have balls the size of grapefruits and charge through hoping for the best. Surprisingly, my Garmin remained locked on and recovered the pace reasonably well. Miles 4 and 5 came in at 6:51 and 6:58 respectively.

The narrow, untamed path continued to be a problem and frequently offered no more than 40cm of width to run on and overtaking required anticipating and choosing the right moment. Bridges also took their toll, with the jarring, sharp and short gradients forcing me to break stride. Mile 6 produced a 6:54 to signal the beginning of the pace slip…

The swell of runners from the back of wave B grew, so much so that I lost count. I was struggling to concentrate and I couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm, though still managed to hold steady with mile 7 to 10 splits of 6:54, 6:58, 6:58 and 6:56.

Mile 11 unexpectedly broke me. I run that section of the canal twice a week after work and I looked forward to that familiar stretch to get me through to the end. Unfortunately, that section of canal also throws a couple of bridges in quick succession, which just isn’t great on tired legs. Unhelpfully, the course also took runners on to the unpaved right-hand side of the canal back into Brindley Place, whereas I’d expected the newly paved left-hand side to be used. Miles 11 and 12 came in with 7:03 and 7:14 respectively.

With less than a mile to go before reaching Brindley Place, fellow run-blogger Shaun Hemmings and I spotted each other. Out spectating with his daughter, my red t-shirt and ultra vest threw him off and it was only my running style that confirmed it was indeed me!

Sensing I was near the end, I finally saw Lis on the other side of the canal, waiting for both me and Dave to finish. With just a few hundred metres to go, I picked up my cadence for the finish, which suddenly veered off to the right for another unexpected and literal turn.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

It was a pretty gentle finish by my standards, with very quick recovery before shooting over to the other side to cheer Dave in.

Due to a need for convenience of start and finish points, the race historically measures long and I clocked 13.29 miles, so kudos to anybody that can score a half marathon PB on the course. I recorded a finish time of 1:32:25 and an average pace of 6:56 per mile, which is a little off from target, but would have been worse if I’d have attempted a solo outing.

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Dave and me at the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

Dave finished pretty much on his target marathon pace, which bodes well at not even the halfway point of his training.

A good litmus test of a race is whether you would consider entering again; I’m still undecided, several days later as I type this. Locally in the summer, there are few half marathons that I have access to as training for an autumn half marathon, as opposed to the abundance of half marathons and 20 mile races available in January, February and March before spring marathons. Yes, I got the training run I wanted, but the admin and organisation of the race beforehand has left a bitter taste in my mouth. A race that’s so careless to release your personal details and then offer no apology or explanation, formal or otherwise, does not deserve my recommendation.

This week’s running – 8th to 14th of May 2017

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Tough day at the Tewkesbury race office – photo by Lis Yu

This particular week led up to the training run that was the Tewkesbury Half Marathon.

5k recovery with Lis

So, just when does a thing become a thing? This was the second time Lis and I went out running together for mutual benefit – I’m getting a recovery run out of it by not going too fast, and she’s getting a solid workout and somebody to pace her.

Lis even encountered that dreaded, “What if somebody recognises me,” when local runner, Ed Barlow, drove past, tooted his horn and waved at us! Teehee…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

2 miles at LT and 1 mile at MP

That comment last week about improving on marginal gains like sleep? Well, I’m failing miserably by not going to bed early enough… I woke feeling pretty groggy and spent much of the day in a bit of a fog at work.

With the way I was feeling, 2 miles at lactate threshold was not a welcome prospect. It’s no secret I struggle at such a pace and to keep it up for 2 miles in training was tough. Thankfully, marathon pace shortly afterwards felt like a walk in the park by comparison, which obviously bodes well for what I’m trying to ultimately achieve.

Here’s the Strava data for this run. I didn’t realise I’d forgotten to wear my heart rate monitor until several miles in, so it’s incomplete data, I’m afraid…

5 mile run-commute

The sudden uptick in warmth and humidity meant hayfever season was just on the horizon. I felt sluggish, though my heart rate at least correlated to an easier effort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Wanting to give myself the best chance of hitting marathon pace with minimal distress at the following day’s Tewkesbury Half Marathon meant volunteering at Cannon Hill parkrun.

Even with a significant percentage of regular runners away or volunteering, Cannon Hill still attained an attendance of 919 runners. Simply incredible numbers when you consider the aforementioned half marathon featured only 1,000 or so participants!

Tewkesbury Half Marathon 2017

For the full write-up, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

A little shaken by the struggle in the second half of the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, but not stirred; I still managed 6 plus miles at pace in temperatures I’m completely out of touch with for the time being.

The next few weeks will centre largely on developing a routine. There’s work to be done, for sure, but I’m not worried in the slightest – training’s only just begun!

Tewkesbury Half Marathon 2017 review

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Final few hundred metres at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

The first of several half marathons scheduled in as training runs – read on to find out how things went.

Pre-race

I almost signed up for this race in 2015 and 2016 – the latter especially so because of the PB near-miss at the Cardiff World Championship Half Marathon. For whatever reasons, I opted not to, but decided to give it a whirl this year to kick-start my marathon programme with gusto!

As touched upon recently, I intend to use various half marathons as marathon pace training runs to better prepare me for October’s Yorkshire Marathon. 13 miles of marathon pace as a solo run is quite taxing, whereas it’s far more tolerable in the company of others in my experience. Whether any of these races become PB attempts is completely up in the air at the moment; I’ve no pressure for a half marathon PB with the marathon being the priority.

Taking almost an hour to get to the leisure centre-come race HQ meant leaving Birmingham shortly after 08:00, factoring in race number collection into the mix along with other pre-race admin.

“Chaotic” is how I would best describe the scene as we arrived. Key locations such as number collection and toilets were located in the midst of cars meandering into the field, with general confusion high. Bib collected, I made a bee-line for the already lengthy toilet queue, and this was with just under an hour to go! With a 1,000 expected runners, plus spectators, there were only 10 or so portaloos, with none of the urinal variety to speed up the queue and make things more efficient for everyone. With around 30 minutes to go, the queue had at least tripled in size and snaked around the car park, prompting me to instead seek out a quiet and secluded spot for a pee…

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, I didn’t recognise a single face before or during the race.

Also surprisingly, or perhaps not again, finding a spot towards the front of the start area was incredibly civilised – I’ve encountered more pushing and shoving at parkruns! On the sound of the hooter, we were off.

The race

I’m going to split this section up into two halves, since that’s largely how the race transpired for me.

The first half

Weather conditions indicated I was likely to be in for a rough ride; temperatures of around 16°C and strong winds of up to 12mph hit and meant there was little wriggle room for error. Even at 10am, I was working up a sweat due to the unfamiliarity with the warmth, so I hung on to my bottle of Lucozade to sip on.

I homed in on marathon pace quickly, though did identify the slight uptick in effort required due to above said conditions at play. Lots of runners were targeting a sub-90 finish, so there were plenty of others to run with in a bid to keep the effort low.

Whilst the course was reasonably well marshalled, much of the time was spent on live or semi-live roads with very few closures in place. Jumping from pavement to road grew tiresome, so I quickly planted myself just a few inches away from each kerb for the remainder of the race.

Miles 1 and 2 ticked by for 6:51 and 6:52 respectively; nit-picking, I’d have liked to have been firmly at 6:49, which will be the target to lock in to on the next race-come-training run.

A water station appeared shortly after mile 2. Whilst a touch early by traditional race expectations, it turned out to be rather welcome as it got warmer. Giving runners small bottles was a God-send, where I was able to successfully drink half and spray the other half over myself, rather than fumble with cups.

Runners around me grew sparse, with many falling back as the unideal conditions took their toll. I had to make a few decisive moves to join groups ahead for fear of being left in no-man’s land early on.

Miles 3 and 4 stuck to pace for 6:48 and 6:51 respectively. I could feel the effort to stay on target marathon pace ratcheting upwards, which was hardly surprising as this became my longest stretch of continuous effort at such a pace since January. What the race gave me was valuable, tangible feedback of where I stood in relation to where I wanted to be.

Shortly after mile 4, another water station appeared for yet more welcome relief. Quite why they had 2 water stations in the first 4 miles, I’m not sure – a combination of ease of set-up on the course, and wanting to give runners water early on, I suspect.

Finding a rhythm on the course proved challenging. If it wasn’t undulations that distracted, it was the presence of cars driving alongside and overtaking runners that meant my attention was never fully immersed in either task.

The course began to climb significantly from mile 5 onwards and proved too much for one chap, causing him to start walking. I slowed to check on him, which turned out to be a combination of too much sun and a stitch before he ushered me on.

Miles 5 and 6 were still just about on target, though cracks began to form for 6:54 and 6:51…

The second half

The climb from mile 5 onwards cleared the board significantly and left me with few other runners to work with. All of the compounded factors worked against me for a pretty ghastly time out there as I hung on to marathon pace that was slowly slipping away.

Unusually, I did pass two Italian runners who were liveried up as if they were running a big city race.

The climb finally peaked shortly after 8 miles to produce splits for miles 7 and 8 respectively of 6:55 and 6:59 – not a train wreck, considering the struggle to maintain pace earlier on the flat, though this prominent feature of the course did probably push me over the edge.

Turning the corner, I allowed my legs to loosen up a little to take advantage of the descent. Unhelpfully, I was now following a straight-line route all the way back to the finish with a face full of headwind! I’d picked up a blister underneath my right toe along with a swollen nail, whereas my left foot was seizing up at the arch to make for a pretty sorry time of it all.

Running alongside me was a chap that was the spitting image of Jort from Cannon Hill parkrun, though I knew it couldn’t possibly be him as he was in the Cotswolds with the rest of the BRAT club. This didn’t last long as he crept away to join the pack in front.

Miles 9 and 10 held steady at 6:56 and 6:59, which I probably could have maintained except another sharp climb disrupted my rhythm again whilst going into the final 5k. Mile 11 became my worst offender at 7:22 and that’s when I decided to back it off for good and just coast back into town. I was spent and had little appetite to slog it out and prolong my recovery.

A random spectator on the side of the road shared that it was all downhill back into town, leaving me with just the headwind to frustrate. The group ahead were some 20 to 30 seconds away, with roughly the same behind. The crowds swelled on both sides of the road to cheer me on, so I reciprocated with a few waves and thumbs up for their generosity.

I steadied the ship for miles 12 and 13 to come in for 7:09 and 7:11. Even at the very end, there was little desire to sprint the remainder, where I almost sauntered in to cross the line…

Post-race

I finished with 1:31:15, so some 75 seconds lost exclusively in the second half. Being kind, I at least covered 6 miles at marathon pace. Being charitable, you could even say I covered 10 miles at marathon pace with the warmth, climbs and headwind factored in.

Those three challenges above will need some work. Becoming better heat acclimated will take care of itself; we’re entering summer shortly and there’ll be no shortage of hot and humid conditions to train in. The climbs and headwind will take a little more elbow grease to crack, perhaps with some 800s at pace on long inclines. I lost a lot of strength from my left leg due to the injury, and it was already the weaker of the two when I was in peak shape, so possibly some additional strength work with weights may yield results.

There’s no sour grapes over yesterday – only onwards and, hopefully, upwards!

Here’s the Strava data for this race.