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 – 31st of March to 6th of April

This sums me up perfectly

Yep, that’s me exactly!

This week was all about running somewhere new and being in the thick of the taper.

Jantastic – mission complete 

Three months later and the Jantastic challenge is finally over. Well done to everybody that participated and a real hero’s cheer for Dave who achieved 100%. Only a few hundred runners managed to achieve 100% out of the tens of thousands that participated. Shame he was late to the party when it came to joining Team Cannon Hill Parkrun – 100%’s worth of points and none of them were of recognised because he wasn’t there from the beginning!

January was a shaky month for me where I’d caught the mother of all colds and foolishly played one of my jokers too soon (it grants you immunity for half a week’s runs), giving me grace for one missed run but completely wrecking the following week where I didn’t run a single step.

February was a perfect month, with 100% of my prescribed runs and distance logged to perfection.

March wasn’t bad with just 10 seconds between me and my predicted max effort target of 19:30 over 5k. I did let myself down with mileage that was a little too ambitious at the end of the month (I forgot it was taper time), losing out on 5 miles.

In total, I scored 91.5%. I should have been nearer 95% if I’d have played my joker properly but looking on the bright side, it definitely made my running more consistent over the three months. My training normally goes like clockwork anyway, but knowing that there’s a score to be had and several people following your progress, it keeps you on the straight and narrow.

Will I do it again next year? You betcha!

Brighton runaround

Before Monday, I had never visited Brighton before despite all the positive things I had heard about the place. Due to a meeting near the south coast, I opted to stay overnight in Brighton and get a taster of what it had to offer.

After driving non-stop for 3 hours, there was nothing better than lacing up for a run to stretch my legs. The sun was out and positively begging me to set foot on Brighton’s seafront for a run. Conscious that I’d covered 10 tough miles at marathon pace the day befor, all I wanted was a 5k-recovery run at a very easy pace. I took my Garmin with me but paid no attention to it at all and instead relied on pacing by feel.

I chose to head left of the pier towards Brighton Marina. It was so nice to be able to run in a straight line on well-maintained paths without having to stop for traffic or other obstacles. Early on into my run, I saw a guy in the distance wearing a red t-shirt not dissimilar to the ones you see at Parkrun. As I got closer, I realised it was indeed a Parkrun 50 t-shirt, but rather an old-school one from Nike and not Adidas. Nike was the original sportswear sponsor before Adidas took up the mantle, and from various reports, the Adidas t-shirts are actually superior. Anyway, I was wearing my Marathon Talk t-shirt (black t-shirt in the sun – big mistake) and he noticed the 26.2 emblazoned on my chest and we both gave each other a knowing nod in regards to our chosen running kit for the day. Yes, I am sad like that.

I felt fantastic on the run and incredibly free without the pressure of pace or distance etc. Here’s the Garmin data.

The following morning, I decided to head out again but this time, covering the western side of the seafront from the pier. There was a distinct chill in the air at 7:15am and this was despite the sun coming out to play. There were already plenty of runners and dog walkers out on the seafront doing their thing; it all kind of reminded me of New York and Central Park where if you’ve got a location and scenery that’s so pleasant, why wouldn’t you? I’d not run that early in the morning for almost six months and it caught me off-guard. I was still half asleep, slightly dehydrated and hungry but the novelty of running on pancake flat ground on the south coast kept my spirits high. The pacing of the run was similar to the previous afternoon where I warmed-up gently for the first mile, ran steadily for the second and brought it all home for the third. I even estimated the distance perfectly to finish right outside my hotel.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience to run in Brighton. I’m going to miss the well-kept paths to run on, especially when I return to Hagley Road… Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Thursday hill work

This wasn’t really a session, more a part of the tapering process to try and stay sharp. I was talking to a French colleague of mine recently who has run the Paris and New York Marathons in the past and when I asked how he typically tapered, he told me he didn’t run a single step in the two weeks before either race. “THIS IS MADNESS!”, I thought, followed by Gerard Butler bellowing, “THIS. IS. SPARTA!!!”, whilst kicking me into a bottomless pit. Ahem… Anyway, I’ll talk more about tapering later on in this entry.

Conscious that I didn’t run any fast efforts in Brighton, I wanted to get some hill reps under my feet. I normally do six reps but I cut things right down to just three; enough to get my legs turning over and my lungs working hard, but not enough to leave me fatigued. I did wonder about the smog but in the end, I zipped up my man-suit and just got on with it.

After a decent one mile warm-up, I charged up and down the hill at faster than 5k pace for what felt like some good speed. I did find the pacing a little awkward on such short reps of only 0.18 miles (the length of the hill); only one or two seconds too fast or slow and it ended up showing wildly different times for pace per mile. Perhaps switching to kilometres will help with accuracy.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Ed and I were speaking earlier in the week about how to tackle the final Parkrun before our respective London Marathons. I was originally thinking to run it as a tempo run of around 6:45 per mile but Ed had raced a 10k last year the week before his sub-3 hour Manchester Marathon which left him feeling sharp and confident for the following week. With that alone, my mind had been made up to try and run a swift 5k, so something between 19:4X and 19:5X.

The warm-up had me feeling rubbish as usual and my triple espresso didn’t help things either.

The first mile was more or less on target pace but as always, the second mile/4th km rot had made its mark and I my pace dropped. I decided to knock things back a touch, knowing that I couldn’t make up 25 seconds; the aim of having a run with a faster leg turnover had been achieved so I need not batter myself senseless during this taper period.

Dave had run a strong 19:24 and Nigel ran a PB of 19:35 despite visiting a beer festival the evening before – well done gents!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles with 3 at marathon pace

The plan for this run was to head out for a few miles with 3 or so miles at marathon pace. I originally wanted to run towards Bournville via the canals but Iain’s mud bath experience from earlier in the week put me off, so it would be the northern canal loop again.

Despite the sky being grey, it was a balmy 14 degrees outside and there was a definite humidity in the air. The first mile had me sweating like a pig but I managed to settle into approx 8:20 pace without much trouble. After 4 miles, I launched into marathon pace and also strong headwinds. The relative warmth had caught me off-guard and thankfully, I had an Isogel to sink which perked me up for the final mile at marathon pace; the instant sugar hit made my pace spike and I had to rein myself back into running 7:50 per mile. Once 3 miles had been completed, I dropped my pace back to warm-down but found my body wanting to constantly drift back into marathon pace – not a bad sign at all.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Taper twitches and race week plans

I don’t know about the rest of you with spring marathons that have just been or coming up but I’ve finally reached that stage of the taper that I loathe the most. I’m full of nervous energy at the moment and I can’t stop thinking about next week. Almost everything I’m doing at the moment has a direct or indirect link to next week’s race.

Aaaaand breathe in. Breathe out.

This happened last year before the London Marathon and has typically happened each and every time before a major A-half marathon. It doesn’t seem to happen to me before 5k and 10k races, mainly because I race them so frequently and the losses are easier to bear.

I’ve brought my mileage right down where I only covered 10 miles last week at marathon pace with Dave and covered 10 miles this week, with 3 at marathon pace. Intensity is still present where I’m still doing sessions but with less volume. My energy levels are high and unlike last year, I’m watching what I eat during this taper period to ensure I don’t put on weight. And speaking of weight, I’ve surpassed my race-weight goal of 9st 5lbs and am now rocking in at 9st 4lbs! I guess my body repairing the trauma of marathon training and my reduced calorie intake have worked hand in hand to bring my weight down where I was steadily weighing in at 9st 7lbs before. Theories out there suggest that for every pound of weight that you can shed, you’re then potentially between two and five seconds faster per mile thanks to an improved power to weight ratio. Of course, you can drop too much weight at the cost of muscle loss. In terms of BMI, I’m still half a point out of being in the dead centre of normal for my height and weight category.

I know I feel less than stellar right now but I accept it’s for the best and it’ll all soon be over in less than seven days.

I am planning to get next week’s update out on Friday, followed by an entry all about my 2014 London Marathon out on the Monday after.

Training-wise for race week, I’m going to knock volume and intensity down even further with the following:

  •       Tuesday – 3x hill reps at 5k pace
  •       Thursday – 3 miles easy
  •       Saturday – 1 mile easy

I have also booked Friday off from work to make the trip down to London to visit the expo and collect my race number. The running gods clearly see potential in me, otherwise they wouldn’t have put me back into this year’s race. All I need them to do is also put me into a starting pen that’s between 3 and 5 and I’m good. I want to soak up the atmosphere at the expo and I would like to add a detailed section about it in my race report. I’m also hoping I might spot Martin Yelling and Tom Williams there so will of course be wearing my Marathon Talk t-shirt.

On Saturday, Lis and I will be making our way down to London to check into our hotel (the Ibis at Blackfriars) to be later joined for dinner by our respective parents. I’m hoping I get a decent night’s sleep in the hotel unlike last year. People say the night before doesn’t matter so much as long as you’ve had a good few days’ worth of sleep. I call bullshit on this because I know if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep before a race and it makes a world of difference to me.

Race day itself will consist of an early start of maybe 06:30, breakfast, and then wandering over to Waterloo station for my train to Blackheath. Conveniently, Waterloo is only 10 minutes away by foot. I also plan to try and get a little bit of easy running in to warm-up on race morning; I know most guides say it’s not necessary but I know I personally take a long time to warm-up properly and a cold start doesn’t do me any good at all. The rest is up to my training and the running gods upstairs to look after me.

Goal-wise, I have the following:

  •       C-goal – to simply PB
  •       B-goal – to run sub-3:30
  •       A-goal – to run sub-3:25
  •       A*-goal – to run sub-3:20

The C-goal should be achievable under most circumstances. Last year’s finish time saw me back home with 3:52:31; in other words, if I run at my long run training pace from this year for the whole 26.2 miles, I should PB.

My B-goal is actually last year’s A-goal, which is to run sub-3:30. In hindsight, I would have been lucky to have achieved this last year; not impossible but it would have required everything to be right such as the weather, the starting pen and so on. I ran my long runs far too slow last year and the jump from training pace to race pace was just a little too much to sustain. If I run a steady race at 8 minutes per mile, I can do this.

My A-goal has the potential to happen if I run well and conditions are ideal. There’s 10 seconds difference per mile between this and the B-goal of 3:30 and realistically, I think I’m somewhere between the two, erring more towards this one.

And simply because miracles can happen on race day and I may have totally underestimated my fitness, sub-3:20 has been thrown into the mix. Pacing calculators are saying I can do 3:14 (somewhat generous) based on my recent 1:32 Silverstone half marathon. If we use the more conservative formula of doubling your half marathon and then adding 10%, I end up with a figure of 3:22 so not wild at all. I didn’t run Silverstone flat out and due to the windy conditions, I probably lost out on a minute or so.

You can of course follow my progress on race day by visiting the London Marathon website and typing in my name (Andy Yu) and my race number (8316). Each of my 5k splits (and half marathon I think) will be shown live so you can see whether I’m on, ahead or behind target.

Best of luck to everybody running a spring marathon. We’ve put in all the hard work and now’s the time to reap the rewards.

To close, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Use your head when you stash your keys

If you’re like me, the vast majority of your runs begin and end at home or at the office. Every so often, though, you will drive somewhere to race or meet friends for a run. You will strip down to shorts, shirt and shoes. You will lock your car. And then you will stare at the tangle of keys, fobs, frequent-shopper cards, bottle openers, rabbits’ feet, Mini Mag-lites, and other assorted tchotchkes in your hand and wonder what the heck you should do with them.

You’ll be tempted to place them atop one of your tires. Don’t. That’s the first place a thief will look. (If you’re this person, you also “hide” your wallet in your shoe at the beach. Am I right?)

There are any number of more creative – and less thief-friendly alternatives.

One is to remove just your car key, then stow it In the pocket of your shorts or jacket, or in a special shoelace pouch designed for that purpose.

Another method, which I’ve heard of but never witnessed, involves placing your keys atop the tire of somebody else’s car. Which I guess would work well, unless that driver leaves before you do. Yet, another method is to drive a jalopy in such poor shape that no one in high right mind would ever want to steal it.

Personally, I encounter this situation whenever I meet friends for a run at the nearby Parkway. Usually, I lock up the car and take my keys with me – just for the first few minutes of the run, at which point I tuck them into the crook of a tree branch just off the path. Hasn’t failed me yet.

(Hint for car thieves in eastern Pennsylvania: It’s the tallish tree next to another tallish tree. With leaves.)

This week’s running – 10th to 16th of March

The final instructions for the 2014 London Marathon

Four weeks left to go!

With just four weeks left to go until the London Marathon, this week was all about the penultimate long training run.

Tuesday hill reps

After last week’s rather pleasant hill rep session, I decided to have another bash at it. Now that we’ve (hopefully) seen the last of winter and with brighter evenings, I should be in a position to cancel my gym membership and start completing speedwork outdoors exclusively again.

Interval sessions are always a funny beast for me where the second rep is often my slowest. The first rep is run on fresh legs and the third is run when you’re fully warmed-up. My second rep always leaves my body guessing as to what’s actually going on!

The session was pretty good but serves more as maintenance right now rather than trying to stimulate any kind of break-through performance. I’m always amazed at folks that can PB across a multitude of distances whilst marathon training; they’re clearly pushing their marathon boundary much further than I am where admittedly, I am sandbagging a little and not targeting my true potential, instead choosing a time that is challenging but realistically obtainable. Compare this to my half marathon targets where I really am running at my absolute limit.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

10k around Edgbaston Reservoir

As another break from the norm, I chose to run my regular Thursday 10k distance at Edgbaston Reservoir instead. The terrain is pretty much flat, allowing for far more accurate mile splits compared to the topsy-turvy nature of Newhall Hill – Broad Street – Hagley Road and back again.

The temperature was just right for running thanks to the setting sun. There were a few people out running and a fair few guys out fishing as well.

The first lap went by fantastically and without incident apart from me realising I had forgotten to switch my Garmin back to auto-laps, so no mile split data… During the second lap of the reservoir, I noticed that the pace on my Garmin appeared to be fluctuating quite a lot. Initially, I did put this down to the quite heavy tree-lined sections I was regularly running through rather than my performance.

Transitioning from the second lap into the third, I felt bloody awful! It was as if somebody had switched off the energy tap to me and each step became harder to run compared to the last. I came to the conclusion that I must have hit the wall; my lunch wasn’t dreadfully substantial and the bottle of Lucozade I drank an hour before the run wouldn’t have been enough to push me through 6 miles of marathon pace running. I had to rely on body fat alone to power the remainder of the run with another 5k to go…

By now, the sun had completely disappeared and the only thing lighting my way was the moon above. The reservoir looked incredibly still and a little eerie to boot. All of my evening runs have always had some artificial light to accompany me, whether streetlights or car headlights; having to concentrate more on where my feet were landing in the dark was no easy task when my brain and body were starved of carbs. At one point, a spooky figure ahead scared the living daylights out of me. On closer inspection, it was a lady dressed in traditional Muslim garb and not a Dementor from Harry Potter as originally thought…

I did what I could to keep my pace from nose-diving. I swang my arms and I steadied my breathing but nothing could prevent the fact that I was crashing and burning. I genuinely didn’t think I could do more than three laps of the reservoir and as somebody that doesn’t like defeat, this was a bitter pill to swallow.

On the long straight portion of the reservoir wall, I managed to regain some composure and steadied my pace. I was only 100m or so from going into the fourth lap, which meant just 1.5 miles left to go before I could stop. I put on a brave face and carried on – “I’m not a quitter” was my mantra!

For any of you that are into the psychology of sports, you may want to look into the research of one Professor Tim Noakes. Author of The Lore of Running, he is also credited as the man behind the concept of “central governor theory”. The idea is the body is controlled by a portion of the brain called the “central governor”. It is said to be a failsafe mechanism that prevents us from doing irreparable damage to our bodies by controlling what we are and aren’t capable of physically. Ever wondered why you can run so much faster in a race environment than when on your own? It’s the central governor being tricked into thinking you’re chasing down prey! You see, whilst the brain has evolved radically over time, there are still archaic parts of us that haven’t evolved with the times. Tim Noakes believes that the central governor can be trained in the pursuit of athletic performance. Finding that threshold run tough? Ranking it as an 8/10? If you could somehow convince yourself that it’s more like a 7/10, you’ve given yourself that little bit more breathing room to push the pain boundary. The first time I listened to Tim Noakes’ interview on Marathon Talk, I must admit I had my doubts. My first initial thought was, “so I can just think myself faster?”, which isn’t quite true. Whenever we say we’re running an absolute 10/10 performance, this is very rarely the case and merely the brain holding a little something back as a reserve – it’s self-preservation at work. Some people have an incredible tolerance for pain and it’s believed that this is the central governor at work or being manipulated. Alberto Salazar is a perfect example of somebody that had taken control of his central governor where during his famous race against Dick Beardlsy at the Boston Marathon (AKA the “Duel in the Sun”), he didn’t take any water on for fear it would slow him down and ended up burning his kidneys out. He managed to win the race but at a great cost with his subsequent performances declining dramatically and never really improving again. I dread to think what his body and mind must have been screaming at him; pleading with him to either slow down or to drink.

So, why am I rambling on about central governor theory? Well, I have been steadily coming around to the idea of it over the last 12 months or so. In my 10k and half marathon races, there are always portions during the middle where I’m consciously trying to up the pace but nothing I do seems to work; I’ve settled into what is goal pace, or what my body is capable of at that very moment in time. It’s not until the closing stages where I seem to be able to open the throttle a little or a lot more to run a fast final mile. As the end gets closer and closer, the mind seems far more willing to loosen the reins and allow greater risks to be taken. Getting back to Edgbaston Reservoir, it would seem my central governor decided that lap four was close enough until the end to grant me access to a second wind – everything miraculously felt faster and easier! Whilst I don’t have split data, looking at my pace and cadence graphs on Garmin Connect supports the way I was feeling during the closing stages of the run.

The rest of Thursday evening was not fun where I felt wrecked. My legs were stiff and my brain felt fried after the effort, which is probably how I will feel during the final six miles of the London Marathon. Friday wasn’t any better, which ultimately convinced me to give Parkrun a miss on Saturday and have a day-off from running in London instead.

Here’s the limited Garmin data for this run.

London and The London Marathon Store

The new version of the London Marathon Store

Just 200m from Liverpool Street Station

The next couple of weekends are steadily becoming busier and busier for Lis and me, so with opting out of Parkrun on Saturday (OMG!), we instead decided to pay a visit to London. I wanted to visit the London Marathon Store, as well as scope out our hotel for the night before the race. Of course, plenty of shopping and eating also happened!

The London Marathon Store is not a new idea and previously took up residence in Covent Garden. We visited it once a few years ago and it was tiny, with only a few rails of clothing and a small selection of shoes. The store was put on hiatus for a while but has now sprung up in a new location near Liverpool Street station, under Sweatshop management.

A complete collection of London Marathon medals

That’s a lot of miles run

The store itself is dramatically larger than the old one, with many of the big and small running wear and accessory manufacturers present. I found this slightly odd because the London Marathon is an Adidas race and to share one of your stages with your rivals can’t be a first choice.

Decorating the walls are displays of many of the previous running bibs and finishers’ medals. Surprisingly for some, there have been quite a few sponsors over the years including:

  • Gillette
  • Mars
  • ADT (yes, the burglar alarm people!)
  • Nutrasweet
  • Flora
  • Virgin/Virgin Money

Flora remains the most remembered of the bunch with a whopping 14 year sponsorship tenure. Of the medals on display, it was clear that the designs are repeated twice before moving on to a new example – great news for me since the 2012 and 2013 medals were identical.

A collection of London Marathon bibs

Sponsors, sponsors everywhere!

We looked at some of the race merchandise available and a retro Adidas track jacket caught my eye. After trying on the men’s small and the women’s medium, Lis and I both decided that the women’s cut was a better fit! At £60 for just the jacket, I decided against it but did enquire about the official 2014 race jacket. The guy I spoke to in the store shared the same thoughts as me, fully expecting stock of them to arrive but for some mysterious reason, they’ve been pulled from the online store. I did read something online where Adidas have been accused of cutting corners, recycling the London design and colour scheme for the 2014 Boston and Berlin Marathon jackets. I had hoped to be able to pick a jacket up to avoid the inevitable bun fight at the expo for one, but it wasn’t to be.

The London Marathon route

The iconic route of the London Marathon

My favourite thing about the store? They had the London Marathon theme playing on a loop which sent a tingle down my spine. Standing there and looking at the route map on the wall, 29 days stood between me and the finish line; hearing the theme tune really started to get the fire stoked inside me for race day.

We reccy’d the location of our hotel and in doing so, crossed over the Blackfriars tunnel that’s actually part of the London Marathon course. This is the infamous tunnel where once out of sight, runners that aren’t doing so well are tempted to stop or slow down for a walk before exiting the tunnel to cheering spectators. Last year, Lucozade dressed the tunnel up with motivational signs and had music pumping out of speakers; anything to try and stop runners from slacking off when they’re so close to the finish.

21 miles of Birmingham’s canals

My visit to the London Marathon Store and hearing the familiar theme tune gave me some inspiration for the 21 miles ahead of this long run. Looking back at my training log, I’ve come an incredibly long way since November when I first embarked on this marathon schedule. Starting out at 15 miles had me thinking, “how the hell am I supposed to run 26 miles when 15 leaves me knackered?”, whereas now, I am not only thinking I can pull this off but with a time I will be truly proud of.

Not wanting a repeat of the slog from mile 16 onwards like last week, I made sure I was adequately fuelled. I ate like a pig on Saturday, stuffing myself with London’s finest BBQ and sushi. Breakfast before the run consisted of two slices of toast with jam, an orange Lucozade and a coffee to perk me up. As per usual, I filled my CamelBak up with a litre of Nectar Fuel but also took an additional energy gel and some wine gums along for the trot. Better to have and not need than the other way round!

I wanted a bit of variety for this long run so opted to cover 11 – 12 miles via the canals towards Bournville. The last time I ran on that particular stretch of canal, it was an absolute mudbath with puddles galore; all the jumping and hopping to keep my feet dry wore me out prematurely and just wasn’t conducive to a good long training run. Dave had run there recently and his report of perfect conditions underfoot gave me the confidence to give it a shot, rather than relying on mind-numbing laps again.

It was to be another warm one, with the sun already high in the sky and not a cloud in sight – vest, shorts and sunglasses it was then! One schoolboy error I made was not using some Vaseline on my right shoulder, which was being rubbed raw by my CamelBak strap; this was happening during mile 1 so who knew what my shoulder would look like after 20 more miles? The canals were already bustling with fair-weather walkers, runners and cyclists at only 10am, and who could blame them?

The opening few miles ticked along nicely to serve as a gentle warm-up. The day’s target average pace was 8:55 per mile, so I knew I would have to put a bit of work in later to make up for the slow initial splits. Progressively, my pace crept up and this is ultimately what I would like to try and do at London, crowds permitting. I want to try and run a negative split; if memory serves, the statistics from last year’s London Marathon showed fewer than 25% of runners ran the second half faster than the first half. I was largely able to forget about the task at hand once I’d settled into target pace. This is ideally what I want on race day where I can get to halfway using as little physical and mental energy as possible, almost as if I were running on auto-pilot. The canal was in great shape and I did not have to worry about where my feet were being placed for fear of turning my ankle or something worse.

I bitch and moan about this every year but women, you’re letting your side down again. There were plenty of runners of both genders out on Sunday and many were running in small groups. Guys running side by side would fall into single-file as they passed me. Guys running with girls would fall into single-file as they ran by. Women, however, would continue to run side by side so there were actually 3 of us in a row on the canal path; just about enough room but I’d rather not be running on the edge of the water if I can avoid it. Girls – you’re not joined at the hip or holding hands with each other so sort it out!

As I approached Bournville train station, I exited the canal to add an additional mile on via the streets of Stirchley. This was to make up for the shortfall of the north Birmingham canals where the distance isn’t quite so precise and avoiding the scramble for additional distance at the end of my run.

The return back to Brindley Place remained easy and flew by without issue. Rather than contend with the crowds around the tunnel between the Mailbox and Brindley Place, I exited the canal next to my brother’s flat and ran across Broad Street towards the Sea Life Centre. People around that particular tunnel are often in a world of their own and oblivious to what’s happening around them. Where the canal boats are moored, I’ve often shouted out “coming through!” to a crowd just up ahead, only for it to fall on deaf ears. At least twice before, I’ve almost been pushed into the canal because people haven’t heard or seen me coming and they’ve decided to do a wide turn on the spot for me to narrowly avoid.

Heading out towards Spaghetti Junction, I was still feeling rather fresh. No doubt, this was helped by not attending Parkrun the day before and my CamelBak probably only had 500ml of fluid left, so I was warmed-up and lighter than before.

After the pancake flat out and back to Bournville, the dips and rises of this canal route did make steady pacing tricky. I don’t have the balls or enough downhill training to really attack hard, so I end up heel striking to purposely slow myself down during the more extreme gradients. Despite this, my pace was still on the rise and a negative split was definitely on the cards so long as I could hold it together for a few more miles. Purposely injecting a few faster paced splits in really helped to break up some of the monotony and I think the muscles in my legs were thankful for the slight change in motion. I can’t remember where I read it (may have been Advanced Marathoning by Pfitzinger and Douglas), but somebody says you should try to avoid running absolutely even splits to prevent fatigue to slow twitch muscles. Running a few faster miles will utilise faster twitch muscles and whilst not as economical as their slow twitch brethren, they will at least give them a short break.

On the approach back towards the Aston Junction of the canal, I quickly realised that I would be short by one mile if I headed straight back home, so I would have to find some additional mileage – this was despite adding an extra mile on in Bournville and Stirchley! The stretch back towards Brindley Place is littered with cobblestones and short, sharp inclines to really sap you of energy when you’re almost at your limit; knowing you still have a mile or two left to go from this point onwards was a real tough slog. Thankfully, there was a fellow runner just ahead of me by no more than 5m, so I did my best to reel him in. He began to pull away on each incline, but I would close the gap again with each flat portion of the canal. I eventually caught up to and overtook him next to the NIA and continued on towards (but not on to) the Soho Loop.

I wanted to keep the speed up for the remaining distance (just shy of two miles) to hopefully finish strong. A simple out and back would make up for the mileage deficit and by my calculations would get me back home with maybe 0.2 miles to spare. I wolfed down the remainder of my wine gums and began to consciously keep my cadence high and my arms swinging.

Returning to Brindley Place, I bumped into Jim from Parkrun but couldn’t stop to chat given I only had a few hundred metres left to go before finishing (he later said I looked pretty good having run 21 miles!). As I ran past the BMW dealership car park and on to Newhall Hill, my Garmin beeped to tell me I’d completed my 21 miles – almost 0.2 miles to spare as predicted!

The slow walk back home allowed me to catch my breath and stretch adequately before calling it a day. After a shower and some food, I felt  very decent and not at all tight or wiped-out like some previous long runs have left me. I had definitely gotten my nutrition strategy right and didn’t even need the gel in the end.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Next week is the big Kahuna – the 22 miler! I think route-wise, I will repeat this long run but will aim to finish at Edgbaston Reservoir. I am incredibly pleased with how my training has gone over the last few months. Some runs have been easier than others but all have built me up positively and I’m confident I am in at least 3:25 to 3:30 shape. Had I have not thrown in a few faster miles on yesterday’s 21 mile long run, I reckon I could have slogged it out to run 26 miles and 385 yards, but at the cost of greater recovery. Honestly speaking, I don’t think I physically need the 22 miler next week but I’m doing it more so as a confidence booster. If I can get to the end of 22 miles in a training run with no taper, then finding a Parkrun and an extra mile from inside me somewhere on race day shouldn’t be a problem. Taper-wise, I want to give Tom William’s suggestion a try where rather than having three gradually declining weeks of volume, he prefers to chop the first week down by 50%, return to 75% for the second week and then bring it right down to 25% for the third week. What I like about this taper plan is it should help to keep the familiarity of distance in my legs whereas three gradual weeks of cutting down volume will leave me forgetting how to run long come race day.

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

Answer critics with a smile

Running is a beautiful – and beautifully simple – sport. It clears the mind, strengthens the heart, and burns flab. Most people get this. A few don’t, and will never miss a chance to tear running down, or jab its adherents in the chest with a rhetorical finger.

Oddly enough, the most vocal of such critics are often in terrible health themselves.

“Bad for your joints,” they’ll jab.

“You’ll get arthritis,” they’ll jab further.

“Running marathons?” they’ll ask, jabbingly, between sips of their Big Gulp. “That’ll kill ya.”

Resist the temptation to confront such naysayers – despite the fact that they tend to be such easy target. Words won’t sway them. The best response to arguments like these is to continue running and loving it. Meantime, try inviting these critics to join you for a short run.

Who knows? Maybe someday they’ll accept your invitation. And their own experience will be the most powerful prorunning argument of all.

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 – 4th to 10th of November

The return of the dreadmill

If you can smile like this on a treadmill, then you ain’t running fast enough!

This week was a bit of a weird place for me and I’m not sure I like where I am!

6 x Jewellery Quarter hill reps

Tuesdays have traditionally been my faster paced day of the week. With no daylight left when I run in the evenings now, I have resorted to running up and down a nearby 400m hill for some speed and strength work.

I’ve yet to find the number of reps that seems to be the magic number. Looking back at an average 800m rep speedwork sesh from the summer, I would typically run 4 of these so I should theoretically run 8 x hill reps for a similar effect. Just 2 x more reps to go then…

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Treadmill 5k

I have a terrible relationship with treadmills. Several years ago, I used to run exclusively on treadmills as part of a major gym addiction I had. People typically cite it’s easier to run on a treadmill but for me, something must be going horribly wrong because I always feel like it’s much harder to produce the same effort compared to outdoors.

Wanting to try and remedy my lack of speedwork and predicting another bad winter, I reluctantly re-joined The Gym in Birmingham City Centre. It’s an awful gym in case you were wondering, but it is cheap at only £15.99 a month with no contract. I can’t justify spending any more than that if I’m only going to be visiting once or twice a week for a bash on the treadmill.

I fired up the treadmill at a speed equivalent to running outdoors, so 12.5kmph which is roughly 8 minute miles for me. I set the incline to a 1% gradient, factoring in the lack of wind resistance and the belt pulling rather than you pushing off. I started off well but the effort I was putting in was far too high for the speed I was actually running at, with my heart rate showing an average of 78% of max. I had to call it quits at 5k, not having the mental strength to keep going for another 5k.

My plan for 800m reps is to fire the treadmill up to 15kmph and set my Garmin to do the counting, with a loud beep once 800m is up. Then, I’ll step off the treadmill for 90 seconds of recovery and then back on again.

The Garmin data can be found here.

7 Llanhennock hill miles

Since we were in Wales at the weekend, I laced my shoes up and went for a 7 mile run around the Llanhennock hills. This has always been a challenging run but I was shocked at how difficult it felt out there despite near perfect conditions. I last ran the route over 4 minutes faster with a similar heart rate so I’ve either lost fitness or I haven’t fully recovered from my autumn races.

Here’s the Garmin data.

Closing thoughts

I’ve not been running like my usual self since finishing the Cardiff Half Marathon. I accept that I’m in between training cycles at the moment, recovering from racing and not yet embarking on marathon training, but historically, I’ve always been right as rain again after only a few days.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m back to regular sub-20 minute Parkruns!

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

Andy Yu's week of running

It’s been another lighter week of running

Unofficial Parkrun Getogether

Tuesday was supposed to be my hill rep session, but I had been double booked by the Men’s Health Superdry Fashion Event at the Bullring. I really wanted to get the hill session in but also wanted to go to the Superdry event where I would receive a free £25 goodie bag and also a pair of £45 Superdry headphones if I was one of the first 50 in the queue.

Turns out the decision was made for me because I needed a rest day; I had no energy and felt run-down, which is a dangerous place to be so close to a half marathon.

I won’t bore you with the details about the Superdry event (I did get the free headphones!) but I will tell you that the two gents behind Iain and me in the queue were fellow Parkrunners! Joseph and Gillan Stone are a father and son team that have regularly attended Cannon Hill for even longer than I have, with Joseph a runner at the inaugural event way back in 2010 and mere runs away from collecting his 100 Club t-shirt. They’re due to run the Chester Marathon on the 6th, so we traded stories about training and other running related tales.

Once inside the event, I also bumped into Khalid Malik, one of the members of Cannon Hill Parkrun management. Iain and I had a hilarious chat with Khalid about how for ages, Khalid knew all about my PBs and performances but had no idea who I actually was in the field! This is most likely true for many Parkrunners, where you probably know the names and faces of the runners immediately around you during and when you finish the run, but far less likely to know others ahead or behind you.

It was also good to talk to Khalid about the management side of Parkrun, with the big issue being volunteers or rather the lack of them. I volunteered twice last year as a marshal and loved every moment of it, cheering people on. Dave and I had commented how looking at the runner points table, there were very few regulars that had not volunteered with the big fat zero standing out like a sore thumb against your name. The recommendation is that each runner should volunteer 3 times per year to keep their weekly event going. For both of my occasions, I was either injured or tapering and these are perfect opportunities to volunteer because you’re not missing out on anything.

Charlotte Road and St James Road hill reps

After feeling a little down earlier in the week, I was bright as a button on Wednesday. Feeling quite happy that my speed is at a good place right now, I was keen to use Parkrun as a weekly way to maintain my 5k speed rather than develop it further for reasons already mentioned. Instead, I wanted to build on some hill strength for both Cardiff and Birmingham.

I ventured out towards Charlotte Road and St James Road but only managed two reps. Strung together, they make for quite a long hill and I was running low on energy where I began to feel lightheaded during the second rep. I called it quits and decided to live to fight another day; we’re too close to Cardiff now to risk something happening.

The Garmin data can be found here.

Virgin London Marathon 2014

Lightning strikes twice - two ballot places in two years!

The running community’s equivalent of winning the National Lottery!

Yes, the rumours are true – I am indeed back in the 2014 Virgin London Marathon!

I’ve written an entry of its own for this occasion, so please head over here to read it.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Andy Yu at Cannon Hill Parkrun

Andy versus the Cobra

Conscious that I need to be winding activities down in the run up to the Cardiff Half taper, I decided not to go full pelt at Parkrun. Target time was around 19:45; fast but manageable.

Dave and I agreed that he’d stay with me for as long as possible, so we we’d try and run a consistent pace of 6:20 minutes per mile. We covered the first mile at just a touch faster than target pace. The above Cobra RC runner and I had a few mini battles out on the course, with me eventually holding him off going into the second mile.

I started to slow at this stage as expected, so Dave picked up pacing duties temporarily which is quick becoming a regular occurrence.

We went into the third mile and Dave started to lose the pace, leaving me on my own. I started to have a few mini battles with another chap and dropped him too. I began to chase Neil Muir down who was also taking it easier after running a season’s best time last week. I caught him up whilst approaching the final corner, joined shortly by the Cobra RC runner. We attacked the final 400m together, though I started to drift backwards from our group. With 100m left to go, there was a sizable 10m gap; I decided to give it everything and went for a quick surge to return home just a second before my opponents. I managed to cock-up pressing stop on my Garmin, so I originally thought I’d clocked something around 19:45 or so from the target pacing; I actually scored 19:34 for a third best 5k time and my second best at Cannon Hill Parkrun!

Dave being chicked

Dave being chicked

Dave came back in with 19:51; a strong result to solidly put him in the sub-20 runners as a regular.

Here’s the Garmin data – please excuse the iffy heart rate result too, where my heart rate monitor slipped down mid-way through the run.

Long Sunday run

After a morning at the Cycle Show with Iain and stocking up on energy gels, I headed out for my final long run before next week’s Cardiff Half.

The weather had warmed-up again and made running in the afternoon trickier. I headed out towards the South Birmingham canals with two Isogels in tow and aimed to get 10 miles in at around 8 minute mile pace. I cut the distance down on purpose to begin my taper; the pace was also conservative to help begin the process to freshen up for next Sunday.

The run went exactly as planned with no casualties. Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Cardiff Half Marathon

Very Welsh colours!

Track my Cardiff Half Marathon on race day by clicking here

I’m gearing myself up for the Cardiff Half next week; carbo loading will begin shortly to prime my body with glycogen for the exertions of race day.

I’m aiming for sub-1:33 but something inside me is telling me I have what it takes for around 1:31. Pacing calculators are also telling me I have what it takes for a sub-1:30 finish; a major half marathon benchmark that many decent club runners are measured by. I don’t think I have the balls to go for a sub-1:30 finish just yet, not wanting to risk a major blow-out like what happened to me in the 2011 Cardiff Half. There will be a sub-1:30 pacing group on the day, so I’ll try and keep an eye on them and see where they are on the horizon. Ignoring that for a moment, my own strategy is to go out and complete mile 1 in 7:05, upping the pace to 7 minute miles until mile 6. From there, I’ll play it by ear whether I stick with 7 minute miles or whether I up the pace slightly to 6:55.

The organisers have said I can collect my coloured wristband from the race village next Saturday. The wristband will get me into the orange pen and is their solution to the cock-up of incorrect coloured race bibs that were sent out a few weeks ago.

Nutrition-wise, I’ll be packing two Isogels to take out on the course. I’ll reserve one for around mile 4 or 5 and the other will be used at mile 11 or 12 to help me power through to the end.

The countdown to race day begins!

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

Training was back on full intensity this week.

Tuesday hill session

I always scratched my head a little when people would say that “summer is for speed”. Why the summer? What stops somebody developing speed in the winter?

A sudden cold and wet spell hit the country earlier this week and this hammered home to me just why the summer is geared towards speedwork. The warmer climate allows muscles to work more effectively. The longer days allow for faster sessions to be done in relative safety. The lack of rain means you can attack the speedwork at full pelt without fear of slipping.

Tuesday’s poor weather made it difficult for effective speedwork at either Cannon Hill or Kings Heath Park. I decided to familirise myself with a hill session on Charlotte Road, the one portion of the Great Birmingham Run that most people seem to struggle with. I charged up and down the hill 3 times; in isolation, the hill is actually quite tame but tack it on after 10 hard miles and it becomes a beast. Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

The session was good and it should have been timed just right for periodisation to take place just before the Cardiff Half Marathon, which conveniently leads me on to…

Cardiff Half Marathon

Cardiff is home to some cracking running events, such as Cardiff Parkrun and the Cardiff 10k. The half marathon does not fall into this category.

I last ran it in 2011 and the organisation was shambolic. Reports from the 2012 event suggested it had improved somewhat, so I decided to add it to my autumn race calendar.

I received my race pack on Thursday and despite registering with a conservative estimated time of 1:32:59, they’ve seen fit to put me in the second slowest holding pen assigned to 2:10 runners or faster. For reference, these are how the pens are organised:

  • White – sub-1:30
  • Orange – sub-1:45
  • Green – sub-2:10
  • Yellow – 2:10 or slower

I should at least be in the orange group and even then I’m going to be much faster than majority of the people within that wave. Looking online, it seems it’s far from an isolated case and there are plenty of people that have been assigned the wrong wave colour, the most comical being a sub-1:30 runner that’s received a yellow bib! I still fail to understand how such a cock-up could have happened.

Speaking to the organisers, they have quietly acknowledged that something has gone wrong. They’ve taken my details along with many other people’s and will come up with a solution by the middle of next week, which doesn’t leave much time before the big day. What I’m puzzled by is how they feel they have a choice of solutions – surely the only remedy is to reissue correctly coloured bibs to affected runners? If they tell me to simply start in the pen I feel I belong in, then it makes a mockery of the entire system and turns it into a free for all.

I’m going to get my PB but never again will I bother with the Cardiff Half Marathon – I don’t need the aggravation.

EDIT – Word from the grapevine suggests that the organisers will be issuing coloured wristbands for those affected. I’m genuinely surprised by this idea because it appears to be a good robust solution with few opportunities for further error.

Thursday 6 miles

As is customary for my Thursdays, I ventured out for 6 miles at a steady pace. Pissed off by the incompetence of the Cardiff Half Marathon, I headed out towards the canals after several weeks’ absence.

The run did the trick to help calm me down and reminded me of how peaceful the canals can be, away from traffic and the hustle and bustle. The Garmin data can be found here.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

19:18 PBs for Dave and me

Boom! 19:18 5k PB

Dave and I had a bit of banter going throughout the week leading up to Parkrunday. Dave has shown some incredible strength recently, chopping down his 5k PB almost week after week. We felt that our abilities were pretty evenly matched again so we penciled in Smackdown and Showdown Saturday on the schedule.

For whatever reason, I decided to break in my new Volt Flyknit Racers during our face-off; not my wisest decision but one that didn’t seem to improve or hamper my performance.

Lis was in tow, not to shout words of encouragement but rather words of abuse! We need new forms of stimulus, both physical and mental to squeeze the most out of us.

We toed the start line and on “go”, we took off. I had punched 6:14 pace into my Garmin, which roughly equated to a 19:20 5k; a PB for both of us. I played the role of pacemaker and got us around the first mile in 6:05, which happened to be my fastest ever recorded mile.

I continued to lead until 1.5 miles when my pacing fell off and Dave had to temporarily take over. I surged to regain the lead and found second wind from somewhere to reclaim some lost time, so much so that I started barking orders to the others around us that were clearly starting to slip from the pace.

Going into mile 3, we continued our campaign and chased runners down. Parkrun regular Neil Muir was in the group ahead of us and slowly, the gap between us began to shrink. My breathing became very laboured, doing my best impression of a steam locomotive. Exiting the final corner, Dave began to surge away with me in pursuit. With 200m left to go, Lis began hurling abuse at us which spurred me on to chase and counter attack with a surge of my own.

The finish was now in sight and we were both neck and neck; Dave had the inside lane and a longer stride advantage to just pip me crossing the finish line with less than a second between us. I was the Mo Farah to his Kenenisa Bekele and the Johnny Brownlee to his Javier Gomez, but I’m happy that I was beaten by the better runner. I’ve worked out that I need to create a larger gap during the race to disrupt Dave, rather than relying on a sprint finish.

We both officially achieved 19:18 PBs in the mother of all smackdown finishes. As Dave correctly pointed out, the PB translates to just shy of a sub-40 minute 10k and a sub-90 minute half marathon; two very realistic and attainable times that were completely out of our reach this time last year.

The low budget Mo Farah and Galen Rupp are back! Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Great Birmingham Run reccy

Looking to get my last long run in before I begin tapering for the Cardiff Half Marathon, I tackled the Great Birmingham Run route today in all its glory. I knew it would be warmer today, but I had no idea that the sun would come out quite as intensely as it did.

I finally managed to include the Selly Park triangle addition to the route, noting that the hill was a doddle so early on. The Charlotte Road hill was a different matter where dehydration and low energy had hit me hard, helping to give the hill its notoriety.

Next week will see me cap my long run off at 10 miles. Here’s the Garmin data from today’s run.

Closing thoughts

Bringing us firmly back to reality, Dave highlighted last night that some day the improvements will end regardless of the stimulus the body receives. He’s absolutely right, using his example that everybody would be an Olympic athlete otherwise. Until that day comes, I’m enjoying the ride and feel I’ve still got a lot more to give.

This week’s running – 12th to 18th of August

Welcome to another week of running!

The week has been interspersed with more strength work and the good news is my glutes no longer ache!

Tuesday saw me head to Cannon Hill Park alone for some speedwork whilst Mike was out of town. I’ve really enjoyed (yes, I’m just that masochistic) the interval sessions with Mike and running them with somebody else seems to push the quality up. The target was 5 x 800m reps with 1:30 minute recoveries; I figured I’d need the extra recovery since I was running alone. The pace felt achievable and I was running within my limits, indicating that 1:30 minute recoveries seem to be the magic number. I decided to call it quits after 4 reps, not wishing to run myself into the ground. The workout can be seen here on Garmin Connect.

Thursday had Dave and I go out for a 10k run together after work. I really wasn’t sure where Dave was going to take us, so I simply followed as we went along the canals towards the “Walkway”, followed by half a lap of Edgbaston Reservoir and then returning via the canals. It was warm and humid which caused me to struggle somewhat. I was also tired and hungry, feeling like I had no energy which didn’t help. Our average pace was 8:20 per mile and my heart rate average seemed consistent with my recent workouts, so I don’t think I’m coming down with anything. Here’s the workout on Garmin Connect.

Saturday was Cannon Hill Parkrun. I was saving myself for a big Parkrun PB at Cardiff next week, so I set out with a goal to simply hit sub-20 minutes. The weather was slightly drizzly and I wasn’t sure how much damper it would get. I stood on the startline and went out hard for the first mile. The second mile was much harder when I couldn’t hang on to the group in front for pacing assistance, so I spent much of this lap alone which also reflects in the pacing. I spent much of the third mile alone but managed to overtake one guy with 400m left to go before crossing the line in 19:53; a joint second fastest finish time for me over 5k. Clearly, RunBritain thought it was a cracking time too because they’ve used it as my best weighted performance towards my handicap, ahead of my 19:36 finish! Here’s the Garmin data.

I watched the men’s marathon world championships where Stephen Kiprotich cemented his racing prowess. As the BBC pundits pointed out, he may not be the fastest elite marathoner in the world but he’s a true race tactician where the win is more important than a PB. He knew that he had to put as much distance between the him and Desisa, otherwise he’d possibly lose in an all out speed battle with only a few hundred metres left to go. Weaving in and out of the corners was a stroke of genius to tire his pursuer out for the win. A truly exciting race!

Finally, the week ended in Wales when I tackled the Llanhennock Hills near the farm. I decided to try the route in reverse where the first few hundred metres is a 100+ ft of hills rather than the mildly undulating road. The early hit sent my heart rate shooting right up and made the entire route much harder than running it in a clockwise manner. Take a look at the Garmin data here and pay particular attention to my heart rate!

Aldridge 10k 2013 review

Andy Yu at the Aldridge 10k

Less than 200m left to go!

For the 2016 race, please click below:

It’s the summer which means it’s 5k and 10k season. In a bid to become faster, I’ve registered to race in a handful of 10ks alongside my weekly Parkruns.

Today, I participated in the Aldridge 10k; a race that I would call “honest”. “Honest?” I hear you ask. Some race organisers have the tendency to over-sell their races, marketing them as flat or fast with a few hyperboles thrown in that would have made even Steve Jobs blush. Aldridge Running Club, the team behind today’s 10k, describe the course as “undulating” and “hilly”, with a “sting in the tail”. Runners entering know exactly what they’re getting and have no excuse to complain.

Lis and I arrived in Aldridge at around 09:30 and I quickly collected my bib with built in timing chip. I noticed a few fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunners here and there; not surprising given the location and keen runners would either be at the 2 Castles 10k or in Aldridge.

If only my race number was 171

Lucky number 166…

We watched the kids race start and due to some poor marshalling, the boy in first place went the wrong way on the course and lost maybe 10 places. On the return, he managed to catch up to be second place. I appreciate marshals volunteer for no reward, but they should ensure they do their job properly. I hear about so many race horror stories where herds of runners are sent down the wrong path, only to find this then disqualifies their result. Runners may have been building up to a particular performance for months, only to have it cruelly robbed due to sloppy marshalling. Rant over!

I headed off for my warm-up run of a mile. My left calf muscle was still tight after yesterday’s Parkrun, despite foam rolling and stretching. As part of my pre-race prep, I did also pack a shot of concentrated beetroot juice but I forgot to drink it!

We watched the 4.3k (an odd distance) start and then everybody headed over to the start area for the 10k race. I placed myself close to the front-runners, maybe 6 rows back. I knew I was in the right place because speaking to other guys around me, they were aiming for times of 41 – 43 minutes, and so it was unlikely I’d be slowed down or slow others down. The local mayor started the race and we were off!

Aldridge 10k runners waiting to start

The start of the Aldridge 10k

The course initially went downhill, causing a few runners to start off too quickly. I was conscious to run a negative split of no more than a minute, requiring a first 5k of 6:55 minute miles and a second 5k of 6:35 minute miles. I quickly settled into a good rhythm, despite the undulating course and stuck with a group of club runners to block some of the headwind.

The opening kilometres were relatively easy and flew by quickly. We soon approached one of the first steep hills on the course and runners began to drop like flies around me. I noticed here that due to my small size, I had physically less weight to drive up the hill and tackled it at my desired pace. On the other side, heading down hill, the larger runners I’d managed to drop had caught up to me, using gravity and their weight to their advantage. I call this the Mario Kart effect, where some of the larger characters like Donkey Kong and Bowser were slow to start but had a higher top speed once in motion; this makes me more like Toad (the mushroom man) who has better acceleration, but a lower top speed once actually moving.

Andy Yu halfway through the Aldridge 10k

Striking a pose means I wasn’t running hard enough

The course was well signposted, with a marker at every kilometre and clear signs for the upcoming drinks station. This was my cue to take my one Isogel for some sugar and liquid, just in case I made a mess of drinking from a cup on the go again. The drinks station was near the start area, so I saw Lis again and posed for a few photos. I grabbed a cup of water and successfully took a large gulp and poured the rest over my head to cool down. The weather was pretty much perfect for running at 14 degrees and overcast skies, but the water still felt refreshing. Unfortunately, more of it ended up over my right shoulder, weighing my vest down and causing one of the straps to constantly slide off. It also caused a bit of right nipple chaffing…

Despite my plans to run a negative split, the hilly course had taken its toll and I struggled to pick up the pace in the second half. A steep downhill descent allowed me to cruise a little and flush some lactic acid from my legs before we arrived at the “sting in the tail”: one long, steady incline without any crowd support. The headwind returned and I tucked myself behind a Lichfield Running Club member for 5 minutes or so, running in his slipstream. Conscious that I didn’t want to outstay my welcome, I took an opportunity to overtake and dug deep to attack the hill. I ran solo for a few minutes and worked hard to catch up to the runners in front, eventually settling in with a small group. A Tipton Harrier runner had given up and had to walk; I gave a quick bit of encouragement, urging him to carry on and he tucked himself into my group to start running again.

Running to win at the Aldridge 10k

Running to win at the Aldridge 10k

We finally levelled out on flat ground again and quickly turned a corner to see a sign reading “400m left to go”, which spurred us on to pick up the pace. Turning another corner, we arrived at the closing stage of the race with a sign reading “200m left to go”, and that we did! My group broke up and it was just one guy and me that started to sprint. He gained a few metres on me and received some crowd encouragement. I don’t like to lose and I had some fight left in my legs, so I kicked to chase him, taking a corner wide so that I would be on the inside lane at the next corner. I overtook him but it was difficult due to the final 200m being run on grass. I caught up to the small group in front of me and overtook another two guys with one last kick down the home straight to finish 66th out of 338.

On the home straight at the Aldridge 10k 2013

Check out the race face on the guy in red!

I stopped my watch but had no idea what my time was. I had to drop to one knee to catch my breath and made my way to the finish area, where I met Lis and collected my goodie bag. I had a chat with one of the volunteers from Parkrun that I’d spotted out on the course, mentioning that I shouldn’t have run so hard at yesterday’s event.

For those interested, here’s the Nike+ run data. Be sure to check out the elevation of those hills!

A new 10k PB at the Aldridge 10k

This is what a 10k PB looks like

I remembered to check my watch and it was a PB performance of 42:52; a new record by 26 seconds. Had this have been a flatter course, I’m confident that I would have finished with a sub-42 minute time.

The goodie bag was so-so; it contained a technical t-shirt (which I’ll probably never wear), a cereal bar and some flyers for other races. I’d have gladly sacrificed the t-shirt for a medal.

Ellie Simmonds' gold post box

Local hero, Ellie Simmonds’ gold post box

On the way back to the car, we spotted Ellie Simmonds’ gold post box.

All in all, I had a good race. It was reasonably priced at £16 and came with chip timing and a goodie bag. Organisation for the main event was sound and it never felt crowded on the course, a complaint of some of the larger races out there. The course itself was challenging, even for the strongest of runners, exposing any weaknesses in an athlete’s repertoire of skills. I’m glad my ability to attack hills is still decent despite a lack of focussed incline training. I’ll probably do 2 Castles 10k next year for variety, but if the two take place on different days then I may just come back for more.


  • Reasonably priced
  • Decent organisation on the course
  • Challenging course – good for training or testing your ability
  • No crowding
  • Chip timing


  • Poor goodie bag
  • Slightly chaotic start
  • Challenging course – some will hate it