This week’s running – 6th to 19th of February 2017

andy_yu_returning_from_injury

Now there’s a sight for sore eyes, and a cause of sore legs…

Woohoo! I’m finally back!

Apologies for the lack of an update over the previous week – I’ve rolled that up into this more extensive post.

Injury update and lessons learned

It turns out it’s incredibly difficult to blog about running without actually doing any running… I follow plenty of run-bloggers out on that there interweb and plenty of them have taken time off from blogging whilst on long-term injury or illness. Whilst I’ve endured four consecutive weeks of self-enforced non-running since the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I’ve not actually enjoyed uninterrupted and unhindered training since early December to give you a clearer view of how little running I’ve actually done. Colds and flus marred much of the final month of 2016, and then my Achilles tear occurred shortly before Christmas to challenge me on a weekly basis before I concluded I needed some extended time off.

So, what are the takeaways from my time on the injury bench?

Running is therapy for me. I have an obsessive and addictive personality, and hobbies are the perfect outlet. But when I wasn’t able to run, all I could focus on was not doing what I love and missing out on the training that drives me so.

Turns out the easiest way for me to switch off from pining for running was to literally do just that and forget about pounding the pavement. The first week or two was difficult initially, but worryingly, not thinking of, or doing, running became the norm after so little time. People say it takes up to three months for good learned behaviours to become habitual, but I was shocked by how little time it took for the familiarity and the want of running to fade away from memory. Physical marathons became Netflix marathons! Is it any wonder that so many people start the journey to healthier lifestyles, but so few are able to make them long-lasting?

Thoughts of eventually returning to running turned to dread at times. How much fitness will I have lost? How long will it take me to return to training normality? Unexpectedly, these fears need not have caused concern and I even surprised myself by confirming I’m actually a process driven runner after all – the goal is to get back to my peak, and to eventually surpass it, but it’s that journey there that’s so critical at the moment. It’s not a means to an end and I’ll come good when ready, and I’m cool with that.

So, without further ado, let’s move on to that first run back from injury…

Cannon Hill Parkrun

My extended stint at volunteering has been enjoyable and even catapulted me into the 25 Club – I’m looking forward to receiving the purple Tribe Sports volunteer t-shirt, but it won’t end there; I still fully intend to volunteer when tapering for races and so on. Making myself useful whilst injured has been my way of giving something back to Parkrun. If you consider yourself a regular Parkrunner, but can’t recall the last time you volunteered, or perhaps you’ve never volunteered, why not reacquaint/introduce yourself and sign up?

Donning my running gear for the first time in a month was a rather odd experience. My shoes felt completely alien to my feet and I had to constantly go through the routine in my mind so that I didn’t forget anything. Clothes? Check. Garmin? Check. Barcode? Check.

Once more, I commuted over to Cannon Hill Park with Liz Dexter, who reminded me repeatedly not to crock myself again by being an idiot. This is where the extended absence from running has proved helpful in my recovery and rehabilitation; the heady heights of peak training were a distant memory and it was now entirely about reintroducing regular running in a controlled and safe manner with no rush.

Sharing my warm-up jog with Nigel Beecroft, my legs felt great and were expectedly fresh with a noticeable bounce to my stride. Each forward step was joyous and my form returned quickly with no deterioration. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge waking up alive on Christmas morning – it’s great to be back!

Casting aside any lofty goals, Nigel, Simon and I agreed to just see what would happen if we aimed for somewhere between 22 and 23 minutes. I cared not that such finish times were some 3 to 4 minutes slower than the norm; the new norm is to simply survive 5k, pain-free.

The three of us ran in close unison, though they both had the edge on me as I regularly brought up the rear of the pack. My legs had plenty of strength and mobility, though it was my cardiovascular system that stopped me from pushing any harder. I’m unsure if it was purely lack of familiarity or actual fitness loss that held me back; probably a bit of Column A and a bit of Column B. But boy, oh boy, to be running again was all that mattered. The simple things in life, eh?

Both Nigel and Simon finished in just under 22 minutes, and me just over. Here’s the Strava data for this run.

A post-run coffee with them both, along with Carl Stainton, rounded off a problem-free return to running.

Out of the blue, I also bumped into Simon Cook, the chap that interviewed me back in December about run-commuting – ironically, something I’ve also not done since mid-December… He was interviewing another run-commuter as part of the research project, with only a few remaining participants left to cover.

5k around the neighbourhood

For the next two weeks, I’ve promised myself to not run any further than 5k and to cover the distance at comfortable paces. Sunday is traditionally most people’s long run allocation, so it was rather odd, though refreshingly welcome, to be completely done and dusted in fewer than 30 minutes!

Expectedly, there was some muscle soreness from the previous day’s 5k, along with being on my feet afterwards for some 6 hours. It’s most noticeable in my quads, hips and lower back from a lack of use.

Encouragingly, my VO2max is still sitting at 60-61 based on feedback from my Garmin.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

This week’s (lack of) running – 30th of January to 5th of February 2017

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Plenty of this means I’m finally back on the mend!

Better late than never, right?

Another week on the injury bench, but things are on the up!

Injury update

Recovery remains positive, and I’m beginning to feel like the calf strengthening exercises are really coming together now. Justin, the Birchfield Harrier I’ve recently befriended at work, gave me a spare theraband of his, so I’ve even been able to sneak in some additional work whilst I’ve been sat watching TV!

Massaging the tendon to keep it warm and to break down any scar tissue also appears to be coming good; the injury site is much, much smoother to the touch when I run my fingers over it, compared to a few weeks ago.

Towards the end of next week, I’m going to embark some short and easy runs to ease myself back in. Wish me luck!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I’ve been commuting to the park with fellow-volunteer, Liz Dexter, for the last couple of weeks (welcome to this blog), which has been rather fun. Volunteering more often than she runs, Liz is a fine example of how Cannon Hill functions with its large pool of potential volunteers being reluctant to come forward. For regular runners, three times a year is the expectation. There have been many theories of why Cannon Hill struggles to get people together more than other events; my personal belief is that with such a large event, many simply believe that somebody else will step in and take care of it, whereas with a much smaller event, it’s plainly evident what sort of direct impact a lack of volunteers will have.

As in previous weeks, I was positioned towards the small bridge and asked for people to keep right, only for plenty of runners to moments later begin straying left again! I suppose if the course and runners were self-marshalling, I’d be out of a role…

I’ll be volunteering again later this week, so I’ll see some of you out on the course once again.

This week’s (lack of) running – 23rd to 29th of January 2017

achilles_tendonitis

Now on three weeks and counting…

Another week of non-running; worryingly, it’s starting to feel like the norm…

Injury update

Favourably, my Achilles continues to feel better and perceivably heal. Motion range is also very good. I am sadly beginning to notice muscle atrophy in my legs, especially in my calves, from the lack of training. That return to running is going to be difficult…

A new colleague of mine, who happens to be a Birchfield Harrier hurdler and fellow non-drinker, traded a few injury stories with me – he himself having snapped his Achilles clean last summer. He has made an encouraging full recovery without surgery, so there’s hope for me yet!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

With all this time off from running, I put myself back to good use by volunteering at Cannon Hill again, and will do so for the next two weeks as well before I attempt to ease myself back into training. Looks like I’ll get that purple volunteer t-shirt well before originally projected!

Geoff placed me on the little bridge, which just so happens to be my favourite marshalling spot on the course. It affords plenty of action and I certainly feel like I’ve made a positive contribution afterwards – eyes in the back of my head are always useful!

This week’s (lack of) running – 16th to 22nd of January 2017

andy_yu_richard_gibbs_cannon_hill_parkrun

With Richard Gibbs and so, so cold… Photo by Geoff Hughes

Firmly on running hiatus for four weeks…

In it for the long haul

So, the first week of my self-imposed break from running went pretty smoothly. Thankfully, I’ve had enough to be preoccupied with to keep wall crawling at bay, for the moment.

My Achilles injury feels like it’s on the mend with each passing day. Walking and keeping the tendon warm definitely helps it to remain loose and supple; I’ve also begun strengthening calf raise exercises to prevent it getting any weaker.

In an attempt to not become a complete couch potato, I’ve also restarted my own press-up and sit-up challenge from mid-2015. At my peak, I was able to complete 100x press-ups to exhaustion, with sit-ups coming in at around 85x or 86x from memory. After a long lay-off, I can currently do 4x sets of 10 of each… I’ve got some work to do!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

After last week’s cancellation due to ice on the course, things looked dicey once more with a chance of another called off event. After a thorough check of the route, all was right with the world again and it was business as usual, but with the caveat for everybody to take it easy (the leaders still finished in 17 minutes or so, making it look effortless!)

Richard Gibbs and I were positioned by the final hill, allowing for a good old natter – Richard’s actually one of the first faces from Cannon Hill that I befriended when I began regularly attending each week several years ago.

I made the mistake of not wearing gloves – even clapping runners on did nothing. Making matters worse was the free can of Redbull that was given out as a promotional freebie… Lesson learned for the next volunteering occasion!

This week’s running – 2nd to 8th of January 2017

andy_yu_injury

Unlucky or cursed, you decide!

Motivation and an appetite for running are probably at a record low…

14 miles

I had a feeling this run would be challenging, down to having missed a couple of long runs in recent weeks due to illness. In my mind, I needed this run to go off without issue and that all the work towards the Brass Monkey Half Marathon would not be in vain.

Sadly, I was right and a challenge is what I got. From about mile 12 onwards, I somehow hit the metaphorical wall, due to either being under-fuelled, or burning through too much energy due to lack of recent endurance training.

To make matters even worse, an Achilles niggle crept back in and made itself known. Thankfully, the pinching sensation subsided once I was fully warmed up.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

When it rains, it pours

Becoming ill once and DNFing a race is unlucky. Becoming ill again shortly afterwards is unfortunate. Then picking up an injury, no matter how minor, is damn unfathomable, but it’s happened.

I took a few more days off from running in the hope that the Achilles niggle would clear itself up, losing yet more training time.

Plenty of gentle massage, occasionally with ibuprofen gel or Deep Heat, was just the ticket. I was still suffering from a lack of motion range, but crucially, any sensations of pinching or bruising had subsided.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

My 2 mile test jog to Cannon Hill Park confirmed I was able to at least jog, pain-free. My 200m set of strides with Simon and Nigel confirmed I was at least able to cover a short distance at speed, pain-free.

I wanted to see what kind of shape my cardiovascular system was in, and it wasn’t pretty. Going out hard over 5k prior to illness, I was somewhere in the region of 18:30 to 18:40 shape on an average Saturday. I ended up running 19:13 with the following splits:

  • 3:48
  • 3:54
  • 3:57
  • 3:56
  • 3:35

I was pretty much finished at the end and could not have gone any faster. A real contrast to when I could pace somebody to a sub-19 with enough capacity to still be able to speak with snatched sentences! Ever the eternal optimist, I did at least run 5k at what felt like PB effort, pain-free…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey 2017 outlook

I’ve made the difficult decision to treat the upcoming Brass Monkey Half Marathon as a swift training run. A real shame because it’s one of the flattest and fastest half marathons I have access to each year.

With everything that’s happened in the last five or so weeks, I’m in no fit state to be chasing sub-85 over 13.1 miles, and would only be setting myself up for an almighty fall if I did chase it. I’ve recast my objective to simply dip under 90 minutes as a marathon target pace run.

I’m obviously disappointed, though have chalked it up as the recreational hazards of running competitively, even if I am just competing with myself. I will have to get used to disappointment from here on out; somebody recently said to me their 10k PB was more than two years old, yet they’re still as motivated as ever to put the graft in.

The hunt for replacement races begins…

 

 

This week’s running – 14th to 20th of December 2015

merry_christmas_vader

I hoped the Force would be with me as I continued my quest for a 5k PB…

5k from work

My legs felt surprisingly chipper on Monday morning and you’d have been none the wiser that I’d raced 10 miles the previous day. By Monday afternoon, my quads were starting to suffer from DOMS, no doubt due to the faster stretches of downhill running at the Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run. I feared the dreaded “Tuesday Legs” would make a reappearance after a long absence…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile fartlek

Gah. “Tuesday Legs” did indeed reappear on Tuesday morning. My quads and IT bands were tight, despite vigorous stretching and foam rolling on Monday evening when I got in. My core and lower back were also aching, which were completely new ones on me. I have consciously been trying to improve my form and posture whilst I’m running hard, so I guess the soreness was simply another by-product of Sunday’s race.

With yet another 5k PB attempt lined up for Saturday’s Parkrun, I chose to keep Tuesday as a fartlek run to allow for enough recovery time.

What I wasn’t prepared for was quite how easy it all felt. Even running into a 16mph headwind on the out leg, my stride felt long and swift, and my form felt tall and strong despite the earlier protestations from my body. The return leg felt just as positive, if not more thanks to a slight tailwind behind me.

The sheer number of runners out on the canals on Tuesday was astounding. I’m lucky if I see another runner out there at all during winter evenings, but I counted 10 or so of us; all independent of each other before you think it was a club out on a run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

4 miles out and back to Edgbaston Reservoir

I wasn’t able to run home from the office on Wednesday due to a post office visit (hellish at Christmas), so I braved a trip to Edgbaston Reservoir for one lap. It was my first trip there with my current headtorch and it held up beautifully; the spread of light was more than enough to light the immediate vicinity and some distance ahead.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

Iain and I went to a midnight launch of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, finally getting home to bed at around 03:30. Several hours later, I went to work feeling worse for wear, though thankfully, only for the morning. My afternoon was freed up to make way for this run in daylight – such a novelty!

Needless to say, I didn’t feel great out there; an intense headwind slammed into me on the out leg to further chip away at my waning resolve. To try and give the run some sort of higher purpose, I slotted in 3 miles (1 on the out, 2 on the return) at my adjusted marathon pace of 6:55 per mile. They each came out on, or just a smidge faster than target for an injection of positivity.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Carl kindly volunteered to pace me for this 5k PB attempt. The goal was somewhere between 18:35 and 18:45, which worked out at around 3:43 per km, or just under 6 minutes per mile.

The odds were stacked against me, even with Carl’s help. Strong winds blew that morning and it was unseasonably warm. My endurance has come on leaps and bounds in recent months, but speed has sorely been missing with the fastest run of each week being a Parkrun. Throw in being a tad under-recovered from the busy week and it looked incredibly unlikely to happen.

Carl and I started a little further back than I would normally be for a PB smash up, with the plan calling for controlled and even splits. The first km started quickly, but balanced out with a slower second half to come in exactly on target.

Race pace effort was killing me; it felt unnatural and completely at odds to what my training bias was aligned with. The second km still came in close enough on target with 3:45 for the challenge to still be on.

The wheels finally fell off in the third km. I wasn’t able to hide from the wind, even whilst drafting behind Carl. The gap increased between us and I simply wasn’t able to regain contact with him; I told him the game was up and to continue with his run without me. The third km produced an ugly looking 4:09 split…

The fourth km was run solo, with only the odd straggler for the briefest moments of company. Surprisingly, the split came in at 4:11 so I’d at least stabilised myself with some recovery.

I managed to inject some much needed pace into the final km, thanks to a couple of guys that were close on my tail, eventually producing a 3:54 split and an overall 19:44 finish.

Yep, a massive positive split and an incredibly difficult run under difficult conditions. I’m consoled that my performance wasn’t that poor in the grand scheme of things; others that I normally finish with or close to also produced comparatively slow times on Saturday. runbritain has only ranked the conditions as 1.0, suggesting there were too few with handicap profiles to generate an accurate course condition score that should have been higher.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run. Thanks go out to Carl for his help – I’ll produce the goods next time!

Injury woes – part 2

All week, in the back of my mind, I could tell that a potential injury was brewing. I’d been incredibly busy, both in and out of work, yet still managed to get all of my scheduled runs in. Stretching, foam rolling and massage took a back-seat to everything else.

Predictably, a niggle did appear after Cannon Hill Parkrun. My left Achilles tendon became tight and a tad sore and mirrored the niggle I picked up only a few weeks ago in my right Achilles tendon. Me thinks some strengthening exercises need to be continued because there’s clearly some sort of breakdown in my biomechanics somewhere.

14 canal miles

I was conscious that my last couple of Sunday long runs were a little short on distance, capping off at 11 miles being the longest. Injury, recovery, racing and so on made their contributions to the mileage deficit. With only 3 weeks remaining before I taper for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I needed to get my arse back into gear and get a few 13 and 14 mile runs in.

The intense wind stuck around to be the only thing that marred an otherwise beautiful winter’s Sunday morning. I kept the first half easy so as not to be wrestling with the gusts that came my way, but also to give myself a fighting chance of 3 continuous miles at marathon pace on the return leg.

Annoyingly, this was one of those runs where the presence of headwind was felt at every turn. This didn’t stop the 3 marathon paced miles coming in on target (6:55, 6:52, 6:52), though the increased effort of staying on pace took its toll eventually in the closing stages with around 2 miles to go. The metaphorical well was empty to make for an incredibly unpleasant end; further proof that the lack of longer runs had caught up to me.

There was some good news – I finally clocked in with over 45 miles for the week; a new record high!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Christmas plans

By the time you good folks read this, I’ll have finished with work for 2015 until Monday 4th of January. Plenty of time to get some good running in during daylight hours for some much needed vitamin D.

On Christmas Day, I’ll be found at Brueton Parkrun, followed by Cannon Hill on Boxing Day. New Year’s Day will see me run the double at Brueton Parkrun and then Perry Hall Parkrun only 90 minutes later. With all the additional Parkruns slotted in, I’ll have to move my rest and recovery days to accommodate; I’ll also have to make sure my recovery runs are very, very easy to compensate for the additional mileage, though I also welcome to possibility of a 50+ mile week. Without work to worry about, I should just about get away with it…

Whether you decide to get some extra running in over the festive period like me (remember, calorie deficit means more food to be eaten), or choose to put your feet up, I hope you have a merry Christmas/joyous other religious holiday/successful secular gift exchange!

10 running rule shorts for you from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

  1. If you see a porta potty with no line, use it. Even if you don’t need to.
  2. If you have to ask yourself, Does this driver see me? The answer is no.
  3. If you have to ask yourself, Are these shorts too short? The answer is yes.
  4. When packing for a race: If you ask yourself, Will I need this? the answer is yes.
  5. When running in winter: If it’s shiny, it’s slippery.
  6. If the person on the next treadmill can identify the music on your iPod, the volume is too high.
  7. For an estimated marathon finish time, double your half-marathon time and add 10 minutes.
  8. Never take a cup from the first fluids table.
  9. When running winter: If you’re warm before you begin running, you’re overdressed.
  10. Err on the side of too much massage.

This week’s running – 23rd to 29th of November 2015

achilles_tendinitis

Over-use? Wrong shoes? Gypsy curse? You decide.

Eugh. Down, but possibly not out with an injury…

5k from work

I received a few strange looks from colleagues as I left the office in shorts for the recovery run home. Setting foot outside of the building, I regretted not wearing a base layer and given the easy pace, I never really warmed up for a rather unpleasant 3 miles.

For one reason or another, the nicely paved towpath was closed, forcing me to cross over on to the other side that was caked in mud and dead leaves. Yuck!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

The previous evening, I was speaking with Carl about injury resilience and physiotherapy. Out of nowhere and BAM, my right Achilles tendon started playing up on this fartlek run. The only cause I could think of was the Adidas Adios Boost 2 shoes I wore, which are the lowest heel drop shoes I currently own. Either that or it was down to age-old overuse…

The sensation was a dull feeling of soreness that responded to deep finger presses. Superficially, it didn’t change my running gait or form; I still had the quick pitter-patter cadence and the pain was intermittent in its appearance, with no consistency in how it was triggered.

As somebody who doesn’t often get injured (besides this, the last injury was almost 2 years ago), this is kinda new territory for me. Rest, ice and anti-inflammatories seem to be the recommendations along with some stretching to keep it mobile.

Besides the niggle, it was great to get some faster paces in without any storms or hurricanes to contend with. I didn’t see any other runners out there, which was most odd considering the previous week with Storm Barney appeared to not put anybody off. Cyclists that were present all behaved themselves, too!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

4 miles from work

With the towpath still closed, I was once again forced to venture on to the rather grim, unpaved side of the canal. I was almost ankle deep in mud during some sections, no doubt churned up due to the rain and increased footfall from the diversion.

This run home had another purpose…

For weeks, if not months, I see the same homeless guy in Brindley Place as I pass through on all manner of runs. I’ve always wanted to do something for him, but I don’t carry any money when I run, nor do I have any food on me. On Tuesday night’s fartlek run, I saw him again out in the bitter cold and it got to me. Even with heating and a roof over my head, I’ve felt the colder temperatures of late and it was difficult not to think of him in such difficult conditions.

Once I reached home, I dug out an old water-proof North Face coat that no longer fitted me – it was always a little big on me to begin with, even before I started seriously running! It had barely been worn and I wanted it to go to someone that would directly and immediately benefit from it, so off it went into my bag for the next day.

Running through Brindley Place once more, he wasn’t in the place I saw him on Tuesday. I took a chance that he’d be in his normal spot over by Gas Street Basin and The Cube, and as luck would have it, there he was! The coat was a perfect fit and big enough to go over what he was already wearing, which needless to say, wasn’t very much. I stopped to have a chat with Paul for 5 minutes or so and learned that he’d been homeless for a couple of years before I bid him farewell.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Better safe than sorry

That Achilles niggle from Tuesday night’s fartlek run? I decided to listen to my body and take a couple of days off from running, hoping the soreness would subside in time for next week’s 5k PB attack. Achilles tendinitis has a reputation for being notoriously lengthy to recover from due to restricted blood flow – self-massage, stretching and ibuprofen gel became my new best friends in a bid to speed things along.

It’s easy to dish out advice, but oh so hard to follow one’s own recommendations!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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Marshalling at Cannon Hill Parkrun

It was only a few days prior that I was talking about volunteering at Parkrun. With injury in tow, I put Lis’ name and mine forward to marshal at Cannon Hill.

Commiserations were offered when I revealed I was injured. I was quite envious of those running that morning because conditions were pretty much spot on for fast times – the forecasted wind never materialised and the temperature was just right for 5k pace.

One issue both Lis and I observed was that of identifying Parkrunners from those that are just running in the park. We saw two slower women leave the main pack and head out towards the triangle along with some of the sub-20 minute folks (potentially cutting out the 2nd lap). My attempt to run after them and ask if they were part of Parkrun failed miserably and we concluded they appeared sure of what they were doing, so were unlikely to have been with Parkrun – we never did see them again for further confirmation.

Another issue we witnessed was that of the main pack of runners spilling out all over the path just as the front-runners were finishing their second lap. Without a marshal by the old pub to tell runners to keep to the right of the path, the front-runners had to clear their own way and were pretty much screwed out of fast times.

10 canal miles

Prodding and poking my Achilles tendon gave me some hope that any inflammation was temporary. The lower leg was a little stiff, but pain was non-existent to convince me to head out for an easy 10 miles.

With strong winds, cold temperatures and heavy rain forecasted, I unusually wore a base layer vest underneath a long-sleeve top. Stepping outside, I was comfortable for once before having warmed up, though later regretted the attire decision when I couldn’t shift the excess heat.

I felt like Bambi on ice out there, not because there was actually ice on the ground, but because I’d lost a lot of co-ordination from only 2 missed runs (one long, one fast). I kept the first 5 miles easy – between 8 and 9 minute miles. There wasn’t a single peep from my Achilles tendon in terms of soreness; I was cautious not to put too much force through my right leg to further add to the feeling of loss of control.

On the return, I decided to test the tendon out with a single mile at marathon pace; it felt spot-on, and dispelled some of the co-ordination problems by making me focus on my form. We were almost back in business, which was good enough for me!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The Sneyd Striders Christmas Pudding Run

What better way to celebrate side-stepping an injury than to enter a race! Whether I make it to said race is a different matter, but we’ll worry about that at a later date…

I said a number of months ago that a 10 mile race before a half marathon would make for an ideal simulation-come-training run. At the moment, I have a reasonable idea of what I’m capable of, but I’d like a bit more confirmation – fail to prepare and prepare to fail and all that jazz. With this race appearing on the calendar at pretty much the perfect time, it’d be rude not to. The clincher was the Christmas pudding as part of the goodies at the end.

The intention is to run it at target half marathon pace, which is somewhere between 6:30 and 6:32 per mile. The McMillan calculator is suggesting a full-on 10 mile assault would be in the region of 6:25 per mile; my eyes are watering at the thought of sub-20 5k pace for 10 miles!

Right. Time for an entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

When in doubt, wear gloves and a hat

Is it cold out? Wear gloves and a hat.

Is it just chilly? Wear gloves and a hat.

I guarantee you: You will never regret wearing gloves and a hat. Ever. And eventually, you will regret not having them.

Just wear ‘em.

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

What is a brass monkey anyway?

What is a “brass monkey” anyway? This is what Wikipedia says…

This week was all about final preparation towards the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, so this entry is purposely short.

10k fartlek along Hagley Road

In an ideal world, I wanted to have completed this run more frequently this month before the Brass Monkey, but last week’s cold put an end to that.

There was no fitness goal in mind behind this run; it was just something faster to keep the legs turning over at a decent rate until Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

I probably didn’t need the run home from work seeing as I had already committed myself to using a Joker towards Jantastic, but part of me wanted to try and get back into a routine of sorts.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Fear the niggle

Any fans of 24 out there? Lis and I just recently started to watch the adventures of Jack Bauer, so I had been sitting down a lot more than usual.

They say sitting is slowly killing us all. Whilst I lived to tell the tale, my right knee picked up some sort of niggle. There was no ache or soreness present; simply a feeling that something wasn’t mechanically right with it on the inside. Loading it with my body weight appeared fine, so I wrote-off all of the week’s remaining runs up to race day to give it a chance to settle down.

Thankfully, normal service resumed come Friday. Not a single peep out of the knee on the walk into and out of work, and an entire day’s walking in York on Saturday was all the confirmation I needed.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2015

For my full race review, please click here.

Lis recently asked me what I would do once I ran out of things to quote from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book. I don’t actually have an answer right now, but what I do know is that I’m getting dangerously close to the end of the book…

Fight the urge to drop out

If you’re doing it right, at some point you will want to drop out of just about every race you run. This is normal. Recognize this fact and expect it. During your training, anticipate how you’ll respond when this happens, when your body rebels and your mind urges you to stop.

This week’s running – 9th to 15th of December

A groin strain for Andy Yu

I actually was walking like John Wayne earlier in the week…

This week almost didn’t happen due to a very short lived injury!

Tuesday Treadmill Session

Another Tuesday, another speedwork session. The treadmill I’ve been doing all these sessions on was taken so I had to make use of another in front of the windows overlooking the main high street. The calibration seemed accurate, showing similar figures like my control treadmill.

I upped the pace to 16kmph and also discovered the max speed goes all the way up to 20kmph, aka elite athlete 10k speeds! As always, the first rep felt relaxed and manageable and the second rep continued to feel positive. The third started to feel a little ropey where I was counting down the seconds and metres. Finishing the fourth rep, I was incredibly tempted to call it quits but I decided to push on and do all five.

One thing I did notice during each rep was my reflection in the glass. Not wishing to blow my own trumpet but damn, my form looked good! Shoulders were relaxed, arm swing was controlled and there was virtually no vertical movement. Compare this to the guy next to me who was bounding along on his treadmill like Tigger with thunderous steps.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Injury? Nein, nein, nein!

I’ve been blessed where injury or illness for me is rare and if it does ever occur, it’s normally quite minor.

Sometime during Wednesday afternoon, I picked up a groin strain that must have come from the previous evening’s exertions. Initially, the strain was merely tightness that didn’t affect my walking gait but grew progressively worse as the afternoon wore on. By the end of the evening, I could only walk with an obvious limp. Paracetamol and ibuprofen gel did nothing to take the edge off the pain that continued on into the next morning.

I picked up some strong ibuprofen tablets from Boots and thankfully, they worked their magic and by the end of the working day, everything felt a lot more relaxed. There was still some detectable tightness during the toe-off stage of the gait, irrespective of whether I was walking or jogging.

Undeterred, I still went out for the usual Thursday 6 miles along the Hagley Road. I took it easy in the opening stages of this run, looking to steadily increase the pace if the injury allowed. The tightness was non-existent whilst I was out there pounding the pavement which gave me the confidence to keep pushing, ending up with what Marathon Talk have started calling a Royal Flush when each mile is run faster than the last.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Dave and I had discussed our intentions for Cannon Hill Parkrun, both wanting to run something around 19:45.

Conditions weren’t quite all there for fast 5k running, with cold, crisp winter air and slightly damp ground underfoot for less traction than usual.

We placed ourselves in the second row on the start line with Dave going out hard initially. He was just a few metres ahead of me but decided to let this advantage go and dropped back after the first corner. I could see him in the corner of my eye each time I looked back but this gap grew ever larger as the run went on.

I decided not to stick with the group ahead of me for fear of blowing up, but I was still ahead of the group behind me to leave me in no-man’s land. Slowly, a few runners would creep up on me and overtake which spurred me on to try and keep up.

Exiting the triangle, I noticed Dave was maybe 10 or so seconds behind me. I had enough breath to cheer a few fellow runners on whilst returning to the finish; if ever you see me during this stage of the run and I do not greet or acknowledge you, I’m probably on for a PB so apologies in advance.

Two guys managed to overtake me on the approach to the Mac, pulling me along with them for the last portion of the route. With just 200m left to go, I managed to outsprint both of them for a 19:43 finish which I gladly took. In the finish funnel, some cheeky bugger tried to overtake me and nick my finish token! Thankfully, the marshals alerted him by saying “I know you ran fast today, but you didn’t run that fast!” and made him slot back in behind me.

Dave returned home with another consistent 19:55ish finish, commenting that he’s missing the long runs as an explanation for not being able to push harder.

Afterwards, myself, Nigel, Dave and new chap called Matt were discussing the merits of going out hard and hanging on for dear life. This is my favoured strategy in the 5k; Nigel after a round of motivational talks at his workplace came up with this inspirational piece: “Don’t worry about the miles you’ve already run; worry about the miles that you have left” (not quoted word for word due to my failing memory).

Cannon Hill will be putting on a New Year’s Day run which I’ve volunteered for. I’m curious of the numbers we’ll see, with my guess of 100 or so looking likely based on one snowy Parkrun from earlier in the year that attracted 74 runners.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

16 miles along the south Birmingham canals and Hagley Road

After last week’s long run left me feeling somewhat dejected, I took action to make sure this week’s long run would go well.

Whilst the northern canals are generally in much better shape at this time of year thanks to brick paths and dirt that’s less churned up, they do also feature short inclines and descents due to the various canal locks dotted around the route. The multi lap route also seemed more mentally challenging, offering less stimulation.

I set out with just 500ml of Lucozade in my CamelBak that was immediately less noticeable on my shoulders. The early miles flew by and the canal was surprisingly in decent shape with just a few spots of mud and some larger puddles, but nothing that was too taxing. A fair number of runners were out already getting their miles in.

I stepped off the out and back canal route just as the clouds opened up, saving me from the potential horror of a very muddy canal towpath. Instead, I received an absolute soaking from rainfall and cars driving past me too quickly and drenching me further with road spray. This was a real test of mental strength as well as physical stamina. My clothes were all sodden and heavy, and the rain made visibility poor.

The Hagley Road route, as previously mentioned, is deceptively uphill making for my second Royal Flush attempt of the week more challenging. I ended up running almost to Bearwood High Street to make up for the lost distance coming off the canal and heading straight on to Broad Street; there’s nothing more frustrating than running around in circles at the end of a long run to try and bump up the mileage.

All in all, the long run was a good’un and whilst tired at the end, I didn’t feel destroyed and managed to pace myself well, with my CamelBak running empty with just 2 miles left to go. If I can make it to 20 mile training runs and still run at an average of less than 9 minutes per mile, then I’ll be a happy bunny come the London Marathon in April.

One oddity I have noticed this week is the difference between my two pairs of Nike Pegasus 30 running shoes. Both are no more than 2 months old in terms of manufacture date but they feel dramatically different to each other. My first pair (dark grey) has a really pleasant plushness to them, making them perfect for long runs. The second pair (blue) has a much firmer, harsher ride and is what I wore on this long run. Both pairs now have just over 90 miles put through them so there should no longer be any break-in issues. I did initially wonder whether the temperature had a part to play in the firmness of the cushioning; there has been some research conducted into this where rubber and midsole foam changes its characteristics depending on the ambient surroundings. I’ll swap the insoles around on the next long run to try and rule that factor out.

Here’s the Garmin data.

This week’s The Runner’s Rule Book entry

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

Signing up for a race equals instant motivation

A race – weeks or months away – is the proverbial carrot, dangled out there for you pursue.

Even if you don’t plan to really race your race (in the “run till you feel like puking” sense), registering for an event that is 6 or 10 or 26 weeks down the road remains the single most foolproof way to motivate yourself to get out there and run day after day.

Want an easy way to cement this commitment?  Sign up for the race with a friend of group of friends. Bingo! You’ve got yourself not just a goal etched on the calendar but a built-in support group to reach it.

Now all you’ve got to do is train.

This week’s running – 11th to 17th of November

Marathon base building begins!

Marathon base building began this week

After several bad/tired weeks of running, this week finally perked up for me!

4 x treadmill 800m reps

After last week’s less than stellar return to the treadmill, I had a belter of a speedwork session on Tuesday at the gym.

I packed my Flyknit Racers for the task at hand, knowing that I would need the lightweight shoes for the high leg turnover rate. I was ready to go out hard, properly fueled up on a mince pie and a Mars bar from earlier in the afternoon at the office.

Like all of my speedwork sessions, I always warm-up beforehand with at least a mile of easy running. My target speed on the treadmill was 15.5kmph, which is roughly 6:15 mile pace; perfect to get me back into at least half-decent 5k shape after all these weeks.

The reps were suitably tough, especially on a treadmill. After each 90 second recovery, I’d have to ease myself back on to the moving belt and quickly get my legs up to speed to avoid flying off the back!

I probably could have pushed myself to do 5 reps, but I’d read a valuable piece of advice somewhere that recommended you should feel like you can do one more rep before calling it quits. Inevitably, it’s always that last rep that pushes you over the edge so why risk it?

Take a look at the Garmin data here. Ignore the slowing pace on each rep; my gait adjusted each time to become more efficient to cover the same distance in fewer steps. Either my footpod needs recalibrating or the treadmill needs recalibrating.

I did pick up one niggle in the form of a blood blister on the ball of my left foot, which would come back later in the week to haunt me.

Cancelled Thursday 6 miles

The blood blister I’d picked up was no cause for concern on Wednesday where I was able to walk perfectly fine on it. It did rudely wake me up on Wednesday night/early Thursday morning by throbbing away. It felt incredibly tender and swollen, making it rather painful to walk on.

I put a Compeed blister patch on it, though it didn’t seem to get any better, making me call off my staple Thursday evening 6 mile session.

Friday was much better with only a dull ache but was still enough to make me think about volunteering at Parkrun on Saturday instead of running.

Bramley 20

Wallowing in self pity of another mishap in my running, I took the time to enter the Bramley 20 – a 20 mile road race near Reading. It’s a popular event for those preparing for spring marathons, also offering a 10 mile option for half marathon prep.

One of the failings of my marathon schedule from earlier this year was a lack of race pace training. All of my long runs were done at slower than marathon pace with no specific pace work. I intend to tackle the Bramley 20 in the following manner:

  • First 5 miles at 8:10 mile pace
  • Next 5 miles at 8:05 mile pace
  • Next 7 miles at 8:00 mile pace
  • Final 3 miles at 7:55 mile pace

I intend for my marathon goal pace at the 2014 London Marathon to be somewhere around the 8:00 mile mark, which should see me finish in less than 3.5 hours – my target marathon finish time from this year’s London Marathon.

Dom and Kev are also running so I won’t be out there alone.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I slept reasonably well on Friday night going into Saturday which helped me feel better about the task at hand – to dip below 20 minutes at Cannon Hill. I’ve had a dreadful time as of late with Parkrun where I seemed to have lost a lot of the speed that I had worked so hard to develop and refine over the summer.

Needing all the help I could get, I downed one of my beetroot juice shots and made sure I was adequately hydrated and fueled before hitting the 5k distance.

Arriving at Cannon Hill, I completed my usual 1 mile warm-up lap of the park to get all cylinders firing. I had a brief catch-up with a few folks that I hadn’t seen for quite a while and despite only a 2 week absence from Parkrun, I felt like I had been away for much longer.

I toed up at the start line and had set my Garmin to a target pace of 6:22 which equates to roughly a 19:50 finish; realistically achievable and comfortably sub-20.

My first mile was slightly ahead of goal pace at 6:15 before the pace nose-dived to beyond 6:30. A chap from Sparkhill Harriers stayed with me for much of the run, probably helping me to keep to a higher pace.

I managed to finish in 19:50 and exactly on target. It was touch and go whether I would be able to or not, with the pace slipping dramatically before a big push at the end to reclaim some lost time. I felt bloody awful after finishing with my breathing laboured. Nigel came over for a chat; he did shout out to me on the course but my head was in a really bad place at that moment in time so I apologise for not shouting back!

I was incredibly pleased to hit sub-20 again where it’s an indicator that the speedwork and hill reps I’m doing at the moment are moving me back in the right direction. It’s also a sign that I’m finally recovering or even recovered from my autumn races and my trip to New York.

The Garmin data can be found here.

15 miles of the north Birmingham canals

On top of my lack of marathon specific pace work, I also left it far too late to begin my marathon training for this year’s London Marathon. The harsh winter robbed me of several weeks of training, so much so that I actually did my longest run of 22 miles in the snow because I had no choice! Marathon training began today to build in some buffer; I have a feeling we’re in for another bad winter…

I loaded up my CamelBak with 750ml of weak Nectar Fuel, conscious that I’d eaten absolutely loads yesterday and should have been well fueled for the 15 miles ahead. I packed an energy gel as well, just in case.

The goal for the session was to run it at an average 8:20 pace. This turned out to be quite comfortable, requiring concentration to stay on pace but not difficult enough to push me over the edge. My breathing remained stable and relaxed throughout, giving me a good indication that I should be able to tackle my 20+ mile training runs at around 9:00 miles.

My CamelBak performed beautifully and I’d guesstimated well over the amount of fluid I would need. Upon finishing, I had just 3 mouthfuls left before running empty, so I wasn’t wasting energy hauling around fluid I didn’t need or worse, running out!

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Closing thoughts

Despite the cancelled Thursday session, I’m incredibly pleased with how this week has gone. My speed is slowly coming back which is reassuring because I like to use my 5k ability as a benchmark of my fitness. I’ve also made that first step into marathon training and I will be a lucky boy if every session goes as well as today’s did.

Lis pointed out to me that I’d failed to include an entry from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy last week, so here’s two to make up for it:

Expand your definition of fun

As a runner, your definition of fun – which previously might have included such activities as visiting water parks, watching screwball comedies on DVD, and scrapbooking – must be… well, let’s call it broadened.

For runners, fun might include:

  • Waking up at 5:30am to run 10 miles
  • Running in blistering heat
  • Running in the rain
  • Running in 400m circles
  • Feeling as if your lungs are about to explode
  • Paying a race director good money for the privilege of turning your own toes black and blue
  • Any combination of the above

Black toenails are badges of honour

Run long enough and you’ll wind up ruining a toenail or two. It’s a cost of doing business as a runner.

Whether it’s because your shoes are too big or too small or because you’ve just finished a run or race with lots of toe-punishing downhills or simply because the toenail gods happen to be in a foul mood, someday you will peel off your socks and see black where before there was pink.

Congratulations! These bruised (and possibly bloody) nails are tiny trophies, conferred upon you for toughing it out. They are black-and-blue badges of honour.

But that doesn’t mean you have to flash those badges at everyone you meet. Rule of thumb: if you’re socialising with a group that mostly or even primarily consists of other runners, wearing footwear that exposes your nasty nails is fine (unless it’s a formal event).

Otherwise, keep those nails under wraps.