This week’s running – 19th to 25th of September 2016


You know what they say about people with big feet… Big shoes. Photo by Lis Yu

Week 20 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Less than 2 weeks remain by the time you read this!

4x 800m at 5k pace

So, I made it to the taper phase of my training where the P & D schedule shifts focus to some VO2max workouts to return some speed and higher gear efficiency to the mix.

In total, the evening called for around 8 miles and with the towpath closures still in place, door to door from the office comes up as 10 or so miles, so I elected to commute to my former home of the Jewellery Quarter to begin my run. I do miss the good old JQ, where I had the benefits of city centre living without actually living in the city centre.

Cruising through the university, the place was crawling with new and returning students for a real contrast of how quiet it’d been all summer. Gradually diminishing light levels reminded me to dig out my headtorch to prep and charge up for impending use in the next few weeks.

After an opening uphill rep on pavement, I chopped the total down to just 4x in a bid to keep a little back to accommodate Sunday’s Robin Hood Half Marathon.

An additional minor annoyance was of my own doing. I recently upgraded to the iPhone 7 Plus, which is ginormous and just about fits in my Flipbelt, anchored down with safety pins. Thankfully, it managed to stay mostly out of the way, though its increased size and heft were definitely noticeable compared to my previous iPhone 6.

Splits came out about where I wanted them to be:

  1. 3:19 (uphill)
  2. 3:01
  3. 2:58
  4. 2:58

An added bonus was my Garmin deeming me worthy enough to return to a VO2max level of 60 after weeks of hovering around 57 due to illness.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles recovery

It was joyous to be able to run at an easy recovery effort in cool conditions, not feeling like I would have to slow to a walk to keep my heart rate low. I’m sure many others I witnessed in their final weeks of Autumn training agreed!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles with strides

One of the benefits of following a training schedule is I’ve been able to defer responsibility to it, which has meant that some days I don’t know exactly what I will be covering until maybe hours prior. This was just one example, where I had somehow got into my mind that I’d be covering another medium-long run of between 10 and 12 miles, but was pleasantly surprised to see just a short run with some strides thrown in for good measure.

Whilst exiting Cannon Hill Park, I did bump into Dave Burton, though embarrassingly recognised the Aldridge 10k t-shirt he wore before recognising him…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Whilst I didn’t plan to race the Robin Hood Half Marathon, I was still conscious of the effort required to still run 10 of its 13.1 miles at marathon pace. I debated that I’d gain little from running at Cannon Hill Parkrun and opted to volunteer as a marshal instead. Whilst I said several weeks or months ago that I wouldn’t go out of my way to rack up the 25 occasions for the volunteer t-shirt, it would appear I’m going to get there much sooner than expected!

Robin Hood Half Marathon

For the full report on how the race that wasn’t a race went, click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

Yesterday’s Robin Hood Half Marathon did just the trick to give me a much needed confidence boost. After my shaky Kenilworth Half Marathon several weeks ago, I wavered and questioned what pace I should approach the Yorkshire Marathon with; playing it slightly safe would almost guarantee an enjoyable race with a near-certain PB,  but I’d forever look back and  think, “What if…”

Speaking with several peers last week, they all agreed that I was so close to my target on paper that I would only regret it later if I didn’t take the opportunity to see what all this training could produce. If I fail, then it just means I’m not there yet. So, it’s without further ado that I lay out my marathon targets:

  • A goal: sub-3:00
  • B goal: sub-3:05 (current London Good For Age for 18 to 40 year old blokes)
  • C goal: sub-3:10

Well, the A goal had to be this, right? It’s the Holy Grail that many recreational runners strive towards and has been the basis of my marathon paced runs of the last 5 months.

The B goal is realistically where I’m at. I’m almost certain London Marathon will lower the Good For Age criteria to sub-3:00 after 2017’s race, such is the ever improving standard of runners out there. This worries me not, because I’ve no intention or desire to run London again.

The C goal is a catch all should I come a cropper in the quest for the A and B goals.

So, there you have it folks. Less than two weeks to go!


This week’s running – 16th to 22nd of May 2016


Back to 40+ mile weeks

Week 2 of the 22 week marathon schedule. A pretty positive week of training and firmly back in running normality.

4x 1600m at 10k pace

Not a great session, no sir-ee.

A busy weekend away from home and a busy beginning of the week at work meant I was lacking a certain snap, crackle and pop. What also didn’t help were the dodgy weather conditions; drizzle left the ground slick and an awkward 10mph crosswind hit on three out of four sides of the park.

The first rep was off as expected.

The second rep was faster, but I doubted if I could pull another two.

The third rep, I went clattering into a Kings Heath Running Club member due to a blind corner where I couldn’t see them and nor could they see me. Bizarrely, this was somehow the fastest split of the four!

The final rep was an absolute mess and I had zilch left in the tank.

  1. 6:18
  2. 6:16
  3. 6:12
  4. 6:25

Here’s the Strava data for the session.

5 miles from city centre

Due to the piss poor weather of late, I ended up getting changed into my running gear at New Street Station rather than change at work and freeze my arse off on the commute into the city centre. Turned out Grand Central/New Street Station’s facilities aren’t half bad with large and very clean cubicles etc!

As is expected of a recovery run, there were no dramatics at all when running at an easy pace. I even left my Garmin on its watch face, so I had little to no data to go by bar the occasional lap summary.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Last week’s medium-long run from the office taught me that I needed to jettison a lot more of the crap I normally carry in a backpack so that it would fit inside a Flipbelt. No point making a run harder than it already has to be!

Well, I did just the above and needless to say, covering 9 miles without the literal weight on my shoulders was most welcome.

The weather continued to be disturbed, which did me a favour by clearing people off the canal towpaths, especially around the busy Brindley Place portion of the route.

No longer frequenting the canal as often as I used to, this run was my first encounter of the season with an angry goose protective of its young – definitely something I’ve not missed!

A strange observation I’ve made on my last couple of longer runs is the amount of time it takes for me to warm-up at the moment; I’m often not getting into my stride until sometimes halfway in.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I knew from the get-go that I needed a slower run at Cannon Hill, with the pace more akin to somewhere between 10k and half marathon rather than 5k. Not only was it to compensate for my marathon schedule that’s been stripped of half marathon pace, but also because I was feeling it after 3 weeks back on the prescribed training bandwagon after an extended period of purely maintenance effort.

I jogged once more to Cannon Hill Park and convinced myself that the 2+ mile run there does me a world of good as a warm-up.

Dropping my pace down to 19:30 5k equivalent allowed me to tag on to the final km of Alex Eden’s run and push him along to a new PB – his third in almost as many weeks.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

With Cannon Hill closing its doors temporarily on the 4th of June, the gang and I have decided to go on tour to Arrow Valley Parkrun instead. Only Simon’s been to Arrow Valley before, so it’ll be a welcome change of scenery for the rest of us.

14 miles – to Brueton Park and back

Dave fancied joining me on this jaunt out to Solihull’s Brueton Park and back, though he’s still yet to visit Brueton Parkrun itself.

Our training paces over the last few weeks have been uncannily similar, only differing by a second or two. I knew we’d complement each other quite well, though not without some caution because both of us are at quite different places in our training objectives; Dave’s chasing after shorter 5k and 10k goals with an eye on an autumn half marathon, whilst I’m all about going further without slowing down too dramatically.

For a novelty, conversation between us was actually rarely about running; Dave described it to Lis as more “Radio 4”, so make of that what you will.

Around 10 miles in, I noticed Dave wasn’t looking quite as fresh as he did several miles earlier and discussion between us turned into more of a monologue from me. Mile 13’s climb up Brook Lane nearly broke him; thankfully, a gentle cool-down mile came immediately afterwards as the reward for several minutes of suffering.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 9th to 15th of May 2016


Not quite as bad as above, but close enough!

Week 1 of the 22 week marathon schedule began…

Kit drop time

“No such thing as wrong weather, just the wrong clothing” said someone, somewhere. The prior weekend’s heatwave hit home that I needed some additional lightweight kit to make this marathon campaign as achievable, and therefore as comfortable as possible.

Browsing through the Nike website, they actually had nothing that met my needs and they were pretty much out of stock of the tried and true Miler vest that I’ve worn for years in training. Nike had also seemingly discontinued the Race Day shorts that I’ve relied upon since forever, replacing it instead with a pair that’s almost £20 more expensive at £55!

So, I went off in search of what other brands had to offer. Adidas was a non-starter with designs that I knew would annoy the hell out of me. In the end, Under Armour and Brooks unexpectedly came good. Under Armour had some lightweight vests (Streaker Heatgear) for around £17 each with 15% discount, so I picked up a couple for the collection. Brooks had some race shorts that were uncannily similar in design to Nike’s Race Day version, but with additional gel pockets; I snapped up two pairs and the total came to just a little more than the £55 that Nike wanted for just one.

I rounded off the kit drop by replacing my assortment of knackered socks with some fresh sets of MoreMile’s Moscows at eight pairs for £20, along with two additional pairs of Nike’s Pegasus 32 running shoes that were 20% off.

Marathon campaign in the summer? Bring it on!

4x 1600m at 10k pace

As I’ve said many a time before, I’m not a fan of effort between 10k and half marathon pace; that feeling when you’re running reasonably hard, but not all out. The recent DK10K exposed this and had me sat at nearer half marathon pace, rather than 10k pace.

After the short-lived several days of glorious spring/summer-esque weather, things took a turn for the worse and I ended up completing this session in very wet conditions.

After what was probably an inadequate warm-up in hindsight, I went into the first 1600m rep at around 3:51 per km pace, but was always off target by a couple of seconds. Thoughts immediately turned to what the three remaining reps would look like…

Despite the first rep being an eye-opener, the 3:45 recovery was still probably too generous and 3:30 or even 3:15 would have sufficed.

The next three reps were actually not bad at all and reasonably consistent in pace. It was only in the final 400m of each remaining rep when the effort to stay on target bubbled to the surface to make me wish for it all to be over. Splits below:

  1. 6:14
  2. 6:07
  3. 6:12
  4. 6:14

Here’s the Strava data for the session.

5 miles from city centre

The schedule called for 5 miles on Wednesday, which coincided quite nicely with a run-commute from the city centre.

Conditions weren’t great, with light drizzly showers adding to the already high levels of humidity. I took things easy since this was to be treated as more of a recovery run than anything at a prescribed pace.

I’m leaving the door open on repeating this run-commute on Mondays. The schedule doesn’t ask for it, but they’re undoubtedly handy ways to get easy runs in whilst I would otherwise be sat in traffic anyway.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

We were now officially in that awkward period of disrupted weather. Thursday was the polar-opposite of Wednesday for 21 degrees to make this second run-commute of the week quite tricky.

Anticipating the warm conditions, I made this my first official training run of the year in a vest. Fellow runners on the canal were wearing all sorts on the spectrum; one bloke I saw wore a jacket and leggings!

As convenient as I found the canal network whilst living in the Jewellery Quarter, I despised it during the warmer seasons due to the floods of fair-weather idiots it tends to bring out. The number of people completely oblivious to their surroundings or other people around them was incredible.

Approaching the tunnel near The Vale, I did the courteous thing and allowed a cyclist to exit the tunnel before I entered, yet I was not given the same courtesy on the other side. I was maybe only 20m from the end when one guy on a road bike came charging in but was forced to stop because he realised he couldn’t get past me. “Thanks for waiting.” was my curt response. “I didn’t see you…” was his sheepish reply. “Kinda hard to miss me.” was my final contribution as I squeezed past him wearing day-glo colours.

Twat Cyclist Thursday© continued as I was nearly mowed down on two separate occasions by cyclists that came tearing around blind bends near bridges without alerting others with bells. One narrowly went past, whilst the other had to come skidding to a stop to avoid clattering right into me.

Even without idiots to contend with, the run was tough in the heat. I was a touch dehydrated going into it and carrying a bag on my shoulders meant I was sweating more than I originally anticipated with no airflow back there. Further evaluation and I concluded I can condense things down further to fit inside my Flipbelt, leaving almost everything else at the office and negate the need for the bag to come along. Anyway, hopefully it won’t be too long before I become better adjusted to the rising mercury readings.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

Newport’s event is actually the very first bit of Parkrun tourism I embarked on way back in 2012. I’d not been back to Tredegar Park since early October, when I ran it at a sedate pace the day before the Cardiff Half Marathon. Saturday gone was also an opportunity to catch-up with an old buddy of mine, Nigel Foulkes-Nock, who I’d not seen in absolutely ages.

I took the opportunity to test out some of the new kit from above, so out came the incredibly bright orange Under Armour vest and the Brooks shorts. The vest is ridiculously lightweight and rivals my trademark yellow Nike race vest. It’s also ridiculously long and I could lose 3 inches from the bottom without any worry. The shorts are sublime; the fit is perfect and they stay out of the way. The 5 inch length is ideal for me since I can’t pull off split shorts and become self-conscious flashing too much thigh!

I completed a full lap of the summer route as my warm-up to re-familiarise myself with the conditions underfoot. Newport takes place on a National Trust site and is not a fast course. It’s a trail event ran almost entirely on gravel, wood chips, dirt path and sand; only a wee 100m straight in the middle of each lap is on tarmac. Some work had been completed in the forest section to clear some trees and gave that stretch a totally different feel to the last time I ran it.

All caught up with Nigel, we placed ourselves on the wide start line and off things went.

I wanted a controlled run with the intended outcome of a new course PB around 19:30. Like at most events, people went haring off from the line and I was certain only a small percentage would be able to hold the pace and not drop off. I began overtaking a lot of people after only 400m or so in!

I settled into a nice rhythm and remained steady, producing first and second km splits of 4:03 and 4:01 respectively.

It wasn’t until around halfway through the run when I began to come into contact with the backmarkers. Newport Parkrun’s organisers formally lay on Couch to 5k programmes, which explained the swell of runners towards the rear of the field; the group leaders were thoughtful enough to remind all of their runners to stay to the left of the course to allow myself and others to overtake unimpeded.

Two guys ahead of me slowed and came back towards me. I took shelter behind them briefly before moving on to chase down another chap ahead. Once clear of him, looking ahead did not present any new targets to lock on to and only lapped runners. The third and fourth km clocked in at 4:04 and 3:58 respectively.


Onwards to a new course PB – photo by Nicola Brann

Moving into the final km, I was nervous because I had to navigate my way through the forest section with unpredictable lapped runners all around me. The marshals were top-notch and continued to keep everybody on the left of the course, including on the awkward little bridge, where I was only slowed down very briefly. With the sheer mass of runners around me, I couldn’t see the cones laid out on the floor and went slightly wide rather than cutting the corner as the organisers wanted. This mis-step on my part allowed the guy I overtook to pull level with me before creating a lead that he ran with all the way to the finish. I wanted to stay steady and had no appetite to chase him down again; looking at my Garmin confirmed I’d hit my target of a new course PB of 19:28 in quite a comfortable fashion. I also finished 13th out of 600 runners, though I was slightly disappointed I didn’t finish higher given my previous position best of 10th.

Most enjoyable with a change of scenery and no pressure to perform!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Usk and back

Stood on my feet for most of Saturday afternoon and evening, I wasn’t entirely sure how my legs would react to a 14 mile long run. Thankfully, the sun’s rays weren’t nearly as warm as one week prior – things could have really become messy!

When I reached Usk, it was time to deploy the extra mileage I’d plotted out. What quickly became obvious was that Usk (and much of the surrounding area) is not particularly pedestrian friendly; the pavement was potholed and cracked to oblivion from countless winters freezing and defrosting, leaving me to tread gingerly for fear of turning over an ankle.

I consciously stepped the pace up for the closing few miles, including on the “Saint Andrews Walk Climb” Strava segment. What came out on the other side was my second fastest ever time on the segment, and second only to my own fastest time on the all-time leader board. Well, it seemed today was the day for records to fall, because several hours later, I’d been dethroned! The guy that took my crown only bested me by a few seconds for the 800m climb, but what’s even more remarkable is he did it during the 13th mile of a 21 mile solo training run, with the whole thing covered at an average of 6:24 per mile! I bowed to his supremacy…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 25th of April to 1st of May 2016


Think all of Cardiff could hear my cries of anguish! Photo by Paul Stillman

Finally! Back to 4x runs for the week!

Training to race, or racing to train?

In a bid to get myself out of this training funk, I’ve entered a couple of 10k races to try and refocus:

  • DK10k
  • Aldridge 10k
  • Wythall & Hollywood 10k
  • Magor Marsh 10k

All are spaced sufficiently apart from each other so should allow for adequate training, recovery and some taper. Recalling my end of 2015 review, I’m now thinking my target of a sub-39:00 10k looks a wee bit soft; I guess we’ll see in just a few days when I run the DK10k…

5x 800m at 5k pace

The weather really wasn’t making things any easier for this session, what with chilly temperatures, sleet and wind to contend with. Thankfully, I’d invited Simon to join me, which kept us both accountable.

Adding to the growing list of things to derail the session was technology failure. My Garmin was consistently reporting its GPS signal was 50m out and required a hard reboot to get it to play nicely. Simon’s interval function on his Garmin also failed to record early splits properly.

I kept the 2:00 minutes recovery from the past several weeks with a view to extending the total rep count to 6x, whilst Simon had 5x in mind. I’d warned Simon not to go at my pace of circa 3:41 to 3:43 per km and instead to shoot for around 4:00 per km to best facilitate his ambitions of a sub-20 5k.

The first 2 reps were easy as pie and we barely felt them. Simon maintained a rough 15 second tail on me, though started each new rep at the same time as me to have his recoveries more like 1:45 versus my 2:00 minutes.

The next 3 reps began to sting and take their toll. The tarmac was slick from the wet conditions and my Adidas Boosts weren’t coping so well due to being near-retirement age. My form began to change at roughly halfway into each remaining interval and I had to consciously pick my cadence up to get back on pace. Simon did well and continued to maintain the rough 15 second gap behind me. The final rep slowed towards the end to avoid head on crashes with some of Kings Heath Running Club who were rapidly approaching!

Whilst I could have eked out one final rep for 6x, the sleet returned and Simon had completed his lot, so I decided to fight another day.

Splits came out as follows:

  1. 3:03
  2. 2:57
  3. 2:58
  4. 2:58
  5. 3:00

All within tolerance of each other despite the conditions and I’m sure they’d have been a smidgeon faster in the dry.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10k – Cannon Hill Park and back

The crazy weather did its best to convince me to stay indoors, preying on my diminished running mojo, but I wasn’t having any of it! As I laced up to head outside, I heard a massive thunderclap and did wonder what I was letting myself in for. Stepping through the door and just 30 seconds later, I was soaked to the bone; running into the rain was actually quite painful at times, such was the intensity of the rainfall. I did receive a few puzzled looks from bystanders on Kings Heath high street as I ran past…

Once in Cannon Hill Park (after getting momentarily lost on Holders Lane), I wanted to chuck one mile in at around marathon pace to see how the effort felt after weeks of neglect. It wasn’t too bad at all, even with wind and wet conditions to contend with.

I closed down the run with another blast up the almighty Cartland Road to earn myself a new Strava segment PB. Spying the leaderboard showed Andy Young has the top spot with a time almost a minute faster for the half mile long stretch!

Definitely felt better for getting some mid-week distance out there, even in such grim weather.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

With being in Lis’ motherland for the bank holiday weekend, it would have simply been rude to not visit Cardiff Parkrun for a stab at bringing my one week old 5k PB down even further.

The odds were already against me from the Friday beforehand. Minor sleep deprivation and a drive that should have only taken 1.5 hours took over 2.5 hours meant I was already pretty damn tired before I’d even taken one step in Bute Park…

Numbers at Cardiff were a touch down due the local summer series kicking-off the day before and a 10 mile race taking place the next day. Conditions were decent, though a noticeable headwind on the return leg during my warm-up indicated a new 5k PB wouldn’t just serve itself to me on a silver platter without some graft.

The start was fast as it always is at Cardiff. Very clear groups sprang up around me and I consciously went with one of the faster pairings. The first km came up as 3:35.

I began to feel the mounting effort of the task at hand by the second km. I took shelter behind a taller chap in a hat and hung on, hoping he would pull me along. My breathing remained reasonably steady, though I knew it wouldn’t last. This split clocked in at 3:42.

By 3km, the chap in the hat began to slow a touch. A hipster-looking runner went past me and this was enough to convince me to latch on to him for a tow through the awkward middle stage. Numbers around me were definitely down and I wasn’t able to stick with the hipster for long whilst running into the headwind, leaving me in the dreaded no-man’s land. I knew I had to make it through this section as quickly as possible to be in with a chance. My pace began deteriorating and I ended the split with 3:53 on the Garmin.

Due to slowing down, a small group formed around me, along with the chap in the hat returning to me – I should have just stuck with him for a much steadier run in hindsight… I hoped somebody would take the lead and move in front to give me a break, but I ended up taking charge. The wind continued to take its toll and contributed to the slowest split of the morning for 3:56.

Passing by the final km marker, I pressed on to recover as much damage as possible. I broke away from the group and chased down two guys ahead. With just 800m remaining, a glance at my Garmin flashed 15:47 on its face; I knew I could cover 800m in less than 3 minutes, so it was still worth a punt to see what would come out on the other side. I somehow missed the 400m marker, so delayed my kick until the 200m marker came into view. I was red-lining and prayed to Steve Prefontaine up above that I’d done enough to sneak under 18:30…

It wasn’t to be. 18:35 was all I could muster, but I’m confident a calmer day would have been just the ticket. I’ll be back in Cardiff again in a few short weeks, so hopefully the weather will be more forgiving!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to Usk and back

The pace was kept easy due to the previous day’s effort, but also with the DK10k quickly creeping up.

Little drama apart from rural drivers not quite realising how vulnerable pedestrians are on country lanes with no pavement. I always run facing the traffic on rural roads to buy myself a bit of extra wiggle room should the situation become hairy. The exception to this is on a right-facing bend where I can’t see oncoming traffic and they can’t see me, so I’ll switch over to run with the traffic where they should then have clear visibility of me from behind. The number of drivers that were signalling for me to get over on to the other side of the road on the bend! In all the years I’ve covered the route to Usk, I’ve never had an issue and this was the very first time I encountered such a problem.

Nearing the end of the run, I did debate with myself internally to have a crack at bringing down the Strava segment course record near the farm, though the prevailing headwind convinced me otherwise.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 18th to 24th of April 2016


Normal service still didn’t resume…

Still disrupted, but I began getting closer to some semblance of training normality.

5x 800m at 5k pace

This session was earmarked for Tuesday, but after two whole days of working a tradeshow, neither my body nor mind were ready for such a suffer-fest. I didn’t actually run this session until Thursday when I finally felt ready for it.

The previous week surprised me by how natural the 800m reps felt in spite of the several months’ long absence from structured speed development. The ambition here was to up the count to 5x reps whilst keeping the recovery generous at 2 minutes to facilitate completion of the session; decreasing the recovery will come in time whilst the final rep count also rises to 6x.

Conditions weren’t nearly as favourable as they were compared to last week, with an 8mph headwind and crosswind to contend with (the park is a rectangular shape), which resulted in an off-kilter opening split. Things got back on track with reps 3 to 5 clocking in at, or just a teensy bit faster than target (2:59):

  1. 3:03
  2. 2:59
  3. 2:57
  4. 2:57
  5. 2:56

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Pacing Darryll Thomas to his PB last week, I was taken aback by how strong I felt over the 5k distance and had an inkling that a breakout performance couldn’t have been far away.

Due to parking issues at home, I had to promptly move the car at 8am before being ticketed; I arrived at Cannon Hill Park before even the British Military Fitness guys! With so much time on my hands, I indulged in a stress-free warm-up, though definitely didn’t feel as fresh as last week…

With the London Marathon and other races on the next day, attendance looked like it was down on numbers from where I was stood, but it was later revealed that some 50 odd additional runners helped to smash the record for 804 officially (word on the street suggests as many as 820 may have actually been present)!

Speaking with Steve Dunsby beforehand, we both agreed once more that fast 5ks for us mere mortals have to be run with a swift start to bank some time away for that awkward middle portion. With those thoughts in mind, I positioned myself just behind the front row on the start line; the field actually looked loaded with faster runners all around me, which boded well for people to work with towards a 5k PB attempt.

Hooter hooted, I went off in a fast, yet controlled manner, and unusually sidestepped away from the manic swell so as not to get caught up in it prematurely. Wearing my new ultra minimal racing flats (4mm heel drop!), my slightly fatigued legs were not thanking me and returned the favour by giving me an awkward running gait to work with that had no bounce. I was cautious not to become boxed in running alongside the lake and nimbly navigated around runners to make it back on to the main path unscathed with a 3:41 opening split.

I was now running straight into a headwind and caught up to Ben Frost from Sparkhill Harriers; I advised him to take shelter behind some of the taller runners ahead of us and duly followed up on my own advice with a short surge to latch on to somebody in front. The surge did little to no harm to my effort levels, and I concluded I had a few more of those inside me to call upon if the wind returned, or if the field became strung out and I needed a group to work with. The second km split came in quite a bit off target for 3:53; no doubt down to the slight rise back to the bandstand.

Passing the MAC, the guys around me were starting to tire based on their paces slowing and their breathing rates speeding up. I decisively pushed on to ditch them and joined the group 15m or so in front. They proved to be far more reliable and barely deviated from target pace; simply staying with them required a few surges to nicely pull me along. The third km clocked in with 3:47, so back on target for PB contention.

In and out of the triangle, the group splintered and some slowed due to the pace change, whilst others charged on into the headwind. I promptly decided to go with those that hadn’t given up and tucked in behind them for some protection from Mother Nature’s elements. Almost back on the main path of the park, the group disintegrated and left me at the front to chase the next pack ahead. The fourth km clocked in for 3:45 to remain on target whilst running at PB effort.


Look at that concentration to stay afloat in the air – photo by Geoff Hughes

The final km was a tough nut to crack. Fully exposed to the headwind and with nobody ahead for maybe 30m, I was firmly in no-man’s land but refused to let up. Time and time again in the past, I’ve usually been able to pull out a swift final split from my bag of tricks, so I continued pressing. A few groans escaped from me, which were welcome artefacts from PB effort runs past. Passing the MAC for the final time, a peek at my Garmin showed 16:30 on the elapsed time to widen my eyes – we were definitely in PB country and by quite a margin! The turbocharger was fired up and my next target to stalk was none other than Paul Shackleton. As I passed him, I uttered a few words to encourage him in the hope that we could push each other to something faster; Paul was at the end of his tether and urged me on instead.

A few spectators cheered as I charged up the final hill, including Ben Frost, who must have dropped out partway through the run. At the top, only a couple more metres stood between victory and me… Crossing the line, I let out a few audible cries; those around me must’ve thought, “If you’re going to die, die quietly!” My Garmin proudly reported 18:31 had been achieved – where did that come from??? It was a near 15 second improvement on my PB from back in January set at the ultra-fast and flat Cardiff Parkrun, which coincidentally, I will find myself at this coming Saturday for another crack at this before the lack of training catches up to me!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to Solihull and back

Over a post-Parkrun coffee, Simon Bull and I discussed possibly venturing out for a joint Sunday long run; he’d spied my route from last week to Solihull and remarked on how favourable it looked with the start not far at all from his home.

So, the stage was set for a 1pm start on Sunday after the bulk of the London Marathon TV coverage. 1pm came and went. I gave Simon around 15 minutes and then had to start due to the rain coming down and the wind blowing that left me feeling rather cold!

Halfway into the run after switching back, I saw none other than Simon heading towards me. He must have been only 2 to 3 minutes behind after I started, so I turned around and regrouped with him to tackle the second half together.

Unlike running with Dave Burton where we’re of a reasonably similar ability, there was a much wider divide between Simon and me. He had to push a touch harder and I dialled back a bit more than normal so as to meet in the middle, pace-wise. I purposely tried to avoid asking him questions in conversation so as to give him a chance to catch his breath!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 11th to 17th of April 2016


Exploration continued..

Ye gads! Three whole runs this week, but still far from the norm. And apologies for the late entry…

4x 800m at 5k pace

What better way to mark my move to Kings Heath than with an 800m interval sesh? The path in the park I’ve carved out for myself is just a little over 800m and perfectly flat, making for ideal training ground compared to the lumpy and bumpy Edgbaston Reservoir.

Two things came to mind in regards to the structure of the session: how many reps and how much recovery? I’d not completed an 800m interval sesh for over six months, so three to four reps seemed wise to break myself back in. I opted to set recovery between reps at 2 minutes; I would normally settle for 90 seconds, but much like with the number of reps, I wanted to see how easy or difficult things could possibly get.

Target pace was 3:43 per km, or just under 6 minutes per mile for fans of imperial measurements. The first rep felt entirely manageable; my form and posture felt spot on with just the right amount of power and exertion from each stride. Remarkably, my lungs were also willing to go with me despite the lack of any real sharp efforts for several weeks. The 2 minute recovery felt a touch too easy initially, though I reserved final judgement for when I really got into the swing of things.

Reps 2 and 3 crept up in effort, but I stayed on course to be right on target. The 2 minute recovery became much more welcome; searching inside made me conclude that 1 minute and 45 seconds would have been the best compromise between effort and adequate recovery.

Lactic acid pooled inside me for the final rep and upon finishing, I was about ready to throw my guts up…

The splits came out as:

  1. 2:59
  2. 2:58
  3. 2:59
  4. 2:59

Not bad, huh? The next time I attempt 800m intervals, I plan to up the count to 5x reps but will keep the recovery at 2 minutes to compensate for the additional 800m thrown in.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Stoke Gifford Parish Council and Little Stoke Parkrun

Dear, oh dear. How did things get so bad that a Parish Council decided to charge £1 per runner that participates at Little Stoke Parkrun?

Proving that Parkrun has transcended into the mainstream, non-runners at work stopped to talk to me about the situation, and a motoring forum I belong to has a thread about it that spans 11 pages. 11 pages about Parkrun on a car forum!

I thought my council tax contributions covered the upkeep of public parks? The flawed argument that Parkrunners are using the paths more than others, and therefore deserve to pay more towards their maintenance is ridiculous. I don’t have kids, yet pay into a system that provides funding for schools; I very rarely become ill, yet pay into a system that provides healthcare for those that need it. It makes no sense at all that Parkrun can be targeted for for the supposed additional maintenance  requirements – must be one shoddy path!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

A number of weeks ago, I agreed to help my pal, Darryll Thomas, acquire a much-coveted 5k PB after his several near misses at the smaller Arrow Valley Parkrun; we’ve all been there where a crack at a PB across any distance gets scuppered due to a lack of fellow runners in the field to work with.

For the first time in a long time, I arrived at Cannon Hill feeling very fresh. My legs were full of bounce and my lungs had sharpened up nicely since that Tuesday’s 800m interval sesh. The warm-up felt tremendous and almost felt superfluous to needs!

There was obviously banter and discussion regarding the demise of Little Stoke Parkrun. “So, have you paid your £1 this morning?” and “Do you accept chip and pin?” were thrown about amongst regulars in jest.

Stood with Darryll on the start line, I gave him a low-down of our plan of attack that comprised of a not too fast start with the ambition of maintaining around 3:50 per km, or just under 6:10 per mile. The crowded opening had every potential to derail our plans, though thankfully the field thinned out by 800m in. The first km clocked in at 3:45.

The effort began to creep upwards. Whilst there were fewer runners than before, those that were around us had also locked in on our pace and remained with us in a steady fashion. The second km came in at 3:55 with the rise back to the bandstand factored in.

As anticipated between the third and fourth km, several runners ahead were tiring and drifted back towards us. Darryll’s breathing was still steady, so I knew I hadn’t lost him; I was feeling pretty damn good having fully warmed up, so opted to press on with the pace just a smidge to counteract any rot setting in during the difficult second half of a 5k PB attempt.

With just 1km remaining, I kicked things up another notch to offset as much damage as possible from the final hill. Darryll remained firmly on my tail, though I sensed he was struggling a little more than before, so he was clearly in PB effort territory. The gap between us grew slightly by just a few steps and I myself was within spitting distance of a sub-19 finish; if I pressed on, I thought I might even be able to drag Darryll along to a sub-19 finish, too. On the home straight, I kicked and glanced backwards to see my pacee had just crested the hill to be some 5 or so seconds behind me.

I crossed the line in 18:56 for my fastest 5k in weeks. Darryll followed suit in 19:03 to net his PB, though between us was a random bloke that had stumbled upon Parkrun and ended up running through the finish line and funnel. He declared he wasn’t part of Parkrun, but had nonetheless triggered a recorded time and declined to take a finish token, further adding to the confusion and congestion in the funnel; had I have been more with it, I’d have simply let the guy wander off as per his wish and I’d have taken his token on his behalf, but mental agility is a skill that’s in short supply at the end of a fast and sharp 5k…

A successful morning and I remain confident Darryll can get under 19 minutes with another PB attempt in the near future under favourable conditions.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to Solihull and back

The previous day’s Parkrun concluded speed was still on my side, but I remained cautious in regards to endurance. Rather than tempt fate, I opted to cap this run to just 10 miles by heading towards Solihull town centre and then switching back for home.

By now, you must be all well aware of how much I dislike running in blowy conditions; despite the approximated wind speed of just 5mph, my over-sensitivity to wind made me feel like I was running constantly into a headwind in both directions!

Heading for home on Brook Lane, I witnessed two guys on road bikes give up their climb halfway up the hill and both pulled over to walk; this lit a fire underneath me and spurred me on to conquer the hill in just one take to produce one of my fastest splits of the morning.

All said and done, this turned out to be a most enjoyable run and some valuable time to simply become lost and absorbed in the moment. As much as I savour the competitive side of running, running also gives me some most welcome headspace to be with me, myself and I – something I’ve sorely missed in recent weeks with a million and one things to do in my personal and professional life.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 6th to 12th of July 2015

Not much in common between Hollywood USA and Hollywood UK

Not much in common between Hollywood in the USA and Hollywood in the UK

This week was all about gearing up for the Wythall Hollywood 10k.

5k from work

It’s not often I praise a headwind for being present, but it was most certainly welcome given how humid it was outdoors.

Any of you ever see strange things when out for a run? I ran past a guy sat on a bench wearing a Venetian style mask with a baseball bat in his hands – I kid you not!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5x 800m at 5k pace

After Saturday’s stellar track session, I was well and truly fired up for this. Problem was a raging headwind would hit me on the final 400m of each out rep, with little to no benefit on the return rep…

Even without the force of nature against me, it was noticeable how much more effort was required to run 800m at Edgbaston Reservoir versus the track; the former always made me feel much closer to my limit than the latter.

Pretty happy with the splits, but I do feel they could have been more precise.

I have one more 5x 800m session planned for next week and then it’s go-time at Wolverhampton Parkrun!

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

5k from work

The 5x 800m sesh really did a number on me and as such, this recovery run was purposely slower than normal. Thankfully the 17mph gusts of wind were behind me, too!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 miles – Hagley Road

I really didn’t fancy heading onto the canal towpath. I was warm, lethargic and figured the droves of fair-weather folks would only annoy me further. Instead, I opted to head out to Bearwood and back via Broad Street and Hagley Road.

The last time I recall running this route was waaay back in April sometime. I purposely kept the out portion easy and I saw little point in pushing the pace until I began to perk up.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Channelling my inner The Fonz

Channelling my inner-Fonz – photo by Geoff Hughes

With a race the day afterwards, I wanted to stay fairly conservative and decided upon the first 4k at sub-20 pace and then would ramp things up in the final km if I felt good.

It had been almost three weeks since the last time I had run at Cannon Hill, and only my third outing on the revised course. It really was good to catch-up with various folks – I think it was April since I last saw Jeremy for instance. Humorously, both Simon and Dunsby were wearing vests after ridiculing me for most of the year for seemingly only wearing vests come rain or shine.

Lis and I also learned that around 80 or so folks didn’t get the memo that there was no Parkrun at Cannon Hill last week and turned up anyway. Jeremy could be forgiven because he hadn’t attended in months, but there were apparently regulars who were present only the week prior who mistakenly showed up!

Also, Lis and I had plenty of folks asking if we had gotten married yet. As of today when this entry goes live (Sunday 12th of July), there are exactly four weeks to go, so there you have it, chaps and chapesses!

I opted not to run 300m at 5k pace, deciding that the first 4k of the run would ease me in.

Once in the run, I stuck with Nigel and Alex for much of the first half. The lack of 300m warm-up hit me and it took at least 2k for me to get comfortable with the 3:59/km pace. Once warmed-up, I started encouraging folks around me including a kid that always seems to go out hard at faster than sub-20 pace, but fades dramatically in the middle.

Exiting the triangle, I began ramping the pace up and surged pretty much to the end. I surprised myself with a 19:28 and then started to worry about the Wythall Hollywood 10k the following day. Oops… Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Orlando Corea, Andy Yu and Steven Dunsby at Cannon Hill Parkrun

Only time I’ll ever find myself running alongside these two speedsters! Photo by Geoff Hughes

Post-run, Dunsby introduced me to the Orlando Corea. Over the years, I’ve seen his name in various results but had no idea who he actually was. And Cannon Hill Parkrun is kinda like that, where I recognise so many people by face but have no clue what their names are unless I’ve found myself next to them in the results etc.

Unfortunately, there were no results to be had due to a timing failure and instead, everybody was issued a 59:59 finish by default. Gutting for anybody that put themselves on the line to run a PB that morning. Hope there are no technical failures at Wolverhampton Parkrun next week when I go for a 5k PB attempt… *Gulp*

Wythall Hollywood 10k

For the full write-up, please click here.

Onwards to this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book that I’m sure many of us can relate to:

Race photos never look good

Ridiculously photogenic guy meme

(Unless you’re the guy from the ridiculously photogenic guy meme from a few years ago!)

And I mean never.

Bradd Pitt could show up at the start of a marathon completely rested, tanned, toned, massaged, hydrated, and professionally styled, and by the time the race photographer snapped him at mile 13, he would… well, he would probably look pretty good. He is Brad Pitt, after all.

But the photos of Brad Pitt, when he finally saw them, would look horrible. In the photos, Brad would look like a badly dehydrated Quasimodo having a seizure. This is the magic of race photography. If the folks who sold race photos were smart, they’d charge people not to send prints of their pics.

That said, should you order some of these race photos anyway? Absolutely. And the bigger, the better.