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

Welcome to 2014

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

Hill reps

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the splits for this hill rep session.

New Year’s Day at Cannon Hill Parkrun

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

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

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

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

Thursday 6 miles

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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

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

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

17 mile long run

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

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

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

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

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

Have a look-see at the Garmin data here.

A summary of 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The open-ended question is your friend

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

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

This is particularly useful on long climbs.

Sample open-ended questions:

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

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