This week’s running – 20th to 26th of April 2015

The UK went marathon mad

Suddenly, every member of the general public’s a marathon expert despite not knowing it’s 26.2 miles long…

The UK had a bout of marathon mania this week.

Core strength

I seem to do this every year where I neglect my core in the colder months, only to begin focusing on it again in the spring and summer. There is most probably a positive correlation here between me having a strong core and my performance.

As somebody that sits for most of the week in front of a computer at a desk, I have a tendency to hunch forward; this slouching is further depicted in a number of photos from my last few races where I simply lack the core strength to be able to support my own upper body whilst fatigued.

There’s nothing special or fancy about what I’m doing at the moment; simply 2x sets of 10 sit-ups and 2x sets of 10 sit-ups with some rotation. There’s likely some correct terminology out there, so apologies for butchering the description up…

I’ve been doing these workouts for a couple of weeks now and already, I have noticed a positive impact whilst I run. The most obvious benefit is I can feel myself running taller, with my chest held high. An additional perk of this is that running tall seems to have re-activated my glutes. I have a horrible habit of relying on my quads for power whilst I run, rather than the glutes where the majority of the power of each stride comes from. On my last few runs, I feel like I’ve been able to run at a faster pace with a little less effort and part of it must be down to this.

Long may the core workouts continue!

3x 1600m at 10k pace

These 1600m reps could be the other reason why I’ve felt stronger lately.

This was the second occurrence of this session and from about halfway through the first rep, I could feel there was an improvement on last week. Previously, I was busting a gut to simply stay on pace but I found myself having to dial the speed down a touch to stay on target. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a walk in the park; where last week’s session left me feeling trashed for at least 36 hours afterwards, I felt pretty reasonable in comparison.

I’m also going to try a different approach this spring/summer. I traditionally keep the number of reps static, but will increase the pace or decrease the recovery as improvements materialise. This year, I want to increase the reps whilst keeping the pace static (to a certain point). This should provide that endurance boost that I’m seeking.

So, why did I only do 3x reps if I was feeling so good? I always take a bottle of water when I run intervals where I’m sweating like a pig from the increased intensity. Some thieving scumbag had other plans, where they’d found my hidden bottle of water between my first and second 1600m rep, leaving me pretty damn parched going into the third rep. A new hiding place is needed for next week, me thinks…

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

5k from work

More of a plod than anything else. I didn’t see any other runners, but I did spot plenty of geese stood to the side of the towpath watching me, almost like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. It’s surely only a matter of days or weeks before all the goslings hatch and the parents become hyper-aggressive…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 miles with 2 at near half marathon pace

This was a continuation of last week where I boosted the mid-week 6 mile run to 8, but now with added near half marathon pace goodness. Why near half marathon pace? I couldn’t quite make it to my target of 6:35 per mile, instead hovering around 6:45 per mile. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I suspect it involved the heavy tree-lined canal towpath also interfering with my Garmin, where the lap pace seemed out of whack and refused to budge.

Despite the pace shenanigans at play, I was pleased with the run where it showed progress in the right direction. Onwards and upwards!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Looking surprisingly decent!

Looking surprisingly decent – photo by Geoff Hughes

Continuing the theme of shaking things up in my quest for improvement, I opted to jog the 5k distance from my home all the way to Cannon Hill Park. Yes, some thought this was mad and could not even contemplate covering the race distance as warm-up before the actual main event. General rule of thumb out there is the shorter the distance, the more critical the warm-up becomes.

I usually always feel shitty during the warm-up before a Parkrun, where I’m stiff, lethargic and clumsy. This extended warm-up was no different. Lis was also running, so I sent my kit bag with her in the car to meet me there. Once I was at the park and after a few minutes of recovery, I actually started to loosen up and felt pretty good. By the time we were ready to walk to the start line, I was positively raring to go.

In a complete reversal of roles, I ended up trailing behind Nigel for the first 3k or so. This wasn’t planned, but certainly for the opening splits, I found myself struggling to turn my legs over at a faster rate, where the pace naturally settled at around 3:57/km or so. There was no discomfort at all and it’s no coincidence that this is also my 10k pace I’ve been working hard to acclimatise to.

Entering and exiting the triangle, I sensed Nigel slipping from the pace and went ahead to latch on to a small group of three guys or so. I stayed with the group until the final 400m before going on my own for the finish, which clocked in at 19:37.

Did the warm-up help at all? Yes and no. Yes, because I felt superb on the start line from a cardio vascular perspective. No, because superficially, it had little to no bearing on my finish time. That being said, I have upped the ante in training so I wasn’t nearly as fresh as I could have been. I’m going to give the extended warm-up another few tries, especially when I’m more 5k focused to really gauge whether it works or not.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Oh and one final note – Cannon Hill is trialling a new course next week. Several weeks ago, I was speaking with one of the run directors, Mary, and she expressed some displeasure with the current start line. Concerns include the flow of people into the start line, along with a number of runners with dogs and pushchairs not starting within the funnel and instead choosing to join from the side. One solution suggested was to move the start line over to the bridge, next to the entry to the out and back portion of the route, which is simple enough to instigate; what’s trickier is the team wants to also continue using the finish area at the top of the hill, which would require some shortening of the route elsewhere to accommodate this. I won’t be at Cannon Hill next week, so you readers will have to let me know what the final changes end up being.

10 canal miles

Due to the morning being devoted to watching the London Marathon, I ended up covering my long run much later in the day whilst the sun was shining and all the fair-weather amblers had over-run the canal towpath.

Despite the numerous obstructions, it was a fantastic run. The pace was progressive and felt comfortable, even with the heavier training load and angry headwind blasting away at me. I also intentionally focused on my form again to run tall and from the glutes.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time to dial things back a touch next week, me thinks!

London Marathon 2015

As mentioned above, I spent all of this morning watching the BBC’s London Marathon coverage. It was most certainly odd not being part of it, where for the past two years, all I’ve ever known on race day was to steel myself physically and mentally to run 26.2 miles through the Big Smoke, rather than to sit with my feet up on the sofa.

Twas a most enjoyable race to watch, with the elite female and male races producing nail-biting finales. Paula’s run must have also been truly motivational for the club runners that came into contact with her throughout the course. Equally as nail-biting as the elites was watching the progress of various friends via the online tracker with the final results coming in below:

  • Phil Cook – 2:34:45
  • Ed Barlow – 2:52:53
  • Nick Bensley – 2:57:25
  • Peter Ingason – 3:33:24
  • Suz West – 3:38:14
  • Nigel Foulkes-Nock – 3:54:42
  • Selena Wong – 4:12:44
  • Sean Whan – 4:32:12

Congrats to all and I hope the recovery process is swift and problem-free!

Right. Enough gassing and over to the latest entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Pee if you must

If this were a rule book for humans at large, one of the first rules would have to be: When You’ve Gotta Go, You’ve Gotta Go. This goes double for tightly wound, highly hydrated, slightly nervous humans who are standing around (i.e., runners waiting for a race to start). If you simply can’t hold it any longer, do your best to locate a porta potty. Failing that, find a stand of trees or bushes as far from the action as reasonably possible. Failing that – if, for instance, you’re stuck in the middle of a packed corral at the start of a large marathon and you’re about to bust – well, pop a squat or take a knee, and do what you’ve gotta do. Be as discreet as possible, apologize to those around you, then stand up, and return your focus to the race.

And before your next race, hydrate just a little bit less.

London Marathon 2014 – Yu’s review

For the 2013 race, please click the following:

2014 London Marathon bib

Woohoo! I made it into pen number 3!

Wowoweewow. What a marathon! Mostly ups, not many downs and I now have a shiny new marathon PB and a shiny new fiancée as well. So, grab yourself a coffee, a snack and read on to find out what happened in my 2014 London Marathon. As ever, if you’re just interested in my race experience, then just head straight to “The race” but I highly recommend you read it all.

More photos will be added as they come through from various sources so keep checking back to see any new image updates.

A marathon history lesson

I ran last year’s London Marathon and whilst I didn’t fare too badly, I missed my mark by over 20 minutes. I was prepared but not well enough, and the typical British weather proved problematic with 6 inches of snow only 3 weeks before a sweltering heat wave that hit the nation. Add being stuffed into pen 8 out of 9 to my list of problems and it would have taken a miracle last year to break 3:30 over 26.2 miles.

Running the final 6 miles with Suz West, the last thing going through my mind was the thought of running another marathon. Everything hurt, from my neck and shoulders, to my legs and feet. My stomach was in knots and doing cartwheels at the same time for an incredibly unpleasant experience. But like any serious running enthusiast, unfinished business only makes you stronger with a desire to put things right, so I entered the ballot again. Getting one ballot place takes some good going but two in a row? I didn’t think so either but you’ve “got to be in it to win it” as they say and low and behold, I bagged another place . I did promise to myself that if I got in, I would plan to propose to my long-suffering girlfriend/running widow, Lis, whilst out on the course. Talk about making a monumental effort even tougher than normal!

Training for this year’s London Marathon went very well. Plenty of 20+ mile long runs, some work at marathon pace, a few tune-up races and some faster sessions all had me feeling reasonably confident to go sub-3:30 and even possibly sub-3:25. The taper had also gone to plan and I was full of energy; nervous energy but energy all the same.

The London Marathon expo

I had booked the Friday off from work to get prepared and also attend the London Marathon expo to collect my race number. I also wanted an in-depth wander around what is running geek nirvana. There are exhibitors of all sorts present, including the likes of Adidas, Garmin, Lucozade and so on.

New Balance mascot

New Balance had shoe mascots welcoming people

On my way to ExCeL, I was stood on the platform of Canning Town DLR station and almost everybody had a copy of the London Marathon Final Instructions magazine in their hands. Arriving at the expo, I got a real sense of the size and scale of the event to unfold on Sunday; Friday is one of the quieter days but it was still very busy inside.

London Marathon expo registration

Registration was smooth and quick

Collecting my race number was very smooth with just one person ahead of me in my queue. I had already contacted the race organisers earlier in the week to confirm with them regarding what printed race result evidence they would need from me to get myself promoted to a faster start pen; turns out there was no need in the end because I had been plonked slap bang in pen 3, designated for runners aiming to finish between 3:15 and 3:29.

My new aggressive foam roller

Say hello to my new best friend/worst enemy

Once I had been processed, I was free to wander around the expo for a few hours. I had already decided that I wouldn’t go nuts and buy tonnes of merchandise unlike last year. The one thing I did want was a more aggressive foam roller to complement the one Iain and Elsa gave me for my birthday several years ago. I think it’s safe to say that what I ended up with definitely fits the bill! I declined a bag for it and I certainly received some odd looks whilst I travelled through central London to get back home…

I managed to meet a few famous faces at the expo as well…

Chris Thompson at the London Marathon

Chris Thompson at the London Marathon Expo

I was passing by the main stage when I noticed Chris Thompson was being interviewed. Chris won the Silverstone Half Marathon that Dave and I recently raced at and would be making his marathon debut in London on Sunday. After his interview, I made a beeline towards him for a photo and a quick chat; he was very friendly and interested in my race plans for the big day. I wished him well and went on my way.

Scott Overall at the London Marathon

Scott Overall at the London Marathon Expo

Wandering around the Adidas stand, I noticed Scott Overall was stood alone and nobody took any notice of him. I made my way over to say “hello” and grabbed a photo with Scott, also chatting about our respective race plans. He told me he was due over on the main stage for an interview so he ran over there and I followed in pursuit.

Martin Yelling at the London Marathon

Martin Yelling at the London Marathon Expo

Whilst sat down and listening to Scott’s interview, I noticed Martin Yelling – Marathon Talk co-host – also watching the interview. Regular readers of this blog will know of my love for the Marathon Talk podcast (it’s not just for people that run marathons, all forms of running are covered) so meeting Martin was a serious OMG moment for me. I shook his hand and he said, “I love your t-shirt by the way”, clearly noticing the 26.2 Marathon Talk t-shirt I was wearing. We had a chat about his Manchester Marathon, how his recovery was going, and also the recent Boy On The Run skit along with Tony Audenshaw’s latest song, “The Things You Hear Before a Marathon”. It was great discussing Marathon Talk with Martin, if a little odd where it felt like I was speaking with a fellow listener rather than with the co-host of the show. He did mention that Tom Williams was somewhere at the expo but wasn’t due back on the stage for another 1 or 2 hours. It would have been nice to also meet Tom to complete the set, so to speak!

Conscious that I’d already been at the expo for close to 3 hours, I decided it was time to call it a day and head back into central London to grab some grub with Iain.

The day before

Lis and I travelled to London via first class train; believe it or not, the first class tickets were actually a good £7 cheaper than travelling standard class for some bizarre reason.

We were staying at the Ibis in Blackfriars/Southwark which scored top marks from me. Clean, quiet and modern and reasonably priced for Central London. I spent much of the afternoon watching Scooby Doo and The Goonies on TV, doing my best to stay off my feet and just unwind.

Whilst in Covent Garden waiting for Lis’ parents, I randomly bumped into Matt (what are the chances, eh?), Cheryl’s boyfriend who was on his way to meet the girls over on Oxford Street. I needed to get the engagement ring to Lis’ dad, Philip, to look after for me until it was needed the next day. Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it to Covent Garden so I had to some how get the ring to him at dinner without arousing suspicion from anyone. I need not have worried at all but it was comical that there was a square shaped bulge in Philip’s trousers for most of the evening…

I never sleep well the night before a major race and this was no exception. I was tossing and turning and I couldn’t stop thinking about the next day, probably sleeping less than I did last year!

Race day

Andy Yu ready to race at the London Marathon

Ready to race at the London Marathon

Since I was already wide awake before 6am, I decided to simply start getting ready and put the extra time available to good use. The lack of sleep had hit me and I didn’t feel nearly as fresh as I did on Saturday. The weather was also dramatically sunnier and warmer than on Saturday too – why, oh why couldn’t I have raced on Saturday instead?!

I’d been having Starbucks’ cinnamon swirls for breakfast as of late and they worked an absolute treat. They taste great and are energy dense in a fairly small package making them perfect for race day. Starbucks are absolutely everywhere in London so there was never a concern about sourcing them.

Watered, fed and showered, I got dressed into my race day garb and made my way over to Southwark Tube station for the walk through to Waterloo East. Runners get free Tube travel along with free train travel to the start areas in Greenwich, which is muchos appreciated.

As a contrast to last year, my train to Blackheath was pretty empty. 12 months prior, I had to stand the whole way but I had half of an entire carriage to myself on this occasion. I fired up a few tunes on my iPhone to get me primed for the task ahead.

Blue start at the London Marathon

The blue start, but no Japanese news crew this year

After a short walk, I arrived at the Blue Start area and entered in through the one-way gate. Only runners are allowed beyond the entrance and it was surprising to see so many runners with their friends and families, either unaware of the policy or happy to travel all the way out to Greenwich to then travel back into central London to spectate out on the course.

At only 8am, the sun was already out in full force. When not in the shade, the warmth of the sun was definitely noticeable on the skin and I knew people’s race results would be affected. I initially plonked myself down next to one of the marquees but I was starting to heat up too quickly so I made my way back into the shade where I was then too cold!

Andy and Richard the Parkrunner

Andy and Richard the Parkrunner at the London Marathon

I started speaking to a Parkrunner from Bromley to pass the time. He told me his local event had actually been flooded for the last few months with all the rain that’d been battering the nation of late. He was hoping for 4:30 or better which would have landed him pretty much bang in the middle of all the finishers for the day.

After several toilet visits, I checked my red kit bag in and jogged in circles for maybe 5 minutes or so before making my way into my start pen. It was mostly blokes in the third pen with maybe a 50/50 split between Brits and visiting runners from abroad, at least based on those stood immediately around me. Iain and I were discussing the day before about where would be the best place for me to position myself; we settled on the front of my pen, agreeing that it would be wise to let others go around me if they were desperate to go faster.

After observing several people pissing against the wire fence overlooking families with kids in the park, I decided to join in and empty my bladder one last time; I didn’t want to have to stop mid-run like last year and figured I’d look after number one (pun intended). Before too long, we were ushered forward before coming to a stop. The announcers introduced the elites and after a few cheers, the countdown began and on the sound of the air horn, the 2014 London Marathon began.

The race

Despite being in pen 3, we were all running with very little breathing space around us. I repeatedly told myself that I would stay calm and just go with the pace for the first mile or two and then assess the damage and go from there. I was actually able to run on the blue line quite often which was a complete contrast to last year where it wasn’t until mile 18 or so before I had a clear run.

The sun was right on us for what would become a slow cook over the course of the day. I was carrying a bottle of Lucozade and sipping it periodically to stay hydrated and fuelled, looking to recreate the Bramley 20 race back in February that went beautifully for me. I quickly realised that I had over done it by carrying 8 gels on my gel belt; they were all jostling about with the additional weight quite noticeable. I decided to go with it for a little while longer with plans to sink a gel every 3 miles or so.

The first mile marker appeared very quickly with my watch beeping after passing through the gantry. I was in high spirits thinking all I had to do was maintain a clean line for the rest of the race. I estimated there would be some excess distance covered and hoped for 26.4 and no more, unlike last year where I covered 26.7 miles in total.

The early miles flew by and before too long, the blue start and the red start began to merge. Whilst it was by no means as jarring as it was last year, there was still a noticeable build-up in the crowds around me on the narrow London streets. I was also surrounded by multiple 3:30 pacers and their followers from all three different starts; what’s annoying is there’s no obvious way to identify which start area the pacers are actually from so you could happily be running alongside one group only to then find out that they’ve started behind or in front of you, taking you around at a pace that’s possibly too slow or too fast.

After sinking a gel, I decided to discard two from from my belt and move another to my hand. I instantly felt much lighter and ready to rock and roll. My third mile split was firmly on race pace target for what was unfolding to become a well-executed race plan.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have already spotted a new addition to my race day kit in the form of my name  across my chest. I had too much pride last year to go down this road but after witnessing the boost that the crowds can give you when they’re cheering your name, I figured I’d be stupid not to take advantage of something so simple. The first time I heard somebody shout, “go Andy!” was incredibly intoxicating and quite addictive. I quickly began to see how many people would cheer out my name on the course and sometimes purposely ran along the side to try and draw some attention.

There was still a bit of jostling amongst us runners but nowhere near as bad as my last 26.2 mile outing. I continued to run on the blue line where possible but the distance rot was starting to make itself known with my Garmin growing increasingly out of sync with the mile markers.

Whilst London is known as a reasonably flat course, there are quite a few undulations in places and this caught me off guard a little. The roads on the course were also piss-poor with potholes and plenty of uneven surfaces to catch your feet on. I did actually witness one guy fall over on one of the narrower streets and whether that was due to the road, a stray bottle or being clipped by a fellow runner, the importance of keeping your wits about you at all times until the course opens up can’t be stressed enough.

Arriving at the Cutty Sark, I was able to run quite a clean line around the ship. This was the first densely populated crowd along the course; there are very few quiet patches during the London Marathon and despite the organisers’ suggestions to not spectate at the Cutty Sark, nobody seems to pay any attention and heads there anyway to cheer on loved ones.

The crowds around me thinned a little more at mile 8 which provided some much needed relief. A marathon is stressful enough and without ample breathing room, it’s difficult to settle into a rhythm and relax into race pace. I noticed somebody having a BBQ along the roadside but they neglected to offer any sausages or burgers for runners passing by.

Whilst not proactively running with a pacing group, I did notice that one of the 3:30 pacers was consistently running on the right-hand side of the course. I thought to myself, “here’s a pacer that knows what they’re doing!” by keeping all of his runners to one side of the road and freeing up the other side for those looking to pass and so on. The next 3:30 pacer up ahead wasn’t as thoughtful, choosing to run right in the middle of the course with his followers spilling out all over the already congested road.

I very quickly found myself turning right towards Tower Bridge without realising I was almost halfway. I began to perk up and positioned myself on the right-hand side of the course to try and catch Iain and Elsa. The crowds surrounding Tower Bridge were insane and the noise produced was deafening. The energy was high and I was careful not to get carried away with an excessively fast mile split. Exiting Tower Bridge, I was on the look out for the corner before turning right again and just where I’d planted my eyes were Iain and Elsa! I yelled out to them and they cheered back at me, providing an instant lift to power me on to the halfway point.

I reached 13.1 miles in 1:45 or so; all I had to do was continue running at my target pace and I would dip under 3:30 with about a minute to spare. I started to worry because I obviously had to propose to Lis out on the course as well, which could take a minute on its own… I decided I would keep going and re-assess the situation after 20 miles. At this point, there was no doubt that I wouldn’t hit my target; I was feeling strong, swift and ready to cover the distance. My breathing wasn’t laboured at all and whilst I was warm, I was regularly pouring water over myself to help keep my temperature under control.

Mo Farah at Tower Bridge

Mo Farah at Tower Bridge – photo by Elsa Tam

At around mile 14, I saw the elites coming through on the other side of the road. The cheers started to get louder and I quickly realised that Mo Farah must have been coming through. The crowd started going wild and there was the man himself, zooming past but clearly not in first place or even in contention for a podium position. The poor guy has had so much pressure put on him by the media and various sports pundits; if he doesn’t run a marathon, then he’s criticised for not having a go and when he does, he’s criticised for not coming first or breaking a British record. It’s his first marathon and very few people get the distance right first time. Hell, it’s generally agreed that elite marathon runners only peak after 7 or 8 stabs at the marathon so how’s a first timer expected to beat the strongest male marathon elite field ever assembled?

Somewhere around mile 15

Notice Forest Gump in the bottom left corner

Moving into the Isle of Dogs area of the course, somebody dressed as Forrest Gump was running alongside me for a while. I’m always amazed at the guys in costume that are able to pull off quick times because what must they be capable of in regular running gear? The Isle of Dogs is one of the extremely narrow parts of the course and spectating crowds were spilling out on to the road again like last year. There isn’t enough room for us runners as it is and the last thing we want happening is some stray spectator getting knocked down. There needs to be better marshalling in the tight spots on the course because spectators clearly aren’t going to control themselves.

Arriving in Canary Wharf, the tall buildings provided some much needed relief from the sun that continued to cook us all alive. The crowds started to cheer me on a little and once again, I was like a drug addict being given a taste of what I needed but not enough to satisfy. I loved hearing the crowds cheer my name and so I started throwing my arms in the air, working the spectators up. Like a conductor at an orchestra, they all followed my commands and began cheering my name! Chants of “Andy, Andy, Andy!” spurred me on. “You’ve got this, Andy!” and “You’re doing great, Andy!” became my fuel to keep running at race pace. Seriously speaking, if you’re reading this and about to take on your first marathon, do yourself a huge favour and have your name on display – the crowds truly do pick you back up when you’re stumbling and sing for you when you’re winning.

I ran alongside a guy in a chicken costume for about a mile, which also drove me to push on and leave him behind. I’ve already been shamed in the past by having photos taken of me sprinting against a chap in an astronaut costume; I wasn’t about to allow it to happen again, least of all at the London Marathon of all places! I have since found out that the chicken was going for a world record but missed his mark by a few minutes.

I had accidentally missed two Lucozade stops out on the course – one at mile 15 and one at 19. Due to the narrow course, it’s actually quite rare that drink stations are available from both sides of the road and there’s little to no warning when they’re either only on the left or the right. On both occasions, I was on the opposite side of the road and it was impossible to stop and go back. I was down to my last gel and I needed to sink it, banking on being able to pick up a Lucozade at mile 23 when the road is super wide and there are runners dropping like flies to clear a path for me.

Exiting Canary Wharf, it was time to dig deep but it simply wasn’t happening. My legs were feeling fine and my lungs were ready to go the distance, but I clearly started to fade. I had by no means hit the wall because I was still able to run, albeit 20 – 30 seconds slower than race pace; I guess it was fatigue setting in through a culmination of a bad night’s sleep, warm temperatures and missing two Lucozade stations. I began to swing my arms to try and develop a rhythm but race pace wasn’t materialising. People all around me started to walk, with a few stopping entirely and some were even stretchered away due to collapse. Those that were still running were slowing at an even faster pace than I was, so the number of people I overtook in the final 6 miles must have been quite high. I gritted my teeth and did what I could to minimise the damage.

At around mile 21, Matt and Cheryl spotted me and yelled out “beetroot!” on Lis’ advice. I received a boost from this but it only pushed me on for so long before I was back at slower than race pace. I tried short faster bursts, almost like a fartlek run, but I couldn’t muster the energy to drive – 8:20s were the only choice on the menu for me.

Looking surprisingly good

Looking surprisingly good!

The crowds in the last 6 miles were really something and all cheered me on. Knowing that thousands of people are watching, you don’t want to let any of them down even though you know you’ll never see any of them ever again. I was feeding off their positive energy and I’m certain I would have run a lot slower if not for their aid.

The water available on the course was no longer a relief after having been warmed up by the sun all morning and afternoon. The sun was shining right on us and there was no hiding at all from the onslaught, with temperatures rapidly rising to their highest at around 1pm when most runners were hitting the slightly tougher second half of the London Marathon. To make matters worse, the course started to undulate again to sap what little energy runners had left in their tanks.

Not looking so good

Not looking so good…

The final Lucozade station on my whistle-stop tour of London had arrived and quite literally, nothing could have possibly tasted sweeter! I glugged a quarter of the bottle down before throwing it to one side – I couldn’t take anymore on-board because my stomach was pretty unsettled and I didn’t want to risk it all coming back up again. I had to hold my hand over my mouth a few times when I really thought I was going to throw up…

My Garmin was now reporting a 0.3 mile differential from the mile markers. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the final few miles were in a straight line, but when the Garmin beeped and there was no mile marker in sight, I can’t deny I wasn’t a little demoralised. Target-wise, I was behind by about 3 minutes and I knew I couldn’t make that time up with just 3 miles left to go with trashed legs. I simply did what I could to stay steady and not allow any further damage to happen. At least I could get my proposal underway without any time pressures!

I simply had a Parkrun left to complete and shouted this out to the runners alongside me, but nobody seemed to know what the hell I was talking about. I dug a little deeper but this made no noticeable difference to the pace on my Garmin. I was now regularly overtaking runners though this in itself was an illusion because I was merely catching up to people that were already slowing down. Once again, the crowds loved that I was overtaking and I received cheers as loud as in Canary Wharf but with no command from me. For a brief moment in time, you’re that spectator’s athletic hero and they care deeply about whether you get to the end or not. All sorts of people were spurring me on and I started high-fiving folks again to try and distract me from the fatigue. Phil Hewitt, author of Keep On Running, spends a lot of time in his book discussing the joys of having people cheer you on in races and it really is something you have to experience for yourself to appreciate how motivating it really is.

I had reached mile 24 and only 2.2 miles stood between me and the end. If I were any less stubborn, I’d have been tempted to slow the pace down and everything would have instantly felt better. My pride, however, would have been permanently dented with the knowledge that I could have done something but chose not to. I gritted my teeth once more and this time dug as deep as I could into what few resources I had left. I managed to shave 10 or so seconds off this mile which felt like a sprint at such a late stage in the marathon. The mile markers also did their usual trick of moving further and further away from each other in my head, with time slowing down like I was in my own Inception dream sequence.

Less than a mile to go!

Less than a mile to go!

Big Ben was now right in front of me as I crossed Westminster Bridge, welcomed back home by the crowds who were positively electric. Cheers of “You’ve got this, Andy!” and “Own this marathon, Andy!” stood out and really stoked the fire inside me to keep pushing for the final mile or so. I was definitely going to miss my sub-3:30 target by a good few minutes so whilst disappointed, I was also slightly relieved because it meant I could stop and propose without worry. That right turn after Big Ben took forever to arrive but in just a few steps, I was finally on the approach to Birdcage Walk and only minutes away from the big finalé, and the end of the race. The crowds continued to welcome runners home, sensing that everybody’s pain could be dulled with their words of encouragement to get them through the final 1km. The “800m to go” sign was now just ahead of me and I tried visualising the route from Cardiff Parkrun’s 800m sign to make it more tolerable – anything to get me to the end. The 600m sign got closer and closer but still felt like it was an eternity away. I was desperately scanning my eyes through the runners ahead to see if any of them would turn right towards The Mall and sure enough, they all started veering off Birdcage Walk. The time had come to get my game face on!

Andy Yu proposing at the London Marathon

Getting down on one knee was easier than expected!

As I turned right, I began frantically moving my eyes through the crowds to spot everybody waiting for me. I caught a glimpse of something yellow and started waving, hoping that it was Lis and her daffodil mask-hat thing; she started waving back along with everybody else around her so it was definitely the right person! I slowed down to avoid overshooting my mark and walked up to the barrier, confusing a few people. I motioned for Philip to come closer and he handed me the box containing the engagement ring. I then began to open the box, presenting it to Lis whilst doing my best to get down on one knee. Surprisingly, this was not a problem despite having run 26 miles and my thoughts quickly turned to fear that I wouldn’t be able to get back up again! On my 26 miles to reach this point, I did wonder about what I would say but sadly, eloquence was not a skill available to my brain running desperately low on energy. I simply blurted out “Will you marry me?” in what must have sounded like drunken gibberish. Lis definitely nodded her head but I don’t recall her saying “yes” – now came the task of fine motor skills to pick the ring up from the box and then slide it on to her finger, hoping that it fitted, and thankfully it did. I gave Lis a kiss and I think the crowd around us started cheering and everybody ushered me on to leave the box and carry on with my race, so I waved and sprinted off on to The Mall to finish things off.

Crossing the finish line

Crossing the finish line of the 2014 London Marathon

My arms were pumping hard and I was on an enormous temporary high after the proposal to power me through to the end. I must have easily overtaken 20, maybe 30 people on my approach towards the finish line and just like that, my foot stepped through the line and I stopped my Garmin – I had finally completed the 2014 London Marathon and gained a fiancée in the process!

Here’s the Garmin data for my 2014 London Marathon.

Post race

I stopped running and wanted to collapse. Looking at the time on my Garmin, a result of 03:34:02 stared right back at me for what was an 18.5 minute PB. That’s almost a Parkrun between me and last year’s finish time! I was exhausted and was ushered along to keep moving forward. I tried bargaining with a marshall to let me stop and lean against a barrier but she wasn’t having any of it, so I moved forward incredibly slowly. My legs were tight and I needed to stretch my quads out to avoid seizing up later on. I was also desperate for a drink so I tried moving towards the goodie bags as quickly as my body would allow. I saw Lis and Elsa through the fences and they told that they’d be waiting in the meet and greet area rather than at Piccadilly Circus as originally planned; knowing how busy it can get there, I thought they were bonkers to try and re-group with me where everybody else is trying to do the same thing with loved ones.

2014 London Marathon medal

The 2014 London Marathon medal

I was given my finisher’s medal and any disappointment I had from the preview images were quickly dispelled – the thing was huge! Early images did not show it against anything for scale so my natural assumption was that it looked very low-key and similar to many other medals I’ve previously earned.

I also received the coveted goodie bag and I started tearing into a cereal bar and a bottle of Lucozade to kick-start the recovery process.

Like at the Silverstone Half Marathon, little ramps were set up for runners to walk on to and volunteers removed our timing chips for us – a nice little touch that I’m sure is really appreciated. I struggle to remove timing chips even after hard half marathons so imagine what it would be like after 26.2 miles!

Crappy photographer missed the medal!

You can’t even see my medal!

The official photographers were taking snaps of runners against the finisher’s backdrop. My photographer last year was very good and took several photos for Suz and me so that we could pick the best one. This year’s photographer was rubbish; he’d somehow managed to take my photo whilst my medal was in mid-spin so it’s perfectly side-on to the lens – I don’t even look like I’m wearing one at all!

Bag collection last year was buttery smooth with no queue at all to retrieve my kit. There was a lot of congestion to get into the baggage area this time but once I was through, the volunteers had spotted me coming and had everything ready for me to collect like clockwork. The New York Marathon tries to dissuade runners from checking kit in and they’ve clearly struggled in recent times, going as far as offering runners posh ponchos in exchange for not checking kit bags in. I don’t get it myself – if London can manage perfectly fine (as do other large city marathons) then why can’t New York?

I made my way slowly to the meet and greet where I was incredibly touched when a young lad (Spanish, maybe Italian) said, “You did great, Andy!”. He didn’t know me and certainly didn’t need to congratulate me either, but I was incredibly touched by his kind words. See, even when the race is over, having your name on your vest is the gift that keeps on giving!

There was no sign of Lis or Elsa so I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. I had to keep moving for fear that my legs would lock-up otherwise. I tried sitting down on the kerb and ended up making grunt-like noises as I lowered myself down, disturbing a nearby woman and her son; I apologised for the distress and she joked that she was fully expecting her husband to be in a similar state to me. I still couldn’t see the girls so I tried to call them, thinking that the networks would be fine given how many people around me were on phones – no joy. None of my calls connected and thinking about it, everybody I tried calling was on the O2 network either directly or as a virtual network. I tried making a FaceTime call and this had more success, clearly showing signs of connection but it always crapped out ultimately. Don’t rely on phones afterwards and make sure you have a meeting place planned!

I decided to start walking towards Piccadilly Circus as per the original agreement. The walk after a marathon is always a monumental feat and I had somehow ended up on an awkward island next to Trafalgar Square with traffic zooming past, leaving me with no opportunity to cross over safely. I backtracked and used the crossings, but the lights were still changing too quickly for my hobble-come-shuffle for a few hairy moments. Several rickshaw drivers asked me if I wanted to be taken anywhere and had I have had some cash, I would have taken them up on the offer but alas, I continued to Piccadilly Circus on foot.

Finally making it to the agreed meet-up point, I celebrated my double achievement with a now traditional Nandos to further bolster the recovery process. Everybody remarked that I didn’t look too bad considering I had just run a marathon PB – I put it down to better training and running a smarter race compared to last year.

Closing thoughts

I’ve had a few days to digest what’s happened, not only on race day but the entire journey from this time last year.

Last year, it took a few days after the race for me to decide that I wanted to do another marathon. This year, even with how awful I was feeling in the final few miles, the desire to run another marathon was still strong inside me. That sub-3:30 finish still eludes me and I know I have the potential to do it; all I need is the right race on the right day. I am not a natural marathon runner and I feel my ability lies in shorter distances, but once I’ve set my sights on a target, I just simply have to have it.

My training had gone very well this year but in retrospect, I would have added significantly more marathon pace intervals to complement the long runs. I would have also run another 20 mile race at marathon pace, killing two birds with one stone. I was dramatically less sore on Monday afterwards and that’s got to be down to running twice the long run mileage as I did last year.

The London Marathon is 10 shades of crazy and is unlike any race I’ve ever participated in. There’s virtually no part of the course that’s free of people and the amount of noise that’s produced is incredible, almost too much at times. Some atmosphere is good but you need to be able to withdraw at times and just knuckle down with the task at hand. Despite the desire for some quiet time, having my name yelled out by hundreds of people is an experience I will never forget and will probably never experience again – for one day, I felt like an elite athlete.

Will I try and run at London again? Probably not. The congestion at the start is probably the main reason why London loses its appeal for me. The sheer volume of people that they have to get through the start line means it’s not practical to release runners in waves with time between each. I would like to run at Berlin for my next marathon but failing that (ballot entry), I think the Manchester Marathon is now looking decent. The race was a mess at first but the organisers have really pulled their fingers out and corrected a lot of the problems that plagued their inaugural event. There are only a few thousand runners rather than 36,000 which should mean a much smoother and calmer run. Oh, it’s also billed as the UK’s flattest marathon with only 54m of total elevation for the entire 26.2 miles! London is pretty flat but I clocked just under 150m of total elevation on Sunday.

So, what now? I’m going to take it very easy for a week or so to allow my body to recover. I was wrecked last year for a good month or so; I know I won’t be breaking any PBs in 5k or 10k anytime soon so I just need to ease myself back into it. My plans for the rest of the spring and summer is to concentrate on speed; I want some of my raw pace back so that I can start chasing after a sub-19 5k and sub-40 10k again.

Thank you to everybody that’s helped me on this journey – it was a victory for all of us on Sunday.

This week’s running – 7th to 10th of April

It's the final countdown!

Has there ever been a more appropriate theme song?

It’s the final countdown to the 2014 London Marathon so this week is purposely short. Wish me luck and I’ll see you guys on the other side of the London Marathon finish line!

Solo Cannon Hill Parkrun

After spending most of my day up north in Huddersfield (including running up the steepest 50m hill I’ve ever seen!), I made my way over to Cannon Hill Park after returning to Brum for a solo Parkrun. The plan was to run the first mile easy and then speed up to marathon pace for the final 2 miles.

It was a slightly chilly evening and I had foolishly packed a vest rather than a t-shirt. On my second lap of the park, some of Kings Heath Running Club’s members were out en masse and covering a portion of the Parkrun route.

Marathon pace felt pretty good and gave me some confidence that I am ready for this Sunday.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

RunToWin.co.uk is moving up in the world

I was contacted recently by Cision, a company that specialises in social online trends including blogging, and imagine my delight when they asked if they could include this very blog in their Top 10 London Marathon running blogs! I’m joined by some esteemed run-bloggers like Lazy Girl Running – one of the big names out there that’s also been interviewed by Marathon Talk.

A few folks have asked me why I blog about my running. Well, there are a few reasons.

First of all, it’s now become a running diary of sorts where I can log my runs; look back at what I did previously and so on. I find this blog is also a good place to consolidate my thoughts and comments that are too detailed to throw into Garmin Connect.

The second reason is I actually quite like writing. I don’t claim to be a better writer than I am a runner, but I am of the creative persuasion and it’s a way for me to bring a small amount of craft to running. I’ve blogged under several different guises over the years, including a personal life blog and also a photography blog, but RunToWin seems to be the only one that’s garnered any real following (over 12,000 visits in 2 years is pretty good, right?).

The third reason is it’s a way to share my running thoughts with fellow runners, friends and family. Feedback has been positive about this blog and I get messages from people asking me where the updates are if they don’t appear in a timely manner! For the record, expect to see the weekly update from Sunday through to Tuesday. Any race reviews will generally follow on Mondays or Tuesdays.

Two of my previous posts have racked up a huge number of visits for me: how I felt the runBritain handicap ranking system worked and my review of the Nike Flyknit Racer for runners. I noticed a distinct lack of information on how runBritain’s handicap ranking system behaved and so I put together a piece on how I believed it to work. I was by no means trying to be an authority on the matter, but rather offering my take on an algorithm that is otherwise shrouded in mystery.  It was a similar reason behind why I wrote my review of the Flyknit Racer shoes – there simply weren’t any good in-depth reviews out there!

Another solo Cannon Hill Parkrun

Dropping off a company car at my parents’, I popped into Cannon Hill Park to complete another solo Parkrun with a portion at marathon pace.

This was much tougher than on Tuesday for some reason with my legs feeling heavy. This is apparently quite normal for a marathon taper so I’ve just got to believe in my training…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

I told you this week would be short because we’re already at the next entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Just run around the block

On days you don’t feel like running at all, tell yourself you’ll just jog around the block. Then go do it. Nine times out of 10, those few minutes of movement will be enough to kick you into gear, and you’ll want to keep going.

And that one time out of 10? Hey, at least you’ve run one block. Which is one block more than most folks will run that day.

This week’s running – 31st of March to 6th of April

This sums me up perfectly

Yep, that’s me exactly!

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

Jantastic – mission complete 

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

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

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

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

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

Will I do it again next year? You betcha!

Brighton runaround

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday hill work

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles with 3 at marathon pace

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Taper twitches and race week plans

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

Aaaaand breathe in. Breathe out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goal-wise, I have the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use your head when you stash your keys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week’s running 24th to 30th of March 

The Manchester runaround

Manchester – nice city but piss-poor for runners!

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. This entry is out on time!

A busy week for me with a few days away from home for work, but I still got my runs in! This was the first of three taper weeks where I opted to go a little easier.

5k in Manchester

I love running in new places. It’s the perfect stimulus and gets you exploring, so long as you don’t get lost.

I was up north during the first half of the week for meetings and not wanting to let the hazards of eating out constantly destroy all the good training I’ve put in, I took my running shoes with me and laced up whilst I was in Manchester.

I love Manchester as a city but god, it’s shite for runners, especially the city centre. An online acquaintance of mine from Cardiff regularly works in Birmingham and when he asked me for running routes, I told him the canals would suit him perfectly; his feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Running routes simply don’t exist in Manchester city centre!

I wanted to get 5k under my feet and simply went and tried to stay as straight as possible without crossing too many main roads and traffic lights. Sadly, main roads and traffic lights are what Manchester city centre is all about and I had to dice with traffic a few times (foolish, I know). The roads and pavements in Manchester are also piss-poor with potholes and loose paving slabs galore. I did actually turn my left ankle ever so slightly on the return to the hotel and it was only several days later where it felt right again.

Meeting up with my old uni bud, Andy Campbell, he was going to suggest hooking up with a local running club near him but given I only wanted 5k, it wasn’t really worth the effort. Like speaking with Neil Muir the week before, it was great to chat with Andy as a fellow athlete that’s been through everything I’m going through right now.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6 miles along Hagley Road

With my feet firmly back in Birmingham, I ventured out towards the old faithful that is Broad Street and Hagley Road.

I wanted to run the first mile easy for it to be a true warm-up and then see where the rest of the run would take me. I’m not great at running by feel, instead running as a slave to my GPS watch.

After an easy opener, I eased myself in and everything started to feel good and much better than normal. I glanced at my Garmin periodically and the pace I was hitting surprised me a little where I fully expected to feel dreadful like always on Thursday evenings. I hadn’t fuelled up well either but I didn’t feel hungry and the empty stomach feeling never appeared. If it hadn’t have been for one rogue slow mile, I would have royal flushed as well!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

In a week of breaking from the norm, I decided to go one step further and really shake up my morning Parkrun routine. I normally have toast for breakfast before a run but instead chose to have some of Lis’ Victoria sponge that she baked a few days prior. I had achieved my goal of hitting 9 stone and 5 pounds as my marathon race weight and I wanted to try and stay as light as possible, so a small slice was all I allowed myself. I also halved the amount of energy drink I normally have to keep additional weight at bay. And the final kicker? I didn’t have any beetroot juice or coffee and instead brewed a very strong espresso to have just before hitting the start line at Cannon Hill.

Arriving at Cannon Hill Park, I completed my normal warm-up of just over a mile. I wasn’t feeling great but I rarely do before Parkrun. The weather was spot on for running with just a little wind and temperatures around 10 or 11 degrees. The ground was a little slippery underfoot but this will remain a problem until the summer.

Meeting up with Dave and Elsa, we all admitted to feeling poor and made our excuses early on. I necked my espresso back and boy did it kick like a mule! I immediately felt the buzz and hoped it would last for 30 minutes more until my run was over. Heading to the start line, I couldn’t tell if we were on record numbers or not but the wide field had me feeling anxious. On “go”, we were off and somebody fell over again just to the right of Dave and me! If anybody ever trips me up, I’m going to drag a few people down me, I’ll say that now!

I wanted to run a sub-20 to give me confidence again that last week was merely a pacing blip and a lack of runners to pace with had made me work much harder than I should have. I was also running using km splits after a conversation Dave and I had the previous day. I prefer mile splits but we both agreed that for shorter distances of 10k and under, km splits give you much more pacing feedback and a chance to more readily correct any mishaps. I was just over target for the first km when I caught up to Ed Barlow; I figured he must have been finishing up a long run because he was running at my 5k pace rather than his normal break-neck sub-18 minute ability. He broke off shortly after and I hung back with a small group at sub-20 pace.

Running with a group made all the difference and the consistency was fantastic. Passing the bandstand on the second lap, I glanced over to make sure there was enough space to move over without cutting a group member up and he gave me a verbal all-clear. I joked that I’d seen some atrocious race cutting and pile-ups over the years and we both chuckled. Ed was still just ahead of my group and I tried to maintain the distance between us. Going into the triangle, I could see Dave was storming ahead and at least a good 20 to 25 seconds ahead of me. I shouted some encouragement over and knew he was close to beating our joint-19:18 PBs, if not surpassing them entirely.

Exiting the triangle, I did what I could to lift my pace to minimise the rot that normally settles in. To my amazement, it wasn’t dramatic and only 5 seconds behind target and only 10 seconds slow for the entire run; easily clawed back with a fast final km and sprint finish. I didn’t encourage anybody else on to try and save some breath – if you fail to get a cheer from me, I’m not being rude but simply on for a good time!

As my Garmin beeped and ticked over into the final km, I told the guys around me that we had just 1000m to go. I ramped the pace up a touch to take me home and to get what speed I could in before the final hill. I continued to kick and broke free from my group and had Ed firmly in my sights by no more than a few seconds. Charging past the Mac, the marshall cheered me on by name; I always feel bad that I can only respond with “thanks marshall” because I don’t know who they are. I realise that it’s probably not difficult to identify who I am by my name on the results but still, I can’t help but feel bad.

With just 400m left to go after passing Fergal’s/Dave’s Corner, I kicked with all I had left to try and catch Ed who was still just a few seconds ahead. Storming up the hill, Helen cheered me on for that final boost I needed for the final dash towards the line. Ben Clarke was at the funnel and gave me some more encouragement as I approached the end to finish with 19:48 (rounded down to 19:47 officially).

I was wrecked and couldn’t stop panting like a dog. It was a struggle to stay steady on my feet and had to lean against the wall for balance. I was happy with my performance and the new strategy seemed to work well. I found Dave, only to be told that he had managed to PB with 19:15 (rounded down to 19:14 officially) which was fantastic news to hear. 19:18 was a very rewarding PB for both of us and I knew it wouldn’t be long before Dave surpassed himself based on how consistent his times have been as of late. It’s given me a firm target to work towards this summer, that’s for sure!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles at marathon pace with Dave

I’m conscious that I haven’t done as much marathon pace work as I would like, especially during my long runs, so I set out to correct this by covering 10 miles with Dave. 7:50 per mile was the target pace and that’s what we set out to do.

I felt somewhat out of sorts this morning due to the 1-hour time shift to account for daylight savings. I was up at the real 6:30am to my body, not the faux 7:30am that was reading on my watch. A couple of us had gone for a late curry last night and my stomach was a teensy bit fragile this morning which also didn’t help. Getting over to Dave’s for 10am, we only go and discover that David Williams from Parkrun is a neighbour of Dave’s, living only 30m or so further up the street!

Dave’s prescribed route would have us running 5 miles or so into town along the canals, then using the Walkway to navigate back to Harborne and finish up via Selly Oak and Bournville. In total, this would take us to just over 10 miles which is just what the doctor ordered.

The early opening miles didn’t really click for me – marathon pace felt unfamiliar and alien. I felt like I was working much harder than I should have been for just 10 miles. Dave and I were chatting away and this could have partially been the cause where any spare capacity was used on speaking.

One stand out annoying moment was when we approached the tunnel. There seemed to be an endless stream of runners coming through from the other side, all at different paces but seemingly together or part of the same club. Knowing that they have that many runners, they really should have kept everybody closer together to minimise the disruption; had Dave and I waited for everybody to have come through, it would have taken several minutes I think!

We made our way over to the Walkway and as ever, I wouldn’t be able to navigate back there on my own. I really should explore it on my own and try to commit the route in and out to memory.

A couple of tricky uphill portions made the closing stages of this run rather tough and it showed up my lack of hill training. The London Marathon is flat as a pancake, so that’s my excuse at least.

I’m happy with the marathon pace focus of this run. I will probably take it a little easier next week, pace-wise, but I’ll keep the distance up.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Keep warnings short and sweet

Animals and birds have certain calls to alert the group to potential danger, or relay other important information. Runners do, too. Or should.

The reason, of course, is that in group runs – especially largish ones – one or two runners will invariably spot dicey stuff well before anyone else can. It is their duty to communicate such diciness to the rest of the group, and to do so in a clear, blunt way.

Personally, I started my athletic life as a cyclist, so I naturally use the same kind of language in group runs that we used in group rides. For instance, “Car back!” to alert others that there is a car approaching from behind. Or “Car up!” if there’s a vehicle headed toward us. Not much room for interpretation or confusion there.

Not all situations are that clear-cut. In these cases, you’ll have to improvise. For instance: if your group is approaching an intersection and you spot a truck speeding along that no one else seems to see, you don’t exactly have time to say, “Chaps, beware the truck proceeding eastbound on Main Street; it does not appear to be slowing, and it is unclear whether the driver is aware of our presence.”

Instead, you shout, “HO-ohhh!” And the others get it.

Or, perhaps, “HEADS UP!” which I’ve used long enough to have gradually shortened it to a simple “Z’UP!”

Whatever works for you. The point is to keep everyone aware – and alive.

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of March

22 mile long run - the last before the London Marathon

Go long and I wish I could go home!

Apologies for the late entry this week, folks. I’ve been away from home for work and just about had enough time to get my normal training in. A few of you have alerted me to the tardiness so without further ado, here you go!

Monday massage

I decided to take a two week break from sports massages to see how I would feel without my weekly fix. Turns out I was pretty good flexibility wise, showing no major improvement or decline in my range of motion.

Sadly, I’m away for the next couple of Mondays and the college closes a week before the London Marathon for Easter. Some massage is better than no massage, so I may try to book myself in for a Thursday session before they break up.

Possibly too little, too late now, but any would be marathon runners for next year would definitely do well to schedule in some regular sports massage to iron out any knots and kinks during your heaviest training weeks. I feel like a million pounds at the moment and I’m running way more mileage than I ever did for last year’s marathon.

Tuesday hill reps

I abandoned the gym in favour of running hill reps again – there’s something about the outdoors that’s just so much more conducive to good training performances. It was to be the usual 6x reps and I wanted to be sure I was effectively warmed-up before the reps began; I pushed myself a little harder than usual on the warm-up mile and felt remarkably good at the end of it and ready to tackle the reps.

Setting my virtual pacer to 6:15 per mile, I regularly found myself under or dramatically over the target pace. It was nice to see some of the splits were at a very speedy pace, but I was also worried about pushing myself too hard and peaking too soon. I regularly hear stories of people who are able to produce incredible performances in training but then seem to always come up short in actual race environments. Remember folks, we train to race and not the other way round!

Slightly off-topic, I did also run with my Oakley persimmon lenses for the first time. The persimmon lenses boost contrast in low or dull lighting, making it easier to pick out details in otherwise tough conditions. They worked an absolute treat; lifting my sunglasses up was almost literally like night and day. For just £35, they’re easily one of the best value options out there if your Oakleys allow for lens swapping.

Here’s the Garmin data for this hill session.

Five seconds of fame

Andy Yu and Suz West in the 2014 London Marathon Final Instruction

It’s the runners’ version of Where’s Wally (or Where’s Waldo for my US readers)

Part of the fun of racing is spotting yourself in the media afterwards. Dave, Dom and I were in one particular publicity photo during the start of the 2013 Bath Half Marathon (it really is one of those blink and you’ll miss it moments) and you can clearly see Dave in some finish line footage from the 2013 Great Birmingham Run.

I was casually flicking through my copy of the London Marathon Final Instructions magazine when I stumbled upon one particular crowd shot. I always love wading through crowd shots from races to see if I can spot myself, treating it like a game of Where’s Wally? just in case I happen to appear. I don’t even know why I fixated on this particular photo (and the above really is a very small portion of the overall image) because it’s right at the back of the magazine on one of the acknowledgement pages. Moving my eyes through the runners’ faces, I recognised one particular McMillan charity runner that appears in a lot of my official photos from the London Marathon. Moving my eyes through the crowd again, I spotted another runner I recognised, this time a Cancer Research runner that also appears in many of my photos from the final 6 miles. Imagine my delight and surprise to see me and Suz West there in the crowd, clear as crystal! The shot itself has the bottom half obscured by chunky text and a red filter, so it’s actually only a small area that’s visible. I showed the shot to a colleague of mine that’s run the London Marathon a handful of times, including last year, and he was as amazed as I was, citing that the chances of being snapped and published out of 36,000+ runners was almost as rare as attaining a ballot place (funnily, we have both run through the ballot).

10k around Edgbaston Reservoir

Wanting to convince myself that last week was a blip, I re-visited Edgbaston Reservoir for another 10k at marathon pace. The weather was incredibly foul with rain and howling wind to contend with; I didn’t think many people would be out at the reservoir and I was right, being the only runner amongst a few hardy dog walkers.

This time, I made sure I was fuelled up for the run having had a slightly larger lunch than normal. I topped everything off with an energy gel and a bottle of Lucozade Sport to be doubly sure that I wouldn’t hit the wall part way through the run.

Wearing my low heel drop trail shoes helped the pace to feel swift. In reality, it wasn’t but I blame the progressively darkening conditions for that. My persimmon Oakley lenses helped somewhat to brighten up the dull conditions but they could only go so far; they’re designed to boost low light, not no light and I had to take them off once the sun had completely set.

The first lap always feels easy at Edgbaston Reservoir. The second lap wasn’t bad either but I started to get slight stomach rumblings from all the sugar I had consumed earlier. The average runner can only take up to 60g of processed sugar an hour with the rest simply causing gastro-intestinal distress. This is why certain energy supplement manufacturers have started switching over to a dual carb source formula where rather than relying solely on glucose for energy, fructose is also thrown into the mix. Both sugars are metabolised differently so the body can actually be fed more carbs before it starts maxing out.

I brought it all together to finish strong for the final lap.

Click here for the Garmin data.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Dear, oh dear. Parkrun really didn’t happen for me on Saturday! I wanted to try to run a sub-20 performance and prepared myself as such. Lis and I arrived early to Cannon Hill Park for a warm-up that wasn’t rushed, though still felt awful.

Shortly after the startline scramble, somebody fell over just to mine and Dave’s right; we both just about managed to dodge the guy but it could have been a lot worse had others have also been dragged down. The first mile was run just fractionally faster than target pace, feeling smooth and swift. The typical second mile rot reared its ugly head and things became progressively harder for me despite my best efforts to stay with Nigel. Dave was now long gone into the distance and I found myself running alone again for much of the second half with the group in front about 10 seconds out of reach, and the chasing group behind me about 10 seconds away. It wasn’t until the remaining 400m or so when I finally caught up to two runners ahead of me and overtook them to attack the hill. I could hear a runner breathing hard just behind and surged up the hill to pass me; I had nothing left and a finishing kick was way beyond me. A simple 20:33 was exchanged for my troubles.

I really should have had the discipline to hold it back and run at threshold pace. I’d not had a recovery week in ages and one wrong move could have tipped me over the edge.

Neil and I had a bit of a catch-up afterwards, discussing our respective marathons due to take place in just a few weeks. It was good to speak to another person coming to the end of their marathon training and aiming for a time similar to myself; Neil understood everything I had gone through and was about to embark on – it was almost like therapy!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

22 miles of north Birmingham canals

This was the big one – the final long run to rule them all. Last year’s marathon training cycle saw me work my way up to 22 miles, albeit in a much more haphazard manner. Holding the distance for two weeks before moving up by a mile this time has made me a much more resilient runner I feel.

I loaded my CamelBak up with the usual litre of Nectar Fuel and took some Cliff Shot Bloks along for the ride, too. I also had my iPod with me for company; I can do 2.5 hours alone but anymore is mental torture and I needed something break up the silence.

The weather was fine when I stepped outside; a little blustery but dry with some blue skies. I eased myself in gently with a slow opening mile, knowing that I would drop into target pace soon. Due to all the rain the day before, I chose not to head out to Bournville. This would have been preferable to minimise the number of dips and bumps I would encounter on the canals out towards Star City and Aston but it wasn’t to be – 3 laps of what I call the north Birmingham canals were on the menu for the day.

Somewhere between miles 2 and 3, a lone cyclist pulled up alongside me. For some reason, he wasn’t overtaking and stayed with me for 10m or so and I eventually twigged and realised it was none other than Iain! He had apparently been yelling out “beetroot” to me for ages but due to my earphones, I had no idea he was behind. The pace started pick up slightly and felt remarkably easy running with Iain whilst he was on his bike; having him for company broke up the monotony of what would have otherwise been 22 very long solo miles. We passed some convicts on day-release, pruning some bushes on the side of the canal. Neither of us felt particularly at ease, especially when they were handling some very sharp garden tools! Iain stayed with me until the Aston Junction turn off and it was me on my lonesome again.

I headed out towards Fort Parkway to add some extra mileage in to avoid the last-minute scramble at the end. On my right in a field were some kids on motorcross and quadbikes, using the canal path as an exit and entrance to the field; it’s hard enough contending with cyclists but motorised vehicles were taking the piss I thought. The weather got progressively worse and on the out and back, hailstones were thrown at me from above. Hailstones! Granted, it wasn’t as bad as running 22 miles in several inches of snow like last year but it was bad enough; I’d seen everything from sunshine to rain, hail and high winds already to make for an incredibly tough run.

The next loop wasn’t too bad but I was starting to tire. Running the early miles with a litre of fluid on my back had sapped me of energy but I knew I had to treat it as strength training where come race day, I would be as light as a feather and would have access to drinks at every mile.

The final loop had me feeling like I fully expected to feel during the last 6 miles of the marathon, like shit that is. I zoned out and just put one foot in front of the other and knew I had to keep going. The mile splits were still healthy but a rogue 9:15 came out of nowhere – this highlighted the need to concentrate and just keep everything together on race day. I wolfed down my remaining Shot Blok and tried to pick the pace up for the last 2 miles to sign-off the very last long run on my schedule.

All said and done, I didn’t feel too bad upon finishing. Physically and mentally tired, of course, but not destroyed like on my longest runs of last year. I felt ready to the 26.2 miles ahead of me in London and with a little bit of luck to see me through, I should be on target to run 3:25 or better and certainly dip under 3:30 on April 13th.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run and here’s your weekly fix from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Team up for early-morning runs

Waking up for an early run can be tough. This is especially true if you’re not a “morning person” and doubly especially true if it also happens to be dark, cold, windy, wet, or icy outside. Or all of the above.

Add a few margaritas the night before, and the odds of your rolling out of bed and pulling on your running shoes at 6am approach laughable.

Unless you’ve promised to meet someone.

If that’s the case, you might shudder. You might grimace and groan. You might curse. But you’ll throw back the covers, put on a pot of coffee, and get dressed. Because knowing there’s someone out there, also waking up and getting dressed in the dark to run at this ungodly hour, is just enough motivation to get you moving.

And you know what? Nine times out of ten – or better – you’ll be glad you did. So will your running partner.

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

The final instructions for the 2014 London Marathon

Four weeks left to go!

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

Tuesday hill reps

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

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

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

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

10k around Edgbaston Reservoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the limited Garmin data for this run.

London and The London Marathon Store

The new version of the London Marathon Store

Just 200m from Liverpool Street Station

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

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

A complete collection of London Marathon medals

That’s a lot of miles run

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

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

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

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

A collection of London Marathon bibs

Sponsors, sponsors everywhere!

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

The London Marathon route

The iconic route of the London Marathon

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

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

21 miles of Birmingham’s canals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

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

Answer critics with a smile

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

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

“Bad for your joints,” they’ll jab.

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

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

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

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

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of February

Another 20 miler this week

This week was all about going long  and going fast again

The aftermath (or lack of)

All of my recent long solo runs have left me a little drained and worse for wear. And that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do, forcing the body to become stronger and more resilient with regular stimuli.

I was dreading how I would feel on Monday after the Bramley 20, or even Tuesday as Tony Audenshaw’s song, “I’ve got Tuesday legs” depicts. Imagine to my surprise when I woke up feeling pretty damn good on Monday. There was no stiffness in my legs, no aches or blisters on my feet (it must be the More Mile socks) and judging by my appearance, you’d have been none the wiser that I’d ran 20 miles at race pace just a day earlier. I can only put the lack of any soreness down to the high protein KFC lunch, helping to rebuild damaged muscle fibres and also the recent sessions of sports massage.

I had booked myself in for a session with the sports therapy clinic at the college, just as a precaution in case anything did flare up. Damian was treating me again, this time on his own, and we started with how the race went. The students at the college love to see patients coming back because it shows progression (or sometimes, lack of) with any treatments and remedies that have been provided. He was as surprised as I was with my range of motion and my report of no adductor issues out on the course. He did some flexibility measurements to compare against my data from a few weeks ago. In my left leg (the good one), flexibility had increased by 5 degrees; nothing to write home about but an improvement nonetheless. In my right leg, we measured a whopping 19 degree improvement compared to before! And this was after a 20 mile race – imagine what it could have been before 20 miles?

We went on to do some sports massage work along with some assisted stretches, which were both a relief and quite painful, but clearly helping so the old adage of “what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” certainly holds true.

I’m back in at the sports therapy clinic again in a week’s time – an absolute bargain for just £5 per session.

Tuesday speedwork

My treadmill interval session just wasn’t happening on Tuesday. The Bramley 20 and starting a new job had left me pretty tired and I simply didn’t have the mojo to blast out my usual 5x reps at 5k pace. I only managed 3x reps and whilst I could have possibly pushed on to 4x, I was conscious of how I was feeling and squeezing out one or two further reps had the potential to push me over the edge.

What was also frustrating was I ended up on yet another treadmill which seemed to skew my pacing. I really don’t know which machine is accurate anymore and I need to get to a running track to try and accurately calibrate my footpod again for indoor use.

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

6 miles along Hagley Road

Ah, the frustrating run. Everything about this run annoyed me from my pace, my Garmin and the traffic.

I used the custom workout mode on my Garmin again to help me run a mile warm-up at a slow pace, followed by 5 miles at around marathon pace. The warm-up was fine but I struggled to hit the target pace despite efforts to speed up. I eventually managed to hit marathon pace but this was short lived; my Garmin started to whine at me incessantly for creeping outside of the 7:55 maximum speed! I am only going to use the Virtual Pacer at the London Marathon, where if I’m on target, the timer will read “0 seconds ahead”; if I’m ahead by a small margin, then I’m in a good place; and if I’m behind, then I can always just switch to another screen to take my mind off pacing rather than having some inane chime ring every few seconds to remind me of my failings!

As if the run couldn’t get any worse, I also managed to hit each and every traffic light on Broad Street and Hagley Road, causing me to go long to avoid having to stop. Some days, I’m lucky to never hit the traffic lights but I guess you can’t win them all.

Here’s the Garmin data.

Pacing Mr Andy

After several weeks of slower paced Parkruns and increasingly longer Sunday runs, I wanted a faster effort with the target of dipping under 20 minutes. Dave seems to have a magical ability to run consistent 19:5X performances each week, so I enlisted his pacing assistance to help get me there. This would be a complete role reversal where it’s normally me that paces Dave.

Elsa also made her much welcomed return to Parkrun after an extended period of absence.

It was a near-perfect day for Parkrun, with cool temperatures and blue skies, prompting me to break out my sunglasses for their first Parkrun outing in months. Following Dave took out a lot of the pressure and stress of a fast effort; if he slowed down, then I would slow down and if he went faster then so did I. On a few occasions, the gap did widen and I almost let Dave go, but I managed to muster the strength to chase. At one point, I even jumped ahead to try and lift the pace going into the triangle, a notorious point of slowdown, but Dave resumed pacemaking duties almost immediately.

In retrospect, I definitely didn’t feel like I was working too hard to maintain the effort. On a bad day, or a PB attempt, I’m normally huffing and puffing from the little bridge onwards until I reach the finish line. On this occasion, there was none of this; sure, I was working hard but definitely within myself and under control.

I had no intentions of beating Dave; all I wanted was a fast finish time and with just 400m left to go, I simply did my best to hang on as we went through the gears. The final hill took a tremendous amount of grit to tackle with a final push at the end to cross the finish line. To my shock and surprise, Dave had paced us around the course in speedy 19:34 and 19:36 efforts respectively! I was wrecked and had to sit down next to Jonny Costello for a few minutes to regain some composure. I was elated and it showed I hadn’t lost too much fitness despite the marathon training (Nike+ says I’ve covered more than 140 miles in the last 30 days!). Dave has also equalled my second fastest 5k time at Cannon Hill so we really are quite evenly matched, broadly speaking.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Mike was celebrating his 100th Parkrun and is officially the first Kings Heath Running Club member to reach the hallowed number.

Last week, the team behind Cannon Hill Parkrun had to reluctantly cancel the event due to a lack of core management available. They put out a plea for people to come forward who would be happy to be trained up as potential run directors and other core roles, of which I volunteered my time and services to learn how to process the results. I love to run and traditionally, most of the volunteer roles preclude you from running; the beauty of processing the results is you need only do them after the run has taken place! I sat down with a chap named Ben Clarke from Kingsbury Water Parkrun, with Rob Foster showing us the ropes. There are a few steps involved to get the results working, for example the times are recorded on one device and the positions are recorded on another and must be paired; this is why it’s so important that people stay in the right order until they’ve collected their finisher’s token. The position and time data can be manually edited for corrections, such as when people have recorded their own time and there’s a large discrepancy compared to the official time. The hardware involved is rather temperamental to say the least, where the primary timer actually failed and the backup timer was called in. Rob revealed that previously on multiple occasions, the data would not pair together and the team had to manually enter positions and times into the database for processing. Watching what the team goes through to lay on a free, timed 5k run for us each week has really opened my eyes to what’s involved. Next week, Ben and I will be unleashed on real data to work with so I apologise in advance if the results are late or non-existent!

The long run dilemma

Remember a few months ago when I was speaking of A races and B races? Well, clearly London is my A race and everything training-wise has been geared to complement that, sacrificing the Silverstone Half Marathon in the process to treat it as a faster paced training run. As Dave recently put to me, it is a horrible waste to use fully-fledged events as training runs but then it is growing increasingly difficult for me to be in PB shape for every distance I run at all times, so something’s got to give.

With all of the above in mind, I have decided to train through Silverstone with minimal taper. That means I went out and completed a 20 mile solo run yesterday! Distance-wise, I had two obvious routes that I could utilise. The first was the north Birmingham canal loop, running underneath Spaghetti Junction three times; the second was two laps of the north Birmingham canal loop with a stretch out towards Edgbaston Reservoir for three laps there. Ultimately, I went for the latter option for the greater range of scenery and environment it provided.

Clif Shot Bloks

Sugary goodness for them long runs

I wasn’t in the best condition venturing out on the long run. I didn’t get much sleep due to a late night out (for me) and excessive caffeine consumption as part of it; if I was lucky, I reckon I caught maybe four or five hours’ worth of ZZZs. Dressing for the long run also proved troublesome, with predicted rain and already present high winds to contend with. I also planned to take a pack of Clif Shot Bloks out with me as part of a nutrition experiment. I’ve seen this product before and my local Boots has started stocking them; the lure of cherry flavoured chews laced with caffeine was too good to resist!

I also took a few episodes of Marathon Talk along with me for company. Again, I don’t need to rely on it but keeping my mind occupied for almost three hours is a feat on its own.

The target pace was the usual average of 8:55 per mile. Running down Newhall Hill as part of my first mile, I was immediately smacked by an incredible headwind – I could tell already that this wasn’t going to be an easy day! Setting foot on the canal, I was sheltered from a lot of the wind and tried settling into my target pace. It proved tricky at first and a complete contrast to the Bramley 20 where Kev and I were in the thick of it almost immediately. Ironically when not being battered by the wind, my long sleeve top and running tights were almost too warm for the conditions. I kept my gloves on but had to roll my sleeves up and unzip the top all the way down for some much needed ventilation; I was sweating already and with limited fluid in my CamelBak, I didn’t want to be in a position where I would use up all my supply with several miles left to run at the end.

Running steady splits on this stretch of the canals is always tricky, with locks, kissing gates, and steep descents to contend with. On this particular run, my Garmin seemed incredibly sensitive to running underneath Spaghetti Junction, where the immediate pace would freak out but then struggled to correct itself via the Virtual Pacer. The problem with the Garmin setup is that even with my footpod attached, it will only kick into footpod mode when a complete loss of GPS signal occurs; if you’re running in an area with crappy signal, but a signal nonetheless, it will utilise this when in actual fact, the footpod would probably be more accurate and stable. Nike’s configuration was far superior, where it used the GPS signal to feed into the footpod constantly, so it was always technically calibrated. It would also switch over to footpod mode if the signal became weak, rather than relying on a total signal loss. The end result was a far more stable immediate pace, whether I was running under bridges, through tunnels or on open roads.

After three or four miles, I sampled my first Shot Blok. The flavour was pleasant and the texture was very similar to the cubes you get from a pack of jelly. They dissolved very easily once you started chewing them, though I can’t say I felt any immediate benefit from them unlike some other gels or drinks I’ve used in the past. I can only guess I was merely maintaining my already ample energy levels, rather than allowing for spikes and troughs.

Running past Star City, the wind was back in full force and I had to wrap up warm again. The headwind really did feel like I was running straight into a brick wall at times and a real drain on resources. There were several runners out that day and all but one of them were running in the opposite direction to me, really taking advantage of the tailwind.

Heading back towards the Aston Junction, the tunnels caused my Garmin to jump about again where I was either penalised on pace (slow-down for no reason), or given a free boost. Going into the second lap, it was very much a repeat of the first but felt a touch easier since I was fully warmed-up. At various points, I would even go as far as saying I felt great!

Finished with my stint on the northern canals, I ventured back to Brindley Place to detour out towards Edgbaston Reservoir for the remaining 5 miles. My pace was now smooth and I felt relaxed and ready to finish the long run off. Once I stepped off the canal, everything suddenly became a struggle and I faded a little. Entering Edgbaston Reservoir via the rowing club exit, I was immediately greeted by that troublesome headwind again. As before, every other runner there was running in the opposite direction to me for that tailwind boost. I really had to concentrate and hone in on the target pace (which was now averaging 8:53, bonus!) for three laps before hitting 20 miles.

Memories of the time when I ran eight laps of Edgbaston Reservoir came back to haunt me and I hadn’t even finished the first lap yet of the day. This was not going to be easy… Thankfully, the tree lined portions of the reservoir offered some much needed protection from the elements and the flat terrain helped me get a steady rhythm on. Like running a 5k, it was that middle lap of the reservoir that proved the most challenging where I was exactly halfway; neither as fresh as I was at the beginning of the three laps and still some way from the end. This was exactly like how the closing stages of last year’s marathon felt where the mind plays tricks on you, with a mile feeling dramatically longer than it should. I used all the tricks I’d picked up to get me through, like breaking the distance down into more manageable and measurable chunks, such as running to that bench or tree there, or catching up to the dog walkers ahead of me.

On my final lap and with just 1.5 miles left to go, I did my best to keep it all together. I wolfed down my remaining Shot Blok and emptied my CamelBak to leave it all out there. Whilst there was a distinct lack of blowing at Parkrun on Saturday, this final lap of Edgbaston Reservoir more than made up for it with a triumphant return of the choo-choo train impression. I was staring at the distance counter on my Garmin like a man possessed; 1.0 miles left, 0.5 miles left, 0.25 miles left. The beep of 20 miles sounded and it was all finally over!

I had already planned with Lis to pick me up at 13:45, estimating that it would take me around 3 hours to complete 20 miles at target 8:55 pace. The actual finish time? 2 hours and 57 minutes for near precision timing! After a quick call to Lis to confirm the pick-up and to request a bottle of water, I slowly jogged to the carpark as part of my warm-down.

I was incredibly pleased with the effort and whilst I ran a minute per mile slower than at the Bramley 20, the perceived effort by my body and mind of running 20 miles alone was near identical to last week so I know I’m in a good place with my training.

The Garmin data for this run can be found right here.

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

Love your tan lines

You may be tempted to “even out” any tan lines left from your running watch, socks, and/or ID bracelet. Don’t. Those tan lines aren’t something to be ashamed of. Far from it. They are hard-won emblems of accomplishment. Sport them proudly!

Bramley 20 2014 review

The Bramley 20 race

Failing to plan is planning to fail

I’ve said a few times recently that last year’s marathon preparation had one major flaw: a distinct lack of marathon pace specific work. My long training runs, whilst perfectly fine for getting endurance training in, weren’t up to the task of getting me around 26.2 miles in a desired time of 3 hours and 30 minutes or better.

When I found out I had bagged a London Marathon ballot place, I decided to put things into place to correct what went wrong. One such feature of this year’s plan was a 20 mile race. There are two 20 mile races that I’m aware of around this time of the year: the Ashby 20 and the Bramley 20. I know a fair few folks who have run both and despite Ashby’s closer location, Bramley won out due to being a much flatter profile. I’m a big fan of training that will closely mimic the conditions of a target race, i.e. training on flat surfaces for a flat road race, and putting in more hill work for more undulating courses. The Bramley 20 would be all about marathon day simulation, looking at my nutrition strategy, pacing and even the clothes and shoes I will ultimately race in. Leave no stone unturned and control all the controllables!

Kev and I are not the same height

Kev and I are not the same height!

I had originally arranged to run Bramley with friend and fellow running blogger, Dom, though he sadly was unable to make it to the startline. My old uni buddy, Kev Yates (of Lordshill Road Runners), has run at Bramley several times and couldn’t praise the race enough, entering it this year without an actual marathon to train for. And this is the oddity about the Bramley 20 (and probably the Ashby 20) – most people probably aren’t out for a PB or to run themselves ragged; they’re using the race as a catered training run. And let’s face it, most people would prefer to run a 20 mile race as training rather than slog out 20 miles on your lonesome.

Lis and I had spent the weekend in Wales, which proved to be dramatically easier to reach Bramley (near Reading) rather than driving from Birmingham. Arriving in Bramley, we were quite swiftly directed to our carpark for the day. Many runners have taken to whinging and moaning online that the parking facilities were inadequate, taking too long to get processed blah, blah, blah. I’m sorry, but the race booklet mentioned arriving early to avoid queues. Lis and I arrived shortly after 9am after a 2 hour drive, and apart from waiting for the train line crossing, there was no queue for us at all. If you arrive at 10am, you have no excuse but to wait.

I love races and it’s what keeps my eye on the ball when it comes to training. Seeing crowds of other runners ignites a spark inside me, a spark that has been sorely missing for a few months after my autumn season. Arriving at the race HQ (a primary school), we were greeted by plenty of other runners from all manner of clubs. Reading Road Runners were obviously well represented given that they had organised the race. Winchester were also out in force and I spotted a few other familiar clubs like Serpentine, Lliswerry and even a runner from the Birmingham Uni AC. Kev’s club, the Lordshill Road Runners, were also present with a good number of participants.

After a shaky week of poor weather, the running deities saw fit to give us some much needed sunshine for near perfect race conditions. I don’t know what I would have done if the race was called off; probably cry like a little girl…

Kev and Alice showed up with maybe 20 minutes left to go, giving the girls ample time to work out their spectator plans and for Kev and I to make one last toilet visit. We did end up cutting it rather close to the start with mere minutes to go before the gun was due to go off. We ended up creating a gap in the barriers to sneak through into our approximate pace pen.

The Yellow Runner is back!

The Bramley 20 was a great chance to test kit under race conditions

I was looking to run 20 miles at marathon pace of 7:55 to 8:00 minutes per mile. Kev didn’t have any grand plans for the distance so decided to run with me; this was perfect since Kev would be able to keep accurate pace because he would be running well within himself (his marathon PB is 3:02:52). My nutrition plan consisted of carrying a bottle of Lucozade all the way around the first lap and having Lis toss me a second bottle on the second lap. I was also carrying 4 orange flavoured Isogels, mimicking exactly what I plan to carry at the London Marathon. The pre-race info was rather scant on details regarding the drinks stops with only ‘glucose drinks’ to go by, served in cups no less. I’m absolutely rubbish at drinking from cups, so I was willing to take the weight hit by carrying a bottle around; I’ve been carrying 750ml of fluid on my back all winter so it wouldn’t be a major hardship.

We were released to run fairly quickly and managed to settle into our target rhythm without much delay. Unlike in larger city races, this was very much a race organised by runners for runners so there weren’t any dramatically slower runners up in the front to get in the way of others – a major pet hate of mine.

Kev treated the run as a catch-up session for the two of us whilst I used it as marathon simulation. I had to be cautious not to let the pace get too silly whilst being carried away by the crowds. A good number of the people around us that started to get away would be reeled back in in due course. Once I’d settled into target pace, I was happily chatting away with Kev, discussing our various running adventures and lives since university in general.

Photo by Colin Brassington

Kev and I somewhere during lap 1 of the Bramley 20 – photo by Colin Brassington

We both started to warm-up and I was glad I decided to go with a (yellow) vest and shorts combo along with gloves for my hands. Kev was wearing a base layer and was quickly becoming too warm, eventually taking it off and tying it around his waist. I was also conscious that I was carrying too many gels, opting to chuck two back at Lis when we ran past the 10 mile marker.

The marshals out on the course deserve special mention for their cheery nature and motivational enthusiasm; it was like an entire team of Fergals! Kev and I made sure to thank the marshals each time we passed to show our appreciation. The course itself was open to live traffic, though there was only the odd car here or there most of the time. There was one moment when cars had approached from opposite ends of the road, with nowhere to go and no way to turn around. Best of luck to them!

Drinks were indeed served out of cups which I’m absolutely useless at drinking from, with more going up my nose than down my throat. The energy drinks actually turned out to be Nectar Fuel, diluted to the isotonic consistency that happens to be the exact same concentration that I use in training. Drinks were only handed out every 4 or 5 miles I think, so you really couldn’t rely on the race organisers for nutrition. And if you were running the race as a marathon warm-up, you should have been practising your nutrition strategy anyway, using your own supplies of choice.

A few cheeky hills kept things interesting, with me heckling Kev for his deception and claims of the race being pancake flat. Completely unrelated, Kev did tell me that there are plenty of earthworms out on the course due to the moist conditions of the ground. We did see a fair few dead earthworms as we ran, trampled by the runners ahead of us.

Andy Yu and Kev Yates at halfway of the Bramley 20

Halfway through and still feeling fresh

Eventually, we reached the halfway point where I dumped two of my Isogels and took another bottle of Lucozade from Lis. The 10 mile runners peeled off to the left whilst everybody else continued on to the second lap of the course. The field thinned out considerably, so much so that there were points on the course where there was nobody ahead or behind us for about 30 seconds either way. I almost lost my footing at one point for what would have been a rather embarrassing end to my 20 mile race at only slightly further than 10 miles!

I’m not a big fan of multiple lap courses where the knowledge of what’s coming up almost lulls you into a false sense of security. We both felt great in the first lap but from mile 11 onwards, it was almost as if somebody had flicked a switch inside me and I suddenly felt a lot less energetic. Kev’s knees were aching with this race being his longest run since Christmas.

From about mile 16 onwards, the conversation dried up considerably and I really had to knuckle down and concentrate on the task at hand. The hills from the first lap felt more like mountains to conquer. This will have served as good mental toughness training for the actual marathon where I fully expect to feel the same from mile 20 onwards; the real halfway mark begins at 20 miles after all! Funnily, not my lungs or cardiovascular system ever felt stressed in the race and the only thing holding me back were my legs tightening up; this was a real confidence booster where as long as I can build the endurance and strength in my legs, my fitness will take care of itself at London.

The runners around us remained fairly consistent throughout much of the second lap where sometimes, we were overtaken and at other times, we would overtake and progress ahead. With about 2 miles to go, one chap started drafting behind Kev for protection from the wind. A bit of banter was thrown around between the three of us and I joined in behind our new friend, Dave, to take advantage of the shield from the headwind blowing towards us.

The last few metres of the Bramley 20

The Bramley 20 tastes like burning…

Kev did some quick calculations and we were within reach of finishing within 2:40 if we picked up the pace slightly. With one mile left, I did what I could to try and empty the tank and leave everything out on the course. That final mile was rather uncomfortable; not only was this my longest run so far of this cycle of marathon training, but it was also my fastest run ever above 13.1 miles! Recognising the return to the finish, we pushed and I managed to muster a short sprint for a finish of 2:39:14 with Kev just behind me in 2:39:15. I didn’t want to go crazy for fear of doing some damage in what was just a glorified training run.

The goody bag was almost entirely made up of immediately edible stuff which is perfect for the distance just covered; there’s only so much toothpaste, shower gel and roast chicken seasoning you can take.

I had a good long stretch to iron out any kinks that had developed out on the course. There wasn’t a peep at all from my adductors, showing they had been properly sorted by the recent sessions of sports massage and stretching. Post-race, I was a little tight but the following Monday, my legs had returned to normal and I felt fantastic.

The Bramley 20 medal

Meep meep! The Bramley 20 medal

All in all, I was very pleased with how everything went. I wanted to get a 20 mile run in as part of my marathon schedule – check. I wanted to get a long run in at marathon pace, if at least partially – check. I wanted to simulate the first 20 miles of a marathon with nutrition and kit – check. Martin and Tom from Marathon Talk are less favourable of 20 mile races as warm-ups, feeling that they can take too much out of runners if discipline is not applied to pacing. I can totally understand their reasons and am totally on-board with the idea of overtraining or even leaving your race behind in training. But I do also believe that to race at your best, you need to reduce as many of the variables as possible and a 20 mile race gives you a very good opportunity to flex your marathon muscles, without actually having you run a marathon. I am now feeling much more confident about my training and how to maintain and maximise the remaining 7 weeks or so before the big day.

Take a look at the Garmin data for the Bramley 20 here.

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.