London Summer 10k 2018 review

london_summer_10k

Big bling from the Big Smoke

My only race to date in London that isn’t the London Marathon! And like both London Marathons, this was anything but easy…

Pre-race

Lis and I were due to be in London for a couple of days and her suggestion was that I look up a race. London, much like New York, seems to have no shortage of races at most weekends; I counted at least 3x events within central London, and a total of 4x if I was willing to travel within the M25 for when I was in town. Originally, I declined and instead wanted to re-focus on September’s Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon, but after feeling like there was some unfinished business after the Magor 10k, my mind was changed and I duly entered the London Summer 10k.

The race wasn’t cheap – coming in at £20. A similar event outside of London would likely cost £12 to £15. Taking place exclusively within Regent’s Park, it’s not like there were any road closures to drive the cost up, though I guess there were probably planning fees involved that went to the park, and some of the proceeds going to charity, so I mustn’t grumble too much.

Race prep wasn’t great. I hadn’t run for five whole days, with just Finsbury parkrun the day before to reawaken my legs. Why so long between runs? I was busy decorating the nursery for mine and Lis’ new arrival due in October. I simply had no energy or appetite for running after spending Monday to Wednesday on various home improvements; throw in three days of London sightseeing from Thursday to Saturday, along with a late night on the latter, and I was tired before I’d even raced a step!

Race morning was not kind to me, either. With all the showers that had struck in the days prior, London had become incredibly humid. Throw in some persistent gusts of wind for further salt rubbed into wounds. Warming up, I knew I was probably going to be in for a tough time, given how sweaty my t-shirt was after only 15 to 16 minutes of low intensity jogging. Covering a portion of the 3x lap course, the ground underfoot was very well maintained as one would assume for a royal park; the paths did undulate slightly more than I’d hoped for, though not enough to be a major concern before the main event.

Looking around at my fellow participants, I tried to identify those who I would likely be competing against. There were just a few who looked swift and a top 10, maybe even a top 5, finish position looked likely. Earlier that morning, I said to Lis in passing that I wouldn’t recognise anybody at the race – well, I spoke too soon… A club runner in blue and white caught my eye and I paused to consider why he looked familiar. My lightbulb moment arrived – I recognised him as the Royal Sutton Coldfield club runner from the Walsall Arboretum parkrun I attended back in June. From memory, he had good 5k and 10k PBs to his name. Speaking with Mark, and like me, he was in London for the weekend with his girlfriend (and Aldridge club runner), and both of them were due to race, though an administrative error meant only he would actually be running. We both admitted we weren’t particularly keen that morning, but had both paid up so it would be a waste not to.

Stood on the start line, there was reluctance from everybody to come forward. The race director asked if any of us had covered the route before, paying particular attention to both Mark and I. We both declared ourselves as first-timers, though it transpired that one of the sharper looking runners stood behind us had in fact run 36 minutes on the course before. I ushered him to move forward and not be shy, for the risk of everybody else following somebody unfamiliar with the route was rather high!

The race

Off the line, I probably got a little carried away along with my peers. Not helping were the several hundred metres of flat that gently sloped downwards towards the first turning. I felt pretty reasonable, though quickly found myself in no-man’s land and fifth place. Helpfully, Mark was pretty tall and his Sutton Coldfield club colours were a nice contrast to the grey and green surroundings of the park, so I was always able to spot him as he edged away into the distance. I was on PB pace, though it soon became apparent that the wind had further picked up since my warm-up, and the race was not going to come to me without a fight. 1km came in at 3:47.

Early into the second km, two runners from behind overtook me to then sit steady some 50m ahead – why they couldn’t sit steady closer in front of me, I didn’t know! The second km gently undulated upwards and I became quite exposed to the harsh gusts of wind that blew. There was some respite, for there was a brief stretch of around 200m where the wind was not felt at all – lucky me, because that equated to around 600m out of 10,000m for the entire race… 2km came in at 4:00.

The last time I was in Regent’s Park, I was probably only six or seven years of age, based on a photo of me, sat on one of the benches overlooking the neighbouring London Zoo. During 3km, I ended up running past said bench, with the giraffe exhibit on my right for one of the more exciting sightings within a race. This stretch was quite cluttered with visitors to the park; a 10:30 start meant the park was suitably teeming, and much like parkrun, the organisers stressed that race participants did not have right-of-way on the paths. I ended up going off-course on to grass a few times, simply because it was easier than bellowing a warning, only for it to fall on deaf ears… 3km came in at 3:57 and almost brought me back to the start point for the end of the first lap.

Lis had set up camp on one of the benches close to the start line, affording good views of the race. Being a three lap course, this also meant I passed the water station twice – most welcome on such a humid morning. Passing a volunteer, I successfully received a cup from her to much cheering, which I can only assume stemmed from the six guys before me each fumbling the pass. The refreshment from the water did the trick and got me back up to speed to see 4km coming in for 3:53.

Nearing halfway, one of the pair that overtook me earlier began drifting backwards. I took my foot off the gas to draft in his slipstream for a few moments of recovery from the wind that seemed to near-constantly seek me out in the vast park. I sensed him slowing further and my Garmin confirmed as much; I regained the lead and told him to take a break in my slipstream in the hope that he would listen and stick it out with me. Before long, he’d dropped right off to leave me on my own once more. 5km came in at 4:09 and halfway for 19:49. Even if I was to finish in under 40 minutes, I knew I had some work cut out ahead of me…

I began encountering lapped runners on the course, making for a welcome distraction from the monotony of largely running alone; combine this with the brief spell in the park without wind and I was in bliss. Sadly, the pace rot continued and 4:06 marked the growing difficulty of a sub-40 finish.

The humidity was hellish and had grown to be my most despised weather condition of the summer. Returning to the start point for the end of lap two and the beginning of lap three, I seriously considered dropping out. Continuing at such a pace was not going to cool me down any faster and motivation had receded to an all-time low. I almost came a cropper at the water station, where the first cup was crushed when the volunteer’s hand and mine were too firm and collided. Thankfully, I was able to quickly grab another cup from the second volunteer. I dread not think about how the final lap would have gone without those precious few sips! My pace perked up a touch for 3:58 for 7km.

On tired legs and with little appetite to keep pushing, what I really could have done without was the wind continuing to slam into me. Earlier that morning, I had hoped that my Nike Vaporfly 4% would give me that little something that I needed, or at least make up for any shortfall. Sadly, even with the well-maintained paths of a royal park, I still wasn’t able to tap into the shoes’ sweet spot and I did wonder whether a lower profile shoe would have produced a different outcome that morning? 8km was my slowest split of the race for 4:17.

More and more lapped runners appeared on the course. I was thankful that my race would at least be over with in fewer than 9 minutes, whereas everybody else had more than a lap remaining. Nearing the beginning of the wind-free stretch, I saw the runner that had a prior 36 minute run to his name on his way to the final km; judging from our relative positions, he would comfortably finish in fewer than 37 minutes. I managed to capitalise on the momentary lack of wind for a 4:10 9th km.

With just a single km remaining, I was around 25 seconds shy of a sub-40 finish, and that was assuming that the course finished precisely on 10km. Nonetheless, I opted to go for broke and kicked on with what was left in the tank. My lack of recovery and the humidity of the morning saw my heart rate continue to climb into the high 190s, with my maximum at around 202bpm. Like before, the path was cluttered with fellow runners and park users, forcing me to think nimbly and choose my line and position wisely for fear of being blocked in. Strangely, I could hear footsteps with a quick cadence coming up behind me. There was nobody within striking distance of me for practically the entire race – had I slowed that much to allow them to sneak up on me? Reaching the final corner, the volunteer encouraged me to kick on and to try and beat the other guy to the line. Looking over my shoulder as I turned, I could see somebody in jogging bottoms closing in on me incredibly quickly. How was he running at such a pace in jogging bottoms in such warmth and humidity?! I kicked as hard as I could for the line, besting him by just a few seconds, only to realise he wasn’t in the race at all as he had no bib, detouring away from the finish to leave the park. Why he wanted to race me, I’ve no idea!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

As disappointingly expected, I only managed 40:17 for sixth place out of some 200 participants. I quickly got over it and runbritain was even kind enough to calculate the race as having a 2.4 course condition score, which is quite high when 1.0 is considered as average conditions.

I was in agony from the effort and pulled myself out of the finish funnel so as not to get in the way of others, though this was unnecessary as the next guy along was almost a minute behind me. Catching up with Mark, he shared many of my own thoughts and we both concluded the race was not worth the effort that morning. This is no slight on the race itself – just that we were unable to capitalise on the event in any meaningful way. As numerous people have said since, I will at least have taken the training effect away with me as consolation.

Lis and I high-tailed it out of there to be back in time to check out of our hotel, marking the end of an exhausting trip to the Big Smoke.

 

 

 

 

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This week’s running – 25th of September to 1st of October 2017

london_eye_andy_yu

Running and sight-seeing? At the same time? Madness!

Week 21 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Some running in that there London town and we’re almost there…

5k easy

Due to the increased warmth of the Robin Hood Half Marathon, my Garmin suggested a lengthier recovery window than a year ago. Heeding its advice, I delayed Tuesday’s run with a sprinkling of marathon pace and rotated in an easy 5k.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

7 miles with 2 at marathon pace

Faster workouts are fraught with danger as one gets closer to race day, so I purposely softened the marathon paced miles by slotting an 800m recovery between them. I wasn’t going to get any fitter and simply needed to not lose touch with how marathon pace should feel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Traditionally, I’ve always set out to run hard at the final parkrun the week before a big race. Along with the VO2max benefits, blowing off some cobwebs from tapering is rarely a bad thing. Little did I know how badly my 5k pace had deteriorated!

Kings Heath Running Club took over the volunteer duties for the morning and kindly provided pacers, including a 19 minute one. Whilst I was initially able to keep up, the pacer drifted away after 2km and my lack of 5k intensity reared its ugly head. My breathing was still perfectly adequate, but I simply could not coerce more from myself to shift into higher gears, eventually finishing in 19:20 without too much discomfort.

Whilst I would have liked one last fast parkrun ahead of race day, I’m totally on-board that my training has seen me trade in speed for (hopefully) out and out endurance…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Oh, and don’t forget the parking charges for Cannon Hill Park kick-in from the 6th of October onwards. £2 for the first four hours or £3 for the entire day.

14 mile London runaround

Lis and I found ourselves in London, making for a fantastic scenery change from the norm to keep me company on my final long-ish run. Despite London being somewhere I’ve visited many times over the years, this was actually only my fourth run in the capital, with two of the prior occasions being the London Marathon!

Starting and ending on Brick Lane, the route I plotted could be considered quite lazy, straddling both sides of the Thames for much of the duration. Run firmly at an easy pace for the first half and then working up to a typical long run pace for the second half, the entire duration was very much a stop-start affair for any photo opportunities that presented themselves (and there were many).

I adore running in cities when it’s quiet because you see a totally different side from what most other people would. Little details became more apparent and I often felt like I’d stumbled upon a well-kept secret.

It was also positive to see so many different types of people out running on a Sunday morning. All genders, sizes, ages, colours and creeds were covered; as a sport, running is incredibly inclusive because it requires so little to get started, and I felt like London had cracked it.

Oh, and for those wondering, the infamous Yu lack of direction sense did strike occasionally (especially around Monument), though I was able to course correct and only added an extra mile on!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

A lengthy marathon training plan can be a double-edged sword. One particular benefit is it affords plenty of time for adaptations to take place with no particular rush, resulting in reduced injury risk. My Garmin 935 now frequently suggests to me that I’m peaking and little more can or should be done. One particular pitfall of such a long schedule is it takes its toll, mentally… I’ll be in serious need of a few weeks off afterwards!

I’m ready to give the race my best shot. Why? Because I’ve made it into the Yorkshire Marathon race pack…

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This week’s running – 27th of July to 2nd of August 2015

Fulham Palace Parkrun map

Fulham Palace Parkrun called whilst I was in the Big Smoke

This week was unconventional, to say the least!

10k fartlek

Lethargy and life put a dent in my training diary for the early part of the week. I was pretty shattered from the Magor Marsh 10k and wedding related tasks took priority.

But it wasn’t long before I was back on the training bandwagon with a fartlek session up and down Hagley Road. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I took this session on, but all the unpleasant memories came flooding back as soon as I hit that first fast stretch that went uphill and into the wind.

What I do vividly recall is how much of a sharpener this particular sesh is for me. The varying fast stretches and recoveries really had a sting to them; some of the shortest recoveries were only 40 seconds long or so and really force my body to adapt, and adapt quickly!

Here’s the Garmin data for this sesh.

Canal 10k

The plan was to head out for the usual 8 miles along the canal towpath. The plan was derailed when I realised I had fuelled up inadequately, cutting the run short at 10k.

Amusingly, a canal boat full of drunken revellers (all donning captain’s hats no less) kept cheering me on with, “It’s the Captain! You can do it, Captain!” It appeared the boat was fickle, and they cheered everything and everyone on that they came across. No loyalty at all these days!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Fulham Palace Parkrun

A buddy of mine and Lis’, who we studied with when we first met, was in London for a couple of days. Flying in from Taiwan only every few years, this was a rare opportunity to see him so to the Big Smoke we headed.

Of course, I had to get a bit of Parkrun tourism in, but which event? People naturally recommended Bushy Parkrun, but I’ve already ticked that off my list, and fancied something more low-key. We were staying in the Hilton at Olympia/Kensington, and geographically, the nearest event was Fulham Palace Parkrun; only a couple of minutes’ Tube ride away and the decision was made.

Naming conventions for Parkruns are normally simple, but Fulham Palace bucks that trend. The course itself is actually held in Bishop’s Park, which neighbours Fulham Palace; the organisers originally held their briefing inside the gates of Fulham Palace to be able to use that name. The event now takes place entirely within Bishop’s Park but has maintained the original name.

The course is just under 3x laps of the outer perimeter of Bishop’s Park. Flat and with a reputation for being fast, it had all the hallmarks of a great Parkrun course for me. One fly in the ointment was a reputation for the course also being a touch short by about 150m. I was dubious of this claim, having noticed the course is almost entirely lined by thick tree coverage. We would see how this played out…

Lis and I arrived with plenty of time for my full warm-up routine. I had a good look at the park, and what a park it was. With the Thames as a neighbour, familiar scenes from the Oxford and Cambridge boat races were called up instantly in my mind.

The Parkrun bear

Say “Hello” to the Parkrun bear – photo by Lis Morgan

It seemed we weren’t the only tourists visiting; some Parkrunners from an Australian event were also in town, along with a guy running his 100th Parkrun, with every single one at a different event, to name but a few.

The event is one of London’s younger events, not even having reached its second birthday. With only circa 200 or so runners each week, it’s also much smaller than most of the events I tend to frequent. But numbers can be deceiving and a gander at a typical week’s results will highlight a pretty deep field that’s not dissimilar to Cannon Hill’s, which attracts over twice as many runners. This boded well in my quest to try and go under 19 minutes.

Briefing completed, we were ushered over to the start line that was maybe 200m away. It was a real bun fight to make it to the first few rows; clearly a competitive crowd!

Congestion was atrocious in the first few hundred metres, not helped by the near immediate sharp left turn, followed by another sharp left turn before runners hit a long straight. My Garmin was indeed fluctuating a bit too much due to the tree coverage, so I pretty much abandoned GPS pace and relied on pacing by feel and those around me. I latched on to a guy in a blue t-shirt who seemed reasonably steady and stayed with him for the remainder of the first lap.

Whilst the course was flat, the pavement had seen better days and a few cracked portions and exposed tree roots made sure my attention wasn’t just fixated on the guy in front.

Due to long, but narrow nature of the course, Lis was able to hop from one side of the park to the other with ease.

The first km came in just under 3:55; even with the slight headwind, I wouldn’t have slowed by that much whilst feeling worked, which confirmed my earlier thoughts about the course probably being 5k accurate.

Andy Yu at Fulham Palace Parkrun

Second lap at Fulham Palace Parkrun – photo by Lis Morgan

Entering the second lap, I chopped and changed from runner to runner to draft behind to keep the pace up; the middle mile always has a tendency to sag from all the effort at the beginning. Confusingly, one Fulham RC runner in front shared the same name as me, which made me wonder how the marshals knew who I was! I eventually found myself trailing behind a guy that was able to regularly put in a short injection of pace to try and shake me off, though I always managed to work my way back to him. As we neared the end of the second lap, we passed the tail runner and a couple of ladies who were determined to walk the route and not run a single step.

Into the third lap and I was still on the coat tails of the chap from the second lap, doing my damndest not to be left behind. Lapped runners became more frequent as we worked our way ever closer to the end. GPS was still crocked, so I switched over to the elapsed time, which I knew was at least accurate. The guy threw a few more surges in to really test my limit, but I counter-surged to stay with him.

Final lap at Fulham Palace Parkrun

Feeling the burn in the final lap – photo by Lis Morgan

We turned for the final corner, which probably worked out at about 400m from the finish. The runner I had so diligently followed made a break away and kicked to leave me in his dust. I searched inside for some fight to go after him, but there was nothing – only a feeling of flatness. Lis cheered me on with about 200m left to go and only then did I muster something up to finish in 19:05.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

I had to sit down for a moment and catch my breath. The Fulham RC runner came through shortly after and shook my hand, pulling me up in the process. His fastest 5k turned out to be only a few seconds slower than mine, and on the right day, I’m sure we could have worked together towards something. And that guy that surged away from me? Well, he ended up PBing by a couple of seconds to explain where he managed to find the strength to kick towards the end.

After debriefing with Lis and about to embark on a cool-down lap, a younger chap came over and asked if I was from Cannon Hill. Alex was also visiting London for the weekend and like me, couldn’t resist the urge to get a bit of Parkrun tourism in. Small world or what?

A really friendly and enjoyable event, it’s one of the fastest courses I’ve ever run on. Overcome the GPS issues and Fulham Palace Parkrun has easily got PB potential.

14 miles of Birmingham

Not training for anything longer than a 10k felt like it had taken its toll on my ability to go long. With one eye on the looming half marathon season in October, and the other on my honeymoon to derail any serious training, I sought to remedy this with a 14 miler.

Tired and weary from around 20 collective miles of walking whilst in London, I laced up and hit my usual route that took me along Bristol Road to Selly Oak, through Bournville to Cotteridge, on to Pershore Road and through Cannon Hill Park, and then back on to Bristol Road for home.

Expectedly, there was no snap, crackle or pop in my legs. A head wind tore into me for pretty much the entire time I was on the Bristol Road. The sun, that had been absent over recent weeks, also decided to make a guest appearance to heat things up.

I was in two minds about skipping the Cannon Hill Park portion of the route entirely, but managed to convince the old Central Governor to work with me, along with a promise of a cool frosty glass of Coke once we reached home.

I was wrecked by the end. Hungry, tired and warm; I still had a day of wedding related shenanigans to work on. So much for a lazy afternoon of recovery!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Run in the inner lanes; recover in the outer

Just like with highway driving, rules exist on the track to make behavior predictable and, therefore, conditions safer for everyone. The most fundamental, universal rule: Fast runners stick to the inside lanes. Slower runners or walkers occupy the outer ones.

This week’s running – 26th of October to 2nd of November 2014

Running in the dark

I wish there was this much moonlight during my runs!

This week was a bit of a pick and mix – read on for more!

Speed work in the dark

Tuesday was my second outing with my new head torch and for the ultimate field test, I returned to Edgbaston Reservoir to complete a speed work session comprising of a 1 mile effort at half marathon pace, and 2x 800m reps at 5k pace.

The head torch held up well, but there was expectedly some movement and bounce. As before, the range of light was more than enough. There was also the additional problem of fallen leaves, making pothole judgment tricky (yes, I did almost fall into one).

The session went well otherwise. The reps all felt manageable without too much discomfort; all I want to do is try and keep things ticking over until the new year when I will become more half marathon focused again.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

Recovery run from work

I really do enjoy my runs home from work. It’s easy mileage and after a long day of meetings, it was bliss to stretch out the legs.

The head torch joined me once again and proved most useful when cyclists and fellow runners approached from the distance, with all their reflective accents lighting up like Christmas trees. This was less effective (and slightly freaky) when somebody dressed in mostly white regular clothes caught the light for a spectral and unsettling sight.

Upon reaching Brindley Place, I switched the head light up to strobe mode, which worked a treat to alert others around me.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Hyde Park runaround

Hyde Park runaround

5 miles around Hyde Park

Apart from during my two London Marathons, I had never run in London before. Lis and I were both in the nation’s capital for our birthday outings (Harry Potter Studio Tour and Fortnum and Mason afternoon tea – I’ll let you decide who had what) and staying just a stone’s throw from Hyde Park, I packed my running shoes for a Friday morning run.

Rather than get horribly lost trying to navigate the internal paths of Hyde Park, I simply chose to follow the outer perimeter (roughly 4.5 miles). As it so happened, this route also took me past such sites like the Royal Albert Hall and Marble Arch. There were hundreds of people out and about at only 8am, though as a contrast to almost exactly a year ago in New York’s Central Park, runners did not dominate the landscape, and the crowds were instead a pretty even mix of commuters, dog walkers, cyclists and bipedal pavement pounders.

I enjoyed myself, though I could not shake off the comparisons to Central Park, which just seemed more runner-friendly with an underground tunnel for road traffic, rather than the main road that bisects Hyde Park.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Andy Yu's sprint for the finish at Cannon Hill Parkrun

2km sprint for the finish with bonus race face – photo by Lis Morgan

I really wasn’t sure how to approach Saturday’s Cannon Hill Parkrun. My legs were pretty tired from two days of London sightseeing and shopping, along with the Hyde Park run. Meeting up with Nigel, we decided to stick together and see how things went.

Rather oddly, the numbers were rather high for the time of year. Many regulars were notably absent, but were replaced by new faces, with the new runner briefing much busier than normal.

Once we started running, I simply followed Nigel’s lead and let him dictate the pace. His first three splits were metronomic and clocked in at 4:06/km. A very young Birchfield Harrier managed to stay with us for much of the early portion of the run, both of us remarking that he’d develop into one helluva runner when he became older.

The congestion around the sub-20 minute mark was definitely noticeable, with large groups bunching up on corners and narrow paths. Great if you wanted people to work with as part of a joint pursuit to go under 20 minutes, but less ideal for Nigel and I who were just casually running.

Upon exiting the triangle, a bloke from behind the group (there were maybe 5 of us bunched up) overtook us and bellowed out, “If you’re not overtaking, stay to the left!” It was busy and we were on a narrow path – what did his royal highness want us to do?! He had clearly started too far back if he felt he was continually overtaking people. This riled me up and I decided to show him what overtaking with authority really meant, so I pulled out and kicked the pace up. I overtook the guy and within just a few seconds, I’d managed to put a sizeable gap between us. I carried on with my kick and continued to overtake more runners – the adrenaline was in full flow and I felt fantastic!

On the approach to the MAC, I ran out of runners to reel in with the next two over 100m ahead of me. With just 400m left, I had finally caught up to them and began to overtake. One of the runners was a visiting club runner, so I urged her on with the knowledge that a sub-20 finish was within reach. My kick was in full swing and then the final hill hit me. I had to close my eyes and grit my teeth to reach the top; clearly the 2km sprint had left me shagged and even though the runners ahead of me were within spitting distance, I decided to let them go and crossed the line for a 19:49 finish in 27th.

Cannon Hill Parkrun splits

Not a great lesson in 5k pacing… But oh so much fun

I saw Nigel come through the finish and couldn’t resist letting out a wry smile when the guy that had mouthed-off came in a few places afterwards. All’s well that ends well, eh?

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And no, your eyes do not deceive you because there was no long run this week. My legs were shagged after two days in London along with above said runs, so a day of rest for me. Instead, we’ll skip right to this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book (it was one year ago when I started adding these to blog entries!):

The 7 deadly sins: Running edition

  1. Lust

MANIFESTATION: Dropping over the new Kayanos when the ones you have are perfectly fine

  1. Gluttony

MANIFESTATION: Grabbing more banana halves and bagels from the postrace food table than you could ever hope to eat

  1. Greed

MANIFESTATION: Selling your Boston finisher’s medal on eBay; trying to unload your NYC Marathon entry to some desperate soul for double what you paid for it

  1. Sloth

MANIFESTATION: I think we all know what this one looks like

  1. Wrath

MANIFESTATION: Losing your cool when the guy at the running store says the new Kayanos are sold out in your size, and they aren’t expecting another shipment for 6 weeks

  1. Envy

MANIFESTATION: Coveting thy neighbor’s wife’s half-marathon PR

  1. Pride

MANIFESTATION: Checking your appearance in every storefront window that you run past

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.

Asics Running Lab visit and report

Andy Yu's Asics Running Lab visit and report

This past Saturday, I finally had my chance for an assessment at the Asics Running Lab.

Based in their flagship London store, the Asics Running Lab is a meeting of running and science. They promise to prod and poke you to get the data they need to analyse and make recommendations on how to improve as a runner. Of course, any non-elite runner can always do things differently to improve their running but doing it this way allows for a more targeted and specific approach.

I managed to bag a temporary deal for the assessment a number of weeks ago where it was reduced to £140 from the usual £200. Andrew, my assessor for the day mentioned that they run it as a loss leader and branding tool within the crowded London running scene.

Introduction and flexibility testing

After an initial welcome and briefing of the activities for the next 2.5 hours, I got changed into my running gear and Andrew got to work checking my joint and leg flexibility and alignment. My left leg leans slightly inwards, which could cause instability and may directly be linked to reduced power in my left leg. Overall hip joint flexibility is above average, but my hamstring flexibility is low. My ankle flexibility is also low, though is apparently common with forefoot and mid-foot strike runners. These results didn’t surprise Andrew or me; I had told him that I do enough stretching before and after to get away with it, explaining that I’m strapped for time as it is and feel I need to devote most time to the actual running.

3D foot scan

Andy Yu's 3D foot scan results at the Asics Running Lab

My 3D foot scan – click to enlarge

We next moved on to a 3D scan of my foot. The scanner was pretty cool, placing my feet into a box where the floor panel was like that of a photocopier, producing a 3D model of my feet, which revealed in minute measurements that both my feet are far from identical.  My left foot width is a D and my right foot is a 3E. My left foot is longer than my right foot by 4mm also; not enough to warrant different shoe sizes for each foot but it complicates things having to size for length with my left foot and width with my right. My left arch is also significantly higher than the arch in my right foot, though both arches are classed as low overall.

Andy Yu's dynamic foot test results at the Asics Running Lab

My dynamic foot test results – click to enlarge

We also did a dynamic foot test to see how my feet behave whilst in motion. No real surprises here other than my left foot being more neutral than my right foot when they land on the ground. This means that my right foot rolls outwards more so than my left foot, which would explain why the outer edge of my right running shoes wear away more quickly.

What is pleasing is my running cadence is way above the average.

Body composition

Andy Yu's body composition results from the Asics Running Lab

My body composition – click to enlarge

Next was the body composition test. They had a very high tech Tanita scale, which included handles on cables that resembled the controls for the Nintendo Wii, measuring the left and right side of my upper body. I’ve highlighted the results below:

  • Total mass: 61.70kg / 9.7 stone (expected)
  • Total body fat: 16.5%
  • Visceral fat: 3/13
  • Muscle mass: 48.90kg
  • BMI: 22.1 (expected)
  • Trunk muscle mass: 25.55kg (below average)
  • Left arm muscle mass: 2.60kg (below average)
  • Right arm muscle mass: 2.60kg (below average)
  • Left leg muscle mass: 8.90kg (average)
  • Right leg muscle mass: 9.30kg (average)

The feedback is almost as I expected, though the fat percentage could have been/should have been lower. Andrew did comment that whatever I’ve eaten in the last 12 – 24 hours will possibly have an impact on the fat measurement because the scanner isn’t capable of differentiating between fat around internal organs and fat that’s physically inside the organs, i.e. the pizza and chips I had for dinner the night before. Oops… I’m pleased to see that my upper body is identical on both sides; a positive effect from having to stabilise dumb bells instead of relying on a machine in the gym. The muscle mass of my arms and trunk is about what I thought it should be; I have scrawny lower arms that have skewed the results and I don’t do an awful lot of core work apart from variations of sit-ups and stomach crunches. Overall, I’m neither pleased nor displeased with my body composition results. I know I can reach race weight for half marathons and marathons once the long run training kicks in and right now, my body is composed for faster events like 5k and 10k.

Leg strength

Andy Yu's leg strength test results from the Asics Running Lab

My leg strength results – click to enlarge

Leg strength assessment was the next test and I knew this would be a shocker. I don’t do any leg strength work, which is made harder by not having access to a gym. I should do plyometrics with weights but the argument of lack of time rears its ugly head again. Andrew strapped me into what looked like a medieval torture device that had mated with some space age harness from NASA.

Andy Yu's leg strength test at the Asics Running Lab

Houston, we have lift off!

Each leg was measured independently, requiring that I exert as much force as possible with an equal force directed back towards me. The results were dreadful, both showing I have seriously below average leg strength; on a scale of 1 to 5, everything was 1 except the right knee extension test which ranked me as a 3. My right leg is also noticeably more powerful than my left leg, which isn’t surprising considering it’s my dominant leg with its higher muscle mass percentage. Having more powerful legs will mean I can plant more power down with each step, which in turn equates to a slightly longer stride.

Running form

Andy Yu's running form 1 at the Asics Running Lab

My running form from the front

We went on to look at my running form and also measure my anaerobic threshold. It was my mistake that I thought we would be doing a full blown VO2max test, which would have required running me to near complete exhaustion.

Andy Yu's running form 2 at the Asics Running Lab

My running form from the side

My running form was confirmed as one based on step frequency, i.e. I control my speed based on my step rate. Other quirks observed about my running form include:

  • My head tilts slightly to the right
  • My upper body appears stiff
  • My arms swing away and too far back from my body
  • My step width is narrow
  • At toe-off, my thighs rotate slightly inwards
  • My foot lands slightly ahead of my centre of gravity
  • Large knee extension produces wasted vertical movement

Andy Yu's running form 3 at the Asics Running Lab

My foot strike is just ahead of my centre of gravity

I currently do a lot right but there’s room for improvement. The question that now needs answering is how much do I change about my form and will too many changes have a detrimental effect on my immediate performance?

I have just received the disc with the videos of my running form, a few of which I’ve uploaded to YouTube:

Anaerobic threshold

Andy Yu's anaerobic threshold results at the Asics Running Lab

My anaerobic threshold results – click to enlarge

To conduct the anaerobic portion of the test, they hooked me up to a gas meter that could measure the density of oxygen and carbon dioxide I was consuming and producing. The mask wasn’t too uncomfortable, but I did feel like Bane from Batman whilst wearing it. We started warming me up 8.5kmph, with a 0.5kmph speed increase every minute before peaking at 15kmph when we had enough data for the analysis.

What was interesting based on the results is how closely the oxygen consumption and the carbon dioxide production rates are, also noting the low heart rates. We concluded that I have a bias towards speed at the moment, which is true looking at my 5k and 10k training, with my endurance runs taking somewhat of a back seat. We also concluded that I need more threshold training, especially to improve my half marathon; threshold speed is very close to half marathon pace and this is a speed that I rarely run at.

Finally, the report provided me with predictions for my marathon and half marathon times:

  • Marathon: 3 hours 40 minutes
  • Half marathon: 1 hour 42 minutes

The marathon prediction is a little slower than what I was expecting, believing that a 3 hour 30 finish or better is within my ability.

What is disappointing to see is that their prediction for my half marathon is almost 5 minutes slower than my PB achieved at the Bath Half Marathon earlier this year.

Conclusions

Before I went to the Asics Running Lab, I was looking for both confirmation of what I’m doing right with my running and also to shed some light on what I get wrong.

Below is a summary of what I should do to improve my performance, both long term and short term:

  • Body fat needs reducing to 12%
  • Add leg strength work, such as Russian dead lifts
  • Train across different pace varieties

Was the Asics Running Lab experience worth the money and the visit? I’d say yes, but only if you’re of the mindset of wanting to improve on your performances. I am forever looking at ways to become faster and stronger and these results have highlighted that I am always looking to train harder, but I now need to also think about training smarter. One other thing to remember is that the tests show a reflection of your potential on that very day; not based on previous glories or future aspirations.

If you’re interested in an appointment at the Asics Running Lab, simply contact the store to make arrangements. The tests take approximately 2 – 2.5 hours to complete and you’re free to use their showering facilities to freshen up afterwards.

Virgin London Marathon 2013 – the review of Yu

For the 2014 race, please click the following:

bib

Notice the comically high starting pen number. Grrr!

It’s been two days since the Virgin London Marathon and I’m having a well-deserved rest after Sunday’s antics. Below is my race report, along with a write-up of the expo and some post-race thoughts. If you would like to just read about the race, skip right to “Race Day”. Enjoy! More photos will be added once the official photographers have uploaded everything for me to purchase.

The Virgin London Marathon Expo

What may come as a surprise to many is that some of the world’s larger races have an expo that you must attend to register and claim your running bib and timing chip. The cynics amongst us will probably go with the expos existing only to sell stuff to runners and to act as further advertising opportunities for sponsors.

London’s expo is held at the ExCeL centre, which isn’t the easiest of places for me to get to. The original plan was to visit the expo on Saturday when Lis and I arrived in London. Various people had warned me that the Saturday is incredibly busy, with over 25,000 runners visiting due to other commitments or having to travel to London specifically for the race. I decided to take the afternoon off from work and visit the expo on Friday for a whistle-stop tour.

I arrived at the ExCeL Centre after multiple changes on the DLR system and my sense of excitement for the London Marathon began to kick in. Runners of all shapes and sizes were everywhere and there was a buzz in the air to get everybody fired up for Sunday’s race. I joined the very short queue for my race number group and was swiftly processed before moving on to another queue to collect my timing chip. Everybody asked if it was my first time, wishing me well and told me to enjoy the race.

Immediately after registration was a huge Adidas official merchandise store. Here, runners were able to buy race souvenirs, race kit and even new shoes. I definitely wanted to get an official race track jacket as a memento; a little pricey but it fits like a glove and looks the business without being over the top.

Beyond the Adidas area was the rest of the expo with exhibitors, both big and small. I had a chat with the guys at Sports Tours International about the costs involved in a marathon tour to Tokyo. I was pleasantly surprised because it wasn’t that much more than a trip without the guaranteed marathon entry; one to keep in mind for the future, perhaps.

I made a beeline for the Sweatshop stand, hoping to find a Marathon Talk t-shirt in black; sadly, they only had the garish blue and pink/orange option. Marathon Talk has been a huge help on my long training runs and I love spotting others with the famous 26.2 t-shirts at various races and Parkruns I attend. I did spot a Nike Oregon Project t-shirt, with the phantom logo made famous by Alberto Salazar’s boys. I opted for the grey version with a fluorescent yellow phantom and decided this would be my last purchase at the expo! My old university buddy, Kevin Yates, attended the expo earlier in the week and warned me that it was possible to spend a lot of money if I wasn’t careful – he wasn’t kidding!

Earlier in the week, Graeme Hilditch (author of a training book I have) said he would be present at the Brooks stand. I was hoping to get his autograph but he was busy fitting people with new shoes, so sadly an opportunity missed.

I visited a few more stands including Men’s Running Magazine and Athletics Weekly before deciding to head back to Birmingham before rush hour. The crowds started to swell as I headed back to the DLR station; I can only imagine what they would have been like on Saturday!

I enjoyed the expo overall and it reminded me of the Running Show that Elsa and I attended back in November. I only wish that I had more time to really have a good look at everything. It is open to the general public and there are some bargains to be had, so definitely worth a visit if getting to ExCeL isn’t too much trouble for you.

Race Day

Pre-race nerves finally decided to manifest on Saturday night, so I only had 2.5 hours of sleep or so. Thankfully, I’d slept reasonably well in the week leading up to Sunday so I had a buffer of sorts, though this was still less than ideal. I had my breakfast of fruit bread with marmalade, washed down with beetroot juice. People often ask me if the beetroot juice makes a difference; it’s one of the super foods that actually has conclusive evidence of its benefits. I packed my stuff together to put on the luggage truck, leaving my hotel in Covent Garden to head over to Charing Cross Station for my train to Black Heath.

There were several runners on the streets with red bags like mine so I just followed them. Runners are able to use public transport in London for free until 5pm on race day, so I hopped on my train to Black Heath without charge. The train was full of runners, with one regular commuter having to do a double take as he boarded, unsure of what was going on around him.

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Free travel for runners? Yes please!

The journey to Black Heath took 15 minutes. Marshals met us at the station and pointed us to the blue start with its familiar hot air balloons seen on TV every year. As I approached the entrance, a Japanese news crew came over to start interviewing me! I apologised and explained that I was British, all in Japanese; I have no idea whether they’ll keep the footage but it did make me smile because amongst some friends, I’m known as “Japanese Andy”, thanks to a fascination with the Land of the Rising Sun. I was pretty early but the park was already bustling with fellow runners. I had a walk around to familiarise myself with the key locations, like the toilets, the luggage trucks and the starting pens. I sat down next to a lovely older gent called Hermon and struck up a conversation with him. He was from Norway and at the age of 72, he began running marathons at age 50 and had previously completed 74 of them! This was his third London Marathon and acquired his place through a similar company to Sports Tours International, costing him £100 but for a guaranteed place. This wasn’t a bad price I thought for the peace of mind that you would be able to run. I bid him farewell and wished him good luck once the organisers told us to start loading our bags on the trucks and to begin heading to the starting pens.

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This is where I was interviewed by a Japanese news crew

I’m going to get on my soapbox here and get something off my chest. I hate being held up by slower runners in front of me because it disrupts your rhythm and could be the difference between a PB and missing a PB. I originally applied for my ballot place with a time of 4:10, which was a realistic performance based on all the factors and variables at the time, most notably my then 1-year-old half marathon PB. A year is an incredibly long time and with the right training, my fitness levels have come on leaps and bounds, with a realistic 3:30 finish on the cards. Back in November, I contacted the race organisers with a request to change my finish time to something closer to 3:45, attached with evidence of my new half marathon PB from the Great Birmingham Run. I received no response and put it to the side until closer to race day. I decided to place myself at the front of my start pen, 8 out of 9, with further salt rubbed in my wounds from the announcements over the PA system asking runners not to try to jump to faster pens, with nothing annoying runners more than “slower runners getting in the way”… Speaking to the runners immediately around me, they said they had all put times of 4:20 to 4:30 on their forms, so it was likely that I’d have to fight through at least 3 start pens to get to a decent rhythm.

Anywho, I enjoyed the company in pen 8. There was a lot of banter amongst us, with some having run before and some newcomers like me. The wait took an eternity and after a botched 30 seconds of silence in light of Boston’s tragedies, we were briefed to start shortly after 10:15 or so. The marshals walked us to the start and with 100m left to go, we were told to start running and that we did!

I started off smooth, but very quickly found myself getting caught up in the crowds ahead of me, causing my pace to drop to 8:15. I found a fellow pen 8 starter that was also aiming for 3:30 so we stuck together for a while but due to the congestion, we had to take evasive manoeuvres and began our battle to dodge and weave. All marathon training guides hammer into you that you need to conserve your energy during the early miles and dodging and weaving is huge no-no. I had no choice but to do this if I wanted a time less than 4 hours, so I took a gamble that my fitness would be able to compensate for a first half littered with surges here and there.

I hit mile 1 with my GPS watch syncing up perfectly with the marker, so my dodging didn’t have any ill effect just yet. It was a bright, sunny day and the positive weather really helped to draw the record-breaking 700,000 strong crowds out to support us all (500,000 came out last year). It wasn’t so much the ambient temperature that was taking its toll, rather the direct sunlight with no cloud cover. Despite the sun beating down on me, I was still feeling fast, but stressing out due to the hoards around me and I knew I had to make some progress by mile 2 to stand a chance.

The early parts of the London Marathon course were nothing spectacular, passing through mostly residential areas. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t have too many details because I was more concerned about not causing a massive pile up in front or behind me!

I hit mile 3 and my GPS watch reported that I was roughly 50m out. This was a huge worry so early on in the race and I began to wonder what my likely total distance would be by the end. Another issue quickly approaching was that of the runners from the red start, now on the other side of the dual carriageway that would be joining us in less than 800m! It was hard enough fighting through the blue start runners for contention and I wanted to cry at having to do it all over again.

The two groups merged and it was as if somebody had slammed on the brakes, with a jolt as the pace dropped. I had to take corners and turns even wider than before and this had a huge knock-on effect with my mile splits, with the 4th mile marker appearing even further out of sync with my GPS watch.

The next few miles were largely forgettable. I arrived at the Cutty Sark and didn’t even realise I’d reached the first sight on our tour of London due to how many people there were around me. At around mile 7 or 8, I did have to pull out of the race quickly to empty my bladder. Being ushered into our starting pens an hour ahead of actually running, I had a tiny niggling feeling that was just enough to annoy but wouldn’t have caused any problems if I continued on; it was more for comfort rather than anything else. I joined a guy against a secluded wall and we both joked that it wasn’t our finest moment, quickly re-entering the race after finishing our business.

My memory is a little hazy until halfway. At some stage, I bumped into a runner from Kings Heath Running Club and had a quick chat with him, mentioning that I knew Mike Green and Sean Whan. Somewhere else in the first half, several runners and I decided to jump on to the pavement for a few minutes and skip right past the crowds for some temporary relief. I was hoping this would act as a slight shortcut to bring my total distance back in line with the mile markers, but it seemed to have no effect.

Water stations were found at every mile (after mile 3) and Lucozade was handed out every 5 miles. This was great because you could almost grab a bottle on a whim without too much planning required, unlike in a half marathon where you may only have 2 – 3 drink stations to rely upon. With the temperature quickly rising, I began to pour a lot of the water over my head and on my hands to keep me cool. It was amazing how only a few degrees of additional warmth could make such a difference.

My pace was still off and I started to lose the will to fight. Thankfully, I’d caught up to the 3:45 pacers but I had no idea which start group they were from because the 3:56 pacers kept floating into the group! Trying to break through the crowd following the two different pacing groups was near impossible and I gave up trying to hit my original schedule, instead opting for a sub 3:45 finish. I had made up a good 5 – 10 minutes and I was on target for a 3:39 finish, so long as I stuck with the 3:45 pacers.

We began to approach Tower Bridge, which many regard as a beacon of hope because it’s near the halfway point. All of the training guides I’ve dipped in and out of have all strongly recommended that you need to stay calm and controlled until halfway; great if you’re in a good pace group or in a race with plenty of space to manoeuvre around others. The sun was now starting to reach its highest point in the sky and there was no hiding, so the race was definitely going to become tougher from this point onwards. Tower Bridge also presented one of the only major inclines on what is otherwise a very flat course.

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Runners and spectators at Tower Bridge

The crowds at Tower Bridge were amazing, with both sides possibly 8 – 10 people deep. The noise everybody made was incredible and really helped to push those starting to feel worse for wear. My pace was still decent at this point, hovering between 8:12 and 8:15 minutes per mile, with people around me now running at a much closer speed to my own. Passing through Tower Bridge, I heard people shout, “Go beetroot!” and it turned out to be Iain and Elsa! I wasn’t expecting them to spectate at Tower Bridge, but they managed to find a really good spot just after the bridge and before the corner where we all ran right towards Canary Wharf. The boost I had from seeing them was huge and really lifted my spirits after attacking 12 less than ideal miles.

When you’re starting to tire, the mind can play tricks on you. People were consistently shouting “Go Andy!” and “Keep going, Andy, you’re doing well!” I had to continuously look down at my vest to reassure myself that I didn’t have my name on display. I turned around and there was a charity runner with “Andy” printed on his vest that must have followed me from about mile 7 onwards – mystery solved! I just imagined they were cheering me on to reap some of the benefit.

The road started to widen up between miles 13 and 15, but this benefit was short-lived. The 3:56 and 3:45 pacers continued to cut into each other’s paths, not helping the crowding situation with both groups and their mismatched paces contending with each other. The water stations were easily missed if you were on the wrong side of the road because it was physically impossible to navigate to where you wanted to be. Plenty of runners simply barged their way through, not necessarily because they were thirsty but because they needed some water to cool themselves down with. I don’t remember exactly where, but I almost tripped on a stray bottle of water on the ground; it was impossible to see where my feet were going and one poorly placed step almost had me going head over heels. Thankfully, I still had enough of a reaction time in me to regain my balance and prevented a huge pile up of runners; had this have been much later in the race, I don’t think I’d have been quite so lucky.

I began to see a few of the faster club runners coming through on the opposite side of the road, most likely finishing with a time of 2:30 to 2:40. Kev would be about 3 miles away at this stage so it was unlikely I’d see him coming through.

Looking at my mile splits, I have no idea what happened at mile 16 to churn out my second fastest mile of 7:57. The elevation is pretty much flat and I don’t recall the crowds being any better or worse than before. Perhaps the density of runners started to die down and I was free to open the throttle up a bit. Sadly, this looks like the beginning of when the fatigue of fighting in the first half would come back to haunt me because the splits all became progressively slower.

I really enjoyed the Docklands and Canary Wharf area of the course. I no longer had to worry about people around me, with everyone more or less running at the same pace. For the first time in the entire race, I was now also able to follow the blue line to try to help bring my total distance down. I was now roughly 0.4 miles out with every mile marker, so not a game breaker but I knew I would definitely finish having run further than the prescribed 26.2 miles.

Canary Wharf offered some much needed shade from the sun, thanks to all the large buildings and DLR tracks above. The crowds here were fantastic; I spotted one group holding a Welsh flag, to which I shouted out, “Go Wales!” to grab their attention. They responded, going wild and began cheering me on – it was only right, being an honorary Welshman!

I was consciously looking out for the Marathon Talk cheering station, manned by Martin and Tom. They said they would be at the West Ferry DLR station but I simply didn’t have the concentration anymore to keep my eyes moving through the spectator crowds and I sadly missed them.

Everything began to ache at this stage. My shoulders and neck were tight and I could feel blisters in my right foot along with swelling in both feet. My quads and hamstrings were also shot along with my hips. Finally, my stomach was in knots and I wanted to throw up constantly. This may or may not have been due to all the sugar from Lucozade and gels I had consumed… I also began to heel strike because everything immediately felt better, but caused my pace to nose dive. This was a huge gamble for me, because I haven’t had to heel strike continuously for over a year since adjusting my form to become efficient. I wasn’t sure how my body would react to it, but I figured my legs could take 6 more miles of heel strike forces.

Leaving Canary Wharf, I was now on the way home. Mentally, this was huge having reached mile 20. The crowds were much smaller around here, with mostly residential neighbourhoods around us. One family had moved their sofa to the side of the road to spectate for a real front row experience. If I lived in London, I’d do the same!

Mile 21 was the beginning of the hardest part of the race, but there must have been some divine intervention because I bumped into a fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunner! I saw a lady wearing a turquoise coloured running vest, which immediately reminded me of the Bournville Harriers. I increased my pace to catch up to her and glanced over, only for it to be Suz West, a regular from Parkrun! She wasn’t looking too good at this stage and said she had to walk briefly, so I wished her luck and carried on. After maybe half a mile, Suz managed to catch up with me again and we agreed to carry on together for support. It was great to have somebody to speak to and share the pain with. People were starting to overtake us, so we readjusted our target to a sub-4 hour finish. We passed by Suz’s family for another mental lift. Suz had her name printed on her club vest and the amount of crowd support she had was incredible, with people cheering from everywhere around us. When (not if) I run another marathon, I’ll be sure to do the same.

Lucozade debuted a new energy gel of theirs on the course and it was between mile 21 and 22 that I decided to take another gamble and try one out. It tasted awful, with a medicinal after taste that lingered for a good few minutes, even after being washed down by water.

I started to train my eyes on the crowds because I knew Dom would be somewhere out there spectating. I sadly didn’t see or hear him, but he said I went through mile 23 looking strong and focused – I must have a good poker face, because I was anything but!

I continued to keep an eye out for my parents at around Monument station. Just as we passed under a bridge, I heard somebody shout “Go Andy!” and it was my Dad.  I waved back at them and this gave me another lift. My parents were always quite busy when I was growing up and didn’t have much time for my hobbies, so it’s quite touching that they’re now making up for lost time in their retirement. Like Dom, they too said I looked strong; it’s nice to know that when the chips are down, I can still look like I’m performing well.

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A rare photo of me looking strong in the London Marathon

Suz and I kept saying to each other that we only had a Parkrun left to go, something that we did week-in and week-out, so this should have been easy. It wasn’t. The road opened up and the sun was now on our left, shining right at us. We grabbed whatever water we could and poured it on to each other to stay cool. I’m not one to swear excessively, but I’m sure every sentence Suz and I exchanged with each other contained an expletive or three. We were both hurting and Suz wanted to walk, but I convinced her to keep going and that I would finish with her. My stomach was still in knots and the feeling of throwing up continued to rear its ugly head.

Mile 24 kept me going because I knew Iain and Elsa would be in the crowd on the left to cheer me on. I strategically placed all my family and friends in the final 6 miles because I knew I’d need help during these unknown parts of the race that I hadn’t hit in training. Team Beetroot said they’d be at around mile 24.5, next to one of Iain’s speed cameras, yet they were nowhere to be found. I began to worry because this was something I was looking forward to so much and Iain and Elsa had specifically made the trip to London to see me. As we drew closer to mile 25, two familiar faces in the crowd began to shout my name and I started to wave. Other people around them were also shouting “Andy!” which confused me but I’ll take whatever support is being given! I went over to them all and started high-fiving everyone and zoomed off to join Suz again. It’s moments like these that make the event special and stand you back up when you’re about to fall.

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Elsa somewhere between mile 24.5 and mile 25

The mile 25 marker came by and worryingly, my GPS reported a 0.7 mile differential between what I had run and the measured course. It was depressing to realise I had run almost an entire mile due to overtaking runners across the entire course; up until this race, I had only run an extra 200m in typical half marathons!

London Marathon 2013

This is what a broken Andy Yu looks like

The sight of Big Ben loomed in the background, but never seemed to get any closer. Suz and I saw Colin Jackson and I ran over for a high-five to get another mental lift. We had less than a mile to go and just had to keep it together until the finish. We visualised the triangle portion of Cannon Hill Parkrun to give the distance some context.

Lis was somewhere on the right as we approached Buckingham Palace. All I could see was an ocean of faces, none of them wearing a daffodil hat. We passed the agreed point and I still hadn’t seen Lis when suddenly, a bright yellow beacon appeared amongst the crowd. I shouted as loud as I could and waved, but she couldn’t see me. I continued to shout and wave and thankfully, she finally saw me, waved back and spurred me on to tackle the final 200m. Lis normally positions herself near the finish line, whether it’s a major race or just Parkrun and serves as a good sign to begin shifting up a gear for one final kick.

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She couldn’t possibly be Welsh, could she?

The Mall was now ours and I told Suz to give everything she had for one last kick. I went for it and sprinted as fast as my heavy legs would allow. I must have overtaken a good few people and opted to go down the middle aisle. I crossed the line with my arms held high, with Suz not far behind.

We did it! We’d completed the London Marathon!

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The hardest medal to earn in my collection

For those interested (I’m looking at you, Dave), click here to view the Nike+ run data including a full mile split breakdown.

Post-race

My legs were unsteady and I had to crouch down to catch my breath. A marshal came over to check if I was OK and I gave him a thumbs up. I gave Suz a hug and we both tried to speak but nothing coming out of our mouths made any sense. We carried on walking and were given our finishers’ medals; these were a good, hefty weight and look amazing. Volunteers took the tags off our shoes, much like the arrangement at the Silverstone Half Marathon, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to do it ourselves after having run over 26 miles. We continued to head towards the exit when we unexpectedly bumped into Sir Richard Branson! I shook his hand and told Richard it was great to see him at the finish.

London Marathon 2013

Team Cannon Hill Parkrun for the win!

Suz and I had our finishers’ photos taken separately and together, a trick where if none of the other photos are worthwhile, we could always split the cost of the one of us together.

We kept walking, collecting our goodie bags and checked-in luggage. I have to give a round of applause to the organisers for how they handled returning luggage to runners, because it was so efficient. The volunteers saw me coming and had my bag, ready to hand over to me with no fuss. This is exactly what you want after a difficult marathon, not to be waiting for ages in a long queue unlike experiences I’ve heard of at the Milton Keynes Marathon and the Greater Manchester Marathon.

There was a small clearing where we sat down to take a break and start raiding our goodie bags for some water and food. The contents of mine looked remarkably similar to the goodie bag from the Bath Half Marathon, which is no bad thing.

We got back up and started to head towards the meet and greet area when Suz suddenly lost the ability to walk and her calf muscles seized up entirely. A runner who happened to be a doctor and I picked her up and moved over to the side where we tried to massage her legs to get some feeling back into them. The doctor suggested Suz get some salt down her ASAP and I remembered a packet of ready salted crisps that I’d stashed away for after the race. I didn’t need them so I gave them to Suz to eat. We both had to get back to our respective families and friends so I bid her farewell and said I’d catch up with her in a few weeks at the next Cannon Hill Parkrun.

I won’t bore you guys with the rest, but I headed back to Picadilly Circus and met up with everybody for some well-deserved Nandos, which is now most definitely a post-race tradition.

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The camp pose was unintentional

Closing thoughts

I’ve had a few days to reflect and review my experience of the 2013 Virgin London Marathon.

My complaints still stand in regards to the organisers’ outright refusal to change starting pens for runners, even when you can supply evidence to support your argument of a faster finish time. I have since found out that the biggest factor that determines which starting pen you are placed in is a little box that reads, “Is this your first marathon?” Ticking this box apparently places you in a lower starting pen, almost as a fail-safe for the organisers to compensate for people overestimating their ability. I respect the rule that you shouldn’t overestimate your finish time, but I must be in the minority.

The crowds in London were incredible, even in the early stages of the race. They cheered us all on and plenty of people came out to offer their own jelly babies and drinks. I’ve run some dour races where the crowds just stand there and watch, with no support at all. I know they’re free to do whatever they want, but runners do genuinely appreciate the cheers.

The course itself was OK. It was flat and I have no doubt a clear run with similarly paced runners around you would be conducive to PBs, but this seems to be a luxury to fast club runners and good for age runners.

The organisation was superb, with plenty of marshals, all of whom were so friendly and supportive. Everything was plentiful and where it should have been, and things like free public travel for runners was most welcome.

The London Marathon is regarded as one of the pinnacles of road racing events; a model that many UK races have based themselves on. There’s a certain prestige with having run in London and I’m glad I can now share in that glory.

I am a self-confessed PB hunter, looking to better my finish times with each race and my failure to hit my 3:30 target has been difficult to ignore since finishing two days ago. Several people have said to me that I should target a smaller-scale marathon for my next PB attempt. I did question whether I would return to the marathon distance, but I think this will happen sooner rather than later.

Recovery has been as expected. I had a good level of mobility immediately after the marathon and despite sitting down in Iain and Elsa’s car for close to 2 hours, I was still able to walk without much stiffness. The following day, I experienced some soreness, but this was still nothing like the day after my first half marathon.

The entire marathon experience, from learning that I would be running to crossing the finish line, has been one of discovery. My body took to the marathon training reasonably well and I’m confident I’ll achieve my 3:30 target on my next 26.2 mile outing.

Finally, like any good story, there are some people who I would like to thank that have come with me on this journey:

Iain and Elsa – thank you for your support, even before the London Marathon was on the horizon. Elsa came with me to my very first Parkrun and Iain has supported and cheered me on at countless races, big and small.

Yvonne and Philip – thank you both for regularly driving me to Cardiff Parkrun each time I visit. The early start on a Saturday morning isn’t easy, but know that it is appreciated. Philip is my good luck charm and I always seem to PB whenever he’s spectating. One time, he went off to the toilet as I crossed the line and I was off by maybe 10 seconds!

Dave – thank you for being a great racing partner. I say “racing” because we’ve never actually trained together, unless we consider the snow Parkruns? Dave and I are almost perfectly matched in terms of ability at the moment and we both share our love of running stats and data.

Mike Green, Sean Whan and Barbara Partridge – these guys are regulars at Cannon Hill Parkrun and it’s always a joy to run with them, or see them spectating. They’re also members of Kings Heath Running Club and despite only having attended one of their sessions, I strangely feel like I’m part of their club. Joining them is still up for debate, perhaps it’s the push I need to become a stronger runner?

Cannon Hill Parkrun – I love racing and Parkrun gives me the chance to race a 5k every week at high-speed. I’ve met a couple of good folks at the events and I’m now only 5 runs away from joining the 50 Club.

Cardiff Parkrun – similarly to Cannon Hill, this is my Parkrun of choice whilst away from home. It’s a fast course and I regularly find I’m running with 100 Club member, Daniel Luffman, who has helped me achieve several PBs in the past.

My parents – Chinese people feel that their genes can make exercise unnecessary, so they can’t quite understand all this running malarky. They do however make an effort to come out to some of my races and it’s nice to see them take an interest in my hobby.

Dom – a fellow runner and blogger, I first met Dom at the Bath Half Marathon. Dom came out all the way to London and even offered his help by standing near mile 22 on the London Marathon to give me energy drinks or gels. Dom’s ability has come on leaps and bounds and it’s been great to keep an eye on his progress.

Lis – last but certainly not least, she has been my long-suffering running widow. She’s been to every one of my major races and most of my Parkruns. She’s also been on the receiving end of some of my foul moods when I’ve missed a PB or when I’m tired from a tough training session. Successful runners are said to be a bit selfish and excellent supporters are said to be selfless; Lis is most definitely that!