This week’s running – 12th to 18th of June 2017

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Touring South Welsh parkruns continued – photo by Lis Yu

Week 6 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

5k recovery & parcel pick-up

I had to get to my folks’ place to collect a parcel that’d been delivered, so a rather indirect 5k route was plotted. Ever tried running whilst holding a shoebox with running shoes inside? Not the easiest of things to hold, even at a gentle pace…

The shoes in question are the new Nike Pegasus 34. I’ve been training in the Pegasus for the best part of 5 years, but generally skip a generation for the bigger enhancements whilst stockpiling on cheap pairs of the outgoing version. I’ll do a short write-up once I’ve put a few miles through them, but just wearing them around the house already fills me with confidence of the more dramatic overhaul.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles with 4 x 1 mile @ LT

How does one make a session more difficult for themselves? Start by covering a pace that’s largely unfamiliar, and just for laughs, also dramatically reduce the recovery between reps!

Currently, lactate threshold estimates place me somewhere between 6:15 and 6:20 per mile. Recovery between reps was last set at 3:15, which at the time felt a little too generous. Knocking it down to 2:30 felt like the right thing to do…

The reps came out as follows:

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

I would have had a perfect set if not for the pesky tunnel skewing the first rep slightly! All reps thereafter felt torturous with the final one near-vomit inducing at the very end. Having survived the session, I’ll probably keep the configuration as is for exposure to out and out suffering.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I treat these run-commutes as easy recoveries in between Tuesdays, where pace is the focus, and Thursdays, which generally top up endurance. Wearing a bag and attempting to run quickly are two opposing things, where my pace can normally hover between 9 and 11 minute miles. Yet, I’m in awe of people that can crank out some serious pace whilst loaded down with luggage on their backs; such a person is local runner, Richard Neal, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently just before he was pushing out 7:15 miles with a bag on his back!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I felt beaten up before I’d even started on this run from the office. Because some of you have asked, I define a run-commute as one where I’m carrying a bag like above, as opposed to a run from the office, where I’m carrying just the bare essentials (phone, keys, travel cards) in a FlipBelt.

For some reason, I got it stuck in my mind that I wanted to cover majority of the distance at 7:50 per mile. No rhyme, or reason – I simply had an underlying desire to do so. Forcing the pace can sometimes open your eyes to what you’re capable of in some situations, but not here. I was tired, both from work and a lack of sleep over the best part of a fortnight.

I felt empty once I reached home and concluded I was still carrying fatigue from Tuesday’s session, and the heatwave hadn’t even landed yet!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Pontypool parkrun

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Mad as a box of frogs, this course!

parkrun touristing of South Wales continued with this visit to Pontypool’s event. Well established for over three years, it’s never really hit the big leagues in terms of attendance due to the immensely popular Newport event nearby and subsequent new events that have sprung up recently. 100 to 150 runners is typical, with just 95 turning up on this particular Saturday.

Visiting the event with me and Lis were her mother (and dog), niece and nephew.

I always like to look up course maps and descriptions before visiting new events. To say that I was scratching my head based on the above is an understatement. With the scant description, I had to look-up somebody’s run via Strava and repeatedly move the cursor back and forth to get a feel for how each lap takes place. Even with that knowledge in hand, I still managed to go astray during my warm-up by not taking into account the different levels that are covered as part of the route!

Toeing up on the start, the new runner’s briefing took place mere seconds before we were sent off on our way to add to my already high levels of anxiety. “Turn right at the big tree” did nothing for me, stood in the park and surrounded by many big trees!

Off the line, it was probably the most sedate starts to a mass event I’ve encountered in ages, second only to the very laid back Great Run Local from a few months ago. Two guys pulled ahead, whilst a small pack of four of us held back, clearly due to the already warm conditions we faced. Me and one other moved forward, becoming fourth and third respectively. Only having a faint idea of the early part of the course, I hung back to let the more knowledgeable local runner lead the way.

For the first 2km, there was little variation in our positions, apart from the leads I gained on inclines and his advantage on descents. I could tell by his breathing that he was having a harder time of it than I was. Approaching the switchback before the second lap, he dramatically slipped off the pace and I found myself overtaking him within just a few steps; I urged him on with “Keep going, fella” as I pulled away. First place was no more than 40 seconds away and looked like he was only on a tempo run, with second place perhaps some 20 seconds behind. Rounding the switchback, I had a good view of who was likely to challenge me for third; the chap I had overtaken fell even further behind to fifth, whereas a fellow visitor was next in line with over 30 seconds difference between the two of us.

I found myself running alone, though running for positions and not pace was wholly refreshing. I knew I could maintain that pace all the way to the finish for a comfortable podium spot, with second place being too far ahead to consider. A friendly couple on the other side confirmed my thoughts as they cheered me on.

Much like at Barry Island parkrun, Pontypool and its twisting course over multiple levels affords spectators multiple opportunities to see athletes. Apparently, Yvonne – my mother-in-law, was told off by organisers for being too vocal with her cheers for me!

Moving into the final km, I noticed that I was actually gaining on second place thanks to a couple of climbs. Before the start, I overheard that he was coming back from illness or injury, and was not in peak shape. He began retching and spluttering like he was about to hock something up, inspiring me to have a go at reeling him in. Unhelpfully, the final km of the course takes place on narrow paths with significant inclines and descents to complicate matters.

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Sprinting for second place at Pontypool parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Entering the final 400m, I’d reduced the difference to fewer than 10 seconds. “Go on! You can have second!” were the run director’s words as I navigated around the rugby pitch. The surroundings had a sort of amphitheatre feel, giving my chase a sense of real occasion! I began surging on my target and applied more pressure as he continued retching.

With 200m to go, I’d narrowed the gap to perhaps just 3 seconds, turning to just 2 seconds in the remaining 100m. The path narrowed even further in the final 50m and the gap reduced to just a second between us; I could have grabbed his shoulder, it was that close!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Alas, it was not meant to be and we held our positions as we crossed the line and slumped over into our respective heaps. It so happened that he was actually just a few seconds away from a new PB, courtesy of the competition, and first place was less than 20 seconds ahead of us. In hindsight, I’m confident I could have made a move for second a lot sooner and used the narrowing terrain to help fend him off.

A gentle warm-down and a few chats with some of the local runners rounded off an unexpectedly good start to the weekend’s running.

In terms of South Welsh events, that’s pretty much it for those that are reasonably easy to drive to. I feel like I’m starting to find some form again, so I think a return to Cardiff parkrun for some benchmarking is in order…

18 miles – to Little Mill and back

This was the run I feared most of this particular week’s plans: 18 miles in the devastating heat with several sharp and gradual inclines for good measure. The prior day’s informal race for second place and an afternoon-evening of BBQ grub wouldn’t have helped the situation, either.

With my trusty Salomon ultra vest and drinks flasks in tow, I decided to experiment with the run’s nutrition and hydration strategy. For said BBQ, we had some cans of regular Coca-Cola in, so I went and opened two, allowing them to go flat overnight ahead of the morning’s exertions. It’s supposedly an Iron Man practice, where the basic components in Coca-Cola of water, sugar and caffeine are exactly what the mind and body needs when the going gets tough. It did come with the caveat that once an athlete begins using it during the run, the body will crave it and little else can become a substitute. Addictive properties, indeed! With that knowledge in mind, I loaded one flask up with water and a High5 Zero tablet for electrolytes, and the other flask with the brown, sugary goodness. The former would be rationed for the entire duration of 18 miles, and the latter reserved exclusively for the second half. Just in case, I also carried a gel.

Setting off earlier than usual to beat the heat, the temperature was already in the low 20s at 08:30 and with no cloud cover in sight. Thankfully, humidity was pretty reasonable to allow sweat to still do its thing. I purposely kept the first half easy, running well within myself. My legs, surprisingly, felt pretty fresh and responsive, which I suspect is courtesy of the high cadence from Pontypool parkrun.

Unusually, there was not a single other runner out and about, though there were plenty of cyclists, including a team in formation.

Regular analysis of how I was feeling confirmed everything was A-OK. A couple of sips of electrolyted water per mile kept the system topped up and feeling comfortable. I’ve run much shorter distances at a similar pace and felt much, much worse!

Reaching halfway, I consciously wanted to pick up the pace with a target of circa-7:45 per mile. Upping the effort turned out to be no effort at all! A few sips of the Coca-Cola flask and I was like a hummingbird to nectar. The trinity of holding back in the first half, being well hydrated and the kick from the sugar and caffeine made for a rather potent mix.

Temperatures hit the high 20s in the second half, which caused the odd wobble, but was remedied by seeking out shade where available.

It was mission accomplished upon finishing, where all 9 miles of the second half came in at around 7:45 or faster. Whether physiological or placebo, the Coca-Cola’s dark magic worked wonders; it even had some part to play in recovery, because there was no post-run stiffness or soreness, whether shortly after finishing or over 24 hours later as I type this. I think I’ve found my long run training buddy!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

I seem to have turned a corner in the training, where pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place. Yesterday’s 18 miles is the longest distance I’ve covered since finishing the Yorkshire Marathon last October; if all of my remaining 18 to 22 mile runs can feel as good, then I’ll be a happy chappy.

This week’s running – 29th of May to 4th of June 2017

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No camels on the Camel Trail. Disappoint!

Week 4 of the 22 week marathon schedule, with part of it in Cornwall!

7 miles to Padstow and 6 miles to Wadebridge

After mine and Lis’ Scottish break back in April, we both discussed going away again at the end of May for a couple of days to Cornwall as something to look forward to. We ended up in Wadebridge for a couple of reasons – mainly cost, but also because a friend of mine lives there and recommended it as a base of operations to visit surrounding areas of North Cornwall. Imagine my delight when I also discovered the Camel Trail was less than a mile away from the hotel and could take me all the way to Padstow! Disappointingly, I later found out it got its name from the adjacent Camel River, and not because it was used to transport camels from Britain’s colonial trade days…

Bleary eyed, I woke on Bank Holiday Monday with the intent of getting 13 miles in by running to Padstow and then turning around for the return back to Wadebridge. As a bank holiday, there was already a decent level of activity on the Camel Trail from cyclists, walkers with and without dogs, horse riders, and of course, runners. Unsure of the etiquette in that part of the world, I decided to adopt what I do whilst running in Wales and simply wished “morning” to everybody I came into contact with.

Whilst it was overcast, there was a lot of humidity in the air to add to my lack of mojo whilst on the trail. I can’t pinpoint what was up with me, but I lacked that spark I normally have when I’m running whilst on holiday in a new locale.

I began to perk up once I neared Padstow, and was surprised to see a lot of hustle and bustle at only 8am or so. Turning around for Wadebridge, the sudden need to visit the loo took over, and no, a tree would not have sufficed… Thankfully, with Padstow being a tourist town, there were plenty of toilets available for free-of-charge use.

The run back to Wadebridge seemed more picturesque, with more users of the Camel Trail joining me. Returning to town, I had the joy of tackling 0.8 miles of climb along Trevanson Road and West Hill, with the gradient peaking with 9% at its steepest point. I guessed that there was likely a Strava segment for that portion of the run and as luck would have it, there was one and I ranked third on the all-time list. We’ll revisit the segment further down…

Not a bad morning’s work, though I was disappointed that I had to break the run into two, but when nature calls and all that… One thing I was surprised by was how much of a thrashing the Camel Trail gave my legs, with a dull ache present in my calves, quads and glutes at not even that fast a pace. I suspect when it was converted from a railway line to a cycle path, they simply filled it with concrete and finished it off with some paving. Whilst it was incredibly flat, it was akin to running on block paving that you sometimes find on seaside promenades to really take it out of your legs.

Here’s the Strava data for the run to Padstow and the run back to Wadebridge.

9 miles with 4 at marathon pace

I concluded that some days you have it, and some days you don’t, to explain why I found Monday’s split run challenging and this run far more approachable. The sun was out in full force but I’d somehow left my sunglasses behind at the hotel. At least I wouldn’t have panda eyes to worry about!

Much like Monday, there were already a few souls out and about, getting their runs in, walking their dogs or simply commuting into Padstow by bike. Most nodded or responded back with a reciprocal greeting of, “morning”; one couple running were positively beaming as they approached me, acknowledging that I was just like them and part of the running whilst on holiday tribe.

Just outside of Padstow, I turned around to begin my scheduled 4 miles at marathon pace. The old adage of having “nothing to fear, but fear itself,” held true – the pace felt perfectly manageable, even with trashed legs from several days of walking and sight-seeing. Rather embarrassingly, I was covered from head to toe in dead black flies from how sweaty I was…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Trevanson Road climb Strava segment

Upon finishing the above 9 miles, I paused for 90 seconds and looked inside to see whether I had it in me to tackle the Strava segment I’d identified earlier in the week. This was my last chance to do it, and after telling Lis I felt I had a realistic chance of taking the segment record, I didn’t want to go back home empty handed; it was then or never and I’d at least already warmed up from the marathon pace miles.

The night before, I reviewed the segment’s elevation profile, along with its beginning and end points so as not to over or under-do it. I knew exactly which points to hit hard and which to hold steady on.

The first 200m or so were relatively flat by comparison and allowed for some strong, early gains to be had.

Once on Trevanson Road and West Hill proper, the climbing began; gradual at first, allowing for not too much of a drop in speed before hitting a sharp section in the middle. My legs quickly saturated with lactic acid and my face turned to a grimace, whilst my arms pumped harder as I tried maximising any forward and upward motion up West Hill.

Towards the end of the sharp middle portion of the segment, a truck pulled out of a driveway just ahead of me, but then decided to reverse back in as I got closer… Unsure of whether he would pull out again (he did), I ended up having to look over my right shoulder to make sure the road was clear as I went wide of the truck whilst signalling with my hands for him to stop, costing me perhaps 1 or 2 seconds.

The record stood at 5:19 for the 0.8 mile long segment, with my result from the Monday ranking me third at some 30 seconds slower. With the knowledge that the segment flattened out significantly after the hill’s steepest portion, I went hell for leather as if Olympic gold was on the line, stopping only when I was certain the segment had ended.

I was a wheezing mess and understandably had to walk the remaining few hundred metres back to the hotel. With crappy signal in the room, I had to wait for what felt like an eternity for my Garmin to upload the data before I could check Strava. Turned out boy done good and by 10 seconds for 5:09! I quickly grabbed a screenshot of the results table before the former champion reclaimed the top spot as a local…

A pretty decent souvenir of my time away in Cornwall! Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile run-commute

With my schedule shifting by a day or so, I opted to cover the run-commute from Birmingham city centre and drop the 9 miles from the office to give myself a slight break.

Whilst others enjoyed the summer surroundings of Cannon Hill Park, I found myself in peak pollen season, even though heavily medicated; it’s going to be hellish for the next two months, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run. Excuse the distance – my Garmin really struggled as I started the run within an artificial canyon.

Cannon Hill parkrun

A rare occasion where I had to drive to the park, due to dropping Lis off at New Street Station beforehand, meant a warm-up that was almost halved, though was at least spent catching up with Carl.

I shan’t bore you with the details, but it was a very average and steady 19:36 performance and I continue to remind myself that I’m not training for faster 5k times, rather I’m in the process to achieve a sub-3 hour marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

17 miles – to the Soho Loop and back

This was a day of firsts, for 2017 at least. This was the first outing of the Salomon race vest, loaded up with electrolytes and a gel (not needed), and also the first run of the year that was longer than 14 miles. The schedule only called for 16 miles, but doing some preliminary mapping showed heading out for a full lap of the Soho Loop equated to over 17 miles, so that became plan A.

I bumped into Dave Sansom on the way out and joined him for a couple of the early miles, whilst he sold me the benefits of joining the BRAT club and helped the time pass by rather quickly. Whilst the last 2 miles were somewhat of a challenge as anticipated, I finished feeling pretty strong with stiffness or soreness to speak of. Typing this up the next day, my legs feel chipper with no evidence that I’d covered a not insignificant distance with a mile in the middle at marathon pace thrown in for good measure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

After the 9 miles with 4 at marathon pace and the 17 mile long run, positivity for the marathon schedule is high. Marathon pace feels more manageable than ever and 17 miles provided tangible psychological boost, paving the way for more regular 18 mile runs to come in the not too distant future.

Later this week, I have the Aldridge 10k coming up. Whilst I was in pretty sharp shape going into it last year to run sub-40 with plenty of change, I know I’m in nowhere near the same form and would only be setting myself up for failure; instead, I’m going to treat it as an opportunity to cover another 6 miles at marathon pace as a view to playing the long game. There will be plenty of 10k races for years to come, but this may be the last chance I have of a sub-3 hour marathon before life’s responsibilities beckon my attention elsewhere…

This week’s running – 12th to 18th of September 2016

tapering

Fingers crossed I can get this marathon taper right…

Week 19 of the 22 week schedule, featuring the final long run.

5x 1k at 10k-ish pace

A little part of me died when I saw the weather forecast for the week and the return of warm and humid conditions. I’ve put up with my end of the bargain of slogging through the summer training – weather, it’s now time to deliver on your promise of a sharp entry to Autumnal conditions and temperatures!

The sudden ramp up in warmth brought in some crazy rain to accompany me on my run from the office, with 5x 1k at 10k pace incorporated. I got reasonably close to 10k pace, though canal towpath closures meant a flat and stable surface to run on wasn’t available for a couple of the reps, requiring I detoured on to pavement instead.

During my warm-down jog for home, a chap came sprinting out of Kings Heath Park to run alongside me. “You’re Andy Wu, aren’t you? I see you go dashing past at Parkrun most weeks.” After correcting him on my name, we got chatting about Parkrun and his recent Gloucester Marathon, which he took on with only a few hours’ notice due to a friend dropping out. Fame/infamy at last!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles recovery

Wow. The warmth and humidity on Wednesday was a shock to the system! After a few weeks of gradually reducing temperatures, it was like being hit by a steam train, even at an easy pace.

Running from New Street Station, I found myself tailing a woman running in those Vibram 5 Fingers – are those still a thing? I’ve occasionally seen blokes wearing them over the years, but never before had I seen a member of the fairer sex sporting the unusual looking footwear.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

A return to the medium-long mid-week run in the heat… Whilst I had 12 miles down on the schedule, I chopped the distance down to 10, with a view to recovering in time for Sunday’s 22 miles as the priority.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

The plan was to cover Parkrun in a calm and chilled manner to leave me in decent shape for Sunday’s long run. An arbitrary goal of sneaking under 20 minutes was thrown into the mix to prevent the morning from becoming aimless.

From the line, I found myself running with blog-reader Steve (hello!), though we both missed the sub-20 target by just a few seconds due to taking things a little too easy in the opening splits…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

22 miles – to Edgbaston Reservoir and back

A note to self: dim sum for lunch and pizza for dinner the day before a long run do not make for good nutrition! Nor does over-doing it on caffeine…

I plotted a route that would take me from Kings Heath to Smethwick, mostly via the canal network, with a lap of Edgbaston Reservoir on the return. Not so ideal were the towpath closures around the university, which required that I hit the streets along with a few climbs and descents that would have otherwise been absent. Stepping outside, I was relieved to finally be able to cover a long run in cool and breezy conditions – I even wore a t-shirt to celebrate the occasion!

The first half of the route, as one would expect, felt perfectly reasonable in the mild conditions. Running the route in reverse helped to introduce some mental stimulation and stop me drifting off. My detour through Birmingham University also coincided with all the freshers being dropped off by their parents suffering from separation anxiety.

From about mile 10 onwards, I began to feel peckish and promised myself that I’d tuck into my one and only gel at 13 miles, which coincided with my visit to Edgbaston Reservoir. It’d been at least 6 months since I was last at my former stomping ground; bathed in autumnal sunshine, the place looked glorious for a sudden rush of nostalgia.

Venturing through Brindley Place once more on the return, the effort of the run began to ratchet upwards. I could have done with another gel or two, and I’d had a bit too much of the caffeinated grapefruit flavoured electrolyte drink I was carrying – I was tired, yet wired and fully aware of how dreadful I was feeling!

Leaving the canal at Bournville Station, I was so tempted to jack it all in with less than 3 miles remaining. Iain and Elsa only live around the corner and it took an incredible amount of willpower to stop myself from calling it quits. Soldiering on did mean I had the climb on Cartland Road to contend with after 20 miles…

Once finished, I was pretty exhausted, but thoroughly pleased that I kept at it. Recovery was simple and had me feeling pretty damn good the following day with no aches or soreness – I felt considerably worse after my botched Kenilworth Half Marathon from several weeks ago!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

Looking back, my longest continuous runs this schedule have been the following:

  • 22 miles
  • 22 miles
  • 20 miles
  • 19 miles
  • 17 miles

My goal was to have all five runs total 100 miles, so mission accomplished.

The tapering has begun with a gradual reduction in mileage over the next 3 weeks, though some semblance of intensity will remain. I’m also watching everybody like a hawk for any signs of coughing or snivelling, along with liberally dousing my hands in antibacterial gel. Welcome to maranoia!

This week’s running – 5th to 11th of September 2016

I will be back soon Message

Back at it after almost a week off

Can you believe it – we’ve made it to week 18 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Just 4 weeks to go before the big day!

Enforced recovery

So, yeah. The house of cards that is my fragile immune system came crashing down before last week’s Kenilworth Half Marathon and resulted in me taking a near week of recovery. I went to see my GP and we concluded I’d picked up a bout of sinusitis or rhinorrhea, and was prescribed with potions to get it shifted.

Having some time off hasn’t been nearly as bad as I feared and gave me an opportunity to temporarily recharge my batteries and get healthy to tackle the final stretch of this marathon campaign. Surprisingly, I didn’t go stir-crazy and simply went about my daily life and barely even thought about running!

Nike Zoom Streak 6 – initial thoughts 

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I love these babies and will be wearing them at the Yorkshire Marathon

After a disappointing few runs with my Adidas Adios Boost 2s (toe rubbed raw, a nail dislodged etc), which I’d planned to use for the Yorkshire Marathon, I decided that time was quickly ticking by and I needed to find another pair of shoes to fill the void. Enter the Nike Zoom Streak 6.

Working alongside marathon elites, Nike went back to the drawing board for their latest iteration of the Zoom Streak line after a lukewarm reception of the 5th edition (Paula Radcliffe actually quite likes them for what it’s worth). The modus operandi was simple on paper: give marathon runners just enough to get them to the finish line and no more. The result is quite simply the best running shoe I’ve ever worn (yes, even better than my long cherished Nike Flyknit Racers).

So, why do I think they’re so great?

The Zoom Streak 6 is one of Nike’s first shoes to roll out with a new Flymesh upper, which has to be seen in person to be believed. It’s incredibly thin, yet features plenty of ventilation to keep feet cool and dry, offsetting the potential for blisters. My size 7.5s weigh less than 180g per shoe, and clearly, majority of the Zoom Streak 6’s diet has come from the stripped down upper. The simpler construction is also reflected in the price – £85 RRP versus the more complex to manufacture Flyknit Racer at £130 RRP. The seamless nature of the upper is a godsend for me after my right foot had been mangled by the Adios Boost 2s.

The outsole of the shoe is an unconventional design where it’s been rounded off on all 4 axis. The shoe can rock back and forth, or left and right without too much difficulty. The benefit here is footstrikes of most runners are catered for; heelstrikers can roll their feet forward, whilst midfoot and forefoot strikers can land with a very smooth motion, eased in by the shoe. I’m a forefoot striker and pronate on my right foot, which has caused traditional shoes to wear away incredibly quickly on the outer edge, whereas my left foot lands almost perfectly – I should now be able to get more even wear out of both shoes before needing to throw them out. Nike has also stuck a piece of rigid plastic that runs from the midfoot to the forefoot (think Adidas’ Torsion system on the Adios Boost line and you’ve got it). The plastic is designed to enhance energy return, resulting in quite a springy ride in the Zoom Streak 6. What’s remarkable is how the plastic plate pulls double duty on runs; when I’m running fast and on my toes, I get an extra bit of bounce to propel each toe-off with a little more force, and when I’m tiring or taking it easy, the plastic stays rigid and helps to roll my feet forward with a little more stability. It’s some black magic that Nike pulled off, or maybe just good science!

What’s also impressive is how versatile they’ve been. I broke them out at this week’s Parkrun, and whilst they were a touch heavier than what I would normally wear for a 5k, they still felt perfectly at home on my feet and it was my return to fitness rather than the shoes that held me back from going any faster. On the below 17 mile long run, the weight-saving was very much welcome during the closing miles, and the plastic plate helped to give a wee bit of support when tired and my form began to grow sloppy, whilst still offering a bit of pop when I was feeling more energetic.

Nike, please don’t tinker any further because you’ve created a masterpiece!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

That first run back from any break is always tough to face because it exposes the extent of how much fitness was lost.

Cannon Hill held its own memorial run for Darren Hale, and like at Perry Hall, there was much orange on show to mark his affiliation with the Cannon Hill Crusaders team.

I’d promised myself I didn’t want to go bananas, but managed to get caught up in the start line frenzy and before I knew it, I had a 3:41 opening km on my hands…

Much steadier running returned for the next 3km, consisting of 3:52, 3:52 and 3:54 – this wasn’t paced by my Garmin, but rather entirely by feel to leave me dumbfounded!

3:43 and a sprint for the line rounded things off for 19:00 from the official timer for a not too shabby morning’s work.

Amazingly, I was also able to reach a new recorded maximum heart rate of 209bpm. It was 2013 when I originally managed to hit 207bpm as part of my saga of a sub-20 5k. I guess the underlying bug I’d caught was still hanging around, and my slightly amped up resting heart rate helped push me to new heights. Unassisted, I don’t think I could bring myself to seek out such a high heart rate due to the world of pain it would involve!

Here’s the Strava data for the run.

17 miles – to Brueton Park and back

I was fully expecting this one to sting a bit after a relatively fast Parkrun the day prior, and a lack of long and medium-long runs over the last 2 weeks.

The weather was pretty much perfect for running, with a nice chill in the air from the breeze, and some sun that came in and out of view overhead. It’s a real damn shame that next week will usher in yet more elevated temperatures – why can’t Autumn just stick around and settle in???

The first few miles were slow and a bit ploddy, never quite feeling right. Once warmed up, the middle was really rather positive and I had to rein the pace in a few times before I got carried away. As anticipated, the last few miles uncovered the lay-off from running and had me working a little harder than I normally would have.

All in all, this was a welcome return to training normality and launches me back into the training schedule to mop up the few remaining weeks.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon 

Whilst in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have gotten sick and I wouldn’t have had the dreadful race I did at the Kenilworth Half Marathon. Thankfully, the prize is just on the horizon and it’s hard to believe race day is just 4 weeks away from now. I’m not race-fit yet, though if pushed, I’m certain I could run a marathon at the moment and beat my 3:34:04 PB from 2014.

The 4 months of training since mid-May has been a slog, and truth be told, I kinda wanted race day to come around sooner. So, I’m actually viewing the last 2 weeks as a blessing, both as much-needed recovery and also to simply kill some time. The next few weeks will be crucial, especially next week’s 22/23 mile run, but also the planned Robin Hood Half Marathon as a marathon pace session (I’ve not decided yet if I’ll cover the full race at pace, or only part of it).

The marathon sure isn’t a distance for anybody that wants instant gratification!

This week’s running – 22nd to 28th of August 2016

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How I’ve felt for much of this summer…

Week 16 of the 22 week marathon schedule was another tough one.

7 mile fartlek (and 2 mile warm-down)

The schedule originally planned for 8 miles with 5x 800m at 5k pace. Phoning around the three different 400m tracks nearby (Fox Hollies leisure centre, Abbey Stadium, Alexander Stadium), all were obviously reserved for local running club use, being a Tuesday night and all.

In place of the 800m reps, I swapped in a fartlek session instead, which better complimented the unpredictable nature of the canal towpath. Also, I found the shorter and longer stretches at effort easier to stomach in the amped up heat versus trying to meticulously hit 800m in 2:55 (and probably fail).

I didn’t fare too badly out there, with a particular highlight being a 400m stretch at 5:42 per mile pace. Expectedly, the fartlek session had taken a lot out of me and I had to uncharacteristically stop immediately afterwards for several minutes before continuing with my warm-down.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles recovery

Nothing more than a gentle and casual plod home from New Street Station. Keeping me company were snippets of an interview via the Marathon Talk podcast (episodes 70 to 72), with a focus on training and racing in the heat. Two interesting points were highlighted:

  • Only around 25% of the energy output from running goes towards forward motion; the remaining 75% is waste heat generated by muscles
  • Our own effort during a run has a far bigger impact on how hot we get versus the ambient temperature and humidity

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles from work

Whilst not particularly warm (yessss!), it was still unfavourably humid (noooo!) outdoors to leave me completely soaked in sweat, requiring that I literally peel my clothes from my skin upon finishing.

I really wasn’t in the mood for this medium-long run; my legs agreed with me, feeling particularly tired. And that’s the point of these medium-long runs, where they’ve worn me down for weeks so that I’m almost always in a state of accumulated fatigue.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

With the impending doom of my lengthiest marathon paced session to date at the end of the week, I knew I had to keep things easy at Parkrun. Dave and I covered the distance at a conversational and leisurely pace of just under 8 minutes per mile, with a faster final km to stretch the legs out. I also achieved a personal worst in terms of finishing position for 201st, even factoring in my early days at the event when I was only capable of running 5k in circa 25 minutes for an idea of just how much the Cannon Hill event has grown in 5 years.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

17 miles with 13.1 at marathon pace (plus up to 15 seconds)

In a bid to make this run as successful as possible, I unusually separated my warm-up from the bulk of the main run. Having set-up a makeshift transition area in the hallway of my house, I used the 10 or so minutes of recovery to swap shoes, tops, re-hydrate and holster some gels.

Carrying some fatigue and with a noticeable cross-wind to contend with, I allowed for around 15 seconds of drift per mile to get the job done. Rather oddly, I couldn’t actually dip into the magical 6:47 per mile pace target, instead hovering between 6:50 and 7:04 as my best and worst efforts. I felt pretty comfortable out there for majority of the distance, though did find concentration was required on occasion to maintain pace, especially when the terrain changed underfoot or elevation increased or decreased. Overall, I felt pretty good and were it not for the steep climb up Brook Lane, I’d have continued all the way for 14 miles at pace as per the schedule.

I had hoped my Adidas Adios Boost 2s had received enough break-in from several 5 mile runs, though was disappointed to experience some major and minor hotspots and blisters on my right foot. Hopefully this run will have done just the job to break them in ahead of the Kenilworth Half Marathon…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

With a mere six weeks to go, the big day is now fast approaching. I have a few more key runs remaining, including the following:

  • Half marathon (Kenilworth Half Marathon; PB attempt)
  • 22/23 mile long run
  • Marathon paced run (Robin Hood Half Marathon)
  • 5k (PB attempt)

Whilst I’m most certainly tired at the moment, I remain feeling positive. I feel physically fitter than ever before; scoring a number of PBs across different distances during this campaign cements that the training is working and paying dividends.

This week’s running – 15th to 21st of August 2016

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Always time for jazz hands, even on a 22 mile run – photo by Lis Yu

Week 15 of the 22 week marathon schedule was all about going long. And suffering.

NOT 11 miles with 7 at marathon pace

I’ve reached that stage of summer training where I’m entirely ready to embrace winter training. Regular readers will know I relish the cold, where there’s a choice of layering up or running faster to stay warm. In the summer, once you’re too hot, there’s little that can be done to cool-down.

On Tuesday, I went out too hard for the conditions. Warm temperatures and strong winds returned as I went out at target marathon pace, which simply wasn’t sustainable. I managed to put up a decent fight, but ultimately had to call it quits after 5 miles at pace due to feeling rather sick and nauseous, then realised I still had some 3 miles to jog before reaching home…

To give you an idea of how much the run had taken out of me, my Garmin reported a 54 hour recovery window – the most I’d encountered up to that point was 48 hours!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles recovery – to Cannon Hill and back

I was ultra-cautious to keep this recovery run very easy, reflecting upon the meltdown only a day earlier.

Confirming my thoughts that I was a little under the weather, my VO2max of 61 nose-dived to 56. I kinda expected this scenario to appear sooner or later, especially as I’m now entering the several densest training weeks of my marathon plan.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles from work

Still licking my wounds from Tuesday’s semi-aborted run, I went into these 12 miles with some trepidation. The warmth persisted to remind me to ease myself in to make it out in one piece.

For what turned out to be a welcome break from mundane normality, canal towpath closures required that I detour back on to roads around Birmingham University, before eventually re-joining the canal at Selly Oak. A long stretch of downhill did a number on my quads; I’m woefully inexperienced when it comes to downhill running, so I look forward to developing the skill whilst the diversions are in place.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

With 22 miles to run on Sunday, I didn’t want to jeopardise the plan by going bananas at a Parkrun. Being in Wales for the weekend, there was no shortage of nearby events to visit, and after some chopping and changing, I offered to pace my friend, Nigel, to a sub-22 finish at Newport’s Tredegar House event. Due to the uneven terrain featuring sand, gravel and dirt, I wanted to give us quite a wide berth of hitting the goal – Nigel has a 20:40 5k PB to his name from 2014 on the same course, so I knew he could probably withstand a pace more akin to 21:35 to 21:45 without much trouble.

Weather conditions were truly atrocious, with heavy showers early that morning soaking the sensitive terrain and strong winds to make hard work of the more exposed portions of the course.

The start was fast and I had to quickly rein Nigel in from running ahead of me. A number of other runners had latched on to our pace, though few were able to stay with us especially on the more technical parts of the route. With only a km remaining, we chucked in a fast finish to surpass our target by a couple of seconds for 21:33.

Caught completely off-guard, Nigel went on to generously present me with his copy of Like The Wind magazine issue 1. I declined to take it because we both knew how rare the out of print issue had become – “Now it’s yours,” came Nigel’s reply. As much as I enjoy hitting my own goals, I’m just as happy to get stuck in and help others on the way to theirs. Thanks again, Nige!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

22 miles – to Little Mill and back

This was a significant milestone because it equals my longest ever training run, originally covered in 2014 at a much slower pace, though with no less effort involved!

I thanked the big man upstairs for the overcast skies and cooler temperatures, though still took no chances and loaded up my ultra-vest with its full 1 litre capacity of liquid. A High 5 Isogel (Citrus Plus, laced with caffeine) also joined me for the jaunt – a rarity this training schedule which I can only put down to becoming better fat adapted.

Despite running uphill and into a headwind for around 7 miles in the first half, I felt pretty damn good! The slightly unfamiliar middle third of the route kept my concentration from wandering off, and the break from torrid conditions gave me just that bit of extra capacity to get the job done.

The last couple of miles saw a guest appearance from the sun for firmly gritted teeth; I occasionally resorted to counting from 1 to 100 to see the distance through…

Confidence boosted, I didn’t feel too beaten up afterwards, helped along by near immediate re-hydration and some loafing around watching the Olympic men’s marathon (which Eliud Kipchoge fully deserved to win).

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

Scarily, including race week, there are just 7 weeks to go in the training schedule. I’m feeling pretty good and I just need to keep things together for a while longer before I can settle into a taper. But before that can happen, I need to get next week’s 18 miles with 14 at marathon pace out of the way first…

I’ve begun delving into which pair of race shoes I want to tackle the marathon in. On Wednesday’s recovery run, I broke out a box fresh pair of Adidas Adios Boost 2s from last Christmas. Due to how warm it was, my feet had swollen up a touch to make the once perfect fit a little tighter than I’d have liked. Some more break-in will be needed before I conclude whether they’re race-worthy, or use the rapidly diminishing time before Sunday 9th of October to pick up a pair of Nike’s new Zoom Streak 6s, hot from being worn by both women’s and men’s Olympic marathons champions, amongst countless others during the respective events.

This week’s running – 1st to 7th of August 2016

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Orange at Perry Hall Parkrun for Darren – photo by Lis Yu

Week 13 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

6 miles recovery

When originally planning out my schedule, I remember shuffling this particular week around to give the mid-week long run joint priority with Sunday’s marathon paced run. 6 miles of recovery either side ensured enough volume to succeed without making things too easy.

Continuing the trend of topsy-turvy weather, the humidity was pretty damn high and I recall being drenched in sweat upon finishing the 6 miles at what was just a relaxed pace.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles

If my memory doesn’t deceive me, this became the longest run I’d ever embarked upon outside of a weekend. A bit tired and a bit sleep deprived from work, I knew I was going to be in for a rough ride. Throw in fatigue from Sunday’s 10k race, strong wind in all directions and 80% humidity, and I was certain I’d made the right choice to take the day off from work to complete the run!

Nothing clicked into place at all, with the above being joined by an annoying stitch that persisted for much of the first half. I chalked it up as character building for the second half of a marathon when the race truly begins.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 miles recovery

An exact repeat of Tuesday’s recovery run with unfortunately similar conditions and a horde of cricket fans heading towards me from the Edgbaston ground…

This run did highlight my attention to remaining in-tune with my body. Starting out from New Street Station, I felt pretty good but I grew more lethargic and hungry as the run progressed. I reached a pretty low point at mile 3 in Cannon Hill Park; out of nowhere during mile 4, I began to perk up and by mile 5, I felt like I was on top of the world again. I’m fully expecting to have highs and lows during the Yorkshire Marathon and will have to somehow balance my desire to finish with the best result possible and simply finishing at all…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Perry Hall Parkrun

This was a very special event, dedicated to the memory of Darren Hale – Perry Hall’s first ever finisher. Runners were requested to wear orange to reflect his membership of the Cannon Hill Crusader team.

I had previously only ever run the Perry Hall course whilst it was in poor shape from winter, so it was a novelty to tackle it in warm and dry conditions! “Definitely a summer course,” was a regular’s thought. Darryll and I managed to bag sub-20s, whilst Dave, Carl and Simon took things easier.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

It was great to be there celebrating a talented runner’s life. RIP Darren.

16 miles with 12 at marathon pace plus up to 30 seconds

Perusing the weather report in the lead up to Sunday, my anxiety grew each time I saw the forecasted 15mph wind and amped up temperatures. Marathon pace wasn’t going to come to me without a fight!

In the end, I had to on occasion add 30 seconds to marathon pace, with it tending to sit steady with around 15 seconds on top. Just a handful of times, I managed to hit target pace when not running into the ferocious wind. Not really what I’d hoped for, but at least the effort felt about right, so no major loss.

Summer training is more pleasant they said… Will make you stronger for your autumn marathon they said…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

An unusual week, though we didn’t want to end up getting stale now!

The 14 mile mid-week run left me pretty beaten up and feeling especially like how the second half of a marathon feels. Being the 13th week, it’s sort of like that point in a race where it begins to feel a touch overwhelming; you’re no longer as fresh as you were when originally embarking on the plan, and you’re still some way from the end to make things mentally challenging.