This week’s running – 21st May to 3rd June 2018

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Newport parkrun takes place on a National Trust site – photo by Lis Yu

Gah. Apologies once again, everyone, for I have fallen behind with the updates. Two weeks rolled into one, here.

5x 800m at 5k pace

I struggle with the specifics, but it’d been a long time since I last completed a true-blue interval session at anything faster than half marathon pace. Needless to say, I was pensive about how the session would unfold…

Well, I need not have worried at all for I positively surprised myself! Take a look at the below for each 800m rep:

  1. 2:55
  2. 2:59
  3. 2:53
  4. 2:55
  5. 2:54

Rep 2 was marred by heavy tree cover, ruining what was otherwise a near-flawless set! I could have pushed on for 6x, but felt quite nauseous upon finishing 5x and figured that was quite enough to get myself reacquainted with structured speed once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5 mile run-commute

Expecting the week’s total mileage would end up a touch on the low side due to soft-tapering and racing, I opted to jump off the Metro one stop early to have this run end up nearer to 6 miles than 5.

Running with a bag on your back is tough going. You end up with what some affectionately call swamp back, due to never-ending perspiration in a bid to keep the back cool. Not only that but whatever goes into the bag needs to be wrapped in plastic… I’ll say no more!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

Like a fool, I forgot to pack my Flip Belt to have me running all 11 miles with a phone and wallet in my hand. Any of you that know me in person will be aware of my diminutive figure, yet I own the ginormous iPhone 8 Plus. Not comfortable in the slightest!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Racing the following day meant I volunteered, of course. I was paired up with the lovely Fehmida, volunteering and marshalling for the very first time, due to fasting for Ramadan. She was an absolute natural, learning the ropes very quickly, pointing runners in the correct direction, and encouraging everybody as they passed.

Also joining us was a chap from Bristol, who was returning there due to work contracts ending. Rather than run at Cannon Hill for the final time, he opted to volunteer instead. Many, myself included, would have done the former, whereas he’d set a great example by going against expectations.

Cotswold Hilly 100 2018 review

For the full write-up, please click here.

5k recovery

Strangely, the previous day’s Cotswold Hilly 100 leg barely felt like it had touched the sides. Considering my Garmin advised 72 hours for recovery, I heeded this warning and kept the effort incredibly low. Helpful to me were the torrential rains of the previous day in Birmingham, bringing the temperature down a few notches.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

This was a very special day for the St James Road tunnel re-opened! Huzzah!

Those of you local to Birmingham and who run on the canals will be all too familiar with the narrow, single-file nature of above said tunnel. I remember years ago, a cyclist decided to race ahead of me into the tunnel, only for him to constantly lose his balance to then drop his speed to become the one holding me up!

Since January, work has been carried out on widening the footpath in the tunnel. Whereas canal boats have probably lost around a metre of width from the tunnel, which still leaves plenty for them to play with, users of the footpath are now able to comfortably and safely overtake with ease; no more waiting at either end!

The only downside? The extension is basically a platform, and not a particularly solid sounding one. Only time will tell if it survives the repeated pounding and punishment…

The run itself was so-so. Humidity was jacked right up to leave me drenched and dripping in sweat. The crushing problem with humidity is it stops the body from being able to cool itself down. Without the sun shining directly on you or a breeze to evaporate sweat, it simply pools on your skin and your body pumps out more sweat because you’re not cooling down. It’s a double cost as you become increasingly dehydrated with no benefit!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

The humidity remained and certainly not helping was the bag on my back.

Running through Cannon Hill Park, there were still a few telltale signs of the storms from Sunday. Lots of mud had formed or collected besides the many paths.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3x 800m

Eugh. This was supposed to be 6x 800m at 5k pace, but I could tell from the warm-up alone that things were going to get ugly. 4 easy paced miles had left me glistening in sweat that simply wasn’t evaporating away!

I knew after 3x reps that I was better off jumping out and not delay recovery for another attempt another day:

  1. 3:06
  2. 2:58
  3. 3:03

Whilst the humidity was one factor in the poor session performance, recovering from the Cotswold Hilly 100 and poor hydration and nutrition were others. I opted to catch a bus for the final 2 miles for home, stopping off at Sainsbury’s for some sugary snacks and drinks!

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

Newport parkrun

Ah, Newport parkrun. Home to my very first parkrun away from Cannon Hill and also where my Achilles heel had decided enough was enough back in 2016 (I’d not been back since).

Ben, a friend of Lis’ and mine ran there for the first time a week prior and fancied giving it another shot whilst I was in town. It makes for quite a contrast to his usual haunt of Riverfront parkrun and is one of the likely few events where the launch of nearby events have taken numbers away from Newport parkrun; at its peak, the event could see up to the high 500s, whereas the 200s to 300s is now the norm. Their secret? Newport parkrun is definitely more of a summer course.

After a warm-up, Ben and I both concluded it was going to be a warm morning. Not helping was the lush vegetation we would run through twice for added humidity. Spectating were Lis and my mother-in-law, Yvonne.

Visiting the event was a swift looking runner from Oklahoma in the US. I did actually have sights on him winning, only for disappointment to strike when he finished in second place and lost out to a fellow visiting runner.

I was in need of sleep and recovery, so set out with just sights on skimming under 20 minutes. With its many twists, turns and long stretches under thick tree cover, I knew the course came up a touch short on GPS, so I had a small margin of error on my side. I coasted much of the first km, keeping the effort and pace steady whilst people chopped and changed before settling down.

Somewhere during the second km, I noticed a young boy in the distance running at a decent clip for the Tredegar Park terrain. With no extra work on my part, we eventually drew shoulder-to-shoulder; his breathing was already quite heavy and laboured, so he was certainly working hard. He began to slip by a step or two, convincing me to give him some encouragement and pacing assistance. “Stay with me, buddy,” I said to him to get a feel for whether he was interested in keeping the fire burning. He drew level with me again to clearly wish to remain in the game.

This continued up to the final km, when I thought I might have lost him. His breathing was, expectedly, very laboured and intense; the suffering he was putting himself through was remarkable. I carried on with the encouragement, which he’d previously reacted positively to. As we cleared the final corner, I took the lead momentarily and told him to kick and chase me down. He found something from somewhere and briefly pulled level with me before putting a few metres between us. At the 200m sign, I told him to go for the finish and he added a few more metres between us, finishing in 19:52 and me in 19:54.

Upon finishing, I congratulated him and told his father that he should be proud of the effort he’d put on show that morning. A sub-20 is not particularly easy to achieve on Newport’s course as the terrain, whilst being largely flat, is not particularly forgiving in terms of energy return or traction.

Ben came back in with a course PB, which was to be expected with prior knowledge of the course and starting right at the front with me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Monkswood and back

The day before, Lis and I noticed several volunteers putting up a number of “Caution Runners” and arrow signs around much of the long run route I almost always utilise when visiting Lis’ parents. Curious and confused, I could find no information on what the potential race was, with no listings on any of the race resources I commonly refer to. Ben was able to deduce it was some sort of relay race akin to the Cotswold Hilly 100. Hosted by the local Fairwater Runners club, it featured multiple legs of differing distances, with the most brutal being a half marathon taking place at 13:20 in the midday warmth. I feared I would have to bandit the race if it coincided with my own long run, though there was no need as I was all wrapped-up before they’d even started their leg.

Whereas I’d spotted dozens upon dozens of cyclists, I was the only runner out there on this morning. One particular cyclist recognised me on the out and return to cheer me on. Also cheering me on was a mystery BMW driver, honking his horn and waving as I headed towards my turnaround point at Monkswood.

I ensured I was adequately hydrated and fed beforehand, but took no chances by carrying an additional water bottle with electrolytes. Usefully, I also strictly regulated the first half’s effort to have me feeling pretty good for the second half.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

This week’s running – 27th of March to 2nd of April 2017

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Newport Riverfront parkrun’s actually rather scenic!

Remember that stag-do? Well, it hit me harder than I thought to result in yet another incomplete week of training…

I did at least manage to get some parkrun tourism in!

Ill once again

*Sigh*

2017 (and the end of 2016) really hasn’t been kind to me.

Monday and Tuesday were plagued by a sore throat and some respiratory system tightness. By Wednesday, symptoms had manifested into a cold, albeit a fairly mild one. Even so, I decided against jumping back into something that resembled a normal training week in terms of frequency, instead saving myself for the weekend’s stint of parkrun tourism.

Newport Riverfront parkrun

parkrun tourism’s a strange beast for me. I’m not particularly interested in straying away from Cannon Hill unless I need to. The event is so close to where I live that it makes little sense to purposely go out of my way, unless absolutely necessary, such as when there’s a cancellation; I know I eventually get around to new local-ish events when the situation calls for it.

The game changes when Lis and I are in Wales and visiting family. With a minimum of 8 events within 30 minutes’ drive, and 3 of those easily less than 15 minutes away, it makes complete sense to visit a variety of events whilst the opportunity is there. Cardiff’s Bute Park event has received a lot of my attention over the years (24 times out of 213 runs) due to its fast and flat nature, though I now tend to reserve visits there for whem I’m feeling in particularly good shape, which simply ain’t the case at the moment…

In January, Newport’s Riverfront event began after an initial false start due to icy conditions postponing its launch by a week. As its name suggests, it follows the River Usk from a fairly central location in Newport city centre for a flat and fast, out and back route. Locals tell me that the event was fast tracked into fruition, with help from Lliswerry Runners and Caerleon Running Club, to remedy the growing attendance at Tredegar Park in an attempt at dispersing the numbers. The frequent 500-strong crowd at Tredegar Park has lessened to the region of 300, whereas Riverfront enjoys some 200 in attendance. It’s regularly cited that new events do not take numbers away from pre-existing neighbouring events, and instead create and cultivate their own communities. Why this appears to have worked with Newport’s two events is simple: Tredegar Park is trail-like in its profile, and for years, had the privilege of being the only parkrun game in town. Tredegar Park loyalists will stay, mud bath or no mud bath, and those that prefer to not need to hose down their kit afterwards can utilise the Riverfront event.

I arranged to meet Nigel Foulkes-Nock, an old buddy of mine, who I’d not seen since October’s Cardiff Half Marathon. Having run the event once before, he was like a sage of tips and advice, going as far to have a predetermined finish time he felt I would be capable of.

With far fewer runners in attendance than what I’m normally used to, reaching the front of the start line pack was an incredibly civilised affair without pointed elbows; there was almost a reluctance from those behind to get too close to the front!

Learning my lesson from last week at Cannon Hill, steady pacing off the line was the order of the morning. I settled quickly into target pace of 3:56 per km/6:20 per mile with several guys around me for company, and just outside of the top 10. The terrain underfoot was always paved, though bricked stretches had the potential to be slick when wet. The rain hit early on into the run, though I was never cold despite wearing a vest. 1km came and went with 3:56 on the clock to be right on the money.

Unavoidably, due to following the river path, a number of hairpin turns were encountered to slow the pace down – something to factor in when making like-for-like comparisons with the fast Cardiff Bute Park course. The turnaround point at halfway was a particularly aggressive pace-killer for others and me; whilst I was able to pick the pace back up, those I’d run with up to that point simply couldn’t reclaim the momentum and drifted backwards.

After picking off two or so ahead of me (one who turned out to be the brother of Cannon Hill regular, Dave Sansom), I was left on my lonesome for the remaining 2km to the finish.

The theatre from where we all started eventually came back into view, though I was made aware that the finish line was still further beyond. The last few hundred metres seemed to go on forever; unexpectedly, my Garmin fired off a good 60m or so before reaching the line, putting me into a mild state of panic over my pacing for a sub-20 finish. A modest kick ensured I made it back with 19:51 to be the final person to go under 20 minutes.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Oh, and it would appear the event is biased towards vertically gifted runners being faster! The bucket for tokens 1-100 is found at the top, whereas the 300 and higher bucket sits at the bottom of the lamp-post…

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In need of the Yellow Pages! Photo by David Philips

Pondering over the additional distance encountered, I’m curious over whether it was a one-off fluke, or whether it’s a regular occurrence. With only Strava’s 1 decimal point measurement, reviewing other people’s historic runs makes it impossible to tell. Nigel also tracked 5.06 km/3.14 miles, using a totally different Garmin to me and probably following a slightly different line. The track underneath the bridges is pretty clean to also rule GPS interference out. A shame because it would be nice to have semi-regular access to another flat and fast course when I’m in Wales to complement Cardiff’s Bute Park event.

10 miles – to Usk and back

My legs felt it from the previous day’s 5k exertions, so a low intensity and slow pace were the order of Sunday morning. The sun came out to play, though there were very few runners out and about due to a 10k race in Cardiff, along with spring marathon season starting up. Unusually, there were dozens of cyclists out on the country lanes, riding in pack formation ahead of some sportive event the following weekend.

I aimed to keep my heart rate at around 70% of max, or lower, apart from when climbing. The effort to output ratio felt about right; I never felt like I was purposely holding back too much, or pushing too hard to stay at such a percentage.

Sadly, my ambitions to reclaim full ownership of the Saint Andrews Walk Climb segment on Strava eluded me once more, deciding to save myself for another day when in better shape.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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

ed_miliband_flu

Curse that Ed Miliband…

I hope everybody had a merry Christmas; mine was anything but and I’ve really struggled to find motivation to write this entry up…

4x 1.2km at 10k pace; 800m at 5k pace

As is quite typical of the P&D and P&L training schedules, paces began edging closer to VO2max. I’ve touched upon this before, and I particularly look forward to the final few weeks of faster pace focus; I don’t know whether it’s the strong training stimulus, form efficiency improvements, or both, but I always feel supercharged afterwards, and this occasion was no different.

I pretty much nailed all of the intervals and paces (well done to Dave for spotting I’d left the below blank!):

  • 1.2km – 4:39
  • 1.2km – 4:37
  • 1.2km – 4:37
  • 1.2km – 4:35
  • 800m – 2:55

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

Little did I know my return to form was short-lived and premature…

Illness, part two

Lis and I travelled to Wales to spend several days leading up to Christmas with her family. Not even having spent 24 hours there, I was felled by flu-like symptoms for the next bout of illness in what has been my most disrupted block of training that I’ve endured in years!

I ached all over and experienced hot and cold flashes, writing off the day’s planned 15 miles. My PB attack at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon was disappearing before my eyes in a splutter of phlegm… I now have my suspicions regarding who I picked the bug up from, though the damage by then was already done.

As I write up this entry, I feel like I’ve been ebbing and flowing through recovery; some days I feel pretty much back to full strength, and then several hours later, I’ll feel shitty all over again.

Cardiff Parkrun

Christmas Eve was one of the rare days where I felt decent enough to at least run 5k. Meeting up with Vince at Cardiff Parkrun, we were greeted by wet, windy and miserable conditions.

Cutting a long story short, 19:14 popped out of the other side for my slowest time at Cardiff in several years. Woo…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

Since 2013, I’ve been found on Christmas morning at a Parkrun somewhere. This year, Newport’s Tredegar House played host to me and some several hundred of the dedicated.

Conditions didn’t improve from Christmas Eve, and coupled with Newport’s cross-country style course meant everybody was caked in the unavoidable mud.

I felt worse compared to Cardiff 24 hours earlier and only managed to get the heat inside to a simmer rather than a boil; 21:17 was all I could muster, for fear of making things go south even more than they already had.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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 – 9th to 15th of May 2016

bipolar_weather

Not quite as bad as above, but close enough!

Week 1 of the 22 week marathon schedule began…

Kit drop time

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

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

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

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

Marathon campaign in the summer? Bring it on!

4x 1600m at 10k pace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for the session.

5 miles from city centre

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

newport_parkrun_andy_yu

Onwards to a new course PB – photo by Nicola Brann

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Usk and back

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 28th of September to 4th of October 2015

Cardiff Half Marathon route

Time to put the training to good use at the Cardiff Half Marathon!

This week was all about final race prep for the Cardiff Half Marathon.

5k from work

I was certainly ready for the taper by Monday. Three heavy training weeks had taken their toll on me and I needed to feel perky again. With tired legs and a headwind slamming straight into me, this particular recovery run had me averaging 10:15 miles for possibly my slowest ever time from the office.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

1.5 miles at half marathon pace

This was the final hard run ahead of the Cardiff Half Marathon. I wasn’t going to get any fitter come Sunday, but I wanted my body to feel familiar with what race pace felt like, so hence this sharpener.

Much like on previous occasions, I completely misjudged which direction the wind was blowing; by running anti-clockwise around the reservoir, I ended up maximising my exposure to the headwind to make race pace feel much harder than it should have. I was reasonably confident that had I have completed a second lap, it would have felt easier once fully warmed up.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Rest day

Rather than cover another 5k from the office on Wednesday, I opted for an evening of rest with some foam rolling to straighten out any kinks in my legs (far fewer than when I foam rolled on Monday!)

4 miles with strides

I went out to cover 4 miles along the canals with a handful of fast stretches to let my stride out, and as expected, I felt a bit sluggish there. My coordination was off after only one full rest day – the curse of the taper!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Like the Wind magazine

Like the Wind

If anybody has a spare issue 1 for sale, let me know!

A guilty pleasure of mine is magazines. Being a guy that’s always had hobbies and interests, magazines have provided me reading material where books have so often tried and failed to get me reading. I have stacks and stacks of running magazines: Runner’s World, Running Fitness, Men’s Running, Running Times, Competitor. You name it and I’ve probably had a subscription to it at some point. Due to poor and repeated content, I cancelled them all apart from Running Times, which I now subscribe to digitally at £13 a year for 6 issues.

Last year some time, I remember hearing some hub-bub about a new kid on the block called Like the Wind. Published independently and overseen by running enthusiast and blogger, Simon Freeman (and his wife), it promised to be different from the rest. Rather than churn out the same material that many of the other running related magazines do, Like the Wind is a “collection of running stories”. I finally got my hands on two issues (purchased from the poshest newsagent I’d ever been to in London, with a further three issues purchased in Bath a week later) and I was immediately struck by how personal the magazine’s content felt. Each story read like it was the individual’s own column or blog, though possibly to never be repeated. The other thing that caught my eye was the overall look and feel of the magazine – the design was simply sublime. It’s the sort of thing that you would proudly have on a coffee table at home.

At £9 an issue, it ain’t cheap. But then it does only come out once every three months, so at £3 a month it’s more palatable with the promise of fresh content compared to the yearly churn that some of the more regular titles go through.

Newport Parkrun

Over the last couple of years, I’ve experimented with running a Parkrun the day before races. I’m still yet to fully commit to the camp of do run, or the camp of don’t run; the only conclusion I seem to have reached is that if I feel like running, then I shouldn’t fight the urge.

Lis and I woke up to a chilly morning – perfect running weather for somebody that relishes the cold! The management team of Swansea Bay Parkrun were in attendance, with their inaugural event due to take place in late October (24th to be precise, but they pleaded for people to not flock to the first run, so you didn’t see that date here…)

The order of the day was to simply cover 5k at a relaxed pace of somewhere between 7:30 and 7:45 per mile. It felt entirely at odds to be running 5k at such a restrained pace with people blowing up all around me (they had pacers provided). I finally let go of the reins in the closing straight for a 200m burn-up and a finishing time of 23:05.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

A brush with greatness

Cardiff Half Marathon faq panel

Susan Wightman, Jess Coulson, Mike McLeod, Steve Jones and Geoff Wightman

My birthday usually coincides with the Cardiff Half Marathon, which means no rock & roll style antics for me. My saving grace for something to do came from the Cardiff Half Marathon organisers: they laid on a seminar of sorts with a panel of familiar, and not so familiar, guests:

  • Steve Jones – British marathon record holder and former world record holder
  • Mike McLeod – 10,000m silver medalist of the 1984 Olympics
  • Geoff Wightman – MD of runbritain
  • Susan Wightman – Team GB marathon runner in the 1988 Olympics
  • Jess Coulson – U20 3000m England Athletics champion
  • Dewi Griffiths – Reigning Welsh Cardiff Half Marathon champion

It was an informal talk with maybe 30 people in the room (and free food!), chaired by the Cardiff Half Marathon race director, Steve Brace. One stand out moment came from an audience member:  Steve worked through the crowd to get people to share their PBs, with times from 2:15 all the way down to 1:24, when one guy pipes up and shares he has a 66 minute PB with hopes to get under 65 minutes the following day. Geoff Wightman took immediate interest as a selection committee member for the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships, but was disappointed to learn the mystery audience member had no such aspirations.

Cardiff Half Marathon 2015 review

For the full report on my 2015 Cardiff Half Marathon, please click here.

Time for another one of Mark Remy’s entries from The Runner’s Rule Book:

Save the race shirt for postrace

Wearing the official race shirt during the race is like wearing a U2 t-shirt to a U2 concert.

Not cool. Don’t do it.

This week’s running – 1st to 7th of June 2015

The road to recovery

OK, recovery by my standards at least…

This week was all about active recovery.

8 canal miles

I promised myself that after the Bristol 10k, I would lay off some of the harder running for a wee while and get back to a state of feeling fresh again. That began with an 8 mile run that covered my approximate marathon pace range. Not having run a marathon this year, or one to the best of my ability ever, it’s a pretty big range from 7:45 to 7:10 minute miles.

The canal towpath renovation was complete, with all stretches paved over and covered with rather excessive amounts of gravel. Early on in the run and when being smacked by a head wind, the lack of traction made me feel like I was being dragged backwards at times. Nonetheless, I felt great out there and took the opportunity to focus on my breathing, which was rather out of sorts during Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work with footpod calibration

WARNING – NERD TALK AHEAD!

I love the ability of my Garmin to utilise the footpod to both measure cadence and distance if the signal ever craps out (newer Garmins have this built in and don’t require a footpod). I don’t believe it needs calibrating for cadence – after all, it just needs to detect when the foot makes contact with the floor – but calibration for distance is of more significance, and was something I hadn’t completed in over a year. Oops… Thankfully, it’s rare that my Garmin loses its signal entirely apart from inside long tunnels.

The advice given regarding calibration was to find a relatively straight course with good GPS coverage. Given I was running home from the office along the canal towpath, I incorporated this task into the mix and hence why I don’t have a data track for it on Garmin Connect.

The calibration took roughly 0.8 miles to complete and gave the footpod a correction factor of 1,083 from a default value of 1,000. Rather pleasingly, the previous calibrated factor was 1,082 for almost no change in over a year.

Panorama: Catch me if you can

With little to no warning, a Panorama feature aired on BBC One with a focus on doping within athletics and shared many parallels with the Lance Armstrong investigations from years past. A main draw of the feature concerned the Nike Oregon Project, namely its coach and one of its stars.

In the feature, a journalist set out to dope himself with EPO to see just what the effects would be on his performance, but also to better gauge just how much or little EPO it would take to trigger a positive test. All that was required were a few micro-doses to improve his VO2 max by tangible levels and crucially, still avoid detection by the biological passport system. Due to the low amounts of EPO used, it simply wasn’t significant enough to cause a dramatic change in his blood samples. Of course, one could argue that had he have been tested specifically for EPO use or over a longer period to amplify the changes, he may have been caught. But what the experiment did highlight was just how little it took for a performance increase and for elite athletes, that’s possibly all it would take to beat your rivals for the win. Worryingly, it appeared incredibly easy to obtain vials of EPO for personal use. There have been a number of reports of late citing increased doping amongst amateur athletes, and I can only see this increasing.

At the centre of the feature were Alberto Salazar, possibly the world’s most famous athletics coach of recent times, and Galen Rupp, one of the USA’s most famous long-distance athletes of recent times and Mo Farah’s training partner. Numerous witnesses, including the high-profile Kara Goucher, came forward to discuss cases of Salazar pushing the boundaries of what it would take to trigger positive doping tests, and also unethical behaviour by bending rules when it came to non-banned substances. Galen Rupp was targeted as his project of sorts, though the programme was quick to add that Mo Farah was not accused of doping, though was inevitably caught in the cross-fire.

I’ve been a fan of both Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp for a number of years. As a geek that’s into running, I’ve found Salazar’s approaches to training to be most fascinating, and Rupp is one of the few Americans to give the east-Africans a run for their money. Like a lot of Lance Armstrong fans back in the day, I’m naively still holding out for some hope that these allegations are just allegations, but I can’t ignore the accounts of those that did come forward. It’ll be a dark, dark day for athletics if all this proves to be true; this is just what the sport doesn’t need right now, what with the controversial Justin Gatlin who has twice been banned from competition due to positive tests, yet is somehow running faster than ever before, whilst also older and supposedly clean.

The airing of the feature appeared to have been timed for maximum disruption, at least to Mo Farah, who decided not to race at Sunday’s Birmingham Diamond League meet. Can’t blame the guy really; I know how mental stress can affect your mojo before a race, so what’s the point of him going in to lose at a distance that isn’t one of his strengths anyway?

If you haven’t caught the programme yet, it can be found on BBC iPlayer if your territory is supported.

8 canal miles

Returning to the canals, I kept to my promise of not running anything faster than marathon pace at least during the week temporarily. I also opted to make this out and back run steadier and less progressive, with most of the miles between the warm-up and warm-down coming in at around 7:30 to 7:40.

I dusted off and donned my heart rate monitor for a peek at what the ticker was up to. I was pretty tired from work, and the warmer temperature coupled with the beginnings of hay fever meant I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. The strap of the monitor managed to chafe my chest to bits where there’s now a nice chunk of skin missing. Downside out of the way, I was pleasantly surprised by the heart rate data where I’m now approximately 15 – 30 seconds faster per mile at the same heart rate compared to seven weeks ago.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

It had been so long since the last time I was at Newport Parkrun that I had to remind myself of how many laps the route entailed! I also probably left for the Newport event a touch on the late side and arrived with about 15 minutes remaining to visit the toilet, get my warm-up done and have a natter with Nigel. Father Time must have been on my side because I managed to do all three with two minutes to spare before the start line scramble!

Nigel’s very much a facilitator at Newport Parkrun. He knows most regulars that run there and will frequently try to pair runners with pacers to make PBs happen. He introduced me to a young lad, Lloyd, who had previously broken 20 minutes when the sun, moon and stars aligned in his favour, but not again since. I was pretty confident I had what it took to go under 20 minutes, though had also only ever done it once before at Newport on the winter-route, which has a reputation for being faster, yet more prone to congestion. We agreed to stay close and as luck would have it, the event also laid on pacemakers for the day with the talented Emma Wookey (first Welsh lady in the Cardiff Half) leading the way for us.

The start at Newport was fast – it always is – and you really need to watch your footing on the trail-like terrain made up loose gravel and stray tree roots. A nasty headwind introduced itself from an awkward angle that couldn’t be avoided without going out of one’s way. Emma the pacer zoomed right past me and Lloyd, with him taking immediate chase; I took a peek at my Garmin and I was pretty much bang on target for sub-20 pace and remained faithful to it, guessing that there was some GPS discrepancy at play (there always is at Newport).

After 2km, I was dead cert that Emma was going too fast to simply dip under 20 minutes and assertively shared this with the couple of guys I was running with; one chap agreed that she was at around 10 seconds too fast for the target.

Inevitably, the pack thinned. Emma was still way ahead but Lloyd had dropped off the pace due to his enthusiastic start. I encouraged him to stay in front of me, but he was drifting backwards at an alarming rate.

With 1km to go, I found myself pairing up with a guy in a cycling jersey and a Fairwater club runner to keep the pace going. As we moved into the forested portion of the course, congestion became rife due to the lapped runners. The cyclist jersey guy suddenly kicked to storm ahead; puzzled, I wasn’t entirely sure why he threw in a sudden injection of pace and then remembered there was a small single file bridge rapidly approaching. I second guessed he was trying to put himself into a gap to avoid being boxed in by slower runners, which was enough to convince me to join him in pursuit along with the Fairwater runner.

Safely through on the other side, we wound things up and began a final surge on the home straight with a tailwind for assistance. The cycling jersey guy managed to put significant daylight between us for a massive lead of almost 10 seconds. I urged the Fairwater runner to stay with me, but he was spent and had nothing left to give, so I had to reel a guy in a 50 Club t-shirt in to keep me ticking along until the end.

Crossing the line, I paused my Garmin for 19:46; a PB on the summer course but 8 seconds shy of an all-time course PB at Newport set in much cooler conditions. I felt pretty good; tired but not completely shagged with something left in the tank. I thanked the cycling jersey guy for predicting the congestion with precision, and for pulling me through it in the process.

I stopped to watch Nigel come through just before the 23 minute mark, annoyed with himself that his PB was almost a year ago via our collective efforts.

Unexpectedly, I bumped into Brian Dias from Cardiff Parkrun who partook in some tourism along with the Nike Store Running Club. Lately, we’ve been facing off against each other at the Cardiff event, but I was dead impressed by his 19:10 that would be out of reach for me even on the best of days. Clearly, he’s been holding himself back when we’ve met, whereas I habitually go hell for leather at the Welsh capital.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Dave and Elsa ran their 50th Parkruns

About bloody time, too!

Oh, and congrats to both Dave and Elsa for finally reaching the 50 Club! They now join the long, long wait to get their t-shirts…

Rest for the wicked

Shattered. Knackered. Destroyed. Whatever colloquialism you can think of for tired. I couldn’t bear the thought of a long, Sunday run to cap off the week; clearly, I love running and for it to get that bad, I knew to back it off.

The hope is to freshen up before the fast approaching Two Castles 10k. I’m unsure how I want to tackle the race, either to treat it as a glorified training run, or to hit it all guns blazing. The more I think about it, the more I want to do the latter. I’ve decided to not run at Caerphilly to give myself some much needed recovery and to knuckle back down with some semblance of undisturbed training.

Looking at last year’s performance, I finished right about where I thought I would be both in terms of time and position in the field. Dave and I reasoned the climbs had cost us in the region of 20 to 30 seconds in 2014, though we’d neglected to factor in the 8mph tailwind that must have also minimised some of the damage. Scoping out the weather for Sunday, an 11mph tailwind has been forecast, which is a massive boost on the point to point course. Oh what the hell, I’m gonna give sub-40 a bash and see what comes out the other side!

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

Do whatever it takes to finish ahead of a costumed runner

Because being outkicked by Elmo is too much to bear.

This week’s running – 19th to 25th of January 2015

Work and recovery are a dangerous mix...

Work and recovery are a dangerous mix…

This week was a tad manic and sadly, running took a bit of a back seat.

Extended recovery

After the delights of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I ended up taking a prolonged period of recovery. Not through choice; rather due to work. It’s a particularly busy time of the year for me and due to a number of late finishes and early starts, I simply couldn’t find many opportunities to run. Any runs completed would have been easy anyway.

The first run of the week arrived in the form of a not-so-challenging 10k out and back via Hagley Road (click here for the Garmin data).

This particular week actually got me musing over a few things. An online buddy of mine drew attention to my typical 25 mile week and compared it to the monstrous 47 mile week immediately after Christmas. That simply would not be sustainable and was rather a product of the perfect storm: have masses of time off, so will run! I think my sweet spot for mileage lies somewhere around 35 miles a week, so long as I can get chance to run home from work and complete all runs as planned.

The next item I mulled over was that of Jantastic. I’m struggling to get into it this year and the cynics amongst you might say that’s because I’ve lost the opportunity to gain 100%. And the cynics amongst you may be right… I will continue to participate, but only because I hate to leave things unfinished.

Finally, I’m secretly quite pleased (or not so secretly now) that I don’t have a marathon to train for this spring. Besides the obvious challenge of available time to do a marathon justice, it’s actually been incredibly refreshing to be able to see various PBs come tumbling down since December, rather than continually have to hold myself back for it all to come good on one particular morning of one particular day. I commented on 2014 being miserly in terms of PBs attained – could 2015 be able to reverse that trend?

Race calendar

2014 was a bumper year of races and 2015 looks to up the ante. I love regular racing and strongly feel it keeps me sharp. Here’s what my potential calendar looks like:

Sadly, there are a number of clashes as there are every year. I would like to run a half marathon in May, but sadly the two I have my eye on both take place on the 17th. To add insult to injury, the flat as a pancake Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k will be staged on the same day… I think the Tewkesbury Half Marathon will most likely get the pick.

Four weeks later in June, more clashes occur. I thoroughly enjoyed the Aldridge 10k in 2013, but it always clashes with the novel 2 Castles 10k. This year, there’s the addition of the Swansea Half Marathon to complicate things. If I can secure another place in the 2 Castles 10k, I would like to make this one happen, otherwise I think I will opt for the Aldridge 10k for simplicity of logistics.

And then it’s a clear run with no clashes in July, September and October.

Newport Parkrun

Not wanting to blow myself to pieces again so soon after the Brass Monkey Half, I decided to skip Cardiff Parkrun for its closer neighbour at Newport.

Things were cut a bit fine and required I jump out of the car to be able to get some semblance of a warm-up in before the 9am start. The layout of the start area indicated the winter route was back in action and unlike some events, is only wheeled out when absolutely necessary rather than all season.

I wanted to sneak under 20 minutes, feeling this was a reasonable target based on the 19:38 course PB I set a month ago. The first 2km were more or less on target pace, but things fell apart from 3km onwards; the mud started to sap the energy from my legs and I largely ran alone. Lapped runners also became a problem, with one guy cutting me up pretty badly in the final lap. Even with a final km kick, it wasn’t enough to reverse the damage inflicted and I finished with 20:12 on the Garmin. This was a 10th place finish, which I felt was a rather high finish position out of almost 400 runners; it turned out many were tapering for the Lliswerry 8 the following day, so mystery solved!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles – to Usk and back

Based on how fresh I wasn’t feeling at Newport Parkrun, I scaled the pace of the Sunday long run back to around 8:45 per mile. No issues at all, bar a pesky headwind that hit on the return. I decided to include a mile at the end, serving as a warm-down after the intensity of the long drag up the hill on entering Tredunnock.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the latest entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book (it follows on from last week’s):

But if you do drop out, make peace with your decision

Don’t dwell on a DNF, a “Did Not Finish.” Chalk it up to expertise, and vow to train and race smarter next time. What’s done is done, and you’ve lived to race another day. So be it.

This week’s running – 22nd to 28th of December 2014

Running? At Christmas???

Merry Christmas everyone!

This week was all about Christmas, obviously!

5k from work

Trying to maintain some semblance of a routine during Christmas week is tough, so I took one of the few opportunities I had to get an easy run in from the office before breaking up for the festive season.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Christmas Parkrun

If you’re here reading this blog, then you’re probably of the running persuasion. Telling friends and family about my plans to attend Cardiff Parkrun on Christmas Day were met with bemusement and questions along the lines of, “You run most days – why would you also want to run on Christmas Day?” As if it wasn’t obvious enough by now, running is clearly something I enjoy and it’s only natural that I would go out for a run when I’ve got the free time to do so.

Lis and I made it to Cardiff’s event at Bute Park – my second Christmas Day Parkrun after last year’s visit to Brueton Parkrun. After a thorough warm-up, I was ready to go for another 5k PB and the last for 2014. All of a sudden, the empty park was full of happy runners in all manner of festive and not-so-festive wear. I found myself stood next to a chap in a skin-tight Santa suit and my ambition was to stay with this speedy looking Saint Nick.

Partway into the first km, I was running at a blistering pace (for me) and kept with the lead pack. There was a sizeable gap between this group and the one behind, so I tried my best to not drift backwards. That, and I was racing against the guy in the skin-tight Santa suit and I didn’t want to end up in his slipstream for an un-obscured view of his buttocks…

The aggressive opening pace had done its damage by the second km, with a split over 20 seconds slower than the first. Despite my best efforts to stay with a group, I found myself running on my own and the pace continued to nosedive, leading to a third km that was 8 seconds slower than the second.

I was in complete agony. The cold air made rapid breathing difficult but I at least managed to minimise the pace slow-down for a 4:01 fourth km. The leading lady overtook me, so I tried to latch on to her to drag me along. Didn’t quite happen as I hoped for when she kept pulling away, but I was eventually able to match her pace albeit with a constant gap of a few metres between us.

It burns!

A badly paced 5k burns like a mofo…

800m left and I tried kicking like a few weeks ago. Nope – not happening. At 400m to go, my body finally agreed to free up some resources for the beginnings of a kick. With 200m left to go, I closed my eyes and sprinted for the finish.

19:00 was my finish time – my 3rd fastest 5k of all time. I was disappointed I wasn’t more restrained at the beginning; had I have held back by 10 seconds, I would have almost certainly PBd that Christmas morning by a few seconds. Oh well, a valuable lesson was learned in 5k pacing.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

What did you get for Christmas?

As is now customary, I received a few running-related goodies for Christmas.

Nike Pegasus 31

Nike Pegasus 31 – a nice upgrade over the Pegasus 30s

One gift I was very pleased to see was a new pair of Nike Pegasus 31s to replace some ageing Pegasus 30s of mine. Lacing them up, I could immediately feel how plush they were compared to their older brethren.

The Parkrun bible

The Parkrun bible for lovers of 5k

The other present in my stocking was the Parkrun book. An enjoyable read for any Parkrun regular, detailing how the weekly 5k started along with other lesser-known factoids.

10 miles – to Usk and back

The excesses of Christmas were enough to convince me that a fasted 10 mile run was in order. Largely an uneventful run, bar the close-to-freezing temperatures and me in just a t-shirt and shorts; I really wish I had worn gloves!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

After the disappointment of the Christmas Cardiff Parkrun, I fell back on Plan B and that was to try and score a course PB. For over a year, I’ve been wanting to revisit all the venues I’ve visited in the past to get them all under 20 minutes; my Newport course PB stood out as being soft due to terrain but also because I typically reserve PB attempts for the Cardiff event only 8 miles further down the road.

Reaching Tredegar Park, I noticed some runners congregating in a different place than usual but thought nothing more of this. It wasn’t until I was halfway through my warm-up lap and encountered ankle deep mud when I concluded that the organisers possibly had an alternative course planned. Speaking to the run director a few minutes later confirmed this – the winter route utilised only half of the normal circuit, but bulked the distance up by making it 3x laps. He also mentioned that the winter route had the potential to be faster, if I could avoid being boxed in by lapped runners.

I didn’t spot Nigel Foulkes-Nock in the crowds and figured he must have been busy with familial duties or some such. I planted myself firmly at the front of the start line next to a chap with a black Labrador that was going nuts; the runners around the man and beast slowly started edging away, fearing for their ankles… On “3-2-1-Go!” we were off.

My Kiger 2 shoes worked an absolute treat on the trail-come-cross country route. I was able to stay with the lead group for the first 400m or so and then eased into sub-20 pace. The uneven terrain had me working harder than normal, so I knew even-ish pacing would be crucial.

The first corner had us going into the wooded section of the route for the first modification. Running uphill in mud and through trees wasn’t my idea of a faster course! Once out of the woods and on to the flat, I surged a touch to reclaim a few lost seconds.

Going into the second lap, I began to pass some of the runners at the rear of the pack. Back in the woods, I knew which were the best lines to take having run them only minutes prior. At the end of the second lap, congestion from the mid-pack runners became dramatically more noticeable, and required some dodging and weaving to filter through the crowds.

Sub-20 at Newport Parkrun

One more off the sub-20 list

The final lap arrived and I was still right on target. Approaching the small bridge before the woods, I had to surge to make sure I was in the right place to avoid being blocked in by slower runners. My Garmin flaked out and the pace started varying wildly, so I switched up to the stopwatch. I estimated that I had about 1km left to go and about 4 minutes left to make sub-20 happen. I kicked the pace up and started my assault on the stable and flat remaining portion of the course. A sprint finish saw me comfortably cross the line in 19:38 – over 40 seconds faster than the last course PB I set at Newport earlier in the year. Only four more out of the eight different Parkruns I’ve attended now to get down to sub-20 – not fancying my chances of that happening any time soon at Forest of Dean Parkrun!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the last entry for 2014 from Mark Remy’s the Runner’s Rule Book:

Learn to love “race morning buzz”

That’s the quietly electric aura of anticipation that surrounds you the morning of a race, beginning the instant you wake up and lasting till the gun fires at the starting line. It’s a background hum of energy, a tickle almost. Combined with the silliness of early morning prerace ritual, it’s one of the best feelings you’ll ever encounter.

It really is impossible to do “race morning buzz” justice with mere words. Let’s just say that you’ll know it when you feel it. You’ll wish there was a way to bottle it, so you could have a little bit every day. But there’s not. Which is probably for the best.

Instead, savor it while you can. Drink it in.

Then take a deep breath – and race.

This week’s running – 22nd to 28th of September 2014

Somebody call for a half marathon?

Somebody call for a half marathon?

This week was about partial recovery and near-final half marathon preparations.

Rest and recovery

Those more experienced than me recommend an easier week after every three weeks of harder graft. I’ve not really had a light week in almost 5 weeks, so I chose to take it easy on Monday through Wednesday. Last week’s appalling Parkrun performance, whilst partially down to lack of 5k focus, was also likely down to a lack of feeling fresh. Now is not the time for me to be doing more because it’s almost taper time for the big autumn A-race: the Cardiff Half Marathon.

Cardiff Half Marathon

And since we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the Cardiff Half Marathon.

This year, I will be running/racing it with Dave (of the Burton variety). We’re both hoping to go under 90 minutes, with all signs currently pointing to “yes”. The more fascinating question is “by how much?” Both Dave and I have come a long way since the Great Birmingham Run of 2012, where he had never run that sort of distance before and I had yet to dip under 2 hours for 13.1 miles. I remember a number of years ago reading the training plan and experience of a sub-90 minute half marathon runner, thinking that was borderline elite; it’s now funny to think I’m only a matter of days from having a bash at it myself.

We’ve both made it into the white start pen; the fastest and smallest of them all. Those with good memory will recall my farcical mix-up last year when the organisers had turfed me into one of the slowest pens and required I obtain a correctly coloured wristband to be promoted.

All my half marathon training has been geared towards a rough 6:45 per mile pace, which equates to an 88:30 finish. This has been in line with my 5k and 10k PBs, however, I have lost a little top-end speed in recent weeks so I think 6:50 per mile, at least for the first half will prove to be a safer bet. This is also taking into account the potential that I will end up running long – last year saw me run 13.22 miles, so 180ish metres extra. Considering I can cover 400m in 90 seconds at the end of a 5k, I could have reclaimed those 70 seconds last year for a sub-90 minute finish had I have run a cleaner line. Now you can see why I obsess so much about running the shortest, legal distance in a race!

Dave is a completely different kettle of fish right now, re-writing his own history book of what’s possible. He PBd again on Saturday at Cannon Hill Parkrun with 18:47; punching that time into the McMillan Running Calculator returns a potential sub-87 minute half marathon!

Racing weight

Last week at Cannon Hill Parkrun, I bumped into Jort for the first time in months for a brief catch-up. He remarked that I looked trimmer compared to the last time he saw me. As anybody knows, when you see yourself in the mirror every day, it’s hard to see small changes in a short space of time. Had I actually lost weight? I remember a funny segment on the Marathon Talk podcast where Tom Williams was discussing how he knew when he was nearing race season, and it all hinged on how regularly people told him how awful and gaunt he looked.

This week, the scale did not lie because my weight hovered around 9st 3ish for a few days and has finally stabilised at 9st 1.5 – this is the lowest weight I have been at as an adult! I haven’t done anything special diet-wise apart from a small shift to 1 or 2 meat-free meals a week. My training volume has, however, increased. My weekly volume as of late has been incredibly close to my heaviest weeks during marathon season. Compare this to the peak of my 5k and 10k ability during the summer, when I was at my fastest but also not really shifting any weight.

Why all the fuss about weight? Like sports cars, the less weight I’m carrying means the higher my power to weight ratio. This is all assuming that I haven’t lost any muscle mass, and thankfully, I don’t think I have.

2x 2 miles at target half marathon pace

Thursday saw the last time I would run this session in full before the Cardiff Half Marathon. I was expecting a hurt fest and certainly got one in the second rep, but rather oddly, the first rep felt easier than ever (probably down to the recovery days beforehand).

I was pleased as punch at the split times, with only a second’s difference between the laps. Despite the struggle with a mile to go during the second rep, I remained aerobic throughout the entire session and crucially, the pace remained very stable throughout.

I’m looking to run a single 2 mile lap next week as a finishing touch ahead of race day, with 2x 800m reps at 5k pace later in the week to sharpen things up.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

Due to schedule conflicts, I had to miss the Kings Heath Running Club takeover of Cannon Hill Parkrun back at home. So, I popped over to one of my Parkrun homes away from home at Tredegar House, Newport.

Nigel Foulkes-Nock and I had been speaking earlier in the week and he was in the mood for a stab at a new PB, one under 21 minutes. I wanted to run at my target half marathon pace, so the two married up perfectly for me to serve as his personal pacemaker.

We anticipated that we would lose time on a few of the twists, turns and the forested section that we had to run through twice. Nigel also likes to run a constant negative split with each successive split faster than that before it. Marathon Talk recently discussed the importance of transparency between a pacemaker and their chaser as to how the pacing would work; I promised I would never let him drift more than 5m behind and would slow down to let him close the gap, which just helps to keep the task psychologically manageable.

I almost lost Nigel a few times out on the course but managed to bring him back. With just 1km left to go, we were down on target by 18 seconds and I fed this back to him along with some encouragement. I picked the pace up to get us out of the forest ASAP and on to the home straight. Only 600m remained and I continued to feedback time status to Nigel, also urging him to begin kicking.

I asked Lis beforehand to capture the final sprint for the line using the iPhone 6’s new super slow-motion camera and this was the result (great song choice, no?):

Nigel Foulkes-Nock and Andy Yu at Newport Parkrun

I knew Nigel would do it with quite some margin once we passed the 200m point. And quite some margin it was for a 20:40 PB – 22 seconds faster than his former best! He looked rather fresh at the end and I think there was possibly some more in the tank to give. This should pave the way for a stellar half marathon performance from him next week in the Welsh Capital.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

11 miles to Usk and back 

I wanted one last long run before next week’s Cardiff Half Marathon. Granted I won’t get any fitter between now and next Sunday, I can of course lose fitness and I can’t shake the niggling feeling that I’ve not done quite enough distance work this summer.

Conditions were spot on for a long run and the route offered a good balance of long, flat straights and a few testing inclines and descents. Only criticism was the temperature – a touch too warm for this time of year.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

As ever, here’s this week’s entry from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy:

Be cool when you meet an elite

Among most sports, road racing is uniquely egalitarian. You get to run the same clock. You cross the same finish line, albeit minutes or hours later.

This has been noted, and celebrated, many times by many authors.

What hasn’t been explored, in any satisfactory way, is how you should behave when you encounter one of these elite runners. Here’s what is OK, and what is not.

Acceptable behaviour

  • Smiling and or waving at the athlete
  • Telling him or her that you are a “big fan”
  • Congratulating him or her on a recent performance
  • Wishing him or her luck on an upcoming performance
  • Asking for a photo an/or an autograph, if the time and place are appropriate (i.e., not while the athlete is dining or worshiping or sleeping or bathing or racing)

 Unacceptable behaviour

  • Offering the athlete training advice
  • Asking the athlete how much he or she earns
  • Becoming so anxious that you vomit on the athlete
  • Asking him or her to sign any part of your body typically covered by beachwear
  • Kissing
  • Requesting a lock of hair
  • Trying to bum 20 bucks