This week’s running – 27th November to 3rd December 2017

winter_is_here

Wowza! Who turned off the heating???

5k recovery

Whilst I still loathe running in the heat, I now seem to have lost my ability to endure the cold. Most of my runs in the second half of November have seen me wearing tights, which is no bad thing as I need to keep my calves warm to prevent any regression of my Achilles injury anyway.

Running at a gentle recovery pace, having as little exposed skin as possible was certainly welcome!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 x 1km at half marathon pace

Originally in the P&L Faster Road Racing book, this session was down as 6 x 1km; fearing for my weakened Achilles from the cold, I softened the session to just 4 x 1km reps at target half marathon pace. And do you know what? I don’t think it needed softening at all!

The effort felt completely manageable at all times, in spite of running into the wind, and I could have comfortably completed the original default session as depicted in the book. There was actually enough canal towpath to complete one more 1km rep, but I decided against tempting fate. I’ll either return to the default 6 x 1km configuration, or will switch to 4 x 1 mile reps – both sessions will have me running at pace for a similar amount of time, with the former being the easier format of the two with more frequent recoveries.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

AKA the Nike Vomero 12 initial thoughts run! What better than a slow paced plod home from the city centre to test a new pair of shoes?

I’ve been a fan of Nike’s venerable Pegasus shoes for quite a few years, starting with the 28, and 2015’s 32 being my favourite iteration. Praised for being the Jack-of-all-trades running shoe, it really did cover most bases for me, from recovery runs all the way up to slower-paced tempo runs (only just). Sadly, Nike has been on a trajectory for some time to get the Pegasus feeling faster and faster, namely by firming up the feel underfoot from version 33 onwards. Version 34, after some 200 miles, has left me unimpressed; the firmness, especially in the cold, is not particularly comfortable to run in apart from at faster paces.

So, what’s a guy to do? I like the fit of Nike shoes and I get a nice 20% discount courtesy of Lis’ education establishment association, so I’ve tried my hand (foot?) at their cushioned shoe – the Vomero 12.

Initial impressions are positive. It’s a physically chunkier and heavier shoe than the Pegasus, but the cushioning underfoot is plush with a touch of responsiveness still present. These days, I’m very firmly a runner with specific objectives for each run of the week. Recovery run? I won’t be running fast, so cushioning is needed and welcome. Threshold run? I’ll stick a pair of tempo or race shoes on. The Pegasus’ Jack-of-all-trades approach no longer gels with my training workflow. Rumour has it that version 35 will feature Nike’s miracle ZoomX foam, borrowed from the Vaporfly 4% shoes; I may be persuaded to return to the Pegasus if so, but otherwise it’s now the end of what has been a beautiful partnership.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Brrrrr! The first 10-15 minutes were bracing, to say the least!

Running from the office for home in Kings Heath almost always means I’m running into the wind, which is incredibly challenging when it’s bitingly cold. In a bid to stay warm, and somewhat counter intuitively, I ran faster than I normally would to generate more heat; as I ran faster into the wind, the wind-chill had a greater impact and took increasingly more body heat away from me! You can see the dilemma I faced…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

All the work at lactate threshold pace seems to be paying off, as I felt particularly energetic going into this run. Conditions weren’t quite as dry or positive as a week prior, but sometimes you can only play with the hand you’re dealt. A pleasant catch-up jog with new father, Barry Fallon, extended my warm-up to become longer than the main parkrun event itself…

I went off in a much more controlled manner to almost constantly be gaining and overtaking people, almost through to the very end. Out of ten, I’d have said I spent most of the run sitting at around eight, thanks to almost always having people around me.

Annoyingly, I’d left just a little too much work to do at the end, finishing exactly on 19:00, though I was able to at least push somebody else on to a new PB and their first ever sub-19 performance.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – beyond The Vale and back

This was part 2 of my Nike Vomero 12 trial, taking me on my recovery loop around Kings Heath, and Billsley, and about 0.5 miles beyond The Vale and back. 14 miles is actually the furthest I’ve run since the Yorkshire Marathon in one sitting.

Things started off well enough, but started to go south after halfway. I found the Vomero 12 quite heavy, where they’re a good 20-30g heavier per shoe compared to the Pegasus 34. I may not have noticed the weight difference if I was fresh, but because I’d been on my feet almost all of Saturday night, the additional mass was obvious.

Further clouding my initial impressions of the Vomero 12 was the arch of my left foot cramping up after 9 miles. To be fair, my foot may have cramped up anyway in spite of whichever pair of shoes I wore that morning. What’s certain is I need to spend more time with the Vomero 12; Nike is currently offering a very generous 60-day money back guarantee with no questions asked, so I’ll make a decision to keep or return them in once I hit 50 miles or so.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 14th to 20th of August 2017

illness

Week 15 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Suppose feeling bleh had to happen eventually…

Searching for for 4% improvement

nike_vaporfly_4_percent

Some of you may remember that I waxed lyrical after trying on the Nike Vaporfly 4% for just a minute or so a number of weeks ago. Well, the itch needed scratching and I was fortunate enough to land a pair of them whilst taking advantage of my Vitality 50% discount for a very hefty saving. If only the tale was as simple as that and ended there…

On the day I was due to receive them, I received an email to alert me of my order being cancelled due to mis-forecasted stock levels! Suddenly, my want of the coveted Breaking2 shoes for my own Breaking3 project became a need. After a lot of palaver with Sweatshop and Vitality, I was able to track down a pair (0.5 size smaller, but , luckily, a better fit) and reactivate my discount, so all’s good with the world again. Marginal gains – making sure things I can control are maneuvered in my favour!

5 mile run-commute

There were a helluva lot of people out running on Monday evening. It must be peak training season ahead of autumn races!

This was another test of the prior week’s heat training in Greece and I appeared to pass – even running with a bag on my back, I was considerably less sweaty than on similar run-commutes.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 5 at marathon pace

I felt ropey all day, but gave myself a stern inwards talking to that the planned 11 miles with 7 at marathon pace were needed. I had everything prepared – the route, nutrition before and during, and the right gear. Setting foot on the canal towpath, the wind was howling in the wrong direction towards me and I knew I’d be exerting more effort than necessary to achieve marathon pace, or so I thought!

The pace felt quite manageable, even into the wind. My heart rate also corresponded well to the effort in spite of the conditions and mild feelings of carrying some sort of low level bug. Having a reasonably fast run-commuter to chase down and Richard Keep of Bournville Harriers on his bike to cheer me on also helped to take the edge off things. Ultimately, I opted to call it quits at 5 miles of pace work, wishing to prioritise the planned 22 mile long run for later in the week.

Jogging past the Red Lion pub in Kings Heath, a large group were huddled and drinking underneath a beer garden umbrella. One lady, upon seeing me running in the rain, shouted out, “Look at him! I’m having this for him!” I encounter a lot of idiots when I run, so it’s always a pleasant surprise when I don’t.

Here’s the Strava data for the warm-up, 5 miles at pace, and warm-down.

Cannon Hill parkrun

andy_yu_adam_gemili

Darryll, Adam, Matt, and me

Cannon Hill has had a few special guests over the years, with Adam Gemili being the latest, albeit as just a volunteer ahead of the following day’s Birmingham Grand Prix at the Alexander Stadium. Did we give him the bad juju? He false started and had never false started before meeting us lot…

I still didn’t feel right come Saturday morning, concluding that I’d come down with something similar to what afflicted me before and during last year’s Kenilworth Half Marathon, although some two weeks earlier this time around.

Starting off with Darryll Thomas, we stuck together for the first 2km before I ushered him on to creep away. I found myself unable to go much faster, but did become an impromptu pacer to help get Harry Fowler across the line with a cira-10 second PB.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

19 miles – aborted 22 miles

Oh, dear… I’ve never had to abandon a long run and cut it short in quite such a dramatic fashion before!

The plan was to cover the first of two 22 mile runs before race day. Whilst I’d not felt right all week, I did at least wake feeling more like myself and figured I’d still be good to go, though keeping the pace scaled back and conservative in the name of self-preservation.

Route-wise, I headed out along the canal towpath to my once-upon-a-time stomping ground of Edgbaston Reservoir. Not having set foot on the 1.5 mile loop for a year or so, I was caught off-guard by how low the water level had become. I did spot a family attempting to pet a pair of very large swans, clearly never having watched Hot Fuzz…

The wheels began coming off sometime around 14 miles. Up until then, the effort aligned reasonably well against the more conservative 8:30 per mile pace… From then onwards, I struggled to be able to call upon more from myself, where it felt like my heart rate simply wasn’t prepared to go beyond 80% of maximum.

I continued plugging away with the feelings of wanting it all to end growing stronger with each step. Somewhere around 17 miles, I picked up a debilitating stitch that I couldn’t shake, which of course also contributed to rising effort levels.

I reached 19 miles and a sudden shooting pain along my lower ribcage convinced me the game was up and it was time to stop. I was put out of my misery at long last, but I had a new problem – the 2 to 3 mile walk home from Bournville train station on Mary Vale Road…

Not being too despondent, I made the most of a shitty hand of cards that I’d been dealt. Effort-wise and time on my feet, the 19 miles won’t be too incomparable from a faster-paced 20 or 21 mile run. I have opted to cancel next week’s Severn Bridge Half Marathon, which I would have covered at marathon pace, in favour of another 20 or 21 mile run – hopefully illness free. I do have the Wolverhampton Half Marathon in early September, and the Robin Hood Half Marathon a fortnight after that for plenty more marathon pace work ahead of race day, but I can ill-afford any more poor 20+ mile runs.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Cause or effect? It’d been a particularly stressful week, so I do wonder whether I could have sidestepped the low level bug (likely a nasal infection) if my cortisol levels were lower? Or was I always destined to come down with something, given last year’s similar timeframe?

This week’s running – 23rd to 29th of December

Welcome to this Christmas week edition of the blog. Read on to find out what I got up to over the Christmas break, running-wise. This update was published from a car on the M5 motorway – how’s that for road warrior skills? I’ll follow this entry up with an end of 2013 blog post, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the next day or so.

Christmas Day Brueton Parkrun

Andy, Sean and Mike at Brueton Parkrun

The Three Wise Men at Brueton Parkrun – photo by Sean Whan

It took a lot of explaining to friends and family that I’d be attending Parkrun on Christmas Day. Some were in awe of my dedication. Others were in disbelief. And a few thought it would just be me running around a park on my own…

Cannon Hill opted not to stage a Christmas Day run so the nearest runs to me were either Brueton Parkrun in Solihull or Walsall Arboretum Parkrun. Since I was staying over at my folks’ place in Kings Heath, Brueton made the most sense and Mike from Kings Heath Running Club tagged along.

Leaving at 08:20, this turned out to be plenty of time to get to Solihull on Christmas Day, taking no more than 15 minutes or so. Arriving at the park, we bumped into a fair few of the Cannon Hill Parkrun contingent that had similar thoughts to Mike and me:

  • Suz West
  • Khalid Malik
  • Helen Bloomer
  • Joseph Stone
  • Gillan Stone
  • David Sansom
  • Sean Whan

Unsurprisingly, all of us are in either the 50 or 100 club or are Parkrun management; well and truly addicted.

The organisers took the decision to make a few small detours to the course due to icy patches. This turned what was otherwise a run entirely on tarmac into one that became slightly cross country-esque if the state of my shoes were anything to go by!

A few of us agreed to head out at 7 minute mile pace, so nothing too strenuous. Mike, Sean and I stuck with it for the first mile or so before I started to loosen up and wanted to go a bit faster. Blair from Piston Heads noticed me and said hello – we Parkrunners really do get about! I spent much of the remaining two miles running alone with each split getting progressively faster even with the muddy grass sections. At one stage, I thought I was possibly on for a sub-20 finish so I really picked up the pace with a few hundred metres to go. Sadly, my estimations were wildly off and I finished officially with a time of 20:39.

It was great to bring in Christmas with a Parkrun. Here’s the Garmin data.

Running gifts from Santa

So what running pressies did we all receive?

Lis gave me a pair of Nike Kiger trail shoes and my family got me a Withings WS-50 scale.

kiger

The Nike Kiger trail shoe

Whilst in New York, I did actually look at the Kiger trail shoes but for one reason or another, I chose not to get them. Ever since the bad winter we experienced last year, I wanted to try and pro-actively do something to minimise any disruption to my own training which I simply can’t afford to lose in the lead up to my marathon. I have yet to take the Kigers out on a test run (wasted opportunity at Brueton Parkrun!) but will report more on my findings once I do. These babies should be perfect for the muddy and slippery conditions of the canals and I’ve already decided to give these a blast at Forest of Dean Parkrun in the New Year sometime.

Withings WS-50

The Withings WS-50 smart body analyser

The Withings WS-50 scale is the very same one that I almost purchased in New York. As an upgrade to Withings’ original model, the WS-30, it adds body fat, heart rate and air quality analysis to the mix along with the online data tracking. We all have a habit of embellishing our weight loss improvements or downplaying any lack of improvement; with the WS-50, there’s no hiding from the cold hard truth when the data is logged automatically for you thanks to it producing a trend line for you to rule out any anomalies.

Cardiff Parkrun

Andy Yu at Cardiff Parkrun

Welsh Pride at Cardiff Parkrun – photo by Paul Stillman

It’d been absolutely ages since I last ran at Cardiff Parkrun where I scored a rewarding 19:23 PB on the last visit. I regret not being able to test myself towards the end of September when I was at my 5k peak and I’m confident I could have hit 19:10 or better.

I had introduced Lis’ cousin, Morgan, to Parkrun a few months ago and he’s really taken a shine to the event, so much so that he and his wife, Kim, decided to come along with me for a Saturday morning 5k.

The weather for the day started out poor with dark clouds, wind and rain battering the terrain. Thankfully, this had largely cleared up by the time we arrived and just in a nick a time for my warm-up. I bumped into Daniel Luffman out on the course who I hadn’t seen since the summer; his 5k PB is coming along nicely with a 19:45 to his name and only narrowly missing out on beating this several times in recent weeks.

I had received a lovely Welsh flag running vest from Yvonne and Philip for Christmas and I was wearing it proudly in Cardiff. Speaking to Daniel, we joked that it may give me the boost I’m after. As ever, we started somewhere in the second row to gain an early positioning advantage.

The opening mile felt superb for me with everything feeling loose and relaxed. I surprised myself when my Garmin beeped to tell me I’d just completed the first mile in 6 minutes flat; my fastest ever recorded mile. To give you some context, pacing calculators estimate that based on my 5k PB of 19:18, I am theoretically capable of a 5:34 mile best. Personally, I think I could go below 5:30 because I seem to have a speed bias with my body composition where the further I go, the slower I seem to become even if it’s only marginal.

I tried to keep a female Serpentine club runner about 5 – 10m ahead of me at all times but this was slipping away from me during mile 2. The fast opening mile was taking its toll on me with a shocking 6:36 second mile split. A few folks began to overtake me and despite my best efforts to hang on to them as they passed by, I simply didn’t have another gear to shift into.

The third mile was tough as it always is. There were very few people to run with given the time of the year but oddly, the distance markers actually proved helpful as indicators to start ramping up the pace for the approach to the finish line. At 200m to go, a 50 Club member and I began to duke it out, pushing each other on. He managed to slip away with 100m left to go, clearly fresher than I was having paced his run better than I had. I shook his hand afterwards and congratulated him on a good race close. Daniel Luffman wasn’t far behind in pursuit and was only a few seconds off a PB again.

Morgan ran well, earning himself a new course PB at Cardiff but still way off from his 20:00 PB set at Hackney Marshes. Kim had committed the cardinal Parkrun sin of forgetting her barcode so we have no idea what time she finished with or what position for that matter.

Here’s my Garmin data for Cardiff Parkrun.

7 miles of Llanhennock Hills

Praise the lord for an easy running week in my schedule!

I had planned to run around the Llanhennock Hills for 7 miles to make up this week’s long run. Morgan wanted to come along so we ventured out into the wilderness.

I donned a long sleeve Nike shirt with a zipped neckline that I had received from Pete and Jo for Christmas. It was exactly what I needed; it’s light enough with coverage and the zip can help with ventilation if things start to heat up.

Neither Morgan or I had estimated how icy and treacherous the roads were. Some of the downhill portions of the route had us sliding downwards and the inclines proved challenging with gravity working against you. My only advice to Morgan was to keep his stride short to better react to any slips. Thankfully, neither of us fell and lived to run another day.

Have a look at the Garmin data here.

And as always, here’s this week’s entry from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy:

Keep unsolicited advice to yourself

If you’re the type of person who enjoys giving others advice, whether they ask for it or not, running offers a world of opportunity.

Before races, during races, after races; on training runs; at the track; at the gym; even in online forums and blogs, you’ll encounter runners who choose to do things differently than you do them. You will want to show each of these people the light. Resist that urge.

Unsolicited advice rarely gets a warm reception no matter how tactfully it’s offered, and you must admit the possibility – as crazy as it may sound – that you do not in fact, have all the answers. Even if you do have all the answers, the advisee may not be in the mood to hear them.

So keep your opinions to yourself unless someone asks for them.

If that person at the gym really is “doing it wrong,” he will figure it out soon enough. And if he doesn’t, maybe he wasn’t so wrong in the first place.

Exception: You see a runner putting himself or others in imminent danger; see “Do not tempt fate” from before.

*By purchasing this book, you implicitly sought my advice. So I’m in the clear. Ha!

This week’s running in New York City – 28th of October to 2nd of November

New York skyline from Central Park

Manhattan at dusk – Andy Yu

Welcome to this very special edition of this week’s running. For those that didn’t know, Lis and I spent the best part of a week on holiday in New York where I sampled the local running trails, shops and races.

Warning, this entry is incredibly long (I’m sorry!) so I hope you’ve got a coffee and a snack to hand.

The format of this entry will cover all the gubbins I encountered as a runner and will hopefully be of benefit to any runners that find themselves in New York.

Where photos are my own or Lis’, they are duly credited.

Central Park and the Outer Drive

A map of Central Park for runners

Cental Park is pretty damn big…

We’ve all seen Central Park in the movies but nothing quite prepares you for the sheer size and scale of the city’s largest piece of green space. Spanning from 5th Avenue to 8th Avenue and 59th Street to 110th Street, it covers over 840 acres making it perfect for runners looking to cover a few miles and more.

My first morning in New York, I decided to tackle the popular 6 mile outer drive loop. Our hotel (the Excelsior) was located conveniently in the Upper West Side on 81st Street and 8th Avenue, which is only a 2-minute walk to one of the many entrances to Central Park.

Upon entering the park at 7:30am, I saw runners everywhere. There were plodders, joggers, speedsters, the young, the old and everything in between. Running is huge in New York and seemed to be taken very seriously. It was also NYC Marathon week, so there was a large influx of visiting runners from out of town, taking in the wonders of Central Park.

I opted to run the clockwise loop of the outer drive after reccying a small anti-clockwise portion of it the previous evening with Lis. In total, the outer drive covers over 6 miles and consists of two lanes for cars (the park is car-free at certain times of the day and at weekends), one bicycle lane and one lane for pedestrians with markings to indicate traffic direction. Most runners were running against me, with few going in my direction or overtaking.

I’d set my Garmin to a leisurely 8:30 minute mile pace, not wanting to thrash myself before an entire week’s worth of sightseeing. The weather was hard to gauge properly; I wore my technical fit Nike t-shirt and shorts but there was definitely a nip in the air so I hoped I’d warm-up soon enough. Everybody else around me looked like they were dressed for an Arctic expedition with hats, gloves and running tights all on display. This was all despite brilliantly blue skies and the sun making an appearance.

Central Park is surprisingly undulating with many twists and turns on the outer drive and many of the smaller internal paths. The design is actually quite ingenious because I soon forgot I was running in a huge urban park, with only occasional glimpses of the city’s skyscrapers peaking out from behind the surrounding trees to remind me I was in the Big Apple.

The outer drive took me past such sights in the park like Cleopatra’s Needle, the backside of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim.

Towards the end of my run, the outer drive took me through the 25 and 26-mile markers for the NYC Marathon coming up on the Sunday. There were banners all over the park to remind everybody that the largest marathon in the world was making a long awaited homecoming after the race was cancelled in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy.

I wrapped up my run after dipping under the NYC Marathon finish line. Stadium style seating had been set up along with various tents and gazebos for the race.

I absolutely adored my outer drive tour of Central Park. New Yorkers should count themselves lucky that they have such a great locale for running; I’m positively green with envy that I’ll have to make do with my northern Birmingham canal route for marathon training.

Take a look at my Garmin data for the run here.

The Central Park Reservoir

 Central Park Reservoir is popular with runners

The reservoir is actually only a small part of Central Park!

The next day, I opted to cover a different part of Central Park. During my 6-mile outer drive route, I’d noticed the reservoir which has also been featured in countless movies. The reservoir (or to give it its full name, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir) has a completely flat path surrounding it, offering a softer dirt track terrain.

Remember what I said about the odd weather in New York? After the chill in the air of the previous day, I wore my London Marathon jacket only to end up roasting early on. My advice for what to wear whilst running in New York would be to at least wear t-shirts and shorts outside unless temperatures are in single digits.

I decided to cover an anti-clockwise loop of the reservoir, though I was entirely unaware of the distance. I made a mental note of my surroundings at the start of the loop and hoped that I’d be able to recall everything at the end…

There were hundreds of runners in Central Park each day

Runners actually outnumbered everybody else in the park at certain times of the day!

The reservoir offered stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, particularly from the north facing the south. It was another popular location for runners, though everybody seemed to be doing their own thing rather than following any strict traffic direction rules.

Every few hundred metres or so, there were stone buildings with water fountains making the park extremely runner friendly, especially for those training for longer distances and not wishing to carry multiple bottles of water.

I thought I returned to my point of entry and so I left the reservoir. Central Park is not particularly well sign posted, which I found strange for such a large park; I went with my gut and followed a path to what I thought was 8th Avenue only for it to be 5th Avenue! Looking back at my Garmin data, I’d actually overshot my entry point by a few hundred metres and had wandered over to the eastern side of Central Park…

Unsure of what to do, I chose to continue up 5th Avenue and then make a left past the Metropolitan Museum of Art on to one of the traffic tunnels underneath Central Park which would take me on to 8th Avenue eventually. This detour actually added almost an extra 1.5 miles to what was only meant to be a short run that morning!

Take a look at my comical route here via Garmin Connect.

The Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge - ideal sight to run over

Brooklyn Bridge is popular with runners and a part of the NYC Marathon route

A fellow runner from a forum I belong to had recommended an out and back run over the Brooklyn Bridge if I had time. Strangely, none of the open-top bus tours that Lis and I went on actually went over the Brooklyn Bridge, so we both felt it necessary to cover the sight by foot.

We caught the Subway to China Town after a botched line change attempt at an earlier station. From here, we walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge with a very scary visit to a public toilet for me; I think I’d have rather peed against a wall and risked paying the fine rather than visit that toilet again!

Brooklyn Bridge wooden path

Brooklyn Bridge in the morning – Lis Morgan

There’s a wooden boardwalk path that goes over the Brooklyn Bridge for both cyclists and pedestrians. Being one of my shorter runs in New York (the bridge is only a little over a mile in length), I opted to cover the Brooklyn Bridge at a faster pace.

There were already plenty of runners and cyclists out and about, taking in the great views of the city. Both Lis and I noticed one lady with a very unusual running gait where her legs swung outwards and then returned in front of her before the next movement.

The bridge began with a steady incline and levelled off with a short, flat section in the middle only to then become a descent into Brooklyn. I did my turnaround and ran back towards Manhattan, passing by all the traffic that had just literally seen me running into Brooklyn.

Andy Yu running across Brooklyn Bridge

Andy Yu running over Brooklyn Bridge – Lis Morgan

I really enjoyed running over the Brooklyn Bridge; it offered a unique experience that I’ve yet to have anywhere here in the UK and am unlikely to unless I make it back out to San Francisco and run over the longer Golden Gate Bridge.

Take a look at my Brooklyn Bridge run data here.

Running Shops in New York

Running is big business in New York with sports shops everywhere.

Super Runners Shop in New York

Super Runners Shop near, Times Square – Andy Yu

The Super Runner’s Shop can be found just outside of Times Square. It reminded me a lot of Sweat Shop and Runners’ Need over here in the UK, having no particular brand bias.

Depending on the brand and what you buy, the savings can be huge or miniscule. Nike is my brand of choice and despite being an American company, some of the items were ludicrously priced such as their Race Day shorts which can be had here for between £20 and £25; over there, the RRP was $52 and with 9% sales tax and after $-£ conversion came to over £35! Shoes were much better priced where I saved approximately £20 after conversion.

Nike Town New York

Nike Town, perfect for a Nike whore like me

Nike Town has a flagship store just off 5th Avenue, near Apple’s flagship store. Boasting several floors of merchandise, they had two entire levels dedicated to running. The ground floor is their seasonal display area, with everything geared towards the NYC Marathon coming up. They even had some Nike branded NYC Marathon stuff despite them not being the official kit supplier (more on this later in the NYC Marathon Expo section).

I bought myself a new pair of Nike Flyknit Racers given the discount. I was also tempted by a pair of Nike Wildhorse trail shoes, anticipating another bad winter here in the UK but ultimately chose not to, fearful that I’d have no room in my suitcase to bring them back. The guy that served me tried to peddle one of their Nike NYC Marathon vests; it was even the right shade of yellow but I told him I only buy memorabilia for races I’ve actually participated in and also only wear memorabilia after I’ve run in the race. Who knows what kind of bad karma you’re jinxing yourself with if you wear the stuff before the race?

Nike were also debuting their Flash Pack series of running products, all designed to light up like Christmas trees when hit by light, particularly from car headlights. The Total Flash Jacket (a jacket made entirely of reflective material) was notably absent so when I quizzed a staff member about it, she went off to find out where they were only to tell me that their new running specific store elsewhere in the city had launched them that day! Cue Lis and I making a beeline to 3rd Avenue…

Nike running store on 3rd Avenue

Nike’s running store on 3rd Avenue – Andy Yu

The Nike Running Store on 3rd Avenue had just opened that day. I’m unsure whether this was a marketing ploy to capture all the captive NYC Marathon runners in the city or just coincidence; if it was a marketing ploy, they hadn’t advertised it well!

The place reminded me of the Nike Running Store in Covent Garden, stocking mainly run related merchandise and the occasional piece of casual wear.

nike_vintage_shoes

Vintage Nike shoes, anyone? – Andy Yu

We were greeted by Chad, a really camp but really friendly chap that was in love with all things British. We spent ages talking to him; he was a huge fan of classic British sitcoms and cheesy British pop groups from the 90s and early 00s. Chad was one of the nicest and most genuine folks Lis and I had met on our trip where most New Yorkers seemed cold and self-obsessed.

They did indeed have the Total Flash Jacket in stock but for a whopping $500 RRP. After tax and conversion, it came to approximately £335, marginally cheaper than what it will be available in the UK for. I love Nike and my running but even this was too rich for my blood and I had to put it back on the shelf. I did however opt for a pair of Nike arm warmers – perfect for those cold Parkrun mornings where a vest is too little but a t-shirt is too much.

The NYC Marathon Expo

 New York City Marathon Expo

The NYC Marathon Expo – Andy Yu

Lis and I had entered the NYRR Race to the Finish Line 5k and had to collect our bibs from the NYC Marathon Expo. Held at the Jacob Javitts Convention Centre, it’s a damn sight easier to get to than the ExCeL for the London Marathon!

After security and a thorough bag search (expect this everywhere in New York), we headed into the expo. My bib was yellow (yay!) and had placed me amongst the 6 minute pace group whereas Lis’ bib was brown and had her in the 10 minute pace group. We also received long sleeve tech shirts as part of our entry fee; not bad for $25 or £15; US citizens had to pay $50 for the same 5k race!

Andy Yu's Dash to the Finish Line bib

Dash to the Finish Line 5k bib – Andy Yu

The NYC Marathon Expo was enormous compared to the London Marathon Expo. London had a lot of empty space devoted to the main stage whereas in New York, almost every nook and cranny of the hall had something going on in it.

Asics was the main sponsor and kit supplier for the marathon and had pride of place as you first entered. They had everything a runner would need for the race, all branded with the ING New York City Marathon logo. They also had some decent prices for shoes like many race expos and were flying off the shelves like hotcakes.

All of the other major (and minor) running wear manufacturers were also present except for Nike; whether they weren’t invited or chose not to go (I’m almost certain they’ve attended in the past from what I can see online) is up the air. Anyway, all of the manufacturers had their own line of limited edition NYC Marathon merchandise despite not being the official kit supplier. New Balance had a generic New York inspired running t-shirt I was tempted by since I had run in New York, just not in the marathon; I ultimately declined since it went against my own running merchandise principles!

Garmin had debuted their Forerunner 220 and 620 GPS watches at the expo and it was nice to finally see them in the flesh after reading much about them courtesy of DC Rainmaker’s site (check his site out if you’re planning to buy a GPS watch, past, present or new). The watch faces are huge compared to their older offerings and present their 3rd phase in what is now a very crowded and competitive arena where Garmin was once the only player. The prices were decent too after conversion with the FR 220 coming in at £190ish and the FR 620 at £290ish.

Many local running clubs were also present, hoping to hook in new members.

Various Disney running medals

Premium running bling from Disney – Andy Yu

Races of different sizes and calibre were also in attendance, including small local events all the way to large-scale races such as the Berlin and Dublin Marathon. Also present was runDisney, the team behind such events like the Walt Disney World Marathon. I love running and Disney and I would love to attend just one of the events in the future, so I spent some serious time admiring the different race medals they had on display. Admission prices for their events aren’t cheap, so it’s nice to see they don’t skimp on the quality (or size) of their medals. They even had the highly coveted Goofy and Dopey medals on display; to receive the Goofy medal, you have to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon and the Walt Disney World Marathon one day after another (!) and to receive the Dopey medal, you have to run the Walt Disney World 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon consecutively over 4 days (!!!). I reckon I could do the 5k, 10k and Half Marathon without much difficulty but to do all four, even at a casual pace would be too much for me I think.

The Runner's Rule Book by Mark Remy

Ever wondered about the Dos and Don’ts of running? – Andy Yu

I also spent a lot of time at the Runners’ World stand, where I bought the comical yet factual Runner’s Rule Book. The Runners’ World magazine features various entries from the book from time to time and I too will look to end my blog posts with an entry from the book (fully credited to the author, of course). I also bought a US copy of the Runners’ World magazine, which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading (unlike the UK version that is heavily beginner focussed). The US copy feels like a lighter version of Running Times – my number one running magazine which can be had on import from WHSmiths for a shade under £4 here in the UK.

Whilst sat down for a break at the expo, Lis and I got talking to a New York native that was due to run the marathon on Sunday. Aptly named Sandie (she finished in 7 hours and 49 minutes), she had the misfortune of being ready to run last year but had to defer her place until this year and pay again to enter the race. I really felt for her, where she embarked on the New York Road Runners’ (the club that organise the marathon) 9 races qualification criteria to get a place for the NYC Marathon. I think I’d be inconsolable if the same thing had happened to me and even though I think I’d most likely enter a last minute marathon elsewhere, knowing that I’d have to wait an entire year and pay to race again would be an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. Sandie was another of the few lovely New Yorkers we encountered on our trip and we wished her all the best for her race.

NYC Marathon launch ceremony in Central Park

Everything’s bigger in NYC, including marathon launch ceremonies – Andy Yu

Later that night, we wandered through Central Park and caught the fireworks that were part of the official NYC Marathon opening ceremony. Everything’s bigger and brasher in the USA after all and possibly goes someway to explain the expensive race entry fee!

The NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5k

On race morning, Lis wasn’t feeling so good so I headed out to the 5k start line alone. She agreed to take a leisurely walk to the finish area to later meet back at the hotel.

Grand Central Station in New York

Grand Central during rush hour – Andy Yu

I took the Subway to Grand Central Station and made the rest of the journey on foot, treating it as a warm-up. Even in the early hours of the morning, it proved difficult to run on the  New York streets (take a look at my warm-up data for an idea) with stop start lights and traffic to contend with.

NYRR Dash to the Finish Line course

One of the few races in New York to go through Mid Town

The start line for the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5k was located next to the United Nations building and the course was one of the few races to take runners through Mid Town New York and would also utilise the final mile of the NYC Marathon route in Central Park.

There were thousands of runners all over the place. I had originally estimated only 3,000 or so participants but after checking the results, 8178 runners actually crossed the finish line – that’s more than some half marathons I’ve completed in the past!

I wasn’t feeling top of the pops for the race. I was tired from all the sightseeing and I hadn’t been sleeping well due to not adjusting to the time difference. I also felt sluggish from all the food I’d been eating and had also had a few alcoholic bevvies whilst in New York.

I decided to do a few quick strides to wake my heavy legs up and to also pass the time. I spotted elite Olympian Evan Jager during my warm-up along with a Brit from Chester Triathlon Club. Runners from all over the world were well represented, particularly France and Germany.

The atmosphere for what was only a simple 5k was electric. They had a bubbly compere that virtually spoke without taking a single breath to host the morning’s activities.

The next paragraph is me ranting, so I apologise beforehand but it’s a topic that really pisses me off with racing…

They herded us into the start pens and it was here that I started to panic. Looking around me, there seemed to be an awful lot of runners that didn’t look fast. Now whilst I appreciate that you can’t judge a book by its cover, I also know the pain and effort its required for me to become a sub-20 5k runner and judging by my most recent finish times, I don’t think I qualify anymore. I was in the yellow pen, the third one back from the start line and one of the three smallest pens but I was surrounded by runners in hoodies, runners draped in their country’s flag etc. It was 20 degrees Celsius that morning but I even saw a rather chubby woman in my start pen wearing a running jacket, tights, a hat and gloves; I don’t want to offend anybody but there was no chance in hell she was going to be anywhere near 20 minutes! I think what many runners had neglected to factor in when they registered for the race was that they would also be running the NYC Marathon the next day so would be taking it easy – what they should have done was register with their target time rather than entering their 5k PB time! Adding insult to injury, the compere and her mic began chatting to a 9 year old kid in one of the start pens before me…

As is tradition at a lot of US sporting events, somebody sang the national anthem so I stood silently and soaked it all in. A group of rather loud French runners in front of me were completely oblivious to what was going on around them so I shot them a dirty look and asked them to be quiet; they obliged for maybe 30 seconds before carrying on with their own personal conversations.

IMG_2255

Two of the elite women – Lis Morgan

The race started off with the elite women including Shelane Flannigan, followed minutes later by the elite men and the masses. The compere began to shout out to different nations she could recognise; just before I crossed the start line, I shouted out “England” to her and she cheered this out into her mic which received a small roar from my fellow Brits in the crowd behind me.

I started my Garmin as crossed the line, with a target time of 19:45 in tow. Within the first 100m, there were people walking! I had to continue to dodge and weave for the first 800m or so, occasionally running on the pavement to find a clearing for myself.

Stepping on to 6th Avenue, I finally managed to settle into my rhythm at 6:20 mile pace, just a little faster than target pace. I latched on to two other faster guys and stayed with them for the next mile before I lost them on around 50th Street. I recognised a Canadian runner from the same pen as me, dressed entirely in brilliant blue ahead so I began to reel her in. I managed to catch up to her upon entering Central Park.

Central Park proved to be my undoing, where my pace nose dived into 6:33 per mile so I knew sub-20 was off the cards unless I could somehow pick up the pace. The undulations were too much for my lactic acid filled legs and I began to do my choo-choo train impression again. Everybody else around me was also slowing down so I ran out of runners to tag on to despite a decently crowded field unlike at Parkrun.

Andy Yu running in the Dash to the Finish Line 5k

Wish I could say I’m blurry because I was running really fast… – Lis Morgan

The last few hundred metres of the NYC Marathon are steadily uphill which meant the same for this 5k race. The incline, whilst not dramatic in isolation, was steeper than that at Cannon Hill so my finishing kick was next to useless. I spotted Lis in the crowd and waved before giving it one last shot to finish with at least a half decent time.

I crossed the line and was panting heavily after my fastest effort in weeks. My finish time? A miserly 20:13. Despite this, I managed to finish in the top 2.2% (181 out of 8178), my best ever percentage. Of course, the finish position is skewed because many of the runners would have been taking it easy ahead of the next day’s marathon. My runBritain handicap for this race is also skewed, giving the event a 2.0 difficulty rating and giving me a -0.1 result for my 11th best ever handicap performance.

The goodie bag was basic, with just a bottle of water, an apple and a packet of salted mini pretzels in exchange for the effort. After being herded down the finish funnel, I was now ages away from where Lis was in Central Park so I headed straight back to the hotel, warming down along the way.

Conclusions about running in New York

New York is a fantastic city, runner or not, but it offers that something extra if you enjoy pounding the pavement. If you’re going to be visiting the Big Apple, do yourself a favour and make sure you pack your running shoes.

As a runner, there are plenty of places to explore on foot and it gives you an excuse to over indulge since you’re still burning off the calories.

There are also loads of races on each weekend and plenty of local running clubs to tap into if you like to try running with others that actually know where they’re going.

Thank you for reading and as promised I’m going to close with one of entries from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy:

Be Patient

Impatience is the runner’s single biggest bugbear. This is true for just about every aspect of running. Whether you’re talking about training (trying to do too much too soon), racing (going out too fast), shoes (buying the first pair you see), or even nutrition (opting for a Pop-Tart over a bowl of steel-cut oats), expediency almost always leads to the poorer choice. So take a deep breath. Consider your options. Make smart choices.

Patience pays off.

This week’s running – 19th to 25th of August

Andy Yu's 19:23 Cardiff Parkrun PB

Dave reckons there’s a close resemblance between me and this

There was a lot less running this week and I’m conscious there’s only a few short weeks now until the Cardiff Half. Need to buck up my ways!

Tuesday kicked-off with an interval session in Cannon Hill Park. Mike was still away on holiday so this was another solo run to hell and back. The park was unusually busy due to a funfair around the part where I normally do my speedwork so I opted to cover laps of the main path instead. The evening was meant to be 4 x 800m reps at 3:55/km with 1:30 recoveries but what I actually did was 5 x reps! I had lost count due to covering laps and my Garmin confused me by showing 4/5 – had I run 4 reps already or was I about to do my 4th rep? Anyway, I wasn’t completely destroyed after doing 5 reps and I was glad I had it in me to complete the set. My splits were slightly off due to some laps featuring inclines and some featuring descents. The Garmin data can be found here.

Thursday’s prescribed 6 mile run almost didn’t happen. I returned home, with my gear laid out and ready to run but I discovered I had to quickly return something for a refund before the shop closed. By the time I had walked into Brum city centre and back, it was almost 8pm and I still hadn’t eaten since 2pm, bar some sweets. I decided to zip the man-suit up (hands up if you get the Marathon Talk reference) and went out anyway. It was a lot cooler than before with fewer people out and about making for an easier environment. I decided to run the middle miles at around 7:30 threshold pace to build myself back up to half marathon fitness. I had intended to run mile 5 and 6 as a cool-down at 8:00 pace, but the legs simply kept going through mile 5 so I had to dramatically slow mile 6 down. I was really pleased I did the run, throwing some higher quality pace into the mix. Here’s the Garmin data.

Andy Yu's 19:23 PB at Cardiff Parkrun

New 19:23 PB earned!

I sadly had to miss Cannon Hill Parkrun’s 3rd anniversary. I missed their 2nd anniversary last year because it always happens to fall on the bank holiday weekend when I’m away! Anyway, I was primed and ready to race at Cardiff Parkrun after I had purposely saved myself at Cannon Hill last week. The target was to go sub-19:30 and based on my recent 19:36, all signs were pointing to “yes” on the flatter, faster Cardiff course. The Morgans and I arrived with plenty of time for a warm-up mile before toeing up at the start line. On “go”, we were off and fighting for contention before I found a clearing after 800m or so to settle into my own pace. Before long, I’d gone through my first mile in roughly 6:08, so I was already 10 seconds ahead of schedule but this suited my go out hard and hang on for dear life strategy. My second mile was a shocker, clocking in at 6:28 due to running much of the lap alone. The final mile was hard as always, but my breathing seemed more stable and controlled. The virtual pacer on my Garmin fluctuated between 4 seconds behind and bang on target. I’m not sure if I like the distance markers at Cardiff, where they display 1 – 4km, 800m, 400m, 200m and 100m; some will find these useful whilst others will find them tortuous knowing how much more there is to go when your lungs are on fire and your legs are saturated with lactic acid. I tend to side with the latter, though I did push my cadence up at each marker after 800m. I went for a mad, balls to the wall sprint at the end, looking like Buzz Lightyear according to Dave! 19:23 became my new 5k PB along with a fresh insect bite on my left leg. My Garmin reported that I’d hit a peak heart rate of 203 bpm, so I’ve not been able to reach my max of 206 bpm since my 19:57 at Cannon Hill. I’ve scored more PBs in the last 2 months than I have in all of 2013, so the speedwork intervals are clearly working wonders. I’m genuinely excited by what my body is capable of with the knowledge that there’s a rough 2 week delay between training and the effect of training. Showing RunBritain Rankings’ unpredictability, they’ve ranked my 19:23 PB as my best ever in terms of time and performance against others so I’ve now moved down to a 6.5 handicap score. Here’s the Garmin data from Cardiff Parkrun.

Nike Pegasus 30

Only £60 with 10% discount from Start Fitness

In other news, I’ve bought a new pair of long run trainers in the guise of Nike’s Pegasus 30s. Both of my Lunarglide 3s are shot in terms of cushioning, where I’ve been slowly starting to feel everything underfoot especially when running on concrete. The Pegasus 30s are a true neutral shoe and I’m looking forward to breaking them in, though this will have to wait until they arrive in the post.

This week’s long run has been postponed to bank holiday Monday, where I will attempt to go the full distance along the Great Birmingham Run route. I’ll throw a few faster miles in during the middle to keep things varied and interesting.

Aldridge 10k 2013 review

Andy Yu at the Aldridge 10k

Less than 200m left to go!

For the 2016 race, please click below:

It’s the summer which means it’s 5k and 10k season. In a bid to become faster, I’ve registered to race in a handful of 10ks alongside my weekly Parkruns.

Today, I participated in the Aldridge 10k; a race that I would call “honest”. “Honest?” I hear you ask. Some race organisers have the tendency to over-sell their races, marketing them as flat or fast with a few hyperboles thrown in that would have made even Steve Jobs blush. Aldridge Running Club, the team behind today’s 10k, describe the course as “undulating” and “hilly”, with a “sting in the tail”. Runners entering know exactly what they’re getting and have no excuse to complain.

Lis and I arrived in Aldridge at around 09:30 and I quickly collected my bib with built in timing chip. I noticed a few fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunners here and there; not surprising given the location and keen runners would either be at the 2 Castles 10k or in Aldridge.

If only my race number was 171

Lucky number 166…

We watched the kids race start and due to some poor marshalling, the boy in first place went the wrong way on the course and lost maybe 10 places. On the return, he managed to catch up to be second place. I appreciate marshals volunteer for no reward, but they should ensure they do their job properly. I hear about so many race horror stories where herds of runners are sent down the wrong path, only to find this then disqualifies their result. Runners may have been building up to a particular performance for months, only to have it cruelly robbed due to sloppy marshalling. Rant over!

I headed off for my warm-up run of a mile. My left calf muscle was still tight after yesterday’s Parkrun, despite foam rolling and stretching. As part of my pre-race prep, I did also pack a shot of concentrated beetroot juice but I forgot to drink it!

We watched the 4.3k (an odd distance) start and then everybody headed over to the start area for the 10k race. I placed myself close to the front-runners, maybe 6 rows back. I knew I was in the right place because speaking to other guys around me, they were aiming for times of 41 – 43 minutes, and so it was unlikely I’d be slowed down or slow others down. The local mayor started the race and we were off!

Aldridge 10k runners waiting to start

The start of the Aldridge 10k

The course initially went downhill, causing a few runners to start off too quickly. I was conscious to run a negative split of no more than a minute, requiring a first 5k of 6:55 minute miles and a second 5k of 6:35 minute miles. I quickly settled into a good rhythm, despite the undulating course and stuck with a group of club runners to block some of the headwind.

The opening kilometres were relatively easy and flew by quickly. We soon approached one of the first steep hills on the course and runners began to drop like flies around me. I noticed here that due to my small size, I had physically less weight to drive up the hill and tackled it at my desired pace. On the other side, heading down hill, the larger runners I’d managed to drop had caught up to me, using gravity and their weight to their advantage. I call this the Mario Kart effect, where some of the larger characters like Donkey Kong and Bowser were slow to start but had a higher top speed once in motion; this makes me more like Toad (the mushroom man) who has better acceleration, but a lower top speed once actually moving.

Andy Yu halfway through the Aldridge 10k

Striking a pose means I wasn’t running hard enough

The course was well signposted, with a marker at every kilometre and clear signs for the upcoming drinks station. This was my cue to take my one Isogel for some sugar and liquid, just in case I made a mess of drinking from a cup on the go again. The drinks station was near the start area, so I saw Lis again and posed for a few photos. I grabbed a cup of water and successfully took a large gulp and poured the rest over my head to cool down. The weather was pretty much perfect for running at 14 degrees and overcast skies, but the water still felt refreshing. Unfortunately, more of it ended up over my right shoulder, weighing my vest down and causing one of the straps to constantly slide off. It also caused a bit of right nipple chaffing…

Despite my plans to run a negative split, the hilly course had taken its toll and I struggled to pick up the pace in the second half. A steep downhill descent allowed me to cruise a little and flush some lactic acid from my legs before we arrived at the “sting in the tail”: one long, steady incline without any crowd support. The headwind returned and I tucked myself behind a Lichfield Running Club member for 5 minutes or so, running in his slipstream. Conscious that I didn’t want to outstay my welcome, I took an opportunity to overtake and dug deep to attack the hill. I ran solo for a few minutes and worked hard to catch up to the runners in front, eventually settling in with a small group. A Tipton Harrier runner had given up and had to walk; I gave a quick bit of encouragement, urging him to carry on and he tucked himself into my group to start running again.

Running to win at the Aldridge 10k

Running to win at the Aldridge 10k

We finally levelled out on flat ground again and quickly turned a corner to see a sign reading “400m left to go”, which spurred us on to pick up the pace. Turning another corner, we arrived at the closing stage of the race with a sign reading “200m left to go”, and that we did! My group broke up and it was just one guy and me that started to sprint. He gained a few metres on me and received some crowd encouragement. I don’t like to lose and I had some fight left in my legs, so I kicked to chase him, taking a corner wide so that I would be on the inside lane at the next corner. I overtook him but it was difficult due to the final 200m being run on grass. I caught up to the small group in front of me and overtook another two guys with one last kick down the home straight to finish 66th out of 338.

On the home straight at the Aldridge 10k 2013

Check out the race face on the guy in red!

I stopped my watch but had no idea what my time was. I had to drop to one knee to catch my breath and made my way to the finish area, where I met Lis and collected my goodie bag. I had a chat with one of the volunteers from Parkrun that I’d spotted out on the course, mentioning that I shouldn’t have run so hard at yesterday’s event.

For those interested, here’s the Nike+ run data. Be sure to check out the elevation of those hills!

A new 10k PB at the Aldridge 10k

This is what a 10k PB looks like

I remembered to check my watch and it was a PB performance of 42:52; a new record by 26 seconds. Had this have been a flatter course, I’m confident that I would have finished with a sub-42 minute time.

The goodie bag was so-so; it contained a technical t-shirt (which I’ll probably never wear), a cereal bar and some flyers for other races. I’d have gladly sacrificed the t-shirt for a medal.

Ellie Simmonds' gold post box

Local hero, Ellie Simmonds’ gold post box

On the way back to the car, we spotted Ellie Simmonds’ gold post box.

All in all, I had a good race. It was reasonably priced at £16 and came with chip timing and a goodie bag. Organisation for the main event was sound and it never felt crowded on the course, a complaint of some of the larger races out there. The course itself was challenging, even for the strongest of runners, exposing any weaknesses in an athlete’s repertoire of skills. I’m glad my ability to attack hills is still decent despite a lack of focussed incline training. I’ll probably do 2 Castles 10k next year for variety, but if the two take place on different days then I may just come back for more.

Pros

  • Reasonably priced
  • Decent organisation on the course
  • Challenging course – good for training or testing your ability
  • No crowding
  • Chip timing

Cons

  • Poor goodie bag
  • Slightly chaotic start
  • Challenging course – some will hate it

Nike Flyknit Racer review

Orange/grey and red/black Flyknit Racers

I’ve had my original orange pair for almost a year, so this Flyknit Racer review has been a long time in the making. I have recently taken delivery of a second pair of Flyknit Racers in red, which has allowed me to approach this review from that of an owner of a fresh pair as well as a runner that’s put nearly 200 miles through them.

Concept

The Flyknit concept started life as an idea from Nike’s discussions with elite runners regarding what they wanted from a shoe. The one clear request from the feedback was a shoe that was light but also fitted well, almost as if it was a sock.

Five years later, Nike’s Flyknit technology was released upon the world, making its debut at the London Olympic Games.

Sporting an upper made from a single knitted weave, not only is the Flyknit Racer “light for flight”, but it’s also more environmentally sound due to reduced waste.

Colour options

Kicking off this Flyknit Racer review, I’d like to talk about the colour options available. The original line-up featured volt/black and orange/grey.

Nike Flyknit Racer in volt

The volt/black colourway was the ‘hero’ shoe that was used in all the advertising and promotion. Nike also debuted the volt/black colourway on its various sponsored athletes at the Olympic games.

Nike Flyknit Racer in orange

Personally, I went with the orange/grey colourway due to the likelihood that they would be seen less frequently in the wild and also for the tamer colour.

Nike Flyknit Racer in black

Earlier this year, Nike released a black/grey colourway. I wasn’t keen on this colour option where I felt it clashed with the overall look of the Flyknit Racer.

Nike Flyknit Racer in red

Recently, Nike introduced a new red/black colourway into the line-up. For me, this is a great looking colour combination where it’s striking but without being as attention grabbing as the volt/black colourway.

Nike apparently has plans to release yellow, green and purple colourways later in the year.

Availability of all the options appears to be healthy, which is unusual with Nike where they like to phase colours in and out of circulation.

Sizing

Orange/grey Flyknit Racers

The Flyknit Racer is intended to give a snug, sock-like feel; almost like that of a track spike. Because of this, you will want to go true to size. The fit is also quite narrow and there is no wide option available, so those with wider feet may need to upsize, though this defeats the purpose of the close-fit. The shoe is intended to be unisex, so women will need to downsize to find their ideal fit.

Weight

“Light for flight” is the slogan used for the Flyknit Racer. My UK size 8 pair hovers at around 160g per shoe; a ridiculously low weight that only a few other racing flats have managed to beat. I had to shake the box when I first received mine to make sure they were in there!

The upper

Flyknit Racer single weave upper

The Flyknit Racer’s upper is entirely constructed from Nike’s synthetic yarn. The one-piece construction means there is very little waste or excess. The weave also makes for an extremely breathable shoe, something that was sorely lacking from Nike’s Lunaracer. It’s possible to literally see through the weave in certain places and see your foot beneath. Running and racing in the summer is a joy in these, thanks to the ventilation, and I can definitely feel the difference when I change into other running shoes of mine. Of course, breathability also means things can get inside the shoe easily, namely water. During the winter, I regularly race 5ks and the cold air is less welcome; if it rains (it normally does in Britain), my feet get soaked.

The Flyknit Racer’s upper has a contrasting colour scheme to it, with the outer area of the foot predominantly decked in the shoe’s primary colour and the inner foot in the secondary colour. The Nike swoosh has been printed on using a paint that I can only describe as looking like white wash, with a powdered look.

Flyknit Racer review

Almost the entire upper is intertwined with Nike’s Flywire technology. These are strong, synthetic wires that have been woven into the weave with loops exposed where the lace eyelets would go. The laces are then threaded through these wires at the same time and as you tighten the laces, the wires get pulled and the upper conforms to the contours of your feet. What you get is a snug feeling of support, without any additional weight. It is possible to further customise the fit, particularly if you have wider feet. You can choose to thread the laces through the Flywires or not, which will allow you to tighten or loosen different parts of the upper. There are 6 eyelets on either side of the upper and I personally do use all of the 5 Flywires available. The use of Flywire in the Flyknit Racer is possibly the most successful application of it so far, compared to the Lunaracer where the plastic top layer used to hold the wires in place also made the shoe dramatically less breathable.

Certain parts of the upper have also been strengthened with a closer, thicker weave for added support or high-wear, such as the heel area and where the shoe creases upon toe-off.

Over time, the Flyknit Racers will mould into the shape of your foot for a very personalised fit. Certain Nike stores offer a fitting service where the shoes are doused in steam whilst you wear them; they are then left to cool and you should have a pair of perfectly fitted Flyknit Racers. The same process can be repeated at home by wearing the shoes in a steamy bathroom and then allowing them to cool. Personally, I preferred to break my shoes in the old-fashioned way by running them in. My red/black pair are still relatively new and comparing them visually to my worn-in orange/grey pair, it’s easy to see they haven’t quite moulded to my feet yet.

The tongue is a separate stitched-in piece to the upper and is held in place by threading the laces through two loops. This for me is the only bug-bear, because the tongue can occasionally slip and move to the side, however your mileage may vary depending on how tight or loose you wear your shoes.

Flyknit Racer laces

My orange/grey pair was the original launch model and shipped with oval laces and the red/black pair shipped with flat ribbon laces. The ribbon laces are much cheaper and more difficult to keep tied, requiring a much sturdier knot. I’m considering replacement oval laces (40 inch length) for mine to improve the situation. This change was across the entire line at some point in early 2013, affecting both Flyknit Racers and Flyknit Trainers.

Flyknit Racer rear

The upper really is quite minimalistic, right through to the collar lacking any sort of padding to further reduce weight. What isn’t needed isn’t used is the order of the day.

Completing the upper is a loop at the rear of the shoe to help pull the shoe on and off. Reflective material has been applied to the loop for a small element of safety if running at night.

Insole

Flyknit Racer insole

The Flyknit Racer’s insole is made from Nike’s ortholite material, which I believe is also used in their line of Free and Free Run shoes. These mould into the shape of your feet after a few miles. There is no Nike+ foot pod cavity beneath the insole due to the reduced thickness of the midsole; I simply use a foot pod wallet that threads through the laces with no intrusion to running at all.

Midsole

The Flyknit Racer’s midsole is constructed from Nike’s Zoom material. It’s firmer than their Lunarlon material, yet just as light and offers an incredibly responsive ride. Initially, some may find the feel a little too harsh, especially if they have never run in racing flats before, or have come from traditional cushioned shoes. Putting a few miles through the Flyknit Racers will break them in and the ride will soften up slightly. I can only describe the feeling as being full of feedback; I know exactly when I’m running on tarmac, concrete or grass based on the feeling underfoot.

The Zoom Air unit is located in the midsole area. This shoe is ideally suited for runners that land on their toes or mid-foot. Lighter-weight heel strikers could possibly get away with this shoe over shorter distances, though I would be cautious about venturing into anything above a 10k for fear of injury.

Flyknit Racer midsole

The heel area of the midsole is flared to increase its surface area when landing on the ground, though again should not be relied upon by heel strikers.

The heel drop is approximately 10mm in height, so the term “racing flat” probably isn’t as accurate as it could be. Be that as it may, it has all the ingredients of a good quality racing flat.

Sole

Flyknit Racer sole

Majority of the sole is covered in a layer of black rubber, possibly Nike’s BRS 100 found on a number of their other running shoes. This is quite a contrast to the Lunaracer, where only high wear areas are rubberised. In a nod to Bill Bowerman’s original waffle print running shoes, Nike have applied a waffle-patterned grip layout to the sole, affectionately named “Waffleskin”. They claim this pattern has been optimised for racing and speed and I can honestly say, it’s rare that I’ve ever felt like I needed more traction, even when racing in rain.

The central portion of the sole is exposed midsole material with a large Nike swoosh logo, matching the primary colour of the Flyknit Racer.

The rubber is incredibly thin at only 2 – 3mm in thickness in a bid to cut down on weight and will also affect the longevity and life span of the Flyknit Racer.

Use and performance

Red/black Flyknit Racers

I have run in the Flyknit Racers in distances from 5k all the way through to the marathon. The shoe is designed to go fast and feels most comfortable when you’re toeing off in a race, rather than easily jogging. The configuration almost encourages you to lean forward whilst you run, again convincing you to run faster.

The fit and feel of the shoe gives you the illusion that they’re an extension of your legs and feet, rather than a tool for the job.

Personally, I think the shoe is most at home up to the half marathon distance. I regularly run Parkrun 5k events, 10ks and half marathons in the Flyknit Racers and the low weight is welcome during the closing stages when you’re tired and your legs are heavy with lactic acid. I recently ran the London Marathon in the Flyknit Racers and they admirably stuck with me, but from mile 20 onwards I began to heel strike due to exhaustion. Heel striking is not how these shoes were intended to be used and I was concerned with how they would handle. I finished the marathon without any injuries, though I would say anybody that takes longer than 4 to 4.5 hours to run a marathon should probably consider a different shoe with more support.

Flyknit Racer wear and tear

My original orange/grey pair have had over 180 miles put through them and they still look and perform as well as they did when I first got them. The only sign of wear and tear is on the outer edge of the sole where my foot first makes contact with the ground. The rubber has worn away by 1 – 1.5mm so I estimate I can get to 300 miles before I wear through to the midsole. 150 miles to 300 miles is typical for a racing flat, so these should be reserved for use only when absolutely needed.

Conclusions

These are an expensive shoe, originally retailing in the UK for £150. If they do make it to 300 miles, that’s 50p per mile of wear. They have come down in price slightly and can be found for £115 through third party retailers and Nike sells them directly for £130. For me, these are worth every penny for the fit and weight, hence why I have recently bought a second pair.

On the high street in the UK, only Nike themselves seem to have these in stock to try. It is definitely worth trying these on in person if you’re considering a purchase, due to the unique fit these offer.

If you have any questions about the Flyknit Racer, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email at andy@runtowin.co.uk.

Where does the road lead to now?

After all the hijinks of a half marathon, it’s easy to feel a little deflated after the runner’s high of achieving a PB or simply experiencing the atmosphere of a big city race. What tends to happen to people is they either enjoy the event, but would never want to do any long distance running again, or they enjoy it so much tat they decide to run more regularly and sign up to loads of other events and races.

As the title asks, where does the road lead to from here? I have a few running goals, all designed to keep me interested in different ways and each geared towards producing a different result.

I read somewhere very recently (it may have been Runners World magazine) that said PBs come in threes and usually within close proximity to each other. You’ve just run the best race of your life and you’re pumped and ready to score your next win. Your mind is psychologically wired to winning and achieving, so the only limitation is the body. I had put this theory to the test last month after beating my target PB at the Cardiff 10k and only 6 days later, I took a massive chunk off my 5k Parkrun PB by over 35 seconds! To give this improvement some context, I’d been striving to beat PBs by mere individual seconds for several months! I was able to beat my PB again the following week by another 10 seconds; a smaller improvement but one nonetheless. The only reason I didn’t PB for a fourth time in a row was due to technical difficulties, namely my GPS watch refusing to link so I had to race by feel rather than immediate data. Having said that, I was only 6 seconds off a new PB so the body was willing.

Today was no different and I hoped to PB again at the Parkrun, albeit a different venue to my usual Saturday mornings. Due to being in Wales and not wanting to lose this momentum, I decided to visit the Newport Parkrun to see if a change of scenery could yield positive results. It’s advertised as a flat, 2 lap course with a few twists and turns and mixed terrain. Having run it now, it’s not flat and it’s more like a trail run with gravel, grass, mud and sand to soak up some of the recent rain. None of these surfaces are ideal for energy rebound so you have to work harder to maintain the same pace. There were just shy of 200 runners and the pre-race briefing was exactly that: brief. There was no mention of safety warnings, thanking volunteers and sponsors etc; ideal if you’re a regular but not when you’re new! All said and done, I still managed to PB with 21:37 and came back in 28th out of 197 runners. I hope I can PB with 21:25 or so at Cannon Hill Park next week, so we’ll wait and see.

Today’s Nike+ data can be found here.

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Tredegar Park Parkrun startline

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My first lap with a Mobot fired off

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Me at the finish, staving off a heart attack

I’m a huge fan of Parkrun and am 100% certain that it has been one of the best things for my running and for many other runners out there, whether they’re looking to improve their fitness and stay active, or have a competitive edge and are looking to become sharper and faster. It’s my guaranteed weekly speedwork session and I know full well that I wouldn’t be where I am without it.

More medium term, I am looking to build on my current fitness and improve upon my half marathon time. Running a hilly route in Birmingham and finishing with 1:45 means that on a flat course, I should be able to get much closer to 1:40, if not come in under it. Dave and I still looked fresh at the end of the Great Birmingham Run so we know we have more in the tank to give. This will mean continuing with my regular weekly routine of:

  • Monday – Rest/strength work
  • Tuesday – 5k steady run
  • Wednesday – Rest/strength work
  • Thursday – Speedwork/hills
  • Friday – Rest
  • Saturday – 5k Parkrun
  • Sunday – Long, steady run

This routine has served me well and will hopefully yield the desired result at the Bath Half Marathon. Bath is a great city to visit and I’ve wanted to run through its streets for the last year or so. It’s an unusual course because it features two laps around the city centre, but the benefit of this is being able to see supporters more regularly and the crowds are more consistent as a result. Being almost flat is also attractive, hopefully helping me smash that 1:40 barrier. Dave is still thinking about entering; I hope he does because it would be totally awesome to conquer another PB with him.

As for my long term goals, I have the big mother of running events to train towards: the London Marathon. I won’t deviate much from my above training routine because it has served me well, though I will increase the Tuesday run to become a 10k run eventually, maybe even a 10 mile run. I need to get my weekly mileage closer to a total of 40 to stand a chance of getting the 3:45 finish time I’ve set myself for the task at hand. Charles from Bordersdown (formerly NTSC-UK) recommended I check out one pacing guide which breaks your desired finish time down into ideal mile split times, again favouring a negative split strategy. In many ways, I’m less anxious about the marathon because it’s an unfamiliar distance and there are no preconceptions or expectations apart from my predicted paces and finishing times. I will readjust my goals again after the Bath Half and hopefully that will build in some extra buffer if things go awry in London.

Finally, I’m looking to join a running club, most likely Kings Heath Running Club.  I’ve been eyeing up this club for a long time and meeting more of their members at the Parkrun has really spurred me on to do something about it. I know that running my speedwork and hill sessions with them will make me faster and having a group to belong to is attractive. They’re not an elite group and are geared towards regular people like me, and whilst they’re of mixed ability, there’s enough variety that I can slot in quite comfortably.

I decided to pop along to one of their training sessions during the week to see what they’re all about. They’re indeed a friendly bunch, all very interested in what I did etc. They seemed quite surprised when I said I wasn’t a new runner and had been doing this for a number of years. They were even more surprised when I said I could run 7 minute miles at 5k distance! We went on a recovery route just short of 5 miles, consisting of hills and some flat stretches. I got to run with a good variety of people and running with others definitely made the perceived effort feel lower, just as it felt at the half marathon running with Dave. One of the slower runners couldn’t keep up with the pace so I slowed down to run with him, not wanting to leave him behind; a rarity in more elite clubs where you have to keep up regardless.

I’ve been invited to their club social in November, where I want to make an appearance and get a better feel for the club’s members. I’m going to attend another one or two training sessions with them to see if I’m entirely happy about joining them. I’m about 75% sold at the moment because they have some faster runners who I’m hoping to run with, being a firm believer that the quality sessions are just as important as the quantity of sessions. Watch this space…

Stay safe out there now that daylight is quickly diminishing. Gaining a second by dodging traffic isn’t worth the risk!

The Great Birmingham Run 2012 review

For the 2013 and 2014 races, please click the following:

Any pro or serious amateur runner knows that race day begins well before the actual day itself. You have the mental and physical torture that is the taper; reducing your mileage yet maintaining the intensity as per your usual weekly training diary. You also have the carbo-loading process where you increase the quantity of carbohydrates in your diet, reducing the protein and fat to prime the muscles. There’s also the need to ensure you get enough sleep, stay illness free etc etc.

I won’t lie – it was a difficult week. I was restless at night and constantly worrying about whether something would ruin me before race day. The weather also didn’t helping, with rain being forecast for Sunday, yet Saturday and Monday immediately on either side were reported as being sunny! This quickly changed into mist and fog, much more welcome than the wet stuff.

Race day finally came and the weather was foggy and misty, just as it was predicted to be. I live about 0.5 miles from the NIA and I couldn’t even see that from my kitchen window! What this did mean was that the roads were dry for traction and there was cloud cover to prevent getting too warm early on.

I had my breakfast of several slices of toast with Nutella and peanut butter. I also had some Rice Krispie Squares and Rowntrees Randoms sweets to pack in some faster sugars. Liquid-wise, I had 250ml of beetroot juice, as I’ve been having for the last few days to improve blood-oxygen capability, and 500ml of my Nectar Fuel energy drink. Altogether, there should have been at least 1000 calories in my breakfast, so plenty to stave off any energy problems.

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Elsa, me and Dave – ready to race!

The gang soon arrived; Elsa, Dave and I would be running, with Iain, Lis and Cheryl acting as our supporters and pit crew. Dave and I went for a light jog around the block to warm-up and to help with stretching before heading down to our start area. We parted ways with the rest of the gang heading towards the centre of town and Dave and I joined our white area holding pen. Due to the increased size of the running field (up to 18,000 though later only 12,800 or so runners turned up) both sides of the dual carriageway were used this year. We were fortunately not waiting too long before we were moved forward, with the other side of the carriageway being released first, followed by us.  Before long, Dave and I were running towards the start line and our Great Birmingham Run had truly begun.

Being on the left of the carriageway meant we went through the tunnel initially, a tactical choice meaning we avoided that hill at the start. Hills, whether you’re going down or up, are very inefficient for long distance runners because they slow you down or speed you up, raising your stable heart rate. You want to keep this heart rate as constant as possible because once it rises, it’s quite difficult to bring it back down again without significantly slowing down or just stopping.

We had a decent pace to us, clocking in at roughly 8:20 minute miles, which served as a good warm-up to what lay ahead of us. The field was well spaced out but we found ourselves dodging slower runners very early on, which is to be expected. I later found out that our expected finish time would have placed us towards the back of the orange wave; I wondered which would have been more beneficial – running at a constant pace and chasing others or overtaking constantly with a motivational boost that we were clearly faster than everybody around us?

We approached the Bullring where the gang was waiting. I expected to see them nearer to Debenhams where there were fewer people and visibility would have been easier, but alas, they were nowhere to be seen. Rather than focusing on the crowds, we concentrated again on the race in front of us. We later found out that they were waiting nearer to Wagamama and they did see us, though we missed them completely. Dave and I kept our conversations going and the pace felt easy, with our breathing very steady and not laboured at all. It was at this stage where I felt somebody tap my arm and it was none other than my old school friend, Jaswant AKA Jazzy C! Jaswant is unaware (because I’ve yet to tell him), but he was part of the reason I got into long distance running in the first place. I remember several years ago seeing photos of him completing the inaugural Birmingham half marathon thinking what a feat it was because neither of us were particularly fit or healthy at school. I thought to myself, “If he could do it, so could I!” and thus began my journey. I knew Jaswant would be running that day and had hoped to meet up with him before or after the race, but being able to bump into him mid-run was just as good. We had a quick chat and he offered me several of his energy gels; I’m sure he must have taken a few already because he looked very jittery! He’d also mentioned that he hadn’t trained properly for this race and beating his 1:38 PB would be nigh on impossible, so we wished him well as he sped off into the distance.

We were firmly on the Pershore Road at this stage, keeping regular check on our pace and also how we were feeling. Our pace was comfortable for both of us and we continued to venture on. I recognised Sean Whan of Kings Heath Running Club in the distance. He’s a familiar sight to me now because for the last few months, we’ve been racing each other at the Cannon Hill Parkrun. I tapped his arm and had a quick chat with him and he introduced me to a couple of his club mates that he was running with. He also tried to enlist me to the club mid-run, selling me their Tuesday interval sessions and Thursday hill rep sessions. The more I think about it, the more I want to try the club out because it’s one I’ve been looking at for the last few years. The club vibe I get from them is that they’re not elite but there is a good breadth of ability within the club to run with. A few weeks ago after a Parkrun, Sean said that I’d be a good fit for the club and I think I would benefit from it greatly, especially on the speed front. I wished him and the club well and Dave and I ploughed on with our race.

It was at this stage where Dave and I shook hands and decided to part ways. I didn’t want to push Dave too hard, conscious that he had only recently committed to running the race, despite a good fitness base to begin with. His height and leg stride however would have made up for any discrepancy between our own natural paces. He was also conscious that he didn’t want to hold me back if I wanted to speed off. Quite funnily, I noticed we were still side-by-side after the next mile or so and we just agreed to continue running together. We approached our first water station and I almost missed it entirely. The first water station at races is always a nightmare to navigate because everybody is desperate for something to drink, whether they need it or not. All race advice I’ve ever seen has always recommended skipping the first water station in longer races if you’re already well hydrated. Dave and I grabbed some water anyway and had a few sips before throwing it away or pouring some over my head to wake me up. We both commented how much waste there is from these races but there’s no ideal solution really; if you switch to cups then you can have more frequent drink stations but the slower runners would still complain that they need to hang on to a bottle for security.

Our pace was slowly creeping up and we were now averaging roughly 8:12 to 8:15 minute miles, so we were well on our way now. The next few miles proved to be quite forgettable with few things happening or worth remembering. We continued to check up on each other regularly and kept the conversation going, which remained steady, a good indicator that we were coping well. We continued to overtake people, though rarely being overtaken and before we knew it, we were approaching Bournville because the road started to twist and climb. You could smell the chocolate in the air from the nearby Cadburys World factory; I’m sure some free chocolate wouldn’t have gone amiss at this stage! I recall overtaking our second set of Batman and Robins, which pleased me greatly, though we still had another set of Mario and Luigis to beat. The road really started to climb now that we were firmly in Bournville, the first taster that this race is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. We turned on to a heavily cambered street, where I recommended we stick to the centre to avoid injury.

We were now on our second water station and third drinks station of the day, again taking just a few sips before chucking the bottles away. The weather was perfect for long distance running, offering valuable cloud cover with the roads dry and the air cool so the body isn’t wasting energy or sweat to dissipate excess heat. I’d more or less stopped sweating by this point, though my sunglasses were fogging up more regularly now, forcing me to take them off to air periodically.

The 10km marker quickly crept up on us and caught me off guard, thinking it said 10 miles instead! I knew I enjoyed Dave’s company and conversation because of how easy everything felt, taking away the need to focus on the next mile marker, which I normally do at races.

We decided to pick the pace up, following my Plan B strategy, now clocking in at rough 8:00 minute miles. The average pace had crept up to 8:05 minutes per mile, so I knew we would comfortably finish in less than 1 hour 50 minutes at this rate. The change in pace did us both good and remained feeling comfortable. We had fully warmed up by this stage and it was a confidence booster to overtake even more people at this greater speed. What I did notice was that there were more runners going at our speed now, with one particular girl acting as a good pace maker for us. Frustratingly though, were larger groups of runners going maybe three people wide making it difficult to overtake. Dave and I would run side by side, but we would split up if we needed to overtake so as not to inconvenience others.

The green and pink runners were coming through strong on the other side of the Pershore Road now, so we attempted to keep an eye out for Elsa and her personal trainer, Jenny. Elsa being dressed in black made spotting her quite difficult and it was Elsa spotting Dave that caught our attention! She later commented that she was surprised to see us still running together – as surprised as we both were I’m sure.

I mentioned to Dave that a highlight of the return trip up Pershore Road for me was a Chinese guy that would stand at the side of the road with an old-fashioned bicycle horn, cheering everybody on shouting out “You’re the best!” to absolutely each and every runner going past. I saw him in 2010’s race and again in 2011 and I was quite disappointed he wasn’t at his usual spot for 2012. I did later find out via Facebook that he’d relocated to Cannon Hill Park to cheer people on and others also found his enthusiasm incredibly infectious. Other selfless people also deserve a huge round of applause because running 13.1 miles can be a mind numbing task and having crowd support to break up some of the monotony is a huge boost for us runners. If you’re going to stand at the side of the road, don’t be a wallflower and make as much noise as you can!

We turned the corner on to Edgbaston Road, the home of Edgbaston Cricket Ground and also where my parents would be waiting for me with another bottle of Nectar Fuel. I spotted my Mum but my Dad was nowhere to be found, so I assumed he had trouble parking and could only drop my Mum off. I waved to her with both arms, catching her attention and as a sign to prepare for the bottle pass. We’d both practiced this the day before and in the past so we wouldn’t drop it accidentally. All the preparation paid off and the pass and grab were as smooth as butter. I took a few sips and carried the bottle with me into Cannon Hill Park. Dave asked if I really needed the extra Nectar Fuel and I probably didn’t, though the concentrated glucose and fructose would have helped top off the rapidly depleting glycogen levels. That and it was a way of getting my parents involved in my running, with their efforts greatly appreciated that day.

Running into Cannon Hill Park is always a weird experience. You go in via the main carpark and there’s nobody around and the tall trees block out a lot of natural light, making it feel like a trail run through a forest rather than a big city half marathon. I could hear the Rocky theme being played through the speakers from the Free Radio station in the centre of the park, a nice pick me up and athletic inspiration, given my fascination with the Rocky movies. This came only minutes after hearing an acoustic rendition of the Rocky theme being played by one of the bands on the route. Once we entered the park through the gates, everything transformed and the crowds started to appear again. Cannon Hill Park has to be a huge boost for many people, offering a change of scenery, water and drinks stations, music and more. Elsa and I had attended the previous day’s Parkrun where we were told Fergal would be waiting at his usual corner to cheer us all on. Fergal is one of the best things about the Cannon Hill Parkrun, motivating everybody to keep going and it’s something I look forward to each week. Just hearing his cheers makes my pace pick up by a good noticeable 15 seconds or so! I saw him to our right and called out to him and he cheered us on, yelling out mile 10 wasn’t far; optimistic because we had only just passed through mile 9! One notable thing that caught my attention was a man with a box of oranges on offer; needless to say, I declined to take one!

Dave and I left Cannon Hill Park and our pace was still steady, but quick. We were on the approach to the much talked about mist shower that had been added to cool us runners down. We debated going through and decided that we may as well, given that it was an opportunity to do so. I can’t say it was particularly refreshing, though a novelty nonetheless. I recall having to slow us both down around here in the race because our immediate pace had escalated to around 7:45 minute miles. In any other flat half marathon, this would have been the right point to pick up the pace again but knowing that we had some hills coming up meant that we needed to keep something back to conquer what Haille Gebrsellasie mentioned had proven quite tough for him last year. We also had a swift downhill section on the Lee Bank Middleway to help bank a little bit of time and absorb some of the pace damage from the later hills. We started to climb the Middleway hill and for the first time, I noticed that I was actually going faster than Dave. Because of my shorter stature, I have to take many more steps to run at the same pace as taller runners. I have a fairly high leg cadence rate (leg turnover rate to everybody else out there), averaging about 170 steps per minute (roughly 85 per foot) which is beneficial during sprints and hill climbs where my higher rate of contact with the ground is actually favoured, keeping my pace steady.

The hill levelled out as we turned left on to a fairly non-descript street. Knowing what was lurking around the next corner and I consumed my one and only energy gel to prepare myself. I swear you could hear collective groans as everybody began their ascent up the hill. We really had to concentrate here to keep our pace up, though this was effort well spent because according to our mile splits, we ran this portion of the race as fast as our opening miles despite gravity working against us. There were noticeably more people supporting us on this hill, which seemed never ending. My hamstrings were starting to ache a little from the lactic acid build up but we pushed on, running past a charity cheerleading team that yelled right in my ear as we approached the brow of the hill, perking me up again unexpectedly.

It was at this stage where I looked at our pace and we were averaging 8:00 minute miles, a phenomenal feat given that we’d started out at 8:20 minute miles and had just beaten several tough hills. We had a rough 1.5 miles left to go at this stage of the race and our elapsed time hovered around 1 hour 34 minutes and I knew a 1:45 finish was quickly slipping away, if not impossible by now. I told Dave that 1:45 was “off the cards” and that we should aim for a 1:48/1:49 finish. Throwing caution to the wind, we picked up our pace again and stormed through Edgbaston. This is a frustrating part of the race for many, due to all the twists and turns to make up the total 13.1 mile distance, adding more opportunities to slow down after already losing time on the hills.

We passed by the final mile marker and doing some quick maths, a 1:45 finish was now possible again if we went all out and ran our fastest mile split. We were really going for it now, with the immediate pace on my GPS watch reading 7:00 minute miles. We were on the home stretch, running towards Five Ways underpass when I noticed a runner with “Gurpreet” on his back. An old school friend of mine, Oli, was also running that day for a charitable cause and I knew he was in the white group too (we still hadn’t passed any orange wave runners) and I sped up to catch a glimpse of his face. Low and behold, it was Oli! I caught his attention and shook his hand, offering a momentary break from the pressure that was piling on to finish within 1 hour and 45 minutes. Oli wasn’t looking too good and said he needed support to get him through. I told him to stick with Dave and I, and to use us as pacemakers and we’d see him through to the finish. We all concentrated and focused as we descended into the underpass before coming back up the other side on Broad Street.

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Dave and I sprinting down Broad Street towards the finish line

We were firmly on home turf now and surprisingly, there were people on both sides of the underpass as we came up. Normally, the crowds are kept behind barriers but the left hand side crowds were right next to us as we ran down Broad Street. Checking my right, Dave was still by my side and Oli wasn’t far behind. I kicked up the pace again and began to sprint down Broad Street. Thankfully this time, the gang were exactly where we asked them to be, standing near the Novotel and Sainsburys, so we waved and fired off a few Mobots and Usain Bolts. Seeing everybody gave me that final lift that I needed to shift gears again. With 400m left, the blood was coursing through my legs, with my arms and heart pumping as fast as they could, helping me overtake at least 50 or so people as I approached the finish.  The end was clearly in sight now and I went for broke, hoping my efforts were enough to net me a finish starting with 1:45.

I crossed the finish line and pressed pause on my GPS watch, huffing and puffing from the sprint and my mind in a blind panic – had I done it? Looking at my watch, those magical numbers of 1:45:23 appeared and I had to do a double take before I was sure. My fist went through the air with a resounding “Yeeees!” before I had to sit down again. A volunteer came over to see if I was OK and I gave them a thumbs up and told them I just needed to catch my breath. Dave crossed the line seconds afterwards and told me he’d netted a 1:45:27 finish, but couldn’t keep up with my sprint during the final leg. Oli then came in shortly afterwards and thanked us for the support. We walked towards the timing chip collection area and the organisers’ claims of the chips being easy to remove after a 13.1 mile race are wildly overestimated. I had to really tug at mine to break it free and return it. We kept moving and stretched against a wall, where I tol Dave about my first half marathon when I did not stretch afterwards, turning a 5 minute walk home from the bus stop into a 20 minute one! We said our farewells to Oli and grabbed our goodie bags; there was a distinct chill in the air now, despite the sun coming out to play so we unwrapped the space blankets ASAP.

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This year’s finisher’s medal

Navigating back to the gang was relatively simple, cutting through the ICC and Brindley Place. We shared our good news and war stories with everybody, thanking them for their support. They were surprised to see Dave and I finish together given our original plan to split up after the first few miles. If all of this long distance racing has taught me anything, the importance of planning a strategy should be on the top of anybody’s list if they’re aiming for a particular time; they should also be flexible enough to change the plan if needs be. Dave and I running together had a mutual benefit for both of us and I would totally welcome running future races with him again.

We were now waiting for Elsa and Jenny to appear and the green wave runners had started to filter through. It wasn’t until this point where we all commented on how close the crowd was to the runners as they exited the underpass, not giving them enough space to jostle for position. One security guard attempted to disperse the crowd, though failed miserably. Deciding that if you can’t beat them, join them; I headed towards the crowd to wait for Elsa to pass. Following my own advice, I started cheering for everybody as they ran by. I saw a few familiar faces running, including the Man in the Middle, who I buy breakfast sandwiches from, and the vegan runner from Parkrun.

Elsa and Jenny eventually showed up and I joined them for the final stretch down Broad Street, my second time that day. Unwittingly, I’d gotten in the way of Iain’s photo of Elsa (sorry!) as we went past. A colleague of mine that was waiting for her husband had seen me go by on the second occasion, noting that I must have finished because I had my jacket on and had no race number. We crossed the finish line and Elsa had also scored a PB of 2:28, beating her previous best by a few minutes for her retirement run.

Looking back on Sunday, it was a perfect day of running for everybody concerned. We had perfect weather, bumped into old and new friends and achieved or even surpassed our goals we had laid out for ourselves that morning. I would love to run in Birmingham again and entries for the 2013 race have already opened for applications. I have applied for a ballot place with the Royal Parks Half Marathon in London for October, so we’ll see whether I’m successful or not in January and plan accordingly. I’m now busy trying to convince Elsa not to retire from half marathons and also Dave to join me on the Bath Half Marathon, maybe even Parkrun.

For those interested, the Nike+ data for Dave and I can be found by clicking here.

Thank you Birmingham, you were beautiful!

Cardiff 10k 2012 review

For the 2013, 2014 and 2015 races, please click the following:

I have demons with Cardiff. I love the city as a visitor but as a runner, it has previously let me down badly. I ran the Cardiff half marathon last year as a culmination of the summer’s training and put all of my hopes into this event being the one for me. I ended up having a blow out at mile 10 where I simply had nothing left in the tank to carry on, running too fast early on at a pace that I simply was not accustomed to. I also ran the Cardiff Santa Dash later in December; the course was short by 0.3 miles and we also had to run down some steps! Who the hell puts steps in a bloody running course?! As I said, demons in Cardiff.

After watching the London Marathon earlier this year, Elsa and I decided to enter the Cardiff 10k as part of our half marathon training for the Great Birmingham Run (it’ll always be the Birmingham half for me!). The months flew by and 10k quickly became an increasingly unfamiliar distance to race. Sitting somewhere between the speed of a 5k and the endurance of a half marathon, it requires skills of both to succeed.

I tend not to like following a rigid training schedule, preferring a slightly more adhoc approach of swapping in certain runs and distances based on how I feel or want to run that day. Saying that, my staple week consists of the following:

  • Monday – strength and resistance training/rest
  • Tuesday – a tempo run covering anywhere between 5k and 10k
  • Wednesday – strength and resistance training/rest
  • Thursday – speedwork consisting of fartlek, intervals or race pace training
  • Friday – strength and resistance training/rest
  • Saturday – Parkrun 5k race
  • Sunday – long, steady run that increases in mileage each week

I will move my weekly runs around to suit my schedule and mood, but if there is one failing of my approach is that too many of my runs are classed as a hard effort. Anywho, the above schedule is geared towards my half marathon training rather than shorter distances, but the speedwork and weekly races have helped immensely with 5k and 10k distances.

My previous 10k PB as part of a much longer run was 52:46; a decidedly average time for a decidedly average runner. This was not race pace nor targeted so I knew I had the potential to shave a few minutes off to take me into the high 40s in terms of minutes. Based on the excellent McMillan Running Calculator, I worked out that I had the potential to run a 47 minute 10k based on my then current 5k PB. After my recent leap in 5k ability, I was pleased but didn’t want to overcook it again in Cardiff so I budgeted a conservative 49 minute finish based on a negative split strategy of 25 minutes for the first 5k and 24 minutes or less for the remaining 5k. Race day tends to get the adrenalin pumping and it’s always easier to chase other runners to get that slight boost.

The gang (Lis – my other half, Elsa – my running buddy, and Iain – Elsa’s other half) all made our way down to Wales for the weekend of the race. I, like a fool, had over trained the week before, choosing to run my furthest distance ever (14.35 miles), so I was run down and had cold-like symptoms, where my body was clearly fighting off minor infections from my work colleagues.

Race day came and my shoes for the day consisted of my Nike Flyknit Racers. I absolutely adore these shoes because of their insanely low weight and up to this stage, I had only ever run Parkrun races in them and nothing further, so this would be an extended endurance test for them. I would train in them more often as well but given their relative fragility, I wouldn’t want to run in them too often because I anticipate they may only have up to 300 miles of life in them before they need replacing.

We decided to park at St David’s 2, which we knew would be far enough away from any major concerns of road closures or similar. Others had the same idea and as we got closer to the start line, more and more runners and race numbers appeared.

The weather was pretty much perfect for racing, with blue skies, minor cloud cover and a slight breeze. We arrived at the runners’ village with me joining the toilet queues several times and then warming up with some quick, short strides of no more than 50m and some stretching. I had to go to the toilet one last time and foolishly joined the queue with the most women, causing me to reach the starting pen later than I would have liked and being caught up amongst slower runners.

The gun went off and we were off! I was cautious to stick to the plan of 8 min miles for the first 5k (25 minutes) and then cranking up the speed for the second half at 7:44 minute miles or faster. Consciously slowing yourself down in a race is hard, especially when you have the adrenalin and energy stored inside you. It also doesn’t help that since March, I have not raced in anything but 5ks where the strategy of going out fast and hard usually nets positive results. The volume of people made it tricky to pace correctly and I ended up having to take some early corners wide, slowing me down further.

The pace settled down a little after Cardiff Castle, though I was still noticeably faster than most people around me, overtaking constantly and never being overtaken. We entered the first park section of the course (roughly half way), which granted us some shade from the sun and our only water stop on the route. I took a bottle and had a few sips and then poured the rest of the water over my head to cool me down. The chill of the water certainly woke me up and I was surprised I did not feel the need to take on much liquid. I noticed a guy running barefoot and had a quick chat with him to wish him well, helping to take some of the monotony away. As we passed the halfway point, I upped the pace as planned but decided to increase it to a comfortably hard pace. I was still overtaking people all over the place and nobody seemed to be running alongside me. On the return to the finish area, I felt I had to concentrate more to maintain pace and form and started picking runners in the distance to catch up to. We then turned into another park, which caught me off guard and the pace had definitely increased again, with runners around me remaining more constant than before. Continuing to overtake, we finally reached the home stretch where Lis and Iain were waiting. I fired off a few Mobots and they actually managed to get some good photos of me!

The finish line felt like it was miles away, despite only being 200m or so. I was running at full pelt by this stage, registering immediate paces of around 6:10 per mile. Crossing the line, I had to collapse and sit down for a few minutes next to the barriers and crowds to collect myself. Checking my finish time, I was elated to find I had not only met my minimum budgeted time of 49 minutes, but I had blown it wide open by finishing in 46:41. Returning to Lis and Iain, I shared my good news with them and ran back towards the final corner to wait for Elsa to cross whilst cheering plenty of other runners on. Notable mention goes to Mr and Mrs Potato Head, running as part of the Toy Story team who I cheered out to, only to reply back to me with “I’m mashed!”

Elsa finally showed up and I ran with her, convincing her to steadily pick up the pace, stage by stage until we were within spitting distance of the finish where we fully opened up the throttle. Sadly, Elsa missed her PB by a minute or so and this would have been too much to reclaim by the end of the race.

A well-deserved finishers’ breakfast was had by all, followed by a debrief back at the farm. In a moment of madness, I decided to register to run in the Bath Half Marathon. I had full intentions of running the Silverstone half marathon again, though due to popular request, Lis would rather I raced a different spring half marathon, not only for experience for me but also for her as a spectator. Bath is one that I’ve always wanted to race and features an interesting course where it’s two laps, though prone to overcrowding for the runners that finish within peak time. I’m surprised by how expensive Bath is, costing £41 per entry if you don’t belong to an athletics club, coupled with an overnight stay and travel to get there and back. I’m looking forward to the event, though I wonder whether I should aim to PB it or approach it with caution in light of the London Marathon.

Nike+ data is available to view here.