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

22 mile long run - the last before the London Marathon

Go long and I wish I could go home!

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

Monday massage

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

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

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

Tuesday hill reps

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this hill session.

Five seconds of fame

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

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

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

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

10k around Edgbaston Reservoir

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the Garmin data.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

22 miles of north Birmingham canals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team up for early-morning runs

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

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

Unless you’ve promised to meet someone.

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

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

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

Another 20 miler this week

This week was all about going long  and going fast again

The aftermath (or lack of)

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday speedwork

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

6 miles along Hagley Road

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

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

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

Here’s the Garmin data.

Pacing Mr Andy

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

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

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

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

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

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

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

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

The long run dilemma

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

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

Clif Shot Bloks

Sugary goodness for them long runs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love your tan lines

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

This week’s running – 16th to 22nd of December

In need of a recovery week!

Anybody else in need of recovery?

This week was the final of a 3 week hard cycle and boy was it hard!

Chicken biryani is not ideal pre-run fuel

A colleague of mine recently found £20 in the carpark at work and offered to buy me lunch, so who am I to say “no”? If I wasn’t to be running later that evening, this would have been an amazing lunch but unfortunately, the biryani was giving me major heart burn and also continued to repeat on me during my interval session. Throw in a developing stitch and we were off to a great start.

The reps felt ever so slightly harder than usual, irrespective of the speed bump to 16.1kmph. I had an extra day of recovery due to a slight schedule shift so I should have been extra fresh, but my legs didn’t feel like their usual self. All said and done, it wasn’t a bad session and I’m glad I convinced myself to complete all five reps – I could have done without the massive downpour that hit me on the walk back home afterwards.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Thursday 6 miles

I didn’t want the schedule shift to impact on this week’s training so I went out for an easy 6 miles along Hagley Road, taking in the sights and sounds of the opposite side of the road. Nothing remarkable other than I needed to get the mileage in to hit my week’s quota.

Have a gander at the Garmin data here.

The Parkrun that didn’t go so well (for me)

I really don’t know what happened at Cannon Hill Parkrun on Saturday other than I was probably still fatigued and recovering from Wednesday’s speedwork and Thursday’s run.

Andy and his Santa hat

Perhaps the hat slowed me down this year? Photo by Geoff Hughes

The day started off normally bar the inclusion of a Santa hat. I opted not to don the beard again like last year after it robbed me of a PB by a mere 2 seconds!

All the usual faces were running with a guest appearance from “Chinese Andy” (not me, I’m technically “Japanese Andy”) visiting from Hong Kong. A big congrats to Joseph Stone for hitting 100 runs; a real achievement and one to be proud of.

I started off at roughly 6:17 mile pace with Dave in close pursuit; Nigel joined us after a short while and we all ran together. Somewhere going into mile 2, my pace slipped and I was unable to hang on and continued to fade. Nigel and Dave went on without me. My legs were heavy and my breathing was laboured, with every step taking real effort. Coming to the end of mile 3, I could hear Mike behind me with bells jingling away. I urged him on and kept a few metres between us going into the final 100m. He started to flag but I continued to push Mike on for a sprint to the finish.

Nigel managed to PB by about 5 seconds which I was really pleased to hear. I knew he was on for a good time so long as he and Dave stuck together – what a brilliant way to end the running year.

Jim also managed to PB by a good margin and he’ll be stalking the sub-20s before too long.

Because I had to slow myself down, I didn’t feel wrecked at the very end. I’ve arranged to attend Brueton Parkrun on Christmas day with Mike and potentially a few others from Kings Heath Running Club and Cannon Hill Parkrun.

Here’s the (embarrassing) Garmin data for this run.

My magical mystery tour of Birmingham

Due to all the rain over the last few days, I decided not to venture out on to the canals for my long marathon training run. Instead, I opted to use Hagley Road for 7 miles and then would make up the rest by using Bristol Road and Pershore Road.

My target average pace was 8:45 per mile though I later found out this was ever so slightly ambitious.

Hagley Road ticked by nicely as did Bristol Road. Pershore Road proved slightly more challenging mentally and I had a few brief conversations with myself (I’m not mad). Entering Stirchley, I realised that I would have to add additional miles on to make up my 17 miles for the day, so I started to mimic the half marathon route by going into Bournville and back on to Pershore Road again.

There were roadworks everywhere which made it tricky navigating some sections of pavement with raised boards. Some sections were even blocked off entirely and required I run on the road!

Heading back into city centre, I realised that I’d miscalculated a mile somewhere and would end up short if I ran straight back towards the Jewellery Quarter. I ended up adding some additional mileage in – not ideal on tired legs and a frazzled mind.

In the end, I averaged 8:55 per mile but this is still well over a minute faster than the same distance training runs I was completing this time last year, so I’ve definitely acquired more speed since then.

Have a look at the Garmin data here.

Finally, another entry from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy:

Do not tempt fate

The scene: a residential neighbourhood street on a mild January morning.

The players: three-middle aged guys dressed in cotton sweats, jogging and chatting.

The audience: me and my dog, out for a walk.

So far so good, right? Except that these guys were jogging three abreast… an arm’s length apart… in the dead centre of the street. Oh, and they were headed straight for a steep, blind hill. Which they proceeded to run up.

I cringed, waiting for a truck to zoom over that hill and send those guys flying like three bowling pins. Didn’t happen, thank goodness. But to this day, I kick myself for not having spoken up, even if it would have made me sound like a scold: “Guys, that’s really not safe. A car could come flying over that hill and not see you till it’s too late.”

I mean, I’m all for taking calculated risks when the situation calls for it. But that was just dumb.

The moral: don’t tempt fate. Keep you wits about you.

Live to run another day.

Merry Christmas from the Yellow Runner

I have a recovery week scheduled for this week where I’ll be running at Brueton Parkrun on Christmas day (probably at 7 minute mile pace), Cardiff Parkrun on the 28th (full pelt) and 7 miles around the Llanhennock Hills in Wales on Sunday.

To all my readers and running compadres out there, I hope you all have a merry Christmas. Don’t feel guilty about lacing up on Christmas day to go out for a run – you’d be surprised by how many of us are actually out there!

Cardiff Half Marathon 2013 review

For the 2014 race, please click the following:

Andy Yu's Cardiff Half Marathon PB

Redemption!

Huzzah! The demon has been slain and I can finally put the Cardiff Half Marathon to rest.

As always, if you want to skip straight to race day then scroll down to “Race Day” or even “The Race” to avoid all the pre-race rambling and blah, blah, blah from me.

Cardiff Half Marathon history lesson

For those of you who don’t know my running background, I started off long distance running with half marathon road races. By autumn of 2011, I had two half marathons under my belt and had shaved a massive 12 minutes off between my first and second outing, but the sub-2 hour finish was still a touch out of reach.

Training for the 2011 Cardiff race had gone reasonably well and all signs were pointing to “yes” for a sub-2 hour race, just. I was running within my capabilities on the day, following the sub-2 group diligently. If you’ve ever tried pacing with a group in a big city race, you’ll know how stressful it can be with all the people running at one pace only; I decided to clear some breathing room for me and I ran ahead of the group. It was here that my 1:59 goal decided to creep up and become 1:50ish or so. With experience and hindsight, this was possibly the single most stupid move I have ever made in a race because whilst running with others and having crowds cheer will speed you up, they will not give you 9 minutes from nowhere if all you’ve trained for is to dip under 2 hours. Needless to say, I blew up horrendously at around mile 10 on the soul destroying dual carriageway to limp home with a 2:20 finish.

The organisation of the race was far from perfect, but most of the blame lay directly with me for my failure.

Neither Dom nor I made it into the ballot for the Royal Parks Half Marathon in London, so we both decided to give Cardiff another try. For Dom, it was to benchmark how far he had come in a year of training and for me, it was to settle an old score.

The day before the Cardiff Half Marathon

I decided to stop drinking about 2 years ago in a bid to help improve my training. I wasn’t normally a big drinker but it had enough of an impact on me that it made training at the weekend harder if you had a sore head from the night before. This all came to an end when I celebrated my 30th birthday with a few halves of Peroni…

The next morning, I found myself awake early; booze has that effect on me where it disrupts my sleep pattern. I woke up feeling very dehydrated, but not fragile. Nigel from Lliswerry Runners had requested my pacing assistance at Newport Parkrun where I would be leading his friend, Mike, to a new PB. Mike wanted to dip under 21:20, so I punched in 21:15 pace into my Garmin. I had a quick chat with him before the start and he explained that he normally goes for a negative split, which I personally find hard to achieve good times with in a 5k race; you lose too much time at the beginning and you still have to contend with fatigue and oxygen debt in the later stages anyway when you should be going faster.

Anyway, we started and went around in a steady 6:50 per mile fashion. We lost a little time due to the uneven terrain but I managed to get Mike around in 21:24; not on target but still a 1 second PB for him. Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Despite the relatively easy 5k pace, the boozy night had hit me and I was starting to suffer the effects of sleep deprivation. I felt tired and cranky despite eating and beginning to rehydrate.

Lis, Elsa, Iain, Yvonne and I headed into Cardiff for a spot of shopping and other errands. I ended up having a huge KFC meal which went down a treat but was hardly ideal pre-race nutrition. Whilst the ladies went shopping, Iain and I went to claim my orange coloured wristband to correct my incorrectly issued race bib colour. We caught a few glimpses of the men’s Welsh 1 mile road race where there was no sub-4 minute performance that day. We also reccy’d the finish area and noticed how the lead up to it was much shorter than at the Cardiff 10k; ideal for a short fast sprint but potentially not long enough to really take advantage of the speed increase.

Dinner that night was spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread – race fuel of champions.

I headed off to bed pretty early to make up for the lack of sleep. Needless to say, I slept soundly for once the night before a big A race!

Race Day

The big day had finally arrived. I had been looking forward to the Cardiff Half Marathon for a long time, ever since my 10k times started to tumble in the summer. The distance is a great test of endurance with a sprinkling of speed with the last flexing of my half marathon muscles over 7 months ago in Bath.

I got up at 6am to allow plenty of time for breakfast to go down, which consisted of two slices of toast with honey, a Nectar energy drink and two beetroot juice shots. This combo has worked very well for me nutrition-wise and if it ain’t broke, there ain’t no need to fix it!

The weather outside looked very good; it was dry with little to no wind and moderate temperatures.

Lis, Elsa, Iain and I made our way down the M4 towards Cardiff and parked at St Davids 2. Since it was so early in the morning, we had our pick of spaces on the first parking level. Entering the shopping centre, we were met by runners everywhere along with a queue for the mens’ toilets.

I feel very PB today

Today’s a good day for a PB

We ventured over towards the Cardiff Castle area next to where the orange start pen was. I went for a 0.5 mile warm-up jog whilst the others went for some coffee and breakfast. Dom was somewhere in Cardiff but had yet to meet us. The queue for toilets was already immense at 8am, so I decided to go back to the trees opposite the Civic Centre…

Dom still hadn’t turned up yet and not wanting to end up too far back in the orange wave, I had to make my way over. Literally as I stepped into the pen, Dom was walking out! He needed to stash his specs with my guys but I had no idea where they would be on the bridge; instead, we opted to stow the specs away in one of the large plant pots outside the castle whilst not looking like terrorists trying to plant a bomb…

We were quite near the front of the orange wave which seemed about right given our target finish time of something around 1:30 to 1:31. The 90 minute pacer was nowhere to be seen and nor was the 1:45 pacer.

After a rendition of the Welsh national anthem and an introduction by Colin Jackson, we got ready to start at the chime of the clock’s bell. The gun fired and after some cheering, we began to run forward before coming to a complete stop. I joked that we’d all false started and were thusly disqualified! We started running again and this time, we actually made it across the start line where a chorus of GPS and stopwatch beeps could be heard.

The Race

Cardiff Half Marathon 2013 route

The 2013 Cardiff Half Marathon route

Dom and I had more or less agreed that our target finishes were just different enough that we wouldn’t be running together. I could see Dom about 15m away in the distance; he’s a tall lad and had a distinctive club runner vest, making it easy to spot him.

The congestion was pretty bad so early on with people shooting off all over the place. I crossed the bridge on the left but Team Beetroot were nowhere to be found (they were on the right), with the sea of faces serving as more of a distraction from my race. I suddenly became caught up in a wall of runners that all seemed to be running at an identical pace – it was only the 1:45 pacer group! I thought it was ridiculous that they had started so far up the orange wave when the time designation is 1:30 to 1:45, causing the vast majority of the wave to run around them for a good period of time. I tried to stay calm, recalling my London Marathon experience and dialed the pace back a touch and went with the crowd temporarily until I had a bit more room to breathe. Ultimately, my first mile clocked in at around 7:15 so I was 10 seconds off my race plan. More worrying was the fact that my watch beeped about 10 – 15m ahead of the 1 mile marker. The London Marathon really was coming back to haunt me! The problem would either get worse or I could try to run a clean line and minimise the damage.

I felt quite awkward in the opening 2 miles where I was consciously holding my pace back. I’ve not raced anything further than 10k since May and this was completely at odds to the faster runs. Mile 2 presented some more industrial parts of Cardiff; not particularly inspiring scenery but so early in the race it shouldn’t make a difference. Mile 2 was definitely more like race pace with a 6:55 mile split.

My hamstrings were throbbing a little which worried me so early in the race. Had I overdone it at Parkrun the day before? Perhaps I should have run a full mile for a warm-up? My body still wasn’t game for the task at hand and needed some more coaxing…

Dom had pretty much disappeared from sight and was nowhere to be found. He wanted to get as close to 90 minutes as possible, hoping to dip under with some luck. I used this as a performance benchmark where if I happened to see him again during the race then it would mean my negative split strategy was working.

We overtook a few of the wheelchair participants and I don’t know about earlier or later on in the race, but immediately around me, not a single person gave the wheelchair racer any encouragement. Discussing this with Team Beetroot afterwards, they did highlight that some ‘less-able bodied’ people can get funny about encouragement and can feel patronised, which is fair enough because no two people are alike. However, we were going up one of the two hills on the route and this guy was doing it in a wheelchair!

Speaking of hills, the mile 3 hill going into Penarth was completely pointless. We went up and then came straight back down again, costing us all precious time out on the course.

Running through Penarth was an odd sensation because this was the point where I was walking during the 2011 Cardiff Half Marathon. Our first water station arrived and the volunteers had actually been instructed to remove the screw tops before handing them over to us runners, which meant the roads were clear of hazardous bottle tops to slip up on. This was a major problem when I ran in 2011.

I approached the Barrage and the view was gorgeous all around us. I was actually in a fit state of body and mind this time to enjoy the surroundings and my pace started to increase. I started to feel really good and settled into a comfortable rhythm where everything had warmed-up effectively. The congestion had now subsided and I was able to consciously follow the cleanest line possible on the course. And I comment on this all the time but it’s genuinely surprising how many people hugged the opposite side of the road rather than running the shortest route through a corner.

The end of the Barrage did not pose a problem for me, but reports from those running in the masses cited it as a major pinch point on the route. What was shocking was how poor some of the roads were out on the course. If you weren’t careful, you could very easily fall into a pothole or two!

I was now firmly in the Cardiff Bay area and the crowds were out en masse to cheer us all on. This was such a contrast to the 2011 race where spectators merely came out to stare with very little atmosphere or support. There was a chap running in a charity vest that seemed to be using me for pacing, keeping up with me and occasionally running ahead. Not one to let a mini battle go, I would then regain the lead and this would rinse and repeat for much of the race.

A trend that seems to be cropping up with a lot of races is the provision of energy gels in place of an energy drink. Cardiff Half was handing out Maxifuel Viper gels at Roal Dahl Pass, which I declined. I tend to try and keep new nutrition at bay during a race unless absolutely desperate (the London Marathon as an example). Energy gels seem to disagree with a lot of people and I wonder how many would have happily accepted the Maxifuel gels, risking a visit from the gingerbread man later? I was carrying my own in the form of my trusty orange Isogels on a gel belt. They’re a little heavier than a typical gel because of the water content, but this can actually be more convenient if you need a pick-me-up and there’s no water station nearby to wash the gel down with. Iain mentioned that the adoption of an energy gel sponsor may simply be down to financial reasons, where Lucozade or Powerade (Coca-Cola) can’t or won’t commit to the provision of two drinks stations. Pitched correctly, it would be a good opportunity for an energy gel sponsor to introduce their product to a wider audience where they’re often viewed as nutrition for more serious athletes. Roal Dahl Pass was apparently covered in gel residue later on in the race, making for a very sticky situation for the slower runners coming up. Thankfully, it was still clean and dry when I ran through.

I ran past the Wales Millennium Centre and on to Lloyd George Avenue, bringing back more memories of the 2011 race. I had to keep my wits about me because Ben and Kate would be somewhere in the crowds to cheer me on. I ran past the block where their apartment is but there was no sign of them. I passed by the block where their previous apartment was but still no sign of them! Much further up Lloyd George Avenue, I finally spotted Ben, Kate and Ben’s mum waving at me; I waved back and even got a high-five from Ben! This really helped to break up the race and provided an instant lift.

I was feeling great by this stage of the race and everything felt smooth, in control and comfortable. I was bang on target for something in the region of 1:31:XX, with the virtual pacer hovering between 0 seconds and 5 seconds ahead. There were loads of people at the end of Lloyd George Avenue, possibly because it was close to town and also because it was close to the halfway point of the course.

The next part of the race is a little fuzzy in my memory. We started to run towards the dock area, but made a detour towards some residential streets. This was another curiosity where there were cars still parked on the roads. I can’t think of any other major city races I’ve done where cars were allowed to be left on the roads. It wasn’t a problem for the pace I was going at but for those further back in the field, the cars would only cause further bottlenecks. There’s even the possibility that the course was measured at a time when the cars weren’t present, which may have contributed to the mile markers seeming out of place.

The first and only energy drink station appeared somewhere at around mile 8 or so. Lucozade Elite was handed out which caught me by surprise where I was expecting regular old Lucozade Sport. There was no mention in the race pack or online that Lucozade Elite would be provided. What’s the beef? Lucozade Elite uses a different carb mixture to Lucozade Sport and also contains caffeine. There’s a good likelihood that it would disagree with folks, just like the gels. Nothing new on race day! I’ve had Lucozade Elite before once as a sample and it sat reasonably with me, but I wasn’t keen on the taste where I found it slightly bitter. During a marathon, this bitter taste could work well to give your taste buds a break, but few people would have trained with it because it’s actually very hard to find in the shops.

At around 9.5 miles, I spotted Dom in the distance once more and began to reel him in. This was shaping up to be just like the Cardiff 10k, so much so that I actually shouted out “Dom, you’re running really well” out to him again! I caught up to him and we ran together for a while, giving him a time update. I ran in front to pace-make for Dom but must have lost him somewhere in mile 10.

The rise up to Roath Park Lake arrived and people began to drop like flies around me. I powered up the hill, running a clean line and high fived a bunch of kids for some distraction. I tried to consciously increase the pace but it just wasn’t happening. I settled at the pace and decided I would try again on the other side of the lake and use gravity to my advantage to lift the pace.

What was odd but pleasant to experience was how short the half marathon felt up to this stage. I was still feeling decent and only had a Parkrun left to go before the end of the race. I almost wished it was a 20 miler that would allow me to cruise through at 7:30 miles to see where my marathon ability is right now. I was genuinely enjoying the race for what it was; such a contrast to the last time I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon.

Mile 11 arrived and I began to push and reel people in ahead of me. I kind of put my faith in gravity and hoped my cadence and quads would carry me through going downhill. I hugged each corner as tightly as possible to make sure I didn’t add any more distance to my run. Right at the end of mile 11, a short but sharp hill came out of nowhere and caught me off guard. I asked the runners around me whether they had seen the 90 minute pacer but they all shook their heads. One runner piped up and said he’d seen him earlier and wasn’t too far away, ushering me on to try and catch him with just over one mile left to go. Could I do a mile PB within a half marathon?

I went into mile 12 and said “let’s eat this last mile up” to everybody around me and began to kick a little. The final mile is more or less completely downhill until the last 400m, so I continued to let Newton’s Law guide me to the end. My breathing became laboured with shorter breaths and my arms began to swing more rapidly. I was flying and knew I’d finish right on target with 1:31:XX, possibly even 1:30:XX at the rate I was going.

Sprinting to win at the Cardiff Half Marathon

Congrats to Elsa for a great photo!

The road started to level out and I knew the finish wasn’t far, increasing the pace further. My cadence was sky-high and my arms continued to pump as I went into the final corner to see crowds everywhere. My eyes started to dart through the spectators and clocked in on Team Beetroot, giving them a wave before I launched into my final kick. I must have easily passed 20 – 30 people as I ran straight down towards the finish line. My thoughts the previous day were correct and the home straight was possibly too short to allow me to fully take advantage of the short burst of speed towards the end. I crossed the line and stopped my watch for a 1:31:09 finish. I did it – I didn’t just beat the Cardiff Half Marathon, I’d smashed it to pieces for complete vengeance.

I was unsteady on my feet and a marshal came over to ask if I was OK pretty much immediately. I said I was fine but he grabbed my arm and walked me over to the barrier to lean against. A St John’s Ambulance paramedic, Keith, had a further chat with me, asking if I was OK, what my name was etc. I told him I’d done this before and usually ended like this. He asked what my previous Cardiff Half time was and you could visibly see his eyes widen when I told him 2:20. My breathing and heart rate steadied and Keith was happy to let me go; I shook his hand and thanked him and the rest of the St John’s guys for helping out at the race.

Dom had just crossed the line and I caught up with him. He’d put on a brave performance, trying for sub-90 and didn’t quite make it but still PBd with 1:32:12, more than a minute faster than the time he posted at the Prague Half back in the spring. You can read his take on the race by heading here.

Andy Yu's Cardiff Half Marathon medal

I don’t feel guilty for having this medal, unlike the 2011 one…

We collected our medals along with some refreshments and our goodie bags with almost all the contents being edible and branded unlike the cheap-ass crap in 2011. This is also the second year that they’ve given away technical t-shirts, now supplied by Brooks.

A post-race traditional Nandos was had with everybody to begin the recovery to get me ready to do it all over again in Birmingham just two weeks later.

Conclusion and closing thoughts

For those interested, my Garmin data for the 2013 Cardiff Half Marathon can be found here.

I had an amazing time at the Cardiff Half Marathon and posted a very rewarding PB. I didn’t go for sub-90 and I’m happier for it, where I was only 70 seconds away from the legendary finish time. Had I have been gunning for it and ended up with 1:30:XX, I think I’d be struggling to come to terms with the achievement and would only focus on the near-miss. I slashed off more than 6 minutes from my previous half marathon PB set in Bath back in March, which is basically a little under a minute per month when you break it down.

Pacing-wise, I was happy with my performance running a small negative split meaning I’d efficiently used my resources. I was initially worried the weight of 3 Isogels would slow me down over the shorter, faster distance compared to the marathon but needn’t have worried; the benefit from the energy burst outweighed (pun intended) the additional mass.

One quirk that I’ve yet to completely pin down is the total distance I ran – 13.22 miles. I’m normally very good at running a clean line and whilst I fully acknowledge that mile 1 had me weaving a fair bit to make room, I’m not entirely convinced by the rest of the extra distance. Another guy on the Runners World forum also logged 13.22 miles and he ran it in 1:20, so could hardly blame crowds and congestion. The reality is most likely somewhere in the middle; I was a victim of zig-zag drag as Dave calls it and the course may have had a tiny bit of additional distance added just in case after the 2010 race was 200m short.

Cardiff Half Marathon tracker

The ideal tool for spectators

The overall organisation of the race was very, very good after the initial speed bump of the bib colour issue. Everything was where it should have been and the provision of the online tracker to follow athletes was a god-send to every spectator I’m sure. They just need to better publicise what nutrition they’re providing out on the course to prevent and surprises.

The course was great, showing-off many of the sights of Cardiff in a more logical manner than in 2011. It’s not a guaranteed PB course, but correct pacing and anticipation of the inclines should see you well prepared for what’s to come.

I say this every time I score a major PB but I’m genuinely excited by where my ability and fitness is right now. I’m so close to a sub-90 finish and my performance in Cardiff has given me the confidence to try for a sub-90 minute attempt at the Great Birmingham Run in less than two weeks. I’ve achieved my season PB but the Cardiff Half Marathon was missing that little something to get that fire inside me going. It was a strategic race by the numbers and went according to plan and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that, it isn’t quite as memorable because there was nothing to lose whilst I was out there.

The 2013 Cardiff Half Marathon was good fun and it’s given me the assurance that they’ve stepped up their game. A serious contender for an autumn half marathon if that’s what you’re looking for.

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

Andy Yu's week of running

It’s been another lighter week of running

Unofficial Parkrun Getogether

Tuesday was supposed to be my hill rep session, but I had been double booked by the Men’s Health Superdry Fashion Event at the Bullring. I really wanted to get the hill session in but also wanted to go to the Superdry event where I would receive a free £25 goodie bag and also a pair of £45 Superdry headphones if I was one of the first 50 in the queue.

Turns out the decision was made for me because I needed a rest day; I had no energy and felt run-down, which is a dangerous place to be so close to a half marathon.

I won’t bore you with the details about the Superdry event (I did get the free headphones!) but I will tell you that the two gents behind Iain and me in the queue were fellow Parkrunners! Joseph and Gillan Stone are a father and son team that have regularly attended Cannon Hill for even longer than I have, with Joseph a runner at the inaugural event way back in 2010 and mere runs away from collecting his 100 Club t-shirt. They’re due to run the Chester Marathon on the 6th, so we traded stories about training and other running related tales.

Once inside the event, I also bumped into Khalid Malik, one of the members of Cannon Hill Parkrun management. Iain and I had a hilarious chat with Khalid about how for ages, Khalid knew all about my PBs and performances but had no idea who I actually was in the field! This is most likely true for many Parkrunners, where you probably know the names and faces of the runners immediately around you during and when you finish the run, but far less likely to know others ahead or behind you.

It was also good to talk to Khalid about the management side of Parkrun, with the big issue being volunteers or rather the lack of them. I volunteered twice last year as a marshal and loved every moment of it, cheering people on. Dave and I had commented how looking at the runner points table, there were very few regulars that had not volunteered with the big fat zero standing out like a sore thumb against your name. The recommendation is that each runner should volunteer 3 times per year to keep their weekly event going. For both of my occasions, I was either injured or tapering and these are perfect opportunities to volunteer because you’re not missing out on anything.

Charlotte Road and St James Road hill reps

After feeling a little down earlier in the week, I was bright as a button on Wednesday. Feeling quite happy that my speed is at a good place right now, I was keen to use Parkrun as a weekly way to maintain my 5k speed rather than develop it further for reasons already mentioned. Instead, I wanted to build on some hill strength for both Cardiff and Birmingham.

I ventured out towards Charlotte Road and St James Road but only managed two reps. Strung together, they make for quite a long hill and I was running low on energy where I began to feel lightheaded during the second rep. I called it quits and decided to live to fight another day; we’re too close to Cardiff now to risk something happening.

The Garmin data can be found here.

Virgin London Marathon 2014

Lightning strikes twice - two ballot places in two years!

The running community’s equivalent of winning the National Lottery!

Yes, the rumours are true – I am indeed back in the 2014 Virgin London Marathon!

I’ve written an entry of its own for this occasion, so please head over here to read it.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Andy Yu at Cannon Hill Parkrun

Andy versus the Cobra

Conscious that I need to be winding activities down in the run up to the Cardiff Half taper, I decided not to go full pelt at Parkrun. Target time was around 19:45; fast but manageable.

Dave and I agreed that he’d stay with me for as long as possible, so we we’d try and run a consistent pace of 6:20 minutes per mile. We covered the first mile at just a touch faster than target pace. The above Cobra RC runner and I had a few mini battles out on the course, with me eventually holding him off going into the second mile.

I started to slow at this stage as expected, so Dave picked up pacing duties temporarily which is quick becoming a regular occurrence.

We went into the third mile and Dave started to lose the pace, leaving me on my own. I started to have a few mini battles with another chap and dropped him too. I began to chase Neil Muir down who was also taking it easier after running a season’s best time last week. I caught him up whilst approaching the final corner, joined shortly by the Cobra RC runner. We attacked the final 400m together, though I started to drift backwards from our group. With 100m left to go, there was a sizable 10m gap; I decided to give it everything and went for a quick surge to return home just a second before my opponents. I managed to cock-up pressing stop on my Garmin, so I originally thought I’d clocked something around 19:45 or so from the target pacing; I actually scored 19:34 for a third best 5k time and my second best at Cannon Hill Parkrun!

Dave being chicked

Dave being chicked

Dave came back in with 19:51; a strong result to solidly put him in the sub-20 runners as a regular.

Here’s the Garmin data – please excuse the iffy heart rate result too, where my heart rate monitor slipped down mid-way through the run.

Long Sunday run

After a morning at the Cycle Show with Iain and stocking up on energy gels, I headed out for my final long run before next week’s Cardiff Half.

The weather had warmed-up again and made running in the afternoon trickier. I headed out towards the South Birmingham canals with two Isogels in tow and aimed to get 10 miles in at around 8 minute mile pace. I cut the distance down on purpose to begin my taper; the pace was also conservative to help begin the process to freshen up for next Sunday.

The run went exactly as planned with no casualties. Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Cardiff Half Marathon

Very Welsh colours!

Track my Cardiff Half Marathon on race day by clicking here

I’m gearing myself up for the Cardiff Half next week; carbo loading will begin shortly to prime my body with glycogen for the exertions of race day.

I’m aiming for sub-1:33 but something inside me is telling me I have what it takes for around 1:31. Pacing calculators are also telling me I have what it takes for a sub-1:30 finish; a major half marathon benchmark that many decent club runners are measured by. I don’t think I have the balls to go for a sub-1:30 finish just yet, not wanting to risk a major blow-out like what happened to me in the 2011 Cardiff Half. There will be a sub-1:30 pacing group on the day, so I’ll try and keep an eye on them and see where they are on the horizon. Ignoring that for a moment, my own strategy is to go out and complete mile 1 in 7:05, upping the pace to 7 minute miles until mile 6. From there, I’ll play it by ear whether I stick with 7 minute miles or whether I up the pace slightly to 6:55.

The organisers have said I can collect my coloured wristband from the race village next Saturday. The wristband will get me into the orange pen and is their solution to the cock-up of incorrect coloured race bibs that were sent out a few weeks ago.

Nutrition-wise, I’ll be packing two Isogels to take out on the course. I’ll reserve one for around mile 4 or 5 and the other will be used at mile 11 or 12 to help me power through to the end.

The countdown to race day begins!

This week’s running – 26th of August to 1st of September

Half marathon goal is 95 minutes or better

With the bank holiday weekend, my training schedule was thrown into bedlam and as creatures of habit, we runners need routine.

Bank holiday Monday became my long run day where I decided to reccy the Great Birmingham Run route. Like a fool, I didn’t fuel up properly before the run and I only took an energy gel out with me to consume whilst on the route. The run was tough, with the warm late morning sun beating down on me, causing further dehydration. The comedy hill in Edgbaston was worse than I remembered and did its best to kick my arse and hand it back to me. I was destroyed when I finished and promised myself I’d be better prepared for the next long run. Here’s the Garmin data.

I like to try and leave a day in between runs during the week, so Wednesday became my speedwork session. I decided to do this session in Kings Heath Park where the terrain is flatter and of better quality. I wanted to do 4 x 800m reps at 3:50/km with 90 second recoveries and punched this into my Garmin. Annoyingly, each rep ended next to a bench that had been occupied by some chavvy lads. Surprisingly, they didn’t hurl any abuse at me and actually gave me some positive feedback about my speed at the end of my 4th rep. Reps 1 – 3 were perfect but sadly, the 4th rep was over 3 seconds slower so I knew it was time to call it quits. I’m really enjoying these quality sessions at the moment; now that Mike’s back from his holiday and Dave is literally back up to speed, I have some speedwork buddies again. The session data can be found here.

Beet It beetroot juice shots

I didn’t want to blow myself to pieces with my usual Thursday 6 mile run so I took an extra rest day. Instead, I went nutrition shopping and found Holland and Barrett selling the Beet It beetroot juice shots with a buy one, get one half price offer. They’re normally £2 each so you can see why I decided to stock up…

Saturday arrived and it was of course Parkrun day at Cannon Hill. I wasn’t aiming for anything special, just some consistency so something around 19:45 would have suited me fine. The run started off well and I was on my target pace. Bizarrely, my Garmin beeped to indicate we’d hit the first mile and I knew we were at least 0.1 miles away from the first mile marker. My virtual pacer shot up to say I went from 1 second ahead to saying over 30 seconds ahead of target pace, so I knew something was up. I carried on at a pace that I would call comfortably hard, so around 8/10 in terms of difficulty. With 400m left to go, Dave scared the hell out of me and zoomed past looking very strong and going for a sub-20 minute attempt. I crossed the line in 20:03, feeling really fresh and it turned out Dave had earned himself a shiny new 19:57 5k PB! I’m pleased as punch he’s hit sub-20 minutes, which is a real achievement for any runner. As for what happened to my Garmin? I believe it hadn’t achieved full lock-on before I started running because both the route of my warm-up and Parkrun were all over the bleeding shop, which you can see here and here.

Nike Pegasus 30 - my new long run shoe

My Nike Pegasus 30s finally arrived and I love the fit and feel. They look a little retro but the cushioning is so nice to have after regularly running in two pairs of Lunarglide 3s that have gone past their use by dates.

Today, I went out on another Great Birmingham Run reccy, this time with even more emphasis on covering the route in as much accuracy as possible where health and safety allow. I also wore my Pegasus 30s to break them in. Learning from Monday’s mistake, I had a better breakfast and took a Powerade and an Isogel out with me on the course. It was much cooler today but with enough sun to still heat things up when not running in the shade. I was chicked twice on the Pershore Road by two girls that had phenomenal speed; I later realised they were being followed by their coach on a bike so I didn’t feel quite so bad. I tried to find the Selly Park detour but had to approximate this as best I could. I threw some faster miles in during the middle and these felt amazing, feeling smooth and strong and will hopefully be able to recreate this feeling in Cardiff next month. The Edgbaston hill is still unwelcome but the simplified jaunt through Edgbaston immediately afterwards allowed for a moment of recovery. Personally, I’m pleased with these two minor changes to the course which should allow for a slightly faster finish for folks. Take a look at the map below to see what’s been changed:

Great Birmingham Run 2013 route

The reccy run was good; I finished it faster in training today than I had actually raced it last year! Here’s the Garmin data for the run. Oh, and the highlight of the run? Some random guy in a blue Nissan Micra that shouted out “You can do it, mate! Keep going!” whilst frantically punching the air.

The Cardiff 10k race pack

Finally, my race pack for next week’s Cardiff 10k arrived. The black technical t-shirt looks really good, though I still have last year’s blue t-shirt that’s been unused with tags still attached… Dom will also be running and it’ll be good to catch-up, not having seen him since the Bath Half.

Virgin London Marathon 2013 – the review of Yu

For the 2014 race, please click the following:

bib

Notice the comically high starting pen number. Grrr!

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

The Virgin London Marathon Expo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Day

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

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

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Free travel for runners? Yes please!

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

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This is where I was interviewed by a Japanese news crew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London Marathon

Runners and spectators at Tower Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London Marathon

A rare photo of me looking strong in the London Marathon

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

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

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Elsa somewhere between mile 24.5 and mile 25

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

London Marathon 2013

This is what a broken Andy Yu looks like

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

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

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She couldn’t possibly be Welsh, could she?

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

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

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The hardest medal to earn in my collection

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

Post-race

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

London Marathon 2013

Team Cannon Hill Parkrun for the win!

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

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

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

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

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

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The camp pose was unintentional

Closing thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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