This week’s running – 11th to 17th of November

Marathon base building begins!

Marathon base building began this week

After several bad/tired weeks of running, this week finally perked up for me!

4 x treadmill 800m reps

After last week’s less than stellar return to the treadmill, I had a belter of a speedwork session on Tuesday at the gym.

I packed my Flyknit Racers for the task at hand, knowing that I would need the lightweight shoes for the high leg turnover rate. I was ready to go out hard, properly fueled up on a mince pie and a Mars bar from earlier in the afternoon at the office.

Like all of my speedwork sessions, I always warm-up beforehand with at least a mile of easy running. My target speed on the treadmill was 15.5kmph, which is roughly 6:15 mile pace; perfect to get me back into at least half-decent 5k shape after all these weeks.

The reps were suitably tough, especially on a treadmill. After each 90 second recovery, I’d have to ease myself back on to the moving belt and quickly get my legs up to speed to avoid flying off the back!

I probably could have pushed myself to do 5 reps, but I’d read a valuable piece of advice somewhere that recommended you should feel like you can do one more rep before calling it quits. Inevitably, it’s always that last rep that pushes you over the edge so why risk it?

Take a look at the Garmin data here. Ignore the slowing pace on each rep; my gait adjusted each time to become more efficient to cover the same distance in fewer steps. Either my footpod needs recalibrating or the treadmill needs recalibrating.

I did pick up one niggle in the form of a blood blister on the ball of my left foot, which would come back later in the week to haunt me.

Cancelled Thursday 6 miles

The blood blister I’d picked up was no cause for concern on Wednesday where I was able to walk perfectly fine on it. It did rudely wake me up on Wednesday night/early Thursday morning by throbbing away. It felt incredibly tender and swollen, making it rather painful to walk on.

I put a Compeed blister patch on it, though it didn’t seem to get any better, making me call off my staple Thursday evening 6 mile session.

Friday was much better with only a dull ache but was still enough to make me think about volunteering at Parkrun on Saturday instead of running.

Bramley 20

Wallowing in self pity of another mishap in my running, I took the time to enter the Bramley 20 – a 20 mile road race near Reading. It’s a popular event for those preparing for spring marathons, also offering a 10 mile option for half marathon prep.

One of the failings of my marathon schedule from earlier this year was a lack of race pace training. All of my long runs were done at slower than marathon pace with no specific pace work. I intend to tackle the Bramley 20 in the following manner:

  • First 5 miles at 8:10 mile pace
  • Next 5 miles at 8:05 mile pace
  • Next 7 miles at 8:00 mile pace
  • Final 3 miles at 7:55 mile pace

I intend for my marathon goal pace at the 2014 London Marathon to be somewhere around the 8:00 mile mark, which should see me finish in less than 3.5 hours – my target marathon finish time from this year’s London Marathon.

Dom and Kev are also running so I won’t be out there alone.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I slept reasonably well on Friday night going into Saturday which helped me feel better about the task at hand – to dip below 20 minutes at Cannon Hill. I’ve had a dreadful time as of late with Parkrun where I seemed to have lost a lot of the speed that I had worked so hard to develop and refine over the summer.

Needing all the help I could get, I downed one of my beetroot juice shots and made sure I was adequately hydrated and fueled before hitting the 5k distance.

Arriving at Cannon Hill, I completed my usual 1 mile warm-up lap of the park to get all cylinders firing. I had a brief catch-up with a few folks that I hadn’t seen for quite a while and despite only a 2 week absence from Parkrun, I felt like I had been away for much longer.

I toed up at the start line and had set my Garmin to a target pace of 6:22 which equates to roughly a 19:50 finish; realistically achievable and comfortably sub-20.

My first mile was slightly ahead of goal pace at 6:15 before the pace nose-dived to beyond 6:30. A chap from Sparkhill Harriers stayed with me for much of the run, probably helping me to keep to a higher pace.

I managed to finish in 19:50 and exactly on target. It was touch and go whether I would be able to or not, with the pace slipping dramatically before a big push at the end to reclaim some lost time. I felt bloody awful after finishing with my breathing laboured. Nigel came over for a chat; he did shout out to me on the course but my head was in a really bad place at that moment in time so I apologise for not shouting back!

I was incredibly pleased to hit sub-20 again where it’s an indicator that the speedwork and hill reps I’m doing at the moment are moving me back in the right direction. It’s also a sign that I’m finally recovering or even recovered from my autumn races and my trip to New York.

The Garmin data can be found here.

15 miles of the north Birmingham canals

On top of my lack of marathon specific pace work, I also left it far too late to begin my marathon training for this year’s London Marathon. The harsh winter robbed me of several weeks of training, so much so that I actually did my longest run of 22 miles in the snow because I had no choice! Marathon training began today to build in some buffer; I have a feeling we’re in for another bad winter…

I loaded up my CamelBak with 750ml of weak Nectar Fuel, conscious that I’d eaten absolutely loads yesterday and should have been well fueled for the 15 miles ahead. I packed an energy gel as well, just in case.

The goal for the session was to run it at an average 8:20 pace. This turned out to be quite comfortable, requiring concentration to stay on pace but not difficult enough to push me over the edge. My breathing remained stable and relaxed throughout, giving me a good indication that I should be able to tackle my 20+ mile training runs at around 9:00 miles.

My CamelBak performed beautifully and I’d guesstimated well over the amount of fluid I would need. Upon finishing, I had just 3 mouthfuls left before running empty, so I wasn’t wasting energy hauling around fluid I didn’t need or worse, running out!

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Closing thoughts

Despite the cancelled Thursday session, I’m incredibly pleased with how this week has gone. My speed is slowly coming back which is reassuring because I like to use my 5k ability as a benchmark of my fitness. I’ve also made that first step into marathon training and I will be a lucky boy if every session goes as well as today’s did.

Lis pointed out to me that I’d failed to include an entry from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy last week, so here’s two to make up for it:

Expand your definition of fun

As a runner, your definition of fun – which previously might have included such activities as visiting water parks, watching screwball comedies on DVD, and scrapbooking – must be… well, let’s call it broadened.

For runners, fun might include:

  • Waking up at 5:30am to run 10 miles
  • Running in blistering heat
  • Running in the rain
  • Running in 400m circles
  • Feeling as if your lungs are about to explode
  • Paying a race director good money for the privilege of turning your own toes black and blue
  • Any combination of the above

Black toenails are badges of honour

Run long enough and you’ll wind up ruining a toenail or two. It’s a cost of doing business as a runner.

Whether it’s because your shoes are too big or too small or because you’ve just finished a run or race with lots of toe-punishing downhills or simply because the toenail gods happen to be in a foul mood, someday you will peel off your socks and see black where before there was pink.

Congratulations! These bruised (and possibly bloody) nails are tiny trophies, conferred upon you for toughing it out. They are black-and-blue badges of honour.

But that doesn’t mean you have to flash those badges at everyone you meet. Rule of thumb: if you’re socialising with a group that mostly or even primarily consists of other runners, wearing footwear that exposes your nasty nails is fine (unless it’s a formal event).

Otherwise, keep those nails under wraps.

London Marathon Episode II – The Return of the Andy

Andy Yu's second stab at the London Marathon

Sub-3:30 will be mine!

Yep, I’m going to be running the Virgin London Marathon again in April 2014.

Yep, I managed to defy the odds, not once but twice, to obtain a second ballot place in a row. To give this some context, it’s widely believed that there is a rough 1 in 7 chance of getting in via the ballot, though this figure will be dubious to many that have been rejected time after time over the years. Many runners last year looked at me in disbelief when I told them I had a much coveted ballot place – I’d better get used to that look again…

Maybe luck runs in my family because the only other person I know to have gained two ballot places besides me is my cousin, Bruce (yes, his name is Bruce Li).

Anyway, I’m chuffed to bits that some running god upstairs has seen fit to give me another opportunity to break sub-3:30 in the London Marathon.

Lightning strikes twice - two ballot places in two years!

Lightning strikes twice!

The 2013 race was a huge learning curve for me so next year’s outing will be a different affair.

In training, I did plenty of long runs where my 5 longest attempts added up to 100 miles. What I neglected was running at race pace, which was and still is 8 minutes per mile for a 3:30 finish. This time, I will start my long run training much sooner to build in breathing room for a potentially bad winter and also to space out my long runs, so that I can periodically run a shorter distance at race pace.

I also neglected speedwork, where my fastest run of the week was Parkrun. There is a very clear correlation between my Parkrun PBs plateauing between January and April and me taking on the long run training. I will include one session a week of something like fartlek or hill reps to complement Parkrun and to help maintain my speed; I was shocked by how much leg turnover I had lost after the marathon and how much work it took to get it back, taking maybe 6 weeks of focused effort.

My estimation of my ability was far too conservative when I originally applied for the 2013 race. Registering with a time of 4:10 and it being my first marathon, the organisers saw fit to dump me into pen 8 out of 9. This time, I’ve put forward a finish of 3:20 and also had no need to tick the first marathon box on application. That should already bump me up to pen 5 or 6 by my guess to allow for a much better first half. I used up too much energy dodging, weaving and surging earlier this year due to slower runners getting in my way which left me fatigued and whacked for the second half.

Suz West and my old university buddy Kevin are both big advocates of 20 mile races during marathon training. It presents you with the perfect opportunity to test and trial your marathon strategy, but without the full distance to leave you completely wiped-out. Dom and I are looking at the Reading Bramley 20 in mid-February for this attempt, which coincides perfectly for his Rome Marathon. Dave and I also plan to get the Silverstone Half Marathon in during early March.

Andy's name will be on display

I’ll take whatever support I can get from the crowds

Finally, I am so having my name displayed on my running vest. It sounded so cheesy when I’d read about people doing it but from mile 20 onwards out on the course, I wish I had people shouting my name and telling me how well I was doing. Whilst in Manchester yesterday, Lis and I found some pre-cut letters from Afflecks Palace which look a bit neater than our original felt idea.

I will need to call on the help of Team Beetroot to help me through this. The countdown to marathon race day begins.

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

Training was back on full intensity this week.

Tuesday hill session

I always scratched my head a little when people would say that “summer is for speed”. Why the summer? What stops somebody developing speed in the winter?

A sudden cold and wet spell hit the country earlier this week and this hammered home to me just why the summer is geared towards speedwork. The warmer climate allows muscles to work more effectively. The longer days allow for faster sessions to be done in relative safety. The lack of rain means you can attack the speedwork at full pelt without fear of slipping.

Tuesday’s poor weather made it difficult for effective speedwork at either Cannon Hill or Kings Heath Park. I decided to familirise myself with a hill session on Charlotte Road, the one portion of the Great Birmingham Run that most people seem to struggle with. I charged up and down the hill 3 times; in isolation, the hill is actually quite tame but tack it on after 10 hard miles and it becomes a beast. Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

The session was good and it should have been timed just right for periodisation to take place just before the Cardiff Half Marathon, which conveniently leads me on to…

Cardiff Half Marathon

Cardiff is home to some cracking running events, such as Cardiff Parkrun and the Cardiff 10k. The half marathon does not fall into this category.

I last ran it in 2011 and the organisation was shambolic. Reports from the 2012 event suggested it had improved somewhat, so I decided to add it to my autumn race calendar.

I received my race pack on Thursday and despite registering with a conservative estimated time of 1:32:59, they’ve seen fit to put me in the second slowest holding pen assigned to 2:10 runners or faster. For reference, these are how the pens are organised:

  • White – sub-1:30
  • Orange – sub-1:45
  • Green – sub-2:10
  • Yellow – 2:10 or slower

I should at least be in the orange group and even then I’m going to be much faster than majority of the people within that wave. Looking online, it seems it’s far from an isolated case and there are plenty of people that have been assigned the wrong wave colour, the most comical being a sub-1:30 runner that’s received a yellow bib! I still fail to understand how such a cock-up could have happened.

Speaking to the organisers, they have quietly acknowledged that something has gone wrong. They’ve taken my details along with many other people’s and will come up with a solution by the middle of next week, which doesn’t leave much time before the big day. What I’m puzzled by is how they feel they have a choice of solutions – surely the only remedy is to reissue correctly coloured bibs to affected runners? If they tell me to simply start in the pen I feel I belong in, then it makes a mockery of the entire system and turns it into a free for all.

I’m going to get my PB but never again will I bother with the Cardiff Half Marathon – I don’t need the aggravation.

EDIT – Word from the grapevine suggests that the organisers will be issuing coloured wristbands for those affected. I’m genuinely surprised by this idea because it appears to be a good robust solution with few opportunities for further error.

Thursday 6 miles

As is customary for my Thursdays, I ventured out for 6 miles at a steady pace. Pissed off by the incompetence of the Cardiff Half Marathon, I headed out towards the canals after several weeks’ absence.

The run did the trick to help calm me down and reminded me of how peaceful the canals can be, away from traffic and the hustle and bustle. The Garmin data can be found here.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

19:18 PBs for Dave and me

Boom! 19:18 5k PB

Dave and I had a bit of banter going throughout the week leading up to Parkrunday. Dave has shown some incredible strength recently, chopping down his 5k PB almost week after week. We felt that our abilities were pretty evenly matched again so we penciled in Smackdown and Showdown Saturday on the schedule.

For whatever reason, I decided to break in my new Volt Flyknit Racers during our face-off; not my wisest decision but one that didn’t seem to improve or hamper my performance.

Lis was in tow, not to shout words of encouragement but rather words of abuse! We need new forms of stimulus, both physical and mental to squeeze the most out of us.

We toed the start line and on “go”, we took off. I had punched 6:14 pace into my Garmin, which roughly equated to a 19:20 5k; a PB for both of us. I played the role of pacemaker and got us around the first mile in 6:05, which happened to be my fastest ever recorded mile.

I continued to lead until 1.5 miles when my pacing fell off and Dave had to temporarily take over. I surged to regain the lead and found second wind from somewhere to reclaim some lost time, so much so that I started barking orders to the others around us that were clearly starting to slip from the pace.

Going into mile 3, we continued our campaign and chased runners down. Parkrun regular Neil Muir was in the group ahead of us and slowly, the gap between us began to shrink. My breathing became very laboured, doing my best impression of a steam locomotive. Exiting the final corner, Dave began to surge away with me in pursuit. With 200m left to go, Lis began hurling abuse at us which spurred me on to chase and counter attack with a surge of my own.

The finish was now in sight and we were both neck and neck; Dave had the inside lane and a longer stride advantage to just pip me crossing the finish line with less than a second between us. I was the Mo Farah to his Kenenisa Bekele and the Johnny Brownlee to his Javier Gomez, but I’m happy that I was beaten by the better runner. I’ve worked out that I need to create a larger gap during the race to disrupt Dave, rather than relying on a sprint finish.

We both officially achieved 19:18 PBs in the mother of all smackdown finishes. As Dave correctly pointed out, the PB translates to just shy of a sub-40 minute 10k and a sub-90 minute half marathon; two very realistic and attainable times that were completely out of our reach this time last year.

The low budget Mo Farah and Galen Rupp are back! Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Great Birmingham Run reccy

Looking to get my last long run in before I begin tapering for the Cardiff Half Marathon, I tackled the Great Birmingham Run route today in all its glory. I knew it would be warmer today, but I had no idea that the sun would come out quite as intensely as it did.

I finally managed to include the Selly Park triangle addition to the route, noting that the hill was a doddle so early on. The Charlotte Road hill was a different matter where dehydration and low energy had hit me hard, helping to give the hill its notoriety.

Next week will see me cap my long run off at 10 miles. Here’s the Garmin data from today’s run.

Closing thoughts

Bringing us firmly back to reality, Dave highlighted last night that some day the improvements will end regardless of the stimulus the body receives. He’s absolutely right, using his example that everybody would be an Olympic athlete otherwise. Until that day comes, I’m enjoying the ride and feel I’ve still got a lot more to give.

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2013 review

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2013 medal

Not all medals are equal – some hurt a lot more

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

Today’s race was always a bit of an unknown quantity; I was unfamiliar with the course apart from knowing that it undulates and the organisers had never laid on a 10k before. It turned out that today’s 5k and 10k races would be run side by side, which could have gotten messy…

I took it easy-ish at Cannon Hill Parkrun yesterday, choosing to run at 10k race pace. Paula Radcliffe was in the park for an interview and photo shoot with Runners World, ahead of her commentating duties at this weekend’s athletics at Alexander Stadium. It’s not everyday you have a world record holder spectate your Saturday jog around the park!

Andy Yu at Wythall Hollywood 10k 2013

All smiles at the start line

Today, Lis and I arrived at the packed race venue. There was a real community feel about the event, with plenty of locals out to support or participate. There were also plenty of clubs in attendance with too many to name here. I collected my race bib and proceeded to do my 1-mile warm-up. The heat at 08:45 continued to rise, giving me a bad feeling about the race ahead; this was officially the hottest race I had ever competed in by about 10 degrees. Lis and I made our way to the start line where people soon assembled; the organisers made a request that faster runners head to the front (no chip timing) but nobody took them up on the offer. After a welcome speech by a local official, we were released on the sound of the air-horn.

Wythall Hollywood 10k start line

There was a malfunction with the start sign

I found my race pace very quickly, with people all around me zooming off into the distance. Using Marathon Talk’s tide analogy, I knew a few of these folks would come back to me later in the race for me to overtake them. The crowds started to thin out after the first 2k which allowed me to take an optimised racing line; everybody else seemed desperate to hang on to the left-hand kerb of the closed roads, even if that meant running further than the officially measured 10k distance.

Looking steady at the Wythall Hollywood 10k

Target pace was 6:45 per mile

There were several water stations on the course due to the warm conditions. I will never get the hang of grabbing a cup of water from somebody’s hand without crushing it, so not much water for Andy… Thankfully, I planned for this and I had Lis waiting at roughly 4.5k with a frozen bottle of water for me. I was also carrying an Isogel for a burst of sugar in the second half.

The masses at Wythall Hollywood 10k 2013

Clubs well represented at Wythall Hollywood 10k 2013

The course undulated and my hill training continued to do me well tackling the inclines, but I now realise I need to work on my downhill technique. I tend to ease off the pace ever so slightly, believing that the descent will give me a few seconds for free when really it should feel the same as going uphill in terms of effort.

After an annoying out and back hairpin, I approached the spot where Lis was waiting for me with my water. Thankfully, the water had begun to defrost and was now refreshingly ice cold, going down my throat and over my head an absolute treat!

I knew the second lap would be difficult due to lack of runners at my pace. Two older guys I was running with were starting to struggle and I overtook them going into 6k. There was a guy just in front of me listening to music that was always just out of reach. I almost caught up to him at one stage but due to some sloppy marshalling, I had no idea which way I was supposed to go and the gap widened again.

By this stage, the Virtual Partner on my Garmin had reported I was 55 seconds off pace for a 42:00 minute finish, so I reverted to Plan B where I just wanted to PB by any margin. The time to beat was 42:53 so it would be close…

Nearly at the Wythall Hollywood 10k finish

No idea what’s going on with my right hand…

The 8k marker came and went and I’m almost certain there was no 9k marker. I saw Lis and looking at my watch, I was at around 40:xx so I knew I had the chance of a PB, so long as I upped the pace. I could see the finish in the distance, confirming with a marshal to stay to the right. The guy listening to music had crossed the line and the nearest guy behind me was at least 30 seconds away, so I knew all the crowd’s cheers were all for me. Not wanting to disappoint, I kicked with 200m left to go and sprinted as hard as I could, pumping my arms and legs to get me to the finish line.

I crossed the line, stopped my watch and keeled over for a fresh 10k PB of 42:28. The marshal at the finish declared, “We have another one that’s died crossing the line!” The guy in front of me grabbed my hand and pulled me up, congratulating me on a good race; I composed myself and told him he raced really well, too, always just slightly ahead of me. The local official that started the race gave me my medal; other goodies on offer were bananas, malted milk biscuits and water. I found a quiet spot on the ground to call my own and sat down to cool-off, leaving a huge puddle of sweat before Lis found me.

Andy Yu's Wythall Hollywood 10k PB

A new 10k PB of 42:28

It was a pretty enjoyable race with an easier profile compared to the recent Aldridge 10k and Caerphilly 10k. With a cooler day, it could be a potential PB course for some. The only major improvement I would add is the use of chip timing; other local 10k races in the West Midlands of a similar size use it, making for a more accurate and faster results turnaround.

Given the relative ease of getting to the race, I’d dare say I’ll be back again next year!

EDIT – According to the official results, I finished 17th out of 213 10k runners making it into the top 8%.

For those interested, here’s the Garmin Connect data.

Bath Half Marathon 2013 review


My legs are finally mine again after the punishment they received at the Bath Half Marathon.

After the Cardiff 10k, I started making plans for my spring race with Silverstone being the likely candidate again. Silverstone is cheap and easy to get to with good PB potential. Sadly, it’s not particularly spectator friendly and Lis requested that I race in Bath as a change of scenery. Who am I to argue?

Fast forward several months and Lis, Dave and I found ourselves in Bath the day before the race. Reccying the Runners’ Village, we bumped into Dom and we got to see a number of cars being towed away from Great Pulteney Street – guess they didn’t get the memo that the race was coming to town… We parted ways, due to meet again later for dinner and we checked into our hotel. I’d only recently found out my Travelodge was located in the centre of the nightlife district, with a club right underneath the hotel. Thankfully, I found out early enough and I made a request to be located in a quieter part of the hotel higher up and towards the back.

At dinner (pasta, of course), we discussed race tactics and pacing strategies as well as recounting races of old. In a single night, mine and Dave’s pace plan changed several times and we finally settled on starting with an 8 minute mile, then upping the pace by 5 seconds at every mile marker, with an aim to get to 7:30 minute miles as quickly as possible.

It was time to call it a night and we all parted ways, returning to our respective hotels for the night. I normally fail to sleep well the night before a big race and especially so when it’s an unusual bed and hotel room. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night…

The next morning, I found myself waking naturally at around 7am and stayed in bed until 7:30am when I got up to shower and have breakfast. Rather than risk not having a cafe to go to, I opted to bring my own breakfast with me, consisting of cinnamon and raisin bagels with marmalade, washed down with a beetroot juice and Lucozade. I got all my race gear together and headed out for a short jog to warm up for the day’s exertions. Once warmed up, we headed into town to meet up with Lis’ friend, Ellie, who would also be spectating. We then moved on to meet Dave at his hotel and collectively headed towards the Runners’ Village.

Despite the location being a muddy field, this was one of the largest and best runners’ villages I had ever seen, with plentiful bag storage, toilets and more. We bumped into Dom again and began to run down the clock until it was time to head towards the different pens. The 11am start was a welcome change to the usual 9am starts for big races, though I found we were ready to run by 10am; people that travelled down on the day probably welcomed the later start. Dom went on to check his luggage in whilst Dave and I headed to our start pen. Registering for the race with sub-1:40 finish times, we were placed in the white group, nearer to the front and amongst the faster paced runners. We did some sprints and strides in the pen, which had started to quickly fill up with fellow runners. Most of us were dressed to race, with only a few in costumes and were representative of the talent on hand. We noted how it felt like an eternity to get to 11am, with a countdown signalling everybody to get ready get their race on…

The starting gun fired and the crowd began to shuffle forward, all of us getting progressively faster towards the start line. A sea of ‘beeps’ could be heard from everybody activating GPS and stopwatches to help track their speed and time and we were off. Dave and I ran together again, both agreeing that our abilities were close enough to really push each other on. The first mile of a race is always tricky to navigate with crowds to contend with, particularly those that are clearly in the wrong paced group. The first mile was gently downhill and we decided to take advantage of this, effectively getting a free boost to compensate for the uphill return later. Jostling for position was stressful at times and required swift feet to get around any slower runners that blocked our way. Running a clean racing line was difficult, so I anticipated running slightly further than 13.1 miles with all the early wide corners we had to take.

We quickly settled into our goal pace and I don’t know about Dave, but I had stopped sweating after the 2nd mile or so due to how cool it was with overcast skies blocking out the sun. The pace felt easy, though it was noticeable how much more concentration was required to stay on target with only minor drops in performance having a negative impact on overall speed. Before we knew it, we had arrived at Queen Square with Lis and Ellie somewhere in the crowd… I missed them completely but Dave did see them as we zoomed past in our yellow clothed glory.

We were firmly in the first lap of the course and commented how there were already more undulations than we originally expected. Unless a race advertises itself as completely pancake flat, take any claims with a huge pinch of salt. None of the hills were difficult so early in the race, though I was conscious that they would elevate my heart rate too soon. Dave and I were able to casually chat and still hit our target times. As the race unfolded, I noted how dull the scenery was around us, with the expectation that we would run through more of Bath city centre rather than heading out of town towards industrial estates. Somebody on raised the question of why a two lap race out of the centre of town would cost so much; a very fair question I thought and one that the organisers are probably reluctant to answer.

Our pace was still on the rise, helping us to overtake and reel people in. Those around us varied between keen enthusiasts and club runners; all good moving targets to chase after. The first water stop came by with so little warning that I missed it entirely and as a result, I also missed my first scheduled energy gel. I forgot that drinks stations would appear on the left and given how crowded the first water station in races can get, it was probably better that we ran right past it. The next station was a Lucozade one and wasn’t too far away, though I was becoming increasingly thirsty due to taking on less liquid to avoid having to visit the toilet so often.

The course continued to be quite congested, though we managed to weave our way through the crowds without too much difficulty. I soon began to question the correct lane to be in, because none of the marshalls were directing us to be in either one. This quickly made me believe that the less scrupulous runners amongst us could be tempted to just run their two laps using the inside lane and actually run less than the prescribed 13.1 miles. A lot of runners are quick to whine that a course measured long on their run, forgetting that the official measurement will have been conducted using a perfect racing line with no congestion to contend with. I also believe race directors purposely add an extra metre for every kilometre to prevent a course being classed as short. Saying that, races do occasionally and embarrassingly measure up short due to courses not being marked out properly, or a stray cone or barrier being put in the wrong place.

We began our return to town and not long after our Lucozade fix, I noticed a familiar figure ahead of me wearing a Coppafeel vest. It was, of course, none other than Dermot O’Leary! As we got a bit closer, I said to him, “Nice to see you out here, Dermot!”, to which he replied, “Thanks fella!” as we zoomed by. Interestingly, the next two miles happened to be our third and fourth fastest and we were still in the early stages of the race! Dave and I named this the “O’Leary effect”, where you get a temporary boost after spotting a celebrity in a race and don’t want to lose to them.

We continued our approach back to town, where most of the runners around us continued to be from clubs or were keen enthusiasts. A few costumed runners could be spotted every once in a while, such as the chap dressed as Dennis the Menace, attempting to break the world record for fastest half marathon ran as a book character. The congestion was starting to ease up and we found our pace more closely resembled everybody else’s around us. As we turned the sharp corner into lap two, this served as our signal to really knuckle down and keep our speed up. There was no room for flabby pacing here and we had to maintain our average to hit our target of a 1:38:30 or better.

Queen Square was coming up again and I was determined to spot Lis and Ellie. What didn’t help was that all of the streets started to look the same to me and I really struggled to spot where they were. Eventually, I saw them and waved, blocking Dave from Lis’ photo of us… This must be my party trick, because I seem to do it with such regularity!

The halfway point was well behind us and we both found the pace had become increasingly difficult to maintain. What was noticeable was how we both seemed to struggle at different points; we had to pull each other through these tough patches and sometimes I would lead and pacemake, and other times Dave would. I did notice a runner wearing a Cardiff 10k t-shirt and had a quick chat with him before moving on.

I don’t remember much of the second lap due to how much of a struggle it was. We turned at the sharp bend back to town and I knew this was it, the final long straight road towards the finish. We pushed on and despite the increased effort, we weren’t actually going any faster than our prescribed pace.

When we passed a car dealership, I knew we had less than a Parkrun left to go and the dreaded hill back towards the finish line was getting closer with each step. A mantra I saw at the beginning of the race was, “Pain is temporary; pride is forever” and I began using this to get me through the closing miles. Dave had perked up again and this was another occasion of our mis-matched efforts, so he served as my pacemaker. My breathing had become hard and laboured as my body struggled to get the oxygen it so badly needed. The hill wasn’t as steep as I was expecting, but it still caught a lot of people off guard and we found ourselves overtaking plenty of folks on the course. The familiar architecture you associate with Bath started to surround us and I knew we were close to our turn back on to Great Pulteney Street. I waited. And I waited. And I waited. The turning took an age to arrive and I told Dave to push on without me. Finally, I started to see people turning towards the left and I knew this was it and I had to muster what strength I had for a final sprint. I noticed the astronaut that was in the same holding pen as us was just in front of me; this served as a target to push towards to get me through to the end because I wasn’t going to be beaten by a costumed character!

Despite running at my fastest for the entirety of the race, everything appeared before me in slow motion. My legs felt like lead and the astronaut wasn’t getting any closer! I kept pumping my arms and legs and slowly, I started to gain momentum and speed – the astronaut was growing larger in my sights and I was catching up to him. With only seconds left to go before crossing the finish line, I managed to get past him and had officially completed the Bath Half Marathon. I checked my watch and it registered a 1:37:16 finish, a whole 46 seconds ahead of my target time. I later found out that chip timing had given me a two second boost for a 1:37:14 finish! As I regained my breath and caught up to Dave for a hug and a high five, a marshall came over to check I was OK since I was still breathing heavily; I gave him two thumbs up and thanked him for his concern. We exited the finish area and grabbed our medals and space blankets to stay warm and then joined the queue for the obligatory finishers’ photos where we spotted Dom. I noticed that the official photographer that handled the race campaign was present to take photos for next year’s event. Dom caught up to us and we signed the requisite forms and had a photo taken together – wouldn’t it be awesome if we were the faces of the 2014 race? Dom had run an impressive 1:36 on an injured foot and without the injury, he’d have achieved a time nearer to 1:30 – an incredible feat.

We quickly met up again with Lis and Ellie to share our war stories. Dom had to dash off to collect his bag and looked like he was in some immense pain, initially thinking he’d done something to one of his metatarsals in his foot. We bid him farewell and said we’d be heading for food, where he was welcome to join us. I then went to collect my bag and by now, the queues had swelled in size due to the peak period for finishers coming through. I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was in the right queue or not and had to rely on checking fellow runners’ numbers to make sure. The queue didn’t appear to be moving and this was obviously bad news for runners cooling down without anything to wear. I passed the time by chatting to those around me and there was clearly a good vibe in the air with everybody achieving new PBs. The queue promptly started to speed up and once I’d reached the front, I was quickly handed my bag and off I went.

What has now become a post-race tradition, we made our way to Nandos for some chicken and carbs. Surprisingly, there was no wait for a table so I can only guess most runners had decided to head straight home.

I won’t bore you any further with the story of our farcical train journey back to Newport.

So, my thoughts on the Bath Half Marathon… It’s a race I’ve wanted to compete in for a while and I’m happy I can now tick it off my list. The course has PB potential but will bite you in the arse if you haven’t at least done a bit of light hill work as part of your training. It’s not a scenic route and any thoughts of running through Bath’s Roman roads will leave you sorely disappointed. The cost is eye watering for a half marathon at £41 (it’s gone up to £42 for 2014) along with all the other expenses like staying in a hotel, travel and eating out. The Runners’ Village deserves praise for the thought that clearly went into it, unlike most others I’ve seen over the years consisting of just a few small tents for charities and nowhere near enough portaloos.

I still think for an enthusiast runner chasing after a PB, the Silverstone Half Marathon is a better bet. It’s half the price, just as well organised and has arguably more PB potential. You do lose out on the big race feel with Silverstone and any supporters you have will be bored to tears, but you can drive there and back in a day without any trouble thanks to the 12pm start.

Bath is still a good race and I challenge most not to enjoy it. Thanks Bath for the PB!

The Great Birmingham Run 2012 review

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

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

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

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

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


Elsa, me and Dave – ready to race!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dave and I sprinting down Broad Street towards the finish line

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

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


This year’s finisher’s medal

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Birmingham, you were beautiful!

Cardiff 10k 2012 review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nike+ data is available to view here.

There’s more than one way to get high on speed

It’s been an interesting time for me as a runner since the last update; athletic superstars have won gold, I’ve been on holiday, I’ve conquered a PB and more.


The Olympics have been and gone and with it, several athletes have been catapulted into stardom. Mo Farrah has become Britain’s poster boy as runner extraordinaire by winning gold in both the 10,000m and 5,000m along with becoming a new father to twin baby girls and also winning the Aviva Grand Prix 2 mile race. He’ll shortly be facing off against Haile Gebrselassie at the Great North Run. To say that he’s become busy is an understatement. Mo’s races were tremendous to watch, almost like Shakespearian drama unfolding before your very eyes with a so-so beginning, a developed middle and a tense finale. Compare this to Usain Bolt’s victories in the 100m and 200m which were over as soon as they started and it’s easy to see why Mo’s wins were so highly regarded because he could have lost it all after a tense 27 or 12 minutes.

Jess Eniss has also earned Olympiad stardom after several failed efforts over the last few years. Making it look so effortless, Jess has hopefully inspired a new generation of female athletes to give sport a go, even if only recreationally.

I absolutely loved the Olympics and it took over my life for two weeks. I didn’t think I would take to it quite as much as I did, but for the first time in my life, I felt like the trials I had been through gave me a link with the athletes that only those that put themselves through training week in, week out could possibly understand.

Holiday running

Earlier in the month, Lis and I went away on holiday to Spain, namely her old stomping ground of Malgrat de Mar and Barcelona. For the first time ever in my life, I took my running shoes away with me with the intent of conquering some miles and soaking in a bit of the location each morning before the masses came out to play. Each day, I would rise at 7:30am and would be ready to run within 10 minutes along the beach of Malgrat de Mar.

On the first day, the heat was fatigue inducing and even in the morning, the temperature was around 25-26 degrees, requiring that I carry water. Whether foolish or not, I was running each morning on an empty stomach with only a few calories from my isotonic tablets in the water for sustenance. I would run along the promenade by the beach and then double back on myself to complete about 2.5 miles, which felt more like 10 miles on heavy legs, already tired from a full day of sightseeing only 24 hours earlier. As each day passed, the running became surprisingly easier with mile splits taking longer than 10 minutes to complete on day 1 and the same splits taking less than 9 minutes on the final day. One observation was that Spanish runners did not carry any water with them, either being used to the temperature or simply not running far enough to need to carry any liquids. I loved being active whilst on holiday and did not want to allow any fitness to drop, or at least to slow it down if it was inevitable.

Take a look at the run data courtesy of Nike+ by clicking here.

Whilst in Barcelona, we also visited the site of the Olympic stadium and also the nearby Olympic museum. With the aid of a tour bus discount book, entry for Lis and I only came to 4,50€ which was phenomenal for such an enjoyable museum. My only gripe is that the exhibits need some minor updating in light of London 2012 having just finished only days earlier!


Ever since the Silverstone half marathon earlier in the year, I have been conscious of constantly changing weather conditions and ironically, it was actually too warm and bright that day and I have been looking for a decent pair of sports oriented sunglasses to keep the sun out of my eyes and stay put on my head. I’ve looked at everything from budget pairs to super high end and the problem is once you’ve looked at the high end, nothing else quite suffices so if you can’t beat them, join them. Oakley are widely regarded as the leaders of sporting eyewear and I managed to find a pair of their Bottle Rocket lines of sunglasses with a half-rim design to aid airflow. They’re polarised to improve clarity and reduce glare and the only missing feature is a hydrophobic coating to prevent fogging and water from clinging to the lenses. Sadly, this would have driven the price right up, so here’s a tip for you cheapskates not looking to use anti fog spray or similar: washing up liquid. Buff a good coating of it on to the lenses, inside and out and it’ll help drive away moisture and make water droplets bead up. You will of course have to redo this after each session but it’s free since we all have washing up liquid in the home.


New 5k PB

Only those that chase after PBs will be able to appreciate where I’m coming from here. I’ve been attending the Cannon Hill Park 5k Parkrun each week since Easter in a bid to improve my half marathon time by treating it as serious speedwork. The weekly race ritual is also good practice for bigger races and gives you a chance to experiment with tactics, clothing and so on in a free yet competitive environment. It’s a true community and it’s the closest thing I’ll ever have to a running club whilst remaining casual enough for it to fit with my schedule and lifestyle.

I keep telling myself that I’m not a 5k runner and I’m only doing it to improve my half marathon times but considering I only run two half marathons a year, I can’t help but feel that I may actually be more suited to 5k and 10k races.

In the 16 weeks that I’ve participated, half of them have generated PBs, though the margins have become noticeably smaller with training efforts needing to go up exponentially in return. I’ve been finding my 5k times have plateaued at about 23:30 based on my current training and this may come as a surprise to some but that’s exactly how the body works because if you only ever do the same training, you’ll only ever get the same finish times.

Having said all that, something miraculous happened and it’s something that hasn’t occurred for months…

I woke up on Saturday, tired from a work party the night before, drinking far too much Coca-cola and not carbo loading like I should for a morning of physical exertion. Nonetheless, I was committed to run and do my best and followed my usual fuel strategy of some Nutella and peanut butter on toast. I made a batch of Nectar Fuel in isotonic format, packing that 500 calorie punch that I love so much and sipped this in preparation for the race. Sadly, my body doesn’t seem to want to work in conjunction with me and nearing the start line, I needed the toilet for a #2! None of the toilets at Cannon Hill Park open until 9am and that’s when the race starts!

Elsa wasn’t able to make it so it was just me as a lone runner on Saturday, so no mid race high 5s for me. I decided to do my usual warm up plus some short sprint repeats to prime the heart and lungs for some serious running ahead. I continued to sip my Nectar Fuel and had consumed half by the time the briefing had finished, so carbs shouldn’t have been an issue.

The race started but something different happened this week and I managed to find a group I could settle down with for pacing and followed them diligently for much of the course. I also left my watch on average pace rather than time elapsed so I knew as long as my pace did not drop below 7:25 per mile, I would be able to PB and would only switch over to time elapsed during the closing stages. Surprisingly, I was ahead of time and by quite a margin, averaging 7:15 per mile. The field of runners closed up, leaving only a girl and I by the final 500m and knowing I had time to spare, I decided not to go all out during the 100m, sprinting only during the final 50m, picking off 2 or 3 runners to finish 82nd out of a field of 255+ runners.

And my finish time? 22:35! Almost a minute faster than my former PB, which I had worked so hard to achieve! How this happened is a bit of a mystery to me; contributing factors possibly being the training I completed in the Spanish 34 degree heat, the Nike Flyknit Racers doing their part, the Nectar Fuel before the race or even the sprint repeats I did as a warm up. Or it may simply be a combination of all these things along with the sun and moon aligning in the universe at the same time. Personally, I think the biggest impact was having a good group of runners to pace with and I’m confident that if I had a personal pacer each week to pull me along, I’d PB more often, though I think this current PB will remain for even longer than the last one now.

The race data can be seen here on Nike+

Cardiff 10k

I’m looking forward to the Cardiff 10k because it’s an unfamiliar distance for me race-wise. It’s a great combination of speed and endurance, so requires some thoughtful consideration over how to use both of these elements. Too fast and you can rob yourself in the second half and too slow and you’ll never make the time up again in the second half. I’m aiming to beat my previous Nike+ 10k PB which I generated as part of my first canal run of 12 miles, so I know I must be able to break 50 minutes, needing only consistent 8 minute miles. Elsa will also be running, so I hope the event is good to both of us, seeing as it’s uncharted territory. My only concern is fuelling up and it appears the event only provides water at the half way mark, so I’m tempted to simply take my own and fuel up on the go.