This week’s running – 4th November to 10th December 2017

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Overdressed? No chance! Photo by Lis Yu

So, muggins here only went and fell over whilst running… But not in the snow!

9 miles with 2 at marathon pace

With a 10 mile race scheduled for the end of the week (obviously, didn’t happen!), I reduced the number of runs for a mini-taper, whilst maximising the potency of the times I did run. Sadly, Mother Nature had other plans for me…

Originally, this session should have been at half marathon pace; with the wind howling towards me, the best I could manage was marathon pace without pushing too hard ahead of the upcoming race that wasn’t to be.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Remember last week’s initial thoughts on the Nike Vomero 12? As I ran home from the office, I concluded, after 3 miles or so, that the shoes were definitely around ½ a size too big, which was frustrating as I’m normally a UK 7.5 in all Nike shoes; it’s only this pair and a recent other that appear to have been sized with different lasts.

As comfortable as the Vomero 12 were, I grew increasingly aware that I felt disconnected from my feet, due to the sizing. Then, with just a mile to go until I reached home, horror struck – I tripped going over a low kerb due to the oversized shoes!

Everything went into slow motion, but my flailing hands weren’t enough to regain balance. I hit the deck with a thud, and my left knee, wrists and chin took the brunt of the fall. I lay there for perhaps 10 to 15 seconds as I tried to work out whether anything was broken… My thoughts quickly moved to whether anybody had seen my moment of embarrassment; this was the first time I’d fallen in over seven years of running! Dusting myself off, I’d torn a hole in my tights and badly scraped my knee underneath. I’d also torn two holes in my practically new gloves, whilst also taking chunks out of my wrists and knuckles on both hands. Luckily, whilst my chin had also come into contact with the floor, you’d never know, as there was no visible damage. Oh well, skin will regrow and things can be replaced – there’s no detectable injury and my running gait has not been affected at all.

And the shoes? I boxed them straight up as I got home and sent them packing!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cancelled Cannon Hill parkrun

Much of the UK received a dusting of snow overnight on Friday, causing many a parkrun and race director to cancel or postpone events. Cannon Hill parkrun and the Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run were called off, leaving me with a very low volume week and little to show for it.

A few others and me caught up over coffee, with the topic of discussion revolving around the rather poor organisation of the fairly recent Birmingham International Marathon and Great Birmingham Run. Their return having been announced (£58 for the marathon!), I asked my cohorts of the morning if anybody would consider running the marathon again again. There was only one possible taker, and only if he didn’t get a club place for the 2018 London Marathon. The overriding feedback was there are plenty of better organised and cheaper marathons around the UK, increasingly with the autumn options now rivalling the spring.

Here and here is the Strava data for the runs to and from Cannon Hill Park.

6 miles in the snow

With Sunday’s race postponed until January, I wasn’t prepared to be defeated and go without a run, so I covered up as much skin as possible to head out. Rounding out my ensemble was a hat (I never wear hats!) and a neck gaiter, along with my Oakleys with special contrast enhancing lenses popped in.

Only having covered a mile, I came across my first casualty of the snow. A nurse who was heading home from a night shift had gotten her Citroen C1 stuck as she tried to climb a shallow hill. She slowed too much exiting a roundabout and then lacked the oomph to get back up to speed, without traction and fighting gravity. I tried giving her car a push whilst she drove, but it wasn’t happening, so I offered to drive instead. She made the mistake of trying to drive in first gear, throwing down too much power; I shifted into second and gently applied some throttle, which managed to slowly move the car on to a patch with more traction available. Good deed number 1, done!

Some 2 miles later, I encountered another car attempting to climb the hill on Salisbury Road near Cannon Hill Park, and getting in the way of traffic trying to descend the hill. Three guys and me worked together to push and steer the car to get it on its way, though the worst of the hill was yet to hit him…

My third and final car that needed help was found on Holders Lane, where the snow had been churned up just enough to greatly reduce traction, even on the flat. All the car needed was a few nudges from me to get going.

Full of the warm and fuzzies, and not having fallen once, I called it a morning – quite enough excitement for one day!

Here’s the vague Strava data for this run. My Garmin wasn’t playing ball, either from the low temperature, or due to knocking the start-stop button when pushing cars, so I’ve had to approximate the distance and pace.

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

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Wowza! Who turned off the heating???

5k recovery

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 x 1km at half marathon pace

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – beyond The Vale and back

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 13th to 19th November 2017

achilles_tendonitis

The new normal I can look forward to?

Apologies for the delay, folks. Netflix’s The Punisher series has taken up far too much of my free time!

Achilles woes

The title makes this sound worse than it actually is, but it’s the best I could come up with!

Long-time readers will be familiar with the Achilles injury I picked up almost a year ago in my left leg, with January and February becoming write-offs to allow it to recover.

In recent weeks with the downturn in temperature, I’ve noticed it playing up again, and it can’t be a coincidence when I factor in what I was able to push on to in the summer training. It’s not sore or swollen, but it most certainly is much less pliable and flexible compared to the Achilles tendon in my right leg. I do, however, find it behaves itself if I’ve been diligent with massaging for a few minutes before running, especially if I use a dollop or two of Deep Heat, too, though much to Lis’ annoyance…

I guess this is the new normal I can look forward to each winter!

5 mile run-commute

This was the eve of the city centre’s German market opening, with additional anti-terrorism measures in place, along with the various stalls taking up valuable space on the already congested and narrow New Street. I spent much time on this gentle run-commute considering my alternative routes and concluded heading via the Bullring’s Spiceal Street and past the markets would be sound for the next occasion.

Once in Cannon Hill Park and climbing towards Holder’s Lane, a friendly dog walker wished me luck on the ascent, citing that he gets out of breath just walking back up it. Expectedly, I got a little boost from this – thanks, random dog walker!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Poor nutrition throughout the day made this run a lot tougher than it should have been. Not eating enough at lunch and leaving it too late to snack on a banana in the afternoon was all it took to make the last few miles feel a little whoozy!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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Pleasant it was not! Photo by Pete Hickman

What a foul morning this ended up being! I was thoroughly soaked from the rain by the time I’d jogged from home to Cannon Hill Park, leaving my fingers too cold to even tie my shoelaces…

I wanted a hard effort to see what sort of VO2max shape I was in, and a hard effort is what I got.

The ground was slick with surface water, even in my Adios Boost 3s, which happen to be my most grippy shoes. I’d gone out marginally too fast in the opening km, followed by another fast km thereafter. Expectedly, the middle of my run sagged from the pace unfamiliarity, though did offer some slight recovery. Two battles in the second half stopped the pace rot, though I have to say I was still disappointed to not dip under 19 minutes.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to Solihull and back

Within minutes of starting this particular run, I came to regret not simply heading on to the canal…

Approaching an open-plan car park, I saw a mid-sized 4×4 start up its engine and begin a reverse manoeuvre out of its space. It was the only car in the carpark; at all times, the front of the car faced me and there was no excuse for the driver to not see me, either, especially as I was wearing fluorescent green in excellent daylight conditions.

I’d reached the entrance to the car park, but the 4×4 driver still had not seen me and proceeded to carry on driving into my path! I had to jump to my left before the driver finally saw me some 50cm from her car before stopping.

Pumped with adrenaline, I slammed my fists on to the bonnet of her car, not once but twice, to grab her attention. I was furious and if this was the comic books, I’d have mutated into some sort of green-tinged gamma radiation beast… Rather than get out of her car to check if I was OK, she simply sat there as I yelled that she had to give way to me on the pavement. Her response? She had not seen me, and what I was stood on wasn’t pavement because it had a dropped kerb! “You’re a f***ing idiot,” I hurled back at her! “What if I was a kid that hadn’t jumped out of the way?!” I slammed my fists a final time on her car, flipped her the finger and continued on my way.

Thankfully, the rest of the run went off without issue!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 6th to 12th November 2017

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Sandwell Valley parkrun with Dave and Simon

A spot of parkrun tourism this particular week! Also, apologies foe the late post – work has been insanely busy of late…

5k recovery

Unexpectedly, my legs felt rather chipper in spite of running within spitting distance of a 10k best only a day prior.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Boy, was it cold on Tuesday evening! I broke out a new pair of gloves, bedecked in reflective material and garnering a few compliments from cyclists and fellow runners on the towpath.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

As I ran through Cannon Hill Park, lit only by my head torch, another runner quickly overtook me. At first, I thought I’d be left for dust, but then, he appeared to be hovering at my pace on the edge of the light that my head torch casted! I couldn’t blame him – I’d do the same, given how spooky the park can be in pitch-black!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

20 minutes at LT pace (13, 4 off, 7)

Agreeing with my cohorts, I delayed this session for later in the week to provide my body with a wee bit more recovery time.

An additional minute was added to each effort, bulking it out to 20 in total. By complete coincidence, the opening and closing efforts were completed at exactly the same paces (6:31 and 6:17) as a week ago! It’s a strange observation, where I had hoped to become marginally faster whilst going further, but hey-ho.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Sandwell Valley parkrun

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A selling point of this parkrun? It goes over the M5 motorway!

I’d known about Sandwell Valley parkrun starting up for a number of weeks, but had some reservations about popping along to their opening event with the recent furore surrounding Wythall parkrun’s demise after only one event. The most common reason I’ve seen floating around is the owners of Wythall Park became spooked after higher than originally anticipated numbers descended on the inaugural event. Some research of Sandwell Valley’s venue helped put my conscience at ease; taking place in a massive country park on a single lap route and with plenty of parking, the site could easily take a few hundred runners and not feel any strain. Also likely to keep numbers at bay is the challengingly steep first half of the course, featuring a climb over the M5 motorway!

Joined by Dave and Simon, we were caught off-guard by how quiet the place was. Perhaps it was the afternoon’s cross-country fixtures that kept most at bay? Or perhaps many had taken note of the learnings from Wythall parkrun? I made the innocent comment that aside from my companions, I didn’t recognise a single face; only some 30 seconds later, out popped an old school friend of mine that I hadn’t seen since he gave up on Cannon Hill parkrun some years ago. Embarrassingly, the following 10 minutes were spent bumping into many familiar faces, one after the next…

From the start line, I tried to keep things calm and measured, recalling that my training schedule had parkrun listed as “easy”. I settled into a spot somewhere towards the tail of the top 15 with the effort feeling relaxed, whilst some immediately around me huffed and puffed. I knew the bridge over the M5 was due at around 1km in; beforehand, both Dave and I had discussed my folly of charging off at Ganavan Sands parkrun, to then almost immediately overdo it on their initial hill. From the way people had spoken of the climb over the M5, I was expecting something rather monstrous, but it turned out to be quite tame by comparison. I eased over it and knowingly took advantage of the descent on the other side to reclaim some time.

Rather than fixating on the climb over the M5, Sandwell Valley’s course description should really focus on the near-mile long ascent that quickly followed! Whilst less steep, the terrain underfoot changed from paving and hard trail into much softer trail, also not helped by accumulation of dead leaves to limit traction. With my high cadence rate, I was able to gain a place or two by simply slowing down less as runners covered this south-eastern portion of the course. As well as the route being well-marshalled, I rarely found myself more than 50m from the next runner ahead or behind, which is quite a rarity on single lap events with low attendance numbers.

What goes up must come down and I was then met with around 0.5 miles of descent. I regularly ease off way too much on downhill sections, preferring to use it as recovery and also because I lack the confidence to push the pace. My high cadence actually works against me here, where I’m making contact with the ground much more than others and generating more braking effect. Not so this time! I consciously opened up my stride, bounding down the descent to gain another place.

As the course levelled out, I was able to close in on the next runner ahead and took a breather in his slipstream to better steel myself for the return over the M5 climb. What felt like a molehill earlier when fresh now felt like a mountain! I expected the guy to challenge me on the other side, but to my surprise, he continued fading as I chased down the two younger runners in front. They had a decent battle raging, where each one would gain the lead by a few metres, only for the other one to close it quickly. I needed to get up to them, but my legs were spent; all I could do was keep the distance stable as I returned to home.

Unhelpfully, my Garmin ticked over 5km around 150m out from the finish line, also robbing me of a sub-20 finish by just a few seconds to ultimately leave me with 20:20. Many others also noted this and the organisers discussed moving the start and finish further up the course to better compensate for the extra distance on the next occasion.

Several people have asked what the course is like. The best answer I can give is it feels like the love child of nearby Arrow Valley parkrun and Kingsbury Water parkrun. The terrain underfoot is very similar to what you’ll find on a full lap of Edgbaston Reservoir, with a likely speed boost on offer during warmer months from more traction.

Parking on-site is free up until 09:30, though I’m informed this reverts to 09:00 during peak summer months. We’d paid the 40p to take us to 10:30 with the hope of a post-run coffee at the designated cafe, though the three of us were surprised to learn it wouldn’t open its doors until 10:00! They’ll want to re-evaluate their opening times as that’s potentially a lot of lost revenue – we ended up in a nearby McDonalds, instead…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to Brindley Place and back

This was originally down as 12 miles with 2 of them at half marathon pace… The previous day’s parkrun was also originally down as being easy… A scaled back 12 miles it was!

With stuff to do later in the day, I headed out at what I felt was early for me, but must have been everybody else’s normal – there were loads of people out and about! Once fully warmed up in the second half, the pace naturally escalated through no obvious push from inside. Everything felt like it was flowing nicely for a sensation I’ve not had during a long run for a very long time.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 23rd October to 5th November 2017

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Shall we try this again?

Back in full training flow now, also ending the week with a race. Being lazy, I’ve combined the past two weeks together.

P&L half marathon plan version 2.0

Some readers will recall my P&L half marathon plan from 2016 that was going to bag me a shiny new PB at the 2017 Brass Monkey race. Some readers will also recall how it may or may not have contributed to my Achilles injury that I picked up a mere three weeks out from said race… Not to be defeated and recognising that the plan contained plenty of the good stuff, I’ve decided to dip my toe back in, whilst softening and modifying it – completing just 75% of the plan and getting to the start line fit and healthy is better than aiming for 100% of its original form and breaking myself again!

Click here for the P&L plan in PDF format.

The biggest changes from a year ago are a general reduction in the time spent at lactate threshold (LT) and half marathon pace. The plan was much more aggressive previously and one LT paced run earlier this fortnight convinced me it was far too tough in its default state.

And how have I concluded what my LT and half marathon paces are? Funnily enough, I found myself needing to use my recent marathon PB to reverse engineer some training paces, as it’s the only reliable performance I have for this year! The McMillan calculator suggests my LT pace is roughly 6:18 to 6:21 per mile, whereas my Garmin helpfully suggests 6:24 per mile for not much variance. Just the ticket for that sub-84 half marathon!

9 miles with 17 minutes at LT pace

This is the session that convinced me that something had to give in the P&L half marathon plan.

The 17 minutes at LT pace were originally set as 22 minutes, divided up as 12 minutes at pace, 4 minutes rest, and 10 minutes at pace. Whereas I managed the first 12 minutes, the pace sagged slightly at 6:30 per mile due to tree coverage, prevailing headwinds and plain old unfamiliarity.

Entering the 4 minutes of rest, I thought I was going to throw up! How would I manage another 10 minutes? I chopped it down to just 5 minutes at LT pace, which whilst still tough, was at least achievable at a not too shabby 6:17 pace. Clearly the first 12 minutes had warmed me up.

Once back at home, I pared all of the LT pace sessions back to give my body and mind a bit of slack!

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Whereas I’d recently waxed lyrical about the Nike Vaporfly 4% for my Yorkshire Marathon outing, I also identified they did not mesh well when I trialled them across the 5k distance and pace. They lacked stability due to the ride height and I found cornering incredibly difficult with them. I’ve historically preferred shoes with a very low to the ground heel drop, so out came a box fresh pair of Nike Streak LT3 that I’d squirreled away for a rainy day (bought during a sale of some such).

Pleasingly, they added a nice bounce to my step to highlight just how past their use by date their predecessors, the Nike Streak LT2, were.

Whilst I only bagged a 19:16 finish, I’m pretty happy with how the splits shaped up, showing some strength in the second half in spite of a near complete absence of faster training in recent weeks:

  1. 3:52
  2. 3:57
  3. 3:58
  4. 3:49
  5. 3:40

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to Solihull and back

I felt extra productive by heading out earlier than I normally would, thanks to the additional hour from daylight savings. A complete fallacy, I know…

This was the longest run I had taken on post-marathon and it’s amazing how much additional headroom you can lose in just a few weeks. Whereas the baseline fitness was still there, I readily acknowledged that it didn’t feel as easy as it should have. Of course, downtime periodically is no bad thing; the body is not a machine and reaching a new level of fitness can’t necessarily be sustained forever without some rest to be catapulted into the next phase, if indeed there is one.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5k recovery

It’d been weeks since I last did one of these, but you know what they say – absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I love these low effort runs for thinking, or sometimes just getting lost with a lack of thoughts.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

18 minutes at LT pace (12, 4 off, 6)

After the previous week’s suffer-fest, I can happily report that progress has been made!

The initial 12 minutes certainly felt more tolerable, though the bizarre quirk of not being able to push faster than 6:30 per mile pace occurred once again.

I tacked on an extra minute to the second part, which came out a smidge faster than the previous week for 6:17 pace, and that was with me purposely dropping the anchors a few times when the pace climbed up to 6:10 (target was 6:24).

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Did anybody else think Pershore Street and Pershore Road from the city centre smelled of fish on Wednesday evening? No? Just me, then…

This was the first time I’d run through Cannon Hill Park in the dark this year, armed with a head torch. Unsurprisingly, I was the only runner in the park, though there was an abundance of cyclists with the same idea as me, using it as a cut-through.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I adore running on the canal during autumn-winter evenings. It’s quiet and all the annoyances of the summer are long gone!

A lady out for a walk stopped to enquire about my head torch, feeling that she needed one to keep up with her walking over the darker months. Showing her how bright it could go, along with the nifty proximity sensor function, I think she was sold!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With the Conductive Education 10k the following morning, I didn’t want to go bananas and ran incredibly conservatively, just to keep my legs turning over. Simon Bull and I purposely plonked ourselves further back than normal with no pressure of a finish time, aside from approximate 8 minute miles/5 minute kilometres.

Simon being Simon shot off on the final climb, citing that he’ll always take the opportunity of finishing in front of me where available!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Conductive Education 10k 2017

For the full write-up of this race, please click here.

This week’s running – 16th to 22nd October 2017

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Welcoming some new faces to parkrun

Still not an awful lot of running going on, but there was some parkrun tourism!

5k easy

Guilt began to strike and the desire to get out and run started to return. With the night firmly drawn in, this also marked the first run of this season with my trusty Petzl head torch. After two years of pretty extensive usage in the darker months, I was pleasantly surprised to see the rechargeable battery was still in pretty damn good condition!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Southwick Country parkrun

Lis and I were away from home for our third out of four weekends, spending time with her school chums in the Somerset countryside. Of course, I took a peek at the parkrun website to work out where the nearest event would be; it so happened there was one just 10 minutes’ drive away. It would be just plain rude not to, right?

What was originally likely to be just me and Lis attending, grew arms and legs as word spread of the plan, with a whopping 6 out of 13 of us from the group toeing up on the start line. There was no pressure or sales pitch from me, so I was mightily impressed by everybody’s can do attitude; some admitted there may be walking involved, but the 5k distance would be covered, whatever it took.

Reaching the venue, I was surprised to learn it was on its 323rd event and was only a year or so younger than Cannon Hill. Doing a warm-up lap of the 2.5 lap course, the terrain reminded me of the unpaved portions of Edgbaston Reservoir. Billed as “hard trail”, I did consider if I was possibly wearing the wrong shoes and should have opted for my Nike Kiger trail shoes – the only reason I didn’t was because they’re the shoes I wore when I picked up my Achilles injury back in 2016, and have not touched them since…

I purposely plonked myself a few rows back from the start line, opting to observe on the first lap. The rest of the gang positioned themselves in the remaining third of the starting grid. I became quite conscious that I was the only non-Caucasian runner that morning of nearly 300 in attendance, but given the local demographic, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Nonetheless, I looked around me to better assess who the big dogs of the morning were likely to be. Reviewing the past several weeks’ results, I was fairly confident I would finish in the latter half of the top 10 with a circa-20 minute effort.

The controlled start did me a world of good, whilst everybody else charged off. In spite of being heavily jacked up on caffeine (explanation later in this post), I remained calm and went with the flow until the density of runners died down as people tired.

The course was deceptively tough. The ground underfoot was quite uneven, and the most efficient racing line wasn’t always the most efficient racing line! Mud and deep puddles collected in the tree-lined sections, reminding me of Newport parkrun at times. Finally, Storm Brian threw in some powerful gusts that kept things from getting boring.

Having completed the opening 0.5 lap, I was pleasantly surprised to see I was sitting quite steady at circa-sub-20 pace and feeling quite comfortable. Whereas I crossed the start line in likely 25th place, I’d probably worked my way up to 15th by this stage with relative ease. A female Hillingdon club runner began drifting back towards me from up front before steadying beside me. It was evident she was working hard from possibly too much enthusiasm earlier, so I gave her some encouragement to stay with me; on my advice, she took shelter behind me from the wind, but continued fading to disappear from sight as I approached the finish line for the second time.

I’d caught up to Lis, Rachel and Jess, who were just about to complete their first lap, giving them some encouragement to keep at it. There was no sign of Ben or Rhys, so I figured they were well on their way to finishing in under 30 minutes.

As observed of late, my lack of anything much faster than marathon pace locked off any higher gears I thought I had access to. Identifying who was on their first or second lap grew increasingly difficult, made more complex by having to provide advanced warning that I would be passing on the right; everybody was quite obliging and made no fuss of tucking themselves in to allow me to overtake.

Nearing the finish line, I passed Lis for the final time and she did her best to share info with how many runners were ahead of me. I didn’t catch the number, but I remained confident I could make it into the top 10. As one guy began his kick about 70m away, I gave chase to try and reel him in on the uneven ground. Unwittingly, I was able to keep my own pursuer at bay for just long enough with aid from the fast downhill final straight.

20:07 officially and indeed I’d snuck into the top 10 in 10th place! Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Before too long, Ben came through with a strong finish just outside of 27 minutes. Rhys was up next, defying his own expectations by running the entire distance. Lis, Rachel and Jess brought the rest of the group in for some upbeat performances.

Southwick Country parkrun pushed the cafe harder than any other event I’ve visited, and with good reason. The cafe provides the only toilets on site, but more importantly, is staffed mainly by employees with learning difficulties or other disabilities. Naturally, we stopped by for a coffee and some post-run discussion. I think the parkrun concept was a hit for the newcomers, with Ben identifying Newport’s Riverfront event as his closest, Rhys and Jess identifying Black Park as theirs, and Newport’s Tredegar Park as Rachel’s. Welcome to the family!

Brass Monkey Half Marathon registration

This week’s post is a bit backwards in terms of chronological order of events, but it’s easier for me to write and comment in this manner.

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon is a strong contender as one of my top 3 races. Flat and fast, its reputation is well known with many willing to make the jaunt to York in mid-January for a crack at a half marathon PB. Expectedly, places become harder to gain each year, too. Bagging three places in three consecutive years requires preparation and a willingness to get up at 05:40 on a Saturday… This is why I was so heavily caffeinated at Southwick Country parkrun!

Being away from home made things more challenging in that I was presented with a slow and unreliable internet connection. More critical to success was the change made to the online queue system. Previously, it was a simple first-come-first-served approach once registration opened at 6am. On this occasion, it morphed into a two-part system. The first stage required I join a pre-queue – a holding pen, if you will. Here, it mattered not whether I was the first or 1,000th person, because once registrations went live at 6am, we were then all allocated a random place in the true queue to then begin registering. It became a game of chance, where it was entirely possible for the last person to join the holding pen to be put in first place, and vice-versa.

I was dismayed to see I’d been given a place in the low 1,200s. Some quick mental arithmetic did my anxious mind no good, where I knew there would be individuals in the queue registering more than one person, meaning there was every possibility that I could miss out.

As I waited, the page auto-refreshed every 30 seconds; pleasingly, the queue moved along swiftly and before I knew it, I’d moved to a position in the 800s. Then, the page hung! I panicked, fearing that my place had been lost. A manual refresh saw me jump 200 places into the 600s, so I’d seemingly kept my place. The connection hung again, so I relocated to sit only a few metres from the WiFi base station for better connectivity. Movement in the queue slowed and an update was published, citing that over half of the available 1,700 places had gone within the first 20 minutes, with a warning that the system would begin to slow further as places became more limited. A final warning even went as far to state that it was entirely possible to be allowed on to the registration form, only for the final places to be snapped up whilst people entered their details!

I had to do a double-take when the registration form eventually presented itself to me. Never had my fingers ever typed so quickly before! Paid up and confirmation email received, I stayed put to observe how near to the end I was; another five minutes was all it took for all 1,700 places to sell out completely, prompting me to breathe a long sigh of relief.

Whilst I was fortunate enough on this occasion to bag a place, I’m not a fan at all of this new registration format, but I fear it will be here to stay in the interests of fairness.

This week’s running – 9th to 15th of October 2017

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Thankfully, I have a high pain threshold!

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a whole lot of running from me, but rather from everybody else instead with the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon in town!

Massage Monday

I opted to take Monday and Tuesday off from work to cover whatever eventuality I’d be faced with, post-race.

The keen eyed amongst you will notice there was no weekly post to accompany last week’s Yorkshire Marathon race write-up. There really wasn’t very much of note that happened during the week that wasn’t touched upon in the race review, bar going for a sports massage at the exceptional Guildhall Practice. They did absolute wonders for me, pre-race, unlocking my full range of motion and undoing any pent up tightness from weeks and weeks of repeated training abuse. With time available to me, I booked myself back in for a post-race session, albeit at a much lower intensity!

Simon Bell saw me once again, but was incredibly surprised to see how good shape my legs were in! Even post-marathon, he noted how much less tightness there was compared to a week prior. I shared that I’d run in Nike’s Vaporfly 4%, which perceptively took a lot of the impact out of the race from my legs, though did appear to put more strain on my quads, especially the one on my right side.

I won’t lie – there was yelping at times… But, I felt immediately better and the dreaded Tuesday legs never materialised! Of course, it is entirely possible that I suffered less post-race due to more training volume and specificity; the amount of damage I seem pick-up after each marathon has decreased to the point where I’m now only perhaps marginally suffering more than an eyeballs out half marathon.

Insomnia woes

Just what I didn’t need after poor sleep leading into the race was poor sleep after finishing the race…

There must have been so much adrenaline coursing through my veins, requiring several days to come back down from the temporary high. By Wednesday, I was really feeling it, but at least I began my return to work to kickstart getting back into a routine.

Cannon Hill parkrun

My first run in almost a week proved to be a rather strange experience in more ways than one.

Getting changed into running gear felt odd and out of routine, requiring much more thought than originally anticipated to make sure I had everything I needed. The pace the run was covered at (just shy of 8 minutes per mile/5 minutes per km) felt challenging on my body, not helped by the amped up temperature and humidity of the morning.

I will not rush my return to regular running; I probably dived back in too soon a year ago, following it up with a challenging half marathon plan that likely led to my injury downfall in late December.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The Birmingham International Marathon

Since 2014, I’ve firmly been a spectator and supporter at my hometown race, now with a marathon option to bring back the 26.2 mile distance to the streets of Birmingham, which hasn’t seen a marathon since the 80s.

Marathon fever struck and it was almost odd to encounter runners that were not looking to go long, so Lis, Simon and I had a rather lengthy list of people to keep an eye out for. Due to rather light nutrition provisions on the course from the organisers (Great Run), I also became a moving gel and energy drink station for two runners that I had particular vested interests in providing assistance to.

The first runner that I would be assisting was Dave Burton. I’d coached Dave to best prepare him for his first and possibly only marathon, and wanted him to be able to do the best he could without any regrets. His nutrition request? Bundles of 2x High5 Isogels, which were to be provided at approximately miles 9, 18 and 24.

The other runner I assisted was Darryll Thomas. Throughout the summer, we’d both been working towards our own respective sub-3 hour marathons, trading encouragement, training advice, and even participating in the odd race together. Missing my own sub-3 hour goal meant doing what I could help Darryll achieve it on race day. His nutrition request? Lucozade with small bags of jelly babies strapped to the bottles, and to be handed out at the same points as above.

Tactically, the points on the route I’d chosen were perfect. They afforded long straights leading up to us, so we could always see Dave and Darryll in the distance with no surprises. We were able to freely cross the road to change sides, and I was also able to run with both of them as I handed their gels/drinks over, allowing them both to not break stride, especially in the later stages. For the other runners we kept an eye out for, we were able to see some people up to four times, courtesy of the two-lap configuration that broadly covered the middle section of the marathon route.

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First fuel drop complete – photo by Lis Yu

First up was Darryll, nailing sub-3 pace.

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All handed over and nothing dropped! Photo by Lis Yu

Dave came through next, looking so relaxed and executing the plan he and I had devised to perfection.

Sadly, Darryll began fading at around 16 miles by his account, citing the brutality of the course for his demise (a sentiment shared by many I’ve spoken to since). Every cloud has its silver lining, and he did go on to achieve yet another London Marathon Good For Age qualifying finish, allowing Darryll to return to the capital sometime in the future.

Dave went on to have a blinding debut, also looking like he’d thoroughly enjoyed it, too. Very few people get the opportunity to experience both of those things, so my hat goes off to him. Keep an eye out for the interview with Dave as an imminent post.

Below is a gallery of the photos Lis and I took of the day. Whilst we did see many, many familiar faces, we simply couldn’t take photos of everybody due to the density of runners at times…