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

illness

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

Searching for for 4% improvement

nike_vaporfly_4_percent

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

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

5 mile run-commute

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 5 at marathon pace

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

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

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

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

Cannon Hill parkrun

andy_yu_adam_gemili

Darryll, Adam, Matt, and me

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

19 miles – aborted 22 miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

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

This week’s running – 30th of July to 5th of August 2017

dudley_parkrun

The week ended with my first visit to Dudley parkrun

Week 13 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Almost time for a recovery week…

5 mile run-commute

With travel plans and houseguests putting the week into disarray, I kicked things off with a 5 mile run-commute to set things in motion. Timings simply worked out better that I run from Birmingham city centre for home, rather than return home and then head back out the door for 5k. The boosted distance also helped stop the week’s mileage from dropping too low from shuffling planned runs around.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles from work

So, last week’s 14 miles after a day at the office wasn’t too bad, thanks to good preparation beforehand. Could lightning strike twice for two good runs? The answer, unfortunately, was no.

The Magor 10k really did a number on my calf muscles for both to remain tight, even with judicious massage over the course of several days. From 11 miles onwards, my legs felt lifeless and the firm ground underfoot only made matters worse. I altered my route slightly to give myself an easier time, diverting off the Bristol Road and back on the canal, rather than proceed on to the undulations of Bournville and Cotteridge.

I did have one strange encounter whilst on the towpath before it forked for the entrance/exit of the Soho Loop; one guy running towards me slowed to ask, “How long is this?” Confused by his question, I also slowed – the question was simply too open-ended and had too many variables! “I need to run 14 miles,” came his follow-up. “Ummm. Well, you’re technically on the Soho Loop now, which is around 2 miles per lap,” I responded, before moving on. I simply could not run like that – not knowing how far I had gone. Even that time I became horrendously lost in Peterborough, I had at least plotted out the route and it was only due to a complex interchange that I lost my bearings. This guy seemed quite happy to just Forest Gump it and keep running, though not wearing a GPS watch, how would he know how far he had gone if he didn’t even know where he was?

Here’s the Strava data for my 14 miles, at least!

5k recovery

Hmmm. Odd one this, where in spite of the 14 miles only 24 hours prior, my legs and lungs had a bit more welly to them than originally thought. Dropping the anchors did nothing and my body instinctively wanted to go faster…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

16 miles with 8 at marathon pace

This is where training kicks it up a notch for my longest stint of marathon pace outside of a race; probably my most consistent block of marathon pace, too, this season!

Just like a year ago, I created a mini-transition area in my hallway with a change of shoes, tops and some drinks to allow me to come back from my 5k warm-up and head back out with minimal fuss.

Marathon pace on the out towards Solihull required about as much effort as I envisaged; neither easy, nor overly taxing. Exiting the switchback in Solihull, aye caramba! I found myself running straight into a 10mph headwind, losing a few seconds per mile from the increased resistance. I did consider calling it quits at 8 miles, but once I’d reached Brook Lane’s monstrous climb, I had just a mile remaining to spur me on to complete the set; “Beep, damn you, beep,” became my mantra for those closing few hundred metres!

I cooled down by heading over to Cannon Hill, opting to run the parkrun course in reverse to unlock the Darren Hale segment; it was a year ago that he passed away and I could see no better way to commemorate him, albeit at a very sedate pace…

Here’s the Strava data for the warm-up, 10 miles at pace, and warm-down.

Dudley parkrun

With Cannon Hill cancelled, Dudley became my 20th different parkrun venue!

I seem to suffer from selective hearing when it comes to parkrun courses, because all I seemed to focus on was the opening and closing 800m on a synthetic track. I completely ignored the middle two miles on a real pick and mix of gravel, canal towpaths and woodland trail…

After a brief warm-up on the track with Simon and Nigel, we toed up on the start line for the first of two laps. Expectedly, the start was swift with several big dogs pulling away with an attempt from me to hang on to their coat tails. They continued to pull away as I drifted backwards and another two guys overtook me on the second lap; clearly, I was feeling the effects of the previous day’s marathon pace and the split warm-up of the morning proved inadequate.

Leaving the track, next came some gravel paths before hitting the canal towpath. The lead group splintered to send a few back to me, forming a pack of four. Not feeling fresh at all, I cheekily drafted behind somebody to take some of the edge off, but primarily because I had no clue as to where I was going! The group of four became two as the others slowed and my impromptu pacer and I maintained pace.

A sharp right took us off the towpath and into the woods for a fast off-road downhill section. My pacer made a breakaway, utilising the descent beautifully to press on away from me; unfamiliar with the terrain, I gingerly navigated the rutted ground and tree roots for fear of coming a cropper hours before I was due to travel. I was reminded of Forest of Dean parkrun and its mad as a box of frogs course that subtly changes as one season moves to the next. The advantage was short-lived, thanks to a fairly steep hill that allowed me to claim two scalps – one belonging to a younger runner with a 17:11 course PB to his name! I continued to pull away and dared not look backwards to see how big or small the gap became.

Out of nowhere came a disused railway line, partially covered in overgrown foliage (later discovered to be a nature reserve), requiring nimble feet to overcome. Uncertain of the route, I continued to follow the path before me and continued to see marshals every once in a while for confirmation I hadn’t gone off-course.

I rejoined the canal towpath and could see two runners in the distance making their return to the stadium. Once back on the track and looking ahead, I could only see two runners partway through the first lap of the track; I didn’t think anything of this and assumed there were others ahead that had already finished in circa-17 minutes. Completing my penultimate lap of the track, more and more runners began to steadily spill in, giving me targets to chase down and sidestep. With 200m remaining, I pushed out a kick that was inspired by Mo Farah from the previous night’s 10,000m World Championships, hitting 4:37 mile pace in the final metres.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I finished in 19:32 officially, feeling in pretty good nick and I definitely could have gone harder if needed. To my surprise and reaffirming that I hadn’t lost the ability to count, I was given the third place token and debriefed with the fourth and fifth place guys. It was later revealed that a Bournville Harrier had gone wildly off-course at around 2km, adding over 600m extra to his run, allowing me to move up a place. If this sounds familiar, you’d be absolutely correct because the same thing happened a year ago at Arrow Valley parkrun to move me up to third place, too.

Nigel, Simon and I hung around to spectate and cheer fellow runners in over coffee (3 x coffees and 2 x flapjacks came to just £3.10!), all of us agreeing that there was a fantastic community vibe that’s unique to the smaller parkruns (just 176 finishers in this case). The varying terrain proved to be a hit with us – if you fancy an event with a totally unique feel, do give Dudley a visit.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

I wanted to get as much in as possible this week before going away to capitalise on some recovery time. There will still be some running, though mostly relegated to short, easy paced jogs outdoors to factor in the likely 30°C plus temperatures, and two treadmill VO2max sessions to avoid becoming too stale.

Minutes before the start of Dudley parkrun, both Simon and Nigel could tell I was chomping at the bit to get started. I replied with the only response that came to me: “I love running!” Yes, many of us are training for some race or another, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Do it because you want to and without regret.

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of July 2017

bon_jovi_livin_on_a_prayer

Can you ever not think of Bon Jovi when referring to being halfway?

Week 11 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Yep. Scarily, I’m halfway there…

5k recovery

Surprisingly, the lack of anything from the previous day’s 19 miles rolled over into this particular week. My legs continued to feel resilient and energy levels remained reasonably high, though I was conscious to keep the effort incredibly easy, with an average pace of 9:50 per mile at cira-60% of maximum heart rate.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Garmin 935 thoughts

garmin_935

It’s actually smaller on my wrist than the image implies…

After a little over a week with the Garmin 935, I thought I’d share a few musings about it.

GPS distance accuracy is in line with what my former Fenix 3 produced, but with far cleaner results in previous fringe situations and locations, such as Brindley Place and its artificial canyons. As a result, even the stable lap pace measurement has benefitted by becoming even more reliable and with less fluctuation.

Comfort-wise, it’s like night and day comparing it to the Fenix 3. At almost half the weight, the overall design is much sleeker and crucially offers a better fit, even on my slender wrists. This is critical for the next major feature to work…

Up until taking delivery of the 935, my only experience with optical heart rate monitoring was via Fitbit’s Charge HR. That Fitbit experience was and still remains poor, with my heart rate, and therefore resting heart rate, regularly being over or under-estimated. Community feedback on Garmin’s efforts has also been a mixed bag, and after my two efforts at Cannon Hill parkrun being under-reported, I feared the worst. Some fine-tuning of the position on my arm (further away from my wrist) and going one notch tighter on the strap, I need not have worried because the tracking was pretty much spot on, and aside from parkrun, efforts tracked well across a variety of paces.

All in all, I’m thrilled with it. True, it doesn’t do much dramatically different to what I had before via similar or alternative means (optical versus chest strap heart rate; on-board training load versus Strava’s Fitness & Freshness algorithm), but what it does do has been further refined. Everything feels more polished than the Fenix 3, such is the two years of learnings Garmin has been able to apply to the 935 and Fenix 5 line.

12 miles from work

After the previous week’s dreadful 11 miles from the office, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to tack on another mile… I switched this run up with the originally planned 10 miles with 6 at marathon pace, due to cooler conditions later in the week being more conducive to work at effort.

The first half confirmed my predictions that I would feel dreadful, with nothing falling into place at all. My stride felt heavy with no snap and my energy levels flagged; I couldn’t understand how this could be, especially as I had purposely gone out of my way to ensure I had enough calories on-board.

Thankfully, I perked up around halfway to at least make the second half tolerable. The planned 14 miles after work is going to be miserable, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Whilst the temperature dropped some, the humidity was jacked right up to make this an incredibly unpleasant experience, even at an easy pace. I could tell within minutes of starting that the air was muggy as sweat clinged to my skin, not doing what it should have.

Like Monday, I wanted to keep this effort easy, slowing to a 10:15 per mile average, also keeping my heart rate in check at circa-60% of maximum.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 6 at marathon pace

Wind. My natural nemesis. I knew I was in for a rough ride when I saw the water in the canal being blown along and leaves of trees overhead being whipped up.

I had to adjust the beginning of the route slightly, starting from the Jewellery Quarter rather than the office, to give me enough time on the canal towpath whilst bypassing Brindley Place early enough for it not to be a distraction.

Jumping into marathon pace after only 2 miles of warm-up and straight into headwind was a big ask, and one that failed somewhat. My opening split at pace was a way off the mark 7:12, when I needed it to be 6:50 or faster. Split 2 was getting closer at 6:58, but it wasn’t until split 3 where I’d cracked it with 6:46, with all remaining coming in at 6:47 to 6:42.

In spite of running into the wind, my heart rate seemed quite well-behaved, staying at around 80% of maximum; I’m reasonably confident that on a calmer day, I’d have been closer to 75%, for a general downtick in required effort for marathon pace. The shoes I wore didn’t help (Pegasus 34), feeling more like boats on my feet rather than tempo workout tools.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With a big run instore for Sunday, I opted to keep this effort dialled down. I found myself running with Ed Barlow, something I hadn’t done since 2014 when I was busting a gut just to stay with him at under 20 minutes. On this occasion, we were jovially catching up whilst maintaining that same 2014 pace!

I commented above that the 935 failed to effectively track my heart rate during this 5k effort at around threshold pace. What I suspect happened was a combination of the 935 not getting a good heart rate lock as the run started (it’s not like I can stall things) and the explosive start causing my body to divert blood flow to the areas that needed it most – if there’s not enough blood to track, a lower than expected heart rate is reported, which is exactly what I found happening. For parkrun, this is not an issue where I can always revert to the chest strap; 5k isn’t far enough for the strap to irritate, albeit the vigorous motion of my upper body can still cause it to slip.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

20 miles with Darryll

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20 miles done!

“Do the same as you’ve always done. Always get what you’ve always got.” Whilst this year’s marathon training plan is largely the same as last year’s, I’ve been conscious to adapt and exploit a few tweaks and modifications in the quest for marginal gains that hopefully add up to over 3 minutes’ worth of improvements.

One such improvement has been to train more frequently with others, namely using races as training runs. Whilst not a race, it just so happened that Darryll Thomas and I were due to cover 20 miles over the same weekend. We’re both close enough in ability and with similar enough end-goals that it was complementary to team-up and share the effort.

Conditions were perfect for a long run in the summer with cool temperatures and overcast skies, almost autumnal in ways. We couldn’t believe our luck and geared up accordingly. Entirely unfamiliar with the route or surrounding areas of Bromsgrove that Darryll guided me on, the terrain was not unlike running on south Welsh country lanes around where my in-laws live.

Conversation flowed whilst we put the world to rights; the first half felt rather effortless as we regularly commented on how easy and casual the run felt. And then the sun came out…

Both of us were caught off-guard with the sun from halfway onwards. Little shade meant we both felt the effort ratchet upwards slowly, with a few undulations stinging far more than they should have. Positively, the two of us held on to the pace; had it have been our respective solo runs, we may have been convinced to back it off in the last couple of miles.

Upon finishing, aside from being incredibly thirsty, the two of us agreed sharing the effort undoubtedly took the edge off the 20 miles, but also will have reduced the amount of recovery needed. And whilst we‘re on recovery, Darryll checked me in as a guest to the gym he’s a member of to take advantage of some of the facilities on offer. A Jacuzzi, steam room and a dip in the pool all had a part to play – there was no soreness or tightness as I typed this out, so there’s something to be said for his recovery routine.

nike_vaporfly_4_percent

Fastest shoes in the world? Quite possibly!

Oh, and there was something that had been delivered for Darryll to further get the recovery endorphins flowing – the newly released Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes from the Breaking2 challenge! We both tried them on and the sensation is unlike any shoe I’ve ever experienced before, and I’ve tried a lot of running shoes over the years. It feels like springs have been embedded into the midsole and the carbon fibre plate almost encourages the foot to roll and propel forward, saving the wearer some valuable energy and effort with each stride and foot strike. Just from wearing them for a minute or so, I could quickly see there was some black magic contained inside Nike’s latest marvel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

1 mile for a 60 mile week

Sometime during last year’s marathon campaign, there was one week mapped out that was all set to become my first ever to feature 60 miles. For reasons I don’t exactly recall, though likely due to sacking off the jog back home from Cannon Hill parkrun, a 60 mile week failed to materialise, settling on 56 or 57 miles instead.

After totting up this week’s mileage, I had to laugh when I saw 59.00 miles; I was conflicted as to whether to ignore it and wait for it to happen organically sometime in August, or to just head out and jog a mile because I may miss the opportunity again? Well, I ended up heading back outside for one single easy mile, before being alerted by various folks on Strava that a further 3 miles would have equated to a 100km week. I did not go back out for a third time that day.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

For the second week on the trot, I once again feel like the training is taking shape and adaptations are happening. Aerobically, I’m feeling stronger than I’ve felt all year. Fitness can’t be rushed and it’ll hit when it’s good and ready, and often with no announcement.

The next two weeks will see some disruption due to racing and being away. The race is the flat and fast Magor 10k, which broke me so badly last year that I blacked out after crossing the finish line from heat exhaustion. I’ve no intention of racing that hard again if it’s warm, so will instead treat it as a fast threshold session; anything between 39:15 and 39:30 will be satisfactory in my book.

The other disruption is a one week getaway to Crete that Lis and I have planned. Temperatures will likely be in the high 20s to low 30s with no cloud cover, so there won’t be much running outdoors, bar a few easy efforts. I do have a VO2max workout in the plan, so will head to the hotel gym to accomplish that. Joy of joys, I also have a 15 mile run to welcome me back to the UK on the same day as we land…

This week’s running – 10th to 16th of July 2017

19_miles

Longest run since the last marathon!

Week 10 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

10 miles with 5 at marathon pace

Give with one hand. Take away with the other. The temperature dropped back down to an ideal training range, but with it came the rain.

Once I’d warmed up to marathon pace, I found it largely achievable, though not without additional effort. Heavier clothes from being wet and lack of traction on block paved sections of the canal towpath meant I was working to a few beats higher than I would have expected.

Strangely, my legs really felt it on this outing, where they were a bit lifeless in spite of the reduced volume of last week. My heart and lungs, whilst certainly working, coped much better by comparison.

Here’s the Strava data for the bulk of the run and the warm-down.

5 mile run-commute

An impromptu extended meeting meant I didn’t actually hit the ground running until much later in the evening. I was thankful this was just a casual recovery paced run with no expectations other than to turn my legs over.

I have begun catching up on podcasts whilst I cover these run-commutes. Recently, I stumbled upon The Runner’s World Show, from the producers of the US Runner’s World magazine. It is glossy and rather American, but don’t let that put you off – you can’t judge a book by its cover. Episodes vary in length from 30 minutes to an hour, typically, and cover a range of topics from training to interviews with professionals and regular runners like you or me.

Expectedly, many of the angles carry a US-bias, whether it be race reports or products referred to, but one episode really stood out and was the right length to accompany me on this run-commute. “Running in China” had one of the hosts share his experience of a week-long stay, representing the podcast and magazine on tour. It was really quite fascinating, highlighting the differences and the similarities between the US and Chinese running movements, possibly even paving the way for future episodes comparing other nations’ running habits (any podcast producers reading this, please consider this).

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

Well, that was harder than expected! Both Dave and I had the same scheduled run to cover, albeit separately, and both of us struggled. For me, I ballsed up fuelling; time flew by at the office, and before I knew it, it was too late to eat and properly digest a banana in time for the run.

I had no energy and my legs did not want to respond. Choppy gusts of wind frequently slammed into me to also ensure I had a mare of a time.

If 11 miles after work felt this dreadful, what will the 14 miles in a few weeks feel like, especially as I took the day off a year ago to complete it, but am not so privileged this year? Me thinks I’ll need to carry a gel and some liquid, along with having a more substantial lunch to avoid derailing it…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

andy_yu_cannon_hill_parkrun

The hill never gets easier! Photo by Kerry Allen

With the longest run since last October’s marathon planned for Sunday, I opted to scale back parkrun to threshold pace. I normally don’t feel too bad on training runs following parkrun, where the faster leg turnover and form efficiency seems to carry over, and the post-run coffee with the gang helps to jumpstart recovery.

I also had a new toy to play with in the form of the Garmin 935. Watch this space as I test it out and incorporate it into my routine.

Almost right on cue, the heavens opened up shortly after starting, blurring the lines between where sweat started and rain ended…

True to my word, I ran to a steady, threshold pace with a faster finish for the following splits:

  1. 3:57
  2. 3:58
  3. 3:57
  4. 3:53
  5. 3:43

Given how wet it was, I opted not to run home from the park, but naturally the rain ended once we were all finished…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

19 miles – to Soho Loop and back

Sometimes you just can’t predict how a run will turn out – Thursday’s 11 miles hammered this one home. Not wanting to end up with another demoralising run, I ensured I was well fuelled with a hearty pasta dinner and some pudding to boot. Coming along with me was my ultra vest, loaded up with the same two-flask combo from several weeks ago of flat Coca-Cola and electrolyted water.

I kept the first half easy-to-steady, also mimicking the 18 mile run from several weeks ago. Humidity was jacked up, though at least it was overcast (give with one hand, take away with the other again, right?) I bulked up the mileage at the beginning of the run, rather than run right past my home with another 2 miles to go until clocking the prescribed 19.

At halfway, I consciously picked up the pace with the aim of running progressively for home. I felt great and even had to rein the pace in on occasion, no doubt due to the slightly different and fresher muscle and tendon groups being utilised, along with fuelling doing the trick.

I saw Simon covering the same 14 mile route I assisted him with last week. Thankfully, he’d taken my recommendation of having breakfast beforehand and looked dramatically better for it!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Today’s 19 miles is probably the joint-best run I’ve had of this marathon campaign and will hopefully pave the way for the 20 to 22 mile runs yet to come. Typing this up, I don’t even feel like I ran 19 miles today, highlighting the performance and recovery benefits of the prep beforehand. I’m definitely going to stash some gels at the office, just in case from now on!

 

 

This week’s running – 26th of June to 9th of July 2017

recovery

Some much needed recovery!

Week 8 and 9 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

I’ve merged two weeks together here, seeing as this past week was actually pretty light on running and heavy on recovery.

5k recovery with Lis

After seemingly weeks of absence, Lis and I resumed couples running, though it wasn’t without its issues…

Lis’ several week break from running meant she was almost starting from scratch again, so it’ll take some work to get her back up to being able to cover our 5k route once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work with strides

Whilst I was carrying some fatigue from the Wythall Hollywood 10k, the combination of the punchy race-effort and the cooler conditions made for quite a potent mix to have me feeling pretty good. I casually aimed to keep my heart rate below 70% of maximum, and largely achieved this, bar on a few climbs and the odd set of strides to encourage some leg turnover.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Oh wow. What a joy it was to run in cooler temperatures with a bag on my back and not feel like I was trudging through a rainforest expedition!

My heart rate was a good 5 to 10 beats lower for the same pace, such is the additional strain the heat and humidity places on our bodies.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

A fortnight ago, I broke away from my usual mould of 9-10 mile runs along the canal towpath from the office. After weeks of rinsing and repeating the same route, the change of scenery and its ever changing elevation made for a nice refresher; so nice, I decided to cover it once more with a view to training more specifically for the Yorkshire Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon

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

5k recovery run

Kickstarting the week of recovery were these easy paced 5k runs on Sunday and Monday. 60% of maximum heart rate was largely achieved, ensuring the effort was low enough.

Here and here is the Strava data for these runs.

10k recovery

By Tuesday, I knew I was long overdue for a recovery week; in my defence, I’ve not felt like I’ve needed one until this week just gone.

It’s a happy coincidence that running to Cannon Hill Park, covering two laps, and then running home equates to exactly 10k. A few sets of strides stopped the easy pace from feeling too ploddy, also helping me to practice good form with no pressure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Rest is training

After a very warm and stressful commute for home, I decided to sack off my planned easy run. The sudden upsurge in temperature would have made even an easy pace feel more challenging than normal, so I reasoned I would gain more by not running. I’m grateful it wasn’t a regular training week!

By Friday, the near-three days of no running did the trick and I began to feel fresher once more.

Cannon Hill parkrun

It’d been more than five weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill and boy was it good to be back at home. Conditions appeared pretty decent, though I sadly was not feeling quite as fresh as I was just 24 hours prior on Friday. I’d suspected for a few weeks that I probably had a sub-19 5k in me if everything went well, so it was time to put some graft in for a morning of benchmarking…

Within the first few hundred metres, I found myself working with Barry Fallon, who’s a pretty close match in ability at the moment. We settled into our place in the crowd with enough breathing space to run unimpeded. Unexpectedly, especially of late, I had a deep focus on the task at hand and tried to ensure I was running smoothly with a good range of motion. Before we knew it, we had a 3:45 opening split on our hands for a small buffer should things have gone pear shaped in the middle, as they can so often do in a 5k.

Barry and I continued together before he slipped off backwards by a few steps or so, though remained inside touching distance. The pace overall had slowed by a few seconds to a more manageable 3:51 for 2k.

I was entirely conscious that large chunks of time could be lost from fading concentration, so I was on the lookout for people to chase down. As luck would have it, I’d inadvertently been caught tailing Scott Williams, who so happened to be pacing a club mate of his. Nearing 3k, he ushered me on into no-man’s land as he slowed to regroup with his follower. As luck would have it, maybe 10 or 15 metres away from me was a chap covering the ground at what looked exactly like my pace, due to the distance between us neither growing nor shrinking. Two short surges allowed me to latch on to him and to take advantage of his slipstream. 3k came in at 3:50, remaining steady.

Looking further ahead of the chap, there was nobody within easy reach to lock on to if my pacer slowed, or if I opted to make a move. As it so happened, he continued to run metronomically and I really had to focus to stay on his tail. My choo-choo train impression reared its ugly head again after a long absence, so I knew I wasn’t slacking off. 4k unbelievably also clocked in at 3:51!

The distance between us repeatedly grew and shrank during the final km. Looking at my Garmin, I knew it would be close for a sub-19 finish. Turning at the Mac, I managed to pull up next to him for the first time in the entire run. Losing the pace by a step or two, he momentarily began drifting backwards. I tried coaxing him back. “Keep going, fella. Not far,” I desperately snatched with what little breath was available. It did the trick, as he regained his momentum and pulled forward ahead of me. I was running on fumes and easily lost a second or two on the sharp turn for the tearoom, and several more on the final climb for the finish. He had just a smidge more strength than me, taking 16th by just a second, and me, 17th.

My lungs were on fire, but I cared not because I’d successfully gone sub-19 for the first time since my injury in January, with 18:56 flashing on my Garmin. I thanked my unwitting pacer, Gareth, and introduced myself. “Yeah. I guessed that was your name from all the people cheering you on.” Sheepishly, I smiled and replied with, “Yeah… I’ve been running here for a few years…”

So often, I’m reliant on everything coming together for a good performance to happen; it was almost like divine intervention that the conditions were favourable, I was rested, and there were always people around me to work with. I’m still over 30 seconds away from my best at Cannon Hill, but I’m still ecstatic by this small, personal victory.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to the Cube and back

With just an easy 12 miles on the schedule to cover, I teamed up with Simon to help him get 14 miles in, which became his longest ever run.

Almost timed to perfection, he ran past my front door just as I was setting out, so there was no need to stop and regroup.

Simon won’t mind me sharing this with you all, because it’s of benefit to everybody. Please, please, please have something to eat before you embark on your longest runs to date. Hell, it may not even be your longest run, but unless you’re well fat adapted, you’re gonna have a pretty shitty time.

Within just 2 to 3 miles (flat/downhill) at what should have been an easily achievable pace for him, his breathing was already quite laboured. I finally got it out of him that he was running on an empty stomach because he didn’t have anything in for breakfast…

Marathon training is hard enough if everything goes well, so there really isn’t any need to knee-cap yourself and make runs more challenging than they need to be. The mental boost and confidence developed from a string of well executed runs can’t be quantified, but it all helps to propel and motivate for the next block of training, and the block after that, and so on.

Despite the big setback, we got him to his 14 miles in one piece. With the lack of energy and new distance, I warned Simon not to take recovery lightly for the next few days, where his body was likely to think of the run as closer to a race in terms of effort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

So far, so good. I’m pretty content with how things are progressing, and Strava’s crude Fitness & Freshness chart suggests the same.

I’m inching ever closer to some big runs and sessions, so the past week of recovery has been most welcome. The coming week calls for runs of 10 miles with 5 of them at marathon pace, and 19 miles. The former is expected to take place during heavy rain, so at least the canal will be clear and I’ll be reasonably cool!

This week’s running – 12th to 18th of June 2017

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Touring South Welsh parkruns continued – photo by Lis Yu

Week 6 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

5k recovery & parcel pick-up

I had to get to my folks’ place to collect a parcel that’d been delivered, so a rather indirect 5k route was plotted. Ever tried running whilst holding a shoebox with running shoes inside? Not the easiest of things to hold, even at a gentle pace…

The shoes in question are the new Nike Pegasus 34. I’ve been training in the Pegasus for the best part of 5 years, but generally skip a generation for the bigger enhancements whilst stockpiling on cheap pairs of the outgoing version. I’ll do a short write-up once I’ve put a few miles through them, but just wearing them around the house already fills me with confidence of the more dramatic overhaul.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles with 4 x 1 mile @ LT

How does one make a session more difficult for themselves? Start by covering a pace that’s largely unfamiliar, and just for laughs, also dramatically reduce the recovery between reps!

Currently, lactate threshold estimates place me somewhere between 6:15 and 6:20 per mile. Recovery between reps was last set at 3:15, which at the time felt a little too generous. Knocking it down to 2:30 felt like the right thing to do…

The reps came out as follows:

  1. 6:16
  2. 6:18
  3. 6:18
  4. 6:18

I would have had a perfect set if not for the pesky tunnel skewing the first rep slightly! All reps thereafter felt torturous with the final one near-vomit inducing at the very end. Having survived the session, I’ll probably keep the configuration as is for exposure to out and out suffering.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I treat these run-commutes as easy recoveries in between Tuesdays, where pace is the focus, and Thursdays, which generally top up endurance. Wearing a bag and attempting to run quickly are two opposing things, where my pace can normally hover between 9 and 11 minute miles. Yet, I’m in awe of people that can crank out some serious pace whilst loaded down with luggage on their backs; such a person is local runner, Richard Neal, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently just before he was pushing out 7:15 miles with a bag on his back!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I felt beaten up before I’d even started on this run from the office. Because some of you have asked, I define a run-commute as one where I’m carrying a bag like above, as opposed to a run from the office, where I’m carrying just the bare essentials (phone, keys, travel cards) in a FlipBelt.

For some reason, I got it stuck in my mind that I wanted to cover majority of the distance at 7:50 per mile. No rhyme, or reason – I simply had an underlying desire to do so. Forcing the pace can sometimes open your eyes to what you’re capable of in some situations, but not here. I was tired, both from work and a lack of sleep over the best part of a fortnight.

I felt empty once I reached home and concluded I was still carrying fatigue from Tuesday’s session, and the heatwave hadn’t even landed yet!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Pontypool parkrun

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Mad as a box of frogs, this course!

parkrun touristing of South Wales continued with this visit to Pontypool’s event. Well established for over three years, it’s never really hit the big leagues in terms of attendance due to the immensely popular Newport event nearby and subsequent new events that have sprung up recently. 100 to 150 runners is typical, with just 95 turning up on this particular Saturday.

Visiting the event with me and Lis were her mother (and dog), niece and nephew.

I always like to look up course maps and descriptions before visiting new events. To say that I was scratching my head based on the above is an understatement. With the scant description, I had to look-up somebody’s run via Strava and repeatedly move the cursor back and forth to get a feel for how each lap takes place. Even with that knowledge in hand, I still managed to go astray during my warm-up by not taking into account the different levels that are covered as part of the route!

Toeing up on the start, the new runner’s briefing took place mere seconds before we were sent off on our way to add to my already high levels of anxiety. “Turn right at the big tree” did nothing for me, stood in the park and surrounded by many big trees!

Off the line, it was probably the most sedate starts to a mass event I’ve encountered in ages, second only to the very laid back Great Run Local from a few months ago. Two guys pulled ahead, whilst a small pack of four of us held back, clearly due to the already warm conditions we faced. Me and one other moved forward, becoming fourth and third respectively. Only having a faint idea of the early part of the course, I hung back to let the more knowledgeable local runner lead the way.

For the first 2km, there was little variation in our positions, apart from the leads I gained on inclines and his advantage on descents. I could tell by his breathing that he was having a harder time of it than I was. Approaching the switchback before the second lap, he dramatically slipped off the pace and I found myself overtaking him within just a few steps; I urged him on with “Keep going, fella” as I pulled away. First place was no more than 40 seconds away and looked like he was only on a tempo run, with second place perhaps some 20 seconds behind. Rounding the switchback, I had a good view of who was likely to challenge me for third; the chap I had overtaken fell even further behind to fifth, whereas a fellow visitor was next in line with over 30 seconds difference between the two of us.

I found myself running alone, though running for positions and not pace was wholly refreshing. I knew I could maintain that pace all the way to the finish for a comfortable podium spot, with second place being too far ahead to consider. A friendly couple on the other side confirmed my thoughts as they cheered me on.

Much like at Barry Island parkrun, Pontypool and its twisting course over multiple levels affords spectators multiple opportunities to see athletes. Apparently, Yvonne – my mother-in-law, was told off by organisers for being too vocal with her cheers for me!

Moving into the final km, I noticed that I was actually gaining on second place thanks to a couple of climbs. Before the start, I overheard that he was coming back from illness or injury, and was not in peak shape. He began retching and spluttering like he was about to hock something up, inspiring me to have a go at reeling him in. Unhelpfully, the final km of the course takes place on narrow paths with significant inclines and descents to complicate matters.

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Sprinting for second place at Pontypool parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Entering the final 400m, I’d reduced the difference to fewer than 10 seconds. “Go on! You can have second!” were the run director’s words as I navigated around the rugby pitch. The surroundings had a sort of amphitheatre feel, giving my chase a sense of real occasion! I began surging on my target and applied more pressure as he continued retching.

With 200m to go, I’d narrowed the gap to perhaps just 3 seconds, turning to just 2 seconds in the remaining 100m. The path narrowed even further in the final 50m and the gap reduced to just a second between us; I could have grabbed his shoulder, it was that close!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Alas, it was not meant to be and we held our positions as we crossed the line and slumped over into our respective heaps. It so happened that he was actually just a few seconds away from a new PB, courtesy of the competition, and first place was less than 20 seconds ahead of us. In hindsight, I’m confident I could have made a move for second a lot sooner and used the narrowing terrain to help fend him off.

A gentle warm-down and a few chats with some of the local runners rounded off an unexpectedly good start to the weekend’s running.

In terms of South Welsh events, that’s pretty much it for those that are reasonably easy to drive to. I feel like I’m starting to find some form again, so I think a return to Cardiff parkrun for some benchmarking is in order…

18 miles – to Little Mill and back

This was the run I feared most of this particular week’s plans: 18 miles in the devastating heat with several sharp and gradual inclines for good measure. The prior day’s informal race for second place and an afternoon-evening of BBQ grub wouldn’t have helped the situation, either.

With my trusty Salomon ultra vest and drinks flasks in tow, I decided to experiment with the run’s nutrition and hydration strategy. For said BBQ, we had some cans of regular Coca-Cola in, so I went and opened two, allowing them to go flat overnight ahead of the morning’s exertions. It’s supposedly an Iron Man practice, where the basic components in Coca-Cola of water, sugar and caffeine are exactly what the mind and body needs when the going gets tough. It did come with the caveat that once an athlete begins using it during the run, the body will crave it and little else can become a substitute. Addictive properties, indeed! With that knowledge in mind, I loaded one flask up with water and a High5 Zero tablet for electrolytes, and the other flask with the brown, sugary goodness. The former would be rationed for the entire duration of 18 miles, and the latter reserved exclusively for the second half. Just in case, I also carried a gel.

Setting off earlier than usual to beat the heat, the temperature was already in the low 20s at 08:30 and with no cloud cover in sight. Thankfully, humidity was pretty reasonable to allow sweat to still do its thing. I purposely kept the first half easy, running well within myself. My legs, surprisingly, felt pretty fresh and responsive, which I suspect is courtesy of the high cadence from Pontypool parkrun.

Unusually, there was not a single other runner out and about, though there were plenty of cyclists, including a team in formation.

Regular analysis of how I was feeling confirmed everything was A-OK. A couple of sips of electrolyted water per mile kept the system topped up and feeling comfortable. I’ve run much shorter distances at a similar pace and felt much, much worse!

Reaching halfway, I consciously wanted to pick up the pace with a target of circa-7:45 per mile. Upping the effort turned out to be no effort at all! A few sips of the Coca-Cola flask and I was like a hummingbird to nectar. The trinity of holding back in the first half, being well hydrated and the kick from the sugar and caffeine made for a rather potent mix.

Temperatures hit the high 20s in the second half, which caused the odd wobble, but was remedied by seeking out shade where available.

It was mission accomplished upon finishing, where all 9 miles of the second half came in at around 7:45 or faster. Whether physiological or placebo, the Coca-Cola’s dark magic worked wonders; it even had some part to play in recovery, because there was no post-run stiffness or soreness, whether shortly after finishing or over 24 hours later as I type this. I think I’ve found my long run training buddy!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

I seem to have turned a corner in the training, where pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place. Yesterday’s 18 miles is the longest distance I’ve covered since finishing the Yorkshire Marathon last October; if all of my remaining 18 to 22 mile runs can feel as good, then I’ll be a happy chappy.

This week’s running – 5th to 11th of June 2017

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No cock-ups whilst on our watch!

Week 5 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

“Ones to watch” at the Yorkshire Marathon

Having blogged about running for some five or so years, my contact details have been added to a lot of PR mailing lists. Sometimes, I actually get some decent products to try and review, or complimentary entry into races (Nottingham’s Robin Hood Half Marathon, as a notable example). Often, it’s PR junk.

Without thinking, I recently received an email from the PR team behind the Yorkshire Marathon and assumed the communication was yet more junk. Filtering through my emails, I realised it was actually addressed to my personal email, and not the one I have listed on this blog. The author of the email asked if I would be willing to participate in an upcoming feature for this year’s Yorkshire Marathon race pack magazine. Provisionally titled, “Ones to watch”, they arrived at me by identifying that I’d entered the event with a predicted time of 2:59 or faster.

Initially, they wanted me to answer some fairly open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of my background and how I reached the target time. Reading through the question set, it was easy to tell it was fairly generic and some of the questions were tailored towards charity runners with lofty fund raising targets, making for a diverse cross-section for the proposed feature. And there’s the keyword, “proposed”; they stressed the caveat that the feature may not run at all, or I may be too much of a running bore to be included. We shall have to wait until closer to the time to see if I make the cut, or not!

5k recovery

Lis has had the misfortune of a minor foot injury, so no running for her for a couple of weeks.

It was particularly wet and windy, so I donned a long-sleeve top and tights whilst I shook my head in disbelief. Surprisingly, my legs felt great and you’d never have guessed I ran 17 miles just a day prior.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

The spate of poor weather continued and I side-lined any thoughts of work at pace for later in the week. Turning the corner on the Gas Street junction of the canal, I physically had to lean into the wind to gain some traction to give you an idea of how strong the gusts were!

I forgot how regularly I chew through shoes during a marathon training cycle, with three pairs, that were otherwise in decent health only several weeks ago, now needing replacement due to reaching their lifespan (500 miles for training shoes, 250 miles for racing shoes). How do I know when their time is up? I have a nerdy shoe spreadsheet that I’ve maintained for years before the likes of Garmin and Strava included a shoe-logging feature (and Nike+ actually had such a feature before the rest), where I record the mileage used against each pair. For the training shoes, I apply a secondary factor of how much cushioning they have left in them by feel; if after a medium-long run and the cushioning feels dead, then it’s time for them to go. For race shoes, I eyeball them, especially in the upper for tears and the sole for thin or missing rubber.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

The adage that you don’t regret a run largely holds true for me. The only one I do regret is the when I tweaked my Achilles tendon before Christmas, but all the others have been worthwhile in some way, shape or form. That said, I really was not in the mood for this run-commute. I was tired from an entire day’s worth of training at work, and I felt like I was coming down with something where I felt fuzzy and was carrying a chill. I also had limited time to run and have dinner before heading out to catch Wonder Woman at the cinema (great watch).

I decided to sack the run off, despite carrying all of the gear into the city centre for the run-commute home. Reaching the bus stop, all of the ETAs for my bus were snarled up due to the cricket taking place at Edgbaston, so I let out a sigh and got dressed into my run gear rather than wait the travel situation out.

I felt perfectly fine by the end of 5 miles and probably took just as long as if I was sat in traffic. Regretting runs? Nope. Not me!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

The canal by my workplace has finally been paved after several years without, and several weeks with the annoying gravel foundations in preparation. Whilst not an athletics track, the buttery smooth fresh tarmac was an absolute joy to run on, with just the right amount of give and traction.

With no runs at a taxing pace up to this point in the week, my legs were noticeably fresher than normal and so I allowed the pace to sharpen up slightly. Only the knowledge of covering the then upcoming Aldridge 10k at marathon pace stopped me from going completely bananas.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

The summer brings a lot of scope for interruption to Cannon Hill parkrun. There are countless festivals, live shows and whatnot that makes holding an organised run with some 800 plus participants especially challenging. It was the England versus Australia cricket match across the road that nearly cancelled parkrun, but dissuading as many runners as possible from attending and a trial temporary course allowed business to sort of continue as usual…

Lis and I both volunteered; she was positioned by the Mac along with Liz Dexter, whereas I and Suz West had the slightly nerve-wracking role of holding the makeshift lap number board and directing runners towards the finish. Starting over Fergal’s Corner and where the Ronnie Bowker 10k kick-off, runners were to cover three laps of the main perimeter of the park, cutting out the inner paths and excursion towards the triangle. Suz and I had to keep our eyes peeled for anybody that had miscounted and, thankfully, nobody did from what we saw. Scouring through the results, it would have been obvious if an entire lap had been cut out because PBs (of which there were very few) would have been minutes, and not seconds faster.

Cannon Hill parkrun will unavoidably be cancelled on Saturday 24th of June as a warning.

Aldridge 10k 2017 review

Please click here for the full race report.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Not a bad week of running at all and marathon pace continues to feel both less challenging and more manageable across longer distances. Compared to a year ago, I’m a few beats lower for the same effort, though I’m now thinking I need to add more variety to the marathon paced sections I cover, instead of just running the miles on the flat canal repeatedly…

There’s still a lot of work to do, with meatier 18 mile plus runs soon to become a regular fixture in the plan.