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.

This week’s running – 29th of May to 4th of June 2017

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No camels on the Camel Trail. Disappoint!

Week 4 of the 22 week marathon schedule, with part of it in Cornwall!

7 miles to Padstow and 6 miles to Wadebridge

After mine and Lis’ Scottish break back in April, we both discussed going away again at the end of May for a couple of days to Cornwall as something to look forward to. We ended up in Wadebridge for a couple of reasons – mainly cost, but also because a friend of mine lives there and recommended it as a base of operations to visit surrounding areas of North Cornwall. Imagine my delight when I also discovered the Camel Trail was less than a mile away from the hotel and could take me all the way to Padstow! Disappointingly, I later found out it got its name from the adjacent Camel River, and not because it was used to transport camels from Britain’s colonial trade days…

Bleary eyed, I woke on Bank Holiday Monday with the intent of getting 13 miles in by running to Padstow and then turning around for the return back to Wadebridge. As a bank holiday, there was already a decent level of activity on the Camel Trail from cyclists, walkers with and without dogs, horse riders, and of course, runners. Unsure of the etiquette in that part of the world, I decided to adopt what I do whilst running in Wales and simply wished “morning” to everybody I came into contact with.

Whilst it was overcast, there was a lot of humidity in the air to add to my lack of mojo whilst on the trail. I can’t pinpoint what was up with me, but I lacked that spark I normally have when I’m running whilst on holiday in a new locale.

I began to perk up once I neared Padstow, and was surprised to see a lot of hustle and bustle at only 8am or so. Turning around for Wadebridge, the sudden need to visit the loo took over, and no, a tree would not have sufficed… Thankfully, with Padstow being a tourist town, there were plenty of toilets available for free-of-charge use.

The run back to Wadebridge seemed more picturesque, with more users of the Camel Trail joining me. Returning to town, I had the joy of tackling 0.8 miles of climb along Trevanson Road and West Hill, with the gradient peaking with 9% at its steepest point. I guessed that there was likely a Strava segment for that portion of the run and as luck would have it, there was one and I ranked third on the all-time list. We’ll revisit the segment further down…

Not a bad morning’s work, though I was disappointed that I had to break the run into two, but when nature calls and all that… One thing I was surprised by was how much of a thrashing the Camel Trail gave my legs, with a dull ache present in my calves, quads and glutes at not even that fast a pace. I suspect when it was converted from a railway line to a cycle path, they simply filled it with concrete and finished it off with some paving. Whilst it was incredibly flat, it was akin to running on block paving that you sometimes find on seaside promenades to really take it out of your legs.

Here’s the Strava data for the run to Padstow and the run back to Wadebridge.

9 miles with 4 at marathon pace

I concluded that some days you have it, and some days you don’t, to explain why I found Monday’s split run challenging and this run far more approachable. The sun was out in full force but I’d somehow left my sunglasses behind at the hotel. At least I wouldn’t have panda eyes to worry about!

Much like Monday, there were already a few souls out and about, getting their runs in, walking their dogs or simply commuting into Padstow by bike. Most nodded or responded back with a reciprocal greeting of, “morning”; one couple running were positively beaming as they approached me, acknowledging that I was just like them and part of the running whilst on holiday tribe.

Just outside of Padstow, I turned around to begin my scheduled 4 miles at marathon pace. The old adage of having “nothing to fear, but fear itself,” held true – the pace felt perfectly manageable, even with trashed legs from several days of walking and sight-seeing. Rather embarrassingly, I was covered from head to toe in dead black flies from how sweaty I was…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Trevanson Road climb Strava segment

Upon finishing the above 9 miles, I paused for 90 seconds and looked inside to see whether I had it in me to tackle the Strava segment I’d identified earlier in the week. This was my last chance to do it, and after telling Lis I felt I had a realistic chance of taking the segment record, I didn’t want to go back home empty handed; it was then or never and I’d at least already warmed up from the marathon pace miles.

The night before, I reviewed the segment’s elevation profile, along with its beginning and end points so as not to over or under-do it. I knew exactly which points to hit hard and which to hold steady on.

The first 200m or so were relatively flat by comparison and allowed for some strong, early gains to be had.

Once on Trevanson Road and West Hill proper, the climbing began; gradual at first, allowing for not too much of a drop in speed before hitting a sharp section in the middle. My legs quickly saturated with lactic acid and my face turned to a grimace, whilst my arms pumped harder as I tried maximising any forward and upward motion up West Hill.

Towards the end of the sharp middle portion of the segment, a truck pulled out of a driveway just ahead of me, but then decided to reverse back in as I got closer… Unsure of whether he would pull out again (he did), I ended up having to look over my right shoulder to make sure the road was clear as I went wide of the truck whilst signalling with my hands for him to stop, costing me perhaps 1 or 2 seconds.

The record stood at 5:19 for the 0.8 mile long segment, with my result from the Monday ranking me third at some 30 seconds slower. With the knowledge that the segment flattened out significantly after the hill’s steepest portion, I went hell for leather as if Olympic gold was on the line, stopping only when I was certain the segment had ended.

I was a wheezing mess and understandably had to walk the remaining few hundred metres back to the hotel. With crappy signal in the room, I had to wait for what felt like an eternity for my Garmin to upload the data before I could check Strava. Turned out boy done good and by 10 seconds for 5:09! I quickly grabbed a screenshot of the results table before the former champion reclaimed the top spot as a local…

A pretty decent souvenir of my time away in Cornwall! Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile run-commute

With my schedule shifting by a day or so, I opted to cover the run-commute from Birmingham city centre and drop the 9 miles from the office to give myself a slight break.

Whilst others enjoyed the summer surroundings of Cannon Hill Park, I found myself in peak pollen season, even though heavily medicated; it’s going to be hellish for the next two months, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run. Excuse the distance – my Garmin really struggled as I started the run within an artificial canyon.

Cannon Hill parkrun

A rare occasion where I had to drive to the park, due to dropping Lis off at New Street Station beforehand, meant a warm-up that was almost halved, though was at least spent catching up with Carl.

I shan’t bore you with the details, but it was a very average and steady 19:36 performance and I continue to remind myself that I’m not training for faster 5k times, rather I’m in the process to achieve a sub-3 hour marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

17 miles – to the Soho Loop and back

This was a day of firsts, for 2017 at least. This was the first outing of the Salomon race vest, loaded up with electrolytes and a gel (not needed), and also the first run of the year that was longer than 14 miles. The schedule only called for 16 miles, but doing some preliminary mapping showed heading out for a full lap of the Soho Loop equated to over 17 miles, so that became plan A.

I bumped into Dave Sansom on the way out and joined him for a couple of the early miles, whilst he sold me the benefits of joining the BRAT club and helped the time pass by rather quickly. Whilst the last 2 miles were somewhat of a challenge as anticipated, I finished feeling pretty strong with stiffness or soreness to speak of. Typing this up the next day, my legs feel chipper with no evidence that I’d covered a not insignificant distance with a mile in the middle at marathon pace thrown in for good measure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

After the 9 miles with 4 at marathon pace and the 17 mile long run, positivity for the marathon schedule is high. Marathon pace feels more manageable than ever and 17 miles provided tangible psychological boost, paving the way for more regular 18 mile runs to come in the not too distant future.

Later this week, I have the Aldridge 10k coming up. Whilst I was in pretty sharp shape going into it last year to run sub-40 with plenty of change, I know I’m in nowhere near the same form and would only be setting myself up for failure; instead, I’m going to treat it as an opportunity to cover another 6 miles at marathon pace as a view to playing the long game. There will be plenty of 10k races for years to come, but this may be the last chance I have of a sub-3 hour marathon before life’s responsibilities beckon my attention elsewhere…

This week’s running – 15th to 21st of May 2017

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Yet more tourism at Grangemoor parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Week 2 of the 22 week marathon schedule complete.

5 mile run-commute

Over the last couple of years of run-commuting, I’ve yet to come lucky and be in a position to run home whilst chaos takes place all around me. Last year, it was flooding that increased my typical 1 hour commute to 3+ hours; this year’s calamity was a newly discovered WWII German bomb, weighing some 250kg, which brought everything to a near-standstill.

Hearing rumours that several major roads would still be closed a day later, I shifted my run-commute as a precaution to try and have the last laugh. The roads did open up again and you’d have thought nothing had ever taken place. One of these days… Anywho! The pace was very gentle to factor in the thrashing I’d subjected myself to at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I’ve grown conscious of the rising temperatures, so decided to begin supplementing my water consumption with some electrolyte tablets, as well as training myself to physically drink and retain more water. So, it’s with some irony that the day I decide to kick-start my better hydration initiative is also the day where I was caught in an absolute downpour whilst running from the office…

The rain hit approximately 3 miles in and didn’t let up until perhaps 800m from my front door to leave me completely soaked. I could actually feel the water sloshing about in my shoes at several points!

I had originally intended to cover the week’s 4x 1600m at 10k pace during this run, but sacked that plan off to instead run hard at parkrun. That said, the pace still came up faster than expected and the rain proved quite refreshing and effective at keeping me cool.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Grangemoor parkrun

 

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And 5 x switchbacks…

It’s becoming a bit of a habit, these parkrun tourism jaunts. Grangemoor, Cardiff’s second event, became my fourth new venue in almost eight weeks, and my 18th different venue of all time.

Grangemoor opened with the intent of lightening the load at the original Cardiff event at Blackweir/Bute Park; it could be deemed as a resounding failure with the latter having celebrated several new attendance records in recent weeks.

Taking place next to a retail park, there was no shortage of parking spaces and there was even a helpful marshal to direct people to the start.

The course could be called unorthodox. From above, it looks like a three-point star; runners start at the southern most spoke and work their way to the next, and so on, until they’re back at the start to then cover the same again for two-laps. My technique on switchbacks is atrocious, with a turning circle like the Titanic trying to avoid an iceberg, so I expected to lose significant momentum and time on each of the five hairpin turns. But at least the course is flat and on really nicely paved tarmac!

Looking at past results, a finish in the low 18 minutes is enough to place first most weeks, with a sub-20 finish enough to make it into the top 10, or even top 5 during light attendance weeks.

Off the line, a small group of guys went charging off whilst I hung back to at least better observe on the first lap. Apart from some chopping and changing in the first 800m, I was then left firmly on my own for the remaining duration.

Due to the compact nature of the course and runners returning back to the centre every few hundred metres, Lis planted herself by the “Grangemoor Stone” and was ultimately rewarded with five sightings of me, and possibly a new record for the two of us.

As anticipated, the switchbacks did a number to my pace, and also my joints, from the sudden shift in direction and weight. I estimated I likely lost some 3 seconds on each hairpin, so whereas I was probably working to 19:15 5k effort or so, I actually produced a 19:31 in the end for 8th place.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Looking at the splits, I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out, considering said switchbacks and the mostly solo effort. A little bit of regular VO2max effort and some efficiency and form workouts should get me under 19 minutes again…

A nice novelty to visit, but it’s highly unlikely I’d ever return when I have Cwmbran, Newport’s Tredegar Park, or Cardiff’s lightning fast Blackweir/Bute Park much closer to Lis’ folks – the latter two of which we literally drove right past to reach Grangemoor parkrun!

For those curious, the next stop on my tour of Welsh events is Pontypool in a couple of weeks.

14 miles – to Rhadyr and back

I never expected this long run to go well, but first, let me explain why it was doomed to be…

So, on Saturday night, I went to a 50th birthday party and was introduced to a proper old-school club runner (Salford Harriers). He ran double-days on most days, and even occasionally ran at lunch for the odd triple day. He rarely took a rest day, except when injured or ill, and raced most weeks. His PBs I can recall are:

  • 1,500m – 3:57
  • 5k – 14:59
  • 10k: 30:53
  • 10 miles: 52:07
  • Marathon: 2:45

As somebody that doesn’t belong to the club system, it’s rare that I get the opportunity to speak with runners that are significantly faster. Some of his stories were thrilling, such as him being a classics graduate and running the Athens Marathon. Some of his stories were eye-watering, such as the above said 10k PB where he finished 62nd out of some 300 participants. Others were heart breaking, such as him having to shelve being competitive after two Achilles tendon operations and numerous cortisone injections into trauma sites over the years.

90 mile weeks were not uncommon for him. When asked what he felt allowed him to rack up such mileage, he said, “Life was simpler back then, compared to now.” I could only agree.

Even though I only spoke with him for perhaps 30-40 minutes, the night still ended up being a late one by my standards, also factoring the early-rise for Grangemoor parkrun to make for a helluva long day.

Anywho. Back to the long run…

My legs definitely didn’t feel as fresh as they could have after the 5k effort from 24 hours prior, so I purposely kept the pace slow and the effort easy. Going by heart rate, this was largely achieved with it rarely going above 70% of maximum.

Then, the second half happened and consisted almost exclusively of 7 miles in a more or less straight line into headwind, along with the dreaded Saint Andrews’ Walk Climb to contend with at the very end… I was utterly destroyed upon finishing and couldn’t help but doze off later that afternoon in a bid to catch up on some sleep.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Hopefully, I can time one of my planned 20+ mile runs to happen in Wales to help break up the monotony of them. Last summer, I seem to recall one of my 2x 22 mile runs flying by and not being too stressful at all, due in some part to the more unfamiliar terrain for mental stimulation.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

The mercury is really starting to climb, so I’m expecting the suffering to pop along shortly to wave and stick its tongue out at me. I’ll have to dig out my Salomon race vest and water bottles shortly to really up my hydration game if I’m to successfully complete all of the planned runs in the schedule.

Fitness-wise, I feel like I’m in an odd place at the moment. I’m ahead of where I was a year ago concerning marathon pace, where the effort required to cover the pace is certainly lower at the moment. But I feel completely off in terms of 5k and 10k pace, which have historically given me that feeling of fitness – something I can’t deny I’m craving a little at the moment.

This week’s running – 1st to 7th of May 2017

Running 26.2 miles marathon

5 months. 22 weeks. Time to get serious again…

And so the road to the Yorkshire Marathon II begins!

5k recovery with Lis

The title is slightly disingenuous because it suggests that we both ran together at recovery pace… For Lis, it was more like a fartlek run with walk breaks.

The two of us have tried running together multiple times in the past, but it’s never really worked out because of the pace disparity. I’ve agreed to run with Lis on Mondays as recovery, allowing her to dictate the pace; this should give me a bit of additional easy mileage, which will see me running from Saturday through to Thursday with only one day of complete rest.

Our goal is to build Lis up to being able to run the 10k distance at September’s Wolverhampton Marathon (Dave and I will be tackling the half marathon). This particular run reasserted that she doesn’t need to jump back into the Couch to 5k programme from the very beginning, but rather week 4 or 5.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 x 1600m at LT pace

After almost a year with my Garmin Fenix 3, I was thrilled to finally see it auto detect lactate threshold pace from a recent run-come-race. Sitting at 6:24 per mile, I decided to try out 4 isolated miles during the run home from the office.

Effort-wise, hovering just marginally faster than LT pace felt about right and I finished feeling like I could have squeezed out one more rep:

  1. 6:23
  2. 6:19
  3. 6:19
  4. 6:15

One alteration for next time would be the length of recoveries; 3:20 per rep was far too generous and left my legs cooling down too much, turning to jelly for the first few steps of each subsequent rep.

Definitely heading in the right direction again!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Run-commuting in the warmer summer months is definitely easier than in the cooler winter equivalent; overall, there’s less to worry about and carry, which makes my life a lot simpler when I’m preparing kit to take into the office. One downside of run-commuting in the summer is chafing from bag straps, especially when I’m trying to balance staying cool by wearing a vest and ensuring there’s enough coverage and protection of potential hotspots – Body Glide is a skin saver!

I saw a very, very near miss between a somewhat inebriated chap leaving a bus, and then step out in front of said bus without checking for overtaking traffic. Thankfully, both parties stopped in their tracks just in time!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What a pleasant evening after work for a run! The sun was out and the smell of summer assaulted my senses, reminding me that summer must be just around the corner.

As intended, I slotted in a mile at marathon pace somewhere in the middle. In an ideal world, I would finish off runs with a mile at marathon pace, though living in Kings Heath means I’m inevitably ending my runs with a climb of some description.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Records fell again, courtesy of the John Enright memorial run, with attendance hitting 1,025 and further cementing Cannon Hill’s status as second largest event behind only Bushy parkrun (Southampton has also broken 1,000). The memorial was, sadly, extended to the departed Darren Hale who passed away almost a year ago.

The start was certainly crowded with so many bodies present, and I found myself having to run wide several times to either avoid being blocked in or just to get some breathing room.

Unintentionally, I found myself tailing Carson Tweedie for much of the run, utilising his pacing. Not having run much faster for months, the steady pace felt much faster than anticipated and I was prepared for a swifter finish, only to be disappointed with 19:24. Encouragingly, my heart rate data continues to drop and indicates some work at 5k pace or faster will set things moving in the right direction again.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Brueton Park and back

It was months ago that I last ventured all the way to Solihull’s Brueton Park, so much so that I had to wade through my Garmin Connect and Strava logs to confirm as such.

A single mile at marathon pace (Strava interpreted it slightly differently to Garmin) did just the trick to wake my legs up, with everything feeling far more comfortable in the second half, even considering the far trickier return for home.

Apart from that, it bodes well that there were few surprises when I’m trying to take on marathon training once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

To those new to this section of the blog – welcome! And to those returning to hear me share more of the wins and misses of marathon training – welcome back!

First things first; here’s this year’s modified P&D advanced marathoning plan that I’ll be using to get me race-ready for the Yorkshire Marathon.

So, a couple of answers to questions that will help explain things.

Why Yorkshire again?

The race and organisation (2016 review here) was first class, with little to nothing I would change. Accurate distance, ample crowd support with pockets for breaks, and a course that’s free of congestion makes it a winner in my eyes. Sure, the profile could be a touch flatter, though none of the climbs were particularly troublesome for me and I’d trade in a few climbs against miles of road blocks and anxiety any day of the week.

Oh, and it starts and ends in York, so it has Lis’ buy-in. We both adore the city and there are few surprises to catch us off-guard.

Basically, I want everything that happened on race day in 2016 to be replicated, but with upgraded fitness.

What’s changed with this year’s plan?

In principle, very little has changed between this year’s iteration of the plan and last year’s. The biggest difference is the inclusion of several more half marathons to serve as marathon pace outings. Whilst I didn’t struggle per se with marathon pace in 2016, running at such a pace for extended periods did tax me at times; this year’s goal is to cover the paces whilst leaving me recovered enough to continue training. An odd mile or two of marathon pace during most other runs will ensure ample practice.

Like last year, I have stripped out formal sessions at half marathon pace in the belief that they would leave me too fatigued, but also that parkruns when not run at easy or PB pace will cover that area without getting too hung up on it.

The recovery runs with Lis will get at least an extra 3 miles in each week.

Anything else?

Dave and I will potentially be covering some runs together, seeing as he’s running at the inaugural Birmingham Marathon a week later (which isn’t actually the inaugural race – there was a Birmingham Marathon in the early 80s).

I’m also looking at marginal gains that may have an added impact when compounded with training improvements. Simple things like more sleep, better hydration, eating well ahead of big sessions or training runs. You get the idea. None of these things have a training cost and I’m serious about getting all the advantages I can.

What’s this year’s goal?

Sub-3. 2:59:59.

With my PB of 3:03:05, it would be rude to not go after sub-3, which equates to fewer than 10 seconds per mile when breaking it down. Several of my peers at around my ability are shaving off some 3 to 4 minutes a year in marathons, which gives me confidence in seeking the time.

Here’s also hoping for a sub-3 pacer, where 2016 was the only year without since the race’s inception.

So, there you have it. It’s all been laid out there and I just need to survive the training. My biggest worry is my left Achilles tendon; it’s been pain-free for months, though I can’t shake the feeling that it’s perceivably less supple compared to before.

This week’s running – 24th to 30th of April 2017

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What’s occurring at Barry Island parkrun? Photo by Lis Yu

An unusual week of running is quickly becoming the norm for me…

5k fartlek

Doing the build-up, exhibiting and breakdown at a trade show destroyed my legs and left me incredibly weary. The last thing on my mind was getting a run in, but I knew that I would have to adopt an attitude that runs are non-negotiable if I’m to make the most of the training for autumn’s Yorkshire Marathon.

A 5k fartlek blast around the block did just the trick to stave off any guilt of not running, whist being functional enough to have some small gains.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m officially at that point of the year where I don’t seem to know what to wear anymore, be it for a run, going to work, or casually. Opting to go with a long-sleeve top, sod’s law meant I was inevitably overdressed whilst being near-frozen only a day earlier.

My legs were still completely shot. In the same vain as above regarding non-negotiable runs, I simply went with the 9 miles and reminded myself that I would have to run 14 miles during the middle of the week at some point in the P&D marathon schedule, so should enjoy the luxury of shorter runs from the office whilst they last…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Barry Island parkrun

I have a confession to make… I know I recently discussed that I’m not one to normally go out of my way to get some parkrun tourism in, but I have to admit I’ve developed a taste for it.

Recently visiting Wales’s Riverfront and Scotland’s Ganavan Sands events (and Great Run Local at The Vale), I enjoyed the unfamiliar surroundings and faces, reasoning that now is the time to be exploring other events whilst I’m off peak fitness and without any pressure to perform.

Keeping the tourism theme going, I ventured to Barry Island parkrun with Lis and my mother-in-law, Yvonne, in tow. The three of us are keen Gavin and Stacey fans, with Lis and I particularly fond of the show that mirrored the early years of our own relationship.

Almost at the ripe old age of two years, the event remains typically in the mid to high 100s, with only a single freak 300+ turnout in its history. Like many younger/smaller events, a sub-20 finish is sometimes enough to place first, which got my competitive juices flowing again. Like at Ganavan Sands, the organisers believed that close to half of the day’s runners were new visitors to the event or parkrun.

Just before go-time, there were a few runners that were positively chomping at the bit to start. On the starter’s orders, they flew off from the line in typical 5k fashion with me in cautious tow. The course is unusual for an event that takes place on a coastal promenade. After a few hundred metres of the flat block paving, we made a hairpin turn to the right and began climbing towards the upper levels of Barry Island’s beachfront. Keeping my cool at the beginning paid dividends as I calmly reeled in those that had overdone it too soon. 4:04 for the first uphill km was pretty reasonable in my book for a shot at a sub-20 finish, especially with some downhill stretches later.

The second level of the run dramatically narrowed to clearly demonstrate to me why running with a dog is not welcome at Barry Island. The path also became a gravelly mess with little traction for my racing flat-clad feet. At some point on the upper level of the run, we were sent up a further climb, affectionately called “Heartbreak Hill” by the locals (it even has its own Strava segment). Short, but sharp, it required some proper arm thrusts to propel me upwards.

Descending back downwards at last, 2km came in at 4:04 again for what was shaping up to be a pretty steady run. The course is actually rather compact and with the aid of stairs along the side of the hill, spectators are able to move from level to level with ease to spot runners several times.

Reaching halfway, the course sent participants around a switchback for another lap. With a descent and flat stretch to my advantage, out popped 3:49 for 3km and to move me into fourth place.

Unlike the first lap where I had others to work with and draft behind, I now found myself running solo and faced the full brunt of the coastal winds, exerting more effort than before to maintain the same paces. With a second bash at “Heartbreak Hill”, I was rather impressed that I managed to keep things steady to produce 4:05 for 4km and only a second of slowdown.

Descending once more, third place was within striking distance at one point, but I couldn’t muster enough gusto to chase after him. I felt flat and there was a pronounced heaviness to my legs, no doubt carrying fatigue from the trade show and Thursday’s 9 miles.

Back on the flat block paving of the promenade, I knew I had to produce something in the region of a 3:50 km or faster to be in with a chance of a sub-20 finish. The headwind I faced off against was relentless, with my forward leaning stance having little to no effect. Edging ever closer to 5km, my Garmin fired off some 30m ahead of the finish line to add to the will I-won’t I situation of finishing in less than 20 minutes.

Crossing the line, I clocked 20:05, so probably would have still been off by 1 or 2 seconds even if I’d have recorded 5km exactly. parkrun wins again!

It was good to add Barry Island to the collection, though I won’t be in any rush to return to the venue, considering it took almost an hour to drive there from Lis’ folks place. Next tourism spot will be Cardiff’s second event, Grangemoor parkrun, in a few weeks’ time.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles with 2 at marathon pace

I’m sure my pal, Shaun, won’t mind me sharing his London Marathon Strava data with you all, but his race is akin to a piece of art. The pacing, the sub-2:55 finish from a goal of sub-3 hours – all marvellous stuff. Asking him what he felt contributed to such a breakout performance, he cited plenty of marathon-paced miles, which is hardly surprising. Whilst I felt the build-up to my 2016 Yorkshire Marathon featured ample pace practice, I’m firmly of the belief that I could have included more with little to no detriment to the rest of the training or recovery.

Watching several peers of similar ability go sub-3 at London, I’m confident that with the right training focus and a bit of luck on race day, such a goal is not out of reach for me. The sub-3 performance that’s given me the most confidence belongs to comedian and Running Commentary podcaster, Paul Tonkinson. Finishing almost a minute behind me in Yorkshire last October, he’s gone on to finish London in 2:59:21. Factoring in that London is far more congested and will inevitably measure a touch longer than Yorkshire (I ran exactly 26.22 miles!) further bolsters that my goal has potential.

Anywho, back to this 12 mile run. I’ve been so out of touch with marathon pace that opting to run two isolated miles at circa 6:50 each was like venturing into the unknown. Reassuringly, and even with strong winds to contend with, I managed to hit 6:47 and 6:48 respectively, and probably could have continued going for 2 x 2 miles at pace. Promising stuff!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

My modified P&D marathon plan is almost complete and just needs a few more adjustments before I’ll share it with you all. I will let you in on a little tidbit ahead of next week – my wallet is now considerably lighter, and my calendar is considerably busier than before. Interpret that how you will for the moment…

This week’s running – 10th to 23rd of April 2017

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Well, hello Edinburgh!

With a lack of time and connectivity in Scotland, I’ve got a bumper two weeks’ worth of updates into this one edition for you good people!

10k – 1 off, 2k on etc

So nice, I’ve done this twice.

Whilst the first outing of this session was a bit harsh on the system, I did notice it beginning to elicit some positive change. The second outing confirmed as much with lower average and peak heart rates for the same paces (157 versus 162; 180 versus 186).

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

9 miles from work

These days, I wouldn’t normally pair hard and long runs back to back with each other, especially during the middle of the week when recovery comes at a premium. Given my travel arrangements, I had no opportunity to get a long run in for the rest of the week, so it was a case of make do, or do without. Whilst I did have just a half day at the office to contend with, this also brought the previous day’s session and this longer run even closer together; I figured I’d tackle the 9 miles at a fairly sedate 8:30 or so pace to avoid tempting fate.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Glasgow runaround

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We burnt off the previous night’s deep fried and battered Mars bar…

Ah! Some running tourism!

Dave, Lis and I were in Scotland recently to attend the wedding of our friends, Elsa and Iain. Scotland being Scotland, nowhere is particularly easy to get to unless they’re Glasgow or Edinburgh, so that’s where we began and ended our trip, with a whole load of driving in the middle.

Whilst Lis did less silly things like having a lie-in, Dave and I got better acquainted with Glasgow’s city centre, namely the Glasgow Green. With a planned bit of parkrun tourism the next day, the two of us took this run incredibly easy by keeping it conversational whilst we discussed Dave’s marathon plans and training. We also stopped for the odd photo on what was a very quiet Good Friday morning with few other souls about.

Never having visited Scotland before, let alone Glasgow, I was mightily impressed with the city and took to it quickly. I feel I could have done with an additional day perhaps to get a better feel for it, but I certainly enjoyed what I saw of what is often considered Edinburgh’s poor relation (no offence to any Glaswegian readers!)

I had planned to visit the city’s premier running store, Achilles Heel, to scope out some merchandise I probably didn’t need, but also because it’s where I originally ordered my signature yellow vest from all those years ago! What scuppered it is how spread out Glasgow can be, with a lengthy jaunt not worth the time or effort, especially with Lis and Dave in tow.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Ganavan Sands parkrun

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Iain, Dave, me and Eric at Ganavan Sands parkrun

Raise your hands if you’ve ever needed to be somewhere away from home on a Saturday morning and checked to see if there’s a parkrun nearby, or at least within reasonable driving distance? Yep, I thought so – guilty as charged!

It turned out Ganavan Sands parkrun (just on the outskirts of Oban) was a mere 40 or so minutes away from Elsa and Iain’s wedding venue. With the ceremony at 14:00 and Scottish parkrun events kicking off at 09:30 due to lack of light in the winter months (check out some of Ganavan Sands’ photos of runners setting off at dawn), this was plenty of time to get there, run and return to get ready. I rallied several of the runners in the party together and off we went into the wilds of the Scotland’s west coast…

In attendance was Dave, Iain, Eric, Stuart, Ruth and Stuart’s father. Dave and I were positively thrilled by the prospect of an unfamiliar course with unfamiliar faces, whereas Eric was about to pop his parkrun cherry (no parkruns in Hong Kong). Iain just wanted something to do to pass the time before getting hitched.

After driving through all manner of variable weather conditions, we finally arrived at our destination to be warmly welcomed by the run director, Doreen. Exchanging some dialogue earlier in the week, she was expecting us and passed on her knowledge of the event. The course is an out and back configuration, with a few mini switchbacks in the middle to make up the 5k distance. Run entirely on paved but undulating paths, the course is not for the faint of heart because greeting runners from the very beginning is a near 200m uphill stretch, clocking in at around 17%, gradient-wise!

Warmed up and ready, there were plenty of other tourists at the event, including a chap who’d done some 380+ runs. Proving what a small world it is we live in, I even bumped into a Pistonheads forumite I’ve frequently conversed with in the past. Being one of the smallest events I’ve attended, Dave, Stuart and I fancied our chances of placing highly; scouring previous weeks’ results indicated a 1-2-3 finish between us was not unrealistic. Then we saw some swifter looking runners and realigned our outlook to simply sneaking into the top 5…

Starter’s orders and we were off. And I mean like 5k PB pace off, ignoring the sharp climb we were all aware of. That’s what all the amped up adrenaline and unfamiliar surroundings will do you to you!

After a bit of chopping and changing with the 380+ runs guy, I found myself firmly in fourth place. Halfway through the opening climb, I realised the folly of my way and regretted letting the red mist get the better of me so early on. My legs quickly saturated with lactic acid as I began to thrust my arms forwards in a bid to not lose too much momentum.

Beyond the brow of the hill was some opportunity for recovery with flat and downhill sections.

Holding on to fourth place, I made it all the way to the first switchback whilst witnessing the fella in first place with his massive several hundred metre lead. He appeared to be so calm and controlled, almost like he was simply out on a tempo run. Third place continued to creep away from me, settling my mind that fourth place was now firmly mine to lose.

I began to see faces from the wedding party approach the turnaround, giving them all some encouragement. Eric, Dave, Ruth, Stuart’s father and Iain all looked pretty composed. Stuart looked just like me – we’d both gone out too hard, too soon, and were paying the price for it.

Approaching and exiting the second switchback, my knackered legs gave me a turning circle not dissimilar to a cruise liner. It was at this point that I lost fourth place to the 380+ runs guy, who had clearly paced the first half of the run far more sensibly than I had; I gave him some encouragement to keep pressing in the hope that he may tow me along. Stuart was now perhaps just 10 to 15 seconds behind me based on our relative positions rounding the cone.

Making my way to the final switchback, the guy in first place now had several minutes’ advantage on second place and continued to look as fresh as a daisy – we later learned he’d bagged a new course record, so clearly knew what he was doing unlike the rest of us chumps!

Final switchback navigated, I did what I could to stop my pace from haemorrhaging any further and to keep Stuart at bay. He was still some 10 to 15 seconds behind, but I knew he had far more of an edge on me, thanks to his fell running experience and the largely downhill remainder of the course. With just a couple hundred metres remaining, a few glances behind me confirmed the gap between us remained as I opened up my strides to make it to the bottom of the hill as quickly as possible without stumbling and making a fool of myself.

20:35 recorded and fifth place in hand, I proceeded to hunch over and avoid throwing up from all the pooled lactic acid. Stuart came back in shortly afterwards for 20:47, and Dave for 20:51. Both Stuart and I wished we’d adopted Dave’s approach, where he looked far more comfortable than either of us for a finish time not all that different.

Eric was next with 24:05, followed by Ruth for 25:56, Stuart’s father with 33:04 and Iain for 36:07.

Incredibly, 4 of the top 5 finishers were first timers on the Ganavan Sands course. Taking one step back, the top 7 of 10 finishers were also comprised of first timers to the course. Taking an even more holistic view, 41 of the 73 recorded runners were first timers on the course or to parkrun!

I thanked the organisational team before we high-tailed it out of there to get our man Iain married off. I’m not sure I’ll be in a rush to head back to Ganavan Sands, or that I’ll ever find myself in that part of the world again, but one thing’s for certain – the Scottish hospitality was in full flow that morning and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more welcome at a parkrun.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Edinburgh runaround

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A run around Holyrood Park to burn off the Scottish breakfasts…

Before leaving home, I’d mapped out what I hoped would be a scenic route from the hotel on Princes Street to take me around the outer perimeter of Holyrood Park. Well, it certainly didn’t disappoint, what with the imposing sight of Arthur’s Seat to keep me company.

The primary objective of this run was to get my bearings of that part of Edinburgh, along with some photo opportunities whilst most slumbered.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Edinburgh runaround II

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Worth getting up early to avoid other tourists!

-3°. -3°! What the hell was I thinking packing just t-shirts, vests and shorts for running in Scotland?! I’d already sacked off the idea of running in a vest at Ganavan Sands parkrun in favour of a t-shirt… I actually had to buy a pair of gloves whilst out and about later on this particular day!

My legs were destroyed from the previous day’s 10k and sightseeing, including Edinburgh Zoo and Holyrood Palace. 3 miles, not even 5k, was more than enough!

Setting off even earlier than Easter Monday, I paid a visit to Edinburgh Castle whilst it was quiet – so quiet in fact, there were just two other souls in front of the castle at circa 07:15!

A detour around the Newtown area added to my growing working knowledge of Edinburgh’s streets – look, no map required!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Edinburgh runaround III

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The climb felt a lot longer…

Lis and I previously climbed Arthur’s Seat, unwittingly choosing one of the more challenging hiking routes, and only discovered a far gentler climb when descending back down. Observing a few runners making their way up to the peak via this route, which is still a challenge in its own right, I had the idea to make this the highlight of my final run in Edinburgh…

En route, I stopped off at Calton Hill to grab a few photos of the city from above whilst it was still quiet.

Once at the opposite side of Holyrood Park, I began my climb towards Edinburgh’s highest point. Even with the easier to navigate route, I was still blowing at times and opted to cover a slightly less direct path to give me a few short opportunities for recovery – a slight run-walk strategy was certainly necessary at times!

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What a view! And all to myself!

At the peak, I had Arthur’s Seat entirely to myself for a few minutes. Lactic acid cleared, the tranquillity and views were worth the effort. Then came the challenge of descending… Wearing only road shoes, I wasn’t confident at all navigating the rocky paths and even considered if it would have been easier to descend backwards temporarily. A sideways shuffle gave me the stability and braking effect I needed until I was back on grass.

If you’re heading to Edinburgh, certainly consider taking your running shoes with you – you won’t regret the extra space they take up in your bag after getting out there.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Run Local sandwich

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No barcodes to lose, get soggy, or steal at Great Run Local!

Despite a weeklong break in Scotland, I returned to work more tired than ever; meetings and preparations for a trade show meant there was little time or desire to run until the very tail end of the week.

Several weeks ago, Dave, Simon and I had planned to incorporate the Great Run Local event at Birmingham University’s The Vale into a long run. In principle, Great Run Local is just like parkrun, and here’s a list of similarities and differences for those curious:

Similarities

  • 5k distance
  • Free to register and enter
  • Volunteer organised
  • Timed

Differences

  • 2k option offered
  • Times recorded via RF wristband (free; not technically chip timed, since finishers are still manually timed)
  • 10:30am start on Sundays – events appear to be free to choose a time and day of their liking

I’ve seen a lot of heat thrown at Great Run Local online, and whilst some of it is of their own making (their website originally claimed they were “like parkrun, but better” – thankfully, this has been taken down), we need to remember that the local teams are entirely volunteer led. Yes, it may be a doppelganger of parkrun from the Great Run behemoth, but I’m of the belief that anything that gets more people running can only be a good thing – and there were faces at the event that I’d not seen at Cannon Hill parkrun before, despite both events being relatively close to each other in terms of travel time.

Right. Enough soapboxing…

I arranged to meet Dave at The Vale ahead of the 10:30am start. Due to misjudging the distance from Kings Heath to The Vale, I definitely did not give myself enough time to run to the venue. What originally started out as a jog gradually became a progressive run as I realised I was likely to miss the start! I really didn’t need the pre-run anxiety; my heart rate was already amped up by some 5bpm before setting off due to just feeling a bit run down of late, and the -4 condition score from my Garmin confirmed as much despite not having run for 3 days.

Arriving at 10:29, I was at least already warmed up and anticipated a rolling start to keep the momentum going. Thankfully, the organisers were running a few minutes late to give me a short breather beforehand. Talk about cutting it close!

From the line, it was incredibly civilised with none of the crazy sprint antics from parkrun. I found myself in a group of five, letting others set the pace whilst I followed. The first of three climbs split the pack apart, leaving just an older chap and me leading the field. His breathing on the hill was far heavier than mine and it was obvious he was putting in more effort to maintain pace. Unfamiliar with the route, I drafted behind him; he began zig-zagging to shake me off and that’s when I knew he probably had some race experience in him.

Descending the other side, Dave unexpectedly joined us; originally only wanting to jog around the course, he was fed up of running alone to join the fray. Dave and I continued to let the third member of our group pave the way, though reaching the hill for the second time, he fell back by a couple of steps and settled in behind me to run with Dave. I only caught snippets of their conversation, but it seemed the guy knew of me. Was he a blog reader? Or perhaps a Strava follower? Or maybe I’d pissed him off previously in a race and he’d done some sleuthing? Anyway, Dave began spilling the beans and shared that I was completing the 5k event as part of a 14 mile run. Never give away more than you have to!

Opting not to look backwards (sign of weakness), I continued to pull away on the hill to play to my strength. The gap increased to the point where I could no longer hear footsteps or breathing behind me for much of that km.

Third lap and final run of the hill, I continued to press on and maintain my lead. Descending on the other side, I was suddenly able to hear breathing and footsteps again. I reasoned it wasn’t Dave and must’ve been my pursuer.

Entering the final and short lap, he was nipping at my heels and I easily lost a few steps due to my unfamiliarity with the course. In the blink of an eye, he drew level with me and gapped me by a few strides. Whilst I fully expected him to increase the distance between us, I was able to hang on and prevent any more rot from setting in; that being said, the 15 second or so deficit was too much for me to make up. He would have been running on adrenaline in the firm knowledge that 1st place was his to lose from that point.

I finished in 20:36 and second place, whereas the chap in first place clocked 20:22. He revealed that he wanted to get a fast final km in the bag of around 3:30 or so, regardless of our race, which undoubtedly pushed him on for the win. Whereas I didn’t set out to be in contention, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t hold back on the second climb to instead take him on the third run of the hill. Silver ain’t to be sniffed at, mind, and Dave made it on to the podium, also, for bronze.

Impromptu race finished with, I had 5 slow miles to chew through for home… Yay.

Here’s the Strava data for this run, along with the ‘warm up’ and ‘warm down’.