This week’s running – 16th to 22nd July 2018

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6th at Worcester Pitchcroft parkrun – Photo by Sarah Layton

An unusually low mileage week, after several in the high 40s to low 50s.

5k recovery

Slightly cooler temperatures made this 5k recovery feel like a breeze. Everything just clicked when it needed to.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6x 800m at 5k pace

The recent focus on 400m intervals helped propel me to better attack this 800m session. Strong headwind slammed into me on the warm-up, signalling a challenging time ahead. But, in an unexpected double-edged sword kind of way, the wind may have actually allowed for the session to be completed in its entirety. I opted to not fight the gusts for at least the first rep, recognising that my legs normally take a little time to find themselves. The end result? A pretty satisfying set:

  1. 3:05
  2. 3:01
  3. 2:57
  4. 2:57
  5. 2:55
  6. 2:53

Without the wind, I reckon I’d have taken another 3-5 seconds off each rep.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles run-commute

The slightly cooler temperature remained, making running with a bag on my back slightly more forgiving than it had been of late. Having said that, I was still shattered upon finishing and opted to take the following day as unplanned rest.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Worcester Pitchcroft parkrun

I had a visit to Worcester Pitchcroft parkrun (my 28th different event) in my sights for a while, and this seemed like the perfect day for it on paper. I wanted a swift blast a week before the Magor 10k, with the low winds meaning a fast time would not be a fool’s errand. In a previous guise, Worcester Pitchcroft parkrun had a somewhat dubious reputation for being blisteringly fast, even with several switchbacks in play; it was concluded to measure a bit short and often produced runbritain SSS course condition scores with negative figures. This was remedied by altering the course to become almost 2x full laps of the path surrounding the racecourse.

I make it a habit of arriving nice and early to any parkrun I’m attending, whether it’s my home event or one further afield. There’s nothing quite like a relaxed, care-free build-up to 09:00; I despair whenever I volunteer as a marshal and see people racing from a carpark to the start line at 08:59… So early was I, the course markers hadn’t even been laid out yet! I didn’t feel particularly sharp, mainly due to heat and prolonged fatigue from what has been a torturous spring-summer. My warm-up confirmed the morning was likely to be a tough one…

Unsurprisingly for a younger event that’s barely a year-old, there were only around 200 participants in attendance. Oddly, it’s also one of the few events I’ve been to where a large contingent of runners chose to wait next to the start line rather than listen in on the run briefing. With just 200 people, it wasn’t a crowded event and there was ample room on the start line for anybody that wanted to seed themselves higher to do so.

I was caught off-guard by how fast the start was, with my Garmin registering in the 3:20s a few times during the opening couple hundred metres! There were people ahead of me that were definitely not going to finish anywhere near me, giving me a temporary crisis of confidence!

Before too long, the field thinned out and I found myself in the unenviable place of no-man’s land. The next chap behind me was around 20 seconds away, whereas some 10 to 15 seconds ahead of me was a pair of teenage boys. I willed them to split apart and drift back towards me, but no joy.

I continued on my own and began to take note of the varying terrain. Whilst most of the course is well-paved, there were some sections that were made up of broken path akin to that of Edgbaston Reservoir (a few hundred metres around the start area) and a short section of wood chips around 1km in. All of this added to my thoughts of the course not being as fast as billed, with Walsall Arboretum still ranking at the top in terms of being fast and locally accessible.

As I neared the end of the first lap, my prayer had been answered and one of the youngsters in front of me broke off and began drifting back to me quickly. Once we made contact, I gave him some encouragement to stay with me – partly for some company, but also because I like to lend a helping hand where I can. He drew shoulder to shoulder with me, but his breathing was all over the shop; I told him we were going to run an even pace so that he could steady his breathing. Amazingly, the distance between us and the other teenage lad in front remained perfectly static with no growth or shrinkage. Pace-wise, we were right on target to dip under 19 minutes if we could keep things ticking along.

With 1km remaining, the effort bubbled upwards. I continued to give my sidekick plenty of encouragement to stay on target; he occasionally slipped from the pace, but I always got him to draw level with me again. Once we reached 17 minutes on the clock, I started to give him time updates and suggested he begin wrapping things up if he was close to a PB. At around 200m remaining, he pulled ahead by a couple of strides to reach the grassy straight first out of  the two of us. I continued to holler time updates until he crossed the line, with me 5 or so seconds behind.

He was wrecked, but had enough breath to ask me what I registered. I showed him my Garmin, with 18:55 displayed, and suggested he had 18:50 or so to his name. He fist-pumped the air and let out a big, “Yeeees!” I asked him what his previous best was, which turned out to be 19:13 for a huge chunk taken off that morning. Next to us was the event’s PB bell; he seemed unsure of whether to ring it or not, to which I urged he definitely should as he’d earned it. He heartily rang the bell and thanked me before collapsing on the grass for a breather.

I stuck around to talk to a few of the locals before wandering off to complete another lap of the course for a warm-down. Worryingly, I felt the same rush of nausea that I experienced a week prior after finishing Cannon Hill parkrun. I’ve chalked it down to good old fashioned heat exhaustion and, thankfully, I remained on the right side of the effort line to avoid an embarrassing situation!

All in all, Worcester Pitchcroft parkrun was bitter-sweet. It wasn’t nearly as fast as I’d hoped for, but helping a fellow runner break new PB ground stopped the morning becoming a waste.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to Solihull and back

I could feel my body waving a white flag from all the hard racing and training it’d been through. As such, I didn’t feel another 15 mile slog would be the most sensible of options, and instead opted for just 10 miles to Solihull and back.

It’d been months since I last covered the route – the last time, I was almost knocked down by inattentive driver! Working in my favour was the cloud cover overhead, taking the edge off the warmth. Working against me was the undulating route that I’d forgotten all about…

Also not helping was my fixation with hitting 7:30 miles. They felt reasonably effortless in the first half, which was net downhill and had a slight tailwind. The return, with its net uphill and headwind, was much more challenging on tired legs!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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This week’s running – 2nd to 15th July 2018

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In attendance for Alex’s 100th parkrun – photo by Lisa Conner

Gah. Another two weeks rolled into one.

5k recovery

The oppressive heat took its toll, even in the early evening. My average heart rate came out at 135bpm, compared to 130bpm for the same pace back in May.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6x 400m at 5k pace

This particular week was slightly experimental because I wanted to rediscover what my body’s threshold is for tapering.

The previous week’s 10x 400m session went down a treat, in spite of leaving me feeling quite nauseous upon finishing. Chopping the rep count down to 6x would inject just the right amount of intensity without overdoing things.

As per the previous week, the first two reps were a write-off where my legs were just getting into their stride:

  1. 1:27
  2. 1:27
  3. 1:21
  4. 1:22
  5. 1:22
  6. 1:22

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5 miles run-commute

I took a day off from running on Wednesday due to work team-building activities. Whilst I declined the go-karting element, I happily partook in the steak dinner afterwards! Some of you will remember the injury I received from go-karting back in March, resulting in me abandoning a run at 4 miles to catch an Uber for home. With the Wythall Hollywood 10k just days away on the horizon at the time, I didn’t want to risk anything, though I did look longingly at the go-kart circuit as I’d have easily been a contender for first place that afternoon with my power to weight ratio advantage – the fastest guy of the day was still a stone heavier than me!

With the above factored in, I shifted my week to run-commute on Thursday instead. I’ve written before about how challenging running with a bag on your back in elevated summer temperatures is. I become more easily dehydrated as my back continues to leach out sweat as my body desperately tries to cool itself down, to no avail. In the winter, the bag is a welcome addition as it’s an extra layer to fight off the cold!

The conclusion so far was one day off from running did nothing to harm my form, as my glutes were still active.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

2 mile shakeout

Whilst I had ambitions of running easy Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the final day never materialised as I was that damn tired that I treated myself to a lie-in.

Running on Friday felt really weird. I can probably count on a single hand how often I’ve done it and I suspect many may be in a similar position, especially if they’re parkrun fiends like me.

Temperatures continued to soar and take their toll on me. Whilst I originally set out for 5km, 2 miles was quite enough for me to keep my legs turning over and to stop my glutes from slumbering.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2018 review

Please click here for the full write-up.

5k recovery

Much like the last couple of Mondays following heat-compromised races, my body felt pretty good from the capped efforts of the races beforehand. My form also felt on point from the prolonged exposure of faster running only a day prior.

So, what conclusion did I reach regarding tapering? My body loves running and taking more than a day off from it is counter-productive due to a temporary loss of finesse; I’m sure we’ve all had the Bambi on ice feeling after a longer than intended layoff, no? Running an easy 5km or so on the Friday before a race seems to keep everything ticking over and in check for me.

I’m still unlikely to cover a parkrun at an easy pace the day before an important race, though I will now consider it before a tune-up event.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10x 400m at 5k pace

The temperature dropped slightly, making this session feel a tad easier than it had in the past.

With 60 seconds rest in between, they turned out to be a pretty satisfactory bunch of splits:

  1. 1:26
  2. 1:27
  3. 1:24
  4. 1:26
  5. 1:25
  6. 1:25
  7. 1:25
  8. 1:25
  9. 1:24
  10. 1:22

I enjoy these 400m sessions far more than their 800m counterpart, though I’m getting a niggling feeling that I need to return to 800m to re-bridge the gap between speed and my strength of endurance. Few things in running happen in isolation…

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5 mile run-commute

Also known as Andy’s quest for a new stick of Body Glide…

Sod’s law would of course dictate that I somehow lose a brand new stick of Body Glide before it had even really had any use? The stuff’s not cheap either at £12 a stick on the high street! I’d searched high and low at home and at work with no joy. However, I keep stumbling upon the empty stick that I threw away – I wouldn’t have minded if I’d have lost that one whilst it was on its way out! Naturally, after having bought a replacement, I’m going to stumble upon the missing offender, aren’t I? At least they don’t have an expiry date…

My form continued to feel super-charged from the 400m session, even at what was only recovery pace as I ran for home with a bag on my back.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

The humidity got the better of me as I battled my way from the office for home along the canal towpaths. It’s so energy zapping! My breathing and heart rate were largely fine, though each step felt like a real struggle. The climb on Fordhouse Lane nearly finished me off!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Normality ensued at Cannon Hill as the whole gang came together to celebrate Alex’s 100th run – even Nigel, who’s been nursing an Achilles injury.

After Thursday’s medium-long run, I was dog-tired. The warm-up jog to Cannon Hill Park triggered a -6.0 condition score on my Garmin; for reference, I’m normally a -5.0 if things are bad…

Whilst I didn’t intend to end up racing, the red mist was too powerful to decline. After 1km on my own, I ended up tailing Dave, as he was wont to do to me once upon a time. I stuck to him like glue in spite of his best efforts to lose me.

We remained in sequence until making contact with Andy Young, who prompted me to take the lead and overtake a large group of runners ahead of us. I took his challenge on and surged clear of him and Dave, gaining what felt close to 10 seconds in the process. Little did I know that Dave had anticipated when I might make a move; by his own admission, 3km would have been the ideal point to secure victory, owing to his endurance deficiency over longer distances.

He caught me with perhaps only 300m remaining. I had no response on that particular morning, already elbow deep into a 50+ mile week with a race every fortnight behind me since early May… I had just enough inside me to sneak back in for 18:59, when just a 19:30 would have been satisfactory.

Next week will see me touristing to the fast Worcester Pitchcroft parkrun, where the previous route had the dubious honour of regularly netting a negative SSS course condition score on runbritain…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Brindley Place and back

I get a huge kick out of long runs; there’s something masochistic about a training run that lasts for hours, especially when conditions are less than ideal. There’s a real sense of satisfaction derived upon completion that I don’t seem to receive from other staple runs in my week.

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McGuyvering the hell out of staying cool on the run!

Anticipating a warm one, I tried a new hydration trick that came to me like Thomas Edison imagining the light bulb. I part-filled my runner’s bottle the night before and threw it in the freezer to set. Just before heading out the door, I filled the remaining empty space with cold water and added an electrolyte tablet. And voila, I had a makeshift hydration tool that kept my hands cool for the first 30 minutes or so whilst the ice melted, turning into cold electrolyte liquid for the remainder of my run. Starting off cool is one thing and hanging onto being cool is another thing entirely. Try it for yourself!

Heading out a few hours earlier than usual, I was surprised to see so many who also had the same idea. Passing through a tunnel, I could hear somebody closing in on me very quickly; were they running an interval session (unlikely on a Sunday), or were they trying to catch-up to me? To my surprise and delight, it was Ashley Fawke – fellow Cannon Hill Crusader – out on his long run. We chatted for a little over a mile, where you can clearly see his pace nosediving, via Strava. Whilst only brief, it’s always fascinating to speak to a significantly faster runner than me, where Ashley confirmed my own thoughts on several topics.

Once through halfway, I still felt good from the ample shade and lower temperatures, and decided to progress the pace. It’s a strange day when you can run up a hill faster than you can run down it; I inadvertently ran a PB on the Fordhouse Lane climb segment!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 18th June to 1st July 2018

heatwave

Feeling hot, hot, hot!

Life has been very busy, so two weeks rolled into one again.

7 miles with 1 at marathon pace and 1 at half marathon pace

Tapering into the then upcoming Wilmslow Half Marathon, I wanted to reduce volume whilst hanging on to some intensity. I cheated once more by catching the Metro after work to the my old stomping ground of the Jewellery Quarter, allowing for around 7 miles with me easing myself in for a single mile at marathon pace and then a mile at half marathon pace.

I felt like I was in great shape from all the recent racing, surprising myself with a 6:13 mile whilst running into the wind on a warm evening. I’d have been satisfied with 6:18-6:20 from previous experience! At this point in the week, I was almost certain I would at least score a new half marathon best by the end of the week…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles with strides

In hindsight, I tapered too much going into the Wilmslow Half Marathon. Aside from the race, this particular run was just one of two for the week from a norm of six out of seven days. I wrote about my glutes feeling like they were distinctly missing during the race and this hard taper was part of the reason. My body likes to run frequently, so I’m going to adopt more a little-but-often approach ahead of the Wythall Hollywood 10k.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Wilmslow Half Marathon 2018 review

For the full write-up, please click here.

5k recovery

The warmth of the previous day’s race had two effects on me. The first, it conditioned me to run at effort in warm conditions. The second, it prevented me from going all out; whilst I was tired and felt like I’d worked, I didn’t feel nearly as battered or bruised like I’ve done in previous eyeballs out races.

Trotting easily for this recovery run, my heart rate was a good 2-3% lower than what I would have expected normally, let alone the day after a race. Even whilst recovering, my lungs felt supercharged from the Wilmslow Half Marathon. Oh, and guess who’s glutes finally decided to show up?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

With the heat sticking around, I upped my hydration game throughout the day and even took a bottle of electrolytes out with me. Slow and steady was the order of the evening, so as not to overly tax my body. I continuously searched inside for feedback, namely for an idea of how far to run. The last couple of weeks of racing and tapering for some events more than others had left me wanting for an injection of training normalcy. 9 miles became 10, then ultimately 11 feeling really good.

I have just two more 10k races coming up before a long 6 week block of training ahead of the Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon. Speaking of which, if any of you listen to the Running Commentary podcast, it was my suggestion of Lake Vyrnwy that convinced Paul Tonkinson and Rob Deering to seek the race out. As performing comedians, they found the prospect of a 13:00 start incredibly inviting!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Leaving the city centre, I was puzzled initially at why the congestion was so awful and how I was able to overtake so much stationary traffic. It wasn’t until I neared the Belgrave Interchange that I realised Edgbaston Cricket Ground was hosting a match. Spectators heading to the venue increasingly lined the pavement, forcing me to frequently run wide or sometimes run on the road. Thankfully, traffic was gridlocked, so I only had to glance behind me on occasion for cyclists, with none appearing.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10x 400m at 5k pace

To run faster, you must run faster.

Whereas my marathon and half marathon performances have come on leaps and bounds in the past two years, my 5k has remained stagnant. My 10k ability is now closer aligned with my half marathon, so I think it’s about to turn a corner for something sizeable at the Wythall Hollywood 10k or Magor 10k.

But what to do with my 5k? 800m reps just don’t feel like they’re cutting the mustard like they used to, so I decided to give 400m reps a shot. The purpose of interval training is to allow exposure to a challenging pace in smaller bursts, which otherwise would be difficult if not impossible to sustain as one continuously paced run.

Discussions with Dave Burton indicated I target a pace of 3:35 per km for 10x reps, with 60 seconds in-between as a rest. The first two were a little shaky, but otherwise I was very pleased with the outcome:

  1. 1:30/3:44 per km
  2. 1:28/3:38 per km
  3. 1:25/3:32 per km
  4. 1:23/3:27 per km
  5. 1:25/3:32 per km
  6. 1:22/3:25 per km
  7. 1:24/3:30 per km
  8. 1:25/3:32 per km
  9. 1:27/3:37 per km
  10. 1:25/3:32 per km

Rep 9 was hampered by thick tree cover overhead upon finishing, falsely slowing it down – it was bang on target until then.

I surprisingly found 400m intervals to be more beneficial for my needs than my former go-to of 800m intervals. In spite of finding my feet for the early reps, I locked in on target pace and I was able to hold it for the remainder of the session. I also identified my form adjusting to eke out every last ounce of speed from available resources, which should trickle down to slower paces becoming more efficient over time. A few more of these sessions and maybe, just maybe, I can reverse the 5k stagnation trend.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Due to racing, being away from home and various other reasons, it’d been more than six weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill. I looked forward to covering the route, only to find lorries on-site for the In The Night Garden live show installation, forcing Cannon Hill parkrun’s hands into utilising the 3x lap course. The last time I ran this particular course, I found it incredibly challenging as lapped runners splayed out all over the course in an unpredictable manner. Adding to the numbers that morning was a Sikh group completing their Couch to 5k programme. The guys and I all envisioned a messy event…

Ironically and if not for the numbers at Cannon Hill, the 3x lap course is actually pretty fast due to the clockwise direction it follows. Runners gain more on the short descent and they lose less on the long and gradual climb up to the bandstand.

Whereas my lungs continued to feel strong, my legs had clearly not recovered from the session two days prior. Whilst I had the strength to hold steady, I struggled to move into a higher gear, and nor did I want to bury myself in the pursuit. I spent much of the first two laps with Dave, with him creeping away at some point after 4km, thanks to his recent 5k focus giving him an edge; he finished in 19:03 and me in 19:08.

It’s likely there’ll be further disruption at Cannon Hill due to various events over the summer, so expect some tourism from me in the not too distant future.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Brindley Place and back

Whilst I had plans to get up early and avoid the heat, I ended up turning my alarm off and sleeping through… Whilst it was indeed warm outside, I was cruising on the training effects of the Wilmslow Half Marathon and recent runs in the warmth.

Early on into the run, I happened upon a £5 note on the floor to perk me up nicely!

I was amazed at the number of runners I saw out there without anything for hydration; it wasn’t even a gender thing because both sexes were as bad as each other. I purposely held back from drinking from my electrolyte bottle until the second half. I’d already overdone pre-hydration and ended up peeing twice in the 10 minutes before leaving home, only to then need to pee again 20 minutes into the run…

Just in case you’re not warm enough already, I witnessed a pair of runners – could have been father and daughter, or coach and student – running in long sleeves and tights. Yes, you read that right. I felt delirious just watching them!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

 

This week’s running – 11th to 17th June 2018

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All aboard the pain train at Walsall Arboretum parkrun! Photo by Ron Reynolds

An unconventional week, though no worse off for it.

5k recovery

It’s normally expected that I feel worse the following day after a race. When I feel about the same, if not better, then I know that I there was something more that I could have given. This held true here, where the Aldridge 10k barely felt like it touched my sides! Frustratingly, my glutes began firing correctly, whereas they were noticeably dormant during the race…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

7 miles from the Jewellery Quarter

It’s not very often that I find myself in the Jewellery Quarter these days, despite it being home for four years.

This particular route allows me to chop about 2 miles out from my normal 9.5 mile route from the office, whilst still keeping it at a reasonable distance. The reason for this was two-fold: I wanted to softly begin tapering ahead of the upcoming Wilmslow Half Marathon by reducing volume, and I had a track session pencilled in for the following day and needed to be relatively spritely to capitalise on it.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

800m, 1600m x4, 800m

Ah! A rare outing to visit the University of Birmingham running track! Can you believe it was before Christmas that I was last there?

As anticipated, I was on my own and used the official entrance to get in rather than skulking through bushes and in-between fences. Some gardeners were tending to the grounds in preparation for upcoming school sports days – every time I’ve visited, there have been gardeners present!

The plan was to cover 4x 1600m reps at half marathon pace, with a lead in and lead out of 800m at 5k pace for variety.

Despite being pretty well sheltered by surrounding trees and buildings, a breeze persisted to be felt on the final bend, home-straight and first bend! The sun came and went overhead, resulting in me opting to run bare-chested and work on my tan whilst I was at it.

Factoring in that GPS and 400m running tracks don’t gel well together, here are the splits:

  1. 800m: 2:53/5:48 per mile
  2. 75 seconds rest
  3. 1600m: 5:58/6:00 per mile
  4. 60 seconds rest
  5. 1600m: 6:02/6:04 per mile
  6. 60 seconds rest
  7. 1600m: 5:56/5:58 per mile
  8. 60 seconds rest
  9. 1600m: 6:03/6:05 per mile
  10. 60 seconds rest
  11. 800m: 2:48/5:38 per mile

The session, though challenging, was incredibly satisfying to complete. The track surface is beautiful to run on with plenty of traction, feedback and propulsion from its surface. I was able to lose myself in the running and not require keep an eye out for others as I often need to on the canal towpath. I couldn’t stop sweating at the end of it and was thankful I had a bottle of water with electrolytes for between reps and afterwards.

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

7 miles from the Jewellery Quarter

Very much a repeat of Tuesday’s run, though I felt dramatically worse due to ill and poor preparation beforehand from the office.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Walsall Arboretum parkrun

It’s traditional the week before a target race that I seek out a fast effort from a parkrun. A bout of focused pace, that’s not too taxing in terms of recovery, does wonders to sharpen up.

In need of a return visit to Ikea, Walsall Arboretum parkrun made a lot of sense, especially after Dave Burton’s fresh PB from last week on the fast and flat course. Dave was game for another bash on the course, so came along. Sadly, conditions weren’t quite as optimal as a week ago, with noticeably more wind blowing, and drizzle leaving the ground underfoot slightly slick. Saying that, though, my 18:14 PB from the course in 2016 was run in wet conditions, so who’s to say what’s possible anymore?

Lis and Dave’s brother, Paul, were present for spectator duties with the course affording six opportunities to spot runners from a couple of vantage points.

A decent warm-up in the bag and we assembled on the start line. I was genuinely nervous and could feel my heart racing away; I knew what would unfold would be painful, no matter the outcome!

The start was fast as anticipated with me falling into place outside of the top 10. My target pace for the morning was 3:38 to 3:40 per km; hanging on to 3:40 for the opening split felt harder than it should have – most likely due to the Aldridge 10k and Wednesday’s track session still remaining in my system.

I found myself occasionally flanked by a couple of guys, though I seemed to be doing the lion’s share of the work in pacing terms. I would have joined the group ahead, but over 5k pace, they were too far off in the distance to reel to leave me reluctantly in place.

Whereas I’d started off on target pace, I just couldn’t sustain it and ended up falling back to around 3:50 per km.

Walsall Arbortum parkrun is a compact, three lap course. Entering the second lap, I began encountering slower runners and occasionally had to bellow out, “Keep left,” just as the marshals did. People seemed to take it well enough, with one lapped lady cheering me on as I passed her sounding like a steam train. I was in a hell of my own making!

GPS seems to struggle on the Walsall Arboretum course, with measured distance all over the place. Historically, I’ve felt the course is potentially short, though this would make little sense as the start and end positions are not dictated by necessity and could easily be moved further apart if the distance is indeed short. With a supposed km remaining, I was unsure how near or far away I was from my secondary goal of a new PB that morning. It wasn’t until I had some 500m remaining that I realised I was in with a shot of breaking new ground if I could lay down a big kick…

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Please forgive my tan lines – photo by Lis Yu

Rounding the penultimate bend, I tried with all my might to put rubber down to the ground for something substantial, but it just wasn’t happening. Even with the gentle descent all the way to the finish, I simply couldn’t generate the necessary power to keep up with the several guys that rapidly passed me. The look on my face in the photo at the top of this post says it all!

Crossing the line drenched in sweat from the effort, it was bitter-sweet to learn I’d run my fastest 5k in 2 years for 18:22, also my third fastest 5k of all time, but still needed 9 seconds to challenge my 18:14 PB. Working my way through the funnel, I was surprised to discover one of the guys that stuck to me like glue was the same chap that narrowly beat me to the line at the Aldridge 10k! Tom joked that I had become his personal “tormentor”, though I reassured him that I would not be in the vicinity any time soon to put him at ease.

Frustratingly, my official plastic barcode failed to register in the system for me to end up with an unknown result. The barcode scanned because I heard the audible beep, so I’ve binned it rather than allow it to wreak any more havoc. Kindly and swiftly, the Walsall Arboretum team amended the issue for me within a few hours with no fuss – thank you!

A little more to come with some focused pace work, though I’m struggling to think of where I can find another 23 seconds to break 18 minutes!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to Brindley Place and back

Whereas I would have normally gotten out for my run in the morning, I ended up sleeping in and completing a few errands before needing to be somewhere for lunch time. Before I knew it, 3pm had rolled around!

Conditions were deceptive; on the surface, the afternoon appeared to be cool with overcast skies. The reality was noticeable humidity to leave my t-shirt drenched – I really should have worn a vest.

People say you should leave around 3 hours after eating a meal before attempting to run. Personally, I stick with 2 hours for carbohydrate-rich meals with low protein, and nearer 4 hours for protein-rich meals. Well, I had a protein-rich meal comprised of dim sum to leave me pretty uncomfortable!

To make matters worse, I enjoyed a tailwind on the out leg, only to be faced with a headwind on the return to add to the discomfort!

I definitely prefer running long in the morning on Sundays, where I feel like it has far less of an impact on the rest of the day.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 4th to 10th June 2018

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Simon Bull and me (sans vest) at the Aldridge 10k – photo by Lis Yu

A soft taper week ahead of the Aldridge 10k.

5k recovery

I think after last week’s sweat-fest runs, adaptations began taking hold inside me. Contrary to my expectations of feeling beaten up, I ended up feeling not too shabby with my legs and heart rate able to comfortably keep up.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5x 800m at 5k pace

What a difference a couple of days can make! Dramatically lower humidity and a little more recovery meant I was better able to handle the demands of this session.

Erring on the side of caution after last week’s miss, I boosted the rest period to 75 seconds, which turned out to be unnecessary if the following splits are anything to go by:

  1. 2:57
  2. 2:57
  3. 2:54
  4. 2:53
  5. 2:53

Pretty near as damn it in terms of precision!

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5 mile-run commute

Due to staying late at the office to prepare for work’s 200thanniversary (how many businesses can boast such longevity?), I was in two minds about skipping this run and heading straight home having been on my feet all day. My OCD kicked in and a committed run is a non-negotiable run; besides, work paid for some Domino’s pizzas that were waiting for me at home – calories that hadn’t been factored in for the day!

Much like on Monday, I expected the worst from my legs but was pleasantly surprised to discover they were really quite spritely. Clearly still retaining much of the good form from the previous day’s 800m reps, my glutes fired correctly and my stride trailed correctly behind me despite the recovery pace.

Oh, and for clarity because people have been asking, I personally categorise my runs as run-commutes if I carry a bag on my back. Whilst I run from the office three times a week, two of those runs see me carry the absolute minimum (phone, wallet, keys) via a Flip Belt around my waist.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

4 miles into this run, I regretted not whimping out and dropping the run entirely. I’d once again been on my feet all day preparing, celebrating and then cleaning up after work’s 200thanniversary. If I didn’t run on Thursday, it meant the next time I would be running would be during Sunday’s race; this particular week wasn’t to be too low in mileage terms, so you can see my initial reluctance to sack it off.

My legs were tight, especially my IT Bands that were in need of foam rolling. At least I only had 9 miles and not 11 to run!

Running up the incline on Fordhouse Lane, I noticed a woman around 100m away from me making the hill look incredibly easy. Once on flat ground again, I overtook her. She wore earphones and uttered, “Whoa. Fast,” not realising how audible she was! She beat me to it and I was left dumbfounded, just as I was about to share similar words with her attack on the hill.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With the Aldridge 10k the following day, Lis and I volunteered once more at Cannon Hill parkrun. It’s been weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill!

Nothing of particular excitement, however I did meet Tom Charles – a chap that’s launching the Running Stories Podcast. I agreed to become an interviewee and there’ll be more on this next week.

Aldridge 10k 2018 review

For the full write-up, please click here.

This week’s running – 21st May to 3rd June 2018

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Newport parkrun takes place on a National Trust site – photo by Lis Yu

Gah. Apologies once again, everyone, for I have fallen behind with the updates. Two weeks rolled into one, here.

5x 800m at 5k pace

I struggle with the specifics, but it’d been a long time since I last completed a true-blue interval session at anything faster than half marathon pace. Needless to say, I was pensive about how the session would unfold…

Well, I need not have worried at all for I positively surprised myself! Take a look at the below for each 800m rep:

  1. 2:55
  2. 2:59
  3. 2:53
  4. 2:55
  5. 2:54

Rep 2 was marred by heavy tree cover, ruining what was otherwise a near-flawless set! I could have pushed on for 6x, but felt quite nauseous upon finishing 5x and figured that was quite enough to get myself reacquainted with structured speed once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5 mile run-commute

Expecting the week’s total mileage would end up a touch on the low side due to soft-tapering and racing, I opted to jump off the Metro one stop early to have this run end up nearer to 6 miles than 5.

Running with a bag on your back is tough going. You end up with what some affectionately call swamp back, due to never-ending perspiration in a bid to keep the back cool. Not only that but whatever goes into the bag needs to be wrapped in plastic… I’ll say no more!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

Like a fool, I forgot to pack my Flip Belt to have me running all 11 miles with a phone and wallet in my hand. Any of you that know me in person will be aware of my diminutive figure, yet I own the ginormous iPhone 8 Plus. Not comfortable in the slightest!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Racing the following day meant I volunteered, of course. I was paired up with the lovely Fehmida, volunteering and marshalling for the very first time, due to fasting for Ramadan. She was an absolute natural, learning the ropes very quickly, pointing runners in the correct direction, and encouraging everybody as they passed.

Also joining us was a chap from Bristol, who was returning there due to work contracts ending. Rather than run at Cannon Hill for the final time, he opted to volunteer instead. Many, myself included, would have done the former, whereas he’d set a great example by going against expectations.

Cotswold Hilly 100 2018 review

For the full write-up, please click here.

5k recovery

Strangely, the previous day’s Cotswold Hilly 100 leg barely felt like it had touched the sides. Considering my Garmin advised 72 hours for recovery, I heeded this warning and kept the effort incredibly low. Helpful to me were the torrential rains of the previous day in Birmingham, bringing the temperature down a few notches.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

This was a very special day for the St James Road tunnel re-opened! Huzzah!

Those of you local to Birmingham and who run on the canals will be all too familiar with the narrow, single-file nature of above said tunnel. I remember years ago, a cyclist decided to race ahead of me into the tunnel, only for him to constantly lose his balance to then drop his speed to become the one holding me up!

Since January, work has been carried out on widening the footpath in the tunnel. Whereas canal boats have probably lost around a metre of width from the tunnel, which still leaves plenty for them to play with, users of the footpath are now able to comfortably and safely overtake with ease; no more waiting at either end!

The only downside? The extension is basically a platform, and not a particularly solid sounding one. Only time will tell if it survives the repeated pounding and punishment…

The run itself was so-so. Humidity was jacked right up to leave me drenched and dripping in sweat. The crushing problem with humidity is it stops the body from being able to cool itself down. Without the sun shining directly on you or a breeze to evaporate sweat, it simply pools on your skin and your body pumps out more sweat because you’re not cooling down. It’s a double cost as you become increasingly dehydrated with no benefit!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

The humidity remained and certainly not helping was the bag on my back.

Running through Cannon Hill Park, there were still a few telltale signs of the storms from Sunday. Lots of mud had formed or collected besides the many paths.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3x 800m

Eugh. This was supposed to be 6x 800m at 5k pace, but I could tell from the warm-up alone that things were going to get ugly. 4 easy paced miles had left me glistening in sweat that simply wasn’t evaporating away!

I knew after 3x reps that I was better off jumping out and not delay recovery for another attempt another day:

  1. 3:06
  2. 2:58
  3. 3:03

Whilst the humidity was one factor in the poor session performance, recovering from the Cotswold Hilly 100 and poor hydration and nutrition were others. I opted to catch a bus for the final 2 miles for home, stopping off at Sainsbury’s for some sugary snacks and drinks!

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

Newport parkrun

Ah, Newport parkrun. Home to my very first parkrun away from Cannon Hill and also where my Achilles heel had decided enough was enough back in 2016 (I’d not been back since).

Ben, a friend of Lis’ and mine ran there for the first time a week prior and fancied giving it another shot whilst I was in town. It makes for quite a contrast to his usual haunt of Riverfront parkrun and is one of the likely few events where the launch of nearby events have taken numbers away from Newport parkrun; at its peak, the event could see up to the high 500s, whereas the 200s to 300s is now the norm. Their secret? Newport parkrun is definitely more of a summer course.

After a warm-up, Ben and I both concluded it was going to be a warm morning. Not helping was the lush vegetation we would run through twice for added humidity. Spectating were Lis and my mother-in-law, Yvonne.

Visiting the event was a swift looking runner from Oklahoma in the US. I did actually have sights on him winning, only for disappointment to strike when he finished in second place and lost out to a fellow visiting runner.

I was in need of sleep and recovery, so set out with just sights on skimming under 20 minutes. With its many twists, turns and long stretches under thick tree cover, I knew the course came up a touch short on GPS, so I had a small margin of error on my side. I coasted much of the first km, keeping the effort and pace steady whilst people chopped and changed before settling down.

Somewhere during the second km, I noticed a young boy in the distance running at a decent clip for the Tredegar Park terrain. With no extra work on my part, we eventually drew shoulder-to-shoulder; his breathing was already quite heavy and laboured, so he was certainly working hard. He began to slip by a step or two, convincing me to give him some encouragement and pacing assistance. “Stay with me, buddy,” I said to him to get a feel for whether he was interested in keeping the fire burning. He drew level with me again to clearly wish to remain in the game.

This continued up to the final km, when I thought I might have lost him. His breathing was, expectedly, very laboured and intense; the suffering he was putting himself through was remarkable. I carried on with the encouragement, which he’d previously reacted positively to. As we cleared the final corner, I took the lead momentarily and told him to kick and chase me down. He found something from somewhere and briefly pulled level with me before putting a few metres between us. At the 200m sign, I told him to go for the finish and he added a few more metres between us, finishing in 19:52 and me in 19:54.

Upon finishing, I congratulated him and told his father that he should be proud of the effort he’d put on show that morning. A sub-20 is not particularly easy to achieve on Newport’s course as the terrain, whilst being largely flat, is not particularly forgiving in terms of energy return or traction.

Ben came back in with a course PB, which was to be expected with prior knowledge of the course and starting right at the front with me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Monkswood and back

The day before, Lis and I noticed several volunteers putting up a number of “Caution Runners” and arrow signs around much of the long run route I almost always utilise when visiting Lis’ parents. Curious and confused, I could find no information on what the potential race was, with no listings on any of the race resources I commonly refer to. Ben was able to deduce it was some sort of relay race akin to the Cotswold Hilly 100. Hosted by the local Fairwater Runners club, it featured multiple legs of differing distances, with the most brutal being a half marathon taking place at 13:20 in the midday warmth. I feared I would have to bandit the race if it coincided with my own long run, though there was no need as I was all wrapped-up before they’d even started their leg.

Whereas I’d spotted dozens upon dozens of cyclists, I was the only runner out there on this morning. One particular cyclist recognised me on the out and return to cheer me on. Also cheering me on was a mystery BMW driver, honking his horn and waving as I headed towards my turnaround point at Monkswood.

I ensured I was adequately hydrated and fed beforehand, but took no chances by carrying an additional water bottle with electrolytes. Usefully, I also strictly regulated the first half’s effort to have me feeling pretty good for the second half.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

This week’s running – 7th to 20th May 2018

heatwave2017

Vests at the ready!

Due to tapering the previous week, there wasn’t much going on, so I’ve rolled a fortnight into one post.

9 miles with 1 at marathon pace and 1 at half marathon pace

This was much harder than it should have been and the paces didn’t come as naturally as I wanted. There was a rather strong headwind blowing as high pressure and low pressure competed across the UK weather system. Rather than pile on fatigue, I was satisfied with a 6:47 marathon paced mile and a 6:21 half marathon paced mile.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 miles easy with strides

Lis and I had a midwife appoint scheduled in, so I took the afternoon off and got this run out of the way before the good weather brought everybody back out to Cannon Hill Park.

Much like Tuesday’s run with miles at pace, the easy effort here didn’t feel as free flowing as it should have. I reassured myself that there’s always a feeling of sluggishness with any taper of more than a few days and that this was perfectly normal – I hoped!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With the Shakespeare Half Marathon the following day, I of course did my part and volunteered at Cannon Hill parkrun.

As ever, I was positioned at my favourite section, moving between the 1km, 2.5km and 4.2km points on the course. Teamed up with me were Stuart and Ethan. Stuart was also running the Shakespeare Half Marathon (I did bump into him) and Ethan was one of the current crop of Duke of Edinburgh Award participants.

Marshalling was entirely without incident, so rather than talk about Cannon Hill parkrun on this occasion, I want to direct your attention to the recently released independent parkrun podcast: Free Weekly Timed. Hosted by Vassos Alexander and Louise Ayling, each episode lasts some 29 minutes to coincide with the current average parkrun finishing time (in the UK?). I’ve very quickly grown to adore the show and wish the run time was longer – everybody needs to get slower to bring the average finish time down to make this happen! For those that remember the now defunct parkrun Show, Free Weekly Timed is far more accessible without having to wade through wall-to-wall in-jokes and nomenclature, which I would dare say is down to the 29 minute runtime.

Another new show I’d like to recommend is the Runners World UK podcast. A bit less personality, due to the association with a magazine, but the content has been varied and worthwhile so far after only a few episodes. Whether this show can go the distance (pun intended) is undecided, especially as the US version ended abruptly after 67 episodes to then transition into a more general fitness podcast.

Shakespeare Half Marathon 2018 review

For the full report of the 2018 Shakespeare Half Marathon, please click here.

5k recovery

And boy was recovery needed!

It was probably the Yorkshire Marathon that last busted me this badly in pursuit of a PB. A very gentle pace this was.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I’m very much of the school of thought that tapering into a race means you should also taper out of the other side, too. I’m frequently amazed and horrified in equal measure at people that dive straight back into full-on training after big races; track sessions, tempo runs, fast parkruns – you know what I’m talking about.

I think I pitched the effort correctly on this occasion because Strava tells me this was the slowest occurrence of this route!

Here’s there Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Fortunately for me, the forecasted warm spell was delayed by a couple of days; I’m not sure I would have been ready for a warm medium-long run from the office. Also fortuitous was a rare tailwind!

Whereas Brindley Place was quite populated, the remainder of my run was fairly tranquil with few other souls about. This is likely down to the still closed section between The Vale and Islington Middleway, where most can’t be bothered to work out the detour. The closure is supposed to be lifted this week; I wait patiently for confirmation…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Conscious that I was still recovering, suffering from sleep deprivation, and conditions were warm, I opted to keep things pretty calm and relaxed with a sub-20 finish. It’s still very bizarre that a sub-20 parkrun is now my half marathon pace; I think it’ll take a while to get over that one, especially as it took me an entire summer in 2013 to get below 20 minutes over 5k!

Starting off conservatively allowed me to reel people in over the duration of the run. Plenty were breathing heavily within the first km and can’t have fared well for the remaining 4k. Looking at the results, there were people massively ahead of me at the 1km marker, who ended up finishing almost a minute after my 19:46!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to The Vale and back

Wowza. This was officially my warmest long run of the year, though I’m expecting warmer runs to come as the summer rolls into town. Whereas I had hydrated well beforehand, I ended up having to stop at around 4 miles within Kings Heath Park for a toilet break. Damn body. This run will teach it to be so casual about hydration! I took a bottle of water with electrolytes for the second half of the run, which paid dividends.

Anticipating a tough run, I purposely held back in the first half to maximise success and minimise distress. Everything seemed to tick along quite nicely until I picked up a stitch at around 10-11 miles, likely caused by not leaving enough time between breakfast and heading out. Physically prodding the affected area, it was tender to the touch and nearly stopped me in my tracks a few times. Thankfully, I was able to run through the discomfort for it to finally dispel as I left the canal towpath; it would have been a long walk for home like that failed 19 miles from last summer, otherwise!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.