Yorkshire Marathon 2016 review

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Dodgy medal aside, what a race this was!

For the 2017 race, please click the following:

5.5 months of training led to this mammoth of a race… Like the marathon, this report is an endurance event in itself, so grab yourself a drink, a snack and join me on the odyssey! As ever, skip to “The race” to cut straight to the chase.

An itch that needed scratching

Long-time readers of this blog will know I’ve not had much prior success with the 26.2 mile distance. A lack of marathon pace training (volume was there), warmer than anticipated race conditions and severe congestion marred my previous two outings. Despite my disappointment with the marathon, I grow wide-eyed and nostalgic each season as I see friends and peers putting in the training miles and pushing out noteworthy performances. I’m overcome with pangs to tackle the modern day Mount Everest again to prove myself worthy. To quote a fictional hero of mine, “There’s still some stuff in the basement.”

When Lis and I got married, she gifted me with an expenses paid marathon pass for a race of my choice. Failing to bag a place in the Berlin Marathon ballot, my attention moved to the Yorkshire Marathon. I wanted an autumn race for better chances of a cool race day, and also an event with smaller participant numbers. Yorkshire on paper looked to perfectly address two out of three previous failings, leaving just the training to focus on…

As bizarre as it may sound, this was the first race where I formally followed a training plan. I’d always been pretty fluid about training, whilst still typically applying the principles of a weekly long run, a weekly VO2max/speed work run, and a tempo-esque run, with easy recovery runs to plug the gaps. Pfitzinger and Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning became my bible for 5.5 months, and the 18 week – up to 55 miles plan provided the basis of my marathon campaign.

The training began easily enough. Looking through my training logs, I recall the early sessions and marathon paced work offering a profound boost to my fitness to also produce welcome 5k and 10k PBs. Then the summer rolled into town and the suffering began…

Training in the uncomfortably warm and humid conditions became the norm; several runs left me feeling beaten up and incredibly nauseous from the exertion, fluid loss and possible mild-heat stroke. Trudging through the summer did, however, pay dividends. I’ve since become better at regulating heat and recently, the last couple of runs in 15 degree temperatures have felt cool and easy, whereas the same temperature in Aprils past were a severe shock to the system after winter training. Whilst I bemoaned training through the summer, I would most definitely opt for an autumn marathon again in future for this reason alone.

I made little modification to the plan bar what was necessary due to illness or recovery. Crucially, every scheduled long run was completed. All in all, I was satisfied with how training went and the rest was left to the marathon gods up above.

My racing weight this time was also significantly different to before. Leading up to London Marathon 2014, I was some 9st 7lb/60kg (BMI 21.4, based on my height of 5ft 6). 4 days prior to Sunday’s race, I was 8st 8lb/54kg (BMI 19.4). In other words, I wasn’t carrying the equivalent of 3x 2 litre bottles of Coca-cola with me on this 26.2 mile trip!

Maranoia and taper tantrums

As part of my day job, I have to do an awful lot of event planning, requiring I mitigate any potential for error. I’m a firm believer of failure to plan leading to planning for failure!

I know I don’t sleep well in unfamiliar environments, so I booked Lis and myself into the hotel to span Friday and Saturday night for additional time to get used to the surroundings.

One thing I couldn’t prepare for were the bouts of maranoia; I glared at anybody that sneezed or coughed as I commuted to and from the office!

One very real part of tapering was doing just enough to keep the body ticking over, erring on the side of caution if otherwise uncertain. Whilst I feel I got this largely right, after my final marathon paced session only days prior, I was a little too vigorous whilst stretching the adductor in my left leg; whilst it was certainly tight before, it then became tight and sore! Thankfully, the soreness began subsiding come marathon-eve and had returned to normal by race morning. Phew – dodged a bullet there!

In marathons past, I also didn’t get the carbo-loading phase right, whereas I reckon I nailed it to the letter on this occasion. Before, I basically treated it as several days at an all you can eat buffet. This time, I stripped out as much protein from my diet as reasonably possible in the 3 days prior, whilst upping the carbohydrate content. Carbs were mostly of the simple variety, consisting of regular pasta, white rice and white bread. Oh, and litres of Lucozade and endless packets of rice cakes and biscuits! Despite the sheer volume of food I consumed, I was constantly hungry due to how easy it was to digest the carbs. Previously, this phase of marathon preparation was a bit of a giggle and a novelty; this time, I became increasingly aware of how unhealthy such an approach was and became thankful it only lasted 3 days.

Pre-race

Strategically, Lis and I were based out of the closest hotel to the race HQ, facilitating a trouble-free start and finish. We also paid the extra fee for late checkout, allowing me to shower and freshen up afterwards, rather than spend 3 hours stuffed in a car feeling sweaty and grimy.

Crucially, my plan of an additional night’s stay in York worked and I got the undisturbed sleep I so craved and desired. Pro tip: I even took my own familiar pillow with me to help things along!

Breakfast consisted of a few bagels with Nutella spread, some coffee and yet another litre of Lucozade. Oh, and a few more Oreos to fill any excess space going spare in my stomach! I now really need to go on a clean eating kick…

We planned to have Lis spectate at around 3 and 25 miles on the route. I knew I probably needed some support out there in the critical final few miles, though what I couldn’t predict was precisely when…

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Cool, dry and cloud cover. Yes, please!

Suited and booted, I made my way over to the race village at York University. Whilst I wasn’t exactly nervous (I was due a PB regardless, unless something catastrophic happened), I was rather emotional and almost welled up at the thought of what had been and what was yet to come. When you’ve devoted so much of your energy, physically and mentally, to what is essentially just a hobby project, it gets to you!

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I probably see Dave more often in York than in Birmingham!

I managed to keep my cool and avoided looking like an emotional wreck as I meandered through the convoluted university grounds to the baggage drop. Whilst I knew Dave Johnson from Kings Heath Running Club would be present and we’d arranged to meet-up in our start pen, I did unexpectedly bump into him just beside the baggage tent. Dave’s technically an ever-present at the race (he volunteered during its debut) and dolled out a few tips, especially concerning the lengthy out and back portion that stretched from miles 17 to 20. I also necked a tried and tested beetroot juice shot, though it would later come back to haunt me…

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Zone 1 start pen at the Yorkshire Marathon 2016 – photo by David Harrison

We made our way to the start pens, rubbing shoulders with a few celebrities. Identified were Steve Edwards with his 1,000 marathon target (I think Yorkshire was no. 750 or so), Mr Burton from Educating Yorkshire fame, and comedians Paul Tonkinson and Rob Deering from The Running Commentary Podcast (I’m still waiting for the Marathon Talk and Running Commentary mash-up where both shows interview each other).

Hannah Cockroft was the race’s official starter. Disappointingly, the race started late and the organisers kept stalling. At least it only took us some 7 seconds from where we were stood to reach the start line! Hold on to your hats, folks – here we go!

The race

To facilitate easier reading, given the sheer heft of this report, I’ve labelled the sections up by mile blocks.

Miles 1 to 3

The first mile, with its generous descent, was expectedly swift to have runners zooming off in all directions. Dave also went with the tidal flow and shot off ahead of me, despite him only aiming for a finish of 3:19 or faster. As for me, I kept calm and assessed how I was feeling along with how the morning’s conditions were stacking up. Whilst it was welcomingly cool and crisp with some cloud cover, there was also a noticeable breeze in the air (weather services estimated it to be 8mph or so); not ideal for a lofty goal such as a sub-3 hour finish, which would have had me at my absolute limits under perfect conditions. Thoughts rapidly moved to my B-goal of a sub-3:05 finish, though I opted to reserve final judgement until I’d passed through 2 miles…

I’d soon caught up with Dave to exchange a few more words of luck, before going our separate ways once again.

Mile 1 came in at 7:06; a touch slower than I’d have liked if completely bought into chasing a sub-3 finish.

I began my approach to York city centre and despite such an early stage of the race, I was able to run freely and unhindered thanks to the relatively small field of just some 7,000 participants and a small smattering of 10 mile/corporate relay runners. What was also surprising was how so few people were covering the optimal race line, so I wasn’t complaining!

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Almost missed York Minster in my daze

Appreciably, the course got the cobbled streets out of the way early on whilst runners still had fresh legs. I was so engrossed in the task at hand that I’d almost missed the sight of the glorious looking York Minster, backdropped by a brilliantly blue autumnal sky.

Mile 2 beeped in for 7:06 once more. I felt comfortable and relaxed, seeing sense to sack off the sub-3 attempt for another time and moved my sights to go under 3:05 by as much of a margin as possible, whilst remaining in firm control.

The course began taking runners away from the city as we worked our way through suburbia. The field began to thin out a little and pockets of runners formed around me. It was notable that the fastest marathon pace group on offer was for a sub-3:30 finish. In years past, sub-3 and sub-3:15 were made available; I guess they couldn’t find the necessary reliable volunteers in time.

The first water station was upon us, with small bottles on offer from both sides of the route for minimal disruption to all concerned.

Mile 3 steadily crept faster in pace for 7:01.

Miles 4 to 8

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3 miles down; just another 23 to go… Photo by Lis Yu

I advised Lis to get as far away from the water station and 3 mile marker as possible to avoid being drenched by randomly discarded bottles of water. I made sure I lapped up the support I got when I saw her because it would be another 22 miles before I saw her again!

Mile 4 remained steady for 6:59, leaving me feeling nicely warmed up and ready to eat up Yorkshire’s roads.

One of the few female runners from the first start pen drifted into contact and planted herself in front of me. I took advantage of a few minutes in her slipstream and couldn’t help but notice her very stable 7 minute mile pace. I piped up and asked if she was targeting a time, to which she responded, wanting whatever 7 minute mile pace would give her. We introduced ourselves and agreed to work together for a couple of miles, if only for company and to pass the time and monotony of the early miles. Sarah turned out to be quite the seasoned club marathon runner, having qualified for Boston twice, though she was coming off the hangover of a recent cold to force her to scale back goals for the day. We chatted about the Airbnb she stayed at, along with her disdain for her club chairman (does that sound familiar, anyone?)

For further distraction, I purposely positioned myself for a high-five from the famous high-fiving vicar at around mile 6. People did tell me to enjoy the race, after all!

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Me, the strong-silent bloke, and Sarah

A strong and silent type runner joined us as we reeled off the miles and indeed they did fly by; before I knew it, we’d covered some 4 miles in 6:59, 6:59, 7:00 and 7:01!

Miles 9 to 13

Unfortunately, the approach to mile 9 was the end of mine and Sarah’s alliance. The sharp climb and undulations that followed proved to be too much for her and despite me slowing a touch to allow her to regroup with me, she continued to drift backwards to leave me to venture forth on my own.

Mile 9 came in a little slower for 7:05 as a consequence of the terrain.

The field grew very thin at this stage, no doubt due to many further ahead having formed groups to stalk a sub-3 finish, leaving a chasm behind them. In the corner of my eye, I noticed a club runner that I recalled from the start pen. He would occasionally drift ahead of me, and then drift behind, rinsing and repeating. I figured running behind or side-to-side with him was better than slogging it out alone, so I got a dialogue going with Jeff. Yep, I’d become a slut-runner, promiscuously pairing up with whoever was convenient at the time!

Mile 10, with its sharp climb but even sharper descent, ramped the pace up slightly to a 6:57 split. Both Jeff and I shrugged it off, despite it being our fastest mile yet.

We applied the brakes slightly for mile 11 to restore some order and control for 7:02.

A sharp descent returned for mile 12 to produce a 6:53 split. We both grew wary and commented on it being a touch too fast; it’s funny how your perception of speed changes, depending on what you’ve covered immediately beforehand.

With our legs having adjusted to the faster cadence from the downhill stretch, out popped yet another fast split of 6:54 as we headed towards mile 13 and the halfway timing mat and clock. I remarked that several years ago, 1:31 had been an eyeballs out half marathon PB, yet there I was running it incredibly casually as part of a marathon!

Mile 14 to 17

Mile 14 featured the first of two out and back sections and allowed me to spot Dave and Sarah on the other side, giving them both some encouragement. It was also another swift downhill mile for Jeff and me, resulting in 6:55. I was beyond halfway and quite happy to let the pace creep faster as I began to engage my racing mindset; I’d followed Marathon Talk’s advice and kept the first half feeling as easy as possible whilst not dragging my heels. Looking at the average pace on my Garmin, I reasoned that a negative split finish was potentially on the cards if I could run a second half comprising of splits in the region of 6:50 to 7:00 pace. As I made my way towards mile 15, Jeff suddenly disappeared behind me and I never saw him again for the rest of the race.

Another soft marathon lesson I learned from my 2014 outing was to not carry too many gels where possible. The course was well stocked with isotonic drinks, though they were virtually sugar-free, thus requiring supplementation with energy gels. High5 was the official partner and having tried various combinations of their potions over the years, I know their products agree with me and I was willing to rely on their handouts along the route. Thankfully, I also like banana-flavoured stuff because that’s what was provided! I’m puzzled why they didn’t just supply a fairly accessible orange flavoured gel, but not my loss at least.

Mile 15 returned to a more sedate state for 6:59.

Having run in all directions since the start, the wind would have to eventually work in my favour, right? Well it so happened that miles 16 and 17 (and 18) had a wee bit of help from Mother Nature and a descent as I approached the dreaded second, lengthier out and back section. The front runners began to appear on the other side, prompting me to take a look at the elapsed time on my Garmin; without any African runners in the field that morning, I knew the winning time was likely to be slow by elite marathoning standards (Paul Martelletti, 2:19:36).

Miles 16 and 17 produced 6:56 and an imperceptibly fast wind-assisted 6:47!

Miles 18 to 19

Crowds started to swell on both sides of the course as I neared mile 18. Passing Katharine Merry and a camera crew, I was able to grab their attention, so may end up on the highlights programme (Saturday 15th of October, 6:40am, Channel 4).

Soon, the sub-3 group appeared on the other side of the barriers. I’d estimated they had perhaps some 3 to 4 minutes on me, so the turnaround couldn’t have been much more than 1 to 2 minutes away; the anticipation seemed to last forever! As it so happened, the mile 18 marker was also the switchback point. Making the turn, I was greeted with a zippy 6:48 split, along with a face full of headwind…

Running into the wind was like running into a brick wall, though I still felt pretty fresh and sharp as compensation. I kept my eyes peeled for Sarah and Dave coming through on the other side, giving both of them encouragement to take my mind off the headwind situation. I also laid a high-five on Dave along with, “Come on, Dave! Just like Cannon Hill!” Unexpectedly, he responded with, “Keep going! Bournville Harriers are just ahead of you!” This was a most interesting development, indeed, and gave me new focus in the field to chase down.

“Time to run smart, Andy,” I said to myself. Reeling them in would be the ultimate motivational boost, though not if it pushed me over the edge. I began drafting behind runners that had drifted backwards from the sub-3 groups in front.

Mile 19 slowed considerably to 6:59, not helped by an ascent that was thrown in for good measure. No wonder there were increasing numbers of casualties littering the sidelines! I was firmly reminded of the consequences of mis-placed heroics and to save any antics for after mile 20.

Shortly afterwards, I finally caught a glimpse of one of the Bournville Harriers, who must’ve fallen off the back of the sub-3 group. As I ran past, I quipped, “Come on Bournville! Do it for Birmingham!” I later learned that, on paper, he’s faster than me across all distances!

Onwards to mile 20 and the next Bournville Harrier.

I grew tired of the headwind that was wearing me down and willed the mile marker and its left-hand turn with shelter to appear. I put my head down and soldiered on with the task, keeping things steady with a 7:00 split for mile 20.

Miles 21 to 22

Finally! Solace presented itself and I made the turn at the brow of a climb to at last be out of the wind. No more than 100m ahead was the second Bournville Harrier I’d so diligently chased for much of the testing return stretch. I recalled words from Pfitzinger and Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning book, exclaiming mile 20 onwards as a part of the race to relish and to utilise all the months of hard graft. They didn’t need to tell me twice as I put my foot down and consciously increased my cadence and pace.

Before I knew it, I’d made contact with my target and wished him well as I passed him, much like I’d done with the other Bournville Harrier minutes earlier. “Thanks! How you feeling, mate?” came his reply. “I feel like shit!” was my response, where the wind had clearly taken some out of me. “You’re looking pretty good, still! You have our sympathies!” – gotta love mid-race banter!

I ploughed on and began zeroing in on the next batch of runners ahead of me. Mile 21 was a touch too fast from closing in on the Bournville Harrier so rapidly, producing a 6:49 split and the second fastest of the day…

Mile 22 was pretty lonely and there were few others to work with. I began to tighten up and the mid-day sun was at its highest point overhead to slowly cook me. Even the water that was being handed out had become warm!

Whilst I felt like I had lifted my pace, the reality was anything but; I was merely holding steady and it was the runners around me that were slowing considerably to create a cruel illusion of speed. Mile 22 slowed back to 7:00. I grew increasingly conscious that I’d only covered up to 22 miles in training on two separate occasions. What would happen beyond 22 miles?

Miles 23 to 25

Boy, oh boy. How the mighty fell. I began to regret reeling in the Bournville Harriers so enthusiastically, rather than letting them come to me naturally as they flagged. Mile 23 began my descent into that dark place that many a marathon runner goes to when fatigue kicks in during the closing stages of the distance.

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Won’t. Somebody. Please. Stop. The pain…

I did a quick assessment of how I was feeling and the feedback wasn’t good. My hips, glutes, quads and IT bands were tight and on the brink of giving up on me. I was warm and bothered; brushing my forehead produced a whole bunch of salt residue from my dried out husk of a body. I took water and fluids on at every station, but I wasn’t prepared for a sudden up-surge in temperature in the final miles.

I tried other tricks in my catalogue of distraction techniques. Counting to 100 did some good, as did singing songs from the Les Miserables soundtrack. I tried bargaining with the central governor in my head, telling him this was just 7/10 in terms of effort; my central governor turned out be an absolute twat, and decided 9/10 was more accurate. Even the old chestnut of “Just a Parkrun to go!” didn’t work. “Who gives a bloody shit about Parkrun?!” was my central governor’s curt response as I battled my inner-demons.

I continued to reel runners in, and thankfully the course flattened out and even began descending subtly for some much needed active recovery and energy preservation. I tucked into my final gel and thanked my lucky stars that I’d saved a caffeinated one for last and when I needed it most – there was no coming back from this if it didn’t work!

Mile 23 continued the pace slow-down for a 7:08 split…

As I cleared mile 23, I took a peek at my Garmin and what I saw wasn’t good. The pace started at 7:08 and continued dropping. 7:10. 7:13. 7:15… I quickly switched to the time of day face in a desperate bid to give my fragile mind some respite from what felt like an impossible task.

The field grew even thinner and the next guy ahead was maybe some 20 seconds away if I could maintain the pace whilst he slowed. Spectators offered plentiful support and could see the suffering I was going through from my pained facial expressions, even whilst I wore sunglasses. I must’ve looked borderline insane, mouthing out 1 to 100 and singing to myself!

Thoughts shifted to slowing down and accepting that I would still be in-store for a sizable PB…

I steadied my breathing as best as I could and zoned out all of the noise that was bombarding my withered body and mind. “You didn’t put yourself through months of hell to give up now!” Doing some quick mental arithmetic, I only had to grit my teeth for an additional 16 or so minutes once this mile was out of the way. There was also a water station at mile 24 for something welcoming to look forward to.

Mile 24 limped in with 7:17 for my slowest split of the race; the worst was over with at least!

At the water station, I dual-wielded two bottles ala Brownlee brothers style and liberally sprayed myself down from head to toe in a desperate attempt to shed as much heat as possible, preparing for my final assault on what the Yorkshire course had in store.

Also in Brownlee tradition, each step became increasingly unsteady and I noticed I was beginning to weave left and right a little. To give my slow-twitch muscles a break, I actually began small fartlek style surges to open up my stride and cover more ground.

With knowledge that Lis would be at mile 25 for some much-needed support, I began mouthing, “Get to Lis. Get to Lis. Get to Lis.”

The official bibs had our names displayed on them and spectators began focusing their cheers on me with so few runners around. It’s incredibly powerful hearing your name with encouragement when you’re at rock bottom!

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My form was a real mess by mile 25… Photo by Lis Yu

Sure enough, Lis was at mile 25. I could make her out clearly from several hundred metres away and began waving frantically to dull the pain. Her words of support were like music to my ears. “Give me a kiss!” I begged; easier said than done at speed, and the result was more like a head-butt…

I was back on track for mile 25 and moved in the right direction for 7:06.

The final mile and a bit

Looking at the elapsed time on my Garmin, I was confident I would finish in under 3:05 and my attention moved to recovering as much damage as possible from several less than optimal miles.

In the distance was Paul Tonkinson, who had completely fallen off the sub-3 wagon by some 3 or 4 minutes. I further opened my stride to reach him as quickly as possible, firmly believing it would only do my average pace good. “Keep going, Paul. We’re nearly there!” were my words as I passed him.

An older couple spectating to my right could see I was hurting. “Less than a mile to go, Andy! Keep it up!” “Thank you! Pray for me!” came my response to their kind words, eliciting much laughter.

I was fully aware that the steep descent we all enjoyed at the beginning of the course would come back to bite everybody, but nothing prepared me for how much of a mountain it felt like during the final mile. Two runners were already on the hill and became my sole focus to help me get the climb out of the way in a swift fashion. I began to surge and the crowd went wild around me, spurring me on to go even faster!

Dave warned me beforehand that the start gantry was just that and was not to be confused with the finish line. I’d joked that I’d already made that mistake only a fortnight prior at the Robin Hood Half Marathon and wasn’t about to make the same error twice!

Passing under the start gantry, I knew I had to cover just a little over 400m that were entirely downhill all the way to the finish line. I began a cautious kick, conscious that my quads and hips were long shot and sprinting downhill could potentially be disastrous. Encouragingly, they were on side and held up; it was time to throw caution to the wind and empty the tank!

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Set for a big PB!

My eyes darted around the horizon for the finish gantry that came into view with some 200m remaining. I began spurring the crowd on with my arms and they lapped it all up; I even got a mention from the official compere over the PA system!

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There’s always a little something left for a sprint!

50m. 20m. 10m. 5m. Mission complete!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the Yorkshire Marathon. There’s no heart rate data, opting not to wear the monitor for comfort reasons.

With the uphill climb back to the university and a sprint for the finish, I’d gone anaerobic for the very end of the race and needed to drop to my knees to catch my breath. Two volunteers came running over to check on me, whilst people in the crowd behind tried to help me back up. I gave everybody two thumbs up and said I just needed a minute or so to recompose myself.

Back on two feet, I gingerly made my way through the finish funnel. I took a glimpse at my Garmin and was thrilled to discover I had a 3:03:05 on my hands – a near-31 minute improvement on my previous best from the London Marathon in 2014. This is also a solid London Marathon Good For Age qualifying performance (at least until they inevitably move it to sub-3 for 2018, just you wait and see).

Two students were handing out cans of Redbull and after initially walking away, I backtracked to grab one and thanked them for the freebie. The sugar and caffeine went down a treat!

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Sean and me with Good For Age qualifying performances achieved

A runner emerged from the funnel and came over to shake my hand, commenting that I resembled a steam train as I passed him at some point in the closing miles. Sean and I shared our war stories of how our respective races went as we took a lengthy walk back to the baggage tent. In his pursuit for a sub-3 finish, he’d gone through halfway in 1:27 compared to my 1:31, whereas I finished almost 2 minutes ahead of him. Ouch…

With the hotel wanting Lis and I checked out by 2pm, I had to get a move on. Easier said than done, post-marathon… I couldn’t walk particularly fast and I had quite a trek across the university campus to get back to the hotel, whilst weighed down by the additions of a generously stocked goodie bag and medal.

Reunited with Lis, she was even more pleased than I was with my result, having seen first-hand what I’d put myself through since May. With the road closures still likely to last for hours, we sacked off returning to York city centre and made our way to an out of town retail park for some much needed cheeky-Nandos action!

Oh, and remember that beetroot juice shot I took before the start? Well, it was considerate enough to give me the desired oxygen-boost benefit during the race, only to then conspire with all the gels I’d consumed for a serious case of gut rot. I’ll spare you the grisly details…

Thoughts and conclusions

To say I’m elated is an understatement. I finally have a marathon PB to my name that I’m proud of, and is a fair representation of my ability! I also discovered I was so, so close from the oft-heard of, yet elusive to obtain, negative split finish; if only I’d held back just a smidge more in the first half…

I’ve no regrets about ducking out of the chase for a sub-3 finish, and given how difficult I found miles 23 and 24, it wouldn’t have even been on my radar. Rough back of fag packet calculations would suggest I’d have needed to be some 700m further up the road to accomplish the sub-3 hour feat. The problem with the marathon is the potential for seemingly minor problems to become greatly magnified over the 26.2 miles. As with the case of Sean above, running 3 minutes too fast in the first half translated into a second half that was more than 8 minutes slower. Positively, I wasn’t overtaken at all in the final 7 miles by my recollection.

The Yorkshire Marathon ticked an awful lot of boxes for me. It was a much more intimate affair and allowed me to be in near-complete control of my pace, race line and so on. Sure, the field grew a touch too thin at times, especially in the closing miles, though I preferred this compromise versus having to constantly be on edge in London for fear of being tripped up or knocked over by a stray foot, elbow or bottle. Only having pockets of spectators every now and again also meant their presence was fondly looked upon; I found myself wanting to withdraw and switch off from the constant crowds in London, which only caused additional mental fatigue. The Yorkshire Marathon is full of character and charm – its reputation as the second most favourable marathon in the UK after London isn’t just hype.

Training-wise, Pfitzinger and Douglas’ Advanced Marathoning served me very well. In an ideal world, I’d have liked one more 20+ mile run, which hopefully would have resulted in additional strength during the closing stages of the race. I stand by that replacing any prescribed half marathon pace work for additional marathon pace focus was the right move, allowing for swifter recovery with what only felt like nominal training benefit loss.

In all, I covered 843 miles during the campaign, including the race itself.

Average weekly volume, not including taper weeks, came to just 42 miles; I was surprised by this and had assumed I sat closer to 45 miles a week or more. This will be a major focus the next time I embark on a marathon campaign, where simply adding another 3 mile recovery run should do the trick for additional benefit that’ll outweigh the minimal increase in risk.

Peak weekly mileage topped out at 54 miles to be almost exactly what the P&D 18 week, up to 55 miles plan prescribed. This too will become a major focus for the next occasion, where I would like to be closer to 60 miles.

So, with all this talk of training adjustments, does that mean I’ll be targeting another marathon in the not too distant future? I’ve said to friends and family that achieving a sub-3 hour finish would be the Holy Grail reached and would mean I can stop chasing the 26.2 mile distance, but, I need a break from out and out distance and volume. I want to return to shorter distances with a slightly more fluid approach to racing. I bought into the marathon completely and sacrificed short-term goals and enjoyment for the bigger picture and payoff. Having a training plan to follow has been much appreciated and I’ll look to adopt one for my next half marathon (Faster Road Racing by Pfitzinger & Latter, for some continuity), hoping that the 13.1 distance will also see gains as my marathon did.

Recovery looks like it’ll be simple as I complete this blog entry almost 48 hours after the race. I picked up two incredibly minor blisters out there, which I didn’t even realise I had until I took my shoes off (the Nike Zoom Streak 6 – just wow). Minor stiffness and soreness is present and accounted for, whilst mobility is good and improves with each marathon outing. I have a few light jogs planned for later this week and may introduce something like an easy 10 miles at the end of next week; we’ll see how I’m feeling, because I have nothing on the agenda between now and the Telford 10k in mid-December. The hard work’s been done and it’s now time to look after myself.

A big thank you goes out to the people that have supported me during this marathon block. You all served different roles, be that of training partners, coaches, or simply agony aunts and uncles when I just needed an ear to hear me out.

That’s it, folks! Nothing more to see here and back to normality we go.

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This week’s running – 11th to 17th of July 2016

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On pacing duty at Arrow Valley Parkrun – photo by Nick Haynes

Almost halfway there! Week 10 of the 22 week marathon schedule saw me return to chasing volume.

10 miles with 5 at marathon pace

This was possibly my most comfortable marathon paced session yet – everything clicked into place and that was despite running into a strong headwind for 3 out of 5 miles.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 miles recovery

An off-site meeting meant I was able to be wrapped up and be home for before 4pm, meaning I didn’t have to carry any bags or Flipbelts etc for a welcome change. A gentle 6 miles via Highbury Park and Cannon Hill Park did just the trick to loosen my legs up.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

I remember a number of years ago listening to Pete Pfitzinger, one half of Advanced Marathoning’s Pfitzinger and Douglas, give an interview for the Marathon Talk Podcast; when asked what he felt was the differentiating key concept of their strategy, “mid-week medium-long runs” was his reply, so it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of them appearing in my schedule. Week 15 features an 11 mile (with 7 at marathon pace) medium-long run that takes place on a Tuesday and a 12 mile medium-long run that takes place on a Thursday; non-paced medium-long runs top out at 14 miles.

I’m a firm believer in the potency of the mid-week medium-long run, where I introduced them into last autumn and winter’s weekly training in spite of not following any prescribed plan or schedule. I found they gave me that much more aerobic oomph and provided the perfect lead in to each week’s Sunday long run, where it no longer became such a stretch to hit 14 or 15 miles because I’d already experienced 10 miles only days prior whilst less than fresh due to being at work all day.

Warm conditions and a headwind that pervaded whichever direction I faced marred this medium-long run that I had otherwise looked forward to. My legs had no snap, crackle or pop to them, however my cardiovascular system wasn’t stressed at all. Upon finishing, I was pretty wiped out but re-focused my thoughts on the end game that loomed ever closer.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Arrow Valley Parkrun

With the knowledge that Cannon Hill was closed once more, Darryll Thomas and I began planning his next 5k PB attack that would finally get him under 19 minutes. The venue was to be Arrow Valley, which also coincided with their fourth anniversary celebrations for runners aplenty in costume (we declined to join in) and the normal course being run in reverse.

I was reasonably confident I could get Darryll back in with a sub-19 finish, though there were a couple of unknown quantities, such as how fit I was and also any anomalies the reversed course could potentially introduce. Regular runners at the event cited the reverse course being faster, where it swapped the short, but sharp climb in the middle of each lap into a descent, though in exchange were several undulations that then appeared towards the end of each lap. Running one lap in reverse as my warm-up also highlighted the less than stable terrain underfoot for the final 400m or so, making it tricky to ramp up the pace during the closing stages.

Despite the two of us being physically stood at the front of the starting grid, the swell of runners sprinting off all around us was astounding and called for the need to tread cautiously for the first few hundred metres as the course narrowed. There were some runners that were already breathing incredibly heavily during the first 800m, clearly having overcooked it early on and then going through lactic acid hell as we nimbly overtook them.

We continued to reel runners in as we also reeled off steady split after steady split with little variation. My strategy for pacing has and always will be to run as smooth as possible, only slowing if the person I’m pacing shows signs of struggling. There’s no point in me continuing at the set pace in the hope that my follower can close the gap on their own – if they could manage it on their own, then there would be no need for me as a pacer!

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Sub-19? Will they? Won’t they? Photo by Nick Haynes

During the final km, I began shouting out time information to Darryll as the new performance metric to take note of. As we got closer and closer to the finish, I began to grow more and more anxious with the knowledge that it would be tight, with a couple of seconds either way as a very real outcome. Firmly on the finishing straight, I urged Darryll to kick and slowed slightly to allow him to pass into the funnel before me.

We both registered 18:58s on our Garmins and were confident we’d set them off accurately on the start line, so mission accomplished! Officially, we were both rounded up to 18:59 but that mattered not as Darryll had officially joined the sub-19 5k club, whereas a 19:00 finish would have been utter defeat.

It’s only speculation for the moment, but we discussed the likelihood of a big boost to our respective runbritain handicaps, thanks to many of the swift regulars running in costume and taking it easy that morning.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

19 miles – to Brueton Park and back

I’d dodged several bullets already during this summer marathon campaign, but I knew my luck would run out sooner or later regarding the seasonal heat. Temperatures had risen and there were few clouds in the sky to hide from the sun’s rays. Welcome to sufferfest!

I loaded my ultra vest up with some iPro Sport to become better acquainted with what the Yorkshire Marathon will be serving on the course in the autumn. The flavour and consistency were rather refreshing; much thinner than Lucozade and exhibiting a noticeable tang that I anticipated to not become sickly upon frequent consumption.

It took me a couple of miles to get up to my normal long run pace, with the warmth and the additional weight of carrying my own drinks as contributing factors.

Upon reaching Brueton Park, it was not only heaving with sun worshipers, but also Pokémon GO players! Children, teenagers and grown adults were playing the gaming phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm.

The return miles proved to be a challenge, especially with a fierce headwind to contend with whilst already fatigued. Reaching the usual point on the route where I would normally be no more than 800m from home, I then had to turn right instead of going straight on to cover an additional 3 miles with some notable climbs! For future long runs, I’ll bulk the distance out in the middle for an easier ride, mentally.

Once back at home, I was a mess. I was doubled over from how tired I was and rapidly necked a chilled bottle of Lucozade to get some liquid back down me. Within minutes of finishing off the bottle, I began sweating profusely once more. Due to having to ration my liquid consumption out there, I was basically playing catch up trying to shift all the accumulated heat from my body, whilst also quenching my thirst.

I’m glad I toughed it out and even when things felt at their worst, I was still able to maintain the pace, which you can see from the Strava data here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

It’s amazing how adaptable the human body is to regular and repeated training. Only several weeks ago, 16 or 17 miles had me at my limits whereas today, I would have still felt quite decent at those points during the long run.

I’m away in France for a few days next week with work. I’ve purposely singled out a hotel with a nearby 400m tartan track I can take advantage of, though I may end up resigned to the hotel gym if the reported 35 degree heatwave actually hits Paris…

This week’s running – 4th to 10th of July 2016

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Closing my eyes on an unfamiliar course probably isn’t the best idea – photo by Ronald Reynolds

Week 9 of the 22 week marathon schedule saw me cut back slightly on volume along with getting some Parkrun tourism in.

9 miles from work with strides

The injection of some strides at the beginning of each new mile helped to prevent this run from becoming too ploddy.

Interestingly, my Fenix 3 lost its way through Brindley Place again, this time near The Cube, where it looked like I ran in a circle on the spot. I’m not surprised the Fenix 3 struggles through that particular stretch of canal with the artificial canyon, though I must say my Garmin 910XT almost never skipped a beat under identical terrain.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles recovery from city centre

The temperature picked up once more and I was glad there was no pace target for this run in the schedule!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

This was not a good run for me, mentally, so I apologise in advance but I’m gonna have a bit of a moan. Feel free to skip this section entirely!

The original plan was to cover 9 miles from the office for home, but several things stood in my way, one of them literally.

You’ll have just read about my woes with my Garmin Fenix 3 whilst running through Brindley Place. The high walls of the canal create a canyon-like situation, which is notoriously difficult for GPS accuracy. Chuck in the tunnel that goes beneath Broad Street and it’s any wonder it stays on course at all. My issues started because these days, I’m hitting Brindley Place several miles into a run versus when I used to live in the Jewellery Quarter and the locale appeared within the first or last mile typically. Currently, I’ll be cruising through Brindley Place during the third or fourth mile of a run at a typical 7:50 per mile pace; suddenly it’ll shoot up to 7:20 or so with no intervention from me. As well as an increase in recorded speed, the Fenix 3 also suddenly thinks I’ve gone further than I actually did, due to the GPS trace going incredibly wide (sometimes, by as much as 200m). Looking at previous runs through Brindley Place recorded on my former 910XT, the GPS traces weren’t perfectly clean, though the recorded paces are better masked and smoothed out, whereas it’s almost impossible for me not to spot a 30 second pace increase on the device display. It’s the perfect storm situation where I can’t un-see what I have seen; I’m now constantly on the look-out for it!

I slotted 2 miles in at target marathon pace during the middle portion of this run, thinking it’d be a doddle to cover, but didn’t factor in the effects of the headwind that blew right into me. The first mile came in almost 10 seconds too fast due to over-compensation; the second was too slow for the opposite reason.

Disheartened, but not yet defeated, I continued on through Selly Oak when a shifty-looking bloke on a bike stopped ahead of me and started waving me down. I now make it a habit of not stopping during a run if somebody wants my attention – that’s not me being an arse, but a result of previously being stopped for all manner of stupid reasons (crowded Cannon Hill Park and man stops me for the time). Basically, if you don’t look injured, I ain’t stopping for you! Anywho, I replied with, “Sorry bud, in the middle of a run,” as if it wasn’t obvious enough. He shouted back at me with, “Wait! You can’t go that way!” He was absolutely right and maybe 100m ahead of me was a fast flowing gush of water from street level on to the towpath and into the canal itself. Fortunately, I was able to suddenly detour back on to street level through a nearby housing estate, which lead back to Oak Tree Lane and Linden Road. Running past the entrance to Raddlebarn Road, a copper had blocked the road off with his car. Water was in free-flow from one of the new housing developments on the former site of the hospital, which later turned out to be a burst water main. I eventually tracked back on my way past Cadbury’s World to come out at Stirchley, making the second half of this run much hillier than originally envisioned.

I got the distance in, but not without a few wounds…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Walsall Arboretum Parkrun

With Cannon Hill Parkrun closed for the first of three weeks, Simon Bull, Nigel Beecroft and I went on tour again, visiting the Walsall Arboretum event. It was over three years ago that I was last there, albeit on a temporary course in light of development around the lake; the current course on paper definitely looked faster with substantially less climb by comparison. Whilst it was never on the training schedule, I quite fancied an impromptu 5k PB attack and kept it quiet for this reason; no pressure if nobody knows about it!

Continuing the trend of a disrupted British summer, I was greeted by torrential sideways rain and had to make it over to the other side of the park as a warm-up… I quickly met up with the guys and recognised a few other fellow Cannon Hill refugees.

Much like at Arrow Valley and Cwmbran a couple of weeks ago, there was some slight nervousness inside me from the unfamiliarity – all very positive and welcome ahead of the unplanned challenge at hand. Stood on the start line, I strategically placed myself a few rows back so as to allow for people to chase down.

The start was incredibly controlled, even with people dashing off all around me. A few hundred metres later, gaps formed and I began ditching those around me to reel in those in front. Unfortunately, my recorded splits aren’t reliable because I’d set my Garmin to smart recording from Thursday’s GPS investigations… I felt pretty comfortable and that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t to be a fools errand.

More runners from ahead were sent back to me, giving me some interim targets to focus on during lap 2. Halfway through this lap, I came into contact with the backmarkers, whom were easy enough to scoot around for no disruption to my rhythm. I stalked a solid looking group of 3 about 50m ahead. A lucky break presented itself when the group broke apart and one guy lost his flow by a couple of steps, allowing me to creep up on him. I gave him some encouragement to keep going with me, though his breathing suggested he’d reached the limits of his ability and sent me onwards into lap 3.

I think the last time I ran a true-blue 3 lap course was Wolverhampton around this time last year. I don’t handle laps all that well, and the thought of my buddy, Vince Nazareth, running a track 10,000m race later that evening sent shivers down my spine. Slowly but surely, more and more of the mid-pack runners began drifting into contact with me. It was all incredibly civilised and everybody instinctively knew to keep left on the course. The increased density of runners around me undoubtedly helped to keep the perception of speed up and keep me company, where the next group of runners were definitely too far ahead to latch on to.

About halfway through the final lap, a Shabbarunner came out of nowhere to overtake me. This was significant because it was the first time anybody had come past me since the start line! He moved at just a few strides faster and gave me the perfect opportunity to lift my pace in an attempt to match his. It was almost like we were attached at the waist by elastic; the gap grew larger and smaller as he tried to break away and I did my best to cover his moves. With only a few hundred metres remaining until the finish, the volume of lapped mid-pack runners reached its peak and I suddenly had to divide my attention between them and chasing down the Shabbarunner. The lapped runners won; approaching the narrow bridge before the long final straight, I had to shout “KEEP LEFT!” to prevent anybody drifting into my path as I teared around the corner.

The Shabbarunner’s lead grew by a few metres as he shifted into a final kick. I lifted my cadence as I tried to do the same, but I’d run out of gears to shift into due to a complete lack of 5k work in favour of 42.2k focus. Throughout the run, I felt like a simmering pot of hot water, only occasionally showing signs of bubbling over. The run didn’t feel like a traditional 5k attempt of mine and instead felt much more like an even dispersal of effort over the course – did the very flat 3 lap route play its part? I crossed the line a couple of seconds behind the Shabbarunner, who simply had more strength in the closing stage.

As per usual, I wanted to throw my guts up from the lactic acid that flooded my body. And my finish time? 18:14. 18 bloody 14! A 17 second improvement from April and a massive 35 second jump from the very end of 2015!

Here’s the Strava data for this run, though as I already mentioned above, the splits are pretty useless due to the screwy distance from having smart recording enabled versus 1 second recording… I’ve now reverted back to 1 second recording!

Breaking down the race run with Simon Rhodes afterwards, he concurred that the change of venue must’ve helped because he experienced the same when he visited the unfamiliar Cannon Hill recently, also producing his own PB away from home turf.

Obviously, I enjoyed my time at Walsall Arboretum and I’ve no doubt the course would be even faster in dry conditions, though I also have the nagging feeling that dryer conditions would have also increased the overall volume of runners; I’m not so sure the 3 lap course would have quite the same speed with increased numbers.

12 miles – to The Cube and back

Or just outside of Brindley Place, so as not to tempt the dreaded GPS drift on my Garmin!

Lis and I had a few errands to run earlier in the day, so I had to delay this run until the warm and humid mid-afternoon…

No dramatics and largely run by feel. The second half was into some aggressive headwind, though it at least cooled me down and shifted some of the sweat that was clinging to me! I picked up the pace in the final 3 miles, including the climb up Cartland Road (yeah, I can’t figure out why, either…)

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

My last marathon campaign was devoid of any PBs outside of 26.2 miles. No 5k, no 10k, no half marathon. So it’s entirely bizarre, though most welcome, that I’m setting new PBs at 5k and 10k at the moment and I’m also confident I’ll break into new half marathon territory come September despite the less than ideal course.

Next week sees me back in the land of marathon specifics and potentially in 50 mile territory…

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2016 review

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Do I qualify as an ever-present at this race yet?

For previous years’ races, please click below:

Pre-race

After the recent Aldridge 10k serving as both a race sharpener and ability barometer, I went into this year’s Wythall Hollywood 10k with the goal of producing a sub-39 PB. Honestly speaking, such a time should have happened last year, but hey-ho.

Continuing the last fortnight’s trend, I once again roped Dave and Simon in to try and expand their racing horizons to what’s available locally. Lis also joined us as our pit crew, providing valuable baggage support.

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My interview in Run ABC Midlands

Rocking up at race HQ and collecting our bibs, the lady that checked me in thanked me for helping to publicise the race via an interview I gave for the free to obtain Run ABC Midlands magazine a number of months ago.

The race has grown in popularity over the last few years, especially amongst local clubs with strong attendance this year from BRAT, Kings Heath, Bournville, Swifts and Kingfisher Harriers. This boded well for me as somebody trying to limit any damage from running in no-man’s land.

Stood in the starting grid, I was in good company with many faster and familiar faces. It was time to get my game face on; 3:53 per km/6:15 per mile were the targets with complete buy in, unlike Aldridge’s half-hearted attempt.

The race

The start wasn’t as fast as I was anticipating and allowed me to tail Ed Barlow and Huw Jones for the first few hundred metres. I was cautious not to get too caught up in their pace, seeing as I wanted to cover a steady opening 5k to get me to halfway as quickly as possible with minimal distress; 10k pace across the 10k distance is my Achilles heel, after all!

I ended up in a small group consisting of three or four guys and we clocked our first km at 3:55, so pretty much where I wanted to be pace-wise. In the distance, I could see a few faces I knew I was faster than over 5k and 10k and shuddered to think what the second half of their races would feel like.

The first of two 1km long climbs was soon upon us. I willingly dropped down by a gear to stay with the group, where the next bunch of runners were a little too far to reel in so early on. Last year’s race saw me apply too much effort to maintain 10k pace on the climbs, leaving me unable to fully take advantage of the descent on the other side due to accumulated fatigue. The wind kicked up on occasion, so the group also provided some valuable shelter to draft behind! When the climb was finally over, the 2km marker also appeared for a 4:12 split.

What goes up must come down – the descent had never looked more welcoming. The guys in my group jockeyed for position from time to time; one chap and I crept away as the others appeared quite settled at their pace. I didn’t realise it at the time, but Dave revealed after the race that he was never too far away for much of the first lap, opting to latch on to the faster pace due to a lack of fellow runners to work with at his original target.

In my interview with Run ABC Midlands, I highlighted one of my favourite features of this race being the bloke with his garden hose on the descent to spray down runners for some brief refreshment. He didn’t disappoint, blasting me whilst cheering me on with, “Good work, 911!” 3km was back on first half pace of 3:54.

Curious as to what the runner side by side with me was looking for from the race, I broke the silence. He revealed he ran 41 minutes a year ago, but had crucially turned out a 39:30 at the Aldridge 10k two weeks ago. Agreeing that our abilities appeared well matched, we struck a temporary alliance to dispel any potential for running alone.

As runners, we’re like lemmings and all likely just follow the runner immediately in front. Entering the Phoenix complex, those ahead of us ran on to the pavement; due to where the marshals were stood, their body language suggested the pavement was the line to follow, though they quickly alerted us to the error of our way. It was too late and we’d already made it to the awkward switchback. I joked that the course tends to come up a touch long, so we were just reclaiming part of the distance back! 4km was very nippy for 3:46, thanks to no elevation gain, only loss.

Our march continued and I shared with my sidekick that I planned to press on from halfway for a faster second 5k. He agreed he’d do his best to stay with me but promised nothing. We passed Lis, who gave us a cheer and handed me a bottle of water so that I could avoid having to drink from a plastic cup. 5km clocked in with 3:54, producing a first half of 19:41 to be pretty much exactly what I wanted and planned for.

I kicked on and my temporary partner soon became a pursuer, and eventually disappeared from view behind me. The field thinned out, leaving only a couple of scattered 10k runners ahead of me. True to my word, the pace certainly picked up and I cranked out a 3:48 6th km split.

Turning left for the climb, I focused myself to temper that fine line between covering the ascent as quickly as possible without pushing myself too hard and blowing up to kingdom come. With each step I took, I drew closer to the two guys in front. My first victim was a Bournville Harrier that I recognised by face from Cannon Hill Parkrun. The next was impressively dressed in just a cotton t-shirt and shorts, with just his phone for pace feedback – there was nothing fancy about his getup at all, yet he was on for a solid 39:XX performance at the pace he covered the course at. A quick utterance of some encouragement to keep him going and onwards I continued.

Curious as to what my heart rate was, I toggled a few screens on my Garmin and saw “47% of max”. My heart rate monitor had slipped a few inches to sit at the bottom of my ribcage, to explain the FUBARd data. And I was hoping to get some lactate threshold feedback, too!

Looking ahead into the distance for my next target, I could see the first female 10k runner I’d encountered all race. It turned out to be Sian Khan, who I ran part of Arrow Valley Parkrun with a number of weeks ago. The next batch of runners were too far off in the distance and would require a concerted effort over several minutes to reach; my only chance to keep the pace going was to convince Sian to stay with me. She initially declined and urged me to go on, but I eventually persuaded her to work with me to get the climb over and done with. Teeth firmly gritted, we fought gravity and won; our prizes were the sweet, sweet descent on the other side and a 4:04 7th km.

A few more words of encouragement and Sian pulled up alongside me to run shoulder-to-shoulder, strides in perfect unison. We estimated the next guy ahead was some 20 to 30 seconds away as we maximised the gains to be had by running downhill. The chap with the garden hose was a welcome-relief for some momentary cool-down as we pulled out a 3:41 split; such a km split wouldn’t look unusual in one of my fast 5k runs, so I knew I was on to something quite sizable over 10k.

As we neared the Phoenix complex, I sensed Sian was beginning to tire once more as she began slipping backwards by a step or two. I eased off the pace ever so slightly to allow her to latch on, but it was no use and she moved to fall in line behind me. “Stay with me! A little over a km left!” was all I could snatch in the knowledge that I was close to my limit, if I wasn’t there already. I took the correct line the second time through Phoenix and my thoughts all these years were confirmed: the organisers 100% extend the switchback for the second lap, which seems wholly unnecessary considering the race comes up some 30 to 40m long ever since they moved the finish line further inside race HQ. Sian had fallen behind by some 5 to 10 seconds over what seemed like only 200m; I gave her a cheer that was only right, considering she helped me produce some of my fastest splits of the race only minutes earlier. The penultimate km, unsurprisingly, slowed a touch to 3:45, which was still within tolerance of what I’d want to see during one of my own fast 5k performances.

I began to come into contact with some of the 5k race backmarkers, using them as soft interim targets to chase down.

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In my own personal hell – photo by Lis Yu

Lis appeared, offering encouragement and telling me to kick on; she didn’t have to tell me twice as the rocket underneath me was already lit! Only a few hundred metres separated me from a new 10k PB, but just ahead were more 5k backmarkers, running several people abreast. Also quickly closing in on me was the barrier that separated the 5k and 10k races; a quick side step left and I scooted past the last of the 5k runners and continued my kick for the finish. The cheers from the spectators got louder, so I went faster, making their cheers grow louder again; on and on the circle went!

Firmly back in race HQ, I was pleased to see the organisers had done away with the barriers and with only a clear straight ahead of me, I emptied the tank and charged for the line with my face summing up all the torture I was going through. 10m… Done. 5m… Done. Finish line reached.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

Everything inside me was tight and on fire. The balls of my feet were covered in hot spots and potential blisters from the pace pick-up of the second half. I let out a few cries that would have put Tarzan to shame and dropped on my hands and knees for some stability. From where Steve Dunsby and Huw Jones were stood, they remarked that it looked like I was kissing the ground – hey, if it works for Mo Farah, it’s got to work for us mere mortals too, right?

Sian and the cotton t-shirt guy passed through the finish funnel and congratulated me on a race well run, and I reciprocated with some handshakes whilst unable to speak.

In the finish line confusion, I’d forgotten to check what I had crossed the line with. Had I done enough to go under 39 minutes, or was I too optimistic and had I even managed to PB at all? Turned out I’d managed to blow the PB doors apart and was rewarded with a 38:45 for my efforts, equating to a 31 second improvement over the 10k distance and a massive 1 minute 17 second boost to my course best.

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Me, Dave and Simon at the 2016 Wythall Hollywood 10k – photo by Lis Yu

How did the others get on? Dave hit his target of going under 40 minutes for the first time in almost two years. Simon PBd and went under 45 minutes for the first time.

This race has given me the much needed nod that chasing after a 38:15 10k at the pancake flat Magor Marsh in several weeks won’t be a suicide mission! Not a single person overtook me from 4km onwards and I feel I got the pacing strategy just right, using the first half as transport to get me to the second half.

Enough distraction for one week and it’s back on the marathon training schedule I go!

This week’s running – 25th to 31st of January 2016

Speed limit 40

Back on the 40 mile week!

This week was about a 5k PB attempt and trying to get back to 40+ miles.

5k from work

Man, oh man. I’ve not had anything even remotely resembling a normal week since I picked up that cold at the beginning of January, so I was determined to get back on it and kicked things off with this simple 5k from the office.

The warmer climes from the weekend continued to roll over into the week; even in just a t-shirt and shorts, I was working up a sweat!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Normality was still in full flow, though forecasted strong winds were on course to derail me.

Running straight into the headwind on the out leg was horrendous at times, and probably slowed my peak paces on this fartlek run down by maybe 10 seconds or so. The return leg was much more pleasant with a tailwind for support.

During the closing stages as I ran through a tunnel, I began to hear footsteps of a runner on my tail. Rather awkwardly, I found myself repeatedly overtaking the runner, and then slowing down for him to overtake me, due to the nature of the fartlek run. On the final surge, I ran past, apologised and explained I wasn’t racing him in a haphazard manner; he smiled and forgave me as I went off into the distance.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

The fartlek run must have had a positive influence on me; I felt like I was flying as I ran home to produce a nice royal flush. I still spotted a fair few New Year’s Resolution folks out there, though there can’t be many of them left, surely!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

It was good to return to this weekly staple run. A nasty headwind smacked me about on the out, forcing me to slot in two miles at marathon pace into the return leg to stand some chance of hitting the right speeds. I’ll be honest: the marathon pace miles weren’t great and I could feel my right calf and Achilles tendon tightening up in the process. I reached the conclusion that it’s all down to my knackered shoes. Both pairs are nearing 500 miles, and whilst I’m not a heavy runner and have half decent technique, I still find my non-racing shoes breaking down at around the 400 mile mark.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

Ah! My home Parkrun away from my home Parkrun! I had a PB attempt on the cards with the knowledge that the training boost from the Brass Monkey Half Marathon would have soaked in almost two weeks later. A quick message to my buddy, Vince Nazareth, for pacing assistance and the stage was set.

Aside from the wind, the weather was actually pretty damn pleasant with blue skies and cool temperatures. I soon bumped into another Cardiff Parkrun regular, Daniel Luffman, who joined me on my warm-up jog. I felt completely out of sorts due to a lack of sleep for the days prior. I also still had an eye on my right Achilles; extensive massage and heel dips/raises successfully loosened it up, but I continued to pray it would stay silent for the run.

Only minutes before everybody was due to set off, Vince finally appeared. My target was somewhere around 3:40 to 3:42 per km for an 18:30ish 5k, with around 10 to 15 seconds of wiggle room built in should the pace likely slip in the middle splits.

Off the line, I took things much steadier than usual and allowed Vince to lead the way. There were a few gusts of wind that hit, though nothing to cause too much concern. A gap of 2 or 3m developed between the two of us and despite my best efforts to try and shut it down, I wasn’t able to turn my legs over any faster; they were heavy and leaden with no pop in them at all. I reached the 1km marker with a 3:42 split feeling reasonably relaxed and hoped there was more to give.

The course became more exposed and the gusts of wind became more of a hindrance. I still wasn’t able to close in on the space in front of me, and as the field thinned out, I struggled to find runners to draft behind. The incredibly heavy rain from the night before caused one particular corner to flood, so I observed the line runners ahead of me took to best determine the shallowest route. I really shouldn’t have bothered; the Nike Flyknit Racers I wore did nothing to keep the water out as I ran through to leave my feet soaked and freezing cold! The second km came in at 3:44 to still be within tolerance.

Ah. The awkward middle stretch. The only significant turn on the course appeared for a brief moment of slow down. Everyone around me also slowed to further distort my own perception of pace. Vince was still ahead by roughly the same distance as before, so I knew I simply had to keep this split under 4 minutes to still be in contention for a new PB. Towards the end of the third km, a lone dog was wondering around at the point where there’s two-way runner traffic for maximum hazard potential. A marshal whistled for the dog to come to her and the owner finally made herself known, remarking “Oh. He’s alright where he is. Don’t worry!” I managed to scoot around the dog, though that pinch point on the course would have only become busier! 3:57 was clocked for the third km.

My breathing once again resembled that of a steam locomotive; Vince later commented on how unusual it was to hear me exhaling with two short, sharp puffs and then inhale with one longer drag. I have no idea if this is efficient or not, though it works for me and only rears its ugly head when I’m really worked. The fourth km was largely forgettable, coming in at 3:55 when it really should have been more like 3:50…

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Andy and Vince at Cardiff Parkrun – photo by Paul Stillman

A small group of us runners formed to tackle the final km together. We had closed in on a runner in red that faded pretty badly; I snatched a few words to encourage him to stay with us as we passed him. The places in the group chopped and changed; for the first time in the entire run, I found myself running side by side with Vince as we approached the 400m marker. My cadence lifted as I clocked one member of the group attempting to kick on. I ushered for Vince to go with me, though I sensed he was close to his limit. I prayed for the 200m marker to make itself known and once it came into view, the chap who tried to break away only moments earlier put in one final kick for the finish with me in tow. He created a gap of 2m or so, though I managed to close it down to almost zero as I sprinted for the line.

I let out a strained growl as I made my way through the finish funnel. Staring at my Garmin, I couldn’t compute what the recorded time was actually trying to tell me. I finally realised I had an 18:44 PB to my name for a 5 second PB; slim pickings, for sure, but most welcome nonetheless.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

A debrief over coffee with Vince, Lis and Yvonne rounded off a great morning in Cardiff. With some focussed 5k graft, I’m sure 18:30 will come to me later this year, though my next 5k PB attempt in the Welsh capital will have to wait until I get the World Half Marathon Championships out of the way first.

14 miles – Llanhennock, Caerleon and back

Along with trying to get this particular week back to some normality with six days of training, I also wanted to get the mileage back into the 40s after several weeks of just 20s and 30s.

Unsure of how flooded my regular flat route into Usk would be, I opted to go back towards the Llanhennock hills, through to Caerleon and back for around 14 miles.

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Nike Pegasus 32s – like fluffy clouds on my fleet

This run also pulled double duty by also breaking in a new pair of Nike Pegasus 32s. I love the Nike Pegasus as an affordable and reliable neutral training shoe, owning several pairs over the years. This latest iteration claimed to be several grams lighter than its most recent predecessor, whilst also being more breathable. Crucially, Nike chose not to play about with the outsole or midsole for a very familiar feel to the pair replaced.

I kept the pace incredibly easy, not wanting to smash myself two days on the trot. Bar the opening slow uphill mile, none came in any slower than 8:50 or faster than 8:04 (extreme descent) for a largely steady paced run.

Completed, I welcomed a return to 43 miles for the week and hopefully more steady training for coming weeks with only a multi-day trip to Germany with work for disruption.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here are the next 10 shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 61 to 70

  1. If you can’t race without it, don’t put it in your checked luggage.
  2. At a fluids station, always try and make eye contact with the person whose cup you want.
  3. Shin discomfort while running is okay; while walking, not okay. See a doc in that case.
  4. You lose fitness faster than you gain it.
  5. If you never have a “bad” day, you’re probably doing something wrong; if you never had a “good” day, you’re definitely doing something wrong.
  6. If you’re going easy, really go easy; if you’re going hard, really go hard.
  7. The faster you run uphill, the steeper it seems.
  8. Running any given route in the rain makes you feel 50 percent more hard-core covering the same route on a sunny day.
  9. The more often you check your watch, the longer the run will drag on.
  10. Every rule of thumb has an exception – except for this one.

 

 

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2016 review

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Global warming, my arse!

Read on to find out how the 2016 Brass Monkey Half Marathon went for me.

For the 2015, 2017 and 2018 races, please click below:

Pre-race

I love this race but caveat emptor sure does apply upon entering! I normally play the weather game with any race, be it major or minor, and will stalk various weather services in the days before toe-ing up on a start line. With the recent flooding in York, it was anybody’s guess what the actual conditions would be like on race day, let alone if the race would actually go ahead. A cold snap arrived during race week and brought the mercury hurtling down to -2 degrees. That said, it actually felt colder in 2015 despite being several degrees warmer! This lead to all manner of race kit discussion, with me finally settling on my trusty yellow vest, shorts, arm warmers and gloves.

With Dave Burton in tow, Lis and I arrived at York Racecourse, which once again doubled up as race HQ for the morning. We randomly bumped into Dave Johnson – a member of Kings Heath Running Club and fellow Cannon Hill Parkrun regular.

With temperatures so low, we concluded it was more critical than ever that a good warm-up was key to an enjoyable and successful race. Dave was unsure of his ability after missing the chance at a dead cert sub-90 half marathon back in the autumn of 2014 due to injury; recent niggles did nothing to raise his confidence and he was settled on a finish just outside of 90 minutes. I was looking for a time under 85 minutes as my A-goal, with all of my recent training indicating such a time was possible; a PB of any magnitude would be satisfactory as a secondary goal. A 200m effort at my target race pace of 6:26 per mile completed my pre-race admin.

Pre-race timing seems to have grown increasingly worse for me. I had to get back inside race HQ to pick-up a few bits and pieces from Lis (Dave had already made his way back), just as everybody had been sent off to make their way towards the start pens! I made it back – just. Dave and I then had the problem of seeding ourselves into a decent place in the start pens, so a cheeky detour through the crowd-free car park brought us to the very front without any pointy elbows required. Starting grid positions chosen, we played the waiting game for the tensest five minutes I have experienced for a long time. We were finally ushered forward for a bang on 10 o’clock start, as one would expect of an event in its 34th year.

The race

It took me about ten seconds to cross the start mats. Unlike many races I’ve participated in, there seemed to be no urgency off the line and there was a distinct lack of position jockeying. I didn’t start that far back and I quickly found myself kinda boxed in and unable to make many moves to break away and settle into target race pace. Thankfully, through sheer luck, I started on the right-hand side of the route for full advantage of the racing line during the congested opening mile! Rather unimpressively, it came in at 6:39… Yeah, I know – some serious graft lay ahead of me if I was to even have a shot at a sub-85 minute finish.

Mile 2 thinned out a touch, and it was very clear that runners either consciously or sub-consciously forged groups to attack the route. This was fine and dandy for folks who were happy to just settle in and stick with a group, regardless of any pace drop; for me, the pace was still below target, so I found myself surging between groups and then gaining some brief recovery in between from each slipstream. But this still wasn’t enough to lift my pace; my legs seemed reluctant to turnover any more quickly, and I began to question whether I had tapered a little too much in the days leading up to this race. Fellow runners must have looked on at my haphazard approach with raised eyebrows, because not a single person went with me! The second mile came in at 6:36, so I was at least beginning to move in the right direction…

Going into mile 3, I identified a runner ahead in a brown top that appeared to be moving at a tidy clip; a tidy clip that looked damn close to the pace that I wanted to be running at! I surged to latch on to him and largely stayed in his slipstream for much of the third mile. I had to up my stride and cadence at times to stay with him; such was his strength to hold on to the faster pace. The first of three water stations appeared mid-way through the mile and whilst I wasn’t exactly thirsty, I still took water on to stop my mouth from feeling so dry from the cold air. The chap I followed ran straight past the volunteers handing out water to create a sizable gap whilst I struggled to get water down my neck; more ended up going down my vest for a sobering shock to the system! I never did shut the space down between my target and me and moved my sights to another group that was easier to chase down. The mile closed with 6:29 on my Garmin – we were finally open for business!

I stashed three Isogels for the duration of the race, with the first consumed between miles 3 and 4. The hit of caffeine really did a number to perk me up!

I felt superb during miles 4 and 5. Clearly, I had warmed up to produce splits of 6:27 and 6:26 to be bang on target pace. I continued to adopt my tactic of moving from group to group, though I rapidly found groups were getting smaller and the distances in between were growing greater and greater. I hate running on my own during a race and am at my strongest when working with others to share the effort.

On the turn for Acaster Selby, the southern most point on the course, I was reminded of last year’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon and its ground frost. There was none of that this year, thanks largely to a very dry Saturday that preceded, and a fleet of gritters for perfect terrain underfoot for racing. I remained in high spirits and felt indestructible, even with so few runners around me. Miles 6 and 7 produced 6:28 and 6:25 respectively to still be firmly in target PB pace.

What goes up must come down and I began to feel like a bipolar sufferer. The gaps between groups grew even greater and the highs of miles 6 and 7 quickly faded away. The group ahead of me was too far to reel in; one particular runner in red shone like a beacon to taunt me. I wasn’t sure what a sustained effort at such a stage in the race would do to me and I reluctantly erred on the side of caution. This of course meant I was in no-man’s land hell for 4 solo miles on my own, and it’s no coincidence that these were also some of my slowest splits since the race began (6:31, 6:30, 6:35, 6:34).

Somewhere during this awful stretch also saw the arch in my left foot tighten up horribly. Running on my toes occasionally alleviated the pain, though it was no guarantee and before too long, the tightness remained regardless. I tried heel striking with my left foot and this seemed to do the trick; I looked ridiculous heel striking with one foot and mid-foot striking with the other, so I reverted to full time heel striking until the pain subsided once more.

My final gel was the hardest to tear into. I was tired, my form had altered and my cold, gloved fingers simply did not want to co-operate! Ripping the sachet with my teeth, more of the sticky contents ended up on my face and vest than inside me…

Mile 12 saw me return through Bishopthorpe for the first lot of spectators in a long while that weren’t marshals out on the course. A cheeky hill over the motorway also sent a few runners back towards me to finally break the tedium of running alone. A single decker bus came out of a side road just in front of me before pulling into a bus stop. Its stop was temporary and quickly closed in on me from behind; I’m sure my cadence picked up at this point to try and outrun it! I moved to my left to allow the bus to safely overtake me; comically, it was travelling at exactly the same speed as I was for what must have looked like a runner chasing down the bus for a lift to the finish! Nonetheless, the bus played its part in restoring some vigour to my race for a 6:25 split.

With just a little more than a mile remaining, I did my best to visualise the final mile from Cannon Hill Parkrun to give it all some context. Earlier that morning whilst discussing race tactics, I advised Dave to begin to wrap things up once the racecourse became visible in the distance during the closing stages. With the pain in my left foot completely absent, I took a dose of my own advice and started my drawn out kick for the finish. Much like last year, my eyes scanned the horizon for any motion from runners ahead that were moving back into the racecourse complex. A runner to my side sensed I was close to my limit and encouraged me on by telling me there was just 1km left. His words were like music to my ears and prompted me to check my Garmin to see “1:21:15” staring back at me. I knew a quick 3:40 km – something I run most weeks at Parkrun – would allow me to sneak under 85 minutes. I needed no further motivation and pumped my arms and raised my cadence, overtaking a few runners, including that runner in red from earlier. Maybe 50m in front of me was that club runner in brown that slipped away during mile 3.

The 400m sign flashed by, but I was in too much of a frantic panic to think straight and do the calculations to work out whether a sub-85 minute finish was still possible or not. I hoped it was and continued my charge and finally made the left turn for the racecourse.

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Doing my best Sylvester Stallone impression – photo by Lis Yu

Marshals cheered me on as my eyeballs bulged from their sockets from the effort that was more akin to 5k than half marathon pace. I heard the familiar voice of Carl give me a cheer – he provided race support for another friend of his that was running. I turned for one final corner and only 200m remained between the end and me. Having run this 200m stretch as part of my warm-up, there were no surprises at all and I went hell for leather; Garmin Connect reports the final scraps clocking in at 4:53 per mile pace!

Post-race

Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

With the knowledge that a sub-85 finish was touch and go by mere seconds, I uncharacteristically ran through the line without so much as a glimpse of my Garmin. A quick button press once clear of the finish line and I stumbled over to the banked grass verge in the funnel. Lis was on the other side of the barrier and wondered whether I’d hit my target or not. I myself wasn’t sure, so took a look at my Garmin. A few takes later and my eyes finally believed what had been presented: 1:24:55 and a near 2 minute PB since October. I did it by just a few seconds, and chip timing was gracious enough to gift me with an extra second for 84:54 officially.

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I rendezvous’d with Lis to quickly get some warm clothes on. Thoughts quickly turned to keeping an eye out for Dave coming through, where we believed he would be due back any moment for a 91 or 92 minute finish. As I turned around to scope out my surroundings, Dave was stood only metres away with his finisher’s t-shirt in hand and a beaming smile on his face. Caught completely off-guard, we quizzed him for his finish time and whether he had made it back in under 90 minutes or not. Not only did he achieve his long awaited sub-90 finish, but he also completely smashed it for an 88:25 PB – he’s only 16 months behind schedule is all!

Closing thoughts

6:26 per mile was a theoretical race pace derived from December’s Sneyd Christmas Pudding 10 mile race. Whilst this running of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon wasn’t my finest example of steady pacing execution, I’m still pleased that I averaged 6:28 per mile to get pretty damn close. Could I have gone even faster if I had others to work with during the second half? Definitely.

Plugging my race into the McMillan calculator produces some wide-eyed predictions:

  • 5k: 18:20 (18:49 actual)
  • 10k: 38:05 (39:16 actual)
  • 10 mile: 63:39 (64:17 actual)
  • Marathon: 2:58:41 (3:34:02 actual)

Pretty insane, huh?

With the Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships just 10 weeks away, I’m scratching my head somewhat about what I may want to target at the Welsh capital. The course isn’t nearly as fast as the Brass Monkey route, so any improvement would be marginal, if there will be any improvement at all. Me thinks 84:1X looks achievable with some race pace graft over the coming weeks…

2015 – A year in review

 

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black background

Welcome to 2016!

“Another year over, and a new one just begun” as the lyrics go. Welcome to 2016!

So, let’s break down how 2015 went for me…

Mileage

2015_mileage

2014 with a marathon saw 1,307 miles logged. 2015 without a marathon saw 1,605 miles – that’s the equivalent of running from London to Bucharest, Romania with distance to spare!

2015 also saw December as my densest month ever of running, clocking in at 201 miles.

All in all, I’m incredibly pleased with the increase in mileage – it should yield some good results to come in longer events, such as the imminent Brass Monkey Half Marathon and the Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships in March.

PBs

My PB producing power reduces each year – 2013 saw me smash out 17x PBs and I enjoyed 8x PB performances in 2014. 2015 dropped a touch to 6x PBs:

  • Brass Monkey Half Marathon – 87:27
  • DK10K – 39:38
  • Magor Marsh 10k – 39:16
  • Cardiff Half Marathon – 86:41
  • Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run (10 mile debut) – 64:17
  • Cannon Hill Parkrun – 18:49

It’s with some logic that my weaker distances would yield the biggest improvements, which is exactly what happened. My half marathon PB came down by 2 minutes and 10 seconds in total for the year, and my 10k improved by 28 seconds. 10 miles produced the biggest surprise when it became my strongest PB of all time relative to other performances – the original prediction was to sneak under 65 minutes, so imagine my surprise when I finished closer to 64 minutes. It stands to reason that I could see the largest improvement in the marathon where it wouldn’t be ridiculous to look at taking minutes off in the double digits.

Race highlights of the year

One from way back at the beginning of 2015, is the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. Organised by runners (York Knavesmire Harriers) for runners, the race has an awful lot going for it. It’s comparatively cheap for a half marathon at £24 for unaffiliated entries; it’s also almost exclusively flat to offer great PB potential, giving me an almost 90 second PB. Lis and I made a proper weekend of it and we’re looking forward to the race again in a few weeks for what’s quickly becoming an annual pilgrimage. We’ve yet to see whether the recent flooding will have an impact on the race or not; it would be a shame if the race is cancelled because it brings tourism and additional revenue to the area through hotel stays, dining out and so on.

Another oldie from very early on in January was my first place finish at Perry Hall Parkrun. I went there merely to clean up my performance and get it under 20 minutes. Little did I know that I’d be the fastest runner that morning, thanks to a local cross-country event that took place later that afternoon. Didn’t get the sub-20 minute run, mind, which must be one of the slowest first finishes on the Parkrun books!

I ran a helluva lot of 10k races throughout the spring and summer, so much so that I even had to cancel one or two for fear of burn out. The one that stands out is the Magor Marsh 10k. It absolutely bucketed down with rain, but offered a stellar field by playing host to the British Masters Championship. Weather conditions aside, I executed the race by the book and produced a rewarding 22 second PB. As with the Brass Monkey Half Marathon above, it’s cheap, flat and organised by the local club, Chepstow Harriers.

Finally, the recent Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run caught me off-guard by playing host to an ability defying PB that was almost a minute faster than estimated. The race really opened up my eyes to what I could potentially run in my next race in only a few short weeks.

2016 targets

Targets are great and keep me on the straight and narrow, so long as they’re not ridiculous flights of fancy… Targets for 2015 were:

  • 5k – sub-18:30: FAIL
  • 10k – sub-39:00: FAIL
  • 10 miles – sub-65:00: Woohoo!
  • Half marathon – sub-87:00: Woohoo!

Looking at the above, I’m almost embarrassed that I put a sub-18:30 5k down as a target. I didn’t appreciate how hard it would be to break 18:51.

Sub-39:00 for 10k is more realistic, and it’s with some confidence that it should come good in 2016, especially seeing as I won’t be running 10k races until late spring for additional development.

So, my revised 2016 targets look like this:

  • 5k – sub 18:35
  • 10k – sub-39:00
  • Half marathon – sub-85:00
  • Marathon – sub-3:15:00

Yes, you do see a marathon target in there. Whilst I entered the Berlin Marathon ballot, I didn’t get in. In fact, none of the runners I personally know were successful with Berlin. I’ve got my eye on an autumn race, with the Yorkshire Marathon catching my attention. It won’t be nearly as busy as Berlin, with a crowded field scuppering my previous two London Marathons. Watch this space to see how the marathon project develops…

Have a happy New Year, everyone!