This week’s running – 26th of December 2016 to 1st of January 2017

2017

I was finally on the mend after the misery of being ill! Oh, and welcome to 2017!

The Big Run Commuting Survey

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Being interviewed for Simon Cook’s Big Run Commuting Survey

Many months ago, I completed a survey about my experiences as a run-commuter. In fact, it was so long ago that I’d completely forgotten I participated until I received an email from its organiser, Simon Cook, asking if I would participate in an interview to cover my responses in more depth. Despite not formally belonging to any sort of running group affiliation, I do very much identify myself as a member of the running community and feel duty-bound to help where I can.

During the interview, we deep-dived into questions, such as what equipment I utilise when run-commuting, my choice of route, what I think about, and much, much more. Originally stated to last between one and two hours, Simon and I were discussing my thoughts for more than three hours by the very end! I didn’t think there was possibly so much to review, especially for what I still consider is a niche within running, though I was clearly proven wrong.

I promised Simon I would share the link to his survey for further quantitative data, and here it is: The Big Run Commuting Survey. Please complete it, even if you think your experience of run-commuting is limited – Simon wants to also explore why more people don’t run-commute.

6 miles whilst still ill

I grew more and more conscious that with the Brass Monkey Half Marathon looming ever closer, I had missed a few too many long runs as part of this training cycle due to circumstances beyond my control. On this particular day, it was almost two weeks since my previous distance run of any significance; prior to that run, it was another two weeks since the last one… Missing: aerobic and endurance ability. Reward for its safe return.

Grabbing the bull by the horns, I embarked on the long-delayed 15 mile run that was scheduled.

After two miles or so, I very quickly identified I was still unwell, albeit at least coming to the end of my ailments. The perceived effort of running was far greater than anticipated, and empirical feedback from my Garmin and heart rate monitor confirmed as much. Prior to being hit by the lurgy, I was able to run between 7:30 and 8:00 per mile at distance, in exchange for around 70% of maximum heart rate. On this occasion, I was barely clearing 8:40 per mile and clocking in at 75%+ of maximum heart rate! Needless to say, I cut the run dramatically short and turned around for home after just over 3 miles.

Here’s the Strava data for this rather demoralising run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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Cheeky drafting assistance – photo by Geoff Hughes

This was the first of three Parkruns over the weekend, thanks to the next day’s New Year Double. It was nice to be back at my home event with the familiarity doing my soul a lot of good. The strategy was to keep the effort and pace at around half marathon levels for some specificity, but also to avoid crocking myself before having completed all three planned runs.

Spending much of the run with Huw Jones and Matthew Lewis, I cheekily took shelter in their slipstream to facilitate the need for ease. We even spotted GB triathlete elite, Jodie Stimpson, as we approached the triangle.

Splits were pretty much bang on to pave the way for a 19:44 finish:

  1. 3:57
  2. 3:58
  3. 4:02
  4. 3:59
  5. 3:48

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

New Year’s Day Double

Brueton Parkrun

This was my third New Year’s Day Double, and second specific pairing of Brueton and Perry Hall events. I was joined by Simon Bull, who I had convinced to come along after successfully talking him into also partaking in a Christmas Day Parkrun a week prior.

The challenge of the New Year’s Day Double isn’t so much being able to run both (pace and effort management), but rather simply being able to stay loose and warm between runs – tricky with the 2017 weather of freezing cold rain… There were plenty of familiar faces as mad as Simon and I, taking on their first of two Parkruns.

The organisers opted to move the start and finish a few hundred metres to facilitate swift getaways for those moving on to a second event afterwards. What this meant for runners was an incredibly slow and congested start, not helped by an inaudible “Go”, and the initially narrow path and several turns thrown at us.

With the slow opening, I had some work (14 seconds or so) ahead of me to jump back on-board the sub-20 train. Within just the first 2km, I was pretty much soaked to the bone and struggling to stay warm with the wind also tearing into me. I still wasn’t fully recovered from the previous day’s 5k, and lack of sleep meant I was pretty much running on fumes.

Even with a kick at the end, I still narrowly missed out on a sub-20 finish to land 20:02. Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Once regrouped with Simon, we hightailed it out of Solihull and made our way over to Perry Hall’s event.

Perry Hall Parkrun

We first had to make two pit stops: one to pick-up my wallet from home, and two to fuel up the car. Thankfully, we were still lucky enough to bag one of the final spaces in the car park before it filled up shortly after our arrival.

With not enough time to get an adequate second warm-up in, the perishing cold rain hit us hard and then the shivering began… A knowing nod, like a badge of honour, was given to those we identified earlier from Brueton Parkrun.

Out on the course, it became obvious very quickly that I wasn’t going to even come close to sub-20. My legs were fooked, my clothes and shoes were heavy from the rain, and the wind picked up to slam into runners.

I ran Perry Hall’s new course for the first time several weeks ago, though I was unsure of whether I preferred it or not. I’ve now concluded I prefer the former two lap configuration with grass over the new three lap course with multiple switchbacks; I find the turnaround points have a tendency to kill pace and momentum and require a certain skill or finesse to navigate efficiently – talents that I lack.

In the end, I finished with 20:45, though was pleasantly surprised to finish in sixth place, and could have finished fifth with just a little more welly at the end.

A well-deserved rest and a hot shower beckoned! Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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This week’s running – 1st to 7th of August 2016

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Orange at Perry Hall Parkrun for Darren – photo by Lis Yu

Week 13 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

6 miles recovery

When originally planning out my schedule, I remember shuffling this particular week around to give the mid-week long run joint priority with Sunday’s marathon paced run. 6 miles of recovery either side ensured enough volume to succeed without making things too easy.

Continuing the trend of topsy-turvy weather, the humidity was pretty damn high and I recall being drenched in sweat upon finishing the 6 miles at what was just a relaxed pace.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles

If my memory doesn’t deceive me, this became the longest run I’d ever embarked upon outside of a weekend. A bit tired and a bit sleep deprived from work, I knew I was going to be in for a rough ride. Throw in fatigue from Sunday’s 10k race, strong wind in all directions and 80% humidity, and I was certain I’d made the right choice to take the day off from work to complete the run!

Nothing clicked into place at all, with the above being joined by an annoying stitch that persisted for much of the first half. I chalked it up as character building for the second half of a marathon when the race truly begins.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 miles recovery

An exact repeat of Tuesday’s recovery run with unfortunately similar conditions and a horde of cricket fans heading towards me from the Edgbaston ground…

This run did highlight my attention to remaining in-tune with my body. Starting out from New Street Station, I felt pretty good but I grew more lethargic and hungry as the run progressed. I reached a pretty low point at mile 3 in Cannon Hill Park; out of nowhere during mile 4, I began to perk up and by mile 5, I felt like I was on top of the world again. I’m fully expecting to have highs and lows during the Yorkshire Marathon and will have to somehow balance my desire to finish with the best result possible and simply finishing at all…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Perry Hall Parkrun

This was a very special event, dedicated to the memory of Darren Hale – Perry Hall’s first ever finisher. Runners were requested to wear orange to reflect his membership of the Cannon Hill Crusader team.

I had previously only ever run the Perry Hall course whilst it was in poor shape from winter, so it was a novelty to tackle it in warm and dry conditions! “Definitely a summer course,” was a regular’s thought. Darryll and I managed to bag sub-20s, whilst Dave, Carl and Simon took things easier.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

It was great to be there celebrating a talented runner’s life. RIP Darren.

16 miles with 12 at marathon pace plus up to 30 seconds

Perusing the weather report in the lead up to Sunday, my anxiety grew each time I saw the forecasted 15mph wind and amped up temperatures. Marathon pace wasn’t going to come to me without a fight!

In the end, I had to on occasion add 30 seconds to marathon pace, with it tending to sit steady with around 15 seconds on top. Just a handful of times, I managed to hit target pace when not running into the ferocious wind. Not really what I’d hoped for, but at least the effort felt about right, so no major loss.

Summer training is more pleasant they said… Will make you stronger for your autumn marathon they said…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

An unusual week, though we didn’t want to end up getting stale now!

The 14 mile mid-week run left me pretty beaten up and feeling especially like how the second half of a marathon feels. Being the 13th week, it’s sort of like that point in a race where it begins to feel a touch overwhelming; you’re no longer as fresh as you were when originally embarking on the plan, and you’re still some way from the end to make things mentally challenging.

This week’s running – 28th of December 2015 to 3rd of January 2016

The miles and training are going up

Feeling like a car odometer these days…

A week chock full of running and mileage milestones.

4 miles – Llangibby and back

Flooding was still an issue in rural South Wales, so I ventured on to this non-pedestrian friendly route. There was no pavement or even path at times, which saw me sinking into the grass and mud. Not great for what was just a simple recovery run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles – to Usk and back

Finally, the flooding subsided and all was right with the world again. Despite how mild the temperatures have been of late, the sun and blue skies made a guest appearance during this run for a dose of much needed vitamin D. I chucked a couple of marathon-paced miles in to restore some turnover into my legs; they actually felt pretty damn decent towards the end!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Edgbaston Reservoir out and back

Sometimes, waiting a few hours for a break in the rain can help make all the difference between enjoying a run and suffering through it. And sometimes, waiting all day can mean just that – there may never be a lucky break!

These 4 miles were kept incredibly easy with an eye on the rest of the loaded week. Parts of the reservoir had flooded; my choices were to either wade through the ankle deep puddles and get my feet wet, or risk diverting on to slippery mud and falling over. I chose getting my feet wet every time!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

14 canal miles

Whilst browsing through my annual and monthly mileage, I noticed that all I needed to break 200 miles for December was a 14 mile run. With it being the final day of December and 2015, I couldn’t even split the run up. At least the sun was shining!

I’d not had a fasted run in quite a while, but figured the additional calories from the Christmas and New Year break would make up for any deficit. With a headwind on the out, I kept the pace relaxed until the turnaround. The final 3 miles were pretty torturous due to a persistent headwind that hit me no matter which direction I faced. But boy, it was so satisfying to hit 200 miles in a single month!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Brueton New Year’s Day Parkrun

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First Parkrun of New Year’s Day – photo by Louis Satterthwaite

I first participated in a New Year’s Day double Parkrun at the beginning of 2015 when I visited both the Brueton and Cannon Hill events in the space of 90 minutes. Completely normal in the world of Parkrun, but utterly bizarre to those on the outside looking in!

Unlike a year ago, I made sure I reached Brueton Park with plenty of time. The car park was much busier than on Christmas Day, with visitors only minutes after my arrival being forced to park on the street. There was a real sense of déjà vu, bumping into the same faces as only a week prior; Steve Hankinson, Dave Sansom, Kings Heath Running Club et al were all in attendance once again.

My warm-up alerted me to a few icy patches out on the course that had formed from the sudden drop in temperature. The organisers also took note and decided to modify the course at the last minute – the start was moved back and a few diversions were put in place to avoid a catastrophe, so my chances of a time faster than on Christmas Day was unlikely.

Toby Close and his wife, Helen, were also in attendance. Spreading himself evenly, Toby held himself back with a view to do it all over again 90 minutes later at Kingsbury Water Parkrun. Running just marginally faster than me, he proved to be a perfect target to chase out on the course.

I myself was also chased down, with my pursuer gaining a lead on me at around 800m in. The marshals directed us into the wooded area for the first diversion, where I sensed some reluctance from him. Whether it was the infirm and unfamiliar terrain underfoot, or maybe he too was holding back for another Parkrun elsewhere, the opportunity to press on became available, so I briefly surged to regain the lead. A few hundred metres after exiting the diversion, I glanced behind me to see a gap of no more than a couple of metres; thanks to a few twists and turns that I seemed to be able to enter and exit at a faster pace, I was able to add a few more metres between us as the run progressed.

Toby was still ahead by some 10 seconds and provided the perfect target to lock on to as I entered the second lap. There wasn’t much movement at all around me in terms of position, which no doubt influenced the slight slow-down during the third km.

The pace returned for the fourth and fifth km and saw me finish with 19:05. The distance came up about 100m short due to the diversion and approximated new start line, so I really should have been closer to 19:20 or so.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Perry Hall New Year’s Day Parkrun

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And the second Parkrun of New Year’s Day – photo by David Payne

First out of two Parkruns completed, I trotted my way back to the car and wondered how many would also make their way to the Perry Hall New Year’s Day event at 10:30am. Turns out there were quite a few of us, all giving each other a nod of acknowledgement for our favourite past time.

The wind speed picked up on the exposed fields of Perry Hall Park, which meant misery for a course that’s already slower due to its cross-country style terrain. I bumped into Richard Gibbs from Cannon Hill who was about to make his debut on the course; I gave him a few pointers with a focus on casting aside any split comparisons with Cannon Hill. To give you an idea of how much slower the course can be, I would quite readily accept a sub-19 finish at Cannon Hill as a good, honest performance on my part, whereas a sub-20 finish at Perry Hall still eluded me!

I charged off from the start line and felt surprisingly swift. I recall feeling suitably warmed up last year at Cannon Hill, only having run at Brueton 90 minutes prior.

I settled quickly into a three-man chain gang, moving at a nice clip. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was led by Simon Rhodes, who I originally befriended back in July. The three of us stuck together, though I cheekily hid at the back of the pack to take full advantage of the slipstream and shelter from the prevailing winds.

After the first lap of the course, Simon began to tire and drifted behind me and the other guy. Out of nowhere, a Tipton Harrier came storming through from behind. I wondered how he was capable of such a speed that made us look like we were stood still, and then it dawned that he wasn’t around on the start line and must have arrived late to start from the back. My comrade and I worked together to try and bridge the gap, but it was no use; the Tipton Harrier’s runbritain handicap is listed as 1.0 versus my current 4.6 to give you some idea of the difference in ability!

Running into the headwind took its toll on my partner in crime. I took over pacing duties and encouraged him to keep going, with the knowledge that we would soon be out of the wind’s gusts. He stuck with me until the grass section, but had little left to stay with me. I too had little left in reserve, with each step sinking into the churned up mud and costing me valuable seconds on the clock. I purposely went wide of the racing line to find some firm footing, believing additional distance to be the lesser of two evils.

Once clear of the grass, I turned right on to a paved path and I took a quick glance behind me and there he was, the same chap that had chased me down for much of Brueton Parkrun earlier that morning! A fire was lit beneath me and I consciously began to raise my cadence, both to flee from my pursuer but also to recover some much needed time from the clock if I was to make it home in under 20 minutes.

With 1km remaining, I knew I had it inside me to run a sub-4 minute split. I could hear the footsteps behind me closing in to really lay on the pressure from all angles.

Only 400m remained and whilst I dodged and weaved my way around puddles on the first lap, I decided to simply run through them all as I stalked the clock.

With fewer than 200m to go until the finish, a peek at my Garmin showed I had around 35 seconds to make sub-20 happen. I kicked hard, knowing it would be down to mere seconds between victory and utter defeat. I sprinted for the line and was able to finally put the Perry Hall demon to rest with a 19:56 finish and a top 5 finish.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I was feeling it by Saturday’s regularly scheduled Cannon Hill Parkrun, so dialled it back to just sub-20 5k pace, which now conveniently coincides with my new target half marathon pace.

Everybody around me shot off from the start line at an incredible pace; slowly but surely, I reeled quite a few people in by holding a steady pace.

By halfway, I had almost caught up to Dave and finally made contact with him once we re-entered the main perimeter of the park. I tried coaxing him to stay with me, slowing down just a touch to allow him to close the gap. With one eye on Dave and the other on my Garmin, I knew I was cutting it very fine for a sub-20 finish, so I pressed on and hoped Dave would follow suit. I crossed the line with 19:54 in hand, whereas Dave made it back home with 19:59 by the skin of his teeth!

Job jobbed and in fewer than 25 hours, I’d completed 3x sub-20 Parkruns, with one at almost sub-19!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Self-inflicted recovery

I thought I’d managed to dodge the annual end of December/beginning of January illness that struck me down in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Have an excess of spare time and will run after all! Come Sunday, I began to feel a bit ropey and under the weather; a sore throat, fuzzy head and general lethargy were tell-tale signs that I’d pushed too hard.

I opted to duck out on a 14 mile run I had pencilled in. If completed, it would have taken me to over 60 miles for the week, but instead, I had to settle for just 47.

Maybe I should just accept that I’m going to become ill at the end of every December and be done with it?

The Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon

And so it’s done – I’ve entered the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon. If after the third marathon attempt and I still can’t make it work for me, then I’ll just have to accept I’m not cut out for 26.2 miles.

With some 7,000 places versus London’s circa 38,000, I’m sure it will be a very different experience, but one I’m thoroughly looking forward to. Training through the summer will be a very interesting process with its own challenges to overcome.

Time for the next batch of running rule shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 21 to 30

  1. You almost never regret the runs you do; you almost always regret the runs you skip.
  2. Sick? If the symptoms are above the neck, you can still run.
  3. If you can remove your running shoes while they’re tied, they are not tied tightly enough.
  4. Recover 1 day for every mile in the race you’ve just finished.
  5. If both your feet are off the ground simultaneously, you are running.
  6. Stretch after your run – not before.
  7. Not everyone who looks fast really is, and not everyone who looks slow really is.
  8. Buying a piece of running gear just because it’s on sale is always a bad idea.
  9. Buzzing your hair with clippers before a race will make you feel 8 percent faster.
  10. Watching a marathon in person is the easiest way to motivate yourself to sign up for a marathon.

This week’s running – 2nd to 8th of November 2015

Gale force wind

OK, a bit of an exaggeration but you get the idea…

A little less mileage and a little less intensity this week.

5k from work

On Monday, running home from the office was a little more problematic than usual due to the fog. With the headtorch on, I was able to see maybe 5 – 10m directly ahead before the fog particles began reflecting light back at me; in the end, I aimed the light upwards where the fog actually acted as one big softbox to give a nice wide spread.

Pace-wise, I kept things incredibly easy with my limited vision in mind. I’m not one of these folks that believes everybody’s out to get me on dark and foggy nights, but I can’t deny that my heart was beating a little faster than normal given the spooky surroundings.

Incredibly, I did see one runner braving the unlit and unpaved section of towpath on the other side that’s now particularly hazardous with plenty of fallen leaves to obscure the path even further.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Hagley Road 10k

Another easy paced run, though navigating Hagley Road was anything but easy!

I’ve come to the conclusion that motorists just don’t see things that aren’t car sized or larger, given how frequently I was cut up on this run by vehicles (mostly taxis) leaving or entering various driveways along Hagley Road. And it’s not even down to what I wear anymore (high vis colours, additional reflective strips, headtorch and rear red light) because I’m cut up just as often in the summer with perfect visibility.

I think I’m just going to call the canal my home all year long!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Yet another easy plod from the office to keep the body ticking over during the lighter week of training.

Once again, another cyclist without lights decided to tell me my headtorch was “too bright, mate”. One, I’m not your “mate”. Two, don’t look directly into the beam. And three, if you decided to be sensible and actually had your own lighting, your eyes wouldn’t be going straight from the dark and then not adjusting in time to the light.

The rant about cyclists continues, where Ed Barlow shared that he had to fish a cyclist out of the canal. The cyclist failed to alert another runner when attempting to overtake, ploughing straight into the runner before the cyclist went head first into the canal.

The canal towpath is shared by all of us. Let’s be sensible and not be dicks whilst we’re on there.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Canal 10k

Thursday was wet, cold and windy, which meant the canal was quiet – hooray!

Not so good was I seemed to lose all my mojo – boo!

Since September, my Thursday mid-week long-ish runs have all felt pretty tremendous, so it was only a matter of time before I knew I would come a cropper with one. I’ve said before that running in the dark, even with lighting, disrupts the way I perceive effort; throw in some rain to further obscure my vision, along with some headwind to contend with, and even 8:20 minute miles felt tough.

The original intention behind this was to cover 8 miles but given how arduous the task was, I chopped it down to 10k before calling it a night.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Perry Hall Parkrun

I fancied a change of scenery and with heavy rain and wind forecasted for Saturday morning, I set my sights on a visit to Perry Hall Parkrun just to make things as tough as possible!

Reaching the park, rain was being blown sideways by the gale-force wind – there’s most definitely a positive correlation between me running at Perry Hall and less than ideal weather conditions… I completed an entire 1.5 mile lap of the route as my warm-up, along with a short sprint at sub-20 pace; I knew I was in for a torrid time when I was almost stopped entirely in my tracks by the raging headwind.

I caught up with former Cannon Hill regular, Andy Wadsworth, not having seen him since sometime in May; a few other faces also looked familiar from Parkruns past, in and amongst the crowd. In all, I estimated there were roughly 50 to 60 people in attendance for a stark contrast to Cannon Hill’s 500+ regular field. I spotted a few younger Birchfield Harrier runners that looked capable of swift times, and would stop the sharper end of the field being so strung out.

Once given the command to start, the next generation of Birchfield Harriers all took off as anticipated. I took chase along with the lead girl, with both of us at the upper end of the top 10. After only a km, all but one of the Birchfield Harriers drifted behind us having burnt themselves out so quickly in the challenging conditions.

The lead girl and I battled it out for fourth and fifth place; her strength was evident on the flat gravel and tarmac sections of the course whilst I, surprisingly, made the biggest counterattacks on the grass where she lost a lot of speed. I was wearing trail shoes whereas she wore racing flats, which went some way to explain our respective biases.

We entered the second lap and she managed to creep away, utilising the longer stretches of gravel and tarmac to her advantage, and leaving me with too much distance to recover on the shorter grass section. I estimated her lead to have been in the region of 20 seconds at its largest.

With just a km left to cover, I could hear somebody on my tail; an older gent confidently strode past me as we moved towards the most elevated portion of the course. I managed to keep the distance between us steady for a minute or so, allowing me to reach the conclusion that he would have put in a bigger surge to break clear of me if he could. With 500m or so remaining, I ramped up the pace as we inconveniently began to turn towards the headwind. He responded initially, but decided to let me go as I hurtled down the short but slippery descent at sub-20 pace. As I turned for the penultimate corner, a cheeky glance to my left confirmed I had only a few seconds’ lead on him – not enough to become complacent until I was over the line.

I was able to maintain my fifth place position all the way to the end for a 20:44 finish. Worryingly, my sole three finish times at Perry Hall have all subsequently gotten slower on each occasion for a trend I hope does not continue. I’ll have to try another time to go sub-20 on the course!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

Lis and I went out for a meal with my brother to celebrate his 30th birthday, and were introduced to his girlfriend’s brother and father; with 5k PBs of 15:20 and 15:50 respectively, I did the mental arithmetic and worked out they’d both have crossed the finish line by the time I’d reach 4k!

Due to the late finish the previous night, a 10 mile run on Sunday morning was not at the top of my agenda; somebody persuasive could have very easily convinced me to sack the run off, that’s how weak-willed I was! Guilt is a powerful motivator and being free of it was enough to convince me to head out there in spite of the weariness.

There was some hangover from the previous day’s windy conditions; thankfully it was more of a cross-wind that I was largely sheltered from whilst on the canal towpaths. Once past Gas Street Basin, I could see two runners up ahead. I caught up to the one closest to me in a matter of only a minute or two, but the one furthest away proved more elusive and took a mile or so to reel in. Once I reached her, it was none other than Alex from Cannon Hill Parkrun! I very rarely train with others, but it made for a really nice novelty to complete a long run with her; the time really flew by whilst we both put the world to rights on hard hitting topics such as marathon training.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time for this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

A cap with a bill can be your best friend

From a running-gear-and-apparel perspective, it’s hard to imagine a smarter or more versatile investment than a billed cap. Whether it’s cotton or synthetic or whatever, a billed cap can keep the sun off your face, or snow or driving rain out of your eyes. Wake up late for a group run (or, heck, a dentist appointment), and it can disguise bed head. More than once, I’ve stashed energy gels under my hat, during races and long runs. Works like a charm.

If you happen to be an urban runner, you can even use a cap to flag down a taxi.

Buy several, preferably with the Runner’s World logo.

This week’s running – 11th to 17th of May 2015

OK, I'm not that busy

OK, I’m not that busy…

Another busy week, juggling training and racing.

4x 1600m at 10k pace

If 3x 1600m reps at 10k pace can produce a 10k PB, then 4x should lead to an even bigger PB, right?

I had feared this session all day, based solely on how much effort 3x reps took. The wind was howling during the warm-up jog to the reservoir, and I constantly tried to identify which direction it originated from to work out whether the out or return reps would be affected (turned out it was both).

3:58/km was the target and off I went for the first rep, feeling very positive. I barely broke a sweat and my breathing was nice and relaxed to hit target pace exactly.

After 90 seconds of recovery, off I trotted for the second rep. Aside from my legs feeling like jelly during the first 200m or so due to lactic acid, this rep also felt pretty damn good.

The third rep wasn’t so great and the focus and attention required got to me with about 600m left to run, though I still managed to hit target pace.

Arguably, the fourth rep felt easier because it was the final one – you know the feeling when the mind loosens the reins because you’re almost there. I finished on a massive high and received a confidence boost ahead of Sunday’s Race for Wildlife 10k – a new 10k PB certainly looked like it was on the cards.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

The Way of the Runner

The Way of the Runner by Adharanand Finn

Adharanand Finn’s latest piece

Part running memoir, part travel log and part fish out of water culture lesson, below are a few of my thoughts having recently finished reading The Way of the Runner.

The author, Adharanand Finn, spent six months in the land of the rising sun to try and get to the bottom of why there is such running depth throughout the nation compared to other countries around the world. Additionally, he also sought to discover why Japan is not a bigger threat to the East-African dominance despite the depth of talent available.

The Japanese are seemingly running mad; or to be more precise, they’re “ekiden” mad. Ekiden are a series of long distance road relay races that have gripped the nation for decades. The best way to describe the event is somebody went and took solo long distance running and turned it into a team sport. Remarkably, hundreds of athletes are running the equivalent distance of a half marathon with times in the low 60 minutes. Also unusual is how many ekiden teams are formed and funded by Japanese corporations, with their runners essentially being employed and paid a salary to train and compete, whilst also fulfilling some duties in the office. This is quite a contrast to other nations’ athletes where they’re self-employed and paid via sponsorships, appearance fees, race wins and so on. The ekiden funding system goes some way to explain where the wealth of Japanese running talent comes from; earning a crust as a professional athlete is a very real prospect for many in Japan.

Flipping the coin over for a moment, the ekiden also appears to be a double-edged sword for the nation, where it robs the country of diversity in running talent. Finn discovered rather quickly that those with ability are swiftly maneuverered into becoming ekiden athletes and because of this, Japan does not excel at track running; few are nurtured and developed and it largely remains as a niche hobby.

In terms of training, Japan also tends to follow a traditional approach. I lost count of the number of times where the metaphor “nails that stick out are hammered down” was used. Heaven forbid you question a coach’s training methodology because that’s the way it’s been done for decades! Japan’s cultural values are heavily built upon authority, chains of command and respect; the environment simply isn’t there for radical ways of thinking.

I also felt Finn’s frustrations stemmed from his much more open and inviting Kenyan experience (from his previous work, Running with the Kenyans). Further to Japan’s cultural quirks is its often closed, yet polite society, which he frequently encountered. He would get so close to a breakthrough, only to be scuppered at the last moment. This and the language barrier (in spite of a translator) only allowed the surface of Japanese running to be scratched; for somebody on a research and writing assignment, it must have been disheartening to be so close to the source, yet so far at the same time.

Did I enjoy the book? Most definitely. Easy to read and entertaining, it provided a window into the curious world of Japanese running that few have been able to venture into and report on.

5k from work

I definitely took a hit from the 4x 1600m session, so this was nice and slow. I had my first geese and goslings sighting of the spring, all of them making one hell of a racket and no doubt a foreshadowing of what is to come later in the season.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 canal miles with fartlek

It’s odd how quickly this boosted mid-week run has become a staple part of my schedule. The fartlek element was thrown in to give my legs some faster turnover, especially as I wouldn’t be running at Parkrun this week. I felt fantastic throughout where it all felt rather effortless. Here’s the data for this run.

I must have gotten very lucky out there because I managed to avoid the rain entirely!

Strangely, I didn’t see another male runner out there on the canal towpath; only female runners. Is there a positive correlation between the likelihood of rain and the reluctance of male runners to get out there? More test data needed…

Continuing the theme of geese sightings, I didn’t see any goslings but I did majorly piss off one mother goose for her to hiss at me wildly. Nerve rackingly, this was exactly at the point of my switchback for home so I had to turnaround for her to hiss once more and send the bad juju my way.

Perry Hall Parkrun

Paul Sinton Hewitt's autograph

Thanks for the autograph, Paul Sinton Hewitt

This was my first visit back to Perry Hall Parkrun since early January and what a contrast it was. There were only 27 runners then with the weather wet and miserable, whereas on this occasion, there were 213 with bright and dry conditions. The Ambassadors’ Weekend obviously helped to drive numbers up, with some turning up to try and catch a glimpse of the founder of Parkrun, Paul Sinton Hewitt (myself and Nigel included!) Sadly, there weren’t more famous faces about whereas last year saw the triple whammy of Liz Yelling, Steve Way and Chrissie Wellington.

Due to the Race for Wildlife 10k the next day, I volunteered to marshal at the event, pulling double duty as a marshal on the bridge and at the end of the funnel to direct runners towards the barcode scanners.

Perry Hall achieved its new attendance record ambitions, but I was somewhat disappointed to see it wasn’t nearer the 300 estimate predicted; I know a number visited other nearby events such as Brueton, Arrow Valley, and Kingsbury Water; the British Masters Road Relays were also in action I’m aware. Nonetheless, it was good to see Kings Heath Running Club making up the bulk of visiting runners, along with a few other Cannon Hill regulars.

Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k

Click here to read more about how the Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k 2015.

Time for this week’s excerpt from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book (which most readers of this blog won’t need to worry about):

Pretend you’re British

Runners at the start of a race can be testy for the same reasons they can have overactive bladders. They’re pumped up yet caged up; they’re a bit anxious and the adrenaline is flowing. Then the gun goes off. Suddenly, folks who were bumping elbows just a few seconds ago are moving forward in a knot, trying to pass each other.

No wonder tempers can flare, particularly in the first mile or so. One smart way to react, should you ever be on the receiving end of a flare-up: Go all British on ‘em. Not in a cockey-accent, tea-drinking kind of way… but in that unfailingly polite and unassuming kind of way.

Nothing disarms people or diffuses tension faster than a smile and a “sorry” or “my fault.” Holding a hand up, palm facing out, doesn’t hurt either. It’s a universal symbol for “I come in peace and am sorry for kicking the back of your shoe.”

This week’s running – 29th of December 2014 to 4th of January 2015

Happy 2015 everybody!

Another big week along with plenty of other highlights!

This week was all about the New Year, a lifetime achievement and big mileage. Muchos long post ahead so drinks and snacks are recommended!

10 miles – to Usk and back

I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but Christmas knocked the stuffing out of me. I was knackered come 28th of December and had to abandon the Sunday long run for some recovery. It’s not all bad, though, because throwing the 10 mile run into Monday allowed for a boost to this week’s total mileage.

The day’s break did a world of good because I felt fresh and rested. The splits for this run were far faster and comfortable than I ever would have anticipated, where typical long run pace would be anywhere between 8:30 and 8:00 per mile.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10k fartlek along Hagley Road

Outside of Parkrun, doses of speed this Christmas and New Year season have been in short supply. A fartlek sesh was just what the imaginary coach ordered to dust off the cobwebs and sluggishness from all the festive food.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Edgbaston Reservoir recovery

The ice and frost, as lethal as it could be, looked gorgeous on New Year’s Eve morning; the beautiful view from my living room window was positively begging me to head out for a run. With daylight on my hands (oh what a novelty!), I headed over to Edgbaston Reservoir for a slow lap.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

New Year’s Day Brueton Parkrun

Christmas and the New Year are glorious times for Parkrunners because it means additional events! I volunteered on New Years Day in 2014 but was determined to do the legendary double run at both Brueton Park (9am) and Cannon Hill Park (10:30am). Similar double run opportunities presented themselves all over the UK.

I didn’t give myself enough time to get to Brueton Park (woke up late, lack of parking spaces) and arrived about 30 – 45 seconds after the run had started – d’oh! I slotted myself in just before the first turnaround and estimated I was short on distance by maybe 200m. I decided that if I finished in dramatically less time than what I would normally be capable of, then I would not scan the result against my name; if the finish time was around the norm for me, or slower, then I would accept it.

There were a fair few running clubs present and it wasn’t too long before I spotted Mike Green and Barbara Partridge from Kings Heath RC. Khalid from Birchfield Harriers was also sighted.

Without a warm-up, I was working hard to keep to a sub-20 pace; this would either serve as an effective warm-up for Cannon Hill Parkrun an hour later, or leave me feeling completely shagged! A howling headwind on the straight towards the east of the park was added to keep things interesting…

Two laps of the course later, I was on the final few hundred metres for the finish. I could hear somebody right on my tail from his heavy breathing; sensing him on my shoulder, I kicked with about 300m to go. My Garmin had 18:45 on its display, so I guessed I would finish just under 20 minutes. I was distracted and with about 50m to go before the finish, the guy behind me kicked and pipped me to the line by a few seconds. He told me he’d finished in 19:51, so I knew I was definitely in the right place. It was then onwards to Cannon Hill!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

New Year’s Day Cannon Hill Parkrun

Whilst I was the last to arrive at Brueton Parkrun, I was officially the first at Cannon Hill Parkrun! I had plenty of time to get my warm-up done and I wasn’t feeling too bad at all; Brueton Parkrun definitely loosened everything up, including my cardiovascular system. I had reasonable belief that I could go under 19:30 without too much difficulty, so that became my target.

There was a good turnout with a fair number also chasing after the New Year’s Day double like me. It was nice to catch-up with a few regulars about how their Christmases and New Year celebrations had gone.

Once actually in the run, I found myself in and amongst a nicely sized pack at around my pace.

The first lap of the park whizzed by in a blur. My breathing was nice and steady and the pace felt perfectly manageable. Then the second lap hit and my legs became saturated with lactic acid, leaving my quads heavy and my calf muscles tight. Each step felt like a tremendous effort so I did what I could to minimise the pace rot, and that was to close the gap between the guy in front and me.

A few short surges here and there and I was still bang on target pace. The final mile hit and I largely ran it alone with nobody for immediate company. A few overtakes later and I finished in 19:25 for my third fastest 5k at Cannon Hill. Had I have been fresher on the start line, Ed Barlow and I reckoned that my Cannon Hill course PB could have fallen. Rather oddly, I’d never actually finished in 19:2X at Cannon Hill before.

Oh, and a quick shout-out to blog readers, Simon and Johanne, who I bumped into whilst leaving the park. Always good to meet readers – do come on over and say “Hi”!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

In other Parkrun news, Adidas has bowed out as the t-shirt sponsor, to be replaced by Tribesports. The signs were all there before the announcement: huge delays on the club t-shirts, Adidas no longer appearing on the Parkrun website, and only a one-line mention of them in the recent Parkrun book. As a marketing guy, I can only comment on this being one helluva opportunity for Tribesports. Had any of us heard of them before their involvement with Parkrun (they’re also the kit supplier for Jantastic)? And how much would it cost them otherwise in traditional advertising to reach their core audience? Finally, volunteers will be recognised for their efforts with a unique t-shirt for those who have given their time on 25 occasions or more. Hopefully this will ease some of the problems that events have convincing people to come forward.

Perry Hall Parkrun

Actually running to win!

Actually running to win at Perry Hall Parkrun – photo by Adam Wilkins

I had originally planned to be at Cannon Hill, but decided to continue the momentum of going under 20 minutes at various events, so headed north to Perry Hall Parkrun. I was only 8 seconds off a sub-20 finish at the inaugural event and figured some prior experience of the course could only help with my endeavour.

On the drag up Walsall Road, I was following a car with their satnav on and when they made the left turn towards the park, I was certain it was somebody heading to Perry Hall Parkrun. But who was it? Reaching the car park, we were the only two cars there and it was none other than Darren Hale who stepped out of the other vehicle. My chances of finishing first disappeared right there! Walking and talking with Darren, it turned out he was tapering and had volunteered to be the timer for the morning. My interest was piqued, and then Darren hit me with the final blow that the local XC league was on that afternoon, meaning there wouldn’t be many fast club runners in attendance! Result! Regular readers will know that Nigel Beecroft and I have been eyeing up opportunities for high finish positions at Perry Hall as of late, so it was time to make it happen.

At the meeting point, there were plenty of volunteers but I was the only runner present. We all joked that if I remained as the only runner, I could simply wear a high-viz vest and serve as my own tail runner! Thankfully after my warm-up lap, more runners appeared. On the start line, there was no tussle to get to the front for a nice change from the norm at other events. On “Go”, I went for it.

I opened up a gap of a few metres between me and the two guys on my tail. Glancing over my shoulder periodically, the gap continued to grow and I decided I was reasonably safe to concentrate on my own run. Never having led a race before, it was an odd sensation indeed!

One of the major benefits of Perry Hall Park is the wide view of the rest of the field it affords. I was able to see exactly where the second and third place guys were in relation to me, along with everyone else coming through.

The grass sections of the course did their usual best to sap the speed from my legs.

Entering the second lap, Darren gave me feedback on how I was doing and he estimated I had a 15 second lead. Perfect news! I still wanted my sub-20 finish as well, so I ploughed on.

The pace slipped a little, having nobody to work with; I made use of whatever landmarks there were in the distance to try and reel in, though this proved futile. The wind was howling and my legs were shagged from the Parkrun double on New Years Day. But I still had the lead and that was the primary objective.

Looking over my shoulder, I realised the gap between the second place guy and me had increased again to approximately 30 seconds. With a km left to go, I did what I could to put my foot down. Before too long, I could see the finish area and ramped up the pace again for a final kick for the line.

First place finish for Andy Yu at Perry Hall Parkrun

Woohoo! First place finish!

It took a moment for the first place finish to sink in, but boy did it feel good! I’d never won a race (I know Parkrun isn’t a race – work with me here!) before and it’s unlikely I ever would again. I waited for the second and third place guys to come back in to shake their hands. Darren broke the news that I had missed my sub-20 target and didn’t even set a new course PB for myself; oh well, can’t have it all!

I stopped to chat with Perry Hall regular, Andy Wadsworth. Humorously, we both recalled a moment from Cannon Hill Parkrun when a marshal said, “Well done Andy”, to which we both replied, “Thanks”, neither one of us entirely sure who it was actually meant for. Doing our bit for the community, we did our warm-down lap of the park and collected up the cones and markers to help the organisation team out.

A brilliant morning at an intimate Parkrun. If you ever fancy a change of scenery from Cannon Hill, do head over there and help boost their numbers.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Don’t talk to me about Dryathlon

Time for a bit of a moan.

Some of you may have heard about Cancer Research’s initiative to get people to stop drinking during the month of January. Dry Januarys are nothing new, but what I’m annoyed about is how people seem to now need sponsorship to stop drinking. What ever happened to good old-fashioned will power and when did not drinking become such a hardship?

Simply take the money you’ve saved from not drinking and give it to a worthy charity of your choice, without any need for a song or a dance.

12 canal miles

Rounding off a bumper week was the final proper long run before the Brass Monkey Half Marathon on the 18th of this month.

I decided to head on to the canals now that they had finally reopened after several weeks of closure. It was a bright morning with gorgeous blue skies and importantly, little to no wind making the low temperature rather bearable. I chose to run fasted again with only a strong coffee to power me through.

There were plenty of runners out on the towpaths, either resuming their weekly long run schedules or embarking on their New Year fitness regimes. In contrast, there were only 3 cyclists sighted during the 100 or so minutes whilst I was out there.

On my Garmin, I was fed up of seeing the erratic and jumpy pace feedback so I had swapped out “immediate pace” for “lap pace”. This seemed to do the trick, where lap pace was much smoother, with only minor erratic changes at the beginning of each lap whilst it settled down.

At mile 9, I slowly caught up to a guy on the horizon. As I went to overtake him, he chose to speed up and maintained the small gap between us. I decided to hang back a little and see how this would play out over the next 200m or so. He started to fall back again and I was finally able to overtake; this was short lived because he upped his pace again to get back in front of me! I fell back in line behind him once more. He faded again when we entered Brindley Place and I took the opportunity to get ahead and end the faux race shenanigans.

The remaining 2 miles of the long run really took it out of me. I was starving and started to get dizzy, but wanted to maintain the pace so I soldiered on, chalking the experience up as character building for the closing stages of race day when the going would get tough.

47 mile week!

Wowza. Bit of a jump from 40 to 47 miles…

Including this long run, I logged 47.6 miles this week – my biggest ever by 7 miles! Time to dial things back a touch, me thinks…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the weekly dose from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Double knot before the gun

Of all the forehead-slappingly preventable snafus encountered during a race, the untied shoelace has to be at the top of the list. This one has bedevilled elites as well as amateurs, and there is absolutely no excuse for it.

Do yourself a favour and take a few extra seconds to double knot your laces after your warmup.

This week’s running – 24th to 30th of November 2014

Another week that didn't go according to plan

Another week that didn’t go according to plan

Things still didn’t go according to plan this week.

Run commutes from work

My intention to run six times a week still hasn’t materialised. Despite adding one or two additional run commutes from the office, I’ve still yet to have a week where I’ve been able to run Monday to Thursday and Saturday to Sunday. This is only going to get more disrupted as we approach Christmas so perhaps I should just write this off until the New Year?

Anywho, click here and here for the Garmin data for the two commutes home from work.

6 mile fartlek along Hagley Road

I’m not sure what it was about the opposite side of Broad Street and Hagley Road, but I felt like I was working much harder when compared to my previous two runs on the other side.

Road maintenance was in full swing, with barriers making some portions of pavement rather narrow; normally not a problem but occasionally became tricky when passing people.

Here’s the Garmin data for this fartlek sesh.

Running – An inspiration

Nigel running his 50th Parkrun

Running – An inspiration

Recently, I received a request to plug Summersdale Publishing’s upcoming release: Running – An inspiration. Summersdale are the same folks who publish the very entertaining Keep on Running – The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict by Phil Hewitt.

Clearly, like many new book releases at this time of year, it is intended to appeal to those searching for a Christmas gift for the runner in one’s life. A coffee table book in hardback format, it’s packed with images along with inspirational quotes (some athletic, some not). I had a flick through with Lis and we concluded that it would be ideal for those that are just getting into running, or those that need motivation to get out there during those cold winter months.

Because it is the season of giving, I have decided to give my promo copy away to one lucky reader. I don’t make any money from this blog so can only afford to send it to a UK-based individual – sorry overseas readers, I still love you!

To enter, all you have to do is answer this question:

What is my current half marathon PB?

The answer is, obviously, somewhere on this blog. But where could it be? And by “current”, I mean like right now and it’s not a trick question.

Just simply drop me an email with your answer to andy@runtowin.co.uk and somebody will be randomly selected out of a hat (OK, email inbox) on the evening of Thursday 4th of December. I’ll then be in touch with the winner for postage arrangements etc. Best of luck!

Cannon Hill Parkrun – the Nigel Beecroft edition

Nigel running his 50th Parkrun

Nigel running his 50th Parkrun – photo by Geoff Hughes

Saturday took me back to my home stomping ground of Cannon Hill Parkrun. It was a big day for Nigel, who would be running his 50th Parkrun and also wanted to make it a good’un and by that, we mean sub-20 minutes. Without a real plan for myself, I was more than happy to pace Nigel through to the end.

It was uncharacteristically warm and muggy that morning and probably caught a few people off-guard. A last minute panic ensued when Nigel realised he had forgotten to take his espresso shot; I told him he didn’t need it despite me being a regular user of caffeine before races. “Liar, liar, pants on fire” indeed… As is now customary, we found ourselves at the sharp end of the start line.

On “Go”, we were off. And boy, were we off! Well, Nigel was. I was pacing from my Garmin at a steady 3:58/km and Nigel had already created a vast 10m gap between us. This gap increased to about 15m when he found himself in the thick of a nicely paced group to work alongside for a common goal. I decided to hang back and stay steady so that I would be there to help if the time came. On occasion, I even saw Nigel leading the group.

After 2km or so, Alex Mold passed me and I asked if we would see a PB from her. She joked that, “We would see” and settled in about 5m ahead of me for much of the remainder of the run.

At around 4km, I had more or less caught up to both Alex and Nigel by upping my pace slightly. I gave Nigel some feedback that I was right behind him along with some encouragement to keep going. I also gave Alex some motivation to go for that PB, sensing that she wasn’t far from one.

We all exited Fergal’s/Dave’s corner and I gave some more encouragement to Nigel and Alex, which was easier said than done. I awkwardly had to hang back a little so that I was behind Alex but also still ahead of and in contact with Nigel. Both of them were blowing hard and I could sense the agony they were going through, having been there many times myself before on that very spot in Cannon Hill Park. I spurred both of them on again as we approached the final hill and finish line.

Looking at my own finish of 19:38, I was confident Alex had PBd crossing the line just before me. Nigel followed behind with a tidy comeback PB of 19:44 – more than 20 seconds faster than his recent best from the last couple of weeks. I was thrilled for him, where he committed to and delivered the plan and then some – well done Nige!

Here’s the Garmin data for this Parkrun.

In other Parkrun news, we later worked out that the two of us would have been in with a chance at the podium had we have attended Perry Hall Parkrun instead; first to third place finished between 20:04 and 20:28. One day, Andy, one day…

13 miles of south Birmingham

I was disappointed last week that the canal towpath towards Bournville had been closed again. Not wanting a repeat and because I couldn’t work out whether it was still closed, I routed a course that would take me down Bristol Road, through Bournville and back into town via Pershore Road.

The sun was out for a very pleasant morning. I went out fasted again with only a coffee and some weak orange squash to jump-start me.

Without any fast fuel to call upon, I felt rather out of sorts for the first few miles, almost like I had forgotten how to run. Once warmed-up, things ticked along like clockwork.

The route would have given me around 11.5 miles; as I passed Cannon Hill Park, I decided to take a detour inside to boost the total distance to 13 miles or so.

Finishing up the run back at home, I was kinda whacked. I ran on empty; the route undulated far more than anything else I had recently ran, and was also further too. Hours later whilst I’m writing this, I’m still slightly out of it…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Now on to the real reason you read this blog, it’s time for another entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

The whole pasta thing is way overblown

Distance running and pasta are so closely associated, it makes you wonder if the two industries aren’t in cahoots. (It’s probably a coincidence that the last journalist to explore this theory was found dead soon after he started asking questions, buried under 3 tons of elbow macaroni in a Long Island warehouse.)

I should stress that eating pasta the night before a long race is not a bad idea. It’s great, if that’s what you’re hungry for. Or what you’re used to. I often enjoy a plate of penne as a prerace dinner.

But there’s nothing magical about the stuff. It’s just flour and water, folks.

So have whatever you like the night before a race, assuming it’s reasonably healthy and reasonably “safe.” (Steak tartare is probably not the smartest choice, nor is the habanero bean burrito platter at that new hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint.) And for Pete’s sake, don’t eat anything you’ve never tried before.

Don’t overthink. Let your gut guide you. You’ll be fine.