This week’s running – 5th to 11th of October 2015

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun: friendly and welcoming – photo by Lis Yu

This week was mostly about the two Rs: rest and recovery. Oh and a trip “up Pomphrey”!

5k from work

Nike Vapor Lite bag

The Nike Vapor Lite bag

This was the maiden voyage of the Nike Vapor Lite running backpack that I received for my birthday. The bag I was using for all my other run commutes, whilst a perfectly good running backpack, was literally more bag than I needed. Bought years ago when I was new to this running malarkey, I didn’t know what to necessarily look for in a bag. It had plenty of straps for a locked down fit, but with regular use, it became apparent it was designed for a much larger/taller individual than me.

The Vapor Lite is just that – it’s a lite version of the bag I was replacing. It’s smaller without being useless (I can fit in a pair of trainers, a running top and shorts, a jacket, my lunch, and a few other small items) – the ergonomics are just all round better for my frame. The best feature? It has quick access pull cords that allow me to tighten the fit on the fly if it starts sagging. It performed admirably and stayed out of the way.

I wish I could say I performed as admirably! This was the first run after the Cardiff Half Marathon and boy was it painful. DOMS was in full effect on my quads from the hard downhill final mile in the race. The situation was not helped by having to go up and over numerous canal bridges with reduced grip from the rain – not fun. Light levels were on the home straight to disappearing entirely and it won’t be long before I need to break out my headtorch again.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5 canal miles and The Vale

This week’s training was almost identical to the previous taper week: half as often and half as long in distance. Despite being under control, I was surprised to find how heavy my legs were still feeling.

For a slight break from the norm, I detoured over to The Vale for one loop (a little more than 500m) before re-joining the canal. Short of visiting a running track, I can’t think of many flatter locations with lighting during the darker months and the intention is to head over to The Vale for future speed sessions.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun course and elevation

Flat and fast it ain’t at Pomphrey Hill Parkrun…

Months ago, I half-seriously mentioned that I quite fancied the idea of visiting a chilli farm for a tasting experience as a possible stag-do activity – it’d be like visiting a vineyard, but for teetotallers like me. Well, Lis took note of this and bought me such a thing for my birthday!

The visit took us to where the South-West meets the Cotswolds, and being the occasional Parkrun tourist that I am, I decided to look into potential events that were nearby. Two immediately sprang to mind in the form of Ashton Court near Bristol, and Bath Skyline, near err Bath. Upon closer inspection, Pomphrey Hill Parkrun turned out to be only 10 minutes’ drive from where we would later need to be, so it was decided that this would be my 11th different event and also home to my 150th run.

“Fail to prepare and prepare to fail” is the familiar adage. Pomphrey Hill’s event name gives a clue as to what I was to expect from the course profile, with a 50ft/20m hill that was to be tackled three times, made that much harder with a wood chip bark terrain underfoot for minimal energy return. Looking at previous weeks’ results, the course didn’t have a large attendance either, only having started 18 months ago; a sub-20 performance could be enough to sneak into the top 5 during some weeks to give you an idea.

Dave was particularly excited to learn I’d be paying the event a visit because a friend of his calls it home. Ian’s a regular at Pomphrey Hill; so much so, he’s actually at the very top of the male points leader board and also has a 19:38 course PB to his name there. I was told to look for a chap in an orange t-shirt and long compression socks, and Ian to look for the likely only Chinese guy in the park.

It turned out Pomphrey Hill Parkrun also had a claim to fame with a published author as one of its run directors. If the name Ira Rainey sounds familiar to you, it’s because he’s the titular guy from the book, Fat Man to Green Man: From Unfit to Ultramarathon.

Lis and I were one of the first to arrive at the event, which uses the outer perimeter of some playing fields as its course. We were very quickly welcomed by some regulars, all very curious to hear which event Lis and I called home. We were also introduced to a couple in their 70s who semi-regularly made the trip from Poole Parkrun to join their son; he was the most flexible and spritely 70 year old I’ll ever meet, leaving me in awe with his stretching routine!

I excused myself momentarily for a warm-up lap of the course. I was advised to wear trail shoes for the pick and mix terrain underfoot, consisting of concrete paths, gravel, wood chips and grass. My legs had some bounce back in them again and stretching my stride out felt very comfortable. Going up the hill once certainly got all cylinders warmed up. What goes up, must come down with a very steep descent on concrete to end the lap.

Continuing the theme of being welcoming, the new runner briefing was given by an incredibly bubbly and cheerful lady with infectious enthusiasm. I think Pomphrey Hill Parkrun just stole Fulham Palace Parkrun’s most friendly event prize in my book!

Briefing done and Ian found his way to me. He began pointing out who the faster runners were amongst those present, a number of which had dressed up in wedding themed attire for a regular that was getting married later that day.

3rd place for the first km

Third place for the first km – photo by Alex Christofides

Being a smaller event, the run briefing was given on the start line. Ian and I stood together, both feeling that we were in similar shape and on the starter’s orders, I went off like the clappers. By the first corner only a few hundred metres later, I was comfortably in third momentarily before two guys overtook me on the gravel straight. I was feeling great and full of adrenaline to complete the first km in 3:45; “Shit. I’ve gone out too fast,” I thought. And then we approached the Hill of Pomphrey for the first climb. Surprisingly, the two guys ahead of me were slowing quite dramatically and I was able to catch them with relative ease by the time we turned for the brow of the hill, moving me into third place again. I was able to maintain this going through the straight at the highest point on the course, but boy did I know I’d overcooked it too early on! Lis was cheering from the sidelines, and carried on to Pomphrey Hill to offer more support on the next lap. The second km came up horrifically as a 4:15; even pacing on a non-flat course clearly wasn’t a skill that came naturally to me! I was overtaken again by the two guys I’d gone past on the hill to move back into fifth.

The fast downhill section arrived and I didn’t have the balls to go full pelt down the path; I half considered moving on to the grass for a less jarring experience. Shortly after entering the second lap of the course, my Garmin ticked over and reported I’d completed the third km in an even more shocking 4:21. I was haemorrhaging time all over the place and I knew my sub-20 attempt on the course was over. Ian overtook me somewhere along this point and I began to give chase to try and get back into the top five.

Andy and Ian, going “up Pomphrey” – video by Lis Yu

We began to lap some of the back markers on the course that had yet to finish their first lap. I dreaded each step as it brought me closer to that hill again! Lis was positioned on Pomphrey Hill this time, shooting some video of the suffering I was putting myself through. Much like on the first lap, I was gaining ground on Ian again with my fast cadence and for the briefest of moments, I overtook him and another runner just before the peak. It wasn’t long before they shot past me again on the straight at the very top…

More and more lapped runners appeared as I hurtled down that steep descent once more. I could feel that my quads hadn’t fully recovered from the pounding they received at the Cardiff Half Marathon last week.

Andy Yu at Pomphrey Hill Parkrun

The pretty surroundings masked away that hill… – photo by Lis Yu

“One more mile to go,” I thought to myself as I entered the third lap. Lapped runners actually gave me a target to work towards in the distance to make this one of the faster km splits of the run. Lis appeared once more, this time at the foot of the hill – given the long and narrow-ish nature of the course, it was quite easy for her to dart from place to place, not dissimilar to Fulham Palace Parkrun.

For much of the final lap, Ian remained roughly 25 seconds ahead and nothing I could muster brought me any closer to him. He had local knowledge and experience of where exactly to push, ease off, and hold steady on the course versus my go off like a bull in a china shop approach. We maintained our positions with me firmly and comfortably in sixth place all the way to the slightly uphill finish.

I was shagged by the end. I had to hunch over from the lactic acid that had pooled in my legs for much of the run to leave me looking like a wheezing mess. Ian looked fresh as a daisy and was just shy of a sub-20 finish by only a couple of seconds.

Recovery was swift

Ian and Andy in fifth and sixth place, respectively – photo by Alex Christofides

Scanning was located back along the last 100m of the course, to the side of where runners were coming through. This was a contrast to Cannon Hill where scanners are positioned as far away from the finish as possible so as not to interfere with any runners yet to come through. I was told the Pomphrey Hill scanners used to be just beyond the finish line, but due to its close proximity to the car park, many runners simply scanned and then went home rather than stick around for a chat or coffee.

I got to speak briefly to Ira Rainey afterwards, where he asked for my opinion of the course. I thoroughly enjoyed it in a sadistic kind of way; I explained I’m firmly a road runner, but appreciated the opportunity to literally be taken out of my comfort zone on a challenging course.

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun: friendly, welcoming and the course will put hair on your chest! Here’s the Garmin run data.

8 canal miles


Flipbelt: imperative you get the sizing right!

This should have been at least 10 miles, but I was suffering from major run equipment failure and decided to call it quits when I had the chance to peel off for home. I received a Flipbelt as a birthday gift, designed to stash a phone when running in unfamiliar locations (don’t want another Peterborough to happen again!) and gels when racing. Awkwardly on paper, I was at the lower end of one size (medium) and the upper end of another (small), and had the medium one to hand. The belt itself is a great concept, but requires a tight fit to prevent it from bouncing, especially when carrying a phone, so we’re now awaiting a replacement in small.

Field test failure aside, I ventured out on to the canal towards Spaghetti Junction for the loop back to the Aston Junction. I’d not been on that stretch of canal in over a year and it was nice to see the towpath upgrade was complete; shame I don’t have a marathon to train for to utilise the miles and miles of towpath now on offer!

I didn’t see a single fellow runner out there. In fact, I didn’t even see any cyclists either; only a few guys fishing. Nice to see that neck of the woods hasn’t lost its sketchiness…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run. Oh, one thing that did tickle my funny bone was what somebody decided to call that segment on Strava!

Riding the Sky Rocket Nob

10th overall on this unusually named Strava Segment

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

Cotton socks are the devil

Cotton sheets are soft and lovely. Cotton dress shirts are crisp and smart. Cotton candy is mouthwatering. Cotton socks? None of the above – at least not when you’re running any distance to speak of. Doubly so when it’s hot and humid and you begin to wonder, about an hour into your sweaty run, whether you need to be in a jungle, per se, to get jungle rot.

When you’re running, opt for synthetic or wool socks.