This week’s running – 12th to 18th of June 2017

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Touring South Welsh parkruns continued – photo by Lis Yu

Week 6 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

5k recovery & parcel pick-up

I had to get to my folks’ place to collect a parcel that’d been delivered, so a rather indirect 5k route was plotted. Ever tried running whilst holding a shoebox with running shoes inside? Not the easiest of things to hold, even at a gentle pace…

The shoes in question are the new Nike Pegasus 34. I’ve been training in the Pegasus for the best part of 5 years, but generally skip a generation for the bigger enhancements whilst stockpiling on cheap pairs of the outgoing version. I’ll do a short write-up once I’ve put a few miles through them, but just wearing them around the house already fills me with confidence of the more dramatic overhaul.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles with 4 x 1 mile @ LT

How does one make a session more difficult for themselves? Start by covering a pace that’s largely unfamiliar, and just for laughs, also dramatically reduce the recovery between reps!

Currently, lactate threshold estimates place me somewhere between 6:15 and 6:20 per mile. Recovery between reps was last set at 3:15, which at the time felt a little too generous. Knocking it down to 2:30 felt like the right thing to do…

The reps came out as follows:

  1. 6:16
  2. 6:18
  3. 6:18
  4. 6:18

I would have had a perfect set if not for the pesky tunnel skewing the first rep slightly! All reps thereafter felt torturous with the final one near-vomit inducing at the very end. Having survived the session, I’ll probably keep the configuration as is for exposure to out and out suffering.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I treat these run-commutes as easy recoveries in between Tuesdays, where pace is the focus, and Thursdays, which generally top up endurance. Wearing a bag and attempting to run quickly are two opposing things, where my pace can normally hover between 9 and 11 minute miles. Yet, I’m in awe of people that can crank out some serious pace whilst loaded down with luggage on their backs; such a person is local runner, Richard Neal, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently just before he was pushing out 7:15 miles with a bag on his back!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I felt beaten up before I’d even started on this run from the office. Because some of you have asked, I define a run-commute as one where I’m carrying a bag like above, as opposed to a run from the office, where I’m carrying just the bare essentials (phone, keys, travel cards) in a FlipBelt.

For some reason, I got it stuck in my mind that I wanted to cover majority of the distance at 7:50 per mile. No rhyme, or reason – I simply had an underlying desire to do so. Forcing the pace can sometimes open your eyes to what you’re capable of in some situations, but not here. I was tired, both from work and a lack of sleep over the best part of a fortnight.

I felt empty once I reached home and concluded I was still carrying fatigue from Tuesday’s session, and the heatwave hadn’t even landed yet!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Pontypool parkrun

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Mad as a box of frogs, this course!

parkrun touristing of South Wales continued with this visit to Pontypool’s event. Well established for over three years, it’s never really hit the big leagues in terms of attendance due to the immensely popular Newport event nearby and subsequent new events that have sprung up recently. 100 to 150 runners is typical, with just 95 turning up on this particular Saturday.

Visiting the event with me and Lis were her mother (and dog), niece and nephew.

I always like to look up course maps and descriptions before visiting new events. To say that I was scratching my head based on the above is an understatement. With the scant description, I had to look-up somebody’s run via Strava and repeatedly move the cursor back and forth to get a feel for how each lap takes place. Even with that knowledge in hand, I still managed to go astray during my warm-up by not taking into account the different levels that are covered as part of the route!

Toeing up on the start, the new runner’s briefing took place mere seconds before we were sent off on our way to add to my already high levels of anxiety. “Turn right at the big tree” did nothing for me, stood in the park and surrounded by many big trees!

Off the line, it was probably the most sedate starts to a mass event I’ve encountered in ages, second only to the very laid back Great Run Local from a few months ago. Two guys pulled ahead, whilst a small pack of four of us held back, clearly due to the already warm conditions we faced. Me and one other moved forward, becoming fourth and third respectively. Only having a faint idea of the early part of the course, I hung back to let the more knowledgeable local runner lead the way.

For the first 2km, there was little variation in our positions, apart from the leads I gained on inclines and his advantage on descents. I could tell by his breathing that he was having a harder time of it than I was. Approaching the switchback before the second lap, he dramatically slipped off the pace and I found myself overtaking him within just a few steps; I urged him on with “Keep going, fella” as I pulled away. First place was no more than 40 seconds away and looked like he was only on a tempo run, with second place perhaps some 20 seconds behind. Rounding the switchback, I had a good view of who was likely to challenge me for third; the chap I had overtaken fell even further behind to fifth, whereas a fellow visitor was next in line with over 30 seconds difference between the two of us.

I found myself running alone, though running for positions and not pace was wholly refreshing. I knew I could maintain that pace all the way to the finish for a comfortable podium spot, with second place being too far ahead to consider. A friendly couple on the other side confirmed my thoughts as they cheered me on.

Much like at Barry Island parkrun, Pontypool and its twisting course over multiple levels affords spectators multiple opportunities to see athletes. Apparently, Yvonne – my mother-in-law, was told off by organisers for being too vocal with her cheers for me!

Moving into the final km, I noticed that I was actually gaining on second place thanks to a couple of climbs. Before the start, I overheard that he was coming back from illness or injury, and was not in peak shape. He began retching and spluttering like he was about to hock something up, inspiring me to have a go at reeling him in. Unhelpfully, the final km of the course takes place on narrow paths with significant inclines and descents to complicate matters.

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Sprinting for second place at Pontypool parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Entering the final 400m, I’d reduced the difference to fewer than 10 seconds. “Go on! You can have second!” were the run director’s words as I navigated around the rugby pitch. The surroundings had a sort of amphitheatre feel, giving my chase a sense of real occasion! I began surging on my target and applied more pressure as he continued retching.

With 200m to go, I’d narrowed the gap to perhaps just 3 seconds, turning to just 2 seconds in the remaining 100m. The path narrowed even further in the final 50m and the gap reduced to just a second between us; I could have grabbed his shoulder, it was that close!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Alas, it was not meant to be and we held our positions as we crossed the line and slumped over into our respective heaps. It so happened that he was actually just a few seconds away from a new PB, courtesy of the competition, and first place was less than 20 seconds ahead of us. In hindsight, I’m confident I could have made a move for second a lot sooner and used the narrowing terrain to help fend him off.

A gentle warm-down and a few chats with some of the local runners rounded off an unexpectedly good start to the weekend’s running.

In terms of South Welsh events, that’s pretty much it for those that are reasonably easy to drive to. I feel like I’m starting to find some form again, so I think a return to Cardiff parkrun for some benchmarking is in order…

18 miles – to Little Mill and back

This was the run I feared most of this particular week’s plans: 18 miles in the devastating heat with several sharp and gradual inclines for good measure. The prior day’s informal race for second place and an afternoon-evening of BBQ grub wouldn’t have helped the situation, either.

With my trusty Salomon ultra vest and drinks flasks in tow, I decided to experiment with the run’s nutrition and hydration strategy. For said BBQ, we had some cans of regular Coca-Cola in, so I went and opened two, allowing them to go flat overnight ahead of the morning’s exertions. It’s supposedly an Iron Man practice, where the basic components in Coca-Cola of water, sugar and caffeine are exactly what the mind and body needs when the going gets tough. It did come with the caveat that once an athlete begins using it during the run, the body will crave it and little else can become a substitute. Addictive properties, indeed! With that knowledge in mind, I loaded one flask up with water and a High5 Zero tablet for electrolytes, and the other flask with the brown, sugary goodness. The former would be rationed for the entire duration of 18 miles, and the latter reserved exclusively for the second half. Just in case, I also carried a gel.

Setting off earlier than usual to beat the heat, the temperature was already in the low 20s at 08:30 and with no cloud cover in sight. Thankfully, humidity was pretty reasonable to allow sweat to still do its thing. I purposely kept the first half easy, running well within myself. My legs, surprisingly, felt pretty fresh and responsive, which I suspect is courtesy of the high cadence from Pontypool parkrun.

Unusually, there was not a single other runner out and about, though there were plenty of cyclists, including a team in formation.

Regular analysis of how I was feeling confirmed everything was A-OK. A couple of sips of electrolyted water per mile kept the system topped up and feeling comfortable. I’ve run much shorter distances at a similar pace and felt much, much worse!

Reaching halfway, I consciously wanted to pick up the pace with a target of circa-7:45 per mile. Upping the effort turned out to be no effort at all! A few sips of the Coca-Cola flask and I was like a hummingbird to nectar. The trinity of holding back in the first half, being well hydrated and the kick from the sugar and caffeine made for a rather potent mix.

Temperatures hit the high 20s in the second half, which caused the odd wobble, but was remedied by seeking out shade where available.

It was mission accomplished upon finishing, where all 9 miles of the second half came in at around 7:45 or faster. Whether physiological or placebo, the Coca-Cola’s dark magic worked wonders; it even had some part to play in recovery, because there was no post-run stiffness or soreness, whether shortly after finishing or over 24 hours later as I type this. I think I’ve found my long run training buddy!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

I seem to have turned a corner in the training, where pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place. Yesterday’s 18 miles is the longest distance I’ve covered since finishing the Yorkshire Marathon last October; if all of my remaining 18 to 22 mile runs can feel as good, then I’ll be a happy chappy.