This week’s running – 8th to 14th of September 2014

Ultra marathon

This is not what the JW Ultra was like!

This week was all about recovery, more winning and an ultra marathon (OK, 1/3 of an ultra marathon).

Recovery runs

Learning my lesson from the previous sub-40 10k PB back in July, I decided it would not be ideal training to complete a speedwork session on Tuesday. Instead, I opted for a simple 5k out and back via Hagley Road.

The run home from work was much the same, taking it very easy for 5k along the canals.

Click here and here for the Garmin data on the recovery runs.

“Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Why yes, yes I do feel lucky!

As many of you know, I had little intention of running this year’s Great Birmingham Run. I originally first ran it in 2010 as my first foray into half marathons and to cut a long story short, it no longer has the same appeal to me. Just simple things like the PB friendliness of the course – it’s all about the finish time potential for me. Paying £34 for the privilege of busting a gut running up Charlotte and St James Road ain’t my cup of tea.

Sometime last week, I saw the Birmingham Mail promote their competition with the prize being a free place in the race. I figured, “Why not?” and what would be the chances of me winning anyway? Well, it so happened that I actually did win, receiving an email on Wednesday with a code for a free entry! No strings attached either, so I don’t need to write about my experience (um, I’ll do that one anyway for free…), wear a silly costume or otherwise. Discussing this with a colleague at work, we reasoned that I was probably one of a very small handful of people to have entered the competition. Most people who would want to run have already paid for their places. The race hasn’t sold out and those that haven’t committed to the training would not be entering anyway.

So, come Sunday 19th, I’ll be toeing up again at the start line on Sand Pits for the fifth time. Even more interesting, I’ll have been out for Iain’s birthday the night before for some alternative carbo-loading…

Exploring the Soho Loop

I’ve heard many things about the nearby Soho Loop, but only just the other day ventured out on to it for the first time. As pleasant as it was (nice and quiet), I can’t see it being incorporated into my normal routes all that often, mainly because of the distance it covers. I suppose if I wanted to cover close to 14 miles, I could pair it up with one loop of the canals up by Spaghetti Junction and Star City, but that’s about it sadly. The OCD inside me likes running rounded numbers like 5k, 10k, 10 miles etc!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The JW Ultra

The final leg of the JW Ultra

The final leg of the JW Ultra

A couple of months ago, Martin Foster asked me if I fancied participating in a relay team for the JW Ultra – a 30 mile ultra marathon. It sounded like it could be a laugh and landed at a good time to double as race prep for the Cardiff Half Marathon. Each leg of the race was billed as approximately 10 miles to coincide with the pubs doubling as checkpoints.

I like to get pre-race logistics sorted before a race; I hear so many horror stories of people turning up to the wrong race HQ, or at the wrong time and it’s something I could do without. With 13 hours to go before the race was due to start, Martin, Yi and I had finally decided upon a running order and which checkpoints we would be at, with me covering the final leg.

Arriving at the checkpoint in Hockley Heath, Lis and I had some time to kill before Yi was due in. I had budgeted about 70 minutes for my leg with a view to treating it as 10 miles at target half marathon pace. Speaking to a few runners who had completed the first or second leg, company on the canal towpath was sparse at best; not ideal for trying to hit an ambitious race pace.

Yi finally arrived and I took the relay team belt from him and started running, all in one smooth changeover along with a few cheers from the crowd.

I passed a couple of runners with ease that had started before me, both solo ultra marathoners and relay team runners. Then, I ran out of runners to reel in and the pace began to slip and continued to slip all the way to 7:30 miles. At 1:30pm, it was very warm outside with temperatures in the low 20s. I was also somewhat dehydrated going into the race, not wanting to be pissing every 5 minutes without potential facilities nearby.

I was having a horrid time and must have run at least 3 miles without a soul in sight. Eventually, some solo runners came back into view and the chase was back on. The terrain underfoot was generally quite good; firm but bumpy and undulating so maintaining a rhythm was tricky.

Andy Yu at the JW Ultra

Out-kicked by ultra marathon runners – for shame!

I kept tabs on the distance I had covered and with the final canal crossing in sight, I was fairly certain the final leg wouldn’t even hit 9 miles in total (actual distance was around 8.6 miles). Nearing the end, myself and 3 solo runners left the canal and ended up going the wrong way temporarily due to a lack of signs or marshalls to direct us towards the finish. Some runners that had already finished had to steer us back on course for a thrilling 4 person sprint towards the line; embarrassingly, I couldn’t out-kick the 3 guys who had just run the best part of 30 miles! Ultra runners are a completely different breed of crazy and know no limits when it comes to pain at the end of a race!

Results-wise, the team came somewhere in the middle, with my final leg coming up as the 4th fastest out of the 17 teams that participated.

Despite never running a sub-7 minute mile on the course, my heart rate monitor reported a 4.2 training effect benefit (highly improving on the chart), no doubt due to the warm temperature and the dehydration.

Here’s the Garmin data for my leg of the JW Ultra.

Double day – 4x 800m reps and 2 mile recovery run

Having treated the JW Ultra as my long run for the week, I opted to get a few 800m reps under my belt.

The weather was almost perfect for running on Sunday morning; temperatures were cooler compared to those during the JW Ultra and clouds helped to break up the direct sunlight above. Others clearly had the same plan as I did because I had never seen Edgbaston Reservoir so full of runners before. Clearly, half marathon fever has taken hold of the city with just 5 weeks to go before race day.

On the agenda were 4x 800m reps at 3:50/km. I still feel like I peaked a couple of weeks ago and trying to keep pushing to the next level could see things coming undone – it’s all about maintenance right now for me to get me across the Cardiff Half finish line in under 90 minutes.

The marginally slower pace felt just right to get me working hard, but not to point of breaking. The splits were a touch faster than target with headwinds causing some fluctuation.

Two different people gave me positive feedback on my speed during my recoveries to top off a very positive session. I’ll take more of the same please!

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

And to top off things off, I went for an easy 2 mile run for a double day.

As per usual, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

You’ll find the elusive runner’s high when you stop looking so hard for it

The runner’s high is like an orgasm.

Stop snickering! I’m serious.

The two phenomena are similar in the sense that they’re physiological responses, intensely pleasurable, and – for some- maddeningly elusive. Some folks experience the runner’s high regularly; for others, long or hard runs simply end in sweaty frustration. The act itself is fun, but, you know… anticlimactic.

No matter which climax is eluding, you, the advice is basically the same: Relax. Stop focusing so much on the destination, and start focusing on the journey. Listen to your body. Breathe. Enjoy yourself. You’ll get there.

Now, about those multiple runner’s highs…

This week’s running – 11th to 17th of November

Marathon base building begins!

Marathon base building began this week

After several bad/tired weeks of running, this week finally perked up for me!

4 x treadmill 800m reps

After last week’s less than stellar return to the treadmill, I had a belter of a speedwork session on Tuesday at the gym.

I packed my Flyknit Racers for the task at hand, knowing that I would need the lightweight shoes for the high leg turnover rate. I was ready to go out hard, properly fueled up on a mince pie and a Mars bar from earlier in the afternoon at the office.

Like all of my speedwork sessions, I always warm-up beforehand with at least a mile of easy running. My target speed on the treadmill was 15.5kmph, which is roughly 6:15 mile pace; perfect to get me back into at least half-decent 5k shape after all these weeks.

The reps were suitably tough, especially on a treadmill. After each 90 second recovery, I’d have to ease myself back on to the moving belt and quickly get my legs up to speed to avoid flying off the back!

I probably could have pushed myself to do 5 reps, but I’d read a valuable piece of advice somewhere that recommended you should feel like you can do one more rep before calling it quits. Inevitably, it’s always that last rep that pushes you over the edge so why risk it?

Take a look at the Garmin data here. Ignore the slowing pace on each rep; my gait adjusted each time to become more efficient to cover the same distance in fewer steps. Either my footpod needs recalibrating or the treadmill needs recalibrating.

I did pick up one niggle in the form of a blood blister on the ball of my left foot, which would come back later in the week to haunt me.

Cancelled Thursday 6 miles

The blood blister I’d picked up was no cause for concern on Wednesday where I was able to walk perfectly fine on it. It did rudely wake me up on Wednesday night/early Thursday morning by throbbing away. It felt incredibly tender and swollen, making it rather painful to walk on.

I put a Compeed blister patch on it, though it didn’t seem to get any better, making me call off my staple Thursday evening 6 mile session.

Friday was much better with only a dull ache but was still enough to make me think about volunteering at Parkrun on Saturday instead of running.

Bramley 20

Wallowing in self pity of another mishap in my running, I took the time to enter the Bramley 20 – a 20 mile road race near Reading. It’s a popular event for those preparing for spring marathons, also offering a 10 mile option for half marathon prep.

One of the failings of my marathon schedule from earlier this year was a lack of race pace training. All of my long runs were done at slower than marathon pace with no specific pace work. I intend to tackle the Bramley 20 in the following manner:

  • First 5 miles at 8:10 mile pace
  • Next 5 miles at 8:05 mile pace
  • Next 7 miles at 8:00 mile pace
  • Final 3 miles at 7:55 mile pace

I intend for my marathon goal pace at the 2014 London Marathon to be somewhere around the 8:00 mile mark, which should see me finish in less than 3.5 hours – my target marathon finish time from this year’s London Marathon.

Dom and Kev are also running so I won’t be out there alone.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I slept reasonably well on Friday night going into Saturday which helped me feel better about the task at hand – to dip below 20 minutes at Cannon Hill. I’ve had a dreadful time as of late with Parkrun where I seemed to have lost a lot of the speed that I had worked so hard to develop and refine over the summer.

Needing all the help I could get, I downed one of my beetroot juice shots and made sure I was adequately hydrated and fueled before hitting the 5k distance.

Arriving at Cannon Hill, I completed my usual 1 mile warm-up lap of the park to get all cylinders firing. I had a brief catch-up with a few folks that I hadn’t seen for quite a while and despite only a 2 week absence from Parkrun, I felt like I had been away for much longer.

I toed up at the start line and had set my Garmin to a target pace of 6:22 which equates to roughly a 19:50 finish; realistically achievable and comfortably sub-20.

My first mile was slightly ahead of goal pace at 6:15 before the pace nose-dived to beyond 6:30. A chap from Sparkhill Harriers stayed with me for much of the run, probably helping me to keep to a higher pace.

I managed to finish in 19:50 and exactly on target. It was touch and go whether I would be able to or not, with the pace slipping dramatically before a big push at the end to reclaim some lost time. I felt bloody awful after finishing with my breathing laboured. Nigel came over for a chat; he did shout out to me on the course but my head was in a really bad place at that moment in time so I apologise for not shouting back!

I was incredibly pleased to hit sub-20 again where it’s an indicator that the speedwork and hill reps I’m doing at the moment are moving me back in the right direction. It’s also a sign that I’m finally recovering or even recovered from my autumn races and my trip to New York.

The Garmin data can be found here.

15 miles of the north Birmingham canals

On top of my lack of marathon specific pace work, I also left it far too late to begin my marathon training for this year’s London Marathon. The harsh winter robbed me of several weeks of training, so much so that I actually did my longest run of 22 miles in the snow because I had no choice! Marathon training began today to build in some buffer; I have a feeling we’re in for another bad winter…

I loaded up my CamelBak with 750ml of weak Nectar Fuel, conscious that I’d eaten absolutely loads yesterday and should have been well fueled for the 15 miles ahead. I packed an energy gel as well, just in case.

The goal for the session was to run it at an average 8:20 pace. This turned out to be quite comfortable, requiring concentration to stay on pace but not difficult enough to push me over the edge. My breathing remained stable and relaxed throughout, giving me a good indication that I should be able to tackle my 20+ mile training runs at around 9:00 miles.

My CamelBak performed beautifully and I’d guesstimated well over the amount of fluid I would need. Upon finishing, I had just 3 mouthfuls left before running empty, so I wasn’t wasting energy hauling around fluid I didn’t need or worse, running out!

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Closing thoughts

Despite the cancelled Thursday session, I’m incredibly pleased with how this week has gone. My speed is slowly coming back which is reassuring because I like to use my 5k ability as a benchmark of my fitness. I’ve also made that first step into marathon training and I will be a lucky boy if every session goes as well as today’s did.

Lis pointed out to me that I’d failed to include an entry from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy last week, so here’s two to make up for it:

Expand your definition of fun

As a runner, your definition of fun – which previously might have included such activities as visiting water parks, watching screwball comedies on DVD, and scrapbooking – must be… well, let’s call it broadened.

For runners, fun might include:

  • Waking up at 5:30am to run 10 miles
  • Running in blistering heat
  • Running in the rain
  • Running in 400m circles
  • Feeling as if your lungs are about to explode
  • Paying a race director good money for the privilege of turning your own toes black and blue
  • Any combination of the above

Black toenails are badges of honour

Run long enough and you’ll wind up ruining a toenail or two. It’s a cost of doing business as a runner.

Whether it’s because your shoes are too big or too small or because you’ve just finished a run or race with lots of toe-punishing downhills or simply because the toenail gods happen to be in a foul mood, someday you will peel off your socks and see black where before there was pink.

Congratulations! These bruised (and possibly bloody) nails are tiny trophies, conferred upon you for toughing it out. They are black-and-blue badges of honour.

But that doesn’t mean you have to flash those badges at everyone you meet. Rule of thumb: if you’re socialising with a group that mostly or even primarily consists of other runners, wearing footwear that exposes your nasty nails is fine (unless it’s a formal event).

Otherwise, keep those nails under wraps.