This week’s running – 19th to 25th of June 2017

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A week of two halves!

Week 7 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

5k recovery

If you have a particular route that you cover time and time again, but in only one direction, I suggest you give it a shot in the opposite direction. I did just that on Monday’s 5k recovery run, and it was quite remarkable how different it felt. The route suddenly felt new again; I noticed new details on houses I’d passed dozens of times before, climbs became descents, and so forth.

Elevation-wise, running the reverse route felt slightly more challenging, where formerly shorter, sharper climbs had been traded in for more gradual, longer upward drags.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 4 at marathon pace

With the amped up heat and humidity, I opted to break the 10 miles down into a separate warm-up, 4 miles at pace, and warm-down. I wanted the spirit of the prescribed run, whilst diluting it just enough to make it achievable.

Part-way into the first mile at marathon pace, I noticed how much more effort it was taking in the tricky conditions, so I slotted in an additional 10 second buffer to make it more manageable. The adjustment felt about right, allowing all 4 miles to each sneak in at under 7 minutes.

Unsurprisingly, the canal was especially busy. Along with another runner and 4 guys walking, we all failed miserably as we attempted a 6 way pass, though were in good spirits afterwards as we all apologised profusely to each other for the en-masse clattering!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I always find run-commutes in warm and humid conditions particularly challenging. Wearing a bag on my back means I’m continuously sweating for lack of airflow, and running at a slower recovery pace means I’m spending longer on the activity. Factor in a rushed departure from the office and less than ideal hydration over the afternoon, and the result was a pretty messy 5 miles.

Adapting to the heat is entirely trainable. An online buddy of mine from hot and humid Atlanta in the US recently returned to London, where the 10° drop in temperature for him allowed for some pretty stellar training runs, whilst Blighty began suffering with our relative 10° increase.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

Wanting a change from slogging it out on the canal towpath, I decided to re-utilise some of the route I adopted last year whilst there were closures between the university and Selly Oak to install new stairs and bike ramps.

Indeed, sometimes a change is as good as a rest. In spite of the undulating second half, the change of scenery served as a pretty good stimulus and kept things interesting on this staple weekly medium-long run. Also positive was the fact that I didn’t have to detour half a mile away from home with the goal of bulking out the distance – something I will try to adopt moving forward, especially for the monstrous 20+ mile runs.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 review

For the full run-down of this ever-present race on my calendar, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Despite it being a light week on my schedule, I still clocked up just 200m shy of 40 miles in total and feel no worse for it. I would like to be in a position so that most of my light weeks end up close to 40 miles, with more dramatic cutbacks utilised sparingly where absolutely necessary. Conversely, I’ve planned for my biggest weeks to just hit 60 miles, and all other weeks in the middle to hover around 50 miles.

The outcome at the Wythall Hollywood 10k was rather pleasing, where there was a real possibility of it not coming to fruition in the days prior, such is how out of touch I was with 10k pace; my lactate threshold has always been my weakness, so I’m frequently conscious not to ignore it completely. I have one more 10k race as part of the marathon schedule in late July; if things continue to track well, I think a 39:15 is a realistic prospect on the pancake flat course, so long as the weather plays ball!

This coming week is another unusual one, featuring the novelty race that is the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon, to be completed with Dave. The plan is for us to cover the race at our respective marathon paces for some benchmarking to see just where we’re at.

Aldridge 10k 2017 review

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Third outing for me at the infamously hilly Aldridge 10k.

For the 2013 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

It’s a dangerous thing chasing after past glories. A year ago, I ran 39:16 in utterly dreadful conditions, and possibly could have gone harder if the appetite was there that day. As satisfying as it would be to equal that performance, I knew it simply wasn’t going to happen without the right training behind me. To save myself from failure, I pivoted the race’s outlook to simply cover the distance at marathon pace; a chat with Simon Rhodes of Birchfield Harriers beforehand gave me some solace that he, too, was suffering from marathon pace robbing him of speed over shorter distances, so I wasn’t alone.

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No torrential rain this year!

After the recent pre-race chaos at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, Simon of the Bull variety and I decided to set off earlier to factor in potential delay with parking, bib collection and so forth. As it turned out, we breezed through traffic, found a parking space immediately, and collected our bibs without delay! With plenty of time on our hands to kill, we took on a gentle 2km jog that largely covered the opening stretch of the race; oddly enough for a race that I’ve run thrice, and Simon twice, neither of us could picture much of the first half of the route!

Waiting for the start was a completely different experience to that of last year’s wash-out. There was no need to huddle underneath anything for shelter; aside from a strong breeze and looming dark clouds, conditions actually looked quite favourable. On the Mayor’s count of, “3-2-1”, and the hooter, we were off.

The race

My urge to resist charging off with the crowd failed miserably; I found myself covering the first few hundred metres at 6:24 per mile, which would equate to a sub-40 10k, rather than the prescribed 6:50 per mile for marathon pace… I gradually applied the anchors and eased back into marathon pace, which really highlighted how much chopping and changing there was in the opening km. Just to confuse you guys, I recorded splits in km, but was pacing by miles: 6:51 was the recorded pace.

There was a fair bit of pavement hopping due to the race not taking place on closed roads. The organisers made specific reference during the briefing that earphones were not permitted for safety reasons, to which we both quietly chuckled at the sight of a woman trying to be ever so discreet whilst taking hers off and putting them away in her non-existent pockets… But, at least she took them off, because just in front of me was a guy that was very clearly wearing them and rather oblivious to those around him. The organisers did say they would be disqualifying those they caught wearing earphones, which really is the only deterrent, because it’s pointless having rules that can’t or won’t be enforced.

Anyway… I got caught up in a small group with the earphones guy and a Bournville Harrier, which persisted for much of the race. With the undulations in place, maintaining marathon pace was more challenging than I was used to, courtesy of the flat canals I’m accustomed to. I sense some training modifications coming up! The second km clocked in at 6:47 pace.

Remember when I said that Simon and I both struggled to recall much of the first half of the race? It could be entirely because of a sharp-ish climb somewhere in the third km, though there is a fairly enjoyable downhill stretch in the fourth km for compensation. Largely by the numbers, the third and fourth km splits came in at 6:38 and 6:42 pace, so I was beginning to speed up ever so slightly.

Just before halfway was another sharp climb to test me further before the water stop. It’s rare that I don’t take on some water during a race, so my hydration tactics of late must have been working. Be that as it may, I was growing increasingly warmer as the race progressed, largely due to the undulations but also from the sun that peaked out from behind the clouds – some water to go over my head was most welcome. As I neared one of the volunteers handing out cups of water, I stretched out my hand only for her to pull the cup of water away! She had one job to do and failed spectacularly! I had to sidestep and thrust my arm in to prise the cup from her hand, or go without; good thing I wasn’t thirsty… 5km came in at 6:33 pace, largely due to some benefit from some downhill stretches.

The Bournville Harrier and I continued to chop and change places, where he tended to lead on descents and I gained on the climbs. 6km steadied itself for 6:38 pace.

The seventh km was exclusively downhill and I recall making massive gains on this portion of last year’s race. Runners were completely exposed to the sun at this stage with no shade, so it was a blessing that the descent was so effortless to result in 6:19 pace.

Turning the corner, I knew full well that it was pretty much a mile of climbing to the finish. I could see Simon Rhodes on the horizon as I crept closer and closer to him. He, too, was covering his marathon pace of circa-7:00 minutes per mile, so must have seen some red mist to be that far ahead of me. The Bournville Harrier managed to gain a decent lead from the preceding downhill stretch, but he was also being reeled in. 8km showed the first signs of slowdown for 6:43 pace.

Moving into the final km, I overtook Simon and offered some encouragement, though not too much because I knew he had another 5 miles to cover to get back home for 18 miles in total. Shortly afterwards, I’d also regrouped with the Bournville Harrier to share a bit of banter before continuing my charge up the lengthy climb. 9km slowed to 6:52 pace and my slowest split of the race by less than a second.

Near the top of the climb, I finally saw another competitor and powered past him on my way to the finish, which seemed to take a lifetime to reach. I could hear the PA system being used to call out runners’ names as they went through the finish line, but it was several minutes and several hundred metres before it came into sight. Passing one of the final remaining marshals on the course, he offered me a cheer of, “Looking good, no.139. Or should that be 171?” Just 24 hours prior, I was joking with the coffee gang after Cannon Hill parkrun about my “171” tattoo causing confusion in races, where people assume I must be really into triathlon, or similar.

Final corner turned, I found myself firmly back on the playing field where Simon Bull and I had completed 200m of strides before the race. There was a chap just metres ahead of me, who I was impressed to see covering the most efficient racing line through the snaking remainder of the course, marked out by tape on posts. There was no desire or need for a sprint finish, so I simply maintained pace across the line and even got a mention by name over the PA system.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I could get used to the non-sprint finishes; recovery was swift and I regained my breath within a minute or so to cheer Simon Rhodes in and to shake hands with the Bournville Harrier. Collecting the medal and goody bag, one of the volunteers congratulated me by name to confuse me, somewhat. A blog reader, perhaps? Or maybe they simply caught it via the PA system as I finished, which was most likely.

Whilst I recorded a finish time of 41:27, my official chip time came in at 41:24, so I must have been premature starting my Garmin crossing the start. Over 2 minutes slower than a year ago, which only highlights how robbed I was of a representative 10k PB in 2016; the pancake flat Magor 10k took place on a blisteringly hot day, causing me to collapse from heat exhaustion, and the Telford 10k was a DNF due to carrying a bad cold. The 10k distance remains my nemesis, so it’ll be so, so sweet when I finally conquer it!

I ran over to the 300m point to cheer in Simon Bull. He wore his “Bull Fit” t-shirt, prompting me to shout, “Come on, Simon! All the way to the end! Bull Fit! Bull Fit!” I did then wonder whether anybody thought I was shouting, “bullshit”, instead… I urged Simon on to take a few scalps in the remaining 200m, of which he claimed 5 with a sprint for the finish.

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A bit parched afterwards!

Once back at home, I bulked out the day’s distance with a 5k warm-down to make up 10 miles.

Thoughts and conclusions

Marathon pace over 6 miles accomplished, and with no negative side effects. My Garmin reported a recovery window of just 23 hours and a boosted VO2max reading from 61 to 62 (63 is my record high, achieved only once).

With the Wythall Hollywood 10k in two weeks’ time, I’m in two minds about covering it at marathon pace, or to have a bash at creeping in under 40 minutes for old times’ sake. I’m conscious that there’s benefit to both approaches: increased exposure to marathon pace ahead of the big day, or improving my lactate threshold, which is pitiful right now. I also have the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon six days afterwards, which needs factoring in.

 

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2017 review

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Apologies for the late report!

A late change in focus shook up this annual staple of a race from becoming yet another item on my growing list of recent setbacks.

For the 2015 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

Regular readers will know I’ve had a particularly troublesome time of late – first with two bouts of illness, and then injury. This naturally meant 2017’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon would be the first without an eyeballs out PB attack on the agenda. So very, very disappointing, especially on such a fast and flat course!

Dave Burton was once again in tow on mine and Lis’ now bi-annual jaunt to York. We also covered his race entry fee as a 50th birthday present for him – only runners could possibly get away with giving a gift that’s equal measure pain and joy! Sadly, Dave didn’t feel like he was in PB shape, either, even after last year’s surprise sub-89 performance from him. With neither of in great condition, we opted to simply aim to get under 90 minutes with as little distress as possible.

Then out of the blue, an interesting request came my way. It seemed Carl Stainton (also racing) and Darryll Thomas both have a mutual friend that was participating, with hopes of going under 90 minutes for the first time. Madeleine had a 90:50 to her name, so certainly within reach without overstretching.

Reaching York Racecourse, we proceeded to set up camp and went on our warm-up. Dave had to confirm whether the 10 minute mile pace he was seeing was correct, and indeed it was. I hadn’t run in over a week by this point, and doubt quickly entered my mind. How reliable a pacer would I actually be at crunch time?

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Does my bum look big in this? Photo by Lis Yu

Warm-up completed, none of us had spotted Carl. Dave Johnson, a fellow runner from Birmingham who we see more often in York than Birmingham, also eluded us. Having run out of old tops to throw away, I opted to break out an unused poncho from the Cardiff World Championship Half Marathon to keep me dry and warm whilst waiting for the race to start. The thing was huge – don’t believe the lies that one size fits all! With time pressing on and not wanting a repeat of last year’s fiasco of trying to go against the horde of runners exiting the Ebor Stand, we made our way to the start area.

We soon spotted Dave Johnson and Carl, who introduced me to Madeleine. We made our way forward to seed ourselves into the correct place, though noted there appeared to be many more people ahead of us than in previous races, even factoring in that we started a few rows further back.

The race

Mile 1 to 4

Stood further away from the start line than normal, it took Madeleine and me some 20 seconds to cross the row of timing mats. Congestion was clearly present, but not of major hindrance; I did have to concentrate on where my feet landed and did come into contact with one guy that seemed insistent on running right next to me at an identical pace. With the opening mile being largely downhill, too, the temptation was always there to go haring off in the hope of gaining a few extra seconds. I reminded Madeleine to stay calm and relaxed, letting those around us get their adrenaline surges out of their systems.

Only having been introduced to Madeleine minutes earlier, I broke the ice and got to learn a little more about her. She’s a big fan of marathons (and a fellow Marathon Talk listener) and I was in awe of her 3:10 marathon PB – a time that would beat most men at the London Marathon, let alone the fairer sex.

My pacing strategy was to start off conservatively, allowing us to ease ourselves into race pace over the first mile or two. Mile 1 came in exactly where I wanted it for 6:52, and with the descent, factored in, it would have felt even easier and more like a 7:00.

I could still see both Daves ahead of us by some 50m. I knew it couldn’t be long before we at least realigned with Dave Burton, pacing for sub-90, too. Madeleine pointed out a training partner-come-rival of hers, also ahead of us in the distance and in a similar situation to us.

Mile 2 clocked in at 6:49 for an imperceptible uplift in pace, avoiding any sudden surges as much as possible.

The crowd began to thin a little in places to provide a bit more breathing space. I couldn’t help but notice how laboured some runners around us sounded already, and we were only on the approach to the third mile! Madeleine appeared to be running well within her capabilities, and her ability to converse with fully formed sentences confirmed as much. Looking inside myself, I also felt pretty damn good in spite of the dramatic drop in training mileage and intensity due to illness and injury of late.

Mile 3 produced a 6:48 and continued to feel really comfortable for the two of us.

Conditions would have been perfect, if not for the surface water left behind by the rain. Whilst cool, this iteration of the race was by far the warmest of the three I’ve run. The arm warmers I wore were completely unnecessary, so I rolled them down to my wrists. One could only imagine how warm Carl was in his compression shirt with vest on top!

Madeleine and I finally reached the two Daves somewhere within mile 4, but only Dave Burton stuck with us. Dave Johnson had participated in a Parkrun and also some cross-country action only 24 hours earlier, so it was no wonder he didn’t have the capacity to maintain the pace. This particular split came in at 6:46, so by all means still pretty static, though we continued to reel in and overtake runners as they flagged.

Mile 5 to 9

I tucked into my first of two gels, whereas Madeleine stuck to just the water offered out on the course.

Whilst our pace remained pretty resolute, the feedback from our Garmins was skewed by the trees lining the southernmost section of the course. We found GPS reception was dampened somewhat, presenting a pace that was typically nearer 7:00 than 6:50, with mile 5 eventually settling on 6:47.

That rival of Madeleine’s? Well, we passed her at some point early on during mile 6, coming in again at 6:47 – I did say my strategy was to run steady! I had a weird sense of déjà vu and recalled she was one of the two women I found myself running with and overtaking at exactly the same point on the course, two years prior.

Passing the halfway point, the clock read 44 minutes or so. Madeleine was still running superbly with no labour at all to her breathing. Dave, who was regularly just behind us by a couple of steps, chimed in that we were both making a sub-90 attempt look far too easy with the level of conversation we had going on… We did, sadly, lose Dave at some point during mile 7; a combination of a perceived pace slip that wasn’t actually there and the tree coverage spurred us on to an uncharacteristic 6:43.

My companion came clean and admitted that she was beginning to feel the effort ratchet upwards slightly, recalling that the stretch between mile 8 and 10 in a half marathon were usually her downfall. I did my best to dispel any doubts that we wouldn’t make it back in under 90 minutes, and we agreed to keep chatter to a minimum. I, too, was feeling the uptick in required effort but donned my best poker face. The lack of training and intensity also began catching up to me, but at least my Achiles was holding up without a peep from it at all.

Miles 8 and 9 produced 6:47 and 6:44 splits, respectively. Noticing the mile markers were beginning to grow increasingly out of sync, I directed Madeleine to hug each and every turn or corner in an attempt to recover a few precious metres and seconds from the route.

Miles 10 to 13.1

The crowd grew sparser as we progressed back towards Bishopthorpe. We maintained our pace whereas many of those around us dropped off theirs, providing us with a powerful mental boost. Whilst Madeleine’s breathing grew a little more laboured than before, she continued to show little struggle in keeping up with me.

Being there to help, and not hinder, I had already been warned not to say, “Just a Parkrun left to go” at mile 10, so I kept schtum whilst a Cheshire Cat-sized grin grew across my face. Didn’t stop other people around us from using the phrase, though! Miles 10 and 11 remained steady for 6:45 and 6:46.

Approaching the second of just three total climbs, Madeleine shared that she would slow slightly on the ascent but would reclaim it on the other side with a slight surge. Amusingly, I was struggling to keep up on the descent as somebody that’s dreadful at running downhill…

Spectators began to litter the sides of the course as we returned to civilisation, providing welcome support and the villages offering a change of scenery.

As we made the left turn back on to Bishopthorpe Road, I knew the ghastly-in-context climb over the A64 would soon be upon us. I told Madeleine I needed her to “dig deep” because there wasn’t much of a drop afterwards to compensate for the damage from the ascent. Helpfully, a chap that we had tracked for much of the latter miles of the race was still just a few metres ahead of us as we climbed. I told Madeleine to focus on him and to not allow the gap to grow any larger. She tackled the climb wonderfully as I spouted all sorts of encouraging nonsense. The mile 12 marker came into view, and even with two climbs to conquer, became our fastest split so far of the morning for 6:41!

With only a mile remaining, we continued to pick off runners that had faded on our return to the race course.

I switched to elapsed time on my Garmin and continued to spur Madeleine on. She was increasingly checking her own Garmin, which I told her to ignore and to keep pressing for the finish. The numbers confirmed we had a healthy margin in place from the consistent 6:45 to 6:47 paced miles, and it even looked like a sub-89 finish was within reach. I wasn’t sure if Madeleine knew how close we were to such a target, so I sneakily began recalling the time but withheld the preceding minute – 1:45 became just 45 seconds, and so on. Nothing like the panic of failing to eke out a little bit more effort! The pace continued to rise and we rounded mile 13 off with a 6:39.

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And she said she didn’t have a sprint… Photo by Lis Yu

Once on the finishing straight, I gave the orders to kick and boy did she kick. My Garmin averaged 5:48 for the remaining distance, with a peak of 5:22!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

I came in just a step behind Madeleine, who threw her arms up in victory once over the line. Her grin quickly turned to a look of revulsion as she proceeded to throw up in the finish funnel; for a few seconds, I thought I’d pushed her too far… She, thankfully, bounced back quickly enough and was thrilled by the race outcome. Forget about dipping under 90 minutes; we made it back in under 89 minutes with change for 88:43 and 88:44 respectively, and some 2 plus minutes hacked off from Madeleine’s former PB.

Dave Burton followed shortly after, finishing in 89:38. We didn’t catch Dave Johnson, but later found out he finished in 1:35:10, causing a few winces. Causing a few more winces was the news of Carl’s battered feet en route to his stunning 76:31.

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Madeleine, Andy and Dave – all under 90 minutes. Photo by Lis Yu

Congratulations and farewells sorted, Dave, Lis and I made a beeline back to our B&B and for some grub. Capping off an enjoyable weekend and race, we were then greeted by a car breakdown of all things… Whatever happened to karma, eh?

I’m now taking a break from running for a few weeks to give my Achilles a chance to recover. Weekly blog updates will obviously be a bit light on content, but will continue – I’ll still be found volunteering at Parkrun – either Cannon Hill or Cwmbran.

Telford 10k 2016 review

After five years of running, and countless races and Parkruns, I finally DNFd at the Telford 10k…

Pre-race

I think I’m cursed when it comes to 10k races.

In 2015, I ran a blinding performance only to have the race distance come up short – with correct distance, I still would have PBd by a healthy margin. Earlier this year, I was all set to run another big PB, only to end up participating in the warmest race I’ve endured to date.

I purposely entered the Telford 10k for its credentials. A fast, competitive field in the middle of December – so long as I was in decent shape, a PB was almost guaranteed.

But alas, there are no guarantees in running. Only a week ago, I was felled by an untimely cold that I could do nothing to avoid. Prior to getting ill, I felt immaculate with some good training behind me and heart rate data suggesting I was in good shape. I spent much of the week doing what I could to speed recovery along, which ultimately meant no running whilst I sneezed out what little remaining chance of a PB there was.

Come race day, symptoms more or less subsided and off Lis and I went to Telford.

Getting ready for my warm-up, my legs felt completely alien and running bore no familiarity at all. A lady from Liverpool asked if she could tag along whilst I covered the downhill start of the route. I was in impressive company; she had a 35:45 10k PB to her name and felt she would be nearer 35:00 that morning. It also transpired that when she achieved that PB, she came third in her age category! When asked what I was hoping for, I meekly replied with, “Anything better than 38:45”. “That’s still pretty good,” she said with a smile. In those few seconds, my entire outlook on the race was upended and recalibrated; I knew the field would be fast and that I would be likely to finish in the last 10% for a complete reversal to normal.

Post-warm-up, something was very clearly wrong. We didn’t go fast at all despite her incredible ability, yet I couldn’t get over how hot and sweaty I was – all rather embarrassing whilst chatting with Suz West from Bournville Harriers. I concluded I was still carrying the cold virus in some capacity, but opting not to run never became part of the equation.

Bumping into Chris Callow and Dennis Hussey from Kings Heath Running Club, I found solace amongst runners closer to my own ability as we headed over to the start line. There was none of the usual pointed elbows and fighting for position; we knew our place was firmly towards the rear of the field and watched the big dogs vie for their speedy getaways from the line.

The race

The downhill start was as manic as I anticipated. Telford’s course rather uniquely starts at the top of a hill but runners never once set foot back up it, and instead get funnelled into the valley-like Silkin Way for two laps.

Pace-wise, what I produced was not out of line with terrain and expectations. If 100% fit, a 38:00ish finish would have been likely and required an average pace of 3:48 per km. The entirety of the downhill section produced a 3:42 split to be pretty much right on target.

That sharpness I thought I would be lacking was most definitely missing from my arsenal. I felt flat and sluggish, and rather casually sat in and amongst the pack I found myself with. There was no urgency as I felt my PB opportunity escape from me yet again. I managed to hold steady for the next 2km, producing splits of 3:52 and 3:54 respectively. Oddly, the course showed mainly mile markers with only the odd km marker for points of significance en route.

Nearing the first of two switchbacks, the lead bike appeared on the other side. What followed was a tightly packed herd of runners – truly a sight to behold. 2 miles in and nobody had made a move to break away from formation.

Doing the 180 degree turn was what broke me and sent me spiralling downwards. Whilst I anticipated being quite far down the pecking order whilst fit, seeing the remainder of the field behind me really hit home that I would likely be one of the last to finish whilst unwell.

I began to see a few people drop out from the race. It was only 24 hours earlier that Huw Jones at Cannon Hill Parkrun told me of a club mate of his dropping out at halfway, due to being off pace and losing grip on a PB. I parked the idea for at least the remainder of that split to see if I could hang on for just a little longer… 4:09 was the best I could muster for the 4th km and I knew the game was up.

Approaching halfway, more and more people began to overtake me, including Chris Callow. I told him I planned to drop out at 5k and wished him well for the remainder of his race (he got his sub-40 and then some for 39:28). Soon after, Dennis Hussey came past and asked if I was OK to receive the same response from me.

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First ever DNF… Photo by Lis Yu

Stood by the finish line, a little further up from 5k, was Lis. I think the photo she took of me sums up pretty well how dreadful I was feeling.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the first half of the race – I at least made it through 5k in 19:55!

Walking off the course and DNFing wasn’t easy. My fear is having done it once that it suddenly becomes acceptable to do again in the future, feeling ill or not. There wasn’t any hanging around and back in the car we got to head home.

So, what now?

It’ll probably be April before I get another realistic opportunity at a fast 10k race that I’ll have easy access to (Cardiff Bay Run). I also appreciate that I must become better acquainted once more with how a hard 10k race should feel, so I’m looking to more 10k races as part of my 2017 game plan. After all, more attempts at something surely means more chances of a positive result materialising, right?

 

Yorkshire Marathon 2016 review

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Dodgy medal aside, what a race this was!

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

An itch that needed scratching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maranoia and taper tantrums

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-race

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

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

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

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

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Cool, dry and cloud cover. Yes, please!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The race

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

Miles 1 to 3

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

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

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

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

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Almost missed York Minster in my daze

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

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

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

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

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

Miles 4 to 8

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

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

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

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

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

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Me, the strong-silent bloke, and Sarah

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

Miles 9 to 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 14 to 17

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

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

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

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

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

Miles 18 to 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards to mile 20 and the next Bournville Harrier.

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

Miles 21 to 22

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

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

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

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

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

Miles 23 to 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final mile and a bit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Set for a big PB!

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

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

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

Post-race

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

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

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

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

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Sean and me with Good For Age qualifying performances achieved

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

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

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

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

Thoughts and conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenilworth Half Marathon 2016 review

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Really not my day…

Christ on a bicycle! Those of you on Strava or Garmin Connect will already know I didn’t have the best of races out there yesterday, but let me colour in the blanks and recount my tale of woe.

Pre-race

A couple of days ago, I was chatting with Darryll Thomas about the Pfitzinger and Douglas Advanced Marathoning schedule almost getting the better of me a few times, having me feel like I was dancing on a knife edge.

Last week’s bumper 13.1 miles at around marathon pace had taken more out of me than I accounted for to leave me feeling rather flat for most of this week, resulting in just one run of 5 miles with some strides thrown in. I was desperate to freshen up in just a few days, though should have known that the wearing down from months of intense training can’t simply be cleared with a few days’ rest.

Further complicating things was a probable underlying bug I was still carrying from several weeks ago; my VO2max did shoot back up to 59 sometime last week, though quickly fell back down to 57 to corroborate the less than stellar sensations my body was going through.

Having achieved a few 5k and 10k PBs, I stubbornly wanted to also pick up a half marathon PB en route to the Yorkshire Marathon, so I ploughed on with the plan.

Moving on to race morning…

Lis and I picked Dave Burton up and made our way to Kenilworth town centre. It was all very civilised, finding a parking space in a free to use council car park only a stone’s throw from the race HQ. Picking our bibs up, the arrangement felt akin to the Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run I ran last year, with the sports hall serving as the hub. Looking around, there was no shortage of club runners and I’d even go as far as saying they outnumbered unattached folk like me. Before too long, Darryll and also Carl Stainton joined Dave and me.

A 1 mile warm-up with a few strides at the end allowed us to scout out the final few hundred metres of the route before assembling in the start funnel, whilst marshals kettled us with barriers to form some sort of order.

The race

With knowledge that the course undulates upwards until around 8 miles, I really should have eased myself into the race, but no, I went out at PB pace. I quickly found a group to join and began settling into the unfolding race.

The forecasted wind was most definitely present and only added to the effort. So early into the race, the unfamiliarity of half marathon pace wasn’t daunting, and I fully anticipated it, having done sod all work at that pace all through the marathon campaign. The first mile clocked in pretty much about where I wanted it to be at for 6:29.

As positions chopped and changed, I followed a few of the faster runners that broke away. Effort-wise, there was very clearly a mis-match between how hard I was pushing and what was being produced by my legs. The unfamiliarity with half marathon pace did not help and I lacked the higher gears to shift into. The pace slowed a touch to 6:40 to factor in some more climbing.

Mile 3 was mostly downhill. Trying to make up for prior lost time, I latched on to a Spa Strider and went with him on the descent. In hindsight, this was probably not the most sensible move and I should have used the downhill as active recovery… A 6:18 popped out on the other side, so pretty shocking pacing for just the first 5k!

Miles 4 and 5 hammered the final nail into the coffin I’d laid out for myself. With a combined elevation of 80+ feet of climb, I simply couldn’t keep the effort going due to all the compounded issues with lingering fatigue, probable illness and unreliable pacing. The pace slipped to 6:52 and 7:01 respectively and I knew the game was up. Even a trusty caffeinated Isogel wasn’t enough to get me going again.

My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I think it was probably just before halfway when Darryll and Carl came past and tried convincing me to go with their steadier pacing. With a slight descent on offer, I was able to latch on temporarily to get mile 6 back to sub-7 minutes once more. I wasn’t able to stay with them and I had to witness them slowly drifting away into the distance, coupled with hordes of people overtaking me – something that’s not happened since 2011 when I got pacing horribly wrong in a few half marathons.

Dave correctly pointed out later that without a B or even C-goal in mind for the race, I had no motivation to keep fighting. With only 5 weeks to go until the Yorkshire Marathon, I re-focused my thoughts to how I was going to get through the remainder of the race without causing too much harm to myself, with recovery becoming the new priority.

Once I’d slowed down and better settled my heart rate, I was surprised by how comfortable (in the loosest possible term) I felt whilst still covering the course at what I would deem a medium-fast long run pace for me. I was hoping for Dave to pull up alongside me for some company, but alas he never did.

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Not looking too shabby, all things considered! Photo by Lis Yu

Nearing the finish, I saw Lis stood near the 13 mile marker and she could tell from how far behind Darryll and Carl I was that I’d had a shocker of a race. I’ve had worse race photos, mind!

There was little desire to sprint the remainder of the course, so I steadily ran through to the end for a 1:32:30.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

Catching up with everyone, Darryll had a belter of a race to be no more than 30 seconds off a PB. Carl fulfilled his goal of a marathon effort run ahead of his race in several weeks. And Dave got his long run in as a prelude to the Great Birmingham Run next month.

I shared my sob story and reiterated my plans for an immediate week of recovery. Thankfully, there’s nothing key scheduled in with only maintenance runs; carrying on, even at reduced distance or intensity, would only do more harm than good and I would rather make it to the marathon start line a little under-done than over-cooked. The following week is important, with my final long run planned, along with some faster pace sharpening in store.

Whilst more undulating than I thought it would be, the race in terms of cost and organisation was a winner. There were plenty of friendly marshals out on the course and I lost count of how many water stations there were out there. Mile markers also lined up perfectly with my Garmin to stave off OCD. Would I run it again? Possibly, though only with a view to using it as a warm-up to a future race with no PB ambitions on the Kenilworth route – I’m not sure my fragile mind could handle another catastrophe on the same course!

I took a side by side look at last week’s half marathon in training at around marathon pace and yesterday’s race. What’s apparent is my heart rate last week was some 10 to 20 beats lower to support my thinking that I was still carrying a lot of residual fatigue and/or illness, along with going out too hard with a lack of pace experience. I’d also had a really positive 3 mile warm-up prior to last week’s run, though I would place this lower in the list of contributing factors based on past race experience.

A half marathon PB will have to wait until January 2017 when I return to York for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon.

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

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Suffering at the 2016 Magor Marsh 10k – photo by Tosh Simpkin

Magor Marsh 10k race week was upon me, which meant a welcome mini-taper! This was also week 13 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

10 miles with 6 at marathon pace

As much as I enjoyed the previous week’s jaunt on a 400m track, it was nice to get back to marathon specifics with this particular run. Equally as appreciated were the cooler climes to add to the contrast.

These runs have really felt beneficial from a physiological standpoint, but also for mental confidence. This session, in slightly warmer conditions than a few weeks ago, popped out:

  1. 6:41
  2. 6:37
  3. 6:39
  4. 6:41
  5. 6:43
  6. 6:38

Comparing as like-for-like as possible, I was a few seconds faster for each mile, including the additional 6th, for the same effort if my heart rate readings are to be relied upon. Similarly, the previous week’s 4x 1600m in 34 degree heat showed a 5 to 10 second improvement per rep versus a previous 18 degree run of the same session.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles with strides from city centre

Like previous race weeks of late, I chopped the overall volume down and compensated by injecting some strides whilst run-commuting home from New Street Station. Running with a bag is always easier said than done, where the literal weight on my shoulders made achieving a smooth and fluid motion when striding somewhat tricky.

Humidity was amped up once more after several days without, and an impromptu rain shower only made things worse. I got what I wanted from the 5 miles and knocked running on the head until Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cwmbran Parkrun

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The finish area was brimming with Pokémon, or so I was told by the surrounding graffiti… Photo by Tanwen Cross

Given we were in Lis’ motherland for the Magor Marsh 10k, I opted to make myself useful and volunteered at the recently launched Cwmbran Parkrun only minutes away from her family’s farm. I really enjoyed myself at the inaugural event back in June and Lis’ folks wanted to take their new puppy for a walk to introduce him to some new surroundings.

Upon reading my email, the Cwmbran team couldn’t quite believe somebody all the way from Cannon Hill wanted to barcode scan, but were all the more welcoming for it. When I shared with them that Cannon Hill had recently hit in excess of 1,000 runners, they were all very curious about how Cannon Hill copes with the numbers that it does.

Lis, her parents, and I also got talking to a lady from the former Little Stoke event, who was dividing her Saturdays amongst the various events closest to her; all happened to be about a 30 minute drive and I was rather bemused that it was just as quick to go to an event in Wales as it was to visit an event on the other side of Bristol.

A really pleasant morning seeing what makes a small, new event tick!

Magor Marsh 10k review

For the full write-up of this annual 10k pilgrimage, click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

A week of two halves, with the marathon pace session filling me with confidence and then the 10k race knocking me back down to lick my wounds! Next (this) week sees a 14 mile mid-week long run – I can’t face running 14 miles after work, so I’ve taken the day off as leave to give myself a bit of a helping hand to get it done.