Magor 10k 2017 review

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Final 200m of the Magor 10k 2017 – photo by Lis Yu

My fourth outing at this flat and fast race.

Pre-race

Regrettably, this would be the first year where a PB was nowhere near happening. I’ve had several significant runs on the course, including my first ever sub-40 in 2014, so it was a real shame that I wasn’t in the right shape to capitalise on the opportunity. That’s not to say I’m unfit, just that training specificity now counts even more than ever before. What I was determined to do was to get a good threshold session out of the race, with anything in the region of 39:15 to 39:30 being satisfactory

I could not fathom why this race was moved from its traditional Sunday fixture to Saturday, but when I received the communication that the race HQ had also changed from Undy Athletic Football Club to a church, it all made sense. Some positive changes to come with the location move was the much wider start area for a cleaner dispersal and chip timing, though oddly only just for the finish; in essence, it was still a gun-timed race, but finish times were automatically logged.

Rocking up at the temporary race HQ in good time, there were already plenty of people about with some from as far flung as Chippenham; clearly the reputation of the flat course has spread. We also had Lis’ host family from her time in Spain in tow, showing them how we typically spend many weekends of the year.

Conditions above were overcast for some relief compared to a year ago, but my warm-up did confirm a 10mph headwind would hit during the first half of the course, so my game plan was to approach the opening 5k in just under 20 minutes, and then treat the remainder as a 5k race and take advantage of the hopeful tailwind.

Toeing up at the start, I did notice one chap wearing the new Nike Vaporfly 4% for the race; they already looked like they’d had some training wear on them, so I asked him for his thoughts. “Yeah, they’re really comfy,” was his not so helpful response, but at least we can all be safe in the knowledge we’d be comfortable wearing them in a race!

On the starter’s orders of “3-2-1-Go”, we were off.

The race

Keeping the race casual, I purposely positioned myself a few rows further back than normal to ensure I had plenty of people to deflect the gusts of wind blowing. Sure enough, I was tailing two guys that seemed reasonably reliable at pacing to allow me to make it to halfway feeling fresh. I’m normally conscious to never overstay my welcome when drafting, but I had no qualms on this occasion to simply sit in and let the mules do all the work. So reliable were they that 1km to 3km came out as the following: 4:01, 4:00, 3:57.

Gaps began to form as people tired around the group. I decided to stay put and remain calm in the knowledge that I could handle a faster second half with little issue once out of the wind. Whilst not warm enough to need water, I still took some on-board at the station to further slow the fourth km to 4:03.

Leaving Redwick village and the turning out of the wind, I took a sidestep out from behind my impromptu pacers and set my sails free to take advantage of the tailwind. Of course, tailwinds never return as much as headwinds take, so its effect was very subtle…

Working on my own, I gradually chipped away at the distance between me and the next group to begin reeling them in. 5km to 7km came out as follows: 3:54, 3:52, 3:53.

Nearing 8km and the switchback, I was finally within striking distance of the group I stalked and I planned to use the exit from the turnaround point to pounce. Sure enough, their momentum slowed and I was catapulted forward to gain two positions. Not being ungrateful, I gave some encouragement to one of the guys I’d used as a windbreak as we faced each other; the other chap was nowhere to be seen, so I figured he couldn’t have been far behind me. 8km expectedly slowed a touch to 3:56.

On the approach to 9km, I heard footsteps and heavy breathing coming up quickly behind. Pulling up alongside me was the other guy I’d used as a windbreak! He’d obviously had a similar strategy to me with negative splits, albeit more smoothly spread out throughout the second half of the race. 3:54 for the penultimate split.

Running for the finish, the two of us swallowed up a flagging club runner. Rounding the final corner, the two of them made a breakaway with me in chase. The newly located finish was leagues ahead of the 2016 equivalent that took runners down a narrow alleyway; now wide an unimpeding, I pushed out a minor kick on the new finishing straight to ensure to I made it back in under 39:30, not accounting for the additional 70m or so nearly everybody seemed to acquire en route (likely due to that switchback being too far out).

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

39:27 was my finish time to just make it back under target. That additional 70m cost me some 14 seconds, so I was thankful I wasn’t in PB shape, else I’d have been spitting feathers! runbritain has given the race just a 0.8 condition score, and looking at the results, many still PBd despite the additional distance.

I thanked the first of my two windbreaks and congratulated him on a nicely paced run, before moving my attention on to the other windbreak, who bagged a new 10k PB and his first sub-40 by with just a second to spare.

All in, not a bad morning’s work. Whether you go by my Garmin’s splits or the official splits, I achieved a negative split of around either 30 or 45 seconds between the first and second half, neither of which are to be sniffed at.

 

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Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 review

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Fifth outing at this no longer well-kept secret of a 10k – photo by Lis Yu

For previous years’ races, please click below:

Pre-race

Covering the recent Aldridge 10k at marathon pace felt like the right thing to do at the time, but the race felt somewhat hollow and unsatisfying. I’d worked hard over the years to get to a sub-40 10k performance, and last year looked like the first time where such a finish time was unlikely to trouble me expect on the most hilly of routes.

By comparison, the Wythall Hollywood 10k carries a much gentler profile, even with it’s two 1km long climbs over 2 laps. Last year was the first time I ran sub-40 on the route, also sharing the joint-honour as my 10k PB course (the other race is the Magor Marsh 10k). With this week technically classed as my cutback week, a sub-40 performance would dovetail nicely as a lactate threshold session to try and widen my arsenal of paces. Darryll Thomas, whom I first met at the race three years ago, also wanted a sub-40 performance, and so the goal was set!

There’s a lot going for this race and I can’t stress enough how much there is going for it. It seemed others have also finally caught on to it, because it looked like there was a new attendance record at almost a thousand based on bib numbers – perhaps this will persuade the organisers to give chip timing a shot next year, which really is the only thing that lets the race down, especially for those caught up in the middle or back of the pack.

Bib collected from race HQ, I recognised sizable representation from BRAT, Bournville Harriers and Kings Heath Running Club, with a couple of other clubs also in attendance.

Arriving slightly later than originally planned for, I made a beeline to get my warm-up in, which probably could have been at least another 0.5 miles longer in an ideal world. Nonetheless, I breathed a sigh of relief to have gotten all of my pre-race admin completed with a little time to spare to catch-up with a few local faces I recognised. However, there was still no sign of Darryll Thomas…

It was time to assemble on the start line and with just minutes to spare, Darryll finally appeared for our joint-venture to share the sub-40 effort. We noticed we’d somehow positioned ourselves behind several kids, so a wide berth off the line was factored in. “3-2-1” and the beginning of circa-40 minutes of lactate threshold hell had begun…

The race

We both settled into race pace early on and commented that we would reel plenty of people in who had taken off at what was more likely their 5k pace. Confusingly, this may have actually held true for those in the much smaller 5k race. I pointed out a couple of faces to Darryll who we likely wanted to keep an eye on as ability barometers that typically aligned closely to us; worryingly, Barry Fallon had built up quite a lead of some 200m in a matter of minutes, so he was off the radar, though a Bournville Harrier that’s always a couple of steps ahead of me at all distances continued to track closely. 1km came in at 3:58 to be precisely on target.

The course throws a lengthy climb in, lasting a little over a km and needing to be tackled twice. Darryll and I both commented that attendance was noticeably up on previous years, where we’d historically finished in the 41 to 42 minute range to find ourselves running in no-man’s land. On this occasion, there were plenty of people around us with positions often chopping and changing. Whereas we’d agreed for me to do the heavy lifting on climbs, Darryll kept pace with me much of the ascent, with the split slowing to 4:10 and staying firmly to plan.

Our plan had us taking advantage of the high-speed downhill section after the climb to recover some of the damage, and to also buffer a little time for the second lap. Darryll took the reins and paved much of the way on the descent, with me in tow. With a 3k split of 3:50, we were back on target and eased off slightly for some recovery.

The ever-present chap with his hosepipe was once again on the scene to cool us runners down. The sight of him and access to multiple water stops got me thinking that, despite the total 2km of climbing, the course is conducive to fast times. Athletes are able to better manage the heat of racing, with several people and me citing the course as home to their 10k PBs. I’ve run much flatter 10k races historically, but as single lap events with a single water station, it becomes much harder to continue red-lining when you’re overheating at just halfway.

One of the kids from the 5k race was able to stick with us, and regardless of the very wide and traffic-free route, decided he needed to run through the two of us. “Out of the way,” he said, precociously! In no rush of our own on this steady split, we parted and allowed him through, only for us to overtake him as we exited the Phoenix complex. 4km clocked in for 3:51 for more time in the bank.

I spotted Paul Harris spectating, rather than running this year, for a welcome morale boost. Shortly afterwards on the bridge, I had Lis hand me a bottle of water as she does every year – another one of those little things that allows this race to be faster than its profile would normally allow. Unlike most years, the bottle needed to thaw out a bit more because there wasn’t much water to be had from it! A few sips between Darryll and me didn’t allow much left to be thrown over our heads, so it was fortunate that we weren’t running in the amped up temperatures from a week prior. 5km came in at 3:58 for the split and 19:46 at halfway.

The Bournville Harrier I’d pointed out was narrowly drifting away, such was the level of his ability relative to ours. Barry, however, loomed ever closer with each step. 6k registered 4:03 for some definitely slow-down, likely due to the undulations from the country lane.

Turning the corner for the second approach of the climb, I took the lead whilst Darryll and a Leamington Spa Strider, who’d remained with us thus far, sat in behind me. I’d reeled Barry in and gave him some encouragement to latch on to our group, but it was to no avail. His ambitious first half had come back to bite him, though I was still confident he could break 40 minutes with a re-focused final 3km. The climb had definitely knocked some of the wind from our sails the second time around, producing a 7k split of 4:14 and 4 seconds down compared to lap 1.

We took advantage once more of the near-2km long descent, with Darryll moving into position and taking the lead, whilst I followed to gain some recovery. The climb had taken a little more out of me than anticipated, and even with running downhill, I couldn’t get my legs to turnover any quicker. The 8k split also slowed a tad to 3:54, though still within acceptable limits.

Passing my man with the hosepipe, I requested an absolute drenching, which instantly freshened me up for the remainder of the race. Entering the Phoenix complex for the final time, I continued to bring up the rear of our three man pack before moving back into the lead. The 9k split produced 3:51 to match perfectly with lap 1.

I switched up my Garmin to elapsed time and began giving real time updates. As I called out, “36 minutes” a little on from 9k, a whole host of runners all crept out nowhere to surprise me, Darryll and the Leamington Spa Strider! Renewed interest in a sub-40 finish? Hiding in nearby bushes and skipping out a lap like I used to at school cross-country? Who knows…

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Final 500m of the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 – photo by Lis Yu

Passing Paul and Lis once again, I was spurred on to begin wrapping up the race. I continued to give minute by minute time updates as I led the charge back to race HQ and the finish. My legs had recovered from earlier and I found myself able to open up my stride and push on. Returning to race HQ, I was cheered on by a few kids, shouting out my race number, and also Cannon Hill parkrunner, David Carruthers, stood on the final corner. There was no need for a mad sprint as I knew I was on the right side of 40 minutes!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

Coming back in with 39:42, that was possibly the most comfortable end to a sub-40 10k I’ve ever experienced. I caught my breath back within seconds as I got to see a flurry of runners crossing the line, including Darryll for 39:43.

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Mission accomplished – photo by Lis Yu

The two of us are pretty damn pleased with the performances, after very little respective work at lactate threshold pace outside of parkruns and maybe the odd session. As I keep reiterating to myself, this season is all about one almighty goal, so I’m about where I want to be concerning 10k pace. If I’m feeling a little sharper by the time of the Magor Marsh 10k in late July, I may see if something in the region of 39:15 is possible.

Congratulations go out to Alex Mold for another second place podium finish in the women’s race, and Steve Dunsby for another 3rd place podium finish in the men’s race.

A 5k warm-down rounded off a pretty satisfying day, with not nearly as much suffering at lactate threshold as originally envisaged!

 

2016 – Year in review

2016

Plenty of ups and downs during 2016!

Let’s use Clint Eastwood’s 1966 movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to filter through this year’s ponder over 2016.

The Good

2016’s targets and PBs

I purposely softened a few of 2016’s targets after some of 2015’s became too ambitious to chase. The good news is I achieved all of my goals, with some by quite a margin!

  • 5k: sub-18:35: SUCCESS!
  • 10k: sub-39:00: SUCCESS!
  • Half marathon: sub-85: SUCCESS!
  • Marathon: sub-3:15: SUCCESS!

And the below are the associated PBs:

Now let’s have a look at 2017’s targets:

  • 5k: sub-18:00
  • 10k: sub-38:00
  • Half marathon: sub-83:30
  • Marathon: sub-3:00

These days for me, any 5k PB is welcomed with open arms. Finding those 15 seconds to get from 18:14 to sub-18 will not be easy, though breaking it down to just needing to shave 3 seconds per km makes it much easier to stomach.

The 10k goal is around where I should have been at multiple points in 2016, but just didn’t come good. It taunts me and is more a case of luck rather than ability.

My half marathon goal remains in line with 2014’s through to 2016’s estimations of 90 to 120 seconds improvement per year; hopefully more likely the latter due to only one half marathon PB in 2016.

The big-Kahuna that is the sub-3 hour marathon goal doesn’t need much introduction or explanation now. By late spring, I should have a very firm idea of the sort of shape I’ll be in and what work will be necessary to get me there for the autumn.

Mileage uplift

2015 saw 1,612 miles covered.

2016 welcomed an increase to 1,737 miles. I basically ran an additional month’s worth of mileage in the same amount of time, no doubt helped by the marathon focus. The total would have likely broken 1,800 miles had I have not also moved house during April.

Memorable races

This one’s easy and couldn’t be anything other than the Yorkshire Marathon. There are no guarantees in running; you simply do the work required and hope for the best on the day, whilst not doing anything too foolhardy in the race. I placed my heart and soul into the preparation and was met with an incredibly rewarding outcome. If I suddenly had to give up running or chasing the marathon, I think I could be satisfied with that performance despite my next goal of going under 3 hours.

Notable mentions also go out to this year’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon and Walsall Arboretum Parkrun.

The Brass Monkey Half Marathon defied my own expectations of what I could have produced that day, and like all good breakout performances, still remains out of reach almost a year later. Perhaps the 2017 edition of the race will finally jump start my half marathon development once more?

Similarly, the 5k PB at Walsall Arboretum Parkrun came from nowhere. The morning was wet and miserable, the field was sparse, and I was fatigued from being elbow-deep in marathon training. I’ve not come close to that performance for months!

 

The Bad

Races I’d rather forget

Eugh. The Kenilworth Half Marathon really should have been cut and dry, but was marred by illness. But I at least finished the race! I didn’t dwell too much on the outcome, mainly because the race was just a stepping stone towards a greater goal.

The Cardiff World Championships Half Marathon was also a let-down due to the weather gods unleashing a monstrous storm at around 9 miles during my race. Up until that point, I was in contention for a minor half marathon PB, which would have at least made the race’s £60 entry fee more palatable!

 

The Ugly

The race I’d rather hadn’t taken place

This last spot can only go to the Telford 10k. A stinking cold and the resultant DNF that followed made for incredibly bitter pills to swallow, thusly continuing the trend of why my 10k PB is so far out of line with the rest of my performances.

Illness

I’ve said enough on this topic recently, but felt I had to include it for posterity. What I would give for a boosted immune system right now!

 

Make 2017 a good one

Whether you’re just starting out as a runner, or chasing after elusive goals, I hope 2017 comes good for you!

This week’s running – 23rd to 29th of March 2015

I know how you feel, cow

I know just how you feel, cow…

After last week’s disaster, this week was a major improvement apart from the weather.

10k fartlek

I had hoped the ever-increasing amounts of daylight would provide me with enough time to make it to Edgbaston Reservoir and back for some 800m reps, but alas it was not meant to be.

The trusty 10k fartlek made a return and crucially felt pretty damn good. Only one car tried to mow me down on this occasion!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Strava reported this was the second fastest instance of this weekly staple. I was originally rather reluctant to jump on-board the Strava bandwagon, but I’ve got to say all the statistics and data appeals to my inner nerd.

Currently, I find myself managing my profiles on Garmin Connect, Nike+, Strava and Jantastic…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 canal miles

Ignoring the warm-up mile for this run, the 7:20 miles are a rare pace for me to cover these days and probably went some way towards making this an exhilarating run. I felt positively alive out there and want to try and make an effort to include this pace in my weekly quota. The only downside with this outing was the sun had completely disappeared on me during the final two miles on the canal; thankfully the well-paved towpath offered some air of predictability to get me back home.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

2016 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships

I will be attending the World Half Marathon Championships to be held next year in Cardiff. No, I did not suddenly become an elite and qualify, but rather handed over the king’s ransom of £64 for the privilege. Why so expensive? It takes place on a Saturday during the Easter weekend, so road closure costs will have definitely bumped things up. And I’m sure the organisers are price gouging us for the novelty of the experience. Having said that, we’re still nowhere near what the US typically pays for races. I recall the Dash to the Finish Line 5k I ran in New York costing American citizens $50 compared to the $25 or so it cost me as an international runner!

I expect the course will likely change, given the 25,000 limit, and even accounting for the 10% of no-shows, that’s still in excess of 22,000 runners to accommodate on Cardiff streets. The regular half marathon route just about copes with the 14,000 or so who turn up each October.

I’m genuinely looking forward to this race, along with the pomp and ceremony that it’ll come with. I was asked to provide a finish time estimate and had to gulp a little as I typed in “1:24”. That time is currently 3.5 minutes away but with a year to go, I’m reasonably confident I can get there, even if a 1:24:59 finish does equate to an 18:21 5k and a 38:07 10k… *double gulp*

Cardiff Parkrun

We were in Wales at the weekend, so I paid a visit to Cardiff Parkrun and roped Vince Nazareth in to join me. I’ve mentioned before how Vince is my lucky charm – three races and three PBs each time we’ve run together, so the pressure to keep the streak going was on.

The weather forecast for the weekend was rotten, with strong winds and torrential rain predicted. We didn’t fancy our chances but were still keen to have a bash at getting as close to 19:00 as possible.

We set off at 3:45 for the first km with the odd random gust of wind getting in the way. A clear break in the pack appeared, with the front-runners charging off and leaving the rest of us behind. We found ourselves in a small pack of four or five runners, trading places amongst ourselves.

As anticipated, my lack of 5k focus was revealed going into the third km. Sensing I had slowed, Vince went past and I struggled to latch on to him to pull me through. I found myself drafting behind an older runner, who was also fading but I decided staying in his slipstream was for the best; if I went out on my own to try and catch Vince, I’d have probably been left in no-man’s land as per usual.

With 1km left, I decided to kick the pace up and left the old boy behind. Vince was battling against a 10 year old kid and they both proved to be good targets on the horizon for me to try and reel in. The gusts of wind returned for almost the entire final stretch of the course; I simply didn’t have the fight in me to push on any further to come back in with 19:18. No disappointment on my part – breaking the run down into its component parts and this was probably the best I could have achieved under such conditions. My PB streak with Vince was over! Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Vince finished with a 19:05 and said he began to feel especially positive in the final km, regretting he didn’t push on a lot earlier.

Vince and Andy meet Peppa Pig

Never to be left to our own devices ever again…

Post-run, we even bumped into a celebrity for some selfie-action!

10 miles – to Usk and back

Right on cue, the weather worsened further on Sunday morning when I was due to head out for a long run. Crazy high winds caused the rain to go almost sideways!

Early into the run, I came into contact with two guys on a 20 mile training run for the London Marathon, and ended up covering the first 5 miles with them.

On the return, I was running almost dead on into the head wind for an incredibly challenging time. My gear was completely saturated from the rain, and despite being made of technical fabric, everything was clinging and weighing me down.

The final uphill drag for home with a raging head wind was all I needed at the end, with my climb feeling more like a walk. Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

I was incredibly pleased to have gotten out there, especially when I didn’t have anything resting on the run. It would have been far easier to just sack things off for another day under such circumstances and conditions!

Farewell, Jantastic

Andy Yu's 2015 Jantastic score

A slight improvement on 2014’s score…

Jantastic has come to an end once again. I finished with only a 91.9 to my name, but still marginally better than 2014’s 91.5 due to improperly playing my joker cards.

I probably won’t participate next year, only because I couldn’t see any tangible benefit for myself given that I was running when I could anyway.

And without further ado, here’s this week’s piece from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Avoid crashing

And we don’t mean the “hitting the wall/running out of energy” kind.

Most people don’t associate footraces with crashes, the way they might with bike racing or stock-car racing or downhill skiing. But even runners can go down during a race, alone or in a pileup.

Usually this occurs during crowded starts, when adrenaline and flailing limbs can combine with unpleasant results; in a race’s latter stages (particularly the final stretch), as exhausted runners lose fine motor skills, and small cracks and bumps in the road seem to reach out and grab you; and whenever several runners stream around a sharp corner.

All it takes is one clipped heel and wham. You collide with another runner or with the road. Or both. You won’t cartwheel down the street and burst into flames, the way a NASCAR driver might. (Wouldn’t that do wonders for marathon spectating, though?) But it sure can result in some nasty road rash.

So: Keep your wits about you, and keep some distance between yourself and the runner in front of you.

This week’s running – 19th to 25th of January 2015

Work and recovery are a dangerous mix...

Work and recovery are a dangerous mix…

This week was a tad manic and sadly, running took a bit of a back seat.

Extended recovery

After the delights of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I ended up taking a prolonged period of recovery. Not through choice; rather due to work. It’s a particularly busy time of the year for me and due to a number of late finishes and early starts, I simply couldn’t find many opportunities to run. Any runs completed would have been easy anyway.

The first run of the week arrived in the form of a not-so-challenging 10k out and back via Hagley Road (click here for the Garmin data).

This particular week actually got me musing over a few things. An online buddy of mine drew attention to my typical 25 mile week and compared it to the monstrous 47 mile week immediately after Christmas. That simply would not be sustainable and was rather a product of the perfect storm: have masses of time off, so will run! I think my sweet spot for mileage lies somewhere around 35 miles a week, so long as I can get chance to run home from work and complete all runs as planned.

The next item I mulled over was that of Jantastic. I’m struggling to get into it this year and the cynics amongst you might say that’s because I’ve lost the opportunity to gain 100%. And the cynics amongst you may be right… I will continue to participate, but only because I hate to leave things unfinished.

Finally, I’m secretly quite pleased (or not so secretly now) that I don’t have a marathon to train for this spring. Besides the obvious challenge of available time to do a marathon justice, it’s actually been incredibly refreshing to be able to see various PBs come tumbling down since December, rather than continually have to hold myself back for it all to come good on one particular morning of one particular day. I commented on 2014 being miserly in terms of PBs attained – could 2015 be able to reverse that trend?

Race calendar

2014 was a bumper year of races and 2015 looks to up the ante. I love regular racing and strongly feel it keeps me sharp. Here’s what my potential calendar looks like:

Sadly, there are a number of clashes as there are every year. I would like to run a half marathon in May, but sadly the two I have my eye on both take place on the 17th. To add insult to injury, the flat as a pancake Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k will be staged on the same day… I think the Tewkesbury Half Marathon will most likely get the pick.

Four weeks later in June, more clashes occur. I thoroughly enjoyed the Aldridge 10k in 2013, but it always clashes with the novel 2 Castles 10k. This year, there’s the addition of the Swansea Half Marathon to complicate things. If I can secure another place in the 2 Castles 10k, I would like to make this one happen, otherwise I think I will opt for the Aldridge 10k for simplicity of logistics.

And then it’s a clear run with no clashes in July, September and October.

Newport Parkrun

Not wanting to blow myself to pieces again so soon after the Brass Monkey Half, I decided to skip Cardiff Parkrun for its closer neighbour at Newport.

Things were cut a bit fine and required I jump out of the car to be able to get some semblance of a warm-up in before the 9am start. The layout of the start area indicated the winter route was back in action and unlike some events, is only wheeled out when absolutely necessary rather than all season.

I wanted to sneak under 20 minutes, feeling this was a reasonable target based on the 19:38 course PB I set a month ago. The first 2km were more or less on target pace, but things fell apart from 3km onwards; the mud started to sap the energy from my legs and I largely ran alone. Lapped runners also became a problem, with one guy cutting me up pretty badly in the final lap. Even with a final km kick, it wasn’t enough to reverse the damage inflicted and I finished with 20:12 on the Garmin. This was a 10th place finish, which I felt was a rather high finish position out of almost 400 runners; it turned out many were tapering for the Lliswerry 8 the following day, so mystery solved!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles – to Usk and back

Based on how fresh I wasn’t feeling at Newport Parkrun, I scaled the pace of the Sunday long run back to around 8:45 per mile. No issues at all, bar a pesky headwind that hit on the return. I decided to include a mile at the end, serving as a warm-down after the intensity of the long drag up the hill on entering Tredunnock.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the latest entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book (it follows on from last week’s):

But if you do drop out, make peace with your decision

Don’t dwell on a DNF, a “Did Not Finish.” Chalk it up to expertise, and vow to train and race smarter next time. What’s done is done, and you’ve lived to race another day. So be it.

How does the runbritain rankings handicap rating work?

Run Britain rankings

Please note that the following entry is entirely my own view on how the runbritain ranking handicap system works. This write-up is by no means gospel – I have simply pieced the thoughts below over a number of years whilst observing my own progress on the system.

What is the runbritain rankings handicap?

If you’re a runner and geek like me, you’ll no doubt be keen on number crunching the data from your runs and races. “How was my heart rate?” “What was the elevation?” “Why did that mile split differ so much?” These are all questions I have regularly asked myself after races, trying to make sense of results.

Taking the number crunching one stage further is runbritain rankings – a website that utilises the data from all UKA eligible races (international races can also appear if the criteria fits). Parkruns are also included in the data as a handy, more regular and consistent source of measurement.

runbritain rankings takes things a stage further by applying a weighted algorithm to your performances to give you a performance handicap. This system is similar to that used in golf, both as a measure of a course’s conditions, and also of an athlete’s ability on that course.

At the time of writing, my handicap score is 4.4, down from 27.9 when I first started participating in mass events. Racing often will help your handicap, otherwise it can go backwards after a long absence. It is also entirely possible to have a negative handicap score, as some elite and sub-elite runners do because they are so far ahead of the pack. To give the handicap some meaning in the wider world, my score of 5.2 ranks me as 11,382 in the national male leader board and 12,204 in the national mixed leader board. This only ranks me against others with a runbritain handicap; I am sure there must be many more athletes out there without a handicap that would run rings around me.

The handicap algorithm has been adjusted a number of times over the years and, unfortunately, remains a guarded secret with a lack of formal and thorough explanation regarding its subtle nuances; I currently understand it uses the following attributes to produce your handicap score:

  • The course conditions on the day
  • Your ability on the day
  • The ability of the whole pack on the day

All three of the above are linked and each has an effect on the others to create your overall handicap score.

Course conditions on the day

I used to call this section, “Course difficulty on the day”, but now feel “Course conditions on the day” would be a more accurate portrayal of the factor.

Course conditions are known as SSS, or Standard Scratch Score borrowed from golf handicaps. It’s a measure of how favourable, or unfavourable, the conditions on a course were for runners. A typical/average value would be 1.0, indicating conditions that were neither of particular help or hindrance to runners; 1.0 is also normally assigned if there were too few with runbritain handicaps to generate an accurate measurement. The highest course difficulty score I’ve ever seen is 6.0 from Pomphrey Hill Parkrun on 07/11/15. High course difficulty scores usually mean inclement weather, or a course that’s dramatically longer than advertised to produce very few strong performances. There appears to be no lower limit, and I have recently seen an SSS as low as -1.8; such a low score can only indicate the course itself was short because the system will have seen far too many with runbritain handicaps achieving high ranking performances. If you did participate in a race that was short, you can contact runbritain to have the event marked as such (and have the erroneous result scrubbed from your records) by providing them with an official communication from the organisers stating the fact.

To clarify, the course condition measurement is a number that’s automatically generated by the handicap system; there is no individual that decides it. The measurement is taken directly from those that ran with a runbritain handicap and a course condition score is produced. If more people than expected produce strong performances, then a lower number is given, and if fewer people produce strong performances, then a higher number is given. Because the measurement is automatically generated, it’s therefore not possible to compare one race or course with a completely different one. An average rating of 1.0 on either course will produce totally different performances relative to that course. So long as the course does not change, it is useful as a guide to monitor course conditions year on year for a race.

The course condition measurement can be fooled. If there is a big local race the next day, or there was a big race the previous weekend, a Parkrun may appear to have a higher than normal measurement because many will be taking it easy. Flipped around, if a Parkrun lays on a pacer day, more people than usual may produce strong performances to drive the course condition measurement down despite what the actual conditions may have been.

Your ability on the day

This is where it starts to get interesting and I will use Parkrun again as an example to illustrate the point. If you run your home course often enough, you should have a good idea of what your ability is, and the finishing time you are likely to produce on any given day.

Your performance is called VSSS, or Versus Standard Scratch Score. This is your measurement of how you fared on the course, with a positive number indicating you did worse than your expected course standard on that day, and a negative number meaning you did better than your expected course standard. A competitive athlete should usually try and aim for at least a 0.0 performance or lower, going into negative figures.

runbritain rankings will use your 5 most recent best performances (not necessarily times – this is important to remember) to produce your handicap score. Because the system uses your most recent 5 best performances, it knows when you’re taking it easy on a run compared to a performance from 12 months ago when you may have produced the same time, but went all out. I have two performances that stick out like a sore thumb with unusually high VSSS scores (6.5 and 7.9); one I treated as a gentle warm-up run the day before a major half marathon and the other had me serve as a pacer for other runners.

The ability of the whole field on the day

This is the final piece of the trio; the performances of others will also affect your VSSS handicap scoring at an event and also the SSS course condition score.

Let’s take two scenarios to produce two results at both extremes.

Imagine the day is perfect for running at your local Parkrun or race. You are in the best shape of your life and are ready to run an almighty PB. Unfortunately, a visiting running club are also present, using the course for some sort of internal club competition where their runners are also in great PB shape. Most other regular runners that day also happen to be in PB shape, so whatever result you produce that day will have a weaker (more positive) VSSS score and the event will be rated with a lower (easier) SSS course condition score.

Now, imagine the course is in its worst possible shape with deep snow. All the participants are also wiped out after intense training and nobody is capable of a PB except you and a few others. The event would score a 5.0 for course condition and most other runners receive poor VSSS scores in return. You, however, managed to PB and have been given a strong (more negative) VSSS score based on your performance relative to everybody else.

This element of the algorithm is the most frustrating for people and I have lost count of the number of times I have run a strong PB, only for the system to decide otherwise.

Cunning runners that are looking to maximise the handicap from their results could turn up to a Parkrun the day before a major race, when everybody else is likely to be tapering and taking it easy. This appears to only work if there are enough participants that are also enrolled via runbritain rankings – without enough data, the system tends to just rank a race with 1.0 for average course conditions. This can be a problem, especially if you produce a good result on a course that otherwise had difficult conditions, but was ranked down to 1.0 due to there being too few handicaps for the system to measure and compare against.

How are these three runbritain ranking elements linked?

We don’t have much more left, I promise!

As you can see from the above, all three elements have a direct and indirect impact on the SSS course condition score and your own VSSS performance score for any given event, whether you like it or not. Up to a certain point in the system, you are entirely in control of your own handicap result, and this is why so many runners are annoyed with the algorithm when it harshly judges a good performance. It’s that small bit at the end which is the system deeming a result worthy or not; this is why it’s important to think of the system as ranking a performance, and not necessarily just a finish time.

Runners that have taken up running only recently will almost certainly see their handicap improve at an alarming rate, irrespective of the course conditions or the actions of others. Seasoned runners will more often be at the mercy of how others fare at an event once their handicap score has matured and their own ability begins to level off.

How reliable is this data?

I’ve already highlighted a few cases above of how the system can be misled. Here are a few more examples:

The first major local race after winter will typically produce good results, due to a prolonged period of training throughout the colder months without many races to benchmark a runner’s new found ability. The performance jump from yours and everybody else’s last A-race in the autumn will likely be quite big as a result, leading to an exaggerated SSS course condition score (easier/more favourable than expected). In turn, you’re given a reduced VSSS handicap score for your performance that will probably be worse than expected despite a strong PB.

Parkruns that take place at unusual times of the year, such as the day before a major race, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Day, can produce favourable handicap scores in spite of you not running a particularly strong performance. Most runners will probably not be running to the best of their ability, which means any good performance you produce will likely receive a boost. This happened to me at the end of 2014 when aiming for a PB on Christmas Day and when only running a so-so performance on New Year’s Day.

The system itself is imperfect and as pointed out, has a tendency to either over or under-reward (the latter especially). On balance, this probably does average out for each individual over time but I can appreciate how annoying it must be to have the race of your life, only for the algorithm to give you next to nothing in return.

The handicap score is largely comparable from runner to runner; a runner with a lower handicap score is likely to be the stronger of the two. It is, however, also worth bearing in mind that a runner that is less talented, but races more often, can have the better handicap due to more attempts at good performances. It’s always worth verifying with actual PBs.

Certain events will be more likely to produce favourable handicap scores due to their frequency; you are far more likely to be competitive at Parkrun, 5k and 10k races which will be run with more regularity versus the half marathon or marathon, which you may only have a handful of attempts at per year and not necessarily run at your absolute best.

I hope this write-up has proven useful. I remind you once again that these are just the thoughts of a running enthusiast and are in no way authoritative.

UPDATE – runbritain has finally written a very brief official FAQ, which kind of covers how the handicap algorithm works amongst other things. The system is largely as I thought it would be when I originally wrote this piece. Click here to read it.