This week’s running – 16th to 22nd of June

Much running happened in Wales

There was much running in Wales this weekend

This week was all about sharpening up my speed and some last minute preparations for the Caerphilly 10k.

6x 400m reps

With the Caerphilly 10k looming only several days later, I wanted to do something to sharpen up my speed that also wouldn’t leave me feeling destroyed afterwards. I decided to try my hand at 400m reps…

Never having formally run 400m reps before, I was unsure of how to best approach the session. How many reps would be ideal? What should the target pace be? What should the recovery time be? You get the picture. Referring to the McMillan Running Pace Calculator, I punched in my latest 5k PB and out came my recommended speedwork paces for 400m reps (and other distances). For 400m reps, I should run them at a pace roughly 10 to 15 seconds/km faster than 800m reps, so 3:40 to 3:35/km; it was also good to see I’m running within the pace recommended pace tolerance for 800m reps. As for how many reps and how long each recovery should be, your guess would have been as good as mine. I decided to go with 6x reps and 90 second recoveries, but more on this later.

Lis and Elsa also came along for a run, but not with me I hasten to add. After my normal 1.5 mile warm-up, I launched into the first 400m rep at what the target pace as highlighted by my Garmin. Everything felt hunky-dory immediately after the rep; a little short of breath but generally very positive. I did notice that I really had to concentrate on my form to maintain the speed throughout the rep.

The second rep really was all over the place. I can only put this down to getting into my stride.

Reps three to five were pretty much bang on target, with rep six ludicrously faster than the rest.

Running 400m reps was an odd sensation; the speed was much closer to my sprint but I was definitely still running aerobically. Workout-wise, I didn’t feel nearly as exhausted at the end compared to 4x 800m reps. I definitely felt the number of reps was low and the recoveries were too long; in future, I’ll make this session 8x reps with only 60 seconds for recoveries. I still think 800m reps are my go-to speed endurance workout, but 400m reps should help to further refine my speed.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

10k around Cannon Hill Park

Considering England were due to face-off against Uruguay at 8pm, there was a remarkable number of people still out and about at Cannon Hill Park at 7pm. Maybe there are more people out there than I thought that don’t give a toss about football?

All I wanted was a simple 10k to get a little distance in my legs ahead of Sunday’s Caerphilly 10k. In terms of effort and heart rate, it was rather relaxed but I did feel like I was working ever so slightly harder than the previous week whilst hitting a similar pace.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

Parkrun number 99 (actually 100 – I forgot my barcode once) took place at Newport. I really wasn’t sure how to tackle it; slow and easy to help with a taper for the Caerphilly 10k or at 10k race pace to help familiarise the body? In the end, I decided to try and have a stab at going sub-20 to try and tick off all the events where I’ve yet to hit the milestone.

Jogging from the car park, I bumped into Mike who I’ve paced on a few occasions before. He too would be running at Caerphilly the next morning and had even read about my race report from last year’s outing. We parted ways to continue our warm-ups and after 2k or so, I was ready to roll.

Standing on the startline, I knew what I was planning to do was foolish. I’d raced hard two weekends on the trot (2 Castles 10k and Wolverhampton Parkrun); I was somewhat sleep deprived and I simply didn’t feel like myself. Newport’s course can be considered to be more of a trail run so fast times are much harder to come by, so I knew I would be working hard to cross the line in a time beginning with 19:XX. After a delayed start, we were off into the wilds of Tredegar Park.

The start of Newport Parkrun is really quite wide and is what I imagine Bushy Parkrun to be like. I quickly carved out a nice space for myself and by the first corner, I was definitely in the top 20 or so and running at target pace according to my Garmin. My trail shoes were working a treat on the rugged terrain and really gave me the confidence to push hard with each foot strike.

Entering the wooded portion of the sort of two-lap course, the Garmin suddenly went from reporting a bang on target pace of 3:59/km to 4:04/km. My Garmin 910XT really seems to struggle when it can’t see the sky above and whilst it looks to have correctly tracked my course on Garmin Connect, it didn’t self-correct the distance covered, so the virtual pacer was always going to be increasingly off.

Once it reported I was over 30 seconds off, I eased off the gas to give myself half a chance for the race the following day. It was only once I reached the 800m mark and noticed that my Garmin had just ticked over into 17 minute territory that I thought I had a chance of going sub-20 again, so I picked up the pace all the way to the end. The reward for my efforts? 20:22, so way off target but a course PB nonetheless.

I had a catch-up with Nigel afterwards, who would also be running in the Caerphilly 10k. In fact, had it have not been for the race last year, he would have never gotten in touch with me via this very blog!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Caerphilly 10k

For my full review of the 2014 Caerphilly 10k, please click here.

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

For Pete’s sake, stand still at red lights

Sharks die when they stop moving. Runners do not. Please keep this in mind next time you encounter a DON’T WALK sign or a busy intersection.

There’s no need to shuffle or bounce or jog in place or dance from foot to foot like you have to pee. Instead, just chill. Wait a few moments. Then resume running.

Don’t worry – you will not “cool down” catastrophically in the time it takes the light to change. Your quest for fitness will not suffer a setback. Your heart will not freak out, wondering what the heck is going on.

Consider using this downtime to shut your eyes and take a few deep breaths, or look up and appreciate the sky for a bit – things you can’t do while running.

Note: if a non-runner waiting with you to cross the street is dancing from foot to foot, he or she may indeed have to pee. Give this person some room.

Mark Remy's The Runner's Rule Book

This week’s running – 2nd to 8th of September

Running didn't go well this at the start of the week

The week didn’t start well at all…

Tuesday was my normally scheduled speedwork session at Cannon Hill Park. After an extended warm-up, I went into the first 800m rep and everything felt normal. Going into the second rep, I felt faster but I also felt flat at the same time like I didn’t have the mojo to continue. I called it quits after that and went for my warm-down. I can only put the odd sensation down to two things; one is that I was still recovering from my hard long run on Sunday. The second reason is that due to the strong breeze, I had cooled down too much after my warm-up stretches. Anyway, here’s the Garmin data for the interval session of shame.

After Tuesday’s shocker I decided to do a cut down session on Thursday, being mindful that I should be tapering slightly for the Cardiff 10k on Sunday. I headed out to Edgbaston Reservoir for 2 laps to make 5k. I felt good and covered the distance at a decent pace for a mid-week run. Here’s the data for the run.

The wheels started to come off on Friday morning when I woke up with a sore throat, realising that I had seriously overcooked it. I wasn’t bunged up but I wasn’t taking any chances so I popped into Boots on the way to work and picked up some Lockets and some Day Nurse capsules.

Andy and Nigel at Newport Parkrun

Andy and Nigel at Tredegar Park, Newport Parkrun

I had been looking forward to Saturday’s Parkrun for a while because I had arranged to meet Nigel from Lliswerry Runners at Newport Parkrun. Nigel and I have been exchanging a number of emails over the last few months ever since he got in touch with me via this very blog about the Caerphilly 10k route. Nigel is also the man responsible for a segment on Marathon Talk previously where Martin and Tom discussed the various types of PB out there.

Morgan joined me on Saturday morning and came along for Newport Parkrun despite having completed the crazy 7 mile Llanhennock Hill route the day before. We had an easy 1 mile warm-up before rejoining the masses at the start line. I wasn’t looking to go all out, treating it as a 10k race pace run for the Cardiff 10k. I do enjoy the Newport route, but I rarely run it because I like to use Cardiff Parkrun as measurement of my ability. I felt steady and fresh for the entire run, finishing in 20:33; I’m more than confident that I can nail sub-20 at Newport if I needed to. The time and pace I ran at confirmed to me that I would be OK at the Cardiff 10k the next day. Morgan finished in a very commendable 24:30ish time and still looked pretty fresh, so he could most likely do 24:00 minutes if he pushed it. My Garmin data for Newport Parkrun can be found here.

We caught up with Nigel after the run and went for a coffee at the Tredegar House café. Here, he introduced me to some of the Newport Parkrun team where Morgan and I were able to spectate how the results are processed and uploaded, along with the sorting of the finish tokens. It was all fascinating stuff and I now have even more respect for the efforts that the Parkrun organisers put in each week to give us all a free and timed 5k run. We had a great chat with Nigel, discussing injuries and various races we had participated in and had coming up. He’ll be at the Cardiff Half Marathon next month so hopefully I can arrange to meet up with him before or after in some way.

Sunday finally came and rather than bore you with an abridged version of my Cardiff 10k report, I’ll send you to the full fat edition instead. It was a great race and one that I know I’ll look back on fondly for years to come.

Cardiff 10k 2013 review

For the 2012, 2014 and 2015 races, please click the following:

Cardiff 10k PB of 40:39

Chip timing rounded me up to 40:39 – booooo!

This year’s Cardiff 10k was too good to simply chuck into another week of running post, so it gets its own deserved entry.

My first experience of the Cardiff 10k was last year in 2012 when Elsa and I ran it in glorious sunshine. At that point, I had never raced a 10k before and it actually shaped up to be a very enjoyable distance to compete in, with the pros of 5ks and half marathons and none of the cons.

Dom and I signed up for the event a while ago and whilst it’s a tad pricey compared to some other 10k races, you do get a decent technical t-shirt and one of the best medals out there. It’s also virtually pancake flat, so it’s perfect for PB junkies like me.

Unfortunately, there is some woe to this tale – I did actually race with a cold! In almost an identical manner to last year, I went and did a hard, long run only a week before the Cardiff 10k and became a touch overtrained, which opened me up to a sore throat on Friday and became a cold on Saturday.


Breakfast consisted of two slices of toast with honey along with a bottle of Nectar Fuel. I also had two beetroot juice shots at 8:15am to maximise the 2 hour delay and the research suggesting two shots being the optimal quantity.

Lis and I left Tredunnock in dreadful weather conditions with black clouds and rain lashing down. Thankfully, this cleared up en route to Cardiff and posed no problem at all for the race.

Andy and Dom at the Cardiff 10k

Dom and Andy, running to win at the Cardiff 10k

I had arranged to meet up with Dom at the runners’ village and also for some breakfast after the race. I hadn’t seen Dom since the Bath Half Marathon, though he did see me run past during the London Marathon at around mile 23. We quickly found him near the luggage storage tent before he and I went for a 1 mile warm-up run. It was great to see Dom again after so long, and the conversational pace of our breathing kept the warm-up easy. Not wanting to fall prey to the long portaloo queues like I did last year, we opted to pee against a nearby secluded tree…

Making our way to the startline, we entered in via the back of the pen and realised we’d possibly left it too late. We were greeted by a guy in a Sonic the hedgehog costume, so this gives you an idea of what sort of crowd we had to fight through. Several minutes later, we made it to an area towards the right of the start pen that was maybe 10m from the front runners. Due to my cold, I was incredibly thirsty and had neglected to grab one of the many free bottles of water being handed out. I figured I could make it to the halfway water stop at the more relaxed 10k pace before performance would suffer. The countdown to start began and the race actually kicked-off on time, taking us no more than 20 or so seconds to cross the start line from where we were.

Dom and I didn’t have a plan to stay together; if it happened organically then great. We got separated after only a few hundred metres, so I knuckled down into my race pace of 6:40 per mile. I almost slammed right into one lady that had decided to start right up front despite running at what was maybe 10 minutes per mile. As a contrast, there were also plenty of people shooting off far too quickly; I knew I’d see them again sooner rather than later.

I settled into my stride, feeling relaxed and comfortable. It was somewhat mad to think that only a few months ago, 6:40 per mile was my 5k pace and here I was putting myself on the line to run that pace for a 10k race!

Andy Yu at 1k in the Cardiff 10k

Andy Yu at 1k during the Cardiff 10k

The first potential bottle neck corner came and went without any issue. As always, I tried to run as clean a line as possible and I had a good feeling I was early enough in the pack that I wouldn’t have to weave in and out too much (in the end, I only ran 6.23 miles). Despite losing Dom early on in the start line scramble, I noticed he was just 5 – 10m ahead of me and running pretty much at the same pace as I was. I noticed Lis, Yvonne and Morgan to the right of the road and gave them a wave. I did also hear Lis’ uncle Rob on my left which confused me somewhat as to why he wasn’t with everybody else.

I love the Cardiff 10k course because of how flat and fast it is. There are two long stretches of road to really allow runners to build and maintain momentum and not too many twists and turns for slowdown. At 2k, I entered the road leading us out to the River Taff and was still maintaining a 1 – 2 second lead on my target pace with everything feeling smooth and natural. Castle Street presented a great opportunity to simply get your head down and start picking off runners in the distance. I passed plenty of folks that were already blowing hard after only 2 – 3k and knew they’d significantly slow down by the 5k mark having overcooked it so early on.

Andy Yu at th Cardiff 10k

Andy Yu running through Llandaff Fields, Cardiff 10k

Due to my cold, I had been steadily taking Day Nurse capsules since Friday. They are my cold medication of choice but they do increase your thirst as a side-effect of the mucus drying properties. Thankfully, I’d reached Cathedral Road and the water station was just a few metres away for some instant relief. Cardiff 10k hands out bottles of water which are a god-send, rather than trying to neck water out of a small cup whilst running at speed. Desperate for some water, I started drinking too quickly and started choking when it went down the wrong hole! Regaining my composure, I poured the rest of the water over my head and chucked the bottle away. Just before 6k, I had my Isogel for a sugar hit now that the pace had become tougher to maintain.

A guy in black that I had been having mini battles with for the last 2k had caught up to me again and rather than continue to duke it out, I suggested to him that we work together. He duly agreed and we introduced ourselves, expressing that we both wanted something around 41 minutes. We silently ran together and the pace started to speed up, only subtly, but still noticeable in these later stages of the race. Dom was still ahead by exactly the same distance as before and I noticed a guy in white hanging off his shoulder. I was tempted to shout out to him but opted not to disturb his metronomic pacing, achieved without the aid of GPS or even a simple stopwatch. By 7k, the subtle but sudden boost in pace proved too much for me and I told the guy in black to go on ahead; he zoomed off like a thief in the night. I probably could have hung on in there for a bit longer but I still had another 3k to run and it was too soon to begin a kick.

I was now back on Duke Street, leading us back towards Cardiff Castle. A group of cheerleaders looked a bit down as I ran past, so I shouted out “thanks cheerleaders”, which they responded wildly to. I always try and thank marshals and volunteers out on races or Parkruns because they’ve given up their time to help us runners in some way and they probably don’t get much in the way of appreciation.

After Cardiff Castle, I entered Bute Park for the closing stage of the race. This is also the section where there’s arguably the most potential to lose time on due to a number of corners in quick succession to bring the pace down. The guy in black that I ran with for a short while was now walking on the side of the path having overcooked it – I was so glad I decided not to stick with him in the end! The guy that was drafting behind Dom had also dropped off the pace and had been left behind.

With a mile left to go, I finally let Dom know that I was now just behind him. I told him that this was now the time to push it and “give the crowd something to cheer about” and we began our final march towards the finish. I was seriously blowing by this stage, trying to get as much oxygen into my lungs as possible. My Garmin showed we were about 25 seconds ahead of target pace so we were making great progress. I remembered the long straight path in Bute Park taking forever last year and it was no different this time. The turning back towards King Edward VII Avenue finally came and we upped the pace again.

The last 200m of the Cardiff 10k

Impressive photography from Lis to capture both Dom and I in the same frame

The finish was just ahead, maybe 500 – 600m away but it seemed like a mirage in the distance that never appeared to get any closer. I was kicking but my legs were saturated with lactic acid and my lungs couldn’t give me much more. I was now simply trying to reel in a few of the runners ahead of me for a boost. Lis and co were on the right of the road so I gave them a quick wave and I mustered up what little resources I had left for one final push. My arms were pumping and my legs pushed as hard as possible, allowing me to overtake two runners with Dom just ahead of me before we finally crossed the finish line.

Andy and Dom post-race at the Cardiff 10k

Fresh as daisies after the Cardiff 10k

I stopped my Garmin but didn’t care for the time, knowing it was a PB of some description and hurled myself over to the right of the finish area away from the runners coming through. I had to get down on all fours to remain steady and felt like throwing up; if this was Cannon Hill Parkrun, I would have collapsed into a fetal position for recovery. Once my breathing steadied out, I got up to find Dom to share the time with him. I’d managed to PB as anticipated but was surprised by how much of a margin it was for a 40:38 finish! My last 10k race PB was 42:28, admittedly on a hilly course and very warm day, so I was confident I could at least break sub-42 minutes. We guesstimated Dom’s finish was 40:33 or so, given the lead he had on me during the final straight but later found out his chip time reading was 40:38 and mine had also been rounded up to 40:39.

Cardiff 10k 2013 medal

The Cardiff 10k 2013 medal, bigger bling than 2012!

The medals that were given out are gorgeous; easily one of the best I’ve ever been given and possibly edges out last year’s.

It’s easy to tell I’ve run hard because the pressure in my ears goes crazy, causing me to go deaf temporarily. We joked that I must have gone supersonic!

After breakfast, we had a wander around St Davids 2 where Dom and I had a good chance to catch-up about all things running related, focusing particularly on the marathon distance before parting ways. We’ll both be back in Cardiff again in a few short weeks for the Cardiff Half Marathon where we get to do it all over again! It was great to see Dom again and it’s incredible how much he’s grown in strength as a runner this year alone. His internal pacing clock is incredible and really has to be seen to be believed – I could have synced my Garmin against him for accuracy! Take a look at his take on the Cardiff 10k here.

The Cardiff 10k is a fantastic race and has firmly cemented itself on my race calendar forever more. It’s a great course that’s conducive to PBs and also perfectly scheduled to serve as a tune-up race before most autumn half marathons. It has that big city race appeal with plenty of fellow runners to pace with but none of the disadvantages, so long as the organisers keep an eye on how many participants they allow in.

Now we get to the fun part for the data junkies (Dave!)… My Garmin data is most interesting where it shows I hit a peak heart rate of 204bpm during the closing stages, with my historical high recorded at 206bpm a few months ago. This translated into a training effect rating of 5.0/5.0, which Garmin highlights as “overreaching”; the highest I’ve previously achieved is 4.3! My pacing was decent with only a blip in mile 5. My cold looks to have not affected me at all with Dave correctly pointing out that my 40:39 10k PB is equivalent to a 19:34 5k, which is pretty much bang on for what I’m capable of right now so I pretty much hit my maximum 10k potential!

I’m going to take it easy this week and give myself 3 good days of just stretching and strength work to recover properly. I can’t remember the last time I took 3 days off from running!

This week’s running – 5th to 11th of August

Andy Yu's 19:36 Cannon Hill Parkrun PB

I think I do a fairly decent job of keeping this blog up to date, but there are times when I have little tidbits to write about and they just don’t feel significant enough on their own. To remedy this, I’m going to do weekly summaries each week to pool all these things together.

This week has been a bit topsy-turvy due to having to shift my schedule around somewhat. Monday became my 6 mile mid-week run due to meeting up with Lis’ folks after work on Tuesday evening. Conscious that I can stand to lose a little bit more body fat based on my Asics Running Lab report, I decided to fuel the 6 miles with just an energy drink. My lunch isn’t terribly substantial and I do often go into my evening runs feeling hungry, but I need to train my body to become more efficient again at utilising fat instead of carbs, even if it’s just for the upcoming half marathon season. The run went well, though I did have a moment of light-headedness around the halfway mark which then became a bit like a runners’ high; hopefully a one-off and simply the effects of my body getting used to performing on low carbs. Here’s the Garmin data.

Thursday thus became my weekly speedwork session. Mike from Parkrun and I have been completing interval workouts together for mutual support and to dull the intensity of the session. We had previously completed 5 x 1k at 5k race pace with 1 minute recoveries, and this was just about doable, but we both felt destroyed afterwards. We both agreed that we should finish the session feeling like we could do one more rep and that simply wasn’t going to happen based on 5 x 1k; we adjusted the session to become 5 x 800m at slightly faster than 5k race pace with 1:15 recoveries. This felt like a much higher quality session and the recovery was just about right, though we both want to try 1:30 recoveries next time. Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

Saturday’s Parkrun was unexpected, making it almost magical. The successful speedwork session gave me some confidence that I am now capable of regularly clocking a sub-20 minute finish at Cannon Hill Parkrun. I woke up feeling fresh mentally but my legs were tired from the additional strength work I’ve been doing (Russian deadlifts) based on my Asics Running Lab recommendations. My Garmin had been set to pace me at 6:23 per mile; roughly a 19:51 – 19:53 minute finish. I’d been reading up on ideal 5k tactics and many runners out there seem to unanimously agree on running a hard first mile and simply trying to hang on until the end, so I was hoping for a fast early start. I completed the first mile about 12 seconds ahead of schedule in anticipation of some slow-down during the second mile. I caught up to Neil and David, two regulars that I know could run sub-20 in their sleep; I asked if I could tag on to their group and they welcomed me in. Neil said they were running at 19:40 pace, so I bravely followed; the sensation of running with others doing the pacing took the edge off the intensity and you can actually see my heart rate drop slightly at this point. David dropped off the group after about 2.5 miles, leaving Neil and I to continue on. At 3 miles, Neil said he couldn’t hold on to the pace for much longer and told me to go on; with 400m left to go, I began my kick towards the end. I overtook a few folks and closed my eyes whilst gritting my teeth, crossing the line in 19:36! I collapsed in a heap after the finish funnel and thanked Neil for his metronomic pacing. I only wanted to finish with 19:5x or so and shaving 21 seconds off my Cannon Hill PB and 17 seconds off my all time 5k Parkrun PB was unimaginable; I’ll have to re-evaluate my 5k goals for the autumn! Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

We now get to my long Sunday run. Following the advice from Asics, I incorporated a few miles of threshold pace running into today’s 11 mile run along the South Birmingham canals. I do plenty of easy paced runs at 8 minutes per mile, along with plenty of faster stuff at 5k and 10k pace; I, however, rarely run at threshold pace which is around 7:20 – 7:30 minutes per mile for me and very close to my half marathon pace. The more familiar I can become with this pace, the more I can expect from my autumn half marathon performances where I’m aiming for sub-1:35 at the very least. Here’s the Garmin data for this long run.

Finally, I’ve entered the New York Road Runners’ Dash to the Finish Line 5k in early November. Staged the day before the New York Marathon, it takes runners through Mid Town and finishes in exactly the same spot as the marathon itself in Central Park. It takes place at 8:30am on Saturday 2nd of November, so it’ll serve as my Parkrun substitute whilst I’m away. To collect my number and timing chip, I need to attend the expo for the New York Marathon which should be fun, but possibly quite expensive! This will be my first international race and hopefully, the first of several more to come.

The Race for Wildlife 10k 2013 review

For the 2014 and 2015 races, please click the following:

Race for Wildlife 10k

Lucky number 071

The London Marathon clearly robbed me of speed in my legs, leaving my Parkrun 5k times a shadow of their former selves, with a particularly bad 21:45 finish at Cannon Hill recently, a time I’ve not had since November 2012.

In a bid to restore some kick to my performance, I’ve dedicated the remainder of the spring and majority of the summer to speed work to improve my 5k and 10k times. Like Elsa, I’ve entered myself into a handful of 10k races to give me something to train towards, with the first being the Race for Wildlife 10k that I ran yesterday in Undy, Wales.

I only found out about the race a few days before actually running it and seeing as Lis and I would be in the area anyway, it seemed rude not to!

Judging by the 300 person limit, I knew it would be a small, local race. It made me smile that I’d be participating in an event with fewer runners than even my local Parkrun; a rare novelty for any runner, I’m sure.

Lis, Philip and I made our way to Undy Athletic Club which is where registration would take place. Entry to the race was a reasonable £12, though this did not include chip timing which I have seen used for other small-scale 10k races of a similar price. There was a quaint local feel to the event, something I’d not experienced before due to participating in big city races. Everybody seemed to know everybody else with a few running clubs in attendance, namely the Chepstow Harriers (they helped organise the event) and San Domenico.

I’d had a panic earlier in the car when my GPS watch refused to link with any satellites. It had worked perfectly at Cardiff Parkrun the day before and I couldn’t understand why it was refusing to connect to anything. I reset the watch and my worst running nightmare came true when the watch wouldn’t switch back on. A quick Google online suggested it would reboot if I plugged it into a USB port. Thankfully, Lis’ Beetle has a powered USB port in the glove box and this managed to kick-start it back to life and it also locked on to a satellite after only a few seconds. Crisis averted!

I decided to set off on a warm-up run for 15 minutes down the road. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with my warm-up, adjusting little things here and there. My routine consisted of:

  • 10 minutes jog/9 minute mile pace
  • 4 minutes half marathon pace/7:30 minute mile pace
  • 1 minute sprint at faster than 5k pace/6:15 mile pace

This left me breathing fast and elevated my heart rate; exactly what I wanted to go into the race with.

At around 10:15, we all ventured over to one of the fields at the athletics club for our safety briefing, which was very brief. I could see there were fewer than 200 runners, so congestion and bunching would not be an issue. We all walked to the start line, which was just a spray painted line in the middle of a country lane. I positioned myself very close to the front runners in the third or fourth row, conscious that I wanted a fast start without any hold up.

We all waited for the starter’s orders and seconds later, we were off! The course took us straight into a descent, so I held myself back slightly to avoid going off too fast so early on into the race. I was running alongside a guy for a few minutes and quizzed him about his desired finishing time. He said he wasn’t really going for a time, but looked concerned when I said I was hoping for somewhere between 43:00 and 43:30. He immediately reconsidered his plans and slowed down to drop in behind me.

Due to how quiet the country roads were, it was pretty easy to hear somebody coming up behind you, especially if they were breathing hard. A gent in his 40s or so caught up to me and we were running side by side for a while. Like before, I asked him if he was going for a time and he said he was roughly going for the same 7 minute mile pace as I was. We began to run into the wind and it was almost as if we were running through treacle. We took it in turns for a while to block the wind for each other; it was almost like night and day when I had the wind blocked for me, with a sudden surge in speed available. I took over with leading duties and I must have lost the guy at around mile 2 or 3 and continued the race on my own.

About 200 – 300 metres in front of me was a guy wearing a Cardiff 10k 2012 t-shirt. I focused on him as my target for the next mile or so, conscious that I didn’t want to suddenly increase my speed at the expense of a surge towards the end. I eventually caught up to him whilst he was slowing and silently passed him and focused on my next target, a gent in a fluorescent yellow t-shirt.

At around the 5k mark, I could see a table with cups of water on top of it. I’d forgotten about the water stop entirely and the thought never crossed my mind that it would be water served in cups and not bottles. Of course they would be serving water in cups; it’s a small local village race! As I ran past, I slowed slightly to grab one of the cups, spilling some of the water as I picked it up. As I held it to my mouth, more of the water ended up on my face, over my vest and bib and up my nose than down my throat. At best I had maybe a sip or two; just enough to quench my thirst temporarily. I should have packed one of my orange Isogels; it would have given me some liquid refreshment and also perked me up for possibly an even stronger second half.

This was the point where I pushed the pace up slightly. I was aiming to run a negative split of 22 minutes for the first 5k and 21 minutes for the second 5k. By my calculations, this was roughly 7:05 minute mile pace and then 6:46 minute mile pace. I was already slightly off on my first 5k by about 10 – 20 seconds, so I had some hard work ahead to make up the time.

My next target became a lady from San Domenico Running Club. She had taken off quite quickly at the start and built up a large gap between us. Like before, I chipped away at catching up to her and after about mile 4, I finally pounced and over took with a slight surge. For the remaining 2 miles, I was constantly looking over my shoulder. I could hear her behind me, though there was easily 100m between us, so no fear of her catching up.

I had to run the remainder of the race on my own, with the next person too far ahead for me to catch them without blowing up prematurely. All I could do was keep them in my sight and I simply follow.

The 8k marker came and went and a marshal told me I had 1k left to go. I hate when marshals lie and say you’re closer than you actually are to the finish. I had GPS to tell me exactly where I was and I knew there was at least another 500m left to go before I would see the 9k marker.

Race for Wildlife 10k

Not entirely sure what my hands are doing…

I really pushed on in the final km to make up for lost time. I had nothing left to lose and the only thing standing in my way was a slight incline back towards the athletics club. I began to sprint on my toes and saw Lis and Philip outside the club grounds and put everything I had left in my legs for a final kick towards the finishing line. I crossed the finish and stopped my watch, registering a 43:18 finish, almost 3.5 minutes faster than my last official 10k race at Cardiff in September 2012.


The final kick towards the finish line

Making my way over to the finishing area, I had to collapse on my knees as I regained my breath. A chap and his family came over to congratulate me, after I’d helped direct them to the club grounds during my warm-up run. He’d completed it in 41 minutes or so; a fantastic effort and not far off the hallowed sub-40 minute 10k all of us amateurs dream of. Lis came over and congratulated me once I’d recomposed myself and we went over to grab some water. They were also handing out goodie bags and I honestly wasn’t expecting one because only pre-registered runners were guaranteed something. The bag deserves special mention because it actually contained stuff that was runner centric, such as a couple of High5 energy gels, a High5 energy drink mixture, a banana, a pen and some leaflets about the wildlife trust that the event was in aid of. Last but not least, a medal was also included which I wore proudly around my neck.

Race for Wildlife 10k

A shiny medal and a shiny 43:18 10k PB

I thanked a few of the organisers for what was a great, little race and told them I’d see them again next year.

Breaking the race down, I was pleased with my performance. I finished 18th out 118 for a top 15% position. I thought this was slightly high but looking at the top 20 finishers, almost all of them were club runners. My finish time would have netted me a top 8% finish or 750th out of 8661 at the recent Bristol 10k, or top 9% at the Cardiff 10k with 256 out of 2735, so much more representative of the running population out there. I could have finished in sub-43 minutes if it had been a calm and still day; thankfully, the rain held off and the cloud cover kept things cool for me.

The Nike+ run data can be found here.

Race for Wildlife 10k

The medal was unexpected and a nice touch

I have just entered the Aldridge 10k to be held in June. It’s a road race with chip timing, averaging around 600 runners in the 4 years it’s been organised by Aldridge Running Club. I hear it’s an undulating course with a hill right at the end to keep things interesting. If I can equal or better my 10k PB then I’ll be a happy chappy, considering the harsher course profile. I also have the Wythall Hollywood 10k in July, so there are plenty of smaller races for me to keep working towards in my summer of speed.

Virgin London Marathon 2013 – the review of Yu

For the 2014 race, please click the following:


Notice the comically high starting pen number. Grrr!

It’s been two days since the Virgin London Marathon and I’m having a well-deserved rest after Sunday’s antics. Below is my race report, along with a write-up of the expo and some post-race thoughts. If you would like to just read about the race, skip right to “Race Day”. Enjoy! More photos will be added once the official photographers have uploaded everything for me to purchase.

The Virgin London Marathon Expo

What may come as a surprise to many is that some of the world’s larger races have an expo that you must attend to register and claim your running bib and timing chip. The cynics amongst us will probably go with the expos existing only to sell stuff to runners and to act as further advertising opportunities for sponsors.

London’s expo is held at the ExCeL centre, which isn’t the easiest of places for me to get to. The original plan was to visit the expo on Saturday when Lis and I arrived in London. Various people had warned me that the Saturday is incredibly busy, with over 25,000 runners visiting due to other commitments or having to travel to London specifically for the race. I decided to take the afternoon off from work and visit the expo on Friday for a whistle-stop tour.

I arrived at the ExCeL Centre after multiple changes on the DLR system and my sense of excitement for the London Marathon began to kick in. Runners of all shapes and sizes were everywhere and there was a buzz in the air to get everybody fired up for Sunday’s race. I joined the very short queue for my race number group and was swiftly processed before moving on to another queue to collect my timing chip. Everybody asked if it was my first time, wishing me well and told me to enjoy the race.

Immediately after registration was a huge Adidas official merchandise store. Here, runners were able to buy race souvenirs, race kit and even new shoes. I definitely wanted to get an official race track jacket as a memento; a little pricey but it fits like a glove and looks the business without being over the top.

Beyond the Adidas area was the rest of the expo with exhibitors, both big and small. I had a chat with the guys at Sports Tours International about the costs involved in a marathon tour to Tokyo. I was pleasantly surprised because it wasn’t that much more than a trip without the guaranteed marathon entry; one to keep in mind for the future, perhaps.

I made a beeline for the Sweatshop stand, hoping to find a Marathon Talk t-shirt in black; sadly, they only had the garish blue and pink/orange option. Marathon Talk has been a huge help on my long training runs and I love spotting others with the famous 26.2 t-shirts at various races and Parkruns I attend. I did spot a Nike Oregon Project t-shirt, with the phantom logo made famous by Alberto Salazar’s boys. I opted for the grey version with a fluorescent yellow phantom and decided this would be my last purchase at the expo! My old university buddy, Kevin Yates, attended the expo earlier in the week and warned me that it was possible to spend a lot of money if I wasn’t careful – he wasn’t kidding!

Earlier in the week, Graeme Hilditch (author of a training book I have) said he would be present at the Brooks stand. I was hoping to get his autograph but he was busy fitting people with new shoes, so sadly an opportunity missed.

I visited a few more stands including Men’s Running Magazine and Athletics Weekly before deciding to head back to Birmingham before rush hour. The crowds started to swell as I headed back to the DLR station; I can only imagine what they would have been like on Saturday!

I enjoyed the expo overall and it reminded me of the Running Show that Elsa and I attended back in November. I only wish that I had more time to really have a good look at everything. It is open to the general public and there are some bargains to be had, so definitely worth a visit if getting to ExCeL isn’t too much trouble for you.

Race Day

Pre-race nerves finally decided to manifest on Saturday night, so I only had 2.5 hours of sleep or so. Thankfully, I’d slept reasonably well in the week leading up to Sunday so I had a buffer of sorts, though this was still less than ideal. I had my breakfast of fruit bread with marmalade, washed down with beetroot juice. People often ask me if the beetroot juice makes a difference; it’s one of the super foods that actually has conclusive evidence of its benefits. I packed my stuff together to put on the luggage truck, leaving my hotel in Covent Garden to head over to Charing Cross Station for my train to Black Heath.

There were several runners on the streets with red bags like mine so I just followed them. Runners are able to use public transport in London for free until 5pm on race day, so I hopped on my train to Black Heath without charge. The train was full of runners, with one regular commuter having to do a double take as he boarded, unsure of what was going on around him.


Free travel for runners? Yes please!

The journey to Black Heath took 15 minutes. Marshals met us at the station and pointed us to the blue start with its familiar hot air balloons seen on TV every year. As I approached the entrance, a Japanese news crew came over to start interviewing me! I apologised and explained that I was British, all in Japanese; I have no idea whether they’ll keep the footage but it did make me smile because amongst some friends, I’m known as “Japanese Andy”, thanks to a fascination with the Land of the Rising Sun. I was pretty early but the park was already bustling with fellow runners. I had a walk around to familiarise myself with the key locations, like the toilets, the luggage trucks and the starting pens. I sat down next to a lovely older gent called Hermon and struck up a conversation with him. He was from Norway and at the age of 72, he began running marathons at age 50 and had previously completed 74 of them! This was his third London Marathon and acquired his place through a similar company to Sports Tours International, costing him £100 but for a guaranteed place. This wasn’t a bad price I thought for the peace of mind that you would be able to run. I bid him farewell and wished him good luck once the organisers told us to start loading our bags on the trucks and to begin heading to the starting pens.


This is where I was interviewed by a Japanese news crew

I’m going to get on my soapbox here and get something off my chest. I hate being held up by slower runners in front of me because it disrupts your rhythm and could be the difference between a PB and missing a PB. I originally applied for my ballot place with a time of 4:10, which was a realistic performance based on all the factors and variables at the time, most notably my then 1-year-old half marathon PB. A year is an incredibly long time and with the right training, my fitness levels have come on leaps and bounds, with a realistic 3:30 finish on the cards. Back in November, I contacted the race organisers with a request to change my finish time to something closer to 3:45, attached with evidence of my new half marathon PB from the Great Birmingham Run. I received no response and put it to the side until closer to race day. I decided to place myself at the front of my start pen, 8 out of 9, with further salt rubbed in my wounds from the announcements over the PA system asking runners not to try to jump to faster pens, with nothing annoying runners more than “slower runners getting in the way”… Speaking to the runners immediately around me, they said they had all put times of 4:20 to 4:30 on their forms, so it was likely that I’d have to fight through at least 3 start pens to get to a decent rhythm.

Anywho, I enjoyed the company in pen 8. There was a lot of banter amongst us, with some having run before and some newcomers like me. The wait took an eternity and after a botched 30 seconds of silence in light of Boston’s tragedies, we were briefed to start shortly after 10:15 or so. The marshals walked us to the start and with 100m left to go, we were told to start running and that we did!

I started off smooth, but very quickly found myself getting caught up in the crowds ahead of me, causing my pace to drop to 8:15. I found a fellow pen 8 starter that was also aiming for 3:30 so we stuck together for a while but due to the congestion, we had to take evasive manoeuvres and began our battle to dodge and weave. All marathon training guides hammer into you that you need to conserve your energy during the early miles and dodging and weaving is huge no-no. I had no choice but to do this if I wanted a time less than 4 hours, so I took a gamble that my fitness would be able to compensate for a first half littered with surges here and there.

I hit mile 1 with my GPS watch syncing up perfectly with the marker, so my dodging didn’t have any ill effect just yet. It was a bright, sunny day and the positive weather really helped to draw the record-breaking 700,000 strong crowds out to support us all (500,000 came out last year). It wasn’t so much the ambient temperature that was taking its toll, rather the direct sunlight with no cloud cover. Despite the sun beating down on me, I was still feeling fast, but stressing out due to the hoards around me and I knew I had to make some progress by mile 2 to stand a chance.

The early parts of the London Marathon course were nothing spectacular, passing through mostly residential areas. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t have too many details because I was more concerned about not causing a massive pile up in front or behind me!

I hit mile 3 and my GPS watch reported that I was roughly 50m out. This was a huge worry so early on in the race and I began to wonder what my likely total distance would be by the end. Another issue quickly approaching was that of the runners from the red start, now on the other side of the dual carriageway that would be joining us in less than 800m! It was hard enough fighting through the blue start runners for contention and I wanted to cry at having to do it all over again.

The two groups merged and it was as if somebody had slammed on the brakes, with a jolt as the pace dropped. I had to take corners and turns even wider than before and this had a huge knock-on effect with my mile splits, with the 4th mile marker appearing even further out of sync with my GPS watch.

The next few miles were largely forgettable. I arrived at the Cutty Sark and didn’t even realise I’d reached the first sight on our tour of London due to how many people there were around me. At around mile 7 or 8, I did have to pull out of the race quickly to empty my bladder. Being ushered into our starting pens an hour ahead of actually running, I had a tiny niggling feeling that was just enough to annoy but wouldn’t have caused any problems if I continued on; it was more for comfort rather than anything else. I joined a guy against a secluded wall and we both joked that it wasn’t our finest moment, quickly re-entering the race after finishing our business.

My memory is a little hazy until halfway. At some stage, I bumped into a runner from Kings Heath Running Club and had a quick chat with him, mentioning that I knew Mike Green and Sean Whan. Somewhere else in the first half, several runners and I decided to jump on to the pavement for a few minutes and skip right past the crowds for some temporary relief. I was hoping this would act as a slight shortcut to bring my total distance back in line with the mile markers, but it seemed to have no effect.

Water stations were found at every mile (after mile 3) and Lucozade was handed out every 5 miles. This was great because you could almost grab a bottle on a whim without too much planning required, unlike in a half marathon where you may only have 2 – 3 drink stations to rely upon. With the temperature quickly rising, I began to pour a lot of the water over my head and on my hands to keep me cool. It was amazing how only a few degrees of additional warmth could make such a difference.

My pace was still off and I started to lose the will to fight. Thankfully, I’d caught up to the 3:45 pacers but I had no idea which start group they were from because the 3:56 pacers kept floating into the group! Trying to break through the crowd following the two different pacing groups was near impossible and I gave up trying to hit my original schedule, instead opting for a sub 3:45 finish. I had made up a good 5 – 10 minutes and I was on target for a 3:39 finish, so long as I stuck with the 3:45 pacers.

We began to approach Tower Bridge, which many regard as a beacon of hope because it’s near the halfway point. All of the training guides I’ve dipped in and out of have all strongly recommended that you need to stay calm and controlled until halfway; great if you’re in a good pace group or in a race with plenty of space to manoeuvre around others. The sun was now starting to reach its highest point in the sky and there was no hiding, so the race was definitely going to become tougher from this point onwards. Tower Bridge also presented one of the only major inclines on what is otherwise a very flat course.

London Marathon

Runners and spectators at Tower Bridge

The crowds at Tower Bridge were amazing, with both sides possibly 8 – 10 people deep. The noise everybody made was incredible and really helped to push those starting to feel worse for wear. My pace was still decent at this point, hovering between 8:12 and 8:15 minutes per mile, with people around me now running at a much closer speed to my own. Passing through Tower Bridge, I heard people shout, “Go beetroot!” and it turned out to be Iain and Elsa! I wasn’t expecting them to spectate at Tower Bridge, but they managed to find a really good spot just after the bridge and before the corner where we all ran right towards Canary Wharf. The boost I had from seeing them was huge and really lifted my spirits after attacking 12 less than ideal miles.

When you’re starting to tire, the mind can play tricks on you. People were consistently shouting “Go Andy!” and “Keep going, Andy, you’re doing well!” I had to continuously look down at my vest to reassure myself that I didn’t have my name on display. I turned around and there was a charity runner with “Andy” printed on his vest that must have followed me from about mile 7 onwards – mystery solved! I just imagined they were cheering me on to reap some of the benefit.

The road started to widen up between miles 13 and 15, but this benefit was short-lived. The 3:56 and 3:45 pacers continued to cut into each other’s paths, not helping the crowding situation with both groups and their mismatched paces contending with each other. The water stations were easily missed if you were on the wrong side of the road because it was physically impossible to navigate to where you wanted to be. Plenty of runners simply barged their way through, not necessarily because they were thirsty but because they needed some water to cool themselves down with. I don’t remember exactly where, but I almost tripped on a stray bottle of water on the ground; it was impossible to see where my feet were going and one poorly placed step almost had me going head over heels. Thankfully, I still had enough of a reaction time in me to regain my balance and prevented a huge pile up of runners; had this have been much later in the race, I don’t think I’d have been quite so lucky.

I began to see a few of the faster club runners coming through on the opposite side of the road, most likely finishing with a time of 2:30 to 2:40. Kev would be about 3 miles away at this stage so it was unlikely I’d see him coming through.

Looking at my mile splits, I have no idea what happened at mile 16 to churn out my second fastest mile of 7:57. The elevation is pretty much flat and I don’t recall the crowds being any better or worse than before. Perhaps the density of runners started to die down and I was free to open the throttle up a bit. Sadly, this looks like the beginning of when the fatigue of fighting in the first half would come back to haunt me because the splits all became progressively slower.

I really enjoyed the Docklands and Canary Wharf area of the course. I no longer had to worry about people around me, with everyone more or less running at the same pace. For the first time in the entire race, I was now also able to follow the blue line to try to help bring my total distance down. I was now roughly 0.4 miles out with every mile marker, so not a game breaker but I knew I would definitely finish having run further than the prescribed 26.2 miles.

Canary Wharf offered some much needed shade from the sun, thanks to all the large buildings and DLR tracks above. The crowds here were fantastic; I spotted one group holding a Welsh flag, to which I shouted out, “Go Wales!” to grab their attention. They responded, going wild and began cheering me on – it was only right, being an honorary Welshman!

I was consciously looking out for the Marathon Talk cheering station, manned by Martin and Tom. They said they would be at the West Ferry DLR station but I simply didn’t have the concentration anymore to keep my eyes moving through the spectator crowds and I sadly missed them.

Everything began to ache at this stage. My shoulders and neck were tight and I could feel blisters in my right foot along with swelling in both feet. My quads and hamstrings were also shot along with my hips. Finally, my stomach was in knots and I wanted to throw up constantly. This may or may not have been due to all the sugar from Lucozade and gels I had consumed… I also began to heel strike because everything immediately felt better, but caused my pace to nose dive. This was a huge gamble for me, because I haven’t had to heel strike continuously for over a year since adjusting my form to become efficient. I wasn’t sure how my body would react to it, but I figured my legs could take 6 more miles of heel strike forces.

Leaving Canary Wharf, I was now on the way home. Mentally, this was huge having reached mile 20. The crowds were much smaller around here, with mostly residential neighbourhoods around us. One family had moved their sofa to the side of the road to spectate for a real front row experience. If I lived in London, I’d do the same!

Mile 21 was the beginning of the hardest part of the race, but there must have been some divine intervention because I bumped into a fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunner! I saw a lady wearing a turquoise coloured running vest, which immediately reminded me of the Bournville Harriers. I increased my pace to catch up to her and glanced over, only for it to be Suz West, a regular from Parkrun! She wasn’t looking too good at this stage and said she had to walk briefly, so I wished her luck and carried on. After maybe half a mile, Suz managed to catch up with me again and we agreed to carry on together for support. It was great to have somebody to speak to and share the pain with. People were starting to overtake us, so we readjusted our target to a sub-4 hour finish. We passed by Suz’s family for another mental lift. Suz had her name printed on her club vest and the amount of crowd support she had was incredible, with people cheering from everywhere around us. When (not if) I run another marathon, I’ll be sure to do the same.

Lucozade debuted a new energy gel of theirs on the course and it was between mile 21 and 22 that I decided to take another gamble and try one out. It tasted awful, with a medicinal after taste that lingered for a good few minutes, even after being washed down by water.

I started to train my eyes on the crowds because I knew Dom would be somewhere out there spectating. I sadly didn’t see or hear him, but he said I went through mile 23 looking strong and focused – I must have a good poker face, because I was anything but!

I continued to keep an eye out for my parents at around Monument station. Just as we passed under a bridge, I heard somebody shout “Go Andy!” and it was my Dad.  I waved back at them and this gave me another lift. My parents were always quite busy when I was growing up and didn’t have much time for my hobbies, so it’s quite touching that they’re now making up for lost time in their retirement. Like Dom, they too said I looked strong; it’s nice to know that when the chips are down, I can still look like I’m performing well.

London Marathon

A rare photo of me looking strong in the London Marathon

Suz and I kept saying to each other that we only had a Parkrun left to go, something that we did week-in and week-out, so this should have been easy. It wasn’t. The road opened up and the sun was now on our left, shining right at us. We grabbed whatever water we could and poured it on to each other to stay cool. I’m not one to swear excessively, but I’m sure every sentence Suz and I exchanged with each other contained an expletive or three. We were both hurting and Suz wanted to walk, but I convinced her to keep going and that I would finish with her. My stomach was still in knots and the feeling of throwing up continued to rear its ugly head.

Mile 24 kept me going because I knew Iain and Elsa would be in the crowd on the left to cheer me on. I strategically placed all my family and friends in the final 6 miles because I knew I’d need help during these unknown parts of the race that I hadn’t hit in training. Team Beetroot said they’d be at around mile 24.5, next to one of Iain’s speed cameras, yet they were nowhere to be found. I began to worry because this was something I was looking forward to so much and Iain and Elsa had specifically made the trip to London to see me. As we drew closer to mile 25, two familiar faces in the crowd began to shout my name and I started to wave. Other people around them were also shouting “Andy!” which confused me but I’ll take whatever support is being given! I went over to them all and started high-fiving everyone and zoomed off to join Suz again. It’s moments like these that make the event special and stand you back up when you’re about to fall.


Elsa somewhere between mile 24.5 and mile 25

The mile 25 marker came by and worryingly, my GPS reported a 0.7 mile differential between what I had run and the measured course. It was depressing to realise I had run almost an entire mile due to overtaking runners across the entire course; up until this race, I had only run an extra 200m in typical half marathons!

London Marathon 2013

This is what a broken Andy Yu looks like

The sight of Big Ben loomed in the background, but never seemed to get any closer. Suz and I saw Colin Jackson and I ran over for a high-five to get another mental lift. We had less than a mile to go and just had to keep it together until the finish. We visualised the triangle portion of Cannon Hill Parkrun to give the distance some context.

Lis was somewhere on the right as we approached Buckingham Palace. All I could see was an ocean of faces, none of them wearing a daffodil hat. We passed the agreed point and I still hadn’t seen Lis when suddenly, a bright yellow beacon appeared amongst the crowd. I shouted as loud as I could and waved, but she couldn’t see me. I continued to shout and wave and thankfully, she finally saw me, waved back and spurred me on to tackle the final 200m. Lis normally positions herself near the finish line, whether it’s a major race or just Parkrun and serves as a good sign to begin shifting up a gear for one final kick.


She couldn’t possibly be Welsh, could she?

The Mall was now ours and I told Suz to give everything she had for one last kick. I went for it and sprinted as fast as my heavy legs would allow. I must have overtaken a good few people and opted to go down the middle aisle. I crossed the line with my arms held high, with Suz not far behind.

We did it! We’d completed the London Marathon!


The hardest medal to earn in my collection

For those interested (I’m looking at you, Dave), click here to view the Nike+ run data including a full mile split breakdown.


My legs were unsteady and I had to crouch down to catch my breath. A marshal came over to check if I was OK and I gave him a thumbs up. I gave Suz a hug and we both tried to speak but nothing coming out of our mouths made any sense. We carried on walking and were given our finishers’ medals; these were a good, hefty weight and look amazing. Volunteers took the tags off our shoes, much like the arrangement at the Silverstone Half Marathon, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to do it ourselves after having run over 26 miles. We continued to head towards the exit when we unexpectedly bumped into Sir Richard Branson! I shook his hand and told Richard it was great to see him at the finish.

London Marathon 2013

Team Cannon Hill Parkrun for the win!

Suz and I had our finishers’ photos taken separately and together, a trick where if none of the other photos are worthwhile, we could always split the cost of the one of us together.

We kept walking, collecting our goodie bags and checked-in luggage. I have to give a round of applause to the organisers for how they handled returning luggage to runners, because it was so efficient. The volunteers saw me coming and had my bag, ready to hand over to me with no fuss. This is exactly what you want after a difficult marathon, not to be waiting for ages in a long queue unlike experiences I’ve heard of at the Milton Keynes Marathon and the Greater Manchester Marathon.

There was a small clearing where we sat down to take a break and start raiding our goodie bags for some water and food. The contents of mine looked remarkably similar to the goodie bag from the Bath Half Marathon, which is no bad thing.

We got back up and started to head towards the meet and greet area when Suz suddenly lost the ability to walk and her calf muscles seized up entirely. A runner who happened to be a doctor and I picked her up and moved over to the side where we tried to massage her legs to get some feeling back into them. The doctor suggested Suz get some salt down her ASAP and I remembered a packet of ready salted crisps that I’d stashed away for after the race. I didn’t need them so I gave them to Suz to eat. We both had to get back to our respective families and friends so I bid her farewell and said I’d catch up with her in a few weeks at the next Cannon Hill Parkrun.

I won’t bore you guys with the rest, but I headed back to Picadilly Circus and met up with everybody for some well-deserved Nandos, which is now most definitely a post-race tradition.


The camp pose was unintentional

Closing thoughts

I’ve had a few days to reflect and review my experience of the 2013 Virgin London Marathon.

My complaints still stand in regards to the organisers’ outright refusal to change starting pens for runners, even when you can supply evidence to support your argument of a faster finish time. I have since found out that the biggest factor that determines which starting pen you are placed in is a little box that reads, “Is this your first marathon?” Ticking this box apparently places you in a lower starting pen, almost as a fail-safe for the organisers to compensate for people overestimating their ability. I respect the rule that you shouldn’t overestimate your finish time, but I must be in the minority.

The crowds in London were incredible, even in the early stages of the race. They cheered us all on and plenty of people came out to offer their own jelly babies and drinks. I’ve run some dour races where the crowds just stand there and watch, with no support at all. I know they’re free to do whatever they want, but runners do genuinely appreciate the cheers.

The course itself was OK. It was flat and I have no doubt a clear run with similarly paced runners around you would be conducive to PBs, but this seems to be a luxury to fast club runners and good for age runners.

The organisation was superb, with plenty of marshals, all of whom were so friendly and supportive. Everything was plentiful and where it should have been, and things like free public travel for runners was most welcome.

The London Marathon is regarded as one of the pinnacles of road racing events; a model that many UK races have based themselves on. There’s a certain prestige with having run in London and I’m glad I can now share in that glory.

I am a self-confessed PB hunter, looking to better my finish times with each race and my failure to hit my 3:30 target has been difficult to ignore since finishing two days ago. Several people have said to me that I should target a smaller-scale marathon for my next PB attempt. I did question whether I would return to the marathon distance, but I think this will happen sooner rather than later.

Recovery has been as expected. I had a good level of mobility immediately after the marathon and despite sitting down in Iain and Elsa’s car for close to 2 hours, I was still able to walk without much stiffness. The following day, I experienced some soreness, but this was still nothing like the day after my first half marathon.

The entire marathon experience, from learning that I would be running to crossing the finish line, has been one of discovery. My body took to the marathon training reasonably well and I’m confident I’ll achieve my 3:30 target on my next 26.2 mile outing.

Finally, like any good story, there are some people who I would like to thank that have come with me on this journey:

Iain and Elsa – thank you for your support, even before the London Marathon was on the horizon. Elsa came with me to my very first Parkrun and Iain has supported and cheered me on at countless races, big and small.

Yvonne and Philip – thank you both for regularly driving me to Cardiff Parkrun each time I visit. The early start on a Saturday morning isn’t easy, but know that it is appreciated. Philip is my good luck charm and I always seem to PB whenever he’s spectating. One time, he went off to the toilet as I crossed the line and I was off by maybe 10 seconds!

Dave – thank you for being a great racing partner. I say “racing” because we’ve never actually trained together, unless we consider the snow Parkruns? Dave and I are almost perfectly matched in terms of ability at the moment and we both share our love of running stats and data.

Mike Green, Sean Whan and Barbara Partridge – these guys are regulars at Cannon Hill Parkrun and it’s always a joy to run with them, or see them spectating. They’re also members of Kings Heath Running Club and despite only having attended one of their sessions, I strangely feel like I’m part of their club. Joining them is still up for debate, perhaps it’s the push I need to become a stronger runner?

Cannon Hill Parkrun – I love racing and Parkrun gives me the chance to race a 5k every week at high-speed. I’ve met a couple of good folks at the events and I’m now only 5 runs away from joining the 50 Club.

Cardiff Parkrun – similarly to Cannon Hill, this is my Parkrun of choice whilst away from home. It’s a fast course and I regularly find I’m running with 100 Club member, Daniel Luffman, who has helped me achieve several PBs in the past.

My parents – Chinese people feel that their genes can make exercise unnecessary, so they can’t quite understand all this running malarky. They do however make an effort to come out to some of my races and it’s nice to see them take an interest in my hobby.

Dom – a fellow runner and blogger, I first met Dom at the Bath Half Marathon. Dom came out all the way to London and even offered his help by standing near mile 22 on the London Marathon to give me energy drinks or gels. Dom’s ability has come on leaps and bounds and it’s been great to keep an eye on his progress.

Lis – last but certainly not least, she has been my long-suffering running widow. She’s been to every one of my major races and most of my Parkruns. She’s also been on the receiving end of some of my foul moods when I’ve missed a PB or when I’m tired from a tough training session. Successful runners are said to be a bit selfish and excellent supporters are said to be selfless; Lis is most definitely that!

Bath Half Marathon 2013 review


My legs are finally mine again after the punishment they received at the Bath Half Marathon.

After the Cardiff 10k, I started making plans for my spring race with Silverstone being the likely candidate again. Silverstone is cheap and easy to get to with good PB potential. Sadly, it’s not particularly spectator friendly and Lis requested that I race in Bath as a change of scenery. Who am I to argue?

Fast forward several months and Lis, Dave and I found ourselves in Bath the day before the race. Reccying the Runners’ Village, we bumped into Dom and we got to see a number of cars being towed away from Great Pulteney Street – guess they didn’t get the memo that the race was coming to town… We parted ways, due to meet again later for dinner and we checked into our hotel. I’d only recently found out my Travelodge was located in the centre of the nightlife district, with a club right underneath the hotel. Thankfully, I found out early enough and I made a request to be located in a quieter part of the hotel higher up and towards the back.

At dinner (pasta, of course), we discussed race tactics and pacing strategies as well as recounting races of old. In a single night, mine and Dave’s pace plan changed several times and we finally settled on starting with an 8 minute mile, then upping the pace by 5 seconds at every mile marker, with an aim to get to 7:30 minute miles as quickly as possible.

It was time to call it a night and we all parted ways, returning to our respective hotels for the night. I normally fail to sleep well the night before a big race and especially so when it’s an unusual bed and hotel room. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night…

The next morning, I found myself waking naturally at around 7am and stayed in bed until 7:30am when I got up to shower and have breakfast. Rather than risk not having a cafe to go to, I opted to bring my own breakfast with me, consisting of cinnamon and raisin bagels with marmalade, washed down with a beetroot juice and Lucozade. I got all my race gear together and headed out for a short jog to warm up for the day’s exertions. Once warmed up, we headed into town to meet up with Lis’ friend, Ellie, who would also be spectating. We then moved on to meet Dave at his hotel and collectively headed towards the Runners’ Village.

Despite the location being a muddy field, this was one of the largest and best runners’ villages I had ever seen, with plentiful bag storage, toilets and more. We bumped into Dom again and began to run down the clock until it was time to head towards the different pens. The 11am start was a welcome change to the usual 9am starts for big races, though I found we were ready to run by 10am; people that travelled down on the day probably welcomed the later start. Dom went on to check his luggage in whilst Dave and I headed to our start pen. Registering for the race with sub-1:40 finish times, we were placed in the white group, nearer to the front and amongst the faster paced runners. We did some sprints and strides in the pen, which had started to quickly fill up with fellow runners. Most of us were dressed to race, with only a few in costumes and were representative of the talent on hand. We noted how it felt like an eternity to get to 11am, with a countdown signalling everybody to get ready get their race on…

The starting gun fired and the crowd began to shuffle forward, all of us getting progressively faster towards the start line. A sea of ‘beeps’ could be heard from everybody activating GPS and stopwatches to help track their speed and time and we were off. Dave and I ran together again, both agreeing that our abilities were close enough to really push each other on. The first mile of a race is always tricky to navigate with crowds to contend with, particularly those that are clearly in the wrong paced group. The first mile was gently downhill and we decided to take advantage of this, effectively getting a free boost to compensate for the uphill return later. Jostling for position was stressful at times and required swift feet to get around any slower runners that blocked our way. Running a clean racing line was difficult, so I anticipated running slightly further than 13.1 miles with all the early wide corners we had to take.

We quickly settled into our goal pace and I don’t know about Dave, but I had stopped sweating after the 2nd mile or so due to how cool it was with overcast skies blocking out the sun. The pace felt easy, though it was noticeable how much more concentration was required to stay on target with only minor drops in performance having a negative impact on overall speed. Before we knew it, we had arrived at Queen Square with Lis and Ellie somewhere in the crowd… I missed them completely but Dave did see them as we zoomed past in our yellow clothed glory.

We were firmly in the first lap of the course and commented how there were already more undulations than we originally expected. Unless a race advertises itself as completely pancake flat, take any claims with a huge pinch of salt. None of the hills were difficult so early in the race, though I was conscious that they would elevate my heart rate too soon. Dave and I were able to casually chat and still hit our target times. As the race unfolded, I noted how dull the scenery was around us, with the expectation that we would run through more of Bath city centre rather than heading out of town towards industrial estates. Somebody on raised the question of why a two lap race out of the centre of town would cost so much; a very fair question I thought and one that the organisers are probably reluctant to answer.

Our pace was still on the rise, helping us to overtake and reel people in. Those around us varied between keen enthusiasts and club runners; all good moving targets to chase after. The first water stop came by with so little warning that I missed it entirely and as a result, I also missed my first scheduled energy gel. I forgot that drinks stations would appear on the left and given how crowded the first water station in races can get, it was probably better that we ran right past it. The next station was a Lucozade one and wasn’t too far away, though I was becoming increasingly thirsty due to taking on less liquid to avoid having to visit the toilet so often.

The course continued to be quite congested, though we managed to weave our way through the crowds without too much difficulty. I soon began to question the correct lane to be in, because none of the marshalls were directing us to be in either one. This quickly made me believe that the less scrupulous runners amongst us could be tempted to just run their two laps using the inside lane and actually run less than the prescribed 13.1 miles. A lot of runners are quick to whine that a course measured long on their run, forgetting that the official measurement will have been conducted using a perfect racing line with no congestion to contend with. I also believe race directors purposely add an extra metre for every kilometre to prevent a course being classed as short. Saying that, races do occasionally and embarrassingly measure up short due to courses not being marked out properly, or a stray cone or barrier being put in the wrong place.

We began our return to town and not long after our Lucozade fix, I noticed a familiar figure ahead of me wearing a Coppafeel vest. It was, of course, none other than Dermot O’Leary! As we got a bit closer, I said to him, “Nice to see you out here, Dermot!”, to which he replied, “Thanks fella!” as we zoomed by. Interestingly, the next two miles happened to be our third and fourth fastest and we were still in the early stages of the race! Dave and I named this the “O’Leary effect”, where you get a temporary boost after spotting a celebrity in a race and don’t want to lose to them.

We continued our approach back to town, where most of the runners around us continued to be from clubs or were keen enthusiasts. A few costumed runners could be spotted every once in a while, such as the chap dressed as Dennis the Menace, attempting to break the world record for fastest half marathon ran as a book character. The congestion was starting to ease up and we found our pace more closely resembled everybody else’s around us. As we turned the sharp corner into lap two, this served as our signal to really knuckle down and keep our speed up. There was no room for flabby pacing here and we had to maintain our average to hit our target of a 1:38:30 or better.

Queen Square was coming up again and I was determined to spot Lis and Ellie. What didn’t help was that all of the streets started to look the same to me and I really struggled to spot where they were. Eventually, I saw them and waved, blocking Dave from Lis’ photo of us… This must be my party trick, because I seem to do it with such regularity!

The halfway point was well behind us and we both found the pace had become increasingly difficult to maintain. What was noticeable was how we both seemed to struggle at different points; we had to pull each other through these tough patches and sometimes I would lead and pacemake, and other times Dave would. I did notice a runner wearing a Cardiff 10k t-shirt and had a quick chat with him before moving on.

I don’t remember much of the second lap due to how much of a struggle it was. We turned at the sharp bend back to town and I knew this was it, the final long straight road towards the finish. We pushed on and despite the increased effort, we weren’t actually going any faster than our prescribed pace.

When we passed a car dealership, I knew we had less than a Parkrun left to go and the dreaded hill back towards the finish line was getting closer with each step. A mantra I saw at the beginning of the race was, “Pain is temporary; pride is forever” and I began using this to get me through the closing miles. Dave had perked up again and this was another occasion of our mis-matched efforts, so he served as my pacemaker. My breathing had become hard and laboured as my body struggled to get the oxygen it so badly needed. The hill wasn’t as steep as I was expecting, but it still caught a lot of people off guard and we found ourselves overtaking plenty of folks on the course. The familiar architecture you associate with Bath started to surround us and I knew we were close to our turn back on to Great Pulteney Street. I waited. And I waited. And I waited. The turning took an age to arrive and I told Dave to push on without me. Finally, I started to see people turning towards the left and I knew this was it and I had to muster what strength I had for a final sprint. I noticed the astronaut that was in the same holding pen as us was just in front of me; this served as a target to push towards to get me through to the end because I wasn’t going to be beaten by a costumed character!

Despite running at my fastest for the entirety of the race, everything appeared before me in slow motion. My legs felt like lead and the astronaut wasn’t getting any closer! I kept pumping my arms and legs and slowly, I started to gain momentum and speed – the astronaut was growing larger in my sights and I was catching up to him. With only seconds left to go before crossing the finish line, I managed to get past him and had officially completed the Bath Half Marathon. I checked my watch and it registered a 1:37:16 finish, a whole 46 seconds ahead of my target time. I later found out that chip timing had given me a two second boost for a 1:37:14 finish! As I regained my breath and caught up to Dave for a hug and a high five, a marshall came over to check I was OK since I was still breathing heavily; I gave him two thumbs up and thanked him for his concern. We exited the finish area and grabbed our medals and space blankets to stay warm and then joined the queue for the obligatory finishers’ photos where we spotted Dom. I noticed that the official photographer that handled the race campaign was present to take photos for next year’s event. Dom caught up to us and we signed the requisite forms and had a photo taken together – wouldn’t it be awesome if we were the faces of the 2014 race? Dom had run an impressive 1:36 on an injured foot and without the injury, he’d have achieved a time nearer to 1:30 – an incredible feat.

We quickly met up again with Lis and Ellie to share our war stories. Dom had to dash off to collect his bag and looked like he was in some immense pain, initially thinking he’d done something to one of his metatarsals in his foot. We bid him farewell and said we’d be heading for food, where he was welcome to join us. I then went to collect my bag and by now, the queues had swelled in size due to the peak period for finishers coming through. I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was in the right queue or not and had to rely on checking fellow runners’ numbers to make sure. The queue didn’t appear to be moving and this was obviously bad news for runners cooling down without anything to wear. I passed the time by chatting to those around me and there was clearly a good vibe in the air with everybody achieving new PBs. The queue promptly started to speed up and once I’d reached the front, I was quickly handed my bag and off I went.

What has now become a post-race tradition, we made our way to Nandos for some chicken and carbs. Surprisingly, there was no wait for a table so I can only guess most runners had decided to head straight home.

I won’t bore you any further with the story of our farcical train journey back to Newport.

So, my thoughts on the Bath Half Marathon… It’s a race I’ve wanted to compete in for a while and I’m happy I can now tick it off my list. The course has PB potential but will bite you in the arse if you haven’t at least done a bit of light hill work as part of your training. It’s not a scenic route and any thoughts of running through Bath’s Roman roads will leave you sorely disappointed. The cost is eye watering for a half marathon at £41 (it’s gone up to £42 for 2014) along with all the other expenses like staying in a hotel, travel and eating out. The Runners’ Village deserves praise for the thought that clearly went into it, unlike most others I’ve seen over the years consisting of just a few small tents for charities and nowhere near enough portaloos.

I still think for an enthusiast runner chasing after a PB, the Silverstone Half Marathon is a better bet. It’s half the price, just as well organised and has arguably more PB potential. You do lose out on the big race feel with Silverstone and any supporters you have will be bored to tears, but you can drive there and back in a day without any trouble thanks to the 12pm start.

Bath is still a good race and I challenge most not to enjoy it. Thanks Bath for the PB!

The Great Birmingham Run 2012 review

For the 2013 and 2014 races, please click the following:

Any pro or serious amateur runner knows that race day begins well before the actual day itself. You have the mental and physical torture that is the taper; reducing your mileage yet maintaining the intensity as per your usual weekly training diary. You also have the carbo-loading process where you increase the quantity of carbohydrates in your diet, reducing the protein and fat to prime the muscles. There’s also the need to ensure you get enough sleep, stay illness free etc etc.

I won’t lie – it was a difficult week. I was restless at night and constantly worrying about whether something would ruin me before race day. The weather also didn’t helping, with rain being forecast for Sunday, yet Saturday and Monday immediately on either side were reported as being sunny! This quickly changed into mist and fog, much more welcome than the wet stuff.

Race day finally came and the weather was foggy and misty, just as it was predicted to be. I live about 0.5 miles from the NIA and I couldn’t even see that from my kitchen window! What this did mean was that the roads were dry for traction and there was cloud cover to prevent getting too warm early on.

I had my breakfast of several slices of toast with Nutella and peanut butter. I also had some Rice Krispie Squares and Rowntrees Randoms sweets to pack in some faster sugars. Liquid-wise, I had 250ml of beetroot juice, as I’ve been having for the last few days to improve blood-oxygen capability, and 500ml of my Nectar Fuel energy drink. Altogether, there should have been at least 1000 calories in my breakfast, so plenty to stave off any energy problems.


Elsa, me and Dave – ready to race!

The gang soon arrived; Elsa, Dave and I would be running, with Iain, Lis and Cheryl acting as our supporters and pit crew. Dave and I went for a light jog around the block to warm-up and to help with stretching before heading down to our start area. We parted ways with the rest of the gang heading towards the centre of town and Dave and I joined our white area holding pen. Due to the increased size of the running field (up to 18,000 though later only 12,800 or so runners turned up) both sides of the dual carriageway were used this year. We were fortunately not waiting too long before we were moved forward, with the other side of the carriageway being released first, followed by us.  Before long, Dave and I were running towards the start line and our Great Birmingham Run had truly begun.

Being on the left of the carriageway meant we went through the tunnel initially, a tactical choice meaning we avoided that hill at the start. Hills, whether you’re going down or up, are very inefficient for long distance runners because they slow you down or speed you up, raising your stable heart rate. You want to keep this heart rate as constant as possible because once it rises, it’s quite difficult to bring it back down again without significantly slowing down or just stopping.

We had a decent pace to us, clocking in at roughly 8:20 minute miles, which served as a good warm-up to what lay ahead of us. The field was well spaced out but we found ourselves dodging slower runners very early on, which is to be expected. I later found out that our expected finish time would have placed us towards the back of the orange wave; I wondered which would have been more beneficial – running at a constant pace and chasing others or overtaking constantly with a motivational boost that we were clearly faster than everybody around us?

We approached the Bullring where the gang was waiting. I expected to see them nearer to Debenhams where there were fewer people and visibility would have been easier, but alas, they were nowhere to be seen. Rather than focusing on the crowds, we concentrated again on the race in front of us. We later found out that they were waiting nearer to Wagamama and they did see us, though we missed them completely. Dave and I kept our conversations going and the pace felt easy, with our breathing very steady and not laboured at all. It was at this stage where I felt somebody tap my arm and it was none other than my old school friend, Jaswant AKA Jazzy C! Jaswant is unaware (because I’ve yet to tell him), but he was part of the reason I got into long distance running in the first place. I remember several years ago seeing photos of him completing the inaugural Birmingham half marathon thinking what a feat it was because neither of us were particularly fit or healthy at school. I thought to myself, “If he could do it, so could I!” and thus began my journey. I knew Jaswant would be running that day and had hoped to meet up with him before or after the race, but being able to bump into him mid-run was just as good. We had a quick chat and he offered me several of his energy gels; I’m sure he must have taken a few already because he looked very jittery! He’d also mentioned that he hadn’t trained properly for this race and beating his 1:38 PB would be nigh on impossible, so we wished him well as he sped off into the distance.

We were firmly on the Pershore Road at this stage, keeping regular check on our pace and also how we were feeling. Our pace was comfortable for both of us and we continued to venture on. I recognised Sean Whan of Kings Heath Running Club in the distance. He’s a familiar sight to me now because for the last few months, we’ve been racing each other at the Cannon Hill Parkrun. I tapped his arm and had a quick chat with him and he introduced me to a couple of his club mates that he was running with. He also tried to enlist me to the club mid-run, selling me their Tuesday interval sessions and Thursday hill rep sessions. The more I think about it, the more I want to try the club out because it’s one I’ve been looking at for the last few years. The club vibe I get from them is that they’re not elite but there is a good breadth of ability within the club to run with. A few weeks ago after a Parkrun, Sean said that I’d be a good fit for the club and I think I would benefit from it greatly, especially on the speed front. I wished him and the club well and Dave and I ploughed on with our race.

It was at this stage where Dave and I shook hands and decided to part ways. I didn’t want to push Dave too hard, conscious that he had only recently committed to running the race, despite a good fitness base to begin with. His height and leg stride however would have made up for any discrepancy between our own natural paces. He was also conscious that he didn’t want to hold me back if I wanted to speed off. Quite funnily, I noticed we were still side-by-side after the next mile or so and we just agreed to continue running together. We approached our first water station and I almost missed it entirely. The first water station at races is always a nightmare to navigate because everybody is desperate for something to drink, whether they need it or not. All race advice I’ve ever seen has always recommended skipping the first water station in longer races if you’re already well hydrated. Dave and I grabbed some water anyway and had a few sips before throwing it away or pouring some over my head to wake me up. We both commented how much waste there is from these races but there’s no ideal solution really; if you switch to cups then you can have more frequent drink stations but the slower runners would still complain that they need to hang on to a bottle for security.

Our pace was slowly creeping up and we were now averaging roughly 8:12 to 8:15 minute miles, so we were well on our way now. The next few miles proved to be quite forgettable with few things happening or worth remembering. We continued to check up on each other regularly and kept the conversation going, which remained steady, a good indicator that we were coping well. We continued to overtake people, though rarely being overtaken and before we knew it, we were approaching Bournville because the road started to twist and climb. You could smell the chocolate in the air from the nearby Cadburys World factory; I’m sure some free chocolate wouldn’t have gone amiss at this stage! I recall overtaking our second set of Batman and Robins, which pleased me greatly, though we still had another set of Mario and Luigis to beat. The road really started to climb now that we were firmly in Bournville, the first taster that this race is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. We turned on to a heavily cambered street, where I recommended we stick to the centre to avoid injury.

We were now on our second water station and third drinks station of the day, again taking just a few sips before chucking the bottles away. The weather was perfect for long distance running, offering valuable cloud cover with the roads dry and the air cool so the body isn’t wasting energy or sweat to dissipate excess heat. I’d more or less stopped sweating by this point, though my sunglasses were fogging up more regularly now, forcing me to take them off to air periodically.

The 10km marker quickly crept up on us and caught me off guard, thinking it said 10 miles instead! I knew I enjoyed Dave’s company and conversation because of how easy everything felt, taking away the need to focus on the next mile marker, which I normally do at races.

We decided to pick the pace up, following my Plan B strategy, now clocking in at rough 8:00 minute miles. The average pace had crept up to 8:05 minutes per mile, so I knew we would comfortably finish in less than 1 hour 50 minutes at this rate. The change in pace did us both good and remained feeling comfortable. We had fully warmed up by this stage and it was a confidence booster to overtake even more people at this greater speed. What I did notice was that there were more runners going at our speed now, with one particular girl acting as a good pace maker for us. Frustratingly though, were larger groups of runners going maybe three people wide making it difficult to overtake. Dave and I would run side by side, but we would split up if we needed to overtake so as not to inconvenience others.

The green and pink runners were coming through strong on the other side of the Pershore Road now, so we attempted to keep an eye out for Elsa and her personal trainer, Jenny. Elsa being dressed in black made spotting her quite difficult and it was Elsa spotting Dave that caught our attention! She later commented that she was surprised to see us still running together – as surprised as we both were I’m sure.

I mentioned to Dave that a highlight of the return trip up Pershore Road for me was a Chinese guy that would stand at the side of the road with an old-fashioned bicycle horn, cheering everybody on shouting out “You’re the best!” to absolutely each and every runner going past. I saw him in 2010’s race and again in 2011 and I was quite disappointed he wasn’t at his usual spot for 2012. I did later find out via Facebook that he’d relocated to Cannon Hill Park to cheer people on and others also found his enthusiasm incredibly infectious. Other selfless people also deserve a huge round of applause because running 13.1 miles can be a mind numbing task and having crowd support to break up some of the monotony is a huge boost for us runners. If you’re going to stand at the side of the road, don’t be a wallflower and make as much noise as you can!

We turned the corner on to Edgbaston Road, the home of Edgbaston Cricket Ground and also where my parents would be waiting for me with another bottle of Nectar Fuel. I spotted my Mum but my Dad was nowhere to be found, so I assumed he had trouble parking and could only drop my Mum off. I waved to her with both arms, catching her attention and as a sign to prepare for the bottle pass. We’d both practiced this the day before and in the past so we wouldn’t drop it accidentally. All the preparation paid off and the pass and grab were as smooth as butter. I took a few sips and carried the bottle with me into Cannon Hill Park. Dave asked if I really needed the extra Nectar Fuel and I probably didn’t, though the concentrated glucose and fructose would have helped top off the rapidly depleting glycogen levels. That and it was a way of getting my parents involved in my running, with their efforts greatly appreciated that day.

Running into Cannon Hill Park is always a weird experience. You go in via the main carpark and there’s nobody around and the tall trees block out a lot of natural light, making it feel like a trail run through a forest rather than a big city half marathon. I could hear the Rocky theme being played through the speakers from the Free Radio station in the centre of the park, a nice pick me up and athletic inspiration, given my fascination with the Rocky movies. This came only minutes after hearing an acoustic rendition of the Rocky theme being played by one of the bands on the route. Once we entered the park through the gates, everything transformed and the crowds started to appear again. Cannon Hill Park has to be a huge boost for many people, offering a change of scenery, water and drinks stations, music and more. Elsa and I had attended the previous day’s Parkrun where we were told Fergal would be waiting at his usual corner to cheer us all on. Fergal is one of the best things about the Cannon Hill Parkrun, motivating everybody to keep going and it’s something I look forward to each week. Just hearing his cheers makes my pace pick up by a good noticeable 15 seconds or so! I saw him to our right and called out to him and he cheered us on, yelling out mile 10 wasn’t far; optimistic because we had only just passed through mile 9! One notable thing that caught my attention was a man with a box of oranges on offer; needless to say, I declined to take one!

Dave and I left Cannon Hill Park and our pace was still steady, but quick. We were on the approach to the much talked about mist shower that had been added to cool us runners down. We debated going through and decided that we may as well, given that it was an opportunity to do so. I can’t say it was particularly refreshing, though a novelty nonetheless. I recall having to slow us both down around here in the race because our immediate pace had escalated to around 7:45 minute miles. In any other flat half marathon, this would have been the right point to pick up the pace again but knowing that we had some hills coming up meant that we needed to keep something back to conquer what Haille Gebrsellasie mentioned had proven quite tough for him last year. We also had a swift downhill section on the Lee Bank Middleway to help bank a little bit of time and absorb some of the pace damage from the later hills. We started to climb the Middleway hill and for the first time, I noticed that I was actually going faster than Dave. Because of my shorter stature, I have to take many more steps to run at the same pace as taller runners. I have a fairly high leg cadence rate (leg turnover rate to everybody else out there), averaging about 170 steps per minute (roughly 85 per foot) which is beneficial during sprints and hill climbs where my higher rate of contact with the ground is actually favoured, keeping my pace steady.

The hill levelled out as we turned left on to a fairly non-descript street. Knowing what was lurking around the next corner and I consumed my one and only energy gel to prepare myself. I swear you could hear collective groans as everybody began their ascent up the hill. We really had to concentrate here to keep our pace up, though this was effort well spent because according to our mile splits, we ran this portion of the race as fast as our opening miles despite gravity working against us. There were noticeably more people supporting us on this hill, which seemed never ending. My hamstrings were starting to ache a little from the lactic acid build up but we pushed on, running past a charity cheerleading team that yelled right in my ear as we approached the brow of the hill, perking me up again unexpectedly.

It was at this stage where I looked at our pace and we were averaging 8:00 minute miles, a phenomenal feat given that we’d started out at 8:20 minute miles and had just beaten several tough hills. We had a rough 1.5 miles left to go at this stage of the race and our elapsed time hovered around 1 hour 34 minutes and I knew a 1:45 finish was quickly slipping away, if not impossible by now. I told Dave that 1:45 was “off the cards” and that we should aim for a 1:48/1:49 finish. Throwing caution to the wind, we picked up our pace again and stormed through Edgbaston. This is a frustrating part of the race for many, due to all the twists and turns to make up the total 13.1 mile distance, adding more opportunities to slow down after already losing time on the hills.

We passed by the final mile marker and doing some quick maths, a 1:45 finish was now possible again if we went all out and ran our fastest mile split. We were really going for it now, with the immediate pace on my GPS watch reading 7:00 minute miles. We were on the home stretch, running towards Five Ways underpass when I noticed a runner with “Gurpreet” on his back. An old school friend of mine, Oli, was also running that day for a charitable cause and I knew he was in the white group too (we still hadn’t passed any orange wave runners) and I sped up to catch a glimpse of his face. Low and behold, it was Oli! I caught his attention and shook his hand, offering a momentary break from the pressure that was piling on to finish within 1 hour and 45 minutes. Oli wasn’t looking too good and said he needed support to get him through. I told him to stick with Dave and I, and to use us as pacemakers and we’d see him through to the finish. We all concentrated and focused as we descended into the underpass before coming back up the other side on Broad Street.


Dave and I sprinting down Broad Street towards the finish line

We were firmly on home turf now and surprisingly, there were people on both sides of the underpass as we came up. Normally, the crowds are kept behind barriers but the left hand side crowds were right next to us as we ran down Broad Street. Checking my right, Dave was still by my side and Oli wasn’t far behind. I kicked up the pace again and began to sprint down Broad Street. Thankfully this time, the gang were exactly where we asked them to be, standing near the Novotel and Sainsburys, so we waved and fired off a few Mobots and Usain Bolts. Seeing everybody gave me that final lift that I needed to shift gears again. With 400m left, the blood was coursing through my legs, with my arms and heart pumping as fast as they could, helping me overtake at least 50 or so people as I approached the finish.  The end was clearly in sight now and I went for broke, hoping my efforts were enough to net me a finish starting with 1:45.

I crossed the finish line and pressed pause on my GPS watch, huffing and puffing from the sprint and my mind in a blind panic – had I done it? Looking at my watch, those magical numbers of 1:45:23 appeared and I had to do a double take before I was sure. My fist went through the air with a resounding “Yeeees!” before I had to sit down again. A volunteer came over to see if I was OK and I gave them a thumbs up and told them I just needed to catch my breath. Dave crossed the line seconds afterwards and told me he’d netted a 1:45:27 finish, but couldn’t keep up with my sprint during the final leg. Oli then came in shortly afterwards and thanked us for the support. We walked towards the timing chip collection area and the organisers’ claims of the chips being easy to remove after a 13.1 mile race are wildly overestimated. I had to really tug at mine to break it free and return it. We kept moving and stretched against a wall, where I tol Dave about my first half marathon when I did not stretch afterwards, turning a 5 minute walk home from the bus stop into a 20 minute one! We said our farewells to Oli and grabbed our goodie bags; there was a distinct chill in the air now, despite the sun coming out to play so we unwrapped the space blankets ASAP.


This year’s finisher’s medal

Navigating back to the gang was relatively simple, cutting through the ICC and Brindley Place. We shared our good news and war stories with everybody, thanking them for their support. They were surprised to see Dave and I finish together given our original plan to split up after the first few miles. If all of this long distance racing has taught me anything, the importance of planning a strategy should be on the top of anybody’s list if they’re aiming for a particular time; they should also be flexible enough to change the plan if needs be. Dave and I running together had a mutual benefit for both of us and I would totally welcome running future races with him again.

We were now waiting for Elsa and Jenny to appear and the green wave runners had started to filter through. It wasn’t until this point where we all commented on how close the crowd was to the runners as they exited the underpass, not giving them enough space to jostle for position. One security guard attempted to disperse the crowd, though failed miserably. Deciding that if you can’t beat them, join them; I headed towards the crowd to wait for Elsa to pass. Following my own advice, I started cheering for everybody as they ran by. I saw a few familiar faces running, including the Man in the Middle, who I buy breakfast sandwiches from, and the vegan runner from Parkrun.

Elsa and Jenny eventually showed up and I joined them for the final stretch down Broad Street, my second time that day. Unwittingly, I’d gotten in the way of Iain’s photo of Elsa (sorry!) as we went past. A colleague of mine that was waiting for her husband had seen me go by on the second occasion, noting that I must have finished because I had my jacket on and had no race number. We crossed the finish line and Elsa had also scored a PB of 2:28, beating her previous best by a few minutes for her retirement run.

Looking back on Sunday, it was a perfect day of running for everybody concerned. We had perfect weather, bumped into old and new friends and achieved or even surpassed our goals we had laid out for ourselves that morning. I would love to run in Birmingham again and entries for the 2013 race have already opened for applications. I have applied for a ballot place with the Royal Parks Half Marathon in London for October, so we’ll see whether I’m successful or not in January and plan accordingly. I’m now busy trying to convince Elsa not to retire from half marathons and also Dave to join me on the Bath Half Marathon, maybe even Parkrun.

For those interested, the Nike+ data for Dave and I can be found by clicking here.

Thank you Birmingham, you were beautiful!