This week’s running – 13th to 26th August 2018

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Updated and all’s right with the world again!

And we’re now all up to date!

5k recovery

Boy, oh boy. I really could have passed on this recovery run for a rest day instead, but I was dead set on getting back into a rhythm for some consistency in the three weeks ahead of the Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

This was horrendous, where a poor choice of clothing (t-shirt instead of vest) and the combined humidity made for an incredibly difficult post-work run.

Upon returning home, all of my kit was completely sodden in sweat and I was wiped out for the rest of the evening.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles run-commute

Learning my lesson from the previous day’s suffer-fest in the humidity, I purposely put the brakes on to keep the pace and effort in check. Even then at such a pace, the humidity was still unbearable and made for a challenging time.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

And just like that, the humidity disappeared, allowing for 8 out of 11 of these miles to come in at 8:00 or faster.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Running Stories podcast

I very recently became a podcast interviewee!

A number of months ago, I volunteered to participate in a running podcast project. Orchestrated by Tom Charles, he wanted to speak to and record the accounts of a variety of runners and why they decided to take up the sport-come-hobby.

The angle for me was, unsurprisingly, this blog. In all there was well over an hour of recorded material, though this was distilled and edited down to just under 20 minutes. We all have little ticks and cues that we’re largely unconscious of in day-to-day speech and interactions with others, though these become glaringly obvious when captured for playback. Tom performed some black magic on the recording; upon my first listen of the finished episode, I had none of that, “Is that me? It doesn’t sound like me?” that so commonly plagues us when we hear ourselves recorded.

Without further ado, here are the links to the episode and others in the series on iTunes and Spotify. The podcast should also appear in the search function for those that prefer dedicated podcast clients like Overcast etc.

Cannon Hill parkrun

It’d been four weeks since the last time I ran at Cannon Hill, purposely going out of my way to avoid the off-road course.

I was in no mood for anything fast, so keeping the pace down to under 20 minutes was more than sufficient for that morning. Keeping the pace controlled at the start allowed me to continually reel people in for almost the entire duration, making for a pretty comfortable effort even in humid conditions.

With nobody in a rush afterwards, I partook in one of the longest post-run coffees I’d experienced in a very long time – one of the things I’d missed whilst busy visiting other parkruns.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Brindley Place and back

Cooler conditions made all the difference, making this long run feel spectacular.

I settled into pace early on, which is often an indicator of how recovered I am, or not. Beyond halfway, I was able to steadily push the pace on whilst continuing to feel comfortable.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5k recovery

The cooler temperatures stuck around, helping to make this recovery run stay very easy.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles fartlek

*Sigh*

The temperature decided to yo-yo upwards after several days of cooler climes. I wanted a more structured run with some focused effort at pace, though the warm and humid conditions would have taken far too much out of me, so a fartlek run was swapped in.

Bridges and tunnels marked the beginning and end of fast sections, allowing for some stretches at effort to come at decent lengths.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles run-commute

I felt the effort of the previous day’s fartlek run, forcing me to really drop the anchor and keep my heart rate below 70% of maximum on this run-commute from the city centre.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

Lis and I signed up to a series of NCT (National Childbirth Trust) classes, requiring I scheduled some time off from work to be able to get my planned runs in before the course.

Running along the canals on a work day afternoon was rather peaceful, with most still clocked in. I did however bump into long-time running buddy, Ed Barlow, who like me frequents the canal towpaths for their convenience.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5k recovery

Proving what a small world it is we live in, Lis and I met a couple on our first NCT class who belonged to Kings Heath Running Club, and were also Cannon Hill parkrun regulars. Another lady on the course, due to give birth at the beginning of October, is still running regularly!

Sadly, there was no way to get a parkrun in before Saturday’s all-day class, so I had to make do with an easy recovery run around the neighbourhood.

I will promise you all now that this blog will not devolve into a parenting blog, though I will write about how I will balance running and being a parent once the little’un comes along. I’ll be the first declare that I switch off when the Marathon Talk podcast presenters open each episode with what their kids have been up to – they could at least try and link it up with running, though very rarely is!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Run Local Edgbaston

It’d been absolutely ages since I last ran at a Great Run Local event, made even more difficult with The Vale on summer hiatus due to its student organisers returning home for the break. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s room for both Great Run Local and parkrun to co-exist, and I’m grateful for both, especially as I needed a faster 5k fix after going without the day before.

Almost timed to perfection to coincide with the bank holiday weekend, the heavens opened up for a damp start to proceedings. Lis kindly dropped me off at Edgbaston Reservoir so that I was able to avoid public transport or the monstrous mileage required to run there and back. A warm-up lap of the reservoir was enough to get me into the groove and was just enough to keep the cooler temperature at bay. Dave Carruthers of Cannon Hill parkrun regular attendance also appeared to give me a familiar face to speak to; the two of us were referred to in the organisers’ briefing as fine running specimens (not word-for-word accurate), so there was pressure that morning!

Unsurprisingly, it was Dave and I straight off the line. I had the smallest of leads with Dave just nipping at my heels, confirmed by the sound of his footstrike. The pace wasn’t really coming to me with having to lead into the wind on the rough terrain underfoot. About a km in, the sound of Dave drifted further and further away until I was completely alone.

As the rain persisted, my t-shirt grew heavier and heavier to add to the effort. Passing through halfway, the timer gave me some feedback; I had 09:45 on the clock, so only had to keep the effort consistent or better to guarantee a sub-20 finish.

Somewhere around the third km, the pervading feeling of needing to piss haunted me again like it did back at the inaugural event in April! The cooler temperatures and standing around before the start had worked their magic once more… This was at least motivation to get things wrapped up as quickly as possible!

I began to encounter lapped runners with a km remaining, giving me something to chase down. Dave was at least 20 seconds away, so I would safely finish in first place, though it was still dicey whether I would slip under 20 minutes or not. Glancing at my Garmin, the timer ticked over into 19:00 territory and I knew I had to get a move on – easier said than done on the reservoir path’s broken surface!

Sprinting for the finish, the organisers cheered me in and then all quickly rushed around me to register my wristband. Here’s where the Great Run Local timing system comes across as a complete mystery, for I registered 19:42 on my own Garmin, the timer officially clocked me at 19:45 (confirmed by the results), and the official text message had me at 19:50?!

The run for home from Edgbaston Reservoir was a solitary affair. I encountered very few people on the canal towpath, and only one other runner. A hot shower upon reaching home was never more welcome!

Here and here’s the Strava data for these runs.

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This week’s running – 23rd July to 12th August 2018

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Tourism at Finsbury parkrun with Ian Saunders

Yikes! Almost a month since my last proper post… It’s simply been a case of some weeks with not very much happening and other weeks with too much!

Without further ado, let’s start from the top – the week leading up to the Magor 10k and finishing on the London Summer 10k. A post covering the 13thto the 26thof August to follow shortly…

5k recovery

The preceding weekend had wiped me out, though I still somehow managed to feel really positive on this recovery run. My heart rate came in low to suggest I was not overly worked nor in need of any major recovery…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Enforced recovery

Ha! I spoke too soon, didn’t I? The following day, I felt rough like I had developed the early signs of a cold. My heart rate was elevated and I couldn’t stop snivelling; I also seemed more sensitive to fluctuations in temperature.

Deciding that the then upcoming Magor 10k at the weekend was the priority, I took four whole days off from running – something practically unheard of for me apart from when injured, ill or recovering after a marathon. In fact, it probably was just after the 2017 Yorkshire Marathon when I last took a similar amount of time off from running.

The break did the trick, and just in a nick of time. Truth be told, the several days off from running were quite welcome from the effort of running in the warmth!

Magor 10k 2018 review

Click here for the full write-up on the 2018 Magor 10k.

5k recovery

This was so long ago, I can’t remember if there was anything of note!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles with 3 at marathon pace-ish

This was incredibly challenging and did little to boost my morale. Not only was I running constantly into strong winds, but my Garmin also decided to flake out on me, suffering greatly from GPS interference from almost every tunnel I went through, whether short or long.

I should have just made this a fartlek session!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile run-commute

This run was a little shorter than normal because my beloved run-commute bag needed picking up from a tailor, who replaced a worn zip for me. Very much a case of make-do-and-mend – the replacement zip and labour came to £22, whereas an entirely new bag would have set me back at least £60! And before anybody asks, I couldn’t get it replaced as a warranty job because the bag itself is almost three years old…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

I could tell within minutes of starting that this would be a run of attrition. The humidity was really something and, for me, the least favourable weather condition. It’s just doubly-draining to run in humidity, where I’m losing sweat from trying to cool down, but not actually cooling down at all due to the sweat having nowhere to evaporate to!

I was wiped out upon finishing and quite glad that I didn’t have a looming marathon to train for.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The parkrun Running Challenges Google Chrome extension

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Running Challenges extension – available for Google Chrome and Firefox browsers

Fairly recently, a parkrun Running Challenges extension for the popular Google Chrome web browser (and even more recently, Firefox) was launched.

I realise that the above heading may make little to no sense for many, so allow me to elaborate.

What’s an extension?

An add-on, of sorts. They provide additional functionality not natively available in the Google Chrome browser.

What are the “Running Challenges”?

In parkrun parlance, there are some phrases and terms that frequently crop up from time to time. Terms such as Groundhog Day (two identical times, achieved consecutively), Stopwatch Bingo (every second, from :00 to :59 achieved), Regionnaire (all events in a region visited), so on and so forth. These are unofficial challenges that make parkrun even more fun than usual – kinda like sprinkles on ice-cream.

These challenges existed long before the existence of the extension, but what the extension does is handily do all the tallying and cross-referencing for you! For example, I had no idea I had :01 in the Stopwatch Bingo challenge elusively preventing me from completing the challenge!

The extension also provides fascinating statistics, such as furthest event visited from your home event, closest event yet to be visited, and more.

I’ve since been poring over the additional detail afforded. If you do choose to install, be prepared to waste a lot of time – you have been warned!

Coventry parkrun

With Cannon Hill parkrun temporarily utilising their alternative trail course on Holders Lane, I opted to take the opportunity to head away for a spot of tourism. I’ve nothing against trail courses, and actually quite enjoy them from time to time, though I had little desire to venture on to this route based on local feedback from various friends. With the above said Running Challenges extension in place, it was brought to my attention that Coventry parkrun was the nearest event that I’d yet to visit; the deal was done, for I had originally eyed up Cannock Chase parkrun.

Situated in Coventry’s War Memorial Park, it took me some 40 minutes to drive there from Kings Heath, even on a quiet Saturday morning. Parking was plentiful and free, courtesy of the neighbouring Park & Ride site that borders the southernmost section of the route.

Size-wise, the park felt pretty vast and you’d have little idea you were in Coventry, based on the lack of visible surroundings. The start and meeting area are situated next to the War Memorial monument, which aren’t difficult to miss.

Embarking on my warm-up, I could feel the undulations that a number of my peers had warned me about from their own racing experiences within the park. I was pretty tired from my spate of summer training and racing, and there were noticeable gusts of wind that struck – trying to stay under 20 minutes was the goal for the morning. The toilets at the café weren’t open before 09:00, and the additional toilets that were open beforehand couldn’t be found…

The War Memorial monument casts an impressive presence over the pre-run briefing. Looking around me, the crowd in attendance was as diverse as Cannon Hill’s, with a similar total number. There are few neighbouring events that take place on exclusively paved paths, so Coventry parkrun largely suffers from the same situation Cannon Hill parkrun finds itself in. Kenilworth Running Club fielded much of the volunteers for that morning, also taking the opportunity to promote their upcoming half marathon.

The start line funnel felt very similar to Cannon Hill, where I slotted myself in on the second row to allow those that knew the route to lead the way.

The start was frantic, with a horde of Kenilworth runners charging off. I chose to hang back and cruise at sub-20 pace to see who would drift into contact with me, hoping to use them for drafting assistance on that blustery, sunny and humid morning. As luck would have it, a Coventry Triathlete running a steady pace came into view, allowing me to lazily drop into place within his slipstream.

The two lap course takes in more than the southern half of the park, entirely on undulating paved paths. On tired legs, I found this deceptively challenging and upon reviewing the elevation profile after the fact, very little of the course takes place on truly flat ground.

Out volunteering was an older gent, who had racked up 200 volunteer stints at the event to much applause. Marshalling around 2/3 of the way into the lap, he wore a large comedy foam hand to receive many high-fives from passing runners. I laid one on him and thanked him, though quickly realised that the foam hand had probably never been washed… Yuck! Thankfully, I later found out that it only debuted that morning and had never been seen before.

Entering the second lap, the wind and humidity were getting to me and other runners. The Coventry Triathlete backed off the pace and I had to fend for myself. When it wasn’t windy, the course climbed and when the course descended, the wind struck! The second time around, I was able to better capitalise on the long downhill stretch to put me back in touch with two runners further ahead in the field that I’d wanted to latch on to. Pace-wise, I was doing fine and would comfortably finish in fewer than 20 minutes.

With around 800m remaining, I opted to speed up and finish strong and overtook several flagging runners. With around 200m remaining, I kicked once more, only to narrowly avoid calamity when another finishing runner drifted into my path whilst chasing a better racing line; I warned him of my presence, to which he was incredibly apologetic and drew side-by-side with me. With just 100m to go, he verbally challenged me to a sprint; I accepted and the duel was on! Whilst I had the initial lead, he was better placed to take advantage of the rapidly approach narrow funnel and had a little more in reserve as he hadn’t kicked from 200m out, beating me to the line by less than a second.

We finished in 19:42 and 19:43, respectively, and he was definitely the better runner with an 18:32 course best to his name. Adding to that, I measured the course long by almost 70m to officially be the longest parkrun I’d ever participated in to make that 18:32 even more impressive.

Speaking with Sam and a few of the locals afterwards, they agreed that the course is more challenging than it first appears, though commented that a reverse version of the course was utilised in the event’s earlier days, which was perceived to be slightly easier.

It was nice to have visited, and I’m sure I would probably visit again if I lived closer.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Brindley Place and back

Sadly, it’s been so long since completing this run that I don’t remember anything from it, apart from the warmth and humidity!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Another break from running

I had a week away from work to take care of some DIY projects around the home, followed by several days in London with Lis.

Due to the aches from said DIY projects, I had no appetite to head out even for easy runs. In total, I abstained from running for a whole five days, beating the previous fortnight’s four!

Finsbury parkrun

With four days in London, including a Saturday, I had my pick of the litter in terms of events to visit. There are some handy write-ups online of people that have attained Regionnaire status (Lon-Done), helping me to narrow down my choices.

Having already visited Bushy and Fulham Palace parkruns in 2015, the logical choices were events closest to our King’s Cross-based hotel: Highbury Fields, Mile End and Finsbury. Highbury Fields was the closest by around 800m and has the reasonably unique honour of featuring 5x laps. Mile End was the furthest away, again by only a negligible difference, and featured a section on canal towpath. Finsbury parkrun was the closest to what a traditional parkrun would be considered, i.e. taking place within a park. I settled on Finsbury parkrun, which was also a doddle to get to by Tube, being only a single station away on the Victoria Line from King’s Cross. I invited my fellow 2017 Yorkshire Marathoner buddy, Ian Saunders, along for the jaunt for a catch-up, to which he accepted.

Arriving at the park, very vague memories of a former visit to the Fleadh Festival in the early 00s came back to me. My embarrassing music fascination – The Corrs – headlined the event and also played some unreleased songs from their then upcoming album, so I couldn’t resist…

The contrast between then and the now was very much like night and day – the park was largely unrecognisable without the thousands in attendance and all the stages and facilities erected. A friendly local on a bike behind me stopped to ask if I was a parkrun tourist. Stood there in my 250 Club t-shirt (its debut outing), we got talking and she very kindly pointed out the start and meeting point, along with a brief description of the course. Before parting ways, I asked her if it was that obvious I was a tourist that morning. She laughed and explained her reasoning to me: it was only 08:20 and I was very early (she actually had an errand to run before running) and she didn’t recognise me, aided by the fact that there are very few 250 Club member regulars at Finsbury parkrun. London gets a bad reputation for being cold and uncaring, but I’ve found all of my London parkrun encounters to be the complete opposite!

Warm-up completed, my assessment was similar to that of Coventry parkrun: undulations and plenty of them!

Before long, Ian appeared. It was great to see him again after the Yorkshire Marathon, where he’s only gone from strength to strength to smash the 3 hour barrier with a near sub-2:50 finish at Edinburgh, and a 1:20 at the London Big Half. If you want to really know somebody, you run a marathon with them and see how they conduct themselves – Ian was the perfect race companion that day in October 2017 and, needless to say, we’ve kept in contact since.

He was nursing an Achilles injury, brought on by a challenge to cover at least 5km every day for a year. I had the London Summer 10k the following day, so only wanted an easy run to reacquaint myself with running after five days without.

Interestingly, like the time I visited Bushy parkrun, Finsbury parkrun assembles everybody in the start funnel and then begins their pre-run briefing. Finsbury parkrun has the unusual feature of a closed to traffic road inside the park, much like you’d find in New York’s Central Park, enabling runners to not be in anybody’s way.

Ian and I were those annoying guys, chatting away at 4:50 per km pace and taking it easy whilst those around us were huffing and puffing in their own challenges. Even with a warm-up under my belt, the undulating course took some getting accustomed to. Paths frequently narrowed and widened, though it mattered not as neither of us chased a time on the two lap course. It was a beautiful morning for running in London, if a touch humid. A vest would have been preferable to the 250 Club t-shirt.

Facilities on our tour of Finsbury Park were impressive, with a 400m athletics track and small accompanying stadium also on view.

Towards the end of lap 1 was a ghastly climb before the course flattened out on its way into the second lap. Continuing with our discussion, I noticed one chap who had largely remained with us since the start and assumed he was using us for pacing, due to remaining fairly stable.

Nearing the finish, Ian had suitably loosened up and decided to kick for the remaining few hundred metres whilst I continued to sit steady. We finished in 23:20 and 24:07, in positions 94 and 112 out of 332, respectively. As you can see, not a huge turnout for a London event, of which they are plentiful. Impressively, a youngster ran 15:55 on the undulating course that very morning to leave both Ian and I wincing in awe.

We stuck around for a coffee afterwards in the café, though there were few who did the same. I was curious to get Ian’s take on his 2:50 marathon and 1:20 half marathon, and whether he had the desire to take them even further. The response was much like my own, where the additional work required does not always measure up against the outcome and we both ultimately concluded may not be worth it.

Travelling back on the Tube, we both bid each other farewell until the next time a race brought us back together.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

London Summer 10k 2018 review

For the full write-up of this race, please click here.

This week’s running – 6th to 13th of August 2017

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Warm-weather training and recovery for me!

Week 14 of the 22 week marathon plan saw some recovery on the Greek island of Crete.

A week in Elounda

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What a backdrop for running!

Long-time readers will probably have gathered that I have a problem with sitting still and I usually struggle to find time to simply sit back and relax, preferring to be in the driving seat of life. Whilst I was initially reluctant about going away this summer, the timing actually worked quite well to see me pushing my way to the front of the queue for a week in the Greek sun.

Of course, there was running, though distance was pared back to coincide with the plan’s recovery quota. Fortunately, Elounda on the eastern side the of the island peaked in the low 30°s, with the odd breeze and low humidity making warm weather training that bit more tolerable and productive.

Recovery was also high on the agenda, with much time spent not doing very much at all. I also took advantage of the on-site health spa for several massages, focusing on my legs. Meals at the hotel were protein-heavy, again taking advantage of the opportunity to really treat my body to some quality recovery time.

Also, does anybody else try and identify who’s likely to be a runner whilst away? On the flight, I spotted a guy with a Fenix 5X who also wore Hokas. In the hotel, I saw a guy with a Suunto GPS watch and a Boston Marathon finisher’s t-shirt. No? Just me, then…

4 miles – to Elounda and back

I hadn’t even been in Greece for 12 hours and already bagged a reccy run into the main town to get my bearings. The place reminded me a lot of some of the medium sized coastal towns that can frequently be found in Spain and Italy. Awkwardly, the paths, whilst paved, were made up of random pieces of slate or similar at different heights; I had to ensure I had decent foot clearance to avoid tripping over at times!

At 4pm, the temperature was bearable, aided by the gentle pace and flat terrain. Naturally, I did get a few strange looks; tourists from China haven’t really made it to Crete yet, so I naturally stuck out like a double-whammy sore thumb.

Whilst Elounda is incredibly flat, our hotel happened to be situated atop a hillside. It’s a blessing that we were stationed in one of the lowest rows of rooms to street level, with other guests frequently relying on the hotel’s golf buggy taxis for collection and drop-off. All of my runs ended with a steep 20% gradient climb, lasting some 150m, though I was at least able to quickly peel down to my shorts and jump in the pool to cool-off!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3 x 800m

The schedule said I needed 8 miles in total with 5 x 800m reps at 5k pace. Completing such a session outdoors would have required running before dawn, and even then, the mercury was still around 26 to 28 degrees for not much difference to day time temperatures. I was left with the hotel gym as my last resort…

I hadn’t run on a treadmill since March, which was just an easy 5k jog. The last session I completed on a treadmill was years ago. Like running again after injury, running indoors on a moving belt took some getting used to again.

I’m always dubious of the reported distance on treadmills if they’ve not been calibrated. I’m also dubious of the reported distance of Garmins when reliant on the built in accelerometer or a companion foot pod. In this instance, I took my chances with the Garmin, as it would at least have had time to calibrate to me for outdoor runs.

3 x 800m reps at pace was all I could manage. The lack of visual feedback from the speed was off putting and the air conditioning was inadequate for the job, due to simply not being powerful enough to cover the small room. I quickly decided running outdoors, even in the heat, was more productive and less mentally jarring.

Here’s the Strava data for the session.

4 miles – to Plaka and back

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The view of Spinalonga whilst running to Plaka

Upon checking-in, various hotel staff and the travel rep all said not to walk to Plaka – the next town over from Elounda. “It’s 40 minutes in the heat!” and “There’s no pavement!” were typical warnings. We took them on board, but after a taxi ride there, any fears over safety were quickly dispelled – running to Plaka turned out to be just like the country lanes I’m used to in Wales, except with gorgeous weather and the visually impressive Spinalonga as a backdrop.

I kept my wits about, as a few bends commanded I switch sides of the road to give me and drivers a better view of each other. Graciously of the Greek terrain, the route was pancake flat and I actually found the roads far smoother to run on compared to Elounda’s pavements. Other runners must have felt the same, because, despite the slightly higher risk involved, I always spotted more runners heading to and from Plaka. To boot, all drivers slowed down as they approached, also giving me a wide berth which is more than I can say I receive at home!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile fartlek – to Elounda and back

Rather than suffer the treadmill again, I turned my route to Elounda into a fartlek run. I’d not completed a fartlek in months either, so committing to one in the heat would be quite a test.

Things started off easily enough, but then several minutes into the fartlek, it was as if somebody whacked the thermostat right up! It really was bizarre, with the low and benign sun suddenly scorching my skin and leaving me withered. Clearly, I hadn’t adapted to the heat yet…

All said and done, this was still preferable to suffering on a treadmill and not physically go anywhere!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 miles – to Plaka and back

Early on into this run, I was reminded not to lose concentration, because on the side of the road was a car that had somehow collided with a crash barrier to then end up as a complete wreck on its side.

I witnessed even more runners on this route than before, all of us giving each other a nod or a smile in acknowledgement of our collective fitness pursuits, even whilst on holiday.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10k – to Kalydon and back

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The Kalydon peninsula

A tour guide recommended I set out to the Kalydon peninsula, connected to Elounda via a bridge, so that I did to break up this final run of the trip. Shortly after crossing the bridge, the terrain quickly turned to loose gravel and trails; I was perfectly fine in a pair of road shoes, though I required a good dusting off upon finishing! With more time, I’d have loved to explore the entire peninsula, though would forever be wary of getting lost with my lack of a sense of direction…

This was my longest run whilst in Crete and I was finally reaping the reward of six straight days of training in the heat. I was barely sweating, despite being well hydrated, and what little sweat I did produce was virtually devoid of any salt.

Nearing the hotel entrance, I noticed a coach pulling in to drop off some new guests. Not wanting to disappoint the makeshift audience, I raced up the hill to audibly hear gasps as I pulled away. Air conditioning at full blast came to my rescue upon finishing…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Brueton Park and back

Eugh. Lis and I were picked up at 22:45 on Saturday evening, arriving at the airport for 00:45, before departing Greece at 02:30. I managed to get perhaps two hours of disturbed sleep during the flight, before finally arriving back at home for 05:30. Three hours of sleep was all I could manage before naturally waking again. As you can imagine, a medium-long run of 16 miles was low on my priorities for the day… Delaying the run until the late afternoon and trimming it down to 14 miles at least gave me a fighting chance!

In the pursuit of more marginal gains for my coveted sub-3 hour marathon, I splurged on a pair of Nike’s racing split shorts, akin to what many of the male Team GB members have been sporting at the World Athletics Championships over the last 10 days. Debuting them on this run, they’re certainly short with just a 2 inch inseam… Thankfully having spent most of an entire week wearing nothing but swimming shorts, I’d at least acclimatised mentally to the skimpiness! The benefits? Less weight from less material, less restrictive with a wider range of motion, and more ventilation for better airflow and temperature regulation – the last point was key, as I grew incredibly warm during the final 3 miles of last October’s marathon.

The run itself felt fantastic. Conditions were perceivably spot on for running; whilst the reported temperature was 20°C, the heat adaptations of the past week had me feeling much cooler, again barely breaking a sweat. My legs also felt incredibly fresh, no doubt helped by the several deep tissue massages I treated them to. Late afternoon/early evening on a Sunday meant roads were mostly clear of cars and pavements were mostly clear of other pedestrians, making for a largely unimpeded run.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

The week’s break from the norm looks to have done just the trick to get my mind and body ready for final third of the marathon campaign.

I have the first of two 22 mile runs coming up shortly, along with several half marathons to be tackled as glorified marathon pace training runs. I’m confident the training will get me to the start line in October, though I’m conscious that I’ll need to prioritise recovery, too. More and better sleep is what I’m lacking, though with daylight hours rapidly diminishing, I’m hopeful that me being a light sleeper will naturally resolve itself.

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of July 2017

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Can you ever not think of Bon Jovi when referring to being halfway?

Week 11 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Yep. Scarily, I’m halfway there…

5k recovery

Surprisingly, the lack of anything from the previous day’s 19 miles rolled over into this particular week. My legs continued to feel resilient and energy levels remained reasonably high, though I was conscious to keep the effort incredibly easy, with an average pace of 9:50 per mile at cira-60% of maximum heart rate.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Garmin 935 thoughts

garmin_935

It’s actually smaller on my wrist than the image implies…

After a little over a week with the Garmin 935, I thought I’d share a few musings about it.

GPS distance accuracy is in line with what my former Fenix 3 produced, but with far cleaner results in previous fringe situations and locations, such as Brindley Place and its artificial canyons. As a result, even the stable lap pace measurement has benefitted by becoming even more reliable and with less fluctuation.

Comfort-wise, it’s like night and day comparing it to the Fenix 3. At almost half the weight, the overall design is much sleeker and crucially offers a better fit, even on my slender wrists. This is critical for the next major feature to work…

Up until taking delivery of the 935, my only experience with optical heart rate monitoring was via Fitbit’s Charge HR. That Fitbit experience was and still remains poor, with my heart rate, and therefore resting heart rate, regularly being over or under-estimated. Community feedback on Garmin’s efforts has also been a mixed bag, and after my two efforts at Cannon Hill parkrun being under-reported, I feared the worst. Some fine-tuning of the position on my arm (further away from my wrist) and going one notch tighter on the strap, I need not have worried because the tracking was pretty much spot on, and aside from parkrun, efforts tracked well across a variety of paces.

All in all, I’m thrilled with it. True, it doesn’t do much dramatically different to what I had before via similar or alternative means (optical versus chest strap heart rate; on-board training load versus Strava’s Fitness & Freshness algorithm), but what it does do has been further refined. Everything feels more polished than the Fenix 3, such is the two years of learnings Garmin has been able to apply to the 935 and Fenix 5 line.

12 miles from work

After the previous week’s dreadful 11 miles from the office, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to tack on another mile… I switched this run up with the originally planned 10 miles with 6 at marathon pace, due to cooler conditions later in the week being more conducive to work at effort.

The first half confirmed my predictions that I would feel dreadful, with nothing falling into place at all. My stride felt heavy with no snap and my energy levels flagged; I couldn’t understand how this could be, especially as I had purposely gone out of my way to ensure I had enough calories on-board.

Thankfully, I perked up around halfway to at least make the second half tolerable. The planned 14 miles after work is going to be miserable, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Whilst the temperature dropped some, the humidity was jacked right up to make this an incredibly unpleasant experience, even at an easy pace. I could tell within minutes of starting that the air was muggy as sweat clinged to my skin, not doing what it should have.

Like Monday, I wanted to keep this effort easy, slowing to a 10:15 per mile average, also keeping my heart rate in check at circa-60% of maximum.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 6 at marathon pace

Wind. My natural nemesis. I knew I was in for a rough ride when I saw the water in the canal being blown along and leaves of trees overhead being whipped up.

I had to adjust the beginning of the route slightly, starting from the Jewellery Quarter rather than the office, to give me enough time on the canal towpath whilst bypassing Brindley Place early enough for it not to be a distraction.

Jumping into marathon pace after only 2 miles of warm-up and straight into headwind was a big ask, and one that failed somewhat. My opening split at pace was a way off the mark 7:12, when I needed it to be 6:50 or faster. Split 2 was getting closer at 6:58, but it wasn’t until split 3 where I’d cracked it with 6:46, with all remaining coming in at 6:47 to 6:42.

In spite of running into the wind, my heart rate seemed quite well-behaved, staying at around 80% of maximum; I’m reasonably confident that on a calmer day, I’d have been closer to 75%, for a general downtick in required effort for marathon pace. The shoes I wore didn’t help (Pegasus 34), feeling more like boats on my feet rather than tempo workout tools.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With a big run instore for Sunday, I opted to keep this effort dialled down. I found myself running with Ed Barlow, something I hadn’t done since 2014 when I was busting a gut just to stay with him at under 20 minutes. On this occasion, we were jovially catching up whilst maintaining that same 2014 pace!

I commented above that the 935 failed to effectively track my heart rate during this 5k effort at around threshold pace. What I suspect happened was a combination of the 935 not getting a good heart rate lock as the run started (it’s not like I can stall things) and the explosive start causing my body to divert blood flow to the areas that needed it most – if there’s not enough blood to track, a lower than expected heart rate is reported, which is exactly what I found happening. For parkrun, this is not an issue where I can always revert to the chest strap; 5k isn’t far enough for the strap to irritate, albeit the vigorous motion of my upper body can still cause it to slip.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

20 miles with Darryll

andy_and_darryll_20_miles

20 miles done!

“Do the same as you’ve always done. Always get what you’ve always got.” Whilst this year’s marathon training plan is largely the same as last year’s, I’ve been conscious to adapt and exploit a few tweaks and modifications in the quest for marginal gains that hopefully add up to over 3 minutes’ worth of improvements.

One such improvement has been to train more frequently with others, namely using races as training runs. Whilst not a race, it just so happened that Darryll Thomas and I were due to cover 20 miles over the same weekend. We’re both close enough in ability and with similar enough end-goals that it was complementary to team-up and share the effort.

Conditions were perfect for a long run in the summer with cool temperatures and overcast skies, almost autumnal in ways. We couldn’t believe our luck and geared up accordingly. Entirely unfamiliar with the route or surrounding areas of Bromsgrove that Darryll guided me on, the terrain was not unlike running on south Welsh country lanes around where my in-laws live.

Conversation flowed whilst we put the world to rights; the first half felt rather effortless as we regularly commented on how easy and casual the run felt. And then the sun came out…

Both of us were caught off-guard with the sun from halfway onwards. Little shade meant we both felt the effort ratchet upwards slowly, with a few undulations stinging far more than they should have. Positively, the two of us held on to the pace; had it have been our respective solo runs, we may have been convinced to back it off in the last couple of miles.

Upon finishing, aside from being incredibly thirsty, the two of us agreed sharing the effort undoubtedly took the edge off the 20 miles, but also will have reduced the amount of recovery needed. And whilst we‘re on recovery, Darryll checked me in as a guest to the gym he’s a member of to take advantage of some of the facilities on offer. A Jacuzzi, steam room and a dip in the pool all had a part to play – there was no soreness or tightness as I typed this out, so there’s something to be said for his recovery routine.

nike_vaporfly_4_percent

Fastest shoes in the world? Quite possibly!

Oh, and there was something that had been delivered for Darryll to further get the recovery endorphins flowing – the newly released Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes from the Breaking2 challenge! We both tried them on and the sensation is unlike any shoe I’ve ever experienced before, and I’ve tried a lot of running shoes over the years. It feels like springs have been embedded into the midsole and the carbon fibre plate almost encourages the foot to roll and propel forward, saving the wearer some valuable energy and effort with each stride and foot strike. Just from wearing them for a minute or so, I could quickly see there was some black magic contained inside Nike’s latest marvel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

1 mile for a 60 mile week

Sometime during last year’s marathon campaign, there was one week mapped out that was all set to become my first ever to feature 60 miles. For reasons I don’t exactly recall, though likely due to sacking off the jog back home from Cannon Hill parkrun, a 60 mile week failed to materialise, settling on 56 or 57 miles instead.

After totting up this week’s mileage, I had to laugh when I saw 59.00 miles; I was conflicted as to whether to ignore it and wait for it to happen organically sometime in August, or to just head out and jog a mile because I may miss the opportunity again? Well, I ended up heading back outside for one single easy mile, before being alerted by various folks on Strava that a further 3 miles would have equated to a 100km week. I did not go back out for a third time that day.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

For the second week on the trot, I once again feel like the training is taking shape and adaptations are happening. Aerobically, I’m feeling stronger than I’ve felt all year. Fitness can’t be rushed and it’ll hit when it’s good and ready, and often with no announcement.

The next two weeks will see some disruption due to racing and being away. The race is the flat and fast Magor 10k, which broke me so badly last year that I blacked out after crossing the finish line from heat exhaustion. I’ve no intention of racing that hard again if it’s warm, so will instead treat it as a fast threshold session; anything between 39:15 and 39:30 will be satisfactory in my book.

The other disruption is a one week getaway to Crete that Lis and I have planned. Temperatures will likely be in the high 20s to low 30s with no cloud cover, so there won’t be much running outdoors, bar a few easy efforts. I do have a VO2max workout in the plan, so will head to the hotel gym to accomplish that. Joy of joys, I also have a 15 mile run to welcome me back to the UK on the same day as we land…

This week’s running – 26th of June to 9th of July 2017

recovery

Some much needed recovery!

Week 8 and 9 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

I’ve merged two weeks together here, seeing as this past week was actually pretty light on running and heavy on recovery.

5k recovery with Lis

After seemingly weeks of absence, Lis and I resumed couples running, though it wasn’t without its issues…

Lis’ several week break from running meant she was almost starting from scratch again, so it’ll take some work to get her back up to being able to cover our 5k route once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work with strides

Whilst I was carrying some fatigue from the Wythall Hollywood 10k, the combination of the punchy race-effort and the cooler conditions made for quite a potent mix to have me feeling pretty good. I casually aimed to keep my heart rate below 70% of maximum, and largely achieved this, bar on a few climbs and the odd set of strides to encourage some leg turnover.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Oh wow. What a joy it was to run in cooler temperatures with a bag on my back and not feel like I was trudging through a rainforest expedition!

My heart rate was a good 5 to 10 beats lower for the same pace, such is the additional strain the heat and humidity places on our bodies.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

A fortnight ago, I broke away from my usual mould of 9-10 mile runs along the canal towpath from the office. After weeks of rinsing and repeating the same route, the change of scenery and its ever changing elevation made for a nice refresher; so nice, I decided to cover it once more with a view to training more specifically for the Yorkshire Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon

For the full write-up of this race, please click here.

5k recovery run

Kickstarting the week of recovery were these easy paced 5k runs on Sunday and Monday. 60% of maximum heart rate was largely achieved, ensuring the effort was low enough.

Here and here is the Strava data for these runs.

10k recovery

By Tuesday, I knew I was long overdue for a recovery week; in my defence, I’ve not felt like I’ve needed one until this week just gone.

It’s a happy coincidence that running to Cannon Hill Park, covering two laps, and then running home equates to exactly 10k. A few sets of strides stopped the easy pace from feeling too ploddy, also helping me to practice good form with no pressure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Rest is training

After a very warm and stressful commute for home, I decided to sack off my planned easy run. The sudden upsurge in temperature would have made even an easy pace feel more challenging than normal, so I reasoned I would gain more by not running. I’m grateful it wasn’t a regular training week!

By Friday, the near-three days of no running did the trick and I began to feel fresher once more.

Cannon Hill parkrun

It’d been more than five weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill and boy was it good to be back at home. Conditions appeared pretty decent, though I sadly was not feeling quite as fresh as I was just 24 hours prior on Friday. I’d suspected for a few weeks that I probably had a sub-19 5k in me if everything went well, so it was time to put some graft in for a morning of benchmarking…

Within the first few hundred metres, I found myself working with Barry Fallon, who’s a pretty close match in ability at the moment. We settled into our place in the crowd with enough breathing space to run unimpeded. Unexpectedly, especially of late, I had a deep focus on the task at hand and tried to ensure I was running smoothly with a good range of motion. Before we knew it, we had a 3:45 opening split on our hands for a small buffer should things have gone pear shaped in the middle, as they can so often do in a 5k.

Barry and I continued together before he slipped off backwards by a few steps or so, though remained inside touching distance. The pace overall had slowed by a few seconds to a more manageable 3:51 for 2k.

I was entirely conscious that large chunks of time could be lost from fading concentration, so I was on the lookout for people to chase down. As luck would have it, I’d inadvertently been caught tailing Scott Williams, who so happened to be pacing a club mate of his. Nearing 3k, he ushered me on into no-man’s land as he slowed to regroup with his follower. As luck would have it, maybe 10 or 15 metres away from me was a chap covering the ground at what looked exactly like my pace, due to the distance between us neither growing nor shrinking. Two short surges allowed me to latch on to him and to take advantage of his slipstream. 3k came in at 3:50, remaining steady.

Looking further ahead of the chap, there was nobody within easy reach to lock on to if my pacer slowed, or if I opted to make a move. As it so happened, he continued to run metronomically and I really had to focus to stay on his tail. My choo-choo train impression reared its ugly head again after a long absence, so I knew I wasn’t slacking off. 4k unbelievably also clocked in at 3:51!

The distance between us repeatedly grew and shrank during the final km. Looking at my Garmin, I knew it would be close for a sub-19 finish. Turning at the Mac, I managed to pull up next to him for the first time in the entire run. Losing the pace by a step or two, he momentarily began drifting backwards. I tried coaxing him back. “Keep going, fella. Not far,” I desperately snatched with what little breath was available. It did the trick, as he regained his momentum and pulled forward ahead of me. I was running on fumes and easily lost a second or two on the sharp turn for the tearoom, and several more on the final climb for the finish. He had just a smidge more strength than me, taking 16th by just a second, and me, 17th.

My lungs were on fire, but I cared not because I’d successfully gone sub-19 for the first time since my injury in January, with 18:56 flashing on my Garmin. I thanked my unwitting pacer, Gareth, and introduced myself. “Yeah. I guessed that was your name from all the people cheering you on.” Sheepishly, I smiled and replied with, “Yeah… I’ve been running here for a few years…”

So often, I’m reliant on everything coming together for a good performance to happen; it was almost like divine intervention that the conditions were favourable, I was rested, and there were always people around me to work with. I’m still over 30 seconds away from my best at Cannon Hill, but I’m still ecstatic by this small, personal victory.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to the Cube and back

With just an easy 12 miles on the schedule to cover, I teamed up with Simon to help him get 14 miles in, which became his longest ever run.

Almost timed to perfection, he ran past my front door just as I was setting out, so there was no need to stop and regroup.

Simon won’t mind me sharing this with you all, because it’s of benefit to everybody. Please, please, please have something to eat before you embark on your longest runs to date. Hell, it may not even be your longest run, but unless you’re well fat adapted, you’re gonna have a pretty shitty time.

Within just 2 to 3 miles (flat/downhill) at what should have been an easily achievable pace for him, his breathing was already quite laboured. I finally got it out of him that he was running on an empty stomach because he didn’t have anything in for breakfast…

Marathon training is hard enough if everything goes well, so there really isn’t any need to knee-cap yourself and make runs more challenging than they need to be. The mental boost and confidence developed from a string of well executed runs can’t be quantified, but it all helps to propel and motivate for the next block of training, and the block after that, and so on.

Despite the big setback, we got him to his 14 miles in one piece. With the lack of energy and new distance, I warned Simon not to take recovery lightly for the next few days, where his body was likely to think of the run as closer to a race in terms of effort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

So far, so good. I’m pretty content with how things are progressing, and Strava’s crude Fitness & Freshness chart suggests the same.

I’m inching ever closer to some big runs and sessions, so the past week of recovery has been most welcome. The coming week calls for runs of 10 miles with 5 of them at marathon pace, and 19 miles. The former is expected to take place during heavy rain, so at least the canal will be clear and I’ll be reasonably cool!

This week’s running – 6th to 19th of February 2017

andy_yu_returning_from_injury

Now there’s a sight for sore eyes, and a cause of sore legs…

Woohoo! I’m finally back!

Apologies for the lack of an update over the previous week – I’ve rolled that up into this more extensive post.

Injury update and lessons learned

It turns out it’s incredibly difficult to blog about running without actually doing any running… I follow plenty of run-bloggers out on that there interweb and plenty of them have taken time off from blogging whilst on long-term injury or illness. Whilst I’ve endured four consecutive weeks of self-enforced non-running since the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I’ve not actually enjoyed uninterrupted and unhindered training since early December to give you a clearer view of how little running I’ve actually done. Colds and flus marred much of the final month of 2016, and then my Achilles tear occurred shortly before Christmas to challenge me on a weekly basis before I concluded I needed some extended time off.

So, what are the takeaways from my time on the injury bench?

Running is therapy for me. I have an obsessive and addictive personality, and hobbies are the perfect outlet. But when I wasn’t able to run, all I could focus on was not doing what I love and missing out on the training that drives me so.

Turns out the easiest way for me to switch off from pining for running was to literally do just that and forget about pounding the pavement. The first week or two was difficult initially, but worryingly, not thinking of, or doing, running became the norm after so little time. People say it takes up to three months for good learned behaviours to become habitual, but I was shocked by how little time it took for the familiarity and the want of running to fade away from memory. Physical marathons became Netflix marathons! Is it any wonder that so many people start the journey to healthier lifestyles, but so few are able to make them long-lasting?

Thoughts of eventually returning to running turned to dread at times. How much fitness will I have lost? How long will it take me to return to training normality? Unexpectedly, these fears need not have caused concern and I even surprised myself by confirming I’m actually a process driven runner after all – the goal is to get back to my peak, and to eventually surpass it, but it’s that journey there that’s so critical at the moment. It’s not a means to an end and I’ll come good when ready, and I’m cool with that.

So, without further ado, let’s move on to that first run back from injury…

Cannon Hill Parkrun

My extended stint at volunteering has been enjoyable and even catapulted me into the 25 Club – I’m looking forward to receiving the purple Tribe Sports volunteer t-shirt, but it won’t end there; I still fully intend to volunteer when tapering for races and so on. Making myself useful whilst injured has been my way of giving something back to Parkrun. If you consider yourself a regular Parkrunner, but can’t recall the last time you volunteered, or perhaps you’ve never volunteered, why not reacquaint/introduce yourself and sign up?

Donning my running gear for the first time in a month was a rather odd experience. My shoes felt completely alien to my feet and I had to constantly go through the routine in my mind so that I didn’t forget anything. Clothes? Check. Garmin? Check. Barcode? Check.

Once more, I commuted over to Cannon Hill Park with Liz Dexter, who reminded me repeatedly not to crock myself again by being an idiot. This is where the extended absence from running has proved helpful in my recovery and rehabilitation; the heady heights of peak training were a distant memory and it was now entirely about reintroducing regular running in a controlled and safe manner with no rush.

Sharing my warm-up jog with Nigel Beecroft, my legs felt great and were expectedly fresh with a noticeable bounce to my stride. Each forward step was joyous and my form returned quickly with no deterioration. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge waking up alive on Christmas morning – it’s great to be back!

Casting aside any lofty goals, Nigel, Simon and I agreed to just see what would happen if we aimed for somewhere between 22 and 23 minutes. I cared not that such finish times were some 3 to 4 minutes slower than the norm; the new norm is to simply survive 5k, pain-free.

The three of us ran in close unison, though they both had the edge on me as I regularly brought up the rear of the pack. My legs had plenty of strength and mobility, though it was my cardiovascular system that stopped me from pushing any harder. I’m unsure if it was purely lack of familiarity or actual fitness loss that held me back; probably a bit of Column A and a bit of Column B. But boy, oh boy, to be running again was all that mattered. The simple things in life, eh?

Both Nigel and Simon finished in just under 22 minutes, and me just over. Here’s the Strava data for this run.

A post-run coffee with them both, along with Carl Stainton, rounded off a problem-free return to running.

Out of the blue, I also bumped into Simon Cook, the chap that interviewed me back in December about run-commuting – ironically, something I’ve also not done since mid-December… He was interviewing another run-commuter as part of the research project, with only a few remaining participants left to cover.

5k around the neighbourhood

For the next two weeks, I’ve promised myself to not run any further than 5k and to cover the distance at comfortable paces. Sunday is traditionally most people’s long run allocation, so it was rather odd, though refreshingly welcome, to be completely done and dusted in fewer than 30 minutes!

Expectedly, there was some muscle soreness from the previous day’s 5k, along with being on my feet afterwards for some 6 hours. It’s most noticeable in my quads, hips and lower back from a lack of use.

Encouragingly, my VO2max is still sitting at 60-61 based on feedback from my Garmin.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

This week’s running – 24th to 30th of October 2016

recovery

I’m still not quite all there it would seem…

Well that was an unexpected week of just a single run!

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…

So, after last week’s 5k and 10 miles on consecutive days, my body rebelled and decided it wasn’t quite ready to return to normal training post-marathon. Come Monday, I was incredibly lethargic and felt like I had the early stages of a cold coming on. Tuesday was no better and whilst I’d packed my kit for a run from the office, I decided to listen to the warning signs on show and ducked out. Several days later, my resting heart rate was still elevated at 51bpm from the 45 to 48 I normally see, convincing me to perhaps re-evaluate taking a run on to the end of the week.

10 miles around local parks

Whilst my resting heart still sat relatively high, the rest of me felt ready to chase after 10 miles.

I took a leaf out of Dave Burton’s book of route planning to send me on a tour of several of the local parks to me (Swanshurst, Highbury, Cannon Hill and Kings Heath). Whilst things started off well enough, based on the additional scenery stimulation on offer, I did feel the distance I covered was greatly at odds with how far I actually ran.

Though my cardiovascular system seemed to hold up quite well, my strength and fatigue resilience was completely shot. My left knee creaked whilst my IT bands grew tighter and tighter as the run progressed, requiring an extensive session on the foam roller to iron them out.

Hopefully my running mojo will come back soon?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.