This week’s running – 14th to 20th of March 2016

cardiff_world_half_marathon

Not long to go now until Cardiff – photo by Wales Online

A rarity for me, I’m actually looking forward to the taper!

6k from work

Man was I feeling Sunday’s 16 miles on Monday’s recovery run! The milder temperature at least meant I was able to run in a t-shirt.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

I do feel like these focused fartlek runs are restoring some of the explosive power that deteriorated throughout the winter.

Very much a repeat of last week, this was the final time I ran it in its entirety before bringing the distance down as part of race week’s taper. I could tell it was the third week of a training block due to having to work just a smidge harder to hit similar paces as before.

During the return on the closing two fast stretches, a stocky fella was also out on the towpath completing a fartlek workout of his own. He looked like some sort of rugby back player – big, but he certainly had some speed in him and it took me some effort to match his pace. On my recovery, I complimented him on his speed, which made his eyes light up. I motioned for him to join me on my final blast; he followed suit, though I was able to just about hold him off.

My warm-down was completed incredibly slowly, which surprised me some because it didn’t feel slow at all.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

In my haste, I packed a t-shirt rather than a long-sleeve top for the commute from work. Whilst the sun was indeed out, it was neither particularly warm, nor was I running long enough or fast enough to really work up a sweat. I received a few strange glances from fellow runners that looked like they were dressed more for Arctic expeditions!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

I was well and truly knackered on Thursday. All the recent training density had caught up to me, but I still decided to go out for 10 miles against my better wisdom.

A tailwind on the out made the first half deceptively more manageable. Two different guys running at around my pace were also 100m or so ahead of me, giving me targets to work towards.

Turning around at halfway, the tailwind very noticeably became a headwind. Darkness also fell; powering on my headtorch did little to prevent the pace perception skew from starting my run in daylight, resulting in a significant step up in effort.

Feeling rather hungry, tired and slighty dazed by the time I returned home, I was well and truly wrecked. Dinner and an early night beckoned!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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Easy does it – photo by Greg Robinson

Disappointingly, I ducked out of a scheduled attempt at a fast Parkrun because I simply wasn’t feeling quite all there. My body was screaming out for the taper, so I granted it mercy and erred on the side of caution once more; a sub-20 5k was and some half marathon race pace training was all that was on the menu that morning.

I stuck with Nigel early on; not quite recovered from last week, he ushered me to press on with my target pace and I found myself moving through the field. Aggressive wind confirmed what a wise choice it was to save smashing myself over 5k for another day.

With just a mile remaining, I looked ahead and saw Dave only 150m or so in front of me. Moving through to the final km, I’d shut the gap down to just 50m and decided to leave it at that all the way to the finish, crossing the line in 19:52.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

11 miles with Dave

For somebody that claims to rarely train with others, Sunday became my third long run in a row with Dave – this time, covering almost 11 miles entirely with him.

A pretty leisurely pace was maintained as we put rights to the world. A mystery runner wished me well for the World Half Marathon Championships, who I assume is a blog reader (thank you!)

Seriously ready for the taper now…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

JQ to KH

andy_yu_new_house

Back to my old stomping ground of Kings Heath

I delayed this post on purpose to be able to slot this little snippet in – Lis and I are moving to Kings Heath! We’ve spent four years calling the Jewellery Quarter our home, which has been fantastic for me as a runner, with easy access to the canal network, race start lines and the like.

With this move will come a slight tweak to this blog – I will no longer be making my Garmin run data public and will instead publish my Strava data with a privacy exclusion zone enabled. Living in a flat, amongst many other blocks of flats in the Jewellery Quarter, has meant I’ve enjoyed anonymity and security – things I can no longer take for granted. Those of you in my Garmin Connect network will still be able to view my run data.

 

This week’s running – 15th to 20th of February 2016

recovery_week

Relatively speaking!

Not a particularly exciting week, I’m afraid, and it’s one day shorter than normal due to heading out to Germany with work…

5k from work

The combination of a hard Parkrun and the 14 miles over the previous 48 hours had left me rather stiff, particularly in my hips. Lots of heavy lifting at work did nothing to help with my upper body mobility, either, to leave me creaking all over on this recovery run home.

Here’s the Garmin data.

4 canal miles

This particular week was always scheduled as some cut-back time, hence this much shorter than normal canal run. Not wanting to be completely devoid of speed, I threw in a number of strides that lasted no more than 10 seconds.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Yuck. It rained for most of the day and just before I was due to head home, the heavens opened up for a heavy downpour. With several dry days prior, the 1.5 mile unpaved stretch was actually rather pleasant to cover; all that firm, dry ground was completely undone in a matter of hours.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

The Sports Gene: What makes the perfect athlete

the_sports_gene

Disappointing and I personally found this quite difficult to read

I had high hopes for this book and sadly, it missed the mark. I was expecting a bit more of the science behind what makes a great athlete, though it only dabbles and is instead mostly made up of anecdotal stories. Some may prefer it that way, but I wanted something more technical with perhaps just a few anecdotes to support the theories.

It does explore the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, along with the notions of nature versus nurture. The conclusion was somewhat inconclusive, apart from the somewhat obvious statement that a talented athlete in the right environment will thrive.

A so-so 3/5 from me…

Cannon Hill Parkrun

With me off to Germany on Sunday for a couple of days, I wanted to prioritise one last long-ish run before I headed out, so to allow for that, I opted to volunteer at Cannon Hill. I’m just nine more volunteer slots away from a new purple t-shirt, though I’ve promised myself I won’t go out of my way beyond the five or so occasions each year; by my calculations, I’ll probably pick-up my 250 t-shirt at around the same time…

Walking over to the bandstand with Steve Dunsby, we joked that I would end up marshalling the complex junction over the bridge. Well, you’ll never guess where I ended up…

The first lap was easy as pie, with runners only needing to turn left back towards the bandstand.

The second lap was when things began to get tricky! Rob Foster led the way on his bike with Will Richardson in tow. Problem was the runners in second, third and fourth were a good minute or so behind; the second place chap at the time had no idea where he was supposed to be going, and clearly didn’t see the cones laid out on the ground. He took my instructions of “keep right” a little too literally and began heading into the car park at one stage, before we called him back; he then began to head into the wooded section, needing to be called back once more to finally be put back on course!

It doesn’t end there… As Rob Foster led Will Richardson back towards the MAC, there were runners covering the entire width of the path and needed reminding to keep right to allow Will and others to come through. Most obeyed my instructions of “keep right”, but a few were on another planet and ignored my pleas until more runners came through on the other side. “OK! We get it!” one runner retorted to me in an annoyed manner; he may well “get it”, but many of those behind him sure didn’t! We’re just volunteers doing our part and could do without the agro *sigh*.

10 canal miles

With the cutback week still in flow, I knew I only wanted to cover 10 miles or so with some sections at marathon pace to stop the run becoming too ploddy.

Mistake number 1: I was overdressed. I wore a long-sleeve compression top, not realising it was actually 11 degrees outdoors. The faster paced marathon miles weren’t all that comfortable whilst I overheated…

Mistake number 2: Brindley Place on a Saturday afternoon, even in drizzly conditions, is heaving. Thankfully, I was either warming up or cooling down as I ran through, so not mission critical at all that I had an unimpeded path.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

I plan to get a few easy paced runs in whilst I’m in Düsseldorf next week – let’s hope I don’t do a Peterborough and turn a 6 mile run into a 10 mile one by getting lost!

This week’s running – 18th to 24th of January 2016

prayformojo.jpg

“Pray for mojo” indeed

Recovery of my running mojo was the name of the game, this week.

5k from work

My first run of the week fell on Wednesday, partially because I simply couldn’t face any runs earlier in the week, but also because work got the better of me. As I write this blog entry, I count my lucky stars that I was able to get the Brass Monkey out of the way before this my day job wreaked havoc on me! This simple 5k run from the office was kept incredibly easy to compensate for the utter bedlam.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 canal miles

“Why is that man exercising in the cold,” the young boy asked his mother as I ran past… I questioned it myself for the briefest of moments before falling back in line with the planned 8 miles.

Much like the day prior, I covered the distance entirely by feel with no heroics on show. The tactic was very much necessary, considering I had foolishly under-fuelled at lunch to leave me incredibly ravenous throughout the run.

As I arrived back home, I noticed the measured distance on my Garmin was a few hundred metres further than usual on a route I knew like the back of my hand. Studying the GPS track, it’s incredibly dirty with the Garmin struggling particularly through Brindley Place and a number of straight stretches on the canal. Incredibly odd, because these are areas the Garmin has handled without even breaking a sweat in the past, and worryingly, has been a growing issue of the past few weeks. I hope my Garmin isn’t on its way out after three years, because I can’t afford a replacement!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

The busy workweek finally caught up to me, leaving lethargy and sleep deprivation in its wake. I reached Cannon Hill with no enthusiasm and decided early on I would only aim to duck under 20 minutes as an arbitrary target. This coincided with Nigel’s outlook to build himself back to regular sub-20 performances in time for his 100th run in a few short weeks – the deal was struck!

There was a massive attendance, driven partially by yet more newcomers to the world of Parkrun, but mostly down to King’s Heath Running Club filling the volunteer roster, and drawing out more of its membership base to run. Pacers were also provided, which have historically proven very popular.

Now, I’m gonna have a bit of a moan. Yesterday, I witnessed a large mass of a few hundred runners departing for the start line before the run briefing had even finished – the second time since the New Year. I know Cannon Hill is a busy run (frequently second largest in the UK after Bushy Park) and we want to get ourselves in a good position in the start grid, but how about we show some common courtesy and let the run director finish what they have to say without rudely wandering off? I like to start near the very front, but I still stay until the run director ushers runners away, and simply jog a bit quicker to reach my preferred start position.

Once running, Nigel and I kept the 20 minute pacer in our sights. My Garmin indicated we had a buffer of 10 seconds or so to hit sub-20, whereas the pacer was probably closer to 19:35 or so.

Bar a slightly fast second km, I kept the pace pretty steady as I worked with Nigel to tick off the splits. If ever he drifted backwards by a few strides, I eased off the throttle to allow us to regroup and did my best to imperceptibly get back on pace without putting too much strain on him.

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David and Nigel in hot pursuit – photo by Geoff Hughes

We picked up David Brayne in the final km, who had slipped back towards us from the official 20 minute pacer. Approaching the final hill, David and Nigel both continued to drift from the prescribed pace, so a few words of encouragement were in order. David protested that he was at his limit – a place I knew all too well – a few Alistair Brownlee style barks that giving up wasn’t acceptable was all it took to light a fire underneath him to send him charging up the hill for the finish, with Nigel in tow!

I got my guys back in with just a few seconds to spare, and Nigel ran his fastest 5k since early October. Whilst I clocked my own finishing time of 19:45, the official result gave me 19:50 to leave me scratching my head. Dave, of the Burton variety (who ran a superb 19:23), was confident the timer had missed a button press somewhere amongst the group of runners before me, leaving everybody with a time that was one place out of sync – the runner immediately above me in the results has a time much closer to the one I recorded myself.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

11 canal miles

We all occasionally have runs where nothing seems to go right, and this was one such example.

I underestimated how warm it would be outside; thinking a t-shirt, some shorts and gloves would suffice. Wrong! I easily could have done without the gloves, and I would have been far more comfortable in a vest – such was the problem of going from near zero degrees to a temperature in the low teens over just a matter of days.

I also underestimated how under-recovered I was, too. The intention was to cover 13 or so miles, but the fatigue I still carried cut that plan short.

Finally, I foolishly left too little time between breakfast and heading out through the door. My guts were in knots as I suffered through stitch after stitch for an incredibly unpleasant ride.

There were some highlights at least. I bumped into Alex Mold twice and a chap I didn’t recognise congratulated me on my Brass Monkey PB.

Hopefully next week’s long run will be kinder to me!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time for another batch of Mark Remy’s running rule shorts from The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 51 to 60

  1. If you care even a little bit about being called a jogger versus a runner… you’re a runner.
  2. Women who race in full makeup are never fast.
  3. Women who race in full makeup don’t care that they’re not fast.
  4. The best time of day to run is the time you’re most likely to actually do it.
  5. Whenever possible, choose a primary care physician who is also a runner.
  6. You can’t go wrong with Fig Newtons.
  7. Shop for running shoes late in the day, not in the morning. (Your feet swell as the day progresses.)
  8. A sock makes better TP than a leaf does.
  9. If the shorts have a liner, underwear is redundant.
  10. If you can’t live without it, don’t leave it in a gear-check bag.

 

This week’s running – 4th to 10th of January 2016

flu

Time for the seasonal cold to strike!

This week was mostly about recovering from a cold…

5k from work

My throat was still kinda sore, and just in time for the much dreaded return to work. I was still in the early signs of a cold, but I’d been able to dodge them in the past through extensive gargling with warm salt water. My head still felt like it was packed with cotton wool and general fatigue lingered on the periphery, but I decided to run home from the office anyway ala my usual “MTFU” attitude when it comes to running; the pace was definitely slower than normal!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Achoo!

Dear, oh dear. I felt ropier and ropier as the week progressed; not helped by the incredibly busy schedule at work due to various projects starting and nearing completion. With the Brass Monkey Half Marathon less than a fortnight away, caution was the plan of approach and I reluctantly took an enforced running break from Tuesday through to Friday.

Truth be told, the several days of rest did me a world of good. Not only did my body get a chance to recover, but mentally I was able to recharge as well. I also slept incredibly well, with some nights clocking in with over 10 hours’ worth of ZZZs!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

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Time to give my confidence a kick up the arse – photo by Geoff Hughes

My return to running for the week coincided nicely with Cannon Hill Parkrun. I felt much more with it, aided by a lovely cocktail of potions and pills to have me feeling in positive spirits.

History has typically shown the first one or two events at Cannon Hill each New Year draws in vast numbers of runners, new or not – I’m sure it’s the same at other events. Saturday didn’t disappoint with 688 in attendance (second highest attendance), and could have still been higher had there not have been a cross-country fixture that took place later that afternoon.

The warm-up with Nigel felt fantastic. My legs felt incredibly fresh, as one would expect from four days without running, whereas the norm would be only one or even zero rest days and heavy legs. There was a bounce in my step where I couldn’t recall the last time it was experienced. Our 200m effort was equally as good, prompting me to have a good old bash out on the course to see what effect the cold had on me, if anything.

Bizarrely during the run briefing, a large crowd of people suddenly walked off for the start line to leave only more-learned regulars behind. I had to make a beeline for the front to avoid being hemmed in. I’m still scratching my head over what triggered the random mass exodus from the bandstand!

Off the line, I went for it and was surprised to see myself in fifth place, with the Garmin screaming to slow down from the 3:21 per km pace and eventually settled at 3:39 for the split.

I continued to feel strong, but knew it couldn’t possibly last. Several runners came past me to send me down to twelfth place and then eighteenth place. I lacked fellow runners around me to work with, further increasing the effort to maintain pace. 3:46 came out on the other side for my troubles.

I was all aboard the pain train for the third and fourth km. My breathing was laboured and my body refused to go with the effort due to the lactic acid that was in free flow. I pulled all manner of gurns on my face in the hope of externalising the torture. 3:58 and 4:01 were the third and fourth km splits, respectively.

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A one-way ticket on the pain train – photo by Lis Yu

With only a few hundred metres to go, I reached the MAC and was helpfully informed by my Garmin that I’d just ticked past 17:00 minutes by a few seconds. A lady running with a dog, though not with Parkrun, weaved all over the path to cut me up pretty badly. “ON YOUR RIGHT! ON YOUR RIGHT!” I bellowed with only mere steps before I went clattering into her; thankfully, she finally maintained a straight line and a quick evasive sidestep from me prevented an all mighty pile-up. I ratcheted the pace up one notch, though my Garmin confirmed there would be no new PB that morning as I ran past the tearoom; a sub-19 finish was still available to signal one final kick that carried me up that infernal hill, producing 18:58 after being ill for much of the week.

I was in bits at the end and had to kneel down once clear of the finish funnel. A younger runner thanked me for pulling him through to a new PB on much of the course; it was a shame he couldn’t keep up with me where we may have been able to push the pace to another level entirely.

Whilst not a PB, I got the confidence boost I wanted and this run became my tenth sub-19 5k – it’s no longer just a fluke! runbritain rankings enjoyed watching me put myself through hell and has rewarded me with a -1.7 performance handicap, also resulting in a drop from 4.6 to 4.4 on my overall handicap.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Canal half marathon

The weather outside was deceptive on this long run. Whilst the sun shone brilliantly and encouraged me to break out my sunglasses, the temperature was bitterly cold, especially when faced by a headwind.

This was the final long run before next week’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon. Whilst there was little new fitness to be gained from going long, I knew the several days off from running required some attention to get me back on track before things began to feel too alien. In spite of being doped up on all manner of cold remedies, I still had to make liberal use of “snot rockets” to clear myself of all too regular congestion.

There were plenty of runners out on the canal towpaths, with many regular faces including Toby Close and Dave Burton popping up; embarrassingly, I recognised Dave’s Cardiff 10k t-shirt before I realised it was him!

I wanted to slot in two isolated miles at target half marathon pace in a bid to become reacquainted with the effort required. The first mile left me feeling very uneasy, though I’m willing to put that mostly down to the angry headwind that tore into me at the same time. Rather than send my recovery back into a downward spiral, I jettisoned the idea of a second mile at half marathon pace with a view to tackle it again on Tuesday evening’s run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the next batch of shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 31 to 40

  1. A long-sleeved shirt and shorts will always look better than a short-sleeved shirt with tights.
  2. Owning your own timing chip is like carrying your own pool cue into a bar.
  3. If an injury is bad enough to keep you from running properly, it’s bad enough to keep you from running, period.
  4. You can never have too many safety pins in or on your gym bag.
  5. Increase your mileage no more than 10 percent per week.
  6. For winter runs, a man never regrets opting for wind briefs.
  7. No one sleeps well the night before a race; the night before the night before your race is the important one.
  8. The first runner to crest a hill is the strongest runner of the group.
  9. The last runner to crest a hill is the funniest of the group.
  10. Don’t wear racing flats unless you can back ‘em up.

This week’s running – 16th to 22nd of November 2015

barney

Curse you, Barney!

This week was mostly about Storm Barney battering the nation.

5k from work

I was positively full of beans on the Monday run-commute from the office. There was a nice, natural pick-up in pace that was unexpected, but certainly welcome. Oh, and my ninja friend was out on the towpaths again, dressed head to toe in black, but at least on this occasion, he was running with the torch on his phone enabled…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Fort

Even the Fort Shopping Park sign was no match for Barney!

A few people I know were able to get their Tuesday runs out of the way before Storm Barney hit to have me green with envy. I wasn’t looking forward to the forecasted 40 – 70mph winds, no sir-ee.

Walking back home from work, I was almost blown over a number of times to convince me that a fartlek run, where set pace was not of consequence, would be appropriate for the evening. Fighting against the wind would ensure I’d at least get the desired hard workout!

There were a surprising number of people out on the canal towpath in spite of the strong winds. I was further taken aback by how many of them were runners, convincing me I’d made the right move not to sack the run off for a night indoors instead.

That first effort into the wind was like running through treacle whilst wearing a parachute. Regardless of how quickly I pumped my arms, or how fast I made my cadence, progress was hard to come by. I was conscious not to overdo fighting the wind for fear of leaving nothing in the tank to make it back home. I soon warmed up and the task became more bearable, thanks to some strategic bursts of speed when the wind temporarily retreated.

I always lull myself into a false sense of security regarding tailwinds. A headwind on the out always means a tailwind on the return, right? Wrong! The truth, whilst not stranger than fiction, was certainly harsher. The tailwind only materialised on a few occasions, with a strong crosswind filling the void the rest of the time. There were a few hairy moments, especially on the exposed bridge at Selly Oak, when I was almost pushed into the water…

Once back at home, I stuck two fingers up at Barney to celebrate my completed fartlek – not even the purple dinosaur elements could stop me!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

I felt sluggish after the previous evening’s fartlek run, so kept the pace low and slow. Secondarily dictating the slower pace was me forgetting to pack my headtorch… I’ve truly been spoilt by how much power the Petzl headtorch pushes out; by comparison, the iPhone torch was only bright enough to illuminate my feet and maybe 1m of the ground ahead.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

I’m loving the increased mileage I’m cranking out, with 8 of the last 11 weeks (the remainder were taper or recovery weeks) sitting around the 43 mile mark. I’m seriously getting twitchy if I don’t hit at least 40 miles.

This particular 10 miler is one I most likely would have binned were it not for my pursuit for mileage consistency. I still felt somewhat beat up from Tuesday’s fartlek run; in my mind, I’d already decided to cover the first 5 miles at just under 8 minute pace to keep things in check, before pressing on with 3 miles at the slower end of marathon pace (7:10 or so), with 2 miles at the end to cool down.

Getting home from work took much longer than anticipated and then once I reached my street, it started raining to further dampen the mood. My Garmin also decided to get in on the conspiracy to make this run not happen. Normally, I leave it on a windowsill to achieve satellite lock on; used daily and not travelling very far, the Garmin’s cache of satellite data is usually always relevant, with lock on achieved within minutes at most. After two failed attempts and two reboots, a signal still wasn’t found and I was running out of time to get 10 miles completed for the evening. I didn’t fancy waiting outside for the Garmin to find a signal, but alas, it had to be done – I feel naked without run data! Within just a couple of seconds of stepping outside, the Garmin finally locked in on some satellites to have me rolling my eyes.

Thankfully, after the delayed start, the run was entirely without incident. It was also nice after Tuesday’s lack of lighting to be reunited with my headtorch and actually be able to see my surroundings! The 3 miles at marathon pace were really positive. My form felt efficient and the pace was smooth and relaxed.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

There was a sharp intake of breath on Saturday morning to welcome in the coldest Parkrun I’d experienced for months. An easy jog with Nigel Beecroft and Paul Shackleton soon took care of the warm-up and a 200m sprint at race pace helped to keep the warmth around. I paired my vest with gloves and arm warmers; Jort, also wearing a vest through error, quipped, “Real men don’t wear arm warmers!”

I really wasn’t sure of my game plan for the run, but I did think to have a bash at bringing my runbritain handicap down further; the cold and windy conditions were more than likely to have the run’s difficulty higher than normal for a slight boost to any decent performance.

Off the line, I went out reasonably hard but certainly didn’t feel as fresh as I’d hoped. I eased off the gas, allowing the pace to hover around 3:44, and settled into a decent-sized pack. I’ve no idea what’s happened of late, but Cannon Hill seems to be attracting a strong field of runners at the sharper end again; there was some backlash from a number of faster runners when the course was modified last year to feature a hill at the end, slowing down one of the faster and better attended courses in the West Midlands. I estimated I was somewhere in the low 30s on Saturday, position-wise, whereas I’d have been in the high teens a year ago whilst at a lower ability.

Entering the second lap, I made a move to take shelter from the wind and surged to draft behind one bloke that was just slightly ahead. He had a lengthy stride, which made staying in his slipstream somewhat tricky; I didn’t want to get too close to potentially trip him up, but also had to stay within a certain range to actually receive any benefit. I couldn’t actually see the ground properly and trusted in his steps, though nearly came a cropper when he quickly jumped to avoid a stray tree branch, only for me to go clattering into it!

I continued to tail the guy into the third km and took up front-running duties when I sensed his pace slipping. We’d picked up a few stragglers along the way to make the entry into the triangle rather crowded; this proved to be incredibly motivating to break away from the group on the exit for the fourth km.

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Brrr – photo by Geoff Hughes

Once into the final km, I could hear a couple of runners right on my tail to keep me on my toes. Whilst I had plenty of strength throughout the run, I did feel like I had a certain oomph missing from the final split, almost like there was a distinct lack of finishing power. I’ve always felt a strength of mine was the ability to produce a big kick at the end. I crossed the line for 19:05 and 27th place; over 19 minutes but I was fairly confident I’d done enough to make a small dent to my runbritain handicap if the results were anything to go by.

Here’s the Garmin data for this Parkrun.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 22.16.52

Moving in the right direction again!

And my hunch was correct! 4.8 down from 4.9!

Canal half marathon

Due to the need to be somewhere at 11:30am, I headed out for 13.1 miles a touch earlier than usual and boy did I feel that temperature drop. The long-sleeve top and gloves keeping me company were most welcome!

Freezing temperatures aside, it was a beautiful winter’s morning. Plenty of other runners, walkers and cyclists must have thought so too, because it wasn’t ever long before I encountered another soul out there.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with me at the moment, but the most comfortable stretch of this long run were the 3 miles I covered at marathon pace. I never really felt at home during the first 6 miles, nor the final 4, both run at a lower effort.

I did bump into Carl out there, though couldn’t stop to chat due to above said time constraints. Had we have stopped, I’m not sure how long we’d have lasted before we got moving again due to the biting cold!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time for this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Judge not the runner in the cotton t-shirt

Back in the day, according to ancient cave paintings, runners wore cotton shirts. Strange, but true.

Fast-forward a few decades, and today we have “technical” shirts, designed to wick moisture away from the skin, keeping you drier and more comfortable. Technical shirts have the added benefit of looking cool, like something astronauts might wear while relaxing, after hours, with a freeze-dried gin and tonic.

Yes, everyone loves tech shirts.

Still, you will encounter the occasional oddball old-timer who runs in cotton (usually cotton race T-shirts, though even those are becoming rare). Treat him with the respect he deserves – for two reasons, at least:

  1. Chances are good that he has been running a lot longer than you have, and even if he’s not faster than you today, he probably was at some point.
  2. Deriding another runner based on what the runner is wearing is just lame. Such an attitude says a lot more about the derider than it does about the one being derided. And what it says isn’t pretty.

Besides, someday – if you’re very lucky – you might be an oddball old-timer yourself. And how will you feel if someone sneers at you and your old, outdated tech shirts?

 

 

This week’s running – 26th of October to 1st of November 2015

Alexander Stadium

Following in the footsteps of the pros at Alexander Stadium

This week saw me return to the track along with the beginning of scaling things back.

6k from work

My recent upwards push for additional mileage got me thinking about where the opportunities are to tack on an extra mile here or there. I’m loathe to make my long run further than 15 miles outside of training for a marathon, and I also want to avoid double days unless absolutely necessary. That leaves only my existing runs to build upon, starting with the humble jog home from the office.

By taking a long detour once I left the canal towpath, I was able to stretch it beyond the usual 5k to 6k without much difficulty at all.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6k from work

Due to how my week stacked up, I moved things around to run home from work two days in a row. On paper, this was simple but in practice, it required a bit more additional planning. I try and leave as much stuff at the office as possible when running home to keep the weight of my bag down; a piece of piss in the summer when I’m taking next to nothing into work, but tricky in the colder months with coats, scarves etc. Two days running home on the trot, and a day off on Wednesday meant a lot of stuff was accumulating in my office!

Anywho, logistics aside, I boosted this run to 6k also. For a complete contrast to the evening before with deathly quiet roads, coming off the canal towpath presented wall-to-wall grid locked traffic. I have no idea what had happened in and around the city centre to make traffic so bad, but Lis even had to abandon a yoga class because she simply couldn’t get to it on time. I’m sure plenty of motorists looked on at me in envy as I effortlessly ran past, measuring my run in minutes per mile whilst they measured their journeys in inches per minute.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

2x 400m, 4x 800m, 2x 400m

Alexander Stadium

Having Alexander Stadium all to myself was pretty inspiring!

I had a couple of days off remaining for the year to use up before I lost them, so I took Wednesday off to get a head start on Christmas shopping (!), but also to visit the track for a session. Rather than utilise Fox Hollies leisure centre as before, I made my way over to Alexander Stadium for a pre-8am start.

Expectedly, the place was dead so I had the entire stadium all to myself. It was pretty cool to set foot on a track that so many athletic superstars had used in the past. Thankfully, the forecasted rain never came but the previous night’s wet weather had left the track and everything around it rather damp; an easy 2k jog left my feet soaked due to water I kicked up…

The plan was to cover the following:

  • 2x 400m at 3k pace (3:35/km) with 60 seconds’ rest in between
  • 4x 800m at 5k pace (3:45/km) with 90 seconds’ rest in between
  • 2x 400m at 3k pace (3:35/km) with 60 seconds’ rest in between

The 400m reps were fast, but didn’t feel impossible once I got into my stride. The only difficulty was running at the correct target pace; 400m was a tad too short for my Garmin to track accurately and it always ended up ever so slightly over or under. Nonetheless, the 400s did the job and primed me to go into the 800m reps.

I was slightly apprehensive of the 800m efforts, not having completed anything remotely similar since mid-July. I need not have worried because they felt spot-on in terms of difficulty, and I nailed them all to be within a single second of each other.

Going back into the final 2x 400m reps, they felt easy after the 800m reps and capped off a stellar session – all completed before 9am! The same GPS issues as before occurred, but in all, the splits came out close enough to target.

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

10 canal miles

An early start, a late night, and exposure to various people in and out of work suffering from colds left me feeling rather weary come Thursday afternoon. I was in two minds about sacking off the 10 mile run, but I cajoled myself into it with the promise of a recovery week after Sunday.

With Halloween around the corner, the canal towpath towards Bournville was suitably eerie with a distinct lack of users. I only spotted a handful of cyclists and only two other runners braved it like I did.

With how I felt, I opted to keep the pace easy and without heroics. Even with my new headtorch, the perception of effort was totally off kilter until maybe the remaining third of the run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

With the topic of Christmas and time off in discussion, I mentioned to Lis that this year would see the potential for 5x Parkrun opportunities in the space of nine days due to Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Fridays. Some events lay on a Christmas day run (Brueton and Perry Hall are notable examples in the West Midlands) whilst New Year’s Day often sees staggered start times for events (9am and then 10am are common), allowing for a maximum of two runs to be counted on one’s profile for that particular day. That week involving the New Year’s Day double could even be the birth of a 50 mile week for me…

Moving on!

I felt wiped out on Saturday morning and the warm-up confirmed as much. The sensible side of me opted to make it more of a tempo run with an arbitrary sub-20 pace in mind, and potentially Dave in tow.

Ignoring the slightly iffy 4:05 first km, I kept my splits rock steady at around 3:58/km. Dave remained just in front of me for much of the run, though he drifted off back a few places between the fourth and final km. I finished in 19:49 and dragged Dave through to a 19:54 – his first sub-20 for months.

It was certainly a touch warmer than what would be typical for the time of year, but I couldn’t stop sweating. I was still dripping even after my slow warm-down! I later checked my heart rate just in case there was something underlying to also explain how tired I felt, but nope, everything looked right as rain with a rate of 48bpm, with a figure in the high 30s or low 40s upon first waking being normal.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

14 canal miles

Watered? Check. Fed? Check. Rested? Sorta.

I knew I wanted to cover 14 miles, albeit at a more sedate pace compared to last week. I really didn’t enjoy the closing stages that saw me head out on the canal towpath towards Smethwick and back for more than 3 miles – it was soul destroying, not to mention very muddy on the unpaved sections!

To address this, I modified my route by exiting the canal at Bournville train station, covering two miles through Cotteridge and Bournville before returning to the canal.

I had two pacemakers – one for the out leg and one for the return leg. The guy I followed on the out ran steady sub-8 minute miles; I kept back by 20m or so rather than trigger an impromptu race between him and me. The guy I trailed on the return ran somewhere between 7:40 and 7:45, and I applied the same 20m gap as before for five miles or so before he left the canal near Edgbaston Reservoir.

Time for a recovery week me thinks!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time for this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book. Can you believe it’s been two years since I first started including these excerpts into each weekly post? And funnily enough, I’m watching the NYC Marathon coverage on the TV as I write this, having picked the book up at the event expo…

Diversify your wardrobe

If you head out for a run and notice that your cap, shirt, watch, shorts, socks, and shoes are all from the same manufacturer, head right back in and change at least one of the above.

Well, unless you’re an elite. In that case, you’re all good.

Wearing one brand of gear and apparel from head to toe is okay if you happen to be sponsored by, or are the CEO of, the manufacturer in question. Otherwise, you’re kind of inviting good-natured ribbing, at best, and flat-out ridicule at worst. It’s like pulling the lever of a slot machine and coming up all NIKE or ADIDAS or MIZUNO.

I used to see a guy running in Central Park, years ago. Invariably, he was wearing Fila stuff – and only Fila stuff. (He also was a dead ringer for Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, but I digress.) He seemed like a perfectly nice guy, and I’m sure he was. But man, did he look odd. And he wasn’t even that fast!

If you don’t mind ridicule, by all means, wear the matching stuff. Otherwise, mix it up. For your own good.

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

Zoidberg

Dr Zoidberg didn’t think it was a good idea to enter Berlin

This week was about Berlin and Brass Monkeys.

Berlin Marathon 2016

Berlin Marathon

I find out in December whether I’m in or not…

After a few shaky runs marred by warm conditions throughout the summer, I concluded I did not want to go through the training for an autumn marathon. But then I got thinking and comparatively, my performances in the autumn are usually much stronger in relation to the spring. I was inspired watching a few guys I know at around, or just below, my ability over 5k, 10k and half marathon go on to run sub-3:15 autumn marathons. There had to be something in toughing it out through the summer!

So, my finger accidentally slipped and registered my name for the 2016 Berlin Marathon ballot… Immediately afterwards, thoughts of, “What the hell have you done???” went through my mind, but revisiting the P&D Advanced Marathoning book briefly for a peek at the schedules reassured me that I’m now in a much better place to take on another marathon. I may actually be disappointed if I don’t get in at this rate!

There were a few quirks with the Berlin Marathon ballot versus the London Marathon ballot. Notably, you have to submit payment information upfront to cover the €98 should you be successful, with nothing being taken if you’re not. This contributes to why the odds of getting into Berlin are quite good – London not requiring payment information upfront probably encourages more people applying on a whim who’ll figure it all out later.

The other quirk relates to finishing time submission. A bit like Boston where you have to qualify, Berlin asks you to provide your marathon PB (3:34:02 in my case) to seed you into an appropriate start pen. If you’ve never run a marathon before, you’re automatically seeded into Pen H (reportedly around 25,000 in this year’s race…) It’s a double-edged sword system because on the one hand, it keeps people honest and completely eradicates the problem of people predicting finishing times of complete fantasy/inexperience – “You’re only as good as your marathon PB” is their view. And on the other hand, it unfairly penalises first timers and faster runners that train their guts out and would be perfectly capable of achieving or beating their targets. My marathon PB would likely see me seeded into Pen F, designated for those with PBs of 3:30 to 3:50. My goal is to at least run sub-3:30 and I think I could even go sub-3:15 with almost 10 months of preparation.

Anywho, the above is only something to worry about should I get in!

5k from work

Hip flexibility was still low after the recent weekend’s antics, so I kept this one easy.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

Whilst this wasn’t my fastest overall fartlek run along this route, it did produce the fastest final stretch where I clocked in at 5:53 mile pace over 550m with a stride length of 1.35m (that’s long for me!)

No major issues to report, other than cyclists on pavements with no lights and groups of people walking three abreast.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Not good at all. Felt really low on energy from the off due to a lunch that was probably too light. Even at a slow pace, it was a real grind.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles/Petzl Tikka RXP field test

Petal Tikka RXP

Let there be light with the Petzl Tikka RXP

After last week’s anxiety on the unlit canal, I started looking into headtorch upgrade options. My Black Diamond Spot, whilst perfectly adequate for jogging home from work at low speed, just wasn’t really cutting it on the longer run in the dark at a faster pace. I narrowed my choices down to two from Petzl: the Myo and the Tikka RXP. The Myo is not a pretty thing to look at with a back of head mounted AA battery pack, but it’s insanely bright at 315 lumens on its maximum setting. The Tikka RXP is much more conventional looking, sporting a USB rechargeable battery pack built into the main lamp, but only 215 lumens on its brightest setting. Both eclipse the Black Diamond Spot with its paltry 90 lumens (budget option).

In the end, I went for the Tikka RXP. It was the cheaper of the two by almost £30 online (only £10 difference on the high street) and the USB rechargeability meant I’d be able top it up at work before each run-commute home, rather than having a stash of spare AA batteries in case it ran dry. It also featured an auto-brightness feature, much like on smartphones, where the power output adjusts on the fly to changing situations (can be overridden).

So, how did it go?

I broke out the Tikka RXP on a 10 mile run, once again utilising the unlit canal towpath. I covered a range of paces and the headtorch held up wonderfully, and importantly, required no readjustment of the headband, even at faster speeds. The reactive sensor always gave me just a little more light than I needed in any given situation; if I ran into a tunnel, it dimmed itself due to light bouncing off walls, and if I ran into cyclists with their own lights, it dimmed so as not to blind those oncoming. That last one only holds true if cyclists have lights; one idiot without any wasn’t able to adjust his eyes quickly enough from the darkness and received a face full of maximum brightness.

The available range was fantastic, with it faintly reaching up to 100m away – obviously things got brighter the closer they were to me, but it was more than sufficient to pick up things in the distance that I needed to focus my attention on.

The only negative is the battery life – it’s quoted as only lasting up to 2.5 hours with access to maximum brightness and requires a 5 hour charge from empty. On reduced mode, it can last up to 10 hours, or a balance between the two can be reached by plugging it into a Mac or PC and adjusting the power profile (I deleted this option).

The run itself was great, with 3x miles at just faster than marathon pace. The additional lighting made it easier adjusting to the faster pace compared to last week. Stopping it from scoring a 10/10 was some minor indigestion before I even started and a sudden urge for a toilet visit halfway through…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2016

As my alarm went off at 5:55am, I couldn’t quite believe that it had been a year since I registered for my first Brass Monkey Half Marathon. At £24 for unaffiliated entry, the race provides a stellar field and is superbly organised. Oh, and did I say the route is pancake flat for PB hunters like me?

Of course, it could be £24 wasted if the race gets cancelled due to inclement weather – more than likely in mid-January as was seen in 2013 due to snow.

Carl also made it in again, as did Dave for the first time, by the skin of his teeth before the cut-off of only 1750 available places.

If I can keep the momentum going until then, there’s a chance I could be in reach of a time in the low 85s. Here’s hoping!

Cannon Hill Parkrun

By 8am, I’d already had two coffees to try and perk up in time for Parkrun due to the pre-6am start to enter the Brass Monkey. Not a good start. And I was going to take a chance and attempt to squeeze out another fast time ala last week, too…

I caught up to Nigel for a joint warm-up lap around the park along with a debrief of his Great Birmingham Run (a splendid effort with a second half full of true grit).

On the start line, I had another pep talk with Zac Minchin of Sparkhill Harriers, now quickly becoming a weekly thing. He’d hoped to hit 18:40, which sounded reasonable enough to me to try and keep on the horizon. Ben Clarke was run director for the morning and had the honour of giving the starter’s orders to send us all off on our way.

The start was very, very fast. As always, some had started too far back and one guy came tearing through a few of us to get ahead – he should have saved him and us the trouble and just started at the very front! By the first corner, my Garmin was registering 3:25 per km, which felt totally unnatural to me. I decided to go with it and just let nature take its course…

The first km clocked in at a swift 3:37. Target average pace for the entire run was 3:45/km, so it certainly gave me a slight bit of breathing space for the inevitable slow-down in the later stages. Confidence was still high, though my breathing was just a smidge faster than I’d have ideally wanted it.

The effort noticeably crept upwards in the second km. I still had a grip on things to produce a 3:43 split to be still ahead of target.

Wheels started to come off the wagon in the third km. The shortened lap around the park didn’t help where the sensation of progress felt like it was missing. Carl in an attempt to shoehorn himself into this week’s entry (it worked!) pulled up in front of me whilst he covered the course in a progressive manner. He told me to drive my arms and elbows more to gain more thrust from each stride; I took shelter in his slipstream to also gain a few hundred metres of recovery, though this was short-lived when he crept away on a slight descent. The split came in at 3:55, but I was still on for average target pace.

The fourth km was a shocker. I was still on the tail of the lead girl, but the effort had already taken its toll on me and mentally, I abandoned the plan and resigned myself to simply finish in a respectable time not too far off target. Zac the Sparkhill Harrier had also sacked his effort off and was walking by the side of the course. I hollered out to him to rejoin the chase and he slotted himself back in just in front of me before moving into my slipstream. The cursed triangle robbed me of a few more precious seconds and even a small surge on the exit wasn’t enough to undo the damage of the tight turns. The split came in as an ugly 4:01…

The lead girl and another chap managed to put 15-20m between them and me. I couldn’t hear anybody behind me, to put me in no man’s land when I needed a fast final km. My teeth were firmly gritted but nothing I threw down got me any closer to the two of them. On the approach to the hill, Ed Barlow’s familiar voice told me to attack the climb as he pulled away from me. “I’m maxed out” I told him, with the knowledge that I was off target by about 10-15 seconds, not providing any inspiration either.

runbritain handicap

I’ll take a runbritain handicap improvement!

I finished in 19:10 for a fourth fastest time on the course. Whilst not the time I wanted, it did bear an unexpected gift in the form of a strong runbritain handicap rating to put me back at 4.9! Much like last week, many were undoubtedly taking it easy after the Great Birmingham Run and other races to give my performance a nice boost up the backside.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

14 canal miles

Sunday was such a contrast to the previous day, with still and bright conditions.

I fancied trying my hand at boosting the long run to 14 miles; the eventual plan is to top out at 15 miles as part of training towards January’s Brass Monkey Half – a race that flat and fast really can’t be squandered!

Gloves were donned after checking the weather report, though in hindsight, I need not have bothered; the sun warmed everything up including me in my black t-shirt…

Ignoring the mile warm-up at the start and mile warm-down at the end, I opted to cover the middle 12 negative split style. The slowest mile came in at 8:07 and the fastest at 6:58; the final 3 had me grimacing, good and proper! I finished feeling slightly broken. Think I’ll take it easier next week…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time for the next entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Know when and where it’s okay to wear running apparel

ALWAYS

  • During a run or race
  • At a race expo
  • Milling around at the gym
  • In a running store
  • Before, during, or after a sports massage
  • In bed (to save precious seconds the next morning, before an early run)

NEVER

  • In church
  • At weddings
  • At funerals
  • At court appearances
  • At chamber music recitals
  • For job interviews
  • In a rowboat (don’t ask why; it would just be weird)

SOMETIMES

  • In hotel lobbies (before or after a run)
  • At work (if you are an elite runner or personal trainer, or if you work at Runner’s World)
  • At picnics (if you have to run to the picnic or plan to run from it, or if other picnic-goers are also wearing running apparel)
  • At the supermarket (depending on amount of sweat and/or aroma you’ve generated)
  • On a date (if your date is also a runner, and the two of you are running, have run, or are about to run)

This week’s running – 5th to 11th of October 2015

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun: friendly and welcoming – photo by Lis Yu

This week was mostly about the two Rs: rest and recovery. Oh and a trip “up Pomphrey”!

5k from work

Nike Vapor Lite bag

The Nike Vapor Lite bag

This was the maiden voyage of the Nike Vapor Lite running backpack that I received for my birthday. The bag I was using for all my other run commutes, whilst a perfectly good running backpack, was literally more bag than I needed. Bought years ago when I was new to this running malarkey, I didn’t know what to necessarily look for in a bag. It had plenty of straps for a locked down fit, but with regular use, it became apparent it was designed for a much larger/taller individual than me.

The Vapor Lite is just that – it’s a lite version of the bag I was replacing. It’s smaller without being useless (I can fit in a pair of trainers, a running top and shorts, a jacket, my lunch, and a few other small items) – the ergonomics are just all round better for my frame. The best feature? It has quick access pull cords that allow me to tighten the fit on the fly if it starts sagging. It performed admirably and stayed out of the way.

I wish I could say I performed as admirably! This was the first run after the Cardiff Half Marathon and boy was it painful. DOMS was in full effect on my quads from the hard downhill final mile in the race. The situation was not helped by having to go up and over numerous canal bridges with reduced grip from the rain – not fun. Light levels were on the home straight to disappearing entirely and it won’t be long before I need to break out my headtorch again.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5 canal miles and The Vale

This week’s training was almost identical to the previous taper week: half as often and half as long in distance. Despite being under control, I was surprised to find how heavy my legs were still feeling.

For a slight break from the norm, I detoured over to The Vale for one loop (a little more than 500m) before re-joining the canal. Short of visiting a running track, I can’t think of many flatter locations with lighting during the darker months and the intention is to head over to The Vale for future speed sessions.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun course and elevation

Flat and fast it ain’t at Pomphrey Hill Parkrun…

Months ago, I half-seriously mentioned that I quite fancied the idea of visiting a chilli farm for a tasting experience as a possible stag-do activity – it’d be like visiting a vineyard, but for teetotallers like me. Well, Lis took note of this and bought me such a thing for my birthday!

The visit took us to where the South-West meets the Cotswolds, and being the occasional Parkrun tourist that I am, I decided to look into potential events that were nearby. Two immediately sprang to mind in the form of Ashton Court near Bristol, and Bath Skyline, near err Bath. Upon closer inspection, Pomphrey Hill Parkrun turned out to be only 10 minutes’ drive from where we would later need to be, so it was decided that this would be my 11th different event and also home to my 150th run.

“Fail to prepare and prepare to fail” is the familiar adage. Pomphrey Hill’s event name gives a clue as to what I was to expect from the course profile, with a 50ft/20m hill that was to be tackled three times, made that much harder with a wood chip bark terrain underfoot for minimal energy return. Looking at previous weeks’ results, the course didn’t have a large attendance either, only having started 18 months ago; a sub-20 performance could be enough to sneak into the top 5 during some weeks to give you an idea.

Dave was particularly excited to learn I’d be paying the event a visit because a friend of his calls it home. Ian’s a regular at Pomphrey Hill; so much so, he’s actually at the very top of the male points leader board and also has a 19:38 course PB to his name there. I was told to look for a chap in an orange t-shirt and long compression socks, and Ian to look for the likely only Chinese guy in the park.

It turned out Pomphrey Hill Parkrun also had a claim to fame with a published author as one of its run directors. If the name Ira Rainey sounds familiar to you, it’s because he’s the titular guy from the book, Fat Man to Green Man: From Unfit to Ultramarathon.

Lis and I were one of the first to arrive at the event, which uses the outer perimeter of some playing fields as its course. We were very quickly welcomed by some regulars, all very curious to hear which event Lis and I called home. We were also introduced to a couple in their 70s who semi-regularly made the trip from Poole Parkrun to join their son; he was the most flexible and spritely 70 year old I’ll ever meet, leaving me in awe with his stretching routine!

I excused myself momentarily for a warm-up lap of the course. I was advised to wear trail shoes for the pick and mix terrain underfoot, consisting of concrete paths, gravel, wood chips and grass. My legs had some bounce back in them again and stretching my stride out felt very comfortable. Going up the hill once certainly got all cylinders warmed up. What goes up, must come down with a very steep descent on concrete to end the lap.

Continuing the theme of being welcoming, the new runner briefing was given by an incredibly bubbly and cheerful lady with infectious enthusiasm. I think Pomphrey Hill Parkrun just stole Fulham Palace Parkrun’s most friendly event prize in my book!

Briefing done and Ian found his way to me. He began pointing out who the faster runners were amongst those present, a number of which had dressed up in wedding themed attire for a regular that was getting married later that day.

3rd place for the first km

Third place for the first km – photo by Alex Christofides

Being a smaller event, the run briefing was given on the start line. Ian and I stood together, both feeling that we were in similar shape and on the starter’s orders, I went off like the clappers. By the first corner only a few hundred metres later, I was comfortably in third momentarily before two guys overtook me on the gravel straight. I was feeling great and full of adrenaline to complete the first km in 3:45; “Shit. I’ve gone out too fast,” I thought. And then we approached the Hill of Pomphrey for the first climb. Surprisingly, the two guys ahead of me were slowing quite dramatically and I was able to catch them with relative ease by the time we turned for the brow of the hill, moving me into third place again. I was able to maintain this going through the straight at the highest point on the course, but boy did I know I’d overcooked it too early on! Lis was cheering from the sidelines, and carried on to Pomphrey Hill to offer more support on the next lap. The second km came up horrifically as a 4:15; even pacing on a non-flat course clearly wasn’t a skill that came naturally to me! I was overtaken again by the two guys I’d gone past on the hill to move back into fifth.

The fast downhill section arrived and I didn’t have the balls to go full pelt down the path; I half considered moving on to the grass for a less jarring experience. Shortly after entering the second lap of the course, my Garmin ticked over and reported I’d completed the third km in an even more shocking 4:21. I was haemorrhaging time all over the place and I knew my sub-20 attempt on the course was over. Ian overtook me somewhere along this point and I began to give chase to try and get back into the top five.

Andy and Ian, going “up Pomphrey” – video by Lis Yu

We began to lap some of the back markers on the course that had yet to finish their first lap. I dreaded each step as it brought me closer to that hill again! Lis was positioned on Pomphrey Hill this time, shooting some video of the suffering I was putting myself through. Much like on the first lap, I was gaining ground on Ian again with my fast cadence and for the briefest of moments, I overtook him and another runner just before the peak. It wasn’t long before they shot past me again on the straight at the very top…

More and more lapped runners appeared as I hurtled down that steep descent once more. I could feel that my quads hadn’t fully recovered from the pounding they received at the Cardiff Half Marathon last week.

Andy Yu at Pomphrey Hill Parkrun

The pretty surroundings masked away that hill… – photo by Lis Yu

“One more mile to go,” I thought to myself as I entered the third lap. Lapped runners actually gave me a target to work towards in the distance to make this one of the faster km splits of the run. Lis appeared once more, this time at the foot of the hill – given the long and narrow-ish nature of the course, it was quite easy for her to dart from place to place, not dissimilar to Fulham Palace Parkrun.

For much of the final lap, Ian remained roughly 25 seconds ahead and nothing I could muster brought me any closer to him. He had local knowledge and experience of where exactly to push, ease off, and hold steady on the course versus my go off like a bull in a china shop approach. We maintained our positions with me firmly and comfortably in sixth place all the way to the slightly uphill finish.

I was shagged by the end. I had to hunch over from the lactic acid that had pooled in my legs for much of the run to leave me looking like a wheezing mess. Ian looked fresh as a daisy and was just shy of a sub-20 finish by only a couple of seconds.

Recovery was swift

Ian and Andy in fifth and sixth place, respectively – photo by Alex Christofides

Scanning was located back along the last 100m of the course, to the side of where runners were coming through. This was a contrast to Cannon Hill where scanners are positioned as far away from the finish as possible so as not to interfere with any runners yet to come through. I was told the Pomphrey Hill scanners used to be just beyond the finish line, but due to its close proximity to the car park, many runners simply scanned and then went home rather than stick around for a chat or coffee.

I got to speak briefly to Ira Rainey afterwards, where he asked for my opinion of the course. I thoroughly enjoyed it in a sadistic kind of way; I explained I’m firmly a road runner, but appreciated the opportunity to literally be taken out of my comfort zone on a challenging course.

Pomphrey Hill Parkrun: friendly, welcoming and the course will put hair on your chest! Here’s the Garmin run data.

8 canal miles

Flipbelt

Flipbelt: imperative you get the sizing right!

This should have been at least 10 miles, but I was suffering from major run equipment failure and decided to call it quits when I had the chance to peel off for home. I received a Flipbelt as a birthday gift, designed to stash a phone when running in unfamiliar locations (don’t want another Peterborough to happen again!) and gels when racing. Awkwardly on paper, I was at the lower end of one size (medium) and the upper end of another (small), and had the medium one to hand. The belt itself is a great concept, but requires a tight fit to prevent it from bouncing, especially when carrying a phone, so we’re now awaiting a replacement in small.

Field test failure aside, I ventured out on to the canal towards Spaghetti Junction for the loop back to the Aston Junction. I’d not been on that stretch of canal in over a year and it was nice to see the towpath upgrade was complete; shame I don’t have a marathon to train for to utilise the miles and miles of towpath now on offer!

I didn’t see a single fellow runner out there. In fact, I didn’t even see any cyclists either; only a few guys fishing. Nice to see that neck of the woods hasn’t lost its sketchiness…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run. Oh, one thing that did tickle my funny bone was what somebody decided to call that segment on Strava!

Riding the Sky Rocket Nob

10th overall on this unusually named Strava Segment

Time for this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Cotton socks are the devil

Cotton sheets are soft and lovely. Cotton dress shirts are crisp and smart. Cotton candy is mouthwatering. Cotton socks? None of the above – at least not when you’re running any distance to speak of. Doubly so when it’s hot and humid and you begin to wonder, about an hour into your sweaty run, whether you need to be in a jungle, per se, to get jungle rot.

When you’re running, opt for synthetic or wool socks.

This week’s running – 8th to 14th of June 2015

Two Castles Run 2015 warm-up

No, I didn’t participate in the mass warm-up! Photo by Leamington Observer

This week was all about getting primed to race again.

8 canal miles

Taking two complete rest days over Sunday and Monday seemed to do the trick. I felt fresher than of late and was ready to head out and hit the canals.

Something was occurring at the NIA, so I chose to run out towards Smethwick and back for a bit of quiet time. Funnily enough, I had only just returned from work from that very direction… There was a spring in my step and leg turnover that was both odd but pleasant to experience; my form was poised and I felt unstoppable.

Hitting the switchback, everything suddenly fell apart when a ferocious headwind hit. I remained aerobic, but I’m sure if I had worn my heart rate monitor, an upward spike would have appeared for the second half.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run. Unusually, Strava has interpreted the paces per mile differently.

5k from work

Sadly, writing this entry up almost a week later means I’ve largely forgotten how this run went. Garmin Connect offers the only clue of a royal flush, so it can’t have been that bad…

Canal 10k

What a shocker of a run this was. I headed out on the usual stretch of canal out towards Bournville; before I’d even left Brindley Place, somebody had barged me into the wall of the tunnel to scrape up my shoulder pretty badly. There was plenty of blood and the sweat made the raw flesh sting like a mofo.

I decided to continue with my run instead of calling it quits, but things didn’t get any better. I struggled to hang on to the pace in the second half due to under-fuelling again. I just can’t seem to fuel up adequately at the moment, where it’s always a balancing act of eating enough for performance but also to maintain weight.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

What? No Parkrun?!

In a bid to freshen up as quickly as possible, I opted to not even put my name forward to volunteer at Parkrun. It was dreadful weather-wise, so I was quite glad to give it a miss in exchange for a much needed lie-in.

Two Castles Run 10k 2015

Find out how the Two Castles Run went for me by clicking here.

And for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Be cordial with your rivals

Did you shadow another runner in the final stretch of your race, or vice versa? Perhaps pushing each other to go a bit faster or out-and-out fighting to be first to the line? Good for you. (Both of you!) This competitive give-and-take is one of the best parts of racing.

Once you’ve crossed the line, a gracious gesture is always appropriate. Offer a kind word, an open hand, or pat on the back to anyone who was with you in those closing minutes of your race. Whether you egged each other on verbally, or wordlessly coaxed a bit more kick out of each other, you’ve just shared a bit of sportsmanship that deserves to be noted.

Hugs and kisses? Maybe not – unless your rival is also a spouse or significant other. Or European. Or both.

This week’s running – 1st to 7th of June 2015

The road to recovery

OK, recovery by my standards at least…

This week was all about active recovery.

8 canal miles

I promised myself that after the Bristol 10k, I would lay off some of the harder running for a wee while and get back to a state of feeling fresh again. That began with an 8 mile run that covered my approximate marathon pace range. Not having run a marathon this year, or one to the best of my ability ever, it’s a pretty big range from 7:45 to 7:10 minute miles.

The canal towpath renovation was complete, with all stretches paved over and covered with rather excessive amounts of gravel. Early on in the run and when being smacked by a head wind, the lack of traction made me feel like I was being dragged backwards at times. Nonetheless, I felt great out there and took the opportunity to focus on my breathing, which was rather out of sorts during Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work with footpod calibration

WARNING – NERD TALK AHEAD!

I love the ability of my Garmin to utilise the footpod to both measure cadence and distance if the signal ever craps out (newer Garmins have this built in and don’t require a footpod). I don’t believe it needs calibrating for cadence – after all, it just needs to detect when the foot makes contact with the floor – but calibration for distance is of more significance, and was something I hadn’t completed in over a year. Oops… Thankfully, it’s rare that my Garmin loses its signal entirely apart from inside long tunnels.

The advice given regarding calibration was to find a relatively straight course with good GPS coverage. Given I was running home from the office along the canal towpath, I incorporated this task into the mix and hence why I don’t have a data track for it on Garmin Connect.

The calibration took roughly 0.8 miles to complete and gave the footpod a correction factor of 1,083 from a default value of 1,000. Rather pleasingly, the previous calibrated factor was 1,082 for almost no change in over a year.

Panorama: Catch me if you can

With little to no warning, a Panorama feature aired on BBC One with a focus on doping within athletics and shared many parallels with the Lance Armstrong investigations from years past. A main draw of the feature concerned the Nike Oregon Project, namely its coach and one of its stars.

In the feature, a journalist set out to dope himself with EPO to see just what the effects would be on his performance, but also to better gauge just how much or little EPO it would take to trigger a positive test. All that was required were a few micro-doses to improve his VO2 max by tangible levels and crucially, still avoid detection by the biological passport system. Due to the low amounts of EPO used, it simply wasn’t significant enough to cause a dramatic change in his blood samples. Of course, one could argue that had he have been tested specifically for EPO use or over a longer period to amplify the changes, he may have been caught. But what the experiment did highlight was just how little it took for a performance increase and for elite athletes, that’s possibly all it would take to beat your rivals for the win. Worryingly, it appeared incredibly easy to obtain vials of EPO for personal use. There have been a number of reports of late citing increased doping amongst amateur athletes, and I can only see this increasing.

At the centre of the feature were Alberto Salazar, possibly the world’s most famous athletics coach of recent times, and Galen Rupp, one of the USA’s most famous long-distance athletes of recent times and Mo Farah’s training partner. Numerous witnesses, including the high-profile Kara Goucher, came forward to discuss cases of Salazar pushing the boundaries of what it would take to trigger positive doping tests, and also unethical behaviour by bending rules when it came to non-banned substances. Galen Rupp was targeted as his project of sorts, though the programme was quick to add that Mo Farah was not accused of doping, though was inevitably caught in the cross-fire.

I’ve been a fan of both Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp for a number of years. As a geek that’s into running, I’ve found Salazar’s approaches to training to be most fascinating, and Rupp is one of the few Americans to give the east-Africans a run for their money. Like a lot of Lance Armstrong fans back in the day, I’m naively still holding out for some hope that these allegations are just allegations, but I can’t ignore the accounts of those that did come forward. It’ll be a dark, dark day for athletics if all this proves to be true; this is just what the sport doesn’t need right now, what with the controversial Justin Gatlin who has twice been banned from competition due to positive tests, yet is somehow running faster than ever before, whilst also older and supposedly clean.

The airing of the feature appeared to have been timed for maximum disruption, at least to Mo Farah, who decided not to race at Sunday’s Birmingham Diamond League meet. Can’t blame the guy really; I know how mental stress can affect your mojo before a race, so what’s the point of him going in to lose at a distance that isn’t one of his strengths anyway?

If you haven’t caught the programme yet, it can be found on BBC iPlayer if your territory is supported.

8 canal miles

Returning to the canals, I kept to my promise of not running anything faster than marathon pace at least during the week temporarily. I also opted to make this out and back run steadier and less progressive, with most of the miles between the warm-up and warm-down coming in at around 7:30 to 7:40.

I dusted off and donned my heart rate monitor for a peek at what the ticker was up to. I was pretty tired from work, and the warmer temperature coupled with the beginnings of hay fever meant I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. The strap of the monitor managed to chafe my chest to bits where there’s now a nice chunk of skin missing. Downside out of the way, I was pleasantly surprised by the heart rate data where I’m now approximately 15 – 30 seconds faster per mile at the same heart rate compared to seven weeks ago.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

It had been so long since the last time I was at Newport Parkrun that I had to remind myself of how many laps the route entailed! I also probably left for the Newport event a touch on the late side and arrived with about 15 minutes remaining to visit the toilet, get my warm-up done and have a natter with Nigel. Father Time must have been on my side because I managed to do all three with two minutes to spare before the start line scramble!

Nigel’s very much a facilitator at Newport Parkrun. He knows most regulars that run there and will frequently try to pair runners with pacers to make PBs happen. He introduced me to a young lad, Lloyd, who had previously broken 20 minutes when the sun, moon and stars aligned in his favour, but not again since. I was pretty confident I had what it took to go under 20 minutes, though had also only ever done it once before at Newport on the winter-route, which has a reputation for being faster, yet more prone to congestion. We agreed to stay close and as luck would have it, the event also laid on pacemakers for the day with the talented Emma Wookey (first Welsh lady in the Cardiff Half) leading the way for us.

The start at Newport was fast – it always is – and you really need to watch your footing on the trail-like terrain made up loose gravel and stray tree roots. A nasty headwind introduced itself from an awkward angle that couldn’t be avoided without going out of one’s way. Emma the pacer zoomed right past me and Lloyd, with him taking immediate chase; I took a peek at my Garmin and I was pretty much bang on target for sub-20 pace and remained faithful to it, guessing that there was some GPS discrepancy at play (there always is at Newport).

After 2km, I was dead cert that Emma was going too fast to simply dip under 20 minutes and assertively shared this with the couple of guys I was running with; one chap agreed that she was at around 10 seconds too fast for the target.

Inevitably, the pack thinned. Emma was still way ahead but Lloyd had dropped off the pace due to his enthusiastic start. I encouraged him to stay in front of me, but he was drifting backwards at an alarming rate.

With 1km to go, I found myself pairing up with a guy in a cycling jersey and a Fairwater club runner to keep the pace going. As we moved into the forested portion of the course, congestion became rife due to the lapped runners. The cyclist jersey guy suddenly kicked to storm ahead; puzzled, I wasn’t entirely sure why he threw in a sudden injection of pace and then remembered there was a small single file bridge rapidly approaching. I second guessed he was trying to put himself into a gap to avoid being boxed in by slower runners, which was enough to convince me to join him in pursuit along with the Fairwater runner.

Safely through on the other side, we wound things up and began a final surge on the home straight with a tailwind for assistance. The cycling jersey guy managed to put significant daylight between us for a massive lead of almost 10 seconds. I urged the Fairwater runner to stay with me, but he was spent and had nothing left to give, so I had to reel a guy in a 50 Club t-shirt in to keep me ticking along until the end.

Crossing the line, I paused my Garmin for 19:46; a PB on the summer course but 8 seconds shy of an all-time course PB at Newport set in much cooler conditions. I felt pretty good; tired but not completely shagged with something left in the tank. I thanked the cycling jersey guy for predicting the congestion with precision, and for pulling me through it in the process.

I stopped to watch Nigel come through just before the 23 minute mark, annoyed with himself that his PB was almost a year ago via our collective efforts.

Unexpectedly, I bumped into Brian Dias from Cardiff Parkrun who partook in some tourism along with the Nike Store Running Club. Lately, we’ve been facing off against each other at the Cardiff event, but I was dead impressed by his 19:10 that would be out of reach for me even on the best of days. Clearly, he’s been holding himself back when we’ve met, whereas I habitually go hell for leather at the Welsh capital.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Dave and Elsa ran their 50th Parkruns

About bloody time, too!

Oh, and congrats to both Dave and Elsa for finally reaching the 50 Club! They now join the long, long wait to get their t-shirts…

Rest for the wicked

Shattered. Knackered. Destroyed. Whatever colloquialism you can think of for tired. I couldn’t bear the thought of a long, Sunday run to cap off the week; clearly, I love running and for it to get that bad, I knew to back it off.

The hope is to freshen up before the fast approaching Two Castles 10k. I’m unsure how I want to tackle the race, either to treat it as a glorified training run, or to hit it all guns blazing. The more I think about it, the more I want to do the latter. I’ve decided to not run at Caerphilly to give myself some much needed recovery and to knuckle back down with some semblance of undisturbed training.

Looking at last year’s performance, I finished right about where I thought I would be both in terms of time and position in the field. Dave and I reasoned the climbs had cost us in the region of 20 to 30 seconds in 2014, though we’d neglected to factor in the 8mph tailwind that must have also minimised some of the damage. Scoping out the weather for Sunday, an 11mph tailwind has been forecast, which is a massive boost on the point to point course. Oh what the hell, I’m gonna give sub-40 a bash and see what comes out the other side!

Here’s this week’s excerpt from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Do whatever it takes to finish ahead of a costumed runner

Because being outkicked by Elmo is too much to bear.