This week’s running – 8th to 21st January 2018

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Apologies for the delay, folks – I’ve rolled two weeks into this one mega edition to compensate.

5k recovery

Holy bejesus was it cold!

Strangely, my legs were both tired and spritely from the previous day’s long distance. I was cautious to keep things feeling incredibly easy due to having been on my feet all day building an exhibition stand at work; now what do they say about not trying anything new the week before a race and keeping labour-intensive activities to a minimum?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

I employed strides in most of my non-pace specific runs in a bid to keep my legs revved up without overexherting myself ahead of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. And do you know what? They’d worked an absolute treat!

My form felt swift and my legs felt nimble; my mind also felt sharper and more connected to the rest of me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute with strides

Run-commuting in the winter is especially challenging, mainly due to the sheer amount of kit I have to lug around. In the summer, my holdall looks pathetically empty as I take everything I’ll need for run-commuting into work on Mondays. A couple of t-shirts, vests, pairs of shorts and socks are all I need. In the winter, I’m taking long sleeve tops, t-shirts for layering, gloves and more in. By the end of the working week, I’m currently returning home with several coats, scarves along with work clothes I’ve changed out of at the office! As I said, much easier in the summer, even with the oppressive heat!

Once again, the strides interspersing the slow recovery pace on this run-commute were perfect to keep my legs from getting ploddy.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2018 review

For the full write-up on the 2018 Brass Monkey Half Marathon, please click here.

5k recovery

Even with the windier than ideal conditions at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I’d say all of us participants were very fortunate, and practically got away with murder, for the conditions rapidly deteriorated only a day later.

In spite of the new PB, my legs felt tremendous and I was clearly still riding that race high. This would eventually end later in the week…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What goes up must come down…

My legs finally began to tire and I was in need of some sleep from all the racing shenanigans. Apart from a couple of splits, most for this run were in the high 8 minutes and I dared not push much harder.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor kit review

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Thanks to Under Armour UK and Synergy for the review kit – photo by Lis Yu

Back in November, I was contacted by Under Armour’s UK representatives at Synergy with a chance to sample and review some of their winter running kit. I jumped at the opportunity and here are my thoughts for your consideration.

For full transparency, the sample kit I’ve reviewed below was supplied for free. My views are mine alone and have not been influenced by either Under Armour’s or Synergy’s generosity.

Under Armour is a brand I’m somewhat familiar with, already owning a number of their HeatGear vests. As a relative new kid on the sportswear block, they’ve taken on the giants, Nike and Adidas, and are winning in some of the battles.

Starting life as a manufacturer of compression tops, they’ve since moved into a much wider variety of sportswear disciplines, including football, rugby, tennis, basketball and golf. We can also add running to that list. Funnily enough, most of the major sportswear manufacturers aped Under Armour’s compression wear and practically all have something akin to the form fitting clothing.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fitted long sleeve

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Initial thoughts

Upon first receiving the top, my immediate impression was that it was too much for the task at hand. It felt far too structured and would be too warm for all but the coldest of conditions.

Inspecting it superficially, it’s certainly well made. The fabric is of a high quality with good construction to it. The cut is what I would call semi-fitted, aided by a slight stretch to sit reasonably close, but not constrict like Under Armour’s traditional compression wear.

Size and fit

The sizing is consistent with the three HeatGear vests I already own, that is to say it’s very long… As you can see from the above photo of me, the hem is ridiculously low and seems to bear little relation to the length of the sleeves, which are surprisingly almost perfect for a small size. Whereas I’m short at only 5ft 6, my height and limbs are not wildly out of proportion; I can only assume Under Armour’s sizing is aimed at taller people, because I could easily lose 3-4 inches from the hem before the top no longer looks like a dress on me. I can sort of understand why Under Armour have gone down this path because it allows them to capture a much larger slice of the population; the top still fits me well across the chest and in the arms, whereas I can forgive the silly length or even have it re-hemmed by a tailor. If you’re slender and tall, you should seriously give Under Armour clothing a try as it’ll likely be a perfect fit.

In use

I’ve said already that I was initially sceptical of the ColdGear Reactor long sleeve. I took delivery of it when temperatures sat at around 10°C, which was too warm for its intended purpose. Even on an easy warm-up run, I was sweating after only 10 minutes of wear and deemed the product to be overkill. That suddenly all changed once the thermometer mercury plummeted and that’s when the top really came into its own…

If you’re a runner that typically feels cold, you’ll love the Under Armour ColdGear Reactor top. For everybody else, I’d say this top is right at home in temperatures of 5°C or lower, or when strong cool winds are prevalent. I dislike layering up when I run, so having a single layer that’s just enough has proven to be ideal. There are are some really nice touches that make this top a great cold weather training companion, such as the raised neck line to retain more of the body’s natural warmth and the technical fabric that’s designed to increase surface area and trap heat without overly increasing weight or bulk. The fabric is pleasant against bare skin with no signs of chafing in the half-dozen or so runs I’ve attempted whilst wearing the top. The underarm area and sides are a mesh to allow for some slight heat dissipation, should things get too warm. What would make the top perfect is the addition of a zip for the neck to the chest as a way to shed heat more quickly, especially during more vigorous runs.

Closing thoughts

I’ve grown to really love the Under Armour ColdGear Reactor top, especially as we’ve gone back into a cold snap in the UK. I’ve found myself readily grabbing this top as my default choice of late, especially on easier paced runs where I’m not necessarily out running for long enough or hard enough to even warm up. Only the odd sizing and the lack of a neck zip stop it from being perfect.

Pros

  • Effective single layer warmth
  • Raised neckline
  • Comfortable
  • Little to no added bulk
  • Wind resistant

Cons

  • Size and fit versus length is odd, unless you’re tall
  • Difficult to shed excess heat once too warm
  • Reserved for the coldest of conditions

Available here via underamour.co.uk.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fleece tapered trousers

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Initial thoughts

Whereas I was at first doubtful of the ColdGear Reactor top, I was scratching my head even more upon taking delivery of these trousers…

The first thing that struck me when unpacking and handling the trousers is how bulky they are! The waistline and ankle cuffs are incredibly chunky, where a more is more approach seems to have been adopted. The trousers, whilst claiming to be tapered, look sloppy and baggy – I had to double check they were actually intended for running, where something sleeker and more fitted is the norm from most manufacturers, even for trousers.

Size and fit

The length of the trousers, like the ColdGear Reactor top, measures up on the long side. The overall fit as a result makes me look like MC Hammer in the photo at the top of this review section! I may be wrong here, but I would dare say most runners want something more form fitting; they don’t need the solution to always fit like a pair of tights, but something less bulky and closer to the skin than these trousers would be preferable.

In use

Sadly, the ColdGear Reactor trousers are disappointing in action. There’s simply too much trouser than is needed! I’m not sure about others, but my legs are doing most of the hard work when it comes to running, so they generate far more heat than my upper body, where more protection from the elements is needed and welcome – my legs just don’t need this much protection. Whereas I’ve been readily wearing the ColdGear Reactor top as it’s gotten colder, I’ve not once felt the need to wear these trousers beyond for review purposes.

Even as trousers reserved for warming up before races and cooling down afterwards, they’re flawed because of the chunky ankle cuffs. There’s no zip on the ankle, which makes changing out of the trousers impossible without taking my shoes off first, which isn’t always ideal or possible, especially when outdoors.

Sadly, the positives of these trousers are also marred! There are plenty of zipped pockets for things like coins, keys and a phone, but one of the additional pull tabs on the zips somehow came off in my washing machine and almost jammed in the rotating drum mechanism!

Closing thoughts

Can you tell that I’m not a fan of these trousers? I feel like I’ve fought against these trousers each time I’ve worn them, where they should instead be blurring into the background as I run. If you’re on the tall side and feel your legs frequently run cold, these may be for you, but I think most people would be better served by a pair of more traditional running tights from Under Armour.

Pros

  • Generous length for taller people
  • Lots of pockets
  • Warm for those that need leg insulation

Cons

  • Poor fit that’s distracting
  • Bulky and baggy
  • Zip tabs somehow dislodge in the washing machine
  • Too warm for the majority of people

Available here via underarmour.co.uk.

9 miles from work with strides

I was sure to take in the joy of the simplicity of this route ahead of the planned St James Road tunnel closure. Fewer than 2 miles of the route are covered away from the canal towpath, whereas the detour I have planned from Monday 22nd of January onwards for 3 months will probably double the amount of running on street level to around 4 out of 9 miles.

The strides unfortunately failed to perk my legs up, with race recovery firmly having taken hold…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With temperatures having dropped, treacherous black ice formed in a few spots around Cannon Hill Park. Due to the rain, it became near impossible to tell what was ice and what was simply water glistening on the ground! Nearby Sandwell Valley and Perry Hall parkruns had already cancelled, but it was deemed just about safe enough for Cannon Hill to remain open for business on the normal route.

Whereas I’d had plans to tackle this parkrun hard, my legs had other ideas – they simply didn’t want to turnover any faster and without any more power than around 20 minute 5k pace. My breathing was, however, perfectly fine by comparison…

With about a mile to go, a Birchfield Harrier youngster drifted into contact with me from ahead. He’d held on to a good pace for much of the run, but it was clear it started to get the better of him. I stepped in and gave him some encouragement to get behind and stay close to me. He eventually crossed the line just a few seconds later, having done well to keep the invisible rubber band from snapping.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I had to hightail it out of Cannon Hill Park to make my over to the next item of this week’s entry…

The National Running Show

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Susie Chan speaking at The National Running Show 2018

What’s this? A running trade show in my backyard? Why, don’t mind if I do!

Taking place at the Birmingham NEC, this was the debut of The National Running Show. It’d been years since I last visited a running trade show that stood independently of a race (The Running Show, Sandown Park back in 2012), and as a frequent visitor and worker of trade shows, I was curious to see how it would play out.

In tow were Lis and Dave, with the guest speakers being the main draw for them. Reaching the NEC at about 11:15, the place was surprisingly very busy, so much so that we spent some 10-15 minutes queuing to get in! Once inside, it was unbearably chaotic due to the small hall utilised and poor placement of certain exhibitors (I’m looking at you, Saucony).

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Steve Edwards at The National Running Show 2018

Kelly Holmes, Jo Pavey and Jenny Meadows had already given their talks, which I was disappointed to have missed out on, but I did get to sit-in on sessions from Steve Edwards (800+ sub-3:30 marathons and counting), Luke Tyburski (ultra-runner with a propeller hat) and Susie Chan (regular person turned serial ultra-runner). The talks were pretty good, but timings were a mess due to the organisers not budgeting enough time between sessions for changeovers. It’ll be interesting to see which guests appear next year, with Paula Radcliffe already announced.

Exhibitor-wise, the variety was OK and perhaps only slightly worse than what you would typically see at a big city pre-race expo. Expectedly, there were none of the big dogs like Garmin or Adidas that you normally see on the expo circuit; presumably, they steered clear having already agreed their budgets and would wait out the first year before making any future considerations.

There were exhibitors selling nutrition, recovery products, clothing, shoes, and so on. Also present were a number of races touting their wares. I spoke with the guys from Run For All – the organisation behind the Yorkshire Marathon – who were pleased as punch to hear I’d run their race twice and have been spreading the good word ever since. My conversation with the Swansea Half Marathon was, however, far less productive. Enquiring about whether they had a show discount of some sort, they looked at me like I was some sort of buffoon that dared ask such a stupid question, but they did offer to sign me up there and then. I declined and said I could do that from the comfort of my own home once having read the T&Cs… They’d obviously exhibited at the show to ply for more participants, so it was entirely bizarre that they didn’t have something to seal the deal with would-be entrants like me. ABC – Always Be Closing!

All in all, it was an entertaining way to while away a couple of hours. If not for the guest speakers, I’d have easily navigated my way through the event twice in an hour or so to give you a sense of the size and scale.

15 snowy-slushy-rainy miles

Back in 2013 when training for my very first marathon – the London Marathon – I was caught out by a freak drop of snow to coincide with my final long run of 22 miles… I needed the run and had no choice but to head out on to the white stuff. I don’t recall much from the run; not how I felt during or after, so I must have wiped it from memory.

Looking outside today, I let out a long sigh when I saw more snow, albeit just a light dusting of it on the pavements.

Things started off very well, with the fresh snow proving to be no issue at all as would be expected. I regretted not donning my Oakleys with a pair of high contrast lenses; the falling snow would occasionally blow into my eyes, proving to be quite painful. It was good to see so many of my fellow runners out getting the miles in, with everybody proving especially friendly and acknowledging our collective dedication/craziness.

Once on the return leg, things got much tougher. Rain started falling to turn the snow into slush, which proved much more difficult to run on than snow. Each step continually soaked my feet and caused freezing cold water to slosh around in my shoes, adding to my already heavy feeling legs.

Once back at my front door, my hands, despite being gloved, were too cold to rummage for my key from the tiny zipped pocket it lived in! I had to knock for Lis to let me in and duly jumped straight into a hot shower to get some feeling back into my extremities.

No more snow, please!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2017 review

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Apologies for the late report!

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

For the 2015 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The race

Mile 1 to 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 5 to 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miles 10 to 13.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

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

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

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

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

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

2016 – Year in review

2016

Plenty of ups and downs during 2016!

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

The Good

2016’s targets and PBs

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

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

And the below are the associated PBs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mileage uplift

2015 saw 1,612 miles covered.

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

Memorable races

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

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

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

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

 

The Bad

Races I’d rather forget

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

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

 

The Ugly

The race I’d rather hadn’t taken place

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

Illness

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

 

Make 2017 a good one

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

2015 – A year in review

 

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black background

Welcome to 2016!

“Another year over, and a new one just begun” as the lyrics go. Welcome to 2016!

So, let’s break down how 2015 went for me…

Mileage

2015_mileage

2014 with a marathon saw 1,307 miles logged. 2015 without a marathon saw 1,605 miles – that’s the equivalent of running from London to Bucharest, Romania with distance to spare!

2015 also saw December as my densest month ever of running, clocking in at 201 miles.

All in all, I’m incredibly pleased with the increase in mileage – it should yield some good results to come in longer events, such as the imminent Brass Monkey Half Marathon and the Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships in March.

PBs

My PB producing power reduces each year – 2013 saw me smash out 17x PBs and I enjoyed 8x PB performances in 2014. 2015 dropped a touch to 6x PBs:

  • Brass Monkey Half Marathon – 87:27
  • DK10K – 39:38
  • Magor Marsh 10k – 39:16
  • Cardiff Half Marathon – 86:41
  • Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run (10 mile debut) – 64:17
  • Cannon Hill Parkrun – 18:49

It’s with some logic that my weaker distances would yield the biggest improvements, which is exactly what happened. My half marathon PB came down by 2 minutes and 10 seconds in total for the year, and my 10k improved by 28 seconds. 10 miles produced the biggest surprise when it became my strongest PB of all time relative to other performances – the original prediction was to sneak under 65 minutes, so imagine my surprise when I finished closer to 64 minutes. It stands to reason that I could see the largest improvement in the marathon where it wouldn’t be ridiculous to look at taking minutes off in the double digits.

Race highlights of the year

One from way back at the beginning of 2015, is the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. Organised by runners (York Knavesmire Harriers) for runners, the race has an awful lot going for it. It’s comparatively cheap for a half marathon at £24 for unaffiliated entries; it’s also almost exclusively flat to offer great PB potential, giving me an almost 90 second PB. Lis and I made a proper weekend of it and we’re looking forward to the race again in a few weeks for what’s quickly becoming an annual pilgrimage. We’ve yet to see whether the recent flooding will have an impact on the race or not; it would be a shame if the race is cancelled because it brings tourism and additional revenue to the area through hotel stays, dining out and so on.

Another oldie from very early on in January was my first place finish at Perry Hall Parkrun. I went there merely to clean up my performance and get it under 20 minutes. Little did I know that I’d be the fastest runner that morning, thanks to a local cross-country event that took place later that afternoon. Didn’t get the sub-20 minute run, mind, which must be one of the slowest first finishes on the Parkrun books!

I ran a helluva lot of 10k races throughout the spring and summer, so much so that I even had to cancel one or two for fear of burn out. The one that stands out is the Magor Marsh 10k. It absolutely bucketed down with rain, but offered a stellar field by playing host to the British Masters Championship. Weather conditions aside, I executed the race by the book and produced a rewarding 22 second PB. As with the Brass Monkey Half Marathon above, it’s cheap, flat and organised by the local club, Chepstow Harriers.

Finally, the recent Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run caught me off-guard by playing host to an ability defying PB that was almost a minute faster than estimated. The race really opened up my eyes to what I could potentially run in my next race in only a few short weeks.

2016 targets

Targets are great and keep me on the straight and narrow, so long as they’re not ridiculous flights of fancy… Targets for 2015 were:

  • 5k – sub-18:30: FAIL
  • 10k – sub-39:00: FAIL
  • 10 miles – sub-65:00: Woohoo!
  • Half marathon – sub-87:00: Woohoo!

Looking at the above, I’m almost embarrassed that I put a sub-18:30 5k down as a target. I didn’t appreciate how hard it would be to break 18:51.

Sub-39:00 for 10k is more realistic, and it’s with some confidence that it should come good in 2016, especially seeing as I won’t be running 10k races until late spring for additional development.

So, my revised 2016 targets look like this:

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

Yes, you do see a marathon target in there. Whilst I entered the Berlin Marathon ballot, I didn’t get in. In fact, none of the runners I personally know were successful with Berlin. I’ve got my eye on an autumn race, with the Yorkshire Marathon catching my attention. It won’t be nearly as busy as Berlin, with a crowded field scuppering my previous two London Marathons. Watch this space to see how the marathon project develops…

Have a happy New Year, everyone!

This week’s running – 2nd to 8th of March 2015

Hannibal and Andy love a plan

Hannibal and Andy both love it when a plan comes together!

This was the first uninterrupted week of running for a long while!

10k fartlek

Despite getting back into the swing of things with the fartlek session, the intensity didn’t feel any easier due mainly to the relentless headwind that battered me senseless whilst also on the uphill drag of Hagley Road.

I felt drained afterwards and probably pushed a little too hard. All of this in preparation for the Silverstone Half…

Here’s the data for this run.

This run also served as a candidate to break-in my Adidas Adios Boost 2s…

Adidas Adios Boost 2 thoughts

Adios Boost 2

Adios Boost 2 – a nice upgrade over the original Adios Boost

I picked the Adios Boost 2s up last summer whilst they were on sale and stored them away for a rainy day. The original Adios Boosts that I had were great, if somewhat flawed. The toebox was a touch too wide and allowed for a lot of wriggle room; ideal for some but not for my feet. The other issue I had with the original Adios Boosts were the hard plastic stripes that flanked both sides of the shoe, requiring a lot of break-in to stop them irritating the instep and outstep of my feet.

The Adios Boost 2s corrected both of the above, and crucially, without changing the Boost midsole and the super-grippy Continental rubber outsole that were both almost universally acclaimed. The 2s felt great on my feet and it was clear how end of life the original Adios Boosts had become in comparison (almost 300 miles logged), despite Adidas’ claims that the Boost material would resist compressive forces for much longer.

5k from work

It was great to be back into a regular routine with the run home from the office. Oddly, the pace was relatively fast (just over 9 minute miles versus paces closer to 10 normally) for a simple jog along the canal and everything felt great. I wasn’t better nourished than normal and if anything, work had been busier than usual so I’m still drawing a blank on an explanation.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

People have been asking how I go about with this commute. I travel with a running specific commuter backpack, which offers a very customisable fit on the shoulders, waist and chest for a locked-down feel with little to no vertical movement. Despite its size, the amount of space inside the bag is deceptively poor so I’ve had to pre-plan my runs, making sure I only take the critical items home and leave the non-essentials in the office for another day.

The commutes are a great way for me to boost my overall run volume and on occasion, have actually gotten me home quicker than if I relied on public transport! They also free up valuable minutes in the evenings by using that dead time that I would otherwise have to endure anyway whilst travelling home.

10k via Hagley Road

The average pace of my runs longer than 5k have been creeping faster and faster as of late. I’m pretty sure it was Greg McMillan who said something along the lines of “Fitness should sneak up on you” and this has certainly been this season’s prevailing theme for me.

This 10k was such a run where the pace caught me by surprise, feeling comfortable and relaxed. After weeks of strong headwinds, it was also a rare pleasure to not have any gusts to contend with!

What wasn’t so positive were the number of cars that pulled out on me from various driveways etc. One car clearly hadn’t seen me and continued to creep outwards on to the road, requiring that I slam both my hands on to the bonnet of the car to grab the driver’s attention; things could have gotten messy if she’d slipped off her clutch from the shock…

Anywho, I lived to run another day so here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

It’s become somewhat of a tradition now for me to hit the final Parkrun hard the week before a major race. Part sharpener and part confidence-booster, an aggressive 5k is short enough to recover from within a couple of days.

The plan was to try and grind out a time close to 19:00, much like last week. I opted to set off more conservatively with an opening split of 3:45 versus overall target pace of 3:48. This went off without a hitch but the subsequent splits were all over the shop. The fatal mistake I made was when I chose to inject some speed to move from one pack to another to join Gareth, who was just ahead by only 10m or so; I didn’t quite have enough in me to make it to the next group and was stuck once again in no-man’s land to finish with a 19:20. Oh well, I got the hard run I wanted out of it so I can’t complain.

A special mention goes to Nigel who managed to stay with me for the first half of the run, looking much more comfortable than I did, and produced a finish only a mere 3 seconds off a PB.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

11 miles with 2 at half marathon pace

I last did this run a few weeks ago on fresh legs and what a cracker it was. I decided to try and repeat it for this week’s Sunday long run with a good, but not quite the same result.

There was a roaring headwind on the out portion along the canal towpath, which made the first of two half marathon paced mile efforts tricky. Additionally, I don’t think I was properly warmed-up for the task. I simply couldn’t pull off the pace on tired legs without sacrificing the rest of the run, so I settled on 6:45 versus a target of 6:35 per mile.

The second of the mile efforts came off a lot better for 6:34; I felt like I could have gone faster, which was incredibly positive one week out from the Silverstone Half.

All the splits in between and book ending the half marathon paced efforts were also promising, with only the opening warm-up mile slower than 8 minute pace. Come back next week to see how all this plays out at Silverstone…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s this week’s instalment from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Cover your chest

Guys: Running without a shirt is okay; racing without a shirt is tacky.

There’s no satisfactory way we can explain why this is. It’s just one of those things.

A routine run on a hot summer day is a fine time to go shirtless, assuming you have the upper body to pull it off and/or the confidence to do so.

Racing, though, that’s different.

Maybe it’s the sacred nature of a race (Would you go shirtless in church?), or maybe it’s the mere fact that so many eyes are on you all at once, or maybe it’s a bit of both.

Whatever the reason, racing simply calls for covering your nipples. It’s the right thing to do.

Besides: Pinning your bib number to your chest is much more pleasant if you’re wearing a top.

Great Birmingham Run 2013 Review

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

Andy Yu's Great Birmingham Run Review 2013

Tough day, tough course

Another year over, another Great Birmingham Run completed making for 9 half marathons since 2010!

As ever, please skip straight to “The Race” if you’d rather not read all the stuff beforehand.

Race Day

I managed to get a semi-decent night’s sleep and woke up feeling ready for the task at hand. The TV coverage from the Cardiff Half Marathon I ran two weeks ago was playing on Channel 4 and served as perfect pre-race inspiration for a sub-90 minute attempt. I had my usual breakfast of two slices of toast with honey, an energy drink and two beetroot juice shots.

Sometime on the Saturday, possibly at Cannon Hill Parkrun, I was bitten by an insect on my right leg which had caused my right calf and ankle to swell considerably. There was no pain walking or running, but my leg looked visibly fat!

Living only a few hundred metres from the Great Birmingham Run start line has its advantages; I can use my own toilet without queues and I can leave it quite late to walk down to the holding pens.

Team Beetroot at the Great Birmingham Run 2013

Elsa, Iain, Lis in the left photo – Derek, Iain, Lis in the right photo

Team Beetroot (Elsa, Iain, Dave, Derek and Oli) arrived in good time, allowing Dave and I to go for a short warm-up run and Oli to go collect his timing chip from the NIA. Oli had only decided to enter the race two weeks beforehand on the back of no run training. He’d done a lot of cycling but non-specific training will only get you so far – he’s braver than I am!

We runners made our way towards the start line and the spectators headed over to the Bullring to stake out a place during the first mile.

It was always mine and Dave’s intention to start from the right-hand side of the road; you get a faster start because you follow immediately after the elites and going for a sub-90 attempt would require every helping hand available. We meandered our way into the right-hand start pens where we spotted some pacers including a sub-90 minute one! Dave and I then decided to venture back towards the left-hand start pens to take advantage of the pacer, so back we went. We bumped into Keith Hill from BRAT; I’d been having some decent battles with Keith at Cannon Hill Parkrun in the early part of the summer where we were both going for sub-20. Both Keith and I had a good chat about how our seasons had gone and also what we had lined up for the rest of the year and in the spring. I spotted several fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunners in the right-hand pen, including Khalid Malik and Helen Bloomer, wishing them luck as they were about to start.

After a short wait for the other side of the road to clear, we were ushered up to the start line for a few photos. Ellie Simmonds fired off her air horn and we were off!

The Race

The first mile of the Great Birmingham Run is pretty much downhill before it flattens out. Taking this into account, everybody seemed to storm off at an alarming pace including Dave and me; 6:36 as an opening mile possibly wasn’t the smartest move but knowing that most of the course is uphill in the later stages means that you need to take every advantage that’s handed to you. Looking at various online debriefs of the race, a lot of faster runners adopted the same approach with mixed results.

The sub-90 minute pacer had more or less disappeared from view entirely within half a mile! Dave and I agreed that he probably adopted a positive split strategy, purposely running a faster first half to compensate for the damage from later on. EDIT – I have since found out that the sub-90 minute pacer completed his first mile in 5:54! That’s 10 seconds faster than any recorded mile I’ve ever posted! He missed his target as well, finishing in 1:30:41, so I’m really glad I didn’t try and hang on to him.

Andy and Dave at the Great Birmingham Run

Andy and Dave at the Bullring

We approached the Bullring where we saw the gang waiting for us. They’d already seen Oli go by and were confused over why they hadn’t seen us yet. Thankfully, Iain convinced them all that we’d possibly yet to come through and as if by magic, Dave and I appeared.

Exiting Digbeth, a chap caught up to me and said he was a fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunner; he was also a reader of this very blog! Here’s a shout-out to you Nigel! He was hoping to run about 1:34 or so and decided to stay with me for as long as possible before making a call to carry on or ease off slightly.

We ventured on to Pershore Road but sadly, I don’t remember much of this portion of the race. The mile 2 marker seemed slightly off by the time I went through it, so I knew I had to start running a cleaner line to avoid adding excess distance to my race. I’d lost Dave at some stage here and I decided to let him go rather than risk a blow out by trying to catch-up and keep up with him. Nigel and I ran past our first water station and I spotted Richard from Parkrun, shouting out to him.

Pershore Road is a good, long straight portion of the race which allowed us to get some good progress under our feet. If you’re running well, Pershore Road should just fly by but if you’re running poorly, it never seems to end.

Great Birmingham Run 2013 route

The changes DID NOT make the course any easier!

The latest addition to the Great Birmingham Run arrived in the form of another hill on Kensington Road. The reason for this new hill on the course was to simplify a part of the route later on in Edgbaston. Mile 12 was originally a flat but twisty-turny affair that introduced some slow-down on what should otherwise be a faster portion of the race. What the organisers did was re-route mile 12 into a shorter, smoother run through Edgbaston and to compensate, they had to introduce some additional distance somewhere else on the course. The Kensington Road hill was a doddle in training but felt hard as nails at race pace. I really had to hunch over and shorten my stride to keep the pace up. I can see the organisers receiving many a request to swap the route back to the 2010-2012 version. The downhill on the other side allowed me to get my cadence up (can’t be sure, left my footpod at home…) but I knew I’d never make up the lost time from the incline.

At some stage, I ended up losing Nigel accidentally. The path narrowed due to maintaining the return route on the other side and we started to catch up to some of the slower orange wave runners from the first wave. I was getting frustrated with the weaving so I saw an opportunity to surge on to the pavement and come out on the other side, not realising Nigel had stayed back.

I spotted Mary from Cannon Hill Parkrun going into Stirchley. I also spotted Dave maybe 30 – 40m ahead of me and I decided to try and reel him back in. Running past Cadbury’s World, I managed to catch him again but our times were still down on target; my Garmin was reporting we were already 1.5 minutes behind and would require a monumental effort in the latter stages to get us back on track for a sub-90 finish. The short but sharp hill in Bournville hit me and I ended up letting Dave go on the return to Stirchley; he was running fresh compared to my less than stellar legs  and my mentally tired noggin.

Noticing that my Garmin was starting to show a huge discrepancy from the mile markers, I decided to make a move to correct this. I saw a guy cut a corner by running on the pavement heading back into Stirchley and I followed in pursuit. This seemed to do the trick and the 6 mile marker and my Garmin synced up perfectly again! All I had to do now was to focus on running a clean line and hug the corners to maintain the status quo.

Approaching the 10k marker, I ran past Martin Foster from Bournville Harriers and Parkrun. He looked like he was running a good, controlled race and I wished him well. Running through 10k, Dave had already kindly worked out for me that I needed to achieve 42:48 or so to remain in contention for a sub-90 minute finish. What I actually ran through 10k in was 44:20 or similar, so I knew it was over. I immediately stopped caring about my splits and decided to run based purely on effort, which explains my somewhat erratic splits.

Back on the Pershore Road, I’d caught up to Keith Hill, who seemed to be slowing slightly. I told him to stay with me, which only went and made him surge off again into the distance! I spotted Sean Whan of Kings Heath Running Club and yelled out to him, just catching him as I ran past on the opposite side of the road. I finally managed to feel comfortable here and felt like I was running at a good pace.

Heading towards Cannon Hill Park, I knew my parents would be spectating. I’d practiced with my Mum the day before to pass me an energy gel if I gave her a sign. I gave her the sign and she quickly withdrew the gel! I just about managed to convince her to give me the gel before I ran past and high-fived my Dad whilst passing by.

Andy at Cannon Hill Park, Great Birmingham Run

My Mum played paparazzo to capture this photo

Going into Cannon Hill Park, we ran through the eerie car park again, which was now just a bit wet and miserable from the previous day’s rain. Running the Parkrun route in reverse introduced another hill to contend with for yet more slow down. Free Radio had set up their cheering station in the park and were handing some green sweets of some kind (were they jelly babies?). Mike Green and Barbara Partridge of Kings Heath Running Club saw me for a quick cheer which worked a treat to lift me up. Suz West of Bournville Harriers also gave me a cheer after the tea room for another mental boost. I managed to catch-up to Keith Hill again and hung on to him for a bit longer before letting him escape again by just a few metres, which quickly became 10 and then 20.

Leaving the park I arrived at another, you’ve guessed it, hill! Only a short one, mind, but when you’re already tired it’s the last thing you need.

Balsall Heath presented nice wide roads and I started to run with two girls just ahead of me. They must have had no idea I was behind them because they kept cutting into my path. People need to look over their shoulders if they’re going to change their line suddenly! I actually started to point in the direction I wanted to move in, indicating like you would whilst driving which seemed to work quite well. The shower in Balsall Heath was brilliant at cooling me down. Despite the overcast skies, my face was very warm and I reckon I must have been quite dehydrated as the race progressed.

The Leebank Middleway gave me a moment of recovery on its downhill portion before I had to grit my teeth for a tough mile of hills. Two guys behind me started saying they were going to push it until the end, not knowing the mother of all hills was coming up; I warned them about it just in time and they slowed themselves down slightly as we exited the Middleway.

Approaching the Charlotte Road – St James Road hills, I began to get my energy gel ready but only went and dropped it on the floor! For a moment, I wondered whether I should have stopped to pick it up or let it go? I really could have done with a sugar hit to help me through to the end, but suddenly stopping in the middle of the road probably would have caused a pile up…

The hill hit me hard. I was tired and an annoying head wind was working hard against me. I’d have tolerated the hill or wind in isolation, but not both and I reckon I was close t breaking point. I hunched forward again and pushed to get through the hill as quickly as possible, with the logic that the slower I went, the more time I would waste there. Reaching the top, I was almost completely shot and I had to slow down temporarily to catch my breath and recompose myself.

Just a mile and a bit remained before the end, so I tried to lift my pace. It was here where Bupa debuted their “Boost Zone”, which consisted of jelly babies, music and Vaseline. I felt somewhat cheated by this, because it appeared that we lost an energy drink station at mile 4 in exchange for this! An earlier energy drink stop would have been far more beneficial. If a runner had made it to mile 12, surely they could make it to the end without jelly babies and Vaseline?

Making it on to Hagley Road, I tried to lift my pace again. I couldn’t tell if I was actually going faster because everybody else around me seemed to be doing the same thing. Going under Five Ways island, I decided to start an “Oggy Oggy Oggy” chant and people actually responded with “Oi Oi Oi”!

Dave, Andy and Oli at the Great Birmingham Run 2013

Dave, Andy and Oli on the home stretch of the Great Birmingham Run

Coming up on the other side, the gang would be somewhere on the right between Gatecrasher and the traffic lights. We spotted each other and I fired off a few Mobots; apparently, I wasn’t looking too good compared to the fresh looking Dave that was just ahead of me. I began to lift my pace again, noting that my watch had ticked over into 1:34:XX territory; I would have been happy with a sub-1:35 performance so I began to sprint from 400m left to go. I visualised the last 400m of Parkrun and noted that this was all downhill. I kicked hard with 200m left to go and managed to overtake a good few people, crossing the line in 1:34:45 – my fastest ever Great Birmingham Run/Birmingham Half Marathon by some 11 minutes!

Andy Yu's finishing time at the Great Birmingham Run 2013

I still finished in the top 6% or so

The sprint had made me go anaerobic and I had to hang on to the side barrier for support. A paramedic asked if I was OK and recalling my finish at the Cardiff Half, I assertively said I was “fine” and caught my breath back after a minute or so. I caught up with Dave who had PBd with 1:33:07 – a 4 minute all time PB on a tough day and course.

We removed our timing chips and caught up with Nigel afterwards. Nigel ran a good time too and we wished him well until the next Cannon Hill Parkrun.

Nice t-shirt design

I like this year’s t-shirt design, but not so keen on the fabric

We collected our goodie bags and managed to bump into Seth from Parkrun and also Birmingham City Striders. He’d run a time of 1:33:22, which was great considering he’d only recently run a very good 1:32 three weeks ago at the Nottingham Half Marathon. James from Parkrun also bumped into us for a pow-wow. See? Parkrun really does bring the larger running community together!

Dave and I finally made it to Nandos, with Oli not far behind us for some much needed sustenance.

Take a look at my Garmin run data here.

Conclusion and Closing Thoughts

Whilst I’ve run four Birmingham Half Marathons/Great Birmingham Runs, I think this 2013 edition will be my last at least for a good while. Discussing my race yesterday with Lis, we both came to the conclusion that I’m simply too familiar with the course now and it lacks the mental stimulation it once had.

I didn’t even run a bad race in the grand scheme of things posting a very solid time on a tough course under sub-optimal conditions.

The Great Birmingham Run just doesn’t give me what I’m after anymore, the most important of which is PB potential. I love my PBs and that’s the primary reason that motivates me in training and to keep pushing my own limits. If you work your ass off, you’d want to squeeze almost every last ounce of potential out of yourself and the only way we can all measure this performance is down to the times we post. The Birmingham course just isn’t conducive to huge PBs. I’ll go after another sub-90 minute attempt in the spring; the race has yet to be decided but Lis is putting in another strong vote for an event that doesn’t begin with “Silver” and ends in “stone”.

So what will I do at next year’s race? I’m considering the option of volunteering as a marshal or simply spectating. I’m investigating the Nottingham Half Marathon as an autumn race option, perhaps even Bristol.

The other conclusion I have reached is that I simply can’t race two A-race half marathons so close together. Even with two weeks apart, I still felt fatigued yesterday in both body and mind. I was so fired up for Cardiff that it would be near impossible to wind myself back up again so soon afterwards.

Finally, I need to mention my friend and ex-colleague, Martin Hamer’s performance yesterday. For years Martin heckled me for running, thinking I was a mad man for putting myself through what he considered torture. He ran his first ever half marathon yesterday and posted an incredible beginner’s PB of 1:44:19; a whole minute faster than my attempt last year. He even admitted that he sandbagged a little in the final mile, safe in the knowledge that he’d blown his sub-2 hour target into oblivion. He’s a great example of what committing to several months of consistent training will produce and I’m confident he’ll dip under 1:40 on his next half marathon.

Garmin 910XT – early thoughts

Garmin 910XT review

My Garmin 910XT

I recently bit the bullet and upgraded to a shiny new Garmin 910XT multisport watch and here, I’d like to share some of my early thoughts about how I’m finding life with it. For a very in-depth review, please visit DC Rainmaker’s site for his take on the Garmin 910XT.

So far, I absolutely love the 910XT and I have no regrets about my purchase. It’s not a cheap piece of equipment so you can understand my anxiety about it performing and delivering what I wanted from a GPS running watch.

Whilst it’s billed as a multisport or triathlon watch, it is unlikely that I’ll be using the swim and cycling modes. The main reason I went for the 910XT over the FR610 (virtually identical run features) is because it has physical buttons; I tried the FR610 and simply couldn’t get along with the touch screen. This for me was worth the premium and I also received the swim and cycle modes for free!

The size of the watch does take some getting used to, but it is comfortable thanks to one of the straps having a more flexible hinge to accommodate larger and smaller wrists.

The size of the display is fantastic whilst running, showing up to 4 different data fields per screen. The problem I had with the Nike+ GPS Sportwatch was that you could only ever see up to 2 different data fields at the same time; fine on some types of run but not practical scrolling constantly in a time critical race.

I simply adore the Virtual Partner feature of the 910XT. Depicted by two stickmen running alongside each other, it acts as a pacer running at whatever constant pace that you wish and your job is to stay as close to them as possible. It takes a lot of the guess work out of pacing during a race and simplifies the process so that you can concentrate on just keeping up. I used this feature to help get me to my 19:53 5k time at Cardiff Parkrun, so it definitely gets the Yellow Runner two thumbs up of approval.

The 910XT comes with a vibrate feature which silently alerts you when you hit certain markers, such as distance, time or calories. This is particularly useful during noisy runs or when you’re listening to music but still wish to be alerted when you’ve crossed through another mile.

There aren’t many things I dislike about the 910XT, but there are a few I need to highlight. I really dislike the charging clip, which is a poor design with a chance for it to become dislodged. I’m also noticing a few small bugs, mainly with navigation around the firmware; not a deal breaker but there seems to be a lack of polish.

All in all, the 910XT is shaping up to be a great running watch for me. And that’s the important thing to bear in mind in that we’re all different as runners. For many, the 910XT would have many features that are surplus to requirements. Most runners would make do with immediate pace, average pace, distance and time. More advanced watches simply deliver these metrics in a more useful manner or offer you more options to personalise the delivery. I will not use all the features available to me, but I am safe in the knowledge that the option is there should I ever want or need it further down the line.

For those interested, you can add me on Garmin Connect by visiting my profile page.

Aldridge 10k 2013 review

Andy Yu at the Aldridge 10k

Less than 200m left to go!

For the 2016 race, please click below:

It’s the summer which means it’s 5k and 10k season. In a bid to become faster, I’ve registered to race in a handful of 10ks alongside my weekly Parkruns.

Today, I participated in the Aldridge 10k; a race that I would call “honest”. “Honest?” I hear you ask. Some race organisers have the tendency to over-sell their races, marketing them as flat or fast with a few hyperboles thrown in that would have made even Steve Jobs blush. Aldridge Running Club, the team behind today’s 10k, describe the course as “undulating” and “hilly”, with a “sting in the tail”. Runners entering know exactly what they’re getting and have no excuse to complain.

Lis and I arrived in Aldridge at around 09:30 and I quickly collected my bib with built in timing chip. I noticed a few fellow Cannon Hill Parkrunners here and there; not surprising given the location and keen runners would either be at the 2 Castles 10k or in Aldridge.

If only my race number was 171

Lucky number 166…

We watched the kids race start and due to some poor marshalling, the boy in first place went the wrong way on the course and lost maybe 10 places. On the return, he managed to catch up to be second place. I appreciate marshals volunteer for no reward, but they should ensure they do their job properly. I hear about so many race horror stories where herds of runners are sent down the wrong path, only to find this then disqualifies their result. Runners may have been building up to a particular performance for months, only to have it cruelly robbed due to sloppy marshalling. Rant over!

I headed off for my warm-up run of a mile. My left calf muscle was still tight after yesterday’s Parkrun, despite foam rolling and stretching. As part of my pre-race prep, I did also pack a shot of concentrated beetroot juice but I forgot to drink it!

We watched the 4.3k (an odd distance) start and then everybody headed over to the start area for the 10k race. I placed myself close to the front-runners, maybe 6 rows back. I knew I was in the right place because speaking to other guys around me, they were aiming for times of 41 – 43 minutes, and so it was unlikely I’d be slowed down or slow others down. The local mayor started the race and we were off!

Aldridge 10k runners waiting to start

The start of the Aldridge 10k

The course initially went downhill, causing a few runners to start off too quickly. I was conscious to run a negative split of no more than a minute, requiring a first 5k of 6:55 minute miles and a second 5k of 6:35 minute miles. I quickly settled into a good rhythm, despite the undulating course and stuck with a group of club runners to block some of the headwind.

The opening kilometres were relatively easy and flew by quickly. We soon approached one of the first steep hills on the course and runners began to drop like flies around me. I noticed here that due to my small size, I had physically less weight to drive up the hill and tackled it at my desired pace. On the other side, heading down hill, the larger runners I’d managed to drop had caught up to me, using gravity and their weight to their advantage. I call this the Mario Kart effect, where some of the larger characters like Donkey Kong and Bowser were slow to start but had a higher top speed once in motion; this makes me more like Toad (the mushroom man) who has better acceleration, but a lower top speed once actually moving.

Andy Yu halfway through the Aldridge 10k

Striking a pose means I wasn’t running hard enough

The course was well signposted, with a marker at every kilometre and clear signs for the upcoming drinks station. This was my cue to take my one Isogel for some sugar and liquid, just in case I made a mess of drinking from a cup on the go again. The drinks station was near the start area, so I saw Lis again and posed for a few photos. I grabbed a cup of water and successfully took a large gulp and poured the rest over my head to cool down. The weather was pretty much perfect for running at 14 degrees and overcast skies, but the water still felt refreshing. Unfortunately, more of it ended up over my right shoulder, weighing my vest down and causing one of the straps to constantly slide off. It also caused a bit of right nipple chaffing…

Despite my plans to run a negative split, the hilly course had taken its toll and I struggled to pick up the pace in the second half. A steep downhill descent allowed me to cruise a little and flush some lactic acid from my legs before we arrived at the “sting in the tail”: one long, steady incline without any crowd support. The headwind returned and I tucked myself behind a Lichfield Running Club member for 5 minutes or so, running in his slipstream. Conscious that I didn’t want to outstay my welcome, I took an opportunity to overtake and dug deep to attack the hill. I ran solo for a few minutes and worked hard to catch up to the runners in front, eventually settling in with a small group. A Tipton Harrier runner had given up and had to walk; I gave a quick bit of encouragement, urging him to carry on and he tucked himself into my group to start running again.

Running to win at the Aldridge 10k

Running to win at the Aldridge 10k

We finally levelled out on flat ground again and quickly turned a corner to see a sign reading “400m left to go”, which spurred us on to pick up the pace. Turning another corner, we arrived at the closing stage of the race with a sign reading “200m left to go”, and that we did! My group broke up and it was just one guy and me that started to sprint. He gained a few metres on me and received some crowd encouragement. I don’t like to lose and I had some fight left in my legs, so I kicked to chase him, taking a corner wide so that I would be on the inside lane at the next corner. I overtook him but it was difficult due to the final 200m being run on grass. I caught up to the small group in front of me and overtook another two guys with one last kick down the home straight to finish 66th out of 338.

On the home straight at the Aldridge 10k 2013

Check out the race face on the guy in red!

I stopped my watch but had no idea what my time was. I had to drop to one knee to catch my breath and made my way to the finish area, where I met Lis and collected my goodie bag. I had a chat with one of the volunteers from Parkrun that I’d spotted out on the course, mentioning that I shouldn’t have run so hard at yesterday’s event.

For those interested, here’s the Nike+ run data. Be sure to check out the elevation of those hills!

A new 10k PB at the Aldridge 10k

This is what a 10k PB looks like

I remembered to check my watch and it was a PB performance of 42:52; a new record by 26 seconds. Had this have been a flatter course, I’m confident that I would have finished with a sub-42 minute time.

The goodie bag was so-so; it contained a technical t-shirt (which I’ll probably never wear), a cereal bar and some flyers for other races. I’d have gladly sacrificed the t-shirt for a medal.

Ellie Simmonds' gold post box

Local hero, Ellie Simmonds’ gold post box

On the way back to the car, we spotted Ellie Simmonds’ gold post box.

All in all, I had a good race. It was reasonably priced at £16 and came with chip timing and a goodie bag. Organisation for the main event was sound and it never felt crowded on the course, a complaint of some of the larger races out there. The course itself was challenging, even for the strongest of runners, exposing any weaknesses in an athlete’s repertoire of skills. I’m glad my ability to attack hills is still decent despite a lack of focussed incline training. I’ll probably do 2 Castles 10k next year for variety, but if the two take place on different days then I may just come back for more.

Pros

  • Reasonably priced
  • Decent organisation on the course
  • Challenging course – good for training or testing your ability
  • No crowding
  • Chip timing

Cons

  • Poor goodie bag
  • Slightly chaotic start
  • Challenging course – some will hate it

Nike Flyknit Racer review

Orange/grey and red/black Flyknit Racers

I’ve had my original orange pair for almost a year, so this Flyknit Racer review has been a long time in the making. I have recently taken delivery of a second pair of Flyknit Racers in red, which has allowed me to approach this review from that of an owner of a fresh pair as well as a runner that’s put nearly 200 miles through them.

Concept

The Flyknit concept started life as an idea from Nike’s discussions with elite runners regarding what they wanted from a shoe. The one clear request from the feedback was a shoe that was light but also fitted well, almost as if it was a sock.

Five years later, Nike’s Flyknit technology was released upon the world, making its debut at the London Olympic Games.

Sporting an upper made from a single knitted weave, not only is the Flyknit Racer “light for flight”, but it’s also more environmentally sound due to reduced waste.

Colour options

Kicking off this Flyknit Racer review, I’d like to talk about the colour options available. The original line-up featured volt/black and orange/grey.

Nike Flyknit Racer in volt

The volt/black colourway was the ‘hero’ shoe that was used in all the advertising and promotion. Nike also debuted the volt/black colourway on its various sponsored athletes at the Olympic games.

Nike Flyknit Racer in orange

Personally, I went with the orange/grey colourway due to the likelihood that they would be seen less frequently in the wild and also for the tamer colour.

Nike Flyknit Racer in black

Earlier this year, Nike released a black/grey colourway. I wasn’t keen on this colour option where I felt it clashed with the overall look of the Flyknit Racer.

Nike Flyknit Racer in red

Recently, Nike introduced a new red/black colourway into the line-up. For me, this is a great looking colour combination where it’s striking but without being as attention grabbing as the volt/black colourway.

Nike apparently has plans to release yellow, green and purple colourways later in the year.

Availability of all the options appears to be healthy, which is unusual with Nike where they like to phase colours in and out of circulation.

Sizing

Orange/grey Flyknit Racers

The Flyknit Racer is intended to give a snug, sock-like feel; almost like that of a track spike. Because of this, you will want to go true to size. The fit is also quite narrow and there is no wide option available, so those with wider feet may need to upsize, though this defeats the purpose of the close-fit. The shoe is intended to be unisex, so women will need to downsize to find their ideal fit.

Weight

“Light for flight” is the slogan used for the Flyknit Racer. My UK size 8 pair hovers at around 160g per shoe; a ridiculously low weight that only a few other racing flats have managed to beat. I had to shake the box when I first received mine to make sure they were in there!

The upper

Flyknit Racer single weave upper

The Flyknit Racer’s upper is entirely constructed from Nike’s synthetic yarn. The one-piece construction means there is very little waste or excess. The weave also makes for an extremely breathable shoe, something that was sorely lacking from Nike’s Lunaracer. It’s possible to literally see through the weave in certain places and see your foot beneath. Running and racing in the summer is a joy in these, thanks to the ventilation, and I can definitely feel the difference when I change into other running shoes of mine. Of course, breathability also means things can get inside the shoe easily, namely water. During the winter, I regularly race 5ks and the cold air is less welcome; if it rains (it normally does in Britain), my feet get soaked.

The Flyknit Racer’s upper has a contrasting colour scheme to it, with the outer area of the foot predominantly decked in the shoe’s primary colour and the inner foot in the secondary colour. The Nike swoosh has been printed on using a paint that I can only describe as looking like white wash, with a powdered look.

Flyknit Racer review

Almost the entire upper is intertwined with Nike’s Flywire technology. These are strong, synthetic wires that have been woven into the weave with loops exposed where the lace eyelets would go. The laces are then threaded through these wires at the same time and as you tighten the laces, the wires get pulled and the upper conforms to the contours of your feet. What you get is a snug feeling of support, without any additional weight. It is possible to further customise the fit, particularly if you have wider feet. You can choose to thread the laces through the Flywires or not, which will allow you to tighten or loosen different parts of the upper. There are 6 eyelets on either side of the upper and I personally do use all of the 5 Flywires available. The use of Flywire in the Flyknit Racer is possibly the most successful application of it so far, compared to the Lunaracer where the plastic top layer used to hold the wires in place also made the shoe dramatically less breathable.

Certain parts of the upper have also been strengthened with a closer, thicker weave for added support or high-wear, such as the heel area and where the shoe creases upon toe-off.

Over time, the Flyknit Racers will mould into the shape of your foot for a very personalised fit. Certain Nike stores offer a fitting service where the shoes are doused in steam whilst you wear them; they are then left to cool and you should have a pair of perfectly fitted Flyknit Racers. The same process can be repeated at home by wearing the shoes in a steamy bathroom and then allowing them to cool. Personally, I preferred to break my shoes in the old-fashioned way by running them in. My red/black pair are still relatively new and comparing them visually to my worn-in orange/grey pair, it’s easy to see they haven’t quite moulded to my feet yet.

The tongue is a separate stitched-in piece to the upper and is held in place by threading the laces through two loops. This for me is the only bug-bear, because the tongue can occasionally slip and move to the side, however your mileage may vary depending on how tight or loose you wear your shoes.

Flyknit Racer laces

My orange/grey pair was the original launch model and shipped with oval laces and the red/black pair shipped with flat ribbon laces. The ribbon laces are much cheaper and more difficult to keep tied, requiring a much sturdier knot. I’m considering replacement oval laces (40 inch length) for mine to improve the situation. This change was across the entire line at some point in early 2013, affecting both Flyknit Racers and Flyknit Trainers.

Flyknit Racer rear

The upper really is quite minimalistic, right through to the collar lacking any sort of padding to further reduce weight. What isn’t needed isn’t used is the order of the day.

Completing the upper is a loop at the rear of the shoe to help pull the shoe on and off. Reflective material has been applied to the loop for a small element of safety if running at night.

Insole

Flyknit Racer insole

The Flyknit Racer’s insole is made from Nike’s ortholite material, which I believe is also used in their line of Free and Free Run shoes. These mould into the shape of your feet after a few miles. There is no Nike+ foot pod cavity beneath the insole due to the reduced thickness of the midsole; I simply use a foot pod wallet that threads through the laces with no intrusion to running at all.

Midsole

The Flyknit Racer’s midsole is constructed from Nike’s Zoom material. It’s firmer than their Lunarlon material, yet just as light and offers an incredibly responsive ride. Initially, some may find the feel a little too harsh, especially if they have never run in racing flats before, or have come from traditional cushioned shoes. Putting a few miles through the Flyknit Racers will break them in and the ride will soften up slightly. I can only describe the feeling as being full of feedback; I know exactly when I’m running on tarmac, concrete or grass based on the feeling underfoot.

The Zoom Air unit is located in the midsole area. This shoe is ideally suited for runners that land on their toes or mid-foot. Lighter-weight heel strikers could possibly get away with this shoe over shorter distances, though I would be cautious about venturing into anything above a 10k for fear of injury.

Flyknit Racer midsole

The heel area of the midsole is flared to increase its surface area when landing on the ground, though again should not be relied upon by heel strikers.

The heel drop is approximately 10mm in height, so the term “racing flat” probably isn’t as accurate as it could be. Be that as it may, it has all the ingredients of a good quality racing flat.

Sole

Flyknit Racer sole

Majority of the sole is covered in a layer of black rubber, possibly Nike’s BRS 100 found on a number of their other running shoes. This is quite a contrast to the Lunaracer, where only high wear areas are rubberised. In a nod to Bill Bowerman’s original waffle print running shoes, Nike have applied a waffle-patterned grip layout to the sole, affectionately named “Waffleskin”. They claim this pattern has been optimised for racing and speed and I can honestly say, it’s rare that I’ve ever felt like I needed more traction, even when racing in rain.

The central portion of the sole is exposed midsole material with a large Nike swoosh logo, matching the primary colour of the Flyknit Racer.

The rubber is incredibly thin at only 2 – 3mm in thickness in a bid to cut down on weight and will also affect the longevity and life span of the Flyknit Racer.

Use and performance

Red/black Flyknit Racers

I have run in the Flyknit Racers in distances from 5k all the way through to the marathon. The shoe is designed to go fast and feels most comfortable when you’re toeing off in a race, rather than easily jogging. The configuration almost encourages you to lean forward whilst you run, again convincing you to run faster.

The fit and feel of the shoe gives you the illusion that they’re an extension of your legs and feet, rather than a tool for the job.

Personally, I think the shoe is most at home up to the half marathon distance. I regularly run Parkrun 5k events, 10ks and half marathons in the Flyknit Racers and the low weight is welcome during the closing stages when you’re tired and your legs are heavy with lactic acid. I recently ran the London Marathon in the Flyknit Racers and they admirably stuck with me, but from mile 20 onwards I began to heel strike due to exhaustion. Heel striking is not how these shoes were intended to be used and I was concerned with how they would handle. I finished the marathon without any injuries, though I would say anybody that takes longer than 4 to 4.5 hours to run a marathon should probably consider a different shoe with more support.

Flyknit Racer wear and tear

My original orange/grey pair have had over 180 miles put through them and they still look and perform as well as they did when I first got them. The only sign of wear and tear is on the outer edge of the sole where my foot first makes contact with the ground. The rubber has worn away by 1 – 1.5mm so I estimate I can get to 300 miles before I wear through to the midsole. 150 miles to 300 miles is typical for a racing flat, so these should be reserved for use only when absolutely needed.

Conclusions

These are an expensive shoe, originally retailing in the UK for £150. If they do make it to 300 miles, that’s 50p per mile of wear. They have come down in price slightly and can be found for £115 through third party retailers and Nike sells them directly for £130. For me, these are worth every penny for the fit and weight, hence why I have recently bought a second pair.

On the high street in the UK, only Nike themselves seem to have these in stock to try. It is definitely worth trying these on in person if you’re considering a purchase, due to the unique fit these offer.

If you have any questions about the Flyknit Racer, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email at andy@runtowin.co.uk.

Nike Flyknit Racers – early thoughts

Image

EDIT – It’s taken me a few months but I finally have a full review for the Nike Flyknit Racer elsewhere on this blog – simply click here to read it.

You’ve got to love Nike and their innovations in the world of running. I’ve been a Nike running shoe wearer for years, from Nike Air all the way to Nike Lunar. Lunar was a remarkable development for support and low weight in a shoe but there’s a new contender that has everybody in awe. Let me introduce you to the Flyknit Racer.

Flyknit is a new weaving technology Nike have patented after working with elite marathon runners for 4 years. Asking them what they would like from a marathon shoe, they all replied wanting footwear that was lightweight and moved with the contours of their own feet leading Nike down the path that less is indeed more.

This is a collection of early thoughts, a proto review if you will. I can’t seem to find any decent reviews online from proper runners so perhaps this will become a good resource for anybody looking to take the plunge.

Almost the entire upper is made from a one-piece weave of polyester yarn and Flywire for a truly customised fit. The sole is based on Zoom technology, the same that’s featured in all the elite Nike marathon shoes. A size 9 shoe clocks in at just 160g, an insane amount where the box they come in weighs more!

Wearing them, it truly feels like there’s nothing on your feet apart from the sole underfoot. They run a little narrower than a typical training shoe, again designed to keep it minimal. The toebox is very well ventilated with any rain water able to get in immediately or any moisture and warmth able to get out just as quickly. The Flywire fit is customisable where you simply loop them into use or not depending on your foot shape. I have elected to use all of the loops to see how I get on during a run. In terms of sizing, it’s down to personal preference whether you go true to size or even a half size down. I’m a 7 in formal shoes and an 8 normally in trainers, taking thicker socks and swelling into account. Because these are so thin, you should factor this into your decision when sizing up. I went in blind because Elsa picked them up for me and half sizes are not normally available.

The sole has a thin layer of compound, separating the cushioning and the ground. I don’t know how long this will last, though not being a heel striker should mean I get a few hundred miles out of them before they need replacing and even longer if I use them exclusively for speed work or race days. These shoes are ideally for forefoot and midfoot strikers.

There is no Nike+ unit, again to save weight so I’m using a footpod pouch for indoor use and to calibrate the sensor whilst outdoors.

I opted for the orange colourway, mainly because the volt (fluorescent yellow-green) is the hero colour and a bit too bright.

I’ll report again after a 5k Parkrun this Saturday and see if I score a new PB or not!

Pros:

  • Super lightweight; only 160g per shoe for a size 9
  • Very breathable
  • Personalised fit thanks to Flywire supports
  • Look and design are rather striking

Cons:

  • Cost: £150 here in the UK
  • Durability over time
  • Availability is restricted for the time being to certain vendors
  • Not suited to certain types of running style