This week’s running – 11th to 17th December 2017

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A post-Sandwell Valley parkrun McDonald’s breakfast is now becoming a tradition…

It’s snow joke when training is disrupted! I’ll grab my coat…

5k recovery

The title’s a bit disingenuous because it suggests I had something to recover from! Snow hitting the Midlands hard meant I’d barely even stretched out my legs the previous day.

At least the snow was still pretty fresh, making for a rather enjoyable crunch with each step!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10k from work

Temperatures plummeted once more, glazing the snow over into hazardous ice. As I ran through Brindley Place, an older gentleman stopped in disbelief to ask, “You’re running on this?” I questioned myself, too, as I had to carefully choose where to plant each foot.

Whereas I’d planned to cover the 9 miles from the office for home, I was mentally and physically exhausted by about 5 miles and opted to call it quits at Selly Oak for just 10k. Having to be alert 100% of the time took its toll, and my left bum cheek and Achilles throbbed from the unusual gait I’d adopted. Thankfully, there was a no.11 bus waiting at the stop, which bizarrely had no passengers on-board apart from me and didn’t stop once for the entire journey back to Kings Heath! I felt a bit like Harry Potter on the Knight Bus; all that was missing was a shrunken head, sounding like Lenny Henry…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Sandwell Valley parkrun-ish

Saturday was rather unusual because virtually all parkruns in the West and East Midlands were called off due to lingering ice. One of the few exceptions was Sandwell Valley, where two brilliant volunteers went above and beyond the call of duty, taking it upon themselves to hack up majority of the ice on the course! Car fully loaded with Simon, Nigel, Dave and me, we added to the rabble made up of many familiar parkrun-deprived faces from the region.

An alternative course was utilised, avoiding the worst of the ice that remained and instead sent runners around the lake for two laps.

Wearing trail shoes on this occasion, I had a bit more grip underfoot to help me nail a sub-20 finish; it should have happened back in November, if not for the long course. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sustain the effort, due to a lack of volume and intensity for almost two weeks from tapering and snow. It’s quite remarkable how quickly sharpness can be lost! Rubbing salt into wounds, I also found myself largely running alone to increase the pace versus effort discrepancy.

Frequently checking my Garmin, I could see something didn’t add up as I was partway through the second lap of the lake. Time and distance were way out if we were only to cover two laps, so perhaps the finish had been moved back to its default location? As I neared the turning point to either run another lap or head for the finish, I noticed a runner ahead of me doubling back on to the course after attempting a third lap.

With a little over a km remaining, I was well and truly blown and I wondered how I could possibly hang on at such an effort? It seemed my prayer had been answered, for on the horizon was the finish line, much earlier than anticipated!

I crossed the line, clocking 16:10 and 4km precisely. Many others around me also acknowledged the course was dramatically short and concluded we should have been sent around the lake for a third lap…

Dave and I both reasoned that a simple calculation to add 25% to each finisher’s recorded time would do the trick, but the organisers decided against this, which I’ve since come to agree with. Whereas it wouldn’t make much different to the vast majority of runners, anybody that likes to thrash the first half of 5km would have received a big boost if 25% was added to their time, not reflecting any fade they would perhaps see in the second half. Me, I’m just glad the run has been added to my total, getting me that bit closer to that 250 club.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Brindley Place and back

The ice had largely receded by Sunday in all but the most secluded of patches. With an A-race half marathon due in mid-January, I needed some distance in my legs to avoid potentially embarrassing myself! I felt like I’d gone back in time by almost a month, losing much of the recent gains I’d worked hard to attain.

In spite of running what felt like a pretty intense 4km only 24 hours prior, my slumbering legs had somehow been awoken. They felt fresh and snappy, and I was pleased to see my glutes also firing correctly for that extra bit of oomph.

Shortly after Bournville train station on the canal towpath was a fallen tree that had likely come down due to carrying extra load from the snow. It was just slightly too high to vault over, so I opted to stop and cautiously climb over it and avoid catastrophe.

Much of the towpath was perfectly fine for running, but a few spots were almost entirely covered in treacherous sheet ice, making for pretty hairy conditions! There was perhaps just a foot’s width of clear path, which was largely fine as me and oncoming walkers stopped to give way for each other; this approach was all well and good until I encountered somebody with a massive golf umbrella, completely oblivious to those heading towards her…

Even with the stop-start nature of the route, I was surprised to see how much pep I had to my pace from how fresh my legs were. Another 15 miler or two of a similar nature would go down an absolute treat ahead of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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This week’s running – 6th to 12th November 2017

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Sandwell Valley parkrun with Dave and Simon

A spot of parkrun tourism this particular week! Also, apologies foe the late post – work has been insanely busy of late…

5k recovery

Unexpectedly, my legs felt rather chipper in spite of running within spitting distance of a 10k best only a day prior.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Boy, was it cold on Tuesday evening! I broke out a new pair of gloves, bedecked in reflective material and garnering a few compliments from cyclists and fellow runners on the towpath.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

As I ran through Cannon Hill Park, lit only by my head torch, another runner quickly overtook me. At first, I thought I’d be left for dust, but then, he appeared to be hovering at my pace on the edge of the light that my head torch casted! I couldn’t blame him – I’d do the same, given how spooky the park can be in pitch-black!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

20 minutes at LT pace (13, 4 off, 7)

Agreeing with my cohorts, I delayed this session for later in the week to provide my body with a wee bit more recovery time.

An additional minute was added to each effort, bulking it out to 20 in total. By complete coincidence, the opening and closing efforts were completed at exactly the same paces (6:31 and 6:17) as a week ago! It’s a strange observation, where I had hoped to become marginally faster whilst going further, but hey-ho.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Sandwell Valley parkrun

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A selling point of this parkrun? It goes over the M5 motorway!

I’d known about Sandwell Valley parkrun starting up for a number of weeks, but had some reservations about popping along to their opening event with the recent furore surrounding Wythall parkrun’s demise after only one event. The most common reason I’ve seen floating around is the owners of Wythall Park became spooked after higher than originally anticipated numbers descended on the inaugural event. Some research of Sandwell Valley’s venue helped put my conscience at ease; taking place in a massive country park on a single lap route and with plenty of parking, the site could easily take a few hundred runners and not feel any strain. Also likely to keep numbers at bay is the challengingly steep first half of the course, featuring a climb over the M5 motorway!

Joined by Dave and Simon, we were caught off-guard by how quiet the place was. Perhaps it was the afternoon’s cross-country fixtures that kept most at bay? Or perhaps many had taken note of the learnings from Wythall parkrun? I made the innocent comment that aside from my companions, I didn’t recognise a single face; only some 30 seconds later, out popped an old school friend of mine that I hadn’t seen since he gave up on Cannon Hill parkrun some years ago. Embarrassingly, the following 10 minutes were spent bumping into many familiar faces, one after the next…

From the start line, I tried to keep things calm and measured, recalling that my training schedule had parkrun listed as “easy”. I settled into a spot somewhere towards the tail of the top 15 with the effort feeling relaxed, whilst some immediately around me huffed and puffed. I knew the bridge over the M5 was due at around 1km in; beforehand, both Dave and I had discussed my folly of charging off at Ganavan Sands parkrun, to then almost immediately overdo it on their initial hill. From the way people had spoken of the climb over the M5, I was expecting something rather monstrous, but it turned out to be quite tame by comparison. I eased over it and knowingly took advantage of the descent on the other side to reclaim some time.

Rather than fixating on the climb over the M5, Sandwell Valley’s course description should really focus on the near-mile long ascent that quickly followed! Whilst less steep, the terrain underfoot changed from paving and hard trail into much softer trail, also not helped by accumulation of dead leaves to limit traction. With my high cadence rate, I was able to gain a place or two by simply slowing down less as runners covered this south-eastern portion of the course. As well as the route being well-marshalled, I rarely found myself more than 50m from the next runner ahead or behind, which is quite a rarity on single lap events with low attendance numbers.

What goes up must come down and I was then met with around 0.5 miles of descent. I regularly ease off way too much on downhill sections, preferring to use it as recovery and also because I lack the confidence to push the pace. My high cadence actually works against me here, where I’m making contact with the ground much more than others and generating more braking effect. Not so this time! I consciously opened up my stride, bounding down the descent to gain another place.

As the course levelled out, I was able to close in on the next runner ahead and took a breather in his slipstream to better steel myself for the return over the M5 climb. What felt like a molehill earlier when fresh now felt like a mountain! I expected the guy to challenge me on the other side, but to my surprise, he continued fading as I chased down the two younger runners in front. They had a decent battle raging, where each one would gain the lead by a few metres, only for the other one to close it quickly. I needed to get up to them, but my legs were spent; all I could do was keep the distance stable as I returned to home.

Unhelpfully, my Garmin ticked over 5km around 150m out from the finish line, also robbing me of a sub-20 finish by just a few seconds to ultimately leave me with 20:20. Many others also noted this and the organisers discussed moving the start and finish further up the course to better compensate for the extra distance on the next occasion.

Several people have asked what the course is like. The best answer I can give is it feels like the love child of nearby Arrow Valley parkrun and Kingsbury Water parkrun. The terrain underfoot is very similar to what you’ll find on a full lap of Edgbaston Reservoir, with a likely speed boost on offer during warmer months from more traction.

Parking on-site is free up until 09:30, though I’m informed this reverts to 09:00 during peak summer months. We’d paid the 40p to take us to 10:30 with the hope of a post-run coffee at the designated cafe, though the three of us were surprised to learn it wouldn’t open its doors until 10:00! They’ll want to re-evaluate their opening times as that’s potentially a lot of lost revenue – we ended up in a nearby McDonalds, instead…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to Brindley Place and back

This was originally down as 12 miles with 2 of them at half marathon pace… The previous day’s parkrun was also originally down as being easy… A scaled back 12 miles it was!

With stuff to do later in the day, I headed out at what I felt was early for me, but must have been everybody else’s normal – there were loads of people out and about! Once fully warmed up in the second half, the pace naturally escalated through no obvious push from inside. Everything felt like it was flowing nicely for a sensation I’ve not had during a long run for a very long time.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.