Silverstone Half Marathon 2015 review

For the 2014 race, please click the following:

Silverstone Half Marathon course

Twisty and windy sums up the race…

Read on to find out how I fared at the British home of F1.

Race prep faux pas

How many of us have ever wished we could give up work and train full time? Imagine the training boost of not only being able to train harder and more regularly, but also get the crucial recovery and down time that’s key to absorbing the hard workouts.

The last couple of weeks have been both mentally and physically draining at work. All the race week taper advice I’ve seen has always advised keeping stress down to a minimum in the critical days ahead of a race – no such luck for me, I considered myself lucky that I made it through to the end of the week in one piece.

The day before Silverstone, I attended a friend’s wedding that involved an early start and a late finish. Thankfully, there were a couple of intermission hours during the middle of the day, allowing for a brief nap. The food was fantastic and supplied by the critically acclaimed Itihaas in Birmingham – sadly, far from ideal pre-race nutrition, but hey-ho.

So, yeah. Far from perfect race prep… None of the above stopped me from believing I had a 1:26:XX half marathon inside, especially because there was a small bit of spare capacity during January’s Brass Monkey Half due to the frost and ice on the course.

Pre-race

Lis and I made our way to the Silverstone Circuit and encountered the usual mishaps along the route, including a closed off M6 and traffic from queues trying to get inside the F1 venue.

Once parked up, I had maybe 40 minutes for a warm-up mile, some strides and 400m at race pace before I needed to make my way into the start pens. The warm-up served as an introduction to my nemesis for the day: blustery wind and lots of it. Still undeterred, I completed my warm-up and continued to feel optimistic about the task.

Back with Lis, I stripped down to my familiar vest and shorts combo. People all around us were dressed in multiple layers and I must have stood out like a sore thumb. For a brief moment, I did consider donning arm-warmers and gloves but convinced myself I would soon warm-up once I was running at race pace.

Inside the start pens, I made my way right up to the front with confidence. “You belong here, Andy” was running through my mind – I knew I had to employ every trick in the book to make magic happen under the far from ideal conditions served to me. I could see Iwan Thomas warming up but apart from him and David Weir, the event was thin on celebrities and elites.

There wasn’t much hanging around and once we runners were ushered together, the familiar scent of Deep Heat, fear and nervousness filled the air. I was only mere metres from the actual start line – the closest I had ever been at Silverstone. Introductions completed by the compere, a very abrupt start to the race occurred with barely any countdown. Within only a second or two, I was safely through the start gantry and got right down to business.

The race

It was useful starting so close to the actual gun time of the race; the course had mile markers with synced clocks atop so I decided to utilise them instead of referring to my own Garmin all the time.

The scramble at the beginning was actually pretty clean, thanks to the wide track at Silverstone. I held myself back ever so slightly, wanting to ease myself into the race over the first mile or two. I immediately locked on to a couple of runners around me who all appeared to be chasing after a pace not dissimilar to my own.

The first mile whizzed by in a blur. My Garmin was largely in sync with the marker despite several early twists and turns thrown into the mix. Gaps formed as runners joined and left different packs to try and seek shelter from the onslaught of head wind. So early on into the race, I took the gusts in my stride, feeling most excellent.

Mile two rolled by and my Garmin was out by a few metres; I still wasn’t worried but knew there were plenty more opportunities for my racing line to be eroded away. My pace moved closer to my target of 6:35 per mile, but I was still off by a few seconds.

During mile three, I finally found solace from the wind. My pace lifted and everything instantly felt more manageable. As I brushed some sweat from my brow, a chap to my left commented on how warm it suddenly felt when out of the gusts – it was like he was reading my mind! He’d noticed the tattoo on my right leg and asked if it was an Autobots insignia – he was thrilled to learn that it was indeed the faction symbol from the 80s toy line, and offered me the perfect opportunity to lay on my “…but sadly I don’t transform into a car” routine for a few laughs. This gag never gets old and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used it over the years.

Despite having run at Silverstone on four occasions, I was still caught off-guard by a few unfamiliar sections of the course. One particular switchback had me scratching my head, wondering whether this was there at all during previous years.

I’ve said it before and Silverstone is not a place to go if runners are after atmosphere. Spectators are incredibly thin on the ground, made up almost exclusively by family and friends of runners that have tagged along. This made much of the middle section of the race rather forgettable. I had successfully hit target race pace, but the mile markers were now around 20 metres out of sync with my own Garmin. I tried to nail the apex of each turn, but on a course made up of mostly twists and turns, this was an increasingly difficult endeavour.

Things started to become tricky after the eighth mile. No matter what I did to hide from the wind, it always managed to seek me out. It was almost as if there was a swirling vortex over the entire course, laughing at the runners foolish enough to even consider a PB attempt. I was still touch and go in my own PB pursuit at this stage; I had done enough to get things back on track but it was very quickly becoming apparent that I couldn’t hold on for much longer. The number of runners around me thinned dramatically, though left behind were a few hardy souls that had remained with me since the very beginning. My breathing became increasingly laboured, but still remained under control.

Mile nine broke me. The course undulated gently and the head winds were at their most ferocious. I tried tucking in behind larger runners, but due to the unpredictability of the wind’s direction, I ended up wasting more energy trying to move from shelter to shelter. This began a downward spiral that led to an even slower mile ten. A club runner in red sensed I was struggling and began to urge me on periodically. I did what I could to keep him just ahead of me and in my sights – this must have helped to keep my splits from dipping into 7:XX mile pace territory and for this, I thank you club runner in red.

Andy Yu at mile 10 of the Silverstone Half Marathon

Looking good on the outside, but feeling crappy on the inside! – Photo by Lis Morgan

Hiding in and amongst the crowd at mile ten was Lis. It’s very easy for spectators to slip between the start, mile ten and the finish at Silverstone without too much difficulty. Apparently, I looked composed and collected as I passed by – clearly, my poker face was at work again.

The club runner in red continued to offer support and once we were into the eleventh mile, he declared there was “just a 5k to go”. I liked his style, where it would have resonated with my own, when running well. Gradually, I was able to grind my paces closer to target. I was still off by 5 to 10 seconds but I took whatever positivity there was to work with.

With only a mile left, it was just me and another runner. There was nobody behind us for maybe 15 seconds and the gap in front was too big to close down. I was at my limit without breaking into a sprint, which would have been foolish considering we were up against a head wind on the home straight. Last year saw a very convenient tailwind in the closing stages of the race, but no such luck this time.

Andy Yu on the home straight of the Silverstone Half Marathon

In flight on the home straight of the Silverstone Half Marathon – Photo by Lis Morgan

As always at Silverstone, I was in a blind panic with maybe 800m to go and hoped the finish gantry would present itself. I dropped the runner and took things upon myself to try and close the gap between the runners ahead and me. The yellow branded barriers began to appear to my left and right and signalled the time to kick, and kick I did! The crowd went absolutely nuts when I did this – without anybody ahead of me, they were clearly cheering for me and me alone, which naturally made the pace go even faster. I could clearly see the clock on gun time above the finish gantry and I knew I was off target, but remained undeterred from giving the crowd what they wanted. They powered me through to the finish line and made the suffering that bit more bearable!

Post-race

Here’s the Garmin data for the race.

I fumbled for the stop button on my Garmin and stumbled into a heap on the right-hand side of the finish funnel. A marshal came over to check on me; I told him I just needed a minute but he stayed to make sure I didn’t keel over and cause a PR disaster. 1:28:04 flashed up on my Garmin’s display – less than 40 seconds from a PB but over 90 seconds off from target. I was knackered, both physically and mentally. Bizarrely, my upper arms felt rather tender, which was a new one on me.

Walking through the finish funnel, it was nice to see the organisers had arranged for an extra-small t-shirt option for the goodie bag. I remembered to check my Garmin for the total distance covered and I was aghast to see 13.23 miles – this was the longest half marathon I had competed in for years and that’s me making a focused effort to run the shortest legal distance! The kicker is my average pace was just a smidge faster than at the Brass Monkey Half, which clocked in at 13.14 miles; on a slightly shorter or more accurate course, I would have PBd…

Lis caught up to me alongside the barrier. I had missed her completely on the home straight due to the crowd’s noise. She revealed she had been screaming “beetroot” (works better than calling out “Andy” in busy races) like a bloody nutter to receive strange looks from those around her. We parted ways again to meet on the other side to high tail it out of there before it became difficult to exit the car park.

Whilst packing my stuff away, we bumped into a guy from last year’s race that recognised me. Chris started all the way at the back in the 2014 race due to arriving late. He wanted a sub-90 finish this time and came oh so close with 90:02 on his Garmin – I told him that last year’s race gifted 2 or 3 seconds to everybody due to some glitch or another. The alternative was he hoped he’d started his Garmin a little early and had ended it a little late. Tense stuff!

Thoughts and conclusions

This race was a tough day at the office. Without the endorphin and adrenaline rush from a PB, I’m sitting here typing this out in a very tired and slightly dejected state. The odds were against me from way before the gun even fired on the start line.

I had hoped the Silverstone course would help consolidate the six weeks of training between the Brass Monkey Half and this race, and perhaps on a different day with different weather conditions, things may have come good. Maybe six weeks isn’t enough to better what was already my A-game back in January?

I think two consecutive years at Silverstone has seen the novelty wear off somewhat. There was no pre-race buzz and that’s only part of the fun of racing – it should be exciting and something to look forward to! I may have to explore Reading as an option, or the North London Half, which Simon Bull says was free of wind.

Now that we’re into the spring, it also means the beginnings of a return to shorter distances. I’m going to knock half marathons on the head for a little while and concentrate on getting my 10k PB ship-shape, along with some attention on my 5k PB.

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.

This week’s running – 22nd of February to 1st of March 2015

Nicht running in Germany

A distinct lack of running in Germany

Another week of less than stellar running… Another shorter than usual entry from me…

Habe ich in Deutschland laufen? Nein!

Or for you non-German speakers, no I didn’t run whilst in Germany. Sunday through Wednesday, there simply weren’t any opportunities to lace up and get out there.

I did however sample copious amounts of the local tipple, which had the unfortunate side effect of 2lb weight gain…

10k fartlek

I had a feeling this session would sting like a mofo and boy did it deliver! I hadn’t completed any fast runs for over two weeks and easing myself in proved to be a real struggle, especially with the onslaught of fast stretches into an oncoming head wind.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Andy Yu at Cannon Hill Parkrun

A lack of speed work revealed – photo by Geoff Hughes

Much like Thursday’s fartlek run, I knew I had lost some sharpness whilst on my way to Cannon Hill Parkrun. Like most, it takes much longer for me to lose endurance but sharpness comes and goes very quickly.

Like the last few weeks, I decided to set off with Gareth and see where fate would have taken us. We both wanted to get as close to the hallowed 19:00 finish as possible and we attacked the course as such with a target pace of 3:48 per km.

Things started to unravel for me after the opening split and I found myself running on my lonesome, as is so often at Cannon Hill. Whilst I faded, Gareth crept away and created a gap of nearly 200m that persisted until the very end for a well-deserved PB of 18:58. Me? I struggled through for 19:21, which in the grand scheme of things is not too bad considering the week leading up to Saturday morning’s exertions.

Speaking to Gareth after his colossal run, Nigel and I were shocked to learn that he smoked and his longest run of the week was Parkrun! A naturally talented runner stood before both of us, and he had no idea of how exciting his own potential was!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

I’m planning a hard assault at next week’s run, ahead of the Silverstone Half, which leads us nicely on to…

Silverstone Half Marathon

Silverstone Half Marathon 2015 bib

Fourth appearance at the Silverstone Half Marathon

My race pack arrived for what will be my fourth appearance at the race over the years. I would like to be one minute up on my 87:27 finish from the Brass Monkey Half in January; hopefully there will be no ice to scupper my plans, however high winds often pose a problem on the extremely exposed course.

Expect the usual race report to follow at some point on the 15th of March.

14 miles of south Birmingham

Conscious of the 2lb souvenir that had returned with me from Germany, I had my sights firmly set on a fasted 14 mile long run on Sunday.

This would have been all well and good, except I was somewhat less nourished than usual from the previous day and strong head winds followed me almost the entire way around the course. Either in isolation and I could have soldiered through without much issue, but both in attendance and I found myself knocking on The Wall’s door.

The effects of lethargy hit me at around mile 10 and every subsequent mile became a run of attrition, slowly chipping away at the distance that remained. I wanted to jack the long run in a few times, but caught short without any money or my travel pass meant the fastest way to get back home was to continue putting one foot in front of the other. It also didn’t help that I had to be somewhere at 12:30pm and walking was not an option!

I was destroyed when I stepped through my front door, and rather disgustingly started scoffing cake and biscuits for some much needed sustenance. I can’t remember the last time I had a long run kick my arse so badly. The result was completely preventable and I really should have listened to that voice inside my head that begged me to at least take an energy gel with me.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Line up where you belong

Want to witness a fascinating sociological experiment? Head for the starting line of any race large enough to have signs indicating “pace per mile.” Notice the large signs reading “5:00” (meaning 5 minutes per mile), “6:00” (6 minutes per mile), “7:00,” and so on.

Then have a look at the folks clustering around these signs. You never knew there were so many fast runners, did you?

Well, here’s a little secret: There aren’t.

Many of the runners lined up at such signs really are that fast and really do expect to run at or around that pace during the race. The rest are either delusional or just plain rude.

You know how fast you can expect to run on any given day, give or take. Be honest with yourself, and fair to your fellow runners. Line up where you belong.

This week’s running – 24th of February to 2nd of March

This week was all about the half marathon

Taper time for the Silverstone Half Marathon

This week was all about tapering for the Silverstone Half Marathon.

Prevention rather than cure

I’m really getting into this sports massage malarkey where I paid another visit to the sports therapy clinic at the nearby college.

After the usual stretching and massaging, my flexibility measurements were taken again and whilst I was a little less limber compared to last week, I was actually perfectly balanced with 130 degrees in both legs.

Where time allows, I’ve also beefed up my foam rolling antics to try and keep a certain run-rate of flexibility going.

Tuesday taper

Whilst I’ve decided to train through the Silverstone Half Marathon, I am still going down the traditional taper route by cutting back on the volume of training, but maintaining the intensity.

At Tuesday’s speedwork session at the gym, I only completed 2x reps at 5k pace compared to my usual 5x. I find I lose fitness reasonably quickly without maintenance work where I feel sluggish on race day; the aim of a taper is to give the body an extra recovery boost but without it feeling like it’s becoming sedentary.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

Thursday taper

I really wasn’t in the mood for a run on Thursday but given it was only a short one, I figured I had better zip up the man-suit and just get on with it.

As with Tuesday’s session, I only wanted to run half the normal distance covered so a 5k was in order along Broad Street and Hagley Road. I was feeling hungry with just one Clif Shot Blok fuelling my run, a total contrast to normal where I’m usually far better prepared. Target pace was meant to be 8:30 per mile but ended up being a complete mess, with a slow first mile, an 8:16 second mile and a 7:10 third mile. Nonetheless, the run did the trick and made me go through the gears so Sunday shouldn’t be such a shock to the system.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

I really, really could have done with a lie-in on Saturday morning but I had already committed myself to assisting with processing Cannon Hill’s results. As I said earlier, my body functions better on routine than exception and it meant I’d be one step closer to the 100 club…

Continuing the taper trend, I typically perform better if I run Parkrun the day before a race at around my target race pace; so around 6:55 minute miles. I find this helps me to lock in on race pace and how it should feel in an actual race environment; we all know how dramatically different race pace can feel on your own and out of context. This to me is the beauty of Parkrun where you can really use it in a variety of ways to help you train more effectively.

The weather was perfect for running, with bright conditions and no wind. After the initial scramble, I found myself running the majority of the course with Khalid. Another regular tagged on to us and stuck with Khalid and me until the very end when I urged him on to attack the final hill and score himself a massive PB. I only later found out that this mystery regular is a member on my Jantastic team (Cannon Hill parkrun – there’s only a few of us). Small world or what?

After some catching-up with a few folks, I made my way over to join Alan and Ben to process the results. We encountered a few hiccups, but none like last week’s critical timer failure. The whole experience of managing the results can be a real eye opener to how runners behave at Parkrun. The time checker (somebody may come and ask for your time and record it on a clipboard) is a barometer to measure the official times against those recorded by individuals. What is interesting to note is that the times from the top gradually become less accurate as they filter through the pack. Explanations for this can range from runners not hearing “go” on the startline, through to runners only activating their personal timing devices when they pass the startline (like you would with chip timing).

Next week, I’m going to try and hit my Marchvellous target of 19:37 as my flat out timed run.

Here’s the Garmin data for this Parkrun.

Two Castles 10k

I’ve wanted to run the Two Castles 10k for nearly two years but due to places filling up fast, I’ve always missed out when I actually remember to enter.

Not so this year! I had set reminders to jump on a computer once 8am on registration day hit so that I could take part in this iconic 10k, which starts in Warwick Castle and ends in Kenilworth Castle. Dave and Elsa will also be running, and it seems there’ll be a fair attendance from Cannon Hill Parkrun attending.

I don’t think I’ll be in 10k PB shape by the time the race takes place, however it will be instrumental as one of several 10ks I’ll be racing to help get me to there.

Silverstone Half Marathon

For my full-fat Silverstone Half Marathon race review, please click here.

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

Training plans must go on the fridge

Technology is a wonderful thing. Many web sites – including runnersworld.com, of course – offer online training logs, plan generators, and so on. You can create training programs, log your routes and mileage, and track your progress through graphs and such. Some programs let you generate pie charts for crying out loud. Pie charts!

Still, nothing can replace the printed-out training plan stuck to the refrigerator.

This is not to say you can’t or shouldn’t take advantage of the online versions. You can and should. It’s just that you really do owe it to yourself to have that hard copy there on the fridge. Whether it’s the daily, in-your-face placement or the old-school tribute factor, there’s simply no substitute for having your full 10-, 12-, or 16-week plan out there for all to see on good, old-fashioned paper. Plus, there’s a singular satisfaction to be had from drawing a big fat X through the previous day’s workout.

So put the plan on the fridge. Remove a child’s artwork to make room, if need be. We won’t judge.

Silverstone Half Marathon 2014 race review

For the 2015 race, please click the following:

Silverstone Half Marathon bib

Another bib bites the dust

Few people seem to be able to share my love for the Silverstone Half Marathon. It’s flat, fast and cheap – all things that are important to regular racers. The event was originally my second half marathon (now also my tenth) and gave me a massive 12 minute PB on my first outing, and a 1 minute PB on my second.

There are a few caveats to Silverstone that need to be taken on-board before deciding to run there. It is, obviously, on an F1 race circuit which means it is incredibly exposed to the elements. If it’s windy or raining, there is almost no shelter at all for protection. The course is also pretty dull; great if you’re having a fantastic race where you can simply knuckle down and get on with racing well, but soul destroying if you’re having a bad day at the office. Spectators are also thin on the ground due to the relative difficulty of getting out on the course. Then there’s the 12pm start time, which could be a blessing or a curse. The later start means that people can successfully drive to the circuit in the morning without the need of an overnight stay in a hotel. Of course, this does raise questions like when to have breakfast (or brunch) and it also takes up the majority of the day once you’ve factored in journey times, the race itself and so on.

As ever, please head straight to “The race” if you want to get straight to the good stuff.

Pre-race challenges

Dave and I were both due to run at Silverstone, but with markedly different ambitions. Silverstone was to be Dave’s spring A-race and for me, it was a fast and hard training run. I had to keep the race under control, but also push myself enough that I would receive some sort of training benefit to counter-act the slower long efforts I’ve been completing as part of my marathon training. For Dave, his target time was anything between 1:31 and 1:32 with my half marathon PB of 1:31:09 firmly in his sights; this equated to target paces of anywhere between 6:55 and 7:05. I punched in 6:55 pace into my Garmin as a pleased as punch target, but would settle for anything around the 1:33 mark.

All the race info heavily promoted the idea of getting to Silverstone by no later than 10:30am to give everybody ample time to park, walk to the race HQ, visit toilets and all the other pre-race checklist stuff that people forget about. Despite being reasonably easy to get to from Birmingham, the journey from the M40 junction to Silverstone Circuit can take as much as half of your total journey time. The roads leading to the venue simply aren’t designed for such capacities and I dread to think what the traffic is like on an actual race day when there are considerably more people than the 7,000 runners on Sunday. We used our time efficiently whilst stuck in the car, topping off our energy levels with more food and me downing two beetroot juice shots. Worryingly, one of them fizzed slightly when I opened it…

Our target 10:30am arrival time was way off, looking more like 11:10am by the time we were parked up. After a few toilet visits and dropping our kit off in the baggage holds, this didn’t leave much time at all for a warm-up so we had to improvise with running around in small circles for a few minutes. I am now a big believer in a good quality warm-up having a positive impact on your race performance, especially during the early miles where everything just feels easier and less alien.

Runners or low-budget super heroes? You decide!

Low-budget super heroes or runners? You decide!

With about 15 minutes left to go, we made our way into the start pens to be greeted by an enormous group of people in the 2 hour target zone. I had to smile because this was the zone I actually started from twice before and was now making my way much closer to the actual start line. Once we cleared the 2 hour zone, there were far fewer people waiting in the 1:45 area. The 1:30 zone was like a ghost ship with just a few souls in comparison and we were now almost literally within spitting distance of the start line gantry.

The weather was predicted to be poor, with heavy rain and strong winds to contend with – a real contrast to the clear blue skies and 14 degree temps I experienced at Silverstone only two years prior. Right on cue, it started raining and the gusts of wind welcomed us to what would be a challenging day ahead.

We were ushered forwards for the introduction and start of the wheelchair race, just a minute before we were due to start running. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening and I’m almost certain the wheelchair participants started at least 15 minutes before the masses on previous occasions; we all remember what happened to Tiki Gelana in last year’s London Marathon, don’t we? Once the likes of David Weir and co. were sent off, our race was just mere seconds away from starting. Accompanied by Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, the spring was slowly wound tighter and tighter before the claxon was sounded and we were off!

The race

Dave and I were not due to be running together; within only a few hundred metres I had already lost sight of him amongst the sea of runners tearing off into the distance like lemmings. I wanted a controlled first mile of around 7:10 pace before I would try and settle into something below 7 minutes per mile, recalling my dumb judgement of following the 90 minute pacer at the 2013 Great Birmingham Run and his foolish sub-6 minute opening split. To my right, three girls running together were already questioning their decision to start so far ahead, one of them quipping “Oh my god! Everybody’s running so quickly around us!” No shit, Sherlock! You were all in the wrong start pen and are now getting in everybody else’s way! This is the downside of larger races compared to small, local races laid on by runners, for runners.

My pace was fine, if a little odd in sensation. I was essentially cold-starting without a proper warm-up and this was a speed I rarely ran in training, with much faster efforts covered by intervals and Parkrun, and much slower efforts by my long marathon training runs. I was in no-man’s land and neither on the edge or feeling like I was working too hard; compare this to my Cardiff Half Marathon where throughout the summer, my then 10k pace in early June had effectively become my half marathon pace by early October, feeling very familiar.

The wind was already battering everybody senseless with us all running right into it. I tried my best to take shelter behind larger runners in front of me, but the gaps were too wide and the twisting circuit meant the direction of the wind quickly changed on a regular basis. Following a clean racing line was also tricky, where not following the crowds to run the shortest line also meant battling the gusts of wind on your lonesome. Despite the very grey and gloomy conditions, I was glad I opted to wear my sunglasses where they shielded my eyes from the gusts and gave everything a slight orange glow to help boost contrast.

Mile 1 ticked by in 7:10, so I was bang on target. Just in front of me were three club runners, covering the distance at just marginally faster than I was achieving, so I latched on to their group and hoped they would pull me along. By mile 2, I did feel like I was working slightly harder than I should have been and questioned whether I was doing the right thing to try and hit 6:55 minute miles with inappropriate training and less than stellar conditions. The first water stop of the race had arrived and I adopted a trick I’d picked up from the US copy of Runner’s World magazine, where I would scope out a volunteer further ahead and point at them to indicate I wanted their bottle of water. I did also make eye contact with them but I forgot that I was wearing sunglasses! It worked an absolute treat and minimised much of the bun fight that the first water stop can be at races with everybody desperate to get their fair share of liquid on-board.

By mile 3, I was definitely feeling the effects of no warm-up and I had to sink an energy gel to replenish what resources I had burnt through so early on. The gel was like sugary nirvana on my tongue and lips, and immediately gave my brain a slight buzz to allow me to carry on at target pace.

I kept a close eye on the mile markers each time I passed one, with the gap growing wider and wider on each occasion. Starting with mile 1, I was within mere feet of being accurate but had now moved up to 0.04 miles out by mile 3. Of course, there are too many variables to correctly identify what’s actually going on. GPS as a standard has an error tolerance of up to 2% and on my Garmin, it regularly tells me it’s only ever up to plus or minus 9ft accurate at its very best. The mile markers themselves can also be slightly out, where some contractor who doesn’t give a toss about running may just dump it wherever is most convenient at the time. I may also not be running the cleanest racing line and at Silverstone, this is far too easy to happen where it requires serious concentration on the course ahead. If you have a critical time goal in mind over a longer distance, it’s always a good idea to budget in a slightly faster pace per mile by just a few seconds to buffer these problems.

Hands up or we'll shoot!

Drop the gels and put your hands up!

I had settled in quite nicely at mile 4 and felt comfortable with my performance – my breathing was calm and my form was top notch. The headwind continued to attempt to drive me into submission and I had now reached the conclusion that I definitely would have been able to run a slightly faster pace (and possibly PB by 10 or 20 seconds) if not for such challenging conditions. I was noticeably overtaking a lot of people around me, where I was either running more comfortably within myself than others, or they had simply shot off far too quickly in the opening scramble and were now starting to pay the price. One oddity I did notice was whilst running into the hairpins and corners, people seemed to dramatically slow down, requiring I take the outside line to overtake. Dave later commented that this was probably down to everybody else simply being fixated on running a clean line into the apex of the turn, where everybody is following the pace of the slowest runner to avoid running further rather than faster.

I don’t recall much of mile 5 apart from how difficult it seemed to dip under 7:00 minute mile pace on each split. Looking at the breakdown of my miles splits, I only achieved this on three occasions with all others clearly in the 7:00 to 7:10 region – at least I never slowed to more than 7:10 per mile so I’ll take whatever victories are available. This again reinforces my belief that I could have run much closer to 6:55 target pace if not for the windy conditions. A brief moment of nostalgia came over me during this mile where two years earlier, I had a huge grin on my face because I managed to nail an 8:45 mile as part of my campaign to run a sub-2 hour half marathon (it didn’t happen – 2:06). Oh how things have changed!

Mile 6 presented a short break from the wind with the course taking us into some sheltered areas. It really was like night and day – free to run without any external influence. One oddity about mile 6 was the lack of a mile marker. My Garmin beeped and I waited for the marker to appear but it never did. I looked around at the runners beside me but they were all racing with music, so I didn’t bother to ask them if they had seen the mile marker or not. We did run over some timing mats on the ground, so I figured they had chosen not to place a marker out on the course in exchange for a 10k split time to be taken instead.

I began to chase down a chap ahead of me dressed in a fluorescent yellow top and shoes (he was also wearing shorts, not running naked on the bottom), who was moving at just marginally faster than my pace. I kept him maybe 4 or 5 metres ahead for a mile or two, using him to pull me along during a part of the race where I was starting to feel at my weakest. I really could have done with an extra energy gel at this point, but I only had one left in reserve for the closing stages of the race. Fighting against the wind really was taking its toll.

Moving to the outer perimeter of the course, I noticed how poor some of the roads were, with huge pot holes and gravel to contend with. The marshals were all very good, alerting us to any potential hazards coming up with one pointing out a massive puddle to avoid. It wasn’t an easy day to be a volunteer and I applaud what they went through for several hours. At this stage of the race, I couldn’t help but notice a guy that was just on my shoulder. He had been following me for maybe 3 miles already, clearly using me for pacing assistance where I appeared reliable enough because I was constantly overtaking people. After another mile of him running with me, I finally asked him if he was going for a time. He responded with, “anything under 90 minutes would be great”, to which I replied, “sorry to be the bearer of bad news but we’re about 2 minutes off pace for that”. He told me that he had arrived late and started right at the back, fighting his way through the crowds to get to where he was. I felt for him, having gone through something similar at last year’s London Marathon, but at least he had a wide track to overtake on at Silverstone, unlike the narrow streets and 30,000 additional runners I had to contend with. He was clearly disappointed, but didn’t let this get him down, remarking that we were both consistently running at a faster pace than those around us. We introduced ourselves (his name was Chris) and awkwardly, he went to fist bump me and I went to shake his hand; I then went to correct myself and fist bump him and he went to shake my hand! Oh the hilarity!

Wind slowed everybody down

Wind slowed everybody down…

Sadly, Chris appeared to fall off the pace slightly going into mile 9. I had been looking forward to this mile because it meant a Lucozade stop was nearby. My body needed some carbs and fast! Once I had a bottle, I decided to hang on to it and sip for another mile or so until I’d finished it off. Holding the bottle and passing it from my left to right hand did change my form and gait slightly due to the faster pace I was running at. This was not a problem at all during the Bramley 20 where I held on to a bottle of Lucozade for much of the run but this simply didn’t feel right at Silverstone.

Mile 10 was a complete blur where the only thing I recall was an announcement over the PA system that Chris Thompson had beaten the course record by a small margin, originally set in 2005. I later found out that there were almost 9 minutes between Chris and the second place finisher! And that’s the other oddity about the Silverstone Half Marathon where it tends to only get one elite athlete running each year. This year, it appeared that Reading had the big draw with Scott Overall (he ran at Silverstone last year) and Susan Partridge racing there. The PA system also commented that there was a nice tailwind in the final mile, helping runners to really sprint hard back to the finish – some welcome good news and something to finally look forward to.

Entering mile 11, I prepped my last energy gel to consume it at around 11.5 miles. This Isogel would be my saviour, I decided, because it contained caffeine to help perk me up. Sinking it at 11.5 miles would give me an immediate mental boost to pick the pace up, and ample time for it to be absorbed to really help me ramp things up for the final mile. Tearing into the gel with my teeth, it only went and burst all over my hair, sunglasses and face! I slurped up what was left and immediately began to overtake runners around me. Looking at my Garmin, this was actually misleading because all I was doing was staying on track for target pace and everybody else had actually slowed down due to fatigue.

Leave everything out on the course!

Time to leave it all out on the course!

Winding the remainder of mile 11 up, I waited for the 12 mile marker to appear. The mind plays tricks on you when you’re nearly at the end of a race, almost like you’re in a desert surrounded by a mirage. I kept looking at things in the distance, thinking they were the hallowed mile marker only to be sorely let down. After what felt like an eternity, mile 12 finally appeared and I started my assault to finish the race feeling strong. I don’t know why but I picked a runner in a red vest about 100m ahead of me to reel in, or at least keep a constant distance between us. There’s a subtle incline back towards the finish, but this seemed to pose no problem for me at the faster pace I was covering. Looking at my Garmin, I was ticking by at around 1:28 with maybe a little more than 1km left to go. Not only was I close to my 1:31:09 performance, but with some effort I was possibly within reach of a small PB again. One by one, I overtook runners and even saw my female equivalent, running in a yellow vest, black shorts and the same red racing flats as me. The finish line never seemed to get any closer, with my eyes trained on the horizon trying to identify anything that could have been the finish gantry. With about 500m left to go, I caught a glimpse of what could be the finish. Was my mind playing another trick on me or was it really the finish? As it got closer with each step I ran, doubt was quickly dispelled and it really was what I had been looking for, and my pace continued to creep up. 400m from the finish, I glanced at my Garmin and I had ticked over into 1:31:XX territory and I knew a PB was off, but I could minimise any damage. The finish line was now only 200m away and with the crowds beginning to cheer, I began to sprint for the finish. This spurred another guy on to do the same and the roar of the crowd increased (whether they were really cheering for me, I’ll never know). 100m left and I kicked as hard as I could, arms pumping me forward and my cadence through the roof. I crossed the line – it was now all over and I had just run my second fastest half marathon with a time of 1:32:38, in tough conditions.

Dave and Andy, running to win

Tough conditions made for a memorable race

My legs were like jelly and I must have looked like a drunk trying to stumble his way back home after a heavy night. I didn’t feel wrecked, however, not like when I finished at Cardiff or Birmingham last autumn, so I knew I had sandbagged a little and the wind had consciously made me slow down a touch for fear of a total blowout. I spotted Dave just ahead of me in the finish funnel area and quickly asked him how he had done. He definitely PBd and started saying “1:31…” I was tense – had Dave beaten my 1:31:09 PB? “…29” he continued. My PB was safe for a little while longer! Dave had run an incredible race and in less windy conditions, he would have definitely demolished my PB and firmly seated himself in 1:30:XX territory.  He immediately commented that one notoriously slow mile was what had cost him, and wondered where else he could have made up 20 seconds.

The 2014 Silverstone Half Marathon medal

One of the most innovative medals I’ve ever seen

We collected our goodie bags and in a departure to previous years, they were organised in t-shirt size order. Traditionally, the Silverstone Half Marathon only gives out one size of t-shirt – a lovely XL one size fits all. It was nice to see them make the effort and it really does promote the race into the big leagues. The remaining contents of the goodie bag looked great, with almost everything edible and of a high quality. The medal also deserves a special mention where it’s a wheel and a hefty lump of metal at that!

Chris, who I had lost out on the course, caught up to me and revealed that he had run an impressive 1:32:22. He must have run a huge positive split for such a finish time, starting way, way behind me but beating my finish time by 16 seconds. When I asked if it was a PB for him, he only went and revealed it was his first half marathon and was the furthest distance he had ever run! Here was a man with some real running talent and granted we didn’t know what his running background was (he may be a merchant of speed), he now had a half marathon PB that some people will never achieve no matter how hard they try.

Conscious that the traffic getting out of Silverstone can be just as bad as getting in, Dave and I made a bee-line for the baggage store to reclaim our kitbags to try and beat the masses. Like at the London Marathon, one of the baggage ladies had seen me coming and got my bag ready, almost like magic. I thanked her profusely for her efforts; I had to wait for nearly 20 minutes last year at Bath to reclaim my stuff and it’s little touches like these that really make a difference, especially after a hard race where you just want everything to be smooth and efficient.

Heading back to the carpark, it was remarkable how few empty spaces there were around us with more than the vast majority of people either still running (there was a thick flow of runners as we walked past part of the course) or simply hanging out around the finish area. After some quick stretches, we were back in the car and on our way back to Birmingham with a pit-stop of KFC to refuel.

Here’s the Garmin data for the Silverstone Half Marathon.

Post-race thoughts

After checking the official results, it seems both Dave and I had been gifted an extra 2/3 seconds to promote Dave’s PB from 1:31:29 to 1:31:26 and my time from 1:32:38 to 1:32:36. It would seem this is not unique to just the two of us, with other folks online indicating similar performance boosts by a few seconds. Fantastic news I’m sure if you had run 1:30:02 only to later find out you actually had 1:29:59 under your belt. I can only guess the first few timing mats on the start line weren’t working properly, so our chips were only activated several seconds later by the mats further on.

Both Dave and I would have run much faster times had it not have been for the headwinds. On a calm and still day, Dave definitely would have smashed my PB out of the park and I may have come close to dipping into 1:30:XX territory, or at least finished with a time much closer to my 1:31:09 PB.

As a fitness benchmark, I’m definitely where I want to be. I didn’t attack Silverstone, which means recovery should be swift and I can resume marathon training shortly. Based on my finish time from the race, the McMillan pacing calculator is saying I should be able to run a marathon in optimal conditions at around the 3:14:XX mark. This alone is way ahead of what I’m targeting at London, so if I’ve grossly underestimated my marathon fitness on the day, I may even be able to stalk a better finish time from my wildest imaginations.

Asking Dave what he thought of the course at Silverstone, he failed to remember much of it but agreed with my thoughts that it’s an ideal course for PB chasers with few distractions on calm days. We both remarked that it was almost odd to see spectators out on the course, where their absence seemed to take little away from the race for us. On the way back to the car, we did see a few stragglers at the end, walking their way around the course and it’s for these folks where the course at Silverstone will be most depressing.

We may give the Reading Half Marathon a blast next year where we seem to be slowly making our way around the nation’s spring half marathons.

I’ve yet to be disappointed by the Silverstone Half Marathon where it seems to live up to, or exceed my expectations each time I have run there. Definitely recommended, but do take heed of the intricacies I’ve mentioned previously to avoid disappointment.

This week’s running – 3rd to 9th of February

Andy Yu will be racing at the Bramley 20 and Silverstone Half Marathon

It’s nearly time to race! Silverstone Half Marathon and Bramley 20 race bibs.

After three weeks of full on training, this was a much needed scale back week.

Threshold Tuesday

Whilst it saddens me that I’m some way off being in contention of my current 5k PB (and probably the 10k, too), I do have a rather important marathon to run in just nine weeks and with that in mind, what I do now will ultimately make or break that marathon.

Threshold pace should have more benefit to me than 5k pace, which ultimately convinced me to run my 5x 800m reps at approximately 6:45 pace to get the lactic juices flowing through my muscles. For comparison, 6:52 is my target half marathon pace to hopefully some day break the 90 minute barrier.

The session was manageable with only the final rep feeling tough on the treadmill. The air conditioning in the gym is understandably not very high at the moment due to the cooler temperatures outside, where going full pelt for prolonged periods time quite difficult. The lack of airflow means the sweat you produce just clings to you and never evaporates, similar to running in high humidity. I also opted not to wear my heart rate monitor for fear that it may have triggered another stitch like last week.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

6 miles with the Garmin 910XT’s custom workout mode

After last week’s successful pacing experiment with the Garmin 910XT’s custom workout mode, I set about editing the program slightly to rectify some of the previous quirks. One such quirk that proved annoying was the inability to record mile split data if you create a block of mileage at a particular pace, i.e. 4 total miles at 8:00 pace. To correct this, I actually need to create each mile individually or set the first mile up as one step and have the program repeat this step a set number of times.

So, I headed out for my 6 miles along Hagley Road in the wind and rain. The first warm-up mile went by without issue. The second mile at 8:00 pace (with a wider 15 second tolerance) also went by without a peep. I was bang on target pace and rather pleased with my metronomic performance; I then entered mile 3 and the 910XT started spazzing out, telling me I was now all of a sudden 45 seconds too slow, and then 15 seconds too fast!? How do you go from running a rock steady 8:00 minute mile into the next for the pacing to suddenly be all over the bleeding shop? I did my best to stabilise the pace again with the usual run a little faster, then a little slower to try and coax it back. Going into mile 4, the pacing schizophrenia occured all over again. What appeared to be happening was with each new mile split, the 910XT seemed to need to relocate my position again, requiring I wait for the pace to settle. This continued for the entire run and grew tiresome.

So it seems I can either block miles together and have the steadiest pace feedback I’ve ever experienced, but no individual mile splits, or I can have individual mile split data and pacing feedback that has a tantrum at the beginning of every new mile. Helpful, Garmin, helpful. I think I’ll stick with the virtual pacer from now on.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Saturday rocked up and off to Cannon Hill Lis and I went. I wanted to score something around 19:45 to get my legs turning over and given it was my easy week, I should have been fresh enough for the task. Seth was also back after a bit of an absence, joining Dave for their first experience on the new winter course.

I bumped into Ed on the startline who had just completed 17 miles, with a planned total run of 22 miles that day. What was more amazing was he was happy to pace me around at my planned 19:45 pace! Incredible fitness indeed. The first mile was very congested, with Dave zooming off into the distance amongst the crowds. Just when I thought he was gone for a 19:3X finish time, he somehow reappeared behind me! Clearly, he’s perfected the art of race teleportation but uses it sparingly to avoid potential disqualification.

Impressively, there were three girls taking part in a three-way battle with each other at around our position out in the field of runners.

The wheels came off at mile 2 and I was forced to let Dave and Ed go. One of the girls had slipped off the pace and was now just ahead of me, giving me a target to work towards and for much of this mile, the two of us would repeatedly overtake and surge past each other.

Approaching the hill in mile 3, I simply didn’t have enough get up and go to really push on. My legs were heavy and refused to go any faster up the hill, but I did manage to find a little something at the very top to return home for 33rd out of a total of 514 runners and a time of 20:08.

Congratulations are also in order for Barbara Partridge of Kings Heath Running Club, winning Parkrunner of the month.

10 miles with Dave Burton

Apart from in half marathons, Dave and I have never actually run together for more than 6 miles before. I wanted to take on a shorter long run of just 10 or 11 miles but at slightly faster than target marathon pace. Long, slow runs are the bread have been the bread and butter of my build-up so far with sprinklings here and there of specific marathon pace work. This run was meant to really zone in on what the pace feels like.

We ended up on a tour of Bournville and the surrounding areas for a nice change of scenery for me. What was also pleasant was running with somebody else with the miles simply flying by. The pace was nice and steady, with neither of us two physically taxed if our conversations were anything to go by. Running with Dave really did seem to take the edge off the intensity, where I most likely could have completed 10 miles on my own at the same pace, but with a lot more added mental stress.

It was almost like therapy, having a fellow runner of similar ability to talk to about upcoming races, targets and plans for the rest of the year. The whole experience was so positive, we’ve agreed to try and collaborate on long runs more often to reap the benefits!

Take a look at the Garmin data and route right here.

Upcoming races

I do love a good race and as the above bibs show, I’m gearing up for the Bramley 20 and Silverstone Half Marathon in just one and three weeks respectively.

A 20 mile race is a relatively unknown territory for me, where I’ve only covered the distance in training or as part of last year’s marathon. To say I will be racing 20 miles is disingenuous; rather, I will be using it as a catered training run where I plan to run at just slower than marathon race pace to hone into the feeling of 8:00 minute miles over a prolonged distance, but also to aid recovery by not going all out. If I feel good at the end of the ordeal, it’ll really boost my confidence for London, which is what I really need right now. My old uni buddy, Kevin Yates of Lordshill Running Club, will also be there for a good catch-up.

Whilst on our 10 mile run, Dave and I did discuss how we would both approach the Silverstone Half Marathon. I’m almost 100% confident Dave will be able to PB there, given its much flatter course profile in comparison to the Great Birmingham Run from last October. Me on the other hand, I’m definitely at least 2 – 3 minutes away from besting my 1:31:09 set in Cardiff last year. Given Silverstone’s close proximity to the London Marathon and also my need to still complete 21 and 22 mile training runs, I’ve decided not to go all out and hammer myself in the race, merely using it as a fast training run and a fitness benchmark. Target pace will be around 7:10 and then if I have more to give after 6 miles, I’ll try and up the pace.

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

Join a local running club

I am a proud member of a running club called the Lehigh Valley Road Runners. (Don’t ask me for proof, because I don’t have any. They have never sent me a membership card.) My membership dues get me a sporadically published newsletter, a discount on some local races, and 10 percent off at the local running store. I think.

Truth is, I rarely take advantage of those perks. And even if I didn’t get them at all, I’d still pony up my 20 bucks a year to be a member of the LVRR. Why? Because my running club is full of nice people doing nice things. And it makes me feel good to be a small part of that.

They sponsor a scholarship. They organize races, including a fantastic kids’ series every summer. They have a potluck after their Wednesday night 5-K Summer Series races. It’s good stuff.

Plus, the LVRR clubhouse down in the Parkway has a nice bath-room. That perk has come in handy more than a few times.