This week’s running – 20th to 26th of April 2015

The UK went marathon mad

Suddenly, every member of the general public’s a marathon expert despite not knowing it’s 26.2 miles long…

The UK had a bout of marathon mania this week.

Core strength

I seem to do this every year where I neglect my core in the colder months, only to begin focusing on it again in the spring and summer. There is most probably a positive correlation here between me having a strong core and my performance.

As somebody that sits for most of the week in front of a computer at a desk, I have a tendency to hunch forward; this slouching is further depicted in a number of photos from my last few races where I simply lack the core strength to be able to support my own upper body whilst fatigued.

There’s nothing special or fancy about what I’m doing at the moment; simply 2x sets of 10 sit-ups and 2x sets of 10 sit-ups with some rotation. There’s likely some correct terminology out there, so apologies for butchering the description up…

I’ve been doing these workouts for a couple of weeks now and already, I have noticed a positive impact whilst I run. The most obvious benefit is I can feel myself running taller, with my chest held high. An additional perk of this is that running tall seems to have re-activated my glutes. I have a horrible habit of relying on my quads for power whilst I run, rather than the glutes where the majority of the power of each stride comes from. On my last few runs, I feel like I’ve been able to run at a faster pace with a little less effort and part of it must be down to this.

Long may the core workouts continue!

3x 1600m at 10k pace

These 1600m reps could be the other reason why I’ve felt stronger lately.

This was the second occurrence of this session and from about halfway through the first rep, I could feel there was an improvement on last week. Previously, I was busting a gut to simply stay on pace but I found myself having to dial the speed down a touch to stay on target. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a walk in the park; where last week’s session left me feeling trashed for at least 36 hours afterwards, I felt pretty reasonable in comparison.

I’m also going to try a different approach this spring/summer. I traditionally keep the number of reps static, but will increase the pace or decrease the recovery as improvements materialise. This year, I want to increase the reps whilst keeping the pace static (to a certain point). This should provide that endurance boost that I’m seeking.

So, why did I only do 3x reps if I was feeling so good? I always take a bottle of water when I run intervals where I’m sweating like a pig from the increased intensity. Some thieving scumbag had other plans, where they’d found my hidden bottle of water between my first and second 1600m rep, leaving me pretty damn parched going into the third rep. A new hiding place is needed for next week, me thinks…

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

5k from work

More of a plod than anything else. I didn’t see any other runners, but I did spot plenty of geese stood to the side of the towpath watching me, almost like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. It’s surely only a matter of days or weeks before all the goslings hatch and the parents become hyper-aggressive…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 miles with 2 at near half marathon pace

This was a continuation of last week where I boosted the mid-week 6 mile run to 8, but now with added near half marathon pace goodness. Why near half marathon pace? I couldn’t quite make it to my target of 6:35 per mile, instead hovering around 6:45 per mile. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I suspect it involved the heavy tree-lined canal towpath also interfering with my Garmin, where the lap pace seemed out of whack and refused to budge.

Despite the pace shenanigans at play, I was pleased with the run where it showed progress in the right direction. Onwards and upwards!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

Looking surprisingly decent!

Looking surprisingly decent – photo by Geoff Hughes

Continuing the theme of shaking things up in my quest for improvement, I opted to jog the 5k distance from my home all the way to Cannon Hill Park. Yes, some thought this was mad and could not even contemplate covering the race distance as warm-up before the actual main event. General rule of thumb out there is the shorter the distance, the more critical the warm-up becomes.

I usually always feel shitty during the warm-up before a Parkrun, where I’m stiff, lethargic and clumsy. This extended warm-up was no different. Lis was also running, so I sent my kit bag with her in the car to meet me there. Once I was at the park and after a few minutes of recovery, I actually started to loosen up and felt pretty good. By the time we were ready to walk to the start line, I was positively raring to go.

In a complete reversal of roles, I ended up trailing behind Nigel for the first 3k or so. This wasn’t planned, but certainly for the opening splits, I found myself struggling to turn my legs over at a faster rate, where the pace naturally settled at around 3:57/km or so. There was no discomfort at all and it’s no coincidence that this is also my 10k pace I’ve been working hard to acclimatise to.

Entering and exiting the triangle, I sensed Nigel slipping from the pace and went ahead to latch on to a small group of three guys or so. I stayed with the group until the final 400m before going on my own for the finish, which clocked in at 19:37.

Did the warm-up help at all? Yes and no. Yes, because I felt superb on the start line from a cardio vascular perspective. No, because superficially, it had little to no bearing on my finish time. That being said, I have upped the ante in training so I wasn’t nearly as fresh as I could have been. I’m going to give the extended warm-up another few tries, especially when I’m more 5k focused to really gauge whether it works or not.

Here’s the Garmin data for the run.

Oh and one final note – Cannon Hill is trialling a new course next week. Several weeks ago, I was speaking with one of the run directors, Mary, and she expressed some displeasure with the current start line. Concerns include the flow of people into the start line, along with a number of runners with dogs and pushchairs not starting within the funnel and instead choosing to join from the side. One solution suggested was to move the start line over to the bridge, next to the entry to the out and back portion of the route, which is simple enough to instigate; what’s trickier is the team wants to also continue using the finish area at the top of the hill, which would require some shortening of the route elsewhere to accommodate this. I won’t be at Cannon Hill next week, so you readers will have to let me know what the final changes end up being.

10 canal miles

Due to the morning being devoted to watching the London Marathon, I ended up covering my long run much later in the day whilst the sun was shining and all the fair-weather amblers had over-run the canal towpath.

Despite the numerous obstructions, it was a fantastic run. The pace was progressive and felt comfortable, even with the heavier training load and angry headwind blasting away at me. I also intentionally focused on my form again to run tall and from the glutes.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time to dial things back a touch next week, me thinks!

London Marathon 2015

As mentioned above, I spent all of this morning watching the BBC’s London Marathon coverage. It was most certainly odd not being part of it, where for the past two years, all I’ve ever known on race day was to steel myself physically and mentally to run 26.2 miles through the Big Smoke, rather than to sit with my feet up on the sofa.

Twas a most enjoyable race to watch, with the elite female and male races producing nail-biting finales. Paula’s run must have also been truly motivational for the club runners that came into contact with her throughout the course. Equally as nail-biting as the elites was watching the progress of various friends via the online tracker with the final results coming in below:

  • Phil Cook – 2:34:45
  • Ed Barlow – 2:52:53
  • Nick Bensley – 2:57:25
  • Peter Ingason – 3:33:24
  • Suz West – 3:38:14
  • Nigel Foulkes-Nock – 3:54:42
  • Selena Wong – 4:12:44
  • Sean Whan – 4:32:12

Congrats to all and I hope the recovery process is swift and problem-free!

Right. Enough gassing and over to the latest entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Pee if you must

If this were a rule book for humans at large, one of the first rules would have to be: When You’ve Gotta Go, You’ve Gotta Go. This goes double for tightly wound, highly hydrated, slightly nervous humans who are standing around (i.e., runners waiting for a race to start). If you simply can’t hold it any longer, do your best to locate a porta potty. Failing that, find a stand of trees or bushes as far from the action as reasonably possible. Failing that – if, for instance, you’re stuck in the middle of a packed corral at the start of a large marathon and you’re about to bust – well, pop a squat or take a knee, and do what you’ve gotta do. Be as discreet as possible, apologize to those around you, then stand up, and return your focus to the race.

And before your next race, hydrate just a little bit less.

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This week’s running – 5th to 11th of August

Andy Yu's 19:36 Cannon Hill Parkrun PB

I think I do a fairly decent job of keeping this blog up to date, but there are times when I have little tidbits to write about and they just don’t feel significant enough on their own. To remedy this, I’m going to do weekly summaries each week to pool all these things together.

This week has been a bit topsy-turvy due to having to shift my schedule around somewhat. Monday became my 6 mile mid-week run due to meeting up with Lis’ folks after work on Tuesday evening. Conscious that I can stand to lose a little bit more body fat based on my Asics Running Lab report, I decided to fuel the 6 miles with just an energy drink. My lunch isn’t terribly substantial and I do often go into my evening runs feeling hungry, but I need to train my body to become more efficient again at utilising fat instead of carbs, even if it’s just for the upcoming half marathon season. The run went well, though I did have a moment of light-headedness around the halfway mark which then became a bit like a runners’ high; hopefully a one-off and simply the effects of my body getting used to performing on low carbs. Here’s the Garmin data.

Thursday thus became my weekly speedwork session. Mike from Parkrun and I have been completing interval workouts together for mutual support and to dull the intensity of the session. We had previously completed 5 x 1k at 5k race pace with 1 minute recoveries, and this was just about doable, but we both felt destroyed afterwards. We both agreed that we should finish the session feeling like we could do one more rep and that simply wasn’t going to happen based on 5 x 1k; we adjusted the session to become 5 x 800m at slightly faster than 5k race pace with 1:15 recoveries. This felt like a much higher quality session and the recovery was just about right, though we both want to try 1:30 recoveries next time. Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

Saturday’s Parkrun was unexpected, making it almost magical. The successful speedwork session gave me some confidence that I am now capable of regularly clocking a sub-20 minute finish at Cannon Hill Parkrun. I woke up feeling fresh mentally but my legs were tired from the additional strength work I’ve been doing (Russian deadlifts) based on my Asics Running Lab recommendations. My Garmin had been set to pace me at 6:23 per mile; roughly a 19:51 – 19:53 minute finish. I’d been reading up on ideal 5k tactics and many runners out there seem to unanimously agree on running a hard first mile and simply trying to hang on until the end, so I was hoping for a fast early start. I completed the first mile about 12 seconds ahead of schedule in anticipation of some slow-down during the second mile. I caught up to Neil and David, two regulars that I know could run sub-20 in their sleep; I asked if I could tag on to their group and they welcomed me in. Neil said they were running at 19:40 pace, so I bravely followed; the sensation of running with others doing the pacing took the edge off the intensity and you can actually see my heart rate drop slightly at this point. David dropped off the group after about 2.5 miles, leaving Neil and I to continue on. At 3 miles, Neil said he couldn’t hold on to the pace for much longer and told me to go on; with 400m left to go, I began my kick towards the end. I overtook a few folks and closed my eyes whilst gritting my teeth, crossing the line in 19:36! I collapsed in a heap after the finish funnel and thanked Neil for his metronomic pacing. I only wanted to finish with 19:5x or so and shaving 21 seconds off my Cannon Hill PB and 17 seconds off my all time 5k Parkrun PB was unimaginable; I’ll have to re-evaluate my 5k goals for the autumn! Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

We now get to my long Sunday run. Following the advice from Asics, I incorporated a few miles of threshold pace running into today’s 11 mile run along the South Birmingham canals. I do plenty of easy paced runs at 8 minutes per mile, along with plenty of faster stuff at 5k and 10k pace; I, however, rarely run at threshold pace which is around 7:20 – 7:30 minutes per mile for me and very close to my half marathon pace. The more familiar I can become with this pace, the more I can expect from my autumn half marathon performances where I’m aiming for sub-1:35 at the very least. Here’s the Garmin data for this long run.

Finally, I’ve entered the New York Road Runners’ Dash to the Finish Line 5k in early November. Staged the day before the New York Marathon, it takes runners through Mid Town and finishes in exactly the same spot as the marathon itself in Central Park. It takes place at 8:30am on Saturday 2nd of November, so it’ll serve as my Parkrun substitute whilst I’m away. To collect my number and timing chip, I need to attend the expo for the New York Marathon which should be fun, but possibly quite expensive! This will be my first international race and hopefully, the first of several more to come.

Asics Running Lab visit and report

Andy Yu's Asics Running Lab visit and report

This past Saturday, I finally had my chance for an assessment at the Asics Running Lab.

Based in their flagship London store, the Asics Running Lab is a meeting of running and science. They promise to prod and poke you to get the data they need to analyse and make recommendations on how to improve as a runner. Of course, any non-elite runner can always do things differently to improve their running but doing it this way allows for a more targeted and specific approach.

I managed to bag a temporary deal for the assessment a number of weeks ago where it was reduced to £140 from the usual £200. Andrew, my assessor for the day mentioned that they run it as a loss leader and branding tool within the crowded London running scene.

Introduction and flexibility testing

After an initial welcome and briefing of the activities for the next 2.5 hours, I got changed into my running gear and Andrew got to work checking my joint and leg flexibility and alignment. My left leg leans slightly inwards, which could cause instability and may directly be linked to reduced power in my left leg. Overall hip joint flexibility is above average, but my hamstring flexibility is low. My ankle flexibility is also low, though is apparently common with forefoot and mid-foot strike runners. These results didn’t surprise Andrew or me; I had told him that I do enough stretching before and after to get away with it, explaining that I’m strapped for time as it is and feel I need to devote most time to the actual running.

3D foot scan

Andy Yu's 3D foot scan results at the Asics Running Lab

My 3D foot scan – click to enlarge

We next moved on to a 3D scan of my foot. The scanner was pretty cool, placing my feet into a box where the floor panel was like that of a photocopier, producing a 3D model of my feet, which revealed in minute measurements that both my feet are far from identical.  My left foot width is a D and my right foot is a 3E. My left foot is longer than my right foot by 4mm also; not enough to warrant different shoe sizes for each foot but it complicates things having to size for length with my left foot and width with my right. My left arch is also significantly higher than the arch in my right foot, though both arches are classed as low overall.

Andy Yu's dynamic foot test results at the Asics Running Lab

My dynamic foot test results – click to enlarge

We also did a dynamic foot test to see how my feet behave whilst in motion. No real surprises here other than my left foot being more neutral than my right foot when they land on the ground. This means that my right foot rolls outwards more so than my left foot, which would explain why the outer edge of my right running shoes wear away more quickly.

What is pleasing is my running cadence is way above the average.

Body composition

Andy Yu's body composition results from the Asics Running Lab

My body composition – click to enlarge

Next was the body composition test. They had a very high tech Tanita scale, which included handles on cables that resembled the controls for the Nintendo Wii, measuring the left and right side of my upper body. I’ve highlighted the results below:

  • Total mass: 61.70kg / 9.7 stone (expected)
  • Total body fat: 16.5%
  • Visceral fat: 3/13
  • Muscle mass: 48.90kg
  • BMI: 22.1 (expected)
  • Trunk muscle mass: 25.55kg (below average)
  • Left arm muscle mass: 2.60kg (below average)
  • Right arm muscle mass: 2.60kg (below average)
  • Left leg muscle mass: 8.90kg (average)
  • Right leg muscle mass: 9.30kg (average)

The feedback is almost as I expected, though the fat percentage could have been/should have been lower. Andrew did comment that whatever I’ve eaten in the last 12 – 24 hours will possibly have an impact on the fat measurement because the scanner isn’t capable of differentiating between fat around internal organs and fat that’s physically inside the organs, i.e. the pizza and chips I had for dinner the night before. Oops… I’m pleased to see that my upper body is identical on both sides; a positive effect from having to stabilise dumb bells instead of relying on a machine in the gym. The muscle mass of my arms and trunk is about what I thought it should be; I have scrawny lower arms that have skewed the results and I don’t do an awful lot of core work apart from variations of sit-ups and stomach crunches. Overall, I’m neither pleased nor displeased with my body composition results. I know I can reach race weight for half marathons and marathons once the long run training kicks in and right now, my body is composed for faster events like 5k and 10k.

Leg strength

Andy Yu's leg strength test results from the Asics Running Lab

My leg strength results – click to enlarge

Leg strength assessment was the next test and I knew this would be a shocker. I don’t do any leg strength work, which is made harder by not having access to a gym. I should do plyometrics with weights but the argument of lack of time rears its ugly head again. Andrew strapped me into what looked like a medieval torture device that had mated with some space age harness from NASA.

Andy Yu's leg strength test at the Asics Running Lab

Houston, we have lift off!

Each leg was measured independently, requiring that I exert as much force as possible with an equal force directed back towards me. The results were dreadful, both showing I have seriously below average leg strength; on a scale of 1 to 5, everything was 1 except the right knee extension test which ranked me as a 3. My right leg is also noticeably more powerful than my left leg, which isn’t surprising considering it’s my dominant leg with its higher muscle mass percentage. Having more powerful legs will mean I can plant more power down with each step, which in turn equates to a slightly longer stride.

Running form

Andy Yu's running form 1 at the Asics Running Lab

My running form from the front

We went on to look at my running form and also measure my anaerobic threshold. It was my mistake that I thought we would be doing a full blown VO2max test, which would have required running me to near complete exhaustion.

Andy Yu's running form 2 at the Asics Running Lab

My running form from the side

My running form was confirmed as one based on step frequency, i.e. I control my speed based on my step rate. Other quirks observed about my running form include:

  • My head tilts slightly to the right
  • My upper body appears stiff
  • My arms swing away and too far back from my body
  • My step width is narrow
  • At toe-off, my thighs rotate slightly inwards
  • My foot lands slightly ahead of my centre of gravity
  • Large knee extension produces wasted vertical movement

Andy Yu's running form 3 at the Asics Running Lab

My foot strike is just ahead of my centre of gravity

I currently do a lot right but there’s room for improvement. The question that now needs answering is how much do I change about my form and will too many changes have a detrimental effect on my immediate performance?

I have just received the disc with the videos of my running form, a few of which I’ve uploaded to YouTube:

Anaerobic threshold

Andy Yu's anaerobic threshold results at the Asics Running Lab

My anaerobic threshold results – click to enlarge

To conduct the anaerobic portion of the test, they hooked me up to a gas meter that could measure the density of oxygen and carbon dioxide I was consuming and producing. The mask wasn’t too uncomfortable, but I did feel like Bane from Batman whilst wearing it. We started warming me up 8.5kmph, with a 0.5kmph speed increase every minute before peaking at 15kmph when we had enough data for the analysis.

What was interesting based on the results is how closely the oxygen consumption and the carbon dioxide production rates are, also noting the low heart rates. We concluded that I have a bias towards speed at the moment, which is true looking at my 5k and 10k training, with my endurance runs taking somewhat of a back seat. We also concluded that I need more threshold training, especially to improve my half marathon; threshold speed is very close to half marathon pace and this is a speed that I rarely run at.

Finally, the report provided me with predictions for my marathon and half marathon times:

  • Marathon: 3 hours 40 minutes
  • Half marathon: 1 hour 42 minutes

The marathon prediction is a little slower than what I was expecting, believing that a 3 hour 30 finish or better is within my ability.

What is disappointing to see is that their prediction for my half marathon is almost 5 minutes slower than my PB achieved at the Bath Half Marathon earlier this year.

Conclusions

Before I went to the Asics Running Lab, I was looking for both confirmation of what I’m doing right with my running and also to shed some light on what I get wrong.

Below is a summary of what I should do to improve my performance, both long term and short term:

  • Body fat needs reducing to 12%
  • Add leg strength work, such as Russian dead lifts
  • Train across different pace varieties

Was the Asics Running Lab experience worth the money and the visit? I’d say yes, but only if you’re of the mindset of wanting to improve on your performances. I am forever looking at ways to become faster and stronger and these results have highlighted that I am always looking to train harder, but I now need to also think about training smarter. One other thing to remember is that the tests show a reflection of your potential on that very day; not based on previous glories or future aspirations.

If you’re interested in an appointment at the Asics Running Lab, simply contact the store to make arrangements. The tests take approximately 2 – 2.5 hours to complete and you’re free to use their showering facilities to freshen up afterwards.

Running – it’s snow joke

As is typical of the UK, we’re woefully underprepared for extremes of weather be it flooding, heat wave or snow. The recent snow has proven incredibly challenging, with everything grinding to a halt.

After my longest run ever recorded of 18 miles, I did not want to lose the momentum that I had built up because of the white stuff that had decided to suddenly invade. The ever-reliable Parkrun at Cannon Hill Park was open for business and several of us dedicated (or mad) runners turned up for our weekly gallivant. Numbers were expectedly low due to many people driving to get there, though 75 out of a usual strong 300+ made it, including Dave after a short layoff due to injury rehab. He was particularly annoyed because he was due a PB but the snow had other plans. I was just going to treat it as a speedwork session, neither having the right shoes nor the fight in me after a botched training run only days earlier.

Image

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The usual course proved tricky in road shoes with little to no traction. The top flight runners ran with their usual speed and despite the snow, they still completed the 5km faster than I’m capable of in dry conditions. For vast stretches of the course, Dave and I were alone with nobody visible ahead or behind us. Our finishing times were roughly 4 minutes slower than our PBs achieved in optimal conditions, showing how much of a difference the snow can make.

I’m going to be in Wales again this weekend, which means another crack at the Cardiff Parkrun. Recalling past faults, I’m going to position myself much closer to the front runners, though leftover snow is likely to still be a problem so I may give up any chances of a PB – I don’t think I could face the defeat!

My long run on Sunday still happened, though not in terms of distance nor intensity. My usual haunt of the North Birmingham canals looked gorgeous in the snow, with  few souls out and about. I wore my sunglasses to help give the terrain some contrast and set off at a pace that was more than comfortable, conscious that all of my stabiliser muscles would be getting a workout.

I don’t have long before the London Marathon and my goal of accomplishing at least 5x 20 mile runs is getting very, very tight with virtually no room for adjustments.

The Bath Half Marathon is also quickly creeping up on us and sitting down to work out my plan of attack, I have devised the below:

  • Miles 1 – 3: 8 minute pace = 24 minutes
  • Miles 4 – 6: 7:45 minute pace = 23:15 minutes
  • Miles 7 – 9: 7:30 minute pace = 22:30 minutes
  • Miles 10 – 12: 7:15 minute pace = 21:45 minutes
  • Mile 13: 7:00 minute pace = 7:00 minutes
  • Grand total of 1:38:30

Based on my current 5k PB of 20:53, pacing calculators predict that I should be capable of a 1:36:41 finish so we’re getting much closer to my theoretical maximum. Dave and I are going to have to be much stricter with our pacing and time keeping on this next adventure, with only 1.5 minutes to spare for error. I’m hopeful that we can at least come back with a sub 1:40 finish based on our current abilities and 5 weeks left to hone our training.

Finally, I’ve started doing regular strength work again to help burn off a bit of additional weight, but also to primarily strengthen my arms, shoulders, neck and glutes. My glutes have been misfiring due to little use (joys of a job where you sit down all day) and after only one session of weighted squats, I could feel them working again and aiding me in my most recent mid-week run.

Stay safe out there and run to win!