This week’s running – 19th March to 1st April 2018

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At the inaugural Great Run Local Edgbaston Reservoir event – photo by Great Run Local

Apologies, folks, for the tardy post. I’ve rolled two weeks into this single entry, with a pending post for my week away in Hong Kong to follow shortly!

5k recovery

Almost as quickly as the snow arrived on Saturday-Sunday, most of it had melted come Monday. Only a few patches of ice remained as I plodded around on my 5k route, making me shake my fist in anger at the situation – if only the snow had arrived two days earlier or later…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles with 2 at marathon pace and 1 at half marathon pace

For those of you that don’t frequently use the Edgbaston tunnel on the canal towpath, you may not know that it’s been out of action for some 2 months whilst work is carried out to widen the towpath – a regular frustration with runners, cyclists and walkers and our mis-matched paces. Sadly, I have some bad news to share – the closure will overrun by another 6 or 7 weeks, due to some issue with galvanized steel being needed. Roll on late May…

Mentally, I wasn’t ready to take another lashing of 3 miles at half marathon pace in the middle of my run-commute for home. Softening it to 2 miles at marathon pace and the final mile at half marathon pace made the whole thing more bearable and achievable; 6:47, 6:44 and 6:22 came out of the other side, agreeing as much.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

It’s joyous running through Cannon Hill Park without the need for a head torch and feeling like you’re going to be robbed by somebody jumping out of every bush…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

I have a few friends who love trail and fell running and I’m always scratching my head over the amount of kit they’ll wear whilst out on a run. “Sweat kills,” is a statement I’ve oft heard bandied around, along with the need for multiple layers, especially ones that sit close to draw away any moisture.

Whether running easy or running hard, I’ve historically felt warm. Not so of late, where I’ve almost exclusively worn tights and long-sleeve tops since November, outside of racing. For the second time this year, I came to experience why sweat can be so hazardous in cold conditions. Problematically, I’d found myself in a middling effort; not slow enough to cut out sweating entirely and not fast enough to generate significant body warmth to make use of the sweat. Running into the headwind for home made for a particularly unpleasant time!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Kings Heath Running Club took the reins and provided a full roster of volunteers for the morning, including pacers. Wishing to save myself for the big effort the next day, I took advantage of Chris Callow, the 20 minute pacer.

Barring Chris moving off a little too quickly for the first half, the run was largely uneventful and by the numbers. Dave and I ran together for much of it before he burned me off in the remaining few hundred metres.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles inc Great Run Local Edgbaston Reservoir and The Vale

Whether by coincidence or design (a bit of Column A and Column B, me thinks), the new Great Run Local at Edgbaston Reservoir meant a double run, akin to the parkrun New Year’s Day doubles, was possible. As a former proud denizen of the Jewellery Quarter, I could often be found nearby at the reservoir, running laps in the pursuit of speed or bulking out a long run. Consider me pleased to see my former stomping ground play host to an event!

Dave and I were kindly driven to Edgbaston Reservoir to avoid mileage overload. Running from home to the reservoir, participating in their 5k event, running to The Vale, participating in their 5k event, then running back home would very likely see me hit 22 miles; no bad thing if marathon training, but not ideal when my longest run this year has been 15 miles.

Arriving early, we were definitely in the right place judging from the various Great Run Local direction signs there were attached to lampposts and pillars. A single lap of the reservoir served as our token warm-up but left me wanting more; the jogs from home to Cannon Hill parkrun have spoilt me! We soon identified the familiar face of Rob Dowse from BRAT and Cannon Hill parkrun, along with Carl Stainton dashing towards us on the horizon for fear of being late – he was incredibly lucky as we started almost 10 minutes behind schedule.

Assembled on the start line, it wasn’t exactly clear when the run actually started as we all jerked forward at different times. Carl took the lead as anticipated with me in second place. I’d concluded all I wanted was a sub-20 finish, factoring in the parkrun 24 hours prior and another Great Run Local only an hour later.

During our warm-up, Dave and I established that the terrain at Edgbaston Reservoir wasn’t actually as optimal for fast times as we’d nostalgically remembered. On the wooded section of the reservoir with shelter, lots of puddles had formed along with accompanying mud. Throw in plenty of dog walkers and cyclists doing their normal Sunday thing, and some careful timing and line taking was necessary. Not far behind me by some 20m was Vicky, a friend of Rob’s, to keep me on my toes.

Annoyingly, I had the pervading sensation of needing to piss. Due to the delayed start and standing around, my body had cooled down and wanted to shift the excess liquid inside me. Every few hundred metres, I would re-evaluate the situation and scope out a tree or a bush to dive behind and relieve myself! I decided to keep going…

Pace-wise, I continued to hover on the boundary of a 20:00 minute 5k and went through halfway in 9:50. Carl had pulled away for an even bigger lead whereas I was still being chased down, though had increased the gap by perhaps another 10m.

The reservoir grew even busier on the second lap with particularly nimble feet required to get through the crowded and muddy southern-most point.

Throughout all this, I still needed to piss and the temptation to stop persisted. Reaching the third but last corner, I spotted the ideal opportunity but a quick look behind me confirmed my lead wasn’t big enough to pause and piss without losing second place or a sub-20 finish. It’s all motivation, right?

Turning for the penultimate corner and I’d gained another 10m on my pursuers. The straight and paved dam wall prompted me to begin upping my cadence and surge for the finish. Crossing the line, I didn’t bother to check my time and dashed over to a secluded spot to finally relieve myself! When I did eventually check my finish time, curiously I had recorded 19:36 versus the official time of 19:42; I chalked this down to the start line confusion and the timer being prematurely activated.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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Including the top 5 from Edgbaston Reservoir, also tackling The Vale – photo by Great Run Local

Out of the 25 or so runners that partook in the inaugural Edgbaston Reservoir run, only the top 5 (Carl, me, Vicky, Dave and Rob) went on to also tackle The Vale course. We were also joined by Kings Heath Running Club and Run Birmingham member, Ian Mackenzie, as we gallivanted across the Hagley Road towards the university for another dose of 5k.

Unsurprisingly, Carl took the lead with me in pursuit once more. I was joined by Ian, which prompted me to dial down the effort and to just hang back and let him do the leading on the climbs. Whereas the pace felt perfectly serviceable for me, Ian was clearly not as relaxed as I was but continued chatting. I wondered how long he could possibly hold on for… I charged down the ascent on the other side of Mason Way and it became obvious he was nearing his limit.

With a bit of coaxing, Ian regrouped with me. Embarking on the second lap, he continued to keep up with me, both physically and conversationally. Once more, I opened up my stride on the other side of the climb and Ian drifted further and further behind me. Carl was still visible on the horizon, prompting me to begin chipping away at the distance between us.

The third lap was trickier without a companion. The sun also came out to add a few additional points on the exertion scale when it was needed least, but the pace came to me and I did indeed gradually reel Carl in. Whilst I was never going to be a challenge for him, I was able to reclaim some 15 seconds or so to further convince me that I could have, and should have, gone out harder for another sub-20.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

A warm-down with Carl and Dave, both peeling off at various points, rounded off an enjoyable, if tiring, morning.

10k recovery

Due to being away from home on a work trip to Basingstoke later that week, I opted to beef up this recovery run to avoid my mileage quota from dropping too low.

Running through Cannon Hill Park, it was a who’s who of the local running scene! I bumped into Matt Gresty, Dave Broome and Andy Young on my two laps.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Aborted run

That work trip to Basingstoke? It included a team building exercise of an endurance go-karting match towards the end of the day. I was placed into a team of 3, coincidentally including a colleague from my own office, along with a random. The random, whilst being very good and managed to set the second fastest lap of the day, had to bail after only 20 minutes into the 2 hour race. My colleague and I were forced to split the remaining 105 minutes between us, making for a pretty gruelling time. Whilst we did end up winning with a 3 lap lead on our nearest rivals, I was t-boned by a woman failing to stop in time, after I’d stopped in my tracks to avoid a pile-up in front. I was jolted from left to right and back again with no time to anticipate it, thus bruising or even fracturing a rib or two. Needless to say, I was in a lot of pain after the adrenaline of racing had worn off!

The following day, I began my run for home from the office as per usual. The first 2 miles felt perfectly fine, but then the wheels began falling off. Tightness and aches from go-karting bubbled to the surface and I knew I couldn’t complete the distance. My sights moved to perhaps reaching Selly Oak for 10k and then getting a bus for Kings Heath. Making it to 4 miles, I knew the game was up and I called it quits by catching an Uber home! I was very specific to share with the Uber driver that this was an emergency and under normal circumstances, I’d have gone all the way!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Penallta parkrun

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Me and Ben at Penallta parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Whereas the aches in my arms and legs had disappeared, my ribs were still tender. Every time I sneezed, I felt like I’d taken a blow to the chest! This subsequently caused my lower back to ache as I had to compensate for my left with my right. As such, the week became a low volume one anyway despite my best efforts…

Running resumed with the continued tourism of parkruns of South Wales, this time settling on Penallta parkrun, near Caerphilly – my 26th different event. Our friend, Ben, who’s decided to embark on the alphabet quest by visiting an event for all letters, joined Lis and me. He is aware there’s currently no event that starts with an “X”!

As parkrun grows more popular, new events that spring up become more unconventional, at times even eschewing the need to be held in a park. Whilst the Penallta event does take place in a park, the support facilities and the car park are that of the nearby council building. It was rather odd passing the morning duty security guard to use the building’s toilets; Ben and I reasoned the local council to be a big supporter of the event as a fitness initiative, which is refreshing to see when councils are so often the antagonists of parkrun.

My warm-up with Ben suggested I was capable of running without pain. Conveniently next to the start line is a map of the park, helping to facilitate the new runners briefing. Unsurprisingly for the Easter weekend, there were plenty of visiting tourists. The route takes place entirely within Penallta Park, with two switchback sections. Elevation charts online suggested there would be some significant climbing for the first mile, though our warm-up concluded it was more of a false flat than anything.

Assembled on the start line, I identified a few of the likely big dogs of the morning. Do they look lean and fast? Check. Are they wearing racing flats? Check. On the starter’s orders, they inevitably tore off.

I decided to hang back due to unfamiliarity with the course and its nuances. Going with me were a number of runners that were putting in an early sprint, so I guess some things are universal regardless of the event! As anticipated, the subtle climb was still able to shake the field up slightly to leave me in sixth, tailing the fourth and fifth place guys. I hovered on sub-20 pace, banking on the second half being faster with a downhill finish.

Approaching the first switchback, I surprised myself by being able to enter and exit it faster than the guy in front, allowing me to quickly gain on and surge past him. My next target was a youngster who began fading from an exuberant start. Realising that I would have run out of people to follow if he drifted too far backwards, I gave him a few words of encouragement to hold steady and remain with me.

Exiting the second switchback, I wrongly assumed we were to head straight and were instead sent on a sharp left for a lap of a muddy and wet path around a pond. Swift foot placement was needed to avoid sodden feet! Returning back to Bea’s Hill, I urged my comrade to stay with me, but alas, he’d reached his limit and began haemorrhaging pace. I began cruising for the finish, and would likely skim sub-20 by 10 seconds or so, when I clocked a runner behind me by no more than 30m. He was closing in so before he had any more time to make a bigger dent, I kicked things up a notch for a faster finish than originally anticipated.

I was pleased to see 19:34 flash up, especially as I went through a spate of visiting new events and failing to secure a sub-20 finish by only a few seconds.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Ben returned to be only a number of seconds outside of his PB set on a pancake flat course, so it boded well for his then upcoming half marathon. We’ve agreed to try our hand at Bryn Bach parkrun as our next spot of tourism.

14 miles inc Great Run Local The Vale

Seeing as Lis and I were due to fly out to Hong Kong only 12 hours later, I should have perhaps skipped Great Run Local, given I was still feeling pretty banged up from go-karting and the previous day’s faster than intended Penallta parkrun.

Setting out slightly later than planned, I tried to better time my warm-up run to The Vale to coincide with Dave’s. As luck would have it, I could see him in the distance from Selly Oak onwards, though my attempts to call out his name literally fell on deaf ears; this continued for another mile before Dave finally took notice!

Numbers were very low at The Vale, as one would expect for Easter Sunday. Once we finally got going, it became clear that I couldn’t muster anything more than what could be considered a slow tempo run. My ribs continued to ache and the steep ascents of the course did nothing to help.

21:36 was all I could manage; a time almost 2 minutes slower than my course best under optimal conditions and health.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The warm-down run for home allowed me and Dave to discuss a number of sites and locales in Hong Kong that I needed to consider visiting.

Congratulations

Shout outs to my friends, Ben and Vince, who both managed to PB last Sunday.

Ben, after just two half marathons, went under 2 hours for the first time with 1:50:18. It took me 6 attempts before I finally cracked 2 hours…

Vince, after just 2 marathons, went under 3 hours for 2:59:32 at the Greater Manchester Marathon.

Excellent achievements, gents!

One last thing…

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Strong legs already on this one!

So, aside from being busy with work and being away on holiday, something else has taken up a chunk of my time.

Expected mid-October, he/she was very clearly running on the spot during the ultrasound scan to be just like their old man!

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This week’s running – 5th to 11th March 2018

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How embarassing! Guess we didn’t get the memo… Photo by Dave Duncan Williams

One big over-reaching week before tapering, again…

11 miles from work with 3 at half marathon pace

With the Coventry Half Marathon the following week, and suffering from tapering for a race that didn’t happen, I opted for a few days of over-reaching in a last minute attempt to squeeze the last few drops of training potential from my body.

Conditions turned out to be pretty damn favourable on Tuesday evening with little to get in the way of my planned miles at pace. Whereas I’d packed tights, shorts were the logical choice for the return to March temperature normality. The positive conditions had me feeling good, especially after a faux taper week and no recovery 5k the evening prior; I was surprised to see my pace sitting firmly in the 7s after an equally unexpected, faster than usual, opening mile.

The planned three miles at circa-half marathon pace (6:20 to 6:25) were daunting, to say the least. It’s a pace I frequently cover at parkrun with little difficulty, but that’s with other people around to work off and follow. Once at pace, I almost instantly regretted my decision and the effort quickly escalated to something that felt incredibly unnatural to me. I began willing my Garmin to signal the end of the first mile, but was pleasantly surprised to see 6:26 for the split. Fully warmed up, I anticipated the second mile would drift to 6:18 as it’s historically done over the past few months, but nope – it sat steady at 6:28 and didn’t want to budge. The effort continued climbing and I felt like I was in the second half of a 10k rather than the second split at half marathon pace! I came so close to ending the pace work after 2 miles, but the monkey on my shoulder screeched away at me to keep going for all 3 miles. I reluctantly obeyed my imaginary simian-friend… In spite of giving it everything I had, steady 6:27 pace was all I could muster whilst trying to keep feelings of nausea down. The relief I felt when my Garmin beeped to signal the end was incredible! I slowed to a jog as I gasped for huge lungfuls of air.

Not entirely satisfied with what I’d been through, I then opted to bulk up the route for home by adding on additional distance for 11 miles in total. Guess I wanted to be sure I was genuinely over-reaching!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles run-commute

What a pleasant evening Wednesday was! As the nights grow shorter, I was able to get away with not wearing my headtorch as it only became dark once I was a few streets away from home. I’ll probably be able to do away with it entirely by April.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

After several weeks of feeling good on runs from the office, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had one that felt off. Whereas the pace was still one of my faster runs after work, the sensation of running straight into headwind for almost the entire duration kept my spirits low; I cursed every time a strong gust slammed into me! Further adding insult to injury, the wind robbed me of body heat to leave me feeling cold and listless.

Be careful what you wish for, Mr Yu…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Traditionally, I like to fit a fast parkrun into the week before a big target race, where I find the effort helps to wake up any slumbering speed inside me. Equally, I was told recently that I should, “make hay when the sun is shining;” I know full well the disappointment of not seizing the moment when it presents itself, only to then ponder when the next occasion would appear.

Jogging over to Cannon Hill, it was near impossible to believe that the event was cancelled due to snow only a week prior. Adding to the incredulity was the amped up temperature for the morning; I was sweating profusely in my long-sleeve top and jogging bottoms once I’d reached the park bandstand.

From the line, I went out hard. I felt alive and allowed myself to get drawn along by the swift Kings Heath Running Club member that remained just a few steps ahead of me. I did raise an eyebrow periodically as I glanced at my Garmin displaying a pace in the 3:30s… The opening km settled on 3:37.

With a climb in the second km, I lost 10 seconds or so but continued to draft behind the Kings Heath runner. My breathing grew more audible and laboured as the effort ratcheted upwards. 3:47 for 2km.

I began crashing at 3km as we became more exposed to the headwind. The freshness was long gone and I was still only halfway at an experimental effort that I came to realise was unsustainable. The rot made itself known with a 3:57 split.

Reaching the triangle for the turnaround, the brief but not insignificant slow-down killed any chance of recovering any speed I had in mind. Exiting the narrow path, it was not long before I was overtaken by several including Andy Young. He gave me some encouragement to latch on to him, but it was to no avail and I could not generate any more from my lactic acid-saturated legs. At least I managed to steady the ship for a 3:58 4th km!

With the final km remaining, I had no appetite left to push any harder because I was certain to go under 19 minutes. Just in case there were any residual hunger pangs left, the final km of the Cannon Hill course is another speed-killer, further dampening any remaining desire to speed up towards that hairpin turn and final climb. 18:49 was my spoil for the morning; conclusion: I’d somehow equalled my fastest 5k in 18 months, set several weeks ago, but with far more effort and less comfort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The morning took an unexpected turn as Dave and I jogged over to the Mac to meet Simon for a coffee.

Whilst chatting away, I clocked a dog jumping into the lake in the middle of Cannon Hill Park for a swim. The mother, with her young son on a bike and another dog on a lead, went over to the water’s edge in a bid to coax the rogue dog back to shore. The next thing Dave and I knew, the kid had ridden straight into the water!

We dashed over to help. The mother was in a blind panic, unsure of who or what to rescue first. I calmed her down and helped pull her crying son out of the water, then the bike, with the dog taking care of itself.

The kid was clearly distraught, crying and coughing up water, but otherwise OK. Whereas the dog on the lead remained with us, the other dog had run off into the park; I tasked Dave to retrieve it, whilst I got the mother and son into the Mac’s first aid room. A fellow runner had spotted the incident and alerted the Mac beforehand, so they were prepared for the kid’s arrival with towels, space blankets and heaters. Less encouraging was the jobsworth site manager, who insisted that the dog on a lead be tied up outside irrespective of the situation unfolding! Returning outside with the dog, Dave returned with the other one that triggered all of this only to release him too soon… We gave chase again – all that was missing was some Benny Hill music! Thankfully, we got hold of him again pretty quickly and tied him up before he could cause any more havoc.

Debriefing with Simon, he couldn’t quite believe our tall tale from that morning. Naturally, many references to Baywatch accompanied our coffees.

15 miles including Great Run Local – The Vale

On paper, I’m not so sure a long run with 5k of target half marathon pace work was necessarily the wisest choice the day after a race effort parkrun, but if that’s what I had to do to over-reach, then that’s what I had to do…

Trotting over to The Vale along the canal towpath, I came to regret my clothing choice very quickly for the warmth and sun came out to play. The positive conditions brought many others out, some no doubt making up for the previous week’s white-out.

Reaching The Vale and re-grouping with Dave, we quickly set about identifying who the big dogs of the morning were likely to be. There was one swift looking student, adorned in a Birmingham University track t-shirt. Two other speedy looking students were likely to vie for the podium, so at least I was likely to have company in my pursuit of pace and a sub-20 finish.

As anticipated, the guy in the Birmingham University track t-shirt hared off whilst I remained with the other two guys. As we gave chase, our positions chopped and changed, though I mainly stayed back to take advantage of their draft assistance. Hitting the hill for the first time, I continued to be patient having learned from a previous outing that the best strategy is to drop down a few gears and remain steady on the climb, taking advantage of the steep descent on the other side. Surprising myself, I was able to keep up on the downhill with the other two guys as we entered lap 2. The ground was bone dry, convincing me to give it even more on the next lap’s descent.

The pace continued to feel about right for a sub-20 finish and translated well into my target half marathon pace. Three became two as one member of the group dropped back. Nearing the hill for the second time, I could see we were gradually chipping away at the distance between us and the lead guy. I asked the other chap if he felt we could reel him in; breathing laboured, he gasped, “No”. Moments later, the lead guy stopped and pulled over off the course! My companion changed his tune and gasped, “Yes” for perfect comedic timing. Checking if the lead guy was OK, his breathing was effortless and he ushered us to continue. I took advantage of the situation and upped my cadence ever so slightly to gain a small lead on my companion, who had suddenly become my opponent. Reaching the brow of the hill on Mason Way, I took a quick glance to my right and I’d gained around 10m. I threw myself down the hill on the other side to create an even larger margin between us, bounding from step to step to minimise any slowdown from my high cadence.

Entering lap 3, I began encountering lapped runners from both the 2km and 5km courses. The gap between me and my pursuer had increased again to some 20m and was likely to grow again as I approached the Mason Way hill for the final time. A strained look formed on my face, with the marshal at the top of the climb offering me some relief and encouragement to keep digging to the end. Another glance to my right and I easily had in excess of 30m to my advantage, though I was still not deterred to hurl myself down the hill one last time.

Reaching the bottom, I was disappointed to learn from the marshal that we had to negotiate the hairpin turn once more. Returning to the lake, my Garmin registered a time in the 17:30s; I was confident I could pick things up to cover one last lap of the lake and still go under 20 minutes with change to spare. Mentally, it was difficult to pass the finish line only to keep going. Thankfully, I had the opportunity of a first place win and a sub-20 finish to keep the pressure applied and coax more out of myself! End in sight, I took one final glance behind me and I had around 50m on the next guy, though I still kicked for the line to finish the job properly.

Hunched over and hands on my knees, I gulped down fresh air. Whereas the previous day’s parkrun provided seemingly little in terms of fitness feedback, checking my Garmin revealed a 19:40 finish and that all my training had come good; my previous best on The Vale course was 20:09, so I absolutely have to take no prisoners at the upcoming Coventry Half Marathon based on this. I cheered the next guy in, who I was surprised to see had come back from fourth place when I last left him. Next back in was Dave, finishing in third place, once again, but pleased with his performance having chosen to race it tactically.

Jogging for home with Dave, we took things nice and slow given what we’d been through on both mornings of the weekend. That and I had another 5.5 miles to cover, feeling quite hungry and tired…

Here’s the Strava data for this Great Run Local.

This week’s running – 20th to 26th November 2017

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Great Run Local at The Vale – photo by Great Run Local

Ye gads! A blog post out on time?!

5k recovery

Bizarrely for a cold Monday evening, there were definitely more runners out and about than usual; normally, it’s just me but I counted no fewer than five of us pounding the pavement in the darkness.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

22 minutes at LT pace (14, 4 off, 8)

Whilst I’m most definitely lacking in out and out speed that I get from VO2max runs, I do feel I’m reclaiming some aerobic strength from these lactate threshold sessions; whilst I wouldn’t go as far as saying I enjoy them, I do find myself relishing in the satisfaction of the hard work.

Oddly, I’m finding I can only maintain the same paces in these sessions as they’re being pushed out by 1 or 2 additional minutes each week. I’d have expected my pace to modestly increase, along with going further at the same time as I become stronger each week. The table below better illustrates this quirk.

17 mins @ LT pace (12, 4 off, 5) 6:30 per mile & 6:17 per mile
18 mins @ LT pace (12, 4 off, 6) 6:30 per mile & 6:17 per mile
20 mins @ LT pace (13, 4 off, 7) 6:31 per mile & 6:17 per mile
22 mins @ LT pace (14, 4 off, 8) 6:31 per mile & 6:17 per mile

There’s only minimal pace throttling going on, especially as I’m gasping for air in the final few hundred metres of each section. Averaging the two paces out, looks like I’m targeting the Brass Monkey Half Marathon at around 6:23 per mile!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Eugh. Running from the city centre on the windiest of days in recent memory was pretty unpleasant, even at recovery pace; with a bag on my back acting as a sail, the gusts sent me zig-zagging as I headed for home.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Despite me having completed this session for the past 18 months or so from the office, my colleagues seem to regularly forget the near-10 mile distance I cover twice a week. Nonetheless, I still do get a kick each time I reveal my plans to see their eyes bulge with awe!

There was an awful lot of debris on the canal towpath from the strong winds the night before. Making matters worse, many of the fallen branches blended in seamlessly with the leaves that littered the ground, with my headtorch not being able to pick them up. I’d have hated to be a cyclist that evening, with more limited room for movement on the narrow towpath.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Whilst it was bleeding cold on Saturday morning, I don’t think anybody could knock the glorious blue skies and dry conditions we also had on our hands.

Looking at the bigger picture, my P&L half marathon plan commanded I cover 13 miles on Sunday, with three of those miles at half marathon pace; things had to be kept reasonable at parkrun to better give Sunday the most chance of success. Marathon pace felt like the best compromise, where it stopped the morning from becoming just another plod, whilst offering some minor stimulation without over-taxing my body.

Marathon pace at circa-6:50 per mile was rather strange to cover, in spite of spending months focusing on it ahead of the Yorkshire Marathon. The effort, whilst perfectly manageable, felt rather alien – guess it doesn’t take long to fall out of favour with a particular pace!

Props to my friend, Iain, who decimated his 5k PB by a few minutes.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Run Local – The Vale

Also known as 13 miles with 3 at half marathon pace!

As this week drew out, I discussed my idea with a few others of running to The Vale at the University of Birmingham, participating in Great Run Local, and then running for home afterwards. Everybody agreed it was a logical idea and favourable to completing 3 miles at pace alone. My only reservations were those damn hills… Previously attending Great Run Local in April, I still had vivid memories how challenging they are over 5k!

Leaving with plenty of time to spare unlike last time, I was able to leisurely jog along the canal towpath to the university. It was a stunning morning and everybody I encountered was in high spirits; dog walkers, cyclists and fellow runners either smiled, waved or wished me a good morning! It was bitterly cold, however, so I donned a pair of tights, a long sleeve top and some gloves. I hoped this ensemble wouldn’t come back to haunt me during the 5k…

Reaching The Vale, I chatted with a few familiar faces, including Afshin from Kings Heath Running Club, James from Tipton Harriers (first place at the first Sandwell Valley parkrun) and, of course, Craig who beat me to first place back in April. Third place was the best I could hope for, also factoring in that Craig had brought his speedy daughter with him. The organisers were thrilled to see so many of us after several weeks of very low attendance (only five runners, three weeks ago).

From the line, those expected to take the lead, took the lead. I found myself in what could be considered the chase pack, along with Craig, Rob Dowse from BRAT and a student from BUAC Cool Runnings. We all traded places almost constantly, helping to keep the effort reasonable, especially on the initial climb. I was particularly conscious not to overstretch myself on the climbs, noting that tactic as the downfall of my previous visit.

Working our way up the hill for the final time as a pack of four, I noticed the chap in third place ahead of us gradually coming back. “Third place is fading. We can reel him in!” Everybody agreed and our collective cadence increased a notch to carry us over the hill that bit faster. Reaching the brow of the climb, we noticed the guy in third place turning his neck to look back at us and we all knew we had him.

I charged down the hill on the other side for joint-third place. I couldn’t hear any footsteps immediately behind me, so I took a moment to encourage the other guy on, in the hope that we could work together to increase the gap behind us. “Keep at it, fella. We’ve got three guys chasing us down!” He was spent and began drifting back from me, leaving me to run around the lake alone. I laid on a kick and I was confident I had third place in the bag, until I came to the final corner and became unsure of whether to cross the bridge or not; I couldn’t see an arrow and there was no marshal, so I concluded it was the next corner for the turning. From behind, I could hear Craig calling out to me and I knew instantly that I’d gone off course. Backtracking, I rejoined Craig as we hit the bridge in unison; I urged him to kick on as I’d ballsed things up to give my lead away. Like the original third place guy, Craig was also spent and had nothing more to give, so I kicked on for the second time after the interruption to finish in third place.

Recovery was very swift and I thanked Craig for his sportsmanship, whilst also chastising him for not taking advantage of my wrong-turn. I’d have not lost any sleep over losing third place and I can tell you now the course is well and truly committed to memory! I had a whale of a time racing and it was probably the most fun I’d had running since the Yorkshire Marathon. I have a similar session in store three weeks’ time and me thinks I’ll pay The Vale another visit!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.