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


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


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.