Week 13 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Almost time for a recovery week…
5 mile run-commute
With travel plans and houseguests putting the week into disarray, I kicked things off with a 5 mile run-commute to set things in motion. Timings simply worked out better that I run from Birmingham city centre for home, rather than return home and then head back out the door for 5k. The boosted distance also helped stop the week’s mileage from dropping too low from shuffling planned runs around.
Here’s the Strava data for this run.
14 miles from work
So, last week’s 14 miles after a day at the office wasn’t too bad, thanks to good preparation beforehand. Could lightning strike twice for two good runs? The answer, unfortunately, was no.
The Magor 10k really did a number on my calf muscles for both to remain tight, even with judicious massage over the course of several days. From 11 miles onwards, my legs felt lifeless and the firm ground underfoot only made matters worse. I altered my route slightly to give myself an easier time, diverting off the Bristol Road and back on the canal, rather than proceed on to the undulations of Bournville and Cotteridge.
I did have one strange encounter whilst on the towpath before it forked for the entrance/exit of the Soho Loop; one guy running towards me slowed to ask, “How long is this?” Confused by his question, I also slowed – the question was simply too open-ended and had too many variables! “I need to run 14 miles,” came his follow-up. “Ummm. Well, you’re technically on the Soho Loop now, which is around 2 miles per lap,” I responded, before moving on. I simply could not run like that – not knowing how far I had gone. Even that time I became horrendously lost in Peterborough, I had at least plotted out the route and it was only due to a complex interchange that I lost my bearings. This guy seemed quite happy to just Forest Gump it and keep running, though not wearing a GPS watch, how would he know how far he had gone if he didn’t even know where he was?
Here’s the Strava data for my 14 miles, at least!
Hmmm. Odd one this, where in spite of the 14 miles only 24 hours prior, my legs and lungs had a bit more welly to them than originally thought. Dropping the anchors did nothing and my body instinctively wanted to go faster…
Here’s the Strava data for this run.
16 miles with 8 at marathon pace
This is where training kicks it up a notch for my longest stint of marathon pace outside of a race; probably my most consistent block of marathon pace, too, this season!
Just like a year ago, I created a mini-transition area in my hallway with a change of shoes, tops and some drinks to allow me to come back from my 5k warm-up and head back out with minimal fuss.
Marathon pace on the out towards Solihull required about as much effort as I envisaged; neither easy, nor overly taxing. Exiting the switchback in Solihull, aye caramba! I found myself running straight into a 10mph headwind, losing a few seconds per mile from the increased resistance. I did consider calling it quits at 8 miles, but once I’d reached Brook Lane’s monstrous climb, I had just a mile remaining to spur me on to complete the set; “Beep, damn you, beep,” became my mantra for those closing few hundred metres!
I cooled down by heading over to Cannon Hill, opting to run the parkrun course in reverse to unlock the Darren Hale segment; it was a year ago that he passed away and I could see no better way to commemorate him, albeit at a very sedate pace…
With Cannon Hill cancelled, Dudley became my 20th different parkrun venue!
I seem to suffer from selective hearing when it comes to parkrun courses, because all I seemed to focus on was the opening and closing 800m on a synthetic track. I completely ignored the middle two miles on a real pick and mix of gravel, canal towpaths and woodland trail…
After a brief warm-up on the track with Simon and Nigel, we toed up on the start line for the first of two laps. Expectedly, the start was swift with several big dogs pulling away with an attempt from me to hang on to their coat tails. They continued to pull away as I drifted backwards and another two guys overtook me on the second lap; clearly, I was feeling the effects of the previous day’s marathon pace and the split warm-up of the morning proved inadequate.
Leaving the track, next came some gravel paths before hitting the canal towpath. The lead group splintered to send a few back to me, forming a pack of four. Not feeling fresh at all, I cheekily drafted behind somebody to take some of the edge off, but primarily because I had no clue as to where I was going! The group of four became two as the others slowed and my impromptu pacer and I maintained pace.
A sharp right took us off the towpath and into the woods for a fast off-road downhill section. My pacer made a breakaway, utilising the descent beautifully to press on away from me; unfamiliar with the terrain, I gingerly navigated the rutted ground and tree roots for fear of coming a cropper hours before I was due to travel. I was reminded of Forest of Dean parkrun and its mad as a box of frogs course that subtly changes as one season moves to the next. The advantage was short-lived, thanks to a fairly steep hill that allowed me to claim two scalps – one belonging to a younger runner with a 17:11 course PB to his name! I continued to pull away and dared not look backwards to see how big or small the gap became.
Out of nowhere came a disused railway line, partially covered in overgrown foliage (later discovered to be a nature reserve), requiring nimble feet to overcome. Uncertain of the route, I continued to follow the path before me and continued to see marshals every once in a while for confirmation I hadn’t gone off-course.
I rejoined the canal towpath and could see two runners in the distance making their return to the stadium. Once back on the track and looking ahead, I could only see two runners partway through the first lap of the track; I didn’t think anything of this and assumed there were others ahead that had already finished in circa-17 minutes. Completing my penultimate lap of the track, more and more runners began to steadily spill in, giving me targets to chase down and sidestep. With 200m remaining, I pushed out a kick that was inspired by Mo Farah from the previous night’s 10,000m World Championships, hitting 4:37 mile pace in the final metres.
Here’s the Strava data for this run.
I finished in 19:32 officially, feeling in pretty good nick and I definitely could have gone harder if needed. To my surprise and reaffirming that I hadn’t lost the ability to count, I was given the third place token and debriefed with the fourth and fifth place guys. It was later revealed that a Bournville Harrier had gone wildly off-course at around 2km, adding over 600m extra to his run, allowing me to move up a place. If this sounds familiar, you’d be absolutely correct because the same thing happened a year ago at Arrow Valley parkrun to move me up to third place, too.
Nigel, Simon and I hung around to spectate and cheer fellow runners in over coffee (3 x coffees and 2 x flapjacks came to just £3.10!), all of us agreeing that there was a fantastic community vibe that’s unique to the smaller parkruns (just 176 finishers in this case). The varying terrain proved to be a hit with us – if you fancy an event with a totally unique feel, do give Dudley a visit.
The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II
I wanted to get as much in as possible this week before going away to capitalise on some recovery time. There will still be some running, though mostly relegated to short, easy paced jogs outdoors to factor in the likely 30°C plus temperatures, and two treadmill VO2max sessions to avoid becoming too stale.
Minutes before the start of Dudley parkrun, both Simon and Nigel could tell I was chomping at the bit to get started. I replied with the only response that came to me: “I love running!” Yes, many of us are training for some race or another, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Do it because you want to and without regret.