This week’s running – 25th of September to 1st of October 2017

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Running and sight-seeing? At the same time? Madness!

Week 21 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Some running in that there London town and we’re almost there…

5k easy

Due to the increased warmth of the Robin Hood Half Marathon, my Garmin suggested a lengthier recovery window than a year ago. Heeding its advice, I delayed Tuesday’s run with a sprinkling of marathon pace and rotated in an easy 5k.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

7 miles with 2 at marathon pace

Faster workouts are fraught with danger as one gets closer to race day, so I purposely softened the marathon paced miles by slotting an 800m recovery between them. I wasn’t going to get any fitter and simply needed to not lose touch with how marathon pace should feel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Traditionally, I’ve always set out to run hard at the final parkrun the week before a big race. Along with the VO2max benefits, blowing off some cobwebs from tapering is rarely a bad thing. Little did I know how badly my 5k pace had deteriorated!

Kings Heath Running Club took over the volunteer duties for the morning and kindly provided pacers, including a 19 minute one. Whilst I was initially able to keep up, the pacer drifted away after 2km and my lack of 5k intensity reared its ugly head. My breathing was still perfectly adequate, but I simply could not coerce more from myself to shift into higher gears, eventually finishing in 19:20 without too much discomfort.

Whilst I would have liked one last fast parkrun ahead of race day, I’m totally on-board that my training has seen me trade in speed for (hopefully) out and out endurance…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Oh, and don’t forget the parking charges for Cannon Hill Park kick-in from the 6th of October onwards. £2 for the first four hours or £3 for the entire day.

14 mile London runaround

Lis and I found ourselves in London, making for a fantastic scenery change from the norm to keep me company on my final long-ish run. Despite London being somewhere I’ve visited many times over the years, this was actually only my fourth run in the capital, with two of the prior occasions being the London Marathon!

Starting and ending on Brick Lane, the route I plotted could be considered quite lazy, straddling both sides of the Thames for much of the duration. Run firmly at an easy pace for the first half and then working up to a typical long run pace for the second half, the entire duration was very much a stop-start affair for any photo opportunities that presented themselves (and there were many).

I adore running in cities when it’s quiet because you see a totally different side from what most other people would. Little details became more apparent and I often felt like I’d stumbled upon a well-kept secret.

It was also positive to see so many different types of people out running on a Sunday morning. All genders, sizes, ages, colours and creeds were covered; as a sport, running is incredibly inclusive because it requires so little to get started, and I felt like London had cracked it.

Oh, and for those wondering, the infamous Yu lack of direction sense did strike occasionally (especially around Monument), though I was able to course correct and only added an extra mile on!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

A lengthy marathon training plan can be a double-edged sword. One particular benefit is it affords plenty of time for adaptations to take place with no particular rush, resulting in reduced injury risk. My Garmin 935 now frequently suggests to me that I’m peaking and little more can or should be done. One particular pitfall of such a long schedule is it takes its toll, mentally… I’ll be in serious need of a few weeks off afterwards!

I’m ready to give the race my best shot. Why? Because I’ve made it into the Yorkshire Marathon race pack…

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This week’s running – 18th to 24th of September 2017

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Week 20 of the 22 week marathon schedule. And now I taper!

No taper blues this year!

12 months ago, I found myself feeling incredibly agitated as I began tapering, but not so this time. My body has been craving the chance for some recovery to shift fatigue, so I opted to play this particular week quite casual. Volume was knocked right down to circa-50% of a busy week and intensity was used sparingly, ignoring the half marathon on Sunday.

Crucially, the fatigue is shifting. I need to be careful not to use up too much new-found free time just because it’s available…

3 x 800m at 5k to 10k-ish pace

Sticking firmly to the cause of not overdoing it, I knocked this session down from the original 5 x reps to just 3 x. The wind was howling and due to the short nature of the intervals on the canal towpath, finding a stable and reproducible pace was difficult, hence ending up somewhere between 5k and 10k pace:

  1. 3:05
  2. 2:55
  3. 3:03

I got the desired effect of some faster running, helping with efficiency and to keep me from getting too sluggish as I recover.

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5k easy

I said this week was low volume!

In truth, this run was more of necessity than of yearning – I could have very easily skipped out! I knew I needed to keep my legs turning over, so an easy trot it was.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With the Robin Hood Half Marathon the following day and needing to be somewhere sharpish after parkrun, Lis and I opted to volunteer as marshals for the morning. We were paired with the lovely Ginette, who absolutely adored the concept of parkrun.

Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017 review

For the full write-up of how this marathon dress rehearsal went, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

By the time you read this, I’ll be able to legitimately say race day is just next week… I’m filled with mixed parts excitement and dread; excitement in that I’ll be able to put the 22 weeks of training to the test, and dread because I know whatever result comes out of the other side, it’s going to hurt…

Speaking with Dave Burton recently, he made an interesting observation where, in reality, the goal is not the training, but rather the race itself. Arguably, being consistent and surviving such a long training schedule (over 5 months!) is a major achievement and is not to be overlooked. So many things can go wrong on race day – just look at the elites – and luck plays a bigger part than you would believe across 26.2 miles.

The training is now done and many of us will be setting foot on the biggest running challenge of our lives in a few short weeks, whether it be our first marathon, or a moon-shot time goal. Let’s not forget to congratulate ourselves on what we’ve accomplished so far!

Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017 review

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Marathon pace dress rehearsal at the Robin Hood Half Marathon 2017

For the 2016 race, please click the following:

Darryll Thomas and I took advantage of our golden ticket prizes from last year to once again run this race for free! Read on to find out what happened in Nottingham.

Pre-race

Covering this race at marathon pace in 2016 did wonders for my confidence before going into the Yorkshire Marathon only a fortnight later, so I looked to repeat this strategy in as similar a fashion as possible. This was very much a marathon dress-rehearsal, using all of the clothing and kit that I plan to utilise in the main event. Including the Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes (more on this later).

Arriving in Nottingham, it was immediately apparent that the race organisers had managed to boost numbers. Compared to a year ago, there were now significantly more cars on the road and dramatically more runners in the race village with over an hour before the start time. Everything felt chaotic, especially with the well organised and recent Wolverhampton Half Marathon still in memory.

Due to logistics, Darryll and I got separate warm-ups in. My legs felt incredibly disconnected from a very light week of running; co-ordination was severely lacking, though thankfully began to return as I neared the end of a 1.5 mile jog, with 200m of strides helping significantly.

With more than 20 minutes remaining until the gun, I wondered over to the start pens only to find serenity incredibly lacking. Spectators got in the way of runners trying to make their way into start pens, not helped by the narrow path. A mother with a pushchair repeatedly rammed into the back of my ankles! The organisers really need to cordon off the zone immediately adjacent to the start pens from non-runners, at least until the race has started.

Once in the start pen, I learned my lesson from a year ago and ensured I was positioned far enough ahead of the sub-90 pace group for an unimpeded start and opening 5km. I even spotted Richard Whitehead mingling with the crowd, but no sign of Darryll Thomas. The pen was filling fast and given we’re both short, it made spotting each other difficult. I fretted not as we’d both eventually connect on the course from covering sub-3 hour marathon pace.

Further adding to the mayhem of the morning, there was no countdown or warning before starting – simply, “Go”!

The race

Miles 1 to 3

As anticipated, everybody charged off, including me! The Vaporfly 4% shoes felt sooo good on my feet, I actively had to drop the anchors when I saw I was creeping into 6:20 mile pace territory… I had a decent lead ahead of the sub-90 pace group, which I wanted to maintain all the way to the climb to and from Nottingham Castle; everybody slowed significantly at that point a year ago to make for a massive pinch point so early on in the race.

Storming past me was a chap wearing red cotton jogging bottoms and a thick cotton t-shirt, puffing like a steam train. He continued to pull away and whilst I thought he couldn’t possibly last, I don’t actually recall ever seeing him again for the rest of the race.

Mile 1 came in a touch faster than target at 6:44, but I learned from last year that the Robin Hood course is quite tricky to pace evenly and wasn’t something to get worked up about.

Approaching the castle whilst also climbing, I purposely ran wide of the race line so as not to get caught up in the shenanigans of people slowing. Mile 2 came in a touch slower at 6:54 to factor in the ascent.

Many people will have blown their races during mile 3, almost exclusively made up of climb with several twists and turns to really disrupt pace. Most of the race’s 522 feet of elevation occurs in the first 5k, so it really isn’t a PB chaser’s course. Mile 3 came in for 7:07, which wasn’t too bad considering.

Miles 4 to 6

A very steep descent was most welcome in mile 4. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from everyone! Once again like last year, water was served in clear plastic pouches. Whilst I found them quite novel previously on a cool day, I was less enthused at having to use them whilst the sun was beating down on me. Chewing a bigger hole through the packaging ended up wasting half the water, though allowed for more water to flow out, providing much needed immediate relief overhead.

I’d been consciously looking behind me a number of times to try and catch a glimpse of Darryll, but to no avail. With the knowledge that he’s much better at running downhill than me, I estimated he would likely make contact with me before too long; my gut was correct and he made himself known just as the route flattened out again. It turned out Darryll had become caught up in the sub-90 pace group, though shared how good a job the pacer was doing of communicating the plan and strategy to his runners, unlike last year’s pacer who went off like a bull in a china shop to try and outrun the damage from the early climbs. Mile 4 and its near-freefall resulted in 6:28 to recover some damage.

It boded well that we were able to keep up with marathon pace whilst casually chatting away and with the sun above us. Time was flying by and due to our shoulder-to-shoulder formation, quite a few runners dipped in and out of the slipstream we provided. Mile 5 (correcting for the incorrectly placed marker) clocked in right on target of 6:50.

A long, false-flat in mile 6 was the last of the big climbs for the rest of the course, leaving only minor undulations here and there to contend with. Mile 6, thankfully, occurred on a tree-lined street, affording some welcome shade. 6:58 popped out, becoming our second slowest mile of the race.

Miles 7 to 9

A short but sharp climb up to Wollaton Park paved the way for a nice, gentle descent for the remainder of the mile, again under tree cover. Awkwardly, the set of large gates in the middle of the park were once again locked and required runners divert on to grass temporarily to go around! That being said, I recall mile 7 feeling so easy and effortless, with a split of 6:41 confirming as much.

Mile 8 was completely unmemorable, but must have been quite easy to produce 6:43 on the clock.

Reaching the mile 9 switchback, we both recalled the moment we caught glimpses of each other from a year prior, almost like déjà vu. Speakers blaring out Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” pushed us on to our fastest split of 6:40, before slamming on the brakes to regain control…

Miles 10 to 12

With how warm the morning had become, we counted our lucky stars that an impromptu water station had been created, using the remnants of the mile 3-4 water station. Two volunteers handed out what was left of the water pouches, but due to some bad timing, Darryll and I passed just as they’d run out and reached into the box to replenish stocks… Neither of us were willing to stop mid-stride to grab one and I caught sight of the lady’s horrified face as she realised what had happened. It was going to be a very hot and sweaty final 5k, indeed!

Sometime shortly after last year’s race, both Darryll and I were contacted for our feedback concerning the course. We shared our dislike of the two switchbacks occurring in miles 9 and 10 in quick succession, along with our utter dislike of introducing so much climbing in just the first 5k of the race. Well, the organisers sort of listened to us and sort of didn’t. The switchback in mile 9 and the early climbing obviously remained, but they did re-route mile 10 to eradicate the second switchback. Unfortunately, the adage of, “give with one hand, take away with the other” held true, for the replacement featured several jarring undulations instead… Comparing the two splits side by side, the 2016 switchback version was a good 12 seconds faster (6:40) compared to the 2017 non-switchback version (6:52). Be careful what you wish for, folks!

Mile 11 was unmemorable and sat steady at 6:48.

We found ourselves in a small group that had remained consistent for the last couple of miles. Nearing mile 12, I told people to push on as it was almost completely flat from that point to the finish. It turned out all of us were either treating the half marathon as a marathon pace training run, or were in the marathon and wanted to sit steady – a nice bit of camaraderie to wrap up the race. Mile 12 clocked in with 6:46.

Mile 13 and a bit

Returning to base, we continued to sit steady, though I could sense Darryll was beginning to falter by falling behind by just a few steps. Turning right for the start pen area, I slowed a touch to allow him to reconnect with the group, but he opted to hang back, citing an overwhelming sensation to throw up as what was slowing him down. I continued on with Jason, one of the guys from the group covering the race at pace ahead of the Chester Marathon.

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Who wears short shorts? I wear short shorts! Photo by Lis Yu

We saw Lis on photo duty. I think I look even happier than a year ago!

I’d somehow forgotten that the final 200m or so took place on grass, so I was thankful a sprint was not needed, especially in the tall off the ground Vaporfly 4% shoes…

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I knew I would be close to last year’s finish time. Turns out I was officially just one second faster with 89:21!

Jason and I shook hands as I waited for Darryll to come back in. We collected our goodie bag spoils and loitered with intent, hoping that we would get lucky again with this year’s golden ticket promotion for free entry into next year’s race, but no joy.

Recovery-wise, my Garmin quoted 67 hours, whilst Strava concluded with a 300 point suffer score – last year, under much cooler conditions and with nobody to gas to, only came to 189 points!

I’m incredibly pleased with how comfortable and casual marathon pace felt, giving me more confidence that having a crack at a sub-3 hour marathon in Yorkshire won’t be a fool’s errand. With a thorough taper and carbohydrate loaded, I’m optimistic that it can happen, albeit with the finest of margins.

This week’s running – 4th to 10th of September 2017

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So, so, so tired…

Week 19 of the 22 week marathon plan. All long runs completed and now we taper to ditch this fatigue that’s been plaguing me…

5k recovery with Lis

I really appreciated covering this 5k with Lis as it prevented me from pushing over from recovery pace to easy pace. Normally, it wouldn’t matter so much, but I’m carrying so much fatigue at the moment; I just needed to survive one more week and then I can embrace the taper with open arms!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 x 1.2km at 10k pace

Rather than suffer through another storm like the previous week, I opted to delay this session by one day for slightly more favourable conditions. I say “slightly more favourable”; as I turned right at Gas Street Basin, I was met with a face full of 13mph headwind…

Not helping the adverse conditions was my Garmin 935 behaving differently than expected. Historically, my Garmins have over-ruled any auto lap behaviour when intervals are in action. In other words, in spite of having 1km auto laps enabled, all of my former Garmins have beeped at 1.2km intervals, which just makes more sense. I was caught off-guard when it beeped at 1km; thinking that I’d finished, I paused for the recovery, but noticed the clock was still ticking and I had another 200m to cover! This happened a second time before I figured out I had to temporarily disable auto laps, which makes no sense at all – hopefully Garmin will fix it in a later update.

Anywho, splits here:

  1. 4:39
  2. 4:44
  3. 4:34
  4. 4:36

The original session called for 5 x 1.2km, but given I was feeling quite nauseous after the fourth, I opted to call it quits and sidestep delaying recovery.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

Losing a day from the postponed session, I had no choice but to cover this 10 mile run at somewhere between recovery and easy pace. Even if my mind was willing (which it wasn’t), my legs did not want to go much faster anyway!

I welcomed the easy pace for 90 minutes, allowing my mind to daydream. Without prompting, I found myself running through how race day at the Yorkshire Marathon would look like if everything went perfectly. I visualised crossing the line with the clock on 2:59:XX and then high-fiving everybody in the vicinity to celebrate. Without realising it, the pace of my run actually escalated by a good chunk when I was spacing out! I’ve heard of many sports psychologists training the elites with similar visualisation techniques; after experiencing a few minutes of it myself, I’m coming around to thinking there’s some value to practicing some visualisation during my taper.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Caldicot parkrun

Sadly, it looks like I’ll probably never run at Caldicot parkrun. Only having started recently, and having missed a couple of opportunities already due to this and that, the event is now cancelled indefinitely. Taking place on a long, flat stretch of what appears to be a service road, a recent incident involving some cars that somehow found themselves on the course has caused the suspension. Refusing to listen to marshals’ instructions to either turnaround or pause temporarily, the drivers ploughed through the live course and narrowly missed a few runners that had to dive onto verges or into bushes!

Part of me is confused that this wasn’t picked up in the risk assessments and course planning stages. I’m well aware of the work involved in setting up a new event, so it’s a real shame to see one fall by the wayside so soon after starting. I’ve no doubt the course location would not have been allowed if cars were ever identified as a risk.

With our first choice event out of commission and me in need of sleep and a lie-in, Lis and I opted not to attend any parkrun event; we couldn’t remember the last time I skipped parkrun outright!

22 miles – to Little Mill and back

With how tired I’ve felt, my enthusiasm for this second 22 mile run of the schedule waned. There was no appetite or excitement; only the knowledge of the sharp taper coming into action shortly helped perk me up somewhat.

The opening half was slow by necessity if I was to complete the entirety of 22 miles and still be standing! Fatigue was in the driving seat and would not allow me to go any faster; I wasn’t complaining, as the opening miles felt almost too easy and allowed me to coast through.

Warmed up by halfway, I consciously pushed the pace upwards and was pleased to see it develop. Unhelpfully, my right IT band decided to tighten up at around 14 miles, followed by my glutes for much of the remaining distance.

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Final long run in the bag! Photo by Lis Yu

Whilst the first half was a cruise, the closing miles were very much of attrition. Time slowed and my bag of coping mechanisms was called upon, such as counting to 100 and chopping down goals to more manageable chunks. Mile 22 was an anxious one. I reworked my route to avoid the monstrous St Andrew’s Walk Climb segment on Strava; the unfamiliarity caused time to slow even more!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon 2017

Well, that’s it now for the long runs and I will not run any further than 13.1 miles until race day. I had a goal of hitting at least 100 miles spread across my five longest runs. So, how did I do?

  • 22 miles
  • 22 miles
  • 20 miles
  • 20 miles
  • 19 miles

I make that 103 miles, so mission accomplished.

In a bid to bring some much-needed instant gratification to my life, I’m going to rotate weeks one and two of my three week taper. Week one is a loose 25 – 30% mileage reduction, whereas week two is circa 50%. Flip the two around and I can enjoy a much lighter week in the run up to Robin Hood Half Marathon (marathon pace). Feeling as tired as I am, believe you me when I say I won’t be tempted to do any more than is necessary!

This week’s running – 4th to 10th of September 2017

maranoia

Who the hell sneezed?!

Week 18 of the 22 week marathon plan. Penultimate long run by marathon standards!

5k recovery

Incredibly, the previous day’s half marathon at marathon pace barely even touched the sides. I felt right as rain on this recovery run with no stiffness or soreness, so all very positive!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 x 1km at 10k pace

Somebody upstairs didn’t like me. The minute I stepped outside, it began drizzling. As my warm-up progressed, so too did the rain from above; before I’d even completed 5k, I was soaked to the core! 400m from home, the rain stopped…

Having heard all the hooha about runners and cyclists being attacked on the canal towpaths and inside parks, I was particularly nervous as I approached one bridge during the peak of the evening’s downpour. Taking shelter were three hooded characters, also enjoying a few tinnies and smokes. I was in the middle of a rep, so going pretty fast; they’d clocked me approaching and to my surprise, moved well aside to give me space and also began cheering me on! Hearing “Yer smashin’ it, kid,” I was too dumbfounded and too oxygen deprived to respond with anything but a thumbs-up and a “thanks”. Whilst we need to be careful out there, I think we’ll also agree that the adage of not judging books by their covers also holds true.

The reps came out pretty well, what with water physically sloshing about in my shoes and tunnel interference affecting the second effort.

  1. 3:53
  2. 4:11
  3. 3:51
  4. 3:48
  5. 3:50

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

The arch of my left foot tightened up unexpectedly on this slow run-commute. Going through the motions, I realised that I neglected to adjust my lacing after returning from Crete. I had originally loosened the support section around my mid-foot to factor in swelling from the warm Greek climes, but without tightening it back up again once returning home, I’ve basically been running in shoes that have basically had little to no support!

Some stretching, massage and lacing corrections seem to have done the trick and all is right with the world and my foot once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

I originally intended for this to be 12 miles, but opted to dial it back a notch due to feeling pretty lethargic all day at the office. I doubted 2 miles would make much of a difference to the medium-long run in the grand scheme of things, so being recovered enough to take on the remainder of the week’s runs was the priority.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Despite taking delivery of my Nike Vaporfly 4% several weeks ago, I’d not actually taken a single step outdoors in them. I fully intend to wear them at the Yorkshire Marathon, but also need to break them in; the Robin Hood Half Marathon will also be covered in them, but 13.1 miles cold is also too risky, so Cannon Hill parkrun became their debut.

I was warned beforehand that they have a tendency to encourage the wearer to speed up, regardless of whether the wearer has the cardiovascular credentials to back up the pace… With the following splits, I think we can agree that I didn’t heed said warning!

  1. 3:39
  2. 3:49
  3. 3:58
  4. 3:57
  5. 3:46

Had I have held back by perhaps another 10 seconds in the opening km, I’m fairly confident I could have probably covered the third and fourth km in similar 3:49s for a rough 18:50 finish. I eventually ended up with 19:09, which is my second fastest 5k of the year. I know where my attention needs to return to once I’m recovered post-marathon…

The propulsive sensation from the Vaporfly 4% have to be experienced to be believed. Sadly, this run proved pretty inconclusive, other than confirming to me that they’re not suited to tight twists and turns at 5k pace; the additional midsole height makes cornering in them difficult when I’m at my own limit of pace control. I’m sure some will use them as a race shoe across all distances and paces, but for me, I’ll stick to something much lower to the ground for 5k and 10k distances.

Here’s the Strava data or this run.

20 miles – to Edgbaston Reservoir and back

How refreshing it was to cover 20 miles in overcast and cool conditions! If only the wind would sod off, too!

I overdid it on the coffee this morning, starting this run feeling a wee bit jittery from a bit too much caffeine. With the cool temperatures, I was able to delay taking any liquids on (Coca-Cola) until after 10 miles and didn’t require my caffeinated gel. Phew!

There were many, many runners out (only recognised Liz Dexter and her gang) and about and I barely went a few hundred metres between encountering somebody else pounding the pavement or towpath. I even witnessed my female equivalent, wearing pretty much the exact same getup and covering a similar distance and pace as me, judging from the two occasions we crossed paths from opposing directions.

Nearing home, I felt pretty decent still and considered extending the distance to 21 miles. I saw sense and stuck to the script, ending the run at 20 miles and feeling comfortable without much required recovery.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

“Maranoia” is a very real condition and I think many of you training for an autumn race will be going through similar feelings. Everything’s seemingly out to get us! Problem is, the truth actually isn’t too far from this. Peak fatigue will be landing right about now, with injury and illness becoming very real prospects. Now is the time to be doing just enough to be ready, and not more; arriving at the start line slightly underdone is better than arriving overcooked or not arriving at all. Also, whilst I haven’t quite hit Howard Hughes levels of hygiene OCD, I am finding myself washing my hands far more thoroughly and frequently than normal – prevention is better than cure, after all!

This week’s running – 28th of August to 3rd of September 2017

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Me and Dave at the Wolverhampton Half Marathon 2017 – photo by Lis Yu

Week 17 of the 22 week plan. Things didn’t quite go according to plan, but lead up to the Wolverhampton Half Marathon, anyway.

5k recovery with Lis

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

The previous day’s 22 miles left me in bits and suffering from DOMS, along with a creaky left hip. Physically, I could not have covered this recovery run much faster.

Lis wanted to get 6 or so miles in as her final long run ahead of her 10k debut at Wolverhampton, so I ended up driving to the outskirts of Cannon Hill Park to join her partway. Expectedly for a sunny bank holiday Monday, the place was heaving with visitors; of course, many of the numbers were made of runners in training for the spate of local races due to hit shortly.

It was not a particularly good run for either of us. My range of motion was limited and Lis went around a minute per mile too fast in the first half of her run, making for a rather unpleasant second half that had to be cut short. The humidity was also pretty jacked up to further rub salt into wounds.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile run-commute

This was actually closer to 5 miles, but had to be rounded down to due to a brief stop at the Bullring.

My legs still felt battered and the arch of my left foot also cramped up to confirm just how taxed I was from the 22 miles. At least the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees for a distinct chill in the air, so clearly the warm weather acclimation was still inside me – it just needs to stick around until race day!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

Sadly, a planned session of speed the day before this run did not materialise. I was carrying a bit of fatigue that made me feel lethargic all day in the office, and the possibility of pushing myself over the edge suddenly became very real. Opting that less is more, I sacked the session off, rested for a day, and skipped ahead to this here 10 miler.

Autumn had truly arrived with much cooler conditions and even the beginning of leaves changing colour or even starting to fall on to the towpath.

The intention was simply to cover 10 miles at an easy pace (circa-70% of maximum heart rate) with the odd set of strides thrown in every 0.5 miles. There were dozens of runners and cyclists out and about; I give it about 6 weeks before most disappear and only those desperate or dedicated enough remain with lights and headtorches accompanying their workouts.

There was a touch of anxiety towards the end of this run as I neared my normal peel-off point by Lifford Lane. Reportedly, a group of youths had recently been loitering on the towpath, attempting to push passers-by in. Thankfully, they were nowhere to be seen and there were probably too many people about for them to have tried anything, anyway. Sadly, a similar theme was said to emerge at Cannon Hill Park, where a masked group attempted to wrest a cyclist from their bike. I have been running in Birmingham unphased for a good number of years and often believed the worst that could happen was some heckling; now I’m not so sure…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With the Wolverhampton Half Marathon the following day, I opted to volunteer as a marshal in a bid to stay fresh and to give my planned pace session every chance of success.

Unexpectedly, we were told that the emergency 3-lap course was to be used, due to the disruption from the neighbouring cricket event. Cue ensuing chaos from many of the marshals and runners being unfamiliar with the course; stood by the bridge, I gave as much notice as possible to the latecomers to ease some of the strain.

Cannon Hill is regularly the second largest event in the UK, so converting to the 3-lap course is never going to be easy. The fastest on lap-3 will be overtaking those on lap-2, who in turn will be overtaking those on lap-1. Congestion will be severe and times won’t be fast – the moaners I encountered on Saturday will need to deal with it! Having said that, plenty of people seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves and I’ve never before received so many high-fives in all the times I’ve marshalled.

Simon (who was barcode scanning) and I noticed a few pay and display machines had been installed in the main carpark, and reportedly, in the Russell Road carpark, too. At a rate of £2 for up to 4 hours and £3 all day, so ends an era of free parking at Cannon Hill Park and I wonder what the outcome will look like. However, I do believe the Holders Lane carpark will remain free of charge, though I’m not sure for how long. I do think there needs to be a lower tier of £1 for 2 hours, which would cover most people attending parkrun, or for charging to commence only during peak hours, like at Brueton Park.

Will runner numbers drop at Cannon Hill? Probably. For those where attendance is now habitually ingrained, they will continue to attend and will either suck up the cost, car-share, or will simply run to and from the park like I do to get a warm-up and warm-down in. Those who aren’t particularly precious or loyal to Cannon Hill will most likely defect to another nearby event where parking is free – another 10 minutes of driving in a car is nothing. It’s those who are just beginning to run at Cannon Hill who I think will be put-off, which is a shame. Equally, I dread what effect the charges will have on volunteer numbers. It’s hard enough convincing people to come forward, let alone also charging them £2 to not run… There absolutely needs to be some sort of exemption for the last point, which I’m aware is in practice and works well at other events where parking charges are the norm.

Wolverhampton Half Marathon 2017 review

For the full write-up, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Just five weeks to go. After a rocky fortnight or so dealing with my nasal infection, I am now hopefully recovered and ready to hit the remaining two weeks of loaded training before the taper begins. I have such beauties as a 20 mile and a 22 mile run still to be covered, along with a smattering of VO2max and threshold work. Oh, and the medium-long mid-week runs continue…

Yesterday’s Wolverhampton Half Marathon as a pace workout went perfectly to plan. The Robin Hood Half Marathon in three weeks will, hopefully, go just as well for another powerful confidence and training boost. Throw in the power of recovery, carbo-loading, motivation and a shared goal of an official sub-3 pace group, and maybe, just maybe, I can pull this off…

Wolverhampton Half Marathon 2017 review

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A glass medal from the Wolverhampton Marathon, Half Marathon and 10k

As is now customary in my marathon plans, Wolverhampton became the lucky venue to serve as a glorified pace session in the build-up to the big race.

Pre-race

After last year’s dreadful Kenilworth Half Marathon experience, marred by illness, I had little desire to return there. I hasten to add the race was well organised, but I simply wasn’t able to capitalise on it due to being under the weather. The alternative – the Wolverhampton Half Marathon – became Plan A, backed also by Lis’ debut in the 10k race.

Rather than put myself through unnecessary suffering and potentially delay recovery again, I opted for caution and limited my goal to just marathon pace, or a touch faster, so as not to pile on too much stress in the remaining crucial weeks ahead of race day. A short taper beforehand gave me a fighting chance of success. Dave Burton was in tow for similar reasons, whereas Darryll Thomas, and Shaun Hemmings who we bumped into, were in the pursuit of some new PBs over 13.1 miles.

With a 09:15 start (Lis’ 10k kicked off at 09:40), we made sure we were firmly on site in West Park with an hour to spare to take care of any necessary pre-race admin. For the size of the event, the organisers actually did a damn fine job; toilets were plentiful and they even had urinals to ease some of the congestion. Warming up in the park was also a novelty, where so often it’s incredibly difficult to find space immediately next to the race village (I’m looking at you, Bristol).

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We’re about halfway through the photo on the left – photo by Express & Star

Once in the start pen, it was all very civilised with plenty of space and no sense of panic. The majority of participants were there for the half marathon, which we later discussed would make for a rather lonely race for the marathoners going on to do their second laps.

The race

With such a small field, getting away from the start line was smooth and unimpeded. I dialled into my marathon pace target of 6:50 almost immediately, with the effort feeling incredibly easy in light of the blowy conditions we runners found ourselves in. Groups of runners quickly formed and whilst I instinctively wanted to speed up to join them for the wind break they offered, another part of me reasoned that I needed to stick to plan for the pace practice, and organically attaching or detaching from groups was the best approach. Mile 1 beeped in for 6:49 to be right on target; rather than bore you all, I’ll only make reference to pace or mile splits when they dramatically deviated from the norm.

In the distance, I could see a rather large group had formed with local BRAT runner, Mark Ince, leading the way. He looked far too relaxed and steady to be racing, so I reasoned he must’ve been down for the marathon. Mild spoiler: he ran the marathon as a long training run and won it in 2:53!

I was warned of the many twists and turns through Wolverhampton suburbia. I was readily reminded of the Sneyd Xmas Pudding run and I could only imagine how soul destroying such sections of the route will have been for those caught in no-man’s land in the marathon. Mile 2 benefitted from a nice downhill stretch for the fastest split of 6:43 for the morning.

For miles 3 and 4, there were few around me to run with. I bought into the idea early on that if I couldn’t handle marathon pace for long stretches alone, then what chance would I have come race day? Thankfully, marathon pace continued to feel incredibly relaxed, and with the strong gusts of wind factored in, confidence was high. Dave being his usual meticulous-self had studied the course map in great detail, highlighting a few novel sights to us beforehand. Such novel sections of the route included the local sewage refinery (which we passed no fewer than three times) and some random detour through a school.

Looking at the time, Lis was due to start her 10k race debut. The last couple of miles of both the half marathon and 10k course converged and we roughly figured we would all come into contact in the closing stages.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was caught off-guard shortly after mile 5 when we entered what appeared to be a long and narrow park that ran adjacent to the canal. The path narrowed and I latched on to a runner ahead for a break in his slipstream. His breathing was incredibly heavy at not even halfway, so I prayed for him that he was only running the half marathon. Mile 5 slowed just a smidge to 6:52.

Continuing the theme of unexpected course elements, I was directed to make a sharp right on to an unpaved off-road section of the route where it was largely a case of running single-file, or running on the grass to overtake… Whilst I was already in a bemused state, I then found myself being paced by a cyclist and one of the official race motorbikes! To their credit, they maintained a very steady pace ahead of me for much of this section and took themselves off the course when they identified they could no longer overtake ahead and would only slow me down. The crazy as a box of frogs mile 6 clocked in for 6:47.

Leaving this section, I merged with a group of runners that managed to creep away from me earlier on in the race. I most definitely did not speed up to reach them, so they definitely slowed. To further disrupt their pace, an up-down-up-down set of underpasses appeared, leaving only me and one other still on it. Marathon pace continued to feel comfortable, especially in refreshingly cool conditions.

My memory gets a little hazy at this point for miles 8 and 9. Mile 8, in spite of featuring liberal doses of twists and turns through housing estates and a sharpish climb, still managed to produce a 6:45 for the third fastest split of the morning.

In spite of what the elevation graphs depict, mile 10 was not nearly as steep as one would imagine. Having said that, it proved no less challenging due to where it appeared on the course. I accepted the 6:58 to 7:00 pace that appeared on my Garmin and reasoned the descent on the other side would get me back on track for a 6:49 average.

Somewhere between miles 10 and 11, the 10k route merged with the half marathon and a stream of additional runners came into view. Psychologically, this was quite welcome after long stretches of running alone as it introduced bite-size chunks of progress. I kept a look out for Lis in the distance and finally spotted her just after mile 11, running alongside what looked like the Grinch that stole Christmas… Giving her a cheer and some encouragement to stay strong for another 2 miles, she shared that she’d already seen Darryll go past minutes earlier, so I knew he was on to something big. I alerted her to Dave’s incoming presence that was likely to be no more than a minute or two away. Doing some quick mental arithmetic, I was travelling at almost twice Lis’ speed, and with 2 miles remaining, I would have plenty of time to finish and get back into the crowd to see her.

The number of 10k runners swelled with some running on the pavement and others on the road. Just in front of me, a very vocal runner that cheered on many of the 10k participants came to a stop when orange wedges and sweets were being offered by a family. Unsure of whether he was in the 26.2 or 13.1 mile race, he re-joined the course just behind me and continued his cheers. “You’re making this look far too easy,” I joked with him. “I’ve got another lap to go! Gotta keep my spirits up,” was his jovial response. Advising that I should have been “kicking on”, I revealed that I was out on a marathon pace training run. “Ahh! Well, in that case, you’re looking like you’re bang on pace. Keep it up!” I thanked him for his encouragement and wished him well – he wasn’t even at halfway yet…

Straddling the outskirts of West Park, I could see and hear the commotion of the finish line. Frustratingly, the course took runners away from the park momentarily to bulk out the distance to make up 26.2, 13.1 or 6.2 miles. Darryll and I researched typical recorded distances beforehand and we were both confident the race would measure very precisely with very little to no excess. With so few other runners around me, I had run a very clean race line and was upbeat that I wouldn’t have to put in a mad sprint to make it back in less than 90 minutes.

On the approach to re-enter the park, a trio of 10k runners got to the narrow gate just ahead of me. “Sorry! Coming through,” I had to holler to avoid clattering into them. On the grass finish straight, I knew I would finish on target with change. I got a mention over the PA system and gave a few thumbs up, feeling very much like a fraud. Mission accomplished!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race that wasn’t a race.

89:11 in 22nd place were my spoils to leave me pleased with the morning’s efforts.

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Darryll (84:23; PB), Dave (1:33:23), Lis (1:12:42; debut), Andy (89:11)

I collected all the finisher’s paraphernalia on offer and made a beeline for a gap along the finish to catch Lis coming back in. Unsure of whether Dave had finished already, or not, I was just able to catch him finishing in 1:33:23. He and Darryll (84:23 for a PB) soon joined me to cheer Lis finishing her first 10k race (1:12:42). Bumping into Shaun as we were leaving, we learned he had also PBd with 81:48 to finish 6th overall.

In all, I was very satisfied with the event and organisation. It did exactly what I needed of a build-up race in that it wasn’t too expensive, there were more than sufficient water stations and facilities, and the distance was damn near perfect. Whilst Wolverhampton can’t compete with the raft of other city races on offer in the autumn, I’m not sure it necessarily needs to because it does what it does incredibly well.