This week’s running – 30th of July to 5th of August 2017

dudley_parkrun

The week ended with my first visit to Dudley parkrun

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!

5k recovery

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…

Here’s the Strava data for the warm-up, 10 miles at pace, and warm-down.

Dudley parkrun

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.

This week’s running – 24th to 29th of July 2017

andy_yu_wales

Home away from home

Week 12 of the 22 week marathon schedule. After never having raced on a Saturday until recently, along came another Saturday race in quick succession!

5k recovery

In spite of running my furthest since my last marathon on the day prior, my legs did not feel shabby at all whilst out on this recovery run.

I even spotted Graham Lawrence of Cannon Hill parkrun fame to make for a novel change on the otherwise monotonous route.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles from work

A year ago, I took the day off from work to complete this run, such was my belief that it would not do me any favours covering it after a day at the office. No such opportunity this year, so I did whatever I could to prevent it being a disaster. This included eating a giant pizza the night before, along with a hearty lunch several hours before, topped off with the odd cookie throughout. I did not forget to pack my water bottle, either, so well prepared was I.

And do you know what? It was a success without any trauma!

To bulk up the distance, I covered two laps of the Soho Loop and three laps of the lake at The Vale before returning to my normal route to just tip me over into 14 miles. 37 miles in just three days was not bad going!

I have wondered why the P&D plan decides to build runners up to a mid-week medium-long run of such a distance and then returns to normal distances of 9 to 12 miles. Perhaps it’s a stepping stone to help better prepare runners to take on the 20+ mile runs yet to come?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Carrying more stuff home than usual, I was thankful the temperature was also a few notches lower than of late to at least make this run less taxing.

Effort was kept incredibly low to best ensure I arrived at the Magor 10k in reasonable shape to make the most of the flat and fast race.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5k recovery with strides

Running is an incredibly cheap hobby, if you want it to be. To run short distances, you only really need basic kit and it doesn’t even have to be running specific. As we develop, we begin amassing more kit; some necessary, and some less so. One such case in point is shoes – I have 7 pairs of running specific shoes on the go, and two pairs boxed and waiting to be rotated in when the outgoing pairs are beyond their useful lives. This recovery run played host to just that, where I broke out my new pair of Adidas Adios Boost 3s to replace a knackered pair of Adios Boost 2s.

A 5k recovery run with some strides thrown in was the perfect test to break-in the new pair of Adios Boost 3s. The outgoing pair of Adios Boost 2s were a nightmare from day 1, requiring excessive levels of break-in, by which time a third of the shoe’s lifespan had already been used up. The Adios Boost 3s are comfortable straight out of the box and flew when they were subjected to a few bursts of strides.

Specifically, these will be used as tempo shoes, so things like marathon pace runs, casual parkruns, speed work, and so on. Basically, they’re a workhorse shoe to take the stress away from my race-specific shoes, where they’re even more fragile due to being at the cutting edge of performance. There’s a psychological benefit to having shoes you only break out for big performances, and I wish to keep that trick in my arsenal.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Magor 10k 2017 review

For the full report, please click here.

10 miles – to Usk and back

With a Saturday race, Sunday presented the option of some top up mileage to round the week off and get it over 40 miles. That was the dream, but the reality was a bit trickier…

On the surface, the Magor 10k seemed to have taken a bit more out of me than originally thought because the first half of the 10 miles did not feel right at all. Even at a modest pace, the effort felt totally off and I was left sweating a lot more than anticipated. I bided my time and began chipping away progressively at each mile by a couple of seconds; giving my brain something achievable to focus on got me to halfway, where everything was right with the world again and I’d perked up.

Negative splits and running progressively. It’s the future!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Using the race as an analogy, I feel like I’m entering that stage where significant progress has been made, but now no-man’s land beckons; too far from the beginning where feeling fresh is now just a distant memory, and still too far from the finish to be able to properly assess what the likely outcome will be.

Reviewing last year’s blog entries reveals similar themes of ebbing and flowing; some weeks felt like a real struggle and other weeks carried great momentum. Without becoming too romantic about it all, the marathon and the training that comes before it are both great literal journeys; there’s no such thing as an easy marathon, and nor is the training supposed to be easy, otherwise the achievement would not be celebrated quite as much as it is, whether you’re a beginner, improver or elite-level.

Things will be just fine. Trust me. I work in marketing!

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of July 2017

bon_jovi_livin_on_a_prayer

Can you ever not think of Bon Jovi when referring to being halfway?

Week 11 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Yep. Scarily, I’m halfway there…

5k recovery

Surprisingly, the lack of anything from the previous day’s 19 miles rolled over into this particular week. My legs continued to feel resilient and energy levels remained reasonably high, though I was conscious to keep the effort incredibly easy, with an average pace of 9:50 per mile at cira-60% of maximum heart rate.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Garmin 935 thoughts

garmin_935

It’s actually smaller on my wrist than the image implies…

After a little over a week with the Garmin 935, I thought I’d share a few musings about it.

GPS distance accuracy is in line with what my former Fenix 3 produced, but with far cleaner results in previous fringe situations and locations, such as Brindley Place and its artificial canyons. As a result, even the stable lap pace measurement has benefitted by becoming even more reliable and with less fluctuation.

Comfort-wise, it’s like night and day comparing it to the Fenix 3. At almost half the weight, the overall design is much sleeker and crucially offers a better fit, even on my slender wrists. This is critical for the next major feature to work…

Up until taking delivery of the 935, my only experience with optical heart rate monitoring was via Fitbit’s Charge HR. That Fitbit experience was and still remains poor, with my heart rate, and therefore resting heart rate, regularly being over or under-estimated. Community feedback on Garmin’s efforts has also been a mixed bag, and after my two efforts at Cannon Hill parkrun being under-reported, I feared the worst. Some fine-tuning of the position on my arm (further away from my wrist) and going one notch tighter on the strap, I need not have worried because the tracking was pretty much spot on, and aside from parkrun, efforts tracked well across a variety of paces.

All in all, I’m thrilled with it. True, it doesn’t do much dramatically different to what I had before via similar or alternative means (optical versus chest strap heart rate; on-board training load versus Strava’s Fitness & Freshness algorithm), but what it does do has been further refined. Everything feels more polished than the Fenix 3, such is the two years of learnings Garmin has been able to apply to the 935 and Fenix 5 line.

12 miles from work

After the previous week’s dreadful 11 miles from the office, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to tack on another mile… I switched this run up with the originally planned 10 miles with 6 at marathon pace, due to cooler conditions later in the week being more conducive to work at effort.

The first half confirmed my predictions that I would feel dreadful, with nothing falling into place at all. My stride felt heavy with no snap and my energy levels flagged; I couldn’t understand how this could be, especially as I had purposely gone out of my way to ensure I had enough calories on-board.

Thankfully, I perked up around halfway to at least make the second half tolerable. The planned 14 miles after work is going to be miserable, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Whilst the temperature dropped some, the humidity was jacked right up to make this an incredibly unpleasant experience, even at an easy pace. I could tell within minutes of starting that the air was muggy as sweat clinged to my skin, not doing what it should have.

Like Monday, I wanted to keep this effort easy, slowing to a 10:15 per mile average, also keeping my heart rate in check at circa-60% of maximum.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 6 at marathon pace

Wind. My natural nemesis. I knew I was in for a rough ride when I saw the water in the canal being blown along and leaves of trees overhead being whipped up.

I had to adjust the beginning of the route slightly, starting from the Jewellery Quarter rather than the office, to give me enough time on the canal towpath whilst bypassing Brindley Place early enough for it not to be a distraction.

Jumping into marathon pace after only 2 miles of warm-up and straight into headwind was a big ask, and one that failed somewhat. My opening split at pace was a way off the mark 7:12, when I needed it to be 6:50 or faster. Split 2 was getting closer at 6:58, but it wasn’t until split 3 where I’d cracked it with 6:46, with all remaining coming in at 6:47 to 6:42.

In spite of running into the wind, my heart rate seemed quite well-behaved, staying at around 80% of maximum; I’m reasonably confident that on a calmer day, I’d have been closer to 75%, for a general downtick in required effort for marathon pace. The shoes I wore didn’t help (Pegasus 34), feeling more like boats on my feet rather than tempo workout tools.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With a big run instore for Sunday, I opted to keep this effort dialled down. I found myself running with Ed Barlow, something I hadn’t done since 2014 when I was busting a gut just to stay with him at under 20 minutes. On this occasion, we were jovially catching up whilst maintaining that same 2014 pace!

I commented above that the 935 failed to effectively track my heart rate during this 5k effort at around threshold pace. What I suspect happened was a combination of the 935 not getting a good heart rate lock as the run started (it’s not like I can stall things) and the explosive start causing my body to divert blood flow to the areas that needed it most – if there’s not enough blood to track, a lower than expected heart rate is reported, which is exactly what I found happening. For parkrun, this is not an issue where I can always revert to the chest strap; 5k isn’t far enough for the strap to irritate, albeit the vigorous motion of my upper body can still cause it to slip.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

20 miles with Darryll

andy_and_darryll_20_miles

20 miles done!

“Do the same as you’ve always done. Always get what you’ve always got.” Whilst this year’s marathon training plan is largely the same as last year’s, I’ve been conscious to adapt and exploit a few tweaks and modifications in the quest for marginal gains that hopefully add up to over 3 minutes’ worth of improvements.

One such improvement has been to train more frequently with others, namely using races as training runs. Whilst not a race, it just so happened that Darryll Thomas and I were due to cover 20 miles over the same weekend. We’re both close enough in ability and with similar enough end-goals that it was complementary to team-up and share the effort.

Conditions were perfect for a long run in the summer with cool temperatures and overcast skies, almost autumnal in ways. We couldn’t believe our luck and geared up accordingly. Entirely unfamiliar with the route or surrounding areas of Bromsgrove that Darryll guided me on, the terrain was not unlike running on south Welsh country lanes around where my in-laws live.

Conversation flowed whilst we put the world to rights; the first half felt rather effortless as we regularly commented on how easy and casual the run felt. And then the sun came out…

Both of us were caught off-guard with the sun from halfway onwards. Little shade meant we both felt the effort ratchet upwards slowly, with a few undulations stinging far more than they should have. Positively, the two of us held on to the pace; had it have been our respective solo runs, we may have been convinced to back it off in the last couple of miles.

Upon finishing, aside from being incredibly thirsty, the two of us agreed sharing the effort undoubtedly took the edge off the 20 miles, but also will have reduced the amount of recovery needed. And whilst we‘re on recovery, Darryll checked me in as a guest to the gym he’s a member of to take advantage of some of the facilities on offer. A Jacuzzi, steam room and a dip in the pool all had a part to play – there was no soreness or tightness as I typed this out, so there’s something to be said for his recovery routine.

nike_vaporfly_4_percent

Fastest shoes in the world? Quite possibly!

Oh, and there was something that had been delivered for Darryll to further get the recovery endorphins flowing – the newly released Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes from the Breaking2 challenge! We both tried them on and the sensation is unlike any shoe I’ve ever experienced before, and I’ve tried a lot of running shoes over the years. It feels like springs have been embedded into the midsole and the carbon fibre plate almost encourages the foot to roll and propel forward, saving the wearer some valuable energy and effort with each stride and foot strike. Just from wearing them for a minute or so, I could quickly see there was some black magic contained inside Nike’s latest marvel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

1 mile for a 60 mile week

Sometime during last year’s marathon campaign, there was one week mapped out that was all set to become my first ever to feature 60 miles. For reasons I don’t exactly recall, though likely due to sacking off the jog back home from Cannon Hill parkrun, a 60 mile week failed to materialise, settling on 56 or 57 miles instead.

After totting up this week’s mileage, I had to laugh when I saw 59.00 miles; I was conflicted as to whether to ignore it and wait for it to happen organically sometime in August, or to just head out and jog a mile because I may miss the opportunity again? Well, I ended up heading back outside for one single easy mile, before being alerted by various folks on Strava that a further 3 miles would have equated to a 100km week. I did not go back out for a third time that day.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

For the second week on the trot, I once again feel like the training is taking shape and adaptations are happening. Aerobically, I’m feeling stronger than I’ve felt all year. Fitness can’t be rushed and it’ll hit when it’s good and ready, and often with no announcement.

The next two weeks will see some disruption due to racing and being away. The race is the flat and fast Magor 10k, which broke me so badly last year that I blacked out after crossing the finish line from heat exhaustion. I’ve no intention of racing that hard again if it’s warm, so will instead treat it as a fast threshold session; anything between 39:15 and 39:30 will be satisfactory in my book.

The other disruption is a one week getaway to Crete that Lis and I have planned. Temperatures will likely be in the high 20s to low 30s with no cloud cover, so there won’t be much running outdoors, bar a few easy efforts. I do have a VO2max workout in the plan, so will head to the hotel gym to accomplish that. Joy of joys, I also have a 15 mile run to welcome me back to the UK on the same day as we land…

This week’s running – 10th to 16th of July 2017

19_miles

Longest run since the last marathon!

Week 10 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

10 miles with 5 at marathon pace

Give with one hand. Take away with the other. The temperature dropped back down to an ideal training range, but with it came the rain.

Once I’d warmed up to marathon pace, I found it largely achievable, though not without additional effort. Heavier clothes from being wet and lack of traction on block paved sections of the canal towpath meant I was working to a few beats higher than I would have expected.

Strangely, my legs really felt it on this outing, where they were a bit lifeless in spite of the reduced volume of last week. My heart and lungs, whilst certainly working, coped much better by comparison.

Here’s the Strava data for the bulk of the run and the warm-down.

5 mile run-commute

An impromptu extended meeting meant I didn’t actually hit the ground running until much later in the evening. I was thankful this was just a casual recovery paced run with no expectations other than to turn my legs over.

I have begun catching up on podcasts whilst I cover these run-commutes. Recently, I stumbled upon The Runner’s World Show, from the producers of the US Runner’s World magazine. It is glossy and rather American, but don’t let that put you off – you can’t judge a book by its cover. Episodes vary in length from 30 minutes to an hour, typically, and cover a range of topics from training to interviews with professionals and regular runners like you or me.

Expectedly, many of the angles carry a US-bias, whether it be race reports or products referred to, but one episode really stood out and was the right length to accompany me on this run-commute. “Running in China” had one of the hosts share his experience of a week-long stay, representing the podcast and magazine on tour. It was really quite fascinating, highlighting the differences and the similarities between the US and Chinese running movements, possibly even paving the way for future episodes comparing other nations’ running habits (any podcast producers reading this, please consider this).

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

Well, that was harder than expected! Both Dave and I had the same scheduled run to cover, albeit separately, and both of us struggled. For me, I ballsed up fuelling; time flew by at the office, and before I knew it, it was too late to eat and properly digest a banana in time for the run.

I had no energy and my legs did not want to respond. Choppy gusts of wind frequently slammed into me to also ensure I had a mare of a time.

If 11 miles after work felt this dreadful, what will the 14 miles in a few weeks feel like, especially as I took the day off a year ago to complete it, but am not so privileged this year? Me thinks I’ll need to carry a gel and some liquid, along with having a more substantial lunch to avoid derailing it…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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The hill never gets easier! Photo by Kerry Allen

With the longest run since last October’s marathon planned for Sunday, I opted to scale back parkrun to threshold pace. I normally don’t feel too bad on training runs following parkrun, where the faster leg turnover and form efficiency seems to carry over, and the post-run coffee with the gang helps to jumpstart recovery.

I also had a new toy to play with in the form of the Garmin 935. Watch this space as I test it out and incorporate it into my routine.

Almost right on cue, the heavens opened up shortly after starting, blurring the lines between where sweat started and rain ended…

True to my word, I ran to a steady, threshold pace with a faster finish for the following splits:

  1. 3:57
  2. 3:58
  3. 3:57
  4. 3:53
  5. 3:43

Given how wet it was, I opted not to run home from the park, but naturally the rain ended once we were all finished…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

19 miles – to Soho Loop and back

Sometimes you just can’t predict how a run will turn out – Thursday’s 11 miles hammered this one home. Not wanting to end up with another demoralising run, I ensured I was well fuelled with a hearty pasta dinner and some pudding to boot. Coming along with me was my ultra vest, loaded up with the same two-flask combo from several weeks ago of flat Coca-Cola and electrolyted water.

I kept the first half easy-to-steady, also mimicking the 18 mile run from several weeks ago. Humidity was jacked up, though at least it was overcast (give with one hand, take away with the other again, right?) I bulked up the mileage at the beginning of the run, rather than run right past my home with another 2 miles to go until clocking the prescribed 19.

At halfway, I consciously picked up the pace with the aim of running progressively for home. I felt great and even had to rein the pace in on occasion, no doubt due to the slightly different and fresher muscle and tendon groups being utilised, along with fuelling doing the trick.

I saw Simon covering the same 14 mile route I assisted him with last week. Thankfully, he’d taken my recommendation of having breakfast beforehand and looked dramatically better for it!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Today’s 19 miles is probably the joint-best run I’ve had of this marathon campaign and will hopefully pave the way for the 20 to 22 mile runs yet to come. Typing this up, I don’t even feel like I ran 19 miles today, highlighting the performance and recovery benefits of the prep beforehand. I’m definitely going to stash some gels at the office, just in case from now on!

 

 

This week’s running – 26th of June to 9th of July 2017

recovery

Some much needed recovery!

Week 8 and 9 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

I’ve merged two weeks together here, seeing as this past week was actually pretty light on running and heavy on recovery.

5k recovery with Lis

After seemingly weeks of absence, Lis and I resumed couples running, though it wasn’t without its issues…

Lis’ several week break from running meant she was almost starting from scratch again, so it’ll take some work to get her back up to being able to cover our 5k route once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work with strides

Whilst I was carrying some fatigue from the Wythall Hollywood 10k, the combination of the punchy race-effort and the cooler conditions made for quite a potent mix to have me feeling pretty good. I casually aimed to keep my heart rate below 70% of maximum, and largely achieved this, bar on a few climbs and the odd set of strides to encourage some leg turnover.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Oh wow. What a joy it was to run in cooler temperatures with a bag on my back and not feel like I was trudging through a rainforest expedition!

My heart rate was a good 5 to 10 beats lower for the same pace, such is the additional strain the heat and humidity places on our bodies.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

A fortnight ago, I broke away from my usual mould of 9-10 mile runs along the canal towpath from the office. After weeks of rinsing and repeating the same route, the change of scenery and its ever changing elevation made for a nice refresher; so nice, I decided to cover it once more with a view to training more specifically for the Yorkshire Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon

For the full write-up of this race, please click here.

5k recovery run

Kickstarting the week of recovery were these easy paced 5k runs on Sunday and Monday. 60% of maximum heart rate was largely achieved, ensuring the effort was low enough.

Here and here is the Strava data for these runs.

10k recovery

By Tuesday, I knew I was long overdue for a recovery week; in my defence, I’ve not felt like I’ve needed one until this week just gone.

It’s a happy coincidence that running to Cannon Hill Park, covering two laps, and then running home equates to exactly 10k. A few sets of strides stopped the easy pace from feeling too ploddy, also helping me to practice good form with no pressure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Rest is training

After a very warm and stressful commute for home, I decided to sack off my planned easy run. The sudden upsurge in temperature would have made even an easy pace feel more challenging than normal, so I reasoned I would gain more by not running. I’m grateful it wasn’t a regular training week!

By Friday, the near-three days of no running did the trick and I began to feel fresher once more.

Cannon Hill parkrun

It’d been more than five weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill and boy was it good to be back at home. Conditions appeared pretty decent, though I sadly was not feeling quite as fresh as I was just 24 hours prior on Friday. I’d suspected for a few weeks that I probably had a sub-19 5k in me if everything went well, so it was time to put some graft in for a morning of benchmarking…

Within the first few hundred metres, I found myself working with Barry Fallon, who’s a pretty close match in ability at the moment. We settled into our place in the crowd with enough breathing space to run unimpeded. Unexpectedly, especially of late, I had a deep focus on the task at hand and tried to ensure I was running smoothly with a good range of motion. Before we knew it, we had a 3:45 opening split on our hands for a small buffer should things have gone pear shaped in the middle, as they can so often do in a 5k.

Barry and I continued together before he slipped off backwards by a few steps or so, though remained inside touching distance. The pace overall had slowed by a few seconds to a more manageable 3:51 for 2k.

I was entirely conscious that large chunks of time could be lost from fading concentration, so I was on the lookout for people to chase down. As luck would have it, I’d inadvertently been caught tailing Scott Williams, who so happened to be pacing a club mate of his. Nearing 3k, he ushered me on into no-man’s land as he slowed to regroup with his follower. As luck would have it, maybe 10 or 15 metres away from me was a chap covering the ground at what looked exactly like my pace, due to the distance between us neither growing nor shrinking. Two short surges allowed me to latch on to him and to take advantage of his slipstream. 3k came in at 3:50, remaining steady.

Looking further ahead of the chap, there was nobody within easy reach to lock on to if my pacer slowed, or if I opted to make a move. As it so happened, he continued to run metronomically and I really had to focus to stay on his tail. My choo-choo train impression reared its ugly head again after a long absence, so I knew I wasn’t slacking off. 4k unbelievably also clocked in at 3:51!

The distance between us repeatedly grew and shrank during the final km. Looking at my Garmin, I knew it would be close for a sub-19 finish. Turning at the Mac, I managed to pull up next to him for the first time in the entire run. Losing the pace by a step or two, he momentarily began drifting backwards. I tried coaxing him back. “Keep going, fella. Not far,” I desperately snatched with what little breath was available. It did the trick, as he regained his momentum and pulled forward ahead of me. I was running on fumes and easily lost a second or two on the sharp turn for the tearoom, and several more on the final climb for the finish. He had just a smidge more strength than me, taking 16th by just a second, and me, 17th.

My lungs were on fire, but I cared not because I’d successfully gone sub-19 for the first time since my injury in January, with 18:56 flashing on my Garmin. I thanked my unwitting pacer, Gareth, and introduced myself. “Yeah. I guessed that was your name from all the people cheering you on.” Sheepishly, I smiled and replied with, “Yeah… I’ve been running here for a few years…”

So often, I’m reliant on everything coming together for a good performance to happen; it was almost like divine intervention that the conditions were favourable, I was rested, and there were always people around me to work with. I’m still over 30 seconds away from my best at Cannon Hill, but I’m still ecstatic by this small, personal victory.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to the Cube and back

With just an easy 12 miles on the schedule to cover, I teamed up with Simon to help him get 14 miles in, which became his longest ever run.

Almost timed to perfection, he ran past my front door just as I was setting out, so there was no need to stop and regroup.

Simon won’t mind me sharing this with you all, because it’s of benefit to everybody. Please, please, please have something to eat before you embark on your longest runs to date. Hell, it may not even be your longest run, but unless you’re well fat adapted, you’re gonna have a pretty shitty time.

Within just 2 to 3 miles (flat/downhill) at what should have been an easily achievable pace for him, his breathing was already quite laboured. I finally got it out of him that he was running on an empty stomach because he didn’t have anything in for breakfast…

Marathon training is hard enough if everything goes well, so there really isn’t any need to knee-cap yourself and make runs more challenging than they need to be. The mental boost and confidence developed from a string of well executed runs can’t be quantified, but it all helps to propel and motivate for the next block of training, and the block after that, and so on.

Despite the big setback, we got him to his 14 miles in one piece. With the lack of energy and new distance, I warned Simon not to take recovery lightly for the next few days, where his body was likely to think of the run as closer to a race in terms of effort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

So far, so good. I’m pretty content with how things are progressing, and Strava’s crude Fitness & Freshness chart suggests the same.

I’m inching ever closer to some big runs and sessions, so the past week of recovery has been most welcome. The coming week calls for runs of 10 miles with 5 of them at marathon pace, and 19 miles. The former is expected to take place during heavy rain, so at least the canal will be clear and I’ll be reasonably cool!

Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon 2017 review

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Final few hundred metres of the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

A mass participation half marathon? On canal towpaths? What madness is this???

Pre-race

Sadly, I have to start this write-up on a downer. Some of you will already know that there was a breach of data protection from the organisers in the build-up to this race. Nothing nefarious or as sinister as being hacked by another country, but rather just a good old-fashioned cock-up.

So, what happened? Some 100 participants (likely the first 100 by start allocation time) received an email from the organisers (StuWeb) with an attached spreadsheet containing the personal details of all 1,700 race participants. The data included such things as home address, phone number, email address, date of birth, next of kin, medical notes, and so on. Five days after the accidental data leak, there is still no apology or explanation from StuWeb, where it now appears they’re burying their head in the sand in the hope that runners forget and move on. Future participants of this race, you’ve been warned!

Several years ago in a bid to diversify my training routes, I opted to try and mimic the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon. All started out well as I commuted to Wolverhampton city centre, navigated to the canal and began my run back to Birmingham. Then, I came face to face with a closed off tunnel somewhere in the middle of the route, needed to backtrack and ended up re-joining the canal much further away, adding another 3 miles to my long run…

Memories fade and with a distinct lack of locally accessible races during the summer, I made light of this opportunity for a training run at marathon pace, with Dave in tow. We bumped into Barry Fallon at New Street station whilst commuting, and a few other BRAT guys beforehand to emphasise the local feel of the race.

The intention was to simply cover the distance at marathon pace for both Dave and me. Recalling where I was roughly a year ago in the training schedule, 13.1 miles at 6:50 per mile would be a big ask, especially on the uneven terrain of the canal towpath route. The longest I had successfully run at marathon pace up to this race was the Aldridge 10k almost a month ago. I was also carrying some fatigue from several weeks without a cutback, along with this Saturday race robbing me of an extra day of recovery I would normally enjoy from a Sunday event. Further to my tale of woe, the organisers were unwilling to bump me up to a slightly earlier and faster wave, meaning I was likely to be one of the fastest of my grouping and likely to be running long sections without company…

I decided to break from tradition and this was one of the rare race occasions where I did not don my yellow vest and also decided to carry my own drinks. Not trusting my own ability to drink from cups on the course, I didn’t want to leave myself exposed and potentially prolong recovery.

Assembled, Dave and I were close to the very front of our wave’s safety briefing. Unknowingly, we were mere metres away from the start line and were both somewhat caught off-guard when we were released on to the canal for our journey back to Birmingham.

The race

Very quickly, I zoned into marathon pace and found myself in the top three of my wave, trading positions with the second place guy periodically. The effort felt manageable, given I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice a week of training in exchange for being fresh for the race.

Within a mile or so, the second place chap dropped back as his breathing grew heavier, leaving me in chase for first place in my wave. Shortly after moving into second place, I closed in on first place and sat steady for a while longer. Miles 1 and 2 came in at 6:45 and 6:48 respectively.

With no additional effort, I began edging closer to first place as he slowed. Practically drafting behind him, he urged me on to pass him as we made our way towards mile 3. The pace held steady for a 6:49 split.

I’ve got to give some applause for the volunteers acting as marshals and manning the water stations – the support was fantastic and well received, especially once I began running solo.

After some time, I spotted two runners in the distance, clearly together. I began wondering whether they were part of the race, or not, with some doubt thrown in given how far off the pace they were to have made it into wave B (1:29 to 1:26 target finish time). Any of you that marshal large parkrun events will know how increasingly difficult it becomes to gauge whether runners towards the rear of the pack are actually part of the event, or simply out on a solo run. Some that aren’t part of the event get really offended when you begin cheering them on! Well, it turned out they were part of the race, after all, and moved into single file whilst encouraging me onwards.

Increasingly, I began encountering more stray runners from the back of wave B. The worst offender wore headphones on the narrow path, despite being asked to only have one ear plugged in. “Passing on your right,” I hollered several times, with no reaction. As I crept around her, she began freaking out, clearly surprised that I was there. My annoyance that I wasn’t allowed to be bumped up to wave B increased. Grrr…

I’d finally arrived at the infamously long and dark tunnel within mile 5. There were a few lights attached to the hand rail, but nothing significant enough to illuminate the uneven ground beneath my feet. I adjusted to a mid-foot strike, allowing for as much ground contact as possible, just in case. Meeting a lady at roughly halfway into the darkness who slowed to a walk, she allowed me to pass. “You’re braver than I am!” she shared with me. “Nope. I’m just more stupid!” was my reply, as I tried to minimise any slowdown. Amazingly, some of the fastest finishers are completing the course in some 71 minutes, so they’re either dramatically faster than that and slowing to safely get through the tunnel, or have balls the size of grapefruits and charge through hoping for the best. Surprisingly, my Garmin remained locked on and recovered the pace reasonably well. Miles 4 and 5 came in at 6:51 and 6:58 respectively.

The narrow, untamed path continued to be a problem and frequently offered no more than 40cm of width to run on and overtaking required anticipating and choosing the right moment. Bridges also took their toll, with the jarring, sharp and short gradients forcing me to break stride. Mile 6 produced a 6:54 to signal the beginning of the pace slip…

The swell of runners from the back of wave B grew, so much so that I lost count. I was struggling to concentrate and I couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm, though still managed to hold steady with mile 7 to 10 splits of 6:54, 6:58, 6:58 and 6:56.

Mile 11 unexpectedly broke me. I run that section of the canal twice a week after work and I looked forward to that familiar stretch to get me through to the end. Unfortunately, that section of canal also throws a couple of bridges in quick succession, which just isn’t great on tired legs. Unhelpfully, the course also took runners on to the unpaved right-hand side of the canal back into Brindley Place, whereas I’d expected the newly paved left-hand side to be used. Miles 11 and 12 came in with 7:03 and 7:14 respectively.

With less than a mile to go before reaching Brindley Place, fellow run-blogger Shaun Hemmings and I spotted each other. Out spectating with his daughter, my red t-shirt and ultra vest threw him off and it was only my running style that confirmed it was indeed me!

Sensing I was near the end, I finally saw Lis on the other side of the canal, waiting for both me and Dave to finish. With just a few hundred metres to go, I picked up my cadence for the finish, which suddenly veered off to the right for another unexpected and literal turn.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

It was a pretty gentle finish by my standards, with very quick recovery before shooting over to the other side to cheer Dave in.

Due to a need for convenience of start and finish points, the race historically measures long and I clocked 13.29 miles, so kudos to anybody that can score a half marathon PB on the course. I recorded a finish time of 1:32:25 and an average pace of 6:56 per mile, which is a little off from target, but would have been worse if I’d have attempted a solo outing.

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Dave and me at the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

Dave finished pretty much on his target marathon pace, which bodes well at not even the halfway point of his training.

A good litmus test of a race is whether you would consider entering again; I’m still undecided, several days later as I type this. Locally in the summer, there are few half marathons that I have access to as training for an autumn half marathon, as opposed to the abundance of half marathons and 20 mile races available in January, February and March before spring marathons. Yes, I got the training run I wanted, but the admin and organisation of the race beforehand has left a bitter taste in my mouth. A race that’s so careless to release your personal details and then offer no apology or explanation, formal or otherwise, does not deserve my recommendation.

This week’s running – 19th to 25th of June 2017

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A week of two halves!

Week 7 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

5k recovery

If you have a particular route that you cover time and time again, but in only one direction, I suggest you give it a shot in the opposite direction. I did just that on Monday’s 5k recovery run, and it was quite remarkable how different it felt. The route suddenly felt new again; I noticed new details on houses I’d passed dozens of times before, climbs became descents, and so forth.

Elevation-wise, running the reverse route felt slightly more challenging, where formerly shorter, sharper climbs had been traded in for more gradual, longer upward drags.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 4 at marathon pace

With the amped up heat and humidity, I opted to break the 10 miles down into a separate warm-up, 4 miles at pace, and warm-down. I wanted the spirit of the prescribed run, whilst diluting it just enough to make it achievable.

Part-way into the first mile at marathon pace, I noticed how much more effort it was taking in the tricky conditions, so I slotted in an additional 10 second buffer to make it more manageable. The adjustment felt about right, allowing all 4 miles to each sneak in at under 7 minutes.

Unsurprisingly, the canal was especially busy. Along with another runner and 4 guys walking, we all failed miserably as we attempted a 6 way pass, though were in good spirits afterwards as we all apologised profusely to each other for the en-masse clattering!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I always find run-commutes in warm and humid conditions particularly challenging. Wearing a bag on my back means I’m continuously sweating for lack of airflow, and running at a slower recovery pace means I’m spending longer on the activity. Factor in a rushed departure from the office and less than ideal hydration over the afternoon, and the result was a pretty messy 5 miles.

Adapting to the heat is entirely trainable. An online buddy of mine from hot and humid Atlanta in the US recently returned to London, where the 10° drop in temperature for him allowed for some pretty stellar training runs, whilst Blighty began suffering with our relative 10° increase.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

Wanting a change from slogging it out on the canal towpath, I decided to re-utilise some of the route I adopted last year whilst there were closures between the university and Selly Oak to install new stairs and bike ramps.

Indeed, sometimes a change is as good as a rest. In spite of the undulating second half, the change of scenery served as a pretty good stimulus and kept things interesting on this staple weekly medium-long run. Also positive was the fact that I didn’t have to detour half a mile away from home with the goal of bulking out the distance – something I will try to adopt moving forward, especially for the monstrous 20+ mile runs.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 review

For the full run-down of this ever-present race on my calendar, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Despite it being a light week on my schedule, I still clocked up just 200m shy of 40 miles in total and feel no worse for it. I would like to be in a position so that most of my light weeks end up close to 40 miles, with more dramatic cutbacks utilised sparingly where absolutely necessary. Conversely, I’ve planned for my biggest weeks to just hit 60 miles, and all other weeks in the middle to hover around 50 miles.

The outcome at the Wythall Hollywood 10k was rather pleasing, where there was a real possibility of it not coming to fruition in the days prior, such is how out of touch I was with 10k pace; my lactate threshold has always been my weakness, so I’m frequently conscious not to ignore it completely. I have one more 10k race as part of the marathon schedule in late July; if things continue to track well, I think a 39:15 is a realistic prospect on the pancake flat course, so long as the weather plays ball!

This coming week is another unusual one, featuring the novelty race that is the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon, to be completed with Dave. The plan is for us to cover the race at our respective marathon paces for some benchmarking to see just where we’re at.