This week’s running – 15th to 21st of May 2017

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Yet more tourism at Grangemoor parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Week 2 of the 22 week marathon schedule complete.

5 mile run-commute

Over the last couple of years of run-commuting, I’ve yet to come lucky and be in a position to run home whilst chaos takes place all around me. Last year, it was flooding that increased my typical 1 hour commute to 3+ hours; this year’s calamity was a newly discovered WWII German bomb, weighing some 250kg, which brought everything to a near-standstill.

Hearing rumours that several major roads would still be closed a day later, I shifted my run-commute as a precaution to try and have the last laugh. The roads did open up again and you’d have thought nothing had ever taken place. One of these days… Anywho! The pace was very gentle to factor in the thrashing I’d subjected myself to at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I’ve grown conscious of the rising temperatures, so decided to begin supplementing my water consumption with some electrolyte tablets, as well as training myself to physically drink and retain more water. So, it’s with some irony that the day I decide to kick-start my better hydration initiative is also the day where I was caught in an absolute downpour whilst running from the office…

The rain hit approximately 3 miles in and didn’t let up until perhaps 800m from my front door to leave me completely soaked. I could actually feel the water sloshing about in my shoes at several points!

I had originally intended to cover the week’s 4x 1600m at 10k pace during this run, but sacked that plan off to instead run hard at parkrun. That said, the pace still came up faster than expected and the rain proved quite refreshing and effective at keeping me cool.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Grangemoor parkrun

 

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And 5 x switchbacks…

It’s becoming a bit of a habit, these parkrun tourism jaunts. Grangemoor, Cardiff’s second event, became my fourth new venue in almost eight weeks, and my 18th different venue of all time.

Grangemoor opened with the intent of lightening the load at the original Cardiff event at Blackweir/Bute Park; it could be deemed as a resounding failure with the latter having celebrated several new attendance records in recent weeks.

Taking place next to a retail park, there was no shortage of parking spaces and there was even a helpful marshal to direct people to the start.

The course could be called unorthodox. From above, it looks like a three-point star; runners start at the southern most spoke and work their way to the next, and so on, until they’re back at the start to then cover the same again for two-laps. My technique on switchbacks is atrocious, with a turning circle like the Titanic trying to avoid an iceberg, so I expected to lose significant momentum and time on each of the five hairpin turns. But at least the course is flat and on really nicely paved tarmac!

Looking at past results, a finish in the low 18 minutes is enough to place first most weeks, with a sub-20 finish enough to make it into the top 10, or even top 5 during light attendance weeks.

Off the line, a small group of guys went charging off whilst I hung back to at least better observe on the first lap. Apart from some chopping and changing in the first 800m, I was then left firmly on my own for the remaining duration.

Due to the compact nature of the course and runners returning back to the centre every few hundred metres, Lis planted herself by the “Grangemoor Stone” and was ultimately rewarded with five sightings of me, and possibly a new record for the two of us.

As anticipated, the switchbacks did a number to my pace, and also my joints, from the sudden shift in direction and weight. I estimated I likely lost some 3 seconds on each hairpin, so whereas I was probably working to 19:15 5k effort or so, I actually produced a 19:31 in the end for 8th place.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Looking at the splits, I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out, considering said switchbacks and the mostly solo effort. A little bit of regular VO2max effort and some efficiency and form workouts should get me under 19 minutes again…

A nice novelty to visit, but it’s highly unlikely I’d ever return when I have Cwmbran, Newport’s Tredegar Park, or Cardiff’s lightning fast Blackweir/Bute Park much closer to Lis’ folks – the latter two of which we literally drove right past to reach Grangemoor parkrun!

For those curious, the next stop on my tour of Welsh events is Pontypool in a couple of weeks.

14 miles – to Rhadyr and back

I never expected this long run to go well, but first, let me explain why it was doomed to be…

So, on Saturday night, I went to a 50th birthday party and was introduced to a proper old-school club runner (Salford Harriers). He ran double-days on most days, and even occasionally ran at lunch for the odd triple day. He rarely took a rest day, except when injured or ill, and raced most weeks. His PBs I can recall are:

  • 1,500m – 3:57
  • 5k – 14:59
  • 10k: 30:53
  • 10 miles: 52:07
  • Marathon: 2:45

As somebody that doesn’t belong to the club system, it’s rare that I get the opportunity to speak with runners that are significantly faster. Some of his stories were thrilling, such as him being a classics graduate and running the Athens Marathon. Some of his stories were eye-watering, such as the above said 10k PB where he finished 62nd out of some 300 participants. Others were heart breaking, such as him having to shelve being competitive after two Achilles tendon operations and numerous cortisone injections into trauma sites over the years.

90 mile weeks were not uncommon for him. When asked what he felt allowed him to rack up such mileage, he said, “Life was simpler back then, compared to now.” I could only agree.

Even though I only spoke with him for perhaps 30-40 minutes, the night still ended up being a late one by my standards, also factoring the early-rise for Grangemoor parkrun to make for a helluva long day.

Anywho. Back to the long run…

My legs definitely didn’t feel as fresh as they could have after the 5k effort from 24 hours prior, so I purposely kept the pace slow and the effort easy. Going by heart rate, this was largely achieved with it rarely going above 70% of maximum.

Then, the second half happened and consisted almost exclusively of 7 miles in a more or less straight line into headwind, along with the dreaded Saint Andrews’ Walk Climb to contend with at the very end… I was utterly destroyed upon finishing and couldn’t help but doze off later that afternoon in a bid to catch up on some sleep.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Hopefully, I can time one of my planned 20+ mile runs to happen in Wales to help break up the monotony of them. Last summer, I seem to recall one of my 2x 22 mile runs flying by and not being too stressful at all, due in some part to the more unfamiliar terrain for mental stimulation.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

The mercury is really starting to climb, so I’m expecting the suffering to pop along shortly to wave and stick its tongue out at me. I’ll have to dig out my Salomon race vest and water bottles shortly to really up my hydration game if I’m to successfully complete all of the planned runs in the schedule.

Fitness-wise, I feel like I’m in an odd place at the moment. I’m ahead of where I was a year ago concerning marathon pace, where the effort required to cover the pace is certainly lower at the moment. But I feel completely off in terms of 5k and 10k pace, which have historically given me that feeling of fitness – something I can’t deny I’m craving a little at the moment.

This week’s running – 24th to 30th of April 2017

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What’s occurring at Barry Island parkrun? Photo by Lis Yu

An unusual week of running is quickly becoming the norm for me…

5k fartlek

Doing the build-up, exhibiting and breakdown at a trade show destroyed my legs and left me incredibly weary. The last thing on my mind was getting a run in, but I knew that I would have to adopt an attitude that runs are non-negotiable if I’m to make the most of the training for autumn’s Yorkshire Marathon.

A 5k fartlek blast around the block did just the trick to stave off any guilt of not running, whist being functional enough to have some small gains.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m officially at that point of the year where I don’t seem to know what to wear anymore, be it for a run, going to work, or casually. Opting to go with a long-sleeve top, sod’s law meant I was inevitably overdressed whilst being near-frozen only a day earlier.

My legs were still completely shot. In the same vain as above regarding non-negotiable runs, I simply went with the 9 miles and reminded myself that I would have to run 14 miles during the middle of the week at some point in the P&D marathon schedule, so should enjoy the luxury of shorter runs from the office whilst they last…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Barry Island parkrun

I have a confession to make… I know I recently discussed that I’m not one to normally go out of my way to get some parkrun tourism in, but I have to admit I’ve developed a taste for it.

Recently visiting Wales’s Riverfront and Scotland’s Ganavan Sands events (and Great Run Local at The Vale), I enjoyed the unfamiliar surroundings and faces, reasoning that now is the time to be exploring other events whilst I’m off peak fitness and without any pressure to perform.

Keeping the tourism theme going, I ventured to Barry Island parkrun with Lis and my mother-in-law, Yvonne, in tow. The three of us are keen Gavin and Stacey fans, with Lis and I particularly fond of the show that mirrored the early years of our own relationship.

Almost at the ripe old age of two years, the event remains typically in the mid to high 100s, with only a single freak 300+ turnout in its history. Like many younger/smaller events, a sub-20 finish is sometimes enough to place first, which got my competitive juices flowing again. Like at Ganavan Sands, the organisers believed that close to half of the day’s runners were new visitors to the event or parkrun.

Just before go-time, there were a few runners that were positively chomping at the bit to start. On the starter’s orders, they flew off from the line in typical 5k fashion with me in cautious tow. The course is unusual for an event that takes place on a coastal promenade. After a few hundred metres of the flat block paving, we made a hairpin turn to the right and began climbing towards the upper levels of Barry Island’s beachfront. Keeping my cool at the beginning paid dividends as I calmly reeled in those that had overdone it too soon. 4:04 for the first uphill km was pretty reasonable in my book for a shot at a sub-20 finish, especially with some downhill stretches later.

The second level of the run dramatically narrowed to clearly demonstrate to me why running with a dog is not welcome at Barry Island. The path also became a gravelly mess with little traction for my racing flat-clad feet. At some point on the upper level of the run, we were sent up a further climb, affectionately called “Heartbreak Hill” by the locals (it even has its own Strava segment). Short, but sharp, it required some proper arm thrusts to propel me upwards.

Descending back downwards at last, 2km came in at 4:04 again for what was shaping up to be a pretty steady run. The course is actually rather compact and with the aid of stairs along the side of the hill, spectators are able to move from level to level with ease to spot runners several times.

Reaching halfway, the course sent participants around a switchback for another lap. With a descent and flat stretch to my advantage, out popped 3:49 for 3km and to move me into fourth place.

Unlike the first lap where I had others to work with and draft behind, I now found myself running solo and faced the full brunt of the coastal winds, exerting more effort than before to maintain the same paces. With a second bash at “Heartbreak Hill”, I was rather impressed that I managed to keep things steady to produce 4:05 for 4km and only a second of slowdown.

Descending once more, third place was within striking distance at one point, but I couldn’t muster enough gusto to chase after him. I felt flat and there was a pronounced heaviness to my legs, no doubt carrying fatigue from the trade show and Thursday’s 9 miles.

Back on the flat block paving of the promenade, I knew I had to produce something in the region of a 3:50 km or faster to be in with a chance of a sub-20 finish. The headwind I faced off against was relentless, with my forward leaning stance having little to no effect. Edging ever closer to 5km, my Garmin fired off some 30m ahead of the finish line to add to the will I-won’t I situation of finishing in less than 20 minutes.

Crossing the line, I clocked 20:05, so probably would have still been off by 1 or 2 seconds even if I’d have recorded 5km exactly. parkrun wins again!

It was good to add Barry Island to the collection, though I won’t be in any rush to return to the venue, considering it took almost an hour to drive there from Lis’ folks place. Next tourism spot will be Cardiff’s second event, Grangemoor parkrun, in a few weeks’ time.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles with 2 at marathon pace

I’m sure my pal, Shaun, won’t mind me sharing his London Marathon Strava data with you all, but his race is akin to a piece of art. The pacing, the sub-2:55 finish from a goal of sub-3 hours – all marvellous stuff. Asking him what he felt contributed to such a breakout performance, he cited plenty of marathon-paced miles, which is hardly surprising. Whilst I felt the build-up to my 2016 Yorkshire Marathon featured ample pace practice, I’m firmly of the belief that I could have included more with little to no detriment to the rest of the training or recovery.

Watching several peers of similar ability go sub-3 at London, I’m confident that with the right training focus and a bit of luck on race day, such a goal is not out of reach for me. The sub-3 performance that’s given me the most confidence belongs to comedian and Running Commentary podcaster, Paul Tonkinson. Finishing almost a minute behind me in Yorkshire last October, he’s gone on to finish London in 2:59:21. Factoring in that London is far more congested and will inevitably measure a touch longer than Yorkshire (I ran exactly 26.22 miles!) further bolsters that my goal has potential.

Anywho, back to this 12 mile run. I’ve been so out of touch with marathon pace that opting to run two isolated miles at circa 6:50 each was like venturing into the unknown. Reassuringly, and even with strong winds to contend with, I managed to hit 6:47 and 6:48 respectively, and probably could have continued going for 2 x 2 miles at pace. Promising stuff!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

My modified P&D marathon plan is almost complete and just needs a few more adjustments before I’ll share it with you all. I will let you in on a little tidbit ahead of next week – my wallet is now considerably lighter, and my calendar is considerably busier than before. Interpret that how you will for the moment…

Magor Marsh 10k 2016 review

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Quite a handsome medal for a cheap as chips race to enter

For the 2014 and 2015 races, please click the following:

My annual 10k PB attack on this pancake flat course. Read on to see how things went…

Pre-race

As somebody from Birmingham, there aren’t many local flat 10k races to truly test myself on. It’s with some luck that a few years ago, Lis and I were visiting her family and this local 10k happened to take place at the same time.

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You’d probably have to race 10,000m on a track to find something flatter!

The race has previously always delivered on PBs, thanks to no more than a few metres of climb to contend with. This year, the organisers modified the course slightly to include a new start and finish, and also a different out and back section. A certificate of accuracy was awarded several months ago, though with all the shenanigans from Manchester and its surrounding areas, distance approval literally isn’t worth the paper it’s written on – only running the debut of the modified course would satisfy…

The target was somewhat ambitious. My 10k PB stood at 38:45 from the Wythall Hollywood race around a month prior, whereas various ability calculators had me pegged at sub-38 based on my recent 18:14 5k PB and my likely soft 84:54 half marathon PB. A time of 37:59 equated to 3:47 per km, with a recent track session of 4x 1600m in blazing 34 degree heat suggesting it was possible with some graft.

Race morning was warm with no cloud cover. My warm-up also confirmed a swirling strong breeze was present to complicate things further. I did my best to balance hydration whilst minimising toilet visits due to the limited facilities at the race headquarters; lengthy queues were already in place with around an hour to go before the race start!

There were plenty of club runners present, including the highly regarded Emma Stepto. I identified one particular runner that’s been a few steps ahead of me in a number of recent Welsh races and planned to lock on to him as a target to pull me along to a hopeful PB.

Stood on the modified start line, it was a clear improvement over the previous versions with additional width to accommodate more runners. There was distinctly less of a fight to get as close to the line as possible, minimising mis-matched paces from people desperate to get an accurate time from the non-chip timed race. On the starter’s orders of “1, 2, 3, GO”, we were sent off on our way.

The race

As always, the first few hundred metres were a mad dash of tightly wound runners. I found myself falling into target pace very quickly and began looking around for the chap I wanted to follow, though he was nowhere in sight and I figured he must’ve went off with one of the lead groups.

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Incredibly warm, torrid conditions at the 2016 Magor 10k – photo by Lis Yu

Groups quickly formed and I had to make some decisive moves about who I wanted to remain with and follow, and who to drop. The first km flashed up exactly according to plan for 3:47.

The pancake flat course offered almost no respite from the sun overhead. I grew warmer and warmer, though shrugged it off as a recreational hazard of summer racing. I had to surge a couple of times to ensure I latched on to a correctly paced group, which pleasingly was made up of five or six guys to help block some of the strong gusts of wind that hit. The second km slowed to 3:53, though I still had plenty of distance left to recover some of the damage.

The guys in the pack dictating the pace began to slow; their breathing grew laboured and at such an early point in the race, I knew they wouldn’t be able to sustain the effort for much longer. I took the reins and moved to the front of the group to keep the pace consistant, and looking at my Garmin, the split remained rock solid with little movement. The group continued to slow and drift further behind me; clearly they had all been a little over-enthusiastic and all began to suffer for it. I gave one final motivational push to try and spur any would-be takers to come with me; “Come on guys! We’ve got to close that gap ahead of us!” Nobody went with me and within a few seconds, I was left on my own for what had unhelpfully become a solo time trial. The next group ahead were probably no more than 100m away, but it was too big a void to tackle on my own whilst running unprotected into the wind. I did toy with the idea of dropping back a touch to regroup, though I’ve always been too stubborn to try it and decided to march alone instead for the next 2km, producing very consistent splits of 3:52 and 3:51.

The effort to keep the pace steady whilst on my lonesome took its toll on me. I didn’t wear my heart rate monitor due to the distraction of it slipping off in the last couple of 10k races; coupled with the conditions, I’m certain I was working too hard, too early. What I should have done was adopt the same negative split approach as I did in the Wythall Hollywood 10k, though it was too late for that. The one and only water stop of the race arrived, serving water out of plastic cups, as is the norm for a small race. I grabbed one cup from a volunteer, being especially careful not to spill any of the precious liquid. The quantity wasn’t nearly enough for such a warm summer’s day and only afforded enough for one sip, with the remainder going over my head. An article I read recently actually found water to be more beneficial on you than in you if a choice has to be made! The split clocked in at 3:54 with some slight slowdown to factor in a sharp turn and some fumbling for liquid, with the 5km halfway split registering as 19:18 to be about 10-15 seconds off target.

A 2km long straight presented itself and kept me focused on the group ahead; I was positively willing it to break apart to send somebody back to me! The effort to maintain pace continued to ratchet upwards, and whilst Garmin Connect recorded a tailwind for the direction the race took, the reality was actually cruel gusts of headwind to mock any foolhardy runners that dared to seek out a PB. The sixth km remained steady at 3:52.

Somewhere on the approach to 7km, a club runner I dropped much earlier in the race crept up on me, eventually gaining some daylight. I gave him some encouragement, impressed that he was able to shift his pace upwards at a relatively late stage in the race, factoring in that I wasn’t slowing down either. I tried latching on to him, though the fictional elastic snapped almost immediately. The group in the distance finally fell apart and one runner began drifting backwards to incentivise me to keep at it. Thanks to the brief moments of company, the seventh km came in at 3:49 for one of the faster splits of my race.

I cannot stand out and back sections of courses, so it’s laughable that I’ve got the Yorkshire Marathon in early October with two sizable switchbacks in place to bulk up the distance to the required 26.2 miles. The Magor 10k moved its previous switchback from around 5km on the route to its new home at 8km. Why? I’ve no idea, though in my mind, I reasoned it would make for an easier encounter nearer the end of the race rather than in the middle where pace can usually sag. I saw the race leaders approaching on the other side before too long, though had completely missed the first place guy who was four minutes further up the road by then! I took the turning wide to minimise any pace slowdown and immediately felt the hotspots on my feet flare up. If you hadn’t guessed by now, I was having a pretty dreadful time out there! 8km clocked in at 3:56.

None of my usual tricks worked to draw any more out of my dried out husk of a body – I’d definitely gone out too hard, too soon! The runner that overtook me sailed away into the distance, whilst the runner that fell from the group ahead was still out of reach. 9km was a real struggle, both physically and mentally, and produced my second slowest split of the race for 3:55. Everything would have immediately felt more pleasant if I’d have eased up, though I was still stubbornly hanging on to whatever threads of a PB opportunity that remained.

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Just a little something left for one last kick – photo by Lis Yu

This was it now – just 1km left to suffer through. I was now within reach of the runner in front by just a few strides, but there was nothing left at the bottom of the well to call upon. I was on the doorstep to blowing up, whilst the wind continued to tear strips from me, and the sun overhead scorched my skin. We were soon upon the turning for the modified finish that took us towards the back of race HQ, avoiding the broken gravel driveway, though replacing the final few hundred metres with a narrow alleyway that led to a grass straight. With about 400m remaining, I was finally able to make contact with the runner I’d so diligently aimed to reel in along with another unidentified club runner. Somehow, I managed to convince the central governor in my head to let me have something and I was able to inject a small surge to beat the unidentified club runner to the passageway. I made the last turn to draw neck and neck with the guy I’d targeted, kicking for the grass finish and spurred on by Lis and her parents. I was sprinting on fumes and a quick peek at my Garmin indicated a PB of maybe only a second or two was possible. 10m. 5m. 1m. C’est fini!

Post-race

This is where things got messy and took a turn for the frightening…

I stumbled a few metres through the finish funnel and very quickly realised something wasn’t right. My legs were like jelly and my senses suddenly became clouded. I was gasping for air, but my breaths were so quick and shallow that I now believe I was actually hyperventilating! I took a few more steps to be given a medal, found a clear spot adjacent to the finish funnel and then fell sideways to hit the deck with a thud. I don’t know how long I was out for, but what felt like only seconds must have easily been minutes in hindsight. It wasn’t until Lis and her parents reached me that the true extent of how hard I’d pushed myself came to light. The heat and effort from the race had made me dehydrated and delirious; all I could produce from my mouth was gibberish. My skin was red hot to the touch and my breathing remained unsteady. Lis finally had the bright idea to grab a few bottles of water from the volunteers to pour over me; it was instant relief and was just what was needed to quickly stabilise my temperature. It’s anybody’s guess what my internal core temperature actually was!

All of that effort would have been for nought if I didn’t get something out of the race. Checking my Garmin, the result came up as 38:44, though Lis said she saw 38:45 on the clock above as I passed through the finish gantry. The race official, processing the paper results for prize purposes, confirmed 38:45 was my official finish time. Just bloody fantastic – I almost literally wrung myself dry only to equal my existing 10k PB! To say that I’m disappointed is an understatement. It’s an often too regularly used adage, but in this case, there actually wasn’t any more I could have done out there without ending up in a hospital at the end of the race. On a positive note, it does confirm that I, without doubt, would have been faster in more mild conditions; runbritain agrees and gave me a -0.7 performance score versus the race’s 1.5 condition score, bringing my overall handicap down to 4.1. To give myself a chance at redemption, I’ve entered the Telford 10k that takes place in December, where you’ll find me racing in exactly the same attire without a single moan!

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

Tonight, I learned a fellow runner and supportive friend of mine very recently passed away. Darren was always a source of inspiration to keep me pushing beyond my own limits – it seems only fitting that this race report’s dedicated to him. R.I.P. Darren – you will be missed.

This week’s running – 9th to 15th of May 2016

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Not quite as bad as above, but close enough!

Week 1 of the 22 week marathon schedule began…

Kit drop time

“No such thing as wrong weather, just the wrong clothing” said someone, somewhere. The prior weekend’s heatwave hit home that I needed some additional lightweight kit to make this marathon campaign as achievable, and therefore as comfortable as possible.

Browsing through the Nike website, they actually had nothing that met my needs and they were pretty much out of stock of the tried and true Miler vest that I’ve worn for years in training. Nike had also seemingly discontinued the Race Day shorts that I’ve relied upon since forever, replacing it instead with a pair that’s almost £20 more expensive at £55!

So, I went off in search of what other brands had to offer. Adidas was a non-starter with designs that I knew would annoy the hell out of me. In the end, Under Armour and Brooks unexpectedly came good. Under Armour had some lightweight vests (Streaker Heatgear) for around £17 each with 15% discount, so I picked up a couple for the collection. Brooks had some race shorts that were uncannily similar in design to Nike’s Race Day version, but with additional gel pockets; I snapped up two pairs and the total came to just a little more than the £55 that Nike wanted for just one.

I rounded off the kit drop by replacing my assortment of knackered socks with some fresh sets of MoreMile’s Moscows at eight pairs for £20, along with two additional pairs of Nike’s Pegasus 32 running shoes that were 20% off.

Marathon campaign in the summer? Bring it on!

4x 1600m at 10k pace

As I’ve said many a time before, I’m not a fan of effort between 10k and half marathon pace; that feeling when you’re running reasonably hard, but not all out. The recent DK10K exposed this and had me sat at nearer half marathon pace, rather than 10k pace.

After the short-lived several days of glorious spring/summer-esque weather, things took a turn for the worse and I ended up completing this session in very wet conditions.

After what was probably an inadequate warm-up in hindsight, I went into the first 1600m rep at around 3:51 per km pace, but was always off target by a couple of seconds. Thoughts immediately turned to what the three remaining reps would look like…

Despite the first rep being an eye-opener, the 3:45 recovery was still probably too generous and 3:30 or even 3:15 would have sufficed.

The next three reps were actually not bad at all and reasonably consistent in pace. It was only in the final 400m of each remaining rep when the effort to stay on target bubbled to the surface to make me wish for it all to be over. Splits below:

  1. 6:14
  2. 6:07
  3. 6:12
  4. 6:14

Here’s the Strava data for the session.

5 miles from city centre

The schedule called for 5 miles on Wednesday, which coincided quite nicely with a run-commute from the city centre.

Conditions weren’t great, with light drizzly showers adding to the already high levels of humidity. I took things easy since this was to be treated as more of a recovery run than anything at a prescribed pace.

I’m leaving the door open on repeating this run-commute on Mondays. The schedule doesn’t ask for it, but they’re undoubtedly handy ways to get easy runs in whilst I would otherwise be sat in traffic anyway.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

We were now officially in that awkward period of disrupted weather. Thursday was the polar-opposite of Wednesday for 21 degrees to make this second run-commute of the week quite tricky.

Anticipating the warm conditions, I made this my first official training run of the year in a vest. Fellow runners on the canal were wearing all sorts on the spectrum; one bloke I saw wore a jacket and leggings!

As convenient as I found the canal network whilst living in the Jewellery Quarter, I despised it during the warmer seasons due to the floods of fair-weather idiots it tends to bring out. The number of people completely oblivious to their surroundings or other people around them was incredible.

Approaching the tunnel near The Vale, I did the courteous thing and allowed a cyclist to exit the tunnel before I entered, yet I was not given the same courtesy on the other side. I was maybe only 20m from the end when one guy on a road bike came charging in but was forced to stop because he realised he couldn’t get past me. “Thanks for waiting.” was my curt response. “I didn’t see you…” was his sheepish reply. “Kinda hard to miss me.” was my final contribution as I squeezed past him wearing day-glo colours.

Twat Cyclist Thursday© continued as I was nearly mowed down on two separate occasions by cyclists that came tearing around blind bends near bridges without alerting others with bells. One narrowly went past, whilst the other had to come skidding to a stop to avoid clattering right into me.

Even without idiots to contend with, the run was tough in the heat. I was a touch dehydrated going into it and carrying a bag on my shoulders meant I was sweating more than I originally anticipated with no airflow back there. Further evaluation and I concluded I can condense things down further to fit inside my Flipbelt, leaving almost everything else at the office and negate the need for the bag to come along. Anyway, hopefully it won’t be too long before I become better adjusted to the rising mercury readings.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

Newport’s event is actually the very first bit of Parkrun tourism I embarked on way back in 2012. I’d not been back to Tredegar Park since early October, when I ran it at a sedate pace the day before the Cardiff Half Marathon. Saturday gone was also an opportunity to catch-up with an old buddy of mine, Nigel Foulkes-Nock, who I’d not seen in absolutely ages.

I took the opportunity to test out some of the new kit from above, so out came the incredibly bright orange Under Armour vest and the Brooks shorts. The vest is ridiculously lightweight and rivals my trademark yellow Nike race vest. It’s also ridiculously long and I could lose 3 inches from the bottom without any worry. The shorts are sublime; the fit is perfect and they stay out of the way. The 5 inch length is ideal for me since I can’t pull off split shorts and become self-conscious flashing too much thigh!

I completed a full lap of the summer route as my warm-up to re-familiarise myself with the conditions underfoot. Newport takes place on a National Trust site and is not a fast course. It’s a trail event ran almost entirely on gravel, wood chips, dirt path and sand; only a wee 100m straight in the middle of each lap is on tarmac. Some work had been completed in the forest section to clear some trees and gave that stretch a totally different feel to the last time I ran it.

All caught up with Nigel, we placed ourselves on the wide start line and off things went.

I wanted a controlled run with the intended outcome of a new course PB around 19:30. Like at most events, people went haring off from the line and I was certain only a small percentage would be able to hold the pace and not drop off. I began overtaking a lot of people after only 400m or so in!

I settled into a nice rhythm and remained steady, producing first and second km splits of 4:03 and 4:01 respectively.

It wasn’t until around halfway through the run when I began to come into contact with the backmarkers. Newport Parkrun’s organisers formally lay on Couch to 5k programmes, which explained the swell of runners towards the rear of the field; the group leaders were thoughtful enough to remind all of their runners to stay to the left of the course to allow myself and others to overtake unimpeded.

Two guys ahead of me slowed and came back towards me. I took shelter behind them briefly before moving on to chase down another chap ahead. Once clear of him, looking ahead did not present any new targets to lock on to and only lapped runners. The third and fourth km clocked in at 4:04 and 3:58 respectively.

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Onwards to a new course PB – photo by Nicola Brann

Moving into the final km, I was nervous because I had to navigate my way through the forest section with unpredictable lapped runners all around me. The marshals were top-notch and continued to keep everybody on the left of the course, including on the awkward little bridge, where I was only slowed down very briefly. With the sheer mass of runners around me, I couldn’t see the cones laid out on the floor and went slightly wide rather than cutting the corner as the organisers wanted. This mis-step on my part allowed the guy I overtook to pull level with me before creating a lead that he ran with all the way to the finish. I wanted to stay steady and had no appetite to chase him down again; looking at my Garmin confirmed I’d hit my target of a new course PB of 19:28 in quite a comfortable fashion. I also finished 13th out of 600 runners, though I was slightly disappointed I didn’t finish higher given my previous position best of 10th.

Most enjoyable with a change of scenery and no pressure to perform!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Usk and back

Stood on my feet for most of Saturday afternoon and evening, I wasn’t entirely sure how my legs would react to a 14 mile long run. Thankfully, the sun’s rays weren’t nearly as warm as one week prior – things could have really become messy!

When I reached Usk, it was time to deploy the extra mileage I’d plotted out. What quickly became obvious was that Usk (and much of the surrounding area) is not particularly pedestrian friendly; the pavement was potholed and cracked to oblivion from countless winters freezing and defrosting, leaving me to tread gingerly for fear of turning over an ankle.

I consciously stepped the pace up for the closing few miles, including on the “Saint Andrews Walk Climb” Strava segment. What came out on the other side was my second fastest ever time on the segment, and second only to my own fastest time on the all-time leader board. Well, it seemed today was the day for records to fall, because several hours later, I’d been dethroned! The guy that took my crown only bested me by a few seconds for the 800m climb, but what’s even more remarkable is he did it during the 13th mile of a 21 mile solo training run, with the whole thing covered at an average of 6:24 per mile! I bowed to his supremacy…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The World Half Marathon Championships 2016 review

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Toughest race conditions I’ve ever faced!

Read on to find out how things went in Cardiff for the most expensive race I’ve ever paid to enter.

Pre-race

I woke to glorious sunshine, dry and wind-free conditions. Hold on a second… No, that was Good Friday. Easter Saturday was anything but with grey skies, rain and gale-force winds.

A further complication was how off-key I felt all week long. I don’t know whether it was because I was a touch over-trained, had caught some sort of underlying bug, or both, but I felt quite run-down during the taper, even with just 8 miles of mostly easy running to keep me ticking over. There wasn’t much appetite for running, let alone racing.

With a 14:10 mass start, I was able to have a very relaxed morning getting ready for the race. Having run the Silverstone Half Marathon a number of times over the years with its 12pm start, I was dubious because getting to Silverstone still requires a reasonably early departure, and that’s from Birmingham!

Lis, Yvonne and I still consciously made our way into Cardiff with ample time for me to avoid any undue stress. Well, it turned out to be a very civilised affair and with the race taking place on a Saturday, everything was open to the public so there was no shortage of toilets around the place!

Whilst I’d already had an early lunch, Lis and Yvonne opted to kill some time by having lunch at Wagamama. Amazingly, there were people dressed to run having full-blown meals of ramen or yakisoba in there! I couldn’t imagine having something of that nature before a race, but I guess with the mass-profile of the race, there must have been a lot of newcomers to the sport who wouldn’t have known any better. The window seats we had afforded great views of a number of the elite teams, including USA, Japan and Australia, making their way over to Cardiff Castle’s IAAF warm-up area.

For much of the week, I’d been in touch with both Darryll Thomas and Vince Nazareth regarding the race. The plan was to try and stick together with the belief that we were all in similar shape, albeit with different biases of speed versus endurance. I also had to get Darryll’s bib to him, which I’d picked up a couple of days prior from the expo.

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Vince and Andy at the World Half Marathon Championships

Once bags were all checked in, Vince and I parted ways from Darryll to get a warm-up in whilst he joined the scrum for a portaloo, agreeing to meet-up once more within the start pen. Through pure chance, the two of us found a closed off main road for us to cover an easy mile with the final minute at target race pace. It became evident the wind would be our biggest nemesis for the day; running straight into it, even at low speed, felt like we were hauling a tyre behind us!

Venturing into the start pen, it was good to see the marshals were seriously scrutinising bib colours and numbers to weed out anybody that was trying their luck to promote themselves forward. Stood in and amongst my fellow runners, I finally perked up and the desire to race and chase after a PB bubbled to the surface. York’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon was covered at an average pace of 6:28 per mile for 84:54; factoring in the potential to cover a slightly longer distance (13.16 was likely based on previous outings in Cardiff), an average pace of 6:26 was needed for just a marginal PB by only a few seconds. Slim pickings for sure, what with the atrocious conditions on display!

With the world’s media locked-in, the race started at exactly 14:10 without delay, though we were all blissfully unaware of Geoffrey Kamworor’s fall on the start line!

The race

I roughly worked out the opening few miles would be into the wind, and cautioned Darryll and Vince to run accordingly by drafting behind others and to hold steady. In spite of the controlled start, the opening still came in almost ten seconds faster than six months ago for a 6:30 mile without feeling too shabby. Needless to say, there were people darting off all over the place, with some that had started too far forward, such as the sub-90 Pacers, and some too far behind.

I felt relaxed and calm, no doubt benefitting from the light week of running during the taper. Incredibly, I spotted a couple of guys withdraw from the race during just the first two miles. Mile 2 sped up to 6:26.

Whilst I appreciated the cool conditions, I was still working up a sweat and poured most of my water bottle over my head. Darryll and Vince were still firmly with me, though they began to drift backwards as we crested the hill at 5k. Once over the hill’s brow, I glanced behind me and they were both still within sight, but the gap continued to grow. Just a few hundred metres later, Vince and Darryll had completely disappeared from view, though this didn’t stop me from checking  behind me for another mile or so in the hope that they would reclaim some of the distance. Miles 3 and 4 both clocked in at 6:31 and left me feeling superb.

I noticed a rather tall Les Croupiers runner was still around me and had remained so since the start line. Assuming he didn’t slow, he would make the perfect wind break for me to draft behind. Each time I’ve run this race, I’ve always approached the Barrage with much trepidation due to its exposure to the elements – especially so on this occasion. I need not have feared because a tailwind provided just the assist I was looking for! I peeked over my shoulder once more to try and locate Darryll and Vince, though there was no sign of them and I thusly gave up my search.

Suitably warmed up, the pace lifted and I approached Cardiff Bay exactly on target pace of 6:25 per mile. Disappointingly, the course took us on the same diversion as back in October to bypass Lloyd George Avenue to take us on to a dull dual carriageway with a slight rise. Nonetheless, the pace remained resolute and stayed at around 6:27 for miles 6 and 7.

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Mile 8 of the World Half Marathon Championships – photo by Lis Yu

Running through Cathays at mile 8, I caught sight of Lis and Yvonne for a much needed mental lift. Literally moments after posing for the camera, the heavens opened up and soaked me to the bone. The downpour was sobering and at least did the trick to cool me down! Rather bizarrely, I witnessed one lean runner utilising a fartlek style strategy; he sprinted off for maybe 200m or so and then slowed dramatically to recover and would then do it all over again! Miles 8 and 9 clocked in at 6:27 and 6:23 respectively and a PB was still in contention, so long as I could hold on to the pace.

As my Garmin beeped for mile 9, I looked around for the marker but it was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t until I turned the corner and experienced a face full of headwind that I realised it had been knocked over! The force of the wind was incredible, and coupled with the rain made for an incredibly unpleasant mile. Looking ahead, the next group of guys was just out of reach by about 30m; not a huge distance under normal circumstances, but I simply couldn’t muster the strength to reach them with the gale blowing. Looking backwards, the next group was also too far behind for me to even consider slowing down any further to join. I was conscious of the climb towards Roath in mile 10 and had to save a little something for that. The remainder of mile 9 was ran on my lonesome to produce the slowest split of the day at 6:42; this was the critical moment in the race that ultimately dictated whether I would PB or not…

The steady climb towards Roath graciously threw some runners back to me, getting me out of no-man’s land. There’s always a decent crowd in Roath to cheer you on and plenty of kids’ hands to high-five for some momentary distraction from the mounting pressure; I’d always wanted to tap one of those “Touch for a power boost” boards and was finally able to tick that off my list. I reclaimed the distance between the tall Les Croupier runner and me; firmly locking in that I would cover him, stride for stride, to the end. I turned for home at mile 11 with 6:34.

With a little over 2 miles remaining, I switched my Garmin over to the stopwatch display and began pressing for the finish. Unfortunately, the wind had other plans and in spite of the largely downhill remainder of the course, I couldn’t generate anything faster than 6:23. I was knackered and my legs grew increasingly unsteady as the descent did its best to shred my quads. Arriving at the short, sharp climb at the end of mile 12, a female Kenilworth runner audibly gasped, clearly not expecting to see yet another ascent on the course; the Les Croupier and I reassured her that was it and the rest was plain sailing until the finish line.

I had less than 7.5 minutes remaining to cover what was likely to stack up to 1.16 miles, and there was still no guarantee of a PB at the very end. I allowed my stride to stretch out and broke away from the Les Croupier runner. I knew I was capable of a 6:12 mile or faster in the closing stages of a half marathon based on my performance at the Brass Monkey, but the headwind persisted to stand in my way and reduced me to another 6:23 split.

The mile 13 marker arrived and I heard Lis and Yvonne’s cheers. It was down to mere seconds whether I would snag a cheeky PB or not. I launched myself into a final kick, head first into the wind, and claimed a few scalps on the finishing straight for the line.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I stumbled over to the barrier and the over-powering need to throw my guts up took over, except nothing came out.

My Garmin revealed I’d failed to come good and missed a PB by only 9 seconds for 85:02. Considering the conditions and overall distance covered (13.17 miles), this wasn’t bad at all and if not for the ferocious headwind, especially between miles 9 and 10, I’d have done it.

I waited for Vince and Darryll to come through. Vince too was also just shy of a PB by only 6 seconds, whilst Darryll was sadly over a minute off. The pattern continued and only a select few I know made the race a success for themselves, such as Daniel Luffman who finally bagged his sub-90 performance.

Soaked from the rain and quickly cooling down, we changed out of our sopping wet race tops and donned our souvenir Adidas tech t-shirts before parting ways to gather bags, meet with loved ones and so on. I really cursed not having a foil blanket, though have now been informed there was a limited supply of them that were handed out by volunteers at the end.

Conclusions

Were this race and the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in January swapped around, I’ve no doubt I would have produced a PB around 84:30 or faster on Saturday. Whilst this is all theoretical, I’m going to use the equivalent marathon pace of 6:47 in training.

I’m in bits as I write this review and due to the Saturday mid-afternoon start, I’m finding muscle soreness is kicking in at unexpected times of the day than what I’m used to. What would normally be “Tuesday morning legs” within Marathon Talk circles is more like “Monday afternoon legs”…

Disappointingly, I don’t have any half marathons planned between now and the Yorkshire Marathon in October and feel I’ve missed an opportunity to capitalise on the training of the last two months. Vince is looking at the Tewekesbury Half in May, whilst Lis and I have discussed visiting Swansea again in the past and could always dovetail it with their half marathon.

The plan for the next two months or so is to recover properly and to begin working in earnest on my 5k and 10k PBs before knuckling down for my marathon campaign formally in June.

Well done to all that ran – not an easy day at all!

This week’s running – 25th to 31st of January 2016

Speed limit 40

Back on the 40 mile week!

This week was about a 5k PB attempt and trying to get back to 40+ miles.

5k from work

Man, oh man. I’ve not had anything even remotely resembling a normal week since I picked up that cold at the beginning of January, so I was determined to get back on it and kicked things off with this simple 5k from the office.

The warmer climes from the weekend continued to roll over into the week; even in just a t-shirt and shorts, I was working up a sweat!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 mile canal fartlek

Normality was still in full flow, though forecasted strong winds were on course to derail me.

Running straight into the headwind on the out leg was horrendous at times, and probably slowed my peak paces on this fartlek run down by maybe 10 seconds or so. The return leg was much more pleasant with a tailwind for support.

During the closing stages as I ran through a tunnel, I began to hear footsteps of a runner on my tail. Rather awkwardly, I found myself repeatedly overtaking the runner, and then slowing down for him to overtake me, due to the nature of the fartlek run. On the final surge, I ran past, apologised and explained I wasn’t racing him in a haphazard manner; he smiled and forgave me as I went off into the distance.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

The fartlek run must have had a positive influence on me; I felt like I was flying as I ran home to produce a nice royal flush. I still spotted a fair few New Year’s Resolution folks out there, though there can’t be many of them left, surely!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

It was good to return to this weekly staple run. A nasty headwind smacked me about on the out, forcing me to slot in two miles at marathon pace into the return leg to stand some chance of hitting the right speeds. I’ll be honest: the marathon pace miles weren’t great and I could feel my right calf and Achilles tendon tightening up in the process. I reached the conclusion that it’s all down to my knackered shoes. Both pairs are nearing 500 miles, and whilst I’m not a heavy runner and have half decent technique, I still find my non-racing shoes breaking down at around the 400 mile mark.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

Ah! My home Parkrun away from my home Parkrun! I had a PB attempt on the cards with the knowledge that the training boost from the Brass Monkey Half Marathon would have soaked in almost two weeks later. A quick message to my buddy, Vince Nazareth, for pacing assistance and the stage was set.

Aside from the wind, the weather was actually pretty damn pleasant with blue skies and cool temperatures. I soon bumped into another Cardiff Parkrun regular, Daniel Luffman, who joined me on my warm-up jog. I felt completely out of sorts due to a lack of sleep for the days prior. I also still had an eye on my right Achilles; extensive massage and heel dips/raises successfully loosened it up, but I continued to pray it would stay silent for the run.

Only minutes before everybody was due to set off, Vince finally appeared. My target was somewhere around 3:40 to 3:42 per km for an 18:30ish 5k, with around 10 to 15 seconds of wiggle room built in should the pace likely slip in the middle splits.

Off the line, I took things much steadier than usual and allowed Vince to lead the way. There were a few gusts of wind that hit, though nothing to cause too much concern. A gap of 2 or 3m developed between the two of us and despite my best efforts to try and shut it down, I wasn’t able to turn my legs over any faster; they were heavy and leaden with no pop in them at all. I reached the 1km marker with a 3:42 split feeling reasonably relaxed and hoped there was more to give.

The course became more exposed and the gusts of wind became more of a hindrance. I still wasn’t able to close in on the space in front of me, and as the field thinned out, I struggled to find runners to draft behind. The incredibly heavy rain from the night before caused one particular corner to flood, so I observed the line runners ahead of me took to best determine the shallowest route. I really shouldn’t have bothered; the Nike Flyknit Racers I wore did nothing to keep the water out as I ran through to leave my feet soaked and freezing cold! The second km came in at 3:44 to still be within tolerance.

Ah. The awkward middle stretch. The only significant turn on the course appeared for a brief moment of slow down. Everyone around me also slowed to further distort my own perception of pace. Vince was still ahead by roughly the same distance as before, so I knew I simply had to keep this split under 4 minutes to still be in contention for a new PB. Towards the end of the third km, a lone dog was wondering around at the point where there’s two-way runner traffic for maximum hazard potential. A marshal whistled for the dog to come to her and the owner finally made herself known, remarking “Oh. He’s alright where he is. Don’t worry!” I managed to scoot around the dog, though that pinch point on the course would have only become busier! 3:57 was clocked for the third km.

My breathing once again resembled that of a steam locomotive; Vince later commented on how unusual it was to hear me exhaling with two short, sharp puffs and then inhale with one longer drag. I have no idea if this is efficient or not, though it works for me and only rears its ugly head when I’m really worked. The fourth km was largely forgettable, coming in at 3:55 when it really should have been more like 3:50…

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Andy and Vince at Cardiff Parkrun – photo by Paul Stillman

A small group of us runners formed to tackle the final km together. We had closed in on a runner in red that faded pretty badly; I snatched a few words to encourage him to stay with us as we passed him. The places in the group chopped and changed; for the first time in the entire run, I found myself running side by side with Vince as we approached the 400m marker. My cadence lifted as I clocked one member of the group attempting to kick on. I ushered for Vince to go with me, though I sensed he was close to his limit. I prayed for the 200m marker to make itself known and once it came into view, the chap who tried to break away only moments earlier put in one final kick for the finish with me in tow. He created a gap of 2m or so, though I managed to close it down to almost zero as I sprinted for the line.

I let out a strained growl as I made my way through the finish funnel. Staring at my Garmin, I couldn’t compute what the recorded time was actually trying to tell me. I finally realised I had an 18:44 PB to my name for a 5 second PB; slim pickings, for sure, but most welcome nonetheless.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

A debrief over coffee with Vince, Lis and Yvonne rounded off a great morning in Cardiff. With some focussed 5k graft, I’m sure 18:30 will come to me later this year, though my next 5k PB attempt in the Welsh capital will have to wait until I get the World Half Marathon Championships out of the way first.

14 miles – Llanhennock, Caerleon and back

Along with trying to get this particular week back to some normality with six days of training, I also wanted to get the mileage back into the 40s after several weeks of just 20s and 30s.

Unsure of how flooded my regular flat route into Usk would be, I opted to go back towards the Llanhennock hills, through to Caerleon and back for around 14 miles.

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Nike Pegasus 32s – like fluffy clouds on my fleet

This run also pulled double duty by also breaking in a new pair of Nike Pegasus 32s. I love the Nike Pegasus as an affordable and reliable neutral training shoe, owning several pairs over the years. This latest iteration claimed to be several grams lighter than its most recent predecessor, whilst also being more breathable. Crucially, Nike chose not to play about with the outsole or midsole for a very familiar feel to the pair replaced.

I kept the pace incredibly easy, not wanting to smash myself two days on the trot. Bar the opening slow uphill mile, none came in any slower than 8:50 or faster than 8:04 (extreme descent) for a largely steady paced run.

Completed, I welcomed a return to 43 miles for the week and hopefully more steady training for coming weeks with only a multi-day trip to Germany with work for disruption.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here are the next 10 shorts from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Running rule shorts – 61 to 70

  1. If you can’t race without it, don’t put it in your checked luggage.
  2. At a fluids station, always try and make eye contact with the person whose cup you want.
  3. Shin discomfort while running is okay; while walking, not okay. See a doc in that case.
  4. You lose fitness faster than you gain it.
  5. If you never have a “bad” day, you’re probably doing something wrong; if you never had a “good” day, you’re definitely doing something wrong.
  6. If you’re going easy, really go easy; if you’re going hard, really go hard.
  7. The faster you run uphill, the steeper it seems.
  8. Running any given route in the rain makes you feel 50 percent more hard-core covering the same route on a sunny day.
  9. The more often you check your watch, the longer the run will drag on.
  10. Every rule of thumb has an exception – except for this one.

 

 

This week’s running – 30th of November to 6th of December 2015

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This was always gonna hurt…

This week was all about getting primed for one last 5k PB attempt for the year.

5k from work

Going into this jog from the office, there was still some slight nervousness around my Achilles tendon from the previous couple of days. Once I actually got running, any fears were quickly dispelled and the normal sense of routine came flooding back to me. Co-ordination was also much improved over the previous day’s 10 miles, with each step planted down more confidently than the one prior.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 mile fartlek

Due to a prior engagement that took Lis and me over to the Stirchley side of Birmingham, I decided to take my running gear along and kill two birds with one stone by getting my fartlek run in whilst heading for home.

Unlike a week earlier, there was no distress from the Achilles tendon to leave me convinced I was over it. I wore different shoes to also reach the conclusion that the temporary injury was footwear induced. The Adidas Adios Boost 2s from the week prior hadn’t been touched since mid-September, so coupled with an 8 mile fartlek run with sharp accelerations and decelerations simply meant everything was just out of tolerance enough to make the tendon go *ping*. It was rather good to be running in full flow again, especially form-wise, in the build-up to Saturday’s 5k PB attack.

It may have just been because it was later in the evening than normal, but there were no other runners out on the canal towpaths, despite conditions being very mild and favourable, compared to the recent cold snaps and high winds that have battered the nation of late.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

The fartlek run must have sharpened me up because my legs felt great. Even with a bag on my back and running into a headwind, I was able to open the throttle a little more than usual – all was positive ahead of Saturday’s visit to Cardiff Parkrun.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 canal miles

This was a character building run of two halves – both as unpleasant as each other! Strong winds and heavy rain were forecasted for Thursday evening, right when I’d be due to cover 10 miles…

The rain stopped before I headed out, but I knew it was simply delaying the inevitable… With 5 miles straight into a headwind, I dialled the pace back and in terms of effort, almost certainly equated to a faster pace on a still day. No pain at all from my Achilles tendon, but it was quite stiff during the early miles before it loosened up.

On the return, I threw in a single mile at marathon pace just to temporarily shake the slower speed up. The heavens opened up and I was drenched in a matter of minutes, leaving me rather soggy for the second half.

This run also saw the return of “Twat cyclist Thursday”. I could see a cyclist was already inside the narrow tunnel and despite the heavy rain, I decided to wait by the entrance for him to come through. He exited and rode past me, without as much as a word of gratitude. I said to him, “Think the word you’re looking for is “Thanks””, though it probably fell on deaf ears. As I turned to enter the tunnel, another cyclist appeared beyond halfway so I waited again… This cyclist at least had the decency to say, “Thanks a lot. Have a good run.” as he exited from the tunnel.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

This was the Big Kahuna. It’d been marked on my calendar for several months as my last remaining shot at a sole 5k PB for 2015. No pressure, right? As timing would have it, this day was exactly a year since my 18:51 PB was achieved. And much like a year ago, nature saw fit to scupper my plans, though not with ground frost, but rather strong winds.

I was genuinely anxious going into this run. My game plan was as follows:

  • 1st km in 3:35
  • 2nd km in 3:45
  • 3rd km in 3:50 – 3:55
  • 4th km in 3:45
  • 5th km in 3:40 or faster

I don’t do even pacing when going for 5k PBs. Holding back at the start simply doesn’t leave enough headroom when you’re too fatigued in the later stages.

Attendance was a touch light on arrival, revealed to be down to the Gwent XC league taking place that afternoon – not great for me as someone looking to work with others at the sharper end towards a fast time.

My warm-up did little to inspire me to great things, with even a gentle effort feeling like it was getting the better of me. Bumping into Daniel Luffman lifted my spirits and I congratulated him on his recent sub-19 performance after chasing it for what felt like months. I invited him to join me on my quest for PB glory, but he admitted that going under 19 minutes had nearly finished him off and politely declined. So much for runners having short memories regarding pain and discomfort!

On the start line, there was none of the usual jostling for position with plenty of space up front for anybody that wanted it. I dived straight in when given the go-ahead and quickly found myself in third place. My mind couldn’t compute what was happening and I remained in third place all the way up to the 800m marker, which was remarkable for a large urban Parkrun. The first km came in at 3:39, so a touch slower than what I’d set my sights on, but still within tolerance.

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Third place off the line! Photo by John Ross

A few of the faster guys finally overtook me and quickly created large gaps to leave me on my own. A few strong gusts from a crosswind made running in a straight line rather awkward, but I counted myself lucky that I wasn’t getting a face full of headwind at the very least. The second km settled into target at 3:46.

I was entirely in no-man’s land during the third km. The chap in front of me was too far away to chase down with the levels of fatigue I’d lumbered myself with. A few glances backwards gave me no confidence that anybody would be along to give me a tow; it really was just the clock and me from there on out. Reaching the point on the course where I could see the runners approaching the second km, I was reminded of how few runners were in attendance that morning, with only stragglers left at the back when it’s normally chock full of runners that have yet to come through. I managed to hold the third and fourth km steady at 3:54 and 3:55 respectively.

Crossing over into the final km, I needed my Garmin to say 15:00 or so to be in with a chance of a decent PB. To my horror, I saw 15:17 and knew instantly that my buffer had been eroded away with a too lax fourth km. I originally wanted 15:30 on the clock with 800m remaining, safe in the knowledge that I could push out 3 minutes for the distance, but that ship had already sailed… I was gaining on the guy in front of me, though I wasn’t entirely sure if it was because I was speeding up or if he was slowing down. With only 400m remaining, I couldn’t do anything more to lift the pace. Even at the 200m marker, I had a distinct lack of explosive finishing power that I’ve so readily banked on in the past.

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Has the lucky yellow vest finally run out of luck? Photo by John Ross

I crossed the line to match my 18:51 PB. Disappointed, I clutched the 11th place token before exiting the queue to try and calm my stomach that was doing cartwheels. I felt it gurgling away during the difficult middle portion of the run, but managed to keep it from taking control.

Here’s the Garmin data.

Having thought I’d wrung myself dry out on the course, Lis, Yvonne and I witnessed a bloke that literally collapsed crossing the line. He wasn’t moving once he hit the deck to convince various First Aiders that action was necessary. We later found out he’d simply pushed himself beyond his limits in the chase for a PB, which he did at least achieve. Lis and I began to wonder whether it was us, because this was the second collapse that we’d witnessed in the space of only several days, where the first involved a diner in a restaurant we visited.

Having had some time to digest the result, I’ve come to some peace with myself. On a different day with a loaded field, I’d have PBd. I had no 5k focus going into the run, so being able to at least match my year old PB under less than ideal conditions does show some improvement. runbritain liked the performance, giving me a -1.2 result that has handily returned me to a 4.8 handicap.

I still have a couple of weeks of 2015 left – perhaps Santa Claus will bring me a 5k PB at Cannon Hill?

11 miles – Usk and back

Surprisingly, my legs felt great despite the eyeballs out run at Cardiff Parkrun the previous day. There was no tightness at all when I let my stride stretch out, allowing me to also actively work on my form at the same time.

I normally see a few runners out on this route but it was just me on this occasion. Plenty of cyclists riding chain gang style, though.

The 2 miles or so leading into and out of Usk are hands down the best paved roads I’ve ever had the privilege to run on. They’re pancake flat and the tarmac that was used has just enough give to return energy without dulling legs that harder surfaces do. Finally, the texture is just right for road running, with enough grip to maximise the power from each toe-off without feeling lumpy or sharp underfoot. Running bliss!

Reaching Usk, I made the mistake of turning around through their Christmas market. I was starving and the smell of turkey sandwiches and hotdogs were exactly what I didn’t need!

What I also didn’t need was the 15mph headwind for much of the return leg.

Saint Andrews Walk Climb

41 seconds between me and the next guy

I’m not normally one to be competitive over Strava segments, but several months ago, I was alerted when I became the course record holder of a stretch near where Lis’ folks live. It’s a 0.5 mile climb with a 5% average gradient that peaks at 10%. Ouch indeed. Achieved passively, there were only 10 seconds or so between me and the next guy, though his stake dated back to 2014. I decided to up the ante and make it tougher for any would-be challengers to take the record from me, so I steeled myself for a full on attack to stop the weekend from being completely devoid of glory. Two women that had just walked down the hill stopped to watch me hurl myself up the “Saint Andrews Walk Climb”. At one stage, I was actually running at 5k pace! I knew it was unsustainable, so I dropped back down slightly to somewhere between 10k and half marathon pace for the second half of the climb. Wowza – were my legs and lungs ever shot at the top, but I was full of confidence that I’d done enough to ward off any segment chancers.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Time for an entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

When in doubt, opt for pants, not tights

Tights are funny things. Not everyone can pull off tights. For starters, there are the superhero jokers. Then there are the obvious anatomical issues. Let’s face it: Not every body type is cut out for body-hugging garments. And, for men especially, wearing tights can be a bit too… revealing.

All that said, tights can be very satisfying. They hug your body in a very “second skin” sort of way, compress your muscles, and can show off whatever lean mass you’ve managed to build up.

On the wrong runner, however, tights can be a train wreck. Rule of thumb: If you’re asking yourself whether you should wear tights… you probably should not.