This week’s running – 21st May to 3rd June 2018

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Newport parkrun takes place on a National Trust site – photo by Lis Yu

Gah. Apologies once again, everyone, for I have fallen behind with the updates. Two weeks rolled into one, here.

5x 800m at 5k pace

I struggle with the specifics, but it’d been a long time since I last completed a true-blue interval session at anything faster than half marathon pace. Needless to say, I was pensive about how the session would unfold…

Well, I need not have worried at all for I positively surprised myself! Take a look at the below for each 800m rep:

  1. 2:55
  2. 2:59
  3. 2:53
  4. 2:55
  5. 2:54

Rep 2 was marred by heavy tree cover, ruining what was otherwise a near-flawless set! I could have pushed on for 6x, but felt quite nauseous upon finishing 5x and figured that was quite enough to get myself reacquainted with structured speed once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

5 mile run-commute

Expecting the week’s total mileage would end up a touch on the low side due to soft-tapering and racing, I opted to jump off the Metro one stop early to have this run end up nearer to 6 miles than 5.

Running with a bag on your back is tough going. You end up with what some affectionately call swamp back, due to never-ending perspiration in a bid to keep the back cool. Not only that but whatever goes into the bag needs to be wrapped in plastic… I’ll say no more!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

Like a fool, I forgot to pack my Flip Belt to have me running all 11 miles with a phone and wallet in my hand. Any of you that know me in person will be aware of my diminutive figure, yet I own the ginormous iPhone 8 Plus. Not comfortable in the slightest!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Racing the following day meant I volunteered, of course. I was paired up with the lovely Fehmida, volunteering and marshalling for the very first time, due to fasting for Ramadan. She was an absolute natural, learning the ropes very quickly, pointing runners in the correct direction, and encouraging everybody as they passed.

Also joining us was a chap from Bristol, who was returning there due to work contracts ending. Rather than run at Cannon Hill for the final time, he opted to volunteer instead. Many, myself included, would have done the former, whereas he’d set a great example by going against expectations.

Cotswold Hilly 100 2018 review

For the full write-up, please click here.

5k recovery

Strangely, the previous day’s Cotswold Hilly 100 leg barely felt like it had touched the sides. Considering my Garmin advised 72 hours for recovery, I heeded this warning and kept the effort incredibly low. Helpful to me were the torrential rains of the previous day in Birmingham, bringing the temperature down a few notches.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

This was a very special day for the St James Road tunnel re-opened! Huzzah!

Those of you local to Birmingham and who run on the canals will be all too familiar with the narrow, single-file nature of above said tunnel. I remember years ago, a cyclist decided to race ahead of me into the tunnel, only for him to constantly lose his balance to then drop his speed to become the one holding me up!

Since January, work has been carried out on widening the footpath in the tunnel. Whereas canal boats have probably lost around a metre of width from the tunnel, which still leaves plenty for them to play with, users of the footpath are now able to comfortably and safely overtake with ease; no more waiting at either end!

The only downside? The extension is basically a platform, and not a particularly solid sounding one. Only time will tell if it survives the repeated pounding and punishment…

The run itself was so-so. Humidity was jacked right up to leave me drenched and dripping in sweat. The crushing problem with humidity is it stops the body from being able to cool itself down. Without the sun shining directly on you or a breeze to evaporate sweat, it simply pools on your skin and your body pumps out more sweat because you’re not cooling down. It’s a double cost as you become increasingly dehydrated with no benefit!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

The humidity remained and certainly not helping was the bag on my back.

Running through Cannon Hill Park, there were still a few telltale signs of the storms from Sunday. Lots of mud had formed or collected besides the many paths.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3x 800m

Eugh. This was supposed to be 6x 800m at 5k pace, but I could tell from the warm-up alone that things were going to get ugly. 4 easy paced miles had left me glistening in sweat that simply wasn’t evaporating away!

I knew after 3x reps that I was better off jumping out and not delay recovery for another attempt another day:

  1. 3:06
  2. 2:58
  3. 3:03

Whilst the humidity was one factor in the poor session performance, recovering from the Cotswold Hilly 100 and poor hydration and nutrition were others. I opted to catch a bus for the final 2 miles for home, stopping off at Sainsbury’s for some sugary snacks and drinks!

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

Newport parkrun

Ah, Newport parkrun. Home to my very first parkrun away from Cannon Hill and also where my Achilles heel had decided enough was enough back in 2016 (I’d not been back since).

Ben, a friend of Lis’ and mine ran there for the first time a week prior and fancied giving it another shot whilst I was in town. It makes for quite a contrast to his usual haunt of Riverfront parkrun and is one of the likely few events where the launch of nearby events have taken numbers away from Newport parkrun; at its peak, the event could see up to the high 500s, whereas the 200s to 300s is now the norm. Their secret? Newport parkrun is definitely more of a summer course.

After a warm-up, Ben and I both concluded it was going to be a warm morning. Not helping was the lush vegetation we would run through twice for added humidity. Spectating were Lis and my mother-in-law, Yvonne.

Visiting the event was a swift looking runner from Oklahoma in the US. I did actually have sights on him winning, only for disappointment to strike when he finished in second place and lost out to a fellow visiting runner.

I was in need of sleep and recovery, so set out with just sights on skimming under 20 minutes. With its many twists, turns and long stretches under thick tree cover, I knew the course came up a touch short on GPS, so I had a small margin of error on my side. I coasted much of the first km, keeping the effort and pace steady whilst people chopped and changed before settling down.

Somewhere during the second km, I noticed a young boy in the distance running at a decent clip for the Tredegar Park terrain. With no extra work on my part, we eventually drew shoulder-to-shoulder; his breathing was already quite heavy and laboured, so he was certainly working hard. He began to slip by a step or two, convincing me to give him some encouragement and pacing assistance. “Stay with me, buddy,” I said to him to get a feel for whether he was interested in keeping the fire burning. He drew level with me again to clearly wish to remain in the game.

This continued up to the final km, when I thought I might have lost him. His breathing was, expectedly, very laboured and intense; the suffering he was putting himself through was remarkable. I carried on with the encouragement, which he’d previously reacted positively to. As we cleared the final corner, I took the lead momentarily and told him to kick and chase me down. He found something from somewhere and briefly pulled level with me before putting a few metres between us. At the 200m sign, I told him to go for the finish and he added a few more metres between us, finishing in 19:52 and me in 19:54.

Upon finishing, I congratulated him and told his father that he should be proud of the effort he’d put on show that morning. A sub-20 is not particularly easy to achieve on Newport’s course as the terrain, whilst being largely flat, is not particularly forgiving in terms of energy return or traction.

Ben came back in with a course PB, which was to be expected with prior knowledge of the course and starting right at the front with me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Monkswood and back

The day before, Lis and I noticed several volunteers putting up a number of “Caution Runners” and arrow signs around much of the long run route I almost always utilise when visiting Lis’ parents. Curious and confused, I could find no information on what the potential race was, with no listings on any of the race resources I commonly refer to. Ben was able to deduce it was some sort of relay race akin to the Cotswold Hilly 100. Hosted by the local Fairwater Runners club, it featured multiple legs of differing distances, with the most brutal being a half marathon taking place at 13:20 in the midday warmth. I feared I would have to bandit the race if it coincided with my own long run, though there was no need as I was all wrapped-up before they’d even started their leg.

Whereas I’d spotted dozens upon dozens of cyclists, I was the only runner out there on this morning. One particular cyclist recognised me on the out and return to cheer me on. Also cheering me on was a mystery BMW driver, honking his horn and waving as I headed towards my turnaround point at Monkswood.

I ensured I was adequately hydrated and fed beforehand, but took no chances by carrying an additional water bottle with electrolytes. Usefully, I also strictly regulated the first half’s effort to have me feeling pretty good for the second half.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

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This week’s running – 23rd to 29th April 2018

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Battling for third place at Merthyr parkrun – photo by Merthyr parkrun

The taper begins again. For the third time…

5k recovery

And just like that, the heat wave that struck the London Marathon was over within 24 hours, and cold and dreary normalcy resumed. A long sleeve top replaced the vest once more!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles with 2 at marathon pace and 1 at half marathon pace

Every Tuesday of late seems to be marred by unfavourable conditions, namely strong winds. This particular Tuesday was no different and all paced miles were straight into headwind. Saying that, I was pretty damn pleased with the splits:

  1. 6:44
  2. 6:46
  3. 6:23

My only concern is I’ve not spent as much time as I would like at or around half marathon pace, though the upcoming DK10K should remedy that.

Just as this run was concluding, some scrote decided to throw a half-eaten McFlurry out of a car at me! Thankfully, their aim was off and it landed some 2m ahead of me. What’s happened to society where people think it’s acceptable to do such a thing to somebody minding their own business on a run? I did contemplate picking the messy container up, chasing the car down and hurling it back through the open window, but they’d made it all the way up the road by the time I was ready…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

A week later and the fair-weather crowds from Cannon Hill Park had all dispersed. With the unpredictable nature of the weather, I currently have to pack a variety of kit to take to work with me. T-shirts, long sleeves, shorts, tights. I long for the simple times!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Run cut short because Thanos must be stopped!

Also known as 9 miles from work…

I love movies as much as I love running, so Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War is a big deal. I’ve been watching the franchise since 2008 – before I even started taking running seriously! I had tickets for an evening screening; time was tight to pack a decent length run in, get home, have dinner and shoot back out again. I decided 8 miles from the office would suffice and I could then catch the bus for the remaining 2 miles.

I left work feeling pretty lethargic and noted that tapering must begin soon. Nothing felt right or connected. Reaching the detour point on the canal south of Brindley Place, a lost runner stood trying to make sense of the diversion map. I paused and offered him assistance to get him back on to the canal towpath via The Vale, but he opted to just turn around as he didn’t think he’d be able to keep up with me. I was hoping he’d come along to help freshen me up, but alas…

Exiting the canal by Lifford Lane for 8 miles, horror spread across my face as I saw two buses drive past before I had a chance to reach the bus stop. Seeing as they were scheduled to run every 8 minutes, I didn’t fancy hanging around for 16 minutes whilst cooling down, so I continued running for home. As I neared each subsequent bus stop, I glanced over my shoulder in the hope that another bus appeared, only to be left disappointed. Keeping an eye on time, I was quickly running out and was forced to pick the pace up. Reaching home, there were just a few hundred metres between the buses and me, so it was pleasing that I wasn’t far behind schedule without motorised assistance!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

And how was Infinity War? Bloody fantastic! They actually pulled it off!

Merthyr parkrun

Lis and I were back in her motherland once more, which meant another dose of parkrun tourism! My Welsh parkrun tourist conspirator, Ben, was unavailable so the originally planned Bryn Bach parkrun mutated into a solo trip to Merthyr parkrun.

At just barely over a year old, Merthyr parkrun has built a small but dedicated following, typically attracting around 25 to 50 participants each week. Sharing its DNA with many other newer events, the event doesn’t actually take place in a park at all, but rather on a stretch of public path that follows the Taff River, behind Merthyr Tydfil’s leisure centre. The leisure centre provides parking, toilets and a café for the parkrun essentials, all within a compact space for not much required to-ing and fro-ing.

Arriving very early, I thought I’d sussed out the course after studying its route and profile. Jogging along the paved path, the smell of bacon from the nearby Travelodge hotel permeated the air! I arrived at a fork, which perfectly resembled that of the map I’d observed. Jogging the other way, volunteers had arrived and began setting up, prompting me to wrap things up.

I had a chat with the tail walker for the day, who gave me a run-down of the course and what to expect. His eyes bulged out of his head when he learned I’d recently broken 250 runs; whilst there are dozens of 250 Club members at Cardiff parkrun (a 10 year old event), there’s very little cross-over with Merthyr parkrun, in spite of the relatively short geographical distance between them. The smaller events make for a nice contrast from the larger events I’m accustomed to; everybody seems to know everybody else and the locals roll out the red carpet to make visitors feel welcome, taking a personal interest in why somebody would drive 50 minutes to attend Merthyr parkrun.

Walking over to the start line, a fellow tourist asked me if I knew the course layout. I held my hands up and explained to Ronnie that I was in the same boat as him and hoped that somebody faster than us knew the precise route! Ronnie was visiting from Catterick parkrun, near Darlington; I was incredibly jealous as he described his local course as taking place on a horse racing track, making it flat and especially fast on calm days. Confusingly, we faced the opposite direction than which I expected us to head; had I got the course wrong, even with the perfectly matching route that I jogged?

From the line, the pace felt rather sedate and there was little exuberance on display. One youngster pulled away by a few metres, whereas a pack comprising of me, Ronnie and a few others took chase. A few hundred metres in, I glanced at my Garmin for some feedback and was shocked to see none of the metrics moving. It was almost like the screen had frozen over and then I realised my folly; I’d not reset things after my 200m set of strides… I opted to kill the recording and start things over, which is easier said than done at 5k pace! Annoyingly also, my heart rate monitor’s chest strap continually slipped due to not being wet enough to stay in place…

Overhead, the course shares a few similarities with Cardiff’s Grangemoor parkrun. Both take place over relatively compact footprints and feature plentiful use of switchbacks – five in total for both parkrun events. We approached the first switchback, with everybody tackling it with the grace of a giraffe on an ice rink! The path was slick from overnight rain and Ronnie almost lost his footing, but recovered in a nick of time.

The second switchback arrived shortly; with such a narrow path, there were few options for how to take it with me deciding the slow-entry and fast-exit method would be best. I was firmly in fourth place with the possibility of third if Ronnie tired. On low attendance weeks, first place has been known to finish in high 19 minutes or low 20 minutes, but this day wasn’t such.

On the approach to the south of the course, another youngster from the back joined the fray and overtook all of us with ease to take the lead. The former leader decided he wasn’t going down without a fight, so a battle ensued.

Thankfully, the next switchback was on a wider path to facilitate a smoother manoeuvre. All of a sudden, the challenger to the new run leader walked off the course, grasping at his guts due to a stitch. “Keep at it! Walk it off,” I hollered to try and spur him on to rejoin us. It was no use; he was spent from what was probably a start that was too fast for him, along with the unexpected mid-run battle. In his place, a new challenger took over and moved away from Ronnie and me. The two of us now had a battle of our own for third place!

I was taken aback when Ronnie was able to keep pace on a climb, especially as he was much taller than me. Equally shocking was me pulling away on the descent on the other side! Runners with long strides normally leave me for dust on downhill sections of courses, so I figured he must have been tiring.

We flew through a high-speed underpass section with two particularly vocal and encouraging marshals spurring me to challenge for second place. That wasn’t going to happen, especially as there was at least a 20-30m gap that had formed.

Reaching the switchback with a bollard for the second time, I decisively chose to grasp it with both hands and swing myself around it in a bid to not lose too much speed or footing whilst trying to keep Ronnie at bay. I had only a few seconds’ lead on him, so every move counted, as I had no idea of his finishing ability.

On the cusp of the final switchback, the leader had fallen back significantly into second place when I last saw him with a sizable advantage. I reasoned there must have been a marshalling error; when I arrived at the switchback myself, it had moved forward by perhaps 10-15m, and when I asked the marshals what had happened ahead, they looked at me, sheepishly, and pointed me back in the direction for the finish. Was the switchback too far on the first occasion, or is it supposed to move on the second lap?

I had a 5 second or so lead on Ronnie from my calculation of him passing a fixed location. I picked up my cadence to take advantage of the fast entry and exit from the underpass with the finish only metres further away, pleased that I’d done enough to bag third place as per my prediction that morning.

I shook the hands of the first and second place boys, and also that of Ronnie and another guy that we’d briefly spoken to on the start line. First place explained that he’d been sent further than he needed to be by the marshals on the final switchback, which can only suggest that the switchback wasn’t moved over in time for the second lap; I can’t help but wonder that placing it in a spot between the lap 1 and lap 2 positions would resolve any need for it to be moved at all?

Due to my Garmin mishap earlier that morning, I largely ran blind and had to rely on Ronnie’s 19:14 to estimate my own finish. It was officially recorded to be 19:05, so I was slightly disappointed to not squeeze a little more out of myself for sub-19; without all the switchbacks, I’m confident I’d have hit 18:50. Curiously, I’d somehow been promoted upwards to second place in the official results. I was definitely given the third place token, so perhaps the first place finisher had not run the full course and merely joined in partially for a tempo run?

Post-run, we were offered bottled water and cakes, which looked to have been donated by Sainsbury’s. The lady barcode scanning was in Sainsbury’s uniform, so it’s more than likely that they were the event sponsor to help get Merthyr parkrun off the ground and started.

Here’s the partial Strava data for this run.

Next on my Welsh tourism list is either Bryn Bach parkrun or Pontypridd parkrun.

10 miles – to Usk and back

What a difference a week makes! Whereas seven days prior, the London Marathon hovered around 25°C, this particular Sunday saw the inaugural Newport Marathon struggle to get much higher than 6°C!

I’d wisely chosen to don a long sleeve top to keep the chill at bay. More than anything, it was the strong, swirling gusts of wind that took their toll – whichever direction I faced, I ran straight into it.

Somewhat expectedly, I was the only runner out that morning. Many in the local area will have either been recovering from the London Marathon, or participating in the morning’s Newport Marathon and 10k. The route looked to be great for those seeking a fast time, with the only climb of significance between miles 9 and 10, consisting of some 10m of elevation change. The rest of the course is pretty damn flat, taking the challenging of becoming the UK’s flattest road marathon.

My own run was largely uneventful, though I was certainly glad to cap it at just 10 miles in preparation for a needed taper ahead of the upcoming Shakespeare Half Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

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!