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!

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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.

 

Cardiff 10k 2015 review

For the 2012, 2013 and 2014 races, please click the following:

Can you find Andy at the Cardiff 10k 2015

Can you see me yet? Photo by Wales Online

This was my last chance in 2015 at another 10k PB. Read on to find out what happened in the Welsh capital…

Pre-race

After last year’s course change due to the NATO conference, I purposely waited until the route was formally announced before committing myself. I was worried that somebody in the organising committee had taken a shine to last year’s course due to lower road closure costs, but somebody saw sense and restored what I like to call the “classic” course.

The next hurdle to overcome was that of fitness, or lack of. Going into the Magor Marsh 10k at the end of July, I carried over a lot of sharpness that I picked up en route to a 5k PB attempt (the 5k PB never materialised). I was in top form and as many of us know, holding on to new found fitness can be tricky. My honeymoon brought my training log crashing to the ground, along with some weight gain – a new 10k PB was going to be one tough cookie for sure.

A few positive training runs over the last couple of days convinced me I should still brave a 10k PB attempt, especially if Vince Nazareth was also targeting a time under 39 minutes.

I didn’t sleep particularly well the night before, waking up at 4am due to a strange dream involving a serial-killer posing as a Sainsbury’s security guard and a multi-storey car park (don’t ask).

Conditions looked incredible on race morning, with cool temperatures and very little wind. Regular readers will know I’ve had a few races scuppered over the spring and summer due to challenging elements, courtesy of Mother Nature. Sadly, things started to hot up very quickly due to brilliantly blue skies with nary a cloud in sight.

My warm-ups felt spot on; the 1 mile jog helped to loosen things up and the 300m effort at 10k pace gave me the confidence that my legs had the speed for the morning’s exertions. I did unfortunately lose one of the nose grips from my sunglasses for a 5 minute pre-race distraction.

Can you find Andy at the Cardiff 10k 2015

I have no idea what I was pointing at – Photo by Wales Online

I bid Lis and Yvonne farewell and headed over to the start pens. Cardiff 10k’s start pens have been chaotic for me in the past, so I like to stake out a spot nice and early. I bumped into the ever-affable Daniel Luffman who was targeting something around 40:XX. I also spotted the San Domenico runner, Chris, who I worked alongside at the Magor Marsh 10k for our very rewarding PBs. A short while later, Vince and his son, Dylan, joined us in the fray as we were ushered to move forward. When I looked around at everybody beside us, everyone was lean and sinewy with a hungry look in their eyes – the air was serious and there were no costumed runners in sight!

We waited patiently for the hooter. One guy kept reaching to the sky in a desperate attempt to gain some GPS signal, eventually achieving lock-on with only seconds to spare. The hooter blew and “Go-time” was upon us.

The race

Vince and I had discussed working together towards the common goal of a sub-39 finish. I stuck with him like glue to follow his line and run in his slipstream. Lis’ mum, Yvonne, appeared to my left but Lis was nowhere to be seen.

The first corner seemed to catch a few people off guard, and the number of times I was cut up and almost tripped was ridiculous – look ahead and you can see what’s coming up, folks!

By 1k, I was still on Vince’s tail but I was definitely working hard to keep on pace. I wasn’t seeing any benefit from drafting at all to convince me to let Vince go and possibly salvage my race. I watched him tearing off into the distance, increasing the gap between us with each step. Randomly on my left as I approached the castle, I heard a “Go Andy!” from the crowd and thought it must have been Vince’s wife, Heather, if the cheer was indeed intended for me.

Firmly past Cardiff Castle, Chris from San Domenico caught up to me and said, “I must be going too fast if I’ve caught up to you.” My reply: “Nope! I’m going too slow!” We agreed to work together, much like in the Magor Marsh 10k, except even 3:55 kilometres were feeling a little too tasty here and I continued to struggle even in Chris’ slipstream. I was able to stay with him up to 4k before I had to let him go as well. The lack of intensity the last couple of weeks meant nothing felt familiar at all and my PB attempt became a fight to simply finish in under 40 minutes.

Going through halfway, I spotted Daniel Luffman again just ahead of me by perhaps no more than 20m. If he was able to maintain the lead on me, there was a possibility of him hitting 39:XX territory. A few ugly kilometre splits starting with 4:XX littered this part of the race…

I continued to keep Dan in my sights until 7k when I made myself known to him, pushing him on to stay in front of me. I heard a spectating mother say to her daughter that that part of the race would be one of the most difficult for runners due to fatigue; she wasn’t kidding! At 8k, I tried convincing myself to press on but it just wasn’t happening; my legs felt like somebody else’s and did not want to co-operate at all. Dan began drifting backwards, so I did my best to drag him along with me, gesturing for him to follow.

Cardiff 10k 2015

Dead impressed by the large fella behind me running a sub-40 10k! Photo by Lis Yu

With just 1k left to go, my Garmin reported I was averaging 3:59 kilometres – a little too close for comfort if a sub-40 finish was what I wanted. Finally, the old Central Governor decided to free up some resources for me to begin my push for the finish. I reached the top of Museum Avenue and with just over 400m remaining, I knew I had a sub-40 finish in the bag so long as the distance was accurate (highly likely – great race reputation) and I kicked with everything I had left. I heard Lis and Yvonne cheer for me, followed shortly by Vince’s wife, Heather, who I caught in the corner of my eye. The finish line grew in size with each forward step and each pumped arm. I went through the finish and my fingers were crossed, hoping I had done enough to go sub-40…

Post-race

I had to kneel down and catch my breath, but recovery was swift and in a minute or two, I was back to my normal self – clearly I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough. To my left was a guy lying on his back, who had most definitely pushed himself to his limits.

Upon checking my Garmin, 39:48 was all I was able to muster – a positive given the lack of recent training intensity. The Garmin also reported I ran exactly 10km (I said this race was accurate)! Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

Cardiff 10k 2015

A perfectly executed PB race for Vince – photo by Lis Yu

I collected my medal and caught up with Chris from San Domenico. He pulled off a 39:22, so had I have been able to stick with him, I reckon I’d have bagged a cheeky PB by a couple of seconds with a big kick at the end. I made my way over to Vince and Dan who were both beaming from their PB performances. Vince earned himself a fantastic 38:42 and Dan got his sub-40 thanks to a 39:53 finish. I finally got to meet Heather, too, after multiple conversations with her on social media over the past year.

So, not the race outcome I had in mind. Rather eerily, it’s exactly the 10k finish I would be predicted to achieve upon entering last week’s 19:11 Cardiff Parkrun into the McMillan Running Calculator… Disappointingly, this also ends the three year PB streak I had going at the Cardiff 10k. Oh well, nothing lasts forever in athletics, apart from Paula Radcliffe’s marathon world record seemingly.

I have just a few short weeks remaining until the Cardiff Half Marathon at the beginning of October. It’s now time to completely shift my focus to make the most of that opportunity.

This week’s running – 1st to 7th of June 2015

The road to recovery

OK, recovery by my standards at least…

This week was all about active recovery.

8 canal miles

I promised myself that after the Bristol 10k, I would lay off some of the harder running for a wee while and get back to a state of feeling fresh again. That began with an 8 mile run that covered my approximate marathon pace range. Not having run a marathon this year, or one to the best of my ability ever, it’s a pretty big range from 7:45 to 7:10 minute miles.

The canal towpath renovation was complete, with all stretches paved over and covered with rather excessive amounts of gravel. Early on in the run and when being smacked by a head wind, the lack of traction made me feel like I was being dragged backwards at times. Nonetheless, I felt great out there and took the opportunity to focus on my breathing, which was rather out of sorts during Sunday’s race.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work with footpod calibration

WARNING – NERD TALK AHEAD!

I love the ability of my Garmin to utilise the footpod to both measure cadence and distance if the signal ever craps out (newer Garmins have this built in and don’t require a footpod). I don’t believe it needs calibrating for cadence – after all, it just needs to detect when the foot makes contact with the floor – but calibration for distance is of more significance, and was something I hadn’t completed in over a year. Oops… Thankfully, it’s rare that my Garmin loses its signal entirely apart from inside long tunnels.

The advice given regarding calibration was to find a relatively straight course with good GPS coverage. Given I was running home from the office along the canal towpath, I incorporated this task into the mix and hence why I don’t have a data track for it on Garmin Connect.

The calibration took roughly 0.8 miles to complete and gave the footpod a correction factor of 1,083 from a default value of 1,000. Rather pleasingly, the previous calibrated factor was 1,082 for almost no change in over a year.

Panorama: Catch me if you can

With little to no warning, a Panorama feature aired on BBC One with a focus on doping within athletics and shared many parallels with the Lance Armstrong investigations from years past. A main draw of the feature concerned the Nike Oregon Project, namely its coach and one of its stars.

In the feature, a journalist set out to dope himself with EPO to see just what the effects would be on his performance, but also to better gauge just how much or little EPO it would take to trigger a positive test. All that was required were a few micro-doses to improve his VO2 max by tangible levels and crucially, still avoid detection by the biological passport system. Due to the low amounts of EPO used, it simply wasn’t significant enough to cause a dramatic change in his blood samples. Of course, one could argue that had he have been tested specifically for EPO use or over a longer period to amplify the changes, he may have been caught. But what the experiment did highlight was just how little it took for a performance increase and for elite athletes, that’s possibly all it would take to beat your rivals for the win. Worryingly, it appeared incredibly easy to obtain vials of EPO for personal use. There have been a number of reports of late citing increased doping amongst amateur athletes, and I can only see this increasing.

At the centre of the feature were Alberto Salazar, possibly the world’s most famous athletics coach of recent times, and Galen Rupp, one of the USA’s most famous long-distance athletes of recent times and Mo Farah’s training partner. Numerous witnesses, including the high-profile Kara Goucher, came forward to discuss cases of Salazar pushing the boundaries of what it would take to trigger positive doping tests, and also unethical behaviour by bending rules when it came to non-banned substances. Galen Rupp was targeted as his project of sorts, though the programme was quick to add that Mo Farah was not accused of doping, though was inevitably caught in the cross-fire.

I’ve been a fan of both Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp for a number of years. As a geek that’s into running, I’ve found Salazar’s approaches to training to be most fascinating, and Rupp is one of the few Americans to give the east-Africans a run for their money. Like a lot of Lance Armstrong fans back in the day, I’m naively still holding out for some hope that these allegations are just allegations, but I can’t ignore the accounts of those that did come forward. It’ll be a dark, dark day for athletics if all this proves to be true; this is just what the sport doesn’t need right now, what with the controversial Justin Gatlin who has twice been banned from competition due to positive tests, yet is somehow running faster than ever before, whilst also older and supposedly clean.

The airing of the feature appeared to have been timed for maximum disruption, at least to Mo Farah, who decided not to race at Sunday’s Birmingham Diamond League meet. Can’t blame the guy really; I know how mental stress can affect your mojo before a race, so what’s the point of him going in to lose at a distance that isn’t one of his strengths anyway?

If you haven’t caught the programme yet, it can be found on BBC iPlayer if your territory is supported.

8 canal miles

Returning to the canals, I kept to my promise of not running anything faster than marathon pace at least during the week temporarily. I also opted to make this out and back run steadier and less progressive, with most of the miles between the warm-up and warm-down coming in at around 7:30 to 7:40.

I dusted off and donned my heart rate monitor for a peek at what the ticker was up to. I was pretty tired from work, and the warmer temperature coupled with the beginnings of hay fever meant I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. The strap of the monitor managed to chafe my chest to bits where there’s now a nice chunk of skin missing. Downside out of the way, I was pleasantly surprised by the heart rate data where I’m now approximately 15 – 30 seconds faster per mile at the same heart rate compared to seven weeks ago.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

It had been so long since the last time I was at Newport Parkrun that I had to remind myself of how many laps the route entailed! I also probably left for the Newport event a touch on the late side and arrived with about 15 minutes remaining to visit the toilet, get my warm-up done and have a natter with Nigel. Father Time must have been on my side because I managed to do all three with two minutes to spare before the start line scramble!

Nigel’s very much a facilitator at Newport Parkrun. He knows most regulars that run there and will frequently try to pair runners with pacers to make PBs happen. He introduced me to a young lad, Lloyd, who had previously broken 20 minutes when the sun, moon and stars aligned in his favour, but not again since. I was pretty confident I had what it took to go under 20 minutes, though had also only ever done it once before at Newport on the winter-route, which has a reputation for being faster, yet more prone to congestion. We agreed to stay close and as luck would have it, the event also laid on pacemakers for the day with the talented Emma Wookey (first Welsh lady in the Cardiff Half) leading the way for us.

The start at Newport was fast – it always is – and you really need to watch your footing on the trail-like terrain made up loose gravel and stray tree roots. A nasty headwind introduced itself from an awkward angle that couldn’t be avoided without going out of one’s way. Emma the pacer zoomed right past me and Lloyd, with him taking immediate chase; I took a peek at my Garmin and I was pretty much bang on target for sub-20 pace and remained faithful to it, guessing that there was some GPS discrepancy at play (there always is at Newport).

After 2km, I was dead cert that Emma was going too fast to simply dip under 20 minutes and assertively shared this with the couple of guys I was running with; one chap agreed that she was at around 10 seconds too fast for the target.

Inevitably, the pack thinned. Emma was still way ahead but Lloyd had dropped off the pace due to his enthusiastic start. I encouraged him to stay in front of me, but he was drifting backwards at an alarming rate.

With 1km to go, I found myself pairing up with a guy in a cycling jersey and a Fairwater club runner to keep the pace going. As we moved into the forested portion of the course, congestion became rife due to the lapped runners. The cyclist jersey guy suddenly kicked to storm ahead; puzzled, I wasn’t entirely sure why he threw in a sudden injection of pace and then remembered there was a small single file bridge rapidly approaching. I second guessed he was trying to put himself into a gap to avoid being boxed in by slower runners, which was enough to convince me to join him in pursuit along with the Fairwater runner.

Safely through on the other side, we wound things up and began a final surge on the home straight with a tailwind for assistance. The cycling jersey guy managed to put significant daylight between us for a massive lead of almost 10 seconds. I urged the Fairwater runner to stay with me, but he was spent and had nothing left to give, so I had to reel a guy in a 50 Club t-shirt in to keep me ticking along until the end.

Crossing the line, I paused my Garmin for 19:46; a PB on the summer course but 8 seconds shy of an all-time course PB at Newport set in much cooler conditions. I felt pretty good; tired but not completely shagged with something left in the tank. I thanked the cycling jersey guy for predicting the congestion with precision, and for pulling me through it in the process.

I stopped to watch Nigel come through just before the 23 minute mark, annoyed with himself that his PB was almost a year ago via our collective efforts.

Unexpectedly, I bumped into Brian Dias from Cardiff Parkrun who partook in some tourism along with the Nike Store Running Club. Lately, we’ve been facing off against each other at the Cardiff event, but I was dead impressed by his 19:10 that would be out of reach for me even on the best of days. Clearly, he’s been holding himself back when we’ve met, whereas I habitually go hell for leather at the Welsh capital.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Dave and Elsa ran their 50th Parkruns

About bloody time, too!

Oh, and congrats to both Dave and Elsa for finally reaching the 50 Club! They now join the long, long wait to get their t-shirts…

Rest for the wicked

Shattered. Knackered. Destroyed. Whatever colloquialism you can think of for tired. I couldn’t bear the thought of a long, Sunday run to cap off the week; clearly, I love running and for it to get that bad, I knew to back it off.

The hope is to freshen up before the fast approaching Two Castles 10k. I’m unsure how I want to tackle the race, either to treat it as a glorified training run, or to hit it all guns blazing. The more I think about it, the more I want to do the latter. I’ve decided to not run at Caerphilly to give myself some much needed recovery and to knuckle back down with some semblance of undisturbed training.

Looking at last year’s performance, I finished right about where I thought I would be both in terms of time and position in the field. Dave and I reasoned the climbs had cost us in the region of 20 to 30 seconds in 2014, though we’d neglected to factor in the 8mph tailwind that must have also minimised some of the damage. Scoping out the weather for Sunday, an 11mph tailwind has been forecast, which is a massive boost on the point to point course. Oh what the hell, I’m gonna give sub-40 a bash and see what comes out the other side!

Here’s this week’s excerpt from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Do whatever it takes to finish ahead of a costumed runner

Because being outkicked by Elmo is too much to bear.

Gwent Race for Wildlife 2015 10k review

For the 2013 and 2014 races, please click the following:

Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k 2015 bib and medal

One day I will get #171 as a bib!

Be careful what you wish for, because sometimes, wishes come true with unintended consequences!

Ominous? Read on to find out what went down in Gwent.

Pre-race

After the small, but significant PB at the DK10K recently, I was itching to find out what that result would convert to on a flat course with calm weather conditions. The Gwent Race for Wildlife uses the same course as the popular Chepstow Harriers’ Magor Marsh 10k, so the route is as flat as they come for a road 10k; I’ve now run on the course 4 times in one form or another.

This race was incredibly low-key with 200 or so participants. Last year’s race only had around 130 runners and saw me finishing in 5th place with 41:39 and the 1st place with 39:30. I had talked Vince Nazareth into entering; he certainly had a chance of winning the v50 prize at the very least!

As is common for me during the 10k season, I treated myself to a mini-taper of only 2 days; any more than that and I risk losing fitness given how many 10k races I’ve entered (at least 8).

Rocking up at the race HQ reasonably early, I was met with a car park full of cars. D’oh – there went my chances of making it on to the podium! I quickly located Vince and we both agreed there were some fast looking club runners around. We went off for a mile warm-up jog, having a bit of a catch-up natter in the process. There was a noticeable head wind (Garmin Connect reported it as 12mph) on the warm-up and with low runner numbers, I anticipated there would be few opportunities to take shelter behind others.

Race briefing done, we made our way to the start line and had a proper glimpse of the likely opponents we (OK, Vince) would face off against. Neither of us looked out of place, but there was an aura of speed emanating from the club runners around us! On the starter’s orders, we were released into the Gwent countryside.

The race

With the knowledge that this race has run long on me 4 times prior, I was meticulous with my racing line from the off.

The ambition was to PB for both of us, which meant a target pace of around 3:57/km or better. We stayed together for the 1st km before the gap began to grow between us due to the head wind. Vince is without a doubt the stronger runner of the two of us, so I urged him on whilst also quietly cursing him for leaving me behind in no-man’s land!

Anybody that’s run for long stretches on their own during PB attempts in races will know how difficult it is mentally to stay on pace despite the physical mechanics being no different. By 2km, the gap to Vince increased to 15m; suicidal for me to try and close so early on in the race but without even attempting to, I knew his lead would only grow thanks to the 2 club runners he managed to latch on to. There was nobody behind me for ages, which seemed odd initially but will be explained in due course.

The km markers in the recent DK10K were an absolute mess, with hardly any of them syncing up with the actual distance on the course. This race suffered from similar issues and the markers proved most distracting – I wasn’t sure whether to trust my Garmin, the signs, or neither!

You can see from my splits that I began to lose the pace at 3km with serious damage inflicted upon me by 4km. You know that saying, “When a window closes, a door opens”? Well, such a thing happened to redeem 4km. I could hear a runner closing in on me fast from behind and upon reaching me, I instantly recognised the maroon club vest as that of Lliswerry Runners – the fantastically friendly club that Nigel from Newport Parkrun belongs to. Running side by side with him for a few hundred metres, he pipes up with, “Are you Andy?” Surprised and suffering from the solo 10k time trial I was running, I respond with a snatched “Yep. I’m Andy.” He then asks, “Do you know Ed Barlow?” Just as surprised as before, I reply with, “Yep. I know Ed.” Turns out he went to school with Ed in Monmouth; thankfully and sensibly, he suggested we reconvene at the end! I stuck with him like glue, not wanting to end up back in the dark, dark place of running solo.

We passed through 5k and the km marker finally synced up with the distance. I sank an energy gel and chucked some water over my head to cool me down. The course finally took us out of the path of the head wind and things felt instantly more comfortable.

Entering the out and back portion of the course, the front-runners were just exiting and I estimated they were about 4 minutes ahead. The switchback point was coming up quickly and always fills me with anger that it is in the wrong place to add an unnecessary extra 50m on to an otherwise flat and fast 10k. The switchback marker this time was a marshal instead of the usual cone and next to them was the 6km marker. Vince was on the return and a rough 10 seconds ahead. I looped around the marshal and waited for my Garmin to beep. And I waited some more but nope, no beep. It was only 100m or so further down the straight when my Garmin eventually went off. “Shit! The course is short!” went through my mind… Like I said earlier, be careful what you wish for!

The long straight at 7km gave me an opportunity to knuckle down and concentrate. Unexpectedly, a second wind came from nowhere and I managed to get back to target pace. The Lliswerry chap and I managed to close some of the space between Vince’s small group and us.

At 8km, I managed to find another gear to shift into through the knowledge that there was just a little over a mile left. Running tall and speeding up my arm swing, I chipped away at the remaining distance. A guy in a triathlon suit had drifted backwards from Vince’s group and became my next target to chase down. Instructions to move to the right-hand side of the course for safety reasons appeared, and everybody bar the triathlete obeyed the sign from the organisers; this prompted the Lliswerry guy to shout out, “Run on the right you illiterate sod!” leaving me to chuckle to myself.

With only 1km left, I tried to convince the Lliswerry club runner to stay with me. He complained of his hamstring going and urged me on, so on I went. 800m left and I corrected my stance to run tall again, setting me up for a surge that saw me overtake the triathlete. I could see Vince ahead on the cheeky rise just before the entrance to the race HQ; this pushed me on to ramp the pace up even further to reduce the gap as much as possible.

I turned for the final 50m on broken ground, almost losing my footing in front of the awaiting crowd, and charged for the finish line as soon as stability returned to my feet.

And relax! Here’s the Garmin data for the race.

Post-race

I moved out of the finish funnel and collapsed on the grass to catch my breath. “Damn! That was hard work!” I thought to myself, trying to gather my thoughts.

I had a feeling I’d PBd but couldn’t be sure until I checked my Garmin. What awaited me was 38:54 on the screen (later verified as 38:53 in the results). I was in awe, shock and disbelief at the numbers. I quickly moved over to the distance and was disappointed to learn I’d only covered 9.83km, so around 170m short. I knew this had to have happened on the 6km switchback point and nowhere else. Doing some quick back of fag packet maths, I reasoned that had the distance have been accurate, I’d have finished between 39:10 and 39:15, which would be a PB anyway.

EDIT – The race organisers have now announced that the distance was short by 200m or so, due to “slight discrepancy” with “marshal positioning”. Looks like my 38:53 PB goes back up to 39:38…

As promised, I did indeed reconvene with the Lliswerry Runner who knew Ed, and shared a laugh about Marathon Talk. He also explained why there were so few runners behind me for such a long time – apparently, a horse had bucked at around 3km and caused everybody to slow down as they passed it!

Andy and Vince at Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k 2015

Photo with Vince, the first V50 home

Catching up with Vince, I was thrilled to learn he’d clocked 38:41 for himself and had just pipped his V50 rival to the line by a second for the age group prize. He too agreed that the distance was short, even on his Garmin that aggressively measures long each time.

Vince's Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k trophy

Vince’s precious!

Obviously, we stuck around for the prize giving! The winner finished in 34:33; a whole 5 minutes faster than last year’s winning time. Vince was pleased as punch to receive a handsome looking trophy as the first V50 finisher – the first prize he’d ever won for anything.

Disappointing that the race came up short. It can’t only be me that thinks it’s with increasing regularity that races are being revealed to have some sort of distance accuracy issue? As I said earlier, this would have been a PB for me, so it’s just as well that I have the Bristol 10k coming up.

This week’s running – 27th of April to 3rd of May 2015

10k training

It’s hammer time!

This week was all about prep and finishing touches towards next week’s DK10K race.

3.5 mile errand run

I needed to get to the Royal Mail sorting office so I ended up treating this out and back as a recovery run. As luck would have it, I also got caught in the rain on the return leg only for the rain to cease once I’d reached home…

The Garmin data for these runs can be found here and here.

3x 1600m at 10k pace

Lis decided to tag along to Edgbaston Reservoir to get her run in, though I hasten to add that she did not do the session with me and instead did her own thing!

There seems to be a swirling vortex of strong winds circling the UK at the moment, but this did not deter me from trying to get all 3x reps as precise as possible. Foolishly, I allowed the pace on the first rep to step up imperceptibly; it was only recently that I said I wouldn’t do this and would look to extend the number of reps at the same pace. 3:55/km over 3x 1600m did not feel too bad but it did leave me umming and ahhing over a fourth and final rep. I ultimately decided against it for fear of overdoing things, but the good news is that if I had hit all 3x at 3:58/km like I should have, a fourth rep would have certainly followed.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

DK10K preparations

We’re starting to approach the 10k season with races springing up left, right and centre. The DK10K is a local, mid-week race that’s been going for nearly thirty years and I’ve finally pulled my finger out to enter it.

Yeah, it’s not the flattest course around, but it has a good reputation for attendance from club runners. At £15 for unattached runners and with chip timing to boot, what’s not to love? My only reservation is how many runners will have defected to run the inaugural Great Birmingham 10k today?

This will be my very first mid-week and evening race. I’m curious to see how I feel out there as a morning person, if there’s any difference at all.

The target, as ever, is to get under 40 minutes. I anticipate it’ll be quite tricky on an undulating course and with 16mph winds forecasted, I’ll have to wait and see. Darryl Thomas of Bromsgrove and Redditch AC is also running and I’m hoping our abilities align to allow us both to work together towards a common goal.

Come back again to see my next blog post and to find out how things went!

5k from work

Several weeks ago, I donned a vest for the first time this year on a training run. I ended up wearing a long sleeve top again on this run home from work, due to the sudden drop in temperature.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

8 canal miles with fartlek

I was pretty tired come Thursday and almost ducked out of this run entirely, so it made perfect sense to not only cover the 8 miles but to also throw in some fartlek as well!

The fartlek sections during the second half were really to get the legs turning over at a faster rate – not an easy task on the loose stone chips of the canal towpath.

I almost forgot that this was also my sixth day of consecutive running for the third time. Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Parkrun

Lis and I were back in Wales for the weekend so I’d arranged to be at Cardiff Parkrun. No face-off with Vince Nazareth this time since he was volunteering and tapering for a race the next day, and it was probably for the best since I’ve only ever beaten him on one occasion out of six…

The weather was pretty miserable and right on cue for the bank holiday weekend. I didn’t fancy my chances of anything spectacular, recalling last week’s struggle at Cannon Hill Parkrun to go much faster. Also, many of the local faster runners were either recovering from recent races, or were tapering for upcoming races, so there would be few to work with.

The warm-up felt much better than usual, with none of the heavy legged-ness that had plagued me last week, despite the six consecutive training days earlier this week.

Toeing up on the start line, there was indeed reluctance from folks to come forward and I found myself a nice spot in the second row with plenty of breathing space around me. Lis was not so fortunate and resigned herself to the rear of the pack for fear of being trampled to death by being too far forward. On Phil Cook’s “Go” (he was filmed running alongside Paula Radcliffe in last week’s London Marathon), we were off.

I stuck with the lead pack for the first 800m or so before the leaders started to pull away. My Garmin reported a pace that was 13 seconds ahead of target; the sensible side of my brain begged me to slow down a touch and I duly obeyed to fall in-line with and lead the chase pack. My legs felt remarkably fresh considering all the hard graft I’d been putting in over the last few weeks, though my lungs felt a smidge uncomfortable with the fast pace.

I passed through 1k with a 3:37 split, which was waaay ahead of the 3:45 target I had in my mind. Everything continued to feel decent despite early reservations, so I didn’t think too much of it. The ground, whilst wet, didn’t appear to pose many problems for traction and the wind was not nearly as harsh as weather reports had made out.

My pack broke up to leave just one other guy and me on our own. Each time he crept away, I was able to cover him and stayed in his slipstream, straying no further than 2 or 3m behind at worst.

Through 2k and my split came in at 3:51; slower certainly but I was still up on target according to the Garmin virtual pacer and crucially, I was still feeling pretty damn good. I tried to focus on my breathing to stay calm and relaxed, taking in deep breaths from the belly to maximise the capacity on offer.

I reached 3k with 3:55 for further slow-down. I had overtaken the guy in my group, sensing that he had slipped from the pace. Another guy from behind came from nowhere to shoot ahead and gave me a new target to chase down, though he was always just out of reach to leave me on my own. I spotted Lis on the other side, approaching the 2k marker looking in good shape. I’d big-upped the Cardiff course to her many times over the years and was quietly confident it would produce a new 5k PB for her, even if only by a small margin due to the flat route.

The guy I had dropped found second wind from somewhere and surged past me just before 4k to join the chap ahead. I was breathing hard and my lungs were in flames, but my legs remained free from fatigue to make no sense at all! I glanced backwards for the first time and the next person behind was nowhere near me, unable to provide a tow to the guys in front. My Garmin beeped with a 3:50 split, so I was speeding up as I got closer to the finish. I switched my Garmin over to the stopwatch and I was actually pretty damn close to a new PB if I could muster a big kick.

As I said, face like thunder

Like I said, a face like thunder – photo by Paul Stillman

I had a face like thunder as I went through 800m, which must have been a real sight for the marshals as I passed by. I let out two very audible cries of “Argh” that surprisingly helped to ease the anguish my body was going through. I kicked the pace up just a notch in an attempt to close the gap between the two guys in front and me, but to no avail; they too had sensed the end was nigh and did exactly the same. I was maxed out and could only manage a lame sprint to bring me home with a season’s best of 18:52, and only 2 seconds shy of a new 5k PB. Had I known how close I actually was, I’m sure I could have found a few seconds, especially during the 3rd km.

Here’s the Garmin data for this Parkrun.

After a brief moment of composure on the side lines after grabbing a finish token, I checked my finish position and had netted no.18 to also equal my best finish position at Cardiff. A real morning of nearlies and almosts, right?

Lis Morgan at Cardiff Parkrun

Lady in red – photo by Paul Stillman

Lis came back in with 32:25 for her fastest 5k yet and proudly exclaimed she ran the entire distance. She’s making good progress and with a little more work, should break 30 minutes before too long!

Not a bad morning’s work and confidence inspiring ahead of next week’s DK10K.

10 miles – to Usk and back

I didn’t want to overcook the long run given the enthusiastic 5k the day before, so kept this one sensible. Unexpectedly, conditions were pretty hot and humid on the out leg to Usk where I even considered going bare chested!

The return was straight into a headwind, but thankfully this was just a minor annoyance at the gentler pace.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Run the mile you’re in

Especially for longer races (but even for short ones, like 5-Ks), it can be tempting to dwell on the total distance or on how far you are from the finish line. Try not to. Instead, focus on the mile you’re running at that particular moment.

Be mindful of the full distance, of course; mentally and physically, you should be aware of how far you’ve got to go. Primarily, though, keep your head in the here and now.

That’s a nice metaphor for life, too, by the way. In case you were looking for one.