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.

This week’s running – 23rd to 29th of March 2015

I know how you feel, cow

I know just how you feel, cow…

After last week’s disaster, this week was a major improvement apart from the weather.

10k fartlek

I had hoped the ever-increasing amounts of daylight would provide me with enough time to make it to Edgbaston Reservoir and back for some 800m reps, but alas it was not meant to be.

The trusty 10k fartlek made a return and crucially felt pretty damn good. Only one car tried to mow me down on this occasion!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

5k from work

Strava reported this was the second fastest instance of this weekly staple. I was originally rather reluctant to jump on-board the Strava bandwagon, but I’ve got to say all the statistics and data appeals to my inner nerd.

Currently, I find myself managing my profiles on Garmin Connect, Nike+, Strava and Jantastic…

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

7 canal miles

Ignoring the warm-up mile for this run, the 7:20 miles are a rare pace for me to cover these days and probably went some way towards making this an exhilarating run. I felt positively alive out there and want to try and make an effort to include this pace in my weekly quota. The only downside with this outing was the sun had completely disappeared on me during the final two miles on the canal; thankfully the well-paved towpath offered some air of predictability to get me back home.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

2016 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships

I will be attending the World Half Marathon Championships to be held next year in Cardiff. No, I did not suddenly become an elite and qualify, but rather handed over the king’s ransom of £64 for the privilege. Why so expensive? It takes place on a Saturday during the Easter weekend, so road closure costs will have definitely bumped things up. And I’m sure the organisers are price gouging us for the novelty of the experience. Having said that, we’re still nowhere near what the US typically pays for races. I recall the Dash to the Finish Line 5k I ran in New York costing American citizens $50 compared to the $25 or so it cost me as an international runner!

I expect the course will likely change, given the 25,000 limit, and even accounting for the 10% of no-shows, that’s still in excess of 22,000 runners to accommodate on Cardiff streets. The regular half marathon route just about copes with the 14,000 or so who turn up each October.

I’m genuinely looking forward to this race, along with the pomp and ceremony that it’ll come with. I was asked to provide a finish time estimate and had to gulp a little as I typed in “1:24”. That time is currently 3.5 minutes away but with a year to go, I’m reasonably confident I can get there, even if a 1:24:59 finish does equate to an 18:21 5k and a 38:07 10k… *double gulp*

Cardiff Parkrun

We were in Wales at the weekend, so I paid a visit to Cardiff Parkrun and roped Vince Nazareth in to join me. I’ve mentioned before how Vince is my lucky charm – three races and three PBs each time we’ve run together, so the pressure to keep the streak going was on.

The weather forecast for the weekend was rotten, with strong winds and torrential rain predicted. We didn’t fancy our chances but were still keen to have a bash at getting as close to 19:00 as possible.

We set off at 3:45 for the first km with the odd random gust of wind getting in the way. A clear break in the pack appeared, with the front-runners charging off and leaving the rest of us behind. We found ourselves in a small pack of four or five runners, trading places amongst ourselves.

As anticipated, my lack of 5k focus was revealed going into the third km. Sensing I had slowed, Vince went past and I struggled to latch on to him to pull me through. I found myself drafting behind an older runner, who was also fading but I decided staying in his slipstream was for the best; if I went out on my own to try and catch Vince, I’d have probably been left in no-man’s land as per usual.

With 1km left, I decided to kick the pace up and left the old boy behind. Vince was battling against a 10 year old kid and they both proved to be good targets on the horizon for me to try and reel in. The gusts of wind returned for almost the entire final stretch of the course; I simply didn’t have the fight in me to push on any further to come back in with 19:18. No disappointment on my part – breaking the run down into its component parts and this was probably the best I could have achieved under such conditions. My PB streak with Vince was over! Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Vince finished with a 19:05 and said he began to feel especially positive in the final km, regretting he didn’t push on a lot earlier.

Vince and Andy meet Peppa Pig

Never to be left to our own devices ever again…

Post-run, we even bumped into a celebrity for some selfie-action!

10 miles – to Usk and back

Right on cue, the weather worsened further on Sunday morning when I was due to head out for a long run. Crazy high winds caused the rain to go almost sideways!

Early into the run, I came into contact with two guys on a 20 mile training run for the London Marathon, and ended up covering the first 5 miles with them.

On the return, I was running almost dead on into the head wind for an incredibly challenging time. My gear was completely saturated from the rain, and despite being made of technical fabric, everything was clinging and weighing me down.

The final uphill drag for home with a raging head wind was all I needed at the end, with my climb feeling more like a walk. Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

I was incredibly pleased to have gotten out there, especially when I didn’t have anything resting on the run. It would have been far easier to just sack things off for another day under such circumstances and conditions!

Farewell, Jantastic

Andy Yu's 2015 Jantastic score

A slight improvement on 2014’s score…

Jantastic has come to an end once again. I finished with only a 91.9 to my name, but still marginally better than 2014’s 91.5 due to improperly playing my joker cards.

I probably won’t participate next year, only because I couldn’t see any tangible benefit for myself given that I was running when I could anyway.

And without further ado, here’s this week’s piece from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Avoid crashing

And we don’t mean the “hitting the wall/running out of energy” kind.

Most people don’t associate footraces with crashes, the way they might with bike racing or stock-car racing or downhill skiing. But even runners can go down during a race, alone or in a pileup.

Usually this occurs during crowded starts, when adrenaline and flailing limbs can combine with unpleasant results; in a race’s latter stages (particularly the final stretch), as exhausted runners lose fine motor skills, and small cracks and bumps in the road seem to reach out and grab you; and whenever several runners stream around a sharp corner.

All it takes is one clipped heel and wham. You collide with another runner or with the road. Or both. You won’t cartwheel down the street and burst into flames, the way a NASCAR driver might. (Wouldn’t that do wonders for marathon spectating, though?) But it sure can result in some nasty road rash.

So: Keep your wits about you, and keep some distance between yourself and the runner in front of you.

This week’s running – 19th to 25th of January 2015

Work and recovery are a dangerous mix...

Work and recovery are a dangerous mix…

This week was a tad manic and sadly, running took a bit of a back seat.

Extended recovery

After the delights of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I ended up taking a prolonged period of recovery. Not through choice; rather due to work. It’s a particularly busy time of the year for me and due to a number of late finishes and early starts, I simply couldn’t find many opportunities to run. Any runs completed would have been easy anyway.

The first run of the week arrived in the form of a not-so-challenging 10k out and back via Hagley Road (click here for the Garmin data).

This particular week actually got me musing over a few things. An online buddy of mine drew attention to my typical 25 mile week and compared it to the monstrous 47 mile week immediately after Christmas. That simply would not be sustainable and was rather a product of the perfect storm: have masses of time off, so will run! I think my sweet spot for mileage lies somewhere around 35 miles a week, so long as I can get chance to run home from work and complete all runs as planned.

The next item I mulled over was that of Jantastic. I’m struggling to get into it this year and the cynics amongst you might say that’s because I’ve lost the opportunity to gain 100%. And the cynics amongst you may be right… I will continue to participate, but only because I hate to leave things unfinished.

Finally, I’m secretly quite pleased (or not so secretly now) that I don’t have a marathon to train for this spring. Besides the obvious challenge of available time to do a marathon justice, it’s actually been incredibly refreshing to be able to see various PBs come tumbling down since December, rather than continually have to hold myself back for it all to come good on one particular morning of one particular day. I commented on 2014 being miserly in terms of PBs attained – could 2015 be able to reverse that trend?

Race calendar

2014 was a bumper year of races and 2015 looks to up the ante. I love regular racing and strongly feel it keeps me sharp. Here’s what my potential calendar looks like:

Sadly, there are a number of clashes as there are every year. I would like to run a half marathon in May, but sadly the two I have my eye on both take place on the 17th. To add insult to injury, the flat as a pancake Gwent Race for Wildlife 10k will be staged on the same day… I think the Tewkesbury Half Marathon will most likely get the pick.

Four weeks later in June, more clashes occur. I thoroughly enjoyed the Aldridge 10k in 2013, but it always clashes with the novel 2 Castles 10k. This year, there’s the addition of the Swansea Half Marathon to complicate things. If I can secure another place in the 2 Castles 10k, I would like to make this one happen, otherwise I think I will opt for the Aldridge 10k for simplicity of logistics.

And then it’s a clear run with no clashes in July, September and October.

Newport Parkrun

Not wanting to blow myself to pieces again so soon after the Brass Monkey Half, I decided to skip Cardiff Parkrun for its closer neighbour at Newport.

Things were cut a bit fine and required I jump out of the car to be able to get some semblance of a warm-up in before the 9am start. The layout of the start area indicated the winter route was back in action and unlike some events, is only wheeled out when absolutely necessary rather than all season.

I wanted to sneak under 20 minutes, feeling this was a reasonable target based on the 19:38 course PB I set a month ago. The first 2km were more or less on target pace, but things fell apart from 3km onwards; the mud started to sap the energy from my legs and I largely ran alone. Lapped runners also became a problem, with one guy cutting me up pretty badly in the final lap. Even with a final km kick, it wasn’t enough to reverse the damage inflicted and I finished with 20:12 on the Garmin. This was a 10th place finish, which I felt was a rather high finish position out of almost 400 runners; it turned out many were tapering for the Lliswerry 8 the following day, so mystery solved!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles – to Usk and back

Based on how fresh I wasn’t feeling at Newport Parkrun, I scaled the pace of the Sunday long run back to around 8:45 per mile. No issues at all, bar a pesky headwind that hit on the return. I decided to include a mile at the end, serving as a warm-down after the intensity of the long drag up the hill on entering Tredunnock.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the latest entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book (it follows on from last week’s):

But if you do drop out, make peace with your decision

Don’t dwell on a DNF, a “Did Not Finish.” Chalk it up to expertise, and vow to train and race smarter next time. What’s done is done, and you’ve lived to race another day. So be it.

This week’s running – 22nd to 28th of December 2014

Running? At Christmas???

Merry Christmas everyone!

This week was all about Christmas, obviously!

5k from work

Trying to maintain some semblance of a routine during Christmas week is tough, so I took one of the few opportunities I had to get an easy run in from the office before breaking up for the festive season.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cardiff Christmas Parkrun

If you’re here reading this blog, then you’re probably of the running persuasion. Telling friends and family about my plans to attend Cardiff Parkrun on Christmas Day were met with bemusement and questions along the lines of, “You run most days – why would you also want to run on Christmas Day?” As if it wasn’t obvious enough by now, running is clearly something I enjoy and it’s only natural that I would go out for a run when I’ve got the free time to do so.

Lis and I made it to Cardiff’s event at Bute Park – my second Christmas Day Parkrun after last year’s visit to Brueton Parkrun. After a thorough warm-up, I was ready to go for another 5k PB and the last for 2014. All of a sudden, the empty park was full of happy runners in all manner of festive and not-so-festive wear. I found myself stood next to a chap in a skin-tight Santa suit and my ambition was to stay with this speedy looking Saint Nick.

Partway into the first km, I was running at a blistering pace (for me) and kept with the lead pack. There was a sizeable gap between this group and the one behind, so I tried my best to not drift backwards. That, and I was racing against the guy in the skin-tight Santa suit and I didn’t want to end up in his slipstream for an un-obscured view of his buttocks…

The aggressive opening pace had done its damage by the second km, with a split over 20 seconds slower than the first. Despite my best efforts to stay with a group, I found myself running on my own and the pace continued to nosedive, leading to a third km that was 8 seconds slower than the second.

I was in complete agony. The cold air made rapid breathing difficult but I at least managed to minimise the pace slow-down for a 4:01 fourth km. The leading lady overtook me, so I tried to latch on to her to drag me along. Didn’t quite happen as I hoped for when she kept pulling away, but I was eventually able to match her pace albeit with a constant gap of a few metres between us.

It burns!

A badly paced 5k burns like a mofo…

800m left and I tried kicking like a few weeks ago. Nope – not happening. At 400m to go, my body finally agreed to free up some resources for the beginnings of a kick. With 200m left to go, I closed my eyes and sprinted for the finish.

19:00 was my finish time – my 3rd fastest 5k of all time. I was disappointed I wasn’t more restrained at the beginning; had I have held back by 10 seconds, I would have almost certainly PBd that Christmas morning by a few seconds. Oh well, a valuable lesson was learned in 5k pacing.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

What did you get for Christmas?

As is now customary, I received a few running-related goodies for Christmas.

Nike Pegasus 31

Nike Pegasus 31 – a nice upgrade over the Pegasus 30s

One gift I was very pleased to see was a new pair of Nike Pegasus 31s to replace some ageing Pegasus 30s of mine. Lacing them up, I could immediately feel how plush they were compared to their older brethren.

The Parkrun bible

The Parkrun bible for lovers of 5k

The other present in my stocking was the Parkrun book. An enjoyable read for any Parkrun regular, detailing how the weekly 5k started along with other lesser-known factoids.

10 miles – to Usk and back

The excesses of Christmas were enough to convince me that a fasted 10 mile run was in order. Largely an uneventful run, bar the close-to-freezing temperatures and me in just a t-shirt and shorts; I really wish I had worn gloves!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

After the disappointment of the Christmas Cardiff Parkrun, I fell back on Plan B and that was to try and score a course PB. For over a year, I’ve been wanting to revisit all the venues I’ve visited in the past to get them all under 20 minutes; my Newport course PB stood out as being soft due to terrain but also because I typically reserve PB attempts for the Cardiff event only 8 miles further down the road.

Reaching Tredegar Park, I noticed some runners congregating in a different place than usual but thought nothing more of this. It wasn’t until I was halfway through my warm-up lap and encountered ankle deep mud when I concluded that the organisers possibly had an alternative course planned. Speaking to the run director a few minutes later confirmed this – the winter route utilised only half of the normal circuit, but bulked the distance up by making it 3x laps. He also mentioned that the winter route had the potential to be faster, if I could avoid being boxed in by lapped runners.

I didn’t spot Nigel Foulkes-Nock in the crowds and figured he must have been busy with familial duties or some such. I planted myself firmly at the front of the start line next to a chap with a black Labrador that was going nuts; the runners around the man and beast slowly started edging away, fearing for their ankles… On “3-2-1-Go!” we were off.

My Kiger 2 shoes worked an absolute treat on the trail-come-cross country route. I was able to stay with the lead group for the first 400m or so and then eased into sub-20 pace. The uneven terrain had me working harder than normal, so I knew even-ish pacing would be crucial.

The first corner had us going into the wooded section of the route for the first modification. Running uphill in mud and through trees wasn’t my idea of a faster course! Once out of the woods and on to the flat, I surged a touch to reclaim a few lost seconds.

Going into the second lap, I began to pass some of the runners at the rear of the pack. Back in the woods, I knew which were the best lines to take having run them only minutes prior. At the end of the second lap, congestion from the mid-pack runners became dramatically more noticeable, and required some dodging and weaving to filter through the crowds.

Sub-20 at Newport Parkrun

One more off the sub-20 list

The final lap arrived and I was still right on target. Approaching the small bridge before the woods, I had to surge to make sure I was in the right place to avoid being blocked in by slower runners. My Garmin flaked out and the pace started varying wildly, so I switched up to the stopwatch. I estimated that I had about 1km left to go and about 4 minutes left to make sub-20 happen. I kicked the pace up and started my assault on the stable and flat remaining portion of the course. A sprint finish saw me comfortably cross the line in 19:38 – over 40 seconds faster than the last course PB I set at Newport earlier in the year. Only four more out of the eight different Parkruns I’ve attended now to get down to sub-20 – not fancying my chances of that happening any time soon at Forest of Dean Parkrun!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

And here’s the last entry for 2014 from Mark Remy’s the Runner’s Rule Book:

Learn to love “race morning buzz”

That’s the quietly electric aura of anticipation that surrounds you the morning of a race, beginning the instant you wake up and lasting till the gun fires at the starting line. It’s a background hum of energy, a tickle almost. Combined with the silliness of early morning prerace ritual, it’s one of the best feelings you’ll ever encounter.

It really is impossible to do “race morning buzz” justice with mere words. Let’s just say that you’ll know it when you feel it. You’ll wish there was a way to bottle it, so you could have a little bit every day. But there’s not. Which is probably for the best.

Instead, savor it while you can. Drink it in.

Then take a deep breath – and race.

This week’s running – 29th of September to 5th of October 2014

Andy Yu at the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon

Andy Yu at the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon

This week was all about the taper for the Cardiff Half Marathon.

2 miles at target half marathon pace

Training regularly at Edgbaston Reservoir serves as a constant reminder of the time of year that we’re in. Thanks to the sign at the entrance, drivers are warned of the gates locking at dusk where at the height of summer, 9:45pm was the cut off. Now, it’s 7:15pm and continues to drop at an ever increasing rate.

I wanted to get one last target half marathon paced session in but without over-doing it. A single 2 mile lap of the reservoir would be all it took to remind the body of what the pace should have felt like. Due to poor timing on my part, I wasn’t as fuelled going into this as I would have liked. My stomach was rumbling and I really should have necked some energy drink or something before heading out. Hey-ho. The wind outside was also picking up, an ominous sign that the weather reports have all been picking up on. Getting down to it, the 2 mile effort felt fine and the pace finally came quite naturally to me.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session (can one single effort really be called a session?).

2x 800m at 5k pace

I have been conscious to keep some faster paced efforts in my training for a larger overall range. Like on Tuesday, I didn’t want to go absolutely bananas during the taper and felt 2x 800m reps would suffice to keep the body ticking over until Sunday’s race.

Once again, the reservoir was heaving with runners, all in training for their own local half marathon in a little more than two weeks’ time.

My two 800m reps felt fantastic. My cadence was high and I never felt like I was too stressed – a good sign that half marathon pace would feel manageable on Sunday.

Here’s the Garmin data for this session.

Taper time

Historically, I’ve never quite gotten the taper right before big races. Taper too much and I’ve felt sluggish come race day along with my legs forgetting how to run fast. Taper too little and I’m knackered come race day.

For this year’s Cardiff Half Marathon, I seemed to have gotten things just right – the Goldilocks approach to tapering! I took Friday off because it was my birthday, although others believe I took it off to better prepare myself for the race (and they’re probably right). I was positively charged and raring to go and the same held true on Saturday as well.

A couple of short, race pace sessions really was all I needed.

Cardiff Half Marathon 2014

For my full report on my 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon, please click here.

Where to now?

I love racing and that’s the primary driver behind why I train. To stay motivated, I always start booking up my next block of races to give me something to work towards.

So, what are the next targets to strive towards?

For 5k, I already said I wanted to hit 18:30 or better earlier in the summer. I was possibly a little hasty in my decision and am now back-peddling it to sub-18:45. With dramatically less daylight than before, it will increasingly become difficult for me to get speedwork completed without the aid of either a floodlit track or a treadmill. I really don’t want to sign back up to a gym because I can’t tell whether the treadmills have been calibrated accurately or not (probably not). This goal may have to go on the back-burner until next spring/summer, sadly.

The above 5k goal of 18:45 or better translates into a sub-39 minute 10k – a nice round target to lock on to. My worry about this goal is I usually use other 10k races to get myself race-fit and unfortunately, there’s a distinct lack of 10k races in the winter. This target may also have to wait until the summer or even early autumn to come to fruition.

Conveniently, an 18:45 5k also equates to a comfortable sub-87 minute half marathon. This I would like to try and aim for with a spring race, though I feel a lack of faster paced stuff could make this one tricky as well. Sub-88 minutes is realistically attainable and I would be disappointed in myself if I couldn’t achieve that. Dave and I are looking at a potential spring half marathon to tackle, so watch this space.

Of course, there is one more factor to consider and that’s the lack of a spring marathon for me. For the last two years, I’ve thrashed my body during the cold winter months to get it fighting fit for two London Marathons; without the need for monstrous mileage, a little more quality should creep through. I’ve kinda proven to myself that a dramatic increase in mileage does not automatically lead to faster performances in all distances.

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

Warn before passing

As a runner, you will pass other runners. This will happen no matter how slow you happen to be because there will always be someone slower than you are. As a courtesy, you should first alert them to your presence.

The proper distance from which to issue this warning is 12 to 25 feet, depending on your speed relative to the runner being passed. The greater your speed, the earlier you’ll want to issue the warning. The idea is for the passer to give the passee’s brain enough time to process the warning before the actual passing occurs.

The warning can take any number of forms: a cough, a shuffling of your feet, a verbal heads-up such as “Heads up!” Sometimes something as simple and subtle as a loud sniff can work. Other times – for instance, in a relatively loud, crowded park – you might want to ramp things up with a polite “Excuse me!” or “Passing on your left!” It’s a judgment call.

Note: Handheld air horns are not an acceptable form of warning. Even if they are hilarious.

Cardiff Half Marathon 2014 review

For the 2013 and 2015 races, please click the following:

2014 Cardiff Half Marathon bib and medal

Same race. Different year. Different result.

You know the drill by now. Grab a drink, along with a snack and let me share my Cardiff Half Marathon tale with you. As ever, skip right to “The race” for the good stuff.

Pre-race

Throughout the years, I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with half marathons. The half marathon for me is a classic distance and the original reason I got into long distance running in the first place, but it’s also been the distance that I’ve failed most at, trying to live up to my own potential over the years.

My three targets for the summer season featured a sub-19 minute 5k (done), a sub-40 minute 10k (got two of those in!) and a sub-90 minute half marathon. Cardiff was my last chance to do it in 2014 and if I failed, I would have to wait until a spring race to come good again.

Dave was meant to be in tow with exactly the same targets, and in just two weeks had managed to decimate my 5k and 10k PBs. Sadly due to injury, he had to pull out of this race at almost the eleventh hour rather than risk further long-term damage. I had his and my own hopes and ambitions resting on my shoulders – extra motivation for when the going got tough out there. It would have been great for both of us to shoot for sub-90 and see what we were made of, but alas, the running gods above deemed it not to be.

All I needed was the right day, the right weather and some luck to make magic happen one last time in 2014.

Race morning

I’m normally meticulous when it comes to pre-race prep but I wasn’t quite all there in the morning. Here’s a list of the things that didn’t go according to plan:

  • Forgot to fill in the emergency contact details on the bib reverse (seriously folks, don’t take the risk that I did – fill it in)
  • Forgot to drink my strong espresso shot
  • Peed in a bottle due to lack of toilets
  • Couldn’t find Vince Nazareth of Les Croupiers Running Club
  • Less than stellar warm-up (no 400m at race pace)

Yup. Not a great start to an already stressful race morning. Apart from that, I was 100% ready to do what was needed to go under 90 minutes. I felt fresh from the taper and I was well fuelled. And lastly, I believed in my training from the last few weeks. “Commit to the plan. Execute the plan” was my mantra to get me to the end.

After parting ways with Lis and her mum, I made my way over to the start pens for my first bugbear of the day – none of the marshals or volunteers knew where the entrance to the white start pen was! I finally convinced one of the start line marshals to let me in via a gap by the photographers’ barrier. I actually crossed under the start gantry, noticing a distinct and audible beep – had I just activated my race chip?!

The white start pen was tiny with no more than a few hundred runners in there, including the elites at the front. I bumped into Nigel Foulkes-Nock of Lliswerry Runners and Daniel Luffman of Les Croupiers at the front of the pen just behind me. Nigel’s son, James, was just ahead of me, also chasing after a sub-90 minute finish. I finally spotted Vince on the left of my pen but couldn’t grab his attention – he was my lucky charm, where in every single race I’ve participated in with him, I’ve managed to score a PB of some sort.

Very fine rain began to fall from the heavens to keep things cool and fresh – near perfect race weather. After a rendition of the Welsh national anthem and an intro from Colin Jackson, we runners were freed from the shackles of the start pen to begin the race.

The race

I ran with James for a few hundred metres and let him go at the first bend – I had a feeling I would catch him up later in the race. Vince finally saw me and I made my way over to him at the first opportunity. He was hoping for a PB of sub-87 but felt a sub-88 minute finish was all he had due to a few too many races over the summer. I ran with Vince for the first mile but eventually let him go due to a slight pace mis-match between us. I wanted to run a smart race without any heroics to jeopardise the plan – goal creep was not available on the menu.

At about mile two, somebody behind me yelled out, “How you doing, Andy Yu?” – it was only Gerwyn from Cardiff Parkrun! I’m not even from south Wales and the number of people I recognised in the race was pretty incredible. Gerwyn stormed off into the distance at a very nice clip and I was certain he’d post a huge PB after a good summer’s training.

I began drafting behind people of a similar pace to me to reserve as much mental and physical stamina for later in the race. When the first hill arrived, naturally everybody’s pace began to drop so I charged on up to keep my target pace in check – 6:49 per mile at that. Due to how fresh my legs were feeling, I had to rein them in because they constantly wanted to go faster – a positive sign that the half marathon paced sessions had worked. On the descent from the hill, I decided to let my legs stretch out a little and along with the aid of going downhill, my pace climbed. And climbed. And climbed some more, until I was 18 seconds ahead of schedule… I sank one of my three Isogels to keep fuel topped up, also receiving a nice pick-me-up from the caffeine.

Cruising through Penarth, I noticed an older chap from Aberysywyth AC just in front of me. Being an Aber graduate, I shouted out “Go Aberystwyth!” to him, and received a thumbs-up in return.

I was a touch nervous about reaching the Barrage due to the winds, but need not have worried – conditions were spot on and the breeze actually helped cool me down; some cheeky drafting here and there helped to eliminate much of the slow-down. Passing by a DJ blaring out tunes, he reminded us all that we had reached mile 5 by declaring, “You’re at mile 5! Almost there!” Not helpful at all with over 8 miles left to go. The Garmin virtual pacer reported a 26 second lead, so I decided to stop worrying and simply let my legs do their thing. It was pretty crazy where only a week prior, I was struggling to run 2x 2 mile reps at this pace, yet I had raced 5 miles without really even breaking a sweat!

Things got a bit tight on the approach to Cardiff Bay with runners bunching up. The course took us through a less picturesque part of town where road conditions were pretty shoddy and wire fences made up the scenery. Motivation to run faster perhaps? I reached Cardiff Bay and saw no sign of the MaxiGels that had been advertised to be handed out – disappointing for people who would have relied upon them.

Passing by the Wales Millennium Centre, I had to keep my eyes peeled for Kate, Ben et al who were waiting in the crowds for me. They cheered me on during last year’s race and really helped to push me along during those tricky middle miles where runners experience a lull in energy and motivation. It wasn’t long before I spotted Ben’s mum, Kate, Ellie and Ben and laid high-fives on them all for a renewed race boost. Thanks guys!

I found myself running alongside a guy in a silver morph suit for the rest of Lloyd George Avenue. He must have been a strong runner under the suit to manage sub-90 pace and with limited vision!

Time to flex the gun!

Time to flex the gun!

I was rapidly approaching Cathays where the crowds were huge, lining the street on both sides. There were banners, bells and all sorts to distract weary runners. I placed Lis and Yvonne further up from the crowds for some more motivation. The pressure from the task at hand started to take its toll on me, and the group I was chasing managed to create a sizeable gap of several metres. I finally spotted Lis and her mum, so I waved, pointed and had a bit of fun before taking advantage of the motivational boost.

Mile 9 took an age to arrive and when it did, the marker was waaay out for me. Most of the previous markers were out anyway, due to them being attached to lampposts, railings and whatever else was convenient on the course but this one was out by almost 80m or so. I had run a relatively clean line, though a few sloppy moments here and there had caught up to me. The Lucozade station wasn’t particularly well sign-posted either and if you read through the official race literature, there was no specific mention of where the station would actually be! I went to grab a bottle of water and did the courteous thing, moving out of the way for others to then filter in, only to then realise that a very short row of Lucozade marshals were just a few metres further on. I couldn’t stop and turnaround so I went without. Not good because I’d only budgeted three gels and a few swigs of Lucozade to get me through the race… Thankfully, a saintly runner had finished half of his Lucozade and offered the rest to me, which I was grateful to receive. Welsh runners – love ‘em!

Roath marked the 10th mile of the course and another climb to track around the lake (I recently ran this in reverse for the replacement Cardiff 10k course). I gained a few places on the ascent and told myself there was “just a hard Parkrun left” to bring the closing race into context. I noticed a Hyde Park Harrier girl – a club mate of Tom Williams from Marathon Talk. All I had to do was get to the other side of the lake and a nice downhill section would launch me on my way to the finish. I clocked Nigel’s son, James, just ahead and grabbed his attention; he was clearly fading and his breathing sounded quite laboured. I spurred him on to stay with me for a sub-90 minute finish and he diligently followed for the next 800m or so before he started going backwards again.

Mile 12 was almost my undoing. I had worked so hard to get to that point and due partly to me not paying attention and marshals not being vocal enough, I stumbled on a speed bump whilst grabbing a gel from my pocket. Everything went into slow motion like something out of the Matrix, and I could hear people all around me going “ooh!” as I was about to hit the deck. Thankfully, the running gods above bestowed me with cat-like reflexes, even at such a late stage in the race, and I regained my footing just in the nick of time to carry on and sink a gel. Phew! A short, sharp hill made itself known and clearly finished a few runners off around me. Reaching the brow, I was knackered too and had to slow slightly to regain some composure. It was almost all downhill from that point onwards (in a good way).

I began to pick my pace up and use the downhill straight to my advantage. I was now 29 seconds ahead of schedule and knew this would only increase until the very end. Out of nowhere, people started aggressively charging off into the distance. I had no idea what had spooked them and looked around, only for the sight of one of the sub-90 minute pacers to make me go into a blind panic! I stared down at my Garmin and I was 32 seconds ahead of schedule. What had gone wrong? Had I run such a sloppy line that the official pacer had caught up to me? Or had he gone too fast for his target? Another guy in the rough group I ran with for the last few miles remarked that this particular pacer was definitely too fast and that we would “comfortably go under 90 minutes”. This was enough to signal that moment was the right time to begin winding things up, and to claim back as much time as possible from the clock. My stride lengthened and I began my charge towards the new finish line on North Road. I also switched up my Garmin to elapsed time, where it ticked over to 85 minutes; I was certain I would go under 90 minutes but by how much?

80s kids and Transformers fans will understand my song choice…

The final short hill over the railway line arrived and an announcer declared there were just 600m left until the finish. One guy piped up with, “Let’s do this, boys!” and I carried things on with, “Only a lap and a half of the track! Come on!” along with a kick. I swung my arms and came tearing around the final corner. I knew Lis and Yvonne would be somewhere in the crowds but I was sprinting too quickly to clock either of their faces (sorry!); the only sign that I knew I had passed them was Yvonne’s shout of “Go beetroot!” This was my Olympic final; the moment I had been waiting for to take down as many places and seconds as possible. I increased my cadence and laid down one last effort to overtake a huge group of runners to finally cross the line.

Post-race

88:51 PB for Andy Yu at the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon

Not sure what happened at mile 10 – I didn’t slow down that much!

As ever, I was majorly unsteady on my feet and fair play to the finish area marshals, they could see this. Somebody grabbed my arm and started walking me over to the St Johns Ambulance area; I told him I was OK and just needed a moment to catch my breath, so he lead me to a nearby barrier. Remarkably, I was back to my usual self after only a minute or two. My Garmin proudly displayed 1:28:49 on its face (now chip verified as 88:51) – woohoo! I had a grin on my face as big as the Cheshire Cat’s and thus marked the final part of my holy trinity of a sub-19 minute 5k, a sub-40 minute 10k and a sub-90 minute half marathon. Jobs jobbed and missions accomplished for 2014!

I saw James come through shortly afterwards, with his Garmin reporting an 89:53 finish. Sadly, his time oddly came up as 90:10 on the official results. The chap that had said that we would “comfortably” go under 90 minutes came up to me to say “well done” for my closing sprint. James and I video-bombed an interview going on, so we may appear on the race broadcast due out in a few weeks!

Vince and Andy at the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon

Vince and Andy. Ouch! Bloody nipple for me!

I caught up with Vince who had run a superb 87:40 – a time I would have been blown away by had I have run it, but it was just short of a new PB for him. Whilst we were chatting away, I inadvertently bumped into my cousin (didn’t even know he was running!), Bruce, who posted a 1:34 PB.

A good day for all, indeed. Cardiff, you were beautiful and I shall see you again in autumn 2015!

For the data junkies, here are some stats:

  • Gun time – 88:57
  • Chip time – 88:51
  • Gun position – 623
  • Chip position – 657
  • First 6.5 miles – 43:51
  • Second 6.5 miles – 43:59

Based on my finish positions, I pretty much started in exactly the right place within the start pen with only 34 people passing me. Ignoring the final few hundred metres of sprint, I ran 13 miles with an ever so slight positive split of only 8 seconds. The second half of the course has more climb than the first half, so had I have not lost 10 seconds during the uphill miles 10 and 11, I’d have finished with a very minor negative split.

Here’s the Garmin data for this race.

This week’s running – 22nd to 28th of September 2014

Somebody call for a half marathon?

Somebody call for a half marathon?

This week was about partial recovery and near-final half marathon preparations.

Rest and recovery

Those more experienced than me recommend an easier week after every three weeks of harder graft. I’ve not really had a light week in almost 5 weeks, so I chose to take it easy on Monday through Wednesday. Last week’s appalling Parkrun performance, whilst partially down to lack of 5k focus, was also likely down to a lack of feeling fresh. Now is not the time for me to be doing more because it’s almost taper time for the big autumn A-race: the Cardiff Half Marathon.

Cardiff Half Marathon

And since we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the Cardiff Half Marathon.

This year, I will be running/racing it with Dave (of the Burton variety). We’re both hoping to go under 90 minutes, with all signs currently pointing to “yes”. The more fascinating question is “by how much?” Both Dave and I have come a long way since the Great Birmingham Run of 2012, where he had never run that sort of distance before and I had yet to dip under 2 hours for 13.1 miles. I remember a number of years ago reading the training plan and experience of a sub-90 minute half marathon runner, thinking that was borderline elite; it’s now funny to think I’m only a matter of days from having a bash at it myself.

We’ve both made it into the white start pen; the fastest and smallest of them all. Those with good memory will recall my farcical mix-up last year when the organisers had turfed me into one of the slowest pens and required I obtain a correctly coloured wristband to be promoted.

All my half marathon training has been geared towards a rough 6:45 per mile pace, which equates to an 88:30 finish. This has been in line with my 5k and 10k PBs, however, I have lost a little top-end speed in recent weeks so I think 6:50 per mile, at least for the first half will prove to be a safer bet. This is also taking into account the potential that I will end up running long – last year saw me run 13.22 miles, so 180ish metres extra. Considering I can cover 400m in 90 seconds at the end of a 5k, I could have reclaimed those 70 seconds last year for a sub-90 minute finish had I have run a cleaner line. Now you can see why I obsess so much about running the shortest, legal distance in a race!

Dave is a completely different kettle of fish right now, re-writing his own history book of what’s possible. He PBd again on Saturday at Cannon Hill Parkrun with 18:47; punching that time into the McMillan Running Calculator returns a potential sub-87 minute half marathon!

Racing weight

Last week at Cannon Hill Parkrun, I bumped into Jort for the first time in months for a brief catch-up. He remarked that I looked trimmer compared to the last time he saw me. As anybody knows, when you see yourself in the mirror every day, it’s hard to see small changes in a short space of time. Had I actually lost weight? I remember a funny segment on the Marathon Talk podcast where Tom Williams was discussing how he knew when he was nearing race season, and it all hinged on how regularly people told him how awful and gaunt he looked.

This week, the scale did not lie because my weight hovered around 9st 3ish for a few days and has finally stabilised at 9st 1.5 – this is the lowest weight I have been at as an adult! I haven’t done anything special diet-wise apart from a small shift to 1 or 2 meat-free meals a week. My training volume has, however, increased. My weekly volume as of late has been incredibly close to my heaviest weeks during marathon season. Compare this to the peak of my 5k and 10k ability during the summer, when I was at my fastest but also not really shifting any weight.

Why all the fuss about weight? Like sports cars, the less weight I’m carrying means the higher my power to weight ratio. This is all assuming that I haven’t lost any muscle mass, and thankfully, I don’t think I have.

2x 2 miles at target half marathon pace

Thursday saw the last time I would run this session in full before the Cardiff Half Marathon. I was expecting a hurt fest and certainly got one in the second rep, but rather oddly, the first rep felt easier than ever (probably down to the recovery days beforehand).

I was pleased as punch at the split times, with only a second’s difference between the laps. Despite the struggle with a mile to go during the second rep, I remained aerobic throughout the entire session and crucially, the pace remained very stable throughout.

I’m looking to run a single 2 mile lap next week as a finishing touch ahead of race day, with 2x 800m reps at 5k pace later in the week to sharpen things up.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Newport Parkrun

Due to schedule conflicts, I had to miss the Kings Heath Running Club takeover of Cannon Hill Parkrun back at home. So, I popped over to one of my Parkrun homes away from home at Tredegar House, Newport.

Nigel Foulkes-Nock and I had been speaking earlier in the week and he was in the mood for a stab at a new PB, one under 21 minutes. I wanted to run at my target half marathon pace, so the two married up perfectly for me to serve as his personal pacemaker.

We anticipated that we would lose time on a few of the twists, turns and the forested section that we had to run through twice. Nigel also likes to run a constant negative split with each successive split faster than that before it. Marathon Talk recently discussed the importance of transparency between a pacemaker and their chaser as to how the pacing would work; I promised I would never let him drift more than 5m behind and would slow down to let him close the gap, which just helps to keep the task psychologically manageable.

I almost lost Nigel a few times out on the course but managed to bring him back. With just 1km left to go, we were down on target by 18 seconds and I fed this back to him along with some encouragement. I picked the pace up to get us out of the forest ASAP and on to the home straight. Only 600m remained and I continued to feedback time status to Nigel, also urging him to begin kicking.

I asked Lis beforehand to capture the final sprint for the line using the iPhone 6’s new super slow-motion camera and this was the result (great song choice, no?):

Nigel Foulkes-Nock and Andy Yu at Newport Parkrun

I knew Nigel would do it with quite some margin once we passed the 200m point. And quite some margin it was for a 20:40 PB – 22 seconds faster than his former best! He looked rather fresh at the end and I think there was possibly some more in the tank to give. This should pave the way for a stellar half marathon performance from him next week in the Welsh Capital.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

11 miles to Usk and back 

I wanted one last long run before next week’s Cardiff Half Marathon. Granted I won’t get any fitter between now and next Sunday, I can of course lose fitness and I can’t shake the niggling feeling that I’ve not done quite enough distance work this summer.

Conditions were spot on for a long run and the route offered a good balance of long, flat straights and a few testing inclines and descents. Only criticism was the temperature – a touch too warm for this time of year.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

As ever, here’s this week’s entry from The Runner’s Rule Book by Mark Remy:

Be cool when you meet an elite

Among most sports, road racing is uniquely egalitarian. You get to run the same clock. You cross the same finish line, albeit minutes or hours later.

This has been noted, and celebrated, many times by many authors.

What hasn’t been explored, in any satisfactory way, is how you should behave when you encounter one of these elite runners. Here’s what is OK, and what is not.

Acceptable behaviour

  • Smiling and or waving at the athlete
  • Telling him or her that you are a “big fan”
  • Congratulating him or her on a recent performance
  • Wishing him or her luck on an upcoming performance
  • Asking for a photo an/or an autograph, if the time and place are appropriate (i.e., not while the athlete is dining or worshiping or sleeping or bathing or racing)

 Unacceptable behaviour

  • Offering the athlete training advice
  • Asking the athlete how much he or she earns
  • Becoming so anxious that you vomit on the athlete
  • Asking him or her to sign any part of your body typically covered by beachwear
  • Kissing
  • Requesting a lock of hair
  • Trying to bum 20 bucks