This week’s running – 11th to 17th June 2018

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All aboard the pain train at Walsall Arboretum parkrun! Photo by Ron Reynolds

An unconventional week, though no worse off for it.

5k recovery

It’s normally expected that I feel worse the following day after a race. When I feel about the same, if not better, then I know that I there was something more that I could have given. This held true here, where the Aldridge 10k barely felt like it touched my sides! Frustratingly, my glutes began firing correctly, whereas they were noticeably dormant during the race…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

7 miles from the Jewellery Quarter

It’s not very often that I find myself in the Jewellery Quarter these days, despite it being home for four years.

This particular route allows me to chop about 2 miles out from my normal 9.5 mile route from the office, whilst still keeping it at a reasonable distance. The reason for this was two-fold: I wanted to softly begin tapering ahead of the upcoming Wilmslow Half Marathon by reducing volume, and I had a track session pencilled in for the following day and needed to be relatively spritely to capitalise on it.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

800m, 1600m x4, 800m

Ah! A rare outing to visit the University of Birmingham running track! Can you believe it was before Christmas that I was last there?

As anticipated, I was on my own and used the official entrance to get in rather than skulking through bushes and in-between fences. Some gardeners were tending to the grounds in preparation for upcoming school sports days – every time I’ve visited, there have been gardeners present!

The plan was to cover 4x 1600m reps at half marathon pace, with a lead in and lead out of 800m at 5k pace for variety.

Despite being pretty well sheltered by surrounding trees and buildings, a breeze persisted to be felt on the final bend, home-straight and first bend! The sun came and went overhead, resulting in me opting to run bare-chested and work on my tan whilst I was at it.

Factoring in that GPS and 400m running tracks don’t gel well together, here are the splits:

  1. 800m: 2:53/5:48 per mile
  2. 75 seconds rest
  3. 1600m: 5:58/6:00 per mile
  4. 60 seconds rest
  5. 1600m: 6:02/6:04 per mile
  6. 60 seconds rest
  7. 1600m: 5:56/5:58 per mile
  8. 60 seconds rest
  9. 1600m: 6:03/6:05 per mile
  10. 60 seconds rest
  11. 800m: 2:48/5:38 per mile

The session, though challenging, was incredibly satisfying to complete. The track surface is beautiful to run on with plenty of traction, feedback and propulsion from its surface. I was able to lose myself in the running and not require keep an eye out for others as I often need to on the canal towpath. I couldn’t stop sweating at the end of it and was thankful I had a bottle of water with electrolytes for between reps and afterwards.

Here’s the Strava data for this session.

7 miles from the Jewellery Quarter

Very much a repeat of Tuesday’s run, though I felt dramatically worse due to ill and poor preparation beforehand from the office.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Walsall Arboretum parkrun

It’s traditional the week before a target race that I seek out a fast effort from a parkrun. A bout of focused pace, that’s not too taxing in terms of recovery, does wonders to sharpen up.

In need of a return visit to Ikea, Walsall Arboretum parkrun made a lot of sense, especially after Dave Burton’s fresh PB from last week on the fast and flat course. Dave was game for another bash on the course, so came along. Sadly, conditions weren’t quite as optimal as a week ago, with noticeably more wind blowing, and drizzle leaving the ground underfoot slightly slick. Saying that, though, my 18:14 PB from the course in 2016 was run in wet conditions, so who’s to say what’s possible anymore?

Lis and Dave’s brother, Paul, were present for spectator duties with the course affording six opportunities to spot runners from a couple of vantage points.

A decent warm-up in the bag and we assembled on the start line. I was genuinely nervous and could feel my heart racing away; I knew what would unfold would be painful, no matter the outcome!

The start was fast as anticipated with me falling into place outside of the top 10. My target pace for the morning was 3:38 to 3:40 per km; hanging on to 3:40 for the opening split felt harder than it should have – most likely due to the Aldridge 10k and Wednesday’s track session still remaining in my system.

I found myself occasionally flanked by a couple of guys, though I seemed to be doing the lion’s share of the work in pacing terms. I would have joined the group ahead, but over 5k pace, they were too far off in the distance to reel to leave me reluctantly in place.

Whereas I’d started off on target pace, I just couldn’t sustain it and ended up falling back to around 3:50 per km.

Walsall Arbortum parkrun is a compact, three lap course. Entering the second lap, I began encountering slower runners and occasionally had to bellow out, “Keep left,” just as the marshals did. People seemed to take it well enough, with one lapped lady cheering me on as I passed her sounding like a steam train. I was in a hell of my own making!

GPS seems to struggle on the Walsall Arboretum course, with measured distance all over the place. Historically, I’ve felt the course is potentially short, though this would make little sense as the start and end positions are not dictated by necessity and could easily be moved further apart if the distance is indeed short. With a supposed km remaining, I was unsure how near or far away I was from my secondary goal of a new PB that morning. It wasn’t until I had some 500m remaining that I realised I was in with a shot of breaking new ground if I could lay down a big kick…

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Please forgive my tan lines – photo by Lis Yu

Rounding the penultimate bend, I tried with all my might to put rubber down to the ground for something substantial, but it just wasn’t happening. Even with the gentle descent all the way to the finish, I simply couldn’t generate the necessary power to keep up with the several guys that rapidly passed me. The look on my face in the photo at the top of this post says it all!

Crossing the line drenched in sweat from the effort, it was bitter-sweet to learn I’d run my fastest 5k in 2 years for 18:22, also my third fastest 5k of all time, but still needed 9 seconds to challenge my 18:14 PB. Working my way through the funnel, I was surprised to discover one of the guys that stuck to me like glue was the same chap that narrowly beat me to the line at the Aldridge 10k! Tom joked that I had become his personal “tormentor”, though I reassured him that I would not be in the vicinity any time soon to put him at ease.

Frustratingly, my official plastic barcode failed to register in the system for me to end up with an unknown result. The barcode scanned because I heard the audible beep, so I’ve binned it rather than allow it to wreak any more havoc. Kindly and swiftly, the Walsall Arboretum team amended the issue for me within a few hours with no fuss – thank you!

A little more to come with some focused pace work, though I’m struggling to think of where I can find another 23 seconds to break 18 minutes!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to Brindley Place and back

Whereas I would have normally gotten out for my run in the morning, I ended up sleeping in and completing a few errands before needing to be somewhere for lunch time. Before I knew it, 3pm had rolled around!

Conditions were deceptive; on the surface, the afternoon appeared to be cool with overcast skies. The reality was noticeable humidity to leave my t-shirt drenched – I really should have worn a vest.

People say you should leave around 3 hours after eating a meal before attempting to run. Personally, I stick with 2 hours for carbohydrate-rich meals with low protein, and nearer 4 hours for protein-rich meals. Well, I had a protein-rich meal comprised of dim sum to leave me pretty uncomfortable!

To make matters worse, I enjoyed a tailwind on the out leg, only to be faced with a headwind on the return to add to the discomfort!

I definitely prefer running long in the morning on Sundays, where I feel like it has far less of an impact on the rest of the day.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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This week’s running – 12th to 18th February 2018

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Can you guess the parkrun event?

A normal week of training felt like a novelty after several weeks racing.

5k recovery

My glutes and calves were trashed after the previous day’s Draycote Water 10k. I did question whether a complete day of rest would yield more benefit than 5k at an easy pace, but routine won out in the end. A colleague who’s just getting into running asked me if he should consider recovery runs; my answer to him was that he should stick to his 3-4 runs a week and to only consider recovery runs once he sees his times plateau.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with 2 at half marathon pace

It’d been weeks since I last committed to some set distance at pace in training. Strong winds and sideways rain just hadn’t been conducive to more structured stuff, paving the way for my recent flings with fartlek.

Almost like something out of Groundhog Day, the first mile came in at 6:34 just like the last time. Nothing I did could coax any more speed from my legs to hit the 6:23 target. Continuing the Groundhog Day theme, the second mile then came in at 6:17 pace – exactly the same as previous sessions! Whilst it was disappointing to see no perceivable improvement, it was also positive to see there’d been nothing lost, either.

Interestingly, my Garmin 935 optically tracked my heart rate to be pretty damn near perfect, almost like I was wearing a chest strap. It tracks easy and steady runs with no issue, but tends to trip over itself when more vigorous effort is involved. The only thing that’s changed is a recent software update that claims to have addressed reliability – I guess Garmin wasn’t lying!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Boy, was this unpleasant running the entire way into 15mph headwind. At least I was only going at recovery pace, running as easy as I cared to.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

The strides continued to work their magic on my glutes, keeping them activated and increasing feelings of how tuned into my own body I was.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Walsall Arboretum parkrun

Hallelujah! A Saturday morning that wasn’t a complete washout! With better than typical conditions available, I took Dave with me to the swift Walsall Arboretum parkrun – home to my 18 month old 5k PB.

Warming up on the course, I’d forgotten how conducive to fast running Walsall Arboretum could be. The ground underfoot is well paved, grippy and consistent to allow for big efforts with confidence. The course is also pretty damn flat, making even pacing incredibly easy over its three laps. Distance accuracy is a little dubious, but a few GPS black spots more than answer that problem.

The run started off blisteringly fast as was to be expected – I registered 3:18 per km pace at a few points! I reined things in a little for fear of a serious blowout later, though wound up separated from the larger group ahead and stuck with several more transient runners. My body and legs were tired from several weeks with a race or race-effort parkrun, and the late Friday night certainly did not help.

I began lapping runners about halfway through the second lap, with a number of them lending me their support. 3km was my slowest of the morning at 4:01, though not too unusual with my fastest runs showing a similar ‘float’ middle split serving as minor recovery. Not the end of the world, considering I ran largely alone for near-2km.

Entering the third lap, I felt like throwing up! The effort inside me began boiling over as I released a few whimpers of pain… The run director made specific mention of runners keeping to the left to allow for overtaking on the right. Almost everybody I encountered obeyed this rule except one, who decided to park herself firmly on the right of the narrow path; not wanting to collide with her, I hollered, “Keep left! Keep left!” My cries fell on deaf ears as she swerved all over the course, forcing me to surge with an undertaking manoeuvre when the opportunity presented itself.

Close to blowing, my choo-choo train impression reared its head with perhaps 800m remaining. A few more friendly runners encouraged me on, clearly having heard my huffing and puffing from behind them.

Even with all that exertion, I was disappointed to find I only managed 18:56. Dave was beaming to have run his fastest 5k in 6 months, also waxing lyrical about how optimal the Walsall Arboretum course is for fast running. So impressed was he that we’ve agreed to return to the venue for an entire month some time in the spring, in the hope that one of the four or five attempts will click into place and produce the goods. It was a nice change of scenery and the event straddled that fine line between being a larger event whilst maintaining a small event community feel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to the Vale and back

It’d been almost a month since I last covered 15 miles, and my legs felt it especially after the raced parkrun 24 hours prior.

With the St James Road tunnel closed to widen the towpath, I had to bulk up the distance with two laps of Kings Heath Park. Everybody and their dog were seemingly out at the same time on that Sunday morning, with some canine owners more courteous than others. I was glad to be out of there ASAP!

Heading up Fordhouse Lane for the return to Kings Heath, I noticed a fellow runner joining the hill from the opposite side to me. He had some speed to him as we climbed, always drifting into the corner of my eye; not wanting to be left behind and fully warmed up, I opted to inadvertently race him as we tackled the ascent on different sides of the road. He pulled away as the road banked left and I regained the advantage as it banked right. Even with a zebra road crossing, I managed to just pip him to the brow of the Fordhouse Lane climb. I may have won the battle, but he won the war as he crept away on the flat and I had no more gears to shift into. I had hoped to see him on the Strava Flyby, but no such luck…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

This week’s running – 4th to 10th of July 2016

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Closing my eyes on an unfamiliar course probably isn’t the best idea – photo by Ronald Reynolds

Week 9 of the 22 week marathon schedule saw me cut back slightly on volume along with getting some Parkrun tourism in.

9 miles from work with strides

The injection of some strides at the beginning of each new mile helped to prevent this run from becoming too ploddy.

Interestingly, my Fenix 3 lost its way through Brindley Place again, this time near The Cube, where it looked like I ran in a circle on the spot. I’m not surprised the Fenix 3 struggles through that particular stretch of canal with the artificial canyon, though I must say my Garmin 910XT almost never skipped a beat under identical terrain.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 miles recovery from city centre

The temperature picked up once more and I was glad there was no pace target for this run in the schedule!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

This was not a good run for me, mentally, so I apologise in advance but I’m gonna have a bit of a moan. Feel free to skip this section entirely!

The original plan was to cover 9 miles from the office for home, but several things stood in my way, one of them literally.

You’ll have just read about my woes with my Garmin Fenix 3 whilst running through Brindley Place. The high walls of the canal create a canyon-like situation, which is notoriously difficult for GPS accuracy. Chuck in the tunnel that goes beneath Broad Street and it’s any wonder it stays on course at all. My issues started because these days, I’m hitting Brindley Place several miles into a run versus when I used to live in the Jewellery Quarter and the locale appeared within the first or last mile typically. Currently, I’ll be cruising through Brindley Place during the third or fourth mile of a run at a typical 7:50 per mile pace; suddenly it’ll shoot up to 7:20 or so with no intervention from me. As well as an increase in recorded speed, the Fenix 3 also suddenly thinks I’ve gone further than I actually did, due to the GPS trace going incredibly wide (sometimes, by as much as 200m). Looking at previous runs through Brindley Place recorded on my former 910XT, the GPS traces weren’t perfectly clean, though the recorded paces are better masked and smoothed out, whereas it’s almost impossible for me not to spot a 30 second pace increase on the device display. It’s the perfect storm situation where I can’t un-see what I have seen; I’m now constantly on the look-out for it!

I slotted 2 miles in at target marathon pace during the middle portion of this run, thinking it’d be a doddle to cover, but didn’t factor in the effects of the headwind that blew right into me. The first mile came in almost 10 seconds too fast due to over-compensation; the second was too slow for the opposite reason.

Disheartened, but not yet defeated, I continued on through Selly Oak when a shifty-looking bloke on a bike stopped ahead of me and started waving me down. I now make it a habit of not stopping during a run if somebody wants my attention – that’s not me being an arse, but a result of previously being stopped for all manner of stupid reasons (crowded Cannon Hill Park and man stops me for the time). Basically, if you don’t look injured, I ain’t stopping for you! Anywho, I replied with, “Sorry bud, in the middle of a run,” as if it wasn’t obvious enough. He shouted back at me with, “Wait! You can’t go that way!” He was absolutely right and maybe 100m ahead of me was a fast flowing gush of water from street level on to the towpath and into the canal itself. Fortunately, I was able to suddenly detour back on to street level through a nearby housing estate, which lead back to Oak Tree Lane and Linden Road. Running past the entrance to Raddlebarn Road, a copper had blocked the road off with his car. Water was in free-flow from one of the new housing developments on the former site of the hospital, which later turned out to be a burst water main. I eventually tracked back on my way past Cadbury’s World to come out at Stirchley, making the second half of this run much hillier than originally envisioned.

I got the distance in, but not without a few wounds…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Walsall Arboretum Parkrun

With Cannon Hill Parkrun closed for the first of three weeks, Simon Bull, Nigel Beecroft and I went on tour again, visiting the Walsall Arboretum event. It was over three years ago that I was last there, albeit on a temporary course in light of development around the lake; the current course on paper definitely looked faster with substantially less climb by comparison. Whilst it was never on the training schedule, I quite fancied an impromptu 5k PB attack and kept it quiet for this reason; no pressure if nobody knows about it!

Continuing the trend of a disrupted British summer, I was greeted by torrential sideways rain and had to make it over to the other side of the park as a warm-up… I quickly met up with the guys and recognised a few other fellow Cannon Hill refugees.

Much like at Arrow Valley and Cwmbran a couple of weeks ago, there was some slight nervousness inside me from the unfamiliarity – all very positive and welcome ahead of the unplanned challenge at hand. Stood on the start line, I strategically placed myself a few rows back so as to allow for people to chase down.

The start was incredibly controlled, even with people dashing off all around me. A few hundred metres later, gaps formed and I began ditching those around me to reel in those in front. Unfortunately, my recorded splits aren’t reliable because I’d set my Garmin to smart recording from Thursday’s GPS investigations… I felt pretty comfortable and that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t to be a fools errand.

More runners from ahead were sent back to me, giving me some interim targets to focus on during lap 2. Halfway through this lap, I came into contact with the backmarkers, whom were easy enough to scoot around for no disruption to my rhythm. I stalked a solid looking group of 3 about 50m ahead. A lucky break presented itself when the group broke apart and one guy lost his flow by a couple of steps, allowing me to creep up on him. I gave him some encouragement to keep going with me, though his breathing suggested he’d reached the limits of his ability and sent me onwards into lap 3.

I think the last time I ran a true-blue 3 lap course was Wolverhampton around this time last year. I don’t handle laps all that well, and the thought of my buddy, Vince Nazareth, running a track 10,000m race later that evening sent shivers down my spine. Slowly but surely, more and more of the mid-pack runners began drifting into contact with me. It was all incredibly civilised and everybody instinctively knew to keep left on the course. The increased density of runners around me undoubtedly helped to keep the perception of speed up and keep me company, where the next group of runners were definitely too far ahead to latch on to.

About halfway through the final lap, a Shabbarunner came out of nowhere to overtake me. This was significant because it was the first time anybody had come past me since the start line! He moved at just a few strides faster and gave me the perfect opportunity to lift my pace in an attempt to match his. It was almost like we were attached at the waist by elastic; the gap grew larger and smaller as he tried to break away and I did my best to cover his moves. With only a few hundred metres remaining until the finish, the volume of lapped mid-pack runners reached its peak and I suddenly had to divide my attention between them and chasing down the Shabbarunner. The lapped runners won; approaching the narrow bridge before the long final straight, I had to shout “KEEP LEFT!” to prevent anybody drifting into my path as I teared around the corner.

The Shabbarunner’s lead grew by a few metres as he shifted into a final kick. I lifted my cadence as I tried to do the same, but I’d run out of gears to shift into due to a complete lack of 5k work in favour of 42.2k focus. Throughout the run, I felt like a simmering pot of hot water, only occasionally showing signs of bubbling over. The run didn’t feel like a traditional 5k attempt of mine and instead felt much more like an even dispersal of effort over the course – did the very flat 3 lap route play its part? I crossed the line a couple of seconds behind the Shabbarunner, who simply had more strength in the closing stage.

As per usual, I wanted to throw my guts up from the lactic acid that flooded my body. And my finish time? 18:14. 18 bloody 14! A 17 second improvement from April and a massive 35 second jump from the very end of 2015!

Here’s the Strava data for this run, though as I already mentioned above, the splits are pretty useless due to the screwy distance from having smart recording enabled versus 1 second recording… I’ve now reverted back to 1 second recording!

Breaking down the race run with Simon Rhodes afterwards, he concurred that the change of venue must’ve helped because he experienced the same when he visited the unfamiliar Cannon Hill recently, also producing his own PB away from home turf.

Obviously, I enjoyed my time at Walsall Arboretum and I’ve no doubt the course would be even faster in dry conditions, though I also have the nagging feeling that dryer conditions would have also increased the overall volume of runners; I’m not so sure the 3 lap course would have quite the same speed with increased numbers.

12 miles – to The Cube and back

Or just outside of Brindley Place, so as not to tempt the dreaded GPS drift on my Garmin!

Lis and I had a few errands to run earlier in the day, so I had to delay this run until the warm and humid mid-afternoon…

No dramatics and largely run by feel. The second half was into some aggressive headwind, though it at least cooled me down and shifted some of the sweat that was clinging to me! I picked up the pace in the final 3 miles, including the climb up Cartland Road (yeah, I can’t figure out why, either…)

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon

My last marathon campaign was devoid of any PBs outside of 26.2 miles. No 5k, no 10k, no half marathon. So it’s entirely bizarre, though most welcome, that I’m setting new PBs at 5k and 10k at the moment and I’m also confident I’ll break into new half marathon territory come September despite the less than ideal course.

Next week sees me back in the land of marathon specifics and potentially in 50 mile territory…