Training Diary – w/c 11th September

Seeing as Ben is injured at the moment (again), he hasn’t been writing his usual training log updates. So I thought I would step in instead.

My ‘training’ situation is obviously a little different at the moment, as I’m looking to re-build all-round strength as well as get fitness back. In theory I’ve been working towards being able to run the Taunton 10k, but energy levels and split priorities mean that the base work just hasn’t been there.

In the interests of transparency, I should also point out that this was pretty much the best a week of exercise has ever gone for me.

Monday – Ballet Fit Class
Regular class for me that has been great for building strength. For this week we particularly focused on leg extensions (which I’m, uh, not great at) and back extensions (which, surprisingly, I’m not terrible at).

Tuesday – 1.6 mile run & Pole Class
So there will be a few raised eyebrows at this, but I’ve been doing a beginners’ Pole course for the last few weeks. I’ve never known anything to work every part of your body quite like this. I was pretty wiped and so Ben suggested I should head over early and go for a short run before hand to help me wake up. The wind and the rain (and probably the running) certainly did help and meant that I was at least semi-awake for the class. Notable bits of the class were learning single-climb squats (which I very much felt after) and slipping slightly while trying out a spin (which left a lovely line of bruises down my leg).

Wednesday – Rest Day
By which I mean I left my sofa for about 2 hours total. Considering I have a 5 month old at home with me, this is quite a feat I feel.

Thursday – 1.7 mile buggy run
Or, as I called it on Strava, “Tired buggy run”. Tired was definitely the theme for the week (or year). As I mentioned in my post about buggy running, I’m finding it pretty hard going. But it’s absolutely worth it for being able to get a bit of a run in.

Friday – Rest Day

Saturday – parkrun (2017 best)
We’d talked earlier in the week about me possibly doing parkrun somewhere we could then go out for the day, but when it got to Friday evening we were way too tired (there’s that word again). Waking up on Saturday I had a little strop about not wanting to trudge round Longrun Meadow, but got over myself and decided to go anyway. As I went to get my shoes out I realised it had rained during the week, so put my trail shoes on and crossed absolutely everything that there might be good puddles.
I was not disappointed. Barely a minute into the run I saw runners part in front of me, and a smile hit my face as I splashed right through the middle. Congestion is really not a thing when you’re surrounded by dodgers. Regular puddles gave me lots of little targets to aim for, which really helped with keeping going. I ran the whole thing, and got my fastest parkrun time since before I got pregnant. I really really do love puddles.

Photo Credit: Kevin Dunn

Sunday – Rest Day

I’d hoped to get out for a few miles, but for various reasons it just didn’t happen.

So there you have it, a snapshot of my week. Well, the bits that involve exercise at least. The balance of 2 classes and 3 runs is what I’m aiming for (albeit slightly more targeted runs), and so hopefully there will be more weeks like this in the near future.

Buggy beginnings

One of the things I’ve been asked most since I started back at parkrun is when we’ll be buggy-parkrunning with our son. And every time I’ve given the answer that buggy running is not recommended until the baby is 6 months old.

The observant among you will have spotted that he is not going to be 6 months old for another few weeks, and yet here I am writing about buggies. So let me explain.

Last week, I really wanted to go for a run. My legs just felt in need of a stretch out. It had been over a week since my last outing and, with the way our schedule was looking, it could easily be over a week until I would next get the chance. Ben suggested going out with the buggy while our daughter was at nursery, and although I was initially reluctant it made sense.

Every single health professional that has ever seen our son has commented on how strong he is. Being able to support his own head is really not an issue. We already own a running buggy (ok, we have 2) and so it’s not like I’d be running with him in a lightweight stroller. My pace and distance are hardly record-breaking at the moment, so that would make for a gentle starting point. And I was in complete control of the terrain (aka boring wide paths near my house).

And so it was that I strapped him in and tentatively set off. I’m not going to lie, it was tough. My core and shoulders were still aching from an exercise class earlier in the week, and it had been a really really long time since I last ran with a buggy. But in a way that made it mentally easier. It was always going to be tricky, and so I just had to do what I could.

Any excuse to stop and rest…

I wasn’t sure how our son would react, seeing as he’s hardly been in a pushchair at all, but, true to form, he happily fell asleep. Result! Despite finding it hard going (and going uphill on a bridge near impossible) I enjoyed it. And running downhill with a buggy is great for stride length and pattern.

Like starting anything, it’s great to have something to build on. I went out again this week and got slightly further, and my intention is to make it a regular event to build up my strength. While I certainly wouldn’t consider anything like Mount Edgcumbe with a baby this young (although I’m sure Ben would consider the lighter buggy), a reasonably-surfaced parkrun should be fine in the near future.

For now, though, I’m just enjoying the freedom feeling of being able to get out the house and run.

Confessions of a Run/Walker

I realise it’s not very PC, what with running being all-inclusive and everything, but I’ve always hated run/walkers. More specifically, people that run/walk in organised events. Because what people do in their training doesn’t really impact me.

Mostly, this has stemmed from several very negative experiences during both races and parkrun, at times that I’ve been busting a gut to keep running. There was the Christmas Cracker 10k, when two girls abruptly slowed just in front of me on the narrow pavement. And the most notable experience of it from parkrun was of two people actually using me as a target. So they ran until they overtook me, and then immediately slowed to a walk.

Looking at it like that, what actually annoyed me wasn’t the fact that people were run/walking, it’s that they weren’t very considerate of other runners. And let’s face it, there are inconsiderate runners in all shapes and sizes. I have also had a tendency to look down on people run/walking. But as is often said, don’t judge what you don’t know.

The trick is to time running with going past photographers

There are a few flavours of run/walking, but all consist of intentionally running for a bit, then walking for a bit, and repeating. The duration could be determined by time, distance, or feel. If you’ve followed my return to running so far, you’ll know that run/walking has been a staple for me. I’ve chosen to go with the time option, as it’s simple and easy to moderate. If I ran by feel there would be a definite danger of feeling the need to walk too often, and every time a hill appeared.

Run-walking is a great way of gaining fitness. The shorter spells allow you to run at a faster pace, and the walking gives enough time to recover while keeping everything moving just enough. In fact, if you keep the walking at a decent pace then it’s possible to have a very respectable overall pace. When I first returned to running, I saw it as a necessary evil. A hoop I would have to jump through to start getting some distance in, before quickly moving on to ‘proper’ running. And there was no way on earth I would dream of run/walking at an organised event.

Except, of course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to run at Moors Valley (and then Mile End and then Longrun Meadow…). Which gave a great opportunity to prove to myself that it IS possible to run/walk considerately. And so, I made sure to stick to the edges of the path to keep out the way. Just as you would in a car, I check behind me before speeding up or slowing down. If there’s someone close by that is likely to be impacted, I let them know that I’m about to change pace. My Garmin gives a 5 second beep warning, which is plenty of time. There was one occasion at Mile End when I was just overtaking someone as the beeps started, so I dropped back a little early. Common sense really.

Run/Walking makes for some pretty cool Pace Analysis charts

And yet I still view run/walking as an inferior activity. There was one evening that I went out for a slightly longer loop than I’d done previously. As I went round, there were mixed emotions. I was pleased to be making progress, but disappointed to be only run/walking. But as I neared the end, I realised what Ben would put in one of his training updates for that run:
Speed work: 10 x 3mins @ target pace with 1 min recovery
Hmm, that sounds a little different.

I’m managing to run a bit further now, but despite my initial intentions I think run/walking might be part of my plans for a little while longer. It won’t be every run, and it won’t be forever, but it still very definitely has a place as I build back up. And I hope that when the days of recovery become a distant memory I still remember that run/walkers aren’t just slacking off, and that it really is a valid way to run.

But if anyone suddenly stops or slows right in front of me, I still reserve the right to grumble.

Training: Weeks 5 & 6

Oh boy, what a couple of weeks. As I mentioned in my last training update, my race addiction can cause quite a few issues for my training, and this was never more evident than in the last fourteen days. When I opted to train to improve my 10k time, rather than my half-marathon time, it was a two-pronged decision. Part of it was the desire to have a really good go at the distance that I just hadn’t focused on last year. The other was the vague idea that 10k training would be less intense, at a time when I had a small baby to look after, and a wife looking to get back into exercise routines herself.

What a clanger.

Had I actually looked at the 10k plan I was aiming to follow, or in fact engaged my brain and thought about things, I’d have realised that 10k training more or less followed the same pattern as the HM training I’d done, but included more speed-work. So in essence, similar mileage, but more hard workouts. So, basically, at least as hard, if not actually slightly harder. Anyway, less about my stupid decisions, and more about… well… my other stupid decisions:

Week 5, coming off the back of a recovery week was meant to start with a general aerobic run with hill sprints and 100m strides on the Tuesday, before the traditional endurance run the next day. And so, we reached the first issue. The Haselbury Trail 10k, a Wednesday night race. As is now traditional, the speed-work was cancelled, and replaced with a seven-mile meander along a route inspired by the Hurtle, one of the races that our club puts on. I hadn’t really felt like running at all, but was happy enough that I’d managed to get a run done, and that it was pretty close to the right distance.

I’ve written plenty about the Haselbury Trail in the race report blog post, but in summary, I was really happy with it. Despite some awful conditions, I ran my quickest time on the course, and even managed to add some distance before and after the run to make the day up to nine miles in total, keeping me on track for my weekly mileage target.

Unfortunately, despite my good start to the week, the tail-end was subject to more disruption – we were heading up to London to watch the athletics on Friday evening, so my Friday speed-work (5 x 1000m) was not going to happen. So, still aching from my race, I headed out early on Friday for a gentle 3.5 mile run around the river and canal, which was a pretty ‘nothing’ run. We then spent the rest of Friday clocking up more and more steps; we had to stand for most of the train journey to London, and then walked from Piccadilly Circus to our hotel in Tower Hill. We then turned out to be in the very back row at the athletics, and so built up even more steps going up and down the stairs to our seats and back a few times. Then, after watching Mo win the 10,000m (Go Mo!) we got back to our hotel room after 11 (late for us).

Just a casual 26:49 10k…

All of this was great preparation for Mile End parkrun – in the absence of my intervals the day before, I decided that it would be a good idea to make this an ‘effort’ parkrun. I clocked 19:44; my second-fastest parkrun time ever, on a slightly undulating course; you can read more about it here. I was really happy with my time, and although it didn’t serve quite the same training purpose as the planned intervals, I felt good about getting a quicker workout in.

Sunday’s long run was an opportunity to run on a few roads that I hadn’t explored before to the east of Taunton – I find solitary long runs pretty tough at times, and so I like to find ways to motivate myself and keep myself distracted – in this case it was expanding my VeloViewer ‘largest square’. Basically, every map grid that you run in is highlighted, so I was exploring some new squares! It’s a bit sad and geeky, but it keeps me interested! The run itself was 11.7 miles at 8:34 min/mi, a decent but not spectacular run.

My VeloViewer square.

Week 5: Target 37 mi, actual 36 mi

Another week, another race to mess with the plan! It was back to the Yeovilton 5k in Week 6. In Week 2, I’d ran 19:46, which had given me a big mental boost, and I was hoping for another this time around. My head wasn’t really in the game to start the week though, and my Tuesday run ended up being a very late evening plod around at 9:19 min/mi. I think the combined efforts of the Haselbury Trail and Mile End parkrun had really worn me out. With that in mind, I was really struggling with whether to go to the Yeovilton race. I was down on my weekly mileage, and doing the 5k race would only make that worse. I ummm-ed and I ahhh-ed, and I made and re-made the decision a few times before ultimately deciding to go.

I’m glad I did. As I knew, my weekly mileage suffered, but I ran 19:17, only four seconds slower than my PB set last September. The race gave me great confidence for how my training is going. I managed to tag on a decent length warm-up and cool down to minimise the damage to my weekly target.

Bizarrely, considering that I was feeling wiped out after so many race efforts, I opted to stick with my lactate threshold run on the Friday – cruise intervals; 12 mins/12 mins/10 mins at 6:40/6:40/6:38 pace. As I did for most of last year, I ran this along the canal, and was really happy with the effort I managed after a tough period of training. A gentle recovery run on Saturday evening was followed the next morning by a 12.3 mile long run with the club. I didn’t feel up for a solitary long run, so took the opportunity to do our club’s regular Sunday run. Although the pace wasn’t quite what I’d have done on my own, I didn’t regret the decision at all – it was lovely to be able to chat to friends all the way around, and made the distance feel like nothing at all.

A decent lactate threshold workout.

Week 6: Target 39 mi, actual 37.2 mi

I was disappointed to be short on mileage both weeks, but given that I had races both weeks, and some other disruptions too, I’m not too bothered in all honesty. My training is clearly heading in the right direction; both the races and the speed sessions show me this. Six weeks marks halfway through the plan, and the second half is much less congested – I’ve got a 10k race on Sunday of week 8, but that coincides with a planned 5k tune-up race, so not too much tweaking should be needed, and then the next Yeovilton race will be in week 10 or 11. I’m hoping to be able to get in a lot more of the planned speed workouts, and hopefully with less alterations, my body will benefit from the planned rest and recovery periods!

parkrun at home: Longrun Meadow

The time had come for something both familiar and a little bit new – running at my home parkrun of Longrun Meadow. I’d last run there on Christmas Eve, splashing in every puddle on the course before starting my running maternity leave. As it happens, that was the last day that the old anti-clockwise course was used. Hence the new-to-me part.

Longrun Meadow parkrun is based in Taunton, in a green area that you may be able to guess the name of. Taunton has excellent travel links and so the parkrun is easy to get to. For us, the journey is typically a mile’s walk along the river. Today we were running a little late though (shocking how that happens with 2 small children!) and drove over. There’s parking available by Castle School, and quite a few people also park at Tesco. It’s also an easy cycle and doable walk from either the train station or the middle of town.

Once you enter the meadow from either Castle School direction or French Weir park it’s pretty obvious where you’re heading, due to the very visible Oak Barn. Those requiring pre-run facilities should head to the COACH building in French Weir park. Hoodies and water bottles are typically left on the various tables and benches in the barn.

The barn really is easy to spot!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t hear much of the run briefing today. There’s no megaphone and so you have to make sure to stand very close in to the barn to hear. A combination of handing over children to Ben, and chatting to club friend Eliza, meant that I was too far back. Still, it was pretty obvious when we needed to make our way to the start line. Something that I have only seen at Longrun Meadow, which may throw regular tourists a little, is that the first timers’ briefing is held AFTER the main briefing, once returning runners have been sent to the start.

There are two routes to the cycle path start – one follows the path and one cuts across the grass. If you’re at the faster end, cut across the grass otherwise you’ll get stuck too far back. I obviously opted for following the path. As with most path starts, those towards the back are a little distance from the start line, but as long as you’re in roughly the right place it’s fine. I was very pleased to hear the air horn that marked the start (so many starts can’t be heard at the back) and we were quickly off.

Other than the disorientation of going the ‘wrong’ way, the first thing I noticed was that I’d started my watch as a normal run, rather than the 3 min run/1 min walk workout I was supposed to select. My immediate thought was that this was a sign I should run the whole thing. Very quickly followed by remembering I am trying to re-build my body, not nuke it. So manual intervals it would have to be.

Starting out with friends

After the short section on tarmac (during which I waved to Ben and the children), the surface changes to the gravel path surface that makes up most of the course. We slowed dramatically to go over a narrow bridge (which is currently missing a fence on one side and so I’m guessing this was slower than normal). Soon after, there’s a quick dodge left and then right through some big gates. These are open first lap to avoid another bottleneck point.

The path then opens up a bit for a nice straight section, at the end of which you turn left and the surface changes to bark. Congestion struck again here as the usable space was only about 2 people wide, and a few times I found myself behind a pair running together. The annoying thing with run/walking is that you can sometimes struggle to overtake the same people on multiple occasions. The surface changes back to the gravel path but the width stays pretty similar for the other 2.5 sides of the square that take you almost back to the end of the straight bit.

A left turn takes you onto the beginning of a more twisty-turny section, and my favourite bit of the course. This is the bit most prone to puddles! There were a few good ones today, but sadly I was wearing my road shoes (the rest of the course was in good condition) and so didn’t splash. The path opens back up a little and then, after a bridge by a hedge, you suddenly find yourself back near the barn.

Excited that I hadn’t been lapped, I made my way through the best supported section (as basically everyone that isn’t a marshal is hanging round the barn area). A very small up takes you back onto the tarmac cycle path to start lap 2. Which is much the same as lap 1, but less congested and finishes earlier.

I was unsure how I’d find the 3/1 run/walk, but it went pretty well. I was careful not to push too hard and so managed to keep enough in the tank for a faster finish, which is a very satisfying way to end a parkrun.

Strong enough to finish on one leg

After getting my finishing token I was at the back of a big queue, as the funnel continues for most of the way to the barcode scanners. I opted to duck out of this to get water, although one well-meaning volunteer did tell me I should stay in order (which, if you haven’t got your finish token yet, you really must). After rehydrating and chatting to a few people, Lani helped me get scanned and then insisted we head off to the swings (apparently she’d been asking for quite some time…).

The adjacent French Weir park has great playparks for children big and small, and we also paid a visit to The Weir cafe in COACH for some much-needed refreshment.

This has been the weirdest parkrun post for me to write, as it’s completely different talking about an event I’ve run 45 times and attended many more. For example, I know that some Run Directors aren’t hampered by the lack of megaphone. I know that I preferred the course the old way round, but I also know that the congestion used to be horrendous. When you visit different parkruns you get a snapshot of how they are on that day for your pace. Over time you inevitably start comparing your home event to the best bits of all the others you’ve visited.

But I’m lucky that my home event has an interesting enough course, and a dedicated core team that really believe in it. I’m also lucky to live in the heart of a region with truly beautiful and varied events to visit. The question is, where to next?

Photo credits to Kevin Dunn, via Facebook.

Acquiring focus, a training update

After a few races catch-ups, it’s probably time I focused on my training; what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and whether it is working. As I’ve mentioned a few times in my race reports, despite Lolly doing all the hard work, the arrival of our second child had quite a detrimental effect on my running. This wasn’t helped by a sinus infection that I caught around the same time. The two combined meant that after a pretty decent March, in which I ran 100 miles and set competitive times in both The Big Cheese and the Butleigh MT 10k, April was pretty awful: eight runs, for a total distance of 40 miles.

May and June were both huge improvements, with me finishing just short of 100 miles both months, but I was getting a bit demoralised by my slower race times. The 20:48 at Yeovilton in May was particularly difficult to take, despite the fact that I had known I was going to be off the pace. There are excuses I can tag to some of them as well; Wells and the Steeplechase were both on hot days, the Quantock Beast came at the end of a week when I’d been a bit off-colour anyway. Despite this, and the fact that I knew my pace would come back with time and training, I felt I needed some more structure to my running.

So, I turned back to the source of last year’s improvements: Pfitzinger and Latter’s Faster Road Running. After a bit of deliberation, I opted to follow a 10k plan. My 10k PB is serious lagging behind my 5k and HM efforts, and sub-40 is my next major milestone after doing a sub-20 5k and sub-90 HM last year. (A sub-19 5k is also a target, but that’ll come off training for some further.)

After some further deliberation, I set the Taunton 10k as my target race. It isn’t the flattest, and it certainly isn’t the biggest, but it’s all on road, I’ve set a PB there before, and it worked out around the right time. With this in mind, my first week of training (as last year) was meant to be the week after the Quantock Beast. However, my body disagreed! I opted that week to concentrate on getting the distance in, but not worrying too much about pace. To that end, I ran a 5 mile recovery run on the Tuesday, at around 9 minute miles and 6 miles the next day, at 9 and a half minute miles. I went off road towards the end of the week, taking in a lumpy 5 miles along the coast path on Friday, before a 12.5-mile loop of the Herepath on the Sunday.

Week 1: Target 30 mi, actual 29.1 mi

I was feeling pretty good after that week, despite the hilly end to it, and the second week should have provided the perfect opportunity to hit my planned workouts and get going properly. Except for my race addiction. This is (my wife tells me) a problem (she says this with glances at our credit card statement, our busy calendar and our neglected children). I have to admit, it’s hard to disagree: running a race in the middle of a training plan is a pretty surefire way to mess up the training plan. Of course, the fact we were going on holiday on the Friday was also pretty awkward.

Holiday running: pretty, but an organisational nightmare!

As a result: another week of rearranged and mangled training. My 5k race on the Wednesday showed things were heading in the right direction, at least, while a parkrun (in place of a speed session the day before) provided another opportunity to confirm my pace. Despite being in the New Forest, I managed to get out for 11 miles on the morning of my birthday. Although the speed workouts are important for increasing my pace, the longer runs are one of my focuses throughout this plan, as I did very few of them in the first half of the year.

Week 2: Target 32 mi, actual 32.4 mi

All the food! (A dinosaur birthday cake!)

The third week in, and for the first time, I was able to run pretty close to the plan. I found a nice track in the New Forest to do some point-to-point intervals along, and ran a 200m repeat session. Or at least, a “roughly 200m” repeat session. I gauged this off a combination of the number of paces I’d taken and the amount of time it took me to run, and then marked it with a fallen branch. It was tough, as my Wednesday endurance run title suggested: “I’ve eaten too much food this week to run properly…”

We travelled back on the Thursday, but the weather was absolutely awful on the Friday, so despite some initial resolutions to actually do my planned lactate threshold run, I didn’t get out. (Those who followed my training plan for the Bristol Half Marathon last year will recall that lactate threshold runs have a tendency to be… ummm… missed.) I was eager to get something akin to the planned session in though, so went to Longrun Meadow parkrun on the Saturday. The planned session was 10 min / 10 min / 8 min at pace with 3 min jog breaks. I decided that a 21 min parkrun with a 4 min break and then 8 min effort would simulate a similar session. I got the 21 min parkrun pretty much bang on, but then ended up chatting for too long, and so had too long of a break before my second effort. But still, overall my pace was where I wanted it, so no big deal. I finished the week with a relatively speedy 11 mile long run, averaging under 8 min/mile.

Week 3: Target 34 mi, actual 34.3 mi

Unfortunately, the side effect of moving my Friday speed-work to Saturday and running a quick long run on the Sunday was that I started week four feeling pretty knackered. It was advertised as a recovery week (my favourite) but began with another set of 2 x (4 x 200) on the Tuesday. Again, this was estimated distances marked in the gravel, but it went pretty well (which means I probably under-marked the distance!) I ran with the club on Wednesday, stepping down a group for an easier run, though I got a bit carried away towards the end with some hill sprints…

I’d over-egged my overall distance on both Tuesday and Wednesday, so I went for a much shorter than planned run on Friday, taking my daughter in the buggy with me to help control my pace. To be honest, looking back at this week, I probably should have been taking things far easier. The whole point of a recovery week is to give your body a bit of a reset for the training ahead, and I think the hill sprints and extra distance in the first half of the week really prevented that from happening too much. My Friday run, while short, should probably have been slower still, especially given that I had the buggy. My Sunday run was okay, but again, should probably have been slower.

Week 4: Target 30 mi, actual 30.2 mi

Overall I have to be happy with pretty much hitting all my weekly mileage targets. The training was pretty disrupted in terms of the specific workouts, but hopefully that will improve in the second half of the plan. Either way, improvements are obvious, and maybe, just maybe, a sub-40 is possible.

A race report catch-up: part three

This is the third and final instalment of my race report catch ups, going through all the races that I’ve done in the past few months, most of which I didn’t manage to get around to writing up at the time as I was too busy doing other things.

  • Part one: Butleigh MT 10k, Yeovilton 5k (May), Wambrook Waddle 10k, Crewkerne 10k
  • Part two: Red Bull Steeplechase

<dramatic voiceover> And now… the conclusion. </>

Quantock Beast – 2 July

This was the third year in a row that I took on this race, put on by the local Quantock Harriers, and only a few miles up the road.

The race came just a couple of weeks after the Red Bull Steeplechase, and off the back of a not great week of running. I ran 8 x 200 metre repeats on the Tuesday evening, and I think it wiped me out – I was using a football pitch to estimate the distance, and I think I ended up doing too far, too fast. The following night I wiped out during our club run, and just felt completely drained. I didn’t run again before the race – so I was a little concerned about how it would go.

As usual, we had a good club turnout for this race, and we were especially we represented near the front of the race: Iain, Tim and Andy all run with group 1, although I hoped that on a hilly, off-road course I might be able to challenge Andy.

The race begins with a fast road descent that lasts just over a kilometre, and despite feeling like I was taking it easy, I ended up being six seconds quicker than last year. I continued to be significantly quicker over the next kilometre, although the drier weather might have something to do with that, as the second kilometre moved off-road and climbed gently uphill. I stayed in touch with Andy through these early sections, and as the course dropped to a steep downhill, I was able to pass him, though he got straight past me again as we climbed back up the hill.

After a couple more little lumps, this climb settled into the big one, almost a mile and a half long. Although it is rarely too steep, the climb is sapping, and I struggled a bit with it. I can’t really put my finger on why I didn’t do too well on it: there is a Strava segment for the hill, and my best time remains that from 2014. I’ve done lots of hill training since then, so logically I should be significantly better at it, but last year I was almost two minutes slower, and even this year I was about 30 seconds off the pace. I can only put it down to a ‘longer race mentality’ which means I’m taking more walking breaks than I did before. Maybe. Looking at Strava, I was massively slower at the bottom of the hill this time (7:32 km compared to 6:38) while I pretty much the same towards the top. This definitely suggests I started walking earlier and more. Something to consider for future shorter races with hills!

Anyway, over that hill I just had the long road descent back to the start/finish. I could still see Andy ahead, and hoped that I might catch up down the hill, but he (and everyone else) maintained their pace far more than I remembered in previous years. Despite running this final section quicker than I’d managed before, I was actually caught during it, though I managed to time my sprint finish better to beat him to the finish line.

I was generally disappointed with this race – it should have played to my strengths, but for whatever reason I just didn’t seem to be quite there on the day. On reflection I guess that given how I was earlier in the week, along with everything else going on, meant that it was actually a decent performance. It just didn’t really feel much like that at the time.

Yeovilton 5k – 12 July

After my first Yeovilton appearance of the summer, I wanted to set things straight a little with this race. My actual time in May hadn’t been awful (considering), but my pacing had shown how poorly my head had adapted to a slowing in my pace. After running the first two kilometres at 3:57/km, I then dropped off dramatically, running the final two kilometres at 4:24/km to finish in 20:48. So this time around, I wanted to be a bit more realistic.

I was boosted somewhat by this being a Somerset Series race, which meant the field was a bit bigger, but most importantly, there were more recognisable figures. Most significantly, the chap who I’d just pipped to the finish at the Quantock Beast was there, and we ended up running most of the race together, along with a couple of other familiar figures. This meant that although I was a little concerned with my quick early kilometres; 3:52, 3:53, I didn’t have to worry too much about the numbers as I was around people I considered my peers.

In fact, it worked out pretty nicely. After the quick start, we then dropped to almost dead-on 20 minute pacing, running the last three kilometres in 4:00, 4:02, 4:03 (though that last one was only due to a sprint at the end). I finished in 19:46, a little quicker than this race last year, but most importantly, back under 20 minutes. It’s a silly little thing, but in my head, I’m a sub-20 minute 5k runner, and until I’d got back to actually doing that, I just felt a bit out-of-place, almost a fraud. It also meant that I could see everything was coming back in the right direction, which was a huge boost.

Haselbury Trail 10k – 2 August

Another race that I’ve done a couple of times before.

I had a good few weeks between the Quantock Beast/Yeovilton races in early July until the Haselbury Trail at the start of August, and I clocked up the training miles, including a few decent speed workouts. Haselbury was well timed after a recovery week as well, meaning that I went into it feeling the best I had been for a while. We had a surprisingly good club turnout again at this race, especially considering the awful weather – it had been raining all day long, and that didn’t stop in the evening. For me, this was great – the Quantock Beast had been too dry for my liking, so I was looking forward to a wetter off-road race!

Again, there were all the familiar Somerset Series regulars (well, minus the two Matts, one of whom has been injured most the year, and the other of whom has just had a baby). My previous two visits to this race finished with near identical times; 47:08 and 47:07, though conditions had differed significantly between the years, making the 2015 time the more impressive. This year’s conditions were definitely more akin to 2015!

Unsurprisingly for similar overall times, my splits were similar in places too: both years started with 4:01, 4:20, 4:52 kilometres (give or take a second). Both years, my race report talked about having gone off too fast, and needing to rein it in. Which I sort of managed this year – my opening kilometre was 4:11, though I then ran 4:18 for the second and 4:45 for the third. Those good at arithmetic will notice that as a result, my first three kilometres were actually therefore more or less done in exactly the same time in 2017 as the two years before…

But despite the similar overall time, I think the specific kilometre splits made a difference. I didn’t destroy my legs so much with an over-fast sprint start, and I think I’m in better shape anyway than the previous two years. By the end of the third kilometre, I’d settled in behind Graham, figuring that given our recent relative results, I didn’t want to get ahead of him. However, the pair of us were stuck behind another runner who seemed to be struggling on the slippier off-road sections, and when Graham didn’t pass him on a wider section, I opted to pass them both, backing myself to manage my own pace. As it happened, Graham must have passed him soon after, and was back on my heels by the end of the fourth kilometre.

Shortly after came the first climb of the “Horrible Hill” (to quote the Strava segment). I was fully expecting to lose ground here – in previous years I had been passed on the hill, and after my Quantock Beast experience I had no reason to think it would change this year. But amazingly, not only did I not lose any positions, but I actually gained time on those around me. Admittedly, I was probably a little bit slow to speed back up again on the level, but still! As we came around to begin our second lap, there were a group of four of us, strung out a little; a runner from Maiden Newton, a chap in a triathlon club top, me and Graham. The pace was being pushed by the two runners I didn’t know, particularly the triathlete, though I was a little confused at his variations in pace. Sometimes he was sprinting along, easily passing me, but then at others, I cruised up to pass him.

Although I made some decent pace down the hill to start the lap once more, I decided not to push along with the other two initially, but temper my pace closer to Graham’s once more. As the lap continued though, I kept swapping positions with the triathlete, and I soon worked out it was because he had road shoes on. On the more solid terrain, he was much quicker than me, but when we were on the slippier sections, I had the edge. Coming back around to the hill at the end of the lap, he was slightly ahead of me, but really struggled in the mud that had been ground up at the bottom of the hill. In trying to go around him, I ended up more or less running into him as he slipped around, but I pushed myself hard up the hill, and over the last section of off-road terrain. I knew that my only chance to keep ahead of him was to have a decent gap before we got back on the road.

My hard work paid off, and I retained my position to the end; the group of four of us that had started the lap together ended up finishing within 1:10 of each other, having gained a couple of positions past some struggling runners. I was very happy with finishing 22nd, especially doing so ahead of Graham.

parkrun tourism: Mile End

A child-free trip to London for the athletics seemed like an ideal opportunity for our next round of parkrun tourism, after a visit to Moors Valley a couple of weeks ago. For us Somerset folk, it is always a surprise to find public transport that is frequent, easy to use and even relatively punctual!

London parkrun tourists – you don’t know how lucky you are!

Of course, that public transport provides its own problems – from our hotel in Tower Hill, there were A LOT of parkruns within easy range. The parkrun tourist tool revealed that there were 32 parkruns within 10 miles, and all the top 50 were within 13.4 miles. To put that into some perspective, our second closest from Taunton is 15 miles away…

There were some tempting options: Bushy, obviously, but that was the 49th closest, and looked like a bit of a pain to get to by public transport from where we were. Valentines, a chance to get the letter ‘V’ if we were considering some alphabet tourism, but that’s not our focus right now. Ally Pally, one we’d heard positive things about. But ultimately, the decision came down to two things: (1) how easily we could get there (and back to Paddington after) using the underground, and (2) the availability of lockers and showers. That more or less left us with Mile End or Burgess, and ultimately, the course looked a bit nicer and Mile End.

All of this meant that at half past 7 on Saturday morning, rather than having a nice lie-in after a pretty late night cheering Mo, we were on our way back to Aldgate station. A short hop around to Liverpool Street, then a slightly (but not much) longer trip on the Central line to Mile End station, where we were surprised by a shout of “Cow cowls! We’re off to Wanstead.” It was the mother of the cow cowl herself, Kathy. Unfortunately, we were denied the chance at any conversation due to our opposite trajectories! From the station, we were practically there, with just a short walk through the park required to reach the start.

A pretty little park.

At first glance, the course didn’t look too inspiring – two laps, each an out-and-back with a little loop at the end. But after reading a couple of blogs, it sounded an attractive prospect, a pretty park with some… undulations. The advertised lockers were in the leisure centre right by the start, and after getting some change from the coffee guy, we stowed our bags, and were ready to go. Well, once I’d done my warm-up, anyway.

Unsurprisingly, given the World Championships, there were A LOT of tourists. In fact, 123 of the 317 runners were first-timers. There were also 27 ‘unknowns’, so almost half of the runners that scanned in were there for the first time! Despite that, 317 runners isn’t a huge increase for Mile End; they regularly get over 200, and have had over 300 runners a few times already this year. The two briefings, (new runners and pre-run) were both delivered a little quietly – a loudspeaker should be on the Christmas list here, I think!

With little fanfare, just a 3-2-1, we were on our way. And boy, was it a fast start! In what turned out to be a pretty fast field, I got lulled into haring off far too quickly, especially given that the first undulation appears pretty soon into the course. Half a kilometre in, the course rises again, more significantly, over Green Bridge. This was added into the park in 1999 to link the north and south sections that were split by the A11 – but rather than just add a footbridge to connect the two, they built a wide bridge that maintains the grass and foliage of the park. All of which meant that as far as I was concerned, going along at somewhere around my 5k PB pace, I was just going up a hill in a park.

A lollipop – with a slightly odd stick!

Shortly after the bridge, the course curves around to the right, to begin a loop which took the route alongside the Regent’s Canal for a short spell. As we headed back to rejoin the simple out-and-back, I was initially a bit confused by seeing other runners, as I’d forgotten about the loop, had been expecting a specific turnaround point, and assumed they were all ahead of me!

The first mile finished just before we crossed back over Green Bridge towards the southern end of the park again, and we continued through the trees on the gently curving path to the leisure centre. A single blue cone was positioned for us all to turnaround at this end, and head back out for another lap. Lolly and I had joked about who would get back first – me having finished, or her having completed her first lap, and as I ran the second circuit, this served as one of a few diversions from the struggle to maintain my pace. I was hoping for a sub-20 minute time, although a race on Wednesday, a general lack of sleep, and almost 30,000 steps the day before weren’t in my favour…

As it was, the undulating course suited me, and although Lolly just about managed to beat me (alright, by a fair bit, actually), I finished well under 20 minutes to record my second-fastest parkrun time ever. This probably isn’t a traditional PB course, but I tend to run well on courses with some undulation – my quickest overall time is at Shrewsbury, another one with some bumps.

After a sip of water, I jogged back out for a bit of a cool down, and to find Lolly. This also allowed me to enjoy the park a little bit more for its beauty, rather than just its firm paths! Jogging along gently, I was able to notice the fountain, and appreciate the trees, shrubs and general greenery. Lolly is still adopting a 2:1 run/walk strategy as she returns to running post-pregnancy, and amazingly, her time at Mile End was exactly the same as that a few weeks earlier at Moors Valley. I’ve told her that I’ll be very disappointed if she doesn’t exactly equal it next time out too!

Two sweaty runners – we were so glad for the showers!

Refreshed after the showers, we headed back across London just in time to catch the 11:35 out of Paddington back to Somerset – by which time we were well ready for our breakfast!!

So, what to say about the parkrun in general? The volunteers were all cheerful and helpful, as usual. The course was far nicer than the rather bland course description would suggest – the canal section breaks it up nicely, and the winding path and hills prevent it from being too monotonous. It’s an absolute doddle to get to using the tube, and is within Zones 1-2, which keep it cheap too. There is a coffee van at the course, and there looked to be a couple of cafes nearby too, though we didn’t sample either. The lockers and showers were vital to us, and the leisure centre staff didn’t seem at all bothered by the number of people using them (which isn’t always the case!)

Would I go back again? Well, no – but only because if I’m in London again, there are so, so, so many parkruns that I haven’t done there yet.

Red Bull Steeplechase: race report (catch-up part two)

My catch-up quest continues! Three more races to get through, starting with a big one (literally):

Red Bull Steeplechase – 18 June

This was one of my favourite races of 2016, and when I saw that it was coming back to Exmoor for a second year, I couldn’t resist. Despite the huge hike in price. In 2016, I’d been pretty close to making it through the second checkpoint, and onto Lynton, but I missed out by a couple of minutes. I was itching for the chance to go further. Of course, then we had a baby, didn’t get enough sleep to train properly, and I came to realise that even equalling last year’s effort would be a fair achievement! This race also happened in what was pretty much the hottest weather I have ever run in. So not ideal… (Getting my excuses in early.)

The race started at 9:30, which I had figured would be one small mercy with the weather. Except that the day before the race, I was doing some gardening at 9:30, and it was already baking hot, so there would be no respite. I mostly tried to stay out of the sun before the race started, and made sure I drank plenty. I also toyed with my race tactics – namely my plan for the start. Last year I was surprised by the pace of the start – we did the first half mile at around 5k pace, as it went through the street (singular) of Lynmouth and then hit a bottleneck at the coastal path.

Ultimately, I decided to take it a bit easier in the heat, and then slowly pick my way through the field later on when it was wider. I then completely ignored this plan, and pelted it through Lynmouth at what Strava suggests was pretty much exactly the same pace as last year. After that quick half mile, we then had a slow half mile of hill climbing. Very slow in fact. The first half mile took about three minutes. The other half took about eight minutes. But, important detail, that was the first horrible climb completed.

After that first hill, things level off for a time, and I could just run. Each mile was slower than 2016, but between the training and the heat, it was still feeling pretty tough. Very tough in fact. About six and a half miles in, running alongside the River Heddon, I stopped for a drink station. Credit to Red Bull: there were lots of drinks stations, and they were very well stocked with bottles of water and cups of Red Bull or a water/Red Bull mix. When I say that I stopped, I really mean it. In a knockout race, I, along with two others I’d been running along with, came to a complete stop to drink a complete 500 ml bottle of water. Such was the heat, and such was the knowledge of the hill to come.

But now, some good news! The marshal at the drink station asked if we’d done it last year. Yes, we all had. Well, he said, that horrible hill climb through the scrub? Not there. Instead we’d turn left and head up the coast path instead. Great!

For some context. These two “struggling” runners came first and fourth. This is how hard the course is.

No, it bloody wasn’t.

It turns out that when you’re at 120 ft, and the checkpoint is at 815 ft, there isn’t really an “easy” option. In 2016, we had one horrible climb, and then a gentler ascent up the road to the checkpoint at about 8.7 miles. This year, the climb up rugged terrain just seemed to go on forever, and the first checkpoint wasn’t until 9.4 miles. On the two intermediate checkpoints, I’d been 110th and 108th, but I knew I’d dropped places heading up the never-ending hill and was 113th. Considering my expectations, I was surprised at how highly I was placed – in 2016, I’d been 128th through the first checkpoint.

Through the second section of the race, things became more lonely as the field spread out, and I was really starting to struggle in the heat. There aren’t really any flat sections of the route, and I was taking frequent walking breaks. Where in 2016 I’d been cheerily acknowledging walkers and those around me, this time I was grunting and hoping for it all to be over. The course was beautiful, the scenery stunning. But my body wasn’t really up for it, and I didn’t cope with the heat very well. Amazingly, I finished in exactly the same position, 110th in both 2016 and 2017. But whereas in 2016, I was only 2:44 behind 100th, this time I was 5:41 behind.

Some other comparisons; last year it cost £30, this year £45. Last year, there were 281 men and 96 women. This year 198 men and 93 women. I fear that the race might have to either move again, or consider the price. It’s an expensive race to put on, and Red Bull do a hell of a lot to make it worthwhile. The drinks (as I said) were well stocked, there was a free “runner’s lunch”, this year it was a pasty, followed by a cream tea. The hoodie from last year had been downgraded to a cotton tee though. And yet again, despite photographers and videographers all over the course, there were no participant photos, just a “pool” of about 15 shots available to the press. To me, this was the most disappointing aspect. Red Bull could get lots more publicity and marketing exposure by making the photos available, with big Red Bull logos in the corner. We’d have shared them on social media, especially given the amazing backdrop. But there was nothing.

All that said, if the race is back on Exmoor again next year… you know, I’d probably do it again: I really want to get to Lynton, and get the train down the cliff.

Right. This was meant to be all three race reports, but I got a bit carried away with the Steeplechase! Look out for part three…

 

parkrun tourism: Moors Valley

When my parents asked if we wanted to join them on their New Forest holiday, the first thing we did was to research the area. By which I mean look at parkrun options in the area. Their chosen location was only 5 miles from Brockenhurst parkrun, but somewhere else caught my eye. In our quest to (slowly) conquer the South West, there are a few events left that would take us over 2 hours to get to from home. Even though we were staying in the South East, one of those far-flung events was a mere 15 miles away.

And so it was that after our first night of holiday we found ourselves heading back into the South West to Moors Valley Country Park. Slightly out of the habit of parkrun tourism, the journey mostly consisted of panicking about whether we’d got everything, whether we’d be on time, and whether we’d find the start easily. And for me there was also the tiny detail of not having run 5k since Christmas Eve.

Moors Valley parkrun is set in a country park jointly run by the local council and the Forestry Commission. There is ample car parking (apparently most of the visitors aren’t there before 9) and if you leave before 10.30 then it only costs £1. As ever, we immediately saw plenty of running kit and soon located some hi-viz and the start. After a quick detour to the Visitor Centre for toilets, Ben headed off on his warm up.

The new runners’ briefing was possibly the best I’ve been to yet. A big map of the course was held up so that descriptions about pinch points and possible hazards actually had context. There was enough time to grab a drink and tell spectating family where the finish was before the run briefing. Milestone and birthday celebration hats were lent out, which I always think is a nice touch.

Despite the briefing being right near the start, there was enough room to re-arrange into the right order. Or at least there was for me, but then I was heading towards the back. I selected a run/walk workout on my Garmin ready for the start and tried not to get far too excited that I was actually lining up ready for a parkrun.

Despite being surrounded, the Gruffalo’s Child was still not scared.

The route starts by going past the Gruffalo sculptures, which is always a good start to any activity, before turning to head down the main path. A decent width, solid (but not tarmac) path with trees on either side is a major component in my ideal parkrun. Needless to say I enjoyed this part, even with the slight gradual climb. The nice thing with not going for a time was that I was able to take a look around and enjoy the scenery.

After half a mile on that path, we turned left for more of the same. We passed what looked like some amazing play structures, and I thought we should head back that way after the run. As we made our way round, the picturesque paths continued. My only issue was that I managed to land weirdly on a loose stone and slightly turned my ankle, but thankfully it was just uncomfortable.

Shortly before the 2 mile mark was the landmark I’d been waiting for – the start of the out-and-back section. In a race, out-and-back just to make up the distance is quite annoying. In a parkrun I don’t mind it so much as long as it’s a sensible length (this one was). The higher percentage of friendly runners makes seeing people going the other way a positive experience. Still, I was glad to reach the end of it and know that I was getting somewhere.

The terrain changes slightly at this point, as narrower paths wind through trees and the surface changes to tarmac. There started to be more visible signs that we were working our way round and then across the golf course. Just as I was starting to doubt myself on how things were going, I saw on the path something that I think every parkrun should have – a 4k marker.

Shortly after, Ben appeared from further ahead on the course (having finished, located a drink, had a rest, and started his cool down) to join me for the end. The final section of the course winds around the lake (which Ben could see before I could, due to my travel-size nature). It really opens up, and you can see the finish and the paths leading to it. As Ben peeled off to avoid going near the funnel, I happily discovered that my run/walk strategy had left me with just enough to speed up for the finish.

Plenty of space to rest

The finish area is by a big open grass area (popular later in the day for picnics and barbecues) and also by one of the stations for the miniature railway. Barcode scanners were slightly further along the path, but very visible. I also liked the fact that there were pots for tokens by the side of the path as you left that area. Anything that reduces the chance of accidental souvenirs!

We headed round to the cafe, where our supporters were sheltering (I seem to have neglected to mention there was drizzle for most of the run). It was really nice to see so many parkrun people staying around afterwards – and with the selection of food available it’s easy to see why.

As I said to some of the core team afterwards, I would love for that to be my home parkrun. The balance of the course is one that I would happily repeat. Looking at their Facebook page, I did notice that Moors Valley often have to appeal for volunteers, so if you live in the area then please consider helping them out.

In terms of a parkrun to visit while on holiday, this couldn’t have been better. After food we headed out for a walk and found that the play structures were as good as they’d looked (there’s a whole Play Trail). There was also the tree top trail, miniature railway and brilliant playgrounds. We ended up staying for much longer than anticipated, and actually went back later in the holiday. Which is surely proof that a bit of parkrun tourism is good for you.