Author Archives: Ben

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!

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…

 

A race report catch-up: part one

So, it would be fair to say that I’ve got out of the habit of updating the blog with my race reports. Well, to be honest, I’ve just stopped writing pretty much anything on it. Which is annoying, as reading my blog reports from previous years is one of my most effective pre-race preparations. This year I’ve raced 11 times, and yet I’ve only put up 4 race reports. Now two of those were Yeovilton 5k races, which I don’t tend to write up properly, but that still leaves five whole races unrecorded.

With this in mind, I’m going to try and summarise my thoughts on each, going back over some short notes I made at the time and the Strava report.

Butleigh MT 10k – 19 March

This was another “new to me” Somerset Series race for 2017. It used to be 7 miles, but this year they dropped it down to 10k. Unfortunately, to make it this distance, the race had to loop some fields at the start and end of the course, which wasn’t great – I’m not convinced that it is important enough to make a race 10k that this looping was needed. But whatever.

I probably, definitely started the race too fast on the initial lap of the field, but wanted to make sure I was in a decent position to avoid having to wait to cross the stile out of the field, which became something of a bottleneck for those behind. We then entered another field (there were lots of the them) which was extremely boggy. Everyone was taking different lines, trying to find some firm ground, but there simply wasn’t any. I ended up tight against the fence on the right-hand side, which I’d initially worried was electric, but it turned out not to be!

At the end of this field, the course rose up towards the road, though we didn’t actually run on the road, but through the trees alongside it. This was apparently the local fly-tipping area too, which a range of furniture and tyres on offer. It wasn’t great terrain to run on, but thankfully I was following another runner, so was able to keep track of the track, so to speak. We dropped back downhill into the fields after this section, and were helpfully warned by the marshal “Careful as you go, very slippy.”

Pack running

He was right – I slipped over. Thankfully it was all just mud, so no harm done, and I barely even lost any time on those I could see ahead of me. I picked up the pace a bit down the hill, but a little more cautiously than normal after my fall. After a short stint back on the road, we turned off it again and up hill. I was passed by another Series regular, Graham, (no surprise there) as we climbed up, but I went back past him once we headed downhill again. For most of the last two miles, four of us ran close together, our positions switching around a few times.

Graham’s course knowledge helped a couple of times, but I was leading the group coming into the last mile. Until the bloody “main” road crossing, when I got held up by a car passing, and the group caught back up to me again!

After a few more twists and turns (and the bloody pointless lap of the field) I finished in a reasonable (given the course and conditions) 48:01. More importantly, I was around, or ahead of, those I considered competitors in the Series.

Yeovilton 5k – 10 May

After Butleigh, I had a couple more weeks of good running before illness (a sinus infection) and the arrival of my new son stymied my running for a while. I skipped the April edition of the Yeovilton 5k Series, and returned in May. My hope was for a time around 20:15. Last year I peaked at 19:13 in September, but I was obviously going to be well short of that. Rightly or wrongly (the latter) I headed out at sub-20 minute pace, ticking off 3:56 and 3:58 for the first two kilometres. Then the wheels fell off; 4:12 for the third kilometre followed by 4:25 and 4:22. My body had just given up on me, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. I finished in 20:48, more or less equivalent to my time at this race in May last year, when I ran 20:44. So, if nothing else, I knew I was in roughly the same place, and so could improve back to the same place as last year.

Wambrook Waddle 10k – 14 May

Lani probably had as much fun as I did at this one!

This race came on the Sunday following the Yeovilton race, and so I was feeling a mixture of disheartened by the 5k result, and confident that hopefully if I had more or less matched my 2016 5k performance, I could more or less match my 2016 Waddle performance. Which I guess I more or less did. I opted to follow the Nigel Baker Race Start TacticTM, which I admit probably isn’t the best long-term plan. It essentially involves doing a race with a downhill start, and then absolutely pegging it down the hill. It was great fun. It probably killed my legs. Unsurprisingly, I lost a lot of places on the subsequent uphill, though I had plenty of fun dropping back down it again after.

In essence, this race was categorised by me not really being mentally prepared for racing in the Somerset Series “lower down the pack”. I saw those that I had previously raced around, but they were way ahead of me, and it was difficult to deal with. I probably had a reasonable race considering my fitness levels, but it just felt like a bit of a fail. But if there is anywhere to do that, it’s the Wambrook Waddle, which remains a gem of a course – impossibly hard for a race that is only 10 kilometres long (though in fact, most of the work is done in the first 5k, it’s just that your legs are completely shot for the second half.) Again, my race time was more or less equivalent to what I ran in 2016 (about 20 seconds slower.)

Wells 10k – 28 May

I did actually do a full write-up on this race, which you can find here: Wells 10k: race report. In summary; felt tough, but managed to equal last year’s time.

Crewkerne 10k – 4 June

This was the final of the more or less back-to-back-to-back Somerset Series races, which featured three 10k events in four weeks. This was a return to a race that I last did in 2015, when I found it really, really tough. The race starts with a steep hill climb, then drops down just as steeply, and then undulates until it loops back around to do that hill in reverse once again. When I did this race in 2015, I’d done about 1,800 ft of elevation so far that year. This time, I’d done 17,300 ft. It’s fair to say that I’m a bit better prepared for hills these days. In fact, the whole race only has about 500 ft of climbing, which isn’t unusual for Somerset Series races.

My time of 44:03 was almost identical to my Wells time of 44:02 the week before, and gave me a lot more confidence. For whatever reason, I just felt strong on the hills, and quick on the descents. Sure, I was still a distance back from the pack of runners I felt I should be with – I could see them for most of the first half of the race before they got too far ahead of me. But I’d come to terms with that now, and knew that I was running for myself, and working my way back to where I had been. Even if I wasn’t there yet.

Right, that’s enough for the moment. I’ll follow this up with part two later on; another go at the Red Bull Steeplechase, the Quantock Beast and my second Yeovilton 5k of the year.

Wells 10k: race report

For the second year running I took part in the Wells 10k, another race in the Somerset Series. Although the larger field means that the race is unlikely to count for me,1 years of picking up injuries has taught me to get in all the races I can, while I can.

My body is still suffering a bit from the birth of my second child. Okay, I mean, clearly not as much as Lolly’s body is suffering (she wrote a bit about this, here), but the lack of sleep has still had an impact on my training. The combination of not being at my best and the undulations of the course, meant that I was never going to get an especially great time. With that in mind, I opted to take the race a little bit easier, so that I would be able to run a third lap of the course to get my weekly distance up, which should help me in the weeks to come.

As usual, the evening before the race I did a little bit of research: I looked over my Strava and blog from last year. It was a very hot day last year for the race, and after heading off fast (partly because I thought I might have a shot at a PB) my race fell apart when I hit the hill for the first time. Looking at this, I decided that – shock horror – I should try taking it a bit easier on the first lap to see what I could do on the second.2

Race day came around, and as usual at the moment, I hadn’t had enough sleep. This manifested itself in the usual way lately; sinus issues. At this point, a sane person might decide that on this Bank Holiday weekend, a little bit more sleep might help knock these issues on the head. A runner just has a few more sips of water, because water basically cures everything.

A post shared by Ben Timpson (@bentimmo) on

Now, although the hot weather from the week leading up to the race had broken with storms, it was still pretty warm out there. Interestingly, Garmin reckons it was 15.0°C last year, and 17.2°C this year, but I’m convinced it was hotter last year.

So: to my gentle start. Ahem. Roughly 400 metres into the race, I was flying along at about 5:55 min/mile. I was aiming for 7:00 min/mile. By the end of the first kilometre, I’d managed to slow myself down to a 6:26 mine/mile pace. All in all, my pacing strategy didn’t seem to be working. But, with a bit of concentration, and a lot of ‘but everyone is flying past me, this must be far far too slow’, I managed to drag myself down to a reasonable 6:47 for the first mile, before 7:02 for the second mile.

Those were the two reasonably flat miles. Mile three is pretty much up and over Constitution Hill, and proof that you lose more than you gain from a hill. Though in fact a 7:24 split wasn’t awful, and I kept running the whole way up, so small victories! We ran through the well supported area near the start/finish before starting the lap again. Around this point in the race, I just lost focus. There was no real reason for it: I wasn’t particularly struggling, but my mind just started to wander, and my pace dropped off to a 7:19 mile. It would have been even worse, but for the fact that I noticed it and consciously kicked on towards the end of the mile. It just goes to show how important race focus is. My next mile mirrored my first lap effort: miles two and five were more or less the same section, and I posted 7:02 again on the second lap.

So, just that hill to go again…

And yeah, it felt tougher second time around. BUT – I was more consistent this year than last; the Strava segment for the hill had a difference of 7 seconds between laps, while last year I was 16 seconds slower on the second lap.3 I started to push on the downhill. And then one thing led to another, and I was basically starting a hard finish with more or less a kilometre of the race left: Stretching my legs out down the hill, matching the runner beside me to start with before easing ahead of him. Turn into the path behind the Bishop’s Palace, and my pace dropped a touch, until another runner started to catch up behind me. I let him sit on my shoulder, pressing us both on until we turned again into the finishing straight. He strode ahead of me, but it wasn’t time to push yet. He was ahead by one, two paces, and then with just the last 20 or so metres left, I accelerated past him for a much faster finish than I’d planned; shocked to see the clock displaying more or less the same finishing time as last year.

By no means had I been in great form this time last year, but I’d been on an upward trend, and I felt pretty strong when I posted 44:08. This year, my baseline is stronger after my training last autumn, and some reasonably consistent running since then, only really broken by my sinusitis and my little boy arriving. So I guess that this year’s 44:06 shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, and it certainly gives me some confidence going forwards that I can get myself back to where I think I should be.

Oh, and yes… I headed out for that third lap as I’d planned. And felt smug in my 10 miles for the day. Right until I found out that @craig1854 had run the 12 km back to his house after the race…

Next up: Crewkerne 10k (Sunday 4 June. Yes, that’s next weekend.) Yeovilton 5k (Wednesday 14 June)

Notes

1. In the Somerset Series, you have to complete eight races to qualify, and then only your best eight count.

2. Let’s be honest, this should pretty much be my plan in every race.

3. For those interested, last year I did 2:52 and 3:08, this year I did 2:59 and 3:06.

Big Cheese: race report

NOTE: Apologies for this being a little very late. I ran this at the start of March, and I’m posting this exactly two months later. In my defence, in the mean time, we’ve had a little boy, and he’s filled a lot of our time. I’ve got another race report, for the Butleigh MT race, to catch up on too, and then a couple of ideas for other stuff. I’ve also got quite a few races coming up. So we’ll see how well I do on keeping up with writing!

A while back, I decided to ditch my plans to race the Bideford Half Marathon and switch to the Big Cheese instead. The link above explains the reasons in full, but essentially I didn’t want the pressure of the training while Lolly was getting more and more tired due to her parasite pregnancy.

Along with the Exmoor Stagger in both 2015 and 2016, and the Red Bull Steeplechase last year, this would be my fourth “ultra-half”. In addition to the distance element (the Stagger was around 16 miles, and I got 14.4 miles into the Steeplechase before being eliminated) each of these races is made much more challenging due to the terrain and elevation. The Big Cheese actually isn’t so bad as the others; a mere 2,000 ft compared to climbing in excess of 3,000 ft for each of the others. (For reference, Scafell Pike stands roughly 3,200 ft above sea-level.) So… 2,000 ft… should be a doddle, eh?

My club mate, Iain, had done the race last year, and it basically killed him (though he was doing it the week after the Grizzly, which itself came a week after the Bideford Half). Meanwhile, Matt reported that a couple of his club-mates described it as essentially “not too bad”.

It was.

The trip from the race HQ to the race start was around a mile, so made for a handy warm-up. I had ummed and ahhed for a while about what to wear; the forecast was for a complete mix of weather, and the race directors had recommended, though not enforced, us to wear a waterproof. (As a fell race, they could have instituted mandatory kit.)

The race begins with a climb up, and up, and up, which lasts just over a mile. I was content to drop down to a walk reasonably early on – there was plenty more to come, and there was no sense in destroying my legs on the first climb when there would be over 14 miles left to go! Still, it was a bit demoralising letting people stream past me, and my legs felt pretty tired anyway! But hill climbing is still the weakest aspect of my running (a symptom of doing most of my running in Taunton town) so I just have to accept that I’m going to lose some positions on hills. That first mile was actually my slowest of the whole race, and included 615 ft of elevation!

After a mile, or just over, things levelled off to an extent and the terrain got trickier as we dropped down into Rowberrow Bottom. I started to gain some places back on the steeper sections of the descent and paused briefly at the first drinks station. Of course, when you’re in anywhere described as “Bottom”, there’s only really one way left for you to go: up. We were now heading towards Beacon Batch, over Black Down. But of course, nothing is that simple. After a run/walk tactic up the initial hill, we took a sharp left and dropped back down the hill rather than taking a direct route to the peak of Beacon Batch. The descent was a treacherous mix of flooded moorland that was of variable quality, but it was nigh on impossible to judge it by look. It was interchangeably slippy mud, sticky mud and lake. I was running pretty quickly to start with (it was a downhill – duh!) but in order to keep my balance, I kept finding myself going quicker and quicker. I probably looked like a pretty cocky so-and-so, practically sprinting through some of the worst terrain of the course. Had I fallen (and it was probably about 50-50) I’d have looked like a right tit.

‘Shit, there’s a camera, make it look like you’re having fun!’

After a short spell of this, the terrain solidified somewhat and took on a more technical aspect before we started climbing again. Along here the ground got silly, just excessively slippy. It was impossible to find a “good” route through it, you had to be content with finding a route that didn’t place you on your arse. This was pretty much the story of the first half of the race – you were either climbing a hill, descending a hill, or struggling through horrific underfoot conditions. The race website has this to say about what shoes to wear:

“It’s likely to be pretty muddy so off road trainers are an advantage but you will be able to get around fine in normal trainers.”

I mean… sure, you would be ABLE to get around in normal trainers. But I doubt it was fine. It wasn’t fine in my trail shoes. But still, whatever.

I made a fair fist of trying to keep running through the bottom part of the climb, but after a switchback, when I noted that I was closer to Matt than I had expected, things got more difficult. The hill got steeper, we’d turned to face the wind, and the mud was still pretty bad too. I dropped to a walk for pretty much the entire climb up to Beacon Batch, the highest point on the Mendip Hills. Thankfully what goes up must come back down, and most of the following four miles was downhill, although after about 400 metres the path had turned into a rocky river, as it had presumably provided a handy run-off for the rain of the previous week. Down this section I heard one runner behind me stumble and fall, though there were other runners around him, and I’m pretty sure he got up and continued okay.

The next mile was predominantly a gentle downhill along the road, which was a nice change in some ways, although it was tough on the legs in trail shoes at that point of the race. We then turned back off the road down through some former mine workings along Velvet Bottom. The path remained pretty good, and this was one of the quickest stretches of the race, though there were a few tricky drops from plateau to plateau.

And then… the worst section of the entire race. It was probably only around 500 metres, but it was steep, with horrible footing, and 11 miles into the race. While trying to negotiate slippy lumps of rock underfoot, you also had to make sure you didn’t get clothes-lined by an low-hanging tree. Still, as I say, it was only a short section. And best of all: it was the final climb, just a few miles and 700 ft of descent left!

The course mostly levelled out for the next mile and a half, before dropping in a reasonably steep, long downhill towards the finish. Even on tired legs, this played to my strengths at an ideal time: a downhill finish lets me get past a few people who then don’t get a corresponding uphill to regain their place. (Technically, I guess, the mammoth climb at the start of the race was the corresponding climb. So ha, we’re all even!) The terrain varied a little bit on the descent, being a decent even path in some places, difficult stony track in others, before the final half-mile stretch along the road.

Overall I come home in 2:11:35 for 39th overall, although that was partly due to a group of runners that had been ahead of me going the wrong way. Considering my relative lack of training, I was well chuffed. And best of all, afterwards – the free cake and cup of tea!

The whole race was organised really well. Number pick up was easy and straightforward, there was a bag drop at race HQ, along with changing rooms and showers (always nice after a muddy trail race!) The route was well signed and the marshals were all friendly and encouraging – which given the inclement weather, particularly on the top of the hills, was much appreciated. All in all, this is a race that has joined my ever-growing list of “want to run every year” races. In fact, I’m starting to run out of weekends in the year…

Babcary Road Race: race report

Coming into this year, I’d done all but five of the nineteen Somerset Series races over the past few years. Most of the ones that I hadn’t done came early in the year when I’m typically sat at home moping about an injury, rather than getting out and racing. So this year, I’ve been taking every opportunity to get out and do the unknowns. Babcary was one of those. Described as “undulating” on their website, the race also had an unusual distance of 7.5 miles. After a bit of research, I managed to find an elevation profile so that I knew what I was heading into.

I wasn’t injured, but I was still moping – a string of colds had struck me down (too over the top??) through the start of the year, I was really struggling to string two decent weeks of training together. Babcary itself came at the end of another cold, albeit one that I tried to ignore and just run through. With mixed success. At the race, I met up with Nigel, who briefed me a bit about the course (he has a ridiculous memory for courses; he can do one once and then relate the whole thing in detail the following year). I did a short recce of the start of the course as my warm-up, heading out for about three-quarters of a mile before doubling back, confirming what Nigel had told me: it was a long uphill drag to start the race.

If I looked (and felt?) like this at the start, you can only guess how I was at the end…

Forewarned is forearmed, and so I planned a gentle start to the race. Turns out (no shit) that everyone else had the same plan – especially the leaders, who made a very sedate start. So much for my plan of having a bit more in the tank after not wrecking myself on the first hill. I swear runners are never normally this sensible…

The course lived up to its description of undulating: it never really levelled off. A gentle descent replaced the first climb, before itself switching to another steady uphill. Throughout the race there were no awful climbs, but merely a continuing series of ups and downs that prevented you from ever finding a proper pace and rhythm.

The race went generally as I might have expected: I was slightly further down the field than I would have liked (but better than I worried I might be) and I mostly lost time to those around me on the climbs, and made it back on the descents. I started to struggle towards the end of the race, slightly negating a downhill finish that should have suited me well, but overall I was happy enough with my performance given how the year had started.

There wasn’t much time to rest and recover though; my next race, The Big Cheese (15 miles of hills and mud) was the following Sunday…

Easing back up to distance again

After my recent bouts of cold bugs, my mileage took something of a hit. I set myself a target of running 1,200 miles this year, and I was really hoping that I could actually manage 100 miles each and every month. (Possibly an optimistic target with baby #2 on the way in March/April.) Unfortunately, I failed at the first hurdle, only accruing 63 miles in January, and not running at all for the final 10 days of the month. I’ve only missed the first 3 days of February, but to avoid injury after a spell off, I’m easing back into my mileage.

First, a parkrun and a 6.5 mile Sunday run. Then a 17-mile week in which my furthest single run was 7.1 miles. This last week, I’ve been away from home with a work training course, which is always a little difficult. I was easily able to find somewhere to run – I was staying in a hotel just off the seafront in Worthing, and as far as I can tell, the road runs beside the sea for miles and miles in each direction. In fact, I’d been tempted to run to (or back from) Brighton one day, getting the train in the other direction, but my training ran quite late each day, and so it was never convenient unfortunately. Still, I managed 14 miles during the week, and another 11 miles at the weekend took me up to 25. I’d have preferred a longer ‘long run’ than 8 miles, but I was constrained by both my weekly mileage target of 25, and a twinge in my knee that had bothered me towards the end of the working week. It disappeared over the weekend though, so I assume it was either the old trainers I’d worn in Worthing for my runs, or just the different forces on my knee during the training.

In two weeks time, I’ve got the Big Cheese race, a 15-mile mostly trail course, which I’m a bit concerned about. I’ve only run beyond ten miles once since Christmas, and haven’t been out on the trails much either. And unfortunately, I can’t do much to improve that next Sunday, when I’m also racing; at the Babcary 7.5 mile road race. Still, I’m hoping for a 30 mile week, and I’ll see how I’m doing after that.