Author Archives: Ben

parkrun tourism: Parke

Ever since we realised that if we kept touring each week, we could make my 100th parkrun coincide with our 25th different event, we’ve been clocking up the miles. Seaton’s inaugural, Falkirk (for a wedding), Poole.

The following weekend, Lolly’s parents were staying with us, so we took the opportunity to run a course that I hadn’t wanted to do with the buggy: Parke. For a long time, it had been our NENYD (nearest event not yet done), but we just hadn’t had the chance to do it.

So what did we know about it beforehand?

  • It was a trail course.
  • It had some hills.
  • It was reckoned to be one of the toughest parkruns in the country.

Ideal for my 5-month pregnant wife, obviously.

Anyway, after what seemed like a lovely lie-in, we made our way down. There is ample parking, as Parke is one of the National Trust locations. For whatever reason, the car park machines were covered over, so the parking seemed to be free too. As always with a pregnant wife, a trip to the toilets was necessary before the run, which were conveniently located on site.

The run started, and I was immediately struck by the relatively leisurely start. Typically, I hare off, accidentally dragged along by the quick runners at the front. Here, I was still amongst the top ten runners, but was actually slower than my 10k pace. Gosh – was the first hill that bad that people were conserving energy for it?!

Well, sod that. I sped up.

Half a kilometre later, we hit the first hill. Oh boy. Pretty much two thirds of the 80 metres of elevation are compressed into the first kilometre. Things slowed down. I slowed down. I let people head past me – I don’t really bother racing up hills, particularly early on. It just kills your legs for the rest of the run*.

Eventually, the hill levelled off, and then started to descend again. Underfoot the conditions weren’t too bad – it was a bit slippy in places, but mostly firm. The course is essentially two different loops, meeting at a river. So all that climbing we’d done was reversed before the end of the first loop as we gently dropped back, before a sharp descent at the end, down to the river crossing to head out on the second, smaller loop.

This section of the course started along a pretty good track, but then turned right for another climb. This was one of those that looked far worse than it was – I’d been worried I’d have to drop to a walk, but as it turned out, it was pretty short and sharp, and I was able to power myself up it, aware of a runner not too far behind me.

We were going to go back and take a photo of the hill. But… it was a long way from the car park.

After some twists, turns and undulations, the route then dropped back down pretty sharply to the river, and from here it was just a relatively short run back up to the finish. I’d shaken off the runner behind me, and entertained brief hopes that I’d catch the chap in front of me, but it was to no avail. Still, I was surprised and chuffed to discover that I’d finished 5th, my highest parkrun position.

With my run** finished, I decided to head back onto the course to run Lolly in. After a bit of quick maths in which I compared my finishing time with her recent pace, and the state of the course left me none the wiser as to where on the course she would be. I reached the marshal at the crossover point, and asked if he’d seen a pregnant woman with a ’50’ top and a cow cowl, but he just looked at me blankly. I decided to head back down the first loop, and was immediately rewarded by spotting her!

During my repeat of the second loop with Lolly, I had somewhat more time to take in what gorgeous surroundings the run was in. Most of the run is in woodland alongside the River Bovey, and along with Penrose and Mount Edgcumbe, it has to rate as one of the prettiest we’ve done. As to how tough the course is? I find it hard to judge. I’d say that Mount Edgcumbe is a tougher course, because the climb goes on and on and on, over pretty rough terrain. On the other hand, I did that one with a buggy, so it’s always going to feel harder. I also ran this just a week after Brent Knoll, which even on a dry year was tougher. But then, it’s meant to be. So, yes, it’s a pretty tough parkrun course, but don’t let that put you off; it’s a cracker of an event!

* Race.
** Race.

Herepath Half: race report

Seven days earlier, the Exmoor Stagger had more or less destroyed my legs. It had done it in stages. First, my right hamstring, then my left. Then I forced my quads to do more work on the downhills to make up the time I was losing uphill. That took out my quads. Then, finally, during the last climb of the race, my calves did most of the work because my hamstrings were long gone. I didn’t really have any major muscle groups left to break.

On Monday, they still felt awful. On Tuesday, I went for a short run, in which by the end I was managing to move in something resembling an actual run. On Wednesday, I had a massage. By Saturday, I had forgotten that I was aching and had a race the following day, and decided to head back to Yeovil Montacute parkrun because they were running the course in reverse.

Sunday morning came, and I was actually feeling pretty good. Lolly headed off to her marshalling point at Staple Hill, where she would have our daughter with her too, while I made the short drive to Thurlbear. There are definitely some benefits to local races, and the short drive is one them! I picked up my race number, had chats with plenty of my club mates who were there; running, helping and organising. Our club puts this race on, and I’d marshalled myself for the past couple of years.

The race basically spends the first five and a half miles climbing to the top of Staple Hill, where I would get to wave to my wife, and then get to run mostly downhill for the remaining eight miles. My race strategy/goal was pretty simple: pace myself off one of my club-mates, Kate, and try not to let her beat me. Though I had finished ahead of Kate at the Stagger the week before, her pacing had seemed a bit more reasonable (though she probably wasn’t suffering from such bad hamstrings at the end…)

A quick start along the road.

I shot off a bit quicker than I meant to, but when I decided to relax my pace it turned out that Kate was right behind me. I immediately had to make a decision: did I stick with my plan of pacing myself off her, or did I adopt my own pacing, judging that it would be worth conserving energy early on during the climbing to use in the latter part of the race? I decided to trust in female pacing. (Almost without exception I’ve found that the women around me pace themselves better than I do. Let’s not read too much into that or try to find any parallels, alright?) I pretty much stuck myself to Kate’s shoulder for the first couple of miles as we started to wind our way up the hill. In this early part of the race, the terrain is pretty easy, and we maintained a grade-adjusted pace of around 7 min/mile. About three miles in, I switched ahead of Kate, but we stayed within a few metres for the next mile or so.

Around mile four, the route diverts from the Herepath for a short while, looping through Mount Fancy Farm, a butterfly reserve. This was typically a boggy section of the race, but one that I knew reasonably well, having marshalled in this area the previous couple of years, and run it a few times from the car park at the top of the hill. Whether because I knew it, or just because I fared better in the more difficult terrain, I passed a few people through the reserve, and moved ahead of Kate. Through a particularly boggy section, I passed another of my club-mates, Phil, who had apparently lost his shoe in the mud.

Autumnal ‘running’ – it’s possible that I’d been walking just before I noticed the photographer though…

The route then turns back onto the Herepath proper and climbs steeply towards the top of Staple Hill. I walked for a short stretch here, but was soon guilted into running again by the race photographer! At the top of the hill, I saw Lolly and Lani, who cheered me on, and directed me around a loop which took in the viewpoint. As I was racing, I didn’t take the opportunity to have a look, but have done at other times, and it is definitely worth it! After the loop came one of my favourite short stretches of the race; a reasonably steep technical descent. The race then crosses from Staple Hill to Neroche, without much change in elevation. From here on, my race was pretty lonely. Phil caught back up to me, but stayed just behind me until I had to take a quick comfort break, and after that I spent most of the rest of the race without anyone within anyone within about 100 metres of me.

In all honesty, I wasn’t a massive fan of the last few miles of the race – and not just because they were the last few miles of a half marathon! Because part of the Herepath is closed, the race follows the road for around a mile, which is pretty tough that far into a trail race, and thereafter, much of the course goes across fields. The end was good fun again, as the route dropped through Thurlbear Wood. I was thankful for the descent, which played to my strengths at the end of the race – particularly as Kate had been slowly catching up with me, and I had been a bite worried that she would sneak past me just before the finish. As it was, I gained a position, and ended up finishing more or less 30 seconds behind Phil and more or less the same ahead of Kate.

“Hmm… didn’t you say you were going to put that ‘400m to go’ sign about halfway around?!”

I was more than chuffed with my time, 1:46:27 on a 13.7 mile trail race. Unsurprisingly from a race put on by my own club, the support on course was terrific. We get good feedback for our marshalling anyway, but obviously being a club member helped!

Would I do this race again? I’d love to – but for the next couple of years it will be back to marshalling. No medal here, but a lovely glass to add to my collection (volunteers get them too). This race was different to my last two trail races – both the Stagger and the Steeplechase were highly challenging races in truly stunning locations, and would both rank very highly in my best ever races. The Herepath was less challenging, though still nicely scenic, particularly around Staple Hill and Neroche. I’d massively recommend this race, and despite the short boggy section, would say that it would be very suitable for those running their first trail race too.

Well earned…

Exmoor Stagger: race report

This race wasn’t in my plan. I really enjoyed running it last year; that race remained the furthest I had ever run, and combined with the terrain and the elevation, it was by far the most challenging. However, it was just a week before the Herepath Half, which I really wanted to run, and had already signed up for this year. Both races were part of the Somerset Series, and coming into October, I knew that I had a good chance of finishing in the top ten for the series. This meant that I wanted a good place at the Herepath Half (where I felt I had a better chance) and so decided not to run the Exmoor Stagger to give myself the best chance of running well.

Then, I ran the Red Bull Steeplechase, really enjoyed it, and decided to sign up for the Exmoor Stagger anyway. Because, you know, running is about having fun.

Last year, the three-pronged attack of the distance, elevation and terrain cowed me into taking it easy for the race, and although I planned to do similar this year, the Red Bull Steeplechase had given me a fair bit more confidence for all three. I knew from chatting to Matt, who runs with Minehead RC, that the course had changed from the previous year due to some permissions being revoked, and that it had made the race slightly longer. Though I never saw an official distance posted on the race website, I did see a figure of 16.3 miles on the club’s Facebook page, which I used for guidance.

The race starts on the road, but climbs and climbs and climbs for the first mile and a half before undulating slightly before another, gentler climb to the first peak about 3.2 miles in, where the shorter Stumble race splits off. By the time I reached that split point, I was starting to struggle. It didn’t feel too major at that point, but with only three miles gone, and basically a half marathon still to go, I was concerned that my right hamstring felt like it had nothing to give. While cutting back was an option – I’d get the big black cross of doom on my race number, but still officially finish the shorter race – I didn’t view it as a choice. I entered the race to run a long way, with tough hills, tricky terrain, and getting over Dunkery Beacon, the highest point in Somerset. So I pushed on.

The descent to Wootton Courtenay initially heads down a narrow track through the woods before opening out down a field. While I was limited down the woodland path, I was able to push a bit harder down through the field, and made up a few positions: my hamstring was less of an issue downhill. The run along the road through Wootton Courtenay was something of a slog, and then we headed back off-road for the start of the climb up Dunkery. We skirted around to the north, heading through Webber’s Post, and on this climb I started to seriously suffer with my hamstring, having to regularly slow for walking breaks. I continued to make back time on any downhill sections, but I was mostly losing positions as we made our way up the hill.

As we climbed, I realised that for the second time in two weeks, I was catching up with Matt, and this time I actually caught him! We took the steep climb up Dunkery’s north face together, trading injury woes: we were both suffering from bad hamstrings, but he’d also had an awful night’s sleep. We concluded that the Steeplechase a fortnight before had clearly taken more out of us than we’d realised.

By the time we reached the top, the visibility had been severely hampered by fog, similar to last year. Now that we weren’t climbing any more, I was able to stretch my legs out and get back to a decent pace again, and pushed on ahead of Matt. The descent from Dunkery goes on for around two and a half miles, and it’s probably fair to say that I ran close to recklessly fast down it. I stumbled twice, thankfully catching myself from falling both times. There’s a Strava segment for the descent, and I apparently did it three minutes quicker than last year. So, I guess I know that I’m getting better (or braver, or stupider) at running down hills.

Unfortunately, the old adage is right, and of course we were soon heading back up the hill out of the other side of Wootton Courtenay. There was no chance that I was going to run even a small part of this climb. I started walking at the bottom, and just over ten minutes later, I was still walking. I might – might – have starting running just before the top, as it started to level out. I would love to say that after the climb, I thought ‘all downhill from here, let’s get cracking’. But it was something more like ‘there’s still another fucking three miles left, just keep going’.

Those three miles just felt like they went on forever. I slowed, and slowed, and slowed (well, by Strava’s grade-adjusted pace metric anyway). By the end of the race, I was really struggling. But, I made it, and I even managed to just stay ahead of Matt and Kate, who had engaged in a mad dash sprint finish. If there’d been another 100 metres of the race, I’m pretty sure they would have both beaten me, because I had nothing left to race them.

Despite my hamstring struggles, I really enjoyed this race again. I was pleasantly surprised by my improvement from last year: I was about one minute per mile quicker on average, and finished much much higher up the field. Aside from that, I was also happy with my improvement on the downhill sections, which (like everything else) will only get better with more practice. My more frequent runs on the Quantocks has helped with this, and it’s something I want to try and do even more of.

What was the next goal? To get my hamstring sorted in time for the Herepath Half, seven days later…

Red Bull Steeplechase: race report

Although the Bristol Half Marathon was my big target race for the year, this was the race I was most excited about. In each of the three previous events, the Steeplechase has taken place in the Peak District, so it was very exciting that after a year off in 2015, it moved to Exmoor this year. I couldn’t resist the temptation, and signed up almost as soon as I found out about it.

For those that don’t know, the race follows an unusual format, with four designated ‘steeples’, which are essentially knockout checkpoints. At the first, only the top 220 men and 90 women could continue, at the second 100 men and 50 women, and at the third 20 each. Everyone who reaches the first steeple is considered a finisher, everything after that is just a bonus!

Those few that completed the whole course did 22.6 miles, with over 1,800 metres (not feet, metres) of climbing. Not to mention that most of the run was taking place on the South West Coast Path, which was described by Elise Downing as “tough and gnarly and wild but the rewards are so worth it.” She was right.

Pre-race

The worst thing about morning races, particularly those that aren’t too nearby, is the early alarm call – 5:55 in this case. Admittedly, that was partly due to me misjudging how long some of the drives would take, but never mind! I headed up towards Minehead to meet up with Matt, who drove us both over to Lynton. Although the race itself started in Lynmouth, there is very little parking there, so a free park and ride had been set up from a farm above Lynton. I’d been a bit concerned about this, and left a bit of extra time in case the buses weren’t very frequent, but they were brilliant. I don’t know if we just got lucky, but we got straight onto a bus, and didn’t have to wait inside long before it left for the short drive down to the race village.

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Race village – who sponsors this again?

Race registration was a little convoluted, if still very well organised. First, we had to fill out a disclaimer (“If I die, it’s my own fault, ya de ya..”). This had been emailed to us, so I’d completed it in advance. We then had to queue by surname (well, A-C, D-F, that sort of thing… there wasn’t a queue specifically for each surname. That would be absurd.) From here, we received our race number, and were then directed to a bench to fill in the reverse. After completing the reverse, we then had to another tent collect our chip, which had to be registered to our number. Still, I suppose it gave me something to do, rather than just stand around in the cold.

Ah yes… standing around in the cold. Because it was a bit nippy, I decided to put a t-shirt on under my club vest for the race. I figured that if it was cold standing in Lynmouth, which is pretty well protected, then running around on cliff-top paths open to the elements would be colder. I would have done well to remember the “wear clothes for 5-10 degrees warmer” advice frequently thrown around.

Anyway, after a short warm-up along the seafront, and to the toilets in the car park (which had no queue, unlike the long queue for the portaloos in the race village), it was just about time for the start of the race. Matt and I lined up about five rows from the front, and pondered whether we were too far forward. Neither of us had any idea if we’d get through the first checkpoint, let alone any after that, and our normal tactic of standing right near the front for small, local races wasn’t going to be a good idea here!

The race

After a few words from the town crier (don’t ask me what he said, I barely heard one word in five), we were off. The start was a mad dash around the roads of Lynmouth, which were taken at around my 5k pace. Thankfully, the fast start was then completely negated by a concertina effect on the footpath up the cliff. Each switchback slowed the race back down to a walk, and most of the second half of the first mile was walking with 5-10 pace jogs in between. Which also conveniently made the first climb at lot easier than I had been expecting. In fact, despite the speedy start, the first mile took 10:46 to complete, and some of my pre-race concerns were starting to fade.

Once we’d reached the top of the cliff, we found ourselves on a narrow-ish tarmac path which wound around the clifftop to the Valley of the Rocks. I described this as a “boring tarmac path” to my wife, though the views attached to it make it possibly the least boring “boring tarmac path” around. While the footing might have  been easy, the route was still twisting and turning with the topography, and one slip or trip could have dire consequences with the cliff so close. Which made me all the more worried when one runner near me declined to tie his laces up when it was pointed out to him that they were loose – not a risk I’d have taken!

Heading towards the Valley of the Rocks

Heading towards the Valley of the Rocks

The view as we turned the corner on the Valley of the Rocks was probably the best of the first section of the race – it was also one of the better supported locations, and even had someone up on the rocks playing… ummm… some sort of instrument. That said, they only seemed to have a repertoire of two pieces: the William Tell Overture, and the London Marathon theme. Still, that’s better than I can manage, so I won’t complain! The route had descended pleasantly to the valley, but then rose again gently as we left. I know – shock – we went down into the valley, and then had to climb again to get out of it! The descent, on good terrain, made mile two the quickest of the race (6:53), though both the following miles were quicker by the grade-adjusted measurement.

Those miles took us through a wide woodland trail, and though we remained close to the sea, you couldn’t tell through the trees. The course undulated, but gradually rose, and I adopted a little bit of a run/walk strategy up some of the longer hills; particularly knowing from some locals (and the course profile) about the horrible climb around mile 6. After about four and a half miles, we hit the first intermediate checkpoint, and found out our positions. I was very surprised to see that I was 120th, and I immediately realised that I’d need to relax my pace a little bit, as I was definitely running more than 8 miles.

The next mile remained similar, and during this section of the race, I was quite disappointed: I’d been expecting much more a tough, technical course along the coastal path. So far, the only coastal path section had been on tarmac, and the woodland trail was pretty simple terrain with no view of the sea! And then…

The descent to Heddon’s Mouth. We’d emerged from the trees back onto the coast just after mile 5, and running along a narrow, rocky trail we started to drop down to the River Heddon. I thought that I was reasonable downhill, but a few people flew past me down here – which was a feat in itself. The path was clearly only wide enough for one, and yet more than a couple of times, I’d hear the yell from behind “your right”, followed by a runner careering past me, on the right (cliff) side. Perhaps I could have gone quicker, but at this stage I was going for the ‘rather safe than sorry’ approach. We spent a pleasant half mile running alongside the river, before heading sharply up the hill. This was the big one – three-quarters of a mile, averaging 12%, though the last bit was over 25%. The bottom was still run-able, but then it was a walk, plain and simple. No one that I could see was trying anything but, and no one was even trying to walk faster to gain positions. It was just about making it to the top with some semblance of being able to run again after.

See that river down there? That's the River Heddon. See these high bits either side? Yeah.

See that river down there? That’s the River Heddon. See these high bits either side? Yeah.

That was as far as I had really paid attention to the route. In fact, mostly my knowledge of the route was: lots of elevation, particularly bad climb at 6 miles, first cut-off at 8.3 miles, second cut-off at 13.8 miles, third cut-off at something like 18 miles. Even that wasn’t likely to prove too useful anymore – as usual for a trail route, my Garmin and the official route distances weren’t tallying up too closely, so I was reasonably certain that the 8.3 mile checkpoint would be a fair bit later on my watch.

After a short descent, we were climbing again, albeit up a road to the first checkpoint. The sun was out in its full glory now, and I was really starting to overheat in my t-shirt/vest combo. I had to make a decision – keep the t-shirt on and get too hot, or ditch the t-shirt at the checkpoint, but probably never see it again. I went through the giant Red Bull arch, noting my position – 128th, and then stopped at the drinks station for a cup of water. And to ditch my t-shirt: it just had to go, I wanted to enjoy the next five miles, not constantly obsess about being too hot. I  never got it back, but hey ho.

Getting through that first section and being able to run the second may not have been so hard as I had worried, but it was a massive victory in terms of the course. I had been distinctly underwhelmed with most of the first section, but the second was almost universally stunning. Immediately after the checkpoint, we turned back on ourselves and ran along the coastal path back towards Heddon’s Mouth. The views along the coast here were unrivalled. Coupled up with that, the coastal path here was finally meeting my expectations, with scrambled descents and rocky climbs. I knew I wasn’t going to make up 28 places to get through the next cut-off, so I could just enjoy myself.

Race profile. Pretty flat... not.

Race profile. Pretty flat… not.

In fact, I didn’t really notice that the route had come back to Heddon’s Mouth, so as we started to drop down towards the river, and I saw a huge climb with people slowly heading up it, I didn’t realise that this was the slower runners / women (who, remember, had started 15 minutes after us) going up what I had already climbed. And so, my heart sunk. Until we met that path, and turned left, down the hill. Running down a reasonably narrow trail with loose rocks while other people are trying to climb up it presents something of a challenge, but the race director had given priority to those descending, and mostly this was sufficient for us to safely get down, though I feel a little sorry for those climbing who had to keep stopping to let people by.

Shortly after crossing the river, we reached the second intermediate checkpoint, and I found I’d picked up some positions and was 119th. I started to worry a little bit that I was bringing myself back in contention for the top-100. I really didn’t fancy much more – my legs were pretty completely shot, and I was already starting to feel uneasy on the descents, worried that my quads weren’t really doing much to control me, which is particularly troubling when one false move could see you tumble off the cliff! (Or at least into a gorse bush…)

Of course, being down by the river, again, meant only one thing, again. Climbing. In fact, pretty much the rest of the second section was climbing. Though there were a couple of short descents. You know, so that we had even more climbing to do to compensate! Probably because I knew that this was the last push, I fared pretty well on the climb. I gradually worked my way past people, and spied Matt in the distance ahead of me. We ran past a number of walkers, and I offered a cheery ‘hello’ to them all, resulting in another runner commenting that I was “rather cheerful”. I was! I’d had a good, challenging run, I knew that there wasn’t too much left, and I had absolutely no regrets that I wasn’t going to be in the top 100 and running another five miles. I chatted to a few runners over the last couple of miles, and after running through the hamlet of Martinhoe, reached the second checkpoint, and was joyfully eliminated in 110th.

Matt had finished a few positions ahead of me, and also been eliminated, which made life easier for getting back. We just had a short walk up the road to the bus, and it really didn’t take long before it headed back with us, not even waiting to be full. We pulled into the race village just in time to see Ricky Lightfoot win the race in a frankly disgusting 2:41:22. For the whole (officially) 22.6 miles. I’d taken 2:12:58 for (officially) 13.8 miles.

All done!

All done!

After checking our chip in, we then gathered out goodies: a medal and a hoodie, both top quality too. The advertised free runner’s lunch turned out to be a beef stew followed by a cream tea (Matt – you’re wrong. It’s jam THEN cream.) We hung around for a while to watch the men, and then the top women finish, before heading off to find another bus to get back to the park and ride. And yet again, we had no wait at all.

This was a great race. Red Bull organised it really well (at least from a competitor’s point of view). They clearly spent a lot of money on it; this is part of their marketing, so it’s not designed to make money. The hoodie itself I’d expect to pay more than £30 for in a shop, so to get that, a medal, the food, AND a race for that price was a bargain.

Would I do it again? Hell, yeah!

A great medal.

A great medal.

... and a brilliant hoodie from the Red Bull Steeplechase

… and a brilliant hoodie.

Too busy racing!

Argh! I’m so far behind. I promised a second blog summarising my overall thoughts on the Bristol Half Marathon and my training plan, and how everything had gone. And then I’ve gone and done three more races; the Red Bull Steeplechase, the Exmoor Stagger and the Herepath Half, since then.

Out running - back in November!

Out running – back in November! (Races in red)

I’ve picked up an array of bling, clothing and a glass:

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I got both a medal…

... and a brilliant hoodie from the Red Bull Steeplechase

… and a brilliant hoodie from the Red Bull Steeplechase.

A technical tee from the Stagger.

A technical tee from the Stagger.

And this lovely half pint glass from the Herepath Half.

And this lovely half pint glass from the Herepath Half.

What I haven’t had, is much time to write. So my apologies for anyone who has been waiting in anticipation. I’m planning on taking a couple of weeks off running (though I’ll probably still do a little bit of light running) so I’m hoping to be able to use some of that time to catch up on the blog.

 

 

Great Bristol Half Marathon: race report

Bear with me, this could be a long one…

In March 2014, I completed my first half marathon, at Silverstone. I trained, regularly, but quite gently, and finished the race in 1:52:58.

At the Great West Run later that year, I pushed myself harder in training and in the race, and despite having some wobbles (shivers, and throwing up after finishing) I made a massive dent in my PB, completing it in 1:41:52.

I then got injured through the winter, and wasn’t able to complete a spring half marathon. My training cycle for my autumn half marathon included a fair bit of rehabilitation work. In the race, I aimed for around 1:38, but ended up completing the Burnham Half in 1:36:37.

We then came to 2016. Except that another injury meant that I yet again missed the whole winter, and couldn’t complete a spring half marathon. My goals of a sub-90 half marathon were dissipating:

In my heart I’m still aiming for sub-90, but in reality, I think that has become something of a pipe-dream now. – Me, July 2016

Halfway through my training I set out my targets: Gold, 89:59 (sub-90). Silver, 91:32 (sub-7:00 min/mile). Bronze, 93:59.

I certainly had some concerns about my chosen race:

… what am I thinking, entering a race with over 10,000 entrants?! – Me, August 2016

My doubts remained as the race approached, and in all honesty, they were still there while I stood in the holding pen ready to start the race. But I’m getting ahead of myself slightly.

Pre-race

A 9:30 start for the race meant an early morning; a 6:00 alarm so that we could be out of the house by 7:00. Amazingly, even with a toddler, we left on time – although I did forget to have some toast after my cereal. So we’ll maybe call it evens. We arrived about an hour later, and parked at Cabot Circus, about a mile across town from the race village. This had three main advantages: it was far enough away that parking wasn’t an issue, I got a bit of a walking warm-up to loosen my leg muscles, and the toilets at Cabot Circus were not busy!

We arrived at the race village in time for me to head to the toilets once again, this time joining a queue, albeit a relatively reasonable one. I didn’t really fancy milling around the busy race village, and instead popped down a side-street towards the river. Just as we were about to settle down on a bench for a little bit, the rain came. (Hold on, the BBC said it was going to be dry!) And then got heavier. And heavier. And then really heavy. We quickly rushed to huddle under a balcony on a block of flats, and I contemplated how long I could leave it before heading out for a warm-up run.

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Huddling out of the rain

8:40… still raining. 8:45… still raining. 8:48… sigh. I accepted the inevitable, and – still wearing my race top, t-shirt AND a hoodie – I set off along the river for a little warm-up plod. And got soaked. Still, my legs would thank me for it, and chances were that I was going to get wet during the race anyway.

Out along the Portway… and back (miles 1 – 8)

In the start pen, I slotted myself a couple of rows back from the 1:30 pacer, amazed at quite how near the front this put me. I decided that I would run with the pacer for  the first few miles, and see how it felt – I could always drop off and adjust my goal down as the race went on. If I started further back, there was no chance I could speed enough sufficiently to adjust my goal up.

The crowded start meant that unlike most races, where I start too quickly, I actually had quite a slow initial get away compared to what I wanted. Still, I found sufficient pace soon enough, and started to work on keeping up with the 1:30 pacer, who’d got away fine, and was ten metres up the road. By the end of the first mile, I’d sorted my pace out, and went through in 6:48 – pretty much bang on my target pace for sub-90.

During the first couple of miles, I did struggle with the number of people around – running with the pacer did have the disadvantage of making up run in a close group, and I was constantly having to adjust my stride to avoid clashing with another runner. Eventually, I got fed up of this, and decided to move ahead of the pacer, into a pretty large gap that had opened up. I was wary that I might then push on too hard ahead of my target pace, but it was a risk I decided I had to take. After a second mile at 6:46, I sped up slightly in the third, to 6:40; whether this was related to pushing ahead of the pacer or not, I’m unsure. Just after the third mile was the first drinks station, but I opted against a drink – I felt hydrated enough, and I don’t believe in drinking too much during a race if you don’t feel that you need it.

The fourth mile took us to the turnaround point on the Portway, and we started to see runners coming back the other way. I had been worried before the race about this long out-and-back, but actually it was fine. Initially, it was so early in the race that I hadn’t got bored of running yet, and after that there were plenty of people coming the other way to keep you distracted. My fourth mile maintained my ahead-of-target pace, 6:41, and had been a gentle climb, making it an even harder effort. At this point of the race, I felt that I was pushing so hard to maintain the pace already, and that I couldn’t possibly keep it up for another… oh my God… another 9 miles.

Looking pretty rough already!

Looking pretty rough already!

It was around this point that I opted to do something both sensible and really stupid. I decided to break the race up into more manageable chunks: sensible. I decided that my target pace was more or less my 10k PB pace, so I my first chunk would be the first 10k of the race. And I’d try and get a new 10k distance PB: stupid.

Don’t get me wrong – I knew that to run sub-90, I would have to run a positive split. There was no way that I wouldn’t fade towards the end at that pace, so an even or negative split just wasn’t realistic. Given that, I guess it wasn’t so stupid after all, but it sure felt stupid, trying to run my fastest ever 10k with another 7 miles to go after. Either way, I managed it – Garmin recorded my 10k time as 41:24, almost a minute quicker than my PB. At least I knew I’d achieved something in this race!

I continued at my ahead-of-target pace for miles seven and eight, and remained ahead of the pacer, though a few times I could hear the group right behind me – so while I was running quicker than necessary, the pacer was driving a similar pace, which was slightly reassuring, and slightly worrying. Mile 3-8 were at 6:40, 6:41, 6:35, 6:43, 6:39 and 6:41. Unfortunately, my mile bleeps weren’t quite lining up with the mile markers, so although according to my watch I was probably about 67 seconds ahead of where I needed to be, the mile markers suggested that I was perhaps only 10 seconds ahead.

The ‘nothing’ middle bit (miles 8 – 11)

The first eight miles had been pretty straightforward: onto the Portway, up the Portway, turnaround, back down the Portway. (And, right at the end, a bit of twisting and turning across the river, or canal, or whatever it is.)  I knew that most of the rest of the race was a lot more fiddly, twisting and turning through the city centre – with a couple of climbs thrown in for good measure. But first came the dreary middle miles. Mile 9 was entirely alongside the river, and at this point I caught up with a group of Great Western Runners, who I usefully paced along with for a while. I pushed on ahead of them when we hit Redcliff Hill, though my pace was nothing compared to the 1:30 pacer, who suddenly came flying past us all. I’m not really sure why he decided it was necessary to go so hard up the hill, but from this stage, I spent the entire race a fair distance behind the pacer.

Another hill followed just under a mile later, climbing up towards Castle Park, while the biggest was to follow shortly after, up past the back of The Galleries, though that was at least succeeded by a noticeable downhill, and as we passed over the river/canal for the third time, I spotted Lolly and Lani there to cheer me on. The combination of the cheering and the downhill gave me a boost, but I knew that my pace was starting to suffer, and every mile involved some calculations as to whether sub-90 was still realistic. At 10 miles (only a parkrun to go!) I had about 22 minutes left – a 22 minute 5k should be do-able, right? Mile 11 saw my pace drop a bit further to 6:56 – anything under 7:00 should be fine from here, but I was worried about the trend.

Looking much better than I felt through Queen's Square.

Looking much better than I felt through Queen’s Square.

The horrible last bit (miles 12-13.1)

From the point at which you pass the 11 mile marker, to the finish, by the shortest route, must be about 500 metres. Unfortunately, we had to do an entire loop of Queen Square, and an out and back loop around The Centre. Yes, I know, 13.1 miles is 13.1 miles – but having so much twisting and turning at the end is mentally draining. The support from the crowds here was great – and it needed to be. I felt like my whole race was coming apart, and everything was a struggle. But actually, when I looked around, I was keeping pace with most of the runners around me, and even catching up with some others. And although my pace had continued to drop, it wasn’t too dramatic. It just felt it.

Somewhere around mile 12, I’m not sure where, as mostly everything blends into one around this point, I saw Lolly and Lani again. From what Lolly says, I wasn’t particularly cheerful, and I can believe it. My ability to do any sort of maths failed in the last mile, and so I wasn’t quite sure how slow I could afford to go to make sub-90, but I knew I was on course for it, short of a pretty monumental breakdown. Unfortunately, that was pretty much how I felt. I felt sick – like I was actually going to throw up. I was light-headed, and struggling to mentally focus on anything. Other than to keep going. Turning onto Broad Quay and then Colston Avenue, and seeing runners going the other way was tortuous, especially when I kept expecting to reach the turnaround point, but it took a forever to arrive.

In the finishing straight!

In the finishing straight!

Eventually though, I reached it, and there was just under half a mile to go. By this stage, I really was starting to go backwards relative to most of those around me. I was just hanging on as best as I could – forcing myself to keep pushing for the final few minutes. At the ‘400m to go’ sign, I briefly contemplated pushing harder, before realising that 400 metres is a quarter of a mile. At 200 metres, I allowed myself to push a bit, but in reality, I didn’t have that much to push with. But it didn’t really matter. As long as I didn’t actually collapse, I was practically guaranteed sub-90. The pacer crossed the line ahead of me, in pretty much 1:29 exactly. When I crossed the line, I could see that the clock was still reading under 1:30, so it was pretty academic what my watch said. I’d done it.

Post-race

I’d done it. And now I had other things to focus on: not throwing up for a start. Step, breath, don’t throw up. Step, breath, don’t throw up. In such a fashion did I shuffle away from the finish line and collect my goody bag. Step, rummage in bag, retrieve water bottle, drink, don’t throw up. Step, drink, don’t throw up.

Eventually, I progressed to simply walking and drinking, the nausea passing, and I made my way back to The Centre to meet Lolly and Lani, so we could head off for a celebratory Nando’s back at Cabot Circus. After I’d bought some dry socks to wear, at least…

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Fooooooooooood!

I’ll probably post some more thoughts on the race, and my training later in the week (I know, I know, it’s already Thursday). But I do need to say a huge thank you to my wife, Lolly. My training plan was 12 weeks, and at the time of my race, she was 12 weeks and 2 days pregnant. So the combination of pregnancy and having to cope with me being out of the house for hours on end training didn’t make things easy for her, and yet she remained fully supportive of my efforts to go sub-90 at Bristol. She believed in me far more than I dared to, and she kept me going at those points that everything seemed to be getting on top of me, and life threatened to get in the way. So, thanks Lolly 😀

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Obligatory ‘bling’ photo

Bristol Half Marathon Training: Weeks 10 and 11

I’ve been more than a little bit lax in keeping my training blog up to date over the past
couple of weeks, but that sort of sums up what a time it has been. In many ways, I’ve been
more fed up of running than ever before. While in other ways, I’m more excited about it than
ever before. At least in terms of my 5km pace, this training cycle has seen huge
improvements. I started the summer with a PB of 20:15, set at Longrun Meadow parkrun last
August. At Yeovilton, I drove this down as the summer wore on: 19:50 in July, 19:32 in August
and 19:13 this month. The Yeovilton course is definitely quicker than Longrun, but I set a
new PB there too, 19:48 in wet conditions.

I’ve not had the opportunity to run a representative 10km race to judge my improvement there,
but my result at the Ash Excellent Eight early this month gave me some encouragement,
particularly how I coped with the hill at the end. Some of my training runs have similarly
shown me my improvement – hilly routes that would have been a struggle before have been
dispatched relatively easily, and I’ve hit my target paces in all of my speed sessions.

Here’s a brief summary of the past couple of weeks; nothing so detailed as normal:

Book plan:
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: 8 miles general aerobic + speed
Wednesday: 7 miles general aerobic
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: 3 miles recovery
Saturday: 10 miles, inc 10k tune-up race
Sunday: 10 miles endurance

Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: 7 miles general aerobic
Wednesday: 4 miles recovery
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: 9 miles VO2 max
Saturday: 3 miles recovery
Sunday: 10 miles endurance

Tuesday:
After Sunday’s race (and extra mileage) and Monday’s rest day, I was off out along the
extended river and canal route that I’ve become fond of. Nothing special, but to run a gentle
8:39 min/mile for 8.3 miles on this is another indication of my progress.

Wednesday:
Leading a group for my running club again, so we had a slightly elongated route to take in
the most of the Taunton 10k route as a sighter for those doing it (the same day as the Great
Bristol Half). Good group, decent pace. (7.7 miles, 8:33 min/mile)

Friday:
I was meant to head out for a recovery run, but completely forgot about it until I was
halfway through making dinner, so it was skipped.

Saturday:
This was meant to be another 10km tune-up race. But as before, there wasn’t one that was
convenient, so I chose to do parkrun instead. The conditions weren’t great, with a lot of
puddles on the course, but as I mentioned above, I managed a new best of 19:48. Annoyingly,
that’s still one second behind my brother’s time on the course, so I’m going to have to have
another fast session here when the conditions are a bit better! I headed out in the early
evening for a recovery run to keep my weekly mileage up.

Sunday:
Went out for a run with my running club’s ‘Sunday All-Stars’. It was a lovely route that
headed down to Pitminster, where we climbed an almighty hill through some pretty tough
terrain. I really enjoyed it, particularly as something different to all the flat road
running I’ve been doing lately. Probably better practice for the Red Bull Steeplechase which
is coming up two weeks after Bristol, but still good!

Tuesday:
Felt like crap, so skipped my planned run and lay in bed instead.

Wednesday:
Rather than the book’s planned 4 miles recovery, I headed back to Yeovilton for the last race
of the series. I collected my mug for completing the series, and then headed off with the aim
of another PB. I had a slim, crazy, hope of running sub-19, but after keeping that pace for
the first half of the race, I feel off towards the end to finish in 19:13, which I was still
really happy with. Obviously. I also dragged my brother along for his first proper race, as
he happened to be staying with us because of his work.

Friday:
After work on Friday, I really couldn’t face more miles on the road (you might have mentioned
a theme – I’m getting sick of road running), so I got changed, got in the car and headed out
to scout out some of the Herepath route that I’d be racing at the end of October. Annoyingly,
this run had 985 ft of climb – had I realised I’d have found another 15 to top out 1,000, but
nevermind! Unsurprisingly, my pace took a hit given the terrain and elevation, but I loved
this run. Perhaps next year I should be aiming to get off-road more, rather than go faster on
road. Hmmm – Matt does keep trying to get me to do Seaview 17…

Saturday:
Went up to Minehead parkrun with Lolly and ran with the buggy. Nice easy course, and I
managed to take it relatively easy, until the last few hundred metres at least! Not the most
inspiring course ever, but had a nice day afterwards on the steam train.

Sunday:
Headed out for an ‘even more extended than usual’ river and canal run. Except that I got a
bit lost and confused, and ended up continuing along the river. It was meant to be a 10 mile
roundtrip, but after travelling ‘out’ for 6 miles, I rang Lolly up and she came and picked me
up a couple of miles further up the river. Interesting route along the river, though it did
start to get a bit overgrown. Perhaps not the most relevant for Bristol, though it was flat,
at least.

Summary:
The toll of the training has really shown this past couple of weeks. I’ve missed more runs than in the rest of the plan together, and got proper fed up of road running. I’m really looking forward to having the race done and being able to get out on the trails a bit more. This plan has involved more flat road running than it needed to, but I felt I had to do that so that I could work out what the session was asking for. If I follow this plan again for a spring half marathon (which is likely), I feel that I’ll be able to mix things up a bit more, as I now have a better understanding of each session, and what I can do with it.

Ash Excellent Eight: race report

Fittingly, the Ash Excellent Eight was my eighth Somerset Series race of the summer, and with my entry already confirmed for both the Herepath Half and Brent Knoll, I’m on course to hit the ten needed to qualify. I’d not run the Excellent Eight before, and didn’t know much about it, other than a) it was in Ash, b) it was about eight miles, and c) it was presumably excellent. I did a little bit of research: I looked at the Strava stats from someone who had done it last year, and discovered it had a downhill start, an uphill finish, and a lump in the middle. I also had a chat to Matt on Twitter, who said that he had heard from another club-mate that it was pretty flat.

The race came at the end of a busy few days. Well, a busy week really. Had it not been a Somerset Series race, I probably would have just changed my plans and done a training run instead: my plan wanted me to do 14 miles, not an 8-mile race. But after a chat to Lolly, who I’d barely seen during the busy few days before the race, we decided that her and our two-year-old daughter, Lani, would come along as well, and they could possibly do the 2k Fun Run. Or at least have a run around the school fields.

As a Somerset Series race, most of the familiar faces were there as usual, and I had a chat to a few of them before the race, though of those, only Nigel had done the route before. With his usual detailed memory, he gave me a description of the route, though to be honest I’m not sure how well I took it in!

After managing to fit in a one mile warm-up around convincing Lani that she did want to wear her race number for the Fun Run, we were at the start and ready to go. On already weary legs, I opted to let the crowd of runners, and the hill carry me along at the start, as we plummeted down the road. The hill carried on for about a mile, and Strava has proudly declared it my second fastest mile (6:04), after the really absurd descent at the Chew Valley 10k (5:58). I really need to get out and run a fast mile on the flat to beat both of those, so I can be prouder of my best mile!

The descent ended with a left turn onto a farm track. Still a road really – the Google Street View car has even been down it, but there was more mud around. Then shortly after, we turned off that road through a farm, and along what definitely wasn’t anything more than a puddle-riddled farm track. The course very gently undulated along this second mile, though it was all but unnoticeable. Opening out onto the fields, the course split shortly after, with the five mile race taking a shortcut back to Ash. The eight-milers continued through some flood defences and over the River Yeo. Sitting on the edge of the Somerset Levels, the course was pretty much pancake flat through the next couple of miles, as we circled around a golf course.

After the initial shuffling around of positions, we’d settled down past the farm, though I’d been aware that I was losing time on runners around me for most of the race to this point. From about the first drinks station, which was by the river, I started to gain positions and time. I didn’t take any water at that station, which brought me right up behind the runners that were ahead of me, and I slowly picked off each of the three as we wound our way around the golf course. The terrain was probably the worst at this point, with a wet and muddy track to contend with, and one of my gained positions almost certainly seemed to be based on me having more grip than the chap ahead of me.

After a short road climb, we had a longer gentle descent along the road away from Long Sutton. I felt like I was running well on this stretch, but on reflection, I guess it was just the very favourable terrain, as I didn’t seem to make any significant gains on those around me. This lovely section was followed by the hardest part of the course: Knole Hill. It is not, to be fair, too much of a hill to be feared. The Hill Bagging website details that it is only 48m / 157ft high, and we probably only actually climbed about a third of that. But, it is a steep ascent up grass, and everyone around me (including me) had to take it at a walk.

Of course, what goes up must come down, and with the diagonal descent of the hill down the next field, I opened a large gap on those runners behind me. Another muddy, rutted farm track followed, along which I slowly closed the gap on the runner ahead of me. We drew level at the last drinks station, had a brief chat, and then started climbing the final hill.

You remember that mile-long hill that I flew down at the start? Yeah… we had to go back up it at the end. I’d been a little bit worried about this hill, imagining the horror of a mile-long struggle up a hill with regular walking breaks. But… actually… it was fine. I easily ran the whole lot, taking about eight minutes for the mile. Just a short dash to the finish followed – by this stage I was well ahead of the runner I’d been with at the bottom of the hill, but out of range of the runner ahead of me. So I probably didn’t push quite as much as I could have done. Which is annoying, because my finishing time was 1:00:05. If I’d just pushed 6 seconds faster…

At the finish, I was amazed to discover that as well as a medal (somewhat generic, but I can’t complain) there was a t-shirt. Not bad for a race that only cost £12 on the day!

All this for just £12!

All this for just £12!

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this race. On the one hand, I felt like I ran really well. The ‘light trail’ aspect of the race probably gave me a bit of an advantage: pure road runners probably found it too ‘trail-y’, while proper trail runners found it too ‘road-y’. However, for a trail race, it was a bit flat and perhaps a little boring. But I guess there’s always the Exmoor Stagger if I want hilly and interesting!

Next up: Yeovilton 5k (14 September), Great Bristol Half (25 September)

Bristol Half Marathon Training: Week 9

After some relatively disrupted training last week, I was hoping that I could have a pretty solid week, although that was always going to be pretty unlikely with a busy weekend planned.

Book plan:
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: 8 miles general aerobic
Wednesday: 11 miles endurance
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: 10 miles VO2 max
Saturday: 4 miles recovery
Sunday: 14 miles endurance

My plan:
Pretty much the same as the book – though I had an eight-mile race planned on Sunday, so the only slight alteration was:
Sunday: 14 miles (8 mile race + 6 miles)

Monday:
Rest day.

Tuesday:
A gentle eight-miler to start the week, and I trotted along the river and canal to complete this one. My quads were still struggling slightly from my Sunday run, but overall, this was a pretty nondescript run, averaging about 8:50 per mile.

Wednesday:
Eleven miles is the peak of my midweek mileage. In fact, this week is a peak for everything: midweek mileage, Sunday mileage, overall mileage. I opted again to run this with the club, and I was aided in that slightly by the fact that one of the group leaders was missing, so I led the group. This meant that I planned the route, which made it much easier to plan how much mileage I had to add one either side! So, a 3 mile run to club, a 7 mile run with the club, and a mile run home. Lovely. The paces were all reasonably good – I opted to sit at the back of the group during the club run section, to run with a new runner to the club who was struggling slightly with the pace. Even so, we were well within the pace guideline for the group. Overall, 11 miles at a pace of around 8:30. Possibly slightly slower than an ideal ‘endurance’ paced run, but on a heavy week, I’m happy with it.

Thursday:
Rest day.

Friday:
Ah, Friday. The day that the wheels started to come off slightly. Work, eh? I spent Thursday night in Cornwall, ahead of a busy day on Friday, which meant that I didn’t get home until about 18:30. Amazingly, I managed to persuade myself to get changed straight away, and head up to the running track for my VO2 max session: two sets of 2 x 1,200 m, 1 x 800 m. I put a few numbers into some running calculators, and worked out that I wanted a similar pace to my 1,000 m repeats a few weeks before. So I was aiming for 4:36 per 1,200 and 3:04 per 800. Roughly 6:10 per mile pace. And basically, I breezed it. (4:33, 4:33, 3:01, 4:23, 4:26, 2:58.)

W9reps

Pretty consistent pacing

I have one more VO2 max session in this training plan, and I may well stick to a similar pace band for that, but it’s worth me bearing in mind that after this, for my track repeats, I probably need to work on quicker reps. (I calculated them based on a 19:30 5k.) While I completed the interval session absolutely fine, I was short on overall mileage, as the plan had called for my daily mileage to be 10 miles, and I only managed 8.5. Nothing tragic, but…

Saturday:
… on Saturday I was doing some Wedding photography for a friend. And given how tired I was generally, and the fact that I didn’t want to be too worn down by the end of the day, I decided to skip the planned recovery run. Given that in the end I was out of the house from 9:30 to 23:00, I didn’t really regret this decision…

Sunday:
… but it did mean that there was a bit more pressure on me to make sure that I didn’t end up too short on mileage on Sunday. I don’t mind being a bit behind, but if I didn’t manage anything more than the race and a warm-up, I would be about 10 miles behind on the planned weekly mileage, which seemed a bit too much to me. I contemplated a few ways of doing it: three miles before the race and another three after? A normal one mile warm-up, a couple of miles cool down, and then a three mile jog later in the afternoon? Maybe even all six extra miles before the race, making the race good ‘tired legs’ training. In the end, I barely had time for my one mile warm-up before the race, and couldn’t be bothered with a cool down. The race itself went really well. I’d set myself the target of an hour, which I missed… by 5 seconds. That said, looking at the people around me, and recognising them from other races, I finished a bit further up the field than I would have expected. As probably predicted, I didn’t do any miles immediately after the race, opting instead for a bacon bap and some chocolate cake.

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Post-race father and daughter posing.

So, a few hours later, I was back out again. Wearing my new top (that was a surprise by the way – £12 on the day entry, and I got a medal and a t-shirt) I headed off for five miles around town to top me up to 14 miles. The first mile of the run was really, really tough on my legs. After that it got easier, but I developed a stitch about halfway through which never really disappeared. It was very much run at a recovery pace, and it probably did the job: the last mile was the quickest and most comfortable of the lot.

Summary:
I had a solid start to the week, but it got pretty tough at the weekend. Not only did I struggle to fit my runs in, but with everything that I was doing, I was pretty tired. Being honest, I’m getting a little bit fed up of my training plan now – I’m still enjoying running, but it’s getting a bit constrictive. Still, pretty much just taper fever to cope with, then the race. And after that… a lot more fun races too!

Bristol Half Marathon Training: Week 8

This week was another lighter week. Although not specifically described in the book as a recovery week, it involved lower mileages and gentler runs. Possibly the only reason that it wasn’t described as recovery was the presence of a 10k tune-up race. When I first started this plan, that tune-up race was ideal, as it coincided with one of my favourite 10k races, the Battle of Sedgemoor. (Mostly my favourite because I’ve got a PB at it both years that I’ve raced it!) Unfortunately, I later realised that we were going to be out of the county at a family barbecue, so I would need to change my plans.

At first, I settled on a 10k race that was on the way home from Shrewsbury, but wouldn’t involve leaving too early. But then I read a few reviews of the company putting it on, and decided against it. Long courses, late changes to their courses, off-road sections on advertised ‘road-races’: all these put me off. I contemplated trying to run a hard 5k before parkrun, and then parkrun itself, to replicate a 10k effort. But the distances, roads and course didn’t really suit themselves to this, and so I opted to just run a hard parkrun. I didn’t really mind about losing a bit of mileage: I needed the recovery this week.

Book plan:
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: 8 miles general aerobic + speed
Wednesday: 7 miles general aerobic
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: 3 miles recovery
Saturday: 10 miles, inc 10k tune-up race
Sunday: 10 miles endurance

My plan:
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: 8 miles general aerobic + speed
Wednesday: 7 miles general aerobic
Thursday: Rest day
Friday: 3 miles recovery
Saturday: 6 miles, inc tune-up parkrun
Sunday: 10 miles endurance

Monday:
Rest day.

Tuesday:
The plan called for an eight mile general aerobic run, with two sets of 4 x 150 metre sprints. I decided against doing my sprints on the canal, or at the track, and instead headed over to Longrun Meadow for them. I did some mental arithmetic to work out how much I needed to add-on to make eight miles, and planned a route accordingly.

Things could have gone better. I got to Longrun Meadow and did my first set of intervals, all okay. A four minute recovery jog in the middle, fine. Second set of four intervals… or, was it three? Yeah – schoolboy error, I lost count. I had, in fact, completed the four reps as I was supposed to, but being unsure I added on another. Still, better to do too many than too few I guess! I then got to the edge of the park, knowing that it was a mile to get home, and glanced at my watch: 6 miles completed. Bugger – somehow I added 3.5, 2.5 and 1 together to make 8. Sigh, looks like it’s the long route home then…

math

BSc (Hons) Mathematics and Physics from Warwick, I’ll have you know…

Wednesday:
The week didn’t really improve. On Wednesday I had to travel down to Cornwall for work, and as Lolly had a work meal in the evening, I would a) not be able to run in the evening, and b) have to leave home early for work. Meaning c) if I wanted to get my scheduled 7 mile run in, I’d have to do it super-early. I didn’t.

Thursday:
Rest day. Had a sports massage before work, focusing on my calves and quads, which was much needed, and should hopefully set me up for the next few weeks. That said, I need to make sure I keep up with my own stretches and foam roller routine. Or more realistically, introduce such a routine.

Friday:
Planned as a three mile recovery run, I added a mile onto this to recoup a little bit of the lost mileage from Wednesday. Four miles is also the distance of my short river and canal loop, so I was happy to trot around this on Friday evening while I waited for the traffic to clear on the M5.

Saturday:
After a late evening drive up to Shrewsbury, we didn’t get to bed until after midnight, and then I ended up sleeping on a pretty uncomfortable single bed, as Lani decided that she preferred the king-sized bed with Mummy. With this in mind, I wasn’t expecting the best time ever at Shrewsbury parkrun – particularly once I saw the hill that we’d have to climb twice. Sure, it was nothing stupid, but gone were my thoughts of a possible 5k PB, and instead I decided to just focus on sneaking sub-20, which would be a parkrun PB at least.

The hotel was located about two miles away from the park, so I opted to jog in as a warm-up. On arrival, after noticing the hill, we also worked out that it was a ‘downhill’ course: although we had to climb the hill twice, we actually went down it three times. I found the whole run a real struggle, right from the downhill start. My pacing, in the end, was pretty consistent, within a few seconds for each kilometre. My watch told me that I was running around 3:55 per km, which would equate to about 19:35. So it was something of a surprise when I crossed the line, stopped my watch, and saw 19:21! My first thought, particularly as it also said ‘3.07’ for the distance, was that the course was short. But it had lots of tight corners and an out and back, which tends to mess with GPS a bit. Who knows – either way I’m pretty happy with my time. After some water, I jogged around with Lolly for her last lap, acting as a 1 mile cool down run for me.

We grabbed some breakfast at Wetherspoons, headed back to the hotel room for a rest, and then I headed out for another run to bring myself up close to the 10 miles that the book had planned. Although I didn’t mind dropping some mileage in a lighter week, I wasn’t keen on missing 7 miles midweek AND 4 miles at the weekend. I trotted around another 5k in the lanes to the south of Shrewsbury at a pretty gentle pace, and declared myself happy with the situation.

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Turns out I wasn’t meant to go down this path…

Sunday:
For some reason, I decided that a normal 10 mile run would be too boring, and so I planned a slightly insensible route back from a car park in the Quantock Hills that I’ve used a couple of times. I jokingly commented to Lolly that it was “9.9 miles, so by the time I get lost, I guess I’ll do 11.” Indeed.

Despite a drastic shortage of sleep over the previous couple of nights, Lolly drove me up to the car park, a round-trip of just over an hour for her, for which I’m very very grateful. I headed out of the car park… and immediately went wrong. Thankfully, a path cut across from the track I was on to the one I was meant to be on, meaning that I didn’t have to retrace my steps all the way back to the car park once I noticed about three-quarters of a mile in. Shortly thereafter, I went wrong again. This wasn’t going particularly well. Unfortunately, this time I had to climb back up quite a steep path that I’d been following. Again, it wasn’t much distance, but the climb was quite significant! By this stage, I was still less than two miles into my route, and in the bit that I had thought I’d known reasonably well. This was seeming like a very bad idea: after this, most of the route was relatively unknown to me. Thankfully, I had my phone with me, Google maps, and amazingly good phone signal. Otherwise, I might still be running around the Quantock Hills today!

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It’s hard to say no to a run through places like this!

Typically, the rest of the run actually went pretty well. As I’d been unsure about most of it, I’d studied it much more closely on the maps, and even used Street View to reccy some of the junctions I’d be using. My research paid off, and the only point at which I had to turn back again was when one of the paths I wanted to use was far too overgrown with nettles. The road didn’t add on much distance anyway.

The run ended up being almost exactly 11 miles, as predicted, and included 571 feet of elevation gain, and 1,583 feet of elevation loss – which was nice, but tough on the quads! I described this on Facebook as one of my toughest ever runs: physically it was fine, but mentally self-navigating through an area I only had a vague knowledge of was pretty tough. Although I knew that if I went wrong I could just phone Lolly to get me, that wasn’t the point. This definitely took me out of my comfort zone, and I’d love to do more ‘exploratory running’ like this. But maybe once I’ve finished with this plan. And maybe when I recruit someone else to come with me!

Summary:
This ended up being a bit of a hodgepodge week. I missed my second run of the training plan, with both of them coming during lighter weeks – which probably isn’t a complete coincidence, though seemingly both have been due to me being pretty busy in work/life. The book had planned 38 miles for this week, which I adjusted to 34 in my plan (dropping the 10k to a 5k). In actual fact, I ended up doing 32.7 miles after missing one of the runs, which I’m still more than happy with. If I’d been following my own plan, rather than this book, I probably wouldn’t be running much more than that even in my heavy weeks!

This coming week is theoretically the heaviest of my plan, totalling 47 miles, including a long run of 14 miles on the Sunday. But – I have an 8 mile race planned for Sunday, so that’s going to throw something of a spanner in the works, and I still haven’t really worked out what I’m going to do about it.