parkrun tourism: Yeovil Montacute – B course

As “parkrun tourism” goes, this is a bit different to usual. I actually first visited Yeovil Montacute parkrun back in October 2014, which you can read about here. I returned again in October 2016, when they reversed the course to celebrate the clocks going back an hour. (Or something like that). I meant to visit again last winter, when they moved to their B course, but I didn’t make it. I thought I’d missed my opportunity again this year, but then an opening sprung up, and off to Ham Hill we ventured…

Yeovil Montacute parkrun has suffered over the winter. They have managed just two runs in November, three in December, and only one in January. The “A” course winds it way around the grounds of Montacute House, a lovely National Trust property near Yeovil. Being a completely grass course, it can get waterlogged and chewed up through the winter, and so the parkrun moves to the nearby Ham Hill Country Park for January and February.

Ham Hill itself isn’t immune from waterlogging – a similar grassy terrain, the course can get pretty muddy, and on the morning there was a warning of mud on the event Facebook page. But who doesn’t like a bit of mud?

Walk to the start.

We arrived in plenty of time, and had no problem finding somewhere to park. The toilets were conveniently located on the walk to the start, which was signed from the car park. The path to the start was quite muddy in places, but once we got out onto the fields near the start, it firmed up a bit. Normally, I like to do a warm-up before parkrun, but we’d timed things such that there wasn’t really enough time. We either arrived too late for the new runners briefing, or there simply wasn’t one; I’m not sure which. Still, the main briefing was more than sufficient, and frankly, I know the main parkrun guidelines, and I’m not quick enough to have to worry about the route – I can just follow whoever is in front of me!

With little fanfare, we were sent on our way – and I made my first mistake of the morning. A wide start meant that I was in the second row, and I stupidly stayed on the shoulders of the front-runners. After a few hundred metres, I glanced at my watch and assumed it wasn’t tracking me properly, or maybe I had left my pace in kilometres – it was reading 5:50 – FAR too fast.

After about half a kilometre, I had managed to pull my pace back, letting what felt like half the field stream past me. Despite this, I recorded a 4:10 opening kilometre, which given the terrain, a slight incline, and my current fitness level, was still too fast. The second kilometre finished off the climb before dropping back down the other side, and I was still letting people past as I ran a more reasonable 4:27.

Despite the warnings, the course was firm underfoot throughout, and actually really nice to run on. The third kilometre finished off the lap, and as you dropped back down hill slightly, you had good visibility of the route ahead. By this point, I’d fallen to the right part of the field for my pace, and a 4:20 kilometre was about right. Climbing back up the hill for the entire fourth kilometre, I passed a runner – the only change of position I had for the entire second lap!

I glanced at my watch a short while later and was slightly confused by the distance it was showing – it didn’t quite add up to me. As I got closer and closer to the finish, it became more and more clear that the course was over-distance. Not uncommon for “B” courses, as if it was quicker than the “A” course, then you might set a PB that you couldn’t beat on the main course. That said, it soon became clear that this wasn’t a slight extension; in the end the course measured in on my Garmin as 5.5 km!

I’d intentionally “raced” this parkrun – due to my ankle injury, I haven’t raced since the start of August last year, and with a few coming up, I wanted some practice. The fast start was a reminder that it is easy to get carried away early on, and will definitely be something I keep in mind over the next few weeks. After that I was relatively happy with my “race craft”. I didn’t have much to do, and maybe I let myself get more isolated that was ideal, but generally after the quick start I kept a pretty even pace (considering the profile) and was able to push myself throughout. On a proper length course, I’d have got about 22:07, which isn’t unreasonable for that route with my current fitness, though it does show that I have a way to go yet before I have a shot at setting any new PBs.

I’d really recommend this course – while I love the main course at Montacute house, this is certainly no disappoint in comparison. The terrain and undulations are pretty similar between the two, giving the same feel. It clearly isn’t a course you’re likely to PB on, given the length, but given that it is a trail course anyway, that really doesn’t matter.

All done!

Lolly had a fabulous run, getting her fastest paced parkrun since child number two arrived, despite the course being harder than some of those we’ve run recently. We’re planning some flatter “road” courses over the next few weeks, so it’ll be exciting to see what she’s capable of! For me, I’m contemplating a slightly mad return to racing with a weekend double – the Minehead Running Club “Hills to Coast Relay” on the Saturday, followed by the Babcary 7.5 mile road race on Sunday (see last year’s blog post.)

parkrun tourism: Shepton Mallet parkrun

At around 9 am on New Year’s Day, we had no plans to parkrun. Long ago, we’d been talking about doing a double, but neither of us were in any state of running fitness to complete 10k in one day. We had discussed the possibility of going down to Killerton for Lolly to repeat at 9:30, but we never really got our stuff together in time for it.

At around 9:05; I mentioned the possibility that maybe we could both run at Shepton Mallet – a buggy each. Shepton Mallet parkrun is about a 55-minute drive from us and was starting at 10:30. Making the decision, more or less out of the blue, to go just 85 minutes beforehand probably wouldn’t be too unreasonable for most parkrun tourists. But when you have to pack not only yourselves and your running gear, but also two small children, two buggies, changing gear for the youngest of the two, and all the other ancillary rubbish that goes with small children, it really was a crazy decision.

But then, that’s probably what we do best.

Somehow, we managed to get ready in pretty much 15 minutes, thanks mostly to the fact that our 4-year-old daughter decided she would put clothes on – if that decision had gone the other way, we might still now be trying to wheedle with her.

As we got closer to Shepton Mallet… it started to rain. Just another thing to make the experience a little bit more stressful! We arrived to pretty light rain, in which I had to try and remember how the rain-covers for each of the two buggies worked (differently, of course!) By the time I had got both children into their buggies, the eldest had decided that she would like to go home now, thank you. Well, of course she did!

We hadn’t really done much research on the course: we knew it was three-laps, allowed buggies, and was mostly tarmac. We rushed down to the start, and more or less only just got in place at the back of the crowd in time to begin…

SONY DSC

A blurry two buggy start.

… Which turned out to be less than ideal. The course started by winding its way along a narrow path, including a corkscrew-esque uphill hairpin bend. Throughout most of the course, it is run on narrow tarmac paths with grass either side. Running with a buggy, this was a bit of a nightmare when starting from the back – I got out onto the grass early to pass a few people, but it was seriously slippy. If I have one recommendation for this parkrun, it is to make sure you start according to pace!

Still, after continuing up the hill a bit further, we went along a short (10 metres maybe?) muddy, tree-root riddled section, and then were on a nice wide path. Or at least, it seemed nice and wide, until someone yelled: “lead runners coming!” So, the bit where I said I hadn’t done much research on the course? Yeah, hadn’t realised that there was a really long out-and-back. So now, while trying to pass people, I’m also having to try and stay out of the way of the quicker runners coming back the other way.

Out-and-back stint navigated, we dropped back down the hill, quite sharply, and ran next to the pond for a few metres. It’s probably pretty scenic most of the time, but by now it as pretty much torrential rain. My daughter kept trying to talk to me through the rain-cover, but I frankly couldn’t hear a thing, so I just kept saying “Yeah” from time to time, and crossed my fingers that I wasn’t agreeing to anything too expensive. Not that I could actually cross my fingers, as they were numb with the wet and cold.

Another climb followed, up towards the car park we’d arrived from, before the course dropped back down to the start/finish area, past a little shelter full of huddled, cheering spectators. And repeat. And repeat.

As usual, I was able to make better headway through the field as it spread out, but the out-and-back section was even trickier second time around, as I was trying to pass people, while being wary of runners coming the other way (some of whom were trying to pass each other) and also paying attention to those lead runners who were by now lapping me. So just the potential for three abreast each way. On a path wide enough for… well, three.

Having started as the fourth of five buggies (Lolly being the fifth), I somehow made it through the finish as the first buggy, though it involved something of a quick final half a lap! I was slightly surprised halfway through the second lap to hear a cheer of “Go on Ben.” After checking a couple of times that I wasn’t wearing anything with my name on it, I paid more attention and realised that it was Joanne, who I know from Twitter, and I’d met before at her home event of Kingsway.

The finish funnel was pretty narrow – I’m not sure that a double buggy would have fit down it at all, and I had to slow quite dramatically and basically walk over the finish line – but this might have been forced on them by the wet conditions making the grass so muddy. Despite the weather, the support from the marshals and other supporters around the course was superb. After finishing, we hung around just ahead of the finish funnel to wait for Lolly – though I did get told off by a passer-by for asking my daughter if she “could see Mummy yet” – less of the “yet” apparently!

This photo really doesn’t convey quite how soaked through we were…

Due to the weather, no one was hanging around for a chat, and we proved no exception: after getting a photo by the pond, we got back to the car as quickly as we could.

I always find parkrun on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day to be a little bit special. The atmosphere is different to a normal parkrun – there seems to be an even greater sense of community than usual. (And there is usually quite a lot anyway.) I think it probably comes from the fact that we all feel a little loony for being out running when most other people (even more than usual) are doing anything but.

Now… where’s next?

Ballot luck

Way back in late 2015, I entered my first (and for a long time my only) ballot for a race. The race in question was the 2016 Grizzly, a reasonably well-known 20 (ish) mile trail race in the south west. I don’t know what the odds were in that ballot, but I got a place while plenty of my fellow club members did not. I had 100% success in ballots! As things turned out, I got injured and transferred my place to club-mate Iain.

BALLOT LUCK: 1/1 (100%)

I’ve never been that interested in running the Great North Run (a pretty boring looking half marathon which is bloody miles away) and the London Marathon didn’t really appeal to me either – as I typically run in races with very small fields (often less than 150 people) the scale put me off. That’s not even considering the fact that it’s a marathon, a distance that I’d long been putting off.

I didn’t enter any of the three ballots in 2016; the impending arrival of child #2 in spring 2017 put something of a stop to major racing plans.

Then, earlier this year, I made something of a mistake. After watching the London Marathon on TV, and getting caught up in the excitement, I subsequently entered the ballot. I’d always said that I wouldn’t enter until I could get a ‘Good for age’ (GFA) time. Which is 3:05 for a 18-40 male. Indeed, for some time my (very) long-term plan has been to get a Boston qualifying time (also 3:05 for a 18-40 male). But for some reason, I ignored this, and opted to enter the London Marathon ballot anyway. “I’ll put myself in the hands of the ballot gods.” I said. I didn’t actually really want to do the London Marathon, but the odds seemed so small…

Ballot entry mostly forgotten, I then entered my “first marathon”, the 2018 Snowdonia Trail Marathon, the day before my birthday in July. I told people all about it; that it would be my first marathon. All about my plan to do a tough trail marathon before a road one, as it would take away the time pressure – completing it would genuinely be enough of an achievement.

And then, one Monday at work, I got an excited phone call from Lolly, asking if she could open some of my post. I was a bit confused. Then it became clear. Oh so horribly clear.

Oh Jason…

As I said at the time on social media: Oh. Bollocks.

I still don’t know if I really want to run the London Marathon at the moment, but I don’t think I really have a choice. I put myself in the hands of the ballot gods, and they gave me a clear answer. Also, half of the members of my club seem to have entered the ballot, and as far as I can tell, I’m the only one who got in. (Though quite a few have GFA places.)

BALLOT LUCK: 2/2 (100%)

Push the clock forwards by a week, and my third ballot result came back – for the Grizzly 2018; a race that takes place one month before the London Marathon. And the result? Success, again.

BALLOT LUCK: 3/3 (100%)

So, my ballot luck is pretty good. Of course, as well as a 100% success rate in ballots, I currently hold a 0% success rate in subsequently running the race I got a ballot place for. Given the current state of my ankle means that I’m still not running, I haven’t ruled out the possibility of this trend continuing. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got over six months until London, and not dramatically less than that for the Grizzly; but coming back from a bad ankle sprain means it’s likely to be a long and slow road back to full running fitness.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I do enter the National Lottery; every week. And my luck is appalling.

Training Diary – w/c 11th September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday – Rest Day

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

Photo Credit: Kevin Dunn

Sunday – Rest Day

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

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

Buggy beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

Any excuse to stop and rest…

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

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

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

Confessions of a Run/Walker

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

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

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

The trick is to time running with going past photographers

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

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

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

Run/Walking makes for some pretty cool Pace Analysis charts

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

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

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

Training: Weeks 5 & 6

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

What a clanger.

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

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

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

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

Just a casual 26:49 10k…

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

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

My VeloViewer square.

Week 5: Target 37 mi, actual 36 mi

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

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

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

A decent lactate threshold workout.

Week 6: Target 39 mi, actual 37.2 mi

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

parkrun at home: Longrun Meadow

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

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

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

The barn really is easy to spot!

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

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

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

Starting out with friends

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

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

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

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

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

Strong enough to finish on one leg

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

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

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

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

Photo credits to Kevin Dunn, via Facebook.

Acquiring focus, a training update

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

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

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

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

Week 1: Target 30 mi, actual 29.1 mi

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

Holiday running: pretty, but an organisational nightmare!

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

Week 2: Target 32 mi, actual 32.4 mi

All the food! (A dinosaur birthday cake!)

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

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

Week 3: Target 34 mi, actual 34.3 mi

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

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

Week 4: Target 30 mi, actual 30.2 mi

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

A race report catch-up: part three

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

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

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

Quantock Beast – 2 July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeovilton 5k – 12 July

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

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

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

Haselbury Trail 10k – 2 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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