Run Report: Little Stoke parkrun

On parkrunday we visited another new parkrun to us, the under-threat from closure by the parish council, Little Stoke parkrun.

The council who are short sighted enough to think that the cost of a few loo rolls (Ok I’m sure its more complicated than that) outweighs the benefits of 300 of its local residents staying fit and active!

Ahem.

Anyway, we arrived with Nikkii and Steve and got the obligatory selfie.

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This was designed to be a tune-up race for me – yes I know parkrun is not a race, but what I intended was for it to be run at a race effort, all out, to see what shape I am in.

I’ve not run an all out 5k effort since August in Yeovilton, post honeymoon and well out of shape – mainly because of that very reason. I knew I wasn’t in PB form, what was the point?

So here we were in the exact same point in my training plan that I set my PB at Newbury last year. Could I finally go sub 20?

I treated it as a race, wore my club vest, did a proper warm up… the works. I had a time in mind and I set my watch for it. No rain, no wind. I felt ready.

The run briefing was excellent, and they warmly welcomed all tourists, but unusually we had to walk nearly half a lap to the start which actually meant we started a bit late. No big deal but as I wanted to start near the front I got there early and had to wait for everyone to catch up!

Without much fanfare, we were off. The course itself is a 3 and a half lapper, all tarmac but on some quite narrow paths. It is also pretty flat, though half the lap you are gradually moving (very slightly) uphill, so the second half is ever-so-slightly down. Its not too noticeable until the last lap when you realize you are blowing out of your ass at the farthest point of the course!

littlestoke map

The marshals around the course were excellent and very supportive, and of course there was always Nikkii making her voice very well heard! I’m sure whoever was running near me also got a boost from her yelling at me for going too slow!

The first lap and a half flew by and I was on pace for my target. Then I started catching some back markers. Despite the best efforts of the marshals and the briefing to keep them to the right, unfortunately they didn’t so it meant a lot of weaving for the rest of the run. It cost a few seconds but hey its parkrun, a run not a race!

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Mile 2 was bang on pace (Mile 1 was ahead) and mile 3 started getting tough, probably because I went too quick in mile 1. As I reached the “peak” of the gradual slope and started going a little downhill my legs turned to jelly and I had to really concentrate to hold it together. I was on target still. I dug my heels in. With a quarter of a lap to go I saw I was within 5 seconds of a time with an even nicer ring to it… I gave it one last effort and crossed the line, ready to collapse in P16.

My watch said 19:20. My target was 19:30 and my old PB was 20:22. A PB by over a minute! (The time was confirmed in the official results later).

littlestoke race analysis

I immediately lay on the floor to recover. Absolutely exhausted but utterly thrilled. Not only had I beaten my PB, I had SMASHED it. A guy from behind me thanked me for pacing him – happy to help but it was unintentional! The only person I was racing was myself, and I bloody won!

With a single lap/out and back course with no traffic, I wonder how close I can get to 19 minutes? I hope its not another year away.

The team at Little Stoke did an excellent job. Unfortunately we couldn’t stick around for coffee but if the council come down and see the joy in peoples eyes when they see friends, and achieve their personal goals, and they can see how important this is to the local and national community you would hope they could see no other option but to forget about their objection.

Thank you Little Stoke, long may you continue!

Greater Manchester Marathon 2016: Week 11 of 18

Fresh off the back of a stunning PB last week, I was eager to consolidate this in week 11. I was high on confidence and my legs felt pretty good. The only slight problem was I needed to do some shuffling around of sessions in order to accommodate the fact we went away for the weekend.

Midweek

Tuesday was 7 recovery miles with some strides. Legs felt good but thats probbaly due to the comparatively low mileage from the week before. Still, got some good speed in, certainly made the lungs work!

Wednesday was meant to be the peak threshold run of this mesocycle – 11 with 7 at lactate threshold. I made the executive decision that this would be a bad idea, given that I raced on Sunday, which was essentially run at threshold pace. So i shelved it and ran the 11 miles at easy/general aerobic pace, and ran a load of hills to make up for it. Was tougher than I anticipated!

Thursday was supposed to be a rest day, but I had to run Friday’s planned 12 mile medium-long run as we went to London on Friday. Definitely see why I needed a rest day, it was tough. Ran basically the same route as the day before, but in reverse so had plenty of hills. Avoided making it a progression and just kept it at a steady effort.

5000 Logged Miles!

Thusdays run saw me log 5000 lifetime miles on Strava! I have actually run a few more than that – I haven;t logged any of my Couch to 5k runs (I went through it twice) as it was before the days I recorded anything at all, however I have retrospectively added/logged all my activities since I started training for the Yeovil Half Marathon 2013, which is when I consider that I “started” running.

Yes I’m sad that I retrospectively added them all.

But anyway, it’s a nice milestone to hit!

parkrunday

This week we went to Bushy parkrun, home of parkrun globally! I wrote a separate post about it here.

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I ran 5 miles at recovery pace. Well, it was meant to be at recovery pace, but I progressed through the gears in the middle of the parkrun. We tagged on a mile either side of the run to and from the hotel which made it up to 5. Legs felt better compared to how they were after Thursday!

Sunday

It was back to the long mileage on Sunday, with 20 hilly miles around Yeovil.

Getting this run right was quite important to me. Last year of all the 20+ milers I ran, most were “split shifts” as in, I ran part, had a break, and then ran a chunk more. or, I ran a slower pace for part of the run with the group then motored on by myself.

The previous 20 milers from this campaign I ran with the group for the first half, which was great to get me up to mileage. This is the first of a block of 3 where I am trying to keep a fairly consistent steady pace.

The book says the long runs should be between 10 % and 20% slower than Marathon Pace, ideally progressed through the zone. I think I’ll do the progression side of things on my last long run. This block I want to just focus on staying within this pace range. Which I am pleased to say I managed.

20steady

More pleasing, is that despite the hills and pace my heart rate remained pretty much in control, only reaching the “tempo” zone for 35 minutes, which no doubt would have been times when I was going up hill!

20hr

So I’m very happy. Next week sees 22 miles which I’ll be trying with the same idea/principle in mind – keeping a steady effort/pace which I hope will also see the run exceed the amount of time I plan to spend on my feet during the race.

Summary

Well, that’s the end of the “Lactate Threshold” mesocycle. Bit of a damp squib on that front as I had no tempo run! But the results of the race last week show the training has worked.

The next mesocycle “Race Preparation” is all about the speedwork. Time to translate this aerobic performance into some fast times through Interval sessions and tune-up races. The first tune up for me being Little Stoke parkrun on Saturday where I hope to finally break that elusive sub-20 5k barrier.

There’s just 4 weeks hard training to go before it’s time to taper. There has been an absence of me weighing in recently so I need to get that back under control for a final push – I always tend to lose more weight on weeks were my mileage is high.

Still, everything is well on track, I’m still injury free and feeling reasonably strong.

Run Report: Bushy parkrun

We’d wanted to visit Bushy parkrun for a long time. It’s the home of parkrun and the biggest parkrun in the UK by number of runners, and many consider a trip to bushy as being a “pilgrimage” – none more so than me!

Not only did I want to visit where it all began, the former Event Director in me wanted to know, logistically, how they managed all those runners.

Anyway, we were in London as we had tickets to watch them film “Red Dwarf” at Pinewood Studios, and had a wedding present to cash in – Afternoon tea at the Royal Albert Hall, so we decided to make this our weekend to visit.

Our Hotel was in Kingston, about a quarter-miles jog from Bushy, one of the Royal Parks. It’s a big park though, and it was nearly a mile further to get to the start line!

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The start was near the Princess Diana fountain, and when we got there to use the on site facilities, I was quite surprised at just how few people were already there. We arrived at about 8.45, which I thought was a little late, but the number of people around was quite sparse!

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Now, there is nothing unusual about this, from all the parkruns we have visited, it always seems to be very quiet until 2 minutes before the start when suddenly everyone seems to appear. I just wasn’t expecting it to be the same at Bushy, purely due to the numbers!

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The start was brilliantly organised, with flat cones delineating the start and people adhered to them – great idea! It was good and wide as it needs to accommodate so many people, not unlike the brilliant organisation at Yeovil Montacute!

People listened attentively to the run briefing which was over loudspeakers, and newcomers and tourists got a brilliant applause, but there weren’t as many tourists as I expected put their hands up. Then again, there are an awful lot of parkruns in London!

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Before long, we were off, a thousand runners thundering toward the path like wild cattle, naturally funneling and thinning as the path narrowed down. The course itself is less than a year old compared to previous iterations, and is mostly on compact trail with some short sections on grass, but it is very, very flat. I imagine it is a very fast course, if you can find the space to run because it is very congested in the mid pack which is where I was running for the day – it was a recovery jog day for me.

The marshals around the course were excellent, but whilst it was a great experience the course didn’t really inspire me – perhaps we need to return in summer when it’s in full bloom.

I eventually progressed my pace a bit (recovery be damned!) and found myself overtaking a lot of people. There is plenty of room you just need to take a wider line.

As we barreled toward the finish line I felt sorry for the timers who must be frantically pressing the lap button. As I ran through the pack I noticed large clumps of runners running together, it must be very difficult to keep track of your presses!

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The finish funnel was a spectacle itself – over 112m long and split in two.

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The idea is that when one funnel is full, runners are sent to the other funnel, and these are separated further by holding a “funnel card”. This way, when a person holding a funnel card reaches the token volunteers, they know they need to switch which funnel they issue the tokens too. it works very VERY well, I was really impressed.

My 25 and a half-minute time earned me 389th position, and what was even more impressive was that I got the result text before 11am. Huge kudos to the team for getting 1000 results processed so promptly!

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Jodie was a couple of minutes behind me and I managed to snap her in the mega funnel.

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Again, amazingly there was hardly any queue for scanning – I really couldn’t believe just how well-managed this was. But then again, I guess they have 11 years experience!

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Did I love Bushy? Yes, absolutely. Would I hurry back? No, to be honest, I wouldn’t.

One of my favourite parts of parkrun is spending time with friends and club mates, going for a post run coffee and shooting the breeze. Any parkrun without your friends isn’t the same, and as such I wouldn’t go back without it being a club/friends event. It is special that it’s the home of parkrun, but it is just another parkrun – and there are plenty of others still to visit yet!

Thank you Bushy, and all your amazing volunteers!

Greater Manchester Marathon 2016: Week 10 of 18

Well, what an interesting week! The last 7 days has epitomized how running performance often works in “peaks and troughs” starting in pain and finishing in pride.

Midweek

The week started out with what was meant to be an 8m easy run. The pace felt MUCH tougher than it did last week, though this was off the back off a particularly difficult Sunday run as I wrote last week. At the time I shrugged it off and figured I’d be OK tomorrow.

That was until that next day… where I needed to do 8 miles with a set of (6 x 800m Intervals). To start with things were OK, but the 5th interval rep was absolute hell. I even had to have a brief pause midway through such was the agony. I managed to ‘Man Up’ for the last rep but the 4 mile recovery jog afterwards was just awful to the point I could have cried. It was just hideous, my legs were in pieces. Still the set of intervals were in the right ballpark pace range.

6x800

Thursday was a 5 mile recovery which was again, hard work, but I felt a lot better for doing it, and my legs felt fresher come the end.

Thankfully, Friday was a rest day, and I treated myself to a much needed sports massage for my legs. I wanted to stay local, and found Bow House Physiotherapy in Langport, not far from our office. The masseuse was Denise Rees and for the bargain price of £30 I had an hour and twenty minutes deep tissue massage, relatively pain free. I came away feeling so refreshed and relaxed – my legs fel warm for the rest of the day and it was an absolutely pleasure – I highly recommend them!

parkrunday

On saturday as always we went to parkrun, and our tour continued, this week at Maidenhead parkrun.

It was a lovely 2 lap course on gravelly trail and tarmac round a nature reserve. The start and finish were on a pretty muddy field but other than that, road shoes would have been absolutely fine. There was loads of parking (we parked close to the road but there is also a car park MUCH closer to the start), toilets in the Toby Carvery and also at the Athletics stadium.

Newcomers and tourists alike were made to feel most welcome, and the first timers briefing was all about inclusivity – superbly delivered with clarity.

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This really was an excellent parkrun and we will definitely be back! It was made even more interesting by the presence of Karen Weir – one of the original 13 “parkrun pioneers”! Always nice to have a brush with some parkrun royalty!

As for my run, I knew I was racing on Sunday, but wanted to check to see if I had any pace at all given my problems earlier in the week. So I ran it as a progression, right up to my target pace. Felt very comfortable! So either I had recovered fully, or the massage really did work wonders!

Sunday – Bramley 20/10

On Sunday we went to the Bramley 20/10 – a full report on the race can be found here that I wrote for the club.

Going into the race I really wasn’t sure how I would do. I know that sounds like sandbagging, but its totally honest. With how my legs felt on Tuesday and Wednesday I wasn’t hopeful. But I knew that if I wanted to be “on track” for Manchester I needed to run 1:07:59, which is about 6:47 a mile. This was ambitious, as my tempo runs had been just about slower than this, and only for 6 miles. Either way, I set my virtual pacer and went for it. And as you can see…

 

bramleysplits

… I smashed it! The first few mioes flew by pretty comfortably, and after a while i realised I was running at a similar pace to number 278 – he looked and sounded a bit like a short John Bishop!

Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)

I kept plugging along, naturally easing off for the slopes which were on the course, but somehow making the time back up as it rolled downhill.

Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)

With about 3 miles to go I knew that I’d make my goal, and if I could put in a quick last mile not only could I break 1:08, I could also break 1:07 – so I went for it and absolutely nailed it! Official chip time 1:06:44, a PB by 1m46 seconds!

Looking at the race analysis below I can see the consistency really paid off with the first 3 quarters (2.5 mile splits) all within a couple of seconds of each other, then a kick finish down the hill.

bramleyanalysis

To say I’m pleased is an understatement. Its a big sign that the training is working and I now have masses of confidence. Could a sub 3:10 be on the cards at Manchester?
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Time will tell. I’ll assess that after the Cardiff Half. If I can break 1:29 at Cardiff then I’ll seriously think about doing Manchester in 3:09:xx.

Summary

Well frankly I’m bloody delighted. Despite a tough early part of the week I’m on a total high! Now to come back down to earth, focus on the next few weeks training and set my sights on the next tune up race – a 5k parkrun. Surely sub-20 has to be on the cards now?

Extra Bramley Photos

All Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)

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Race Report: Bramley 20/10

Sunday was the date of the Bramley 20/10 – a Road race around the village of Bramley in Hampshire (Just outside of Basingstoke) which is a relatively flat 10 mile loop. 20 milers do the same loop twice.

It’s quite a well-regarded race on the calendar as one of the few 20 mile races around for good marathon preparation, and attracts a field of great runners (And these three reprobates).

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Dave and Simon were in the 20 miler, and I was doing the 10 as that fit better with my training plan. Jodie also took part, and was entered in the 10 mile but wanted to see if she could do the 20 with her sister Lauren, who was using the race as her first 20 miler in training for her first marathon in Manchester. Jodie didn’t want to sign up for the 20 as she wasn’t sure how her pregnancy would affect her ability to run 20 miles.

Getting to the race was easy enough, and the car parks were signposted from the main roads. The only problem we found was that we ended up in the “overspill” car park which was a good 15-20 minute walk to the start – but no big deal.

By the time we got there the HQ was bustling with loads of runners assembling and changing. The organisation here was excellent with plenty of toilets (Though the queues as always before the start of a race, were massive) and great baggage and changing facilities. It was absolutely freezing though, definitely a day for gloves! We of course got the obligatory club pic!

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Start arrangements were pretty good – whilst there were no “pens” there were very clear signs indicating where you were meant to stand based upon your predicted finishing time. Being a good local race with many experienced runners, this seemed (to me) to be pretty well-respected. The only slight problem was we were all too bunched at the front and had to be moved backwards so not to affect the timing mats!

We  were away pretty promptly, and aside from a bottleneck about 50 meters in – thanks to an inconsiderate driver who parked on the course – we were away cleanly.

The course itself is of a reasonably flat profile, with a few climbs (The main one being at 6 miles) but nothing too strenuous, and the rolling nature of the course meant it was pretty fast. There was a small loop then a larger loop – a bit like a lopsided bow tie. The roads were open, but there was very little traffic. Though saying that, I did see one close call between a van and a BMW who ended up nose to nose, 6 inches apart!

bramleysplits

In my race I was neck and neck with number 278, and we chatted regularly throughout keeping each other motivated. He looked and sounded a bit like John Bishop, only shorter!

Thanks to Barry Cornelius of Oxon Races, we got some good action shots.

Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)

Being the only one doing the 10 miler I saw everyone pass the halfway stage after I collected my bag. I JUST missed Dave but saw him through the fence. Everyone looked really strong at halfway.

Somewhat astonishingly, just before I saw Jodie and Lauren, the winner of the 20 miler came through in 1h40 or something ridiculous like that. Absolutely motoring!

At the finish the goody bag had some decent stuff in it – A “Seed shot”, a mars bar, some Dolmio pasta and cheese, and a decent medal. The other nice touch was they had a “trolley token” key ring – perfect when you need a pound coin for your shopping trolley!

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It was a great race all in all. I was delighted to have PBed, Dave wasn’t too happy after a consistent first lap but a difficult second. Simon maintained a good average but was a bit up and down on his mile splits, and Jodie/Lauren did brilliantly – much faster than we expected them to come through in.

And the scores on the doors:

Bramley 10m
P47 – Matthew Warr – 1:06:44 (PB)
P515 – Jodie Warr – 1:42:16

Bramley 20m
P190 – David Purchase – 2:27:30
P206 – Simon Carney – 2:30:33
P706 – Lauren McCarthy – 3:33:07

All in all a fabulous race, highly recommended!

Epson Runsense SF-810: GPS Accuracy

I was selected as an “Epson Runner” to review the Epson Runsense SF-810. In exchange for 5 video reviews I’ll be allowed to keep the watch, but that’s not going to stop me being honest about the device and my experiences.

http://www.100runnertesters.co.uk

Some key points from my findings on the GPS accuracy

  • The GPS does seem very accurate, especially compared to the Garmin Forerunner 220
  • The usage of GPS for pace and speed on the device is excellent
  • The AGPS feature to push GPS satellite information results in a fast GPS lock, but its VERY slow without it
  • If the bluetooth communication with the device was “Always on” this would be an improvement

Review: Garmin Forerunner 235

I recently purchased the Garmin Forerunner 235. When I make an expensive purchase like this (It was expensive to me anyway!), I try to be careful and do my research –  so I know I get what I want AND need.

After having my Forerunner 220 for over 3 years, I figured I was due an upgrade. Running watches are expensive, but if you think that I’ve used mine 5 times a week for 3 years, that’s 750 outings. For a watch priced at £250, that equates to about £0.33 per run. That’s significantly cheaper than a coach and represents good value in my eyes.

Which Watch?

I did a bit of looking around and had a think about what I really wanted in my new watch. Optical heart rate was on the list (one less device to worry about and reduced aggravation on my chest from the strap). Activity tracking was another feature I was keen on, as was a device with some better GPS accuracy.

These features were all “nice to haves” along with what I consider my absolute essentials.

1. Must have heart rate monitoring
2. Footpod/cadence capability
3. Programmable workouts
4. Strava integration
5. Customisable data screens so I can have timer, lap pace and distance on the same screen

When it boiled down to it, there were a lot of devices that fit the bill, many offering a feature set far in excess of what I actually needed and would have found useful on a practical level.

For example, it may be nice to know what my Vertical Oscillation is, along with my ground contact time – but I can’t say that’s really going to help me run faster, not at my standard.

Equally there are a number of devices on the market now which will let you play music through them – but I don’t listen to music, so wouldn’t want a watch with that feature on it.

What I think I am saying is, “Only pay for what you need or are likely to find helpful”. When I compared all the facts against my requirements, the Garmin Forerunner 235 hit all the right notes.

Garmin Forerunner 235

The device itself comes in 3 different colour options, but the one I went for was black and grey as it looked most like a “day-to-day” watch. I personally wear my Garmin all the time anyway, but as this devices doubles up as an activity tracker, people who wouldn’t usually wear a Garmin all day would probably want something that blends in with their non-running wear!

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Top

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Side Speaking of day-to-day use, the watch face itself is pretty clear. It comes with a highly programmable alarm, and you can set multiple different alarms for different days of the week – which crucially you can set to repeat. This is a brilliant feature as far as I’m concerned, as on my 220 I used to have to turn it back on every day and adjust the time at the weekends.

The charge cable for the Garmin Forerunner 235 is different to the 220, and features a side clip instead of the “right around the back” method. This makes the cable much smaller, but less easy to identify in a laptop bag filled with cables like mine is!

Size wise it is on a par with the 220 and weighs slightly less – I barely feel like I am wearing it most of the time.

Some reviews I have read have complained about the backlight being too dim – I’ve run plenty of times in the dark and it is more than bright enough to read the screen.

Unfortunately, I also read that the alert sounds on the device are a bit quiet – and I have to say I agree. Even when I am running on my own with no traffic around, I struggle to hear the alerts over the sound of my own breathing. There doesn’t seem to be a volume control either – thankfully the vibrate is just about strong enough so I don’t miss my laps.

I’ve also heard some negative feedback on the user interface when using the watch. In my humble opinion, this is the simplest user interface I’ve found on a running watch. It’s very easy to navigate around, make selections, and you can clearly see whats turned on and off using easy to understand logos and symbols… to me it just seems very well designed.

Features

With all the above in mind, lets dig into some of the highlighted features the Garmin Forerunner 235 offers.

Optical Heart Rate

One of the big selling points for me (and probably others) is the Optical Heart Rate sensor that’s built into the watch. I don’t want to worry about using an HR strap as well as a watch so this should be the right solution.

I’d heard mixed reviews on the implementation of the sensor into the Garmin Forerunner 235, with negative comments around the reliability of “locking onto” the heart beat, through to it missing the mark completely and over or understating stating the heart rate readings.

Personally, I’ve had a mixed bag of results but ultimate agree with other people’s comments and views.

Shown below is the data captured from a basic recovery run – the first I did with the watch. Despite running at a very relaxed comfortable conversational pace, it massively overstated my heart rate throughout the workout. Using my personal knowledge of my effort during the run, I know the data should have mostly been in Zone 2, with a bit in Zone 3.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - HR Woes

The next diagram is taken from a long run (20 miles) the day after the previous diagram, and the data here is much more in line with what I would expect to have seen, given the type of run and the effort I put in.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - HR Woes 2

The next chart comes from an easy run. With this data set it’s difficult for me to work out of the chart is right, as it did feel tough – but given the previous two runs I naturally had limited confidence in the watch.  So during the “cool down” phase of this run (Which I had on a programmable workout for the last 10 minutes), I took deliberately the watch off completely, and the watch continued to record a heart rate of 160+! This is obviously not a good result.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - HR Woes 3

The last diagram is from an Interval workout I performed yesterday. If you look at the data you can see the HR for the first part of the workout (and the first 3 interval reps) reps was woefully shoddy, before picking up again and seemingly being right for the rest of the run.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - HR Woes 4

 

I tweeted Garmin about it who gave me some advice on improving the accuracy (Which is what resulted in a good set of data for my long run), but despite carefully wearing the watch following that guidance I’m still experiencing issues.

Rumour on the Garmin forums is that an update is due to help with this, so i’ll wait and see if this helps (if and when it arrives).

So basically, at the moment it’s not good. It’s just not reliable enough for the data it produces to have any meaning.

A plus point is that I can override the Optical Heart Rate Sensor by pairing the watch with my old strap, but that defeats the object of having the Garmin Forerunner 235 over the 230 (And paying more for it).

EDIT: Following some further research, It seems I may not be wearing the watch tight enough. I’ll retry it and report back with my results next week.

GPS + GLONASS

There’s a great feature in this watch which they call “GPS and GLONASS”. GLONASS is the Russian set of satellites that they use for GPS, which means by using GPS AND GLONASS you get double the amount of satellites to your Garmin Forerunner 235 uses to track your activity.

In addition to this, the 235 now offers “1 second recording” for your activities. This means it will record your GPS location every second. The other option – “Smart” recording – which the 220 used instead, detecting when you were running in a straight line and then record fewer data points as it was “smart” enough to know when you were not weaving around too much. This saved battery but if you made a sharp turn it would often not quite “get it” and result in your run recording as a shorter distance than you actually completed.

Additionally, the watch downloads GPS satellite coordinates whenever its synced with Garmin Connect/Mobile. This results in a super-fast satellite lock-on. I was indoors when I first tried it out, and it acquired a GPS fix in seconds!

Essentially, by using GPS, GLONASS and 1 second recording, your Garmin Forerunner 235 should be faster than ever locking on to satellites, and also show an increase in GPS accuracy.

The downside to this is that it results in increased battery consumption. That’s a downside I’m willing to take – it’s not an inconvenience to charge the battery twice a week (See below), especially as using the combination of GPS, GLONASS and 1 second recording produced such accurate results.

From an accuracy point of view, it really is excellent. Of course, its difficult to contextualize this because often implementation of route overlays on a map don’t correlate, but when I’ve made sharp turns or crossed roads, the Garmin Forerunner 235 records them much better than the 220 did.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Good GPS Accuracy

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Good GPS Accuracy 2

Now, this is all fine when it comes to reviewing the activity in Garmin Connect afterwards, but unfortunately there seems to be a bit of lag when its displaying things on the device. For example, I found that my Lap pace on the watch was a bit “laggy” and struggled to keep up. Early in the lap it would show a much slower pace and then gradually re-adjust until it was correct at the end of the lap. I had a similar issue when I first got my 220 though and this was fixed over time with subsequent software updates.

Customized Data Screens

The main improvement with the Garmin Forerunner 235 over the 220 is around data screens. Not only can you now display 4 metrics instead of 3, there is a wealth of new fields you can display.

This includes temperature fields (Current, and Min/Max in the last 24 hours), lap counter and your navigational heading, as well as some other (To me) non-essential features. But more importantly, your key metrics like distance, speed, cadence and heart rate are all now displayable as “Current”, “Lap Average”, “Average” and “Last Lap” – much better than the 220.

Additionally you can have graphs and charts for your Heart Rate zones as a data screen, and add custom data fields and screens using Connect IQ – but more on that later.

I am very happy with this level of configuration.

Activity Tracking

The device also acts as an activity tracker. It records your heart rate all day, counts your steps, and records your sleep.

Having watched the step counter tick up as I walk, its pretty accurate. I can also vouch for the all day HR being pretty accurate, having done some spot checks while manually checking my pulse.

It does some clever things on the display which shows how its gone up and down in the last 4 hours, and then also calculates what your resting heart rate is. It seems to be pretty accurate there too.

One of the things I also like on the Garmin Forerunner 235 is the sleep tracking. What it seems to do is track your movement along with your heart rate in order to determine your level of sleep. I have no idea if this is right, nor how accurate it is, but when looking at my sleep charts it at least detects the right time I am going to sleep and waking up. I am relying on good faith as to how much of my sleep is “deep” and how much is “light” though!

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Sleep Tracking

The implementation on the watch for activity tracking is good too. All I need to do to see it is scroll through the watch faces and it shows me all I need to. I can turn these on and off using Connect IQ.

Programmable Workouts

One of my key use cases for my watch is using Garmin’s programmable workouts. it keeps me focused in the right pace zones at the right times and keeps me honest. I use a custom workout 95% of the time I am running.

It’s easy to push them to the watch (Either manually or by syncing my whole calendar) and selecting them to use on the Garmin Forerunner 235 is very easy.

Unfortunately, the device has had some issues in implementing them. Specifically, at the end of a “workout step” it sometimes seems to insert a random lap.

This is a workout I programmed and selected on the watch. A simple 8 mile run at a certain pace zone.

Workout

When I actually did the workout, it inserted these random laps for no apparent reason. I originally thought that it was a watch glitch, but it is displaying them in the recorded data too.

Garmin Forerunner 235 - Workout Split Issues

These can’t have been added manually (via lap button press) as when you are mid workout, pressing lap would skip you to the next step. The total number of legitimate laps still equates to 8, so I have no idea where these came from!

The main problem for me though is that I want the watch to beep at me when I’m running too quickly or too slowly. At the moment this doesn’t work either.

It’s a minor gripe, but an annoyance that needs to be fixed. According to the Garmin forum these are confirmed bugs though, so I hope to see them resolved in the next update.

Connect IQ

Connect IQ is a bit like an App store for your watch. You can use it to install custom watch faces, custom data fields, and even rudimentary “apps” to your watch.

The “watch faces” customisation is quite a nice feature – If you don’t want to use the default display, you can install an “analogue style” watch face instead for example. There are dozens to choose from in the Connect IQ “Store”.

Similarly, I really like the customisable data fields. One feature I wanted was a “Virtual pacer”, which is available on the higher end watches. It’s not available natively on the Garmin Forerunner 235, but someone has developed it in Connect IQ, so if I wanted to use it for a race, I can now add it to my watch screen.

“Apps” can also be installed to the watch for a variety of reasons, like showing the weather, installing basic games etc – but I have to say I haven’t found one that’s really useful yet.

All the Connect IQ installations happen within Garmin Connect (And Mobile) and then you turn them on and off on the watch ad-hoc.

Bluetooth

The Bluetooth connectivity is excellent. When I had the Forerunner 220, it was hit and miss at best – I regularly had to repair the device to get my runs uploaded. With the Garmin Forerunner 235 its MUCH more robust and reliable and I have had no problems with it at all.

Another “smart” addition to the bluetooth connectivity is using “Smart Notifications”. Your phone will pass you the push notifications it receives and display them to you on the watch display (You configure what you receive from which phone apps using Garmin Connect Mobile). You can’t reply to them, but it is enough for you to be able to work out if something needs immediate action or not. Of course, this will only work if you are carrying your phone with you on the run!

Battery Life

I had read bad things about the battery life on the Garmin Forerunner 235, but I have to say it’s not anything I have  had a problem with.

With the following set up, over 4 days constant use, I used 80% of the battery.

  • GPS and GLONASS
  • Backlight lasting 15 seconds with Wrist Turn
  • Smart Notifications on (Receiving about 50-60 per day)
  • Bluetooth always on
  • 24 hour heart rate on
  • Activity tracking on
  • Running 35 miles (4 hours)

That really doesn’t seem too unreasonable to me. It isn’t a hardship to charge it up every few days. We have to charge our phones, tablets, laptops and other devices after all.

It clearly has enough battery to last at least 40 miles which is plenty for me. I reckon if I turned Bluetooth off I’d get a lot more than that too.

Pros

  • Great day-to-day watch features
  • Highly configurable alarm
  • Activity tracking and 24 hour heart rate works well
  • Sleep tracking seems pretty accurate
  • Bluetooth connectivity is seamless and excellent
  • Good (in my opinion) battery life

Cons

  • Alerts are very quiet
  • Optical HR is highly inconsistent
  • Programmable workouts produce random laps.

Summary

Weirdly despite some critical issues at the moment, I still love the Garmin Forerunner 235. It clearly needs to do something with the optical HR which I know is coming, and I will log a support ticket with Garmin about the Workout programming and Alert volume, as when they have cracked those it really will be a top end device.

This review has been entirely based upon my user experience. if you want something more in-depth I can highly recommend DC Rainmaker’s review which really is excellently detailed and doubles up as a practical user guide.

Greater Manchester Marathon 2016: Week 9 of 18

Week 9 of my training for Manchester, and numerically its the halfway point – though with a 3 week taper period, that means theres only 6 more weeks of serious running before winding down!

The week has consisted of some “bread and butter” recovery runs, but with the key session being the marathon pacer on Sunday,  this weeks training has been geared around trying to be vaguely fresh for that.

Midweek

On Tuesday, Jodie and I went for a 6 miler. Jodie is starting to struggle with the hills, but unsurprising as shes running on behalf of two people! I felt pretty fresh by the end of it, which I was quite impressed with given Sunday’s 22 miler.

Wednesday was my least favourite run of the whole training plan… 14 miles medium long, in the middle of the week after work. Not especially motivating to get out knowing I’d not be home til gone 8, though thankfully the weather was cold but crisp and clear. I set out at the slow end of the pace zone and executed a royal flush negative split through the pace zone right up to marathon pace!

flush

This included all the usual hills I cover, and included a good effort up Bunford – thought I PBed the segment but missed out by a couple of seconds! Still, not bad considering it was the end of a 14 miler!

On Thursday, I was meant to do 6 miles recovery, with 6 and strides planned for Saturday. But I didn’t want the strides to have a negative impact on Sunday, so I switched them up. The run was pretty tough, which I should have expected after Wednesday, but I focused on my technique and balance for the strides, and sure enough they had a good level of speed. I finished quite tired but knew I had a rest day on Friday, so no concern there.

Friday was weigh day, and I had felt that this week I’d been less strict and probably overeaten, so wasn’t expecting good results… Just the 3lbs off! Absolutely delighted, ahead of schedule and now at my interim target of the weight I was for the wedding! According to the scales it was mostly fat too, so the training is working to keep the muscles lean whilst the calorie deficit is burning fat. Happy days!

weightchart5thfeb

Looking at my nifty projection chart, if I keep up the 3lbs a week I’ll be at goal by the end of Feb. I think maintaining 3 per week is ambitious. The target 2lb a week is more sensible and would put me at goal for 4th March.

weightgraph5thfebSo I’m ahead of where I want to be. What I tend to do now is think to myself “I’m well ahead, I can afford to relax a bit” and that’s when I plateau, and get frustrated that I stop losing, and why I never reached that 8th stone last year.

I’m going to stay focused all the way to Manchester to lose as much as I can. If I can achieve a 2lb a week average, that’ll put me at 13st 4lbs for the race! Using a more sensible 1.5lbs then I’d be 13st 8, which I’d still be over the moon with!

But lets get to sub 14st first before I get too carried away…

I treated myself this week too. After a few years with my Garmin Forerunner 220 it was high time for an upgrade. I had a bit of loss in confidence after it froze a few times and nearly ran out of battery the other day. Given how often I use it, I checked with the wife and thought it was worth splashing out on something new. I went for the Forerunner 235. A full review will be posted later this week but its a nifty device so far!

Garmin-Forerunner-235-GPS-Run-Watch-with-Integrated-HRM-GPS-Running-Computers-Black-Grey-AW15-6

parkrunday

On Saturday we chose to continue our tourism streak with a brand new parkrun for us, Salisbury. I did 6 miles at recovery pace. We met Simon in the car park before headed off for a warm up, during which the weather was overcast, but nothing like the conditions we feared. We did a couple of short laps and then went to find Jodie for our pre-run selfie.

20160206_085658

By the time the start came around though, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Wet and windy is the only way to describe it. This was made more pleasant though by what have to be some of the best volunteers I have come across in my parkrun tourism. So encouraging, and so many of them it was fantastic to see. Not only from a marshalling perspective but there were pacers of all levels including beginners groups, all clearly identified on their hi-vis.

2016-02-07_08-15-49

It was so inclusive, and though I am not a fan of multi lap courses (Salisbury is pretty much 4 laps) the amazing volunteers and support made it an absolute pleasure, despite the weather.

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The parking was close by, the toilets were onsite and the course was very well marked out. Salisbury parkrun is an absolute credit to parkrun as a movement. First class! I look forward to returning in the summer.

2016-02-07_08-17-13

Sunday

Sunday was a key session and it was important for my confidence and belief that the training and weight loss was working, to run it well. I had to run it in Basingstoke, which meant the first half of the marathon pace section was uphill, though it meant the second half was downhill/level.

The problem was, it didn’t go according to plan… at all.

I woke up and felt OK, had some breakfast and headed out a bit earlier than usual, and for some reason I just knew it was going to go wrong.

After the first mile ticked over I realized I’d configured my workout incorrectly, so I had to abandon it and start a manual activity. Problem 1. I then started progressing until about 5 miles. This was quite literally problem number 2 and had to find a bush and use my sweat band in a way it wasn’t designed for. Needless to say I left it in the woods. By the time I got to marathon pace I was running on slippy trail and couldn’t maintain any pace at all. Then it was uphill. This was problem number 3. I then realized my legs REALLY didn’t have the pace in them. They felt like lead weights on ANY type on incline and things just were not clicking.

sundaygraph

So I made a call. Rather than flogging myself to death trying to hit MP, inevitably failing and then beating myself up about it, I elected to run a straightforward 20 miler as a time on my feet type run. I managed to maintain a decent speed, even though I had to stop for a breather once and also had to stop for the bathroom again but other than that I was pretty pleased.

sunday laps

I was due a bad run and after 3 weeks of running 55 miles per week it was hardly a surprise my legs are fatigued!

Luckily, this week is a recovery week – I’m going to run my easy runs very easy. I have an interval session on Wednesday to get some speed in my legs and a tune up race on Sunday – hopefully my legs have recovered enough to give it a damn good go.

 

Do you remember your first run?

I started reminiscing about my first run on my way to work the other day.

Obviously the first time I ran was as a small child… But after a decade with no exercise from my teens to my twenties, my first run as an adult was naturally tough.

Not my first run
Not my first run, but the first time I’d let myself get photographed doing it. Now I’m a vain photo whore.

The decision to start running wasn’t one that I made overnight. After dieting for years and my weight plateauing, I knew I’d need to do some exercise if I wanted to shift any more.

I’d tried the gym a couple of times with no success, and my fried Jules mentioned to me that a few years ago she did this “couch to 5k” thing. Intrigued, I asked about it, and she said she downloaded these podcasts by Robert Ullrey. My addiction to running is almost entirely his fault.

Its basically your standard couch to 5k program, but in mp3 form. This was before the days of apps, and a step up from the “stopwatch” route. It was cheesy american dance music with him telling you when to start and stop running.

I ran in a pair of Umbro football shorts with boxers underneath, a cotton tee shirt, cotton sports socks, and my budget MP3 player and cheap earphones in my pocket.

Not a piece of technical kit or GPS in sight.

I had to run in the dark as I was so self conscious about the way I looked and we ran up and down the Ninesprings cycle path – which to this day remains one of my “bread and butter” routes. Traffic free and flat.

That first run saw 60 seconds of “running”, 90 seconds of walking, and repeated 8 times. After every minute of running I was immeasurably grateful of the walk break, and by the end of the session I felt exhausted – but looking forward to the next one.

Looking back on it I began thinking to myself – I barely covered a mile in 20 minutes for that first run, and now I can run 3 in the same amount of time.

And that makes me so proud.

Not that I’m now 3 times faster than when I started – that’s just a consequence. I’m proud that I started at all.

And when I’m in that last 10k at the Manchester Marathon this year, when the chips are down and I’m blowing hard, wondering how the hell I’m going to finish, when I’m on the edge of collapse as I chase that elusive PB that will feel like the end of the world if I miss it – I’ll remember how I felt towards the end of that first minute of running, on that first run of the couch to 5k program.

The satisfaction of finishing will be just the same – because that’s what running is all about. Not the distance, not the time… just running because you can.

Do you remember your first run?