Tag Archives: My Races

Race Report: Silverstone Half Marathon 2017

Silverstone  Half Marathon has been a race on our list for a couple of years now. It’s ideally placed as a warm up for many spring marathons, though it tends to clash with other major half’s. This year, given that we lived an hour closer than we used to, we thought it was the best time to do it.

Organised by the London Marathon company, It really is excellently priced compared to other events of a similar scale. Signing up was hassle free and our race packs arrived in the post with plenty of time, along with a very detailed “Final Instructions” magazine. it was all very similar to the London Marathon process, and I wonder if they use this as THEIR warm up prior to the big event from an administration point of view!

Pre Race

Unusually the start time of the race is 12.00 noon. one of the advantages of running on a race track is that along with a traffic free course there is no time pressure to reopen roads so they can start it at a sensible time! I wasn’t sure how I would feel running at Noon. Usually I’m a morning racer and this meant I had to change-up my usual pre-race routine, particularly on the breakfast front!

We woke up at the same time we always do (thanks to having a 7 month old baby!) which was quite nice, not too early a start, and drove Ivy to her grandparents where she would stay for the day, before we made our 90 minute drive to Silverstone. The conditions when we set off were horrendous, it was a difficult drive. It started to clear but it remained drizzly right up until the start of the race.

I’ve never been to Silverstone, but as a former F1 fan the thought of running on the race track was really quite exciting! We were forewarned about parking and that it was a bit of a walk to the race village in the far end of the circuit from the car park. There was a special car park for sub 1.35 runners, though I’m not really sure if there was any benefit to parking there. Though the traffic was congested it kept moving and the parking marshals were excellent.

The walk to the village itself was definitely less than a mile, but the problem was the foot traffic had to go across a couple of bridges with some tight bottle necks. This slowed everything right down, so a 10 minute walk ended up being about 20. But we were there in plenty of time and there was actually quite a lot of hanging around.

There were more toilets than I’ve ever seen with the shortest queues I’ve seen as such a big event, really well maintained too and they were proper toilets, in portakabins! It was positively luxurious! The bag drop was instant and easy with so many volunteers on hand there really was no hanging around. This was organisation at its finest.

The other thing I noticed was the number of “official photographers”. They were absolutely everywhere, I’ve never seen so many. Not that I ever buy them as they are horrendously overpriced, but for those that like that sort of thing or wanted a decent memento from their first half, then you’d be guaranteed at least one good snap.

We headed to the start pens in plenty of time and they were enormous – lots of room for a proper warm up, particularly down near the front where there was even extra toilets! I took care of business one last time whilst there, just because I could!

The drizzle started easing off just in time for the start and before long we were off – the official starters were apparently the band “Scouting for Girls”, not that I knew that at the time, who then jumped into the pack and ran the race themselves.

The Race

The start of the race was on the F1 circuit.  The wet surface made it very squeaky, but it was a great wide track and meant for little congestion. The first few miles were all on smooth race track, and I found myself trying to hit the apexes like I was an F1 driver taking the shortest possible route. Though i have to say, even running the tangents, by the end of the race I’d run 0.25 miles farther than advertised distance. I didn’t weave  around THAT much and being near to the front there wasn’t a huge amount of traffic to get around.

Seeing the sights that the drivers pass at considerably faster than we were running was quite a thrill. It was a lot of fun running through and around the F1 pit lane though, past the F1 podium and rounding famous turns like Maggotts and Stowe. Looking at the map from Strava below, you’ll see just how confusing it is. If it wasn’t marked out, you’d never be able to go and do it as a “freedom run”!

Sadly the race also spent a lot of time on support roads and other minor race tracks where people weren’t easily able to get to support. So crowds were sparse in places and it got quite lonely sometimes, but where there were crowds it was quite dense and had some good cheers.

The number of marshals were plentiful and I have to say they were outstanding in terms of encouragement and support. First rate!

The course itself is reasonably flat, the climbs though are long and gradual and it’s not till you crest them, blowing out of your arse that you realise you’ve run uphill. Additionally there were two bridges to cross that were quite steep – and you definitely knew about them, they really take the wind from your sails.

The last couple of miles seemed mainly uphill, and seeing the finish gantry in the distance was torture! The support on the final stretch was great.

Post Race

Crossing the finish line was a relief. The funnel was well-managed , with the ramps and volunteers cutting off the timing chips, and I was able to quickly move through to get a pretty decent goody bag – lots of food, drinks and a nice medal. The only thing that could have topped it would have been a technical tee instead of a cotton one. I don’t understand why the event is sponsored by adidas and there is no tech tee, whereas events like the London 10,000 are not sponsored by adidas but you DO get a tech tee!

After I finished I stood waiting for Jodie watching the masses come in, the event really does have a great vibe and a wide range of abilities.

After Jodie crossed the line we started heading back and got a selfie on the way through.

Getting out was a bit more of a problem than it was to get in. The walk back was much slower as there were more people and the same pinch points. Traffic on the way out was busy, but in line with the scale of the event.

All in all a good event which I am glad we have done. It was fantastic value for money and would recommend it – though don’t think we’ll be hurrying back, as I preferred other events in the same time of year like Reading, and I also want to do Bath next year which is usually on the same day.

My Race Analysis

I was using the race as a tune up for London, like many others. I was a bit unsure how I would perform for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s the first half I’ve run with a decent block of training for over a year. Secondly, because when I ran Cardiff last spring I blew up after about 10 miles. I still PBed, but I felt I was in shape to run a bit quicker. Thirdly, when I tried my last threshold run which was 7 miles with 11 at lactate threshold, it all fell apart.

The numbers however, looked good. If I was targeting a half rather than using it as part of a marathon build up, I would have tapered a bit more than I did. As it was, I just reduced volume and intensity for the last couple of runs before the race, and my Fitness Trend looked like I had a mini-peak (I was at + 11 “Freshness”), so I felt I could give it a good go.

To be on target for my sub 3.05 in London, using McMillan I knew I’d need to run under 1.28. That was quite a scary prospect as it was a good minute quicker than I’d gone last year, it was totally uncharted territory. That’s about 6.40 a mile, so that’s what I had in my head when I set off.

Almost immediately, my watch was short of the first mile marker, and I was 8 seconds over my target. I felt pretty comfortable though, so stepped it up a gear for the next couple and was probably a little too fast. Up until 7-8 miles I felt pretty good, but there was a long drag uphill there. I managed to claw some back up until 10, and my watch said that if I kept going I might sneak under 1.27! However I knew pretty quickly that was optimistic, and instead I focused on trying to hang on for dear life for that sub 1.28. With 2 to go I was really struggling, and the last mile really was a case of sheer bloody mindedness.

I crossed the line delighted, but as I had been manually lapping I didn’t stop my watch, I just pressed lap again! I did stop it and I knew I had comfortably beaten my target. Later that evening my time was officially recorded as 1.27.24 – a PB by over 2 minutes! I finished in P160 of 6690, beaten by only 6 ladies and 117th in my age group. Not bad for a (former) fay lad!

Looking at the Strava analysis, I can see it wasn’t the best executed of races, with the second half definitely being slower, but the course profile naturally causes this with most of the climbing in the second half.

From an effort point of view, I really couldn’t have given a lot more. Strava recorded it as “Epic” and rightly so. Looking at the line graph you can see a progressive increase, peaking just toward the finish. I really was spent.

Walking away with such a PB I can be nothing but delighted, and I am perfectly on target for London. Now, I just need to stay in one piece!

Strava Activityhttps://www.strava.com/activities/897381889

Race Report: Bramley 20/10 2017

Last year, Jodie, myself and a couple of other club mates ran the Bramley 20/10 – a pair of races in Bramley (near Basingstoke) organised by Reading Roadrunners. This year, we wanted to do it again. Jodie and I live quite locally so its easy for us to get to, but also we really enjoyed it last year. It was really well organised and had great marshals with some decent support for a local race.

It’s a 10 mile loop, run twice for the 20 mile race, and is great timing for those doing spring marathons or halves. It’s also a pretty flat course, with only a couple of climbs at mile 6 (and 16) and 8 (and 18). Last year, I ran a massive 10 mile PB.

This year, the club brought a slightly bigger contingent of mainly spring marathoners (Jan, Dave, Mary) looking to use it as good training, but with a couple of them looking for a speedy 10 (Simon and Mark). Mary was late so couldn’t make the pic below.

Jodie and I were doing the 20 and I was happy that regardless of my time I’d at least be setting a PB as it was my first race at this distance. That said, my intention for the race was to run it at my target marathon pace. That’s < 7.04 per mile (For a sub 3.05). I was far from convinced I would get it, but I knew if I could get to the 16 mile point (first climb on the second lap) I may be able to ease off the hills and speed up a bit for the downhill last mile or so. That was the plan at least. I joked on Strava beforehand that I may be crumpled in a heap by 16 miles, but it wasn’t that much of a joke. Given how my previous marathon pace sessions had left me, and that was only running 10 miles (of 16) at MP. It was a real concern.

Pre-race

There are two parking areas, one was half a mile from the start, the other was a mile. Both quite chunky walks. Last year we parked in the farther, but this year we were wise and drove straight past it and got in the nearer one. It was £2 in either car park, and the organisers did a lot to prevent local aggravation by putting up signs anywhere that was LIKELY to be parked, a hi-vis “No Race Parking” sign.

The race village was very busy, with the queue for the toilets being as long as any other queue I’ve seen at a race (loooooong) but its part and parcel of most races now. You can have enough toilets for one per entrant and there would STILL be a queue!

The start zone was pretty much unrestricted, though there were signs suggesting to people where to start based upon their estimated finish time. One of the benefits of this race is that it’s mostly experienced club runners and people with multiple races under their belts – so most have a good idea of their estimated finish times.

Race

We exchanged some race strategies in the start pens before Jodie headed backwards, and the 10 milers headed forwards. Before long there was a shuffle forward, and without too much fanfare, we were off. I managed to find my pace pretty quickly (it was a little fast) and I could see Simon and Mark ahead running together.

The route is a bit of a lopsided bowtie. There is a pinch point in the middle at about 2 miles in (out) and 9 miles in (back) where runners pass each other very briefly. It was a gentle climb up til the pinch point, where we were lucky enough to have Mac and Lauren cheering us on. When you reach the pinch point, you head out on a big loop around Strathfield Saye.

There are water stations at 3,5, and 8.5 miles on the route, excellently attended by I think local army cadets – they did a brilliant job. Unfortunately the water was in cups which I’m not a fan of but the “pinch and funnel” technique worked ok. They did have an isotonic option but I wasn’t sure what it was so didn’t try it.

I caught Mary in her Bristol and West top after around 4 miles who explained she as late, but I wanted to keep my pace so didn’t have much time for a chat.

It levels off a bit after that up until 6 mile where there is a bit of a lengthy climb up to the main road. I remember it levelling off after that, but I think I looked back with rose-tinted glasses, as from 5.5 – 8 it just seemed to be a very gentle uphill all the way along!

From there, there’s a little dip with a sharp uphill followed by a gentle downhill all the way back to the start finish. Passing the pinch point our supporters were out in force, and it was a good little spectating area, many people had the same idea to support there. Just as I passed it, the lead car went by – so it was about 3 miles ahead of – they were shifting!

Passing by the start/finish I saw Mark and Simon – I managed to hear they ran 65 minutes for the 10 mile! Great running! After the race I heard they ran together for the whole race and had a relentless sprint finish for the end – with Simon just coming out on top by a fraction of a second (Though the chip times report the same time – 65.41). They took down my club record by just over a minute!

 

 

I headed into the second lap feeling OK. It suddenly became very lonely though! From running in a reasonable group of people, as I crossed the start/finish line I was running alone with no-one for 20 yards in front or behind. This made it a bit tougher.

I was pleased I’d sustained the pace and my next goal was the get to 12 miles, as 12 @ MP was the intended session for the day. Then I targeted getting to the HM point. Then 14. Then 15 as it was 75% distance, and then 16, my last gel point. I also knew that the first bigger hill would be done by then. And the hills did seem MUCH harder the second time round!

It was around 16 miles my right calf started cramping up periodically too. It was JUST about manageable and only became a real problem after the 19 mile mark. I knew I was tight for time so tried to shake it off. I maintained my pace and overtook quite a few people in the last couple of miles and came home briskly, on target, in 2.20.44. I was absolutely delighted!

Shortly after that came Jan in with 2.28.26…

Followed by Mary in 2.32.04…

Dave in 2.33.59…

And Jodie in 3.14.37.

 

As with every good race was a goody bag. This year in a decent reusable canvas tote bag. It had a medal (Which was the same as last year, disappointingly) some snacks, some drinks and you could also get a banana and a milkshake (I had 2!).

All in all, a good haul from a good race at a reasonable price. Thank you, Reading Roadrunners!

My Race Analysis

To say I was pleased with how my race went would be an understatement. I really wasn’t sure I’d get anywhere near my target, especially as I was still suffering from the back-end of a cough/cold. I managed to keep my splits pretty consistent and if it weren’t for the hills on the second lap, I may have even managed a negative split! Unfortunately they just took too much out of me.

Finishing, I felt like I could have done another mile or two at that pace and whilst I wouldn’t say I felt comfortable, I do think another 10k at that pace is achievable.

This puts me in a terrific position for London. Bang on target pace (If a little too close for comfort!) But with 9 weeks left to go and the fact that the course is flatter and incredibly well supported, I have loads of confidence.

 

 

Vitality London 10,000 2016: Race Report

I’d booked this race many months ago, as I had such a great time in the 2014 staging of the event. It’s a popular 10k held in London, with the race assembly area on the Mall right in front of Buckingham Palace and the finish on “Spur road” – the last corner of the London Marathon – taking in many popular landmarks along the route.

Waking up on Monday morning, I quite frankly couldn’t have been in a fouler mood. I’d had a few bad runs in the week leading up to the race, my legs weren’t playing ball and I thought I’d actually run slower than my PB – a time I had since beaten as part of both Bramley 10m and the Cardiff World Half Marathon!

We arrived late, the weather was overcast and I needed the loo. And the queue was predictably enormous. It all felt like a bit of a waste of time and money. Not only for the entry, but the fuel, the parking and the train.

With all that in mind though, there we were, Jodie and I, plus Imogen, Lauren’s friend who was running her first 10k. Jodie was planning to run with Imogen all the way,  which given that she’s 7 and a half months pregnant was probably a wise choice!

We went our separate ways before I went to the toilet stop as I was in a different wave and needed to check my bag. The toilet queue made me stress even more but actually moved quite quickly, and I made it into the start pen with about 10 minutes to spare.

Before long, and without too much fanfare, we were off.

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My strategy was to target about 6.45 pace which would have been sub-42, a 45 second PB. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I figured at the worst I’d still fall inside the PB even if I slowed up.

The course itself differed this year from when I ran it in 2014. There was more running through buildings and no running on the Embankment, which was a bit of a shame as that was one of my favorite parts of the course as it took in basically the last 2 miles of the London Marathon.

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2014 Course
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2016 Course

The course is advertised as predominantly flat, though I found the profile actually quite odd. I had no feeling like I was really running uphill at all at any point of the race, but there were certainly some fast downhill sections. Looking at the course profile it looks like there was a lot of climbing in the first mile – thankfully I didn’t notice it! According to Strava, there was 161ft elevation gain in total.

london10kprofile

During that race we ran through Trafalgar square, the theatre district, past St Paul’s Cathedral… not that I saw any of them. I DO remember passing Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and Birdcage Walk though.

Aside from my personal preference of the “sights en-route” being better on the old course, the biggest problem with the ne course was the narrowness of the course after Trafalgar Square. Running down the Strand was VERY congested right up until we got to Aldwych were it seemed to open up, but until then it was almost impossible to find a comfortable stride and space to run unimpeded.

The support through the race was excellent and I can’t think of anywhere en route that was sparsely cheered.

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My first mile was a little slower than I would have liked, but I didn’t realise it was net uphill. I managed to bring the pace down a bit for mile 2 but it went up again for 3. Strangely however, I crossed the 5k mats in 20.55. This was encouraging for 2 reasons. Firstly, this was the time I ran Yeovilton 5k in a couple of weeks ago – where I died on my arse – and was still feeling pretty comfortable. Secondly, My watch didn’t register that it was 5k yet and was coming up short, which meant my pace was actually OK.

With this in mind, I pushed on for the second half and ran a very creditable second half in about 20.35(ish). With the last 1.2 miles at a decent pace I really didn’t expect to have at all, yet alone in the final stages. This resulted in a tidy negative split too, which I was very pleased about!

10kanalysis

So in spite of my foul mood trying its hardest, I actually came away with a PB. Now don’t get me wrong I still don’t feel in great shape. I still think back when I was in Marathon peak form pre-Manchester I think i could have managed a sub-40. If I hadn’t had such a shocking post-Manchester recovery, and I’d been able to kick on I think I could have managed it too. But c’est la vie. It’s still great for the confidence that it’s somewhere in the right direction, better than Yeovilton last month.

The finishing funnel was excellently managed, people kept getting moved on and the tag was removed on a funky bridge – saving the volunteers backs – which was a great idea.

Then to top this off, the goody bag was absolutely first class. An Adidas “Response” technical tee, cracking medal, loads of food and drink too. Probably the best goody bag I’ve ever had.

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Considering the price of this race was only £28, I felt that this was EXCELLENT value for a city center race with such a good atmosphere and goody bag.

The only down side was the queue for the baggage. By no means as bad as the Manchester Marathon fiasco, but still quite a wait.

After I finished my race I went to find Lauren who was supporting and cheered in Jodie and Imogen at the 150m to go point. They looked really strong, Imogen ran really well and I think she actually enjoyed it too.

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All in all, a fabulous race and we will certainly be back – a highly recommended race.

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Greater Manchester Marathon 2016: Week 14 of 18

Really getting down to the business end now, and following last weeks marathon paced beasting I seem to be riding along on a crest of a wave…

Midweek

The first run of the week was another interval session. 8 miles with a set of 5 x 600m. Last week, my legs just couldn’t carry me through any sort of speed at all. Given Sunday’s performance I wasn’t massively confident going into this one. I didn’t feel up for it and felt pretty tired. But, the lengthy warm-up seemed to work, and blasted through the intervals like I’ve never been able to before…

intervals

Average of 5:19m/m per interval. Now I only did 5 not the full 8 for a 5k session, and I’m not sure if I could have continued with any more, but lets so I could, that would equate to a 5k average of 16:31! Still a long way off that level though, ha ha!

Wednesday was a strange one. We had my grandfathers funeral in the morning, and the wake at about lunchtime and I ate a lot of food and had several pints. I did get a one hour nap in before my 11 mile medium-long run, but I felt the effects of it. It had some pauses, I felt really ill (probably drunk) and I really shouldn’t have gone out. But still, it was miles in the legs.

Thursday was a recovery 4 miles with a set of strides. Strides were decent but my legs were a bit knackered!

parkrunday – Poole parkrun

Jodie was off on a hen weekend and I was due another tune up race. I was originally going to do Blandford, but Simon was off to Poole so I thought I’d join him.

I’d not run Poole parkrun other than the day after New Years Day, when the conditions were awful. This time though, conditions were perfect. It’s already regarded as one of the fastest parkrun courses around, so fresh off the back of my PB, I thought I’d have a crack at an even faster time today and optimistically set my watch to pace me to 18:59. I figured with 20s leeway I may at least get another PB even if I didn’t dip under.

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We got there early, parked up at the far end of the lake and jogged in as a warm up. It was pretty cold first thing, though it did warm towards the end of the run. Conditions were absolutely perfect, not a hint of wind, dry, cool… After a run brief which was barely audible we headed to the start. It was back on the “main course” compared to last time. We were quite near the front and aside from a dog runner right near the front (why oh why…) we got away pretty cleanly. I immediately found a stride and rhythm I felt comfortable with, though looking at the watch it was a tad fast.

The first mile ticked over in 6.01 – my new fastest mile PB if nothing else! I knew I was working hard but was still hopeful I could sustain. As we rounded the lake the the first time we were at halfway. One of the great things about a fast 5k is that they don’t take long, so you can hold on! Mile 2 came and went in 6.09 which meant I was jsut and just on pace. It started getting tough and the back end of the lake was a bit of a blur the second time round. I had to take the racing line when we reached the road and by now I was clinging on.

As we tantalisingly reached the pavilion we still had a 400m loop of the cricket pitch to round… I looked at my watch and I was 1 second behind target pace. I kicked on a bit but felt like I kicked to soon – with 300 to go I felt like I wanted to be sick, but I clung on and somehow found another gear. As my watch ticked over for mile 3 in 6:08 it was on – close, but on! I was worried that I’d end up with 19:00 flat, or that my watch was mis reporting something, or the official time would be a bit behind so I gave it absolutely everything I had for the last 100 meters and crossed the line, stopping my watch without looking at it…

I heard someone say “well run” to me as I heaved in the funnel, I was ushered forwards and then I looked at the watch… 18:54! I’d done it! A 26 second PB, and the official result confirmed the time. I was absolutely chuffed as nuts and can’t believe that after a year of trying to break 20, I bunny hopped in the 19s and into the 18s!

5kpb

Simon also run a brilliant 18:28 which he was delighted with, only 18s off his PB at Blandford last year. We are on fire! It made for a very happy drive home!

Sunday

On Sunday a few club mates were running the local Sherborne 10k. I had to do 16 miles so I decided to run the race at an easy pace and then run home which was about the right distance.

Though it was a small, local race it was a lot of fun thanks to my club mates and the fact that we paced 3 members to PBS! I wrote the club race report about it here.

The remaining 10 miles were a bit of a slog, we got a bit lost and my new short shorts started chafing but the pace was decent and brought the average down.

The biggest challenge with this run was the weather – it was so bright and sunny! I was too hot by the end – that’ll teach me to wear long sleeves instead of a vest!

Summary

Well with that week out of the way it’s the last tough week ahead before tapering. A set of long intervals, a midweek long run, and my longest long run as time on feet (3.15 hours) resulting in my peak mileage week.

Just one more week… Just one more week..

Reflections on my Manchester Training

Back in December I outlined my plan of attack for Manchester. After a good deal of research I went for the Pfitzinger and Douglas 18 week, up to 55 mile training plan from the book “Advanced Marathoning”.

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How did I find the structure?

I was very pleased with the structure of the plan. The 4 mesocycles leading up to the race were really well designed and I found they made logical sense and flowed into each other nicely.

On a week by week basis, the balance was excellent. Mixing basic principles to do with hard days and easy days, and the balance of mileage was really excellent. Reading the book to understand this I feel was essential. It explained the principles behind the training, the reasons why there are a certain amount of days between sessions of different types, why threshold running is important. it really helped me to trust the plan, and would highly recommend to anyone following a schedule, to read the book alongside it.

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Reading the book also helped me to understand how to restructure the plan in case of unforeseen circumstances, such as my travel arrangements, and not to worry if I had to move things around a bit. Which leads me on to my next section…

Did I stick to the plan?

I tried, by and large, to follow the plan as close to the prescribed schedule as possible, but there were some areas I couldn’t make fit.

I had to get a bit creative with Tune Up Races. Around the UK, Sunday is race day, but with P&D they want them on Saturdays, and usually prescribed 8-10km. The closest I could come to reconciling this in my training, was running parkrun on a saturday morning at a “Race Effort”. Obviously these are a bit shorter than prescribed, but I also ran the Reading Half Marathon, which in my head was a bit longer so made up for the other tune up races being short. Essentially, I ran the prescribed number of race pace mileage, just in a slightly different distribution. It’s hard to tell if this had any effect on my final 26.2 result, but I suspect not.

Credit to Aime and Neil Biss
Credit to Aime and Neil Biss

In general, my Saturday runs were probably the sessions I deviated most. This was in order to keep parkrunning (The plan is for Jodie and I to run our 50th together the week before our wedding) so i tried to fit parkruns in with them, either as part of the session or a total replacement. I DID still try and do them at the prescribed intensity though. Most of these were at General Aerobic pace with some strides though, so little “quality” and don’t think they affected the result too much either.

The other area I strayed from a bit, specifically in the early days were the long runs. I already had a high mileage tolerance, so I expedited the ramp up in mileage. This affected me quite a lot, I found the early phases of training very physically demanding, and I probably wouldn’t do the same thing again. This may have left me fresher for the remaining 3 phases of the plan which means I could have performed my sessions better and netted a better finishing time.

Speaking of long runs, there were quite a few of them that were in 2 parts, as I tried to use races as training runs at training paces. Specifically, half marathons. This often meant a break between the two sessions. My final 20 miler for example saw a 7 mile warm up, an hour and a half break, and then the Yeovil Half Marathon. I think this affected the quality of the long run, and again, could have had an impact on my final result. I still like using Half Marathons as part of training runs, as it means aid staions are provided, but in future I would do the half, jog through the funnel, direct to the car to deposit any goody bag/treats and just keep going, leaving as little “rest” as possible.

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What did I like about the plan?

I liked the structure. Following a regimented plan which i understood the theory behind gave me trust and confidence to follow it in the same way I would follow advice from a coach.
I like the marathon paced long runs, they really helped build confidence that I could run at my target race pace, and I feel my legs really benefited from these too.
I liked the progressive phases concentrating on specific areas, like ramping up mileage, then threshold, then speed followed by the taper. It meant you concentrated on one straining stimulus type at a time so I wasn’t too worried about overtraining injuries.
I liked that through all the training, I remained uninjured. It means the plan is well balanced, provided you stick within their guided pace zones.
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I liked being introduced to strides these were great bursts of speed which, though I wasn’t training for 5k made me feel like I wasn’t losing any short distance speed. I think ti also helped my technique as I felt my legs were stretching longer and hopefully will aid my efficiency long term.

What didn’t I like?

The structure was brilliant, but it meant missing out on a lot of social runs with the club and the training group I run with. This meant some of my runs were pretty lonely. Its hard finding someone doing the same plan, for the same race, at the same pace to run with. Next time, I’d treat the General Aerobic runs a bit more liberally. I’d try and switch some of those to run with other people swap it out for a club run now and then.
I wasn’t a big fan of the Lactate Threshold runs.I just don’t think I liked the structure of them very well. I would have preferred doing them as cruise intervals or something similar, rather than at one stage running 7 miles at threshold. It knackered me out for days and I think I could have gotten the same benefit from 3 x 15 minutes at LT pace with jog recoveries, provided I did the same volume at LT, then I’m sure I’d receive the same benefit.

Was it successful?

I’d have to say yes.
OK, so I missed my race day target of sub-3:20 by 33 seconds. But over the course of 26.2 miles that is only just over a second per mile. Its pretty darned close. And I shouldn;t forget, at the start of the training plan, my target was sub-3:25, which I actually did achieve.
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So it delivered me a 39 minute Marathon PB.
But I also ran Reading Half in 1:30:08 – a 6 minute PB, and I set a 5k PB too (though that sub-20 still eludes me!)
I didn’t get anywhere near my weight loss target for the race, but I now have another year and a half to bring that down. Not to mention, that should make me even faster!

Would I follow the same plan again?

100% yes. I’ll almost certainly use exactly the same schedule. I really enjoyed and would definitely recommend it – as long as you read the book with it and don’t just follow it blindly!
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Race Report: Glastonbury Road Run (10k)

The Glastonbury Road Run is a series of races from a fun run through 3k, 5k and 10k in the town of Glastonbury, home of the Abbey, the festival and the Tor. The 10k flavour we were running is essentially a large undulating loop around the mystical Glastonbury Tor.

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I wasn’t exactly feeling fresh, the marathon still ringing through my legs but I thought I’d give it a decent crack nonetheless. There was a medal and a tee shirt, so what wasn’t to like!

We arrived in Glastonbury and parked up at Tor Leisure, a local leisure centre where we were recommended to put the car, as it was only a short walk to the HQ. It wasn’t exactly well signposted, and it advised of the road being closed ahead – which strictly speaking, it was… But it added an element of confusion. a “Race Parking” sign might have been useful next to the “Road Closed” sign.

One of the things we noticed headed to the start was all the “Millfield” students in different coloured tee shirts. There were hundreds of them! Millfield is the local private school and it turns out each Millfield boarder MUST take part in one of the races. I guess “house” pride and personal glory is at stake. We witnessed the start of the 3k – testosterone fuelled teenagers sprinting the first 50 yards – no doubt they blew up early on and ended up walking most of the race!

The finish was right outside of the race HQ. The problem was, getting to the HQ meant you had to cross the course, go all the way around the back of the finish funnel in order to get your number. Not ideal. When we eventually made it into the registration area, it was a bit chaotic, with advanced entry packet pickups being separated by Surname – but no signs to indicate who should queue up where. When you did see the signs (They were on the table, which meant you couldn’t see them from the back of the queue) they didn’t necessarily equate to the packets that were there!

Anyway, we eventually sorted all of that out (I had number 111, which looked like a barcode! Which I thought was pretty cool but no-one else agreed…) and headed for the start. According to the race information there was a special starting zone for club runners, right at the front! I was quietly impressed, I’d never been invited to start from the front before! (Yes I know its hardly a GFA or champs start ha ha). Only problem was it didn’t actually exist, so there was no starting areas based upon pace. But not such a big deal really, there were only 600 or so runners.

As we lined up to the start the sun started coming out, which we thought would be a blessing! That lasted about 1 mile before I was moaning about being too hot!

Unfortunately the race was delayed as one of the Millfield buses broke down on the way to the race, and we had to wait for them to arrive. I couldn’t (and still can’t) understand why when there are 600+ people waiting to start, we had to wait for 40 odd people to arrive. it was chip timed after all! But never mind.

Before long we were off. From the start we headed down through the high street through the finish before heading out of town. The support was BRILLIANT! The streets in town were lined 3 deep, cheering people on. It really was a great atmosphere. We then progressed on a large loop around the Tor – Not that I actually saw it!

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The loop took us out into the countryside along some undulating country lanes, and despite it not being a fully closed roads race, I think I only saw two cars. It was pretty undulating though, and had 80m elevation gain, which is quite a lot compared to other 10ks I’ve raced!

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This did mean my pacing was shocking though. I was targetting a sub-42 (rather optimistically), and though I went through halfway just about on target, my marathon fatigued legs soon started falling apart. I had my eye on Simon ahead of me and whilst I was gradually catching him (He was also not having a particularly good race) I had nothing in the tank to catch him. I was overtaken by Chris from the running group and club after about 8k and managed to keep in in sight to the end.

As I got to the 9k mark there was the Glastonbury equivilent of “Heartbreak Hill” and my word it was tough! There was some support here as we were back in town, and someone event shouted “Come on parkrun guy!” but my legs were screaming! I gradually made my way to the top where it levelled off for a bit.

What do you need when you’ve just rinsed your legs at 9.5k? Oh yes, a photo op! But always one for a posing opportunity, did managed to do the “double thumbs” (I need a new pose) and make it look like “It wasn’t that tough!”

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This was followed by a long downhill finish into town and more magnificent support. It was the best finish for a local race I’ve ever seen, rapturous cheering, and a cheeky “After the marathon this should be easy!” from @bentimmo. But believe me, my legs were in bits. If I had anything left the finish would have been fast and enjoyable but instead it was a miserable sufferfest!

0111bbLooking at my splits you can see the gradual decline – although it looks like the downhill helped me a bit!

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Coming through the funnel we earned a medal (Though it was the same as last years apparently, no date embossed anywhere so a bit “generic”) and walked over to get something to drink. I saw Simon, and we both agreed it wasn’t a great deal of fun! Though I think that was largely due to our own lack of conditioning at the moment.

We then headed back along the course to cheer Jodie in. She, despite running London last week and the course being tough, managed to PB – so I was very proud of her!

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Although I didn’t really enjoy the event, I have to say the race was very good. I think with a few small tweaks to make things a bit more streamlined it could be really excellent. More organisation in Registration with a couple of signs, better parking directions, and a better planned finish area to make it easier to get in and out of HQ would be a good start. I’m also not a fan of the medal and prefer something more customized year on year. Pre-registrations also received a free technical tee which was nice, though the colour scheme wasn’t to my taste, training tops are training tops!

The crowd support was amazing though sparse on the back end of the course, and the course was undoubtedly pretty. Its not PB friendly but does have some character. At the moment, I’m not keen on running it again, but they may yet change, as I think I have a score to settle with it!

 

 

 

 

Race Report: Greater Manchester Marathon

So race weekend had finally arrived. 18 weeks of training had been completed successfully and all that left was the 26.2 painful miles that lay ahead of me and the 9000 other competitors, all of whom had followed similar journeys.

Here is my Race Report – its a bit of a beast, so apologies for the mammoth essay but I didn’t want to do multiple posts!

The Night Before

I’d arrived in Manchester on Saturday, having flown in from Dubai at 7.30am (Not an ideal preparation I must admit) and checked myself into the Travelodge, a short walk from the start. I’d arranged an early check in, and after a short jog around the beautiful Salford Quays (the stunning sunny weather helped) went to the hotel lobby to hydrate and eat whilst I waited for Simon to join me. My hydration strategy pre race mainly consisted of drinking 15 free cups of tea in that lobby!

The hotel already had a bit of a marathon buzz about it, and one of the staff estimated 75% of the residents were here for the race.

Once Simon arrived we went to get some food. My night before meal was a pasta arrabiata and dough balls from Pizza Express, which was very nice. That and of course a bottle of Peroni! Can’t have a race without a beer the night before…

On the way back to the hotel we went via the race village. It was empty and locked up, but was good to take some of it in before all the hustle and bustle that lay ahead in the morning.WP_20150418_004 There was an ENORMOUS poster near the start that we’d end up running past in the race, and it was great to see the local area had gotten behind the event. We of course took the opportunity to strike a pose!

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Then we headed back to the hotel for some more carb loading…

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… and an early night. I was in bed by 8.30, my night flight from Dubai had left me good and tired. It was actually a blessing in disguise, as it meant I fell fast asleep and snoozed right through to morning. I was still able to do perhaps the 2 most important things in my pre-race ritual. Number one, the obligatory kit prep photo…

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And number 2… a number 2! This was quite a relief, what with the majority of my long runs being plagued by runners tum.

Race Morning

I managed to wake up naturally without the alarm, which to me indicated that  I had slept enough, and most importantly, I hadn’t OVERslept! I boiled the kettle and had my pre race breakfast. 2 x Oat So Simple porridge pots and a glass of Orange Juice. All good, reliable carbs I knew my stomach could handle. Last thing I wanted to do was try anything new.

We left for the start at about 7.45 am and joined the streams of runners heading toward Old Trafford.

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Speaking of Old Trafford, despite being an Arsenal fan and a Liverpool fan, we were both hugely impressed with the venue. Its a magnificent stadium and a great place to host a race.

The village was seemingly well organised, not that we did much here. All we did pre-race was make use of the baggage drops, which were seamlessly handled by a troop of army cadets. And with that, we were ready!

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After a quick number 1, we headed to the start pens. Not quite as strictly regimented as other races I’ve been to, largely due to there not being a great need for it. There were “only” 9000 or so runners. We had fast access to the pen, despite only getting there 10 minutes before the start! We shook hands, wished each other luck, then we waited patiently for the gun.

The Race

The race was started by British marathon legend, Ron Hill – not that I got to see him (until after the race) and the gun caught me a bit by surprise as everyone cautiously surged (If that’s even possible…) toward the start line. Very quickly – less than a minute later – I pressed the start button on my Garmin as I crossed the mat and registered my start of the race with the live tracking service…

… which didn’t actually work for me. It didn’t register any of my splits, or even give me a finishing result. Turns out there was a glitch in the system. As I was running with a replacement number, I don’t think it was hooked into the system probably. I knew I’d get a result in the end, but all my family and friends were frantically trying to track me, and were worried that I hadn’t even started! Less than ideal, but not much I could do about it!

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My strategy was to run consistent 7:30 miling, expecting to fade over the last few miles. 7:30s would have been about 3:17 and my target was 3:20, so I figured that was plenty of slack. not to mention, this was the marathon pace I was training with. I very quickly settled into my pace and cadence of around 176, and found it to be quite comfortable.

The first section was a short out and back away from Old Trafford. I was a bit shocked to see the 1 mile marker when my Garmin had only registered 0.7m! I know GPS isn’t accurate, but surely this was a bit extreme? As we turned and came back, it was obvious that the mile marker was around the wrong way as my watch beeped almost exactly as I passed it again.

I found myself a bit crowded, and I realised it was because I was quite near the 3:15 pacer. This was too fast for me, so I held back a bit to give a bit of a cushion and found some clearer space. We soon reached the start again and took a right, passed the huge poster we’d seen earlier and headed out for another out and back, this time taking us right past the Coronation Street studios! There was another misplaced mile marker here (Maybe mile 4?) that was the wrong way round, and as I was contemplating this, a guy not far in front of me ran into a cone and hit the deck, hard. He was knocked out cold. Some people attended to him and called for a marshal. I felt bad as I thought maybe I should have helped, but he received plenty of attention and in reality I probably wouldn’t have been of much benefit. I just remember thinking to myself “Steer clear of any cones you see”!

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After about 4-5 miles we came back around Old Trafford before heading the long road out to Altrincham along a main road. In total we passed Old Trafford 4 times, and each time the crowd support was magnificent! This section I just remember focussing on my pace, clocking through the miles and staying focussed. There was a few inclines as we crossed bridges, but it was largely flat as described. There were messages of support scrawled on the floor, and there was some amazing support on the way out, much of it for Ealing Eagles!

The next few miles were progressing nicely, with pockets of great support, and then we reached Altrincham which was AMAZING! A great woman shouted “Welcome to Altrincham, we have great entertainment for you!” and the crowds were great! We looped around the town center with tremendous applause and cheering before veering down a slope and through the halfway mark. I was bang on track at this point, and I still had the 3.15 pacer in my sights, which i couldn’t tell if it was a good or a bad thing. As we reached 14 miles I found myself accidentally right in the 3.15 pace group and saw Zoe from Maiden Newton Runners who i said hello too. Then I realised it was definitely a bad thing, and my pace was a bit too quick, so I eased off. We ran back along the way we came toward Sale before turning left toward Carrington.

manmarStill feeling reasonably strong, I maintained my target pace. it started getting a little quieter support wise here, especially as we progressed through miles 18-20. Having taken my gel on at mile 20, things started to get a bit tougher. Nothing to do with the gels, which worked well, but my legs just started tiring. Mile markers seemed to be a bit all over the place and I couldn’t really work out what was more inaccurate, my Garmin or the mile markers. probably a bit of both. As we turned right through Urmston it was getting tougher and tougher. I passed a guy with a sign”If your Garmin says 26.1, will you do another lap?” and I actually said to him “No!” because mine was measuring short!

The drag back towards Old Trafford was hard and at around mile 22 I had to have a walk break. The wheels had fallen off. From 22 – 26 my mile splits got worse and worse as more breaks were needed. This is graphically demonstrated by Strava below.

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I know with the pace I went out at, I had some slack to make my sub 3:20 goal, but I didn’t anticipate just how battered my legs would be. It wasn’t a total obliteration, but it was bad enough to need to walk for 10 meter sections at regular intervals. I was disappointed. My brain had gone to mush. Still the distances on my Garmin and the mile markers weren’t reconciling and I thought the opportunity to make target had gone. It turns out my Garmin was quite a long way short (0.2 miles) and I eventually saw the turn for the finish, and somehow I managed to pick up some speed. Conscious I’d still be able to finish in 3:20.xx, I turned the corner and I had a minute to cross the line. I mustered all I could. The look on my face tells the story.

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If I had realised I had less distance to run, I might have been able to kick on earlier and still make goal.

If I had adjusted my pace by 5s per mile, I may have had enough energy to finish strong.

If I hadn’t had a late flight in Dubai…

If I had lost a bit more weight…

If, then, but… None of it really mattered. As I crossed the line, I started crying. I couldn’t really work out why. I was grateful to be finished. I was disappointed to have blown a 3 minute cushion on my goal time, but I was delighted to be a 3:20 marathoner. Not to mention, it was a 40 minute PB, whats not to be pleased about?!

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And looking pragmatically back in the cold light of day, that was the most important thing of all.

I am a 3:20 marathoner. And I am VERY proud of it.

I immediately went to get my back so I could call Jodie. I had a text from her that she wanted me to call her urgently… I was worried.

Turns out that they were even more worried because of the chip issue. Jodie had been fielding messages from all over the place, people not able to see my progress. It was lovely to know that people were so interested, and I’m sorry they couldn’t track me. The organizers eventually sorted out my final result.

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I have learned some lessons for the next marathon(Yep, no “Never again” here this time) and will utilise the ones I have learned at Brighton next year. I certainly won’t fade like that again, and I won’t go out as aggressively either. I’ll also have another stone in weight off and a years worth of further training – so the only way is up.

Post Race

After getting off the phone with Jodie, and being very emotional, I saw Simon. he had had a blinding race, coming in 7 minutes ahead of schedule in 3:23! We congratulated each other and he built on Jodie’s work of trying to lift the little disappointment I had. We got the obligatory selfie with our medals, which were mighty impressive!

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The goody bag was pretty decent too! Chocolate oat milk shake (Which I thought was going to be minging but was actually very nice), Dairy Milk chocolate, sports drink, water, cereal bar, jointace, pain relief gel and an absolutely lovely finishers tee shirt. A good haul really!

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My legs were stiff as boards, and even now, 2 days later, my quads are suffering with a major case of DOMS. But we took in some of the surroundings, including this great photo opportunity board…

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… Watching the presentation of prizes, awarded by the legend that is Ron Hill…

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… and then pretending we’d made it to the podium.

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We then retired to the hotel for some beers.

It was nice to remain in the hotel afterwards too. Despite leaving to get some food, there were still many other finishers also staying for the extra night to recover, and it was a lovely experience chatting to runners of all speeds and abilities as to how their races went. it puts my mild disappointment into a lot of perspective.

Summary

Its easy to summarise the Greater Manchester Marathon. Brilliant, if a little flawed. If the mile markers were right and i could have trusted them I may have been able to make target. it was also disappointing for my results to have been bodged and not have my family track me.

But on the whole, the race village was excellent, the crowd were superb, the course was flat, the medal was stunning and the goody bag was full of actual goodies. I would recommend this race to anyone as an alternative to London and once I’ve finished my bucket list of marathons, its certainly on my “to return to” list.

Race Report: Yeovil Half Marathon 2015

The start of British Summertime not only signals an hours extra daylight at the end of the day, but its also the day that Total buzz Events hosts the Yeovil Half Marathon. Growing each year, its an opportunity for local people to set their sights on a challenging but achievable goal, and it boosts runner numbers that I see pounding the streets over the winter, hopefully to continue their running careers!

For me, its a poignant reminder of how far I’ve come. 2 years to the day since my first race, my first half marathon time was 2:07, and at Reading last week it was 1:30.

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Its not a massive race, and there are only a few road closures which can make it difficult I think to attract more people to the event. Furthermore the route could be improved to take in some more of the lovely countryside of the area (Camp Road would be a good addition). But it is what it is.

The weather this year was miserable. Cold, wet and windy. I needed to do 20 miles, which meant a super early start (5am in real terms). I decided to drive to the venue, the magnificent Huish Park, home of Yeovil Town FC! As I was so early though, the gates weren’t even open. I resorted to parking at nearby Abbey Manner to run my 7 mile loop. I found it tougher than i thought it would, which didn’t bode too well. Once I finished the loop I got to the car and headed to the car park, by which point there was a massive queue!

The parking was great, once you got in the car park. The problem was, they had 2 lanes of traffic which they merged together which caused a bottle neck. I think they’d have been better with a single stream.

Packet pick up was collection on the day, so i got out of the car to go and get it before heading back to pin on my bib and attach my chip in the comfort of my car. It was very easy to pick up the packet, and I was surprised just how many people I saw that I knew, either socially, through parkrun, or through the running club. I remember that first year being stood in the freezing cold, just me and Jodie, too scared to speak to anyone and not feeling like I really belonged – which I know know to be ridiculous!

I met with the guys from Running for Time where well chatted about our ambitions for the race, and moaned about the weather. We got a photo, and then Simon and I ran to get the obligatory club photo too. I was trying my hand at pacing for the first time, as I was only using the run as part of a 20 miler I offered to help Ryan round to a 1:57, who was struggling a bit with Injury.

Credit to Olly Ayles
Credit to Olly Ayles
Credit to the Western Gazette
Credit to the Western Gazette

With a relatively small field, there were no timed start pens, and unlike other years there were also no signs which advised people where to start based upon their expected finish times. With a few minutes to spare people headed for the line and without too much pomp and ceremony we were off.

The route started with a 3/4 lap of the Huish Park Stadium, and gave us the opportunity to find our pace. Simon and Hannah were pacing for a similar time to us and we spent a good portion of the race going ahead/behind each other.

The route was run over a lot of roads which are the bread and butter of my training, and aside from the weather it was quite a straightforward, sociable run. I saw so many parkrun friends, Strava friends and club friends and chatted with people all the way around – not only runners either, the support was great, better at some parts of the course than others though, but for a smaller race I think it was quite well represented.

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Despite it being so called “bread and butter” running, I still managed to go head over backside. Running towards the Airfield Tavern, I put my foot down on the curb and slipped off it. I managed somehow to hit the deck, protect my Garmin and carry my momentum into a forward roll of sorts, which meant I was able to get back up, feeling only a little sheepish and with a small graze to the elbow. I did hobble a bit afterwards but seems OK now. Thankfully, this was 100 yards before the biggest cheer point on the course so that saved my blushes! Though my friend Will captured these snaps of me right after my tumble.

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We managed to maintain pace all the way through to about 9 miles until we had to slow. As Ryan’s injury had prevented him training as much as he needed to, he started cramping up and struggling, so it was a tough last 4 miles for him, and the last 2 involved a few walk breaks too. Though I did manage to motivate him into a sprint finish for the line, and I have to say the support at the finish line was brilliant.

We got a decent medal, though they are always like a chromey/silver and look, to be honest, a bit cheap, despite being sizable. The goody bag wasn’t much to write home about, though the dairy milk chocolate went down a treat!

All in all, another good Half Marathon – Maybe I’ll even race it next year. Though this was still a course best for me!

 

Race Report: Reading Half Marathon

I’m not a huge fan of waking up before 7 on a Sunday morning, but when its the morning of a half marathon I’m shooting for a PB at, I make an exception.

Reading has been on my “To do” list pretty much since my first Yeovil Half 2 years ago. It’s billed as the fastest half marathon in the UK*, has 16,000 runners, a big city race vibe and a fantastic finish in the amazing Madejski Stadium, home of Reading FC and London Irish RFC.

It’s an added bonus that Jodie’s folks live in Basingstoke, just 20 minutes down the road. This made travelling to the event a breeze. I’ve visited Reading before and I am categorically NOT a fan of the roads there. I always end up lost or angry, so I made sure I picked a car park nearby, on the Basingstoke side of the course. Parking had to be pre-booked, and I was “lucky” to get a space. All car parks were full, though they released extra spaces a few weeks beforehand in 2 car parks. The Blue car park was close to the M4 with easy access to and from it. The Red car park was smack bang in the middle of the course and advised that cars wouldn’t be allowed out til 2.30 at the earliest.

Imagine my (un)surprise when people were complaining on Facebook that they were still in the Red car park, despite all other car parks seemingly having no issues! People need to exercise common sense, my my sympathy for these people is limited.

That sympathy however, only goes so far to the event organisers though, who charged the princely sum of £9 to park and in exchange for a lovely blue parking ticket to hang from the rear view mirror. That’s all very well, but on the way in, no-one checked it – and no more than an hour later the parents-in-law parked in there, totally gratis without a problem, so that seems to me to be a bit of a rip off.

Aside from that though, I have to say the traffic was managed excellently. From approaching and getting into the car park everything was incredibly well sign posted, coned and cordoned off, and for such a large event I actually thought this was very impressive.

Walking to the stadium, the runners headed to the village were buzzing. The sun had come out, and despite it being a little chilly in the breeze, I had a feeling the weather was going to defy the forecast – and I was right. All day the sun shone, to the point Jodie got a bit sun-burnt.

I’ve not been to the Mad Stad before (Despite a couple of close calls for the football) but it really is a lovely stadium. Walking to the race village we thought we’d stop in and look at the finish area, and it was magnificent!

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There weren’t many people around yet, but there was a commentator already waxing lyrical and I just knew it would be buzzing for the finish. We soon realized the reason the commentator had started was the “Green Park Challenge” race had started and the first runners were coming in for the finish! It was quite the race for the win, the first 4 or so were all from Reading AC and the first two were only seconds apart!

It was here that we met Lucy who was doing her first ever Half Marathon, and she was suitably excited/nervous!  We headed to the race village which was starting to get busy. It was still cold, but the sun was trying to get through. The race village itself was enormous – it was more like a festival site. Much bigger than similarly sized events like the Bristol Half. We met Dave and had a chat with him whilst we waited for Simon to turn up, who we met near the bag drop. And speaking of the bag drop, what an absolute delight! Zero queue, stacks of amazing volunteers and both drop off and collection were a pleasure. Great people, many races can learn a lot from the team here. Good job!

Jodie and Lucy were in a different starting pen to Simon and I so we wished each other luck and went our separate ways. It was a bit of a walk through “Green Park” which was quite picturesque, but the lake was a bit smelly – maybe it should have been called “Brown Park”! We got to the pens about 30 minutes before the start, which, unsurprisingly, were excellently controlled. Marshals were checking the colours of race numbers to grant access to the fenced start pens, and each marshal seemed to know exactly what they were doing and where to send people. It was absolutely seamless. We decided as were were targetting 90ish minutes we’d head toward the front, which is exactly where we found ourselves! The joys of getting to the pens early!

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I started getting a bit nervous, mainly because everyone around me was talking about 80-85 minute times! But I held my own in there and pretended I belonged there. There was the obligatory Zumba style warm up and when that was over the chap leading it strapped on a 1h30 pacer flag and the proceedings were getting underway. After an (underwhelming) speech by John Madejski, the first wave was counted down and started. The waves were separated 3 minutes apart, which was intended to ease congestion. Although we were only the second wave, I have to say from my point of view, it worked, I had to do very little weaving around and was another sign of an excellently organised race.

As our wave was heading for the line, I shouted “Cheers John!” to Mr Madejski, who gave me a little wave and after an agonising 25 second wait, the gun went and we were off.

Not 200 yards later did an unfortunate woman absolutely stack it into ground and I was lucky not to get ripped myself, but I kept my head focussed and carried on.

From here on in, my memory has gotten a bit flakey. because I was absolutely flat out, and I can’t really remember much of large portions of the course, so here’s what I do remember.

Mile 1 – 2: We headed around Green Park and ran through a trading estate. I felt comfortable at 6.45m/m pace, which was faster than my 7m/m target, so i decided to keep at it. Brilliant support.

Mile 3: UPHILL! For a good half mile this was just up hill and then started what seemed like a gradual downhill towards the university. Pace slowed and I was worried I might not be able to maintain it. Brilliant support. *Apparently its the fastest half because of the number of fast runners who do it. It’s definitely not because its sodding flat after this mountain!

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Miles 4-5: Slightly down hill and I remember heading around the university. It was really windy and my Garmin messed up with all the sharp bends. A bit sparser but still good support. Thought Sub 90 might be on.

Miles 6-7: Through town, windy a few uphills, I remember brilliant support but this is where things started getting a bit hazy. Thought sub-90 had gone. The onset of runners tummy came on.

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Mile 8: UPHILL! This one seemed to go on and on and on. Convinced myself sub-90 was gone. Sparse support I think I really can’t remember.

Mile 9-11: Flattened out, brain was mush and basic addition and subtraction was beyond me but figured if I did 7m/m for the rest of the race I’d break my target. I have no idea what the crowd were like. Bowels growling on a consistent basis.

Mile 12: Pain, suffering and torture, but somehow banged in a quick mile. Crowd sparse, long drag bag to the stadium, which didn’t seem to get any bloody closer at all. Bowels were screaming at me and had to try my best to talk them out of doing a Paula on the A33.

Mile 13: More suffering, wound round into the stadium complex and wow, what a sight, the run up to the stadium was just lined with people cheering them home. I looked at my watch but I had no idea what I was going to do except that I know I’d beat my target 92 minutes. Saw Dave here, but I could barely raise a hand for him, I was spent. Had to go around the outside of the stadium before reaching the last…

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Mile 13.1: As I entered the stadium it was deafening! Such good support, the commentator was going and I had about 30 seconds to beat 90 minutes. I gave it all I had, but nothing was in the tank. On the home stretch I heard Jodie’s Dad yell “Go on Matty boy!” and I managed a little fist pump in the general direction (I couldn’t see anything) and crossed the line in 90:08 official time!

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That’s a massive 5+ minute PB which I am absolutely over the moon with, but I keep reflecting on the time and wondering if I should be upset not to go 9 seconds faster. Ultimately though, I gave the race absolutely everything and left nothing out there. That was as good as I could have given on the day – though I could have gone quicker on a flat course on tapered leg instead of in the peak mileage phase of marathon training, but thats another story!

Much like the rest of the race, the finish funnel was absolutely exemplary. Well orchestrated collection of goody bag (With tee shirt and water bottle – good haul!) and the most magnificent Half medal I’ve ever gotten, all the way through to collecting my bag again, which was an absolute pleasure.

After collecting my bag, I headed over to where I thought I’d seen Dave – and though I didn’t find him, I did see Simon, who smashed his target with an amazing 88m plus change! We got the obligatory victory photo in our vests!

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Then I headed back to try and find Jodie’s parents and watch Jodie come in. But I couldn’t find Jodie’s parents for ages until I called them. When I found them we waited for over half an hour, watching people carefully trying to spot Jodie. As the pacer flags came in, it was getting more and more difficult to come up with reasons why we hadn’t seen her. “Maybe she started at the back of the pen”, “Maybe she started a pen back”, “Maybe she started with Lucy”. Eventually, worried, I headed to the original meeting point – and lo and behold, there were both Jodie AND Lucy! Jodie had even seen Lucy cross the line! I felt awful for Jodie’s parents who came along to support but only saw me! But on the plus side, both Jodie AND Lucy smashed their targets.

Unfortunately due to the kerfuffle I didn’t get a chance to head to the Reading Road Runners tent to see Kezza from parkrun, but even so it was great to watch people come home. We saw one guy, who unfortunately had to be carried near the end, but was totally out of it. He collapsed and the St Johns Ambulance people had to go and get him. Its a stark reminder to people that a half marathon is a big challenge and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Train well, eat and hydrate properly and you will be fine though.

Anyway, before we saw Lucy of and headed to the car we got a photo together.

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We walked back to the car and left the car park without a hitch (Because I wasn’t stupid and didn’t pick the Red car park…)

What a truly brilliant race, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Top marks in every single department except for parking value for money. Credit to all the volunteers for making it possible, and absolute kudos to the thousands of people who either came to support or had their travel disrupted for the sake of this magnificent race.

Reading, we will be back!

 

Weston Christmas Cracker 10k 2014

Last year I took part in the Weston Christmas Cracker. It’s a 10k race in Weston-super-Mare, the popular west country seaside resort, home of the grand pier and other such things.I used it as a gauge and my last big race before starting my Marathon training.

I don’t often repeat the same race twice, but given the availability of local 10k races being slim pickings at this time of year, I thought I’d give it a go again.

Organizationally it was a slick affair for a relatively small race. With only 2000 entrants the race sells out very quickly. Numbers (With attached disposable chips) were set out in advance along with an extremely useful guide all about the race, the route, HQ bag drop, the works.

HQ was at Weston College and was spread across 4 floors, but it was very well managed and sign posted. I managed to drop my bag of securely with some great volunteers from Weston AC and headed to the beach toward the start. When I reached the beach I found it was more than a tad blowy!

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I knew this would be a problem. I’d had my heart set on breaking 42 minutes for this race, so I was pretty gutted to have these conditions – but they are what they are and there was nothing I could do about it! Its a shame about the wind too, as despite the temperature only being about 3 degrees, it actually felt quite mild.

After a bit of a warm up I headed toward the start. As this is very much a charity race (With the theme being somewhat obvious…) there was fancy dress everywhere. I was definitely in the minority.WP_20141207_002

As runners assembled I was keen to get a good spot nearish the front. There were no start pens or guide times for runners to stand at based upon estimated finish time, so i just got as close to the front as I could. I saw Kevin who I know from parkrun there and we had a bit of a chat whilst we waited to head off. I knew he’d run a fast time here before a few minutes quicker than the time I had targeted. So I didn’t expect to see him again after the start.

Before long we were off. I settled into my pace nicely, and the wind seemed to be behind, as I couldn’t feel it too much. This was a bad thing. The course was different this year to last year. We started in a different direction and did a mini-lap on the beach that was about 4 k, then a larger 6k lap. This however meant running into the wind for half the race.

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And I suffered with the wind, big time. OK, the wind behind would have helped some, but the swirling nature meant it was more of a cross wind than a tail wind, so it still whipped across.

I knew early on that sub 42 was overly optimistic. But I tried my hardest to get as close as I could. The support was tremendous, the marshals were excellent and the course was very good. No road closures in place but a very safe well organised route.

Running the last 3k back into the wind was utterly demoralising. I was watching the Garmin closely as I’d caught back some time, but I just couldn’t bring it back. Then turning back onto the beach for the last 500 yards the wind was right in your face and it knocked the wind from my sails. I kept my head down, motored on and crossed the line in 42.44 – Still a PB, but 5s per km off my target. It was tough.

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No goody bag from this race but there was a mince pie and possibly the best free technical tee I’ve received. Really top quality.

I stuck around and offered some support, but I cooled quickly and race HQ was 500 yards from the finish, so I made a jog to get my stuff and head home.

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Statistically speaking the Garmin made some balls ups. For some reason it screwed a whole load of elevation up at points during the race, and I’ve got no idea why. Here’s the full activity. My cadence lacked some consistency, but looking at my heartrate I don’t think I could have given it any more than I did.

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I have to say though, looking at the results I finished 71st, 1st in club (Ahead of Kevin, who I mentioned earlier) and 35th in my gender/age category. Out of 1700 finishers I was delighted with that! Its a shame it’s not a UKA race, as I’d like to see how the SSS and vSSS fared to see how I actually performed. But unfortunately I won’t be able to see. Either way, its 10 minutes better than my last years time – and thats a pretty satisfying improvement, year on year.

My final goal of the year is to run a sub 20 5k. I was hoping this would give me some confidence to hit that time in the Street 5k on Wednesday, but I’m not feeling hugely confident. There are 2 parkruns left in the year I can run yet though, so I’ll be giving it all I’ve got until the last moment. McMillan doesn’t think i can do it based upon yesterday’s time – but hopefully the conditions are better and I can prove it wrong.

But until next year, Weston…

WP_20141207_006UPDATE: Here are the suitably horrendous official race photos! Certainly won’t be paying for these!xmascracker4 xmascracker3 xmascracker2