Southampton Half Marathon

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Yesterday was the Southampton half marathon. 13 miles of undulations across the most porty City in south England. Apart from Portsmouth. That’s more Porty. Some 7,000 runners came down to run in both simultaneously running races (10 and 21km) and in sum it was largely a triumph.

Let me make this clear, I am not Southampton’s biggest fan. When they draw the plans up to tear the city apart and build one big ode to a toilet, I will be the first to sign my name to support. It’s not that I don’t like the city, quite the opposite. Like an advancing mould, it has crept it’s sullen way across my skin and these days I spend long hours basking in its musk. Rather, it is content to whither iteratively in its historical misery, an industrial hole of despair. In a country that seems to be picking itself up off its knees, Southampton is content to continue shitting on itself.

I digress. The route was challenging and scenic in equal measure. Encompassing the most beautiful parts of the city, it really made for a great landscape for this rejuvenated event. I almost felt proud at times. Dragging the course through the Saints’ stadium was another act of genius and if I could have, I would have rolled myself over and over in that beautiful turf like the dog I am. I didn’t though and perhaps this is something I can factor in in the future.

I had been aiming to better a time of 1:38, set at Brighton but this did not happen. Largely this is my fault and I will learn from this but this next section is a long spindly finger point at the 1:40 pacers.

Once again I should state my position, in that they both seemed like lovely people. Encouraging, instructional, giving details on water points etc, they fulfilled the stimulatory aspect of their jobs with finesse. Sadly, what they didn’t do was the other part. i.e pace. If I could take any of the points above and stress them as imperative in the job of a pacer, I would say pacing would be a decisive and clear winner.

I will stress this in the simplest way possible. Here is the first half of my splits with 1:40 chaps.

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The plan had been to sit with the 1:40 group for the first half of the race, which was largely flat and then jump off to attack the hills a bit in the second half with a bit left to sprint finish. A 1:40 finish would necessitate running 4:45min/km splits more or less pretty consistently. As evidenced above, there was one single example of this at the 4th split and this was in relation to the traversing of the concrete middle finger to Southampton water, also known as the Itchen Bridge. Where were the other 4:45 splits? WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE OTHER 45s? 31 is not 45. 30 is not 45. 34 is not 45. NONE OF THESE NUMBERS ARE 45.

Have a look at the elevation profile above. By the time I reached the foot of the hills I was more or less spent and barely had any energy to climb let alone hold a good pace. I soon dropped off the 1:40 pace group and decided to go it alone. Towards the end as we entered the common, I caught up with them once again (having been maintaining a pretty solid speed myself) suggesting that they had dropped their pace considerably.

What does this tell you about the 1:40 pacers? To me it suggests they were running the race strategically so to bank time for the hills were they could coast and bring it in for 1:40 on the clock. That is not the job of the pacer though. The pace is supposed to be metronomic and cyclical, a beacon for continuity throughout the race. This unfortunately, they were not. This might seem a little particular but for me, it ruined my race and it is worth saying. I don’t hold them responsible for that at all,  it should have been my responsibility to drop off and run my own race but it was an annoyance all the same.

All in all, I’m pleased with my result in what was a difficult course for me. I learned a lot once again as I always do in these circumstances and hopefully I’ll be able to put this into practice. I’m looking forward to a week of eating crap and easy running. Day 2 post race is coming up and for me, this translates into DOMS town. Laters.

 

 

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A difficult, easy run. 10 miles.

Number of days till Brighton Half Marathon: 34 days

Number of hurting Achilles tendons: 1

Number of times I felt a headwind: More times than care to fucking explain.

Given the fact that I’m just coming out of a rest week, I should feel good. I don’t. Last week’s mileage still went north of 55km and I was left genuinely wondering where the ground had been made up. By the time Sunday’s LSR revealed itself, I was no worse off than any other week. My body felt tired and weary. Looking at the incoming 16km this morning, I could have felt further from enthused.

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It was still dark as I left the house. I turned out onto the Northam Bridge and was hit instantly by a cruel headwind. Fucking great. I wanted today to at least feel like a recovery run but already, I found myself in channeled vortex. I reassured myself however that, within a kilometre or so, I would be turning away from the supposed wind direction and running up towards Southampton Common. I turned. The wind hit me again. Fucking great.

It wasn’t so bad for the most part. There were fleeting moments when I felt the wind behind me and it felt truly glorious, like a hug from a big fat person. At points it seemed to tuck behind me at just the right time and that couldn’t have been more welcome. The route itself was a climb for 50% and a descent for 50% more or less, as can be seen from the relief profile.

I am aware that I have most likely been running my long slow runs at a good 10-15s faster than perhaps what it necessary for me and perhaps this is what is contributing to my exhaustion. I have decided to take my ego hat off for some time and replace it with my “it’s fucking necessary” hat instead. It doesn’t look as cool but, well, it’s necessary. I can’t have every run feeling like a workout. I’m thinking of tomorrows 4x 2miles and already fatiguing.

Overall my pace settled at 5:13min/km. There was very little pace control and splits varied from 5:00 to 5:30 min/km. Ideally I should have been ever slower than this still (5:20 average) but when you’re running, it can be so very difficult to resist the temptation not to push a little harder.

Tomorrows workout should be a good one. In similar workouts that I’ve done over the last few weeks, I’ve run 2nd and 3rd best 10km times which is either a really good or bad thing. 2 miles. 4 times. Let’s do it.

 

Running through pain.

Here’s my workout from today. Another recovery run which became a segment chasing episode from start to finish but with irritatingly few results. There is a tiny climb, some 100m out of Riverside Park, by the Itchen River, which has plagued me continuously for a good period of time now. It is not particularly long, not particularly steep, but it comes at the end of a solid kilometre stretch alongside the river where the urge to push the pace is ever present. On occasion as the winds wake up, they can really pick you apart, slowly deconstructing each stride until you arrive at the foot of the ascent, battered and forlorn. It shouldn’t be as difficult as it is, but it is. It is a real bastard. My current PR up it is 26s. I am hoping to have it down to 20 in the next few months.

I spoke yesterday about things I had improved upon and one of the things I wanted to talk about was running through pain. More, just the notion of accepting that not all pains are bad pains. Not so much that I haven’t improved in this, just the potential to improve in this forum should be obvious to all runners. If you don’t understand this, you are not a runner.

I’m thinking back to my last 5km PR. Currently I am sat at a rather bloated 21:28, which was attained at the Southampton Park Run on Christmas Day. To preclude this, I was and still am proud of this PR given the circumstances – and I am simply using this story to illustrate my point.

During the race I was paced by two friends who were trying to get me to 21 minutes or at least any PB above my 21:48 preceding score. Things were predictable enough. Southampton delivers a fucking hard course and it is far from a PB safe zone. As we entered the last kilometre, I was spent. I was coming off the back of a 70km week and my legs were whimpering beneath me. We turned the corner onto the home straight and in the distance I could make out the finish funnel. “Straighten your hands,” “Get upright,” “Slow your breathing,” “Dig deep”, they said. And fuck me I tried. At least I tried as much as I thought I could manage, but really I just wanted the race to be over. I knew my pace was faltering. As I crossed the finish line, three things happened. I had the (well known to runners) mini surge of euphoria at the completion of any difficult run, I looked at my watch and cheered my new PR and finally, within moments of the self congratulation, came the crushing disappointment in having not pushed just that little harder in the final metres. From the point where the guys were goading me to stretch a little further to the finish line, I have no doubt that another 10-15 seconds could have been made up. Perhaps I could have slipped under 21 minutes. I was crushed.

Running in pain is difficult. As sentient beings we are not designed to tolerate discomfort. Our inherent systems are honed to prevent us from causing ourselves harm. Overriding the need to stop when running is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Worse, it never really gets any easier. As our pace tolerance improves, we have new levels of discomfort. The bar is perpetually raised – we’re not going to run 6:00min/km forever. I struggle with this on an everyday basis.

Saying this though, things have certainly improved. In training runs, I am not always looking for the easy way out. I can hold a set pace (a little) better. I have less patience for my own weaknesses and yet, I am no Mo Farah. When I see him up the tempo in the last 200-400m of his races, I am truly in awe. Truthfully, he never looks to be in discomfort but he must be. His collapse after the 2012 Olympic 5km in Great Britain was testament to that. The man was exhausted, yet he showed no signs of it during the race. And I suppose that’s the difference. That’s the point of the finish line, the end of the rep. It doesn’t mark the point where you can stop at it. It marks the point where you can begin to slow down. If your watch says 880m on a 1km rep, than you fucking well carry on to 1000m before you slow down. It’s self discipline.

Those are the myriad things that I’m still learning but I suppose, this is a journey. If winning races was simply the product of running faster, than there would be nothing to write about. No stories to tell. The world records for the 5 and 10km races are held by Tarisu Bekele, a man who did not even podium finish in the Olympic 2012 10km. Running faster was not the answer then. It would be fucking naive to suggest that its not important, but clearly, it is not always the defining factor.

Sometimes pain is good for you. It teaches you to endure. If I ever have children, I will take those little idiots running with me so they realise that in life, whether you run for a living or work in a department store, results don’t simply fall in your lap. You have push the boundaries of your abilities and put yourself into difficult situations. You have to work for things smarter, not harder. You cannot always bulldoze your way through an existence, you need to pace yourself and do things in a controlled manner. You have to deal with and come through the hardships. And if its not hurting, then perhaps you’re not doing it right.

 

-4

It’s freezing. I mean it is literally fucking freezing. This isn’t Russia. This isn’t Canada. I’m not in the Arctic circle. I woke up this morning in Poole and looked at the thermometer/iPhone and as sure as the day is long, read -4 degrees on the screen. I got out of bed and got dressed, ready for the incoming run.

In all honesty, the cold doesn’t bother me as much as it does some people. Certainly not the Youtube wankers. I wouldn’t particularly care if it dropped another 5-10 degrees. For me, it’s the precipitation that ruins it all. As long as there is no sign of moisture on the ground, in the air, or on my fucking face I really couldn’t give a shit. There seem to be a lot of YouTube posts on “how to dress up for the cold” and “how to prepare for winter runs” and “how to brush your teeth without central heating on” and frankly that is bullshit. If you need a 12 year old with an eating disorder and a devastatingly profound obsession with themselves to teach you how to put on some fucking clothes and put one foot in front of the other, than fuck you. You have failed as an adult. You have failed as a person. Just fuck off.

As it happens, I don’t. I run because it’s simple. I don’t need to do anything beyond, bring my kit and go. I certainly don’t need a how to video. With that in mind I began my run this morning.

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I’m on my recovery week this week. What this pertains to is a rest week every five weeks of training, so to allow my body to recover and presumably “absorb” the efforts of the preceding four weeks. Whilst a period of rest is always welcome, it is equally interesting to reflect upon  whether exactly improvements have been made. Without a doubt, this has been the case in some respects and I feel that my baseline aerobic capacity has improved markedly. My running discipline has improved – I feel more in control of my cadence, posture and most importantly – my mind. In other places there are still large gains to be made but on balance things feel like they have improved.I will discuss this in more detail on my next post.

Back to my run today. Planned was a frosty 6km at a recovery pace. Goaded by my own ego, some 400m into the run I decided to convert it into a progressive tempo of sorts. As you may or may not know (you should fucking know), my goal pace is 4:40/45 for the upcoming Brighton Half and so I decided to aim at around 4:45, for an all round good time. As the run progressed, each successive split got faster and faster (see above) and the final splits looked a little like this: 4:56 – 4:44 – 4:40 – 4:37 – 4:32 – 4:26.

HOW ABOUT THAT FOR SOME NEGATIVE FUCKING SPLITTAGE. How nice. I finished the run positively gleaming, teetering on 5km pace. I felt tired but I could have continued, if co-erced. On the first loop of the pool I was amazed I hadn’t slipped on the ice lining the edges of the path and broken my neck. On the last I was amazed at how good I felt. For the first time in a long time, I feel good and on top of my training.

 

 

 

Richmond Nice Work 10km

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Sunday was a gorgeous day. On the back end of Saturday’s meteorological erraticisms and angry skies, the sun rose and beamed on South West London. We made the pleasant and uneventful commute from Southampton fairly early to arrive in time for the gun at 10am. On arrival, Sheen gate (in the North East corner) was positively bustling and seemingly, as far as the eye, a human engine coughed and chortled into action. Two men with designer coffees and presumably occupied prams wandered carelessly through the Tamsin Trail. The queue for the toilets grew ever longer. Underneath the sprawling canopy of trees the beginning and end of the Richmond Nice Work 10km was found.

On arrival, having not been entirely familiar with the route I decided to canter along it, 1 km in each direction. It seemed reasonable enough. I would openly refer to the course as an enjoyable run. With a good mixture of terrains and gradients, it makes for a particularly interesting but not easily accomplishing course. I wouldn’t personally seek it out for a PB. The opening 3km take the form of an insidious climb, confusing the eyes but not the legs as the course brings you along the Tamsin trail to the Western most aspect and the peak of Richmond Hill. From there and acute turn almost back onto oneself is made onto a paved road, tumbling down Sawyer’s Hill lasting some 2km. From there a further kilometre began a grass lined ascent to the start.

Safe to say, I found the course difficult. Undulating, muddy swamps reflecting the preceding month’s weather, uneven grass patches – it did not make for straightforward racing. This said, I was still fortunate enough to register a chip time PB of 45:36. Although not a “Garmin PB” – I suspect it’s calibration may need some attention, I am holding this official time as my PB. The following is the race and the splits. Screenshot 2016-01-11 15.57.53.png

As can be seen, the second lap was a real pain. I overtook an older chap in a white cap as we passed 6km but was rapidly overtaken in the onslaught of an oncoming hill. As he crept away from me I decided to hold on to his pace for as long as possible with the intention of jumping an attack on the hill and getting away from him. As it happened, he sped up more than I could counter and I watched him peel away from me slowly but ever so deliberately. He must have maintained a minute’s gap at least as we passed the finish line. After the race we had a chat and I lamented with him on his fitness. He told me of his upcoming London Marathon  qualification via good for age. Disgusted, I shook his hand as he left.

All in all, another PB on the back of a non taper week and difficult (for me) course. I cannot help but think that perhaps what is required is a flat fast course for the required <45. Perhaps after Spring’s two half marathons a 10km is back in the picture. We’ll see.

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Troublesome 10km

The intention of today’s run was to run a 5:00min/km pace in anticipation of Saturday’s Richmond Park 10km. The idea was something in the way of keeping the legs ticking over, without pushing the limit too hard. As the run got going, the pace picked up and I couldn’t quite strike the balance between what felt comfortable and what began to teeter on a tempo. The end pace finished at 4:51min/km. I was tired and a little concerned, primarily because  of my inability to sustain the pace comfortably over a relatively short distance.

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By the time I staggered to close, I was suitably out of breath. I hadn’t pushed the pace at all but it had all been enough to require a solemn sit down by Itchen River and think about what had gone wrong. I watched the clouds for a long time, passing weightlessly and quietly above me and listened to my breathing quieten and my chest settle.

Bad runs happen and sometimes it’s difficult to know why. They come by often enough and hence the giddy abandon with which most runners celebrate a “good run”or a personal best. Good runs are not the norm. Certainly, I feel good after most runs, but it is rare to feel good whilst within one. I have felt closer to crying than laughing on more occasions than I care to list. Not that I cry during runs.

In my opinion, bad runs are down to five principle reasons, alone or in combination:

  1. Poor cardiovascular fitness
  2. Fibromuscular fatigue
  3. Poor preparation (sub-adequate clothing/weather)
  4. Failure to manage one’s own expectations.
  5. For no demonstrable cause.

As can be seen, most of these are straightforward and can be anticipated. If you have run every day for the last 2 weeks and you run a marathon straight after, you will have a bad run (Point 2). If you cannot run 5km but you undertake a 10km run, you will have a bad run (Point 1). If you expected to do speed work at 3:50min/km pace and your best 5km pace is 6min/km, you will have a bad run (Point 4). If it is snowing outside and you go out in a t-shirt, you will have a bad run (Point 3). In short, it is nearly always possible to anticipate why your run might not have gone as well as you might have intended.

Apart from when it’s Point 5. Point 5 is the unconsciouble nightmare that skirts around the fringes of most running careers. Sometimes, a run happens and it is bad for no other reason than that it was bad. Those runs are incredibly difficult to deal with and the runner is left panting on the side of the road wondering what the fuck is up. That was today. Today was point 5.

I’ve had a day to think about the run and I’ve decided to let it go. I was contemplating a genuine surgical dissection of the case but its best just to let some things be. I’m going to run 13 miles tomorrow and hopefully at a gentle and forgiving pace that will allow me to enjoy the run as oppose to rue it. The answer to any bad run is always the next run. It isn’t putting your shoes away, it is getting them ready for tomorrow.