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.

 

 

Medium Long Run Garmin Problems

The DOMS are well and truly here now. My legs don’t feel terrible, but they don’t feel great either – something that I can’t easily describe. The ache enough, to tell me they ache, but not enough to stop me continuing my day. They’ll be on their way out tomorrow, in time for the workout I’ve been most dreading.

Today was a Medium Long Run of 15km. I have recently been gifted the Garmin Fenix 3 and although I’ll spare you the gushing adulation I have bestowed upon it, I really need to tell you just how good a fucking watch it is. In terms of 0-fucking watch, it is pretty fucking watch. That’s how good it is.

Only this morning it gave me a little gip some 2km into the run. It was harmless enough but it ended up segmenting the run so the largest total was only 13km. I hate segmenting runs. It just looks like you had to stop half way and I hate that. I’m not that unfit. Interestingly enough, that brings me to another point related to the Garmin Fenix 3 and perhaps I’ll address that later on. Essentially this is to do with race predictions and these almost confirm what I had originally feared, in that – I’m just not running fast enough. I’ll come back to this shortly.

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A good 3km of this involved the solid climb extending from Riverside Park, through Swaythling and into Bassett Green, also known as Mansbridge Road and Bassett Green Road respectively. Interestingly, even though it extends a good kilometre beyond the Langhorn Road climb, it seemed to be much more pleasant. I don’t think I particularly struggled on it and although I periodically wanted the climbing to be over with, it didn’t seem to bother me as much as Langhorn Road. Part of the problem with Langhorn Road is the feeling that the surrounding traffic and pedestrian dodging turn climbing a long hill into climbing a long hill with a donkey on your back and a fat old lady who won’t get out of your way. I think I will use it more in the future, it’s certainly one to keep an eye on. The elevation profile is shown below – I don’t think it extends too far beyond 4% throughout. This graph is from veloviewer, a website I’ve not entirely figured out just yet.

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More stats now for you. These are also from veloviewer.

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I’m not really sure of how to annotate that data for you. I was disappointed that my cadence had fallen well below 180 to 175spm and that is not a parameter that sits well with me. Good athletes keep a frequency of 180 I’m told and that’s what I’ve been trying to stick to.

All in all I finished with a total of 15km, at around a 5:08min/km which felt comfortable throughout. I didn’t feel laboured at any point and although my LSR pace is probably still around 5:30, I’m beginning to wonder if I can start safely moving my parameters once again. 5x3km tomorrow. FFS.

4 x 2miles. DNF.

The fucking storm is back. It was was positively biblical this morning. I woke up from one of those once in a lifetime sleeps that is so gloriously comfortable, it makes you question whether life is worth living and perhaps you might be better off with ending it all now, to save another 30 years of fucking bullshit. I realised that dying on a Wednesday would be pretty pathetic and so I may as well go for my run. I put my shit on. I walked down the shitting stairs and put my shitting shoes on. I opened the shitty front door and out into the shitty shitty wind and rain.

I began to commute to the run, in the form of a run and by way of a warm up. The pace was no more than around 5:20min/km, but the weather wasn’t having any of it. As I reached the top of Northam Bridge (and bear in mind this was only some 300m into my run), my pace had dropped to 6:00min/km. I looked at the thrashing water of the Itchen River underneath and once again contemplated ending it all. Dying on a Wednesday isn’t cool, I reminded myself.

By the time I got to the start of my loop I had felt enough of the almighty’s wrath to realise today was going to be a difficult run. The plan had been to run 4 x 2 miles at a 4:30min/km pace, but I quickly realised this would be near impossible in the circumstances and therefore decided to drop to 4:40. Like the bottler I am, I rounded the split down to 3000m also.

Here is the workout.

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The loop is essentially a quadrilateral that begins at the NE corner of St Mary’s Stadium. You then proceed in an anticlockwise direction. For the most part it is flat but for a gentle ascent at the northern most border. In all it creates a useable 2km loop that is for a good part, run-a-ble. Given its position, it is in no danger of winning beauty spot of the year and the circulating drivers, hurry into the docks without notice or care. I cannot imagine your safety is at the top of their agenda.

As I expected, the run began and immediately I began to struggle. No more than 500m into the run I had already begun to entertain thoughts of abandoning the whole thing. You have to understand the circumstances. It was dark. The rain was torrential, the wind equally so. The noise of the traffic was in equal parts distracting and irritating. The ground was uneven at places and along certain corners and craters, huge puddles filled like lakes in a jungle. I was not having fun and this was only the first rep.

In as much as 2 mile intervals are beneficial, they’re also a right fucking pain in the arse. Particularly when you have 4 to do. So you start. You begin to struggle and you realise, you’ve still got well over a mile till your first break and even then it’s only 25% of the workout. 25%. TWENTY FIVE PERCENT. You still have another 3 circuits to do, I swear to Jah, they are fucking miserable.

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All in all, I performed as poorly as I expected. By the time I got to fourth rep, I had had enough. Soaked to the bone, I just wanted to go home. I completed 1km of the 3 and stopped my watch.

Although this run will be chalked up as a bad run, I’m still relatively happy with myself. I am hoping that the commitment to push on days when you struggle like today will come in handy during the race. I know Brighton is a there and back course and so I am aware of how possible it might be for a solid 10km headwind accompaniment. I really hope that’s not the case but I’d be foolish to not anticipate 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.

 

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.

MLR: 14km

Today was a straightforward run. I decided on a tour of Southampton, something of a canter around it’s central perimeter. The course, as far as my questionable cardio-respiratory physiology allows, is a reasonably taxing one and effectively involves going up a big hill and then down a big hill. Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 19.13.05Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 19.12.50

The run was taxing in terms of its ascent. I am sure veteran runners would snort in derision at its elevation but for me, the climb up Burgess Road (the northern aspect of the main quadrilateral) is as stimulating as it gets. From it’s origin in Swaythling and termination in Bassett at The North-West spine of The Avenue, the 2km is a relentless 2% climb.

Furthermore, from start to finish it provides no element of inspiration or encouragement. It is a miserable passage of crawling traffic and kebab shops. Bus stop passengers who refuse to move out of your way and narrow paths at the origin of the Common. Old ladies with iceberg like movements. In short, it is a route I avoid with an honest and unchanging passion.

Having completed this the middle 3-4km were really nothing to comment on. More or less downhill throughout their entirety, they passed without issue. Towards the end, I began to feel sick and developed some strangulating and persistent abdominal cramps. I could feel my stomach churning in a familiar and insidious manner, in solemn anticipation of events to come. In short, I wanted to shit myself.

I was thinking about expanding upon this comment but I’m going to stop. Partly because I don’t want to relive the feeling, partly because this is a family blog and no one wants to read about a grown man soiling his shorts like a fucking dickhead.

Anyway, all in all I completed the 14km at a 5:05min/km pace which was, as it happens the exact pace I had aimed for. The goal pace for this years Half marathons is 4:45 and +20s off goal pace is allowable for a intended paced run. I will try and keep the 10kms at 4:45 from hereon in which will hopefully give me a feel of what I can and can’t do. We’ll see. Tomorrow, the MONA fartlek.

5km Parkrun: Festive PB

Merry christmas folks. I was working last night and so the evening didn’t seem particularly festive. I spent a good part of the evening trying to stop a bleeding nose from bleeding, which is often both a lot more annoying and difficult than you might think. The nose is a beautifully designed organ, fantastic for its purpose, but not conducive to an examination under a headlight at 8pm on Christmas Eve. Serious design flaw.

The rest of the evening was spent thinking about running today’s 5km Parkrun which I had intentionally marked as PB potential. I wanted 21 minutes ideally, a swooping 40 seconds faster than my current PB – which sounds easy to do (40 seconds is nothing right?), but in the last kilometre of the race when all you want to do is stop and take a big big BIG fucking breath, it really isn’t that straightforward. Not that that’s lost on supporters in races who remind you to keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I love the support and its always fantastic to have a good crowd and their bleary eyed mildly condescending support, but if you’re the kind of person that shouts keep going, you are a terrible person and there is a special place in hell for you. It is right up there with dog walkers that can’t control their dogs. OF COURSE I’M GOING TO KEEP GOING DID YOU THINK THAT I WAS IN IMMINENT DANGER OF STOPPING THATS THE POINT DONT YOU GET IT I HAVE TO FINISH THIS FUCKING RACE OTHERWISE THERES NO POINT IN STARTING AND SO BY DEFINITION I WILL KEEP GOING GOD.

Ahem.

The pace I needed was 4:12min/km which would have brought me tidily in at 21 minutes. I knew that this was a tall order and so I decided that anything shy of the 21″40 PB would be acceptable.

I met up with two of my strava buddies to begin the festive race with. Ironically there were less Santas today then on the Parkrun last week. Suppose all the work’s done by now I guess? The venue for today’s run was Southampton, which generally supplies a good event. I was told once that it was in fact the third largest Parkrun in the UK but I don’t have any evidence or numbers for that statement. It probably comes from the same people who tell you that you’ll catch a cold if you go out after a shower.

Southampton is a nice place to Parkrun. There are 4 main courses which are largely similar and are based around a proud and defining hill at the north end of the park. The route is paved throughout and only at the very end do you cut onto grass for the finish funnel. Volunteer support is aways seemingly plentiful and people look like they enjoy their lives, which judging by yesterdays queues in Tesco, not many people do. In today’s course (C) this was to include 2 laps of the aforementioned hill. Now this hill is not particularly steep and I believe overall its gradient comes to 3% or so, so nothing that makes you whimper in terror. That said, it does go on. The climb each time is a kilometre and builds from the point just after the so called Flats. It continues to the very top of Coronation Way and true to the gradient, is mostly gentle in incline. The first 300m or so are subject to an insidious change of gradient, which to the eye, almost seems flat and as you begin to catch your breath it really begins to frustrate you. You know there’s a proper hill coming but you’re tired already. The “actual” hill then kicks in 2 places towards the end, I slightly longer steep part, succeeded almost immediately by a shorter one. Both kicks are interspersed by a short flat segment which I have described as flat but is still in incline. In short, this hill is a bastard and you do it twice.

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Here is the workout and I have enclosed the pace chart from Garmin below. A few points – the green line is the elevation which seems perfectly benign but the graph is lying to you. Clearly that pace chart has never run up that hill before. Also my Garmin was playing up today quite considerably and chose to screw up my times which has upset me no end. Strava now thinks I didn’t PB and so as far as I’m concerned, it can go and fuck itself.

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Here are the splits.

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I’m not going to comment on these particularly – the 4th split represented the bulk of the 2nd loop of the hill and quite evidently it hit me hard there. Looking at pace trends, this is similar to other times I have run Southampton. Aaron my friend who was running with me gave me great advice to drop pace but maintain a similar effort going up the hill and so part of this was intentional. What this meant was that as I turned the northerly most corner down towards the final kilometre I felt I had something (not very much) but something left to churn for the sprint home.

In sum, I am happy. My official final time was 21:28, watch time 21:25 so I’ll go with Parkrun. I ranked 50th overall of 351 runners which was pleasing. There’s something genuinely and morbidly satisfying about passing people in a race. It’s a right bastard when they overtake you again though. That said, the run was as good as I could have achieved in the circumstances. It was on the back of a full week running and some tiring preceding sessions and no taper. On a flatter course, with a bit of a wind down on the weekly miles I am sure that 21 minutes is there for me. I’m only 28 seconds away and hey, that’s easy.