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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Aber 10k - New socks, the baby and a PB

After a poor Chester Marathon in October which seemed to take weeks to recover from (4 in fact), I decided to buy some new go-faster yellow race socks and target December's Aber 10k as a potential PB race, which left around 6 weeks to train for.

Steve drew up a plan which transformed our lunchtime bimbles into some sensible tempo sessions (that's what he called them). To me they were sessions from the depths of hell. 30 minutes at Steve's annoyingly fast pace which really requires complete concentration and vasts amounts of bravery to keep going to the end!

Burgess came along to sample the pain one day and like me, he was crying after 15 minutes, begging inside for Steve to slow up. Fact of the matter was that cake and complacency had gotten the better of me & Dan for weeks whilst Steve was on a fasttrack to some good form, cruelly taken from him in the end by an ill timed virus.

The AC Tuesday night speed sessions helped to hammer some form back into the legs and the Parkrun showed that my race pace was going the right way. Some sessions reminded me that the body was not always able to perform well and they were a right struggle!

2 weeks to go and the crucial session that would determine if my target time of a sub 38 was possible, 6 x 1 mile efforts on the track, all at target race pace with minimal (1 lap) recovery between reps. Each lap needed to be at a max pace of 6.07 and this was achieved with some faster reps for the last couple, despite the best efforts of the Uni football team who's target practice seemed to be me rather than the goal that Monday evening..

Some final few hill sessions helped top things off but then a big spanner in the works came along - the birth of a baby daughter, a week early! Whilst this was obviously priority number one, i was secretly hoping to sneak the Aber 10k in just prior to the original birth date.

As it happened, it was a false alarm as the Mrs, who was taken in a week and a half early was not operated on after all on the saturday and was allowed 1pm on Sunday...30 minutes before the start of the Aber 10k!!
To be fair to her, she acknowedged my previous plan regarding the race and so I had packed a race bag that morning to come to hospital with, should she be discharged that morning. Her sign off took a little longer than anticipated (eventually 2pm), so I had to dash down at midday to register, return to Bronglais to check on things, then back down to the car outside at 1.10 to change, back up to the ward to hand the keys back to her which involved running through the hospital corridors in my Aber AC kit(!), back out, forgetting my Garmin, so back up to the ward to even more strange looks from staff & patients, then finally a quick warm up down Queens Road and to the start.

The start of the Aber 10k was biblical in terms of the lashing rain, as we all remember and so I dashed to a relatives house on the Buarth with 4 mins to go, dropped off my warm up clothing in their shrubbery, back down to cower in a (dry) bush by the tax offices (a guy from Brecon AC who turned out to be the eventual winner had the same idea) and onto the start line with a minute or so to spare - the perfect warm up?

With no time to think about tactics, i subconsciously defaulted back to the plan from the track session, run 6 x 1 miles in 6.07 but this time without any recovery in between efforts!

Mile 1 went perfectly, I strolled off the start in row 7 or 8, held up a little by the masses of other runners who bolted from the gun but who then slowed up 100 metres down the avenue. This worked in my favour as it stopped me doing the usual fastish start and causing early onset of lactic acid in the muscles, usually culminating in a disappointing performance.

Mile two was, after talking to other runners, the toughest of the race. A stiff headwind up Queens Road and up to the Consti Railway meant a split of 6.13, and I felt it too. 'Disaster' I decided whilst running down the ramp onto the prom as the wind swirled about. Upon hitting the prom I realised that the wind was actually a side-tail and we were cruising. The next couple of miles were knocked out in 6.01 and so it was back to being game on.

At this point I was hurting, but in a good way as only other runners will understand. The usual pain was there but with no decrease in pace. My effort had been timed well and the muscles were operating at full efficiency. In other words there was a gap in the clouds, a tiny glint of hope, a small window of opportunity to grab that sub 38 that seemed impossible only a few weeks earlier. I decided to ignore the Garmin from here on in (2.2 miles to go) as I knew i could maintain the pace and didn't want to know if i was waining to be perfectly honest.

The first 'bang' came rather appropriately by the doctors surgery, but with Ian and Norman just up ahead, they acted as a carrot and with a quick adjustment to my stride, I fixed the problem and actually sped up!

Mile 5 ended up at 6.03 and so around Blaendolau Fields I caught a few runners which made a nice change from previous editions of the race where I'd been the one spluttering. Mile 6 was flipping tough but what can you do?  A PB is on a plate, the napkin is around the neck and the salt & vinegar are perfectly placed for you to tuck in and enjoy!

I guess any other type of session would have meant collapsing in the nearest ditch. I am not strong willed usually, only when really really pushed, and even then its a total and painful inconvenience, but with Steve and Burgess both marshalling at the level crossing and within the last km (it's always good to know the course!), I managed to keep it together. 'Core stability' which seems to be a buzzword stressed upon more and more these days, was out the window at this point. I became that flapping runner from a few years back when I first joined the Aber AC. My back wobbled side to side with each stride, the head rocked, and arms started jiving as i lauched into a final sprint. This must have looked more like someone running with some heavy shopping, only the shopping had been photoshopped out....

In mild payback for the 3.00.02 at Manchester Marathon, the clock came into focus at 37.51 and I only had yards to go. I came over the line in 37.56, so take that mr timing clock demon. I would have been seriously annoyed at 38.01!

So for me, it was a PB and showed that with a bit of focus in training, and a lot of determination on race day, plus the minor issue of a baby daughter potentially being born that morning, any goal is possible!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Chester Marathon - 7th October 2012

Well, they say you have to take the rough with the smooth and so here's my report on my run in the Chester Marathon which didn't quite go to plan on the day.

Depite this, I have to say that of the three marathons that I have done, this was the best in terms of atmosphere and location. OK, they were lucky with the weather compared to Manchester but it's maybe because I enjoy smaller events that I really thought that this is a must do race for any budding marathon runner from my neck of the woods.

I like running on rural roads and after a quick lap of the city centre, the Chester marathon quickly headed west towards Wales on some fantasticly fast flat B roads that were perfect for a PB attempt.

I counted two clips of note on the course, but they were nothing compared to what we are used to back in Ceredigion!

That is about as good a picture I can paint of the day from my perspective. I'd kidded myself that a sub 3 hour run was possible on a diet of 20-25 mile weeks all through September due to work commitments. Although some of these weekly totals did include a full on 20 mile run, I had not managed the tough 'tempo' sessions that seem so crucial to conditioning yourself these days...

The race started right inside the Chester racecourse, and parking was easy. The only hassle was a walk across wet grass to get to the toilets / start area meaning wet feet before we'd begun...
For the first half kilo, we immitated racehorses as we ran the course before hitting tarmac and heading out on the course. The locals were out in force but it wasn't overkill like London or even Manchester where the crowds were overwhelming in comparison.

Each village had a good turnout and the RAF cadets were great with the feedstops. There was a nice amount of 'quiet time' in between each village where you could settle into your pace without distractions too.

I started near the front and clubmate Gancho found me on the start line. He was aiming for his own PB and we shook hands and wished each other well. His intended schedule was 20 minutes faster than mine so suffice to say I didn't see him again til the finish!

My plan was to knock out some 6.40 miles until half distance and then try and hold 6.50-7 min miles all the way to the finish...easy? Sure!

The racing was fast for the first few miles, so much so that i was being passed by runner after runner despite running at 6.25-6.35 pace myself! This was alarming and I didn't get sucked into any battles and so settled into my own pace. I hit 10 miles in 1.05 which was a tad fast and started thinking of delusions of grandeur about possible finishing times.
The first chink in the armour came at the 12 mile feed. I grabbed a bottle and turned 90 degrees right onto a false flat. It was like being hit by a traction engine! The effort required to maintain pace on this road seemed double. I trudged on and hit 13.1 miles in 1.27, still only 1 minute off Half Marathon PB pace.

We turned again onto a more forgiving road and it was back to being game on. By now I was knocking out 6.52 pace but it was feeling like too much effort. I'd heard nightmare marathon tales from lots of people over the years but had yet to experience one myself. That was about to change.

At 15 miles i knew i had a problem. My hips, thighs, groin and hamstrings were tightening, to a point that it affected my stride. I guess you call this being 'out of condition' or 'gone too fast at the start' or simply 'hit by the wall??'.

I held 7.00 - 7.10 until mile 19 and so was still on for a sub 3 but then the legs tightened more and the white flag was raised. I started to walk as I simply couldn't run! Luckliy it was a rural section as throngs overtook me and I managed a trot up to the next feed. Mile 20 & 21 were the worst - 11 minute miles!

After then we hit some villages and the crowd helped pick me up to a shuffle and I started some 10 minute miles, whehey!

Running back into Chester and the scenary and weather were perfect and despite my obvious pain, I still managed to take it all in.

I came over the long awaited line in 3hours 22 minutes which ain't so bad, a shake of hands from the organisers and also from Gancho who had waited around for me. We headed for a sit down in the huge food hall they had erected and chewed the fat about what had just happened. He'd done 2.47 which was a great time, but he also had an eye on a faster time.

Maybe we'll be back next year, hopefully with a few more Aber AC runners :-)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Flirting with a sub 3

My marathon day experience started at pre-dawn as I elected to remain in Aberystwyth rather than do the usual pan-weekend stay when it comes to the bigger events. Aber AC's annual dinner was on the saturday evening and after a fair few years of making up the numbers, I'd actually won an award this time around and so felt obliged to show my face.

Mr Burgess was also in the hunt for a trail league award and so despite his early Sunday morning start at the Harlech triathlon, he also threw the preperation book out of the window and made his way to the Black Lion for what was a great nights entertainment.

Despite the clubs best efforts to practically force alcohol down our throats, with a champagne reception followed by two precariously placed bottles of red within easy reach of our cutlery, the first time in memory that free grog had been on the menu, we lamented in our misfortune and temporarily toyed with the idea of one or two not being 'that bad' but ended up heading to the bar for rounds of lemonade and orange juice.

The evening finished up with an award as club male runner of the year, my first male award of 2012 after my dubious First Female Vet >35 win at the Rhayader 5k back in June, and so this one was more gladly received. Having stepped up my training since London, a few PB's came my way in some tough races. I thoroughly enjoyed the year and to win an award which was voted for by club members was truly unexpected and overwhelming.

After the festivities I made an early exit and was in bed by 11 for a 4.45 wake up call and on the road by 5, flask of microwaved porridge in hand.

Chester Services car park was utilized to eat/drink the aforementioned oats and it was on to Old Trafford by 7.45 for the 9am start at Longford Park.

Some dodgy characters were collecting £6 at a small car park that I had driven into. By the time I had changed and was ready to pay, they had disappeared with their takings from most of the other runners.... I half expected a clamp on my return but it was raining hard, i was getting late and decided to risk it.

A long walk to the start, and there was little signage to the main arena. All i could find were some portaloos, but given a choice, they were probably the most important thing to find at that point in time. I couldn't quite remember the entire array at the previous nights Aber AC buffet, but i wished it well in its new home in the outskirts of Manchester....

The weather, like everywhere that weekend, was awful. I'd packed well and was warm enough when the gun went off, keeping a woolly hat on for the first few miles. I'd decided to run in the usual summer outfit but the clouds were ominous. It was almost May though, surely the temperature would hold up?

As sole Aber AC competitor (to my knowledge) there was little support compared to the previous years London Marathon, although a spattering of Welsh flags were a welcome sight. My plan was to run at 6.45 pace for the first half and then 'see how it went'.

I soon stumbled across a gang of 3 hour pacers and decided to hang with them. Soon enough we'd done 5 miles through towns I'd never been to before, in fact I'd never really been to Manchester before so it was all new. There was a hairpin bend, and counting back, we were pretty high up in the standings.

The weather was cool, almost cold and it was raining. The brass bands played as we went through suburb after suburb. Fair play to them, they must have been colder than us! In fact, i was getting pretty cold and couldnt believe the amount of volunteers at the feed stops, handing our water sacks, gels and Gatorade every three miles or so.

I utilized their services every time due to the conditions and remained in a good state. Our little group formed a type of non--verbal commaradery, sharing water and forming cycling type echelons in the hedgerow-less rural plains that we came across from time to time, to help against the cruel sidewinds.

Throw in some off-road and barely 'C' road standard roads and this was no easy standard marathon, thanks to the weather.

We turned into a block headwind at around 16 miles after posting a 1.27 first half. Still feeling good, we visibly slowed but were still 7 minute miling and so the target time was still well within grasp.

The training seemed to have paid off. In London I was flagging at 17 miles, we were now at 19 and i was still keeping pace. 20, 21,22 and despite the odd 'weird' low sugar feeling, i shortened my stride to combat fatigue, and still managed to keep a decent pace. I decided that the 3 hour pacer guy, the only one remaining must be on the ball and so I dispensed with the one thing that i religiously follow during almost every other race i do, my clock watching calculation of splits.

I still gave it the odd glance but this wasted energy and I was wasted myself and so I kept Mr 3 hour in sight and at 25 miles I glanced down at a 2.51. Easy I thought, but this setting was not showing seconds. just minutes. 2.51 soon became 2.52 and I had 8 minutes to do 1.2 miles....

After being ahead of pace all race, i now found myself border line. I still trusted Mr 3 hour but the weather had taken its toll, there were refugees everywhere but i still felt ok (ish).

The odd feeling of iminent collapse was replaced with new found determination but the last mile was a series of twisted disable access ramps and underpasses. The finish never came, just crowds and distant PA announcements. I scanned the Garmin, 2.59....
I passed Mr 3 hour at a sprint as the gantry came into view. With no glasses on I could see the big clock, 2.59.XX, 2.59.XY, 3.00.00, 30.00.01   damn damn, no, what about chip time? Keep running...

Final time 3.00.10. I couldn't beleive it and reflected on the legendary footage of Laurent Fignon losing the 1989 Tour de France on the Champs Elyses by 8 seconds in a final time trial show down whilst in the yellow jersey.

The chip time came through eventually...3.00.02. What a disaster coupled with a feeling of contentment at taking over 12 minutes off my PB.

Only one thing for it, I'm going to have to go again, this time looking after my own pace in the last few miles!!!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

3 Days of De-Pain

Manchester Marathon training update - 11th April 2012

Training has been pretty good for this years marathon attempt, which takes place in Manchester on 29th April. No injuries of note (just a bit of runners knee, even the shins have held up and my non clicking ankle has finally clicked and so no more grumbling tendon pain there either!), but the weekly plodding away has become a tad monotonous of late, especially as last years training partner Dan Burgess had decided not to partake in this years festivities.
He has taken on a whole new challenge this year, namely the Aberystwyth Triathlon despite not being a swimmer. He recently told me that he's forewarned the RSPCA not to call out their whale distress response unit on the 10th of June as his out of the water transition technique still needs a bit of work....

The lunchtime gatherings have been pretty frequent, with Steve King, a rapidly improving Ian Evans and an even faster Sion Meredith all helping me to pack the miles in, and Steve to be fair has even kept me company on some of the two hour affairs.

Weekly mileage has been between 25-45 miles depending on the week and I've even managed a 3 hour run with no gels or food, and that was a killer let me tell you, but hopefully all for a good cause.

Despite all this, I was missing out on racing. I was simply too knackered to race, and apart from the Tregaron half in early Feb, I hadn't raced in 2012.

Something had to give, and after an easy week due to a short break, I saw that the Newtown Chocoholics 5k and Teifi 10 mile were on the schedule for Easter weekend, and I had nothing else planned. I'd missed that weeks speed session and so I could not find an excuse not to go along to Newtown and give it a whirl.

With bail sorted, I set off from home and arrived in Newtown with around 30 minutes to spare, and instantly regretted my lack of notice to the others when Ian Evans informed me that he'd had to catch the train up to Newtown that morning. I immediately offered him a lift home, on the  understanding that he was at no point allowed to overtake me in the race.

Other faces appeared, Helen & Jos, although Helen was present in a supporter / judging assistants role due to her stormtrooper leg unit still being attached, John Evans and Helen Stretch.
I had no plan for the race. I'm not in 5k pb form, all I had missing from the week was a speed session and so (with hindsight stupidly) took off at a frantic pace - 3.19 for the first 1k and even then i wasn't near the front. There were some seriously fast and young runners out there, and I was experimenting to see how quick I could go and for how long...
The answer came soon enough, after approximately 1.5k! The legs slowed, the lumbar muscles gave out and I started to get 'untidy'.
I quick look at the watch and I was still doing a great pace but it was hurting and wouldn't last. My Clwb Meirionydd ally ran ahead, and would later record a 17 minute time. I saw a hill coming, didn't know the course and crumbled slightly inside. The pace slowed further and I wished to collapse in the nearest hedge. This was harder than the three hour run, and I was only 8 minutes in!!!

Next up, a turn. This was good news as it meant we'd be running back down the longish hill. This didn't really help as I was on the ropes and Maldwyn Harrier after Maldwyn Harrier passed me by. Even their 12 year old youth runner got in on the act on his way to a mid 18!

I knew that Jos, on his way back from injury and an ever improving Ian would be hot on my heels. To be honest this was the only thing stopping me from keeling over, and as it was I managed to hold them off by around 5 seconds on the line. Moral of the story - do not have delusions of granduer in a 5k running race - it hurts.

Next up after one days rest was the Teifi 10 miler in Lampeter, a favourite race of mine and a definate chance at a pb for the distance.
The conditions were ideal for me, very cool but still, and the 5k was already out of my legs.

I set off at target pace and spent the first two miles trying not to turn around and give the two guys behind me a piece of my mind. They were talking as if out for a Sunday stroll at 6 minute miling pace. It later transpired (when they past me) that they were none other than Carwyn and Andrew Abbot of Sarn Helen, obviously not taking the race at their regular pace and so they continued to chew the fat whilst the rest of us struggled to maintain pace.

The first 5 miles saw me battle hard to keep on target as it seemed to be more uphill then down but at 5 miles the watch said 32 minutes dead, which was great but it had hurt. As the towel was about to be thrown in I was passed by a TROTS guy and found the strength to tag along with him. The pace was good and with the slight downhill, the chance of a sub 64 was back on.

Mile after mile through Cellan, we continued until another TROTS guy came past and my colleague jumped on his train, leaving me to battle on alone. Nevetheless, my pace was still good and I cleaned up a few stragglers on the run-in, including a flagging Mr Abbot to take a 63.30 odd time on the line and a PB by over a minute and a half. Mission accomplished.

Day 3 of the racing weekend was the club league 5 miler. Pretty much everyone had run alot over the weekend and so were all in for a toughie. The pace started steadily and Mark Smith took up the reins, albiet at a slower than usual pace as he himself had raced three times on the Saturday and Sunday.

Ian Evans didn't seem to be feeling it too badly and he soon took command of second place. My legs started giving me grief at two miles and despite this I battled on, as the clock was being kind.

Burgess came past at about 3.5 miles en-route to an attempted Evans hunt-down, but I couldn't respond and plugged on at around 6.50 (marathon pace). As we approached the Bandstand, a sub 32 was still achievable, and with a bit of a flourish, this was achieved just behind Mr B.

All in all, the 5 mile times were good, and everyone deserves a pat on the back for their efforts.

That's enough racing for now, I will now enjoy a two week taper before the big one on April 29th!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Tregaron Half Marathon

After spending months deliberating as to whether to enter another marathon this spring to have another crack at the magic sub 3 hour time, I finally entered the reborn Manchester marathon (29th April) after missing out on a ballot place for London.
This meant that i would have to start doing some 'proper' training again this year, after having a pretty sedentary few weeks after the Aber 10k in mid December.

Despite Steve Kings best efforts to coax me out on the now famous Aber AC lunchtime bash, my excuses each day/week ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, although I did manage a couple of wheezy outings.
I had actually been doing some training, a few decent evening tempo runs and of course the Tuesday night speed sessions, but nowt much else and so mileage had suffered.

Knowing that the Tregaron half was looming in the distance, it came as quite a surprise last Tuesday when Bash asked 'are you doing Tregaron on Sunday?' to which I auto responded 'yes' despite subconsciously thinking it was weeks away!

On the day the conditions were nigh on perfect. A cold yet not too cold stillness made for a perfect body thermostat regulator and there was no wind of note either! After a very short warm up the race began and my initail idea of keeping to marathon pace for an approx 1.30 time soon went out the windowas the race blew to bits straight from the gun.
The usual gaggle of Sarn Helen elites and other fast men & women disappeared into the distance yet Steve King, Dave Powell and myself were not too far behind, but the pace was 6 minute miling and my thoughts went into panick mode. This was my 5k pace, not half marathon!!
I figured Dave knew what he was doing and so decided to try and keep up with him. Once we hit the hills after the turn off the main road we dispensed with our two companions but my horrible lactic burn in my lower legs (the result of not warming up enough - happens alot!) was becoming unbearable. If Dave would have known this I'm sure he'd have pressed on. As it was I decided to man up and carry on the dreadful pace...
As we lumped ourselves over each steep climb between miles 4 and 8, we saw Steve King yo-yo to and from us but we never actually made up the gap.
On one climb I managed to distance myself from Dave only for him to come stomping back minutes later. I decided that it would be best to ease off the gas on the climbs so that I stood a chance of keeping with him on the flat. My descending has come on leeps since last year and I now know how to relax and take the handbrake off, but it was on the flat roads that my slight weight gain and lack of recent mileage was starting to show.
Onto the flat final 5 miles and I hoped that we could up the pace to 6.20 ish to try and claw back some time on Steve. I was a pathetic passenger as Dave plodded on in the wind as I hid like Mark Cavendish in his slipstream. We were caught with 4 to go by Stafford Rees from Rhayader, in the same place that he caught me last year, how annoying!

Our pace was never quite 6.30 but we were still going well and a look at the watch told me that we were on for a 1.25 or 6, barring a catastrophe.

As we exited the old railway and onto the road the thighs started to complain and despite my best efforts I just couldn't hold Dave who stole 10 metres on me. One look back and I had another chaser about to make contact. In this kind of situation, the animal is unleashed and I upped my game, determined not to lose position at this stage in the race. I managed a kick and couldn't quite catch Dave, but held off the pursuiter and so it was an Aber 3 up finish with Steve coming in a minute up the road.

Steve's improvement has set a new benchmark for the season for the rest of us. Roll on the next race!!