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Monday, 10 November 2014

Marathon Eryri 2014

Second attempt, after testing the water last year. This is how it went :

Mile 1 : Almost decapitated by the mile marker. Three of us were running side by side when a gust of wind dislodged the plastic marker and it proceeded blow across the road and swipe us, narrowly flying overhead. I thought 'is this a sign of things to come', excuse the pun..

Miles 2-3 : Headed towards Pen y Pass.

Miles 4-5 : Looked up at a peleton of good runners up ahead, including our own Dave Powell. I had lost touch but was keeping it sensible & felt pretty good.

Miles 6-7 : The descent. Andrew Poole stole a technique from Dyl Lewis which I then stole from him. Head forward, long strides and away you go. It worked and Dave's zoomed back into view, albeit still up the road.

Miles 8-12 : Preparing to start the assault. The long gradual descent in Beddgelert is where you settle in to a pace and hope you still feel good. I did, but though I was probably going slower than last year, holding back a tad.

Halfway at Beddgelert

Half Way : 1 hour 29, same as last year. Hit the hill out of Beddgelert and my group all left me on the climb. Thanks guys....

Miles 14-16 : Feeling fresh, too fresh. Almost started racing an old boy who past me. Luckily I didn't as I started feeling the heavy legs just a mile or so later!

Miles 17-18 : Passing people, people passing me, hard to work out the state of play! Caught a glimpse of 1st lady up ahead, it's as close as I got!

Miles 19-22 : Slower miles than last year, where I got caught up in the ladies battle. Kept a bit in the tank for the climb this time.

Miles 23-24 : The climb, oh and what a climb. Aim of the summer training had been to work on hills so I could run up this pig. It worked as I settled on a steady trot. Got passed by second lady like I was standing still. Passed a few walkers myself. Cramped at top of climb, but breathing was leisurely compared to last year.

Miles 25-26 : Took me 10 mins to do a mile downhill last year. Ran down this time but was passed by 6, taking me out of the top 60. Far too steep for the likes of me!

Mile 26.1 : Llanberis High St, good legs and a calculated effort resulting in a PB by 10 mins for 3.13!

Great event which will have to remain in the diary year on year me thinks!

Scarily close splits!!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Twin Peaks 2014

After a fairly long childcare-led sabbatical from racing, I finally got a chance to don the blue vest at the local 'Aberystwyth Twin Peaks' race, a tough mixed terrain Welsh classic.

The event had been organised by my running mate Ian Evans, his first stab at race organising and despite being nervous beforehand, he put on a great show, one of the best Twin Peaks yet, ably assisted by freak mid-summer like conditions in early October. The local surge in people taking up running also showed, with lots of new faces meaning a record entry for the race and in addition, all the family and friends that come with them, to create a great atmosphere on the promenade.

Race start
My previous outings in 2014 had been the Teifi 10, Island Race (HM), Tregaron Duathlon & Castles Relay (12m), all in the first half of the year, but the trusty Parkrun and a good summer of training meant that fitness was good and it would just be a case of finding out whether the form was there on the day.

It was also my first year since 2010 without a Spring marathon. Whether this was a good thing or not remained to be seen.

A reccy was carried out the previous week with first timer, nephew Llyr. I'd worked out some mile splits which always sets my mind at rest (to know the course like the back of my hand). One less thing to worry about on the day.

Looking back through some previous Twin Peaks races via my Garmin data (I love this kind of retrospective analysis), I realised that my hill work had been ok in the past but my downhill and maybe even the pace on the flats needed some work.

This meant the plan was to start at full gas for once, minus maybe a couple of percent, and slacken off on 'Dogshit alley' in readiness for the first slog of the day, Pendinas Hill.

My plan kind of worked. I wanted a fast first mile but it seemed that the quality field all had fresh legs on the day and we set off at a seemingly brisk but sensible pace, only for the mile one split to read 5.39, way faster than even my 5km pace. This felt very comfortable at the time and so I decide to go for it and try & stay at the back of the lead group.

Mile 2, which ended just at the foot of Pendinas was another cracker at 6 minutes, and I'd even lost a couple of places which didn't alarm me too much. I was almost one minute up on my schedule after two miles, something had to give.....

Pendinas starts steep, levels out and then kicks again towards the summit. The first kick saw me hold back and run with my group, which by this point had thinned out, with the leaders making their way ahead of us. I began to overtake runners on the less steep middle section and was running 9th as we headed for the top.

The last kick was a brute and the guy in front started to walk. Psychologically, this wasn't good for me. I was in pain and saw this as a great chance to copy him, and to try and stop the burn. I did, and never really recovered.

I'd gone over the red line, and plummeting down the descent, I was out of control, lucky not to turn an ankle or slip on my back as I just didn't have the core strength to keep myself stable. Not to worry, I just thought of how fast Richard Anthony would be snowballing down behind me, and managed to keep a good pace going through the off-camber footpath whilst being chased by a couple of runners I'd past on the ascent.

Back onto the road for mile four and the legs had gone into lactic shock and I felt like I was operating at 50% power, probably due to the fast start! We've all been there and it's a test of will to convince your body to snap out of it and get going again. I thought of the old 3 min max. sprint tests on the bike that the University lab carried out a few years back. This showed that even after a maximal sprint effort where you die by minute two, you actually start producing more power again in minute three, despite the sensation of doom that you're going at snails pace...

I looked up and saw that the guys in front were in the same boat, we were all running in slow motion compared to the outward prom leg, it was just a case of hanging on. The 3 min theory did work in my opinion, and I felt a bit stronger as we headed to climb two. My Garmin had lost GPS at mile three frustratingly and so I can't analyse the negative split in great detail much to my annoyance.

'Consti' is another tough climb, albeit shorter than Pendinas, and years of efforts up there taught me in my hour of need, not to look up, focus on the three twisty corners at the bottom before crossing the two bridges and then the final slog through the rocky section to the summit. It was 'orrible. I walked, I looked up to see others walking, I looked down to see that I had ample gap to the guys & girls behind me but I still wanted to keel over. I asked a marshal where the collapse mattress was.. If you're cooked, no hill training in the world can help you speed up. I trotted and eventually forced myself to run again, cheered on by the crowd at the top, and plodded up to the access road at the very top and managed to catch up with one other runner to start the descent.
 My timer was still working and so I knew how long we had to descend back to the prom in order to try and dip below the magical 50 minute mark for a PB and it was going to be close, probably too close. I bombed down, again in a Richard Anthony esque' style, almost falling into the sea at the bottom of the ramp, with my knees and shins still reminding me of this almost a week and a half later. I didn't hit the prom with enough time to spare to run to the finish in the time required,and was duly re-caught by my companion in the yellow shirt that I'd left on the descent.

The legs had gone but I managed a glimmer of a sprint to come home with a PB by 17 seconds, at 50.22 for 12th place on the day. I reckon a sub 50 is possible next year, just hold off a tad in that first mile!

Friday, 14 March 2014

2014 - The Island Race - Hanner Marathon Ynys Mon, Gogledd Cymru

My first race of the year after a post Aber 10k period of pure gluttony, almost on a Brian Ashton / Ed Land scale (but not quite) and inability to get back into the training groove meant a belated start to the racing year.

With my lunchtime taskmaster Gancho Slavov currently out injured, there has been little in the way of his 'operation certain death' intervals so far and so I've been half heartedly attempting some of these myself, and have also been glad to be back at the Tuesday night speed sessions.

I chose this race as it's on the in-laws doorstep up on the Menai Straights and so a relaxed Saturday afternoon was spent reading the papers and putting the world to right in the father in-laws conservatory. This made a change from the usual 'Ace Ventura' style driving through Wales on the morning of the event, arriving with minutes to spare...

I picked up my number on the eve of the race, which also contained a 'do not bend' timing chip which I duly bent climbing back into the car, and a nice green & yellow T-Shirt, saving even more pillow time for the following morning.

The race started on the Menai Bridge and so I parked in the overflow car park which was Bangor City FC's new ground, turning out to be about a mile away, with not a portaloo in sight. Decision time. Get to the start early, in full warm up gear, visit loo & run back to the car, strip down and run back in race gear? This would mean 3 miles pre race! Instead, I sacrificed my trusty orange rain jacket and left the car for the day in my ready to race state with rain / warm up jacket which ended up in the back of the organisers van. I'll ask for it back one day..

Portaloos aplenty at the bridge and so we were off. The announcer went through the list of favorites, all with their own specific marathon goals, using this 'Island Race' as a preparation event. Rob Samuel, the winner of Marathon Eryri was even here.

My plan was to run at 6.20 pace or as near as I could, depending on the course, which I hadn't raced before. Mile 1 was the usual stampede as we headed into the town on the other side of the bridge, before heading north east towards Beaumaris on 'rolling roads'.

Miles 2-6 were all ok despite the hills although I was being caught by individuals and small groups and couldn’t really tag on any of them. This was the start of alarm bells and as we headed north of Beaumaris onto some twisty back roads, I began my 'second phase' of the race which involved running slower than phase one!

We turned back towards Beaumaris after what seemed like hours of wandering the countryside and hit a harsh headwind (no wonder the first 6 miles were ok!) and as we headed around the marina, I was caught by the first lady and a companion. The companion was running a very strange style, dragging his right foot. It transpired that he was in fact trying to unhitch something from the sole of his shoe and when he couldn't achieve this, he duly stopped dead, despite me being right behind him. Luckily I've watched the Matrix series of films, and instantly impersonated Keanu Reeves in dodging a bullet and somehow managed to twist myself around the human pillar in front of me, narrowly avoiding putting us both out of the race.

Miles 9-11 were even worse with headwinds and hills all conspiring against me and the rest of the field as pace went out the window and it was just time to enjoy the run. At mile 12 I glanced at the watch and still had a faint chance of a sub 1.30, needing around 8 minutes to compete the last 1.2 miles. I half heartedly trudged on, only to see a sign saying 400 metres to go..I looked down again, I had 1min 50 seconds to do 400 metres - easy!?

Thinking back to all the track sessions we'd done, I bolted off and sprinted the last '400', but alas it wasn't 400, more like 600 metres and as the finish came into view, I was in at around 1.30.16!

In summary, a well organized race, backed up by great enthusiasm from the locals with plenty of support & feeds. If you fancy a racing weekend away in North Wales, look no further.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Good year or bad year?

A short summary of my running year 2013.

What started out as one final push for a sub 3 hour marathon, threatening to take over my life during January to April, actually turned out as a year for some new training sessions, less focus on racing so frequently and a quick stab at the iconic Marathon Eryri.

With the sub 3 marathon conquered (see previous blog), it could only ever be described as a good year, but with new challenges along came new targets and some ups and downs along the way, one of the downs being the fact that I have been 'upgraded' to the veteran 40+ category for all races :-(

Firstly, the club I belong to (Aberystwyth AC) has exploded into a bigger operation with first class race promotions, new runner incentives such as 'Couch to 5k', and a website that encourages friendly competition with the Badge Scheme and the Club League...and that's not even mentioning ParkRun!
ParkRun has been the single most important new venture that has made running more accessible and social in Aberystwyth, and in turn has seen many new faces come along and give it a go. Personally I haven't had as much involvement as I'd like, with a young family this year but have helped out when possible. The credit is down to a few key players in the club (they know who they are!). 
As well as the competitive side of things, the training sessions have also grown, especially in the female sector and more and more social runs are springing up all the time which makes it all a bit more communal.

Any spare time I've had this year has been spent getting out the door for a quick hour in between baby's sleep, eat and play patterns although some great Sunday runs have been had with the usual suspects of Ian, Keith & Gancho. With Keith's dad living in Capel Bangor, the usual route has been along the Rheidol Valley with a water stop, arranged by Keith at 5 & 12 or whatever miles, just put your money in the honesty box.

The 'new' lunchtime track sessions have been really effective in tackling some PB's and again it's those usual suspects that have raised the bar. Firstly Ian Evans got the ball rolling early in the year and soon saw the benefits with a PB at Tregaron Half and then some regular sub 18 minute 5k's. Gancho then also brought some of his focus to the track with some killer lunchtime sessions which usually involved towing me around the track, lap after lap with the odd 100 metres of rest if I was lucky. These 'cruise intervals' were tough but really made a difference as I brought my own 5k PB down by around 30 seconds. 
Sprinting to the line to take 3rd place in the Newtown 10k at Latham Park, May 2013.

The lunchtime recovery runs were taken care of by Steve King and myself usually lamenting Shrewsbury Town's lack of form as we trundled gingerly through Dan y Coed woods and along the prom.

My targets for 2013 after the marathon were a bit hazy, but thinking back and after looking at the unnervingly accurate Club Badge tables, a Gold badge had been achievable with a bit of hard work. A sub 18 5k, sub 37 10k and a 1.22 half marathon will have to wait another year as none of the above were quite cracked, but I still managed the Gold Badge standard times at all distances by a hairs breadth. The platinum standards are a bit extreme for me but why not give them a crack :-)

Surprisingly tho, my best race of the year was probably the Cardiff Bay 5 mile just 3 weeks after London where a sub 30 minute time (sub 6 min miles) came as a pleasant surprise and gave a bit of confidence for the year ahead. 

In amongst all of the events that I entered in 2013, my favourite running experience was probably the Snowdon Marathon in October. With no aspirations on time for once, I showed up, hung around the cafe with Dave & Lou just chewing the fat (something I've wanted to do all year but have always been in too much of a rush or simply never at the same races), eased down to the start line and just took off.  This is one of the toughest 26.2's in Europe and the one thing I didn't do enough of over the summer - the long run, came back to bite me in the bum (actually the hips) at Waunfawr at around 22 miles of the race.
I'd actually blown at Rhudd Ddu a tad earlier but had run through it and was back on track with a group that would eventually finish in 3.15. My implosion at the climb (I mean Mountain!), meant a run/walk strategy both up the hill and down it into Llanberis to lose a further 8 minutes, but that foil blanket (my first ever foil blanket) and a warm mug of tea soon made it all worthwhile and I fancy heading back again next year with some more miles in the legs.

The gap between Snowdon and the legendary Aberystwyth 10k was about 6 weeks and this was all focused on the sub 37 minute time with those afore-mentioned intervals. Despite coming close (a PB by 30 seconds of 37.28), it wasn't to be but the knowledge gained on track pacing will hopefully prove useful in future.

Another distance which has/will become a target is the sub hour 10 miler. This will probably be the toughest test of the lot as I am still deficient by around 3 1/2 minutes after Novembers Elan 10 miler. This was a hilly event but I had hoped to be in the 62's and so its back to the drawing board on that one. With no spring marathon in 2014, some genuine focus can now be spent on these shorter distances. Again, the sub 30 at Cardiff 5 has given me a bit of hope here.

Back to Parkrun and this is a cracking early Saturday morning exercise, getting all of the pressure to train on the weekend out of the way early doors. I've worked out that a more satisfying weekend is to be had in general if the Parkrun is done.. Edging closer to to a sub 18, I've hit 18.06 on two occasions, in September & October and so I'm hopeful of finding those 7 seconds from somewhere soon, surely just losing a couple of pounds will do it?!