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Friday, 30 October 2015

Snowdon Marathon - Run Walk Crawl

So many memories from what was my third successive stab at Marathon Eryri, one of the toughest road marathons in Europe.

Usually, to run a road marathon you make a start and plod along at as sensible a pace as possible, taking your brain out along the way for three flattish hours as the legs get heavy and the mind wanders, with nothing much to focus on apart from the competitors around you and the crowds to cheer you on.

The difference with Snowdon? For a start, it's hilly, very hilly. Then there's the scenery, absolutely stunning. Then there's the weather, usually raining, which brings out some more stunning autumn colours from the surrounding landscape. Then there's the surface, which goes from road to track, back to road and finishing with another track and a steep grassy descent towards the finish. You can break the Snowdon marathon down into so many sectors that the miles literally fly by, even when your own body is failing miserable, as mine did during this 2015 edition.

There are also the pockets of crowds at the few villages en-route, and the organisation, which is mainly made up of volunteers which makes for a real sense of community and camaraderie from when you first park up in Llanberis, to when you hobble back to your car many hours later.

For me, I set myself up by ordering a large americano in the cafe opposite race HQ and made my way to my club's resident table which they seem to acquire each year. I was late, and so had to down the double shot drink in time to make the club photo call. As a cappuccino connoisseur, the hit from the heavily caffeinated water based coffee made me feel a tad alert and ready for anything, or so I thought..

Behind Ken at around 6 miles in.

The day was a rainy one, the first rain for 6 weeks after a gloriously dry autumn, but hey ho, it was fairly warm and there was no wind.

I hadn't raced much in August or September, in fact, not at all and so with retrospective regret, i decide to run the Aberystwyth Twin Peaks hill race, just 6 days before Snowdon, to get the engine into gear. The race went well, as well as the notoriously hard Twin Peaks can go, and I came away with a PB. Unfortunately, in the days after the race, my aches and pains were far worse than usual, and I even had a touch of DOMS. The hamstrings were tight and so ice baths and a pro massage were the order of the day. Looking back, the aches stemmed from a triathlon in late September that i hammered myself on, especially the run course which involved two steep descents. I remember feeling great around this time, with some fast splits on training runs being achieved and thinking at the time that i wished the races were earlier.

Two days out from Snowdon, and the legs felt recovered and I felt good as I warmed up before the start. Always a bad sign..
I started near the front of the race, just because seeing a zillion runners ahead of me in a race is always disheartening. The first mile was a tad too fast and so I wound my neck in and tried to settle into a sensible pace but the legs were feeling good.

Mile two was still faster than scheduled. An old steady state pace strategy for me would be to stick at 6.50 minute miles (sub 3 pace on a flat marathon), but having done this race twice previously and having had three strong & fast 20 mile training runs in the lead up, I was up for experiment.

As the story goes, I ran Llanberis pass at what seemed like a normal pace. I had very little knowledge that i was in fact in 30th position out of 2000 odd runners going over the summit, . My club mate Kenny Caulkett came past at the top and informed me of our position. To be with him should have sounded alarm bells, especially when he also told me that eventual 7th place man Dylan Lewis was behind us. 
We chatted for a bit and tumbled down the descent. It was half way down that the first twang of hamstring pain made it's entrance, oddly on the left, my 'good' leg.
I ignored this and ploughed on, knocking out stupidly fast mile splits for me. I'd have said prior to the race that 6.40 would be the fastest pace that I was prepared to go, but as it turned out, there were some 6.11, 6.26's and even a 6.13 at half distance. Despite a toilet stop that Paula Radcliffe would have been proud of (just ask witness, Dyl Lewis), i hit half distance with a half marathon PB. My previous half marathon PB was not fantastic, but it was done at Cardiff, not having via Llanberis pass!
The road inclines once again in Beddgelert, and this part of the course usually catches people out. I'd conked out badly here in 2013 and not done much better in 2014, but today I breezed up the hill, keeping equal distance to Ken, Dyl and Gancho up ahead as we'd all gone through half way within a minute of each other.

It would've been nice to get back to sub 7's after halfway's climb, but as the graph below shows, pace remained ok up until mile 21. Mile 21! That's only 5 miles to go right? If the graph showed heart rate, i pretty much died at 23 miles, which was to be fair, one of the steepest road climbs of any marathon out there. 

My calf's and hamstrings were now unresponsive and i was overusing the glutes and quads, calling on any other muscles that could help. I pretty much walk/jogged/crawled the remaining three miles and the pacing target got hammered as I lost over 60 places to the finish in Llanberis.
My final time was 3.17, which ain't too shabby to be fair, but the target had been a sub 3.10 before my fast start demons got the better of me.  
The next day, i woke up with a bad ankle and pulled calf on the left side, direct results of whatever niggle was caught at the triathlon. Prognosis - it's a scratch wound. Onwards and upwards to the Aber 10k in December before a spring marathon to prepare for. Surely i won't start too fast again, will I? 

A grimace for the camera.
Walking the final descent

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Ystwyth 10

8 year old club 10mile TT record falls 
I went along to help marshal the Ystwyth 10 mile TT recently on the Lovesgrove course which is currently the faster of our two 10 mile distances, based on the then club record time by a member – 21.23 by Dafydd Dylan. That night, the record fell to Gruff Lewis.
The achievement was not struck on me until the next day when I actually thought about how many riders had ridden that race over the years. A very rough calculation tells me that it's approximately 16 events per year, so to take it back to 1955, that's 960 events in total. For arguments sake we'll round this down to 900 to allow for cancellations for road works and weather. An average turnout, despite a late noughties peak of 40 riders per week, was usually more like 8-10, and so based on 10 rides per week as a conservative estimation, the Ystwyth 10 has been 'time-trialled' at least 9000 times in its 60 year history. 8999 of those rides were slower than Gruff Lewis' ride that evening, some of which were his own attempts since around 2011 when he began to attack the previous record of 21.23, set by Dafydd Dylan, a school friend of Gruff's and also a former semi-pro who set that record in 2007.
The history of the record itself is sketchy before 1987, ironically the year that tri-bars first started to make their way into the sport, via triathlon. It was student Rick Morris, a popular and successful triathlete who broke the record with 22.53. How do I know? I spent three seasons with that time sellotaped to my stem, with splits for various locations on the course to  hit, to try and beat Ricks time. I can remember most of them : Lovesgrove junction (now a roundabout) - 3.55, or anything sub 4 minutes, Capel Bangor village sign (6.55), 5 mile turn (11.30), Capel Bangor sign on return (16.00 ), Lovesgrove roundabout (18.50), Finish (21.53).
The fatal error in my split calculations was that I only planned to match the course record, and so that is exactly what I did, twice, before finally breaking it with 22.46 in 1996. Gruff probably had a similar idea of splits and of course, expected power output these days, in his pursuit of Dafydd.
So Rick's time stood for 9 years, Dafydd's for 8 and mine, well only for one year, as another student, Arwel Davies came along in 1997 and rode what can only be described as 'the perfect 10' one summers night that year. The local scene was strong in 1997. Arwel was a fine tester and road man and still races to this day. Another two students, road racer Simon Owens, a Welsh International at the time, and Daniel Roberts who was possibly the most talented cyclist I had witnessed up to that point were also on the local scene at the time.
These three, coupled with locals like Alastair Rhodes, an international standard duathlete, Meirion Davies and myself, both second cat roadmen at the time meant that chaingangs were tough and thus the time trials became faster. That said, my record wasn't threatened until that night. A calm, non-existent wind, plenty of traffic, a hot but not too hot night and Arwel with his Jeff Bruce TT machine and Spinergy wheels had a flyer to record 21.57. He's knocked me out of the water and then some. He's even broken 22 minutes, something that only four riders have managed in history!
Poor Daniel Roberts. He rode to 22.01 on the same night, albeit after Arwel and so never actually held the record.
A 22 minute time has become a regular occurrence in recent times, none more so than Danny Thorogood, a regular at the time trials since the early 2000's and in a second coming after some rides at the distance during his student days in the 1980's. Both he and Paul Robinson of Felifach ruled the roost during the 2000's until the 'Penweddig' youngsters Dylan, Lewis and Williams came along with their regular forays into the sub 22's.
How long will the new record last? How long will the courses last, with all the new regulations regarding no dead turns and no right hand turns in any new time trial course, it seems Llety's days are numbered, although somehow, it seems to soldier on!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Ynys Mon Hanner / Anglesey Half Marathon

The first race of 2015 and the first since the birth of yet another daughter. I say yet another, it's only two in total with the new arrival meaning, inevitably that since 29th December, running has taken a major back seat.

I entered this race as its on the outlaws doorstep. I say entered but I actually forgot. Maybe we think about races so much that we assume we've entered them and then after this self assurance, we spend the next few weeks training in the belief that we are about to pin a number on.

After 'booking' the weekend and driving the family north, I luckily decided to log on to the race website and for some reason, checked the 'am i in' page, mainly to see if any other Aber AC runners were coming. To my horror, my name didn't appear under C for Blimey Charley...

Panic set in but I calmed enough to send an email, leave an answer message to which none were replied to on the eve of the race. There was absolutely no entry on the day permitted and so I had to make a decision. Did I admit the error to the family or plod on and see if I could wing an entry. I decided on the latter and parked up in a grassy layby near the HQ and pleaded ignorance that I had definately entered online and couldn't understand why i wasn't showing on the entry list. This was all played out just 40 minutes before start time.

To be fair, the staff were great, and I was convinced that I'd spent a lazy Sunday morning entering on my phone a few weeks prior. They soon sorted me a number, T-Shirt and numerous freebies and I was on the way to the start line on Menai Bridge.

With a poor number of miles in the legs, i decided to go for a 6.30 pacing which would give a 1.26 time. Having done the race in 2014, i now respected it as a hilly, windy half marathon rather than one that a PB could be achieved on. I was just happy to be there.

The start was very picturesque, going over the famous bridge and onto the island of Anglesey on an out and back course along the Menai straights from Menai Bridge to Beaumaris and back.

Having done the race and crashing/burning in 2014, i now knew the hills and windy sections that would knock the stuffing out of all but the toughest of runners. I spotted Lauren on the start line and after her narrow victory over me at the Aber 10k, i wandered if revenge could be gained today?

The gun sounded and a mass of runners headed off on the largely downhill first mile. A zillion runners seemed to be ahead of me but i was running to pace and so didn't worry too much about this. As mile two and three came along, i felt a bit rough due to that lack of a run in the three days leading up to the race. At one point, I felt that it wasn't my day and decided to look for a place to stop, such was the lactic acid build up in the legs...!

As the course flattened out at around 5 miles, my legs came to and I was still hitting target pace and feeling better, decided to plow on.

Miles 6-9 were my best of the race. Despite the hills in these miles, and the turn into a block headwind, I'd passed numerous runners and was catching a group of Eryri Harriers, running a negative split. Maybe Lauren was in among them?

Unfortunately my lack of miles meant that by mile 10, i slowed a tad as we hit the climb out of Beaumaris. I didn't crack, but i was no longer gaining on group Eryri and footsteps behind were becoming louder.

The last three miles were tough but I knew that i was on a good time and at the line I scraped in under 1.27 (despite what the clock says in the picture!), for an improvement of over three minutes on 2014.

Happy with that, i chatted to Lauren at the finish to find that she had 1.23'd to which she wasn't very happy with!

I was very happy that despite a slow start to the year, I'd still improved and it gave some hope for the rest of the year.

I now await the clocks to change so that late evening runs do not seem so depressing!