Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Race Report: Xavier's Royal Berkshire Mini Mile

The phrase "do as I say and not as I do" has never applied so much as it did last Sunday when my 4 year old son Xavier and I ran the Royal Berkshire event at Greenpark, Reading. Xavier was entered into the Mini Mile whereas I ran the 10k, and although his race was only 1 mile (1.6km) he controlled the pace perfectly and finished strong. The less said about my race the better, although it will be covered in a separate blog report. Not only did he enjoy running it but he also completed it in a very respectable 10:31.

This was only Xav's second race. He ran a 700m event when he was 2 years old at the Hursely 10k. He loved running the event and, more importantly, he loved getting a banana and medal at the end. He was so small then that his bib number was almost as big as him! Since then we've discussed running another event but never actually got round to it. However when I entered the Royal Berkshire 10k this year I noticed they were offering a Mini Mile and Mini Marathon (3 km) for the younger ones. I signed Xax up for the Mini Mile, which is basically 1 mile (1.6 km).

As it had been such a long time since I signed Xav up to the 1 mile event, I went and confused myself by thinking it was a 2 km race! That meant training for Xav would entail 2 km. Now I didn't want to push him too hard nor do it in such a way that would him off, so I planned to take him out for just a couple of gentle training runs.

The first run was to see whether at a slow pace he could actually make the distance. So one Sunday we set off from our house and ran 1 km down a straight road and then ran back. It was hard trying to stop him from shooting off. I was trying to explain that he needed to run slower so he wouldn't get too tired to the end (something I'm still trying to learn!). Even though it wasn't hot I realised that the next time we run I'd need to carry a small water bottle for him.

Posing a couple of days before the race
A couple of weeks later I took him out for another run. Very similar in nature but in a different direction. This time I made sure he didn't shoot off, and I took water for him to drink. After a km he kept stopping and wanting a drink. In fact he stopped more times than the first run. I promised him that I'd be running next to him in the race and should he need any help then I'd hold his hand and run together.

Both of these 2 km runs were ran with an average pace of just over 8 min/km (so completing the 2 km in 16:xx). I felt confident he could run the distance. Time wasn't important - he'd enjoy himself so much.

The Monday before the race I took him out for a very short 600m leg stretcher, which he did no problems and we chatted as we ran. He did it with a pace of 6.34 min/km.

However later that week we got our race packs and I only then did I realise that I'd entered him into the mile event...D'OH!

Pre-Race Activities
We arrived at the event with about 15 minutes to spare until the kids taking part in the Mini Mile were asked to walk to the start line. Xav and I walked on and chatted. He was mega excited. Then began the warm-up exercises. Xav seemed to enjoy these but they did go on quite a bit and in the end I told him to relax or he'd tire himself out. So with Xav warmed up and ready to go, the hooter sounded and he was off!

The Race

Xav bolted out and although he was being overtaken by a few older runners he managed to hold his own. Once we'd cleared the initial surge I looked to try and control his pace. The route was a "there and back" with the outbound journey slightly up hill / flat. He overtook a number of runners. As he ran we chatted, went round a roundabout and he was getting some cheers. He started to overtake more and more runners. He didn't seem to be puffing and was actually enjoying it. The first 500m flew past and up in the distance we could see the turning point. By 700m we could see some of the faster runs on the loop back. Xav was doing really well and his pace showed. He got to the turning point and I gave him some water to drink, with a marshal encouraging him and telling him he was a good boy for drinking. Now for the journey back!

We looped round and Xav was off again. No stopping the lad. We passed the 1km mark and my watched beeped to indicate he'd covered it in 6.23 min/km. That was his quickest 1km thus far!

As he passed more runners he was getting huge cheers from some of the crowd. By around 1.3km he started to slow a little but didn't stop. A few runners overtook him but he didn't like that and "kicked in". We were going slightly down hill at this time. In the crowd a young woman has a huge foam hand for the kids to high-five. When Xav approached her he jumped in the air and high-fived! He loved it!

We could then start to see the finish line and I asked Xav if he wanted to sprint to the finish. Of course he wanted to - and off he went. My little 4 year old storming to a personal victory with a very proud dad behind him! He crossed the line for a total time of 10:31, with the last 600m ran at an even quicker 6:15 min/km. 

I gave him a huge hug and kiss and then we headed over to get his medal, Teddy Bear (which that evening he called Pluto) and chocolate. Then he saw mummy and his sister in the crowd. Mummy gave him a huge hug and kiss. We are both so very proud of our little man. He told us he wanted to run more races..... I can't wait!

Photos from the Race
Here are some photos from the race....


Monday, 18 May 2015

June - Dec 2015 Race Schedule

So with 2015 almost 50% done and with only 3 races under my belt, I've decided to sit down and map out my remaining year. Here's what I have lined up. I don't expect any additions to the list, but depending on what happens outside of running I may have to miss a few.

  • Wed 3 June - Yateley 10k
  • Thurs 11 June - Dinton Pastures 10k
  • Wed 8 July OR Thurs 9 July - Yateley 10k or Dinton Pastures 10k
  • Wed 5 Aug - Yateley 10k
  • Thurs 13 Aug - Dinton Pastures 10k
  • Sun 6 Sept - Maidenhead Half (Entered)
  • Sun 18 Oct - Abingdon Marathon (Entered)
  • Sun XX Nov - Swindon 10k
  • Sun 29 Nov - Eynsham 10k
  • Sun 13 Dec - Andy Reading 10k
  • Sun 27 Dec - Gut Buster

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Race Report: Newbury Duathlon 2015

I never thought I'd see the day when I'd entered a bike race, but here I am just about to write a blog about that first experience. Of course being a runner means I couldn't just be a bike race but it also had to include running; and so it was, and my first experience of a duathlon was born!

I'd decided to break by duathlon virginity at the Newbury Duathlon. It was relatively cheap to enter and very local. I went there with no real expectations; and although I'd being doing quite a bit of running of late but cycling was poor. Prior to the race I hadn't been out on the bike for 3 weeks and even before then I hadn't trained. I see the bike as a means to an end - i.e., to help prevent and/or get me through running injuries. So to enter a race where the bike forms the bulk of the distance was going to be interesting to say the least.

The Newbury Duathlon (my home town) is made up of a 5km run, 25km bike, 5km run - all runs take place off road along tracks and fields surround the lovely village of Chieveley (just north of Newbury). After arriving at the venue having forgotten my helment and then having to drive home to pick it up, I entered the main waiting area of the race and spotted and awful lot of very posh (not to mention expensive) bikes. I stood there with my cheap and cheerful Cylcocross from Halfords and tried to forget the competition. I was there just to have fun and experience my first duathlon. I had no idea I'd fair. What I did notice however was the strong wind; and readers will know how much I hate wind! 

After registering and attaching all the numbered stickers on my bike and helmet I then briefly caught up with Jason Tillen on the start line, where the wind was mentioned again. The countdown began and before we knew it we were off....

First 5km Run

The first part of the run was around a playing field before then hitting a road for a couple of hundred metres. Before I knew it we were off-road. My pace was good and pretty much the first couple of kms were downhill along tracks boardering fields. With such a short distance there isn't really much to report. I kept the pace solid and quick but without being too quick. In actual fact it felt comfortable. There was a hill half way through which although I flew up knew deep down that after the bike it would be much harder. 

I eventually cam out onto a road and with about 1km left I entered the transition. I completed the first run in a time of 22.35. For me that was a quick run but made sure I didn't push myself too hard. I entered first Transition content with my performance thus far.

Transition 1 (T1)
What a balls-up I made of this!!! It started so well. I ran to to my bike and quickly unracked it and ran to the exist. Just as I was about to get on it I was told I'd forgotten my helmet! I therefore had to run back into Transition and pick it up. That cost me dearly. The extra time I spent in Transition was added to the Bike time. My T1 time was a very quick 38 seconds! If you ignore the cock-up then I was very pleased with that.

Bike (25km)
I was dreading the bike. I'd really not trained for it. That said I jumped on and peddled at a controlled but steady pace. Along the straights and downhill I felt fine; managing to get some pace. However the hills really got me. For pretty much 3/4 of the bike only a handful of people over took me. There was a killer hill though and I was so glad I was on my own when I hit it. I went so slow up it that I felt like getting off and pushing. I didn't but it was embarrassing to watch (but thankfully nobody was). Once at the top it was much easier to the finish. I'd messed up the settings on my watch during the mess that was the Transition so I didn't actually record my bike activity. This means I had no idea how far I'd cycled or more importantly, how much distance I had left. 

I continued to plod long and before I knew it I was entering the village again and the Transition. With crowds cheering I got off the bike and pushed it into Transition 2. I'd completed the bike in 1:02:59 - a rather disappointing achievement I must say. Would like to have come at least mid-50s; but that's what I get for not training for it. Alas I had no idea of my time due to the watch not recording it.

Transition 2 (T2)
This was another quick transition - I hooked the bike on the rack, took my helment off and put my running cap on and then quickly existed (stopping briefly for some water). T2 was done in 47 seconds - another quick transition!

Second 5km Run

As I exited the Transition and hit the road my legs felt a little wobbly. I knew this feel due to what little training I had done, but to be honest it had never had an impact on my running performance. Back onto the tracks and it felt like I was running slowly when it actual fact I was running sub-5 min/km. The first part of the run was good as it was slightly downhill / on the flat. However I then hit the hills. 

My legs really did not like the hills at all and I had to walk a little part of them. They  felt so heavy from the bike. As a result my heart rate was really climbing. In order to combat this I pulled behind a fellow running who was running at a pace I wanted to run at and just stuck behind her and focused on both her and getting my heart rate down. This worked. I followed her all the way to the Transition area and by the time we hit it I'd recovered. I was then able to overtake her and sprint around the field before finishing strong. It was a controlled run and I was relatively happy. I'd done the second 5km in 25:12. Ideally I'd have liked to gone sub-25 mins but was still content as it was my first experience of off-road running in a duathlon.


Given I'd never done a duathlon I was very happy with my performance and I actually enjoyed it. It was very different from just running; although it's obvious from looking at the times that I'm more a runner than a cyclist. I was particularly happy with my Transition time.

I would most certainly do another one, but whereas with running I'd be looking for specific times, I think with the duathlon I'll just enter them for fun and try to forget about times - especially the bike times. 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

New Challenge: Abingdon Marathon

After telling both myself and others that I won't be running any long distance races this year, I've now gone and entered the Abingdon Marathon on the 18 October 2015. I would say I gave this much thought and consideration before undertaking such a huge race; but no, I didn't; I did a 40km training run last Friday which felt good, and decided that with a little training I could easily complete the marathon. Before I knew it, credit card was out and I'd booked my place.

A couple of things to note about this decision:

  1. Cut-off Time. Unlike most road marathons, the Abingdon Marathon has a strict 5 hour cut-off. I'm not likely to fall into the category, but what it does mean is that the population taking park will be mainly club runners looking for a PB (since it is a relatively flat course). No messing around with funny costumes - this will be a true marathon with most entrants aiming for a fast time.
  2. Uninspiring. This marathon has a reputation of not being inspiring when it comes to the scenery or crowds. This actually works well for me. It means I can just get my head down, focus on my pace and heart rate, and adjust when required without the distraction of the crowds. 
  3. Target / Goal. I entered this marathon not to get a fast time but mainly because it was a long run and it was local. My PB is currently 4hrs 25 mins which I got at Manchester last year; but in that race I was injured and had to run/walk the last half. Assuming I don't get an injury then I am hoping to get a new PB (closer to the 4hr mark ideally!).
  4. Training. I really do not have the time to train for this marathon; or I should say, spend more days training than I currently am. The only way Mary (my wife) would accept this is if I build the marathon training into my existing running schedule (hence my target time/goal is not very ambitious). I currently run Monday and Wednesday nights and Saturday morning (with the occasional extra run if I find the time). I've recently been running between 21km - 30km on Monday evenings (with some exceptions). The plan is to continue with this but extend the length of the runs, and include marathon pace as part of the run. Wednesday will be mixture of Newbury Runners and some speed work, progressive runs etc. Saturdays will be parkrun or a mid-distance run. Not ideal but given I ran 40km last Friday in 3hr 55 mins (add other 20 mins or so for pissing around taking photos etc) then I figure I can survive Abingdon and hopefully improve on my Manchester time....
So there we have it. The timing works out well as the month before I have the Maidenhead Half Marathon, so that will be a nice little tester on speed...

I miss my long runs - I just needed to get at least one in this year :)

Race Report: Eton & Windsor Half Marathon

It's been a long time coming, but here is the race report for my first Half Marathon of 2015 - the Eton & Windsor Half Marathon (or Hot Chocolate which it is now called). Not only was this my first HM this year but also my first official race and, despite things not going to plan due to the weather, I still knocked 12 minutes off my old PB which a very acceptable 1:45.55.

I'd not really trained for this HM due to the redundancy, but was confident that I could very easily get a new PB if I put some effort in. My old PB was 1:57:xx which I got a couple of years' ago at the Henley HM. This was my first real crack at a HM since then.

The location of this event was Dorney Lake in Windsor. It's a very boring route consisting of 4.5 laps of the lake and a route that is very exposed. The slightest wind would have an impact on performance and my sole purpose for entering such an unforgiving event was that, if the conditions were right, a PB was possible. I went into the event looking for a 1hr 45 min as a min but ideally a 1hr 42 min. 

As I left Newbury the weather was calm and it was warm and sunny - perfect running conditions (or so I thought). However as I drove down the M4 towards Windsor the heavy clouds set in and the sun disappeared; as I parked up and got out the car I also noticed a very strong wind and much colder temperature. This was not good!

As I headed over to the Registration Tent I could feel the strong wind that seemed to be swirling but predominately coming from the North and North-East. This meant I'd be running into a headwind for each length of the lake. I did not like that idea!

I entered the Registration Tent and it was nice and warm (further emphasising how cold it had got outside). I picked up my number and timing chip and started to the necessary attaching. I then went back out and looked at the task ahead of my. It was cold, windy and bleak!

Needing to warm up a little I went for a little jog and the head wind was truly horrible. After 2km I came to the conclusion that this was going to be harder than first thought.

After hanging around the Registration Tent for a while we were then called to the start, which was almost the length of the lake away. This meant a long slow walk. I met Matt Brown (a fellow Newbury Runner) on the start line and we got chatting. Before long the starter went and we were off. Almost immediately you could feel that wind. My goal was to sit on between 4.45 - 5.00 min/km and for the first 10km I managed this; however the wind was really starting to sap my energy at around the 14km mark. Each lap meant approx. 2km of running into a headwind and that was sole-destroying. My pace had dropped off and I was now running between 5.00 - 5:20 min/km. I could see a PB was still on so I carried on; but to be honest I wasn't really enjoying it. 

I started on the final straight and back into the wind. At the other end of the lake I could see the finish. I continued along, trying to use back-markers as wind-breakers but to no avail. I eventually crossed the line in a time of 1:45:55 and was glad it was over. So much potential wasted - had that wind not been there then I could easily have achieved my target. That said you can only run what is in front of you and in the conditions at the time. I did achieve a huge PB but it was little consolation.

After crossing the line I went straight to the timer computer to pick up my official time. On the way back I bumped into Matt who'd just finished his run. We both moaned about the weather conditions then went inside the tent to get our free, and much wanted, hot chocolate (which tasted very good). After chatting for around 20 minutes it was time to head off home...

This race had so much potential and the weather spoilt that to a certain degree. That said it was a new PB so I should be happy, and it's now set a benchmark for my next attempt later in the year. I currently have the Maidenhead Half scheduled in for Sept and it's unlikely I'll be doing a HM before then.

As for Doney Lake; well this is this second time I've raced here and to be honest I really do not like the location. When there is no wind then it's a great PB location; however the weather is so unpredictable that it's not worth entering another race here. Time to move on... 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Cycling Really Does Help! Redundancy & 5K PB!

It's been quite a while since my last posting - way back in Jan 2015. The reason for the delay has been the small matter of being made redundant. It was unexpected and the timing couldn't have been worse. The initial 2-3 weeks were horrendous. I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say I didn't eat much and spent 8 hours a day sat in front of my laptop firing off applications. I was completely depressed and when I did try and get out for a run, my energy levels were so poor that I ended up struggling. I can safely say that was a horrid period and one I never want to return to. As I type this I've been offered a new position and so things are starting to brighten up. That said, it hasn't been all dull. During the last 2-3 weeks I've been putting in some good training runs, culminating in a new parkrun 5k PB of 22:07 (only 7 seconds off my target for the year). For me cycling has really helped; and so this blog entry is about how it helped me. Not just to a new PB but also how it helped me through a difficult period....

Let's Start At The Beginning...
As you know, before I was made redundant I invested in a bike. I took it to work with me and rode during my lunchtime - usually between 15 - 20 km each lunch. The terrain was a mix of both road and off road and I was really making good use of the off-road tyres on the bike. I invested in a watch mount for my Suunto Ambit2. After many reviews I chose the Polar. I'd read the Ambit2 fitted perfectly and I wasn't disappointed. As you can see from the pictures the fit was perfect and it allows me to easily see both my cycling statistics and, more importantly, the route I am cycling when going somewhere new. I just plot a route on Movescount and push it to my watch. Ideally I'd have liked a quick-release, but for only £5 I was happy with the mount.

The watch mount really helped and I managed to plot some good routes. I did a few local 30k routes and a 50+ km route out towards Burghfield and back. My heart is not used to a bike and so it seems to rise and rise quickly. I really struggle to lower it. It's made worse if there is any headwind or incline. I changed the tyres on the bike from chunky off-road tyres to new slick 28mm Continentals. This has made a huge difference and rolling speed is much quicker with less effort; although there is no getting away from the fact the bike is much heavier than traditional road bikes.

Watch mount
Watch mount

New 28mm Slicks
New 28mm Slicks

However this blog is not about cycling so I won't bore you with too much detail, but suffice it to say the old cycling is helping my running.

So with combination of redundancy, stress, unfocused running and the introduction of cycling, it was going to be interesting to see how I tackle a parkrun. Some of the Newbury Runners had decided to venture down to Basingstoke to run their parkrun. Around 12 of us went in the end. Once we arrived there was a wind. I'd never ran this event before so Nathan, Greg, Nik and I decided to do a warm up lap. An interesting course with a mix of terrain. Once the race started I had Nathan and Nik pacing me and, to my surprise, I managed a 22:05 (official time 22:07). I'd stopped 500m before the end to catch my breath, but now wished I hadn't. That few seconds prevented me going sub-22 mins - aarrgg!!! I was really happy as I'd knocked around 50 seconds off my old PB.

My target for 5km this year was sub-22, so this was a really run. My first real attempt at a PB this year and I came close to obtaining my yearly target. Since that run I've ran the effort once more, but ran a rather poor race. Went out too quick with a 4:16, 4:16 for the first 2 kms. Finished with a 22:23 but stopped several times. The old HR just wasn't playing ball. I'm determined to go sub-22 at Basingstoke and will not return to Newbury parkrun until I've achieved it.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Dark Side: Cycling!

I never thought it would happen. After many years of abusing my cycling friends, I've now finally succumb to the sport myself (well, sort of).

In the past I've always considered cyclists as dork-ish looking people with helmets and padded-ass shorts who think it's fun to spend hours pedaling away along the roads, usually getting in the way of traffic, pretending they're in the Tour de France and dressed like their biking heroes. Runners however, especially long distance runners, are more concerned about not dying, and so such lavish undertakings by cyclists are pretty much non-existent in the running world.  

However many runners do turn to the Dark Side cycling after an injury (and one could argue that's too late in the day) - that is, they're forced into riding a push bike to stay sane whilst rehabilitating from shin splints, stress fracture or other joint pain; and that is very much the reason why I've now taken it up. Just recently I had some pain around my right shin and rather than running on it I stopped (thinking bigger picture this year) and decided, after 4 days of become increasingly frustrated by not being able to do exercise, to purchase a bike so I can at least maintain some of my fitness during these dark days of injury.

So here I am - three tiny bike rides in and I've already spent more money than running and I have a sore arse to show for it! 

*** Honesty Note: to be honest that's not technically true; my running watch alone cost more than the bike and all the cycling gear thus far***

How Did It Get To This?
I'm not 100% certain I have shin splits, but from reading various articles on the web it certainly seems the most likely cause of my pain. I can only imagine the reason for this has been the sudden ramp up in speed and hill sessions when running. After having a good first week of 2015 running (see my previous blog) I then came down with man-flu which knocked me out for a week. I then started training lightly at first and, once I started to feel better and my HR was starting to recover, I then brought in some speed and hill work into my training. Nothing too strenuous but certainly more than I've been used to recently. I was starting to make progress and my road to the 9Bar Chilly 10k in February and a new 10k PB was starting to look possible. Then, just as I was about to attempt a parkrun PB, my right leg started to hurt. A dull pain deep within the muscle around left side of the right shin. It certainly felt like the bone. Well...having had a stress fracture in the same leg before I knew that I had to stop running immediately or this could knock me out for quite a while. A light dose of shin splints, if caught early, could go within 2-3 weeks of not running; a stress fracture is more like 10 weeks at best. Not wanting to make it worse I decided to give up the running for a while. However I wanted to keep as much of my fitness as possible, especially my cardio. Not being a huge fan of swimming I decided to get a cheap bike.

The Bike
When it came to the bike I only really had two options: a road bike or a cyclocross; and neither are cheap, not even on e-bay. A road bike meant I could only go on the road, and smooth roads at that. It would allow me to go fast, but even a semi-good bike is at best £450 (and these get bought up very quickly on e-bay). Cyclocross bikes are similar - a good one starts around the £600 mark, and on e-bay they go like hotcakes. Given the bike is only there as a "injury recovery" bike, I decided to set a small budget of between £300 - £400. The cyclocross however, would allow me to go slightly off-road, which meant I could go on some bike rides with my 4 year old son. It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that I went for a cyclocross.

After much research, and being outbid on e-bay more times than I'd like to remember, I decided to opt for the Carrera Crixus II Cyclocross bike at Halfords for a bargain price of £250.

Picture courtesy of www.halfords.com

Picture courtesy of www.halfords.com
It's not the best bike nor the lightest but it should suffice for my needs. I don't plan on riding hundreds of miles per week on it, so as a starter bike it will do me. Once my shin splints have disappeared I shall start bringing this into my training program as a means of reducing the impact on the legs as a result of running all the time.

*** Wishful Thinking Note: at the time of time writing I have absolutely no interest in entering any kind of cycling race whatsoever...never, ever...I just want to point that out now...*** 

So here's to a speedy recovery from shin splints and a cardio which is vaguely maintained as a result of cycling....