I needed to almost hate running to start to try to love it again…

I needed to almost hate running to start to try to love it again…

It’s been about 5 months since I ran 73:34 at the Manchester Half Marathon, a race where I had registered my interest to represent England Masters in 2022. To do that I needed to finish in the Top 3 in my age group. I ended up finishing 5th.

I was delighted with my performance.

It represented the culmination of a prolonged period of training and racing from April 2021 to October 2021, taking in a 3k and 5k on the track in early summer, a 5k PB of 16.01 on the road, the Great North Run HM on a tough altered course (1.17.46) and finally the Manchester Half.

Although I felt great and proud in what I had achieved (undoubtedly my most successful year as an amateur athlete) I don’t think I realised how tired I was. When I say tired, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise this was much more mental than physical.

It meant that I was unable to really get back into any kind of rhythm both in terms of my training and racing. I ran one XC fixture shortly after Manchester which didn’t go amazing. I put that down to a lack of off road training (specificity) and also a bit of residual fatigue.

But since October 2021 I have struggled to train and the idea of setting goals and identifying races had become repugnant.

This was very strange for me. Of course, having trained for the last 10yrs, I have had many times where motivation has waned but never a feeling of complete dissatisfaction with the whole thing.

Winning Tyne Bridge Harriers veteran male athlete of the year did briefly serve as a wake up call and a reminder of what I had achieved in 2021, despite not achieving my overall aim of qualifying to represent England Masters.

But that boost of motivation was short lived.

What followed was more stop/start training. The general process was to note down a basic 6 to 8 week plan to get me back into some kind of shape. But invariably desire and motivation would break down again.

Overall since Manchester I have averaged around 17 miles per week with no real useful outings such as threshold. I have run one parkrun in windy conditions where I struggled to hold 75-80% of effort held in Manchester.

But that’s running. It’s honest. If you don’t train you won’t stay fit.

The facts of detraining are quite simple. You hear people say “I’m unfit”. It’s a feeling but simply all that happens is your legs lose conditioning, your resting heart rate slowly but surely increases and ultimately you put on weight. Your ability to clear lactate decreases and overall your VO2 max will decrease as well…

The danger is you lose patience in your training… For me this manifests in training runs ran too fast. Everything I learned in my training from 2018-2021 (about patiently building aerobic base) that led to my successes and PBs is cast aside as I seek to maintain something on nothing.

So here I am in March 2022. I can honestly say in these 5mths that I have gotten close to hating running. I had to stop listening to the podcasts, stop following athletes on Instagram, unsubsribe from the running channels I followed on YouTube. I needed a break, something akin to going cold turkey.

But ultimately I couldn’t stop thinking about running. I know that overall I am capable of more. The 16.01 5k in August 2021 was only my 5th official 5k race ever. My 73:34 HM was only my 3rd official HM ever.

Although in many ways I surpassed my expectations last year I feel like I have much more to offer in the next few years. And so I am determined to fall back in love with running again…

Thanks for reading.

Race Report: NEHL Lambton Estate

Race Report: NEHL Lambton Estate

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This race report was originally published on KR Run Club on 4th November 2021! As well as early access to race reports, joining KR Run Club also gives you access to my weekly Training Updates, Workout Library and much more. For more information check out KR Run Club here. Alternatively contact me on email at run5kfasterwithme@gmail.com. Thank you for your support!

Kev

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Following my disappointing run in the first North East Harrier League (NEHL) fixture at Wrekenton in late September (race report here), where I’d almost pulled out on the second lap, I had two simple goals for my second outing in the 2021/22 season at Lambton Estate –

  • Run free and simple allowing my body and mind to guide me around the course;
  • Improve on my finish at Wrekenton and count for my club Tyne Bridge Harriers in the team competition

Looking at my results at Wrekenton, I was 102nd overall in a field of 509 and 17th in the V40 division (36th in the overall Veterans division).

This was very disappointing and someway down on my best ever NEHL result of 26th overall at Alnwick in March 2019.

I’ve always regarded myself as a competitive cross country runner but the fact of the matter was I hadn’t run XC since that run out at Alnwick. I also hadn’t done any training off road having been focused on the Great North Run and the recent Manchester Half.

A couple of factors were at play going into the race –

  • I was still running from Medium Pack which meant I gave 2 minutes 30 seconds to the majority of the field in the Slow Pack but I had a similar time advantage over the Fast Pack.
  • I had also never run the course before so I didn’t really know what to expect.

Footwear choice would turn out to be crucial and the information was that the course was a mix of pavement, road, trail and mud. That ruled out spikes for me. Having thrown out my inov-8 mud claws a while back I actually had no other suitable options. In the end I decided to go with my Nike Pegasus 37s but more on that later.

In addition to this, I had decided to take 4 days complete rest from running prior to the race. As it was half term holidays I had a pre-planned break away. I packed the running gear and decided to just see how I felt. If I wanted to run I would. In the end I was happier just getting out for some nice walks in the Scottish borders. This served as a proper “down week” and the third in total since the Manchester Half.

There was quite a lot of rainfall on the morning of the race so it was expected to be a challenging day. For the men it was 3 full laps and approximately 6 miles or 10km in total. I didn’t have chance to do a full recce of the course but it sounded like there were some tough hills, also described as “brutal”.

There was a good group of Tyne Bridge club mates in the Medium pack and we wished each other well as we lined up. The Slow pack had set off and it was a case of trying to pick them off as fast as possible. It is one of the biggest challenges of cross country running for me, that feeling of just trying to keep on the best line. Unfortunately the most favourable line isn’t always available given the sheer volume of runners out on the course. So you have to be prepared to bob and weave around and it’s impossible to avoid the odd flying elbow! You have to be ultra aware of your footing and I have learned that “Garmin watching” is an absolute no-no.

I’d decided that I was going to set off very steady. As I said, I wanted to build on my poor performance at Wrekenton. I put a lot of that down to going off too hard, trying to run to Power. That was a big mistake. So I wanted a steady first lap, get a feel for the course and then build in laps 2 and 3. Sometimes you have to let others go off hard and have faith they will come back to you.

So I was not concerned about some Medium pack runners moving quickly away including some of my team mates. The start of the course was relatively straight forward apart from a sharp right hander around a tree with some roots sticking out which needed to be avoided. We were quickly onto a sweeping downhill road and the running trainers came into their own here. I made up quite a few places but then there was a quite unexpected sharp right hander onto a very muddy and slippy down hill section. This was my first realisation that my shoe choice was sub optimal. The goal quickly became “stay on my feet” as I saw at least two runners fall quite badly.

I simply couldn’t let myself go on the downhills and had to really focus on my balance. Arms out in “aeroplane mode” helps with this. But the brakes really had to be applied as well. Another short, downhill which wasn’t as dangerous was navigated and then we were onto a relatively nice stretch through woods and then back out into the open.

However, this was very much the calm before the storm prior to the first of the hard hills. The first was long and steep. Again my shoe choice meant that I wasn’t able to get any traction. I had to shorten and quicken my steps to the point where I probably wasn’t going much faster than a walk. Every lap was to get slower on this section as the legs and arms filled up with more and more lactic acid.

What goes up must come down however and luckily it was possible to recover from the hardest climb as we descended back down towards the next tough hill section. Again footing on the downhill was a real concern. I was still managing to pass Slow pack runners and the course was still quite congested as this was a two way passing point. Then came the second prolonged tough climb. It seemed to drag before another pavement section flattened out leading us back to the start of the second lap.

I was already starting to think: “is this definitely 3 laps?”

Rather than dwell on the negative I tried to brace myself for the second go at the steep muddy downhill section.

Getting ready for the muddy descent, Round 2 (Photo Credit: Paddy Hutchinson)

I definitely took it more conservatively this time, trying to avoid any camber that could cause the footing to slide away sideways – I saw another runner take a complete tumble. As tiredness increased the risk of falling increased, all adding to the general slow down.

I think it was around here that the first Fast pack runner caught me – Adrian Bailes of Birtley. I noticed how hard he was breathing. He definitely seemed to be working at a higher level than I was. I was moving into survival mode already. It wasn’t that I’d set off too quick. I just didn’t have the confidence to dig any deeper knowing that I still had over 1.5 laps to go with those hills. The lack of training on the off road and hill work was showing, made worse by the terrible shoe choice!

Still, I was making headway and I got the impression I was catching plenty of Slow pack runners and also some Medium pack runners who were now dropping back. So it was just a case of trying to keep moving forward positively and keeping any negative mental gremlins away.

Approaching the “brutal” hills for the second time is always tough, just the knowing that it wasn’t the last time. You naturally want to hold something back.

I noticed a lot of men were starting to hunch over, walking with hands on knees. The moans and groans were getting louder. This was a proper test.

I definitely went up the hill slower than the first lap but, again, I was able to pick up quite nicely back down the hill. I was starting to get a picture of where I stood overall in the field towards the end of the second lap as I overheard someone shout in the crowd approximate positions. I had a definite sense I was in the top 100. This was encouraging.

As I noticed more Fast pack runners coming by at this stage I told myself the fundamental truth of North East Harrier League – the last lap is where it matters… A lot of places can be picked up, every second counts.

Your choice is either – dig in or capitulate.

It is critical to go with the former. Succumb to the pain and pressure and even finishing becomes questionable. At best you will tread water. Unfortunately I felt a little adrift in the middle…

I knew I was finishing – I had absolutely no reason not to. The only thing that could go wrong was falling over and not being able to get back up! I forced a few very heavy breaths on the final concrete descent to the dangerous muddy downhills, just trying to fill the lungs with oxygen.

I sensed that Tyne Bridge as a team were doing well. And I was very keen to play my part. I didn’t have any clue whether I was a team counter or not.

I managed to successfully navigate the final treacherous descent. I noticed on the approach to the final hills that I wasn’t travelling as well. I also noticed the first sign of a headwind. I wondered to myself where it had come from. Or maybe I was struggling so bad I was imagining it!

The last ascent of the first of the hills felt horrendous. It was barely a crawl and I really struggled to pick up around the tree switch back. Legs and arms full of lactic, hunched over and almost broken.

Gravity alone got me back down the hill. I went by men’s club Captain Alisdair Blain (who started in Slow pack) who gave much needed encouragement – it made me think I might be in the 6 counters for the team. I also heard almost immediate encouragement for Paul Turnbull who had also been running from Medium. We formed an alliance from here on in.

We went by young Fraser Bigg who was having a great run from the Slow pack.

Joining us on the run in to the finish was super vet Richard Tailford who we came alongside just before the final climb. I was almost spent and I could tell Paul was gearing himself for a tough finish. We worked as a team and encouraged each other up the bank. “Come on, dig in” I said. It helped a lot having allies. I think we managed to take more places on that final hill.

Getting back onto the path I felt like I had something left in reserve, helped by my trainers whereas others were wearing spikes and trail shoes. I went by Paul who had dropped me slightly on the final bit of the climb. I shouted at him to pick up.

I was on the home straight, trying to muster whatever was left in the tank. A look round and I couldn’t see anyone closing. A look round again and there was Paul launching a sprint finish. I was able to pick up and Paul let out either a laugh or a sigh! I finished 58th overall and Paul 59th. I was fifth counter for the team and Paul 6th. It was an excellent result for Tyne Bridge, finishing second in Division 1 on the day behind Birtley and moving us up into the top spot in the league halfway through the season and with another three fixtures to go.

On a personal level I hit all of my goals in terms of running free, improving on Wrekenton and counting for the club. However, looking at the results I am still some way off what I know I am capable of. I was 66th fastest on the day and 6th Vet 40. In terms of position against all other male veterans I was 13th.

And so I now start plotting for the 4th fixture at Aykley Heads on 27th November. I have 4 weeks to prepare and my goal is to significantly improve on a course I know well. The new cross country running shoes are ordered and my training switches off road to get the specificity I need to perform as I know I can. More about this in my upcoming training updates!

Thanks for reading!

Don’t forget to check out KR Run Club here.

Race Report: Manchester Half Marathon 2021

Race Report: Manchester Half Marathon 2021

This was the big one. The “A” race. This was week 23 of a training build up since 3 May.

In the build up I’d raced 5k on the track (17.01), 3k on the track (9.48), a 5k in July (17.09 – long course in my opinion, don’t @ me!), the Quayside 5k in a PB of 16.01 and the Great North Run in 1:17:46 (agreed by all to be a challenging course). I’d also sprinkled in some parkruns at target half marathon effort. Most recently I’d suffered in the opening cross country fixture of the season. Overall, and in hindsight, this was a very good training block for me with perhaps the most concentrated series of varied races I’d ever done. And I managed to keep major injuries or illness at bay.

But as I said in my last blog post, it would have been ideal if the GNR and Wrekenton XC races had gone better. And it would have been great if my training had been even more consistent. But I resolved to give Manchester my best shot despite facing the usual gremlins of doubt.

Maybe it is something akin to “imposter syndrome”. A lack of confidence about putting my hat in the ring for masters representation at National level. Maybe I had done the wrong thing? Put too much pressure on myself?

It was my first experience of actually travelling to a race. I have done a lot of travel for work and pleasure so that in itself was not the issue. It was more logistics and ensuring I didn’t enjoy the trappings of the big city until after the race!

Everything went to plan travel wise and I even managed to have a walk from my Airbnb to the Old Trafford cricket ground where the athletes village was. That helped to settle my nerves and also make my mind up that I wouldn’t drop a bag off. I would just run the 1.2 miles from the digs, use the toilet etc. and go straight to the start line. I’d brought an old t-shirt that I could chuck last minute before the gun went off. It would just mean I’d have to carry the Airbnb keys 13.1 miles around the course (and try my best not to drop them!).

Things didn’t go perfectly though and I ate much later than I wanted to. I managed to go to a Mexican in Chorlton where I was staying. A burrito, some nacos and an orange juice. Probably not ideal I thought. It was already 20:30 and the plan was to set the alarm for 4am! I popped to a shop to get 2 bananas and a bag of haribos. I ate most of the haribos on the walk home!

Suffice to say I couldn’t sleep. I was up and down to the toilet a few times and I noticed I was dehydrated probably due to the travel. So I prioritised drinking plenty water over sleep. Actually I’d made sure to sleep well the week prior so I didn’t get worked up about this. Just tried to rest and relax. I was only paying Airbnb for a private room but luckily the owner was away otherwise I would have caused all kinds of disturbance!!! A god send on getting up to go to the toilet without switching lights on was my new Petzl headtorch! So good and charges by USB – highly recommend if you are looking for a new one this winter – link here.

Time didn’t drag despite the lack of real sleep and I was up at 4am for two bananas and about a quarter loaf of soreen. The soreen didn’t go down easily but I knew my stomach handles it well. I had another 500ml of water and took some more back to bed for more rest. I set the alarm for an hours time so that I could have two beetroot shots. Then more rest until 6.45. Up, showered, race gear on and out at 7.25.

I noticed that the conditions were pretty perfect. The temperature was ideal and no wind to speak of. This was my chance I thought, things are aligning to a fast race.

I got to the cricket ground feeling good on my jog and it was already pretty busy. I queued for a toilet and then walked down to the start. The actual start line was a lot further away than I thought.

I had to weave my way through a fair few runners to get anyway near the front and, in the end, I probably wasn’t anywhere near where I should have been. Back to the imposter syndrome, hanging back. In hindsight I should have been up there. But ultimately all I was doing was putting more people in the way than I should have been. I need to have more confidence. That all said it was nice to see some familiar faces from my club Tyne Bridge and also Bryan Potts who I’d met on Twitter recently.

It felt like the race organisers got the all clear to start the race earlier than the planned 8.10 start. Before we knew it the gun went and actually I was over the start line in a few seconds.

The start had a little uphill gradient and then a traverse from the left hand side of the road across a central reservation onto the right hand side in our direction of travel. It was this switch across that had me pass a fair few runners and I could see the elites not far up the road. So I’d already put myself in a handy position. I would say that my position at the first mile marker was pretty similar to my position at the end.

I felt like I was running fast. I was running completely to feel. I didn’t even glance at my watch once. And I was pleased that there were no time clocks until about 20km! I was blissfully unaware of pace, splits, heart rate, power – any of that stuff. My brain and body were on an experiment!

The only real guide I had at this stage was the sight of a competitor up the road – Simon Bennett of Hartlepool. We have had a similar journey to Manchester. I first became aware of Simon at the North East Master track races in the summer. We then had a little battle at the Quayside 5km. We also bumped into each other at the end of the Great North Run where Simon had finished a few minutes ahead of me. We chatted afterwards and I’d asked Simon whether he had registered his interest with England Atheltics. He said he had, so he was my only known V40 competitor. It felt sensible just to track him but he had latched onto a group further up the road and I felt fine where I was.

At this point a small group of maybe 2 or 3 runners were forming including a runner I now know as Tom Dart. Me and Tom were to run together for much of the race and I was very grateful for the company!

As I say, I was completely unaware of pace but I will give Strava splits here. The first mile went in 5:22. A group was forming with me, Tom Dart (Spenborough), Steven Hayes (V45 – Deestriders RC) and Richard Coen (V40 – Wilmslow). The group was running well together but I did feel at my limit, knowing that I was still operating in the first quarter of the race!

I’d took a mental note that the course had a first sharp turn at approx. 5km and the aforementioned group worked as a unit until that point. Strava had miles 2 and 3 at 5:29 and 5:25 and effectively 5km was done in 17:05. Overall I felt like Steven and Richard were looking very strong and me and Tom were maybe just a little more passed the boil. I noticed me and Tom were having more issues around throat clearing and breathing. I put mine down to still not feeling 💯 but, don’t get me wrong, I was feeling good! I just felt like I was having to clear the throat more than I would like. Every now and then I’d consciously take some breaths through the nose if only to remind myself to relax and not panic breathe.

The group with Coen (left), Hayes (all black kit) and Dart (red/yellow kit)

I was enjoying it. This is what you pay the entry fee to races for! All those days training all alone. For this. To be in a group of runners pushing each other on. The camaraderie was amazing. At a drinks station a bottle was passed round. I declined (I didn’t take any water or nutrition throughout the race!) but here is a sport where competitors actively try to help each other – pure sport.

The sharp left hand turn at around 5km did two things to change the complexion of the race –

1. It introduced an intense low hanging bright Autumnal sun which I found pretty disconcerting. Having been in a solid rhythm for >3 miles, for the first time I felt like the momentum was broken. I wished I’d worn a cap or perhaps sunglasses. It was too late now.

2. It meant Steven and Richard started breaking away. Personally I kind of accepted that I wasn’t able to latch on. I suspect Tom made an effort. I was able to keep Tom a manageable distance away and soon we were back pretty much running together. It felt like I’d overcome a slight negative patch.

The next 2 or 3 miles were churned out just me and Tom. Strava has mile 4 as the fastest of the day at 5:21 and miles 5 and 6 slowed to 5:29 and 5:30. The 10km split was 34 minutes dead. My official 10km PB is 34:49 and even my 10 mile PB (55:37) was slower through 6 miles. Not knowing any of this was bliss.

It was around here that I noticed a runner appearing to be falling off up the road. I spoke very briefly to Tom for the first and only time to say that we should work together to reel him in. He didn’t hear so I repeated it. I also said the word “gradually”. This seemed to galvanise Tom and he kind of dropped me!

I was able to get back on. As it happened, the runner in question was never to be caught. Always in sight but never caught. Instead Simon Bennett suddenly appeared and we were rapidly catching.

This brought back memories of the Quayside 5km. I had ran a solid even pace race and I think I went passed Simon around 3.5-4km only to be comprehensively beaten in the end. I started plotting approach.

I wondered things like should I forget about Tom and just stay with Simon? Or should I rattle by as fast as possible?

It actually took longer than I thought to get to the point where I was on Simons heels. I think it was around 7 or 8 miles. We approached a little rise with a right hand turn onto a nice downhill. I took the initiative from Tom and went by Simon at the brow of the hill. I put in a little injection of pace but it was more a shortening and quickening of the stride than anything else. I think Tom was caught by surprise a little, obviously unaware of the V40 competition unfolding…

I honestly felt like I could steal an unassailable march, perhaps on both Tom and Simon. I was feeling very good. I was working hard but in control. But there was still about 5 miles of running left to do.

This was a fast but somewhat “snakey” part of the course. I tried to use the corners to my advantage, getting round them tightly and with fast cadence and then trying to use some momentum to run strongly on up the road. The crowd support was pretty good round here. Nothing like the Great North Run but the support did increase where it was needed.

Unfortunately my lead over Tom and Simon didn’t last. It is a bit of a blur as to the exact order of events but I definitely felt like I had let them both get away on the run to 10 miles. The mental battles had begun by this point. I had noticed the gaps between mile markers getting longer and longer. And I hadn’t got my head around the logic as to when there were KM markers and when there weren’t!

By 10 miles I think I had lost at least 50 to 100yds on both Simon and Tom. 10 miles was passed in approx. 55:16 (faster than current PB). I was slowing but still on for a very large personal best time.

Such were my battles with my negative mental mind leading up to the race, when I had worked out that the course route would be passing very close to my Airbnb in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, I had actually considered how easy it would be to slip off the course and back into the comfort of the flat if things weren’t going well! I think the last 5km at the Great North Run had hurt me so much – I wondered how I was going to be able to dig it out again only 4 weeks later?

As always I needn’t have worried. The support along the roads of Chorlton was amazing. I think at this stage I was starting to realise I was onto something good and that I was holding a very decent position in the race. So my key thought was to “hold it together” and “keep going”, “see it through”. I was now running down the exact same street I had jogged down that very morning and I now knew the Old Trafford cricket ground wasn’t far away. Although I didn’t know exactly where the finish was I could start to think about running across the line…

It was here that I could still see Tom and I started wondering if there was a chance I could get back on terms? I was hurting, getting a little ragged. But maybe just maybe?

I passed the 20km mark in 1:09:48ish and I immediately thought of the 1km efforts I do in training. First off, I knew I had less than 4mins of running which was galvanising. And I also pictured that distance on the training road I used. Every step got me closer, it didn’t feel like a big deal now. At some point between here and the finish I saw the first time clock of the whole race. I don’t know what distance it was positioned at but I distinctly remember seeing 1:12:xx! This was the first time I felt real joy inside. And there was the finish line up ahead.

I still had probably 400m to go and I finally clenched everything and tried to pick up. There were some race faces pulled in the home straight but I finished off in 1:13:34 which was good for 23rd place overall and 5th V40.

Final push for home
Almost there
1:13:34 chip time – elation!

I don’t want to analyse this race too much here. Suffice it to say that this performance is at least in line with the 16:01 5km back in August. But actually I’d rate it as more impressive for me as I have always doubted my capability over longer distances. And this performance over 13.1 miles has proven to me that I do have the endurance, strength and stamina to compete over further. I just have to believe and trust my brain and body to race on the day.

I have posted a VLOG of this race on YouTube here.

I’ve also just launched my new personal running website “KR Runs” here. Go check it out!

Thanks so much for reading and following my running journey! I’d love to hear from runners wherever you may be!

Manchester Half Marathon 2021: race strategy

To say I’ve thought this through would be an understatement. I’ve hummed and harred plenty about the best approach.

Dialling back to August and the 16.01 5km on the Quayside, I was buzzing with the prospect of being in shape to have a shot at an England vest. Given that I was already down to run the Great North I decided a shot at qualifying for the half marathon was a good approach.

Since then arguably the Great North was fine registering a sub 79 minutes clocking and setting up a more positional race in Manchester as I need to finish top 3 V40 to qualify.

Following the Great North, however, training hasn’t been consistent. I’ve tried my best to get on the start line feeling good but in truth the performance at Wrekenton threw me off. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place as to whether I should crack on or rest hard.

I decided to crack on and actually last week and early this week went as well as could be expected. So it’s a case of seeing how the body reacts to a 3 day taper…

In terms of race strategy, to be honest I was hoping for more info pre race in terms of who was in mix for V40. In reality it is going to be very difficult to know. It’s often hard to tell who your peers are and, even if they are V40, it isn’t necessarily the case that any similar aged competitors have actually put their hat in the ring.

So the idea of an out and out race against key opponents is out of the window.

The possible race strategies I felt I had to pick from were –

1. Run a similar race to GNR, very conservative to 10-15km and then kick on aiming for an overall power average of 355w again. This strategy is pretty safe and would probably guarantee a PB over GNR on the assumption that Manchester is a quicker course being correct.

2. Aim to run a harder race to power, aiming to average >360w overall. An expected time if I pulled this off would be anywhere from 74 high to 76 low. There is nothing suggesting this shouldn’t be possible.

3. Ditch all tools and metrics and just go out and run to feel. I honestly don’t know how this would turn out as I’ve never done this over the half marathon.

After much deliberation I will be going with option 3. I will still wear my Garmin and power meter but I have removed all data metrics from the data screen leaving only a time clock…

I am nervous. I am apprehensive. I don’t know how I feel about the race.

But the decision is made and I will stick to it.

Wish me luck!

Race Report: NEHL Wrekenton

Race Report: NEHL Wrekenton

I often try to remind myself that running is a constant learning process. And it demands respect.

Put another way, beware of ever thinking “I’ve got this cracked”. Also, try to never overplay a good race. On the other hand, never be too hard on yourself if you have a bad race.

As I alluded to in the last blog (the Great North Run race report), I’ve not had things go my way since Sunday 12th September. Although I am trying really hard not to make excuses, I’ve had a few unfortunate mishaps come my way.

Now I’ve had time to fully digest my run at the Great North half marathon, and also have had a good look at my training diary since June, I think I can now conclude that things haven’t really gone well in training since my run at the Quayside 5km in mid August.

That consistency that I had in the 4 weeks leading up to that fast race on the Quayside has gone, replaced by an inconsistent see-saw of training as shown in the pic.

Consistency giving way to inconsistency…

As you can see, that nice consistent straight line has become up and down. I am not going to explain it away here. I just want to make the point that I have now realised that I perhaps succumbed to the “I’ve cracked it” syndrome following the 16.01 5km in August. As a result I changed my training and approach and also slipped up on some crucial elements. Add in the unfortunate mishaps and here I am, nursing a bruised ego following a disappointing outing at Wrekenton, the first North East Harrier League fixture of the 2021/22 season. More on that in a bit.

But I think my performance at the Great North was not helped by my patchy training in the final build up. I think I was struggling. Initially I was blaming the course but I think it was that coupled with a sub optimal training period from mid August onwards that led to 1:17.46 feeling like all I could give on the day. It wasn’t supposed to feel like all I could give. The lack of consistency in training was an element of the overall picture.

The question now becomes whether I can pick things up for Manchester with so little time left. Maybe not following Wrekenton but I will still put in place a consistent plan to get me on the start line, perhaps not fully tapered, but overall emotionally and physically ready to execute a strategy that I believe in.

Back to Wrekenton and my plan was to put in an effort consistent with what I would be doing at Manchester, namely aiming to run a half marathon averaging between 360 and 365 watts based on Power. In hindsight running to Power on Cross Country (perhaps the purest form of running there is) was a terrible idea… And I’m planning to also ditch power as an in-race tool for Manchester. More on that in a future blog post. Suffice to say my key focus now is re-calibrating my running “body clock”, to run more on feel.

As it turned out the Wrekenton course was bone dry on what was a hot and humid day for the North East of England at this time of year. Indeed I was struggling on my warm up, sweating up quite noticeably with a high heart rate. I didn’t feel too good. It was about 20 to 21 degrees with humidity above 70% and so I think it was adverse running conditions overall.

Because the course was bone dry it meant that footing was very important. From a safety point of view turning an ankle was a real risk. So the idea that I was going to be referencing my watch to maintain a constant power was not wise.

In addition the Wrekenton course is very undulating with a couple of decent hills both up and down. Again, it was difficult and distracting to be checking the watch.

I tried to delay footwear choice until after my warm up but in the end I went with the general consensus I was hearing, namely that spikes were not the best way to go. I had decided to take my Nike Vomero 15 training shoes as an alternative to spikes but in hindsight I wish I’d gone spikes as a lighter and faster option. A lot of the ground was heavyish grass and I think the spikes would have been fine. They would not have been ideal on the shale sections but they would have been OK with shortest spike length.

Overall I would say my head and heart weren’t in it. It wasn’t the easiest decision deciding whether to run or not. On balance and with hindsight not running would have been the wisest decision. Not only was risking a turned ankle probably the wrong thing to do but my mild chest infection (picked up after the bad allergic reaction to a sting) was also persisting. Given that road half marathons have been my training priority, I have not been running off road much of late. I think I over looked the shock to the system cross country can cause when you are out of practice on the terrain. It doesn’t take a scientific genius to work out that running economy is greatly hampered off road versus road but I think I’d forgotten how important it is to practice off road running leading up to the Cross Country season. By practicing you will do much to offset the reduction in running economy, not completely but more than not practicing sufficiently.

But what made the decision for me to run was the need to race Wrekenton to stand any chance of racking up the required 4 fixtures out of 6 to register for the veteran men’s Individual Grand Prix (IGP) in the 2021/22 season.

I had been demoted from Fast Pack to Medium Pack for the 2021/22 season and so that meant I started only 2:30 behind the Slow Pack. That should have given me a good chance at a decent finishing position overall (usually Top 50 would secure promotion to Fast Pack).

The gun went to start the Slow Pack and I couldn’t help but notice the dust bowl that was whipping up, underlining the dryness of the course.

It wasn’t long before we were lined up on the start line.

I didn’t fight to get up front and I also shunned the possibility of starting on the fastest racing line which I felt was the left hand side. I was almost furthest right.

I deliberately started pretty conservatively and was a bit miffed at the onset of a stitch coming on before the first real climb. I was able to rid myself of that quite quickly and get into my stride over the first lap. I think I was competing quite well tracking vet Sunderland Harrier Chris Auld for the most part of that circuit and into the second.

But I noticed I was struggling to get power above 360w per plan. I noticed I was settling around the 350-355w, similar to what I had averaged for the GNR. Negative thoughts formed as I already felt I was pushing as hard as I could with over 2 laps to go.

I wasn’t dealing with the downhill sections as well as I normally would either. I feel like I can excel on downhills, using my height and stride length to my advantage. But I was putting the brakes on somewhat, perhaps trying hard to recover from the uphills.

Having said all that I think the first lap ticked off in 11 minutes 30 seconds (1.89 miles according to the Strava segment). This was only 1 second slower than my record Wrekenton lap time as per Strava, recorded in 2017 when I went on to run 34m 30s.

Unfortunately this time I felt done and my mind raced back to 2014 when I had pulled out just after the brow of the hill on the second lap.

I vowed this time to push on but I felt my pace fading away. Chris Auld was away. The feeling of reeling slow pack runners in rapidly had gone, making way for a feeling of just running the same pace as them. I think I’d heard that I was already in the Top 200 well before the end of the first lap. But rather than relish the onward battle I was struggling to see how I would finish the race.

I navigated the big hill on the second lap although a few runners I would normally finish ahead of were dropping me convincingly. I would honestly say that did not enter any of my calculations to quit.

Trying to assess what was wrong I would say it was both breathing and legs. I felt weak. Add to that the hills and the lack of training on off road surfaces – it all meant a shock to the system I couldn’t handle. The overall Dew Point of 15°C was also having an impact. Although I’d trained in this type of weather a lot of the summer, the recent cooler weather had had an impact. My race singlet was drenched already and stuck to my body.

I tried to plough on as I approached the location of my other drop out at Wrekenton. That time, running for Elswick Harriers, I’d gone into the race with a right hip injury and decided to pull out to preserve further damage.

I pulled off the right side of the course hands on hips. I can’t really explain what was going through my head. It was disappointment. Maybe embarrassment as well. Runners streamed by, battling on.

I spotted Tom Charlton going by from the Fast Pack.

I continued to walk throughout. Wiping the sweat from my face. Looking up. Looking around. Was I really throwing the towel in again? About 2 minutes of walking had gone by.

For some reason I decided no. I would finish no matter how long it took. I started jogging, looked around so as not to get in anyone’s way and got back on the course.

I took things very slow at first, especially on the uphill sections. Running within myself I was able to take more notice of the spectators that were lining the course – shouting, clapping, ringing bells. The atmosphere was electric.

I was able to slowly but surely pick things back up. Not back to anywhere near “race pace”. But enough just to finish the thing off. The second lap was completed in 14:31, a full 3 minutes slower than the first.

I was conscious of how hard getting up the hills was, but overall I felt ok running sub maximal. I wasn’t experiencing a chesty cough. I just felt overheated and over tired. But there was now no question I would finish the last lap. I took the opportunity to give encouragement to runners who were walking or maybe struggling.

Cross country is tough and there is no place to hide. Of course it’s a physical battle. But the mental challenge cannot be underestimated. All of the North East Harrier League courses are multi lap affairs. There is something about the Wrekenton course that can demoralise you when you are not on your A game. For me I find the drag towards the first big hill hard and the drag before the mini hill before the second big hill hardest. You feel like they shouldn’t be slowing you down. But they do, more and more as the laps pass.

Refusing to give up this time (Photo: Stuart Whitman)

But I somehow enjoyed that 3rd lap. Perhaps it was the feeling of just not quitting. Of continuing. Finishing it off. Not letting the ego rule. Not worrying about what would go on the Power of 10…

One thing I enjoyed was a few little battles I had with runners I went by on that last lap. It crossed my mind that I never try so hard that I am literally heaving. I’m the type of runner who likes to have my breathing under control. I never let go and make as much noise as I like. Hats off to those runners who were giving it everything they had and unashamedly. I really appreciated seeing people give their all. And I resolved to ensure that I give the same commitment the next opportunity I get.

Finishing off the last lap (Photo: Geoff Fenwick)

The 3rd lap was completed in 12:50 for a total time of 39:17. With the 2:30 medium pack handicap I finished with a time of 41:47 which was 174th overall out of 511 finishers. I was 12th counter for my club (only 6 matter) and I currently sit 37th in the Vet men’s IGP table. In effect the race doesn’t count. To have any chance of competing in the IGP I would need to greatly improve in future outings and get another 4 of the 5 remaining fixtures done. At the moment that seems unlikely as the next fixture at Druridge Bay is 10th October – the same day as the Manchester Half.

In theory that would leave Lambton Castle, Aykley Heads, Thornley Hall and Alnwick Castle but I don’t think I will be able to compete all of those due to personal commitments. At best I can probably do 3.

But let’s see. Overall I feel I understand the poor performance and will take the positives in finishing off. Focus now turns back to the roads and getting on the start line fresh in Manchester.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Special shout out to clubmates Michael Hedley and Tom Charlton for leading the Tyne Bridge men’s team home with the 1st and 2nd fastest times of the day. Class running and great to see!

Race Report: Great North Run 2021

Race Report: Great North Run 2021

Truth be known the half marathon scares me a little. Or maybe it’s the Great North Run (GNR) that scares me in particular?

As a competitive runner you can mention to anyone (who doesn’t really run) about a race you’ve done and chances are you will get a puzzled, slightly non interested look. Tell them you’ve done the GNR and they’ll ask you what time you ran. Tell them and they’ll instantly form an opinion on your status as a runner…

Quite a few people said to me following my 16.01 5k that it really bodes well for the GNR and Manchester Half but deep down I was fighting an anxiety leading up to the GNR that I simply didn’t feel going into the Quayside 5km.

It could be down to a few things…

1. My mileage is still low, even verging on derogatory for the half marathon. As I explained in the last blog, I have only averaged around 34 miles per week in the 14 weeks leading up to the GNR. Many would argue that is too low to be competitive in the 5k nevermind the half. I am in two minds. Better to do what you can consistently and not get injured. Even in Week 14 I tweaked my left hamstring which worried me until the day before the GNR when it thankfully subsided with ibuprofen and ice. I somewhat accept I am relatively injury prone and try to play the cards I am dealt.

2. The GNR was only my 3rd half and 2nd official half. I’m still inexperienced at this distance. My unofficial HM PB of 1.16.32 in 2019 was done in fine conditions on Newcastle racecourse (7 flat laps) and probably gave me a false sense of what I could do on the tough revised GNR course that still had a large element of the unknown. The Stryd race calculator tool didn’t seem to think the revised undulating course would greatly impact my overall race time, in effect suggesting that the up and downs would cancel each other out. I think all who ran the course would agree there were some particularly tough sections, not least the last few miles when tiredness really kicked in. There was definitely a sting in the tail.

3. I’ve increased my exposure and vulnerability by going more open of late on social media about what I am doing with my running and what I am thinking. Regardless of how few people read my WordPress or watch my YouTube videos I’m out there trumpeting about this and that on the regular. I’m either setting myself up for success or a nasty fall. On balance I enjoy running and writing about it. Doing videos is a new thing and whether I can keep that up remains to be seen but I have to accept it puts me out of my comfort zone. It’s good to have lofty goals and talk about them but if I have widely missed the mark I will call myself out. Manchester will either be a shot over the bow or a sunken ship… Ultimately there are hundreds of very talented Vet 40 male athletes out there who are quietly going about their business waiting for the chance to take the England vest. There are no free dinners in this world and I will have to fight for it and it will depend on how much I really want it, whether I truly have the ability (and a little bit of luck for good measure).

Sunday 12th September

Alarm: 5.45. Up to have 1 banana, 3 slices of soreen and 500ml of water. 2x beetroot shots at 6.15. Purple wee for the rest of the day. Then back for a half hour lie down. Cold shower, ready, more trips to the toilet than I would care to mention. Out of the door at 8am for the 45 minute walk down to Claremont Road…

Bumped into clubmates Sparrow Morley and Chris “Hui” Huitson. Was good to see friendly faces although Sparrow was wearing black leather shoes and I joked, wondering if he was going for some bizarre world record… Luckily he’d packed his running trainers in his bag. He was to be a constant dot on the horizon that was either going too far away or eventually coming back to me. More on that later…

I found the whole walking over the Moor thing to get to the A167 surreal. I felt like I was running late but wasn’t. Just went through with more Orange wavers than fast club runners. Tried very very hard to avoid Alan Robson. Succeeded. Thank Christ.

The warm up was also very surreal. I asked a marshall if there were any toilets on the A167 and he pointed up in the direction of Cowgate. I noticed a handful of people warming up and stretching so I decided to do the same. It was about 9.10. I’d been planning to do my warm up at 9.15 but cracked on. I ended up jogging right up to the fork in the road that leads to Grandstand road. Traffic was still going down there. I can only imagine the drivers were slagging us off… I used to slag Great North Runners off in my partying days.

I got a few little efforts in just trying to get the HR up to the type of intensity I’d be running at the gun. Felt fine. Had a couple of final toilet stops and then headed down to the start. There were a few weird types of number in the pen on the right hand side. Was a bit miffed the Elite men were on the left. Realise now I was stood right next to the Rugby coach who got interviewed on the BBC with Burnham. Dunno what time he ran. Going for a PB apparently.

As always 10 to 20 mins felt longer when you just want to crack on with the run. A lot of nervous energy around.

I’d written my plan on my left inside arm. Basically said “15km @  344-352w / 6.1km @ 356-364w”. Also wrote the word “stoic”. It’s funny I’d seen someone share a piss take on Instagram saying the “Daily Stoic” book by Ryan Holiday is part of the fitness influencers starter kit… I didn’t find it funny on the basis that if more people read the Daily Stoic, understood it and employed the basic ideas the world would 100% be a better place… Just about managed to decide I am definitely not a fitness influencer. Or maybe I am?

Finally the gun went and I struggled to run slow enough whilst seemingly watching 100s of runners (including orange wavers) disappearing off into the distance.

Easy opening miles, me left with Tyne Bridge vest (Official GNR picture)

I will pat myself on the back and say I did a bloody good job holding back. I knew it as I felt like I was jogging and not breathing. Of course down to the Tyne Bridge is very downhill so feels artificially easy. Almost disconcertingly so. Even so my power quickly ticked up to 342, 344, 345, 346w and into my planned target zone sooner than I thought it might…

Was nice to say hello to Patrick Houghton of North Shields Poly. Growing up he lived on the street adjacent to me in Waldridge Park Estate, Chester le Street. Despite our proximity our paths in life didn’t cross that much (mainly because we went to different schools) but still nice to say hello, usually whilst out in a race. We would see-saw back and forth quite a bit in the first 6 miles, mainly because I was deliberately backing off on uphills and slightly working the downhills. This is the essence of trying to maintain constant power. You simply have to slow down on uphills and pick up on the downhills (hitting a power target downhill is very challenging and needs to be practiced cautiously)…

Coming over the Tyne Bridge the support was already amazing. The ramp up after the bridge and my power was already at 354w and higher than plan. I had a choice to make and I couldn’t make it. And so I kept on pretty much at an average of 354 or 355w for the rest of the race…

This intensity had me go through 5km exactly at the sharp end of my plan. I had myself go through 5km in 18.00 or maybe 18.01 (official split 17.59). This was dead on a 1.16 half. Brilliant I thought, this is genius…so comfy.

Suddenly my nerves and anxieties were gone. I was able to just think about getting some water in. I took some sips at the first water station and poured some over my head, arms and legs. I’m not sure why I did the latter. Probably not necessary as it wasn’t warm. I only did this again once. I refused water and also chucked the gel I was carrying at about 7 or 8 miles. The chucking of the gel was over the top. I was almost angry at myself for even considering carrying it. I knew I never had the stomach for it.

Coming to the turn around point at approx 6 miles things started getting very interesting and certainly the race complexion in my mind changed dramatically. This felt like the real start of the race.

I think everyone enjoyed seeing themselves on the big screen here quite a lot. It was my own first loss of concentration and I nearly fluffed the u turn in my desire to big up myself on screen. What a knob…

By this point I was closing on Steven Medd of Gateshead and I was also joined by club mates Tim Kelso and Chris West. Tim said hello and I returned the greeting. It made me think we were both running well within ourselves. I knew I was but, that said, I already noticed more of a head wind going this direction back for Newcastle and we still had 5k to the 15k point where I was due to turn the screws. But unfortunately my 10km split gave me a jolt…

I think I looked down at something like 36m 5xs (official split 36.42)! Dear god, I had ran the 2nd 5k about 50s slower than the first! Although I didn’t panic I started plotting a pick up almost immediately.

The only thing that stopped me was the fact a decent sized group of maybe 5 or 6 or more (including me, Tim and Chris) had formed. I felt a bit of an opportunity to pick up the pace as a group. I perhaps cheekily asked Tim if he had a finishing time in mind. I think he thought I meant what was our current average pace. Chris didn’t know and Tim ventured 5.50s… I didn’t do any mental maths to confirm the 10k split but I knew I was overall down on a 76 minute half marathon. For some reason I didn’t remind myself that a negative split was exactly the original plan! I think I let it get to me. I think I was sensing I was going to struggle to pick up… I had lost trust in the plan because I hadn’t followed it properly!

The course at this point felt generous.

What happened next changed the course of the race for me and maybe others around me too. From what I could gather an Elvet Strider rocketed by our group which seemingly included a club mate of his. He shouted something. That led to his club mate somehow clipping Tim from behind quite badly. I heard the groan but credit to Tim for recovering. The whole thing made me decide I wasn’t hanging around in the group any longer. I immediately took after the Elvet Strider.

Although I think he went onto run sub 76mins (and I didn’t catch him), this move did lead me to a sustained advance through the field to the finish. But critically I had ditched my plan of waiting until 15km for the pick up. Actually, 15km was probably the turning point in terms of course difficulty with what seemed like the toughest of the climbs to get back up to Town Moor.

Strava mile splits

Making the move I could still see clubmate Sparrow down the road and he became the challenge to catch. I picked off some other runners in between (9th mile was quickest of the day in 5:31 but also lost most elevation) but I finally caught Sparrow just after 10 miles (10th mile in 5:56 and probably the hardest of the day. For reference Molly Seidel ran 5:5× this mile). I think the 10 mile split was about 58 or 59 minutes which I was pretty disheartened by. Sparrow seemed to be slowing quite markedly. I probably annoyed him somewhat by demanding he pick up, get on my heels and work together to the finish.

We were now on the fast descent back to the Tyne Bridge. One of the on course entertainment stations was blasting James Brown and it really lifted me as I love James Brown.

The crowds were amazing here.

I knew it was going to get very tough again after the Tyne Bridge. Horribly, coming up the hill I considered giving up, stepping off and throwing in the towel. I don’t know where this came from. I don’t think I’d realised the effort I’d put in that 10th mile before the Tyne Bridge. I’d put in a surge and perhaps it had done me in. I just tried to remind myself that everyone would be feeling very similar at this stage of the race.

Stepping off not an option (Pic: Ben Hall)

Luckily I got through the dooms day scenario of giving up as the crowds in the City Centre were giving amazing encouragement.

Coming up to Earls Grey monument I saw good friend Michael Hedley who gave me a huge cheer.

Pushing up to Earl Grey (Official GNR pic)

I picked up down John Dobson Street and passed the Civic Centre. I passed another couple of runners including a young Jarrow runner. Again I asked them to get on my heels and work together til the end. I should have just focused on myself. Just then the Red Arrows flew across. What a boost.

The Red Arrows were about to go over… (Official GNR pic)

I was approaching the last 800m. My mind wandered back to the 2017 Great North Run. I remembered how long that 800m had felt then. And this felt like one hell of a drag again. But I tried to remind myself that I only had a few minutes of running to go.

I don’t think it helped that I didn’t see the 400m sign as it was on the right as opposed to the left where the 800m sign had been. The 200m sign was approaching. The crowds were great here and I saw the Army line the sides of the road.

Final push to the finish! (Official GNR pic)

I heard the tannoy announcer saying something like “these are the fast club runners, these are elite athletes too, give them a huge cheer!”. That was nice but a quick glance at the watch and I couldn’t help but give a sigh to myself as I knew 1.16.x was now gone…

I just tried to maintain my concentration and work the arms. My main aim now was to not let anyone pass me.

Unfortunately I failed in this endeavour. One runner who I had passed just before Earl Grey had stuck to task and beat me by 1s.

Nothing really else to give! (Official GNR pic)
Official chip finishing position and time

Making my way back to the finishers village I was spent. I’m not sure I had much more to give on the day on that course. Although I’d not strictly speaking stuck to plan, the end result in my view was the same. I’d averaged 355w for the run and finished in 1:17:46. The Stryd prediction based on 355w was 1:16:40 +/- 2mins. So my result was well within that range. I now see that the course undulations led to the slower than expected time.

There is a tinge of disappointment (even though it’s an official PB) which is perhaps unwarranted but it does sow the seed of doubt about Manchester. I find it hard to remember I was practicing a sub maximal plan. And although it felt far from sub maximal I will get stronger for this race.

Coming 12th in the v40 age bracket reminds me how hard the challenge is that I have set. But all I can do now is turn my attention to Manchester and focus.

As I finish this blog a week after the GNR I have had far from a good recovery week, ending up in the Walk in centre on Wednesday with a serious allergic reaction to a sting (head to toe in hives) and a trip to the Covid test centre for a PCR test having developed a sore throat and cough on Friday following a particularly busy work week. With only 12km of training completed this week I am indeed panicky about Manchester now. But I have to remind myself life is life. Running with a chesty cough is simply not worth it. My best chance is to rest and recover and see how things go. But it has been frustrating to miss the Northern 6 stage on Saturday and now the opening fixture of the cross country at Wrekenton is also in question.

I’ll finish with a shout out to the Tyne Bridge Harriers mens team for an excellent 11th place in Redcar, qualifying comfortably for the Nationals. Also, well done to Tim Kelso for sticking to task so well – looking forward to meeting up in Manchester! I’d also like to thank my partner Jasmine for supporting me with my running and being there at the end of the GNR when my mind was somewhat scrambled, when I just needed a pint!

Much love x

Reflections on my build up to the Great North Run 2021 plus race strategy

As I finish Week 13 of 14 in the build up to the GNR it’s a good time to reflect on what I have done and my thought process going into the race.

Some may say it would be better to keep my “eyes on the prize”, i.e. the race to come.

But for me running is a continual learning process and I don’t think self reflection and learning should be paused no matter how close the race is. Capturing my thoughts and mindset pre race will also help me post race as well.

I have been intrigued by the high jumper Nicola McDermott who is meticulous in writing notes after every single jump in competition. It seems very out of the ordinary. But I admire it.

Follow me on Twitter @kevrich1981

Athletes like McDermott are seeking to learn and improve “on the job” and it certainly seems to work for her.

First of all, I am proud that I have got to this point. Even though I’ve only averaged 34 miles per week (442.7 over 13 weeks) in this build up it is still probably one of the best training blocks I have ever done(!). Critically I have stayed healthy and motivated.

Overall running distance in KM since 7th June 2021

I’ve really started to find myself as a runner in this training block. My confidence in my ability has grown and I feel more sure now about what I am capable of than ever before.

I’ve also not shirked races.

I’ve raced 5000m and 3000m on the track (for the very first time) and also two 5km’s on the road.

LGBT+ 5km in July, 2nd place in 17.09

I’m sure that switching to running to Power has helped with that. I don’t want to go into too much detail here but the power meter has helped me execute my training correctly. The benefit of downgrading the importance of heart rate training has been immense.

Having spent the period 2014 to late 2020 believing training to heart rate was the best way, I’ve now come to realise that it is not optimal for me.

For whatever reason I get too emotional about my heart rate, both during and after training. What I mean is, I allow heart rate data to affect me mentally whether monitoring out on the run or in post run analysis.

Don’t get me wrong, I still track heart rate data as accurately as I can as it is powerful information. But now I don’t let it run the show any more. This has been liberating in many ways.

Moving to Power has been the liberation because it has introduced a new metric without the emotional baggage of heart rate, pace etc. And it works really well for me.

I know if I go and run x watts I will get a specific workout and the resultant output of pace and heart rate will be what it is. As it happens the data I am seeing is excellent which helps, but I think that is a result of getting less worked up about heart rates and paces when I am out training.

Training to power provides focused race strategy as well.

For example, going into the Quayside 5km I knew if I put out 397 watts I would run 16.09 +/- 10s. I managed to execute that and ran 16.01. Not only that I pretty much even split the race perfectly (something I have never really been able to do in the past), running 3.12/km pretty much dead on.

This confirmed to me the real power of training to Power.

Running doesn’t need to be a magical and mysterious guessing game if you don’t want it to be. Admittedly I am an analytical person and it suits me to a T. I get that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea but, if like I was, you are a little in the doldrums with your current training I would highly recommend considering trying Power. Full disclaimer: I am not sponsored by Stryd and paid full price for the foot pod and membership of the full features of the app.

I’ve also been able to pinpoint issues in my form, specifically my naturally low cadence. Being 6ft 2in tall (188cm) does mean I have quite long legs and my natural cadence is low (160-170 in normal training). However, I’ve realised this is a strength if deployed correctly. The power meter has allowed me to really focus on cadence, stride length and Leg Spring Stiffness (LSS) so that I can improve and optimise my running dynamics. This is something I am having to try really hard at as my tendency is to revert to type.

I published a YouTube video on my belief in Stryd as a training tool prior to my Quayside 5km race here. This doesn’t cover the running dynamics aspects, more the nuts and bolts of the foot pod, how it calculates Critical Power, training zones and race time predictions. Note: in the video I state that Critical Power as calculated by Stryd is equivalent to Functional Threshold Power (FTP) for 60mins. Unfortunately I have since become aware that this is not correct. Stryd do not disclose the exact formula for Critical Power. At the time of writing my Critical Power is 383w (5.24 watts per kilo) whereas my FTP for 60mins is modelled at 364w (5.0 watts per kilo).

Current Critical Power rating in Stryd

So the build up has been good and the 16.01 5km in early August really points to a potential half marathon below 75mins. However, my approach going into the Great North Run has changed as I am now seeking to run all out at the Manchester Half in October with the aim of finishing top 3 in the V40 Age Group. If able to do so I should qualify to represent England Athletics in the Chester Half in 2022.

So the Great North Run now becomes a test run in preparation for Manchester.

With that in mind I will be targeting a time of around 76 to 77 minutes as a good outcome for the Great North Run.

I will be looking to run a negative split.

My strategy will be to run the first 15km in the range of 344 to 352w (avg. 348w) and the last 6.1km in the range of 356 to 364w (avg. 360w). If executed correctly I would expect to average 355w for the full half marathon and would expect a time in the range 1:16:40 to 1:18:32.

Stryd GNR race prediction based on 355w

My current official PB (1:20ish) was set in the Great North Run in 2017 but I have run an unofficial HM of 1:16:32 in 2019. If honest I would like to get as close to the latter as possible feeling like I had more in the tank. Strictly speaking a sub 79min is the minimum qualifying time for the England Athletics representation. Achieving that would be enough to allow me to fully focus on racing at Manchester.

I am planning to take a time split at both 5km and 15km. It will then be a case of dialling in my pick up to the finish. In an ideal world I will have plenty runners who are perhaps fading to pick up as motivation in this approach.

Another thing I am considering is nutrition. I have never considered nutrition for a half but I did try a gel with a small amount of caffeine today (5th September, 7 days out from the GNR) on my final long run of 18.8km. I must say I wasn’t too keen on it and frankly cannot understand how I could ever ingest a full gel. My thought is I will carry one gel and literally take a enough to coat the mouth at around 40-45mins to gently assist the planned pick up at 15 km.

In terms of footwear, it was a choice between Plan A of the Nike Next% 2 or Plan B of Nike Tempo Next%. For the GNR I will wear the Tempos and save the big guns for Manchester.

On a lighter note, a few people suggested if I had had my hair cut for the Quayside 5km I would have broken the 16 minute barrier. Again, I have taken the decision to keep the hair long for the GNR and save any hair cut for the big day out in Manc! I tried to rock a headband on the long run today but I’m not sure it will be getting an outing as I doubt I want to be caught on camera with it on!

Finally in terms of my training in Week 14 (the week of the GNR), this is the plan –

Mon: rest day (stretching, core)

Tue: easy leg loosener (8km max)

Wed: final HM session – 10km total split between power ranging from 345w to 360w

Thu: 4km easy

Fri: rest day (stretching, foam roller)

Sat: optional leg loosener otherwise rest

Sun: GNR, start time 9.45am behind male elites in fast club runner wave

So all that remains is to get on the start line mentally in the right place and healthy.

Thanks for reading! Good luck to anyone reading who is in the race. Enjoy!

P.S. For those that prefer a video, I’m hoping to get something posted on my YouTube channel “KR Runs” in my GNR training series here. Hopefully during next week. If you haven’t subscribed already it would be cool if you did!

KR Runs | Training VLOG | Steady run with Half Marathon & Marathon race power efforts

KR Runs | Training VLOG | Steady run with Half Marathon & Marathon race power efforts

Posted a little training VLOG of my general pre and post run preparations which involve coffee (standard), toast and marmalade and a post run home made carbo drink. Now on YouTube here – https://youtu.be/G15I-Koo9dE

Playing with editing, trying to find a style of my own. Well still trying to copy the masters but a long way to go… I’d love to put some music I love to my vids but need to work out copyright stuff.

Still working on how to record footage of me running without a) impeding my session and b) looking like a complete plonker(!) I guess you just have to accept looking like a plonker(?) As being 40yo, wearing a cap backwards and generally wishing you were 10yrs younger doesn’t already qualify you as a plonker…

Given drones aren’t an option I really need a 2nd person as a camera person. Any one fancy it? Minimum wage rates apply. All enquiries to kevin.richardson3910@hotmail.co.uk. Generally training and recording in Newcastle Town Moor. 1 pre arranged recording session per week. A bicycle would be useful but not essential!

Any feedback loved. Positive or negative. I have a thick skin (sometimes).

How I train to improve Aerobic Endurance

New video posted on YouTube (if you’d like to support my channel please subscribe here and help me reach my big target of 100 by the end of 2021!)

In this video I talk through the “Pure Endurance” method which was first proposed by Ernst van Aaken in 1947.

I have adapted it to train to improve my Aerobic Endurance.

Aerobic Endurance is the ability to sustain medium to high intensity exercise for long periods and is critical for athletic performance for distances from 1 mile to the marathon. It can also be used to maintain general health, fitness and wellbeing with reduced risk of injury.

I have found this method to be very effective to build a base from which to then sharpen race pace depending on what races I am training for. It is the “bread and butter” so to speak. All of my runs are done this way except race pace sessions and long runs.

Looking for more? Recent blog posts –

  • I needed to almost hate running to start to try to love it again…
    It’s been about 5 months since I ran 73:34 at the Manchester Half Marathon, a race where I had registered my interest to represent England Masters in 2022. To do that I needed to finish in the Top 3 in my age group. I ended up finishing 5th. I was […]
  • Race Report: NEHL Lambton Estate
    KR Run Club has launched! This race report was originally published on KR Run Club on 4th November 2021! As well as early access to race reports, joining KR Run Club also gives you access to my weekly Training Updates, Workout Library and much more. For more information check out […]
  • Race Report: Manchester Half Marathon 2021
    This was the big one. The “A” race. This was week 23 of a training build up since 3 May. In the build up I’d raced 5k on the track (17.01), 3k on the track (9.48), a 5k in July (17.09 – long course in my opinion, don’t @ me!), […]

Race report: NEMAA Track and Field Championships 2021 – 5000m

Race report: NEMAA Track and Field Championships  2021 – 5000m

I finally got my 2021 race account opened up with an outing at the North East Masters Athletics Association (NEMAA) Track and Field Championships.

I’ve been a member of the NEMAA since turning 35 back in 2016 but I haven’t really participated (certainly not as much as I would have liked), having only raced a couple of road relays.

So my track debut was very overdue.

As regular readers will know, I haven’t posted a blog since February as I again succumbed to another injury – this time the right knee – mainly through my own over zealous training error.

So it’s been a slow and very patient return to running.

In many ways this race came far too soon in my training return as I have only just begun a 14 week program to take me through to the Great North Run in September 2021. And this race came at the end of week 2(!) and is only my second week of running approx 25 miles per week!

So my running training load is very low. But I was keen to give the track a go and see how things are over a race distance I am familiar with, on the roads at least. I aim to use the information from the race to inform my training going forwards.

I have posted a couple of YouTube videos for those interested in hearing more. The first is here – a general introduction to my Great North Run half marathon training plan.

The second (here) talks about my expectations going into my 5000m track debut. I plan to get more active on YouTube so please watch, like, comment and subscribe!

In summary, I felt I was at best in shape to run 17:30ish. This was based both on my current VO2 max as predicted by Garmin and my Stryd power meter running data, although some extrapolation was required on both fronts.

My current Garmin VO2 Max rating is 58 which predicts 17:43 for 5k.

Now I know a lot of people are sceptical about the VO2 max ratings on Garmin.

However, I’ve now been using Garmin for many years and feel the watch is fairly well calibrated to my own physiology. Critical to this is an accurate maximum heart rate reading. I have mine currently set to 192bpm which I feel is pretty accurate for me.

The only potential issue is that my low training volume means that my aerobic fitness is lower than normal whereas my top end (ability to run a fast 400-1600m) is probably still there or thereabouts. So I have to believe I am fitter than 58 VO2 Max.

Another indicator I am now using is based on power data from the Stryd foot pod which is essentially a running power meter. Power meters are much more prevalent in cycling but Stryd are making strides(!) in this new area for runners.

I like this alternative view as a contrast to Garmin although I feel the pod is still learning about me, given I have been injured and running low mileage recently (the pod needs as much varied running data as possible from the last 90 days to give accurate forecasts).

Going into the race my Critical Power (this is the threshold at which the dominant type of fatigue your body experiences changes) was 332W with a predicted 5k time of 18:58. The prediction was based on a forecast average power for 5k of 342W. You will note that 5k predicted power is 10 watts higher than Critical Power.

Although I’ve never raced a 5k since getting the foot pod in November 2020 I felt confident that I could hold more than 342W for the distance. That said, this race was a chance to wear the foot pod in a competitive situation, give it a good go and see what came out of it.

In preparation for the race I completed some very light workouts (light in terms of volume) on grass wearing my Saucony spikes which I planned to wear on the track.

The key workout was 4x 580m (one lap of Kenton Dene on grass) with rest allowing heart rate to return to 120bpm – Strava link here.

As a general rule this recovery was to last no longer than 90 seconds. If it took longer the workout would cease.

As it happened I completed the workout although the recovery was tight going into the last rep.

The efforts were generally around 3:20/km pace. This was pretty much the pace of my 5km road PB (16:44 ran in 2017).

Usually what this means is I could probably run around that pace for 5km. However, the key to running a good 5km is speed endurance.

That comes from consistent training load, a consistent long run, threshold work and some 5k race pace work to put the cherry on the cake. I didn’t have any of these in my locker really (other than the light session described above) going into this race so in many ways I’d be relying on muscle memory to get anywhere near to 16:44.

I arrived at Monkton Stadium in good time to pick up my race number. The facilities are excellent with a gravel track outside the stadium to warm up.

Conditions were perfect, a little muggy but the sun was starting to show and really nothing to be concerned about.

I jogged about 4 laps of the gravel track, about 2km in 10mins or so. I then ran some 20 second strides (5 in total) with full recovery. Everything felt fine, I didn’t worry about the pace of the strides. It was pretty warm and it didn’t take much to feel ready for the race.

I made my way through to the stadium.

It felt exciting to be running a track race for the first time. I felt nervous which was good. I put the spikes on and waited to be called for the race.

It definitely felt like the sun was coming out stronger just in time for the off. In the end there were only 7 men running the V35-49 race and I didn’t really recognise any of my competitors both in terms of which were in my age category or indeed what they were capable of 5k time wise.

With hindsight this would have been useful to know. That said, my main goal was to experience a track 5000 and find out where I was at with a full effort very early in my training cycle. So I didn’t worry about the competition except for the loose aim to sit in off the front pack.

After some formalities from the officials the gun went and we were underway.

The race gets underway (me second from left)

Quite quickly 3 of the lads were at the front and I sat in behind another lad but we were swiftly a little adrift.

I continued to sit in for a lap or two (maybe 3?) feeling OK until the point I felt like we were losing too much ground too quickly to the front three.

Me tucked in behind #79 Paul Wilson first few laps

I decided to overtake what I now know to have been the 3rd V40 in the race (the front 3 consisted of 1 V35 and 2 V40s). It took a little acceleration down the home straight which was slightly wind assisted. I’m not sure how many laps were to go but I’d guess 8 or 9.

I don’t regret it and I was able to keep a slight advantage over my V40 bronze medal competition for quite a few laps. But I was never able to break away. He was always there and breathing quite heavily. This meant I thought he would drop off if I kept it honest. Meanwhile, my idea of also trying to bridge the gap to the front 3 was all but gone as the distance had grown too great.

Pressing on gamely but not shaking off

I started to notice a slight dread at the number of laps remaining. The officials had a board counting down at the end of each lap. Although the laps were going by quite swiftly I still had 6 laps to go and it didn’t take a mathematician to work out there was still pretty much half way to go.

I managed to maintain my 4th place position and just tried to focus on my breathing and stride rate. I wasn’t referring to my watch at all. I was taking note of the official reading out total race time each lap. He seemed to be positioned at the start line but I didn’t entirely know what the times meant in relation to distance completed.

Indeed it only meant something on the very last lap and aided the push to the end…

Meanwhile my nearest competitor was hanging on gamely and I sensed myself slowing. I couldn’t help but consider I was lacking strength endurance. I didn’t necessarily think I’d gone too hard too soon. But I definitely felt like he was readying to overtake…

The resistance soon became futile…

I did resist this a few times by relaxing a little and just increasing cadence slightly. But I did succumb to the challenge with about 2 or 3 laps remaining.

In being overtaken I allowed myself to reveal the full extent of my tiredness… Letting go of quiet, controlled breathing and letting it be known I was gasping for air!!!

I stayed in touch until the very end but in my heart of hearts I never seriously contemplated getting back in front. I turned my attention to my finishing time and trying to avoid complete capitulation. I knew when I got to the last lap it was in the bag. Yes the last lap would hurt but the risk of completely blowing up would be averted. And I sensed a chance to sneak under 17 minutes based on the times I had heard being read out.

Coming down the home straight I was able to pick up. I simply closed my eyes, holding on, only opening them in the hope that I was closer and closer to the finish.

Getting over the line was a relief and the Garmin watch time of 17.01 was pleasing. I finished 3 seconds behind 3rd place in the V40 race which was a shame and certainly it isn’t inconceivable to think that a bronze medal was possible with a little more fortitude when it came to the crunch in the last third of the race.

I am planning to post a YouTube video with my full post race reflections so I will not go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that I was correct in my feeling that both the Garmin and Stryd apps were under estimating what I could run.

Very interestingly my Garmin watch kept my VO2 max reading at 58 despite the race registering at 5,080m and an average HR of 161bpm. Unfortunately my heart rate data is unreliable in the early part of the race and only kicked in the second half. But having ran 17 minutes flat for 5km, the VO2 Max rating should be more like 60.

My heart rate topped out at 192bpm at the end of the race meaning I am confident in using that as a reasonable and perhaps conservative figure. This ensures the Garmin VO2 Max reading remains honest and also means any improvement in training should be genuine.

The Stryd data on the other hand has registered the performance with my Critical Power rating jumping from 332W to 371W.

My predicted half marathon time has improved to around 1 hour 18 minutes which is a great step in the right direction this early in my Great North Run training plan.

And with that I move onwards and upwards!

Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or questions I would love to hear from you! Happy running!