North East Harrier League – Aykley Heads – Race Report

North East Harrier League – Aykley Heads – Race Report

I was on somewhat of a high coming into my second XC fixture of the season at Aykley Heads having run a big 10km PB of 34:49 the week previous.

To ensure a good placing in the Senior Mens NEHL XC Individual Grand Prix I need to race in all of the remaining fixtures as the top 4 results out of 6 count.

So I was full of confidence and also knew I’d put in a nice week of training up in Edinburgh, running 40 miles Monday to Thursday including a decent threshold workout on Tuesday.

I completed a bread and butter 20 minute threshold around the Meadows in Edinburgh averaging 5:45/mile pace and bottom end of my heart rate zone at 170bpm. A good marker. It didn’t feel comfortable as I’d foolishly eaten too soon to the run but that was a bigger positive as I felt I would have run even smoother if I’d prepared properly.

I’m noticing a feeling of aerobic fitness and I am especially benefitting from regular morning runs before breakfast and also a second run on some days before dusk.

Although the Aykley Heads fixture was important the real target and “A” race is the Northern Counties XC on 8th December. So the plan was for a good hard effort here and then move into a final 2-3wks of training to fully tune up for the “A” race.

The trip to Durham is one of the longer drives on the schedule and I ended up getting to the course a little early. The weather was perfect and the course was expected to be pretty firm which suits my style of running.

As has become my routine I went for a 15 minute jog at around 13:20 with the senior mens Slow pack due to start at 13:50. Being in the Fast pack I was planning to get on the start line around 13:55.

As I have become used to I didn’t feel too good during the warm up. I felt a little tired and lethargic and my legs a bit dead. You have to sort of stop the mind drifting to thinking “how am I going to tough out 10k” today.

Aykley Heads is a testing course with a few decent inclines and hills each lap. It’s quite easy to go off too hard and then pay a little for it on the second and third laps. In addition I personally felt that the course had been narrowed unneccessarily in certain key sections. I feel this made the course slower than previous years as I was unable to get passed slower runners at critical moments on the second and third laps.

I decided to continue my strategy of not wearing my Garmin, it’s definitely not worth the temptation of looking at it in a XC race.

The race got underway on time and I was able to settle in quite nicely. The first lap was spent trading places with Matthew Alderson of Blaydon and we started passing a steady flow of Slow pack runners.

I felt controlled and just tried to focus on keeping an eye on my footing. A lot of the ground is uneven and it’s easy to completely lose momentum with one badly placed foot fall.

Overall I felt like the pace was good and as we got into the second lap the congestion of runners increased. I still felt like I was negotiating the inclines efficiently. I was gliding over the ground nicely until we got to the key hills at the end of the lap. I felt noticeably slower here and Matthew Alderson got away.

I tried to gee myself up for a strong last lap. At this point I noticed I’d gone passed a Gateshead Harrier who beat me convincingly at Gosforth. That gave me comfort that I was going quite well and it gave me a second wind.

That said I found the last lap even more frustrating than the second due to some antics by one or two slow pack runners who took it upon themselves to deliberately block me coming up a narrow hill. It annoyed me but also added a bit of determination to get by and gave me the desire to finish the thing off.

I was hanging onto another Fast pack lad from Gateshead (later confirmed as Daniel Alexander who went on to run 2:44 at the Town Moor marathon the following day) who had also beaten me at the last fixture. I also noticed I’d made some ground back on Matthew Alderson and fellow Tyne Bridge Harrier (and Fell runner extraordinaire) Cees Van Der Land.

I reminded myself of my strong finish up the final hill in the 2017 race. Although I was unable to muster up anything near that turn of pace I was gearing up for a good final straight finish (Aykley Heads has a lovely long slightly favourable run in) and there was a number of runners to aim for.

Thanks to a runner from Ashington Hirst who I felt was veering in front and blocking me out deliberately I was able to put in a final kick and I managed to get passed about 3 or 4 others in the final 150m and finished just behind the aforementioned Matthew Alderson, Cees Van Der Land and Daniel Alexander from Gateshead who I’d ran much of the final third with.

Looking at the provisional results I was 31st fastest on the day and 7th male 35-39. My time of 38:02 was slightly slower than last year. Its difficult to analyse in detail due to me not having any Garmin data but on balance I felt this was a stronger performance overall. It may be that the course ran slightly longer and I feel the narrowing of the course next to the railway definitely played its part as I recall flying on that section last year whereas this year I was slowed considerably on both the second and third laps.

That all said I am still some way from my target of breaking into the top 20 fastest in the field and more work is needed on my application of effort in the second third of the race.

I now turn my attention to final preparations for the Northern Counties at Wrekenton on 8th December.

Thanks for reading.

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Town Moor Memorial 10km – Race Report

Town Moor Memorial 10km – Race Report

When it comes to watching races the annual Town Moor Memorial is up there for me. Living just up the road I’ve made a habit of jogging down to the Town Moor to watch the race and its always a poignant occasion.

Its a race I’ve always wanted to do personally but for whatever reason its never felt right and I’ve always thought to myself – next year.

Leading up to this years race I’d also hummed and harred about whether to enter. But I simply had to this time.

Following a good showing at the 3rd North East Harrier XC fixture training has been going well and I’ve been able to get some decent miles in the legs.

The only issue has been a sore left calf muscle which was entirely my own fault as I overdid it coming down a steep hill in Ilkley, Yorkshire. I had no intention of running fast down a 10-15% gradient but gravity did its thing and I found myself having to apply brakes. Unfortunately the left calf took a battering and got worse Tuesday and Wednesday.

I felt on balance I was ok to continue easy running which I did but the calf was staying the same with no improvement. So I took a rest day on Friday and went for a 30 minute massage on Saturday morning.

I then had a 35 minute shake out jog with some strides on Saturday and felt good to go.

In terms of plans for the race I wanted to use it as a training race and planned to go through the first 5km around PB pace. My PB is 35:23 from a race in February. That said it went down as “Not Official Distance” thanks to Run Nations usual antics of advertising a fast PB course and failing to deliver.

So officially my PB is 35:37.

At the moment I believe I’m in 35 minute shape conditions permitting so I’d be looking to go through the first 5km in 5:40-5:45 pace and then push on the second 5km with a view to averaging around 5:38ish.

The question was whether to use the Garmin or not.

I had the option of trying to run with Aly Dixon and Davey Wright as they planned a similar pace and as of Saturday lunch time I was still undecided.

Part of me wanted to go without watch and focus and another wanted to go full watch and heart rate monitor.

I feel like I can run around 5:38 in my lactate threshold zone of 170-175bpm and part of me felt it would be beneficial to use this race to confirm my condition and therefore use it as a good solid workout with a PB a bonus.

I also felt like if I could go through 5km on plan and feel controlled in my threshold zone it would give me the confidence to push on into more like 176-185bpm to guarantee a positive split.

In the end I decided to go without the watch and avoid distraction. I’m really glad I did.

I didn’t get as much sleep as I’d like and also wasn’t able to carry through my usual pre race eating routine whereby I try to eat my last food at least 4hrs before the race. I therefore kept the breakfast light to a slice of toast, banana and cup of strong coffee.

I was pretty nervous. In some ways “getting the miles” in can create a new pressure. Maybe you’ve used a lack of miles as an excuse in the past. Now that is gone. But deep down there is a sense of confidence. I felt different. I feel fit and healthy and full of endurance.

I cycled down to Town Moor and left my bike next to the start/finish to walk across to the race HQ in Jesmond to pick up my number. Critically I put my chip timer on my shoe so as to avoid the DNS/DNF debacle at the Clive Cookson in 2016!

I was feeling nervous and lost count of the toilet trips but I’m experienced enough now to take that as a good sign that I was keen to perform.

Once back at the start I did a very easy 15 minute jog warm up around the nearby lake. I like to warm up alone with music. I like quite angry, angular music. I want to feel a bit angry overall. I want to feel raring to go.

The sense of occasion was palpable with it being the 100th anniversary of the ending of the Great War in 1918. The two minutes silence was impeccably observed and it was time to go.

I got a nice clear start and the first half a mile was extremely comfortable. I couldn’t feel a breath of wind and I thought to myself “this is perfect”.

I’d also gotten in just behind Davey and Aly Dixon and although the pace felt slowish I convinced myself that it was just because it was still early doors. I held myself back from pushing on. If I felt the same at 5k I would push on. Looking at Aly’s Strava data the first few miles were ran in 5:42ish which was as planned.

That said during the first 3 miles we were discovering that conditions weren’t completely perfect as is the way on Town Moor. The open nature of the land invariably means there is always a breeze of some description. Indeed, coming from Grandstand Road and back onto the Moor we turned directly into the wind. We also had to deal with stoney terrain and single file sections as well as a complete u-turn switch back that led to a complete loss of momentum.

All told I would say the course wasn’t fast. It would be unfair to call it slow but certainly not fast.

I would say around the 3rd mile I realised the Davey / Aly plan wasn’t working out and I pushed on a little. Later I learned that Davey had struggled with stones in his shoes and I assume Aly was very comfortable leading the womens race (doubling up as the NECAA champs) and didn’t need to do much more than maintain the initial pace.

Coming up to 5k I felt strong and I also felt like I’d improved my placings along the way. I now knew where conditions were benign or tough. I told myself I had to push on the favourable sections and be very strong on the tougher sections.

A spectator near 5k was shouting out approx times which led me to believe I’d gone through in about 17:38. That jolted me a bit as I now knew I needed a positive split to end on the plan of 35ish. Really I wanted 34:–.

Nicely though the next section was the best on the course. I know it better than many, having ran this path on hundreds of occasions on training runs. I injected some pace and got passed two competitors in the process. I was also able to get through the gate and onto Grandstand Road much more smoothly now that there was less conjestion.

The path along Grandstand Road is poor with many bumps and cracks but luckily its slightly downhill. I just focused on the ground and placing my feet as efficiently as possible. A Gosforth Harrier was keeping behind me and I just wanted to keep a good rhythm.

I also prepared myself to come back onto the Moor and face the wind again.

At this point I realised we were making ground on a good group of maybe 4. I recognised Rob Walker of Sunderland Harriers and Stephen Schubeler from Heaton. I could also see Kevin Connelly of Gateshead and fellow Tyne Bridge Harier Si Kristiansen just ahead of them. I really wanted to keep making ground. I strongly suspected I was feeling better than a few of those guys who’d obviously gone off a lot harder.

Getting the thumbs up from Sparrow Morley and Si Kristiansen as they came back from the u-turn was encouraging and reminded me that I was running for the team and not just for myself.

It was hurting here and the Gosforth Harrier was back in front and I just focussed on the back of his feet. Coming round passed Wylam brewery it was clear that Rob Walker was struggling. I was audibly breathing hard here but I was moving faster and went passed. Rob is a runner I admire and I found myself offering encouragement. I know Rob never gives up and I felt we could work together. Rob didn’t get back passed me but he was never completely out of the picture and even down the home straight I still feared a late charge.

I still had my eyes on the prize of 3 runners ahead. At this stage I would say I was all out coming through 6 miles. The finish was in sight and I’d made this run in many times at Newcastle parkrun. I found myself closing my eyes and just running as hard as possible and re-opening in the hope that the finish inflatable looked that much bigger in size each time!

What I really needed was a sprint finish which never came. So no places were made up despite a slight pick up in the last 50m.

That was the only disappointment as I finished 21st and a top 20 was definitely possible. My chip time was 34:49 for a large PB and I was very pleased to positive split with the second 5k passed in 17:15 versus 17:34 in the first.

But the icing on the cake was coming in fourth counter for Tyne Bridges winning senior mens team with James Dunce, Sparrow Morley and Si Kristiansen. This has to go down as the best race day I’ve experienced so far and yet it still feels like a beginning as I strongly feel like I have more potential to improve.

Next up is NEHL Aykely Heads on Saturday. Before that I am visiting Edinburgh for a few days. I’m staying near Holyrood Park and the Meadows and I’m looking to continue to get some good training done.

Thanks for reading.

North East Harrier League – Gosforth Park – Race Report

North East Harrier League – Gosforth Park – Race Report

Cross country has been a focus of my racing diary since I started competing again back in 2012. The months between September and February/March tend to be my most consistent in terms of both training and racing.

Critically this time round, the 2018/19 season, I am aiming to have not only a good XC season but to use it as a spring board to fast times and PBs on the road (and track!) next Spring/Summer.

The last few years haven’t quite gone to plan and 2017/18 was a particularly trying time what with the cracked rib in November and the groin injury in February. So I’m extremely keen to nail the traditional strength and endurance build up through the XC season and translate it to lifetime bests in the classic road distances of 5 and 10k. I’d also like a fast mile on the track.

Unfortunately I missed the two opening NEHL fixtures this season – the first due to a head cold and deciding not to risk it with the Northern 6 stage relays coming the following week in Manchester and the second happily skipped as the fixture came the day after our trip to Birmingham for the National 6 stage relays final.

So my anticipation for the 3rd fixture was pretty high and the plan is to compete in all 4 remaining fixtures to ensure a finishing position in the Individual Grand Prix for Senior Men. I’m also hoping to help Tyne Bridge Harriers in our Division 1 endeavours although at the moment there are plenty of lads picking out the 6 counter spots from the Slow and Medium pack so I wasn’t necessarily expecting to count for the team at Gosforth Park.

Training has been going well. For personal reasons I’ll not expand upon here I’ve had some extra time to devote to increased training and I’ve been able to get the weekly mileage above 50 miles albeit only 1 week preceding this XC fixture. The key will be consistency and I’m expecting another 50+ mileage week this week as well.

I also had chance to travel back down to Doncaster to see Dave Tune. The trip was worthwhile to just get that little bit of focus to my training. As I do the majority of my training alone (personal choice) it’s always good to get a second pair of eyes on things and bounce some ideas off someone as experienced as Dave.

Luckily I survived a nasty fall off the treadmill but the skin taken off my right knee and elbow have taken some time to heel. That said it’ll take more than that to stop me now. One of the positives of the recent injuries I’ve overcome has been to instill some more basic grit and determination that maybe wasn’t there before.

I know I’m not lacking in speed but I am lacking in strength and endurance. A big feature of the training menu over the coming weeks will be simple bread and butter threshold work. And increasing the time I can work in that zone. Although my LT heart rate has come down somewhat, perhaps suggesting a stronger heart, the pace is fairly similar to my test in October 2017. So I have some focus to work on.

Arriving at Gosforth Park I was looking to get a good 15 minute warm up in good time before the start. The rain and snow(!) from earlier had given way to bright sun but the wind seemed to be picking up.

The key decision on footwear had already been made and it was spikes for me and I didn’t regret that choice. In fact, I’d decided last season at Thornley Hall that I would never wear trail shoes for XC again. Reason being I felt liked I’d carried half the course round with me on the bottom of my shoes!

Spikes just feel faster full stop.

The grounds and course setup were perfect at Gosforth Park with all facilities in place. Its important to relax and not get stressed about silly things like parking and toilets etc but all that was taken care of and I was able to pick up my race number and get a 15 minute easy jog in on a road leading up a hill to the outside perimeter of the grounds.

I felt in a good place mentally. I’ve been reading a lot and also watching as many running documentaries as I could get my hands on. I’ve really enjoyed the Team Ingebrigtsen series (even without English subtitles!) and I also found some classic 80s race footage of the Gaymers 10km series from 1985. Finally I also discovered a Joss Naylor documentary covering his 60th birthday “present” to himself of 60 peak summits in 36hrs! The latter being particular inspiration for the XC. I would tell myself to “remember Joss” whenever it got tough!

I suppose I’ve learned to not expect to feel that good physically during a warm up. The mental part is key and to resolve to give 100% of what you have on the day. That said the legs did feel good and I was up for it. Another key decision I’d made was to leave the Garmin at home. I’ve decided it’s a training tool and not a racing tool, especially for XC. Again, watching Joss Naylor “at one with nature” influenced this but also talents like Julien Wanders who always races without a watch. Let the brain and body guide you and don’t be distracted by metrics that don’t really matter.

Getting on the start line it was noticeable that the Fast pack was quite big and generally the fixture was very well attended. This was confirmed as there were over 600 runners overall.

I wanted to start strongly and get into a good rhythm early. I didn’t know the course so the first lap was a chance to learn the best racing line, find out where particularly claggy areas were to be avoided and generally get set for a tough 2nd and 3rd lap.

As always the Fast pack went hard from the off and I probably settled in just ahead of mid div. The first couple of hundreds metres were gravelly but still good to run on in spikes. The course then headed up into a wooded area which I found to be the fastest section. I felt strong here on every lap and there was space wide to get past slow packers later in the race.

There was a water logged part coming out of the woods with a sharp left hander but once the initial shock of the first foot soaking was over it didn’t present any problems other than a bit of congestion on the 2nd and 3rd laps.

The course had maybe 2 or 3 inclines per lap but nothing you could really call a hill and that suited my style. The inclines were no tougher than what I would train on around Kenton Dene. I was cautious to keep my effort steady up the inclines and I noticed this led to me losing some ground on a couple of the Fast pack lads I wanted to compete with. On the second lap I was able to make up lost ground through the woods but on the third lap they were gone. This is my only slight disappointment from the run.

What was pleasing overall was that I had very few negative thoughts running through my mind. Usually I will be combating many. As my legs started to weaken on the third lap there were moments where perhaps I was losing a bit of momentum but “the engine” felt good and there was definitely a feeling of more robust endurance.

I felt strong and competitive and it reminded me of my run at Aykley Heads last season. Given that run was in November I’m happy that I’m feeling in good shape in late October.

Its very difficult to know where you are position wise as the end draws near. The great thing about the handicap pack system is that you always have runners to aim for. I did feel like the rate at which I was overtaking runners reduced in the last half of the last lap but there was still a number of scalps to take on the finishing straight.

Unfortunately I wasn’t quite able to muster up an all out sprint this time but again I took this to be a positive as I felt like I’d applied myself much more evenly throughout the whole race.

Overall I’d finished 143rd out of 623 runners. I think I was around 33rd quickest in the field (if the race was a scratch start) and 4th Vet 35-39. As I mentioned earlier this is very comparable with my previous best performance at Aykley Heads last season.

Critically though I’m 12mths older and wiser. As I sit and type this on Sunday I remember well that after my best ever performance at Aykley Heads I went out on Town Moor and tripped on the metal spike that led to the cracked rib.

So as I embark on my Long Run today I’ll definitely be sticking to the roads and keeping my concentration on my footing high!

Thanks for reading!

Pic credit – taken from a video by George Routledge

National 6 Stage Relay, Birmingham 6th October

The Tyne Bridge Harriers men qualified 2 teams to the National 6 Stage Relays for the first time in it’s history at the Northern Relays in Manchester. It was a great achievement and I was keen to take my place in the B team in Birmingham.

And so it was back on the bus for an early morning drive to Sutton Park.

This was going to be my first time running in a top quality national field. In many ways out of my depth but certainly guaranteed to be an excellent experience.

We arrived at the park in good time and luckily the worst of the rain had passed and the wind also didn’t seem too bad.

The club tents were set up cross country style on the grass and before we knew it the race was getting underway at 2pm.

I was due to run 3rd leg for the B team and I figured that I would be setting off around 14:40. So I made sure to get my warm up done around 14:00-14:05. Like Wednesday at the mile race I didn’t feel great. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing my warm ups in a lot of layers which is probably unneccesary and leads to excessive sweating.

My warm up was just a jog and I decided to leave strides until nearer the off.

Getting to the start it was fairly crowded with both men and women and I didn’t get a proper set of strides done. As I approached the pen I saw our mens A team coming through with Carl Smith handing over to Mark Fenwick.

With the benefit of hindsight I should have done a more thorough recce of the course and as it was I only had info from chats with a few of the guys who had already ran the course. The main message I took on board was to not go too hard on the early downhill section as this would be promptly followed by a decent drag. I had been told that this could be made up later in the course with a decent downhill section. However, I wasn’t sure how close that downhill section would leave you to the finish which was a slight drag. That said, when you can see the finish line it’s always possible to pull something out of the bag.

The officials told the men to separate from the women to help smooth the handovers and no sooner had I got across the other side of the road I saw Paul Turnbull who was running 2nd leg coming up the final stretch to the finish.

I got into race position and waited until I was given the good to go.

Rather surreally, as I looked up to settle into my rhythm I recognised Rotherham Harrier Hayley Carruthers who has made the headlines in running circles for her excellent recent performances – most notably finishing first British lady at the Great North Run.

I decided to settle in behind her down the opening straight but then, after a left hander onto an even steeper downhill, my natural momentum took me passed her and to the sharp right hander which had to be very carefully negotiated due to the wet leaves on the course.

I felt like I was getting into my stride and then came the main uphill climb. I was pretty conservative up that knowing I didn’t want to burn too many matches.

I could still hear Hayley following and at this point I’d forgotten that the ladies don’t run the same course as I was thinking to myself she could be a good person to work with. Having recently run a time at least 5 minutes faster than my HM PB I would not be disgraced running with Hayley. Before we knew it we had reeled in Elle Baker who seemed to struggling somewhat.

Part of me wondered where the men were until I was taken by one (Sale Harriers I think?) who promptly cut in sharply in front and seemed to be surprised when I clipped his heel.

That broke my momentum a little. I tried to stay on his heels but he picked up. I heard the Rotherham coach barking encouragement to Hayley behind and it was shortly after this that the men went onto the out and back section and the ladies back downhill for home.

I was able to take a struggling male on the downhill section of the out and back but truth be told I was starting to feel the effort even on the downhill. I couldn’t help but notice the men coming back the other way, working hard up the hill with pained expressions. This was clearly a tough part of the course.

I started to wonder how long this downhill section would go on. The further it went down the further we had to come back up!

Approaching the traffic cone turnaround I hadn’t made that much ground on the struggling runner I’d passed at the top of the hill! He’d obviously dug in on my heels. However, he was gone not soon after as he failed to match me going back up.

I was quite pleased with how I dealt with this section. I gritted my teeth and got it done. I had reached the downhill section and now I know the course this is the section where you simply have to try to “bury yourself”. Apart from a short “false flat” it is all downhill taking you to the final straight.

I was working hard but I was struggling to keep the cadence consistently high. I needed to get the cadence up and the stride length opened up in unison. But I just couldn’t seem to do it. Although I was passing a number of slower female runners I wasn’t making ground on any men.

I’d checked my watch just after the turnaround and I’d only been running for about 11 minutes. This panicked me. Not only because I felt like I’d been running longer but also because it made me think that there could be more uphill stretches that I needed to conserve energy on.

I was grateful to receive some support at this point from the TBH ladies and also Coach Dave Tune. I was looking for signs of the finishing straight and I finally got there with a sharp right hander.

Coming round the bend I spotted a male runner about 5-10 metres ahead and I tried to summon something to get passed him. At first I felt like there was a strong chance of doing so but then he picked up somewhat and I felt like I was wading through treacle. I tried to put every last bit of energy into it and finally got across the line in 20:23.

I was instantly disappointed with the time and felt quite angry at myself. I felt like I hadn’t ran a smart race and certainly hadn’t capitalised on the fast downhill sections. Overall the very undulating nature of the course didn’t suit my style of running although I do feel like I could improve next time on the course simply by knowing it better.

My disappointment was compounded by the initial results showing an incorrect time for my leg of 20:30. Although only 7 seconds difference I was annoyed at that but fortunately it was corrected to the 20:23 as per my watch timing.

In terms of the team results the A team finished an excellent 23rd and the B team 63rd out of 76 teams. This was a great result for the club and with the benefit of hindsight I was able to reconcile my own performance as being decent enough to take heart for the future. I certainly cherish the experience and put it in the bank for future races. It was a tough race both physically and mentally. And if someone had told me back in May that I’d be running the National 6 stage relays in Birmingham in October I would have laughed out loud! So I have to stay strong and patient.

Next up for me will be the first XC fixture of my season which is the third of the NEHL 2018/19 campaign. Indeed I need to complete all 4 of the final fixtures to count in the Individual Grand Prix.

The race is in a couple of weeks at Gosforth Park which gives me some time to focus on a couple of good training weeks. I will be keen to complete some quality threshold running and also some 10k/5k pace interval sessions as well as getting a regular long run of around 90 minutes done.

Thanks for reading.

Life is about seeing what you can do…

Tonight I raced the classic mile distance for the first time.

My goal was to tuck in behind the leaders and then go as hard as I possibly could the last 600-800m.

With about 35mins until the off I had a recce of the course.

Although there wasn’t much breeze the first 400m was a little draggy and into a slight headwind after all.

The backstraight was into a slight headwind as well. The pavement was also pretty uneven and with the dark nights descending that would require some concentration.

But then hallelujah. With about 600m to go there was a sharpish right hand turn to a downhill ramp maybe 100-150 metres and then leading onto the finishing straight. I was convinced that should be with a tailwind but I couldn’t feel it.

So the plan was set – to follow the leaders and then give it everything down the ramp and into the finish.

I was keen to post a good time to build on the recent Northern relays and also as a tune up to the Nationals in Birmingham. I was disappointed to withdraw from the first XC fixture of the NEHL season on Saturday but I felt it was the right decision. And I still felt a bit throaty from the head cold.

Indeed, during my 2 mile warm up I was sweating up somewhat and overall didn’t feel great. I persuaded myself that was normal and I always feel groggy before a race. I knew what the effort would feel like but overall I think the shorter the distance the better for me.

Getting underway I found myself in 4th with two Tyne Bridge clubmates in the top 3. We negotiated the early ramp and headwind. Sparrow Morley (who knew the course well) took up the lead and injected a bit of pace leaving me and Leodhais Macpherson trailing. Jevan Robertson was just behind.

I was keen to not let Sparrow get away too far and so put in a 50m effort to keep him within a decent gap. That had me running at a pace that felt more honest for the mile. I refrained from checking the watch for another minute or so and felt like I was keeping the gap in check.

I finally glanced at the watch approaching the right hander to the downhill ramp where I planned to go as hard as possible. I didn’t really register what I saw and so definitely it was counterproductive.

Coming down the ramp I felt I was closing somewhat on Sparrow (but not going eyeballs out yet) and coming into the last 400m or so maybe I could at least breathe down his neck a little.

I think he sensed that and was able to pick up quite rapidly. At this point I had noticeable heaviness in both arms as the lactic had built up and I would say I started to panic somewhat. This manifested itself in me looking at my watch on at least two occasions and, perhaps worse, looking round to see not one but two runners finishing stronger.

Unfortunately I would describe myself as tying up and looking for the line. I didn’t have another gear or the will power to grit and pull something out of the bag. As a result I gave up two places finishing 4th in 4.49. Sparrow won in 4.41.

On reflection I am pleased overall and my time represents a 61.9 VDOT (VO2 Max) rating and predicts perhaps 16:35-6 shape for 5k.

So in my mind this is a good first line in the sand for the mile, especially given that I haven’t really completed any specific mile workouts. That’s something I plan to work on as I want to nail a mile in 4:37 which is an excellent proof point for my ultimate target of a sub 16 minute 5k.

But first up onto the bus to Birmingham for what will be an excellent experience running in the National 6 Stage Relays for Tyne Bridge Harriers.

In the meantime I’m pleased I just got out to see what I could do…

Thanks for reading.

Northern 6 Stage Relay, Manchester 23rd September

One of the main reasons for joining Tyne Bridge Harriers earlier this year was to compete for the senior men in some more challenging team events such as the 6 and 12 stage relays.

So finally after joining TBH in Jan/Feb I was on the team bus down to Manchester for the Northern 6 Stage Relays.

I was to run Leg 5 for the B Team which meant a decent wait once we arrived at Sports City in Manchester. Each leg was around 4 miles taking in laps of Manchester City’s football stadium and also a nice start/finish on the neighbouring athletics track.

TBH had assembled a strong A, B and C team (18 men total) and certainly the A team was expected to qualify comfortably for the Nationals. Also the B Team had a chance of a Top 25 placing and potential entry to the Nationals.

The weather was good – bright with a little breeze. The men’s race was underway at 14:00. I knew I wouldn’t be starting until 15:20ish at the earliest so I tried to keep relaxed. I planned a warm up at 14:40ish which came around quicker than expected.

Shout out to Coach David Tune from Blizard Physiotherapy for the catch up and words of encouragement just before the off.

It was great to finally get in the starting pen and wait eagerly for Ryan Holt who was running a stormer in Leg 4.

My plan was to run strong and relaxed early on and try to build as I ticked off the KMs. I knew the track start can be deceptive and lead to a faster opening than optimal. I’d also been told by a few people that it was windy out on the course but you can only control the controllable and really there is nothing you can do in preparation for that.

I had taken the decision to not refer to my Garmin during the run as I did not want to be influenced by any pace readings. I wanted to run on feel and use my race brain to judge effort.

That said approx 4 miles is a strange distance and not one I’d ran before. I knew I didn’t want to be running out and out 5k pace but I didn’t want to get a little lazy running 10k pace either.

Ryan handed over in 32nd place overall which meant there was a challenge on to move into the top 25.

Moving round the first corner of the track I could only see one runner ahead (a Chorlton Harrier I think) and generally I felt like I wasn’t really gaining ground on him. That created a theme whereby I felt like I was isolated with nobody ahead and nobody behind. I basically assumed anyone I was passing was being lapped or obviously in the women’s race. I’d find out later that I was making up a few places overall. In essence it became a time trial and I just focussed on taking lapped runners as quickly as possible.

I felt pretty strong and like I was moving well on the first lap. It was good to get the course clearly in mind so I could start thinking about how I would attack it on the 2nd lap. Also, the hill that people had mentioned was more a ramp and nothing to be concerned with.

The main concern was in fact the aforementioned wind on the 2nd lap as tiredness became a factor. I’d gone through the first 2 miles in 10:53 which was just a little slower than 5k PB pace (approx 10:46 based on avg. PB pace 5:23/mile) but the 3rd mile slowed to 5:40. I passed the 5k mark in 17:09 versus PB of 16:44.

It was around this point that I started developing a stitch on my right hand side. I remembered how I used to strangely enjoy a stitch as a youngster running cross country at school. Maybe it’s because it gives you something to focus on! I tried to remember how to get rid of it. Deep breaths I thought. Unfortunately it was there for the remainder of the run.

The section just before the second passing of the extra gravel circuit for the senior men was probably the toughest part of the race as I battled the slow down due to both the wind and my persistent stitch.

Some support out on the course from my fellow Tyne Bridge team mates was a welcome reminder to keep plugging away. I still had the ramp to negotiate for the second time and I knew once I’d crested that I’d have the run into the athletics track and I felt like I’d be able to pick up towards the finish.

I was pleased with my work up the ramp although the section back into the running track felt into the wind and I was almost upended by a few spectators who weren’t looking where they were going as I tried to glide back down the ramp onto the track.

The atmosphere back onto the running track was great and I was able to pick up to the finish. Pleasingly I’d maintained pace quite well for a 5:31 4th mile and then finished strongly to handover to Paul Turnbull who was running the final leg.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I’d managed to pick up 3 places and taking the team into 29th overall.

Paul managed to maintain that position to the end. The A team finished an excellent 8th and qualified easily for the Nationals. The B team missed out but overall showed the strength in depth at the club. *Late update – it seems the B team has in fact qualified for the National relay in Birmingham in a couple of weeks!

So this being only my second race proper on the roads in 2018, I’m very pleased with the performance and certainly something to build on. I was happy with how I judged the race and feel like I can come on quite a bit for the experience.

Overall I probably had a little more in the tank in the middle part of the race and mentally just need to find a way to channel more effort. I also need to get to the bottom of the stitch issue which I believe is due to poor breathing and something I need to work on in training as I tend to be a shallow breather.

Next up is the first North East Harrier League fixture of the season on Saturday 29th September at Wrekenton.

Thanks for reading.

Running Proof Points – so how do I stack up?

In my last blog post – read it here – I introduced the concept of Running Proof Points.

As a reminder, Running Proof Points is a way of assessing both your current running ability and also your potential by looking at 3 key areas –

  1. Basic running speed (plus utilising Frank Horwill’s 4 second rule to assess potential over the key distances up to full marathon);
  2. vVO2 max or velocity at VO2 max (plus using Billat methodology to assess predicted 3k speed or speed at 100% VO2 max);
  3. Heart rate response at “Maximum Aerobic Capacity” Pace versus optimum (plus using Dr Maffetone MAF methodology to assess).

The aim is to establish a benchmark, gain an understanding of potential and also set a programme of improvement. The Running Proof Points can then be repeated at regular intervals (propose no more than every 4-6wks) to assess progress.

So how did I stack up?

Well, let’s take each one by one.

Firstly basic running speed – I tried running 400m as hard as possible on two occasions. On the 30th July I ran 63 seconds dead (pace 4:14/mile). Initially I was a little disappointed with this as I was hoping to run 60s dead. However, the 400m sprint is a hard discipline and relies on excellent speed as well as great running economy. Having only had my groin operation in May I clearly had to be a little careful going full tilt. I was sure I could run better with another effort. Indeed the body can adapt quite quickly to a task and execute better with experience.

So a couple of weeks later on the 16th August I attempted the 400m sprint again. This time I ran 60.3s which translates to 4:03/mile pace. This is much more in line with where I need to be basic speed wise to run a sub 16 5k. How do I know this?

Well, using Frank Horwill’s “4 second rule”, if I can run 400m in 60.3s I should be able to run 5k in 76.3s per 400m which is a pace of 5:07/mile or 15mins 53.75secs for the distance. There is of course an obvious caveat that adequate training is completed for the 5k but the basic speed should be there.

To explain further, Horwill’s 4s rule states that as distance doubles from 400m you should be able to run each 400m around 4s slower than previous distance. For women this could be 5s per 400m and for elites it could be less than 4s/5s respectively.

So for me –

400m = 60.3s

800m = 64.3s per 400m, i.e. 128.6s for 800m (2m 8s)

1600m = 68.3s

3200m = 72.3s

5000m = 76.3s

This methodology can be continued for 10k, HM and full Marathon.

So the upshot is I feel confident that I have the raw basic speed for a sub 16 minute 5k.

Some further thoughts on this… The logical next step could now be to work on nailing an 800m in 2:08 and a mile in 4:37. This would further underline my capability to run the sub 16min 5k. If I am unable to do so this points to a lack of speed endurance and running economy.

You may be wondering how you can use running proof point #1 yourself?

My advice would be this –

  1. Write down your wildly important running goal. Lets say its to run a HM in 1hr 30mins.
  2. Work out the pace per 400m to run a 1hr 30m HM. It should be around 1m 42s or 1m 43s per 400m.
  3. Use Horwills 4s rule to calculate pace per 400m for the key distances from 400m to full Marathon. For 400m  – it should be between 78-79s.
  4. Assess your capabilities. Are you capable of running those paces? For HM it will be critical that you can run the 5k and 10k times as these are critical background distances for HM whereas for my 5k target 800m to mile/2mile capability is more foundational. To give an idea you would be aiming for a sub 20min 5k and a 10k between 41-42 minutes.

Moving onto point 2 which is velocity at VO2 max (vVO2 max for short).

VO2 max (the rate at which oxygen can be utilised during exercise) is clearly a critical factor. VO2 max does reduce with age but also can be improved with targeted exercise. Staying with Frank Horwill, he was known to regularly reference the work of exercise physiologists such as Per-Olaf Astrand and underlined that training above 80% VO2 max was the best way of advancing VO2 max. At this point I will state that any runner keen to improve must grasp the following –

  • 100% VO2 Max is 3km pace
  • 95% VO2 Max is 5km pace
  • 90% VO2 Max is 10km pace
  • 80% VO2 Max is Half Marathon pace
  • 70% VO2 Max is Full Marathon pace

So it can be seen that training at or above HM pace is the best “bang for your buck” when seeking to give VO2 Max a boost. But it is actually the work of Veronique Billat that I draw on for Running Proof Point #2. Billat proposes a running test to assess velocity at VO2 Max (vVO2 max). The basis of the test is a 6 minute maximal running effort. The distance in metres that is run in the 6 minute test can then be divided by 360 (6 minutes is 360 seconds) to give a speed in metres per second. This is effectively vVO2 max and based on the above list is therefore a figure that can be “extrapolated” for 3k pace which is scientifically proven to be 100% VO2 max. In other words, whatever pace you achieve in the 6 minute running test should be sustainable in a 3km race situation although obviously this depends on the conditioning of the athlete. Note that vVO2 max can also be used for future training sessions to boost VO2 max fitness levels but that is for a future blog post. For those who can’t wait study Billat, there are some easily digestible articles online.

So on the 4th September I attempted the 6 minute test. This is not for the faint hearted and certainly doing the test alone is not easy. It takes some mental determination and, depending on your ability, you know you will be going through a hard mile and more.

I had done some “fag packet” calculations and I felt I should land in the 1900-2000m zone. In all honesty I did not expect to get to 2000m as that is obviously 3:00 per km or 15:00 minute 5k pace.

The effort did prove difficult. I felt like I ran well through the first few minutes. I was very keen not to look at my watch but that got harder as I passed through halfway. I conducted the test early morning before work. I have to confess I am not a fan of early morning running, not least because I seem to get stomach issues (I will spare you the details – you get the picture) but also because my legs always feel a bit dead. So I felt like I was slowing somewhat in the last minute or two (the “where did that headwind come from?” syndrome!).

I was relieved when I saw the clock hit 6 minutes! On review in Training Peaks I had progressed as follows through the run –

  • 400m in 1:09.2 (4:38/mile)
  • 800m in 2:22.3 (4:46/mile)
  • 1km in 2:59.7 (4:49/mile)
  • 1 mile in 4:58.2 (4:58/mile)
  • 1,931m in 6:00 (5:00/mile)

This translates to 5.36 metres per second as my vVO2 max rating. I prefer to focus on the 5 minutes per mile reading. Actually I find this interesting because more common convention would be to perform VO2 max boosting sessions at more like 5k pace. But as we saw earlier 5k pace is 95% VO2 max whereas this test gives us a reading of 100% VO2 max.

That said, another more sobering way to look at this is to use a VO2 max calculator to establish my current VO2 max rating. Anyone familiar with the legendary coach Jack Daniels who wrote the running classic “Daniels Running Formula” will be aware of his VDOT calculations which are basically in line with VO2 max ratings. If you calculate VDOT for a 15:59 5k (my dream running goal) you will note that this translates to a VO2 max of 64.7. If however we calculate the rating of 1,931m ran in 6 minutes we will see that VDOT is only 60.6 which suggests around 16.54 capability for 5km (my PB is 16:44). This is a more sensible reading of my current fitness. Extrapolating for the future – if I could improve the distance I can run in 6 minutes by 5% over a reasonable amount of time (say 6-8wks) then that would mean a distance of 2,028m which would translate to a VDOT of 64.4 and very close to what is required to break 16 minutes for 5k! This therefore becomes the target!

Moving onto the final Running Proof Point #3 – aerobic power or efficiency is critical to running success. You need a powerful engine and that is something that can’t be developed overnight. In this regard I like to reference the work of Dr Phil Maffetone. I would say Maffetone is somewhat of a controversial figure in the fitness/running community as many people would argue against his methods (being too one dimensional perhaps?), however the success of his best known athlete – Ironman legend Mark Allen – cannot be ignored.

Maffetones main advice was to train at what he called “Maximum Aerobic Function” or MAF. A formula was proposed to calculate MAF using heart rate. I won’t go into details here but basically the formula is 180-age regardless of gender. There are many potential caveats and adjustments depending on past illness/injury history but lets just say my current MAF heart rate is 180-37 = 143 beats per minute (bpm). Maffetone would prescribe all training at this heart rate level (or within 10bpm lower to provide a range 133-143bpm) whether it be running training or cross training on the bike or in the pool for example.

So the critical aspect for the runner is – what pace in miles per minute can you run at your MAF heart rate? This is important and the key is obviously to make it as fast as possible. Most people have the same experience when they first try this as they get a shock at how slow their MAF pace is! Indeed, many people struggle to keep their heart rate below or in line with MAF which Maffetone suggests is due to a weak aerobic system. He advises patience and discipline to ensure the pace/heart rate is stuck to. He also advises a “MAF Test” every 4-8wks to test whether the MAF pace is improving as a result of the careful training plan. The MAF test would involve a warm up then a 4 mile run at MAF HR and then a cool down. The average pace at MAF HR would be recorded and trends over time analysed.

It would be perhaps logical for Running Proof Point #3 to simply be a MAF test. However, I was more intrigued by a pace table Maffetone includes in his seminal work “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing” that indicates how MAF pacing translates to 5k times.

Below is an excerpt from the table –

MAF Pace/5K Pace/5K Time

  • 8:00 / 6:30 / 20:12
  • 7:30 / 6:00 / 18:38
  • 7:00 / 5:30 / 17:05
  • 6:30 / 5:15 / 16:19
  • 6:00 / 5:00 / 15:32
  • 5:45 / 4:45 / 14:45
  • 5:30 / 4:30 / 13:59

It can be seen above that, theoretically, for me to run a sub 16 minute 5k I would need to have a MAF pace (the pace I can run at an HR of 143bpm) of between 6:00 and 6:30 per mile pace. Therefore my approach to Running Proof Point #3 is to run 4 miles at 6:30/mile pace and record my average HR. I will then compare the average HR to the required MAF HR and measure that over time.

So on the 28th August I performed the 4 mile test. This was my first run following a 2 week holiday in which, although I did get some running done (including incidentally the 400m run test where I ran 60.3s), I knew I would have lost some basic running fitness.

In the end I ran 4 miles in 25:59 (6:29/mile pace) averaging 166bpm. This is a full 23bpm above my MAF HR of 143bpm!!! For me this is clearly the weakest of the 3 Running Proof Points and one that I certainly need to see improvement on over the 2018/2019 winter season.

So, in summary…

I believe I have the raw basic speed to run a sub 16 minute 5k. That said, any improvement in my 400m time below the current 60.3s would clearly feed through to longer distances. My vVO2 max was pleasing but short of the distance required to suggest a fitness level to run anywhere near sub 16 5k. I must improve my VO2 max and I would argue that a minimum of 5% improvement needs to be targeted. Finally, my aerobic power seems woefully short if the Maffetone method and field research is to be trusted. I will be looking for a consistent training cycle to help with this, critically in terms of running volume in particular. I also believe “bread and butter” lactate threshold running – starting with 20 minutes straight and building to 2x 20mins and even 3x 15mins – will be critical.

I hope you have found these Running Proof Points interesting. Perhaps they have provided you with some food for thought for your own running.

In the next article I will move onto how I plan to train to improve in all 3 areas. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed all of my Proof Point tests were conducted in August/early September and therefore I will be planning re-tests in late September/early October. However, these will need to be carefully built into my training schedule as I now move into the race season and particularly cross country.

Looking ahead I have the Northern 6 stage relays on Sunday 23rd September and the first North East Harrier League (NEHL) fixture on Saturday 29th September.

As I mentioned in the first post, I would love to hear from you – what are your goals? How do you plan to achieve them?

Thanks for reading and happy running!