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!

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