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.

North East Marathon Club Newcastle Race Course Half Marathon, 12th May

North East Marathon Club Newcastle Race Course Half Marathon, 12th May

I ran my first Half Marathon in 2017 at the Great North Run.

Although I really enjoyed the experience deep down I was disappointed with my time of 1hr 20m 28s as I had been targetting more like 77-78 minutes.

Having said that, my training leading up to the race wasn’t as I’d hoped and mileage was low and my shins sore.

So I’d had to nurse my way to the start line and in many ways I should have been pleased with getting round in a respectable time and in one piece.

One of the doubts I’ve always had about my running is whether I have the stamina to support my natural speed and I’ve always been aware that my 10km and HM times aren’t in line performance wise with my PBs over a mile (4:49) and 5k (16:43-16:47).

I’ve also ran a 1km time trial in training in 2:42.

These PBs and training performances give a wide range of equivalent times for a Half Marathon of approx 72-76 minutes.

So part of me wanted a very low key half marathon to treat as a hard long run/threshold effort to move closer in line with these predictions and simply test myself and my current form.

Perhaps I could banish the idea that I have an issue with stamina?

I picked out the Newcastle Race Course half marathon as fitting the bill.

The event is put on by the North East Marathon Club (NEMC). I was aware of these events for some time and had been meaning to attend the Town Moor event as it is very close to where I live.

I entered the race late on Friday night just before the deadline and set about coming up with a decent plan. Unlike a normal race where I would be persuading myself to not wear the Garmin at all, I wanted to set a good progressive pace plan and to get faster each 5k and use my watch as a tool quite religiously, also tracking heart rate – I wanted to get into an effort I knew I could hold strongly.

The below photo shows what I came up with –

I was working with both pace development and heart rate development as mentioned.

The last time I had lactate threshold testing my LTHR was ~175bpm at around 6 minutes per mile on a treadmill. To run a good HM you need to be able to hold at or around LTHR (preferably bubbling just slightly above) for pretty much the whole race.

But the plan was to start conservatively at 6:05 pace and go through 3 miles in approx 1:19.45 HM projection time. Although I felt it was conservative this would still be ahead of my current PB pace of 6:07 and therefore felt about right.

I’d then look to ramp the pace by 5 seconds per mile the next 3 miles (improving the predicted finish time to 1:19.15 after 6 miles) and then down to 5:55 pace miles 7, 8 and 9.

The pace increase would then get more aggresive in the last 4 or so miles. I would be expecting to exceed LTHR from mile 10 onwards (where things would start getting tough) and I’d be looking to be running at my current 10k PB pace (5:36/mile) in the last 2 or so miles. I believed this would feel like all out.

Overall this was the only part of the plan that concerned me a little but on balance the predicted finish time of 1:17.20 seemed about right and a planned 3 minute improvement on my current PB.

But I also had in mind the current Tyne Bridge Harriers club record for the mens 35-39 age bracket of 1:16.04. Indeed, something between 76-77 minutes would be bang in line with recent 5k performances of 16:38-16:43.

Although I knew this was not a licensed event, part of me felt that if I was going strong the TBH 35-39 record was in my range. However, I wouldn’t bust a gut to break it as I want this to be a stepping stone to breaking it at an official event in a reasonable time frame.

So it was against that back drop that I woke to glorious conditions on Sunday morning to get ready for the 9:30 start time. I’d made sure to eat and hydrate fairly well on Saturday and just had a pint of water, half a tuna sandwich and some soreen before setting off on the 10 minute drive to the race course (the handy location being another reason I decided to enter).

I picked up my number and completed a 10 minute warm up. The sun was high and quite strong and part of me wondered whether it might be an unexpected factor. I hadn’t applied or packed any sun screen. The temperatures were still comfortable at around 11-13 degrees C. I comforted myself that I wasn’t doing the full marathon or 50k! Maybe next time!

Things were quite relaxed at the start with the organisers and other competitors. The start of the 3 races were staggered with the HM starting behind the marathon and 50k so I readied myself for some grass running to get by those groups.

The 9:30 start was a little delayed but only 5 minutes or so.

Two male runners shot off and within 30s I was looking down on sub 5:30 pace and I’d lost about 10 metres on them. I immediately reigned my own pace in and just focused on the best way to get through the other races. Once done the two guys still had a similar gap and I just focussed on settling in.

The running felt like jogging but I was still sub 6 minute miling and ahead of the planned 6:05.

I moved into second place and focussed on the back of first place. The first lap was only a partial lap and on the first full lap I was maintaining a 5-10 metre gap on first place.

I could hear that he seemed to be working quite hard already in terms of his breathing and perspiration so I felt I could just keep it very easy/steady knowing that I was feeling good and would naturally go by as he slowed off.

That happened shortly after the start of the second full lap and I got ready for a long and lonely time trial.

It didn’t take that long before the sound of second places breathing had disappeared and I only had runners from the other races and lapped runners to chase down.

The first 3 miles were passed in 5:55, 5:49 and 5:58.

I was enjoying myself.

There is something about a longer race that is starting to appeal. In 5k’s the only option is to try to bury yourself as much as possible but for the HM I felt like I was able for perhaps the first time ever to get in a great rhythm with comfortable breathing. And enjoy it!

The only slight issue was my inability to deal with the water cups at the end of each lap. I had decided I would try to take a few sips per lap and get some over my head to avoid any possible dehydration/over heating. The first attempt I struggled to drink what water was left in the cup after spilling most of it and the next attempt I didn’t even feel like trying to drink. So after the 2nd full lap I didn’t attempt to pick up water again.

Those first few miles, the wrist monitor on my Garmin was telling me that I was operating at below 170bpm but in the third and fourth miles there was a sudden correction to around 178-179bpm. I didn’t let this concern me as the effort felt right and I ticked off miles 4, 5, 6 and 7 in 5:48, 5:47, 5:45 and 5:44 feeling very strong and probably bang on threshold (or just above) at 178bpm. Perhaps a little part of me was starting to think “can I keep this up?” after the 7th mile. I had gone through 10k in 35:59 which, according to Strava, is my 3rd best ever time.

I knew I was significantly ahead of my progression based schedule and part of me started to wonder whether I could avoid now a positive split.

Indeed miles 8, 9 and 10 were slower and I was unable to continue to hold my HR just under 180bpm. It fell off to more like 174-176bpm and the miles in 5:51, 5:50 and 5:53.

Depending on where the mile laps beeped dictated whether I could relax a little or had to dig in just a tad. Any one who has been to Newcastle races will know the finishing straight is a little draggy for the horses and so the last third or so of each lap negotiated this, leading to a slight slowing of pace. It was around these miles I think that a new mile clicked and I was looking down on a lap pace reading of 6:12. It gave me a slight jolt and made me wonder if the wheels would start falling off. But pleasingly I was able to get back on track.

So mile 8, 9 and 10 were definitely the toughest part of the race. Incidentally I passed both 15k and 10 miles in PBs of 54:10 and 58:11 respectively.

But mentally things got easier in the last 5k or so. I recall at the Great North Run having an awful time of the last 3 miles (having gone trhough 10 miles in 60:10ish) due to the draggy incline of John Reid road (those who know will know) but I didn’t have this to contend with this time.

What I did have was the continued monotomy of the course, what was starting to feel like a touch of a headwind (although this was just tiredness and the headwind caused by running >10mph for a prolonged period!) and having to pick my line through lapped runners.

My HR continued to fall off a few beats in those final miles suggesting a slight lack of strength and ability to keep pushing on. Don’t get me wrong, I was increasing the effort and keeping the pace there or thereabouts. But with a bit more strength (and confidence in my ability to finish) it could be possible for me to move more towards 15k or even 10k effort/pace in the last few miles of a half marathon.

As it was miles 11, 12 and 13 were completed in 5:54, 5:50 and 5:54. I was starting to want the finish. As I approached the finish line for what I hoped was the last time the time keepers didn’t seem to be aware I was finishing. As I went over the line I looked at my Garmin which had something like 13.0* miles. So I shouted am I finished or do I need to go to the HM start line!? (which I think was another couple hundred metres away). I didn’t hear a reply so I decided to push on until my Garmin said 13.12 miles to ensure the HM was completed! I’d picked the pace up to 5:40 in the process!

I then turned round to see one of the organisers had chased after me to tell me that I had finished! Not to worry, I felt remarkably fresh for having just run a HM in 1:16:32, knocking a good 4 minutes from my previous best!

We walked back to the finish and I received my trophy, voucher and medal. I was pleased to have finished and to have beaten convincingly both my previous PB and race plan.

It also gives me confidence that I can translate my 5k/10k performances to the longer distance. So I can now focus on improving my 5k time to seek to achieve the TBH club record (low 16mins) for the 35-39 age bracket and then try to convert that to the record 10k and HM as well. And, who knows, I may have a full marathon in me yet!

Thanks for reading.

Half marathon training PB

I’m not sure how many times I’ve ran as far as Half Marathon distance since I started running in 2012.

I would guess may 2 or 3 times have I ran that far or further.

Truth is I’m not a fan of the traditional long run. Never really been too fussed on running for longer than 60-80 minutes.

But this week just gone things didn’t quite go to plan.

I had completed a decent club session at Elswick Harriers on Tuesday night. It was only the second time I’d managed to make a session since joining in the summer and by coincidence it was my second go tackling the “Walbottle loop”…

23 minutes of running taking in Walbottle bank. Last time I’d tackled 8 approximate half mile loops. It had been a tough session but it felt beneficial. Like a good threshold session with the added challenge of having to get up the hill. Plus a test of technique on the downhill bit just after the climb when you’re still gasping for air.

I was looking forward to another go.

Super vet Lee Bennett was there again. He kicked my arse the first time I’d tried to stay close to him. He’d beaten me soundly at Druridge Bay XC as well but I had a loose plan of seeing how long I could stay with him here…

About two loops was the answer!

On the second climb I was on his shoulder and he no doubt heard my breathing as I laboured…

It was the downhills last time and it was the downhills this time. As I’m struggling to keep the stride ticking over he’s away down the hill.

Anyway I dug in despite some pain and the heart rate reaching 189bpm at one point. I never push that hard on my own and an obvious benefit of making training a little more competitive from time to time.

I got my 8 laps done somewhere between 24 and 25 minutes. Overall satisfied on what was a typically blustery night.

Anyway I digress.

The main point of the week was to get on the start line of the Norman Woodcock Memorial 5 mile race on Saturday in one piece and raring to go to smash my current PB of 31.16.

It’s a false PB as I’ve ran 30mins on several occasions on threshold training runs so I knew that would go but by how much?

Unfortunately the weather signals weren’t good and Elswick Chairman Frank Watson had already called in the water pump to try to sort out a flooded course.

The race was finally cancelled on Thursday and I was a little disappointed.

Reason being – I’m in bloody good shape!

I’d been out on the Town Moor and had a little spin of what was planned to be a mile but end up about 3/4. I let fly a little and enjoyed it. Just over 5 minute miling and feeling strong.

It was all I needed to feel confident of ticking off 5 in 5.30-5.35/mile at the race in decent conditions.

Not to be.

That left me a little in limbo and knowing I had no races until after Xmas and New Year.

It would be easy to lose any semblance of discipline in those circumstances but I am motivated to keep fit over the festive period. I’ve even managed to keep my little morning strength routine going!

Rest day on Friday and decided to do some sort of treadmill session at the gym on Saturday whilst “Desmond” did his worst.

But such had the way the week had been I had to ditch that to help my girlfriend out which I was more than happy to do as I was feeling a bit weird with what felt like an ear ache.

Not to worry, one treadmill session missed isn’t the end of the world.

Waking up on Sunday I felt good. Had some breakfast and coffee far too close to the run and came up with the madcap idea of 6 & a 1/2 minute miling a solo Half Marathon. Looked it up on the pace charts in Daniels and saw it would come out around 1hr 25mins and sounded about right for what I wanted to do.

Set the cadence vibrate on my Garmin (really enjoying this feature) and got out just focussing on getting in the 6.30/mile rhythm.

I was really surprised how easy it felt. It really felt like a jog. Got to 40mins and apart from the “I’ve got to keep this going for another 45” it was a walk in the park…

I got to 65mins and my heart rate was still very settled at 160-165bpm which is lower than full marathon intensity. But I had to head back up home which is a little uphill.

And so the last 20 minutes were tough but I actually picked up the pace. Was working harder at 165-170bpm but was averaging 6.25/mile.

In the end the HM was done in just over 1.24.

That’s a huge training PB. I don’t actually know what my previous is but it was probably 1.28.

Anyway, to run a half in sub 1.25 at an average heart rate of 163bpm is a huge surprise and gives me a lot of confidence in what I can do in the next 6-12 months.

I’ll be spending the next couple of weeks setting some goals for 2016.

Sub 17 5k – Week 9 training diary

Check out http://www.run5kfaster.com for more of my thoughts on running

Great weeks training last week despite Christmas etc. and some good numbers seen. I was especially pleased with the 40min threshold and a new 10k training PB of 37.52.

Definite signs that I’m moving nicely towards my goal but I was aware that this week would be disrupted by a trip to London for New Years Eve.

So the usual 6 runs per week would be reduced to 4 at most and as it turned out I only got out for 3.

Training Diary

Tuesday
Plan – 40 minute threshold

Got down the gym for another 40min threshold. Paced using the foot pod and carefully monitored heart rate.

I was knocking out miles progressively improving from 6.21 mile 1 to around 5.55 last half mile. It meant about 6.6 miles for the 40 minutes (6.05) with an average heart rate of 168bpm. Given that my lactate threshold HR is measured at 183bpm it represents great progress and there are a lot of gears to be called on in a race situation.

Saturday
Plan – 45 minute Threshold

I was a little bit apprehensive about this run following the New Years Eve celebrations but I needn’t have worried.

I got out strongly and actually ticked off the first 3 miles more quickly it felt like than before New Year. It seemed like the 3 days of no running had done me good.

That said things did get tougher. It wasn’t that I was having to work harder. It was the usual route which is stiffer second half than the first and I felt myself getting a bit lazy coming home.

Not to worry, it was a decent run and I did around 6.6 miles in 42 mins at 167bpm. Good to be back.

Sunday
Plan – 70 minute recovery

I would have to confess that I am not a fan of the long run. The longest I usually get out for is an hour and even an extra 10mins didn’t appeal.

That said I loved this run. The sun was bright, the air was crisp. I listened to a Smashing Pumpkins album, put my new sunglasses on and enjoyed every step.

Even more pleasing was the fact I was running miles comfortably at 6.50-7.00/mile within my recovery zone of 151-163bpm.

In the end felt like I could have run a half at 1.30 pace but I’ll save it as I have some solid training to come over the next week’s and months.

There is no better feeling than each footfall feeling at one with the ground, gliding, strong…

Weekly totals

Running – ~25miles

It was always going to be a lower mileage week what with being away from home, New Year etc. but happy that I’m still where I was coming back and next week will get fully into the routine.

I’m feeling mentally ready and recharged to go after, in this training block, what I’ve been aiming for since starting this blog – the sub 17 5k.