Race Report: NEMAA Open Relays 2023

As I mentioned in my race preview, I wanted to use this short relay race as a test of where I’m at with the aim of averaging around 388w power output for the almost 2 mile, 2 lap course.

I can then use the data to dial in training between now and early July where I’m (hopefully) entered in the Great North 10km.

The Stryd race time prediction was around 10:10 which I kind of knew was a tall ask given the training I’ve completed this year. That said short races are potentially my forte and I always feel somewhat confident I can find some speed in my legs from somewhere.

The big unknown was the course distance  measurement as I was using my Strava GPS data from 2019 which measured at 1.91 miles. The race is advertised as two miles.

Anyhow, one of the benefits of running to power is that it is an unemotional metric and you can just focus on pumping out an effort level without emotional attachment to pace or other metrics like heart rate.

As is always the case with weekday races the key challenge is navigating the life stresses of the day and trying to get on the start line feeling in the right mood to race. Without going into detail my day went pretty poorly, starting with waking up with (another) slight sore throat and generally nothing going to plan. But I did feel up for racing still and, despite arriving late at Monkton, got a decent warm up done.

I was down to run 3rd (last) leg for the mens age 35-44 B team and so had plenty of time to decide on shoe selection. Part of me was tempted to wear a battered old pair of Nike Streakfly but ended up wearing the Next% that I last raced in at the Manc Half in 2021. I wasn’t sure how they’d handle the sharp turns but noticed others had gone for “super shoes” and so went with that.

The race got away late but before I knew it Chris Stockdale had finished first leg handily and Paul Turnbull handed over in maybe 4th or 5th but very isolated. I knew this could be a solo run with not much to hunt down other than lapped runners. Sunderland Harriers had a team fairly close behind us.

The first few hundred metres always feel remarkably easy. So easy that my original plan was blown out the water. Going into the first left bend my average power was >400 watts – well above where I wanted to be. I decided to commit to it and the aforementioned sharp bends naturally pulled avg. power down to high 380s through the first half of the first lap.

The first lap felt pretty good but reminded me of how challenging maintaining effort/pace can be second lap. Indeed it’s a well known fact that effort needs to increase to maintain pace when tiring as form inefficiency exacerbates slow down, made even worse by the course twists and turns. The slow down to get round corners becomes more pronounced and the acceleration out gets harder and harder.

I also ditched my initial plan of clicking off the first lap on my Garmin as I was right on the money around 390w power average on starting the second lap – I just needed to focus and hold it about there.

At about half way round the second lap I started to hear faster steps behind suggesting someone was coming to challenge for our position. This was my biggest disappointment of the night – I didn’t have any race craft or any ability to decide to put the hammer down to at least ask a question or, once they got alongside/past me, hang on in there for a later counter attack.

The fact is I felt a bit one paced and was starting to just look for the finish. The lack of race sharpness/awareness told here and I accepted defeat without too much of a fight.

Fortunately there were still plenty of lapped runners to go at and I feel like I did pick up a little the last 300-400m, perhaps finishing as strongly as I’d started.

I crossed the finish line, not overly winded which suggests I had a little more to offer overall. My clocking of 10:30 was disappointing initially as it’s the slowest time I’ve ever recorded at this event. However, deep down I was satisfied and the process goal of holding 388w was exceeded as I managed to hold 392w. This is almost identical to the average power I held for my 16:01 5km PB from 2021 (on a much faster out and back course). The rest is down to the vagaries of course distance – Stryd clocking it at 1.97 miles this time.

Now I’ve been here before, wondering about course measurements and the like and whether Stryd is over egging distance. But I do trust Stryd 100% based on my experience from 2021.

By managing to hold 392w for 10m 30s my Stryd is now predicting I can run 16:18 for 5km, in effect proposing that I could hold the effort level I achieved here for another mile. I think on the right course that sounds reasonable, especially if I got specific in training for 5km. But my attention now turns to dialling in for the 10km in July.

This is a step in the right direction. The data from this effort translates to a Functional Threshold Power (FTP or the power I can hold for 1hr) of 347w. I can now use that data to train properly and I will write more on this in upcoming blogs.

Unfortunately I did have an adverse reaction after the race in terms of the sore throat and I woke up feeling like I had a slight cold. It is possible that this affected my performance on the night but overall minimal given the power data.

So I’m going to monitor the recovery and try to plan how to approach training between now and the Les Allcorn 10km next Tuesday which overall will be a hard training run with the potential to follow up with another 2 mile relay at the Gordon Smiths the day after.

But that will all depend on how I feel following this decent if not spectacular season opener.

The official results from the NEMAA Relays had the Tyne Bridge Harriers 35-44 A team in 2nd overall and the B team, of which I was a part, came 6th. My time of 10:30 was 23rd fastest overall in the race and 7th in the 40 category. Summary: can do better but better for the trying.

Thanks for reading.


Race Preview: NEMAA Open Relays 2023

My first race of 2023 is the North East Masters Athletics Association (NEMAA) Open Relays.

This is a race I’ve done 3 times before in 2016, 2017 and 2019. The race is approx. 2 miles and my best time was in 2019 where I ran 10m 07s.

Last time out at the NEMAA Relays in 2019

My Stryd app is currently predicting a time of 10m 09s based on a power output of 388 watts. I think this is the best I can hope to achieve as the course is quite challenging due to the number of quite hard twists and turns which really ask questions of your ability to firstly get round the corner efficiently but also accelerate hard out of them.

Current race predictions in Stryd

It’s a 2 lap course which means the hard 90 degree corners need to be navigated twice and all in all I’d say it’s not a really fast course.

My running club Tyne Bridge Harriers will have a strong A team who should be in a very good shout for gold. We may also have a pretty decent B team in the 35 to 44 age category and I’d hope to at least sneak into that.

My race strategy will be to start the race “tall and strong” and probably check my overall average power heading towards the first left hand turn which may be approx. 300 to 400m into the first lap. I don’t want to over cook the first lap and hang on.

So if I can enter the second lap around 375-380 watts I’d be looking to click the lap on my watch heading past the time keepers and then aim to nail a very hard second lap of at least avg. 388 watts. Looking at my run data from the Quayside 5km in August 2021 I was able to hold 393 watts for that race, so I’d like to think I can have 388-390 watts as a target for a hard effort in lap two of this relay race.

Something I will be analysing post race will be my 10 minute average power as I can use that to calculate my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) which is basically the power I could hold for 1 hour. I can then use that information to dial in my training zones and also get a clear indication of what I can hope to run at next week’s Les Allcorn 10km. But more on that later.

I’ll hope to come out of this race well and target another decent long run at the weekend before easing off for the Les Allcorn 10km on Tuesday 9th May.

Thanks for reading.

2023/24 plans

2023/24 plans

So far I’ve just been chipping away in 2023.

Nothing major. I’ve managed to just “stay in the game” and, although mileage is still relatively low, I feel ready to try a few races.

Behind modest mileage target so far this year…

My main immediate aims with racing are to basically see where I’m at and push my fitness on towards a good go at bettering my 10km PB in July as I’ve entered the Great North 10km.

Before that I’ll be lining up at the NEMAA Relays (approx. 2 miles) this week, the Les Allcorn 10km and (if everything is Ok) the Gordon Smith Relays (approx. 2 miles).

That’s quite a lot of racing in a short space of time for me but it’s deliberate. The short relays should give VO2 max a little boost while the Les Allcorn is more of a hard training run as it’s a mixed terrain course with some hills.

To give some perspective on my current fitness level, when I ran 16:01 for 5km and 73:34 for the half marathon in 2021 my Stryd Critical Power (the power I can hold for 30-40mins) was 383 watts. As it stands today it is currently 360 watts. I’m hoping following this bout of races that my CP will edge closer to where I was in 2021 which would give me some confidence that I could certainly run something sub 34 minutes at the Great North 10km.

But we will have to see. My CP of 360w is predicting approx. 17 minutes for 5km which feels about right.

Current Stryd race predictions based on CP @ 360w

Some recent positive training runs have given me cause for optimism but also lead me to believe that my current CP of 360w is still quite challenging, and I’ll need these little race tests to confirm or deny where I’m at.

I completed a 30 minute threshold run at right around my predicted half marathon target power of 345w (1:19 predicted time). Note: I managed to hold 369w at the Manchester Half where I finished in 73:34.

I ran it as a 15 minute out and back with the first half feeling great. The second half was much more challenging as I ran it solo back into a headwind. But overall a good workout although I was left wondering how I could hold it for another 50mins.

And then on Saturday just gone I ran a full half marathon at around 3hr marathon pace. Again I ran to power (avg. approx. 306w) on an undulating course with the first half net downhill and the second net uphill (point to point course). Aerobically I felt very good although at an average heart rate of 157bpm I feel I have scope to improve around 10-12bpm. In addition my legs went quite badly at around 18-19km, mainly around the hips. I put both the heart rate and leg issues down to a lack of long runs generally.

Overall this week’s training was quite risky as I vastly increased both volume and intensity which isn’t recommended but I feel it was a calculated risk which gets me ready to race hard and see how things come out the other side.

I haven’t yet thought too far beyond the Great North 10km in July but I was inspired by the London Marathon and I can’t help but feel the full marathon is something I need to try. I’m also keen to have another go at earning a Masters England vest. One option may be to see how things stand after the Great North 10km and potentially aim to have a go qualifying at that distance before deciding on any approach to the full marathon in 2024.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates on the upcoming races.

A tale of two relays…

So almost two months has passed since the Northern 12 stage relays on 24th March.

Since then we had the disappointment of not being able to put out a Tyne Bridge Harriers team in the National 12 stage relays on 6th April. I managed to slightly offset that disappointment by running a parkrun PB at Newcastle on the same day instead. That said, I was gutted when I crossed the line and saw 16:43 as I felt like I’d smashed it, not merely taking off 4 seconds from my previous best!

But if you can’t enjoy a PB, no matter how small, you have to ask yourself why you are on the journey…

Unfortunately in the background was an ear and sinus issue which wasn’t clearing and looking at my training diary I was starting to slip into pushing the pace too hard in training, perhaps an unnecessary panic, overreaching.

This came to a crescendo on Monday 8 April and Tuesday 9. Below are my training diary entries for those days –

8/4/19 10 miles easy @ 6:47/mile (1hr 7m 51s) – felt v. strong

9/4/19 TBH session – Pyramid (1min/2min/4min/6min/4min/2min/1min with half recoveries. 4.88 miles in 30mins (6:09/mile pace)

The TBH session was undoubtedly my best ever session where I found myself running just off the fast lads at the club that night. The pace of the efforts were low 5 minute miling except the 2nd 4 minute effort where fatigue and a slight headwind kicked in.

And yet something didn’t feel right – sore throat and run down. I realised it’s no good running PB sessions, I need PB races and I was starting to feel exhausted and not recovering as well as I had been. The left ear got worse to the point where I was partially deaf come Thursday 11th.

A trip to the walk-in centre revealed a completely blocked ear and tonsilitis.

I took 3 days rest and then continued my over zealous approach to play catch up and try to maintain a minimum of a 40 mile week. So on Sunday 14th April I ran a total of 14.8 miles split am and pm with 6.6 miles in 40 minutes part of that. Again, over zealous and unneccessary.

Things continued in the same vain the following week.

By now I’d had my ear syringed which felt like literally a weight off my shoulders. But I was still over training at least in terms of pace and was forced to take 2 rest days that week. On Saturday 20th I ran 10 miles in 1hr 7mins with two 20 minute segments based on HR, building to just under threshold. Although pace was thereabouts where I would expect (based on my Newcastle parkrun at the start of the month) it felt over taxing for less than LTHR. I put it down to the unseasonal hot temperatures that day (>20 degrees C) and the fact I was still flushing out some kind of an infection.

Coming into the last week or so of April I finally realised something needed to change – I needed to slow down.

The final straw came on Thursday 25th April with an attempted threshold. Although I managed 3.5 miles in 20mins (5:46/mile) pace it felt insanely difficult. Admittedly I’d gone through the first mile far too hard (5:3x) but I was barely hanging onto 6 minute miling in the last 5 mins. And I felt like collapsing in a heap on the ground, not how you should feel after a “comfortably hard” effort. I recalled floating around the same course without a car in the world only a few months earlier, running a 16:3x 5k unplanned.

At this point I was kicking myself and licking my wounds. Why had I ended up in this position when I’d already found the real key to my training in November 2018?

So the entry in my training log on 26th April stated *Bring back Van Aaken! Inspired by Ed Whitlock! If in doubt, slow down! Run to time. Aim is to increase Heart Rate Reserve.

Since that day I’ve been training to heart rate and time, keeping HR below 140bpm where possible. This has led to training paces in the range 7:30-8:45 and a solid 56 mile week coming into early May. To be honest, however, I was still feeling throaty leading up to my next race at the North East Masters Athletics Association (NEMAA) relays on 1st May.

I wasn’t feeling “thirsty” for a race and, making my way on the metro from Newcastle to Jarrow, I felt over tired after a day at work. To be fair I’m yet to feel good before a race. I find it very hard to avoid negative thoughts and the only real way of ensuring fight rather than flight is to just say to myself “just do your best”.

My lack of confidence had led me to turn down the offer of running first leg and with the benefit of hindsight I regretted it as I believe it would have enabled me to run faster as there was a decent race on.

As it was I picked up 2nd leg in a decent position from Paul Turnbull. I was able to pick up two positions in the first half mile but the rest of the race was solo.

Unfortunately the course doesn’t suit me as there are too many sharp 90 degree turns which kill momentum. Looking at my Strava data post race I felt I was able to run well on the long straights but lost too much time on the corners.

Coming into the 2nd lap I felt good and picked up as much as I could. The position in front was too far ahead but I received some welcome support from the TBHers out on the course and finished very strongly.

Pleasingly my time of 10:07 was 16s faster than my outing on the same course for Elswick Harriers in 2016 and 15s quicker than the 10:22 in 2017. So I had to take the positives and to top it off our third leg Justin secured a bronze medal for the team in the 35-44 age group.

But waking up the next day I felt wasted again, with the sore throat flaring up in the afternoon. So another forced rest day whereas I would have expected at least a little recovery run.

The throat persisted on Friday so I kept it very easy with just over 6 mile at 8:30 pace.

Then came Saturday and it will go down in legend for the strangest but most satisfying (and enlightening) day of training I have ever partaken in.

Ideally I wanted to at least repeat my 2hr+ long run of the 27th April, admittedly only covering 16.1 miles in the process. But given I hadn’t felt great the previous two days I put that to one side. As it happened I had a completely free day and night and knew I could rest up with no plans until Sunday lunch time.

Anyone who has read Ernst Van Aakens book will know well the chapter titled “Training for the future” where he envisages the training a young student runner would need to do to run incredible times from 5k (12.45!) through to the marathon (1.55!). It includes multiple outings spread across the day and into the night, and totally around 40km for each day!

Although I didn’t want to repeat that, I did manage the following –

  • Run 1, 9am – 4.2 miles in 36:05
  • Run 2, noon – 5.1 miles in 42:09
  • Run 3, 3pm – 4.7 miles in 36:08
  • Run 4, 7pm – 6.2 miles in 46:30

A total of just over 20 miles for the day and unbelievably I felt remarkably fresh with each run feeling stronger and stronger. I felt bloody good for a change!

I also got out for a 4 mile jog on the Sunday to round off a 57 mile week. I felt like the tide was turning in my favour and thoughts turned to the Gordon Smith 2 mile relay on Wednesday the next week…

On Bank Holiday Monday (6th May) I decided to get some speed into the legs without taxing the cardiovascular system overly. So I completed 4x downhill 800m reps at 2:30, 2:23, 2:23 and 2:26. Felt strong. This was advice taken from Dr Phil Maffetone – it is possible to get some speed work in without killing yourself on the track. Only word of caution is it can bring soreness to the quads if you are not used to running hard downhill. But this session came into play well at the Gordon Smiths in the second mile.

On Tuesday I ran an early 5k slow (8:19 pace) and a PM 5 miles slow (8:00 pace).

I decided against an early morning jog on the day of the race like I had done a week earlier, taking an extra hour in bed instead. Unfortunately the weather was grim all day and showed no signs of improvement, if anything getting worse (wind and rain) as myself and fellow TBHer (and team mate in the B team) Michael Hedley arrived at the course.

Yet again I felt less than tip top and felt pretty cold having not really prepared kit wise for what felt like a wet winter evening. The benefit of racing a bit more often is to get used to feeling a certain way. I am a negative thinker pre race, coming up with every reason available as to why tonight may not go well. But I’ve come to know that when I get on the start line I will be ready.

Running the last third leg it was a little difficult to judge when to get on the start line. I’d ran, for me, a nice long (>20mins) 2.7 mile warm up but it was completed before Michael had even gone off in Leg 1. So I was starting to cool down again quite quickly.

I trotted about a bit bumping into our 2nd leg Vet runner John Hurse and former Jesmond Jogger team mate Scott Armstrong (now running for Heaton Harriers). Finally I decided to get on with it and stripped down to racing gear and made my way over the starting pen.

The atmosphere was quite pensive and I heard utterances of “this is going to hurt”. I even heard Morpeth running legend Jim Alders telling the Morpeth lads “its going to hurt” and to “take the best racing line”.

I was standing in some very good company – as well as about 3 or 4 Morpeth lads, young running sensation Sam Charlton of Wallsend Harriers was limbering up as well as the likes of Zack Wylie (Gosforth) and James Meader (Heaton). I felt the adrenaline starting to build.

It felt like a very long wait, just trying to keep warm as the rain continued.

The TBH A team came in right up there in the mix for medals, then Lewis Timmins of Morpeth set off in front of me and then in came team mate John and I was off. I missed the start button on my watch which was a bit of a distraction but I was quickly into stride and gaining ground on Lewis.

Getting to the first left hander I was right behind Lewis but Sam Charlton had already gone by seemingly running about 30s per mile faster(!) than we were and Zack Wylie was on my shoulder as well. Before long Karl Taylor of Morpeth was also in the group and I tried to just focus on being competitive in this company. It would have been easy to feel somehow unworthy but here I was heading towards halfway and competing well.

Shortly after the mile Lewis had picked up somewhat and had opened up a gap which Zack had filled and Karl Taylor also went in front. I tried not to panic just yet but the pace was picking up up the slight incline. I was glad I knew the course here and so I knew we were close to a prolonged downhill. I cast my mind back to the aforementioned downhill 800s I’d done on Monday and just tried to replicate that feeling of 4:45-4:50 pace downhill. It felt light and attainable on Monday and, although I wasn’t aware of my pace here, I felt pretty strong both in my breathing and in my legs. Could I push on?

A little earlier, just before the brow of the hill, I’d received some much needed support from Michael and Tom Charlton that helped give me some impetus that put me back ahead of Karl Taylor and felt like I could also get back close to Zack and Lewis.

At the bottom of the hill the positions were unchanged and I knew the end was drawing near. I was sitting in 6th with a chance of 5th or 4th but also the continued risk of 7th. Of course it was hurting but I also felt strong (I believe) from the recent focus on easy, aerobic running in training.

There was a sharp left hander to contend with and footing was slippy due to the conditions. The ground into the finish was less than ideal. The four of us were running a similar pace and as I rounded the final corner into the finishing straight I tried to summon a sprint finish.

The crowd was loud here but it took me a while to pick up to top effort. I couldn’t close down on the lads in front and Karl had gotten into full flight a bit sooner. I afforded myself a quick look over my left shoulder and his proximity pushed me to an even greater effort, maintaining 6th place.

I crossed the line in 10:21 which was a 13s improvement on the course from my 2016 run for Elswick Harriers where we finished in second place.

Overall it was great to feel the racing adrenaline again and I think this is the first race I’ve had an opportunity to actually compete with a really good group for a prolonged period (albeit 10mins of running), each of us encouraging the others to keep pushing on.

And it makes me hungry for more race experiences like this…

Thanks for reading.