Sunday 26 July 2015

Race Report: Wimbledon Half Marathon 2015

I've noticed a race around Wimbledon Common a few times, and today I was in it. It's the Wimbledon Half Marathon, put on by Run Through events. And it was wet. Very wet. The rain started soon after we arrived, and gradually got harder.

The first wave went off at 9:30, for those aiming for sub-1:40. Second wave three minutes later for sub-1:50, third after another three minutes for those aiming for the significant 2-hour mark, and then finally fourth wave with everyone else.

I was aiming to beat my Hitchin Hard Half time of 2:00:07 so I placed myself in the sub-2 wave. Mrs was also aiming to beat her time and go sub 2:15, so she went in the fourth wave.

The Wimbledon Half route

The first couple of km are mainly uphill, climbing from the recreation ground up towards the Wimbledon parkrun route and the Windmill tea rooms. I took a nice easy start, 6:00 for the first km, 5:50 for the second. Once up on the flat middle section though I felt good, so pushed a little harder. I was aiming for an average of under 5:40 per km, so was quite pleased when I knocked the next few off at around 5:20.

What goes up must come down, so it was a nice long fast downhill back to the river to complete lap 1. I felt really good, and was running at a good even pace. I'd been steadily overtaking people all the way round, and was enjoying picking off who would be next.

Good pacing (green line) and a few sharp ups and downs!

The uphill section was a bit tougher this time, but I engaged my glutes and kept upright, with high cadence - that seemed to work well. The rain was absolutely torrential, despite being in a forest for most of the route we were all completely drenched to the skin!

Into the final third of the race distance and I was having to work harder to keep the pace up. I was confident I would break 2:00 and it looked like I'd even get under 1:55. Finishing the lap there's a little nasty hill that nearly killed me, but then back onto the grass of the playing field for a finishing stretch and a bit of a sprint to the line.

The best thing? The medal has a Womble on it :)

The official results are out already, and with them the proof that I'd smashed my target of 2:00, coming in at 1:52:27 for 180th position overall. Mrs also did absolutely amazingly, finishing in 2:06:44 for 300th place overall. We're both super-happy with that, on a muddy, soaking wet, 100% off-road course (with some hills for fun).

The only other thing I wanted to do was negative split (do the second half faster than the first). Despite logging my runs into about a half dozen different activity/performance tracking sites, I can't see an easy way to find that out (you'd think "What was the time when I got to 10.55km?" would be easy enough to work out!).

Doing it rough and ready, my 10-11km split was 5:48, so if I add 0.55 of that to my 10km time, that's 53:51 + (0.55 x 5:48) = 0:57:02 for 10.5km. Take that from my overall time of 1:52:27 to get the second half, and that comes to 0:55:25 - so I negative split by 1:37! I'm very happy with that!!

LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) breakfast of champions!

Dinner time now - and a richly deserved curry at Khanage - the best curry house in Wimbledon.

Sunday 12 July 2015

Race report: Thames Hare & Hounds 2nd Sunday 5 #3

The third running of the Thames Hare & Hounds 2nd Sunday 5 - the new regular 5-mile race held on the second Sunday of every month. It's a great little run, low-key and "local" feeling, but with good running club standards from the TH&H members that I get some stiff competition. Last time I managed to come last, despite putting some serious effort in, so this time my race objectives were triple-printed: A) Don't walk up the Toast Rack; B) Don't come last; C) Go for a PB.

I drove up to the Windmill carpark on Wimbledon Common, it's a couple of km from the start/finish so a jog down makes for a good warm-up, and a gentle stroll back is a nice cool-down afterwards.

Today's run was a little different, it was doubling up with a local school for their off-road fun run. At the start there were a couple of dozen little kids - everything from three to maybe seven or eight years old would be my guess.

They looked cute with their giant race numbers on, and there was lots of excitement from them! I was expecting them to be doing a lap or two of the playing fields, or "out round the cone and back" - but nope, they were doing a full lap of the same course the grown-ups were! A little over 5km, all off-road, including up the Toast Rack!!

The kids had a great little warmup, jumping and bouncing, and then we all lined up to start. I was a bit concerned... I've seen kids start at the front at parkrun and the big risk is they just get mown down - but not this time. The little darlings shot off into the distance, leaving us oldies for dead! I laughed out loud for the first minute or two - running surrounded by tiny kids was hilarious - they were going at absolute full tilt, and all the parents were lagging behind yelling "pace yourself!", "slow down!", and the like. They'd slow down dramatically, then speed off past you again, then slow down - it was certainly not like any other run start I've experienced!

The usual layout, 2 laps for the 5-milers, one for the children

In any case, it was perfectly safe and I didn't see any collisions. And you know what? Quite a few of those tiny kids disappeared int the distance and I never saw them again...

I found a good pace, including running up the Toast Rack hill, and pushed down the other side. I'd overtaken a few of the kids and was running mainly on my own. Coming to the end of the first lap the kids and parents turned right to go back to the start/finish, and the 5-milers took a left for a second lap.

After the corner I could see a few people in the distance, including the woman I'd had a sprint finish to beat in the first race back in May. I kept the pace up and managed to run (sort of!) up the Toast Rack for the second time - first time in the three races I've not walked a bit. I overtook one of the cluster in front (yay! not last!) and set my sights on the next person.

Pace and altitude: Spot the Toast Rack x2 and the sprint finish

I overtook him a few minutes later, and still had the woman in my sights - she was also finishing at a good pace. Completing the second lap, turning right this time, and just under a kilometre left. I managed to reel her in a bit, and as we turned for the final 200m out of the forest and onto the playing fields, I pushed hard. I was certainly gaining on her, but there just wasn't enough race left - plus I was running out of lungs and legs. She beat me by about 20m.

The hard finish was good for my time, certainly a 2nd Sunday 5 personal best. The course start/finish was again in a different place so we've had three different routes now. I'll keep track of average speed as well as overall time.

Slowly upping the average speed - I'm aiming for a shade over 12km/h to go for sub 40 minutes

I'm very happy with that - good progress over the three months. My long-term objective for this race is to get under 40 minutes.

I was amazed by the tiny kids - some of them ran really hard and didn't slow down at all (I certainly hadn't caught them all on my first lap). A real contrast to a parkrun I was at recently where I heard a mum tell her crying daughter "5km is too far for little girls, you can run when you're older" - tell that to this lot, over 5km, all off-road, including down the side of a river with steep banks - and they were fast as anything.

When I was walking back up to the car I saw the youngest of the children finishing, a child laughing and happy just going down the field toward the finish area. She was no taller than my knees, and seemed to have had the best morning ever! A good reminder of just what kids are capable of - and it's normally far more than we realise.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Race report: Croydon Ultra

I have had a previous attempt at an ultra, and it didn't end well. I had to stop after 30km with my old friend ITBS irritating my knee. I have wanted to take another go for a while. On a whim I signed up for the Croydon Ultra about 6 weeks ago. I've been running relatively regularly, and relied on running every day in June (Juneathon) to give me what I needed.

I went to check the circuit out a fortnight ago, and didn't enjoy it too much. So I went back for another go a few days later and had a much better day. I still wasn't entirely confident I'd make it round two laps, but it was worth a shot.

Normal breakfast - anti-hystamenes essential

I got up early and ate a normal breakfast before heading out. I know I can do three hours of exercise on a cup of coffee, not sure about six! The night before I made a couple of snack packs too - a boiled egg, stick of cheese, and a bit of bacon. I was going high-fat low carb all the way, no cakes, sports drinks, or sugary sweets for this athlete.

Snack pots!

The trip to the start was easy, just 30 minutes on the tram. The two-lap course meant easy access to my bag at half way so that, plus an aid station half way round, meant very little to carry. I wore my trusty Flip-Belt with iPhone and inhaler, then in my shorts pocket an emergency bank card, cash, and copy of the route. Pretty sure I didn't need the instructions thanks to my familiarisation runs, but better safe than sorry.

Race start was at 9am, and at about 8.45 it started drizzling. By the time we started it was really raining hard. I decided to go for shorts and a vest, expecting warm dry weather - at least in a vest I wouldn't get bogged down with the weight of wet clothes, or poach myself in a waterproof top.

Registration - before the rain

At 9am on the dot we set off. There were around two dozen of us. A lot like the most recent 2nd Sunday 5, everyone shot off into the distance. I was fairly sure that within the first kilometre I was in last place. I didn't mind, I'm OK with that. Maybe they'll come back to me later, maybe not. For me it's about getting round.

There were a reasonable number of orange arrows painted onto the floor at opportune moments, and a few orange streamers tied to trees. Better markings than I was expecting for a small low-key race.

The rain continued, and I held a good pace. Jogging along the flats and downs, walking briskly up the hills. The White Bear aid station came round fairly quickly, I had a cup of water and a surprise piece of cheese (I was surprised, not the cheese) - nice to see something other than the usual sugar fest - maybe ultras are more accommodating? There wasn't any coke/pepsi, just flat water or orange cordial - it looked somehow more appropriate than the sugar-fest aid stations I'm used to from Ironman.

I'd enjoyed the first half of the lap, it's interesting and mainly trail. The middle section was country lanes, bit boring, and then the last part was mainly around suburbs - quite housing estates and some seriously nice houses.

I got back to the start to see two runners just leaving, maybe I wasn't so far at the back after all. I stopped for a few minutes, I don't know what my mid-point time was, I'd already decided I didn't care (within reason) about the time - it was about finishing. I was wearing my Garmin and it was recording, but I was just ignoring it. It buzzed regularly as the kilometres ticked by, but they passed uncounted. I consumed one of my snack pots - it was good! Felt so much more reviving than an energy bar or gel.

2x 15 glorious lumpy miles, South of Croydon

Setting off from the aid station to start the second lap I was still going OK. I clearly had a few hours' running in my legs, but I wasn't too tired. I enjoy the first third of the course, on the vanguard way, and was looking forward to seeing it again.

It had rained all the way round lap one, but had slowed to a drizzle now. The trail section was a little slipperier but still manageable. I'd made the right choice by picking my shoes for the two-thirds of the course that's on-road, not the third that's trail. After three or four kilometres I caught the pair who had left in front of me. They looked very tired, we exchanged greetings and "hang-in-there"s, and I pushed on forward.

My first twinge of worry was following the transition to the road section. I pushed a little to keep my rhythm on the flat, but couldn't run down the hill - yup, knee pain! Before long I was finding it hard to run for any more than few minutes, the pain built up gently until it made me stop, then I walked a bit, then I could run for a few minutes again.

The line up - I was at the front for approximately 1 second

By the time I hit the mid-point aid station I couldn't run at all, but I could walk - and I could walk fast.  For some reason that was fine. I was determined to finish - I need to pop my ultra cherry! I decided there and then to power-hike the whole second half of lap two, and not do any more damage by trying to run.

While I was there one of the pair I'd overtaken arrived - from the wrong direction! He'd lost the guy he was running with, and then got lost, and eventually chopped off the whole bottom end of the circuit, so he came back up the course to the aid station to get the distance covered. It was his first ultra, he was determined to get a finish too.

I set off at quite a stride, visualising the various sections of the course that remained - walking it in for 7.5 miles was going to take a while. My knee seemed OK on the flat but was complaining increasingly on gradients. At one point even walking up and down kerbs was uncomfortable!

Finally, now with sore feet because my shoes were certainly designed for running and not walking, I rounded the corner back to the aid station. 30 miles done - 22.5 running, 7.5 walking. Still, to get the bling all you have to do is get to the end - and I got to the end, so I get my little medal :)

Look at that drop off in pace!

I'm still not sure I'm an "ultra runner", but I certainly covered an ultra distance, and completed an ultra race, so that's good enough for now. Since Sunday I took Monday off exercise, and today (Tuesday) I cycled home from work. Knee is absolutely fine - as soon as the irritation subsides I'm back to normal in no  time.

Fell into the pub on the way home for a recovery wine

We have a train strike for the next few days, so I'll cycle for the next couple of days too, then parkrun on Saturday (of course), and the third 2nd Sunday 5 trail race on Sunday, which I should be right as rain for.


I think I'm going to stick to races that are just up to and including half marathon for a while. I'll try longer again at some point, but I'm not going to get over excited and enter loads of races (I was kind of considering some 50-milers next year - but there's utterly no point if it's 25 miles running, and then 25 miles "walking it in").

Still, it was fun, and I had a nice day, and I'm pleased I showed some resolve to get to the end and not give up. Job done :)

Race photos are here, but apart from the start line shot I was too slow to end up in any of them! The official results are here, together with a short blog post form the organiser. The men's race was won by last year's winner, David Ross, in a new course record of 3:43. The women's race was won by Daisy Rolfe in 5:02. I eventually rolled in at around 6:20, but I managed not to come last!

I'll take that, thank you very much :)

Saturday 4 July 2015

Tewkesbury inaugural parkrun

Mrs is away on business so I decided to check out an inaugural parkrun (yes, I still go to them sometimes), so off to Tewkesbury parkrun I went.

It was a beautiful day for it, bright, clear, and sunny

The course is four laps of a field, not the most inspiring layout but it has the almost unique quality of being able to see all almost the runners almost all the time.

Tewkesbury Cathedral can be seen at the top centre of the satellite view

With tomorrow's Ultra finally upon me, the day called for a gentle jog round. This was enforced by forgetting my running shorts, thankfully I had some casual summer shorts with me, so I jogged round in those.

The scale makes it looks precipitous, but it's just a gentle rise and fall on each lap

I don't usually comment on parkrun distance accuracy; just because my Garmin reads 4.95km or 5.05km doesn't mean that the parkrun universe will implode. However today's route only measured 4.45km which I think is probably worth taking a look at!

I was a bit surprised at my time, I was only plodding!

It's a beautiful friendly run, I wish them much success in the future. It'll be an interesting course if we have a long wet season, expect cancellations and/or muddy knees from the short steep bit between the fields!