Category Archives: Races

Ecos parkrun 14.07.18

Back to parkrun today, and after my gentle outing last night, I felt a lot more confident about it than I know I would have been if I hadn’t bothered on Friday.

It just goes to show that it really pays off to face down your demons as much as possible even if it does feel like an almost impossible task at the time.

Anyway, parkrun … my old bones felt a bit creaky this morning after my relatively late run the night before but the 40-odd minute walk to Ecos soon sorted that out, and I felt pretty good lining up at the start.

I went this morning with a definite plan. I wanted to approach this one in a much more structured, controlled way than I normally do. My usual tactics are to go hell for leather from the off, and then hang on over the final mile in an attempt to record something approaching a time that won’t frustrate me!

So, today, I started off almost at the back and slowly worked my way past a few people in a methodical manner. For example, one bloke said he was running to 36 minute pace and whilst that was slower than I would have liked for myself I stayed with him for a short while in a bid to save my legs a little for the latter part of the run.

And it worked a treat. As I said, I started at the back but didn’t panic. I managed to get into a comfortable rhythm and tucked in behind one runner before moving onto the next one and so on.

The idea was to remain consistent throughout. Mile one came in at 11:11, but that was ok and even by then I had worked my way past a few.

I slowed by 24 seconds over the second mile, but this was deliberate in order to save my legs for the final push. Normally at parkrun my earlier efforts leave me struggling a bit over mile three so I wanted to see what I could do whilst having something extra left in them.

What a difference it made! I completed the third mile in the same time as I’d done the first which resulted in catching and passing quite a few ahead of me. It was a strong finish and, according to Strava, my final kilometre was my fastest ever at a parkrun event.

Overall, this was my fourth best parkrun time (and my third best at my home event) which, for a purposely controlled run, was a pretty good result.

I felt a lot fresher at the finish, and probably could have increased the pace a little throughout. I also learnt today not to stress too much about trailing at the beginning, and to trust in my own tactics. Today was a good day.

Relive my run

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Bath Two Tunnels Half Marathon

It’s a little hard to believe but I’ve reached the halfway point in my #18in18 Challenge to run 18 half marathons in 2018.

Number nine, the Bath Two Tunnels Half, will possibly be the most unique of the lot.

With a course along the Two Tunnels Greenway and incorporating, as the title suggests, two disused railway tunnels just outside Bath city centre it was a race which intrigued me.

The course itself was largely flat – apart from a vicious, nay, sadistic kick yards from the finish – with the only difficulty coming from the sheer heat of the morning. Any race that begins at 10am with the temperature already at 27° is going to be tough!

Winding back a little, Dawn and I arrived at the park ‘n’ ride facility and caught the first shuttle bus to the race venue.

Upon registering and collecting my race number it struck me that there weren’t too many people around.

However, a little closer inspection revealed a considerable gathering in the distance, all under the trees and all taking advantage of the shade … this was at 8:30am, and with the start some 90 minutes away it just showed how warm and challenging the conditions were going to be!

I was in the second wave, setting off at 10am, and pretty soon it was time to make my way to the start area for the pre-race briefing and warm-up.

Already sweating at this stage I knew I was going to suffer. I enjoy the heat, I just hate running in it. I really do struggle with it.

Starting on grass, we almost immediately encountered a bottle neck as we left the event village as runners bunched up going down a steep verge onto the pathway that would become our ‘home’ for the rest of the morning.

The course was a simple out and back – twice. In my head I broke it down into four back-to-back 5ks, although each section was obviously slightly longer than that to make up the distance.

The first mile is on the Two Tunnels Greenway shared path along Linear Park. It features a slight incline up to the 408m long Devonshire Tunnel which then gently curves round to the left.

Emerging in Lyncombe Vale, this next section took us along the elevated embankment through a very pretty wooded area.

After a kilometre running along the top of the embankment it was time to enter Combe Down Tunnel which, at 1672m long, is the longest underground section in the country that includes a foot race! The north side of this tunnel is 50ft higher than the south which ensured a cool breeze circulated throughout.

Upon exiting Combe Down Tunnel we headed over Tucking Mill viaduct before turning to retrace our steps back through the tunnels and towards the start/finish area whereupon we set off on our second loop of the course.

Did I mention it was quite hot? We were warned in the briefing to ‘run within ourselves’ and this I tried to do during the non-tunnel sections. I kept it slow. I was around a minute down on the time I might normally expect after the first mile.

So what were the tunnels like? I was most curious to see experience the first one, the shorter Devonshire Tunnel. It really was like running from day into night in an instant, from blistering hot sunlight into cold darkness. It was lovely.

I had already started to suffer a bit from the heat but I was suddenly reborn and revived the moment I entered the tunnel. Obviously the railway tracks are long gone now, to be replaced by a path that cuts through the tunnels and whilst they are lit up it is still pretty dark inside them so I guided myself by following the white line painted down the left side of the path. I could see runners in front of me, or at least their shadowy shapes.

It was all very cool, and I really enjoyed myself. All too soon, however, it was time to leave the Devonshire Tunnel and face the blast of heat again. It was like entering a sauna, and pretty much stopped me in my tracks the first time such was the contrast in temperatures. It was quite chilly inside the tunnels, but like a furnace outside.

After a short time outside I then approached the much longer Combe Down Tunnel, roughly a mile in length. Once again, I felt reinvigorated.

I knew there was a small group of around four or five runners a little bit in front of me. I had been deliberately slowing my pace outside the tunnels, and whilst I had no real desire to catch this group I found myself getting increasingly faster. Before I knew it I had caught up with them. Initially that was good enough for me, but I had the speed in my legs and after staying with them for a while found myself passing them.

Perhaps the wrong tactics, but I knew I was going to suffer whilst outside regardless of how much I saved myself so I reckoned that by making up as much ground as possible in the cooler temperatures to which I am much more suited that I would at least offset some of the damage.

I wasn’t sprinting by any means, I was merely going at my normal speed but it felt so much faster such was the effect the heat had on me. Indeed, looking at my splits afterwards, it turns out I was running at two minutes per mile quicker inside the tunnels than outside them, that’s quite a difference and demonstrates how I was feeling.

After exiting Combe Down there was a relatively short section to the turnaround point before we were back in the long tunnel. Again, it was such a blissful relief and, again, I increased my pace. Mentally it was also a boost because I knew I was going back the way I had come and that the route would hold no more surprises.

Or so I thought.

Approaching the start/finish area we were diverted to the side and up a short climb which under normal circumstances was no steeper than Princes Street at home but in the mid-morning heat seemed like Everest! Just when I was gearing up for the boost of completing one lap and therefore half the race plus getting some support from Dawn this was like a punch to the stomach! What bright spark put that there?

It took me a few minutes to make my way through the event village section, but only because I stopped to stock up on food and drink. This was my second time at a Relish Running event and, as with Lacock last month, their feeding stations are like banquets with all sorts of goodies on offer plus water and electrolyte drinks.

Dawn was also standing close to the exit so I also stopped with her for some much needed encouragement, and more supplies.

And then I was on my way again. Timewise I was a little bit down on what I might normally do but by now I wasn’t terribly bothered. I knew what lay ahead of me, it was case of getting this finished.

But that almost didn’t happen.

Less than a mile into the second lap I started to question whether I should just step off the course and call it a day.

Whilst I wasn’t faint or dizzy like I was at the Lee Valley VeloPark race in May I just felt like I had nothing left to give, all energy had gone from my legs and my body. I don’t like quitting, and haven’t done so thus far, so it takes a lot for me to consider it.

The heat was just too much, a quick look at the weather app on my phone showed a reading of 29 degrees and even though the route was largely through a tree lined path it was still bloody hot, too hot for me.

I knew I was nearing the first tunnel again so I decided to push on for that, at least it’d give me some relief … and it did. It wasn’t really long enough to totally revive me and I was back outside again.

However, I had recovered enough to decide to then try to reach the longer tunnel. I knew this would offer me even more respite and by then I’d almost be at the ten mile mark and heading back towards the finish.

As with every other time through the tunnels I got a new lease of life, and a lot of my strength returned. I was running well again and didn’t really want the tunnel to end.

Unfortunately, all too soon, it did but this time I wasn’t as downhearted. This was the return leg. Another little run would get me to the shorter tunnel, and once through that I would only be a mile or so from the end.

I still had that vicious kick at the end to contend with but I didn’t care, I knew the finish was literally around the corner. I’ve rarely been as glad to complete a race. That has absolutely nothing to do with the event, the route or the organisation – all of which are excellent. I just don’t like running in those temperatures. I would quite like to attempt this again in much more favourable conditions, it’s definitely a PB course.

Whilst I struggled I also gradually clawed back some strength in the final loop back, recording negative splits for each of the last four miles. Granted they were still slower than I would have liked but I was getting stronger, and that’s one of the encouraging factors I’ll take from this. I’m increasingly building up my endurance, and that will benefit me greatly as I start the second half of my challenge when, hopefully, the temperatures will also begin to drop.

As I said, I’ve completed my first nine half marathons. It’s a relief to get to this stage. There’s a definite sense that the hardest part is now over me, that it’s all downhill from here. Physically that might not be the case but, mentally, it is a significant milestone.

Relive my run

 

 

 

Swansea Half Marathon

So four days after setting a new half marathon PB I was back in action again as my #18in18 challenge continued in Swansea.

This was a race I was looking forward. I had heard a lot of good things about it. I was curious to find out just why it has been voted the UK’s favourite half marathon for the last two years.

I arrived in the city on Saturday afternoon, some 12 hours after leaving home, so I had no time for a day before warm-up which has sort of become the norm now.

What I did do, however, was go for a little explore of the start area. It was literally around the corner from my guesthouse which meant I didn’t have the hassle of worrying about availing of the bag drop facilities on race day.

My accommodation was literally on the seafront and, with the race itself essentially being an out and back along the impressive Swansea Bay I was in the unique position to view almost the entire course just by turning my head left and then right.

Initially I thought this was a good thing. Then it occurred to me that the halfway point at the Mumbles looked so, so far away and that I would have to run there and back again!

I have run 13.1 miles many times, the distance doesn’t scare me but usually in races I tend to focus only on the road in front of me and getting to the next bend, then the next one and the one after that etc.

This time, however, there were no bends. It was a case of running so far, turning, and then coming back again … and I could see it all stretching out in front of me long into the misty, grey, faded distance! Don’t get me wrong, the scenery was beautiful but it just seemed so far away.

But I couldn’t let my mind play tricks on me. I spent a long time that night just looking out to sea admiring the view.

I felt good on Sunday morning. Up nice and early, I decided to go for a 6am stroll. As I said, the start was literally around the corner from me so I had lots of time to kill and a gentle walk seemed like a good idea.

However, even at that time in the morning it was hot. I returned to my room with the sweat running down my back … this should have given me some indication of what lay in wait.

After a bit of a rest I made my way to the start area when it opened at 7:30am. I was supporting the 1BloodyDrop campaign in their attempt to set a new world record for the most Type 1 diabetics to run a half marathon so wanted to be there as early as possible to collect the team goody bag and running shirt, and to meet up with the rest of the team.

It was good to see some old friends and say hello to some new faces I only knew via social media. In the end I didn’t wear the shirt for the race. As comfortable as the material felt it was very fitted, and given the heat of the morning I knew I wouldn’t be able to cope. I needed to be as ‘loose’ as possible.

I dropped the goody bag etc. back round to my room and returned to the start, and chatted to a couple of more friends I’ve got to know through running before taking my place in my correct wave.

I positioned myself close to the 2:30 pacers. I didn’t expect to achieve that time but my tactics were to keep them in view for as long as possible.

Finally, at 9:07am, we were off. The first couple of miles were through the city centre, the atmosphere was fantastic, the crowds were out in force and it felt good.

I was comfortable with the pace, and as we turned onto the Oystermouth Road for the long sweep along the bay out to the Mumbles everything was going well. In fact, despite thinking I didn’t know anyone in Swansea other than my fellow competitors I still spotted a supporter out on the route, it was great to receive a wee cheer from Paula!

She didn’t know it, but she was standing close to my accommodation so, as tempted as I was to pop in for a little drink, I knew I had to push on. It wouldn’t have looked good!

After three miles or so things were still going well. In fact, at this point I lost sight of the pacers. Initially I feared I had been dropped already but then I turned around and there they were just behind me, much to my relief.

I figured it would be wise to slow a bit and let them get back in front for me to ‘chase’. The next four miles were quite pleasant. The morning was getting progressively hotter, but I ran a sensible race, fuelling as per my plan (3.5 miles and 7 miles) and taking advantage of the water stations. The tree-lined road which protected us from the worst of the sun was also very welcome, and I could see the pacers. All good.

Then came the turnaround point at seven miles. Oh my! Gone went the shade, gone went the breeze.

Do you know that feeling when you go on holiday to sunnier climes, the plane lands, the doors open and you’re hit with a blast of warm air which almost takes your breath away? That.

What didn’t help was that right at this point there was a local restaurant. Unsurprisingly, given the heat, it seemed all their patrons were sitting outside enjoying the weather and supporting the runners. All very welcome, of course, but it looked like every single last one of them was eating ice-cream. How I craved ice-cream right there and then!

Swansea Bay lay in front of me. I could see it all. I had just come from there and now I had to go back again. Except, this time, I had nowhere to hide from the sun.

The view was stunning. The route seemed to hug the beach all the way and I knew, if nothing else, I was going to enjoy what I was looking at.

Although it was an out and back course it was done in such a way that the runners on the opposite side weren’t really noticeable unless you turned your head to the side which was refreshing in a race like this. It was a feature I really liked.

I maintained my pace for another mile before I just seemed to wilt. My stats show I dropped a minute per mile at this point although, apart from a brief wobble around the 10/11 mile point I didn’t get any slower than that. My legs felt ok, it was just the rest of my body that struggled!

I wasn’t the only one. I spotted a few runners along the route who required treatment but they were being attended to and conscious so hopefully they were ok.

There’s a very distinct camaraderie amongst runners on days like this. We look out for each other, and offer encouragement as much as we can, or have the energy for. With that in mind I must mention Zoe (not that she’ll ever read this!) whom I seemed to cross a few times in the latter stages and who seemed a lot chirpier and energetic than she should have been by then … she did a wonderful job geeing up her fellow runners, it was a joy just being in her company for a couple of miles.

I also referred earlier to the people of Swansea and their support along the route. They really were fantastic, especially one lady who very kindly hosed down every runner who wanted it … including me. It certainly made up for the hot bottle of water I picked up a bit earlier! Yuck!

The last mile took us back into the city via the Maritime Quarter, and here the crowds were plentiful. It was a great finish and encouraged me to put on a bit of sprint finish for the last couple of hundred metres, or at least attempt one!

After I had finished, and had walked to find the Diabetes UK gazebo for a cool down, my left foot really began to hurt. I was reduced to a hobble and knew I had a walk back to my guesthouse. Under normal circumstances it would be little more than a 15-minute stroll but with a sore foot it felt like I was being asked to run the race all over again!

My mood was a bit pants at the thought of this, I began to analyse my performance and decided to beat myself up a bit for not managing to maintain my pace despite the heat and for generally not getting a time I had hoped for.

Later on, though, as I began to think more rationally I did begin to draw positives from the run.

First of all, it was my second half in four days during which I set a pb and, since then, I had a full day of travel behind me. This alone would have sapped my energy, and that was without the stifling heat in the second part of the race.

And, on the race, I performed to my own expectations for the first eight miles with comparable times to Wednesday night. Yes, I then slowed but I didn’t get any slower.

Indeed, looking at the official results I was actually stronger than many of those around me during the last part of the race. My overall position improved by around 240 places from the halfway point to the finish which might not mean much in the grand scheme of things but, to me, it shows that I’m building up my stamina and gradually maintaining my pace for longer and struggling for less.

Anyway, that was Swansea. It brings to an end the most intense period of my challenge (three in two weeks), I know have a two-week gap before my next one, the Bath Two Tunnels, which will bring me to the halfway point!

Relive my run