Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Speedwork - unpleasant but worth it

I hate speedwork.  It hurts.  Sometimes, it has hurt a lot.  During parts of my CTS 7x Challenge last year, my calves were held together by pretty blue tape, so I was actively avoiding getting onto my toes if I wasn't racing.  It's ironic, really.  Most Wednesday evenings, I take members of my local club out and take them through their paces.  But, I hate speedwork.

In the middle of the Summer, I finally had the base mileage to get back into the speed sessions as a participant as well as a cheerleader as I prepared for a PB attempt at Abingdon.  That didn't go so well, but it got me back  into moving at pace.  I didn't come through injury-free, but I survived intact enough to get back into the speed sessions and then the fun part:  replacing or augmenting the reps with short races.

So, twenty or so sessions later, what's the payback?  Unexpected good results at Fladbury, the county XC championships started the year off right.  Then, I ran a 12K at Stratford at an average pace better than my 10K PB, knocking 1:26 off my previous course best.  But the real payback came this week with a 2 second PB on the club's 2.1K handicap course in the freezing cold while trying not to drown in my own phlegm.  A few minutes like that give months worth of motivation to do it all again!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A Run of Two Halves

Today was scheduled to be a real strain of a day - with the Not the Roman IX 12km road race followed by an easy trail half to get home.  The sun shone bright, the day was calm, cold, and crisp.  We got out early to have plenty of time for picking up chips & numbers, with a lift to the race from fellow EVRC runner Adam.  Planning to have a fairly quick race, Nic and I set out for a steady warm-up with 30 minutes to go before the start.

The race started fairly steadily, as I eased through the many runners who kindly started far too close to the front for their pace.  The first two miles are essentially flat with a few nice wobbles to keep it interesting.  Then comes the 1.5 mile steady climb, where those who overcooked the start generally pay for their mistake.  Two and a half miles of mostly downhill give plenty of time to pick up time.  Today, I enjoyed the speed, but seem to have aggravated my hip.  No problem during the race, but it certainly wasn't going to make for an easy jog home.  The final 2km are basically one-up-one-down.  Another chance to pick up places as legs began to tire. At about 1km to go, I realised that I had a small chance to break 50 minutes, so pushed a little harder than I'd planned.  After all, I'd be a bit annoyed if I didn't at least give it a shot in the final stages.  In the end, I was a few seconds too slow, but the finish was exhilarating from the effort.  It turns out that this was the fastest average pace I'd ever managed in anything over 5km.  It felt pretty fluid, so I'm over the moon with the result.

Once Nic had finished, Adam and I retrieved the kit from the car, including birthday cake (this race is the closest to my birthday, so it's nice to celebrate with friends).  Luckily, this year I avoided the sing-song and we dug straight into Nic's chocolate cake - delicious!

A quick change into dry tops and trail shoes and Nic and I started walking back home.  Once we felt a bit looser, we eased into a slow jog.  My hip didn't really feel like loosening up, so I decided to enjoy the sunshine and hope for the best.  The trail south from Stratford-upon-Avon covers some excellent scenery, and was generally quite good to run on.  But, after 9 miles, as we sat to change into road shoes in the hope of getting home faster (due to my dodgy hip - is it the ageing?), I decided to call it a day.  I'd been limping for miles, and I decided that at best, I was only going to end up properly injured with a series of marathons & ultras on the way.  Luckily, our fabulous neighbour Mark had arrived home just in time to come and rescue us.

Certainly, a run of two halves - first a surprising course PB for me (and a huge course PB for Nic).  Then, the body gave up the ghost before we finished our long, slow "cool-down".  Given the surprise of the morning, I think I'll just try to forget about the afternoon and carry on!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Weekend Doubles (including WAAA XC Championships)

Over the Christmas holidays, I realised that my ambitions and my schedule were at odds.  I've been happily running marathons on three training runs per week for around 18 months.  Last year, as usual, I had more two-run weeks than four-run weeks.  This year, though, I've got into my head that I want to do some trail ultras, starting with around 34 miles and working up to 100+.  Preparing for that on three runs a week just won't do - the weekday runs would take too long and would rather get in the way of staying awake at work.   So, I've bitten the proverbial bullet and will be interrupting my traditional Saturday long sleep and adding in a fourth run.  Standard fare for many, but a step I've been trying to avoid in an effort to keep some non-running down-time in my life.  We'll see how it goes.

This week, I got to put the theory to the test during a standard working week - no more holidays to provide extra recovery time.  Saturday, I did at least get the late wake-up, because the local county cross country championships weren't until the afternoon.  So, I woke up around sunrise (way too late in the morning at this time of year!), mooched about the house catching up on a few things, and then headed out for the afternoon of fun.  Last year, the race was tough and hilly.  The year before, the race was flat, icy, and horrible.  In both cases, I came away with a mildly injured right ankle/calf/Achilles combination.  So, this year, the goal was to enjoy racing and come home fit!

I'd like to say the race was really exciting and interesting.  But, from the back half of the pack, it was just a case of running hard, passing where possible, and trying not to fall into the canal where the course takes a sharp dip into a 90-degree turn (or a filthy swim!).  There was a nice, short hill to keep us on our toes.  A bit of mud here and there added to the challenge.  In the end, I managed to keep a very similar pace to last week's Festive Five, which is very pleasing.

At the front end of the field, of course, there was a bit more nip and tuck.  The EVRC Ladies definitely showed up, placing three in the top 10 and winning a team 2nd place.  The faster part of the Men's team put a consistent group in the high teens and 20s, giving them a 4th place.  From the pictures, and they certainly looked both fast and exhausted!  Then, I spent my evening feeling a bit rough from the effort and the cold air while planning the Sunday trail run with super crew chief Nicola, as she trains for her first (and second, and third) trail marathon(s).

Sunday, we decided to take in a part of the Cotswold Way that we've not been on before, from Cleeve Hill to Seven Springs.  I'd looked at the map a few times and decided it was a pretty easy route - one good long downhill and two really tough uphills to keep us company.  The nice thing about choosing a route based on the criteria of "I'd like to learn about that bit of trail" and "that's the right sort of distance" means that you don't always think through the ramifications.  So, it wasn't until I was speeding down the hill towards Dowdeswell Resevoir, that I realised we would have to get back up the beast on the way back.  Still, hills are great fun and there was no reason to worry just because I hadn't planned on a particularly tough day.  In the end, we put in nearly 16 miles and 2500ft of climb.

Theory tested, and it seems like a good way forward in the short term, I'd rather have a run-free day on the weekend.  We'll have to see how it all pans out over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

First Race of 2012 - Fladbury Festive 5 (and a bit)

2012 started out with a nice easy 5k to ease away the effects of New Year's Eve.  For once, I was first out of bed, and when I finished sorting out the detritus, the house was still quiet.  So, I headed out for a short run to loosen up and be ready for the Fladbury Festive Five on the 2nd.  It had been a while since I last ran without a pack full of the bits I'll need for longer races, and the feeling of freedom was overwhelming.  But, there's only so much time and energy after a night of revelry, so I had to shelve that feeling and hope it would come back the next day.  The race is only 5.6 miles, so I hoped to have enough in the tank to have a good run.

For the first day in far too long, Monday dawned bright.  The race wouldn't start until 10:30, but we were entering on the day so I made sure we arrived nice and early.  Fine for me, but I'm not sure my in-laws, who were visiting for the long weekend and were commandeered into the cheering section, appreciated the fine facilities and many runners milling about. Nic and I enjoyed the chance to catch up with various friends who were also competing.

Not long out of the blocks, I realised that I was just behind fellow EVRC runners Bob and Stuart (who had planned to hold to my shoulder for as long as he could).  At Mortimer last month, I marked Bob for the first 4 miles before I picked him up.  At Bredon in July, I marked him for the entire race (and never caught him!).   So, I decided to try to stick to Bob for the first half and then see how things went from there.

The first mile sped by as we raced on mostly road and gently down towards the Avon.  As the second mile passed, we encountered the first real bottleneck of the race.  The line of runners in front of me bunched as they climbed a stile (a slippery and tricky one).  Nice, easy stiles have enough space for a full shoe facing the fence, rather then a little bit of wood that runs parallel to the fence, like this one.  The result is that most runners were taking a few extra seconds to avoid slipping and straddling the fence in a most uncomfortable way.  I decided not to bother with taking care on the far side and launched myself off the low fence.  Luckily, my landing wasn't too messy and I kept the momentum as I began running again.  The extra momentum gave me a few yards, if only because I didn't slip on the downward wooden step.

Somewhere exists a picture from Bredon of me boring holes into the back of his head as I try (and fail) to catch him on the long descent.  So, when I saw someone taking pictures, I thought I'd lighten my spirits a little by showing how hard I was trying to close the small gap between us.

Trying to claw my way back up to Bob, with Stuart just holding on.  (picture courtesy of  race organizers "Friends of Fladbury" and race sponsors Birdseye Sports, Evesham)

Bob kindly encouraged me as I finally passed him - telling me there was a hill just ahead.  I'd been wondering if I would have any sort of hill to help me pick up some time on those in front.  As it happened, the hill was fairly small, but it took its toll on a couple of the guys up ahead.  Over the next mile I picked up runners one by one, trying to hold a steady pace at 7:00.  A couple of these runners have recently finished well ahead of me, so I knew I was having a good race.  By the time we crossed the rail bridge at five miles, I was running on the edge of what I could maintain over any reasonable distance.

Good club support from Tara, Linzi, and their families with 400m to go spurred me on.  My eyes were already watering from the effort (so, I don't actually know who else was cheering), but I started to kick harder, passing two more runners with apparent ease.  But, with only 200m to go, I realised I'd kicked a bit too early when the dry heaves came to get me.  I had to slow down just to keep running upright.  One of the guys I'd passed overtook me, and I didn't have anything left to regain my place.  I started to recover after about 10 seconds and was able to give one last push to keep anyone else from catching me.  I'm sure my in-laws were cheering me on, but goodness knows I couldn't hear anything above the sound of my own discomfort.  Fortunately, breakfast stayed where it was!

Overall, I ran quite a bit faster than I had expected to, finishing 21st.  In part, the underfoot conditions were better than expected.  The fantastic turnout from EVRC (25% of the field) meant that I had a pretty good idea of how I was running based on who was around at various points in the race - and stoked up some competitive spirit!  The good club support also meant that we helped the local village raise funds for its community projects.  Nearly as important, though, it gave us a chance to celebrate over the fine cakes and tea provided as part of the entry fee.  So, thank you very much to the Friends of Fladbury for providing such an excellent start to 2012!