The Naked PB

In the weeks leading up to my recent 10k in Bournemouth I arranged to return my Garmin for repair/replacement because the wifi connectivity wasn’t working. The FR620 has been through several firmware updates since release and I had assumed when the wifi stopped working, in June, that it was due to a bug in one of these and would be addressed in a subsequent one. By September it had become apparent that the problem was a hardware one and I would need to return the watch. I agreed with Garmin to postpone the return until after the 10k so that I could use it in my training and on race day. This I duly did.

After a couple of runs recorded using the Strava app on my iPhone – which were unsatisfactory I think more because I was using a 3GS on its last legs rather than anything inherent in the app – I decided to time my runs with the stopwatch function on my watch and limit myself to using a loop that I’d run many times with my FR620 and so was satisfied that it constituted a known distance.

week ending 18 October – 30.3 miles total

Sun 12 5.5k easy @ ~4:45/km
Mon 13 5.5k warm up @ ~4:51/km
5.5k tempo @ 4:09/km
Tue 14 11.0k easy @ ~4:47/km
Thu 16 16.4k easy @ ~4:53/km
Sat 18 5k parkrun – Dulwich

I accepted that I would have to omit interval sessions from my training schedule and continue with just easy and tempo runs. However I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to pace myself accurately particularly at paces other than easy – I typically refer to my Garmin frequently and more so when I am trying to maintain a relatively fast pace. Having worked out that I’d averaged 4:45/km on Sunday 12th I decided my target paces the next day would be 4:50/km to warm up and 4:10/km for the tempo run (between my 10 mile and HM paces). I was amazed to find just how accurately I did this although I doubted I’d be able to do it quite so accurately on another day or at other, less frequently used, paces. Nonetheless it was a confidence inspiring and quite liberating experience. I decided that a fast parkrun wouldn’t be out of the question simply because I didn’t have a Garmin to pace myself with. I felt strong and decided on a target of 19 minutes – within touching distance of my 18:55 PB.

I cycled to Dulwich Park and around one lap of the course – to check the current state of the flood alleviation works being carried out – and did a slightly truncated warm up due to the imminently approaching start time. Picking my way towards the front at the start line I found myself alongside a buggy with a Garmin attached and asked the accompanying runner what sort of time he was aiming for; to assist in positioning myself appropriately. Only as he responded, 20 minutes, did we both look up and realise we knew each other; it was a running friend I hadn’t seen for over a year. Agreeing to meet again after the run I moved myself forward a little and was soon parkrunning. Without a GPS watch I simply did what felt right and took up a position behind some runners whose pace seemed ‘about right’. One of the things I like about the Dulwich parkrun course is that it consists of three identical laps and so, even though I was naked of running technology, I was able to get feedback at the end of each lap as the timer called out the times. After the first lap I heard ‘6:40’ and thought ‘right on target’. (If your blog reading maths brain is better than my mid parkrun one then ‘yes, I know’, but I didn’t notice at the time.) I felt comfortable and focussed on maintaining my pace. I felt I’d done at least that and so was disappointed to hear ’12:47′. ‘Seven seconds down?’ I thought, as I started my final lap. I typically finish relatively quickly and so still believed I could recover to 19 minutes or better and so was mildly disappointed to record 19:15 at the finish. Catching up with my friend afterwards he mentioned that he thought I’d gone out quite slowly, but I didn’t reconsider my lap maths at the time …

Dulwich parkrun

Dulwich parkrun: Three identical laps, no sharp turns, no steep inclines, only 12 metre elevation difference between lowest (West) and highest (East) points, volunteers, brown paper packages tied up with string …

week ending 25 October – 30.8 miles total

Sun 19 10.0k easy @ ~4:53km
Mon 20 11.0k easy @ ~4:46/km
Tue 21 5.5k warm up @ ~4:54/km
5.5k tempo @ ~4:14/km
Thu 23 11.0k easy @ 4:47/km
Sat 25 1.6k warm up
5k parkrun – Dulwich

On Sunday 19th I didn’t use my known 5.48km loop (you’ll have noticed of course that all training runs noted to this point are multiples of this distance), but instead returned to Dulwich Park with my family. I ran the parkrun course twice accompanied by my 5 year old daughter on her bike for the first lap and a half. If the course was flat I’m sure she’d have done considerably more, but at present her still developing strength and, not least, the weight of her bike mean that even the slight uphill of half the lap made it hard for her to keep going.

I had the same target paces in mind as the previous week for my warm up and tempo runs on the Tuesday and was again able run them pretty accurately. Still feeling strong and really enjoying my running I decided not to do a long run on the Thursday, as I had the previous week, and so enhance my readiness for a further attempt at running a 19 minute parkrun on the Saturday.

This time I drove to Dulwich and arrived in good time to do a full warm up. For a 5k I like to run about a mile starting out very easy for the first half, moving up gently towards the faster end of easy during the next quarter and then accelerating further in the final quarter such that the final 200m or so are at race pace. A few high cadence heel kicks and high knees and I felt ready. Just as importantly there was still about 10 minutes to go until the start.

Again I took up a position near the front to start and settled in quickly behind some other runners whose pace seemed good; a little quicker than the previous week I thought. At the end of my first lap I heard ‘6:20’ called and, noticing that it was faster than the previous week, did the maths to make sure I wasn’t running too fast … It was only then that I noticed my error of the previous week. Yes, 6:20 was on pace for a 19 minute finish, but 6:40, as my friend had noticed, was distinctly slow. This time I was on pace. And feeling comfortable. Over the next two laps I very gradually reeled in three runners in front of me and in so doing kept my confidence high that I was running well. As I turned at the bottom of the course for the last time and entered the final slightly uphill 300 metres, I realised that the next runner in front, who I’d not been aware of for some time, was perhaps within reach too. I know that I can finish quickly and pushed as hard as I could whilst maintaining form. I finished only a couple of metres behind him – the official results credit us with the same time – and pressed stop on my watch. Looking at it for the first time I saw 18:53.17! I felt sure that I’d improved on my 18:55 PB, the only question being whether my official time would be 18:54 or 18:53. After a relatively short wait – the combination of great volunteers and parkrun’s robust results processing – I was really very happy to find it was the latter.

So, can I find another 35 seconds?


… Into the light! Part 2

a unique race
The Bournemouth Supersonic 10k on Saturday was unique in my running experience to date. Three other members of my family also ran the same race; my sister Cathy, brother in law Rob and stepdad Alan. Cathy has been running for nearly six years and has run distances from the mile through parkruns, 10k, half, full and ultra marathons. Whilst Rob has been running for three years and Alan for only six months, they are in a similar position this being their first race and having completed a little over 20 parkruns between them.

post race heroes

Post race: Myself, my brother in law Rob, sister Cathy and stepdad Alan.

It could be argued that this was a family participation PB equalling event as I have run one parkrun in which three other members of my family also ran, but if anyone were to attempt this argument I would of course immediately point out that parkrun isn’t a race and, though not a disqualifying factor as such, I would also mention that the family members participating at Oak Hill parkrun that day were Cathy, her husband (Skip – a different brother in law) and their son; a single family unit rather than individuals from across the breadth of my family as was the case on Saturday. In any case the most momentous statistic, which epitomised the unique nature of the race to me, was that it was Alan’s 70th birthday in the week before the race. That it was also my 49th AG/birth-day in that week qualifies merely as a footnote*.

Going into the race our targets were:

  • Alan – sub 70 minutes (and to raise £250 for the RNLI)
  • Rob – sub 60 minutes
  • Cathy – sub 48 minutes (a season’s best and all time second best 10k, Cathy opines that her not quite sub 47 minute PB was most likely due to a short course …)
  • myself – 39:29

getting to the start line
This year’s second edition of the Bournemouth Marathon Festival consisted of four races on the Saturday – two junior races over 1.5k at 2pm and 2k at 2:30pm, the Supersonic 10k at 4pm and the Speed of Light 5k at 7pm – plus two races, half marathon and marathon, on the Sunday. Given the title of my post it’s a shame the 10k wasn’t the event run at dusk with LED arm bands provided, but there it is.

At the end of May we agreed as a family to make the race the centre piece of a weekend celebrating Alan’s birthday and signed up to run; Alan had only been running for a couple of months at the time! Meanwhile I was running again and optimistic the 10k would be a race with which to mark the end of a reasonably successful, albeit somewhat truncated, summer of racing. Unfortunately that return proved premature and my summer of racing failed to materialise, but by the weekend of the race I had completed 8 weeks gradually increasing mileage to return to typical training mileage, 3 further weeks of hard training and a taper week. The final three weeks, culminating in race day, included my first runs at race pace; two good parkruns, and I was confident I was in a good place to improve my existing PB of 39:33.

As race start approached we made our way to the start area. There were three starting zones and we were represented in them all; Cathy and I in the white zone, Rob in brown and Alan in blue.

my race
I thought there were around 2500 runners in the race and so attempted to place myself between 125 and 250 runners from the front in line with my typical percentage position within a field. Hearing people beside me discussing being “happy with an hour” I moved forward a little to perhaps 100 runners from the front. At the gun I set off briskly and concentrated on negotiating other runners for the first four or five hundred metres. I knew I had started too fast and so, having established a space to run in, checked how much; 3:47/km – not too serious given my goal pace of 3:57/km. I eased off and completed the first kilometre in 3:54. The course lead East from the start line, doubled back at around 2k to head West to around 7.5k – punctuated midway by a trip to the end of the pier and back – before again doubling back for the final 2.5k to a finish on the pier approach.

Garmin 620 GPS track

The fast course included a trip to the end of the 250 metre pier. And back.

Approaching the Eastern turn around my watch showed 3:56/km average pace and I settled in to hold this average pace thinking that a displayed pace of 3:56/km would likely achieve an actual pace of 3:57/km allowing for running/recording a little over distance as is normal when running a mass event/using a GPS device. Smoothing my turn around the single cone as much as possible and running West for the first time I discovered that the conditions weren’t as still as I had believed to that point; there was a slight, but distinct, headwind for the entire Westward stretch. Working harder than I wanted to be, I heard someone call my name and threw up a hand; I found out later this was Rob passing me on the outward stretch. I passed perhaps four or five runners by the time I returned past the start and approached the pier.

The crowds began to grow in line with my consternation at the effort required to hold my average pace at the 3:58/km now displayed. Approaching the turn out onto the pier at about 4.5k I was spurred on by hearing my wife and, I think, one of my daughters calling out encouragement. The outward 250m on the pier was particularly comfortable both underfoot – a smooth, solid wooden surface with good grip – and, as revealed by contrast when I turned around at the end of the pier, because it was sheltered from the wind. The return along the pier was the most exposed part of the course and it was also at that this point that my right ankle began to ache. I was worried that a problem stemming from my well documented, twice sprained ankle was about to surface. Running off the pier and taking the sharpest turn of the course to resume my Westward heading I took great care not to put my ankle under any unnecessary stress as I cornered.

Thankfully my ankle didn’t progress beyond feeling sore and in any event I was distracted from it by a quite intense discomfort in my left shoulder as I ran kilometre six in 4:06 and seven in 4:07. This discomfort lasted perhaps 5 minutes and the water station also fell within the these two kilometres and, though I made superficial use of it, this too probably contributed to my reduced pace. My displayed average pace was now 4:01/km and I resigned myself to not achieving my pre race target. Two male runners passed me during this phase and I was aware that there was an element of negativity creeping in. I resolved to hold on to the turn around point, from where the wind would again be in my favour, and to press for home as best I could with the aim of recovering to a sub 40 minute finish.

Another single cone turn and heading West again progress definitely got easier, I didn’t check my time for the eighth kilometre, but noted my average pace was holding at 4:01/km. Somewhere in the return journey I acknowledged Cathy passing in the opposite direction and then made a point of looking out for Rob too. Seeing two friendly faces helped my resolve and I completed the ninth kilometre in 3:58. I passed one runner in the process and could see I was catching another who was perhaps 30 metres ahead. Whether these were the same two who had passed me during kilometres six and seven I’m not sure, but I made it my aim to catch the second before the end. I upped my pace drawing on my disappointment from knowing I wasn’t going to achieve my target, morphing it into aggression, and passed him with perhaps 300 or 400 metres remaining. Finishing strongly, I ran through the line.

I passed through the well organised finish funnel – collecting water, technical t-shirt, finisher’s medal and goody bag – and confirmed that my t-shirt was a good fit before returning to my spectating family hoping to see the others finish too. Unfortunately I didn’t see any of them due to the crowds, but met up with my wife and daughters before looking at my watch for the first time. Ah well. We re-grouped en masse at the RNLI tent where Alan was awarded a second medal and photos were taken. Kudos to Rob for being the only one of the four of us to achieve their pre race time target 😉

  • Alan – 73:24 (and over £500 raised for the RNLI!)
  • Rob – 58:22
  • Cathy – 48:02
  • myself – 40:04 (3:56, 3:59, 3:57, 4:03, 4:02, 4:08, 4:08, 4:05, 3:59, 3:47)

* It was also my 49th AG/birth-day in the week before the race. I wondered about a possibility raised by this event recently.

… Into the light! Part 1

This is more like it! After an injury restricted year I am back in a thoroughly positive place. Having emerged from the shadows of a twice sprained ankle – December 2013 and March 2014 – I’ve been revelling in my renewed fitness since confirming my recovery in the early weeks of September. My enjoyment of running freely has been such that I’ve had to be careful not to overdo the mileage or intensity since the beginning of September. Bearing in mind that I typically train between 20 and 30 miles per week when fully fit, the last few weeks have been hard weeks. And I’ve enjoyed every moment!

week ending 20 September – 30.5 miles total

Sun 14 10.0k fartlek average pace 4:32/km
Mon 15 5.5k easy @ ~4:42/km
Tue 16 10.6k easy @ ~4:48/km
Thu 18 17.0k easy @ ~5:00/km
Sat 20 1.0k warm up
5k parkrun – Dulwich : 19:32

This week ended with a return to Dulwich parkrun, my home parkrun, with the goal of running between 19:30 and 19:40. In over six months this was my first event at anything approaching race pace since running my 18:55 5k PB in early March. I had only successfully re-introduced tempo runs in late August and done my first speed intervals the week before. In fact I modified my goal from “19:30” to “19:30 to 19:40” as I wasn’t confident that my speed had returned. It had. Having cycled 8k to the event I cycled a celebratory 31k home 🙂

week ending 27 September – 32.6 miles total

Sun 21 10.2k easy @ ~4:47/km
Mon 22 5.5k easy @ ~4:39/km
Tue 23 3.0k warm up
intervals – 5 sets of:
{3min @ HM pace (~4:11/km), 80s jog,
3min @ 5k pace (~3:47), 80s jog}
2.0k warm down
Thu 25 16.2k easy @ ~4:52/km
Sat 27 1.0k warm up
5k parkrun – Dulwich : 19:03

This week again ended at Dulwich parkrun. Following on from last week I felt confident this time that I would achieve my goal of a time between 19:20 and 19:30. I started out on pace and felt increasingly confident that I was going to be able to achieve my goal. At around 3.5k I felt confident enough to stop checking my pace and press on by feel. Even so I wasn’t running absolutely all out since my long planned 10k PB attempt was only one week away. To run 19:03, 8 seconds short of my PB, my third fastest 5k ever and in a non PB attempt was an amazing feeling.

week ending 4 October – 25.5 miles total (including, and tapering to, Bournemouth Supersonic 10k)

Mon 29 9.5k easy @ ~4:43/km
Tue 30 5.5k easy @ ~4:39/km
4 x strides
Weds 1 8.3k @ ~4:50/km
Fri 3 5.5k @ ~4:37/km
Sat 4 0.5k warm up
Supersonic 10k, Bournemouth

And so today my week ended at the Supersonic 10k, part of the Bournemouth Marathon Festival which was such a unique event it deserves a post all its own

Age Grade Holy Grail

I’ve occasionally suggested that if I had to have a religion I’d be most likely to choose numerology*; I find the statistics relating to almost any subject interesting and strangely attractive. I particularly enjoy the way that values which are intrinsically arbitrary acquire quasi-mythical status as ‘significant barriers’. Was the first sub four minute mile really any more remarkable than the first under 4:01? Or 3:59? Is there any compelling reason for the Queen to commemorate the 100th birthday of one of her nominal subjects as opposed to their 99th or 110th? Did Usain Bolt feel underwhelmed when becoming the first human to run 100m in under 9.8, and then 9.7, seconds relative to Jim Hines’ elation at breaking the 10 second barrier?

A friend recently mentioned that for some golfers the Holy Grail is to score their age in a round. Though I would think its application is limited to those of around age 70 and older I like the way that works; as the player ages so they are allowed one additional shot per round, whilst at the same time their strength and driving range decreases so maintaining the difficulty. For runners Age Grading (AG) has no such limitations. After completing my second 800m in 2:25.9, an AG of 78.32% as a 48 year old last year, I first considered the possibility that I might be able to run an 80% AG.

Having just celebrated my 49th AG day, I have used the Running for Fitness calculator to calculate 80% AG times for all my event distances for a male at age 49. In absolute terms an 80% AG time is now just a little closer than it was before my birthday and I’m hoping that since I’m still an improving runner (all my PBs were set in the last 11 months) the Holy Grail of an 80% AG performance** is now within reach.

event 80% AG time (MALE, 49 yrs) current PB improvement required pace improvement required per km
800m 2:24 2:26 0:02 3s 3:03 – 3:00
1500m 4:52 5:18 0:26 18s 3:32 – 3:14
1 mile 5:16 5:32 0:16 10s 3:26 – 3:16
5k 18:18 18:55 0:37 7s 3:47 – 3:40
5 mile 30:15 31:36 1:21 10s 3:56 – 3:46
10k 38:04 39:33 1:29 9s 3:57 – 3:48
10 mile 62:29 66:41 4:12 16s 4:09 – 3:53
half marathon 82:59 88:16 5:17 15s 4:11 – 3:56

I can’t help but wonder in how many disciplines I could reach the Holy Grail? I’m confident that 800m is achievable given how close I’ve come already with no specific preparation. Despite currently being 18 seconds per kilometre off pace over 1500m I think that both it and the mile are achievable too. My current 1500m PB is something of an anomaly since of the three times I’ve raced the distance two were within 15 minutes of an 800m race and the third I was the lone entrant. It did feel good to finish first for a change.

Beyond that it’s going to get hard. Very hard. My targets for this year include times for 5k and 5 miles that slightly exceed an 80% AG; I was definitely in an optimistic frame of mind when I wrote those! I do think 5 miles is the upper distance limit though …

* My personal sect – established circa 2004, number of known adherents 1 (though I think it is highly likely the Queen is also a believer) – celebrates numbers for their innate appeal; there is no supernatural element.

** You might like to read the successor to this post where I reconsider this goal one year on.