Highgate aspirations

A few days ago I saw someone tweet that they had just entered @HighgateHarriers’ “Night of the 10,000m PBs”. The combination of the graphic and the event name immediately had me hooked and I favourited the tweet so that I could return to it and investigate entry later.

Highgate Harriers 10000m

The graphic and event name immediately had me hooked.

One of the first things I came across on Highgate Harriers website was video highlights of the 2014 event …

Now that looked really exciting.

All but one of my races over the distance have been 10k road races the only exception being back in September 2007. It was a charity race, and just my eighth event overall, but had the kudos and excitement of being run on the track at Crystal Palace. I recorded 44:04; a mark that wasn’t even representative at the time as I had already recorded 41:08 on the road. In the last couple of years, as I have taken more interest in participating in track events, I have reflected on finding opportunities to run both 10,000m and 5,000m on the track to see just how much difference the speed conducive conditions might make in comparison to my 10k and 5k road times.

Of course my excitement should have been tempered sooner by the realisation that such an event would not be entirely open. I soon found details of the entry timetable:

February 22
entry opens to men / women who have run sub 32:00 / sub 37.30 respectively

March 15
entry opens to men / women who have run sub 33:00 / 38.30 respectively

April 5
entry opens to all who have run sub 38.30

There is no fixed closing date, entries will be closed when the race limit for 6 races is reached. Qualifying times must be 2014 or 2015, track or road.


My current PB, set in November’s Brighton 10k, is 39:04. I know that a further 34 seconds is a big improvement, but my current PB was a 29 second improvement on my previous best. So the only questions that remain are: Can I reach the qualifying standard in time for this year’s event or will it have to form part of my #50at50 series next year? And, even if I can reach the standard, will entry still be open? 😉


Brighton bullets

[update March 2017, since my original post the race organiser has issued a statement confirming that the 2017, 2016 and 2015 races were all 146 metres short. The following race report remains as originally written before the statement was issued.]

Brighton half marathon
My run at last year’s Brighton Half Marathon was my fifth half and my first at Brighton. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Sunday’s race was my sixth half and my second at Brighton. As I approached the start line my aim was to improve my PB of 88:16, set in last year’s race, to 87:59 or a little beyond. Requiring an overall average of 4:10 per kilometre my pace plan was 4:14, 4:13, 4:12, 4:11, 4:10 and 4:09 thereafter. This, of course, produces a time of 87:48, but I like to have some flexibility 😉

I came to the line feeling confident. Particularly because:

  • My mileage totals for the six months ending the day before race day were 125, 121, 119, 143, 162 and 135. Prior to this period I had rarely run more than 120 miles in a month and never as part of such a consistent sequence.
  • In January and February I successfully introduced longer tempo runs to my training routine. Up to the end of 2014 I had never done a tempo run of more than about 5k. This year my tempo runs have increased from 7.5k via 8.5k and 8.2k to 9.3k two weeks before the race. The tempo pace I use is a little faster than half marathon pace.
  • I’ve run long runs more consistently, in terms of both frequency and distance, than ever before in the last six months. My second longest run ever, 22k, was 10 days before the race.
  • Recalling last year, I was mentally prepared for what I found to be the most difficult sections then; kilometre 15 and kilometres 17 and 18. I had also reviewed a course elevation profile noting these sections in particular.

I did have some concerns, but these seemed at least to be limited:

  • My last long run of 22k being only 10 days before the race although not optimal, was actually a considered decision. I am running the Paddock Wood Half Marathon on 29 March this year, on what I believe to be an (even) faster, flatter course, and so decided to do a limited taper for Brighton and aim to peak for Paddock Wood … We shall see.
  • Unfortunately within the last few kilometres of my 22k long run I slightly strained something in the vicinity of my lower right calf/Achilles. Serendipitously this ensured that my taper period was well observed and fortunately the combination of the taper rest and some self massage in the week before the race meant that by the day before the race I had no remaining symptoms.

One of my sisters gave me Mark Fitzgerald’s “Performance Nutrition for Runners” for Christmas and I have just started reading it. As a consequence I tried out some new things at Brighton:

  • I had a normal breakfast on race day. Usually I have at most a slice of toast and a coffee before a morning race regardless of length. This time I ate my normal full bowl of cereal with fruit. I ate as soon as I woke up which allowed a little under three hours from eating to racing. I also made a stronger than average cup of coffee and took it with me in a flask so that I could drink it closer to race start.
  • I took a few Clif Shot Bloks with me to eat during the race. I have never eaten anything during a race before and had only eaten my first Shot Blok a few weeks earlier, with this experiment in mind, to ensure they were at least palatable.
  • I planned to take advantage of all three drinks stations. I usually drink nothing or very little even during a half marathon.
  • The day before the race I did a short session incorporating a warm up, 2 minutes at mile pace and a warm down. This was a close approximation of a workout described in Fitzgerald’s book designed to act as a final day carb-load stimulus.

and so to Brighton
My journey to Brighton went well. I parked on Brighton Race Course a few minutes after eight and sat in the car to drink my coffee. I noticed that the displayed exterior temperature was zero Celsius and when I got out the turf underfoot was partially frozen. I was a little worried that ice might be a problem on the course. Riding down to the seafront, on one of the fleet of double deckers provided to fulfil the second element of my Park & Ride ticket, I soon dropped into conversation with another runner who sensibly observed that temperatures on the sea front would certainly be warmer.

Stepping off the bus my concerns about the temperature evaporated; the air felt milder and I was going to need the sunglasses I had packed in my race bag. My breakfast completed its digestive transit just in time and, sparing the sensitive details, I learned three important lessons for the future:

  • Always pack a toilet roll in your race bag. I didn’t this time.
  • Sunglasses ensure eye contact with the next person in the queue can be avoided if unavoidably leaving a toilet cubicle less pleasant than you found it. Phew. And sorry.
  • Arriving at least 15 minutes earlier would have made it possible to reach the correct starting pen …

I’m always surprised anew at how far forward I need to start at mass participation races. And in such a big race as the Brighton half was this year – 7,600 plus finishers – that makes for a lot of people to negotiate. I didn’t have enough time. The bodies became too dense to navigate, the opportunities to climb out of the field and reliably rejoin it seemed to have ended and the race announcer started talking about race start being less than a minute away. I discarded my thermal reflective blanket (recycled from the last year’s event), climbed back into the field and took my place in the crowd.

The start line clock clicked to 00:00:01 and the announcer began to describe the opening seconds of the race. Back where I was standing it seemed unlikely that we would be moving any time soon. I heard the announcer describe the “one hour thirty pacers crossing the line” and looked up at the race clock to note the time. I passed the start line and started my watch about a minute later. Since my goal was to finish just over two minutes ahead of them I decided that this would be useful; I should pass them at about half way and, in so doing, get confirmation that I was on target.

The Brighton Half Marathon course starts right on the seafront and heads West for about 500 metres before turning North opposite the Palace Pier into the town. Completing a loop back near the seafront the 2.5k point is marked by a turn East onto Marine Drive from where the course climbs a little under 20 metres before reaching its Eastmost point and first turnaround approaching 7k. The course then heads West for a full 9k until its second and final turnaround and the 5k return to the start/finish.


The 2015 Brighton Half Marathon course as tracked by my Garmin FR620.

Being out of position – although not as badly as I was in November’s Brighton 10k – I was initially quite bogged down. I noticed my average pace just before we turned towards the town was only 4:37, but stayed relaxed and focussed on passing where I could; safely, politely and without excessive effort. After completing the turn the space available increased and when my watch chimed the first kilometre it read 4:24. I decided I would make no attempt to recoup the excess 10 seconds immediately, but to stay with my plan and aim for 4:13 in the next kilometre. This I was able to do and as I turned East onto Marine Drive I felt comfortable.

Kilometres three, four and five are all slightly uphill and with my 4:12, 4:11, 4:10 pace plan in mind I was tempering my effort. Even so each time I glanced at my watch I saw that my pace was around 4:08/km. I felt comfortable and confident that I was running at a pace I could maintain and so chose not to consciously slow to target pace. Knowing my race plan required an overall average of 4:10/km I decided to relax the strictness of my pacing and simply aim to run at or a few seconds inside this pace for the remainder of the race. As I completed the first five kilometres I noted my overall average pace to that point was 4:12/km – very good considering the opening kilometre – and felt re-assured that the decisions I’d made so far were good ones. Well except those related to my planned in-race nutrition and use of drink stations; I noticed the first station too late to make use of it and so ate my first Shot Blok on its own.

As the course levelled off I relaxed into my running until the turnaround just before 7k. I became aware of the wind for the first time. Whilst it wasn’t strong by any means it was significant enough that seeking shelter behind other runners made sense. I made this my focus as we ran back towards the town. Re-passing the water station I noticed it in time at least to grab a bottle of water if not to have started eating my second Shot Blok in anticipation. I carried the water for a while as the Shot Blok softened in my mouth and then made a concerted effort to take on a significant amount of water. Soon I was running past the start/finish area, West beyond the Palace Pier for the first time and shortly after this, at about 11k, I caught up with the 90 minute pacer group. It was also at around this time that I became aware of my right ankle; it felt slightly stiff, but fortunately didn’t deteriorate beyond this and didn’t affect my race.

Running on the closed main road I picked out a particularly tall, broad runner to follow and shelter behind. It was particularly helpful that he was, like me, pressing on relative to the field around him and passing other runners and so I was able to stick with him for some kilometres. Remembering that I had first found it difficult at around 14k in last year’s race I was pleased to find that this and subsequent kilometres passed without concern. Even so as we approached the final turnaround I decided to let the tall, broad runner go as I felt he was probably going to run a faster race than me.

The second, Westmost turnaround is not – like the first one – a simple cone in the road at which the field is required to execute a hairpin turn. Rather it is a couple of left turns, the first turns the field ninety degrees to face the sea and the second similarly turns the field back toward the finish. The final drinks station is on the section between these two turns. Having by now eaten my third Shot Blok I contemplated whether to take water or Lucozade Sport. Since I didn’t feel thirsty I decided to take the Sport drink, rationalizing that since I hadn’t tried it before I would only take a few sips, but as I didn’t feel I particularly needed hydration I would take the minimal amount of carbohydrate this would provide.

Even though the wind hadn’t seemed too much of a hindrance in the long run West, as soon as I completed the turnaround the contrasting reversal of the wind was noticeable. I no longer needed to take shelter behind other runners and started to push. There was ‘only a parkrun to go’ and I started internally counting to 100, as Paula Radcliffe has said she does, making an agreement with myself that I would focus on good form for the duration of the count; stand tall and straight, lean forward a little, use my arms well and fully engage my stomach muscles. I’m not sure if I ever completed a 100 count. Certainly sometimes I lost count and sometimes I kind of came round and noticed I was no longer counting. Each time I started again and re-focussed on my form. I no longer looked at my watch for pace, I knew I was running inside 4:10/km and I continued to pass other runners. I recall my watch chiming 20k and pressing on anew, resolving not to compromise my effort between that point and the finish. The finish is on a slight curve and this, combined with my own less than perfect vision, meant that it was only when I was within a few hundred metres of the line that I could actually see my destination. One final sprint, past one more runner, my watched chimed 21k and I was over the line. 86:29! Wow.

race data summary

official finish time chip 86:29 PB (gun 88:17)
target 87:59 – 1:30 inside
splits pace
4:22, 4:11, 4:08, 4:05, 4:09,
4:03, 4:03, 4:08, 4:03, 4:07,
4:03, 4:07, 4:08, 4:09, 4:08,
4:08, 4:05, 4:05, 4:04, 4:06,
3:47 (final full km), 0:20 (final 97.5 metres)
approx HR
error, error, 152, 153, 153,
154, 155, 153, 152, 154,
152, 153, 151, 152, 151,
151, 153, 154, 154, 154,
156 (final full km), 161 (final 97.5 metres)
biometric summary average HR – 152 (estimated due to errors)
max HR – 161 (estimated personal maximum – 172)
average cadence – 181
approx start weight – 69.6kg
positions by chip time
(gun time)
overall – 224 (280) out of 7666
gender – 218 (271) out of 4055
category VM40-49 – 62 (77) out of 1384

Once over the line my right ankle began to complain a little more and by the time I had collected my finisher’s medal, had drunk a recovery drink and was on the table for my pre-booked post race massage it had become distinctly sore. The massage left me feeling much better generally and the masseuse confirmed that my right ankle hadn’t suffered an acute injury.

The day after the race I felt battered and bruised in a normal post long race way and although I did manage a recovery run my right ankle/calf was again quite sore. The following day I acquired an, as yet unexplained, intermittent abdominal pain and this has extended my normal post race period of feeling weak and feeble. As a consequence I am only completing this report today and have yet to run again.

Nonetheless I am really looking forward to the Paddock Wood Half Marathon and more posts titled according to their most prominent typographical feature.

Too much running is bad for you

Last week, on a rare evening out sans les enfants, the Cyclist mentioned that she had read a news article earlier in the week on research that showed too much running, more than two and a half hours a week, reduces life expectancy. Shooting from the hip I opined that, even if it were true, approaching 40 miles / 5 hours 20 minutes a week as I am now (the highest levels in my running career to date) I would much prefer to die a little early having lived an active and healthy life rather than eke out a few extra years osmotically sharing my putrefacting humours with the sofa. Since this didn’t entirely allay what turned out to be genuine concern for my wellbeing I assured her I would check out the article and the research behind it.
too much running
It was easy enough to find a BBC News article reporting the research and follow the link provided to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) where the scientific article was published. A quick review of the publicly available parts of the JACC article immediately revealed the flaw within the conclusions expressed by the researchers as follows:

Light and moderate joggers have lower mortality than sedentary non-joggers, whereas strenuous joggers have a mortality rate not statistically different from that of the sedentary group.

Whilst I don’t pretend to be fully competent in the statistical methods used by the researchers this much is clear from the adjusted figures provided in the Central Illustration in the article: The mortality conclusions are based on statistical comparison with a control sedentary group. The sedentary group consisted of 394 people of whom 120 died over the period of the study. The light joggers group consisted of 570 people of whom 7 died and the moderate group consisted of 252 of whom 8 died. So far, so good. Reasonable sample sizes and hence reasonable statistical conclusions.

The strenuous joggers group consisted of only 36 people of whom 2 died. This is not a decent sample size by any definition and drawing the conclusion that there is no statistical difference from the sedentary group based on this appears mindless at best. (Bear in mind that the mortality data is all cause. The researchers had no access to cause of death and therefore no opportunity to make any assessment of whether activity or inactivity could possibly be a contributing factor.) A more honest conclusion would have read:

Light and moderate joggers have lower mortality than sedentary non-joggers. The sample size of the strenuous joggers group is too small to make meaningful statistical comparison of the mortality rate with the sedentary group possible.

So far, so bad science. I can’t begin to understand the motivations of the researchers concerned if they consciously chose to add the fatuous element to their conclusion. Unless perhaps it was to make it newsworthy? I hope not, I prefer to think that they were just foolish, but if so they certainly succeeded as is evident from the sample below:

Whilst I was composing the opening lines of this post, the BBC News Article was amended, changing the beginning of the title – from “Too much jogging …” to “Training very hard …” – but leaving the remainder “… as bad as no exercise at all” and adding the following text to the body of the article:

“This is a small study, particularly when it comes to the people in the most active groups – only 36 were classified as “strenuous” joggers and just two of this group died. So experts caution this makes it harder to detect and be confident of the differences between each group.”

There may have been other significant amendments, but if so I didn’t notice them. (An un-refreshed browser tab caught the change in title, but not the article itself.) Even the additional text barely puts any distance between the BBC author(s) and the conclusions of the researchers and adds little journalistic rigour. Some of the other articles have also been amended since they were first published and some of those amendments appear to have been made to add equally token distance from the conclusions of the researchers.

I really don’t expect journalists to be scientists themselves any more than I expect them to be mathematicians, I am neither myself, but I do expect the application of a basic scientific approach to published conclusions expressed in everyday language just as I would expect a basic mathematical approach to, for example, party political manifesto income tax calculations. It took me literally 5 minutes to go from BBC article to journal article and find the flaw in the conclusion. A journalist has a responsibility to be at least as competent and then, if they choose to report such a non-story at all, to report it in constructively critical terms. Whilst the potential impact on health is not as directly serious in this case as was the original naive reporting and lending of undue credibility to the now infamous MMR vaccine research, it seems little has been learned and mainstream media are apparently to be relied upon only to regurgitate ‘random stories they read on the internet’ without critique.

As is my wont I’ve taken several days to come up with this searing riposte. So many responded much more timeously than I and most of them more elegantly. Of those my favourites are “Strenuous jogging ‘as bad as doing no exercise’ claim”NHS Choices, 3 February 2015; a carefully even toned and thorough piece. And for a much more meticulous rebuttal, along similar lines to my own, from within the running community – “The (Supposed) Dangers of Running Too Much”Alex Hutchinson, RunnersWorld.com, 3 February 2015. Linked to in that article, I also found Alex Hutchinson’s previous writing on the same topic, “Will Running Too Much Kill You?”, RunnersWorld.com, 3 April 2014, enlightening.