Doris days (Brighton marathon training, week 10)

Generally, I do my long runs on a Thursday as this is the best fit around my family and work life. However, I had long planned week ten in my marathon training as the point at which I would transition my long runs from Thursdays to Sundays so that I could accustom myself to the routine of running at 9:15 on a Sunday morning as I shall on race day. I chose week ten because moving my long run back three days created the opportunity for a mini taper before Brighton Half Marathon which I raced on Sunday 26 February. (Actually replacing the scheduled long run this week).

So, with the flexibility of a 10 day ‘week’, I decided to mix things up a little whilst still retaining the core of my ongoing marathon training plan.

Racing a parkrun for the first time this year, I returned to my home parkrun (Dulwich) for the 41st time. I set out with an approximate target of 19:30 in mind. Anticipating my run, I wasn’t sure whether I would be struggling to hold on for a sub 20 finish or if I might run something closer to 19:15. Off the start line I was pulled along with the typical exuberance of the front of a parkrun field such that at 500 metres I was I was at sub 19:15 pace. Knowing, and feeling, that this was unsustainable I checked my pace slightly and completed 4k averaging 19:45 pace. Dulwich parkrun is not quite flat, it is run over 3 laps of an oval loop which has a difference of 12 metres in elevation from one end to the other. One of the quirks of running 5k over these 3 laps is that kilometre four is always the slowest, being the most cumulatively uphill, and kilometre five is always the fastest, it being the most cumulatively downhill plus, of course, this is where you deploy your sprint finish! So, as I completed 4k and saw I was on track for 19:45, I knew I would record something significantly faster than that. This positive thought spurred me on and I was feeling good physically too. Pushing throughout the final kilometre and sprinting the final 250 metres, I finished in 19:28. Yay!

The first thing I did when I got home was plug this time into the race prediction calculator at Running For Fitness to gain an indication of what I might reasonably expect to run in Brighton. This produced an age graded prediction of 1:28:26. The second thing I did, for the next couple of days at least, was feel like I had been in a race! This was after all my first hard race effort of the year so far.

Doris …
Some easy running and a swim over the next few days helped me recover and I decided to do the tempo run specified in my marathon training plan as my last significant run before Brighton Half. This happened to fall on the day that Storm Doris passed over the UK which meant that my kilometre splits were all over the place starting, as I did, almost directly into the wind. With a target pace of 4:08/km, I opened with a 4:22 and a 4:26, including jumping over several, mercifully small, fallen branches. Blissfully I then turned and put the wind on my back for the remaining three kilometres which I completed in 4:13, 4:04 and 4:00. 4:13/km overall average and certainly tempo effort if not quite tempo pace!

I finished my pre-race build up the day before Brighton with a carb load stimulus session that I first used, in more approximate form, before Brighton Half, in 2014. I deliberately chose the direction of my mile pace and sprint efforts to avoid fighting Doris’s continuing high spirits and to harness the psychological boost of running quickly relatively effortlessly.

week 10 – ending Sunday 26 February

day training
Sat 55 mins including 19:28 5k parkrun (4:31/km average)
Sun 50 mins easy (5:01/km average)
Mon (swim 1.2k, 32 mins)
Tue 40 mins easy (4:59/km average)
Thu 15 mins easy (warm up)
21 mins tempo
5 mins easy (warm down)
(5:06/km average)
(4:13/km average)
(4:58/km average)
Sat 14 mins easy (warm up)
2 mins 30 secs mile pace
30 secs sprint
9 mins easy (warm down)
(4:49/km average)
(3:20/km average)
(<3:00/km average)
(5:05/km average)
Sun Brighton Half Marathon

[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
My regular long run partner Simon and I entered Brighton Half back in April 2016 so keen were we to make up for the disappointment of not running that year’s race. Brighton Half is fast, almost flat and with good weather, as I experienced in both 2014 and 2015, it is certainly a PB course. By the turn of the year running friends Ed and John had also signed up and we were in good spirits driving down to Brighton notwithstanding the weather.

Storm Doris was still venting her issues as we arrived in Brighton and this confirmed my reflections over the preceding few days. I modified my plan to combatting the conditions, seeking shelter in groups and primarily ensuring that I finished inside ninety minutes as a matter of pride! My secondary goal, to be considered during the race once the effect of the conditions became clear, was to run sub 88 minutes without going all out; to avoid the potential of compromising my marathon training.

One of the benefits of travelling with friends was that I inherited their good organisation and so I found my start pen – 1:20 to 1:29 – in good time. I positioned myself towards the rear and, as the start approached, decided I would hang back a little until the 1:30 pacer appeared. I stood aside as the gun went and then jogged up to the line so that the pacer caught me up as I crossed the line. I was probably being over cautious and certainly, I got a little bogged down in the first kilometre or two in the crowds. No matter, at least I was getting plenty of shelter from the wind.

Having run the race twice before I knew what to expect as we turned into the town, subsequently returned to the sea front and then headed East to the first turn around point. As I pivoted around the cone there, at approaching 7k race distance, Doris made her presence known. The South Westerly wind was significant and immediately I settled into my plan seeking strong runners and shelter wherever I could, whilst still pressing forward. Several times I began to press only to sense the increased wind effect, reconsider and resume a position of shelter. Running the core straight stretch of the route, 9k West, into the wind I soon felt confident that I would be able to finish within 90 minutes, probably within 89 and tried to carve out another whole minute. As the second turnaround approached the wind really began to take its toll and, frustratingly, I lost contact with a group I had been running with for most of the second half of the stretch. Running without cover the final two kilometres before the turnaround were significantly slower. Nonetheless, I contemplated the possibility that I might run a fast final 5k, with the wind, and lift my time back the right side of 89 minutes.

Frustratingly, having the wind on my back did not initially seem to have much effect. I completed the next kilometre in TBC. However, I then rallied for two or three kilometres before again hitting a difficult patch. I recall this as being caused by fatigue rather than the wind, but my perception may be flawed. Even so, I rallied once more and dug out a sub 4 minute final kilometre.

By the time I had had a post race massage and regrouped with my friends, for well-earned bacon sandwiches and coffee, we had all received our results by text and hence looked pretty pleased with ourselves in our post race photo 🙂


John, Chris, Ed, me and Simon looking pretty pleased with ourselves.

race data summary

official finish time chip 87:58
target 88:00 – 0:02 inside
splits pace
TBC (final full km), TBC (final 97.5 metres)
approx HR
138, 148, 152, 153, 154,
153, 154, 155, 151, 153,
154, 155, 154, 155, 153,
151, 154, 155, 156, 156,
158 (final full km), 162 (final 97.5 metres)
biometric summary average HR – 153
max HR – 163  (estimated personal maximum – 172)
average cadence – 180
approx start weight – 71.0kg
positions by chip time
(gun time)
overall – 290 (318) out of 8049
gender – 273 (298) out of 4283
category VM50-59 – 21 (28) out of 581

Week 10 of the ‘2016 improver plan’ that I am using as a template for my training. [Available via Virgin London Marathon plans, devised by Martin Yelling.]

Track dinosaur

Last Friday I ran only my second 10000m – at Orion Harriers annual Fast Friday track event. Whilst the distinction between a 10000m and a 10k may be subtle, it is one I am happy to make, particularly as it guaranteed me a PB. I have run twenty two 10k races and my PB in that discipline currently stands at 39:04, however I recorded just 44:04 in my first 10000m back in 2007. When I entered Friday’s race I anticipated my recovery and training going well and had an optimistic target of 39:30 in mind. Before arriving at the venue I modified this slightly, as I have had to back off for the last two weeks, to a still highly optimistic 40:00.

I arrived in good time and picked up my snazzy, bespoke race numbers; front and rear, got changed and talked to one or two other runners. I warmed up gently and made a mental note to search online for information on best practice when warming up … I have a feeling that I warm up too close to race start.

As the race started shortly after 7:30pm, I consciously set out at a pace faster than my target with a view to testing the limits of my performance to gauge how far my recovery has come. I have done this a couple of times recently; my logic being that since events are not currently likely to produce PBs, achieving a particular time target is not in and of itself the most important thing. In this, slightly unusual, case I rationalised that whatever PB time I recorded it would be one I would hope to better significantly when fully fit. I set out at 39:35 pace, partly because this made the mental maths, 95 seconds per lap, easier as I passed the race clock every 400 metres and partly because two runners soon settled in at this pace in front of me. Although I was wearing a GPS watch I did not want to rely on it for pace or distance on a track.

This seemed to go well for a while. In fact, I was arriving at the start/finish a few seconds inside each lap target, but the two runners soon left me behind as my pace slowed. I continued to try and do the mental maths to check my lap splits … 1:35, 3:10, 4:45, 6:20, 7:55, but struggled to get it right beyond lap 5 as the physical effort became more demanding. Even as I completed lap 5, and the first 2k, my average pace to that point was only just inside 4:00/km – which of course projects to a 10000m time of just under 40:00.

Just before half way, perhaps 10 laps into the 25 lap race, I was lapped by the lead runner. I was not discouraged by this or by the majority of the field who also subsequently also lapped me. I knew the target times of the other runners, from my race entry confirmation email, and had anticipated being lapped at about half way. In fact, I found each of the runners lapping me briefly useful in pulling me along until I lost contact with them. At about this time, I selected another runner who had just passed me and worked hard to stay with her for the next few laps. As the race progressed I kept her in sight, but the distance between us stretched to maybe 25 metres or more.


My snazzy, bespoke race number!

Also from about half way, the timing team began to call out the number of laps remaining for each runner; using the names on our race number bibs. This approach made sure the information was clearly communicated. Which was useful as I was now completely lost on what my lap split times should be or for that matter how many laps I had done. The back straight water team had been shouting encouragement on every lap also using our names. This became more and more significant and I put all my energy into maintaining something approaching decent form and not losing touch with the runner in front, now maybe around 35 metres ahead. After the number of laps being called out to me reduced to single figures I checked the average pace on my watch a couple of times. I could see that I certainly wasn’t going to achieve 40:00 and that 40:30 was looking increasingly unlikely.

I felt tired, and attributed this to the same combination – of it being an evening race and that I had done no training, just two race efforts, in the previous two weeks – as I did on Wednesday. However, the combination of the small crowd on the main straight, the fantastic encouragement from the back straight water team and my still just maintained contact with the runner in front of me, meant that I still felt that I was racing. I wrestled with the idea that I might be able to catch the runner in front, but wasn’t sure that I could give much more. As the remaining laps reduced below 5, it seemed that perhaps I was closing the gap. My memory is indistinct on just when I realised that actually catching up was a real possibility. It may have been that I made a sustained effort over the final two or more laps or perhaps all the gains were made in my final sprint which I think started with 200 metres to go. I finished just 0.6 seconds behind.

race data summary

official finish time 40:41.0 PB
target 40:00 – 41 seconds outside
approx km splits pace
3:55, 4:01, 4:04, 4:04, 4:01, 4:06, 4:09, 4:10, 4:14, 3:57
155, 161, 161, 161, 162, 163, 162, 163, 163, 166
biometric summary average HR – 162
max HR – 172 (estimated personal maximum – 172)
average cadence – 182
approx start weight – 69.8kg
positions overall – 18 out of 20
gender – 14 out of 14
category – VM50-54 2 out of 2

Dinosaur tracks

Last Wednesday evening, in a team completed by my regular training partner Simon and his speedy friend Des, I ran in the Dino Dash Team Relay event at Crystal Palace Park. Simon and I ran the 2k to the park together and found we had both independently decided on a target of 11:30 for the 3km course loop. I met Des for the first time on the start line and the race started promptly at 7:30. Simon first, handing over to me and Des taking the final leg.

Dino Dash team

Post dash dinosaurs: My regular training partner Simon (centre), his speedy friend Des (left) and I.

Each of the three kilometres of the course had a distinct character; the first began on gravel, moved onto tarmac halfway and gained almost 40 metres in elevation ending at the high point of the course. The second kilometre began downhill on tarmac and returned to gravel at about halfway; losing most of the elevation gain in the process. The final kilometre was just slightly downhill, almost completely on gravel paths and included the only sharp turns and narrow paths of the course. (The first two kilometres form the majority of the Crystal Palace parkrun course where they are usually run in the opposite direction.)


The Dino Dash Team Relay event at Crystal Palace Park. Each of the three kilometres of the course had a distinct character.

Inevitably I found the first kilometre hard going, so much so that I was unable to take in any more information from my watch other than that my average pace was over 4:00/km, as planned, but slipping significantly beyond that plan into the four minutes and teens as I climbed. Even as I completed the first kilometre I already felt defeated by my target time. Gravity came to my aid in the second kilometre and I noticed my average pace for the kilometre in the three thirties as I passed the Rusty Laptop/concert platform, although my overall average pace remained just above 4:00/km. Entering the final kilometre, around the dinosaur lake, I lacked motivation and did not wring out the best time I could have in the circumstances. Partly this was simply because I felt tired – I think due to a combination of running in the evening and having done no running since the weekend’s parkrun. Also, I felt strangely disconnected from the other runners and the race itself. I think this was partly due to my being in a relay team rather than in direct competition with the runners around me and also because I was unsure whether there was official timing of individuals, as well as teams.

personal race data summary

official time 11:51
target 11:30 – 21 seconds outside
splits pace
4:16, 3:35, 4:00
approx HR
156, 161, 163
biometric summary average HR – 160
max HR – 167 (estimated personal maximum – 172)
average cadence – 188
approx start weight – 70.5kg
positions overall – 64 out of 282
gender – 60 out of 158

team summary

teammate times and positions Simon
overall – 47 out of 282
gender – 44 out of 158
overall – 30 out of 282
gender – 29 out of 158 ]
team positions overall – 14 out of 97
male – 13 out of 30
[ male, female and mixed teams participated ]

Real recovery

At last I have started to recover from the tendonitis that was first properly diagnosed in July. With the benefit of hindsight I now think it was certainly in its early stages by the time of my successful Brighton Half in February and may well have started during my exceptional mileage during January or maybe during my very long run in December 2014. Certainly when I return to running around 130 miles a month, as I did in each of the last four months of 2014, I will be wary about increasing it further quite as recklessly as I did, it now seems, in January.

Since the nadir of June – the only calendar month since my return to running in February 2012 where I have failed to record a run – I have made some progress. In parallel with continuing physiotherapy I have been running twice a week for three weeks now and cautiously extending the length of each run; sometime in the next few days I will run beyond 10k for the first time in over four months. I have felt entirely comfortable, at least as far as my recovering right ankle is concerned, throughout all my running of the last few weeks. My general fitness though has certainly declined though I have offset this somewhat by swimming twice a week for the last two months.

recent monthly mileage, August 2015

The nadir of June – the only calendar month since my return to running in February 2012 where I have failed to record a run.

On Saturday I decided to parkrun at Crystal Palace and, in so doing, do my first run at anything other that easy pace in over three months. I started out steady partly to ensure that the increased pace didn’t trigger a problem in my ankle and partly because my fitness is still at the level where it is hard to believe that I’ll ever be able to run at my race paces again. I had it in mind that I certainly wanted to run faster than the easy pace of 5:00/km, 25:00 for a 5k, that I’ve been using recently. I felt sure that I should be able to run inside 23:00 and perhaps within 22:00 notwithstanding the significant elevation changes at Crystal Palace. Having completed the first uphill kilometre in around 4:40 and the second, mostly downhill, in around 4:00 I felt confident that my ankle was going to be fine. Fitness wise though I was breathing hard and wondered whether 22:00 would be beyond me. As I completed the second lap and so neared the end of the downhill section for the final time I saw that my average pace was just outside the 4:24/km required for a 22:00 time. I worked hard over the final uphill 500m and sprinted for the line confirming my maximum heart rate is still over 170bpm in the process! I stopped my watch at 21:55 which, whilst well short of my course best of 19:43 set in November last year, I was very happy with.

My ankle was a little sore yesterday, but I am fairly sure it is just tiredness rather than damage.

I am a runner! 🙂


One of the fragments of running knowledge I have acquired is that I do know the difference between a 5000m / ‘five thousand metres’ and a 5k / ‘five kay’ – the first is five kilometres raced on a track and the second is the same distance run on the road. A little over a week ago I ran only my second 5000m race.

The event was part of an open meeting at Highgate Harriers‘ Parliament Hill track. It was the first open meeting with a full programme that I have attended – there were four field events and the 5000m was the last and longest of six track events. All but one of the track events was organised as two or more independent races grouped by ability; the 5000m was divided into two races and I was in the second of those. I arrived early enough to relax and watch several of the earlier events before needing to prepare for my own. I particularly enjoyed the second of the three 800m races and watched with a broad grin as runners of all ages from pre-teenage girls to men approaching my own age, with age and gender representatives of most groups in between, raced in close competition and crossed the finish line within seconds of each other.

I arrived at the meeting with a target of 18:50 for my race; the same optimistic target I set for my last two 5k parkruns. I had fleetingly considered that a track should be more conducive to speed than road and hoped that I might set a 5000m best faster than my current 5k PB of 18:53. But I hadn’t considered how much better. Whilst getting changed into my race kit I chatted with another runner who suggested, in an encouraging way, that the track might be worth 25 seconds or so over a road 5k! I hadn’t considered it might be quite that much, but didn’t reflect further at the time; my 18:50 target was pretty optimistic anyway.

By the time I lined up at the start for my race (8:43pm according to my Garmin) it was dark beyond the floodlights of the track and I was feeling just a little tired – I was about to start a race around twelve hours later than I typically do! I had also warmed up anticipating an 8.20pm start … But enough excuses already, I was still excited enough to start quickly and glancing at my watch just after we passed the finish line for the first time confirmed just how fast. My pace was well inside 3:40/km and knowing my 18:50 goal required an average of 3:46/km I needed to slow down. I only wanted to slow down a little, but running in such close proximity to the others – I was in the middle of the 13 starters as we traversed the second bend – I wanted to be sure I didn’t compromise anyone else’s race. I quite enjoyed the sensation of looking around to make myself aware of the runner on my shoulder and those just behind me and then carefully modifying my pace on the second straight. Several runners took their cue and passed me before the next bend.

By the time I reached the finish line again, and saw the 11 laps to go board, I had settled in and a lap later finished the first kilometre in 3:47. By this time I think I was already in thirteenth place and focussed on running my goal pace. I completed the second kilometre in 3:48 and already knew I was not going to be able to achieve my goal pace for the entire race. I modified my goal to sub 19:00. There was a slight, but still significant, wind in the back straight and running unprotected by other runners it had some effect on me. I completed the third kilometre in 3:54. I could still see the runner in twelfth place, within 100m of me, and tried to avoid being dropped further. The rest of the field though were out of sight – I was glad I’d asked before the start about the etiquette should I be lapped. I think it was during the next kilometre that the twelfth place runner slowed down and we swapped places – it was definitely him slowing; I completed kilometre four in 3:53.

Running essentially alone I found the decreasing laps to go board something to aim for and having seen it showing two laps to go I was on the final bend when I became aware, at first from the cheering of the crowd and shortly after from the noise of the runners themselves, that the lead runners were completing their final lap and in so doing were catching me up. Quite quickly. I didn’t look round, but accelerated slightly as I approached the one lap to go board to ensure I didn’t get in the way of the finish. And to make sure I didn’t get lapped. 😉

This, and my own finishing push in the final 150m or so, helped to ensure that I completed the final kilometre in 3:39. My official time was 19:01.53. I was initially disappointed not to run inside 19:00, but reflected that I had run my fastest five kilometres of the year so far and in so doing had beaten my two competitively paced parkruns of the year – 19:15 run at Dulwich eleven days earlier and 19:04 in Poole just four days, and twelve hours, before the race.


So, hypothetically, how much is a track worth over a road at this distance? A 5000m time of 19:01.53 produces an age grade, for me, of 75.21% which in turn equates to a 19:27.39 5k. Or, from another perspective, my 18:53 5k PB produces an age grade of 77.49% which equates to a 5000m time of 18:27.97. Both of which seem to make last week’s performance look less positive. Ah well.

Perhaps I’m not in the most positive frame of my mind right now; last week I joined in a track session for the first time in about a year and had to abort the main workout when I strained a muscle in my right calf. It has now been five days since I last ran.

Short and sweet

A couple of days ago I decided to run at Dulwich parkrun this weekend. My race at last weekend’s Paddock Wood Half was very hard from half way and initially – both during the race and for some time afterwards – I had been somewhat disappointed with my inability to produce the performance I was looking for. Yesterday I read some feedback from a clubmate to the effect that many runners had struggled with the windy conditions in the latter stages of the race and the consensus of opinion was that this had added about one and half minutes to the times recorded. This encouraged me considerably – I finished in a time 1:27 slower than my target – and, although I realised it was a little too soon to expect a fast performance, I set myself an optimistic target of 18:50 for this morning – a 3 second PB if achieved. I was more circumspect on Twitter:

2015-04-04 11.40.13

I was almost the first person to ‘the parkrun bench’ where Dulwich parkrunners meet. The lone runner already sitting on the bench and I chatted about the parkrun phenomenon of everyone arriving just in time. As an habitual late arriver to races I like that arriving a similar time before a parkrun is almost outrageously early. Within another group of early arrivers I saw a face I knew; I had run with Neil, from South London Harriers, at Track Coulsdon in late 2013 when he had paced me to the first of my 800m PBs set during that period. Having renewed our acquaintance he set off for a warm up with his clubmates and few moments later, once I’d woken up my Garmin, I did the same.

I luxuriated in my earliness with a 10 minute warm up including a few hundred metres at race pace and some final dynamic stretches and then took shelter from the light, but cold, wind in the now substantial pre run briefing crowd. A warm welcome later I removed my final layers as we were directed to the start line. I had just tucked in a few runners back from the front when, with a concise “ready, set, go!”, we were off. Dulwich parkrun consists of three essentially equal laps and there is usually a volunteer calling splits at each pass of the start/finish. A call of “6:15” allowed me to retain my optimism for another 1600m or so, until I heard “12:50” and acknowledged my reality. I was re-passed in the final kilometre by a runner who, for little reason beyond that he was wearing a similar black top and haircut, I thought might be my sometime rival from Paddock Wood. The briefest of breathless conversations after we crossed the line – him still in front despite my final sprint – confirmed that actually he was not.

I was handed finish token number 17 and, once I had recovered sufficiently, I removed my personal barcode tag from my shoe and handed both gratefully to one of the volunteers on scanning duty. I checked my watch to find I had run 19:15 – not quite as short or sweet as I had hoped – and then spent the next 20 minutes or so watching and cheering the remaining runners as they arrived. I love sprint finishers, friends arriving in parallel, children leaving parents in their wake. I watched as regular Run Director Jenny crossed the line with her daughter “It’s her first, full 5k!”. I chatted again with Neil and we exchanged our unofficial finish times “I hope I might be just inside 17:00”! (My exclamation point.) Fortunately, at parkrun, everyone is amazing.

The start/finish was being packed away and most of the runners had already left for home. I started a conversation with a runner whom I recognised from a previous Dulwich parkrun post run coffee. I remembered him particularly because he is one of the few runners who always finishes well ahead of me within my age group. I was hopeful that when I move up to VM50-54 later this year I would leave him behind and so have an opportunity to record a first finish within my age group … It turned out that he moves up to VM50-54 a few months before I do! Ah well. We spoke of running, injury, cadence and form before joining the results processing team and helping to sort the finish tokens. This may even have helped ensure that my result text was already on my phone when I got back to my car 🙂

2015-04-04 11.19.01

I had run 19:15 – not quite as short, or sweet, as I had hoped.

Thank you parkrun. [I really like the recent (?) tweak to the notification text to include acknowledgement of volunteers.]

My pleasure.

Into the Woods

Through the trees, To where I am
Following February’s Brighton Half Marathon I had a clear plan for the intervening period leading up to yesterday morning’s Paddock Wood Half Marathon – one week of recovery, two of hard training and the final fortnight tapering to yesterday’s race. By the end of the first three and a bit weeks my plan had begun to go distinctly agley. I faired a little better in the final fortnight …

week #4

Tue 17 7.1k easy @ ~4:39/km
Wed 18 9k easy @ ~4:53/km
Thu 19 10.7k easy @ ~4:46/km
Sat 21 11.5k easy @ ~4:45/km
Sun 22 2.4k warm up
8k tempo @ ~4:01/km
2.7k warm down

This was quite a good week given what had gone before. If I had been able to execute my five week plan exactly as intended then week three would have looked much like this albeit with a longer run on the Thursday.

week #5

Mon 23 5.5k easy @ ~4:49/km
Thu 26 8k easy @ ~4:45/km
Sun 29 Paddock Wood Half Marathon

Unfortunately my easy run on Monday the twenty third was characterized by soreness on the outside of my left foot; kind of at the angle between the side and the sole of my foot. My best diagnosis is that it is some kind of peroneal pain – perhaps peroneal tendonitis – brought on by the exuberance of the previous day’s tempo run. With this in mind I deferred my second run of the week to Thursday and, still erring on the side of caution, skipped the “pre-race carb load stimulus” workout I had planned for Saturday; to repeat what I had done the day before Brighton.

Into the Paddock, (Not the original libretto)
I planned to retain several of the tweaks to race day that I introduced at Brighton; modifying some slightly in light of my experience and in a spirit of experimentation. I again ate a normal breakfast on race day having set my alarm a little earlier to allow more time between eating to racing; I cut ‘digestive transit’ a little fine at Brighton. I intended, but completely forgot, to make a flask of strong coffee to drink close to race start. I did remember to take Clif Shot Bloks with me; planning to to eat one on the start line and one at each of the four on course water stations. (I had eaten just three, all on the move, during the race at Brighton.)

My journey to Paddock Wood went reasonably well, the loss of one hour’s sleep to the changeover to British Summer Time notwithstanding. I arrived in the official race car park at about 8:40 and was very fortunate to be flagged down by another runner who advised there was no point joining the queue to park as there were no spaces left. I improvised a parking spot close to the entrance and, by the time I got out of my car, the gate to the car park had been closed and the still constant flow of runner-bearing cars was being turned away. Whether there was a second car park I don’t know, but I was thankful not to have that problem to deal with.

Into the Woods, I have to go
After walking a mile in an ever broadening stream of runners I found the start/finish line, a changing marquee, an excellent bag check operated by the local Girl Guides and the usual portaloo ghetto. Fortunately, it turned out that I didn’t have to go and so the realisation that I had forgotten to pack a toilet roll in my race bag wasn’t exposed.

For once I was able to take my place in the starting pens with several minutes to spare. I relaxed and rehearsed my pace plan – start at 4:10/km and increase by 1 second per kilometre until I reach 4:02/km and then maintain to achieve an overall average pace of 4:04/km and a finish time of 85:42 – my jantastic goal was 85:47.

Since Shot Bloks come in packs of six I decided to eat two on the start line and retain the rest for the water stations.

The way is clear, The light is good
The race announcer described and then executed the start procedure – whistle first and then gun – and we were off. The first two kilometres were slightly uphill and I felt comfortable as I ran my opening goal paces of 4:10 and 4:09. Early in kilometre three the climb crested and the course began a gentle descent. I let myself run comfortably and freely and, knowing I was descending, wasn’t too concerned that I completed the third and fourth kilometres in 4:02 and 3:57. Approaching the end of the fourth kilometre I noticed that my average pace to that point was 4:04 – my goal pace for the entire event – and realised that I no longer needed my original pace plan and could achieve my goal by simply maintaining an average pace of 4:04/km to the end.

For the remainder of the first half of the race this new plan went well …

kilometre split cumulative average pace
5 4:05 4:05
6 4:03 4:04
7 4:01 4:04
8 4:00 4:03
9 4:05 4:04
10 4:07 4:04

Into the woods, It’s time to go
I ate my first Shot Blok approaching the water station just beyond 5k as planned and as I anticipated the next station just beyond 10k I started to feel the strain for the first time. I put my second Shot Block into my mouth and willed the water station to appear. When it eventually did I took in a minimal amount of water; primarily because the water was in plastic cups* and also because, with light rain and cool temperatures throughout, I didn’t feel thirsty. It was at around this point that I saw a friendly face** calling half way times from the side of the course. Hearing “42:54” I knew I was on target for my goal time, but I was also aware that progress was becoming difficult.

I hadn’t studied the course beyond checking the number and approximate distances of the water stations and had simply believed the course was fast and flat as advertised. At half way my watch still showed 4:04 as my average pace, but I knew I had dropped a few seconds completing kilometres nine and ten. I felt like I was climbing much of the time and began to wonder just how great the descent during kilometres three and four had been? Was there now an equivalent ascent, albeit much more subtle, stretching out ahead of me? At the end of kilometre twelve I saw my average pace slip to 4:05 and tried to hold it there. Almost immediately, it seemed, it slipped again to 4:06 and I resolved to try and hold it there. I knew my existing PB equated to an average pace of 4:06/km and rationalised that if I could maintain this as my average pace a fast finish could still deliver a PB. I was unsure whether the main impediment to my progress was the undulation or the wind. As I ran I decided that it was the climbs although the wind did become a more and more significant factor as my race went on. [Only when checking my run profile today did I discover that, after the climb and descent in the first four kilometres which I correctly identified, the course is relatively flat. The wind was clearly much more significant than I judged at the time.]

The woods are just trees, The trees are just wood
The physical struggle to maintain my pace and the mental struggle to understand why I was finding it so hard took their toll. If you haven’t realised until this point that my section headings are (mostly) from Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” you may just be experiencing a hint of the disorientation I felt. I saw my average pace slip quickly away from anything that might produce a PB and revised my goal once more; an average pace no slower than 4:10/km to ensure a finish time just inside 90 minutes. I did not want to finish on the wrong side of such a significant barrier. [Such was my disorientation; only when writing this post did I realise 4:10/km is actually equivalent to 87:54!]

I fought the despair when I saw splits in the teens and twenties and put all my effort into minimizing my retardation. I stopped checking my progress in terms of distance as I had no energy or will to try to do anything other than wrestle with my average pace. I was disheartened further when runners whom I’d recently passed began to reappear at my shoulder. I used these for cover from the wind for some minutes before re-passing them and attempting to push my pace towards something that would improve my anticipated finish time. Only to have to admit defeat and tuck back in behind them when they appeared again.

The table below shows my splits, and the deterioration of my average pace, during the second half of my race. I wasn’t aware of the detail of this at the time and couldn’t have told you without my Garmin’s hindsight which kilometres were the ones where my pace failed me most. All of kilometres thirteen through nineteen merge in my mind in a blur of wind, emotional turmoil and the distinctive shirts of three or four runners who passed and re-passed me. I fought to hold on to them for the remainder of the race. One did pull significantly away, but the others and I formed a group and, I think, we sub-consciously took turns in pulling each other along. Seeing more and more split times outside 4:10 I finally saw my average pace slip to 4:09 and checked the distance remaining. I had just completed kilometre nineteen.

kilometre split cumulative average pace
11 4:10 4:04
12 4:06 4:05
13 4:09 4:05
14 4:14 4:06
15 4:20 4:07
16 4:10 4:07
17 4:15 4:07
18 4:26 4:08
19 4:15 4:09
20 4:18 4:09
21 3:55 4:08

I decided that the best tactic was now to simply race the three shirts around me. I didn’t look at my watch again. Throughout kilometre 20 I made sure that I didn’t lose my place within the group. As my watch chimed for the start of kilometre 21 one runner, in a black shirt, began to move off the front of our group. I made sure I went with him confident that with just over a kilometre to go I would be able to find a sprint finish. Not that my motivation was to beat him personally, but to use the impetus of our micro-competition to extract all that I could from myself.

As we approached the start/finish area I recognised the section of the course that had formed part of my walk to the race when I had noticed the “400m to go” and “200m to go” signs. I’m not quite sure when I started my sprint. Possibly around the 200m sign. I re-passed the runner in black, slowed just a little on the sharp turn in towards the finish line, and pressed hard again around the more gentle arc to the line. I stopped my watch and had only just recovered enough to acknowledge the congratulations of the runner in black when he appeared beside me.

I sort of hate to ask it, But do you have a basket?

I sort of hate to ask it, But do you have a basket?

race data summary

official finish time chip 87:14 (gun 87:34)
target 85:47 – 1:27 outside
splits pace
4:10, 4:09, 4:02, 3:57, 4:05,
4:03, 4:01, 4:00, 4:05, 4:07,
4:10, 4:06, 4:09, 4:14, 4:20,
4:10, 4:15, 4:26, 4:15, 4:17,
3:55 (final full km), 0:16 (final 97.5 metres)
approx HR
145, 152, 153, 155, 157,
159, 159, 160, 159, 160,
157, 159, 159, 159, 156,
159, 158, 156, 158, 159,
162 (final full km), 167 (final 97.5 metres)
biometric summary average HR – 157
max HR – 169  (estimated personal maximum – 172)
average cadence – 182
approx start weight – 69.6kg
positions by chip time
(gun time)
overall – 132 (131) out of 2061
gender – 126 (125) out of 1246
category VM40-49 – 43 (44) out of 462

Once I’d collected myself, my bag and some flapjack I walked slowly, and fairly gingerly, back to my car. Neither of my recent niggles had bothered me during the race and even post race both feet/ankles felt no more than sore and tired. Well, very sore and very tired. However by the time I arrived home I seemed to have acquired a cold. I continued to eat and rehydrate and took a single dose each of both paracetamol and ibruprofen to combat my cold symptoms and my general post race aches. I spent much of the afternoon alternately dozing and feeling sorry for myself as I used almost half a box of tissues managing my cold. I went to bed feeling quite low, anticipating several days under the weather.

Today though I woke with no cold symptoms whatsoever, I ran a relatively comfortable 4k recovery and briefly swam with my 5 year old which is always good physiotherapy for my legs and feet. And I am now feeling quite rejuvenated, thoroughly positive and enthusiastic about my running again. It looks like I’ll make it out of the woods yet.

Until next year anyway. When, I hope, my preparation will have been more optimal. And by which time I will be in the VM50-59 age category where, I couldn’t help but check, my time this year would have placed me 9th out of 212 😉

* I realise now how much I appreciated having bottled water with a sports cap at Brighton from which I found it much easier to drink a significant volume.

** Mick Firth, coach at South London Harriers, whom I recognised from a relatively brief period in early 2010 when as part of a group of athletes I trained with him in Crystal Palace Park.