Saturday, 22 November 2008

4th (again) at Parliament Hill Cross Challenge

They say that 4th is the worst position to finish and I seem to be making a habit of it in 2008 with this my third finish just off the podium. The occasion was the first race in the new ECCA Cross Challenge series run in conjunction with the London Championships at Parliament Hill Fields.

With most of the top British runners aiming for the Euro trials next week in Liverpool and having stretched their legs at Gateshead last weekend the field was a bit thin at the sharp end and it was still too good for me as Darren Deed (Bedford) ran out a comfortable winner. The threatened snow failed to materialise and the stiff northerly wind kept things chilly without being biting as the sun shone. These were probably the driest conditions I have raced on at Parliament Hill and that covers a fair few races, especially as we use to run it three times a winter just in student races.

Today's race started near the top of the hill to avoid the path that cuts across from the lido and so after the initial charge a leading group of about 6 settled down for the first lap before Darren made his move on the second lap and quickly opened a gap. I had a good battle with David Bruce as Chris Smith in front of me chipped away at the gap to Richard Franzese of Harrow. By the last lap we were strung out 1 to 5 across the heath and that is how it remained to the finish. At least today was a step forward as I was able to get myself in contention early on but was lacking in the middle part of the race this time. That will come with a few more weeks hard work. Above all i'm relieved that I made a late decision to switch my 15mm spikes for 9mm. My feet are sore from the shorter ones (the ground was that hard) so I would have been in a real mess with the nails in !

Turnout in the age group races seemed a bit thin on the ground but it was great to see a healthy number of former clubmates from Hercules Wimbledon battling it out in the London Championships race.

Next up is one of my favourite races, the Victory 5 Road Race in a fortnight's time.

1. Darren Deed (Bedford)
2. Richard Franzese (Harrow)
3. Chris Smith (TVH)
4. Adrian Marriott (Wells City)
5. David Bruce (Highgate)
6. James Connor (Kent)

Full Results to follow

Monday, 17 November 2008

Saucony ShoeLab coming to Tri UK Yeovil

On Saturday 29th November the Saucony ShoeLab will be at the Tri UK store in Yeovil to enable the massed ranks of south somerset runners to have their gait checked and pick up a new pair of shoes for the winter at great prices. The action kicks off at midday.

Left: ProGrid Omni 7

Friday, 14 November 2008

Autumn marathon lessons learned

Its now 6 weeks since Geneva and I've had plenty of time to reflect on the race and my build up and put in some serious thinking about what I need to do next time to improve my performance.

Looking back there were several objectives that I set myself for this autumn's marathon beyond just getting into 2.17 shape: 1. Be involved in a 'race' with the possibility of being in contention for top 3 position in the closing stages 2. Try out returning from altitude approx 16 day pre-marathon 3. Develop the long run into something more challenging.

The first one shaped my decision to go for Geneva rather than Berlin or Amsterdam. Its a harsh reality that these days if you are running between 2.13 and 2.20 its very difficult to find races where you are going to have people around you. Even the smaller marathons won in 2.13 have the leaders going through in 65 for halfway and the big city races tend to thin out seriously after a first group in 63 and a second group in 65. So Geneva looked like a good option. On the day the leaders indeed went through in 65 and although they were coming back I wasn't close enough to them to pick up the pieces in the closing stages. Having run 40k alone/leading a small chasing group I can honestly say I dont want to do that again ! But if I find myself in that position i'm at least prepared. It really was a different experience from what I have had before in London, Amsterdam and Toronto.

The altitude experiment was a success and also part of my downfall, but not for the usual reasons which get many athletes when going to altitude i.e. overtraining. After a terrific 3 weeks stretch in St Moritz in July I was really fit - and carrying an injury. Having put my pelvis slightly out of alignmenent 3 weeks hard training had inflamed the muscles in the hip. What was really required was a rest to let things settle but I was in damage limitation mode for the last 7 weeks training. Next time I will be visiting Claire just before going away for a training camp.

This had a couple of effects. Firstly my training just wasn't as consistent as before Toronto. I was able to hit most of the key workouts but in between it was just injury management. To compound this I made a decision to focus on hitting the MP work and dropping some faster workouts when I was forced to choose. Looking back it meant that I did quite a bit of MP at altitude at a speed around 3:20/km and in reality did very little running actually at target sea level MP (3:14) or 10k pace. Come race day I had bucket loads of stamina but running target pace felt mechanically challenging i.e. I felt like I was really legging it to run at 2.17 pace. So I finished full of running (last 2.2km in 6:54) but couldn't sustain it earlier in the race. With hindset I was probably optimally trained to race 50km at about 3:23/km - just don't tell Norman Wilson !

The big reminder for me is that I am a 'slow' runner and need to keep some long, faster (10k pace) efforts in my training pretty much year round. Just doing the hill sprints and strides isn't enough. The other reality check was that training the fuel systems with MP effort running is one thing and training the muscles to run at target MP is another. I need to do both if I'm training at altitude.

And finally the long run. I've found over the years that just going out for 2-2.45 hours doesn't really challenge me much anymore. I'm pretty well adapted and can go out and nail a 20 miler any time of year. So I wanted to make things more demanding by adding some faster efforts. The first time I did this was quite tough. Running some short fast bursts in the first hour makes the last hour a bit more uncomfortable from a combination of having burned off fuel and fatigued the faster twitch muscles fibres which normally get recruited towards the end of a long run when the slow twitch are exhausted. What was really pleasing was that over the course of just three of these more demanding long runs I was able to adapt to the point where I was putting in a significant amount of fast running in the first 2 hours then able to finish with a progressive 5k finish at faster than MP. A big step forward and one that made the closing stages of the race a much more appealing proposition come the day.

So plenty to take in and work with come my next marathon in the spring.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Back to basics, Gwent Cross Country League

It was a battle of the generations in the Senior Men's race as Rob Whalley and myself lined up against Tom Russell and Josh Lilley in the second Gwent League of the winter at Bath University. With the likes of James Thie also toeing the line it was a tasty looking line up and the strong winds and driving rain added an extra tactical dimensional to the race.

For me this was an opportunity to build on last weeks relays over a distance which suits me better than a 5k burn up. Again I was undone by a lack of pace as Tom and Rob scampered off in the first half mile and I just couldn't keep up. The race quickly settled down and a group formed behind me into the wind. I couldn't really complain as in days gone by I remember sitting behind the more experienced guys letting them do the work. By the 2nd lap it was time for an experiment (thats what the races are for after all) so I put in a fast burst of about 400m into the wind which only Josh could follow so we were down to a battle for 3rd/4th with Tom and Rob still up the course and battling it out for the win.

Pleasingly I was able to run the 3 big laps progressively quicker with splits of 8.58, 8:57 and 8.52 to finally get away from Josh with a mile or so to go. A game of cat and mouse at the front ended with Tom Russell coming out on top.

Encouragingly for the sport there was a large turnout with teams from across south wales and the west country making the trip to Bath. With colourful team tents pitched across the muddy fields the scene was reminicent of a medieval army encampment with bodies strewn about after each of the races !

Full Results to follow

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

National Cross Country Relays

As we all know from Beijing getting the baton round is the primary requirement. Or in the case of a 4 man cross relay having 4 men ! Looking to build on last years tantalising 5th place when we finished just a couple of seconds outside the medals my Wells City Harriers team were quietly optimistic in the build up to this years race. Frank Tickner was returning to fitness after a stress fracture, big brother Ben was in good early season form and Andy Hennessy and myself had miles in the bank from our autumn marathon exploits. So far so good then the jinx struck as Andy's marathon caught up with him and a dose of achilles tendinitis left him on the treatment table and out of action. And with an injury list to our reserves that would have had 'big Phil' tearing his hair out we had to take the start line with just three runners.

And what a day we had. Ben powered round the first leg to put us right in the thick of the action in 3rd place. My job had always been damage limitation and despite having Andi Jones and Dave Norman breeze past me early on I was able to hand over in 5th. Blowing away the cobwebs Frank was clearly not at his best but was still good enough to take us into the lead and cause the commentators to reach for the stat book in search of previous Wells medal winning exploits. Of which there were none of course. A statistic which will have to remain for another year alas. At least the three of us had a good run out to get our cross country seasons underway. The conditions were a bit wetter than previous years and my Shay XCs did a great job. I'm going to enjoy a winter wearing these.

I'm a big fan of the country. Its great for getting used to frequent changes in rythmn and challenges the muscles in a way that road and track can't do. Looking back the mud was where I had my early successes, from winning my first race as a 9 year old through to my breakthrough race in the 1994 British Universities Championships. And this year the 'National' will be back at its spiritual home at Parliament Hill Fields and even in the slightly emasculated 12k form its still a race to send a shiver down the spine. I plan on being there ! But first up is the Gwent League at Bath this weekend and a return to man to man combat after the relay season. Can't wait.