Monday, 23 January 2012

50k debut in Gloucester

Yesterday I dipped my toe (well jumped with both feet actually) into the deep waters of ultra marathon running by racing the Gloucester 50km race, part of the IAU series.

Expecting a low key debut I had travelled up on the morning and was happily stretching out some tight muscles from the journey when I spotted fellow sub 2.20 marathon runner Steve Way, so much for a low key race ! With the marathoners setting off at 10.30am we had a short wait before the 40 odd runners in the 50k got underway with previous winner Julian Rendell showing early on (left).

My pre-race plan had been a bit affected by the weather which was blowing a stiff westerly. Having seen the havoc strong winds can create in Toronto I decided to go a bit slower than my 3:30/km target pace and after a gentle opening kilometre I quickly settled into a nice rythmn which was averaging out at 3:34 with the hills.

After a short flat loop in town we headed out into the countryside for 4 laps of a 10.5km circuit. Laps like this are a mental battle as much as physical and the first couple felt pretty comfortable, though with hindsight I should perhaps have backed off a little going up the hills and into the wind but I was fully committed and going for it as hard as felt was possible.

Lap 3 was when it started to get hard (left). Having passed 25km in around 1.29 I was still feeling pretty good and at 30km I actually started to pick the pace up, a move that would cost me dear later on. A couple of 3:30s and a 3:25 took me well past 20 miles, the point at which you really start to race in the marathon. And then it dawned on me that there was still another 10 miles to go and there was no way I was going to hold the increased pace to the finish.

With the effect of the hills (especially the downs) starting to tell on my quads I hit 40km still cranking out solid kilometres and wondering how long it would be before the elephant jumped on me. At 45km the last big climb started, well actually 2 climbs with a short downhill over the course of 2km). And then the elephant jumped out from behind a tree and climbed on my back. I was down to 6min miling and into survival mode - a feeling many marathoners will have experienced before !

Focusing on getting to the top of the hill knowing that the last couple of kilometres would be down/flat I was able to haul myself to the top though I could sense the holy grail of a sub 3 hour clocking slipping through my fingers.

Unfortunately going downhill on trashed legs wasnt much easier than going up and the last mile felt as long as in the 2006 London Marathon. Going round each bend I imagined Frank yelling "faster, faster!" but it wasn't doing me much good with a knee lift now measured in microns rather than centimetres.

Getting to the line brought as much relief as I have felt for a while at the end of a race (left) though my time of 3 hours and 47 seconds was good enough to go seventh on the UK all time lists which on that course and in those conditions was very satisfying.
So all in all a very solid debut at 50k. I'm pleased that I fully committed myself to running as fast as I could when it would have been easy to sit back in the pack and have an easier run.


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Olympic Marathon Trial reflections

With just over 6 months to go until the London Olympic Games the American team is selected following their trials last weekend and Kenya took the first step towards finalising its line up by naming a provisional squad with 5 runners.

Every time the games come round the debate kicks off as to whether a trial race is the best way to select a marathon team or not and even the Kenyans have been toying with the idea. Traditionally the US has had a sudden death first 3 past the post system and when you have strength in depth this can be a terrific way to select a team.

Going into last weeks trials in Houston the US had well over 100 qualified athletes for their trial race (as opposed to the couple of dozen with the Olympic standard) which enabled them to put on a special race the day before the main Houston Marathon. While many commentators predicted a cagey opening half Ryan Hall had other ideas and opened up with a 63min half which challenged the rest of the field to follow or sign over one of the spots to him. A few took up the challenge and Meb Keflezighi came through to run his second PR in 2 months and win the trial from Hall and Abdi Abdirahaman. With 4 guys under 2.10 for the first time since the famous Boston Race of 1983 ? the American team promises to be strong. The women are arguably even better placed for medals with Shalane Flanagan, Desi Davila and Kara Goucher following teh form bok to take the top 3 slots.

One of the things I love about this sort of trial event is the build up and buzz that it creates. Back in 2004 in the UK were using the Flora London Marathon as the official trial and with an Olympic Qualifying time of 2:15 there were plenty of us who fancied a crack at making the team. I had punched my ticket for the trial with a 2.22 debut the previous autumn in Amsterdam and training had gone pretty well during the winter though not well enough to suggest that I had a 2.15 in me. Not that it was going to deter me from having a go.

Come the race just about all the contenders lined up including Jon Brown who would go on to place 4th in Athens for the second games in succession. A decent sized group of men went through half way in 66 high and things sorted themselves out from there. Brown qualified along with Dan Robinson who had his breakthrough race and Chris Cariss (left tracking Jon Bown) had the heartbreak of missing the standard by 8 seconds. While for the women Tracey Morris had a breakthrough to join Liz Yelling and Paula in the team.

If you look at the results of that mens race I was 15th Brit in 2.21(2 seconds ahead of Matt Smith after a frantic 'dash' down the Mall) and we had 13 runners sub 2.20 (compared with the US's 50 this year- though interestingly on a per head of population basis thats roughly equivalent). 10 of the 15 ran personal bests and several of those efforts haven't been bettered since. We haven't had a trial race again and we havent produced that strength in depth in a single race either and arguably men's marathoning in the UK is no stronger now than it was 8 years ago which feels like a missed opportunity.

Hopefully for the 2016 Olympics, if not before for the Worlds, we will return to a good old spring shootout for Great Britain marathon team spots.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

How to train for the Yeovil Half Marathon

With entries approaching the 500 mark for the second Yeovil Half Marathon on Sunday 25th March 2012 its no wonder i've been getting a few questions about how to go about preparing for the race, especially from first timers. So here are a few thoughts:

Find a training partner
We know that it is much easier to get out training when its cold and dark when you have a training partner to share your goals and plans with. You are far more likely to do that extra midweek run when you know your buddy is waiting for you ! Even the top elites have regular run partners that they can call on for support when they are tired and not really feeling like it. So go on, phone a friend and make a commitment to run together.

Good running shoes
The No1 cause of injury (and hence frustration, anger, resentment etc !) is worn out running shoes. You dont want to do a really good couple of months of training just to miss out on the race because you got hurt. And looks can be deceptive, those 3 year old sneakers may look fine on the outside but the shock absorbing mid-sole will have had the life crushed out of it and in return will provide little protection to your feet and legs as several times your body weight lands with each stride (and keep in mind you will do about 15,000 strides in the half marathon alone !).

SPECIAL OFFER Tri UK in Yeovil (Lyde Rd, BA21 5DW) have an offer on for Yeovil Half Marathon entrants. Take a copy of your proof of entry to the store and get a 20% discount on your running shoes and a free treadmill gait analysis (usually £10) to help find the right pair of running shoes for you.

Train at the right speeds
There is a temptation to measure your fitness by making every training run into a time trial with success being to cover the same route faster than last week. Unfortunately running fitness doesn't work like that ! You need to run a variety of different speeds and mix hard training with easy. So if you are targetting 2 hours for the half (9 minutes a mile) then you need to be thinking in terms of three speeds.

Easy will be 11 mins a mile - this increases your aerobic fitness and gives you the stamina to survive the race. In training you should aim to build up to over 2 hours at this pace.

Race pace will be 9 minutes a mile - this gets you used to what a big effort feels like on race day. In training, once you are warmed up, run for a few minutes at race pace and then revert to easy. Keep alternating race pace and easy pace initially. Once you have got the feel for race pace after a few weeks you can make the race pace segments longer, up to 15 mins. A really good workout 3 weeks before the half marathon would be a longer run including 3 x 15 minutes at your race pace. If you can't manage that pace then you probably need to adjust your goals for race day.

Speed training will be 8 minutes a mile or faster - this teaches your body to move efficiently at fast speeds so that race pace will start to feel easy. This type of training needs to be done in small chunks otherwise it becomes too hard. So after a good warm up run 1 min at faster than race pace. Then run Easy for 2 mins. Repeat. Over a number of week build up to 10x1min fast then you can think about increasing the duration of each faster effort to 2 mins. Beware not to overdo this type training, its the icing on the cake (see below on balance).

Get the balance right
So you have got your running partner, new running shoes and 3 different speeds. How do you put it all together ? A good ratio would be one speed run and one race pace run for every 4 or 5 easy runs that you do. And make one of those easy runs longer than the others.

Its a big myth that training makes you fit, it doesn't. Training makes you tired and breaks your body down. Recovering from training makes you fitter. So getting this bit right is very important. What are the key elements of recovery ?

  1. Firstly food - you need to eat within an hour of finishing training to help your body start the repair process.
  2. Secondly hydration - many of us are dehydrated from working indoors and drinking tea/coffee. So start sipping water through the day.
  3. Thirdly sleep - the good news is that a new training regime with better eating and drinking will generally lead to better sleep. And a bit extra sleep will help you adapt to the training.
  4. Finally Hard/Easy - after a hard training day take one or two days easy. This will be different from for different people. It might mean a day off completely, or a swim or just an easy run.
  5. And at some point between now and end Feb plan a very easy week to consolidate your training.
The last 2 weeks are reserved for what marathon runners call the taper and its equally applicable to a half marathon though you will only need two weeks instead of three. More on this nearer the time.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Nos Galan 5k 2011

This year I finally got to race at Nos Galan, one of those 'must do' events that has been on my list for ages. Regular readers will know that i'm a big fan of town centre multi-lap road races so this was my kind of race - 3 laps of the village including a couple of tight turns and a short climb.

With good size crowds around the start finish area and Tim Hutchings calling the race the atmosphere built through the kids races early in the evening before a great little fireworks display signalled the start of the elite race. Its a narrow start so there was a bit of a charge despite the wet road and a lead group of about 9 quickly got away. One of the benefits of these lap courses is you can see the race unfold even if you arent in the lead group. There was a second group of half a dozen runners then a few stregglers including myself just unable to get on the back of the groups.

The first lap I was struggling for pace but gradually got better and was particularly pleased with how I was going up the hill, picking up a couple of places on each of the last 2 laps as I worked my way up to 14th place by the end. Considering I had a 25km marathon pace run in my legs from wednesday 15:15 was a good performance and didnt leave me too breathless.

After the elites had done their stuff the mass run took to the course and 600 plus runners threaded their way through the streets to round off the evening. A brisk jog back to the park and ride served as a warm down before we hot footed it down the dual carriageway to Cardiff for a night out in the Welsh capital.

A terrific event, well worth fitting in to your schedule one year.

Full Results

Pos No Time Forename Surname M/F Cat Club
1 37 00:14:40 Richard Peters M
Bristol & West AC
2 49 00:14:42 Steve Davies M
Belgrave Harriers
3 174 00:14:44 Chris Gowell M
Swansea Harriers
4 121 00:14:45 Adam Bitchell M
Cardiff AAC
5 123 00:14:49 Carwyn Jones M
Cardiff AAC
6 140 00:14:51 Rob Bugden M
Bristol & West AC
7 93 00:14:52 Michael Johnson M
Bristol & West AC
8 120 00:14:56 James Thie M
Cardiff AAC
9 122 00:14:57 Phil Matthews M
Swansea Harriers
10 196 00:15:09 Richard Gardiner M
Aberdare Valley AAC
11 165 00:15:09 Chris Busaileh M
Herne Hill Harriers
12 130 00:15:11 Dave Norman M
Altringham AC
13 129 00:15:13 Ben Riddell M
Salford Harriers
14 172 00:15:15 Adrian Marriott M
Wells City
15 178 00:15:18 Sam Mitchell M

Monday, 2 January 2012

Frank J. Horwill M.B.E 19 June 1927 - 1 January 2012

We lost a very special person yesterday. Frank brought happiness to every life he touched with his generosity and passion for our sport. I've got so many memories from the last 20 years, not least the day in Lanzarote in 1999 he made me believe utterly and completely that I could take down the marathon world record holder at the time, crazy I know but that was his special gift - making you feel a champion to the bottom of your spikes. We will miss you Frank.

Everyone's got a Frank Horwill story (or ten) so here are a couple of mine. One tuesday evening over the xmas period (I think) in the late nineties a group of athletes had pitched up at Battersea Park for a session to find the track closed. We were busy debating the merits of grass or road when Frank arrived. A couple of brief curses later from Frank and his well worn black kit bag disappeared over the perimeter fence. He them uttered something like "bloody hell, how did that happen ? I'm going to have to get it back". Then quick as a flash he was pulling himself up on top of the fence and and down the other side. We quickly followed and made damn sure we ran our legs off on the track that night !

Climbing over the fence became a bit of routine at the refurbished Battersea Park track after that. A few years ago Frank broke his leg (falling over the curb coming out of a pub if I remember correctly) and I remember seeing him limping towards the track in his rehab phase and climbing over as pre-injury. On challenging him about the risks of jumping down onto a recently broken leg he replied that a bit of impact stress would help promote new bone growth whereas walking the long way round just made him tired !