(This diary covers training between Monday July 9th-Thursday July 19th, 2018)

With not long left before my trip to Allianz Sports 2018 in Munich, there was no let up in my sub 1:20 half marathon training plan, which seemed to be back on course following a rough middle blighted by my errant right foot (namely the heel) and the heatwave, which was making run commuting and interval running a bit of a slog. There were plenty reasons to be cheerful, however, with signs I was starting to become more and more accustomed to running under the watchful gaze of the burning solar mass in the sky. So I’m just as pleased to say that final preparations have gone pretty good.

I’d go as far as to say the penultimate week of my training went amazingly well. My kit finally turning up after going walkies for a week was a start. Track training the next day with the Harriers gave me the opportunity to run a mile time trial, this time after a few warm up laps and then a steady 800 metres. As we all set off together, I shot off at the front and largely had a clear path on the inside. I clocked around 73, 74, then 76 seconds for the first 3 laps/ 1200 metres. I put in my max effort on the final lap, absolutely straining for every last second, and ran the next 400 in 73 seconds. I was inside 5 minute mile pace overall! Although the one or two overtakes I had to do increased my distance, meaning my lap came in at 5:09. A whole 17 seconds quicker than my mile time trial a few weeks earlier. But there was one slightly depressing vision of years to come, as I’d effectively paced a teenager from the club the whole way around. He overtook me on the final bend and ran an even better mile! I made sure to congratulate him, that was a superb run he put in. He then went back to rejoin sprint training, bombing down the track as we completed our last few 800s to finish. Kids these days, eh?

There was more fast running to come on Thursday with some interval training on the run commute, something I haven’t done much of to be honest (intervals, not run commuting!). Having realised I’d not programmed my Garmin to plot my workout, I downloaded a smartphone app and programmed this to work in 4 x 60 seconds fast/slow, 1 min recovery, 4 x 45 seconds, 1 min recovery, then 4 x 30 seconds. I ran from Birstall to Roberttown and after 3.5 miles – roughly at the top of Roberttown Road – I began running intervals. Only, the app wouldn’t run properly with the screen off. I did wonder why I was running near 2 minute intervals and I was left to rue my failure to plan ahead. I ran the remaining intervals with the phone in one hand, having to reach over to manually ‘lap’ each segment. What a farce and a kerfuffle. However, once into my stride, I was absolutely flying. 5:30 mile pace in the early part dropped to 5:15 pace, then to just over 5:00, and then even lower. By the end, on the 30 second intervals, I was clocking sub-5 minute pace consistently. This was boding well for what lay ahead.

I had planned one more fast session, a 10K in my local park in which the training guide was calling for 5:45 mile pace (3:35/km). This would give a time of 35:45, but the guide stated as long as I took it easy thereafter, the effort would stand me in good stead and have me race ready. I found out I would be racing on Friday July 20th, so I decided to align my 10K on on the preceding Saturday morning. Except there was one problem. I slept in. Whoops.

Now there is obviously something to be said for the taper, given I ought to be winding down to reduce any injury related risks, however, so one lie in probably wasn’t the worst thing. However, I’m also a believer in arriving at your peak for a race. My shorter training runs have certainly suggested this, and historically I’ve lowered my half marathon PB on two occasions when I’ve been preparing for a spring marathon – both times at the rather undulating Liversedge Half Marathon (2015 and 2018). So I preferred to carry out this run. Because I doubted that I could actually achieve the pace demanded by the training guide, given my PB is still 37:08, although I’ve likely run quicker splits, again likely at the Liversedge Half Marathon – I ran watchless in 2018 so I have no data.

I hit a slight snag when I slept in on the Saturday, but I resolved to run instead on the Sunday morning, although that meant max effort slightly closer to race day. Undeterred, I set off down to my local park, having around 1km warm up, entering, and running. I did 10 laps more or less of the back section of Wellholme Park, which contains a gradual hill on one side which increases gradient briefly before dropping down the other side. And its on a trail which is partly dusty, partly rocky and occasionally requires moving to the grass it encircles.

I ran to perfection. Gratefully, any dog walkers in the park had perfectly well behaved dogs, so I had effectively a clear path 100% of the time. I was only interrupted once, after 8km, by a phone call from my wife informing me one of my kids was up and wanting to do junior parkrun. I promised to be back soon and ran my quickest splits to finish. The best 10km I’ve ever run as a standalone distance, 6 days before the highest stakes opportunity. 36:31, a whopping 37 seconds inside the PB I set on tarmac down in Regent’s Park last summer, where I set off too hard and suffered for it. I got this one absolutely right! My splits were 3:43, 3:39, 3:39, 3:40, 3:38, 3:40, 3:39, 3:39, 3:37 and 3:33. But for a brief slowdown as I reached for my watch, waiting for the 10km bleep, I would have been a second or two quicker as well.

It does make me think – what could I achieve on a flatter course, on a road route? The location of my 10K isn’t known for PB potential, but by just holding back on the hill and pushing it at other parts of the course, I was able to push my effort there to another level. And I once again ran fairly even splits – the first half in 18:19, the second half in 18:08 (that makes 36:27, but I have rounded up and down for some of my splits). The point being that I seem to be doing here what all good athletes aspire to.

Junior parkrun would be my cool down an hour later.

Easy (about 6:20-6:30 mile pace) mile reps on Tuesday were my last action before heading to Germany. A chance to try out the race kit, before taking flight. And so it is almost here.

I’m weighing up now how I execute my race on Saturday. My confidence in my ability is sky high, but not knowing the level of opposition means its a complete unknown how the race will play out. Undoubtedly there will be a quick start, it’s just whether I sit in and play the long, tactical game, or absolutely believe I’m a sub-80 and throw the hammer down. In the last two Allianz Sports events, around 1:22 has been good enough to medal. I know I’ve got the pace and the experience. But I won’t be the only one and while I will be there to absolutely enjoy this experience, I can’t deny that this will be the closest I will ever get to potentially standing on a podium with a medal. This event follows the rules of actual sporting federations. It is basically the corporate Olympics!

Whatever happens, this has been a gruelling but largely positive 11 or 12 weeks, and the Bavarian adventure begins now. Check back next week to find out how I got on. Cheers for reading!