The Summer of Speed – Progress

I thought it would be a good time to drop back in and discuss how my ongoing preparations are for my big 10km PB attempt this summer. I’m heading down to London for the Royal Parks Series Regent’s Park 10km on Sunday 23rd July, and have my sights set on my long-standing PB of 37:15 from the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K from March 2014, and have dedicated my spring and summer to chasing down the pursuit of blistering pace.

The key change in my life is that I’ve started training with the Halifax Harriers, an athletic club based just on the outskirts of the town centre, having now freed up my Tuesday nights to be able to train with them. After three trial sessions, I finally handed over my membership fee and now, just over four and a half years after taking up running again, am now proudly wearing the Halifax Harriers race vest.

I’m currently turning up on Tuesdays for training sessions with them, and already I’m seeing improvements to my running. Here are a couple of pace charts – one from a repetition session carried out on a Monday night (01 May 2017) and my first repetition session on the track with the Harriers, less than 24 hours later.

On my own – consistent intervals, but the slight drops are proof of the strain
With the Halifax Harriers, similar session, smoother intervals

As you can see, my pace is much more consistent running with a group, maintaining a steady pace even at my top end speed, where on my own the jagged nature of that pace line shows how hard I was working to keep my level up. I also tended to jog during the recovery phases of my interval training prior to club training, but the recovery here tends to be to stop, rest, stretch, loosen up and lower the heart rate, before setting off again. I’ve managed to get my 400 metre speed down to 70 seconds, which is as quick as I’ve ever managed lapping the track.

My 5K pace seems to have improved as well since joining the Harriers. I ran an 18:22 to take first place at Brighouse parkrun again, albeit I suffered for front running the whole thing – I set off too quickly and the hill at the back of the Brighouse parkrun course basically sapped my top end pace out of me. I had an immediate chance to pursue the sub-18 again the Tuesday after, at a 5K time trial on Harriers night, taking on a two lap, undulating course in Skircoat Green, Halifax. My first three k’s went for 3:50, 3:35, 3:37…and then my watch gave up. Saving myself onto the remaining uphills, I thundered down the flats and the descents, turning right at the end for one more hill towards the finish – absolutely on my toes, I pushed for the line and recorded 18:01 – narrowly close to sub-18, but a brand new PB over the distance by five seconds. It took everything I had, but it was worth it for the result, and gets me tantalizingly close to going under 18 minutes as we head into June.

Just this past Sunday, I ran on my own to test my 10km pace eight weeks out from the Regent’s Park 10km in London, running from Brighouse to Elland Bridge and back along the Calder-Hebble Navigation. I clocked 39:12.5, a couple of minutes down but on a slightly hilly route, and with a pronounced slow down at 9km so as not to needlessly chase the 3 minute km I would have needed to go under 37:15. I needed a marker to lay down and while I was shorn of top end pace later in the run, I know where improvements can be made and there’s plenty time to turn that around.

I’m not finding this without difficulty though. Odd cranks have started to appear, and at the behest of self-diagnosing, what’s going on in my right foot is the ruminations of plantar fasciitis. I haven’t half worked on my eccentric step exercises and calf massages since, and thankfully so far its remained manageable. I’m trying more than ever to get onto trails and away from roads when the opportunity arises, and listening more than ever to when my foot decides its not happy with the stick its getting. Furthermore, I had more than a  hiccup with my Garmin Forerunner 10, which seems to be on its last legs for a little while – its stopped recording runs despite all manner of reset attempts to right it. Not the most important thing but when you’re trying to measure your pace, its a bugbear if you haven’t got the kit.

And I definitely need time to acclimate to potentially hot racing conditions. I recently ran home from Ravensthorpe along the banks of the River Calder, and found it hugely stifling in 24-25C temperatures, with the sun endlessly beating down. Right now the weather is consistently around 17-18C in the UK, occasionally breaking into the 20’s in my area. The warmest I’ve ever raced in is 18C, so I’ve got to prepare for the potential of racing at least in the low 20’s. That shouldn’t prove too big a step, so long as I take the opportunities to run hard in the heat, and key things like staying hydrated. At the end of the day it probably won’t make too much difference, but its best to be prepared for all eventualities weather wise on the day of the race.

Selfie break in the pre-summer sun, on the River Calder, 25/05/2017
The River Calder near Mirfield, 25/05/2017

As you read this, I’ll have taken part in the Hebden Bridge Fell Race – more on that very soon – to kick off a surely busy couple of months packed with races and opportunities. Without question I’m going to have to work hard to keep bringing my time down, but who said chasing times was ever going to be easy? Especially with a watch that may or may not be on its way out. In any event, it’ll be great to keep on this road into the heart of summer, culminiating on July 23rd, when I can hopefully race the 10km of my life in the morning and be inspired by the athletes taking part at the World Parathletics Championships in the evening. The focus here remains resolute, and with the Halifax Harriers I’m feeling great about the remainder of the year going forward.

Snowdonia Marathon Training

2. Fun, and its consequences

I was quite the excited person looking forward to carrying out my interval session on the Spring Hall athletics track in Halifax this past Tuesday. I hadn’t been track running since sometime under night lights the previous year as I made my return from sesamoiditis, with only a sprinter and later a few members from the Halifax Harriers Athletics Club. What I hadn’t banked on was around 50 or 60 juniors all doing a training session with coaches from the Harriers as I arrived on site. I only remembered then that the local council’s website clearly states Tuesdays and Thursdays are Halifax Harriers training sessions. I’d previously arrived on a Monday night, late in the autumn. I stood around, wondering whether I should just run home instead. I saw a couple head into the small building nearby, and went in to find a few members of the Harriers around a table with race numbers, some paper and the odd drink.

I asked about the facilities and whether I could use them. I was welcome to for £2. A man I’d later know as Ray explained what I’d arrived to do and they told me a few would be running around the track as long as I remembered to obey the rules of the track – stepping off to the side of the track if slowing down, maintaining the inside two lanes, etc. The conversation then took an upswing.

Well, we’re doing a 10K race this evening, you fancy running a 10K?

I didn’t need a lot of convincing

Well, I was going to do intervals but sure,  I can do that“.

The conversation moved on to personal bests.

“OK, so what time can you run for 10K, your PB?”

Well… I ran 37:15 a couple of years ago

37?” 

37:15“.

A lady to my left said shortly after “can we sign him up?

I don’t feel nervous telling other runners about my personal best times, yet here I felt cautious about setting high expectations, though I was too immersed in the club environment to really dwell on that. I never brag about it, because it doesn’t happen as a fluke. I trained hard to get that time, and I’m still proud of it now, even if I haven’t bettered it since. It was nice now to have the chance to run with members of the club as opposed to on my own, taking the occasional nudge to sign up in my stride.

The race in question was the Harriers’ annual, club members only Summer Handicap 10K. If you’ve never raced a handicap, or never heard of one, in this context, the slowest runners sets off first progressing to the fastest runners, based on their PB or estimated time. An out and back, it would go through the Hebble Trail, over Salterhebble Locks, towards Sowerby Bridge along the Calder-Hebble Navigation, and then back again. I jogged down to the start behind a few of the club members and arrived at the start point, where we unloaded tables, cones, water cups, and the electronic timer out of the back of one of the runner’s cars, which was parked just inside the entrance to the trail. I got talking to a few of the members, explaining to some why I was here, and joining in the conversation with others, as can be so easy to do in fellow running company.

We were all set off one by one, and for my PB I would set off a good 18 minutes later, along with another guy called Will, who’d run a PB around 39 minutes if memory serves me well, and together we ran the first 2.5 miles. I began to surge ahead as we approached Sowerby Bridge, feeling OK to pick it up a little, and after turning back, Ray, whom I’d past shortly before the halfway point, told me to push it. That was like a red rag to a bull. I didn’t need much to encouragement, and soon I was passing other runners frequently. I ended up sprint finishing alongside another lady and we both recorded the same time. I was lithe to stop my Garmin straight away but recorded a rough time of 39 minutes. I was exhausted after the race, bearing a look of a man who couldn’t comprehend how the night had turned from a solo track session into an unplanned near flat out race across trails and towpaths.

What just happened?!

It turned out I wasn’t fast enough to win the prize, for which I wasn’t eligible as a non-member, perfectly understandable. Still, a brilliant race all round, everyone by and large stayed until the final runner came home, and there were free pie and mushy peas on offer for everyone. What a brilliant night this had been!

I’ve never felt I could justify joining an athletics club, feeling that my young family and work commitments have always been a barrier I could never work around. Back when I worked in Huddersfield I was with a few colleagues who ran for the Stainland Lions, and one or two for the Holmfirth Harriers. I’d have loved to have joined, but without a car its two bus journeys to each club, making it very difficult to say I could work around. The UK Athletics discount of £2 per race entry is attractive, but I don’t race anywhere near enough to get my money’s worth out of it, especially if I can’t run with the club. The Halifax Harriers, however, are only a single bus ride away, and I can be dropped off right outside the athletics track. Particularly after tonight, it seems a no brainer, should I eventually feel that the time is right. Their hospitality and camaraderie was hugely welcoming and I won’t ever forget that.

The runner’s high I was on would soon take an unexpected low. I’d run early on Thursday morning – 4:30am to be precise – the moon out, followed by a deep red sunrise, I had an excellent outing, covering 8 miles in just over an hour, with barely a soul around to disturb me. The reason so early? A summer jaunt with my colleagues from my team at work into York, where we would basically get quite drunk. I started civilly at Revolution, that was until we blew the remaining budget on a tray of 40 shots and a game of Giant Jenga. One shot for each brick, two if you pulled out more than one or knocked the structure down. Amazingly we were all still standing by the time we clocked up a Red Stripe at Turtle Bay. Then we entered a pub called The House of the Trembling Madness. Here I pretty much lost my mind. Before running, I was a bit of an ale drinker. I still am, albeit more socially. I was spoilt for choice, in my element, ale nirvana. They even sold a beer shot called ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’ at 32% strength. I bought some more ale from the shop downstairs. By the time I’d reached York station for the trip home, I’d had 4.5 pints of ale, 1 pint of Red Stripe, 5 random shots. Still retaining my bearings, I led a few of my colleagues towards Platform 6. Except I’d led them to Platform 9. Whoops. I rushed back. I planted my foot on the stairs.

And suddenly, a pain that no amount of alcohol could mask.

A sharp, shooting pain on the outside of my right knee. I carried on searching for my train, but I was in a lot of discomfort. By the time I’d reached Brighouse, I was hobbling, on my way to order a pizza and then home. I’d already told my wife to put my cold/hot pack in the freezer. We had the pizza together and then, apparently I just passed out, asleep against the base of the sofa.

It was 3:50am on Friday. 24 hours earlier, I’d woken up for a run. I finished that run near euphoric. Now I was waking up on the floor of my living room, where my wife had left me to sleep. The hangover was locked in, so I went to grab a pint of water. The pain was still there, so I grabbed my cold/hot pack, which had been in for 4-5 hours as opposed to 90 minutes. I sat downstairs, drank the water, applied the ice, and considered if I’d actually drunk myself to a serious injury. Eventually I dragged myself up the stairs to bed at 5:00am, feeling scared to put weight on my knee. I laid down at the bottom of my bed, eyes shut, but mind racing. I couldn’t sleep.

I woke up at 6:30am. The madness had turned to worry. My body was letting me know what it thought of my escapades. Clearly I’m not made to take such a variety of drinks like that, and my knee was still giving me jip. I had time to take a paracetamol and apply ibuprofen gel before leaving for work but left plenty of time to walk through town for my train. Right now walking was better but I still couldn’t bend my knee sufficiently without discomfort. I avoided staircases and used the lifts at work. By now I’d booked into the doctor’s for a late appointment.

My past experiences with doctors about my lower limb injuries haven’t always gone agreeably. I’ll never forget the one who told me my feet ‘weren’t built for marathons’. Or the one who implored me to just keep taking ibuprofen to sort out my maltracking knee back in 2012-13. I was prepared for maybe a bit of negativity, sarcasm, but even so, the overriding concern was blindingly obvious. I was really concerned I’d sustained a serious enough injury to affect my future race plans, the big one being Snowdonia, in which I’ve already invested in making it a ‘racecation’ with my young family. On the outside, I went about my day as usual, but inside I felt miserable, worrisome, all day.

The doctor heard my account of what happened. I won’t name him, but my GP is excellent at his job, efficient, serious but caring with only a hint of condescension as he typed into his computer aloud. ‘Alcohol involved…‘, he half-sneered. But nowhere near enough to cause dislike. Up I went onto his couch, while he twisted my knees this way and that. He couldn’t find anything. I’d just jarred it. I was doing all the right stuff for now, just keep at it and in a few days, maybe even try ‘a gentle jog’. I didn’t let on, but all of a sudden I felt a weight had been lifted. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe I had dodged one there.

Of course, any plans for running this weekend were cancelled, meaning my 12-13 mile trail run was going to have to wait a little while. Thankfully, my knee seems to settled down quickly under the glare of ibuprofen, an ice pack and generally resting the thing. I may yet be ready for the 401 Challenge with Ben Smith on Friday 5th August, though likely not the whole marathon distance, but that aside, week four was always going to be an easier week, with a crosstraining session replacing my Thursday tempo run. So I suppose if there was a good time to pick up this knock, it would be now. And I am scheduled to go walking around the Yorkshire Dales with my father at the end of next week, plus the concern of Man vs Barge coming up, so I’ve got plenty to aim for.

I really did have the bit between my teeth though. Running had become as enjoyable as its ever been. The unscheduled race with the Halifax Harriers was about as spontaneous as I imagine you can get, and made for a crazy and indeed fun experience. I’m getting the hang of waking up early for those dark mornings, something I’ve wanted for ages, and on a work night too!  It’s just slightly galling yet incredibly lucky I suffered a setback to thrust my upcoming plans into doubt, and one that had I actually ruined my future plans would have left me with a huge amount of self-guilt and possible heartbreak. As it is, I feel a tangible sense of relief.

The challenge of Snowdonia is one I’m looking forward to so much, with the variety of training planned, that it feels I’m finding running more enjoyable than ever.

Trust something to go wrong when I wound up having too much fun. This marathon lark is indeed serious business!