Saturday, 15 August 2015

Race report: Stockholm Ultra

Beautiful Stockholm Royal Park
Best ultra finisher t-shirt *EVER* (fitted, ladies size)
Stockholm Ultra is a really great race; well-organised, fabulous support, great food & drinks and really really lovely volunteers.  I am extremely glad I accidentally ended up doing it - I was in Stockholm for work and the only reasonable flight home was on a Sunday, so I'd miss my usual Saturday parkrun as there aren't any in Sweden (yet).  So I went looking to see if there were any racesin the city that I could get to on the Saturday instead.  Just my luck, there was only one race that weekend; the Stockholm Ultra.  So I entered.  Why not?  It's a lapped course and I'd like to see whether that is as horrible as I think it might be (it's not).

A direct copy & paste of the email I sent to my coach afterwards (with added photos):

First up, yes I am happy with how Stockholm went, especially the recovery.  I'm not worried about the fact that my pacing was terrible (for me) as it's been a while since I've run so far in one go, and I was really out to just enjoy myself and come out the other side uninjured.  Initially I'd thought I'd aim for 6.5 hours and averaging 12 min/mile plus a few minutes to allow for stops for water etc. and with a 10:1 run:walk tactic after 20 mins of warm up jogging.  But the race didn't quite unfold that way.

Pretty humid
It was hotter than I'd anticipated and quite humid (nothing like New York, but quite sticky in places).  I set off towards the back at what was a little bit of an ambitious pace compared with the original thinking, but it felt nice at the time. I then realised after just over half a mile that my heart rate wasn't being picked up by my Garmin so stopped for a fiddle with the technology and then got a bit silly about trying to get back to the place I was in the pack again.  It all felt really nice and easy and I decided not to run/walk (a lovely conversation with myself in my head about being a wuss for walking in something practically flat and only a tiny bit longer than a marathon) and then things got tricky at about the end of the 3rd lap (11 miles or so in, having averaged 10.5mins/mile for the first 11 miles or so).  

Feeding alley & start/finish area.
At that point, I got "bored of breathing" (weird and hard to explain, but I had it at Rotherham a long time ago; the thing that took the most energy and willpower was breathing and the insides of my chest ached).  I got the darker thoughts of wanting to stop and the odd cramp in my left glute.  My pace dropped off by about 45s-1min/mile to almost down to 12 min miling at that point and I started to take the walk breaks as the alerts came up on my watch.  My legs were OK, it was breathing and unpicking the mental stuff that started to be difficult.
Useful(sorta) lap board that tells you how many laps left and predicted finish time at your average pace to that point.  I'd've bitten your arm off for a 05:27 finish (this was 4 laps to go).
The end of lap 3, I quite wanted to stop but didn't. The end of lap 4 I really wanted to stop but didn't.  The end of lap 5, having had the pace drop a bit more down to 12.5mins/mile on average, I convinced myself that it'd be dim to stop with only 5 miles to go, I upped the pace again from 4.5 miles to go, back up to 11.75mins/mile on average for the last push and even a "sprint" finish for the last 500m uphill (OK, 29 feet in 1/2 a mile).  My last lap (6th) was almost 7 minutes quicker than the penultimate (5th) lap and 3 minutes quicker than the lap before that (4th)!  So there was plenty left in the tank both physically and mentally.

First mini-lap - 11:30 (including faffing & stopping) (1.25miles)
Lap 1 - 51:42 (5 miles)
Lap 2 - 53:14 (5 miles)
Lap 3 - 55:31 (5 miles)
Lap 4 - 1:01:24 (5 miles)
Lap 5 - 1:04:59 (5 miles)
Lap 6 - 58:12 (5 miles)
(Marathon split - 5:01:08 (26.2 miles))

Interestingly, it's about 21 miles in where my ability to push effort seemed to properly drop off - HR dropped from averaging around 165-170, to where I didn't feel able to push higher than 155.  A chunk of that will be related to walking breaks which started off at 10:1 then 9:2 and for the last 5 miles I took as few walking breaks as I felt I could manage with - the end was in sight and I was feeling able to push on a bit better. Also interestingly I was in 44th place from the 11 mile point to the end (of 82 women doing the 50km route).

It was definitely worth a punt and I hit some of the goals, the ones that mattered anyway - get around without hurting myself, have fun.  And it's a nice positive boost on the recovery side; not sure I'd nip out for a quite marathon right now, but normal training runs seem quite possible after a few days of recovery.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Race report: Wimbledon Half

tldr; I raced the Wimbledon Half yesterday and it was absolutely fantastic! 

Looking back at the Hitchin Hard Half as a data point post-surgery, I targeted beating the time from that race (02:18:xx official race time, but I stopped to help someone and had to run back to the marshals down the hill to get official help, and my watch said moving time of 02:15:xx, so I'm taking that).  It was very much achievable goal given the relative lack of hills at Wimbledon - the Hitchin route has 676ft total ascent and the Wimbledon one only 480ft of total ascent.

You can see where I stopped to re-pin my number near the start
The goal was to manage a faster average pace than 10:18/mile to beat that time of 02:15.  The slight fun was that the first mile of the route is mostly uphill, so the first mile was always going to be slow as well as wanting to take it relatively gently for the first 20 mins or so. 

The race was due to be started in waves separated by 3 minutes, the first of which for those expecting a race time of 01:40 or less.  The following waves for 01:50 or less, 2 hours or less, 02:10 or less and then over 02:10.  I decided to go in the last wave, mainly because people frequently over-estimate how quickly they will finish plus go off too quickly at the start so even with slower runners I'd have plenty of room at the start with people disappearing off ahead of me who I'd eventually overtake and beat in the end.

We jogged across the common from the Windmill car park to the race start/finish on the rugby fields and as we arrived and registered it started to drizzle.  So we sheltered under the trees and drank tea while we waited the 45 mins or so to the first wave start.  MrTOTKat  had decided to go in the 01:50 or less wave so I'd be starting well after him and unlikely to see him again until the finish, given the route of the course.  I hung back and decided to go for a final wee after the 2 hour wave had started only to hear that the final two waves were being merged due to them being so small.  So I had to yank up my shorts pretty swiftly and trot swiftly to the starting arch to get going.

Given the uphill in the first mile, I wasn't too annoyed to see a 10:33 first mile given that I'd hiked a bit up that hill already to keep my heart rate down and save running effort for when I could do it faster than I hike uphill.  There was also the few seconds I had to stop to re-pin my race number, having yanked it off with the thumb of one hand while over-enthusiastically swinging up arms up that hill.

Then I managed to keep a relative lid on things for the first 5 miles.  The rain fell harder and harder and I was loving the route and the weather and feeling great, so I decided to wind it up a bit and carry on picking people off to overtake.  Having started in the last wave I ended up making well over 100 places by always targeting the next 2 people in front of me and reeling them in.  Hiking the steeper ups (a couple of smallish hills), taking the flats with a bit of push and enjoying the downs I made sure I kept pushing a bit all the way around the two laps.  Mainly not looking at my watch at all until after half way, I ran on feel and my legs felt like they wanted to have a go.

The end of the first lap had a good 1.5 miles of full-on downhill which I bombed down the first time, hitting my fastest ever mile since coming back from surgery.  Having practiced downhill a bit more than it appears a lot of people do, I flew past quite a few people on that first go down that hill.  After that I kept pushing all the way; targeting the next person to reel in and overtake over and over again.

I unexpectedly saw MrTOTKat  at mile 7-ish and waved - he was looking perky and I was slightly jealous that he had only 4 miles to go where the two bits of route touch each other and I still had 6 to go.  Things got a bit tough in miles 9 and 10 and I slowed a bit around there as I fought with myself to carry on pushing.  By that point I knew I'd be easily beating my 02:15 target as I'd taken a look at my watch and seen the average pace showing as 09:45/mile.   But I zipped up the Yuki suit and got on with it, finding the love again quite quickly by mashing through the puddles that others were mincing around trying to keep their feet dry (pointless as there were unavoidable puddles later in the lap) and then thinking about that gorgeous downhill in the last couple of miles.

Mis-judging the last little bit of the race, partly because I hadn't noticed a landmark right near the start of the route, it was a few hundred metres further to go than expected when MrTOTKat (having already finished and come to the final water station to cheer me in) yelled encouragement that it was "4-5 mins to go!" - I was expecting 2-3mins at that point and the extra made quite a bit of mental difference.

Battling it out with a couple of other ladies around the final couple of bends, they were more timid about the surface and weather than I was, but then I almost killed myself on a slippery tree root when I saw the giant Womble cheering people at the final water station. Then just before the end, I had a tiny little blow-up; my legs decided they weren't playing any more and I even had to walk a few steps to avoid throwing up.  Zipping up that Yuki suit again, I forced past it to run some more for the final 200m and had the only person to overtake me for the whole race go past at that point! Argh!  Throwing myself headlong across the field towards the finish I did manage something of a sprint at the end, but nothing sustainable and really had to have a sit down pretty soon after crossing the line.

It was great that the rain started just before the race and then only got harder all the way through until it stopped about 10 mins before I finished.  I love running in the rain and I'm totally happy to run through mud and puddles.  Overall I'm very pleased with how the morning's running went.  Having targeted 10:18/mile average as a target to beat 02:15 overall, and achieved 09:41/mile I'm really very happy with that - OK it was not quite as hilly as Hitchin, but that's still quite a difference (I officially finished in 02:06:44).  I'm very happy that I managed to keep pushing the whole way round - something I've had inconsistent results with in the past (the main reason I don't get on with multi-lap courses - it's too easy for me to give up at the end of any given lap :o)) - I could easily have thrown in the towel after one lap and just been annoyed with myself later (I'm pretty sure the lovely route plus positive mind-set I set off with rather helped this time).  What you have to bear in mind is that 5 months ago I was re-learning to walk after ankle surgery, and I've only been back exercising again for 4 months since 4 months off!  (And I'm not a lifetime athlete, so I don't have years of fitness in my body.)

What's also awesome is that this race looks like it's run 4-5 times in the year from March to October so it could be a local fun series for future years too!

Friday, 17 July 2015

It can be done

2 weeks away from home, for work, and sticking to a slightly stretching run schedule can be done.  Even in stupid heat and humidity.  I'm really pleased with myself.

Friday 3rd July to Friday 17th July; the first week in San Fransisco where it was appreciably warm and I had a week of intense work during the weekdays, getting up at 05:30 to catch a lift to work at 06:00 and run there before a shower and a delicious breakfast in the work cafes, and the second week in New York in *hilarious* heat & humidity (yeah, Wednesday 15th I ran at 7am in 26C and 90% humidity for 5.5 miles - ha ha ha!).  And I hit every single session and got loads done at work too.  And lots of walking up and down between 9th, 11th and 15th floors in the office too.



Happy with that indeed.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Corner *definitely* turned!

It is said that in sport, consistency is king and I've just had another, and very personal, demonstration of that.  I've been hitting all my planned sessions, despite transatlantic travel, and things are really starting to show improvement.

I've been running some lovely trails while I've been away and seeing lots of wildlife, which really makes it all the nicer.

Last weekend I had weird stuff go on with the Sunday run.  Having mooched about town for 4.5 miles of walking after my 11 mile run in the morning on Saturday, odd things happened on Sunday's run.  Here are the notes I took for CenturionJames:-

In SF - *weird* run. Mechanically everything was fine. Engine-wise it felt hard and I struggled to get my heart rate up to even 15bpm lower than it would be for the perceived effort/pace. (Ignore Strava again, it's using a stupid way of working out distances so thinks I went 0.2 miles further than I did so the pace is wrong.) Actual pace 10:29/mile so only a tiny bit slower than yesterday, but way lower average heart rate - approx. 15bpm lower. (same hill involved but from a different angle) Recovered quickly and felt great afterwards. Will keep an eye on HR weirdness on Tuesday.

It all felt just so odd at the time.  It felt like there was some sort of hard limit that something was stopping me from exceeding.  I even tried to "sprint" a bit a couple of times and even trying really hard I could only get my HR up to 10 BPM below what I used to call the change from easy into putting some effort in.  But what happened in the runs after that was pretty cool.  I do now seem to be hitting around 10BPM less for the same pace as in previous weeks.  And harder efforts feel very very enjoyable.

It's a shame I wont be at parkrun for another two weekends (today I'm in New York and the nearest parkrun is 500 miles away and next weekend I'll still be on a plane back home until after parkrun).  It'd be great to see what I can do over 3.1 miles now with a bit of effort.  I'm thinking probably just over 27 minutes.  Which is way off my parkrun PB of 24:06 and my 5km PB for 22:36, but it'd still be by far the quickest I've been since October last year.

(And I just realised that there's a parkrun 30 mins drive from Ann Arbor so I could have run there in April.  Hey ho.)

So that's a corner definitely turned and I'm really pleased in many ways.  Plus, I'm really enjoying my running!  Right!  I'm off out for a run!  :o)

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Race report: Hitchin Hard Half. (Or, "Oh god, I needed that!".)


I'd been gagging for a race and really didn't realise quite how much until I'd finished today's - the Hitchin Hard Half.  A half marathon with a bit of up and down in it, almost all on (not closed) roads.

My aim was to enjoy myself and get around before the 2.5 hour time limit.  So that meant a minimum average pace of 11:27/mile.  Very do-able on the flat at my easy pace at the moment (as proven on yesterday's parkrun).  Add hills and it would need a bit more effort than simply "easy".  The plan was to hike the ups, relax on the downs and run the flats at a heart rate of around 170bpm.

To cut it short, I had an awesome run. It took about 3 to 3.5 miles to warm up; and the grassy grounds of the Priory at the start featured a twisting route that took you up and down the same sharp hill twice before you left the grounds, off out onto the road. But then I had a great time - hiked the ascents hard (equalling and overtaking some people who were running uphill), enjoyed the descents (having to ask people who were not taking any advantage of the descents at all and were really rather taking up the full width of the path, to let me through as I was going quite a bit faster than them) and ran the flats easy for the first 6 miles. Then I turned up the gas a bit as I was feeling pretty good. At that point I had to stop off for a couple of minutes. I'd been running behind a chap in a union flag vest and he kept pausing and bending over, so I asked if he was OK or had cramp or something. It turned out he wasn't OK at all, and was dizzy and nauseated. So I told him to sit down and I'd get a marshal. We'd passed one about 20m down the hill, so I lamped it back to the marshal who then called for medical assistance. Running back up the hill to the poor chap, I found a couple of ladies giving him water and using a running vest as a pillow for him. I let everyone know there was a marshal notified and on the case, decided he was doing OK and that those ladies were coping nicely, so I could carry on. There was a water station right around the corner with two marshals, so one of them headed on down to lend assistance. Happy that all was under control, I got back on with my own race. There was an immediate long descent after that, which I enjoyed a little too much and pushed my heart rate higher than I was happy with so had to settle it down a bit for a while.

Having paced pretty well and kept my effort level in check, I overtook a ton of people in the last 5 miles. Lots of people ending up walking rather less steep inclines than they might have done earlier and then another long downhill which was a bit wet from the rain and gravelly so a bit tricky but I gained a lot of speed from that. I'd been leap-frogging an older chap for a lot of the hills to this point, he'd jog gently past me on the ups and I'd lamp it past him on the downs and it became a running joke between us - the last two or three hills he said he'd get me on the next one and he did. Until the last hill where I made my downhill and effort after that pretty good and I didn't see him again until after I'd finished. Then one long last uphill grind along a pretty straight road, so it was a bit mentally difficult but as it was likely the last real hill, I ran it all instead of hiking. I was a bit worried we'd end up doing the same up and down the hill in the Priory grounds as we had at the start, but it turned out to be a simple downhill over wet grass to get to the finish line; a relief!

Afterwards, I felt bloody great - a good run, not a totally shabby pace, especially considering the extra 4kg I'm carrying at the moment. I really needed that run and it felt good. (Finished in 02:18 including stoppage time - moving time was 02:15:29.) I did manage to catch up with one of the ladies who'd also stopped to help the other runner and established he was fine - it turned out he'd been running with his sister who just buggered off and left him to feel horrible by himself. Poor chap!

Me, I hit my A, B and C goals; enjoy myself, get around before the cut-off and go under 02:20. Result!