Lincoln Wellington 5k – Tuesday 29th July 2014

Fairly fresh from the five mile race in Nottingham six days earlier, I lined up next to an athletics track near the Yarborough Leisure Centre in Lincoln about to take part in the third, of four, races of the Lincoln Wellington 5k Series. Before the five miler I’d not planned on racing here, but the day after I thought it would be good if I could squeeze another race in before my summer holidays and a search on Fetcheveryone produced this golden opportunity to have a stab at firstly beating my 5k PB and, more pertinently, going sub 17 for 5000 meters for the first time.

With that in mind my training was fairly easy post five mile race. The hamstrings took a couple of days for the pain to subside completely but they did. A long run with GRC on Thursday was followed by four consecutive easy paced and moderate mileage runs – the only real effort was put in on an attack on the Minnett’s Hill Strava segment which I was able to reclaim. The only real issues became a pair of blisters on each Achilles, a legacy of the new Lunar Racers worn on Wednesday (And a known issue apparently) and troublesome in certain pairs of my trainers.

I arrived in Lincoln a little later than planned and seemed to faff around for far too long getting ready to go for a warm up – the result of which it was only two miles instead of the planned three. The planned wearing of new Lunar Racers was also swiftly abandoned after just a few meters of running, the Achilles’ blisters far too sore. Thankfully at the last minute I’d packed my old Nike Frees which would be more than adequate for the race. The warm up at least did allow me to recce the course, which would be a small lap of playing fields next to an Athletics track followed by three large laps of two playing fields. The course was near pancake fat, the corners not too tight. All nearly ideal save for a strengthening wind after a warm, cloudy day, which would be direct into our faces for half of each lap.

A small but fairly competitive field lined up at 7:30pm for the start of the race. I placed myself on the front row, but as the whistle blew at the off, I made a steady start to sit somewhere just outside the top 15 after the opening short lap. I planned to race in a similar manner to last week, speeding up through the race and picking off the field all the way through to the finish. I’m no expert at 5k pacing – some like to go off really fast and hang on as best as possible. I tried that at Peterborough at a parkrun last year and found it one of the least enjoyable runs ever as I died a thousand deaths in the final mile. I’ll far rather sacrifice a second or two in the opening stages to ensure a stronger finish.

Steady pace was also a relative term for the Garmin indicated that the first half mile had been run at sub five minute mile pace. I thought, although running well, this was a bit bogus and queried the reliability, once again, of my 910XT.  As we began the start of the first large lap I had other issues to contend with, namely the headwind. Feeling quite strong I worked my way to the front of a small group and pushed on, knowing that this would mean others behind me would be sheltering from the wind behind me. I felt I had no choice; if I wanted a quick time I’d have to do it the hard way.

Also with no km or mile markers I only had my Garmin to use to judge how well I was going. If I could trust it I was flying – the first mile covered in 5:05. Like last week, although working hard, it was feeling quite easy. The second mile was covered halfway through the second lap – Garmin said it took 5:11. As we began the final lap I knew that if I could hold it together a PB was assured. Again into the headwind, as I passed a couple of runners, I could feel them joining the queue behind be sheltering – doing less work than I. This spurred me on to push harder, trying to break the tow, which, save for one runners proved successful. Mile three flashed on the Garmin 5:12. Fantastic! I was on for a sub 16 minute run! A Kenilworth Runners’ club record beckoned!

It would have done were the finish just around the corner, which it wasn’t. It was around half a lap away. A quick look at the watch showed I had around 85 seconds to finish the race in sub 17 minutes. The post mortem of how the Garmin had added nearly 400m to the 5k course would come later, now I just had to run as fast as possible.

Thankfully I had two factors to help. After 20 seconds or so of headwind, the final stages were aided with a tailwind. Secondly a runner, who had been sheltering behind me, passed me and began an early kick for home. Sensing it was now or never I kicked on too and stuck with him, before passing him when I saw a painted mark on the path saying 200m which I assumed meant 200 meters to the finish.

I gave it everything sprinting too and past the finish line (the Garmin had me running the final 0.32 miles at 4:37 pace). I knew the PB was a formality, the sub 17 was close. I looked at the watch. 16:55! I did it! Sub 17 done and at a proper 5k, not a free-to-enter timed run that is the 5k that is parkrun. 49 seconds better than my previous 5k best (The 2012 BRAT 5k at Rowheath), 25 seconds quicker than my parkrun PB also set in 2012).

I finished eighth, 35 seconds behind the winner, and the first, as far as I could tell, to not collapse into an exhausted heap at the finish. I couldn’t decide whether this is because I am in pretty good condition at the moment or I just didn’t try as hard as the others (I imagine it is a bit of both). I jogged back down the course to cheer home club runner Ben, who also knocked a great chunk off his 5km best.

So a fair journey for a short race, but a successful trip. As someone from GRC pointed out, from October last year to now, I have broken PBs at every distance raced with the exception of the half marathon. That will hopefully come in late September at Nottingham. It’s Project Sub 1:16:47!

When You Hit Rock Bottom…

It’s been a tough couple of weeks since the Milton Keynes Marathon. Things began well enough the day after the run before with a 48 mile bike ride towards Lincoln and back. The way out was a breeze – quite literally it transpired – as the return was into a stiff headwind and a real struggle.

The warning signs came the following day on an easy six mile run where the upper right hamstring was very sore and tight. I missed the Thursday club run and the heavy storms due to work and barely managed six miles, feeling generally rubbish all over the body. I elected to take a few days off completely from exercise, a task made easier working on the Spanish Grand Prix.

Monday 12th May = The beginning of Rock Bottom. Heading out for an easy six miles things began well enough but after a couple of hundred meters I felt a sharp pain in my pelvis which receded to be followed a couple of hundred meters later by the right thigh seemingly lock into a painful spasm – feeling all the world like a bad cramp. I stretched the leg to see if it would ease off, which it did, before returning with vengeance a minute or so later – the pain being matched in the left leg. Realising something was seriously amiss, I walked and hobbled back home – a grand total of one mile running completed.

I stretched and massaged extensively for a day or more. I headed out the following evening to assess the situation. The situation wasn’t good. Pain free for the first mile, I stopped to cross the road and the right leg launched into another run ending spasm. Keen to know the extent and cause of the injury I walked and jogged another mile or so before aborting the run for good. After managing injuries for the best part of a couple of months, I felt I had truly hit rock bottom. Unable to run without bizarre injuries inflicted, I wondered if things would ever improve.

Wednesday was spent continuing with the strength training and massage in an attempt to bring myself back to a level where I can at least run again. Thursday though was spent on the bike, heading out on the flat roads to Newark before heading back on the more undulating roads around the Vale of Belvoir. The ride wasn’t too bad – the thighs were tight but not painful – the only time I flaked out was on the long hill on Waltham Lane – which when I looked at the Strava segment results, was possibly a tougher climb than I’d considered at the time.

Friday was a busy day preparing for a long drive down to see family in Minehead. I chose to test the legs with a short three and a half mile run, which, thankfully, despite being a little stiff and sore, didn’t see any kind of catastrophic run ending pain seen twice earlier in the week. Saturday I spent recovering from the long journey down to Minehead; on Sunday I ran a short six miles along Dunster beach to Minehead. A run I’d normally not consider that long, I was thankful to just be running at all, even if it was quite slow.

There was more of the same back home on Monday and a familiar pattern. Slow running with a considerable amount of discomfort in the pelvis but just about bearable on an easy paced seven mile run. I even managed a quick little 11 mile bike ride as I made sure my new Garmin Edge 810 worked properly (it did). It felt good to do a short quick blast bike ride.

Tuesday saw me reunited with the elliptical trainer I first used back in 2000 when I suffered a string of run restricting injuries. Having seen extensive use until around 2005, it was loaned to my parents who didn’t use it as much as they’d anticipated and so having moved to smaller accommodation last year needed it offloaded. The purpose of the journey was to bring the trainer back home, now taking pride in my outdoor gym. The ride was a little wobbly – it needs balancing and a few screws retightening – but thirty minutes later I realised that this will again be a valuable tool in my exercise plans going forward – pain free exercise at a high heart rate.

The trainer used at lunchtime, I headed to the club in the evening for an intervals session of sorts. I knew from the uncomfortable shuffle to the centre of town that the legs were not up for anything too demanding – especially the achy pelvis. So instead we ran a fartlek session, pushing on the long A52 hill out of Grantham and then running a succession of short and longer bursts of pace. The legs felt dreadful but at least the recorded pace wasn’t too bad; I even clocked up a Strava segment or two.

Bringing this up to date, I ran six miles this morning, very easy paced thanks to super stiff legs and a pelvis that feels battered and bruised – even if I am fairly sure it is referred pain from the hamstring strain I felt a couple of weeks or so ago. At least I am just about running, even if it is somewhat compromised and feeling as though it could all go severely wrong at any moment. Hopefully I can see this rough spell through and be back training properly soon.

More Miles–Some Smiles

Thursday saw me have a massage in the morning. I had feint hopes of all my ills being cured in one session, but just walking home afterwards I realised that the Achilles alone is some way off being comfortable to run on. I took Thursday off, planning to ride long on Friday.

Friday was a day of frustration, suffering problems with computer hardware and various other things. That meant rather being ready to ride at around 10am as planned, I wasn’t ready to gone 3:30pm. I’d knocked up a 30 mile or so ride. I’d spent some time trying to get the route to work properly on the mobile phone before giving up and returning to the old faithful Garmin Venture Etrex CX, originally purchased back in 2007 for my Land’s End to John O’Groats adventure.

The main problems I had with the unit back then and subsequently were that the route mapping was slow and unpredictable, often sending you on wild long excursions – not handy when you are on 100 mile plus rides. The other more frustrating problem was the device would turn itself off at the first hint of a bump, which is something of a common affair with our poor British road surface. I’d tried squeezing the batteries with crushed matchsticks in between the electrical contacts with minimal success. Then last year my Dad gave me a tip for temperamental battery contacts: place a small strip of tin foil between the + end of the battery and the contact itself. Since then the Etrex has worked like a charm and hasn’t switched off yet due to being bounced around. And, based on tips from the internet, I opted to abandon the routing (More like forced as the modern mapping websites create too many waypoints for the Garmin to handle) and follow the purple roads manually, which, apart from a few visibility issues in the rain, has worked like a dream.

That the unit didn’t suffer major water damage on Friday’s run was a major surprise. It had rained on and off during the day, and had been dry for a while, but almost on cue as I left the house it began to rain, becoming more intense as the ride continued to the point where come the end of the ride it was nearly dark with leaden skies. The route sent me north towards Newark without actually entering the town upon-Trent, running a rough figure of 8 through Hough-On-The-Hill, which was the only real area of elevation on an otherwise flat ride.

Despite the rain the ride was fairly enjoyable on mostly quiet roads. I had a near tumble on a slippery manhole cover just before tackling a crossing of the busy A17 which left me a little nervous for the next few miles. I got good speed up heading back down Stragglethorpe Lane before a final struggle on the Hough-on-the-Hill revisited from another angle. I finished the ride having covered 32 miles at an average of 18.08 mph, an improvement on Wednesday’s ride.

Friday night and I mapped out a ride taking me down to Rutland Water, looping it and then heading home. I had some issues with a waypoint limit on the Etrex but thought I had it all covered. Some dreams of taking on a Sportive in the near future saw me take a look at the UK cycling website, when, to great coincidence. it transpired that the Dare2B Rutland Cycle Tour was taking place on Saturday morning. I had no idea what route they’d be taking, only that they were heading north from Rutland Water, with the long ride cyclists tackling a loop of Belvoir Castle.

I was out by 10am on Saturday for my ride, the roads beginning to dry after a night of rain, which finally relented minutes before I left. Looking at the weather forecast I knew that I’d have a headwind for the opening half of the ride, so I focused on conserving energy for the second half of the ride, hoping the tail wind would produce good speeds. It wasn’t long after leaving Grantham that I began spotting the Sportive riders heading in the other direction on their ride. Over the next few hours I must have passed around 100 of them as I uncannily seemed to have mapped out a route very similar to theirs. All a very friendly bunch, I said plenty of hellos and good morning.

The run down to Rutland Water, despite the wind was very pleasant, and after a melted Snickers break, a brief wrong turn and plenty of jelly beans I began to ride back home, relishing the tail wind pushing me on. I had a problem not long later when it turns out that the Etrex is limited to 250 positions per ride when following a route. This meant that somewhere near Oakham I ran out of routing. Moreover, opting to have the backlight on permanently (As I had done on Friday when it was too dark to see the screen) had eaten all but the last quarter of the battery life. Very fortunately I had created an alternate Rutland route which took me down to the mass of water in the opposite direction, so to speak. I was able to follow the route in reverse which worked perfectly save for the final 10 miles or so repeating the roads that I took on the way down rather than heading the alternate way I planned, which knocked a mile or three of the final total. As for the batteries, I thought about trying to find a shop for some replacements, eventually I risked it and by turning off the backlight completely I just about made it home with the unit still functioning.

The jelly beans certainly did the trick because I stayed strong until the end of the ride, pretty much riding successive quicker five mile segments as the ride went on. I ended the 58 mile ride averaging 17.32 mph, which is probably up on what I was riding on the few rides I made last year, and not a million miles away from the best cycle years of recent times in 2007 and 08, when I put in a around 3000 miles over the two years.

I mapped another ride for Sunday, around 10 miles longer and heading towards the flatlands of the Fens – approaching, but not quite reaching, Spalding. I chose the route deliberately because the weather forecast predicted quite stiff winds blowing from the east, meaning that if I could survive the opening half of the ride, I could enjoy a swift run home.

I was out at just gone 8am, pretty impressive considering a fair amount of wine was drunk on a Saturday night out. The first miles were slow as I climbed out of Grantham, bemoaning my inability to get any jelly beans out of the freezer bag I’d put them into after similar problems with their original packaging a day earlier (After 45 miles of struggling I finally poured a lot of them direct into a cycle pocket which worked much better).

Much of the opening 35 miles were fairly tortuous. I’m not particularly strong on the flat at the best of times, not helped by my inability to properly use the handlebar drops – which is a big disadvantage when riding into a headwind. And, aside from 5 miles or so when I headed south, the headwind was relentless as I traversed near deserted lanes on the exposed fens. An amusing Strava segment I passed, the Col du la Railway Bridge Gosberton sums up the total flatness of the area, the 0.1 mile segment with an average gradient of 1% representing the stiffest climb around for as far as the eyes could see.

The wind, much stiffer than yesterday, took its toll. I stopped for a breather at 36 miles, just after I’d turned and began heading home. I’m not a huge fan of the fens from an aesthetic viewpoint, but the area around Surfleet, following the River Glen, was very picturesque on this sunny spring morning.

Surfleet Seas EndThe Pub Where I Briefly StoppedThe Old Faithful - She'll Do Until I Can Afford A Carbon Bike

Invigorated by the Mars Bar break and enthused by the prospect of a tailwind all the way home, I set off with renewed vigour. The ride along Station Road beside the River Glen was good fun: flat and fast with a few corners to keep the attention. The same couldn’t be said for the B1397 High Fen, which was six miles of all, bar a pair of 90 degree chicanes, dead straight, dead flat road. I found the biggest gear I could turn and churned away. By the end I was quite tired, turning a big gear is, in many ways, as hard as climbing and descending. Plus with near relentless flat land for the best part of 50 miles, there’d barely been a minute’s cycling when I wasn’t pedalling. I know I am used to running where such a free break is the stuff of fantasy, but pedalling consistently for hours on end takes its toll.

In many ways, although tired, I was relieved that crossing the A15 meant that the terrain would take a generally upward theme, with plenty of twists and undulations. According to Strava this was by far my strongest part of the ride, and, to my great surprise, I clocked fourth overall on one Segment. I’ve barely troubled the top 100 on most segments, so to come fourth was something of a thrill.

Approaching Grantham there was the quick drop down the A52 into town. I favoured one last climb towards Harrowby rather than face the dreaded traffic nightmare that is the centre of town – this sapping any energy I had left. I finished the ride of 67 miles averaging 17.24 mph, which was just a smidge down on Saturday’s ride and was not bad considering I was averaging around 15mph at the turnaround thanks to the headwind.

So four bike rides, a very stiff neck and sore right arm, but the legs are feeling  generally quite good and enjoying the break from running. I imagine I’ll be cycling for the first half of next week before testing the legs with a run to decide whether I’ll take part in the Milton Keynes Marathon.

Day 65–Happy Mapping

It was an early start behind the desk this morning as I was covering F1 Testing in Bahrain, although it should be noted that my start time was the kind of hour some club mates are heading out for their morning run, which rules out any possibility of me moaning about how tired I felt.

After the delay in the test actually commencing (not enough marshals, apparently) and the initial commotion over Lotus revealing their tusked new charge, there was some time to spare to think about where I was going to run once the day’s work was over. I felt that the legs were up for doing ten miles or so, fancied charting some new territory, so took to mapping out a route to upload to my Garmin.

Uploading a map to follow on your watch would have been the stuff of fantasy just ten years or so ago, so this is still very much cutting edge in the grand old story of running and training runs. Ever since I bought my trusty Forerunner 305 I’ve been a bit fan of mapping out runs to follow using the trusty black triangle and black line, occasionally chasing a white triangle if I’d set the run pace correctly. This feature of the watch came to the fore when I was part of the F1 Grand Prix circus: it allowed me to explore areas I’d not consider venturing to before and making circular courses, previously impossible without local maps or local knowledge, eminently possible.

The procedure was something of a trial seven or eight years ago, but in recent times the process has matured to the extent where it can take literally a couple of minutes to map out a new route, upload to the watch and be out of the door running it. The process is not without its hazards however: there’s been occasion when the quiet looking country lane has turned out to be something more like a motorway and the infamous occasion in the Eiffel Mountains when a perfectly good looking road on Google Maps turned out to be the figment of a cartographer’s imagination – leaving me puzzled in a field in the middle of nowhere at 5:30 in the morning…

These unexpected surprises are now more or less avoidable with the addition of Google’s Street View, which allows you, from the comfort of your computer, to recce a road or lane and decide whether it is fit for running or cycling on. It isn’t fool proof, but if, sometimes, things go awry you just need to remember that at the turn of the century most of us were still measuring the distance of runs with a map and string, knowing your pace and distance ran was the stuff of fantasy, following a map on a run was the preserve of an orienteer.

Street View has though, for me anyway, created the new phenomenon of the non-Street Viewed Road. These are typically quiet lanes and bridle paths where, for whatever reason, Google has not been able to send their camera car, leaving the nature of the lane or path a mystery until they are actually seen for yourself. In most cases the explanation for the road not being captured is straightforward – it is either too narrow to fit a car or in too poor condition to risk driving a car packed full of technology on.

For some reason I tend to forget this straightforward explanation and think there is something more sinister behind the absence of Street View. Is there an angry farmer wielding a gun at whomever dares to cross their land? Is the terrain totally impassable, horribly dangerous, likely to injure or even kill? Is there a vortex from which you will be sucked into, never to reappear? The bounds of my imagination are seemingly endless when it comes to determining why certain roads are not captured on Street View.

And so this lunchtime I was mapping a route, using Street View as a guide to see if the roads were suitable for running on. This was initially made harder by Google completely revamping the layout of maps again, seemingly minutes after they last revamped it, at least on the computer I was working on (It’s currently totally different on each of the three computers I work with). They are certainly packing in a lot of extra information with these revamps but seemingly making it just a little bit harder each time to work out exactly how to do anything. Most of the run was straightforward, but there was a loop of around a mile where Street View was not available. I went to the end of each end where the Google car went as far as it deemed possible – there seemed no reason why they couldn’t have gone further save for a sign saying something along the lines of if the rain is really heavy and you cannot see the stepping stones, don’t bother coming this way.

I decided the route was one worth attempting especially as the escape route, if the road was indeed impassable, only added a mile or so to my planned 10 miles. So it was at around 4pm I headed out, just in time to be able to complete the run before it was dark. Out of Manthorpe and past Belton on the main A607 turning left at Hough Road just past Barkston. Along the road and past the level crossing (Not sure what train line this is – it seems a quiet one) and down the hill towards the crossroads where I was to turn left onto the lane where Google cars fear to tread.

I was partially reassured when I passed two girls on ponies – suggesting this lane would not lead me to anything too sinister. The bridle path, as it turned out to be, and called Drift Lane, was in very poor condition. It was now obvious why the Google car called it quits. I diligently followed the black line on my watch which thankfully tallied exactly with the path I was taking. I jarred my left ankle a couple of times and it was touch and go with the huge puddles in places, but there was just enough room to pass without my feet getting wet. I saw no stepping stones and after a mile or so the path connected back to a civilised paved road (West Street) – complete with houses and a pedestrian to reassure me I was on safe, charted by Google, ground again.

The run back was plain sailing; the legs a little stiff still but no pains to concern unduly. Ten and a third more miles in the bag run again at around 7 minutes per mile on average. There should be more of the same tomorrow but probably a little further and a little later in the day.

Day 48–Following A Black Line

I wanted to try a new route for my long run this morning, so last night I went to Garmin Connect and went about plotting a route. After a couple of attempts I settled on a 22 mile course that took me southwest of Grantham utilising roads I’ve mostly not been on before.

This morning and after initially thinking I’d have to endure a 6:30am start it was decided the best way to utilise the day with work and stuff was for me to head out when the baby was having her morning nap. So at 11 and after two attempts to upload my course to the Garmin I headed out.

Within a few minutes of running it was apparent I was somewhat dehydrated, a nagging feeling of thirst that peaked around eight miles into the run before subsiding somewhat, only to return in the closing stages. Too late to return I carried on, legs pretty stiff for the first few miles, especially as the route was upwards for much of the first three miles.

Like yesterday it was a gloriously sunny day with only a few clouds in the sky. But also like yesterday it was windy – perhaps windier than yesterday and it was going to be a headwind for the opening half of the run. On rolling roads with the odd short sharp undulation it was a case of digging in as best I could as the wind battered me relentlessly on the exposed roads surrounded by farmland. At least the roads were quiet, the occasional car and groups of cyclists the only company.

At halfway I reached Sproxton and with a sharp left I was faced with a stiff climb and the stiff wind now blowing behind me. Once I hit the top of the hill I began to fly; the miles that were outside seven minutes in the first half of the run were now comfortably under seven minutes and edging closer to 06:30. After a couple of miles that were gently downhill the terrain became far more undulating, and on the Grantham Road – now deserted but showing all the signs of being a road of some significance, there were a couple of steep climbs that numbed the legs.

All the while I was religiously following the little black line on the Garmin, telling me exactly where I should be running and reminding me (All too frequently thanks to a little bug on the 910XT) that I was inches off course and then back on course. Another quirk of this flagship Garmin device is that when you are using the watch to guide you on a course, it is prone to infuriating delays in actually deciding which way you should be heading and even, on occasion, completely turning the device off whilst running. What makes this more galling is that the old faithful 305 had no problems with courses – a device that celebrates its tenth birthday next year and in some ways, like this, is superior to the best Garmin currently offers.

Moaning over, and I was running fairly well, with just the pelvis aching a bit and the top of the right foot aching where the tongue on the frees irritates (A shame as in every other respect these are my favourite trainers). At the end of the Grantham Road and when the Garmin finally refreshed itself to decide I should head straight over the main road and onto a dirt track which had signs quite clearly stating not suitable for motors. There was a certain irony then when on this mile long or so deeply pot holed track three cars passed me, the same number that had passed in the last seven miles.

Leaving the dirt track and I was on the road to Little Ponton, one I’m now very familiar with. I put the Garmin out of its misery and stopped the course mapping, which finally gave me a chance to look at the regular pages of data I have scrolling whilst running. It told me I was averaging 07:02 so I had a little work to do to achieve my target of breaking seven minute miling over the final four miles.

I was thirsty and tiring but the lure of the sub seven willed me on, made much easier once I was down the final steep hill (Which was really painful on the foot) and running through town. I came home having notched up 22.1 miles averaging 06:58 per mile. It meant I’d run 82 miles for the week, which is half a mile down on my record week set the week before Christmas last year. Not bad for one that I had intended to be a step down week.