Monday, 24 August 2009

One Down - Eight to Go!

My 'Racing Season' is underway.

The race calendar calls for 9 races between August 23rd and November 29th and the first was safely completed yesterday - the Birchwood 10k in Cheshire - with a new PB to boot.

After the previous Sunday's fairly brisk 10 mile training run my confidence came back. After the holiday I'd worried that my legs were fatigued and that I'd put on a fair bit of weight but that run told me I was in good nick and the scales the following day told me the damage wasn't too bad.

As the week went on confidence grew. I did 7 miles with Abbey Runners on Tuesday evening, a run that included 2 miles where I took off from the 'steady group' on my own and felt 'fast'. The Garmin packed up after those miles but they measured at 7.20 and 7.29 minutes each; and after that I ran straight back including running broadly alongside a faster group back to the club. Whilst I'd have liked to see what the speed was for those miles too it all gave me confidence.

On Thursday early morning I did just over 8 miles at a steady pace. That felt tougher than expected but it was my long run for the week.

On Friday I weighed myself again. A couple of days before we went away I'd weighed 12st 1lb. Disappointing that I didn't get to 11st something but really good that I was under the Paris weight. The 5 course meals, and kitchen full of cheese, chocolate, biscuits, nut tart, ice cream, chocolate mousses, crisps etc seemed to have taken a toll - and it felt a heavy one - but when I'd got back I only seemed to have gained a manageable 3.8lb. That was a boost, but by Friday I was down to 12st 0.8lb - even lower than before we'd left. Another pre-race boost.

On Saturday I did a 3 mile run with Beth - her first run for over 3 weeks. That proved enlightening. We kept to a slow pace and by halfway she seemed ok, but after the break she soon started behaving as if it was all very difficult - her face was screwed up in a look of pain, her breathing was loud, she was coughing - but we kept going as I was sure it was all in her head. It was. With about 0.4 miles to go and with no prompting she speeded up very noticeably as the finish was more or less in sight. Ahead was a barge and I called that she might even catch it before we left the bridge so she speeded up greatly and blazed past it. As she turned to go up the short but steep bridge incline I could tell she really was tired this time and a few seconds later at the top of the slope I said lets just jog down the hill to the finish. I hope she learned alot from that - that her early exhaustion wasn't real - but her surge at the end was really good, something I'd not seen before from her.

So, to Birchwood.

I really didn't know what to expect. I last ran a 10k in November 2006, and barring Paris this year I hadn't ran in any races since. The PB from that race was 53.01 and I was certain I could demolish that but by how much?

The nearest guide was a few weeks ago when I did 47:50 along a Garmin measured out and back 10k along the canal. That suggested a target of under 48 minutes was reasonable but I was concerned that I had stopped for a minute or two at halfway to catch my breath, stretch and take water on (and let it out). It also included no hills bar a set of locks and had no runners in the way, but might all that be negated by the adrenaline of racing? I didn't know.

I decided it was a learning opportunity and set the new Garmin (hastily purchased in York as the old one succumbed to its long decline Saturday morning) to km intervals and gave myself the target of going under 5 minute kilometres (i.e. 8 minute miles). That felt a reasonable challenge to maintain but one that would get me past the 50 minute barrier - a target I'd set after Paris - and if I found I could go a few seconds below or could manage a sprint finish then all the better.

I felt nervy Sunday morning. I was fairly sure I could get under 50 minutes because of the 10k training time but had a nagging doubt about being able to keep the pace up without a break and was concerned that I didn't know what 8 minute miling felt like (as distinct from 7:30 or 8:30).

I did a 1.5 mile warm up and met up with Andy & Jo from Runners World - 2 fellow Paris veterans. Their company and my ad hoc stretching helped calm me down.

Before long we were underway. I'd started further back than I'd wanted and worried that weaving in and out of runners was slowing me down at the start but the first km flashed up on the watch at 4:42. Time to re-assess.

That gave me 18 seconds 'in the bank' and I felt the pace was ok. There was a risk I was going too fast and could blow up in the second half but I decided that if it felt ok I'd carry on at the same intensity of effort and if needs be hang on as best I could in the second half.

In a busy 10k there's alot to think about - keeping up pace, looking where the route goes, watching runners who pass you, finding passages past others - so I didn't do the fairly simple equation that I was running at 47 minute pace. If I had I'd probably have slowed down a fraction.

Instead I speeded up. The second mile flashed up at 4:35. Another 25 seconds in the bank so a decent cushion already established but I really did fear this was too much and slowed down just a little.

That worked well as kilometres 3, 4, and 5 flashed up at a beautifully even 4:46, 4:45 and 4:46. More in the bank and I still felt ok. I decided to try and speed up a fraction and the next 3 km also kept beautifully to an even pace - 4:38, 4:38, 4:39.

Then it started to get just a little more difficult. For the most part the course was flat but there were 3 longish hills where we ran onto bridges over the M62 and M6 and two of these were in that final section of the route - just when legs were feeling fatigued.

I slowed in the penultimate kilometre to 4:50. It was still comfortably under the initial target but was 11/12 seconds slower than those that had preceded it. It might have been worse but for the the benefit in the final 2km of battling another runner. He was older than me but had a similar cadence and speed and we passed each other several times.

With about 500m to go we both speeded up a fraction and with 400m to go turned onto a wide tree lined boulevard with a straight flat run to the finish. I speeded up noticeably, and it hurt. I even ran a couple of seconds with my eyes closed for some reason. I'm not sure if my rival entered the boulevard ahead of me or if he ran faster still and came from behind but I sensed we were suddenly in a tussle with him alongside and passing (or fighting back - its difficult to remember exactly)so I went for full all out sprinting.

I may not be the fastest distance runner but my kick is pretty decent and I finished the race a full 4 seconds ahead and promptly dropped to hands on knees with my chest burning from the effort.

The Garmin clocked at 46:34 (later rounded down on chip time to 46:33) and I was delighted with that. It equates to a marathon time of 3hr 33min and gives me confidence and a target for upcoming races as well as resulting in my finishing in the top 40% of a race for the first time.

Happy days.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Part deux

Continuing the summary of the holiday running, this time with week two:

Monday - No real leg pain on waking so...optimistic that a rest day and a light run have 'cured' me I head out for 4.0/4.5 gently undulating miles. Soon realise my legs still feel 'dead' (especially anterior tibialis) and turn round at 1.6miles; partly in recognition that my legs aren't good, partly as that spoils the enjoyment of the run a bit and partly in a bid to take particular care with a race less than 2 weeks away.

Tuesday - After yesterday's difficulties I opt for another rest day and we head off to our old holiday stomping ground of Puy L'eveque - a pleasant trip down memory lane.

Wednesday - Headed to the undulating valley bottom route but did it in reverse for the psychological boost: 4.57 miles done at an easy pace. Legs felt more springy. Off to Puy L'eveque & Tournon again afterwards.

Thursday - An early start for Domme market again hence a forced rest day, though it probably doesn't do me too much harm after last week.

Friday - Legs definitely feeling more sprightly so the reverse undulating route done again (4.67 miles). Pushed myself a little on the way out before taking it easier (without realising) for a couple of miles, then pushed hard for the last half mile. 8.10 average overall, so pretty pleased that I seem to be recovered.

Saturday - Up early again to run amongst the vineyards, sweetcorn and market gardens south of Bergerac. Series of unused backroads that were flat and easy. Slower than yesterday - deliberately so - and felt sluggish, but completed 5.64 miles with no problems. Breakfast and a quick swim afterwards then the flight back to Leeds.

Sunday - Planned to do 6 miles along the canal but left myself the option of doing up to 10 if I felt ok. Felt cold at first (14c & breezy) but got into a reasonable rythmn and ended up doing the 10 miles @ 8.14 a mile. Evidently in better shape then I'd thought - despite not having much to drink yesterday afternoon and evening and feeling the last 2 miles in my legs.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

And home again!

It seems an age ago that I did the run above Ilkley, but then it seems an age ago that I was running in the sunshine past Bergerac vineyards and that was only this morning!

Its been a strange but largely enjoyable couple of weeks in the Bouriane and my running exploits have followed that pattern.

Its 2 weeks worth so I'll just give a resumé day by day of week one for now:

Sunday - Travelled from Bergerac to the cottage near Concores, arriving early afternoon. Rest day after yesterday's run. Went to Gourdon for a rather rich and grand meal in the evening.

Monday - Plotted what looked (from the map) like a 6 mile run and completed that. In the event it proved to be 8.68 miles including 2.35 mile steep climb to the finish. Pleased to have seen a deer and equally pleased that the weather was dull. Had planned to take the climb easy - with breaks - but bravado of seeing Sue driving down to the boulangerie kept me running and I was pleased with that afterwards though it seemed bloody long at the time!

Tuesday - Legs a little tired/sore so planned what I hoped would be a flatish 4 miles after yesterday's climbs but proved to be 4.75 miles of descent into a valley then back out again - steep. Pleased that I found the long uphill easier despite it being brighter and warmer. Later found the climb/descent was the same as previous day's - just that I missed the 2 flatter/undulating sections that the former included! Felt pretty 'buff' when we headed to Saint Germain for dinner. In the afternoon I did a 3.5 mile hilly walk and saw another deer.

Wednesday - Legs still a bit sore/tired so as the week had started tougher than planned I hoped to do a 3 mile very easy run with Bethan down in the valley bottom by way of recovery ahead of a rest day. Beth made it clear running wasn't on her agenday for the holiday and Sue showed little inclination to join me so (on the back of the confidence of yesterday) did a 'normal' 4.11 miles in the valley bottom instead - undulating not flat. Went to the gardens at in the afternoon - again felt good - then a dissapointing meal at a Logis in the evening.

Thursday - Calves a bit tight/sore today but its a rest day. Went off to Domme market in the Dordogne. Great views, enjoyable day and bought a 'buff' to keep the sun off and to wear in winter.

Friday - Legs feel almost completely back to normal so decided to do the week's long run of about 12 miles by adding a loop onto Monday's route. Proved to be another long descent and climb that was added and it took about 5 miles before my legs felt accustomed to running again. On finishing climb it became clear the run wasn't going to get much above 11 miles so I added another undulating loop on and took it up to 14.01 miles - longest run since Paris. Felt very tired afterwards but not too bad.

Saturday - Calves very tight and sore. Outside of quads and glutes also a little sore - hamstrings abstaining from the grumbling though. 'Rest day' but I did a couple of walks totalling about 7 miles and worked my calves with the massage stick a number of times. Had a really nice meal at Peyrilles on our own in the evening.

Sunday - Found a genuinely flat stretch of road on which I could do an out and back of 3.02 miles. Legs feel absolutely shot. Calves and anterior tibialis especially. Lunch en masse at Peyrilles afterwards.

Week finished on 34.57 miles - highest ever mileage. Wasn't a very big increase on recent weeks though but the hills have really taken it out of me. No spring in my step and calves and AT still sore & tight - though glutes & hamstrings seem ok now.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

That's the cut back week done with and we're off for a fortnight in SW France this afternoon!

Been a good week though. Probably not from a weight perspective - after Thursday I decided to give up for a few days - but the running has been good.

Tuesday was a club run with a small break away group. It was in the rain and part road, part muddy field but by adding on a couple of miles on my own at the end I got it up to 7.3 miles. Wednesday & Friday saw 3 mile runs with Beth again - on Wednesday she did the 3 miles without a break and on Saturday broke her 3 mile record without really trying. Thursday I did an easy 5 miles and today I did a sort of fell run above Ilkley that worked out about 7.5 miles.

The latter was really good fun, so I'll blog it in detail for posterity.

The run started just above the slightly remote White Wells Spa (where Charles Darwin, amongst others, has taken to the icy waters) and then climbed steadilly for about 1.5 miles. For the most part this stretch was on a fairly new gravel track but after the first mile this gave way to a rocky, wet, muddy path where you needed to watch every footfall - a mental challenge as much as a physical one.

I stopped briefly to admire the view down into the Wharfe valley but as I was already amongst the mist and low clouds the view didn't stretch for far so I cracked on after a few seconds. From there I then climbed straight up a steep hillside to the left - muddy, with no obvious path through the wet bracken and heather. It was covered at no more than a breathless jog for around half a mile before levelling slightly onto a clearer mud path through the heather to the edge of an area of commercial pine forest.

The path through the forest was probably the most interesting - and challenging - section, despite it being straight and for the most part flat or downhill. Initially the problem was that the wide path was pure water and mud (it was raining steadilly and had been doing so for quite a few hours) and it wan nighon impossible to pick a route through it without going ankle deep at regular intervals.

That was just the start though. In the centre there was a section about 150m wide where all the trees had been cut down leaving a desolate post nuclear war landscape. Here the path became narrow and indistinct and far, far muddier. In some places branches had been layed across the mud to offer some sort of route over it but on one occassion I went through a branch and into peaty mud up to mid calf.

Then, after crossing a plank bridge I leapt into what looked like a muddy puddle and instantly found myself covered in mud. My leading (left) leg had dissapeared into the mud far above the knee causing me to lunge forward. It was all boggy enough that there was no risk of injury but my legs through to waist were black with mud which also splashed across my vest, arms and face. I gave out an instant hearty laugh. Partly the laugh of relief we give when we fall and find ourselves unhurt but partly becasue it was fun! Besides which I was pleased that in that state I looked a hardcore runner!

The final stage of the forest was equally muddy but very, very dark, like a long tunnel within densely packed looming pines, before I emerged abruptly onto open moorland.

Here the path was pretty non existent and I hurtled downhill through the heather, every footfall a mystery, before emerging onto a single track road a little way downhill of where I'd intended.

I then followed the road back uphill for a steep 3/4 of a mile before it stopped by some radio masts on the increasingly misty moor. Beyond a gate the road was relaced by a wide track of gravel, sand, rock and puddles which gave an opportunity to run downhill and on the flat in a more controlled manner. I was soon presented with a good view over Ilkley again and realised I was virtually back at the car so headed back 50yds to a path I'd seen on the left assuming (wrongly) that this was the one I intended to take to add an extra loop on to take me to 6 miles.

I'm not certain this was a path as it climbed and then descended via a series of miniture gullies (at the time I though they looked like they were set up for a muddy first world war re-enactment by midgets) where the dense bracken hid large boulders that provided the need for sudden changes of direction in the downhill bits. Eventually I met the initial gravel path I'd set out on and ran the last 3/4 of a mile at speed down the easy downhill.

Covered in mud, with legs far more tired than the distance or slow average pace might have suggested I had absolutely loved it!