Friday, June 30, 2017

Three 5k races in a week

After being a lone wolf runner since the start of my 'running career' I have now embraced the world of club running in joining the Pegasus Running Club here in Cardiff. This combined with helping out my wife at an aquathlon led to three 5k race events in a smudge over one week (!!), which is almost unheard of in my running.

In the end I ran these 3 events (in reverse order) :

29-6-2017 Parc Bryn Bach Aquathlon event 2 (run leg) - 00:26:06   [GPS watch time]
Event website
The Parc Bryn Bach Aquathlon series provides fast flat racing as well as an introduction to open water and multi-discipline events, in a fun and friendly environment. Our values are to provide a local, friendly race mid-week for people to use as good training and race practice.
Description 'borrowed. from the organisers Newport East Wales Triathlon (NEWT) 

28-6-2017 'The Chase' 5k Cardiff - 00:25:20  * new PB *  
Event website
The event is a type of Handicap with 2 start times. All the Ladies will start at 7.30pm and all the Men starting at approx 7.32pm with the intention of the first Lady and first Man finishing at approximately the same time. 
Put on by Cardiff Running Events
Photo credit - Luke Heslop (Cardiff running event photographer extraordinaire, and fine runner)   

21-6-2017 SSAFA Road Race Series 2, Cardiff - 00:26:01
Event Website
SSAFA is a charity that was formerly (or perhaps is more fully) known as the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, is a UK charity that provides lifelong support to serving men and women and veterans from the British Armed Forces and their families or dependents [credit -].

It has to be said I am extremely pleased with how the sequence turned out, with a event timed run PB (I have run very slightly faster within Parkruns timed on my own watch) and two strong times either side of it. It has to be pointed out that the heat at the SSAFA event was high (in the middle of the UKs June mini heat wave) and that without the temperature I reckon that would have been the quickest of the three.

Life as a Pegasus Running Club member is proving to be brilliant, in the two club events I ran with two different Pegs as a pacing strategy and thoroughly enjoyed the support / banter / camaraderie. The single issue I have with it is getting beyond my lone wolf runner mentality of 'turn up, run, go home' and get used to taking extra kit along so that I can make a habit of attending the post race socials. So far, because I am unfortunately a very sweaty runner, the thought of hanging about stinking the pub out with my perspiration has put me off of having a slow pint of cold beer with the club posse.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Balancing the balance

Every website, and their subscriber, on lifestyle / fitness will at some point start to describe how to can achieve balance. I, however, can't provide a definition of my own, or a formula, or a roadmap 10 point list, to achieving balance. I can however point out some observations from my experience that might, or indeed might not, illuminate a small corner of the subject.

The first and most important observation is to me an obvious one, and one that is often overlooked in the name of compelling content or salesperson-ship... we are all different. And with that said though we can put ourselves into associations or groups that can provide direction in how best to achieve some balance... the early risers, the late night work fiends, the long slow eaters, the grazing snackers, the all day I dreamers, the all day I doers. So the art of balance starts first in identifying, well, you. What is it that makes you move and gets you started? There is little point subscribing to a fitness regimen that expounds "get your workout done before breakfast!" if you have never ever functioned well before 11am. Similarly there is perhaps little point joining a club in the evenings if you get up before everyone else and have pretty much completed your day by mid-afternoon.

So behind my punchy little blogpost title is this message... in identifying a way of balancing your life look at systems, training groups, session timetables, meal plans, team sports, etc. that fit your own physical / psychological balance, your basic make-up. Going against your own innate tendencies will only make you unhappy with your efforts, much less likely to stick with them, and ultimately further out of balance than when you started.

One final caveat is to look at your balance over time and reassess now and then. I had a whole different balance and pattern to my days during my University degree than I do now as a working, married, father of two busy kids. Balance is fluid through life's path, but try to identify patterns in order to work with them rather than in opposition to them. I absolutely can not claim to have found a perfect Zen like balance (and frankly who but a full time Zen practitioner genuinely can), but I have found things that work for me over different periods of time.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Milton Keynes Half marathon 2016 - my race review

Crickey, I just found this lurking in my drafts folder. Given that Milton Keynes 2017 is not far away I thought I had better fling this out there before I end up over a year out of date...

My race review (Monday 2nd May 2016)

General impressions -
Course: 8/10 - simple, quick, well sign-posted and marshalled. Couple of sections where the footing was a bit rough moving between road and park land paths.
Marshalling: 9/10 - great, cheery and friendly team. Though not particularly evident around the start area which seemed a little odd given the congestion.
Facilities: 8/10 - The stadium facilities are great. Though I did have to play hunt the shortest bathroom queue a couple of times, which is tricky when they are spread around the perimeter of the stands.
Organisation: 9/10 - I didn't enjoy the lack of marshalling in the start zones, but the overall experience from sign up to finish line is very well done. The team clearly benefit from the experience of becoming a calendar regular.
Crowd / support: 8/10 - always an enthusiastic and supportive crowd in Milton Keynes. Even the car drivers put out by road closures were relatively jolly, or at least that was what I told myself as I smiled and waved a "thank you" to them.
My effort: 10/10 - I could not fault my effort on the day (I could fault my pre-race training), my pacing was spot on and I was realistic about my target.

Half-marathon #11
How my run went: 
"It went really well, curbed my enthusiasm at the start, enjoyed the middle, and only really entered the hurt locker for the last 2km. Time not stellar but a good improvement on four weeks ago. The half marathon course at least was definitely an improvement on past years - only two major underpasses that I remember, and no gradients that went on long enough or were steep enough to cause much discomfort."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Small steps = many steps

Small steps are required to build anything and in my case the small increments towards getting back to running a 'good' marathon really are small. I am walking and moving a lot more than I was and feeling the benefit. In getting my day to day activity back on track I have had to make sure that I don't cram on top of it a mass of run (or any other) training sessions. It is very much that case that in the past I started a running training programme at the same time as massively increasing my daily activity levels - walking every staircase, walking to work, doing extra bits and pieces every which way leading to 'burn out'. So for now I am laying lots of small steps down in order to ensure that a training plan will have a better chance of injury free success, and it is taking patience.
Instagram photos from the last couple of productive weeks
So what are the many steps? Well in a quick list they are:

  1. shedding some timber - losing unnecessary fat mass, which is going well having lost 7 lb in the last two weeks - there is no point training hard and losing weight at the same time it is too much stress on the body and in my experience that way deep fatigue and illness lie. Giving up chocolate and cheese for lent has certainly helped hugely (!).
  2. walking in lieu of run sessions - building time on my feet to strengthen my musculoskeletal system gradually. Over time I will convert some to runs and mix them up.
  3. joining a running group / club - I have tried out one (Maindy Harriers Running Club) and try another one tonight (Pegasus Running Club) . It looks like I'm being choosy but there are several good groups nearby and each have different pros and cons, both groups have been incredibly kind when I have approached them. This time next week I hope to have settled upon one and 'signed up'.
  4. laying off my marathon ambitions to next year - I will still run one or two this year but for the fun and not for goals.
  5. finding variety - backing up recent swimming classes with some semi-regular swims.
  6. enjoying and not 'racing' parkrun 5k runs.
  7. relaxing - giving myself permission to be flexible and not tied to a fixed programme for the time being.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Running slow... really slow

I have run a lot and I have hurt a lot this year, I started the year with some monumental ideas and a training plan that took an age to craft but then I got injured. And so goes the story for so many runners, and moreover so goes the story for me on a pretty regular basis (you won't have to click too far back in this blog for proof of that).

So 2016 sucked, it sucked real bad! No, I am not about to launch into how many idols died, or start on about geo-political shifts... it was for me at a fundamental level awful. I now weigh more than I have in years, so much so that my body is hurting from the burden, and any life / work / activity balance has gone up in smoke. Hence a New Year uber-plan that went so spectacularly wrong, and looking at it in the cool light of reflection I know exactly why - I did not go slow, so now I have to go really slow.

I started out on the plan as if I had been running decent miles already (which I hadn't), it presumed fitness would return overnight (which it didn't), it assumed that I would see issues coming and fix them before any damage was done (which I didn't). Seeing as I have read so many running books and magazines which explain frequently about returning to running, the importance of incremental adaptation, the crucial need to take accurate stock of where you are in life before you start a running program of any kind, you'd think I might have avoided this phenomenon? No!

Looking at my 'running' now I have to slow done, so much so, in fact I have to... walk. I am trying to steadily increase my very basic fitness, upping my day to day walking, stairs climbed, and better food volume choices. Happily I am enjoying walking and have taken several 'power' walks in the last week or so. The other part of this approach is not running fast, I have now completed two parkruns staying deliberately within zone 2 aerobic heart rate, reasoning that if I run fast this heavy I it won't be a case of if I get injured but when.

All of this means that this years late spring marathon will now be a stepping stone to 2018, when I hope to be firmly back on track with running and a whole lot of other things.

Monday, November 07, 2016

A toe in the water - wherein I learn to swim (again)

Four weeks ago I literally took the plunge and took up an adult swimming class after quite some period of hmm'ing and haw'ing. Now at this early point my vanity feels the need to point out that I can swim, I was blessed to have had the opportunity to learn in school and even spent what felt like an age treading water in a pair of pyjamas as a test of the ability to 'survive' falling in water fully clothed! My swimming, then and since, consists of breast-stroke and not a great deal else. Front-crawl, or freestyle swimming, was always a mystery to me and I never completed any more than 25m without having to stop have a coughing fit, put large volumes of the pool back in its proper place, and catch my breath.

So my reasons for joining a class were more about improvement, and essentially so that I could keep up with my children and wife who are all 'regulars'. My notion was that if I learned to know what I was talking about with the different strokes then I would be able to engage with and encourage the kids even more than I already do. My wife is not perhaps entirely keen as it might look like I am trying to cross into something that is very much her thing, but I have promised that once I deem myself proficient I will stop classes and use it only as an aid to my running training (my friendly neighbourhood physiotherapist keeps insisting swimming will do me the power of good - and to be fair so far it looks like he knows his stuff).

So I have been going along on Thursday evenings to the Cardiff International Pool adult swimming lessons and experiencing into a whole new exercise world. It has been hard from a point of view of base fitness particularly was in the first week I swam easily more front crawl than I have in the whole rest of my life previously. The atmosphere is great, we are all newbies together, and the coaching team are super experienced and moreover good fun. After four weeks I can't say that I love front crawl yet, but I am getting there. My biggest challenge has been explaining why I am pretty proficient at all the other strokes, though this now is a source of humour as I get gently teased about it each week.

As a new challenge it is fantastic, and I certainly see the sport from a whole new angle. Even though I have sat on the side watching my kids classes for the past three years or so it isn't the same as getting in the water and experiencing the process. Six more weeks to go in this block of lessons, and I think I will need perhaps one more block to get to where I want to be... but I guess we'll just see.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The marathon that is coming back, though not just yet...

So there was a lot of noise around the return of the Cardiff marathon next spring with an announcement by Run 4 Wales on the day of the recent Cardiff Half marathon. Over the days after there was a call for a register of interested runner which I duly signed up to, and anticipation built. Groups of runners were getting their teeth into the idea, parkrunners feverishly chatting about the route on facebook, and charity runners getting excited about a marathon on their doorstep after London marathon rejection letters began hitting postboxes.

Image result for cardiff half
2015 Cardiff half - Gareth James
For me it sounded brilliant as I was one of those turned down by the London marathon ballot (I am losing count of my 10+ rejections), and hoped it would be a 'no-brainer' replacement as a spring marathon... and then the news broke... not the new route, not date of the race... an announcement that unfortunately they couldn't square away the organisation of the event for 2017, but hoped to get the permissions in place for 2018. 2018 sounded all the sweeter for the suggestion that the great run series team may be involved in creating a Cardiff and Vale marathon.

I ripped up my rapidly forming plans, and I am now looking for that spring 2017 target. Beyond 13.1 miles would be great, but at the moment it is looking like more of the 'short' stuff going into 2017.

2016 despite its rollercoaster of fitness and emotional lows has been the year when I managed to complete the most half marathons in a calendar year, so perhaps I shall just stick with those and build another year around them adding in some other events. Thus, my 2017 plan is still incubating and when it is hatched I shall share it.