Victoria Park Half 2018: New PB.

If I had to name my worst races ever, then the Victoria Park half in March 2016 would definitely be up there. I was on antibiotics at the time for an infected blister on my toe and they had really messed up my gut. I thought I was going to have to drop out for the majority of the race, there were many toilet stops and many negative thoughts but I somehow got round- I think it’s my slowest ever half though not including trail ones.

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So when I found out my brother was signed up to do the race this weekend, I have no idea why I was so keen to join. The race has no big pull being 6.5 laps, but maybe I felt I had a little unfinished business. I got to the start super early and it was utterly freezing so I was delighted to get moving after about 40 minutes of standing in the cold. The first mile clicked over in just over 8.30 pace which I was surprised at as I felt we were moving much slower and I felt very comfortable.

The half marathon started about 30 minutes before the 5k and 10k, so it was never crazy busy on the course but there was always plenty of others around on each lap especially the middle few. Having done the race before I knew to keep track of how many laps as I had done as it can get quite confusing especially if you don’t have a GPS to know how many miles you have done.

I ran with my brother and we spent the whole time chatting, spotting dogs (4 dachshunds!!) and looking out for our cheering crew who deserve medals for standing in the cold for 2 hours. I warmed up very quickly once we got going, and although it got a bit windier later on in the race I would say it was perfect running conditions.

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The miles were ticking over, and my miles seemed to hover consistently between 8.30-8.40, again I was surprised at how comfortable this felt, especially as I had had a heavy training week and my legs had felt pretty shit since being ill over New Year.

I had a medjool date between miles 7-9 for a little energy boost, and I had my hydration pack so I felt well hydrated the whole way. As a side note the amount of plastic bottles used in races is appalling, even a small race like this produced a horrifying amount of plastic waste. I wish more races would follow CenturionĀ  and get rid of plastic bottles/cups. Bringing your own cup to fill up on route or carrying your own flasks or hydration pack should be the rule and not the exception. Rant over.

I was surprised by how good I felt around mile 9 and I felt I was running well within myself and that I had never felt that strong towards the end of a race before. Usually I go out too hard and then the wheels come off at the end, but not today, I had a lot left in the tank.

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We had started to slow slightly from mile 9 onwards, and at mile 12 I realised I was quite close to PB and my brother wanted to slow down a bit, so I went off ahead and told him to stick behind me. The last 2 miles were my fastest of the day- I can’t believe I ran a sub 8 minute mile for the last mile and a bit of a half- and for the first time I actually felt like I was working hard. I finished in 1.53.09 which was surprisingly a PB of over a minute, which I was really chuffed with considering how easy it had felt and how much talking we had done the whole way round. It was also a 10k PB as I haven’t done one in about 4 years. It will be interesting to do a half when I actually have trained for one as I feel I can go a lot quicker and I’m still very early on in my long distance training for the year.

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I hung around for a little bit to chat and then I headed off on the canal for my extra 4 miles of my training run. I didn’t want to do the miles before and stand around in the cold getting stiff and I’m kind of glad I didn’t as I don’t think it would have been a PB either. I took the wrong canal path and ended up totally lost in Stratford and Bow, but discovered a new running path and eventually got to where I was going.

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This race has gone way up in my estimation after 2016. Yes it is still 6.5 laps, but I think if you have someone to do it with it ticks by pretty quickly. It’s great mental training too, if you can do 6+ laps of a course I think it prepares you for other challenges ahead and makes you a stronger runner mentally. It’s a fairly small but well organised set up, there were ample portaloos, race pack pick up was quick and easy and you get a decent medal for 20 quid too.

A PB is always a good place to start the year, hopefully onwards and upwards.

December Streaking

2018 has not started with a bang as I’ve been struck down with a horrible cold- I was tucked up in bed by 8pm on NYE and recovering most of NYD. Bit of a sad way to end the festive period, but I’ve had a great December- I love the festive season, and have spent a few weeks in Wales with family and it’s been so nice and chilled.

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December is the time for my annual festive run streak. This was my fourth year of advent running and 5th Marcothon where I attempted to run at least 5k everyday and I am happy to report that I completed my goal. I always find it a really good way to get back base running fitness and head into the new year feeling fit and ready to hit training in a good place.

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Dec 1st-10th: I eased into the run streak with lots of runs around the 5k marker, to get my body used to daily running again. I did a long run over the weekend including a parkrun and I was so late for the start that everyone was running into the distance as I arrived at Southwark park, still it made for a fun run trying to chase people down throughout the run. I also had to do my only treadmill run of the challenge as it was way too icy/snowy to run outside. Most of December has just been very wet especially it Wales so it hasn’t been too challenging to get the runs in.

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Dec 11th-17th: I upped the mileage across this week as I started my “official” training program for 2018 races. I started to add back in speed sessions and hill sessions which I haven’t done in ages, I am loosely following Hanson’s marathon method again and adapting it a little for longer distance goals. I haven’t run hills in about 8 months so I was a little rusty! I ended up being on time for parkrun this weekend but didn’t realise it was cancelled until I got there- I jogged round it anyway and then home for another 10 miles in the bag to round out this week.

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Dec 18th-24th: I continued with the higher mileage and sessions in the pre-Christmas week. I was back in Wales so enjoyed running somewhere different and got in a pre-Christmas parkrun during my long run this week. I feel like so many runs were in the rain during my time in Wales, it was very very soggy.

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Dec 25th-31st: There was a brilliant turn out for festive parkrun in Cardiff with over 600 people there on Christmas morning, it’s always such a great way to kick off the festive season. More speed sessions and a killer hill session filled this week and I ended it with a long back to back session with a 15 miler including Cardiff parkrun, this was my longest run for over 3 months since the marathon. The streak ended with a heavy legged 10 miler the day after (New Years Eve) and then I fell sick that evening so the streak ended heading into 2018 but it was good while it lasted. I feel in a really good running place and looking forward to what 2018 will bring.

December 2017: 182 Miles in 31 days, 12 gym sessions and 2 yoga classes.

Val Nolasco Half Marathon O’ahu Hawaii 2017

I had arrived in San Francisco on the Thursday evening, spent two days there with the other half who had already been there for a few days for a work conference, and on Saturday we flew to O’ahu Hawaii. It seemed like a brilliant idea to sign up for a race which happened to be on while we there, and thankfully I was still jet lagged as hell and not on Pacific time as it made the 4am wake up call a lot less painful on our first full day in Hawaii.

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The night before we had arrived to an absolute monsoon, our mobiles kept getting emergency flash flood messages sent to them, which I’ve never experienced before. Anyway, it ruined our dinner plans, and we ended up in a ramen place where I can only describe the food as inedible- after picking at a bit of rice, we went to the supermarket and picked up some snacks for an in-room picnic, not the ideal half marathon prep.

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The start in Kapiolani park was about 15 mins walk from our hotel, so we set off in the dark to the start where we picked up our timing chips and waited for the race to get under way. Thank god the race started at 5.30am (an hour before sunrise) as it was already 23 degrees and extremely humid.

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This was Nick’s first race, and we ran it side by side, I let him set the pace and push when he felt good. It was completely dark for most of the first half, so we couldn’t actually see the ocean, or most of the scenic views. There were police officers marshaling and closing off the roads along the route. There were water stations every couple of miles, most of which we poured over our selves rather than drinking.

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There was a little more elevation than I expected as we wound round the outside of Diamond Head crater- thankfully not up it though. From about mile 3 onwards, Nick started to go a bit faster, and I was finding it really tough going but we stuck together. We maintained a steady pace as we headed into a long out and back on a highway between miles 5-9, this is where we ran past Zoe who I had no idea was in Hawaii, or running the same race as I had deleted social media for the trip- small world!

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This section was a bit of a soul sucker, though the occasional mizzle shower provided welcome relief and there was at least something to look at with the other runners heading the other way. It was light by this point, though the sights weren’t all that scenic most of the time. My personal highlight was seeing a wire-haired dachshund at mile 9, the same dog we have, they aren’t all that common so it made my day.

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We had to really start slowing down for the last 3 miles and just try and hold on for the finish. There was a little more incline and it was so hot by this point we just wanted to finish. We went past some very nice neighborhoods and properties and before long we were winding back round the park and towards the finish with a little kick at the end to make it in under 2.05. Not bad for a hot, hilly half and especially not for your first-and last-half marathon on your home island for Nick.

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Hawaii was an incredible trip, and this was a brilliant way to kick-start our holiday.

Hanson’s Marathon Method: The Verdict.

Over the last four months I followed the Hanson’s marathon beginner plan in order to have a crack at a sub-4 marathon. Though I didn’t quite achieve my goal-running 4.02 at Richmond marathon-I did get a 13 minute PB so I do think the program was effective and did it’s job. I thought I would round up my thoughts on the program in general and whether I would recommend it or follow it again.

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I chose the beginner Hanson’s plan rather than the advanced as I was only recently coming off ultra training so I had a decent base, but wanted a few extra weeks of lower mileage and chilled running before starting the serious training. The advanced plan starts speed work from the off and has higher mileage throughout whereas the beginner has a few weeks at the beginning of building base mileage.

I was really happy with how training went and I felt strong throughout. I never had an injury (thanks strength training), though I was sick twice and also had to go on antibiotics for a really bad insect bite. I only missed 5 sessions of the plan out of around 91 which wasn’t bad, it was just unfortunate that I got totally wiped out by gastroenteritis the week before the race, had this happened earlier in the plan I probably would have been able to recover and build myself up a bit more before the race.

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I have increased my mileage gradually over the 7+ years of running I have under my belt. I started out running out a few times a week, and have built to where my body is able to cope with the demands of running 6 times a week and 50+ miles for weeks on end without too much trouble. I do not think this is a beginners marathon plan, but something for a more experienced runner who is already used to the demands of higher mileage. The plan is also very time consuming, so if you have a very busy job/lifestyle it might be difficult to follow it, I have a flexible job so was luckily able to stick to the plan. It was the first time I’ve ever consistently run 6 times a week, and actually you do get used to it, it just becomes part of your daily routine. I also never got to the point where I was fed up or dreading going out for a run like I have done at certain points when training in the past.

I never felt drained or tired through the program, despite running more than I have ever done before, and doing 3 sessions of mileage in double figures each week, all of which were quality sessions (tempo, speed, long) done at specific paces. In the past had I done a few shorter runs through the week, and then a 20 miler at the weekend, that would wipe me out for that day and the days following, but I felt much better spreading the mileage across the week. I usually take drop back weeks every 3 weeks when training, and though the Hanson’s plan never had any, I never felt overly fatigued or like I needed a rest week. Rest days became absolutely sacred though, I have never looked forward to a day as much as Wednesday rest day.

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I really enjoyed the tempo and speed/strength sessions. As someone who has never really done any speed work before, when I looked at the first session and it said 12 x 400m I was slightly terrified, but as the weeks went on I really started to enjoy these workouts, and could see the hard work paying off. There was no specific hill training on the plan, which was fine as my marathon was fairly flat, but I tried to incorporate as many hills as possible across my runs especially on easy days. I also did all none of my speed/tempo work on the track, which made the runs more challenging but I think was of benefit.

I do think not doing more than 16 miles in training, makes 26m seem like a really big jump. I faded badly during the last 6-8 miles on race day, which partly was down to poor hydration and probably the illness the week before, but also I think due to the fact that an extra 10 miles is actually quite a lot. I would maybe do one 18 miler rather than one of the 16’s if I were to follow the beginner plan again, just so it doesn’t seem like quite such a big jump, and also so I’m used to being on my feet for a bit longer.

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I didn’t race at all in training, other than a half marathon on the NDW for fun early in the plan. I probably would have raced a half a month or so out from the marathon were I to do it again, just to have a test run of things and see where my fitness was at. I also missed doing faster parkruns, as I often used these as part of my long run, so I’m looking forward to trying to get some speed back in the legs.

I did strength training (push, pull, legs), three times a week throughout the plan, and managed to figure out a routine where I kept my legs fresh for the sessions. I would stay away from training legs the day before any quality session, and I would often do my weight training on the days of harder sessions which was a lot of training once they got up to over 10 miles, but meant I could take the easy days easy.

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The plan got me a 13 minute PB which is nothing to be sniffed at, although I was 2 minutes over the time I wanted, on a different course, on a different day I may well have hit that goal. I had worked out my goal pace and I needed to stay around 9.00mm to hit 3.55, and 9.09mm worst case to run sub 4. However, trying to stick to set targets doesn’t take into account weaving, and course length, so though my overall pace was 9.05mm which is sub-4 pace, I didn’t get my “official” sub 4 because I ran 26.6m nearly half a mile extra, so I think I need to factor this into my race strategy for next time- you live and learn.

Taking into account how much I enjoyed the plan, and how strong I felt throughout the training, I would say it was worth it and I would do it again. Maybe I would look at doing the advanced plan next time, and hopefully that will bring me my sub-4 goal!

Richmond Runfest Marathon 2017

If you have read any of my recent posts you will know I have been following the Hanson’s marathon method beginner plan for the last few months in order to have a crack at running a sub-4, my goal race was Richmond marathon yesterday and this is how it went.

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Getting to Kew for an 8am start meant leaving at 6.20am so it was early morning, but the journey was fairly pain free, I arrived about 20 minutes before the start, and there were no queues for the ladies toilets and I was straight into the start pen. I think around 800 people finished the full marathon so even at the start it never felt too crowded, especially as the paths in Kew were nice and wide, by the end of the race we were thinly spread out though started to mix in with some of the half marathon runners towards the end who started an hour after us.

The first 4 miles looped around Kew Gardens which was pretty cool, I had never been inside before, so it was nice to have a look while running around. I settled into a comfortable pace wanting to keep my miles around 8.58-9.00mm pace, it’s hard not to get sucked in to the enthusiasm at the start though so some of my miles were probably a bit quicker than they should have been. I felt good, the weather conditions were perfect and I was just trying to focus on each hour individually.

After 4 miles we were out onto the towpath, I forgot how uneven the surface isĀ  so I really had to concentrate on where I was placing my feet. I had run quite a few parts of the race in previous races (Thames Meander marathon, Richmond half, London 2 Brighton ultra) so I was familiar with a lot of these sections as we wound round the towpath and towards Richmond bridge.

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After the first hour I had my first fuel- a 33shake chia gel- and I was trying to sip water every few miles from my hydration pack (clearly not enough though as when I got home I realised I had only drunk 500ml of fluid during the entire 4 hours- probably explains the fading later on).

I tried to focus on maintaining my pace during the second hour, I still felt comfortable and the miles were ticking by as we ran through Teddington and Kingston. After 12 miles we crossed a bridge over the river which I didn’t realise we were going to do, and we got onto probably the busiest section of the route, with a lot of bikes and people on the Thames Path as we headed towards the turn around point at Hampton Court Palace after 15 miles- this was another place I’ve never been so was cool to see. I had another 33shake gel and was still feeling good and the miles were still ticking by at just under 9.00mm pace. My hip was a little sore on this section which I think was due to the mixed terrain and unevenness of the towpath.

The next section was on a parallel part of the towpath to which we had headed out on, but it was really boggy and I spent most of the next few miles mud and puddle dodging, this is where my pace started to slow a bit but I was fine with it as I knew it was because of the conditions underfoot. I had a medjool date at this point for a little energy boost. After 18 miles we crossed back over the bridge into Kingston. For a race mostly along the towpath, it was definitely not flat- I think there was about 600ft+ of elevation which isn’t a crazy amount but I’ve certainly run flatter marathons.

In the next few miles there was a lot of little loopy parts and switch backs and by the end it was starting to do my head in as we kept looping past bits we had already done. From 19 miles on I really started to struggle, and though I was trying to maintain my pace, I was getting slower and slower, and I just had nothing in the tank. By mile 21 I had slowed to 9.26mm pace, and I couldn’t go any faster. I had a nakd bar through the next few miles, and tried to drink more as I was so thirsty, but I think it was too little too late.

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I could feel my sub-4 goal slipping through my fingers. My strava audio announcements had been pretty even with the mile markers the entire way, but by the time the mile 22 sign arrived, my strava was registering half a mile extra, meaning I had somehow run extra on the race course, and wasn’t likely to make my goal factoring in this extra distance. I started to feel a bit negative, which was then compounded as the sub-4 pacer came past me with 2.5 miles to go, and I had absolutely nothing left to be able to go with him.

I was really having to grit my teeth, and it took a lot not to stop and walk at this point. We wound through Ham towards the Old Deer Park, and when my Strava was on 26 miles before we had even got into the Old Deer Park I knew my goal was over. The last section was a horrible loopy bit on the fields, but near the finish straight I saw my other half and puppy Baxter and this killed any negativity, I took the dog and he ran me down the finish straight. Home to finish in 4.02.14. So close to my goal, but yet so far, though I did run 26.6m, so technically my 26.2 time was sub 4, but obviously I wouldn’t count it as such.

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The positives are that I ran a 13 minute PB, I had a great race up to about 20 miles, and considering I was so ill the week before I think it wasn’t a bad result. There are so many variables in marathon running, and a lot were on my side yesterday which I why I really felt like I had the sub-4 in me. Perhaps with better hydration, or on a flatter road course I would have nailed it, but it’s hard to say. Would the race have been different if I had gone out 5-10 seconds slower per mile in the first half, or drunk more fluid- who knows.

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The race was really well organised, there was a nice friendly atmosphere, a great medal/t-shirt and good finish zone area too. I’ll do a post on my final thought on Hanson’s plan, but now it’s time to recover, and eat all the food.