Tuesday, 27 April 2010

"It's a hill. Get over it." Part II: Balmoral 10k Race Report

We didn't see the Queen, although I liked my son's idea that she might be seated - possibly on a throne - at the top of The Hill, graciously shaking hands with exhausted runners - "And what do you do?". Sadly, this proved not to be the case. Maybe next year.

Nearly 2,000 runners took place in the 2010 Balmoral 10k - possibly excluding those who may have been still trudging from the car park (or to be more precise, distant field) when the race kicked off at 2.30pm. (Unusually, it was on a Saturday afternoon, the culmination of a day's races which included primary and secondary school events, a 5k and a wheelchair race, all in the grounds of Balmoral Castle.) That car park, also known as distant field, seemed like miles away (probably because it was), and particularly as we were, inevitably, pushed for time thanks to a husband who is congenitally incapable of leaving the house without endless procrastination. Having to carry daughter for much of the way - thanks to a husband with a recent hernia operation - also didn't help me to arrive at the starting line bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. A last minute dash to the main area, an anxious queue for the Portaloos, and miraculously, I managed to be there on time - just.

Pre-race information had advised lining up for the start according to predicted finishing time, but I could barely see the markers, let alone squeeze through the crowds of runners to position myself appropriately. I think I finished up somewhere between the 50 and 55 minute markers, which seemed wildly over-optimistic, and indeed people poured past me for the first few minutes of the race (well, after the 2-3 minutes very slow shuffling to actually reach the start line).

The first few kilometres were uneventful enough. Some people overtook me. I overtook some (different) people. It drizzled a bit, but not much.The thought of The Hill loomed large in, I suspect, most people's minds and soon enough a sign proclaiming "Beware - Hill Ahead!" heralded its onset. In retrospect, I felt the sign could have been more positively phrased - "Hill Ahead - keep going!" or "Hill Ahead - you can beat it!" might have sent out a more encouraging message, since as it was, the mere sight of the alarming sign apparently caused some people to groan, admit defeat and start walking before the hill had even begun. I was determined not to be beaten, and I kept running, overtaking various walkers... for a couple of minutes and then I too admitted defeat and slowed to a walk. That hill was a beast. Everybody was walking. Even the few people I saw running weren't actually going significantly faster than the walkers. I did manage to keep up a reasonable walking pace and even broke into an occasional run, but there was something hugely demoralising about the sight of The Hill stretching on apparently endlessly (only 1.2k of it, apparently, but it felt more like 5 miles). Oh, and did I mention the mud? There was mud. At one stage it seemed like every step I took, I was actually sliding backwards again thanks to the mud.

Finally reaching the top (no royals, but there were pipers! Which was nice), I'd been expecting a pleasant long descent, but it didn't feel quite as delightful as I'd anticipated, as there were still flat and even short uphill stretches - well, that's what it felt like - before the final descent into Balmoral, with the castle again in view. By 5 miles, I felt completely exhausted. Bizarre how this keeps happening to me in races, when I know full well I can run further, faster, in training - maybe it's a psychological thing? Whatever, I was deeply ashamed to find myself walking short stretches of the final section, though invigorated by husband and daughter waving to me about 0.3 miles from the end (apparently daughter had been clapping and waving to all the runners!). Though much of the race was spectator-free, as we neared the end there were little gaggles of watchers clapping and calling encouragement, which was nice (except for the one who said "Come on, you can go faster than that!". Which may have been meant as encouragement, but didn't really help all that much.)

Finally, the finish line was in sight....

... and I have to say, I had no idea there were so many people so close to me, as I was in a little world of my own by then and was quite amazed when someone, probably the woman in the black, put on a spurt and overtook me right at the finish, thus depriving me of the glory of 1475th place (of 1877) overall and 547th woman (of 858).

Time was a deeply disappointing, if unsurprising given my general crapness, Personal Worst of 1:05:40 (chip time - overall finish time allowing for the shuffle to the start line was 1:08:09, but we'll draw a veil over that). 175th in the FV category - to put that in perspective, the fastest in the category was 40:41, and the slowest 1:44:35! So I guess I can comfort myself that I was closer to the fastest than the slowest.

Garmin info here....

Balmoral 10k by sheri3004 at Garmin Connect - Details

But hell, it was a good day out, a great race and I'll be back next year for another crack at that hill! Oh, and the bacon rolls in the cafe afterwards were a stroke of genius...

Monday, 19 April 2010

"It's a hill. Get over it."

When I first started running, hills scared me and I assiduously avoided them. Running on the flat was knackering enough, I thought, without attempting to defy gravity by running uphill. Eventually, however, I noticed that actually the dreaded hills couldn’t be ignored forever, and began to cautiously venture in an upward direction from time to time. The first (not large, not long) hill I tackled left me with an entirely new set of aches and pains the following day, but I’m gradually getting more used to them, even though every time I find myself near the bottom of a hill contemplating the hellish distance to the top, I remember afresh how much I absolutely hate running uphill. Needless to say, my speed also drops considerably on these occasions.

The reason I mention it is because this Saturday, I’m entered for the Balmoral 10k which includes a famous Killer Hill. Looking at the elevation profile on MapMyRun, it’s flattish for the first 1.5 miles, slightly uphill for half a mile, then steeply uphill from 2 to 2.5 miles. After that, it’s pretty much all downhill. Some comments from Runners’ World users: "Came to the hill, and it was HUGE!". "The hill is incredibly tough." "Unless you are a very experienced runner, nothing prepares you for the hill." And my particular favourite – "I will conquer that hill! Then I'll retire."

Hence, I’m not hoping for a particularly great time, given the reputed killerness of this hill and the extreme slowness of my hill running, even supposing I manage to run the damn thing at all, which seems distinctly unlikely, but hey, it’ll be a challenge.

This week’s running… had a few niggles in my left knee following a 10k run (in under 59 minutes!) on Tuesday, but it seems to have settled down. Rested on Wednesday and did a very, very easy three miles on Thursday and a slightly hilly 2.5 on Saturday. Sunday was an 8 - well, 8.09 to be precise, which I managed in 01:20:55, so pretty much exactly 10 minute miles, though splits tell a slightly different story, ranging from 09:37 to 11:08 (the first mile, and including A HILL).

Oh, I also remembered to use my heart rate monitor for this run. It isn’t helping much, though, as I haven’t yet really figured out what my maximum heart rate should be or what percentage of it I should be running at. My next project, maybe. But anyway, for the record, my average HR was 153bpm with a maximum of 164bpm.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Dear beautiful spring weather, I miss you. Was it something I said?

So, I decided to mix things up a bit this week. (Having previously said I was good at sticking to schedules, I’m not actually sticking to this one all that well.) Anyway, yesterday’s called for three miles easy, and Thursday’s for a 5-mile tempo run. I decided to swap these around and extend the tempo run a bit, with the aim of seeing if I could crack 10k in 1 hour, something I haven’t previously managed. Kind of a time trial sorta thing, I guess you could say. My plan was to run out and back along the railway line, this being a pretty flat route.

Plans nearly went astray when I clocked the weather, which was wet and very windy. It didn’t look appealing, and it did cross my mind to revert to the previously planned 3 miles and do them in the gym instead, leaving the 10k till Thursday. However, a brief respite from the rain and even an (even briefer) glimpse of the sun persuaded me to hit the outdoors, wearing my new blue long-sleeved top and a cap to keep the rain off. I did wonder if this had after all been such a great idea as I battled up the hill to the start of my planned route, against the gale which was blowing directly into my face. I also wondered how long my hat would stay on.

However, as I began my run, trying to maintain a pace around the 9:40 mark, I was pleased to note that the distance appeared to be passing quite quickly. Eventually, and to my dismay, I realised this was because I had somehow managed to accidentally switch the distance units on the Garmin from miles to kilometres. As pace was still in miles per minute, it took me a wee while to notice this. I would have noticed it sooner, except that I was running in the opposite direction along the railway line from my usual one, and I’m not so familiar with the landmarks along the route. Still, once I got over my disappointment at not having run as far as I thought I had, it seemed – given that I was doing 10k - not after all such an unreasonable idea to measure it in kilometres…

The wind continued and, rather embarrassingly, my hat did indeed blow off at one point and I had to run back to get it. Well, would’ve been embarrassing if there had been anyone around to witness, but evidently few other people were crazy enough to venture out. After about a mile and a half of the outward journey, I remembered why it may not have been such a great idea to run in this direction, viz. the massive puddles which appear on the path whenever it rains. Most of these were possible to hop over or rather muddily circumnavigate, but one in particular was more of a small lake than a puddle and could only be bypassed by wading through it. (Shades of “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt” – “we can’t go over it! we can’t go round it! we’ll have to go through it!”) New-ish trainers well and truly christened, all in the joyful knowledge that I would have to repeat the experience on the way back.

The weather cleared up a bit as I reached the halfway point, where the path crosses a main road, and with some relief turned around to begin the homeward journey. Still almost on target time-wise – first 5k in 30:07, so slightly over, but was hoping the wind being behind me on the way back would help. Which, apparently, it did, along with the rain stopping, my hat staying in place and the psychological benefit of being on the home straight. Fourth mile was in 9:43, so not great, but fifth was in 9:20 and sixth in 9:14, giving a total 10k (6.21 mile) time of 59:38. Yay!

1km 6:08 6:08
2km 12:01 5:53
3km 18:14 6:13
4km 24:18 6:04
5km 30:07 5:49
6km 36:16 6:09
7km 42:12 5:56
8km 47:54 5:42
9km 53:45 5:51
10km 59:38 5:53

Average mile pace: 9:35 Average km pace: 5:58

Average moving pace, however, was apparently 9:28 – and total moving time was 58:54, so it seems I lost 46 seconds somewhere along the line, what with hat rescuing, puddle navigation and what have you. I’m not going to claim 58:54, though. I’m happy enough with 59:38 – a sub-60 minute 10k at last! Admittedly it was on the flat, and the Balmoral 10k in a fortnight’s time involves a big hill, so not too hopeful of replicating my stunning feat there, but I do have high hopes for the (flat) Baker Hughes 10k in May...

Monday, 5 April 2010

Round and round, up and down, through the streets of your town.

I tend to lie in bed planning my running route for the next day. Well, it whiles away the time. Luckily for me, I live a hop, skip and a jump away from the very splendid Old Railway Line, which is quiet(ish), leafy, flat, traffic-free and goes on for miles, so you don't run out of it in a hurry. All my early runs (run-walks, to begin with) were done along here, as I wasn't brave enough to venture into the big bad world of pavements and roads and cars and scary stuff like that. It was also quite satisfying to measure my progress by how far I could get along the route, discovering exciting new things like trees and bridges and benches I had never seen before.

Incredibly, this did eventually start to get ever so slightly boring, splendid and convenient though the old railway line continues to be (and with definite possibilities for traffic-free longer runs), and with trepidation I began to venture out of the comfort zone. I was going to try to upload some routes on here, but given that they all begin and end at my house, it suddenly occurred to me that this might be a slightly stupid thing to do, although given the not-quite-accuracy of the Garmin in pinpointing location (cf. running through hedges and over tops of houses in last post) any crazed stalker, in the unlikely event of reading this blog and deciding on me as a target, would probably be staking out a house in the next street anyway.

All my non-railway line running so far has been on pavements in my local area, as stated, beginning and ending at my house. I'd love to try more off-road/trail running, but haven't yet worked out precisely where to go and how not to get lost in the process, although I know there are many excellent possibilities close at hand. A project for the summer, I think.

Anyway, fab 8-mile "long" run yesterday... fab for the second half, at least. It seems to take me a good 2-3 miles to get warmed up, and the first mile being uphill didn't help, taking me a disgraceful 12:27 - three minutes slower than my last mile! During the second mile, a streamlined female runner sped past me with casual ease, making me feel more of a plodder than ever. Once I got into my stride, however, I felt great and probably had a stupid grin on my face for much of the time - that's how much I was enjoying it.


1 00:12:27 1.00
2 00:10:34 1.00
3 00:10:49 1.00
4 00:09:43 1.00
5 00:10:16 1.00
6 00:09:49 1.00
7 00:09:51 1.00
8 00:09:19 1.00
9 00:00:50 0.10

Total time: 01:23:42 Total distance: 8.10 Average pace: 10:19

I was totally confident I'd beaten my previous 8 mile time from a couple of weeks ago (I know, I know, it's not about speed, but...), however much to my chagrin I was out by about 20 seconds, thanks to the lousy first mile. Having said that, previous 8 miles was in pre-Forerunner 405 days (the Age of the Footpod), so I can't be confident of entirely comparing like with like. Better just to start afresh, I think. Already looking forward to next weekend's 9 miles.

Friday, 2 April 2010

No need for speed

So, on with the training. I'm following a Smartcoach training programme for the half-marathon. I'm pretty good at sticking to training schedules, except for the Smartcoach pacing, which even to me seems very slow. I know, slow is (sometimes) good. But nearly 12-minute miles for easy and long runs feels almost unbearably slow.

I know running slow(er) is important for building endurance and kind of even know why. I even know this from my own experience - reducing the pace enables me to run much further. But despite knowing it, I still don't quite feel it. I still feel that every run at every distance should ideally be faster than the last run at that distance. I know this is stupid.

Anyway, yesterdays' scheduled run was so-called speedwork, which seems an ironic name given my slowness. Smartcoach called for 5 miles including 2 x 1600m (that's a mile, near enough - I have no idea why they mix miles and metres in this way. It just confuses me) at 9:39 pace. That's not fast. I thought I should manage it. Excitingly, this was only my second outdoor run (snow came back to haunt us for a couple of days) using my thrilling new toy, the Garmin Forerunner 405. For the uninitiated, this is an amazing gadget which enables you to track pace, distance and even exact location using GPS technology, and then upload it to your computer for happy hours of geekdom. Well, nearly exact location. Poring over the map of my route afterwards, I noticed that I was apparently running through hedges and over the tops of houses, which I'm fairly sure I wasn't. But, you know, it was close enough.

Now, I know there are ways of inserting Garmin data into the blog (I've seen it on loads of other blogs, so you can definitely do it). But I've never done it. Hang on....

I think that kind of worked, though I didn't mean to show the whole thing, and it's better on satellite than map, as I was running along the old railway line which isn't actually marked on the map. Clicking on satellite and zooming in on the red line will, however, show me running over the tops of houses on the outward journey, although, weirdly, along the path on the return leg. Definitely need to work on figuring this out a bit more.

Let's try splits.

1 10:14
2 8:58
3 9:39
4 9:59
5 9:23

Total: 48:14 (Avg pace 9:41)

As you can see, I did the second mile much faster than scheduled - this was partly due to not having quite figured out the settings on the Garmin. I had it set to auto scroll, which meant I had to keep looking back at my watch until the screen showing pace came round again, which made it difficult to monitor. Next time, I'll set the scrolling to off. Anyway, that mile actually felt pretty easy, but predictably enough I was then knackered and never again achieved the dizzy heights of 8:58/mile or indeed follow the scheduled pacings.

Run was actually, at 4.98 miles, just short of the planned 5, not that it matters. I would have carried on past my house purely in order to hear the beep on my Garmin and have a nice round 5-mile time, but when I reached home I noticed that my son's girlfriend was sitting outside in her car waiting for him (I don't know why he doesn't allow the poor girl into the house) and I was too embarrassed to run past her up the road for a few seconds and immediately turn back, as that would have made me look like an insane person, not to mention a beetroot-faced and sweating one, so 4.98 miles it was.