Half Marathons

My post before last (here) was written just after missing out on free entry to the Reading Half Marathon via Running Heroes. I managed to get that free entry anyhow, and as a result I ran the Bath and Reading half marathons on consecutive weeks thanks to Running Heroes – only paying the train fare to each (both being different directions along the Great Western Railway from me).

As well as being struck by chopping ten minutes off my usual half marathon time to record two times just over an hour and thirty five minutes, I remembered something that’s probably fairly unique to the Reading half, from the previous year.

At the start, you’re bombarded my music everywhere (which is great), but almost as soon as you start, you cross the line, the music fades into the distance behind you, and there’s nothing to replace it for the first two kilometres, until you get out of Green Park and back into “normal” Reading.

And it’s just the sound of hundreds and hundreds of feet pounding the road surface – not quite glorious silence, but a different type of noise, strangely peaceful in its constancy.

Once through those first couple of kms, you’re into Reading itself, with the almost constant support throughout the remaining 19 or so kms, the nightclub noise on London Street, the Christian worship bands on Hartland Road and the steel drummers beneath the A329 flyover by the Oracle centre. As it goes through my workplace, the University of Reading, I’m starting to see this as something of my “home” race of sorts. We’ll see about the 2018 variant in good time…

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Milestones

Or kilometre-stones, perhaps. I’ve been looking at endless Tweets from Peter Hitchens on the rather pointless debate about imperial vs metric measures. For whatever reason, I like measuring runs in kms, maybe because they go by faster. Maybe also since 5k and 10k are such focal point distances.

Either way, I’ve noticed recently that a lot of milestones have passed, based on my use of Strava to track all the important statistics – and also Smashrun, which counts things up like how many consecutive days I’ve run on (will be 155 today). My Garmin Vivosmart HR+ also tells me how often I’ve hit my step target for the day, but for a number of reasons that tally is a bit distorted by the fact that twice in the last 97 days my target was reset to 7500.

On Sunday just gone, I reached 6000km logged on Strava since late 2014 when I started out, and Friday was day 150 of consecutive running. This blog, when I ever use it, is a nice outlet for these kinds of fairly meaningless statistics. Nobody is really interested in them other than me, but the internet is here so that some page can sit there for at least a good few years collecting dust and telling people about them.

I think I’m also reluctant to talk about them also since somehow I worry that they raise an expectation in others, such that if I didn’t maintain my current level of exercise, it would be a marker by which I could be compared to a previous version of myself. Well, here’s hoping I keep it up.

Running on the cheap

Running can be pretty expensive. If you run a serious amount, it seems you go through shoes fairly quickly, meaning multiple new pairs a year, and of course running clothes start to get a bit grotty and stinky. Devices to record runs don’t come cheap either (unless you want to lug your phone around). Then there’s races – they cost a fortune.

After running five half marathons last year, plus a few 10ks, then noticing how much debt we’re in, this year has to involve a lot of cutting back. I pushed my last pair of shoes to 2000km, way more than the recommended amount, and they had serious holes everywhere – but still got me around.

Running Heroes is a pretty epic help though when it comes to finding things for free – things you can earn by logging your runs with them. I’m certainly not getting anything from them for posting this – in fact I’m writing as I’m totally gutted at missing out on a free place at the Reading Half due to my laptop somehow not signing me into the site. But through them I got free entry to the Winchester Half, and this week to the Bath Half in March. When half marathon entry fees seem to be north of £40 this is massive – still allows me to run a few races here and there and see new places.

Having run the Reading Half last year though, and as it passes by my workplace at the university, I was desperate to gain free entry this year, adding to my sense of disappointment. However, there are more important things in life, and I’ve had a pretty good run of free entries of late…

2000 in 2016

I reached a milestone last night – 2000 kilometres in the calendar year so far. In all of 2015 I managed 1707km, so I’ve run a bit more this year. That’s mainly through running most days, rather than 2-3 times a week as I did for most of 2015, and running to work. My average run length in 2016 is still under 5km (4.8), compared to 5.6km in 2015. But I’ve already been on 418 runs this year compared to 303 last year.

In 2015 I ran at, on average, 5.65 minutes per kilometre, whereas this year it’s 5.18 minutes per kilometre. Both numbers mask over a lot of variation of course. In 2015 I was improving from about 6.5-7 minutes per km early in the year down to about 5 by the end, and while I’ve maintained about that, perhaps touching up to about 4 minutes 50 on average for some runs, in 2016, I’ve also had some slower spells, picking up an injury after the Reading Half Marathon, and losing a lot of blood in a hospital related incident in May.

How many kms will I get in 2016 as a whole? My current rate established throughout the year suggests I should hit (366/243)*2001.5=3014.6. I’ll be delighted if I do, but equally I’ll just be delighted if I’m healthy and still running most days by the end of the year.

455.1 kilometres in Canada

To continue a vague theme, here’s another post about running whilst away from home. My wife is Canadian and so we get to spend long chunks of time in Canada from time to time (this is though the first time we’ve been out there since I started running properly in late 2014), and so we spent all of July and most of August there. I just tallied up that I ran 455.1km.

The interesting thing is that my pace appears to have been consistently slower out there than it has been otherwise in 2016. My 2016 runs have averaged 5.275 minutes per km (5:17 roughly), but in Canada I averaged 5:27. I put that down to greater elevation (average of 40 metres per run relative to 27 in 2016), and also longer runs (average distance just shy of 8km compared to 4.7km in 2016). Also I ran socially quite a bit with some slower runners, and found a great trail run which couldn’t be run particularly fast. Excuses…

Reading Half

Three days ago now I took part in the Reading Half Marathon, and I’m still feeling a smug after-glow from the event, I have to admit. My first half marathon was the Oxford Half last October, and that was a pretty unpleasant experience as I started off too fast meaning the last few miles were utterly awful. I resolved at the time never to do another half marathon, yet within days I’d signed up for the Edmonton Half Marathon this August (the in-laws live there).

A little later, I figured I’d sign up for Reading too since I work at the university, which is on the route, and over the last six months I’ve started running to work regularly, hence plodding along many of the streets that form the route for the Reading Half.

The contrast between Oxford and Reading halves couldn’t be more stark; there’s a mere 60 seconds between the times in which I completed each 5km segment of the race, which stunned me in terms of consistency of pace. Of course, I was generally very close to the 1:45 pacer throughout which helped, but all throughout the run this felt like it was about the right pace I was hoping to set, and indeed in the final few kms I left the pacer behind.

The other thing that surprised me about this run was how much I enjoyed the road-side support, in particular the bands playing live music throughout. I hadn’t thought I’d be particularly bothered by it, but I found the music really helped give me a boost each time I passed any source of music, even if it was someone blazing music out of their house on a stereo.

50km and 1000m in Dorset

Following closely on from my 6 days in Washington DC was a week in Dorset, near Corfe Castle, on holiday with family. The weather didn’t play ball too much earlier in the week, but nonetheless my brother-in-law is getting himself back into running and hence provided a good running companion for much of the week.

I managed exactly 50km in Washington, without a huge amount of elevation, but in Dorset, and in particular near the Purbeck Way, a ridge-way of a “Way”, I managed to climb over 1000m in elevation. I usually struggle to make Strava’s climbing challenge, and indeed on arriving on holiday I was 400m short with just a few days left, but I managed to pass 1500m for the month of March within the first three days of the holiday.

On the first night we ran with a huge torch as being in the countryside, it’s a bit dark in the night. We were staying in a place called Harman’s Cross, which as the name suggests, it set out in a cross-shape reflecting a cross roads. The main road goes from Corfe Castle to Swanage, and the road crossing it goes into the hills on either side of the valley we were in.

https://www.strava.com/activities/526611523/embed/30b93a419777fb7eacdde77ee3e5ee24e73c0555

As you can see if you follow the above link, we ran a cross shape almost perfectly, and we did this on Good Friday, the day that Christians celebrate the death of Jesus on a Cross.

Following on from this, the next morning we went out to run along the coast from Langton Matravers to a lighthouse near Swanage.

https://www.strava.com/activities/526934404/embed/18c2ea322823cd725eb488f63a2bff61db0a81a3

This was an epic run in so many ways, as the weather was foul, with high winds (Storm “Katie” was on its way in), and a very challenging terrain on the best of days, running through fields and up and down narrow pathways along the cliffs. It also involved a huge amount of elevation, over 200m for a 9km run. It was great fun though, really enjoyable and refreshing.

The next morning we headed out up the hill towards the Purbeck Way, the ridgeway above where we were staying, and once we got to the top we turned left to run towards Corfe Castle. The views on the top were fantastic, 360 degree panoramas for many miles around, and as we got nearer to Corfe Castle, a great view of the castle from above.

https://www.strava.com/activities/527947563/embed/17cd8173959d847e4d26ab33b8040a1c4838c705

We ran down the hill at Corfe Castle and came back along a back road that skirts the Purbeck Way. This road turned out to be probably more hilly than going up the ridge, as it undulates so much. Good challenge though, and running narrow country lanes is great provided cars don’t come along unexpectedly…

The next two runs were on my own, two 6km routes I’d devised to keep myself out of trouble with the wife. I thought the first was quite hilly, going up to the back road mentioned in the last run, but it turned out this was nothing compared to the hill on the second run, up towards Worth Matravers.

https://www.strava.com/activities/529250863/embed/c15f1eae5285da34368377ee2f609a7463b63a0b

https://www.strava.com/activities/530053076/embed/a39fa02ba867416c38ed005c00728d9441f84612

Our last run, on the last evening, was truly the epic run of the week, and one of my most enjoyable runs ever – enjoyable for different reasons than the House of Cards Half Marathon. We ran up to the Purbeck Way again, but turned right rather than left, towards Swanage, and in particular towards our final destination of Studland, via Old Harry, a coastal stack. The run was timed to perfection as the sun was setting as we ran along, and it set just as we finished in Studland, having got some great photos at Old Harry. It was another hilly run, but somehow when you know the view is going to be awesome once you make it, that makes the hill a bit less hard work. In places it was seriously steep, reaching an incline of near 20%.

https://www.strava.com/activities/531932385/embed/826172d135409332c36e91c0aa3691cadbf5cfaf

So, 51.9km to be precise, and 1018m in elevation gain (that includes an extra short run with the wife one evening). A great week, and I’m increasingly enjoying my running as it gives the opportunity to get out and about when otherwise we might sit around in the house doing nothing. I feel refreshed this week, back at work, even despite not getting as much sleep as I might whilst away due to deciding to go running.