Late Spring into early Summer is probably peak running season, in Britain at least. It’s when the nights are getting longer and conditions are, in theory at least, just about perfect for running: not too cold, not too hot, and relatively dry.
That’s the idea, anyway. Britain being Britain, nothing is certain. This year the weather has alternated between unusually warm and unusually cold with seemingly reckless abandon. And, Britain being Britain, it’s usually ended in a dreary grey halfway house.
But I digress. The point is that this time of year is just about the best time of the year for running. And that means there’s no shortage of races to choose from. The challenge is deciding which ones to do.
Do you do a handful of long races, or a lot of short ones? Do you return to events you’ve done before and really enjoyed, or pick ones you haven’t done before? It’s such idle consideration and searching of running event websites that often leads me to sign up to races without full consideration to my calendar. Which explains how, earlier this week, I ended up running two 10k races in two days.
Here’s my excuse. Last weekend was a Bank Holiday in the UK, and it seemed a good idea to spend my Monday off work contesting an event near Reading called the Shinfield 10k. Also last week was the Silverstone 10k, an enjoyable event that takes pace on a weekday evening and features two laps of the British Grand Prix circuit. As a big motorsport fan, it’s hard to resist – hence why this was the third year in a row I’d entered it.
I hadn’t fully looked at the dates before signing up, then realised they were in the same week. Not too much to worry about though, since the Shinfield 10k was on Monday morning, and the Silverstone 10k was on Wednesday evening. Plenty of time. Until, the night before the Shinfield 10k, I realised I was wrong about something: the Silverstone 10k was on the Tuesday evening…
So, inadvertently I faced the challenge of running two 10k races in two days. And once I realised I’d signed up to do it, it was an interesting challenge. I knew I could cope with the distance – after all, 20k is just short of a half-marathon distance, and I’ve proven that I can run a full marathon in one go.
Still, it was hard to know how my legs would react to being pushed twice in the space of 36 hours or so. And what tactic should I adopt? Run as fast as I can on both? Use the Monday morning 10k was a warm-up, and save myself for Tuesday night’s outing? Or push on Monday, and be prepared to coast on Tuesday night? Hmmmmm.
In the end, my plan was to set off on Monday morning’s Shinfield 10k at a decent pace, and see how I felt. I didn’t know the course, so I wasn’t sure what hills or challenges it might offer that could prevent a quick time.
It was certainly an interesting run. Because while Shinfield seems to be a relatively small town, it won’t be for long. There’s a massive housing development going on there, which forced organisers to revise the route for this year’s rate. Curiously, it went right through the development. Which meant that, as well as undulating country lanes, a few kilometres near the start and finished involved running on a semi-finished path in the middle of a massive, flattened space that will shortly become a huge building site.
Slightly odd then, but it was still an enjoyable semi-rural run. And in a field of pretty competitive club runners, I was happy to cross the line in 58th place, with a time of 40m 48s. That worked out at an average pace of 4m 03s per km. Decent.
The Silverstone 10k course could also be described as slightly odd, in that it takes place entirely on the racing circuit. As mentioned, I’m a huge motorsport fan, and jump at any chance to run on a race track: as well as Silverstone, I’ve also done runs that have taken in Castle Combe and Goodwood (and I’ve already signed up for a race at Thruxton later this year).
The Silverstone route starts on the old finish straight, and covers two laps of the old grand prix circuit (it skips out the new ‘Arena’ section). And it’s always good fun, even if the weather is somewhat unpredictable.
The first time I did the race, it absolutely poured down and I got completely soaked. Last year’s run, by contrast, was held on one of those absolutely beautiful English summer evenings. This year was a bit more mixed: while there was no rain, the grey clouds suggested it wasn’t far away, and there was a fairly stiff chilling breeze (a common hazard on Britain’s race circuits, given many are ex-World World Two airfields).
Again, I set off without really decided on a pace strategy, figuring I’d just see how my legs reacted – which turned out to be fairly well. While a bit achey before the start, once I was running they loosened up quickly, and for most of the run any effects of the previous day’s exertions didn’t figure.
That was until I turned onto the International pit straight on the second lap, with about 2km left to run. The wind had picked up by this stage, and I was running straight into it. I could feel it slow me down, and that extra effort seemed to prompt my legs to remember I’d run hard on them the day before. They suddenly began to feel very heavy.
Still, I tempered that slightly wobble, and managed to finish strong. Against a huge field of competitive club runners, I was pleased to come home 160th, with a time of 41m 14s.
Now, the 26s gap between my two finish times would suggest I was slower on the second half of my accidental back-to-back… but there’s a twist. Every time I’ve run it the Silverstone 10k course has, by measure of my Garmin GPS, been around 180 metres long. Sure enough, comparing the results on my watch suggests that the 26s difference was largely down to a longer course. In fact, my average pace per km on the Silverstone 10k turned out to be… 4m 03s. Exactly the same as I managed on the Shinfield 10k.
Now, does that suggest I pushed to the max on both races, or that I could have gone really fast if I’d focused on one? Hmmmmmm…
Anyway, the moral of those story? Well, it doesn’t really have one, to be honest. Other than this: it is possible to run two competitive 10k races on back-to-back days. But maybe it’s best to spread these things out a bit…
Waking up and drawing the curtains to find light skies and benign weather is normally a pretty good start to a day when you’re doing a race. Not this morning – because today it meant the bad weather hadn’t arrived yet.
Sure enough, 20 minutes after I’d first looked out the window, it actually began to get darker, as the bank of heavy rain that had been assuredly forecast closed in. By the time I left my house an hour later, bound for Wimbledon Common to take part in the Wimbledon 10k, it was raining hard.
You can’t control the weather, of course, and bad weather is an occupational hazard any time you enter a race in Britain (even if, as the forecasters harked on about this week, meteorological Spring has, erm, sprung). Still, it’s always a little off-putting when, the night before a run, you know that a nasty weather front is likely to be right over your head right about the time the start gun goes off.
Twenty minutes after leaving home I parked up near Wimbledon Common, and set off to collect my number from the race start. Wimbledon Common is, as you might expect, a pretty beautiful and well-kept place, but it loses it’s appeal somewhat when there’s a heavy wind, squally rain and mud underfoot. Still, that bracing wind did make it easy to spot the flags fluttering near the race start, largely by keeping them at quite the angle.
Having picked up my number, and braved a wobbly portable toilet (the wobble seemed to be partly the wind, and partly the fact it didn’t seem to be fixed to the ground properly. Either way, I was very careful while going, to avoid some unthinkable and unpleasant toppling toilet incident…), I retreated to the safety of my car until as late as humanly possible before the start. Oh, and added an extra long-sleeved running top, having realised my optimistic T-shirt set-up would clearly offer inadequate warmth.
Amazingly, come the time to decamp from my car and head to the start, the rain was beginning to ease. It was relatively light for the first few kilometres, and had actually stopped before half-distance. The wind and cold were more persistent challenges, but with the weather less of an issue I could focus a bit on what I figured the main challenge of the event: the hills.
Wimbledon Common is at the top of a hill: the race started with a plunge downhill, before then working it’s way back up through the residential streets of the not-coincidentally named Wimbledon Hill. When I decided to enter the event, it was partly because of the hills. So far this year, I’ve mostly done races this year on relatively flat courses, and I wanted to take in some races that would be charitably described as ‘undulating’ in order to force myself to push more on hills.
The challenge was pushing hard enough to make the most of the early downhill section, without using up all the energy for the subsequent uphill. I seemed to get my pacing sorted pretty well, although it was a bit humbling to watch some of the quick runners doing the simultaneously run Wimbledon Half Marathon pull away from me, despite knowing they’d have to do a second lap. But, once I’d completed most of the climbing, and was running along The Ridgway (so called, you’ll be amazed to know, because it’s a road that runs along a ridge), I discovered that the biggest challenge of the Wimbledon 10k wasn’t the weather, or the hills: it was the traffic.
Yes, the traffic – and both automotive and pedestrian. The Ridgway is a fairly major thoroughfare in South West London, and at just before 1000hrs on a Sunday morning plenty of people were setting off on Sunday morning jaunts. Which made it a bit of a challenge when the runners needed to cross from one side of the road to the other. The only tactic was to run along one pavement, trying to focus on your normal pace, while also keeping an eye out for a break in the traffic to make a crossing. It wasn’t easy, especially because some drivers – both on the main roads and those traversing the residential roads the event went down – seemed determined not to make any allowance for the runners.
It got more challenging too: the final kilometrres of the course ran directly up Wimbledon High Street, in the quite posh part of town known as Wimbledon Village. At one level, it’s a lovely place to run: there were lots of posh shops and cafes to admire, for one thing. Except, of course, those cafes were attracting plenty of people for a Sunday brunch, using the same pavements the runners were charging down. It wasn’t exactly an ideal combination, especially because a small minority of pedestrians strolling in Wimbledon Village seemed put out there was a run going on, and pointedly made no effort to create a bit of room.
Now, they’re shared roads and pavements, and it’s not like the runners had any particular priority or right of way over cars or pedestrians – something that was made clear in the pre-race notes. But still, a little bit of courtesy wouldn’t go amiss at times.
Again, this was only a small minority of people; several others took the time to clap or shout encouragement, which is always hugely welcome.
Thankfully, since the race field was relatively small, it was pretty spaced out as I ran the High Street section – but I imagine things might have been interesting for the half-marathoners on their second lap, when the shops would have been open as well as the cafes.
Nothing cost me too much time either, and if 41m 21s was the slowest of the five 10k races I’ve done so far this year, in the circumstances it felt like one of my stronger efforts.
Even better, in a fit of great timing, the sun was almost peeking through the clouds by the time I finished. Which made it a pleasant day to walk back to Wimbledon for a post-run coffee. And don’t worry: I gave the runners still gamely plugging on plenty of space – and plenty of encouragement as well…
Yes, I’m writing about the weather again. Look, I’m British, it’s what we do. We talk about the weather. Especially when a) the weather is really very odd, as it frequently seems to be in Texas, and b) my experience on the Houston Marathon will be largely dependent on the conditions I’ll encounter on the course.
When last I wrote about the weather, Texas was proving surprisingly cold, and I was wrapping up as warm as I possible could for training runs in temperatures of -3C. Well, funny story… it’s now warm again.
On Sunday evening I went for a 10k jog in beautiful sunshine but with the temperatures barely above freezing – cold enough for me to break out The Hat I Can’t Throw Away.
On Tuesday morning, less than 48 hours later, I went for a gentle training jog at around eight am – and, despite cloud cover and very light rain, found myself running in around 17C heat and a surprisingly amount of humidity. Instead of freezing, I was sweating.
It was… confusing, to say the least.
Still, it was also useful, since – for what it’s worth, at any rate – the current forecast is for temperatures to feature daytime highs of around 25-27C (that’s about 77-80F) between now and Sunday, with overnight lows of around 15-16C (60-62F). Yes, those are overnight lows that are 15C warmer than it was in the middle of the day just four days ago. Like I said, Texas weather in January is bonkers.
Anyway, at least the conditions right now should approximate what the runners in the Houston Marathon will encounter on Sunday – although there is a greater chance of rain showers come the weekend. Showers wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, as long as they don’t get too heavy, and there’s another current Texas weather condition worrying me a little more: the wind.
It’s been pretty gusty round here recently, with quite a breeze rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s creating the sort of potent gusts that occasionally cause your car to wobble when you’re driving down a highway. And while such a breeze can be quite cooling – useful on a marathon – it can also be really difficult if you end up caught running in a headwind.
But hey, you can’t control the weather on race day, so when the time comes to start the marathon I can only run in the conditions that I find. But that won’t stop me being confused and slightly obsessed by the forecast.
After all, Texas weather in January is bonkers and unpredictable, and I’m British. Talking about the weather is what we do…
Hampton Court Palace, on the banks of the Thames a few miles down from Kingston, is best known as the former home of King Henry VIII, and the site of a very popular flower show. It’s massive, and pretty spectacular (the palace, that is, not the flower show), even if (like me) you’re not all that into old palaces and stuff.
I headed there last weekend, not to take in the Royal Apartments or try my luck in the garden maze, but for a race: the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon. Which, of course, shouldn’t be confused with the similarly titled Hampton Court Half, which took place a month or so back.
The Hampton Court Palace Half claims the distinction of being the only race to start in the grounds of the palace, before heading down the Thames towpath to Kingston-upon-Thames. The route then goes over Kingston bridge, passing through the town centre before heading down the other side of the Thames. The race crosses back over the Thames on Hampton Court Bridge, right in front of the palace… before turning back for another run down the towpath towards Kingston, before a final run back the outer wall of Bushy Park before a finish on Hampton Court Green.
Having done a few races, and plenty of training runs around the area, I knew the course pretty well. That was quite useful, because there are a few places where the Thames path gets pretty narrow, and tricky pavements to traverse on the sections running alongside main roads. Having a bit of insider knowledge was useful when running in a group: sometimes I knew I needed to sprint ahead of some slowing runners to avoid getting stuck behind them in a tight bit.
This was my final planned training race ahead of the London Marathon and, aside from being a touch on the cold side (not helped by a chilly breeze coming off the Thames), all went well. Very well, actually. Due to the tight course the race was started in waves, based on the predicted finish time runners had given. My 1h 30m estimate put me in the first wave, which meant I was starting in a pretty competitive pack.
That turned out to be a good thing: there were plenty of people to pace myself off in the early stages, and I found myself feeling pretty comfortable despite setting off considerably faster than my planned pace.
I was able to sustain that pace pretty well, at least until a few miles from the end, when a combination of aching legs and that chilly headwind began to slow me. Still, I recovered for a strong final mile, and my final time of 1h 27m 54s (and 77th place, which I still find hard to comprehend) knocked a good 1m 36s off my previous best (and, indeed, only) race time for a Half Marathon.
Another reward? A finishers’ medal and T-shirt. Both of which are among the best I’ve seen…
It was the sort of effort that has given me a dose of confidence boosting with five weeks – 34 days! – until the London Marathon. Until I remember that the run was a Half Marathon. That’s, like, half a marathon. I’ve got to run a full one in five weeks. Five weeks? Five weeks?! That’s really not that long now…
Oh, an amusing footnote to the race: running along the narrow part of towpath near Kingston-upon-Thames I encountered an old couple heading in the other direction out walking their dog. As I reached them they were looking past me at the stream of runners heading their way.
“Oh, they’re all running down the narrow bit,” said the lady. “That’s really… inconvenient.” It was said, at least to my ears, with a touch of disdain.
So, on behalf of the 3029 finishers who took part in the half marathon, sorry for being an inconvenience. Hope we didn’t ruin your walk.
I’m running the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. It’s a great cause, so any donations would be gratefully received. Please sponsor me – just click the ‘Just Giving’ button below for details. Thanks!
Yup, that’s eight weeks until the London Marathon. Or two months. Or 55 days. Not that I’m counting.
Not that I’m counting? Of course I’m counting.
Still, while the date of the marathon is beginning to feel really quite close, I’m reasonably happy with my preparation level so far. I’ve done a string of long runs, proven I can run 16 miles in one go, and even knocked out a half-marathon in under 90 minutes.
In short, I think I’m in a pretty good place. But who knows? It’s not like I’ve done this before, and I’m pretty certain nothing I do is going to really prepare me for the experience of running through the streets of London in eight weeks time. Training is just about making sure I have the best possible chance of coping.
After last week’s Wokingham Half Marathon, this weekend’s training efforts brought fewer miles – but still plenty of competition. I spent Saturday up in Hertfordshire visiting friends, so myself and fellow South West Children’s Heart Circle charity runner Matt Burt took the opportunity to take in a different Parkrun on Saturday morning.
The Panshanger Parkrun in Hertford is a very different 5k course from the Kingston one I usually do on the flat towpath of the River Thames. The Panshanger course wiggles through an old country estate, complete with hills, gravel tracks, fields, muddy paths and a painfully steep final uphill kick. Not necessarily a quick course, then, but a really good challenge.
On Sunday, the challenge was the Bushy Park 10k. For the uninitiated, Bushy Park is a Royal deer park in south west London. It’s very similar to Richmond Park – a regular running venue for me – with one big different: while Richmond Park is dominated by hills, Bushy Park is flat. Like, really flat. Pancake flat. Flat Stanley flat. Ikea flatpack flat. It’s basically as flat as the flattest thing you can picture. In short, it’s flat.
When you’re running, flat is good.
Having a flat course is good not only because it avoids running up hills, but because it’s easier to balance out your running effort. When you know the course is flat, there’s little excuse not to be able to run ten consistent kilometre splits. So, it’s very good practice for the discipline of knocking out a consistent pace: something that will come in very useful come marathon time.
Yes, flat is good.
A chill wind isn’t quite as good. And parts of the Bushy Park 10k course meant running into a really chilly headwind. Thankfully, the course snaked through various paths in the park, and out of the wind, it was easy to get warmed up – just in time for the next blast of wind.
Still, the wind didn’t slow me down too much, and I was very pleased with a time of 42m 07s and 14th overall – especially because this was an ‘extra’ run to mix up the training that I didn’t really focus on. That’s not to say I didn’t want to do well – just that my focus is currently on a slightly bigger even in eight weeks time.
That’s eight weeks. Or two months. Or 55 days. Or around 1320 hours.
You know, not that I’m counting…
In eight weeks, I’m running the 2016 London Marathon for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. Please sponsor me by clicking the big Just Giving button below
This weekend’s training efforts was dominated by the wind – a strong, nasty, strength-sapping headwind. As previously noted, running into a headwind is not fun.
The wind hit me near the end of my regular Saturday morning Parkrun outing, and at various points on Sunday’s two-hour, 15.7-mile long run. That included a headwind all the way up one of Richmond Park’s long uphill sections. That was fun…
I didn’t spend as long running into the wind on Saturday – probably only a kilometre or so – but it did leave me pondering running etiquette. Yup, etiquette. Let’s talk manners.
My local Parkrun uses an out-and-back course along the towpath of the River Thames. Much of it has a line is shielded from the river winds by a line of trees, but there’s about a kilometre which is quite exposed. And it was there that I hit the headwind. I’ve written before about the frustration of running into a strong wind: it just saps your power. But there’s nothing you can do about it.
Actually, there is something. You can do what the guy behind me did.
After a short time in the headwind, another runner closed up behind me. And there he stayed. Now, having someone run close behind you can be quite off-putting. I didn’t want to hold anyone up, so I pulled over to the side of the road. And he followed. So I pulled to the other side of the road. He followed again. I eased up a bit to prompt him to go past. He eased up too. He was following me. He was using me as a windbreak.
Slipstreaming while running isn’t quite as effective as in cycling, but any shelter you can get from a headwind helps. I was doing the hard work battling the headwind, and he was coasting in the relative calm. It didn’t seem fair to me.
Now, slipstreaming another runner is like stealing your neighbour’s broadband: a sort of victimless crime. He wasn’t making my life harder (aside from distracting me) – he was just making his easier.
Still, his resolute refusal to go past me made me a bit angry. Especially when, at the moment we reached the next row of wind-shielding trees he pulled out from behind me, overtook and shot off up the road. I had nothing much left to try and keep up.
You could argue it was smart on his part, and he didn’t cost me any time. Both are true. It’s just… this wasn’t some competitive event or big race where positions count. This was a free Saturday morning Parkrun. And slipstreaming a fellow runner so obviously in a free Parkrun didn’t seem very… polite.
Polite? In a timed event? Yes. I’ve seen it in action – and in a headwind.
Compare and contrast
The last time I was used as a windbreak was as part of a ‘competitive’ run: the Weston-super-Mare Christmas Cracker 10k. As the name suggests, it took place on Weston-super-Mate beach in December. It was cold. It was wet. And it was ridiculously windy.
The course for that event went up-and-down the beach. In the direction with wind at my back, I was setting kilometre splits that were near my best. Going into the headwind… oh boy. It honestly felt like standing still. It just hit you, and kept on punching. And hitting. And punching. And… you get the idea.
I ended up in a pack of around ten runners, and something remarkable happened: without any conversation needed, we formed a peloton of sorts. We all took a turn at the front of the pack, battling the headwind, giving the other runners a bit of a break. And then someone else would hit the front. It kept cycling through, and it really eased the effort.
It was entirely unspoken – a truce of sorts, that lasted until we were on the return leg. It was brilliant – and evidence of the unspoken etiquette that I’ve found exists between entrants in a race.
I didn’t experience that same etiquette and sense of camaraderie in the Parkrun. Am I overthinking this? Probably. The other runner probably didn’t realise he was putting me off, or that I’d mind. More likely, I’m just a bit jealous. Running into a headwind hurts. Wouldn’t it be nice to shield yourself from the wind for a bit?
What are the absolute worst conditions to run in? Rather than conduct a scientific study to find out, I just made up a list off the top of my head. You can read the first part here. This is the top ten countdown of the worst conditions to run in, in descending order of general unpleasantness.
10: Heavy rain
Can be unpleasant. If I wanted to get this wet with my exercise, I’d go swimming.
I love ice hockey. I don’t love trying to find some semblance of grip on a patch of black ice while running. Comedy pratfalls are common.
Alright, technically ‘indoors’ isn’t actually a climactic condition. But you can run indoors – on a treadmill. It sounds great: you can escape the weather and run inside, in controlled conditions. But in my experience, it’s a bit boring. Unless you’re in a gym with a really nice view out the window, you’re just staring at the same thing while running.
7: Thunderbolts and lightning
Very, very frightening.
There are two types of wind that afflict runners. Ahem. The one relevant to this piece is never fun to run in. Why so bad? Because you can’t see it coming. Well, I guess you can if you own a wind sock, but that’s a luxury few enjoy.
Running into a headwind is mighty frustrating: it’s as energy-sapping as running up a steep hill. Except you can’t see the thing that’s causing you pain, and you never really know when it’s going to stop.
Of course, the wind can benefit you, if you can get pushed along by a tailwind. But the trouble with wind is that it’s never consistent. Somehow you just know that, after you’ve spent interminable miles trudging into a headwind, the wind will drop or change direction before you benefit from that tailwind.
It’s kind of like running in the rain, but it hurts when it hits you.
4: Wind and heavy rain
It’s like running with someone spraying a hosepipe at you. With cold water. Yeah, don’t like this.
3: Wind, heavy rain and dark
It’s like running with someone spraying a hosepipe at you. With cold water. In the dark. Yeah, really don’t like this.
2: Wind, heavy rain and cold
A strong wind makes you cold. Getting wet makes you colder. So being hit by wind and rain when it’s already cold? It’s about as miserable as you can get when it comes to running conditions. What could make it worse?
1: Wind, heavy rain, cold and dark
No. Just no.
Why I’m running: I’ve entered the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. Please sponsor me by clicking the button below