Velvet snow

NFK_8106Weather forecasters cannot accurately predict the weather as far away as three months so, on the assumption that this cold spell will pass, it must be assumed that the London marathon (in April) will go ahead as planned. Now this presents me with a choice: to train in the snow, or to not train in the snow.

  • Training in the snow is hard work, and is not particularly conducive to good running form. However, it provides good resistance training, and the cold weather can be a good source of psychological training.
  • Not training in the snow is unlikely to have major implications for the marathon itself (unless the snow remains for a few weeks). It is also ‘easier’ and warmer.

However, the biggest factor in making up my mind is that this opportunity does not come around very often and it can be heaps of fun. So off I went with my camera…


This image shows a comparison of my mile splits from my two quickest 15 mile races. They are both run over the same course and the notes from my training diary for each are as follows:

Very undulating, ideal conditions, exposed. 3 large hills, twice.
Very undulating, very strong headwind up and down first hill, exposed. 3 large hills, twice.

The image will allow me to pick apart each mile, analysing where I could improve or what adjustments I need to make to my training. However, it also suggests that it is probably just as well that I don’t own a Garmin*

*other GPS devices exist

Paul Evans marathon Q&A

Tonight’s training run at the running club was taken by Paul Evans (former Chicago marathon winner) and Brendon Byrne (a UKA level 4 coach). It ended with a Q&A session, to which PE and BB made some interesting references. I have documented them here, as much for my own memory as for anything else.

Long run alone.

This was said in reference to the marathon being a mental challenge – and running the long run alone would help in this regard. I think there is much to be gained from running the long run alone, however, I am not sure this is necessary for every long run.

Tempo training = very good

The suggestion was that, after the long run, this was the best session of the week. I have always considered the tempo run to be important, but think it needs to be run alongside a more traditional interval session. The interval session would be used to increase speed, while the tempo run would be used to help maintain that speed over a longer distance (i.e. to develop speed endurance). The particular session he made reference to was 3*2 miles or 6*1 mile at about 10k or 5k pace, respectively.

Strength and conditioning is beneficial

The suggestion was that this is the one session PE would add to his schedule were he to write it again. But it wouldn’t take precedence over the long run, or the two other speed sessions.

Pasta party = bad

While the ‘loading’ of carbohydrates in the immediate days before the marathon is essential, there are many healthier sources of pasta than that which has been cooking for hours at marathon expos. However, make sure to book a restaurant for the night before the race, so as not to risk being left to wait hours for a table – 35 000 runners and their families is a lot for any city to accommodate.


At this point, I struggled to understand PE’s argument; having never trained or raced with gels, he claimed that they were essential for good marathon running. I would have liked to have pointed out that Steve Jones never took any gels, and no Brit has ever run quicker. Fortunately, somebody else raised a similar point, but the session was closed during the response.

Maybe I’ll go to the next session.

When the levee breaks

Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion
– Muhammed Ali, born 17/01/1941 – happy birthday

I like to think that I have a reasonably high pain threshold. Others may disagree, but I consider it one of the reasons that I have run many marathons. I often push myself to my apparent limits, and possibly cause myself injury and illness as a result. I do pay close attention to any pain, and try to detect whether or not I can continue to run, or if I must take time off. However, I have not had a day off work sick since I became a fully qualified teacher (5 years ago)*, and have not taken paracetamol or similar pain relieving medication since I went to secondary school.

I am not sure how this ‘tolerance’ developed, but I did go to a boarding school (although I didn’t board) where bullying was rife. We were exposed to some rather extreme acts and grew used to them. Alongside this, runners know that visits to the Doctor will often result in recommendations to stop running, so many avoid making the appointment in the first place. Some make the appointment, but choose not to follow any advice that includes ‘not running’. Others make the appointment, but don’t tell their Doctor they run and just hope for the best.

I tend to be in the first category, and usually avoid making the appointment with the Doctor. To date, I have recovered from any illness and injury myself; some would argue that I haven’t really been that ill. Others may suggest this is why I frequently seem to pick up colds – combined with the fact that I don’t give myself the opportunity to recover fully. Maybe I am just lucky.

Chris Finill, who has run every single London Marathon (ever) in under three hours and has sub three hour marathons in five different decades, was recently interviewed on MarahtonTalk (here). Despite all of this, the achievement he is most proud of is his recent Run Across America from San Francisco to New York (see here for the website).

There was one sequence in particular he refers to that really caught my attention. When describing his highs and lows, he describes his low as having to take a rest day. The pain he was in at the time meant that he couldn’t continue covering 40 miles every day so, naturally, he forced himself to take a day off. However, it is the events leading up to this that amazed me.

A physio had diagnosed his pain as a stress fracture, but Chris goes on to describe the following:

Physio: it’s a stress fracture, stop [the Run Across America]
CF: look I’ve been planning this trip for three years; you cannot tell me I’ve got to stop running
Physio: but it’s a stress fracture
CF (to MT Interviewer): I persuaded him it wasn’t a stress fracture
Physio: well, if you can walk on it without pain, maybe it isn’t a stress fracture
CF (to MT Interviewer): So I walked on it for 160 miles, and it then stopped hurting, so I started running on it again and within a week it was perfectly ok.

The only reason they didn’t xray it was because there wasn’t enough time.

So next time you think it hurts, think really carefully if it hurts and, if it does, does it hurt enough? Or at least walk on it for one hundred and sixty miles before deciding you’re going to quit.

*the benefits, or otherwise, of this may have to wait for another post.

Jokers* and clowns**

On April 22nd 2012, I will be running the London Marathon for The Prostate Cancer Charity and Breast Cancer Care***. Prostate and breast cancer are the most common cancers in men and women in the UK, so the chances are you know someone who has been affected by these life-threatening diseases.

I will be joined by my Brother and my Sister, neither of whom have ever run further than a half marathon. Please support us and this fantastic cause by checking our fundraising page, here.

* to the left of me
** to the right

*** The Prostate Cancer Charity and Breast Cancer Care have joined forces as joint official charities for the Virgin London Marathon. Together, they are TeamPB.

The Prostate Cancer Charity Team PB Breast Cancer Care

2011 annual report

These images represent my year of running in 2011.

Distance Speed


Following last year’s graphical analysis (here) of my running in 2010, I have done the same this year for a comparison. Please refer to that post to read how the two main charts were generated. The third is an amalgamation of the two using Photoshop.

A couple of points that are not obvious from the graphics:

  • I recorded 19 days ill or injured (days when I ran a couple of miles to test my fitness weren’t logged as ill or injured)
  • Except for one day, I trained no more than once a day, so each run averaged just over 10 miles at an average marginally quicker than 8 minutes per mile
  • 2514 miles marks my biggest ever annual mileage, 700 more than last year

Making reference to the third image, there is significantly more green from January to July and more red from August to December. This indicates a clear shift in focus from long distances (green) to increasing speeds (red) as the year has progressed.

After a difficult end to 2010 and start to 2011, I am happy with the year as a whole. I have included some of my best achievements below:

  • Running from Paris to London in 8 days in April
  • Swiss Alpine Ultra in July
  • 8 Personal Bests (PBs), including breaking a 7 year old 10k PB

With that in mind, I am looking forward to 2012 with much optimism, so here are a few things I would like to focus on:

  • More targeted training
  • Try to maintain three effort sessions each week, with designated recovery days
  • Increase speed, but not necessarily my mileage in training

Here goes…

New shoes

This Christmas marked the first time I had spent significant time with my brother and sister since their entry into the London marathon was confirmed. Wanting to run with them, I ran a steady 10 miles with my brother on Christmas Eve and combined a swift half hour with an easier 30 minutes with my sister on Christmas morning – on the beach along the South Coast. I have run on Christmas morning for the last few years and I find it helps to ease the guilt felt from over-indulging on various foods. Although I probably need more than an hour’s worth of running.

It had also been my intention to run on Boxing Day but, unfortunately, I was suffering a sore back, so decided to rest. However, this would mean that in order to burn off many excess calories (and to save having two consecutive rest days), I had to run the following day; the day I was to drive the four hour journey home.

Wanting to make an early getaway, I planned to run for about an hour, covering close to 10 miles. This particular run would take me into the New Forest as far as I have previously ventured so, when I had been running for 35 minutes, I decided to follow a new road – just to see where it went. The road soon became a track, which subsequently became a path. Then it disappeared. Yes, that’s right, it disappeared. But I could see traffic up ahead along a busy road, so I crossed the marshy land to investigate and discovered a designated cycle track.

With time on my side, I continued my investigation and, after about another half an hour, found myself in the next village. Thinking I ought to turn around, as time was getting on, I returned along the road from where I had come and decided to see if one of the tracks off the road would provide an adequate ‘short cut’.

The track that I chose became a path but, again, disappeared. Concerned that time was short, I continued by heading in the direction that I suspected I wanted. I passed through woods, followed fence lines, and tried to locate paths in order to try and identify some sort of ‘landmarks’, but soon found myself with barren heathland in every direction as far as I could see. By this stage, I had no option, but continue to follow my instinct. I ran up and down hills, passed through streams, more marshes and bogs, with hardly any change in my surroundings.

By now, I had been running for almost two hours; I needed to get back, so that I could drive home. Finally, I saw a house, which had to be on a road and, continuing in the same direction, I ended up within 100m of exactly where I wanted to be. I don’t think that’s too bad an effort considering I was running for more than two miles without knowing my location (without GPS, map, compass or otherwise).

However, by the time I returned, I had been running for more than two and a half hours – 90 minutes longer than intended. This means that the run would be my longest since July, the last long run of 2011. It is also probably time to throw out my fourth pair of 1000+ mile trainers, which look like they’ve been running with TFP a few too many times.

Easily distracted

As we approach the end of December, I am starting to reflect on the year that is just about to pass and think towards the one that is about to begin. With that in mind, I planned to attempt a steady ‘Double Riverbank’ (11 mile) run in something close to about 80 minutes; I still have unfulfilled (well, ‘in progress’) goals for the year, but have a race planned in less than a fortnight’s time, so must be careful not to cause myself an injury.

Last week was tough on the legs, so I was not overly surprised to feel rather tired 20 minutes into the run, and slowed down accordingly. Yet, once the wind was on my back*, I felt much more comfortable, and found myself about two miles from home with less than 60 minutes on the clock. I knew a quick time was possible, but I would have to dig in, resting only to cross the ring road on the final approach.

I was counting down in my head “if I can get to *this* point in *this* time, then *this* should be possible”. It was looking good, but I was struggling and was now looking for more opportunities to rest. My breakfast was even talking to me, but I managed to keep (most of) it down**. Fortunately, I was approaching the busy cross roads***, where momentary stops are sometimes possible. I looked around as it neared. There was definitely traffic. I would have to at least slow down. In fact all four approaches had traffic.

Just as I was about to apply the brakes, I spotted the solution. ‘Three Kettles’ was on the bike heading towards me, but turning left (that’s their left). Perfect. I would have to cross two of the four roads to get there, the ideal opportunity for some rest. “Where are you going?”, I asked, appearing to sound interested, but really wanting to know how much further I would now have to run due to the detour that I found myself on. “Just to the leisure centre” was the reply. By now, I realised I had also chosen a hill for my detour alongside a former GB athlete – not the ideal recovery.

“You’re clearly not running hard enough if you still have energy to talk” was the other reply, while increasing the effort. This is a mantra I have said to myself on many occasions. It’s somewhere close to the chapter of long running at a ‘conversational pace’, but I digress. I tried to justify it. “I’ve run *this* far in *this* time, so *this* should be possible, except I’ve now taken a detour”. But it didn’t help.

At this point, I started to question how I was going to get home. We reached the leisure centre, where 3K was headed, so I was on my own once more. I had certainly increased my effort for those two minutes, but I was tiring rapidly – and slowing down with it. I could go home through the estate, a route which I haven’t often run, so have little to compare it with. The risk of doing this was that I would jog home, which would waste much of my effort.

I thought about it for a few seconds, reached a recognisable landmark (the High School entrance) and, on the spur of the moment, turned through 180° and doubled back. It was the best way that I would be able to measure my overall performance – by adding on the detour to my mileage (as can be seen by the evidence here). And it worked. I maintained the intensity for the remainder of the run home.

Furthermore, I still arrived home more than two minutes ahead of my target time.

I know I ran reasonably well but, due to my detour, I don’t have an exact comparison. While it could be argued that the detour helped me (although I’m not sure how), the moral is to remain focussed throughout the session. It will be worth it in the end.

*see this post

**I’ve told myself on many occasions that if I deviate from porridge and marmite, I need to allow longer for it to digest, but do I listen?

***admittedly, these are not really busy cross roads but, for the small town where I was running, this is about as busy as it gets

Running in the wind

It is widely accepted that running (or cycling) into a headwind requires more effort than without any wind at all. However, for given wind and running speeds, the energy saved from running in (or ‘with’) a tailwind is not as much as the energy required in order to run in (or ‘into’) a headwind.

I have used the majority of this post to explain and demonstrate this point, but if you are only interested in the best strategies for running in the wind, start reading from after the final (fourth) image.

For any runner and race, the amount (volume) of air that they displace is given by:

volume = area × distance

Since distance is speed (velocity) × time, this gives:

volume = area × velocity × time

As a mass (volume × density, ρ), this is:

mass = density × area × velocity × time

The kinetic energy (½mv2) of this mass is then given by:

½mv2 = ½ × density × area × velocity3 × time

The rate of energy use (power) required to overcome this resistance is therefore:

½ × density × area × velocity3

In reality, the area depends on the aerodynamic quality of what is being worn (skin friction – e.g. clothing material), streamlining (drag – e.g. skin-tight compared with baggy) as well as actual physical size. A coefficient of drag (CD) is therefore used in conjunction with the area. This gives the power required as:

½ × drag coefficient × density ×area × velocity3 → ½ × CD × ρ × A × v3

[Since power = force × velocity, engineers may recognise the drag equation,
FD = ½ × CD × ρ × A × v2]

Supposing there is a wind blowing, the power required to overcome the moving air is proportional to (v ± w)3, depending on whether it is a tailwind (-) or a headwind (+). Assuming a race takes place in such a fashion that the same distance is run in all directions (e.g. a square), the following model can be used*:

A good club runner will run 10km in about 40 minutes, at an average speed of 15km/hr, which is 6 minutes 26.16 seconds per mile (in a runner friendly format), or 4.1666… ms-1 (in engineering friendly, SI, units). A windspeed of 5mph (8km/hr, or 2.222… ms-1), would give rise to the following circumstances in a race:

Here it is clear that an athlete does not gain as much from the tailwind as they would lose going into the headwind – in fact they still have to work to overcome this relatively slow tailwind. Increasing the wind speed so that runners benefit from a tailwind (so that wind speed is faster than running speed) exacerbates this discrepancy. Supposing the runner races in winds of 25mph (40km/hr or 11.111… ms-1), gives rise to the following circumstances:

The benefit of the tailwind in this instance is clear to see, but it does not even come close to matching the hindrance caused from running into this headwind.

In terms of racing strategy, this means that you should run in somebody else’s slipstream and prevent others from running in your slipstream whenever possible. Furthermore, being small (like myself) is an advantage in a headwind and a disadvantage in a strong tailwind, but you knew that anyway.

Essentially avoid running into the wind where possible.


*for a shape with orthogonal geometries (and wind directions)**, the total amount of energy required to overcome the wind (air resistance) is:

½CDρA × { t1(v – w)3 + t2(v)3 + t3(v + w)3 }

Where t1, t2 and t3 are the respective amounts of time spent running with a tailwind, no wind (or perpendicular crosswind) and a headwind.

**for any shape, with any wind direction, the total amount of energy required to overcome the air resistance is:

½CDρA × { t1(v ± w sin(α))3 + t2(v ± w sin(θ))3 + t3(v ± w sin(γ))3 + … }

Where t1, t2 and t3 are the amounts of time spent running at the respective angles α, θ and γ.

Thanks to this article for adapting the science to my experience.

Finishing on a high

I have run more than 55 miles this week, including 3 tough interval sessions – 4*3 minutes Kenyan hills, 6*1km intervals (with 30 seconds recovery) and 4*1 mile intervals. It is hardly surprising that my legs have felt lethargic. Furthermore, yesterday was a long run and today I ran a 5 mile warmup before my final race of the year.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t feel sharp during the 6.5km cross country, but none of these factors are excuses. In fact, they are different cogs in the wheel that is my training regime. As such, the ‘race’ was to be more of a training session. My previous best was a 23:30 and MS had calculated a club handicap time of 23:00, but these were ‘milestones’ rather than targets.

I started slowly and felt like I was treading water as runners whom I would normally use as gauges seemed to be performing significantly better than myself. I continued with this feeling throughout, downhill as well as uphill, even glancing over my shoulder on the home straight, until I eventually crossed the line… in a time of 22 minutes 56 seconds.

According to my race pace calculator, this now becomes the best race I have ever run – better than any performance on the road. Admittedly this calculator is less effective at the extremities (6.5k Is a relatively short distance), but this is the first time a race could be extrapolated to a sub-60 minute 10 mile. Roll on Wymondham 10k and 2012.

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