Sub-1:50 half marathon: Week 7

This week’s training got off to a slow start after last weekend’s leg battering cross country race left me with some, er… difficulties, shall we say, getting up and down stairs.

As I finished the race last Saturday, got my breath back, took some rather tentative steps to the side of the finishing straight and cheered my clubmates over the finish line I noticed that the men’s race had been set off in the distance, and so rather than stretch out my legs properly I ran back up the hill to get a good spectator spot. My legs felt more or less OK on Sunday – a bit achey and a bit tight, but that was to be expected. I thought little more of it, cycled to work as usual, and then headed out for a hill session on Monday morning. However by Monday afternoon my calves were having a tantrum and the cycle ride home was like riding through treacle.

When I got out of bed on Tuesday morning I knew I was in trouble. Still half asleep and on my usual morning coffee hunt, I wandered out of my bedroom, and towards the stairs. But as I began my descent something very strange happened. Somewhere between my pelvis and my knees communication was interrupted and, rather than my leg moving forward and down a step in a conventional stair-descending fashion, my pelvis jerked my leg out to the side and quite literally swung it down onto the step below. Communication between my brain and my body was also a little slow at this point (it was early in the morning) and so my brain’s attempt to stop me from walking any further was futile as my body, now on auto-pilot, continued its decent by grotesquely rotating each hip forward and half flinging, half dropping each leg down the steps so stiffly I must have looked like an extra from Night of the Living Dead. In an attempt to stay balanced and upright during this precocious downhill promenade my shoulders swung backwards with each pelvic swing forwards. I looked like a prat.

Tight calves were the culprits and so I decided to skip this week’s strength session and postpone Wednesday’s run until later in the week, by which time I hoped I would have relearned how to walk downstairs again. My second run of the week was not until Friday’s long, slow run, but I’m sure you’ll be very pleased to hear that my legs seem to be back to normal. Read on to find out more about my attempts to scout out the perils of the half marathon course and my first time trial during this training rotation.

Monday: Threshold hills
Quite possibly the most ridiculous training session to run 2 days after a cross country race, but this blog has shone a light many times on my idiocy so why should this week be any different? The GF accompanied me for this run and we completed 5 x 4 minutes of continuous hill running at threshold pace with 2 minutes recovery in between. I am going to put my jealousy to one side very briefly and extend my congratulations to the other half here, because she totally outran me and still had enough energy left to cook breakfast. Regardless of speed though, I kept an even pace and my legs did not fall off. That’s all I can really ask of a threshold hill session.

Tuesday: Unplanned rest
There was no chance I was doing any strength training on Tuesday. The cycle to work was more than enough. This is only my second skipped session since training stated, so I cut myself some slack.

Wednesday: More unplanned rest
I felt pretty guilty about taking another day off – that would be my third missed session since training started – and so I vowed that this would be a deferred session, not a skipped one.

Thursday: Scheduled rest
Thursday is my real rest day, and so I went about my business as per.

Friday: Long run
I have been growing increasingly concerned about the ‘undulating’ description of the Waltham Forest Half Marathon course. It’s such a subjective description that I thought I should go and check out the course for myself. After all, that’s what having the home advantage is all about, isn’t it – running the scary parts of the course in advance, without having to travel miles on the train!

I mapped out a route that would cover the two most worrying parts of the course: the long gradient from miles 8-10 and Friday Hill at mile 12. That covered the final third of the route. I decided to run from my home in Haringey to the imaginary 8 mile marker, where I would enter the course at the start of the long incline. I would then run the last third and the opening third of the course, get a feel for the ‘undulations’, and get a glimpse of the scenery that I will be running through in 6 weeks’ time.

Waltham Forest Half Marathon route My route to scout out the race course
(Top) The Waltham Forest Half Marathon route and (bottom) my route from Friday’s run

First impressions: This is possibly going to be the weirdest race I have ever run. The race is fairly small and is aimed at local runners and fundraisers. Therefore they will not be closing any of the roads on the day, instead using marshals to keep the runners and traffic apart. This is usually fine and I’ve run a few local 10K races that successfully do this. However, when I approached Waterworks Corner – a freakin’ enormous dual carriageway junction with bridges and few visible footpaths – I did panic about the game of chicken that we would be expected to play on race day.

It was OK in the end – I found a footpath – but not before I whipped out my iPhone compass app on the top of the bridge and desperately looked about me for a signpost, a pedestrian, or any other indicator that I would not be stuck forever at that hellish junction… Much to my surprise however, the footpath took me on a completely traffic free route across the junction and towards Chingford, via more urban scenery and the gently rise of Woodford New Road.

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The long gradient isn’t very much – about 100ft over 2 miles – but it’s one of those long ascents that unless you know it’s there you will wonder why your calves are hurting so damn much. Running is often as much about mental preparation as physical preparation and I’ve learned the hard way that you should always check out a race’s elevation profile in advance. I discovered that the Waltham Forest incline is a similar gradient to the Parkland Walk that I regularly run up to Highgate in North London – ever so slightly uphill, almost unnoticeable, but enough to demotivate you if you didn’t realise why your legs were aching. I’ve outsmarted you, sneaky slope…

The second worrying spot along the course was Friday Hill, which appears just before the 12 mile marker (how horrid). 12 miles into a half marathon even the smallest hill can feel like a mountain to run up, so I wanted to stamp all over it in advance, just to know that I could. And I did. I won’t lie – it’s a pretty sizable hill – but it’s fairly short and is followed by a glorious downhill.

After I passed the finishing point for the race (which I think is more or less the race HQ for the Orion Harriers’ Orion summer series – am I right?) I continued along the opening miles of the course route. After all, I was already there and had 14 miles to run according to my schedule. These opening miles were bizarre – almost entirely downhill and along some fairly narrow pavements. The marshals are going to have to do a good job keeping the runners and traffic separate on race day! And the runners are going to have to work hard to reign in the pace during those first few downhill miles.

The test run (LOL) of the route has left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand I feel far more prepared for the race and far more able to prepare a pace strategy. But on the other hand I am now fully aware of how easy it could be to miss a turning or get lost at a crossing unless marshals are well placed and able to call back runners who are also lost in ‘the zone’. Indeed, getting lost during the Waltham Forest half marathon seems to be quite a regular occurance if the race reviews I’ve started reading are to be believed… Check out this report from fellow London-based runner/blogger, Foot4ward.

Saturday: Tempo run
I had originally planned to use this week’s parkrun as a long threshold run, running the course twice with a 5 minute recovery, but I changed my mind. I wanted to try and run a new PB and get some reassurance that running in a different gear during HM training hasn’t knocked my speed.

It hasn’t. I knocked 60 seconds off my time from before December and ran my first sub-23minute 5K. Admittedly it was only 1 second below 23 minutes (22:59), but I don’t care and so neither should you. I’m so thrilled! I really, honestly never, ever thought that I was capable of running a time like that, but I’m pleased as punch to see that the training plan I slaved over designing is having some positive effects.

Parkrun result

Sunday: Rescheduled race pace run
I still needed to run this week’s 6 mile continuous race pace run, rolled over from Wednesday. It wasn’t as much of a struggle getting up as I thought it would be. Instead my body, resigned to the fact that I was going to abuse it again for another hour, climbed obediently into my running kit and carried me around Finsbury Park and Hornsey Road for 48 minutes. My pace felt comfortable again, and by thinking ‘steady’ and singing my cadence song, I managed to pretty much nail that race pace and avoid watching my GPS watch. It was a surprisingly pleasant run, but after 3 consecutive days of running I’m sure it won’t surprise any of you that I opted to get the tube to work.

This coming week is an easy week as I get ready for a 10K time trial on Sunday, so excuse me now as I go slob out for a few days… How has your week’s training been?

 

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