California Roadtrip 2015 – Trip Preparaton

After having already been abroad twice during the year – first of all to Mexico and Canada on vacation, and then to various US states for work, there was still time left for one last trip. Originally the plan was to travel to Florida with my sister, though after realising that leaving a trip to Florida for another year would allow for Disney to open up a new Star Wars area first we decided to delay that. Instead I started planning a trip around the state of Arizona where we’d be taking it in turns to drive.

Unfortunately my sister was ill just before I went to Mexico back in May and the plans for Arizona had to be cancelled, or at least delayed as it was unlikely she’d be able to fly in November. Instead I spoke to a friend I often travel with and we decided that we’d attempt a roadtrip along the coast of California.

Before anything could really be decided on we needed to come up with a list of what we wanted to see. It had been recommended that we included some surfing at Carpinteria Beach, and we wanted to see Big Sur. I was also keen on seeing the Space Shuttle Endeavour that I knew was located in the Science Museum in LA. I also didn’t really want to go as far south as San Diego, and I wanted to visit San Francisco some other time so I could spend more time there so with this in mind we began to plan the road trip along the coast from San Jose to Los Angeles.

The planning from this point on meant figuring out how long we’d need in each place so we’d know where we’d be each night so we could get a hotel booked. There were a few bits I thought might not work out quite right, but perhaps it would add to the adventure of a week driving through a foreign country. I’ve never driven overseas before, so have never driven on what we’d consider to be the “wrong side of the road”, and I’ve never driven an automatic either as I prefer manual.

I also needed to figure out where I’d be able to run each day as well, as I needed to keep my training going as I’d be beginning the build-up to an Ultra Marathon in the new year. I accepted though I might not get to put in as many runs or as many miles as I could do with though so I tried to time my runs around the trip as best I could to minimise how many miles I’d need to do whilst there.

In the week before the trip I had to sort out getting a code from the DVLA to be able to drive abroad, and also finish packing what equipment I would need for the week. As it was only a week and fairly predictable it meant I could pack lighter than I have done for most trips in the past.

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Leicester Half Marathon 2015

Two half marathons in two consecutive weekends felt crazy. Sure enough though it was the sort of crazy that’d I’d be up for attempting. In some ways it would be like a practice run for my Spring 2016 plan, but with shorter distances. Although after the Great Birmingham Run my cough and cold lingered on – threatening to make this another struggle. Fortunately by race day though it wasn’t bothering me as much.

On race day the clocks changed back to GMT meaning an extra hour in bed before needing to head over to my friend’s flat on the way to the race start. It being a local race too meant it was a pretty casual morning, though it was a 09:15 start time. We probably left it a little late for getting to the start so we had to have a short jog to cover more ground, but we got there in time and I gradually made my way to somewhere close to the sub-1hr30 marker for the pen.

It took quite some time to get moving as the first several hundred metres was a bit of a bottleneck until we reached the first corner. At this point I was able to swing out wide and start to overtake as I got up to my intended speed. After this first corner though it’s a long descent that lasts for about a mile so I was soon going quicker than I’d normally aim to during a half marathon and found I’d covered that first mile in 6:26 minutes – just over 30 seconds faster than my target pace. I thought at this point I’d eased off a bit, and the route continued across the outskirts of the city centre where there’s a fair bit of building work going on for the new bus station and then out onto the “golden mile” (it get’s this name from the number of jewellery shops that used to be along here). Along this stretch a pedestrian ran across the road just in front of me, trying to film runners with his phone – fortunately by this point the number of runners had already started to thin out a bit so I was able to dodge to the side to avoid him.

It was quite a different experience to when I did the Leicester Marathon the year before already – being a tiny bit faster now meant that I was in a pack which was much thinner than the year before so after the second mile I’d already got so much more room to move. I did soon realise though that I was going a little too fast still – my first 5K of the race was done in around 20:21 which up until a couple of weeks ago when I got 19:34 at parkrun it would have been a PB. Realising this I hit the brakes pretty quickly and dropped down to my intended pace of around 7:00min/mile. It wasn’t enough though as by the time I got to 10K I got my second best 10K time of 41:45 – only 14 seconds slower than my PB.

Mile 5 was one of the tougher ones for me – it was when we veered off the dual carriageway and through the town of Thurmaston. It may have been a gradual one, but this was a long hill that I could feel in my legs. I had some regrets here for having started too quickly, but I kept going. A little before the mile 6 marker is when we one again we went up hill and left the dual carriageway – this was the point where the marathon and half marathon runners split up. Just as I’d experienced with the full marathon last year it signalled a sudden massive reduction in the number of people around me.

Although the numbers had reduced, just before entering Watermead Country Park there is a section that narrows so only one can go through at a time. At the time I was shoulder to shoulder with another runner so dropped back a couple of steps to let him through and then fell in behind him as we ran through the park. All of a sudden this brought back memories of the year before – struggling, dehydrated, dodging cyclists, and unsure if I could finish. This time though I was only doing half the distance and was feeling confident I could get to the finish line.

Running through the park everyone was in single file despite having a large amount of space available. There were a few sharp corners and a hairpin bend going through this, but I was able to stick to the sort of pace I was aiming for – and even managed to move up a few places. Between miles 7 and 8 it was alongside the River Soar, and I passed a couple of St John’s Ambulance cyclists heading in the opposite direction – hopefully not to a shout. Just before reaching mile 8 the course moved away from the waterfront and the park and out through a residential area – I remembered this bit feeling particularly difficult last year, but this year I ran straight up the hill without slowing too much.

As I passed the marker for mile 8 I remembered about and ate one of the jelly babies I had with me, but lost all but two of them on the floor. I figured I’d now save the two I had left for around mile 11 or 12 when I would likely need them (although I had forgotten about them by then).

Leading up to mile 10 I was still feeling strong even though I’d lost about 21 seconds of time I’d “banked” (which I’d made a mental note of being around 94 seconds). If I didn’t lose any more time then not only would I make it for a PB, but I’d actually managed a sub-90 minute time as well. Although I hadn’t had any water up to this point, even when another water station was approaching I decided I wouldn’t bother so I stayed as far over as I could. However it didn’t stop another runner overtaking me on the far side and then cutting across right in front of me to the water station before coming to a full stop. I almost ran into the back of him but was fortunate to manage to side step around him at the very last second. It has slowed me down and I needed to get back up to pace, though it had only cost me around 5 seconds as it turned out.

The mile marker for mile 10 was more or less directly behind the National Space Centre and was a cause for me to smile. I only had a parkrun’s worth of running left to do, and it didn’t matter if I needed to slow down for the wet leaves that covered the path here (I was a little paranoid I’d slip on them). Half a mile later I heard someone cheer my name, telling me I was doing brilliantly. It was the first time this race I’d heard someone cheer me, and to be fair it doesn’t happen that often, but it was enough to spur me on. I crossed the road and picked up a reasonable bit of speed down the very short stretch of hill into Abbey Park. One of the marshall’s yelled “you’ve got this! great running!” and I actually let myself smile at this. It felt good.

I knew Abbey Park reasonably well from the 10K and marathon last year and knew that with the exception of the bridges it was a fairly flat area. My legs were starting to tire, but I knew with so little left to do I had to keep on pushing. I couldn’t let myself walk as I knew if I did I would be disappointed with my time no matter what I got. By this point I’d stopped looking at my watch and was just waiting for it to vibrate to signal the passing of each mile – I didn’t want to know how much time I’d lost before reaching the park.

This seemed to pass by quickly and I was soon back out of the park and along the pavement heading back into the city centre. Shortly after this point, and a little passed the mile 11 marker the route goes down under the dual carriageway through the pedestrian tunnel. It looks like my watch lost it’s signal during this point and didn’t track this properly resulting in my next mile seemingly falling short.

Once out of the tunnel the route climbs back up to street level and then continues up hill towards the high street, before veering off down a side street. This side street cut through between the Highcross (shopping centre named after a part of Leicester where two Roman roads cross) and the Showcase cinema. It was getting tough, but I’d caught up with some more runners and was no longer that alone – I’d got motivation to keep on going no matter how tough it started to feel. The run through the city centre was lined with people cheering us on and I managed to overtake a few more along this bit. There’s then a few more turns as the route passes by the market and towards the start of New Walk and the 12 mile marker.

For those that don’t know, New Walk is a pedestrian path which was the first suburban walkway in Leicester in 1785 and runs from the former location of the Leicester City Council offices all the way up to De Montfort Hall (named after Simon De Montfort, the 5th Earl of Leicester who led the rebellion against King Henry III). This section is about a mile in length but it is a steady incline almost all the way with a bit part way up that levels off briefly. I’d known this was coming and I was hoping I’d made up enough time early on and not lost it later on in order to still get a PB.

My main goal for this race, and for New Walk was to not walk. It was a struggle, and at one point I caught up with another runner, though just before I passed him he cut me up to give some friends or family of his a high five. I can’t begrudge him that! Though a little after this I did hear someone cheer my name again and this was just what I needed for that one last push to get to the top of the hill.

At the top of the hill the route moves back onto the road and for the first time for this course was lined with railings to keep pedestrians away from the runners for what was approximately the last 400 or so metres. I started to pick up speed again, but found it a struggle to get up to my usual sprinting speed – so didn’t push it. As I crossed the finish line my watch read 91:06 – a new personal best!

The goodie bag for this race consisted of:

  • Finisher’s medal
  • Finisher’s tee
  • Banana
  • Bottle of water
  • Oat and chocolate bar
  • Harribo Golden bears
  • Salt and vinegar crisps

I drank a reasonable amount of the water, but poured the rest away before setting off on another run. This run was a lot slower, and a lot shorter and after 2.5 miles I decided I’d walk for a while before doing another mile of running to get back to the finish line to wait for my friend to finish. It was great to see that she was running strong, and incredibly happy that she knew she was already on target for a PB as well. I met up with her at the finish and sure enough she’d PB’d by 3 minutes – a fantastic achievement for the second half marathon in two weeks. I was so incredibly pleased for and I could tell she was so happy – that made me even happier!

My official time was 01:30:56.253 in position 132 of 2057 finishers (putting me in first top 6.5%). With only 57 seconds off a sub 90 minute time that will likely be one of my goals for 2016, so may help to shape my training post-Canalathon next year. It felt good to end my half marathons for the year with one I could say I hadn’t walked during – something I’d struggled with in the latter half of 2015. I’m now looking forward to 2016 and setting new goals.

Great Birmingham Run 2015

Racing hadn’t been going great recently, and neither had training. After what I perceived as a failure at the Robin Hood Marathon I wanted to start getting back to where I was with running back in March. For October my plans included two back to back weekends of half marathons, the first of which would be this hilly one in Birmingham for the Great Birmingham Run.

I had some idea of what I was getting myself into having done the inaugural Great Birmingham 10K back in May – I knew about the big hill towards the end. However I didn’t expect to get another cough and cold right before this half marathon – just as I had done with the Robin Hood marathon. This resulted in easing off the pace in a few training runs and even cutting one short due to not feeling well enough to go the full distance.

On the day of the race I met up with some friends and we took a taxi from Leicester to Birmingham – definitely easier than having to navigate the roads around Birmingham. The journey passed by really quickly and not long after arriving we met up with some others from the #ukrunchat community for a chat and a pre-race photo. I parted ways at that point and joined @DavidNFLF1 as we headed over to the orange pen. It was quite full and somewhere in front of us we could see the 1hr35 and 1hr40 pacers more or less together.

I wasn’t too bothered about the pacers being in front as I knew that by the end of the first mile we’d settle into a place and I would likely find myself somewhere between the two. The odd thing is though I don’t actually remember passing either of them, but I suppose I must have passed at least the 1h40 pacer at some point, and I didn’t see the 1hr35 pacer again until the end – he’d finished before me despite me finishing ahead of that time.

In the first mile it felt like I had started strong, and was at a pace that felt quite comfortable. I’d been lucky to get out of the way of other runners pretty quickly so had some breathing room for a while until some tight bends required me to slow down as they became congested. It was also pretty familiar as those of us in the left hand lane had turned off the main road and was taking the familiar course of May’s 10K whilst the right-hand lane had carried straight on for us to eventually meet up before the first mile marker.

For the first four miles it was fairly congested and somewhere around the end of this section I did get a fellow runner run straight into me and should barged through a gap in front of me. In some ways I can understand their frustration, but at the same time it’s something we all had to contend with so he should really have just put up with needing to “ease of the gas” a bit like the rest of us where. It was around this point that we could see the 8 mile marker on the opposite side of the road – knowledge we’d be running up a slight incline to get to it later. A good thing to know.

The fourth mile did also include a surprising hill and I dropped my pace for it – not wanting to use up too much energy too early. Still, even with this dropped pace due to some faster miles earlier I was still averaging ahead of what I would need for a PB I had no intention of attempting. I decided I’d carry on at a pace that was comfortable and wouldn’t push too hard – I wanted to enjoy this after having had some difficult races lately. There were a few runners that were cheating themselves here though – despite the tape indicating to go wide around corners they were mounting the pavement and chopping off about 20 metres of the route.

At some point during the fifth mile I saw the elites running passed in the opposite direction – they were running hard and doing incredibly well. I slowed briefly to clap them as they passed and then put the focus back into my own running. The support from the people of Birmingham was still strong and I used this to push a little harder. For the next three miles I was consistently doing sub-7min/miles and still felt capable of continuing. I think I could have pushed harder at this point but decided not to as I wanted some left in me for tackling the hill at the end.

Between miles 5 and 6 we also went through Bournville – the home of a Cadbury’s chocolate factory. It would have been nice if they’d been giving out chocolate to the runners – but that was just wishful thinking! I think perhaps if they’d been doing that there would have been the temptation to run passed a few times!

As I reached mile 8 we were back along the stretch of road we’d seen previously from the other side and I started to look out for @amy__everett – hoping to see how she was doing. Fortunately I was able to spot her and gave her a smile and wave as we passed in opposite directions. I’d not been keeping an eye on my pace at this point and was still going faster than I’d intended. By mile 9 I decided to ease off a little so I could have a better run at the hill. This is where we ran around the back of the stadium and out onto a housing estate.

At some point I noticed a frame set-up ahead that was spraying water. Although warm I didn’t really want to get wet so decided to take it wide – I still managed to get one foot wet though! It didn’t really bother me, though I did think I’d need to be careful not to get a blister like I had done when I’d gotten my feet wet in a previous race.

Eventually we reached the dreaded 10 mile marker – the one which I believed to be the start of 2 miles of running up hill. Although I’d slowed down a little, I hadn’t seen any sign of it going up hill. Early on we rounded one corner and a pedestrian walked out into the road in front of the runners whilst talking on his mobile – completely oblivious to what was going on around him. I don’t think it caused anyone any issues though fortunately.

A short time later the course dipped down for an underpass and @1SteveMac caught up with me. We chatted for a while, but I started to feel my nose was getting a little congested and I was struggling to breathe. We then hit the 11 mile marker and the route started to go up hill. It still felt okay at this point, but it was getting harder to breathe. My right ear then popped and I was struggling to hear out of it – though I could now feel the vibration in that ear of each foot strike I made.

I slowed to a walk hoping that my ear would clear – seconds later @DavidNFLF1 sailed passed me – running strong and making good progress. After about 5 seconds I then decided to try and catch back up with him, and I got close, but the hill climb was getting steeper and I still wasn’t able to breathe through my nose that well. Unashamedly I then slowed back down to a walk and took the hill fairly casually. Once we got to the top I then started running again, and only stopped briefly to try and clear my ear, but unable to I carried on.

I then noticed @DavidNFLF1 was about 600 metres ahead of me, and I thought I’d see if I could speed up enough to catch-up with him (I didn’t – he’s too strong a runner for me to stand any chance of that! And really pleased he managed to set a new PB for the second week running!). I tried hard and even picked up some reasonable speed as the route dipped down for one last under-pass. I could see the 400 metre sign and I wasn’t sure if I should try and pick up more speed or not. I decided to hold off and then started to pick up speed as I got to the 200 metre marker.

I finished in position 631 of 12,242 finishers (top 5%), with an official time of 1:32:43 – 20 seconds slower than what I’d set as a PB at Silverstone back in March. It didn’t bother me though, I was happy with it. Considering that at Silverstone I was at full health, had great weather conditions (was cold so I’d never really be overheating), and was flat for the majority of it I think being 2 seconds per mile on average slower on a course where I was still getting over a cold, and a hilly course at that, it wasn’t too bad. I’m happy- next week I’ll have an attempt at a PB when I run the Leicester Half Marathon.

The goodie bag at the end included a medal, a finishers tee, a bottle of water and lucozade, a fruit bar and a few other bits I wasn’t that interested in. It was then nice to be able stand around talking after the race for a while a