3 in 3hr – The Challenge Continues

Lee Valley Velopark Half Marathon

by Stu Blofeld


With quite a few LBAC runners competing in an Autumn marathon many of us are putting the final touches to our training and looking for that pre-marathon race sharpener to calm the nerves and help with pace expectations on the big day. I chose to head over to London and run around in circles at the Lee Valley Velopark Half Marathon.

The idea for this blog during my training for the 3in3marathonchallenge was to provide regular weekly updates. Evidently I haven’t being doing that, both because of a lack of time but mainly I think because from week to week during marathon training there isn’t always anything exciting to talk about. I don’t believe in blogging just for blogging sake and I’d much rather have something to say and reflect on that then a continuous monotonous diatrade of thoughts. So with that in mind let’s fly through the last 4 weeks since my last post.

In short it’s been a great month. And a critical one. 8 weeks out from a marathon is always crunch time where you really have to make it count. My overarching aim that has guided all my training is to maintain the focus on getting faster through speed sessions both on foot and the ElliptiGO Stand Up Bike. There was an opportunity to take part in a new event organised by a buddy of mine Elliot Hind at MK Marshalls Athletics Club. The MK5000 was touted as a PB event. Come and run 5,000 metres around the track and walk away with a PB. It was a well organised event with all participants grouped by their 5K PB time. There were at least 10 different heats with some GB runners in the final BMC (British Mile Club) heats. They were run in sub 15 minutes!! Seriously quick!!
With a PB of 17.35 I was in heat G. Each heat had a pacer set out to run each lap in an exact time. My heat was 82 seconds per lap. Well that sounds okay I thought. Maintaining that pace would bring you home in sub 17. Now baring in mind that I’d only run sub 18 for the first time the month before chopping off a minute was at best very ambitious, or just plain daft and asking for trouble.
In my mind I always think anything is possible so I set out to run with the pacer from the start and stick with him. There were 15 runners in my heat. Some with sub 17 PBs in the locker. This was gonna hurt. The first lap was quick. 78 seconds. The second on target pace. At the end of each lap a chap was calling out your predicted finish time based on your current pace. We got a scare on that first lap cos he said 15.XX. And that’s because just 4 seconds faster multiplied by 12.5 laps does indeed bring you in 50 seconds ahead of target pace. Of course I shouldn’t have let hearing that phase me cos it would calm down quickly but perhaps it did.
After six laps and half the race I was still on pace but I knew the effort was all out. To maintain the pace I had to put in a big surge on the first bend to not lose the heels of the runner in front. But it was taking a huge effort and I probably wasn’t going to sustain it. And from lap 7 onwards my times fell away a little. 82 seconds on paper looks doable but physically I couldn’t sustain that pace. Not only did we have the chap calling out our predicted finish time on the 200m line, we also had someone else calling out our lap times on the finish line. I heard 83, and on the next lap 85 seconds (only 3 seconds off pace but multiplied by the 6 laps left and it quickly adds up). The next lap 87. And that’s when I had to dig deep and not leak any more time. I maintained that pace with two further laps of 87 seconds (5 seconds off pace), and a 78 second lap to finish with a sprint. I crossed the line in 17.23. I was very happy with the 12 second PB even if it wasn’t quite what I set my sights on.

Yep it hurt that much!

Track racing is really tough!! That’s the one thing I came away thinking. No where to hide. The only focus is on performance and times. It’s pure running. Very different to your Saturday morning 5K Parkrun where your thoughts can drift and you can relax a little. This was very different. I enjoyed the racing aspect and pitting myself against others.

I had the slowest PB going into Heat G. And I came 11th out of 15 runners. The winner came home in 16.45 with some very impressive and even splits. My splits (secs) were 39 (first 200 metres) then each subsequent 400m: 82, 83, 82, 82, 82, 81, 83, 85, 87, 87, 87, 78.
So the speed sessions and competitive Parkruns have been working. I also put that to good use in the Beds AAA 10K race on a Friday evening. It had PB potential with a flat out and back course. But a Friday evening after a long working week. I felt knackered when I got there with lots of driving that week including on the Friday. But it turned out to be a good run and indeed a PB lowering my London10000 time by 6 seconds with a 36.30. In truth it probably should have been more but I slowed in the last two miles.
With a Half Marathon race in the calendar towards the end of August I had to start getting in the long runs in the build up to that race. The speed sessions and Parkruns would have to give way to the training runs that really matter most when training for a marathon. The 20 miler. I have mixed up my long runs with some run at a continuous steady pace, whilst others a little slower and some with some real intensity to them. Running buddies in my club had posted a few runs on Strava called 6s and 7s. I asked what’s that? The answer : Alternate between 6 minute per mile pace and 7s! Okay on paper that’s sound simple enough to execute. Garmin at the ready I chose a short 0.8 mile flat loop in town and went for it. It was a tough session!! It stresses the body in the RIGHT way slowing down and then speeding up, and repeat. But 7 minute miling isn’t slow! That’s just over 3 hour marathon pace. And 6s are an all out effort. So combining these really does require 100% commitment. I actually enjoyed the session in a rewarding sense and by breaking it down you only had to focus on 1 mile at a time. So it didn’t feel like a long run, just a series of repeats. I did 15 miles at that pace. The first mile at 8 mpm pace to warm up from my house. Then I tagged on 5 slow miles at the end to round off a 20 miler. Job done.
And so with a few long runs under my belt it was time to combine my training and the bring it all together in the Half Marathon. A great distance to test everything. Pace, stamina, endurance and race day tactics. I read back my last blog and saw I already put a marker in the sand and said I wanted to run a sub 1.20 in August. And so this was that chance. To see if I could better the time I set in 2013 as a young 33 yr old. I turned 40 this month and this half was my first race as a VET40! Bring it on 🙂

I had to find a half marathon race on a specific Saturday to fit my schedule. I looked around and there wasn’t too much on offer. But there was one that looked interesting. An event organised by RunThrough who use the Lee Valley Park Vélo circuit at the Olympic Park to put on a series of races all on the same 1 mile track at the same time. On offer was the Half, followed by a 10 miler, 10K, 5K and 1 mile race. Perfect I thought. Knock out even paced mile splits over 13 laps. This was right up my street

Nice medal reflecting all the race distances

I like destination races and whilst this was only East London I don’t enter that many races in the year. I was excited and ready to execute my plan. Sub 1.20 requires 6.05 per mile. So that’s what I set out to do. The first lap – 5.35! LOL. Okay Stuart so much for even pacing! What the hell was that. I wasn’t looking at my watch so ran as I felt and had no idea it was that quick. But I calmed down by lap 2 and started knocking out consistent 5.55-6.03 laps.

Lee Valley Park Half Marathon start

When I registered I thought the 1 mile lap was pancake flat but it turns out it had a few cheeky inclines. Very shallow and not long but enough to keep you focused and not over-cook it on the ups. It also kept me fully engaged every lap from start to finish. Never bored. I told a friend I had entered this race and he’s reply was he couldn’t imagine anything worst than running in circles. Everyone is different. But I loved it. There was also the added element of more and more runners pouring onto the track as each race started with the mile race setting off last which had kids everywhere! It’s not often you are running a half-marathon trying to set a PB and passing people half your height! It was a fun experience for that reason.

As the laps ticked by the effort to maintain the same pace was rising as I had to weave around other runners but I remained stead-fast. Unlike on the track at the MK5000 where I knew the pace wasn’t sustainable and I would slow. Here I felt confident that I could maintain the pace to the finish which spurred me on.

There was one issue though! Not my pace but the length of each lap. Advertised as exactly 1 mile per lap (and perhaps it is) but the Garmin had other ideas and it was coming up long. That matters because if you are running by pace and mile splits but those splits are not in fact 1 mile splits but 1.05 miles then the pace is exaggerated. And my finish time won’t be what I think it is.
And so that first quick mile of 5.35 was absolutely necessary to help me towards a sub 1.20. I crossed the line with a race time of 1:19.41. Get in!!! A new PB. I finished 4th overall and 1st VET40. If I had run that first lap dictated by my Garmin and not by how I felt I would not have broken 1.20. It would have been Brighton all over again missing it probably by seconds. So that’s also a very good lesson to take from this race to be confident in your own ability and judge your pace based on what ‘feels’ right not the numbers on your watch.

My mile splits

A good morning’s work at a great event

Strava Link here https://www.strava.com/activities/1795779511

This was a perfect race for me. At the perfect time in my training schedule. 4 weeks to go until Warsaw now and all the signs are good.
I’m writing this blog post on my phone sat on a train as I watch the French countryside whizz by. I’m on the way to Aix-les-Bains South of Lyon to take part in my first ElliptiGO race. I’ve owned my ElliptiGO for nearly 8 years now but have never actually raced it. Audax is not racing. That’s cycle touring with strict time limits but you are not racing each other. On Sunday 2nd September I will line up alongside 50 other ElliptiGO riders to take on a 13 mile hill climb up Mount Revard. It promised to be a fun weekend which is the main reason for coming over. The French ElliptiGO scene is full of eccentrics who adore their cycling and hills! The organiser Eric has organised this race for the last 5 years. I’ve always wanted to take part and now I’m here. And it happens to fit in perfectly with my marathon training.
Wish me luck!

I’d definitely recommend this event to club runners. It’s perfect because it offers so many race distances we could even arrange to go over as a whole club in 2019 and make a day of it racing in the morning and exploring London and having fun after!!! If folk would be interested in that then let me know.