The Revenge of the Nerds

For some reason, geeks and nerds (like me) seem particularly attracted to running as a sport.  Part of the reason may be the immediate data feedback loop.

As the film Moneyball exemplified, coaches and managers in many sports place complete faith in the science and utter truth of hard numbers.

If only our politicians did the same, perhaps we wouldn’t be heading for the impending sh*tstorm with quite as much haste (I digress).

Even average runners like me can gorge on a mass of data extracted from Garmins, Suuntos or other similar gadgets. I confess that I spend an unhealthy amount of time each week looking at the Strava and RunBritainRankings websites.

I think most runners will be aware of Strava. I fully understand why some runners will have nothing to do with it. However, I think it is a brilliant bit of software. (By the way, for a laugh, also have a look at the Twitter feed called StravaWankers – it’s hilarious)

If Strava were the hard drugs of running, then I might be uncomfortably close to being Pete Doherty.

I’ve always enjoyed messing around with data, I do it for my day job – playing with information in order to decide whether to it’s a good idea to bet on whether ships will sink, pirates will steal cargo or warehouses will burn down.

I stumbled across the RunBritain rankings website about six years ago.  For those that don’t know, at its most basic, it records the performances of all athletes in UKA official events (mainly road races, but one or two others seem to sneak in there too). Parkruns are also included.

The really clever bit is an algorithm that grades each performance according to the severity of the course and the conditions on the day in order to arrive at a standard scratch measure. From there, each performance can be compared with a theoretical baseline.

One’s five best recent performances against standard scratch produce a handicap figure, akin to a golf handicap (0 to 36).

Like golf, a scratch or zero handicap would indicate a very high standard, probably in the top 1% in the country. As with golfers, exceptional athletes have a negative handicap.

Mo Farah is ranked No.1 in the National handicaps with -7.4.  I am ranked 6004th overall in the UK (5779 among males) and 115th in my MV50-55 age group (2.2 handicap).  There are just under a quarter of a million athletes on the database.

My ambition this year is to break in the top 100.  Erm, that’s in my age group, not overall. To make the top 100 overall would require a sub 30 minute 10K time.

Aside from measurements of time and comparative performance, I’m also intrigued by physiological data. A couple of years ago, I participated in a study at Leeds Trinity University which aimed to assess the advantage (or not) of drinking beetroot juice before running. As a side benefit from taking part, I was given some physiological data, most interestingly my VO2 max figure, which was 64.

VO2 max is a measurement of the maximal oxygen consumption, often viewed as an indicator of endurance capacity. A high VO2 max doesn’t automatically mean that you will be a superior athlete, but I doubt it would do you any harm.  Some elite athletes (usually cross country skiers or cyclists) have a VO2 max in the 80s or even low 90s.

For example, at the GSK human laboratory a couple of years ago, Chris Froome’s VO2 max was measured at 84.6.

On his excellent running blog,, Jason Cherriman always includes a figure for heart beats per mile, which he terms ‘aerobic efficiency’.

This is not a widely used metric, but Jason views it as a good measure of fitness. I remember being told at school that fitness is a measure of how quickly one can recover from extreme physical exertion, so perhaps beats per mile does have value.

For fun (OK, because I am a total nerd), I have compared my beats per mile figure for this week with Jason’s last week.  Bear in mind that he is a 2:20 marathon runner in his thirties running 120+ miles per week, I am 2:55 runner in my fifties running around half his volume.

Jason’s figure was 978 beats per mile, mine was 1,009. Obviously, he is fitter than me, but there isn’t as big a difference as I thought.


A solid week – 71.1 miles logged, which is ahead of my nominal target of 60 miles, but I did naff all last week running wise.

My club had one of our semi-regular trips to an away parkrun on Saturday – to Halifax. I ran hard, not totally eyeballs out, but reasonably close to it and I finished fourth in 18:59. It was quite a challenging course, with 272 feet of ascent according to my Garmin. On the back of a higher mileage week and on tired legs, that’s OK.


Today I ticked off pre-London long run number two (of a series of six). It was a very pleasant group run with some teammates around Fewston and Swinsty reservoirs, 21.5 miles of muddy undulating trails in good company completed in 2:47 (7:50 miling – though we did a few miles at much closer to 7 minute miling).

Next week will be easier – a few work / life events will prevent me from logging a lot of miles. Hopefully this will act as a mini taper for the Dewsbury 10K next Sunday.

LM -12 weeks

71.1 miles longest run 21.5 miles

Parkrun 18:59 (Halifax, 4th)

Weight 11 St 1.8 lbs


A Week off

My week:
Didn’t run much. Skied lots, fell over a few times, drunk loads, ate gorgeous but generally unhealthy food. Put weight on.

Had an absolutely wonderful time with great mates.



LM -13 weeks

14 miles, longest run 9 miles

Weight 11st 5.4lbs


Deja Vu all over again

Back in January 2014, shortly after I began writing this blog, I ran at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in York.  It started in steady rain, which abated mid-race producing near perfect conditions for a fast half marathon. I smashed my PB by 7 minutes with a 1:20:27. I haven’t run quicker since.

The human memory is fallible, but I think we had virtually identical conditions today.

I travelled over to York with teammate Tim.  We engaged in standard runner pre-race chat during a soggy warm up lap of the Knavesmire – i.e. what injuries/illnesses we have/had and what time we were targeting.

I hadn’t raced on the road for ages – well over three months and had been ill over Christmas, so I put myself down for a 1:23 as a genuine non sand-bagging estimate of my ambitions for the day.

Tim, a fellow MV50 runner, has been running strongly recently.  Although I edged him at the Vale of York Half back in September, I thought he might have the upper hand today.

After the off, I tried to find that comfortable half-marathon pacing sweet-spot. For me, this is when breathing is still comfortable, one can still talk in snatches if required, but the legs are turning over quick enough to know that this is a hard race effort. It’s a fine balance.

I don’t know why, but I felt great during the first few miles, pinging along at around 6:05 minutes per mile, steadily passing people. Tim dropped behind me after a couple of miles.

I thought this sub-PB pace may be a little extravagant, but I decided to stick with it and see what happened. I hadn’t targeted this as a PB attempt, so I thought I may as well go with the flow.

Groups formed and I was in a pack of about 6 along with the third and fourth ladies. Unfortunately for me, my group was moving just a tad slowly, so I went to the front, hoping to drag a few with me. Instead, I dropped them and found myself running entirely alone in no man’s land from miles 5 – 10.

My mid race splits were 5K in 18:57, 10K in 38:04, halfway in 40:11 and 10 miles in 61:17. At 10 miles I still just about had a hope of a PB if I could speed up.  However, although the breathing was still comfortable and the heart rate manageable, my legs were really feeling it and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to maintain the same pace to the end.

A Richmond and Zetland runner passed me going very strongly at about 10.5 miles, sportingly he invited me to tuck in as he passed. I hung on to him for about 5 minutes, but he was running 6 minute mile flat pace which was too quick for me, so I let him go (he finished in sub 1:20).

I was firmly in the hurt locker, playing games in my head to try to keep it going and attempting mental arithmetic to predict my time. I knew the PB had gone.

After two small bridge climbs, with less than a mile to go, Tim swooped past me. Just as I would in his position, he surged past strongly. I tried to lift my cadence to latch on, hoping that I might mug him in the final sprint, but alas I didn’t have it. Tim beat me by 5 seconds in a PB time of 1:20:55 (with a 5:56 final mile to boot) to my 1:21 flat.

I was delighted with my run, it felt great to be back running somewhere close to my best and for almost 10 miles I was bang on my PB pace, I leaked away 30 seconds over the final three miles.

As a wee bonus, Tim and I both bagged age group prizes and a few English pounds in prize money – Tim was 2nd MV50 and I was 3rd:

It was clearly a good day for fast times, several other Striders ran PBs and/or great times. Liz Reddington was perhaps the most surprised fellow age group prizewinner as 2nd FV55 :


With this solid run under my belt, I can target the Bath half in 8 weeks’ time for a proper beat myself up PB attempt…could I sneak under 80 minutes? Hmmm…

Next week will be light on mileage, but heavy on fun in the snow, beer and crap food. I’m heading off to St Anton in Austria for four days skiing with a gang of mates. I was a bit perturbed to see that the temperature is expected to be -17°C, -24°C with wind chill. That is F. cold!

LM -14 weeks

58 miles, longest run 13.1 miles

Weight 11st 3.4lbs


Pass me the beans

A new year and new goals.  With a fair wind, in 2017 I’ll run two road marathons – London on April 23 (15 weeks from now) and an Autumn marathon wearing an England vest as an age group competitor.

Since returning from my Indian holiday, I haven’t felt great – I contracted the regular Christmas time lurgy in mid-December and felt yucky and chesty and didn’t run much at all for a fortnight.  I tried to maintain fitness on the rower and turbo trainer, but my heart wasn’t really in it.

I had planned to run races on consecutive days over the festive break – the Chevin Chase, a local 7 mile hilly trail race, on Boxing Day; and the Ribble Valley 10K on the following day.

Having missed the Abbey Dash in November, my intention when I entered Ribble Valley was to break my 10K PB. Clearly that wasn’t going to be possible because of the respiratory illness, so I decided to duck that race.

I did turn up at the Chevin Chase – its a great fun event, the course passes  within a couple of miles of my house and the support is always amazing. No doubt many of the spectators were hoping to see one (or maybe both) of the Brownlee brothers.

I can’t say that I enjoyed the race. It was a brisk chilly day and I was still feeling grotty and snotty.

There is a lung bursting steep climb at about 5 miles  up to Surprise View. It takes a huge effort just to run the whole way up and I didn’t manage it. I succumbed to a little walk near the top when I couldn’t catch my breath and my heart rate resembled a drum track on speeded up Hi-NRG  Euro disco music.

After the climb there was a half mile road section along the top of the ridge straight into the teeth of a brutal wind.  Still unable to catch my breath, I’m slightly ashamed to say that I had a little sulk and mini internal tantrum.  I stopped and walked for a minute or two and dozens of runners streamed passed me.

The sight of team mate Nobby passing me (in a Santa Suit) on the final descent shocked me out of my grouse and I sprinted the last  mile in just over 5 and a half minutes. Still, my time of 51:58 was pretty crap really – more than 3 and a half minutes slower than my best time on the course.

Jonny Brownlee won again (Alistair didn’t run), but apparently not by much, with only a handful of seconds gap over Tom Adams of Ilkley.

The illness has been slow to shift and even now I still feel that I have a bit of infection lingering in my chest. Consequently my running has all felt a bit ‘meh’ – just lacking in beans.  As I’m now the ‘wrong’ side of 50, and suffering a few aches and pains, I have had thoughts that maybe age is getting to me and perhaps I have run as fast as I ever will.

That could well be true for some of the shorter distances – 5K in 17:30 and 10K in 36:06 might just be as good as I will ever do, but I still feel that my 2:55 marathon PB is a bit soft and I should really be able to run at least two minutes faster. That’s what I aiming for in 2017 and if I achieve my best ever marathon whilst wearing a National vest then so much the better.

On New Year’s Day, I ran the traditional (OK, it’s the second year we have done it) double parkrun jaunt with a few Valley Strider chums.

This entailed a 22 mile run from Roundhay to Woodhouse Moor parkrun for the 9:00 event; then on to Temple Newsam for the 10:30 event and then the run home.  It was very enjoyable to run it with Myra, Tim and Joel and Ian (a few other Striders ran part of the way) – apart from being completely soaked by a tw*t of a car driver who swerved into a large puddle to drench us early in the run.

Yesterday, I ran in the Yorkshire Cross Country Championship at Lightwater Valley near Ripon. The course was much drier and quicker than last year.  Despite telling myself to go steadily at the start and save something for the final two laps, I got suckered into running much too quickly and suffered in the second half of the race, conceding a few places.

Although I enjoy the craic, I’m not great over the country and my target for these championship cross country races is to finish in the top half of the field.  This year, I failed miserably, coming home in 156th position out of 287.  Still, I think I tried as hard as I could, as the Strava heart rate chart testifies:


A heart rate of 156 for me means I’m pretty much on the rivet. A heart rate in the 160s means get ready to call an ambulance…so that was one hard race! I felt disappointed to concede so many places, but I couldn’t have tried much harder. More training and less moaning is required.

There’s 15 weeks until London. My basic plan is to average at least 60 miles per week, with a minimum of six runs of 20 miles or longer (hopefully more) and at least one speed workout per week.

I’ve entered a few of my traditional build up races plus a couple of new ones – 10Ks at Dewsbury and Salford, 10 mile races at Snake Lane, and Vale of York (maybe Thirsk as well) and half marathons at the Brass Monkey in York and Bath. That’s quite a lot of racing and I really ought to fit a 20 mile race in there as well, but I haven’t worked out which one or when yet – we’ll see.

The long road to London starts tomorrow.

LM -15 weeks

47.1 miles longest run 11 miles

Weight 11 st 1.6 lbs