Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Bike & Go review

Friday, August 11th, 2017 | Sport

Elina and I are considering getting back into cycling. So, I did what any self-respecting young professional would do, and went out and bought a fancy bike at the cost of nearly £1,000.

Actually, I didn’t do that. What I did do was to spend £3.80 hiring a bike from Leeds CyclePoint to see if we could both still ride a bike.

It turns out that you really do never forget how to ride one. It must be 15 years since I last rode my bike and I was rather cautious about stepping back on. But as soon as your foot goes down you’re back in old habits.

The scheme is called Bike & Go and you cannot really go wrong at £3.80 per day. You can register online and get started straight away: you don’t have to wait for your membership card to turn up.

It has plenty of features, too: a kick stand, an integrated bike lock and easy-to-use hub gears.

That said, as your day-to-day bike, it wouldn’t cut it. It’s incredibly heavy. I struggled to lift it by myself. It barely fits in the lift in our apartments (might be a problem with all bikes). The seat is rock hard: even a few minutes riding leaves you sore. The brakes don’t fill you will too much confidence, either.

But, overall, it does the job. For the price of a cup of coffee.

How I beat the 10k world record

Thursday, August 10th, 2017 | Sport

For a long time, I’ve joked that I wanted to get my 5km run time down to Mo Farah’s… 10km time.

But this was never a joke. His personal best over 10,000m is 26:47, although this somewhat lags behind the world record of 26:17 set by Kenenisa Bekele in 2005. For years, my Parkun PB (personal best) was 28:50. Quite a long way behind…

Age grading

The 5km race pace is even quicker. That world record is held by Kenenisa Bekele, too. 12:37 set in 2004.

Then there is also a system called age grading. This is how it works:

They take the fastest recorded time that someone of your age and gender has run a specific distance. Then they give you a percentage based on that. So, if you match the time, you get 100%. If it takes you twice as long, you get 50%. Four times as long, 25%, etc.

The fastest a 30-year-old male has run 5km is 13:01. Therefore, to achieve a 50% grading, I would have to run 26:02. Even tougher than matching the 10k world record, of course.

A sensational year

The last year or so have been great for my running. I’ve taken 10 minutes off my 10k time and 24 off my half marathon (though to be fair, I’ve only done two and the first one was in 25-degree heat).

You can read more about my 10km races here and half marathons here.

But my 5km times have been tumbling too…

Note that these dates are evenly spaced on the chart, but not in time. I set my PB on my 3rd ever Parkrun back in 2014 and then did not better it until a year ago. Since then, I’ve set an additional three personal bests.

The stage is set

When I turned up to Parkrun last Saturday, I was feeling okay. Not amazing, but fine.

I noticed they had pacers, so I went over to the other side. I’ve been struggling to keep my time under 27 minutes: only managed it four times, including the two PBs. Therefore, I decided to follow the 27-minute pacer and make sure I was ahead of him.

As we raced down the first straight, I saw the 26-minute pacer just ahead. So, I thought “what the hell: I need to be somewhere around him anyway” and jumped across.

It was hard going. At around 3km I started falling behind. Which is fine, expected almost, given I had never hit 26 minutes. But the roar of the marshalls and the fact that, probably for the first time ever, I managed to avoid being lapped, I got back on his tail.

As we hit 4km he confessed that we were running ahead of schedule. He slowed down a little and a cat and mouse game began as he dropped behind me, before catching up each time I tried to draw breath.

For 500 metres this continued until we entered the back straight. At “the hill” (in quote marks because it only goes up two metres, but it is surprising how many people slow down) I was loudly groaning. But as we reached the top I decided to give it one last push and went clear of him.

As I rounded the final corner, I saw a beautiful sight for tired eyes: the 25-minute pacer wasn’t that far ahead of us. I found I had renewed energy for the final kick as I chased him down with all my will.

And missed him.

It was too much ground to make up. But that did not matter. I finished a mere six seconds behind him, giving me a time of 25:06. One minute 18 seconds faster than my previous PB, faster than the 10km world record and giving me a 51.53% on the age grading; the first time I had ever been over 50%.

How did that happen?

Let’s put things into context here. Despite my attempt at epic storytelling, 25:06 is not that fast for a 30-year-old healthy man to be running 5km. But, given how much of an improvement it was over my previous PB, it is worth considering what was different.

Here are some ideas:

The time was incorrect. This was my first thought. Parkrun timings are often out, sometimes significantly. But there are a few reasons to believe this one is correct.

First, I was just six seconds behind the 25-minute pacer. Second, I was well ahead of the 26-minute pacer. Third, Strava had my km splits at significantly faster than usual.

Both Strava and MapMyRun report me running at 5:00 to 5:20 minutes per km. This would give me a typical run time of 26 minutes. But it never works out like that. However, measuring the differences, I clearly did beat the 5:00 per km on this occasion.

It’s also difficult to measure my exact time on the app because I start it from when I leave home, and stop it when I return home. So the Parkrun itself is from 2.5 km into the run and ends 7.5 in.

So, given that the Parkrun time and the pacers’ times agree, and my Strava report agrees I was on a good day, it suggests the time is accurate.

It could be that the time was off in my recent 27 and 28-minute runs, which were actually faster. I have, for example, comfortably beaten the 27-minute pacer before and been given a 27+ time.

I have new trainers. I had completely worn through the soles of my old running shoes, so I gave in and bought some new ones. It may be that they contributed to recent runs. This is only my second Parkrun in them.

I have been cross training. I have played a lot of basketball at work recently, and I’ve also been back in the pool a few times. Not many, but it could have helped.

I was just on a really good day. As an amateur runner, my performance is not very predictable. It could have been that I was just on a really good day.

And now the chart looks like this

Maybe there is hope for my hitting my target time in this year’s Abbey Dash after all.

These shoes are made for running

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017 | Sport

This is it, friends. The end of an era. I am saying goodbye to my current running shoes.

It’s heartbreaking. I have had my current trainers for many years. They have seen me through all of my races. They were even my everyday trainer until I decided I wanted to save them just for running.

But, they have had their day. I have worn through the sole so much that all that remains is the spongy padding. This means that when it rains, the shoe actually sucks up water rather than keeping my feet dry. And there is a little hole, too.

So, I’ve given in and bought some new ones.

At the Nike outlet store, of course. It’s awesome. Nobody speaks to you or tries to touch your feet. They just have boxes of shoes out that you can pull off the shelf and try on.

Will the extra padding make me soft and slow? We’ll find out soon…

Fearnville Leisure Centre review

Saturday, August 5th, 2017 | Reviews, Sport

Fresh from our trip to Kirkstall leisure centre, we decided to hit Fearnville this week.

It is also operated by Leeds City Council and as such as much the same facilities and pricing. It’s £4.90 for an adult and under 5s go free. There is a 25-metre pool at the same depth of 0.8 metres to 1.6 metres, making it almost deep enough for an adult in the deep end.

Their children’s pool was open and it was nice and warm. Venla enjoyed having a good splash.

The changing room setup is a little different. They split into men and women but then merge back together for family changing: with big cubicles, changing tables and lockers. This worked really well because we could double-team Venla.

The showers were back in the separate gender changing areas and there was still no plug socket for my hair dryer. The lockers required £1 and the keys were less fancy: it was literally a rubber band with a key attached to it.

Tour de France

Friday, August 4th, 2017 | Sport

I have never watched cycling before. For the obvious reason: that men peddling away on bikes for five hours does not sound that interesting.

However, when you are working with Sky Sports, you sometimes get caught up in the excitement. It happened with golf, and now it appears to have happened with cycling, too.

Plus, I have stopped watching Formula One since Sky announced they were getting almost-exclusive live coverage of it. So, I am in the market for a new boring sport to watch. Cycling seems an excellent candidate.

Not as boring as it looks

A cycle race may seem like a bunch of people riding around for hours before sprinting towards the finish line at the very end. And, to a large extent, it is that. It is much easier to ride together in a peloton, so that is what happens, especially on the flat stages.

But it becomes more complicated than that. Riders can “attack”, which means they cycle off up the road and the peloton has to decide between chasing them down or letting them go. Cycling by yourself or in a small group is tiring, so it then becomes a competition to see if they can build up a big enough lead to hold off the peloton when they speed up towards the end.

Tour de France has four different jerseys:

Jersey Description
Yellow jersey This is the most prestigious one: and the one Wiggins and Froome raced for and won. It is a sumation of your time for each stage: the one with the lowest is the winner. You also get time bonuses for winning stages.
Green jersey The points jersey. You get points for winning stages, intermediate sprints (designated points along the route) and reaching the top of hills first.
Polka dot jersey King of the Mountains. This is given to the rider who scores the most points from reaching the tops of hills first.
White jersey Best young rider, similar to general classification but with an age limit.

So, lots going on. And because different riders are aiming for different jerseys, tactics change a lot. It’s a team sport. If you want to win a sprint, for example, it is easiest if you have a line of team-mates to get you in the perfect position.

Or, if you are competing for the yellow jersey, it makes sense have some of your team mates attack. That way, the yellow jersey is forced to either chase them down, tiring himself out so you can pass him at the end, or leave the attackers to the stage, taking valuable time out of his lead.

Grand Depart in Leeds

There are four big races in cycling, known as the grand tours. These are the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España and Tour de Yorkshire. Some people dispute whether the latter is really a grand tour.

But Yorkshire is certainly a hub for cycling. In 2014, the Tour de France started here, with the Grand Depart starting on The Headrow in Leeds. I was there.

This year’s tour

Chris Froome took the win in relatively easy fashion. While his winning time was narrower than his previous victories, and he briefly lost the yellow jersey at one point, it never really looked in that much danger given how dominant Team Sky was.

The real outrage of the tour was that Warren Barguil was awarded the combativity prize. He rode an excellent race and won the King of the Mountains jersey fair and square. But how anyone other than Thomas De Gendt, who spend over 1,000km in breakaway groups (mostly leading them), could be awarded the combativity jersey is a mystery to a novice cycling-watcher such as myself.

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Leeds 10k 2017

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017 | Sport

July means the Jane Tomlinson’s Run For All 10k in Leeds. It is usually boiling, making for difficult running conditions but is also a really fun event to be part of: you set off from the east side of town and loop all the way around before heading up Kirkstall Road.

Last year I set an awesome time: 59:59.

I wanted to beat the hour and did so: by one second!

Race Time
Abbey Dash 2016 56:45
Run For All 2016 59:59
Abbey Dash 2015 1:07:58
Abbey Dash 2014 1:07:36
Run For All 2014 1:06:14

This year was a mixed bag. I managed a time of 57:28. This is 43 seconds behind by Abbey Dash time, but 2:31 ahead of any time I have set in the heat.

Any hope of the run being good for me was quickly dashed. We went for brunch at Wetherspoon’s, followed by recovery ice cream at Baskin Robbins. That was Venla’s favourite part of the whole event.

The race was well organised. You get a colour coded number based on your expected finish time: blue (elite), red (not so elite), and green (everyone else). Previously, I have been held up by slower runners, so I put in a target time of 54 minutes.

This seems to have been the magic that moved me into the red zone. 55 minutes plus seems to have put you in the green zone. However, there were only two pens: all the blues and reds were in the same one. This meant that while I expected it to take 10-15 minutes to get to the start, I was actually through a couple of minutes after the gun.

Well done to everyone else who took part, what were your times?

Oakwell Hall parkrun review

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 | Sport

I try to test up for the week or two before a race. However, as I’m also chasing my Parkrun 250 club (I have a long way to go), I couldn’t resist doing a Parkrun the day before the Leeds Half Maraton.

As I didn’t want to do my usual 10k run there-and-back, that meant driving. And, as I was already in the car, we decided to take the whole family and head over to Oakwell Hall.

As a Parkrun, it’s a mixed bag. The organisation is brilliant. There were loads of volunteers and cake at the end. It was also scenic: probably the most scenic I have done with the exception of Lyme Park. However, on the downside, a lot of it is done on man-made pathways that are only two people wide. Therefore, for the first 2 km, you are constantly being bottlenecked and forced to stop or slow down. It’s two laps, and nobody lapped me, despite me taking it easy.

This is how I did in the Leeds Half Marathon 2017

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 | Sport

Sometimes, I think it would be fun to run a marathon. Then there are other times. Times such as this, when I have just run a half marathon, and still remember just how painful it was. To do the easy half of a full one.

I completed my first half marathon last year and managed to complete it in 2:28:00. This year I had set myself a base target of 2:15:00 and a stretch target of 58 minutes. It’s quite a range, but I thought if I really want to push myself, I might as well go for a world record.

Favourable conditions

The temperature was a lot kinder this year. Gone was the 25-degree heat. Sunday gave us 17 degrees and some cloud cover.

The other thing I changed this year was the amount of sustenance I took on. Last year I stopped at every water station (I stay stopped, you don’t really slow down as you grab a bottle on the way past) and took on some food as well.

I don’t take anything on on my training runs: I just go out and run for two hours. My training runs are always faster. I also skipped the water station in last year’s Abbey Dash and set a personal best 10k time. So, this year, I avoided all food and skipped one of the water stations.

The result

Drum roll, please… This year I managed it in 2:03:42. That’s the official chip timing, I didn’t get my GPS quite perfect.

Notice how it condescendingly marks the whole thing as a “walk” (I ran the whole thing).

I managed to take a good line: you always end up running further than the actual distance because you are dodging around people. So an extra 150m over 21.1km is pretty small.

Most importantly, I took 24 minutes off last year’s time and beat my target by 11 minutes.

How did I feel about it?

I should be chuffed. But, if I had that ability, I would probably spend far less time stressing and enjoy life a lot more. It was a great time: but if I could just found an extra 4 minutes, I could have broken 2.

I did try. My pace was pretty erratic because of how hilly the course is. However, I did enough to give myself a chance in the first half the race and spent the 3rd quarter chasing down the gap.

But, towards the end, I ran out of steam. For the last 4 km, I was running on empty. I didn’t even notice the people cheering me on the finishing straight.

I’ll get it next year. It’s a race between me and Kipchoge. Who can break 2 first…

How does track cycling work?

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 | Sport

Did you experience a little confusion when watching the Olympic action at the velodrome last year? I certainly did. So I looked it up. Here are the ins and outs of track cycling.

Road cycling is pretty straight forward. People start at one point and then try and ride to the other point as fast as they can. The one who gets there first is the winner. Things get slightly more complex when there are stages and time trials, but the basic idea remains the same.

This is not so with track cycling. There are different disciplines and whole new skills to be learned with each one. This guide takes you through the most popular.

It’s all about the slipstream

Much like road cycling, being at the front is hard work. You have to move all of the air out of the way. In comparison, if you are sat behind another rider, it is much easier because you can cruise behind in their slipstream. This is critical throughout track cycling.

Team pursuit

In team pursuit, each team has four riders that have to complete a distance of 3km. Each member of the team will take it in turns to ride at the front, doing most of the work, before falling to the back and allowing the next member to take up the strain.

Only three riders need to finish the race. In theory, the team could go the entire race with all four riders. However, often one rider simply cannot keep up with the pace. Or, more often, the team will work tactically so that one rider does an extended spell at the front, burning all of their energy, before allowing the remaining three to finish the race.

Sprint

Spring is a competition between two individual riders. Distances vary but is often three laps of the track. In sprint races, you will often find the riders going very slowly for the first lap or two. The reason is that if the riders went off fast, the rider at the back would tuck into the front rider’s slipstream, save their energy, and then pass them on the final lap.

To prevent this, the front rider will cruise around at a walking pace, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. They will then suddenly rush off, hoping to catch the other ride unprepared. The other ride attempts to keep close enough to perform the undertake, often riding around the top of the track so they can rush down for a sudden gain of speed.

Keirin

Kieran is a race of 2km. However, for the first three-quarters of the race, the riders follow an electric bike around the track and must keep behind. The bike gradually increases in speed before pulling off the track near the end of the race, at which point it is a free-for-all.

Omnium

Omnium is the heptathlon of the track cycling world. Riders compete in a series of different races including pursuits, elimination races and time trials. An elimination race is a simple race around the track where the rider at the back is eliminated each lap until a winner is found. Omniums will typically end in a points race. This could be over 100 laps, with points given every 10 for the first four riders.

Start running with Parkrun

Saturday, February 25th, 2017 | Sport

Just going outside and running is simple. But for us adults, we often need something a little more structured to get started. Parkrun is a great option.

If you are thinking about getting started with running, Parkrun is a great way to go. Founded in the UK it was quickly spread to almost every town and is rapidly spreading across the rest of the world too.

So what is it? It is a timed 5km run that takes place every Saturday. It is free, so you can simply turn up and do the run. At most Parkruns there is a huge ability difference between runners: some will complete it in 15 minutes, others will take 50. Everyone goes at their own pace.

As a Yorkshireman, one of the major appeals to me are the free t-shirts. When you reach 50 runs, 100 runs and 250 runs you get access to a special t-shirt for that “Club”. Actually, it is not free, but all you pay for is a few pounds postage. There is also a “25 Club” for those who volunteer as marshals.

Here are the technical details. You register on the website and are given a unique barcode to print out. Take this along with you to the run and when you complete the course a volunteer will scan your barcode so that your time can be sent to you.