Saturday, 6 September 2014

Rethinking My Running

Charlotte and I have settled into life in Chedburgh
It has been a few weeks since my last blog, and a lot has happened in that time, though not much in the way of running. Regular readers of this blog - yes, pay attention both of you - may recall I was preparing to go for a 5k pb at the end of July club time trial. This didn't happen - clearly I would have blogged if it had! - in fact, I didn't run it at all, preferring instead to help out at the finish line. In fact, I haven't even been out training since Charlotte and I moved into our new house mid July, having become somewhat disillusioned with running due to my repeated failure to improve my times.

Running for me has always been extremely helpful mentally: I find the training runs allow me time on my own to think things through, and help me deal with the stresses of every day life, and that decent races results help to boost my self-confidence. Unfortunately, easing off my usual training mileage after the London Marathon, whilst leading to a big reduction in my ongoing discomfort, has also led (not unexpectedly) to a down-turn in fitness and an inability to maintain the kind of pace I would like to run at. No sooner did I try to increase my mileage again than the discomfort returned, and so I made the decision to join the leisure centre gym in Haverhill, and to get my exercise fix that way instead.

As part of my sessions I make sure I end with a quick blast on the treadmill, usually doing 3km, and speeding up on the last kilometre. The hope is that this will allow me to remain competitive in 5km races, which has always been my favourite distance. I have now been at the gym for about 5 weeks, and so far results have been mixed:

Races since joining the gym

Race One: Kedington 5km

This, the 4th race in the Kevin Henry Series of club races, involves a big hill that takes up most of the 2nd kilometre. As with most runners, we spent a lot of time discussing how this might affect results.
Checking out the route beforehand by bike
My theory prior to the race was that this course still has the potential for fast times, since once the hill is out of the way, you can push hard, safe in the knowledge that the remainder is either flat or downhill. A lot of my club colleagues proved me right with some fantastic times. My own race didn't quite work out that way - I wasn't too displeased with my pace up the hill, but struggled to find the energy required to push on once I reached the top. Since this came very soon after I had joined the gym, I hadn't been expecting miracles and was fairly philosophical about it, although it was disappointing in comparison with the other KH races I had done so far this year.

Race two: Nowton Parkrun

One benefit of the location of Chedburgh is its proximity to Nowton Park - maybe only 15mins drive away - which means we have a new local parkrun. This is a reasonably straightforward course - two laps, with no nasty hills - but it is primarily on grassy tracks, with a short woodland section each lap. The grass is closely mown and not too hard to run on, but with my dislike of off-road running, I doubt this will ever be a pb course for me. However, I had not been prepared for quite how badly I would run there. The first time was fairly soon after we'd moved in - I ran without my Garmin at Charlotte's suggestion, so that I wouldn't stress about pace on the way round, and used it just to get used to the course. The result was just under 22mins, and it hurt throughout. After a couple of weeks at the gym, I returned expecting to see some improvement. However, on the morning I was feeling discomfort even before I began, and I ended up going over 22mins.

Race three: Club Time Trial

Hmm. Well I smiled a bit I think
Although it was my turn to look after the stopwatch for our August time trial, my co-organiser Andy was unable to run due to injury and agreed to step in for me, primarily since I had a job interview (for a managerial position at work) and wasn't sure if I'd make it in time. As things transpired, I got away earlier than expected, and so was able to run.

The run went well - my best 5km time for a while, at 20m24. I wonder if not being particularly focused on the race helped (I was obviously concentrating far more that day on the interview - which went well I think, but we are yet to hear who got the position.)

Another thing that helped was that a runner of similar speed to me, also named Andy, was just in front of me for the first half of the race, which helped me with my pacing. But this was the first time since joining the gym that I really felt the benefit of the extra strength this is clearly going to give me - and in particular, at around the halfway point, when I usually begin to flag, I had a very strong kilometre, and was able to get past Andy and push on well. Unsurprisingly, kilometre 4 proved tough, but it's still relatively early days and I was happy enough with the result.

Race four : Framlingham 10km

Charlotte booked us a superb B&B for the weekend, more like a boutique hotel really, and we explored Aldeburgh, Thorpeness and Framlingham itself on the Saturday, We were both entering the race primarily since it forms part of the Suffolk Grand Prix series, meaning the opportunity to score points for the club. There was a good turn out from HRC, and a fair smattering of pbs - including a massive improvement for Charlotte, For me, this proved to be one of my worst ever races - I even had to stop part-way round briefly, which is crazy for such a short distance - but rather than getting too down about it, I know it simply proves I am right to concentrate purely on 5km combined with gymwork, until I can get whatever my problem is sorted out. To this end I have registered with my new local surgery, with whom I hope to begin the whole investigative process again, in the hope that a new doctor may be able to shed some light on what's going on.

Race five: Cambridge & Coleridge 5KM

And so to a race last Thursday, the last of the KH series, and a much more encouraging performance, My time, admittedly on a fast flat course, was 20m15, and it was a similar experience to the last time trial, with a strong opening 3km in particular. If I have one regret, it is that I was unable to run hard for the last part since I felt a pb was on the cards having gone through 3km at only just over 12mins. For some reason I can't explain there was practically no discomfort at all, so I can't blame that - and at least I maintained pace, so there is plenty to be positive about.

Next steps

I think I kind of agree with this. Perhaps not completely. But sort of.
I think perhaps my next step at the gym will be to see if I can either increase speed in my 3km blasts, or to extend to 4km. Of course, running on a treadmill at your required pace is as straightforward as setting the buttons and then just gritting your teeth - slow down and you'd just fall off the back, so it's not an option. Running in a race requires much more willpower to maintain pace when it begins to feel tough, when just slowing down slightly is so tempting. I look back at my PB runs from over a year ago and can clearly remember how much they hurt from start to finish, not because of anything medical or injury related, but purely because it's total effort throughout. It's the reason so many recreational runners prefer to do longer races. For me, the reward of getting a good time following a really hard run race is why I run. I think that as my strength increases following all this gym work, I will feel more inclined to work harder during races to get the results I want. I am already experiencing this at the mid point of these 5km runs, when I am pushing on at the point that historically I have always eased off. I just need to discover that extra bit of willpower to keep working for longer.

I have 3 more races to complete this year: a couple of 5 milers to complete the Suffolk Grand Prix series, and the other a 5km road race in Shelford next weekend. I think the 5 milers may prove to be similar to Framlingham - a bit too far, and probably not great in terms of time - but it will be good to complete the series. The 5km race is a rare opportunity to run my favourite distance on road rather than track or trail, and this will be the race I submit as my "bonus" race for our club Grand Prix. With another week of work at the gym, I really hope to get under 20mins again.

It's always good to have ambition, and to have certain targets you want to achieve, in running or any sport. Following an up and down KH series, I am determined to come back stronger for next year, and think that this will be my main focus. The first six male runners and first four female runners from each club score the bulk of the points, based on their finishing position. These are then added together - with the club with the lowest points total finishing first. Your club's score is further reduced by subtracting one point for each runner that completes the course from your club. HRC have achieved fantastic turnouts in all five races, and we have had our best ever series. Last year I think I was always in our top six, but my best finish this year was seventh club runner home, so my aim for next year is to get back into points-scoring contention. Based on the results from this year, this will probably mean that I need to get into approximately 19min shape. Since my PB still stands at 19m44, this may seem unrealistic - but I hope that with plenty of hard work and determination, I can still make big improvements.

For the time being, just being able to get sub 20mins again on a regular basis would be fantastic, perhaps starting with next weekend.

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