Monday, 27 October 2014

Shelford (almost) 5km

So much to catch up on. Haven't blogged for a while, and since my last post a lot has happened, all good. Possibly too much to put into one blog - so I have decided to catch up in smaller chunks, starting with a promising 5k at Shelford. I hand wrote this blog shortly after this race - it represents my thoughts at that time:

An Apology

In an attempt to make this blog intelligble to any non runners who may have accidentally stumbled across it, I may have to veer off on a number of tangents to ensure certain running related terms are explained. Your patience is appreciated.

A new PB - but there was a catch....
A difficult blog to write - because by rights I ought to be jumping up and down with unadulterated and slightly excessive joy, having finally beaten my old 5km PB time set back in April 2013 - and not just beaten it, but taken a big chunk off as well, with an official time of 19m10 at the Shelford 5km
(14th September.) I had specifically entered this since I needed to submit a bonus race for our club Grand Prix. This race, being billed as fast and flat, promised my best chance of a high WAVA score.

Tangent 1: WAVA

WAVA stands for....actually, I have no idea, but what I do know is that it is a universally accepted way to "score" a runner's performance, factoring in their gender, age, and the distance run, to give a percentage score, which can then be used to compare that performance against either that of another runner, or against the time achieved by the same runner at other distances. So by using WAVA, I can
Pace correctly and I could totally win this
see that yes, I may well have just managed to beat a 60 year old lady to the finish line, but if she was only a few seconds behind then she would have soundly beaten me in terms of WAVA. Perhaps I should have elbowed her slightly harder as I went past. But I digress. I can also see, by comparing my own WAVA scores for different distances, that I am better at 5kms, for example, than Marathons, Since it allows all runners to compete against each other in a much fairer way than by simply specific finish times, it is therefore the system used by our running club when calculating points for our club Grand Prix.

Try this link if you want to calculate your own WAVA score for a given distance/time. WAVA is now often referred to as WMA. (No, I don't know what that stands for either)

Tangent 2: Grand Prix Series

I get the impression that there are still a few club members who don't fully understand how the competition works. If you aren't an HRC member, or if you are but you already know, or indeed if you simply don't care, then feel free to skip the remainder of this section. I'm not promising things get any more interesting further on, but you will at least save yourself a few minutes.

So, for anyone still reading this bit, here goes: A selection of races across the season are designated as Grand Prix fixtures. All races that form part of the Suffolk Grand Prix series are also in ours, plus some of the more popular local races, eg Cambridge HM, Abington 10km, etc. At the end of the competition, your best six races are used to calculate your final score. And these performances are scored using WAVA.

Confusion remains as to exactly what you need
to do to enter the club Grand Prix
To further complicate matters, if one of the races that you ultimately use in the series was a Suffolk Grand Prix fixture, you will get 20 bonus points. This will make even a relatively poor WAVA score into a pretty good one - so for example, I struggled around Framlingham 10km (as I bored you with in my last blog) and scored a WAVA of 58.1%. But add on the 20 to give 78.1%, and it becomes a better score than a much better 10km race that I ran earlier in the year at Ashdon. The reason behind this is to encourage club runners to compete in the Suffolk Grand Prix Series - since this includes a club competition element. For the same reason, there are bonus points awarded for every Kevin Henry fixture race you compete in - but those races themselves are not included. So, if like me, you ran all 5, you have another 100 points, irrespective of how well you did. Effectively, if most of your Club GP scores are from Suffolk GP races, and you chose to compete for the club across the whole KH series, you stand an excellent chance of doing well in the club GP competition.

All clear? Good, I'll move on. Oh, except to add that, in addition to all the above, you also get the opportunity to add on a bonus race of your choice. This can be any race, any distance, but you need to declare it in advance. So obviously, you pick a race you think you'll do well at.....

So getting back to the blog...

By looking at my WAVA scores, I know that 5k is my strongest distance. I also know this because at the moment anything further than 5k and I feel like I might die. However, this is not quite so scientific, so for now we'll stick with WAVA.

Interestingly (ish) even looking at WAVA scores for some of my best ever longer distance races (eg my Stowmarket HM time or my 10km PB at Haver10) I can see that my WAVA is still lower than even what I would consider a slightly disappointing 5km time. All this confirms that I am right to tailor my training towards the shorter distances - I am never going to get a sub 3hr Marathon but I do believe I can get a sub 18min 5km one day. Please forgive this momentary burst of self-confidence - it probably won't happen again. Generally I think when it comes to running I err towards pessimism, In fact, if pessimism was an Olympic sport, I reckon I'd have an outside chance of picking up a Bronze.

So after Shelford, with a new 5km PB, and a first ever WAVA score in the 70s, I should be on top of the world. Unfortunately, I find myself unable to celebrate the time, since my GPS watch recorded the distance as only 4.71km.

Tangent 3 : GPS watches

A lot of runners use some form of GPS device - usually a watch, although many use a mobile phone App instead - in order to record not only how fast they've run, but also how far. This becomes invaluable when you need to know your pace. Knowing pace is not something all runners worry about: it becomes more important the more competitive you are. Most club runners ARE competitive - if only against themselves. This is the beauty of racing - only a very few are ever going to be in contention to get podium places, but you can ALWAYS aim for a PB. Knowing pace is useful for a training run, but there are ways around it without shelling out £100 + for the latest Garmin.
Best to be prepared in case a battery goes dead
When I first began running, I would measure the run I was planning to take using MapMyRun, a simple to use website that allows you to plot your intended route to find out mileage, and then simply use the stopwatch function on a regular watch to record time taken, before doing the maths later on to work out an overall pace. As I progressed and I wanted to know how long each individual mile was taking, I would drive my car around a route, noting memorable landmarks as close as possible to where each mile fell on my car's odometer. I was able to do this prior to my first ever race, since it was local, but of course this would be impracticable for most races, and once you get to the stage where you want to know your pace throughout a race, it's probably time to get a decent watch.  Unfortunately on the morning of that first race, they announced that they had changed the start line position by some way, and my race strategy (such as it was) fell into disarray. It was at this point that I decided to buy myself a Garmin Forerunner 410.

A pacer event is a great way for runners to try to
achieve their target time.
The watch has a number of functions I have never even looked at, but you can set the main screen to show the things you want to keep track of whilst running, so for me that's Time, Distance and Pace. So for example, falling away in the middle of a 5km race has always been a problem for me, and I have been training hard to change this, but it is only by religiously checking my pace on the Garmin that I can tell if I am managing to maintain the correct pace or not. Another feature of the watch, which I am only just really beginning to utilise, is the "virtual pacer." So before a race, I work out what average pace I need to achieve a certain time, and then throughout I can flick across to this secondary screen and see if I am on target or not. This proves very useful when running as an official pacer (for example at Parkrun or Time Trial) when it is important to try to be as consistent as possible for those runners relying on me to get them round in a particular time.

So anyway, on a 5km race day, I always aim to stay at 4min per km pace, which would give me a time of 20mins. When setting my PB back in April last year, I held this pace for 4km then pushed on for the last kilometre, Some races have kilometre or mile markers which are helpful to those running simply by stopwatch, but of course they merely tell you how the last mile has gone, whereas the GPS watch tells you how the current mile is going. There will often be a small discrepancy between the watch and the distance markers, and when this is the case, I tend to assume the mile marker is the more accurate, since in order to achieve a proper race licence, the organisers are required to have the course accurately measured. Not only do all GPS watches have a small margin of error, but every runner will actually run a slightly different distance to his or her fellow competitors, depending on which line they take around corners, etc.

Ordinarily the 5km races I compete in will be on narrow tracks or paths (parkruns) or pavements (time trials) and so the variation of route between different runners will be negligible. But for the Shelford 5km, there were road closures in place, meaning there was no need to stick to the pavements, or even the left hand side of the road, as you would normally. I am told that when organisers measure a course, there is a standard way of doing so, keeping within a certain distance of the left-hand side, so if on a right hand bend we took the shortest racing line we would actually end up running quite a bit less than the official distance. It's the same principle of course as to why everyone sticks to the inside lane in a track race - or why, when a race is to be run in lanes, there is a stagger introduced. You only need to consider how significant that stagger is in, say, a 400 metre race, to realise just how many metres may be saved over the course of a 5km road race by someone consistently taking the racing line. I suspect that there was a element of this that led to my watch coming up significantly short - but apparently there were a large number of other runners who contacted the organisers afterwards to mention this problem, and the response was that there may also have been a slight last minute adjustment to the route due to a problem with one of the road closure points. So a combination of those two factors consequently led to the race being less than the official 5km.

The race itself

km 1

So we started off with a nice straight chase out of the recreation ground, before turning into the road. Since this was a straightforward out and back route, the same 100 metre stretch of grass would be ideal for a sprint finish at the end. We went through km1 with my watch showing 3m57, but slightly less than 1km. Due to the aforementioned margin of error on all GPS devices, this seemed close enough to be negligible - I knew I was on pace and felt good.

km 2

"Have you not got any full ones?"
The second km marker came far too soon according to my watch - I think I was at 7m37, and there was no way I was running that well. At the halfway point, we did a U-turn to come back down the route, and I saw Charlotte coming the other way, running stongly and clearly well on course for a PB. We yelled encouragement to each other and soon afterwards there was a welcome drinks station, Unusual to have one in a 5km race - but since my mouth was feeling pretty dry, I grabbed a cup and did my best to get some water down me. Which I did. All down me. Trying to drink from a plastic cup even during a half marathon is hard enough - but to do so at 5km pace requires a level of skill I clearly don't possess. The trick is to try to squeeze the cup into a spout shape at the top, unfortunately when you squeeze cheap plastic cups they tend to split. I approached the 3rd kilometre point still with a dry mouth, but at least the rest of my face was nice and wet.


It was at this point that I decided I would have to rely soley on my GPS for distance, since there was no sign of a marker at all. Just at the point when I decided I must have missed it - perhaps whilst attempting to clear my nose of water - it appeared, at about 3.25km. If this was accurate, then I was well behind pace, so I opted to believe what my watch was telling me instead, which was only just a few seconds over 12mins, so not too bad.


I dropped a few more seconds on the next kilometre, and I knew I wouldn't be getting a new PB, but it was just possible that, with a really strong last 1000 metres, I may be able to get under 20mins. With my ongoing groin condition (I have since had a diagnosis which I will blog about in due course) I am aware I have been running slightly within myself, for fear that pushing hard early on may bring on the usual discomfort and ruin the race. As such, I often run the bulk of a race below maximum effort, but on the plus side I usually then have plenty left for the final push.

The finish line

So since the previous two km markers had been some way off what my watch said, I had been expecting the final race distance to come up long also - but I was surprised to realise as I approached what I thought was going to be the last 500 metres, that I could actually see the turn into the recreation ground, and the finish line. This meant I had not begun my final push early enough - but on the plus side, I had plenty left for a strong sprint to the line, which I crossed in a time of 19m10s,

So I ought to be delighted, but I know that I didn't run that fast, and I am more inclined to believe my watch, which showed a finish distance of 4.71km, giving an average pace of 4m04s per km. Although this suggests a correct 5km time of 20m20s, I genuinely feel I would have got a lot closer to 20mins had the course been accurate, since I would have begun my push for home much earlier, and given how strong I felt crossing the line I suspect I could have run a decent last kilometre, I am seeing the outcome as about what I expected - another slight improvement following my targeted 5km training which - if I stay on track, will hopefully lead to me breaking my pb for real before the end of the year.
Couldn't help feeling slightly deflated as I crossed the finish line

As for the Grand Prix, both Charlotte and I felt uncomfortable about submitting these times as our bonus race, and so have decided to use whatever time we get at our next parkrun instead. This is a real shame for Charlotte since her average pace at Shelford means she would definitely have got a new PB even if the race had been the full 5km. She is running really well at the moment, so there is plenty for both of us to feel happy about as we move towards the end of the year.

Since competing at Shelford, we have both seen further improvements, which I will be blogging about shortly.

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