Saturday, 2 May 2015

A tale of two 5Ks

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Well ok, not exactly - and quite why I've begun this week's blog in such a Dickensian fashion, I have no idea - but anyway, the point is, I've raced two 5kms since I last posted, and with contrasting results. The first was a club time trial, the second the opening fixture of the Kevin Henry Series.

Mental Preparation

Sometimes I stumble across a great joke whilst writing this blog.
Maybe next week....?
I've blogged before about the importance I place on being in the right place psychologically when I'm at the start line of a race. I think a lot about a race in the days building up to it - making sure I get my training right, trying to eat the right things, laying off the alcohol (usually!) and also looking at my previous results and trying to identify ways I can shave some time off. I look for factors that are clearly in my favour, things that suggest that I should definitely run quicker than last time. Whether or not I've been training well is a major factor, so too my (ever flucuating) weight, and also what the course and conditons will be like.

Turning up at the start line believing I'm going to run a PB time doesn't necessarily mean I will. But I know that believing I won't guarantees I won't. I've become much better at judging these things, and often now race with a goal in mind that isn't a PB, but is realistic based on circumstances. But it's nice when I approach a race, as I did last week, believing I can run my best yet.

Of course, club time trials are not official races as such, but I treat them as if they are. When I say that, I'm not too worried about position - it entirely depends on who else turns up as to whereabouts I finish. But I am bothered about my time. In Kevin Henry races, it's all about position - but there's no harm in trying for a decent time too - and of course, one should lead to the other anyway.

I often look at a 5km course I've run, and calculate what I may have got had it been flatter, or if it had been run on a better surface, or perhaps if it had been less congested. Most courses have some kind of "catch" - take, for example, the various parkrun courses I've run:

Parkruns - each one different

(list of excuses)

Nowton - Bury St Edmunds is entirely off-road, which I dislike, although I'm getting better at reducing the difference this makes to my time. It's a two lap course, and there's a slight incline near the start which seems twice as bad second time round - but I've learnt where to ease off and where to push, and my times have improved recently there. The surface was pretty bad over the winter but will get a lot easier, so my times there should hopefully come down.

High time I ran Colchester again
Colchester Castle  is very hilly, although again I have improved the way I've run the course over time. It's laps, with the start and finish in the same place - so therefore clearly there's as much downhill as uphill, although it doesn't always feel like it. I've become better at pushing hard on the downhill sections, and consequently my last run there was one of only two sub 19mins I'd managed at the time.

Thetford is nice and flat, about half on paths and half off-road - but the off-road section includes a grassy meadow which, over the winter, has been pretty muddy and tough to run on. Much like Bury, this will become easier now the better weather appears to have arrived, and I'm looking forward to trying it again soon.

Milton - Cambridge  is the course I ran my first few parkruns on. It's pretty narrow, and very popular - you need to push up towards the front at the start if you don't want to get held up, although obviously you need to make sure you don't get in the way of those faster than you. It's also twisty turny through the woods, but I set my old PB here back in December, and it remains a favourite.

Conditions were tough
Wimpole is a course I've only ever tried once, since Milton was snowed off. Since it's only just
down the road from Cambridge, it was also deep in snow - but judged less dangerous. However, it was pretty tough, especially the big hill - which would probably have destroyed my time even in good weather! Putting my foot through an icy puddle and into freezing cold water didn't help much either.

Worsley Woods, as I mentioned in my last blog, looked ideal for a PB, until I discovered 3 sets of steps in the middle of it, within a mile of woodland running that would also have had an impact on times.

Gunpowder - Harlow is a very straightforward, 2 lap course - but it's very open, and can be very windy. However, in terms of surface and lack of incline, it's got to be a PB course on the right day, and although it's a bit of a drive, I'd like to try it again sometime.

And this one definitely needs revisiting
Tredegar - Newport - I can't actually find any excuses for this one. Great surface, two laps but entirely flat - the only real catch is that it's about 5 hours drive away. Next time we stay with Charlotte's sister and her partner, I hope we'll visit this one again.

These could all sound like excuses - they're honestly not, it's just about working out how I've done each time, and whether the difference in time is down to me or the course/conditions. Which is important psychologically. Because if I know a particular course is tougher, I won't beat myself up when I don't get a PB - instead, I'll compare my performance with previous efforts at the same park. Which is why I got almost as much pleasure breaking 19m30 at Nowton recently as I did when I broke 19mins at Colchester and then Cambridge at the end of last year.


Club Time Trial (Tuesday 21st April)

And the point of all this - our club time trial route has pretty much no catch whatsoever. There's a very slight incline within the first kilometre, but this usually helps reign me in a bit after going off a bit too fast - and it's an out and back course so you get the benefit as you're coming home, just when you need it in the last section. Other than that, completely flat throughout - and on a decent surface. So in other words - a definite PB course - and a true reflection of where you're at with your 5km running.

So, feeling confident, I set off at a more sensible pace than usual, and after about half a kilometre, with positions settling down, I found myself tucked in behind Mat and Trev - two of the club's quickest runners, and not people I would realistically expect to finish ahead of. So I was quite happy sitting in 3rd place, and I used them as unofficial pacers to try to get me round in a decent time. Although the gap inevitably grew as the race wore on, I wasn't too far behind for the first half, and I was probably most pleased with kilometres 2 and 3, when I made a conscious effort to keep relatively close behind them, and consequently held pace much better than usual.

The run as a whole reminded me of when I first went under 20 mins, back in April 2013. I remember that day feeling that I was pushing hard throughout the race, and being absolutely exhausted at the finish - and that's pretty much how you set a 5km PB - you have to accept it's probably going to be fairly unpleasant throughout! My first few parkruns at Milton were much the same - practically collapsing on the grass at the finish, and taking a fair while to get my breathing back to normal. I think a combination of factors has led to me not pushing myself as hard as I might for a long time - but I'm pleased to say I'm now back able to do this again, and enjoying the challenge it provides. And the feeling afterwards that you've given your all can't - in my opinion anyway - be bettered.

And so, having re-focused on speed-related training, and lost about 4 pounds since getting back on track with the diet again, I was able to turn out a decent run, including a push for the finish line - since with one kilometre left, a check of the watch told me I was on for a sub 19min time. In the end, I recorded 18m53 - 4 seconds off my PB and 11 seconds of my previous best on the course. So a successful run, and leaving me feeling full of confidence with the far more important KH fixture just round the corner.


Impington 5km - Kevin Henry Fixture 1: Thurs 30th April

It's important to me that I run well throughout the forthcoming Kevin Henry Series, which I've mentioned often throughout my blog posts. A clear indication - not, as you may believe, that my blog is both boring and repetitive - no, it's a clear indication of the level of importance I attach to these races. For me, racing doesn't get any better than these club events.

After last year's series finished, I set myself twin targets for this year's races:

a) to try to get under 20mins for each one, and under 19mins for the quicker courses, and
b) hopefully by doing so, contribute points towards the HRC score by making the top 6 home for the club.

Since setting these targets, I've broken 19mins three times and so it seems a realistic prospect that I may do so again during the course of the series. Target b) seems much less likely, however, since the level of competition within the club has become much tougher. Two new members have joined, and immediately established themselves in the top 6 - and additionally, a couple of other runners have improved to the extent that top 6 this year now seems improbable. This doesn't particularly matter - of course, I'm competitive against fellow club members and know which ones I should be able to finish ahead of - but ideally we'd have 6 incredibly quick runners setting the lowest possible points tally, because that would be great for the club. The rest of us still earn a completion point for each race we finish, and in a sense it wouldn't bode well for the club if I did finish in a points scoring position, since I'm still some way off the quickest runners in the region, and it would suggest as a club we were some way behind the competition.

Looked horrible anyway......
Since the time trial, I have continued to stick rigidly to the diet (now 7 pounds lost) - this has included twice choosing a light option when eating out, turning down dessert too, and in addition
sticking to non-alcoholic drinks. It doesn't ruin a night out - which after all should be more about the company you're in rather than what you're consuming - but I'm not saying I've found it easy! The reward is what the scales say the next day - and hopefully the improved race times that follow.

I'd also completed a couple of decent speedwork training sessions to follow up my new PB, and so everything pointed towards a really good performance at Impington. Crucially, no re-occurrence of the troublesome calf injury - and absolutely no sign of any hip/groin related problems, which thankfully does now seem to be behind me. So of course, with everything looking good for a new PB - sod's law kicked in, and I picked up a cold.

I genuinely don't tend to take time off work ill - partly because in my current position, as in my last, I lose the day's pay. But also - genuinely - because I feel guilty for letting people down. I need to feel pretty lousy not to go in - but this was the position I found myself in Tuesday night after training, when I got home and felt really rough. A good night's sleep sometimes cures these things, but I woke in the morning feeling worse, and decided to call in sick and see if I could sleep it off. In fact, I ended up taking the Thursday off too - and two days of complete rest seemed to do the trick, since by the afternoon I was feeling almost back to normal, although I was still doing a passable impression of Louis Armstrong whenever I attempted to speak.

As a bonus, I managed to catch up on some important work for the club whilst lying in bed feeling sorry for myself - my duties as a committee member include keeping the club results up to date on the website, and so too the club all-time records: quite a few of these are being beaten at the moment, suggesting this is one of the most successful periods the club has known. Although time consuming, I do enjoy doing these tasks, allowing me as it does to keep up-to-date with how all my friends and club colleagues are getting on. I've also recently taken on responsibility for keeping the fixtures page on the website up-to-date too - and this took up most of Thursday morning, but alerted me to a number of local races I hadn't previously been aware of.

Last minute race-prep
Anyway, having decided Thursday afternoon that I would definitely be back into work the following day, I decided I could probably get round a 5km in one piece that evening, even though a PB now looked unlikely. The advice with running and colds tends to be that it's fine to run with a head cold, but if the problem extends to the chest, then best leave it. By this stage, I was merely a bit bunged up, so I didn't anticipate too many problems.

A PB course

Impington is totally flat, and on a good surface - as quick a 5km course as you could wish for. A number of club colleagues proved this by setting new PBs - not least Charlotte, who knocked a staggering 50secs off hers, hopefully giving her the confidence she needs to push on and have a great summer of racing. The club as a whole did fantastically well, and currently sit 2nd in the table after this first fixture - a combination of some great times near the front of the field and a huge club turnout of nearly 90 runners.

Such a great race series - I intend to blog separately about it some time (bet you can't wait for that one)
And my own run?  I set off a little way back from the front, and attempted to keep below 4min kms, which guarantees a sub 20mins finishing time. The first couple of kms were fine, but I then began to drop off the pace a little and felt much more breathless than usual, much as I'd anticipated I would. At the 4km marker I knew I just needed a semi-decent last push and I'd go under 20mins, which I did, with an as-yet unofficial time of 19m50: and I managed to catch a couple of runners before the line in the process - although whether this will affect the overall scoring remains to be seen - certainly I was no-where near the HRC top 6.

Did I mention I'd turned down TWO
desserts recently? This was the other one

But no matter, I'm sure I'd have gone quicker without the cold. And I'm relatively happy with the time anyway. I think, possibly given how hard I originally worked to get under the 20min barrier, I'll always consider that to be a decent time - and this extends the sub 20 run, meaning I've found consistency at long last with my 5km times - and I'll be hoping for another this morning when I leave in a few minutes for parkrun.

And of course it's important to keep things in perspective. I was really annoyed that my preparation for the race had been in vain - I'd turned down two desserts for goodness sake - but friends are currently going through far worse, and no doubt moaning considerably less about it all.

Friends such as club member, Paul, who would ordinarily be at these events, and who quietly goes about being very quick - he would certainly have made the scoring positions. Sadly, a few days ago, he suffered a stroke, and although there has been some improvement to his condition, he remains in hospital as I write. It was a nice touch that a couple of club members organised a shirt for all of us to sign after the race for him, and we all wish him the speediest of recoveries. I know of another fellow runner, Neil, who is suffering from cancer, and who planned to do the first few miles of this year's London Marathon for one last time - expecting to pull out just past Cutty Sark. Against all medical advice he completed the whole race! These guys are truly inspirational, and if I ever end up being half the runner they have been, I'll be very very happy.

And so onwards and upwards, as they say - in half an hour or so I'll be off to do another parkrun, but the next big race is this Bank Holiday Monday, a 10km at Breckland that promises another course with PB potential. The target for this is to go sub 40mins for the first time - a real benchmark time that was one of my main aims at the beginning of 2015. The cold has all but gone, so once again - no excuses!

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