Saturday, 23 May 2015

May - a busy month: Part One

This post was written before the weekend of 16th-17th May, but not published, since I hadn't added in the pictures in time. You wouldn't believe how long that bit takes. All just for an excuse to include a couple of bad jokes. Anyway, since to write a post covering the whole month would make things ridiculously long, I've decided to split May's racing into two parts. 

The races come thick and fast - well, hopefully fast - at this time of year. You could easily find a local race every weekend, and although I tend to avoid racing on the alternate weekends that my son stays over, there has still been plenty of opportunity to pull on the club vest over the last couple of weeks.

Nowton Parkrun - Saturday 2nd May

I always seem to go off too quick...
I mentioned two races in my last post - the second of which I found myself struggling in a bit due to a cold. This proved hard to shake off - probably because I kept trying to race! - and so I had an equally disappointing run a couple of days later, when I stupidly chose parkrun over a lie-in, and my string of sub 20min 5kms came to an end as a result. If it was going to end anywhere, it was always likely to be at Bury Parkrun, which I find tough, and so it proved, with a finish time of 20m12, Although I kept pace with the leaders for maybe half a kilometre or so, I then found myself being overtaken and dropping time throughout the remainder of the race.

One of my key targets this year is to break 40mins for a 10km. There is added incentive to do so since I need a qualifying time for the new Ipswich Twilight 5km race in August. This race requires you to have posted either a sub 20min 5km or a sub 40min 10km. Unfortunately, they don't accept parkruns or (unsurprisingly) club time trials - and so despite all the 5km races I've recently completed within the qualifying time, none of them can secure qualification. No matter - a sub 40min 10km should really be achievable, and to this end I entered 3 races in a row, the first of which was the Breckland 10km.

Breckland 10km - Monday 4th May

A race with plenty of PB potential - almost completely flat, just a very slight incline early on, which -being an out and back course - you feel the benefit of on the way back anyway. Exactly the kind of race I like - local, small-ish (a field of 284 runners) and scenic too: a road course, but through Thetford Forest.

Some marathon runners, and most ultra-runners, will always
stop at water stations, to ensure they actually get a proper drink -
but in a 10km race, the loss of even a few seconds is clearly
going to have a much bigger relative impact on your finish time.  
I set off a bit too quick, as usual, but quickly reigned myself in, with the aim of settling at around 4min km pace - but from about the 3rd km onwards, it was clear to me this wasn't going to happen. In fact, at the halfway point, finding breathing tough and dropping places, I decided I would actually stop and take a few seconds rest at the water station.
This had the benefit of allowing me to drink the water rather than just tip it all down my top as normal, and I started off again feeling much happier - although knowing that any chance of a PB, let alone a sub 40min, had well and truly gone.

As it was, I managed to pick things up a bit 2nd half, helped in part by the support of Neil, who I mentioned last blog had completed the London Marathon this year, against medical advice!  His wife, Christine, was the lead lady and Neil was supporting her along the route, using a bike to stop at strategic points, cheer her on and then cycle further down. On the way out, I was just ahead of Christine, and after she passed me at halfway, I then spent the 2nd half attempting to catch her back up - and so I got the benefit of Neil's encouragement throughout! In the end, she did achieve first lady - another trophy! - and I didn't quite catch her, but I did get pretty close to my PB (set roughly a year ago.)

As I mentioned last blog, it seems pathetic to moan about a simple cold - and it's just a question of being realistic about these things: it will have affected my time a bit, but compared to what loads of fellow runners go through, it's really no big deal, and there are always other races. And in fact, I didn't have to wait long: because a few days later, it was time to travel to Newmarket for one of my favourite events on the racing calender.

Newmarket Heath - Thursday 7th May

For the benefit of overseas readers who may not know, Newmarket is known as "The Home of Racing." As in, horse racing. Although billed as "approximately 6km", this is nearer 5.5km, all off-road, using in part the sandy/earthy tracks that the racehorses are trained on, with the rest mainly on grass, and a woodland section too,
Although a fair few club runners compete, notably a big contingent from Newmarket Joggers (who organise the race), there is a separate element of competition too - with a number of the town's racing stables putting together teams for the event. This was the 3rd year I'd entered - as it was for Charlotte, although in 2013 she hadn't yet joined the club, and so we'd not met. Last year we had just started dating, and it's nice this year as we start to revisit events we did together 12 months previously.

It proved to be one of my best ever races - a finish time over a minute quicker than last year, of 21m39: and according to my watch, an average pace of exactly 4 mins per km, which was bang on my target. This equates to a 20min 5km, which for a tough off-road race like this is really pleasing. The race commences with a long drag uphill, and I made the decision to take it easy on this part, and gradually build the pace, confident that I could make up lost time at the end, when there's a lovely downhill sprint finish.

A tough uphill start - I made sure I took it easy, and enjoyed
the experience of overtaking rather than being overtaken for
most of the remainder of the race.
Most pleasing of all was the way I did indeed manage to build my pace, with every kilometre quicker than the last - not something I've ever managed in a race before - and I really enjoyed the sprint finish, which saw me pick off 4 or 5 runners. According to my watch, I was running at 3m10 pace (per km) for the last half a kilometre, which suggests all those Tuesday speedwork sessions are helping.

Having done really well with our diet over the last few weeks, Charlotte and I decided it was about time we treated ourselves and, with an evening planned in front of the TV watching the election results come in (yes, we're really that exciting) we decided to grab a couple of pizzas on the way home, before stopping off to vote and then settling down for a nice night.

It was then just a question of waiting for the all-important results to come in - and Newmarket Joggers didn't let us down, declaring marginally before Houghton and Sunderland South. I finished in 21st place overall, 4th in my age category. Charlotte had a great run, knocking off over a minute too - and smashing her sub 27min target with a time of 26m04, placing her 13th female in what was a pretty competitive field. Christine, who I mentioned was 1st lady at Breckland, got another placing in this one - 3rd female - whilst her son Seb, who is a phenomenal runner, ran out overall winner. It's important to be optimistic as a runner, but equally, you have to be realistic about who you can take on. My guess is I won't be finishing ahead of Seb any time soon. To be honest, I was worn out just watching his warm up!

Colchester 10km - May 10th

And so it seemed that I was over the cold, and there's been no re-occurrence of the calf injury. So it's full steam ahead for the rest of the summer. I'm looking forward to getting back into a proper training regime, but for the moment there's barely time in between races.

Next up was a 10km in my home town. Billed as fast and flat, this represented another good chance of a PB and the sub 40min I'm looking for this year. I hadn't realised that the route actually takes in a fair bit of the 8 mile training route I did so often when I was back living in Colchester a year ago, and knowing the town so well meant there were no nasty surprises along the way.

However, for some reason - and it was a hot day, so I guess that may be partly to blame - I just wasn't quite right on the day. Worryingly, I had a small amount of groin pain throughout too, which makes me wonder if the old problem hasn't gone away after all - but I'm not sure it made too much difference and for the time being I'm just going to see how it goes - it may just have been a one-off.

I made a conscious decision to start off more sensibly than normal - this is a tactic I'm going to keep employing for the next few races to see if it works - and so for 2 or 3 kilometres I felt pretty relaxed, and was only a few seconds off sub 40min pace. The maths is easy for this target - 4 minute kilometres is bang on - and this is a pace I'm comfortably under at 5km, so it really shouldn't be so tough. However, when on the 4th kilometre I decided it was time to pick up the pace a bit, I found I couldn't manage it, and so I went through the half way point at 20m30.

Fairly recently, I hit upon the idea of having my watch set in both metric and imperial - so the readout for distance and pace on the main screen will be in kilometres, but the lap function is set to miles - meaning every time I complete a mile it comes up with how long it took. I find this helpful since I have run using imperial for so long that I have a much better sense of what represents a good pace. Effectively I suppose I'm saying that, even when I'm running a 5km or 10km, I still prefer to think in miles.

However, for this race, I forgot that I'd reset the lap function to kilometres - which I think I did for Breckland - and then, having raced Newmarket Heath, I'd switched the settings for distance and pace back to miles, so I could see my average paces etc. Having then forgotten to switch back (are you keeping up with this?) I now found myself, as I set off at Colchester, seeing everything back to front - my main screen showing pace and distance in miles, but with the laps coming up each kilometre.

Essential race kit?
I've spoken before about doing mental arithmetic during a race - it helps in some ways, since it keeps your mind off the fact that everything hurts! So in many ways, the fact the watch showed different information from normal was not a major problem. Except that, having done the maths beforehand for this race, I had decided exactly what pacing strategy I would use, and of course I'd done this in metric! Consequently, I had to try to convert pace from imperial to metric as I was going along, and this proved too much for my brain to cope with! But this is a mere detail - I can hardly blame my finish time on my watch settings!

Suffice to say, I had 3 targets as usual: Gold was sub 40min, Silver was sub 41min, and Bronze was a new PB - so anything under 41m50, set at Haver10 almost a year ago. Passing halfway in 20m30 - much the same as I did at Breckland - would have been fine if the tactic of going off slower had meant I had plenty left for the 2nd half - but in the event, I found it impossible to pick up the pace, and I finished in 41m14. So still a PB, which I probably should be happier about - but disappointing compared to where I thought I was.

The finish, on the running track used by the Colchester based running clubs, was a nice way to end the race though, and whilst I didn't quite have enough for a sprint, I did pick up a little bit of speed in front of a reasonably large group of spectators, including Charlotte (who I could hear cheering me on as soon as I joined the track) and Harry, who ran alongside me for the last 100metres or so. I was much happier about the result later on when I saw my placing - 38th out of 476, so not too shabby after all, in what is a fairly competitive field.

Time Trial - May 12th

Time trials are so close together at
the moment, there's little point
getting everything out of the boot in
between each one.
So I haven't bothered.
As organisers of the monthly time trial for our club, Charlotte and I were a little concerned that we may not get a good turnout this time, because we've had to change our schedule to accomodate the Kevin Henry series over the summer. So whereas time trial has traditionally always been the last Thursday of the month, we've now incorporated it into our Tuesday training schedule, and there was only a gap of 3 weeks between this one and the last. Coupled with the Kevin Henry races too, I wondered if people may feel there was a bit of 5km overkill at the moment! Fortunately, this fear proved unfounded, and we had over 50 runners, which was great to see. When you add in the volunteers - another 9 or 10 people - it's a decent turnout of club members each time, and - hopefully- an enjoyable evening for everyone involved.

As an added bonus for me personally, Charlotte is always happy to do the stopwatch, and so providing we have enough volunteers elsewhere, I now get the opportunity - after helping to get everything set up - to run each time. Which means this was the fourth time in a row I've been able to take part. I feel a bit guilty about this, so will probably take on a volunteer role next time - to be honest, I could probably do with a rest by then anyway!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, having run a PB at Colchester only 2 days before, I didn't manage to beat my time from last month. However, the new tactic of setting off more sensibly meant that it didn't feel anywhere near as hard as normal, and I was happy enough to get just under 19m30, although much like during the weekend's 10km, I felt unable to increase the pace when required in the 2nd half of the race, and so didn't get as close to 19mins as I might have liked. The groin pain was present but negligible - clearly I still need to get this sorted, but it hasn't returned to anywhere near the level it was before - at least, not yet - and I don't think it really affected my time.

How to improve?

I've talked about possibly racing too much at the moment, and not fitting in much training as a result. It's nonsensical to keep turning up to races expecting to be quicker than last time if you're not doing some targeted training in between. That said, I look at the 5km races as good training for the 10kms, and vice versa - even a slightly disappointing 5km is a decent speed session, and a 10km is a good tempo run! But I need to do more and, whilst my legs do need time to recover in between these races, there's no reason for not working other areas - and this is where the gym comes in. I've been 3 times this week, working on core strengthening exercises in the main, but always adding in a quick blast on the treadmill for good measure at the end of each session. 

I have a bad habit of returning to the gym for my exercise fix when I can't run, but then abandoning these important cross-training sessions when I can get back out on the roads training. I've actually worked out a training schedule which I shall attempt to follow throughout the remainder of the summer, leading towards the final KH of the season, and I have built in plenty of gym sessions which I shall do my best to follow! There's really no excuse now I'm working in an office with a gym downstairs, and I know the massive benefit that comes from improving my all-round strength

Next up - Woodbridge 10km, then Saffron Strider KH 5km

Two important races coming up then - the next fixture in the Suffolk GP series is this coming Sunday, and then the Thursday afterwards will  be the 2nd of the KH fixtures, at Saffron Walden. These are the races that matter most to me, since we're (hopefully) gathering points for the club. I don't hold out much hope for PBs in either, since Woodbridge is hillier than either Colchester or Breckland, and the Saffron Striders 5km, actually held at Newport, is quite tough too - including the dreaded "concrete hill" that KH regulars know all too well. However, due to the way the scoring works in both, position is more important than time, and the aim is always to beat as many runners in club vests as possible!

I may well sneak in a parkrun as well on Saturday morning - I'm trying to convince Charlotte that not only do we not require a lie-in, but that we should try a different course from normal, potentially the one at Great Cornard that seems to promise fast times. It's probably not a great idea to race twice in consecutive days, but I find I recover pretty quickly from a 5km, and I'm enjoying running every day at the moment - and the idea of having a free Saturday morning and NOT going along to parkrun just doesn't sit well with me! And I really want my 100 T-shirt - only 35 to go!


So the next blog will cover these next two races - and (spoiler alert) details of my first ever race victory, at Great Cornard Parkrun, followed by a successful defence this morning. Things seem to be back on track. More soon.

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