Wednesday, 17 June 2015

May - a busy month : Part Two

As promised/threatened, a round-up of the 2nd half of May.

Great Cornard Parkrun - 16th May

I have been promising myself a trip to this parkrun for some time now - ever since I heard it was very flat and full of PB potential. Having gone over 20mins at my previous parkrun, I felt it would be nice to get back below again - and it's always good to try out a new course. It also offered that rarest of opportunities - to race without really feeling any pressure, since I had no previous time on the course to compete against, and I could just see how things went.

Whether or not it's a good idea to race twice in the same weekend is debatable - certainly if you want a decent result on a Sunday you don't want to go for broke the day before - so the ideal outcome, with Woodbridge 10km the day after, would be a reasonable time, a reasonable finish position, but for it to have felt reasonably comfortable throughout.

And if those were the criteria - I have to say it worked out perfectly. Not knowing any of the other runners, I had no idea who I should be running with - I've been caught out before at races settling in behind a fellow runner for the first kilometre or so before realising I haven't got a hope in hell of matching them! So I settled in behind the lead runner but made sure I checked my watch regularly to ensure I didn't go off too fast. In the event, I found I had to slow within the first kilometre to make sure I didn't take the lead -- not something I normally have to worry about! It was clearly not as competitive a field as most of the parkruns I've done, but I had no intention of leading the way when I didn't know the route, so I tucked in behind and determined to stay there, even if it meant sacrificing my time - from very early on, it was clear that I had a chance of winning a race here, for the first time ever!

The course, although it is basically two laps of a two-field course, is not particularly straightforward - the way is marked by cones but until you get to grips with it, you're relying on either the marshals or the runners in front to show you the way. Unfortunately, probably around about the kilometre mark, we went the wrong way! A marshal realised what had happened fairly quickly, and called us back - I would say (and the distance on the watch later on seems to confirm this) that we only went perhaps 70 or 80 metres before being redirected. This meant turning back the way we'd come, so effectively this added on another 160 metres or so to our final race distance (0.1 of a mile.)

Ah, elephants. So wise.
I think probably about 5 or 6 of us were affected, and of course when we rejoined the course a few of the next batch of runners had gone through, so I would say I rejoined in around 12th or 13th place. No matter - I had been running a bit slower than normal to stay in 2nd and so I was able, just by getting back up to normal speed, to gradually regain places. Funnily enough, I was still fairly confident at this stage that I could get back into contention for the win - and since the time now had become largely irrelevant, in some ways it actually helped. (That makes a lot more sense in my head than it appears to on the page.)

The course was indeed nice and flat - all on grass, but closely mown, and not at all difficult to run on. At one point we looped back on ourselves and so it was possible gauge the distance between me and the new leaders quite easily. And I found myself back up to 3rd place as we came past the start/finish area to start the second lap.

The two runners still ahead of me proved more difficult to catch, but there was still plenty of time left and I gradually gained on them over the next kilometre or so. I spent the last kilometre sitting just behind the leader, again not wanting to take over in case I went the wrong way, and then was able to get past him in the sprint finish. So my first ever race victory! The time wasn't particularly quick - 20m11 - but this was very much a race where I ran for position rather than time, and I have to say it was a good feeling!

Woodbridge 10km - 17th May

And so the next day, buoyed by this win, Charlotte and I set off for what turned out to be a very tough 10km race in Woodbridge. This two lap course provides a couple of nasty hills, and was a real test of strength as well as pace. I have to say I really enjoyed it - the crowds were fantastic: it sounds like a cliche you would see on a race poster but the whole town really does seem to turn out to cheer you on. Other than the big city races I've done, I've not experienced anything like it - and I can see now why it sells out  a matter of hours after entries open.

I think it sold out even quicker this year because it was part of the Suffolk GP series which I've talked about before. I push this series whenever I can with my running club colleagues, and in the event both our mens and ladies teams ran really well - taking us top of the club standings after the first 2 fixtures. Individually I was pretty pleased with 5th Suffolk Runner home in the MV40 category - the GP series is all scored on position, and that leaves me in 7th overall in my age category. Charlotte is doing better, currently 5th in the Female Open category, having hit a new PB at this race.

My time - 41m10 - was a marginal PB too, taking a few more seconds off my time from Colchester - but it was a much more challenging course, and relatively speaking it felt like a much stronger run. I still believe I should be closer to 40mins for the distance, and perhaps if I ran that strongly but on an easier course, I might just go under. Running, like so much in life, is all about ifs, buts and maybes! It's not that often that everything coincides at once - but the days when you feel good, the weather's favourable, you run well, and it happens to be on a PB course : well I suppose they're the days every runners dreams of - and they do happen, you just have to keep believing! What I particularly enjoyed about Woodbridge - afterwards, not during - was that the last 3 kilometres were my quickest: proof that my stamina and endurance has improved. I even managed an uphill sprint finish!
Sometimes, once you've finished a race, you remember it differently.
So it was good to find this picture, and confirm how hellish it really was

Saffron Walden 5km - Kevin Henry Fixture 2: 21st May

The second of this series of six, which always take place on a Thursday evening. It's always a different type of preparation for an evening race but I think I prefer it: time to have a decent meal 3 hours or so before, and my stomach is always much more settled than first thing in the morning, although the nerves still play their part in the final hour before the start.

This course - actually at Newport - is the most scenic of the six, but also probably the hardest. In the build-up we were all talking about two things.

Last minute course preparations - part one
Firstly there's the dreaded concrete hill  - a horrible section that completely destroys your pace somewhere between kilometres 3 and 4. This did indeed prove to be tough - but in fact, not as bad as I was anticipating. I always tackle hills in the same way following some good advice received early on in my running career - concentrate on maintaining effort rather than pace. It's obvious that the only way you would maintain pace when going up hill would be to work harder than you were on the flat. This means, when you get to the top, you're going to be exhausted, and find it much harder to maintain pace for the remainder of the race. It would be the equivalent - if there hadn't been a hill - of suddenly putting a sprint into the middle of your race. So instead, I try to keep my rhythm the same, my cadence the same, my breathing the same - hopefully by doing this my heartrate will also remain constant - and I just accept that I'll drop a bit of time. This way, even though I don't tend to catch people on hills, I find I can resume race pace fairly quickly on reaching the top, and I then tend to overtake people who have tired themselves out on the ascent. And of course, hilly courses don't have to destroy your overall time - because there'll be downhill sections too!
and part two....

Secondly, there was a warning, particularly to our quicker runners, to make sure you started fairly near the front - because otherwise there was a risk of getting hemmed in through a section that follows a narrow path with limited overtaking places. I wasn't sure if this advice applied to me but -ever the optimist - I thought I'd push through to start reasonably near the quickies. I did remember this section from the previous year - but in the event, the vegetation had been cut back to the point where there was actually plenty of room to get past people if you felt so inclined.

What I hadn't remembered was just how tough the start was - a long incline, albeit not particularly steep, but on a really bad surface, with potholes, ridges, loose stones -- in short, it was very hard to get off to a decent start, and I felt much more tired after kilometre one that I should have done according to my watch time. No matter, it was simply a question of accepting it's a tough course, and doing the best I could from that point on when - except for the aforementioned concrete hill - it does become a lot easier. I was trying to hold a little back for a decent finish, and after struggling a bit in that first kilometre I have to say I felt pretty comfortable for most of the race.

With just over a kilometre to go, I was joined by club colleague Craig, who has been improving steadily since joining the club and I suspect is no-where near his peak yet. We briefly discussed how the race was going - and it was clear we'd both had a similar tactic of trying to save something for the last part. Craig then pushed on, and I determined to keep him in sight - and by doing we both passed a fair few runners before rounding the final corner for the (uphill) sprint finish. At this point I knew I had enough left to gain some places, and with KH being all about finish position, I kicked for home, passing about a dozen runners in the process (I checked afterwards, in case I dreamt that bit, and it really was about 12 or 13 places gained,) The only runner I passed who then responded was Craig, who was clearly having none of it and went back past me just before the line. Chatting about the race afterwards in the pub, we both wondered if maybe we'd saved too much for the finish and should have pushed a little harder throughout the bulk of the race - we probably shouldn't have had that much energy left - but it is a nice feeling to finish strongly.

And in fact overall I feel pretty pleased with my run. After being disappointed with my placing at the first KH race at Impington in April, I was much more encouraged by this result, closer to hitting the top 50 (a long held aim!) and getting a time considerably quicker than last year in the process (1min23s better, to be precise!)

Great Cornard Parkrun - 23rd May

And so back to Great Cornard - having finally found a race I can win, I'm going to make the most of it! This week was a pacer event - I've talked about these before: they're a great way for people to achieve PBs, by doing their best to stick with the official pacer for their target time.

For me, the nearest pacer to my own time was the first one, running at 20mins. I knew that by keeping ahead of him, I'd beat my time from the previous week - and now that I had a better idea of the course, I felt confident enough to set out at the front and see what happened. This meant I could go for a time, not just position - and so I set off at about pb pace for the first kilometre, building a lead over the next group of runners, who were running with the 20 minute pacer.

I've never led a proper race from start to finish before, but I have done at club time trial on occasion, and it's not particularly easy! I think part of the problem is worrying that you'll look a proper idiot if you blow up part way through and everyone starts overtaking you - so it creates a pressure to maintain your original pace for as long as possible. In terms of time, this is a good thing - but in terms of enjoyment......well, suffice to say I found it tough! But the marshals at Great Cornard are all really nice, and very encouraging - so just as you begin to flag, there's always the next one pushing you on. Towards the end, the runner in 2nd place was definitely gaining on me - and I have to be honest, by this point I'd stopped caring about my time and was just keen to keep the lead, so I saved a little for the final section and was able to finish strongly for a time of 19m11 - a minute quicker than the previous week, and another win.

This is one of mine! Great to see volunteers of all ages
All parkruns are friendly events, and Great Cornard is no exception - I already have a few people that I have got to know there a little, and everyone's very welcoming. I like to move about and try different ones, but this is now a firm favourite. I've been back a couple more times in June, grabbing another win - albeit with a slightly slower time - and helping out as a volunteer last weekend. Parkrun only operates with volunteers, so it's important to pitch in from time to time. The organisation suggest you volunteer 3 times a year - in reality, whilst some people probably don't hit this quota, a great many people do a great deal more, with many of the same faces helping week in week out. I have set my own personal target of helping out roughly once every 5 visits, so it was high time I put my name forward - and I ended up being the photographer, which was quite a fun role to try. The pictures came out fine, although I don't think David Bailey has much to worry about.

Next blog

As I type, it's mid June - I've fallen somewhat behind with the blog due to pressures at work amongst other things! This leads to mammoth posts like this one - and I've had one or two comments from people suggesting they can be a little long! Not for the first time I'm going to promise to post shorter blogs but more regularly, since - whilst I'm keen to play catch up - I really want to get back to what the blog is supposed to be about - my thoughts on running, rather than just a write-up of my races.

That said, next up I'll concentrate on the Friday 5 series - I've already raced two of these, with the third this coming Friday - and in addition there's the most recent Kevin Henry fixture at Newmarket to report on.

But once I've got these out of the way, I really hope to talk some more about how I'm looking to adopt a much more structured approach to my training and racing, looking towards some key targets that I'm hoping to break in the second half of the year.

No comments:

Post a Comment