Monday, 22 June 2015

The Friday Five Series and associated ramblings

So my last two posts covered a busy month of racing throughout May, but there's one more race from a hectic month that I haven't yet covered, since it was the first of a series, and it made sense to carry it over to the start of this month's round up:

Friday Five

Race socks are an important part of your running kit...
The Friday 5 is a series of 5 races, each one 5 miles. On Fridays. Hence the name. You only need to do 4 of the 5 to qualify for a series position (and a medal I believe!) - ideally of course you'd do all 5 and lose your worst performance. Much like the Suffolk GP, scoring is based on position rather than time, but they're popular with club runners across the whole region and, because when it comes to scoring they're not just limited to our county's runners, they're even more competitive.

We were already booked into the 3rd fixture on June 19th - at Stowmarket - because it's part of the Suffolk GP -  and seeing that we would also be free to race the Bury event on June 12th, we decided we'd have a crack at the series, and so entered the first one, in Ipswich, as something of a last minute decision.

This meant we also needed to enter the final event, which I have now targeted as a 5 mile PB attempt, since it's at Great Bentley, which is totally flat and where I recorded my best ever Half Marathon result earlier this year. It's been a while (too long) since I did some targeted training for a specific race, and my next post will cover how I intend to get this PB.

Ipswich Friday 5: 29th May

This was ridiculously hard*
(*not actual race footage. But a bit like this)
Ipswich's course, however, is not flat at all. In addition to one or two tough hills, there is a horrible woodland section towards the end, which I would genuinely rank amongst the toughest sections of any race I've competed it. Despite this, I felt I ran fairly well, and I was a little disappointed with my finish time of 33m01 according to my watch - and even more disappointed when the official time came out as 33m08 (not sure how that happened!) There was better news however when it came to my finish position. As a general rule, in most races I look to finish in the top 10%, perhaps a little better in a parkrun, but I downgrade this expectation when it's a really competitive race, like for example a Kevin Henry fixture or a Grand Prix race. Looking at the entrants for this race, my aim was top 50, so I was happy to come in 45th overall - and more importantly, in terms of the scoring, 7th in my age category.

I did this race two years ago, and it took me 3 minutes longer, which got me 100th place. I'd like to say this is indicates the extent to which I've improved since then, but I think my result from 2013 was probably slightly skewed by having run the Edinburgh marathon the weekend before. Still, a course PB is a course PB!

Newmarket 5km - Kevin Henry Fixture 3: 11th June

The nice thing about 5kms is that you can recover from them fairly quickly so despite the next Friday 5 fixture being the day after, I was happy to go for a time in this important club race, knowing it probably wouldn't affect things too much the next evening. Besides, if I had to prioritise, it would always be these 5km races - the highlight of the racing year for me, even if they don't always go to plan.

Fortunately, though, this one did. It's very straightforward - flat, and with a decent enough surface underfoot. I remember I found it psychologically quite tough last year, because it's just one big lap and not the most interesting of courses - but for whatever reason this time around, everything felt good, and I found myself enjoying the challenge of trying to race alongside what is always a strong field of runners for these events. Unusually for me in a 5km, I didn't really have a bad kilometre, and I had plenty left at the end to gain a fair few places in the sprint finish. 56th position represents my best ever in a KH fixture, and my time of 19m16 was also a KH PB, and about a minute and a half quicker than I managed on the same course last year.

Bury Friday 5: 12th June

We were unable to make the 2nd fixture in Kirton, meaning we wouldn't have the luxury of binning our worst of the 5 fixtures. It also means that, as the race series scoring progresses, we are further down the table than those who have run all of them - until it all evens up at the end. No matter - I ran 33m47 in this event last year, which at the time was a new PB, and I was hoping to further improve this time, knowing that I'm running better than I was 12 months ago.

The race follows part of the Nowton Parkrun, so knowing this well, both Charlotte and I had an advantage there - it then goes out on to the quiet local roads before you return to the park for a lovely flat straight run in to the finish line. I was really pleased with how I paced this one, and found I had plenty left for a decent last mile and a strong sprint finish, Although I was a little outside my 5 mile PB set last November in Hadleigh, I did manage to improve my time on this course by almost a minute and a half, just like at the Newmarket 5km the day before - and my finish position of 36th was a big improvement on the 81st I got last year.

Stowmarket Friday 5: 19th June

Okay - this one was horrific! It's set in Haughley Park, which I'm sure would be a lovely place to run around on a training run, but not so much fun when you're going for a time. I tend to avoid the cross country races that many of my club colleagues compete in every winter: I know my strengths, and off-road isn't one of them. One the cross country fixtures is set in the same park, and although I would imagine that's even tougher, this definitely felt much harder than the typical race I would go in for.

On the plus side, before our race, my son Harry, 11, ran in his first ever race for the club - he was chuffed to bits with his new club vest, and his medal, and seemed to really enjoy the experience. I was particularly impressed with how he set off very sensibly towards the back of the field and thought about his pacing - I could learn a lot from him! His race was 2.5km, and he ran a very respectable time and - more importantly - had a smile on his face at the end.

A genuinely lovely location.
Perhaps for a nice day out. Maybe even a wedding.
Just not for a race.
It was nice that our race was 2 laps, and he was able to cheer us and our Haverhill RC friends on as we made our way round. I have to be honest, after a strong first mile, I was beginning to think I could maybe do something quite decent - but the course found me out very quickly, and as I began the 2nd lap I would quite happily have quit there and then. Miles 3 and 4 felt like a real slog, and as a couple of team-mates went past me, having clearly paced things far more sensibly, I was really struggling to hang on. The last mile was a big improvement - more down to stubbornness than anything else I think - and I did manage to rescue a bit of pride, but my finish time was a fair bit down on my target, and it was clear to me that I either need to work harder on my off-road running, or I need to work harder on choosing the right races to enter.

I was surprised, when the results came out, that my finish position was 40th, which cheered me up a bit, and 7th in my age category seems to be about where I'm likely to finish in the series overall, so perhaps not so bad after all - but it's more about how I felt I ran the race - as in, very poorly.
I think I need to learn to be more realistic when I'm off-road, and not try to set off at my usual pace - because it's only going to go one way, and there's nothing worse than spending most of a race being overtaken.

I need to work on my pacing.
Harry needs to work on his smiling.
Remiss of me not to mention how Charlotte has been getting on in these races. Very well in fact - finishing consistently high up her age category which - being Female Open - includes lots of very good athletes. Her times are always consistent, hitting her sub 40 min target each time - and grabbing a great new PB at Bury for good measure. Her finish at Bury was the strongest I've ever seen her run - and I really hope that the strong final position she's on course for in both the Friday 5 and the Suffolk GP series gives her the confidence she needs to keep pushing on, because although she's already a good runner, I think there's loads more to come.

Loss of Confidence/Motivation

How many times have I mentioned the importance of confidence when it comes to running? For me personally, getting my head right is almost as important as getting my body right. Possibly more so - because when I'm feeling in the right frame of mind for running well, the training and racing seem to take care of themselves anyway. For whatever reason - and I'm not entirely sure I can put my finger on it - I had a strange week in the lead up to Stowmarket, losing interest in running and not bothering to train at all. It meant, despite having really enjoyed a run around Clare with Charlotte on the previous Sunday, I then did nothing at all for the next 4 days, and although I suppose I went into the race well rested, I genuinely wasn't sure until the day itself if I would even bother running - maybe just watch Harry and then Charlotte race instead.

A lot of it has to do with my groin/stomach/bladder issue, which has come back quite badly as I've increased my mileage throughout May and June. It leaves me feeling pretty uncomfortable before and during most runs, and this increases on race day due to the added factor of nerves which unsettles me at the best of times. I've suffered from this on and off over the last couple of years, which I've found extremely frustrating, not least because it's proved very difficult to diagnose - but I'm not as concerned this time because, as I've mentioned before, I'm now under the excellent care of Mr Khanduja at the Nuffield Hospital in Cambridge. Although we both hoped the hip manipulation I had three months back had done the trick, he didn't discharge me from his care in case it hadn't, and I'm due to see him again next week, at which time I can update him on the situation and he'll no doubt move things forward as a result - with keyhole surgery the likely outcome, being a solution he mentioned before.

It's been a long week, but I think I'm finally on top of everything....
Additionally, work has gone from being very relaxed to being very stressful in a relatively short space of time. I work for Natural England at present, a non-departmental governmental body - so I'm not quite a civil servant, but similar. We help farmers implement environmentally friendly farming methods, and a big deadline has recently been looming which has led to a dramatic increase in work load and pressure. It's been good for me, as I prepare in three months time to embark on a new career in the Civil Service proper, initially on a four year course to reach managerial level, which I'm sure will involve working under similar amounts of pressure at times, particularly as it involves studying for exams and a degree alongside the regular work. But just recently, for the first time since starting at Natural England in January, I've been finding it harder to switch off at the end of the day, and I think this has left me less inclined to go out for a run when I get home - which actually has been pretty late most evenings recently anyway.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I seemed to have lost my motivation a bit in the week leading up to Stowmarket, and then when it didn't go as I'd have liked, I was even more down. The solution? Get up early the next morning, and try to rebuild some confidence with a decent parkrun.

Great Cornard Parkrun - 20th June

I do like Great Cornard - and not just because they let me win! I like it because it's flat, and although it's on grass, it's a decent surface to run on (ie closely mown, just like running on a sports field.) I also like it because, like most parkruns, it's friendly, and you get to see the same faces each week. Not only is this nice from a social perspective, but it helps when you race, because you have a good idea of how you're doing - so you're not just relying on what your watch says, but because you can judge in relation to how others you recognise are doing as well. In fact, the last time I ran here, I forgot my watch - but I was still able to get the pacing about right and, as I did on the previous occasion, I managed to front run and hold on for the win.

This time, I really wasn't sure how it would go - low on confidence, and with my calf muscles really aching from the previous night's efforts: they always seem much worse after off-road racing, which must have something to do with the extra work they're doing in terms of balance/stability on the uneven surface. I should probably check things like that before putting them in my blog - I may have just made that up.

Either way, I decided I'd not set off like an idiot for once, and let someone else set the pace. There is a strong runner called Richard, who I've chatted to a couple of times there - a nice bloke, and on his day a much quicker runner than I am, though currently coming back after injury. His times have been gradually improving as he does so, and it won't be long before he's back winning again I'm sure, so when he set off in the lead, I determined to try to stay reasonably close behind him, and see how the race panned out. Unusually, I had decided I wasn't too worried about time this week - I thought probably I wouldn't get anything great after the previous evening - but I did think it would be nice to maintain the winning streak if I could!

Me. Grimacing. It may be a smile. But probably a grimace.
Running alongside me for most of the race was a young lad, Drew, whose PB is also quicker than mine - despite the fact that he runs in the 15-17 age category. He's finished in the top three in each of the weeks I've been there, and I'm sure he's more than capable of beating me on his day - so it was clear to me I had my work cut out this week. It took until part way round the second lap before I managed to draw level with Richard, who by his own admission is just lacking that little bit of fitness at the moment which, once it's back, will probably see him beat me easily. Even allowing for this, I hadn't managed to stretch out much of a lead over him as we neared the end, and I was just wondering what I had left in me for a sprint finish if I needed it when Drew surprised both of us by coming past, and looking pretty comfortable as he did so.

As a result, I kicked for home much earlier than I normally would - and I discovered two things by doing so, Firstly, that I should be kicking for home earlier all the time, since I was able to sprint probably twice the distance I thought I could. And secondly - that by doing so, you can make up quite a lot of time. Sounds obvious? Yes, I suppose it is really, but I was chuffed to bits not only to grab the win but to also get my quickest time on the course - 19m09, which is also my best parkrun time this year. I remain convinced that this course offers PB potential - and I certainly think I should be getting sub 19mins here. It will help me if, as expected, both Richard and Drew continue to improve and get back to their best - I'll have to concede victory I'm sure, but I think by trying to keep up with them my own times should come down as a result.

Next Up?

We're doing the Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog next Friday. Bit of a weird name for a race, and an unusual race in that it runs through Thetford Forest - not, as we did at Breckland 10km, along roads through the forest ,but actually through the forest. Right now, I can't quite remember why we entered this one - it looks tough! - but it should be a bit of fun, with times going out of the window, which is quite possibly what I need. I'm going to try to approach it as just that - a fun training run - and part of the bigger picture as I train specifically for the last of the Friday Five fixtures, which as I mentioned earlier I am targeting for a PB run. Great Bentley 5 then has become one of the key races of the year for me.

My next post will concentrate just on this one race, and the build-up to it - focusing on what I hope will be a sensible and structured training approach resulting in a time I'm pleased with, with an aim of getting in the region of 31mins. 

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