Thursday, 2 July 2015

4 races left

This particular post is now on it's 3rd re-write. I should probably explain:

1st edition (written Monday 22nd June)

Initially it was going to be called "How to get a PB." A particularly brave, or possibly stupid title. The thinking was, with Gt Bentley 5 on the horizon, that I would write the blog almost in diary form, over the course of two weeks, detailing how I was changing things in order to grab a new 5 mile PB and hopefully get under 32mins for the first time in the process. By giving the post such a confident title I hoped to convince myself in advance that I would definitely achieve this - and also, by telling everyone it would happen, I would force myself to ensure it did, to avoid looking like a complete idiot.

By saying "telling everyone" - I mean of course, telling everyone who reads my blog. According to the stats available to me, I'm nearing 7000 views since I began back in March 2014. I've posted 27 times, which would mean around 260 readers for each post - so once again, many thanks to all of you for taking the time to plough through. It was never really meant to be just a race write up, but more about concentrating on the thoughts that accompany my running - and from the individual feedback I get from time to time, it seems it's this aspect that is of more interest. So with this is mind, the plan was to try to get back to this format - not to ignore the races, but to blog mainly about my training and preparation, both physical and mental, with the race reports a gauge of how things are progressing.

I quite like the idea of diary format, though - and it would help keep the blog up to date if I wrote a bit each day, and posted once a week. It would also - hopefully - be a better way of following the thought processes as I trained towards what I hoped would be improved times throughout the rest of the year and beyond.

All of this seemed like a good idea, but then, having thought about things a bit more carefully, I changed my mind...

I sometimes think I spend more time writing
about running than I spend actually running.

2nd edition (written Wednesday 24th June/Thursday 25th June)

This revised post was going to concentrate more on longer-term aims and objectives, looking at how much I race (and whether to reduce this) and pinpointing some key races later on in the Summer that I wanted to do well at.

Why did I shelve the "How to get a PB" idea - well, a couple of reasons really.

The first - I realised that, if I ran the course at Great Bentley without changing much, I'd have a good chance of getting a PB anyway, so it would be a bit disingenuous to claim it was anything to do with any alteration to my training. The reason I'm targeting this particular race is because it's flat, and on road - much easier than the other 5 mile courses I've raced recently. I think that if I can run Great Bentley at the same level I ran Bury, for example, the result will be a slight improvement on my best time for the distance.

And secondly, it was unlikely that any changes I made over the two week period would have any effect on me physically in time for 3rd July - the body takes a while to adapt, and although different experts draw different conclusions as to exactly how long it takes before a specific training session can be expected to have an impact in terms of improvement, it seems it's somewhere between 8-14 days at best. So if I managed to get myself into a proper training regime, I needed to look further ahead than this particular race.

However, by getting into the right regime now, it would mean psychologically that I'd be in a much better place when I lined up in what is the last of the Friday Five Series that I've enjoyed so much. With the knowledge that I've been pushing myself hard in training comes increased confidence that I can do the same come race day, and my sense of belief is key to running well. And if a warm-up before a race gets your body prepared for what you're about to do to it - well, surely running 5 miles most days in the week leading up to a 5 mile race would have a similar effect? As much as anything, it's about getting in the zone, if that's not too over the top.

So the conclusion to all this was that I was going to start training more wisely, as I've done before to good effect, and whilst was I hoping this may have some effect in this key race, it was probably now more a question of looking slightly further ahead, to other races on the horizon, in particular with a view perhaps to finally getting that sub 40min 10km at Littleport at the end of July, and then looking even further ahead to the remaining Suffolk GP fixtures.


I'll be fine, just give me a minute. Oh, and I'll see you
at Parkrun in the morning?
I've been thinking a lot recently about how often I race - which is all the time! Hardly a week goes by without one, even if just a parkrun. When I say "just" a parkrun, I don't mean to belittle these fantastic events, which have become a big part of my running life over the last couple of years. But even the parkrun organisers themselves like to say they're not races - and although I almost always treat them as such, I suspect I probably shouldn't. And it's not just parkruns - with Kevin Henry fixtures, Suffolk Grand Prix races, attempts to get a sub 40min 10k races, attempts to get sub 32min 5mile races - it's been a pretty packed schedule for some time now, and undoubtedly it's been too much.

Why too much?

Because you simply can't expect to get a PB week in, week out. Training schedules should include easier weeks, to give the body - and mind - time to recover. Ideally you should be building week on week towards a peak, before easing off a little and then going again. Charlotte and I have been enjoying watching the diamond league athletics on TV recently, plus the recent European Team Championships in Russia. Frequently throughout, I've heard commentators talking about athletes building towards the Worlds later this year. They don't enter every event in the build up, instead they seem to just target a few specific ones - presumably that they then use to find out where they're at. Quite a lot of Team GB's best athletes didn't travel to Cheboksary, again presumably because it didn't quite fit with their training schedule. In fact, although very few of the really big names seemed to be there, it was good to see some of our up-and-coming athletes representing their country instead.

And with all these ideas floating around in my head, I was starting to look forward to knuckling down to some proper training, rather than just moving from one race to another. I probably wouldn't reduce the races - it's what I love - but rather, I would prioritise them: so some races might be "A" races and would be PB attempts, but the majority would be used simply as stepping-stones to get to those more important fixtures, and perhaps I might even use some - particularly parkruns, which I do so often - to experiment with different tactics.

All of which seemed like I was in danger of finally settling into a sensible training regime. Which leads me to the reason why I then shelved edition 2, and am ending up posting the following instead....

Consultant Appointment (Thursday 25th June)

How many times have I bleated on about my "injury" over the course of this blog? It's a strange one, because it's never really stopped me running, but it has definitely affected what I've been able to achieve. At times, specific races have been really grim, but in general I've found I've been able to compete reasonably well, and there have been quite a few races where I've not felt any discomfort at all. However, what is undeniable is the effect it's had on my training. As a general rule, the more I train (whether in terms of regularity or distance), the more discomfort I'm in. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that I haven't been prepared to stop racing, I've sought at times to lessen the discomfort by reducing the amount of training I do.

And I've found over the last two years that the only successful way to deal with things has been to concentrate on shorter races, which in turn require less training. If at all possible - work permitting - I attend speedwork club sessions each Tuesday. I nearly always rock up at parkrun on a Saturday, and then if I'm free on the Sunday, I'll probably race somewhere. Other than that, if I go out just once more in the week, my body seems to be able to cope with that.

I was gutted when the police brought my run streak
to a premature end...
Of course, because I'm not really doing a structured week of training, I'm finding it hard to improve. For some reason, without any obvious side effects, I was able to ramp up the training a bit towards the end of last year, and as a result I improved over all distances - but when I began really increasing the distances as I commenced marathon training, the pain started to return again. I was really pleased with my Half Marathon improvement in February, but after a fairly disastrous 20 mile effort at Tarpley (due to starting too fast, not the injury!) it's been getting steadily worse. A calf injury, which ultimately led me to pulling out of London this year, coincided with my last treatment - Hip Manipulation - and as a result it was hard to tell if this had been successful. But once this newer injury eased, I began to increase the training again - and about 2 weeks into what turned out to be a 30 day running streak (definition: where you see how many consecutive days you can go running without a break), I started experiencing the old discomfort. Although I stubbornly kept training, it has now got back to the stage where every day is uncomfortable, running or not, and it was a relief to know that I had a follow-up appointment booked in where I could update Mr Khanduja and see what else could be done.

And the answer, apparently, is keyhole surgery. I'm no expert, but I have to say I'm still not 100% convinced it's to do with the hips - referred pain - but I have no option but to trust him! The best news is that part of the procedure involves getting a camera in there to have a look at things, so no doubt if it's not what he thinks, he'll at least discover what is causing the problem. Assuming he's right, he's then going to shave some excess bone off, and I've been warned that it's a long recovery period: 4 weeks off work (I'm a temp at the moment - so that's not going to happen!) and 16 weeks in total before he can then move on to doing the other hip. So the plan is - and I am very lucky that everything's moving so quickly - to get the first operation done 16th July, which gives me plenty of time to recover and get back working before I start my new permanent job in September.

My new job will involve studying for exams and a degree alongside working full time, and we can only take holidays in between terms, so ideally we'll get the other hip done to fit in with the Christmas holidays. At this point, having been through it once with the first op, I'll know how long I actually need off work (I'm hoping 4 weeks is overly cautious on his part.) I've also been warned that I'll be on crutches initially after each op - a new experience, having been fortunate never to have broken bones or anything before.
So, having been hit with this news - what next? Race, of course!

Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog (5mile) - Friday 26th June

My next race was the day after, so no time to dwell on things - off to Thetford Forest on the Friday evening for what turned out to be a really enjoyable event. Named the wibbly wobbly - possibly because of the twisty-turny circuit, or possibly because of what it does to your legs - this is an off-road 5 miler set in and around High Lodge, which is between Brandon and Thetford. The route takes you along a forest track to start with, before you divert off into the forest itself and follow a narrow path in amongst the trees, with plenty of dips and craters to negotiate, (including one really tough "bombhole" with an ascent similar to the North face of the Eiger) before you get back onto a nice flat stretch to finish with, where I was able to find enough for a strong sprint finish, which seems to be happening at the end of most races at the moment - which is nice!

Strangely, it was when you were running the flatter, easier parts that you realised how exhausted you were - once on the trails you just dug in and went with the flow, more concerned about keeping your footing and following the correct route than you were about your time or how tired you were. I have to say it was one of my favourite event of the year so far - in part probably because there was no pressure to do anything. So many races this year have been part of a series, or offered PB potential - this one, I just turned up and had no idea how I'd do, and probably relaxed a bit more than usual
because it really didn't matter.
Oh Great!

Oh. Really Great!

In the end, although my time was (as expected) down on my usual 5 mile time, I was really happy to grab 11th place out of a field of over 300, and to make it home in one piece without being attacked by adders or succumbing to Lyme Disease (seriously, we were warned about both in the pre-race briefing, whilst being nearly drowned by a sudden downpour - and we do this for fun?!)

Gt Cornard Parkrun - Saturday 27th June

Happy with my last kilometre, and a
sprint finish to claim 2nd place

With a slightly sore ankle after the previous evening's exploits, and a bit of a struggle to get out of bed in time, I wasn't expecting great things when I made it with minutes to spare for this week's attempt to defend my title. Which, incidentally, is meant tongue in cheek - I'm well aware that I'm only grabbing first places because this is one of the less competitive parkruns around. I like it because it's so flat that it's a really good gauge of where I'm at - and the truth appears to be that I'm comfortably in the low 19s but not getting any quicker, which ties in with what I mentioned earlier in relation to not really training properly. No matter - at least I've found some consistency, which I've always struggled with in the past - and regular sub 20s is something I'd have been very happy with a year ago.

This week, Bury parkrun was cancelled, so it was no surprise to see one or two of the regular runners from Nowton Park turning up at Gt Cornard, including one Odette Robson, who is well known locally as one of the fastest ladies in the region, and certainly considerably quicker than me. I knew I was racing for second at best, and in the end I needed to work hard on the sprint finish to just grab it from a young lad who, I later realised, was Odette's son, and who is clearly going to be very quick himself in years to come. So anyway, the winning run has come to an end, but another decent time (19m14) and I guess at least I was first male!

Coming up next? 

So the plan to get a decent training regime going has failed spectacularly - but I did at least manage a good club track session on Tuesday, and I feel I'm running strongly at the moment: I genuinely believe I'll get that 5 mile PB if run as well as I have done in tougher 5 milers so far this year. Before that, there's the small matter of the next Kevin Henry race - I'm writing this late on Wednesday evening, so in less than 24hrs time.
My first ever race for the club was at this same fixture in 2012. I'm hiding in the back row somewhere - but I'll always remember one or two runners took the time to come and talk to me and I was made to feel very welcome. I hope, despite a push to become more competitive over the last couple of years, that we never lose the "Happy Running Club" tag.

This fixture at Kedington (a village just a few miles outside Haverhill) is our club's home event. We're hoping to hit at least 100 HRC runners, and I love the fact that everyone who takes part for the club knows that they're contributing to our score. Particularly pleasing is the number of new members, including those who have just completed our latest beginner course, who are planning to run - it's not an easy course, and they'll be rightly proud of their achievement when they cross the line. Hopefully we'll be able to hang on to 2nd place in the table - the highest the club's ever been - and tonight I've just heard we remain top of the Suffolk GP table now that the most recent race result has been factored in, which is more great news for a club that is now both friendly and competitive.

I wanted to mention too that, in the Suffolk Grand Prix Individual Competition, Charlotte has now moved up to 3rd place in her age category (18-35) - a fantastic achievement for a runner who is much better than she thinks she is (and I make no apologies for being a bit biased!)

I'm not sure how I'll get on at Kedington - the hill is a real killer, going on for nearly a mile (I actually drove back that way tonight after dropping my son off and measured it on my car's odometer!) I think the plan is to go out hard, to get as decent a first half mile in as possible, before tackling the ascent, hopefully not losing too many places - but importantly, trying not to get too disheartened if I do - and then push on hard once I get to the top of the hill. I should have a big advantage on this route since I used to live on it - pretty much at the halfway point - and I can visualise each part of it pretty well, which is extremely helpful during a race when deciding when to push and when to ease off. However, I am slightly traumatised by last year's run, when I had a bit of a mare - one of the races where I was affected by the injury - and so I'm not expecting a PB, or anything close to it, but a sub 20 would be nice.

Working hard to improve my times
One change I have managed this week is more sleep - often overlooked by runners, but if you're looking for something that can have pretty instant results, this is a sure fire winner, and is something all the best coaches stress as being vital to decent performances. Obvious perhaps, but we all have busy lives and it's often neglected. I've managed to get a good 7 hours each night since Sunday, and it's bound to have a positive effect.

So with this better sleep pattern, coupled with encouraging runs over the weekend, I'm feeling confident that I can go out and grab some good performances before I'm sidelined for a few months. There are four races in total to come - after racing KH and Gt Bentley, it's only a week before the Ekiden relay, when I'm running a 7.2km leg as part of this team relay event - competing alongside Charlotte in a Commando Team.

And then finally, 3 days before the first op, I run the 1500 metres at the Defra Sportsday. Seriously, such a thing does exist. Without taking it too seriously (!) I am keen to see what I can do over this shorter distance - and besides, I get to represent Natural England - and more to the point, it's a day off work but still on full pay. I believe I may also have been roped into the veterans football tournament as well, and it should prove to be a fun day out if nothing else - and since it will be the last time I run properly for quite some time, I'll certainly give it my all, and just see what happens.

For now though, I'm just going to try to get the most out of these last four events, and my next blog will deal with the first two - hopefully including a report on a new 5 mile PB.

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