Monday, 20 July 2015

A busy few days

As you'll know if you read these ramblings on a regular basis, I'm currently cramming in as many races as I can before I'm temporarily incapacitated! It's been a really enjoyable last few days - here's a quick (ish) roundup.

Girton 5km - Thursday 9th July

Usually it's me convincing Charlotte we need to enter races, but this one was all her idea - she's really enjoyed the races we've been doing for the Friday Five series, as well as the Kevin Henry fixtures, and this local fixture (just outside Cambridge) offered the chance for another evening race.

2013 had been much tougher
I ran here in 2013, and remembered it being pretty tough - flat, but multi-terrain (including some very muddy farm tracks.) This time around, with the weather having been pretty good, it was likely to be a bit easier, and so whilst I didn't expect to PB, I was hoping to get around the 19min mark. The race was a sell-out, which is always a good sign of a well-organised and enjoyable event, although the free beer at the end is probably also a factor.

A pretty competitive field of runners lined up for this one, and although I did my best to keep pace with the early leaders, this was a pretty futile exercise, and I began dropping back quite significantly as the race wore on. Fortunately, as often seems to be the case, I was able to find something again for the last kilometre - helped by the fact that it was pavement for the last part - and in the end I recorded a time of 19m36, which got me 31st place out of 198 runners.

Far more impressive was Charlotte's run - a new PB (how on earth she did that on a primarily off-road course is totally beyond me.) It seems that the tougher the course, the better she does in relation to other runners, a theory backed up by her finishing as 8th lady.

Another fellow club runner, Terry, made the short trip as well, and showed his usual determination to complete in fine style despite recent health issues that would have stopped most from continuing to run, let alone race. I hope I'm still able to get around the 30min mark when I'm in my 70s!

DEFRA Sports Day -- Friday 10th July

Thanks to a temping agency, I'm currently working at Natural England until my new permanent position with the Civil Service starts in September. According to our website -

We're the government's adviser for the natural environment in England, helping to protect England's nature and landscapes for people to enjoy and for the services they provide. Natural England is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

And the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - DEFRA - hold a sports day each year, pulling together all the various offices around the country to compete in a number of sports in a reasonably competitive yet very enjoyable event.
I totally had this race....

I originally entered just one event - the 1500metres veterans race - but as the day grew closer, it became apparent that I may be needed to help out elsewhere since we were struggling to fill all the slots in the Rounders and Football teams. In the event, I was just needed for the 1st rounders match - I was fine at running between the posts but in 3 attempts I didn't manage to hit the ball once! Unsurprisingly, my help wasn't needed after that - but I did play in the 4 group matches for our football team, in a very enjoyable 6-a-side competition.

Despite being hammered in our opening match, we managed to win the next three, meaning we qualified from our group to get through to the knock-out stages. Unfortunately our quarter-final clashed with my 1500m, so at this point I had to abandon my team mates. I didn't need to ask afterwards how it had gone, as I saw them walking back from the changing rooms freshly showered and changed - clearly no semi-final for us! Apparently we lost 5-0 - I can't imagine how bad it might have been if I'd been playing also.

It was interesting playing the football - I was definitely much fitter than the last time I tried to play, a couple of years ago, but I still found the short sharp bursts of energy required much more draining than going for a run. And it meant that, even with a half hour break between my last game and the race, I felt exhausted lining up for the 1500m. They ran the open race and the veterans race together - partly to save time, but partly in case there was a veteran quick enough to get a podium in the open event - it would be unfair to exclude them from the chance of winning the main prize. And that's exactly what happened - the race was won by a veteran (sadly, not me!) Speaking to someone who knew him afterwards, it turns out he does IronMan stuff - but that wouldn't necesarily lend itself to a fast 1500m time, and he's clearly a strong all-round athelete.

I didn't have the run I hoped for at all, and even though it was clear from the start who was going to win, I do feel I should have come in 2nd - but for whatever reason, it just didn't happen on the day. The football beforehand will have played a part, but I suspect the other runners had also competed in other events on the day too - so everyone was probably in much the same boat. My time was 5m26, whereas I'd been hitting 5mins in training, so I have to confess I was a little dissapointed. I came in 4th overall - however I did pick up a Silver medal (for 2nd Veteran) so it wasn't all bad. More importantly, Charlotte was table to take a rare term-time day off so we could spend the day together, and we both had a really enjoyable time: I particularly enjoyed the football tournament, and got to spend time outside the office with some really friendly work colleagues.

Now THAT's a Parkrun!

The sports ground we used is owned by the National Physical Laboratory, which is within the grounds of Bushy Park. This park was where parkrun all began back in October 2004, and for this reason it's now something of a Mecca for parkrun tourists - regularly attracting over 1000 runners, which is huge compared to the norm. It's a long way for us to go on a Saturday morning, but I definitely want to run this one sometime - although it's a lot more competitive than most: to put into context, the times that have seen me win at Great Cornard recently would only just get me into the top 50 at Bushy Park!

Ekiden Relay - Sunday 12th July 

An Ekiden is a long distance relay race. The term originates in Japan - the very first Ekiden was run to celebrate a change of capital city and was run between Kyoto (the old capital) and Tokyo (the new one) - a distance of over 500km. It remains a massively popular sporting event in that country, and is run over various distances. So there you go - a little bit of history for you.

In this case, a team of 6 of us each ran legs of varying distance to make up 42.2km (or 26.2 miles) in total. Hosted by Ipswich Jaffa club, the course is a 2.5km loop - which is therefore run twice by those on a 5km leg, and 4 times by the 10km runners. My leg - first off - was 7.2km - a strange distance in order to make up the exact number of kilometres required for full marathon distance, and comprising of a slightly shortened 1st lap and then 2 full ones.

He's from Framlingham in Suffolk - famous for ...
erm.....being the place that Ed Sheeran's from...?
I struggled a bit in the humid conditions, and I think my legs were still feeling the effects of all that football on the Friday (and a bit of sunburn behind the knees for good measure!) If I'm looking for excuses, (and let's face it, I often am!) I could also point to a lack of sleep the night before, since we didn't get home from seeing Ed Sheeran in concert at Wembley until about 2.30am, and had to be up again at around 7am. Obviously I'm not going to complain about that though - an amazing night out, and a truly exceptional musician.

In the end, I was pleased to be able to find a little bit for the last kilometre, and I approached the line at just under half an hour, so achieving respectability if nothing else. I handed over to Charlotte, who ran a 5km leg, and who then handed on to Gareth (10km) before it was time for Jason (5km), Angela (10km) and finally Danny (5km.) Six commandos (plus partners), a gazebo, plenty of food, some beer, a barbecue, and plenty of other friends out there competing for different teams - HRC, Gt Bentley, Harwich, Sudbury, to name but four - all in all, a really fun day out. As a non-affiliated team (the Commando Runners is simply a group of friends rather than an official club) we were competing in the social category, in which we achieved 4th position, with a total time of 3hr02mins. Pleasing enough, and we're all determined to come back next year to try to break the 3 hour mark and hopefully grab a podium place and some trophies! It has given me even more respect for runners I know who are capable of running a sub 3hr marathon on their own. There are plenty of challenging running targets that I hope to crack in the next few years - but I don't believe I'll ever manage this one!
From left to right - Danny, Angela, Jason, Gareth, Charlotte and me. Not a bad team, but lousy at doing YMCA

Back in training

I mentioned at the end of my last blog post that I hoped to return to a more structured training schedule prior to what will now be my last race before my first operation - the Ipswich Twilight 5km next month. This hasn't quite happened - since I'm trying to fit in as much racing as I can! - but short races can play a useful part in building towards one particular key race, and whilst I've not quite hit top form in any of the three I've mentioned above, hopefully they will all have helped in the greater scheme of things, as quick tempo runs if nothing else. 

That said, I'd missed getting out on my regular 5 mile training loop, and mentally too it did me the world of good to get out on both Tuesday and Wednesday to do just that. On both occasions, with my ipod for company, I simply enjoyed my running - something I don't do often enough. If it feels good, I try not to check the watch too much to start with, preferring just to go with it and not worry too much about pace for the first mile - which, after all, should ideally be a bit slower anyway on a training run, since it's effectively a warm up. On both these runs, I ended up settling into a pace of around 7m45, which felt comfortable, and I saw no need to increase the speed - as I've mentioned, the races I've done recently can double up as fast training runs, and for these two I just wanted to get some time on feet, some miles under my belt, and to run without pressure. 

Haver5k - Sunday 19th July

And so to the last race of this particular post - a last minute decision to enter this fun run organised by a club colleague, and part of the Haverhill Summer Bash - a fundraising event held each year on the town's recreation ground. I wanted to run this for two reasons - firstly, because I wanted to support a good cause and Jack's hard work, and secondly because I knew the route offered PB potential. I'll leave you to work out whether I've put those reasons in order of importance....

With a small line-up of only 50 runners, and none of the really quick runners that normally attend local events, it was never going to be the most competitive of races - and although winning appeared to be a possibility, my main focus for this was to try to break 19mins, and maybe my PB in the process. The route started and finished at the recreation ground, and included a stretch up the high street before joining our club's time trial route, which I know better than any other 5k course. Knowing there would be hardly any climb anywhere on the way gave me the confidence to set off quickly, which is pretty much my standard 5km tactic now - unless I know there are tough parts and easier parts. It was a strange feeling to be charging up the high street, out in front, running past Haverhill shoppers who clearly hadn't got a clue what was going on, but knowing I was building a healthy lead, and feeling really good.

Which is when I made the mistake of checking my watch - and discovering I was running at 5m30
Checking your watch mid-race can be a bad idea,
 And running in a suit doesn't help either.
pace. I talked last blog about how the watch can sometimes have a negative effect on my racing, and this was certainly the case here, as I immediately slowed to something more manageable. Not for the first time, I wonder what I may have done had I not known - could I have maintained that pace a little longer perhaps? No matter, I still managed to complete the first mile in just under 6mins - but given that the first half mile had been 5m30 pace, this meant I was now running at 6m30 pace, which indeed is what the watch showed as I began the second mile. Not only was my pace slowing, but - not surprisingly - the runner in 2nd place was gaining on me. I maintained 6m30 for the remainder of mile two, which was off-road along the railway path we use for time trial - and although the gap remained about the same, I began to anticipate being in a bit of a battle for first place.

In fact, I had a couple of slightly negative thoughts - the first being that it may be helpful if he caught me, because it's a bit easier to chase someone than it is to lead them - and the second being that actually, second place wouldn't be all that bad! This had been billed as a fun run - it was for good local causes - it really wasn't that important - all these thoughts were running through my head before I managed to remind myself that what I'd actually wanted from the race was a good time! Time to stop worrying about position and start worrying that I was in the last mile and the sub 19min target was slipping away.

Jack doesn't skimp on the trophies!
Of course, pushing the pace not only got me re-focused on the job in hand, but it also ensured I didn't get passed, and I ultimately collected a really nice 1st place trophy. Unfortunately, the distance showing on my watch at the end was too short for me to be able to claim it as a PB - 18m26 would have meant almost 30secs off, but 4.74km isn't really close enough for me to happily accept it - you always get a GPS margin of error to some extent, but not 260 metres! Being a bit of a stats geek, I've calculated a "real" result, based on how long that extra distance would have taken had I managed it at the same pace I was running the last mile at - the answer being just over 1 minute, taking my time to just under 19m30 - and this makes perfect sense, being about what I've been doing over 5km recently. It's a similar situation to that at Shelford fun run last year - and you just have to accept it: it's billed as a fun run, so you know there's a possibility things won't be quite as accurate as in larger events. Having played a part in organising a handicap time trial race for our club recently, I understand what it feels like to have to deal with complaints when you've given up your free time to help - it's put me off getting involved in race organisation again, and I have a healthy amount of respect for anyone that puts their neck on the line as a race director! Our monthly time trials are more than enough for me.

And so it was nice to pick up an award, but further confirmation that I've currently plateaued at around the 19min30 mark. I anticipate getting another similar time this week at time trial - I volunteered for the last one so my conscience is clear to allow me to race this time around. And then on Sunday, it's the Littleport 10k - fast, flat, and could it possibly be the sub 40min time I've wanted for so long?

In all probability - no! As discussed previously, my current lack of improvement is all down to lack of training in between all theses races - a subject I'm going to address in my next blog post. I'd love to go out on a high with a couple more decent race results, but I know I'll only do this with some serious hard work. 

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