Thursday, 6 August 2015

Littleport 10km - the inquest!

Firstly, a gratifying spike in readership numbers again recently, so a grateful "welcome" to anyone who has recently begun following my blog - and as always, a "congratulations" to those of you who have been in it for the long haul and continue to plough through on a regular basis.

I'm not entirely sure why numbers have gone up. I push the blog in a few places - facebook, google plus and twitter, and then in addition I guess people may stumble across it whilst doing a search on the internet for something completely different. It may be that my last title ("What I talk about when I should be working") cropped up in search results when people were trying to find out about Murakami's excellent "What I talk about when I talk about running." My title was of course a nod to this book, which is a favourite amongst runners, and highly recommended.

Sorry, not this kind of racing....
It may also be partially explained because I used the hashtag "racingblog" when posting the link to twitter, and this was picked up on and "favourited" by a prolific and well-followed tweeter from the world of Nascar racing (who clearly didn't bother to read it, although who am I to criticise him for that!) So with apologies to anyone expecting an exciting blog about high-octane racing - let me tell you instead all about......

The Littleport 10km

So although I raced twice over the weekend of 25th-26th July, I decided to use the parkrun on the Saturday purely as a warm-up for this 10km on the Sunday morning, which was my A-race for the month, and as I talked about (extensively) in my last post, my big chance to go under the magic 40 minute barrier.

So did I get sub 40?

Erm - no! I talked in my last blog post about my planned strategy, which was to set off at, and hold, 6m30 pace. To this end, on Saturday morning I decided I'd try the same pacing at parkrun, and see how it felt. The answer - very comfortable, and it made a nice change not to go off fast and try to hang on, but to take it relatively steady and push on as the race progressed. In fact, the end result - sub 19m30 - wasn't too far off what I'd normally get at Great Cornard, but it was a much more enjoyable way of achieving it!

Toe striking on lap one
Toe striking at the finish too!
It felt strange not trying to win - something I've managed a handful of times now at Gt Cornard - but in fact, whilst I set off in about 12th or 13th place and gained a few positions throughout the race, I was never in with a chance of victory anyway, nor would I have been had I gone for it from the outset - there were a number of much quicker runners there, and in the end my finishing position of 7th place is probably about where I'd have come anyway. Well, maybe 5th, with a following wind. But no higher certainly.

What the experience gave me, as I'd hoped it would, was plenty of confidence that my race tactic for the next day was sound - 6m30 seemed very achievable, and if I could maintain this for the majority of the 10km and then push on for that last mile, then sub 40mins was definitely on the cards. Also particularly pleasing was that, judging from the photos, I seem to have maintained form throughout - it's not often I find two decent pictures from the same race!

 So What went wrong at Littleport?

Well for a start, despite having felt pretty good on the Saturday, the next day my old groin/stomach problem came back with a vengence, and I spent the Sunday morning feeling pretty uncomfortable, and unsure right up until the start as to whether or not I'd be able to race at all. Of course, pre-race nerves always add to situation, and often when I finally get going it's not as bad as I thought it was. Almost all runners suffer from this to some extent, hence the toilet queues before every race!

On this occasion, however, I did continue to feel pretty grim throughout. It's hard to say exactly what difference it makes to the run, except that at no point was I able to settle into a comfortable rhythm, which I'd hoped to be able to do for the first part of the race at least. The best way I can describe it is that it's like running with a bad stomach ache, which leaves you feeling sluggish, unable to relax and not particularly inclined to work hard. Consequently, even 6m30 pace felt tough.

In part, this was also due to the fact that the course wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. It's unlike me not to extensively research a race route beforehand, but for some reason I had just assumed this was all road and all flat - probably because I knew runners tended to get PBs here - and it wasn't until we reached the venue that I realised that it started and finished on grass, which is never great for a strong final push.

Chatting to some fellow club runners who had done the race a few times before, it then became apparent that the organisers had managed to incorporate the only hill in Littleport into the route - and it was an off-road hill, to make matters even worse! This meant that the fourth mile was going to be a little slower, if I kept to my usual tactic of maintaining even effort rather than even pace. Obviously on a circular route (ie where the start and finish are in the same place) then what goes up must come down, and so it didn't necessarily mean I wouldn't get my target time, because there should also be parts where I could go a bit quicker than planned - but suddenly it had become a different type of race to the one I was expecting. Not checking the route beforehand - a rookie mistake!

Going for Gold

No, not that Going for Gold. Which, for those who never had the
pleasure, was a European themed Quiz programme where contestants
from various non-English speaking countries had to somehow
translate questions posed in Henry Kelly's broad Irish accent,
 and yet still invariably beat the Brits to the correct answer. 

Anyway, at least I found all this out before we set off - so I adjusted accordingly, and ran the first couple of miles at 6m35 pace, before losing a bit more on mile 3, and then mile 4, with the hill, was unsurprisingly a bit slower again. The elevation came back down gradually over mile 5, and this should have set me up for a decent last third of the race, but I only managed to get back down to my original target pace, not quicker as I needed it to be by this stage.

I had approached the race with my usual Gold, Silver and Bronze targets, and although by the halfway point I knew Gold (sub 40) wasn't going to happen, I was desperately keen to at least hit Silver (sub 41.) If you're going for sub 40 and you don't manage it, you at least want to get 40 something! Even with this new easier target in mind, I still went into the final mile needing to significantly up the pace, having lost way too much time in the first half of the race.

The longest mile?

I can honestly say that last mile was the hardest mile I have ever raced in my life. A combination of groin pain, disappointment and general fatigue (no doubt due to a woeful lack of training) all meant that physically and mentally I had to work much harder than I normally would to pick up the time needed. I had to keep telling myself that sub 41 was worth going for, when in reality I was gutted that I'd missed the chance of sub 40 yet again. In the end, with a final mile of 6m17 - which, given the effort I thought I was putting in, feels like it should have been  soooo much faster! - I recorded a time of 40m57. I probably should have been much happier, having taken another 13secs off my PB, but I had wanted so much more.

As expected, loads of other runners got PBs too - I'm biased of course, but particularly impressive was Charlotte's improvement, taking a massive 1m45 off her previous best time. All the more notable since the previous morning's parkrun had also yielded a new PB, with a new 5km best of 22m14. She's flying at the moment, and I suspect when I begin running again after my operations that I'll need to ask her to slow down a bit when we train together.

What's happened since Littleport?

In terms of training - absolutely nothing! I was more shattered after Littleport than I can ever remember being at the end of short distance race - and I was in a fair degree of discomfort for a good two or three days afterwards. Add to that an unusual lack of enthusiasm for anything running related - even my latest copy of Runners World magazine remains unopened - and I haven't resumed running since. I think it's because I'd really built up the race as my chance to get a sub 40, which would have been the perfect way to sign off for a while - and although I have 3 more 5kms to race before the operation, for some reason I can't seem to get particularly excited about them. The discomfort has lingered too - yes, it's dissipated, but not as much as usual - despite not having run for nearly 10 days now - and that leaves me less inclined to pull on my trainers and go for even a gentle run. As I type this part of the blog, I'm about to go to our club's weekly speedwork session, and I'm in two minds as to whether or not to bother. I'm actually really nervous about going - a new experience, since normally I really look forward to these workouts - but I'm just not sure if I'm going to be able to manage it. The good thing about these Tuesday evening sessions is that you can chose how much effort you put in - so you only have to work as hard as you feel capable of. I nearly always give 100%, but I think perhaps not tonight!

Post-script - Wednesday morning

Still not quite writing this in diary form, although it may well be the way I go in the future, since I like the idea of tracing my running-related thoughts throughout the week. But having almost finished the blog at the end of the last chunk, I wanted to add that I did in fact go to training - and it went pretty well. The session was paired efforts - in other words, you have a partner relying on you to do your best - exactly what I needed, otherwise I doubt I would have given my all. So our coach for the evening, Andy, created a figure of eight course - 400 metres round the track, and 400 metres across a fairly undulating grassy area behind it. One of each pair (runner 1)  had to run the track, then hand over to their partner (runner 2) who ran the off-track part, before handing back over again. Each of us had to complete 3 laps, with your recovery time in between each lap being the amount of time it took your partner to do their bit.

I wasn't entirely sure I could manage a fourth....
Having done all this, we then had a short break before repeating the exercise, but this time changing over so that runner 2 ran the track part, and runner 1 the hilly part. Again, 3 laps each, before another break, and then finally switching back again for a final set - but this time, 4 laps. And yes, that additional one really killed!

As I mentioned before, you get out of these sessions exactly what you put in, and having someone else relying on me meant I put in plenty of effort, and found it incredibly tough as a result. My total mileage for the session, even including warm-up and cool-down, only came to 3.5 miles. But I managed to keep below 6min mile pace for (nearly) all of the laps, and afterwards the feeling was fantastic - clearly I hadn't lost as much fitness over the last few days as I thought, although I have gained a fair few pounds over the last couple of months and I'm definitely aware of this when I run, as well as when I look in the mirror! This weight gain is from a combination of slipping off the diet and not running so much - after 12-16 weeks of being unable to run after the operation, I dread to think how big I'll be, and clearly sticking to the diet will become even more important.

Ah, not quite as bad as I thought then....

Coming up Next

Charlotte and I followed up this training session by going for a gentle 5km recovery run the next morning. It wasn't the first morning recently that I'd set the alarm for 6am, but it was the first time for a while that I'd managed to avoid the snooze button! Going for an easy run the day after a hard training session or race allows your body to ease off any aches and pains, stretches out the muscles a bit without working them too hard, and better prepares you for the next hard effort.

For us, that's later today (Thurs) when we take on the next in the Kevin Henry Series of 5km races. I'm looking forward to this one - it's a new course, the home race for Ely Runners, who only joined the series last year and are hosting a race for the first time in 2015. Apparently being run on an old WW2 airfield, it's going to be completely flat, on a good surface, and therefore offers PB potential for those in shape to go for one. That's not me - I was training harder, weighing less and was generally in much better shape when I was going sub 19mins, so this seems unlikely this time around. However, I do have a KH best to aim for - 19m36 at Kedington last time around - and on a much easier course, this really should be achieveable.

The day after will be a rest day, as we travel across to Wales to stay with Charlotte's sister Victoria and her partner Mark, who like us is a keen parkrunner. Therefore on Saturday morning we'll be re-visiting Tredegar Park, together with Mei, who is getting steadily faster week in week out. Mei, by the way, is Charlotte's first cousin once removed - (and yes, I did have to look that up!) - in other words, the son of one of her cousins. Both Mark and I are way too competitive and we'll be keen to race hard against each other before spending the rest of the day relaxing with a big family BBQ.

The last time we visited Wales we ran at Tredegar for the first time, and I was pleased to get just over the 20min mark, but remember thinking it was a fast course that I'd like to run again. Since I now tend to break 20mins for most 5kms, I hope to be able to do the same this weekend. This is going to be my 72nd parkrun, but my last for some time, so I'm looking forward to making the most of it. After that, it's just a few days until what will be my last race, the Ipswich Twilight 5km, which I'll no doubt bore you with in a future post.

I'm so pleased that I made the decision to go to running club this week, helping me rediscover my motivation before these last few races, meaning that - hopefully - I can finsih off with a couple of decent performances, and a strong desire to recover quickly and get back out running again.

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