Saturday, 5 September 2015

Running with the Elite - the Ipswich Twilight 5km

Having fallen a bit behind with my blogging, the following was written a couple of weeks back, and a more recent blog will follow shortly....

You have to believe in yourself if you're going to achieve your best. So long as you don't cross over the line and become annoyingly over-confident, then I truly believe this is a really positive attitude and is a major factor in racing well.
A couple of years ago, I entered an "elite" 5km race at the Bury track, which was for anyone able to go sub 20mins. There was no official qualification required, you just chose on the night which race to enter - the elite or the open. I'd only gone under 20 a couple of times at that point, but I felt I'd probably go a bit quicker on a proper running track, so took the plunge and put my name down. Things went badly, I didn't get under 20mins, and ended up last. I found it tough to deal with the disappointment, and decided at the time that I wouldn't ever enter an "elite" race again - or at least, not until I was good enough to properly belong in one.

Fast forward to Friday 14th August 2015 - and the start line of the Ipswich Twilight 5km, for "elite" runners! 


This time you did actually need to submit a qualifying time from a race in 2015 - the criteria being sub 20mins for a 5km, or sub 40mins for a 10km. I think I've mentioned before in a previous blog post that they wouldn't accept parkrun results, meaning that I spent most of the year thinking I wouldn't be able to compete it this one, since there are very few non-parkrun, UKA certified 5kms in which to try to get the time. I tried on 4 separate occasions to get the sub 40min 10km instead, but whilst I've chipped away at my PB over the last few months, it's still nearly a minute out. The Kevin Henry 5k series I race in does include one race - our club's home fixture, the Kedington 5km - that is properly certified, and therefore would count, so I was chuffed to bits to record a time of 19m38 a few weeks before. I was in!


And then I was out - or at least, I was for a time, since the original date of my first operation was only a few weeks before, not allowing enough time for recovery. Fortunately, they decided to change the date of the operation, and whilst this was initally a bit frustrating, in fact it's all worked out really well - for reasons I'll bore you with later - and as an added bonus, it meant I could still race Ipswich. So, back in, and really looking forward to it.

Slowing up - the ELY 5km
Ely is best known for its Cathedral. According to its official
webpage, other good reasons to visit are that it's quite close
to Cambridge and Newmarket. And only an hour from London.

My last post covered the Littleport 10km, which - although a marginal PB - was not the sub 40 I really wanted. It was clear that the discomfort was now significantly affecting my running, and this was confirmed the following Thursday when I competed in the KH fixture at Ely. Another 5km race (my 101st since I started running!) and on a new course which was fast and flat. I went off pretty well (first mile around 6mins,) felt good until halfway - even thought I may be on for a sub 19min at one point - before the wheels fell off completely, and in the end I didn't quite break 20mins. The discomfort played its part, but so too the lack of training. Suffice to say, I felt pretty down afterwards,

International Racing (sort of)

Confusingly, there is another parkrun in Wales in a place
called Tredegar, so this particular parkrun is known as Newport.
It's become a very popular event, in a great location.
The next day we travelled down to Wales, to stay with Charlotte's sister Victoria and her partner Mark for the weekend. On the agenda was a parkrun at Tredegar House, Newport - we'd done it about a year ago and I was keen to try to improve on my time. Unusually, I set myself a realistic target for this one - just try to get under 20mins, nothing more than that. The course was harder than I'd remembered, but I dug in and just managed it - and I was pretty pleased with a top 20 finish in a field of over 400: like most parkruns, it's grown tremendously in the last year. 

Mark is steadily improving, and wasn't far behind - it's fair to say we've extended our friendly rivalry to multiple disciplines, and whilst I may have won this one, he was marginal victor later on in our back garden cricket match, and then proceeded to thrash me at Fifa on the Xbox. I did regain a little pride later in the evening during trivial pursuits, being a cheese ahead before we all lost the will to live. We've now embarked on a season long Fantasy Football League competition - this is going to run and run!

A mention too for Mei, Charlotte's 12 year old relative, whose sprint finish at parkrun was pretty impressive. Although a little way off his PB, this was then put into perspective when we realised he was in clear need of his inhaler at the end - yet he hadn't let this stop him. Maintaining relaxed and controlled breathing in a 5km race is hard enough - I can't imagine having to battle against asthma on the way round, and it's this kind of determination in a runner that really impresses me.

Some non-running stuff (skip it if you like)

So the day of the Twilight 5km was also my last day working at Natural England. This has been a great temporary position, which I've done since January. Thanks to Charlotte's support, and prior to that the help of my mum, I've been able to step away from full-time coach driving, which I did for more years than I care to remember, and to pursue a new career in office work. Step one was to go part time, and study for a diploma. Armed with this, I then began applying for all sorts of great positions, and found no-one would take me on - the qualification didn't seem to count for much without some experience to go alongside. I joined numerous temping agencies, and accepted that I may need to reduce my expectations - I was no longer after the dream job: just any job would do! 

Amongst other opportunities, I applied to get onto a Civil Service Graduate Scheme. This involved an initial application followed by two stages on online tests (numeracy and literacy, verbal reasoning, etc) - and if you got through all this, you'd be invited to a two-day assessment centre for the final stage. I began the application process in November, but with over 13000 applicants fighting for only 250 places, it seemed wise to keep looking elsewhere!

Finally, in January, an agency found me a position as an administrator at Natural England. Poorly paid, but promising some much needed office experience. I couldn't have given up the coach driving (which is relatively well-paid) to take this position without Charlotte's help - we both saw it as a step back to (hopefully) take two steps forward, but it was a bit of a gamble financially, and I desperately hoped the experience I would gain would enable to me to get a better-paid job in the near future.

The job itself has been interesting, and has certainly helped me become much more computer literate, and to learn how to organise my time/workload etc. The work-life balance is great - I've loved flexi-time in particular, and it's meant I've been able to arrange work around the things that really matter (Charlotte, Harry, racing, etc!) In March, having got through the online test stages, and following a very intense couple of days at the assessment centre, I found out that I had been accepted on the graduate scheme, to start in September. Suddenly, everything was working out perfectly - the position at Natural England was open-ended, so I knew I could continue to work there in the meantime, with a great job to look forward to. The graduate scheme pays pretty well from the outset, and at the end of the 4 year course, I should have a managerial position, together with a host of vocational qualifications and a new degree - and most importantly, for the first time in my life, instead of just having a job that pays the bills, I'll have a career, with prospects.

And the icing on the cake - it's in the same government offices in Cambridge that I've been working in these last few months, so I already know the building, can keep my gym membership (which will be crucial for my post-operation rehabilitation) and will still see my old Natural England colleagues around the place too.

We didn't quite get everything moved into
place before the operation,
but I managed to remain useful afterwards...
So having now worked my last day in my old job, I had almost a month off - but it promised to be pretty busy, starting with a week's holiday in France, followed by, the day after we got back, a house move. This wasn't planned, but our landlady needed her house back, so we didn't have a lot of choice. We found a really nice place not far away, in fact in a slightly better location for our respective new workplaces. Due back from Lyon on the Monday, we only had a couple of days that would work for a move date - either the Tuesday or the Wednesday - since the Thursday was the date for my first hip operation, and I was expected to be on crutches for a good couple of weeks afterwards, which wouldn't be ideal for moving house!
Those two weeks would hopefully be enough time for me to recover sufficiently to begin my new job 10th September (they recommend 4-6 weeks off work, but 2 would have to be enough!) I should probably mention at this point, as I tidy up this post and get ready to publish it, that I've had the operation and all has gone well - more next time though.

The Ipswich Twilight 5km

A race with some amazing runners,
but we all got the same medal -
and it's immediately become
one of the most valued I have
So back to the race - and what an amazing experience. After the 5k race, there was also to be a 10k, which attracted around 600 local runners, but our race only had about 100 entrants pre-race - and only 84 of those lined up at the start line. There were just 4 of us from Haverhill Running Club - and I think we were all a bit taken aback when a small group of additional runners joined us, conspicuous in that they had their names on their vests, rather than race numbers like the rest of us. It transpired that these runners had been invited by the organisers, Ipswich Jaffa (who, as always, put on a very impressive event) - invited in order to raise the profile of the race in its first year, since they were all top class athletes. Their names were announced to the crowd, together with lists of their achievements - and to give an idea of the strength of these runners, I've mentioned the podium finishers (with times) below. For anyone interested, you can find more about their achievements on the excellent thepowerof10 website

1. Ryan McLeod      14m10             1. Jessica Coulson   15m56
2. Andy Heyes         14m12             2. Lauren Howarth  16m26
3. Chris Thompson  14m15             3. Gemma Kersey    16m29

So with a mixture of anticipation and fear, we set off, and it immediately felt like a fast race - and that was without even trying to keep up with the leaders. The route was as fast and flat as they had promised, along closed roads and pavements, and with literally no excuses. Which was exactly what I needed - this would give me a true indication of my current level. And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised - much like at the parkrun the weekend before, I had limited my expectations to sub 20mins, and so managing to get just under 19m30 was much better than I'd hoped. Far more important than the time, though, was that I'd been able to close things before my operation with a decent run, in a great event, and with a smile on my face. Charlotte and Harry were there to support me, and we stayed to cheer on the 10k runners as they set off, before later learning that the other 3 HRC runners -
Sian-Marie, Siobhan and Mary Ann - had collected the 2nd female team award. A good night all round.
Near the back of the field (no.30) but an experience I wouldn't have missed for anything - and I hope to be back again next year.

So, a far more rewarding experience than my previous attempt to run with the elite - well worth taking the risk - and a good memory to bank as a I move into a period of non-running. I'm looking forward to getting through my operations, regaining fitness, and hopefully qualifying to try again next year.


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