Monday, 2 May 2016

Catching up - Part Two (Colchester HM)

As threatened, a second post to complete a round-up and bring my blog up to date. My memory being totally useless, I'm having to check back on runBritain to remind myself what I did back in February/March - but I do know that everything was geared towards my "A" race for the Spring, the Colchester Half Marathon. It had been a while since I'd selected one specific race and tailored everything else towards it - and I do feel this is the way I'd like to develop my racing in the future, rather than my usual scatter-gun approach of entering far too many races and trying to do well in all of them (and often failing miserably!)

Back running Sub 20

Having said all that, nothing is going to stop me racing 5k as often as I can - still my favourite distance, and the one I'm best at. Since I do them so often, they act as a marker to tell me how I'm progressing, and alongside my aim to beat 1hr30 in the HM, I was keen to get back under 20mins for 5km if I could, before operation number two.

I came agonisingly close in a club time trial at the end of February, clocking exactly 20mins on my watch, which was rounded up to 20m01s (or do I mean rounded down - I get confused!) As I've said many times before, the great thing about the shorter distance races is that, if it doesn't quite go to plan, you can try again almost immediately - so I had the next day off, and then had another go at parkrun on the Saturday. The plan worked, and I grabbed 19m50, my quickest time since my first operation, and further proof that the training was going well.

Having hit this particular target, it was back to getting a bit more distance into my training, and as race day approached, everything was looking good. Unfortunately, on my last long training run I got slightly lost (if you're a regular reader, you'll know this is a recurring theme) and ended up doing a little bit too much, about 14 miles to be precise, and somehow picking up a niggle in my calf along the way. The distance covered in this last long run gave me confidence that I was fit enough to get round without dropping off towards the end, as I had at Gt Bentley, but the calf was a worry, and despite resting it for the remainder of the week, it seemed to get steadily more uncomfortable, meaning that, right up to race day itself, I really wasn't sure if I'd be able to run.
If I can't figure out the machine, I have a plan B

This is not the first time that I've picked up a calf strain - and will probably not be the last time either, and I really need to look at some strengthening exercises in that area, since it's clearly a weakness I have. I did recently try the stepper at the gym, which would certainly target this muscle, amongst others (also good for glutes in particular) but I had to stop after a couple of minutes because I really wasn't sure I was doing it correctly! I'm a bit embarrassed asking someone to show me, because it really can't be that complicated, but it definitely didn't feel right!

Colchester Half Marathon - 13 March 2016

Close to my target - if only I hadn't run in jeans
Anyway, a massage the night before seemed to help a bit, and on race morning it was time to catch up with a few friends and try not to worry about it too much. The race starts and finishes at the Colchester United stadium, and it has to be said that many of my visits there have ended in disappointment (not least this season, which has culminated in relegation.) But away from the football, I'd only raced my home town HM once before, back in 2013, and I had fond memories of what was, at the time,  a PB run - and the first time I ever really felt I'd run the distance well (at the 5th time of asking!)

The aim that day had been to get under 1hr40, which I missed out on, but only by a few seconds. This time, I was hoping to go under 1hr30, and I had been confident I would be able to find the extra 30 seconds or so per mile I needed to take off my pace from Great Bentley a month before. But the calf was bothering me, and I was unsure if I'd get round without it becoming too tough to continue - an issue I'd had with a calf injury had caused me to pull out of the London Marathon in 2015, and I remember at that time I'd been able to run on it a bit, but it then would become too painful after about 4 or 5 miles. The route is almost a figure of eight, with the stadium forming the middle part, so I determined to give it a go, and see how I felt by the halfway point - knowing I would at least be close to the stadium and that if I needed to quit, I wouldn't have far to walk to get back to the car!

Not the best frame of mind with which to begin a race, and again regular readers amongst you (if I still have any of those) will know how much store I put in being in the right place mentally when at the start line - but the knowledge that this was to be my last race for a while meant that at least I wasn't worried about missing any future races as a result of running on an injury, and I had worked too hard for this one not to at least give it a proper go.

North Hill - the cause of much pre-race consternation,
 but at least you get it out of the way early on.
The race route is a mixture of town and country - roughly half and half, with the town part first. It doesn't take long to get to the high street, but first you have to tackle North Hill - hard enough just to walk up, never mind trying to race it. However, it isn't really that long, and is over before you've lost too much time and energy. Much harder, in my opinion, is Ipswich Road - a long uphill drag that never gets particularly steep but seems to go on for ever. If you've set off too fast (and let's face it, I usually do) then this can really seem tough, and I was definitely feeling my calf at this point, and dropping off my target pace a little. To go sub 90mins, you need to be running sub 7min pace, and at this stage, I wasn't!

However, having got this part out of the way, I didn't feel too bad - and certainly nowhere near bad enough to consider stopping. And having passed the halfway point, I stopped worrying about the calf, and started worrying about my time - which was in danger of becoming far slower than I hoped. I had left myself too much to do in the second half to get back under 90mins, and in fact it took everything I had to dig in and maintain pace, but by this stage I was aiming for my secondary target, which was to average 7min mile pace, and I was close enough to this to make it worth going for.

Despite finishing strongly, I ended up just outside this new target, with a time of 1hr32. So not the sub 90mins I had been aiming for, but I was pretty happy with this, all things considered, and it was still my 2nd best ever HM time, albeit some 6mins outside my PB from Gt Bentley in 2015. 142nd wasn't a great finishing position- I'd been hoping top 100 at least - but it was out of a field of 2400, so still top 10%. All in all, a nice way to go out before the second operation - if not quite what I'd been going for.

The race itself grows year on year, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. When I ran it before, the support on route had been a little sparse, but not so this year - it really felt as though the town had embraced the event and came out in force to cheer on - not just at the stadium, but throughout the route. I have always preferred quiet country races, ideally flat ones, but I really enjoyed the mixture of town and country, and the hills do at least keep things interesting -- I'm obviously biased having spent the first 18 years of my life in the town, but this is definitely top of my to-do list for next year.

Love this picture of us coming down the High Street, with Colchester's iconic "Jumbo" water tower in the background.
Seem to have quite a stream of runners trailing in my wake, although I think most of them came back past me going up Ipswich Rd! 

Gt Cornard parkrun - 19th March - The last race

Well, hopefully
That sounds a bit more dramatic than it should - although I suppose if the operation had gone horribly wrong, it might have become that. But strangely enough, given that I'm a natural worrier, I haven't been all that worried about any of the three operations/procedures I've had on my troublesome hips - you have to trust in your surgeon, and I've been very fortunate to end up with one of the very best. But this was going to be my last chance to race for a while, and I was hoping to get another sub 20 - which I managed despite running far too quickly in the first mile (a 5m45, what on earth was I thinking?!)

In fact, this ended up being my best race in the period between the two operations, and so was a really positive way to sign off for a bit. It was only my 11th time running at Gt Cornard, but I was getting to know a few of the regulars and I was looking forward to putting in a run of weeks volunteering whilst incapacitated - I wanted to remain involved in the running community during that time, even if I knew I'd get a bit of run envy from time to time!

And so that completes my round-up of racing over the winter and early Spring, and takes me up to the long-awaited second operation - which I'm pleased to say appears to have been successful. A good place then to end this blog post - and I can bore you with details of my recovery in my next effort, together with my plans to tackle a marathon again in the Autumn.

Although I will cover the London Marathon and the first Kevin Henry club 5k fixture in my next post, it would be remiss of me not to mention two runners for whom I have the utmost respect, both of whom have come back from far far worse than me recently, and who continue to impress all who know them. Richard, who I've got to know a bit through parkrun, completed the London Marathon in a superb time of 3hrs 12 mins, the culmination of a really impressive set of recent results, following a remarkable recovery from very serious illness. Paul, a fellow HRC member, suffered a stroke only a year ago, and I often bump into him at the gym, where he is clearly working very hard on his recovery, so it was fantastic to see him completing the Impington 5k a few days ago. 

I am always impressed by quick times, but what I like most about observing other runners is seeing how much effort, hard work and dedication so many put in - meaning that, irrespective of times on stopwatches, I enjoy watching all my running friends as they seek to achieve their own targets. The determination both these runners have shown is nothing short of inspirational.


  1. I agree that using a 5k run as a marker of fitness is an achievable and sustainable tool and fun too. Fantastic running again Ian - can you do a post about your summer goals (if you set them)? Great post, thanks.

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