Sunday, 5 June 2016

Back racing, and trying to be sensible

So a few weeks into my recovery, and so far so good, with a number of runs now under my belt, and no problems of any significance to report, other than a tendency to pace badly and run out of energy too soon. So, nothing much new there! I've had my last physio appointment, and been given the all-clear to commence marathon training, so still feeling very positive about my running.

However, I do seem to have ended up racing a bit too much - the following then is a round up of what I've been up to over the last 3 weeks.

May 19 - ELY 5km - (Kevin Henry series race 2)

Having watched the first in the series from the sidelines, it felt great to be able to run this one - it fell exactly 8 weeks after my operation, and so I always had it pencilled in as my first run - but thanks to my physio allowing me to start up a couple of weeks previously, I went into this with a handful of training runs behind me and knowing I'd be able to manage the distance easily - although with no idea what kind of pace I may be able to achieve.

First race back. The key was not to take it too seriously.....
I was sensible enough to start somewhere in the middle of the pack, so that I didn't get too carried away and try to keep up with the quicker runners. Despite this, with the course being almost completely flat, I did probably go off a little too fast, with a 6m45 min pace for the first mile that I was never realistically going to be able to maintain. Sure enough, mile 2 was considerably slower, but I was pleased to find a little in reserve for the last mile, and ended up with a time of 21m24.

I had hoped to average sub 7min miles, and so was pretty pleased with a 6m50 pace overall - a lot quicker than I managed in the first race back after my first hip was operated on, and proof that you can maintain a certain amount of fitness whilst unable to run if you work hard enough in the gym.

All those hours on the exercise bike were clearly worthwhile, and although I definitely felt exhausted at the end, there was relatively little discomfort from the hip, and what there was could probably be put down to tired muscles rather than anything more serious.

Speedwork Training

So following this encouraging start, I have completely ignored my own advice (not for the first time) and have allowed myself to become a little too pre-occupied with getting my pace down, rather than simply building up the mileage as I'm supposed to be. Consequently, I followed up this race with a couple of speedwork sessions- one at the gym on the treadmill, and then the next day a club track session. I'm finding even the slightest incline a bit tough at the moment (I have been told to try to avoid hills if possible, since this is going to put the hip flexors under the greatest strain) and so I found our track a bit tough, since it's not entirely flat! But the 1km reps I did on the treadmill were encouraging, and I went into the club's May time trial confident that I'd see an improvement.

May 26th - HRC 5km Time Trial  

I ended up averaging 6m42 pace, with a finish time of 20m39, so a pretty decent improvement in just over a week. Mile 2 was significantly slower (by 10secs, which is quite a big drop in pace over a short race) but I managed to dig in and not let the race fall apart completely, and mile 3 was pleasing enough, and I found a little bit at the end for a reasonable sprint finish. I don't think I'm going to do myself any harm racing, providing I don't push too hard too soon, and although this wasn't really the plan, it was probably inevitable given that 5k has always been my favourite distance. I'd love to get back under 20mins, and on this showing that was beginning to look like it may not take too long. (Spoiler alert - perhaps it might....)

May 28th - Great Cornard parkrun - pacing event

So I was finally back running at parkrun again, although as one of the pacers I wasn't racing as such - my job was to get round in 29mins, and hopefully drag one or two others around to their PBs in the process. Unusually for a pacing event, Gt Cornard managed to get every single minute covered, from 20 through to 36, meaning the majority of our runners would have someone to keep in their sights. In the end, over 40 attendees got new PBs, including two runners, Shirley and Michelle, from HRC - proof that these events really do work. I was pleased that 3 or 4 of the runners near me all beat their best times too, and I'm hoping to be able to grab the 28min pacer vest next time, so I can run with the same people as they progress. One of these days I'll try to get someone to pace me to a new PB - there are certainly a few runners at Gt Cornard who I'm sure would be able to do this for me - but for the time being, I'm some way off this, and helping others to do so is the next best thing.

I was so pleased to hear from my old University mate Paul, who, following my last blog about parkrun, plucked up
the courage to attend his local one in Greenwich, and has since done 3 in a row - another convert! 

May 30th - Hatfield Broad Oak 10km

A bit of a last minute decision to enter this, purely because I had a free Bank Holiday Monday and I knew lots of people doing this popular local race, near Stansted Airport. It's one of those great events where the whole village seems to embrace the run, coming out to support and making for a lovely atmosphere. That said, it's a pretty big field - over 1000 runners - but importantly, the roads are closed, so there's not much congestion,

I met up with a few friends from parkrun, who are all part of Sudbury Joggers running club - a really friendly group who have made me feel very welcome, to the point where I'm looking to join the club, whilst keeping my membership with HRC too. The rules relating to who you can then race for - 1st and 2nd claim membership - are a little more complicated than I'd realised, and this needs a bit more investigation before I decide what to do next. But it was good to see a few of them at the race, together with some club colleagues too.

As for the race itself, this proved to be a bit of a reality check. I hadn't appreciated just how hilly the race was going to be - this is all relative of course, and most would describe it merely as undulating at worst, but for me, at this stage of my recovery, it felt really tough. Not only did the elevation find me out, but so too did the distance - this was the furthest I'd run since the operation, and after a reasonable start I was unable to maintain pace throughout, falling apart pretty badly in the second half. That said, it was still a quicker time than I managed at Kingston 10km last December, and I was probably being a bit unrealistic with my starting pace - which I was basing more on my recent 5km pace.

June 1st - Sudbury Joggers Training Session

In desperate need of a rest day, I ruled out club training the following evening - especially when I noted it was a hill session, but this fitted in quite nicely with my plans to go along to the Jogger's training session on the Wednesday, and I was looking forward to meeting up with everyone and trying out my potential new club.

Sudbury. Pretty much. 
An impending office closure - with plans to move us all to London - means I will need to consider moving from Haverhill in about a year's time, to somewhere with a train station. Sudbury would actually be an ideal location, giving me a do-able commute to work but still within easy driving distance of my son in Haverhill, and a bit closer to my mum in Colchester too. Coupled with Gt Cornard parkrun being just round the corner, it's certainly an attractive option - and so Sudbury Joggers may well become the most logical club for me in the longer term.

At the moment, it's a half hour drive or so away - but it's nice to have a couple of options, and I suspect I'll alternate between the two clubs for a while, and see how it goes.

That said - Wednesday's session all but destroyed me! They mix up the training each week, and this week it was 25 out 25 back. In other words, run for 25mins, then turn and follow the same route back, aiming to get back bang on 50mins, the idea of this being to encourage even pacing. I've done sessions following the same principle at HRC, but only speedwork pyramid sessions, and not over this kind of distance.

Because I got there a bit early, I was able to tag on to the back of the beginner's session that leaves 30mins before the main club session, which gave me a nice warm up run and a chance to chat to one or two people. I didn't chat a great deal during the rest of the evening, which was partly my fault for trying to keep up with the lead group. But mainly it was because of the hills. Which were ridiculous. I had no idea Sudbury was so mountainous! In truth, I've become very lazy with my hill training over the last couple of years, because they always increased the discomfort, and so this was a real wake-up call. If I can commit to doing a few more of these sessions with the club, it's going to be a great way to improve my strength and stamina. At the moment, it was probably a bit too much too soon, and I suffered for it the next day - it was also, factoring in the warm up too, the furthest I've run since the operation too, totalling nearly 8 miles for the evening, so all in all a really good workout.

3rd June - Kirton 5

On to a weekend full of racing - and first up, a scenic 5 miler near Felixstowe, part of the Friday 5 series of races but not one I'd tried before. I was hooking up with my good friend Bernadette from Colchester, and we'd decided together to see if we could get her round in a new PB, which meant trying to average 9min miles or so, with a sub 46mins target to try and beat.

In common with loads of runners, Bernadette is much better than she realises - so I put her under strict instructions to ignore her watch and let me worry about the pacing! In fact, this race was also a little bit undulating - and after 3 pretty consistent miles, we were faced with a hill at the start of mile 4 that put a significant dent in our pace. That fourth mile has to go down as one of the most pleasing I've ever run with someone, as we gradually worked hard to regain that lost time. To then go on and run the last mile - at the end of a tough 5 miler -  at below her usual 5km pace, will hopefully have shown Bernadette just how good she can be. The result in the end was 45m17, so nearly a minute off her previous best for the distance - and loads more to come.

4th June - Colchester Castle parkrun

Yes, that's mine I think......
So this turned out to be another reality check. I felt good, was keen to race hard and had my race tactics all planned out (if that's not a bit over the top for a parkrun, which it undoubtedly is!) The course is hilly, but the first half is all flat or downhill, so you can usually get a really good 2 miles in before you need to dig in for the tougher part. Discovering during the pre-race briefing that the route had been changed (due to another event in the park) was a factor in a disappointing performance, seeming to make the course even hillier than normal (although this may not actually be the case) Whilst I don't think I can fully blame this for a drop off in time from my previous 5k race, hills are definitely affecting me far more than normal, and in the event I should probably be pleased enough with another sub 21m30 run. But, I'd hoped to be inching towards sub 20mins, so I was a little down afterwards.

Fortunately, there's always the cafe to look forward to when I run at Colchester, and things didn't seem so bad after my mocha and a healthy slice of lemon sponge. Healthy as in large. Not as in healthy. That's now 85 parkruns completed. Or in other words, a lot of cake.

5th June - HRC 5 mile Handicap

And so bringing things up to date (finally!) with this morning's race. I say race - this is a yearly event put on by club colleague Yusuf, with plenty of help from a willing band of volunteers, who threatened to outnumber the runners at one point, although in the end I think there was a fairly even split between "competitors" and helpers. The route took us twice round a disused airfield, but parts of the route were actually a lot more scenic than that sounds and, crucially for me, almost completely flat. As indeed, most airfields are!

Finishing reasonably strongly, and not
looking quite as knackered as I felt
You're given a predicted 5 mile time - for me, 33m59 - calculated using a result from a recent short distance race - for most of us, our times were taken from either the time trial at the end of May or the KH race the week before. Runners set off in order depending on that prediction. Whoever crosses the line first is the winner. If everyone were to exactly hit their predicted time, then we'd all cross the line together.

Of course, in practice this doesn't happen - although there wasn't a great deal of time difference between first and last over the line, which suggests that the predictions were pretty good. Our winner was Zoe, followed closely by Dave - two stalwarts of the club, so the result couldn't really have been any nicer. There's not many races where it's a level playing field for all competitors, (or should that be a level airfield? No, probably not....) and I think everyone gives their all as a result - certainly we were all grateful for the water station (and cakes) at the finish line.

I didn't match my predicted time, which didn't surprise me much since I don't seem to be able to do much more than 5km at the moment without struggling - but I did dip under 35mins, so another run averaging sub 7mins per mile, which was really what I was after. I've recently ordered a replacement USB stick for my GPS watch, so I can recommence downloading my runs and analysing the stats a bit more. I've also finally joined STRAVA, although at the moment I'm only able to manually key in my runs, so they're simply logging progress at the moment rather than showing me any detail.

But just by looking at the history on my watch, I can see my mile splits were as follows:

Mile 1:  6m24    Mile 2:  6m47   Mile 3:  6m59   Mile 4:  7m11    Mile 5:  7m08

Now, I'm no expert (clearly) but I think I can see where things went a bit wrong! In fact, I'm not at all surprised - my aim was to run the first 5km hard, try to keep each of the first three miles under 7mins, and then just see if I could hang on, given that this was going to be nice and flat. However, 6m24 was obviously a bit daft - and I think I got a bit carried away by the nature of the event, where it's so tempting to try to catch the runners that started ahead of you as quickly as possible. I did note my 5km time, which was much better than at parkrun the day before, and so it wasn't all bad news, but I got given a real lesson in pacing from Mary-Ann, whose predicted race time was the same as mine. As a result therefore, we set off together - and whilst I sped off at the start, and then started to slow, Mary-Ann simply maintained consistency throughout and came flying past me to finish well ahead. Will it stop me starting too fast in subsequent races? Probably not, but it really should!

Next up

So with the plan to not race so much well and truly out of the window, I'm now looking forward to Thursday evening, the next instalment in the KH series of 5km races. After that, I'm tempted to enter the Bury 5 mile, but what I do already have scheduled at the end of June is a trip up to Liverpool to take part in a Civil Service sports day, where I've (rather foolishly) entered a number of races - I think it was the lure of the free BBQ afterwards that persuaded me. I'll probably look to do a bit more speed training between now and then, and try to give a good account of myself, before we move into July, and I begin my training with my new coach.

At this point I'll need to stop entering all these races and let Siobhan guide me, as I seek to increase mileage and build towards my autumn marathon.

NB today many of my running friends completed the Stour Valley Marathon - off road, in very warm conditions - complete respect to them all !