Playing at Home

Thursday 10th March 2011

In football, it is generally understood and statistically proven that you play better at home. I think the same can apply to running. Last weekend I ran the Berkhamsted Half Marathon, a race that takes place in my home town that I have done 6 times. In fact it was the very first race I ever took part in. There is something reassuring about running a course you know well – knowing when to hold back, when to push on, and knowing about that lung busting hill just around the corner.

In this case, said hill was in the third mile, and I have probably run up it 30 or more times in training. Approaching the 2 mile mark in 10:32 I was tucked in behind the race leader who had gone off hard but was easing back on the approach to the hill. Assuming he was hanging back to share the work out I reeled him in and we ran a few paces together. My race strategy was to hit the hills hard, safe in the knowledge that I had done all the necessary strength work in training. I pushed on and was pleased to hit the uphill mile in 5:48. By the top of the hill I had a 20 metre lead.

The next section of the course takes you through Potten End and towards Nettleden, following a flat and then downhill road. This is where you have to make up the time if you want a decent finish time. 5 miles: 27:02, 6 miles: 32:08. Looking over my shoulder as I approached the hill in the 7th mile I saw I had a 150m lead. I decided that as long as I felt good at the top of the hill the race would be mine. Feeling strong, I attacked it hard and pushed on at the top. Though the 7th mile was my slowest of the race, I was happy to have completed it in under 6 minutes, given that it consists of a really steep hill. The next time the course levelled out I had extended my lead.

Having a lead car in front of you is a huge advantage. It clears the traffic, shows you your time and gives you something to chase when you’re on your own. I found this to be a massive advantage on Sunday. Under 72 minute pace at 8 miles, I decided to go for the time and see just how much time I could remove from my PB (74:13 at the start of the race). I set a 10 mile PB, passing the tenth yellow sign at 54:30. To run sub 72 I’d need a 17:30 5k – no problem. To run sub 71 I’d need 16:30. I ran the next mile in 5 flat.

I overtook the lead car going up hill in the 12th mile as he slowed to pass some horses (only in Berkhamsted, I thought!) and then put my foot down at the top to try and sneak under the 71 minute barrier. The last mile and a bit are the best part of the course. In fact I would even suggest that they are the best part of any race I have done, with the possible exception of running down the mall towards the finish line of the London Marathon. The last mile is pure descent, with a view of the whole of the valley in which the town lies. This was my old route to school and also overlooks the finish area of the race. It is satisfying when you know that that hard work is over and that all you need to do is let gravity do its bit, but I tried to help gravity out a bit, sprinting round the last right hand corner. It was at this point that I saw my friends Stu and Rob and began pumping my fists triumphantly. I must have looked mad. I carried on running through the finish. 70:58 was my watch time, later corrected to 70:57 in the official results.

I would maintain that my best performances take place in the most familiar surroundings. My 5k best was recorded in a park I run in frequently on a course I know, my three best half marathon times are on courses in towns I’ve lived in, and even though running tracks are identical to the naked eye, the fastest 3000m I’ve ever run were on the track I train on twice a week.

My next big away match is in London in 5 weeks time. This is the big one, the title decider, the Liverpool vs Arsenal on the last day of the 1988-1989 Division One season. The question is, will I be Arsenal on the day or will I be Liverpool?

mile splits: 5:02 , 10:32 , 16:20 , 21:50 , 27:02 , 32:08 , 37:58 , 43:30 , 48:48 , 54:30 , 59:30 , 65:12 (12M) , 70:57 (13.1M)

General Running, Race Reports

Yuki Kawauchi

Tuesday 8th March 2011

“every time I run, it’s with the mindset that if I die at this race it’s OK”

This week I was totally won over and inspired by the new Japanese distance running sensation Yuki Kawauchi.

Sunday 27th February saw the latest edition of the Tokyo Marathon, a race increasing in popularity and set to rival the world marathon majors before too long. The withdrawal of Haile Gebrsellassie meant that the race was wide open, and in its role as a Japanese trial for the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, was bound to be a competitive one.

Kawauchi’s story is compelling. On graduation from university, he rejected a contract with one of the Japanese corporate teams in order to run as an individual and be flexible with his training and races. He took a job in a school and decided to fit his training in around his 45 hour working week, often meaning that he could train just once per day.

Last weekend he took part in the Tokyo race where he had placed 4th the previous year. I will not try and attempt to describe what happens, as Brett Larner does it better than I ever could in his Japan Running News blog (the video alone is worth a watch). In short, he ploughs through the field in the last 10k, passing several professional runners – most notably the much fancied debutant Yoshinori Oda – from the corporate teams to finish third in 2:08:37, bagging himself third position prize money, a BMW and a spot on the Japanese team for the World Championships in Daegu.

But what makes Kawauchi’s story so inspiring? He didn’t even win after all, finishing a whole minute behind the Ethiopian victor Hailu Mekonnen. Why is the running world going crazy about a man who is just one of many sub 2:10 men in the world today?

The reason his story is so gripping is that people can identify with it. Though I could never claim to be a working class hero myself, his tale of dedication and perseverance combined with a ferocious work ethic in training strikes a chord with me as I try to fit my training in around a demanding job (in a school like YK himself, coincidentally). His training reportedly consists of a 2 hour morning session before his shift at school which usually takes place between midday and 9pm, with other sessions fitted in whenever possible. It was also reported that the morning after his heroics in Tokyo, he had to do his recovery run before 6am in order to get in early to process applications.

At the time of writing he is in the process of negotiating time off with his employers so that he can take up his place in the World Championships team in August.

His attitude is a throwback to the amateur era before athletes began earning money from athletics, and it shows that if you work hard enough and are committed enough to your training you can be successful. Clearly talent and luck play a role, but a minor one in comparison to hard work. My coach is well known for his assertion that running is “90% above the shoulders” and Kawauchi confirms this. It is heartening to know that by training your body and mind to go further and faster than ever before you can be successful. The look on his face as he storms through the final 3km of the Tokyo Marathon is a picture of agony, a picture of a man so far into the hurt zone that he’s nearly coming out the other side, but most of all a picture of dedication.

I won’t be running 2:08 any time soon, but every time I race I will be attempting to ‘do a Kawauchi.’

Yuki Kawauchi, I salute you.

Athletics | , , ,

Diamond League

Sunday 27th February 2011

This week a friend got tickets to the Birmingham leg of the global Diamond League athletics series, a fiercely competitive competition and a showcase for the world’s greatest athletic talents. Naturally, as soon as I found we had tickets I went on the website to find out which events would be featuring at this meet.

Here are a few of the events we’ll be seeing and who might be taking part. Please excuse the British bias here!

100m men: Tyson Gay / Asafa Powell

200m and 400m women: Allyson Felix

400m hurdles men: Dai Greene

800m: David Rudisha / Abubaker Kaki

5000m men: Mo Farah / Eliud Kipchoge

100m hurdles women: Jessica Ennis?

High jump women: Blanka Vlasic

Pole Vault women: Yelena Isinbaeva

Triple Jump men: Phillips Idowu / Teddy Tamgho

Shot Putt men: Christian Cantwell

Javelin men: Andreas Thorkildsen

Can’t wait!

Athletics | ,

Friday 25th February 2011

I like to believe that hard work will always prevail, that talent doesn’t exist, that as long as you put your mind to it you will succeed. But sometimes you need to accept that some people are just better, as shown here by Kenenisa Bekele’s superiority over the best half marathoner of all time, Zersenay Tadese.

I don’t quite understand how he can run a 4:05 mile at the end of a 10,000 metre race. His kick is quite astonishing. How much bigger would Tadese’s (already considerable) trophy cabinet be had he not competed in the same era as Bekele?


Wednesday 23rd February 2011

With apologies to Paul Tergat.

I think only about two people will understand what this is all about. Never mind.

General Running