Last night I made my middle distance debut over the rarely run distance of 1200 metres.
In the past I’ve only ever raced over 3k and above, but I thought I’d try something new. I turned up and was told that there would be two pace makers, one doing 63 and one doing 68. I didn’t really know what kind of pace I would run, but guessed that it would be somewhere in between. Not wanting to make my first experience a painful one, I opted to follow the second group. In fact, everyone went off so fast that I had to work pretty hard not to get detached from the back of this group. Half a lap in and I was in last position, and stayed there until we had got round the whole of the first lap. I glanced at the clock and it was showing roughly 68 seconds. A bit slow, I thought.
I started to pick people off down the back straight between 500 and 600 and as I pulled out into lane 2 to do so, was exposed to a very strong wind, so strong that I had to start working much harder just to maintain my cadence. It felt strange to be half way through the race already, having only run 600 metres. The next person ahead of me was the 68 pacemaker who I overtook just before the bell, passed in around 2:15. Another athlete was falling off the back of the first group so I made him my new target, a welcome distraction from the pain now engulfing my calves. I passed him with 300 to go and kicked as hard as I could. The home straight seemed longer than it ever has done before, but wasn’t quite long enough for me to catch the next athlete ahead. If I was in pain, the runners I passed on the last lap must have been in even more pain. I adopted the standard post-track-race pose of hands on knees and head bowed; most of my competitors were doing the same.
My finishing time was 3:22.33, a new PB to add to my collection. This was about what I expected, but I also left knowing I could have gone out a bit harder and still been able to kick on the last lap. I could have taken a few more seconds off, for sure. But that’s part of the learning curve, and learning to push myself to the limit over a short distance was the exact purpose of last night’s race, as I prepare to try and take down my 3k and 5k times this summer.
As well as these being the windiest conditions I’ve ever raced in, it was also the most fun I’ve had in a race for a long time. It was completely novel and different, it was fast, and it was also humbling to be taught a lesson in middle distance running by a load of 17 year olds.
On Friday I went out for an unexpected day time run in the snow after being sent home early from work (not for disciplinary reasons I might add – it was snowing heavily) and made my way down the canal towpath.
Not long after leaving the house I passed a group of four guys. All of them were probably slightly younger than me, and their manner of speech and their aroma suggested they had just ingested enough drugs to fuel the US Postal Service team for 3 weeks in the Alps. They stepped aside as I ran past them and made the usual comments questioning my sanity for running in such conditions. So far so good, but shortly after I heard the words “I’m gonna get ‘im” being uttered from one of their mouths. I’ve been chased before whilst running and kids will often run along side me for as long at they can manage, but I wasn’t sure whether this particular person meant it in a friendly or manacing way. This is Birmingham after all.
Not wishing to take any chances I put the burners on as soon as I heard his footsteps coming towards me. The chase was on. From a 20 metre headstart, the gap had shrunk to less than 10 metres and he was gaining on me. I ducked past the umbrella of another pedestrian and carried on sprinting through the blizzard. I could still hear him behind me but he was breathing heavily and I suspected he was approaching his limit. As I approached a tunnel the sound of his footsteps on the thick snow was replaced by the welcome cry of “you fucking killed me man!” followed by, well, nothing at all. I kept looking over my shoulder though, to check he hadn’t had second thoughts about conceding the win. He hadn’t, and I continued my run as planned, albeit at a much slower pace than I had just been going.
First of all, I got a huge adrenaline rush from it. Your body really does go into survival mode when forced into a situation like that. The guy probably wasn’t going to stick a knife in me but there was no way I was hanging around to find out. My legs, sore from the previous evening’s tempo run, felt light and powerful and I was able to run much harder than I would normally be able to. It’s amazing how the human body reacts to different situations.
Secondly, it got me thinking about whether I could outrun anyone. It was satistying to leave someone trailing in my wake, just as it is when I’m racing, and I feel fortunate to have trained myself to a high enough level of fitness to be able to do that. My bet is that I could outrun somewhere between 95 and 99% of the population given the same headstart. But how about those I couldn’t run away from with a 20 metre headstart? For a start, any distance runner better than me would get me; even if I could sprint faster (unlikely) they would have superior endurance. Obviously any sprinter would catch me if they wanted to. My ability to run hard for 25 miles would count for little if they were to catch me within 25 seconds. If I had to design the perfect hunter human, they would look like an 800/1500 runner – the perfect blend of speed and endurance. But I’d fancy myself against anyone else.
However, it’s unlikely to be a problem I have to deal with soon. As my friend pointed out this morning when I told him about the incident, the type of person who could outrun me is not the kind of person who would want to, and vice versa. He argued that the two are pretty much mutually exclusive. How many knife wealding drug takers with their hoods up also happen to possess well honed fast-twitch fibres?