Archives // poland

The Best Day Of My Running Life

Monday 26th August 2013

Big claim, I know. Let me try and explain…

Saturday was a very special day for me for a number of reasons. The day started in northern Poland, where we had just spent the last week on holiday. With our flight home not until late morning, we got up early to go down to the beach and watch the sun rise over the Baltic Sea. Whilst I’m aware that I’m boasting here, I’m also aware that this is a real treat and not something I get to experience in landlocked Birmingham. It was stunning.

Once the sun had illuminated the Sopot beach, my runner’s instinct kicked in and I took the opportunity to get one more run in before going home. With my shoes already off and my running kit already on, I ran down the beach towards the city of Gdansk. The sea breeze was cold at first but the rising sun soon kicked in and warmed me up as I ran. At 6 in the morning there were very few people around, with the exception of some friends here and there walking home from a night out, or some early morning swimmers wanting to beat the crowds (or bathe in the nude in the case of one elderly man). After turning around at a pier about 4km away, I picked up the pace on the way back and was probably close to 6 minute mile pace by the end of the run. The combination of being tired from lack of sleep and being in beautiful surroundings put me in an almost trance like state, where I didn’t feel like I was consciously running at all. Left foot and right swapped places effortlessly, only breaking stride to cross a stream or move onto firmer sand nearer the water’s edge. It’s not a run I’m likely to forget any time soon.

We packed up our things and drove to the Gdansk airport to catch our flight back to Birmingham, swapping the blue skies of continental Europe for the more familiar grey skies of the West Midlands. It was good to be back. After lunch with my parents-in-law and some time spent unpacking I embarked on the second installment of my running day. Prior to my holiday I had agreed to pace some friends in their attempt to break 16 minutes for 5000 metres, provided I could get back in time. With the race scheduled for 7:20 in the evening I had no excuse. Not that I needed any.

The pace they were trying to run is close to what I want to run for 10k this weekend, so it served as the ideal training run. The added bonus was that it took place at the track on my old university campus; I was looking forward to running around the campus again and seeing what had changed.

Four others from my training group were there, as was Tim’s friend Sarah who was also trying to run a similar time. I ran a few strides before hand just to check the pace and as soon as the gun went, had a big group behind me trying to hit close to 76 seconds per lap. Within 500 metres I was hitting the right pace for them and now had to just focus on keeping it going and not slowing down or speeding up too much. With a group that size, slowing down could definitely lead to falls and collisions. We hit the first km bang on target in 3:10. I find that I can usually hold a pace quite well once I get onto it and we were hitting each split very close to the pace they had asked for. I looked back at every bend to check everyone was still there: Dan, Tim, Chris, Sarah were all there every time and even Mark, who was looking for a time in the 16:10-16:20 range was hanging on to the back of the group. Every lap that passed with the group still intact made me smile even more. Once we got to 4km in just under 12:40 it became clear that everyone was going to do it and the question now was how much would they all break their PBs by?

Dan, who had been on my shoulder for the last 10 laps and who was clearly itching to go faster, took off and soon got a gap on me. I dropped back to Tim and tried to offer him some encouragement as he made his big push for the finish line. I realised from the pace they were all going that some special times were going to be recorded. Dan was the first of our group over the line in 15:39, 24 seconds faster than he has ever run before. Tim, who kicked past me in the last 200, was next in 15:42, followed by me and then Sarah who also posted a PB. As I turned around to congratulate them, Mark and Chris stormed over the line with the number 16 not yet on the clock. All five of them had run personal bests, and all five had gone sub-16.

I know I shouldn’t bask in the glory of others, but I did feel a real sense of pride in their achievements and was pleased to have been part of their great performances. Everyone in our training group has been training really well this summer so it was satisfying to see it all come together for them. Moments like that are rare, and in an individual sport like athletics, feeling like part of a team effort is unusual but very enjoyable. My personal highlight was seeing my good friend Mark holding his arms aloft in disbelief after breaking a PB that had stood since his teenage years in 1994. It was inspirational to see him run the perfect race after training so hard this summer, and to see him not give up on running a time he ran half a lifetime ago. I will bear that in mind next time I complain about having PBs that are more than one year old.

A day of running that starts on a moonlit beach in Sopot and ends on a floodlit track in Coventry is not the kind that happens very often, nor is it one that most people would envisage when asked to describe the ideal running day. It sure was fun though.

Training – Week Beginning 19 August

Sunday 25th August 2013

Lots of great running in Poland. Highest mileage week this summer. Used the 5000 as a tempo run for next week’s 10k. Mark, Dan and Tim all went well under 16 minutes.

Monday: AM 16km easy, stiff legs – felt much better by the end of the run / PM 8km barefoot on beach (24)

Tuesday: rest (0)

Wednesday: 1-2-3-4-5-5-4-3-2-1 mins off 60s recoveries, 4km warm up/down (20)

Thursday: AM 15km easy / PM 8km barefoot on beach (23)

Friday: 16km moderate in 65 mins + 2km barefoot on beach (18)

Saturday: AM 8km barefoot on beach / PM BMC 5000 Coventry, tempo effort pacing friends, 9th in 15:45.663:10.5, 3:09.7, 3:10.5, 3:07.9, 3:07.0. 3km fartlek after (21)

Sunday: 30km easy (30)

Week total: 136km

Training – Week Beginnning 12 August

Monday 19th August 2013

One very hard session on Wednesday at target half marathon pace. Sunday’s run was good and the ‘easy’ sections still felt quite fast.

Monday: 16km easy (16)

Tuesday: AM 8km easy / PM 15km easy of which 8km barefoot (23)

Wednesday: AM 4×3000 off 400 jog in 2:00. 9:58, 56, 50, 50 / PM 8km easy (30)

Thursday: 15km easy of which 8km barefoot (15)

Friday: 28km in 2:05 – started slow and picked it up (28)

Saturday: rest (0)

Sunday: 4km warm up, 15x(1min/1min) – 8km split of 27:45, 4km barefoot on beach (20)

Week total: 132km


Monday 25th July 2011

Yesterday’s run was a cracker.

We’re on holiday in Poland, staying in a town called Sopot on the Baltic coast. After a very early start and a day of travelling on Saturday neither of us felt like running that day but I managed to get out on Sunday morning. I don’t know the area, so Stephanie planned a route out for me involving a 5 mile out-and-back followed by a 6 mile out and back, all on coastal footpaths. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling run but it was beautiful.

The first 5 mile section felt hard. This tends to be the case when I’m doing a long run. I knew I was looking for a pier 2.5 miles away but it just didn’t seem to be appearing despite me feeling like I was working quite hard. It took nearly 20 minutes and I was relieved to turn around and head back to where I started. 37 minutes. After the first 5 miles I started to loosen up a bit and started getting close to six minutes per mile, which is what I was aiming for. Just over half an hour for the next 5 miles.

This is when it started getting really hot. The sun was pretty high in the sky, and as any runner knows, running in the heat isn’t easy. The coastal path in Sopot is lined with trees but still has several open stretches where you are very exposed to the sun. I decided to keep running hard and then allow myself to run the last 6 miles easy as the temperature was getting high. The path was getting busy too. It seems that you either go to church or go for a walk on a Sunday morning in Poland. Or both.

There’s nothing quite like hammering it as fast as you can with nothing but straight path in front of you. Knowing I only had a couple of miles left before the easy part of my run I pushed hard, using walkers and cyclists as targets. Rollerblading seems to be popular here too and at one point I tried to keep pace with a man on skates. Not easy. He realised what I was doing and smiled before turning off the path to go elsewhere. He was clearly trying to avoid the humiliation of being beaten by someone without wheels. Or just going somewhere else. I prefer to think the former.

I did the next 5 mile section in a shade under 29 minutes.

The real fun bit of the run was the last six miles. The route took me through the town and past the hotels and gardens that line the seafront. Stunning. As the path became less busy it became greener and I was back in the shade. It also became narrower and harder to choose which route to take. I clearly chose the wrong one and ended up running on the beach. Soon enough, though, I found a very steep path back into the woods.

I love running on narrow winding trails, and doing so with a sun-drenched beach below me is such a great experience. I want to do it again. I felt like I could have run forever, but I was also looking forward to breakfast, so turned back and headed towards the town.

Going back a slightly different way down the coastal path I was overcome with a sudden urge to cool down. A few beach turn-offs passed before I had what most sports scientists refer to as a ‘sod it’ moment. I took my shoes and vest off, ran down the sand and jumped in the water. Nothing quite soothes the run-induced sensation of burning calves like cool sea water. I stood in the water for some time, sunning myself and cooling down. Amazing. Why can’t all runs be like this?

The sun was intense. I was thirsty. Time to head back. I put my shoes back on and jogged the short distance back to where we’re staying. In doing so, I also passed the 2000 mile mark for the year. The first 1000 took me 3 months; the next 1000 took me nearly 4. I wonder when I will hit 3000. Can’t wait to find out.

I’m going running.