I really like the 5k at the moment. I think it’s my new favourite distance.
Yesterday evening, Rich and I went down to Gloucester to run a road 5k that is renowned for producing fast times. The course is pancake-flat and has very few turns in it. His aim was to break 16:30. Mine was to run a personal best.
We thought that the one thing that could have slowed us down was not knowing the course but fortunately we got there early enough to be able to jog most of the course and see what it had in store. No nasty surprises there though. We entered the race, resisting our stomachs’ urges to can the race in favour of a chinese (the White Horse pub doubles up as a chinese restaurant) and made our way to the start. You know you’ve travelled a long way for a race when the organisers don’t recognise your club name.
After the entertainment provided by a very grumpy race official and a drunken man on a bike, the race got underway. The course had mile markers rather than k markers, which I always think is a strange way of marking the distance. Surely it is easier for competitors if the markers are for a fraction of the race distance. Two runners from Bristol and West went off fast at the front, followed by a pack of about 5. These guys were running at a quicker pace than I was comfortable with so I hung back, trusting my pace judgement after Tuesday’s 3 x 1 mile session at 5k pace. Rich tucked in behind me. The first mile marker was behind me before my watch showed 5 minutes. 4:58 on the clock. I was pleased with this as I felt I still had more to give.
As I suspected, the pack of 5 began to slow in the second mile, paying the price for some enthusiastic early pacing. I gradually reeled them in, trying not to rush things and wear myself out bridging the gap. When I got just behind the group I remembered what our club’s team manager for the road relays always says: when you catch someone up, go straight past them and don’t let them hang on to you. So I did. 9:56 for 2 miles.
This put me in third behind the two Bristol guys. One of them was clearly a class act and was pulling away for the win but the other was tiring. By this point, another runner from Cheltenham was shadowing me after surging out of the group behind. I chased down the Bristol athlete with about half a mile to go and the Cheltenham athlete went with me.
Looking at my watch as it displayed 13 minutes, I decided to launch my finishing kick early. We had come off the loop in the course and were back on the stretch of road we started on, running back towards the start/finish. I put in a surge, thinking it would be enough to break the Cheltenham athlete. But then with about 200 metres to go he came back at me, charging towards the line. I tried to respond but the hard running had taken its toll. I pushed on towards the line and was the third person to cross it. The timer shouted “31” as I did and I knew this meant 15:31, a new personal best; 15 seconds faster than I’ve run on the road and 5 seconds faster than I have on the track.
Rich crossed the line a few positions back in 16:26. He held his position well, and like me, achieved what he had set out to achieve.
It was worth the journey, and worth getting back at 10 o’clock on a week night for. A flat course is one thing, but having people to race against is another. The main attraction of this race was that we knew there would be lots of depth around our level. Our local parkrun is fairly quick but it is still hard to run fast there without people to race against. Perhaps we need to start venturing further afield to find races like this.
A few weeks ago a training partner and I decided to do a 3k time trial on the track and to try and get close to 9 minutes. A couple of friends agreed to pace us at 72 seconds per lap. There are actually plenty of opportunities to run 3k races, as our club organises as series of open meetings every summer. This one was quite a late one, so we decided to give it a miss, as well as benefitting from perfect pacing!
My PB was 9:19 from last summer, and I felt that I would be happy with anything below 9:10. We set off at 9 minute pace anyway though. Might as well give it a go. That’s the good thing about doing a time trial rather than a race; it doesn’t matter if you screw it up. The obvious down side is that it isn’t an official PB if you run faster than you have before, but I don’t really mind. For me this was just a chance to see what I could do, regardless of whether anyone else is there to see it. As it happened though, there were people to see it. The first was Mark, who paced the first kilometre in 2:59. Rob took over for the second kilometre: 3 dead. I suspected before hand that if I could get to 2k in 6 minutes then 9 minutes was probably on the cards, but it took a lot of concentration. We’ve done time trials before but usually over greater distances, where you can afford to switch off a little in the knowledge that it’s easier to make up a few seconds here and there. 3k is right at the bottom of my racing range so I find it hard to vary the pace. At least I only had to focus for 3 more minutes.
Mark took the next lap, giving me something new to focus on. My legs were getting really heavy by this point but his 72 kept me right on pace. Rob took over for the next 400 metres and I just about managed to hang on, only dropping a few metres back. This meant I got to 2800 in 8:25. I had to pick up the pace to break 9, but I could see the finish line. With lungs and legs burning I took off and sprinted down the home straight, crossed the line and collapsed.
I lay on the ground for a few moments trying to get my breath back and then looked at my watch:
Tim crossed the line shortly after, not feeling 100% after a week’s holiday. He was disappointed not to have run closer to 9 minutes but I know he’s got it in him in the right conditions. It’s always hard to feel sharp after a week off.
I know I can do it now. Just need to do the same in a race. After all, if it’s not on Power of 10 it never happened.
The aim was to have a go at 2:30, or at least try and get as close as possible. I felt I had earned the right to at least try after all the training I’ve been doing. This meant averaging 5:40 per mile so that was the pace I set off at. I was clicking off the miles nicely for 17 miles, only straying from my target pace by a few seconds at every mile marker. I ran about 14 miles with a guy from Coventry Godiva, another Midlands club, whom I recognised and realised was trying to hit the same splits as me.
At every drink station I sipped water or lucozade depending on what was being offered. Usually I cope just fine with this but today all the fluid just sat in my stomach and from about 8 miles I had a pretty uncomfortable stitch. This also meant that breathing became quite difficult, and that I didn’t take on any more as I knew this would make me feel sick. I kept the pace going but after about 17 miles the effect of not absorbing any liquids really caught up with me. I slowed down dramatically and started getting passed by some other runners. It wasn’t a huge number, but that is mainly due to the fact that the field is so thin around the 2:30 mark. The people who passed me were moving a lot quicker than I was. Just after 19 miles, I put in a surge to try and stick with a group who were coming past, but it felt as though I was sprinting just to stay with what was quite a modest pace. Shortly after passing the 20 mile marker in around 1:55 or 1:56 (it’s hard to recall this part of the race) I started wobbling and collapsed. Race over. I briefly considered getting up again and carrying on but I could barely speak, let alone run. It took the best part of a minute just to give the police officer my wife’s phone number. The St John’s Ambulance team took me to their tent and lay me down. After some time there, my stomach settled and the fluids started to get absorbed. I started feeling much better and headed to the finish to meet my family.
Some lessons learned:
1. Practise with drinks.
Sometimes I do drink on the run, but never at the same kind of pace I try to run a marathon at. Part of the problem may have been that my body is not used to taking on liquids whilst running at that intensity. Practising drinking on the run should help me work out exactly how much my stomach can handle at once and I won’t take on too much liquid.
2. Train harder and smarter.
I know I’ve increased both the volume and intensity of my training in the last 6 months, but there are definite areas I need to work on. For a start, I haven’t been running my long runs hard enough. In order to run a good marathon, you need to run a significant chunk of your long runs at target pace. The cost of this may be my long rep session on a Tuesday, but with the other speedwork I do, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Long rep/short recovery sessions will remain a fixture of my training schedule, as it is crucial to practise running when tired and with lactic accumulation in the legs. Mixing up the distances is also beneficial. I’ve found that alternating fast short efforts with long sustained efforts can really help train the body for the fatigue that comes from running 42k. Running doubles has also helped with my strength, as has the increase in the number of miles I’ve been running. This will continue.
3. Don’t trash talk
…about running times you’re not sure you’re capable of. When someone asks what time you’re going to run, be conservative in your claims.
I put a lot of pressure on myself, and perhaps I don’t need to put any more on my telling people I’m going to run a certain time.
4. Sometimes you just have a bad race
I’ve had some good races recently as a result of all the training I’ve been putting in. I’ve recorded PBs for 5k, half marathon and 20 miles, and even beat my 10k time in a solo effort on the track. Maybe I was just due a bad race. Sometimes you prepare well and just have a bad day.
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?