Monday, 24 August 2009

One Down - Eight to Go!

My 'Racing Season' is underway.

The race calendar calls for 9 races between August 23rd and November 29th and the first was safely completed yesterday - the Birchwood 10k in Cheshire - with a new PB to boot.

After the previous Sunday's fairly brisk 10 mile training run my confidence came back. After the holiday I'd worried that my legs were fatigued and that I'd put on a fair bit of weight but that run told me I was in good nick and the scales the following day told me the damage wasn't too bad.

As the week went on confidence grew. I did 7 miles with Abbey Runners on Tuesday evening, a run that included 2 miles where I took off from the 'steady group' on my own and felt 'fast'. The Garmin packed up after those miles but they measured at 7.20 and 7.29 minutes each; and after that I ran straight back including running broadly alongside a faster group back to the club. Whilst I'd have liked to see what the speed was for those miles too it all gave me confidence.

On Thursday early morning I did just over 8 miles at a steady pace. That felt tougher than expected but it was my long run for the week.

On Friday I weighed myself again. A couple of days before we went away I'd weighed 12st 1lb. Disappointing that I didn't get to 11st something but really good that I was under the Paris weight. The 5 course meals, and kitchen full of cheese, chocolate, biscuits, nut tart, ice cream, chocolate mousses, crisps etc seemed to have taken a toll - and it felt a heavy one - but when I'd got back I only seemed to have gained a manageable 3.8lb. That was a boost, but by Friday I was down to 12st 0.8lb - even lower than before we'd left. Another pre-race boost.

On Saturday I did a 3 mile run with Beth - her first run for over 3 weeks. That proved enlightening. We kept to a slow pace and by halfway she seemed ok, but after the break she soon started behaving as if it was all very difficult - her face was screwed up in a look of pain, her breathing was loud, she was coughing - but we kept going as I was sure it was all in her head. It was. With about 0.4 miles to go and with no prompting she speeded up very noticeably as the finish was more or less in sight. Ahead was a barge and I called that she might even catch it before we left the bridge so she speeded up greatly and blazed past it. As she turned to go up the short but steep bridge incline I could tell she really was tired this time and a few seconds later at the top of the slope I said lets just jog down the hill to the finish. I hope she learned alot from that - that her early exhaustion wasn't real - but her surge at the end was really good, something I'd not seen before from her.

So, to Birchwood.

I really didn't know what to expect. I last ran a 10k in November 2006, and barring Paris this year I hadn't ran in any races since. The PB from that race was 53.01 and I was certain I could demolish that but by how much?

The nearest guide was a few weeks ago when I did 47:50 along a Garmin measured out and back 10k along the canal. That suggested a target of under 48 minutes was reasonable but I was concerned that I had stopped for a minute or two at halfway to catch my breath, stretch and take water on (and let it out). It also included no hills bar a set of locks and had no runners in the way, but might all that be negated by the adrenaline of racing? I didn't know.

I decided it was a learning opportunity and set the new Garmin (hastily purchased in York as the old one succumbed to its long decline Saturday morning) to km intervals and gave myself the target of going under 5 minute kilometres (i.e. 8 minute miles). That felt a reasonable challenge to maintain but one that would get me past the 50 minute barrier - a target I'd set after Paris - and if I found I could go a few seconds below or could manage a sprint finish then all the better.

I felt nervy Sunday morning. I was fairly sure I could get under 50 minutes because of the 10k training time but had a nagging doubt about being able to keep the pace up without a break and was concerned that I didn't know what 8 minute miling felt like (as distinct from 7:30 or 8:30).

I did a 1.5 mile warm up and met up with Andy & Jo from Runners World - 2 fellow Paris veterans. Their company and my ad hoc stretching helped calm me down.

Before long we were underway. I'd started further back than I'd wanted and worried that weaving in and out of runners was slowing me down at the start but the first km flashed up on the watch at 4:42. Time to re-assess.

That gave me 18 seconds 'in the bank' and I felt the pace was ok. There was a risk I was going too fast and could blow up in the second half but I decided that if it felt ok I'd carry on at the same intensity of effort and if needs be hang on as best I could in the second half.

In a busy 10k there's alot to think about - keeping up pace, looking where the route goes, watching runners who pass you, finding passages past others - so I didn't do the fairly simple equation that I was running at 47 minute pace. If I had I'd probably have slowed down a fraction.

Instead I speeded up. The second mile flashed up at 4:35. Another 25 seconds in the bank so a decent cushion already established but I really did fear this was too much and slowed down just a little.

That worked well as kilometres 3, 4, and 5 flashed up at a beautifully even 4:46, 4:45 and 4:46. More in the bank and I still felt ok. I decided to try and speed up a fraction and the next 3 km also kept beautifully to an even pace - 4:38, 4:38, 4:39.

Then it started to get just a little more difficult. For the most part the course was flat but there were 3 longish hills where we ran onto bridges over the M62 and M6 and two of these were in that final section of the route - just when legs were feeling fatigued.

I slowed in the penultimate kilometre to 4:50. It was still comfortably under the initial target but was 11/12 seconds slower than those that had preceded it. It might have been worse but for the the benefit in the final 2km of battling another runner. He was older than me but had a similar cadence and speed and we passed each other several times.

With about 500m to go we both speeded up a fraction and with 400m to go turned onto a wide tree lined boulevard with a straight flat run to the finish. I speeded up noticeably, and it hurt. I even ran a couple of seconds with my eyes closed for some reason. I'm not sure if my rival entered the boulevard ahead of me or if he ran faster still and came from behind but I sensed we were suddenly in a tussle with him alongside and passing (or fighting back - its difficult to remember exactly)so I went for full all out sprinting.

I may not be the fastest distance runner but my kick is pretty decent and I finished the race a full 4 seconds ahead and promptly dropped to hands on knees with my chest burning from the effort.

The Garmin clocked at 46:34 (later rounded down on chip time to 46:33) and I was delighted with that. It equates to a marathon time of 3hr 33min and gives me confidence and a target for upcoming races as well as resulting in my finishing in the top 40% of a race for the first time.

Happy days.

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