Saturday, 17 July 2010

Race complete and lots to learn

Its difficult starting to race again after a decent lay off. Your fitness is a bit of an unknown, your preparation dis-jointed and you're simply not used to running in competition. For similar reasons Super Leeds United have just had two pre-season friendlies in Slovakia and for me I have had a couple of low key Yorkshire races before the targeted runs of the autumn.

Yesterday was the second of these - the Washburn Valley Relay - with the first being the club 5k handicap 3 weeks ago.

As with the handicap I can't decide if I'm pleased with progress or not, but I am certain I can learn a lot from the experience which is, I suppose, all I was ever really looking for.

The WVR is a 3 person relay event with teams invited from Yorkshire running clubs. All clubs enter 1-3 'serious' single sex teams containing their elite runners while the bigger, more local clubs enter some mixed teams too. I was in one of the latter. If the number of teams was similar to last year there will have been just shy of 60 teams.

The three legs consist of loops around or near Swinsty & Fewston reservoirs and measure between 3 and 4 miles each. Aside from a final 800m on road they are on fairly rough trails.

I ran leg 2, the longest leg at a shade over 4 miles, which starts with a fairly steep descent and finishes with a fairly steep ascent. Aside from the last 800m across the dam being on road, its a narrow trail that constantly twists, turns and undulates around the reservoir. Aside from the start and finish none of the uphills are long or terribly steep (5- 20m each) but they and the twists prevent any sort of rhythm and mean sightings of runners in front of you are pretty infrequent.

My Race
Dave, my team mate on leg one, ran a stormer, placing us a number of positions ahead of where I'd have guessed we might have been before the race. Whilst that was great for the team it meant I'd be running ahead of a number of faster runners and was unlikely to have many to chase in front of me. In other words I'd be being hunted!

I set off about 8/10 seconds behind a guy I know from another club. He's older than me but was one of that club's best runners, yet I knew his time last year wasn't great so took a split second decision to try and close the gap and use him to pull me along.

Big mistake.

The steep descent and a deliberate aim to close the gap meant I was running far faster than I should have and this wasn't helped by my 'target' pulling away. Like the racehorse that was sneakilly trained with weights under the saddle to fool the bookmakers he was obviously injured last year and this year had returned very much to form!

After about 1/4 of a mile I had passed one runner and was running at under 6 minutes a mile and despite trying to slow down (and being forced to by the twisting up and down path) the first mile was still done in only 2 seconds over 7 minutes. Yet even with that respectable pace a runner passed me!

Despite being denied the benefits of the downhill start the second mile still wasn't much slower at 7 minutes 11 seconds so by the end of that mile I was starting to feel it and was passed by another runner (who bore an uncanny - but dark haired- resemblance to 70s childrens TV character Catweazle). That meant mile three slowed unavoidably though that wasn't helped by my missing a turn meaning I ran past by 5m and had to stop and turn round. That probably cost me 5 seconds overall.

I knew there were others not far behind me as I could hear them but was fairly powerless to stop a couple more passing me in the third mile as the pace slowed right down to 7 minutes 38 seconds.

Mind you, I wasn't the only one labouring a bit. Ahead of me I occasionally got glimpses of a lithe female and an equally svelte male and got the impression I was very slowly gaining on them both. Equally, I knew there was a Horsforth runner not far behind me at 2 miles but he never did catch me and I suspect I pulled away again by the finish.

The final mile didn't seem to get any slower and with half a mile to go I passed the lad in front before reaching a short steep climb back to the dam, where I could hear someone right on my heels.

That turned out to be Dominic, another Abbey Runner (whose recent 5k time was an enormous 3 minutes faster than mine), and whilst he passed me his presence did pull me along a little bit meaning my finish was credible and not too far behind him. I wasn't passed by anyone else, though the lass in front wasn't quite caught by me as she'd clearly left something in the tank for the finish.

After leg 3's finish I found we were the highest placed of the club's mixed teams. My own feelings were mixed. I'd found it a difficult course/distance to get to grips with and my immediate thought was that the average pace of 7 mins 21 seconds should have been faster by 5/6 seconds a mile. Maybe more - particularly as the sort of 10k time I hope to be running by late autumn would be some 18 seconds a mile brisker and for 2 miles further!

However, having had time to consider it since I probably didn't do too badly. The results might not get posted until early next week but judging by last year's times I'd have been comfortably in the top half which is OK considering the standard is far higher than for a typical club run and infinitely higher than a mass participation RFL/BUPA 10k/Jane Tomlinson style run.

What have I learned?
- I used to run races to a set mile/KM split target but didn't do that yesterday. Doing so might have helped me run a more even (and overall faster) pace. with a plan.

- Its difficult to read much into times for this type of event so don't get hung up on them. For all I know running a flat and straight road course for the same distance could easily have been 10 seconds a mile faster and would certainly have been easier to find a rhythm for.

- I'm psychologically better as a hunter than prey. Some people are great at holding other runners off but I get a bigger lift from chasing someone down. That's interesting food for thought for race start positions. Start too far back and you spend your time weaving in and out but you are passing people; too far forward and it could be demoralising to be repeatedly passed.

- I'm on one race photo and I look flabbier than I'd hoped. Maybe I'm just being narcissistic but either way the planned for weight loss should sort that out - which in turn will have a marked effect on speed (one article I read last week suggested 14s off a 10k time for every pound!)

- Also on the photo I can see I'm heel striking. Its in the last 500m so maybe it was down to tiredness but whilst my foot doesn't look to be dorsiflexed to anything like the degree it was 12 months ago it wasn't the mid foot strike I'd have expected to see. Maybe time to get myself videoed?

Next race will be the Birchwood 10k on 22nd August so a little time to go. I want to PB there but it isn't my ultimate target, its another marker race, so I'll carry on with the weight loss and training and see where we get to.


Alison said...

Rob: given you've been out, and this is only your second race since coming back from injury, I think you can fairly pleased.

I found what you said about hunter and prey really interesting. I've never really thought about this much - I'm rather inexperienced when it comes to racing - but the times I have, I've found it a real boost to chase people down in the second half. I like to try and run a negative split, and when others are tiring it's a real boost that you can pick them off.

I've also found drafting off people on training runs quite helpful recently. Obviously opportunities are by chance, but when they come I've always taken them. Again I hadn't really thought about that. Though someone recently drafted off me for a couple of miles, and I know that also made me feel really good!

Honestly, I find your posts (and replies) really helpful. You have a lot of experience, but are also reflective with it. It makes for a good read :)

Running Rob said...

Thanks Alison.

I've pondered further and looking at the picture my heel lift is very good so I'm going to guess that I was overstriding as I was trying to up the pace while tired. No biggie.

Also decided that in a few weeks or so I'll replace an LSR with a sort of time trial. Run 5k along the canal, have half a minute breather and run back. I'll try to run that to a few seconds a mile over 10k target pace. If I can then I know on race day I'll definitely be able to go faster still.

I love it when a plan comes together.