Juggling different races often means you sacrifice speed for endurance. It’s fine in the run up to the event as you have something to focus on. Post event it’s a little harder to deal with when the full realisation of being unable to out-sprint an asthmatic sloth sinks in.
After a spring and summer of trying to run ultras like the Thames Path 100 and Grand Union Canal Race 145 I switched to cycle training for the Ride 100 at end of July (yeah I know cycling is cheating). Given I was going for completion rather than speed this was yet more low intensity work and letting the fast twitch muscles have a break. Or vanish completely as it seemed.
Getting back into marathon training mode and I struggled to keep under 9 minute/mile average for 20 and 22 mile runs. I don’t even like long runs so doing them badly and slowly is a double kick in the nuts. The days of knocking out sub 3h30 marathons with ease at the start of the year seemed a long way off and I mentally chastised the cocky version of me in March that managed a 3h13. Arrogant twat.
As a measure of fitness I did a timed mile on 22nd July with the Redway Runners and managed to get dragged around by clubmate Warren to a 5:58, pleased to manage to go sub 6 and not a bad starting point but Bournemouth marathon beckoned closer than ideal and now needed to undo months of slow and steady. Despite a couple of hills the marathon is a fast course and I managed a 3h17 last year, flagging a little in the later stages due to an ambitious start (no change from normal then). Lofty ambitions of trying to match this or go sub 3h15 seemed entirely unrealistic when I seldom got many consistent miles at a pace starting with an 8, never mind a 7.
The best way to run faster is to run faster. Running is simple like that.
I managed to get a few runs in with the Redway 6:40 group. This is meant to be 1 mile at 7:00min pace and 3 at 6:40pace. Run it perfectly and average 6:45pace. I was struggling to average sub7 and felt slow and fat. Legs were heavy any anything much more than a gentle slope seemed to drop my pace massively.
Early August and I got a last minute spot in the Redway Runners Beat the Barge race, a mostly pancake flat 5 miler. As it’s a race I was sure my inner speed demon will return. Sadly no. Managed to hold on for 6th place and a 6:54 pace average but felt wiped by the end, faded horribly in the last couple of miles and unable to keep up with clubmates on the minor inclines. I literally suck at running ‘uphill’.
Two weeks in Lanzarote followed and I entered the local Vertical 5k. 1800ft of ascent mostly in last couple of miles. Pace was obviously awful but figured this was hill training sorted.
Late August and I managed a timed 5k with Lakeside at 20m28. It felt flat out and I was spent at the end, but a whole minute slower than PB set in March. I’d lost 60 seconds in a few months. Not good.
The following day another timed Redway mile on the track. I was in a smaller group and out in front for most of the race until beaten by two youths on final lap. Their combined weight was probably the same as my left leg. Managed a 5:57, a whole 1 second improvement in a month! Insignificant but at least heading the right way unlike the 5k time. I went home to celebrate with a beer. The two faster runners will be waiting a few years for theirs.
After a brief spell of pacing school chum Zaid around a very hot and sweaty parkrun it was back to hard running at the Tour of MK.
6 races over 6 days against the proper runners of MK and an attempt to ‘race myself fit’. Last year I entered this fresh and ready to push it. This year I still felt mostly dead in the legs and carrying ample baggage so pleased to finish day 1 only 3 seconds slower than previous year and hold 6:51pace for 6.7miles, a fair improvement on Beat the Barge for a longer duration.
Day 2 was a cross country and managed to knock a few seconds off the previous year and hold 7:15pace for 4.8 undulating miles but fell down the overall leader board as seemingly everyone got quicker. Annoyingly I felt I’d worked hard throughout but heart rate said otherwise. I’d basically been kidding myself and at only 140bpm was barely trying. Proof I need to get back to the ‘controlled discomfort’ and stop wimping out.
Day 3 and back to the track for a timed mile. Learning from previous years I took getting the inside line as a priority over getting in front and slowly worked my way around. Finished in 5:54, a new PB and felt strong. Once again checked my heart rate and it was barely over 140 despite feeling like I’d been close to the edge. I really need to learn to push.
Day 4 is Campbell Park, down and up the hill twice to get to about 5 miles. I always struggle on this one, especially after the 9 mile early morning run. I switched places with people a few times but slowed at the end, still averaged a respectable 6:51 and finished about 15 seconds behind previous time so have to keep reminding myself I’ve gone into the series feeling slow so almost matching times is pretty good.
Day 5 and we brave the rain for Bow Brickhill woods. Only 2 miles and a twisting, turning route through the trees and sandy tracks means a fast time is as much about staying upright and not getting stuck behind slower runners as overall pace. In 16 minutes it’s over and done and I lose a few more seconds on the previous year.
Day 6 and I’m unable to turn down chance to return to the woods for a relaxed 10k morning meander with mates and dogs in the morning. Not ideal prep for the evening but reasoning the week is about training not finish times so aiming to get a good bank of miles in.
The final race starts walking distance from home, a proper incentive. Across the tour I’m around 30 seconds behind previous cumulative time so have ruled out trying to outdo myself and instead set off and aim to run an even effort. The first mile is good, the second feels like hard work. Mile 3 is OK and then something clicks mentally. I’m maintaining pace with those around me and managing to control my breathing. Finally my legs and brain have had a chat and mutually agreed that 100 mile death marches are done with, this short and sharp is now the thing. The pace is quick but seems entirely possible to maintain. Redway club mate Tim and I hold the pace and run together, collecting Matt on the way. We then run on as a trio, taking turns on the cattle gates and push on, nearly gaining on the runners in front and finally finish the slightly long 10k at 6:47 pace, quicker than Day 1 and surprisingly managing an overall improvement for the tour.
I seem to have rediscovered speed. Thank fu*k for that.
After a rest day it’s back to a long steady run on Sunday. Meeting Mark and Ross for a planned 20-22 miles at 8:15-8:30 pace sounds intimidating. Again my legs and brain re-assure me they’re now friends again and we finish a sweaty 20 mile at 8:03 pace. Other than being thirsty as hell at the end I feel great and confident I could hold the pace for another 6 miles on race day. Most importantly it’s about 40s a mile quicker than my last 20 miler in early August so a proper measurable gain and mojo is restored. Bournemouth marathon is on!