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June 17, 2012

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a marathon runner in possession of a desire to run a new PB come next spring must be in want of also getting faster over the shorter distances. (Sorry, tenuous and frankly unrelated reference, but you’ve got to start these things somewhere.)

Having knocked a decent wedge off my 10k PB a few weeks after the London Marathon, I finished marathon season with a pleasing effort over at Edinburgh. After the mandatory few weeks of recovery, I’m now ready to start on my next goal: run new PBs over the shorter distances so my legs are good and fast for the winter base-building.

I haven’t run many 5ks. Consequently it took me a while to work out my current PB. Technically it’s 18:15, run in 2010 over the very flat Charndon 5k. However, I covered the first 5k of the 2012 Oxford Town & Gown in 18:02, so I confidently thought to myself that this was a particularly soft target. (There are various schools of thought about whether a mid-race time can count as a PB for shorter distances; personally I’m prone to think it’s not a PB unless you’re certain the distance has been accurately measured – kilometre markers are prone to being stuck to the nearest lamppost rather than on the precise mark.)

So, last week, I seized the bull by the horns and wrenched myself out of bed early on a Saturday morning for the Finsbury Park Parkrun. Parkrun is fast becoming a global series of free, measured, off-road, timed 5k races – a concept that has been unsurprisingly well-received among the running community.

Finsbury Park is not especially flat (by London standards, it’s positively hilly) and the Parkrun course comprises two laps, starting on a downhill, quickly turning into a drawn-out quarter mile of up-hill, followed by a steeper downhill, followed by a shorter, sharper uphill, followed by a flat loop round a lake, after which you have to do the same again. It’s probably fair to say it’s not the fastest Parkrun course in London, but it’s not slow either.

I turned up, if not properly recovered from the marathon, at least well warmed up from a jog to the park. At the starter’s shout the crowd of runners bolted forward, making the most of the downhill and surge of adrenaline that traditionally accompanies a race start. We passed a couple of drunks swigging cans of lager who thoughtfully cheered some expletive-laden encouragement.

By the time we hit the uphill I was passing people who were suffering from setting out too fast. The uphill proved to be a strength as I closed gaps, overtook, and the crowd thinned out. I overtook another few people on the downhill and then pipped off another runner on the way up the steep hill. So far, so good.

Following the signs, I hung a left unable to see any runners in front of me. Before I knew it, I was back at the start of the lap and… I couldn’t see anyone. Something was wrong, so I slowed and looked around me. A guy pelted past from behind and I called out ‘Have I missed a corner?’ ‘Don’t think so,’ he called back. I carried on, feeling unsure and looking behind me where I could barely see any other runners.

Back at the same left turn I spotted a sign I had missed before, which took me on a lap of the lake. The guy who had passed me was standing at the finish line and the marshals were directing me over to the finish tunnel. I called out to say that I’d cut off part of the course and was going to do a quick lap of the lake to make up the distance. I did my lap, rejoined the runners (some of whom eyed me with suspicion) and finished 16th in a thoroughly unremarkable 21:12.

On talking to the guy I had passed shortly before I took my wrong turn, he apologised for not shouting out that I’d gone wrong. However, on opening his mouth, one of the drunks we’d passed earlier had thrown Fosters into his face. Hardly something you want at just gone 9 in the morning!

Right, I thought, next week I’m putting in a respectable performance that I can use as my benchmark for my summer training. All well and good, but on getting home on Friday I went out with Lizzy to a restaurant and we shared a bottle of wine. Then, despite the football being on, we called in on the pub on the way home for a pint. The game proved to be quite good (traditional model of En-ger-land throwing it away, only to come back at the eleventh hour – the team is currently being praised as our best since the 60s, but mark my words, they’ll be out of the tournament by next week), so we stayed for another…

I woke in the morning to 20mph winds and a groggy wine flu. Despite this I turfed myself out of bed and set off for the start line.

Again, runners surged at unsustainable paces down the hill at the start and I started picking them off as we came to the uphill section. With the wind behind my back on the uphill, I pushed and overtook several more. On the downhill I realised that I don’t run the downs as fast as others so had to push to maintain my advantage, but nipped past another runner on the sharp uphill section.

I took the left, and then took the next corner around the lake. My legs were burning from the sharp shock of the hill, but I was feeling better for having followed the course. I lengthened my stride, shifted the power from my quads to my calves, and tried to make the most of the short flat section to let my legs recover. Hitting the downhill, I pushed on conscious that people might gain on me, and carried through to the long uphill section. I could see the runner ahead of me and was closing the gap, but the moment he hit the downhill he was gone.

The shorter uphill was tough and I made slow progress, but by this time I was a good bit ahead of the nearest runner. I made treacle-like pace round the lake and finished in a more respectable 18:40 in 6th place.

All well and good, and closer to where I should be, but clearly much room for improvement. My first mile was covered in 5:38 (a good start), but that slowed to 6:24 by mile 2, and picked up slightly to 6:17 for mile 3.

The final stretch, pushing my sore legs, puffing for breath, reminded me of why I haven’t run many 5k races. They’re not very comfortable. In fact, they’re run at an unpleasant intensity. But then, if I’m thinking of a 26.2-mile race as within my comfort zone, something’s clearly gone wrong!

It will take repeats, fast threshold runs, hill work and even a reacquaintance with the track, but this summer I’m going to thoroughly explore uncomfortable and unpleasant running. It’s not going to be nice, it’s not going to be pretty, but it’ll make the different discomfort of the marathon all the easier to bear next year.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jacob Aliet permalink
    June 21, 2012 10:43 am



  1. The Slachtemarathon 2012 – very civilised! « Every Run's a Winner

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