Well, it’s fair to say that August didn’t pan out the way I expected it to. It’s not quite that I’d given up on ever running faster but all the signs had been pointing in the wrong direction for quite some time so I definitely didn’t expect to be finishing the summer with 4 PBs in as many weeks!
My biggest achievement by a long way was getting under 35 minutes for 10,000m (34:53) for the first time: when I started running 5 years ago, this was the last of my 3 arbitrary ‘big targets’ (the other two being a sub-3 marathon and sub-80 half marathon) to achieve so I was both startled and chuffed to bits when I crossed the line faster than expected last weekend!
It also meant that, for my last race ever as a UK resident, I was crowned Herne Hill Harriers 10,000m champion which was a good way to bow out! [Full disclosure: this is entirely a reflection of the small number of runners in this race, and really not of my actual standings in the club…]
Rewinding the clock a little bit, my previous PB came 11 months ago (35:14 in 10,000m at Ladywell) and the one before that was a full 21 months ago. I’d changed jobs twice as often as I’ve had PBs in that time (genuinely …). And, even if you take into account those PBs, I may have chipped away the odd % improvement here and there but I’d barely improved since 2015 so BLEH.
So, what happened? Well, the short answer is that I don’t have a bloody clue.
Like most runners (or sportsfolk), I obviously have my favourite shorts, favourite shoes, favourite tops etc to race in and, while I hadn’t quite sunk to the point of conducting pre-race shamanic rituals or stabbing voodoo dolls of other runners, I was getting pretty desperate for new ideas. I’d given most sensible things a shot at some point. In no particular order, over the previous years, I had done:
- More mileage
- Less mileage
- Harder mileage
- Easier mileage
- Strength & Conditioning
- Other stretching
- Altitude Training
- Recipes for thousands of years old Mexican drinks
- Crossed every finger and toe on my body
- Or various combinations of the above
On top of this, my confidence wasn’t running particularly high since this Spring’s big target ended up being – like for so many people – a total crapfest because of the boiling weather for the London marathon. After that, I had wisely decided to give my legs no rest whatsoever by running 100+km along Hadrian’s Wall a few weeks later and all my good intentions to do strength & conditioning and stretching to fix my glutes when I got back from that lasted about 3 days.
At the same time, the relentless amount of travelling for work continued and we even threw in a 2 week holiday to Namibia to ruin any last chance of routine/training schedule still left.
To compound my lack of focus, I’ve even probably had more alcohol over the last month than the whole previous year with all the leaving dos etc
On the flipside and to be fair to myself, I’d been injury free since November and I’d still managed 5 or 6 running days/week since then: they just weren’t necessarily of particularly high quality or quantity.
So, once again, what happened?
I think there are two main things which changed in the last month or so:
- Firstly, as I said above, I’d tried pretty much everything of the years and wasn’t improving so my self-imposed pressure was probably much less than normal (not that it’s usually that high, but any target you set adds pressure one way or another)
- Secondly, I got one unexpectedly good performance in late July which really kick-started my confidence.
That performance was a relatively meaningless track 3,000m race in a local league. With no pressure and barely a person and their dog watching, I ran relatively comfortably in 9:44 – at the time, I mistakenly thought my PB was 5 seconds faster, so was non-plussed by my time until I realised that night that it was actually a tiny (1s) PB.
On top of that, it really did feel like a comfortable run and I didn’t feel like I’d fully pushed myself at all: maybe, after all, I had more in me than I thought.
The first acid test would come two weeks later at the Wimbledon 3,000m Open on 1st August: buoyed by my previous time, I absolutely nailed this one with 73s laps and came in in 9:34, a big 10s PB. Boom.
From there, I assumed that, if I can run a 3.11/km average over 3,000m, surely I can run around 3.20/km for 5,000m and, bingo, I could: for only the second time ever, I got under 17 minutes and knocked 6 seconds off my PB to finish in 16:43 with some pretty good pacing (3:19, 3:17, 3:23, 3:23, 3:21). Once again, this was at Wimbledon track which, to me, was rapidly establishing itself as the fastest track in London (it really is): my 3 best performances ever (‘til then) have been set there.
From this, I thought: well, if I can do 3:11/km for 3,000m, 3:21/km for 5,000, then surely around 3:00km for 1,500 is reasonable: 3 days later, I’d almost achieve that thanks to excellent pacing from my clubmate, Mo, in 4:33 (3:01/km)! Another 6 second PB.
This was meant to be it – my 10,000m PB last year was a very good time and I had no illusions that I’d get anywhere near it. Because of our move to Paris, I’d had to withdraw from this year’s Ladywell race. It was only with about a week to go that I realised the club was hosting the Surrey Championships in Tooting which also doubled up as the club champs. The race was at noon mind you and, while London is cooler than the Med in August, it can get bloody hot and humid in the middle of the day. However, thanks to some fortunate weather, the forecast was mildly grim and I entered with a day to spare.
In terms of race commentary, it’s 25 laps of a track so not exactly something people’ll make a movie about. However, it went perfectly: the clouds came out shortly before the race, it was a pleasant 17-18C or so, and I spent the first 6km pacing with my clubmate, Robin, which was of great help when the mind boggles at the dullness of what you’re undergoing. After 6km, he dropped off a little but I kept up my incredibly metronomic pacing. These were my lap splits: 83 seconds 82 84 83 84 84 85 84 84 85 84 84 85 84 83 85 84 84 84 84 84 84 84 82 77. Tic. Bloody. Toc.
And, with that 8th place in the Surrey Champs and 1st club place, my Herne Hill Harriers career and our time in London were over! We are both very sad to be leaving so many good running friends (and a few non-running ones, oddballs) and our local community behind but we are just as excited at what’s to come. Next stop: Paris.