7 days. 168 hours. 10,080 minutes. This is a summary of my running week. Ups and downs. Aches and pains. Feelings and emotions.
Distance: 21.43 miles | Time on my feet: 3:01.38 | Races: 1 | PBs: 1
It’s hard to believe that it was only 9 weeks ago when thermometers registered 29°C, t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops were the prerequisite attire and any form of exercise warranted an intravenous intake of liquid to prevent instant dehydration. I remember those conditions vividly, 2nd October, stood on the start line at the Mablethorpe Half Marathon with some fellow club runners waiting for the gun, the morning already warming up…sun on our faces, welcome intermittent breath of a breeze across our backs. Baking. Glorious.
9 weeks ago…
And here we are, freezing conditions, some of the highest recorded winds in history battering the UK, thermal under-layers firmly part of accepted the wardrobe and the central heating awoken like a slumbering dragon and fired back into life. For some folks, life has changed from a high definition, full surround sound, comfy cinema seated Hollywood epic to a grainy black and white analogue recording of a home movie on VHS. Once again the world is a damp, cold, wet and slippery place. As I faced this week’s running schedule I was reminded that this time last year we were 2ft deep in snow – cars taken prisoners on their own drives, people waddling to Tescos like a procession of penguins complete with sledges to fill with groceries to drag back home – and as I stepped outside this week I felt the skin on my face tingle as if being stroked by cold, invisible hands, my lungs filled with icy fresh air that I seemed to be able to feel reach right through my whole body with every breath and an instant open invitation for every joint in my body to check in and register attendance, reminding me of their existence and my progress through my years.
Things have certainly changed and they have given my running a different challenge.
Tuesday 6 December
Race. Clee AC 5k Winter Series 3. 21:47 (7:01/mile) **NEW PB!!**
Leading up to the race I had a certain level of hope that I could shave some time of last month’s result, which itself was a massive improvement over my previous best. Unlike last month, however, conditions were very different this time round and the cold air and icy conditions were making more than a few of us question our sanity (for anyone not accustomed to running on a sea front, in the dark wearing a pair of tights let me tell you that the cold can be quite refreshing!).
If truth be told, as we gathered on the start line I had some doubt over whether I was going to be able to realise any improvement after all. I remembered last time that I had gone out quick, perhaps too quick, and how I paid for that 2/3 into the race as my pace dropped by a good 20 seconds/mile. This time I told myself that I was going to be more controlled to start with and that as a result I would have more in the tank to open up for the final kick, which I was hoping was going to be sooner this time.
As things got underway and I settled into a comfortable pace, I checked my watch to make sure I was following the “build up slowly” plan…6:20/mile! Whoa, calm down!! Realising I was going this quick and that it felt good was a positive sign, but knowing that if I tried to keep it up it would end in tears I dropped back to 7:00/mile which felt like putting the brakes on. Was this too comfortable? As the field moved ahead I kept my pace limited and soon I was doing the overtaking as others started to slow. Maybe this was the right pace after all…
One of the ‘targets’ I had in mind was to beat Bruce – a fellow club member who I almost managed to beat in the multi-terrain race in November – and as we rounded the turn after a mile I was suddenly aware of him up ahead of me. The chase was on! The funny thing is that Bruce was unaware of me closing down the gap over the next half a mile or so until Malcolm, another fellow club runner who was still on his outward section and therefore now running towards me, announced with the best of intention “Go on Simon!”, at which point Bruce was suddenly aware of how close I was behind him! A few hundred yards further on, and whilst trying to maintain a useful distance (not too far behind but then again not too close to force him to speed up too early and risk being taken with him), I was suddenly aware that the pace had dropped to 7:30/mile, which was way too slow for my target time. The pace soon recovered as I pushed ahead and Bruce realised I was closing in.
As we rounded the final turn (at which point were Sharon, Kay and Andy – fellow club runners who were not competing but instead had stopped off on their training run to offer us all support) the pace picked up even more. The cold air meant that it was difficult to breathe in complete lung-fulls; it seemed I was breathing in my throat and at that point my lungs were non-existent. Half a mile to go. When should I kick? “Not yet”, I told myself a few times until all of a sudden Bruce was away! Damn! Giving chase I was running at the maximum capacity possible whilst breathing with limited lung space until it was time to really dig in, go anaerobic and squeeze the final burst out…
Bruce crossed the line 3 seconds ahead of me. In my last push I did manage to catch and beat a guy who was well in front until I opened the taps, so whilst Bruce remains a challenge for another time I was very happy to have been able to make up so much ground towards the end.
The biggest surprise as I leant over the handrail after crossing the line, gasping for air and fairly convinced that I was going to see whatever remained of my lunch issue forth, was that I was about to find out that I had beaten last month’s time by 4 seconds. I was fairly resigned that I was slower than last time, so finding out that I had been quicker was a great result.
I wonder if the next race is going to be as cold…
Thursday 9 December
7.57 miles, steady, 1:01:38 (8:09/mile)
Thursday saw me once again over the border in North Wales, this time accompanied with my trusty headlamp to act as means of illumination (and therefore puddle-avoidance), as warning to approaching motorists of my presence (and therefore an injury-prevention measure) and as a comfort blanket against any horrors my imagination could concoct (in light of last month’s experience) to do the now familiar loop through country lanes.
The promise of a meal with friends booked for 7pm helped to keep the pace sharp and I have to say the hills didn’t seem as angry this time for some reason, despite the rapidly increasing inclement weather. Thankfully, the loop involved head-wind on the way out, so as I leant into it, freezing rain firing straight at me, droplets illuminated in the gaze of my lamp, I dug in and told myself that head-wind was just added resistance that was making me stronger (not everyone’s view of such conditions, but hey it works for me!). What on the way out felt like an icy hand on my chest resisting my progress turned into a helping hand on my back for the return section and I finished the run feeling great. In fact, I wanted to keep going, but the meal was looming and with Tuesday still in my legs I knew that I’d had a good session and was happy with the pace given the conditions. Now…what shall I have for a starter? 😉
Saturday 10 December
10.73 miles, easy, 1:36:23 (8:59/mile)
If I thought it was cold in the week it was tantamount to Arctic on Saturday morning. For the first time this year the temperature on the car dashboard registered 0°C as I set off to meet the group for a 10-miler. Somehow it suddenly seemed foolish to go outside in tights. The previous week’s routes had involved some hills but I was aware that this week there was likely to be less variation in terrain, however the presence of ice, mud and other slipperiness more than made up for the absence of serious undulation.
What I was pleased most about is that we were able to maintain such an average speed when there were many instances of stiles and gates to negotiate, ice patches to circumnavigate, roads to cross and other reasons to slow down which inevitably ate away at the average pace. There were many instances when glancing at my watch that I noticed a sub-8:00/mile pace which for a ‘long’ run is perhaps a little too quick, but until the mileage starts to increase and ‘long’ really starts to mean ‘long’ – which isn’t too far away now – I’m happy with pushing myself over the more demanding terrain and trying to keep the pace going for the sake of my ‘base’ speed.
I was once again pleased to be able to keep with the group throughout and have enough left for a strong finish (7:22/mile – or 8.1mph – after 10.5 miles on my feet) so any hint of uncertainty at all whether the training is working or not is rapidly diminishing. I’ve never been so fit; never run so strongly. The future holds so many opportunities to build on what I’ve achieved so far and I can’t wait for the next I lace my shoes up.
125 days, 7 hours, 48 mins to go…
I hope Paris is a bit warmer in April, mind…