Friday, 7 December 2012

Respect The 10k!

Right, quick one today. Honest.

I’m running the Wyvern Christmas Cracker on Sunday (December 9). It is only my second-ever 10k but my feelings are oh so different compared to the Sheffield TenTenTen I ran on September 23, all of 75 days ago…

…that was my first ever ‘race’. It could have taken me three hours and it would still have been a PB and a milestone achievement. Completing a 10k was the goal I set myself when I started this running thing back in April, a goal I duly achieved in Sheffield. You may think that completing the Bristol Half Marathon was a greater achievement and in terms of what I achieved on the individual respective days I would have to agree. But if we look at the bigger picture and the journeys upon which I embarked to get to those two days, I’d argue differently – and win!
Why? I shall explain!
I signed up for the TenTenTen on May 25, when I would still have been around 14st. I have to guesstimate here as I only started weighing myself a month later: I wanted to feel I was around the 13st7lbs (or 85kg, in my mindset) when I’d first see those LCD digits again so kept off the scales during the early stages of exercise. Even more critically, my longest run up to that day had been 5.2km, in around 33’. Completing the TenTenTen was going to require me to double my longest ever run and to achieve some serious weight-loss / fitness-gain…

…now let’s look at my status ahead of the Bristol Half. I signed up on August 13, by which time I’d got down to 12st – only slightly above my current weight, as that was pretty much my weight target. More importantly, by then I’d introduced weekly long runs into my training schedule and had, for two Sundays running, run 18.5km. A decent distance for someone training for a 10k! Both those runs had taken me 1h53’ at the unspectacular pace of 6’09”/km, but I felt fairly comfortable about adding an extra 2.6km to convert those into a half marathon. I had plenty of work ahead of me if I was going to crawl under the two-hour mark and that work paid off with my 1h49’54” time. But signing up to bridge that 2.6km gap having been in training for sixteen weeks didn’t feel as daunting as doubling my distance when I signed up for the TenTenTen just five weeks into finding my feet (and it would have been after only a couple of weeks had the site taken registrations earlier!).

Since then, I have run longer than half-marathon distance on seven occasions, in four different countries. My level of confidence is significantly greater than back in the Spring: I don’t question my ability to finish a half though of course I acknowledge plenty of scope for improvement as far as time is concerned. I am confident of completing the Greater Manchester Marathon providing I keep putting in the effort in training over the next 142 days. I am not confident of achieving my target time, but that’s fine: balancing confidence and fear is a skill that any performer, amateur or pro, on whatever stage needs to master. Because the trouble with confidence is that if you’re not careful and allow it to grow beyond healthy limits it turns into arrogance; and we all know where that can bite you…

…so I’ve had to teach myself some respect this past week. Respect for the 10k! Yes, of course I can run 10k – but that is no longer my goal, having achieved it in September. My time in the TenTenTen was 50’45”, which by far exceeded my ambition of crawling under the hour mark. Which was great… only it sets expectations for Sunday! I am no longer in a situation where any time is my best ever time!

My goal for Sunday is to break the 50’ mark. Easier said than done, of course. I have run three flat 10k training runs this week in 51’02”, 49’55” and 49’40” respectively, whereas after 10 of today’s 11k I was at 49’30”. So I am frightfully close to the mark: I could be on track only for one person to step out in front of me to take me over it!

However, when I look back to September I see that my best pre-race 10k practice was 53’48”. Come race day, adrenaline and being part of a herd helped me shave 3’05” off it – or 5.7%, if you prefer. I’m no expert, as you well know, but I wouldn’t have thought the TenTenTen route, with its grassy bank and narrow woodlands, was designed for PB-seekers. Now, 5.7% off yesterday’s 49’40” would equate to 46’50”. That sounds great, doesn’t it?

Sure does. But I’m realistic enough to not expect such a great improvement on race day, partly due to the law of diminishing returns and also because 5k and 10k are the two distances that hurt me the most in training. By that I mean spleen pain: I’m obviously going for pace rather than distance and my body seems to cope better with the latter. Which is why I pulled up when running 5k on August 24, for example, whereas I’ve never pulled up when running 20k+. Hence my need to respect the 10k: of course I can finish it, but I mustn’t get arrogant about times. I must respect the distance and my spleen!

Sunday’s race should also be the last one I run without a GPS watch. I’ve asked Father Christmas for some vouchers to spend on one of those and I’m already looking forward to better pacing my runs, both training and races. Nor will I have Jon to pace me through it: I wouldn’t have held him back anyway (and by that I mean I’d have let him do his own thing, not that I’d have kept up with him!), but today he’s finally decided to pull out as his hamstrings are still recovering from the Shakespeare Half Marathon and his current panto commitments mean he needs to be as fit as possible for the day job. Unless I wear my phone around my arm, as I always do in training but didn’t do on either of my September races, I won’t have much of a clue about pace, although my legs and brain have synched up well this week and I’ve not been too bad at figuring out how fast I’ve been going… And that, my friends, will be the key to a sub-50’ time on Sunday: I can do it and I know I can do it, but I need to pace myself right. Whereas in most sports it is doing the unexpected, something different, being blessed with a moment of genius, in running being as regular, consistent, predictive as possible seems to be key. Fortunately I’m getting better at it, as my average pace varies increasingly less during runs. Just as well: my spleen can’t cope with me shooting out of the blocks on a 5 or 10km run. Furthermore, I don’t know the route for Sunday: Simon (another GVC member and one whose pace I can but dream of) has said it’s flat and with sections on sand (a sharp contrast to the hilly grassy bank of Sheffield!)… but racing on sand will be a new experience for my feet and, indeed, my mind.

So… respect the 10k! I’ll let you know next week how I got on.

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