A weekend of highs (& one petulant strop!)
by prhim Feb 7th 2012
As any of you that follow me on Twitter will know, training has been going well lately, especially running. Although barely out of winter base training, and with my focus firmly on the Wokingham Half Marathon in mid-February, I’ve been feeling stronger on the shorter sprints. This has been witnessed by a few challenging runs at the Bristol Parkrun, which have seen my times tumble from 20:14 down to 19:27. It seems to be generally accepted that Bristol is a ‘slow’ course, worth a good 40-60 seconds over a ‘fast’ parkrun course.
And so I was very keen to get to my old ‘home’ course of Swindon to have a go at a new PB, my existing one set on the same course at 18:51. The first attempt was scuppered by the parkrun being cancelled in place of a CaniX event, but this weekend I got my chance.
Better still, my friend and damned decent runner (when he can be arsed!), Jason Pinkney from The Big Adventure Store in Swindon agreed to run with me, giving both of us some ‘encouragement’ to put the hammer down.
Heading up the M4 from Bristol to Swindon on Saturday morning, the car’s thermometer read -8 degrees C, brrrr! By the time I got to Swindon it was a balmy -3.5 degrees. I arrived in good time so took advantage of a single espresso at Costa before heading to Lydiard Park to warm up.
Nine o’clock came and it was time to go. Jason and I lined up next to each other and hit the track together in the lead pack. In the first kilometre, I was aware that I was the one pushing the pace (3:38 pace) but it felt comfortable. The front three runners (one dog-assisted) had set off at a very brisk pace and I could sense there was quite a distance to the next runners behind us, so we just concentrated on keeping pace.
The second kilometre involved a slight uphill followed by a shallow descent (being the first Saturday of the month, we were running the ‘reverse’ course) and the pace remained constant at 3:37. Next came a sharp uphill and then joining the second loop of the course, the pace dropped slightly to 3:51 but this was to be expected. At this point, I could sense Jason was getting into his stride and he started to pull away slightly. I dug deeper and stayed on his shoulder for the next kilometre (3:47) but as we started into the final kilometre (the shallow descent again) he pulled out a 5-6 metre gap on me. Up the final sharp incline and I was catching, but it wasn’t enough, a full-on sprint into the finishing chute and the last kilometre was despatched in 3:40. Even before looking at my watch I knew it had been a good run; close to equalling my PB, if not better.
It was better; and by some margin! 18:32, my fastest 5km run by some 19 seconds. Overjoyed! Big thanks to Jason for assisting with pacing and encouragement. It’s great being part of the TBAS family.
Less fun was the half-marathon pace (HMP) session that followed, with 2kms steady, 5kms race effort (note not pace!) and then 2kms steady. Safe to say that after the 5km effort, I was shagged! And so, perhaps not surprisingly, I really couldn’t be arsed with last night’s turbo (opting for a simple 30-minute leg spin instead of the planned session). I was also, of course, conscious that I was racing again on Sunday morning!
And so after the snow and sub-zero temperatures, Sunday came. If I’m entirely honest, I half-wished the race was going to be cancelled. I was still feeling the after-effects of the parkrun and really didn’t fancy running in just a trisuit in 4 degrees C temperatures!
But glad to say I ‘manned the f*ck up’ and duly headed up to the Tewkesbury Aquathon, a 400m pool swim followed by a 5km off-road run. Noting on the pre-race blurb that the run was on playing fields, I took note of the thawing snow and opted to take my trail shoes. A bit of a risk, given I’ve had some right foot issues lately, but I guessed racing flats were going to be next-to-useless in the prevailing conditions.
I had predicted a 6-minute swim for the 400m, so I had a late starting slot, which meant a little hanging around. But eventually at 12:47pm it was my turn. By then, I had a lane to myself and so could just concentrate on getting into a good rhythm. What surprised me was how, after only 6-8 lengths (20m pool) my legs were killing me! Obviously there was still a good amount of lactic build-up / muscle soreness from the parkrun / HMP sessions 24 hours earlier. I just ploughed on, knowing I had 20 lengths to do. Getting towards the end of length #18 I started looking ahead for the confirmation that I had two laps left to go (usually they stick a float or paddle in the water), but nothing came! Had I mis-counted? I didn’t think so, but best carry on! Another two length and again no paddle. Sh*t!!! Then as I tumble-turned I half-heard a commotion above. I glanced and noticed they were gesturing me to get out. Bollocks! I had counted right and there was NO 2-lap marker.
“Where was the paddle?!” I gasped as I hauled myself out of the pool about five metres into my 21st length! “You were tumble turning, mate” was the only response… WTF?!?! I threw my swim cap in the general direction of the marshal and legged it towards the door, conscious I had lost a good 5-10 seconds.
Out into the cold and… hang on. It didn’t feel cold. I haven’t done an aquathlon before, but was surprised how warm I still was from the pool. I slid my shoes on (thank God I’d put elastic laces on my trail shoes), grabbed my beanie and decided to leave the gloves and jacket I had put in transition just in case.
After 200m or so of car park, I hit the playing fields and immediately there was lots of standing water and mud everywhere. Lovely! Still, my pace felt pretty good (I was doing the race ‘blind’ – i.e. no watch or GPS). What did surprise me was how tight my lats and shoulders felt from the swim – I guess in a triathlon you get straight on the bike, so don’t use your back muscles, whereas pumping your arms on the run needs them.
I felt a runner come up to lap me and noticed it was Will Poole, a notoriously fast runner. I knew Will had started his swim before me (and I guessed I would have a faster swim time), so being lapped by him was no great surprise. I tried to stay in contact with him, but after 500m or so he was motoring away. Still, I felt okay and I was catching people without any danger of being caught by anyone else. After three more soggy, wet, muddy, icy laps it was time to head for the finish. I was coming up on another runner but as I put in a sprint in, he responded and just fended me off to the finish line. Shame, but good on him for the effort and I was still happy.
That was, I was happy until I caught a glimpse of a timing sheet that suggested I had come 27th in a time of 27:xx minutes. What?! No way?! I was banking on a 25-26 minute race, guessing 6 minutes for swim and 19 minutes for run, maybe with a little change due to the conditions. I hung around to see Will get his winner’s gong, but I admit I then headed off in a strop. I just couldn’t fathom how I had felt good, yet performed so badly. It just didn’t compute.
It wasn’t till later when I was messaging Will congratulations on Facebook that one of the event organisers offered me my official results: 5th overall, total time 24: 27 (swim 5:51, run 18:36). Now that’s more like it!!!! I’d gone from distraught to overjoyed in a nanosecond. THAT was the performance I had ‘felt’ I’d delivered, not some crappy (and I mean no offence by this!) 27 minute plod.
My coach (Mark Shepherd) got the worst of the strop. There’s no excuse, but perhaps I can try to explain. The thing is, I (and many others) make many, many sacrifices to be the best we can. We’re not necessarily the most naturally-gifted of athletes (I know I’m not!) but we spend hours and hours trying to improve our performance, giving up many things in the process. When you come out of a race where you ‘feel’ you’ve done well and then get some (false as it turns out) evidence to suggest your performance was in fact way short of expectation then it brings into question whether it’s all worth it? Why bother training so damned hard if you can’t pull it out on race day. Gutted doesn’t come close.
Suffice to say it was a HUGE relief to find out my true performance today was much closer to expectation that at first thought. I AM making progress, I AM racing hard and I AM justifying the time and effort (not to mention expense!) that goes into my training.
So all in all, actually a pretty bloody fantastic weekend! A new 5km parkrun PB and a new 400m swim PB (previous PB 5:55). But now it’s time to stop chasing PBs and remember that I’m still a) pre-season and b) only two weeks away from the Wokingham Half-Marathon. That’s the race that really matters at the moment.
Thanks again to everyone that continues to help me along the way, my coach Mark Shepherd, the TBAS crew and all my friends on Facebook and Twitter who provide such continuous encouragement. Thanks also to those hardy parkrun volunteers that stand out to marshal come rain or shine, and also to Tewkesbury Tri Club for a well-organised event (pool-side kerfuffle aside!). :-)
Taken from my website: http://www.triathletesdiary.com
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