A Little Help From A Friend

February 6, 2013

On Sunday morning prior to my first 10k race of the year I tweeted: “First race day of the year. Undertrained, overweight, knackered and have a cold. Will give it a poke anyway!” Whilst I was hustling a little, there was an element of truth in the sentiment. I was about 5 pounds over what I believe is my ideal race weight, I’d only really had a five week spell of consistent training, my darling daughter had been up through the night a couple of times and I had a slight sniffle.

On the flipside, despite a slightly over indulgent off season in December, I had a good base of fitness and my five weeks of training had gone really well. Specificity of training is crucial so I upped my hard speedwork sessions to two a week and added extra strength work to prepare for the shorter distance.

A couple of weeks ago I declared my main running target for the year to be a sub 40 minute 10k. Given a packed schedule in the first half of the year this would be a rare early opportunity to have a crack. I didn’t seriously rate my chances but my plan was to head out at target pace and see what transpired.

I did, however, have a secret weapon up my sleeves – the Danimal. My friend Dan, ace triathlete and sub 37 minute 10k man, had offered to act as my pacemaker. Amusingly, Dan forgot to actually enter the race so he was just a bloke running round the park while a race was taking place. The race was the February edition of the series organised by the Mornington Chasers club in Regent’s Park. These events are very well organised, no frills races with plenty of good quality club runners taking part alongside the usual fun runners.

The plan was for me to control the pacing, with help from my GPS watch, through to about 7km and then for Dan to take over so I could just focus on hanging on. Usually, the GPS watch will register a distance slightly longer than the race distance due to a combination of watch inaccuracy and the difficulty of perfectly following the shortest route round the course.  To allow a buffer for this I hoped to stick to around 6:22 per mile on the watch (vs 6:26 per mile required for a 40 minute 10k). The course is a flat but somewhat twisty three laps and both Dan and I have raced it before so we knew what was ahead of us.

We completed the first mile in 6:23 which was close to perfect, followed by a 6:20. Miles three and four were tougher at 6:27 each and by that stage I was really starting to suffer. I could barely speak and when I did it was to inform to Dan that “it’s not going to happen” or “I don’t think I can do this.” Dan was brilliant. He took over the pacing as planned and I just tucked in and followed him. He gave me loads of encouragement, talking me through the course and re-assuring me we were on track.  Mile 5 was a 6:29 which meant we were using up any buffer we’d built to compensate for watch inaccuracy. Cross checking against the km markers suggested the watch reading was more accurate than usual, however, so maybe we didn’t need the contingency?

By this stage I was in agony. In almost every race I’ve done I believed I couldn’t have worked any harder. I thought I’d given every ounce I had. It turns out I can push myself even more! It felt like we were running every few hundred metres as if they were the last. I was hanging on for grim life. We reached the 6 mile mark on my watch, which meant about 350m to go, in 38:25. If the watch reading was accurate, we’d be fine. If it was slightly out, we were going to be very, very tight. Legs screaming at me to stop, lungs searing with pain we turned into the home straight and as I could see the race clock and finish line in the distance I knew we were going to make it. I kicked as hard as I could and crossed the line in 39:45. My first ever sub-40, and a 22 second PB. I was rather chuffed and somehow managed not to vomit or pass out.

I really pushed myself to the limit, and I couldn’t have done it without Dan. On the other hand, a few pounds lighter, with a few more weeks training, and on an even faster course, I know I can do better. A few people have asked me what new target I’m going to set given that my main goal for 2013 is out of the way so early. For now, I’m just going to enjoy this milestone. My plan for the rest of the year is to do the races I want to do. Not the races I need to do to hit a target. I’m going to work on my technique. I’m going to run off-road more and I’m going to join a club. That’s the plan for now, but at heart I am PB junkie so the plan might just change!


One Response to “A Little Help From A Friend”

  1. […] my first sub 40 minute 10k in February, my focus began to slip a little. I’d achieved my main target for the year and my […]

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