Of hard yards, incremental gains and… camping?!

It dawned on me about the evening of Tuesday July 9, 2019, in a way that suggested it should already have dawned on me, but it hadn’t. Until the penny perhaps dropped that the thing that finally came to realisation is something I’d just been doing all along. Except, this time it’s different.

The session for the night was 3 x 1000m, 3 x 500m, and 3 x 300m. By the time it came to the 300m I was feeling pretty spent already. It was a warm night and for the first time since the Halifax Half Marathon, I was running fairly quickly. 300m is a unusual distance, but it’s great for working on speed endurance and sprint speed, particularly at the back end of the session when everyone is tired. It was a fairly warm evening too. Normally I have nothing for the 300m but it felt as though a switch flipped.

To set the scene, I have run 400m on the track in 69 seconds. Which isn’t going to win even a club level track event, but on a personal level, it’s fast. I let a few of my teammates set off ahead and then I ran, from a standing start, and got into a quick rhythm, frantically running around the bend and then hitting a quick stride on the straight. By the time I got to the 300m line, I was coming in like a freight train. I clocked 58 seconds. One down, I walked all the way back to where we were starting. I set off after a few of my teammates again. This time I got an even better start. I was running even faster down the home straight, and working into the bend. I pushed all the way to the line, and came in at about 54.5 seconds. Physically, I really felt gone. Mentally, I was absolutely in the zone now. I wanted to go faster.

We repeated the process one more time. I got another great start, strode down the home straight, and put the hammer down on the bend into the 300m finish. This time the watch clocked 53.6 seconds. Exhausted, I briefly took to one knee, while my club mate congratulated me on some great running.

All this is in aid of getting ready for one of the top 10K races in the UK running calendar. The UKFast Salford 10K, on Sunday September 8th. One day before I turn 35, and hoping to run it quick enough before anyone can yell ‘veteran’ at me!

I had begun my training in earnest that night, a man on a real mission. But my past relationship with the 10K need not remind me that it won’t be an easy ride. Not at all.

. gpx highlighting my final 3x300m on the track (Split 16-18), 09/07/19
Beautiful stalagmites

The 10K is an event that I’ve always appreciated, but against the half marathon and the marathon, it’s not been my go to. Even as I’ve come to appreciate shorter distances more since joining the Halifax Harriers, I still feel more at home running a 5km than a 10km. Heck, I even seemed to care more about running 5 miles really quickly, a much less commercial distance to the 10km, because in a few months there is a club age group record I can aim for. The 10km, a distance I’ve trained over many times over the years, but rarely ever raced it. The most I’ve ever raced the distance in one year was 2014, where I ran three 10km races. One of those was a hilly trail race, where I was never going to trouble my PB, which I set earlier in Bradford that year.

The last time I trained properly for a 10km was a sub-35 plan I had with the aim being the Helen Windsor 10K in 2015. I began training 4 weeks after the Greater Manchester Marathon, my marathon debut, and set out training on my own using a training plan I’d got online. My aim was really lofty at that point. My PB was 37:15, which would have been quicker had I not basically cruised into the finish amazed, as a then inexperienced runner, to break 40 minutes by such a margin. Sub 35 was a massive target, which was not so much an aim but an incentive to lower my PB by a little, not by another two minutes plus. Unfortunately, I was still carrying niggles from the marathon which turned out to be a foot problem, later diagnosed as sesamoiditis (which affects the two tiny bones in the bottom of the ball of your foot). Due to that, and my desire to run more marathons and even ultra marathons, I only raced 10K again once before the end of 2016.

I finally broke that 10K PB in the summer of 2017, at the Royal Parks Regent’s Park 10K in London. I ran 37:08, and for those 7 seconds I suffered like never before. The 37:15 I ran felt, and I hate to say this, comfortable. The 37:08, 3 years later, most definitely wasn’t. I set off way too quick, had a wobble in the middle, and nearly abandoned my PB chase until I worked out mathematically I could still do it. I ran through gritted teeth for the last 3km and got my reward.

Since then, I’ve managed to record sub 37 splits in longer races, but I’m still to get my 10K time comparable to my 5K PB (17:32) and my half marathon (1:20:43)

The beginning of my training for this 10K had me wrestling with getting into training for an October marathon, but eventually I canned that idea and set my focus exclusively on this race. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen how difficult it is to make those gains. The track sessions have been the most beneficial, and around a month ago I planned to race a local 5K race one evening. In the end, I had to come home that evening instead of heading out to the race. I ran 5K that night on my own, around a local industrial estate, in 17:54. Good going, but nowhere near the level I had back in Birkenhead in March. Racing 5K is much different to training 5K at race pace.

Instead, I ran only my 11th parkrun at the end of July, finishing 4th in 17:51. A mild improvement, but not my best time and I didn’t feel like I was on it that morning.

And its not been easy trying to fit in specific speed endurance sessions either, unless I attend club training on a Tuesday night. I left that parkrun semi satisfied, but fully in the knowledge that this is one of the hardest blocks of training I’ve ever put myself through. And I know running at this pace, any mains would be marginal, but right then, I wasn’t getting any huge breakthroughs.

I went camping in the Holme Valley with my family after that, and opted to use it as a rest week of sorts. I didn’t long run the Sunday and with no run commuting, or walk commuting – something I’ve been doing more lately – to bother with, I could get a bit more rest. But I had kept my training plans busy for the Tuesday and Thursday that week. And so I decided to get up out of my tent on the Tuesday morning, went up onto the main road in my running gear, and carried out a 6×800 metre session, with 90 seconds recovery. I aimed for no lower than 3:40/km pace.

I’ll be honest, I’ve neglected these sessions outside of training with my club on the track, so it was good to mix it up on asphalt a bit. The first two intervals were just about there, but it was the third and fourth where I excelled, a 3:22 and a 3:24 in succession. I suffered a bit on the fifth, admittedly stopping briefly to gather myself. I finished up with a 3:25 for the sixth and final interval. All in all, a good session, a good morning’s work. I need a few more like that.

I finished off my running on that camping trip with a total reset sort of run. I decided to explore the trails of the Holme Valley a bit, aiming to traverse through Netherthong, into Upperthong, and back to Thongsbridge. Really. However, one trail out of Deanhouse, another village, led me into a field of rather too curious cows. I didn’t want to take the chance with them. So I turned back, and omitted Upperthong altogether. Instead, I took a trail leading me into Holmfirth, and it was beautiful. Snaking between farmland, with great views either side, and across a stream too. I took to the roads a little more once in and out of Holmfirth but I still got more trails in as I returned to the campsite in Thongsbridge. It was a very stop start sort of run, but one I needed, I think, to clear my head, and refocus.

I’m now into the last three weeks leading up to Salford. I’m going to be attempting more intervals in that time, and maybe, just maybe, one more parkrun. I think this will finally be the time I can record sub 37 for 10K, in a race at least, but how far I can dip underneath remains a question. I won’t need to worry about the win – this is arguably one of the highest quality races I’ll ever compete in, so I needn’t worry about a place, just focus on my run and making it the best it can be. And maybe hang on to the coattails of some excellent runners! But whatever happens, I’ve got to relax a little, obsess a little less about the incremental nature of PB chasing at the level I’m at and ultimately, try to enjoy the ride.