So close, but no cigar

Andy Yu at Cannon Hill Parkrun

Sometimes, your training goes better than expected and you feel strong. The effort exerted feels lower and there’s a speed in your legs that wasn’t there before. Confidence is high and on some occasions, this could be all that’s needed to break that elusive PB (easier said than done, right?). I found myself in this very situation on Saturday morning, toeing up to the start line at Cannon Hill Parkrun.

I’ve been licking my wounds after the London Marathon, disappointed that I failed to achieve my 3:30 target and further saddened that none of the marathon training seemed to pay-off in my other distances. With a focus on regaining some raw speed, my weekly training schedule looks like this:

  • Monday – rest, or weights and core training
  • Tuesday – speed work (intervals, tempo, fartlek, or hill reps)
  • Wednesday – rest, or weights and core training
  • Thursday – 6 miles easy (8:00 – 8:30 minute miles)
  • Friday – rest, or weights and core training
  • Saturday – Parkrun
  • Sunday – 9 – 10.5 miles easy (7:45 – 8:15 minute miles) or 10k race

The first indicator that I was getting faster was my average pace on the long Sunday run. During my marathon training, the long runs would average anywhere between 9:30 and 11 minute mile pace; purposely slow to enable more distance to be covered without suffering a body meltdown. Cutting the distance down to 9 – 10.5 miles has allowed my speed to creep up where 8:00 minute mile pace feels easy again.

The second indicator is my Thursday 6 mile run, also feeling faster and easier. I’ve historically struggled to go faster than 9:00 minute mile pace during the middle of the week due to working all day and probably not eating enough. 6 miles after work now feels more comfortable and cruising at 8:30 minute mile pace is a doddle.

All of this gave me the right signs that I would score a new Parkrun PB at Cannon Hill, or at least a course PB to break my record set almost 3 months ago.

It would just be Elsa and me out of the usual gang. The weather was perfect for setting fast times with bright skies, mild temperatures and low wind. I possibly wasn’t as rested as I would have liked due to a late night, but I did have Friday as a day off on balance. For that extra spring in my step, I wore my fresh pair of Nike Flyknit Racers and my race singlet. Crucially, I did an extended warm-up consisting of a full lap of the park, followed by a few hundred metres at half marathon pace and some strides at faster than 5k pace.

After the usual briefing, we all headed to the start line where Mike and I plonked ourselves 2 or 3 rows behind the front runners. Mike was only thinking of going out for a 20:45 minute finish whereas I wanted something above 20:22, my previous course best. At the sound of “go”, we shot off in our usual mad frenzy. Looking at my GPS watch, we were moving at 6:14 minute mile pace which was way above what either of us wanted. Despite the fast pace, I felt comfortable and at ease with the speed, thanks to the warm-up.

Mike and I shared the lead and the pace finally settled at around 6:30 per mile. My average pace reading hovered around 6:24 so I knew I was within a sub-20 minute finish if I could keep the speed up. There were noticeably more runners than usual at our pace which served as great motivation to keep pushing to catch up to them. For the last few months, this has been my major bug-bear with Cannon Hill Parkrun where I regularly find myself running on my own for several minutes at a time.

I was also conscious to stay on my toes to keep my cadence up. My marathon training had sub-consciously made me default to a mid-foot strike more often, which is great for distance but not so good for speed. Landing on my toes also allowed for more energy to be stored in my calf muscles.

The run didn’t start to become difficult until somewhere in the second mile. Mine and Mike’s breathing became laboured but the pace was still good at 6:24 minutes per mile and I knew I had just a little more to go. The triangle part of the course was approaching and this is historically where I lose a lot of time, either being held up by other runners or simply losing pace by a few seconds. Thankfully, I still had some zip in my legs and I was able to overtake a few people to keep the speed up.

The final mile continued to be tough, but not impossible. Mike and I kept pace with each other and continued to overtake a few more fellow runners. My breathing became like that of a pregnant woman again, inhaling three times and exhaling once. We flew by Fergal’s corner and increased the pace to conquer the gradual incline, with me leading the charge. I looked at my watch and I knew it would be close to a sub-20 minute finish, with a few seconds on either side for victory or defeat. Not having Lis present at her usual cheering spot, I knew I had to kick much sooner, so I began my sprint from the tea room onwards. My arms were pumping as hard as they could and my feet were planting as much power down as possible, finally reaching the finish line…

Stopping my watch, I looked down at my finish time. My mind was now racing just as hard as I had done. Will I go under sub-20 minutes or won’t I? Staring back at me was a finish time of 20:03; a new Parkrun PB that shattered my previous record by 19 seconds. The last time I had carved out a PB this big was last year some time when they were easier to achieve with more regularity. Elated, I began the huffing and puffing as I collected my finisher’s token and collapsed on the grass. Mike followed a few seconds after me, remarking that he wasn’t intending to go out that fast! I was curious about the distance I had run, knowing that I normally run a very precise line to clock anywhere between 3.09 – 3.11 miles. Due to the racing between Mike and me, neither of us ran a perfect line with him gaining on some corners and me on others. I had actually run 3.13 miles, clocking 19:54 for 5k. One could argue that had Mike and I not run together/against each other, I may not have hit this time anyway so I’m content with the performance.

Andy and Mike at Cannon Hill Parkrun

What is disappointing to see is that my 20:03 performance has not had any impact on my RunBritain handicap. Despite running my fastest 5k ever, my handicap is still 7.9, though I’ll save the Run Britain handicap rating for a blog post later on.

This was also my 49th Parkrun and I’m just one run away from joining the elusive 50 Club. Technically, this was already my 50th run because I did forget my barcode on one occasion; never again will I make the same mistake! What’s rewarding about joining the 50, 100 and 250 Clubs is that there’s only one way to join them and that’s to run that number of events. I first started to take Parkrun seriously in late April of 2012 so 13ish months to get to the 50 club isn’t bad, with only a few runs missed in that time.

Here’s to making my 50th run a sub-20 minute one!

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