Break on through to the other side

Andy Yu's sub-20 minute 5k PB

This is what a sub-20 minute PB looks like… – Photo by Paul Stillman

This past Saturday, I finally achieved my sub-20 minute 5k goal. I had to laugh because in November 2012, I originally estimated I would achieve this in February based on my then rate of progress; I’m only 5 months out on my prediction!

Lis and I were in Wales for the weekend, which meant Cardiff Parkrun would be the venue. Cardiff is a popular course for PB chasers due to how flat and fast the venue is. I have been dubious of the measured distance in the past, though I’m somewhat more confident of the accuracy now that I’ve observed the lines we run, especially in the first half where we are supposed to keep to the right of the path, rather than the left which is a better racing line.

I had my racer’s breakfast of toast with honey, a Nectar Fuel energy drink and a beetroot shot. I had a great night’s sleep and I was feeling very positive about the run; compare this to the previous week where I felt tired simply getting out of bed.

Yvonne, Phillip and I made our way to Cardiff with plenty of time for a 1 mile warm-up run. I’m now finding the warm-up to be so important to my overall performance, where it really does prime the heart, lungs and muscles to begin working hard. Daniel Luffman wasn’t around which was disappointing; I had wanted to suggest to him that we go out hard and both try to break the 20 minute barrier after we were both off target at the Caerphilly 10k.

Weather conditions were good for racing, with an overcast sky and reasonable temperature in the mid-teens.

The start was crowded as always and I found myself actually on the side and off the tarmac path when we were released. I quickly headed back on to solid ground and managed to move into a small clearing to adjust to my pace. I had set the Virtual Pacer on my Garmin to run at 6:24 per minute, equivalent to 19:55; my logic was that I had to build a small buffer in to prevent another 20:00 finish happening. The pace felt steady and the Garmin reported fluctuations of 2 – 5 seconds ahead of schedule, so I was on target.

I fell into place with a number of other runners at around my speed, but I had to be careful not to become too relaxed and pace off others if they were slowing down. I still felt reasonably fresh going through 2km with my pace 2 seconds ahead of schedule.

The 3km is always tricky at Cardiff because it involves a hairpin turn for the out and back part of the course, allowing for some natural slowdown. My pace did slip a little, showing a 0 – 1 second advantage, which fell to 2 – 3 seconds behind schedule by the time I ran through 4km.

4km was tough, mentally and physically; the pressure to hit my target was immense and my legs were full of lactic acid. I tried shortening my stride to increase my cadence rate to maintain or increase my pace slightly. I also tried concentrating on my deteriorating form to prevent any further slowdown. Rather cruelly, there was a water station set up for a different race later on in Bute Park; I probably didn’t need the water but it was a case of wanting what I couldn’t have.

Going through the wooded area of the course always feels like an eternity because every turn looks the same. I had now fallen behind schedule by 5 seconds with around 800m left to go, so I did what I could to lift the pace without much impact. The 400m marker appeared and all of us in our small group kicked. 200m was now visible as was the clearing for the finish area. At 100m left to go, we all managed to find an extra gear and shifted into it as we raced towards the finish line with Yvonne and Phillip cheering me on.

I crossed the line and stopped my watch, unsteady on my feet. Once I had my finish token, I temporarily left the finish funnel to lean against a tree to help my breathing recover. I glanced down at my watch and the magical time of 19:53 stared back at me – I did it! I re-entered the finish funnel and had my barcode scanned, where the lady said “well done”, almost like she knew I had PBd (do the scanners highlight PB performances?).

I caught up with Yvonne and Phillip to share my good news whilst sweating like a pig. I really couldn’t believe how much I was sweating and this didn’t stop until maybe 15 minutes later.

Reaching the sub-20 minute milestone was huge for me. The time is regularly thrown around as a benchmark that separates serious runners from recreational ones, requiring dedication and a willingness to endure discomfort.

The next milestones on my list are:

  • Sub-19:30 5k
  • Sub-40:00 10k
  • Sub-01:30:00 half marathon
  • Sub-03:30:00 marathon

I have the Wythall Hollywood 10k lined up for Sunday, where I’ll be hoping for a 42:30 finish.

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