At the end of my last blog in April I had just completed my first race in seven months, the Solihull half marathon in a time of 2:02:04. If the first 4 months of the year had been about getting used to running again, then the last three and a half months have been about cramming in as many events as possible and trying to get my speed back. Whilst you always hope that hard work and a little bit of patience will eventually lead to getting back to where you were, there is always that bit of self-doubt about whether you actually can. Since the Solihull half marathon, I have gone on to take part in another eleven events across a variety of distances with six of these events happening over six consecutive weekends. This blog is about how I have been working on getting back to where I was through taking part in so many events.
It was towards the end of May when I had my first real inking that might be starting to get my speed back during a 5-mile race on a Thursday evening over in Coventry. This was a race that I very nearly didn’t get to take part in. Despite leaving work an hour early and arriving in what I thought was plenty of time to sign up for the race, as I got closer to the front of the queue I was told unfortunately they had reached the maximum number of entrants. Fortunately as I started to walk away I heard another voice say that they had got a limited number of extra places. However at this point a number of people had rushed over to form another queue for the remaining places. Thankfully I managed to get the last place with a hand written number! Whilst my finishing time of 39:57 is around two minutes slower than my PB, I took confidence that I had been able to keep up with and overtake some of fellow club members who I know historically have been of a similar speed to me. Finishing runs strongly had been the challenge in recent months so my performance in this race came as a bit of an unexpected confidence boost. I even enjoyed a sprint finish down the finishing stretch with one of my good friends from the club!
Three days later it was time for the Birmingham 10km. This was the fourth time I’ve taken part in the event and it seems like most years the route is altered in some way due to various developments or events taking place in the city centre. However this year’s route was really not the route you use if you’re trying to sell the delights of Birmingham to a wider audience. Those of you who know Birmingham will agree a route which involves primarily running along a dual carriageway through Newtown up to the One Stop shopping centre in Perry Barr, really isn’t the most scenic or imaginative route on offer. It also meant that there was limited on course support which was a shame. However despite the dull route I was able to finish in a time of 50:24 which was the quickest I had run 10km in best part of a year and nearly two minutes quicker than my previous 10km race this year.
However it wasn’t until three weeks later at the Arden 9 mile race, that things really felt like they were getting back to where I wanted them to. This race was just three days after a ten holiday in Spain where it’s fair to say I had over indulged on food as one does when on holiday! So despite doing some running whilst I was away, I really wasn’t sure how this race was going to go. Thankfully it appears that the warm weather training whilst on holiday managed to counter act all of the rubbish I had eaten as I managed to beat my course PB by around 30 seconds, finishing in a time of 73:13. Which just so happens to be the same amount of time it took nine of us to put up an “easy to assemble” gazebo before the race!
I managed to follow this up with another course PB at the Wythall 10km the following weekend clocking a time of 49:49. The first time I had run a sub 50 minute 10km since 2017.
Well if the other events I’ve being telling you about in this blog so far have gone well or at least OK, then it’s fair to say that my next race will go down as one of the toughest race experiences I’ve had over the last 3 and a half years. On what felt like the hottest day of the year, I was taking on my first ever trail half marathon over at Cannock Chase. I can only describe it as a hot, hilly and a horrible experience. I have never experienced inclines and descents like this in any previous event. When you throw in the heat, the flies and the challenging terrain under foot then it is fair to say I couldn’t wait for the experience to be over. I turned my left ankle three times and twice narrowly avoided falling over. Never before have I been happy that course is nearly a mile short. The event was made bearable by some of the nice scenery and the fact that I ran with a work colleague and her friend. It would have been a very long and lonely experience running on my own for nearly 3 hours!
Having survived my first trail half marathon, I was a little concerned about how much it might have taken out of me with another half marathon to follow a week later and a left foot that was experiencing some discomfort. Thankfully after a week of rest and no running I felt ready to take on the Leamington Spa half marathon. Last year’s event was a chastising experience that I would rank up there with the Cannock Chase trail half marathon which was also a hot, hilly and horrendous experience. Thankfully this year the weather was a bit cooler than last year and they had made the decision to alter the course and run it in reverse, no 12% gradient hill to run up this time! My PB coming into this race was 1:54:36, however I felt in good shape and believed that on the right day and on the right course I could run a PB. Based on my Arden 9 race I felt that I should be able to maintain a pace of 8:30 per mile. Despite a hilly first few miles and trying to persuade myself I didn’t need a wee, I was able to settle into my target pace for the rest of the race. As to be expected the last 2-3 miles were a bit tougher but I was extremely pleased to improve my PB by nearly three minutes to 1:51:44 and to round it off we all received a really cool elephant medal!
So this brings me to everyone’s favourite race in the Warwickshire Road Race League, the Northbrook 10km! A race that starts at the bottom of hill and where you spend the next 7km’s running up hills before a faster finish over the remaining 3km. However you do get a medal and a mug for your troubles! In previous years my best time was around the 52 minute mark, so with it being a tough course my only real aim was to try and see if I could beat that time. Well that and try and beat this one runner from another local club who always tends to be of a similar pace to me but had beaten me back at the Arden 9! Despite managing to overtake this particular runner at around the halfway mark, it wasn’t long before he went speeding past me and then put a bit of a gap between us. Thankfully the first 7km hadn’t taken too much out of me and the rain that had started to come down was actually refreshing. I therefore took the opportunity to lift my pace and really put my foot down for the remaining 3km. As each remaining kilometre passed I was gradually making up the gap between myself and this other runner. With about half a kilometre to go I managed to catch him and overtake him, thankfully on this occasion he wasn’t able to catch me again and I was able to finish ahead of him. However, what was more pleasing was that I had been able to finish in a time of 49:13, a course PB of nearly 3 minutes and also only 25 seconds away from overall 10km PB!
We are now at the end of my glut of races recently and thankfully it is over the shortest distance that we race, 5km at the Monty 5 in Leamington Spa. What’s also unique about this event is that it starts and finishes at an athletics track, although most of the race takes place through a local park. Despite 5km being the shortest distance I race, I do find it the hardest distance to run fast despite having completed over 140 parkruns. Running 5km fast is uncomfortable and it really tests you as to how hard you want to push yourself and how much discomfort you are willing to put up with. It was my first-time taking part in this event and I had been told that it was a relatively flat course so I thought it might be a chance for me to set a new 5km PB. Luckily, I had a couple of other runners from my club not far in front of me so as I settled into the race my aim was to make sure I kept up with them and then hope I still had something left in the tank by the end of the race. Thankfully I was able to maintain a reasonably steady pace as I finished in a time of 22:30, a PB of around 10 seconds. I think the look on my face in the picture below shows how hard I was finding it towards the end!
Whilst I had always hoped that I would be back up to my previous fitness levels by the summer, I couldn’t be sure as this was the first time I’ve ever had to come back from a long period of no running. Whilst the culmination of recent races over a short period is now starting to catch up with me with a cold and some fatigue starting to set in. I also believe that it is having so many races in my diary is what has pushed me on and given me that extra edge over the last three months. Now it’s time for a bit of a well-deserved rest before I start preparing for my autumn half marathons!