Thursday, 23 February 2012

The quest for a personal best

I can’t remember my personal best for 10k. I know I set it in Whitstable last May, and I think it was 50 something minutes, but I’d have to check. Same for half marathon – definitely the Great Birmingham Run last October and 1:52ish, or maybe 1:53ish. But for 5k I know for sure. It’s 22:15 and before that it was 22:59 and before that it was 23:00.

Before parkrun with its official timing on a measured 5k route, the opportunity to improve on a pb came a few times a year at big events. Now it is every week. But that doesn’t make it easier to beat.
My first time at the Greenwich parkrun was 23:27. Around that time I did a Biomechanical Assessment at the Running School in Battersea. This gave me some insights into improving my technique. Arms swinging from the shoulder with the hands moving from hip to shoulder height. Legs lifting the heels high, not shuffling along. Feet striking under the line of the body not ahead of it. All that felt extremely weird the first time I did it, but eventually it helped me get my pb down to 23:00.

But then I got stuck on 23:00 for several weeks, and I felt like I needed a new strategy. The Greenwich parkrun is three circuits of a route around Avery Hill Park. In the first half of the route there are some downhill sections and in the second half there is a long incline. I decided to try to let gravity pull me along on the down hills, and to really surge on the uphill.

This strategy helped me to break my 23 jinx, marginally and partially. I finished in 22:59, one second inside my pb, and I was in 23rd place in the field of 80+ runners.

The next breakthrough came from comments from a fellow runner at the City Runners Club based in Bermondsey Square. He said that when he finishes a race, he has nothing left. So when he sees people doing an incredible sprint at the end of an event, he thinks: ‘Why didn’t you run faster for the whole race?’

I didn’t say anything at the time but I realised that I was on one of those final sprinters. So I decided that I would really push it for the whole 5k next time. And it worked. My final sprint was barely discernible and I took 44s off my PB.  I’m not sure how I’m going to top that but I’m sure I will some time soon. With parkrun, I have the potential to try every week. But I’m rather taken with advice quoted by a fellow parkrunfans blogger Ian Golden: 'only ever go for a PB once a month and rest a couple of days prior to the attempt, other than that just enjoy it'.

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