Monday, 26 March 2012

How parkruns and bumblebees can lead to half marathon success

Yesterday was Hastings Half Marathon day.

Okay, this isn't specifically a parkrun précis, but parkruns have had a serious influence on how I ran and I just want to indulge in a little more blogging.

Having taken a week off from parkrunning (volunteering my services instead), I was concentrating all my energies on the Hastings Half.

Now, to appreciate this you need to understand I am different. I'm not like the others…

Whilst I train hard and always try my best, I never, ever, ever, set myself a goal time. It's not what my running is about. As long as I know I've given everything I can in a race, and I've trained wisely, then whatever time that brings me home in, I am satisfied.

I am not hungry for times; I'm not motivated by times. In that way, I never experience disappointment and frustration and always feel a sense of achievement. I try hard and I try to run my fastest, but times are guides and helpful markers; nothing more than that. Parkruns have also really helped in that respect. The competition is with you and your mind - not with other people.

Yesterday was challenging.

Weather: Hot
Wind: Negligible
Course topography: Take a look at the link here and you get the picture
Race stats

Summary: 12 miles of wonder and 1 mile of running like a lazy old sloth

10:30am start is quite late when the sun is already high in the sky and the old suntan is well on its way to completion before you've even set off. Fact: it was going to be rather warm.

The gun went and off I tootled with about 5000 other runners, just positioning myself, (not intentionally) behind the 1h 58m pacer and Batman. It took the usual 4 minutes or so to get across the start line, followed by about a mile of ducking and weaving as runners jockeyed for position. The first 3 miles were rather uneventful. Lots of cheering from the side, lots of inclines, very few descents and several people clearly not having got all of their anxiety wees out of the way, dashing hither and thither to water the bushes after less than a quarter of the way.

The scouts and guides, handing out beakers of water were very efficient, because, even by mile 3, the intensity of the sun was noticeable, especially knowing that the infamous 2 miles of Queensway was about to set its trap for us. Queensway is nothing more than a ring road, but it's one that climbs, and climbs and climbs and, just for good measure, climbs a bit more.

At the top, we turned right and ran along The Ridge, where the crowds were just phenomenal. The cheering and noise was great and you couldn't help but smile. Old dears banging pots and pans and schoolchildren with whistles and vuvuzelas. It was a right, rousing cacophony, but very welcome. Combine that with stunning views round here - across to Rye to the left and down over the town out to sea on the right, and I was hard-pressed not to stop to take a photo.

Now, things were getting a bit hard. Although I had an energy drink, it wasn't really 'refreshing' me and I could feel my lips and mouth getting drier and drier. Gel number one at mile 5 had given me a mild boost. Another water stop was welcome respite as I gulped down half a cup of coldness and threw the rest down my back. But still, all I (and everyone else, probably) could feel was the sun piercing into my eyes and forehead.

By this time, I noticed that the 1hr 58 pacer was nowhere to be seen and I just carried on as best I could. Maybe I had passed him, maybe he was miles ahead? I had no idea. My breathing was strong, my legs felt okay, but general fatigue was just beginning to creep in ever so slightly.

Up and down the undulations of The Ridge - small respites of descent quickly followed by another sapping incline. Through halfway and we climb some more - thanks Hastings!! Mile 9 is the key marker, because you know,  after 9 miles of mostly uphill, from here until mile 11 it is 2 miles of quad-crushing downhill (bar one incline). It's quick and it's fast and those that have saved some energy can really motor down this bit.

I went as quickly and as controlled as I could and blasted through 10 miles in 1hr 30m on my Garmin. 30m mins for a 5k and I could go sub 2hrs - that would be a pleasant surprise and not one I was really bargaining for - despite some 1hr 57s in training over the more amenable winter months. I've been doing just under 24 minutes at parkrun, so this was time to put that experience to good use and, with a 6 minute cushion, I might be close to a PB. I downed a second gel in preparation for the last 3 miles. On I went, with controlled speed down the hill, knowing I had the longest 2 miles in running history to come as you hit the seafront, turn right and run its full length to St Leonards On Sea.

I was really feeling it now. It was hard work here and the dehydration was crippling - 500ml of energy drink and four beakers of water on my way round had done very little in all honesty. Well, it might have made the difference between keeping me alive and killing me off. I slowed considerably at mile 11 and then, briefly  to  a complete stop to take on some water at the final station. Probably a mistake, because, having wiped a whole bathtub of sweat from my brow and drunk another beaker of water, I could barely muster any kind of speed on restarting. I had suddenly gone from comfortable 9-minute miles to barely  13-minute miles for about half a mile. I wasn't walking but I felt like I was running on the spot and that walkers might start passing!

Mile 12  came and I forced as best I could to pick the pace up again - at least finish with some distinction. I don't really remember much of the last mile, except making sure one foot went in front of the other - although I felt a lot fresher than I did a mile before.I stopped my Garmin, unofficially at 2hr 01m 52s. 31 mins for a final 5k was a bit poor by my standards. But a big phew, nonetheless, I had finished without injury and with a smile. My age grading was congruent to my parkrun performances (about 53%) and I beat last year's time by 11 minutes.

It was not my quickest time; in fact, some 5 minutes slower than recent training (albeit on the flat and in cooler conditions) - so not my quickest by a long chalk, but do I care? Do I heck. The hills and heat were sapping and for me, that 2hr benchmark is not the difference between a good runner and bad runner. Someone did ask me if I was frustrated at missing it having stopped for a short bit to get some water? Why would I be frustrated? 2hrs has no more meaning to me than 1hr 59 or 2hr 01. My time is my time and I did the best I could on the day.

How do I sum up this performance? Well, I am officially slower than a bumblebee and two clowns, but I did beat Shrek, SpongeBob Squarepants and a man dressed as an ironing board. I think I can be highly satisfied with that. Oh, and a small matter of raising £233 for East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service

I have decided on two things:
1) Parkruns have definitely improved my ability to run at lactate threshold
2) The quality of a performance should not be measured in time but by the number of bumblebees, clowns and wobbling, bobbling Disney characters that can beat you.

Other blogs by me:

Eastbourne parkrun 24 March 2012

Eastbourne parkrun course description: a runner's eye view

New Contributor - Martin Allen


  1. Indeed. And at every parkrun I go to, I fully expect to be beaten by a small child, an octogenarian and someone pushing a buggy. Didn't those Hastings Hills go on!


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