Saturday, 7 July 2012

Poodle-pacing my way to a new record

Running really is a pursuit of vicissitudes. So many positives and negatives in the same experience of the moment. I never get down about running, despite my recent unresolved problems, but it doesn’t alter the fact there are high and low points almost by the second.

Anyone who has been following my blog - is there anyone - there may be a couple of people, perhaps - will know that I have been off my usual 5k pace for about 4 weeks.

I’m not talking marginally slower - I am talking tens of seconds and even minutes slower (at full effort), to the point that two weeks ago, I was a spent force after just one mile and I pulled out altogether with about 500 metres to go.

Anyone who is motivated by times and PB’s would probably be crying into their isotonic sports drinks at the thought of getting progressively slower with each run. It’s a hard thing to accept if you have a competitive edge and want to get close to a personal best, or at least run consistently, as I had been doing for years.

But, not me. If I may go idiomatically clich├ęd for one moment, once the wheels have fallen off, I just change the goalposts!

I just had three aims to day:
1)    Completion
2)    Enjoyment
3)    Beat the poodle* (see postscript)

I had set myself no time to achieve and I was going to run at no faster than 8:30 pace for the first mile. Remember - this is bang on my usual 10k pace, and not my usual 5k pace of about 7:50. 
 After that, I would see how I felt.

There were far fewer people this week. Not sure why, as it has been dry pretty much all week, there was a bit of cloud cover but the sun was beginning to burn through. It was much like it had been for the past six weeks.

I was telling myself at the start not to throw all my plans into the air and go off too fast and kept reminding myself I only had three aims - complete it, 
 enjoy it and take out the poodle (even if s/he is so, so cute!!).
Said poodle on a previous run: 

      The starter told us the course was looking fast today and wanted to see some quick times.  Cue, minor heart sink.

We were off and I was a good little boy for the first mile. I held right back and kept calm. 
 I let most of the others thunder on ahead. I picked a few people off through the first mile and I was certainly guilty of excessive clock watching (or is it watch-watching?) as I was trying to make sure I kept to my pace.

One mile - beep - 8:30. Perfect.

How was I feeling? Bloody knackered, but keep going….

We turned in to the long back straight. I could see the 24 minute pacer as a speck in the distance. Little demons were telling me that that was my usual pace and I should be way up the road. But I quickly malletted them on the head and plugged on.

Could I just up the pace slightly? I focussed on a number of backsides (scientifically, not pervertedly), and I ticked them off one by one. My pace had definitely improved a touch.

I plodded through halfway and I could spot the next backside. What a wiggle on that one...

Ah, it was the poodle. Unfortunately, s/he appeared to be flagging a touch and its mind seemed to be elsewhere. As the pacey poodle popped for a private poodle-piddle, I pootled past the piddling poodle, pronto.

It was very hard work at this point. Don’t think for one minute that by slowing it down by some margin, it was somehow easier. It was exhausting and as I approached the end of mile two, it was the usual conversation with myself of ‘just one foot in front of the other’ and ‘every step taken is a step closer to the finish’.

The mile two sign beeped on my watch. A quick glance showed 8:17. Blimey, I managed mile two 13 seconds quicker than mile one. When you’ve got very few positives to hang on to, I was grabbing that one with both hands and running with it.

The final mile was as hard as any before. I had to slipstream a lady for a while, just to try and get air in my lungs and keep my feet turning, trying to match her leg turn with mine,
  just to take my mind off the exhaustion.

We passed the finish area to the right and I heard the most welcome sound. One of the organisers, Graham, shouted, ‘Well done, Martin’ (or something similar). I acknowledged with a hand wave and dug in for final loop of the field. 
 I have never ever heard anyone cheer for me in a run or race before, so it was so very, very welcome. Those three little words are so uplifting when you hurt like hell.

I powered on as best I could. Down into the ditch for the final time and that leg-wobbling feeling as you come up the bank on the other side and over the field towards, Barbara, our final marshal. Then, it’s a right hand turn, through the ever sinking branches of the willow tree (parkrun may have to provide machetes next week) and back onto the grass again for the finish straight.

I upped my pace a touch and passed the lady I had been slipstreaming and a chap. 
There was also a young boy just ahead and I focussed on getting past him. We hit the final straight and all the crowd were urging him on.

I smiled and eased off my usual sprint. I didn’t have the heart to pass him on the run-in with so many people cheering him. So, I just took the foot of the gas and let him through the finish chute before me.

I checked my finish time.

PB = 23:33
Average = 24:00
Previous worst = 24:49
Today = 25:45 (official parkrun time of 25:47)

Completely smashed my personal worst by almost a whole minute.

But, I had completed it, I had enjoyed it for the most part, I had stuck to my 8:30 pace for mile one and I had beaten the poodle!!

Moreover, when I got home, I saw that I had achieved something I had never achieved in all my previous parkruns. I had run negative splits - just!

Mile 1 - 8:30
Mile 2 - 8:17
Mile 3 - 8:16
(plus the 10th of a mile)

From now on, I am forgetting that a 21:50 actual personal best, a 23:33 parkrun personal best, and 24:00 minute averages ever existed. They are times gone by. They are ex-times.They may be times of the future again one day, but they are most definitely not times of the present.

My new benchmark is 25:45 and that is the time to try and beat next week. If I do, great. If I don’t, at least I can celebrate another personal worst.

But, have I sunk to new depths when my running ability is now based on whether I can beat a cute curly-haired pooch? Running really is a pursuit of vicissitudes, isn’t it?


Postscript - in previous reports, I have referred to the poodle as a labradoodle. I wish to apologise unreseverdly to Mr/Mrs Poodle for my inaccurate reporting and for any hurt or distress I may have unintentionally caused him/her. I did make a 25p donation to an RSPCA charity collection on my way home to partly atone for my shabby journalism.

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