I finally got my 2021 race account opened up with an outing at the North East Masters Athletics Association (NEMAA) Track and Field Championships.
I’ve been a member of the NEMAA since turning 35 back in 2016 but I haven’t really participated (certainly not as much as I would have liked), having only raced a couple of road relays.
So my track debut was very overdue.
As regular readers will know, I haven’t posted a blog since February as I again succumbed to another injury – this time the right knee – mainly through my own over zealous training error.
So it’s been a slow and very patient return to running.
In many ways this race came far too soon in my training return as I have only just begun a 14 week program to take me through to the Great North Run in September 2021. And this race came at the end of week 2(!) and is only my second week of running approx 25 miles per week!
So my running training load is very low. But I was keen to give the track a go and see how things are over a race distance I am familiar with, on the roads at least. I aim to use the information from the race to inform my training going forwards.
I have posted a couple of YouTube videos for those interested in hearing more. The first is here – a general introduction to my Great North Run half marathon training plan.
The second (here) talks about my expectations going into my 5000m track debut. I plan to get more active on YouTube so please watch, like, comment and subscribe!
In summary, I felt I was at best in shape to run 17:30ish. This was based both on my current VO2 max as predicted by Garmin and my Stryd power meter running data, although some extrapolation was required on both fronts.
My current Garmin VO2 Max rating is 58 which predicts 17:43 for 5k.
Now I know a lot of people are sceptical about the VO2 max ratings on Garmin.
However, I’ve now been using Garmin for many years and feel the watch is fairly well calibrated to my own physiology. Critical to this is an accurate maximum heart rate reading. I have mine currently set to 192bpm which I feel is pretty accurate for me.
The only potential issue is that my low training volume means that my aerobic fitness is lower than normal whereas my top end (ability to run a fast 400-1600m) is probably still there or thereabouts. So I have to believe I am fitter than 58 VO2 Max.
Another indicator I am now using is based on power data from the Stryd foot pod which is essentially a running power meter. Power meters are much more prevalent in cycling but Stryd are making strides(!) in this new area for runners.
I like this alternative view as a contrast to Garmin although I feel the pod is still learning about me, given I have been injured and running low mileage recently (the pod needs as much varied running data as possible from the last 90 days to give accurate forecasts).
Going into the race my Critical Power (this is the threshold at which the dominant type of fatigue your body experiences changes) was 332W with a predicted 5k time of 18:58. The prediction was based on a forecast average power for 5k of 342W. You will note that 5k predicted power is 10 watts higher than Critical Power.
Although I’ve never raced a 5k since getting the foot pod in November 2020 I felt confident that I could hold more than 342W for the distance. That said, this race was a chance to wear the foot pod in a competitive situation, give it a good go and see what came out of it.
In preparation for the race I completed some very light workouts (light in terms of volume) on grass wearing my Saucony spikes which I planned to wear on the track.
The key workout was 4x 580m (one lap of Kenton Dene on grass) with rest allowing heart rate to return to 120bpm – Strava link here.
As a general rule this recovery was to last no longer than 90 seconds. If it took longer the workout would cease.
As it happened I completed the workout although the recovery was tight going into the last rep.
The efforts were generally around 3:20/km pace. This was pretty much the pace of my 5km road PB (16:44 ran in 2017).
Usually what this means is I could probably run around that pace for 5km. However, the key to running a good 5km is speed endurance.
That comes from consistent training load, a consistent long run, threshold work and some 5k race pace work to put the cherry on the cake. I didn’t have any of these in my locker really (other than the light session described above) going into this race so in many ways I’d be relying on muscle memory to get anywhere near to 16:44.
I arrived at Monkton Stadium in good time to pick up my race number. The facilities are excellent with a gravel track outside the stadium to warm up.
Conditions were perfect, a little muggy but the sun was starting to show and really nothing to be concerned about.
I jogged about 4 laps of the gravel track, about 2km in 10mins or so. I then ran some 20 second strides (5 in total) with full recovery. Everything felt fine, I didn’t worry about the pace of the strides. It was pretty warm and it didn’t take much to feel ready for the race.
I made my way through to the stadium.
It felt exciting to be running a track race for the first time. I felt nervous which was good. I put the spikes on and waited to be called for the race.
It definitely felt like the sun was coming out stronger just in time for the off. In the end there were only 7 men running the V35-49 race and I didn’t really recognise any of my competitors both in terms of which were in my age category or indeed what they were capable of 5k time wise.
With hindsight this would have been useful to know. That said, my main goal was to experience a track 5000 and find out where I was at with a full effort very early in my training cycle. So I didn’t worry about the competition except for the loose aim to sit in off the front pack.
After some formalities from the officials the gun went and we were underway.
Quite quickly 3 of the lads were at the front and I sat in behind another lad but we were swiftly a little adrift.
I continued to sit in for a lap or two (maybe 3?) feeling OK until the point I felt like we were losing too much ground too quickly to the front three.
I decided to overtake what I now know to have been the 3rd V40 in the race (the front 3 consisted of 1 V35 and 2 V40s). It took a little acceleration down the home straight which was slightly wind assisted. I’m not sure how many laps were to go but I’d guess 8 or 9.
I don’t regret it and I was able to keep a slight advantage over my V40 bronze medal competition for quite a few laps. But I was never able to break away. He was always there and breathing quite heavily. This meant I thought he would drop off if I kept it honest. Meanwhile, my idea of also trying to bridge the gap to the front 3 was all but gone as the distance had grown too great.
I started to notice a slight dread at the number of laps remaining. The officials had a board counting down at the end of each lap. Although the laps were going by quite swiftly I still had 6 laps to go and it didn’t take a mathematician to work out there was still pretty much half way to go.
I managed to maintain my 4th place position and just tried to focus on my breathing and stride rate. I wasn’t referring to my watch at all. I was taking note of the official reading out total race time each lap. He seemed to be positioned at the start line but I didn’t entirely know what the times meant in relation to distance completed.
Indeed it only meant something on the very last lap and aided the push to the end…
Meanwhile my nearest competitor was hanging on gamely and I sensed myself slowing. I couldn’t help but consider I was lacking strength endurance. I didn’t necessarily think I’d gone too hard too soon. But I definitely felt like he was readying to overtake…
I did resist this a few times by relaxing a little and just increasing cadence slightly. But I did succumb to the challenge with about 2 or 3 laps remaining.
In being overtaken I allowed myself to reveal the full extent of my tiredness… Letting go of quiet, controlled breathing and letting it be known I was gasping for air!!!
I stayed in touch until the very end but in my heart of hearts I never seriously contemplated getting back in front. I turned my attention to my finishing time and trying to avoid complete capitulation. I knew when I got to the last lap it was in the bag. Yes the last lap would hurt but the risk of completely blowing up would be averted. And I sensed a chance to sneak under 17 minutes based on the times I had heard being read out.
Coming down the home straight I was able to pick up. I simply closed my eyes, holding on, only opening them in the hope that I was closer and closer to the finish.
Getting over the line was a relief and the Garmin watch time of 17.01 was pleasing. I finished 3 seconds behind 3rd place in the V40 race which was a shame and certainly it isn’t inconceivable to think that a bronze medal was possible with a little more fortitude when it came to the crunch in the last third of the race.
I am planning to post a YouTube video with my full post race reflections so I will not go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that I was correct in my feeling that both the Garmin and Stryd apps were under estimating what I could run.
Very interestingly my Garmin watch kept my VO2 max reading at 58 despite the race registering at 5,080m and an average HR of 161bpm. Unfortunately my heart rate data is unreliable in the early part of the race and only kicked in the second half. But having ran 17 minutes flat for 5km, the VO2 Max rating should be more like 60.
My heart rate topped out at 192bpm at the end of the race meaning I am confident in using that as a reasonable and perhaps conservative figure. This ensures the Garmin VO2 Max reading remains honest and also means any improvement in training should be genuine.
The Stryd data on the other hand has registered the performance with my Critical Power rating jumping from 332W to 371W.
My predicted half marathon time has improved to around 1 hour 18 minutes which is a great step in the right direction this early in my Great North Run training plan.
And with that I move onwards and upwards!
Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or questions I would love to hear from you! Happy running!