So almost two months has passed since the Northern 12 stage relays on 24th March.
Since then we had the disappointment of not being able to put out a Tyne Bridge Harriers team in the National 12 stage relays on 6th April. I managed to slightly offset that disappointment by running a parkrun PB at Newcastle on the same day instead. That said, I was gutted when I crossed the line and saw 16:43 as I felt like I’d smashed it, not merely taking off 4 seconds from my previous best!
But if you can’t enjoy a PB, no matter how small, you have to ask yourself why you are on the journey…
Unfortunately in the background was an ear and sinus issue which wasn’t clearing and looking at my training diary I was starting to slip into pushing the pace too hard in training, perhaps an unnecessary panic, overreaching.
This came to a crescendo on Monday 8 April and Tuesday 9. Below are my training diary entries for those days –
8/4/19 10 miles easy @ 6:47/mile (1hr 7m 51s) – felt v. strong
9/4/19 TBH session – Pyramid (1min/2min/4min/6min/4min/2min/1min with half recoveries. 4.88 miles in 30mins (6:09/mile pace)
The TBH session was undoubtedly my best ever session where I found myself running just off the fast lads at the club that night. The pace of the efforts were low 5 minute miling except the 2nd 4 minute effort where fatigue and a slight headwind kicked in.
And yet something didn’t feel right – sore throat and run down. I realised it’s no good running PB sessions, I need PB races and I was starting to feel exhausted and not recovering as well as I had been. The left ear got worse to the point where I was partially deaf come Thursday 11th.
A trip to the walk-in centre revealed a completely blocked ear and tonsilitis.
I took 3 days rest and then continued my over zealous approach to play catch up and try to maintain a minimum of a 40 mile week. So on Sunday 14th April I ran a total of 14.8 miles split am and pm with 6.6 miles in 40 minutes part of that. Again, over zealous and unneccessary.
Things continued in the same vain the following week.
By now I’d had my ear syringed which felt like literally a weight off my shoulders. But I was still over training at least in terms of pace and was forced to take 2 rest days that week. On Saturday 20th I ran 10 miles in 1hr 7mins with two 20 minute segments based on HR, building to just under threshold. Although pace was thereabouts where I would expect (based on my Newcastle parkrun at the start of the month) it felt over taxing for less than LTHR. I put it down to the unseasonal hot temperatures that day (>20 degrees C) and the fact I was still flushing out some kind of an infection.
Coming into the last week or so of April I finally realised something needed to change – I needed to slow down.
The final straw came on Thursday 25th April with an attempted threshold. Although I managed 3.5 miles in 20mins (5:46/mile) pace it felt insanely difficult. Admittedly I’d gone through the first mile far too hard (5:3x) but I was barely hanging onto 6 minute miling in the last 5 mins. And I felt like collapsing in a heap on the ground, not how you should feel after a “comfortably hard” effort. I recalled floating around the same course without a car in the world only a few months earlier, running a 16:3x 5k unplanned.
At this point I was kicking myself and licking my wounds. Why had I ended up in this position when I’d already found the real key to my training in November 2018?
So the entry in my training log on 26th April stated *Bring back Van Aaken! Inspired by Ed Whitlock! If in doubt, slow down! Run to time. Aim is to increase Heart Rate Reserve.
Since that day I’ve been training to heart rate and time, keeping HR below 140bpm where possible. This has led to training paces in the range 7:30-8:45 and a solid 56 mile week coming into early May. To be honest, however, I was still feeling throaty leading up to my next race at the North East Masters Athletics Association (NEMAA) relays on 1st May.
I wasn’t feeling “thirsty” for a race and, making my way on the metro from Newcastle to Jarrow, I felt over tired after a day at work. To be fair I’m yet to feel good before a race. I find it very hard to avoid negative thoughts and the only real way of ensuring fight rather than flight is to just say to myself “just do your best”.
My lack of confidence had led me to turn down the offer of running first leg and with the benefit of hindsight I regretted it as I believe it would have enabled me to run faster as there was a decent race on.
As it was I picked up 2nd leg in a decent position from Paul Turnbull. I was able to pick up two positions in the first half mile but the rest of the race was solo.
Unfortunately the course doesn’t suit me as there are too many sharp 90 degree turns which kill momentum. Looking at my Strava data post race I felt I was able to run well on the long straights but lost too much time on the corners.
Coming into the 2nd lap I felt good and picked up as much as I could. The position in front was too far ahead but I received some welcome support from the TBHers out on the course and finished very strongly.
Pleasingly my time of 10:07 was 16s faster than my outing on the same course for Elswick Harriers in 2016 and 15s quicker than the 10:22 in 2017. So I had to take the positives and to top it off our third leg Justin secured a bronze medal for the team in the 35-44 age group.
But waking up the next day I felt wasted again, with the sore throat flaring up in the afternoon. So another forced rest day whereas I would have expected at least a little recovery run.
The throat persisted on Friday so I kept it very easy with just over 6 mile at 8:30 pace.
Then came Saturday and it will go down in legend for the strangest but most satisfying (and enlightening) day of training I have ever partaken in.
Ideally I wanted to at least repeat my 2hr+ long run of the 27th April, admittedly only covering 16.1 miles in the process. But given I hadn’t felt great the previous two days I put that to one side. As it happened I had a completely free day and night and knew I could rest up with no plans until Sunday lunch time.
Anyone who has read Ernst Van Aakens book will know well the chapter titled “Training for the future” where he envisages the training a young student runner would need to do to run incredible times from 5k (12.45!) through to the marathon (1.55!). It includes multiple outings spread across the day and into the night, and totally around 40km for each day!
Although I didn’t want to repeat that, I did manage the following –
- Run 1, 9am – 4.2 miles in 36:05
- Run 2, noon – 5.1 miles in 42:09
- Run 3, 3pm – 4.7 miles in 36:08
- Run 4, 7pm – 6.2 miles in 46:30
A total of just over 20 miles for the day and unbelievably I felt remarkably fresh with each run feeling stronger and stronger. I felt bloody good for a change!
I also got out for a 4 mile jog on the Sunday to round off a 57 mile week. I felt like the tide was turning in my favour and thoughts turned to the Gordon Smith 2 mile relay on Wednesday the next week…
On Bank Holiday Monday (6th May) I decided to get some speed into the legs without taxing the cardiovascular system overly. So I completed 4x downhill 800m reps at 2:30, 2:23, 2:23 and 2:26. Felt strong. This was advice taken from Dr Phil Maffetone – it is possible to get some speed work in without killing yourself on the track. Only word of caution is it can bring soreness to the quads if you are not used to running hard downhill. But this session came into play well at the Gordon Smiths in the second mile.
On Tuesday I ran an early 5k slow (8:19 pace) and a PM 5 miles slow (8:00 pace).
I decided against an early morning jog on the day of the race like I had done a week earlier, taking an extra hour in bed instead. Unfortunately the weather was grim all day and showed no signs of improvement, if anything getting worse (wind and rain) as myself and fellow TBHer (and team mate in the B team) Michael Hedley arrived at the course.
Yet again I felt less than tip top and felt pretty cold having not really prepared kit wise for what felt like a wet winter evening. The benefit of racing a bit more often is to get used to feeling a certain way. I am a negative thinker pre race, coming up with every reason available as to why tonight may not go well. But I’ve come to know that when I get on the start line I will be ready.
Running the last third leg it was a little difficult to judge when to get on the start line. I’d ran, for me, a nice long (>20mins) 2.7 mile warm up but it was completed before Michael had even gone off in Leg 1. So I was starting to cool down again quite quickly.
I trotted about a bit bumping into our 2nd leg Vet runner John Hurse and former Jesmond Jogger team mate Scott Armstrong (now running for Heaton Harriers). Finally I decided to get on with it and stripped down to racing gear and made my way over the starting pen.
The atmosphere was quite pensive and I heard utterances of “this is going to hurt”. I even heard Morpeth running legend Jim Alders telling the Morpeth lads “its going to hurt” and to “take the best racing line”.
I was standing in some very good company – as well as about 3 or 4 Morpeth lads, young running sensation Sam Charlton of Wallsend Harriers was limbering up as well as the likes of Zack Wylie (Gosforth) and James Meader (Heaton). I felt the adrenaline starting to build.
It felt like a very long wait, just trying to keep warm as the rain continued.
The TBH A team came in right up there in the mix for medals, then Lewis Timmins of Morpeth set off in front of me and then in came team mate John and I was off. I missed the start button on my watch which was a bit of a distraction but I was quickly into stride and gaining ground on Lewis.
Getting to the first left hander I was right behind Lewis but Sam Charlton had already gone by seemingly running about 30s per mile faster(!) than we were and Zack Wylie was on my shoulder as well. Before long Karl Taylor of Morpeth was also in the group and I tried to just focus on being competitive in this company. It would have been easy to feel somehow unworthy but here I was heading towards halfway and competing well.
Shortly after the mile Lewis had picked up somewhat and had opened up a gap which Zack had filled and Karl Taylor also went in front. I tried not to panic just yet but the pace was picking up up the slight incline. I was glad I knew the course here and so I knew we were close to a prolonged downhill. I cast my mind back to the aforementioned downhill 800s I’d done on Monday and just tried to replicate that feeling of 4:45-4:50 pace downhill. It felt light and attainable on Monday and, although I wasn’t aware of my pace here, I felt pretty strong both in my breathing and in my legs. Could I push on?
A little earlier, just before the brow of the hill, I’d received some much needed support from Michael and Tom Charlton that helped give me some impetus that put me back ahead of Karl Taylor and felt like I could also get back close to Zack and Lewis.
At the bottom of the hill the positions were unchanged and I knew the end was drawing near. I was sitting in 6th with a chance of 5th or 4th but also the continued risk of 7th. Of course it was hurting but I also felt strong (I believe) from the recent focus on easy, aerobic running in training.
There was a sharp left hander to contend with and footing was slippy due to the conditions. The ground into the finish was less than ideal. The four of us were running a similar pace and as I rounded the final corner into the finishing straight I tried to summon a sprint finish.
The crowd was loud here but it took me a while to pick up to top effort. I couldn’t close down on the lads in front and Karl had gotten into full flight a bit sooner. I afforded myself a quick look over my left shoulder and his proximity pushed me to an even greater effort, maintaining 6th place.
I crossed the line in 10:21 which was a 13s improvement on the course from my 2016 run for Elswick Harriers where we finished in second place.
Overall it was great to feel the racing adrenaline again and I think this is the first race I’ve had an opportunity to actually compete with a really good group for a prolonged period (albeit 10mins of running), each of us encouraging the others to keep pushing on.
And it makes me hungry for more race experiences like this…
Thanks for reading.