Race Report: Romsey 5 Mile Run (2017 edition)

The Romsey 5 Mile Run seems to be my traditional first race of the year. Organised by Offbeat Events, the race consists of three short laps (plus an additional straight out and back section halfway through the third lap) on the Broadlands estate in Romsey, Hampshire. It’s where the Queen spent her honeymoon (Broadlands, not the race) and it is a very pleasant, if somewhat uninspiring race. Whilst I’m not a fan of laps, it does at least breed familiarity.

I haven’t really “run” since the Valencia 10k in November when a hip injury meant I limped around the course and then took several weeks out after. Since then, I’ve turned up for a few tracks sessions with Guildford & Godalming AC and have steadily subjected myself to a mix of swimming, strength and conditioning work, and a number of treadmill runs. I haven’t been out and run, though.

My plan was to bimble along and see what I could do.  A field of 672 made for a slow start and the first two miles were spent trapped in small crowds and dashing around people. It did mean that I couldn’t misjudge my starting pace which allowed a steady increase as I progressed. The second half of each lap has a more uneven surface and a noticeable camber, possibly only because the course feels so perfectly flat for the most part that you notice very slight changes! This made for trying to overtake slightly more annoying during this part of the course.

By the time I was completing the second lap, the frontrunners were speeding past us, the winner finishing in 25:42. Despite repeated shouts, a lot of runners didn’t really seem to comprehend instructions to “keep left” and hampered faster runners. Shortly after the 3-mile marker, I attempted to have some water at the first water station and promptly poured most of it down myself (cannot wait to see my race photos…).  As I wasn’t concerned about time, I took the opportunity to pause at the second water station. Cups, they somehow baffle and outwit me every time. With only the second half of the final lap to go, I tried to keep my pace fairly measured until the finish line was in sight. Looking at watch data, it seems I really reigned myself in before a steady acceleration with a few hundred metres to go.

My chip time was 51:13, so somewhere between 3:30 and 4 minutes slower than last year. Despite that, I think I ran better today than last year. I’m currently about 14lbs heavier than I was for this race in 2016 and I am uncomfortably aware of the excess. Last year I was midway through a dedicated regimen of Sunday long slow runs in the approach to Bath Half; a practice that has been dropped while I desperately try to rehabilitate my hip. In 2016 I raced, struggled to hold a steady pace and found it difficult. This year I held back, purposefully keeping my breath steady and controlled throughout. I tried to stay aware of my hip and my form.

Could I have run faster today; almost certainly, but gains made in running aren’t just about speed. All in all, I’m happy with today’s performance. I think I mitigated a surprising amount of damage to my result given how different my circumstances are from last year.

Romsey 5 Mile Run – Is it worth it?

Offbeat Events must be given huge credit; they have only improved a race I already thought of fondly. A greatly improved medal, a new finisher’s t-shirt, a near automatic text with my chip time, live web results. It all made the event feel bigger than it is. At the same time, it hasn’t lost anything that makes it feel such a local, homely event.  Local clubs still play a prominent part. A man with a microphone still shouts your number as you finish and enthuses about how well you’ve done. The goodie bag is reassuringly standard and devoid of rubbish: water, banana, Haribo, medal, t-shirt; a flyer to the Romsey 5 Mile Beer race handed to you separately. Should that appeal, there are still places in their Winchester 10km Road Race in February.

I have every intention to keep up my tradition of making Romsey 5 Mile my first race of the year and will drag more people with me each year.

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London Calling – Vitality London 10,000

Oh hi there readers, long time no see. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed there have been very few (read, zero) posts for a while now. I haven’t been running and I also haven’t been feeling too anxious, so there’s not been much to write about. Never fear, that’s all about to change.

Remember that time I was really sick at Bath Half? My running never really recovered from it. It turned into a couple of months  of misery, feeling breathless, sick, faint, and slow every time I ran and after several doctor’s appointments was diagnosed as an arrhythmia. So that explains a lot. This had not been the case when I signed up for a bank holiday weekend of racing, and convinced several friends they really wanted to do that too, and so I turned up to run a 10k, having not covered the distance in weeks on end and having lost a lot of (read, nearly all) aerobic fitness.

I was supposed to run the Westminster Mile on the Sunday but ended up staying out on the Saturday night so promptly wrote that off. I still love wine more than running. At 7am on a bank holiday Monday – an hour earlier than I get up for work – I was struggling to eat some toast and commiserating with friends via text about being awake. Thankfully, nobody seemed to quite remember at this point that it was entirely my fault we were doing this.

I met TeamPaella (or, friends I’m running in Valencia with this winter, to the uninitiated) in Green Park and was immediately a bit surprised by the scale of the operation.

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TeamPaella

I live in London but hadn’t appreciated what a large event the Vitality London 10,000 is. As a side note, just how many races do Vitality want to sponsor? It feels like a lot of my year was supposed to be sponsored by Vitality until I had to miss a couple of races. It was a surprisingly chilly day (although I still nearly boiled while running, as is my way, despite shorts) and so we delayed heading to bag drop and having to cast off layers for as long as possible. And that’s how we ended up with a lot of pre-race selfies.

I actually found it to be a relatively bland route. It’s essentially a narrow loop from Pall Mall to the City and back, and aside from running through Trafalgar Square close to the beginning, and the last km starting with the Houses of Parliament and finishing with Buckingham Palace, I don’t find it very inspiring. I suspect some of the London magic is lost on me considering the City end of the loop is really just my lunchtime wanderings (we in fact were within <100m of my office at one point). I can’t fault the support and entertainment all the way along the route however, I don’t think there was a quiet point on the course.

I crossed the finish line in 1:04:30, which is a good 8 minutes away from my PB. A lot of me is sad and frustrated. A smaller part of me recognises that this really is fairly reasonable, given how much time I’ve had off. I was purposefully very cautious during the race both in terms of my pacing and building in a lot of walking because I was concerned about actually finishing, so I’m hoping13315358_10154282147228307_934729089664403536_n now that I’ve broken through the psychological barrier of completing the distance again, I can start picking up some speed. I was rewarded for my efforts with some fairly excellent supersize bling, a finisher’s shirt that I actually like and might use (rarity!) and a goodie bag which included food and suncream (those who follow me on Twitter will know I’m militant about the sun). I sped through the most efficient bag collection I’ve known, and returned to Green Park to meet everyone who helpfully loitered despite all finishing about 15 minutes before me. It’s okay, they passed the time taking photos with their medals, they were happily occupied. Didn’t even notice I was gone.

We eventually met some of the others of the ukrunchat crowd (after much milling around letter B of the charity stands desperately trying to spot people in the crowd) and headed to the pub; a happy end a delightful bank holiday weekend.

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Feet don’t fail me now, take me to the finish line

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On Sunday morning, following not quite 5 hours of sleep, I woke up and headed to Bath for the Bath Half Marathon. I was incredibly nervous. This was my first ever half marathon and I hadn’t quite hit the distance in training. This was also the biggest race I’ve ever been part of. Sticking to 5ks, 5-milers and 10ks means I’ve never been part of a pack of 15,000 and I’m somewhat claustrophobic. Getting there early meant I was at the front of the final starting pen and had some breathing space for the hour pre-race. The only time the crowds really affected me was on the occasions where I looked back and saw the tide of people behind me, and then feeding back through into the runner’s village to collect medals at the very end. It’s safe to say that I prefer smaller races for my comfort levels but I’m also absolutely sure I wouldn’t have made it to the end had it not been for the crowd support.

12814144_10154063272878307_2090980128523154213_nIt was about 10 degrees and bright sunshine for the duration of the whole race. This isn’t hot weather by any means – it’s actually probably as close to my favoured running conditions as it’s possible to be, but it was decidedly more pleasant than I had been counting on in mid-March. My chest, upper arms and forehead are all showing a touch of sunburn (the perils of being ghostly pale) and plenty of people around the course were commiserating about being warmer than expected. The ultimate way to send my mind spinning off into meltdown? Diverge from my best laid plans.

During last summer’s heatwave in London, I ran 5km on the hottest day of the year when the temperatures hit 36C. I’m not averse to heat. But I wasn’t planning on it, and I’ve just trained through a long rainy winter. I drink a lot of water anyway – a lifetime of migraines has made me live in fear of dehydration – and I don’t even think about water for anything less than a 10km. Even for longer runs, I pop my credit card in my shorts pocket and get a drink if and when I feel I need it. On Sunday, I was unreasonably panicked by how hot I felt after only 3km, a mix of nerves and the glorious weather and at the first water station I practically inhaled a bottle of water I didn’t really need. Rookie error. I knew that. Shortly after the 6km mark, I was sick. Having never had much grace or dignity to start with, my main concern was that if I was seen, someone would tell me I had to stop running.

I picked myself up, cut my pace right down and trudged on. Around the 8km mark, my left hip flexor started to niggle. It’s been playing up a little bit on my longer runs recently but I’ve never known it to hurt so early on before, definitely something I need to address sooner rather than later. I suspect post-sickness my form was really suffering which probably didn’t help matters. By the end of race, picking my left leg up was agony and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I suddenly discovered I could barely walk. Funny what the body forces itself through when it knows it “has” to. It did make 2/3 of the race extremely uncomfortable and I didn’t really need any extra misery!

My 10km time was 1:15:03. I knew then just what dire straits I was in. Even on my long slow runs, I hit 10km at just under the hour mark. Not even halfway through and mentally I was just beaten. From there on, it was only about the very possibility of finishing. Any plans for a time were long destroyed and there was no hope of recovering. I really started to worry that I wouldn’t make it through the race.

At 12km, not long after starting the second loop of Bath, I spotted my friends in the crowd. Slightly over halfway through the worst run of my life, there’s a tiny blip in my Garmin data, where my pace suddenly and briefly hits 4:13/km as I sprinted across the course to high-five them both. The second loop was hard, I ran/walked the entire way. At 18km, I was sick again, I think probably just from exhaustion at that point. At 19km, I sat down at the side of the road and cried for a bit. At that moment, with only 2km left to run, it seemed so impossible that I would actually finish. I dragged my feet, alternating running and walking in about 300m bursts, I didn’t have enough left to manage anything more. As I rounded the corner on to Great Pulteney Street and saw the finish line, my pace climbed and climbed again. I saw my parents in the crowd, I spotted my friends slightly further along the straight and I ran.

After collecting my medal and finisher’s shirt, I phoned my parents and genuinely cried down the phone like a lost child as I tried to find my way back to the Abbey to meet them. I was really truly broken. Yet more proof that I can’t cope with exhaustion.

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Sprinting for the finish (out of sheer relief)

My chip time ended up being 2:38:34, a good 30 minutes slower than I had expected/hoped for. A lot of weaving about meant that I covered more additional distance than I usually manage over the course of a race and the Garmin clocked me hitting half marathon distance at 2:36:18. Either way, the whole thing was a hard knock. As I joked (not at all joking) to several friends yesterday, why be proud of what you’ve achieved when there’s the opportunity to relentlessly punish yourself for not being better? I’ve written before that this is a constant issue in my running (and life), and the worse the day, the harsher I am.

Cdc51bmWoAQkPYOThe key here is that I still ran it. Whilst it wasn’t a good time, it’s a bloody good time considering that it involves stopping to be sick twice, sitting down to cry, and running 15km of it on empty – no fuel, minimal hydration. If I can manage that, I should have no problems running the distance on a better day.

So. Bath was a bad race. They happen; the fact that it was my first half is sad, but they happen. I have 8 weeks until Run Hackney (with a 10km between now and then). Training for a half, from a half, should (theoretically) be reasonably straightforward. I know I can cover that distance now, even when I feel awful. I’ll be factoring in some glute strengthening to try and sort out this hip issue. Lighter, warmer evenings should result in a more positive attitude to training. At Hackney, I’ll be crossing the line in the time I know I’m capable of.

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Medal #2 of 2016