Dad: “How far is tonight’s race, then?”
Me: “In terms of distance? It’s a 5k.”
[He doesn’t understand a single thing about running, nor is he overly interested, if truth be told.]
Dad: “Oh, that’s alright. I’m glad it’s not some silly distance. That should be easy for you, then!”
[My heart sinks a little, as I can’t be bothered to explain to him that I’m more nervous about tonight’s 5k race than I would be if it were a ten miler.]
Me: “Yeah. I guess.”
He has no idea. Why would he? The usual non-runner’s understanding of running is something like this: Running further = harder. WRONG!!!!
For a long while, that was MY understanding of running. Hey, if I get fitter, I can run further! It’s a simplistic, naive, and – rather stupid – view. Oh, and it’s wrong. It’s as simple as that.
I’ve fallen foul of my own ignorance for years. I’ve run marathons at the same pace (there or thereabouts) as I have Parkruns, for God’s sake! I’ve done the first twenty miles of the London Marathon in 7 min/miles. And yet, my current average 5k time is around 21 minutes (avg 6:45 min/miles.)
So, for me, the 5k distance is my nemesis. I hate it. Why do I hate it so much? Because it’s bloody hard: that’s why.
Over the last three weeks, me and Gav have completed the John Carr 5k race series. It was held on three consecutive Wednesday nights, over at Apperley Bridge (just emerging out of the arse hole of the country, encompassing the Drive Through Hell.) To get there was at best, uninspiring, and at worst – fucking depressing.
A full day at work + manufacturing childcare logistics + an hour’s journey along the Road To Hell at rush hour = Losing the will to live way before the race even began.
And let me tell you, in terms of the ‘logistics’ of even getting to the start line for this race, it’s made me question my humanity, my sanity and every other reason as to WHY I put myself through this, just to arrive at the start of a 5k race: a distance I hate – unequivocally.
Q: Why bother then?
A: Because I need to.
I’ve fallen foul of running too many miles over the same pace. My ‘slow’ has never really been slow enough, and my ‘fast’ has never really been fast enough. The result? Unbelievable running economy, with comparably shit VO2 Max capacity. So, I’ve been TOLD I need to run my slow slower, and my fast, faster. Simple in theory, but hard in practice.
And so the John Carr 5k race series. I’ve done it over the subsequent three years now. They’ve changed the route this year, which means the 5k PB potential is no longer virtually guaranteed. The route is tougher, without a doubt. I had fears over my potential this year, having suffered from overtraining earlier in the year (post Dubai marathon) and some silly training & racing decisions which subsequently kicked off a calf injury. It all cumulated in a poor run of form, and an understandable loss of confidence.
I couldn’t get excited about it. I willed my adrenalin to kick in and come to my rescue, but it went AWOL. I NEEDED it to come and permeate my cells, and make my body respond with SPEED. Fight or Flight. This is that time. I need you now! It never came. Instead, I just stood on the start line, the gun went off, and I tried. I tried my very best with what I had on the day, after the journey from hell through Islamabad. Outcome? A not unrespectable 20:55. I was helped enormously by a girl who raced me right to the finish. About 3.5k in, she turned to me and said “Are you a marathon runner?” I gasped, and looked over “Erm, far more so than I am a 5k runner, that’s for sure!” I ploughed on, willing her to drop back, but she held on to me for the remaining 1.5k. I credit her with my semi-reasonable time for Race 1.
The journey through Killinghall almost killed me. Stressed after a day at work, I couldn’t even bring myself to consider why I was driving through a toilet just to get to this race. There was no possible reprieve for me, other than to say “it would do me good.” Hmmm. Worse still, my confidence was at an all time low after blowing up at Leeds Half marathon only three days before. I’d messed up big style, and at the same time it really messed with my head. I decided to set off slightly more conservatively, with the hope that I could maintain some consistency over the 3 miles. That turned out to cost me quite significantly, as my low confidence + tired legs from the Leeds Half disaster + ‘conservative’ pace resulted in a less-than-ideal 21:15. However, I was simply relieved to get over the line. I’d managed that much, at least. (Oh, and remember the girl who helped me in Race 1? She kicked my arse this week.)
Me: “Gav, I really don’t know if I’m going to bother going to the third John Carr race. I don’t know what it’s going to do for me, other than piss me off having to drive through a crevice of society that I don’t wish to acknowledge as being a reality.”
Gav: “That’s fine. I’m going along anyway, but I totally understand, Rach.”
An email came through that evening. It said:
“You are currently in a trophy winning position in the F35 category in John Carr race series. We hope you will be able to stay on after race 3 for the prize presentation.”
Me: “Shit, Gav. I’m going to have to go, now. There’s virtually no chance of me getting anything, but I can’t duck out now. I’ve got to go, and at least see what I can do… Fucking hell.”
We turned up. Again. The drive was nauseating. Again. But it was the last one – we had that small comfort, at the very least.
I set off, and I ran. What else could I do? Just run like merry hell, and keep on running until it ends. Is there any more to think about and analyse than that? I felt better than I had the week before. I was keeping pace with a girl I knew from Harrogate Harriers: she’d left me for dead for both of the two weeks’ previous encounters. I was with her for the first 2k, at least. Also, the other lass who I’d just held off in Race 1 (and who’d steamed past me in Race 2) was nowhere to be seen. I had her in check. This time, there was a NEW nemesis on the scene. Kezzy Roo from Halifax Harriers. She came up on me around 2.5k, and she stuck to me like glue. Shit. Where’s she come from? I knew I could keep pushing on, and so – just like in Race 1 – I did exactly that. I held on, and I kept ploughing forward, willing the finish line to meet me half way. It didn’t. I just managed to keep her at bay, even when the swarm of Halifax Harriers Support Crew came into full throttle, willing her to take me in the home straight. Not today, sorry Kez! (Great run, though. You’d have kicked me into touch the week before, without a doubt!)
My time: 20:48
We hung around for the results. Did I manage – against all odds – to take a F35 category prize? Disappointingly, no. With only SECONDS between us, my nemesis from Race 2 had just beaten me into third place, and so I walked away with nothing but my own satisfaction at having faced the entire trilogy of this godforsaken racing distance, and I’d done some ‘quality’ fast miles, at the very least.
So, 5ks then – yeah, they’re a doddle for me, Dad…