Front of the start line this time. I wasn’t getting caught like DanR and I did last time. We had a previous sub16 attempt go wrong at this race getting boxed in around the 400m lap of the track that the race takes before heading out onto the walkways and roads of Wythenshawe Park.
The gun went I took off. Don’t get boxed in, don’t get boxed in. 300m into the race and I realised I wasn’t going to get boxed in – I was tucked in right behind the leaders. A pack of about 10. Whoa tiger, being in the company of quality runners like Jonny Mellor was not on the program and was a sure way to ruin my race. But I felt good, so no need to panic. I felt smooth, I focused on not being stupid in either direction pace-wise. This was quick and that was fine.
We turned out of the stadium and set off on the first of the two big loops. The group ahead was gone but a thinner group of runners was all around me. What a change from my recent 5000 track exploits (pre-amble below refers) where not only was I at the back of the field but I was separated within the first km, effectively time trialling the rest of the way in last place. Humbling but a damn good way to condition yourself. Not tonight Josephine. There were runners with me and they were moving quickly. I latched onto one who seemed controlled at speed. Hang onto him for another km and see.
First kay marker loomed large. I looked at my watch. 3:07. Excellent. Not suicidal but not giving myself loads to do later on. Anything under 3:12 would get me close enough to do what was needed in the final km. The first km is always for free so I knew the second split meant a lot more.
Second kay marker. 6:18. A 3:11 km. Worrying. But I still had lots of running in me. Use it now I told myself. Don’t wait for the final km and find you have tons left. Another runner passed me and my unofficial pacer. In a snap decision I moved wide and followed him. We moved smoothly past the pacer. Now it felt fast. It felt like I was burning matches here. This would cost me later on. But fuck it I wasn’t going to be fucked by the middle kilometres of a 5k yet again.
We barrelled through the 3km marker in 9:22. Haysus. That was a 3:04. Now this shit was real. I had in the palm of my hand not only a sub16 but something significantly quicker. Don’t spew this opportunity all over the place you big sissy. The guy I was hanging onto was moving too quickly now. Don’t let him go yet. Get another km, fuck, half a km, whatever you can.
We hurtled back into the park now, deep into the second lap. Lapping people I noticed Cath up ahead. I was catching her earlier than I normally do on this route. It confirmed I was running quick because I suspected she was on a good one too (she was – 27:56 for her first sub28 since the accident. Well done babe!). I heard her shout encouragement as we passed. It gave me a boost. Don’t lose this guy while she can still see me I thought, how embarrassing.
We hit 4k in 12:34. 34! I had 26 seconds to spare going into the final km to get under 16 minutes. 16 was a done deal. Could I break 15:50? Shit could I break 15:40?? I know this final kilometre backwards. I know when to open the throttle, when to conserve the tiniest bit. I was going to do this. But things were also getting tough now. Really tough. My pacer was too strong, a gap was appearing. I couldn’t close it but we were catching a group of 3 or 4 who were tying up. I got a boost passing them, my guy was long gone. Now back into the stadium and onto the track for the final 200m. I heard someone closing me down, I picked up my pace. Hurting like fuck we hit the final 100, I could see the clock. Jeez it was in the 15:teens, then 15:20’s. I had less than a hundred to go. The guy behind was closing, I told myself he was an M40 too and was about to pass me for the win. That was all I needed to kick even harder and hold him off. Turns out the M40 winner was 3 seconds ahead of both of us, but hey ho, needs must to get a sprint out of the legs.
Threw myself over the line at full pelt, forgetting momentarily to stop my watch. When I did it said 15:41.
I knew the official time would be quicker but this was enough. I had done it. not only done it but destroyed it.
Fifteen Thirty Seven
Without a shadow of doubt the best performance of my life. It still hasn’t sunk in yet.
The pre-amble. Aka Where did this run come from?
No one likes a pre amble when you’re waiting to get to the good stuff so I’ve moved it down here for anyone who still wants to read. So where did this race come from? I want to jot down some thoughts, most especially for my own benefit when years from now I’m thinking how exactly did I get into that shape…?
First thing – injuries.
Not an obvious training tool I’ll grant you, but bear with me. If you do come back it can mean fresh legs.
I was out for a good chunk of early 2016. February, March and April were right-offs with a piriformis injury on my left side (caused by drastically sidestepping to avoid smashing into the back of a youngster who stopped dead during a track session in late Jan or early Feb).
All those weeks of no running (probably 10 of them) gave my body a chance to recover from years and years of fairly continuous training.
I’ve been lucky with injuries most of my career, i.e. not having many, which of course means not too many long layoffs. Now I was having one and my body was taking full advantage. Unbeknownst to me at the time obviously.
Injuries are unbelievably frustrating and tough to deal with psychologically, emotionally, in every way basically. So it’s good to understand with hindsight that, at least physically, there were some gains happening.
A far more obvious way to run well. But this was not a normal return to training once the hip (and subsequent back) issues had cleared.
For one thing I was in no hurry to get back to track work. This was partly psychological as I really didn’t want to risk agitating the injury with interval work, but also because I had lost a fair bit of fitness and our track group is a high level (for me). I need to be on my game to get the gains from running in the group. When I turn up in bad shape I’m running solo anyway. So I didn’t want that.
So I had a few weeks of just jogging. Getting the body used to the routine again. I remember how damn good it felt to be able to run again and I didn’t want to jeopardise that in any way.
After a few weeks of that, I felt like I could use a hard aerobic effort, like a parkrun or similar. So I did a few of those types of runs. Hard on the lungs but not murder on the legs.
I added another element to my training shortly after this, which was the marathon-pace run. Tried to do it at least once a week, sometimes failed but most weeks fitted it in there. Running 6 to 10 miles at 6-minute pace was a new kind of training to me. Introduced in part by running buddy Karl and his infamous TMR sessions, which he used to great effect to smash the Manchester marathon in 2015. And in part by another running buddy, Simon, who believes you should run a quarter of your target race distance at target race pace each week. Between 6 and 7 miles at 6-minute pace in my case.
I’ve not done these before and I think they probably brought my aerobic engine on in leaps and bounds. Not to mention some mental toughness, banging out that pace on my own, or mostly on my own, on a Sunday morning.
This was also helping the weekly mileage and I hit a sequence of 5+ weeks where I had averaged as much as I ever had (70+). That sequence is more like 10 weeks and counting now.
Around the same time, mid-June, I made a conscious decision to use races to get back to fitness rather than speedwork. The reasons are mostly outlined in the previous point.
I also had in my head the story about our former university club mate – warning: name drop ahead – Hendrick Ramaala – not doing any trackwork leading into the season he broke the SA 10,000m record, choosing instead to race the European cross country circuit as conditioning. There are other stories like this too, and it felt like it fitted my needs quite well. If it works for elites it should be ok for the rest of us.
I’m not advocating ditching trackwork completely. Definitely not. In fact over the years it is probably the single biggest reason for my improved running. But a short-term sabbatical when it feels right, and replacing it with steady to hard continuous runs, is no bad thing.
So I lined up a relatively gentle return to racing. Gentle in terms of the quality of the track meeting and competition (a midlands veterans league) rather than the race itself, which was quite a sharp return, a 1500m. I ran 4:28 in the race, very happy to break 4:30 at that stage, and it felt good to race again.
The following week I raced a 3000m (9:28) and a 10k on the road (34:11). They certainly weren’t barnstorming performances but they were fulfilling the objective nicely.
We headed into July and I kept the races coming. Another 3000 (9:32), disappointing time, but feeling a lot more comfortable at that speed. The race quality ramped up at this point as I entered a BMC Grand Prix 5000m. I had no business trying to get into the race. The automatic standard is 14:55 and even the slow race at this meeting has guys all capable of sub 15:30. But I needed races, this was local (Solihull) and anyway it seemed quite exciting to be in a race of that calibre. The race went off and sure enough I was on my own, 100m behind second last from about a lap in. No need to bore you with splits, I ended with 16:22 which I was happy enough with.
Ten days later I had another BMC 5000m. This was where I got the first indication that the training was working. I was hoping to improve on the 16:22 but didn’t know by how much. Something in the 16:teens would do. Off we went and I was last (again) and separated from the pack (again). But this time I hung onto to my own pace better and ran 16:01. I was genuinely surprised. The race conditions were less than ideal. 29 degrees and a 9pm start time. It showed me that, given a more suitable field and better conditions, I could probably take a chunk off it.
But of course you never really know. Beauty of running and all that. Inspired by the 16:01, I travelled to Oxford 4 days later for another BMC 5000. This proved too soon after the previous one, was also in the heat, worse heat this time, and the field was even stronger. Before we had completed a single lap I was well behind second last. I grafted my way around in 16:21. Disappointing time but again I knew I had banked some invaluable training.
My ability to grind out 3:15 per kay had never been better. I could do it on my own and in the heat. Roll on a proper race. Proper inasmuch I would have people to race. The Sale Sizzler, in Manchester, provided that. In addition it was a course I knew well, and a ratified course used for the Northern Road 5km championships.
As mentioned above I had tried previously with DanR to break 16 (running 16:03 that day after being horrendously boxed in on the first km). I knew I was fitter now than I was that day, and I figured if I didn’t get boxed in, the rest would take care of itself. Cue the start of this post above… the rest is history.
Time to come clean. My name is Mark Ince and I use MyFitnessPal. The guy I sit next to at work talked me into it. A sporty youngster who plays football and rugby to a relatively high level, and also goes to gym and runs occasionally. He convinced me to download the app. I was fed up with the weight I had gained from the time off and was looking to get back to racing weight as soon as I could. This seemed like a useful tool for doing that. And it was.
The weight soon came off from when I started in early June, and over the next few weeks I got back to a good weight. I found that I was paying more attention to what I was eating (an obvious objective of the app) and was getting a better idea of what was good nutrition and what wasn’t. You’d think after all these years I would know these things…… ok let’s move on. So some more weight came off. And then a bit more. The change wasn’t enough to be noticeable to the eye but was definitely helping the running.
I’ll ramble no more.
In summary, I ran more, ran more at a good pace, ran lots of hard races, and weigh less.