My natural environment is long distance – the marathon and half marathon are the distances I enjoy the most, and if I may, where I tend to excel. Looking at my spread of PBs with better times at longer distances and some comparatively poor times over shorter distances, I seem to not have a turn of top end speed, but can last the pace when it gets tougher and harder.
So finding myself on the start line for a race that is only four laps of the track is not my natural environment. Since moving to Leeds and ending my previously nomadic working lifestyle, running on a track has been more and more a part of my training pattern. But I didn’t think I’d find myself toeing the line on one.
Two things bought me to the race. Firstly, like most of the races I’ve done recently, it’s part of our club championship, so points were at stake for being the fastest Hyde Park Harrier from my division. Secondly, it was a chance to complete the ‘Goose Slam’, running PBs in a calendar year across the mile, 5K, 5 miles, 10K, 10 miles, half marathon and marathon. In my race calendar I have two more chances to better my 2015 10K PB, but this might be my last chance over the mile.
The mile is a classic distance. There are very few big achievements in the history of running that resonate with the public as a whole, but Roger Bannister becoming the first man to break the four minute mile in 1954 is one of them. However by 1954 the mile in international competition was a hanger on, one of the few distances to survive the switch to metric in the 1900s, and in the Olympics and other international competitions it was superseded by the 1500m (the mile being 1600 and change). It is over this distance – as well as the 800 – that Seb Coe and Steve Ovett battled it out through much of the 1980s in one of the most captivating rivalries in the history of athletics. For the more niche athletics fans amongst us, it’s also the distance over which Laura Muir broke the British record this August in impressive style. Although the mile or the 1500m has lost some of it’s lustre and the honour of being called the ‘blue ribband’ event of the Olympics to the 100m, it is still a storied distance that can rely on tactics and racecraft as much as all out speed – as proven by the visually impaired 1500m at the Paralympics being won in a faster time than the Olympics.
Since I wrote last time about my plan to get me to half marathon race day, things have started to pick up in my training. Cutting back on the mileage was clearly a wise move with my body feeling more ready for the sessions on the plan, but the main breakthrough came in my final run before the mile. Rather than a tough speedwork session showing me I was back on form, it was an easy 8 miles. Looking back through my training at high mileage I’d been finding a comfortable easy pace to be about 7:45 minutes per mile, but over the 8 miles this Thursday I was finding flat sevens comfortable. So I knew the form was back.
I also knew that the mile was going to be tough. There was going to be no hiding place. The last time I’d run the distance was in 2013 at the Westminster mile, a road race on a one lap loop. I was a bit out of training and blissfully unaware about the rigours of the race, remember going out and blasting it for about 400m, and then dying a slow death to the finish in 5:28. I’m now faster, in better training and understand the demands a bit better. On a recent track session we ran a 800m flat out, followed by a 10 minute rest and then eight 400s. After the 800 which I ran – almost as hard as I could – in about 2:26, I was in a world of hurt. Long distance running is a very different type of pain and endurance than middle distances such as the mile, and I knew that the mile was going to be four laps of pain. I needed every advantage I could get, so on the Thursday before race day I made the last minute decision to order some middle distance spikes on express delivery.
The Leeds Golden Mile is run up at Leeds Beckett University track, with several heats throughout the day based on predicted finish time. I was scheduled to go in the final and fastest heat. With it being one of our clubs championship races, we had a huge turnout with four of us in the final heat alone. This was a bit of an advantage, as running with these guys so often this would help me to judge my effort, to know how close (or how close behind) I should be to them to be running a respectable, well paced race. The plan was to try and run something around 4:40-50 for the mile (70ish second laps) – before you start thinking that’s an impressive time, just bear in mind that Dennis Kimetto’s marathon world record of 2:02:57 was run at 4:42 pace.
My race itself just never really got going, and a finish time of 5:05.5 doesn’t really tell the whole story – when I crossed the finish line, I was absolutely kicking myself. From the gun I put myself in the wrong position. We started a short distance before the bend, and I decided to have an easy start and settle into a gap in the bunch. This was my first mistake – already on the first lap the Hyde Park Harriers were in a front bunch that split on the first straight, and I decided to stay where I was at the pace I was at. I then made the mistake of sticking to that pace for the second lap, and by then I’d run half of the race at – looking back at it – far too easy a pace. Then when I needed to push and get up a few places to continue pushing at a faster pace I was having to do it on the first bend of the third lap, and got caught in behind three people running abreast, doglegged a bit so I was penned in. Having to nip through a gap inbetween them and then try and refocus after that frustration on the third lap cost me. Even then, looking back at that third and fourth lap it feels know like I was never pushing hard enough, and never gave the kick that an easy first half deserved.
Of course it’s easy to look back on a race and think all of this. Firstly in track racing you can have the best tactics in the world, but if you don’t have the legs it isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans. The other side of this is that on the back of some time off, I wasn’t sure how not there the legs were going to be. After a not too inspiring warm up, I probably wasn’t brave enough to push too hard in case the legs just fell away.
Also, it was over so quickly. I can see all of these mistakes now, but during the race it was all a bit of a blur. Over longer races, even the 5K, there is so much time to be precise, to correct things, to judge the effort and the pace. In the mile by the time you realise you’ve made a mistake it’s already too late.
Now for the positives – this was never a race that I had trained specifically for, it was never a distance that I was naturally designed for, and it was an event that I had come in to off disrupted overall training. I ran a PB as well, leaving the ‘Goose Slam’ still a possibility – although not going under five minutes, and only taking 23 seconds off from 2013 is annoying (although maybe the 2013 tactic of just blasting it was a good idea?).
So now there is four more weeks until the Manchester Half Marathon, and two more weeks until I head back to the family home for the weekend for the Standalone 10K – two distances I’m much more used to. I’m now approaching the run in to the Manchester Half Marathon with a bit more of a relaxed mindset, and as long as I get the 10K PB ticked off this year at the first opportunity rather than the second, then I’ll be able to have a much needed few weeks off from hard, structured training.