Pacing

After five years of running, I think I might have finally got the hang of running at a consistent pace!  I was extremely proud of my first Long Slow Run of the winter in which I managed to run for 14km with every kilometre between 7:48 and 8:00.  Normally it doesn’t matter whether I start slow or fast, every km gets a bit slower than the last until I am plodding so slowly I get overtaken by people walking their dogs.  I can’t say I’ve done anything deliberately differently, perhaps it’s the effect training consistently and not getting injured for a whole year has.  I’ve not run further than 10k in one go since May (and the time before that was March) so I was really pleased at how little distance fitness I have lost.

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Coincidentally, I was handed the opportunity to put my new-found talent to the test and take up a position as 38 minute pacer at Oak Hill parkrun.  Usually Oak Hill has pacers every 2 mins between 18 and 36, but these are all too fast for me to be comfortable pacing, so I enquired as to whether a 38 minute vest could be procured.  Low and behold, a few days later Dave the RD sent me a picture of a 18 minute vest with masking tape changing the 1 to a 3.  “No one wants a 18 minute pacer anyway” he said.  Snail power!!

I was actually quite nervous about this enterprise and feared I would suddenly lose the ability to run 5k in 38 minutes.  I have been a little bit critical of pacers in the past (like the patronising backwards pacer at the Olympic Park, or the 35 minute parkrun pacer who suddenly realised he was well behind target going up a hill at 4km and sped off into the distance) and I thought I might be about to get a harsh life lesson about how it is harder than it looks and how I shouldn’t criticise other people until I’ve tried it myself.

On my last trip to Oak Hill, my Garmin had measured the course as 5.1km exactly (I’m not saying it is actually too long, my Garmin always overestimates) so I worked out that I needed to run at roughly 7:26 per km to finish in 38 minutes.  I set it to buzz at me if I went under 7:10 or over 7:40 and added a new pacing screen with all the pacing metrics I could possibly fit.

Oak Hill has quite a slow, narrow start so of course as soon as I pressed go there was a lot of non-movement and frantic buzzing from the watch (which said I was moving at 19 mins per km and would be completing 5k in well over an hour).  Normally I wouldn’t start my watch until I start my feet, but when you are a pacer you do not have the luxury of awarding yourself a chip time.  I panicked and frantically started dodging people, then realised that it probably bad etiquette for a volunteer to get in front of the actual runners, got told off by the watch for going too fast, and finally settled into the magic pace of 7:26 per km.   It was actually quite nice to run at this pace – fast enough to feel natural but slow enough to be able to relax and interact with other people.  Somehow running slower than I am capable of always seems like a bit of a copout, and I always end up feeling like I have to make excuses for myself, but it is different when you have a lurid orange vest declaring your intended pace.  I noticed that on the final lap my pacemates, who were previously all smiles, were now engulfed with a look of horror whenever I crept up behind them and sprinted off as fast as their legs could carry them.    I quite enjoyed the feeling of nudging people homewards and might have deliberately sped up to give a couple of flagging people a virtual prod.

As I reached the final turn I realised that the stupid Garmin was going to measure the parkrun closer to 5.2km this time which meant I had to put on an almighty sprint for the finish line.  Of course, all the people who were diligently staying in front of me sped up as well which meant there was a bit of a clamber for the funnel.  I wasn’t rude enough to overtake any of them (and probably couldn’t have if I had tried).

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Company from Zoe for the final lap! She isn’t normally remotely slow but was doing a Long Slow Run and turned up 5 mins late…

According to my watch, I finished in 38:05 but unfortunately there were a few gremlins in the Oak Hill stopwatch which meant my first official result was 35:33 (I nearly fell off my seat in horror).  It was subsequently amended to 38:16 which I still don’t think is right but I’m not going to hassle the poor volunteers about it so it will just have to stay like that.  (16 is a Stopwatch Bingo number anyway, and 05 isn’t…)  I’m pleased with this anyway, it’s fine for a first attempt – maybe next time I will be bang on the time.

On Sunday I went to the Elvis race at Valentine’s Park (Beat Box Hill having been cancelled due to a flooded car park!)  The Elvis races are a sort of competition type thing between the local running clubs, there’s a lot of very fast people at them (you have to forget all ambitions of not being lapped) but they are open to everyone (including those in non-local clubs and no club at all) and welcoming of snails.  I am not a member of a local club but I was temporarily adopted by Eton Manor and even featured in their group photo.  I might go along and do a track session with them soon.

Group photo from Louise… Action shot from Sam (who was going to come and run but “couldn’t be bothered to get up in time”)

The rain held off (although it was too late for my socks) but my cold didn’t and even though I’d been at the trusty Day Nurse I think I was just a bit too sniffly and wet of foot for a PB, even though I gave it my all.  I only got lapped by fifteen thousand people, maintained a fairly constant pace throughout and crucially, didn’t get lost (unlike the last time I ran in Valentine’s Park).  My watch said that my finish time was 34:59.9 but heartbreakingly this translated to 35:00 in the results, depriving me of my eighth ever sub 35 finish.  Never mind.  It is getting colder now which will hopefully knock a few seconds off my pace without me having to resort to underhand tactics such as getting fitter.

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