Breaking the 20-Minute Barrier

I can hardly believe I’m typing these words, but at the Waterbeach Running Festival on the 11th May, I finally ran a sub-20 minute 5k, something I have been trying to do for some time.

I can’t say I had any expectation of doing it on the day. I’ve run the Waterbeach Running Festival twice before, and been lucky enough to come first both times (in the 10k in 2016, and the 5k in 2018 – my memory is so awful I thought I’d competed in 2017!). It’s a small, local event, and an undeniably fast, flat course, and last year I ran the 5k in 20:46. A really great time, but a significant chunk away from the elusive 19:59.

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Waterbeach Running Festival 2018

I remember telling my running buddy Pete that I thought I might be on PB form after I recently paced someone to a 20:52 5k and felt like I still had a decent amount left in the tank. But after a league race 5k on the Thursday night, neither Pete nor I had turned up on the Saturday morning in Waterbeach with particularly fresh legs.

This year was the fourth time the Waterbeach Running Festival had been held. With a 100m toddle (under 5s), a 2k (4+), a 5k (11+) and a 10k (15+) it’s a proper family event, with lots of food stalls and a really lovely vibe. And it’s growing in size every year, as people start to cotton on to what a fast, flat course it is. To give you an idea. here are the women’s winning 5k times since it started:

Year Total no. Runners Winning Time Winner
2016 43 24:24 Sarah Consonni
2017 76 21:20 Yvonne Scarrott
2018 86 20:46 Lauren Thomas
2019 91 19:36 Vicki Moignard

The 2019 winning time is a serious increase on 2016. As for the men’s race, this has been won every year by Tony Bacon, with a course PB of 17:14 set in 2017. Tony has become something of a poster boy for the event as others are encouraged to come along to try and steal his crown. He was still 17 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor this year, but this is a huge improvement on 2016 when he was 3 minutes ahead of second place.

As we all gathered on the start line (as Pete had just finished the 100m toddle with his daughter Ellie and her mum Rachel was gearing up to push her in the running buggy for the 5k – rather her than me!), I looked at the other faces on the startline and had this weird feeling that I wouldn’t even podium this year. There were some fierce looking female athletes with their game faces on, and I decided to just do what I could on the day. Because after all, that’s all we can ever hope for, right?

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My Beloved Running Family

Everyone set off at a blistering pace, and I manage to start my Garmin only to realise that it was set for an indoor cycling session after the spin class I had done the day before. After about 10 seconds of faffing about I thought it was in the right mode and before I knew it I had run the 1st mile in 6:22 (I didn’t know this at the time as I rarely look at my watch when running).

Throughout this first mile, Olivia Baker from Cambridge & Coleridge AC was about 10 metres ahead of me but slowly pulling away. I could also hear keys jangling behind me, and before long Vicki Moignard from Cambridge Tri Club (who came second to me in 2018) was overtaking on my left. I managed to gasp out the words “you can get her!” before I gritted my teeth and did everything I could to just hold on.

And somehow, I did just that. But boy oh boy it was not easy. At about 3.5k in to the race I had to convince myself to keep going as everything in my body from my lungs to my legs were screaming at me to stop, that I couldn’t possibly keep going at this pace. But somehow I did, and I know that it was because of Vicki (now in 1st place) and Olivia ahead of me that I managed it. You can see for a long way in this race, and I know that if I had been in 1st place I would have become complacent and slacked off. But instead, I had these two incredible athletes to chase, and I owe them so much for getting me across the line in the time I did.

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Finish line pain

When I did finally cross the line, driving hard through the last hundred-odd metres to the cheers of a frankly brilliant finish line crowd, I had to stop and bend over double, sucking as much air in to my lungs as humanly possible and trying not to ruin the moment by throwing up. I then glanced at my watch and saw 19:37 and my first though was “wow, I STILL managed to screw up starting my watch properly”. As it turns out, it was spot on. After those 10 seconds I lost at the start trying to get it in to the right mode, I officially finished in 19:48.

I’m not going to lie – there were tears. A LOT of them. But they were deliriously happy ones. I’m not sure I ever really believed I could get a time like that. I then found out that Peter had also achieved a PB (18:59) and Rachel had almost achieved a buggy 5k PB, missing it by 1 second (which she would have smashed if Ellie hadn’t needed emergency Pom-Bears mid-race)! It was just a brilliant day for my favourite running family.

Receiving a trophy for crossing the line as 3rd woman, it was without doubt the proudest moment of my running career. I couldn’t thank Vicki and Olivia enough, and it’s entirely possible that they thought the run had boggled this wide-eyed, pink-haired creature’s mind. Maybe it had. All I know is that for the last week I’ve found myself remembering the moment of reading my official race time and grinning at myself in shock and delight. My age grading from the day was more than 75%. Madness.

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Tony and I – one of us had been crying. Obvious much?!

I genuinely have no idea if I’ll manage a sub 20 again. But there was a time when I thought sub-22 was an impossible goal. All I know for sure is, next time I’m at one of the Kevin Henry League races, I’ll be keeping an eye out for Vicki and Olivia, the best pacers I could have hoped for.

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The Kevin Henry 5k Season 2017 – My Review

I can’t believe it’s been a month since the Kevin Henry 5k League season finished! In the past this set of races ran until the first Thursday of September, but this year they compressed it into 5 months instead of 6. At the time I was pretty unhappy with this as it meant that sometimes there were only two weeks between races, and as someone who gets quite wound up in race situations (ahem) it felt like my stress levels remained consistently high.

But I love racing 5ks once I get going. Yes it can be really tough to sustain that “faster-than-is-entirely-comfortable” pace and to get used to that burn in your chest and the ache in your legs, but I love the feeling that floods your body after a fast 5k. I just don’t get the same runners’ high from other race distances.

I was nervous about how the season would go. Since changing jobs my training regime has changed considerably. My regular lunchtime track sessions have gone out of the window (which I really miss), and I’ve shifted my evening focus a bit more to working with our junior runners. So at the start of every race I was armed with a decent set of excuses (like I usually am pre-race) and I kept telling people I wasn’t as fit as last year.

Turns out I really need to stop whinging, as I ended up beating all of my 2016 race times apart from one. I’m basically the running equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. Here’s my breakdown (the times in brackets are my 2016 times):

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Newmarket was a pretty sight when we left at least…

27th April – Cambridge Tri Club: 20:29 (21:50), 94th runner out of 307, 14th female

11th May – Ely Runners: 20:41 (20:48), 83rd runner out of 297, 13th female

8th June – Newmarket Joggers: 21:31 (21:17), 107th runner out of 301, 15th female

29th June – Saffron Striders: 20:44 (20:51), 85th runner out of 284, 10th female

13th July – Haverhill Running Club: 21:01 (21:48), 84th runner out of 283, 9th female

3rd August – C&C: 20:30 (20:41), 112th runner out of 321, 12th female*

Of the 6 races, Newmarket is the one that I stress about the most mainly because they don’t have toilets on site, something I’ve complained about before. They’re nearly 1k away, which when you’re a nervous pee-er, is simply not good enough (in my opinion) so I always start that race in a really stressed out state. It was also a warm evening, and I tried to keep up with an Ely Junior who had finished just behind me at the Ely race. As it turns out he was massively slacking off at Ely as he smashed Newmarket in 20:00 minutes dead and completed the last race of the season in 19:17. Blooming hustler. The moral of that story is to run your own race, not someone else’s.

The one I’m most proud of is Haverhill. Regular readers of this blog might remember last year’s meltdown but this year I dug deep and managed to pace it just right. I was a little disappointed at first not to have dipped under 21:00, but I soon managed to put my rational thinking cap back on to realise that to have taken 47 seconds off a 5k was utterly brilliant. As for the last race, I turned up to it completely exhausted. I have a little too much on my plate at the moment (all my own doing) and I was just running on empty. But I wanted to try and end the season having done all 6 races, so I was going to run it no matter what. Thankfully I happened to bump into Lauren Bradshaw fresh from some mental marathon, and she said her legs weren’t feeling too hot either, so we agreed to run together and aim for something like 21 minutes. Her famous last words were “you’ll have to drag me round”.

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Comparing red faces at Haverhill

Did I heck. The absolute speed demon shot off, chatting to fellow runners on the way as I struggled to settle my breathing. The first 3k were really hard. I didn’t want to let Lauren down by slowing up as I knew she’d want to be loyal and stay with me, so I just tried to focus on my breathing as much as possible and not let the panic in my chest rise like it did at Newmarket. The headwind was also really unhelpful, but I kept having to remind myself that I’d be grateful to have it behind me on the final 1k. On the last 300m around the track I could suddenly hear someone thundering behind us. No way was I letting Lauren work that hard for us to be beaten on the line so I sped up and she responded and I finished just behind her. At first I thought I might have gotten a PB but it turns out that I was 12 seconds off it. So the 2015 5k PB still stands but you know what? That was a stronger season than I could have hoped for, and next year I can aim for that sub 21:00 Haverhill race and maybe even sneak that PB.

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With the legend that is Bradders

* The C&C race had Lauren in the position behind me, but she definitely finished in front of me so I’ve put the times she was given.

Kevin Henry League vs. Parkrun – the Ups and Downs of the Good Old 5k

So after I decided to sign up for the Ely Runners it came as a bit of a shock to find out that their next league race would be just 10 days later. Having taken 5 years to decide to join a club it’s pretty clear that it’s not in my nature to rush into anything running-wise. But I also know from Pete that as a small club ER need as many runners as they can to take part in these races.

The Kevin Henry league is made up of 6 nearby clubs: ER, the Saffron Striders, Haverhill Running Club, the Newmarket Joggers, Cambridge & Coleridge and the Cambridge Tri Club. Between April and September, each club hosts a Thursday night 5k run which is open to anyone aged 14 and over. Previously, ER had been part of the league as a guest club, but in order to continue participating in the league, they had to host their own race, the first of which was last Thursday.

Anyone who knows Ely will know that there is nowhere suitable to run a 5k that doesn’t either involve roads or mind-numbing multiple laps that can be difficult to monitor in a race situation, so we headed out to Witchford to run 5k on the disused WWII airfield concrete tracks.

When I arrived (courtesy of Ely Runner Andy who gave me a lift), there was a real buzz in the air amongst club members. But that did little to settle my nerves. Now anyone who knows me (hello Andrew Caines!) knows I am a NIGHTMARE pre-race, and that I find myself standing on the start line wondering why on EARTH I continue to do this to myself. The fact that I didn’t manage to locate Emily who had my club vest until about 5 minutes before the start (how we had managed to miss each other neither of us could work out) meant that I was panicking that I would run only to be disqualified at the end.

But I was mostly worried that I would embarrass myself and disgrace my newly acquired vest. I really just didn’t want to let anyone down.

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As it turns out I didn’t embarrass myself, but I was disappointed with how much I struggled. The trouble with running on an airfield is that there is no shade on a hot summer evening, and the track itself was somewhat uneven with tractor tyres leaving behind large grooves in the ground. By 2.5k my throat was completely dry, a sensation that always makes me slightly panicky. By 4k, after failing to raise even a hint of a smile for Andrew and his waiting camera, I was seriously contemplating walking. But I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do that on my first ever run for the club, and when I saw the finish line flags I don’t think I have ever been so relieved and sprinted to the end. At least I still had that left in the tank.

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Andrew caught my better running side anyway. Love the sun flare.

I ended up finishing in 21:49, which is a decent improvement on the last hot summer evening run I did (Girton 5k in 22:08). I was also the 2nd Ely female finisher, which I’m really proud of. I just hope I can try and get a handle on my nerves and fear of the heat in time for C&C’s race on the 10th September, the final one of the season.

Also this seems like a good moment to say huge thanks to the Ely Runners who sacrificed their run to marshal at this brilliant event.

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Both feet off the ground! Proof I actually run!

And so on to Saturday morning’s Milton Parkrun, where I quite frankly thought I would struggle to even get going thanks to a restless week that had affected my sleep and stress levels. I teamed up with Pete and Rich from ER, and after a cool Friday I was hacked off that it was warm again. But Pete is excellent at talking me off the proverbial ledge and told me to give it a go because – horror of horrors – I might actually enjoy it.

And you know what? I really did. When Rich had told me he had run his best Parkrun 2 days after a KH league race I thought it must have been a fluke. But as I did the first 1k, I realised Rich was just in front of me. Knowing that he can be a bit of a speedster, I decided to see if I could try and keep him in sight. And by some miracle, I did.

Then at about 3k, another girl overtook me, but didn’t pull away. I decided to just sit on her shoulder and use her as a pacer, enjoying letting someone else almost control my speed so that I didn’t have to think about it too much. And the genius thing is, she was wearing headphones, so I don’t think she realised that I stuck to her the whole way round. At 400m from the finish I thought “it’s hers. I’m going to have to let her take this.” At 300m I thought “Hmm, she’s still not pulling away.” At about 150m I thought “screw this I’m going to give it a shot”, so I heard Alan’s voice booming in my ears to bring my arms back and knees up and I SPRINTED. At the end she came up to me and congratulated me, saying she just didn’t have enough left to keep up.

Waiting for those results was agonising. According to Rich’s watch, I had a shout at a PB (even though in the last Milton Parkrun I did I placed 51st, and this time I was 75th, there were a lot of speedy juniors). The results usually come through around 11:30, but by 12:30 I was losing my mind. Then a text from Pete came:

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I have never been more giddy. Looks like Rich was on to something! After a physically and emotionally draining KH 5k, everything just went right on Saturday morning. I ended up beating that girl by 4 seconds, and I was 1st in my age category. What an amazing sensation.

Now without making a HUGE deal about this because he will kill me if I do, there is a reason why I wanted to give my all to these two runs. My awesome and inspiring coach Alan had a heart attack last weekend, and I quite simply wanted to do him proud. Before you all worry, he’s doing fine and is back home after having a procedure in Papworth and a telling off by just about everyone who knows him to stop doing so blinking much. But it might be a little while (try telling him that) before he’s making me swear/cry/nearly vomit again, so in the meantime I’m going to keep working my arse off and keep making the “old bastard very happy” (his words, not mine).

And before I go, can we all take a moment to appreciate the size of my new running vest? Beats a 4 year old’s dinosaur gilet I suppose.

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