#122: My Perfect Distance

#122: My Perfect Distance
5 minutes to read

I’ve very briefly touched on my race day anxiety before, in some of my other fitness posts. Recently, I entered a race where I was so cocksure about it being a piddly distance, that surely I couldn’t possibly get nervous in the build up. Oh, how wrong I was! So, I’ve been thinking about my perfect distance.

I don’t know if I’ve found it yet. What I do categorically know is that the Toxic 10 affects me, badly. It’s something I read about when I very first started my half marathon training, and it’s basically where your body takes a good ten minutes to “warm up” to the idea that you’re running. Your legs feel heavy, your breathing is off, and you sound like an asthmatic hippo.

So, with this in mind, a five mile race is an interesting distance for me to tackle. I signed up my husband and I together, and I asked him to run it with me and try to push a really good time out of me. This is the bloke who can nail a marathon in 3hrs30, so even if I were to gun it, it’d be a slow jog for him. Anyway, he declared that we could definitely do it in sub-40 minutes. That’s an average pace of eight minutes a mile, or less – still a challenge for me. Except, he’s a naturally gifted runner, as comfortable with sprint intervals as he is with endurance. He loves it, unconditionally. I love it, when I’m doing well.

And I HAVE done well. I’ve run two half marathons in the last six months, and I’ve entered two more for this year. I’ve even entered the ballot for the 2018 London Marathon. At the start line, don’t get me wrong – I’m a bag of shit. My nerves are in bits and I feel sick to the bottom of my feet. This feeling of self doubt pretty much continues until mile six, when I realise I’m almost halfway and it’s too long to walk home so I’d better bloody well get stuck in. After both of those half marathons, I’ve felt utter pride.

But five miles…see, on paper it’s simple, isn’t it? Nowhere near half marathon distance. Not even 10k. Easy just to go all out from the start line and smash it. I told my husband that I was trusting him to pace us, he knew what times we needed to achieve on our mile splits, so I’d just follow along and keep up. “I can’t talk, mind,” I warned him. “Don’t be expecting a chat.”

I think I lulled him into thinking I was actually quite competent, at this quick running lark. So on the second mile, we really went for it. In hindsight, it was too fast, too early on in the race. I got tired quickly, and our third mile was a struggle. As we reached the four mile marker, I panicked, because I knew we had to pick it back up to reach our target time.

That’s the problem with short races. You have to pelt it out, and if you slip up, you’ve not got enough distance left to claw it back because it’s over so fast. This is why I’m shit at Parkrun. And this is why, in my mind, I ballsed it up in the race.

We didn’t pick it up, and I knew with about 1.5 miles to go that we’d fall short of our target time, because I was too crap to pull it off. This is what I hate about running, or any sort of competitive sport really – it’s so easy to tear yourself down when it doesn’t go to plan. We finished in 40:58 – almost a full minute outside what we wanted, what my husband thought I was capable of.

Later, I looked at my mile splits on my watch. The second mile is the quickest I’ve ever run, competitively. The fourth mile is kind of the average pace I aim to stick to at a half marathon distance and it’s still not exactly a crawl. Five years ago I couldn’t run a mile in 11 minutes.

Garmin watch showing splits from our first 4 miles

So, why am I being so hard on myself? I think it’s because I feel like I was doing so well with my fitness, but I let myself down on this one. We entered the final half mile and I sprinted for my life, so I obviously had it left in the tank. You shouldn’t end a race with that much spare energy, you should be able to balance this out where needed and finish with just enough to spurt you across the line. Is it my fitness that’s lacking? No, probably not. Is it my mentality? I suspect so.

So – I have a couple of options I suppose. The first is to stick to the longer distances, with the safety buffer of being able to truly settle in to the pace and actually enjoy the experience of running. Scrap the shorter ones.

The second option is to work on my speed, and I know that hills and interval training sessions are great for this. Maybe I should be tackling the shorter races head on, and trying to do Parkrun every so often – this will expose me to the “race day” vibe that sends me into a knotty tailspin, and teach me how to plan my miles more effectively.

I feel like I’m licking my wounds a bit. But I won’t stop. Anyway, I just bought new trainers and they ain’t cheap.

-SJW June 2017





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