33 weeks to the marathon: upping the pace

There’s a gradual transition that goes on when you’ve been running for a while. It starts out as being someone who goes for a run occasionally, then someone who runs regularly, and finally you realise that you’re a runner now. There’s lots of things that come along with that change, like the ability to develop opinions on different tracking software and gadgets, a desire for a specific type of shoes you feel most comfortable running in and the steady acquisition of more kit for running. There’s a paradoxical quest for comfort with running — doing anything long-distance is putting your muscles and your cardio-vascular system under strain, but that’s not what you notice while you’re doing it. Unless something goes badly wrong and twists, sprains or breaks, you can push on past the low-level muscle pain or slow down to catch to breath when you run out of it, but once you start feeling the sweat pooling or the skin start chafing, it’s like a whole world of discomfort is opening up just for you and you’re going to get closer to it with every step.

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Which is a long way of explaining to you why today I went running for the first time wearing a running vest rather than a t-shirt. I apologise to those people in the Langham area who got to see my very pale shoulders being exposed for the first time in years, but I make no apologies for seeking comfort in my running after last week’s overheating. There is a saying that you should use or wear nothing new on race day, as anything you have should be part of a routine so you can just focus on your run, but I got my Running Colchester vest just last week and this was my first chance to wear it and try it out.

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I’d signed up for the Langham 10K right after finishing the Colchester 10K in May, when I was looking for my next challenge, and not really expecting to have done so much in between them. Part of getting into running has been discovering this network of running events going on all over the place with seemingly every village having their own annual race, each with its own little quirks for the area. Colchester’s shows you lots of footpaths you didn’t know existed, Nayland’s takes you over the fields and through the woods, Colne Engaine’s is part of its festival and gives out free bacon butties, and Langham’s? Well, it has someone commentating on the PA at the finish line so you might hear your name announced as you approach the finishing line, it has a 2K and a 5K race in the build-up to it, and the route feels like it spends more time going through the neighbouring village of Boxted than it does in Langham itself, but it’s all a nice run through the country that’s generally flat throughout. (There is a Boxted 10K in June, but it doesn’t return the favour by doing a circuit of Langham)

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Because I’d done quite a bit of distance the week before and I knew I had this coming up today, I didn’t run too much in the week — just a Tuesday night jog around Highwoods with a regular Running Colchester group (meeting at Asda every Tuesday at 7pm, if you want to join us!) and then a Thursday morning run back and forth along the river by the park, in another one of Colchester’s animal running routes — the Dolphin. A couple of decent runs, but nothing too strenuous and I even marshalled at yesterday’s Parkrun to give myself a day off from running because I wanted to do a fast run today.

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Back in May, I’d managed to surprise myself at the Colchester 10K by finishing in just under 1 hour and 15 minutes. Today I wanted to beat that 1:14:22 and set a new personal best for the 10K so I decided to follow the tactic I’d had back then of setting out a pace that was steady and comfortable and then trying to speed up as I got closer to the end. I’ve done a lot more longer running since May, so I’m used to it a bit more, but I followed the same mindset today that I did then — each time I got to a kilometre marker, I asked myself if I could keep that pace up for the rest of the run, ready to slow down if it felt like it’d be too much. Each time I asked myself that I felt fine, so when I got to halfway I felt I could start increasing my pace a little — but still feeling comfortable — and doing that a couple of more times until I was on the final stretch into Langham, knowing I was closing on the finish and feeling like I’d just got the balance right. That last kilometre into the finish was tough, and run at possibly the fastest pace I’ve ever managed for a single kilometre, but I was able to hold myself there and keep going until I crossed the line. I’d not only broken my old personal best, I’d shattered it, knocking almost five minutes from it with my official time of 1:09:03.8. (And if you’re wondering why that’s different from the time on the clock in the picture, here’s an explanation of the different sorts of timing)

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What’s interesting for me (and a good sign in my marathon training) is that that’s the sort of pace I’ve been doing at Parkrun recently, so knowing I can now keep that up over 10K is a great sign of how much I’m developing my stamina alongside my speed. This is good for not only being able to finish the marathon when it comes time to do that, but to finish it in a time that’s not too slow. OK, I need to be able to do another 30 and a bit kilometres on top of what I managed today, but for now my training’s on track to do that. And when I look back at where I was just a few months ago to where I am now, there’s been some incredible progress — at the start of May, I’d never even run 10K, now I’m not only covering that distance regularly in training, I’m doing it at the sort of pace I would barely have been able to keep up in a run to the end of the street, let alone along six and a quarter miles of country lanes.

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I’m running the 2019 London Marathon for Brain Research UK. You can sponsor me and donate to help their work, and find out more about why I’m doing this here.

Many, many things. PhD student at QMUL. Councillor. Ran the 2019 London Marathon for Brain Research UK. @nickjbarlow on Twitter.

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