Trigger warning: 1610 words
I’ve always enjoyed the taking part but I’ve never been very good at the winning. That’s okay though, because it’s the taking part that counts isn’t it? Obviously, in every race there’s only one winner and for most of us, even the better runners in the club, the chance to actually win doesn’t come along that often. Which is why I like the Grand Prix. Of course, I’m biased because I administer it, but I think it’s great for encouraging a bit of friendly competition and opening up the possibility of winning something meaningful for those of us who wouldn’t otherwise.
So, let me get this out of the way before I say anything else. Graham Darby is a sound guy. I really like him. He’s a good family man, always tries hard at training and he’s got a good sense of humour, which is lucky for him as he’s also a Sunderland fan. But this year is the year I decided I’m going to win. And he’s standing between me and my prestigious Division 4 title. Next race: Hartlepool Marina 5M.
I needed a plan. So I came up with a plan. It didn’t have a name at the time, but for historical reference I’ll call it “Plan A”.
“Plan A” involved running every other day and gradually increasing my distance until I was running 10k comfortably. For reasons I don’t want to go into, but not limited to the fact that I don’t really like running, I’ve not run more than 5k for about 3 years. Rather than get straight into it, I thought I’d alternate my longer runs with 5k runs. And wishing to avoid over-reaching and risking injury, I started out with a 5k run at what I quaintly call “race pace”. This was followed a couple of days later by a 6.5k slog. It felt good; I didn’t have to slow down that much and there was little to no reaction from my legs. Now Graham and I are friends (or whatever the Strava term is) on Strava and I didn’t want him to see me upping my training regime so I altered the visibility settings on my run and let out an evil plan laugh. While I was there, I thought I’d have a neb at what he’d been up to training-wise.
Since the start of the year he’d amassed 293.9km. I’d done 166.6km. Now, I am a computer programmer by trade so I have a logical mind, but I appreciate not everyone will be able to keep up with the complex maths involved so please take it on trust when I say that’s what we in the business call “almost twice as much”. This posed a threat to The Plan. The opposition had almost twice as many miles in his legs. I’d have to run a marathon every other day to catch up, which was clearly neither feasible nor indeed desirable. My plan needed to include a strategy.
I have two strategies when it comes to running – go out with the fast boys and girls and try and hold on for as long as possible or sit in the slipstream and pull out my lightning fast sprint finish when the time comes. While the first strategy has worked for several of my parkrun PBs, it’s something of a blunt instrument and I wasn’t convinced that leaving myself 5-6km of the holding on part was going to work. So at 0900 hours on 12 March, I tried sitting behind Graham at Sedgefield parkrun and testing my sophisticated “sitting in the slipstream” strategy. It worked! Although I didn’t execute the lightning fast sprint finish phase, I was comfortably within distance had I wanted to be. But I didn’t want to show my cards, so I hung back.
At 0900 hours on 19 March, I repeated the experiment, but this time I stayed a little closer. This was definitely doable. But I was running close to threshold and I got the impression that Graham wasn’t.
As race day approached, I noted with alarm that I’d never fully realised “Plan A”. Strava espionage revealed that Graham had run some mad 20M race around Kielder the week before. Did this mean that his legs would be shot or did it mean that he’d be looking at a 5M race the way I’d look at a 1km race? I was about to find out.
It was almost perfect running weather as we pulled in to the Mecca Bingo car park. (Those are words I never thought I’d write.) The collective noun for harriers is a swarm and there was a small swarm of Harriers on the other side of the bingo hall where the numbers were being handed out. I got mine (87 – or one fat lady doing karaoke), pinned my radio tags on my shorts and got my mum (Alda) to pin the number on my shirt. Harriers swarmed in and out of frame as the team photo was being taken. I wish I looked as happy in end of race photos as I do in pre-race photos, but it’s never going to happen. Even in this one, you can see I’m not quite fully committed to the smiling as part of my brain is trying to formulate a new plan.
After what seemed like a long time standing around (my sciatica was killing me), we were marshalled into the starting pen. I lined up right behind Graham (mwah-ha-ha!) and waited for the starting gun. When it came, everyone in front of me ran off at the same keen-o pace. My speedometer was clocking 5 minutes per km, which is way too fast me. I thought it would be way too fast for Graham too, so I watched him disappear into the distance and hoped that the tortoise might beat the hare. “Plan B” was set in motion.
After about 3km, it was clear that “Plan B” was not cutting the mustard. Graham was too far in front and while I was reasonably comfortable, I was running at a fast parkrun pace and the lack of miles in my legs augured ill for my chances of keeping it up. I engaged evil plan laugh mode and instigated “Plan C”. This was as dastardly as a dastardly thing with a side order of dastard sauce. The following facts were true:
- The turnaround was coming up
- Graham knew I was in the race and behind him
- Graham was probably running towards the top end of his ability too
The evil plan conclusion to this was as follows – as soon as I saw Graham turn around, I would slow to a walk and start hobbling. Graham would see me, be lulled into a false sense of security and slow to a jog, leaving himself vulnerable to my lightning fast sprint finish. Mwah-ha-ha-haaaaa!
What actually happened was this – Graham either didn’t notice or didn’t care and continued at his accustomed pace. I meanwhile, having lost momentum in feigning injury, struggled to get back into my stride and went from running near my threshold to running like a little old man and being overtaken by several little old ladies as I slowed to a waddle.
Graham was now a distant dot, so I recalibrated my expectations. “Plan D” was to beat my PB, which I knew was about 48 something. But 48min divided by 8km (sorry about the maths again) is 6 min/km which is the pace I was doing on the way out, rather than on the way back.
“Plan E” was to catch up and overtake the little old lady that had gone past me around about the time “Plan C” came off the rails. But I’d lost heart as well as momentum and I had an attack of the walkies. Little old lady was now also a dot.
“Plan F” was merely to waddle to the finish line and test whether, had I actually been able to keep up with Graham until the last, I would have been able to execute the lightning fast sprint finish. The results were inconclusive. I think I probably would have done, but going over my heart rate limit wasn’t worth it without the possibility of a meaningful victory, so I held off until the final 300 yards or so and only then gave it the beans.
A kindly marshall undid my radio tags and I waddled over to join the rest of the swarm and congratulate Graham on a race well run. I also wanted to find out the result of the Raine v Letts battle at the front. A victory for the middle aged, although I’m very sure it won’t be long before Rory is beasting the longer distances as well as the 5k.
The Marina 5M is one of my two favourite races, the other being the Old Monks. (Well done Burn Road Harriers.) I like it because it’s almost entirely flat but also because I can wave and shout encouragement at my fellow Harriers as they pass me on their way back to the finish line. Graham told me later that the shouting had helped give my position away. Evil plan laugh guy is a little embarrassed about the whole thing but I won’t let it inhibit my enjoyment next time.
And so, on to the next race, which I think I have free rein on, unless someone else steps up from Division 4. They say it’s a marathon not a sprint, which is a shame because I’m much better at sprinting. Let’s see what lies ahead. Maybe I’ll even try doing some more of that running thing.