Following on from some base-building running over recent weeks and months, with the target of an October half marathon the time has come for specific race work. The issue I have (had) at the minute is that I do not know where I am in terms of fitness. Coming back from the shin injury, I have been slowly building distance but, with very few speed sessions under my belt, and almost no racing, I really don’t know what pace I should be aiming for for the half.

With that in mind then, I decided, before I settled in to some real race specific sessions, that I would compete in a race to gauge my fitness level and then work from there. As discussed several times on these pages, spare time for me is a rarity and, although 5km is not necessarily the best gauge for a half marathon prediction, there was a Saturday morning gap in my diary, and so I penned in a parkrun.

Coventry was the destination of choice, not least because I dropped my children off at their grandparents in Coventry shortly before the start. I got to the park in good time for a warm up and a bit of a social with some friends and an ex work colleague before taking my place on the start line.

As mentioned, I really had no idea on how I would fair. My PB is 21:16 and, whilst going sub-21 would have been great, I knew that realistically I wasn’t quite there. I did a speed session a few days previously, 3 sets of 3 x 400m, with increasing recovery within the sets and 400m recovery after each set. The aim on the workout was to start at 5k pace and get slightly quicker for the two remaining sets. I managed it, but only just.

So whilst I hoped for a sub-21, I was looking more for a sub-22, with around 21:30 being the, albeit ambitious, target. I was talking to my ex-colleague before lining up; his PB is around the 17 minutes mark but, given his current workout volume, he is much closer to my pace than he would like. He said he was aiming for around 21-22 minutes and that he was going to take the first lap steady and then kick on for the second lap. Sounded perfect to me, I’ll follow him I thought.

There wasn’t much time to get settled on the start line. Almost as soon as we had taken our places, the start was signalled and we were off. My ex-colleague was off like a shot, and I followed him, although around 5-10 metres behind. Around 400m in the pace felt too quick. I glanced down at my watch, which read instant pace of 3:40/km. This was way too quick. If this was him taking the first lap steady, I didn’t want to stick around to see how he would take the second. It was early on, but I made the decision to drop back and settle into my own pace. The quick start meant a quick first km though – 4:10. After that, with a couple of hills, I clocked a 4:19 and a 4:26. Slightly disappointing, although I couldn’t blame this on the fast start. The final two were 4:24 and 4:30, bringing me home in 21:50. Again, disappointing, but within my realistic goal, so I can’t complain too much.

After deciding to drop back early on, my colleague didn’t really gain anything on me, and never kicked on for the second lap. For the whole 5km he was around 30-50m ahead of me, finishing in 21:30. If I had of just stayed with him, I could have achieved my goal, although the chances were that I would have burnt out towards the end.

So, using that time of 21:50, and using the trusty VDOT02 calculator, my predicted half marathon time is 1:40:30. Slightly slower than I would have liked but, with 9 weeks left until the race, I’m confident that I can shave off that half a minute and have a good go (again) at that elusive sub-1:40. I just need to remain injury free and get some consistent, good sessions in.

One thing to bear in mind at this point is that, if I continue with my current plan mileage wise, my trainers will be on their last legs come race day. It might be best investing in a new pair sooner rather than later to allow time to bed them in.

As a final thought, it’s disappointing that I am still not quite where I was pre-injury, but unfortunately these things happen and recovery takes time. All I can do is my best in an attempt to get back to that level, and that starts this week

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