There were several reasons why I chose Coventry parkrun as the location for my 5k PB effort. First of all, although it’s not my ‘home’ parkrun, it’s quite close and easy to get to. Secondly, unlike my home parkrun in Rugby, it isn’t weather dependent. The entire course is on a tarmac path, so no mud, no bogs and no chance of slipping. Finally, I chose Coventry because it is what I would call an average course. It isn’t particularly difficult, but it certainly isn’t flat and what most would consider a PB course. Somewhere like Kingsbury or Wolverhampton are much flatter, and would be much ‘easier’ to achieve my goal. I didn’t want that.
So, Coventry was chosen and, as mentioned in my previous post, I carried out a pre training plan and a mid-way point test on the same course to gauge progress. At the end of the ten week plan, I turned up on Saturday with a pacer friend and sub-21 in mind.
We completed a couple of laps of the War Memorial Park as a warm up, which resulted in covering almost as far as the parkrun itself. I never used to participate in a warm up at all, thinking that it was a waste of energy that would be best saved for the race. Over the years though, I’ve learned the importance of getting your muscles warm and active prior to expecting them to perform to their max when the gun goes off. I remember reading, or hearing on a podcast, that it takes 10 minutes to get your blood flowing, ensuring your muscles are supplied with oxygen. Even for longer race distances I try to complete at least a ten minute warm up to ensure that I’m fully prepared for the race that’s about to take place, even if those ten minutes aren’t all spent running. Dynamic stretching and loosening movements also count.
Anyway, as we lined up on the start, the usual nerves and doubts were setting in. The Run Director was delivering his usual race briefing, but I just wanted to get on with it as soon as possible. Eventually we were off and so was my pacer friend. We started quite near to the front which meant there wasn’t too much traffic to negotiate around the first corner before heading down hill, up a short sharp hill and then a further long, sweeping down. I knew at this point we were going fast, it almost felt like one of the 1km reps that I had completed the week before. However, I also knew that this was the best tactic, making the most of the early downhill section before the two hills in the back corner.
I had my watch set up with a 5k target of 21 minutes. Upon doing this, you get two extra screens on the interface. One shows you how far ahead/behind your target you are and a predicted finish time whereas the other shows you how far is remaining, your overall average pace and again your predicted finish time. I had the former displayed as default and during this first section it told me that my predicted finish time was low 19 minutes.
The turn of the first km came in before the 15m climb into the back corner of the park. 4:08, four seconds ahead of target. Km’s two and three are always pretty tough going at Coventry, with those 15m of climbing in the second followed by another small climb, a long flat section to bring up the end of lap 1, then a short downhill and that short sharp up again in the bottom corner of the course. 4:15 and 4:19 respectively. Now six seconds behind target, it would take quite an effort to bring it back.
My pacer was full of words of encouragement throughout, but even more so from here. “Just a mile left” was quickly followed by “we need to pick it up a bit if you’ve got it in you.” I knew we were behind and had to pick it up, but I wasn’t sure just what was left. Whilst I felt fine in myself, and my heart rate was pleasantly stable, my legs just felt tired and heavy. Nothing to do with recent training, I had tapered appropriately, they just didn’t have the strength to find that extra gear.
Despite taking on that (we’ll say, not insignificant, rather than big) climb again, I did manage to pick the pace up as I chased after my pacer with everything I had. 4:13 for the fourth km. A short downhill and a another short climb followed before I simply opened up with absolutely everything at the top of the hill (at the monument if you know the course). A quick glance down at my watch showed that I was 12 seconds behind at this point, with a predicted finish of 21:12. I know that might sound obvious, but whereas time ahead/behind takes elapsed time for its estimation, predicted finish time also takes into account current instant pace. So I knew that if I picked it up a bit from here, if I could, I could bring that down further.
The course takes a tight 90 degree right hand turn into the new finish area. I was coming up behind another runner and I couldn’t overtake on the inside as he was tight against the edge of the path, so I had to go the long way round. Unfortunately there were three spectators stood on the path, close enough to the guy I was trying to overtake that meant that I couldn’t squeeze through the gap on the outside either. Going the long way round then meant that I also had to go around the spectators and onto the grass before cutting back across to the finish.
My watch bleeped for 5k slightly short of the finish. Coventry parkrun has always come up slightly long according to Garmin. That was enough for me. Although I continued my sprint into the finish, I stopped my watch as soon as it bleeped for the end of the fifth km. For races that are licensed by UKA, I tend to go by the course, regardless of what the watch suggests. But for parkruns, where the final distance relies on the positioning of cones, the positioning of the finish funnel and how far back from the start line that you line up, I go off my watch. Even if it comes up short, I will collect my finish token and then sprint off to total up to 5k.
Catching my breath through the finish funnel I glanced down to see how far off 21 I was. 21:07! So close. My pacer was disappointed that we didn’t get round in under 21. He did everything right and paced superbly, it was just my legs that wouldn’t carry me through the middle km’s that resulted in those extra seven seconds. Still, a nine second PB and 22 seconds faster than I managed five weeks ago on the same course is certainly an achievement, and I’m comfortable knowing that I could not possibly have run any faster on the day. For what its worth, my parkrun official time was 21:16 and, after checking post race, that final km was a 4:12 dead.
Moving forward, given how I felt during and at the end of this weeks parkrun, I cannot see how I could ever possibly run any faster. The good news is that this is exactly how I felt three years ago when I ran a 24:19 on the same course. I know I will get there. For now though, attention turns to the Coventry half marathon on March 24. Six weeks of training begins straight after the parkrun, with an easy 5-6 miles planned for Sunday. My 21:07, coupled with recent training and my plan over the coming weeks, has given me confidence that I can finally achieve a sub-1:40, at the third time of asking.