An ex-colleague of mine has been enjoying a bit of parkrun in recent months. He’s managed to get his time down from around 28 minutes to 24:20 but has been striving to get to around 23:30 to beat his brother. His suggestion to me that he thought he could go quicker if only he could pace himself better got my attention, and I offered to help him in his quest. When I met up with him at Rugby parkrun, I wasn’t too surprised that he was struggling to pace an even 5km as he hasn’t been running with a GPS watch, so has only been pacing himself to feel. This is difficult to do, especially on undulating courses.

His 24:20 was at Kingsbury Water, which is completely flat, particularly in comparison to his home parkrun of Leamington and also Rugby too. With that in mind he thought 24 minutes was doable and so we set off with the target of sub-24 minutes.

Pacing is difficult at the best of times. Having a GPS watch does make it easier, but even then, you are only relying on the accuracy of the GPS, which can be up to 5% out. But at Rugby I think it’s even more difficult. Not only are there sections of tree coverage, where GPS is commonly lost, but there’s also a tough hill that you have to negotiate…twice. Knowing how to pace hills is tough. Do you maintain the target race pace, or do you slow it up a bit and then make up the time on the downhills? I opted for the latter.

I set off with a pace of 7:43/mile in mind and he looked reasonably comfortable for the first half mile. I then picked it up a bit on the downhill section to make up for what was ahead. It’s easier to pace an individual than it is a group, as you can gauge how they are feeling and alter your pace accordingly. If they are looking good and keeping up well then you can push the pace little-by-little to get them round quicker. The key to this is to try and keep them as close on your shoulder as possible. If you take off 20 metres ahead then psychologically, you’re too far ahead for them to catch up.

I did exactly this, especially coming off the final hill. He was flagging but still keeping up, so I dragged him round and, with a sprint finish, he finished in 23:33. A good job done in my opinion.

Aside from the hill, Rugby is relatively flat. Coming off the top, you enter a flat field section. On lap one, I glanced down at my watch to ensure that we were still on pace and I noticed that my HR was in zone 2. OK, I know I go on a bit about heart rate, but it’s how I gauge my training. It’s how I keep my easy days easy and I also use it as a gauge of my fitness as I progress and regress. I’d noticed since my injury that my HR has been higher than I would like, suggesting a perfectly feasible loss in fitness, although disappointingly so. But Z2 during an effort that is around my half marathon pace? I had a look at my stats later that day. I ran 5 miles to get to parkrun, and my average HR was 150, at a pace of 09:44/mile. For the parkrun itself, averaging 7:37 pace, my average HR was also 150. Then, the 4 miles back home, running at 09:33, my average HR was 153. Not quite adding up.

I’ve been doing lots of easy runs since then and my heart rate has been all over the place. Pushing uphill, I’ve supposedly been in Z2, whereas cruising downhill I’ve been in Z3. I had just about lost confidence in my chest strap. This weekend I was on a long, easy run of 14 miles (long for me anyway) and again my HR was erratic. I made sure it was easy by feel, being able to breathe through my nose for most of the run, and yet I was still ranging from Z1 to Z4. Around 10 miles in I decided to check if my chest strap was actually connected to my watch. No, it wasn’t. My watch was still “searching” for the strap. I got home, changed the battery and connected the two first time. The erratic reading had been coming from the wrist sensor on the watch. Another poor advert for wrist-based heart rate. I do wonder how long I’ve been running without the chest strap, maybe my fitness hadn’t taken such a hit after all. It’s strange that the original battery lasted for over a year and I got low battery warnings on my watch when it was on its way out, whereas the replacement battery (Energizer if anyone is interested) lasted probably around three months and provided no warnings that it was about to fail completely.

Finally, a bit of inspiration from the Rugby & Northampton Athletic Club. Two of its members from the Rugby side recently attempted the Bob Graham Round. For those unfamiliar, the Bob Graham Round involves an attempt at traversing 42 fells over 66 miles in the Lake District within 24 hours. With a large, and very willing, support team they completed the round in 21:46. A couple of members of the support crew were providing updates on the progress throughout the 24 hours and I just found the whole thing so emotional and inspiring. Obviously, it’s a fantastic effort and achievement by the two involved, and every time they complete a challenge I just wonder what they could possibly do next. They were, and are, an inspiration. But those providing pacing and navigational support on the trails, along with those on the ground meeting and restocking them with kit and snacks at various checkpoints was what I found emotional. Such incredible support by a special group of fellow runners. There’s nothing that I could possibly say to do it justice, other than well done to all.

For a light-hearted summary on the 24 hours, please take a look at the YouTube video linked below, produced by a member of the support crew.

Dean and Stephen’s Bob Graham Round May 26 2019

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