This week saw the end of phase one of my 10k training plan, which culminated in a 5k ‘effort.’ I chose Stratford-Upon-Avon parkrun for said effort…
I arrived at the Recreational Ground nice and early, to give myself enough time for a sufficient warm up. When you turn off the main road towards the Recreational Ground, there’s a small car park on the right-hand side, with around 20 spaces. This is not the only available parking. Continue further down the road and there are several parking areas, offering more than enough parking for all attendants. I decided to park in this first area though, in the hope that I wouldn’t get caught up in too much traffic on my way out later. Parking is pay and display, and costs £1 per hour. There are also plenty of toilets on offer. I spotted two during my jog towards the start area.
I had, of course, done my research beforehand and was aware that it was a three-lap course, taking in almost the entire periphery of the grounds, including a section along the river. As I set off on a couple of warm up laps, I quickly recognised the main field as the finish area for the Stratford Half Marathon that I had completed a couple of years previously. I also noticed that it was very flat. Stratford is known for its PB potential due to its flat profile and, after my first warm up lap, I could see why.
During my warm-up, I threw in some race pace strides of around 50-100m. I know that there are performance benefits to doing this, but I’ve never really been brave enough to include it in my routine, not wanting to tire my legs before the start. However, given the performances of my parkruns in recent weeks, where I have run a fast paced 5k beforehand, I had more confidence in the fact that I could put a bit of pace into my warm-up with no detrimental effect to my performance.
Following my warm-up, and a few dynamic ‘loosening’ exercises, I headed over to the start area. As ever at parkrun, the volunteers were all very nice and helpful, and had cups of water and squash on offer to anyone who wanted any. The first-timers briefing was also well executed. I’ve attended my fair share of these now and, unless you’re a sub-19 minute runner or it’s your first ever parkrun, you can generally just follow the person in front of you and you’ll be ok. Nevertheless, well attended and well executed as mentioned. I try to tourist as much as I can at parkrun but, really, I never venture too far away from home. So, when asked if there are any tourists, saying you’re touristing at Stratford from Rugby (30 miles between parkruns) is hardly impressive. Today however, there was someone in attendance from Australia. That was impressive!
Over to the start we went and, given my goal of sub-21, I lined myself up not far off the front. The periphery path is relatively narrow, but the grass run-off area is almost infinite so the start can be as wide as you need it to be. My plan suggested a 20:45, which is 6:40/mile pace, and the recommendation was to not exceed this pace for the first 3km, speeding up progressively, if possible, for the final two km’s.
I was fairly sceptical of this pace, as I hadn’t run this fast for any prolonged period during training. I had a 6 x 4 minute session earlier on in my schedule, but it was during the mini heat wave that we had, and it might have even been on the hottest day ever recorded. I opted to complete the session on the treadmill, with the expectation that it would be cooler. As it turned out, I managed just 2 x 4 minutes at the pace, having to regressively drop it for the following four reps. So I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for.
As it turned out, the pace came almost naturally to me. I set off hard, but it was by no means a sprint. The course starts off with around 150m of tarmac path before taking a right, across some grass and onto the path on the other side. The grass section is probably around 50-75m and is the only off-road section on the course, x three laps of course. No need for trail shoes here.
Following a winding path section, you end up riverside after around half a km. A quick check of my watch to see how my pace was fairing – 6:35 (yes, I know I mix my imperial and my metric measurements. It’s odd, but it works for me). Whilst wanting to slow that to 6:40, slowing down by 5 seconds/mile is tough to gauge, so I continued on. Km one came up in 4:06, which is 6:35 pace. After the riverside section, there’s a turnaround point where you head through one of the car parks and back towards the start to begin the next lap. Km two – 4:11, 6:43 pace. Still on track.
My pace seemed to drop considerably along the riverside section in laps two and three. I can only guess that this was due to the tree cover along that section of the course, or maybe this is where the small elevation gains were, and I didn’t realise at the time. Worth bearing in mind for future though. Km three – 4:09, 6:40 pace, bang on! Although it was feeling hard, I was pleasantly surprised that I was still maintaining this pace moving into the final two km’s. Could I progressively get quicker from here though? Not likely.
My pace dropped slightly during the fourth, which finished along the river, but as my watch bleeped to tell me that there was only one km left, and with my legs telling me that they weren’t quite finished yet, I went for the finish with everything that I had left. Looking back post-run, it wasn’t quite as fast as I thought, but I did get back on pace, finishing the final km in 4:09, 6:40 pace. There was another three seconds before I stopped my watch due to a spot of finish funnel overtaking. I was passed on my right by someone during the tapered cone section, who didn’t quite go past and keep going at the same pace and then, right on the line, someone also passed me on my left. Three into one in the finish funnel do not go. I am really not fussed with finishing positions at parkrun. Many like a sprint finish and I’m more than happy for others to overtake me at the finish, but not so that I have to slow down right on the line. If I’d have stopped my watch at 5km, my time would have been 20:47. I stopped my watch at 20:50, and my official time was 20:52. I’m taking 20:50 as my new PB.
After the event, there was tea, coffee and cake on offer. All free, with donations voluntary. With no money in hand, and not wanting to take a freebie, a completed a final half a lap as a cool down before heading off home at the front of the queue of cars waiting to leave.
I now move onto phase two of my training plan, considering phase one as a success. I started the plan with a PB of 21:08, but with a more recent time of 21:16. At Stratford, my target was 20:45 and I had achieved a 20:50, just 1 second per km slower than target. Very satisfied indeed.