The gentle strum of the harp pulls me through the mist and back into my bed. 5:45am. Wake-up time! Today I race!
I grope around under the bed for my phone, switch the alarm off and creep out of the bedroom without disturbing the wife or baby. Race gear has been tossed outside the bedroom door the night before, so I grab it and head downstairs for a pre-race feed of vegemite toast and cereal. At 50 mins to the gun I wonder if I’ll be seeing this food again and regretting this break in my normal routine of no pre-race breakfast at all!
The Main Beach parkrun is a free 5km timed run, on the same course, at 7am Saturday, every week. Parkrun was launched in the UK in 2004 and is a globally growing phenomena that now sees more than 92,000 runners taking part in 5,000 events around the world. Each run is a community focused event run by volunteers. All you need to do is register online for a barcode and bring it along every week. Too easy! The Main Beach parkrun is into it’s 9th week.
7am on Saturday morning is not a great start time for me, with Tyrone’s Under 7 soccer typically on at 8:30am. But a 5K run is short enough that I’ve been been able to make 4 so far, and this would be my 5th.
A quick drive to the venue and short warmup sees me on the start line with 114 others – the biggest turnout so far. I recognise a few faces – there’s a good turnout of guys that have been taking out the top spots. There would be no repeat of my previous race here where I picked up second place because none of the fast guys showed up!
It seems funny to be in contention for a podium after years of mid-field finishes in triathlons. It looks like running is my thing. But I wasn’t here for placings – there are thousands of guys out there that are faster than me – I was here to race myself. I want to see how much faster I can go!
Each race has seen improvement (apart from the one where I turned up late!). My times have gone from high 19mins, to low 19mins to 18:32 in my last showing. Suddenly a 17:XX seemed possible. Where will it stop?
Since tearing my calf 18 months ago it’s been a real struggle to get my running back. I’ve been walking the knife-edge between speed and injury. But with recent performances I felt like the tide was starting to turn. And I’ve been doing the right things; been looking after myself. I was coming off a recovery week with no speed work after two hard races the week before. And two days earlier I’d been to the physio for routine maintenance on my calf: some dry-needling and a hard massage.
I had the usual niggles, and the usual fears. I was excited to see what I would deliver!
From the “GO” I quickly settled into about 10th place. I’ve noticed a lot of the quicker guys go out fast and establish a gap, but my strategy is to run an even-paced first half and then empty the tank and negative split the 2nd half. This typically means around 3:30-3:40 for the first km. By the end of this first kilometre I’ll be making my way through the ‘flyers’ who have vastly overestimated their ability (or underestimated the distance!).
As I approach the 1km mark I’ve moved into 6th. I look at my Garmin to check my pace – and realise my first mistake. The speed is showing kph and the cadence is missing. I’ve left it in ‘Bike mode’ from the day before! DOH! There’ll be no auto-splits at the km markers and no min/km pacing. I’ll be running blind! That excites me. I wonder if I’ll do worse or better? I decide I won’t even look at my heart rate and do the whole thing by feel.
There’s a group of 3 guys just ahead, a younger guy slowing pulling away from the other two; the two race leaders have hared off out of sight. From km 1 to 2 the gravel trail winds under the canopy with some gentle undulations – enough to slow you down. I’m faster on the downhills and use a longer one to move past all three guys. 3rd place and clear trail ahead. I feel like I’m a racecar, taking the shortest line between each apex.
I’m almost at the 2.5km turnaround and sense a small, sharp pain in my right calf. Not a typical pain. Not a good pain. But only a small pain. I hear breathing behind. The young guy has bridged up. At the turnaround there is a small rise. My calf is not happy about the incline and I ease back a little. The breathing gets closer.
In hindsight I probably made a mistake here. I should have stopped. I certainly thought about stopping. But I didn’t. I wanted to play it out. Would I hold off the young guy? Would I catch the leaders? What time would I do running blind?
I crest the rise and stride out. The calf complains a little louder but feels OK. Young guy sits in. I slowly increase tempo. Usually I’m picking off the faster guys through here. I should be dropping young guy, but I’m not.
I can see the race leaders ahead. Not as far away as I expected. One of theme seems to be flagging. My breathing starts to get a bit ragged. I’ve pushed too hard and find myself in an unfamiliar situation – I back off slightly and try to get my breathing rhythm back. Young guy’s all over it and, with 1km to go, he makes his move and surges past me.
I respond and go with him but he holds the surge longer than I can, and, with a tinge of disappointment, I slowly slip behind. 3rd place is gone. He opens up a 20m gap and it stays like that till the finish line – not through lack of trying!
A great race! A great duel! We congratulate each other.
My calf feels tight so I stretch it against a nearby tree. YOUCH! OK, that’s not good! A quick sip of electrolyte and I hobble back to the car. With every step it feels worse. UH-OH. A gloom starts to descend.
Checking my watch as I walk I realise I’ve just run a new PB – 18:11! RIPPER! Now I’m both happy and sad!?!
To be honest I’ve quickly found myself just accepting this situation. I’m not surprised to be injured again. It’s felt likely since I started running the 5km races. I am a little disappointed that my sub 1:30 half marathon is in jeopardy (for now). But I’m more disappointed that I’m going to have to wait longer to see just how fast I can get. (OK, I’m also a little disappointed that only 12 hours earlier I’d spent a non-refundable $80 booking myself a spot at the Gold Coast Half Marathon in 5 weeks time!).
But hey, the diagnosis is not in yet! I’ll be off to the physio first thing Monday. Until then I’m trying to do the right thing. But R.I.C.E.ing over the weekend for a hobby athlete with four kids (8, 6, 2 and a baby) is a bit of a joke.
Wish me luck!