The pine trees at Thetford Forest stand soldier stiff, and stifle the sounds of the outside world. They provide a green peace, an overwhelming sense of tranquility. They also seem to capture the moisture of the air and generate a great amount of humidity, as one might suppose a forest does, but I discovered that firsthand during a recent race there.
But let’s step back.
What am I doing in my running life right now? What am I training for?
I am racing as much as (is healthily) possible, and for that reason what I am training for is not so much one goal, but a continuation of goals: to accomplish a season, a summer of racing, that will hopefully, in time, result in some PB’s. For now the racing is just training, just fun. They are my tempo efforts, and combined with my speedy track workouts they are leaving plenty of room for easier, more exploratory runs such as my little adventure at the Burrough on the Hill Iron Age Fort, where the above photo is from.
The Thetford Forest Trail 10k was supposed to be the first of these light races. The plan was (is) to control these efforts so that they serve as competitive tempo runs which can provide a solid training effect, and also race experience.
Thetford did not really go according to that plan. I started too quickly. I had a sniff of a win, which I took aboard as extra pressure, and as such started far quicker than I have ever started a 10k race before in my life. This is completely nonsensical because: 1) it went against the entire point of entering this specific, low profile race, and 2) if I wanted to win a far more conservative approach would have delivered better results. Winning wasn’t the point, but I did lead for 4 miles of the race, and so it would have been nice to take home a little victory.
With the ridiculous start, and with the incredible humidity, by mile 4 I just couldn’t breathe properly, and it has been said that the ability to breathe is amongst the foundations of good running. To regain composure I came to a full stop, waited for the runner behind me to pass, and then ran steadily to the finish where St Johns Ambulance checked me out, and we all concluded that there was nothing severely wrong with me except for a lack of sense. I had just pushed too hard, too soon, in too hot conditions.
But, I enjoyed the evening, and saw no reason to wait too long for my next race.
The next weekend I took on a local race, the Whitemoor 5, which was again multi terrain, and this time I was actually able to control myself. It resulted in a great workout with some before/after miles to simulate a long run, and I still positioned in the top 5.
Fast forward another week and I raced again, in the Garendon Gallop 10k. The goal was the same: do enough miles before and after to simulate a long run, and use the race as a strong tempo effort in the middle. There were no tall pine trees to ramp the humidity on this course in Loughborough, but it was a baking hot, blue sky day, and the course provided little shade. The start was a wonderful, wide, cross country style affair, with the entire retinue of runners galloping across a school field, narrowing at the sharp end like a cavalry charge forming a wedge to batter down a shield wall. I put myself near the top 5, and decided to see what it would feel like to stay there. For a couple of miles it felt good, but the sun was bearing down on us and, with Thetford fresh in my mind, and the idea that this was training rather than full blown racing, I backed right off for a couple of miles, picked up water from the station, and picked things up again towards the end, placing 4th.
With a 3 mile warm up, and then another 3 miles after, the day went exactly as planned, but part of me wished I’d been a bit more competitive. 3rd place received a trophy, and I let the 3rd place runner trot away without much resistance. Yes, it was because I was trying to relax my effort in the heat, and who knows how much that other runner would have been able to draw out of himself if I was breathing down his neck, but in any case I was left with a case of the what if’s…
So, now that I’ve had three relaxed races, perhaps it is time for me to pick something flat, something fast, that I can go into with a more aggressive mindset. Not that I intend to stop doing these training races. Taking the stress out of my performance has allowed me to appreciate the courses more, and just generally enjoy the experience of race day. Not every race can be a PB, so maybe we shouldn’t go into every race even trying to get one. Controlled, feel based efforts, probably have a greater training impact on us because we can continue our training beyond them. Full on, flat out efforts require rest, and should be saved for when we’re at our peaks, but if we only race in these rare moments, we miss out on so many interesting events, unique courses, and shared experiences with other runners. As the summer winds on, and as more freedom rolls our way, I fully intend to make racing part of my training regime, and not just the end of it.