I was in London to visit a friend of the girlfriend. The girlfriend wanted to do a race while there and had first set her eyes on the Battersea Park 5k & 10k. However, she waited too long with signing up. It was sold out and no Battersea for her. I did not intend on racing it anyway, so no harm done for me.
Eager to run any race, she decided on a parkrun, more specifically the Beckton parkrun. As the concept does not exist in Belgium, I figured I should take part as well to see what the fuss is all about. While I did feel like taking part, I did not feel like really racing and figured I could take it more along the lines of a tempo run, if my body even felt up for that.
The course is situated in Beckton District Park South and about 1.5 km of the 5 km race is spent on grass. This is an important detail. The parkrun the week before was in muddy conditions, so the ground had taken quite a beating. For this edition of the parkrun, the ground was frozen. In other words, all the weird angles that had been formed last week, were now rockhard and ready to make you twist an ankle.
The course itself starts off on asphalt which lasts maybe 100 metre. After that it continues onto grass for 700 metre followed by asphalt again. A π turn at the end of a narrow straight called the “corridor”, makes sure you lose any momentum at 1.6 km. At 2 km is a turn onto a wooden bridge which due to the weather looked white and wet. Lap one is done after 2.5 km and repeated. The difference in lap two exists in that you do not turn onto the wooden bridge, but instead head straight on until a sharp turn back onto grass for a final sprint of about 100 to 200 metre.
I finished Pete Pfitzinger’s base building plan to 48 km per week a few weeks ago and have been giving myself some weeks to get used to running 50 km week in week out. The week before race week, the muscles at the front of my right thigh were painful, leading me to take it easy throughout the entire week which solved that issue. The week of the race, sleeping was terrible. Flew during the night on Monday and could not sleep on the plane. Was on the bus during the night on Wednesday and could not sleep on the bus. Needless to say, I was tired. Because of this tiredness, I moved Thursday’s 13 km run to Friday, the day before the parkrun. The evening before the race we also met up with some redditors in a pub. There are more ideal ways to get ready for a race. The combination of this all is what made me decide to take this one as a tempo run of sorts in which I would pace the girlfriend, who would go at it like a race.
Morning of the Race
No special early getting up and eating in peace. Just some water after waking up and a run of about three km to the start to get warmed up. We cut it pretty close and arrived a few minutes before 9:00, when it was supposed to start. Met up with one of the redditors from the night before, Philip, who lived nearby and would also take part in the race. He also was kind enough to print out the barcodes we needed to get our time registered with the parkrun site. We looked around at a bit at the competition and a few minutes past the hour, the just over forty people lined up for the start.
Felt like a slow start, but I still found myself near the front, just behind two guys running side-by-side. One wearing a blue shirt, one wearing a red shirt. Following people was a bit of a theme during this race as I had no clue about the course and markings were not always present. As we ran through the grass, a glance at my watch told me we were hovering a bit above 4:00 per km, a glance behind me told me the girlfriend was not really following after a few 100 metre despite the slower pace. I figured she was not in the mood to go much faster, so I forewent the plan of pacing her and was left with the plan of a tempo run.
After about 1 km, red shirt dropped away and I moved in behind blue shirt. He lasted for a few 100 metre until Philip took over in the corridor. Making sure not to let myself fall behind, I moved from behind blue shirt to behind Philip. I think at some point, blue shirt took over again for a while, but not 100% sure on that any more. Regardless, before the end of the first lap a new contender, this one in a dark shirt, went to the front. Once again, I moved in behind the leader, remaining in second position. At the end of lap one, dark shirt was leading with me in second position and Philip and blue shirt trailing.
Back onto the grass and I came to the conclusion that this would end up slightly harder than a tempo run. The goal from here on out was to trail dark shirt until near the end and then push past him for a victory. Simple enough as our pace was still easy enough, hanging around 4:00 per km. I also decided to only worry about dark shirt in front of me, as I felt Philip and blue shirt behind me slowly fading.
Dark shirt starts speeding up in the corridor and I follow easily enough. The corridor goes well and after that I start turning towards the wooden bridge around the 4.5 km mark. Dark shirt however does not turn and the volunteers start waving at me to continue straight on. This is apparently where lap two diverges from lap one. Remember kids, study the course beforehand! I turn back in the proper direction and speed up to close the tiny gap created because of my faulty start of a turn. Immediately I also think “well, we must be really close to the finish then!” and take it as my cue to race past dark shirt and towards victory.
I pull up next to dark shirt and… blow up. I feel I cannot sustain this effort and fade away from beside him. I fall further back as we make a final muddy turn back onto a patch of grass. The gap is already several seconds, so I glance back and see nobody. At least place two is secure and I am back at a more comfortable pace. I cross the line, having spent start to finish in the second row.
Second, obviously. Not disappointed with the result despite the plans I made halfway through the race. My official time was 19:22, eight seconds behind dark shirt. Philip finished third, another 22 seconds behind me. My Strava activity cannot be trusted as I did not press stop till after Philip asked me what my time was. Whoops, second time in three races that I do that. Blue shirt finished fourth in 20:14 and red shirt fifth in 21:07. The girlfriend, finally, crossed the line as first female and sixth overall in a 21:38 she did not put much effort in.
Looking back at the race, maybe I should have tried pushing it harder sooner in that second lap, but more gradually. Assuming I correctly found him on athlinks though, he could have gone quite a bit faster still anyway. Even if I were rested and ready to race, he likely would have still won, but hopefully less easily. All in all, satisfied with this jog turned tempo turned race that I only joined for the girlfriend.
- Checking out the course when you are racing is obvious, but also do it when you do not think you will end up racing.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep. Being well rested would have made a huge difference. Not only on race day, but also the part where I moved up a run because of it. Of course, had this been a goal race, I would have dropped or shortened that run rather than moving it around like that.
- It is worthwhile to know if you have a decent sprint or are more made for the longer speed up. I fear only more experience will be able to answer that one for me though.