I am planning to join an athletics club, Atlemo, in a few weeks. They organise a yearly jogging near the canal in Brussels. I figured I should be a good future member and show up to take part. The distances offered are 2.5 km, 5 km, and 10 km. The 2.5 km felt a bit too short to bother with right now, while the 10 km would require too many extra days of rest around it to my liking. Guess I would be doing the 5 km. This was all decided in the week before the race, so once again a great preparation.
The four weeks before race week were three times 90 km with the last one a down week at 70 km. Besides the long run, the workouts in the non-down weeks were: some speed work, a threshold workout, and an easy introduction to a Critical Velocity (CV) workout (one workout per week). I was not tapering for this race, but I was willing to shift around the week some to make things fit. Thus during race week I front loaded some distance as I was still trying to reach 90 km total. The race was on Saturday, but I still did a proper CV workout on Wednesday: 6×800 metre @ ~2:55 per rep with a minute jog in-between. That is supposed to be my 30 minute race pace. The final days leading up to the race I was tired due to not enough sleep. Not ideal conditions, but this was not a goal race in any way.
Goal and Strategy
I was not sure what to really expect, training through this race, but was hoping for something around 17 minutes. The course turned out the be advertised as “4.86 km” on their course map so that seemed doable with my 17:16 personal best. I had recently heard some news on breakthrough workouts and the like though and figured this was as good a chance as any to just try to run by feel. Perhaps I could surprise myself. If nothing else, focusing on how to feel during a race around this distance would be beneficial in the future regardless.
The course is a lap of just shy of 2.5 km. It is pretty flat for a Brussels course and half of it is straight along the canal. The other half you run back through some more twisty turny streets. About one fifth of the course is cobbles, which are always nasty.
Going by past results, I deemed myself worthy enough of lining up at the start line. This is a pretty small race: 200-300 people across all the distances. Athletics clubs are predominantly kids in Belgium and this was reflected at the start line. I knew this would be problematic at the start, kids have a tendency to try and zoom away before quickly fading while running in your way.
The start signal was given and one of those kids managed to immediately pop up right in front of my legs while almost walking at the same time. I have no clue where he came from, but he forced me to start and stop immediately. I managed to get half over half around him and it probably only cost me a second or two, but it felt like an eternity and I was already down to around twentieth place. The first 150 metre are too narrow to easily pass a starting crowd, so I was stuck. After that there is a decently sized right turn followed by the wider straight along the canal. I took the turn more on the outside to pass people and quickly found myself in a better position again. Maybe tenth or so?
Somebody in a black shirt was already way ahead and I knew that if he was going to keep up that pace, I would never catch up to him. Best to just ignore him. Instead I steadily picked off people and soon found myself in the top 5. A guy in a white Atlemo singlet was slowly pulling away from us as well and closing the gap to black shirt. It was pretty clear black shirt was fading and soon after my group also passed him. I moved to the front of my little group, feeling pretty great. I decided to try and keep Atlemo singlet close, though the gap was already 10-20 metre. If I had looked at my watch at this moment, I probably would have decided against that.
As we turned away from the canal, my pace did slow some as I realised catching up to Atlemo singlet was not going to happen. The cobbly parts did not help the pace either. Someone in what looked more like a tri suit passed me and I dropped to third spot. I do not recall whether I tried to stick with him, but regardless he got a gap eventually. As we all approached the finish area for the first time, I saw neither of them stopped. Guess none of us was here for the 2.5 km. Lap 1 splits for Atlemo singlet: 8:00, tri suit: 8:04, me: 8:10. I did not look behind me so did not know about this at the time, but soon after followed two guys at 8:12, a guy at 8:15, and two more Atlemo guys at 8:18 and 8:19. I would find out about this crowd soon enough.
As we came back along the canal, I started to realise I had overreached a bit that first lap. I started fading and people started passing me. By the end of the canal stretch I had dropped from third position to seventh. I could see a small group of three not too far in front of me (10 metre maximum), but at the time that was an eternity away. After some turns away from the canal, I decided to glance at my watch. It said 13 minutes. I realised that did not tell me anything (I did not put a pace field on), nor was I in the mood to play around with it/do any math. I felt I would not manage to close the gap on the group in front of me so just tried to keep the pace honest. Except for one guy I knew was doing the 10 km, I did not know who in front of me was doing which distance. Might as well try my best not to let anyone else zoom past.
I managed to do so till the finish line and panted in the finish chute trying to find out what place it was going to be.
In the end I was fourth in 16:56 (results, strava). Yup that is a 8:10 - 8:46 split, in other words a 36s positive split. Not ideal, but live and learn. Atlemo singlet that had been leading since the first lap won the 5 km in 16:20 (8:00-8:20 split). Second place had been two seconds behind me in the first lap but finished 27 seconds ahead at 16:29 (8:12-8:17). Third place was taken by another Atlemo guy, one of the two guys that had been 6-7 seconds behind me at the first lap. He finished in 16:48 (8:19-8:29). Everyone faded a little, but I faded the most. Pity.
Tri suit who had been in second position after the first lap faded some later on, but still managed a fourth place in the 10 km. The top three there was 33:21, 33:45, and 33:47. The podium in the 2.5 km would have been more attainable for me, they finished in 8:17, 8:24, and 8:48. Easy victory. Oh well, at least I could go home quickly rather than waiting for a podium.
I am joining Atlemo in hopes of doing some track races. Hoping to set clear PBs on the 5000 and 10000 metre this fall still. There has been a small setback in this fall plan though, the first race I had in mind wants you to have a license (i.e., club affiliation) for the 2018-2019 season. I hope the other meets will not have the same requirements.