About a week ago, someone from my club contacted me. There is a national interclub competition (we are in the lowest division) and we still needed someone to do either the 3000 or the 5000 metre. The person contacting me would do the other distance. After hip niggles before and after my last race, I had laid off the speed work. A more hectic schedule than usual prolonged that further still. All in all it had been since that race two months ago that I had tried to run fast at all. I assumed by now it would be fine though and I said I would help out. I opted for the 3000 so if things did feel a bit off, they would not last as long. What about the 800 mentioned in the title you may ask? That one was not on the table at this point. Read on.
While I had made speedwork off limits, regular running still went fine. Except for weeks where real life interfered, I hit all my regular distances. The only “workout” every week ended up being the long run, hovering around 27 to 29 km. Weekly distances since the last race week were: 67, 111, 82, 111, 109, 113, and 91 as a recovery week the week prior to this race’s week. Not planned for that purpose, I was mostly through that week when I was asked to take part in the race.
Race week I opted for a gentle attempt at speedwork during this year’s edition of the VUB’s 12 hour race to test how the hip would feel. I did 11 laps (~650 metre each). Ten of them faster than regular running, but not hitting lactate threshold. The final one was all out. Hip seemed fine at all time so that was reassuring. Monday through Friday was: 18.5, 13.4, 16.5, 13.0, and 10.1 km. The race was on Saturday.
I also had some bad luck with work. Monday I had had to teach 5 hours in a row and my vocal chords were suffering from it. That lasted all week and was augmented from Thursday afternoon onwards with a snotty nose and lots of sneezing. Not ideal. The morning of the race it at least seemed a little better, but the illness was all still there upsetting my body.
Goal and Strategy
I was not sure what shape I was in. Rather than think too much about time, I thought I would try to base my race on others. In previous races I often would start very controlled and self conscious about my pace which led to running alone for most of the race as I slowly passed people that had burned all their matches early. This time around I hoped to just join in the fray at the start of the race and see who I could try following. If it worked, I might get a new PR. If it did not work, well, I came without expectations anyway.
That said, I did try to keep some times in mind. My PR is 38.8 seconds per 200m. 9:30 is 38s per 200m. 10 minutes is 40s per 200m. I figured just knowing about them would help prevent me from going way too fast or slow.
Pre-Race and a New Race
My race was at 15:40. I arrived around 14:15. At 14:20-14:30, people from my club said that our 800m guy had pulled out. I was asked if I was maybe willing to also run the 800m. Open to new experiences, I have never raced an 800, I agreed, asking when it was. Soon, apparently. The 800m was at 15:10. So not only did I have to quickly change and start getting warmed up (and toilet visits!), I would also have to handle the quick 30 minute turnaround between the two races.
I got to it and jogged for 15-20 minutes in a nearby park. I went back to the track, changed into spikes, jogged a few minutes on the track with them and did a few very short strides. Also did some leg swings to further activate the hips.
One minor thing: I also went to ask somebody from the club how the start exactly worked. I thought you had to stay in your lane for a bit, I just wanted confirmation about how long to do that. (Till you exit the first turn, basically).
I had no clue about what time would be “normal” for me. Ignoring that, I figured it would also be impossible to try and pace this somehow right. Instead I figured “just race”. We’ll see what happens.
I got put into lane 8, the most outer lane, also making me unable to see the rest. I had noticed I was the only one with a watch one. I figured I was not sure how often I would be doing an 800, might as well get the data onto Strava and friends.
The description might be overly detailed for an 800m. Idk how much of it was justifications after the fact or how much of it I actually was thinking during. Either way, here is the report.
The gun went and off we were. And off they were anyway. When I hit the end of the first turn, I was already gapped by the second to last guy in the field. Not seeing the other guys in the turn, I had started too conservatively, or at least slower than anyone else. I was not worried, I felt I could go faster. I ran at a slight angle towards the inner lane and was behind the second to last guy near the end of the first straight. 200m done, 600m to go.
That guy was clearly going slower than I felt I could do and in the second turn I overtook him. There was already a gap between him and a trio in front of him so I could not wait around. I passed him and closed the gap on the trio. On the second straight I sat behind them. They were a bit bunched up and I did not want to go too wide. I also had a brief “breather”, it was ever so slightly slower than the pace I had ran to catch up to them (Evidently, I guess). I did not see what time we came through the first lap. The race organisers also did not seem to post this split afterwards. Bummer, I am slightly curious now.
In the third turn, things got more strung out and the front guy of our little pack was pulling away from the two right in front of me. I thought I still should keep trying and on the next straight I overtook those two and started trying to close the gap on the guy getting away. Think I caught up to him somewhere between the start and the middle of the final turn.
In the turn I noticed he started flailing a bit, so I figured I could take him. Rather than start that overtaking during the turn (and run some extra distance), I thought I should be fine with the final straight. I was not going to catch any of the 7 other guys in front of us anyway. As we hit the end of the turn, he found an extra gear and sped up again. Shit. I should have seen that coming. I too sprinted with what I had left, but was not even able to pull up besides him. Luckily, he cracked with about 50 metre to go. Suddenly I was alongside and then quickly past him.
My throat was killing me after that heavy effort. I heard I had ran 2:08 and was 8th out of 12 guys. I did not have time to really process whether it was good or bad or what. I had to go and change: back into regular shoes, out of the race shirt, and off for a short jog to keep the blood flowing. I got 12 minutes jogging in before I was back to changing into spikes and going to the starting area for my next race.
My heart rate had not properly come down since the first race, it was still noticeably higher than usual.
I lined up and once again the gun went. I had no clue how much the 800 might affect me, so I stuck to my original plan. I immediately threw myself into the fray and the messiness of a start. We went through 200 metre in maybe 35s. A little hot, but that was to be expected with the start.
I quickly settled in behind a guy from “AC Halestra”. The six people in front of him were definitely going way too fast for me so I was not going to try to latch on to them. In fact, even the Halestra guy felt a little faster than “planned”. We clocked a few laps going faster than 9:30 race time. Our average pace did end up slowing, but even then it was still 1:15-1:16 per lap, aka still at or about 9:30. Those lap times I think I heard right from Halestra’s coach yelling them on the side (I glanced at the official clock every lap but was not bothering with lap math, just a feeling of “yup, that’s fast still”, I did not bother pressing the lap button on my watch). I knew it faster than what I had expected, but I was in this position now anyway, I figured I should keep hanging there.
With maybe 1300m to go (at the end of the turn there), I misstepped inside the track. I made a bit of a jump of “oh shit” sideways. I slowed down thinking I was disqualified now. Then I realised I was being stupid, that was not an advantage, definitely not now that I had slowed down. I restarted, but the damage was done. Halestra guy was a few steps in front of me. Looking at the pace, I seem to have tried to keep up still for maybe a lap. I do not think I managed to properly close the gap any more though and I lost the mental battle against myself there. He was off, I slowed down.
I tried to keep the effort alright for the remainder of the race, I did not want to get overtaken. Did not manage to pep myself up to still go for a PR at least. Not sure I was even thinking about that at the time. Final 100m I figured what the hell and just pushed out whatever I had left still. No clue what I was thinking about then. Just making sure I did not get sneakily overtaken probably.
The 800m was 2:08.91 for an eighth place (Strava). The 3000m was 9:46.80, also for an eighth place (Strava). Both out of twelve competitors. My club finished ninth out of twelve clubs, so it seems I was not the weak link at least.
The 3000 I could place in the grand scheme of things, it was 4 seconds slower than my PR from last year. The 800m time was pretty meaningless to me though. I had a look at an IAAF (World Athletics) scoring tables document I still had saved somewhere. It links times in events to points.
My 800m time is worth 558 points. My 3000m PR is 539 points, my 5000m PR is 535 points. That is unexpected. Am I a middle distance runner now? After some brief confusion about whether I had been approaching my running all wrong, I did check my road races too. My 10 km is 603 points and my half is 609 points. OK, I’m a distance runner still after all. It does make me wonder how fast I could get with some proper 800m training (or any speedwork in the buildup) and the right race. That said, getting the same number of points as my 10 km would only be a 2 second improvement. What I’m trying to say here is: probably not that much faster. Trying to get to to 2:05 or lower might turn out to be very very difficult, if not impossible.
Racing wise perhaps just not starting as slow in the 800m could already make a big difference. That said, maybe I had blown up later in the race then. There was a group that ended 2:06.31, 2:06.88, and 2:08.37 though (last guy faltered). Maybe if I had managed to latch onto them early on, I would have been able to hang on. Bunch of what ifs.
So. A last minute addition to the schedule has broadened my horizons. I think I am more willing to give an 800m another try, if there is not too much travel involved. Maybe a 1500m too, have not tried those yet. Just do whatever and have fun with it. I will have to have a proper look at the calendar for the coming month or two. See if there is some more fun to be had.
There is also still the Brussels 20 km on the last Sunday of May. I am still undecided whether to do that one. I am not really feeling in the mood, but it also feels like a “just do it” kind of race. I will probably think about it for a week or two longer still.