Mars: the new god of speed

    John Carr Series – Race #2

At the start of the calendar year I set myself a few distance and event targets. Like most other mildly competitive (and completely obsessive compulsive) runners these aimed to better previous performances, while accepting fresh challenges and new goals. Three of my five aspirations, perhaps unsurprisingly, comprised fellrunning and hills. So, with some surprise and maybe in a moment of weakness, I impulsively entered the middle fixture of a local series of three 5km races.

A number of factors were in my favour: (1) the course profile is a net loss (slanting gradients at worst; the finish is approximately 100ft below the start, although there is a sneaky incline kilometer just beyond halfway); (2) many entrants clock PBs which drives others to faster times; (3) and – perhaps most importantly – unlike others I’d NOT completed the Leeds half marathon the weekend prior. Seemingly unnoticed, the weather was also much improved – the stiff westerly had disappeared and the air temperature was at least 7-8 degrees warmer.

On the start line there was much chatter and clunker as the Race Adjudicator ushered the front-line speedsters back behind the painted, orange line. Apparently the previous week’s course distance was a little shy of the full 5km and now it had, by accident, been extended too long. This and other jovial mind-games were played out between friends and inter-club rivals, while PB aspirations were also cautiously shared. Indeed, when asked, I openly disclosed that I wanted to run well, and hopefully close to 20 minutes; secretly, I really wanted to join the 19-something brigade.

The usual frenetic start did not disappoint; most recognise – regardless of ability – that unless you drive to the front then your finish time will be reduced by 10-15 seconds. My aim was for two, consecutive 3.45 minute kilometers, followed by a 4 minute, then a 4.15, and concluded with a final, undignified and unscientific ‘whatever is left in the tank’!

The penultimate kilometer was tough. The familiar last kilometer descent through Esholt village, and past the Woolpack pub, occurred in a blur of sweat and expectation. I didn’t dare look at my watch. I knew chasing the milestone target would be close. “Take one more place”, Pudsey Pacer supporters shouted. I focused on a red, Spenborough vest. Then another. Again, the last 500m seems much, much longer. Thankfully, the finish line soon appeared. A final roar of support. The orange line. Finish. Beep – watch stopped. Grunt, heave for air, brow wipe. Then holding up my watch. Gulp – 19:53. Ya wee dancer!

Tartan angels didn’t quite swoon down with a chorus of highland hallelujahs – after all, I’d spent way over the ‘Wallace-Buckley scale’ on the entry and will likely be surviving on bread and water for the remainder of the week. As a reward I might now stretch to adding on some butter, mind! The memento Mars bar accepted and not yet consumed, I am more chuffed to have snaffled the sub-20 and – perhaps arrogantly – achieving the milestone without actually doing any speed training. Maybe hills really are speed work in disguise? Two targets conquered; three to go…

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