As a runner, I think I know what I'm capable of, but every now and again I surprise myself. I did just that earlier today at the Crawley K2 10km race. My time of 47 minutes 59 seconds is head and shoulders above any time I've run in recent years. Back in the day I was able to run a 10km race in just shy of 40 minutes, but that was 30 years ago. Having turned 60 a couple of months ago, I'm no longer able to run that fast.
I haven't run too many 10km races recently. About four years ago I ran a 52 minute race. Since then all my times have been between the 56 and 58 minute mark. I have run a 25 minute 5km parkrun, but that was before my serious injury. In late March 2018 I fell heavily whilst out running and fractured my pelvis. Unable to run for a year, I maintained a good degree of fitness by attending spinning classes and participating in other low impact CV exercise.
I also discovered how using weights helps with your general fitness. They are an essential part of any fitness regime, and give an oldie like me additional time to recover from the rigours of hard physical exercise. And believe me I need the rest. I've always had a good CV fitness level and strong leg muscles, but my upper body hasn't been able to cope with the same physical demands. By working more on my arms, shoulders, and core, I've managed to build up my upper body strength somewhat.
Yet my time today is still a surprise. So what else could have helped? I have been building up my run distances. I've recently run 15km and felt I could have run further. So I know that a 10km race is well within my ability. The Crawley K2 10km is run mostly off road over an undulating course. There are two fairly steep climbs and with the recent rain, it meant a muddy and very slippy course. Conditions not conducive to a personal best time.
Yet hard hilly courses are historically good races for me. My personal best time of 1 hour 36 minutes for a half marathon was on a course considered to be one of the most difficult in the UK. So maybe I thrive on challenging courses.
Before the race I had a time of 55 minutes in mind. It felt like I set off fairly fast, but the first two or three kilometre splits were OK without being spectacularly quick. The first major hill from 3-4 kilometres must surely have slowed my down, but when I reached the top I was concentrated hard on maintaining momentum and forgot to check my watch. I also forgot to look at the 5km split. A rookie error. All my pre-race planning was starting to go out of the window.
I was starting to feel a little tired, but I pressed on. Another steep hill had me gasping and very nearly stopping to walk, but I gritted my teeth and ploughed on through the mud. That hill was particularly gruelling because you couldn't see where it ended. Just as you thought you'd reached the summit, you turned a corner and there was another summit.
Of course the beauty of hills, is that if you've gone up one, you have to go down one to get back to where you started. For me this is the real reason for my fast time. I've always believed you can make up a lot of time on downhill stretches. This sounds obvious, but is harder to put into practice than you'd think. Take running up a hill. You've expanded a lot of energy to reach the top. Your legs are hurting and your lungs are gasping for air. It is way too easy to take it easy for awhile to recover. But if you can maintain your normal pace, and perhaps lengthen your stride if running downhill, it really helps your overall time.
The final two kilometres seemed to take an age, but by that point any thoughts of a final push were nowhere to be seen. I was already going as fast as I could, and with the field spread out, had virtually no one for company to spur me on. I did manage a token sprint over the last few hundred metres, and half looked up at the timer as I crossed the line. I saw an 8 and figured it was 58 minutes. Slightly disappointing, but considering the course and conditions, not a bad effort. So imagine my surprise when on getting home I discover my chip time was just one second short of 48 minutes.
No wonder I felt like going to sleep when I got home!