Targets and tapers

Tapering: a training phase where a runner cuts back on their training activity before a big race, giving them an opportunity to rest, recover and mentally prepare.

Tapering, Running Buffet-style: not doing much of anything at all in preparation for nothing whatsoever (no race, big or otherwise).

Some would call it laziness. I prefer to say that I have been busy. I’ll leave you to decide who is right.

But this morning I put my running trainers on again. And I thought to myself, “what have I got to lose?” I haven’t done much exercise at all this week so I should be brimming with potential; a pot of bubbling running energy, raring to go. For a long time now my self-imposed target has been to complete a parkrun in under 25 minutes. My parkrun PB was set at Killerton last summer when I was eight seconds over that target and I haven’t managed to get any closer since. However, my recent 5×50 endeavours have generally improved my running and I even managed to put in a couple of sub-25 minute runs towards the end of the 50 days. Whilst I wasn’t hopeful about replicating that this morning at Parke (it’s a bit hilly), I was hoping to see a marked improvement in my time.

In the absence of any training over the last couple of weeks, and with my (potentially theoretical) abundance of energy to draw upon, my plan for this morning’s parkrun was to “go for it”.

“Go for it”: a style of running where the runner abandons all pretence at having a plan and just runs as quickly as they can for 5 kilometres; this can be known to result in the runner limping home, red-faced and panting having expended all of their energy after only a couple of kilometres.

Since my last visit to the Parke parkrun they have changed the route. You may remember me saying that the steep downhill slope is the hardest part of the whole course. Well, no longer; the first loop of the course has been reversed, meaning that instead of a long uphill and a sudden, steep downhill, there is now a steep uphill and a much longer downhill section. I think this makes the course a bit quicker. I was never able to make the downhill count as it was too steep for me to feel confident about opening up my legs and running full pelt down it. But now, after an initial push to get up the steep hill, there is a flatter section on which to recover and then a long, leisurely downhill track that allows you to get some speed up as you make your way back towards the halfway point.

Halfway round, and I hadn’t burned out yet.

I started to fade on the second loop, but managed to keep up a reasonable pace. The second hill of the day reared its ugly head and I gritted my teeth and powered up it as fast as I could, overtaking someone in the process (go me!). At the top the path levels out and I found I had drained far too much from my legs going up the hill; unable to regain a decent flat speed, I was soon passed by the runner I had overtaken on the hill (go other runner!).

“Hooray” I thought, “it’s downhill from here”, and I was able to gather myself and put in a final burst towards the finish, forgetting that there is a final uphill slope just before the end. Breathing hard and feeling a bit wobbly, I managed to keep pace with the lady in front but I was unable to get back past her again. About two metres from the line, a blur of teenage testosterone came barreling past and I was overtaken just as we entered the finishing funnel. But that didn’t matter, as I was racing myself and not those other people. I can only thank them for acting as target men and women in front of me, dragging me on by their very presence ahead.

Once my vision had cleared sufficiently for me to focus again and I had regained the ability to stand upright unaided, I consulted my watch. The time seemed encouraging. It turns out that doing bugger all for a couple of weeks and then running like a lunatic for 5 kilometres is the correct way to get a decent parkrun time. You heard it here first folks.

I headed back home without a visit to the cafe (my red face and sweaty demeanour would only put people off of their bacon rolls, and I couldn’t do that to them, their bacon rolls are too good) and I even managed to get in through the front door moments before the heavens opened and rain of, frankly, biblical proportions dropped from the sky.

And then, this afternoon, the email popped into my inbox. My official parkrun time? 24:41. A new, sub-25 minute parkrun PB.

Now if only I had actually done some training in the last few weeks…

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