I've just completed a Winter racing series. It comprised eight fortnightly 10km races in different forest parks around Northern Ireland.
Now, I like medals. They are my keepsake, so earning a gold medal for completing all 8 was a huge motivator. That, and of course, seeing if I could do it.
10km is a safe distance for me. I like the distance and I know I can run it, even if I can't train for it. So, what was more interesting for me, was how to train for a series compared to a one off event.*
Here's what I've learned:
I get very sick in the winter time. For about three of these races, I had been in bed recovering from a heavy cold. Normally, I would keep going in spite of how I feel, but because of the races, I put a lot of effort into getting better quickly, so, rather than training, I was healing. So, what I learned is that when there is a series involved, you need to make sure you are making an effort to keep you body strong in between, and, getting out of wet clothes and shoes as soon as possible after a race in order to prevent getting more sick.
I get faster. Apart from the bouts of sickness, my overall 10km time improved. None of the races were in the same place, and as they were off-road races, there were a lot of hills, and very narrow pathways, making PB's not easy. Only one race was flat, and I completed that in 45.55 - my fastest ever 10km time. But, I now know that I can run 10km quite fast. I'm sure this is due to the regular competing that I was doing.
Not all races in a series are for PBs. I learned this very quickly, too. Eight races every two weeks, meant that sometimes, due to my health mainly, it was about finishing the race, rather than finishing fast. If I knew a route had tough hills, I decided to walk them, rather than run them, purely to make sure that I did not injure myself for the next race. I learned to think in a broader picture, rather than just one race at a time.
Runnings routes with hills helps run faster in flat races. There was only one flat race in this series. When I uploaded my time, my brother was curious to know what had happened for such a jump in pace. I didn't really know at the time. I was just following my heart-beat and running at a comfortable pace. I just so happened that this pace was faster than my usual one. Looking back, I think it was probably because I had been doing so much climbing in previous races that my heart was coping better at a fast pace on the flat route. I definitely want to incorporate more hills into my training, now. But I need to hunt for them where I live.
Start near the front. As the course progresses in a race, things even out and people find their pace. I found that there was less pushing and shoving closer to the front of the start line. I also found that I was pushed just that little bit more to go a little bit faster. I liked this challenge. Obviously, I'm not talking about starting right at the front! Just a bit more forward than I usually do. I think I learned that I am faster than I think I am , and I need to believe in myself a bit more.
I must keep up with shorter runs in between races. Between two races I was in bed with a fever and could not get out for my regular 5km jogs. It resulted in an IT band pain around kilometre 8 of one of the runs. It has been years since I have suffered this injury, but was a serious wake up call to the importance of those "maintenance" jogs.
I must strength train. I have got lazy. I need to get back into a routine of strength training to help with things like IT band injuries. I know better. Also, for when I do get very sick, I need something that I can do in the house.
I won't be doing a series like this again for a while as it is a huge commitment in terms of driving to different places and devoting every second week purely to a jog. But I am so glad to have done it. I have focused mainly of half marathons in recent years, and it was nice to return to a distance that I love. It was also nice to see me getting closer to a 45 minute 10km. I think I will see if I can achieve that in a road race this year. I also see the value in regular timed races. It is expensive to commit to a big race every two weeks, but I may make my way down to our park runs a bit more. For now, though, it is time to build up for the next half marathon.
*I would like to add that I have grown into running. I completed my first 5km nine years ago, now, in 36 minutes. Prior to that I had never run a race in my life. As I lost weight, my running distance increased. I ran my first half marathon four years ago. I then had a baby two years ago, so I've needed to build up my training again. Happily, I can say that I continue to improve in spite of getting older and having a baby. This exercise is a lifetime habit for me, now, that I could not do without. But, it took time for that to happen.