Disaster Weekend

Welsh 5K Championship

Everything that could have gone wrong did. I am so fed up of making excuses. I am tired of running below par. Every time I think I am in PB shape and will run closer to my current potential I get something wrong. Or maybe I am not in the shape I believe.

This evening was the Welsh 5K Championships. I have never ran well over 5K and I always put it down to the races I have chosen. The only times I have raced 5Ks recently have been solo parkrun efforts and one windy Summer Sizzler where I ran a 4:40 first mile and blew up. On all of these occasions the field has not helped. I have run all of the 5ks on my own, fighting the wind and setting the pace. Tonight was meant to be different. Finally a 5k where I can run with lots of runners of a similar ability to me. The runners turned up but where was I?

I was lost. Literally lost. I couldn’t find the race. I had been driving around Bridgend for the last 30 minutes. I was losing my temper. I ended up on Merthyr Mawr Road, but it was not the race venue. I found a tennis centre but it was not the tennis centre advertised on the race information sheet. I was losing my rag. I had eased off all week, so that I had no excuses about having too many miles in my legs, and now I was going to miss the race. The next thing I know I am driving down a footpath in some grassy park. This was definitely not the right place.

I phoned my mate Paul; he is injured but still said he would come down and watch and support; to ask where the hell the race is. He tried to give me directions but I knew it was too late. The time was 18:25. The race started in 5 minutes. I was nowhere near the venue. I was quite rude, and hung up on Paul. I had already uncharacteristically vented my anger towards Vicki, my car, other drivers and everything else within earshot.

I made a last attempt to find the race. I knew I would not be able to run but at least I could watch the Welsh Champs. I tried a different Merthyr Mawr on the Satnav. When I pulled up the last woman was finishing the women’s race. I told the steward I was meant to be racing but I realised that I was too late. He was a positive guy, and said it hadn’t started and that if I parked up and sprinted to get my number that I might still be able to compete. That’s all the encouragement I needed. I sprinted down the course to the Welsh Athletics tent, grabbed my number and sprinted back to the start. I quickly pinned on my number as the other athletes waited at the start line. I was holding everyone up.  Hastily, I slipped my racing shoes on, and left my stuff at the side of the narrow road. I was finally ready and settled in to the front near the start line. I was puffing and blowing. I was knackered already. Not the ideal warm up. My adrenalin was pumping.

Initially my plan had been to race the 5K differently to usual. Normally I run the first mile hard and do my best to hold on. This time I wanted to run the first 2 miles fast but within myself, and then to push on and pick people off in the final mile. Well as we set off I realised I hadn’t set my watch to the desired fields and I had no idea how fast I was going. All I knew was everyone else around me was running harder. Let them go I thought. In hindsight I should have gone with them and sheltered out of the horrendous windy conditions.

I went through the first mile in 5:09. I didn’t know this at the time. This is slower than I had planned for the first mile. However if I had pushed on then it would have still been a decent enough start. I didn’t push on. I crumbled. I didn’t crumble physically. I lost my head. I wouldn’t push myself. I didn’t allow myself to suffer in the way I usually do. For me the whole point in a 5K race is to suffer, to feel the burn in your lungs and legs. Well I eased off. I just wanted the race over. My competitive edge had gone and I let anyone who wished pass me.

Mental strength is so key to performing to your potential, and I didn’t have it on the night. I can make excuses about the pre-race drama, or I can prepare better mentally next time. If you don’t have mental motivation during a race, then it is difficult to push your body in to the painful box that is required to get everything out of yourself during a race. I normally have mental mantras that I use during a race, but I never cleared my mind properly to use them during this race.

I ran the last 2 miles of the 5k at slightly faster than my London Marathon Pace. That is poor. It’s a 5K. A talented junior passed me with about 50 metres. Come on Matt! I finally mustered some guts and sprinted the last 40m to overtake the younger runner. It was little consolation. 16:36. 36 seconds slower than my PB. The same PB that I refuse to accept because I believe in my head that I am a sub 16 minute 5K runner. Well it is about time I actually proved that. Enough talking.

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After the race I felt shit. Vicki was unimpressed. I could tell she was still upset about the pre-race fiasco. I had a quick chat with a couple of other runners but I didn’t feel like socialising. I started to make my way back to my car. I chatted with a local runner who has been improving really well over the last few months. He went out hard but faded. He still beat me. ”you were off the boil tonight” he declared. He was right, and I felt shit about it.

Back in the car it was time to reflect. I had been an arse in the lead up to the race and my poor performance was deserved. I apologised to Vicki, and phoned Paul to say I’m sorry for my rude manner on the phone before (he didn’t stick round to watch after I said I was not going to make it). Life is not all about running. There is no excuse for losing my temper. I am glad I didn’t perform after getting lost. Hopefully I will learn from this experience. I will keep my calm, and I will be more mentally prepared, but most importantly I will not let myself fall out with the important people around me.

Port Talbot Half Marathon

It wasn’t long before I could put the Welsh 5K behind me. The next day was the Port Talbot Half Marathon. It was a chance to put things right. I was the race favourite but I knew I would be racing against a runner in great shape, Ian Harris. Ian is a friend, and fellow Swansea Harrier. We had plodded the course a few days earlier, and chatted about what we realised would probably end up being a battle between the two of us. The course was not conducive to fast times, so I could forget about running fast, and just enjoy the experience of racing.

I set off extra early for the race. I was not having a repeat of the drama of the day before. I played the calmest acoustic tunes in the car, I was relaxed.

“Wind your window down”

What is this lady doing in the middle of the road banging on my car window?

“You have a flat tyre”

13939428_1185478901523900_4803786079052058403_nI thanked the woman, smiled to myself in disbelief, and pulled over in the conveniently placed adjacent petrol station. I tried air, but to no avail as my tyre deflated at the same rate as my attempts to inflate. Stay calm, I kept repeating in my head. There was plenty of time. My girlfriend Vicki came to the rescue. She lent me her car, and I was back on the road. I already felt like I was learning from the mistakes of the day before. I stayed calm and dealt with the issue. Now all I had to do was race well.

Amongst the beautiful surroundings of Afan Forest, the race set off down a stony trail. I felt good. I sat just behind Ian as we looped around a small lake. We turned up a sharp incline. I slipped. I fell. I cut my knee open. Ian stopped.

“Come on mate, get back up, you’re fine”

 I was back up quickly. I wasn’t hurt. I was annoyed with Ian for his sportsmanship. “Don’t stop if I fall, we are in a race” I told him. It was a nice thing to do, but I didn’t want my mistakes affecting his race performance. We carried on down the track, blood now dribbling down my leg, but the embarrassment was the only pain I felt. I stayed positive, and then my lace came undone. Damn. I couldn’t run 12 more miles with my laces flapping everywhere. I stopped. This time Ian carried on. I took forever with my shoelace. I would make an awful triathlete. When I was back to it, Ian had created a big gap. I would have to catch him, but I knew the sensible thing would be to gradually reel him back in, rather than waste huge amounts of energy surging.

Over the next few miles I worked harder than I would have liked to get back to Ian. When I did get back to his shoulder, the rocky road descended down towards the halfway point. I love running downhill. I increased my pace and ran away from Ian as I let gravity do it’s thing.

At the turn, I felt good but as I made my way to the gradual ascent on the other side of the valley, my legs felt heavy. Ian was back on me straight away. I tried to pick it up but my legs were having none of it, and Ian passed me with ease. Before I even realised it, I had given up. Ian was striding away as I struggled.

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The rest of the race was a bit uneventful. I tried to keep working, but had little motivation as the race was now over. I felt heavy and unfit as I worked my way back to the finish. All I was running for now was second place, and I never saw the third place runner, so I just sulked my way back along the course.

I was really happy for Ian. He had run a great time of 74 minutes on a tough course, with no one around him. I had come in over 4 minutes later in 78. There were no positives for me.

I spent the next thirty minutes discussing my training with Shaun Tobin, a class athlete and former 29 minute 10K runner. We discussed mileage, sessions, target races and nutrition. It was really helpful. I felt like I needed to go back to basics.

After a short warm down, I falsely smiled for the cameras, and made my way home with the biggest runner up trophy I have ever seen. I promised to learn from the mistakes of the weekend. I would come back stronger.

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