Control every variable you can, but accept the variables you can’t control
On Valentine’s Day, I achieved my first running target for the year by breaking 17 minutes for 5 km. A month later I was ready for a single attempt in 2016 at my second target, to break 35 minutes for 10 km.
My time over 5 km predicted that I should be able to achieve my target and the intervening training had gone well. I found a perfectly flat course, although the nature of the race (predominantly targeting novice runners) meant that I would likely be running alone. But despite all of the steps you can take in preparation, a variable that cannot be controlled through training and preparation is the weather. Race day was cold, wet, and most importantly, windy.
With an extremely strong wind I would have likely called off my plans but instead, it was only stiff enough to ensure a tough day. The course featured a 2.5-km section of paved trail around the outside of Seward Park, run as an out-and-back, and then repeated once more. The headwind would be faced at the end of each “lap”.
A couple of years ago I realised just how difficult it can be to achieve great race results across varying running distances. The only times I felt in shape to mount a challenge at a respectable time over 5 or 10 km was in my training towards longer-distance races. At those times I wasn’t willing to incur the lost mileage of taper and recovery that the shorter distance race would require. Furthermore, my training was never focussed on improving pace over such short distances, so any times achieved would still have been short of my potential. With my focus firmly set on racing marathons and further I conceded that I would never achieve 5 or 10 km personal bests that would be representative of my capabilities.
Then in 2015 I had a period of struggle following a tough ultramarathon. I needed to refresh myself, and I decided to do that by focusing on shorter distances. All of a sudden I was including new speed workouts into my training plan, I had signed up for a series of short road and cross country races, and two very specific time targets evolved. I would look to break 17 minutes for 5 km, and 35 minutes for 10 km. During 2015 I did not quite make it, managing to lower my times to 17:13 and 35:17 respectively. I would start 2016 by having one shot at each target.
I signed up for a Valentine’s Day race over 5 km around Green Lake in Seattle. It was fast and flat, and other fast runners in the field meant that I would have company.
Every mountainous 100-mile race offers something different. Cascade Crest will possibly remain unique in being the only 100-mile race where I was able to sleep in my own bed the night before the race (unless someone knows of a good job in Durango). After a great night’s rest, I drove one hour up Snoqualmie Pass in early morning light for the very respectable 9am race start.
I arrived at the start line in the best shape of my life, having completed a fantastic 10 days of training at high elevation in Colorado, as well as enjoying some amazing experiences on trails throughout the Pacific Northwest. When race director Adam Hewey asked about my target in the calm before the start I felt comfortable to tell him about the 21:30 pace chart I was carrying. As a stretch target, I had also worked out a 20-hour pace chart to understand what that would entail in case I was able to pull ahead of plan.
I set off from the start line along the flat John Wayne Trail for the first mile at around 8:15 min/mi (just over 5 min/km) pace. If the profile had remained flat and the trail smooth for 99 more miles then I might have finished in under 14 hours, but we soon took a right turn and started the first climb of almost 3,000 ft (900 m) up Goat Peak.
The first race in my new home state of Washington is one that nobody seems to have heard of. Taking place in the town of Lynden, just 4 miles south of the Canadian border, even residents of the 12,000 population town had no idea that a race was taking place. While sitting down for a coffee prior to the race the waitress mentioned that she only realised the race (which ran straight past the restaurant) was taking place on her way into work that day, and vaguely recalled the first running of the event last year.
I signed up for the race as it offered a fast and flat course that is rarely available closer to home. I had initially been planning on attempting to break the 35-minute barrier, but the training disruption caused by an intercontinental relocation made that unlikely. After warming up I headed to the start line, noticing one other runner who had done likewise. It was the two of us that stood towards the front of the field as the countdown started.
Setting off from the start I needed to settle down into race pace, but I realised a problem. I had switched my watch from kilometres to miles earlier in the week, but had no idea of my required pace in min/mile. I was at the front of the race, using the first mile to perform some mental arithmetic to calculate what pace I should be running. It turned out I had set off slightly fast on the gentle descent out of town so I eased back as I ran alongside corn fields on the country roads with low-lying fog creating surreal, muted colours.