Speedy Steeds Reflections

A quick reflection on what happened at the Sri Chinmony Speedy Steeds 5k, before too much time has passed and I have a chance to forget the lessons learned.


Back at the end of April, I set a new 5k PB of 18:32. The nature of the course made me think that it was a little bit long - it was a 5k and 10k race, which went like this:

  • Start, and run out to the loop
  • Run one loop (5k) or two loops (10k)
  • Run back to the start line and finish

Mathematics tells us, in this instance, that if the 10k isn't short, the 5k has to be long.

I left that race knowing that I was faster than the result.

Getting to the end of the spring block, with the Sri Chinmoy Speedy Steeds in the calendar for June I knew:

  • I was faster than 18:30 in my PB
  • I was hitting splits that suggested 18:00 was possible
  • Sri Chinmoy races are popular amongst club runners, meaning I will have lots of fast runners around me to pull me to a faster time
  • The course in Battersea Park is faster than the one on which I set my PB

So I wrote the goal down: Speedy Steeds - 17:59

Actual time? 19:13. So what went wrong?

Mistakes were made

Mistake one was to set my goal time during my spring training block, based on my fitness at the time.

My first training block of the year was targeting The Hackney Half, on May 21. Setting this goal at the beginning of May, meant I was at peak fitness for the training block, and I didn't properly consider my preparation. On that day, I was definitely in 17:59 shape, and probably would have hit the goal if I'd run it in the first half of May.

But my training play between May 1 and June 13 was:

  • Taper
  • Take a couple of weeks (mostly) off after my goal race
  • Ease back into training with mostly easy mileage

The keen eyed amongst you will spot that this is no way to maintain peak 5k speed.

Mistake two was to ignore my splits in training.

The 17:59 goal was realistic based on my workouts in April. However, when I got back to speedwork in May after some downtime, they weren't what they had been. My last workout prior to the race was 8x800m meant to be run at my 5k pace. While the first half of the workout went at sub-18 pace, the second half of the workout (which is more telling) suggested low 18:20s.

After that workout, I should have come back and reset my expectations to sub-18:25. I didn't. The fact that I was rational when setting the goal blinded me to the fact that it was no longer realistic.

Mistake three was disrespecting the heat.

The temperature at the start line was 26 degrees Celsius. That is both ten degrees higher than the temperature in the workout detailed in "mistake two" and the hottest temperature in which I've run in 2023.

We know what's going to happen to somebody who is not heat adapted suddenly exposed to warm conditions like these: they're going to slow down. The low 18:20s target I should have had ought to have been rewritten. Realistically, a PB was off the cards given the mix of my fitness and the heat. What I should have been aiming for was my second-fastest 5k ever, going for something 18:45-ish. This would have respected both my fitness and the heat, while also providing the possibility of a PB if I hit the mid-point of the race feeling stronger than expected.

What I decided instead was that I would "go out at 18-minute pace, and slow down if I had to". Of course I would have to.

Mistake four was not paying attention to my training and racing calendar.

My training plan this year has two blocks: a spring block, focused on 5k and 10k speed, culminating in the Hackney Half in May; and an autumn block, which is marathon training, culminating at the Yorkshire Marathon in October.

The autumn block begins next week, which means that this race shouldn't have a serious goal to it, but should be a pre-block fitness test. If I were being smart, I would have run it based on perceived effort, and used the result to judge my fitness heading into the new training block.

Having a time target at all for this race was a mistake. The calendar suggests that it should have been a fact-finding mission.

The Result

The results weren't pretty. 19:13 official time. Breakdown below, but the splits are measured by GPS, so only total to a 19:05 total time - we've got another 8s presumably lost to tangents and GPS inaccuracy along the way.

KM 1 was run in 3:37, which is 18:05 pace. I'd say "as promised, I went out at 18-minute pace", but I glanced at my watch after about 200m, and saw I was running at 3:18 pace. The start is a little bit downhill, but that was just foolish.

KM 2 was run in 3:43, which is an 18:25 pace. Here, I'd fallen to my actual fitness level, if we didn't take the heat into account. Sadly, both the heat and the fast start will give us a price to pay further down the line.

KM 3 was run in 3:55, which is a 19:35 pace. The middle section of the race, and I'm now running at 10k pace - at least for my fitness level and the heat. (I'd normally describe this as "slower than 10k", but for all the reasons previously described, this would probably have been a reasonable 10k pace on the day.)

KM 4 was run in 4:00. I ran what was meant to be an easy parkrun on Saturday morning before this. It was entirely on trails. With about 400m left, I glanced at my watch and saw "3:59/km" as my current pace. Here I am, running hard in my supershoes and race vest on a flat paved course, and I'm running slower. The heat and the fast start have come to make me pay everything back with interest.

KM 5 was run in 3:50, as I managed a little surge towards the end.

Lessons Learned?

What have I learned from this experience?

  1. Look at the calendar when setting goals. Where am I in my season? In my training block? Setting goals for B Races isn't straightforward, as you aren't trying to peak for them. I need to better understand how far from that peak fitness I'll be, and how fatigued my legs will be.
  2. Readjust based on recent workouts. I mention my last workout beforehand above, but one workout never tells the story. The real story is that I hadn't hit splits that would indicate the goal time was realistic in approximately a month. Workout trends are telling, and I need to listen to them.
  3. Be prepared to change on the day. When I arrived at Battersea Park, I made a number of observations: my lunch wasn't sitting as well as my normal pre-race breakfast normally does; it was unusually hot; this is my second evening race ever, my first evening 5k ever, and my first evening race did not go to plan. I pushed this away as "negative thinking". It wasn't negative thinking, it was my mind trying to tell me to rein in my expectations and change my strategy to get the most of the day.

I'm of the opinion that 18:45 was available to me if I'd run smarter. And if I'd come through 4k on pace for 18:45 and feeling good (unlikely), I might have even been able to bring it home 1-2s faster than my 18:32 PB.

While it's not a bad idea to just go for it and try to hit a stretch goal - you never achieve if you don't try, after all - stretch goals only work when the stretch is achievable. I wonder how much of that 4th kilometre was fatigue and heat, and how much was simply that my A-goal (sub-18) and B-goal (new PB) were both gone, victims of unrealistic expectations.

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