I feel the need…


As you probably know by now, I love to run. I love running with friends, hitting the trails, catching up for coffee afterwards, taking random selfies. But most of all, I like to run FAST.

When I first started running, I wasn’t too worried about pace. My main concern was lasting the distance, which seems funny now! My first 5k race was run in 26:29 and I was stoked with that. That was almost 3 years ago now… how time flies!

I’ve since run well over 100 5km runs. Some of these have been races (I have placed in a couple, with one first and one third place) but the vast majority have been parkruns (I did my 100th parkrun back in June). My parkrun PB now is 20:24 – over 6 minutes faster than my first 5k race!

I first broke 22 minutes back in May 2013 – I am a stats nerd so I have to point out here that this was one year (to the day) before I ran my first marathon. It would be over 2 years before I would break 22 minutes again. I was convinced it was a fluke – maybe the course was measured slightly short that day, maybe there was a stopwatch error. I didn’t have a GPS watch back then so all I could go by was the time on the website.  I was sure that there was some kind of mistake and I couldn’t see how I would ever break that PB.

In 2014 I was mostly running 23-25 minutes. I only broke 23 minutes twice at parkrun that year. From 9 May this year, I have done 13 parkruns, and other than two of those running with my Mum who is a newbie (and somewhat reluctant) runner, I have run under 23 minutes every time.

My elusive PB finally came, after 750 days (I told you, I am a stats nerd) on 13 June. This was 3 weeks after the Barossa Marathon and 3 weeks before the Gold Coast Marathon. I took 9 seconds off my PB and then the following week proved it was no fluke by breaking it again, this time by only one second. (It’s not smart to smash a PB. It’s smarter to break it by just a few seconds, so you give yourself a chance to get another one… it’s a great feeling to beat a PB, whether by 1 second or 1 minute!)

In my first parkrun after the Gold Coast Marathon and the 6 hour event in consecutive weekends, I took another 17 seconds off my PB. I remember I held back in the last 500m as I wanted to give myself a chance of bettering it next time!

All up, I’ve done 5 PBs in my last 9 parkruns, including one at Victor Harbor parkrun. My last PB was 2 Saturdays ago – 20:24. This was my first EVER time under 21 minutes and nearly a minute faster than my previous PB! The Saturday just gone, I came within 4 seconds of equalling it.

So why am I spouting all these figures? Not to brag… (OK maybe just a little bit –  I am pretty happy with those numbers!)

After 2 years between PBs, why am I now able to run so much faster?

Speed training is something I have dabbled in, but never really committed to. Any day of the week, some mornings and some evenings, there are speed training sessions happening. I already do 5 regular runs a week and don’t want to drop any of them,  and thus have found it hard to fit in a speed session. I’ve tried sessions with various clubs – SARRC, Adelaide Harriers and Adelaide Running Crew. Monday nights with the Harriers was probably the one that fit best into my routine but once I started doing Sunday long runs, I felt that I needed Mondays to be a non-running day. So, since January, I haven’t done any speed sessions as such.

parkrun is my speed session now. 5km, going as fast as I can, from go to whoa. Not your ‘traditional’ speed session that includes short intervals and recoveries, but it seems to be working for me. I usually manage to take it up a notch at the end… even if I feel like I’m giving it my all, somehow seeing the finish line gives me an extra kick!

I almost always eat a full breakfast (cereal with rice milk) before parkrun, and sometimes I will have a sugar free energy drink half an hour before. I had been doing these things for a while though, long before I found my speed.

The only change I have made to my preparation in more recent times is the warmup. Previously I would never bother warming up – I would use the first km as my warmup. Starting in the middle of the pack (and we’re talking 200-300 people here), it would normally take me 500m (at least) to hit my stride. Now, I will do a 2km warmup about half an hour beforehand, and force my way to the front of the pack at the start. All of my PBs this year have been preceded by a warmup. I still don’t warm up for longer distances eg half or full marathon, as I feel there is ample time for that in the first few km. In a 5k though, I have realised that to do a really good time you have to be at the front of the pack and hit the ground running!

My weekday morning runs have been getting faster too. In recent weeks I have had a few runs at well under 5 min/km pace… some closer to 4:30. Previously I’d be happy with 5:15 – 5:30 pace.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that this year I have run PBs over a range of distances – 5km, 10km, 14km and 42.2km. I came agonisingly close to a 21.1km PB at the Greenbelt Half… I only missed out by 10 seconds. City-Bay (12km) is coming up in a few weeks and I am confident of a new PB there too.

Probably since about May (just before the Barossa Marathon) I have started paying a bit more attention to my diet. I follow a mostly plant-based diet and I thought it could use a bit of tweaking, particularly in preparation for running an ultramarathon later in the year,  so I planned to see a sports dietitian for some advice. In preparation I started using MyFitnessPal to record my diet, so I could show that to the dietitian to see how I could improve. I actually haven’t made it to a dietitian yet but I have discovered a few things.

Protein seemed to be lacking quite a bit, despite having quite a lot of nuts and legumes in my diet. I started using a vegan protein supplement after exercise, and that seems to have helped a lot.

Calorie intake was an eye-opener. Most days I would consume less (often a LOT less) than I was burning… especially on Sunday long run days. I take the ‘calories burned’ figure with a pinch of salt because it is based on body weight, distance run and possibly heart rate – it is not an exact science.

Take the 6 hour event for example. That day I consumed 3870 calories (almost twice what I should have on a non-exercising day) but I burned 3860… leaving a deficit of close to 2000 calories!

Obviously that sort of pattern is not sustainable, but it’s easy to see how, with training for 2 marathons in 6 weeks, with minimal break (I ‘took it easy’ for the weeks before and after each marathon but I didn’t feel like I needed a break from running altogether, like I did for 3 weeks after my first marathon), followed by a 6 hour run the week after, I found myself about 8 or 9kg lighter than I was at the start of the year.

Another thing that I am absolutely convinced has contributed to that, is the fact that I have been drinking a LOT less this year, since I made the decision to take a break from soccer. I would almost always have a cider or 2 after training and games, and also when I wasn’t doing long runs on Sunday mornings I would often go out and have a few too many on Saturday nights! Now, I still go out, but (mostly) only have one or two drinks. No more wasted Sundays for me! Instead of a few drinks after soccer I now have coffee after a run… MUCH healthier!

I’m also making a concerted effort to eat less crap… I still enjoy sweet treats (my weakness!) but rather than eat say half a block of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate, I can satisfy my desire for chocolate with a few squares of good quality dark chocolate. If I’m going to eat cake, I’d rather pay a bit more for a cake from a good bakery (or better yet, bake it myself, and then I get the added bonus of licking the bowl!) than get a cheap supermarket cake whose ingredient list is as long as your arm and contains more ‘numbers’ than actual food ingredients! I love to cook and bake and try out new recipes, rather than buy processed foods.

How did we get here? We were talking about speed and now I’m analysing my diet!

It is a fact that if you’re carrying less weight, running at the same speed will feel easier,  and running with the same effort will cause you to run faster. Up to a point… clearly there is a tipping point.  I have not reached that point (nor do I intend to!) I don’t want to be ‘That Person’ who is so obsessed with diet and exercise that they won’t go out with people for dinner because they can’t control every last thing they put in their mouth. Or ‘That Person’ who will forego a social activity because it clashes with a scheduled run. (If you’re interested in reading about someone who did become ‘That Person’ I recommend reading the book ‘Fit Not Healthy’ by Vanessa Alford)

All things in moderation!