I don’t have a Go Hard. Give me the choice of Going Hard or Going Home, and I will choose Going Home every time. That point in a run where I start to think “I want to walk for a bit now” is usually only about half a minute before that point in a run where I start to walk. My idea of half marathon effort is not “the pace at which I could run a half marathon with a pack of rabid dogs nipping at my heels” but “the pace at which I can comfortably pootle around a half marathon”.
Which is all well and good, but when I run my first 100 mile race, I want to run it in 24 hours or less, not just finish it before the cut-off. And if I am to do that, I will need a Go Hard.
So, with the help and support of James*, I have started to hunt for it. We’re starting small, (I’m still building back up following my injury**), starting from my comfort zone (parkrun) and starting to experiment (when you’re hunting something as elusive as the Go Hard of a Sloth, obvious tactics are unlikely to bear fruit). And I am shamelessly taking advantage of every faster runner I know (Rachel, Kate, Norm – consider yourself warned – Mike was not so lucky!)
Planning for the hunt started a few weeks ago when I finally came out and admitted to myself, and then to James, that I covet this buckle.
The first attempt to unearth my Go Hard came last week, at Kingsbury Water parkrun, with pacing instructions that read:
“Not all out, but at an uncomfortable pace, one where having a conversation isn’t possible but you can say more than one word at a time.”
I ran it in 26:37. I have rarely been so disappointed with a 5km time. Now, to put this in context, this was my 7th fastest 5km time ever. But – I was really trying. Saying “thank you” to the marshals required planning. It felt difficult. And yet it was only two seconds faster than Fulham Palace, which I ran round with Kate (@totkat) chatting happily, and 40 seconds slower than Weymouth, which I ran round with Norm (@N0rm) while sustaining some form of conversation. All three were flat courses, and I honestly thought that I was running harder than that at Kingsbury Water. So I came away from it disheartened. I thought I’d glimpsed my Go Hard, but apparently it was a mirage, a figment of my imagination. The mythical beast had eluded me.
Today was attempt number two. The venue was Huddersfield parkrun. The written pacing instructions, which summarised a coaching conversation in which we agreed that I should leave my common sense at the door and go out stupidly hard even if that meant slowing, walking or even stopping partway round, read:
“All out. Sprinting off of the startline and holding it there.”
I wasn’t hopeful. I wasn’t hopeful at all. But I had reckoned without my fairy godfather.
Mike (@mikew30) very kindly decided to help me with my quest, and twirled and pranced just ahead of me for the first 4km telling me how very well I was running (lies, but welcome ones, I’ve seen the photos) and countering every gasped “Can’t” with a swift “Yes, you can!”. At 4km he left (with my blessing) to catch up with another friend of his and made up 47 places over the last kilometre (finishing 87th to my 135th).
As instructed, I sprinted away from the start (it’s downhill, so this bit was easy) and managed to clock up my first mile in 7:22 (which is a mile PB) before fading and hanging in for two 8:40 minute miles. I wanted to stop well before the end of mile one, but with Mike’s encouragement, I kept going, and then used his example to keep myself going for the last kilometre (“just get to the top of this hill, no point in stopping now it’s a down hill, keep going to the end of this flat bit, you’ll kick yourself if you give up now”).
I finally (5km has never seemed so long) crossed the line in 25:14, knocking 18 seconds off my 14 month-old PB.
Did I capture my Go Hard? No. My legs felt leaden and my breathing was hard, but I was nowhere near to the sort of physical discomfort*** which I gather comes as standard in an All Out effort. But I did catch a fleeting glimpse of it and have altered its status from mythical to merely elusive. I’ll need help to find it again, but I’m hopeful that I will, eventually, be able to find it all by myself. And until then, I will keep searching.
That buckle will be mine.
*If you’ve ever talked to me about my running (as opposed to my parkrunning, then you’ll have realised that my conversation pretty much goes “James says…, James says…, James says…”
**Which was the result of an act of non-running-related, gross stupidity on my part, and absolutely, categorically not the result of any training advice from James.