How I took two minutes off of my Parkrun time in ONE MONTH: Part One

That title is a bit misleading. I can’t give you a dead cert formula to take two minutes off of your time. But I can tell you what I’ve done.

I’ve decided to break this down in to two posts. One which focusses on my specific running adjustments, improvements, etc. Another which gives you the background for what else I’m doing, which may indirectly help with my running.

Before I give you numbers, you should know that I have no real idea what counts as a good time for a 5K. And that I still don’t think of myself as a runner. But I do think of myself less and less as someone who hates running – and I honestly never thought that would happen.

Let’s start with my results.

On 2 June 2018, I completed my first Parkrun in 27:36 minutes. I was the 42nd female to finish, 189th across the line overall.

I remember this run. It was busy and warm – but maybe only about 18 degrees. It was a sunny day and I didn’t know the route – I overestimated the distance and had my timing all wrong.

The next run a week later and I beat my time, but not by much. I finished in 27:21.

A couple of weeks later I tried a new course, in Norwich. Totally different to my home course. This was paved and lap-based. I totally smashed my time and figured the lap format was responsible.

This was on 23 June, I finished in 25:46 and I was beside myself with happiness. I couldn’t believe I’d done it in that time. It was pretty hot – maybe 22 degrees.

Last week I was back to my home Parkrun. 7 July. Just over one month from my first run.

I hated the run. It was hot. Maybe 24 degrees. It was dusty and my mouth was dry straight away. I’d cycled there and I was late – I was worried I’d used too much energy getting there. I struggled home on my bike – properly spent from the run. I’d scoffed a hob nob before cycling back but my legs were empty and heavy at the same time.

The results came in later than usual. I’d not paid much attention to the time I’d logged running it – I’d stopped the timer late and it never matches up with the results anyway.

7 July, I finished in 25:30. I was the 7th female across the line, 88th overall. That’s a pace of 8:12 minutes per mile.

WHAT?? I was in the top 10 women? I checked the overall results and I was surrounded by people with PBs under 23 minutes.

It was hot – how the hell had I pulled this out of the bag? I’ve been trying to figure it out ever since. Here’s what I have so far:

1. Keep running

Even if it’s hot. Even if it’s wet. Especially if it’s hard.

JUST. KEEP. RUNNING.

This applies whether you’re in the middle of a run and start to struggle or if you are struggling to motivate yourself to put your running kit on and get outside.

I run two or three times a week. Unless it’s a Parkrun, I do about 3.5 miles and I know it will be over in under 32 minutes.

I don’t think while I get changed. I don’t think while I put my shoes on. I don’t think while I run uphill to start. I don’t think while I do the warm up section which doesn’t count. By the time my brain catches up and realises its body is running, I’m committed to the run and it’s almost just as easy to carry on as it would be to turn around and go home.

I know I can do the distance. I don’t worry about the time. I just keep going.

2. Fartleks

I’ve mentioned these before. I don’t do them enough. I may not even do them properly. But I choose small milestones to run faster to, then I drop back to normal pace. I do this consistently through a run I’ve decided to “Fartlek” on.

I can’t say that I love them, and I’m not even sure if they’ve made a difference. But I do them, so it’s all in the mix.

3. Run for fun

I actually do this more than I Fartlek. Most of the time, I just go and run. I don’t try and beat a time. I don’t check my pace as I go. I barely even check my heart rate. I just log the miles and I enjoy the space in my brain as I go.

I honestly never thought I’d do this. And I love that I can. So often I turn things into a job. With running, I am now able to just relax and let myself enjoy the view, the smells, my music and my thoughts. I probably enjoy this too much and need to re-introduce some work ethic into it!

4. Lower Focus

About three weeks ago, I made a conscious effort to do more T25 Lower Focus sessions. I used to favour the Speed 2.0 workout, doing that two or even three times a week. I hardly do that now. I totally flipped it and do between two and four LF sessions. Which looks crazy actually, but it is highly likely this has had an impact on my running time.

I don’t hate it anymore either – which definitely means it’s working. So now I’m pulling back on Lower Focus and reintroducing more varied workouts. I’m still doing Lower Focus once or twice a week, to maintain.

5. I changed my running playlist

I don’t have anything on my running playlist that is under 145 bpm. And that’s just one song. The majority are 160+.

I won’t go on about this too much because I’ve already written a post about it which you can check out here.

I’m going to write another post confessing what’s on that new playlist – but I need to pluck up some courage first!

6. Get a good start

My home Parkrun starts in a funnel. It’s a nightmare. If you get a bad start, it’s not just slow. You then have to fight your way through people – compromising on your route, footing, etc. This probably means the first 1K or so is totally inefficient and you cover more ground. I’m not kidding – I wouldn’t be surprised if I did an extra 0.5K zig zagging across the path!

You can carry this efficiency through the rest of the run by thinking about the line you take on corners – careful if it’s lap-based though! People will likely want to pass you if you’re running laps, so the most efficient line may not be available.

7. Sprint finish

Even if you feel there is nothing left in the tank. About 0.5K from the end, try to beat the person in front of you. You will be amazed at what you can achieve.

I felt dead at the end of the last Parkrun. But I made myself sprint. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had picked the 7th female to race. And I beat her. Her PB is 21:56. She has run 105 Parkruns. And I beat her.

At the end, she congratulated me on a great finish – she’d been racing me back!

AND I BEAT HER!

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned how competitive I am before…so this is a really good feeling for me. And what a lady, congratulating me at the end.

8. Stretching it all out

This one I avoid. I shouldn’t. It’s like medicine for your muscles and joints.

The run or climb or whatever activity I do after my stretch/yoga session and a good sleep, is always better. Everything feels smoother. Easier. My range of movement is better.

Why do I avoid it? Because it’s hard! It’s not high pulse rate hard, it’s focus hard. But it always makes me feel better, so I get it done.

Simple.

I think that’s it for what I’ve changed in the last 5 weeks. I haven’t made any adjustments to my form – I’ve just settled into it.

Oh, I bought a running cap. Keeps the sun out of my eyes and my hair out of my face. It also makes me feel a bit more anonymous – which is silly, I’m probably easier to pick out of the crowd now! But it means I feel like less of a sweaty mess, so it’s one less thing to feel self conscious about.

I’m a bit scared of my next Parkrun. I know that one day, maybe the next one, I won’t beat my PB. And I know, because I’m super hard on myself, that I will feel like a failure on that day. So I am letting the dust settle for a week. I am going to keep thinking about all of this. And I’m going to hope for a cooler Saturday next week. Because that’s when I’m doing my next Parkrun.

Ooof.

How I took two minutes off of my Parkrun time in ONE MONTH: Part One, running-specific adjustments

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