Running column: Mark Armstrong on making the cut at the Lord Mayor's 5K and why he'll be back next year
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Running columnist Mark Armstrong talks about his Lord Mayor's 5K race experience and why he'll be back again for 2020
A nervous laughter had just rippled through the back end of the Lord Mayor's 5K field of runners.
Race co-ordinator Richard Polley had just issued his last-minute race briefing to the 200-odd runners and his final parting words were…
"Cut-off times are 12 minutes for the men and 13 minutes and 12 seconds for the ladies and it will be on GUN time. We don't care what it says on your devices or on Strava… it will be on our time and our decision is final."
The laughter couldn't disguise the fact that for a runner of my ability a tough task had just got even tougher.
In effect I didn't have 12 minutes… I had between five and 10 seconds less than that and whilst that may not sound a lot, every second counts in this situation.
This really was a proper race.
As much as I didn't want it the cut-off point to dictate my race strategy - deep down I knew that it would have to.
I would have much preferred to have been a few seconds over four-minute kilometre pace for the first 3K before really putting the hammer down for the final 2K, just as I did at Wroxham a few weeks ago.
This wasn't an option though and I was going to have to go out hard and hang on. This was going to hurt.
The first kilometre was a drag up from Whitefriars up Tombland and I could already feel at this stage a level of discomfort that you have to get used to if you're going to excel in these events.
Going through Tombland for the first time and the noise generated really did make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end though and acted as a lovely distraction.
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I knew I had to concentrate though and maintain what is, for me, a fairly intensive pace.
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I managed to keep it very consistent for both the first two kilometres as each of them clocked in at 3:54. It was starting to get pretty hard now and I could see my old mate Neil Walpole, who helped me to 19:46 at Wroxham a few weeks ago, in front of me. I gently tried to increase my pace to keep up with him and ensure the cut-off point was made without an issue and, short of falling over, I knew I had it.
However, once I had given myself a little mental high five, I felt drained and the next kilometre up Castle Meadow and Red Lion Street felt particularly painful and I started to wonder why I put myself through these ordeals.
Inevitably, I slowed, and it cost me the chance of going under 20 minutes.
The fourth kilometre was completed in 4:24, a time I would have considered pretty decent a few months ago but in this company, it wasn't good enough.
I managed to rally in the last kilometre with the descent along St Stephens, the crowd, and the fact this was all going to be over soon, getting me through!
I dug as deep as I could when I saw the final 400m sign, trying to pick off a couple of runners to ensure that I kept pushing to the line.
The last kilometre was completed in 3:54, which perhaps indicates that my fatigue earlier in the race had been more psychological than physical.
It wasn't quite enough to get the sub 20-minute time I had been looking for but my time of 20:10 meant I hadn't disgraced myself!
As Dom Blake pointed out to me on social media afterwards, that's a sub 20-minute performance in most other 5K road race staged so I'll take that.
It of course now means I'm the proud owner of a Lord Mayor's 5K commemorative mug and, all being well, it won't be my last.
However, when hopefully I'm back next year I'm going to be doing my utmost to be in the kind of form that means the cut-off point doesn't have to shape my strategy.
The event was everything I had hoped it would be and whilst there is a slight sense of frustration that I didn't break 20 minutes again, I like that it gives me a nice target for 2020.
Those 10 seconds really aren't any laughing matter you see…