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Running column: Chasing the dream of a sub 20-minute 5K is keeping Mark Armstrong busy

Mark Armstrong on a training run in Long Stratton. Picture: Alison Armstrong Photography

Mark Armstrong on a training run in Long Stratton. Picture: Alison Armstrong Photography

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The autumn race season feels a long way away.

It’s too early to seriously think about my training for the Great East Run half marathon in Ipswich in September and I started to grow concerned that, without a target on the immediate horizon, my training could drift.

I’ve never been as time-poor as I am at the moment, meaning that there is a real danger that getting out for a run was starting to tumble down the priority list.

Then, out of the blue, Neil Featherby messaged me if I had entered the Lord Mayor’s 5K race in July.

Bearing in mind part of the criteria for entry into this race is being able to go under 20 minutes I joked ‘no chance’.

But it got me thinking. My personal best for 5K is 21:10 but that came within a 10K race earlier this year.

I would hope that I could go a little under that, perhaps break 21 minutes, if I really tried for that distance. But to shave another minute off that would take some doing.

MORE: How does she do it? Dani Nimmock on juggling a full time job and winning marathons

Since taking up running, going under 20 minutes for a 5K has always appealed, but my training focus has mainly been on running marathons and half marathons with the odd 10K thrown in.

Parkruns were always more about getting a nice cup of coffee afterwards being the athlete that I am (okay, there might have been the odd Chelsea bun thrown in as well).

But the training involved in getting my 5K down fits in a lot better with my personal circumstances and Neil said he’d devise a programme with that target in mind.

It’s obviously too late for this year’s Lord Mayor’s 5K – the prospect of being brutally hauled off the course after not making the halfway point before 10 minutes have elapsed is not something I would relish in front of thousands of spectators.

But shorter, more intensive, sessions are something that I can probably just about manage without feeling like the worst parent in the world, leaving my wife, Alison, to look after two children as I swan around Long Stratton.

I have to be honest though – the training is not for the fainthearted. There are plenty of pyramid sessions where during rest periods you are begging the seconds not to tick by so quickly for fear you’re not ready to start the next effort.

If you see a runner wheezing on the side of the road, looking at his Garmin, don’t worry, I’m just waiting for the next split to start where my lungs and legs will be begging for mercy. It’s horrible, but I love it.

MORE: Check out our 2018 race diary

I’m only a couple of weeks into the programme but I’m already noticing changes in how my body reacts trying to run at speed.

The plantar fasciitis issue hasn’t properly gone away and when I started my hips felt too tight to really get any speed up.

But with a bit of conditioning work on the side I think my body is slowly adjusting to the new demands…and the length of most of the runs means most mornings I can be back in the house before my daughter Lara has awoken demanding porridge with raspberry jam…

I’m yet to decide what race to target and there are bound to be a few failures and blow-ups along the way but the training should also stand me in good stead for Run Norwich 10K in August.

If I can approach that race with a sub-20 minute 5K on my record then I’ll be a happy runner.

It still feels a long way off but it has at least provided a focus for my training, which could have been lacking.

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