As I walked to get my number at the Great Yarmouth 5M event on Wednesday that familiar sick feeling, coupled with excitement, was at the pit of my stomach.

A number of questions swirled round my head…

Will my calf hold up to running hard again?

How much fitness have I lost through injury?

Shall I get a regular or large cod and chips after?

I hadn’t planned to do this race but when Sportlink owner Neil Featherby asked if I wanted a place I thought this could be the next step back to attaining a fitness levels to match my goals for the rest of the year.

I have been fortunate enough to start running regularly again with no reaction to the calf strain that ruled me out of the Manchester Marathon recently.

But it had got to the stage where I was possibly being a bit too careful; I decided that a race could be the ideal environment for me not to fixate on whether my calf is okay during a run.

It’s always difficult when coming back from injury as you naturally compare yourself to where you were before.

I’d say the period between December 2023 and the start of March this year is probably the fittest I’ve been from a running perspective. 

It feels a bit daunting getting back to that and if I’m honest, pushing on, but that’s the challenge. I’ve never found it hard to be motivated to run; the hardest part is getting my body in a position to match my ambitions.

Eastern Daily Press: Mark Armstrong about to start the second lap of the Yarmouth 5M event

I have tried to train hard on the stationary bike during my running hiatus and as I warmed up on Wednesday I tried to be as open minded as possible in approaching the race. 

I was quietly confident that I would be able to go under 32 minutes but the priority was to get through the race physically intact.

I was probably a little too far forward on the start line but settled into a pace of around 3:50 minutes per kilometre. It was a bit of a shock to the system and the same old thoughts when you’re a bit rusty reared their head: ‘can you really sustain this pace, Mark?’

I really didn’t want to get stuck out on my own during the race given it can be a little blustery on the coast but I needn’t have worried as a couple of other lads, including Sportlink TV’s Richard Hancock, came with me.

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I didn’t want to be a slave to my watch so made the decision to stick with these lads for a while and I was working hard enough already.

After about 1.5 miles we turned back to complete the first of two loops. It was like someone had turned the volume right down with the wind suddenly behind us. This was the part of the race that was most enjoyable but I already had in my mind that it was going to be tough on the second lap.

I felt a burst of energy after completing the first lap thanks to the excellent support there but as we embarked on the second lap I told myself to prepare to dig in.

Eastern Daily Press: Mark Armstrong is all smiles as he sets off at the start of the Yarmouth 5M event

The wind was once again a little in our faces (it could have been far worse to be fair) and I could feel my pace slowing a little. The group I was with advanced past me and I made it my mission to stick with them. I really didn’t want to be cast adrift at this stage.

I managed to sit just behind three other runners and concentrated on following them, telling myself that I would find it easier when we turned for home.

With a about a mile and a half to go the group of runners started to smell the finish line and we split. 

I briefly cursed myself not to choose a parkrun as a first hard run back after injury but pushed on. 

When the mile four marker came I felt on my limit. 

I kept looking at the ferris wheel in the distance and tried to reel in a runner or two, unsuccessfully.

But it was enough for me to sustain a half decent pace; by the time we got back to the Marina Centre I was desperately searching for the finish line - ‘bloody hell this hurts but it feels so good to be back’.

Suddenly I could see a big inflatable arch as the finish line. I had around 250-300 metres to empty the tank, which was all but dry.

I saw my wife Alison and my kids on the home straight and could only offer a grimace rather than a smile. As soon as I crossed the finish line I had to ‘take a moment’ which involved lying flat on my back for a minute or two. 

I had finished in 31:23 - a decent time in the circumstances and more importantly I hadn’t even had a flicker of discomfort from my calf. Mission complete.

Well almost… there was still one more job to do - get fish and chips…

And of course I got large…