Running column: The sub 20-minute 5K dream is getting closer for Mark Armstrong but will his body take him there?

Mark Armstrong on a training run in Hatfield Forest. Picture: Alison Armstrong

Mark Armstrong on a training run in Hatfield Forest. Picture: Alison Armstrong


I love going back to my dad’s to run.

There’s something special about running around where you used to live.

It gives you a totally different perspective on the places that helped shape your childhood.

Most weekends we would go to place called Hatfield Forest for a walk with our mad border collie, Scott.

This would mostly involve watching Scott chase after rabbits whilst my sister and I moaned that our legs ached until our parents grew tired enough of the whinging to take us to the café to get a portion of chips to keep us quiet.

I didn’t realise it at the time but enjoying that family time cemented it as a place that I gravitate to every time I go back to see the old man.

It also helped discover my love for running through the parkrun that they used to put on there.

Unfortunately, it grew so popular that the forest was unable to cope with the number of parkrunners and the organisers had to move it into Bishop’s Stortford last year.

It was here that I continued my sub 20-minute 5K pursuit in Castle Gardens, another place that holds childhood memories but only because I spent a fair amount of my teenage years looking cool and hanging about on the swings…

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This would be my first 5K race (I know parkrun don’t call it that!) since I started training for the distance and I was confident of setting a new personal best. I knew I wasn’t in sub 20-minute shape but I was more than capable of going under 21 minutes.

I always take running seriously, too much so sometimes, but there was an intensity to my warm up that hasn’t been there at previous parkruns I’ve done.

Normally, I pitch up five minutes before, shake my legs out and off I go.

But this time I put myself through a proper warm-up. I haven’t been doing all this training to undermine it by tweaking a muscle thanks to not warming up properly.

The plan was to run 6:40 minute miles for the first two and then see if I could ramp it up for the final mile (and a bit). This would bring me in around the 20:40 mark – a time that I would be pretty pleased with at this stage of training.

It will surprise no-one that knows me, least of all my coach, Neil Featherby, that I couldn’t keep to this plan.

For some reason, instead of running my own race, I latched on to a lad, who was much younger than me. For all I knew he could be the cross country champion for Hertfordshire but I decided to stay on his shoulder anyway.

When my watch beeped to say I had completed my first mile in just over 6:20 I knew that I had attached myself to someone who I wasn’t in the same league as.

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I made the best of it and managed to steady my pace to bring the second mile in at 6:40 but it was at this point that my pace started to deteriorate and the third was run in around 6:50. This is not how to run a 5K (negative splits – what are they?)

But I’m not going to beat myself up too much on it – I managed something of a sprint finish and came home in 20:25 – lopping 45 seconds off my previous personal best.

I can feel it getting closer and I think with another month of quality, consistent training then I will be able to get that 5K time that starts with a 19.

Whether my body lets me get there is another matter because things are grumbling and it’s going to take some managing.

I’ve got to remember that I’m 36 next week and not the kid I used to be!

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