The value of a reassuring voice in the midst of worry

Mark Armstrong under the watchful eye of Neil Featherby. Picture: Alison Armstrong

Mark Armstrong under the watchful eye of Neil Featherby. Picture: Alison Armstrong - Credit: Archant

I was chewing the fat with a few runners at the end of the Humpty Dumpty 10K on Sunday when one asked: 'Do you think having a coach has made a difference to your running?'

The first thing that sprung to mind was that I wouldn't be preparing to run in the Lord Mayor's 5K City Centre Road Race this weekend if I didn't have one.

Neil Featherby has set my training programme and transformed me from a pretty average runner to someone who can (hopefully) hold his own amongst a top class field of runners.

However, the truth is, whilst Neil sets my sessions, he offers a lot more than that, particularly in the run-up to a targeted event.

Over the two-and-a-half years we've been working together he's got to know what motivates me and how I'm feeling in the run-up to a race.

If I'm having a wobble mentally and starting to doubt whether I can achieve the goal I've set then he's always there to advise. It's invaluable and I've come to realise that this is the part that makes the difference in success or failure.

Neil likes to throw a quote at me every now and again but one in particular has stuck in this training block leading up to Saturday.

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"Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right."

Henry Ford's pearls of wisdom obviously highlights the importance of adopting a positive mindset. If you can believe in yourself it can take you a long way.

Yes, obviously the training that has incorporated so many speed sessions to compliment coming off a marathon block earlier this year is what, physically, will make the difference tomorrow.

But this can all be undone if I don't actually believe I can do it.

Race two of the Wroxham 5K Series showed that I'm capable of running a sub 20-minute 5K… and it has been my reference point every time I start to think 'Mark… you might be a bit out of your depth here…'

The major fear factor brought into the Lord Mayor's Race is the 3K cut-off point, which is 12 minutes for the men and 13:12 for the women.

It presents something of a dilemma for a runner of my standard when you're going to be quite close to that threshold.

Do I go all out to make the cut-off point or do I treat it as a proper 5K race and pace it as such?

The former would ensure a lactic acid party in my legs (with other body parts invited) and could make for a pretty unpleasant last couple of kilometres. However, at least I would complete the race.

The latter presents a much better chance of going under 20 minutes again but do I want to be racing off the back of the pack and the mind games that plays?

But this is where having a coach pays dividends. Previously I would have played out both scenarios in my head on countless occasions.

However, after a chat with Neil, I know myself enough as a runner now to pace it correctly and race the event properly. Let the other runners go and have enough self-confidence to run my own race.

Finishing a race strongly makes such a huge difference in how you frame it afterwards. I don't want to be one of those runners trudging over the finish line in front of thousands of people. I've paced far too many races wrongly and know too well how that feels.

Whatever happens, I'm so glad I earned my place on the start line and I know whatever the outcome I will be a different runner at the end of it.

How exciting is that?