Mark Armstrong: The question every runner should ask themselves

Mark Armstrong in the 5K race at the Joe Skipper Track Challenge. Picture: Alison Armstrong

Mark Armstrong in the 5K race at the Joe Skipper Track Challenge. Picture: Alison Armstrong


‘How much do you want it?’

Mark Armstrong in action at the Joe Skipper Track Challenge. Picture: Alison ArmstrongMark Armstrong in action at the Joe Skipper Track Challenge. Picture: Alison Armstrong

That’s the question I’m asking myself as I start the last lap of my 5K race of the Joe Skipper Track Challenge.

I feel like I’ve slowed on the penultimate lap, my form is starting falter (more core work needed!), but I need to wind it up to prevent letting the previous 11 and a half laps go to waste.

I’m hurting, I want to stop. I won’t.

How much do you want it, Mark? I’m not even sure what ‘it’ is but if I’m willing to put myself through this then I must want it a lot.

I can either cruise the final 400m and get a decent time or I can really embrace the pain and slice a big chunk off my personal best. Just under a minute-and-a-half of discomfort and then I can stop. All those interval sessions over the last five months and those last reps when you feel like you might be sick had brought me to the edge of a big new PB.

I can hear Neil Featherby and my wife, Alison, telling me to ‘go!’ and I desperately try to move my legs and arms faster to get round that damn track.

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I’m in third spot but it’s academic at this stage – the athletes in second and third are well clear – it’s just me against the clock and how much I could take off my 5K personal best of 19:41.

As I come round the bend into the final 200m Bure Valley Harriers’ Brenda Hutcheon is shouting out times from her stopwatch. I don’t quite hear what she says (which is a surprise given how loud she is - just kidding Mrs H) but I’m pretty sure it was a time in the low 18s – could I even get under 19 minutes?

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I push with everything I’ve got, coming down harder and harder on my legs, willing the finish line to come closer. I can see Neil and Alison trying to reel me in – I’m straining every sinew to bring that moment where I can just lay down on that blessed turf on the infield.

As I cross the line, I hear Neil bark out the time...19:05. I hadn’t quite broken the 19-minute barrier but I’d taken 36 seconds off my previous best. For someone who spent the best part of two years trying to break 20 minutes this was a big leap. I’m not going to lie – those five seconds annoy me. You start to think if you could have pushed any harder at an earlier point in the race. But in truth I had extracted as much as I can from my body at this stage – so much so that I’ve had to have a really easy week training wise to recover.

The Joe Skipper Track Challenge certainly gave my training the sense of purpose and focus I needed to knock a big chunk off my personal best. Speaking to a lot of the other competitors there, I know it has done the same for them.

Training for the shorter distances of 800m and 1500m earlier in the series feels like it has unlocked something that I’m excited to build on. When you’re running at three-minute kilometre pace it’s amazing how comfortable running at 3.50 per km feels.

I would encourage anyone that wants to try and get faster to take a look at the 800m night that Athletics Norfolk are staging on Friday, September 18. Entries close on Monday and it might feel a bit intimidating but just give it a go – you might surprise yourself just how fast you can run in that environment.

I know I did.

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