After a friend dismissed a 1M competition as a “fun run”, Salina Christmas decides to have a go at two sprint races, 1K and 2M. She doesn’t find it easy, and neither do the country-level competitors she runs with.
In spring this year, at a friend’s goodbye do, I had a chat with a mutual friend, who, like me, dropped out of rowing due to age and clear-headedness, and have been happily indulging in cycling and running instead. As sports, they are more accommodating to one’s social commitments.
He told me about his experience racing in a duathlon, which took us to the topic of the Westminster one mile run which were to take place in late spring. When I suggested that we entered the race, he harrumphed: “I don’t do fun run. One mile is not my thing”.
A short distance run – or a sprint – might be a fun run to some, but I find that sprints require a different kind of strength than the endurance that is required in longer distances. In my running club’s definition, a sprint can vary from one of the track disciplines, such as 100m, 200m and 500m, to 1000m, 1 Mile, and to middle distance ones, the shortest being 5000m.
I have been working on my mileage to be able to do the three parks, namely Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and St James’s Park, in one run without experiencing lung failure. Ever since I saw a fellow runner, Jeremy, whizzed past us in the final 1000m during one of our routine 7km weekend runs, I have been wanting to learn more about sprinting.
Out of curiosity, on 29 June 2013, I signed up for the Serpentine’s Club Championship 1K race, part of the club’s annual summer Grand Prix competitions. I missed the 1M race held earlier in the week.
The race took place on a path parallel to Rotten Row at Hyde Park, London, a very straight downhill path which led us to speculate that this would result in the fastest running time in club history for 1000m.
It was a sunny, dry morning, which I now recognise as an indication for what could potentially be a painful dehydrating race. There were 44 of us. Malcolm French, our marshal, divided us into fast and slow groups. I joined the slow group.
We were gently herded to the starting line, as usual. Upon the signal “Go!”, we tore downhill. I kept up with the male runners in our group in the first 300m, but at around 500m, my lungs told me to get lost. I fell behind, and got overtaken by runners who knew not to sprint so fast in the first stage.
It wasn’t the side stitches or the leg pain that slowed me down considerably, but rather, the burn in my lungs, throat and diaphragm. I collapsed at the finishing line and gasped: “Fuck, can I die now?”. It was bad. We couldn’t stop coughing for minutes afterwards, and our throats felt very stretched. Breathing was uncomfortable for a while.
We went back to the Lido café, opposite the Serpentine lake where club members swim as part of their triathlon training, to hear the results. Nicholas Torry, whom I was told “ran for England”, completed the race in 2:33s, followed by Mohamed Ismail in 2:35s, Calvin Mullings in 2:37s and Hugh Torry – Nicholas’s brother – in 2:38s. Helen Palmer was the fastest lady, having completed the race in 3:00s.
Me? I did a pathetic 4:05s. Not great for someone who doesn’t exercise much – by the Serpentine standard– but not bad for the average UK resident.
Run, and hang in there
That Nicholas Torry won that race was no surprise. He broke the club record for the Sri Chinmoy 5K race at Battersea Park the week after, and has only recently been listed on the Run Britain website as the fastest man in the V36 age group. In that Club Championship 1K race, Mohamed Ismail was not counted as the runner-up because he did not wear the club kit, as usual. I am not sure why he didn’t wear the club kit since he is such a prolific runner and a damn good competitor for our club. Maybe he wanted to give others the chance to earn good points.
During our post-race stretching routine at the cafe, I asked Ismail how he managed to run so fast, coming only seconds behind Torry. “You run as fast as you could and hang in there,” he said. Hang in there? Just like that? I almost passed out hanging on in the last 500m.
With longer distances, it is easy to know when to push and how to plan your pace. With a sprint, it’s a different game. I suppose in the short distance run, one has to divide the race into smaller stages, for example, five 200m phases in 1K. Then one has to strategise on maximising the velocity by focusing on the steps that happen within a run, such as the half squats and the hops (Bret et al, 2002. “Leg strength and stiffness as ability factors in 100 m sprint running”. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. Turin: Minerva Medica. ). That would take a lot of practice.
Sprinting in the heat: bad idea
Not put off, I went for another sprint race on 15 July 2013. It took place at 7 pm, in 30°C, at Battersea Park, London. It was only 2M but it was hell. As I passed the 1M sign, I thought: “Fuck, another mile of this?” I finished the last mile together with a lady who also could barely put a foot in front of another in the searing heat. I finished in 16:30s, beaten by a little kid who ran with his parent. I believed the fastest competitor finished in the region of 9:30s.
I didn’t feel so bad because running slowly was the best option in that crazy temperature. Your heart beats much faster in warm temperature. Your blood gets directed to the skin in your body’s efforts to cool off, but this also means that the oxygen you need to breathe and move your lactic acid around also gets diverted from your lungs and muscles.
Was the sprint a fun run? Hell, no. I now have more respect for sprinters. I was intrigued to see, in July’s Last Friday 5K race at Hyde Park, the agility and velocity of the sprinters in overtaking their competitors during the last stretch of the course. It was about 25°C. Some of the runners didn’t take too well to the heat. I decided to marshal that day because of the heat and was glad to have pulled out from the race.
Not every runner likes sprinters. At that race, one man, who got overtaken barely 10m from the finishing line by a Serpie, was taken aback. He swore: “What the fuck?! I fucking hate sprinters!”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
That “fucking sprinter” has had his fair share of “fun runs”.