When Marginal Errors Beat Marginal Gains

I was unusually quiet in the blogosphere yesterday because I was at the annual JLL Property Triathlon at Eton Dorney, the artificial lake in darkest Bucks where the London 2012 rowing events were held.

Its the second year I’ve taken part in this event, which is organised by JLL for those in the property industry who are part time lycra botherers. It’s a fantastic day out, with everyone from ambitious MAMIL’s in somewhat over the top cycling gear to serious racers completing the whole course in an hour, to people just having a go.

Both years I’ve run the 5k leg as part of a relay team, with other people doing the 750m swim and 21k bike ride.

Last year, I did really badly at this race.

It was 35 degrees in the shade (for our buddies in the US that’s Celsius, so we’re talking 95F) and our wave didn’t even start til 12:40pm. As the runner I had to wait in the full midday sun for about an hour and a half before I set off on my leg. 12:40 is also a really awkward time of day for racing, and the heat messed up when you had to hydrate. It was a clusterbomb of circumstances that led to a crippling stitch, a good deal of walking, and a personal all time worst time of 37:30 for 5k. I actually had to look that up because I’d blocked it, I was so embarrassed.

Don’t get me wrong, I know lots of people would be thrilled with sub-40, but these things are all relative. My best at the time was about 31 minutes, and on the day I would have expected 32, maybe 33 allowing for the hot weather. The reason I was so upset about this time was because so many work colleagues saw me struggle so badly over the shortest of distances.

So this year I was determined to redeem myself. This was a target race for me and as it’s dead flat and was not due to be so warm I wanted to shed 10 minutes off last year’s time.

AD Run

Things started well. The team had faster members for the swim and bike legs this year, and that meant we were on less than an hour cumulative time when I dashed out of the transition area. I did the first mile in 9:02, almost exactly on target as I wanted negative splits. Then I started to worry that something was a bit fishy as we got closer to the water station that marked halfway. ‘You’re halfway –  nearly there’ one of the marshals cheerfully informed us. No we’re not, I thought, halfway was back there a bit – we’re at 1.61….

This didn’t bode well. As I neared the second mile marker and checked my watch I was thrilled to see a negative split of 08:58, but the fact that halfway was a bit too far round the course was niggling at me. I needed this to be bang on to take the 10 minutes off. The course is out and back, could the finish be closer up the path than the start? No, I realised – it’s actually further away.

Well, balls. All this work might be for nothing then. I was going to have to just keep going and hope for the best.

My last mile was completed in 08:48 and I could see quite clearly we were further than 0.1 away from the finish arch. I dug in and sprinted for home as much as I could, picking up to an 08:22 pace, but the arch was just too far away.

My watch measured my pace as 08:54, but the course as 3.19 miles. That meant that although my time actually at 5k was 27:39 (a 20 second PB), it was recorded as 28:25.

I know this is still a decent time. I know it is pretty much 10 minutes off, and it’s not always about times, and all those other things. This event has raised over £1 million for charity over the last 10 years, and it’s a fantastic event all round. But if the reason I got robbed of a new PB that I ran my ass off for is because someone accidentally measured the flipping course wrong then I feel like it’s ok to be a little bit peeved.

Just to take all the leeway and excuses out here, I was wearing the same watch, in the same location, yes I did start and stop it on the mats (my watch time matched my chip time perfectly), and the path used to run on is only a few feet wide which forces everyone to run the exact same race line. My watch is pretty much always accurate at any of the many other races I’ve run. Add to all this the fact that the lake we were running around is used for Olympic standard rowing races and therefore must be pretty damn easy to measure, and I just can’t see any possibility other than that the course was a bit out.

They had actually slightly changed the route from last year, it used to be a shuttle of 4 straights up and down the lake. This year it was one lot of out and back, and all I can think is that they had to go to a certain suitable point for the water station and simply didn’t adjust the finish line accordingly.

The accepted flexibility in measurement for a 5k is supposed to be 1m per kilometre, or about 3.13 miles instead of dead on 3.1 miles. 3.19 seems a bit excessive in terms of a margin of error.

I’ve had a little paddy about it and am mostly calm again now. If it wasn’t such a psychological target for me it wouldn’t have bothered me at all, but I really wanted this one.

Forcing myself to look at the positives, on last year’s course my average pace was 12:04 for 3.11 miles. If the course had been yesterday’s 3.19 miles I would have come in at 38:29, so over the same distance I did actually take that 10 minutes off. I also kept going despite getting stitch again (our wave was one hour later this year so the food/water/standing about situation was the same) and did not walk, and regardless of the scores on the doors at the end I did leave everything out there this time and my medal felt well deserved.

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Triumphant Team Podium Finish!

Overall our team finished in 1:23, which was 44 minutes faster than last year!

Much as I’d like to, I can’t really argue with that.

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