Ain’t nothing like a bit of competition:

ARSE Award

Me winning the A.R.S.E award for the handicap race in 2011 (Award for Runner's Season of Excellence)

If you follow me on twitter (and let’s face it, you should), you’ll probably have seen me pipe-up on Thursdays with something like,

“Another 11 secs off the (not quite) 5K PB today (paced round by the bull that is @RW_ed_Andy).”

…or…

“Paced to a 5K PB today by the determined Deputy Editor @runnersworlduk. Now down to 18:30 (18 seconds off last week). #shapeofmylife”

So what the hell am I talking about? Well, working for the UK’s #1 running title has its perks. Every Thursday, myself and a few colleagues do a little warm-up jog south of the river (London) to meet up with the team who organise the Virgin London Marathon. These guys, very kindly, run a 5K handicap race for us. Equipped with stopwatches and a spreadsheet, two guys will set 15+ runners off on a course around Central London.

The course, which actually works out at about 2.95 miles, crosses a fairly major road (twice) and is positively teaming with tourists. And the field is made up of all sorts of runners, with varying abilities (from just under half-an-hour to a chap who can do it in 14 minutes!). If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a handicap race, because the abilities of the competitors varies so much, the start of the race is staggered so that people end up finishing at roughly the same time. While this makes the timekeeper’s job hard, it makes for very entertaining racing (with a lot of gut-busting sprint finishes involved).

The reason that I’m posting about the handicap is because of the benefits in running involved. Adding a little bit of competition and camaraderie to my training in the form of this ‘race’ has proved absolute wonders. It’s incredibly rewarding and it’s been a great way to measure my improvements. But without the element of competition there is no way that I’d have improved as much as I have. In fact, since starting this race just over a year ago, I’ve knocked my time down from 23:34 to 17:58 (set last week). That’s going from just under an 8-minute/mile pace to a little over 6-minute miles!

This measured gain has not only given me the confidence to run a quicker pace over longer distances, but it’s given me the actual ability to. Coupled with a speed training session on Tuesdays, my base level of fitness has improved tremendously over the year. And it’s because of sessions like this that I’ve set myself such an ambitious target for the London Marathon this year.

Give it a go yourself. Find five mates, take down their 5K PB times and race around your local park (staggering the start by the difference in PBs). You will not believe how much fun it is and I guarantee you that you’ll be doing it regularly. Just remember to take it in turns being timekeeper and email the results round in an excel sheet afterwards. The statistician in me loves trawling through these results. Here’s a little geeky graph of my handicap history:

Handicap Stats

Don't judge me...

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