Since the Alton Towers 5K race, it had nagged at me that I was unable to pace my Wymondham AC club-mate, James Heaney, to a new personal best. 

I felt really disappointed for him; he’d run really well, and it was only the profile of the course that prevented him from ringing that PB bell. 

A few days after the event, I realised I needed to try and close the mental loop I’d opened; I messaged him to see if he fancied another go. 

Fortunately, he was as up for it as me – it meant I hadn’t psychologically scarred him from trying to get him from some of those hills. 

This time we’d choose a more forgiving course: Norwich parkrun at Eaton Park. 

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James’ previous personal best was set recently at the Great Stampede in 23:09 but he’s running very consistently and managing to steer clear of the dreadful ‘niggles’ that can derail any runner’s progress. 

I was confident we could get him safely under the 23-minute mark if we paced it correctly. 

It was a cold, crisp morning and I wanted to try and keep a pace of around 4:30-minute kilometres for as long as James could. 

It’s pretty congested at the start of Eaton, as any regular will tell you, but by the first kilometre there was a bit of space to work with. 

I sat just in front of James to try and help him conserve some of that mental energy he would need in the latter part of the race... sorry, timed run.  

It was useful to have had the experience of Alton Towers a few weeks previously because I could spot the signs when things were feeling particularly difficult. Most notably, James goes very quiet (and he normally loves a chat) but I tried to keep talking to him in an effort to distract and motivate him to keep going. 

Eastern Daily Press: Mark Armstrong and James Heaney on their way to setting James a new 5K PB.

No matter what level of runner you’re at, we all get to that phase in races when you’d rather stop, and your brain is just trying to keep you safe. Keeping calm and knowing when to push past that feeling is a key element in improving your 5K time (as long as you’re feeling well and haven’t got the dreaded cough that seems to have afflicted half of Norfolk at the moment). 

The fourth kilometre makes or breaks any 5K; the lactate starts to build up heavily in your legs and the pace of the first couple of kilometres suddenly doesn’t feel so manageable. 

However, James looked focused, and I could sense a quiet determination not to let that ‘this is hard’ voice overwhelm him. 

I grew slightly concerned on the third lap at some of the traffic that inevitably develops on any looped course, but James was still on my shoulder and navigating round some of the other runners. 

As we came into the final kilometre, it was clear a new PB was on for James.  

I dropped behind him on the last corner and told him to ‘Go - give it everything you’ve got!’ There might have been the odd expletive in there (you can take the boy out of Essex...) 

I genuinely couldn’t keep up with James as he turned into the home straight; he’s got a very decent kick on him! 

It was more than enough to get the PB he wanted: 22:47 – job done. 

I did notice after though that there wasn’t any slumping to the ground; if you’re still upright after a flat-out 5K then you haven’t done it right... so I reckon there’s a bit more in the tank. 

I was just glad to play a small part in helping James; I remember those early days of my running journey when it was almost exhilarating to see your parkrun time come down every week.  

You can see he has been bitten by the running bug and I’m excited for him to see how far he can take it over the next few months. 

If only to keep up with his wife, Kathryn, who is returning from injury...