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Tom Pidcock and the case of his curious 5km run

In-depth
8 Feb 2021
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Apparently, the 21-year-old ran a 5km only five seconds slower than the British record at the weekend. It's almost blown our minds

Words: Joe Robinson

On a weekend that the 2021 racing season really kicked into gear at Etoile de Besseges, double Monument winner Peter Sagan tested positive for coronavirus and the legendary Geoffrey Butler Cycles closed its doors, it speaks volumes about where we are as a cycling-loving community that the thing dominating WhatsApp groups and social media was whether Tom Pidcock really did run 5km in 13:25.

That’s right, the thing keeping us up at night was newly signed Ineos Grenadier and certified athletic freak of nature Pidcock posting a short and sharp 5km run.

That’s because the 21-year-old casually posted on his Instagram account on Sunday afternoon that he had attempted to run a sub-15 minute back home in Leeds but in doing so knocked it out in 13 minutes and 25 seconds.

‘Apparently this is very quick,’ said Pidcock with a crying face emoji, perhaps aware that his supposed time fell just the five seconds short of Marc Scott’s 5km road running British record. In fact, with a time like that, Pidcock would not be far off the British Olympic team.

Break that down a minute. That’s kilometre splits at 2 minutes 41 seconds. Pidcock supposedly held what would be sprint pace for most people for 5km. It’s twice the speed of a recent 5km I ran myself. He was also in a jacket. Terrifying.

It left me thinking about how insignificant I was, how now in my late-20s I’d thrown it all away. But then I looked into the run a bit further. I realised a few things were not quite right.

Pidcock’s supposed 13:25 5km as posted to Instagram looked legit until a few internet sleuths began digging. Firstly, they realised that during the 5km effort, his heartrate strangely began to drop towards the end of the effort, the opposite of what you would usually see.

Then, on Strava, Pidcock’s corresponding post actually suggested a much more believable time of 16:07 with splits floating around the 3:00/km mark but confusingly with the activity date on 18th December, over a month ago. And as Strava has the final say on these things, of course, it seemed like this was more likely to be the actual time Pidcock ran.

Except, out of nowhere, that first Strava record was then replaced with a new post that did show 13:26 for 5km with those 2:41/km splits – albeit lacking heart rate data – with a lack of recent use of the Garmin watch as the given reason for the first ‘inaccurate’ post.

I then had flashbacks of the first lockdown, remember those days? Chelsea football club posting a 5km run from its mercurial midfielder Ross Barkley. The time he set was 16:11, an average pace of 3:03/km. It took all of half a day for poor Ross to be fully ‘debunked’ by the StravaW*nkers Twitter page which quickly found that his supposed 5km was actually a stop/start interval session. Poor Ross was labelled a fraud and he had not even claimed to have run a continuous 5km.

Pidcock did claim that he ran a really fast 5km over the weekend, however. The chances are Pidcock’s time was simply down to some Garmin watch errors, calibration issues that have led him to set almost-Eliud Kipchoge times. No doubt, Pidcock can bang out an immensely-quick 5km but probably not 13:25 quick.

Pidcock’s claims caused some controversy, though. One keen competitive runner and cyclist I spoke to admitted to being ‘fully rattled’ by Pidcock’s freakish time. Someone commented on Pidock’s Strava post that ‘this summarised pro cycling in just one Strava activity ... all about cheat’. And, obviously, the activity has been flagged on Strava.

So was this a case of GPS misrecording and genuine misunderstanding or has Pidcock seen an opportunity to cast his line into the internet sea, looking for a red-faced bite? After all, he is 21 years old, he does play Fortnite on the Xbox, he does sells his old Supreme clothing online for a profit, and doesn’t drink coffee.

Pidcock is peak Gen Z, just the kind of person who would love to wind up the keyboard-furious masses on Strava. Who knows? And why do I care if a 21-year-old managed to run 5km in 13:25 so much, enough to write 800 words on it? I think lockdown has cracked me.