Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Brief History Of (My Running) Time

First off, I must preface this post by stating that it's not a brag post. Post PB high, I found myself already thinking about the next big goal, and boy am I good, fantastic in fact at looking way too far ahead of myself. Instead with this being a recovery week, just easy to steady running, I've decided to reflect on how far I've come, not just in the past 10 months since my injury issues in 2013 but overall as a runner.

As far as running age goes, I still consider myself a young runner. Whenever the question of how long I've been running for comes up, the answer is always followed with a 'but', that 'but' being that I ran a bit at school. My running superpower at school was the cloak of invisibility. I mastered the art of staying outside the coach's radar for the three years from Grade 10 that I did track and cross country, except for the time when I accidentally won the u/16 3000m race at our sports day.

How does one accidentally win a race. By invoking the cloak of invisibility of course. The only people that ever get noticed, and honestly the most interesting, in any running event are the winners and the back-markers. I had mastered the art of being distinctly average, never fast enough or slow enough to be noticed.

However on this day my strategy went to shit pretty quickly. Many of the guys that lined up, there may have been 15 of us, were not running fit. The 3000m was run the day before the main sports day events so it was usually the one or two serious track guys who entered, and then numbers were filled by anyone who hadn't been entered into anything on the main day. So staying middle of the pack was difficult since I was a little bit more trained than everyone else running. Eventually I couldn't run slow enough as everyone faded and with two laps to go I found myself in the lead and I couldn't exactly stop now could I! The time was pedestrian, 11:15 I think at a time when I was probably capable of 10:15-10:30 for 3000m if I pushed myself.

I do digress but that's an important snapshot in my running history in that it was almost exactly 14 years ago, September 2000. My matric year was less successful as I did less running and devoted my time to being the scorer for the cricket first team (they gave us tea and lunch!). I did do a decent stint of XC but found the jump from 6km to 8km quite a challenge as I moved to the open division. The quys were running 25 minutes while I was out in the 30-32 minutes range and ran the risk of getting lapped over the 2km course. It actually did happen once and that was demoralising. Come the sports day I jogged my way around the back of the 3000m open race as my love of running died a sad slow death.

Anyone that knows me for more than 5 minutes will realize I am possibly unhealthily fastidious when it comes to data collection with stuff I care about. So I have a very detailed record of every run I've done in this current wave of running, and can recall splits from races and even training sessions because I actually give a shit. "t = 0" is pegged at 12 June 2011. Though looking back, there were five runs in January 2011 that amounted to ~31km, the last of which was on 19 January. I consider these largely insignificant in the grand of scheme of things, in that they were part of yet  another failed reboot of  that tedious drama, Ntutu: The Running Man. In between 2001 and 2011 I had attempted various reboots, the most successful of which was from April 2005 to September 2006, where I was at least averaging 3 runs a week. I ran a 10km race in this period, Wally Hayward in 2006. Race Results tells me I ran 58:14. It was also when my obsession with winning Lenn Smith, finally achieved this year, the WITS staff and postgrad race started which I did in 2005 and 2006 to almost no success! I dabbled in adventure racing in 2007 but by the end of that year the running bug was dead. My parents even gave my running shoes away. I didn't kick up a fuss.

What follows is I hope a somewhat concise summary of how I went from being happy to have a lovely pair of Nike Pegasus be taken away from me to being unable to go through a day without wanting to go out for a run.
  • 12 June 2011: Ntutu goes for a run. Being a dumbass I put on my running shoes and decided to run out until I get tired and start walking then turn around and trace my steps back home. The run is torture but motivating, 7.3km for a first run in 42:01 at 5:46/km. It wasn't comfortable. That pace is misleading because it was like an interval session eventually. It reminded of track at school where I would sometimes vomit at the end of sessions. 
  • 21 August 2011: First Race. Entered the Vodacom Country Challenge 10km in Midrand. Midrad means hills, lots of them. Somehow get round in 51:19. I walk a lot in the second half.
  • 16 November 2011: First Sub 50 10km. Got round the Rowlin National Brokes 10km night race in Benoni in 48:00. I had actually trained for this, using the training plan from the Adidas miCoach app. I cut the plan short and switched to the sub 45 plan. The first of many rookie errors.
  • 21 December 2011. I remember this run vividly. I was supposed to run for 40 minutes. I pushed too hard and after 7km in 35:00 I stopped running and walked home. Other than another aborted run in January I wouldn't run again for 2 months.
At this stage it's difficult to say what happened. It was the same old story, couldn't commit to anything. Part if it was the too much, too fast, too soon rookie error. I achieved a goal and assumed more faster would be better like a dumbass.

In 2012 I went back to my club Run/Walk for Life in Benoni and started again. Instead of just running though I set myself a goal to run a half marathon. Running 21.1km seemed huge at the time. I had never run further than 10km. It was the best decision I ever made running wise. It pushed me out of my comfort zone but didn't overwhelm me. The goal race was Wally Hayward and I had 10 weeks to get ready.
  • 25 February 2012. I decide to enter a 10km race to see where I'm at. I run Deloitte in a surprising 45:44. Where the heck did that come from. Set myself a goal of 1:40 for Wall Hayward
  • 15 April 2012. I've stuck to my training plan. End of week 8 and I haven't missed a single run. I'm due for my last long run before I taper, 19km. Slow Mag is happening and my arm is twisted into doing the half marathon as a long run. Running 21.1km will boost my confidence. I run the race with no watch or phone (I lie, battery died at 6km). I finish in 1:38:42. I still have no idea how that happened.
  • 1 May 2012. Would you believe it. I've finished a 10 week (and two days) training plan. Wally Hayward is a dream race. 46:20 at 10km. 42:45 from 10km to 20km. Finish in 1:35:01. Beat my goal by 5 minutes. Now I am hooked. 
  • 5 May 2012. First sub 45 10km. I know nothing about running at this stage so I enter Jackie Mekler 4 days later. I'm tired but finish in 42:38.
Now the running bug has truly bitten but I have no goals anymore. That would be an issue but I love running so much I just put on my shoes and go out and run 45km/week for the thrill of it.
  • 19 May 2012. First sub 20 5km. Now I know I'm actually better at 5km than any other distance but didn't know it at the time. I enter the Mazda 5km. 19:25, 2nd place. Boom!
  • 23 July 2012. As if to confirm I lean towards short and fast, my family enters a team for the Take 5 Relay. I do the first leg in 17:49, 3:34/km.
I had done other races at this time, a 15km in 61:41 and a 10.5km race in 42:24. But I needed a big goal and decided to (stupidly) train for the Soweto Marathon. My father grudgingly agrees to help me prepare.
  • 28 July 2012. First sub 40 10km. Early in marathon prep I do a see where I'm at 10km. Despite dropping my car keys at 8km and having to turn around to fetch them, I finish in 39:39. A month later I would run the tougher Wanderers 10km in 39:04
  • 22 and 30th September 2012. First and second sub 90 half marathon. City2City was actually my goal half marathon but on a whim I went and did the Irene Spring Race the weekend before. It poured that day and they had to change the route. I ran 1:28:08. I feel sick and spend the next 5 days in bed on antibiotics. I run City2City away and smash my 8 day old PB, running 1:25:28. It remains to this day the best executed race I have ever run, running without fear or expectation.
  • 4 November 2012. First marathon. My dance with the devil. To put it mildly, I was crushed by my first marathon. I had a goal of 3:10, 4:30/km. I got to 32km in 2:26. I finished in 3:38:10. I hurt, I walked a lot and I wept like a baby. Many times. It took me 17 minutes to get from 37km to 39km. It was hell on two feet. Did I mention I cried a lot.
I wanted to have another stab at the marathon but my father talked me out of it, instead suggesting I had potential at shorter distances. For the first time, I listened to him. The second good decision I make about running
  • 8 December 2012. Of course a guy with a 2:30:40 marathon PB knows his stuff. Five weeks after that chastening marathon debut, I take 90s off my 10km PB finishing in 37:34 at the Great Weskoppies Race.
From here on in I sunk my proverbial teeth into whittling down my 10km time, by mid April 2013 my PB was 36:13, coastal but still a PB. I should have backed off taken a breather and gone back to basics but I kept piling on the speed work, week after week at the expense of my long run and overall mileage. I was down to 35-40km/week with 2 weekly track sessions and a race or tempo over the weekend.
  • 14 April 2013. I had run a hard parkrun the day before, in new XC shoes with no cushioning. The logical decision, on 40km/week was to drop down and do the 10km. Instead I stuck to my guns and ran the Slow Mag Half. Worst. Decision. Ever. I didn't know it at the time but it started 7 months of injury woes. The PB of 1:22:46 doesn't seem even worth it when I look back at what followed.
  • 12 October 2013. Back into the 40s. This remains the worst race of my life. In my mind I was still a sub 40 10km guy, at worst 38ish? I had run a 5km in 18:22 7 weeks earlier on 20km/week which predicts 38:20 (I've since learnt never to use my 5km time to predict anything longer, I seem unnaturally predisposed to the distance). So I went out intending to run that time at the Run Jozi event. I hobbled home in 40:32. In 6 months I had gone from a 36:13 runner to 40:32 on a true race effort. I was in danger of losing my love for running.
Not only had I gone backwards,but to rub salt into the wound, I developed a calf niggle that turned into a full blown injury. Something had to change, and twitter of all places came to the rescue as I came into contact with a man who would transform my running. My running went back to basics. I nursed my calf to the point where I could run for 30-40 minutes 4 times a week. By mid November I got my first training schedule. No workouts, just mileage. By the end of December I was running over 60km/week. In January I peaked at 78km/week! With the introduction of mild speedwork in February my calf flared up again more out of my eagerness to prove myself than the training prescribed. 
  • 23 February 2014. The Come Back. I put the calf issues aside and went and raced the Gift of the Givers Township race. It was not spectacular but it needed to be done. 38:06. I felt like I was back in the game
  • 21 March 2014. Never have I been so delighted to just miss out on a PB. Less than 4 weeks after the come back race, I entered the Sunnypark Right2Run race. Training had been going well but I surprised myself, running 36:22. It was just 9 seconds off my PB set at the coast.
Running is cruel sometimes. After Sunnypark I ran a race in Mamelodi, the Solomon Mahlangu 10km. I stopped the clock at 34:44 only do discover the course was around 200m short. Then at the flattest race I've ever run in Joburg, the Slow Mag 10km. I executed poorly, banking time. It was a double lapper and despite going through halfway in 17:35, the traffic in the second lap and the fact that I was isolated broke my confidence and I finished in 36:25 when I should have run at least 35:30. I needed a boost and it can from an unlikely source.
  • 4 May 2014. Post Slow Mag I had a recovery week but then got hooked up with an entry for the Colgate 15km. I felt undercooked and lacked confidence. I also had about 6 beers the day before and got to bed at 1 AM. Nevertheless, I ran with my heart and not my mind and finished in 55:41, this with a shoelace malfunction at 13km that cost me ~20 seconds. My goal race for the cycle, the PMMC 10km (formerly Jackie Mekler, that name is for the 25km only now) was the following weekend. This was the one that mattered. My peak race.
  • 10 May 2014. Redemption. I said City2City 2012 was the best executed race I have run but the PMMC 10km runs it close. The watch splits tell their won story: 3:34, 3:32, 3:29, 3:25, 3:41, 3:31, 3:42, 3:35, 3:29, 3:18 then another 18s.  Using road marks, I had it at a 17:50/17:56 split. Final time 35:46 and finally that long awaited 10km PB. I had waited more than a year to run a PB at any distance and two come in back to back weekends!
  • 20 September 2014. First sub 80 half marathon. This past weekend I was able to rub out that dark day in 2013 at Slow Mag from memory with a 79:07 at the Irene Spring Race. It was another awesome day to be running as I learn to run first with my head then with my heart. The last 6.1km hurt but I ran and refused to be beaten.
So where to now? The clumsily titled Project 35, a long term project continues. It's arbitrary of course, but my goal is to get under 35 minutes for 10km and stay there. From there all other goals for 5km, half marathon and in the future, the marathon will fall into place. I have another secret goal for the year, and that's to run under 17 minutes for 5km but that will come I believe. Like the sub 60 15km and the sub 80 half marathon, it's merely a consequence of all the work I've been doing and will continue.

One of the lessons I am taking out of this year and what I believe is the secret sauce of running, is that consistency pays off. I was always looking for a killer workout, some core workout, a supplement, a fancy stretching routine, whatever, some secret that could unleash hidden speed. The running magazines play on this too and I find it annoying. Without a base of consistent running, all of those gimmicks are useless. That's what changed in November 2013. A base of consistency was established. And week upon week of this has allowed me to add additional stimuli on top; more mileage, longer runs, longer tempos, more intensity. And this in turn has led to faster races. Running for performance is hard so it's always a fine balance but with consistency, 99% of the time, good things will happen when you hit the road.

So that's my story so far, three years and three months, and at this point I'm not ready or willing to close the book just yet. I have no idea what the next few chapters hold but I'm excited I enjoy every step I take and that's all that matters in the long term. I've achieved more than I anticipated in this time, and I'm confident there is still more to come. All I know is that I will not be limiting myself, I'll keep aiming higher but most importantly will ensure that I enjoy every step I take towards achieving whatever else I will.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Clover Irene Spring Race Half Marathon Report

Running is a funny old sport. For the most part it's all about the process. We spent months training, getting fit, getting stronger, getting faster, and that in itself is fulfilling. I enjoy the thrill of the moment when training comes together. We often look to faster run, tempos, intervals to gauge progress, but for me I feel it when in cruise control on an easy run. It's liberating to go out for a run, hardly get out breath and get home to find you were running 10 to 15 seconds per kilometre quicker with no perceptible increase in effort.

Having said that, that is not always enough. Despite the fulfilling process, our enjoyment of running often hinges of flash points, in other words racing. Eight, 10, 12 and even up to 20 weeks of training is often distilled into one day and very few minutes or hours. It's a lot of pressure, particularly when moving up to marathon distance where it really is about that one race. Unfortunately as many runners know, goals are often not met as so much can go wrong on race day, and it often takes one small event to derail months of preparation.

Some days however, you put on your racing gear, pin on your racing, put on a clean pair of shoes with your lucky socks (don't judge me) and as soon as the starting gun goes off, everything goes almost perfectly to plan. 

That in a nutshell is what I experienced this past Saturday as I set about trying to break my long standing half marathon PB and specifically to finish in under 1hr20min. And that is exactly what I did.

My primary goal remains running fast over 10km, and I'm still believing that I can get in under 35:00 before the year is out. At this point though my focus in training has been on a stromg buildup. I'm running more mileage than I ever have, having hit a peak of 88km/week mixed in with solid tempo running but with nothing much faster than half marathon to 15km pace. So I felt that racing 10km will be fultile and my coach let me enter a half marathon to test myself. A 15km probably would have been more ideal, but I haven't run a half since April 2013 and I've always enjoyed the distance.

The Clover Irene Spring Race course is very different to the one I ran in 2012 when I first ran under 1hr30. It's flattened out a bit, though this being the highveld it's not a flat race by any means, but it's in line with a lot of 10km races in Pretoria.

Clover Irene Spring Race 2012

Clover Irene Spring Race 2014

I made sure I got to the venue, the Irene Village Mall, nice an early. At 5am I was walking around just keeping loose, listening to music that sort of thing. At 5:15 I started with my warm up routine, some dynamic stretches, lunges, leg swings, that sort of thing with 'barely shuffling' jogs. At around 5:30 I changed into my race gear and made my way to the start. From the there I ran for 15 minutes, starting out slowly and building up to close to race effort then took my place at  the start at 5:50 in time for the 6am start.

The race started perfectly on time, I had christened this race Death by 347, 3:47/km being the pace required to run a sub 80 half marathon, to be exact that would come to 1:19:50. I'm usually terrible with checking my clock etc so decided to rely on my sense of pace judgement, the time with no pace and to use the kilometer boards. So to achieve my goal, I needed to run 3:47 kays, hit 5km in 18:55, 10km in 37:50, 15km in 56:45 and 20km in 1:15:40. I had no doubt I would get to 15km within my target, the challenge was to hang on to 20km and then to the finish.

At 1km I checked my watch, 3:45/km, and I felt good so I didn't increase the effort. It's amazing just what a different race conditions make to perception of pace. In training I would be huffing and puffing but I was doing okay now. I hit 5km in 18:35, 3:43/km pace, still feeling really comfortable.

The next 5km went by much the same, consistent pacing rolling with the hills and riding the downhills. I was starting to become a little bit aware of the hills but was surprised to see the clocking on ~37:10 at 10km, so another 18:35 5km split. 

The next 5km were an absolute delight but I must say this is also a point where my race could have come undone. It was by far the flattest part of the course and mental arithmetic tells me I was doing under 3:40/km for most of the splits here and that was confirmed when I hit 15km in 55:22 for an 18:12 5km. My average pace at this stage was 3:42/km. I was feeling really good but...

From 15km to 18km the real work started as there was a very noticeable slow pull. Unfortunately as well it was straight with just two corners. It took lot of concentration and it was by far slowest part of the race for me. I was also alone at this stage, catching the runners in front of me but leaving anyone behind me (as an aside, from 5km onwards, I was not passed by any just one runner, but they were doing the 10km).. I was hurting now and I missed the 20km board but checking my time just after, I guessmitated around 1:14:50 for 20km, so that split was only ~19:28, but with 1.1km to go, my average pace was still sitting at 3:45/km. 

Glancing at the finish line, frantically working out how safe the sub 80 is!
As I approached the finish I knew my goal was achieved, it was simply a matter of how fast I could go.
Trying to put on the afterburners
I though I could sneak in just under 1:19 but alas it was not to be and I came in with 1:19:07 on the clock, 3:39 faster my previous PB of 1:22:46 set at Slow Mag last year. Those last few kays were very stressful as I didn't realise how much time I had in the bank. I would have been disappointed just missing out but I managed to get back to my average pace of 3:45/km for the last stretch.

Before the start of the race I was listening to the Foo Fighters The Colour and the Shape, which is now my go-to warm up music, and a line from the song My Hero stood out and was my mantra for the race:

Use that evidence, race it around
I only had to look back at the year I've had, a 35:46 10km and a 55:41 15km best, to know that a sub 80 was within my grasp. I also had more recent evidence in training, the mileage I have been doing, 851.9 km in 12 and half weeks leading up to the race at average of 68.5km/week. That was not just volume but involved two solid stamina sessions every week, a long tempo and cruise intervals, plus 15-20km long runs.

With one more goal out of the way, it's time to return my focus back to training. This week is a recovery week then it will be back to the grind. I have no idea what the coach has in mind but I can imagine speed will start to come into the equation. Over the last 13 weeks of this current cycle, I have only run faster that 10km pace and that was on a 4km fun run. Other than that this has been strictly about increasing endurance and stamina, a goal which judging from the half marathon has been met. What is interesting is that my 10km pace hasn't dropped. I didn't blog about it for a number of reasons, but I ended up running Spirit of Flight in 35:20 on a short course with my time later adjusted to 36:19. What was interesting about this though was that the race course was changed overnight as the runway was required, and the new course was 6km of off road running. I dare say on tar I would have run 35:20 on a full course. I know what an effect even a month of speedwork will do as I'm certain I might even be marginally quicker now than I was in may; I reckon I could still run my Pb race in 35:40 if asked to now. I've also not peaked/tapered. I took an extra day rest for this race, but I had still run 127km in the 12 days before, including the two rest days.

Running is going well at the moment and I'm looking forward to a few more PBs before the year is out!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Back From The Wilderness

It's been a long time, too long, since I posted much of anything but alas, while running continues to happen, so too does life and the latter has been in a constant state of upheaval lately. Post Colgate 15 km, I finally achieved my goal of a new 10 km PB, running a satisfying 35:46 at the Pretoria Mililary Marathon Club Memorial 10 km. It's a lovely course, the scene of my first sub 45 clocking way back in 2012, and I executed the race perfectly. A slight negative split and finished strong with my last 2km cloced in under 3:30/km and actually kicking home for the finish. That was the peak of my season, 25 weeks on from November 2013 when I painstakingly embarked on a new plan, putting my training in someone else's control.

I ran two more 10km races, the challenging Love Run on 24 May(250m elevation gain) in 37:25 and then a disappointing run at the Great Run Series II on 31 May, 35:00 on a short course and in reality I was never going to challenge my PB after feeling flat all the way through. But that was 28 weeks in and a break was due and the coach  put me into recovery mode.

The next three weeks were strictly no training. I ran a bit, about 40km over the threeks week, mostly at 5:30/km pace, just shuffling along, waiting patiently for the signal from the coach to resume training. Initially I grew frustrated but by the end of week 2 I was loving the break, perhaps a bit too much, though that is a subject that is not appropriate for a running blog.

I resumed training on 23rd June. The coach had made it clear that the previous phase was foundational, and now the serious training was to begin. I was both petrified and excited; there had been times before when I wanted to pull out of certain sessions. In the high mileage phase that residual fatigue always had me lingering in doubt, and it was only a handful of races that kept me above the water so to speak.

As expected, after a period of high intensity training and then the three week break, we've been working on building back my endurance and then my stamina. The absence of true speed work seems to baffle some people but I understand and trust my coach's methods. I know myself too. I run well off any kind of training, but my primary currency is consistency. I can't hack training. I'm a confidence runner and a consistent routine and legs that feel worked cement that. I also know that I take very quickly to speed work. I enjoy it and I dare say I'm good at it. While the inclination might be to feast on what my body craves, in this case deprivation will work well. I'm weak on endurance and stamina, and I hate running long. Now spending more and more time on those aspects will build my confidence and I will rip through the speed work when it comes. Last time I jumped from 38:06 top 36:22 in the space of three and half weeks with the injection of speed and then chipped away over 6 weeks to 35:46. I'm that kind of runner. I peak quickly and can hold a peak for a reasonable stretch.

I'm not going to go through all of my running in detail but we have built up to a nice routine that's anchored by Wednesday and Sunday Long Runs. Faster running happens Tempo Tuesdays and Speedy Saturdays. Moderate (Easy) Monday and Ticking Along Thursday make up the rest of the week. This is was the past 10 weeks of training has looked like, from 23 June to 31 August, 659.5 km with a peak of 82.5 km:

August was also a record Month for me, 319 km at an average of 72 km/week:

It's all about the consistency at the moment and I'm very happy with where I am. September started off with a nice 13 km run averaging 4:25/km. What made me happy was just how comfortable this was. At the start of July, 13 km at 4:40/km was work, now this is the pace I'm starting my runs at and I feel genuinely comfortable. The hills on my course seem to be flattening out!

I'm doing two races in September, Spirit of Flight 10 km this weekend, 6 September and the Irene Spring Run Half Marathon two weeks later on the 20th. I'm actually more confident for the half marathon. I ran the Spring in 1:28:08 in 2012 off slightly less mileage and less quality than I am at now, then a week later ran the slightly tougher City2City Half Marathon in 1:25:28. I was training for a marathon then so my long runs had peaked at 33 km before but remove the once weekly long run and there was a lot less going on, with only a marathon pace tempo. Now my training is a lot more balanced with a 12 km tempo on Tuesdays, 1500 m cruise intervals on a Saturday and the 15 km on Wednesdays. Of course this is not ideal training for a 10 km. I'm going to give it everything on Saturday and try and get as close to my PB as possible but I will be disappointed if I don't run under 80 minutes for the half marathon especially seeing as my 1:22:46 PB was run over a year ago.

For now though, I'm happy to be running strong and fit. Here's to some more running and fast times as Spring sets in!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Race Reports: Slow Mag 10 km and Colgate 15 km

The races are coming thick and fast and I must say that after all the months of training, it's great to be able to put myself out there and see how much I have improved. It's one of the things I love so much about being a 10 km specialist. Most of my running buddies would have had the Big C, Comrades as their primary goal and like with the marathon they will be shifting focus away from volume to tapering. Unlike the marathon though, their tapering is bloody long, basically all of May. So the crankiness, irrationality and moodiness is dialed up to 11. For us short distance specialists, after peak intensity has been shift, we get a nice 4-6 week spell short sharp speed, decent mileage and continuous racing! It's fun!

Slow Mag 10 km (27 April 2014)

I usually do the half marathon at Slow Mag and it's a lovely race, one of my favourite routes. I have avoided the 10 km in the past because it used to be a fun run, so no official results and more importnantly no guarantee that it would be the full distance. These things matter to me, especially after what happened at the Solomon Mahlangu 10 km. I once did a '10 km' fun run in 2011 and even allowing for a GPS device not being 100% accurate my device measure 8.7 km!!! At the paces I'm running now, I could have knocked out a 31:30 '10 km' on that course.

Anyway, last year the Slow Mag 10km was used as a Central Gauteng championship event, and this year it was once again an official race though without championship status. I have lived in Benoni for a good while in broke spells, so I know the area well. When I ran for Run/Walk for Life, our branch was based at the venue for Slow Mag and many of our routes form part of the race. And one thing I knew was that it is basically dead flat so I was excited. I get jaded sometimes with the courses up here. There are some really fast races, Solomon Mahlangu as case in point, where for almost 10km I was hurtling along at 3:32/km but they make you work for you reward. I was looking forward to running a race where in my mind I could get into a rhythm, and almost switch off.

The race started at 6:40 and with a long drive out from Pretoria I was up at 4. I'm back to my normal routine now where: quick shower when I get up, then get dressed in my gear, sans racing shoes and cover up with a tracksuit; I either my Vomero 8 or Pegasus 8. My meal is simple, a banana, flavoured yoghurt and a cup of coffee. I force myself to use the toilet. Then on the way to the venue I sip on 500 ml water and once I get to the venue swap to 500 ml of sports drink. It was bitterly cold, so after dropping off a number for another run I waited in my car until it was time to warm up.

I warmed up for 20 minutes, a slow easy jog gradually accelerating until I was just under race pace. The 50km/42.2km/21.1km race were starting 10 minutes before us, so I timed it to finished my warm-up at 6:30. Then I did strides for another 5 minutes before lining.

From the start I worked at finding a comfortable rhythm, targeting around 3:30/km pace. It was a bit of a silly plan because I get isolated very quickly from the leading bunch and the guys behind me were not quick enough to catch. Other than a few 5km runners that was to be my position for much of the race.

The Slow-Mag route is a double lap and I have to say it was a disaster. First with only a 10 minute head start we caught the back of the longer events before the split which around the 3km mark. I'm used to navigating though bodies at  the start of a race but it's hard work and the pace naturally dropped. I managed to pick it up again. The fourth km is the only rise on the whole course and I was alarmed at  how much my pace dropped. By 5km I was on about 35:30 pace. I had a target in front. I wasn't catching them but they weren't pulling away either.

Then the shit properly hit the fan.

A double lapper might be a good idea in principle but by six case we hit the back of the 5km and 10km field. I lost my mojo seriously. Weaving in and out of the crowds, getting smacked in the chest by people power walking, having to go onto the pavements, it was frustrating. I also lost sight of the 5 ot 6 runners in front of me and my motivation seriously waned. I was down to 3:50km splits at this point and any thought of a sub 36 splipped away. I managed a half hearted kick at the end but was disappointed to cross the line in 36:27 even though I was 8th on the day.

The traffic affected everyone of course but since I'm not in a position to be challenging for podiums and prizes, I place huge value in the time I run. I lost a good deal of time. I was definitely in a position to run around 35:40 to 35:50 but alas it was not to be.

Colgate 15 km (4 May 2014)

After the slightly disappointing run at Slow Mag, my coach decided I needed a quite week and scheduled a bunch of easy 8 km runs to recharge and then a fartlek session that he makes me do once or twice a month. It's a tough run with about 15-16km of continuous running. Some unexpected logistical issues meant that I would end up in Boksburg on Sunday morning at the Colgate event, a 32km and 15km. I knew that I would not run in the evening so I spoke with my and we agreed that substituting the fartlek with the 15km would be no problem. I was injured last year having entered for the race and I was glad to be finally running it, I had heard good things about it.

Boksburg is even further away from Benoni but I made good time and was at the venue by 5:30 with the start at 6:30. I started my warm up a bit later and did 15 minutes. I felt that since this is a  longer slower event I could cut it down a bit. I was somehow allowed to start, actually the organizers insisted I start in the front which was actually a relief since there were 5000 people there. Of course once the race got going a whole crowd of people streamed past me but this would actually work in my favour later.

To cut the chase, I had an absolutely fantastic run, the best race I have run probably since Deloitte 10 km last year. Here's the route profile of the race which I though was fair and well balanced:

Colgate 15 km route
The race started on a slight pull and after bursting out I was doing my damnest to pull back a bit and get my breathing in the right zone. I got to the 1km in 3:40 which felt very relaxed with me targeting close to 3:30/km in 10km races. The first 5 km were so awesome to run. I could feel the gradual downhill and it was important to not get too excited. I kept everything in control. I was watching my splits as they came through. I went through 3km in ~11:00 then went through 5km in 18:15, so 3:39/km. My goal had been to run aroun 57:00. I have no idea why that seemed like a good time to target. From about 6km, the inevitable climbing started. From here I don't remember kilometre by kilometre splits. I noted when I got to 8km and then 10km, 29:33 and 37:05, so it was 3:46 pace from 5 to 8km and then also to 10km. Average pace had gone from 3:39/km to 3:42.5/km pace for around 55:37 still way quicker than what I had hoped for. My watch splits are illustrative of how well the race had gone at this point. First 5km: 3:39, 3:43, 3:36, 3:35, 3:31, the from 5-10km: 3:40, 3:52, 3:47, 3:47, 3:47

As I had said earlier a lot of runners streamed past me at the start and I was worried it would be a bit like Slow Mag. I was passed by a fair number of people in the first 5km but from about 7km onwards only two runners came past me and I hauled in a fair number of runners.

I caught a guy around the 11km mark who was doing the 32km and we got into a rhythm pushing each other on. This helped the distance pass by. This was until after 13 km my shoe lace got untied. I had felt it all throughout the race getting more and more loose. I ran for another minute or so but couldn't keep it up. I have no idea what that stop cost me in the end but my hands were freezing and I struggled to get enough grip to tie the laces but managed and was on my way. Getting going was tough again.

Entering Boksburg stadium I checked that I was around 52 minutes passing the 14km mark. Not only was a PB in the bag so was my expectation of being able to run 57 minutes. The last km was uphill mostly but I just had to keep it together and then I managed a final flurry to finish in 55:40, an average of 3:43/km.

This was comfortably my best run of the year.  And it is brilliantly enough also faster than I ran my first 10km of the year (38:06, 3:49/km). Strange that it was run on a whim in a distance I wasn't trained for. I have been so meticulous in prepping for races but in this instance I was all over the place this week, did the race on a whim and had no strategy and yet I had a great run. It says a lot for more relaxation, less thought. Pressure is a good thing too but just enough. I was still concerned about the last 5km and I didn't want to finish the race hobbling home.

This coming weekend I will be dropping back down to the more painful 10km distance! Looking forward to running the Jackie Mekler 10km, a race where I first broke 45 minutes back in 2012. Whatever happens I will be giving it everything.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Race Report/Rant: Solomon Mahlangu 10 km

I'm usually very diligent about reporting back on a race, whether good or bad but this one I wasn't sure about. Starting at the end, when I crossed the finish line, I was doing something I rarely manage to do, kick! So I wasn't looking at my watch, I had done so as we came off the road and onto the grass at the Moretele Park in Mamelodi with the end in sight, knowing that I was on my way to a huge PB. Just 400 m to go I thought, and I was flying, with the implicit pace on my watch showing 2:50 something or other. Those fast finish runs and sprints at the end of speed sessions were starting to pay off. I knew toeing the start line that I had made a big stride forward post Sunnypark, a race where I had surprised myself by finishing just 9 seconds outside my PB (set at the coast for that matter) in 36:22.

This race, small as it may be, had a clock at the finish, something I don't see very often. So as I came up to the finish, I spotted the timekeeper, with one eye on the official clock and as soon as I passed the table, froze that number in my mind. I was elated


I almost didn't believe it. Throughout the race I had been riddled with doubt. I tried something different this time. You see, ever since I first got a GPS watch, September 2012, I have been a slave to it, whether it's in training or on race day, workouts or easy days. The Foreruner 205 I used before had fixed displays but having upgraded to a 310XT, it is flexible, with customizable displays. So I set up a display with just time. But as a bit of cop out back up, I set a second screen with time, distance and pace. While I turn tones and vibrations off, I have alerts on for splits, because otherwise the watch will record the run as one long split. But with tones off, I almost have to know the route to check the watch exactly at each split. Of course in a race there a kilometre boards, and they usually arrive just after the watch records the split (the XT typically measure 0.05-0.1 over distance for most 10 km races). So in some ways it doesn't rescue me from my dependence on feedback. On this day however, the boards were so far out that by 5 km, despite feeling like I was shifting, some quick number crunching had me at 3:45 pace at 5 km. The distance on my watch was 5.3 km when I passed the 5 km board. At this point I 'broke' and switched to my emergency screen which then had me at 3:30s and since we were climbing now (I'll put up the profile) I had actually slowed down.

The other give away was that I had in my sight the two leading ladies for much of the race. One of the Phalula twins was always there, as was Rutendo Nyahora, who won the race and had run 33:30 in Cape Town a week earlier and has a 32:55 lifetime PB for the distance. I was also for once also keeping up with a very speedy young runner from Tuks, who often leaves me in his wake even when I'm in low 36 shape. So I could not believe I was on course for a 37-38 min 10 km with the way I felt, what the watch showed and the evidence around me.

So when i saw that time, 34:44, it was vindication.

Until I looked down at my watch and saw the distance measurement

9.86 km

I was really disappointed. A certain PB, gone.

I posted a bit about it on Twitter and also with my coach. One thing that came out of it is hat 150-200m is not the end of the world. If the route was 2 km short it would have been a big deal. The last 2-3 km of a 10 km is the business end of a race and I know that I've lost many certain PBs in the period. But the last 200 m is nothing. I was advised to not fret about the details and look at the bigger picture. At the end of the day, I have never covered 9.86 km ever at the sort of pace I managed that day. Even a 8 km I had run a PB, 28:40, after 3 km of climbing between 4 and 7 km. Strava, one of the sites I use for uploading my data (RunningAhead is the other), pulled out a 17:24 5 km split, and this had a marginal net elevation gain! And since it's a loop course I was always going to make some time up in the last 2 km. My final pace of 3:32ish/km is a true reflection of where I was on the day, possibly 35:20 shape. That alone is an incredible fact for me. Just 21 weeks earlier I had come off 3 weeks of downtime due to a calf strain, running less than 30 km/week and had run a 40:32 10 km in October 2013, my slowest 10 km time for over a year. Yet here I was covering just shy of 10 km at 3:32/km, smashing both my 5 km and 8 km PBs (old marks 17:49 and 29:01) along the way!

Solomon Mahalngu 10 km route prfile.

And thankfully we are lucky in Gauteng to have two races every weekend for much of the year. I've had to put that mild disaffection behind me and move on. On Sunday I'm going to be heading down to Benoni to do the Slow Mag 10 km. I've done the half marathon the last two years but no distractions this year. Two weeks later I'll be doing the Jackie Mekler Memorial 10 km. I did the race in 2012 and remember it being fast, as fast as a race can be on the highveld, with the typical undulating profile that tests but rewards you. I ran 42:38 in 2012, and it will be interesting what happens this year.

My goal for both races is to run the hell out of my legs! I've done the hard yards and all three races I've run in anger this year have been controlled affairs. I haven't really taken a risk and maybe now is the time to do so since I know I am in PB shape.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Race Report: Sunnypark Right2Run 10 km

Truly fast races in Gauteng are a rarity, or I haven't searched long and hard enough. There are many races that are described as fast and flat in Runners' Guide for instance but while they may be fast, the flat aspect is questionable. But that is the nature of the beast I guess as Gauteng is not exactly a flat province.

I remember two years ago, as a true novice runner, I had been running seriously for 10 months or so, excitedly heading to Sunnypark for the flat and fast 10 km race. By 3 km as I took my first walk break after heading our at PB, then sub 45:00 pace, wondering if I had entered the wrong race! It turned out that I hadn't and the organisers had tried something a little bit different, which meant borrowing elements of the Monster course. There was such an outcry that in 2013 the flyer even said back to the old route. Ha! I was in Cape Town at the run where I ran this:

2013 Bonitas 10 km course profile: fast and furious!

Now fellow Jo'burg and Pretoria runners, that's what a fast and flat course looks like! As I wrote in my report of that race, I kinda blew it. It was a mix of circumstances, illness the preceding week and a 1200 km drive to Cape Town, and folly, indulging in my love for craft beer and wine the night before the race. As such I've always felt that time, 36:13, was soft but being coastal had been a bit out of reach for me racing up here on the highveld where this is considered a flat and fast course:

Gift of the Givers Township 10 km: not so fast and furious!

I was surprised when I ran 38:06 at Township. I had felt slow leading up to the race and then had a scare with shin splints and a recurrence of my ITBS issues. On the day things went well and training since then has been gradual. After consulting with my coach, I dialed back the paces a bit and concentrated on being able to get consistency back. He says himself that he wants to get me 90% fit and then use the races to reach peak shape. Rather slightly undertrained than overtrained and injured.

We started doing formal speed work at  the start of March between with a gentle session of 5 x 800 at 3 minutes a piece with 3 minute recovery. This is 'only' 3:45/km pace, marginally quicker than the 3:49/km I had managed for Township. The sessions of course picked up. The Saturday session was 4 x1200 m with 800 m recovery, averaging 4:03 for the 1200s, 3:21/km. Two weeks out from Sunnypark the coach threw in a mixed interval session with reps ranging from 100m sprints up to 600m and all the way through to 1500m at around 10 km pace. The other quality session of the week was a 10 km progression run with the last 2 km at 3:44/km. Come race week I was raring to go and a session of 7 x 400 ranging from 73-77s with 400 m recovery and 4 x150 m sprints had me eager to take on the race.

Come race morning I was nervous as hell, and had visited the toilet three times within half an hour of waking up. Nerves for me are a good thing though. Being nervous for me is a sign of expectation which comes from accumulating evidence in training. It's nervousness that stems from knowing I can and should deliver, not apprehension at the task at hand. Racing is hard business and I have yet found a way to high my fear of the burn in the last third of the race, so I would be more worried if I thought nothing of it.

With all small but continuous injury issues in the last 12 months, I have been at simplifying my entire routine and also returning to habits I kept when I was actually injury free in 2012. The goal is, as I get better, to expand on those habits, not overhaul them as I did in 2013. Part of that is my morning routine. I'e gone back to eating a banana and yoghurt in the morning washed down with half a litre of water, then sipping on sports drink until I start my warm-up. I warmed up first by doing the lunge matrix and leg swings, the only aspect of 2013 changes that I've kept. Then I jogged for 10 minutes then introducing some surges for 5 minutes. I took a short break and stretched, standard stretches but held for short times, no more than 15 seconds. Then I spent five minutes doing strides, running ~200m out and walking/jogging back.

Then the interminable wait for the start!

By this stage I was a bundle of nerves and when the gun went off I sped off with the leaders for about 100m before sanity prevailed and I pulled back. In my mind I had a plan of heading out at around 3:40/km pace and seeing what happens. I hit the first board at 3:30 and that idea went out the window. I think my coach gets a little frustrated with how analytic I am and he told me to go out there and race. All I had to do was to watch my heart rate. In races last year I had been able to run with and occasionally beat some of the ladies. I spotted Lebo Phalula twins and Myrette Filmalter and decided to keep them in my sights as much as I can. If I got uncomfortable I would just pull back. I expected them run under 36 so I knew the longer I could stick with them I would actually run an excellent time.

Now Sunnypark's Old Route is known as a fast course but alas it is not a Cape Town fast course!

Fast but certainly not flat!
I had no inclination that for much of the first 4 km we were rising. My pace did slow for the 2nd split and the 4th split, reflecting the terrain. The first 4 km splits according to the watch were as follows: 3:28, 3:42, 3:36, 3:44 for 14:30 though I was at 14:36 when the 4 km board came up so on track for about 36:30.

The next 2 km were glorious, a sweeping downhill stretch where I really put my foot down. It's been a while since I have felt so fast and fluid in a race. I was running right behind Phalula who was flying at this stage. These two splits were 3:28 and 3:26. The watch had me at 17:58 through 5 km and 21:24 at 6 km, though I recall passing 5 km just outside 18:05, around 18:08 and 6 k I don't recall but would have been around 21:35 so I was under PB pace at this stage.

The next two km were slightly tougher. I remember approaching the water point I was working harder and I glanced at my watch and had seen my pace slipping to over 4 min/km. Watch splits were 3:48 and 3:40, so it had me at 28:52 through 8 km. 

The last two km were just me holding on as best as I could. I got passed by a couple of people here which wasn't the worst thing in the world as I tried to keep up and it meant my pace didn't drop even if the runners were pulling away. My watch recorded 3:35 and 3:33 for km 9 and 10, coming before the official finish of course and I got to the end in 36:16 on my watch. My official time was reported as 36:22 good enough for 13th place and the first time in the 36s since Mazda all the way back in April 2013. This is my third fastest time ever though I'm a little bit suspicious about the 36:14 I ran at Mazda as my watch measured 9.89 km. Of course a GPS watch is not 100% accurate but in my experience they rarely measure short. But in truth, if I was running with a cheap stopwatch I wouldn't even know!

All in all it was a fantastic result that was a vast improvement over Township. And the elevation data suggests that it was of comparable difficulty to Township. I think I ran a good smart race, using the terrain and actually racing for once and not just sticking to a plan. It's interesting comparing the splits of this race to the Cape Town race which while it is my PB was actually a poor performance. The watch had me through 10 km in 36:02 with splits of 17:58 and 18:04 so in reality probably around 18:08 and 18:14. At the Cape Town race, my splits were 17:34 and 18:39 and basically every subsequent kilometre was slower than the previous one. And with the course being dead flat then, there was no excuse for such poor pacing.

My next race is likely going to be the Pick n Pay-The Grove Mall 10 km on 21 April on Family Day. I've never done the race and it is apparently being run on a new route this year. That area is potentially but potentially hilly though more hill of the rolling kind. With 4 weeks of training between now and then, I'm hopeful that if I just keep doing what I'm doing, getting out consistently, running decent mileage and pacing my workouts sensibly, there's no reason why I can't improve on this performance  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Race Report: Gift of the Givers Township 10 km

It's felt like an age but this weekend I finally raced in anger over my favourite distance. My last attempt at a race over 10 km was a disaster, the WeRunJozi race, which ended a streak of double figure sub 40:00 races stretching back to November 2012. It also put me out of action for three weeks with a calf strain. The build up thus far has been gradual, and in reality I'm still building up with no serious hard running a faster than race pace in store for a while I allow my weakened body to come to pace with training and racing consistently.

There hasn't been an absence of niggle of course which I guess comes with the territory. In fact this past week of all weeks I suffered what seemed like shin splints. There's a first time for everything but on my first run of the week I had the most of awful pain in the muscles around my tibia and tightness around my thigh and knee. Not again! Other than some soreness in my foot after an off-road run at the end of December 2013 I had an almost flawless build up. I increased mileage gradual from around 40 km/week up to a peak of 78 km/week, a lot of running for me. For 13 weeks I did not miss a single planned run. But curiously as soon as picked up the pace of my running the struggles began. I do think a part of it was overeagerness on my part. While I have developed the discipline now through the assistance of wearing a heart rate monitor for the first 8 weeks of my build up to run at the correct effort of normal training runs, as soon as I increased the intensity of the runs I also started chasing the clock.

To fast, too soon.

At the back of my mind I have a fading but still obvious memory of the run I was in the first half of last year. As I plateaued to a regular 'faster than 37:00' 10 km runner I had hoped to kick on and chase a new high which has yet to materialize. In training I have felt through each stop-start the form disappearing, culminating in that disappointing 40:34 at the WeRunJozi race, a shadow of my former self.

So it is with that memory that the eagerness to get back there consumes me, while forgetting that the journey there was for the most part 24 months of painstaking building of mileage and strength until I could tolerate the kind of training that got me running faster than I ever imagined I could.

So with my body showing signs of cracking, my coach cancelled the rest of the running for the week and it was about injury lock-down. Strength work, stretching, icing, the works. By the end of the week I was able to do a very easy 8 km on Friday morning and a 30 minute shake out run on Saturday morning and felt okay for once.

At this point I must confess that while I am good at running day after day if needs be, strength work is something else entirely. It's difficult and it never gets easier and I generally slack off with it. My issues now were definitely muscle imbalance issues. As the pain subsisded I could feel the tightness in the tibialis anterior muscle, my quads were tight too, my glutes and mild ITB aggravation. This morning for example I can feel definite improvements after a week of diligence. So I have now endeavoured to roster in my maintenance work. Just like I know I'll be a session of 4x2000m at a moderate effort level followed by 15 minutes of 100m strides with full recovery, so I'll pencil in the ITB Rehab routine I do after the run as well as a core workout in the evening. This was a scare that could have derailed my season as it was starting and I will not let it happen again.

With the Gift of the Givers Township race being held in Eldorado Park, it meant a very early start driving through from Pretoria, up at 3:30 am to get ready. We arrived at the venue at 5:30 am, just enough time to go through a warm up. With the niggles it wasn't my ful warm up, just some light stretching, followed by a 3 km jog that included a ramping up of pace and finishing off with a few 30-60 second surges at race pace. The start was delayed a bit so I could have probably fitted a bit more of a warm up in but I was getting edgy and the nerves were building.

At 6:12 am the starters gun finally went off. With the 10 km, half marathon and marathon starting together, it was a frantic getaway and there were almost a few accidents but thankfully no one fell. The early pace was frenetic and I glanced down at my watch and it was indicating a pace of 3:15/km!!! I had to back off but in the crowd it was difficult but I slowed down enough to cross the 1 km mark a 3:36 (1 km was 3:31 on my watch). The was a bit of a pull to 2 km so my pace dropped a little passed got through in around 7:20, so a 3:44 km. Another quick section followed, around a 3:40 km split and then there was very long pull for around 2 km.

At this point my watch and boards had been synchronized about 2 or 3 seconds out so at 3 km my distance was around 3.05 km. But at 4km suddenly the measured distance was 4.2ish then at 5 km it was 5.3ish. I got to 5 km at around 19:15 and then knowing that it was mostly down back to the finish I relaxed. I didn't force the pace, just simply let my legs go with the terrain, my watch was returning 3:38-3:40/km splits and I was happy with that. The last two km levelled off a bit with a slight uphill to 9 km and then a slight uphill to the finish before finishing off on a grass track. I almost got a nit lost heading into the Eldorado Park Stadium turning left instead of right but managed to get in and finish in 38:05. My watch measure 10.29 km, the longest distance I have ever measured for a 10 km  race but rather a long route than a short route! I wasn't sure what time I was going to finish in as some of the km boards were oddly placed. At 7km the distance was 7.3 then at 8 km it was 8.2. Had I known I would be close to a 37:50 odd I would put in a bit of a kick for the 400 m or so! Oh well.

Fast and flat they said!

Overall though it was a satisfactory season opener. The splits from the GPS were wonderfully consistent and I honestly felt in control. I really could have gone faster in the second half but I wanted to get to the end in complete control. There'll be time time for final lung busting effort when I'm closer to my target of breaking my almost 12 month old PB.

The last time I came off a large block of high mileage training in November 2012, I opened with a slightly impeded 39:16 that was probably worth about about 38:50, though who knows what the effect of a 4:25 vs a 3:50ish opening km would have been on my fatigue levels at the end of the race. My coach was expecting something closer to 39:00 so I'm slightly ahead of where he expected so all in all it was a worthwhile run out even if it looked like it wouldn't happen earlier in the week.

I've received my workouts for the next week so we the first race out of the and a benchmark/platform to build on it's time to knuckle down and train smart. The next main landmark is the Sunnypark Right2Run 10 km on 21 March. The coach might ask me (I hope) to do another low key outing in between but for now that's what I'm focussed on, 4 weeks is a long time in running and I hope to see an improvement that gets me closer to breaking 36:13 by the end of the training cycle.