Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 in Review: The Year I Ran!

I can sum up 2012 simply with the following two sentences:

On 25 February I ran a personal best 45:44 for 10 km at the Deloitte Pretoria Race.
On 8 December I ran a personal best 37:34 for 10 km at the Great Run Challenge Series Race

An improvement of over eight minutes in 9 ½ months that I just never saw coming. Of course quite a bit happened in between, lots of training, joy, struggles, and heck even a marathon, but the story needs to go back at least 6 months.
Thanks to my borderline OCD when it comes to logging workouts and the memory bank that is Facebook Timeline, the sheer haphazardness of my 2011 became apparent. I thought I had put in a decent shift at least in the second half of the year when I made the commitment to run after supporting at Comrades, but just 345 km and swathes of empty weeks told their own story. Two 10 km races and PB of 48:00 was something to work off, but 2012 became a make or break year. Even in my school years of forced participation running was always a hit or miss affair and my adherence to training was always mediocre.

At the start of 2012, the buzzword was surely consistency. A consequence of consistency would be that I would run a lot more, but to get there I would need realistic but challenging goals to guide me. When I set my goals for 2012, I had already embarked on the first week of a half marathon training program so that was my starting point. My PB of 48:00 for 10 km predicted a half marathon time a shade slower than 1:45 but to push myself I set the target to 1:40. My goals for the year were set as follows
  • ·         Half Marathon: sub 1:40
  • ·         10km: sub 45:00
  • ·         Finish a marathon

These goals, particularly the final one would really test my limits. Despite running sub 50:00 for the 10 km I had yet to finish the distance without resorting to a run/walk strategy for the second half of a race. Added to that was the fact that I had never run further than 10 km in a race or in training.

The quest got off to a spectacular start! I had a 10 km ‘fitness barometer’ race scheduled at the end of the first week of my 10 week half marathon program. Off-training over the festive period had turned into a long hiatus and by mid-February I had put in a solitary awful 7 km. So the race, the aforementioned Deloitte Pretoria Race, would give me an idea of how ambitious/crazy I was being. Despite once again having to employ a run/walk strategy I was surprised to run that big PB that set the ball rolling.

The half marathon training program introduced me to elements of a complete program that I may have neglected in the past. It incorporated a lot of easy running, something I was rubbish at, interval training, fartleks, still my favourite the tempo run and the introduction of long runs. My first ‘long’ run was 10km at 5:45 pace and it was an absolute blast. Even time wise, I had never run that long before and it was a confidence booster. The long run was extended week on week. While the tempo run was me in my element, there’s something about running comfortably hard, the track sessions were destroying me. I ended up doing most of my speed as fartleks on the road instead.

Throughout the course of the program I felt myself getting stronger though not necessarily faster. In March I ran another 10 km on a hilly course and ran outside my PB but a respectable 46:20. But I had a break through moment in early April when I did a 10 km tempo/time trial. I ran through the whole way and matched the 46:20 I had run, and for the first time didn’t feel shattered at the end. I spent the following week in Cape Town and had a second moment, my 16 km long run, done along the beach front in Muizenberg and it was the first time that I really felt like I had made progress and would get through a half marathon. I never once felt tired, didn’t need to stop for water and even my gel. I saw the most gorgeous sunrise and had waves crashing beneath for much of the run. I returned to Benoni, with the first inkling that I could and would succeed with the half marathon.

I had picked the Wally Hayward race to end my 10 week program on but my debut half marathon actually came earlier. Staying in Benoni, the Slow Mag marathon took place two weeks earlier and my rubber arm was gently twisted and I decided to do the race as a long run. I had planned to run 19km that day anyway so an extra 2 km did not seem like a big deal. The first  5 km was innocently done at marginally faster than training pace ~5:15/km but by 10km my average pace was under 5:00/km as I got into the spirit of the event and decided to race it anyway. It was the third wow moment of the year. I finished off the race in 1:38:42, well within my 1:40 target and actually ran sub 45:00 for the 10-20 km portion. I had never felt that strong before in a race! Two and half weeks later, I crushed that PB further running 1:35:01 at Wally Hayward. Wally was almost a perfect race, with each 5 km split faster than the preceding one. And the famed sting in the tail did not break me.

Goal #1 achieved.

While still giddy and on the PB train, I entered a 10 km race just 4 days after Wally Hayward, knowing that in both the two half marathons I had run, I had broken the 45 min mark in the 10-20 km portion. The route for the Jackie Mekler race was fast with some hills, and I was still fatigued from the half marathons but I really dug in deep and smashed my 10 km PB and the 45 minute barrier, running 42:38.

Goal #2 achieved.

This left me with 26 weeks to my target marathon. I picked, despite reservations from a number of people, the Soweto Marathon. I won’t rehash all of the details as I posted enough about it; suffice to say it was a tough endeavour. I needed to go through it though. This year was about commitment and pushing myself. Marathons and the training are not for the faint hearted and I learnt going through one particularly tough episode where I almost quit. Oddly at the end of that week, I ran a PB for 10 km, 39:04 at the Wanderers Challenge! While PBs fell all round, I ran 17:49 for 5 km, I cracked sub 40 10 km and sub 90 for the half twice for both distances, just being able to go out and run for 3 hours was something I never thought I would be able to do. The marathon itself was a chastening experience but I’m glad I gave it a good go and I’m proud of my 3:38:10 finish.

I finished a marathon dammit!

Goal #3 achieved.

That is not where it ends of course and I have already looked forward to 2013 and there are bigger better plans in the pipeline, the subject of another blog post.

But before jumping ahead, there were still 8 weeks left after Soweto Marathon and while I had promised myself some time off, I really couldn’t stay away and managed all of 4 days of no running and within two weeks I was lining up at the start line of a race, the Kolonnade Retail Park 10 km which resulted in a 38:22 PB! Three weeks later that PB would prove to be short lived as I improved that further by running 37:34 at the Great Run Challenge Series II race at Weskoppies. My final race of the year was the Old Year's Race on 29 December where I managed my third fastest 10 km time, 38:24, in incredibly testing conditions, with the temperature at the start being a body melting 32°C despite the 17:00 start. 

What the last 8 weeks of the year revealed to me, and a hint of what’s in store for 2013, was how much I really enjoyed racing short and fast. And while getting to the end of a 42.2 km race is the standout moment of the year for me, I’m really proud of my 10 km running. Throughout the year I improved my time for the distance from 2011 by over 10 minutes or more than 20%!

As I said at the beginning part of running consistently would have the knock on effect of me simply running more. My tally for the year stands at 2079 km, a weekly average of 40 km with a peak of 82 km, a monthly average of 173 km with a peak of 262 km. The marathon aside my longest run was 33km and 3:11 for time on the road. Racing was also a big feature of my year, collecting 21 medals, a fair chunk of them silver medals. 

The 2012 Medal Bounty!
The standout points for the year for me are as follow:
  • A 17:49 5km PB
  • 1:25:28 PB for the half marathon
  • 37:34 PB for 10km, five sub 40 runs and 6 PBs
  • Finishing a marathon!

After such an overwhelmingly successful and consistent 2012, here’s to an even better, more focused and even more specific 2013!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Almost the Perfect 10!

Post-marathon running has been all about chilling out and letting my legs do what they enjoy. That means (relatively) low mileage and high intensity. My biggest week thus far has been 54km, the longest run mo more than 15km and my average run is in the region of 8-9km. Looking at my dailymile profile another major change is the average pace of my runs which has has dropped from ~5:00/km at the peak of my marathon training phase to under 4:30/km. It's still hard work but honestly I love it! This is just so different from the (relatively) slow high volume training I did for over three months. I'm rarely out for more than 40 minutes, I work up a sweat and I feel energised after each workout.

Last week was a revelatory week for me, that wonderful feeling when you work through something in training, and struggle a bit but come race day, the moment to deliver, everything clicks.

One kilometre at a time

This past Tuesday so the return of my favourite track workout, 1km repeats. I don't know what it is about the session but 5 x 2.5 laps of a standard 400m track is the sort of workout that challenges my resolve yet remains completely and always attainable. It takes me a while to get inot 400m reps while mile reps are just too long, 800m comes close, but 1km hits the sweet spot. Right now I'm not too fazed by what pace I do them in. I'm concentrating on even effort and good form. I find it hard to work off a pace target right now because I haven't reached any kind of peak or plateau phase. I also respond well to speed training so find that week on week, my comfort level can shift dramatically.

1km Interval Time  Recovery (600m)
1 03:30.8 02:46.1
2 03:23.4 02:38.3
3 03:22.4 02:50.3
4 03:22.7 03:01.6
5 03:23.7 -
Average 03:24.6 02:49.1

The first interval was just me getting into the swing of things but I felt good so decided to push a bit harder on the next four. I was really happy with my consistency, and that was I able to hit 81/82s laps without straining too much. The fourth and fifth intervals were tough but I maintain the pace. This session really hit home how much I have improved this year. Early in May I did a session of 1km repeats, where I couldn't even do the 5th and I was hitting around 3:53-3:56. Seven months later I have managed to average 3:25 for the same session off shorter rest, less than 3 minutes compared to 5 minutes then

Special Blocks

I have this morbid fascination with elite athletes and their training, where even though I know I will never train like them I don't think it hurts to apply some of their principles to my own training. The best in the business are Kenyans, so I have been looking to them for some inspiration. Something I came across was doing special blocks to simulate the demands of a race without sabotaging your training by doing the whole event. The principle is more applicable to marathon training but I tried it with my 10km training. 

Thursday is my double up day, I usually do a hard session in the morning and a recovery run in the afternoon. Last week I instead did my tempo as usual in the morning and ran my 5.2km run as a hard effort. In the morning I did 5km of hard running at target race pace and added to the afternoon effort made up ~10km at race pace.

The morning session was tougher than I expected, a combination of the warm weather, the monotony of lap running and the fact that I did it on grass. My 5km effort was in 18:46, 3:45/km, bang on target! The afternoon session was better, out on the road, and I hit 5km in 18:33 before easing back to the end. So my combined 10k m effort was 37:19.

The trick of course is to put those sessions together come 29 December.

Race Day: Great Challenge Series 10km

I'm working off a 3 week cycle, repeated twice, with the goal at the end of the six weeks to hit around 37:30 for 10km. So I did the Kolonnade 10km 3 weeks ago to see where I was post-marathon, and the Great Challenge 10km fell neatly into my three week cycle. I had heard the course was fast but tough, like Tom Jenkins a flat course with one steep climb thrown into the mix.

To be honest while I was hoping to break my 38:22 PB from Kolonnade, I wasn't expecting to run much faster, my goal was to be between 3:48 to 3:50 pace, good for 38:00 to 38:20. And of course that tough but fast description really had me scratching my head, but as you can see from the course profile it is actually completely accurate:

That's what a tough but fast course looks like!
Unlike the past two races where I ended up bogged in the pack. I positioned myself in the second row at the start and got off to a good start. The pace at the beginning was hot! I found myself around some speedy looking runners but I was feeling comfortable. Another than the short climb at the beginning it was plain sailing but I was worried about the pace and tried to settle down. I was through 2km in 7:00, and 3km in 10:35 and then calmed down a bit to go through 4km in 14:23! 

Then we climbed. And we climbed. And we climbed. It was a solid kilometre and suddenly I was through 5km in 19:04 after a 4:41 split. There was still a bit more mild climbing to the turnaround point, before the descent. You generally think you can make up time but even though I cruised back down the hill, my little legs can only turn so fast, and my return split for the 7th km was a 3:28 according to the Garmin, not much time gained back! 

I didn't pay too much attention to my splits as I hurtled back down the monster hill, but I hit 8km in 29:54, which would have been a PB for the distance, and as my thighs started to burn I just focused as I did during the speed sessions before in just maintaining good form and effort. Even a couple of 4:00/km splits would get me through and I pushed hard, but wishing for the end! And as I ran past the timekeepers and stopped my clock I was alarmed to see the time!


I was really blown away by the time. I know I am in the best shape of my life, I can feel it in training but I wasn't expecting to run a time like this just three weeks in, and only five weeks out from that first marathon. The special blocks was tough and I was still thinking three weeks down the line to get into the 37s.

My dad always tells me that if the last two kilometres are not challenging then I haven't raced hard enough, so I know I really gave it everything. Additionally I managed to negative split the race, 19:04 and 18:42, so it was well paced too despite me thinking I had gone out too hard!

Breaking into the 37s also took my cumulative tally of improvements over 10km to more than 10 minutes for the calendar year. The tally now stands at 10:14 or 21% improvement. I know this rate is unsustainable and in fact since breaking into sun 40s, I have dropped two minutes over 6 months, while the previous three months saw me drop more than 3 minutes. Minutes will become seconds will become parity but I hope to carry on into 2013 still chipping away.

So looking forward, the goal for the Cid to Cid Old Year's 10km on 29 December is still 37:30 (3:45/km or 16km/hour) as my A goal. If things go well on the day I would love to try for a sub 6:00/mile pace, which is 37:11 or faster as a B goal. Otherwise just another PB to end what has really been an awesome year!

EDIT: Official results are finally out for the Great Run 10km, 37:34 for 23rd place!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Speed Thrills: Just missing a PB and hitting the track hard

EDIT: It turns out that the Kolonnade Retail Park 10km went much better than I thought and my official time was 38:22 for 27th place out of 1672 finishers

Over the last 3-4 months, I just forgot how much I love running fast. Now of course fast is relative, on a single tracl repeat I would struggle to keep up with Mary Keitany while she is scorching her way to a sub 2:20 marathon, but for me it's blinding fast, and it's thrilling! I haven't done a true speed workout since mid August. as session of 6 X 800 at 90s per lap. My body sent out alarm signals after that workout, and to get through marathon training I dropped the fast stuff and instead supplemented my endurance runs with session of long marathon pace repeats that eventually became one continuous running. Looking back those were long arduous sessions. There was no rush just work, work, work. That's not to say I didn't enjoy them, but going round at 1:44-1:48 per lap for 5-10 laps worth per repeat is a different kind of beast to even 90s laps.

After my harrowing but amazing experience doing my first marathon I was concerned for my speed. Leading up to the marathon I had run my 10km PB of 39:04 and them lowered my half marathon PB to 1:25:28, but those races came 10 and 5 weeks before the marathon respectively. With no speed work, the only reminder that I still had anything approaching a fifth gear were a couple of ~5km time trials where I was able to hit 3:40/km splits admittedly on elevation conjusive to fast times...i.e dowhill! I had convinced myself I would have to start again.

Post-marathon, I endeavoured to take 2 weeks off but I couldn't stay away and ended up following Hal Hidgons recovery plan, well the first two weeks of it. It involves gradually easing back in and to be honest the first couple of runs hurt a lot. By week 2 though I managed a 6km tempo and the aforementioned time trial, and my legs were suddenly remembering something they used to do long before marathon training had become the routine.

The feeling the way back slowly after the marathon comeback race

I decided to enter a 10km on 17th November that promised a flat, fast and easy route. This being a Gauteng race in Pretoria, I was skeptical of that description but I really wanted to get out anyway. The race was at the Kolonnade Retail Park in Montana, Pretoria North, a bit out of the way but some careful planning, pre-entering and leaving reasonably meant it was a stress free morning and I even managed to warm up properly. Making my way to the start I was relieved to see that it looked as if walkers and runners had a separate start. A relief, I thought.

I positioned myself close to the start balloon, which I hoped would help me get away fine. While I wasn't planning to race I hate getting caught up in the pack early. Bizarrely, the runners were filling in from the front, so my position in close proximity to the start quickly became in not so proximity to the start. This meant that getting away was difficult once the gun went, 6 minutes later than the scheduled start. Then the separate start for runners and walker proved to be ineffectual as the merge was literally immediate meaning there was another bottleneck as soon as the merge took place. Grrr.

This is my pace graph from my Garmin
I din;t actually start running until around 50s on my watch. Playing around with the player view on Garmin Connect it was not surprising to discover that I covered just 50m in the first 48s and 100m up to 57s when thankfully I was now at full speed.

From that point on it was just bliss. I ran a perfect race, dismissing immediately an fears I had about marathon running obliterating my raw speed. The read out from the Garmin is delight. Other than the first kilometre and the 9th kilometre, every split was below 4:00 and just one slower than 3:50. In reality I am actually in better 10km shape than I've ever been. Taking out that horrific start, I was rocking along at 3:50/km for almost 10km, and with my own loose maths, would have knocked out something in the region of 38:30. The course was 90% flat with about 60m eleveation but having just run a marathon two weeks before I will take that! My unofficial time was 39:16 just 12s short of my PB and in the race conditions and my own physical condition I think it is still a really good time and something for me to build on going forward.

To Tempo and To Interval

Whilst I have already chose my next marathon (Slow Mag, 14 April 2013) and have a rough skeleton of a shorter (12 weeks) but higher mileage program (90km/week peak and and an average of 72km/week), I have decided to keep myself busy by running fast in the forthcoming 9 weeks, starting with a goal to break my 10km PB. My goal is aggressive  sub 38:00 and ideally a 90s PB which would put me in the 37:30 range. I genuinely believe I have the leg speed to do it but I need to seriously worked on my pace stamina and also just need to be brave on race day! My training now is 6 weeks long and involves 3 weeks of stamina based efforts, 2 weeks of speed and a week to mini taper to the Old Years race in Pretoria on 29 December, a flat fast course with a sting in the tail

To work on that stamina means running my favourite workout, tempos! Tempos were staple of my running diet for the first half of the year and I believe were the primary contributor to my initial wave of PBs. They gave way to more endurance but now I can devote one weekly run to this workout. I plan to start off at 20miutes and build up to 35 minutes of tempo pace running by the end of my program. The tempos will be supplemented with cruise intervals later on as I do raw speed training. My first tempo this week was a ~7km run (7.4km it ended up as) with a 5km portion at  tempo pace. My tempo zone is 3:50-4:00 and I nailed the 5km in 19:30 (3:54 pace), right in the zone and pretty much even pace/

Today, I did a session of short track intervals, 10 x 400m, looking for control, good form and most of all consistency.While I keep thinking I have done speed work, in reality until today, I could count the number of genuine interval sessions I had done in the past 10 months on my two hands, and none of them were particularly high intensity or high volume. While I have slowly been warming up to running laps, and will extol the virtues of the task to anyone who asks, I am not overly enthusiastic about the monotony and have rather done fartleks on the road instead.

So I wasn't really sure what to aim for but since my 10km best case target pace is 3:45 I wanted a string of sub 90s 400m to get these creaky legs turning again. And since it was early on in training I didn't want to push too hard hittin 5km pace and faster.  This is how it went in raw numerical detail.

Interval Time  Pace (/km) Recovery (300m)
1 86 03:35 86
2 84 03:30 86
3 83 03:27 91
4 83 03:27 92
5 83 03:27 96
6 82 03:25 90
7 82 03:26 90
8 82 03:25 92
9 81 03:23 95
10 76 03:11 93
Average 82.2 03:25 91.1

To be honest I was really surprised with that outcome, both the pace and the relative comfort with which I managed them. Somewhere in the middle of intervals 7 and 8 I doubted I would get through but by the 9th I was good again. And the 76s was on a whim, I just decided to push a little bit harder and see what would happen. What really makes me happy is that other than the two outliers the first and the last, that is some pretty consistent running, and I didn't struggle too much as the session progressed. Later on this will be bumped to 12 x 400 and I'm not even remotely worried anymore. While I knew I would I would enjoy the tempo, I was expecting some serious burn. 

Coming up I will do some 800s and 1000s before revisiting the 400s again in week 4, then closing off with 1000s in week 5 and low volume 800s in the final week, all hopefully at this pace of 3 around 3:25-3:35, corresponding to 3km-5km pace for my target 10km time. Week 4 and 5 will also see  me doing mile repeats at cruise interval pace so closer to 8km pace just to maintain some stamina.

I have once check point, a 10km race on 8 December where I should be comfortable running at or just faster than my current PB pace of 3:54. I'm not going for any fireworks just yet and will in fact be doing that race at the top end of my tempo zone.

So post-marathon running is off to a joyful and fast start and I hope to keep it up!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Soweto Marathon Report: First Marathon Blues (Dancing With The Devil)

To be honest I had many drafts of this post penned in my head, the heroic first time marathon success, the heroic pulling it back from the brink first time effort and the safety first getting a feel of things first time effort. None of those scenarios panned out. Instead what I got was a hellish beating at the hands of a mammoth beast. I danced with the devil and I got burnt.

This is my pace chart from the race. This puts things into context.

The short story is that I ran well for 32km and when the race really got going I fell apart and was on the ropes from that point until I caught sight of the finish.

Looking at that pace chart it's fair to say I just didn't see it coming. I expected to struggle from 32km onward, I really did. What caught me off guard was how instantaneous it was. I remember checking my pace and seeing 31.83km on the Garmin and just thinking, 'I only have 10km to go, I'm home' and less than a minute later, I was walking and that was that. I have never experienced such a crippling lack of fortitude and self belief as I did from the moment I stopped running for the first. As you can see, I actually managed to run a fair amount, and in face when I was running I was hitting my oiverall average pace of 5:10, but every 2 or 3 minutes I had to walk and that conincided with a climb. I basically managed to run most of 32-35km and then the nature of Soweto unveiled itself.

The first half is deceptive. It's a downhill start for close on 8km before the first testing climb and from then on it's the rolling hills that I was told of, and as you enter Soweto itself it's twisty but I found this thoroughly enjoyable and almost exhilarating. The monotony of climbing is broken up by navigating some tight corners, while basking in some historic sites and astonishing crowd support. The nice thing about all these climbs is that they are tempered by an almost equivalent downhill. I believe I raced smart here. I was not stressed about losing time on the uphills and in fact ensured my pace fell below 5min/km and didn't force the issue on the downhills.

I had rhythm. I was dancing. I was in control.

I hit halfway in 1:36:20. My target for the race was 3:10 based simply on  taking my City2City half marathon of 1:25:28 which predicted a shade under 3 hours and adding 10 minutes for the hills and the debut. In hindsight that was aggressive and even from 10km which I got to in 46:30 I was never in with a shout.

The route climbed up to about 23km and then it was the final gentle part of the course down to 28km before climbing back up to Nasrec and the finish. By 28km I was actually only about 1 min off target time, getting there in just over 2:07. Then the climbing began gently to the moment of my demise. I still remember feeling good at 30km, again thinkng to myself, 2:18 on the clock, you've done well now coast home in an hour for the last 12km and get in a good 3:20.

So here is the route. That first 30km was testing, but in reality was easier than any of my three 30km plus runs. The difference of course was pace, ~5min/km versus at 30km 4:34/km, and mentality. In my long runs I ran short 9km loops where I was never more than 5km from home as the crow flies so in reality I could pull out when I wanted to. Here I was in the heat of battle. My legs were tired, my head was turned.

Did I hit the wall?

I don't know. I never saw spots, was never too weak to stand or keep moving, didn't cramp, my mind just simply disconnected from my body. My half marathon PB is at a pace of 4:03 so, ~4:34 pace was not too hot but of course these are novice legs. It was all in my head. Many guys around me were hurting. We were laughing with the locals. A local lass offered me her hand in marriage if I just ran. I laughed and carried on walking. A guy I was running with earlier came past me slowly, gritting and willed me on. I ran with him for about two minutes and waved him on. At no stage was I incapable of running, my head and my legs were having a personal battle and were deadlocked.

By the time we hit 40km I was fed up. I had taken 18 minutes to get there from 38km, walking the entirety of the 39th kilometer. I mean here I was walking at less than 10min/km. There was a little bit there, I just couldn't tap into it.The 41st kilometers was a 7:30 affair before I finally steadied myself and decided to jog the last kilometer home. In imperial terms it was just under 9 minute/mile pace. My legs were turning, they were going. I saw the start banner and actually accelerated a bit. By the time I turned into the Expo Centre complex, I was actually sub 5min/km running. I heard my father shouting out and I high fived him, turned onto the grass and crossed the line.


It was done. I had been through the wringer but I was a marathoner.


What a mind warp!

When I set myself goals a the start of the year, compared to where I am now they look conservative. My goals were to run sub 45 minute 10km, sub 1:40 half marathon and to finish a marathon. I achieved all three and with the first two, with my personal bests sitting at 39:04 and 1:25:28, completely smashed them. With the marathon, while never committed to a time back then I would have tentatively said 3:45-4:00. So to finish at 3:38:10, 941st and in the top 15% of the field, I am delighted.

But in reality I could finished a lot stronger with a more modest goal, but I guess one always looks at their current ability and says, I can run this now for X distance, I should aim for this for my marathon. With 3,4, or 5 marathons under my belt, I might have got my 3:10, but with these novice legs, I was always in a hiding to nothing. It has barely been 17 months since I took my first tentative steps and struggled to a 40 min 7km jog back in June last year. My total September mileage of 262 km is remarkably enough almost equal to the total I had totaled when I put together those targets for 2012. So despite a spectacular blow out, I am happy. I finished a marathon, something that looked terribly unlikely even in January.

In the aftermath I guess it's safe to say, as a fast marathon I should have aimed lower. A 3:30 pace target was the safer bet. I had dialed into this pace for hours on end in training more so than target marathon pace of 4:30/km. At the latter pace I was always borderline. Things had to go perfectly on the day, which they didn't. But that is the nature of the beast. Training prepares you to push beyond what you do day in day out thus turning a marathon that had been in preparation for 26 weeks including base building would go against my natural competitive spirit.

Would I have enjoyed it more. Probably, who knows. But much of training and racing is to be on the edge striving to get better, stronger, faster.

I'm taking two weeks off now before embarking on my next goal, which is not surprisingly an Autumn marathon next, most likely the Slow Mag Marathon in Benoni. Along the way I hope to finish the year in style by adding to the 8:56 that I have taken of my 10km this calendar year over two races in December so that on the week of 1st January marathon training can begin in earnest.

I did a lot of things right in my training as my intermediate results show but the plan just needs to be fine tuned to get me over that magical last 10km in one stable piece. Time on  legs, midweek longer, longer marathon pace runs. All of this will be thrown into the equation, and this time definitely more realistic goal setting.

Onward to better and faster marathon running!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

After the final 32km I'm Almost There.

And I don't mean that negatively at all. I read somewhere that if you get to this stage of your training just wanting it to be over then the race will probably not got well. The marathon is evidently a tough enough event on it's own, with the unknown factor of the last 10km, even despite months of preparation, that a weary mind is a recipe for distaster. I've gone through my fair share of hardship, I have contemplated throwing in the towel and accepting the progress I have made this and tackling the marathon fresh in 2013. But I set myself this goal all the way back in February, I have dedicated the last 23 weeks of training exclusively tp the upcoming race and I'll be damned if I don't at least give it a shot.

This past week was the big push. With all of my racing done, it was time to push on and clock that final big week before the taper. The two key sessions were a continuous long marathon pace tempo and a 32km long run. On Wednesday I did a 16km run with 14km of it at marathon pace effort. I ran up to 10km on grass to hone into the correct effort. While the run started off in decent weather, the sun made an unwelcome appearance just as I was heading off the grass. My goal was to shift off the grass and run through WITS main campus to add some real world running on tar and more importantly uneven terrain. I have tamed the hills at WITS but doing the 4km Lenn Smith after 10km at marathon pace in warming conditions still presented a challenge. On the level fields I was running at 4:18/km, roughly the pace predicted by pretty much every calculator on line, and once out on the road my paced shifted down to ~4:30/km, which is the ballpark target I have set for my self.

All in all it was a good exercise. Of course I have to keep in mind that on race day I will have tapered, I do 15km in total in the week leading up to the race and just 45km the week before, almost 50% my peak mileage so my legs will be fresher and this pace that my body hopefuly now knows 4:18-4:30/km will feel more natural compared to now...until I enter the post-32km unknown zone of course.

On Sunday I did my long run. I have long seized to be religious or even remotely spiritual as I age, but my experience on this run was bordeline that level. This marathon training business has been hard first on my body, and then  my mind has wavered, which in turn has beaten my body more. But after the euphoria of City2City I genuinely felt like I was regaining control of my body and mind. The post City2City week was difficult as I was on holiday and didn't enough training and added to that Grahamstown is very hilly and humid and I didn't make the necessary adjustments. I then did a 25km long run after driving back for 13 hours with the mercury hitting 25°C. Added to that I experimented with jelly babies for carb on the fly and that ended badly, as I battled waves of nausea for the last 5km. It was a humbling experience, the success of
the weekend before long forgotten.

This week I was more prepared. I had my gels ready, GU Mandarin flavour with caffeine. Orange and caffeine, two of my favourites. I had enough water ready, four 150ml sachets. I'm not a big drinker so this was more than enough. And the run would be completed in full race gear, my Run/Walk for Life vest, poly shorts, Falke socks, and my Nike Zoom Elite's. I had the route planned. My pacing to was prepared. I have been doing my long runs bar one at around 10% of my 4:30 target pace, 4:57-5:02. I'm very much sold on the theory of preparing your body for the challenge ahead by aligning your training to your race goal. So I haven't done any high intensity intervals at 5-10km pace since mid August, focussing instead on introducing short intervals at marathon pace ~2k and building up the lengths until I was running a continous distance within a 16km run. Likewise, I haven't done long slow run at greater than 1 min slower than my goal pace, instead hovering around that 8-12% time band.

The 32km was blissful. Listening to Marathon Talk, Tom Williams, said in one the episodes that sometimes this run could often be the toughest. I guess it comes after a build up in volume and with the taper coming the body is just looking for some rest. I had quite the opposite experience, as I worked my way through the miles I got stronger and stronger. And as you can see in the course profile below, my route gets progressively more challenging as progress. I hit my goal pace, running the 32.1km in 2:42, and a negative split, having gone through 16km in 1:22 and doing the more challenging second half in 1:20 without having to increase my effort much. The 32km run also brought my weekly total to 82km.

The final 32km run
So less than three weeks to go then, 19 days to be specific and the hard training is basically done. All my runs will now decrease in volume but the intensity will stay more or less the same. It has been a long journey, it is by no means but instead of longing for the end I am itching to get to the start line. I'm already looking forward to the next challenge in 2013 what may come on 4 November. I appreciate the challenge that awaits, that even with the months of preparation anything can happen over the course of 42.2km and this my first attempt so it might no go according to plan. But equally I have enjoying it, the good times and working through the bad times, the success in racing, and the feeling of achievement. Whatever happens I aim to learn from Soweto and take that into 2013 where I plan to do the class Autumn/Spring two marathon plan.

Here's hoping I don't explode from all this excitement before the big day!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

City2City Half Marathon: The PB run continues

Following the Irene Spring Race last weekend things didn't go according to plan. Follwoing months of tough guy bravado over my health and my running load my body finally succumbed. Running in the rain at the race probably didn't help either. I was booked off with respiratory tract infection and ultimately got some much needed rest, in bed for two days.

That rest served me well. Having entered the Bonitas City2City Half Marathon, I was keen to do the event.  All of the races I have done so far, Wally Hayward excepeted, have been undoubtedly local events, and City2City definitely has a big race vibe to it. It's not in the league of Comrades or Two Oceans but definitely feels more similar to those events than anything else I have run.

To recap then this was the challenge that I  and 2100 odd half marathon runners, 3500 if you include the 10km runners who shared the first 9km with us faced:
City2City Half Marathon course and profile
After collecting my race pack and goodie bag on Saturday morning, I drove the first 12km to get a sense of the challenge. I've run in the area before while doing the Nike+ Centurion Run Club so I was familiar with the general terrain, as out 5.3km route climbs up to Glover Avenue albeit one block up. I knew the first half was tough but after driving it I was expecting particularly that stretch between 4km and 6km to be a stinker that needs to be respected.

Sunday morning was an early start. I was up by 4 am, and had my usual morning fuel, 100ml yoghurt, a banana and a cup of coffee. Thankfully it would appear my stress induced bowel movements are now a thing of the past. My mother and brother were also running, doing the 10km, and we were off by 4:55 to head to the venue. I was worried about parking and traffic and I was overly cautious as we parked and at the start by 5:30. This gave me plenty of time to warm up and mingle and be ready for the 6:30 start.

The first km was a bit of a disaster as I somehow contrived to start then pause the Garmin, so I was getting pace information but no time or distance. I only figured this out as I checked my time at the first kilometre. So I then had to rely on ~20km of timing data, and adding on a predicted 4:00 for that first kilometre.

My goal was to respect the first half and finish strong but a discussion with a fellow runner on Twitter planted a seed that took route from that first kilometre. Since the second half is easier why not be aggresive in the first half anyway since I'm less likely to pay as the downhill trend would be more forgiving than a standard route?

And that's pretty much how it went. I hovered around 4:00/km pace throughout. My exact splits are difficult to guage of course but some reverse maths, has my first kilometre at 3:53, so I estimate that I went through 5km in 20 flat, 10km, in 40:30, 11km in 44:30, 15km in 1:00:50 and 20km in 1:20:55. Attacking the first half meant that I didn't negative split the race but I doubt if I had gone through 11km in 47:00 like I had planned to, I would have managed much quicker than 40:00 for that last stretch. My aggressive first half was still sensible in the end and gave me a time that I didn't think was possible at the start. As I rounded the final bend at the Centurion Rugby Club to see the clock just ticking to 1:25:20, I was over the moon.

At the finish...PB!!!
I crossed the line officially in 1:25:28. This was an improvement of 2:40 over last weekends time, and a crazy 9:33 from my Wally Hayward time on 1 May, and a further13:14 over my debut half marathon at Slow Mag, which was as recently as 15 April. It was another silver medal to add to the collection, and 77th overall out of 2159 finishers in such a big race is such a confidence booster.

This is likely my last half marathon of the year. Going through my calendar I have already run 16 official races  this year, not counting my one visit to Ebotse Park Run, and 10 of them have resulted in a PB of sorts, excluding first time attempts at a distance. The half marathon was an important component of my running goals for 2012. I did the half marathon, after not quite mastering the 10km, to get out of my comfort zone. I had remarkably enough never finished a 10km without walking, befreo towing the start at Slow Mag. So while for most club athletes a half marathon is not a big deal it was a defining point for me to prove that I could have the discipline to start a program and stick with it right to its conclusion. My goal was to run sub 1:40 and to be sat here now, 29 seconds away from a sub 1:25 half marathon is the stuff of dreams. A sub 90 was on my 2 year/end of 2013 roadmap, and now I'm going to have rewrite my plans for next year from scratch!

The half marathon is undoubtedly my favourite distance to race now, challenging enough but also forgiving enough to allow some tactical flexibility. And the City2City half marathon replaces the Wally Hayward as the most enjoyable race I have done. Tough, enjoyable and rewarding with a time beyond what I had expected.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Irene Spring Run: First Sub 90 Half Marathon

Sometimes things done on a whim work out for the best. This weekend I was due to run 20km and with a couple of 21.1km races on offer I eventually went for one. I was looking initially to do a close to marathon pace effort. Then with the possibility of both weekend races being flat and fast, I had a sneaky idea. I had signed up for City2City next weekend and perhaps I could turn that into my training run and run my tune-up race this weekend. And while my training has gone very well, I feel faster and stronger than I have ever felt, I have gone moments of self doubt, transient pain and general fatigue. I have taken blows but have counter-attacked. August ended up the toughest month since I started running, but I finished it off by running my fastest ever 10km, 5 seconds shy of dipping under 39 minutes. September has been gentler but I have done three of the most intense weeks of training. A nice flat race and a solid PB would do the trick. In any case while City2City looks tough, because it goes up for the first 11km and then straight now for the next 10km it's not really approximating my goal marathon in any way:

2012 City2City Half Marathon Route and Profile

Soweto Marathon Profile
Someone didn't read the memo

So the decision was made to run the Irene Spring Race. There was a race that started off at Irene Village Mall and word that I got from my family was that it was (relatively) easy. The heavens exploded on Saturday evening, and in the morning it was a battle of wills getting out of bed, especially since the predictions for Sunday were for pleasant weather. I had gone through my night routine so I headed out to the venue, and it was actually quite pleasant; cool and overcast. Registration was a breeze, even got water before the race, and I headed to an already packed start, meaning I was a bit further back than I would have like. This being a half though I believe I can afford to take a couple of kilometres to get into the groove.

Heading through the first 3km, it was clear this was not an easy race. Indeed the word moderate is used in the Runners Guide description, and I had headed to Runners Talk forum, I would have spotted a post from a member of the Irene club on the race where the warned to expect a toughie. I wanted to run at least a sub 90 so 4:17 pace and I was down on that at that point, going through in 13:00, 4:20 pace.

Getting into a groove, while getting wet

It was here that true nature of the course would reveal itself. We went down to the first water point, and from this point on it would be twist, hilly or both at the same time. The hills were not terrible, not Breathru Midrand 15km hilly but the annoying undulating kind. As you hit a downhill you take a bend, and then oh look what's that, another climb.

I got onto a nice rhythm though, interrupted by a rather unexpected shower at around 5km. Getting drenched is not fun when you are going for a fast time. It also made the course quite slippery, so added to the twists, the hills were now slippery slopes. I was aiming to hover just over 4:00/km but with some of the hills the pace dropped to slower than 4:30/km. While I stayed on pace, there were times when I just thought, 'if this hill is any longer...'

I hit 10km in exactly 42:00, 4:12 pace. I felt really good though, and as we hit what was clearly the highest point, conveniently at the halfway point, in 44:00 I hoped it was just down to the finish. But the route even though the general trajectory was downhill, continued the same pattern of before, undulating, twisty and slippery. And my splits didn't change much, 4:00 minute splits balanced out by 4:20s. At the top I had illusions of negative splitting, I felt that good, but the course just didn't allow for enough momentum. And I wanted flats more than down hills, my quads and knees were starting to complain

Striding to the finish

Once we got out of the suburbs and back onto the main road there was a measure of relief and I really tied to push the pace. Two of my fastest splits were in this period a 3:56/km (18 km) and 3:50/km (20km), but a detour through an office park meant there was still more climbing. When I hit 20km in just over 1:23:30, I relaxed a bit and just ran freely to the finish. I crossed the line officially in 1:28:08 and 13th out of 900 finishers.

13th place and another silver medal in the bag!

This is not flat and fast!!!
Ultimately that was a very informative exercise and running a PB is still an awesome feeling. My 10km times have seen a dramatic drop in 2012 but across the three half marathons that I have done there is a 10:34 drop as well. Much of that has come since May. Dropping nearly 7 minutes from my Wally Hayward time of 1:35:01.

I'm still not keen to commit to a marathon time target though looking at the Soweto course, this race was decent preparation. I'm looking at taking the most conservative prediction and adding another 5 minutes onto it. I am really happy though, as once again the tough times in training are paying off when I hit races. In this race I ran within myself for much it and I much prefer the feeling that I know I could have eked out 30-60s much more than if I had to get to the end finished. I never felt like I was straining even on the climbs. I just dialled back the pace to keep consistent effort. I ran even splits, 44:00 and 44:08, and put in some of my fastest kilometre splits in the latter stages. 

It all bodes well for the big day.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Triple Bill (28km-30km-32km)

The last time I posted, I had the harsh reality of preparing for a marathon brutally brought home as my body was literally grinding to a halt. Had my Wanderers 10km not gone well, there was a good chance that I would have cut my losses, taken the new endurance base, and switched focus to a January/February 2013 marathon. I was humbled, but running that 39:04 10km PB during an otherwise challenging period gave me a lift. I came out of that with renewed vigour, and for the first time a physical awareness, not just reading and accepting the truth, of the challenge that lay ahead. There was still lots of work to be done and in some ways the coming three weeks would lay the foundation that would set me on my way way physically and mentally.

The Triple Bill

I have been modifying my training, with some research and discussions with my coach. So along the way as either I reached milestones quicker than expected (speed) or struggled in others (training volume), we have had to change things to accommodate my rookie legs. The last change we did was just before my week or reckoning and to accommodate the tune up half marathon, a sequence of long runs that I had thought nothing of lay ahead. In short it was a progressive build up, within the accepted 10% norm, 28km-30km-32km, the triple bill.

I'm sure you can imagine just how daunting that was.

 Post Wanderers 10km I eased into the weekend with only 3 sessions. A casualty of my near meltdown was dropping down to two quality sessions, something I had planned to do anyway. I had been on a diet of a speed session, a strength session (hill circuits) and the long. A concept that I have been reading about and one that appeals to my scientific background is that of scientific background. I read about the training of Renato Canova, coach of some of the fastest Kenyans doing the rounds. His principle is that one should train specifically for the event that they are preparing for. As one gets closer to the event sessions begin to approximate, as feasibly as possible the event. So a standalone hill circuit is great for general strength. A long run great for endurance. A speed session great for leg turnover. But in the context of marathon training (or any event) these should be tailored for the event. He argues that we do our long runs to slowly and our speed sessions too short and quickly. Speed sessions should tends towards marathon pace or high volume short intervals, and long runs should be more intense but obviously should never turn in a 32km time trial. He advocates 5-10% slower than target/predicted marathon pace. The 10% mark conveniently falls right in the window of my predicted long run pace with any training calculator though closer to the faster end, eg 4:55-5:34min/km from Runner's World, and I typically do my long runs at 5:00-5:10.

Round 1: 27 August to 2 September 

This was a low volume week. I did four sessions. I took Monday and Tuesday off then did my quality session, long intervals, 3X3km at predicted marathon pace or 4:20-4:30min/km, with moderate recovery or 600m at easy training pace, approximately 5min/km. I was struggling with pacing, going off to fast at the start of the interval but it got easier by the third repeat. An easy 8km on Thursday was followed by a rest day and the the 5km parkrun at Ebotse. I ran fastish, finishing second in 19:57.

The long run was a test, with that 26km run still at the back of my mind. I did a 14km loop, that has a bit of everything in it, nice flats and a bit of hills. The first lap was a breeze and I came through in 1:11. The second lap was tougher. A lot tougher. I felt it at 25km in particular approaching that distance record. Despite that I managed to negative split the run, doing the second lap in 1:09 and finishing in a neat 2:20 for 5:00min/km pace, right in my zone.
Four sessions, 54km

Round 2: 3 - 9 September

This was a very challenging week. My son was hospitalized with pneumonia on Monday so while I got all my running in it wasn't the main focus, juggling long hospital stays, little sleep and work. I got my first quality session in on Tuesday morning. The aim was after doing the 2km and 3km repeats on the track to put it together on the road. So I did the same 14km loop from my long run. I just start out easy and picked up the pace so by 4km I was doing marathon pace effort. I managed 4:27min/km for my effort period.

I did my easy run on Wednesday on the back of 36 hours where I got only 2 hours sleep. Stress busting but not fun. On Thursday we had out annual staff and postgrad fun run at WITS. The weather was an absolute misery, cold and wet. It was just shy of 4km, and I scored 2nd place in a surprisingly quick 14:25. The course forms the backbone of my hill circuit, and I had not done a lap faster than 16:20, though admittedly that was in warmer conditions with at least two laps. On Saturday I did a nice 10km run.

My long run route was again the same loop with 500m added to the beginning and 500m at the end. This time the toughness factor went up quite a bit. For one I felt the hurt from the start of the second lap already. It was more mental as my pace never dropped. If anything I was getting more determined as my body endeavoured to trick me into giving in. 1:17 and 1:13 laps tell me as much. After 25km there was this back and forth dynamic between body and mind. At the end it was a solid 30km in 2:30, another negative split run.

5 sessions, 68km

Round 3: 10 - 16 September

This was a great week. The confidence has been building and with each long run I have gotten more confident while also becoming more realistic. On Tuesday I ran on the grass at WITS, a very easy 10km. In the evening I went to the Comrades Road Show in Sandton. It was very interesting. For a brief moment I was considering reversing my pledge to become a better marathon for a few years before doing the ultimate human race. There were some eye popping statistics: only 22.4% of runners run 9 hours (Bill Rowan) or quicker, only 5% get silver (6:00-7:30) and only 0.2% each get gold (top 10 women and men) and Wally Hayward (sub 6 hours). Then Lindsay Parry spoke and while his talk should have put the fear of the running gods into me, it actually made the whole experience seem more manageable as long as there is sufficient planning. Anyway no earlier than 2014!

My marathon pace tempo was done on Wednesday evening and I must say I struggled. I'm definitely a morning runner, and even enjoy a tea time or lunch time run over the evening. With work I find I'm tired and evening traffic is less pleasant. I did 15km, with a 3km warm up and 2km cool down. I really struggled to get into pace in the firs 5km of the race pace portion but finished well and managed 44:50, but it was tougher than I would have expected. Mandatory rest on Friday was followed by 10km in 52:00 on Saturday.

My first 32km run was quite an event. I had a Pepperoni pizza the night before. Big mistake as I found out about 21km into the run. The weather had also taken a turn for the worse on Friday evening and it started out cold, dingy and wet. I had wanted to do a dress rehersal, so my Run/Walk For Life kit, Falke socks, Zoom Elites and trying drinks on the go in a cup. I had to wear tights and a compression vest. As luck would have it it got hot as the run progressed. I also had to vary my route which I had planned to approximate the undulating Soweto Marathon. Traffic increased, with (angry) people going to church, and some were total dickheads. I ran with my father for 27km and he got really riled by the idiots including one who was literally trying to get as close to us as possible. A few old church goers were even motioning for us to bugger off.

Anyway, with all the modifications the run ended up being 33km. The pace was slower than I usually run as I ran with my father but to be fair the solo efforts are tough anyway.We varied the pace, I surged in the middle and at the end once he stepped. At 30km the running gods delivered my package, my bag of hurt. I really had to work through it, and most of the last kilometre was hard work. That last 6 I ran on my own was at 4:50min/km. I was hurting at the end but felt better than I did the previous two weeks and now I feel great again. The body has adapted nicely to the distance and I'm feeling a lot better about my prospects for the race. There is still lot's of work to do though.

5 sessions, 78km

More to come

The following week is a cut back week, dropping back to 20km for the long run. Then there is the mini taper for the City2City half marathon. I really don't know what to expect there. I'm almost certain I will PB it's a matter of how much. The course is unfriendly at the start with three long pulls in the first half then it's downhill  to the finish. I believe if I run smart in the first half and use the downhill for the last 10km I can run a good sub 90.

Post City2City I have my last two quality weeks with a 25km and the final 32km to come. Then it's three weeks to D-Day.

Happy days!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Humbled and Rewarded

The last three weeks have really hit home just how tough marathon training is, and should be. For fours weeks I had been coasting. I was doing my quality sessions, hitting my targets, I ran under 40min for 10km for the first time and followed that up with my longest ever run of 26km. So comfortable was that run, that I turned into a progression run, hitting my target marathon pace for the last 3 or 4 km. I headed into week 5 full of confidence.

Then reality hit. The following speed session was a 6X800m at 10km pace, and unlike the 1km repeats I had done the week before it just never felt comfortable. My hill circuit on Thursday, despite doing the 8km double lap around WITS in a personal record, felt forced. My rest day on Friday didn't allay the fatigue and my weekend double, despite cutting back my long run to 18km was hell.

This is what fatigue felt like.

I then had a long chat with my father/coach, from both those perspectives, and we charted the way forward. While it is expected that marathon training should be tough, he was worried that in the excitement of improving and getting better and stronger I was beginning to push over my limits. I was beginning to actually dread pushing myself, and with a tube up 10km  coming up that was not a good sign. We agreed on a mini-taper/TLC week to freshen up for the 10km and then to focus on some marathon specific training. Basically, I was doing a lot of speedwork, at 5 or 10km pace, and a lot of hills. The key now was to prep my body for the rigours of marathon training and to abandon raw speed and strength. I'm not going to lose the speed and strength I've gained in the next weeks, and it's a good opportunity to 'fix' the gains such that I can translate that to my goal of running a good d├ębut marathon.

On the morning of 26 August, heading out to run the Wanderers Challenge 10km in Melrose, I was filled with some trepidation. Not only was I nursing this fatigue, I was developed a sore throat and I had struggled to sleep. At least with Spring on the horizon the weather was better. And this time, having pre-entered, there no registration queues to negotiate.

My goal was to once again start easy, check out the course, maintain and finish strong. I like to do it as 3-4-3 effort, 3 km steady, 4km at target pace, 3km strong finish. I did a 3-4-3 but not quite as planned. The start was fast, with some nice downhill. I passed 1km in around 4:05 but with the slopes my pace picked up, the first 3km was covered in 11:45.

The next section was tougher, involving a bit of climbing and gentler downhills. The course was undulating, just the sort I hate and while I slowed down, I was consistently on 4min/km pace. I went through 5km in approximately 19:45 and remember at 7km my time was at 27:46. It was difficulty to accelerate. At Zwartkop 4 weeks earlier, I found that I was able to gradually crank up the pace due to the flattish nature of the course by here my pacing was all over the place.

A sub 40 was definitely still on the cards as was a PB but the 8th kilometre hurt. My slowest by far and the longest toughest climb. I passed the 8km at around 31:55. I knew it was predominantly downhill from here, but in less that stellar condition I was feeling weak. A random guy caught up to me and shouted at me,"C'mon we're on for sub 40". It was the boost I needed and I stuck to him. He was flying down the hill and I followed.  He left me towards the finish but those last two km secured a new PB. Officially through the finish at 39:04, 3:54/km pace and 25s improvement over 4 weeks on a much tougher course.

My goal had been a minute off my 10km time in each of June, July and August, and my 10km  time has dropped 42:38 down to 39:04. This will be my last 10km race for a while, so it's a good time to reflect on the great year I've had at this distance. On New Year's day my 10km PB was a decent 48:00. I set myself the goal, one of three, of running sub 45 before the year is our. That time has been lowered 4 times in 6 attempts, in sequence, 45:44, 42:38, 39:39 and now 39:04, and you can throw in a 10.5 km race in 42:24 in there as well. So two thirds of my 10km races under the end of year target and a third under 40 min. To say I'm chuffed is an understatement.

This week has been largely uneventful. I have limited myself to one long interval session and an easy run. This weekend it's back to the grindstone, with a 25-28km long run leading to my first ever 32km. Then it's the hilly City2City Half Marathon, the final checkpoint before heading down the road to Soweto.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Race reports: A sub 40 10km PB and an exercise in climbing

Zwartkop 10km: Sub 40 min 10km!

I remember almost 12 months ago, doing my first official race at any distance for over 5 years. It was at a challenging Vodacom Country Challenge 10km in Midrand. I covered the route in 51:19 and after going through halfway in just on 25:00, there fanciful dreams of a going under 50:00 but alas, Midrand is hilly and I was very happy with my time. After that I set about ticking through the milestones. In November 2012, I cleared 50:00. Running took a back-seat over the festive season, but I hauled my lazy ass back on the road. After a couple of near misses, a 45:44 and a 46:20, I went under 45:00 and ran 42:38 in May. I was chuffed.

It was on the next milestone and one which I must say I expected to sit on for a few more months.

I have really focussed on adding a lot of quality speed work and this has been reflected in managing to bring my 5km time down by about 4 minutes, but the challenge is really taking that speed and translating it to more endurance focussed distance. My 5km PB is 17:49 which predicts some pretty quick times at longer distances, 37:10 10km and a 1:21:50 half marathon. But I have discovered that actually getting those times is going to require some serious knuckling down!!!!

I did the Zwartkop 10km race on 28th July to see how my hard work had been paying off. At this point PBs are great but not the be all and end all of my running. The big prize is still that first marathon, now only 12 and a bit weeks away.  It was chilly on the morning and I went to the race a bit later than usual. With half an hour to the start I was still 3km away from the venue in standstill traffic. Thankfully we got there in time. My warm up however was me running off to registration and sprinting back to the start!

Unlike some of my recent races where I have gone against my normal slow and steady starts, I stuck to my pacing. The first 3km were steady, I passed that mark at 12:35. It meant a bit more work later but with the start going up a bit I'm glad I reserved some energy. I was able to gradually build up a head of steam. I went through 5km in 20:15 and by 7km I was under 4:00/km pace going through in 27:50.

I had a bit of a disaster after this. I was running with my car keys in my hand and it was so cold I didn't feel when I dropped them. Tnankfully it took only a few seconds to notice and I managed to turn around and pick them and carry on. It probably cost me 10-15 seconds, but the bigger distaster would have been getting  back the end trapped in Centurion with no car keys!!!

I missed the 8km board, but I really gave it a good go at the end. Hit the 9km board at 35:55 and finished in 39:39 for an awesome new PB for 10km and a finally officially a sub 40 10km. The great part of it was I know I ran within myself at the beginning, had a brain fail that cost me some time after 7km and at the end I still felt fresh. Basically if felt like a hard training run, not an all out race.

Castle Walk 10km: An exercise in hills

On 9th August I decide to substitute my 10km tempo run for a 10km races in my neighbourhood. With Soweto being a level 4 race, and the profile showing lots of hills, I'm getting my diet in now so accustom my legs to the torture. The Castle Walk 10km promised a challenging route so I took it up.

What they didn't say was that we would literally run down for 5 and a bit kilometres and then straight back up for basically the remainder. The hills were also steep so running down was actually as much a challenge as running up. In fact so steep was the descent that despite trying to control my pace I still cruised through 5km in 19:35 with gravity in all honesty doing most of the work.

At 6km the climb started and while it was gruelling, I coped better than I did at the Breathru Midrand 15km where I had to take a couple of walk breaks. This time I just checked my pace and worked on form, short fast strides. It was still tough and my legs are still letting me know all about it.

As a training run the time is not important but I got through in 42:04, so the seconds half was quite a bit slower, covered in 22:29. This race is more illustrative for my marathon preparation and putting this into a race predictors returns marathon times of 3:13:29 to 3:17:22, as opposed to 3:02:23 to 3:06:06 for my Zwartkop time. To complete the picture my time of 1:05:40 for the 15km in Midrand predicts 3:16:25 to 3:18:51. Using a horses for course approach a marathon time of 3:13-3:20 at this stage is probably a realistic target. I won't be planning strategies as yet or finish times. I have a 10km  at the end of August and City2City half marathon, my final tune up on the 30th September, which will probably be the race I use to determine my race strategy for the marathon. My initial gut feeling approach was to double my current half marathon of 1:35:01, based simply on the amount of training I will be doing and that I should be a better stronger runner than I was at the beginning of May come November. This is an ambitious target though and would represent a best case scenario on the day I feel, even with all the training to come.

For now training is going well. This weekend is the end of week 4 of my dedicated marathon training, and the quality session planned is a 23-25km long run. The other key sessions this week were 6X1000m intervals at 10km pace and the hilly excursion described above.

As each week gets ticked off and I feel stronger so the confidence goes up. One quarter almost down. Phew

Monday, July 2, 2012

12 months to a sub 40:00 10km?

Progression of 10km and 5km times over the past year or so
Well not quite!

The last 12 months have been great, and I have been really pleased with the progress I have made, particularly in 2012 with a more focused and structured approach to training. The last six months of 2011 when really just foundational, getting some miles and setting some benchmarks. This year has been about taking big strides, really massive ones.

Improving my 10km has been a big feature of my first year as a commited runner, starting way back in August last year when I ran the Vodacom Country Challenge in 51:19. I knew I would get faster, but how much faster was what I didn't know.

This past weekend I got to find out. Post Wally Hayward, even though I have bee technically just base building, the increasing intensity of my training has meant that my times have been tumbling both in what I can sustain in training and come race day. Thus with the promise and flat fast route at the Hope Starts in Hatfield event, I knew that my PB of 42:38 was barring some disaster was going to tumble. It was not a case of if, but by how much!

The venue was The Fields shopping centre in the heart of Hatfield. I love shopping mall races. Most of the shops open their doors early to take advantaged of of the hundreds of runners and of course after the race, breakfast is there on offer. But I have  a theory with the races. The constraint of having a fixed start and end point perhaps affects the distance measurement. Nothing worse that expecting weary runners to walk a long way back to the start. At an earlier event at the Jakaranda Shopping Centere in early May, I ran a sedate 64, having done is a training, but curiously my official time was a somewhat quicker 61:10. I didn't think much of it then but after Saturday's race I have an idea as to where that discrepancy may have come from.

I have been training hard and to be honest I am a bit tired but I gave this event everything. Almost too much. I set off at a very unsustainable pace, hitting the first km mark in 3:40, with 2km and 3km coming up on a downhill, that pace never relented and I went through 3km in 11:10. With that being 37:13 pace I was literally laughing at myself knowing that I was never going to keep that up. I consoled myself with that I was banking time. Something I always swear I am never going to do.

At this point we had gone past Loftus Versveld, that mighty rugby stadium, and were nowing climbing to had back towards Hatfield. This climb as shallow as it was put the brakes on that early pace as I slowed to a little of 4:00min/km pace. Four kilometres disappeared at  15:15, and went through 5km in 19:25. This is where things got a little fishy. The finish had been clearly marked at the mall and with both 5km and 10km following the same route, this point was still quite a long way from the end. Hmmm. I minded my own business as we split from the 5km runners.

The second loop was a little different around the stadium but with the same downhill portion, 4:05 pace reverted back to sub 4 min pace and I cruised through to 8km in 31:10 and then hit the 9km point in 35:10. With a little under 5min to get to 40:00 and 1km to go, a PB and a sub 40 was surely in the bag. In the first lap I had seen a 10 painted on the road close to the finish. At the start, a few of the faster looking runners, talking about running 32s were saying how they had the route was closer to 10.6km. Indeed I went past that curious 10 in 39:30! My legs were starting to give in and the end was not in sight. Clock ticked over 40, the 41 and I did the unthinkable and walked for about 10 seconds out of exasperation. Then got my legs ticking over again and finished in 42:08 on my clock but with an official time of 42:24.

So two possibilities exist here. The route was 10km and the boards were placed incorrectly. But each and every one?!?!?!? Or more likely the route was long, the boards were correct and the need to finish at the mall meant adding on an extra 5-600 metres was unavoidable. My footpod usually measures short, but in my lighter Zoom Elite's which allow me to keep up short, high frequency strides was in sync with the boards. It had me through 5km in 19:30 and 10km in 39:20, and measured a final distance of 10.67, somewhat in line with the rumblings of 10.6 km at the start. The official distance as it turns out was 10.5km.

I really felt good on the day, and felt fast and having been doing my tempos at around 4 min/km pace, I felt that with the route and with the weather that I could run a sub 40 10km. Unfortunately I will  not know at least until the next race at the end of July. My priorities are shifting now though as it is now 18 weeks to the Soweto Marathon. Breaking 40 minutes for 10km is no longer the priority and now if it happens it does.

One thing I did take out of this race was adhering to a pre race pacing plan. Already aiming for  faster than 4 min/km was beyond my PB which was at 4:16 pace. Of course having done a 5km at 3:34 pace and a 15km at 4:07 pace were signs that I am faster than 4:16 pace. However going out at 3:43 pace over the first three kms was suicidal. I could have perhaps managed 3:50 pace if I was a bit more conservative but in the end I managed around 3:57 pace which was still a huge improvement. That gives me a solid based to work off for marathon training. My goal was to get faster. Adding speed is potentially more difficult that adding endurance as opposed to get fit for long distance then trying to get faster. So getting the speed in the bank before getting ready for the long haul was always the challenge. And to have potentially taken 3:00 off a 10km time I achieved 8 weeks ago is just great.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The PB run continues...

This morning I'm still beaming from another uplifting race weekend. After my 15km two weeks ago, I posted about the S-curve and were I felt I was in the scheme, and also the impending plateau when I'll have to start working a lot harder for just a few seconds gain. Right now though I need to just keep on training and just riding the crest of this crazy wave I'm on until it's loses steam.

To be honest, I haven't necessarily felt any faster since that 15km. I put in two quality speed sessions since then. On the  12th, I use what is possibly the only useful bit of flat on WITS main campus to do short intervals. It's approximately 300m. I did six repeats aiming for 60 seconds and I did them all in  59-61 seconds, jogging back to the start as recovery. This past week I was on leave so I took the opportunity after dropping my son off at school to do some quality. On Monday, I submitted my entry for the Runner's World 1km Challenge, doing that in 3:22. It surprised me actually how difficult one all out kilometre is but considering in February doing an 800m in 3:05 was too much for me it's a lot of progress. On Tuesday morning I hit the track, and did 5 X 400m aiming for 80s, and once again I was consistent doing one at 79, one at 82 and the remainder on the money. I finished off the session with an 800m and managed 2:44. On Thursday I headed back to Centurion for the Nike+ Run Club aiming to really let fly now that I know the course. I covered the ~3.5km loop in 13:14, 3:46, which I was chuffed with considering that at times when navigating the mall bits it's almost an almost course and there is some human traffic to contend with.

All that fast stuff did mean that I was a little jaded come Saturday morning when it was time for the Take 5 Team Relay at the Waterkloof Airbase. And when it started to drizzle on the way there I was feeling a bit gloomy. The rain cleared away and even though there was a chill in the air it was pleasant. And with the route being the flattest that I have ever witnessed at a race fast times were there for the taking. My only concern was the changeover area which as I guessed would get cluttered but thankfully I was doing the first leg so it wasn't going to be too bad.

The race was scheduled for an 8am start, another boon as the extreme chill of the morning was almost certainly gone. This was only my third 5km and I'm still none the wiser as to how to approach the distance. It's almost certainly too short to have a strategy but equally go out too fast or too slow and there are consequences. A 10km makes sense, steady for 4km, hit optimum pace to 7km then give it horns to the finish!

Once the gun went, there was the obligatory battling with walkers and joggers who had pushed to the front. By the time we got off the grass and onto the tar thankfully we had cleared them. There were some serious looking athletes and those pesky juniors that have endless pace, and I got sucked into that early pace. Then came the first panic. My watch hit 4:00 and there was no sign of the 1 km mark. But already I was breathing quite heavily. At 8 minutes so 2 km mark. My  Nike+ foot sensor is optimized for my easy training pace of around 4:55-5:00 min/km so it under measures at race pace so that was no use. The water point was coming up and that was supposed to be halfway but I check the time, 9:57 as I pass through. Now I'm getting tired and double my time is 19:54, surely not.

I soldiered on but the one glimmer of hope was that I still hadn't lost sight of the lead bike. It was starting to get further and further away but after 12 minutes I could see it at a bend in the corner of my eye. At 15 minutes I see the Sportsman's Warehouse balloons for the changeover point and I can here the announcer calling the team numbers. So close. As I'm about to hit the grass with the finish in sight, my clock hits 17:00. Another 'surely not' moment. I stride to the finish, I can hear my dad cheer me on, see my wife pull out of the change over area, hand her the baton and stop my clock.


No freaking way!!!!! My first instinct is not to celebrate but to question the route. It must be short surely, must be. I play this silly game in my head until the end of the race. My father ran the last leg. He was recovering from a cold so didn't go all out but planned to hit 4:00 min/km and then finish strong. His experienced legs can dial a pace almost at will and sure enough he finished in 19:30, with no qualms about the distance.

So an new PB. I'm still over the moon. A 1:36 improvement and managing 3:34 pace over 5km is something I would not have imagined in February, never mind June last year. I think it might have just been once of those days, 1) weather was perfect 2) it was as flat as a pancake 3) the pace was hot at the start and I got into the mix and just hung on.

Of course I have been doing a lot of hard training and it's giving back now. My average for the last 7 weeks since the week of Wally Hayward and Jackie Melker has been 46km, with weekly totals ranging from 41 km to 51 km. That has been a mix of speedwork (intervals and tempo sessions) on Tuesday, hills on Thursday and 12-16 km long runs on Sunday. So while for me it has been conditioning and preparing my body for the rigours of the marathon training that is still to come, another way to look at it is that I have been doing an intensive 8 week 10km program like the sort you would find on Runner's World. Indeed I'm doing a 10km race on Saturday and this is now the 8th week since that double header week.

I'm looking forward to Saturday's race and like the last two races I'm going to give it my all and just let the legs go. Then I have another two weeks before I start focussing on the marathon from the 16th July.