Monday, April 23, 2012

There's a first time for everything: Time to taper

I have finally got to the last week of my 10 week half marathon training program and it's time to taper. It dawned on me that this is the first time I have ever had a proper program and followed it through (almost) to the end. Okay so I kinda cheated by going hard two Sundays ago and doing a full 21.1 instead of the planned 19, and racing the second half, but this past week I took it easier than I had planned. I did a very easy 6km run on Tuesday and instead of the scheduled track workout I went on the road and did a fartlek session  and again didn't go all out. By the weekend I was feeling refreshed and did 6km on Saturday with a focus on hills and pushed hard on a 2km incline (at 4:30 pace) in the middle of the route. I cut my Sunday run from 15km to 11km and again added 2.5 km of hills split into a 1.5km climb from about 4.5km and a 1km climb at 8km. That is one thing I have been lazy with, hill training, but I still felt good pushing a bit, but it's something I have to start fitting into my workouts.

This week is a no nonsense week. a couple of easy 6s on Tuesday and Saturday, sandwiching a few 400m repeats on the track on Thursday. There is a bit of moisture in the air, so hopefully it holds out otherwise I will repeat the fartlek from last week just to get my legs turning. Then either on the Sunday or the Monday I will do a very easy 5km jog and then it is race day on Tuesday, the one I have been training for all along. I must say while I'm not feeling fatigued, I can feel that I have put in 334km since 18 February. Not since school days where I was doing 3 sessions a week have I stuck so resolutely to a plan. The 149km I put in last month was easily the most I have ever done but by the end of this month I will have done another 160. The most mileage I had put in since I started running again in June was 78 in November last year, and I doubt I have ever put in that much at any other time in my life so this is very new territory for me. I'm really just looking forward to slowing down, cutting down the kays and conserving my energy for an all out effort on the 1st.

While I really enjoyed the Slowmag and was surprised with how comfortably I cleared 1:40 (official time was 1:38:42) after initially shooting for 1:45 when I started training, I'm now slightly confused as to how I should approach the Wally Hayward. The first consideration is that the route is a bit tougher. Slowmag was relatively flat with a bit of an incline between 13.5 and 14.5km. The Wally Hayward has what is described in as "the slow and poisonous climb over the highway" from about 6km and it's a gradual climb but you never really stop until about 11km. Then there is the dreaded and famed Hakkin Hill at the end which I still remember from doing the 10km in 2006! Secondly as I said earlier, my pace for the Slowmag, ~49:20 for the first 10km and the same time for the following 11km, was perfect but a plan I stumbled upon by accident since I had begun with a training run in mind. Now do I push a little harder here maybe aiming for a very doable 47:30-48:00 for the first 10? Hakkin Hill expected, the last 10 for Wally actually look easier than Slowmag with a predominantly downhill path so 4:25 pace  as I managed at Slowmag for the remainder of the race is a possibility and I could be flirting with a good PB of between 1:36 and 1:37. But then again, with the slightly more challenging beginning, I might not have as much in reserve as I had a Slowmag to effectively run a PB for the last 10km (guesstimated about 44:15 for the last 10km).. By going out at 5:20 for the first 3km at Slowmag and then easing into my stride to only break the 5:00/km average pace only at 9km, allowed me to really go for it in the second half.

Decisions. Decisions.

Ultimately I just want a great run and know that If I enjoy myself and race intelligently, then a good time for the course will follow.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

When plans go awry...for the better

I was scheduled to do a 19km long run today, but since the Slow Mag Marathon was taking place in Benoni, my neck of the woods, I decided to enter. The plan was to use it as training run, and to simulate my race routine as well as to acclimatise myself to the distance. The half marathon is foreign territory for me. Every long run in excess of 10 km I've done over the past eight weeks has been a new distance record for me. I approached the session with some trepidation but also a small measure of confidence since I have been faithful to my training program.

As I was in the mindset of a training run, my usual pre race jitters were absent. I had my gear ready the night before, my gels and post run energy bar in my belt. I had my usual pre run snack of a yoghurt and made my way to the venue, which is also where we do club runs. There were familiar faces from my club, Run/Walk for Life, further easing the tension. We had a few laughs exchanged goals for the race and warmed up. With 15 minutes to go we headed out to the start.

Once the gun went, I settled into a nice easy pace. Usually at the start of a race I try mighty hard to escape the clutches of the mob but I was content to cruise. I went through the first kilometre at 5:40 with plenty of room on the route with crowd thinning. The next two kays continued in the same vein with no drama and I hit the 3km mark in 16:00.

At this stage I really felt like I was running well within myself. I don't know what it is about the race environment, if it's the comfort of a crowd but my feet were ticking along, I was eating up the miles while exerting minimal effort. Exactly how an easy run should be. My splits were telling a different story though as with every kilometre I was inching towards the 5min/km average. In fact by 10km, still coasting along, I was under it, going through in a steady 49:20.

I had planned to do a 5km race pace simulation between 10km and 15km, but I was so far ahead of my target time of 55 min at this stage that I decided to just race. The 11th kilometre took us along a narrow concrete path through the golf course on the Ebotse Golf Estate so I kept it steady before we hit the tar again.

Then the racing began. I upped the tempo and was soon in my stride. I hit 4:30/km consistently, and was through 15km in just over 1:12. I was feeling really good and at 16km I had the confidence to go up another gear and hit 4:20/km. I could sense that despite my relatively conservative first half, a sub 1:40 was on the cards if I kept up the charge. When I went under 1:27 at 18km, running through roads I often trained on, it was now a matter of how far under I would dip. I did the last 1.1km in 4 minutes and stopped my watch at the finish in 1:38:40! I expect a few more seconds to be added when the official times are released but I'm thrilled. Yes I was a bit naughty to have raced with two weeks still to go with my 10 week program, but a lot of work had gone in to training in the last wight weeks and I was ready to attack a half already.

I have achieved the goal I set for myself in February but I still have my entry for the Wally Hayward half and I will be there at the start on 1st May at 6:30. I'm not sure how to approach training so far but I think I will start tapering and just fo for another sub 1:40 on what should be a tougher course than the Slow Mag. At least I have a pacing and refuelling strategy that got me through 21.1km without feeling overly exerted.

After Wally I'm going to concentrate on cracking the 45 minute barrier for 10km. I did the last 10km today in 44:30 so it's doable. That will be two of my goals for the year ticked off leaving just the challenge of completing a full marathon.

Job well: After an unexpected 1:38:42 at the Slow Mag 21.1

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Thousands of runners braved the 2012 Two Oceans Half and Ultra Marathons this past weekend. It must be said that the weather was far from ideal. I was down in Cape Town for a wedding and was lucky enough to be in Muizenberg for the weekend. On  Saturday morning I laced up my shoes and my wife and I went out for a run. We only did about 8km and it was hellish; at one stage I was blown into road by a sudden gust of wind. It was icy cold and for that short 58 minute run we were drenched.

What struck me however was the determination of those braving the race. While passing through Muizenberg the road marking there were 14, 15 and 16 km, so still a long long way to go. Yet these runners were going for it, giving their all.

Sights on my runs 1
Last year I was down in Durban to support a family friend and my fathers at the big ones, the Comrades. My only experience of this arduous race has always been from the comfort of my armchair and this time we drove along the route and picked a point roughly 65 km into the race where it would be easy to support. The concept of even running that far has never crossed my mind but that day, seeing two people I personally, even after what had gone before, continuing to push themselves still, with another 'half marathon' to go was inspiring.

I had been an on and off runner up to that stage. In school I did athletics and cross country so I was fit and busy but I once hit varsity and lost that structured extra mural school set-up I grew lazier and lazier. In 2005 I started again just running around the WITS University Campus but a combination of laziness, partying and slow improvements meant I was done with the sport again. I would go through spurts but nothing lasting more than 2 or 3 weeks.

It is weird in a way because my family is quite active and my father in particular is a seasoned runner with the highlight of his career a three year sequence in London with 2:52 and 2:45 performances sandwiched by a stunning 2:30 in 1997, good enough for a top 150 placing in one of the biggest races in the world. But perhaps that was it. I never wanted to emulate that and the more people remarked how I was 'blessed' with my father's 'made for running' physique, I rebelled even more. My burst of running always took one of two paths. Either I would just happily plod along running as I felt like it not really pushing myself and getting bored. Other times I would put together incredibly unrealistic demands and expectations and suffer from burn out. The end result was the same; the running gear gathering dust.

Last winter however something stirred. I think it was perhaps seeing my father more humanized. For a 55 year old man he is in incredible condition and still running some fantastic times. His 10 km times for example still blow mine away and I could never keep with him doing intervals on the track! I have very vivid memories of him streaking down the Mall in 1997, with Buckingham Palace to our left and cheering him own as he majestically strode to that remarkable personal best at the princely age of 40. Seeing him at Camperdown however, there was a lot less of that incredible machine precision from 14 years earlier, just a really fit man, who has really taken care of himself, doing well at one of the toughest road races in the world. For the first time ever, I could just about see myself in his shoes.

Ten months later I am three weeks away from doing my first of hopefully many half marathons. For the first time since my school days, I have set reasonable goals and stuck to an achievable training program. While I would like to run between 1:40 and 1:45 on the 1st May, I now understand the dynamics of running a bit more and fully understand that most of all I have to go out there and just enjoy myself. With that attitude and with the right training behind me, the times will come.

From then on the sky is the limit, full marathons, Two Oceans, Comrades? With no pressure I am certain anything is possible with my two feet.

A new dawn.