Saturday, May 19, 2012

Going short and fast

I noticed that a lot of programs for speedwork often include intervals done at 5km pace. That's all good and well except I don't have a 5km pace so to speak. I just punch in whatever recent race I have done in a training pace calculator to estimate. I tried to do a 5km sometime last year in December, but despite going through 4km in 16:40 odd and slowing but not all that much, ended up going through the finish in just under 27 minutes. Probably not 5km then. I was running with my brother and he was in fantastic shape then, running 21 for 5km, and finished 30s ahead of me and he was equally baffled.

So with the coaches permission, I switched my easy 10km today to a 5km time trial. My wife was doing the 10km at the Mazda Run in Silverton, and my brother and I entered the 5km fun run. It was bitterly cold. I ran in a long sleeved vest for the first in many months and it never warmed up enough to strip off.

The route was nice and flat. We set out 10 minutes after the 10/21.1s and thankfully didn't follow their bulkier tougher route. I set off briskly. I must say I'm fonder of the longer stuff as I have time to lock into a comfortable pace. Even with the 10km, I find that within that second kilometre I really need to be locked into my pace otherwise I'm fighting to make up time and I tire myself out. I went through the 1km in 3:48, and though I pulled it back a bit by 3km I was comfortably under 4min/km, going though in 11:41 and oddly in second place. I was never going to catch the junior up ahead but I kept him in my sights and hit the end in 19:25. I was hoping for a 20:xx but to finish in in under 20 at 3:53 pace was awesome. I'm also pleased that I was in control of my pace throughout. I nevet felt exhausted at any point and always felt like I had something in the tank. Clearly doing those hills at WITS is helping!

So the PB fairy tale continues, and I'm just enjoying the ride at the moment. I still don't think I'm a fast runner so to speak, I've enjoyed running half marathons more than the shorter stuff, but I'll do two or three more 5kms over the next few weeks just to build confidence and to keep my legs turning!

And long may the PB run continue!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Going to Soweto...

Monday was the beginning of the low and arduous journey to the Soweto Marathon, my first attempt at the distance. If you had spoken to me this time last year, it would have been the last thing on my mind. How quickly things change. I have gone from lazy though active in that I walk every where and am generally fidgety, drinking more than I should and eating very badly, to running 5-6 times a week and following a healthy eating plan, in a little under 12 months. I've gone from huffing and puffing through a 10km in 51:19 to powering through a half marathon in 1:35, and almost smelling that magical (for me at least), 40:XX or even 39:XX for a 10km. But that is for another time! Right now there is a bigger fish to fry that I approach with great excitement and equal measure.

Soweto Marathon route profile (image courtesy of
The plan is simple. No crash course program, but a long and methodical program that aims to condition my still young legs, both in a biological and running sense, to the rigours and toughness required to run the haloed 42.2 km distance, or 26.2 miles in archaic terminology! You can do the maths, 14 May 2012 is the start date, 4 November 2012 is the end date, a monumental 25 weeks. Thus no stone will remained unturned, and there is plenty of time for assessment and goal setting. At this point I'm not concerned about a target time/pace though I have, like I did with the half marathon, thought about a best case, a middling case and 'definitely need to beat this' case scenarios! This is big stuff though and the concept of running for 42.2 km still bends my mind in ways that no other physical endeavour has.

Is it too much too soon?

Will I hit the wall?

Am I strong enough?

Questions. Questions.

Anyway I do digress.

This is the summary of what my program entails. It's a five phase program and in a classical sense only 19 of the 25 weeks are proper marathon training with the first six weeks being base building. So it's just 1-3 weeks longer than regular 16-18 week programs.

  • Phase 1 Base Building (6 weeks). This will entail mostly easy runs and strides to lay down the endurance base necessary for the subsequent phases. 
  • Phase II: Repetitions (6 weeks). This comprise fast track repetitions (200m to 400m) on Tuesdays.  
  • Phase III: Intervals (6 weeks). This phase focuses on endurance speed sessions of 800m, 1000m, and 1200m on Tuesdays. These are high intensity sessions of no less than 3 minutes whose aim is to condition your leg muscles to run hard for longer periods.
  • Phase IV: Threshold training (4 weeks). This is the final sharpening phase in which you’ll run 800m or 1000m at an intense 5km pace for peak performance.
  • Phase V: Taper (3 weeks). This phase involves structured cutting back of both mileage and intensity to enable the body to recover and rebuild glycogen stores.
All of that of course involves tempo workouts, long runs and adequate recovery runs. I'll be doing assessment races at the end of each phase, 10km for Phase I-III and a half marathon in Phase IV (probably the City2City) to ensure I'm on the right track. Sometime in phase IV I will have an idea of what a realistic aim should be. I've played with the time predictors, noted the values but ultimately my body and mind (and the coach) will be the final judge of what I'll set out to do when, injuries and health permitting, I'm at the start line.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

'Twas the season of the PB

As I head into off season/base training I can reflect on what has been the best and most enjoyably period of running in my life. I started the year as a disgruntled runner. I had a 48:00 10km to my name but just couldn't see where any improvements would come from. After some goal setting, nearly three months later targets are getting crossed off, and the improvements are coming thick and fast. Good times! After an awesome run at Wally Hayward, crossing off the first of my goals to run a sub 1:40 half marathon, I was ready to my feet up, but also start looking ahead for the rest of the year. So I got myself a coach. And who better than my father. He is very experienced having started a club when he was in London and now at UNISA. He is a fantastic runner with many many marathons to his name. Even in his mid 50s continues run amazing time, running a 1:24 half marathon as recently as last year. At his peak he was doing a 32 min 10km, a 70 min half and has a 2:30 marathon PB. I'm in good hands.

My first act as a coached athlete was however to ignore the advice of the coach. Though I ran pretty hard on Tuesday, I entered a 10km race in Pretoria, aiming to cross the first of my 2012 goals, to run a sub 45 10km. My logic was 2-fold. I was still on a high from the Wally Hayward. Also, the SA race calendar is very much centered around Comrades, so the runners taper in the month of May, the race calendar winds down. Likewise in June as the runners recover from completing one of the toughest road races in the world the calendar reflects this. The would be not be another serious opportunity to have a crack it.

So on Saturday morning I set of to Thaba Tshwane to do the 10km at the Jackie Mekler Memorial Race. The route was supposedly flat with a couple of undulations. It was freezing and the race was an earlier start than I have been used to, with 25km setting off at 6 AM and the 10 and 5 km races going 15 minutes later. To cut to the chase, after a steady first kilometre in around 4:40, I set of and just went as quick as my tired legs would take me. Racing so soon after the half was indeed risky. I could feel it on the climbs but I kept my splits constant, going through 5km in 21:15. I slowed a bit in the seconds half. By 8km I was really struggling but dug in enough to finish the race in unofficially a smashing new PB of 42:41 42:38. That's three minutes better than my previous best, and over 5 minutes quicker than what I started with in the new year.

Approaching the finish at the Jackie Mekler Memorial 10km on the way to a 42:41 42:38 PB

At the finish. Tough race but job well done!

The risk paid off and it meas I have managed to cross of two of my three 2012 goals. I'm really pleased that both were done comprehensively. Now I can focus my attention fully on training for the Soweto Marathon on the 4th November. The coach is going to put me on a 25 week plan starting on Monday beginning with six weeks of base building. The plan with gradually increase my speed through short and long intervals, bring in tempo pace, increase my stamina and end with three weeks of tapering. It's going to be long, it's going to be brutal but I'm excited. For now I'm going to reflect on an awesome 10 and a bit weeks where I learnt a lot about being runner, the value of having and sticking to a plan, and then reaping the rewards.


  • Taking 2:16 off my 10km at the Deloitte Pretoria 10km on 25th February to finish in 45:44 (4:35 min/km pace), a good omen
  • Finishing my first half marathon at the Slow Mag race in Benoni in 1:38:42 (4:41 min/km pace)
  • Improving my half marathon time by 3:4941 to finish unofficially in 1:34:53 1:35:01 (4:2930 min/km pace) and breaking (just about) equalling the 4:30 min/km average over race distance
  • Finally breaking 45 min for 10km and taking 3:03 3:06 off my previous best to finish the Jackie Mekler Memorial in 42:41 42:38 (4:16 min/km pace)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Breaking the 4:30 min/km barrier

Finally the day came. It has been a long 10 weeks leading up to the Wally Hayward Half Marathon but it was worth it. Then just over 10 weeks ago, after nearly two months of inactivity, I decided to not go back on the pledge I made to myself to become a runner. Since 20the December 2011 I had been for a solitary 7km jog. It was now the 18th February after yet another 'come back' run. Instead of continuing with my initial plan of improving my 10km time, I decided to do something I had never done before, but realistic and achievable. So I set my mind, heart and body on running a half marathon.

And here I am now, having done two of them and feeling very good. 

The Weekend Before

This weekend though things didn't look so rosy. After running Slow Mag I focussed on sharpening my legs, focussing on short tempo runs, speed sessions and working hills into my running. On Saturday however, as I did my last serious one, 7km with 2km at race pace, a final reminder, I didn't feel good at all. It felt to me like fatigue. I struggled ending the session and cancelled my 30 minute shakedown. While there was nothing remarkable about how much mileage I had done, it peaked at 50km/week and avergaed 40km/week, it was a serious bump compared to what I was doing last year. I was worried that my body had simply had enough.

My wife and son had also picked up something in the air and being surrounded by sneezing snivelling people, it was inevitable that I would be affected. Indeed on Sunday night I felt awful, my nose was runny and I was sneezing constantly. I had anticipated the possibility of getting sick and had got medication from the pharmacy. Thankfully it was just a head cold but I still felt awfully. Things improved on Monday but by the evening I wasn't sure if I would be at the start line on Tuesday.

I was concerned about the weather too. Monday was a scorcher, peaking at about 28 degrees celsius and the forecast was much the same for Tuesday. Fatigue, a head cold and unseasonablly warm temperatures. The signgs were not good.

I was up way before 4 AM on Tuesday morning. I got out of bed at 4:15, had my usual pre-race snack of 100ml yoghurt and a piece of route. I was keeping hydrated with water and sports drink. Just after 5 AM we made out way to the Hoerskool Zwartkop (my mother was running the 10 km and my brother came along to help with carrying stuff and support).

Thankfully parking was not a problem considering the size of the race. I'm glad we didn't leave earlier as we had a full hour before the race once parked. The was a moderate walk to the start. The place was already buzzing, I really love the vibe at races. I did my warm up, gentle jogging and stretching and at 6:15 made sure I got a decent spot.

The crowd was very friendly. People were chatty and relaxed. I usually keep to myself, but I was enjoying the banter, which helped me forget my woes from the last couple of days.

After some announcements and usual protocols, the race started just after 6:30

The best race of my life

 I had a great run at Slow Mag, due to the lack of pressure, and the 'take it as it comes' attitude I had on the day. This was the one I had been working towards and I was nervous. I had made and saved pace bands for 1:35, 1:36, 1:37 and 1:38 times. I had created my own custom pace band by breaking the race into 10, 5 and 5 sections. I had studied the course, sourced information from people who had done it. In short I was obsessed. 

All of that went out the window once the hooter went.

Finding a rhythm: The first five kays

Steady was the order of the day. I wanted to ease into my pace and go conservatively but not as much as Slow Mag. I was targetting 4:45min/km pace for the first 5kms and just to find my rhythm before the hard work between 5km and 10km. The first two kms were comfortable and I felt good, going just below 5:00min/km. I met one of my father's runners from UNISA AC and since he was doing the full marathon I ran a few kms with him to stop me from getting ahead of myself. I went through 5 km in 23:40, 4:43 pace, so far so good.

The slow poisonous climb: 5 to 10 km 

The end aside, this was the part of the race I had identified as critical to me running a good time. It's not until 6km when it becomes obvious that you are climbing. It is a gentle climb but it's a kilometre long. I just put my head down and reminded myself that I had prepared for this in the previous two weeks. Once we crossed the N14 at the 7km mark I had a glance at my watch and realizing I was still maintaining a good pace, I began to feel for the first time that this could be a great day for me. I picked up the pace and worked at reaching 10km in my target time of 47:00. I hit 10km at 46:40, 4:40 pace, and knowing that I had navigated the toughest part of the course for a little while, I set about trying to bank time for 'Hakkin Hill', with a great opportunity to improved on the 1:38:42 I had run at Slow Mag

Time trialling: 10 to 15 km

My aim was to run negative splits and that meant having to really get going. The next 5km were something of a blur, as I ignored the watch and just worked on increasing leg turnover. I was delighted when I hit 15km  in 1:08:31. That split was 21:51 at 4:22 pace and overall now down to 4:34. I was now under PB time and now on course for not just a PB but 1:37 or better.

Run like the wind: 15 to 20 km

By this stage I was stuck in a groove and just thinking 'PB, PB, PB'. The obsessive time checking returned now. It was not just the PB that was weighing in on my mind but trying to figure out how much time I needed to bank for the last kilometre. I ran faster and harder than I have ever run, 4:08, 4:11, 4:04, 4:12, 4:12. I hit 20km in 1:29:18 at 4:28 pace, the last 5 km went by in 20:47 at 4:09 pace, the previous 10 km in 42:38 at 4:16 pace. Both times would easily break my current PBs for those distances. On beginning the 21st km, a new PB was safe and a sub 1:35 was suddenly a possibility.

The sting in the tail: surviving Hakkin Hill

I have gone over the last 1.1 km of this race as obsessively as anything  else but once after hitting Valley Rd with the finish in sight, the sheer enormity of the task that lay ahead hit me. With each stride my pace slowed and slowed. I refused to walk but the clock was ticking perilously close to 1:35. Finally the gate entering the school grounds was visible and I pushed. It was a brutal ending but I made it, unofficially in 1:34:53. It will be touch and go when official times are released but I'm certain I sneaked in under 1:35.

Wally Hayward was a great experience. It was easily one of the best organized races I have been to, everything from getting parking, the start, the many water points and the enthusiasm of the marshals and volunteers made it a very fun event. I hope to make it a fixture in my racing calendar.

Breaking the 4:30min/km barrier 

Breaking 45 minutes for 10km, or put differently 4:30 min/km was a shadow that I was chasing last year and  that's what drove me to almost stop running. I had run 48:00 in November and 45 min was right there. I trained myself into the ground and that last workout in December, I remember just grinding to a halt after yet another high intensity work. The general advice is that a significant portion of running workouts should be easy/recovery, but for me it was the opposite and for a relative beginner it was suicidal.

So when I finished the Wally Hayward Half Marathon as significant as just running a great time, way way faster than what I had initially set as a target, was that I had breached that psychological barrier that was turning into an obsession. I got close with the 45:44 at the Deloitte Pretoria race, but to have done it over 21.1 km fills me with a lot of joy.

So what now? I set myself three goals, that sub 45:00 10km, finish a half marathon well and complete a full marathon (no time target, just finish and finish strong). I have a few 10km races, and a 15km to keep me busy. I'm not going to obsess over the times, I'll just trust my legs. Then from mid June I begin an 18 week journey to that first marathon.

EDIT: official results are out and I missed out on breaking the 4:30 min/km by 5 seconds! Official time was 1:35:01