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.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hunting In Packs: My First Nike+ Run Club Experience

The runner's life is a lonely one. Even with the strong club culture in South Africa just a look around the roads in Pretoria, many a solo runner will be sighted. It makes sense too. For the most part no two runners are the same. We all have different ambitions, with different strengths and weaknesses. So even if a common goal is shared, like training for a marathon, the road there will likely be divergent. This leads to the reality of running being a sport based primarily around solitude.

To be fair, that is one of the aspects of running that I love. I was out for a 10km run this morning and I loved being in complete 100% of the situation. I could go easy when I wanted or push when I wanted. I could also think. My thoughts race when I run and I like grappling with them. Solitude might be a negative in some aspects of life but when it comes to running it is a huge strength in my books.

But sometimes hunting in packs is called for. I joined Run/Walk for Life last year and it really helped with my running, particularly cementing the commitment aspect of running. Commitment to the sport was always one of my weakest points. I struck up an understanding with the runner's at my Run/Walk for Life branch in Benoni. They were training for far bigger goals, as big as Comrades while I was starting out. I had natural speed but lacked the strength and stamina of a runner like Tony, so we complemented each other.

I was saddened when I moved to Pretoria as it meant I would lose that. I have been lucky that my I have been able to run with my father. My mid week runs remain solo affairs but I do my long runs with him. Soon I will start doing speedwork with him as well as gym training. We are building up an understanding, which is great as I will be chasing his creaking, old experienced legs come the Soweto Marathon.

As my Run/Walk for Life mentioned nears an end, I am clubless and it's an awkward time to find a new club as my licence is tied to Run/Walk for Life. In the interim I have chanced upon an amazing initiate. I'm developing into a bit of a Nike fanboy! My last three pairs of running shoes have been Pegasus, the 2005, 27 and 28 and I love them to bits. I will probably invest in a pair of ZoomElite+ 5s as a lightweight performance trainer and as I get faster I will think about getting the LunarRacer+ 2. I use the Nike+ system as well and I'm also going to invest in socks, gloves and other apparel. So quite the fanboy!

Since the Run Jozi event, I noticed that Nike had quite the social network presence under the handle NikeRunningZA both on Twitter and Facebook. As a user of both networks I have like/followed them and had noticed the Nike+ Run Club that started in Rosebank and is now also at Centurion, on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. While I was staying in Benoni, both Rosebank and Centurion were quite inconvenient. I could have gone to Rosebank after work but it would have meant probably getting home after 7pm, not ideal when I have a three year old waiting for me!

This week I finally took the plunge and went. I was bit late but go there in the nick of time to sign the indemnity form and get the super duper awesome Dri-Fit shirt, brand new with the tag still attached. We did a quick warm up by the lakes at  the mall, impressively doing dynamic stretching instead of the usual static stretching, so leg swings, jumps, jogging on the spot etc, good stuff.

Swinging those legs, dynamic stretching is fun!
After posing for a group photo we were good to go. The route goes out of Centurion Mall, goes round the Gautrain station and back to the mall and is just short of 3.5 km. The runner's are split into groups of relative ability, not to single anyone out, but to ensure that we all get back to the meeting point at  roughly the same time. So wer were split into three groups staggered at T=0, 4 and 6 minutes. The route is relatively felt and potentially quite fast actually though I was unfamiliar with it which made the first 2/3 tricky until I could orientate myself.

Striding back to the finish at Centurion Mall
It's really awesome running though the area as the evening transitions from light to darkness. We dodge a few people doing their commutes home. I managed the 3.44 km route in a brisk 14:45, and it was a really enjoyable little workout. I'll try and go a little faster next time but that's not the point anyway!!! At the end there were refreshments like water, Energade and coke, on the house. which was followed by some group stretch and then people heading on home.

I enjoyed it so much I'm going to try and fit the Centurion Nike+ Run Club a part of my training routine. It really is great fun being around a large group of runners even if everyone is running at their own pace/effort. I will try and make the session fortnightly and use it as a time trial either doing a single lap or doing a double lap which will be ~6.9km. More than anything, I'm looking forward to, even if it's twice a month running with a group of people who enjoy running, doing it for their own personal reasons, but sharing that common enjoyment.

I really have to applaud Nike for doing this. I'm not sure if it was borne out of the Run Jozi event but I think it's a good thing for them to extend that goodwill from that race and push the idea of running as a lifestyle. I know how much good running has done for me over the past 12 months. I'm healthier, fitter and happier about myself physically and I hope that through an initiative like this more people can experience that. It's great to see a big company showing a bit of corporate responsibility, particular when matters of healthy living are involved.

Well played Nike. Well played!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Let the good times roll!!!!

The plateau will come. I know it will. I am expecting it too. I am of the opinion that running improvements follow a classic S-curve model:

When we start training at the base of the curve, improvements are slow, everything is tough. I spent a good 6-7 months in this phase after lacing up my shoes in June last year. It's also the easiest time to get despondent and throw in the towel, as I almost did in  December when workouts were actually getting more and more difficult.

Then something happens. It could be a breakthrough race, nailing that brutal interval session, or in my case a long tempo run. I remember the moment clearly. It was the morning of the 3rd April just before catching a flight to Cape Town and I went out and did a 10km tempo run. I did it in 46:40, nothing remarkable, except it was only a minute slower than my 10km PB at the time and that included warm up and cool down. When I was going for it, I was in a groove, just nailing the pace kilometre after kilometre, and it all felt so easy! Less than two weeks later I would do my first half marathon in 1:38:42, well inside my 'best case scenario' of 1:40 that I had set myself. And two weeks later I brought that down to 1:35:01. Four days later I had lowered my 10km time to 42:38. Two weeks later I broke 20 minutes for 5km and ran 19:25. I was now clearly in the exponential phase.

I haven't raced since that 5km and was looking forward to doing my first race in three weeks and also my first 15km race. I was supposed to do the Moreleta Plaza 16km on the 26th May but I felt a bit fatigued from overdoing it in training and wisely rested. The end results is I felt fresh this past weekend and my legs were raring to go! 

Fifteen kilometre is an odd distance. Most prediction tools jump in classic distance, 1 mile, 2 mile, 5 km, 8 km, 10 km, 21,1 km and 42.2 km. I'm a bit of a pedant and like to have some sort of strategy when running races, something I have developed since that first half marathon. I find it relaxes me to have a plan, but also the plan is not fixed and has early escape clauses to take into account weather and surprising route elements. With the route expected to be somewhat flat I used my 5km time, got a prediction for 10km and 21.1km and went for something roughly in the middle and rounding up I got an expected pace of 4:10/km, so roughly tempo pace then. I segmented the race into thirds planning to run 21:15, 20:50 and 20:25 splits for a 62:30. It was I felt a touch on the ambitious side but my motto at the moment is a rather brash go big or go home. I will pay for that someday!

On Friday, a surprise happened with the weather taking a distinct turn for the worse! The temperatures plummeted and at 7:30 start time on Saturday predictions were 2 degrees Celsius. Nasty. Thankfully the race venue, Silver Oaks Crossing, was not very far from home, a 10 minute drive so at least we didn't have to be up at  an ungodly time of the morning. I got a compression vest from my father to wear under my racing vest, got some gloves, but decided to stick with my poly shorts. When I stripped off my tracksuit at the venue I was almost regretting that decision, but after a 10 minute warm up I was feeling just about okay.

The race went well even if my pacing strategy was ripped apart pretty early on. The first km was in around 4:12 and I settled into a pace that was quite a bit quicker but comfortable, a red herring perhaps? I went through 3km in 12:00 and 5km in around 20:10. I knew the pace was a bit hot and did try and slow myself down. I got sucked into other peoples races though. There was a group of three guys that would pass me on the flats but I would pass them on any climb. The end result was that I went through 10km in 40:26, 4:03 min/km pace. I knew I would pay for it somehow later! Hey it would have be a huge 10km PB, 2:12 min, if the race stopped there but there was another 5km to go.

Sure enough I did pay for the early pace. I got sucked into another race as a guy came past me after that and he was a bit chatty. I went along with him and then we started to climb. I had read fairly flat about the race, but there was some climbing up to about 14km, long climbs broken up by short teasing straights. So predictably my pace dropped. I went past 14km in around 57:50 so my pace had dropped to 4:20 min/km. I finished strong though, putting in a sub-4 min final km to finish in 1:01:40 on my watch. That was a quite a bit quicker than what I set out to run, and with some smarter running could have flirted with running under 61 minutes. But I'm not going to complain about finishing a 15km at 4:06 pace.

In the grander scheme of things, I am still in that exponential phase of the s-curve. While I wait for the plateau there are still some fast times ahead I hope. For the rest of June I have a 5km on the 23rd and a shot at a the 10km on the 30th. At both races I'm going for good PBs. The route at the 5km race, the Take 5 team relay, is also fairly flat (though I'm getting skeptical with 'fairly flat' as a route description) and the organisers do promise a fast course, so flirting with a sub 19:00 5km or 3:47 pace is a target. The 10km race in Hatfield is a new event, but Hatfield is one the flatter areas of Pretoria so if anything I want to match the 40:26 I manged through 10km this weekend, and I'm going whisper it but a 39:XX is on the cards if I pace myself well.

On the road to Soweto, getting my speed up is the mission and so far so goo. Let the good times roll!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So what's my correct training pace?

Something that I never really grasped is what pace to train at. There are of course so many training types, I'm doing short intervals, long intervals, fartleks, tempo workouts, hill repeats, easy runs and long runs. Each of these has a purpose and must therefore  be done purposefully and at the right effort. I guess the easiest way is to drop the pace constraint and to go by effort. Take that a step further and use heart rate. But I hate running with a heart rate monitor. Scratch that detest it. There's something about having that darn belt around my chest, it irritates me, I'm constantly adjusting it...anyway I digress.

My solution was to just go to a running pace calculator, like this great one from Runner's World that even does race predictions! So I've just run a race, recently the Jackie Mekler 10km in 42:38 and it gives me the following output under training pace:

  • 5:16 min/km Easy run training pace
  • 4:23 min/km Tempo run training pace
  • 3:57 min/km Maximum oxygen training pace
  • 3:39 min/km Speed form training pace
  • 5:16-5:57 min/km Long run training pace
  • 3:15 min/800m Yasso 800s training pace
Great! So on Monday, Tuesday on whenever I head out again I do my tempo at 4:23 min/km, my easy run at 5:16 and my LSD no faster than 5:16 but no slower than 5:57 min/km. Then the following week I do some 400m reps on the track at 87s per 400. Easy?

But what am I actually doing? I never really thought that all I'm doing is maintaining 42:38 form but surely that's not what I want? But if I'm training at paces computed from that as my most recent race time surely that's what I'm doing? It's like the training pace here is the end goal and not a journey when using the race pace method and that seems a bit wrong. I understand the logic that it's a good measure of what I'm capable of, particularly when shooting for a new distance. I'm training for my first marathon, so a good estimation of what I'm capable could be what my times now predict. So using my 42:38 PB run a month ago, I get an estimation of 3:16:06. Using my half-marathon PB of 1:35:01 ran four days before that 10km, I get a marathon prediction of 3:18:06. Two weeks later I ran a 5km, albeit one as flat as a pancake in 19:25, and that predicts 3:05:53!

Here's the thing though, surely this method predicts current capability with a few assumptions, the most obvious to me being you realistically plan to run the predicted distance on a route profile similar to that of the input race result? My 5km time is a useless barometer for Soweto Marathon, but might be a good indicator for a race like Slow Mag, which is also reasonably flat. However the other assumption is that you are fit and ready to run the predicted race NOW. I can tell you now I know I can't run a 32km race at whatever pace my 10km PB would extrapolate to, never mind a marathon. Heck I think I would blow out if trying to do 25km at a hard effort.

This has been weighing on my mind as my different PBs run within two weeks of each other predict times 13 minutes wide for the marathon, but also because I feel I ought to train with a goal in mind and my effort in training should reflect that. I'm am heading into the great unknown so how I do logically plan for that. I have a half marathon scheduled for 29th September, roughly a month before Soweto and that will obviously be a good gauge of what I will be able to achieve. But here's my thing, if I train at 42:38 for a 10km determined pace, am I selling myself short. I have over 5 months to go till Soweto. A lot can change and I will inevitably, judging by my progress in the first half of 2012, be fitter and faster come 4 November. Surely I want to get faster, not maintain the status quo?

When I decided to train for a half marathon I consulted a few people on what I should aim for. The first question was always, 'What have you run?'. At the time it was 48 flat for 10km. I thought of going for 1:40 but guys said that a 1:45 would be more realistically based on my 10km PB. I did a 10km, the Deloitte race in the first week of my program to get a feel for race pace since my 10km PB was from November 2011, and out of nowhere ran 45:44. It was hard, I walked a lot, I was spent, butsuddenly I was in 1:40 territory. As a relative novice, I had no control of pace and actually ended up inadvertently running by feel, ie getting the workout wrong 90% of the time. So easy for me was simply being able to hold a conversation. Tempo I just ran hard, intervals I went all out. As the weeks progressed, I was on a 10 week program, I noticed that interval and tempo workouts, at the same rate of perceived effort were getting faster with no extra work on my part. I ran 1:38:42 and then two weeks later ran 1:35:01. That second half-marathon was at a faster pace than I managed over my 45:44 10km.

Now surely if I had restricted myself to training paces for a 45:44 10km, I never would have managed a 1:35 half marathon? Or a 42:38 10km? Or a 19:25 5km? I would have condition myself for a 1:40:54 half-marathon and a 21:57 5km, hypothetically speaking.

I'm definitely leaning towards a feel based approach with a bit of mathematical prediction thrown in. For example I have four races I am focusing on leading up to Soweto, a 10km each in June, July and August and the half in September. For the 10km races I hope to take a minute off my PB each time, route, weather, health, and the alignment of the stars permitting, which would put me into sub 40 minute territory (crikey!) and a realistical shot at a sub 90 minute half marathon, in turn an opportunity for a fast debut marathon, 3:05 to 3:10 maybe, if everything is perfect on the day (I'll take a 3:30 any day!)

So how do I train for that? I could repeat the exercise above and put in a 40:00 target 10km. But the speed form pace is a blinding 3:26 and I know that is probably to hot for me right now to hit consistently over 4,5,6 up to 10 reps. I can go all out and nail it first time but I would be bushed! What I think is logical and something I'm trying to do, is to have an end goal in mind for training pace I should hit. For example I like that the Yasso 800 is tried and tested so I should be able to do 10 of those at whatever pace I aim for, and if I have done my tempos, fartleks and long run, that together should work. But the goal should be just that, the end goal. The 10x Yasso 800s are usually done just before the taper. My current pace should be a springboard to that end goal, which leads into the foot race. So right now a 4:23 tempo and 3:39 speed form should be at my 80% and 85-90% effort, but like how we increase mileage weekly to improve stamina, I should be able to push a little harder in later weeks so that 80% becomes 4:20, 4:17, 4:14 and down to 4:07 by October and equally 85-90% becomes 3:35, 3:31 down to 3:26.

So a bottom end based on current ability and a top end based on desired, but realistic ability, bridged by running on feel and listening to the body? Well that's the theory anyway.