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!!