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