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 début 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.