Sunday, September 30, 2012

City2City Half Marathon: The PB run continues

Following the Irene Spring Race last weekend things didn't go according to plan. Follwoing months of tough guy bravado over my health and my running load my body finally succumbed. Running in the rain at the race probably didn't help either. I was booked off with respiratory tract infection and ultimately got some much needed rest, in bed for two days.

That rest served me well. Having entered the Bonitas City2City Half Marathon, I was keen to do the event.  All of the races I have done so far, Wally Hayward excepeted, have been undoubtedly local events, and City2City definitely has a big race vibe to it. It's not in the league of Comrades or Two Oceans but definitely feels more similar to those events than anything else I have run.

To recap then this was the challenge that I  and 2100 odd half marathon runners, 3500 if you include the 10km runners who shared the first 9km with us faced:
City2City Half Marathon course and profile
After collecting my race pack and goodie bag on Saturday morning, I drove the first 12km to get a sense of the challenge. I've run in the area before while doing the Nike+ Centurion Run Club so I was familiar with the general terrain, as out 5.3km route climbs up to Glover Avenue albeit one block up. I knew the first half was tough but after driving it I was expecting particularly that stretch between 4km and 6km to be a stinker that needs to be respected.

Sunday morning was an early start. I was up by 4 am, and had my usual morning fuel, 100ml yoghurt, a banana and a cup of coffee. Thankfully it would appear my stress induced bowel movements are now a thing of the past. My mother and brother were also running, doing the 10km, and we were off by 4:55 to head to the venue. I was worried about parking and traffic and I was overly cautious as we parked and at the start by 5:30. This gave me plenty of time to warm up and mingle and be ready for the 6:30 start.

The first km was a bit of a disaster as I somehow contrived to start then pause the Garmin, so I was getting pace information but no time or distance. I only figured this out as I checked my time at the first kilometre. So I then had to rely on ~20km of timing data, and adding on a predicted 4:00 for that first kilometre.

My goal was to respect the first half and finish strong but a discussion with a fellow runner on Twitter planted a seed that took route from that first kilometre. Since the second half is easier why not be aggresive in the first half anyway since I'm less likely to pay as the downhill trend would be more forgiving than a standard route?

And that's pretty much how it went. I hovered around 4:00/km pace throughout. My exact splits are difficult to guage of course but some reverse maths, has my first kilometre at 3:53, so I estimate that I went through 5km in 20 flat, 10km, in 40:30, 11km in 44:30, 15km in 1:00:50 and 20km in 1:20:55. Attacking the first half meant that I didn't negative split the race but I doubt if I had gone through 11km in 47:00 like I had planned to, I would have managed much quicker than 40:00 for that last stretch. My aggressive first half was still sensible in the end and gave me a time that I didn't think was possible at the start. As I rounded the final bend at the Centurion Rugby Club to see the clock just ticking to 1:25:20, I was over the moon.

At the finish...PB!!!
I crossed the line officially in 1:25:28. This was an improvement of 2:40 over last weekends time, and a crazy 9:33 from my Wally Hayward time on 1 May, and a further13:14 over my debut half marathon at Slow Mag, which was as recently as 15 April. It was another silver medal to add to the collection, and 77th overall out of 2159 finishers in such a big race is such a confidence booster.

This is likely my last half marathon of the year. Going through my calendar I have already run 16 official races  this year, not counting my one visit to Ebotse Park Run, and 10 of them have resulted in a PB of sorts, excluding first time attempts at a distance. The half marathon was an important component of my running goals for 2012. I did the half marathon, after not quite mastering the 10km, to get out of my comfort zone. I had remarkably enough never finished a 10km without walking, befreo towing the start at Slow Mag. So while for most club athletes a half marathon is not a big deal it was a defining point for me to prove that I could have the discipline to start a program and stick with it right to its conclusion. My goal was to run sub 1:40 and to be sat here now, 29 seconds away from a sub 1:25 half marathon is the stuff of dreams. A sub 90 was on my 2 year/end of 2013 roadmap, and now I'm going to have rewrite my plans for next year from scratch!

The half marathon is undoubtedly my favourite distance to race now, challenging enough but also forgiving enough to allow some tactical flexibility. And the City2City half marathon replaces the Wally Hayward as the most enjoyable race I have done. Tough, enjoyable and rewarding with a time beyond what I had expected.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Irene Spring Run: First Sub 90 Half Marathon

Sometimes things done on a whim work out for the best. This weekend I was due to run 20km and with a couple of 21.1km races on offer I eventually went for one. I was looking initially to do a close to marathon pace effort. Then with the possibility of both weekend races being flat and fast, I had a sneaky idea. I had signed up for City2City next weekend and perhaps I could turn that into my training run and run my tune-up race this weekend. And while my training has gone very well, I feel faster and stronger than I have ever felt, I have gone moments of self doubt, transient pain and general fatigue. I have taken blows but have counter-attacked. August ended up the toughest month since I started running, but I finished it off by running my fastest ever 10km, 5 seconds shy of dipping under 39 minutes. September has been gentler but I have done three of the most intense weeks of training. A nice flat race and a solid PB would do the trick. In any case while City2City looks tough, because it goes up for the first 11km and then straight now for the next 10km it's not really approximating my goal marathon in any way:

2012 City2City Half Marathon Route and Profile

Soweto Marathon Profile
Someone didn't read the memo

So the decision was made to run the Irene Spring Race. There was a race that started off at Irene Village Mall and word that I got from my family was that it was (relatively) easy. The heavens exploded on Saturday evening, and in the morning it was a battle of wills getting out of bed, especially since the predictions for Sunday were for pleasant weather. I had gone through my night routine so I headed out to the venue, and it was actually quite pleasant; cool and overcast. Registration was a breeze, even got water before the race, and I headed to an already packed start, meaning I was a bit further back than I would have like. This being a half though I believe I can afford to take a couple of kilometres to get into the groove.

Heading through the first 3km, it was clear this was not an easy race. Indeed the word moderate is used in the Runners Guide description, and I had headed to Runners Talk forum, I would have spotted a post from a member of the Irene club on the race where the warned to expect a toughie. I wanted to run at least a sub 90 so 4:17 pace and I was down on that at that point, going through in 13:00, 4:20 pace.

Getting into a groove, while getting wet

It was here that true nature of the course would reveal itself. We went down to the first water point, and from this point on it would be twist, hilly or both at the same time. The hills were not terrible, not Breathru Midrand 15km hilly but the annoying undulating kind. As you hit a downhill you take a bend, and then oh look what's that, another climb.

I got onto a nice rhythm though, interrupted by a rather unexpected shower at around 5km. Getting drenched is not fun when you are going for a fast time. It also made the course quite slippery, so added to the twists, the hills were now slippery slopes. I was aiming to hover just over 4:00/km but with some of the hills the pace dropped to slower than 4:30/km. While I stayed on pace, there were times when I just thought, 'if this hill is any longer...'

I hit 10km in exactly 42:00, 4:12 pace. I felt really good though, and as we hit what was clearly the highest point, conveniently at the halfway point, in 44:00 I hoped it was just down to the finish. But the route even though the general trajectory was downhill, continued the same pattern of before, undulating, twisty and slippery. And my splits didn't change much, 4:00 minute splits balanced out by 4:20s. At the top I had illusions of negative splitting, I felt that good, but the course just didn't allow for enough momentum. And I wanted flats more than down hills, my quads and knees were starting to complain

Striding to the finish

Once we got out of the suburbs and back onto the main road there was a measure of relief and I really tied to push the pace. Two of my fastest splits were in this period a 3:56/km (18 km) and 3:50/km (20km), but a detour through an office park meant there was still more climbing. When I hit 20km in just over 1:23:30, I relaxed a bit and just ran freely to the finish. I crossed the line officially in 1:28:08 and 13th out of 900 finishers.

13th place and another silver medal in the bag!

This is not flat and fast!!!
Ultimately that was a very informative exercise and running a PB is still an awesome feeling. My 10km times have seen a dramatic drop in 2012 but across the three half marathons that I have done there is a 10:34 drop as well. Much of that has come since May. Dropping nearly 7 minutes from my Wally Hayward time of 1:35:01.

I'm still not keen to commit to a marathon time target though looking at the Soweto course, this race was decent preparation. I'm looking at taking the most conservative prediction and adding another 5 minutes onto it. I am really happy though, as once again the tough times in training are paying off when I hit races. In this race I ran within myself for much it and I much prefer the feeling that I know I could have eked out 30-60s much more than if I had to get to the end finished. I never felt like I was straining even on the climbs. I just dialled back the pace to keep consistent effort. I ran even splits, 44:00 and 44:08, and put in some of my fastest kilometre splits in the latter stages. 

It all bodes well for the big day.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Triple Bill (28km-30km-32km)

The last time I posted, I had the harsh reality of preparing for a marathon brutally brought home as my body was literally grinding to a halt. Had my Wanderers 10km not gone well, there was a good chance that I would have cut my losses, taken the new endurance base, and switched focus to a January/February 2013 marathon. I was humbled, but running that 39:04 10km PB during an otherwise challenging period gave me a lift. I came out of that with renewed vigour, and for the first time a physical awareness, not just reading and accepting the truth, of the challenge that lay ahead. There was still lots of work to be done and in some ways the coming three weeks would lay the foundation that would set me on my way way physically and mentally.

The Triple Bill

I have been modifying my training, with some research and discussions with my coach. So along the way as either I reached milestones quicker than expected (speed) or struggled in others (training volume), we have had to change things to accommodate my rookie legs. The last change we did was just before my week or reckoning and to accommodate the tune up half marathon, a sequence of long runs that I had thought nothing of lay ahead. In short it was a progressive build up, within the accepted 10% norm, 28km-30km-32km, the triple bill.

I'm sure you can imagine just how daunting that was.

 Post Wanderers 10km I eased into the weekend with only 3 sessions. A casualty of my near meltdown was dropping down to two quality sessions, something I had planned to do anyway. I had been on a diet of a speed session, a strength session (hill circuits) and the long. A concept that I have been reading about and one that appeals to my scientific background is that of scientific background. I read about the training of Renato Canova, coach of some of the fastest Kenyans doing the rounds. His principle is that one should train specifically for the event that they are preparing for. As one gets closer to the event sessions begin to approximate, as feasibly as possible the event. So a standalone hill circuit is great for general strength. A long run great for endurance. A speed session great for leg turnover. But in the context of marathon training (or any event) these should be tailored for the event. He argues that we do our long runs to slowly and our speed sessions too short and quickly. Speed sessions should tends towards marathon pace or high volume short intervals, and long runs should be more intense but obviously should never turn in a 32km time trial. He advocates 5-10% slower than target/predicted marathon pace. The 10% mark conveniently falls right in the window of my predicted long run pace with any training calculator though closer to the faster end, eg 4:55-5:34min/km from Runner's World, and I typically do my long runs at 5:00-5:10.

Round 1: 27 August to 2 September 

This was a low volume week. I did four sessions. I took Monday and Tuesday off then did my quality session, long intervals, 3X3km at predicted marathon pace or 4:20-4:30min/km, with moderate recovery or 600m at easy training pace, approximately 5min/km. I was struggling with pacing, going off to fast at the start of the interval but it got easier by the third repeat. An easy 8km on Thursday was followed by a rest day and the the 5km parkrun at Ebotse. I ran fastish, finishing second in 19:57.

The long run was a test, with that 26km run still at the back of my mind. I did a 14km loop, that has a bit of everything in it, nice flats and a bit of hills. The first lap was a breeze and I came through in 1:11. The second lap was tougher. A lot tougher. I felt it at 25km in particular approaching that distance record. Despite that I managed to negative split the run, doing the second lap in 1:09 and finishing in a neat 2:20 for 5:00min/km pace, right in my zone.
Four sessions, 54km

Round 2: 3 - 9 September

This was a very challenging week. My son was hospitalized with pneumonia on Monday so while I got all my running in it wasn't the main focus, juggling long hospital stays, little sleep and work. I got my first quality session in on Tuesday morning. The aim was after doing the 2km and 3km repeats on the track to put it together on the road. So I did the same 14km loop from my long run. I just start out easy and picked up the pace so by 4km I was doing marathon pace effort. I managed 4:27min/km for my effort period.

I did my easy run on Wednesday on the back of 36 hours where I got only 2 hours sleep. Stress busting but not fun. On Thursday we had out annual staff and postgrad fun run at WITS. The weather was an absolute misery, cold and wet. It was just shy of 4km, and I scored 2nd place in a surprisingly quick 14:25. The course forms the backbone of my hill circuit, and I had not done a lap faster than 16:20, though admittedly that was in warmer conditions with at least two laps. On Saturday I did a nice 10km run.

My long run route was again the same loop with 500m added to the beginning and 500m at the end. This time the toughness factor went up quite a bit. For one I felt the hurt from the start of the second lap already. It was more mental as my pace never dropped. If anything I was getting more determined as my body endeavoured to trick me into giving in. 1:17 and 1:13 laps tell me as much. After 25km there was this back and forth dynamic between body and mind. At the end it was a solid 30km in 2:30, another negative split run.

5 sessions, 68km

Round 3: 10 - 16 September

This was a great week. The confidence has been building and with each long run I have gotten more confident while also becoming more realistic. On Tuesday I ran on the grass at WITS, a very easy 10km. In the evening I went to the Comrades Road Show in Sandton. It was very interesting. For a brief moment I was considering reversing my pledge to become a better marathon for a few years before doing the ultimate human race. There were some eye popping statistics: only 22.4% of runners run 9 hours (Bill Rowan) or quicker, only 5% get silver (6:00-7:30) and only 0.2% each get gold (top 10 women and men) and Wally Hayward (sub 6 hours). Then Lindsay Parry spoke and while his talk should have put the fear of the running gods into me, it actually made the whole experience seem more manageable as long as there is sufficient planning. Anyway no earlier than 2014!

My marathon pace tempo was done on Wednesday evening and I must say I struggled. I'm definitely a morning runner, and even enjoy a tea time or lunch time run over the evening. With work I find I'm tired and evening traffic is less pleasant. I did 15km, with a 3km warm up and 2km cool down. I really struggled to get into pace in the firs 5km of the race pace portion but finished well and managed 44:50, but it was tougher than I would have expected. Mandatory rest on Friday was followed by 10km in 52:00 on Saturday.

My first 32km run was quite an event. I had a Pepperoni pizza the night before. Big mistake as I found out about 21km into the run. The weather had also taken a turn for the worse on Friday evening and it started out cold, dingy and wet. I had wanted to do a dress rehersal, so my Run/Walk For Life kit, Falke socks, Zoom Elites and trying drinks on the go in a cup. I had to wear tights and a compression vest. As luck would have it it got hot as the run progressed. I also had to vary my route which I had planned to approximate the undulating Soweto Marathon. Traffic increased, with (angry) people going to church, and some were total dickheads. I ran with my father for 27km and he got really riled by the idiots including one who was literally trying to get as close to us as possible. A few old church goers were even motioning for us to bugger off.

Anyway, with all the modifications the run ended up being 33km. The pace was slower than I usually run as I ran with my father but to be fair the solo efforts are tough anyway.We varied the pace, I surged in the middle and at the end once he stepped. At 30km the running gods delivered my package, my bag of hurt. I really had to work through it, and most of the last kilometre was hard work. That last 6 I ran on my own was at 4:50min/km. I was hurting at the end but felt better than I did the previous two weeks and now I feel great again. The body has adapted nicely to the distance and I'm feeling a lot better about my prospects for the race. There is still lot's of work to do though.

5 sessions, 78km

More to come

The following week is a cut back week, dropping back to 20km for the long run. Then there is the mini taper for the City2City half marathon. I really don't know what to expect there. I'm almost certain I will PB it's a matter of how much. The course is unfriendly at the start with three long pulls in the first half then it's downhill  to the finish. I believe if I run smart in the first half and use the downhill for the last 10km I can run a good sub 90.

Post City2City I have my last two quality weeks with a 25km and the final 32km to come. Then it's three weeks to D-Day.

Happy days!