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.

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