Thursday, November 22, 2012

Speed Thrills: Just missing a PB and hitting the track hard

EDIT: It turns out that the Kolonnade Retail Park 10km went much better than I thought and my official time was 38:22 for 27th place out of 1672 finishers

Over the last 3-4 months, I just forgot how much I love running fast. Now of course fast is relative, on a single tracl repeat I would struggle to keep up with Mary Keitany while she is scorching her way to a sub 2:20 marathon, but for me it's blinding fast, and it's thrilling! I haven't done a true speed workout since mid August. as session of 6 X 800 at 90s per lap. My body sent out alarm signals after that workout, and to get through marathon training I dropped the fast stuff and instead supplemented my endurance runs with session of long marathon pace repeats that eventually became one continuous running. Looking back those were long arduous sessions. There was no rush just work, work, work. That's not to say I didn't enjoy them, but going round at 1:44-1:48 per lap for 5-10 laps worth per repeat is a different kind of beast to even 90s laps.

After my harrowing but amazing experience doing my first marathon I was concerned for my speed. Leading up to the marathon I had run my 10km PB of 39:04 and them lowered my half marathon PB to 1:25:28, but those races came 10 and 5 weeks before the marathon respectively. With no speed work, the only reminder that I still had anything approaching a fifth gear were a couple of ~5km time trials where I was able to hit 3:40/km splits admittedly on elevation conjusive to fast times...i.e dowhill! I had convinced myself I would have to start again.

Post-marathon, I endeavoured to take 2 weeks off but I couldn't stay away and ended up following Hal Hidgons recovery plan, well the first two weeks of it. It involves gradually easing back in and to be honest the first couple of runs hurt a lot. By week 2 though I managed a 6km tempo and the aforementioned time trial, and my legs were suddenly remembering something they used to do long before marathon training had become the routine.

The feeling the way back slowly after the marathon comeback race

I decided to enter a 10km on 17th November that promised a flat, fast and easy route. This being a Gauteng race in Pretoria, I was skeptical of that description but I really wanted to get out anyway. The race was at the Kolonnade Retail Park in Montana, Pretoria North, a bit out of the way but some careful planning, pre-entering and leaving reasonably meant it was a stress free morning and I even managed to warm up properly. Making my way to the start I was relieved to see that it looked as if walkers and runners had a separate start. A relief, I thought.

I positioned myself close to the start balloon, which I hoped would help me get away fine. While I wasn't planning to race I hate getting caught up in the pack early. Bizarrely, the runners were filling in from the front, so my position in close proximity to the start quickly became in not so proximity to the start. This meant that getting away was difficult once the gun went, 6 minutes later than the scheduled start. Then the separate start for runners and walker proved to be ineffectual as the merge was literally immediate meaning there was another bottleneck as soon as the merge took place. Grrr.

This is my pace graph from my Garmin
I din;t actually start running until around 50s on my watch. Playing around with the player view on Garmin Connect it was not surprising to discover that I covered just 50m in the first 48s and 100m up to 57s when thankfully I was now at full speed.

From that point on it was just bliss. I ran a perfect race, dismissing immediately an fears I had about marathon running obliterating my raw speed. The read out from the Garmin is delight. Other than the first kilometre and the 9th kilometre, every split was below 4:00 and just one slower than 3:50. In reality I am actually in better 10km shape than I've ever been. Taking out that horrific start, I was rocking along at 3:50/km for almost 10km, and with my own loose maths, would have knocked out something in the region of 38:30. The course was 90% flat with about 60m eleveation but having just run a marathon two weeks before I will take that! My unofficial time was 39:16 just 12s short of my PB and in the race conditions and my own physical condition I think it is still a really good time and something for me to build on going forward.

To Tempo and To Interval

Whilst I have already chose my next marathon (Slow Mag, 14 April 2013) and have a rough skeleton of a shorter (12 weeks) but higher mileage program (90km/week peak and and an average of 72km/week), I have decided to keep myself busy by running fast in the forthcoming 9 weeks, starting with a goal to break my 10km PB. My goal is aggressive  sub 38:00 and ideally a 90s PB which would put me in the 37:30 range. I genuinely believe I have the leg speed to do it but I need to seriously worked on my pace stamina and also just need to be brave on race day! My training now is 6 weeks long and involves 3 weeks of stamina based efforts, 2 weeks of speed and a week to mini taper to the Old Years race in Pretoria on 29 December, a flat fast course with a sting in the tail

To work on that stamina means running my favourite workout, tempos! Tempos were staple of my running diet for the first half of the year and I believe were the primary contributor to my initial wave of PBs. They gave way to more endurance but now I can devote one weekly run to this workout. I plan to start off at 20miutes and build up to 35 minutes of tempo pace running by the end of my program. The tempos will be supplemented with cruise intervals later on as I do raw speed training. My first tempo this week was a ~7km run (7.4km it ended up as) with a 5km portion at  tempo pace. My tempo zone is 3:50-4:00 and I nailed the 5km in 19:30 (3:54 pace), right in the zone and pretty much even pace/

Today, I did a session of short track intervals, 10 x 400m, looking for control, good form and most of all consistency.While I keep thinking I have done speed work, in reality until today, I could count the number of genuine interval sessions I had done in the past 10 months on my two hands, and none of them were particularly high intensity or high volume. While I have slowly been warming up to running laps, and will extol the virtues of the task to anyone who asks, I am not overly enthusiastic about the monotony and have rather done fartleks on the road instead.

So I wasn't really sure what to aim for but since my 10km best case target pace is 3:45 I wanted a string of sub 90s 400m to get these creaky legs turning again. And since it was early on in training I didn't want to push too hard hittin 5km pace and faster.  This is how it went in raw numerical detail.

Interval Time  Pace (/km) Recovery (300m)
1 86 03:35 86
2 84 03:30 86
3 83 03:27 91
4 83 03:27 92
5 83 03:27 96
6 82 03:25 90
7 82 03:26 90
8 82 03:25 92
9 81 03:23 95
10 76 03:11 93
Average 82.2 03:25 91.1

To be honest I was really surprised with that outcome, both the pace and the relative comfort with which I managed them. Somewhere in the middle of intervals 7 and 8 I doubted I would get through but by the 9th I was good again. And the 76s was on a whim, I just decided to push a little bit harder and see what would happen. What really makes me happy is that other than the two outliers the first and the last, that is some pretty consistent running, and I didn't struggle too much as the session progressed. Later on this will be bumped to 12 x 400 and I'm not even remotely worried anymore. While I knew I would I would enjoy the tempo, I was expecting some serious burn. 

Coming up I will do some 800s and 1000s before revisiting the 400s again in week 4, then closing off with 1000s in week 5 and low volume 800s in the final week, all hopefully at this pace of 3 around 3:25-3:35, corresponding to 3km-5km pace for my target 10km time. Week 4 and 5 will also see  me doing mile repeats at cruise interval pace so closer to 8km pace just to maintain some stamina.

I have once check point, a 10km race on 8 December where I should be comfortable running at or just faster than my current PB pace of 3:54. I'm not going for any fireworks just yet and will in fact be doing that race at the top end of my tempo zone.

So post-marathon running is off to a joyful and fast start and I hope to keep it up!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Soweto Marathon Report: First Marathon Blues (Dancing With The Devil)

To be honest I had many drafts of this post penned in my head, the heroic first time marathon success, the heroic pulling it back from the brink first time effort and the safety first getting a feel of things first time effort. None of those scenarios panned out. Instead what I got was a hellish beating at the hands of a mammoth beast. I danced with the devil and I got burnt.

This is my pace chart from the race. This puts things into context.

The short story is that I ran well for 32km and when the race really got going I fell apart and was on the ropes from that point until I caught sight of the finish.

Looking at that pace chart it's fair to say I just didn't see it coming. I expected to struggle from 32km onward, I really did. What caught me off guard was how instantaneous it was. I remember checking my pace and seeing 31.83km on the Garmin and just thinking, 'I only have 10km to go, I'm home' and less than a minute later, I was walking and that was that. I have never experienced such a crippling lack of fortitude and self belief as I did from the moment I stopped running for the first. As you can see, I actually managed to run a fair amount, and in face when I was running I was hitting my oiverall average pace of 5:10, but every 2 or 3 minutes I had to walk and that conincided with a climb. I basically managed to run most of 32-35km and then the nature of Soweto unveiled itself.

The first half is deceptive. It's a downhill start for close on 8km before the first testing climb and from then on it's the rolling hills that I was told of, and as you enter Soweto itself it's twisty but I found this thoroughly enjoyable and almost exhilarating. The monotony of climbing is broken up by navigating some tight corners, while basking in some historic sites and astonishing crowd support. The nice thing about all these climbs is that they are tempered by an almost equivalent downhill. I believe I raced smart here. I was not stressed about losing time on the uphills and in fact ensured my pace fell below 5min/km and didn't force the issue on the downhills.

I had rhythm. I was dancing. I was in control.

I hit halfway in 1:36:20. My target for the race was 3:10 based simply on  taking my City2City half marathon of 1:25:28 which predicted a shade under 3 hours and adding 10 minutes for the hills and the debut. In hindsight that was aggressive and even from 10km which I got to in 46:30 I was never in with a shout.

The route climbed up to about 23km and then it was the final gentle part of the course down to 28km before climbing back up to Nasrec and the finish. By 28km I was actually only about 1 min off target time, getting there in just over 2:07. Then the climbing began gently to the moment of my demise. I still remember feeling good at 30km, again thinkng to myself, 2:18 on the clock, you've done well now coast home in an hour for the last 12km and get in a good 3:20.

So here is the route. That first 30km was testing, but in reality was easier than any of my three 30km plus runs. The difference of course was pace, ~5min/km versus at 30km 4:34/km, and mentality. In my long runs I ran short 9km loops where I was never more than 5km from home as the crow flies so in reality I could pull out when I wanted to. Here I was in the heat of battle. My legs were tired, my head was turned.

Did I hit the wall?

I don't know. I never saw spots, was never too weak to stand or keep moving, didn't cramp, my mind just simply disconnected from my body. My half marathon PB is at a pace of 4:03 so, ~4:34 pace was not too hot but of course these are novice legs. It was all in my head. Many guys around me were hurting. We were laughing with the locals. A local lass offered me her hand in marriage if I just ran. I laughed and carried on walking. A guy I was running with earlier came past me slowly, gritting and willed me on. I ran with him for about two minutes and waved him on. At no stage was I incapable of running, my head and my legs were having a personal battle and were deadlocked.

By the time we hit 40km I was fed up. I had taken 18 minutes to get there from 38km, walking the entirety of the 39th kilometer. I mean here I was walking at less than 10min/km. There was a little bit there, I just couldn't tap into it.The 41st kilometers was a 7:30 affair before I finally steadied myself and decided to jog the last kilometer home. In imperial terms it was just under 9 minute/mile pace. My legs were turning, they were going. I saw the start banner and actually accelerated a bit. By the time I turned into the Expo Centre complex, I was actually sub 5min/km running. I heard my father shouting out and I high fived him, turned onto the grass and crossed the line.


It was done. I had been through the wringer but I was a marathoner.


What a mind warp!

When I set myself goals a the start of the year, compared to where I am now they look conservative. My goals were to run sub 45 minute 10km, sub 1:40 half marathon and to finish a marathon. I achieved all three and with the first two, with my personal bests sitting at 39:04 and 1:25:28, completely smashed them. With the marathon, while never committed to a time back then I would have tentatively said 3:45-4:00. So to finish at 3:38:10, 941st and in the top 15% of the field, I am delighted.

But in reality I could finished a lot stronger with a more modest goal, but I guess one always looks at their current ability and says, I can run this now for X distance, I should aim for this for my marathon. With 3,4, or 5 marathons under my belt, I might have got my 3:10, but with these novice legs, I was always in a hiding to nothing. It has barely been 17 months since I took my first tentative steps and struggled to a 40 min 7km jog back in June last year. My total September mileage of 262 km is remarkably enough almost equal to the total I had totaled when I put together those targets for 2012. So despite a spectacular blow out, I am happy. I finished a marathon, something that looked terribly unlikely even in January.

In the aftermath I guess it's safe to say, as a fast marathon I should have aimed lower. A 3:30 pace target was the safer bet. I had dialed into this pace for hours on end in training more so than target marathon pace of 4:30/km. At the latter pace I was always borderline. Things had to go perfectly on the day, which they didn't. But that is the nature of the beast. Training prepares you to push beyond what you do day in day out thus turning a marathon that had been in preparation for 26 weeks including base building would go against my natural competitive spirit.

Would I have enjoyed it more. Probably, who knows. But much of training and racing is to be on the edge striving to get better, stronger, faster.

I'm taking two weeks off now before embarking on my next goal, which is not surprisingly an Autumn marathon next, most likely the Slow Mag Marathon in Benoni. Along the way I hope to finish the year in style by adding to the 8:56 that I have taken of my 10km this calendar year over two races in December so that on the week of 1st January marathon training can begin in earnest.

I did a lot of things right in my training as my intermediate results show but the plan just needs to be fine tuned to get me over that magical last 10km in one stable piece. Time on  legs, midweek longer, longer marathon pace runs. All of this will be thrown into the equation, and this time definitely more realistic goal setting.

Onward to better and faster marathon running!