Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 in Review: The Year I Ran!

I can sum up 2012 simply with the following two sentences:

On 25 February I ran a personal best 45:44 for 10 km at the Deloitte Pretoria Race.
On 8 December I ran a personal best 37:34 for 10 km at the Great Run Challenge Series Race

An improvement of over eight minutes in 9 ½ months that I just never saw coming. Of course quite a bit happened in between, lots of training, joy, struggles, and heck even a marathon, but the story needs to go back at least 6 months.
Thanks to my borderline OCD when it comes to logging workouts and the memory bank that is Facebook Timeline, the sheer haphazardness of my 2011 became apparent. I thought I had put in a decent shift at least in the second half of the year when I made the commitment to run after supporting at Comrades, but just 345 km and swathes of empty weeks told their own story. Two 10 km races and PB of 48:00 was something to work off, but 2012 became a make or break year. Even in my school years of forced participation running was always a hit or miss affair and my adherence to training was always mediocre.

At the start of 2012, the buzzword was surely consistency. A consequence of consistency would be that I would run a lot more, but to get there I would need realistic but challenging goals to guide me. When I set my goals for 2012, I had already embarked on the first week of a half marathon training program so that was my starting point. My PB of 48:00 for 10 km predicted a half marathon time a shade slower than 1:45 but to push myself I set the target to 1:40. My goals for the year were set as follows
  • ·         Half Marathon: sub 1:40
  • ·         10km: sub 45:00
  • ·         Finish a marathon

These goals, particularly the final one would really test my limits. Despite running sub 50:00 for the 10 km I had yet to finish the distance without resorting to a run/walk strategy for the second half of a race. Added to that was the fact that I had never run further than 10 km in a race or in training.

The quest got off to a spectacular start! I had a 10 km ‘fitness barometer’ race scheduled at the end of the first week of my 10 week half marathon program. Off-training over the festive period had turned into a long hiatus and by mid-February I had put in a solitary awful 7 km. So the race, the aforementioned Deloitte Pretoria Race, would give me an idea of how ambitious/crazy I was being. Despite once again having to employ a run/walk strategy I was surprised to run that big PB that set the ball rolling.

The half marathon training program introduced me to elements of a complete program that I may have neglected in the past. It incorporated a lot of easy running, something I was rubbish at, interval training, fartleks, still my favourite the tempo run and the introduction of long runs. My first ‘long’ run was 10km at 5:45 pace and it was an absolute blast. Even time wise, I had never run that long before and it was a confidence booster. The long run was extended week on week. While the tempo run was me in my element, there’s something about running comfortably hard, the track sessions were destroying me. I ended up doing most of my speed as fartleks on the road instead.

Throughout the course of the program I felt myself getting stronger though not necessarily faster. In March I ran another 10 km on a hilly course and ran outside my PB but a respectable 46:20. But I had a break through moment in early April when I did a 10 km tempo/time trial. I ran through the whole way and matched the 46:20 I had run, and for the first time didn’t feel shattered at the end. I spent the following week in Cape Town and had a second moment, my 16 km long run, done along the beach front in Muizenberg and it was the first time that I really felt like I had made progress and would get through a half marathon. I never once felt tired, didn’t need to stop for water and even my gel. I saw the most gorgeous sunrise and had waves crashing beneath for much of the run. I returned to Benoni, with the first inkling that I could and would succeed with the half marathon.

I had picked the Wally Hayward race to end my 10 week program on but my debut half marathon actually came earlier. Staying in Benoni, the Slow Mag marathon took place two weeks earlier and my rubber arm was gently twisted and I decided to do the race as a long run. I had planned to run 19km that day anyway so an extra 2 km did not seem like a big deal. The first  5 km was innocently done at marginally faster than training pace ~5:15/km but by 10km my average pace was under 5:00/km as I got into the spirit of the event and decided to race it anyway. It was the third wow moment of the year. I finished off the race in 1:38:42, well within my 1:40 target and actually ran sub 45:00 for the 10-20 km portion. I had never felt that strong before in a race! Two and half weeks later, I crushed that PB further running 1:35:01 at Wally Hayward. Wally was almost a perfect race, with each 5 km split faster than the preceding one. And the famed sting in the tail did not break me.

Goal #1 achieved.

While still giddy and on the PB train, I entered a 10 km race just 4 days after Wally Hayward, knowing that in both the two half marathons I had run, I had broken the 45 min mark in the 10-20 km portion. The route for the Jackie Mekler race was fast with some hills, and I was still fatigued from the half marathons but I really dug in deep and smashed my 10 km PB and the 45 minute barrier, running 42:38.

Goal #2 achieved.

This left me with 26 weeks to my target marathon. I picked, despite reservations from a number of people, the Soweto Marathon. I won’t rehash all of the details as I posted enough about it; suffice to say it was a tough endeavour. I needed to go through it though. This year was about commitment and pushing myself. Marathons and the training are not for the faint hearted and I learnt going through one particularly tough episode where I almost quit. Oddly at the end of that week, I ran a PB for 10 km, 39:04 at the Wanderers Challenge! While PBs fell all round, I ran 17:49 for 5 km, I cracked sub 40 10 km and sub 90 for the half twice for both distances, just being able to go out and run for 3 hours was something I never thought I would be able to do. The marathon itself was a chastening experience but I’m glad I gave it a good go and I’m proud of my 3:38:10 finish.

I finished a marathon dammit!

Goal #3 achieved.

That is not where it ends of course and I have already looked forward to 2013 and there are bigger better plans in the pipeline, the subject of another blog post.

But before jumping ahead, there were still 8 weeks left after Soweto Marathon and while I had promised myself some time off, I really couldn’t stay away and managed all of 4 days of no running and within two weeks I was lining up at the start line of a race, the Kolonnade Retail Park 10 km which resulted in a 38:22 PB! Three weeks later that PB would prove to be short lived as I improved that further by running 37:34 at the Great Run Challenge Series II race at Weskoppies. My final race of the year was the Old Year's Race on 29 December where I managed my third fastest 10 km time, 38:24, in incredibly testing conditions, with the temperature at the start being a body melting 32°C despite the 17:00 start. 

What the last 8 weeks of the year revealed to me, and a hint of what’s in store for 2013, was how much I really enjoyed racing short and fast. And while getting to the end of a 42.2 km race is the standout moment of the year for me, I’m really proud of my 10 km running. Throughout the year I improved my time for the distance from 2011 by over 10 minutes or more than 20%!

As I said at the beginning part of running consistently would have the knock on effect of me simply running more. My tally for the year stands at 2079 km, a weekly average of 40 km with a peak of 82 km, a monthly average of 173 km with a peak of 262 km. The marathon aside my longest run was 33km and 3:11 for time on the road. Racing was also a big feature of my year, collecting 21 medals, a fair chunk of them silver medals. 

The 2012 Medal Bounty!
The standout points for the year for me are as follow:
  • A 17:49 5km PB
  • 1:25:28 PB for the half marathon
  • 37:34 PB for 10km, five sub 40 runs and 6 PBs
  • Finishing a marathon!

After such an overwhelmingly successful and consistent 2012, here’s to an even better, more focused and even more specific 2013!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Almost the Perfect 10!

Post-marathon running has been all about chilling out and letting my legs do what they enjoy. That means (relatively) low mileage and high intensity. My biggest week thus far has been 54km, the longest run mo more than 15km and my average run is in the region of 8-9km. Looking at my dailymile profile another major change is the average pace of my runs which has has dropped from ~5:00/km at the peak of my marathon training phase to under 4:30/km. It's still hard work but honestly I love it! This is just so different from the (relatively) slow high volume training I did for over three months. I'm rarely out for more than 40 minutes, I work up a sweat and I feel energised after each workout.

Last week was a revelatory week for me, that wonderful feeling when you work through something in training, and struggle a bit but come race day, the moment to deliver, everything clicks.

One kilometre at a time

This past Tuesday so the return of my favourite track workout, 1km repeats. I don't know what it is about the session but 5 x 2.5 laps of a standard 400m track is the sort of workout that challenges my resolve yet remains completely and always attainable. It takes me a while to get inot 400m reps while mile reps are just too long, 800m comes close, but 1km hits the sweet spot. Right now I'm not too fazed by what pace I do them in. I'm concentrating on even effort and good form. I find it hard to work off a pace target right now because I haven't reached any kind of peak or plateau phase. I also respond well to speed training so find that week on week, my comfort level can shift dramatically.

1km Interval Time  Recovery (600m)
1 03:30.8 02:46.1
2 03:23.4 02:38.3
3 03:22.4 02:50.3
4 03:22.7 03:01.6
5 03:23.7 -
Average 03:24.6 02:49.1

The first interval was just me getting into the swing of things but I felt good so decided to push a bit harder on the next four. I was really happy with my consistency, and that was I able to hit 81/82s laps without straining too much. The fourth and fifth intervals were tough but I maintain the pace. This session really hit home how much I have improved this year. Early in May I did a session of 1km repeats, where I couldn't even do the 5th and I was hitting around 3:53-3:56. Seven months later I have managed to average 3:25 for the same session off shorter rest, less than 3 minutes compared to 5 minutes then

Special Blocks

I have this morbid fascination with elite athletes and their training, where even though I know I will never train like them I don't think it hurts to apply some of their principles to my own training. The best in the business are Kenyans, so I have been looking to them for some inspiration. Something I came across was doing special blocks to simulate the demands of a race without sabotaging your training by doing the whole event. The principle is more applicable to marathon training but I tried it with my 10km training. 

Thursday is my double up day, I usually do a hard session in the morning and a recovery run in the afternoon. Last week I instead did my tempo as usual in the morning and ran my 5.2km run as a hard effort. In the morning I did 5km of hard running at target race pace and added to the afternoon effort made up ~10km at race pace.

The morning session was tougher than I expected, a combination of the warm weather, the monotony of lap running and the fact that I did it on grass. My 5km effort was in 18:46, 3:45/km, bang on target! The afternoon session was better, out on the road, and I hit 5km in 18:33 before easing back to the end. So my combined 10k m effort was 37:19.

The trick of course is to put those sessions together come 29 December.

Race Day: Great Challenge Series 10km

I'm working off a 3 week cycle, repeated twice, with the goal at the end of the six weeks to hit around 37:30 for 10km. So I did the Kolonnade 10km 3 weeks ago to see where I was post-marathon, and the Great Challenge 10km fell neatly into my three week cycle. I had heard the course was fast but tough, like Tom Jenkins a flat course with one steep climb thrown into the mix.

To be honest while I was hoping to break my 38:22 PB from Kolonnade, I wasn't expecting to run much faster, my goal was to be between 3:48 to 3:50 pace, good for 38:00 to 38:20. And of course that tough but fast description really had me scratching my head, but as you can see from the course profile it is actually completely accurate:

That's what a tough but fast course looks like!
Unlike the past two races where I ended up bogged in the pack. I positioned myself in the second row at the start and got off to a good start. The pace at the beginning was hot! I found myself around some speedy looking runners but I was feeling comfortable. Another than the short climb at the beginning it was plain sailing but I was worried about the pace and tried to settle down. I was through 2km in 7:00, and 3km in 10:35 and then calmed down a bit to go through 4km in 14:23! 

Then we climbed. And we climbed. And we climbed. It was a solid kilometre and suddenly I was through 5km in 19:04 after a 4:41 split. There was still a bit more mild climbing to the turnaround point, before the descent. You generally think you can make up time but even though I cruised back down the hill, my little legs can only turn so fast, and my return split for the 7th km was a 3:28 according to the Garmin, not much time gained back! 

I didn't pay too much attention to my splits as I hurtled back down the monster hill, but I hit 8km in 29:54, which would have been a PB for the distance, and as my thighs started to burn I just focused as I did during the speed sessions before in just maintaining good form and effort. Even a couple of 4:00/km splits would get me through and I pushed hard, but wishing for the end! And as I ran past the timekeepers and stopped my clock I was alarmed to see the time!


I was really blown away by the time. I know I am in the best shape of my life, I can feel it in training but I wasn't expecting to run a time like this just three weeks in, and only five weeks out from that first marathon. The special blocks was tough and I was still thinking three weeks down the line to get into the 37s.

My dad always tells me that if the last two kilometres are not challenging then I haven't raced hard enough, so I know I really gave it everything. Additionally I managed to negative split the race, 19:04 and 18:42, so it was well paced too despite me thinking I had gone out too hard!

Breaking into the 37s also took my cumulative tally of improvements over 10km to more than 10 minutes for the calendar year. The tally now stands at 10:14 or 21% improvement. I know this rate is unsustainable and in fact since breaking into sun 40s, I have dropped two minutes over 6 months, while the previous three months saw me drop more than 3 minutes. Minutes will become seconds will become parity but I hope to carry on into 2013 still chipping away.

So looking forward, the goal for the Cid to Cid Old Year's 10km on 29 December is still 37:30 (3:45/km or 16km/hour) as my A goal. If things go well on the day I would love to try for a sub 6:00/mile pace, which is 37:11 or faster as a B goal. Otherwise just another PB to end what has really been an awesome year!

EDIT: Official results are finally out for the Great Run 10km, 37:34 for 23rd place!