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!

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