Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back to 5: A Rare Parkrun and Johnson Crane Fun Run

As my 2013 program is starting to shift through the gears, I've been very eager to test myself and see just what improvements if any I have gained in the last 3 weeks or so of full on training. My goal for the next three months is simply to run faster at 10km than I ever have. My overall goal for the year as I said before is a sub 35:00 10km. To continue to train at high intensity for the duration of the year until the goal is achieved would be sheer folly, so my program now involves racing once a month until the first weekend of April and training consistently for the preceding weeks, sharpening the necessary tools I require. So that means speedwork in the form of fast repetitions, hill training in the form of long hills and short sprints to improve my stamina, form and strength and maintenance of endurance by continue to run above distance once a week. The mission here is specificity, a 30km long run will get me nothing here so my session have been selected with the goal race in mind. In particular the repetitions not only improve my form and leg speed etc, my consistently running faster than race pace, when I line up on the start line, that pace should feel considerably easier and the hills and longish run will take of helping me last the distance.

Great in theory, but before my first 10km  race I have been eager to just feel my way around a race to see how I was getting along. Two weekends ago I manged to attend the closest parkrun to me at Ebotse. I did the course once before sometime in the middle of Soweto training as a breather from the long stuff and put in a respectable 19:57. This time, with the shackles of high volume training thrown off I was able to put in a good performance running my second fastest 5km, finishing in 18:22. This was interesting to me because while my PB is 17:49 for the distance I have frankly never looked like coming close to it and I was starting to believe that it was a once off performance. But of course to nail my goal for the year I would have to not only match that time but probably start heading into the low 17s and high 16s. The Ebotse course is approximately 3km on grass and as I have learnt from doing my speed sessions on a cricket oval, grass is kind on the joint but is was more taxing than an all weather track or the road. So I had good reason to believe that on a similarly flat course on the road I could run a good time for 5km.

The opportunity came around this past weekend at the Johnson Crane race, a big affair with an estimated 6000 runners doing the various events from a 1km kiddies to the marathon. With my wife doing the half marathon I would be at the venue, Old Benonians, so I entered the 5km. The marathon and half marathon went off first and 30 minutes later, the 10.5km, quarter marathon and 5km would be off. I was to see a legend of South African running Frith van de Merwe also toeing the start, she was ultimately the first veteran female in the 10.5km.

As the gun went off I was honestly unsure how to run the race. A 10km I typically try and restrain myself, but with only 5000 metres, I didn't apply the brakes much. The start was frenetic and I was sucked into a pace that I knew I would be difficult to sustain, so I did sit back a little and try and pick off people in front of me. In a blur the 1km board came past and I checked my watch, 3:25, yikes. By this stage I had calmed down and was in a nice rhythm, long but quick strides (at least that's how I imagined a spectator would describe it). The 2km board came round and it was 6:50 odd, the Garmin would show 6:57, and it was spot on with the boards distance wise. The 10.5km runners would split with us at the 3km point which came just after a water point. As I do in short races I skipped it  and checked my time, 10:34 or something like.

Suddenly the crowd thinned out to the point where I could see no one in front of me. I looked back and just the water point disappearing in front. Eventually after about a minute or so, I saw the lead car up ahead and a runner clad in Nedbank runners just behind. I just focused in keeping him in my sights and I was surprised that I felt strong. There were no more distance marking so I just kept on going, and as Old Bens came into view just pushed harder. 

I stopped the clock and was a bit alarmed to see it at 16:09 and then the realization that route was a fair bit short. The Garmin had measured 4.62km. It was spot on up to 2km at least and certainly not far off at the 3km mark so that was close to the correct distance. Working back 16:09 is 3:30/km pace and I was feeling really strong so anywhere from 17:25-17:30 was possible on the day.

At the end of the day, I think I got exactly what I wanted out of the exericise, other than a new 5km PB! I raced hard and got a meaningful guage of how my training is going. My PB for 10km at the moment stands at 37:34 which predicts a 5km time of around 18:05. So to have finished close to 5km in race conditions at 3:30/km it means my speed has improved. 

Next weekend is the first of three goal 10km races, the McCarthy Toyota race at Rietondale Park. The Old Years race that I did last year in scorching heat started from the same venue. I feel a lot better now having put myself to the test at shorter race distances that I can have a good race which will hopefully end in a new 10km PB. Certainly whatever happens I feel like the building blocks are being put into place and there's a lot of improvements to come as the season progresses.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What's in store for 2013: Back to Basics

Five weeks after the Soweto Marathon, I had an epiphany. Immediately after the marathon, after moping, acceptance then combing through every detail of the race I decided that I had a score to settle. I've been told by some of my friends that I am borderline obsessive with my approach to training, and while I can become a slave to the details, I have been assured by folks who know more about this sort of thing that my training was not at fault. And in reality neither was it my race strategy. I was simply carrying a huge debt from my inexperience, an aerobic deficit, a lack of physical strength and mental toughness, all of which gets honed with time and application. Talking to other runners, there is often a period of very difficult marathon running, followed by dramatic improvements in marathon times as one finds their level.

So with that in mind, I spent my week off running by going through my training, brushing up on my theory and constructing a plan to work through my deficit. More mileage, a midweek long run, long tempo runs and incorporating more marathon pace efforts with the weekend long run and so on. I also committed to an autumn marathon.

In the meanwhile, I went back to (relatively) low mileage and high intensity training, just sharpening up, and a diet of 10km races, three of them in the space of 6 weeks to close the year off. The first of these, the Kollonade Retail Park race was entered on a bit of a whim. I expected a decent time on the flattest 10km race I had run all year but was still pleasantly surprised to run a 42s PB. This was followed by three weeks of consistent training, intervals, a tempo run and a relatively hard 15km 'long' run. The return from this diet was almost immediate as I felt week on week my legs turning faster and faster and my pace stamina rocketing.

And then it happened. Just three weeks later another 48s off my PB on a tougher route at the Great Run Race. It was somewhere along the drive home from that I had my epiphany. I have spent the whole year focused on marathon running, and of course my final ambition is to run Comrades and to get there I have to run further and further. The contrast in both approach and the results in the past three weeks and the 16 weeks to a tough (but still rewarding) marathon could not be more stark. August and September were dark months for me and in hindsight I did not enjoy running as much as I thought I did. And at the moment I thought back to my new program and the idea of more 90km weeks and 35km long runs just didn't fill me with joy. And all for one moment, one shot at the main prize.

My father has tried without luck to convince to forget about marathons for a while, and the word that always pops up is, base, base, base. In other words I just haven't got it and from that respect I'm guaranteed to struggle more that I should. And after the Great Run race I saw the light. I always believed that because results come quickly with the shorter distances that I don't really have to pay too much attention to it and focus on getting better at the endurance stuff. But in reality I should focus on the shorter distances and use the winter break to build that base that I am so obviously lacking.

And that sets the scene for what I want to do with my running in 2013:

  • Run a sub 35:00 10km
  • Run a sub 1:20:00 Half Marathon
Those are big goals but I think from PBs of 37:34 and 1:25:28, those times are achievable. I've improved a heck of a lot in 2012 but even though this will be ~20% of my total gain it might prove to be a lot more challenging since I'm probably closer to some sort of plateau than I was  in 2012. On the other hand, I have never dedicated a significant portion of training to 10km specific workouts, preferring threshold running to the really fast stuff. In essence I feel my training still hasn't been very specific; 2012 was all about getting a feel for consistency, volume and introducing speed training. 2013 will be about specificity and quality, as well as adding non-running workouts and this will hopefully keep the improvement curve going upwards.

My focus in the fast half of the year before the winter off-season will be on 10km. I've picked three races, one each in February, March and April  but I don't necessarily expect to achieve the sub 35:00 then and  won't be disappointed if I don't. After a solid winter of base building (preceded by a month of cross country for something a little bit different) I plan to sink my teeth into a dedicated 10 week half marathon plan ending in early November. That still leaves me with almost two months to wrap up my 10km ambitions. I think it's set up well. The high intensity training and speed improvements will come in handy later in the year and couple with base training will have a knock on effect to both the half marathon goal and any 10km races I do in the second half

This cycle will hopefully be repeated through to the first half of 2015, which will give me four years of solid running and three winters of dedicated base training. 

Then I might think about tackling a spring marathon.