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.

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