Sunday, March 31, 2013

Quarterly Report: The End of a cycle.

This time next week after the completion of the Mazda 10km in Pretoria, I will have completed a full 12 week training cycle. Looking at what I managed to achieve, it's difficult sometimes to believe that I'm only on my second calendar year of training, and have yet to complete two full years since I laced my shoes against in June 2011. Moreover this is only my third complete training program following the 10 week Wally Hayward Half Marathon and 16 week Soweto Marathon programs last year. I squeezed in some (ill-advised) 6 weeks of Lydiard style anaerobic trainng post Soweto that was the stepping stone to the cycle coming to an end now.

In 2012 I had somewhat broad goals that would allowed me to focus on simply getting into the routine of being a runner, but in 2013 I set some very lofty and specific targets. I got a respiratory tract infection last week and then traveled down to Cape Town to support my wife doing her first Two Oceans Ultra Marathon, so weeks 10 and 11 have to put it mildly not gone according to plan. As such it is unlikely that I will meet my intermediate goal at this stage, to break 36:00 for the 10km (and 17:30 for 5km) which is part of a bigger, very stiff annual goal.

Despite being derailed slightly it is fair to say that I have taken huge steps forward as a runner. Coupled with that, I have learnt some of the virtues that will help me achieve that goal, mostly patience. Just because it's written in black and white (mostly digital actually), it doesn't simply follow that my step-by-step idealised progress will progress well idealistically! I've been brought down to earth once or twice both in racing and training, then unexpectedly made a breakthrough!

While I still have the Mazda race to come, I'm not expecting much out of it, so I think this is a good time to take stock of the first quarter of my year thus far.

Training for the most part went really well, barring s bit of ambition that had to be quelled at times, put it down to youthful exuberance! The focus has been on quality so much so that my coach has set no weekly mileage targets. I had to get in a speed session every week, a strength/hill session and an endurance run. The only session I didn't do with great regularity was the hill session and I felt it cost me at stages. My speed sessions and 15km long runs were nailed on mostly week after week. Speed was the focus. The logic was that through the marathon training I had done a fair amount of endurance and also my staple speed session before was tempo runs, but I had never really done any top end stuff. And certainly when I pulled a 64s 400m out of the bag once (before blowing up as the session progressed), and consistently ran 69s 400s to close off a set of 8x400m repeats, the speed had arrived.

How did it it translate into racing. Well I headed into the year having done 37:46 for 10km (official time was 37:34 but I'm sure the time keepers were generous), and from the McCarthy Toyota 10km race, it's been a case of whittling it down. Six 10km races thus far in 2013 have seen 5 PBs, taking my time down in sequence as follows: 37:27 (McCarthy), 37:01 (Tuks Bestmed), 36:50 (Deloitte Pretoria), 36:38 (Om Die Dam) and 36:13 (Bonitas 10km Challenge), so roughly 90s in 10 weeks. The Bonitas 10km Challenge was coastal but I can safely I have yet to feel this added benefit of low altitude  However it was the Saturday after I had got the respiratory tract infection, then co-driven 18 hours to Cape Town from Johannesburg on the Thursday, and then sampled a bit too much craft beer and wine on the Friday. All in all a job well done.

I didn't much of a go on the 5km front. I did two 5km fun runs and both were unfortunately well short of the 5km distance. I did Johnson Crane at the end of January and was actually on track to run under 17:30 having got to 3km at 10:35 and after consolidating to 4km was speeding up nicely to finish but the course was around 400m short. At the Sunrise Baby Monster, I was surprised to see I had run 17:23 on a hellish 5km course but while not as short as Johnson Crane, it was about 250m off. My only other 5km time was an 18:22 at the Ebotse Parkrun, a lovely course that I feel I can run at least 17:45 on, with 60% of the route on grass.

While in the Cape, I finally got in a 8km run and have a PB at this awkward far but not quite 10km distance. I entered the Two Oceans 8km Fun Run on 29th March and even though I still wasn't quite 100% managed a surprisingly quick 29:01, good enough for 7th place. Had I not had to ask for directions entering the UCT Rugby Fields and then mistaking the first banner as the finish line, a good sub 29 was on the cards! Since getting sick and then not running as much, my knee has been niggly and I even had to cut an attempted tempo run short on the tuesday. So with that in mind, I won't even berate myself for those two lapses in concentration that cost me a 28:5x for the distance.

So where to now? In some ways these last two weeks have left me a little bit deflated in that even though I ran two great times for 10km and 8km, I haven't been training or racing for that matter at close to peak performance. After Mazda, I have entered the Slow Mag Half Marathon, the anniversary of my first half so I just had to do it! I have done some 15km and one 18km run, and I'll probably squeeze in at least 15km this coming weekend. I'm not going to put pressure on myself for a time there but I would love to break my PB, 1:25:28. I think had these last two weeks gone as planned, I would have aimed to flirt with that 1:20 mark!

Thereafter, I'm going to go for one last push at the 10km. There is a lovely 10km race in Pretoria, the Jakaranda Centre 10km that I did last year and I remember it as a flat fast route though I did it as an easy recovery run. This year it's penciled in for 11th May, so after Slow Mag, I have 4 weeks to the race and will give it one final big push, with only the Colgate 15km on 5th May which I will use as a long speed endurance run. The Jakaranda will be the one where I gun for a 35:xx time.

Then I will probably do the RAC Sweat Shop/Asics 10km the following weekend and take the remainder of   May off, 2 weeks, before launching into some base training once we return from Durban where my wife will have completed her first Comrades!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Race Reports: Kosmos 3-in-1 and Om Die Dam, weekends of contrasting fortunes

These past two weekends have taught the value of respecting a course. The theme of the story is contrasting fortunes. I ran two races, the Kosmos 3-in-1 10km  (planned) and the Om Die Dam 10km (unplanned). One race was at 17:00, the other at 6:30. One race had an elevation of 100m, the other 52m. One race was hot and the other was run in perfect distance running conditions. The combination of those conditions that produced the better result is somewhat obvious but perhaps brings to mind how rigid we runners are sometimes both in training and particularly racing. We have to hit the splits in training, be it interval training, hill repeats tempos, or that long run at 30s/km slower than anticipated marathon day. On race day we have our strategies imprinted in our memories, and now our watches can beep when we go too fast and when we go to slow, or we have pace bands that gives up times of arrival at various splits. It can be very exhausting sometimes! I find myself doing some pretty nifty number crunching while turning my legs on race day.

Late last week, Runners World (US) posted a very interesting piece on how the Kenyans approach their training. These are by far the dominant athletes in the distance running world and by all accounts training and racing, while very serious is done in a less calculated manner that one would think. The article even suggested that finishing a work out (or a race for that matter) in a prescribed intensity is not always the attempted result. These runners push themselves to the brink. And it makes sense, within reason of course. If one is to push outside their boundaries, surely it stands to reason that the carefully constructed plan should be put aside occasionally? And sometimes, as I learned, one needs to hold by slightly and accept sometimes that some days aren't meant from ground breaking performances.

Kosmos 3-in-1

To go back to the list of conditions I put up earlier, this race was the 17:00, 52m elevation gain and HOT. Typically armed with that knowledge this was a race where I would have targeted a very strong performance but this was a day when the custodians of racing when on hand to dish out some valuable lessons. From the start it was probably not going to be a day for fast racing.

The Kosmos 3-in-1 event is unique in that it gives athletes the opportunity to really extend themselves in their quest to test out their abilities to endure. On the menu is a marathon for breakfast, served at 6:00. For lunch is a half portion and for a light dinner is a brisk 10km. All in all runners would take on the entire feast complete 73.3km. And for the many the breaks in between make the whole ordeal endeavour even more challenge; rhythm is something all runners value.

While 2013 is about specialisation for me, my wife is training for her first Comrades Ultramarathon this year, and the Kosmos 3-in-1 would a valuable indicator of her staying power. Thus it meant when she woke up at 3:00 to get ready for the marathon, awake I did too. Typically waking up at 3:00 before a race is no big deal for me but with 14 hours until the start of my race it was to be a long day, spent waiting and trying to keep fresh and ready.

That is not to suggest I was bored or troubled. Outside of that 30 odd minutes I was running, Kosmos was a reminder of all that I love about running. The were a number of fellow Kudus club members at the event, and spending time with club members and cheering them on was quite something. Supporting my wife as she took this big challenge was the most important part of the event, completing all three events with plenty to spare. As such I would not change any part of the day.

Except the weather!

The marathon had some amazing weather. Overcast for the most part, with a bit of drizzle early on. However about halfway through the marathon the sun peaked through the clouds and it got hot very quickly. By the time the half marathon got underway it was well over 30°C. Come the 10km things had not improved much from that point possibly down to around 28°C. I vaguely the announcer at the start saying something in that region, though with my poor Afrikaans skills I could be wrong.

I had hoped to run in the region of 36:30 having heard how flat the course could be. Indeed I started of briskly hitting the first kilometre board in 3:35 or so. But that was as good as it got. Thereafter fatigue hit my legs immediately and by the 3rd kilometre I felt like I was fighting to maintain pace despite the relative lack of steep climbing. There was really one steep climb, after 7km going through the 8km mark and just before 9km. I was surprised in the moment how much I was struggling. I would glance at the Garmin periodically and would never see the pace much faster than 3:45/km no matter how much I pushed.

I was so relieved to get to the end. The race finishes on the Lake Umuzi waterfront and it's a twisty ending. I had some experience of it already, having entered in and continued a fine club tradition of winning the 2km fun run! This time I crossed the line, a bit disappointed to have run 38:32. This time was slower than the Old Year's race in December, and was my slowest 10km since Tom Jenkins where I had run 40:52, and was over a minute slower than McCarthy Toyota despite a far nicer route. On the other hand I finised 12th in the race and was in the top 10 till almost 8km when I got passed by two runners.

As the week progressed and speaking to various people, I accepted to take the rough with the good. I had a race plan and stuck rigidly to it. It didn't cost me anything. That was my 6th consecutive sub 39 10km, crazy when I think I broke 45 minutes for 10km for the first time less than 12 months ago!

Om Die Dam

So the following week heading down to Haartbeespoort to run Om Die Dam, my confidence was a bit low. At least training had gone well, a session of 400m sprints aiming for 72s and doing, 72, 73, 71, 71, 69, then a tempo run with 5km aiming for 3:48/km and returning splits of 3:47, 3:49, 3:49, 3:46, 3:46. Those session were sandwiched by an easy run where I comfortably ran at ~4:35 pace. Still there was this nagging feeling from the weekend before that this period of improvement had run it's course. Since the two easy weeks that I had after Soweto, I have been at it for 17 weeks, with two further easy weeks over New Years to recharge. For a relative novice it's been a challenging and prolonged period and pretty soon it would be time to ease off and do something different. Had that time arrived already.

Once again we were at the Dam because my wife was doing the 50km event. It turned out to be one umarathon/ulltra too many for her but she got confirmation of her staying power, finishing a difficult sounding race, which bodes well for the Big C in June!

Conditions at 6:30 were just right for racing! Cool, overcast and no wind to speak off. The start was congested and I almost got into trouble with some big guys doing the half for being eager in my attempts to get round them but I got out of there safely and got into a nice rhythm. I got to the first kilometre in 3:32 on my watch but unlike Kosmos that biting feeling in my legs didn't come. We ran down to about 2km, the poor 50km ultra runners would climb up this furious hill to finish their race! As sadistic as finishes come. Our route flattened out to 4km and I was feeling as good as I have in any race. The kilometre marks, despite being similar with watch for the first 2km deviated a lot as I apparently put in some 4:00/km+ splits despite not feeling like I was slowing down.

At 4km I did feel my pace slow a bit. The pull didn't seem that hectic to me until I pulled out the route profile after the race, 75m elevation gain over ~3km.

Om Die Dam
My splits on the Garmin for that stretch, were 3:42, 3:51 and 4:03. The boards disappeared after 5km so I have no recollection of where I was in relation to official markings. I had at this stage given up on a PB but hoped to run well inside 38 and after the last water point, with 3km to go I started to pick up my pace.

Much of this period is a blur I vaguely remember seeing a 2km mark on the road (Om Die Dam distance markers show how much is left) and my time just under 30:00. I really went for it. There was one more climb as we went past the start again and climbed briefly before heading into the finish, the grass track at Haartbeespoort High School where we ran almost a full lap, my time was in the 35s at this stage and I ran as hard as I could and crossed the line in 36:38 on my watch, a new PB!

Numericaly speaking this was one of the tougher of the routes that I have run and a good PB shows that perhaps there is still a bit more to come. That during the run I didn't feel like it was challenging is a good sign too.

There's a few more races to come. It's Two Oceans in less than 2 weeks and while in Cape Town I will try to get a race in, and then the last planned 10km is the Mazda 10km race on 6 April. That race is one when I'm going to throw caution to the wind (within reason) and just try and thrash my legs as much as can.


Monday, March 4, 2013

A Measure Of Progress (and some race reports)

Every sport out there has some kind of measure of improvement that one can strive for. For runners it's as simple as running further or faster or further faster. That's part of the thrill of entering races, even for the 99% of us who are not at the sharp end of the field competing for podiums and prize money. We still compete but with our past selves. While runners tend to be non-committal when asked about times for races, often getting a response like, "oh that last 10km, it was about 40!", that runner is probably completing the time in their head, "40 minutes and 34 seconds!". In the last 18 months I have run 29 races and more than my PBs, I can remember every time I ran to the second!

The thing about racing though is that the components that make up your run and result in that finishing time are many and varied. The course and the altitude are fixed variables, then the weather is critical and unpredictable, then dealing with other people *cough* walkers pushing right to the front *cough* and you the runner, something as silly as substituting the usual morning snack can wreak havoc. With that in mind, comparing races simply by time alone can be deceiving. As I read in this Men's Health article interviewing the likes of Hendrick Ramaala, a personal best is not always a best performance which in turn is not always a maximum performance. I remember last year while training for Soweto Marathon, running a 39:39 PB for the Zwartkop 10km race at the end of July. It was not ideal. I was late for the starrt (which thankfully was delayed to accommodate those stuck in traffic), then I was conservative at the beginning, I didn't have a pocket so I ran with car keys in hand and at 8km  I dropped them and had to backtrack, and it took a huge effort from there to recover and break 40 min for the first time. Then a few weeks later I ran 42:05 at the Castle Walk 10km. The latter was a long way off my personal best but it was by far the better performance. The course was incredibly hilly and it was so cold I had tights, gloves and a beanie on.

So while I have improved  my running a heck of a lot, without being able to control for some variables at least, the geek in me has been looking for a solid quantitative measure of progress. 

And on 23 February I got it. 

At the start of 2012 I had been pretty down about running, up to the end of February I had run once, contemplated giving up on it completely but decided to lace up my shoes one last time and headed out to my Run/Walk for Life branch in Benoni one weekend. The following weekend I was out in Pretoria and my wife was doing the Deloitte Pretoria half marathon so I went along and entered the 10km. To my surprise I ran 45:44 which was quite a big PB at that time. Now a year later I was lined up at the start of the same race, in a very different space and in very different condition. I wasn't even supposed to be doing the race but my father was entered for the 10km and was booked off from running with bronchitis so I took on his entry.

Recapping a close call

The previous weekend I had done the Bestmed Tuks Race having heard it's a fast course. I went there under the guise of doing it as a training run, 2km warm up, 6km at tempo pace, 2km cool down. But once we got underway I was sucked into the event as I spotted some big names towing the start. Indeed at the 1km mark two very familiar looking Nedbank elite females came striding past, it was the Kalmer sisters!

The Bestmed Tuks race was a deceptive little tease, It was predominantly down for about 3km and then what followed was almost 5km of predominantly gradual but still brisk uphill running. I had gone through 3km in 10:40 but it was difficult to maintain that pace. I went through 5km in 18:10 and while I was keeping my pace better than 4:00 min/km I was a lot closer to it that 3:30 min/km. By 8km it was 29:30 or so and at 9km my time was 33:20. My legs were beat and I was overtaken by a few guys finishing strong. When we turned on to the track at LC De Villiers I tried to sprint for the line as it dawned on my that while a PB was a certainty I could slip under 37:00 but alas it was not to be. The sprint did not materialize and I finished in 37:01, still a 26s improvement on my time from McCarthy two weekends before.

Measuring Progress

So standing at the start of the Deloitte Pretoria 10km, I was a bit fatigued to be honest and during my warm up my legs still had that dead feeling from the end of the Bestmed Tuks race. Training had not gone too well either. I had done a session of 6x600s on the Tuesday and though it was hot I never felt in control and my form deteriorated rapidly. On Thursday I had done a time trial and while it was my second best time on the course again from about 3km I faded and was almost down to about HM pace at the end. Again the weather was a contributor though could not explain everything. I was working too hard for my own good.

Once the gun went and the mad stampede at this huge race, with 3500 finishers, has subsided the rhythm and groove returned. The 10km shares the first 3km with the marathon and half marathon so from point to point to that mark is uphill running. Indeed while I have been hitting 3km in my last few 10km races well under 11:00, here I got to the mark in 11:20 but I knew the course got faster, with the occasional pull, as the race progressed. I got to the 5km mark in 18:35 so my splits were under 3:40 min/km which is were I had to be racing at.

The next two splits were fast as well, in the mid 3:30s and I got to 7 k  in about 25:50. From there it was a war of attrition and a bit of a mental ding dong, with two short but surprising challenging climbs. It was probably more that it was so late in the race but I did start to struggle a bit and had to work really hard. By 8km I was uncomfortably close to the 30:00 mark, the doubt was creeping in and the next split was even slower as I hit 9km in around 33:35 give or take a second or two.

I could feel that it would be Tuks all over again but I also knew there was a nice downhill section coming up and I was really starting to get the stride rate up again. As we got to the entrance of Phobians the venue, with clock at 35:50 odd and maybe 250-300m to go I put in the sort of kick that I didn't know I possessed. Going round the grass my pace picked up and I crossed the line under 37, my offical time 36:50!!!
The Deloitte Pretoria 10km Course Profile
I was ecstatic. While there wer only 11 seconds in it, I think I ran a lot better here than I did at Tuks, or McCarthy for that matter. I've been going out way to fast, close to 35:00 10km pace, and while that's where I want to be at the end of the year I'm not even close right now and fading at the end of races tells me that. Deloitte was tougher than Tuks and about on a par with McCarthy so overall it was definitely a better performance.

And on the subject of progress. A year on year improvement of 8:54 is the figure and one that really puts into perspective just how far I have come in the last year. It's also an inspiration to keep working hard and keeping knocking down the times. Tough it's getting more and more difficult to find places to improve, I raced three times over 10km in February setting a PB each time, bringing the time down from 37:34 to 37:27, 37:01 and finally 36:50.

This coming weekend I head down to Secunda for the Kosmos 3-in-1 event. My wife is doing the full 73.3km but I'll be racing at 17:00 for the 10km just hoping for more of the same.

There's a first time for everything

Just briefly, this weekend was the Sunrise Monster in Pretoria. I ended up registering for the Baby Monster, the 5km fun run and even though it's a baby it was still a monster. It was just short of 5km, as I went round the course in 17:23 though after passing the 4km mark in 15:00, I know it's unlikely I put in a 2:23 final kilometre despite being in great shape and striding with purpose to the finish.

The great part of the race is that I won!!! It was a fun so the speedsters were torturing themselves on the Mini Monster but I'll take it. I've finished second in two fun runs, the Mazda 5km and the Johnson Crane Fun Run which was also just shy of 5km so it was great to have the exprience of crossing the line with the entire field behind me. The Garmin measure 4.75km  and with ~1% error I was on track for around 18:10, only 21s or so adrift of my 5km PB, which would have been great on these hills. Though it must be noted we didn't even make it as far as the infamous Loveday Street!

I'm actually getting a bit miffed with these short races now as I am in the shape to run faster than 17:49 and genuinely believe I can run 17:15 for 5km. At Johnson in January, which measured at ~4.6km I might have run 17:25 on a full course. I had gone through 4km in 14:05. I guess and understand that if it's a fun run there really is no obligation to measure out exactly 5km as there are no official results. With that in mind though perhaps it should just be labeled as a fun run and no distance, just a guarantee it will be shorter than the 10k event. Parkruns aside, the Take 5 relay and the Asics 5km at the end of the year are the only 5km events I know of that are guaranteed to be the exact distance so I might have to wait for one of  those to get an official shot at the PB