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

No comments:

Post a Comment