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.


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