Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Race Report: McCarthy Toyota 10km

A common theme in my running from 2012 was personal best after personal best. I raced 21 times, and excluding first time attempts at 10.5km, 15km, 21km and the marathon, I recorded 11 personal bests in 17 races. According to my father, it was an exercise in inevitability. The six months to the end of 2011 has seen me complete just 345km an average of less than 60km a month and complete just two 10km races and two shorter fun runs. Essentially I was starting from a base so low I was essentially still unstimulated. And then there was the two month break  leading to mid February. So when I started training seriously, the improvement curve was to be expected, and a year is not a very long time for a runner so it was no surprise that in December I was still able to knock almost 50s off a PB I had recorded 3 weeks earlier, even on a technically tougher race. My body was simply responding to continuously increasing stimuli. Inevitable.

The challenge however is how to keep on improving and to curtail the dreaded plateau. It's coming, boy do I know it. I sometimes feel it in training, in my faster workouts where once I could feel improvements week on week which made training at a consistent pace/effort tricky. An improvement cycle of two to four weeks will be four to eight weeks and so on and so on. My father is still certain that after only 18 months of serious training, I have room to maneuver and a lot to tweak in training. From intensity, to volume, to frequency, and adding more structure through periodization, there is a lot to still work. Indeed when I read through programs and training books I do notice how embryonic my training level is in comparison to programs for the sort of times I am able to run. I used to consider my inability to train at high volume, both at easy/long pace and in terms of repetition/interval volume, a disadvantage, but in many ways it might afford me greater flexibility once the plateau starts to set in.

Training has been going well this far in 2013. The primary focus has been on improving top end speed through short fast intervals, so 200s and 400s, and building strength through a mix of short and long hills, all the while maintaining 10km endurance by running easy over distance-long runs. I saw in the last two weeks doing 5km events that the leg speed is there. At 5km level I can go pretty hard without worrying too much about fatigue, and particularly at Johnson Crane where I believe I was on track for at least 17:30, this was obvious.

I was interested in how this had translated to my primary distance the 10km. The plan is over the course of 12 weeks to race a hard effort 10km roughly every four weeks. So that's a minimum of three races leading up to the first weekend of April. The first of these was the McCarthy Toyota 10km in Pretoria on 2nd February. It's a pretty big races and in my head I have always had this impression that it's a fast race hence why I decided to race it with plenty of other races on offer around this time.

Thankfully I was pre-entered this time, something I want to make a habit (but was too late for a t-shirt), and I was able to get to the venue with my brother, also running the 10km with no stress. Warming up has been a critical component of my pre-race preparation and I like to get a good 20 minutes of a mix of easy running and race pace surges in before the start of my race. I usually stop 10 minutes before the start of the race so I need a good half hour before race start to be ready! With the huge numbers expected I actually cut my routine a bit short. The half marathon runners set off 15 minutes before the 10km and I was warming up behind the start, so once the gun I shuffled in behind them to make sure that I had a prime spot close to the front. I had an experience last year where I got boxed in at the start of a race and found myself going at 5min/km for almost 2km when I was aiming for 3:45-3:50 pace, and I had to basically write the race off and use it as a training run.

Once the gun went, the pace was as expected furious up front! I saw a lead female runner who has finished just ahead or just behind me in recent races and tried to keep her in my sights but even that pace was frightening. As we passed the first KM marker my time was just on 3:30. To be honest I had eased off a bit after that first 2 minutes or so and sure enough 2km came along in a more sedate 7:35 and I was more at ease. At this point the course was heading downhill and it was actually a bit disconcerting. I had checked the course out before and it was basically a mirror image, down and up, but I expected a gentle decline. The kilometres sped by thick and fast, at ~3:35/km pace, 3km came by in 10:35, 4km in 14:05 and 5km in 17:45 which is the fastest I have ever run a 5km! And in reality with the downward slope this wasn't hard work yet.

By 5km the course had flattened out and we started to make away back up towards the finish. The term slow poison is reserved for climbs like what followed. Another than two short sections at around 7km and just after 8km it was never overwhelming but just relentless.
McCarthy Toyota 10km Profile
My memory of the splits from 5km is a bit shady but my pace did slow a bit. I remember 6km coming in about 21:35 and 8km in around, 29:45, 9km was at 33:45 and at this stage I was worried the chance of a PB had gone. I put my foot down and just gave it my all. Getting to the finish there was a horde of 5km fun runners coming past and I had to venture off the road and on to grass to avoid them , and despite my best effort I almost missed the entry Rietondale Park. I was almost home and dry and I as I turned and saw the finish banner the official clock was under 37:20 with about 50m to go.
The finish line in sight: I showed my father this picture and his response was "you finally look like an athlete!"
I stopped my clock at 37:25 and my official time was 37:27, a small PB but I think quite a good sign considering the previous time was set on a faster course, despite the 1km climb that was a bit steeper than anything here. At the Great Run race other than an errant 4:30 split I was consistently at or below my overall average pace for all but the 5th and 8th kilometre splits, and the massive drop after the climb allowed me to post a ~3:20/km split as well!

The Great Run course profile where I had run my previous 10km PB
So here's what the Garmin recorded pace wise, remembering these devices almost always measure long, also with runners not following the ideal racing line.

A solid collection of splits!
Overall I'm really happy with how the race went. I hadn't race a 10km since the end of December and I was feeling nervous and a bit rusty. It's often difficult to gauge from training how a race will go, but my decent outing at the truncated Johnson Crane 5km was a sign that I was heading in the right direction. As I've learned one cannot simply extrapolate a performance from in particular a shorter distance to a longer one. You've got to get into the mix. A PB and 32nd out of 3122 finishers is more than I was expecting.

I still a have bit of racing to come. Key races in the future are the 10km at the Kosmos 3 in 1 event  at Lake Umuzi on 9th March and the Mazda 10km on 6th April. The former is an afternoon race and that area even in March can be notoriously hot so I'm hoping the conditions are a bit more favourable. The latter will be my last 10km for a good while and I hope it's as flat and fast as the 2012 race was. I did the 5km there last year, breaking 20 min for the first time. Kosmos was a massive 5 weeks from the McCarthy race so in the interim I have also entered the Bestmed Tuks 10km this coming Saturday which I hope to do as a controlled pace effort. No fireworks but I want to a strong even paced race at a hard effort. Runners' Guide says,"The 10 kilometre event is one of the few single-lap routes and is very flat and fast.". Let's hope that's exactly how it pans out!