Thursday, March 27, 2014

Race Report: Sunnypark Right2Run 10 km

Truly fast races in Gauteng are a rarity, or I haven't searched long and hard enough. There are many races that are described as fast and flat in Runners' Guide for instance but while they may be fast, the flat aspect is questionable. But that is the nature of the beast I guess as Gauteng is not exactly a flat province.

I remember two years ago, as a true novice runner, I had been running seriously for 10 months or so, excitedly heading to Sunnypark for the flat and fast 10 km race. By 3 km as I took my first walk break after heading our at PB, then sub 45:00 pace, wondering if I had entered the wrong race! It turned out that I hadn't and the organisers had tried something a little bit different, which meant borrowing elements of the Monster course. There was such an outcry that in 2013 the flyer even said back to the old route. Ha! I was in Cape Town at the run where I ran this:

2013 Bonitas 10 km course profile: fast and furious!

Now fellow Jo'burg and Pretoria runners, that's what a fast and flat course looks like! As I wrote in my report of that race, I kinda blew it. It was a mix of circumstances, illness the preceding week and a 1200 km drive to Cape Town, and folly, indulging in my love for craft beer and wine the night before the race. As such I've always felt that time, 36:13, was soft but being coastal had been a bit out of reach for me racing up here on the highveld where this is considered a flat and fast course:

Gift of the Givers Township 10 km: not so fast and furious!

I was surprised when I ran 38:06 at Township. I had felt slow leading up to the race and then had a scare with shin splints and a recurrence of my ITBS issues. On the day things went well and training since then has been gradual. After consulting with my coach, I dialed back the paces a bit and concentrated on being able to get consistency back. He says himself that he wants to get me 90% fit and then use the races to reach peak shape. Rather slightly undertrained than overtrained and injured.

We started doing formal speed work at  the start of March between with a gentle session of 5 x 800 at 3 minutes a piece with 3 minute recovery. This is 'only' 3:45/km pace, marginally quicker than the 3:49/km I had managed for Township. The sessions of course picked up. The Saturday session was 4 x1200 m with 800 m recovery, averaging 4:03 for the 1200s, 3:21/km. Two weeks out from Sunnypark the coach threw in a mixed interval session with reps ranging from 100m sprints up to 600m and all the way through to 1500m at around 10 km pace. The other quality session of the week was a 10 km progression run with the last 2 km at 3:44/km. Come race week I was raring to go and a session of 7 x 400 ranging from 73-77s with 400 m recovery and 4 x150 m sprints had me eager to take on the race.

Come race morning I was nervous as hell, and had visited the toilet three times within half an hour of waking up. Nerves for me are a good thing though. Being nervous for me is a sign of expectation which comes from accumulating evidence in training. It's nervousness that stems from knowing I can and should deliver, not apprehension at the task at hand. Racing is hard business and I have yet found a way to high my fear of the burn in the last third of the race, so I would be more worried if I thought nothing of it.

With all small but continuous injury issues in the last 12 months, I have been at simplifying my entire routine and also returning to habits I kept when I was actually injury free in 2012. The goal is, as I get better, to expand on those habits, not overhaul them as I did in 2013. Part of that is my morning routine. I'e gone back to eating a banana and yoghurt in the morning washed down with half a litre of water, then sipping on sports drink until I start my warm-up. I warmed up first by doing the lunge matrix and leg swings, the only aspect of 2013 changes that I've kept. Then I jogged for 10 minutes then introducing some surges for 5 minutes. I took a short break and stretched, standard stretches but held for short times, no more than 15 seconds. Then I spent five minutes doing strides, running ~200m out and walking/jogging back.

Then the interminable wait for the start!

By this stage I was a bundle of nerves and when the gun went off I sped off with the leaders for about 100m before sanity prevailed and I pulled back. In my mind I had a plan of heading out at around 3:40/km pace and seeing what happens. I hit the first board at 3:30 and that idea went out the window. I think my coach gets a little frustrated with how analytic I am and he told me to go out there and race. All I had to do was to watch my heart rate. In races last year I had been able to run with and occasionally beat some of the ladies. I spotted Lebo Phalula twins and Myrette Filmalter and decided to keep them in my sights as much as I can. If I got uncomfortable I would just pull back. I expected them run under 36 so I knew the longer I could stick with them I would actually run an excellent time.

Now Sunnypark's Old Route is known as a fast course but alas it is not a Cape Town fast course!

Fast but certainly not flat!
I had no inclination that for much of the first 4 km we were rising. My pace did slow for the 2nd split and the 4th split, reflecting the terrain. The first 4 km splits according to the watch were as follows: 3:28, 3:42, 3:36, 3:44 for 14:30 though I was at 14:36 when the 4 km board came up so on track for about 36:30.

The next 2 km were glorious, a sweeping downhill stretch where I really put my foot down. It's been a while since I have felt so fast and fluid in a race. I was running right behind Phalula who was flying at this stage. These two splits were 3:28 and 3:26. The watch had me at 17:58 through 5 km and 21:24 at 6 km, though I recall passing 5 km just outside 18:05, around 18:08 and 6 k I don't recall but would have been around 21:35 so I was under PB pace at this stage.

The next two km were slightly tougher. I remember approaching the water point I was working harder and I glanced at my watch and had seen my pace slipping to over 4 min/km. Watch splits were 3:48 and 3:40, so it had me at 28:52 through 8 km. 

The last two km were just me holding on as best as I could. I got passed by a couple of people here which wasn't the worst thing in the world as I tried to keep up and it meant my pace didn't drop even if the runners were pulling away. My watch recorded 3:35 and 3:33 for km 9 and 10, coming before the official finish of course and I got to the end in 36:16 on my watch. My official time was reported as 36:22 good enough for 13th place and the first time in the 36s since Mazda all the way back in April 2013. This is my third fastest time ever though I'm a little bit suspicious about the 36:14 I ran at Mazda as my watch measured 9.89 km. Of course a GPS watch is not 100% accurate but in my experience they rarely measure short. But in truth, if I was running with a cheap stopwatch I wouldn't even know!

All in all it was a fantastic result that was a vast improvement over Township. And the elevation data suggests that it was of comparable difficulty to Township. I think I ran a good smart race, using the terrain and actually racing for once and not just sticking to a plan. It's interesting comparing the splits of this race to the Cape Town race which while it is my PB was actually a poor performance. The watch had me through 10 km in 36:02 with splits of 17:58 and 18:04 so in reality probably around 18:08 and 18:14. At the Cape Town race, my splits were 17:34 and 18:39 and basically every subsequent kilometre was slower than the previous one. And with the course being dead flat then, there was no excuse for such poor pacing.

My next race is likely going to be the Pick n Pay-The Grove Mall 10 km on 21 April on Family Day. I've never done the race and it is apparently being run on a new route this year. That area is potentially but potentially hilly though more hill of the rolling kind. With 4 weeks of training between now and then, I'm hopeful that if I just keep doing what I'm doing, getting out consistently, running decent mileage and pacing my workouts sensibly, there's no reason why I can't improve on this performance