Monday, April 21, 2014

Race Report/Rant: Solomon Mahlangu 10 km

I'm usually very diligent about reporting back on a race, whether good or bad but this one I wasn't sure about. Starting at the end, when I crossed the finish line, I was doing something I rarely manage to do, kick! So I wasn't looking at my watch, I had done so as we came off the road and onto the grass at the Moretele Park in Mamelodi with the end in sight, knowing that I was on my way to a huge PB. Just 400 m to go I thought, and I was flying, with the implicit pace on my watch showing 2:50 something or other. Those fast finish runs and sprints at the end of speed sessions were starting to pay off. I knew toeing the start line that I had made a big stride forward post Sunnypark, a race where I had surprised myself by finishing just 9 seconds outside my PB (set at the coast for that matter) in 36:22.

This race, small as it may be, had a clock at the finish, something I don't see very often. So as I came up to the finish, I spotted the timekeeper, with one eye on the official clock and as soon as I passed the table, froze that number in my mind. I was elated


I almost didn't believe it. Throughout the race I had been riddled with doubt. I tried something different this time. You see, ever since I first got a GPS watch, September 2012, I have been a slave to it, whether it's in training or on race day, workouts or easy days. The Foreruner 205 I used before had fixed displays but having upgraded to a 310XT, it is flexible, with customizable displays. So I set up a display with just time. But as a bit of cop out back up, I set a second screen with time, distance and pace. While I turn tones and vibrations off, I have alerts on for splits, because otherwise the watch will record the run as one long split. But with tones off, I almost have to know the route to check the watch exactly at each split. Of course in a race there a kilometre boards, and they usually arrive just after the watch records the split (the XT typically measure 0.05-0.1 over distance for most 10 km races). So in some ways it doesn't rescue me from my dependence on feedback. On this day however, the boards were so far out that by 5 km, despite feeling like I was shifting, some quick number crunching had me at 3:45 pace at 5 km. The distance on my watch was 5.3 km when I passed the 5 km board. At this point I 'broke' and switched to my emergency screen which then had me at 3:30s and since we were climbing now (I'll put up the profile) I had actually slowed down.

The other give away was that I had in my sight the two leading ladies for much of the race. One of the Phalula twins was always there, as was Rutendo Nyahora, who won the race and had run 33:30 in Cape Town a week earlier and has a 32:55 lifetime PB for the distance. I was also for once also keeping up with a very speedy young runner from Tuks, who often leaves me in his wake even when I'm in low 36 shape. So I could not believe I was on course for a 37-38 min 10 km with the way I felt, what the watch showed and the evidence around me.

So when i saw that time, 34:44, it was vindication.

Until I looked down at my watch and saw the distance measurement

9.86 km

I was really disappointed. A certain PB, gone.

I posted a bit about it on Twitter and also with my coach. One thing that came out of it is hat 150-200m is not the end of the world. If the route was 2 km short it would have been a big deal. The last 2-3 km of a 10 km is the business end of a race and I know that I've lost many certain PBs in the period. But the last 200 m is nothing. I was advised to not fret about the details and look at the bigger picture. At the end of the day, I have never covered 9.86 km ever at the sort of pace I managed that day. Even a 8 km I had run a PB, 28:40, after 3 km of climbing between 4 and 7 km. Strava, one of the sites I use for uploading my data (RunningAhead is the other), pulled out a 17:24 5 km split, and this had a marginal net elevation gain! And since it's a loop course I was always going to make some time up in the last 2 km. My final pace of 3:32ish/km is a true reflection of where I was on the day, possibly 35:20 shape. That alone is an incredible fact for me. Just 21 weeks earlier I had come off 3 weeks of downtime due to a calf strain, running less than 30 km/week and had run a 40:32 10 km in October 2013, my slowest 10 km time for over a year. Yet here I was covering just shy of 10 km at 3:32/km, smashing both my 5 km and 8 km PBs (old marks 17:49 and 29:01) along the way!

Solomon Mahalngu 10 km route prfile.

And thankfully we are lucky in Gauteng to have two races every weekend for much of the year. I've had to put that mild disaffection behind me and move on. On Sunday I'm going to be heading down to Benoni to do the Slow Mag 10 km. I've done the half marathon the last two years but no distractions this year. Two weeks later I'll be doing the Jackie Mekler Memorial 10 km. I did the race in 2012 and remember it being fast, as fast as a race can be on the highveld, with the typical undulating profile that tests but rewards you. I ran 42:38 in 2012, and it will be interesting what happens this year.

My goal for both races is to run the hell out of my legs! I've done the hard yards and all three races I've run in anger this year have been controlled affairs. I haven't really taken a risk and maybe now is the time to do so since I know I am in PB shape.