Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Brief History Of (My Running) Time

First off, I must preface this post by stating that it's not a brag post. Post PB high, I found myself already thinking about the next big goal, and boy am I good, fantastic in fact at looking way too far ahead of myself. Instead with this being a recovery week, just easy to steady running, I've decided to reflect on how far I've come, not just in the past 10 months since my injury issues in 2013 but overall as a runner.

As far as running age goes, I still consider myself a young runner. Whenever the question of how long I've been running for comes up, the answer is always followed with a 'but', that 'but' being that I ran a bit at school. My running superpower at school was the cloak of invisibility. I mastered the art of staying outside the coach's radar for the three years from Grade 10 that I did track and cross country, except for the time when I accidentally won the u/16 3000m race at our sports day.

How does one accidentally win a race. By invoking the cloak of invisibility of course. The only people that ever get noticed, and honestly the most interesting, in any running event are the winners and the back-markers. I had mastered the art of being distinctly average, never fast enough or slow enough to be noticed.

However on this day my strategy went to shit pretty quickly. Many of the guys that lined up, there may have been 15 of us, were not running fit. The 3000m was run the day before the main sports day events so it was usually the one or two serious track guys who entered, and then numbers were filled by anyone who hadn't been entered into anything on the main day. So staying middle of the pack was difficult since I was a little bit more trained than everyone else running. Eventually I couldn't run slow enough as everyone faded and with two laps to go I found myself in the lead and I couldn't exactly stop now could I! The time was pedestrian, 11:15 I think at a time when I was probably capable of 10:15-10:30 for 3000m if I pushed myself.

I do digress but that's an important snapshot in my running history in that it was almost exactly 14 years ago, September 2000. My matric year was less successful as I did less running and devoted my time to being the scorer for the cricket first team (they gave us tea and lunch!). I did do a decent stint of XC but found the jump from 6km to 8km quite a challenge as I moved to the open division. The quys were running 25 minutes while I was out in the 30-32 minutes range and ran the risk of getting lapped over the 2km course. It actually did happen once and that was demoralising. Come the sports day I jogged my way around the back of the 3000m open race as my love of running died a sad slow death.

Anyone that knows me for more than 5 minutes will realize I am possibly unhealthily fastidious when it comes to data collection with stuff I care about. So I have a very detailed record of every run I've done in this current wave of running, and can recall splits from races and even training sessions because I actually give a shit. "t = 0" is pegged at 12 June 2011. Though looking back, there were five runs in January 2011 that amounted to ~31km, the last of which was on 19 January. I consider these largely insignificant in the grand of scheme of things, in that they were part of yet  another failed reboot of  that tedious drama, Ntutu: The Running Man. In between 2001 and 2011 I had attempted various reboots, the most successful of which was from April 2005 to September 2006, where I was at least averaging 3 runs a week. I ran a 10km race in this period, Wally Hayward in 2006. Race Results tells me I ran 58:14. It was also when my obsession with winning Lenn Smith, finally achieved this year, the WITS staff and postgrad race started which I did in 2005 and 2006 to almost no success! I dabbled in adventure racing in 2007 but by the end of that year the running bug was dead. My parents even gave my running shoes away. I didn't kick up a fuss.

What follows is I hope a somewhat concise summary of how I went from being happy to have a lovely pair of Nike Pegasus be taken away from me to being unable to go through a day without wanting to go out for a run.
  • 12 June 2011: Ntutu goes for a run. Being a dumbass I put on my running shoes and decided to run out until I get tired and start walking then turn around and trace my steps back home. The run is torture but motivating, 7.3km for a first run in 42:01 at 5:46/km. It wasn't comfortable. That pace is misleading because it was like an interval session eventually. It reminded of track at school where I would sometimes vomit at the end of sessions. 
  • 21 August 2011: First Race. Entered the Vodacom Country Challenge 10km in Midrand. Midrad means hills, lots of them. Somehow get round in 51:19. I walk a lot in the second half.
  • 16 November 2011: First Sub 50 10km. Got round the Rowlin National Brokes 10km night race in Benoni in 48:00. I had actually trained for this, using the training plan from the Adidas miCoach app. I cut the plan short and switched to the sub 45 plan. The first of many rookie errors.
  • 21 December 2011. I remember this run vividly. I was supposed to run for 40 minutes. I pushed too hard and after 7km in 35:00 I stopped running and walked home. Other than another aborted run in January I wouldn't run again for 2 months.
At this stage it's difficult to say what happened. It was the same old story, couldn't commit to anything. Part if it was the too much, too fast, too soon rookie error. I achieved a goal and assumed more faster would be better like a dumbass.

In 2012 I went back to my club Run/Walk for Life in Benoni and started again. Instead of just running though I set myself a goal to run a half marathon. Running 21.1km seemed huge at the time. I had never run further than 10km. It was the best decision I ever made running wise. It pushed me out of my comfort zone but didn't overwhelm me. The goal race was Wally Hayward and I had 10 weeks to get ready.
  • 25 February 2012. I decide to enter a 10km race to see where I'm at. I run Deloitte in a surprising 45:44. Where the heck did that come from. Set myself a goal of 1:40 for Wall Hayward
  • 15 April 2012. I've stuck to my training plan. End of week 8 and I haven't missed a single run. I'm due for my last long run before I taper, 19km. Slow Mag is happening and my arm is twisted into doing the half marathon as a long run. Running 21.1km will boost my confidence. I run the race with no watch or phone (I lie, battery died at 6km). I finish in 1:38:42. I still have no idea how that happened.
  • 1 May 2012. Would you believe it. I've finished a 10 week (and two days) training plan. Wally Hayward is a dream race. 46:20 at 10km. 42:45 from 10km to 20km. Finish in 1:35:01. Beat my goal by 5 minutes. Now I am hooked. 
  • 5 May 2012. First sub 45 10km. I know nothing about running at this stage so I enter Jackie Mekler 4 days later. I'm tired but finish in 42:38.
Now the running bug has truly bitten but I have no goals anymore. That would be an issue but I love running so much I just put on my shoes and go out and run 45km/week for the thrill of it.
  • 19 May 2012. First sub 20 5km. Now I know I'm actually better at 5km than any other distance but didn't know it at the time. I enter the Mazda 5km. 19:25, 2nd place. Boom!
  • 23 July 2012. As if to confirm I lean towards short and fast, my family enters a team for the Take 5 Relay. I do the first leg in 17:49, 3:34/km.
I had done other races at this time, a 15km in 61:41 and a 10.5km race in 42:24. But I needed a big goal and decided to (stupidly) train for the Soweto Marathon. My father grudgingly agrees to help me prepare.
  • 28 July 2012. First sub 40 10km. Early in marathon prep I do a see where I'm at 10km. Despite dropping my car keys at 8km and having to turn around to fetch them, I finish in 39:39. A month later I would run the tougher Wanderers 10km in 39:04
  • 22 and 30th September 2012. First and second sub 90 half marathon. City2City was actually my goal half marathon but on a whim I went and did the Irene Spring Race the weekend before. It poured that day and they had to change the route. I ran 1:28:08. I feel sick and spend the next 5 days in bed on antibiotics. I run City2City away and smash my 8 day old PB, running 1:25:28. It remains to this day the best executed race I have ever run, running without fear or expectation.
  • 4 November 2012. First marathon. My dance with the devil. To put it mildly, I was crushed by my first marathon. I had a goal of 3:10, 4:30/km. I got to 32km in 2:26. I finished in 3:38:10. I hurt, I walked a lot and I wept like a baby. Many times. It took me 17 minutes to get from 37km to 39km. It was hell on two feet. Did I mention I cried a lot.
I wanted to have another stab at the marathon but my father talked me out of it, instead suggesting I had potential at shorter distances. For the first time, I listened to him. The second good decision I make about running
  • 8 December 2012. Of course a guy with a 2:30:40 marathon PB knows his stuff. Five weeks after that chastening marathon debut, I take 90s off my 10km PB finishing in 37:34 at the Great Weskoppies Race.
From here on in I sunk my proverbial teeth into whittling down my 10km time, by mid April 2013 my PB was 36:13, coastal but still a PB. I should have backed off taken a breather and gone back to basics but I kept piling on the speed work, week after week at the expense of my long run and overall mileage. I was down to 35-40km/week with 2 weekly track sessions and a race or tempo over the weekend.
  • 14 April 2013. I had run a hard parkrun the day before, in new XC shoes with no cushioning. The logical decision, on 40km/week was to drop down and do the 10km. Instead I stuck to my guns and ran the Slow Mag Half. Worst. Decision. Ever. I didn't know it at the time but it started 7 months of injury woes. The PB of 1:22:46 doesn't seem even worth it when I look back at what followed.
  • 12 October 2013. Back into the 40s. This remains the worst race of my life. In my mind I was still a sub 40 10km guy, at worst 38ish? I had run a 5km in 18:22 7 weeks earlier on 20km/week which predicts 38:20 (I've since learnt never to use my 5km time to predict anything longer, I seem unnaturally predisposed to the distance). So I went out intending to run that time at the Run Jozi event. I hobbled home in 40:32. In 6 months I had gone from a 36:13 runner to 40:32 on a true race effort. I was in danger of losing my love for running.
Not only had I gone backwards,but to rub salt into the wound, I developed a calf niggle that turned into a full blown injury. Something had to change, and twitter of all places came to the rescue as I came into contact with a man who would transform my running. My running went back to basics. I nursed my calf to the point where I could run for 30-40 minutes 4 times a week. By mid November I got my first training schedule. No workouts, just mileage. By the end of December I was running over 60km/week. In January I peaked at 78km/week! With the introduction of mild speedwork in February my calf flared up again more out of my eagerness to prove myself than the training prescribed. 
  • 23 February 2014. The Come Back. I put the calf issues aside and went and raced the Gift of the Givers Township race. It was not spectacular but it needed to be done. 38:06. I felt like I was back in the game
  • 21 March 2014. Never have I been so delighted to just miss out on a PB. Less than 4 weeks after the come back race, I entered the Sunnypark Right2Run race. Training had been going well but I surprised myself, running 36:22. It was just 9 seconds off my PB set at the coast.
Running is cruel sometimes. After Sunnypark I ran a race in Mamelodi, the Solomon Mahlangu 10km. I stopped the clock at 34:44 only do discover the course was around 200m short. Then at the flattest race I've ever run in Joburg, the Slow Mag 10km. I executed poorly, banking time. It was a double lapper and despite going through halfway in 17:35, the traffic in the second lap and the fact that I was isolated broke my confidence and I finished in 36:25 when I should have run at least 35:30. I needed a boost and it can from an unlikely source.
  • 4 May 2014. Post Slow Mag I had a recovery week but then got hooked up with an entry for the Colgate 15km. I felt undercooked and lacked confidence. I also had about 6 beers the day before and got to bed at 1 AM. Nevertheless, I ran with my heart and not my mind and finished in 55:41, this with a shoelace malfunction at 13km that cost me ~20 seconds. My goal race for the cycle, the PMMC 10km (formerly Jackie Mekler, that name is for the 25km only now) was the following weekend. This was the one that mattered. My peak race.
  • 10 May 2014. Redemption. I said City2City 2012 was the best executed race I have run but the PMMC 10km runs it close. The watch splits tell their won story: 3:34, 3:32, 3:29, 3:25, 3:41, 3:31, 3:42, 3:35, 3:29, 3:18 then another 18s.  Using road marks, I had it at a 17:50/17:56 split. Final time 35:46 and finally that long awaited 10km PB. I had waited more than a year to run a PB at any distance and two come in back to back weekends!
  • 20 September 2014. First sub 80 half marathon. This past weekend I was able to rub out that dark day in 2013 at Slow Mag from memory with a 79:07 at the Irene Spring Race. It was another awesome day to be running as I learn to run first with my head then with my heart. The last 6.1km hurt but I ran and refused to be beaten.
So where to now? The clumsily titled Project 35, a long term project continues. It's arbitrary of course, but my goal is to get under 35 minutes for 10km and stay there. From there all other goals for 5km, half marathon and in the future, the marathon will fall into place. I have another secret goal for the year, and that's to run under 17 minutes for 5km but that will come I believe. Like the sub 60 15km and the sub 80 half marathon, it's merely a consequence of all the work I've been doing and will continue.

One of the lessons I am taking out of this year and what I believe is the secret sauce of running, is that consistency pays off. I was always looking for a killer workout, some core workout, a supplement, a fancy stretching routine, whatever, some secret that could unleash hidden speed. The running magazines play on this too and I find it annoying. Without a base of consistent running, all of those gimmicks are useless. That's what changed in November 2013. A base of consistency was established. And week upon week of this has allowed me to add additional stimuli on top; more mileage, longer runs, longer tempos, more intensity. And this in turn has led to faster races. Running for performance is hard so it's always a fine balance but with consistency, 99% of the time, good things will happen when you hit the road.

So that's my story so far, three years and three months, and at this point I'm not ready or willing to close the book just yet. I have no idea what the next few chapters hold but I'm excited I enjoy every step I take and that's all that matters in the long term. I've achieved more than I anticipated in this time, and I'm confident there is still more to come. All I know is that I will not be limiting myself, I'll keep aiming higher but most importantly will ensure that I enjoy every step I take towards achieving whatever else I will.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Clover Irene Spring Race Half Marathon Report

Running is a funny old sport. For the most part it's all about the process. We spent months training, getting fit, getting stronger, getting faster, and that in itself is fulfilling. I enjoy the thrill of the moment when training comes together. We often look to faster run, tempos, intervals to gauge progress, but for me I feel it when in cruise control on an easy run. It's liberating to go out for a run, hardly get out breath and get home to find you were running 10 to 15 seconds per kilometre quicker with no perceptible increase in effort.

Having said that, that is not always enough. Despite the fulfilling process, our enjoyment of running often hinges of flash points, in other words racing. Eight, 10, 12 and even up to 20 weeks of training is often distilled into one day and very few minutes or hours. It's a lot of pressure, particularly when moving up to marathon distance where it really is about that one race. Unfortunately as many runners know, goals are often not met as so much can go wrong on race day, and it often takes one small event to derail months of preparation.

Some days however, you put on your racing gear, pin on your racing, put on a clean pair of shoes with your lucky socks (don't judge me) and as soon as the starting gun goes off, everything goes almost perfectly to plan. 

That in a nutshell is what I experienced this past Saturday as I set about trying to break my long standing half marathon PB and specifically to finish in under 1hr20min. And that is exactly what I did.

My primary goal remains running fast over 10km, and I'm still believing that I can get in under 35:00 before the year is out. At this point though my focus in training has been on a stromg buildup. I'm running more mileage than I ever have, having hit a peak of 88km/week mixed in with solid tempo running but with nothing much faster than half marathon to 15km pace. So I felt that racing 10km will be fultile and my coach let me enter a half marathon to test myself. A 15km probably would have been more ideal, but I haven't run a half since April 2013 and I've always enjoyed the distance.

The Clover Irene Spring Race course is very different to the one I ran in 2012 when I first ran under 1hr30. It's flattened out a bit, though this being the highveld it's not a flat race by any means, but it's in line with a lot of 10km races in Pretoria.

Clover Irene Spring Race 2012

Clover Irene Spring Race 2014

I made sure I got to the venue, the Irene Village Mall, nice an early. At 5am I was walking around just keeping loose, listening to music that sort of thing. At 5:15 I started with my warm up routine, some dynamic stretches, lunges, leg swings, that sort of thing with 'barely shuffling' jogs. At around 5:30 I changed into my race gear and made my way to the start. From the there I ran for 15 minutes, starting out slowly and building up to close to race effort then took my place at  the start at 5:50 in time for the 6am start.

The race started perfectly on time, I had christened this race Death by 347, 3:47/km being the pace required to run a sub 80 half marathon, to be exact that would come to 1:19:50. I'm usually terrible with checking my clock etc so decided to rely on my sense of pace judgement, the time with no pace and to use the kilometer boards. So to achieve my goal, I needed to run 3:47 kays, hit 5km in 18:55, 10km in 37:50, 15km in 56:45 and 20km in 1:15:40. I had no doubt I would get to 15km within my target, the challenge was to hang on to 20km and then to the finish.

At 1km I checked my watch, 3:45/km, and I felt good so I didn't increase the effort. It's amazing just what a different race conditions make to perception of pace. In training I would be huffing and puffing but I was doing okay now. I hit 5km in 18:35, 3:43/km pace, still feeling really comfortable.

The next 5km went by much the same, consistent pacing rolling with the hills and riding the downhills. I was starting to become a little bit aware of the hills but was surprised to see the clocking on ~37:10 at 10km, so another 18:35 5km split. 

The next 5km were an absolute delight but I must say this is also a point where my race could have come undone. It was by far the flattest part of the course and mental arithmetic tells me I was doing under 3:40/km for most of the splits here and that was confirmed when I hit 15km in 55:22 for an 18:12 5km. My average pace at this stage was 3:42/km. I was feeling really good but...

From 15km to 18km the real work started as there was a very noticeable slow pull. Unfortunately as well it was straight with just two corners. It took lot of concentration and it was by far slowest part of the race for me. I was also alone at this stage, catching the runners in front of me but leaving anyone behind me (as an aside, from 5km onwards, I was not passed by any just one runner, but they were doing the 10km).. I was hurting now and I missed the 20km board but checking my time just after, I guessmitated around 1:14:50 for 20km, so that split was only ~19:28, but with 1.1km to go, my average pace was still sitting at 3:45/km. 

Glancing at the finish line, frantically working out how safe the sub 80 is!
As I approached the finish I knew my goal was achieved, it was simply a matter of how fast I could go.
Trying to put on the afterburners
I though I could sneak in just under 1:19 but alas it was not to be and I came in with 1:19:07 on the clock, 3:39 faster my previous PB of 1:22:46 set at Slow Mag last year. Those last few kays were very stressful as I didn't realise how much time I had in the bank. I would have been disappointed just missing out but I managed to get back to my average pace of 3:45/km for the last stretch.

Before the start of the race I was listening to the Foo Fighters The Colour and the Shape, which is now my go-to warm up music, and a line from the song My Hero stood out and was my mantra for the race:

Use that evidence, race it around
I only had to look back at the year I've had, a 35:46 10km and a 55:41 15km best, to know that a sub 80 was within my grasp. I also had more recent evidence in training, the mileage I have been doing, 851.9 km in 12 and half weeks leading up to the race at average of 68.5km/week. That was not just volume but involved two solid stamina sessions every week, a long tempo and cruise intervals, plus 15-20km long runs.

With one more goal out of the way, it's time to return my focus back to training. This week is a recovery week then it will be back to the grind. I have no idea what the coach has in mind but I can imagine speed will start to come into the equation. Over the last 13 weeks of this current cycle, I have only run faster that 10km pace and that was on a 4km fun run. Other than that this has been strictly about increasing endurance and stamina, a goal which judging from the half marathon has been met. What is interesting is that my 10km pace hasn't dropped. I didn't blog about it for a number of reasons, but I ended up running Spirit of Flight in 35:20 on a short course with my time later adjusted to 36:19. What was interesting about this though was that the race course was changed overnight as the runway was required, and the new course was 6km of off road running. I dare say on tar I would have run 35:20 on a full course. I know what an effect even a month of speedwork will do as I'm certain I might even be marginally quicker now than I was in may; I reckon I could still run my Pb race in 35:40 if asked to now. I've also not peaked/tapered. I took an extra day rest for this race, but I had still run 127km in the 12 days before, including the two rest days.

Running is going well at the moment and I'm looking forward to a few more PBs before the year is out!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Back From The Wilderness

It's been a long time, too long, since I posted much of anything but alas, while running continues to happen, so too does life and the latter has been in a constant state of upheaval lately. Post Colgate 15 km, I finally achieved my goal of a new 10 km PB, running a satisfying 35:46 at the Pretoria Mililary Marathon Club Memorial 10 km. It's a lovely course, the scene of my first sub 45 clocking way back in 2012, and I executed the race perfectly. A slight negative split and finished strong with my last 2km cloced in under 3:30/km and actually kicking home for the finish. That was the peak of my season, 25 weeks on from November 2013 when I painstakingly embarked on a new plan, putting my training in someone else's control.

I ran two more 10km races, the challenging Love Run on 24 May(250m elevation gain) in 37:25 and then a disappointing run at the Great Run Series II on 31 May, 35:00 on a short course and in reality I was never going to challenge my PB after feeling flat all the way through. But that was 28 weeks in and a break was due and the coach  put me into recovery mode.

The next three weeks were strictly no training. I ran a bit, about 40km over the threeks week, mostly at 5:30/km pace, just shuffling along, waiting patiently for the signal from the coach to resume training. Initially I grew frustrated but by the end of week 2 I was loving the break, perhaps a bit too much, though that is a subject that is not appropriate for a running blog.

I resumed training on 23rd June. The coach had made it clear that the previous phase was foundational, and now the serious training was to begin. I was both petrified and excited; there had been times before when I wanted to pull out of certain sessions. In the high mileage phase that residual fatigue always had me lingering in doubt, and it was only a handful of races that kept me above the water so to speak.

As expected, after a period of high intensity training and then the three week break, we've been working on building back my endurance and then my stamina. The absence of true speed work seems to baffle some people but I understand and trust my coach's methods. I know myself too. I run well off any kind of training, but my primary currency is consistency. I can't hack training. I'm a confidence runner and a consistent routine and legs that feel worked cement that. I also know that I take very quickly to speed work. I enjoy it and I dare say I'm good at it. While the inclination might be to feast on what my body craves, in this case deprivation will work well. I'm weak on endurance and stamina, and I hate running long. Now spending more and more time on those aspects will build my confidence and I will rip through the speed work when it comes. Last time I jumped from 38:06 top 36:22 in the space of three and half weeks with the injection of speed and then chipped away over 6 weeks to 35:46. I'm that kind of runner. I peak quickly and can hold a peak for a reasonable stretch.

I'm not going to go through all of my running in detail but we have built up to a nice routine that's anchored by Wednesday and Sunday Long Runs. Faster running happens Tempo Tuesdays and Speedy Saturdays. Moderate (Easy) Monday and Ticking Along Thursday make up the rest of the week. This is was the past 10 weeks of training has looked like, from 23 June to 31 August, 659.5 km with a peak of 82.5 km:

August was also a record Month for me, 319 km at an average of 72 km/week:

It's all about the consistency at the moment and I'm very happy with where I am. September started off with a nice 13 km run averaging 4:25/km. What made me happy was just how comfortable this was. At the start of July, 13 km at 4:40/km was work, now this is the pace I'm starting my runs at and I feel genuinely comfortable. The hills on my course seem to be flattening out!

I'm doing two races in September, Spirit of Flight 10 km this weekend, 6 September and the Irene Spring Run Half Marathon two weeks later on the 20th. I'm actually more confident for the half marathon. I ran the Spring in 1:28:08 in 2012 off slightly less mileage and less quality than I am at now, then a week later ran the slightly tougher City2City Half Marathon in 1:25:28. I was training for a marathon then so my long runs had peaked at 33 km before but remove the once weekly long run and there was a lot less going on, with only a marathon pace tempo. Now my training is a lot more balanced with a 12 km tempo on Tuesdays, 1500 m cruise intervals on a Saturday and the 15 km on Wednesdays. Of course this is not ideal training for a 10 km. I'm going to give it everything on Saturday and try and get as close to my PB as possible but I will be disappointed if I don't run under 80 minutes for the half marathon especially seeing as my 1:22:46 PB was run over a year ago.

For now though, I'm happy to be running strong and fit. Here's to some more running and fast times as Spring sets in!