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!

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