Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The faster stuff

Marathon, shmarathon, there’s more to running than going a really, really long way. Some people love “the short stuff”, such as sprints (100m, 200m and 400m), “the Mile”, 5km and 10km races. I haven’t done sprints in my adult life but I’m keen to try a mile race one day. 5km and 10km races though have always been an occasional part of my running diet. Most common of these are parkruns, which are social, timed 5km races every Saturday, and I’ve now participated in the events that are part of the Run Auckland series, which consists of 5km and 10km races, for three straight years now.

Since my surgery I’d only taken part in two shorter races, parkruns, albeit in a casual way. Now, with the marathon behind me, I’ve been primed to give one a crack full-speed to see what I can do at the distance. And I only had to wait 8 days after the marathon to have my first opportunity to run the a shorter race, the first race of the Run Auckland series at Western Springs. I’d run the Western Springs 10km last year; it was flat and fast and, to this day, is my fastest 10km race performance of my life, 40:50. I was a bit annoyed that this opportunity to run there was just 8 days after a marathon. According to the websites, you should aim to have two to three weeks of rest or easy runs after a marathon which I’ve loosely followed in the past. Prior to the race I ran easily but also with full awareness of how my body was feeling and responding. Overall, I didn’t notice any residual aches or tightness. I spent my anniversary over in Waiheke in the days before the race and on one morning gave myself a bit of a fitness test on the hills. (Waiheke has quite hilly terrain.) Overall I felt pretty good and decided I’d give the Western Springs event a reasonable effort.

My first surprise came the night before the race. One check of the website found that unlike the previous event, this was not a flat track. In fact, it would be twice around a loop that included the long grinding gradient up from MOTAT to Grey Lynn. (And a very sharp descent down Motions Road.) Hills don’t bother me much in marathons because you can take your time on them. In faster events, though, you still need to sustain some pace despite the hills. My second surprise was that after getting there early was to find that I’d understood the race time incorrectly and had to wait for the 5km race to be finished. I waited from about 7am to 8:45am for my race! I did the warm-ups twice and went on little jogs around the place to keep warm and loose.

The time came though, the horn went and everyone ran. The starting area was very tight so, just like some of the half marathons, I spent the first kilometre dodging, ducking and weaving my way out of the crowded pack. One new habit I have is to get my speeds for each 400m so that I can judge how quickly I was going and on the first lap I was generally pleased with what I was seeing. On that lap, I was only passed once and passed a lot of people, especially in the early stages. I had some friends cheer me from the mid-point, but there was a lot of cheering for “Naomi” who was clearly the person who was right on my heels. By the 6th kilometre though I knew I’d gone too quickly and struggled before and on the hill. Two people, including this Naomi, passed me and I started to dread that it would become a procession. I kept in touch with these overtakers though and running along the plateau of Surrey Crescent was enough to recover me and get the pace back. It was a great feeling on the eighth and ninth kilometres. I hunted Naomi who was at the back of the bunch ahead, briefly overtaking her, before she would surge back in front. We all dragged past some other laggards and on the final turn down the Motions Road plunge I nipped ahead of Naomi too. Speeding downhill was a thrill and I briefly was on the verge of catching some others who were just in front, but once it levelled out they had more speed than I could muster. Again I heard the cheers for Naomi but this time I could tell she was further behind. I still put the foot down to charge to the finish line. I finished 20th with 44:41. For the course and the lack of pace training, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Also with only one person successfully overtaking me in the last lap (and overtaking a bunch) either I paced it well or paced it as badly as everyone else.

I’ll have at least three other 10km races and I have the goal of getting under 40:00, another symbolic milestone mark. This weekend though I’ll give parkrun a lash. I’m pretty sure that on a good day I’d be able to do it under 20 minutes by a substantial margin. Last year though, albeit on a harder course, I could only do 20:20, my fastest 5km race time. Fingers crossed it can again be another breakthrough race!

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The definition of insanity

Well, now that is four marathons done - two of torture; two of jubilation:
- Auckand, Oct 2017: 3:46 - ran out of gas 29km, finished but lay on the ground a long time post-run.
- North Shore, Sept 2018: 3:44 - excruciating stitch at 34km
- Auckland, Oct 2018: 3:29 - had the energy to surge in the 41km, finished fine and could walk around.
- Rotorua, May 2019: 3:27 - slowed slightly at 34km, finished fine.

There is a 19 minute range in finishing times, fortunately with the finishing times getting shorter as I do more. One cold-water set of statistics though is that according to Strava, my 30km mark times for each are:

Auckand, Oct 2017: 2:26:38
North Shore, Sept 2018: 2:24:54
Auckland, Oct 2018: 2:26:31
Rotorua, May 2019: 2:24:37

Therefore, at the same point in four different races over 19 months, I only have a range of 2 minutes. That's only 4 seconds per kilometre different in pace, which isn't really significant. I've clearly been trying the same strategy but with better success each time. What have I learned? Probably that time toughens you up and makes you better. Small training changes may have lead to better finishing. My base speed for long distance hasn't really improved though. I do feel fitter and readier now than the previous events but it still meant I was only slightly faster for the first 30kms than North Shore last year.

Of course, marathons aren't 30km. In Rotorua, I needed just over one hour to finish it from that point, whereas in North Shore I needed another hour twenty. The big difference in finishing times between the first two events and the last two is whether I could run for the duration.

Since my running won't be stopping now as I have a busy winter of 10km events and another marathon-packed Spring, it means that I'm ripe to lift myself to another level. Auckland Marathon is just 6 weeks after the North Shore Marathon this year, which could mean I could use one to prepare for the other. (That's how it incidentally worked last year.)

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Rotorua Marathon, finally

It was to be my first marathon, but in January 2017 I strained my calf and I downgraded it to a half. It was to be my second marathon but January 2018 was troublesome with a recovering knee, side strain and arch pain. I downgraded again to a half, and coincidentally discovered I'd given myself a hernia just after. You could say that the Rotorua Marathon, along with the Omaha Half, has been my cursed events.

But Rotorua is a hugely symbolic event too. It's one of the biggest events, around a lake of 42.2km, and notorious for its hills. For me personally it should be notorious for its Saturday race day which, for three years straight, has given me a horrendous drive south after a long work day. It'll be the last time I do this ridiculous drive and early morning run. Because yesterday I finally ran the full marathon and I did it well. 

The gun went off at 8am and I was in somewhat of a quandary thinking about what pace was appropriate. My preparation was so disrupted that I didn't really know what I would be capable of so I just ran according to my feeling. That pace turned out to be the ideal goal pace that I'd planned before the race of between 4:45-4:50. It was comfortable to the point that it cast the doubts from the preceding business trip week aside and allowed me to run as I had planned to run. The bunch thinned slowly in the first ten. I noticed my watch was 300m out early on (e.g., when I passed 10km marker it claimed I had already run 10.3) so I resorted to maths to check my speed. My two incidental pacers in the first half were Lass and Yellow Sole. Lass, a 20ish lady, in particular early on was regularly passing and being passed by me. That was how similar our paces were. She overtook Yellow Sole, who I then trailed for some time, until he dropped his cellphone letting me go by, and then on a downward hill I passed Lass as well. So I'd lost my pacers and was running in between groups until about the 18km mark when just before the first major hill I heard the thudding of feet on my heels. Both Lass and Yellow Sole passed me as a group of two. I dropped my pace on the hill and we all slowly chewed through the first challenge.

Out of the blue, Yellow Sole charged ahead and up the hill, bolting from our pack. He somehow made up about a 100m lead and linked up with another pack ahead. I kept Lass within a 10m range of me and we passed a lot who were having trouble with the first hill. Until gladly we peaked and then it was down to the lake's edge. At about the halfway mark Lass was running strongly until she inexplicably stopped, touched her toes and held her belly. I asked her if she was ok as I passed but she said nothing. It was the last I saw of her.

Losing Lass was a blow, because it left me without a pacer, but fortunately others were being cast off groups ahead so I always had people to chase and pass to keep my pace up. Yellow Sole and another, Bud, who I'd named earlier but had left our pack, were both in sight when I began the second major hill at the 25km mark. Hills are a big part of my training including my Titirangi run which has significant gut busting hills roughly at the same points so I wasn't terribly fazed. I passed quite a few people on the hill, including Bud, and shortly after, Yellow Sole started walking and I zoomed past him. I didn't see him again either. 

After only passing people I was strongly passed by a familiar runner, Haoting Ma. I didn't know him personally but he was recognisable because he'd been around a while, very small, fast and young, no more than 18. His pace was amazing for the second half of a marathon. I held onto him for as long as possible but by the 35km mark I started to lag. I couldn't really sustain my goal pace any longer but was still registering in the 5:00-5:10/km range, which I was happy with. Two older gentlemen passed me. We exchanged a few words and I gathered that they were friends, regulars and knew how to pace the course well. They churned onwards. I didn't fade any further and with 3:27:06 went through the finish gate. 

It was an improvement of 2:40 over my previous best. And the second time I'd run a marathon without walking. Considering my less than ideal taper and general tiredness, I'm rather pleased with the result. There are 4 more months till my next full marathon and presuming I keep improving then the next marathon will be even better. That will be North Shore Marathon that I struggled in last year. 

Now I have some 10km events coming up and I can practice getting faster. So with that I bid haere raa ki Rotorua and celebrate with hopes for the future.