Sunday, August 25, 2019


One week into taper, one event down. I ran the Millwater Half Marathon for the third time this morning. I'd been looking forward to it as a "sighter" to gauge my fitness for the coming marathongs as well as achieve a personal best in the half marathon.

The latter plan was very much a wish. Last year's Millwater Half was my personal best ever (1:31:13) but had been surpassed earlier this year at the Waterfront Half (1:29:58). But they're very much different races. Waterfront is a flat-track, flat-out race with only multiple hair-pin turns to deal with. Millwater has more undulation and twists and turns. My pace was finally returning just before my taper. Yesterday I had a "shake-out" run and comfortably sustained speeds faster than what I would need to match these times. Naturally hitting these speeds and keeping such speeds going for an hour and a half over terrain are two different things.

The weather had been pretty dicey through the month of August and this morning was no different. Even a good forecast didn't stop it drizzling pre-run and post-run and even a sprinkle during the race. The wind was blustery the previous day but at least wasn't evident in Millwater in the morning. I came early and got myself set. When the race started, it was all on. A running team, the Night Ninjas, all dressed in their orange outfit, were running their own personal championship at Millwater. Last year I prided myself in beating a Night Ninja, as they are really serious, fast runners. Their use of the event as their championship made the crowd even more orange and challenging. In the initial bunching I was stuck behind a group of about five that I chose to squeeze past after about a kilometre. Ridiculously it seemed some were acting as pacers for others so ran quickly but then hung out at the drink stands waiting for the next runners to pace. This is distracting for normal runners because you run with groups and even target people ahead to pace yourself against or pass. When they inexplicably drop out of normal racing it knocks you.

Fortunately after passing the bunch and the pacers, I didn't have much to do with other Ninjas. There was one in the distance which I was forever pursuing but I couldn't reel him in. I was glad though to be quickly accompanied by some familiar runners. One runner, Andrew, is a runner you can't help but respect. He is over 50 but still competes well. He beat me in as many races as I beat him this year. I thought I had it over him last year because I would use him to pace me earlier in the race before racing off into the distance. Not so this year. Even when I tried this it only worked half the time. He outlasted me a few times.

This time in the initial jostling around I got ahead of him but at the 3km point he sidled up to me. We ran the next 7km more or less together. Occasionally he would pass me but I'd often overtake him on the downhills. We were also joined by another runner, Finn. I knew Finn without ever exchanging words. We ran as an arrowhead for a good portion of the first of two loops, with me at the front and Andrew on my left shoulder, and Finn on my right shoulder. Running in a pack has its advantages. An even pace is easier to maintain psychologically; it apparently also reduces the impact of wind too. The Millwater loop starts with undulation but features a stiff incline in the tenth kilometre. It was at this point that Andrew and Finn both overtook me. It was on the slope afterwards that I raced back past them and never saw them on the track again. I was more or less running solo as I cruised through the arch for the first lap in 44:28 which had me on sub-1:30 pace.

What I didn't think know was that shortly after I passed the arch, at the 45:00 mark, the 10km racers were to start. Not far into my second lap I heard rapid moving pursuer coming after me. For a moment I thought it was Andrew and Finn and thought I might have slowed down due to the lack of company. But it was actually the first wave of 10km runners. The leader of the pack was the husband of our company's HR Director so fortunately I figured who they were early in the piece. It was quite lucky for me as suddenly I had runners with me again. Some 10km runners passed me but clearly had gone too quickly as I caught up with them and used them for pacing. By the last third though I realised I had gone too quickly in the first lap and my splits were creeping up. I kept trying to figure out whether I still was in line to get under 1:30. The hill at the 20km mark was still in my mind. As I approached it I was again without a pacing partner but at least the finish line was near. The finish line is often the one thing that can sustain your pace till the end and I managed to hold a solid pace to the end and went through the finish line at 1:30:04. That may not be my official "mat time", which I'm still waiting to find out. Even if it is a touch over 1:30, I'm not that bothered. It's almost the same time as Waterfront Half but on a more challenging course.

It sets my expectations well for the North Shore Marathon. I will try for a time between 3:25-3:30. Even though at time around 3:29, a time over my personal best, I'll take it as a victory because it is such a challenging course. Now there are two weeks of lighter, shorter workouts.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Taper time!

In exactly 21 days from now I'll be rather tired after successfully completing another marathon, a little faster than the last. Or will I? It's taper-time and all the imponderables of the race are now coming to mind.

Tapering, if you missed it, is when your lower your training load in anticipation of a race. Tapering for a marathon usually lasts two to three weeks. In theory, at this time the main work of the training is done. You won't be getting much faster or stronger. The important thing is to just reduce the burden on the body a little so that it over-compensates in expectation of continued training and becomes stronger. It relieves the burden on overworked parts of your system so they heal. It's not that training stops - in fact, training is often the "good stuff" just shorter and with more rest, especially in the week before the event. On the net, I've heard lots of people get nervous when they go into taper because training is comfortable and not training is abnormal. And also because you've already built your fitness as much as possible pre-taper, there is that regret of not doing more and sometimes wanting to pack a little more in, but knowing you shouldn't. However, I've never had that nervousness.

As well noted here, I have been rather anxious about my progress since my good result at Rotorua Marathon. The training has been nothing near my expectation, punctuated by the interruptions of niggles, travel and flu. With the recent weeks though, there is enough to now feel satisfied that I can do well at North Shore Marathon. Excluding my week of flu, my weekly mileage has been: 65, 71, 76, 80, 90, 87, 101 and 106. It is a nice feeling when the body can take 100km without really noticably wearing out. It's not all about mileage though; it's about what you do with it. It should have many easy runs and some key workout runs. When I was frustrated earlier my key workouts were fizzers but I've had now a fair few runs that I'm pretty proud of, proud enough to nurture the hope that, even on the challenging North Shore marathon course that killed me last year, I might be able to do the same time or even better what I did in Rotorua. 

But the best measuring stick of what I should be able to do will be the Millwater Half Marathon next Sunday. My last race, Waiatarua 10km, was a little bit of a fizzer with me going fast too earlier. Fingers crossed that was an exception. 

Friday, August 02, 2019

A little high, a little low

There are many reasons people run. Some might just do a semi-regular run as part of a formal or informal fitness regime; some might run for weight loss. I'm sure some run to de-stress. Surely some run out of an old habit, an addiction that the body drives. Although I'm happy with some of the effects above, I think I run mainly as a project of self, to see what I can achieve in a performance with myself.

In this kind of running, training is the input and performances in races are the output. Some training is almost always better than no training. Some guided training is almost always better than random training. Some quality training should always be better than excessive unstructured poor quality training. And you only know the difference with trial and error; with a little learning and shared experience here and there.

But like any project, often the output doesn't always correspond to the input. Just like in business, bountiful capital doesn't mean a business will become a leader; or endless roses and chocolates do not necessary add up to a successful relationship. As recently related, I cruised into 2000km of mileage for the year. But mileage, while usually beneficial, isn't magic in itself. You have to do something with it. Since my recovery from flu, my runs and the feelings I got from them were extremely varied:

16 July - 10km "Tempo" run - I aimed for 20 minutes at "tempo" pace (the pace you could maintain for an hour at most). I felt good because just days after the flu I could get to that pace and hold it for the most part.
17 July - Shoe Science 10km group run - This was intentionally slower because of the faster run yesterday and also I had one person with me who wasn't that fast. Felt OK.
18 July - 10km of Moonlight Mount Eden summits, 5 summits to be exact. These didn't feel easy at all. In my current state of fitness I should have been able to press on any one of the summits but just felt knackered.
20 July - 30km Long Run - I did 15km steady and then 10km at marathon pace and then cruised for 5km. I felt really proud of myself after this one. I'd matched a previous good run. Suddenly I felt on track.
21 July - 18.8km Easy Run - This was a bit of a struggle. It was meant to be easy but I slipped back in pace more than I wanted.
23 July - 15km Intervals - I wanted to run 3x2miles at "Threshold" pace but really fizzled. My initial laps weren't that fast and barely lower than tempo. I was frustrated again.
24 July - 16.7km Easy run - Now this was actually at the pace an easy run should be done. And it felt easy.
25 July - 9.2km Hill repeats - This felt pretty good. I did 8 repeats up a 200m slope and felt I could go harder and faster as time went by.
27 July - 32km Long Run - A shambles. Probably was overoptimistic with pace on the first half and really struggled in the second half. The kind of run that should be stopped because you're probably doing yourself damage. Fortunately the body wasn't too bothered once home.
28 July - 14km Recovery - I ran up three mountains at my own pace. Felt good just to loosen up.
29 July - 16.6km 400m on/off intervals - These went well. For the first time in the two week period I could actually hit speeds close to 4:00mins/km.
30 July - 14km of Easy. And it felt pretty good.
31 July - 18.5km Tempo and some gentle hills - again a good feeling. The pace was close to tempo and I got lots of metres of ascent.
2 August - 15.5km 800m intervals - and now probably my best speed workout since April.

It really is a rollercoaster with fizzled out runs, smash hits, "Was it any good?" moments, "How is this helping me?" ordeals. This sequence is going to be measured directly whether I can run the Run Auckland 10km race at Waiatarua fast and furious. I haven't really felt that I have caught the speed of the past. With this morning's workout under my belt, I feel a lot better. I'll run easy tomorrow and then see what happens on Sunday.

And then either moan or exult.