Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Extending the limits

The runs are getting longer and faster, it's getting warmer and windier, and my trousers are getting looser: it must be April. 
While the first week of May is peek training before tapering, for annual participants in the Calgary Marathon it is April that sees the hardest work. 
Training is all about getting in better shape, for race day or otherwise. Going about it the smart way involves runs that challenge you, and get you to go a little further still. Each time you do this, the body adapts that little bit extra. Come race day, your limit is beyond where it used to be. 

Gearing up for a 50k, my extreme endurance ability needs work. Last year I trained using Hanson's method. 6 runs per week left little space for core work, or any other work. It also puts the longest long run at 26k. The point is more about accumulated fatigue. 
This year it's the First/ run less run faster program. The 3 easy runs (out of the total of 6) are replaced with 2 cross training workouts (rowing machine and exercise bike in my case) and a core workout. Each of the 3 runs in the program is a challenge - a truly long run, a tempo, and punishing speed work. The thinking is to work harder on the runs and include one that's closer to race conditions, all while promoting fuller recovery between them (though still working hard on non-run days). 
In each of the 4 marathons I've done, my right hamstring (or both) has seized up. I PB'd last year by 5 minutes due to managing that problem smartly, even though it did still happen. Still, this time around on my way to my first 50k ultra, sundays feature more 30k+ runs than ever before (5 to be exact, along with 2x 29k, 2x 26k, a 27 and 2x tempo half marathons). 
The length of these sunday outings allow me to link together old routes from before I moved house with current ones. From brush, to streetscape, to alpine. I like the sound of "I ran Fish Creek Park in its entirety." 
My legs tend to feel toasted by about 27/ 28k. Changing to a more shuffling style to protect the hamstrings, I've found I can keep going at target race pace. It's at about my fat-burning pace I have found: legs feel awful, but I can keep going. It has often produced a mental image of a steam train fireman shovelling coal as fast as he can. Or buckets of fat. 
Speed runs have me running, or for the first month of the plan flailing and gasping, at higher speeds than ever before. Despite using a gps watch, it's hard to get the right speed. Frequently, I start off too fast. For example, a recent 6x 800m: I'd do the first 500m 20 seconds per km too fast, then cling on. Misjudgments like that make the final intervals hard to complete, but if it's difficult, it's doing you good. 
My tempo runs are less strenuous, though the shorter ones are rather high speed and burn a little at the end.
Amongst all of that, and moving house at the end of this month, I've still found time to make it to a few Calgary Marathon events. Honorary Chair Chandra Crawford, an Olympic gold medallist in cross country skiing is tackling the Half, and has a strong message about perseverance with fun. That is what it is all about - every runner is a case study in the triumph of the human spirit. 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Saint Patrick's 5k - off to the races

Pacing myself for the first race of the season and especially a short one: not my best skill. A few seconds per km quicker when closer to the limit of your breathing make a much larger difference. Too fast, too soon and you'll finish sounding like a fire-breathing dragon without the actual flames. 

So, back to racing for the first time since November. That was also a 5k. In quite a damaged state, I had struggled across the line in 20:58. 4 months earlier I had set a PB of 19:18 which I remain pleased with. 
I've been increasing kilometrage and speed only since January. Add to that a Saint Patrick's Road Race course with a couple of tricky bits of gradient and plenty of corners, and I could rule out the low 19s, but I was hoping to guide/ inspire/ grind/ drag myself to a sub 20.
A touch chilly, the roads were clear and good for racing. This event, it almost goes without saying, always delivers a great vibe. 
Benard Onsare, a many time winner of the Calgary Marathon, placed 3rd in the 10k. He probably let 2 others finish in front of him. 
One stroller took on the 10k. 
It was soon time to line up and contemplate who had discarded a rather nice jacket. 
During my bouncy warm up, I could see a lot of guys who looked way faster than me standing still. 
Legendary photographer Neil Zeller took a few probably unpublishable extreme close-ups of me. 
had gone under the tape to line up in front of runners with headphones, etc. A runner with music is especially dangerous at the start of a race.
Started the gopro and let whatever was about to happen, happen. 
There I am, jumping. Not actually 7 feet tall. 
Off we went at what seemed like 400m pace. 
One really quick 10k competitor came hobbling back having had turned his ankle a bit in a pothole. He decided to do the 5k despite not being in the best shape. You can spot him if you examine the feet above. 
A-Chang got a couple of great quad shots. Trailing leg extension on toe-off quite good, even if foot a little sideways. 
Me, cropped. 
The course is an out and back. First uphill/ last downhill was less steep than I remember from 2 years ago. The first downhill/ last uphill is however steeper, it's second visit coming at a key stage in the race.
2k sign and I was about 40 seconds ahead of 20 minute pace. My watch km splits were coming before the signs, earlier and earlier, though it's always going to be about completing the course rather than when a gps tells you to stop. Into a headwind before the turnaround, I slowed a bit as I felt I was burning too many matches. 
The leading lady's speed, just in front of me, was dropping more than mine. I overtook, knowing it's all too easy to settle into a pace-setter's slowing speed. The leader and race winner, who surely rode a bicycle some of the way, came flashing past. The injured guy came past wearing quite the grimace (camera zoom too wide to pick it up). 
Overtook one more at start of that incline. 
About halfway up, I overtook a kid who looked about 13, maybe younger. He'll be back next year with bigger lung capacity and leave me trailing.  
Past some gopro fans and the 4k sign after that last incline. I couldn't wave back, still recovering and trying to get my breathing rhythm back from that uphill. What is usually 3 steps per inhale and 3 per exhale seemed to swap places. 
"Be at 16 minutes at 4k, then 3:59 pace till the finish". So began the endgame. The last downhill helped conserve a little energy for the final few hundred metres. 
I could see the clock from quite a way off, and knew I had the sub-20 by the time I could read it. Easing up as I crossed the line, final time was 19:50. 
I had to push through a couple of barriers to get under 20 minutes again, however it shows that my speed and speed-endurance are gradually making a comeback.
Exhaustion arrived a few seconds later, level: hands on knees. 
I lost count of my place during the race, my 12th was actually 15th. No age group podium this time. 
Watch thought I'd done 5.1k. 
Irish stew makes for the best post-race food ever.
A-Chang was entertained by the various costumes, and welcomed not having to wait too long for me. 
She got this shot of me at the line, which through the magic of Instagram manages to convey much of what running means.