Thursday, September 24, 2015

Harbour Bridge run, Sprint Duathlon and a 5k

Last Sunday I competed in the Blackmores' Sydney Harbour Bridge run and the Sunday before, the Stromlo ACT Sprint Duathlon. The duathlon was lot of fun — I think the result is further proof that these days my running and cycling are equally strong. Interesting, as when I was dabbling in triathlons in the mid-1990s, the run was by far my strongest leg, followed some way back by the bike with the swim a 'finally we can pack up the swim course' third. This race was a 5k run, 20k road ride, 2.5k run duathlon and my places for all three legs were similar — 61st, 57th and 58th. My place for the race was 55th (out of 83 finishers) and 2nd in the 55-59 age-group.

My plan for the Sydney Harbour Bridge run was to enjoy myself, not bust a gut, and recover quickly to resume my normal training. In the end, all went to plan and I actually ran a 20 second course PB. Very surprised at that! I started mid-pack in the A-group and as per usual, spent the first kilometre up onto the bridge weaving around people who started too fast. Luckily the bridge is nice and wide, providing plenty of overtaking room. I'd forgotten to pack my Garmin so used my trusty Casio to record splits for later analysis. I ran at a steady (hard tempo) pace for the first 5k, then got motoring, smiling inwardly as I overtook people for the next 4.23k. I was running this section pretty much all out, but there were times when it was simply impossible to run as fast as one would like, due to the crowded nature of the out/back section down to Mrs Macquarie's Chair. My final time was 45:03 (4:53 per km), for 790th place out of 11,481 finishers.

The 5k race was the Customs Handicap lunch run on the Friday before Sydney. The 'Floriade' course is a flat double out/back with only the two U-turns (and wandering tourists) slowing things down. I ran with my mate Jim for the first kilometre, feeling very easy. I then accelerated, pushing quite hard with a rough goal of breaking 23 minutes. Only just made it! 22:58, with my average heart-rate being 144. Kilometre splits had been 4:38, 4:29, 4:32, 4:45 and 4:34. I was most happy with how I felt during the run which gives me confidence that averaging under 4:30 per k for a 5k race isn't far off. This coming Sunday I'm racing the in ACT Duathlon Championships (10k/40k/5k), with no goals besides enjoyment and not crashing.

Helmet on after the first run leg (had a good race with the lady in purple), and there are still bikes in the transition area! Thanks Ruth for the photos.

Balance test, putting on my cycling shoes. Not sitting down!

Finally out on my trusty 14-speed 'Aluminum' racer, chasing down cyclists for 20k :)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Perfect running form, and other thoughts about cycling

I used to run with a bloke who, when he ran, reminded me of Henry Rono. My friend ran with beautiful form that made me, a marathon shuffler, extremely jealous. The funny thing is, my friend wasn't that fast — he ran around 20 minutes for 5k when I'd run 19 (this was a long time ago!). I suspect my friend's exquisite form was part natural and part emulation. He had a high heel-lift and loped along with ease — his cadence was slow, in the manner of Mo Farah, but with a stride quite a bit shorter than Mo's two-plus metres. Lovely running form isn't everything, but I still wish I could run like my friend.

There are many reasons why I like cycling, one being there doesn't seem to be such a thing as 'perfect cycling form' — no high heel kick, hip and knee drive, elastic (Paula Radcliffe-like) recoil off the ground of the perfect runner. My feet are attached to the pedals just the same as Chris Froome and my legs go round and round and round. I can even spin at the high cadence of Froome — in fact if I were to ride next to the great man (at a speed I was capable of, say 30 kph), no spectator would think 'that man's form is terrible, yet he's keeping up with an elite athlete.'

As a professional runner, I think I'm close to zeroing in on my ideal training day. In previous posts I've mentioned Jack Farrell's article: 'Re-Thinking The Hard-Easy Myth' where he explains why too much rest has just as negative an impact on development as over-training, by violating the principle of balance. Jack's runners train at the same intensity level every day, with no really hard days, but also no easy or rest days. Variety is achieved by running on different courses. "The goal of this training is to lower the comfort zone, that is the pace at which an athlete can run gradually longer distances at a steadily decreasing pace." I think my ideal training day is 50 to 60 minutes of running in the (late) morning or at lunch time, followed by 90 minutes to 2 hours of cycling in the late afternoon. This is something I can repeat day after day, week after week... Cycling in the morning and running in the afternoon doesn't work! I've tried it and my runs have been ordinary to terrible on those days.

Just recently, with all this volume of aerobic exercise, my running has started to feel really good — today 5:10 per k pace was only producing a heart rate of 132, slightly above my MAF heart-rate. So the legs have been strong and the heart has been cruising. On Sunday for a slight change from day-after-day training, I'm competing in a duathlon out at Stromlo — 5k run, 20k bike, 2.5k run. Should be fun!

Shuffling along with less than perfect form at the Tuggeranong Parkrun

Testing the old Aluminum bike at Lake Tuggeranong this arvo

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Professional running is not all beer and skittles

Just as I'm starting out on my professional running career, an unexpected speed-bump appears on the smooth Mondo road to success. Yes, an injury — embarrassingly self-inflicted, but now, a week after the fact, feeling like it's almost not worth writing about. However, I will.

I visited my old home town of Wagga Wagga on the 14th of August to race the 'Trail Marathon 10k' the following day. The race went better than expected — I felt strong and reasonably speedy, finishing 17th (from 71 finishers) in 48:01. For a trail race, it was a fast course (the marathon on the other hand, is tough!), perhaps only a minute slower than a fast 10k road course. I was happy with my time. The following day I rode my mountain bike in the 'Mountain Bike Marathon', getting beaten up a bit by the hills, finishing 41st in 2:35:42. It was good fun though! Beautiful trails and river-side single tracks.

I recovered well and enjoyed some good training in Wagga over the next few days. On Thursday I took my scooter (Xootr) out for some x-training. I was rolling down the footpath having a great time — until I moved to the left to give an oncoming old pedestrian elbow room. My front wheel sunk in the grass and I fell heavily (and embarrassingly) on my left side. Ouch! Only a little skin off one finger, but I'd wrenched my lower back. The following day I jogged 10k with the shortest stride ever, 6:10 per km pace, the right hamstring also feeling tight and uncomfortable. Since then I've been easing back into training — short runs of 3 to 4k and long bike rides. The injury, today, feels like it's about 90% right. I hope to resume 'normal' training this weekend, with the Blackmores Sydney Harbour Bridge 9k on September 20 my next major race. No scooter cross-training has been penciled in to the training schedule.

Very cool 'rusty crow' trophies (Wagga Wagga means place of many crows)
Lovely trail beside the Murrumbidgee River used for the Marathon, Half and MTB Marathon races

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My first two weeks as a professional runner

Had a fantastic sleep last night — 10 hours, solid. The lifestyle of a professional runner is tiring! My body is telling me something: "Listen here stupid! Waking up to an alarm at 5 A.M. every morning is not healthy. You need more rest!"

As Canute mentioned in a comment on my last post, 'increased time for recovery will probably be at least as valuable as the increased time for training'. So true. Nevertheless, I have modestly increased the volume of training over the past two weeks. Running is up to 40k per week from a recent average of 25k per week and cycling is up to 266k per week (from 197k).

On Sunday I ran my 31st Sydney City to Surf and had a surprisingly good result. Surprising because I'd decided to 'train through' the race, not wanting to do a one-week taper as I've only just started increasing my training. My 'taper' was a rest day on the Saturday. I knew I wasn't going to break 70 minutes (5-minute km pace) as I'd raced a hard 5k on Friday for 24:11 (4:50 pace) on a fairly flat course. The City to Surf is anything but flat. Sunday dawned cool, sunny and breezy — great conditions for racing. I was very relaxed about the whole show, starting near the back of the 'Red' group and settling into a steady pace down William Street. I only saw a couple of runners I knew during the run: Bridget from the YMCA Running Club, Elle and Kathy Sims (who finished 4th in the W60 age-group). I ran by feel, trying to keep stress levels low on the hills. At 10k I took a quick look at the Garmin, saw 51:16 and thought I might finish close to 70 minutes after all. After that I ran faster, confident that I'd make the daunting 14k distance and actually sprinted the final 300 metres. 70:17! Very happy with that. I placed 7,900th out of 65,477 official finishers and 480th in the rather tough 50-59 age-group. Simon Claringbold from Canberra, probably our fastest M55 runner, placed 7th in 52:31.

Well, it's finally stopped snowing, so I should get out for my run — or ride, or indoor row, or gym session, or treadmill run. So many difficult decisions for the professional runner.

Crossing the City to Surf finish line on a sunny Sydney day 

Happy Speedy goose stops Garmin after a Sunday long run

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A professional runner's lifestyle experiment

Today happens to be the first day of an 'experiment of one' — the outcome of which I've wondered about ever since I laced up my first pair of Nike LDVs, 35 years ago. The question I'd like to answer is "Will I run faster if I train full-time?" — by adopting the lifestyle of the professional runner? If you're a serious competitor you've probably asked yourself the same question.

I know there are elite runners who work full-time jobs but at the top level they're a rarity. I read recently on Runner's World about Nicole Tully, who works full-time and won the U.S. national 5000m title recently in 15:06.44. She said "running isn’t something that I need to be doing for survival. It’s really just something that I want to be doing." Running is something I want to be doing too! Tully works full-time (with flexible hours) in advertising and public relations. Until yesterday I've been working full-time with inflexible working hours. Therein lies a problem — missed training sessions and tiredness due to 9 and 10-hour working days (longer in December). My day starts at six in the morning (I cycle to and from work), so I'm an afternoon runner, but if we're particularly busy at work I'll miss training sessions here and there — not ideal for maximising athletic performance.

Now I'm on Long Service Leave until January 2016! Woohoo! I can see for myself if the lifestyle of the professional runner (minus the distraction of sponsor commitments) will improve performance. Does sleeping 9 or 10 hours a day (I'm not trying the 12 or 14 of Paula Radcliffe!) help with recovery? Does discarding the stresses of a full-time job help one cope with a difficult and stressful training session? Is running in the warm part of a Canberra winter's day all it's cracked up to be? Will I be able to avoid the temptations of the couch, a glowing fire and my box-set of Survivor DVDs? I'll update readers with progress reports — especially about my goal of running under 22 minutes for 5k. I'm excited!

Speedygeese flew at the 2015 Nail Can Hill Run

Sunday, July 12, 2015

2nd O50 in the Sri Chinmoy short course Off-Road Duathlon

This is an annual event and the good folk at the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team provide both short (for 5k runners like me) and long course races. It's a run/ride/run duathlon with the first run a road course around the Botanic Gardens, the mountain bike held in Black Mountain reserve which is also used for the second 'mountain' run. Leg distances were 2k, 7k and 2.5k although the first leg was a little short of what was advertised, at about 1.4k.

It was a cold and foggy morning and it took me the first run to get fully warmed up. I ran with Bronwyn early and got ahead a little into transition. The mountain bike course was tough! Straight up a steep hill before following undulating fire trails within the reserve. I enjoyed the ride, moving up in the field and only having to run my bike on a couple of steep pinches. I was having a battle with another 'old bloke', managing to break away on the last uphill section. My second transition wasn't the quickest, frozen fingers not wanting to unbuckle my helmet (stood there like an icy statue for about 30 seconds). The second run went straight back up the mountain on a rough single-track trail, then followed a long fire-trail section before plummeting back down to the finish. My rival closed the gap (I could hear his footsteps ever closer), but before he drew level I made a run for home down the last hill. The sneaky bugger matched my change of pace before sprinting away within sight of the line. Damn!

A nice '2nd Place 50 & Over' trophy for the mantelpiece and some very interesting stats from the event. I placed 5th overall; 16th (out of 27) for the first run, 6th fastest on the bike ride and 8th fastest for the mountain run. Perhaps I'm a better cyclist than runner? I think cycling is more forgiving of body weight (unless you're cycling up a 10k climb) — not that I'm over weight for my height. My BMI is 20.8 (within 'normal weight' range), but 72 kg is 'heavy' when compared to the average weight of elite distance runners. The bike 'carries' weight well — I guess in a similar way to water with swimmers. Anyway, my immediate plans are to continue cycling for fun and cross-training, while at the same time developing some end-of-race sprinting speed. Or maybe employ different race tactics against kickers!

At the back chatting to Bron when the race started
 Cold and foggy on the first run leg
 A nice trophy from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

Monday, June 15, 2015

Last in the ACT Cross Country Championships

I knew when I looked at the sign-on sheet that I had last place sewn up. Thommo was the second slowest runner and he's in 20-low 5k form. I was resigned to a solo 12k time trial on Stromlo's undulating grass track. David ran with me for the first k (he'd raced 5k earlier that morning in 19:45) before taking off and winning the M55s in 54:00.

My laps progressively got slower but I didn't feel awful at any stage. My 25k per week running legs survived! My heart and lungs had been comfortable enough — average heart rate of 145 and a maximum of 154 as I pushed to get under 59 minutes. I finished 18th and last in 58:44, Thommo ahead, almost out of sight, running 57:05.

If you race a lot, one day you'll start a race as the slowest runner and finish last. If a 15-minute 5k runner started in a 5000 metre heat at the Olympics he'd get lapped and finish last. Aside from the memorable placing I was quite pleased with my race. Beforehand I'd been nervous about the step-up in racing distance from 5k to 12k but it didn't turn out to be so bad. As I was running I enjoyed the sunshine, my niggle-free legs and the mild (for winter in Canberra) temperature. It had been a good day.

I make sure my Garmin is working for my longest run in more than a month. The 12k race was won by Joshua Johnson in 36:39.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Treadmill running in slow motion

My treadmill has been working overtime lately — no, I'm not going soft (I hope!), just not feeling inclined to run in the dark and cold after I've cycled to and from work. According to Strava my cycling mileage is averaging 189 kilometres per week. My running mileage over the past six weeks has averaged 26 kilometres per week — scarily low for a person who used to thrive on 80 to 100 kilometres per week. I'm sure the cycling mileage is preventing my aerobic condition from declining, while I'm doing just enough running so the legs don't forget how to run!

The video below shows me running on the treadmill at a speed of 12 kilometres per hour (5-minute ks). I normally run intervals, strides and short tempo runs on the treadmill. With the machine set at a steady speed I've been playing around with varying my cadence and stride length. A fast cadence (180 plus) feels rather stressful on the treadmill. When I run with a slower cadence, pushing harder off the belt (not over-striding) I feel more relaxed and less in danger of flying off the back of the bloody thing!

I'm still racing okay — 6k at Stromlo yesterday in 28:40 at an average heart rate of 143. I ran a bit soft in the last 2k lap as I wasn't being challenged from behind and Speedygeoff was almost out of sight ahead. The course was slightly long as rope barriers were in use on two corners to give the trampled grass a break. Lap splits had been 9:26, 9:26 and 9:48. Next Saturday I'm racing 12k on the same course — man is that going to be hard!