Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cycling and the Sydney Harbour Bridge Run

Inspired by Harley's 2:50 marathon on ten miles a week (plus a lot of cycling!) I've been rediscovering the boyhood joy of riding a bike. Forty-plus years ago I was into cycling as a teenager (as most kids were in those days) — riding to and from school; heading out for all-day jaunts in the summer holidays and even completing a couple of multi-day rides including a memorable one from Wagga to Melbourne via the Victorian Alps.

I've bought myself a couple of new bikes (to go with my '96 Cannondale R400 — bought when I was briefly into triathlons): a nice lightweight aluminium 650B 30-speed mountain bike and a Trek FX 7.5 aluminium 18-speed road bike (more versatile and comfortable than the Cannondale and almost as fast). Daylight hours are lengthening so I've been heading out for rides some afternoons as well as running around 40 kilometres a week. I've joined Strava (a web-based and mobile application) to log my rides (and runs). Strava is good fun as there are many cyclists in Canberra, with most cycle paths and trails having established 'leaderboards' on which to try and improve one's PRs for the various segments.

My races have been going well — nothing spectacular, but some solid results. 5k Parkruns in 23:23 and 23:20; the Canberra Times 10k in 48:03 and last Sunday, the Blackmores Sydney Harbour Bridge Run. This one is advertised as 'Approx 9.0 kms', but is certainly longer. The timing results on the website show it as 9.23k, which seems correct — after running sub-5 minute ks most of the way, my '9th' k was 5:56! Anyway, my finishing time was 45:23 (4:55 per km at an average heart rate of 145). This result compares quite favourably to my race in 2007 when I ran 44:01 at an average HR of 144. There were 11,960 finishers and I just squeaked into the first 1000. More importantly I felt good during the race and competed well against a few distinctive runners including a lady running with a 'Canadian' white/red jacket tied around her waist (it wasn't cold!). I hope you're all going well. I'm a little behind in blog-reading, but hope to catch up over the coming days.

National Gallery stop during a ride around LBG 

Turning off Macquarie Street to finish the Blackmores Sydney Harbour Bridge Run

Saturday, August 30, 2014

How to break 3 hours for the marathon on ten miles a week

"That's impossible!" I hear you all shout. Well, it's not and it's actually pretty easy. The runner who most recently achieved 'the impossible' was not a 2:06 Kenyan who'd been running ten miles a week for six months. It was a 37-year-old Australian who placed 7th in the Adelaide Marathon last Sunday. Harley Vegan (who promotes the 'vegan high carb' diet) ran well under 3 hours with a time of 2:50:47. He was on 2:48 pace until 38k so lack of running training didn't cost him much time. His run training for 2014 amounted to 19.6k on average per week (actually 12 miles as he says in the video below). The video is a reply to a person who claimed a sub-3 marathon on ten miles a week couldn't be done in a comment on Harley's marathon race report video.



"I use cycling to build my cardio" says Harley. "I can't even do speedwork because I haven't got the [running] base!" Cycling is Harley's preferred sport and he's a very good cyclist. He cycles A LOT! He doesn't own a car or even have a driver's licence. On his Youtube Channel there's a video of Harley riding up the Corkscrew Hill in Adelaide and keeping pace with the Movistar Team professional riders. He has a high VO2Max and has built up impressive endurance from cycling. "My challenge with the marathon always comes down to leg fatigue — I do runs so the legs can withstand the impact and use heavy cushioned shoes [in the race]."

I must say that I'm excited by this video from Harley (and that's coming from a rare user of the 'f' word!). I'm adding cycling to my rather modest 50 kilometres or so of weekly running (I do like running and 16-19k a week just wouldn't do it for me). I predict that the cycling will enable me to maintain (or improve) my stamina over and above simple running. As Harley says, "Ego crushes potential. Always have an open mind [about different ways to train]."

Friday, August 15, 2014

City to Surf Number 30

Last Sunday I found myself in a familiar and comfortable place. Yes, it was early in the race! I was running along the flat section at Rose Bay, approaching the 5k mark. This was my 30th Sydney City to Surf. Yes, I was just a boy when I ran my first. I glanced at my watch as I passed the marker (something I usually don't do when racing). 24:40 was 18 seconds more than last year's split. Sub-70 and a 'Red Group' qualifying time wasn't going to be easy. Last year I ran with desperation over the final kilometres to run 69:39 and already I was behind schedule.

Approaching the top of 'heartbreak hill' I had a déjà vu moment when I spotted Jenny Gilbert in the crowed, running strongly about 30 metres ahead. Jenny used to run with the Lane Cove Riverrunners when I lived in Sydney in the early '80s. We ran 10k in the park on Tuesdays, usually in less than 40 minutes. Jenny finished second in the '85 City to Surf in 50:17 (American Nancy Ditz won in 48:30). I bumped into Jenny earlier in the morning at the 'secret toilets' and she was typically reserved about discussing her plans for the race. "Same here" she said when I revealed my plan of trying to run 70 minutes. Here we were, amidst 80,000 others, running (almost) together again, just like the old days in the park.

I tried to increase my pace as we crested the hill. My mind was willing but my legs weren't! I soon lost sight of Jenny's pink singlet in the crowd. When we turned into Old South Head Road after 8k I found myself in survival mode. I was keeping up with some distincively attired people in the river of humanity, but most runners were moving ahead. The 10k clock said 51:41 (1:12 more than last year) so I knew sub-70 wasn't going to happen. I still raced as hard as possible and managed a modest sprint down Queen Elizabeth Drive to the finish. I'd run 71:52 — 5:08 per km pace (average heart-rate of 141 compared to the more desperate 144 of last year). Jenny had run 70:11 (!) with an official 'Heartbreak to Bondi' split 31:31, while mine showed a distinct lack of endurance at 32:43.

My lesson from this result is that a diet of mostly 6 to 8k flat runs and modest mileage (51k per week) is short of what's needed for a 'good' City to Surf. Not surprising, as the race record is held by a marathoner (Steve Moneghetti's 40:03 from 1991). Next year I'll aim to prepare more thoroughly. Until then, 5k racing here we come!

Staying with my mate Jim meant we were up excessively early ('to get a good spot at the start') for the 2014 City to Surf. Sparse crowd near St Mary's Cathedral.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Running on a NordicTrack T20.5 treadmill

After running through more Canberra winters than I care to remember, I've finally given in to my soft side and purchased a treadmill: The NordicTrack T20.5 with "iFit." Canberra isn't Minnesota, so it's possible to run outdoors 365 days a year. Possible, but on a zero Celsius rainy day in July with a southerly wind blowing off the snow, not pleasant.

I joined a local gym in mid-June for 3 months in order to try treadmill running and see if I liked it. The gym has other equipment I use like the Concept2 rowing erg, elliptical machines and stationary bicycles. I enjoyed the warmth of the gym so decided to buy a home treadmill. After a little internet research I chose the NordicTrack T20.5 ($1999 delivered including the iFit module and 12 months' membership of iFit). The treadmill has a 3.5 continuous horsepower motor 0 to 15% incline (8% is bloody hard!) and 0 to 3% decline. The decline feature is great for downhill training (working the quads) and for simulating rolling hills. There's a Youtube video showing the T14.2 model being run on at the top speed of 22 kph. Scary!

So how am I liking it? It's great! Perfect for the distances I want to run — usually 5k (although I completed the 'Isle of Arran' iFit course the other day, which was 8.09k). The iFit module links the treadmill to your laptop or tablet computer. As you run a course (there are many different ones available — or you can design your own), images from Google Earth street view and matched to the treadmill's speed. The images are downloaded instantly every few seconds so not video-like but good enough for the bush. The viewpoint is quite high too, perhaps the height of a bus, so you get a tall view of the scenery you're running through. The treadmill's incline is automatically adjusted, which I've found is sometimes exaggerated from real world courses. Because of this I've been preferring flat courses.

I've been finding treadmill running a little harder than running outside. Heart-beats per kilometre seem to be a little higher on the treadmill — perhaps because the temperature is so warm! I noticed when I turned on the built-in fan to high speed half way through a steady-paced run that my heart-rate declined! The treadmill also demands quite a bit of concentration to stay in the same position relative to the console. Drifting back could be very dangerous! For this reason I've been conservative when choosing speeds for steady runs and interval sessions. As well as the iFit and in-build programmes there are some good treadmill workout ideas on the web — for example, ones such as this on Carrie Tollefson's Youtube channel.

Running 'in the snow' down the Stavio Pass in Italy

Friday, July 11, 2014

2 Red Balloons at the Gold Coast Half

I'm back in cold, windy Canberra after a short holiday to warm, sunny Surfers Paradise. My excuse for the holiday was to race in the 'Gold Coast Asics Half Marathon', held last Sunday. I would have preferred to race in Saturday's 10k but couldn't get a flight until mid-morning Saturday. My weekly 'long' runs over winter have been around 12k with weekly mileage at about 60k so my enthusiasm for racing a hard half marathon was rather lacking!

I knew there'd be a split-timing mat at 10k so I decided in advance to race hard to 10k (hopefully running around 48 minutes), then jog/walk my way to the finish and collect my 'finisher's shirt' and medal. It was cool (about 9C) and calm on Sunday morning as I walked the 2k from my unit to Southport for the 6AM start. The road was already crowded and loud (inspirational?) music blared from speakers adjacent to the start. The City-to-Surf-like crush of bodies kept me from moving forward so I started not too far from the 'red balloon' (1:50) man. I abandoned my idea of running a fast 10k and decided to run at 1:50 pace for as long as I could.

One minute after six and we were off. Exciting! Once past the start mat I was able to run fairly freely and didn't have too much trouble keeping with the 1:50 group. As is my habit I ran the race not looking once at the Garmin and felt after the 5k marker that we were running a little quick. Post-race splits showed the story: 5:22, 5:05, 5:08, 5:03, and 5:02. The red balloon man was averaging 1:48 pace. Ouch! Anyway, I kept running, feeling comfortable. Enjoyed watching the leaders coming back at the far turn — Reuben Kosgei way out in front (1:04:56) with Milly Clark leading the women (1:14:03). I passed the 10k timing mat (my split would be 51:34) feeling okay (especially my breathing) but 1k later my legs were getting sore. I'd also dropped 100 metres off red balloon man. I decided to stop running at 12k and walk for a while. The walk had lasted about 1.5k when I saw Tesso run past on white 2-hour balloon pacing duty.

I started running again with a spur of the moment 'B goal' of breaking 2 hours (thinking of Karla and her life-time goal of breaking 2). My stride became smoother again and I managed to get into a rhythm of clicking over ks around 5:30. Before I knew it the 18k marker came up, then over the little bridge and 20k. Nearly there! Into the park, past the grandstands in the finish straight and under the clock. 1:58:32 on the clock ended up being a net 1:56:59. Pretty happy with that! Met Jonathon after the finish (he'd run a season's best of 1:49) and walked back to my unit at Main Beach. Then down to the course at 28k to watch the marathoners come past. Saw the leader Silah Limo looking sublime and smooth, racing to a 2:09:14 win, the fastest marathon ever in Australia. After a while 2:09 man Lee Troop came by, finishing his last marathon in Australia (2:27:23). Well done Troopy! Then the female winner Asami Kato (2:28:51). I was sorry to miss recognising the legendary Yoshihisa Hosaka who won the 65-69 age-group 'by a mile' in 2:52:13.

The next morning I ventured out for a jog up to the delightful sandy trail at The Spit — tentatively at first. My legs didn't feel too bad. I could run! Over the next two days I managed a couple more easy runs and a 45k mountain bike ride with Roger (4:04 in the marathon). A happy finish to the short holiday.

Speedygeese shirt produces a season's best half marathon

Post-race jog on the delightful trail north of Main Beach

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Confounded by unexpected tactics

Last Saturday I was thinking of having another crack at my Parkrun 5k PB (22:52) — until I commenced my warm-up jog with Andy. I couldn't coax the legs into anything resembling warm and fluid movement. The temperature was 2 degrees Celsius. I was cold! I put aside the PB attempt and decided to take the race as it came, running fast if my legs were agreeable and most importantly, finishing ahead of my rival Jim.

After the pre-race briefing I positioned myself in my usual spot, 10 to 15 metres behind the start line. The Tuggeranong Parkrun uses a 'chute system' to produce a clean start for all runners. We line up in a chute that's about six runners wide, self-seeding according to expected finish time. The front two rows would be for sub-20 minute runners. Jim usually lines up on row thee while my habit is to stand about 8 to 10 runners back from the front row. I was in my grid slot when Jim walks in at the last minute and stands right behind me. What's going on here? I was confounded by his unexpected tactics. He should be up ahead — the hunted!

The race starts and after three or four seconds we're off and running. Jim ambles along beside me. Is he just having an easy run? An off day? Then after 100 metres or so he overtakes on my right, taking to the grass. There he goes! But he doesn't — he just runs nice and steadily (as is my custom), a metre or so ahead. Then he's on my left side; then ahead again as we zig-zag around the corners near McDonalds. As we run under the bridge at 1k I sense Jim is slowing so I ease ahead. I'm more than a little surprised when he surges decisively past just 500 metres later. Just after the 2k mark his pace falters and I move ahead once again. Stay behind, will you?!

At the U-turn on the out-and-back course I see that the elastic hasn't stretched that much. I'm worried. I have no idea of our pace, as I'm running by feel. I can see John up ahead (on his way to a PB) and Andy in the far distance (he'd run 22:24, a time I hope to achieve before too long). My major goal is to keep Jim behind — knowing that he likes to run a fast last 500 metres I decide to push hard from the footbridge, which is about 1.5k from the finish. The only runner within striking distance ahead is Kelly, pushing her daughter in a stroller (and she's already stopped a couple of times during the run!). My 'run hard from a long way out' tactic is successful — I finish 4 seconds behind Kelly and 6 seconds ahead of Jim. Woohoo! Time was 23:18 which I'll put down to the cold weather. Splits were good once again — 4:44, 4:42, 4:39, 4:37 and 4:36. I'll need a warmer day for a serious PB attempt. 10 degrees and sunny would be nice.

Racing scared (and cold), with Jim out of sight behind

Warming down with Brian (22:30 and 34-minute 10k runner in the 'old days') and Andy (22:24)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

I'll let you in on a secret: my tactics for racing during a 5k. These tactics are sensible, but take practise to execute to perfection and don't always guarantee success. After the start I ignore my opposition and begin at even pacing to produce a finish time I know I'm capable of running. This is harder than it sounds, as adrenaline is high at the start of a short race. Many runners fly off with Usain Bolt-like acceleration. I ignore these speedsters and settle into my even-paced rhythm, running by feel (feeling a bit slow usually ends up being perfect).

After about 500 metres I look ahead (it's always ahead) to spot my opposition. Last Saturday this was Jim (red singlet) and Graeme (aqua long-sleeve shirt). I keep running evenly and this is usually enough to gradually shrink the gap. By 2k I was just 10 metres behind Jim but Graeme seemed to be out of reach, still about 50 metres ahead. I quickly drew level with Jim and passed him before the turn. In the middle of a 5k my even-paced running continues (it feels like I'm running faster). On Saturday this saw me drawing away from Jim, then just after 3k (somewhat surprisingly), rapidly gaining on Graeme (running next to a lady in black).

If I'm even with my opposition at the 4k mark of a 5k I begin my long surge for the finish. Sprinting isn't my forte so I like to get away from my opposition well before they get a sniff of the finish line. Such was the case on Saturday — I drew level with Graeme, sensed he was weakening, and moved ahead. In retrospect I should have overtaken with more authority and perhaps he would have thrown up the white flag. He didn't. The hunter had become the hunted. My tactic in the final kilometre of a 5k is to keep running hard and save my alactic energy (modest sprint) for the last 150 metres. At the Tuggeranong Parkrun there's a small hill 150 out and I sprinted off that as hard as I could. I thought I was destined for a 'win' but with 50 to go Graeme flew past with a devastating sprint. Bastard!

I'd run a Parkrun PB (22:52), so happy with that, but not happy to lose the race with Graeme by one lousy second! My k splits had been 4:31, 4:35, 4:37, 4:37 and 4:32. My goal this year is to run 21:59 (or better) for 5k so to be less than a minute away from that goal is encouraging. I'm also looking forward to more exciting races. Love racing!

Go! Graeme (aqua shirt), myself behind John in blue shirt

Sprinting, Graeme in hot pursuit — Tuggeranong Parkrun