Thursday, January 26, 2006

Erin was the best slow runner

I think I may have saved myself. I was in danger of becoming a good slow runner.

Many years ago there was a girl who used to train at Calwell. Erin was one of those lucky runners blessed with natural talent. She could run fast and make it look easy. She also practised with the dedication that produced top-three finishes in national competition as a young teenager. She once placed third to Georgie Clarke in the national U16 800 metres. Erin no longer runs seriously and you're more likely to find her photograph in the social pages than the sporting pages of The Canberra Times.

Back in the 1990s during winter I'd sometimes take the group on 'long runs' lasting 45 minutes to an hour or more. One of these adventures sticks in my memory. It wasn't the one where we stopped for ice creams; or the one where our shortcut through the bush became a swamp; or the one where we practised our discus throwing with dried cow pats; or the one where Kelly rolled her ankle and had to be carried through paddocks to a farmer's house. It was the one where I discovered an extra quality to Erin's running.

We were homeward bound when I noticed Erin was falling behind the group. I dropped back to run with her. She kept running slower until we were crawling along at a snail's pace. She was the best slow runner I'd ever seen and nine years later I take great pleasure in reminding her of that fact whenever I see her around town. By moving like a glacier on that run she was making a 13-year-old's not so subtle point that she disliked slow running.

Thinking about Erin reminds me that I also dislike slow running. Why then have I fallen into this pattern of moving slowly? I guess it's 'easy' and doesn't take much thought. The bad thing about doing so much slow running is that over time your body learns this pattern of movement. A 'Cliffy shuffle' is not the best style of movement to adopt if you want be a fast distance runner. What works best is an economical version of the middle distance running pattern.

Erin was a fast runner because that's what she did most of the time. Her body felt comfortable running that way because that's what it knew best. The drills Mike taught her reinforced this pattern of movement. For her, running slowly was uncomfortable just as running fast these days is uncomfortable for me. My body has learned all too well the pattern of slow movement. It's time to change.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

At the end of every hard earned day

The big running thing for me this week was the 1500 metre race on Thursday evening. This was my second middle-distance race of the season. Middle-distance races for those who don't know are 800 and 1500 metre races held on a 400 metre athletics track. How I wish I'd run more of them... the pain happens fast and is over fast! This is the opposite to this morning's 31km run over the mountains of Majura and Ainslie... the pain happened with the gradualness of rising damp and is still happening hours later as I hobble around the house.

On Thursday I had a rough goal of running under five minutes, fifty two seconds. I'd worked this out by doubling my 800 metre time of 2:56 from the previous week. This calculation provides a reasonable relationship between 800 and 1500 times. If you run 2 minutes for 800 you should run about 4 minutes for 1500.

As I warmed up my confidence grew as my legs felt like they wanted to work for a change. In this regard I think only running 8.4 rather than my usual 12 to 16 kilometres on a Wednesday made the difference. Also, I didn't feel 'dead tired' in spite of working nine and a half hours that day. I stopped in at Calwell and then drove to the track thinking of some words from a Bruce Springsteen song: "Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe". I wasn't going to let a tough day at work spoil my race!

I lined up on the outside of the curve with Geoff and when the gun sounded I ran up the back straight and found a place in the middle of the group. I was behind Kathy and Charlie and happy to stay there as the pace seemed about right. I passed 300 metres in 68.6 (5:43 pace) and felt okay. Going up the back straight for the second time I sensed the girls were slowing so I went ahead.

For the rest of the race I concentrated on trying to get closer to Katie. She'd opened up a big gap with her usual fast start. After 2 laps I noticed Geoff had drawn level with her but they were still about 50 metres ahead and 30 metres or so behind Gary who would eventually win the race in a PB of 5:17.02. I clawed back some metres from Katie in the third lap (my second and third laps were about 94 seconds each). I summoned what only I would call a 'sprint' in the last 200 metres to place 6th in 5:47.89. My last lap was 90.2 seconds. Katie had run 5:41.54 and Geoff improved a huge amount with 5:23.65.

Overall, I had positive feelings about my race. I'm sure I can run faster - hopefully well under 5:30 towards the end of the year if I can get some specific 800/1500 training happening. The important thing is I've rediscovered my love of middle-distance racing. Times don't really matter if the racing is fun!

Friday, January 13, 2006

A reason to run

Last night I ran my first 800 metre race since February 2004. It wasn't good. In spite of the unsatisfactory result I'm glad I ran. It was a valuable lesson in preparation... what not to do in order to avoid embarrassing myself in future races.

On Tuesday I'd watched the 800 metre races at Interclub. Paul (another coach in our club) said "why don't you have a run in the slow heat?" I replied "No, I'd struggle to run 3 minutes", secretly thinking I'd probably run about 2:48. Besides, I wanted to watch two young runners from Calwell who were racing...

In the slowest heat, Sarah ran 2:44 and in the previous heat Tom clocked 2:30, both running with determination that belied their lack of experience. Watching all the 800 metre races at Interclub made me want to try one on Thursday night at Vets. As I drove home from Interclub I decided I needed to run. I stopped near Lake Burley Griffin with the plan of running around Central Basin.

It was still muggy and warm at 9pm. I put on the Frees and then sat in the car watching a group picnicking by the lake and some couples enjoying an evening stroll. I began thinking 'this is silly - it's late and I'll be tired in the morning if I don't get home'. I started the car. I didn't have a reason to run. Then I suddenly thought about writing 'nil' in my diary. I switched off the car for the second time, got out and started running.

I began the run with as much speed as my creakiness would allow, not wanting to do a slow plod. After a kilometre or so things loosened up and I found myself moving along quite smoothly. The 5.1 km lap of the 'two bridges' took me 24 minutes 18 seconds. I'd been running 'hard' but not 'flat out'. It was one of the best, most memorable runs I've had in ages and strangely, one that was ever so close to not happening.

I lined up on the outside of the curved start of the third fastest 800 metre heat on Thursday night. To my inside were mainly 'Team Moore' runners, one, Maureen, would run an ACT W55 800m record. I started well and fast but after 50 metres was quickly shuffled to the back of the pack. I was trying to run fast but I wasn't getting anywhere! I trailed Kathy by ten metres after 200 and tried to not drop further behind.

The first lap was 1:26 - depressingly slow. I kept running as hard as possible and tried but couldn't find any sort of a kick for the last 100 metres. I placed 9th (second last) in 2:55.70. At least I knew I'd tried hard as I was suffering the post-race 'burning throat' that is familiar to all 800 metre runners. My dismal performance didn't turn me off the event. I know they're 'fun' if you're closer to the middle of the field and have a little speed in the legs. When is the next one?

Sunday, January 08, 2006


I need to write another post before I receive more comments than CJ or Susan.

There's a 400 metre grass track down at Calwell which I've been using since the early 1990s. Mike Sainsbury coaches a group of runners there numbering about 15 and ranging in age from 12 to 49 (although most are under 20). I've been assisting him since the mid-1990s. The track is only about 2 kilometres from home but I usually drive the car or ride the bike there before doing a 2.5k warm-up run with the kids. Am I becoming lazy, or is it that I just can't face dragging my tired, fat, wombat ass, 2km uphill after training?

Last Thursday I decided to run a very basic track session... 'hundreds'. I haven't been doing serious fast training for six months or more. 'Hundreds' is running 100 metre repeats. There's nothing more basic. I mean, everyone has run 100 metres, right? All the kids know what 100 metre speed means. Mike might say to a runner "do 700 metres at 21 seconds per 100 for the first 400 then 18 seconds per 100 for the last 300". They know exactly what he means!

I tried to run my 100s with good 'middle-distance' runner's form, not resorting to the frenetic leg-speed of a sprinter. Good 'middle-distance' form means 'running tall', having 'good arms', good knee-lift and driving strongly and quickly off the ground. I avoided the uphill first 100 metres and used the back straight, bend and home straight. For recovery I just walked around until I felt ready to run again (about 45-55 seconds). I ended up running 23 x 100 metres averaging 20.7 seconds. This is not very fast! It's the same pace as 5:10 for 1500 metres or 34:30 for 10km. Obviously I'm not running fast enough to attempt 5:14 for 1500 metres! I need to practise more for speed and do 'fast drills'.

At the other end of the scale, on Saturday morning, I attempted my first 'really long' run in training for the Six Foot Track Marathon. It didn't go well! I felt really tired after just 17 kilometres and walked all of the last 10k of the 29.5k 'run'. I don't rate it as a total failure though as the Six Foot Track requires 'good walking'. Perhaps I should stick to running 'hundreds'?