Sunday, December 11, 2011

Running with stars

I suspect this could be my last post for the year. If so, I hope you've enjoyed a happy year of running — or at least a year where you've learned something! Running's a game where you never stop learning. For instance, last night at Yelena's 30th birthday party I was chatting to a bloke who is recovering from achilles tendon surgery. His torn achilles (in a soccer game) was caused, he suspects, by training in running shoes with built-up heels before switching to soccer boots with no heel-to-toe drop. The broad running lesson here could be to "don't suddenly do something different!"

I've no more races scheduled for 2011 so my goal of running a sub-20 5k will carry over to 2012. A few recent training sessions have offered hope that I'm not far from the next jump in performance. On Friday I ran a 'tempo' 5k on the grass track at Calwell in 25:20 after a quick 5k warm-up. The HR trace for this run shows 'the hill' on the Calwell track. I run up the hill from the finish line to the 200m start then down the hill back to the finish. It's a very slight hill, but my heart notices it!

12 and a half laps of Calwell
Twelve and a half laps of Calwell

On Saturday I ventured out to Stromlo for a community run with Deek (Rob de Castella) and four of his Indigenous Marathon Project runners. They were in Canberra for a training camp. I was impressed by the female runner, Kelsey Youngblutt — she could pass for Deratu Tulu's younger sister! The group is training to run in next year's Boston Marathon. An inspiring documentary 'Running To America' was aired on ABC-TV about the project and how the first runners tackled the 2010 New York Marathon. You can watch it here until the 15th of December.

Before a run with Deek and the IMP runners
Deek, Joseph, Ewen, Jamie & Kelsey at Stromlo Forest Park

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Learning something

I've got the lyrics of this song spinning around in my head. Bow River is the song — you can see it on Youtube. "I've been working hard, twelve hours a day; the money I've saved won't buy my youth again." Okay, I don't want to buy my youth again — I just want to work eight hour days, not the eleven hour ones that have been more common for me lately than sub-2:06 marathons have been for Kenyan runners.

I raced twice again this past week. On Tuesday a 5k and on Thursday a 1500. Both races were an education. Loved Tuesday's race! Decided beforehand my tactics and executed them perfectly. My goal was to finish ahead of my long-time rivals Charlie and Jim by starting 'slowly' and gradually picking up the pace. It was an exact 3-lap course of 1.7k per lap, about 1/4 on a bike path and the rest on reasonable grass. I started the race at a comfortable effort, running with Geoff and Tori early. The first lap felt pretty easy. There was a large finish clock so I couldn't employ my 'no watch' method of running. 8:04 for the first lap and caught Charlie soon after. The funny thing about the next two laps is that I thought I was picking up the pace quite a bit but they passed in 8:01 and 8:00. I now have a better understanding about how 'even paced' running feels. I caught Jim with about 400 metres to go. 24:05 sounds slow but I was more in the 'tempo' HR range for this 5k (AHR of 146) and it wasn't a quick course.

On Thursday I raced my first 1500 metre event since early 2010. It wasn't pretty! Had 27th (and last) place sown up after 50 metres. Throughout I was desperately trying to stick with Janene (and Roger ahead of her), while feeling very ordinary and realising early on the finish time was going to be outside six minutes. Janene broke the elastic with about 600 to go. I ran 6:13.60, possibly my slowest ever 1500 in which I'd been trying. Splits were 95, 101, 103 and 73 (300m). Thankfully I was wearing the heart-rate monitor. My average (143) and max (157) readings told me my body/legs were just too tired to run fast. I'd expect 153 and 160-163 in a normal 1500 metre race.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Barrenjoey Drive 5k

I enjoyed another good race last Tuesday evening at the YCRC 'Summer Series' event down by Lake Burley Griffin. It was a 3-lap course with about half of each lap on a smooth gravel road and the remainder on a narrow winding trail. No hills to speak of. In the comments on my last post Canute talked about racing 'in the moment' and Lize of leaving the watch behind for races. Well, I didn't leave the Garmin behind, but with the discipline of a Trappist Monk, managed not to look at it once, so ended up with an 'in the moment' race experience.

The afternoon was warm and balmy — about 26 Celsius (the BOM said the 'apparent' temperature was 22), so I was happy to jog a one-lap warm-up with Maria and Tori. I lined up one row back on the left side of the road and ran off at what I guessed was the correct level of effort for a 5k race. After a couple of hundred metres I settled in near Charlie and Ken. Susie and Lucy were just ahead with a fair gap to Hannah, Maria, Kym, Jim and Craig. We turned left onto the narrow trail and it was Lucy's blue shirt that I followed. The second lap saw us overtake Hannah while gaining ground on Maria and Jim. Onto the narrow trail for the last time I managed to slip by Jim before putting in a major effort to pass Lucy, doing so just before the trail turned right onto the (thankfully) shortest finish straight in history. My time was 22:22, so 26 seconds quicker than for the Boathouse 5k. Lucy and Susie were one second behind and Maria (who had been out of sight on the winding section) 3 seconds ahead.

Two days later I ran in the ACT Veterans' 1 hour track race. I guess I'm a sucker for punishment! Wasn't quite on my game for this one and ran 12,568 metres, 243 short of what I ran in last year's event. Pace works out at 4:46 per km (7:41 per mile), which for me is quite quick considering I wasn't feeling fully recovered from Tuesday's race.

I really think 'recovery' is the one aspect of training that I'm not managing well while on this weekly racing gig. Not sure exactly how to schedule my weeks in order to elevate recovery to its rightful place in the training pyramid. Perhaps follow each 5k race with three days of aerobic running, a workout day, then two days of aerobic running prior to the next race?

Where my Garmin ran while I didn't look at it!
We ran 3 laps of this course for the Barrenjoey 5k. After the fact, my Garmin said my km splits were: 4:18, 4:28, 4:32, 4:40 and 4:24.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Tale of Two Races

One negative consequence of weekly racing is that one runs a fair chance of not being fully recovered for the race. If the race goes badly one can tip off the knife-edge of 'satisfactory performance' in a big way. Such was the case for me in my most recent 3000 metre track event on Thursday night. I had one of those races most runners would have experienced — starting at what seemed like a reasonable effort (a 4:21 first kilometre), then feeling my speed agonizingly drain away prior to a feeble attempt at a sprint finish to break... no, not 12:40 or 13:00, but 13-bloody-20! 13:19.98 to be exact. A second km of 4:30 was followed by a 4:29. The experience of having runner after runner go by and not being able to do anything about it is fairly sobering.

The funny thing is, just a week earlier I enjoyed a positive race experience. This was in the YCRC 'Spring Series' 5k road event (Boathouse East), out and back by the Molonglo River. Strangely, I had a quite awful warm-up jog with Speedygeoff. Legs were so tired and lifeless that when Geoff suggested he was going to run a tempo effort "5 minutes per kilometre sounds good", I decided to tag along.

The start was on a wide sandy beach for about 100 metres before the course narrowed to a 2-person bike path. So there was a bit of a rush initially to position ourselves into a roughly sensible order. I felt we were running quicker than 'fives', but went with the flow, staying with a loose pack that included Geoff, Robert, Graeme, Bob, Lucy and Emily. My Garmin beeped at 1k and I took a quick glance — 4:26! "I thought you said 'fives' Geoff!" With that I decided to ignore the watch and to actually race the race. I'm so glad I did that. I really enjoyed myself.

I relaxed and thought about tactics. Do I stay with this group for a while longer? Try to bridge a gap now? That sort of thing. We were running with a tailwind (in our faces for the second half), which also made tactics important. Up ahead I could see my old rival Jim, ultra expert Pam, and a young girl named Hannah. I managed to keep what felt like a fast/smooth rhythm going to the turn-around while steeling myself for the effort against the headwind. Geoff meanwhile, had disappeared out of sight. Obviously four-thirties was too slow for his tempo effort! I gradually gained ground on Jim, catching him at the last little rise with 1k to go. Pam was next, then Hannah. The youngster rallied and we were virtually side by side for the last 500 metres. Rounding the Boathouse we met the full force of the headwind and the prospect of a sprint-finish on the beach. I could also see the clock relentlessly clicking over (as clocks do), and realised we'd be under 23 minutes. Wow, that's not bad in these conditions! I fired up the fast-twitch muscles and gave it all I had. Hannah was up for it though and with a final surge, beat me to the line. The nerve! We'd both run 22:48.

Us on Red Hill
A long run of 13k with Andy and Ruth yesterday included plenty of stops for phone photos.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Summer's first 5000

My second race in what I hope will be an endless summer of racing was run on Thursday 20 October. It was a 5000 metre track race organised by the ACT Veterans, once again held in conjunction with a 3000 metre event. These 'combined' races are a strange experience if one is racing the longer distance. The 3000 is the popular race (27 runners verses 5 in the 5000 on this day). What's strange about them is that I'm running 'with' a group of people (Ken, Emma, Heath and Janene for example), when they abruptly start kicking down the pace on their last lap while I still have 'six to go'. Then when I have 'five to go', the track looks like the aftermath of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral — sparsely populated by people, just when I need them to compete with to the finish.

Needless to say, my concentration waned somewhat in those last five laps. Especially as I knew by my 3k split that I was racing towards an 'average' finish time. I ran 22:40.02. I was hoping to run at least '21-something', even though McMillan predicted 22:38 from my result in the previous week's 3000. Anyway, I'm confident about running in the 21s before long. Under 21 and my dream goal of breaking 20 for 5k could take a while. But I'm not going to stop trying!

Looking back over the years, my best 5000s have gone like this: 2005 - 21:03, 2006 - 22:30 (road), 2007 - 21:45, 2008 - 21:29, 2009 - 21:59, 2010 - 21:50, 2011 - 22:40. In the summer of 2006/07 I started the season with a 14:08 3000 and improved to a 21:45 5000 — this reminds me that it's possible to make significant improvements over the course of a season. I'll finish this post by wishing all those readers who have big races coming up 'fast times' — and for those who are returning from injury or illness a fast recovery!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Breaking Thirteen

I like the electronic timing that one usually gets with track racing here in Canberra. I raced a 3k on Thursday night, finishing 5th in 12:59.91. On the road that would have been 13:00 — 12-something, even though no faster, looks and sounds better. Just as 29:59 for a road 10k would have looked better for the 46-year-old Steve Moneghetti, had he run that in Launceston instead of the equally incredible 30:00 he recorded back in 2009. As is the rule with all road-race times, his 'sub-30' was rounded up to the next whole second.

Mine was a strange race. A 'combined' 3/5k with only 9 starters. Initially I had planned to race the 5000, but binned that idea after running the first two laps too fast. I was sitting about 10 metres behind Ken and Heath who were following about 20 metres behind Katie (she would run 12:17.50). Heath would drop out not long after the 1000 metre mark. I passed that point in 4:14 — the pace I'd like to hold for a 5k, but too quick this night. I briefly moved ahead of Ken just after 2000 (a 4:20 k for me), when he temporarily slowed. He was doing a training run of 5 minutes 'on', 1 minute 'off'. With 700 metres to go Roger eased passed. I chased with all I had left (not much!) — saw the photo-finish clock with 75 to go in the home straight and realised a 'sprint' would be needed to break thirteen. Roger had run 12:54.72 and Ken 12:45.25. The race was won by Steve in 12:09.39.

I think I'm at a good place to start the summer season. Average heart-rate for the race was 148 and I can usually average 153 - 155 for a 3000. I'm one of those runners who tends to improve with regular racing and I'd only completed two sessions of intervals in the lead-up to the 3000. I raced the Melbourne 10k last Sunday in 47:16 and didn't feel fully recovered from that effort by Thursday. Although Melbourne was more of a holiday than a serious 10k race I ran hard! One consequence of a moderate mileage programme is that the 10k seems like a very long race (at least mentally). While in 'beautiful one day, perfect the next' Melbourne I enjoyed cheering on friends in the marathon and half, as well as a relaxed post-race lunch and coffee at the Observatory Cafe.

Warming Up (Jim White photo)Jim White took this photo of me warming up for a Vets' Handicap race. The trail is less than a kilometre from the AIS 400m track - perfect for an easy warm-up jog.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Long Runs Kissed Goodnight

I've had one low-key race since The Canberra Times 10k — a 4k handicap organised by the ACT Vets. I ran 18:56 on the not-so-easy course, made harder by an overly fast start. Regular weekly track racing commences on Thursday week and I intend to race events from the 800 to the 5000 metres. Can't wait!

My training will be geared towards racing a good 5000 (and road 5k). With that in mind I'm dropping the long runs from my training programme. I have a tendency to plod and shuffle on runs much longer than 60 minutes. Running with that technique doesn't help my goal of developing springy muscles and a springy stride. Very long runs (2 hours or more) just make me tired! I think replacing the traditional weekly long run with another speedy session will help my 5k goal.

I don't think I'll lose much in the way of aerobic endurance by running 'low' mileage. The 46:25 10k was preceded by 12 weeks averaging 58k (36 miles) per week. For the 2008 version of the same race (46:44) my average weekly mileage was 81k (50 miles) for the 12 weeks. So I'm relaxed about a low volume summer. I haven't decided what a typical training week would look like. Perhaps something like: Thursday race, Friday 10k, Saturday 10k, Sunday long intervals, Monday 10k, Tuesday short intevals/hills, Wednesday 10k. A rest day out of that when I feel I need one. The 10k runs would be at MAF heart-rate.

I was happy to see 37-year-old Paula Radcliffe (a runner who has a particularly springy stride) run a good marathon at Berlin recently (2:23:46), coincidentally on the same day that Patrick Makau ran an astonishing 2:03:38 to break the great Haile Gebrselassie's world record. There's a video of Paula racing to win the 2008 New York Marathon which brilliantly shows her springy stride breaking away from the flat-striding Ludmila Petrova at 22 miles. I'd love to run like Paula. Just a little.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

From the fire roads to the interstate

I raced in the Canberra Times 10k this morning — my first road 10k since last year's race at the Gold Coast on 3 July. Then: 49:26. Today: 46:23. So, a nice improvement, but aside from that, I was most happy about how my legs felt. They were springy! Especially so during the first 3k, prior to the gradual 2k climb up by Julia's house (I didn't see her cheering).

My race tactics were to run an even effort from the start, try to pick off a few rivals along the way, and to finish strongly. I was moderately successful. Ran through 1k in 4:25 before spotting Jim up ahead then gradually pegging him back by 3k. He was slowing though, so I set my sights on Charlie, about 80 metres ahead. For the rest of the race the elastic in that gap only varied slightly — until, that is, the final kilometre. Suddenly I could see that I was catching him! I put in a major effort and closed to within 10 metres before the last little rise, 100 metres or so before the finish. Then it was a matter of kicking very hard inside the last 30 metres to take the 'victory' by less than a second. It had been a fun race!

I like racing! As I've said in earlier blogs, I much prefer tactical racing than 'time-trialing' during a race (with the goal of running a personal best time for the distance). The recent World Championships in Daegu has me thinking about the tactics I might employ during races to finish ahead of my rivals. For instance, I could just run hard out in front and hope to burn them off — like Binnaz Uslu did in her heat of the women's 3000m steeplechase. Or I could follow the pace à la Jennifer Barringer Simpson in the women's 1500 final before kicking hard off the final turn (Joe wrote a nice piece about Jenny B). Or I could run steadily with my rivals for over half the race before putting in a withering surge, leaving them demoralised (as Abel Kirui did by running a 14:18 5k split from 25 to 30k in the men's marathon). I have lots of opportunities for racing coming up, with the commencement of our Spring/Summer racing season. The ACT Veterans organise track racing on Thursday evenings and the YMCA of Canberra Runner's Club have a 5k series starting on 1 November.

I'm wondering how you, the readers of this blog, go about racing? How many of you run races as time-trials and how many enjoy employing tactics against your rivals as I do? If it's the latter, what tactics do you use? Promise I won't tell!

Tortoise beats Hare at Copley Square in BostonI used tortoise tactics to beat Charlie today - as I perfected at Copley Square in Boston on our recent holiday

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Goodnight, Irene

I've been back in the land downunder for ten days — that's a week of 9 to 10 hour shifts on the chain-gang, and I'm not enjoying it. Where can I get a job that's a six-week holiday that lasts forever? I read in the news that Hurricane Irene is "set to slam New York and Long Island." How lucky were we to only have to survive a 100 Fahrenheit heat-wave? I wouldn't have enjoyed running up Cat Hill in Central Park with Irene's 80 mph winds blowing into my face.

I ran my first interval session last Thursday on the now very soft grass track at Calwell. Nothing spectacular — just four 1000s at what I imagined to be 10k race effort. They averaged 4:32.5 and the recovery was a 1:55 walk. It was windy. I've entered two 10k races, which I'll regard as over-distance tests in my plan to race well at the 5000 metre distance. The first is on September 11 in Canberra and the second is on October 9 in Melbourne. I'd like to run something close to an M50 PB in Melbourne, so under 45 minutes.

With my running training, I remain extremely curious about the whole 'springy muscles' effect. Do springy muscles (and tendons) give one a 'free ride' when running? I know they produce a longer stride. Can one's training produce springier muscles? If one runs 'a lot' of weekly distance, do muscles become less springy? We all know about the classic 'marathoner's shuffle', which is quite efficient for running marathons, but not so much for racing the 5k distance. For myself, I feel that I'm well advanced in overcoming my marathoner's shuffle (even non-marathoners can run with a shuffle!). My training times/heart-rates are good, and for longer runs (12k!) 5:30 minutes per kilometre (8:51 per mile) is now a comfortable pace.

Everything's big in America - a bloody big U.S. flag!Those canny New Yorkers have decided to protect the New York Stock Exchange against Irene's fury by wrapping it in a giant U.S. flag.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Long Flight to Vegas

I'm on Continental Airlines Flight UA*0052 to Houston, so have some time to write. We're taking the scenic route to Vegas: From Logan Airport in Boston (where we left the Buick, a great car by the way) to Houston, Texas, then 50 minutes later to Las Vegas in Nevada. Five weeks of the trip down and one to go.

I must apologise for being a slack-arsed bastard in not reading and commenting on blogs the past five weeks. I've missed that, but when one is with friends, it's a case of compromise in the time-on-line department. So I've been keeping up with emails, Facebook updates, and my running diary — that's about it. Hope you're all running well and enjoying life.

I've managed to run every day, so that's quite a bit of exploration on foot of the U.S. and Canada. The list: Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York, Boston, Brunswick, Bar Harbor, Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Lake Placid, Killington and Haverhill. Coming up is Las Vegas — don't know where the hell I'll run there!

I'm running well (I think), going by average heart-rates on all my runs (which have ranged in distance from 5 to 10 kilometres). 5:30 per kilometre pace (8:51 miles) is feeling very easy and produces an AHR of around 127. This is a good bit lower than what I was recording before the trip — 130 to 132. Most of the time my legs are feeling springy, so I think it's this that's producing good running economy. I wouldn't have thought that 60 kilometre weeks would give me huge aerobic gains.

I missed my one opportunity to race back in New York City, when the Big Apple suffered a heat-wave and I got lost (took the wrong train) on the subway out to Van Cortlandt Park. I think I could be short of race-specific muscular endurance. I suspect I might run somewhere between 21 and 22 minutes for a 5k race, but proving this will have to wait for my return to Australia. Until then, I hope y'all have a good day, and enjoy your running!

Mirror Lake in the fogWhile at Lake Placid I ran two laps of Mirror Lake. It's there in the fog behind me, not very mirror-like.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Running in America

I'm free to write this arvo as we're at home in our Guest House (just off the upper east side of Central Park), enjoying the air-conditioning on this, the hottest July 22 day in NYC history.

I've been keeping the running going — generally, daily runs of 5 to 10k in the MAF heart-rate zone (tempo runs if you wish). For the first few days in Washington DC it was stinking hot, so I ran on the hotel treadmill. I've changed my opinion about treadmills — they're excellent tools for neuromuscular conditioning; learning to run with good form at a particular pace. Movement must stay the same at a steady speed if one wishes to stay on the treadmill! They're also boring for anything longer than a 5k run!

We're now on our last day in NYC (after a busy week here). I've been enjoying the city (and the running in Central Park most mornings). I was also taken on a tour of Roosevelt Island and the 59th Street Bridge by TK one morning. The 59th is her bridge! Really enjoyed that — her company and the views of Manhattan over the East River. On our first full day in New York we got to meet upover bloggers Flo, Julie and Joe (plus non-bloggers Jonathan and Heather). Julie wrote a great story about it, as did Flo. Thanks! You've saved me some work there.

We're off to Boston tomorrow (escaping the record heat of New York). Will blog again when I get a chance. I also have some video footage of running with TK and in Central Park... which needs careful editing.

A Few Good looking bloggers
Meeting my good up-over mates at Ditch Plains

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Waving the flag: red, white, and blue

I'm excited! Two things: a couple of runs this week harked back to my 2008 (M50 PBs) fitness levels, and pretty soon I'll be downing a few Old Speckled Hens with upover mates Joe, Flo, Julie, and TK in NYC.

With the running, I'm still striving to perfect my 'both feet in the air' style of movement. As can be seen in the latest photo from the Vets' West Stromlo race (brilliantly timed again by John Kennedy), I have work to do. My head is down, spotting the landing. I need to look up and run tall!

About those two training runs this past week... I ran my 10k course in 53:36 with an average HR of 130. This works out at 697 heart-beats per kilometre, the easiest my heart has been working on such a run for a very long time. That was Tuesday's run. On Thursday I ran my 8k course pretty much exactly the same as I did in 2008, the day before I ran 12:16 for 3000 on the track. The 8k was run in 42:24 with an AHR of 130. In 2008 I ran the 8k in 42:31 with an AHR of 130! So, I'm fit (for 5k racing at least). My first session of hill repeats on Wednesday (5 x 400m) were revealing in that my legs have quite some way to go in terms of gaining strength and speed.

It ain't me, it ain't me, I'm a fortunate one. For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, at the old ball game!

Run tall Ewen, run tall!Running with two feet in the air - no joke!

Monday, June 20, 2011


We competitive runners are always seeking proof of improvement. The most obvious test of course is the race: run a Personal Best in a race (or an A/G best for us old folk) and one has improved. However, it's also reassuring to have proof that our training is likely to produce that exciting race. For myself, I like the MAF test (my version of it), where I run a steady 10k at around 79% of my maximum heart-rate (which happens to be 130). If I've improved then the pace for the 10k is faster than previous tests.

On Sunday 12 June I was visiting Mum (with one of my sisters) in Wagga and ran my usual 8.2k loop. I had a good run! Covered the distance at 5:17 per kilometre (8:30 miles for imperial readers) with an average heart-rate of 134. Some rudimentary mathematics suggests this is equivalent to 5:26 ks at a HR of 130. If so, this would be proof that I've at last improved from the 5:37 ks I've been stuck on the past few months. Recent runs have confirmed this improvement! Phil Maffetone's table on my post Whispering Sideways says 8:45 miles for the MAF test means a 5k race somewhere between 20:58 and 21:45. If I could do that right now I'd be one very happy wombat.

Now, the reasons for my improvement aren't clear. As Jog said in a comment on my last post, the variables affecting running performance are many. My mileage remains relatively low — around 60k (37 miles) per week. There are more tempo runs in the mix (some of these have been races at 'tempo effort'). I'm also running my 7k hill loop again, which contains 12 hills of various gradients. I feel like my leg muscles are regaining some springiness and my stride is becoming longer.

Kangaroo poo is proof!Kangaroo droppings are proof that Roos have visited my front yard!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

From the Verandah

I've been a little busy lately (working 6 to 4 on the chain gang), hence the late blog post. I read about Em's first marathon and it occurred to me that my first was 30 years ago (yes, I was crazy to start my running life as a marathoner). I should run another marathon one day, before my running becomes too glacial. Bob, now 76 (red striped singlet in the photo), said he became too slow for 42.195 kilometre races at 55, when he could no longer break 3 hours!

Jog asked in a comment on my last post about my use of the Powerbreathe. I've stopped (temporarily), as I'm trying higher quality, lower volume running (in my quest for a longer stride-length), and don't wish to muddy the waters by having too many variables going on in the experiment.

Speaking of the experiment, it continues to go well. I raced 8k cross-country last Saturday over a particularly bumpy, spongy and awkward course. Finished 23rd (again) in 40:16. What's encouraging is that my time was almost a minute faster than 2007 and at a lower average HR (150 compared to 153). Towards the end of '07 I ran 20:54 for the Stromlo 5k and what still remains my M50 10,000m track PB of 44:54.57. So my logical brain says that it's possible to kick on from here and run close to 20 minutes for 5k.

A bunch of old people after the Nail Can Hill RunHappy runners after the Nail Can Hill Run

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Running better than Paula

I received a tweet from Paula Radcliffe this morning: "Thanks guys. Pretty s**t day for me but great to see the London course looking so good and so many runners. Just need to fix myself!" She'd just placed 3rd in the Bupa London 10,000 in 33:17 — a respectable time for a 37-year-old mum, but well outside her road PB of 30:21. Paula's disastrous run reminds me that all runners have their own individual standards as to what is a 'good', 'average' or 'bad' race.

In my current state of fitness, if I were to run 12:45 for a 3000 metre race I'd call that a 'good' performance. On Saturday afternoon I raced in the YCRC 3k at Campbell Park. I placed 23rd in 13:43, which looks to be well outside my definition of good. Thinking about it though, I'm encouraged. The race was cross-country (on dirt tracks actually); there were tree roots, rocks, rutted tracks to negotiate; a horse stile on a sharp turn at the 500m mark; a dry creek crossing; a climb of some number of metres to the half-way turn. Most of the runners in the race ran a minute or so slower than what they would for a track 3000, so I'll be generous and give myself a 'good' rating for that race.

How did my stride feel? Not quite as expansive as it did in the 5k the previous week. I tried to take on board Rick's tips (from Earl Fee's book) about keeping my hips and chest forward. I couldn't quite get it happening though. Perhaps the 10k jog I did Saturday morning took the edge off my legs. Improving my stride is still a work in progress. Also on Twitter, Pete L. linked to a video from Dr. Yessis about over-striding and stride length. The doctor makes some good points that make sense to me, including "If you want to increase your speed the first thing you should do is increase your stride length, not your stride frequency."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Getting my stride back in a 5k race

With running, one thing I'm sure about is that I never possessed the wonderfully flowing stride of a Herb Elliott or a Catherine Freeman, but there was a time (last century) when I at least ran with the feeling that I was 'striding out' and not shuffling along. My 5k race on Saturday afternoon was something of an epiphany in that at last I felt like I was moving well. Now I know that running is a numbers game, and the raw numbers from the race are nothing extraordinary: 35th place in 23:06 — 1:20 slower than my best time on the course from 2008. The thing is, my excitement about the race has nothing to do with numbers. It's because of how I felt about my movement whilst I was running. And that was a good feeling.

There was a beautiful study by Pete Larson of high-speed (slow motion) videos taken at this year's Boston Marathon: Gait Variability Among Elite Runners at the 2011 Boston Marathon. It contains a table showing the variability of different stride 'components' amongst some elite female and male runners. For example, 'step rate' (stride frequency) varies between 173.9 and 188.5 strides per minute for the men and 181.8 and 194.6 for the women. What has this to do with real-world (particularly aging) runners? I'm interested to hear your thoughts. I think it's easy enough to run with the same stride frequency as we age. An 81-year-old lady can race with the same number of steps per minute she used when flying over the ground in her thirties. What changes as we age is stride-length.

Rick reminded me about Pete Magill's article in Running Times: Solving the 5K Puzzle. The first piece of the puzzle is Stride Efficiency, so that's why I'm happy my stride felt good on Saturday (even though I'm yet to commence the drills and short hills that Pete recommends in the article). The only thing I've been doing thus far is running less mileage (50 to 60 kilometres per week rather than 90 to 100) and running faster (while concentrating on form) during these runs. I'd like to build the weekly mileage to something higher and assemble the other puzzle pieces over coming months.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

A sucky race, and feeling good

Last Sunday I raced in the Nail Can Hill Run for the 6th time, managing to record a PW of 63:07 on a spectacular autumn day. I was spectacularly slower than '08 when I ran with a camera, stopping to take photographs while still managing 56:53. I'm nowhere near being in the shape needed for a hilly 11.3k race. However, I'm not unhappy. I enjoyed the day out with my running mates and my legs felt good — for 3k!

On Thursday I ran my 10k MAF test course at 736 heart-beats per kilometre, which is only marginally inferior to the 732 I recorded on 3 March. On the face of it, I'm not too far away from the 710 to 720 beats per km I was recording in '07 around the time of my M50 10,000m PB and 20:54 5k at Stromlo. But, I'm not sure... my mileage since the surgery has been about 60k per week (including quite a few rest days), so is the apparent aerobic improvement just due to having (relatively) fresh and springy legs?

My quest for springy legs is in its early stages. The only change to my training thus far (besides the reduced mileage) is to do as many of my runs at close to 5:30 per kilometre pace. This is about 82% of my 10k race-pace (if I could run 45 for 10k, which I'm not sure that I can!) — for a runner capable of 36-flat for 10k it'd be like doing regular runs at 4:23 per km (7:04 per mile). Not all that fast, but a pace that requires some springiness.

Well timed photo from John Kennedy, but both feet aren't in the air!My mate John finished so far ahead he had time to grab his camera and take this photo. Thanks John!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Something interesting: The value of springy muscles

I'll need some help with the conclusion to this blog-post. I have the plot, but it's without resolution. The interesting thing I discovered after going 11 days without running (or cross-training) was that my legs had regained a springiness that I haven't felt in a very long time. A springiness reminiscent of what I remember from my (somewhat) serious 800 and 1500 metre racing days twenty years ago. It's not a measurable feeling — purely subjective, but very alluring.

The thing is, I know I also lost aerobic fitness over those 11 days. My first run back was 10k in 56:34 at an average HR of 139. Prior to surgery, I would have run about 53:15 for that heart-rate. So, on the face of it, 3 minutes slower. But, my legs felt amazingly good! I was expecting to run 60 minutes for that amount of effort after 11 days off, so were springy legs worth 4 minutes of speed?

Not long ago I read a blog post by Steve Magness about muscle tension — specifically, the value of retaining muscle tension during the taper for a race. What has me intrigued after my little unexpected experiment is the idea that there could be value in holding onto some muscle tension during training (or at least not straying too far away from that happy state). I'm addressing the following questions to readers on the experienced side of the age of 35, for I don't think spring-less muscles are a problem for younger folk. Do you think it's worthwhile trying to train in a way that promotes the retention of springy muscles? If so, how could this be done? If it means sacrificing weekly or monthly 'mileage', how much could I sacrifice and still retain a high level of aerobic fitness?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Prelude to something interesting

I'm back running after eleven days off under doctor's orders. Ran Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a total of 30 kilometres and 206 for the last four weeks. I haven't forgotten how to run. I want to write at a little more length about a discovery that my usually cumbersome legs gained some springiness after all that idle time. I'll do this in my next blog post over the Easter/Anzac Day weekend. While I'm here I'll raise a glass of Samuel Adams to my marathon friends running in Vienna, London, Enschede and Boston.

I'll leave you with a photograph of the stitching on my right calf (just below the knee), and another of three amazing women. Pam, Liz and Ruth completed their 10th Canberra Marathons last weekend, thus earning 'Griffin' status. There are only five women in the Griffin Club. Pam ran the marathon in 3:43 and continued on to complete the 50k Ultra in 4:31. Pam has entered this year's Badwater Ultramarathon. Liz (despite some anaemia and other issues) ran 3:19, and Ruth broke the 6-minute km barrier with a 4:12. Well done ladies!

The Aussie Dollar is going up!Stitches on my right calf and an Aussie Dollar

Three Griffins!Three Griffins - 30 Canberra Marathons!

Monday, April 04, 2011

A bump on the track

I'd planned to race the 5k this Saturday at the Canberra Running Festival weekend (there's a supporting marathon race on the Sunday). This afternoon I had a skin cancer cut from my right calf and the doc said "I don't want you to run for ten days." There are only eight stitches in the wound but I should heed his advice. Bugger! There are plenty of 5k races on the calendar so I'm not fretting. I could be a marathoner who's almost torn her hamstring off the bone or a runner who's missed a lil' ol' cross country race due to a stress fracture.

The hazards of living at a high-ish altitude in the country's sunniest capital city. That's one of the reasons I prefer running at dusk — no need to lather litres of sunscreen all over my ranga-esque body. On Sunday morning I watched almost a thousand females race through the parks down by the lake. The Youtube video is here. The frame below shows how much "air" the two leaders are getting. But not as much as me! I reckon the other photo is proof of a new air-time PB. What do you reckon?

Air time at the WAG 5k fun runAndrea and Sarah leading the Women and Girls' 5k

A PB! (perfectly timed photo from John Kennedy)I beat them for air-time on the green grass of Stromlo

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lauren Fleshman: Too cool for school

I imagine most fast young runners ask themselves the question: "Am I talented enough to make a career out of running?" For myself, the answer would have been a resounding "No!" (if I'd been a competitive runner in school). I started running at 23 and it took me seven years of training before I could break 18 minutes for 5k. I was born slow.

In spite of being born slow, I still love running and racing. I'm actually happy that my talent for running wasn't even borderline good enough to contemplate running professionally. The runners that do run full-time need to find that delicate balance between injury/illness and running spectacularly well. Two runners who now find themselves on the wrong side of that balance are Benita Willis and Lauren Fleshman. Benita is well known to Australians, but Lauren is not. I found out about her a few years ago when I was looking online for examples of running drills. Here's the video I found.

Lauren writes well and a recent blog post talks about her rehabilitation from persistent foot pain. She went on a road trip from Oregon to Phoenix to seek help with her injury. On the way she invited Twitter followers to comment on photos she took of the scenery. I left a comment wishing her good luck with the foot (not expecting a reply), so imagine my surprise when she did so saying "Thanks Ewen." What a thoughtful person! I hope she overcomes her injury and makes it onto the US team for the London Olympics. I'll be cheering her on.

Thanks EwenTwitter timeline on the day Lauren said "Thanks Ewen."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A day off and Japan

I took a day off from running on Friday — hadn't missed a day in the previous 41 and could feel I was in need of a rest. My heart-rates on runs have been a little on the high side for a week or two. After the day off I enjoyed a particularly good long run on Saturday morning with my mates: Geoff (and a couple of his Metro runners for a while), Ruth, Emma and Andy.

We ran beside the lake and then through the bush around Mount Ainslie for a distance of 20k in 2 hours and 9 minutes. In my book that's a long run for a 5k racer. Afterwards we met up with a couple of other friends for coffee (and lunch) at the War Memorial café. The perfect morning! Today's run makes 91k for this week and 380 for the past four.

I have running friends living in Japan, and thankfully they and their families are all okay. Bob is actually racing the LA marathon in California today. Go Bob! I found a website via Twitter last week where runners around the world are coming together to raise money for British Red Cross which is helping people affected by events in Japan. It's called Run For Japan. The first runner was Paula Radcliffe (I was the 42nd) and now there are 242 runners who've run 3,481 miles. The website's goal is to run around the world (24,901 miles) in 28 days.

28 miles for Japan in 2009
28 miles is the longest 'run' I do. 2009, 1 mile in

Monday, March 14, 2011

Will POWERbreathing make me faster?

I still have my Maffetone 'patience phase' of training rolling along. Just making slight adjustments week to week — I'm finding that 90 to 100 kilometres weekly is a manageable amount of running to fit in around my sometimes long hours at work. Last Thursday I ran on the immaculate grass of the Calwell 400m track — eight 200s to remind my legs of the speed needed for a 20-minute 5k. A neuromuscular workout of sorts. I had a rough goal of 48 seconds for these and averaged 47.8. Walked back across the infield for a full recovery. They felt OK — like I could have run faster. I held back as I didn't want to get into any sort of high heart-rate or lactate accumulation territory.

I also purchased a POWERbreathe 'Sports Performance Plus' inspiratory muscle training device after reading some interesting research evaluation blog posts from Canute. Does anyone use one of these? My experience thus far is positive. On the first day I found it very hard to do ten breaths on the easiest of ten levels. Thought I'd purchased the wrong model! Now I'm up to 30 breaths twice daily and can foresee increasing the difficulty level and number of breaths to 2 x 30 twice daily. The POWERbreathe people recommend having the level set so that one 'fails' at 30 breaths.

I think this type of training might be suitable for people racing distances of 10k or less. For marathoners, breathing doesn't seem to be a 'roadblock', but it can be for distances where lactate accumulation is higher and for hilly races. Speaking of hilly races, the Six Foot marathon was held on Saturday (the first time I've missed it since 2003). Thought I'd leave a link to a video showing the amazing sure-footedness of female race winner Anna Frost. She recorded the third fastest female time in race history — 3:52:48 for 45k of mountainous trails on a hot day. Amazing.

POWERbreathe stops me talking!Being a Ferrari (cap) owner, I can afford a POWERbreathe

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Inspiration and Improvement

Scott Brown told me of the great story from last Sunday's Tokyo Marathon — the one about Japanese runner Yuki Kawauchi who placed 3rd in 2:08:37. This was a 4-minute PB from last year's race and 9 minutes faster than his PB from 2009 (2:17:33). The amazing thing about Kawauchi is that he fits his training around a regular 9-hour work day! One doesn't have to live the life of a professional runner to come up with inspiring performances.

If Kawauchi's improved running doesn't do it for you, then how about Ben St Lawrence's on Thursday night? Young (29-year-old) Ben raced the big guns of 5000 metre racing at Olympic Park and came away with a 15-second PB, running 13:10.08. A storming last lap dealt with Chris Solinsky and Matt Tegenkamp, with Bernard Lagat having to drop down another gear in the home straight to hold off St Lawrence and take the win. Four years ago Ben St Lawrence was an overweight (90 kg) door-to-door salesman and party animal. Now that's some improvement!

I'm inspired! And this week, slightly improved. I ran my 10k MAF test on Thursday at 5:38 per km with an average heart-rate of 130 (my fastest speed thus far in this patience phase of training, and the best I've run since February last year). One change I've made this week (after reading a blog post from Canute), is to practise deep diaphragmatic breathing during all my runs. I wonder if I can match the 6% lowering of heart-rate (at a particular speed) that Canute found when using this type of breathing? Even if my improvement is more modest, better ventilatory capacity is sure to help my 5k racing times. I intend to run some trial races on the track in the coming weeks, so I'll find out soon enough.

I wanted a photo with both feet in the air!
My 'excited' new running style

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Running for a Sheep Station

I've completed another 4 weeks of Maffetone-style base training — 353 kilometres (a little under 55 miles per week). The pace for my 10k MAF tests (on a good day), is around 5:43 per km, so still some way off the 5:20 goal. On some runs I can detect a weakness in leg-strength, so I've begun running my hillier Rose Cottage course. I plan to introduce some short hill repeats (with long recoveries) and some short sprints (100 - 170m) on the track.

I was a spectator at the Stromlo Running Festival yesterday to watch the Australian Age-Sex Adjusted Cross Country Championships. A number of my running mates were competing in the 7.5k handicap race. The winner was back-marker and marathon silver medallist at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, Michael Shelley. My friends did well — Kathy being the first female to finish, with Liz, Michelle and Geoff not far behind.

It was a bit of a worry to see Kathy get "the staggers" in the last 400 metres, only just making it over the finish line in front of the next (much younger) female. It was a warm and humid morning. I can't do that. Don't know whether my Central Governor is wound up too tight, but I just can't push myself to the extent where I might collapse in a race. I'll stop running first. I think it comes from having done that a few times in my early years of running (particularly in the City to Surf), and giving myself a scare. Since those days my strategy has been to get in better shape than I need to be and race conservatively (my Dad would have said "you're not running for a sheep station"), only pushing the pace in the last couple of kilometres, and only if the weather is runner-friendly. How do you race? For a sheep station, or not?

Geese cheering Michelle at StromloGeese cheering on Michelle at Stromlo — green grass and humid clouds

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ten thousands aren't easy

One day I'll add up how many 10,000 metre track races I've run. In this town we have two opportunities per year to race this distance and I like the challenge, so I guess it's somewhere between 15 and 50. A lot of laps of a 400 metre track!

On Thursday evening I ran in the ACT Championship race. Finished 26th in 49:26.0. Not great, but not woeful. Last year I ran the same event in 45:57.54 (at a similar average heart-rate — 153 to 152 this year), so I still have work to do on the aerobic endurance side of things. I'm not one to whine, but I guess the mitigating factors this year were the remains of a head-cold and some longer than usual hours at work.

The race itself was interesting enough. I got out ahead of coffee groupie, Ironman and 3:26 marathoner CJ (she was having a bad night!) and amused myself by guessing how long it'd be before she went past. The inevitable happened around the 4000 metre mark, after which I tried to keep the elastic from stretching to breaking point. CJ increased her lead to 100 metres or so before suffering a dead patch between 7 and 9 k. I slowly clawed back the metres until she was half a straight ahead. With 1000 to go she must have wanted the suffering to be over and done with, so took off, finishing in 49:01.

Splits: 4:45, 4:46, 4:53, 4:57, 5:01 (24:22), 5:01, 4:59, 5:01, 5:04, 5:00 (25:04).

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Whispering sideways

There was a discussion on the radio last week about Word of the Year, and one that was mentioned during the conversation was "presenteeism" (the opposite of absenteeism). It's when the inconsiderate git working next to me on the railroad gang coughs and sneezes for a week, thereby passing on the gift of his cold. I've been suffering with this gift since last Sunday.

My gradual build-up of ego-free mileage has gone slightly sideways. Weeks of 90 and 94 kilometres have been followed by one of 72. I'll call it whispering sideways, in deference to Lorraine Moller's story in the November 2010 issue of Running Times: Becoming a Body Whisperer. Moller talks about running without a watch or heart-rate monitor and tuning into one's body. I'm still wearing the Polar, but don't feel the need to look at it constantly or check the split of every kilometre.

One of the aspects of the Maffetone training I'm doing that fascinates me is the table in the 'Want speed? Slow down!' document correlating pace at MAF heart-rate on the 5-mile MAF test with 5k race time. I'm running the MAF test on a 10k course which isn't dead flat. I call my MAF heart-rate 130 (35 beats below maximum HR) and on 25 January ran at a pace of 5:45 per km (9:15 per mile). According to Maffetone, that would put my potential 5k race time at 22:08. In late 2007 I was running a similar 10k course at a pace of 5:50 per km at a HR of 124, which would be roughly 5:34 per km (8:58 per mile) at HR 130. I raced a 5k at Stromlo two days later in 22:25, then two weeks later on the same course ran 20:54. This is my thinking as I patiently log the kilometres: When I can run 10k in 55:40 at an average HR of 130, I should be only a couple of races away from a 21-minute 5k.

MAF Test to 5k race time

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ego checked at the door

I placed last in the 5000 metre race on 13 January (24:14), but feel satisfied the race marked a small improvement on the Base Camp 23:54 run of 18 November. "How so?" I hear you say. Well, in November I raced pretty much flat-out with an average heart-rate of 154, whereas for this race I ran at something akin to tempo effort for an average heart-rate of 149.

Scott Brown brought my attention to a post on Tim Waggoner's blog about MAF training. Tim was told by Mike Pigg in 1996 "to just train at HR 145-155 as much as possible and I would do anything I wanted." Following this advice, Tim went on to be #1 amateur in the world at the Ironman Triathlon by the year 2000. This is the base-phase training advocated by Phil Maffetone. Googling around I came across a forum post with a lengthy excerpt from the "Lore of Running" in which Timothy D. Noakes talks about the training of Mark Allen under Maffetone.

Mark Allen has an article on his website about how he switched from the "No Pain, No Gain" motto when he was a competitive swimmer to training for triathlon with his ego checked at the door. In other words, not "winning" training sessions but patiently logging mileage in the heart-rate zone advocated by Phil Maffetone. According to Noakes, Allen would monitor his progress by "regularly completing an 8-km run at his maximal allowed aerobic heart rate of about 150 beats per minute. During his Patience Phase his average pace when running at that heart rate would fall progressively. When he first started training according to the Maffetone approach, his aerobic pace during this test was 4:05 per km. During this phase, Allen would expect his running speed at his aerobic heart rate to fall by about 3 to 4 seconds per km per week. When Allen retired in 1995, his aerobic pace had improved to 3:19 per km, as the result of a steady progression during his entire career. For physiologists used to reporting human training studies lasting a few months, this is a remarkable finding. It shows that the human body may continue to adapt for 10 or more years to the form of prolonged, intensive training undertaken by Allen."

What do you think? Is there something bad in the blood chemistry of anaerobic training that retards aerobic development? My inclination is to continue training along the lines advocated by Maffetone until my pace for the MAF test stops improving. The training range for me is a heart-rate of 130 to 135 (or lower) and I'd test my progress at a HR of 130 (79% of maximum). My pace at this HR right now would be about 5:48 per km (9:20 per mile). If my pace at that HR improved to 5:20 kilometres (8:35 miles) I'd be within cooee of running 20 minutes for 5k.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Chugging along

I've had a slow start to 2011. Feel a bit like the GSX1400 chugging along on three cylinders. Two weeks down — 53k and 82k (my "year" started on 27 December due to my habit of logging mileage in 4-week blocks — 4 x 13 = 52). Spent some time over Christmas and the New Year in Wagga Wagga helping the siblings with a garden makeover at Mum's. She's 85 this year and going strong, but has this strange habit of collecting thousands of pot-plants.

I'm behind the first two weeks of last year, which were 83k and 90k. Speedygeoff has run 100k this week and I'd like to join him on that type of mileage as my base-building phase continues. Had a lovely (if humid) run around Lake Burley Griffin yesterday for 24k with Ruth and Andy. Struggled a little after 20 — I'm not used to running that far! Plan to race the 5000 on Thursday evening — would like something under 23 minutes, but my confidence isn't great. We'll see.

In 2004 I ran on 4 cylinders!With the Suzuki in August 2004