Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Racing my fastest 5k of 2016

I decided to race as fast as I could at the Tuggeranong Parkrun 5k on Saturday if my legs were feeling up to a hard effort. In the midst of LSD training I never quite know how my legs will feel, even after warming up. For this run I felt about average (somewhere in the middle of the range from dead awful to skin-jumpingly brilliant). I jogged for 2k, some with Dave (an 18:39 5k runner), then lined up in the start chute a little more towards the front than is my habit.

On "go!" from Nick it took me about 2 seconds to cross the start line. Great start! But still many runners ahead, sprinting through the park. I settled into my race pace, my progress a little zigzaggy for the first kilometre. One pleasant surprise — passing Jim after just 500 metres. As I was concerned about time, I glanced at my Garmin at 1k and was a little disappointed to see 4:55. Oh, well... just keep running by effort. I passed Peter after the footbridge, then Judy flew by effortlessly — I thought she'd run around 23 minutes (23:17 as it happened) but I couldn't quite stick with her pace. I glanced again at the Garmin at the turn and saw '12:01' — is that all?!

Returning on the out/back course I was racing runners I was unfamiliar with — Liz was there, some other veteran men and a teenage boy (who would surge every now and then). I added '5' to my time at the 4k mark (19:09) and was happy that I'd run a sub-24 unless the wheels fell off. Scott overtook me coming back into the park but I think my finish was fairly strong (if not an all-out sprint). 23:46 for 50th place! Yes!

If you'd asked me at the beginning of the year would I be excited about such a time, the answer would have been in the negative. My goal back then was 22:00 for 5k but the first 6 months of the year was written off with illness and injury. So to come from 27:26 on 16 July down to 23:46 in December is pretty exciting. Interestingly, both those times were at the same average heart rate of 143, so pretty good evidence that LSD training is working. I'm fitter, enjoying my training AND running faster.
Running out of the park, shortly after the start
A disinterested spectator, 600 metres from the finish
LSD trail run around Mt Stromlo with the Speedygeese

Friday, December 02, 2016

Attempting to perfect LSD training

I'm reading a book by Rich Englehart: 'SLOW JOE: Joe Henderson and his LSD (long, slow distance) writings that changed running' — it's about author Joe Henderson and features his seminal book of 1969, 'Long Slow Distance: The humane way to train.' For those who don't know, Henderson was Editor-in-Chief at Runner's World in 1969, ran his first race in 1958 and ran in university with coaches that believed interval training and hard sessions produced fast runners — the philosophy being 'the only way to race fast is to train fast' and 'running long and slow will make you a long slow runner.'

In high school Joe Henderson didn't finish his first mile race (after a 69 second first lap) and ran 5:25 in his second. He read in Track and Field News and Long Distance Log about how his Olympic heroes trained. The New Zealanders under Arthur Lydiard ran 100-mile weeks so Joe decided to run half that, averaging seven-plus miles a day. In his final high school race he ran the mile in 4:22.2. In university Joe struggled under a regime of intense interval workouts and rather than improving, his time for the mile slowed. He took a month off and during that time, missed running and decided that he never wanted to stop again. He realised that gentle running and LSD training was the only way to make running last beyond university. In his final year he ran 4:18.2 for the mile off LSD training and was in shape to run 4:10 but suffered a calf injury that ended his season.

Joe Henderson discovered that his sweet spot percentage of fast running was between 5 and 10 percent of total weekly mileage. He raced regularly and these races were his fast running. The rest of his 'training' was done at a gentle at 7:30 to 8-minute mile pace (4:40 to 5:00 per km), this for a runner who raced the mile at 2:40 per kilometre. Joe's training in those days is not unlike that of Ed Whitlock now — long easy running with short races as the only speedwork.

I've realised that my training since coming back from the calf injury has been very similar to Henderson's LSD. Long Slow Distance, with regular short races as the only speedwork. I've averaged 92 km per week over the past 4 weeks, with 5 km per week being fast running (usually a Parkrun 5k). I think I'm close to that sweet spot of 5 to 10 % of mileage being fast with the rest being slow or easy. I suspect that for LSD training to work well, one needs to do a small percentage of weekly running fast. You can't leave it too long between fast efforts. If all running is slow for months at a time I imagine it would be difficult to switch on to a fast pace in a race.

My most recent race was an enjoyable 5k on the grass XC track at Stromlo (using the mountain course). I started easily, keeping my eye on the gradually reducing distance to Jim up ahead. I caught him on the U-turn just past the lake after 2k. It was just like the 'miracle mile' of 1954 when Bannister beat Landy — Jim looked over his left shoulder as Landy had done and I passed him on the right like the sneaky Bannister! On the second lap I closed on Natasha but couldn't quite catch up before the finish — 25:37 for her, 25:48 for myself and 26:52 for Jim. It had been a successful and enjoyable race once again.

Enjoying a hilly LSD run with the Speedygeese last Sunday

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Feeling fast at the Fisher's Ghost 5k

Last Sunday (13 November) I was up at well before the crack of dawn, leaving Jim's place at 4.30 AM for the drive to Campbelltown for the Fisher's Ghost Fun Run. This is a very well organised and enjoyable event held on roads within the campus of Western Sydney University. I ran the 10k in 2015 at tempo effort (53:40) but this year decided to race the 5k.

The course is on rolling hills — thankfully only one lap of them for the 5k! It's a tough course, definitely not one for PBs, but good for racing. My goal was to run as fast as possible and finish ahead of Jim! Both races started together and we were positioned about 20 metres back from the front amongst 710 runners and walkers (446 in the 5k and 264 in the 10k). Jim must have run to the inside of the first corner as I lost sight of him. I thought I was comfortably in front. Then at the top of the first climb at 1k I caught sight of him about 50 metres ahead. Sneaky bastard!

I opened up my stride down the hill and drew beside Jim before we commenced the next climb. Without changing my effort I edged ahead and then ran with the fear of the pursued. I breathed a sigh of relief on the out/back section of the course when I saw that I had a significant lead. By this time I was running mostly with youngsters and had a good race over the last 1500m with the girl who finished 3rd in the F10-11 category. She was running with and being encouraged by her father, so that's my excuse when she beat me by 2 seconds in a sprint finish. My chip time was 24:23, with Jim coming home in 26:19. I was happy with the time as Jim reckoned the hills were worth a minute over a regular flat Parkrun 5k.

We waited at the presentations with Norma, who had run the amazing time of 37:24 at the age of 87! Jim placed 2nd in the 60-69s and I was 3rd in the 50-59s so it had been a successful and happy morning for all. My takeaway from the race is that the higher volume training is paying off already. We'll see where my 5k time is in a month or so but I'm pretty sure it will be faster, so that's exciting.

Winners are grinners at the Fisher's Ghost Fun Run
Norma wins the 70+ category at the age of 87!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Finally, signs of running well again

I raced the Melbourne 10k back on 16 October, enjoying the weekend and catching up with Jo and Stu on race day. My finish time of 52:27 wasn't what I was hoping for when I entered the race in early August. I thought I'd break 50 minutes. Last year I ran 47:39. I was happy with how I raced, feeling strong (if not fast) until the bridge two kilometres out from the MCG finish.

I've been steadily building my mileage and Melbourne was in the midst of that so I may have been a little tired. For myself, I think having a good base of running mileage is important if I want to race well. I've backed off the cycling mileage to 'enjoyment' level — raced the E-Grade Vets' Stromlo Criterium last Tuesday and was dropped from the group early in the 25-minute race. My cycling muscles aren't what they were last year! My running mileage has been 70 kilometres per week for the past month and I can see that rising to 80 or so before holding that level for a while.

I had a very happy Parkrun last Saturday, finally breaking 25 minutes for 5k. 24:38 to be exact — Woohoo! Ran even splits on a calm, cool morning — 5:00, 4:52, 4:55, 4:56, 4:55. Finished 11 seconds behind my rival Jim (who is running well again). This was my fastest 5k race since 23 January when I ran 24:36 for the Bowral Parkrun, which is a harder course than Tuggers. On 9 January I ran 24:01 at Tuggeranong, interestingly at exactly the same 143 average heart rate as Saturday. I'm not quite as fit as I was before the illness and injury problems that have dogged the middle months of the year, but I'm close. Bring on the summer months of racing!

Caught up with Jo and Stu (taking the photo) before the start

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Canberra Times 10k Fun Run

This race was on September 4 and since then I've come down with a touch of the dreaded 'man flu' — totally annoying, as illness and injury are the two things to be avoided when building a base of fitness. I planned to 'run through' this race (no taper and minimal recovery) and it completed my biggest week of training this year, at a fairly modest 61 kilometres.

I took a rest day on the Saturday and lined up on Sunday with the goal of starting at around 5-minute kilometre pace. The plan commenced well although the 50-minute pacers gradually disappeared ahead (moving too fast it seems as my first splits were 4:56, 4:52 and 5:04 on the fastest section of the course). As I ran up the gentle hill at 4k I sensed I was catching my lifelong rival Jimmy and chipped away his 50 metre lead until we were level at 5k. The split there was 25:32 at the high point of the course. The Canberra Times is definitely a race for negative splitting experts like Mark Watson. Unfortunately on this day I pulled out a big fat positive split!

Jimmy flew past down the hill at 6k but I limited the damage by holding the gap to 30 metres or so as we turned onto Kings Avenue. My race was totally focussed on my rival, not on time. I placed a few runners between us so I'd be out of view if he took a look back. It worked! He seemed surprised when I ran up beside him on the bridge. Less than 2k to go, so I forged ahead, running as quickly as possible to the finish. 52:01 for myself and 52:33 for Jimmy so I'll count that as my first 'win' since March. Looking forward to more of the same once I'm over this annoying cold, ah, I mean flu!

I've been breaking in a pair of new Saucony Kinvaras from The Runner's Shop - nice light shoes!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

32 City to Surfs

I was so happy running down the last hill into Bondi Beach on Sunday 14 August, my 32nd City to Surf about to be completed. Two months ago I was carefully resuming running following a long break for the injured left calf. I put in my entry thinking that I'd be doing a lot of walking (which I did) but ended up completing the race quicker than expected — 85:06 for the 14k, an average of 6:05 per kilometre. Last year I ran 70:17, just failing to qualify for the 'Red' start group so I was a long way off that, but still happy.

My pre-race plan was to run to the bottom of 'Heartbreak Hill', walk up the hill before jogging and walking to the finish. That's pretty much what happened. I love it when a plan comes together! So, 5:27 ks on average to the 6k mark at the bottom of Heartbreak, then walking and jogging while taking some video of the race with my phone.

Since the City to Surf I've continued to gradually build my mileage (it's now around 50k per week) and as that's happened, my race fitness has improved. I ran in the Wagga Trail Marathon 5k on Saturday (which I think was longer than 5k) and was pleased to run the first 3k at under 5-minute pace. Splits went 4:53, 4:52, 4:57, 5:17 and 5:08 plus 1:17 for the extra bit. A sub-25-minute 5k is the immediate goal, then perhaps something close to 23 minutes by the end of the year.

Phone video of my 32nd Sydney City to Surf

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Back racing, and loving it!

My slow and steady comeback to running continues to go well. I've been competing in short races (around the 5k distance) and in doing these, I realise how much I miss the thrill of racing. I possess a very strong competitive gene! The unknown Formula One driver Jean Behra once said, "Life is racing, the rest is waiting." Yes, a seemingly extreme life philosophy, but one that applies to my own running. Don't get me wrong — I do enjoy the simple act of running (the movement; being in nature; the camaraderie of runners), but I love racing.

An unexpected upside of this return from injury is being taken back to my running roots as a 23-year-old enthusiastic newbie. Every couple of days I can feel my fitness improving (and the data from the Garmin backs that up). The graph is steadily pointing skyward. This is exciting, but I have the knowledge that the graph will eventually flatten. A truth that my naive 20-something self didn't think would happen until I was running 30 minutes for 10 kilometres. Sounds crazy, but I had no coach and no idea. In reality I reached my peak as a 37-minute 10k runner.

On the 17th of July I ran in a race where, for a few kilometres, I was thinking 'wow, I'm flying along, passing runners, blasting along this muddy trail, feeling young again!' The race was the Sri Chinmoy Gungahlin Gallop 10k Trail Race — up on a muddy single-track to the top of this bloody big hill and back down again. I finished in the middle of the pack (probably towards the rear of the middle!) and my time of 75 minutes was woefully slow for a 10k, but my body and mind were for once co-existing in a place familiar to all runners. Greedy I know, but I want more of that.

Racing down the hill (recalling my days as a steeplechaser) in the Gungahlin Gallop 10k [John Harding photo]

My video, mostly showing runners in the 30k

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A month of tentative running done

This coming back business is a slow process! I ran the Lake Stakes 6k today — really it was a 5k run as the first kilometre was my warm-up walk. 5k in 31:45 with an average heart rate of 137 (well over MAF HR) for 870 heart beats per kilometre. My calf was good, but I'm still being ever so careful, shuffling along, with very little force being applied to the ground. I felt a twinge in the upper calf (not the original injury area) last Thursday and had three days rest from running.

I've run 76 kilometres over the past 4 weeks, most of that being gentle treadmill running, accustoming the legs to the running movement and gradually building up some leg strength. It's been going well until that twinge last week. I raced a 5k cross country event at Stromlo on 25 June finishing 3rd last in 28:21. Average heart rate for that race was 138 for 782 heart beats per kilometre, so today's race was a small slip on the game of snakes and ladders.

The plan for the next couple of months is to continue building the mileage and run Parkrun 5ks and races at racing HR effort (145ish) for my only hard weekly session. My eventual goal for weekly running volume is 6 hours per week, supplemented by cycling mileage. If I was a fast runner I'd be covering over 90k in 6 hours, which is sufficient volume to run well. For me it will be around 60k, so all I've got to do is get from 20 to 60! Phew!

Organiser Peter with his '300 runs' shirt at the Lake Stakes today. [P Thommo photo]

Sunday, June 19, 2016

I finished 289th in a 5k

It was with much relief that I finished the inaugural Burley Griffin Parkun on Saturday morning. I ran the 5k with my left calf entirely happy — feeling no different to my right calf. It was my longest pain-free run since March 17 when I ran 5000 metres on the track in 25:13.07 and damaged the left soleus with 2 laps to go. So it was quite a relief when I crossed the finish line on Saturday, albeit in the slow time of 31:26.

My tactic for the run was to move smoothly and easily, using no power on the gentle uphill sections of the course. I employed the ultramarathoner's 'Cliffy shuffle' running style, gliding over the ground with minimal push-off from the toes. My plan is to gradually build some running muscle strength by increasing the distance of my regular runs over time.

One thing I found interesting about Saturday's run is how aerobically unfit I am for running! My average heart rate was 141, exactly the same as for the 5k track race back in March, yet I was over 6 minutes slower. Apparently 250 to 300 kilometres of cycling per week doesn't make you a fit runner! How long it takes to get back to 25 minutes for 5k, let alone my 22-minute goal time will be found out in due course. I remember tearing my right soleus in the 2006 City to Surf but that injury only took me 4 weeks to overcome. Eight weeks later I could run 4:43 km pace for 3k. I think it'll take a tad longer this time. I'm a tad older after all!
Running on a damp path in the 1st Burley Griffin Parkrun
A 'Cliffy shuffle' got me to the finish line in one piece!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

Waking up each morning to the same predictable and annoying routine. I can't run! My calf injury refuses to give up. Persistent bastard! The gradual comeback to running that I mentioned previously lasted eight days. I noticed a soreness developing after 2k of the BBQ Stakes run on 4 May so walked to the finish. After two days off I ran in the Batemans Bay Parkrun, starting out feeling hopeful. I ran smoothly with kilometres of 5:20 and 5:19 (no pain at all), then suddenly, a sharp pain in the left calf! I stopped running and walked gingerly to the finish.

I've now had fourteen days off running (the calf feels totally normal on waking and when walking). My cycling training continues to go well. So thankful for that! I rode in my 4th cyclo-cross race last Saturday and had a heap of fun. This time I was pleased the course didn't require any running at all (I walked my bike up the one set of steps). The Youtube video below shows my race. Started last in the field of 19 and maybe finished 15th (the results aren't up yet).

The only running race I've entered is the Sydney City to Surf on 14 August. That gives me ten weeks to resume running and be fit enough to cover 14k. My plan is for a further 3 weeks off running (making 5 in total) then 3 weeks to build up to continuous runs of 10k. That should be enough. Marathoners rarely run the race distance in training, do they? And I don't have a wall to hit during a 14k race, do I? So all good!

Heart rate graph from my cyclocross race mirrors the hill on the course. Interestingly, average heart rate is similar to my 5k races yet my cycling training is typically between heart rates of 100 and 120.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sven and the Art of Cycling for Maintenance

I commenced an ever so gradual return to running with the Tuggeranong Parkrun on Saturday. I walked the first half then alternated roughly 100 metres of running with 100 metres of walking for the second 2.5k. My time was 38:11, with the run/walk section at around 7 minutes per kilometre. The calf was good, so touch wood that continues to be the case. It's been 43 days since the original tear/strain which has included two aborted comebacks.

The popular (and sensible in my view) thing to do when injured is to cross-train by doing some other aerobic activity. This can be walking, cycling, swimming, deep-water running or training on an elliptical machine to name the more popular forms of cross-training for running. My choice has been cycling combined with a couple of days a week of brisk walking. I've been riding around 220 kilometres per week (90 minutes to 2 hours per day or more). Long rides have been for 4 or 5 hours. All this cycling leaves me feeling very fit aerobically — my resting heart rate is as low as it's ever been in recent years. My legs are good and strong too. For cycling.

I'm close to becoming a cyclist who can run, but not that well. Running is a very specific discipline of movement. And within running there is sharp specificity at different race distances. Sprinters don't do that well at marathons and marathoners don't do that well in mile or 800 metre races. Triathletes are good at swimming, cycling and running because they spend a lot of time training for each of the three activities.

The recently retired Sven Nys is regarded as one of the greatest cyclo-cross racers of all time. Cyclo-cross is a sport in which you race a bike for around an hour over often muddy, hilly and sandy circuits while running the sections that are impossible to ride. Sven's aerobic capacity would be the equal of a runner capable of competing well at the World Cross Country Championships. His running ability in hard-soled cycling shoes (while carrying 8 kgs of bike) was the skill that often made the difference in World Cup races. He's a good runner! And he now runs 'for fun' — in the Antwerp 10 Miles race on 17 April, Sven ran the good but not remarkable time of 61:53 (around 3:50 per k). I'm sure, given 12 months of specific running training, he could take 5 minutes or more off that time. If you want to run well, you need to run. Simple!

Walking to the finish of the Tuggers Parkrun on Saturday
Heart rate during a steady 41k bike ride. Average of 105. There's lots of coasting when cycling (unless you're riding a time trial on a flat or uphill course).

Monday, April 04, 2016

Stopped from running by a calf injury

After my last blog in early March I resumed my return to running fitness back in Canberra. For two weeks I was going well and in hindsight, a little overconfident, as I decided to race the ACT Veterans' 5000 metre track championship race on Thursday 17 March. I knew I wasn't nearly as fit as I'd been for the 2015 race but hoped to enjoy competing and perhaps run around 24 minutes. I started well enough, running 4:45 for the first k and having Angel M for company towards the tail of the 16 runner field.

It was a warm breezy evening and soon after three laps Angel went by and it was all I could do to follow him. The next ks were 4:58, 5:08 and 5:15 (not the type of splits you'd hope for in a good 5000 metre race). With two laps to go my left calf felt like it was cramping — had I not been so close to the finish of my last 5k track race for the season I would have stopped running. The leg was hurting! I finished the race (25:13 and 15th place) and took the next day off running, hoping to cure what I thought was a minor strain. Wrong! I made it 2k into Saturday's Parkrun before the calf "cramped" again and I had to walk.

I had eight days off running (I could still ride my bike) before resuming run training with an 8k run in Wagga. I made it through that run with minor discomfort from the calf but 6k into my run the following day it "cramped" again, just as it had done in the Parkrun. I suspect the initial injury had been a tear of a muscle or muscles in the calf which just hadn't repaired itself sufficiently to resume running. I've now had a further six days off and I can tell that the injury is slowly improving day by day. I'll wait until the dodgy calf feels exactly the same as the good one and can stand some vigorous massaging before resuming running. I hope you're all doing better than I am as the weather (in Australia at least) is now perfect for running.

Walking the Ginninderra Parkrun on Saturday 2 April. My cyclist self thinks running is a slow method of getting places, but walking takes forever!

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Starting from square two (beats square one)

Not long after writing my last blog post I had a fall at home which (long story short) resulted in seven nights at Canberra Hospital and a break from my professional running career. I'm expecting to get the 'all-clear' from the neurologist to resume exercise (and driving!) this coming Tuesday, but in advance of that, I've begun to run again. I feel too good not to run!

This past week I've been doing short runs and bike rides, limited (fortuitously perhaps) by a lingering Aussie heat-wave. I've been staying at Mum's in Wagga and this past week have been completing runs of 3 to 5k — usually point-to-point, which gives me a 3 to 5k warm-down walk back home. Does one really need warming down in 35 degree heat?

I've been 'running by feel', with no heart rate monitor, just the Garmin's splits to ponder over afterwards. My feelings have been pretty good. I feel like I'm pushing off the ground well and moving smoothly with few discernible muscular niggles. Natural pace has been between 5:15 and 5:30 per kilometre, which happens to be that training sweet spot a little slower than half-marathon race-pace.

I call this post 'starting from square two' as I haven't had that much time off. So far in 2016 I've averaged 40k per week of running (plus cycling) and after the fall had 18 days off exercise before resuming with a short 2k jog. Square one would be starting again after 3 months off. You don't really want to go there! Reminds you of the difficulty all beginning runners face. If you happen to be a beginning runner, might I suggest slowly building up to continuous runs of 30 minutes. Start with alternating walks and jogs. When you reach 30 minutes, try and repeat that as many days a week as possible. And think about doing some cycling. Cycling is fun, gentle and rest periods (when you coast downhill) are built in.

I plan to do some cyclo-cross racing in Canberra this coming season. Good fun!

Friday, February 05, 2016

So much energy! All due to the Vegan diet?

I'm loving this plant-eating gig — except for one thing — my energy levels are so high that I'm finding myself doing crazy atypical stuff. Like vacuuming and dish washing and folding up clothes.

I'm also losing my appetite for sweets and cheese. Weird! I'm finding myself drooling over a big plate of apricots, or dates, or bananas, or watermelon. Anything but cheese and biscuits. Becoming too light is a bit of a concern — 72 kg is still in the "normal BMI" range for my height but I'm starting to feel too light. Carbohydrates are my friend but I must be just burning them up.

My training is going along nicely. I have to crack the whip to stop myself from doing mega-long rides. When I'm on the bike I just want to go all day (sore arse notwithstanding). But I need to allow time in my schedule to do other stuff (like cleaning bicycles and mowing grass). Have I mentioned that I don't know how I managed to find the time to be a wage slave?

Vitamin B12 supplementation is needed when you stop eating meat. Protein from golden peas, perhaps not. But it doesn't taste too bad, so why not?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Eating high-carb vegan food for energy, recovery and health

I've been building up to this change of diet for a while and have been following it for just over a week. It's a radical change for me as it means finding new 'favourite foods' to replace eggs, cheeses, cakes (made with milk & eggs) and of course, Mum's roast lamb. Tough, but so far, so good. My reasons for trying a high-carb vegan diet are primarily the promises of increased energy, faster recovery after training and improved health. It means plant-based eating — the full nutritional requirements for good health can be obtained from a vegan diet, even vitamin B12.

The majority of food in a regular supermarket is vegan but that doesn't mean that eating 'vegan' equates to good health. A diet consisting solely of coca-cola, chips and bread spread with peanut butter isn't going to be healthy! Many processed (canned) vegetables have large amounts of sodium, so I'll spend most of my time in the fruit and veg section of the supermarket as reading the tiny nutrition information print on processed food is a pain in the proverbial. I'll let you know how I'm feeling about my change of diet in a month or so.

There are many impressive vegan athletes in the world, most notably (for runners), champion ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, author of Eat & Run. The two that have left an impression with me are cyclist Christine Varderos (see her talk on Youtube) and Rich Roll, author (with his wife, Julie Piatt) of The Plantpower Way and a memoir, Finding Ultra. Rich is a great speaker and in the following off-the-cuff interview, he talks about his life and vegan diet (beginning at 6:15).