Saturday, December 29, 2018

Break on through to the other side

Obviously this is my last post for 2018 so I'd like to say 'thanks' to readers and wish you all the best for achieving your running goals in 2019. For myself, I didn't quite get there in 2018 — my goal was to run faster than 23 minutes for 5k and my best time was 23:10 at The Runners Shop 5k in July. I had been targeting a 5000m track race in December but the meeting was cancelled due to storms. I haven't had a full race effort since the Wagga Parkrun — I've been waiting in vain for a cool night or morning.

I still remain excited about the possibility of running a 'good' 5k so that will be one of my main goals for 2019. Time-wise, I'd still like to break that pesky 23-minute barrier. There are a few reasons for my excitement and I'll talk briefly about two of them in this post.

1. I've started reading the book by Alex Hutchinson — 'Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.' In chapter 1, Alex talks about his own running breakthrough, having had the goal of breaking 4 minutes for 1500 metres since the age of 15. He eventually did so, unexpectedly, at an obscure indoor meeting when the split times were read incorrectly and he ended up running 3:52. Having broken the mental 4-minute 'barrier' he continued to improve and ran 3:44 to qualify for the Canadian Olympic Trials. Prior to the breakthrough, Alex tried to replicate training that preceded good races, something I've always done, having kept detailed running diaries since the early 1980s. Running well is organic and mental rather than mathematical.

2. A podcast by Steve Magness and Jon Marcus where they also talk about the unpredictability of breakthroughs and the importance of trusting the process (of training) and 'racing the race.' I tend to get hung up on running even splits (especially in track races) when I'd give myself the chance of running faster if I raced the race.

The lush track at Dickson, venue for the 2018 ACT Beer Mile

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A 3000m race and a 5k Parkrun

I've decided to write about races in a little detail as a record of my progress towards racing 5k in under 23 minutes. Since the last blog post there have been two full effort races, a 3000m on the track and a 5k Parkrun at Wagga (strictly not a race, but a 5k timed run which many treat as a race). I also raced the Fisher's Ghost 5k a little off full effort (wary of the hilly course) in 24:29, 11 seconds slower than I ran in 2017.

ACT Masters' 3000m, 8 November — I was hoping to run a season's best and dip well under 14 minutes but I had one of those awful races where the second half feels like you're running through ever-deepening mud. It was an unusually cold night at the Woden track, not my favourite weather, about 9 degrees celsius. Helen was running and had been good form, recently breaking 30 minutes for the hilly BBQ Stakes 6k lunch run. I started a little faster than customary to take up a position following Helen for the first 3 laps, passing 1000m in 4:34 (13:42 3k pace), Dale and Roger just behind. Then it all started going wrong, the elastic to Helen breaking as Dale and Roger gave chase. I continued to fade, running the second km in 4:44 and third in 4:53, finishing 11th in 14:10.4. Roger way ahead in a good 13:40 followed by Helen in 13:51 and Dale in 14:06.

Wagga 5k Parkrun, 17 November — A much better race! Three members of the Speedygeese were running, Geoff (chasing the M70 course record), myself and Lisa (returning from injury). It was a beautiful morning, calm as we warmed up (which turned into a very gentle breeze), perhaps a fraction warm at around 17 degrees celsius. The small field of 124 runners and walkers allowed us to take up position close to the front on the wide start line. Geoff took off purposefully (I knew he was aiming for under 24 minutes), and his pace felt just about right as we moved past a few overenthusiastic starters. "Sub-5 pace?" enquired Geoff after a few minutes. "Definitely!" The 1k split was 4:37 and we were still catching people. I eased ahead of Geoff on the rough section at the north of the lake, setting my sights on catching a lady running about 30 metres ahead of us. The split for the second k was 4:41 and I knew Geoff wasn't far behind (hearing his loud breathing, which continued all the way to the finish). I overtook the young lady (she would run 25:03) before the turn on the out/back course. I tried to keep the speed up running back and it felt like I was, even though the next two splits were both 4:48. I had another bloke to chase for the last kilometre as a young runner flew past, making us both look slow! A final sprint for the line and 24th place in a time of 23:42, Geoff not far behind (smashing the M70 record by 2 minutes) in 23:50 and Lisa having an excellent run with a course PB of 25:09. Good race!

A calm Lake Albert, perfect for ducks and geese

Monday, November 05, 2018

A lot of running and a rare win

The 2018 goal of breaking 23 minutes for 5k is still motivating my training. I think I can do it! I've raced regularly since The Canberra Times 10ish k but none have been 100% flat-out efforts. My weekly mileage has also been consistent, averaging around 100 kilometres per week. I feel fit and just need a calm and cooler day for a fast race. Cool and calm days haven't been as common as warm and windy days of late.

With my future training I plan to only run 'hard' on two days per week and I'd like to make those days very hard. One day will be a race, most likely on the track at the Thursday Masters' meetings. I will race the 3000m or 5000m most likely, with an occasional 1500m. On 18 October I ran a 5000m, placing 2nd in 24:14.2, a long way from 23 minutes but it was a warm night and I wasn't motivated to 'go to the well' that evening. Last Tuesday afternoon I ran 23:59 on bikepaths in 'The Boathouse' 5k. Once again it was warm and we were running into a headwind for the second half of the race. My legs felt good and I was moving well so that was pleasing.

Back on Sunday 21 October a large group of Speedygeese headed out to Tarago for the annual 'Run with the Wind' Fun Runs. I entered the 5k and knew there were only a few old blokes entered in the 60-69 category, my mate Jim one of them. The course was out/back on a smooth gravel access road to the giant wind turbines and over challenging hills. The start was crowded and I had no idea of my place until the leader and those following him came back from the turn. Most were obviously young and fast but I was on the lookout for the wrinkly skin and grey hair of ancient runners. Nothing! A couple of runners looked to be around 50 but I appeared to be racing for the win. Good fun! All I had to do was stay ahead of Jim and Jeff and I'd be on the top spot of the podium! I ran back to the finish (walking a couple of times on the hills), pacing myself with teenagers and 20-somethings, not concerned with the time, just winning. And that's what happened. Racing without concern for the finish time is liberating and enjoyable. I like racing!

Speedygeoff won the 10k 70-79 category!

Spectacular views from the 10k race turn

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Canberra Times almost 10k

But not quite. I last raced The Canberra Times 10k in 2016, placing 402nd in 52:01. On Sunday the organisers introduced a new out/back course, hillier in my estimation with a climb up to New Parliament House at the 6k mark. The old course was point-to-point, no sharp turns (a net downhill run) and reasonably fast depending on wind direction. My certified road 10k PB was run on that course. For the new course I was hoping to break 50 minutes but thought it would be close, due to the new extra hill and turns.

I did a trial run on August 30 and my thoughts at the time were 'this is going to be hard!' — it was also a fraction long by my Garmin, 10.2k, but I didn't know exactly where the finish would be placed. On Sunday the U-turn at the southern end of the course was earlier than expected and Strava data from runners shows that we did in fact run a short course. I recorded 9.88k and saw distances between 9.8 and 9.9k, most around the 9.86k mark. The person who set the turn up must have placed the cone early, in my estimation between 60 and 75 metres, thus making the course between 120 and 150 metres short. This is annoying for runners going for a road 10k PB, especially on a course that's supposed to be certified accurate. Short (and long) courses were common in the 'old days', so much so that I count my track times (10k and under) as my PBs even though I ran a faster '10k' on the road.

So how was my race? In a word, great! I ran 47:19, which should have been just under 48 minutes if I'd run the extra distance to make it a true 10k. I wasn't expecting to run that well, especially on the new course. We were blessed with the weather, cool (6C) and calm for the 7.45am start. I lined up next to Jim and just behind Trevor and Craig, about 10 metres back from the starting arch. The road narrows to one lane after 400 metres or so but there wasn't too much elbow bumping going on — I followed Jim through there before edging ahead. I knew we were running quickly (didn't bother with the watch during the race but the first 500m was at 4:20/km pace). The 1k (flat running) split was 4:42. I was fortunate near the Carillon to find myself next David, who was running with his daughter Maia. Following them up Kings Avenue, the pace felt just about perfect — relaxed yet quick. I wasn't stressed on the long but gentle rise and was conscious of keeping something in hand for the hills.

Running down State Circle we could see the leaders coming back (a good feature of the new course). Will caught me at the U-turn and again at 6k while David and Maia got away by 20 metres back down the State Circle hill before I passed them just prior to Kings Avenue. I gathered myself for the dreaded climb up to New Parliament House. That 500m was my slowest of the race, at 5:16/km pace. From there it was gentle down or flat running and I was feeling good, the New Balance Beacon shoes nice and light, soft on the road. Back over the bridge I was surprised there were sometimes gaps to the person ahead, with odd small groups running together. My legs felt good! I was relaxed knowing that the speed throughout had felt fast enough to be under 50 minutes. I took a quick look at the watch for reassurance running beside the lake and saw 45:XX with the finish line in sight. Wow! A late sprint to the line, with James flying past showing me how to really sprint! Good run! But oddly disappointed that the course had been short. 47:59 would have been much better! This had been my best 10k race since Melbourne in October 2015 — 47:39 that day, which preceded a 5k the following week in 22:46. Looking good for sub-23!

With Jennie (PB) and Ruth after the race
First Braidwood Parkrun on Saturday (J Harding photo)

Monday, September 03, 2018

A 5k with Deek!

I've been racing regularly since The Runners Shop 5k on 21 July. I agree with Greg Meyer ('83 Boston marathon winner in 2:09:00) when he said on a podcast that today's runners don't race enough. He said there's a feeling and training effect one gets from hard racing that's impossible to replicate in training. My race results over the past 5 weeks have been: 4 August, Dunrossil Drive 4.1k XC in 19:50; 12 August, City to Surf 14k in 74:47; 18 August, Wagga Parkrun 5k in 24:31; 24 August, Customs Joggers' 5k in 23:26; 1 September, Tuggeranong Parkrun 5k in 23:37. That's quite a bit of racing. In addition there have been races run as tempo runs or interval sessions.

The most recent races (CJs' 5k and Tuggeranong Parkrun 5k) gave me a good feeling about my chances of breaking 23 minutes for 5k (my main race goal for this year). My mileage has averaged 106 kilometres for the past 7 weeks and I'm feeling strong in races off that mileage. I haven't been feeling fresh and rested for the races, so there's some 'free' time to be had there — I don't know how much, perhaps 10 or 15 seconds? Then there's the time saved with good weather conditions (calm, not too cold, not too hot).

For the Tuggeranong Parkrun on Saturday the weather was cool and we were running into a gentle breeze towards the turn and during the last kilometre. Parkrun is officially a "timed run, not a race" but in spite of that, there's always some friendly racing happening throughout the field. We were welcomed to the run by Rob de Castella (director of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation) as this was the 'Warrior Parkrun' event day. Deek has run at Tuggeranong before and has a PB of 23:27 when he ran with his daughter. He obviously wasn't running flat out on Saturday, but the results do show me finishing ahead of the great man — 47th for me in 23:37 and 71st for Deek in 25:47.

I've had the pleasure of racing Deek when he was a force in marathon racing in the '80s — I raced him on the track, on the roads and in cross country. The only time we were in close company was before the start or when he was lapping me! It was usually twice in a 5000m track race — it was breathtaking when the leading pack (usually Deek was pulling them along) flew past with the draft of wind seeming to rustle my singlet. Along with many thousands of fun runners I 'raced' Deek in The Canberra Times 10k in 1990, the year he set the still standing course record of 29:01. That day I remember being particularly pleased with myself as I'd just started training with Geoff Moore and finished in 101st place with 36:55. Running is one of those rare sports where we can compete against the best. If you can sprint you can even be briefly ahead of the elite runners during the rush at the start! That doesn't happen in tennis or golf.

Just after the start with 260 other Parkrunners!
Racing Will, approaching 4k in the Tuggeranong Parkrun

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The Runners Shop 5k

The YMCA of Canberra Runner's Club organise the annual 'Runners Shop' races — a choice of 2k, 5k or 10k distances on relatively flat bike paths beside the Molonglo River. It was two weeks ago, on Saturday afternoon, 21 July. I was keen to race the 5k and prove to myself that the 23:14 from Hervey Bay wasn't a fluke of Queensland warmth and friendliness. The 5k and 10k races incorporated the ACT Road Championships for juniors and seniors respectively but runners of any age were free to enter either event.

My warm-up went well and I lined up on the flat 'beach' amongst a field of 54 runners, three quarters of whom were under 20 years of age. I was expecting a fast start but it never ceases to amaze me just how fast young runners take off! Their frenzied sprinting off the line had me doubting my pace judgement. Once around the point and onto the main path I settled down and ran an effort which felt similar to Hervey Bay pace. Thankfully I had a few runners for company. I didn't look at my Garmin during the race but afterwards the first km showed as 4:29, too fast!

The course is out/back with a small rise onto the bridge over the river and two more tiny hills in the final kilometre. I'd say it's a fraction harder than the Hervey Bay course. After 1k I set my sights on chasing Cameron (about 50m ahead) and a couple of young runners. It was a 'grinding' type of chase, my legs not feeling as fresh as I would have liked. At the turn I was about 15m behind, while chasing me closely was Fiona. Running back to the finish I was gaining on Cameron but at the same time felt like Fiona would go past if my speed slowed a fraction. I overtook Cameron with about 500m to go but then he flew by in the final sprint for the finish line. I could see the clock ticking over 23 minutes, but just over — 23:10, very happy with that. Garmin splits: 4:29, 4:38, 4:42, 4:46, 4:30 +7s.

Race week had been 107k and since then my mileage has been similar. The Canberra winter is finally sliding away and with that we're all looking forward to warm Parkrun mornings, crowds of happy runners and fending off swooping magpies at the BBQ Stakes 6k and on long Sunday runs with the Speedygeese.

Tuggeranong parkrun on 7 July with Rob de Castella (back to camera)

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Good 5ks at Hervey Bay

I've just returned to Canberra from a three week holiday in Hervey Bay, Queensland. The weather was perfect for morning runs, between 15 and 20 degrees, usually sunny. Nearly all of my running was on the flat brick paved Esplanade path beside the beach, averaging 90 kilometres for each of the 3 weeks. Runs were mostly easy, including light Verheul interval days, a couple of short tempo runs and 3 race efforts at the Hervey Bay Parkrun 5k.

I'm excited that the Parkruns showed improvement in my 5k speed. In the first on June 16th I placed 48th in 23:32, faster than recent 5ks and the 23:44 I ran at Hervey Bay in 2017. A week later it was 32nd in 23:14 and for the last run, 32nd in 23:19. I now feel like my goal of running under 23 minutes for 5k in 2018 is within reach. The last two runs were quite different in pacing but both give me encouragement.

The 23:14 race had John Street pacing for 24 minutes. John has run an amazing 20:51 in the 75-79 age category, over 90% age-graded. I started with John's group, the initial few hundred metres faster than the previous week. About half way to the turn on the flat out/back course I drifted ahead of John and found myself chasing a bloke wearing a '100 run' shirt, a lady and a couple of youngsters. Coming back I felt like I was running fast and relaxed, quicker than the previous week. The time of 23:14 was faster than expected. The following week I started perhaps a little too fast, 4:20 pace for the first 500 metres. Although I passed a few other fast starters, most of my race was a tale of gradually losing places and wishing it was over. The lady in 27th who ran 22:59 gained that 20 seconds over the second half.

Now I'm back in cold, sunny Canberra, waiting for warmer Parkrun mornings. While I was on holidays I finished reading Scott Brown's Samurai Running Book. A number of things resonated. Among them, that training is like the dripping of water that slowly carves out a rock. With distance running it's the cumulative effect of months and years of unspectacular but consistent training that produces success. And the tale of the apprentice swordsman who wanted to become great, asking the master swordsman 'how long will it take?' The answer he hears is 'ten years' but the apprentice doesn't have that long so offers to work twice as hard. The master replies 'if you work twice has hard it will take you thirty years to become great.'

A few steps from the finish on 30 June at Hervey Bay

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Running well and running faster

Since my last blog post in May I've grown in confidence and have been enjoying my running. I feel like I'm moving well and with that, becoming faster. I agree with Pete Magill when he says "If you want to become a better runner, begin by running better." I don't agree with the oft-expressed philosophy that running is a simple thing that we all learn to do naturally as children and to run faster you just move your legs faster. When we observe runners in a race it's easy to pick out the runners with good form and those with bad form. Sometimes those with 'bad form' are faster than those who look good — some people say 'it doesn't matter what you look like if you're running fast, your form is natural to your own physiology and shouldn't be changed.' I believe all runners can make adjustments to their form which will help them to run better and faster. Having said that, don't make wholesale changes and expect problem-free running. Change gradually, just as you would gradually increase your mileage or the amount of speedwork in your training.

My weekly mileage is now averaging 78 kilometres. In that mileage there's some 'vert chasing' on a couple of days. Last week I climbed 1,666 metres according to Strava. The reason for this change is to build leg strength and resilience. I'll look for the steepest hills I can find, hiking strongly the 'ups' then running cross country on a gentler descent for balance and speed. It's fun! My 5k race time is down to 24:46, run at the YCRC Half Marathon Eve 5k on 26 May. I enjoyed the race, running with Brian early as we chased Jim. I couldn't close the 100m or so gap to the group of Christine, Miriam and Richard as we ran towards the turn. They ran 22:59, 24:03 and 24:07 which is where I'd like to be in another six weeks. Last Sunday I ran in a 2.5k cross country race and had a fun 'win' over Dave, who left his finishing sprint way too late!

View of Mt Tennent from the lower slopes of Mt Rob Roy

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A slow return to running and racing

It's been a while between posts. Sorry about that! I'm back running and racing, with the dodgy calf staying respectfully quiet. Touch wood. I ended up having 4 weeks off running, using cycling and small amounts of racewalking for cross-training during that time. I used to racewalk for Interclub points back in the '90s and have found it to be an excellent low impact alternative to running. I can walk at 6:40 per km pace at heart rates similar to when running a 5k race.

Weekly mileage has progressed from 8k and 32k in the first two weeks of April to 45k and 58k for the first two weeks of May. Generally I've been alternating racewalking days and running days with the latter usually Verheul interval sessions (light and reactive 250m runs with 250m walk recoveries). Research suggested that massage is vital during the recovery phase for this type of muscle injury. I've been using a foam roller, spiked ball and 'roller stick' to find the knots and sore spots then massaging them for a good 20 minutes every day.

I raced the hilly Mount Ainslie trail Parkrun 5k on 28 April in 26:06 and didn't notice the calf at all. Yea! I did notice a fading last 2k and general aerobic weakness at race pace. This morning in cool, blustery conditions I ran 27:31 for the Tuggeranong Parkrun 5k — my legs felt tired but the calf was fine. Average heart rate was 133 (about 84%) so if I raced hard at 142 HR I'd probably run around 25:40 for 5k. The journey back from injury is one of gaining confidence, ever so gradually. I know I'm a long way from running 23:00 for 5k but am excited to see improvements to my times over the coming weeks.

 My cousin Don also ran the Mt Ainslie Parkrun. He has finished six 6 Foot Track 45k races and run a marathon in every state and territory of Australia

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The dodgy calf strikes again

Tuesday will mark three weeks since I did something (a tear most likely) to my left calf. Annoyingly it was a predictable injury, more or less self inflicted. I've been somewhat gung-ho with my training in recent months — running 'doubles' 2 or 3 days a week to reach my mileage target of around 80 kilometres per week. On Tuesday 6 March I ran a double of 8k and 7k after doing a double on the Monday. The second run on the Tuesday was a race — The Boathouse 5k and my calf felt a little tight warming up. It was uncomfortable in the early stages of the race (I should have stopped!) but at 3.8k it suddenly cramped and I was forced to walk slowly to the finish.

This is exactly the same injury I suffered in March of 2016, ironically towards the finish of the ACT Masters' 5000m Championships. My calf 'went' with 2 laps to go but I managed to run painfully to the finish. My mistake in the aftermath of the injury was not giving it enough time to heal before resuming a gradual return to running. I gave it a day, then a week, then another week, then two weeks etc. Never enough time. Eventually I took six weeks off, which was enough for full recovery.

After three weeks off the calf feels pretty good, although it was a little tender on Friday following a test run/walk on the grass track on Thursday. I'm hopeful of resuming running soon. Unfortunately I missed the ACT Masters' 5000m Championships race that I was targeting. I think I could have run around 23 minutes. Ann (2 minutes ahead of me in the 10k) ran 22:15, Helen 22:58, Roger 23:01 and Kathy 23:16. It would have been good to have been in a race with the latter three. That would have been fun. Now it's back to the drawing board, which will be a plan based on volume of around 55 km per week of running — better in terms of scheduling recovery days.

A cool evening for the Masters' 5000m Championships

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Masters' 10,000m Championships

The 10k Championship race for 2018 was held last Thursday evening, 15 February. My last track 10k was back in 2014 — ran 52:57 then for 17th place on a hot, calm night. For this year I thought my 23:44 5k form would make 5 minute ks a realistic target. 25 laps of 400 metres is never easy, especially on the hard Mondo surface at the AIS. Luckily, Roger was entered and I knew he'd be good for 2-minute laps.

The field was disappointingly small, just 12 runners facing the starter. The air felt cool after recent hot days, around 19C, but there was a fresh northerly breeze to face as we ran up the back straight. I followed Roger around the first lap, the large Omega clock at the finish line showing 1:57, right on target. Quick enough, so I stayed in Roger's draft for the next 5 laps. Sensed he was slowing so went ahead. Bron shouted encouragement as we passed the lap-scorers each lap. My 5-minute k goal was gone by half distance, the unforgiving seconds slipping from under round minutes to over.

During the 17th circuit Ann lapped me and I used her as a pacer for the next few laps until the elastic broke. That was helpful in a race in which I was running alone most of the time. Finished in 7th place with a time of 50:33.28 and a gold medal for the M60s (only entrant!). I would have loved a 49:XX time, but perhaps that'll be the result next year. The story will be embellished in future reminiscences to say we faced a Queensland-style cyclone up the back straight which cost every runner at least 2 minutes.

Catching up with Carolyne and the legendary Norma Wallett (38:34 for 5k at 88!) at the first Goulburn parkrun

Saturday, January 27, 2018

More thoughts about Verheul Training

Not a lot of serious racing has been going on since 2018 commenced. It's been too darn hot! Even at 8.00 AM for the Parkrun 5k the temperature has been rarely below 19C. The humidity has been high too — this morning my shirt, shorts and socks were soaked in sweat by the time I'd finished running. My fastest 5k so far this year was on the 13th of January, 24:35 on a warm morning that also happened to be windy! My goal for this year is to run under 23:00 — even 22:59 will do! I don't think this will be an easy task, as it means finding another 34 seconds over my best time from last year.

Besides the lack of hard racing, my training has been going well. I'm averaging a little over 80 km per week, or around 8 and a half hours for those who measure by time. Looking back at my training diaries from the 1990s, I would have covered about 105 km in 8.5 hours (sufficient weekly time in my opinion for good race results). I'm back doing regular Verheul interval sessions, but in a different manner to how I ran them last year. I think my execution of the Verheul Methode wasn't how it should have been.

The most important thing is how the feet and legs interact with the ground. What we're looking for is a feeling of 'reactivity' with each stride. Now this doesn't mean striving for exaggerated 'springing' and vertical movement. It means running lightly with reactivity and forward movement. Last year I was too concerned with split times of the faster efforts and not enough with how each stride felt. I thought there was good value in doing a large amount of running at near race pace, when the real value comes from repeating the feeling of good reactive strides. For Verheul sessions now, I'm typically thinking about how the stride feels, without concern for how fast I'm running. My walking recoveries are now shorter than previously. I might walk for 100m and run for 400m, or walk for 200m and run for 300m rather than the 1:1 walk/run by distance that I did before. I'll let you know how things progress over the coming weeks.

Long run with the Speedygeese at Majura Pines