Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Nearly time to run The Bath!

Only a few days to go now to the Bath Half Marathon (March 3) – and the nerves/excitement are kicking in!

It’s a very different scenario to the end of September and the build-up to the Bristol Half. That was my first… I had run the distance in training with Jon, but the whole race-day experience was new to me. Or, to be more precise, it was so different in scale to what I had experienced the previous Sunday when I ran the Sheffield TenTenTen that it qualifies as ‘new’.

I clocked 1h49’56” in Bristol – 8’23”/mi (or 5’13”/km, as I was calling it back then). A good time for a newbie, by all accounts. The problem with being a newbie is that you only get away with it once. On the plus side, you learn some valuable lessons on that first race, too. Some become apparent on the spot, otherwise only weeks or months later when preparing the next race.

I have been running at least one half marathon-equivalent training run just about every week since the Bristol Half. Indeed, I ran 23.1k (14.3mi) the Thursday after the Sunday race. Which is probably why I went back on my “never again” promise to myself, voiced during the final mile of the Bristol run, and duly signed up for Bath the following day!

In recent weeks, I appear to have made a breakthrough. Not in terms of stamina, more so in terms of speed. I went out on Monday morning and ran 13.1mi, the exact half marathon distance, clocking 1h37’50” at 7’27”/mi pace. On both January 22 and February 4 I had run 13.5mi, recording the near-identical times of 2h05’25” and 2’05’29” respectively – 9’17” and 9’18” per mile. So what has happened in the past three weeks to help me shave the best part of two minutes per mile, over thirteen miles, off my pace?

The answer is twofold. I think.

Firstly, there was Lund. I was running on a straight, flat road – and went for it. If the pace were to prove too much, I knew I just had to slow down and/or turn 180 degrees and head straight back for the hotel. No witnesses to my pain, no hill to climb to get back to the starting point as with my runs from home… I may be over-analysing now, looking back, but those may all have been factors. Or maybe I just felt the need to run fast to keep warm under the snow, who knows. Regardless, I ran 13.1mi in 1h44’ – a PB. Not bad for a run that had begun at 5:38am in Southern Sweden in February!

Secondly, there’s a book. It’s called “The Art of Running Faster”, by Julian Goater. It was already on my Amazon WishList when Mike, one of the online nutters, sang its praises…
…I’ve picked up a handful of tips on technique and applied them to my running, though mainly what I’ve done is taken on board the notion that, in training runs, there is nothing wrong with stopping as a result of running too fast if it means you’re pushing the boundaries in the process. Rocket science that ain’t: indeed, I suspect my Dad shared most of those tips with me whilst running along the Ligurian Sea coastline some twenty-plus years ago! But that was a different time, a different me… and I cant remember everything! Besides, Goater’s words gave me the impetus to step out of my comfort zone and “go for it” a tad more. And, much to my surprise, I found that actually I could run faster than I had been doing. I also tweaked a few aspects of my technique, reducing stride length and increasing cadence and just generally keeping an eye on what my body was doing. Having never had any running coaching (why would you? one foot, then the other…), there was obviously scope for some improvement. I have no idea as to how apportion the merit for these improvements and, quite frankly, I don’t care – something’s working!

Which then engenders a virtuous circle of comments and ‘kudos’ on Twitter and Strava with my fellow online ‘nutters’. I couldn’t do this without them – thanks, guys!

What this means is that I go into Sunday’s Half with very high expectations of improving on my Bristol time. Based on what I’ve managed this week, averaging a minute a mile faster than I did at the end of September near the mouth of the Avon. I’ll be further up the river this time round… what could be a realistic time?

That seems to depend on which of my online friends you ask:
> 1h37’47” – Mike
> 1h33’40” – Trevor
> 1h32’30” – Andy
> 1h31’55” – Martin

So, anywhere between a dozen and eighteen minutes below my current PB… no pressure then, Squintani! In fact... Mike made that prediction before my training run, knowing him hell probably squeeze it down now..! <27/02 update: he's now saying 1h34’45”>

OK, shall I let you into a secret? Shall I tell you how I plan to run on Sunday – and what I’m targeting?

Don’t tell anyone, but…

DISCLAIMER: The assumption behind the following forward-looking statement is that the weather will not have an adverse impact upon performance. There are sections of the course that could prove muddy if it rains too hard. So far, so dry – but there’s time, eh, good old English weather?

I’m targeting 1h35’. If I managed 1h37’50” on Tuesday, I ought to manage 1h35’ in a race. Or so popular wisdom goes, anyway. Because to hit 1h35’, I need to average 7’15”/mi. That’s a full twelve seconds faster than on Tuesday. 2’50” over 13.1mi may not sound much, but 12”/mi is quite a difference… that’s where race day adrenaline needs to kick in!

Now, back in September I had Jon pacing me and we both wore wristbands he’d made featuring the times at which we needed to pass the various mile markers to hit our target time of 1h50’. I was aiming for sub-2hrs but, having seen me run and looking to build in a little cushion, Jon suggested we targeted 1h50’. The fact that I crossed the line in 1h49’56” is a glowing testament of Jon’s pacing capabilities! There’ll be no Jon in Bath…
…but there will be a Garmin Forerunner 410. In fact, I suspect there’ll be thousands of the things. But one, in particular, will accompany me on my left wrist. Amongst the many pieces of data it can provide me (including sunrise and sunset times) are the pace for that given mile and the stage of that mile at which I’m at. And, as I did on Monday, that is all I plan to look at…

…on Monday, I never once glanced at my overall time: I just knew that, as long as I hit 7’30” pace mile after mile, I’d come in sub-1h40’, which was my goal. That meant accelerating towards the back end of several miles, after which I may have slowed down shortly at the beginning of the next. They were not major changes and they smoothened out over the course of the half-marathon distance. But trust me, when I needed to make ground around miles nine and ten, it felt easier to step up and iron out a small deficit within those miles than it would have done to let the gap grow and find it too big and demoralising later.

And that’s what I plan to do on Sunday: to keep an eye on the pace and try to hit 7’15” pace for each mile. Or maybe even 7’20”, knowing that may leave enough in the tank for the final few miles: I’ll see on the day, I will know after a few miles. Whatever the pace, the goal is to eat that elephant in thirteen small bites rather than worry too much about the overall picture, because taking care of thirteen miles will take care of the PB.

That is The Plan, Ladies and Gentlemen. Come race day, there will be scope for flexibility. There has to be, always. Hopefully, though, not till halfway. If 7’15”-7’20” is a struggle, I hope to maintain something in that region for at least half the race to build up a cushion. If it leaves enough in the tank, I may see if over the remaining six miles or so I can push a little further. Back in Bristol, the last few miles were a struggle: and that is something I am very keen to avoid. One reason was psychological: we had been heading towards the finishing line, my mind was looking forward to the finish, then we turned away from it. That hurt. And that slope in the final mile doesn’t help, either. Well, it didn’t in 2012. I’ll be ready for it this year. 2013 entries open on Friday (March 1), by the way. Just in case you could care less.

Incidentally, from a pure weight perspective I’ve actually put weight on since the end of September. I write this purely for the benefit of people who, upon seeing me, think my weight-loss is ongoing! Fear not, I’m fine!
On September 24, I weighed 73.5kg with a BMI of 13.2%; on Monday, February 25, I weighed 74.9kg with a BMI of 13.9%. This doesn’t worry me in the slightest – if anything, it just amuses me, as I delight in the knowledge of the homemade cakes I’ve enjoyed in recent weeks, whereas I was turning down the majority of such offers over the summer. But what’s the point of running 50mi/week if you can’t give it to the occasional (well, daily) indulgence?

Anyway… let’s run the Bath!!!

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