Monday, 17 December 2012

Of runs, faraway and local...

Following up from the previous post, where I said I had planned two time trials to see if I had improved my short distance pace at all (up to 10k) before introducing more endurance work after the Xmas holidays.

I wanted them to be reasonably representative of race conditions, so I headed down to Braunstone Park for the parkrun on the 8th December and - first and foremost - had a really great time! It's a lovely way to start your weekend, the competition is strong and with runners of all abilities there you can be sure to be racing someone (assuming that's your thing!) regardless of how slow or how fast you are! The whole event is organised and conducted in a very relaxed, inclusive (runners with dogs and buggies welcome) and friendly atmosphere which is hard to fault. Results are issued (by email and text if you want) on the day, so they must be doing something right from an organisational point of view as well!

I am ashamed to say that it was only my second parkrun, but that is only because I find it very hard getting out of bed early on a weekend. Will try to do better in 2013 though!

(Hmmm... New Year's resolution list is becoming dangerously long again...)

For those who don't know parkruns, they are run by volunteers and exist in a number of cities around the world. It hasn't spread to Greece yet, despite the great uptake of running in that country in the past few years ... To be fair, Greek cities aren't famous for their parks, but (despite the doom and gloom we all read about), progress is been made in that area as well, and I can't help but think that there might be an opportunity there... So if any of my Greek friends are reading this and they feel they could make a difference, head over to Parkrun's website and have a look!

These thoughts, and a little excursion we are trying to plan in the Greek countryside for when we are there over the Christmas period, got me thinking again about the geography of the country, but as a runner this time (I only took up running after moving to Britain)... My Greek runner friends often tell me how lucky I am to live where I do, with all the country lanes to go running in, parks everywhere, and the amazing landscapes of the Peaks, the Lakes and other corners of Britain I've been lucky to run in. And while I do love the place I live in and appreciate all it has to offer runners, I think their comments are written from an Athenian rather than a Greek perspective... Thinking of the great variety of the Greek landscape and of how close everything is to each other, I would love to go on a little road trip in Greece, built around, say, 5-6 10k runs... From the austere cycladic landscape, to gorges with plane-trees and streams running through them, or among the olive groves of the Peloponnese.. through pine forests in the mountains...

Photo by Christos Theodorou from Panoramio

(Gosh, could what was that all about? Nostalgia? Lack of sunlight, causing me to fantasise about running in sunny places?)

Anyway, I've digressed enough! I managed to complete the 5km course in a respectable (for my standards) 21' 19'', which is a new PB and indicates that a marathon goal of 3h 30' is not unreasonable (I know, there are many caveats to that statement, but lets not get into this discussion now - I was only after a rough indication of how my sub-10k pace had improved, after all).

Similarly with the 10k run, which unfortunately did not manage to do as a road run and had to resort to the treadmill: I did that in 40' 10'', which sounds impressive, but then again I always find I run faster on a treadmill: I don't think it has anything to do with any calibration issues (I measured the distance with my calibrated Garmin footpod and didn't rely on the treadmill readings), it's probably more to do with the lack of hills, and the fact that when you begin to tire it's easier (mentally? physically?) to keep up with a moving treadmill than it is to keep your own pace consistently fast... Be that as it may, and making all sorts of allowances for the circumstances, I consider that another tick in the box so I am becoming more confident about my 3:30 goal. I'd just like to put a long run in this week though, just to give myself the peace of mind that this pace did not come at the expense of endurance...

The only other thing on my mind has been how to plan my training in 2013 after Rome... I aim to do two more 'main' or 'A' races in the year (the Bosworth half marathon in May and the Athens marathon in November) plus a number of smaller runs with the Harriers and then some "fun" stuff over summer, like the Adidas Thunder Run etc. I'm sure there must be a more intelligent way of training that approaching each marathon as a separate event, so I put the question to the Harriers at large and got some good input - even an offer of help from one of the most experienced (and fastest) among us!

I also found an interesting article about devising an annual training plan, so I'm hoping to have a go at that over Christmas holidays and see what pops out the other end!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Progress so far and DRXC Sinai

Well, here we are in December, the first snowflakes have just made their appearance, the days are about as short as they are likely to get and some Christmas trees have even been put up.... it is also the time of year when I had hoped to have completed the first part of my training for the Rome marathon which was all about building my speed over a 10k distance: You may recall that the rationale behind going about it that way was that last year’s objectives (primarily the Lakeland marathon) meant that I had concentrated more on endurance and hill work and had neglected things like lactate threshold training, tempo runs etc. As a consequence I found that not only did my 10k pace hardly improve from the beginning of 2012, but my ability to improve my half and full marathon pace was also impacted.

So how have I done? I certainly feel considerably faster than I was in September, I believe my form has improved as well and I feel that my tempo runs have become not only faster, but stronger as well: No longer does my body shout “pleeeeease make it stop!” between wheezes, it actually moves forward with a greater sense of purpose and determination, even to the end of the tempo run!

I also had a moment of inspiration on one of the Harrier training sessions a couple of weeks ago (we were doing fartleks I think), when I noticed one other runner in particular making much larger strides than me – larger than would be justified by the difference in our respective heights. As an experiment (or even an act of desperation) I tried lifting my knees a bit more during the next interval and I immediately felt that make a difference in my speed at the expense of no perceptible additional effort: I did all remaining intervals like that, making sure I did not overextend (and spoil the midfoot strike I’m so happy with) and the result was the same. Looking at my Garmin data afterwards I was pleased to see that it didn’t really impact my cadence either... so that’s what I’m concentrating on technique-wise. Not so much on slippery (muddy / icy) terrain yet (I still want to have my feet very close to the ground in such circumstances), but certainly something to work on.

But that’s hardly an objective review of progress so far, is it? It isn’t, so I’ve planned two time trials this weekend (5k on Saturday and 10k on Monday) to see where I am... I seriously doubt I will achieve the arbitrary goal of 10k in under 40’ I set myself in September, but I’m not too hang up on that to be honest... I just wanted something that would really stretch me but that sounded almost achievable (I find it hard to put your maximum effort in a goal you know you stand no chance of achieving).

Once done I can then look at my marathon goal finishing time (currently 3h 30’) and see if I need to re-assess it, before beginning the second part of my training in January, focusing on distance. In the mean time I will take a bit of a break from formal training and spend the Xmas holidays running for fun: I might take Dash for a comfortable run in Bradgate Park, do some hill-reps (because I need them - read on!) and generally add some variety and not worry about training structure. 


This Sunday past, we had the second in the series of the Derby Runner Cross Country races, at Sinai park. It wasn't as  muddy as the first one (although there was some ice), but the queues to get over stiles and through gates were still there: the worst one was at the end of a long downhill and before a steep hill on the other side... instead of being able to let momentum carry us downhill and up the other side, we had to stop half-way down, shuffle, stop, wait, shuffle some more then over the stile and only then tackle the hill... A bit frustrating, but I suppose it was the same for all participants, so can’t shout too loudly.

But the main feature of the race were the hills! To begin with the start was straight uphill and I thought that was just there to intimidate us... wrong, it was lulling us into a false sense of security! “Come along” it was saying, “look at what a scary hill I am, there can’t possibly be anything worse anywhere on the course can there?” But there were... two of them in particular!

Let’s just say I should make a habit of heading over to Croft hill every time I work from home and get some more hill reps in!

But for a second time, I followed the race with a yoga session at the gym... legs a bit painful, but between that and a warm bath afterwards it’s probably the best stretching and relaxation routine I could come up with! Add to that a juicy steak for dinner and the Monday off and you are laughing!


I guess that’s enough for now... I’ll be back next week with the results of my time trials and some other bits and pieces that have been on my mind for some time now...