Saturday, July 25, 2015

A professional runner's lifestyle experiment

Today happens to be the first day of an 'experiment of one' — the outcome of which I've wondered about ever since I laced up my first pair of Nike LDVs, 35 years ago. The question I'd like to answer is "Will I run faster if I train full-time?" — by adopting the lifestyle of the professional runner? If you're a serious competitor you've probably asked yourself the same question.

I know there are elite runners who work full-time jobs but at the top level they're a rarity. I read recently on Runner's World about Nicole Tully, who works full-time and won the U.S. national 5000m title recently in 15:06.44. She said "running isn’t something that I need to be doing for survival. It’s really just something that I want to be doing." Running is something I want to be doing too! Tully works full-time (with flexible hours) in advertising and public relations. Until yesterday I've been working full-time with inflexible working hours. Therein lies a problem — missed training sessions and tiredness due to 9 and 10-hour working days (longer in December). My day starts at six in the morning (I cycle to and from work), so I'm an afternoon runner, but if we're particularly busy at work I'll miss training sessions here and there — not ideal for maximising athletic performance.

Now I'm on Long Service Leave until January 2016! Woohoo! I can see for myself if the lifestyle of the professional runner (minus the distraction of sponsor commitments) will improve performance. Does sleeping 9 or 10 hours a day (I'm not trying the 12 or 14 of Paula Radcliffe!) help with recovery? Does discarding the stresses of a full-time job help one cope with a difficult and stressful training session? Is running in the warm part of a Canberra winter's day all it's cracked up to be? Will I be able to avoid the temptations of the couch, a glowing fire and my box-set of Survivor DVDs? I'll update readers with progress reports — especially about my goal of running under 22 minutes for 5k. I'm excited!

Speedygeese flew at the 2015 Nail Can Hill Run

Sunday, July 12, 2015

2nd O50 in the Sri Chinmoy short course Off-Road Duathlon

This is an annual event and the good folk at the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team provide both short (for 5k runners like me) and long course races. It's a run/ride/run duathlon with the first run a road course around the Botanic Gardens, the mountain bike held in Black Mountain reserve which is also used for the second 'mountain' run. Leg distances were 2k, 7k and 2.5k although the first leg was a little short of what was advertised, at about 1.4k.

It was a cold and foggy morning and it took me the first run to get fully warmed up. I ran with Bronwyn early and got ahead a little into transition. The mountain bike course was tough! Straight up a steep hill before following undulating fire trails within the reserve. I enjoyed the ride, moving up in the field and only having to run my bike on a couple of steep pinches. I was having a battle with another 'old bloke', managing to break away on the last uphill section. My second transition wasn't the quickest, frozen fingers not wanting to unbuckle my helmet (stood there like an icy statue for about 30 seconds). The second run went straight back up the mountain on a rough single-track trail, then followed a long fire-trail section before plummeting back down to the finish. My rival closed the gap (I could hear his footsteps ever closer), but before he drew level I made a run for home down the last hill. The sneaky bugger matched my change of pace before sprinting away within sight of the line. Damn!

A nice '2nd Place 50 & Over' trophy for the mantelpiece and some very interesting stats from the event. I placed 5th overall; 16th (out of 27) for the first run, 6th fastest on the bike ride and 8th fastest for the mountain run. Perhaps I'm a better cyclist than runner? I think cycling is more forgiving of body weight (unless you're cycling up a 10k climb) — not that I'm over weight for my height. My BMI is 20.8 (within 'normal weight' range), but 72 kg is 'heavy' when compared to the average weight of elite distance runners. The bike 'carries' weight well — I guess in a similar way to water with swimmers. Anyway, my immediate plans are to continue cycling for fun and cross-training, while at the same time developing some end-of-race sprinting speed. Or maybe employ different race tactics against kickers!

At the back chatting to Bron when the race started
 Cold and foggy on the first run leg
 A nice trophy from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

Monday, June 15, 2015

Last in the ACT Cross Country Championships

I knew when I looked at the sign-on sheet that I had last place sewn up. Thommo was the second slowest runner and he's in 20-low 5k form. I was resigned to a solo 12k time trial on Stromlo's undulating grass track. David ran with me for the first k (he'd raced 5k earlier that morning in 19:45) before taking off and winning the M55s in 54:00.

My laps progressively got slower but I didn't feel awful at any stage. My 25k per week running legs survived! My heart and lungs had been comfortable enough — average heart rate of 145 and a maximum of 154 as I pushed to get under 59 minutes. I finished 18th and last in 58:44, Thommo ahead, almost out of sight, running 57:05.

If you race a lot, one day you'll start a race as the slowest runner and finish last. If a 15-minute 5k runner started in a 5000 metre heat at the Olympics he'd get lapped and finish last. Aside from the memorable placing I was quite pleased with my race. Beforehand I'd been nervous about the step-up in racing distance from 5k to 12k but it didn't turn out to be so bad. As I was running I enjoyed the sunshine, my niggle-free legs and the mild (for winter in Canberra) temperature. It had been a good day.

I make sure my Garmin is working for my longest run in more than a month. The 12k race was won by Joshua Johnson in 36:39.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Treadmill running in slow motion

My treadmill has been working overtime lately — no, I'm not going soft (I hope!), just not feeling inclined to run in the dark and cold after I've cycled to and from work. According to Strava my cycling mileage is averaging 189 kilometres per week. My running mileage over the past six weeks has averaged 26 kilometres per week — scarily low for a person who used to thrive on 80 to 100 kilometres per week. I'm sure the cycling mileage is preventing my aerobic condition from declining, while I'm doing just enough running so the legs don't forget how to run!

The video below shows me running on the treadmill at a speed of 12 kilometres per hour (5-minute ks). I normally run intervals, strides and short tempo runs on the treadmill. With the machine set at a steady speed I've been playing around with varying my cadence and stride length. A fast cadence (180 plus) feels rather stressful on the treadmill. When I run with a slower cadence, pushing harder off the belt (not over-striding) I feel more relaxed and less in danger of flying off the back of the bloody thing!

I'm still racing okay — 6k at Stromlo yesterday in 28:40 at an average heart rate of 143. I ran a bit soft in the last 2k lap as I wasn't being challenged from behind and Speedygeoff was almost out of sight ahead. The course was slightly long as rope barriers were in use on two corners to give the trampled grass a break. Lap splits had been 9:26, 9:26 and 9:48. Next Saturday I'm racing 12k on the same course — man is that going to be hard!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The rival who is hard to beat

Half Marathon Eve 5k Race

I'd been looking forward to the Canberra Half Marathon Eve 5k as an event I'd try to peak for and run as fast as possible. My expectations crashed on the Monday prior to the Saturday, 23 May race date. I was warming up for a Speedygeese session at Parliament House when I tripped on the most minuscule step from grass to a concrete path. Down I went, landing heavily on my left hip and knee (but  being aware enough to keep my Garmin hand from smashing into the ground).

No running for two days (stiff and sore) then still bothered during a treadmill run on the Thursday. My confidence was shot well before jogging a short warm-up on Saturday afternoon. I started next to Brian Wenn, a rival of mine who has always been very hard to beat. When I was in my twenties it was virtually impossible — Brian was a sub-35 10k runner when I was running 37 minutes. As we aged, the performance gap narrowed (helped by Brian's injury-prone stop/start training leading to him spending more time on the golf course and less on the running tracks and trails). Brian is 66, so more experienced than myself to the tune of eight years. Is that why he's so good? His recent form was a little intimidating — 22:14 for the Stromlo 5k in March.

We raced off, together for the first 400 metres, in (distant) pursuit of the fast starting Jim (who would split 4:17 for the first kilometre). Brian gradually edged ahead, metre by metre. I was running ragged, feeling close to my limit. After 1k I found myself closing on a couple of kids and Jim. Woohoo, he's slowing! But not Brian! The third k up the little hill past the Yacht Club was my slowest, but I was now holding the gap to Brian. On the return journey there was nothing I could do to close in, even though I passed a slowing young boy. This race is hard! Even though I was unaware of time splits, I felt we were running quickly — faster than the "I'll be happy with 23" Brian declared on the start line. The last k was a slog but I still 'sprinted' the grass finish straight. 29th place (out of 56 finishers) and 22:55, with Brian running 22:46. Another 'loss', but it had been good fun. Love racing!

Afterwards, the Garmin showed my splits: 4:32, 4:34, 4:49, 4:34 and 4:24. It had been a lovely warm, late autumn afternoon race (more to my liking than the freezing Parkrun early morning starts). A week later, my hip and knee are feeling normal and I'm looking forward to more battles with Brian — hoping we can both edge down to a sub-22 5k.

 Myself (yellow shirt) and Brian (blue) shortly after the start of the 5k

Passing Jim between 1 and 2k. Brian's gone!

Brian finishes 9 seconds ahead, with Jim in the distance. [David Appleby photos]

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Two good Parkruns and a Cyclocross race

On the 18th of April at the Tuggeranong Parkrun I was racing Geoff, Julia and Scott. All three started fast (too fast I thought), and had a good lead by the 1k mark. My split there was 4:30, so right on Parkun PB pace. I tried hard, more or less holding the gap to Julia and Geoff until 4k, while gradually closing on Scott. Geoff took off and ran a very good time for an almost 67-year-old of 22:06. Julia finished 10 seconds back while I got close to Scott (22:37), finishing in 22:45. A good time for me, but not great. I'd define 'great' as sub-22 and 'very good' as 22:15.

The following day I rode in my second cyclocross race, which used the Narrabundah Velodrome infield and surrounds. Love it! Love it! Love it! If I'd been born in Belgium, cyclocross would have been my sport. It has all the things I like in racing: Nice and short (20 minutes to an hour); the thrill of speed and close competition; the need for skill and technique; relative safety (no rocks or trees to crash into if you get it wrong, like mountain bike racing); not too much mud (we're in Australia!) and a supportive friendly atmosphere. It's the cycling equivalent of the 3k steeplechase and traditional (fence hurdling, creek jumping) cross country running. Although I was feeling a little off-colour that morning I still enjoyed myself — finishing 9th in C-Grade out of 15 riders (12 men and 3 women). The only problem with cyclocross racing in Canberra is not enough races!

On the 2nd of May, back at Tuggers for the Parkrun, I was racing young Isaac again. The poor lad wasn't feeling the best and I was much closer to his heels than the last time we raced. Jen ran a few metres ahead, encouraging him to get a move on and try to run a PB. I closed to within 20 metres on the bridge before the 4k mark but was unable to increase my speed in the last kilometre. Another win to Isaac! 22:30 to my 22:41. I placed 30th out of 180 (quite a small field for Tuggeranong, due perhaps to the inclement weather). My splits were even once again — 4:35, 4:30, 4:34, 4:32 and 4:30. I'm confident if I keep at it there will be a race where 4:27 k splits are doable.


GoPro camera view of my race (just the one crash)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chasing Isaac to a Parkrun 5k PB

It was a stunningly beautiful morning down at Lake Tuggeranong on Saturday. Conditions were perfect for running fast: cool (about 10 degrees C), dead calm and sunny. I was determined to run a course PB so made a point of having a rest day from running on Friday and only cycling an easy 24k. My warm-up was a tad shorter than ideal (1k of jogging rather than 2 or 3) but the legs felt good during the four strides.

As it was 'Australian Running Festival' weekend, start congestion was less than usual — there were 232 finishers rather than the 300-plus of a normal Saturday morning. I placed myself (a little impetuously) three rows back from the front and lost no more than 2 seconds crossing the start line. Started quickly then settled into a steady pace out of the park. Passed my mate Jim earlier than usual at the rowing pontoon (600 metres) then smoothly negotiated the left-right-left corners near Maccas.

Just beyond Maccas, Jen and son Isaac ran past — "I think we'll run with you" said Jen. If I can keep up was my immediate thought! And so it transpired — Jen and Isaac put about 40 metres into me over and off the footbridge. My legs, energy levels and breathing were all okay so I kept the speed at what I presumed was about 4:30 kilometres. Jen was obviously doing it easy (being a sub-20 5k runner) and was encouraging 11-year-old Isaac to keep a steady pace. Their lead was reducing up to and beyond the turn, but ever so slowly. On the downhill run to the 4k mark I started to feel confident of 'victory', closing to within 10 metres. I was psyched up to run a strong last kilometre. I ran hard, but Isaac surged with 800 metres to go and the elastic was broken. Although the 'race' was lost, I kept running hard, managing a modest sprint off the last 'speed bump' into the park. 30th place and 22:31 — a new Parkrun PB!

Isaac had run a 2-minute PB of 22:18, a fantastic run. I was feeling happy with my time and excited by the thought of running faster in coming months. I'm sure the cycling and sessions of 'strides' are making a difference. My only worry is the sharp drop-off into lactic acid pain (which I also notice when cycling). I don't have any leeway — 4:30 ks in the middle of a 5k feel fine but if I push just slightly faster my legs start protesting. I'm not quite sure what to do about that.

Jen and Isaac surge away from the old wombat

Wear a Speedygeese shirt and you'll run a PB!

Happy running friends after the Tuggers Parkrun

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Parkrun PB, cyclocross race and a tired 5000m

I raced in the ACT Vets' 5000m Championship last night — it was one of those awful races where the wheels fall off very early. After passing 1k in 4:31 (way behind Kathy, Roger and Geoff), I realised the pace would have to slow dramatically if I were to keep running. I was tired and feeling off-colour. I dragged myself to the finish at a much reduced pace, placing 20th in 23:57.17 — well off my goal of 22 minutes. This was disappointing as last Saturday morning I'd run a PB for the Tuggeranong 5k Parkrun.

I was quite excited after Saturday's Parkrun — not only had I run a Parkrun PB, but the racing itself was fun. I was psyched up to run quickly and positioned myself closer to the front row of the corral, losing only 2 seconds before crossing the start. There was the usual chaotic shuffling of bodies after the start, then I settled into a nice smooth pace, passing my mate Jim unusually early — near the rowing pontoon at 600 metres or so. Just beyond the 1k mark Adam drew up beside me, saying "We're on!" which I knew to mean 'on for a sub-23', Adam's PB goal. I followed Adam over the footbridge, around the ess-bends and under the road bridge, drawing beside him up the little incline before 2k. I was feeling good! Caught up and overtook Sophie before the U-turn and was surprised to see Adam just a few metres behind. He pushed ahead on the return journey but I was able to draw alongside on the little downhill to the 4k marker. This was where I began my 'run for the finish', passing (and keeping pace with) some younger men and women. Over the little hill into the park I sprinted for the finish — 22:38! Yes! Very happy with the time and the race. Average heart rate had been 145 and splits: 4:37, 4:33, 4:32, 4:33 and 4:34. Adam ran well for a PB of 22:50.

That afternoon I rode the mountain bike in my first ever cyclo-cross race. What fun! The course was bone-dry and dusty, unlike European cyclo-cross races which often traverse stretches of thick mud or slushy snow and ice. This course had many sharp turns, made slippery by leaf and bark litter and four areas where jumping off and carrying your bike was needed. Three of these were over low hurdles, about 30cm high and one was a very steep off-camber U-turn (which some skilful cyclists were able to ride). As a beginner, I was in the C-Grade race along with other novices and slower riders. I think there were 11 or 12 riders in our race. The race was '20 minutes plus one lap' — quite short, so no surprise the start was fast. I was left in a cloud of dust and only had one rider behind me at the first set of hurdles. After that I made up time on the turns and 'off bike' sections, passing riders and eventually having a good race with the lady who came 2nd and another old bloke. The bell was a little soon for me (being more of an endurance rider) but I managed to pass the lady and old bloke on the last lap. I know there were five riders behind me so maybe I was 6th or 7th. Anyway, it was great fun and a sport I'm keen to try again.