Sunday, March 25, 2007

Me & Eric

I have taken things very easily since Arakawa. I recovered very quickly actually and could have run Wednesday, but didn't do anything until an easy 5k on Thursday night. The next run I had was yesterday morning (Saturday). And what a run it was!

My friend Gareth gets massages at Route Vigor, which also boasts as one of its regular customers the Kenyan three-time Olympian (bronze at Atlanta, silver at Sydney & 7th at Athens), Eric Wainaina*. Yesterday they organised a low-key run for a few customers with Eric around the Imperial Palace. Gareth was helping me to pick up a replacement beer fridge yesterday morning, so although I was a non-customer, aka a ring-in or hanger-on, I also went along to join the run with Eric. (* The linked article is a bit old and out of date -- he now works at a training gym and trains mostly at the Imperial Palace).

The crowd was maybe 15-strong with runners of levels ranging from kids to semi-serious social joggers, and then three of us from Namban Rengo. We chatted with Eric a little before the run and found him to be very friendly and personable. When we got underway we found ourselves running along with Eric and chatted continuously as we moved at a very easy pace. A lot of it was small talk and about life and work and living in Japan and so on (he has been here since he was 18 and is now 34). But I also asked him a couple of questions that I am sure will interest some of my readers:
Me: Do you train with a heart rate monitor?
EW: Yes.
Me: Do you ever race with a heart rate monitor?
EW: Yes.
Me: (Surprised) Oh, really, what percent of maximum do you run the first half of a marathon?
EW: 61%
Me: (jaw dragging along the road) 61%?!
EW: Yes.
Gareth: And then you race?
EW: Yes.

Well, I found that staggering, and I am still not 100% certain that he didn't misunderstand my question, but I think it would be hard to mistake it for, "What heart rate do you do your recovery runs at?" Anyway, if true, it made me realise just how supremely conditioned these elite marathoners are, and how much slower I would need to run to be able to run the marathon at a comparative level of effort. (By the way, Eric runs twice a day for a total of about 30 km/day).

After the first lap and waiting for all the Route Vigor runners to come in and be congratulated, Gareth and I had to run back to the top of the course to where the car was parked. Eric was keen for another lap, so joined by another Nambanner, Philippe, who had stumbled upon us, we ran the long way around to accompany Eric to our hop off point. Eric was effortlessly gradually dragging us along at a progressively faster pace. Gareth dropped off the back and I was working pretty hard with my heart rate was up well over 80% of maximum and soon at 161 (87%). Philippe was hanging in there as well, but also doing it hard. I guess we were getting up towards 4:00/km and I was able to gasp out, "So Eric, does this pace still feel like jogging for you?"
"Oh yes." He nonchalently replied. When I train it is more like this, and he shot off like a startled rabbit, yet his form didn't change at all. Just beautiful to watch.

When we stopped to bid farewell, I took consolation from the fact that he had a small bead of perspiration on his temple. I guess the heavy tracksuit he was wearing and mild weather might have contributed to that.

Eric is currently aiming for selection in Kenya's marathon team for the World Championships in Osaka later this year. He had a great performance at Honolulu in December, but has had to miss the upcoming Nagano Marathon due to a niggling knee injury. That would have been his target qualifying race, so now his fate rests with the Kenyan Athletic Federation. And with the depth of running talent coming through, and his age perhaps being against him, selection is far from a certainty. Of course, all of us who met Eric yesterday were so impressed by his generosity and friendliness that we wish him all the very best of luck with selection. I cant wait to see him competing at Osaka and shouting, "Go Eric!!" while turning to whoever is beside me and saying, "That's Eric Wainaina. We train together at the Imperial Palace."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Arakawa Marathon

Arakawa Marathon is a little run of 21.1 km south along the banks of the Ara kawa (river), turn around and run 21.1 km back. It is a very wide open flood plain and if there is ever any wind about, you can be sure you will find it at Arakawa. So it was with some trepidation that I monitored the weather forecast for today starting about six days ago. It first said, fine, cool (1-9 degrees C), and wind of 26 km/h. Yikes, that's strong! About three days ago the wind prediction was for 6 km/h. Yippeee!! But by yesterday it sprang back up to around 20 km/h. Bugger! The whistling around the windows of our apartment last night confirmed that we could look forward to a challenging race.

Well, the one thing the forecast got right was that that it was fine and sunny and cool (if not cold). But for large sections of the course the wind was more like 30 km/h. It was behind us for the first 21.1 km and in our face for the second. After I turned around I thought about that Eric Bogle song as I felt like it was trying to blow me right back to Australia.

In the end I was happy with my race. I ran pretty much to plan and didn't let myself go too fast when the wind was at my back. Although I was going to run 4:20+ in the first half, the tailwind made it very easy to just cruise along at 4:15-4:20/km. So that's what I did, and resisted all temptations to "try and pick up a few minutes". I consciously decided to try and hold something in reserve to deal with the wind. And that seemed to pay off to some extent. After the turn, on tiring legs, I slowed of course, and my legs fatigued just as much as in faster marathons, but I managed to hold a pace of under 4:40, and many splits of under 4:30, until 33 km. Then it was more like 4:4o to 4:50 for most of the next 9 km. I felt quite calm and accepting of this and was actually feeling reasonably strong. I thought that without the wind I could have easily been holding sub 4:20/km pace.

In the last 5 km I realized that the only realistic goal was to come in with a net time under 3:10. I should add the wind had dropped off a bit by this time, but of course it had done a job on the legs by then. I was still happy enough with the way I was moving, though, and was passing heaps of people and rarely getting passed.

At the one km to go marker my watch said 3:05:34...I'd have to run a 4:26 or better final km to get under 3:10. Since I'd been moving along at about 4:50/km at that stage, I almost gave it up as lost, but quickly decided, well, it is not really out of the question. It is just like running one hard interval on the track, dig in and see what you can do. So dig in I did and gradually fought through my leg pain to get some form back and pull out a 4:28 for the last km and 4:05 per km for the last 200 m to squeeze out a 3:09:54 (net time, net time!). Cheer squad Jaynie at the end said I looked like I was really strong in that last couple hundred meters. Little did she know I was a shot duck! I really paid later for that hard finish too, with lots and lots of cramping in my calves and feet.

Despite it being my slowest marathon in seven outings, net or gross, I am actually quite happy with the result under the conditions.

Satohi went extremely well. She has set very high goals for herself and finds it dificult to feel satisfied when she doesn't meet them. This marathon she would have really liked to have gone under 3:20 and has ultimate designs on a 3:15:xx (or better), though her standing PB was about 3:28. Despite the nasty wind, she ran 3:25:xx to lower her PB by 2 minutes. She would have surely run under 3:20 if it hadn't been for the wind. So that's a real shame, but even the fact she PB'd was quite extraordinary under the circumstances (which includes that she has struggled for the last couple of weeks with a sore ankle). Like all of us she suffered into the wind, but fought hard and had far more even splits than the rest of us in the race. Otsukaresama Satohi-san!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Take a deep breath...

...because here we go again!

It doesn't feel like I will be running a marathon in two days time. Where is that "can't get this song out of my head" feeling? I forgot to eat between breakfast and lunch today and was hungry by lunch time. Hardly a very diligent approach to carbo loading.

On Wednesday night I did a few bits and pieces of warming up and joined the Namban track workout. A mile time trial followed by five 800-m intervals. But all at well below maximal effort and I finished feeling quite energized. Rested yesterday. Got up for three laps of my 3.3-km loop from home this morning. I felt a bit slow and stodgy, but by the second lap had the pace up around 4:20/km and did the third lap a little faster again, feeling like I was finally getting into the run just as it was time to finish. But I definitely don't have that feeling of hubristic confidence I had going into Tokyo. Nope. I am determined to run this one at a modest pace of 4:20 to 4:30 for the first 30 km and then hope like buggery I can hold onto it. I am not at all confident that I can. In fact, if Satohi were to ask me to pace her rather than run my own race, I probably would. But for the time being, I will approach it with a view to chalking up a solid if unspectacular time in as even splits as possible. I am actually very curious to know if I can preserve myself enough to have a strong rather than "hanging on for grim death" final 12 km.

See you on the other side folks. case anybody might be interested, I started a new blog to balance this one.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A bit better

So I did the heart rate test again this morning: 4:11/km. That's a few seconds better than the rather unpleasant 4:15/km of last week. I was also having to work the legs a bit harder to get up to a HR of 149, and the average HR was the correct 149, not 150. So I guess I am some way back towards where I was four weeks ago. But at the same time, I am still certainly not there, at least as measured by this test.

I still have no idea what weight to put on this test, but suffice to say that my main challenge to myself for this marathon on Sunday is to NOT entertain thoughts of going sub 3:00, but rather to run a realistic pace in the first half that will feel fairly comfortable and allow me to enjoy the run, but still yield a respectable time if I can hold it throughout. At present, I think that is something around 4:25 to 4:30/km. If I can do that and get to 30k feeling good, there is always a remote chance that I may actually pick up a few minutes in the last 12 km. Probably not, but I really, really want to give myself a chance of negative splitting whilst still running a semi-decent time. Just not sub three!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Great Moments in Running

On Saturday I ran three laps of a 400-m track in about three minutes per lap, yet it gave me every bit as much satisfaction as finishing any marathon. The reason was that I was leading a blind runner in the EMB (Endurance Mind and Body) Race in support of fund-raising for eye operations in developing coutries. But it wasn't just me, nor was it in the slightest little bit about me or my running.

The format was that teams of six would take it in turns to guide a blind runner around the track for 45 minutes. The team that completed the most laps was the winner (though "winning" was the last thought on anybody's mind; I think we all felt like winners just by being there). The blind runner ran the entire 45 minutes and thus served as the team's baton. My team's runner carried the nickname "Big One" for reasons that are obvious from the photo of him and Anna.

The blind runners mostly came from the Achilles Running Club, which is often working out in Yoyogi Park when we do our Sunday runs. So often I have admired the courage of these people, who run despite living in a world of darkness, and the selflessness of their guides. Often I've wanted to help in some way, but never taken the step outside my own cosseted comfort zone to actually do anything, never faced my feeble insecurities like "what do you say to a blind person? Especially one who doesn't speak your language?". I think many of us carry these kinds of mixed desires to help combined with unbridled selfishness and "hangups" that stop us actually doing something. The presence of the Achilles Club in Yoyogi so often made me all too aware of my own.

So, when Fabrizio called for volunteers for Nambanners to form teams for this event, I jumped at the chance. It was really interesting learning how to run with a blind runner (make sure your inside foot is in time with his) and great to confront and overcome the "what-should-I-say-after-I-say-hello" discomfort of engaging in small talk with him and his regular guide, in this case his father, who was jogging along behind.

Our two Namban teams raised enough money to fund 19 eye operations. There are some more photos of the day here.

A highlight was the presence of the half marathon world record holder for blind runners (70 minutes), Henry Wanyoike and his guide, Joseph Kibunja.

They really cruised around the track and it was beautiful to see them in action. Aren't we lucky, that we can actually do that? See, that is. Here is a YouTube clip about Henry. It is amazing watching him drag his illness-weakened guide at the end of the 5000-m at the Sydney Paralympics.

Cat's Out of the Bag

First up, thank you to all who commented on my last post. There was some interesting discussion and I really appreciated the fact that a few genuine gurus dropped by to provide some sound advice, some of which I have even been taking ;-)

The thing I have hinted at but haven't been able to say up until now is that I am running another marathon next weekend. I don't really expect to do especially well, but after giving it some thought, am not going to jog along like some kind of training run either (but more on that later in the week). The marathon is called the Arakawa Marathon and prior to this year's Tokyo Marathon was the closest thing to a mass-participation marathon in our city. The course is an out and back on a narrow asphalt pedestrian/cycling road that runs for many miles inside the levees of the Arakawa (kawa = river in Japanese) just on the northern outskirts of Tokyo, only 15-20 minutes or so by express train from downtown.

The reason I was keeping it close to my chest was to surprise Satohi, who I have been coaching for the past year. She missed out on the lottery for Tokyo Marathon and so chose this one to avenge her disappointing DNF at Tokyo Women's International Marathon last November. Alas, she is now having a few injury threats and her last few weeks of training haven't gone as well as we would like. She hasn't quite reached the peak of preparedness we were aiming for, and she is still a bit concerned about a niggling ankle/ITB-like pain. Yesterday she attempted 20 km with the second 10 km working towards race pace, and finished OK, but with the ankle hurting some. So she was feeling a bit down in the dumps and her motivation was flagging. She is also planning to run Boston Marathon just a month after Arakawa, but only slowly for the experience. But still, she faces a difficult decision about what to do about Arakawa. Pull out? Back right away from her original target race pace and just try to finish? Go for it and see what happens risking another DNF? I am not really sure what to advise her as it is her decision and her ankle, and I am no doctor, but I do believe she retains a lot of her marathon fitness. All I can do is discuss the implications and possibilities of each possible decision with her. And I realized yesterday that under these circumstances it was rather selfish and unfair of me to keep sitting on my little secret. She needs to know all relevant data in making her own decision. After I told her yesterday her spirits seemed to take a bit of a lift and I think she is ready to give it a shot.

So, just six training days until Arakawa Marathon :-) !

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Outlier? Outrageous!

Ingo just suggested that my 4:04/km might have been an outlier. Which is a fair question. But it looks more like a trend to me. As I said, the tests both before and after were also supported by the general trends on other runs. And I worked my arse off to make that trend happen, so it is all very real to me. What I will admit though, is that it is just a standard test for some kind of quantitative tracking of fitness over time. What I don't have is a reliable way of translating that test result into a target race pace for any particular distance. I am not for a moment suggesting that it meant I should have been able to run a marathon at 4:04/km. In fact I am now pretty certain that I over-reached when I went for sub 4:10/km pace. But I am OK with that because I decided to risk the sub-3 result by taking a shot at a PB, and to get a PB I had to run sub 4:10 pace. And for one reason and another it just wasn't to be.

All this does raise the question, of course, as to what is a good predictor of your current capability? Especially for the marathon where going out hard and hanging on simply doesn't work. Arobically, I was in as good a shape as I have been in, but it didn't translate into overall endurance because the build-up had been too short and there were not enough longer endurance/stamina runs, and perhaps not enough taper. So given that tests like this give a good indication of aerobic fitness, I wonder what you can do (apart from running the marathon) to adjust your upper aerobic pace to account for lack of endurance?

This is especially important for some of those fast-twitch people who blat around for 5k or 10k, but struggle to put together a marathon worthy of their potential, usually because they short-change themselves on the necessary endurance work. OK, so how do they adjust their 17:30 5k capability for the fact that they have only done two runs over 30 km? This is where McMillan calculators and the like break down and/or get abused leading to those horrible blow-ups in races that I have seen happen so many times.

What I am suggesting here is that a 3:10 marathon with even splits is probably a better marathon than a 3:10 with a 2:50-pace first-half and a 3:30-pace, horribly painful, part-walked second half (Dan, Martin, care to comment?). So how does Mr or Ms 17:30 5k runner convince himself to go out at 4:20/km instead of 4:02/km?? For me, the situation was not quite that dramatic, but the same principle definitely applied.

I suppose the answers are out there somewhere in coaching-boffin land!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Million dollar question

I did my heart rate test this morning. I won't repeat all the gory details of the protocol, but suffice to say it involves running a 2.15 km lap of a park at a standard heart rate after a standard amount of warm up and recording the time. Well, the last time I was able to do it, the penultimate week before Tokyo Marathon, I recorded 4:04/km for an average HR of 149 (80%). On that run, and around that time in general, I was finding my heart rate incredibly low, and I would have to work my legs hard to get up to target heart rates.

Today it was a different story: 4:15/km. Yikes. And it was definitely hard to stop my heart rate slipping up to a higher level; the average for the lap was in fact 150 instead of the target 149. I noticed the same tendency towards slightly higher than expected HR during Saturday's and Sunday's runs (I'm sorry now that I wasn't wearing the monitor when I felt so sprightly running the Palace in 19 minutes last Thursday!).

So the million dollar question is: Is this a reflection of fitness lost during the low mileage of the taper and recovery, or is it lost fitness through the battering of the marathon itself, or is it a reflection of not yet sufficient recovery?

My hunch is that it is a combination of all three and it would be impossible to disentangle them. If you simply didn't run, by the time you were "fully recovered", whatever that means, your fitness would surely have slipped. I mean, I couldn't sit on my arse for three weeks eating fruit and protein shakes and then come out and run the test at 4:04/km again could I? Yet if I run too hard, residual fatigue from the marathon will knock me around and again, the test results will suffer. So you are supposed to come back gradually, in a reverse taper, repeating the stimulus training runs, and eventually at some point you could re-hit the pre-marathon test results.

I suppose the moral of the story is that when you run a marathon, it takes a fair while before you come back to your pre-marathon condition. And you have to really train again to achieve it. You don't just "recover" to pre-marathon condition in the way you could with a 5k or 10k race. Well, that's as measured by this test anyway. I guess there are other energy and endurance systems that I am ignoring completely.

Today: 15.3 km, average pace: 4:35/km; average heart rate: 140 (75%)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I suppose that's what they call a long run

Today: 32.2 km in 2:42:45

Last 5k in 4:30-5:00/km (average 4:40/k). That hurt.

Average HR: 139 ... much, much higher near the end. This was a run I was glad to finish.

But why am I doing this to myself?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Recovered & re-building

It was lovely of Ingo and Pete to enquire about my well-being. Mental and otherwise. No, I haven't been chugging anti-depressants or eyeing off razor blades (if we had any to eye off, that is).

I've just been kicking back a little on the running front and also found myself up to my gills in work right from the day after Tokyo. I've also been enjoying a few beers and was happy to be able to start on a new keg of home brew, my Czech pilsener, right after Tokyo. Hmmm, beeer!

I found time to change my blog profile photo with something I pilfered from the official Tokyo photo site. I need to update "training for" etc gumph in the side bar but couldn't be arsed at the moment.

My running since Tokyo has been as follows:
Sun 18: Tokyo marathon
Mon 19: rest
Tue 20: rest
Wed 21: 5.5 km slow on the track.. a bit hurty.
Thur 22: rest
Fri 23: rest
Sat 24: 8.5 km, most of which was around 4:20-4:25/km...legs soon fatigued tho'
Sun 25: 12.2 km fairly easy (0:59:35) ... legs said that was far enough.
Mon 26: rest
Tue 27: 12.2 km fairly easy (0:57:55)
Wed 28: 15.5 km fairly easy -- legs got tired toward the end
Thu: 1 11.6 km did 5k m (Imperial Palace) of this in about 19:00 flat...just felt like going fast
Fri: 2 rest - back stiff
Sat: 3 12.2 km back still stiff, pushed it a little (0:55:13)...surprisingly high heart rate.

So the recovery is near complete. The hard 5k on Thursday was not without consequences. But it actually felt fairly smooth and easy for the most part.

I have other fish to fry. It is time to build back the km over the next couple of weeks. But I can't say too much about future plans just now. You will just have to keep an eye on the blog over the next couple of weeks.