Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ohtawara 2007

My preparations for this race were, I think, pretty difficult to fault.

I trained well, cross-trained and strengthened, managed niggles and blisters, gave up grog and cut way back on coffee and junk foods for the final month, generally ate healthily and took some vitamin supplements etc to keep colds at bay, freshened up my legs, carbo loaded well, borrowed a replacement heart rate belt, made sure my shoes and gear were good ... in short, everything I could control, I did.

The one thing I couldn't control was the weather, and while it was fine, the wind decided to blow and the temperature was probably the coolest we've had at around 6 degrees--the surrounding mountains were shrouded in snow. The race is two loops of a roughly rectangular course. We were lucky in one sense that for most of the course we were at worst just buffeted from the side and were not significantly affected. However from 15 to 21 km and 35 to 41.5 km we had to cope with the double whammy of a slight uphill combined with a strong, blustery headwind.

I'd decided that the right pace for me to go out at was about 4:05 to 4:07. If the fade was minimal and left me feeling strong near the end, it would get me very close to a PB. Right or wrong, I really did not believe a faster pace would be sustainable, so the best I was going to get would be a slight PB.

Joachim and I ran together from the start until just after the half way point, at which point he put the accelerator down. My calves were telling me that it would be suicide to try and stay with him. It is difficult to express my appreciation for his calming presence during that first half. We rolled through the first 15 km right on pace, mainly going off my heart rate and our combined pace judgment as he was having some troubles with his Garmin. An example of the kind of reassuring presence he provided was when I was having trouble with my race number. Two pins had ripped through the paper and I mentioned it to him. He said, "Ah, don't worry, it's not mission critical." Ha ha .. exactly. I really didn't worry about it after that. As we came to inclines or into the wind, it was "Don't push too hard, don't try to fight it, conserve energy." Calming, reassuring. We got through these sections on the first lap without incurring too much time or bodily damage. The second time around the fight would be a bit more serious.

We went through the half in 1:27:23, perhaps 50 seconds slow. Not too bad, but we'd lost more time on the windy, uphill section than I could really afford. And while I generally felt OK, leg fatigue was certainly starting and my calves in particular had been feeling tight since about 15k (the Tarthers were probably a bit too light). I knew at that point that the PB was going to be hard to achieve, but we were back to the non wind-penalized section of the course and I thought that a strong sub three was there for the taking. The PB was still not beyond reach, but there was zero room left for fade.

While Joachim pulled ahead I settled into fight on my own. I was happy that nothing really changed and I had decent splits to 25 and then again to 30 km. Then 30 to 35 was still respectable and I was moving well, sometimes really getting a move on with some wind assistance. But then came the 35 km mark, which signified the start of 7 km of slight continual uphill, strong headwind, and serious cold. I made sure I got my last gel into me and really knuckled down to the fight. Unfortunately it was impossible to avoid a significant slow down through this section. The wind was stronger than on the first loop and the leg fatigue, quite obviously, was much worse. Still, I did my very best and got as much pace out of my legs as I could muster and never felt like I was shot. All I wanted was a break from the wind and I thought I could have continued extracting my target pace, or perhaps better, out of my legs.

But after the struggle, by 40 km I knew the goal was simply to get under three hours. Even though I had a little bit of buffer, I knew I had to run at well under sub 5:00/km pace, so it was still no gimme.

The Namban cheer squad was spread out along the main road over the final kilometer to the stadium. They were a great boost and I felt that I was really pushing as hard as I could. "C'mon Steve! You're sub three!!" As I turned the final corner to run the last 150 to 200 m to the finish line, my watch ticked over to 2:59...bloody hell, cutting it a bit fine here, I managed to get a final spurt out of the legs and crossed, relieved, in 2:59:40. My third sub three-hour marathon in the bag! All of them on this course!

How do I feel? It's hard to say. Not rapturous, but satisfied. I had felt there was a very real chance of slipping under the PB. I did the best I could under the conditions and recorded a solid time when it would have been easy to give up and just coast in to a 3:02 or 3:03 or something. Beating three hours was always my B goal, and I achieved it, even if by a narrow margin. So yep, on balance, happy.

Enough for now. Here are the splits. I'll be putting the data onto my log tomorrow and might make a couple of follow-up posts on some other facets of interest, like my heart rate data, and maybe some piccies.

section time (pace/km)
0-5 21:05 (4:13)
5-10 20:00 (4:00)
10-15 20:34 (4:06)
15-20 21:21 (4:16)
20-25 20:27 (4:05)
25-30 20:44 (4:08)
30-35 21:47 (4:21)
35-40 23:26 (4:41)
40-42.2 10:16 (4:40)

Oh yeah, Joachim went on to run about a 1-minute negative split for a 2:53:xx!! Fantastic race for him. He'll be putting up his version of events on his blog.

And one more thing ... A huge congratulations to young Christian, the boyishly handsome young chap I met on the start line of the Shinjuku City half marathon at the start of this year. On that occasion he stuck behind me until about 14 or 15 km before fading to finish a couple of minutes behind me. He subsequently linked up with us at Namban and has trained the house down by following an on-line coaching system from Switzerland (his home country). Yesterday he ran a 2:50:xx! He could have easily gone sub 2:48:48 if it were not for the wind. Fantastic. Hard to say how much better he will get, but 2:40 and beyond is distinctly possible (not that I want to put any pressure on him :-)

Thanks one and all for the support and kind wishes. It has been hugely motivating.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Final countdown

If this were a normal marathon week, i.e. with the marathon on Sunday, then today would be Wednesday. But Ohtawara is always on the national holiday of the 23rd of November, no matter the day of the week, so this year it is Friday, making for a nice long weekend.

The last week of training, if you can call the late stage of the taper "training", went fairly well. If I did anything wrong it was probably to run just a little too much. But if this is the case, I don't think it was by a big amount, and the rest of this week will be very quiet. Maybe just a light run tomorrow with a few stretches at race pace.

Last week was as follows:
Mon: rest (was suffering from blisters as you may recall)
Tue: 12k easy at 4:45/km
Wed: 8.5 km of easy jogging and 5 km of 1k repeats at target race pace on the track with Joachim, Paddy & Adam. We tried to run the pace by feel and were a bit slow at first (4:12, 4:20, then a bit fast, 4:01, 3:57, 3:57)
Thur: 7.5 km on treadmill with 6k at about 4:00/km. 750 m swim
Fri: Nothing
Sat: 3.3 km easy followed by 10 km at race pace. Again, went out too fast. Three x 3.3 km loops at 3:59, 4:03, 4:08
Sun: 14 km running easy by feel. Felt fairly easy, but was in the low 4:20s for much of the run. I probably ran 4 or 5 km too long for this run, but bugger it, I also run because I enjoy it, and this was a nice morning for a run.

Week total: 60 km

What I've found over the past week is that 4:20/km feels like an easy pace and is one I am sure would have me still feeling pretty strong at 30 km. If I wanted to run the marathon as "train-through" race with only the thought of posting a solid but not best possible time, then 4:20 would be a good target pace. At the other end of the spectrum, I can feel aerobically fairly comfortable at 4:00/km, but it is clear that this would trash my legs and energy system by 20 to 25km and who knows how ugly it could get over the final 15 km.

My conclusion then is that 4:05 (2:52:18 marathon) is the fastest pace I could attempt to run, but I am pretty confident it would still result in a nasty fade that could see me struggling to squeak in under the 3 hour mark. I think that 4:10/km (2:55:49 marathon) should see me to 30k, after which it is hard to say what would happen. A faster finish from 30k is very unlikely, so targeting 4:10 pace would probably leave me with almost no chance cracking the 2:54:47 PB, but a reasonable chance of staying under 3 hours.

So that's my analysis and feelings; I'll leave it up to yourselves to conclude what I should do. I will reflect on this over the next few days and make my own decision. I'll probably decide on the day, most likely right about the time it is too late to undo the damage of yet another too-fast start! My honest feelings, though, are that a PB is a less than 50/50 chance.

On the body front: all the training-induced leg niggles have cleared up. My lower back and hips are as good as can be expected, the blisters and infected toe have all healed. The only real niggle is the long-standing Achilles. No doubt it will nag away until after 10k when it is warmed up. Later in the race other pains will overwhelm it anyway.

So that's it, nothing left to do except rest and carbo load. Thanks for the support and interest. I'll let you know how it goes. I can tell, you, I'll be looking forward to my first beer in a month at around 2:00 on Friday!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An appeal to Queenslanders

As you know I very occasionally depart from the usual patter about distances, pace, and what bit hurts most at the moment to have a little rant about politics.

This time, political though the message is, it is a very simple one targeted purely at my handful of Queensland readers. Anyone else who reads on is just being a stickybeak, but don't let that stop you...well, no, if you know a Queenslander and think you can influence their vote on November 24th, then you might want to read on...

From the last year or so of following his blog, I have formed the opinion that there is but one truly "good guy" in Australian politics. I am sure there are others, but this one, through his blog, lets you see what he thinks, what he believes in, and what he does about it in his day to day political life. Thus you can actually know he is genuine and a person rather than just another drone following the party line. And generally speaking, what distinguishes him most is his compassion and concern for people, especially the oppressed and disadvantaged. He is Queensland Democrat Andrew Bartlett.

And the problem is, Andrew's prospects for being returned at the upcoming election are looking a little shaky.

While I am nominally a pretty much welded-on Labor voter, the thought of Andrew losing his seat in the senate fills me with dread. I also think that the current parliamentary makeup is evidence that we really shouldn't let either of the major parties have full control of both houses. The best way to achieve this is to have a reasonable size block of sensible, intelligent, free-thinking Senators holding the balance of power. Generally speaking, the Democrats are perfect for this role. They are not spoilers and will allow the government to govern, but will treat any proposed new laws on their merits and subject them to thorough and thoughtful analysis.

Anyway, what I am asking of all Queensland readers, if you haven't yet thought about your vote in the Senate, is to please have a look at Andrew's blog, and if you find that you have sympathy with his ideals and objectives, make sure you not only vote for him, but try to suggest the value of voting for him to as many of your Queensland friends as you can. Andrew deserves to be re-elected. Australia needs better checks and balances in the Upper House than we currently have. Please tell your friends and ask them to tell their friends.

Vote 1 Democrats in the Senate

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I bought some mega-bandaid type thing on Sunday afternoon. It has a sheet of soft stuff you cut out to shape to form a pad and sheets of band aid type stuff to cut out and go over the pad.

The blister settled down a lot yesterday. All the water seemed to get reabsorbed back into my body or something and it was not hurting to walk around.

I thought it was worth a try with the paddy bandaid thing this morning and sure enough, got through 11.5 km at an easy 4:45 type of pace this morning. Not even a flicker of pain and the pad was barely noticeable. So the dramatics of the last post were probably not justified. I appreciate the concern though. One day I might even work out what "rest your dogs" means. Would they be huskies, these dogs? Pete is from Maine, so I guess that kind of expression might creep into the lexicon around those parts.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The unbearable rightness of resting

Sorry, I have had that title in my head for a few days and just had to use it. I took yesterday off because it rained all day and my left foot was not good. Not good at all. I am having a hell of a time with skin problems on it. It all started two weeks ago with an ingrown toenail. I get these from time to time but they usually clear up quickly under a regime of hot water soaks and Savlon for a couple of days. But this one has really been persistent. It is finally starting to clear now, but there have been a few hurty runs. The real problem is that the bandaid for the ingrown toenail led to a blister under the 2nd toe. Then during last Wednesday's 4.4 km intervals a big blister started between the ball and arch of the same foot ... not sure why. During Friday's run the blister under the 2nd toe rubbed raw. That's why it was not difficult to convince myself to take yesterday off.

So with yesterday being a big fat zero, I was all set today for an important last, hard long run. I taped the blister under the 2nd toe and it was fine. But the tape caused a blister on the adjacent side of my big toe! And the blister under my foot flared up and was hurting with every footfall -- I was just hoping it hadn't burst (luckily it held up). But the run was going well, so I was loathe to pull out.

So blister pains aside, I ended up running 28 km and think it was a successful run. Mostly around 4:22 pace. But also finished pretty strong with a couple of faster last km and a feeling of there being plenty left in the tank when I finished. I had hardly any water and no calories since dinner the night before. (It was only 14 degrees, so the water was not an issue.) Heart rate barely crept over 150 just at the end when I was pushing it a little. It was just like a regular weekday lower aerobic run only...longer.

OK, so it was slower than race pace, but not that much slower. Fifteen to twenty seconds per km for the most. It was hard enough to give me a little stimulus in 12 days time, yet not so hard or long that it will set me back much. Some easy runs tomorrow and Tuesday. Some race pace intervals on Wednesday ... and we'll see how we go from there.

I see that Clairie has returned from maternity leave just in time to take up her duties filling me full of pre-race nerves! Thanks Clairie. It wouldn't have been the same without you!

And my new training partner Joachim has started a blog. Pop over and say hi!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A tough one

Had a pretty tough workout last night. I was proposing another tempo run, this time 12 km, and was going to write an email to Joachim to invite him to join me. Before I could, he wrote to me and announced he was doing 3 x 4.4 km "intervals" at 3:47/km with a mile recovery between each. My first reaction was to gulp. My second was to think that, well, that structure would be similar to a good tempo run. Tempo intervals I think they call it. Having not done any intervals quite as long as that (I think the most I've done is 2 km), I decided what the heck, but I told him that my target pace would be more likely to be 3:50.

And 3:50 is what we set out to do. I developed a sore left fetlock (soleus) during the first interval, but decided to press on. Despite a bit of concern about more severe damage, I went on to complete the workout, though it did suppress my pace a bit on the third rep as you can see from the data:

Time Pace HRav
16:43 3:48 155
16:41 3:48 156
16:56 3:51 154

Again noteworthy is how stable and low my heart rate stayed for this pace. At any other time in my running history, 3:50/k pace would have seen me getting over 160, if not in the first or second km, at least by 3 and 4. But not at the moment.

Before anybody gets too excited about what this means, I can assure you that it does not mean I can run a 4:00/km marathon. It just means that lactate threshold is not the limiting factor. There is no doubt in my mind that my legs would give way at around 25 km if I went out at that pace. In fact they might give way at 4:10/km. So balancing the theoretical potential against the biomechanical realities is what makes the selection of a target pace really interesting for this marathon. In some ways it comes down to a simple question: how bad do ya want it? How much pain are you willing to withstand? I suppose a lot depends on how the rest of the taper goes. But it is indeed getting interesting, even for me.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I need another month

Well, I had a pretty good run today to finish the week. An easy 11 km with company at well north of 5:20/km. Then switched to race shoes (the deadly Tarthers) and a singlet for a race pace half marathon. It was a brisk 15 degrees when we first started, but quickly warmed to a balmy 17, so the singlet was a good choice for my solo race pace run.

I went off at a strong pace and got into a rhythm that I thought was about right. The first 2km was 4:12/km, not 4:00/km. And it felt hard enough on the legs so I saw no reason to change it. The pace did pick up over the next 7 km, but only to about 4:08/k, then slipped back to 4:12/km. Heart rate was mid 140s and stayed there pretty much through 17 to 18 km after until I picked the pace up again to 4:05/km and 4:03/km for the last couple of laps (a shade under 2k per lap). Then it got up to 151.

So I did the whole thing at an average of 4:10/km. I wasn't sorry to stop, but I certainly could have kept running a while longer at that pace. The left Achilles was a bit sorer than normal, probably because of some short, sharp hill repeats I did yesterday.

The title of the post reflects the fact that I think with three or four more weeks of this kind of sharpening week, I probably could have a stab at the 4:00/km marathon. I would want a few more longish weeks but with plenty of higher intensity, like the 1600 or 2000 m repeats, a longer tempo run, and a faster long run. Hell, I will do that again this week anyway, though with an eye on tapering as regards total mileage.

Well, gotta cut it short and get some sleep. Week in summary: 107 km, including a tempo run, a 4 x 2000 m repeats, and half marathon at race pace.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Colouring by numbers

I have been trying to spare you all the monotony of detailed daily posts and sticking mostly to weekly updates. But it is hard to resist as the marathon approaches and my body begins to cooperate ... and when I have a run like this morning's.

I happily took a big fat zero yesterday (yaaay .... rounds of applause), though did have a steady 30 min swim and a short sauna (booos....jeeers).

But generally all felt pretty well and I finally felt confident that I could get up early and launch into a 1600 m interval session. I nearly blew it by staying up a bit later than I should have and was in a deep slumber when the alarm went off at 5:10.

Took an easy warmup to Komazawa Park and to the "Start" line. Had a 5 min break, went to the loo, washed my face, had a drink of water, picked my ear wax and ate it ... (Australian political reference!)

Part way into the first 1600 I thought, why 1600? We are trying to build lactic tolerance here, why not push on to 2000? Well, let's see how the heart rate goes and legs are feeling ... so I went through 1600 in 6 min flat and kept running up the damn hill (it is a fairly gentle hill, but it is still a hill) to reach the 2k mark at 7:28 (3:44/k). Heart rate averaged 150 and topped out at 160. But I was breathing pretty hard. I'd have thought I'd see a higher peak heart rate over that distance at that speed and up the hill, even if it was morning.

Took a 3:45 break by which time HR was down to 80.

Next rep (I was pretty much committed to 2k reps now) I went through 1600 in 5:57 and the 2k in 7:25 (3:43/k). HR averaged 151 and hit 161.

Reduced the break to 3:00 with final HR = 83

By 400 into the next rep the legs were feeling heavy and I thought that I was rolling along more slowly, certainly not forcing it like I was in the first rep. However I went through 1600 in 5:54 and the 2k came up in 7:23 (3:42/k). That one felt hard towards the end but still my heart rate was at a silly 151/163 (at least the max was slowly climbing).

I considered calling it at that point, but opted instead to take a 4:00 break, at the end of which HR = 100

The last rep certainly was definitely hard work, and when I went through 1600 in 5:59 I knew that I was well and truly done. Still, despite pushing really hard over the last couple of hundred meters (uphill), my HR still only maxed out at 163 - rep time = 7:27 (3:44/k).

I felt like I was doing it all hard enough, including breathing, to be up near HR max, at least around 170. If I hadn't had a monitor on it would have just felt like any normal interval workout. I suppose the morning start has something to do with it, but actually the HR numbers were not that different to my 1600s at the Palace last week. I hope it's not, and don't think it is, over-training fatigue. I guess I just have to get used to the idea that, as Pete said in his comment to my last post, I am pretty fit at the moment. But robert song, 2:48? Come on, that is just fantasy land. But I have to say I'll be disappointed if I can't break 3 hours this time around, and I accept that all the signs point to a sub 2:55 if the planets come into alignment...still, that is getting ahead of ourselves. Next up, some distance at around race pace on Sunday. Easy day tomorrow.