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IN BETWEEN COMMITMENTS – WANGARATTA REVIEW/PORT MACQUARIE PREVIEW

So we arrive at the time of the year where Comrades preparations have to step up. At least this year I have been able to so far cover more kilometres even if there are times where I haven’t been that happy with the quality of what I’ve been producing. Perhaps the odd hill session in the next few weeks post Port Macquarie is on the agenda to set that straight, and hopefully once the roads of Mt.Archer reopen (scheduled for the end of March, personally not holding my breath knowing how councils work) some real climbing to at least try to somewhat simulate the roads of the trio of climbs in the first half can commence.

That said the logistical side is now a little more complex, with everyone outside of South Africa now needing a clearance from the governing body to be allowed to compete. Not such a problem for many, but in Australia with a separate body governing athletics (Athletics Australia) and ultra distance running (AURA) the big issue for me is who to get the clearance letter from. At this stage the advice from many wiser heads is to wait until some sort of mass solution can be found, but given I have just provisionally joined AURA and have become a member of a recreational runners arm of Athletics Queensland known as Qrun (whose base membership incorporates membership with Qrun, Athletics Queensland and Athletics Australia), I should at least have some sort of method to obtain said clearance prior to May, and the worst case scenario would be to try to obtain and submit clearances from both AA and AURA figuring one of them would be sufficient. To be fair the rule has always been in the regulations, but it has rarely been enforced unless a runner has been in contention to win an age group category or the overall race. Just how the governing body of athletics in South Africa will be able to handle this remains to be seen.

As for the domestic front, it was a return trip to Wangaratta just over 11 days ago to run their half marathon and in so many ways to escape the heat of Central Queensland. Who would have thought that 16 degrees would have been sufficient to see me pull the jacket out of storage! I was a little worried about not waking up in time especially given it’s not the easiest place to get to for someone without a car (3 hours of plane trips, followed by 3 hours on a train, even if said train had snacks on board), yet I was able to get to the start area with plenty of time to spare. The plan was just to take it relatively easy and concentrate on completing the run rather than aim for any specific time, as time on the feet was most important in the whole scheme. The fact that I hadn’t run close to the distance in training was concerning, but with conditions more suitable if not ideal compared to home I was reasonably confident that I would get what I wanted from this event.

Little bit of hardware, long way to go before the journey ends.

With the course practically identical to what it was the previous time I had run the event (keep in mind that last year calf niggles, and forgetting the race bib prevented me from getting on the start line and I ended up going bowling instead), it would have been easy to try not to follow others but as it turned out for the first 15km that was basically the pattern. As I entered the path under one of the main roads alongside One Mile Creek I spent the time following a couple of lasses who were going at a similar speed to what I was. With Comrades in mind, I was trying to hold back from making the rapid overtaking moves (which also had an element of danger given runners would be coming the other way) but also conscious of working hard on the small uphill rises. Unfortunately I wasn’t exactly holding back speed wise, running 5:40 or faster per kilometre when I was looking for a slower tempo closer to the 5:55 or 6:00 per kilometre marker. I paid for it just as the turn around point at 15 Mile Creek’s path approached, and it was at that point where I contented myself with a relative cruise to the finish. I virtually walked much of the last 3 kilometres, partially due to leg fatigue and partially to stay out of the way of the 5 kilometre runners who were rapidly finishing their race (shades of getting out of the way of half marathoners at Perth’s City to Surf), and the unimportant time blew out to 2:07 when a sub 2:00 looked on the cards. Still I was happy that I got 21 kilometres into the legs, especially with what was to come.

This weekend sees the return trip to Port Macquarie for the Treble Breakwall Buster. For those that can’t remember this signature event in the Port Macquarie Running Festival is where runners have to complete the three main events Port has to offer, a half marathon, a 10km and a 5km (many of course take a sensible approach and only do one of these). With a total distance of 36.1 kilometres covered, this for me is as ideal of a training run in race conditions as I’ll ever get for Canberra (50km) and Comrades (despite the relatively flat nature of the course) with time on the feet and the need to hold back so there isn’t substantial breaks between finishing one leg and starting another. In that regard the aim is to basically run a 2 hour half marathon, followed up by a 60 minute 10km effort. There is also another motivation for me this year that will drive me toward success. Last year I made so many unscheduled pit stops, including a 10 minute stay in a porta-loo, I was the second last person in the Buster to finish, meaning that by the end of the 5km I was having to negotiate my way through kids starting and finishing their 1km dash (which this year is going to be run on the Saturday). Apart from the time on the feet and covering the distance, my aim is NOT to finish second last as a matter of pride, or at the very least not have to make unscheduled pit stops. I suppose that means avoiding Subway on Saturday night!

Following Port Macquarie will be another month of training leading up to Canberra’s 50km event a week before Easter. I am hopeful of knocking over a couple of 30 kilometre plus training runs in the lead up, where hopefully the weather even though it has cooled somewhat from the oppressiveness of February will become less humid. Today’s scheduled training run was basically curtailed several kilometres before where I wanted to stop after the humidity sapped the energy from the legs and saturated the shirt to make it feel as though I was running with a swimming rash vest on rather than a t-shirt. Work shifts for the next few weeks are reasonably favourable so including this weekend, I’m hoping to exceed 200 kilometres for the month and also well over 1200m of elevation gain (whether that’s accurate on Strava is debatable). Combining work, training, logistics (still some flights to book as well as obtaining the clearance) and at the end of the month football umpiring will just be another challenge that’s part of the 2019 Comrades journey.

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LAZY UPDATING, BUT NOT IN TRAINING (Compared to Other Years)

What a difference a couple of years can make when you know what to expect! This year I may have been a little lax in posting on this blog (it will change in the next few weeks that’s for sure), but the same cannot be said for the training. OK, I’m not covering distances that I know many others around the world that train for Comrades are already covering, but I am comfortable knowing I can afford to search for consistency rather than volume at this stage with the qualifier done and dusted when those runners who are covering long distances are also training for their qualifying race or for their big Two Oceans 56km ultra in April.

This is a good time to reflect upon past experiences and to compare what I’ve done in the last 2 years to this stage of the year to 2019. My first attempt at Comrades was in 2017, and given to that stage I hadn’t successfully completed any event beyond marathon distance (42.195km) it was fair to suggest I struggled to work out what I needed to do in order to prepare properly. This is the Strava record for my runs in the first 2 months of that year, with the green dot being a run on Mt Coot-Tha deviating onto a trail as opposed to the road, and the red dot being a half marathon race in Wangaratta.

After learning more than imagined in South Africa later that year, there was much more determination to succeed in 2018. It was fair to say however the training was far from what I had intended, and a few niggles didn’t help the cause. Getting off my lazy butt though was probably an issue I should have overcome, for doing the work at that time of the year would set the trend for the remainder of the campaign. Of course the niggles in my calf prevented me from running in Wangaratta last year even though I had made the trip, something that I will be rectifying this weekend.

Having had a pair of failures I figured starting well in terms of getting kilometres in my legs in January and February would be key to success not only in my lead in runs throughout the later months, but also it would prove to myself that I am not that lazy. Sure moving into new premises prior to Easter last year helped, especially now that I don’t have to be stepping on egg shells in waking multiple people up should I want to go on early morning training runs. Yes I am still trying to get close to getting the distances that some others recommend doing. Sure I’d like to be able to overcome heat and humidity more effectively knowing that if I can manage fatigue and hydration well in the warmer months I can easily do it when (or if) the weather gets cooler. But the raw figures at least this year show that I am doing a lot more work than previous years and I’m feeling much more positive about future prospects.

 

This weekend sees me head back to Wangaratta, and this time I will be again running the half marathon on Sunday Morning. If I hadn’t completed the qualifying run last year in Auckland, I would have been completing the full marathon in an effort to get the qualifying time nailed so that the events I’m doing in April (the Canberra Ultra and the Cairns Marathon, which I have entered after consultation with Comrades coach Lindsay Parry, WEBSITE FOUND HERE) can be used as low pressure training runs rather than high pressure high stakes elimination races. The aim for this weekend is just to spend time on the feet, to spend time running in a group as opposed to solo which I’ve been doing for all bar a solitary parkrun on Australia Day, and to finish around the 2 hour marker. If I recall the course correctly, there are some grass sections on this course which is a little different to pounding the pavement (I’ll probably need to try to run a little “softer” on these sections to get through slightly easier), as well as some paths where I’ve got to try to time overtaking moves around slower runners and walkers so that those coming in the opposite direction aren’t affected and so I’m not held up and have to constantly alter the stride pattern and rhythm to keep moving forward.

In terms of a schedule, I am at least now able to confirm much of where I’ll be running and training on many weekends up to Comrades day, although this list is subject to change at any time.

24 FEB: Wangaratta Half Marathon
10 MAR: Port Macquarie Treble Breakwall Buster (21.1 + 10 + 5)
14 APR: Canberra Ultra Marathon (50km)
19-22 APR: Easter Weekend in Melbourne, hopeful of 2-3 training runs during this week to recover/remain sharp, hoping for 25+ kilometres on the Sunday with pace no concern
28 APR: Cairns Marathon (Course isn’t the most appealing in some ways after the half way mark, but it’s the inaugural event so a chance to make history can never be sneezed at. Plus there may be a couple of other Comrades runners appearing)
5 MAY: Wings for Life World Run, Melbourne (like last year, this is a chance to run on motorways which given this year is an UP run and the first section of the race is run on motorways is valuable practice)
19 MAY: Hell On Coot-tha training run, Brisbane (As long as work plays ball I’ll definitely head down to train with some of the South East Queensland based runners)
2 JUNE: Flight Night, PER-JNB-CPT, arriving 3 June just after Lunchtime for a couple of days in Cape Town
5 JUNE: Flight Day, CPT-DUR
6 JUNE: Race Pack Collection, Internationals Run
8 JUNE: North Beach Parkrun (remember the barcode, and to take it relatively easy)
9 JUNE: COMRADES DAY!!!!!!!!!!
You will notice that Rocky River Run is missing from the list, that is now going to be run 2 weeks AFTER Comrades. I’ll look to just run 20-25km on that Sunday before tapering off.

 

COMRADES 2019: BACK IN HARNESS

Just when you thought it was safe to turn away and think this bloke’s all washed up and finished, it seems I’m back in action. Yes the time has come to commence preparing for another crack at South Africa’s and in many respects the World’s Ultimate Human Race. It’s time to not exactly dust off the training runners, for they’ve got some use since Hobart last year, but it’s time to embrace the painful joints as the real preparation cranks into gear.

Upgrade of a foam roller I hope will assist me to recover from training more effectively

So what has happened since Hobart and now? To be truthful not an awful lot. I was planning to rest for the 6 weeks before the 1st of January this year (it finally feels pretty useful not to have to keep referring to my last Comrades run as this year as opposed to last year) yet I did do the occasional run to not only keep in some sort of running condition but also in an effort to avoid the aches and pains that usually come in the opening weeks of training as muscle groups start to get used to running again.

I’ve also taken to seeking advice from online running platforms provided by the official Comrades coach Lindsay Parry. Whilst getting access to the programs set out will hopefully make it easier for me to prepare not just for the big day in June but also for other events leading in, the fact that I can talk and seek advice from like minded people was also an attraction. If this can help me get through the hard bits of training (even if it won’t necessarily help me wake up in the mornings), then that small investment will be worth it.

In terms of a schedule and plan, the biggest part of January has been confirmed with another full week in Brisbane to prepare. I’m looking at 4-5 run sessions through the week, with January 27 the day I’m at this stage hoping to complete a loop of Mount Coot-tha. Initially it was going to be January 26 as it was planned in the past 2 years (which if you remember were both derailed through a lack of physical conditioning last year, and straying onto unfamiliar trails in 2017). One of those runs will be likely following a little ladder run that I’ve made up even though I’m certain others will have something similar in their planning. It strays from my usual training format in that it revolves around distance rather than time. The key to this plan is the reduction in rest time to make myself work harder the further I go.

LADDER TRAINING PLAN

  • 2km RUN (choose your own pace) + 500m WALK [Running Total: 2.5km]
  • 2km RUN + 400m WALK [4.9km]
  • 2km RUN + 300m WALK [7.2km]
  • 2km RUN + 200m WALK [9.4km]
  • 2km RUN + 100m WALK [11.5km]
  • 2km RUN [13.5km]
  • (Optional) Then follow the same plan in reverse from the 5TH STEP (2km R/100mW) to give you a 25km workout, 23 of which is spent running.

In terms of events I have entered the half marathon at Wangaratta (and hopefully I’ll not only be fit to run it this year, but also I’m hoping to remember my bib), the same Treble Breakwall Buster at Port Macquarie as I did last year and the 50km in Canberra. I’ll also on advice from others be intending to enter the inaugural Cairns marathon in late April, again for training purposes rather than racing it to improve seedings (although if I do get a decent time that allows me to rise up the pecking order, there’s no way I’m going to knock back that opportunity). Fortunately obtaining the qualifying marker in Auckland last year meant I didn’t have to enter the marathon in Wangaratta, which would have certainly compromised my training both in the short and long term.

So far I’ve only done a handful of training runs, with the session on Tuesday 8 January compromised by wet weather. Certainly it’s not the end of the world having to train in the rain, for being prepared to run in any conditions is just part of the planning for marathons even if Comrades is rarely run in the rain. I guess the same will apply when the fog inevitably rolls in for other morning sessions. In any case, so far I’ve been able to overcome the fear of not waking up early enough before work in order to get my training in, and the more I get into a routine the more I feel I can improve my fitness levels AND have the best chance to be successful in June.

POINT TO PINNACLE 2018 – PREVIEW AND REVIEW BY VIDEO

Something just a little different for the report on this year’s Point to Pinnacle. I wouldn’t consider it all that lazy, after all if I was lazy I’d have nothing planned at all. But I decided to try something a little different, which if conditions were favourable (they weren’t) and if I could remember would have been enhanced by a video whilst on the mountain. Perhaps that’s something to consider for next year.

Anyway, early in the morning I decided to go on one of those long winded rants that went to so many places who knows what I’ve gone ahead and done. The plan was to go through the opening stages of the run in reverse, which as usual became something with a little less direction.

 

After a tough day on the mountain, I thought it would be a good idea to record something on the way down to try to sum up everything. I tried to do the same thing last year but a combination of feeling a little crook and tired meant that what I had recorded wasn’t all that useful. One day I might even have an idea of how to avoid shoddy phone camerawork!

 

 

The schedule for running this year has now been completed, and the plan is to take a little time off running to rest up my legs for the heavy new year’s schedule. That said I’ll probably screw it up, go crazy and start training as though my life depended on it.

Things were going reasonably well at this point! PHOTO CREDIT: RACEATLAS

 

AUCKLAND MARATHON 2018 – JOB DONE, COMRADES 2019 A REALITY

They say there’s a first time for everything, and this weekend was a first in so many ways for me. Much of this was certainly not limited to….

The Sky Tower that dominates the Auckland Skyline in all it’s glory on a Sunday Morning

– First Trip across the ditch
– First time going over the standard marathon distance outside of Australia (Comrades of course is an Ultra Marathon)
– First time having to try to get a qualifying time at an event outside of the Melbourne Marathon (More on that disaster later)
– First time I’ve worn multiple tops for the duration of a marathon (OK, I’m getting into content filler mode now!)

For this trip I’m thankful for work to get me onto shifts allowing me to depart and return to Australia without having to take any leave from work, even if I had to organise someone else to work my Sunday shift for me. I’m also glad I got a performance bonus from work in order to pay for the trip, for there wasn’t any way I’d be able to do this given the other races I’ve been doing and are planning to do. It wasn’t all plain sailing though, the flight over had arguably the roughest turbulence I’ve ever experienced on a flight and that’s saying something considering I’ve held the highest frequent flyer status with Virgin Australia for a number of years.

THAT’S ME!

The initial plan for Saturday was to stake out a Parkrun somewhere in Auckland, then collect my race bib before chilling for the afternoon. It turned out I had to adopt plan B after sleep got the better of me and a 6:30 alarm rapidly became 10:30, not that I was all that concerned. Instead I got word that the provincial Rugby final between Auckland and Canterbury was on with free admission at Eden Park, so naturally I jumped at the chance to tick off another venue off the list of venues I’d been inside. A combination of rain just before half time and the game going to extra time though didn’t help my cause, even if the locals mainly went home happy. Got back to my motel in time for a late 8PM dinner (where I was thrilled to discover the sauce for my macaroni was actually a pasta bake base) and barely any sleep eventually getting little more than 2 hours shut eye. Normally I wouldn’t be panicking but where I was staying was 20 minutes from where I needed to be to be transported to the start, the ferry terminal.

Start line for the Auckland Marathon

Eventually get to the ferry in time for a prompt departure, taking much shorter than expected (about 15 minutes from Auckland City to suburban Devonport) and arriving to showery conditions. Frustratingly some of my warm up left me with a little mud on the shoes which was tricky to remove, but I was organised well before the start hooter at 6AM. The game plan was to run 58 minutes for the first pair of 10 kilometre splits, before reverting to 51 minutes for the next couple of 8 kilometre sectors leaving me with trying to cover the last 6 kilometres in close to 39 minutes to nail the sub 4:20 which was the initial aim. Of course the original plan was to just run this for enjoyment and pick up a medal but Melbourne put paid to those plans. Yet when the start was approaching I found myself behind the 4:15 pace runners, meaning that I could easily just use their pace to guide me through.

 

 

To say this course wasn’t easy was the understatement of the year. I was warned before the start through facebook contacts that this course early was going to be undulating. It turned out that the first 17 kilometres would probably be as good of a training run for the Point to Pinnacle in 3 weeks time, such was the number of rolling hills that greeted over 1000 starters. Add the elements to the equation, for the drizzle took a few kilometres to abate causing my sunglasses to fog up, and to be able to keep with the pacers through these stages and not take a walk break to complete the climbs is decent enough. Sure I took the time to walk through the drink stations as the pacers did and took on board watered down Powerade at most of the stops, but to get through the tough section in good time was a relief. In hindsight I perhaps should have taken a little extra time to walk up the steeper parts of the Auckland Harbour Bridge and recovered on the downhill and the nearby drink station to catch up to the pacers.

As it turned out I was able to stay with the pacers until 25km into the run, when the quads and thighs were screaming enough. Fortunately I had both a watch I had purchased a couple of years earlier back in operation (found the right type of battery) and a wrist band detailing the times I need to get to the 4:20 goal I had set. Sadly that went out the window just after the 30km marker when I had to revert to a walk/jog strategy, even if the efforts I was able to put in were quicker than the pace I desired as the course flattened out. But in the end I calculated that I was dropping approximately 20 minutes over the last 17 kilometres, a task made harder when the marathon field started getting mixed in with the 5km starters. I must admit I was a little surprised that some of the kids had expended so much energy too early that I was able to trot past a few as my race was winding down.

Thankfully the end of the day came at the right time for me, and it was bang on the schedule I needed to get into what would be the G batch at Comrades (their qualifying times were adjusted as the overall standard to qualify was tightened). There was a little hump type bridge leading into the Victoria Park finish zone, and a little fist pump saw me clock in a few seconds below the G batch cutoff. That’s not to say that I may entertain thoughts of going quicker to either solidify the Q-Time or even move up into the F troop for Durban, but it was suck a relief following Melbourne that I was able to nail the qualifying time, pick up a 16th finishers medal (the first outside of Australia) and most importantly to feel pretty decent after the flatness of a poor time in Melbourne. It was probably the gladdest I had ever been to use the Burger King WiFi to confirm the details of the day to tell the organisers I had qualified.

So where to now after Point to Pinnacle? Wangaratta is certainly on the agenda, but at this stage I’m yet to decide whether I’ll be doing 21 or 42 (it may even depend on if I can use it as a qualifying race, the fact that it has an AIMS certificate will help the cause but training may determine what I’m doing. Then it’s onwards to probably Port Macquarie (pending work) and Canberra but that’s many months away. For now I’m just relieved and glad I’m getting another crack at an elusive Comrades medal!

 

 

SHORT UPDATE FROM BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL

Just a short video before a flight to Auckland for the Auckland Marathon. Expect plenty of race reports amongst other things over the weekend, in between running in NZ for the first time.

 

MELBOURNE MARATHON 2018 – THE CALM BEFORE EVERYTHING HAPPENS

It’s that time of year again, two weeks after the Grand Final the streets of Melbourne become the playground/battlefield for those going the whole 42km for the 41st year. Sure there are more prestigious races around the world, there are races worth more financially and get more exposure in this country, but nothing will come close to beating what is my hometown event which is the longest major marathon in Australia.

Unlike last year where my entire training was derailed by persistent calf injuries, training was going fantastically this year until a slight mishap before the Twlight Bay run 3 weeks ago. Sometimes when you’re looking out for something and concentrating hard to avoid one hazard, another comes sneaking up to bite you. Tripping on an elevated part of a footpath when you’re just about halfway through a long training run isn’t ideal, particularly when the scars on the right knee are still visible if not healed. The one consolation from that tumble was that structurally nothing appears to be damaged, and I’m still able to run effectively. The 1:57 half at the Twilight Bay run (Click here for the pre race video) was a confidence booster, and could have been even better if not for a slight stumble over a speed bump inside the last 3km just before the last drink station.

This year is the 6th time I’ll be towing the start line for Melbourne which is some sense of accomplishment. Never did I think that I would be doing this once when I started running these types of events in 2012, yet I probably would be lost without making the pilgrimage every October. The course has had slight alterations through those 6 years, notably finishing outside the MCG in the year that I recorded my one (and to this day, only) sub 4 hour marathon in 2014. This year the big concern revolves around construction work around the 35km marker, and based on some photos I saw the road marathon may have some trail elements thrown in, unless a last minute change to the course is thrust upon us (which I hope can be avoided).

Race planning remains the same as what I had planned early in September (Details about a third of the way down this page), although last night’s Comrades announcements have put a little extra pressure on nailing a time. Instead of a sub 5 hour marathon being the qualifying marker, the time to get in for South Africa in June next year is now a sub 4:50, which to be honest was easier than I and many others thought it may have been (some suggested 4 hours, I was more worried about a reduction to 4:30 or a Boston style elimination where the slowest Q times miss out). At least I can stick to the plan knowing that a sub 4:20 run will still get me into the F troop in Durban instead of the G group. Knowing that I have a second chance just 14 days later in Auckland will relax any nerves, if not give me an excuse if things don’t go my way.

Pleasingly it looks as though the weather will be playing ball this year. Early forecasts of a wet Sunday have given way to fine conditions, if not a little warm with the maximum temperature scheduled to be in the mid 20’s. It won’t really have that much of an effect on my hydration plan, in that the first drink station I’ll be looking for will be the one approaching the athletics stadium on Albert Park, taking every second stop until the second personal drink station. Naturally I’ll be sipping on something prior to the start to make sure I’m fuelled up as much as I can be without needing a toilet break which has cost me time in at least 3 events in the last 12 months (twice at Melbourne last year, 2 stops at the Canberra Ultra and a long 10 minute stop at Port Macquarie). The wind should be manageable so long as I’m with a group, even if there’s not likely to be a repeat of the 2016 conditions that made getting a time almost impossible (I reckon it cost me 10 minutes).

The plan for tomorrow will depend a little on what time I wake up. Hopefully I’ll be awake about 6:30 in time to get a tram to Parkville to do their parkrun, just to get some excess energy out of the system and to keep up the record of having one officially recorded time at the parkruns I’ve done in the past (PROOF IF REQUIRED). I should be at the MCG for bib collection about 9AM after a brief stop to pick up 2 bottles of Lucozade for my personal drinks. Then I’ll get a bite to eat and maybe put on a few bets before chilling in the afternoon. Last meal should be around 5PM (a pizza), and hopefully I’ll be asleep around 10PM with alarms set from 3:30 in the morning.

I guess that’s all for now, if you’re at the start line on Sunday look out for the usual zinc on the nose hanging around the 4:00 pace runners.