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WANGARATTA 2017: CONFIDENCE BOOSTER IN THE COUNTRY

No doubt that training for something where the goal is so far away can be difficult. Motivation can be lacking for the average person who would understandably think that peaking in February for an event in June is a waste of time. Frustration that the fitness levels aren’t where they should be can be very common. The draining nature of summertime conditions, particularly in tropical environments that some may see Central Queensland to be, can often play tricks with the mind making the best intended plans to go further become useless.

I’m sure that the prospect of more favourable conditions in southern centres is a lure to attract those from the north looking for a good training run or 3. Yet those favourable conditions can also double as an ideal place for the first race of the new year. I had first heard of the event in Wangaratta a couple of years ago during a random internet session in the Virgin lounge at Tullamarine, yet it wasn’t until this year that the schedule allowed time to travel there, and also the fact that I needed some race conditioning with less than 100 days to Comrades gave me the best chance to head up country.

Traveling to country locations in Australia often can be tricky logistically, but the fact I was able to utilise the train service passing through Wang eased such concerns. For many arriving in a race city at 9:15PM the night before the event could have been cause for panic, but I would have been more panicked if I had tried to make the previous service that departed Melbourne at lunchtime, plus I was able to get an hour’s kip on the train before being awoken in Seymour. To be honest I was more worried about the constant toilet trips in the 24 hours previous having had similar problems in the lead in to Canberra in 2015. Still everything felt pretty good as I finally rose from my slumber just after 4:30 AM.

This was the first time in a long time where I didn’t really have a decent warm up before the run. Normally I’d partake in some sort of dynamic stretching covering a couple of kilometres in the process. This time all I could muster was some static stretching focusing on calves (which were sore after footy training a couple of weeks earlier, preventing me from training properly for a number of days, could have risked it but I have had a history of calf problems so I may have been overly cautious). I was also concerned that I had taken a position to far forward in the starting area, knowing that there would have been a number of quicker runners behind looking to pass quickly and thinking that the best laid plans would be immediately thrown out the window.

IN MY PREVIOUS BLOG ENTRY I had tried to underline what I was hoping to achieve in this half marathon, with a focus on working hardest in the 10km block from the 6-16 kilometre mark. It turned out that this plan was very quickly thrown out the window. Following a bloke in a Manchester United shirt (figuring that following in the tracks of someone else would be useful, nothing new in that plan as I often use that in any race) I was a little stunned to discover that I had covered the first 2km in a tick over 10 minutes. I knew I had to try to slow down a little in order to finish strongly but for some reason I felt I was feeling decent in the slipstream of this bloke. At least I followed the hydration plan skipping the first 2 stations and taking on board my first drink as I entered the part of the course where I had intended to start to motor.

Obviously going harder at such an early stage of the event would have a price in the later stages, and my pace normalised after the 12th kilometre. Part of this was probably attributed to trying to run at the slower pace of other runners who were doing the full marathon distance rather than the half. That strategy couldn’t be used for a few kilometres in the run home when I found myself in virtual no mans land, too far behind another runner to be able to rest the legs and judge pace, too far in front of another runner to drop back and use them as a pacemaker. I had to keep alert when re-entering the only road section of the course (the bulk of the event was run using paths and car parks) as a couple of runners required transportation back to the start area owing to injury. Thankfully I was able to keep going and not hold up any vehicle, although the timing of my entrance into the final 1500 metres could have been better. At that stage shorter events had begun and negotiating traffic proved not only a challenge for myself but also for the volunteers who had to somehow try to pick me out of a crowd of runners in other events, as by this time there was no chance of catching anyone nor being caught.

For the first time I was able to use a watch rather than have to rely on phone apps to judge the time. For the last few kilometres I was able to use this to try to calculate if I was going to get to the goal time. It turned out to be much better than expected. It had been a couple of years since I was able to say that I was able to run a sub 1:55 half marathon, so to see the clock at 1:53:40 at the finish line brought a smile and a sense of satisfaction. Sure I would have liked to run the race differently to get that result but when you exceed your own expectations sometimes it doesn’t really matter about the process. Still there are lessons to be learned from the event that I would like to put into practice for future events and even longer training runs which is what the next 4 weeks will be all about.

Looking forward, I’d feel the best thing that I can take from this run is the confidence to be able to run over these distances and further. With temperatures surely looking like falling (here’s hoping) hitting the 30km marker in training runs should be a big goal in the next month. Constant hill running incorporated into those distances will be a challenge given the minimal elevation change in this course, but with a week in Brisbane coming up and a couple of Mt Coot-tha climbs scheduled I’m sure the distances will take care of themselves. As for a return to Wang in future years, I’m hopeful the schedule with work will align well enough and perhaps even a step up to the full distance, even though it is early in the year, is not out of the question.

CRIKEY IT’S RACE WEEK AGAIN!

Despite the hot weather, work scheduling and the occasional bodily let down, training for Comrades 2017 has been progressing steadily if not positively. Naturally I’d love to get the confidence boosted by logging a nice long run, but the mind has often been the victim of the humid conditions that have often prevailed in this part of the world in the last few weeks. It would often be a case of running reasonably well for 4km, then I’d need to have a spell in order to properly regain focus and to hydrate properly. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing that given that in 3 months time the big trip is taking place and anything short of permanent disability will prevent me from making that start line (and even then….)

 

But I’ve now realised that this weekend is the first race weekend of the year. February is usually a month where I’m finding my feet and building up the kilometres rather than focusing on race goals. Yet this year is totally different in many ways, and the early preparation has meant that conditioning under race conditions rather than training runs is a requirement. After all, these races are the easiest way to build up the kilometres I need to succeed in Comrades.

To achieve this will require a visit to a place where I’ve never had the pleasure of setting foot in. Like I’ll probably be heading to South Africa in May/June, the travel component will likely be the time where I’m most nervous compared to when I’m standing among what I understand will be close to the capacity field of 500 for 21 of the best kilometres I’ll have covered this year. Whilst the course itself won’t provide the elevation that Comrades will offer (I’d get as much elevation change in a sharp 3km time trial around the block at home), it’s all a number of things on Sunday, namely

  • New Experiences (New town, different terrain with cycle paths being the bulk of the course surface)
  • Race simulation and using it as training
  • Boosting the confidence knowing that March will be mainly literally pushing the barrow uphill so to speak

 

In terms of what I want to achieve out of the run itself on Sunday morning, the following goals are in mind:

GOAL TIME: Somewhere between 1:55 and 2:00 is ideal. Just outside 2:00 is passable, anything slower than 2:05 will be cause for concern
RACE PLAN: Steady for the first couple of kilometres, then look to increase the tempo from kilometres 6-16 before a strong finish. If I can stay with a pack for the first 6km it will be ideal.
HYDRATION: As per usual, ignore the first 2 drink stations and utilise the stations at 6.5km, 10.8km and 15.4km. Unsure if I’ll take on board sport drink or water, although I’ll have a drink of h2o prior to the start
TRAFFIC: There is a marathon taking place that begins 15 minutes earlier. Even though it’s unlikely that the front runners will catch me prior to the finish given we’re using the same course (they’re running 2 laps of the half marathon course), I’ll need to be mindful of giving room for faster runners much like in the Perth City to Surf when the leading half marathoners pass me when I’ve done close to 30km. There may be times where I can gauge my pace off a marathon runner particularly when I plan to increase the tempo for the middle 10km sector that I’ve identified yet I’ll need to be mindful that I’m not in their race so there’s no need to hold them up without necessity.

 

Following Sunday the plan will be for a couple of training runs in Melbourne which is basically going to be a recovery type session. Monday is a travel day (the return train trip), but Tuesday and Wednesday mornings will be the scheduled times for training. Then the following week will be another week in Brisbane, again climbing Mt Coot-tha at least once and possibly twice. Hill climbing will be a focus throughout March, as will pain management. I’m certain there will be times where I’ll be sore on the long trek in South Africa so being able to cope with the pain whilst maintaining some sort of pace may become valuable if I want to finish. The next few weeks therefore are going to be busy, but hopefully it will be all worthwhile.

COMRADES TRAINING – THE FIRST BIG HILL

The main reason for the latest trip away from my Central Queensland base to the capital of Queensland was to tackle the climb around Mt Coot-tha, which many runners from the Brisbane area use to train on for their Comrades journey. Yes the workout was successful in many ways, but the lessons from this run would probably be more beneficial than any fitness advantages or strategical ploys that may come from it.

Everything started well enough, pre-planning of the route started a number of months in advance and I had some idea of where to go based on the online maps and route planning. Despite a false start on the Wednesday which was the original day where I was planning to go (a combination of soreness and sleeping through alarms the cause of delay), I was up and mobile just after 4 AM on Australia Day (January 26, the date where it should ALWAYS be). I also armed myself with some food for this run knowing that eating on the run would be required over a 12 hour sojourn in June. Mind you storing such items was a little tricky, with a small chocolate protein bar tucked below the Skins often digging into the skin and causing discomfort.

After a comfortable first hour along familiar pathways it was time to detour off the main path and onto a couple of streets leading onto Sylvan Road that would hopefully lead to the paths (as opposed to roads) up to the mount. It was all smooth until it came time to find the path over the Western Freeway (a road that leads to Ipswich) to start the climb. After a slight detour thanks to a pathway being designated for cyclists only, I managed to stumble upon ANZAC Park where instead of turning right I chose the left hand turn, and kept going left until the path flowed onto a back street. After some consultation with the phone GPS, I navigated my way back to the park, then after continuing to go right found the overpass that would get me onto the big hill. It seemed I was back on track especially after passing a couple riding some CityCycles that I thought nobody ever used (the lady couldn’t believe I was outpacing her).

The plan was to then follow the road heading anti-clockwise on Sir Samuel Griffiths Drive, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed the well known Powerful Owl Trail may at least keep me out of harm’s way and perhaps get me even quicker to the other side with the end of the trail being adjacent to the Channel 9 studios. What I didn’t anticipate was the fact that the trail was a typical trail as opposed to a covered or man made path, and that many parts of it were steeper than I had anticipated. Yes it meant that I had to walk several sections which I may have had to do if I had stuck to the original plan of being a road warrior as opposed to a trail blazer, in fact regular walking up the bigger hills is a key to success when June comes around.

It was close to the 1:45 marker in terms of active time when I had reached the Channel 9 studios, and I was at least determined to plunge downhill following the road even though the traffic was slowly building. It was at that point I noticed that there was another trail (named the Kokoda Track, though nothing like the real Kokoda in terms of distance) that perhaps I should follow to at least get back to the bottom. Perhaps reconsidering my options would have been better after I was confronted with a very steep downhill section where traction would be a major issue. Rather than trying the kamakaze approach which probably would have sent me to hospital or heading back to the road (which in hindsight is the best option, rather deal with traffic than have an isolated incident) I basically traversed from tree to tree using vegetation as a brake. There were a couple of slips but no tumbles, and after successfully negotiating the difficult section I decided once the 2 hour mark had been reached according to the watch that I would stop recording the exercise for the day.

Yes it was the longest training I had accomplished in terms of distance and for a single session (the previous marker had been split into 4 sections), but I still didn’t feel as happy as I should have. Partially because I felt that following the trails and paths were an error, partially because I was hoping to see 20 kilometres rather than 17, partially because it was still going to take a while to get back to base. It took another 90 minutes (and 2 stops to refuel) to reach Indooroopilly train station, where perhaps recording the walk through the back streets may have made for a more impressive day on the road.

There will be at least one more meeting with the mount coming up in March prior to departing for Durban. It is anticipated that I’ll be following the road for the duration this time, as I’ll also need to start perfecting the art of downhill running. With 5 climbs both consisting of uphill and downhill sections and plans to basically walk the bulk of the uphills, being able to control running downhill to leave enough energy to plough up the next hill is crucial. As long as I stick to the roads everything SHOULD be OK.

 

A progress report on distances traveled in training will come in a couple of days, there are another 2 sessions planned before next Monday so those will need to be logged and included.

COMRADES TRAINING: VIDEO BLOG ENTRY 1

This week I’m spending my Comrades Marathon training time in Brisbane, a change of scenery and conditions (not so humid) hopefully is going to help. The following was recorded on Tuesday Morning, 24 January 2017 at the Abbey on Roma Apartment complex.

 

Tomorrow as mentioned I may even do a Vlog entry on top of Mt Coot-tha, depending on how I’m feeling and how well I’m able to record from the phone as opposed to the tablet. I may even stop recording Mr.Squiggle style!

COMRADES LOG WEEK 1/2: YEP, A LONG WAY TO GO

They say the hardest part of training for big events isn’t necessarily the first day, but the days that come. Motivation is always at its highest on Day 1, yet by the end of the second week the plans haven’t exactly been followed (not that there’s a big issue with that, doing a few years of a teaching course at University taught me that rigid plans often come unstuck) and whilst my motivation hasn’t waned it can be easy to see how those who see running as a weight loss assistant can see how hard it is.

Frustratingly I haven’t been able to so far attain the distances that I really want to look for. Sometimes it’s a case of needing a short breather to regain the good feeling in the legs to resume, although there are many runs in my personal schedule that allow for this. In fact many of my training runs call for either multiple efforts over the same distance (not necessarily the same route) or multiple efforts where the distances are increasing. Sometime this week, most likely Wednesday or Friday, the plan will include having a 4km effort, a 5km blast and a 6km finish with active rest (walking for 5 minutes or to a suitable starting spot for the next effort) all in the one session. What I want to actually achieve, and this is more aimed at weekend runs, is to nail a 12-15km stint without a rest break, partially to prove to myself that the fitness levels are improving, partially because the first event for the year is approaching and stopping during that half marathon isn’t an option.

What hasn’t helped matters is the climactic conditions. I know summer in Australia can be ridiculously hot at times, yet the humidity is something that many more talented and dedicated runners find difficult to overcome. Even now as I’m typing this blog entry the sweat is pouring off the arms and the forehead, and getting a decent night’s sleep is challenging. Weather apps on my mobile devices have confirmed that even though the air temperatures are possibly comparable with what I’d be facing at some events during the year, they also indicate that based upon the humidity the temperature also feels like what it should at lunchtime rather than an hour or so after sunrise. What makes it even more of a tease is that the sky is filled with clouds yet there’s little prospect of rain just when a short shower could be what I need to complete a program.

On the plus side, this is probably the earliest I’ve ever started formalised running training since taking it up in 2012. Normally I tend to choose Australia Day (January 26) as the normal start date given the first event I run usually isn’t until March. Obviously the plans with an event in February and the sheer training required to at least get to the finish at Comrades has brought the timing forward. Perhaps I’m not used to trying to go hard or go home at this time of the year (self control is something I need to learn on the training roads, still battling to slow down to make the distances I want I suppose), maybe I’m getting carried away with seeing many weekend warriors going online to advertise they are doing massive runs well before the day I’d want to be peaking (although I suspect some are trying to peak twice with a qualifier in mind).

So what am I going to plan in the next couple of weeks? I know that I need to find the hills more often and next weekend I’m hoping to incorporate a number of hills into a decent distance run of up to 18km. Then I’m spending January 23-27 in Brisbane to change up the scenery for training runs and keep the mind fresher. Perhaps I’ll even look to have a crack at going up Mt Coot-tha on the Wednesday (25 January) in order to get at least some longer sustained uphill running under the belt. Hopefully the weather will be kinder to runners than what we’re currently experiencing.

 

As for the logistical issues, the race bib for Wangaratta is in the post and hopefully should arrive either Monday or Tuesday. The entry for the big 50km in Canberra has been lodged, so the major lead in race (sounds strange describing a 50km event as a training run doesn’t it!) is locked in and ready to go. I may even look to add an event in either March or May depending on what the work roster has to say and how the finances will stretch. With airfares to and from Durban to be paid in the next couple of weeks attention will turn to making sure I have enough Rand to last the trip. I’m thinking of at least saving R10000 (which is close to $A1000 give or take a few dollars) plus whatever I exchange prior to departing Australia should be sufficient to cover most of my costs.

 

TRAINING STATS for JANUARY 2-15 (Courtesy of Strava)

SESSIONS: 6
TOTAL DISTANCE: 50.7km (24km 2-8 Jan, 26.7km 9-15 Jan)
ACTIVE TIME: 4 Hrs 47 Mins
ELEVATION GAIN: 281m Total (155m 2-8/1, 126m 9-15/1)

THE 2017 SCHEDULE (Tentative at this stage)

Normally this post would come up in November with plenty of time set aside to plan everything. Naturally I decided to get lazy last year and not post here for way too long, so whilst I had an idea of what I wanted to do putting down on paper or in digitalised form proved to be a step too far.

Obviously the entire schedule isn’t 100% confirmed nor even contemplated beyond the Gold Coast Marathon in July. Hopefully the body will hold up sufficiently to be able to do what I want to do. However the following is what I plan to do for the 2017 running year. I have decided to split it into a 2 part series, with the first part being 100% confirmed barring unforeseen circumstance, and the other part at this stage being overly dependent on other factors such as work to confirm.

100% CONFIRMED EVENTS (entries may or may not have been lodged but will in the coming weeks)

FEBRUARY 26: Wangaratta Half Marathon, Wangaratta, Victoria (21.1km)
APRIL 9: Canberra Ultra Marathon, Canberra, ACT (50km)
MAY 28: Rocky River Run, Rockhampton, Queensland (10km)
JUNE 4: Comrades Marathon, Durban-Pietermaritzburg, South Africa (87km)
JULY 2: Gold Coast Marathon, Gold Coast, Australia (42.2km)
OCTOBER 15: Melbourne Marathon, Melbourne, Australia (42.2km)

EVENTS WHERE I MAY ENTER

MARCH 19: Twilight Run, St.Lucia, Brisbane, Queensland (21km)
AUGUST 13: City2Surf, Sydney, New South Wales (14km)
AUGUST 27: City to Surf, Perth, Western Australia (21.1 km)
SEPTEMBER 17: Blackmore’s Half Marathon, Sydney, New South Wales (21.1km)
NOVEMBER 19: Queenstown Marathon, Queenstown, New Zealand (42.2km)

Again either list may change dependent on work commitments, financial considerations and general fitness. I’m hoping that the heavy training load for Comrades that I am about to commence won’t have a negative impact in the second half of the year. Keep in mind too that I’ve scaled back distances in some events where I’ve taken the longer option in previous years, with the local run here in Rocky a couple of days before the scheduled departure for South Africa meaning the half marathon (which in 2016 turned out to be closer to 25km than 21 due to a marshalling error) is not a realistic option. Ditto for Perth, where if I choose to run the event for a 3rd consecutive year the hope is to run just the half marathon in order to preserve legs for a serious tilt at Melbourne. Queenstown is at this stage very tentative pending work leave, given I’ll probably need to depart Australia on the Thursday in order to make it to Queenstown to collect the race bib.

As the year goes on I’ll at least be giving some content for each event I actually start from this list, so keep an eye out as hopefully 2017 will provide satisfactory outcomes, at least compared to 2016.

COMRADES 2017: THE JOURNEY STARTS NOW

First of all profuse apologies are in order for not updating everyone from the week before the Melbourne Marathon. Things there and at the other events I completed in November didn’t exactly go according to plan, and I certainly wasn’t alone. More on that will come (HOPEFULLY) in later posts. Also I hope the festive season regardless of religious faith you believe in brought some sort of joy into a miserable life that seemingly is around us.

 

As many of you are aware if you followed my Twitter (@MHJeffrey027) and Facebook feeds you will know that following Melbourne, and despite a below par performance from a personal standpoint, the time I ran was good enough to ensure I passed the qualification clause to enter the famous yet gruelling Comrades Marathon in South Africa next year. To cut the long story short because many others online will tell you what the story is, the start line for the 2017 edition is at the town hall in Durban, with the finish line at the racecourse in Pietermaritzburg, a mere 5 major hills and 87 kilometres away. It probably sounds like I’m making it look like a casual stroll, but in reality it’s the toughest test I’ll probably ever do short of losing my brain totally if I convince myself to enter a 24 hour race.

The training for this event will be a long road trying to get what many see to be the necessary kilometres under the belt to succeed on the first Sunday in June next year. To that end, this blog from now until mid June will with a couple of exceptions become almost a diary like journal or log of the week or fortnight that will build up into what I hope to be something to hang my hat on when I join almost half of the entertainment industry that has passed on in 2016 (I’m not anticipating joining them). That’s not to say that there won’t be anything on lead up events such as Canberra in April, they are now part of the training regime that will hopefully lead me to the most satisfying experience that life can bring.

The start came earlier yet later than anticipated. When I first entered I promised myself that I would begin training on January 2 to give myself a good 5 month build up to the big day. Then upon booking accommodation in Melbourne over the Christmas period, I was hopeful of getting up early on the 27th of December to charge into a couple of laps of the famous tan track, but in the end I was lucky to get up in time to only miss the first couple of overs of play at the cricket. The start of training for this came on December 28 at Rydges on Swanston, using something I really prefer not to use, a dreaded treadmill. It’s unlikely that I’ll be using another for the remainder of the time in training for this event unless I book a motel that has a fitness space incorporating gym equipment, more on that a little later. It was nothing more than an eye opener to the rest of the program, only 30 minutes at varying speeds and inclines before a 5 minute walking cool down, but at least we’re up and running. Distance was nothing special, but it was the time on the feet and being active that I was seeking.

Important weeks in the training program will come starting January 23 and March 6, when the plan is to fly down from my Rockhampton base to Brisbane to do a week of running at another venue. There’s only so many times I can pound the pavement of the local roads, plus there’s a chance I’ll be able to do a few runs with other like minded individuals who are making the trip across. Running with others who are also doing Comrades this year may help me address what I see as what may well be the big challenge in training and as a consequence race day, early pacing. If I repeat what I do so many times in marathons and 10km races and show impatience by trying to run too fast too early, then some of the cut off times that are strictly enforced may become too great to overcome, let alone the 12 hours to complete the course.

In terms of lead up races, there are 2 definitely confirmed and perhaps a couple of others that are in the maybe stage. The plan at this stage is to head to the country Victorian town of Wangaratta late in February for a half marathon, if only to get myself used to race day scenarios. Due to the distance of the major goal this year requiring pre-race fuel beyond mere fluids that I am used to taking prior to marathon distance and shorter events, Wangaratta will be the first chance I’ll get to try to at least eat something before race start. I’ll also be venturing to Canberra for the 4th consecutive year in April, and based on advice of those who have followed this road I’m on for the first time on several occasions, I’ll try to actually complete the 50km event that I failed to finish in 2016. Redemption won’t be the primary motivator, but if I use it right then that event will give me the boost I’ll probably need in order to get through the last tough portion of training before a 2-3 week taper in May. Not sure of my status in other events such as Twilight Run (although the prospect of 2 training runs in the one day given the timing of the race has some appeal) and even the local Rocky River Run (possibly going back in distance to 10km as I believe this will be a week before Comrades and 2-3 days prior to departure). Final decisions will be made in January.

A January program will go up on New Year’s Day. I’m looking to mix things up a little in the realisation that incorporating a walking cool down/recovery will be of more use to me this year than in previous years. This will probably enable me to do the types of sets I was easily doing a couple of years ago, where I did something like a 26 minute/5km set followed by 4 minutes active recovery, then 24/5 with 6 recovery, then 28/5 with a recovery lasting until I reach home base. Some training will be done on grass ovals, but the bulk will be done on road or concrete surfaces. Naturally at least one day of hill climbing will need to go into the schedule where I’m planning to also schedule a minimum of 3 days rest. Whether someone is crazy enough to follow this program is up to them although being a rookie to this event it’s unlikely that anyone will contemplate using my template for at least 12 months when it’s at hoped that this gets me to the finish line. That’s all I want to do out of the event, time apart from the final 12 hour cut off and perhaps one or two intermediate sectors won’t really matter.

 

In terms of logistics, the passport was the first item of business in order to even lodge an entry from outside of South Africa, and a successful submission of the form the day after the Melbourne Marathon and subsequent acquisition in late October was about as good as it got in the late stages of the year. Hotel bookings were made before the passport was sorted, with payment due in May. It’s not a 5 star hotel by any means, but it looks like doing that job required (here’s hoping). Flights are due to be booked in a month’s time, but I have the funds to be able to book whenever I desire. The issue of local currency is being constantly helped thanks to being a frequent flyer and the perks that come with it (thank you Global Wallet), and I’m hopeful of getting close to 10000 Rand in the kitty upon departure.

 

The planning will be made formal this week, the long journey has already begun!