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COMRADES TRAINING VLOG : 5 WEEKS OUT

Very brief entry recorded in Brisbane after a training run around Mt.Coot-tha on Saturday 29 April 2017. Expect another video recording to come in the next fortnight.

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CANBERRA ULTRA 2017: AT LEAST I FINISHED (PART 2)

In drizzling conditions, the small band of troopers set off to complete the 50 kilometre challenge. Despite the conditions there was a decent throng present to see us off, many of them waiting for us to clear the start zone in order to prepare for their own 42 kilometre voyage some 15 minutes after our departure. The course hadn’t changed from the previous year, yet this year would probably be a bigger challenge given the weather conditions. At least the drizzle had cleared by the time we reached Parliament House just after the completion of the first kilometre.

I had settled into a steady tempo trying to run a pace of about 60 minutes per 10 kilometres (or 6 minutes per kilometre if you think that way). It was helped by a few fellow Comrades runners doing their training being in the vicinity, and for about the first 40 minutes I was able to judge the pace from them. Trying to explain the escape from the floodwaters at least ensured a relaxed atmosphere, although I was also at pains to tell the folks that I wasn’t intending to bring the rain with me.

There was an unscheduled pit stop after 8 kilometres as happened in 2015, although this time there was a toilet block as opposed to a big tree. Still the little pause in proceedings enabled me hit the first 10 kilometre split basically right on the 60 minute marker. I was still basing my pace off another runner until reaching the bridge at Kings Avenue, when the lack of recent training and long runs started to take a toll. Whilst stopping was certainly not an option, particularly after the DNF in 2016, my hamstrings were causing enough trouble for me to slow into a nursing pattern. Still I wasn’t in panic mode after a 63 minute split, so I was thinking that I could maybe make up some of the gap needed to get to the 5 hour mark.

On the run along Parkes Way, arguably the longest section of the event, I managed to catch up with the slowest pacing group for the 42km marathon event. Knowing they were unlikely to be told to remove themselves from the course, I knew that if I was able to stay near them if not in front that I would be able to finish. It also meant that I was also among the tail enders for the marathon, so at least if I struck trouble I could be able to wobble at their pace if needed. Sadly it was just after the turn at about 26.5 kilometres that the weather turned for the worst and the motivation of getting a time started to wane. It turned into a battle for survival rather than a challenge to vault myself up the starting order for Durban in 8 weeks time.

The plan therefore reverted to running as many of the downhill sections as possible, and perhaps conserving a little too much energy on the flat and uphill parts of the course. With no sleeves being worn, it was the coldest I had felt on any run between kilometres 30 and 36, and probably the most demoralised I had felt in many years. Certainly thoughts such as “Do I Have To?” and “What’s the point?” entered the mind, thoughts that I didn’t think I would consider happening at any stage during the preparation.

So the focus now, having long passed the point of wanting a time rather than just finishing, would be to bury a couple of demons from past Canberra Marathons and Ultras. It was all about passing points where I had hit difficulty in past years, and this year I took some pleasure in passing those points as well as letting anyone who cared (mainly the pace runners) know about the past demons. It did give me a slight boost but by the time I passed those points there was still over 11 kilometres to go.

Fortunately I was able to run the bulk of the remainder of the run with others who were managing niggles in order to make the finish line. The plan of running the downhills and the odd flat section before slowing to walking pace on the uphill sections was working. This could even be of more assistance for Durban in a number of weeks than I had hoped, for it’s almost certain that I would be employing similar tactics and plans for the many uphill sections of Comrades. There was enough energy in the legs though for a final push in the last kilometre, ensuring that my finishing time, however poor it may seem, would be quicker than anticipated at the 35 kilometre mark.

By the time the end came, the crowds around the finish area had thinned out although there still was a number of people around the area. The final pack up had commenced to the extent where my gear had been moved to inside the volunteer tent. The bands had all packed up, as had the exhibits around the finish area as a few of us late finishers. At least this time I had the satisfaction of actually crossing the finish line under my own steam as opposed to in the back of a van. In the end it was 50 kilometres in the bank that will surely hold me in good stead for Comrades, and it also will form a base for the next 4 weeks training with the week after basically all about recovery.

 

On the road from Canberra to Melbourne, I decided to record the following video that may explain some of the bogey points I was referring to earlier in this piece. It also explains the noise around me whilst recording, for it seemed something near the window may have needed fixing.

 

CANBERRA ULTRA 2017: AT LEAST I FINISHED (PART 1)

You know the saying nice guys finish last? Well last Sunday I was almost the poster boy for that exact saying as I trudged across the line to finish the Canberra Ultra Marathon for the first time. Yes there was a part of me that was thankful that I was able to avenge the bitter pill of a DNF from the previous year. Maybe it’s the competitor and the attitude in me that shows a little disappointment at finishing so low down the order. But at the end of the day, the few little wins and positives I gained from this will be better long term than concentrating on the lows.

Preparation seemed to be OK. I was able to get the support I felt was necessary for the left knee on the Saturday at a reduced price to add to my happy mindset. As I had mentioned in the previous post, food intake was considerably lower than the previous year, and I was pretty relaxed spending a Saturday Night in front of the box. Everything was laid out and I managed to get a few hours sleep, even if some at the University of Canberra village were in party mode/regretting the party mode just after 10PM.

Waking up early at 3AM often can be an arduous task, but for the marathoner and ultra marathoner in me it’s almost normal routine for race morning. Everything was packed including much of the fluid I would be taking on the run. In hindsight and with Comrades in mind perhaps carrying the Powerade bottle may not have been the correct choice given that I’ll probably take advantage of the hot flat Coke that will be at the drink stations (SETTLE DOWN BEN COUSINS, NOT THAT COKE). Still it all looked like a normal Canberra buildup with the cab dropping me off at a good location this year (it helps to know which way is actually northbound, last year I wanted to go to Parkes Avenue which could only be accessed by those heading south).

It was from that point, at just after 5:15 in the morning, that any hope of normalcy in a warm up and in the race itself was thrown out the window. Knowing that it would be cold was one thing, for there was no doubt in my mind that as the day progressed the conditions would turn out to be ideal. Unfortunately the BOM got a forecast somewhat correct for once and the rain started to fall. Frustratingly it was persistent intermittent showers that confronted the field for the bulk of the day. When the first shower came everyone present huddled under the Rebel Warm Down area, yet it came and went 10 minutes later. Thinking everything was OK it was time to drop off the bag to expose myself to the elements.

Not worrying too much about the conditions, it was time for a light trot in front of Old Parliament House where the start line was located. The abatement of the rain lasted a matter of minutes, and just before 5:50 AM a group of runners were huddled above the stairs at the entrance to Old Parliament House to shelter from another shower. The saving grace was the fact that I was able to semi photo bomb a couple of snaps that probably found their way on Instagram or some other website. I say semi photo bomb because the only way not to photo bomb was to wander forward into the rain.

It would be a late entrance into the starting chute for just about everyone in the field. Usually the competitors gather behind the line about 15-20 minutes before the start and casually mill around or try to find their position for race start. Yet it didn’t seem all that rushed as everyone else was in the same position and the start was delayed by 5 minutes as the final course clearance was being made. It was all a relaxed atmosphere as the marathoners, probably the saner people who were near the start line at the time given they had 8km less to travel, started to take their position to see us off. Then before we knew it, it was time to start the stop watch as the countdown started…….

 

TO BE CONTINUED

CANBERRA ULTRA 2017: TRAINING RUINED, PLANS STILL UNALTERED

It’s been a while since I’ve touched base and I wish the news was more positive than I had hoped to bring. Physically I’m fine if not a little weary thanks to work commitments, but since Wangaratta the Central and North Queensland climate has dealt savage blows to my preparation for both Canberra and Comrades. I’m certainly not in a panic, in fact Canberra was always intended to be a good training run with a few weeks of hills after prior to a taper period. It’s just frustrating that everything was set up to go on a decent trot, and then heavy persistent rain followed by a force of nature named Debbie ruined just about everything.

Having said all of that and with a lack of recent training under the belt, the plans for running in Canberra this Sunday are largely without major alteration. Sure flooding has meant a deviation in the travel plan but seasoned travelers like myself can keep calm and have a plan B. So having departed Gladstone, a 90 minute trip from home base, I’m delighted to say that flooding in Queensland isn’t stopping me from towing the start line this Sunday. It’s probably made this blog entry a little more rushed than I would have liked but sometimes there are more important matters than simply sharing thoughts with the population.

The race plan itself is much like last year in terms of pacing. Twelve months ago I had anticipated running each 10km split in an hour, and if I had finished inside the hour marker I would walk from the time I reached 10km to when the hour mark was reached. Of course that plan was ruined by a knee problem but a little strapping and support should help me through this time. This plan is not altogether dissimilar to what I would like to use in South Africa but the hills on the Comrades course would mean my plan would be closer to what I would use in an event such as Point to Pinnacle (i.e. jog for a minute then walk for a minute going uphill, whilst saving a little bit when on the flatlands).

There is an alteration to the hydration and nutrition plan for this year compared to last. In 2016 I felt as though I had over indulged in food the day before the race so eating less on race eve will be a priority. As usual my last meal will probably be before 6PM to give myself a little time to unwind before hitting the sack sometime around 10PM (I’ll be lying down earlier, but that’s probably the time I’ll be snoring). Fluid intake will be a little different to previous years as well. Most marathons I enter have a plan where I take on board fluid at every second drink station after about 8km or so, skipping the final station. This weekend I am anticipating having fluids at every second station to the mid point of the event, then I’ll be stopping at every station until the last which usually is too close to the finish line.

Hopefully travel within Canberra will also be more useful this time around. Reading the address where I need to go may help, but instead of booking the cab from the Uni dorms where I’m staying for a 3rd successive year, I’ll make the short walk to the major shopping precinct in nearby Belconnen to take a cab from there (hopefully it will save me a few dollars too, not that finances at this stage concern me). At the very least I’m hoping I don’t have to feel rushed to get close to the start area unlike last year where I probably wasted energy worrying about how far it was from drop off point to start zone.

There are 2 goals for this year that I have in mind for Canberra. Unlike last year where I had to withdraw after 38km I’m planning to finish this year (if I don’t then I’d probably need medical assistance beyond what is offered on the course and in the first aid tent). As was the case last year, I’m hopeful of finishing the course in a time around the 5 hour mark, which should mean I’m averaging 6 minutes per kilometre. Final position doesn’t matter, improving my seeding for Comrades won’t matter unless I’m well ahead of expectation (I was told this when deciding if the 50km or the marathon would be the choice of entry this year from people who know). All that matters is that I get a positive experience out of this weekend moving forward. After all, there’s only 8 weeks left before the big day!

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.