December 17, 2011

Longest run in 3 months

Yesterday's morning was covered in a blanket of rain, and so was most of the day as it turned out. Good news for the runner heading outside in December in Canada, even on the mild west coast; I decided to take advantage of the lack of frost when icy patches which can make winter runs anything from unpleasant to impossible.

With a couple of Australian friends visiting this weekend and a Squamish Titans Santa Shuffle on Sunday, I had two more reasons to secure this week's long run on a Friday.

Only two weeks separate me from beginning the daily training runs leading up to the Vancouver Marathon on May 6, and I have no time to waste on getting myself ready for that training regime, which will be my biggest ever. Having said that, the real preparation has been in the months of training for the Bellingham Bay Marathon, where I upped the weekly volume above 100km, also a first, and came out both unscathed and happy.

The past three months have had relatively little training as the two marathons and 50-miler demanded I take a break from the rigours of running. At least, that's what I believe and by now I have learned to trust my own judgement when it comes to training.

So far this week, I had only run 21km on Monday at a regular long run pace, which I aim to keep between 4:45 to 5:15/km, mostly closer to the second, and had done a 5km tempo run on Wednesday morning before flying from Amsterdam to Vancouver.

I am terribly jetlagged, getting up yesterday morning at about 3:30am, wide awake. I made the most of it, writing but I worried about the time my eyes would start getting heavy in the evening, hoping to keep them open long enough to prepare and have dinner with our friends from the land down under.

By about 8:30am I set out for my run, wearing Mr. Garmin for the first time in a month. The cloudy skies made it hard to find a signal, and by the time the display came alive, it said I'd already covered 2.6km, which made sense. While my body felt tight and tired, my legs also felt fresh and comfortable at just under 5-minute/km pace.

As I have grown used to doing, I ran north, from Valleycliffe to Brackendale, taking much of the new Sea to Sky Trail that is being readied. It's a pretty flat route, that parallels the highway, surrounded by mountains - a vast difference from the views I had running on the reclaimed lands of the Dutch polder in the past month.

I brought the iPod shuffle I bought just before the November 5 Whistler 50 for the occasion; so far it only holds two Linkin Park albums (A Thousand Suns and Minutes to Midnight). I haven't tired of the songs yet, and the lyrics still amuse me as they remind me that during the Whistler 50 the band sang things like "If you feel cold and lost in desperation..."

As my pace remained at or under 5:00 per km, I reminded myself to check I wasn't pushing the pace. My mind wandered to one of the first pacey bike sessions I did with my coach back then, John Hill in Sydney. On the weekend, Hill's group of triathletes would often ride from Centennial Park in Sydney's eastern suburbs to Kurnell which offered a perfect place for some so-called hits - the group would ride a certain number of laps at a steady pace determined by individual heart rates.

All Hill's training was based on heart rate, using four zones. Most of the training, including cycling, was done in the first zone, E1. We'd often ride both Saturday and Sunday, and one of the days would include hits, i.e. a certain distance in the second zone, E2.

The next zone, E3, was usually reserved for Tuesday morning sessions around Centennial Park, which everyone knew were going to hurt; Tuesday got a different meaning because of those training sessions.

But on this day, I am sure it was a Saturday, the group had ridden to Kurnell where we would do our hit of three 20km laps on a route around this quiet suburb which still hosts a sprint triathlon series and is the training ground of the likes of two-time Ironman world champion Chris McCormack.

I was feeling good, and set off on a pace that left even the strongest female rider of the group in my dust. Wow, I was awesome! Of course it only took a few kilometres before my heart rate soared way above my E2 zone but by then I didn't want to slow down.

Pride took over, until after about 25km, with 35km left to go in the hit, exhaustion did. I finished the remainder of the session, both the hit and the ride back home to Centennial Park in a daze. Recovery from that session took time. All my training in the next couple of weeks was affected by a deep tiredness following that surge of adrenaline and a lack of experience with pacing myself.

It was a good lesson. When you're fresh, it's easy to get carried away in your training, whether just by a little bit or by a lot as I did that day. If you go too hard in a session, harder than is asked for, you'll pay for it in the following sessions. 

That memory came flooding back to me yesterday, as I saw my pace stay at or just under 5:00/km, instead of drifting closer to 5:15/km. Training is about teaching your body to run at a faster pace with similar effort. It takes time. I was, and am, hopeful that the increased volume I did in the lead-up to my last marathon(s) left me with an ability to run just that little bit faster with the same, or even a little bit less, effort.

Yesterday, even in my overall fatigue from travelling, I felt that my pace was a touch faster with similar effort, yet I guess with that memory I reminded myself that my body is fresh now and that once my volume increases, it might take more effort to sustain the same long run speed as yesterday's.

It took me exactly 2 hours to run the 24km in a session that felt fast and long at the same time. I had a mini Clifbar and a small gel flask of water that I refilled once for my longest training run in three months.

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