March 18, 2012

A 141K boost to running confidence

Luka's help in a post-run stretch
I have just finished my biggest week of running—ever as well as the biggest I have in my 18-week build-up for the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6. It's been an awesome week, with the key sessions boosting my confidence.

Monday had two workouts, with a 10K in the morning and a 6K in the afternoon, both at recovery pace. My energy levels were low, and I even managed to bonk in the little afternoon run. The good news was that it reminded me to lift my game in terms of nutrition and hydration, and to pay extra attention to my pacing.

The devil is always in the details.

Tuesday I did 13K at a pace faster than recovery pace, but slower than what I am aiming for in my medium- and long runs. I averaged 5:21/K. My frame of mind wasn't great before the run; "I hope I can sustain this program. V. tired this morning (7am). The past few days I have also noticed my knees—not pain but was just aware of strain," the notes in my running diary say.

My single-biggest fear is injury, and I am continually paranoid for any signs that might indicate something unusual. After Tuesday's run, during which I stayed on soft trails as much as possible, I took a hot bath with Epsom salts, which always eases tight muscles.

Wednesday had 24K. Snow tested my resolve but I ended up having a fantastic run, with a 4:55/K average, covering the first half at 5:03 pace and the second at 4:46. "So glad to have an energized run," my notes say.

Thursday was this week's second day with two runs, 10K in the morning and 6K in the afternoon. Both were at recovery pace, and I felt good. That night I ate two dinners, both vegetarian.

Friday had 19K in total, including 11K at 15K-half marathon race pace. I decided to head for the track to run 27 laps (10.8K) as it is the perfect way to stay on pace undisturbed by traffic. Tim and Gord agreed to join me—it was awesome to have company.

Surprisingly, because the forecast had called for wet snow, the weather turned out quite nice, a stark contrast from the previous session similar to this one (which we did in wet snow). The gravel track was just a touch damp but in superb shape compared to that last time. We warmed up with 2.25K of easy running on a trail nearby.

We started the 11K hit just after 4:30pm. My 87:27 half marathon PB translates to 1:39.5 per lap (of 400 metres), which works out to 1:37 per lap for 15K pace; so I was aiming to keep my lap times between 1:37 and 1:40.

My plan was to ease into the session, and when I ran 1:37 for the first lap, I eased to do the 2nd lap in 1:40. Two done, 25 to go. I felt good and loved the rhythm of running around the track, which allows the perfect feedback on times.

I enjoyed the beginnning of the session. Having company, even though the three of us ran at different paces, made it even better. It seemed my legs had settled into the pace and the laps went by in the range I was supposed to run them at; my fastest was 1:36 and slowest was 1:41. Most were 1:39.

Since I felt good, I decided to run an extra lap—28 in total—for a distance of 11.2K in a time of 46:06, or an average of 1:38.8 per lap. That's 4:07 per K, and a 41:10 10K. A great session indeed. Afterward, Tim and I did an easy 5K cooldown on the trails.

Saturday had 13K. The Garmin took a few hundred metres to warm up, so I ended up running a total of 14.7K. I felt absolutely fantastic and had to continually hold myself back as it was an easy pace session. I ended up with 5:14/K average pace.

That brought the six-day total to 102K and left only Sunday's 39K. Never had I done a single training session of that distance. My goal was to take it easy at the start, as I considered it more important to finish strong, i.e. run the second half quicker than the first, than to stay within my 4:41 to 5:08 long-run pace range.

The day started out with light snow and rain but had cleared up by mid-morning when we started. Tim ran with me for the first 14.64K, which we covered at an average 5:20/K. By then I had taken two of the six gels I had brought. As Tim turned around to run back home, I settled in for the remaining 5K until my halfway point. (Tim ran 30.5K, his longest since the Whistler 50 in early November.)

I didn't feel great as I had the previous day, but didn't feel too bad either. The next 4:86K I covered at an average 4:58/K while my heart rate was an average 131 beats per minute. In the meantime I had had another gel, and took the 4th as I turned around to head back the same 19.5K. I had taken 1hr 42 to run the first half.

On the home stretch, my legs stuck with a nice rhythm and I went along with it; still, I knew from experience that these long runs can feel very different once you get past 2hr 45. Many of my 3-hour runs were a struggle in the those final 15 minutes.

Still, for now my heart rate stayed where it needed to be, so I decided to stick with the pace I was running, which now stayed mostly below 5:00/K.

With about 11K to go, I had my final gel and finished the remainder of the 600ml of water I had brought; no fuel left and I had no intention to stop until I got home. While I clearly felt the fatigue, I also seemed to have no trouble sticking with the pace. By now, my pace was 4:45/K or faster most of the time. Could this last, I wondered.

By 35K I was even more tired but kept churning out the right pace, at or below 4:45. "Crazy, crazy!" I was muttering to myself as I hit 36K.

I took a split with 2K to go, as the final stretch has a 1K hill and I expected my pace to drop there for sure. From 19.5K until 37K, I ran an average 4:48/K at an average heart rate of 140 bpm.

Still feeling strong despite the fatigue, I covered the final hilly 2K faster than expected, in 10:09, so an average 5:05/K at 152 bpm.   

I ran the second half of today's 39K in 1hr 34, 8 minutes quicker than the first. 

Overall the 39K took me 3hr 16, an average pace of 5:02/k at 137 bpm. While of course very tired, I was also very happy with the negative split—exactly what I wanted for today.

With that, I end my total for the week at 141K. Looking forward to next week's 108-115K.

Seven weeks of training left until the big day!

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