March 16, 2012

Looking back to stay on track

Checking the route
It's good to remind yourself at times about the progress you have made, even if it is less than you had hoped. Before getting ready for today's 19K run that includes 27 laps (10.8K) on the track at between 1:37 to 1:40 per 400 metres, I was digging up some training programs and results from the year that lead to my first Sub-3:15 marathon.

In July 2005, I decided to focus on training as a pure runner; the previous 4-1/2 years I had been training as a triathlete, completing five Ironmans, three of which I did between April 2004 and March 2005. 

Following that fifth Ironman, Tim and I had taken a three-month break from structured training, travelling around New Zealand and hiking some of the country's South Island's stunning trails.

We had hiked the remote North West Circuit, a 125K (78 miles) trail on Stewart Island, or the Maori name: Rakiura, that will test even the most optimistic and fit hikers over 11 days. There is one town on the island, called Oban, with a population of about 400. The ferry crossing over the Foveaux Strait can be rough, as we experienced on the way back.

NZ's North West Circuit
Muddy? An understatement
More mud...

The North West Circuit is muddy, and slippery, and there's no backing out of this one except by retracing your steps. It's tough; Tim and I both were Ironman-fit, yet we needed far more than the estimated times for each section. The spectacular scenery and the experience were well worth it.

Moving ahead - tramping in NZ
We also did the Routeburn, Kepler, and Abel Tasman Coastal tracks, as well as a part of the Travers-Sabine Circuit to Angelus Hut, an overnight hike to Mueller Hut near Mt Cook, and many other beautiful day hikes. So it's not like I wasn't active between finishing Ironman New Zealand in March, and starting on a running program in July. 

Running 43-minute 10Ks were a challenge in those first six months on Pat Carroll's conservative program; initially he gave me four sessions a week, totalling no more than four hours all up. There were two fast sessions, and two easy ones in the first two months. Then he gave me five sessions a week.

At first I was skeptical: how would such a low-volume program possibly get me faster? Remember I just came off Ironman training, where one regular bike ride would take more time than my entire week as a runner. But by January 2006, after six months on the program, I noticed progress with a 15:30 for a 4K.

And in May 2006, I was surprised to suddenly run 41:38 for a 10K, an improvement of 59 seconds from the only time I had run under 43 minutes three years earlier (both certified 10K events organized by the Sydney Striders).

Two weeks later I ran a 30-second half marathon PB of 91:38, and two months later, in July 2006, I finished my first Sub-3:15 marathon by running the Gold Coast Marathon in 3:13:02, a PB by more than 11 minutes. Two months later again, I did my first Sub-90 half marathon, running 89:31.

These breakthroughs all happened in 2006. And there were more the following year: I improved my marathon time by another whopping 5 minutes in April 2007, to 3:08, and ran 40:24 for 10K in December. In January 2008, I ran Sub-40 and repeated that in March, before lowering my half marathon time to 88:13 in April.

You can only imagine how pumped I was for the Vancouver Marathon in May 2008. And how disappointed I was with 3:12. Luckily, the Victoria Marathon in October that year brought a 3:07:10 PB, one I have had to make do with until Victoria 2011.

And it took almost four years to improve that 2008 half marathon best, which I did - somewhat to my surprise - in the First Half in February to 87:27. 

My 10K PB from January 2008, at 39:51, still stands. And having sped up by 2 minutes and 42 seconds in 5-1/2 years over the marathon distance might make one wonder about my expectations to improve by more than 6 minutes over six months, as I expect to do for this year's Vancouver Marathon.

I wonder too some days, but I also think it's possible.

At the start of 2006, a Sub-3:15 marathon seemed just as far away, as did a Sub-90 half marathon, while a Sub-40 10K was next to impossible to imagine. But they all happened. It just took a little time, a little work and a little belief.

After I ran that 41:38 10K in May 2006, my then-coach Carroll told me, "Sub-40 will happen Margreet, it's a matter of being patient and allowing your body to become stronger and fitter." 

He was right, and I believe that the same goes for a  Sub-3 marathon. On that note, I am heading for the track for the next session of this 140K week, my biggest ever.

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