Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Checking Out

This weekend I ran the Flagline 50k on Mt Bachelor. The weather forecast was reasonably kind, low 50's, rain later, little wind. But as my CT running and hiking friends will confirm, mountain weather isn't sea level weather. Arriving at a windswept, sleeting start, it was clear that a tee and shorts wasn't going to cut it. Even Coach Dion might have worn a long sleeved! Throw in the 2000m above seal level start line and it was going to be a tough morning.

By 10k in it was snowing properly and minus degrees. The weather didn't get any worse but it could have done, and given the small field and reasonably small number of aid stations (5 for 50k), if I or any other runner had fallen and been stationary for any amount of time, it would have been a difficult situation with no dry and warm clothing.

It looked a bit like this on Sunday, but with some snow!
But this is the US, and there appears to be no kit checks, no mandatory gear requirements, and here at least, no check in for runners. How many started? Impossible to know. So we started with, yes, guys in tee shirts and shorts ONLY. No space blankets, charged cell phones, energy bars or whistles! A far cry from 'tough' SA trail races in much better conditions, with at least as experienced runners.

I have no idea if everyone got off the mountain safely. MY hands and feet were frozen, I couldn't eat, probably due to the altitude (2000m), and I didn't drop primarily because it was warmer to keep running. If i had I hope I could have jumped into someone's car and turned the heating full up! But I might also have been an hour from any warmth or help.

No weather recorded. Just as well

I don't think the weather was particularly exceptional, just a normal day in the snow zone in Fall as the seasons change. And maybe American trail runners are less pampered and better equipped to look after themselves than in countries where there are more checks and balances in places.

As ever the race was well organised, great aid stations and volunteers who has to cope with the weather for upto 6 hours on non-moving mode. Post race we received a pint of beer and copious burritos with meat, salmon, beans and rice, all provided by another volunteer/sponsor who was there in biting cold for hours on end.

I hate to run with any kit, weight, bottles, bags and paraphernalia, but I'm not sure I or any runner is the best judge of what it is and isn't safe to carry on a run, in the mountains, close to zero, on uneven terrain. But we are all adults so I guess we have to take responsibility for our own safety.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mixing it up

I'm now into week three of two track sessions a week. As I mentioned before I have a great, well maintained track less than 1km from my apartment. Even of an evening it isn't busy. Last night I shared the space with two race walkers, four or five 'joggers' and a frisbee match!

My sets are 12 x 400m reps at between 75-78 seconds a lap and 5 x 1km reps at 3.16 per km. Both hurt! The 400m reps start to hurt at about 150m and the 1km reps for the first 600m! I'm not used to that leg burn that comes from 'speed' and it takes a fair amount of inner 'persuasion' to finish a session. 400m seems no distance until you are into rep 4 or 5 and your breathing hasn't got time to return to normal and the burn hasn't left your legs. I would think 800m is probably the hardest distance to race as you are near maximum effort but have to survive two laps.

Nothing to do with todays blog! This morning runs upto Council Crest
The real purpose of this change of tack is to see if can improve my speed from 10k upto marathon distance. I haven't raced for a while, but my training times on routes seem to have improved marginally, especially uphill. The acid test will be a road race. This weekend is a 50km trail race at Mt Bachelor, where I don't expect to see any improvement UNLESS it's reasonably flat and untechnical.

What I am feeling is that my hamstrings are working harder and it's much more important to warm up and try and keep good form when running. It feels like something could 'snap' at any minute. Even a fifteen minute session (12 x 400m or 5 x 1km in 16 mins) feels like a decent workout and maybe it will wake up any fast twitch muscles which have been dormant.

I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that in a marathon the front guys run 42km at less than 3 minute a km with no breaks! I have a minute between reps and hang on for about 3.16 a km, for a maximum of 5k. I'd be happy to just lower my 5km PB/PR from 17.20 (World Record 12.37, that's 2.31 per km btw).

I'm going to keep this track thing going, hope I don't pull something and see how it impacts on racing. At the very least I'll know my legs can go nearer 3 minutes a km if only for a lap or two of a track. The early anecdotal evidence is that training runs feel slower than they are, which is a positive. Would be nice to run a track 5 or 10k at some point too.....

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The T Generation

It seems hard to comprehend a time when they were NO short distance or multi-day trail races, but it was really only yesterday. When I moved to Cape Town, we had (not including out of town races) PUFfeR (peninsula ultra fun run) over 80km and the Hout Bay and Fisherman's Challenges. None of these races were really accessible to the majority of shorter distance runners either by virtue of the physical challenge or by the restrictive nature of the small fields. And that was it! No
Trail Series, Southern Cross, vineyard runs, Odyssey, African X. All those races, and a multitude of others were just pipe dreams for trail runners and wouldbe race organisers.

An early Trail Series race, Montrail team sponsorship and all!
We started the trail series in Cape Town in 2008 (Owen Middleton can correct me on the date) to a luke warm response. We had reasonable numbers, but runners complained about the cost (why should I pay R50 to run where I can run every other day). We countered that by putting up as many lucky draw prizes as category prizes, running excellent races on great routes, having results and reports up the next day and putting on a professional show. I still think Owen's races are the best organised trail races in SA. They aren't over worked, and have just the right blend of organisation and informality. Trail race organisers are never in it for the money, and when runners complain, mostly without foundation, about entry fees that generally don't appreciate the time and effort that goes into organisation. I don't see many organisers driving around in Mercs! These races are now almost always sold out, testament to Owen's professionalism.

Having moved from SA to the US late last year, the racing isn't that different. But with a miniscule affluent population in SA, to have so many amazing races is something to cherish. Most weekends there were 2 road races, and often 3 trail races within easy reach of CT. That's such a luxury, whatever the entry cost.

Here in the US there seem no regulation for road or trail races which leads to massive price discrepancies. Ive paid as much as $85 for a mediocre half marathon, and marathons are rarely under $100. Almost all races are chip timed and results available as you finish, which is great, but I'd swop it for being able to run more races at a lower cost.

Way Too Cool 50k trail race attracted almost 1000 runners
That doesn't seem a barrier to entry, with over 200 at the race I did recently at Henry Hagg Lake. Prices ranged from $25 for a discounted entry for the 10k to $85 for an on the day entry for the 22km (inc parking). The astonishing fact (in my eyes) was that in the 10k 75% of the field was made up of women.

BUT the trail races here are as beautiful and well organised as in SA and there are more longer races, where the pro's hang out. At any given race you might line up with legends such as Scott Jurek, Tim Olson, Karl Metscher, Anton Krupicka or Geoff Roes. All approachable and just doing what they love, running, generally in the mountains. 50k to 100 mile races regularly sell out within days or even hours of entries opening, testament to an increasing desire to run off road.

Brands have cottoned onto this trend and although it's pretty hard to make a good living trail running, sponsorship has enabled a number of runners to live the lifestyle they want by competing in races and representing brands.

TNF sponsored trail runners Mike Foote and Timothy Olson. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
The trail running explosion doesn't look ready to fizzle out yet. Added to that the popularity of Fastest Known Time (FKT) attempts on trails where there generally aren't races, and the trails are alive with runners.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Fast Track

I always been impressed with running friends who incorporate track sessions as part of their training. It gives the impression of seriousness, dedication and a desire to improve. It is a specific activity only designed to work on speed, and a runner wouldn't generally do it for the sake of it, like you might just go for a spur of the moment run in the park or around the block.

That's probably why I have managed to avoid it for all of my running life (not hard granted as tracks aren't that abundant - all my CT friends train on a grass field which is now underwater!). However, in the home of Nike, where no one seems to run without purpose, tracks are common place. I have a great springy, spongy track exactly 1 kilometre from my apartment. It's not even far enough to warm up properly. It's well kept, there's water, a clock and the surface is good.

Eventually I gave in and asked the CT running guru Dion Middlekoop for some advice on sessions designed to help my speed from half marathon upto 50k. He came back with distances and split times which were hard to imagine for someone used to one pace, unless it's a race.

7 minutes of hell (with 60 seconds of heavenly recovery)
My first attempt was 400m reps with 60 second recovery. 75-80 secs was my target, and I averaged about 78 seconds a lap. Every second hurt, and 7 minutes of running can never have felt so bad. By 6 rep I was done and could jog slowly home. The second session sounded 'easier' 1km reps at about 3.15-3.20 a km. Still faster than I've ever raced any distance, but at least it wasn't completely full throttle. I hung on for 5 reps and got a lost of satisfaction from finishing the last one within 2 seconds of the first. It hurt, especially the first 200m of each but felt more manageable than flat out 400m reps.

Duniway track, 1km from home
When you run on the road or trail you perhaps don't get an appreciation for just how fast the pro's run. I was lapping at SLOWER than world record pace for the marathon, for a 400m lap. I was sprinting, full out, and could only do that knowing I have a minute break at the end of each lap. I lasted 6 laps.

Will this help in races and over longer distances? I hope, but even if it doesn't a 30 minute track workout is harder and therefore more satisying than any other session, bar maybe a long, draining training run. This could be the start of something.....