Monday, 25 May 2009

Wokingham Half-Marathon report

Early in the raceLate in the race

Thinking last week about running, Vdot, and training paces got me realising that I haven't done a timed running race in a while. Well, I did the Tadworth Ten back in January -- on frozen ground with insanely steep hills, the most sufferable 10 miles I've ever run -- but my time was so poor I'd like to forget that was even a race. I'm planning to run a 10k in the first week of my Ironman taper in July, but since a lot of my training until then is being done at half-marathon pace, I had a look around for something local and found the Wokingham half marathon last Sunday. It was originally scheduled to be run in February, but a freakish bout of snow forced its postponement as the roads were too icy. Since many folks had signed up for it as prep for the London Marathon -- long over now, of course -- that it wasn't hard to find a spare race number at the last minute.

My last half-marathon was run on a blustery February day in 2007, leaving me with a pretty soft PB at 1:40:10, so I knew that unless things completely went south, I'd get a new best time in Wokingham. Sub-1:35 was the goal, sub-1:33 the dream, but the recent hot and sunny weather had me reconsidering how hard I should go. I've done only a few runs in 20+ degree temps this year, and all were either slow or painful or both. Sunday morning dawned completely clear blue skies and 15 degrees already at 7am, so it was going to be a "scorcher" as far as May in northern Europe goes. (Note to my Ontario friends: yes, I can hear you all laughing now from your air-conditioned comfort that 20 degrees is hot, but let me tell you: when you're not acclimatised to it and suddenly have to run in full sun and warm weather, it might as well be Hawaii!) So I dressed in my triathlon race kit -- singlet and trishorts, calf guards and sunglasses, foregoing the hat for a change so my hair could get some sun -- and headed to the race. Rode my fixie bike to the station, took the train 45 min to Wokingham and rode to the race start (planning to ride the 45km home as cooldown/recovery).

Only about half of the registered 2000 runners showed up, making the start pleasantly uncrowded. The course was reasonably flat with just a few hills (mostly highway overpasses). The first kilometre was downhill, meaning the last would be painfully uphill: nearly impossible to get a negative split, in other words. Since I tend not to go off like a rocket, I often seed myself a bit further back than I should, and this race with its 1:11 female course record had me a bit hesitant to move very far up the start chute. Had I been running in 2008 with the time I set this year, I would have finished merely 419th out of 2000 people overall and the 54th woman. To put that into perspective, in the flat and fast Toronto Waterfront half-marathon with over 6000 participants, that same time would have landed me 214th and 26th place respectively! England certainly has a lot of strong runners!

With a 4:30/km pace in my head, dead on to run a 1:35 half marathon, I set off, crossing the start line only 30 seconds after the horn. It was pretty hard not to go out at a crazy pace, given the downhill, the adrenalin and the hordes of people flying past me. But I reined in my self-control after a 6:53 first mile, and managed to get though the first 5km in a respectable 21:47 (4:22/km or 7:01/mile). This was a pace I thought I could probably sustain for most of the race if I could stay cool and hydrated. Funny how my body has an uncanny ability to "know" more or less how fast I can run for a given distance in a race; I'm usually pretty good at pacing myself based on perceived effort and feel (the Tadworth Ten, being poorly paced, is the exception that proves the rule). Funny how most other people, Garmin devices or not, have no idea how to pace themselves and the ones who fly by me early usually implode around halfway and plummet backwards! This was going to be one of those days, made even worse by the warm weather. People were going to be suffering later, I could tell.

The first aid station was at 3.5 miles, and I promptly grabbed two cups of water to dump over my head and another to drink. Nobody else seemed to be doing the water over the head thing, surprisingly, but I didn't hold back. Every aid station brought fresh cold water for my head, neck and back, and I gulped down as much as I could (which is never very much but always seems to be enough). By 10km (43:54) I was surprised at how easy it all still felt; in fact, I was running along feeling so good that I started wondering why I didn't race half-marathons more often. It seems like the perfect distance, really: long enough to be run at a strong but not killer pace, short enough to limit the muscle pain to only the last few miles or so. 5k races are bleary-eyed flat-out gasping for air, 10k is a battle between you and your lactate threshold, and 15k is run right on the limit of (dis)comfort. But a full marathon starts out boring and shifts to painful with only a small window of enjoyment between about 15-25km. So a half is really the perfect distance to race, and also the perfect distance to train for, requiring a good mix of volume, distance and speed work but nothing long or crazy. Why have I only discovered this now?

15km came and went at 1:06:08 -- a new PB for that distance too, I'm pleased to report -- and with it the last water station. Right around that time, the course turned back south and the sun was full-on, all the shade disappeared and the wind was now slightly behind me. And I faced the worst hills of the day, with the same 50m in climbing that I'd descended in the first 6km. None of the hills were steep, but the combination of heat and sun, along with the now-starting-to-hurt downhills made them tougher than I expected. Passing the mile 11 sign, my patience was finally up and I started to run faster, wanting to see if I could break that 1:33 that I'd been keeping in the back of my mind.

Overtaking the people who'd blown up and were walking spurred me on, but just as I hit the mile 12 marker, I was seized by a massive side stitch, like I'd been stabbed. This has happened a few times in training, always after I'd been running for an hour or more then picked it up to tempo pace for a few kms. So frustrating! And it's not a nagging side stitch that I can run through uncomfortably, but the kind that makes it impossible to breathe and so so painful. Nothing to do but stop and hope it goes away.

So I had to stop and try to fix it. I spent about 20 seconds by the side of the road stretching my right side, digging my fingers under my ribcage to try and massage whatever was pulling everything painfully tight. I managed to get running again, albeit gingerly, but by then 1:33 was gone and I was just trying to hold on to 1:35. 12 to 12.5 miles was my slowest-paced half-mile of the day at 7:50/mile (4:52/km), including the stop. But the final km turned uphill and that helped, with no downhills to jar my body and the effort forcing me to breathe deeply. From 12.5 to 13 miles, I picked it up again to 6:58/mile (4:19/km) pace, and by the final turn I was running pretty hard, watching the race clock tick over to finish at 1:34:06. Chip time: 1:33:38 for a PB of 6 minutes and 32 seconds, good for 15th woman and 184th overall out of 1062.

I'm pretty disappointed to have to stop and walk in the last mile as I did, but given the conditions and the full week of training that I'd put in, I'm pretty pleased with my result. My resulting Vdot is up to 48.7 now and that represents what I can really do in a midday summer race, which means my training should be dead on for Ironman Lake Placid. Riding the fixie home, however, was not the wisest plan, as my legs were feeling pretty rough and the rolling roads for the first 25km did not give them much respite -- either uphill or downhill!

Final numbers:

Wokingham Half Marathon
Duration 1:33:36
Work n/a
rTSS 158.4 (0.953)
NGP 4:20 (230.6 m/min)
VI n/a
Pw:HR n/a/
Pa:HR 2.46%
Distance 21.137 km
Elevation Gain 644 m
Elevation Loss 641 m
Grade 0.0 % (3 m)
Heart Rate 119 195174 bpm
Speed 0 19.1 13.5 kph
Pace 3:08 0:00 4:26 min/km
Altitude 26 66 46 m

With my new improved Vdot, I get to run everything 5 sec/km faster in training now. :) My new training paces are the following:

Run Zones
ZoneHRPace Mile/km
Z1/EP < 155 8:40/5:23
Z2/MP 151-159 7:24/4:36
Z3/HMP 160-168 7:06/4:25
Z4/TP 175-181 6:58/4:19
Z5/IP > 182 6:32/4:03


Anonymous said...

Maryka - congrats on the run! That is an awesome time. It's a great accomplishment to get a PB. Sub 1:30 is within reach.

If I can offer a suggestion: don't get caught up in the numbers so much and run by feel. You will amaze yourself and what you are capable of. Numbers are nice for a baseline, but once you get used to pacing you'll be amazed how you just know where you are. Just let 'er roll for a race one day and not look at your watch once. I guarantee you can break 1:30!

I have the 100 km Blackfoot Ultra this weekend. Now that's some serious pacing!


maryka said...

Blaine, good advice. I definitely find myself looking at my Garmin a lot, though at the same time I'm pretty good at "feeling" a good pace -- call it a mix of quantitative and qualitative feedback if you will. That's why I didn't rein myself in when I saw I was doing a good 5 sec/km faster than I thought I could, it just felt good to be at that pace and I knew I could hold it. Next time I'm running a half in better conditions, I'm going to let it rip and see what happens. :)

And I think for the 10k I'm going to cover up the face of the Garmin and just run at the limit the whole way. The shorter the race, the less likely I am to look at the pacing anyway! But it's always cool to look at the data later, being the geek that I am.

Good luck at the ultra race, I'll be curious to see your splits when you're done!