Friday, October 9, 2009

Last Thoughts

It is Friday morning and as I sit here I know that in less than 48 hours it should all be over. Done in the blink of an eye. And that's the thing with big events like this. You spend a very long time preparing for them, thinking about them and then - in no time at all - they are gone. So I thought I would take this time to reflect on the last 8 months and the amazing journey it has been.

How it Began
It all began in February with an email from a friend (thanks Kim!) inviting me for a run and asking if I'd be interested in running the marathon in October. I was dreadfully out of shape at that time, with not much running for a number of years, but decided to give it a go. My best time was only 3.30hrs and my last marathon was in 2002 (3.47hrs) and I always felt that I had never really run to anything like my potential, so this was just the excuse to give it another go.

I also set myself a two-year goal which was to run a faster marathon time than a good mate of mine (thanks Roger!) This would mean running better than 3.25hrs. I hoped that this year I might be able to run close to 3.30hrs - maybe even a PB - and then next year, with lots of miles under my belt, I could give 3.20hrs a shake.

So I began running again in mid-February with only a broad idea of how I should structure my program. I printed out a 'Runners World' plan and began to follow it. The part I did not like - have never liked - about these running plans is they all have you running 5-6 days per week. I knew that I'd be unlikely to sustain this level of consistency so looked around for an alternative.

Run Less Run Faster
In late March it happened, my epiphany as I called it when I discovered the Furman FIRST guys and their book "Run Less Run Faster." This was the breakthrough for me. Finally a program that I knew I could stick to. Three runs per week, no easy stuff, just high quality running. I immediately set myself to use this program for my Half Marathon (Sri Chinmoy at end of May) and marathon (Melbourne Marathon in October).

I found this program took some getting used to. The long run pace, in particular, I found to be quite quick. It was certainly no "easy long run" as I had typically experienced in the past. On the plus side, since I was coming off a reasonably low base, my fitness was constantly improving so I adapted quickly to the intensity of the sessions.

Half Marathon
Going into the Half Marathon I was confident that I could run the target pace (4.45m/k) I had set a couple of months earlier. In fact, I had found the tempo run pace (4.38m/k) so controlled that I optimistically decided to recalibrate my target time to run 4.39m/k (1.38hrs) for the distance. I figured I had improved heaps in the two months so why not give it a go!

Well, something amazing happened, and on race day I ran a 1.33hr time. To this day I am still not sure how I ran that fast, but it felt great. A wonderful race strategy executed to perfection. Of course this meant I had to totally rethink the marathon plan as this half mara time indicated I could run somewhere near 3.16hrs for the big one. Hmmm.

Marathon Program (Weeks 1-5)
The first part of the program would culminate in a 30km run at the end of July after which I would make the final decision on whether to commit to the marathon or not. And it was a close thing. The early track sessions were a disaster. I found the Furman target paces way too quick and was blowing up after a couple of reps. I eventually decided to run to how I felt (ie, as hard as I could go!) and these times matched what Greg McMillan indicated I should be doing so I once again felt like I was on target.

I was no sooner on track again when sickness struck. A diabolical case of sinusitis laid me low for a couple of weeks, causing me to miss a couple of sessions and cut a couple of long runs short - and run them horribly slow!

I went into the Sri Chinmoy 30km event not really expecting much but hoping for the best. And the best was what I got. This time in the form of 'Tiger Boy' from the Cool Running chat site. He drove the 5-min/km bus to perfection that day, motivating us all to a great result. On the back of this effort I entered the marathon.

Marathon Program (Weeks 6-13)
These are the long serious days of the program. This is where the big efforts are done and the big gains are made. I knew if I could get through this part then I'd be mostly there as there were four 32km runs in these 8 weeks. Over the course of these runs the improvement flowed: from 5.16m/k for the first 32k effort right down to 4.45m/k for the last one.

Thrown in another bout of sickness, my fastest City to Surf in six years, a couple of good track sessions and this segment had a bit of everything. Importantly though, I came through it in good form, injury free and in good health. Only the taper to follow!

Marathon Program (Weeks 14-16)
The final three weeks of the program is the taper period, time to freshen up and peak before the race. For me it also signalled the onset of more sickness. What started out as tightness in my chest has now developed into a nasty throat infection, runny nose and a dose of antibiotics. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

I've had some great runs in there too, including a good 21km over the last half of the marathon course a couple of weeks back. So here I am two days out from race day with nothing to do but rest.

Of course, I could not have reached this point without the support and inspiration of so many people. I have already mentioned Kim who inspired me to take on this quest; and my good friend Roger who has not only supplied a target time for me to beat, but has more importantly supported/sledged me along the way. Thanks mate! To my mate Andy, I promise to Go Hard or Go Home. What would Jens do, eh?

To my work colleagues, neighbours and friends who have heard me endlessly rabbit on about this race for more than six months. I appreciate your good humour in listening to me. Rest assured, it is almost at an end now.

To my fellow bloggers, you have each provided more inspiration, encouragement and laughs than you can imagine. Your stories of struggle, achievement, good times (and bad) have more than once made me wonder why I have bothered to publish my own drivel on the internet. (Even my wife doesn't bother to read my blog!) But I will think of each one of you at some time during the race and draw upon your efforts as motivation for my own. Thanks!
Finally, to my family: Fiona, Brooke and Keira. You remain the most important thing in the world to me and I would not be here without your love and support. Thank you. Brooke, I am sorry you won't be able to run the final 200m with me as you normally do in my races. Perhaps just as well. Might be a tad embarrassing to be outrun by a five year old proudly proclaiming to have "crushed her dad like a paper cup!"

I'll let you all know on Sunday how it went.
Paul :-)


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