Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009: The Athletic Year in Review

It’s often true that the only time you realise how far you’ve come is when you stop to look back. And when I look back over the last year I can see a whole lot of performances that I would only have dreamed about at the start of January. This year, in the fading twilight of my prime athletic years, I have set several all-time PB’s and achieved many more results better than anything of the last five years. Here’s a [long] review of this amazing year.

-- January --
The start of each year has most recently been a cycling focussed period and this was no different with two big rides on the calendar to start and finish the month. This was the first time I have done Amy’s Ride and it was a lot of fun to ride around the Bellarine Peninsula near Geelong with a few thousand others - including some guy called Cadel Evans who just happened to go on to win a World Road Championship later in the year.

A week later it was the first triathlon this season that actually had a swim (the first two races had the swim cancelled) and another wonderful morning of racing. Not fast, but good to be out there. The final event was one of my favourites, the Audax Alpine Classic, and for the second year I did the shortest ride up Mt. Buffalo. This is my favourite Alpine climb with beautiful views over the Ovens Valley and I am always sad when we drive back home after the few days up at Bright.

4-Jan: Amy’s Ride, Geelong. B 120km. 4:00.28hrs.
11-Jan: Gatorade Triathlon, Sandringham. S 750m/B 20km/R 5km. 1:23.36hrs.
25-Jan: Audax Alpine Classic, Bright. B 72km. 3:17.03hrs.

-- February --
This was the month that I began running again. After spending the better part of a couple of years doing only modest levels of running - and with (no great surprise) only modest levels of achievement - I received the following note from a friend “Want to run the marathon in Sept/Oct and I need someone to coach me! Are you up for a run & a catch up in the next couple of weeks...i could meet you at the tan for old times sake! K.” That day I committed to running the marathon and set myself on a two-year plan to run a 3:20hrs time.

My first race didn’t exactly set the world on fire, with a time that would have equated to a 3:23 marathon if I’d been able to hold that pace for 42k! It was two-laps through our zoo, staring at gorillas, zebras, kangaroos and the like and is a fun race to do. It was also a start. Add in a triathlon later that week then another 8k race later in the month and I was back solidly in the groove. Still a long way to go, but at least on the journey.

11-Feb: Super Sunset Series, Melbourne Zoo. R 8km. 38.30min.
15-Feb: Gatorade Triathlon, Elwood. 1:15.43hrs.
25-Feb: Super Sunset Series, Princes Park. R 8km. 37.00min.

-- March --
I began March with our family holiday to the Gold Coast and ran most days there but found the humidity to be energy-sapping and really struggled to run for any length of time. But I ran five times that week and clocked up 35km so was pleased nonetheless. (I have not run five times in a week since!) Coming back from the holiday and it was two races in quick succession. The first was the final of the Sunset Series, another 8k, this one around the famous Tan Track at he Botanic Gardens. I went out too hard on the first lap and suffered intolerably on the second before taking a toilet break that temporarily expunged the suffering. An ordinary race made worse by the fact that I forgot the key to my bike lock and so had to ring for help to take me home!

Later that week I raced a 10k on the very flat Yarra Boulevard course and set myself to run under 45-mins. A controlled effort saw me finish in 44.58mins which I was very pleased with - my fastest time in a number of years. This time would be my baseline result for the half marathon training program.

In the third week of March I bought a book that would be pivotal in changing my whole training routine for the year. “Run Less Run Faster” was always going to appeal to me and I immediately reset my training plans to adopt the principles from the book. Early attempts to follow the pace described in the book were difficult. What have I done!

11-Mar: Super Sunset Series, Tan Track. R 8km. 39.30min.
15-Mar: Sri Chinmoy, Yarra Boulevard. R 10km. 44.58min.

-- April --
The month began with the Run for the Kids, a fundraiser for our local Children’s Hospital, which runs on many roads normally off limits to runners (like tunnels and bridges). I ran a solid time here, but within my limits, my focus remaining on the bigger training program and the half marathon in May. It was also the month that I got stuck into my track sessions and rediscovered the joy of running around in circles at night!

An interlude from all the run training was the annual Melburn Roobaix. This event is a little hard to describe, except to say that it is for people on bikes! In essence, you have a bunch of checkpoints you need to go to, each of which neatly coincides with a stretch of cobblestones, and ultimately finishing with a lap of a velodrome. As the name hints, this is a part-tribute to the Paris-Roubaix bike race which is on at a similar time of year. Lots of fun this one!

18-Apr: Melburn Roobaix. B 40km. 2:16hrs.
5-Apr: Run for the Kids, Melbourne. R 14.1km. 1:04.51hrs.

-- May --
This is when it all started to come together. I began May with one of my favourite races, against an old steam train called Puffing Billy. This race has a bit of everything: roads, trails, uphills, (steep) downhills and four train crossings. To beat the train is quite an achievement. Normally! This year there was some kind of train problem and it ran slow enough for most halfway decent runners to give it a licking. So I chalked up another victory over the old engine. Highlight of the day is the ride on the train back to the start, which my daughter Brooke just loved.

After this race it was final preparations for the half marathon. I got sick in race week (no good) and even got a bit ambitious with my race plan. My 10km pace from March had predicted a 1:39.09 half which I adjusted to 1:38.07 based on nothing more than how I felt during my tempo runs. I figured I could maintain my long tempo pace for the full journey. Or at least I hoped to be able to!

On a perfect running morning I went through 5km more than a minute under my revised target pace in 22.02min and 10km in 44.15min. Woo! Hoo! A faster 10km in this half than I ran flat out in March. Hmm, I was either going to die a miserable death in the second half or was on a great run. The running gods were on my side and I ran strongly to finish in 1:33.20hrs - an all-time PB for a half marathon. Amazing - not bad for an old bloke I thought!

If adopting the new training plan from “Run Less Run Faster” was the catalyst, this was the proof. I was now a real runner again. Suddenly my horizons opened up and I began to harbour thoughts of fast marathons, PB’s, sub-3:20’s … I started June trying not to get ahead of myself. As I knew all too well, the hardest part about a marathon is getting to the start line.

3-May: Puffing Billy Great Train Race, Belgrave. R 13.2km. 1:00.35hrs.
31-May: Sri Chinmoy Half Marathon, Williamstown. R 21.1km. 1:33.20hrs.

-- June --
June began with a few weeks off to recharge the batteries before beginning the 16-week marathon program. I enjoyed this time and ran just for the pleasure of it. The real work came around again soon enough and on 24-June I ran my first track session of the marathon campaign. Later that week (on my birthday) I did the ‘Run Melbourne Half Marathon’ which was two-laps around some of Melbourne’s major landmarks. This was a very cold morning but I enjoyed the event although found trying to run a 1:44 half a lot harder than a 1:33 half did a month earlier. One week down!

28-Jun: Run Melbourne Half Marathon, Federation Square. R 21.1km. 1:43.19hrs.

-- July --
In July I got sick (again) and in one week missed two sessions and cut my long run short. Add to this the struggles I was having with my track sessions where I was not really able to make the time targets, throw in some muscular problems for good measure and I was not a happy camper. I felt like it was looming as just a bit more than I could handle. So I made some changes. Most importantly I ignored the track pacing targets and just adopted a “run as fast and as even a pace as you can” strategy. And I also decided that the 30km run at the end of July would be where I’d make a call on my progress and whether I’d enter the marathon or not.

My target for the 30k was to run 5.06m/k for each of the six laps. This was to be my longest run so far so I was uncertain how I’d go. Thankfully I managed to hook in with an (informal) pacing group who planned to run 5m/k. Close enough I thought and joined in. The difference that running in a group made was enormous. When the going got tough I knew it would be much easier to sit in the bunch at a higher pace than drop off the back and run more slowly. And when I recorded a negative split for the distance I was stoked. My marathon campaign was back on in full swing and I entered the big race.

26-Jul: Sri Chinmoy, Princes Park. R 30km. 2:29.36hrs.

-- August --
The first week of August I ran a 32k - the first of these - and then prepared to run the City to Surf. The C2S is an event I love to do, even though it is in Sydney - 1000km from my home. I’ve been running it each year since 1988 so I know the course pretty well. Unfortunately sickness struck again and I was not well in the week leading into the race, missing another training session, but was really pleased to run strongly to my best result in six years. Maybe a sub-hour result is a chance next year?

A week later and it was another half marathon. The plan here was to run about 7km to the start and do the first half conservatively, then pick up the pace in the back half. It didn’t really pan out that way. The wind was really strong and I was fatigued enough by 15km that I more or less plodded my way to the finish. But they gave us some compression socks in the race kit so that was a great bonus.

Another 32k run to finish the month and I recorded my biggest month of running ever and first time over 200k’s. (I remain unsure how people can run that far in a week???)

9-Aug: City to Surf, Sydney. R 14km. 1:01.29hrs.
16-Aug: Sandy Point Half Marathon, Sandringham. R 21.1km. 1:43.36hrs.

-- September --
The plan would build to a crescendo in September with a couple more 32k runs, some long tempo sets and the last of the really hard track sessions. I knew if I could get through this then I would be well placed for a great marathon. By this stage I was also getting sick of the stupidly strong winds that were plaguing Melbourne every time I went for a run. Winter had been chronically windy and normally spring was worse! My mind started to think of the horrors that could occur on race day.

I finished the two 32k runs in great shape. My pace was getting faster in each one and was right on target. Sandwiched between these two runs was another half marathon, this one again intended to be a ‘fast finish.’ Strangely enough, it turned out that way, though not really through good execution. I ran the first few k’s way too hard and then spent seven k’s trying to get my heart rate, lactic acid and head all in a good place again. With that done I picked up the pace and ran a strong second half with a big negative split to finish right on target time. I was happy that I could still conjure a ‘result’ with such poor execution and this gave me more confidence.

I began my taper with a 21k run over the last half of the marathon course. On another stupidly windy morning I set out for what I hoped would be a cruisy but slick run. It felt great, very controlled, and when I finished in 1:35.58hrs I was thrilled. My second fastest half marathon distance run ever had just been done on a miserable day by myself! This was great motivation that would hold me through to race day.

13-Sep: Sri Chinmoy Half Marathon, Yarra Boulevard. R 21.1km. 1:37.41hrs.

-- October --
I am not certain that I was particularly good company through early October. Added to all the pre-race nerves was a big project delivery at work and, to top it all off, another bout of sickness during race week. Aargh!! I was thoroughly sick of being sick and it was happening again in a race week (third time this year). I ended the week on antibiotics and just hoped against hope that my body would be ok enough to run a good race. I had worked so hard and it just didn’t seem fair that it could be taken away from me. (Actually, mostly I think I just couldn’t face the thought of having to go through all this training again!)

Race day dawned a perfect day - cool and hardly a breath of wind. Who would have thought after the rubbish we’d had! After the lead up I’d had I set a target pace of around 3:16 but did the ‘gumby’ thing of going out too hard, covering the first half in 1:34.45. (I promise, it felt sooo easy that I thought I could keep it up.) Any half-knowledgeable reader knows what happened next: a big bear jumped on my back and the last 10k were crazily hard. I held it together just enough to run to a 3:18.38hrs time. A huuuge PB and a Boston Qualifier time standard for my age group.

I felt immense relief. It was accomplished. My illness got dramatically worse in the days that followed and I barely ran again for the rest of the month.

11-Oct: Melbourne Marathon, MCG. R 42.2km. 3:18.38hrs.

-- November --
My post-marathon R&R period got extended a little and before I knew it we were deep into November and I had barely run at all. Time to get fired up again, this time for a summer triathlon season, an open water swimming race or two and some decent bike rides. I started swimming again and by month’s end I was back into good form with a six-year best time over 1500m.

The first triathlon of the season once again (like last year) became a duathlon due to an overnight rain storm. I rode ok and had a great second run over the 5km. What a buzz it is to pass so many people while none pass you!!

22-Nov: Gatorade Duathlon, St. Kilda. R 1.5km/B 20km/R 5km. 1:10.08hrs.

-- December --
The final month of the year has disappeared in a flash - as December often does. A little more swimming, the occasional run and bike ride and far to many fruit mince pies! And to make life more interesting I discovered a new way to have time off work (and training) by pinching a nerve in my bum. So I couldn't manage anything but sit in a chair for five days which was not a whole lot of fun.

No real surprise then that the triathlon in the middle of the month was a little more sluggish than I had hoped for. But at least I was moving again, if not quite at the same speed as before.

And in the final run up to Christmas, as my clothes seem to be fitting just that little bit tighter, I am looking forward to a whole five weeks holiday and the chance to get stuck into some real high quality training again.

13-Dec: Gatorade Triathlon, Elwood. S 500m/B 20km/R 5km. 1:16.27hrs.

Merry Christmas to all and a safe, happy, healthy and fit 2010.

  • Fastest Marathon ever (3:18.38hrs).
  • Boston Qualifier standard for marathon (Male 40-44).
  • Fastest Half Marathon ever (1:33.20hrs).
  • Fastest City to Surf in six years (1:01.29hrs).
  • Improvement in running: from 4.49m/k at the Zoo 8km (February) to 4.42m/k for Melbourne Marathon (October).
  • Fastest 1500m swim in six years (29.50min).
  • Beating the train at the Puffing Billy race (first time since 2000 - ok, the train was slow this year!).
  • More running km’s this year than in the last five years combined and most in one year ever (>1300km).
  • More swimming km’s this year than in the last four years combined.


  1. Wow, this is impressive. Lots of great races and training. I, too, consider the FIRST book as the catalyst in getting me faster. I still use the plan, though I am adding easy miles to it. Good luck in 2010. To new PRs!

  2. You had a great 2009 Paul! I really like the half and marathon PBs. Looks like you can knock the latter down by a good margin with slightly more conservative pacing ;) Also, good C2S there - sub 1 hour definitely on the cards.

    All the best for 2010. Hope to see you in Sydney or Melbourne.


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