Sunday, January 30, 2011

I must be doing something right...

...I just beat my personal best in the Half Marathon by over three minutes!! That's the biggest single improvement I have ever made in that distance. I still can't believe it, the time 1:23:34 doesn't sound like it belongs to me yet, it's too new and shiny.

I ran according to Jonathan's formula for my heart rate but, I suppose because it was quite cold, it was very difficult for me to get my heart rate that high. It even started to drop in the second half of the race in spite of me having to make a more concerted effort to keep the speed up. It really feels as though my cardiovascular system is no longer the limiting factor, nor my technique, but instead that my legs start to get a bit heavy. I think I was probably the only person taking carbohydrate gels during the race - I did it partly to practice for the Ironman but also because I am convinced that they help, especially if the sugar levels of my legs are the bottleneck. I use High5 Isogels which are brilliant because you can take them without any additional water at the cost of being only slightly bulkier. At one point during the race, one of my little bottles in my Fuel Belt fell out and I turned back for it but then decided to leave it behind; someone in the crowd very kindly picked it up and looked out for me several kilometers later, handing it back to me as I made my final dash for the line. If you are reading this then "thank you very much". It will now be my lucky bottle.

I haven't noticed that I am improving so drastically in training but I suppose I have been complaining that it is getting harder and harder to hit the high heart rates. It always amazes me how different competitions are from training and how it is possible to run so much faster for what seems to be so much less effort. Is it the drafting effect of all the other runners, the freshness from having tapered off in training or simply the adrenaline? Its certainly true that for the last 200m I did one of my trademark war cries and the adrenaline injection was incredible, I surged forward as if someone had just pressed the turbo button.

During the race I told myself several things:
- Engage the hips and run tall. As you get tired it is easy to relax the hips and collapse into the classic "k-bend" shape whereby you lose all the spring from the ground.
- Punch it forward. This was a new image that came to me today while I was running. If your hips are engaged then you can use the kinetic chain from your feet to your hands, just as you would if you were punching someone. If you get it right, for the same leg turnover (cadence), you spend ever so slightly less time in contact with the ground and ever so slightly more time flying. You have to be careful not to overstride or for the running gait to become disjointed.
- Focus. Its very easy to find yourself thinking about the shopping and it does make the kilometers fly by, but I find that I tend to slow down without realising. I had to keep reminding myself to keep my mind on the job and to push every so often to keep my heart rate up.
- Central Governer. This is Tim Noakes' theory that our brain is responsible for fatigue by subconsciously making us feel more tired, our legs more heavy and providing us with tempting reasons to stop running altogether. Just because it is in your head doesn't mean it is easier to override: it has a very serious and critical function, to stop us literally killing ourselves by overexertion, Still, it is possible to argue with the Central Governor and, in this case, I reminded it that my heart rate was consistently lower than it had been last time I had run a Half Marathon and so there was nothing to worry about.

As usual, I noticed some people running with incredibly heavy strides - I shudder to think what they are doing to their knees. Those who run with music are often the worst offenders because they can't hear how heavily they are landing. Others are under the false impression that the longer their stride, the better.  I have to hold back from telling them something because I'm sure they wouldn't take it well. I've never been too receptive to people who have "found Jesus" who are keen to save me from eternal damnation for purely altruistic reasons (as far as they are aware). It is all to easy to get "religious" about minimal shoes and the "conspiracy" of the running shoe companies.

Personal note to self: next time bring some toilet paper - it doesn't seem to be included in the inscription fee. Thanks to an anonymous runner for "lending" me some.

POSTDATA:  I couldn't help noticing that there was only one pacemaker for the apparently random time of 1 hour and 23 minutes. I didn't pay him much attention as, at the start, I had no realistic intention of trying to run that fast. I've been wondering since then what was so special about the magic 1:23 which I got so close to beating. Now I know. It is the cut off Half Marathon time for automatically qualifying for the New York Marathon for the under 39s... Aaargh, had I known that maybe I could have squeezed that little bit extra... who knows. Next year I will definitely get in: not only will I be 39 so the qualifying time will jump to 1:30(!), but it would also be the 4th year in a row that I have been rejected by the lottery - here the rule is, 3 strikes and you are in. There is still a remote possibility I get selected to run this year - if not I'll just have to content myself with running the San Sebastian Marathon again.

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