The training since the Great Lake Walk has been going great. My Tuesday Night Training sessions have been noticeably faster over the past few months, and I am now close to the top of my training group. I was also reassured a couple weeks ago in training when I was able to complete my usual Oak Bay 13k loop 2-3 minutes faster than my PB, and also another time when I was able to hold a 4 min/km pace for a 28 k training run. To sum it up, I am faster.
So the big question is why and how did I get faster? And to this, I haven't got a firm answer, but I have a few insights.
#1 - Intensity. I put 110% into my training sessions and have been doing so for quite some time. I think my training partners can tell that I am an "all-business" type of athlete.
#2 - Physiology. I firmly believe that finally my body is changing into a runners build, both inside and out. It takes some time to develop physiologically and in time, benefits can be seen. I think I am seeing some of those benefits now.
#3 - Forefoot strike. I have been trying to get away from heel-striking my way through runs, and changing it more to a forefoot strike. I have had a few shorter training runs, where I am strictly focusing on the strike.
So, all these factors led me to believe that this would be a good race for me. However, as good as my training had been up to the race week, the final week was downright awful. With coaching so much in the past couple of weeks and with my family members (1 by 1) getting sick, I simply haven't had the time to get my runs in. Last weekend, I did a 2 hour treadmill run instead of my usual long-slow Sunday run. The week leading up to Sunday's race, I was working on 7k of mileage for the week. However, I still felt confident that the base training was all in there.
I got up at the usual time and got my gear all ready and walked 2k to the carpool rendezvous point. I carpooled up to the race with fellow run club members Gary Duncan, Claire Morgan, Julie Van Veelan, John Catterall, and 2 other new faces. Time was tight and we got to the race with only 15 minutes to spare. I jogged up to the registration desk and pinned my number on as quickly as possible, then headed down to the start line (which was another 600m away). As I got in a last minute warm-up, I scoped out who was in the race. Looked like a few fastees, but mostly a recreational field.
The race then started abruptly, with no apparent count down. I pulled out ahead and stuck to the right side of the pavement. For the next 7k, the course followed W. Shawnigan Road, which is known for its undulating hills. In a span of seconds, Hugh Trenchard sped ahead and took his pace. He was not to be denied this day, as he was the lone elite in the race. However, I was in second and another runner (Frontrunners guy by the name of James Sandquist) was right behind me. This would be the placings for the first 5k. And in those first 5k, I ran well. I seemed to gain a bit of distance on James going up the hills, but would lose the distance back on the downhills. I also didn't see any kilometre markers until the 5k sign, so I had no idea of exactly what my early pace was, but I did know it was a fairly strong pace. At the 5k sign, I was reassured of my gut-feeling when I saw my watch hit 19:00. At about that point, the course went downhill for a while and that is when James went ahead. I had no intention of going with him, as I was comfortable where my pace was. I joked in my head and told myself that 3rd place is pretty awesome anyways. I could head nobody behind me and it seemed that by the 7k mark, Hugh Trenchard was minutes out in front and James was now barely in sight.
At 7k, the course then headed right onto trail. The trail would be similar to the gravel parts of the Galloping Goose Trail, and I welcomed the change in terrain. However, just as I was thinking how nice it was to be on the gravel, it also occurred to me that the same kind of pace would be hard to hold on a softer surface. It was a little wet out as well, and there was a little 'slip-back' factor with the toe push part of the stride.
Hugh Trenchard then came running towards me. I guess this was an out-and-back part of the trail and I was supposed to stick to the side. So I did. James was not all that far behind Hugh, and it surprised me how much ground James had opened up on me. I finally hit the 8k turn-around and sped back the other way to follow the leaders. At that time, I was completely surprised to see Gary Duncan who was only about 20 seconds behind me. My focus had been on the two guys infront of me and I totally forgot that there were others in pursuit on my tail. I did my best to find a comfortable pace on the trail, and at the same time, not let the pursuers catch me.
At the 10k mark, I was bang on 39:00. My pace on the trail was right on a 4 min/km pace, which is where I wanted it to be. However, as good as this was for me, I figured Gary was probably slightly faster than that, and I did expect him to be passing me soon.
At the half-way mark, I was at 41:20. I knew at this point that posting a wicked time was definitely possible, just provided I could hold the tempo down. At this pace, a 2 minute PB would be in the cards.
Until km 15, I maintained a 4 min/km pace on the trail and with each step, I was becoming less of a fan of the trail. I felt that my energy was sagging somewhat and I just told myself that 6k was not really that far to go (less that 1/2 an hour of more running). At km 16, there is another turn-around spot and once again, I saw both Hugh and James, who were still well ahead in the 1-2 position (Hugh was exactly 1km ahead of me when I hit the 16k mark).
At this point, I know I slowed down somewhat. I was tired of the trail, and was fully expecting someone to be right on my tail. However, as I completed the next turn-around, Gary was behind me, but was no more closer than he was before. I knew that if I could put in a good kilometre here, I would be hard to catch on the final stretch. Gary too, was quite a ways up on 5th place. I thought to myself, the worst I will do today is 4th.
I finally made it to the 17k mark and got back onto the pavement. Thank God. The pavement felt so good on my feet, and I then put my road shoes to good use. I felt awesome now and put in a couple solid 3:50 kilometres. Tangenting was good in this stretch and I pissed off a car or two by cutting across the road. I checked out my watch and estimated my final time now as being low 1:23's. But, apparently things would not be quite so easy...
At the 19k mark, I was not surprised to see the course go uphill. I knew that the finish line was at the back of Shawnigan Lake School, and this meant that it was at the top of a hill. What I didn't know however, it exactly at what elevation I was right now at the 19k marker.
Well, the course went up for quite a ways. It went up and then rounded a corner and went ever more up. Wow. What a crazy finish to a race I thought. While I was dreading the uphill that I was on, I figured that Gary, nor anyone else would be able to catch me going uphill. (I know I am a pretty decent climber).
At the 20k mark, the course flattened out a bit, but only for about 100m before the uphills came again. Again, I could not believe who designed this nasty finish for a race. I rounded a couple more corners and hammered into the finish at 1:24:17.
Well, I did do it. I set a PB (by over 1/2 a minute) on a pretty nasty course. I finished in 3rd place overall, 1st in my age-division and finally beat Gary Duncan on a road race. All good things.
I am definitely running fast these days and this was a breakthrough performance for me.
Next up for me is to solo the Thetis Relay. 20k of muddy trails with a million runners all over it. I think if all goes well I could do it in 1:20. Hopefully I will stay healthy and strong until then.
After that race, it will be some time off to recover my Achilles which has been bothering me significantly over the last little while. I want to start 2010 off on the same note as this last race.