Sunday, March 18, 2007

Take to the Hills (2) - Rhayader

So, week two of the hilly long run training came around. Last weekend I did a less hilly then expected (but still hilly) 14 miles at Dentdale. Midweek I did a 7 mile run and the Leeds half route. And then come Saturday it's time for a hilly 20 miler as part as my activity weekend away in Wales.

They sent out a programme with a detailed description of the course. I was mildly worried by the use of words such as "ordeal", "mountain" and "summit", so I went on the internet and plotted the route on a website that would give me an elevation profile (there's one on someone else's blog here). And then I got really worried.

Basically, there was a killer (and I mean killer) long hill up to about the 6 mile point. After that it didn't look too bad, although I knew the hill between 18 and 19 miles would be tough. I was advised on the RW thread for the race that the hills weren't awful but would add about 10 minutes to times compared to a 20 miler on the flat. But what to do with this careful research?

Well, for the first time pretty much ever it was time for race tactics more sophisticated than simply "turn up and see what happens. I chose the race partly so that I wouldn't be drawn into racing it. I'm more likely to slow down and enjoy the scenery if there is some scenery to admire. The other option was East Hull which is not only less scenic, but was also being run by a couple of people from running club, and I didn't want to start thinking about trying to race it so I could beat them/get closer to them/beat them by as much as possible. But just because I wasn't racing it as such, it doesn't mean that I wanted to go in underprepared. In the spirit of taking it gently I decided to go out and get up that first hill any way I could and then treat it more as a half marathon from that point if I still had the energy. Kind of counting on the hill to take the energy out of my legs so it wouldn't be one of my faster halves...

I did have a time target. To be on course for a sub 4 marathon, I wanted to do 20 miles in about 3 hours. But Edinburgh won't be as hilly as Rhayader and the Elan Valley, so I extended that by the recommended 10 minutes to give myself a 3:10 target. That target was well inside anything I ran before Berlin. My longest race before Berlin was an admittedly hilly and cross country canter round Derbyshire, that day I covered 30k in 3:45 ish. 20 miles is further than 30k... As another sign of how much I've improved, my 10 mile PB is 1:32:46. I say PB, but I've only run 1 10 miler, and I know I can run it faster having passed the 10 mile mark within my PB on my last two halves. So at the back of my mind was the fact that I might actually be able to run 20 miles in less than twice my 10 mile PB if I got under about 3:05.

Anyway, enough about the planning. What about the race? Well, I stayed in a hotel on Friday night and managed to eat my way through the breakast buffet. I'm not a huge fan of 1pm starts, it means that your eating through the morning (and indeed the rest of the day) is a bit messed up. I decided to go for a big breakfast with a lighter snack at about 11am to tide me over until I finished at around 4. Maybe hotels should say that distance runners have a limit on how much they can eat at breakfast... I then drove down to Rhayader and got there at about 11, registered, had my more snacky lunch and waited for the start.

As at Dentdale, these races tend to attract a different breed of runner. Around me people were talking about ultras, and about taking it easy because they'd done a marathon the week before. We're talking serious hardcore, and I threw the 20% target out of the window for this one. Let's call it a long term goal!

The weather at the start was pretty good. Bright blue skies and sunshine, so I decided to ditch my long sleeve top and just go with a short sleeve top under my vest, and no jacket. Definitely nicer at the start than at Dentdale anyway.

The first couple of miles were a couple of loops round the town. I always get nervous about getting lapped by the leading runners when anything starts off with two loops, but I managed to get round without that, which was good. Then to tackle the hill from hell.

The hill wasn't helped by the fact that there was an evil wind blowing straight in my face. Midway up I decided that while I probably could run it, I couldn't run it much faster than I could walk it, and that it was a more efficient use of energy to walk it. We're talking strategic walk break here, rather than giving up and wimping out walk break. Actually, the tactic worked pretty well and I overtook a lot of the people who ran past me on the hill in the rest of the race. Once I got to a point where it would be quicker to start running again, I ran and told myself that it wasn't an excuse to treat the race as a run/walk one. I gave myself permission to walk up the last hill I'd seen on the elevation profile, and any short steep ones in the meantime, but not to walk if it was flat, or downhill, or only gentle uphills. It's mental as much as anything. Once you've walked once, why not do it again?

The wind was horrible, but the scenery was lovely. It was a bit of a trek compared to Spen or East Hull, and the running was hard work, but I'm so glad that I chose to run that race rather than one of the others. It feels like you're spending the day enjoyably, seeing some stunning scenery, rather than just running because you have to. The weather got a lot worse during the race though. The wind seemed to be blowing straight in our faces until about the 15 mile mark, although it finally getting behind us in the last 5 miles was most welcome. Which is more than could be said of the increasingly icy rain.

After that big hill it wasn't too bad. I managed to keep running (other than water stations) from about 5.5 miles to about 15, when a short hill gave me a tiny break. And from there I kept running until the last hill, which had always been earmarked as a potential walk break. And then down to town and the finish.

In the end I finished in just over 3:03 which I'm really pleased with. I'm sure that I could get under 3 hours without those hills, which would give me an hour for the last 10k of the marathon to get under 4 hours. I even managed a negative split due to not having to do that hill in the second half. When I finished I was tired, but not spent My legs were fine and I managed to get back up the stairs in the hotel. I still have a couple of fueling issues that I want to sort out, but I'm getting there. The hills and the wind probably made the effort of that run more like 21 or 22 miles, so I'm fairly confident that I'm capable of 4 hours for the marathon. Depending on heat, time of the month, freak colds, anything else that screwed me in Berlin. I'd have preferred to run it all, but at least I know that the walk breaks that I took were planned, on schedule, and that I started running every time precisely when I told myself that I would. And in Edinburgh I won't have done two 13+ mile runs in the past 7 days either.

Hopefully the fact that I can do it on hills will give me more confidence going forward. I've now done two 20 milers and plenty of 13 - 15 mile runs which is a lot better than before Berlin. And next week I get a bit of a stepback week. It's only a half marathon!


Blogger Kate said...

Congratulations! 3hr for 20 miles is good without hills!

8:53 AM  

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