I felt like updating my 10 km PR. The usual equivalence tables said it was my softest time, meaning it should be an easy one to improve. I decided on running one I ran back in November 2016: the Natuurloopcriterium Lier. This criterium holds a 10 km race (and some other distances) five times in the winter months. More importantly: it is flat.
It is a flat course along the canals in the village of Lier. It is almost entirely paved, besides some short grass patches, and a short part with weird uneven rocks with gaps in-between them. There is no shade at the time of day of the race, which was planned to start at 13:50. Not too many tight turns. Pretty great really. Oh and the organisers decided to increase the length of the course compared to last time I ran it. They were now calling it a 10.4 km course. Bleb 😩
Six Day Cycles
I had wanted to play around with a different length cycle than the usual seven day cycle. The idea is that three workouts in a seven day week leads to not having enough recovery days between workouts. Instead, you aim to have two recovery days in-between each workout. In essence I was already having enough recovery days in the past, by often planning just two workouts (i.e., a workout plus a long run) in my seven day week. At first I thought to use a nine or ten day cycle with three workouts per cycle, a solution I have heard before often. In my mind, however, you have just one long run per x day cycle, at the end of the cycle. I was not really in the mood to have fewer long runs (one every seven days versus one every nine or ten days). Breaking the entire idea down to three day blocks (recovery, recovery, workout), I eventually decided to give six day cycles a try: recovery, recovery, workout, recovery, recovery, long run. Not sure I have heard of people doing this yet, but as long as I run enough with enough easy and enough hard, I figured I could not do much wrong.
I went through eight six day cycles in the run up to the race. Right before the first one, I also had a seven day one that I count as part of the decision to run this race. Thus, you could see it as nine cycles. By default, every cycle had a long run on its last day. The other workout was placed on the third day of each cycle. Easy-easy-workout-easy-easy-long. I will use Jack Daniels terminology to say what the workout entailed.
The first three cycles had Reptition workouts: repeats of 200 or 400 metre with equidistant rest. Pace is from JD tables, but might be around 1 km race pace or faster? Not sure as I do not race those distances. The first two went alright, I think I kinda like this short fast work. Reassuring since I have been having half a mind of doing a training cycle focused on 1500 metre to 3000 metre. Speaking of which, curious about the state my body was in, I replaced the R workout of the third cycle with a mile time trial. Result: few seconds slower than what I had in November, but I might just have been more tired now. Did not taper for either.
For the next five cycles I wanted to alternate Threshold (about 20-30 minutes around 1 hour race pace) and Intervals (reps of 3-5 minutes at 3-5 km race pace, rest about half to 90% of the time). In other words T, I, T, I, T. The first and second cycle felt alright. In the third one (a lower volume cycle), my body felt too tired and I ended up dropping the T. Then for scheduling I switched around the next two cycles. Finally, I turned that last I workout into a parkrun race. So the workouts of the five cycles ended up as T, I, none, T, I-as-race.
Mini race report in race report: I ran 4-5 km to get to the parkrun start, considered that my warmup. From the start I first tried to keep up with the lead guys. A few 100 metre in, when checking the pace, I noticed I had forgotten to press start on the watch. Oops. Little bit further, having pressed start, I checked again, and noticed that the pace was going to be way too much to hold for 5 km. Especially since we started up a hill. I started slowing down, leaving three guys ahead of me. Soon after, another guy passed me pushing me down to fifth position. One of the original three was also fading though, probably having made the same mistake as I did. I passed him soon after. It stayed like this for a bit as I was trying to find a pace that was just easy enough to carry me to the end. The course consists of two loops and the second time up the main hill of the course, the guy I had overtaken earlier, went past me again. He quickly made a decent sized gap. I tried to close it on the downhill, where I was faster, but did not manage. Eventually I settled to just run home in fifth spot. The final few 100 metre, a friend came sprinting alongside me, which made me briefly go faster again. All in all it went OK, time was 18:07. If I had known I would have been close to dipping under 18 again (remember, forgot to start the watch), I probably would have pushed a bit more the last km or so. Oh well.
The ninth cycle was a taper cycle. Reduced volume and a race pace test on Tuesday with the race coming up on Saturday. Throughout this taper, my legs felt tired. I am inclined to blame it on two non-running related factors. First, TAing had restarted, adding 12 hours per week of time on feet. Second, my sleep had been bad. Bad sleep is a reoccurring problem in my life, but this time around I was not even able to sleep in from time to time to “reset” the counter. Body was not letting me. Even the day before the race, a short recovery with some strides, my legs felt like they had nothing to give. The strides felt horrible.
Goals and Strategy
The main goal was to PR. I had run 39 low back in October on a hilly and muddy course that was likely short. I figured it evened out though. Before that, I would have to go back to that previous edition of this race back in 2016 and its 39:45.
More specifically, I looked at some other times I had run to decide on the pace I wanted. I went for my mile time trial. Based on that, I would have to run a 37:30 or faster in this 10 km. A 3:45 pace was going to be the goal.
The race organisers had decided to add a few 100 metre to the start. Rather than starting on the grass field right next to the stadium, we now started from the track in the stadium. Their website now stated it was a 10.4 km course. Adding a few 100 metre indeed. I figured this should not make me change my plans though, just do the pace I had in mind and see where it brings me.
What did have me worried was how my legs were feeling during the warmup. Just like the day before: shit. Like there was no punch to them. Not the feeling I am looking for on race day. On top of that it was 19C and sunny on a course with mostly no shade. Spring suddenly hit and I had not been training in any weather similar to it.
I started out controlled, still a surprising feat for me, but perhaps not as surprising when you consider the legs feeling like shit. Still started out a little bit too fast, but managed to reel it in. A few 100 metre in, I already had nobody to follow any more. I felt someone behind me, but it is not like I could force him to lead. So, left to my own devices, I just focused on the pace. The lead group was pulling away in the distance and from time to time some where dropped by it.
GPS splits: 3:49, 3:45, 3:48.
I caught up to one of those that may have been dropped by the lead pack around the end of the third kilometre. I took a breather of sorts as I settled in behind him. Stare at his red shirt and just follow. Around this time I had a first glance at the guy that I had felt behind me earlier. He was still there. White-blueish shirt. Looks like we had ourselves a group. I followed red shirt as we navigated around the only really precarious footing of the course: some weird mix of stones and deep drops between them filled with earth. Treacherous. Near the end of that section, a spectator called out “nine, ten, eleven”. I guess those were our positions.
After sitting on red shirt’s tail for a kilometre, my watch beeped and told me I was slacking. I moved back past red shirt and sped up some. Red and white followed as I led our pack for the next two km. We passed somebody else in those two km and I took a mental note that our group of three would now be fighting for positions eight, nine, and ten.
GPS splits: 3:56, 3:48, 3:47.
Near the end of the sixth kilometre we made a turn. I do not recall if we suddenly had more headwind, but that might explain the pace. It dropped. Hard. I started struggling some and at one point red shirt took over again. From what I recall, we exchanged a few times, but red shirt led most of the seventh and eighth kilometre. White shirt just kept on following.
GPS splits: 4:03, 4:02.
I felt a bit recovered after those two slower kms and tried pushing the pace some again. We were getting closer to the finish line and I saw a guy up ahead that we were slowly reeling in. The pushing worked and I made us catch up to him as we were nearing the end of the ninth kilometre. I thought to briefly sit behind him, but red and white disagreed. One from each side they immediately started overtaking me and the guy we had just caught up to. I decided to stick to my group and matched my speed to theirs. We dropped the guy we had just caught up to and were now in positions seven, eight, and nine. Guess it was left to the three of us to duke it out and see who could get seventh.
GPS split: 3:54.
With under a kilometre to go, we were all perhaps trying to look strong, running more side-by-side than behind one another. There is of course a difference between still looking strong and still being strong. From my previous participation, I recalled the narrow turns we had to take to get onto the track. I figured it would be a good idea to be at the front for those turns to see if I could put some distance on my fellows before we reached the track. White shirt must have thought the same, because as we turned onto the grass before the narrow turns, he took the lead for the first time in the race. 500-600 metre to go still and he was speeding up. I thought to follow, but quickly noticed I had nothing left to give. Red fared a little bit better, but still had to leave a gap. As they both pulled away, I could not do anything. I was dropped. We had reached the track and, realising I was not going to catch up, I glanced behind me to ensure nobody was going to overtake me. In retrospect, I do not know if I could have done anything if it had been the case, but at the time it felt reassuring to see emptiness. My watch beeped with about 200 metre left on the track (3:51). From afar I saw red not managing to close the gap on white any more. Eventually I too finished.
I was sure I would be ninth, but the announcer said tenth. Apparently the spectator earlier had not counted correctly. A slight disappointment at the time, but really it does not matter. The results put my time at 39:25 while my watch says 39:24. There was no chip time and I started pretty much first/second row, so I am more inclined to believe my watch. Then again, the second does not matter in this case. Red shirt finished in 39:14, white shirt in 39:11. The guy we passed in the final 1-2 km finished in 39:55. The winner did it all in 33:16.
As for PRing… Well there it gets tricky. The time as is is not faster than what I ran on the hilly muddy slightly short course in October. However, the organisers do claim the course is now 10.4 km. Some quick calculations, assuming the average pace, make the 10 km split to be at 37:53. The GPS had the course at 10.18 with a 10 km split of 38:40. In other words, I am pretty sure I PRed in this race, but I am not sure what time to take as a PR. Sigh.
What Went Wrong
So when a race does not go as planned, it is key to find what went wrong. This way, you can avoid it from happening next time. In this case, there are a few reasons that did not help.
- Course was long. Besides picking my races better in the future, I cannot do much about the course.
- Weather got warmer than it had been. I could have maybe felt more accustomed to this with some heat training, but I do not care enough to do such a thing. Nor can I imagine that is the real limiting factor in all of this.
- Bad sleep for a while in the lead up. Bad sleep is a part of my life and I do not know if I will ever be able to fix that. My routine had been shook up leading up to this race, so that did make things worse than usual.
- Heavy legs feeling powerless. This is the one thing I should have been able to avoid. Either I can blame it on the sleep and the extra time on feet from TAing or I fucked up in tapering. Leading up to the race I ensured my volume dropped. As for intensity, I had the parkrun exactly a week before this race and a race pace session on Tuesday (1200m @ 10k race pace). Perhaps the parkrun was a bit too much to schedule in? I am not sure.
I do not think my six day cycles are to blame in any way. I will continue trying to use them for the rest of my spring planning and then see afterwards whether I stick with the idea. The lack of consistency in what day holds what kind of workout does make things a lot harder to plan for. That is a big con I have found so far and it exists in all cycles not following seven days.
For upcoming events this spring I have
- Antwerp 10 miles on 28 April
- 12 urenloop on 8 May (relays of 550 metre each for 12 hours)
- 20 km door Brussel on 19 May
My main goal was to aim for (close to) an hour at the Antwerp 10 miles. That already was a stretch goal, but this race has made it sound pretty impossible. I would have to go through 10 km in 37:17 en route to a 1 hour 10 miler. On the other hand, nobody cares about 10 mile PRs, especially in metric land. So blowing up would not necessarily mean anything to me. I am still tempted to try. Especially since finding out they will have a 1 hour pacer. The next pacer is at 1:10, definitely too slow.
The 12 urenloop I will probably do more as a fucked up long run than as a race. Of course, I said something similar last year and still went pretty hard.
The 20 km finally is just a little extra. I figure I should show up in case the weather is nice and cool so I can update my personal course best.
After all that, I am leaning towards trying JD’s training plan for a 1500-3000m race. After doing two mile TTs for shit and giggles, I kind of want to at least try and push my time under 5:00. It helps that I started liking the short R work this cycle. It seems to come up a lot in that training plan. Will have to see if I still like it if I do nearly nothing else week in week out.