Time trials, advice and the height of marathon season

The long runs – and short runs – provide plenty of time for thinking and as a particular race approaches, plenty of time for reflection. Saturday, according to the Pfitz 18/55 plan, called for a 10-k race. Since there were no events close by – not that the schedule would have allowed it mind you – a 10k time trial is recommended.

The ideal setting is a flat venue, such as a track.

So that was the setting for Saturday’s 10k trial and as I ran around the track at the qplex in Quispamsis, it got me thinking of those days in Grade 7 at the Victoria Park oval in Charlottetown. Unlike the modern facilities that exist today, such as the new track at UNBSJ or the one at UPEI that was used for the 2009 Canada Games, Victoria Park, the standard of the day, featured, if recollections are accurate, a gravel base track. It was the location when Queen Charlotte Junior High students ran their annual track and field day.

I’ve never been much of a sprinter, so I recall signing up for a 3,000 metres and nearly dying with exhaustion, watching my peers race around the oval with ease.  It was an introduction to the sport that eventually led to membership in a school running club, that I think built a positive foundation for the sport – albeit with a 20-year interval!

In the day, Victoria Park was the go to place for provincial championships at the club and school level and the site for numerous recreational and competitive activities, including softball and baseball.

So Saturday, the track at the qplex reminded of Victoria Park in some ways – with its gravel paths in the hub of our community’s recreational setting.

With just two weeks remaining before the Prince Edward Island Marathon, the countdown is in high gear and the number of training runs is dwindling. In fact, in the Pfitz plan, there is a heavy emphasis on regular evaluation of progress. That started in Hampton on Sept. 8, continued in Fredericton with a half marathon and essentially ended Saturday with the time trial.

The results, along with hitting regular training mileage, serve as predictors of the big race in two weeks time. In fact, there are a host of areas where you can plug in your times from these tests and get a predicted result. The results of those can be pretty flattering but are estimates based on a heavy volume of regular training in the 50-60 mile range and a number of marathon training cycles.

So for relative marathon newbies, the predicted results are often overly optimistic – because the mileage is often lower than required.

Another interesting predictor – which I have not tried – are Yasso’s 800s, a series of ten 800 metre repeats, with a break in between. In essence, two laps take me approx 3.5 to 4 minutes.  The theory goes if you run 10 of these and average the times, you will have an accurate predictor.

For example, if your average for the 800 minutes runs is 3:45, you should be able to run a 3:45 marathon.

Another area for feedback and advice exists on forums at places such as Runner’s World, where you can provide experienced runners, coaches with assessments of your training log and these test results to get their thoughts on a potential goal time. You better be ready for the feedback as it is not sugar-coated. Ultimately, that is good.

For example, I gave my info, told of my lag in August in addition to my test times. Their assessment was consistent – breaking four hours is possible, but not by much. And I can blow it in the first 20 miles by going too fast – even by 10 seconds a kilometre. Do that and I’ll be toast. They figure while 3:59 is possible, 3:50 is definitely not.

And there was concern in the drop off of pace from my 5 miler (approx. 4:37/km) to the half marathon (approx. 5:00 per km).

This contrasts my predicted times – in the 3:40-3:45 range – for the McMillan Race calculator. Given how I feel, the forum experts seem to be bang on, I figure.

So back to Saturday and the time trial at the qplex. My goal was to try for a new PR in both the 5 k and the 10k. To accomplish this, I wanted to run at a pace at 4:42 per km or better for the 5 km and 4:47 or better for the 10 k.

The temperatures were right – cool, crisp – and while there was a wind, it was at my back on the front stretch and facing me on the front stretch, essentially evening out.

After a 4:24 first km, I worried about burnout and as it went on, I did tire each km.

But the results were positive and encouraging.

5 k – 22:19 (4:24, 4:25, 4:26, 4:29; 4:33)

10 k – 45:18 (Final 5k 4:35: 4:37, 4:34; 4:37; 4:34)

That took about one full minute of my previous best 5 km time (in training) and 2:41 off my previous best 10 k time (in a race in P.E.I. last year).

I am not sure I want to trust the results but it was a great run.

Sunday, capped the week with 27 km run, easy pace in 6C weather. It was a nice run, no problems, very encouraging.

This week, the taper continues, with a decline in the length of runs. One this week has a 13 km easy effort with 3×1,500 metres at 5 km pace. Long run of 19 km on Sunday, the lone distance above 13 km in the upcoming two weeks.

There are fewer than 10 runs remaining before the big one.

Finally, the marathon season is well underway and Sunday, the Maine Marathon in Portland kicked it off. There is the final running of the Kennebecasis Challenge this weekend in Rothesay as well as the Valley Harvest in Wolfville, then PEI and finally the Legs for Literacy in Moncton the final weekend of the month. Let’s hope the weather holds up.