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Archive for April, 2012

London Marathon is this Sunday and a lot of the pre-race hype has been (rightly) focussed on the quartet of A-list Kenyans on the start line. Selection of the Kenyan Olympic Marathon squad has been an international talking point in running circles. Who will they pick, who won’t they pick, what do they need to run? And so on.

 

But enough about that. I want to talk about a little Eritrean named Zersenay Tadese.

Anyone worth their salt knows a pretty rock solid rule about marathoning. To be a good marathoner, you need to have run a good 10k (and half marathon). Name any great marathoner and look at their 10k. It will be the business. Arguably the world’s best over 26.2, the late Sammy Wanjiru, went well under 27 minutes on the track before he stepped up. However, and this is the point, the converse is not true. Being a quality 10k and half marathon guy does in no way guarantee you success over a marathon. The fact is no-one really knows how they will fare over a marathon until they actually run one. There are probably a few high-profile distance men and women who haven’t reached their marathon potential. (In as much as “potential” is determined by 10k and HM performance) but none are as high profile as Zersenay Tadese.

 

If ever there was textbook case to highlight the lack of conversion rule, it is Zersenay.

 

Remove his marathon attempts from this discussion and his distance running CV becomes pretty much as good as it gets. Kenenisa Bekele may have had his number of the track thanks to an indomitable finishing kick, but Tadese didn’t do too badly behind him.

  • A 10k in less than 27 minutes? Check.
  • A half marathon in less than 60 minutes? Check. In fact a half marathon in less than 59 minutes. In fact the WORLD RECORD HOLDER in the half marathon in 58:23.

Ok, how about championship racing?

  • Any medals on the track at global level? Check. (No titles maybe, as time and again KB put paid to any chance of that). But he has a bronze from the Athens Olympics 10k and a silver from the 2009 Berlin World Champs.
  • Any medals at World Cross Country level? Check. In the toughest race of them all, the World Cross Country Championships, Zersenay beat the world, and KB, in 2007 (KB dropped out of the race with a lap to go). He also has an individual silver and two individual bronze medals in World Cross to go with that gold.
  • Now, the final question, what is he like on the road? I’m glad you asked. Ignoring the marathon, he is probably the greatest road runner of all time. World HM Record Holder, four-time World Half Marathon Champion and a World 20k title for good measure.

 

It’s a pedigree anyone would aspire to. So imagine the buzz around the running world when he decided to run his first marathon. It was a few years back, London 2009.

 

The world waited with baited breath.

 

Zersenay’s debut in the marathon coincided with a big step-up that was currently taking place in the world of international marathoning. He arrived on the scene, with marathoning on a big and aggressive up-curve, and was caught out by experienced marathoners, led by Wanjiru. They aggressively attacked at all points in the race and pushed a ridiculously fast early pace. Zersenay lasted as long as he could before dropping out.

 

The following year, 2010, he returned, to a similarly aggressive racing environment. With slightly more battle experience, this time he finished. But his 2hr12 was widely accepted as nowhere near a true indication of his capabilities, and again the field had beaten him up and left him behind.

 

In 2011 it seemed he decided to take a break from London and move his focus back to the areas in which he had excelled and enjoyed success, the 10k on the track, and the half marathon.

 

Skip to the announcement of the 2012 London Elite Field and his name is back on the list.

 

In early 2012 he ran the Lisbon Half Marathon, the course where he set the current world record, 58:23. It was billed as a World Record Attempt but he ended up running about a minute off that pace, finishing in 59:34 for his third title in a row. The gurus at LetsRun have spoken at length about proper focus on a marathon resulting in a runner that should not be sufficiently sharp to run a half marathon PB in their marathon buildup. If this is true, and I personally subscribe to the same belief, then Tadese may just be perfectly poised for this year’s London.

 

Most of us love to see hard-running, hard-working athletes perform at the highest level, and Zersenay Tadese is the hardest working, hardest running of them all. Over the years he has become one of my all-time favourite and most inspirational athletes.

 

Come Sunday morning, I will be hoping he gets into his familiar groove, seen so many times at the front of races around the world, in the lead pack and survives, or ignores, any suicidal pace changes during the race.

 

In amongst the Kenyan whirlwind of class and ability, and pressure, I would love to see nothing more than the little Eritrean powerhouse slide in under the radar and knock 5+ minutes off his best time, and get his marathon time down to the level befitting a guy of his pedigree.

 

Heck I hope he wins the entire race. It’s a long shot, but optimism never killed anyone, right?

 

 

 

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Two Oceans 2012

This is a running blog and I will do my best to stick to talking about the race and not about the FANTASTIC holiday we all had in South Africa this Easter.

 

Chapter 1 (Don’t worry these are short chapters): The Preparation

 

My training this year has been a mere shadow of last year’s. My long run count was down by nearly half (6 runs of 18 miles or over, compared with 13 runs last year). My 12-week average leading into this year’s race hovered just below 60. Last year it had been early 70’s.

But let’s dispense with bland statistics at this point, because, as we all know, we can massage them to tell whatever story we like. The bottom line is that this year I was a lot more relaxed about my buildup and was feeling in great shape. I had my form verified by two performances – a half marathon PB in 77:26 and a 20 mile “marathon pace” race in 2:09. I knew I hadn’t logged the big miles but felt I was in decent shape anyway. I was in a good place.

 

Chapter 2: The Hiccough

 

Two weeks before race day I developed a nasty cough. Was it mental? Would it go away? What the hell man. I didn’t go to the doctor. I should have. The cough didn’t go away. In Cape Town, three days before the race my sister insisted I see a doctor. (She is a wise woman, my sister). The doc broke the news that I had bronchitis. He told me not to run, and immediately followed that up by announcing that he expected I would ignore his advice and run (He is a wise man, that doctor). I dosed up on the meds and waited for a miraculous recovery.

 

Chapter 3: Race time

 

Rain had been forecast for the day. The forecast was right. But we had a dry first hour, so hey let’s not complain. I set off knowing I needed 4:10 or quicker per km, in order to average the 4:17 required for a silver medal. (Breaking 4 hours at Oceans gets you a silver medal). First km or two I was in thickish crowds working my way through. The splits were 4:50 and 4:20. No problem yet. Once I got into my running I ran a couple of sub 4min kays and settled into a pace ticking off kays in the 4:00 to 4:05 window. It felt incredibly easy and I held back, told myself not to get carried away (bitch, be cool). 10km came and went, then 15. All still good. I saw the family all waiting for me between the 15k and 16k mark. High fives and lots of cheering. They’re awesome and I felt great seeing them.

Around 17k I caught up with the unofficial silver bus. A group led by a guy who could allegedly run 3hr55 to 3hr58 with the reliability of death and taxes. I latched on and patted myself on the back for finding this group. From now on I could relax and not think about pace. These guys were the Oceans experts; they knew how to do this.

I was still keeping track of my splits out of interest and after a few kays in the 4:15 to 4:35 range I asked running buddy Adam (another passenger) whether he thought the pace was right. He wasn’t sure. We waited another few kays. The pace wasn’t picking up. We were now running out of flat kilometres on which to bank time. In a few kilometres’ time we were hitting Chapman’s Peak, a climb that announces the second half of the race. Still, to my retrospective regret I made the mistake of sticking with them. I was second guessing myself now. Have I got this wrong? Maybe this pace is right. Wouldn’t I be an idiot if I set off only to be caught by the wizened heads in two hours’ time.

Finally we went through halfway and I knew I’d screwed it up. 1:58:30. I had exactly 90 seconds of cushion to handle the multiple big climbs in the second half, not to mention general fatigue that would soon set in.

Enough is enough and I set off ahead of the group. I was on my own now and made a big push, far too big, up Chapman’s Peak. The km going up Chappies was my fastest in the last 10. On a damn uphill. It was too much. Going down the other side of Chappies I knew I was done. Adam had caught me and I told him silver was still on the cards, just, if he had anything in his legs. He pulled away and I didn’t see him again until much later.

From 32km to the marathon mark I shuffled along. I tried to keep my legs going at a decent pace but the earlier mistakes were unforgiving. I got to the marathon in 3:04 and resigned myself to a final 14km of jogging. I resolved not to stop at any point, nor to fail to notice the wonderful scenery I was running through.

I caught Adam at the start of Constantia Nek, the final infamous climb in the race, from 44 to 46km.

In the pouring rain earlier on, and with two hours plus of running in soaking wet kit I had chafed on a level not experienced before. I won’t go into details for obvious reasons, but it had got to the point that blood had run all the way down my leg and into my shoe. I hadn’t even noticed until another runner pointed it out to me at about the 50k mark. Pretty embarrassing. I managed to rinse it away with some water at a water point so  it didn’t look too noticeable. Let’s just say the post-race shower was not as pleasant as it could have been. I was still wearing plasters two days later.

Anyway back to the race. I settled in to focussing on proper running again from the top of the Nek and got the pace back down to under 4:20 for the final 5 or 6 kays now. The only motivation being that I might beat my 4hr17 from last year.

I finished in 4hr14, with my awesome supporters, Bec, Jode, Amy and Dianne, braving the atrocious mud and cold rain on the UCT Rugby fields where the race finishes. Dale was also in attendance, but had been assigned the task of looking after our younger support crew members, Abigail and Matt, in the warmer confines of one of the cars.

 

Chapter 4: Final thoughts

 

Oceans 2012 was a race I will remember for:

 

  • what might have been

 

  • excessive chafing

 

  • how lucky I am to have such hardy supporters, braving pretty much anything and always with a smile and always cheering wildy as I shuffle past, invariably at a pace far slower than I promised beforehand.

 

 

You win this one, Two-Oceans-Silver-Medal. But you will see me again. Oh yes; we have unfinished business.

 

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