With the La Santa 10k and the 13k Ridge Run done and dusted and the half-marathon looming 24 hours ahead, I and many other runners looked at the Puerto del Carmen Beach Run as a bit of an intermezzo. Generally my results improve with distance and my history of running on soft ground suggests it is one of my weaknesses. Paul Duffy, Sportsworld, who was still in the lead overall at this stage, seems to have had similar thoughts to me: the race just had to be survived with a reasonable result and the tactic would be to inflict fatal damage on the competition at the half-marathon. Paul finished as low as 7th on the day in 18:03 but conceded only 30 seconds to Søren Helmer meaning he maintained a 57 second gap on the Dane.
Puerto del Carmen Beach Race
The beach race consisted of two 2.5km laps of which about half were faster more compact sand and the rest was deep, soft and similar to running in heavy mud. I made an early mistake: wanting a conservative start for the third consecutive time, I started much too far down the field. Luckily, I could work myself into a more suitable position quickly. The first 200m were crawling along with the sand dragging the feet back with each stride; but then we hit the compact part next to the water and I could get the legs moving at something approximating 5k pace.
Close to the turn a tiny incline threatened to rob us of all momentum as you had to run upwards through very thick sand, making barely any progress. The wide curve turning us back towards the finish line likewise made passing difficult but the group I ran with where making up places all the time nevertheless. I had chosen to race in Vibram’s (after having used Inov-8 Road-X 155 for the 10k and Inov-8 X-Talon 190 for the hill run) and it proved an inspired choice as shoes only made matters worth on the shifting sands.
My discomfort level was a bit higher than I had expected so when we moved into the second part of the second lap I did not cover a break-away as well as I should have. Two runners I had beaten the previous days got a gap and without the stadium track to allow me a full-on sprint finish I found myself stranded (no pun intended) with no ability to make up places on the final 200m. This meant finishing as low as in the 10k (58th of 300) in 22:44. The race terrain had been as tough as any cross-country race but also gave me an epiphany: even my revamped stride was utterly useless on the soft ground. This obviously highlights some mechanical flaws and weaknesses as it is possible to almost skirt over the ground. Thinking back to Percy Cerutty and Herb Elliott using dune running, I have some ideas on how to fix this remedy for next season. More on that to follow…
Recovery was easier to find than sure footing during the race: a group of us traipsed down to the shore, did a short mile cooldown in the baking sun of the beach and then waltzed into the salty waters for a while before we had to catch the bus back to Club La Santa. Tomorrow another battle awaited: I had moved up five spots in the men’s ranking despite having had the poorer of my three runs so far. I hoped the half-marathon would be a fertile hunting ground for my negative split tactics.
Vuelta de Tinajo
We had taken it easy for the rest of Tuesday doing just the yoga and stretch and relax as well as some easy swimming and jogging (Aoife felt up for the AB-attack class but my abdominals were still slaughtered from playing around on the fit-ball).
In any case, most runners had a healthy respect for the “La Vuelta de Tinajo” half-marathon that marked the finishing event of the 22nd Running Challenge. The race begins at the Los Dolores Church in a small village called Mancha Blanca close to the larger town of Tinajo. From here we had to do a 10km loop around Montana Tinache (a 448m volcano) on bumpy roads before a long, net downhill, descent on a mixture of asphalt and dirt roads to La Santa. Knowing we had another finish on the track already had me feeling more confident.
My approach to most half-marathons is the same: run comfortably for one kilometre, check the split time and see what is possible based on that. We rushed off in a huge pack away from the church and as I looked the time said “4:12”. Ok, there would be no personal bests today that was for sure, when I had looked down during the Waterford Half-marathon the time had said “3:53”.
A guy passed me out and I turned to him “lovely day for it,” I said to him. After that we fell into conversation and he admitted he was hoping to break 90 minutes for the first time. He took the lead for the next five kilometres but as we moved towards the toughest hill of the day, I burned him off. Next an English runner attacked me aggressively on a stretch of warm road but I stuck close on the climb and as my pace increased over the next few kilometres I burned him off too.
The remaining people in the front were not fading at the rate I had expected. This was the hottest day and in half-marathons poor pacing is usually at its worst. But so far no sign of it. All I could do was to stay patient especially in the face of the two toughest climbs of the day. I thought the first “gentle” hill would be “it” but as it turned out the infamous “Coronary Hill” came three kilometres later and cost me significant time. In hindsight I should have run it much more aggressively as there was time to recover.
I found myself passing out runners every 500m or so now as we ran on the best roads of the day out through Tinajo before the long section of desert tracks began. A group led by the two leading Sportsworld ladies were chasing me, I noticed, but they never got closer. My legs kept having more energy to spend but they were not generating the pace they should for the intensity. The fastest kilometre
Looking through the results I had seen that I constantly finished just ahead of a René Cirarklar from Denmark. He had gotten victory against me in the 5k but now he was drifting into view. I could see he was battling it out with a Dutchman. My mood was buoyant from having successfully passed a very determined English runner so I kept upping my aggressiveness and caught the Dutchman with 3km to go. The “other René” was getting great support as we turned back onto the road for the “La Santa hill” a small climb that we had already run up three times previously this week. I noticed that people came back to me much faster on the hills, so I put some real effort into catching my namesake and it was instantly effective. Cresting the top, I knew I had to use the same strategy as in the 10k: keep pressing the pace slowly upwards to nullify the threat from any soldiers of fortune. Even dying runners can sometimes muster a finishing kick, so I had to use my large reserves to keep them away so full focus could be on the kick on the stadium.
This time the exercise was in vain: no runners drifted in view as I entered the stadium so my kick was only for the crowd and for the time. I could just about break 86 minutes (1:25:50) and over the last 500m I had put 26 seconds into the other René leaving no invitation to a late come-back open. My heart rate dropped very quickly back to normal and I felt energised, rather than drained, from the effort. This had been the case in all the four races and leaves me optimistic that despite having gone from a VO2max of around 60 (early season) to around 53 (now), my fitness reserves are still strong enough to build 2:47 marathon form back onto. Surprising that despite four months of little training, I still ran faster than in the Strawberry half-marathon and ran the last 10k in under 39:30 suggesting that either the downhill gave me more than expected or I had been really rusty during the initial 10k.
Aoife had started extremely conservatively, as I had suggested she do after her troubled outing at the Strawberry half-marathon. She needed a positive experience with the distance again, to my mind, and negative splits is the best way to do it. Arguably she left it a bit too loose at the start and was hammering at the end. She still had enough in the tank to run a best time for the distance. Not too bad with three days racing and endless classes in the legs! She had also contracted some very bad bloody blisters the previous days but compeed allowed her to get through the race.
Paul Duffy finished the job with a strong 69:27 outing to claim the overall series win. Søren Helmer faded to eighth on the day but Henrik Jørgensen kept Paul honest coming second in 69:48. The overall field depth impressed me as a time of under 86 minutes would usually have resulted in a higher placing than the 44th of 306. It was by far my best position of the race series so the half-marathon remains the race I am best conditioned for at present. Despite four days of racing, runners remained very competitive throughout which is interesting to see and illustrates that you do not have to be 100% prepared to race reasonable close to your best.
Sportsworld couldn’t quite break the might of the amassed Danish runners despite Paul Duffy’s individual victory. Sparta won the team prize for both men and women while Sportsworld finished second female and third male team. Our own Crusading ladies were third female team
My afternoon jog was run at 6 minute/kilometres (not miles!) as the muscles were, after all, completely shod. We did a relaxed class to match our physical and mental capabilities (Tennis for beginners) and lounged in the cold water of the pool. I had gotten an easy sports massage the previous day and today I decided to go for the first to trips to the Wellness Centre: with a plunge pool (10 degrees), Jacuzzi and steam room it really got the blood flowing back into muscles in desperate need of nutrients for repair!
We finished the week with some more easy jogging, a functional strength training class and 800m of swimming in the pool. I played around with my crawl technique and managed to knock 15 seconds off my initial lap time for each 50m turn. I haven’t practiced swimming since I was a kid and it is amazing to see how a few technical corrections can increase your pace substantially (having the ForeRunner 310XT to take your laps in the pool makes the sport much more fun). In this, as in many other ways, swimming is a substantially different sport. Yet, the strong heart and lungs developed by Lydiard style training were of benefit in everything we did. The main trick was to get used to a different breathing rhythm than the steady one used in running.
The last day had 25 degree sunshine and I look like a red panda now from having worn my sun-glasses for the entirety of the trip. Sad to be back, I wish every day could involve as much physical activity, but alas everything has an end. Look out for my review of Club La Santa and my full itinerary for a taster of what you can expect there at ChampionsEverywhere. My legs are recovering nicely now, probably helped by the incredible food and my heavy use of Orbana and other supplements throughout. SiS sponsored the event and there was plenty of product handed out. The energy drink tasted liked soap to me but the recovery drink had a nice berry taste and packed a hefty caloric punch (368!) which meant I used it after the half-marathon when the body will just about synthesize anything and with the race costing me about 1600kcal that is a lot of extra food needed so supplements come in handy to help get back in training almost immediately.
As a finishing note: thanks to my “temporary team-mates” on the Sliabh Buidhe Rovers (and guests) team Paul Gibbons, David Leonard and Sean Murphy. Savage running throughout from the lads and I hadn’t a whiff of getting among the third scorers. Next year, I’ll try and bring along a male Crusaders team for some more inter-Irish rivalry!