Hangzhou Marathon Training II
A Summary of a Training Block for a Marathon that Didn’t Happen… Again.
The 2021 Hangzhou International Marathon was originally scheduled to take place in November of last year. But, thanks to a rise in COVID cases throughout China, it was cancelled about a week before it was due to kick off.
I was hoping it would be cancelled altogether, that I could reserve my place for the 2022 edition. This would give me the opportunity to ease slowly back into training, focus on my aerobic base — far more so than the year before — and build up a good run of fitness without the relative trauma of another full marathon.
Then, just as December was coming to an end, I received a notice from the organizers. The 2021 Hangzhou marathon was back on and it had been tentatively rescheduled for the end of March.
That gave me, at most, about twelve weeks of training — far less than ideal and the complete opposite of what I wanted. It resulted in me having no specific base-building phase, and led to a training block that was slow to get started and ended just as I’d liked to have been kicking on.
Nevertheless, while not quite reaching the peak fitness that I managed towards the end of last year, it was far from a fruitless three months. I learnt lessons about training, intensity, and rest, and refined my overall training plan in the process. Heck, I even set a new 5 km PB. By over a minute.
I started the training block off the back of a half marathon PB, running 1:33:32 on Boxing Day to beat my old PB by three minutes and 29 seconds. My fitness was already on the way down that day, following my earlier taper and marathon attempt, so it was a good time, and it left me wondering if a sub-90 minute wouldn’t have been possible had I given it a go back in October.
I’d planned to take a few days off and ease myself back into training with a month or two of nothing but low aerobic work, but the Hangzhou Marathon announcement had put paid to that. I got straight back in after a one day rest on week one of training. That meant speed work and a threshold session all within one week of an all-out race.
I think the lack of base-building really hurt me by the end. That’s another lesson for next time.
As with my last training block, I started off with my fitness still dropping for the first few weeks. This was frustrating, but unlike last summer, where it left me confused and despondent, this time it merely served to reinforce my previous experiences and lead me to the comforting realisation that this is just how running works.
After about five or six weeks, my fitness had ridden out the trough of the roller-coaster and was on its way back up. I was feeling good again and it was looking like I might even get back to where I had been at my peak the year before.
In the end I never quite got there, as my aerobic fitness plateaued in the last three or four weeks of training; whereas I was managing to hit just under five minutes per km at the top end of zone two at my peak in October, I only managed to get down to five fifteens for the same effort in early March. Still, that should have been enough for a sub-3:30 marathon.
Unfortunately, the marathon was cancelled. At the last minute. For the second time.
This came as no surprise. I’d pretty much given up hope it would happen by the end of February, when the deadline for announcing an actual date for the event had come and gone without so much as a press release. In the end, by the time the organising committee announced it, I’d already signed up for a half-marathon somewhere else close to home.
My reason for signing up to the half was that it was a smaller, local event, and therefore, based on my experience keeping tabs on other races throughout the last year, it was less likely to be cancelled. Maybe it really was less likely, but it still got cancelled anyway.
That left me with yet another backyard race, all on my lonesome, out along Suzhou Creek and back. I made it a half, because I wanted a new PB, and besides the marathon that seemed like the easiest record to beat.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t really want to run a marathon this spring, so once Hangzhou was cancelled that went straight off the table. I felt like my 10 km time would be hard to beat, and I’d set a 5 km PB in mid February that would have taken something really special to challenge, so a half-marathon seemed the obvious choice.
There’s not a great deal to say about how the “race” actually went. It was a terrible day for a PB attempt; the wind was blowing hard and seemed to be switching directions just to spite me. After running head on into a non-stop headwind for the best part of three kilometres, I hit the turnaround and within five seconds the wind had done a 180° switch and was straight back to blowing in my face.
By that point I was losing it. I’d gone out too fast, chasing a time that was beyond my fitness, and the wind was the final straw. My half-marathon attempt died a death that day after only 12 and a half kilometres.
That 5 km attempt went significantly better, and pretty much sums up the mixed bag that was this training block. While I failed to get back to the levels of overall aerobic fitness that I’d achieved towards the back half of 2021, I did manage to complete all my speed sessions and threshold runs at significantly faster paces.
Towards the end of my last training block I was experiencing quite a lot of glute pain whenever I tried to push the pace. It was bad enough to stop me finishing most of my speed-work sessions. This time round, I was hitting faster paces without any discomfort while still not over-exerting myself. For whatever reason, my speed and leg strength was there like never before.
That was reflected in a 5 km time trial I ran in mid-February. It wasn’t planned in advance, but I’d taken the day off work and the weather was gloriously cold and overcast and I knew I was unlikely to get a better chance to go sub-20 before Autumn.
A sub-20 5 km was one of my goals for this year but I wasn’t feeling very confident I could run it in the shape I was in. Nevertheless, I strapped on my Vaporfly and skimpiest running gear and headed out with the intention to run four-minutes flat for the first four km and then see if I had the legs to push the last one.
In the end I had the same problem I usually have when trying to pace myself, in that I knew was going too fast but I couldn’t seem to slow myself down.
My current 10 km PB started out as a threshold run that got out of hand, and while this time out I was always planning on going fast, there was a similar feel to events as I tried to reign in the legs without reigning them in too much, just to end up holding a flat, fast pace.
I was hoping to pace myself to just under 20 minutes, thinking it would go right down to the wire, but I ended up running a 19:16, with splits of 3:54, 3:55, 3:52, 3:54, and 3:41. Despite setting off faster than I thought I could hold, I still somehow had the legs to accelerate significantly over the last 600 m or so.
On reflection, I feel pretty satisfied with the training block as a whole. The top end pace was there throughout, even if the aerobic base fell short of what I’d hoped for. I do wonder if going straight back into full-on training and only completing a twelve week plan was the reason for this. Either way, I’m planning on adding in a three month base-building phase before my next full training plan to see if that helps.
Unfortunately, what would have been the first two weeks of that training block have so far been spent on lockdown, and the inflexibility of those in charge around here and their pigheaded adherence to an outdated response means it’s not looking likely that we’ll be let out anytime soon.
When I do finally get back into training, it may well be after a month or more of almost complete inactivity, and from a low point in my recent fitness. It’s almost certainly my imagination, but for now I swear I can almost feel my running muscles atrophying away.