A McLaren Vale wine tour with a difference

If you’ve been playing along at home you’ll know it’s the end of the school holidays now. (If not, get yourself up to speed here). I’m happy to report that they were successful on all fronts. Mum asked me how my training’s been going and that’s a good indicator that other people might be interested too so here’s the summary.

Now a picture paints a thousand words so do I really need to add to the above or does it all make sense? Probably worth an explainer I’m guessing…

Figure 1: The stats here show that, after a few solid weeks at this level, I’ve maxed out here with my biggest week of training so far with 184km of running and 4000m of elevation. Interestingly, the total calories I used were similar to the big weeks I was logging back in January when I was cycling and swimming a bit as extra cross-training. The 12k barrier seems to be a good level for me at this stage. This week also involved me on the tools replacing the back verandah and planting some plants so it was a little challenging to get all the running in around this but I got on with it so don’t stress.

The biggest highlight out of the training this week was despite feeling a bit lethargic, on Saturday morning I drove out along Arden Vale Road towards Warren Gorge to utilise the good road surface to test my half-marathon road fitness in prep for the McLaren Vale Half Marathon on April 30. I was planning on doing 7-8km’s at half marathon effort and managed the following effort.

It’s essentially a 4km warmup, straight into 10 mins out hard (at what was 3:20/km pace) and then 20ish mins back (at what was 3:00/km pace). Ticking this off showed me I:
– a) Had improved my ability to run at 3:00/km pace. Yes it was on a slightly descending road but I wasn’t pushing it that hard. The time I’ve spent on doing strides and 400’s at 2:50/km pace looks to be translating to finally satisfying my ability to hold or even dip under 3:00/km pace.
– b) Probably have the capacity to run between 3:05/3:10/km pace for the half marathon. Accounting for the elevation this run was probably at 3:10/km pace for the effort period. Considering I hadn’t tapered at all, had done no strides in my warmup and just got into it at 4km AND was feeling tired this was a good confidence boost.

Figure 2: Following the big week in Week 1 of the school holidays I held the training load quite high through Monday- Thursday before dropping off to both taper and absorb the recent training stress I’ve been giving my body over the past four weeks (see below).

The average weekly data of my last 4 weeks as of Thursday 27 April.

Figure 3: Just another view of the training load from Week 1 of the Holidays. It helps using this figure to illustrate that Mondays and Fridays tend to be easier days (a lower Training Load score) and every other day is a harder training day. This gives me a 3 on 1 off, 2 on 1 off, schedule over 7 days (from Tuesday to Monday) which is what I remembered working well when going on climbing trips too.

Figure 4: The Progress graph is the big picture of how things have been working. After my success in Victoria and NSW (the LHS of the graph) had been achieved it was clear that I had been operating in the ‘Keeping Fit’ area for a bit (the red line is under the black line). I can’t stay there forever, there’s still gains to be made! In the last month I’ve pushed up into the ‘Productive Training’ phase again pleasingly and have done so in a very nice incremental build up. The little drop down of the red line (the acute training load measured over a 7 day period) occurs each Friday usually as that’s my easiest day. Another cool thing to note is by looking at the slope of the descent each time I approach a race I can confidently know whether I am tapering in a similar or dissimilar fashion to races in the past.

Figure 5: Last but not least, my body doesn’t have a Training Load graph internally or a measure of a Training Stress Score. What it does have though is the knowledge of how many calories each part of my body has used and how much force has gone through my legs (in the form of steps). And here, in Figure 5, this data is on full show. This holiday period has constantly seen me pushing the daily calorie expenditure above 3.5k while my steps have had a bit of diversity. Returning back to the notion of tapering into McLaren Vale it’s clear to see my daily calorie expenditure has dropped off and been under that of the taper period into the Clare Half-Marathon (the race was on April 2, so the days before the 3/4 marker are the ones to inspect). Before Clare I felt a bit tired and mentally drained after a busy March and probably raced like it too. It’s therefore nice to reflect now, before the McLaren Vale race, knowing I’m a bit fresher, I know a bit more about my capacity to race a half-marathon and I have a better visualisation of how the race will unfold having completed Clare.

For full disclosure here I’ve written the above before I raced McLaren Vale and plan to finish it after the race. I’m pushed for time this weekend post-race to get back to Quorn and get ready for the first week of school and put together a blog so deal with the change in tense…

So onto the McLaren Vale Half Marathon we roll! The plan going in was to aim around the 3:05-3:10/km pace and see what happens. Puts me on track for 1:06-1:07 finish time, a time that I think would make me somewhat competitive at the World Champs in June.

I thought the course was pretty flat and the competition was going to be pretty quick so I knew that this was a serious event. The competition featured some of the better, if not the best, SA born and bred track and road runners of the last five years. Two of whom were also my age and I had raced against back in school. At the start I was hoping a large-ish pack would form that would go at the pace I wanted and then maybe at the 10-15km mark those looking to push for the sub 1:05 prize money would saunter off a bit and I’d just hold my pace and finish with a PB and come in the Top 5 (and earn some moolah). Everyone has a plan though until you get punched in the face. Off the gun the Cocks boys went straight out at 3:00/km pace which was just not on. I started running with track-star Max Stevens who was aiming for 3:10/km’s and left behind the rest of the race. To be honest, I expected more of the other competitors to stick with Max and I but it wasn’t to be.

Looking fresh in the early stages.

With Max and I running together we rolled along the first section of the course kind of on pace, kind of off it. The gradual rise and descent’s were a little bigger than I had anticipated but coming through the first 5-6km’s things were looking good.

It’s easy to see here in this breakdown of the first 12km’s, where Max and I were together, that if it was flat or a little bit downhill we’d be fine with a 3:10/km or below split. Some of the uphill km’s (4,8 and 9) cooked us though. At about the 12km mark Max got a little lead on me and I tried my best to stick with him but my capacity to hold the leg turnover required for the pace had diminished.

Yes, I wrote earlier that I’m better at holding 3:00-3:10/km pace but still, holding it for an hour seems to be a bit of a stretch. Driving home after the race though I did reflect on the fact that at the start of my January my 5k PB was at a pace of 3:12/km and now I was ambitious enough to hold a pace quicker than that, four months into the year, for an hour, four times longer than required for a 5km!

After Max dropped off I got to reset into my own little world. It’s nice running with someone to push you but seeing as I do my best work alone in Quorn it’s nice to have the opportunity to hammer away at a race by myself for some periods. I had the Rocky theme song in my head as I set about doing my best to stay at 3:10/km pace. A few steep undulations and twists and turns on the bike paths presented themselves after the 12km mark which made for a bit more of a challenge than I was thinking. In all, this course was not as flat as I had expected and was even commented on as being the hardest course one of my fellow competitors had run on.

Despite these challenges I was happy in the end to be able to still lop off some sub 3:10/km km’s in the back part of the race, especially the last three km’s! In the end I finished with a new PB of 1:07:33 and in fourth place. Pretty solid and in the timeframe I had wanted, albeit in the back end of it. If the course was a bit flatter I probably could’ve gone 1:06 or 1:05 even and the way I’ve worked that out is by looking at the Net Graded Pace (NGP) figure as calculated by my Suunto App. It takes into account the changes in pace due to elevation change and gives me a pace that I would’ve run if it were a steady run instead of going back and forth between 3:00/km and 3:20/km. The NGP for this activity was 3:04/km which is roughly 1:04 for a total finish time so even adjusting for a little bit of error I’m still in the 1:05-1:06 ballpark, which is consistent to what another runner thought of my effort too…

Looking not so fresh towards the end.

Another way of reflecting on my performance was that yes, I ran quite well at the 3:10/km pace. I did not slow down over the course of the race which was good which means I set the pace well. If I had to I probably could’ve kept running at that pace. If I had to try and run a little faster, I probably couldn’t have. What this means in my head is that my cardiovascular fitness is pretty good but my neuromuscular ability to maintain the effort required to run at 3:00/km pace over an hour, not just twenty minutes, is still a work in progress. I would like to know how far I could hold 3:10/km pace though and will probably give myself the opportunity to find out later in the year with another crack at a full marathon.

The Top 5.

Returning to the present though, in all, the McLaren Vale race was consistent with the rest of my school holiday period. I got stuck into a job I knew I was capable of and enjoyed getting it done. What’s even more enjoyable now is I get to get stuck into the next four weeks of training before the World Champs. I no longer need to prioritise some road running training for any half-marathons and can just focus on building the elevation work into my training and maintaining the speed I have developed this year so far. Thanks for reading such a long post if you’re still here!

3 responses to “A McLaren Vale wine tour with a difference”

  1. I’m still here and getting a good understanding of your stats.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mum, glad to hear on both fronts.


  2. […] in March with a bit more emphasis on 400m repeats and twice weekly strides (hard sprints) and as I reported after McLaren Vale I am now becoming more efficient at holding 3:00/km pace. To therefore believe that I was capable of cracking sub-15 (which, mind you I never thought I […]


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