City2South Win and Lead Up

The Brisbane Times City2South is one of my favourite events in Brisbane. A great, challenging 14km course including Highgate “Heartbreak” Hill towards the end that fits in well with my half and full marathon training. I finished the event 4th in 2014 and 3rd in 2015. For this year, I set my goal to go at least one place better to finish 2nd or 1st. Winning a iconic local race means lots to me and having recently gotten back in shape I knew what I was capable of it.

But how did I prepare for it? A win is never just a one day fluke, but rather a product of a few months of consistent work. After a longer block of base training with lots of strength and endurance work including plenty of cross-training at the end of last year, I was finally back running daily from January with 80-110km per week.

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The first highlight of the year wouldn’t be a running event as you might expect, but the anticipated arrival of our first child in early February. Like a Swiss clock, Kai was very timely and arrived on his due date. I had a contingency plan ready for people to take all my group and PT sessions when we are in hospital and planned for a few weeks of reduced training to support my young family. Due to a lot of credit to my wife, I found myself back in my normal work and training routine after about 10 days (except the sleepless nights that kept on going for many months ;)

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So I decided last minute to enter the Queensland 10’000m Championships at the end of February simply as a first race hit out for the year to see where I was at. The 25 laps on the track were much harder than I was begging for after 4 months with no racing at all. I won the Queensland 10’000m championships a few years back, so this was only my second attempt for a 10km on the track and there is definitely still plenty of room for improvement. Finishing 3rd place in a modest time of 32:45 was acceptable knowing I am only at the start of my season. Back to marathon training and starting to increase my weekly mileage 120 – 180km over the next 6 weeks and get my running legs back.

The next target event was the Brisbane’s Great South Run Half-marathon in April. Being a new event on a fast flat IAAF-AIMS certified course in Algester suited me well for another hit out aiming to run the 21.1km in under 70min. Glen, my former training partner from my days as a steeplechase runner was giving me great company and we started taking leads at the front of the race without knowing who will be stronger in the end. I planned my attack for the last 3km with a big surge but had to kick hard a couple of times before I had a 10-20m break on Glen. The last kilometre was painful as I got a stitch from working so hard and missed my goal of sub 70min. Winning in a course record time of 1:10:33 was a solid performance that I am happy with but certainly one I can improve on for the same event next year.

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Another couple of weeks of high mileage training with a peak of 200km one week and some more marathon specific training saw me getting into life-time peak shape. I decided to taper for the next event and run a personal best time at the Noosa Ultimate Half-marathon in May. My last hard training session on Thursday before the race confirmed that I was in shape. A relatively short session of 2x 10min surges at lactate threshold pace of 3:10 and average HR of 165 together with some other training data confirmed that this is spot on my current lactate threshold. In theory, a well trained runner should be able to run at lactate threshold for 60 minutes if in peak shape and tapered. I was certainly in peak shape and all I would do now until Sunday’s race is rest up.

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I have won the Noosa half-marathon on 2 occasions; in 2011 (1:08:23 course PB) and 2014. Finishing 2nd in 2015, I wanted to come back either to take a third win or run a personal best time. Turning up in Noosa, there were a few other fast elites on the start line including Isaias Beyn from Eritrea and Ben Ashkettle from New Zealand, both very experienced international marathon runners that live in Australia themselves. We headed off together with a first kilometre in 3:02 which was slightly too quick for me so I decide to hold back straight away and aim to run exactly at my lactate threshold pace of 3:10. I went through 10km in 31:43 and feeling comfortable. With Isaias and Ben further ahead and a chasing pack behind, I was running the whole race by myself but never lost focus or confidence that I can bring it home at that intensity. My pace was pretty consistent with 5km split times of 15:47, 15:57, 16:19 and 16:06 and there were only 2 or 3km I lost a few seconds off my threshold pace, with the slowest km being 3:20. Anyone that has run Noosa knows that while the course is generally flat it is far from easy with 12 bridges to cross and slight headwinds in parts. I kicked home the finish 3rd in 1:07:07 with a new personal best time for the half-marathon. More importantly was the confirmation that I can train myself precisely into peak-shape and knowing that running at lactate threshold for 60 minutes is actually possible even though it is extremely tiring both physically and psychologically. This race gave me a lot of confidence leading into City2South only 7 days later.

The training that week wasn’t exactly easy as I did a few hill sprints on Tuesday followed by a 37km marathon simulation long run on Thursday, which I ran at an average pace of 3:51. Then it was back at easy jogging until race day on Sunday.
As mentioned, my aim for City2South this year was to finish second or first. However, as the starting list for these events is not released, you never know who will actually turn up on the day and what shape they are in. Getting ready on Sunday morning in the elite tent, the winner from the last 2 years Al Stevenson was there. Courtney Atkinson was missing as he was trying to qualify for the Australian Olympic team. A couple of quick local runners were there, but others were missing. My chances were similar to previous years but this time I was in better shape. There was quite a strong wind blowing through Brisbane. I didn’t want that to change my race plan of running at a solid pace early on to get through 10km in under 32min, but still with enough energy in the tank before we would hit the 2.5km long uphill section to the top of Highgate Hill, where the race is usually decided (even though the 1km downhill is still hard on your legs).

The gun goes off and full of excitement I hit the front at a fast pace of 3:06. To my surprise, I found myself ahead in the wind going along Coronation drive with none following my pace early which might have appeared suicidal in these conditions. The course is anything less than flat with constant rolling hills and wind from different directions made it impossible to run an even pace so I relied on my feel instead (I never run with a HR monitor in races as I prefer to run by feel or pace which is more decisive). While I had a solid lead on the chase pack, I convinced myself that I need to have a one minute safety gap on the next runners before I hit Heartbreak Hill if I wanted my chances to win to remain.

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I hit the 10k turning point at UQ in 32:02 right on target but the next runner was only about 35 to 40 seconds behind my with a bigger group a few seconds after. No easing off going up the hill, I gave it everything I had to get to the top first. Then downhill and few turns before I could see the finish line. Crossing that line first was a sweet victory having tried to win my local race for a few years now. I missed the course record by 6 seconds but in saying that, the course is slightly different every year and has varied from 13.7km to 13.5km this year. I called my wife who would have loved to be here to watch my finish but had to stay home to look after our 3 month old. Instead of prize money, there were some good prizes for our family; a 6 month gym membership I could pass on to my wife for her sacrifices and 2 economy return flights kindly sponsored by Singapore Airlines.

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Now a few weeks later we have booked our trips, I will be taking my family including Kai to a visit home to Switzerland in May 2017. Thanks to Singapore Airlines for this awesome prize. I might miss City2South next year if it is on the same day but will be back for sure if I is held on a different date or the following years again.

Thanks to my family, sponsors and partners for their ongoing support in my running career.