Sunday, October 29, 2017

The day

This day has been only one thing. And it was the most challenging thing I've ever done. In the comparison of expectations and reality, it was a bit of a let down but reality is all that counts. The marathon, I say stating the obvious, is a very long race. A lot can happen.

I woke at 3am, got ready and headed to the city. I was kitted up in race gear with nothing else on top, and the first surprise, which shouldn't have been a surprise, Auckland CBD was a wild Saturday night, which I was greeting with Sunday morning eyes. I felt quite self-conscious walking among revellers with my race bib on my front. I left on the 4:20am ferry to Devonport. The area was still getting reading but I like to take all the time in the world warming up, getting my head there. It was a warm humid morning, apparently 16 degrees. The hour and a half to start breezed by and before I knew it I was in my pace group. I was going to follow the 3:30 pace group which the pace calculators suggested would be a good, but slightly conservative pace. The horn blew and we were off.

I restrained my speed with only marginal success in the first 5km, keeping just below 5min/km pace and trailing the pace group. This annoyed me a little because the pace group should have been further back. After early hills, I decided to get in front of the pack and probably went to fast at this juncture. I slowed a touch before the harbour bridge and that's when I heard the pace group a few metres behind me. Pacers, by their function, attract groups and that group was about 30 strong. I didn't want to particularly be right in front of them, nor right behind them so I went a little faster to get some space. I'd been distantly tracking a friend Ian and eventually caught up with him at this stage. I felt pretty good so after a brief chat, I floated down the other side of the harbour bridge. And after a loop-de-loop I was at the viaduct, clicking the half-way mark at 1:43:15. A slow half marathon pace, and 4:54km/min pace. It was in the pace range I'd aimed for but it wasn't long after half-way that I realised the goal wasn't realistic.

The course is an interesting one to think about. First half: diverse hills, a motorway section, the bridge; second half: flat, to St Helliers and back. It was when I was passing Britomart that my feet started to feel heavy. I kept going a pretty good clip but by the time I was getting to Kohimarama I felt like I wasn't going to be able to continue at the pace. I had a toilet break and when I resumed I still felt pretty slow. After the turn at St Helliers I walked sections, especially those with drinks, and ran at a slow dawdle in between. It was agony. It took a lot of effort to get the will to resume running. Fortunately, my usually slower friends were all coming either the other way and then eventually from behind to overtake me and they all pushed me onwards.

Also fortunately the IT bands, though occasionally threatening, never eventuated. My biggest problem was garden-variety fatigue. I had other nuisances like my ears popping and my stomach was in some distress. With the walk/run rhythm, my pace dropped for the last 10km to between 5:45 and 6:30 mins per kilometre. Fortunately, again, and to state the obvious, that was still moving at a reasonable pace even though all dreams of 3:30 were long since impossible. By the time I'd gotten to the intersection to Grafton I only stopped once for a drink. All the running felt on the knife-edged of stopping. The track weaved through the back streets of the viaduct and then finally to Victoria Park. They'd made the decision this year to have the final stretch in the centre of the park. The effect was good! It was a lift to have a grand finish. I ran in at 3:46:35. And could barely walk for at least another hour.

So, I'm a marathoner! My time, though not heroically amazing, is on the board. I have an experience to understand the race for the future, too. Though I still feel a little embarrassment in undercutting my target and suffering so much, it'll be what drives me in my next big run. Importantly I wasn't injured besides some friction-related bother. Now's a time to rest and let my body get over it and then I can plan my next exploit!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

One day

So we get to the day before. Days-before are interesting: Many are for one-off events like weddings, but most days-before occur prior to things that could happen again and again, like job interviews, dates, meeting "the parents", etc., which are special the first time but become less of "a thing" as time goes on. Marathons, from what I've heard are in-between: in their own right, they're an abnormal, challenging act that cannot become ordinary. Even experienced people seem to feel tense the day before a marathon. Half marathons are still special to me, but I can imagine one day soon I might forget about it the day-before.

I went on a loosener run this morning. It might strike some as odd to run the day before a marathon but it's widely cited as helpful. Make sense too: It activates all the joints and muscles. As it was damp this morning, I used old shoes, which I regretted a little. After running 500m some of the old tight areas felt tight straightaway but I finished, stretched, and now will chill out for the rest of the day.

I'll prepare to wake at 3am, have breakfast, gear up, drive to my carpark and walk to the ferry. The race begins at 6am so I'd like to be there early to drop my bag, queue for "the facilities" and keep mobile and ready. One of the decisions that is still in my head is whether to wear my camelbak (a small backpack full of water) with me. They'll have water on the course, of course, but I like the freedom to hydrate when I want and without relying on others. The water stands are also a bit of a hazard to approach, with people ducking in and out, some stopping, slowing, starting, cups on the ground etc. I might leave the stands till later in the race when I need electrolyte drinks or if I want to tip water over my head, rather than drink.

The day-before ideally is not the day for decision making. That should have been done already. The weather should be the only variable - the forecast is not bad yet but isn't the best. After bailing on two marathons with perfect weather, it was only right that when I am actually ready to do one the weather wasn't going to play ball. But a lot can change in Auckland.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Three days

Now that I've started a countdown, I might as well continue it. It's the Thursday before the Sunday. Quite a few things have resolved themselves: I've hit my sponsorship target (still with a few likely donations to come in); my IT band situation has improved somewhat and the weather forecast for the day, that as distant forecast was heavy rain, has now become sunshine and rainbows. Nice. Very little has not progressed in the right direction apart from work distractions, which there are a lot, and the fact that the t-shirt from my charity hasn't arrived in the mail, not that that is really my problem.

The key improvement in all of the above is the lessening of my IT band issues. It was worst four weeks ago when suddenly it terminated a 30km run at the 15km mark, and then was a pain or sensation in almost every run thereafter. Massage might have relieved it but as soon as running resumed, so did the onset of the syndrome. About the time of the last blog, in desperation, I tried everything on the Internet and a couple of those things stuck, and it is one of those things that I'd like to describe as a typical "discovery" kind of act but with a bit of context.

When I started being a "runner" I read a little but also I rejected a lot. I was quite conservative about the way I did everything. Every run was a flat out run. I didn't do any easy runs. I did static stretching (the stretches where you hold for 10 seconds or more then release) before and after runs. I didn't do any strengthening exercises beyond what the physio had given me to fix a problem. But slowly I adopted certain habits and ways of doing things which are obviously said to be useful and other people are obviously doing. I just needed it really put in front of me with the obvious reasoning or when I was facing the obvious results of not doing it.

Leg swings are a kind of most common kinds of dynamic stretches. I remember seeing them being done (and not having a bar of them) at the last Auckland Marathon. I'd started doing one kind of leg swing about 6 months ago (between front and back) but hadn't done any others because I had enough trouble fitting all my warm-ups in before my run as it was. But IT bands, though affecting the knees, often comes from problems in the hips, and a sideways leg swing was mentioned on one (only one) of the many resources I read. I gave them a try and, along with some other more banal techniques, my following runs had far fewer symptoms. My physio yesterday noticed that my quad inflammation had decreased (although was still present). And most of my runs, albeit short tapering runs, have been without much bother.

IT band syndrome may still rear its dastardly head in the much longer, gruelling event on Sunday but at least for now I have peace of mind that it may not and it's not an inevitability that it once was. Three days to go and there is still some improvement that may happen.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

7 days

In a week's time, I should be sitting on a sofa contemplating my goal for the last year, to run a marathon. It was in the wake of my first half marathon at the Auckland Marathon last year that I decided to run a marathon. It seems nice to run my first marathon at the Auckland Marathon. I'm an Aucklander, after all.

In my last blog I mentioned that I was battling IT band syndrome, and with some disappointment I have to admit that I still aim. I'm desperately trying things to reduce the chances of it going full-blown during the marathon. In all my runs, bar one, I've felt sensations but none of my runs have ended because of it. I was glad to be able to do the 35km run while having it. It would have been interesting to know if I would have been able to keep running with it for another seven kilometres. To describe what it's like, I can only say it starts with a mixture of sensations, possibly around the knee, but most often in my outside quad or hip. It then centres on the bony point on the lower outside of you knee. And then finally you get sharp pain in your knee and you have to stop. On some of my runs I've gotten to that second to last symptom but never got to that last one. I'll be doing lots of exercise, stretching and massage to address it prior to next Sunday.

Regardless whether I get to the end, I can still be proud of all the training up to this point. I recall a blog 6 months ago:

"Presuming I finish my training run tomorrow as expected, I'll have run 100km in the last four weeks, which isn't a big amount. But the results have been pleasing: my last half-marathon length run was a PB (1:45:07). My last 10 kilometre run was a PB (45:40). My last 5 kilometre run was my second best ever (21:36, PB: 21:23). Things are going pretty fast and I'm not sure if I'm reaching a plateau or whether I can still make sizable progress. There is probably a ceiling of performance, i.e. what with perfect training my body might be able to achieve, that I must be getting closer to. I'd dream of doing a 20 minute 5km or a 42 minute 10km, or even a 1 hour 30 half marathon, or a sub 4 hour marathon. These might be above or below that ceiling because at this point they're all just theoretical conceptions as far as I'm concerned. Especially the marathon which is still just an idea whose reality is yet to brutalise my body."

The good news is that there hasn't been a plateau or ceiling of performance yet. Or not one that wasn't broken. I broke a 20 minute just 5 days ago (albeit on a very flat route). Last week, I could run 10km in 42:28 (on a hilly route). A 1:30 half-marathon isn't likely any time soon, but if I keep running with the current push without injuries I might be able to in another 12 months. I've chopped 9 minutes off my half marathon time in the last 6 months after all. And that's why even if I smash the marathon I don't want the running to end. The marathon might be a goal, but I still hold a lot of running goals. There is a lot more to run for. If all goes well next Sunday, I'll run a 3:30 marathon. Regardless of the result, my fitness is pointing to me being able to do it faster. The pace calculators suggest I might already be capable of 3:20. My current best half marathon, a more accessible distance, is 1:36, but I'm a competitive guy and a family friend is still crowing about his 88 minute half marathon PB. I wouldn't mind trying to get it below 1:30 as a long term goal and try to give his record a shake. I believe 1:35 is already very achievable if I were running a half in a week instead of a full. As for the 5km and 10km, I'd like to join a parkrun or some-such to try 5km in a different format, and try to "prove" my 5km training PB in a race situation.

Running has been a welcome relief to the business of work. I've been more trench-bound than I've ever been with very little relief. I'm glad the year is coming to an end. It's a long weekend now. It'll be two glorious weeks at the end of the year and we'll have a month in China in Feb/March. I can't wait for a break from this.

Monday, October 09, 2017

20 days

This blog has had its moments, but probably running has been one of the longest "running" topics. Considering the number of successes, setbacks, failures and navel-gazing I've done while on this running kick, a blog is almost indispensable to make sense of what I'm doing and why I persist in doing it. It all started with rehab from a broken knee, then transformed into a way to get fitter, then evolved into a desire to run a half marathon, and now a full marathon. Even though I've had my dramas, I always have to see them in the bigger scheme: I'm in the best fitness and health of my life. And in 21 days, I'll probably have run a marathon.

Probably? Well, I fear almost speaking in any certainty considering the dramas of the past. I finished my last big run yesterday morning and felt a little broken. Or maybe I was just coming right. Or maybe I just don't know. You see I've been having what I hope is the last drama of my training for the last week. It started last weekend when I was getting into what was going to be my second to last super big run. I started well, running to the base of the harbour bridge and then cruised along the waterfront, a runner's paradise, but as I approached Okahu bay I felt a very familiar sensation in my left knee. My left knee had been a site for my recent troubles but these sensations were on the opposite side and recall a certain problem from last year. It started with some sensations in my quad and then to the outside joint of my knee, and then tightened over the knee, and then I couldn't run. I had only run 15km and I had to walk back home. It was the IT band syndrome again.

Last year it was because I had the wrong shoes. This year, I guessed it was because my shoes were too old. I changed immediately and the next day I managed to run but not far. I rested a day then on Tuesday ran an half marathon distance summitting Mt Eden nine times. That might have been a crazy idea but I knew uphills would be easier with this problem. The IT band problem was evident but didn't stop me running 21.1km. It must have been getting better, right? I ran again on Wednesday and Thursday with sensations but on each occasion, I finished my runs as planned. I rested again on Friday and then Saturday was always going to again run big. That was just yesterday.

And so I got up at 4:30am, ran at 6:00am and about the same place, Okahu Bay, I felt the tightening, the same sensations that I feared. But I ran on. I hoped to get to St Helliers as that was when the hills back home went. It was not painful painful but not comfortable. I got to St Helliers and still felt it tolerable. I must say that I was running well under schedule, nearly a minute faster than my fast long run 3 weeks earlier. Once up the hill it was onto the St Johns/Remuera spine of the central suburbs and while I was never free of the creeping discomfort, it was never that bad either. I plowed on. I got over 30km which for my marathon preparation was important to me. I was still running fast, now two and a half minutes faster than my fastest 32km. In the following 3km my knee was particularly strident about stopping but I didn't, and I ran right to our gate, 35.3km done. That was mission accomplished but I wondered at what cost. The fact that I could run to the end meant it was getting less severe. But did running like that for the whole duration set me back. Would I be free of the nuisance of it that had caused me grief for a week? And how can I be sure it wouldn't rear its head on event day regardless?

The time to the event now is the taper when I reduce mileage. I hope that with some specialised exercises and treatment I can shake it off and prepare for my event smoothly. I hope.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Pluralism

A week ago now we had an election in New Zealand. And a week later we still don't have a resolution to who actually will be the governing parties for the next three years. There are a variety of "possibilities" for how negotiations could go, which could mean any of the parties and elected representatives being part of a government. The focus of the media has been the so-called king maker, Winston Peters, who is recognised as the person who, though leading a party with 7% of the vote, could decide which bloc could be government. He despite constant media bothering says he going to wait for the final confirmed election result.

I don't particularly like the person of Winston Peters. But I do agree that any pushing for negotiations before the final vote count is ridiculous, apart from overtures and the testing of water. I don't like the policies of this kingmaker either, but I do think this electoral system which leads to this kind of limbo is a positive.

I guess I'm not a big fan of black and white, and grey is a more realistic state of affairs. A government of compromise and of mixed successes, with fewer extremes and ideological purity, can only be good. Regardless of the extra time required, despite the characters it brings into the mix, and the wacky results it can bring, I like the fact that as a country we have this way. Let pluralism rule.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Big month?

After the uncertainty of the weeks leading up to the North Shore marathon, things have taken on an interesting beat. Perhaps with no event around the corner, I've opened myself up to some freedom to challenge my own injuries. Against my first instinct, I've run rather strongly after the event. I'd planned to take some time off but, perhaps in response to the improving trend of my knee, I put added emphasis on strengthening and putting the knee through its paces. 10 days since the event I've run over 90km at an average pace of 4:47/km, including intentionally slow runs. And the knee, well, the knee is still far from perfect. It aches a little bit when I'm in bed in the morning. I can't really do a full kneel right now without doing so very gingerly. And until recently, all of my runs featured discomfort in the joint. Not good.

But not all bad. Probably the spur for this blog was something of a milestone or two. I participated in Nike Running Club again, against my better judgement. My knee had been showing some signs of misbehaviour during the day but I thought I'd still go ahead. I got kitted up in the office and jogged down Queen Street to the start point. And didn't feel a thing at all in my knee. Ironically my left heel was weird and my medial shin discomfort was singing - two things that weren't problems before. We did a group warm-up and only with very certain movements did the knee problem say a little "hello". And then we were off! I went in my usual pace group and distance, 10km at 4:30/km, but the pacer said he'd go more 4:15-4:20. Eek! My fastest pace for 10 was still 4:23/km. And I wasn't confident with the route. We blasted along Quay Street to start, then through the Strand and my running app was telling me that this was not a good pace for the first 2km, under 4:00/km, which I knew meant I'd probably run my fastest mile (which I did) at the start of a 10km run, still with 8km to go! And I knew what was coming next - the rise to Symond Street (which apparently others in the running bunch didn't know - two taller runners hit the wall on the rise). Pace slide back a little on the up but there were intermittent rests for lights, which also paused my running app's clock. Once at the top, I went into cruise control, always about 3m behind the pacer. From that point it was mostly downhill to Nelson St, Wellington Street, Franklin Rd and then the flat of the viaduct. I was with the pacer as we were coming up to the ferry building and the pacer said that we'd be able to make the pedestrian cross. From somewhere came a second wind and I outsprinted everyone across the Albert St intersection, streaked through the Queen Street intersection and only slowed slightly into the Nike archway.

My app had the first 10km of the run at 43:21, 30 seconds faster than my previous 10km PB. My mile PB is now 6:06. And my knee wasn't a problem at all. It's a nice feeling to achieve and be relieved of some of the worry. This could be a false dawn for my knee. It's still far from normal. But as a milestone run, I'm glad I took the risk.