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.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Twice released



Two hours after the gun for the full marathon, I lined up to run out the gate for the half marathon. I was warm and ready. The start area was literally on the beach. I don't like running on the beach. But beggars can't be choosers. After heavy rain the previous day, the sky was set for a good run. It wasn't cold. It wasn't warm. Just like the Rotorua Half, the event which was my other downgrade from a marathon, the weather was perfect.

And just like Rotorua, I'm pretty satisfied with my run although as usual keep thinking about what might have been. My net time (i.e. the time between my passing beneath the Start arch and Finish arch) was 1:36:33, which if offered to me as my next half marathon time I would have taken with open arms. That's about 1 minute 40 faster than Rotorua on a much more challenging course. (And a lot faster than my previous half mara.)  I cut a further 1 minute 20 off my fastest 15km time set just a few weeks ago. And that was all with injury thwarted preparation in the last 3 weeks. 

But I am a chronically fast starter. I ran the first 5km at 10km pace, again. I just got with a "nice crowd" that felt like a good pace. MapMyRun's vocalisations made it quite clear that my pace was unsustainable but I just couldn't back off from my own momentum. That "nice crowd" left me behind on North Head. Though not going to the top, it's quite a speedbump. But after descending, I I got with another "nice bunch" that I was either in front of or behind till the 18km mark. These nice bunches were really pushing me to (and apparently past) my potential: I was running still at 4:31/km pace for the course to that point, a pace until recently would have been unthinkable. At 18km I just had to keep it going for the last three and a bit to record a sub-1:36 time. 

It wasn't to be. There was a downhill, a hairpin turn, and a run back uphill and then that "nice bunch" who accompanied me for the last 8km cruised past me, and my next split came in at 5:00/km! And the next one. I just couldn't keep my speed and basically had given up a minute of time over those two kilometres relative to my pace thus far. It was a moderate "wall" which I was hitting. It gave me a brief rest though and in my 21st kilometre I recovered to record my 9th sub 4:30/km split before spattering on that last stretch, the finish line up a steep hill from the beach. 

All good fun. I'm still proud: 4:34/km pace for 21.1km is sensational for me at this time. 9 of the twenty one kilometre splits were below 4:30/km, 3 of which were under 4:20. For reference, in Rotorua, I only had one split under 4:30 - at that was the final sprint to the line where you can just go crazy without fear. Even in my fastest 10km training run ever just a week ago, only 6 splits were below 4:30 pace. (Incidentally that run might have been the one psychologically was the most important in the lead-up. It told me that: (a) I can run with my niggly knee at high pace; and that I had a new reserve of energy that could just keep going and going, that I didn't have before.) 

Browsing back over my runs for the year, I've got a lot to pleased about 3/4 of the way through the year. I have another 8 weeks before I potentially run in the Auckland Marathon to make up for missing this one. As long as I shake off this niggle, I'll advance a little more by then and be very ready for my first full marathon. Thinking back, Rotorua could have been, but it would have been hard. North Shore could have been, and I would have been well set. If Auckland comes to pass, I'll be one of the most prepared with an almost 12 month preparation. (And touch wood I get to the starting line and physiologically all goes well.)

I made something of a breakthrough in July when long runs, hills and intervals all brought a very noticeable jump in my times. Provided my knee continues its healthward trend (touch wood), I'll get back on that track and perhaps try a half marathon in three weeks (Onehunga and Devonport are around the corner). In them, I'll try to keep myself to 4:30/km for the first 5km and then see what I can do after that. I was lucky this time that in a 21.1km event, an reckless pace only had a small penalty and one that I could recover from. In the marathon, reckless pace for any of the first 35km could make for the most exquisite pain to end. 

This year of training has been a marathon. I really want to get over that line.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Twice bitten

I write this in the dark just over two hours before the start of the North Shore marathon in which I'm competing again in the half marathon. It was the inevitable but irksome nonetheless. This is my second campaign to run a full marathon and my second downgrade in the lead-in, the niggle mentioned in the last blog putting too much doubt (and foreseeable pain) into my running.

Fortunately, the naughty tendon seems to be coming right. But I'd started saying the words "coming right" yesterday afternoon. Before that it was two steps forward, two steps back. And.quite possibly this event could be the two steps back. I just know that two very brief jogs yesterday were the first niggle free runs I'd had in three weeks,

Fortunately this campaign might not be over yet as, provided the knee performs well today and the niggle itself goes soon, I'd use this as a stepping stone for the Auckland Marathon. I'm now fitter than any time in my life and it'd be a shame to not keep going. In the last three weeks, with my sore knee I've run my fastest 1 mile, 10km and 15km. Last weekend I ran up and down Mt Eden six times without that much tiredness. I am quite sure that with a hasty tendon transplant I'd have been able to run 42.2km this morning.

Speaking of which, BANG, they're off!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Which brings me to my knees

There is scarcely a run that doesn't involve some physiological drama or foreshadowing with me. I recall my first half-marathon where I'd told my mother to be prepared for my call should my IT bands fail me during the run stopping me from finishing. Then my calf strain in January nixxed my marathon plans in Rotorua. Phantom injuries have plagued me during this period of higher training, often amounting to just wasted worries.

I'm probably the kind always doomed for this kind of problems, both due to general consitution (flat-footed), temperament (tending to overdo it) and intellect (obsessed with thinking and theorising). It's not a surprise that during the most successful running month of my life, July 2017, where I ran 250km's for the first time and at times felt on top of the world, that I stopped running altogether for four days with a suspected (by me) stress fracture in my left shin. For a very long five days I felt pain even when walking. Every descent of the stairs from our home was a reminder that I wasn't going to be doing any running. How can I run when I'm not comfortable walking? And this in the lead-up to a half-marathon in Orewa. The fifth day, the Saturday before the race, I wanted to do a last ditch fitness test to determine whether I'd bother and finally got my shoes on and ran 4.3km. To my surprise, I felt fine. I didn't run how I wanted to the next day but the mere fact I was running was the surprise.

After that, I ran 200km over the next 3 weeks in the crucial period of my marathon lead-in. After running 35km on one of two occasions, my body, including my shins, felt fine. The only discomfort was a weird one: when I tried to take off my left shoe, using the right foot behind my left heel, the inside of my left knee would hurt. It wasn't a major thing. But after a few more runs, it was more noticeable with other movements too. There was a weird irony: My knee didn't stop me in anyway running, but when I walked or manoeuvred around the house, it was a noticeable pain, sensation or tightness. Niggles come and go but this was really starting to annoy, much like my shin pain of the previous month. I did one of my fastest runs ever over 15km and felt fine. But the very next run, I regretted every stride. At no stage did the knee feel fine. I ran on a long loop and if I stopped, I'd be late getting back to commute to work. So I kept running and kept regretting until I hobbled home. I rested but the following weekend was full of worry. On a crucial weekend, I ran two sub-optimal runs and called a physio.

The physio checked me out and identified the misbehaving tendon (called the semitendinosus) and gave me some exercises. I rested for two days and tried to run again with only a moderate sensation. I tried again the next morning, regretted every step and pulled out after 2.5km. I rested another two days and ran a half marathon distance this morning feeling it for the first 15km but not much for the last 6km. I don't know what to make of it. I hope the physio can treat it some more tomorrow.

I'm not sure if I'll get to the starting line for the marathon in 2 weeks' time, or whether I'll downgrade it yet again to half-marathon (or 10km), rest and then aim for the Auckland Marathon at the end of October. I'm practical and I'm not bound to this marathon or that. It'll be rather annoying not to do it now... but I can't force it.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The long run up

 I was shuffling along the last stretch of my morning run, cellphone in hand so I could see the count-up of time and distance. The three hour mark had ticked over 9 minutes earlier. All I wanted to see was the 35km mark. It was 34.75km. My calves cried. 34.80km. My knees felt otherworldly. 34.85km. A hill presented before me. I didn't want to go over it. 34.90km. I felt myself slow as I crawled over the slope. 34.95km. Head down, bear it; bear it. My phone announced my passing of 35km. I waited for the announcement of all relevant details to end before my propulsion ceased. I uncharacteristically let out a little yelp. Perhaps it was joy. Perhaps, relief. Perhaps pain.

It was my first 3 hour long run, the kind which are essential according to traditional marathon training plans, and just my third run over 30 kilometres. For background, even though the marathon is over 42 kilometres, it is unusual for runners to try to run that distance in training, mainly because it's a huge demand on the body to run so far that the body would need a long time recovering, which would compromise other forms of training. It would also have a greater chance of injury. So bizarrely it is an event where no-one does a dress rehearsal. You just do all the required phases and then on the day it should be possible. A stride into the unknown. Though there are people who now discourage 3 hour runs, after today's effort I can relate to one of the many reasons it's recommended: it toughens you up and gives you a taste of what you're really in for in the last phase of the event, namely, the mental challenge of pushing yourself onward in spite of your body's increasingly strident recommendations otherwise.

There is an enemy in this event mostly unknown to non-runners: the wall. Hitting the wall refers to when a runner has expended all their immediately available energy and are hit with sudden fatigue. This often happens in the 30s. A 3 hour run is almost certainly going to give you an introduction to The Wall, and give you a taste of its bitter flavour.

Another important, perhaps more important, part of training is the increase in mileage. Aside from a few periods where mechanical issues with my body kept me still, I've been running on a weekly basis since April last year, but very rarely on consecutive days. Only in August last year did I exceed 20km on any single run. And work was always an obstacle. This year since April I've been sustaining an average of 40km a week but recently I've been cranking it up in the lead up, trying to stay between 60-80km a week. This requires running on 2-3 work days and I've been managing with some early wake-ups and the occasional evening run at Nike running or Adidas running clubs. The chief purpose of mileage is to strengthen the joints, ligaments, tendons and the energy systems required for running. Also by spreading runs over the week you can introduce a lot of variety from normal runs, to speedwork, to hills, to recovery. 

I have five weeks to go to my first marathon, and I'm feeling like I've on track. But go back exactly 7 days I felt that it was almost off. I'd gotten myself thinking that I had a stress fracture. I had reason - ever since I recovered from a calf tear at the start of the year, I'd been bothered by pain in the mid-shin. Usually this was during the warm-up and often went away but it could linger for portions of the run and even resurface at a later time. My first fear was that it was shinsplints, which can be a precursor to a stress fracture. But there were reasons against the hypothesis. Both conditions should be evident in all runs. But even though I had it in the Coatesville Classic in March (in both shins!), I didn't feel anything in the Rotorua Half-Marathon. But it was recurring a lot in my recent runs, often in the beginning and fading. The Monday before last I felt it and, like usual, ignored it. I did interval runs which are a kind of speed work. Even running back I still felt the pain in my left shin. I got ready for work and felt pain again as I descended stairs and as I walked around. I gave it a rest but the following morning it was the same. And then the next morning. And the next morning, too. I could feel it even in normal walking around the office. This was the week before the Millwater Half Marathon last Sunday, and here I was not being able to walk without discomfort. I wasn't training at all and feeling bad for it. I was planning to give myself a "fitness test" on Friday morning to see if I could run at all, but felt it so bad on Thursday that I didn't bother. 

Saturday rolled around, the day before the event, and I felt the full weight of it. My marathon plan would be out the window for sure. But I couldn't do it on a presumption. So I put my shoes on and went for a 4 km run around the block. And didn't feel a thing wrong with my shins. I was apoplectic.I got my gear together and ran the Millwater event just a scratch under 1:40 for the half, which though nothing to stick on the wall, was OK. (I paced it foolhardily and probably would have done better with at least a little bit of running this week.) Since then I've run over 70km in 6 days and still barely a whimper from my shins. I'd almost thrown it all away for a fickle sensation in my shins.


It is possible that my increase in mileage triggered something and my shin really did need a break. My caution might have been the best approach possible. It's just funny the way things happen and today I put myself through a challenge that my legs, including my shins, have never undergone and still they are same-as-they-ever-was.

 Run on. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Face value

Glory be it to Freya, the Goddess of Fridays. Even after the audit working life is still frenetic and adrenal-draining. I've never been a big "TGIF" person but TGIF. My body succumbed to a cold last weekend and its dregs are still glooping within. Fortunately, while I'm fighting on several workplace fronts, I'm generally winning and where I'm not I'm not particularly caring.

Glory be it to Freya. We will be moving into a new apartment shortly. It'll be our space and domain. Running tracks are yet to be established but hill repeats of a certain mount are expected to be part of it. The search was an interesting one: We had one campaign earlier in the year but ran out of time and energy. The time and energy were just enough to get through the search and nail shut one of the two offers we got. Generally it was easy to tell if you could live in a place. You just know. And I'll be agents or landlords know it too when you come to inspect. And such is the case with interviewing new staff. And one of my work campaigns is very similar to this, the process of hiring new staff.

Recruiting is funny business. I've had full control and responsibility for hiring for about 6 months until just recently. These six months have had some hits and some extraordinarily bad misses. I remember early on the HR manager often told me about her feelings after speaking to someone over the phone - and often her feelings were proven true. I really should have listened to my feelings rather than believe in the potential of others to surprise. On this side of the interview table, first impressions are crucial information about whether to invest time and attention to any particular candidate.

If it weren't bad enough to be relying on first interactions, recruiting lets you understand customs better. Profiling. Works. (Most of the time, of course. And it is often recommended as a practical method when you are time poor and need someone who's more chance of being reliable.) I won't say what profiles are not the best bets. We've had three interviews just recently: One gave a poor impression over the phone by being impolite when we tried to bring the interview forward 15 miuntes; when that person arrived, they matched also a non-desired profile, and didn't really appeal in the interview. One gave a positive impression over the phone and looks the good in the interview, now it just remains whether they join the team and perform to expectations. I've learned through some painful experiences that certain demographics have a much higher risk factor.

But that being said, if I wanted to remind myself of the lack of hard-and-fast rules, the worst act of inappropriacy came from a teacher from the most reliable demographic. And that will be remembered for a long time.

The more I recruit and manage people the more I realise something that is rather obvious. Employment is an incredibly odd situation to be in: a new employee has to adapt to a bizarre new world; be told what to do, what to value; be assessed on your words and actions; have expectations put upon them. Simply put, it's unnatural. Not surprisingly it's not for everyone, except for that fact that it has to be for almost everybody. Work is the most common way of generating the main part of our wealth. Being both unnatural but necessary, most workers come with baggage, tics and scars. And it's hard not to let it show.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Swirling in the calm

Now that the worst of my busyness has passed, smaller problems that would have been disconcerting hardly registered on the worry-meter. A crisis of marking. A precipitous staffing situation. A series of unusual situations with a teacher. A relief teacher needing relief. But I haven't lost much sleep about them - they're nothing compared to what preceded. But one of these raised quite a lot of thoughts in my mind.

I would like to talk about it but I know however I say it it'll sound like some kind of "mansplaining". Let me preface the views below: Of course I have no idea what it is like to be a woman and to experience situations with men who still believe it's a man's world. But that doesn't mean I cannot imagine it and also make sure that those exposed to it are protected. It's only through trying to understand that we advance. I wouldn't try to "mansplain" as I will below with the company of any woman, but this is a blog and I'm happy to expose my ignorance into the vacuum.

One awkward realm is where men are looking for a relationship, or find themselves having affection towards someone, which might also be as strong as infatuation, with friends. I've been there, done that as a man. I was lucky I had an understanding person at the time. It must take an awful lot of patience and tolerance to put up with someone who has interest in you beyond what you have in them. I believe I still have a friend. In the recent situation, a friendship has ceased, the bridges are burned, there is confusion on one side and disgust and anger on the other. 

There's the ideal that friends help one another selflessly, and the cynical belief that there is no such thing as a platonic relationship between heterosexual men and women. In a clash of beliefs, men sometimes operate with the thought that they're owed something when they help women. Men might bemoan the fact that they are the ones who have to make the first move. But think about it from a woman's point of view: it's hard enough to have to be the one to say "no" politely to someone insistent, and harder when it's a friend, and a friend who has helped you who you are grateful to. Sometimes the help and attention is ceaseless, and the pressure mounts and something snaps. 

I won't go into any details of the incident but needless to say there was friendship, unwelcome interest, angst and a messy aftermath. The worst thing about it is that one party doesn't really know how this happened. And it doesn't help to school people in their own ignorance or lack of progress in understanding equality between the sexes and prefer to deal in old world sexual mores. In this case it could also be just a lack of self-knowledge.

White men have had to adapt to an increasingly pluralistic society that is changing in so many ways; their place as definer of mainstream values has eroded. Trump is hopefully the final reflux burp of mistaken nostalgia towards those old school values. As Bill Maher said, Trump will be the last 50's man in the White House, not that the Don's views are restricted to those born in that decade. Bill Maher had a rare slip of a similar kind. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWZ_uQwKpAo). White privilege is invisible to the white. Male privilege is invisible to men. I love the way that this has been attacked in creative ways (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51-hepLP8J4).