Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Secret Ingredient(s)

We often speak about the magic of childhood, of having an unlimited imagination and unrestricted ability to believe in what is and could be, to be able to play and enjoy a world well beyond the mundane reality. Later, whether it is the development of the brain or the evils of the education system, this magic is slowly dispelled until we become cynical adults. But there is a much different mundane magic that seems to start in childhood that often lingers far into one's adult years.

Take mealtimes, for example. When I was young, evening meals turned up on the table and family banter naturally blossomed. Of course, I knew my mother usually made it, but that was just a function of her being a mother. Take a book: they were there by the hundred in the bookstore or library ready to read. How did they get there? Take any institution, object, person or concept that has been with us for some time and you have something overlooked in its beginning, its development, its refinement and its possible end. These can all be put into a common box of phenomena, "taking things for granted", "ignoring in plain sight" or "the effortlessness of others to do what is a strain to oneself". It's as if there is a secret ingredient or ingredients in almost everything - that proportion of something's being or doing that is not seen or understood.

I thought about this several times recently. Once was when our school moved premises and we got the teachers over to help with creating the new arrangement. The teachers however thought the school would be mostly "prepared" for them. But there are a thousand decisions to make for a school, not all made for by some "moving people". What makes a school feel like a school? When they arrived, the conclusion was "it's a dump" and there was surprise at the need to move around tables. Even to try different tables in different rooms requiring us to set and reset. Perhaps they always had been to schools that were already set up, the "magic" was already there. Or they thought all the decisions and effort would be done by "someone" like it always had been. In this case, I'm not sure by whom or when they expected it to happen. To sustain the magic in something else, just don't ask questions and believe and hope for the best. 

One of the difficult decisions sometimes is deciding if and when "the magician" wants people to know what the secret ingredient is, or how much they are throwing in. During childhood, parents generally keep children from most of that mundane magic of maintaining a happy marriage, keeping the gutter clear as part of a showering routine and keeping your inventory of food in the fridge and pantry just right, just as only in certain circumstances do we talk about sex, birth and death with children.

As a manager I sometimes don't know how much of the magic I should dispel from my position. Magic is a good thing and people don't need to know all the nuts and bolts. But by the same token, a lot of the decisions can appear arbitrary or efforts unappreciated. 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

WeSheep

When it comes to brave new worlds, China is a cut ahead of the rest right now. Now that cash is almost a thing of the past and the complete integration of life to a mobile device is almost complete, it is definitely a world newer than most modern western societies. The bravery, however, is as ironic as ever. The decision to enter this new world would seem to be driven simply by the desire to combine and simplify. And when you look at how complicated life has been in this modern age and how the technology of today could make it sweep away so many of the hassles, who wouldn't? Think about the following hassles:
- remembering passwords
- different loyalty programs
- payments for all the different utilities
- deposits
- security checks at airports
- entering competitions
- investing 
- visas
- queuing at checkouts and for medical care
- paying at petrol stations
- filling in applications
- changing currency
- paying tolls
- splitting restaurant bills
- renewing subscriptions or memberships
- different apps for services such as uber, expedia, etc.

And you take them all and make them simple decisions in one place. Wouldn't that be lovely! In China this has been done or is being done with WeChat and, to a degree, Alipay. I had a taste of this in China before I left but it has leaped ahead even further. Before I left, it was easy to find restaurants in the area with a promotion, buy a voucher ("Pay 80 yuan for a 100 yuan voucher") go there with friends and split the bill without much effort at all. We'd just flick our money with WeChat wallet. No awkward breaking of dollar bills at the counter. No exchanging of account numbers. We were pretty "slow adopters" and there were already things we were missing out on. Now apparently you can navigate most days without cash or cards. If only it could do the washing up.

In the west, we have too many quite justified scruples around this kind of integration. Even with the current range of apps, we are unnerved by the sharing of information and the accumulation of Big Data. What happens if the credit card company knows about my personal life? What about the insurance company? Governments have a problem with it regarding antitrust and competition. In the article I linked at the top, it shows that in China even further integration into life to cover almost all of the things above and more. People have chosen to take the lazy leap of faith to surrendering their entirety to be relieved in part of the hassle of everyday complicated life. As for antitrust and competition, the Chinese state has always been happy with being the only "party" in town.  

WeChat has been since 2011 but Blogger.com where I publish has been around since 1999, with my use of it as my primary place for posting thoughts starting in 2004. So last year made the end of my fourteenth year describing my life and thoughts. I'm quite proud of this because I was a terribly inconsistent diary user. During a clean-up of old possessions I probably found about 20 different books which I'd used like diaries, where notes were written if only I could decipher them or relate them back to a context. Blogs are good because unlike twitter and texts, they have body and lure you into elaboration. The nature of my blogs has changed markedly. I Last year I published 34 posts which was my highest since 2009. Although being in China and being cut off from the blogger.com website probably lowered my rate of publishing (blogger.com is blocked by the Great Firewall but I could still post via e-mail) I generally published as things came to me. 2017 was big because of running and also because of more work-related issues and thoughts.

I may as well double purpose this blog to record in the beginning of 2018 how I use technology on a daily basis for future reference. As for most people, I use on my mobile device:
- Text-based and audio-based messaging (WeChat/Messenger/WhatsApp/Line)
- Maps to calculate best routes based on traffic conditions (Maps)
- A running app to work out how far and fast I run (Strava)
- Currency checking (xe.com)
- Sports results and text commentary (cricinfo.com)
- Audio and video entertainment (Youtube, iHeartRadio and Podcasts)
- Weather forecasts (MetService)
- Health (HeartRateFree, Pacer)
- Banking (ASB)
- Petrol price checking (Gaspy)
- Dictionary (Pleco)
- Hotels and flights (Expedia)
- Paying for gas (BPMe)

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

A touchy subject

As mentioned in my last blog, I'm reading the book The Deer and the Cauldron, which is famous for its protagonist's way with words, his seven wives and, unique for a Louis Cha kungfu novel, his complete inadequacy in kungfu. (Kungfu panda would squash him.) I don't know how much of a stir it created when it was first published in serial form in a Hong Kong newspaper between 1969 and 1972, but reading it now does make one fee a little uncomfortable. The "now" being a world where women rightly have the protection of their bodies from molestation and invasion, not just in law but also increasingly in fact. Last year will be remembered as the year where sexual harassment cases involving prominent men hit something of a critical mass in what has been called the Harvey Weinstein effect. That was in October, but I blogged a similar situation in my own world in June, which is almost certainly under the same umbrella. Reading this book makes me think about these cases as well as a more recent event in Gisborne.

The discomfort in reading it comes from the antics/crimes of Wei Xiaobao, the protagonist, which I'll list below. (I'll write these from memory; anyone disputing them, please make a comment and I'll double-check; definitely not an exhaustive list.) He:
- Threatened a girl (Mu Jianping) in order to touch her inappropriately
- Touched and kissed her and her older sect-sister, Fang Yi, without consent
- Touched another girl's breasts in combat (Chen Ke)
- Groped a girl in a haysack and claimed it was another man.
- Used terror to force a girl to submit to marriage.
- Stripped a girl naked and whipped her (Princess Jianning)
- Had sexual relations with the girl who had been engaged to another man.
- Temporarily paralysed seven women, stripped them naked, and raped them under a duvet in the dark, resulting in at least two pregnancies.
- Used threats in an attempt to get women to spend the night with him, only relenting when shamed.
And in the book, all though who were assaulted, felt compelled to marry him.

Pretty damning, eh, even if just fictional. Context doesn't help much but let's be fair: He was born in brothel; he was a minor by our standards when doing most of the acts above, and he was even young by the standards of China; it was the Qing Dynasty, which though having a high degree of etiquette and typically conservative attitudes towards intimacy and the relationships of the two sexes, had very few rights for women, except through their relation to other men, such as a father, husband or parentage.

Yet Wei is a hero to many Chinese (men). When the novel was given to me, my brother-in-law said that he is the model of how he'd like to be, although he was probably emphasising Wei's gift of the gab. Of course, Wei Xiaobao is a fictional character. There may be characters in the western canon who incidentally did similar. Of course, there are thousands of scenes in even recent movies, which in the light of things reportedly done to the women in the #metoo. Over my wife's shoulder, I saw in The Princess Diaries, a male character who'd secretly fancied a workmate for a long time, inspired by the female protagonist's words, went over and attempt a french kiss on this girl. Film and literature, by their fictional nature, are good to explore these things, and are reflections of the values at the time in their unexplained conventions. One of those conventions in many movies is the shy antihero grabbing the girl and forcing himself on her in what could be called "romantic", but most often these actions are in fact longed for by the other party so consent was assumed perhaps subtly given, which in the movies is usually the case. The same actions would be quite clearly upsetting if the feelings were not quite reciprocated - but that isn't usually the case in most mainstream movies.

Taking it back to real life, I believe a lot of men would have the idea that the "romantic expression" of chancing their arm and kissing or hugging a girl who they like is fine. Equally, doing something lewd while drunk for a bit of fun wouldn't be unexpected, which was the case in a recent "big NZ news" item, of the girl at the Rhythm n' Vines festival in Gisborne over the new year. Summing up: A girl covers her chest with glitter and walks bra-less and top-less through the festival. She generally receives a degree of verbal harassment (and support) and during her time there has her breast momentarily grabbed by another festival-goer, who runs away quickly. She goes over and hits him. In a later interview she says the obvious fact that can't be repeated more that she has every right to not be subjected to that physical harassment, and should have legal recourse. (And it might be said that so should he have protection against physical violence.)

To be completely honest I think everyone should have the right to wear as much or as little as they want in public, without threat of state interference, and with the right not to be subjected to physical interference from others, as the saying goes: "Your liberty ends where my nose begins." But that is my ideal and not this world. Glory to she who feels so comfortable to do so. I also believe in the free speech of those who might say horrendous things to her as she walks confidently in the East Coast heat.

But, I equally think there is a social realpolitik in this world of ideals and "rights" and I say this with more than an ounce of dread: she should have expected some response, even possible a possible violation of her person, walking around like that. If she were an activist for these freedoms, good on her and I encourage her to steel herself. If she were naive, I pity her but am glad it hasn't done her apparent damage. I wrote about something similar at the start of 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Namely, laws and rights are what the Leviathan of the state will ensure on its part and uphold for you legally. But society, the wild, wild world, will always have its own rules that evolve and develop, in different microcosms and macrocosms. Even if the rights are given by the state, you may still need to take on a tough activist mindset to make sure you can truly enjoy those rights. A similar example might be that the Homosexual Law Reform act was passed over 30 years ago, but in New Zealand, you'll rarely see open intimacy between homosexual male or female to the same extent that heterosexual couples may exhibit in this day and age. I'd say that is because still the social norms have not changed along with the laws to allow for that equality between sexual orientations. Those brave enough to do so are rare and almost need to don an "activist mindset" being ready to cop "flak" and potentially have the risk of physical violence in some spaces.

The action of our glitter-girl could be said to be provocative but most of those who are part of the #metoo movement were merely trying to be themselves. But I'd say the norms that lead to both the "boob-grabbing" at Gisborne and the workplace harassment were pretty much the same. It's the one where no-one felt a cheeky smart-talker in Qing dynasty essentially raping girls who later became his wives can be a hero, where drunkenness excuses excesses towards women (whether it is he or she that has drunk too much), or where workplace power differences can be instrumental in getting sexual favours. Social  norms change in their own time, whether through time or through that constant evolution of minds. The conservative minds will still growl and whine that political correctness means that no-one can take a joke and the good old days have ended. But that's the groan of progress towards a better way of being for all, and not just a historically privileged subset.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Deer and the Cauldron

As you get older, you notice more generational differences, and the more you start to feel the world isn't yours, and a bit of culture shock sets in. When I started teaching, the Chinese students were quite similar to me in age and there was a lot more I could relate to, even though we were born in different countries. But as China has transformed had record pace, the generational differences are even greater. The students of today are vastly different in their values and priorities from those I first taught. When I do encounter a student I can relate with as a person, it's a moment of excitement, but that is becoming very rare. It used to be that I could motivate students by telling them how I learned language but very few of these suit the modern students who know that there are ways to "get by" without doing the hard work. Two ways that I believe are best to learn are listening to the radio (for passive exposure to comprehensible input) and reading (for time with a wide variety of non-spoken language and ideas; exposure to grammar). Recently I told a group that I was reading a book myself in Chinese, even though study isn't the focus of my life. I said I was reading to enjoy, and learning was a nice side-effect. This probably had little effect. The only effect was that when I alluded to the book title, all of them said: "Oooh, a book about sex." Regrettably even these "adults" want to be children forever. And though it does have a few adult themes, it is not a book about sex. Sigh. The cover of the fourth volume of five says it all, and the protagonist, Wei Xiaobao, is said to have seven wives. I have almost finished and he is barely out of his teens with only one wife (and that at a stretch - she was tricked and compelled into it; and she wants to kill him).

For most of this year though, reading fell off my priority list in favour of running, but I still read in oft moments and times when I wanted distractions; two books took focus both Louis Cha (金庸) novels, Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain (which I finished), and The Deer and the Cauldron, the "book about sex", which as of 31 December I'm on chapter 41 of 50. Both I'd brought from China to read and keep my Mandarin up as well as to read all of Louis Cha's body of work; The Deer and the Cauldron is my seventh, roughly halfway through his body of work. His work is always interesting in terms of creative and elaborate stories, which boggle the mind in their intricacies, as well as tying everything into real historical events and figures. 

Although I chose one of the two novels because of a recommendation, and the other one was a gift, their background timeframes were very similar. Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain was set in the mid-Qing Dynasty but whose back-story focusses on a period when the Ming Dynasty has just fallen, followed by a brief reign from usurper, Li Zicheng, and then the Manchus steaming in to push him out with the help of a Han general, Wu Sangui. The Deer and the Cauldron is set just after the early Qing dynasty while Wu Sangui is still alive and the Qing Emperor Kangxi was on the throne. I'm glad to read it just because the more I do, the more history is being given flesh and I can understand how things happen. Previous books have had the characters interacting with Genghis Khan during his rise. The latter book has the character, through various circumstances, taken to Moscow where he sees how a young Peter the Great (before he was great) became a tsar. If there was one distraction while reading it is that the books are quite unhistorical in their portrayal of male and female relationships, suiting a soap opera/TV series generation. But it definitely enriches the plots.
 
Along with the relationships comes probably the best thing about Louis Cha novels, the emotional entanglement through circumstances. I have nine more chapters to read in The Deer and the Cauldron to find out how Wei Xiaobao resolves his conflicting loyalties which are very much coming to a head. His closest friend is Kangxi the emperor, yet he leads a branch of an organisation that is aiming to overthrow him. He has creatively found a way to keep these two worlds of his life consistent. Spoiler is that history already tells me what the ending may be. I can't wait to find out how he does it... and how he gets the other six wives!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Running records and goals

I ran my last run for 2017 in Whitianga on 28 December. It was a pleasant run, along the Mercury Bay shoreline, up a hill, around the neighbourhood, with a 3.5km section of pace, 16.5km in all. It felt good. I felt compelled to run because (a) it was a great place to run, like Piha and Taupo earlier; and (b) to break 2000km for the year. I probably should have been giving my left knee niggle a rest but it was a symbolic number and I do get itchy feet. I'm now not going to run until I know that the knee niggle that has been with me in various forms is no longer apparent, unless running is part of the treatment for it. The niggle itself has not been an issue for my marathon nor my most recent "get lost" half marathon at Omaha.

In the meantime, one's best times are always good to keep a track of for posterity, so here are my achievements of 2017. All my best are from this year, needless to say:
Estimated Best Efforts according to Strava measurements
1k3:35
1 mile6:06
5k19:49
10k42:28
Half-Marathon1:34:59
Marathon3:42:26

My best official race times are:
- 5km - 21:18 (Western Springs Run Auckland, Jul 2017)
- 10km - 43:58 (Botany Run Auckland, May 2017)
- Half marathon - 1:36:53 (North Shore Marathon, Sep 2017)
- Full marathon - 3:46:35 (Auckland Marathon, Oct 2017)

My goals for 2018:
- Consistent uninjured running
- 2500km/year (i.e. over 200km most months)
- 5km - 20:00
- 10km - 41:30
- Half marathon - 1:32:00
- Full marathon - 3:20:00

I've already entered several events:
- Coatesville Half in March 2018
- Rotorua Marathon in May 2018
- North Shore Marathon in Sep 2018

The main complication will be the four weeks I spend in China Feb/Mar but I'll try to run where possible. 

How am I going to achieve those? Well, I am unsure whether I've mentioned it but I intend to do it by following the common wisdom that has proven itself to be true. Firstly:
- higher mileage, especially of lower speeds - probably one of my issues in both years was my tendency to try to push every run
- running long runs with fast finishes - never done it before but make a lot of sense
- strengthening exercises - I started doing this this year and it does seem to work
- hill sprints - I only did my first session of this a couple of weeks before the Omaha half in December. I felt better for it.
- focussing on high cadence - I didn't really get cadence till I discovered it for myself. It's the number of strides per minute. I realised half way through the year that I could literally "change gear" by making my stride shorter but put more strides in. Intervals helped refine this.

 I'd like to thank my wife for her patience with my running and not complaining about a hobby that has an alarm going off at 5am, disturbs her sleep, makes for stinky laundry and regular trips to the shoe store. I'm also thankful to live in a place that allows easy running 12 months a year. I'll no doubt understand new things about myself and running and mould these along the way. I hope this coming year has as many discoveries as this has, 2017. Let's go!

Merry Christmas

We spent a few post-Christmas days on the Coromandel Peninsula and stayed in a great apartment while there. It was, as you expect, a place you could live quite happily and forget it was acting like a hotel. They had all the mod-cons such as a dishwasher, washing machine and stove, and supplied the powders etc. for each of these so you could be fully independent of hotel staff, if you chose. All of this served to allow us more freedom to eat in, having all of our breakfasts and two of our dinners comfortably in our room.

Whitianga, where we stayed, is a great little town, too, and developing ever faster. For our first grocery-shop we went to one of the big supermarkets, buying a poddle of oysters to eat at the beach, breakfast cereal, oil for the pan etc. I was relaxed and happy because I'd slipped into holiday mode and ready to take time as it came. After paying at check-out, the cashier wished me "happy holidays" and I wished her back "Merry Christmas" and she looked awkward. And suddenly I thought about the very interesting culture war in the States.

Eight years had been a long time for conservatives over there in the Obama years. For them, it was a constant assault on what they thought was the American way of doing things, including celebrating Christmas. One of the things was the trend for companies and organisations asking service people to stop using "Merry Christmas" and adopt culturally and religiously neutral phrases such as "Happy holidays" and "Seasons greetings". These changes caused backlash

The funny thing was that my "Merry Christmas" at the supermarket was reflexive and I certainly support the trend toward saying "Happy holidays" to those the speaker is not familiar with, which is especially the case for those in the service industry. For me, and I believe for most New Zealanders, "Merry Christmas" isn't a religious saying - it's a cultural phrase, even merely a linguistic idiom. It's as religious as Santa and reindeer. 

But many people see it as a religious phrase and religion always brings a degree of discomfort when pressed onto others. It's everyone right to say what they'd like as individuals but it doesn't mean that it won't have consequences, and I wouldn't want to discomfort others for no reason, when it was just the desire to wish someone well or to provide a turn in a social interaction that needed to be filled. 

The strange thing in the culture war is that the fact that it's a wish for another and such a wish shouldn't really be a basis for conflict. There is a distinct problem for the religious who would like to show their sincerity but their idiom is religiously rooted. When a religious person says they'll pray for someone, it is meant as a kindness. To an atheist it may come as a wish, but may often come as something different. We now live in a gloriously pluralistic world - the formally alternative are now accepted in the main. It is an emotional issue for those who are finding that they've floated out of the mainstream and sometimes the cognitive dissonance is awkward. (Check out this amusing interview after 2:00, where the satirical interviewer points out that there is no difference between before and after Trump.)

In my habitual phraseology, I clearly hold onto some unobserved relics of a bygone time. It's still something that I wish to reform my habits about in the new year.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017

The time is 11:12pm on 22/12/2017. I was exhausted at 8pm, went to bed at 9:40pm, got up at 10:10pm to read my book after I struggled to sleep, felt dozy and went back to the bedroom at 10:40pm only to again feel too mentally agitated to sleep and came out to write this now. I hope a little writing of my thoughts will exile them to the page.

Today was the last working day of the year. It was a "half day" but it was always going to be a full day for me. Our school is moving. We've lost some staff and I needed to notify people on the results of the interviews. 

It was a tough day with a burst of frustration from a departing teacher. He was a little bit of an enigma: He came mid-year and had an excellent CV: He'd been a teacher trainer, taught all over the place and had written his own textbook. But also clear from the get go, he had a bit of fire about him. He'd had a frustrated previous employment that ended unpleasantly. We had a common friend though and he assured me that he was a good guy. And he was clearly the pick of the bunch and we took him on. 

And perhaps in some situation, with a different or better manager he'd be a productive member of the team still. Or not. He started class and immediately struck trouble. He told me the class was "dead". There was one student, "D", who wasn't responding, refusing to cooperate and he couldn't figure out why. He told me about her and I told him that D hadn't been a problem in other classes. I spoke to her when I had time on the fourth day he was teaching her. She said she was under stress because her accommodation had been a problem. He reported another student, "U", not responding to him and students were using their phones in class. On the Friday, two students including "D" came to my office to complain about his teaching. 

I got as much evidence as I could to find out what it was that he was doing wrong. He was following the departure of a popular teacher and it's not uncommon for classes to give a following teacher a hard-time. But this was pretty extreme - and it is my responsibility to evaluate the cases early on, because if there is a problem it needs to be dealt with. I spoke to him on the Friday afternoon of his first week. I believed the problem was he hadn't really created a good rapport from the start. He expected students to give him respect from the get-go, which is not a bad expectation but is not a given. He had a set of habits and idiosyncrasies (whispering), humour (sarcastic; sometimes mocking) and style (lots of his own materials, though often too varied) which wouldn't be a problem in themselves, but without rapport most of these would become annoying or distracting. I suggested toning down these distractors and upping the rapport side of things. 

Monday came round, he taught and at the end of the day, he came energetically into the office and declared either D was removed from his class or he wouldn't be teaching it. I was stunned. He described how she showed utter contempt for him and he couldn't bear it. He mimed her throwing a piece of paper back at him. I spoke with the student after and told her that all people deserve respect. She denied throwing the paper back at him. (Later he admitted that she hadn't thrown it back at him, but "she had the smug contempt as if she had.") I felt I was sufficiently hard on her in a meeting. 

But it wasn't much of a fix. In the end I decided to move him and another teacher around. He did better in this class but still drew complaints right up to the end of his probation. We put him on another three month contract, and switched his class around again. The class I moved him to was one that was the most difficult to teach, a monoculture beginner class, that my most reliable teachers had already taught and driven to their wits' end. And that was when he started to do well. The students enjoyed him. And that's when he gave notice. And soon as he gave notice, he lost the sense of professionalism. There are a good portion of people that once the end is near, they can't really "turn up". His classes were still fine as but soon as he was out of the classroom, he was out. And started getting ruder and sharper.

Today was his last day. And actually it was a half-day but paid as full, and without classes just packing and a last Christmas meal with colleagues at 1pm. But he couldn't wait to get out. Eventually he just came into my office, said that one of my early e-mails had said the half day ends 12:30pm and he had to go, then gave me a verbal serve, saying I was wrong in not telling him about the maturity level of our students when he joined, that it's a huge problem in the school and that I deny it; that I say they're good students. I challenged a few things but generally just let him get it off his chest. He said such things "mess with people's lives". For him one of the parts of this story had: he was looking to buy a boat but because he was only on short contracts while he was with us. He'd struggled long to buy one and it was obviously quite a frustration. He held it together to say goodbye to others and I shook his hand before he left.

The irony for that last bit was that if he hadn't given notice, we'd have probably given him a permanent contract. 

That is one of the many threads threading my brain at a time that I should be able to let it all unwind.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Back on the road

After the completion of my big goal of running a full marathon, it was interesting to get my mind back to other interesting running goals. I generally wanted to develop a better "aerobic base" for my running next year - this is to make the body more efficient and enduring for any kind of running. I had a few particular goals, too, I wanted to do more social running and also make breakthroughs in my running of particular distances.

For 5km running, my plan is to take part in "parkruns" from time to time to push for improvements in my 5km running. Parkruns are free, timed 5km runs in parks around the world. Auckland has about four different parkruns, and I've already been to Cornwall Park's and enjoyed it enough to go back. My goal is to be able to reliably break 20 minutes on most courses. As it is, I've only broken 20 minutes once on the waterfront.

For half marathons, I'll take part in some of the half marathon series that are around every month or two. My goal here is to slowly bring my time down closer and closer to 1:30, with my first goal being to reliably run a half marathon under 1:35. My last big race of the year was the Omaha Half Marathon, which I did this morning. I'd committed to it once I felt my recovery from Auckland Marathon had gotten to the point that I could train again. It was an interesting race.

I'm not sure if my pacing problems are any bigger than anyone else's. Pacing is thorny. Individual to races and individuals. I blew my chances of a good time at the Auckland Marathon through my over-optimistic pacing. Several other 5km/10km races this year failed too for similar reasons. To get to the intermediate target of a 1:35 finishing time, I had to average 4 mins 29 seconds per km over the whole race (4:29). But this race, I thought was the best most strategic pacing I've ever done. After the 5km, I wasn't overtaken; I overtook a lot of good runners. It went something like this: The race starts with small tracks near Omaha beach and near a reservoir. I was conservative, just using little bursts to get in front of people, keeping around 4:30 pace and then it was onto the beach. Sand-running is generally slower than track running and this section went for 2kms and my pace was about 4:55 for the duration. I was overtaken by some on the beach and I chose to not mind slipping back. From my recent training runs, I knew I could sustain 4:20-4:30 pace for the middle sections if I'm not too tired. My overall pace once I left the beach was 4:36 but then I relied on moving from one bunch of runners to the next making sure that I was cruising with a group before moving onto the next one to keep my desired pace. For the 14km after the beach, I maintained an average of 4:26 which dragged my overall pace to 4:29. Right on!

But that's when disaster struck. The route of the half marathon crosses many other race routes and somehow I got confused and went down the wrong road. I realised it pretty quickly but wasn't sure where I'd gotten it wrong and I managed to link up with some other runners. Unfortunately they weren't runners from my event. After 21km came up on my app, I knew I was nowhere near the finish line. I asked a few marshalls but they were unclear how I could get back. Instead, I decided just to run this second race path and get to the end... I ran 27.5km with a terrible half marathon time in the end.

It was embarrassing but I proved my theory and my fitness. I wish I could run it all over again.