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). 

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Trenches, in and out

This evening was one of my most yearned for. It was the evening after the education audit of our school ending. Ever since my interview in January last year, the audit has loomed larger and larger in its monstrosity. I don't want to know how much sleep has been lost in the lead-in to it.

When I joined, I knew I was taking over a Category 1 school, the highest tier of schools. But immediately after joining a few things became obvious. The school had been bought and moved from the South Island with no legacy staff. There were barely any paper documents, just a memory stick of 30 files; simply put, we didn't have any real knowledge about the things which made it was a great school in the past. It was as if almost everything of value had been stripped. So the school was just made from what I knew and what I learned from others. It was largely made in my own image.

Between the start and now have been innumerable developments, setbacks, challenges and surprises but the last two weeks take the cake as "hard yakka". And it was good to be working alongside the executive team who were also putting in the painful hard yards right to the end. I could see them more as people and less like distant agents controlling my fate.

The auditors left early this afternoon but the result will still be weeks away. Before leaving they gave verbal feedback and it sounded quite positive: Many of the last things that we put time into paid dividends. Many of our choices I made early on as well as in the last two weeks were noted.

The odds are now on my chief mission, to retain our category 1 status, being achieved. It's quite a relief. I'm going to sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bound to

Now, I'm almost half way through the Run Auckland series having done a lacklustre 5km and a personal best 10km (with an awesome half-marathon time at the Rotorua Marathon). Things seem to be quite well in general and I learned a lot from that mediocre 5km race.

I've tried to transform my running towards how one is meant to train. Prior to the half-marathon, I'd only really done out-and-out runs, usually with the intent of speed. Probably this has helped me with speed - I've been quite satisfied with the speed that I've got in my short, stubby legs. But as I found out in January, constant speed can lead to an injury. Mixing things up and testing out the different systems of the body can help. Slow running exerts different challenges on the body that sprinting. Varying pace teaches your body to recover on the go. So now I'm trying to be a bit more methodical about it all, while listening and observing how my body reacts.

I've always had belief in the long run but now I am a bit more understanding of pace. The long run I did last weekend is a case in point: I did my "ideal" from last year, a 28km Titirangi loop. Even though it was my ideal I failed so many times to finish it until I eventually did in December last year. And I hadn't touched it since then. I have literally improved in pace and endurance in "leaps and bounds" since then but at the 10km mark was actually 3 minutes slower than December.  I overhauled my previous self at the 23rd kilometre and in the remaining 5km, I gained 3 minutes. This works out at a pace 36secs/km faster. And that is the truth of it: I was still able to be fresh and fast. I deliberately set out on Owairaka rd to run fast and did a sub-5min/km, and still felt fine to cruise to the end. I could have gone further. I'll run another long run soon, another "classic" that I've run only once - The Te Atatu loop, which if I get to the end will be over 32km. I'd like to think that I can finish these without feeling in any way impeded from enjoying the rest of the day. It is good to feel fresh after an exertion.

But speed has its place, too. Intervals, or fartlek, will play a role in getting me to push and recover, to push and recover. Even in that mediocre 5km race I recovered to a degree. After hurting from going to fast and being hit with hills, I slowed down for a lap and then in the last kilometre I really did push. In fact, whether it be Coatesville, Rotorua or any of these Run Auckland events, I've found that I have quite an effective sprint. I haven't been passed in either of these but have used the silhouettes of those ahead to drive me hurtling by.

The 3-lap Botany 10km race was like this. I really wanted to beat 45mins so stuck close to the 4:30min/km pacer for the first lap; in the second lap I decided to push ahead of her using some of the runners ahead as a target, but I fell back near the end of that lap. The pacer and her pals rounded me up and then passed me briefly. In the last half of the last lap, I pushed to keep up with them and then in the last km cruised by and the sprinted up the hill and through the gate. She must have been out of pace because I cracked 44mins (43:52). Thanks, Pacer Anne!

These events have been a lot of fun and I'm really glad I took the chance to get into them. With each run the lessons of the different runs are coming into fruition. I've made the move and registered for what will be my first marathon, North Shore Marathon. There's plenty of time and I can't wait for it.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

In my stride

 Pleased. As I entered the final stretch going from a slightly ragged gait to a sprint to beat a fellow runner through the finishing arch, I saw the numbers 1:38:27. It was far better than I'd imagined. I'd hoped to break 1:40 but knew it would require optimal pacing, good conditions and my body to hold up. In actuality, it was a flat course permitting runners to run naturally; conditions were perfect, dry and cool; and though the body had a touch of misbehaviour, on the course I was fine. All in all, what could go right, did. 
My lead-in started the day before. As planned I went for what should have been an easy jog. It was easy - but afterwards I noticed with a touch of dread that a tendon in my arch felt twinged. I gave it some treatment but the night before and on the morning of the event, it was still evident. These niggles can magnify over distance and 21 km is plenty of time for it to happen. The night before I did a set of stretches for all muscles, added heat and foam rolled them. 


The next morning I got up at 5am. This was based on something I read: Get up 3 hrs early to eat, digest and warm up. Apparently if you eat later, your body is hooked into burning glycogen and blood glucose and not fat. Giving yourself three hours means your glycogen is replete but your body won't burn it first. Anyway, I ate, drank, went for a run walk, stretched, foam rolled and got dressed. I left my dynamic stretches till 20 mins before the start. 

And then it was the start! As I feared and as I tend to, I got off to a quick start, roughly 4:34/km for the first 4km. I'd planned to keep my pace within 4:46-4:52 for the first 5km. I kept telling myself to slow down but like a swimmer in a current I struggled to decelerate until I bumped into another runner, "Pink Asian girl", who was falling back. I ran with her for a couple of kilometers and it got me to the pace I was planning. Perhaps some misinformation helped, too. The course map had implied a hill which wasn't there - I slowed preemptively but it never came. 

Either way I churned through the distance with my running app chirping updates with each kilometre. As I went I swang from one running companion to another. After "Pink Asian Girl", it was "The Argentine", who I chatted with. He was doing his first half marathon but did triathlons before. He said we should push forward but I declined and slipped back. "Nondescript Man" caught up to me and we exchanged some weather-related small talk. 
 After he pushed on I was without a partner till "Platinum Headphones" I kept pace with her for a while before thinking that I was going too slow and decided to take a corner to push past her. I knew my time was just about on target for my target time and needed to keep up the pace till the end. It was in the last 5-6 km's that I met the two people who'd be my most important pacers.

"Little Boy Black" was a teenager dressed in black t-shirts and shorts. He was an early companion around the 6km mark that I accompanied for a short time before passing. He must have paced the race well because he grinded past me at about the 16km mark. Or perhaps I was what kept him going. We all pace each other. In the final stage of the run, he was just a little bit faster than me but keeping up with him as much as I could helped me to maintain the speed I wanted. Though he was faster he didn't leave my view until the last stretch. In his slipstream I came within 10 metres of "Balding YMCA".  He was pretty quick, probably in my division too, and for a time, I never seemed to be catching up to him but I kept pushing with both of them as my targets. "Balding YMCA" stopped completely for a drink and I shot by him. He then overhauled me briefly within a kilometre but he couldn't maintain it and I grinded past him and never saw him again. While "Little Boy Black" was there, I knew I was certain of a good time and it was important to have him in the last five kilometres. My splits kept coming in below 4:50, mostly in the low 4:40s.

The final 5km were made easy by the fact that they were the same as the opening 5km. The familiarity meant you knew exactly how long it was to the end, and when you're running faster for the distance, you cannot wait till the end. With 500m to go, I felt like I was on the verge of being completely spent. Perhaps it's just because my legs knew it was so close to the end. Surprising the final kilometre was my fastest split, 4:20. The fact was that despite me feeling like I was out of speed, I was speeding. And with the line begging, I broke into a spring to overhaul the runner in front of me. According one app, I ran the last 30m in 3:48/min - a pretty fast sprint when I'm fresh.

Overall, this is going to be a high water mark that will be hard to surpass, at least in the short term. I'm unlikely to have such a flat course with such perfect conditions. But I feel like I've still go space to improve. This year will still be the year that I conquer the full marathon and this performance puts me in pretty good stead to do it with the endurance and power to achieve it. Fingers crossed I can keep my improvements up without injury.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

After the gun

I don't regard myself as an impulsive shopper but when it comes to running events, I seem to be a bit too quick to jump online and register for events. Last year, in a fit of motivation following my Auckland Half Marathon completion, I registered for both the Coatesville Half Marathon and the Rotorua Marathon, which were within 8 weeks of each other. It was only afterwards did I do that calculation and it didn't really make training sense - I needed some recovery time, surely. In the end, it was all academic; my calf strain in January made me revise and downgrade my events. Coatesville went down from a half-marathon to an 8km event, but it was a jolt to my imagination. It went like a dream - I was faster than I'd hoped at pace of 4:34min/km, a pace I'd have been proud of pre-injury for a hill course. I knew I'd come back from my injury and suddenly I wanted more. 

Events have a lovely buzz to them. There was a Whenuapai event just a week later that I could so easily have jumped onto but instead I decided to take part in the Run Auckland series which started in April. The chief motivator was that it had six events, five of which were a choice of five or ten kilometres. Both of these distances were my standard training runs. What's more the last event was a half marathon, which I thought capped it off nicely. I wanted to formalise my achievements in all three distances and a competition would push me on. So I registered and paid. Only then did I think about what this meant for my running. I'd have a 5km event and the Rotorua Half Marathon separated by only 5 days; and then a 10km event 14 days after the half marathon. I didn't want to prioritise any event, and wanted to really achieve in each so there was no use thinking about using one to expressly prepare for the others. Any run you want to try for your peak performance will take a bit out of you that takes some time to recover. Nonetheless, that's the hand I dealt myself.

The first one was last weekend, a Run Auckland 5km event in Te Atatu. My lead-in as describe in previous blogs was not perfect but definitely more than adequate. I'd run my regular 5km in just over 21 minutes (4:12min/km), according to my GPS trackers, 3 days before the event which was close to the best I'd ever done. But that was a track that I know better than any other. It has hills but hills that go up then down in a way I can pace. The Te Atatu route was mostly an unknown quantity. I did have the map off MapMyRun but no hills were obvious. According to the app, it had just 21 metres of ascent compared to my run's 46 metres. I was pretty confident that I could improve my pace. 

To cut to the chase, I came, I ran and found it rather hard-going. I burst off the finish line slightly faster than my usual pace and went down what was a rather steady slope and then up the slope to a plateau. Perhaps in that one phase I scripted my own blow-out. I went fast partially in over-confidence in my previous performance, ignorance that the track wasn't flat and also with a feature I strangely hadn't encountered - a rise to a plateau. 

My over-confidence and ignorance could be my reliance on my app's to inform me. All my knowledge of my best pace was from my app's own measurements. Even though I thought I had done 5km in 21km, it wasn't necessarily the case. My app for this run had the length as 5.4km whereas the event is measured to 5km. The app isn't perfect with ascents either - I knew this from other runs but had believed it. The app doesn't have a perfect accurate three dimension map to refer to. Topography is sophisticated and the slope I mentioned is right next to an estuary. Probably it didn't feature digitally in the referenced map. I'd estimate that it would have about the same amount of ascent as my run but without the familiarity. 

The effect of a rise to a plateau feature might need some explaining. My runs go over mountains all the time; they go up and then they go down. For short runs there is nothing wrong in really hammering your way up the slope because you'd have the descent to gain the time back and also recoup the energy. At Te Atatu I hammer up the slope and then got none of the immediate pay-back. My first 2.5km lap where I had felt I'd pounded it was at 4:30min/km pace according to the official time. According to MapMyRun I was running at 4:08min/km pace. When the third kilometre was done I felt like I was tiring. Worse, there was no-one around me to pace me. My time ballooned by both the official and application reckoning. I went home only having the app timing and was moderately disappointed and even moreso when my official time was published: 23:31 (4:42min/km). The only solace being that that was somehow good enough for 8th place out of 107, coming second in my division (males between 30-39).

I am now 36 hours away from my second half marathon. In the few days since the 5km race, I've done a fitness session at the physio, rested a day, got up early and ran my fastest 10km loop (44:29) and then rested a day. Tomorrow I might go for a light jog in the morning to loosen up and then have a calm simple day to drive down to Rotorua. It promises to be a frosty cold start but fine and dry, too. 

I can't wait.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Short weeks

With the double-edge sword of multiple statutory holidays, life feels like it's flying along. The working week is a blur of five days into four and the resting week is far from restful as it's being filled with delight. We've had a few "bumps" at work - trouble joining an industry association; a resignation of an interesting team-mate; a death in the family for one, which led to a lot of teaching for me.

On the plus side, one team member can also do cryptics so I now have a little cruciverbal collegiality. Perhaps that has stimulated me in a way: I polished off a Kropotkin in a pre- and post- dinner sessions. (About two hours, which for me is a pretty good time.) Saturday morning I didn't have any cryptic grit to grind so I went looking for a Guardian Crossword, which is usually a harder proposition, but demolished it even faster. It was a delightful piece, too. One with the delightful clue, "Set about 30 8 of 18 3? (8)" for which you had to solve four other clues before it was clear what the clue was going on about.

I'm glad I've said the above because this blog has quickly become a running log. And the running has been interesting. I'm entering a "business" phase with two events in the next two weekends: the first 5km run of the Run Auckland series in 7 days' time, and my second official half-marathon in Rotorua in 13 days time. As mentioned previously I've had some good runs that suggest I should do well. In the last week, I've had interesting niggles that make me worry. Last week I got up early on three occasions and felt something "odd" in my right quadricep. It felt fine doing during the day, doing stress loading exercise but every time that I ran (i.e. accelerated from a walking pace) there was an unbearable tightness laterally about 5cm above my knee. It seemed to have developed spontaneously. Each time I got up early (and it's getting cold here now) and aborted my warm up because of the sensation. Yesterday morning, being a weekend I got up later and tried to walk more to warm it up but it was obvious again. I did some dynamic and static stretches and kept trying to run but there was no change. After a lot of hesitation, I decided to just do a proper run and try to run through it. And so I started what was going to be a half-marathon loop like the previous week but avoiding the ascents. Surprisingly I barely thought about it after the first 30 seconds. I ran again today and didn't feel it at all. My legs are like some old machinery with a mix of patch-up parts with varying compatibility with the rest of the set-up. I'm just glad it works in the end. I have had and continue to have interesting shin and ankle niggles that come and go, too.

Yesterday's run itself was to be a record. Having run my Twin Peak circuit at a great tme, I decided to do the same run but without peaks. Perhaps it was the delight of anticipation but my first 8km were at an excellent pace... perhaps too excellent because my pace slumped over the next 7km. And in the end after the 15th kilometre I wasn't feeling done and already thought it better to walk and rest my legs, with the intention of running today. The time overall was still good - but had I kept going with my pace dropping I would have had a time equal or over the time from the previous week, with the exception that I hadn't climbed any mountains.

Today though I tried something I've been meaning to try in a place I've been meaning to go to for a while. I went to the Jack Lovelock Track and did interval training. Interval training is doing slow running, with stretches (for me it was 200m) of all-out fastest running possible. In total I only did 5km with 6-7 bursts. There is all sorts of research into interval training these days. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_training). I intend to try this every week and try to stretch the sprints. I'd like to see if I could do a 400m sprint at some stage. Anyway, ANZAC day is around the corner, and it is well placed for another run. I'll taper a little for the 5km and moreso for the half marathon. It should be an interesting fortnight.

The Rotorua event is coincidentally just before my 5th anniversary. It's breezed by to 5 years of marital bliss. I'm not good at celebrating these things though so will have to think hard about what to do and how to spend it, apart from running.