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). 

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.