Sunday, October 22, 2017

7 days

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 09, 2017

20 days

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Pluralism

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Big month?

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

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

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

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 I 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 of the mountain, it's quite a speedbump. 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, too. 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 splattering 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 - and 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.