Friday, August 02, 2019

A little high, a little low

There are many reasons people run. Some might just do a semi-regular run as part of a formal or informal fitness regime; some might run for weight loss. I'm sure some run to de-stress. Surely some run out of an old habit, an addiction that the body drives. Although I'm happy with some of the effects above, I think I run mainly as a project of self, to see what I can achieve in a performance with myself.

In this kind of running, training is the input and performances in races are the output. Some training is almost always better than no training. Some guided training is almost always better than random training. Some quality training should always be better than excessive unstructured poor quality training. And you only know the difference with trial and error; with a little learning and shared experience here and there.

But like any project, often the output doesn't always correspond to the input. Just like in business, bountiful capital doesn't mean a business will become a leader; or endless roses and chocolates do not necessary add up to a successful relationship. As recently related, I cruised into 2000km of mileage for the year. But mileage, while usually beneficial, isn't magic in itself. You have to do something with it. Since my recovery from flu, my runs and the feelings I got from them were extremely varied:

16 July - 10km "Tempo" run - I aimed for 20 minutes at "tempo" pace (the pace you could maintain for an hour at most). I felt good because just days after the flu I could get to that pace and hold it for the most part.
17 July - Shoe Science 10km group run - This was intentionally slower because of the faster run yesterday and also I had one person with me who wasn't that fast. Felt OK.
18 July - 10km of Moonlight Mount Eden summits, 5 summits to be exact. These didn't feel easy at all. In my current state of fitness I should have been able to press on any one of the summits but just felt knackered.
20 July - 30km Long Run - I did 15km steady and then 10km at marathon pace and then cruised for 5km. I felt really proud of myself after this one. I'd matched a previous good run. Suddenly I felt on track.
21 July - 18.8km Easy Run - This was a bit of a struggle. It was meant to be easy but I slipped back in pace more than I wanted.
23 July - 15km Intervals - I wanted to run 3x2miles at "Threshold" pace but really fizzled. My initial laps weren't that fast and barely lower than tempo. I was frustrated again.
24 July - 16.7km Easy run - Now this was actually at the pace an easy run should be done. And it felt easy.
25 July - 9.2km Hill repeats - This felt pretty good. I did 8 repeats up a 200m slope and felt I could go harder and faster as time went by.
27 July - 32km Long Run - A shambles. Probably was overoptimistic with pace on the first half and really struggled in the second half. The kind of run that should be stopped because you're probably doing yourself damage. Fortunately the body wasn't too bothered once home.
28 July - 14km Recovery - I ran up three mountains at my own pace. Felt good just to loosen up.
29 July - 16.6km 400m on/off intervals - These went well. For the first time in the two week period I could actually hit speeds close to 4:00mins/km.
30 July - 14km of Easy. And it felt pretty good.
31 July - 18.5km Tempo and some gentle hills - again a good feeling. The pace was close to tempo and I got lots of metres of ascent.
2 August - 15.5km 800m intervals - and now probably my best speed workout since April.

It really is a rollercoaster with fizzled out runs, smash hits, "Was it any good?" moments, "How is this helping me?" ordeals. This sequence is going to be measured directly whether I can run the Run Auckland 10km race at Waiatarua fast and furious. I haven't really felt that I have caught the speed of the past. With this morning's workout under my belt, I feel a lot better. I'll run easy tomorrow and then see what happens on Sunday.

And then either moan or exult.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

2000, mark.

In 2017, my first really big year of running, we were spending our last week of the year in Whitianga in the Coromandel, and on my one run there to close out the year I registered my two thousandth kilometre of mileage. 2000km had been my objective since the start of the year and I had timed it well despite some of the niggle dramas. It was a pleasant run, too.

In 2018, on 22 September, I registered the same mark and celebrated it by tripping for the third time that year. I was crossing a road while trying to open a "gel" and looking over my shoulder for traffic. Somehow my feet caught the ground and I landed in the middle of the road. The fall wasn't disastrous fortunately and by the close of the year I had 2775km.

In 2019, today, i.e. 28 July, I again broke the 2000km mark for the year. I did it on an easy run to recover from a debacle of a long run I went on yesterday.  where I had an easy run to recover my body from that debacle. I ran up three mountains, Eden, Hobson and St. Johns, to mark the occasion. My goal this year is 3000, which at the rate I'm running should be easy if I keep it up.

The key really is not how much you do but where it takes you. Right now I still feel "out of form". I haven't been able to hit the pace I had pre-Rotorua or feel robust to sustain efforts. This doesn't really make sense if I'm running more and doing a similar range of workouts. But what has been a problem is consistency.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Race schism

I have struggled to read this year. I blame it on my internet friend, Chenzi. Until mid-last year I was chewing through books fairly rapidly. If I weren't working or running or attending to the demands of living, I was probably reading. It was great to meet Chenzi for the first time last year, but we recommended each other a book and we bought our own copies of the other's book. I don't know whether he liked the book I suggested to him, but his book was hard work. In my view it wasn't well written and was really dense with Buddhist terminology in parts. It was a drag. I went through a period before my business trip where I pushed myself to grind through a few dry patches but when I saw him in April I still wasn't more than 60% of the way through. Reading it meant I wasn't reading other things, and without the drive to read it, I got quite hooked on podcasts and youtube.

What do I watch most? Mainly, American talk shows and cable news usually about the ongoing circus of US politics. It is quite possibly the outrage factor that comes with listening to someone as venal, ignorant, deceitful, base and egotistical as President Trump. He is incredible in his singular collection of negative traits that together have somehow, somehow, led him to be "leader of the free world". Recently he tweeted about four female congresswomen of different ethnic backgrounds and suggested that their home countries were chaotic and they should "go back to their countries" to fix it, rather than criticise America (by which he means himself). The response was swift: "President Trump is a racist." It was especially obvious because three of the four were American-born citizens just like him. One had come as a refugee but she too was a US citizen. All four were legitimately elected members of the House of Representatives.

Anyone who has followed him know that he is almost certainly a racist, but there was a lot of tip-toeing around the term. Firstly, it is taken as ad hominem put-down. People don't like to be called "racist" because it's a negative term. There was push-back because in civilised political debate you shouldn't use put-downs. But like many words seen as put-downs, they do actually refer to something. A racist, in the strongest sense of the word, is someone who believes that some races are superior to others; and in a weaker sense, attributes particular qualities to people because of their race, often despite their actual being. I say he is certainly a racist because he exhibits more criticism towards people of other ethnic groups, shows he believes black people owe white people respect and denigrates nationalities and ethnicities.

Secondly, there was a nuance between someone being a racist and someone saying racist things. Tepid criticism of it avoided saying anything about him; they just spoke about his language or his actions, a la "hate the sin not the sinner". This has some merit to it. I may some things that could be racist, sexist or bigoted without feeling racially superior, a male chauvinist or a bigot. Some of that can be from being inarticulate with a generalisation, speaking too simply when I know there is more nuance. There might also be a legacy effect where I might have latent beliefs or tendencies that distinguish. I might also speak from an observational point of view, rather than an aspirational tone. For example, I might say that the Chinese students in our school sometimes struggle with direction, rather than always trying to take them as individuals with their own different proclivities that could be uplifted by a consistent positive language for how they could be. I also might speak in jest but with the wrong timing, wrong audience or with a context I'm not aware of. His language is clearly racist, and in fact taps into a common offensive line: "Go back to your country!"

Also, thirdly, there was the classic racist defence: "I have black friends." If you have a black friend, you can't be racist can you? The best refutation of this is: "Can a sexist have a wife, daughters and a mother?" In a recent podcast it mentioned psychologically there is a degree of moral licensing at play. Often in history there has been a "pioneer" such as Sammy Davis Junior who might be permitted but often it comes at the detriment of others because they allowed him into their circle so they can continue to be racist freely to all others. Some people have suggested voters who elected Obama may have been licensed to vote Trump. Clearly, having a black friend doesn't mean you respect the dignity of other black people, let alone other races.

And fourthly there is a more elegant defence against being called a racist, that what is being to is not race but some proxy of race, such as religion. Is islamophobia racist if it is directed at fear of a religion or the fear of terrorism caused in the name of Islam? The discussion in America went more into these foreign faces attacking "American values" and wanting to install foreign ideas (evil things such as universal healthcare). Naturally it is preferable to have a superficial war of ideas than the superficial denigration of the person bearing the ideas.

Dissecting any comment of Trump's is a foolish endeavour. He splatters together some words, often without syntax, endlessly. Why waste time on it? Distraction, I guess. Now where is that book...

Sunday, July 21, 2019

7 weeks

Three dates in seven weeks: 4 August - Waiatarua 10km; 25 August Millwater Half; 8 September North Shore Marathon; the final one being an acid test, perhaps to lead to a fast Auckland Marathon on 20 October.

Waiatarua, I've never run before. I've enter two years and on both occasions it's been flooded by unexpectedly heavy rains. Being an inner city wetland is rather unique but clearly comes with a huge negative for organising events. When Run Auckland reconsidered its event this year I was amazed it still made the cut. It'll be my last 10km for the year and had always been one that I'd intend to be my fastest but with the niggles and flu I haven't really had a good lead-in. I'll still give it a good lash though and try to have some workouts in the next two weeks to get myself moving fast.

Millwater 2019 was a fond memory for me, a half marathon that cut 4 minutes off my best time, and an usually strong kick that I finished it with. Now running it for the third time, I know the course's idiosyncrasies quite well. It would be still a challenge to make a new PB considering my time at the Waterfront Half was on a course that was flat as a pancake, and Millwater has 170m of ascent but in a way that's the perfect goal for me. This will be the stepping stone for the North Shore Marathon which is as lumpier than any other.

North Shore Marathon 2019 by contrast was a bitter pill. I'd felt that I'd trained perfectly but it turned to custard whether it be because of pacing, which was overoptimistic; my race day nutrition, which was still based on whole foods; or just dumb bad luck, that of all days that my body had to have the stitch it chose that day. I went through the halfway point at 1:41, and did the second half in 2:03. (Compared with the Auckland Marathon I did 8 weeks later, 1:42 and 1:47 on a flatter course.) I really want to exorcise this memory with a good effort and time. Against me is this recent period of training and the fact that it is a significantly more difficult marathon. I might just choose to make this a stepping stone to the Auckland Marathon, which is just 6 weeks later.

My training might have been inconsistent in the last 2 months and sometimes feel I've "lost" some of the edge that I must have had to get me to good times at the Waterfront Half and the Rotorua Marathon, but a run yesterday cheered me up. I repeated one of the better workouts from that period and matched those times and set segments records in the process. It was also the first run since Rotorua that was over 30km, a distance that really does strengthen. All things going to plan next weekend I'll have another 30km+ run and between Waiatarua and Millwater will hopefully break 100km/week twice, a sweet spot of training. Millwater will be a good measure of what I should expect of myself in the North Shore and Auckland Marathons. On paper, it seems easy enough... At least 7 weeks isn't long to wait.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

As if it natters

I've had a rather good run of wellness since the start of last year. There was one occasion where a cut on my hand didn't heal well and it gave me some symptoms but that wasn't a biggie; a 24-hour bug from Fiji and then earlier this year a weird "night fevers" thing. But otherwise, among the infectious carnage that my colleagues have been suffering from at various times, I have been an island of wellness. Naturally all good things come to an end when I caught the flu last weekend and even though I thought my body would be able to recover quickly instead I quickly fell into a fever. Wednesday was a rather sub-standard day of work that incidentally became the end of my working week. 

Fevers are interesting things. Before my 30s, I admit that I barely had them; in fact I might have only knowingly had three in my recollection (probably had plenty as an infant). I'd always seemed almost impervious to the flu, which is the commonest cause of fever. Food poisoning in Fiji when I was 15 definitely gave me a delirious fever. In Taiwan I remember having one exotic fever, almost to the point of delirium. And then between 20 and 29 in NZ, there was just one time I recall having a weird virus in my 20s, where the walk to the shops felt like a marathon distance and where just walking steadily was a challenge. My fever record took a pounding though once I arrived in China and there would be no point counting because the sheer number memories of different feverish experiences are hard to parse. So relatively speaking my rate of having fevers have risen quite sharply since my 30s. To think I had one fever in my 20s and two in the last year is quite an astonishing contrast.

Sickness is a great time to take advantage of Netflix (or their ilk) and, apart from long haul flights, it's the only time that I watch movies these days. In sickness, movies are superior to books as a distraction as they handle themselves and don't mind if you pass out mid-way. This time I managed to watch:
- It
- Stranger Things (Season 3)
- The Founder 
- The Host 
- I Am Mother 
- Ted 

The best of the batch? I Am Mother was a pretty good sci-fi movie, simple and elegantly done like the Moon. And it ponders a slightly different relationship between AI and the apocalypse. Definitely recommended. 

The Founder, the biopic of Ray Kroc who made McDonalds what it is today, was a great watch too, if only that it shows the power of ambition. Its mantra is a Calvin Coolidge quotation: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." 

Ted is a guilty pleasure of a film, rolling around in its own offensiveness. It was as expected and Stranger Things wasn't really much stranger than the previous seasons. 

The worst in my opinion was The Host, which I only realised later was written by Stephanie Meyer.  

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Niggle Alley

After a very satisfactory start to the running year, the last couple of months has been a little frustrating. Although I ran more mileage in March and April with only small bothers, May and June came with two more major niggles that derailed my hopes of consistency.

As mentioned in my previous blog, it was first iliotibial band syndrome, also known as ITB syndrome. I was out for what would have been a 35km long run but 13km along my knee seized up and I hobbled back home. Once I knew what it was I handled it reasonably well. Once the symptoms disappeared I felt comfortable and had one of my biggest weeks of mileage, 92km in a week at the start of June.

Was this too much too soon? Maybe. By the end of that week, a mild issue I've had at some stage every year came to the fore, something similar to shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome or MTSS  to be more precise). I say "similar to" in that shin splints should really stop one from running eventually, whereas whatever I am experiencing does seem to go away with more training and some exercises and care. The description of the symptoms are the same: a sore spot half way up on the inward side of my shin, tender to press, most sensitive or painful at the start of the run, often fading once warmed up. I've had it every year and it often faded as I got stronger, whereas shin splints according to most of the online literature requires rest to recover, often up to 2 months. Persisting in training while having shin splints is linked to stress fractures of the tibia. Every time I have this issue I'm paranoid about giving myself a stress fracture; but almost always as soon as I got worried, the sensation ceased to appear during my runs usually after doing particular strengthening exercises.

This time round I got into the strengthening exercises quickly, cut back my mileage and days of training to 5 days a week instead of 6, and as of the last few days, my feeling of shin splints has eased away completely when running, although it is still sore to touch. Am I free of it again to resume my training? I hope so. These niggles have taken 6 weeks of my training without really advancing me in terms of my fitness, I feel.

There are 9 more weeks till North Shore Marathon. My apparent base of running is still strong. I just need some consistency, then key workouts to focus it all in on these events. Next Sunday is a hilly 10km race at Sanders Reserve; four weeks away is a race that I'm hoping to race fast, the Waiatarua 10km race, followed three weeks by the Millwater Half. This period before the marathon is very busy with training and races. Fingers crossed I can keep it all together.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Winter rolls

The ebbs and flows of a blogger's urge to write can be pretty random. There have been many things that have happened that might on other days result in a blog. It was a death that tipped me over into writing. Rex Benson, also known as Kropotkin, the cryptic crossword composer whom I have often written about, died yesterday. The word down starting with C wasn't crude, clues, crossword, but cancer. He was quite a character. His crosswords were top class cryptics and the "cryptic" in the title of my blog is partly from my love of cryptic crosswords, of which his were the best. Not long after I got onto a mailing list where he'd talk about his clues after each crossword had come out. He littered them with New Zealand references, political incorrectness and his own interests. The latter often made them difficult: someone with a thorough knowledge of the movies and actors of the 50s and the operas of Wagner would have had an easier job doing them than I. But the mastery he had of the clue meant that I could figure out the answers often people's names without previously knowing them. Once he knew the supply of Kropotkin crosswords would forever be limited, he made the appropriate arrangement so that the last of his body of work would get out there. Rest in peace, Rex. (Cartoon by Emmerson in the New Zealand Herald)

The last two weeks have been a tricky period for my running. For the third time in my running career I developed ITB sydrome and this has been the hardest to shake. ITB stands for the ilio-tibial band which is a thick strip of fascia down the side of the lower half of your body between hips to the top of the shin. The previous two times were due to footware, either buying the wrong shoes for my unique feet or running too many miles in the same pair of shoes. This occurrence has been a little bit of a mystery, though. I did hill repeats one morning and noticed during the day that the side of my knee was a bit "off". I gave it a rest for one day and then ran well the next for 13km without any issues. I stopped at a public toilet briefly and when I emerged immediately felt pain through my left knee. I couldn't stride at all. I started walking back and for some periods it felt fine until I tried to run again and the pain re-emerged. I was in the middle of nowhere without my phone and had to walk back.

Perhaps it was because I was wearing newish shoes that I didn't notice the symptoms were very similar to the ITB I'd had before. ITB is funny because even though you feel it in your knee, it's caused by muscles elsewhere that are putting the wrong stress on the ITB which rubs against your knee. One of the "give-aways" of the condition is that I have a really tight sensitive strand of muscle in my quad, which isn't noticeable really except by touch. On this occasion, while massaging in the vicinity of the knee I noticed it and put two-and-two-together. In the past it was resolved quickly by changing shoes and massage. This time even with different shoes and swapped in-soles it hasn't resolved. The physio and the online resources suggested weak glutes and some brief tests seemed to indicate it. Moreover, with my fall and surgery last year, my glutes especially on the left moved the least. Marathon or no marathon, I was probably imbalanced. However, after a period of exercising the glutes it still re-emerged on runs. The second visit to the physio came up with a different solution: my hamstrings. This made sense, too. Prior to my marathon, just after I came back from China, my left hamstring had been tight, and in fact I started the marathon itself with ominous tightness that dissipated by the half way mark. I kept doing the glute exercises but did more of specific hamstring exercises. The result: Though I still have a slight sensation at times in the knee, I've done hills yesterday and speed intervals today without any re-occurrence. I hope with some more specific exercises I'll be back to my regular running. In the meantime my mileage has taken a hit but the body probably appreciates a few more sleep-ins and some more generalised strengthening work. That being said I'm 13 weeks away from another marathon, with several shorter races before then.