Saturday, May 12, 2018

Out of the thickets, running in the dark

It's interesting how the patterns of our lives shape the patterns of our thinking. I believe that I'm pretty good at my job, or rather the job that I've fashioned for myself. It currently revolves around managing close relationships with 30 people and rapport with close to 200 people, and the administration thereof. That is 80% of the job. The other 20% of the job is more strategic and creative but is increasingly more detail related. Designing courses and programmes does have, as you would expect, room for innovation, but are predominantly referring to specifications and building to requirement. Most of my job is among the thickets.

And that is how my thinking about greater problems has disappeared. I'm in the thickets and struggle at times to get out of the details long enough to get a greater view of my job, my life and the universe around it. There were times in my life when I've enjoyed being beyond the thicket, up the trunk and perched somewhat along a branch to look out upon the jungle within eyesight. (But not the jungle beyond, or the concealed clearings.) It's been a while since I had that luxury and it is something that I yearn.

But my job isn't everything. Running, though potentially a hobby to not think about things, is something I now invest quite some time in decision making relating to planning training and time. I now consider myself at least basically capable of doing the planning for myself, and thinking about which events to enter, what paces, workout styles and terrain to run and how to deal with the physical and dietary side of these things. There is an element of creativity, risk/reward and endeavour. It's a realisation to find that the mere act of managing something of your own is a joy, not to mention without the managerial function to my running, I wouldn't nearly enjoy it as much. (There are a lot of other things to enjoy from running such as health, camaraderie, relaxation, pride in achievement, cultivation of self, but it's the managerial function that makes all the other most positive.)

In managing anything there are decisions, risks and rewards. In my job life this week has begun a reckoning about one of my decisions and my handling around it. I've learned a lot. Coincidentally it also featured a moment in my running where two strategic decisions came to a reckoning. Every busy runner has to make decisions of how to get the time to train in the face of all life's other distractions. My choice, which suited my constitution, was to get up early in the morning to run. This in a way has been my key decision to get the mileage in that allows me to run at a decent level. But there are risks. Even the lightest coloured running gear isn't obviously visible to drivers in dark conditions. (Let's face it - even the brightest coloured clothing could be mown down by a driver in the bright of the day.) It's also harder to see the ground and any hazards. This was obvious from the time of the blackouts. At the time of the black-outs I had the choice of borrowing a waist-lamp that would illuminate the path for our group running events but always chose not to. Even when one was free, I chose not to use one. Perhaps it was by conservatism around running gadgets. Perhaps it was my belief that I was a canny runner who could do without. To choose against running with carried illumination is the second strategic decision, which brings us to the result.

On Thursday morning I went on my first hard workout since the half-marathon, interval running at the Domain. I got up at 4:30am and jogged easily to the Domain. Fog had descended on the city and the Domain in particular had captured a layer of it. I began my first mile of pace and in the last quarter heard a van coming from behind me. The headlights hit the fog making for a bright glare. The Domain doesn't have a footpath around the mile loop so I tried to get to the left of the road so not to concern the driver. Just as he passed me, my foot went into a wastewater drain and I was thrown into the asphalt. The van stopped to investigate and I got up, my palms hot and my knee bleeding. He checked me out and but in the van's lights there only seemed to be some grazing and cuts. I thanked him and bid him on his way. I felt fine to continue so jogged for another mile before I felt good to start another mile of pace, then a rest, another mile of pace, and a rest, and a last mile of pace and then jogged home, 14.5km in total, at least 10km of running after my fall. I got home and got cleaned up. I hadn't noticed it but a cut at the base of my little finger had bled down to my elbow. I went to work without trouble but around 11am my left knee swelled up and I struggled to get around the office. I got a bit worried. My left knee had been the knee that I broke four years ago. It was also the one with the fickle tendon that had caused me annoyance for the last 9 months. The physio tested it the next day and found that no ligaments, tendons or bones seemed damaged, likely to be just a "contusion", and fortunately a couple of days on, the initial swelling has gone down. It's plausible that I'll go on a test run tomorrow.

I have to learn from this and act now to get a running light of some sort. I'd broken my knee while walking at slow pace. I'm very lucky if these are only "flesh wounds" considering I was running at interval running pace (between 4:00-4:30 mins/km) and thrown into the hard ground. The broken knee of course was falling onto some steps. I was lucky this time that my hands took the impact. (although interestingly two days later, my shoulder has started aching too.) I was lucky that I've been a habitual runner now with stronger bones. I was indeed lucky.

Sunday, May 06, 2018


I should now have done enough half marathons for the specialness to have worn off. But that’s not the case. They’re a contest. An experience. An I-against-I. A measurement of belief vs reality. The ceremony around it only makes that sense thicker.

I charged through the finish gate 1 hour 40 minutes 3 seconds after running through the start gate. That was about one and a half minutes slower than the previous year but on a totally different course. Last year’s course was flat,fast and all road. This was hilly, rough and on very uneven surfaces. To be honest, even though I may have charged through the finish gate, my body was quite a lot more broken than when I’d started. I had a sore hip flexor and a painful shin but more on that later.

Every race has its story. This one started off with me rolling with the 1:40 pacers. 1:40 had been my target for a half marathon with my current fitness although knowing that this course was hilly I’d prepared to try for that pace on the first flat 5km and then take time over the hills in order to have a fast final 5km. I started drifting back as soon as the hills came. 

The first hill was a massacre. Usually you need to wait for the final half to start passing people. At 5km, I passed a glut of runners that had gone off too quickly. One of them was walking. It was steep though and we’d hit the unsealed section. At 6km we finally had some descent and that was when I felt the hip flexor start to be really sore. I’d just gained this problem recently in my training but in training it’d be sore to start and then fade. This wasn’t fading. And that made sense: a hip flexor helps adjust your leg on uneven surfaces. It must have been working overtime. It was so early in the race and past a level of discomfort that would have stopped a training run. I thought about pulling out but was in the middle of nowhere. I decided to keep plowing on.

I got passed by those I’d passed on the hill but they became my running bunch and targets for the next 5km. “Big Rig” was the most dominant of them early on. He slowed on the ascents but powered the descents. I passed him in total about three times but overall lead our bunch for most of the second quarter. I slowly worked my way through the others “The world’s fastest Indian”, “dropsy” (who dropped his energy bar and never caught back to the group) and “The worlds fastest Indian pt 2” (different fella). We had a lot of a mild ups and downs and if my hip flexor wasn’t enough, my shin pain from two weeks ago returned. Both were just manageable.

The second sharp rise put an end to my current collaboration. Big Rig wasn’t seen again and for the third quarter I was tracking with just one runner “Lofty” who had been in my group earlier on but had probably stayed with the pacers for longer. (I didn’t see them till the end.) He set my pace until the third sharp hill which marked the three quarter mark. I didn’t see him after that.

Going down from that hill I only had two other genuine companions: Fluro and Action Man. Fluro was the kind I call a “late starter”. A late starter is the kind who comes out of nowhere in the middle of a race at an unreal pace and blows by you, as if he or she were a pro runner who started late. He passed me on the downhill making some comments on how shocking the last ascent was and then speeding onwards. He was in the distance for quite sometime indicating that he was slower on the flat. 

Before he left my sight he just had passed Action Man, and we all entered the confluence of the Quarter Marathoners and walkers (coming the other way). This is a dangerous phase because there is more dodging but also fewer true visual cues for pace. If you have a half marathon competitor near you you can pace off them but in a sea of runners for other competitions it’s tricky. But at this stage it was almost totally downhill.

I finally overhauled Action Man as we were literally “coming out of the woods” and thankfully hit the paved and sealed sections. He was bizarre though running with surges to overtake me sometimes going quite far into the distance before cruising. My slower but steady speed was fast enough to get him every time. He probably passed me and fell back five times. He was great to have because he kept me pushing in the final kilometres right to the final stretch. At that point I started my final sprint and he wasn’t able to close the gap 6 seconds behind me. I don't know if he imagined it as a duel, but it helped me sustain the speed to the end.

And then I was done. The body was sore but I hope neither of the two issues are long lasting. I’ll try some easy running soon to loosen things up again. I’m so glad I stayed the distance. 1:40 on this course is an achievement. I crunched the numbers and found I was the slowest 42nd place getter in the last 6 years. Usually that runner would get a 1:30 time. So maybe the course could be said to have a 10 minute handicap to a runner of my pace.which makes me feel good till I think that I’ve never run below 1:35...

My body was smashed but I smashed it. I’m glad to be a runner.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

My pre-event ritual

Original Wednesday blog text:

Which event of mine is not preceded by medical drama? My first half marathon had me preparing my mum for the possibility of an emergency call. The Rotorua half last year was preceded by a strained arch. The North Shore Half was preceded by the dodgy knee (that still bothers me now). The Auckland Marathon had IT band syndrome just weeks before and now we come to this event.

After the optimism of my last post, I went on one good run, a fast 5km for the Garmin fun run at Cornwall park on Sunday, and felt fine. I'd planned a good taper week with pace but less mileage. I rested on Monday and prepared for a pacey week. On Tuesday I got up early, 4:30am, and prepared for a run. My warm-up wasn't the best with a few cranky tendons but I'm used to that now. I started up for my usual 15km easy run route but after less than 500m the my lower front shin felt tight. I ran over the base of Mt Eden but it didn't go away and felt close to pain. I came to a stop after 1km, rubbed it, stretched and tried to run a bit more but it remained. Walking back, it still felt tight and sore. The sensation plagued me the rest of the day when I walked. Today I woke with my legs feeling fine so I tested them with a light jog but stopped as soon as I felt the tightness coming on. It returned on my longer walks later in the day.

So ten days before another event I'm worried about the extent of an injury. Shall I just wait patiently for a few days without testing or should I still do test runs? One interesting piece of advice you hear a lot is that if it isn't a bone, or painful, don't stop running. Not running doesn't fix a great number of problems. I'll probably plan something in between. I'll have another day off and then just see how it feels with a day of walking. I'll use a foam roller and do other strengthening exercises but keep running off the agenda until the weekend.

It seems to be the recurring story of my running life. It doesn't deter me. I just keep hoping and almost every big event has had me pulling through and exceeding the original expectations.


Saturday. Three days after the post above, seven days before the Rotorua event, the sun didn't rise in the morning. After a week of good weather during which I haven't been able to run, the weather was a depressing, dreary, thick smearing of cloud. I had a terrible sleep centred around some of my work anxieties. I got up at 6:45am and made a coffee and got myself ready for a run.

Outside there was a sudden downpour. Weather apps and rain radars are wonderful but there was nothing about that on them. There was to be light rain that would become heavier from 8am onwards but there is nothing as accurate as that for Auckland weather at this point. I prepared nonetheless.

I had reason for hope. After my failed Tuesday run, I tested myself on Wednesday morning as mentioned above and I chose caution. I kept myself completely away from my running shoes on Thursday but already there was an evident change "afoot". This niggle felt a lot of tendon tightness and tenderness early on. By Thursday, the sensation wasn't in the muscles but now below the skin. The area felt swollen to touch but I had no trouble walking or even doing short urban jogs to cross the road. I got up early Friday feeling fine but after the warm-up I had enough reason to suspect it wasn't completely over. Which brings us to this morning.

By the time I went out that downpour had already ceased and it was just drizzle. I warmed up as usual and started to run. Perhaps it was confidence that these changes clearly were in my favour. It was after a kilometre that I remembered that this was technically a test run, and I noted to myself I hadn't found any discomfort. In fact I was rollicking along at a rather rapid pace. I stayed close to home in case the weather got too nasty but by the time my running shirt was saturated and I returned home, I'd completed 13.7km without much of any physical problems. (My knee had chimed a couple of times.) In the process I ran my fastest 10km (45:43) since resuming in 2018. Looks like the show is back on the road.

The next seven days are a little tricky. I do want to make up a little for lost time but also keep things shorter and pacey, but with lots of recovery. I'll hopefully have a window of better weather tomorrow morning to do a 15km run with a 5km half-marathon pace section. Then a rest day and a 10km time trial so I can estimate for one last time the best pace to run.

Fingers crossed I can roll into the event without any further surprises. (The course is a little bit of a surprise, but I'll leave talking about that to a later blog.)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Two weeks till Rotorua

I did countdowns to events last year and I thought I may as well repeat it this year. The next event on the calendar is the Rotorua Marathon (half marathon event). There's been something of a phoenix-from-the-ashes element to it. Five weeks ago I ran, struggled and walked in the Coatesville Marathon, feeling broken and flat. Despite some obvious physical issues that have not gotten better or worse, but have transformed, they haven't obstructed any of my progress.

Last week I expressed my consternation that what came easily last year was strangely not coming out from a much more structured, planned training programme. The difference of six days is significant: I packed four workouts into a crucial week and with some easy running tomorrow I will have done 70km for the first time since October in the lead-up to the marathon. What have been the workouts?
- Tuesday: Hill sprints - I ran 12.5km including 6 sprints up local "hills".
- Wednesday: 10km tempo run at Shoe Science Run Club - I ran within myself but still ran almost as fast as my 10km TT last week. I finished without feeling overly tired.
- Thursday: 15km 3 x 2 mile intervals (in this case: 1 mile easy, then 2 miles fast, then 1/2 mile easy, and then 2 miles fast and 1/2 a mile easy and then 2 miles fast and then easy to finish). The important thing from this run was that all three intervals were hard out runs but each time I recovered well enough to still go hard out.
- Saturday: 20km easy + 5 km fast. I managed to slash 3 minutes off my run of the same route from 2 weeks ago and most importantly felt the 5km fast easy enough to do - I managed to stay under 5 minutes per kilometre on tired legs. And I didn't feel tired after the run.

Of the four runs, I noticed clear improvements in three runs. Tomorrow I'll run slowly easily and only exert myself a little at the Garmin 5km run tomorrow. Two weeks is the recommended length of a taper for a half marathon and I'll look to do this "by the book". I'll do two time trials in this period to double check my fitness and estimate the pace that I'll do Rotorua. I believe I should be fast and fit enough to equal or better 1:38:45 from last year. There could still be some "progress" made but consolidating the gains, healing what can be healed and keeping sharp is the order of the fortnight ahead.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

When it rains it pours

Being of British ancestry I do tend to talk about the weather a lot and the last 12 months have really stood out as extraordinary. We had a long baking summer, three cyclones and just recently an apparently mild weather system produced unpredicted category 2 cyclonic winds that brought down a large number of trees in Auckland and cut the electricity supply to some for days.

Though my mouth talks about the weather, weather rarely intrudes on my mood or my plans. I've been running as much now as I have in the past, although it must be said that a lot more caution has been required in the last few weeks with some suburban blocks completely dark after sundown and before dawn, often with branches of varying sizes blocking the footpath. (In isolation either one of these wouldn't be too bad but together you could be running into a tangle of branches before you know it!)

Following up my last blog, the tendon problems I mentioned are slowly going down though not completely; shin pain has returned and my knee still checks in to say it's still there from time to time. But I am running and running pretty well. In the last month I've run more than 200km and gotten some of my speed and endurance back. With three weeks to go till the Rotorua Half Marathon I'm still trying my best to get in important training, raise my mileage and test my limits.

Last year I ran Rotorua and achieved a lot more than I had expected. I ran 1 hour 38 minutes at a time when I hadn't broken 1 hour 40 minutes at any stage. And although my training relative to its lead-up was solid, it's nothing compared to what I've managed to do after it and even in the recent weeks. For some context, in 2017, in the same set of 4 weeks I ran only 120km compared to 224km this year. But there is a little mystery for me in this. Mileage does have an affect and should raise performance. I am doing work-outs that should help me run faster and longer, the kinds of work-outs I didn't even know about last year. Yet I did my favourite 21.1km training run and did it 2 minutes slower than last year. To give myself a little consolation, this morning's route was slightly different to last year's route as we moved house and there is a little bit more "uphill" than before; and it was raining for the last 10km, although I was already behind the 8-ball when rain started to fall. The strange conclusion is that I was a stronger faster runner at this time last year with less running.

Although I'm now following the advice of the running experts online, I definitely wasn't back then. Last year, I was still trying basically to go as fast as possible on all my training runs but not running many back-to-back days. Looking back on the titles or descriptions of those runs, one of the most common phrases is "badly timed", that is, I'd often misjudge the speed I should run out and feel the burn by halfway or three-quarters of the way, and have to try to survive till the end. Quite possibly that is a short cut to fitness (if one avoids injury) because the body has to quickly adapt to the demands of ridiculous work-outs. As a result of running fast and holding on I had PBs of 45:00 for 10km and 21:00 for 5km. I'm nowhere near that right now. I'll persist with my plan until after the Rotorua Half and then evaluate. Many of the work-outs are said to take 10km to show effect and I'd like to give it a chance to make me a stronger, resilient and eventually faster runner.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Starting blocks

What does it mean when it's easier to run than jog? What does it mean when it hurts less to run fast than to even walk? Those are questions that it pains me to ask. During this period that I've been running I have had a lot of niggles, even mild injuries but none have been more confusing the my two feet right now.

While I was in China, just when my knee was coming right, something went wrong with my left foot. It was painful just below the point of my ankle. And it should have because I'd ignore discomfort and still decided to run 8 kilometres. "You should listen to your body!" they say. But I've never listened to my feet. Half my runs in 2016 started with tight, sore soles that only loosened after running. (I realise now that I had plantar fasciitis for much of my twenties and thirties.) So I ignored a little tight discomfort on one run and struggled to shake it even with extended rest. And just as it started to show signs of improvement, my right foot mirrored the symptoms. Now I've got two terribly frustrating feet. 

But, there is a silver lining. The physio said it was my tendons and tendons improve through putting work through them and using them, that is, running. So on painful feet I start my warm-up, fearing that I might make things worse. I jog in agony. And then once I begin, the previous pain fades. And the rest of the day is fine.

The best measurement of tendon healing is how it feels in the morning. By that standard, it's getting better but still not near better. Mornings make me walk like an arthritic old man. But better is... better.

My running plan for the next year is clear in my head. Even with these niggles I'm running more and more strategically than I did at the same time last year. I'm looking forward to a good 10km race on 15 April with which I'll judge my fitness, which will lead to an estimated time for me to do a half-marathon on 5 May. 

The first step is rest. Tomorrow there is no running. And then on Sunday I'll aim to run 25km. If and when I do, it'll be the first time I've done that since the marathon. I hope I can do it on painless feet.

Friday, March 16, 2018


There is a time in life when everything is about to happen. A few moments when it does. And then a time shortly after when it resumes. And now it is resuming.

Looking backwards through the smoke and rubble of the past was a four week long holiday; a helter-skelter technology-hamstrung four weeks in the office; the hustle and/or bustle of the Christmas period travels and feasting; the marathon and its anticipation; the struggle for fitness and confidence in my own health; work stretching me to the limit while I still focussed mainly on running... that backward glance was a busy 6-7 months. And now I can look ahead to a comparatively anodyne and relaxed "start to the year".

It does feel like a beginning, a reset. There is nothing on the horizon. There's just life, routine and simplicity.

Today was the first Friday since I came back. Everything has fit together. It started at 5am in the morning with a 10km run. This was the longest run since late December. In the 2.5 months before this run, I'd run a mere 52.7km, and it's been a challenge of restraint, stupidity and desire. My left knee which had been a nuisance since August 2017 got really stroppy with me after bouncing on a trampoline on New Year's Eve, and I struggle to run more than 3km in a single sitting. I strengthened and waited but it still bothered me till eventually I went back to the physio, who redirected me onto a specialist. With him I had my first MRI of my life. Regrettably that was just a few days before our trip to China. Less than 48 hours before departing the result came out was interpreted by my physio and said onto me: Keep strengthening, don't stop running.

So I did. I ran in the village for the first time ever. It was a thrill. But I was thwarted twice over: while sitting feasting and drinking I suddenly turned to my left and felt a pinch around my ribs; anesthetised by the drink I didn't notice for long; the next day I noticed my ankle was a bit sore pre-run. This is relatively normal for me. I have flat feet and they are never 100% happy to be feet, let alone running. As this was a feeling similar to what I had had before, I ran despite it. But the run after it though feeling OK at the time had a huge effect. My ribs ached and my ankle twinged. My ribs were sore with any movement so my plan of exercise went out the window. That alone would have precluded running but even if it hadn't, my swollen ankle was going to be an obstacle. And then in this pain, we travelled to Chengdu with heavy suitcases... After which it felt marginally better. Then we went to Guangzhou last week where I ran again but regretted it afterwards, feeling beaten up and miserable.

My specialist had booked me this morning so I decided that I had to know how my knee was and chose to run 3km. My knee was fine it appeared, but concern for my ribs and ankle cut the run short. The next day however I didn't have any after effects, which led me to today.

My alarm rang out at 5am. I didn't like it. I got up nonetheless. I could still feel the discomfort in my ankle but after a walk down the hall it wasn't obvious. I kitted up and went for a run. I pushed it - 10km is a reasonable morning effort. I felt the same as I had after 3km. My knee didn't irk me at all, but my ribs and ankle were clearly urging me to finish. I showered and went to the specialist who showed me the MRI scans: I'd split my tendinosus (a tendon). But he was taken aback that I ran 10km without discomfort and said I should still do strengthening work (which I will do). And now I have the challenging choice. I was silly enough to book a half marathon for Sunday. I might try it and try only to get to the end. I'll rest well, strengthen and think about it.

But that was all sorted at 7:25am. The day was still yet to get on with itself! I headed home, picked up the wife, headed to work and observed a teacher. He's a nice fellow who was introduced to our school while I was away. He's an awesome teacher and even more awesome because he likes our place and thinks I'm an OK kinda guy, and is best friends with our senior teacher. Good teachers set us up for stability. Then out the door I met my boss, who had the talk I'd hoped for. And she gave me the answers I wanted. So I feel happy staying where I am. We had a nice staff lunch and after a korean dinner with soju, I feel a nice calm with the year ahead.

It's time to resume and I like where this is going.