Sunday, October 29, 2017

The day

This day has been only one thing. And it was the most challenging thing I've ever done. In the comparison of expectations and reality, it was a bit of a let down but reality is all that counts. The marathon, I say stating the obvious, is a very long race. A lot can happen.

I woke at 3am, got ready and headed to the city. I was kitted up in race gear with nothing else on top, and the first surprise, which shouldn't have been a surprise, Auckland CBD was a wild Saturday night, which I was greeting with Sunday morning eyes. I felt quite self-conscious walking among revellers with my race bib on my front. I left on the 4:20am ferry to Devonport. The area was still getting reading but I like to take all the time in the world warming up, getting my head there. It was a warm humid morning, apparently 16 degrees. The hour and a half to start breezed by and before I knew it I was in my pace group. I was going to follow the 3:30 pace group which the pace calculators suggested would be a good, but slightly conservative pace. The horn blew and we were off.

I restrained my speed with only marginal success in the first 5km, keeping just below 5min/km pace and trailing the pace group. This annoyed me a little because the pace group should have been further back. After early hills, I decided to get in front of the pack and probably went to fast at this juncture. I slowed a touch before the harbour bridge and that's when I heard the pace group a few metres behind me. Pacers, by their function, attract groups and that group was about 30 strong. I didn't want to particularly be right in front of them, nor right behind them so I went a little faster to get some space. I'd been distantly tracking a friend Ian and eventually caught up with him at this stage. I felt pretty good so after a brief chat, I floated down the other side of the harbour bridge. And after a loop-de-loop I was at the viaduct, clicking the half-way mark at 1:43:15. A slow half marathon pace, and 4:54km/min pace. It was in the pace range I'd aimed for but it wasn't long after half-way that I realised the goal wasn't realistic.

The course is an interesting one to think about. First half: diverse hills, a motorway section, the bridge; second half: flat, to St Helliers and back. It was when I was passing Britomart that my feet started to feel heavy. I kept going a pretty good clip but by the time I was getting to Kohimarama I felt like I wasn't going to be able to continue at the pace. I had a toilet break and when I resumed I still felt pretty slow. After the turn at St Helliers I walked sections, especially those with drinks, and ran at a slow dawdle in between. It was agony. It took a lot of effort to get the will to resume running. Fortunately, my usually slower friends were all coming either the other way and then eventually from behind to overtake me and they all pushed me onwards.

Also fortunately the IT bands, though occasionally threatening, never eventuated. My biggest problem was garden-variety fatigue. I had other nuisances like my ears popping and my stomach was in some distress. With the walk/run rhythm, my pace dropped for the last 10km to between 5:45 and 6:30 mins per kilometre. Fortunately, again, and to state the obvious, that was still moving at a reasonable pace even though all dreams of 3:30 were long since impossible. By the time I'd gotten to the intersection to Grafton I only stopped once for a drink. All the running felt on the knife-edged of stopping. The track weaved through the back streets of the viaduct and then finally to Victoria Park. They'd made the decision this year to have the final stretch in the centre of the park. The effect was good! It was a lift to have a grand finish. I ran in at 3:46:35. And could barely walk for at least another hour.

So, I'm a marathoner! My time, though not heroically amazing, is on the board. I have an experience to understand the race for the future, too. Though I still feel a little embarrassment in undercutting my target and suffering so much, it'll be what drives me in my next big run. Importantly I wasn't injured besides some friction-related bother. Now's a time to rest and let my body get over it and then I can plan my next exploit!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

One day

So we get to the day before. Days-before are interesting: Many are for one-off events like weddings, but most days-before occur prior to things that could happen again and again, like job interviews, dates, meeting "the parents", etc., which are special the first time but become less of "a thing" as time goes on. Marathons, from what I've heard are in-between: in their own right, they're an abnormal, challenging act that cannot become ordinary. Even experienced people seem to feel tense the day before a marathon. Half marathons are still special to me, but I can imagine one day soon I might forget about it the day-before.

I went on a loosener run this morning. It might strike some as odd to run the day before a marathon but it's widely cited as helpful. Make sense too: It activates all the joints and muscles. As it was damp this morning, I used old shoes, which I regretted a little. After running 500m some of the old tight areas felt tight straightaway but I finished, stretched, and now will chill out for the rest of the day.

I'll prepare to wake at 3am, have breakfast, gear up, drive to my carpark and walk to the ferry. The race begins at 6am so I'd like to be there early to drop my bag, queue for "the facilities" and keep mobile and ready. One of the decisions that is still in my head is whether to wear my camelbak (a small backpack full of water) with me. They'll have water on the course, of course, but I like the freedom to hydrate when I want and without relying on others. The water stands are also a bit of a hazard to approach, with people ducking in and out, some stopping, slowing, starting, cups on the ground etc. I might leave the stands till later in the race when I need electrolyte drinks or if I want to tip water over my head, rather than drink.

The day-before ideally is not the day for decision making. That should have been done already. The weather should be the only variable - the forecast is not bad yet but isn't the best. After bailing on two marathons with perfect weather, it was only right that when I am actually ready to do one the weather wasn't going to play ball. But a lot can change in Auckland.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Three days

Now that I've started a countdown, I might as well continue it. It's the Thursday before the Sunday. Quite a few things have resolved themselves: I've hit my sponsorship target (still with a few likely donations to come in); my IT band situation has improved somewhat and the weather forecast for the day, that as distant forecast was heavy rain, has now become sunshine and rainbows. Nice. Very little has not progressed in the right direction apart from work distractions, which there are a lot, and the fact that the t-shirt from my charity hasn't arrived in the mail, not that that is really my problem.

The key improvement in all of the above is the lessening of my IT band issues. It was worst four weeks ago when suddenly it terminated a 30km run at the 15km mark, and then was a pain or sensation in almost every run thereafter. Massage might have relieved it but as soon as running resumed, so did the onset of the syndrome. About the time of the last blog, in desperation, I tried everything on the Internet and a couple of those things stuck, and it is one of those things that I'd like to describe as a typical "discovery" kind of act but with a bit of context.

When I started being a "runner" I read a little but also I rejected a lot. I was quite conservative about the way I did everything. Every run was a flat out run. I didn't do any easy runs. I did static stretching (the stretches where you hold for 10 seconds or more then release) before and after runs. I didn't do any strengthening exercises beyond what the physio had given me to fix a problem. But slowly I adopted certain habits and ways of doing things which are obviously said to be useful and other people are obviously doing. I just needed it really put in front of me with the obvious reasoning or when I was facing the obvious results of not doing it.

Leg swings are a kind of most common kinds of dynamic stretches. I remember seeing them being done (and not having a bar of them) at the last Auckland Marathon. I'd started doing one kind of leg swing about 6 months ago (between front and back) but hadn't done any others because I had enough trouble fitting all my warm-ups in before my run as it was. But IT bands, though affecting the knees, often comes from problems in the hips, and a sideways leg swing was mentioned on one (only one) of the many resources I read. I gave them a try and, along with some other more banal techniques, my following runs had far fewer symptoms. My physio yesterday noticed that my quad inflammation had decreased (although was still present). And most of my runs, albeit short tapering runs, have been without much bother.

IT band syndrome may still rear its dastardly head in the much longer, gruelling event on Sunday but at least for now I have peace of mind that it may not and it's not an inevitability that it once was. Three days to go and there is still some improvement that may happen.

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.

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.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

After the gun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can't wait.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Short weeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Milestone

Just an addendum to my blog from Thursday: I did finish my Friday training run. I beat my fastest half-marathon time by about 2 minutes with a time of 1:42:41 and at a pace of 4:52min/km. Considering it was my Twin Peak course, I'm feeling like my fitness and body when well rested should be able to run a flatter course in less than 1:40:00 so that will be my goal in the Rotorua Half Marathon.

I remember listening to running blogs about "performance runs", i.e. when you are pretty much running to your limit. This run felt like this. I have to make sure that I "lock" in this performance and focus on other aspects like recovery, strengthening and endurance. If I try to blast my legs again there could be a risk of injury.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Better early than never

I've always been naturally inclined towards early rising. It might just be that my sleep is most prone to disturbance around 5am. Or maybe it's just that I have always had the pessimism that I can't fall back asleep. Those early hours though are rich with feeling. Pin-dropping. Sound always sounds so fresh when it has no precedent. Hues. Because unlike sound, they just develop on their own accord. I can recount all sorts of tales of times when I rose while it was still a darker shade of sparrowlight.

I remember in Taipei waking at 4am and getting up not long after just to walk the streets. There were already old people in the parks. I remember mornings on Marsden ave, waking and making sandwiches and breakfast. Or going for walks to pick up rubbish and nick off with the Hells Pizza tokens from discarded pizzas. I remember walks in the dark to my carpooling rendezvous point on Mt Albert Road. Even last years walking commutes stand out as something more than just walking merely for the early hour that they were made.

These mornings I've been using this tendency to my advantage with running. It was the only way to fit regular running into a busy life. 5am is now a standard alarm time for me and I aim for mid-week runs around that time. Lately there was another advantage to this habit - avoiding the rain. Twice now with torrential rain threatened I've awoken to find it still holding back and been able to sneak a run in. It's very motivating to think that the heavens could open up at any moment!

This is my first blog since the Coatesville Half Marathon in which I went in an 8km run called the Coatesville Classic. It had been a disappointment at first to downgrade it from the half marathon event, but I eventually reconsidered it as a "fitness test" of sorts to see how my recovery from a calf strain had gone. I trained specifically for it and planned how to pace myself. The run was very satisfactory exceeding my modest expectations and it sent me into all kinds of dangerous optimism.

It's 4 weeks later now and a lot has happened. On an impulse I entered the Run Auckland series (6 events) of which the first one was cancelled due to an inundation of the course. During the time I had all sorts of random short-term pains that I usually get when starting up again. In one week I thought I had shinsplints; after another couple of runs that problem was gone but then I thought I had stress fractures in my foot. On one 5am run I bailed after 800m on account of sudden discomfort in what I thought was the anterior cruciate ligament. I don't mind these irritations because it has always been how my legs feel getting back into running - I have to break them to make them. It's good to be concerned but then to treat, strengthen and then train them not to be niggles. I have to be careful that now that they feel invincible I don't repeat the same mistake and break them in a real way!

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.

5 kilometres is the length of my next event, my first Run Auckland event on 30 April. The following weekend I'll do my second official half marathon in Rotorua. The training for each serves the other. After that I have four more Run Auckland events culminating in what will be my 3rd half-marathon. Assuming I maintain my fitness through this, the next step would be to use this fitness for a marathon near the end of the year, with the choices being the North Shore, Auckland or Queenstown marathons. Unlike last year, I'll leave my decision later and not get ahead of myself.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Comeback

Just over eight weeks ago, on a run that I would have been immensely proud of had I finished, I strained my calf. Today, I can say that I'm back. It's a relief and has been a learning experience - probably one that I would have learned if I had been a proper runner in my twenties.

On that fateful run on 21 January (now I've probably already described this day but not the background, so please indulge me to go over the top with detail - it's a reflection I hope I learn from), I'd been ambitious - I decided to complete a newly conceived route, the double peak half-marathon, where I ran both One Tree Hill and Mt Eden with a total half-marathon distance. The previous weekend I felt I'd made a breakthrough with both of those mountains ascended with relative ease on a 18km loop and felt I had a new "cruising speed". It seemed that even with moderate effort I could maintain a sub-5 minute pace in between the peaks. And I felt good. I had already cut back on distance running because I was focussing on a half-marathon in Coatesville. I converted from semi-frequent long runs to more regular shorter runs. In the week before my injury I ran on three consecutive days. Perhaps that was where my over-ambition began: the second run was a new personal best for 10km. Making new personal-bests feeds the desire to go bigger and bigger. The three consecutive runs were all fast and strong, the third being a 7km run where I sprinted the last kilometre, which made me realise I was capable of a sprint finish at the end of a run. All three I was to the limit of my ability, I felt. I set my previous plan in stone: A rest day, Friday. A half-marathon dress rehearsal on Saturday 21 January. After that I could focus again on shorter runs and just do the distance again before tapering.

Saturday 21 January started sublimely. I got to the top of One Tree Hill a minute an a half faster than the previous weekend. Over 6km's, that's running every kilometre 15 seconds faster - that is a massive increase. And I wasn't feeling that much worse for wear. I managed to find that new normal "cruising speed" and made my way to Mt Eden on a longer route and was now 3 minutes ahead of myself. After descending though, perhaps as an omen, I felt tightness in my knee, which was unusual for me. I slowed down a little and it too disappeared. I hit Valley Road, which is a delightful downhill segment and felt great again. I turned the corner onto Dominion Road, the relative flat to the end and that's when I felt the strain. It meant I forwent training for well over a month and had to slowly build up once again in March. Today's run was just past what would have been advisable to run.

Rewinding, every single run wasn't bad but together they were always going to injure me, if not the 21 January, the 23rd. Listening to a running podcast, I heard the idea of a recovery run, which is simply the run the day after you go bananas on an ambitious run, where you just let it all hang out and not worry about time. I'd never done that before: every single run I was aiming to exceed my previous self. The maxim of listening to your body is great, but my body was saying all was fine. It needs a rational judgement, like that of a coach, to say that several of your runs must be expressly for recovery and to schedule them, in spite of the over-exuberance that comes from success.

Today marks my recovery. I ran 8km in 36.39, 4:34 minutes per kilometre. This is on par with the best I ran pre-injury. The route itself was an interesting beast and part of the success was that I approached it rationally and my training suited the course. It was essentially a 3 kilometres of smooth ascent, 3 kilometres of flat and 2 kilometres of smooth descent. My normal training has included hills, whether they be the grinding subtle incline of Landscape Rd to Mt Eden road, or the steep Landscape section to St Andrews, which were my common access ways on runs to the east, not to mention the volcanoes in my immediate vicinity. I knew if I went up the 3km section at good pace, I'd be able to sustain a reasonable pace on the flat and the descent. It worked well - even with the sub-optimal training.

For my spirits, it was good to get to a fast start, overtake a few people and not be overtaken by many. The last segment I literally heard someone breathing down my neck. (Well, perhaps not literally, but  heard the breathing loud and clear and the person was just behind me for the last 500 metres.) I may have stopped surging early too as there were two arches at the finish - the last one being the actual finish. And they'd warned us as well that the final section was a grassy section with potholes and warned us that we should be careful where we put our feet. I half-thought I'd finished and also was very mindful of the surface.

My next target is the Rotorua half-marathon in May. I'd like to get back to the distance running form I was in 21 January, but with a bit more prudence of course, and then use the solid platform training for that would give me to run a marathon before the end of the year. Training options are opening up again although I still need to temper them with the knowledge that my legs are always going to be prone to niggles and recovery runs are just as important as personal-bests.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Invasion

Workday mornings are regimented affairs. There's the making of the breakfast, eating of the breakfast, the brushing, the cleaning, the clothing, the socking and shoeing and the exiting of the home. Workdays mornings are designed to be done with your eyes closed because they're controlled situations. Everything should be in its right place (except my glasses which have always wandered).

One morning in the past week things weren't quite in their right place. We'd gone through the routine above when we opened the car door to find all the compartments open and the contents all over the floor of the car. Clearly I'd accidentally left the doors unlocked the day before and someone had wandered up the driveway to look for soft opportunities at theft. Our car was right outside our bedroom window so they must have been quiet. That morning I'd woken before 5am for a run too, and had popped out the door at about 5:15am but hadn't noticed anything astray then, although it's possible it'd already happened. Heaven forbid I came out while they were cowering behind the car. 

It was all a sobering shock and a sharp reminder. I knew I'd become lazy about locking the car doors and some mornings when I noticed them unlocked I'd had momentary fantasies about opening the back door (where I put my backpack) to find someone sleeping there. Fortunately that fantasy didn't become real but the ransacking of your car is definitely akin. 

They didn't get anything as far as we know. I'm not sure what people commonly leave in their car overnight. Emergency cash? GPS devices to fence? Snacks? In our car, they turned down the Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses I never wear (given by my old manager in GZ; I hate sunglasses though; this pair are widely thought to be fake). They fortunately turned down my swipe card. Who knows why they'd pinch a swipe card but that'd have really messed up my morning. And the only mess they left was the upturning of travel brochures. Besides requiring us to put things away again, the only other bother was the sense of violation of our private space. Roughly 10 years ago I had the "classic" small rear passenger window smashed by someone similarly minded. I'm glad I haven't had that which is a terrible hassle. 

Last year aside from negligence with the left side and corners of the car, I'd had reasonable automotive luck. This year it has deserted me a little. Just after New Year, I was caught doing 54km/hr on Dominion Rd, which I can scarcely believe - Dominion Road is very difficult to speed on. I'm not saying I don't ever exceed 50, but in my current habits it's rare. There were options for challenge but I thought just like when a friend or family comments on a past you can't remember,  just let it slide and paid the fine. Fortunately it was by a stationary camera and not by a police car or else our trip to Northland would have really got off to a bad start.

Then a few weeks back we went to Newmarket for a massage for my injury and parked on Khyber Pass. I walked up the road and looking for a meter but there wasn't one. It was in a bus lane but well outside the hours for use. Other cars were there so I wasn't too worried. My massage finished first and I went to get a snack when I glanced up the road a saw flashing lights. Injured or not, I ran up the road. Cars were getting towed away from the area and being ticketed. Fortunately the towie hadn't gotten to mine yet but there was already a ticket. I asked the warden who said that it was Lantern festival night and that there was signage, which he pointed out (in picture). It was about 50m away from the front of our vehicle and another one 50m back up the road and facing the other direction (to the flow of traffic). It irked me as unfair - if they didn't want people to park there, two signs 100m apart are always going to catch people out. I could quickly think of four points that made their method seem unfair. And I was annoyed because I had made a reasonable effort to check that the space was OK.

I put my case to the council via their website but they maintained their claim. If I wanted to fight the fine I'd have to go to court. And if the court still found in favour of the fine, I'd have to pay the fine and court costs. In better times, I would have probably still fought. But with work the way it was I was not in the mood. I rolled over and paid the fine.

Whether it is criminal invasion of my car's space or bureaucratic, it feels just as bad. Yet the police and the council made off with $70 and the criminal made off with nothing. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Story of my life!"

Like a lot of people, I've been enjoying the Trump Presidency, if only for the joy of outrage and seeing people apoplectic at apparent brazen ignorance. A colleague of mine said that his election would be a goldmine for the comedians, but I contend that it is a self-mockery that cannot really be beaten. "You cannot write stuff like that!". You'll never meet a better mockery of Trump than himself. The only satire I'd laugh at would be to have him making sense and playing it straight. Have a comedian answer the question with a cogent answer.

As we have this kind of personality pushing the envelope of reality, it really does make me think about how beliefs and narratives work for people. Clearly some people are listening to his words and making sense of it all, which might strike his detractors as impossible. 

If there is anything that is true though, it is that a story matters, and we all have stories about ourselves and the worlds. We, after all, "aren't that kind of person" except for that time when you weren't. And it's the "story of my life" and we successfully fulfill our own prophecies both good and bad. I sigh a little when my family and colleagues say they are a particular kind of person or identify themselves as an agent in a recurring narrative. We do though seem to make a narrative of our lives as narratives make sense of otherwise meaningless events and actions. Our world too needs a narrative, and if there is a singularly big achievement that distinguishes Trump from other candidates it was that he wasn't just about what he was (which admittedly he did hammer on about). He created talked about a bigger narrative that more people found matching their own. Obama, being the speaker that he was, did something similar in a far more well-spoken way. "Fake news" may be an unsophisticated catch-cry but it does chime with the suspicions of many. 

The narrative doesn't have to be reality; in fact, by definition it's not. It should be in line with their aspirations or their fears. If want to lead my team well, I really need to project that my school is a body generally pulling in the right direction, that teaching is fun and changing lives, and that the job of teacher is special one. All or most of these could be wrong. The real situation must be textured, fractal and complex.

Narratives do have a rubber-meets-the-road element at some stage; ragged reality is bound to intrude at some stage. Apocalyptic cults meet that with the passing of their last day, after all. Invincible youths meet a sharp corner. And "winning" Trump has had moments where he met defeat. It's only cognitive dissonance or willful ignorance that makes him see his administration as a "smoothly running machine".

But narratives do shape the road because the road is partly paved by the humans who are participants from in some way. I think about this when watching cricket - the best chasers in cricket are not necessarily the most skillful but the ones who make the other team stop believing in their own winning narrative. When the bowler knows he cannot be the hero, that the ball will almost certainly go into the crowd, he's lost the game for his team. Sports games have their own narrative viewers give to them as well as what the players create, and the cheers or otherwise of the crowd may sway the players as well.

I remember hearing the theory that consciousness itself is a narrative. I like it. It fits my story perfectly.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Kiwi maths

Look at this picture, which was taken at the Auckland Lantern Festival last night. Notice anything interesting? (Besides the spelling of Mongolia) My wife was quite amused by it, while we were waiting in the long queue for the lamb kebabs, because it's another example of a phenomenon that she'd often seen in New Zealand and a contrast to what you'd see in China. In China, you'd often see signs like this but only when there is a discount for buying more. $2.5/p = $10/4p is simple maths, so it makes you think of numerous possibilities: (1) their maths is bad and they don't realise that it is not a discount; (2) they think your maths is bad and you won't realise that $10/4p and buy more for no discount; (3) they think you're bad at maths and would like to help you to figure out how to get the appropriate serving of 4 pieces, i.e. skewers. None of these possibilities work in China, perhaps because people are generally sharp with maths (apparently) or people would laugh at it, just like my wife. 
I was trying to think of a reason for people doing this, apart from filling up the sign or the reasoning above. Anyone got a solution? 

I've got a couple of possible rationales mostly revolving around the idea that they can change the price (which may or may not be possible). Firstly, it's interesting to think of the situation of a stall in a big event like this. They prepare lots of supplies based on an estimate of how much they think they can sell. There is a limited of space to store meat and prepare it. Also price signs like the above can be changed and adapt for changes in the market prices. The key for a successful food stall is to sell them all that you have estimated for the highest price. The first goal is to get people into kebabs and ideally forming a queue, so a low price at least at the beginning is good. Then you need to make sure you set a trajectory to sell all your lamb, and that would be best to have a discount for more. So either raising the one-piece price or setting up a discount for a bulk quantity would be smart. But what happens if you are selling too many, especially at the bulk price? Well, you can either raise the price of both, or you can just make the bulk price no longer discounted. Possible? Probably not, but that's all I got. 

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Debate

There's been a lot of talk about how Facebook's algorithms and slanted or vapid media has given us our own information echo-chambers. Watching cats begets more cat news. Liking right-wing links begets Fox news. At least on Facebook there are people who have a free pass past the wall, and they are our family and friends.

"I know you don't agree with me," someone mentioned to me. "I saw what you wrote on Facebook." Now, I knew that I had views polar opposite to him and he had mentioned this several times in the past; but, this was the first time that he'd raised Facebook as the source of his inkling.  I asked about the particular items but the specifics were a bit vague. He could remember me mentioning something or liking something that was against Israel making settlements in certain areas. It was probably in response to the backlash from NZ sponsoring a UN resolution against Israeli settlements in certain places.

The funny thing is that I never really imagined that he cared about Israel, but that was a bit naive. He's got clear views about muslims and your enemy's enemy must be your friend. He adores Trump and said that I must love Hillary or something to that effect. I said that I'd said some positive things about Trump on Facebook and even read it aloud to him:

"I think tuning out for a while is a pretty wise idea for all concerned. Re: optimism and the US election, I think there are reasons to look forward to the next few years. This is someone who will shake up the US's meagre quotient of parties and even the system itself. The US system is bizarrely corrupt and even an out-of-the-mould character like Obama left it just as it was. If this apparent American idiot can trigger change, either by himself or the response to him, it can only be good. Let's just hope he doesn't put his little fingers on the wrong button in the meantime." - Me, 11 November 2016.

I read it out but every time I got to "apparent American idiot" he stopped me. I clarified the meaning of "apparent" but he still wouldn't let me get to the end. I eventually just said "apparent American" and it slid. Leaving out other aspects of the discussion, it is interesting what things get through and what things don't.

As for my original sentiment on 11 November, I still stand by it, especially what Trump may trigger. I just wished that it was easier to tune it out in the meantime.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chance to shine

I've probably spoken enough about the challenges of my current job. The size and scale of the workload, the feeling of a lack of support and communication, a lack of appreciation and other things have dominated my emotions on either side of the summer break. One small plus after all that blueness was a chance to shine, and shine in a way that I had confidence in.

Yesterday we had a conference in which I had to speak for at least 15-20 minutes. I'd been told a week and a half ahead but it was still a headache to prepare on top of my already excessive list of things to do. The day before in particular was heavy with rather crucial operational matters. My manager, who gave me the opportunity, was a technocrat to boot; she lives on numbers and policy and I knew that she'd probably want the 15-20 minutes to be solidly about the number side of the stated topic, preferably with solid numbers comparing years etc. which I thought wouldn't be useful. I counter-proposed by e-mail something a little more qualitative but didn't get a response. The day before the event I finally sat down with her briefly and she unexpectedly green-lighted my content, which was somewhat of a relief. The real preparation began and went till 11pm the night before.

Public speaking and presenting is something that I've learned to be able to handle quite well. My previous job gave plenty of opportunities to handle the limelight, to cover content without notes, to think on my feet and adapt. Also managing schools in China meant saying the same message in different ways to different groups. Teaching for so long, especially ESOL, has had its benefit, too. We naturally think of staged presentations, of audience involvement. And we are trained, too, to think in terms of how to visually present important information. I wouldn't say for a moment that I'm any great talent in speaking but these advantages can transform average speaking to something that you can listen to easily.

To make these meagre advantages more prominent I knew that almost no other presenter on the list really had more than one advantage. Some speakers had presence either by position or standing. There were some naturally interesting speakers. Some used the space well. There were some who had a few gimmicks for keeping attention. Some were witty and off-the-cuff. Others had very clear Powerpoint presentations (the worst speaker had the best PPT - the online marketing manager no less). But very few had the techniques of engagement or had adapted their delivery to an audience. In fact most of the performances were to do a stated task "despite" the audience. I recall a mini-conference last year where all speakers just hammered through their material to a catatonic group of about 100. It was painful. I anticipated that this conference would be roughly the same and I was roughly right.

I came straight after a colleague, who though sincere, was also in this mold: he had the brief of what he was told to cover but couldn't change his delivery for the audience. He had a gimmick to hold attention though and in the end it was better than most. He had been kind enough to ask ahead how we'd segue and it was a smooth hand-off. I then got up and cracked everyone up introducing myself. It was good to be a personality, rather than a speaker. It was my first time really addressing the group about what our school was so I went from humour into a very sentimental story about what the previous incarnation of our school must have been through in Christchurch before it moved to Auckland. I made up for an inadequacy in the company's concept of the conference - Mine was the only session that mixed the different companies from within the groups and ensured that the smaller two companies could speak more. In ESOL talk, I got "group-work" going. I capped off with two ways to look at academic quality, the focus of the talk, but from my experience in my industry and I got the participants to analogise it back to their settings.

I finished and I had lots of people approach me to express appreciation for the presentation, including all but one of the directors of the group. My manager in particular said she many of her fears for the coming education audit were allayed now that she saw how much thought I'd put into the big picture and vision. In retrospect, the tasks I'd been previously given that were of interest to the directors were in areas that I hadn't been trained, hadn't experienced or weren't familiar with so quite possibly they'd developed a lack of confidence in me. In a year, this was the first time I could speak at length and respond to the combined executive and greater company about what our school is and what I'm about. Even though my teachers know what I'm about and what I believe in, it is also rather consolidating for them to hear and see it pronounced not just in the office or a team meeting but to the group, to see that the goals are not small goals. One team member approached me to say that he had never realised I'd done so much in the last year.

It was great to finish Friday before a long weekend on a high. It's rough when the thoughts of work follow me home and pester me and my rest. Now I can have my own weekend.