Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Deer and the Cauldron

As you get older, you notice more generational differences, and the more you start to feel the world isn't yours, and a bit of culture shock sets in. When I started teaching, the Chinese students were quite similar to me in age and there was a lot more I could relate to, even though we were born in different countries. But as China has transformed had record pace, the generational differences are even greater. The students of today are vastly different in their values and priorities from those I first taught. When I do encounter a student I can relate with as a person, it's a moment of excitement, but that is becoming very rare. It used to be that I could motivate students by telling them how I learned language but very few of these suit the modern students who know that there are ways to "get by" without doing the hard work. Two ways that I believe are best to learn are listening to the radio (for passive exposure to comprehensible input) and reading (for time with a wide variety of non-spoken language and ideas; exposure to grammar). Recently I told a group that I was reading a book myself in Chinese, even though study isn't the focus of my life. I said I was reading to enjoy, and learning was a nice side-effect. This probably had little effect. The only effect was that when I alluded to the book title, all of them said: "Oooh, a book about sex." Regrettably even these "adults" want to be children forever. And though it does have a few adult themes, it is not a book about sex. Sigh. The cover of the fourth volume of five says it all, and the protagonist, Wei Xiaobao, is said to have seven wives. I have almost finished and he is barely out of his teens with only one wife (and that at a stretch - she was tricked and compelled into it; and she wants to kill him).

For most of this year though, reading fell off my priority list in favour of running, but I still read in oft moments and times when I wanted distractions; two books took focus both Louis Cha (金庸) novels, Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain (which I finished), and The Deer and the Cauldron, the "book about sex", which as of 31 December I'm on chapter 41 of 50. Both I'd brought from China to read and keep my Mandarin up as well as to read all of Louis Cha's body of work; The Deer and the Cauldron is my seventh, roughly halfway through his body of work. His work is always interesting in terms of creative and elaborate stories, which boggle the mind in their intricacies, as well as tying everything into real historical events and figures. 

Although I chose one of the two novels because of a recommendation, and the other one was a gift, their background timeframes were very similar. Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain was set in the mid-Qing Dynasty but whose back-story focusses on a period when the Ming Dynasty has just fallen, followed by a brief reign from usurper, Li Zicheng, and then the Manchus steaming in to push him out with the help of a Han general, Wu Sangui. The Deer and the Cauldron is set just after the early Qing dynasty while Wu Sangui is still alive and the Qing Emperor Kangxi was on the throne. I'm glad to read it just because the more I do, the more history is being given flesh and I can understand how things happen. Previous books have had the characters interacting with Genghis Khan during his rise. The latter book has the character, through various circumstances, taken to Moscow where he sees how a young Peter the Great (before he was great) became a tsar. If there was one distraction while reading it is that the books are quite unhistorical in their portrayal of male and female relationships, suiting a soap opera/TV series generation. But it definitely enriches the plots.
 
Along with the relationships comes probably the best thing about Louis Cha novels, the emotional entanglement through circumstances. I have nine more chapters to read in The Deer and the Cauldron to find out how Wei Xiaobao resolves his conflicting loyalties which are very much coming to a head. His closest friend is Kangxi the emperor, yet he leads a branch of an organisation that is aiming to overthrow him. He has creatively found a way to keep these two worlds of his life consistent. Spoiler is that history already tells me what the ending may be. I can't wait to find out how he does it... and how he gets the other six wives!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Running records and goals

I ran my last run for 2017 in Whitianga on 28 December. It was a pleasant run, along the Mercury Bay shoreline, up a hill, around the neighbourhood, with a 3.5km section of pace, 16.5km in all. It felt good. I felt compelled to run because (a) it was a great place to run, like Piha and Taupo earlier; and (b) to break 2000km for the year. I probably should have been giving my left knee niggle a rest but it was a symbolic number and I do get itchy feet. I'm now not going to run until I know that the knee niggle that has been with me in various forms is no longer apparent, unless running is part of the treatment for it. The niggle itself has not been an issue for my marathon nor my most recent "get lost" half marathon at Omaha.

In the meantime, one's best times are always good to keep a track of for posterity, so here are my achievements of 2017. All my best are from this year, needless to say:
Estimated Best Efforts according to Strava measurements
1k3:35
1 mile6:06
5k19:49
10k42:28
Half-Marathon1:34:59
Marathon3:42:26

My best official race times are:
- 5km - 21:18 (Western Springs Run Auckland, Jul 2017)
- 10km - 43:58 (Botany Run Auckland, May 2017)
- Half marathon - 1:36:53 (North Shore Marathon, Sep 2017)
- Full marathon - 3:46:35 (Auckland Marathon, Oct 2017)

My goals for 2018:
- Consistent uninjured running
- 2500km/year (i.e. over 200km most months)
- 5km - 20:00
- 10km - 41:30
- Half marathon - 1:32:00
- Full marathon - 3:20:00

I've already entered several events:
- Coatesville Half in March 2018
- Rotorua Marathon in May 2018
- North Shore Marathon in Sep 2018

The main complication will be the four weeks I spend in China Feb/Mar but I'll try to run where possible. 

How am I going to achieve those? Well, I am unsure whether I've mentioned it but I intend to do it by following the common wisdom that has proven itself to be true. Firstly:
- higher mileage, especially of lower speeds - probably one of my issues in both years was my tendency to try to push every run
- running long runs with fast finishes - never done it before but make a lot of sense
- strengthening exercises - I started doing this this year and it does seem to work
- hill sprints - I only did my first session of this a couple of weeks before the Omaha half in December. I felt better for it.
- focussing on high cadence - I didn't really get cadence till I discovered it for myself. It's the number of strides per minute. I realised half way through the year that I could literally "change gear" by making my stride shorter but put more strides in. Intervals helped refine this.

 I'd like to thank my wife for her patience with my running and not complaining about a hobby that has an alarm going off at 5am, disturbs her sleep, makes for stinky laundry and regular trips to the shoe store. I'm also thankful to live in a place that allows easy running 12 months a year. I'll no doubt understand new things about myself and running and mould these along the way. I hope this coming year has as many discoveries as this has, 2017. Let's go!

Merry Christmas

We spent a few post-Christmas days on the Coromandel Peninsula and stayed in a great apartment while there. It was, as you expect, a place you could live quite happily and forget it was acting like a hotel. They had all the mod-cons such as a dishwasher, washing machine and stove, and supplied the powders etc. for each of these so you could be fully independent of hotel staff, if you chose. All of this served to allow us more freedom to eat in, having all of our breakfasts and two of our dinners comfortably in our room.

Whitianga, where we stayed, is a great little town, too, and developing ever faster. For our first grocery-shop we went to one of the big supermarkets, buying a poddle of oysters to eat at the beach, breakfast cereal, oil for the pan etc. I was relaxed and happy because I'd slipped into holiday mode and ready to take time as it came. After paying at check-out, the cashier wished me "happy holidays" and I wished her back "Merry Christmas" and she looked awkward. And suddenly I thought about the very interesting culture war in the States.

Eight years had been a long time for conservatives over there in the Obama years. For them, it was a constant assault on what they thought was the American way of doing things, including celebrating Christmas. One of the things was the trend for companies and organisations asking service people to stop using "Merry Christmas" and adopt culturally and religiously neutral phrases such as "Happy holidays" and "Seasons greetings". These changes caused backlash

The funny thing was that my "Merry Christmas" at the supermarket was reflexive and I certainly support the trend toward saying "Happy holidays" to those the speaker is not familiar with, which is especially the case for those in the service industry. For me, and I believe for most New Zealanders, "Merry Christmas" isn't a religious saying - it's a cultural phrase, even merely a linguistic idiom. It's as religious as Santa and reindeer. 

But many people see it as a religious phrase and religion always brings a degree of discomfort when pressed onto others. It's everyone right to say what they'd like as individuals but it doesn't mean that it won't have consequences, and I wouldn't want to discomfort others for no reason, when it was just the desire to wish someone well or to provide a turn in a social interaction that needed to be filled. 

The strange thing in the culture war is that the fact that it's a wish for another and such a wish shouldn't really be a basis for conflict. There is a distinct problem for the religious who would like to show their sincerity but their idiom is religiously rooted. When a religious person says they'll pray for someone, it is meant as a kindness. To an atheist it may come as a wish, but may often come as something different. We now live in a gloriously pluralistic world - the formally alternative are now accepted in the main. It is an emotional issue for those who are finding that they've floated out of the mainstream and sometimes the cognitive dissonance is awkward. (Check out this amusing interview after 2:00, where the satirical interviewer points out that there is no difference between before and after Trump.)

In my habitual phraseology, I clearly hold onto some unobserved relics of a bygone time. It's still something that I wish to reform my habits about in the new year.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017

The time is 11:12pm on 22/12/2017. I was exhausted at 8pm, went to bed at 9:40pm, got up at 10:10pm to read my book after I struggled to sleep, felt dozy and went back to the bedroom at 10:40pm only to again feel too mentally agitated to sleep and came out to write this now. I hope a little writing of my thoughts will exile them to the page.

Today was the last working day of the year. It was a "half day" but it was always going to be a full day for me. Our school is moving. We've lost some staff and I needed to notify people on the results of the interviews. 

It was a tough day with a burst of frustration from a departing teacher. He was a little bit of an enigma: He came mid-year and had an excellent CV: He'd been a teacher trainer, taught all over the place and had written his own textbook. But also clear from the get go, he had a bit of fire about him. He'd had a frustrated previous employment that ended unpleasantly. We had a common friend though and he assured me that he was a good guy. And he was clearly the pick of the bunch and we took him on. 

And perhaps in some situation, with a different or better manager he'd be a productive member of the team still. Or not. He started class and immediately struck trouble. He told me the class was "dead". There was one student, "D", who wasn't responding, refusing to cooperate and he couldn't figure out why. He told me about her and I told him that D hadn't been a problem in other classes. I spoke to her when I had time on the fourth day he was teaching her. She said she was under stress because her accommodation had been a problem. He reported another student, "U", not responding to him and students were using their phones in class. On the Friday, two students including "D" came to my office to complain about his teaching. 

I got as much evidence as I could to find out what it was that he was doing wrong. He was following the departure of a popular teacher and it's not uncommon for classes to give a following teacher a hard-time. But this was pretty extreme - and it is my responsibility to evaluate the cases early on, because if there is a problem it needs to be dealt with. I spoke to him on the Friday afternoon of his first week. I believed the problem was he hadn't really created a good rapport from the start. He expected students to give him respect from the get-go, which is not a bad expectation but is not a given. He had a set of habits and idiosyncrasies (whispering), humour (sarcastic; sometimes mocking) and style (lots of his own materials, though often too varied) which wouldn't be a problem in themselves, but without rapport most of these would become annoying or distracting. I suggested toning down these distractors and upping the rapport side of things. 

Monday came round, he taught and at the end of the day, he came energetically into the office and declared either D was removed from his class or he wouldn't be teaching it. I was stunned. He described how she showed utter contempt for him and he couldn't bear it. He mimed her throwing a piece of paper back at him. I spoke with the student after and told her that all people deserve respect. She denied throwing the paper back at him. (Later he admitted that she hadn't thrown it back at him, but "she had the smug contempt as if she had.") I felt I was sufficiently hard on her in a meeting. 

But it wasn't much of a fix. In the end I decided to move him and another teacher around. He did better in this class but still drew complaints right up to the end of his probation. We put him on another three month contract, and switched his class around again. The class I moved him to was one that was the most difficult to teach, a monoculture beginner class, that my most reliable teachers had already taught and driven to their wits' end. And that was when he started to do well. The students enjoyed him. And that's when he gave notice. And soon as he gave notice, he lost the sense of professionalism. There are a good portion of people that once the end is near, they can't really "turn up". His classes were still fine as but soon as he was out of the classroom, he was out. And started getting ruder and sharper.

Today was his last day. And actually it was a half-day but paid as full, and without classes just packing and a last Christmas meal with colleagues at 1pm. But he couldn't wait to get out. Eventually he just came into my office, said that one of my early e-mails had said the half day ends 12:30pm and he had to go, then gave me a verbal serve, saying I was wrong in not telling him about the maturity level of our students when he joined, that it's a huge problem in the school and that I deny it; that I say they're good students. I challenged a few things but generally just let him get it off his chest. He said such things "mess with people's lives". For him one of the parts of this story had: he was looking to buy a boat but because he was only on short contracts while he was with us. He'd struggled long to buy one and it was obviously quite a frustration. He held it together to say goodbye to others and I shook his hand before he left.

The irony for that last bit was that if he hadn't given notice, we'd have probably given him a permanent contract. 

That is one of the many threads threading my brain at a time that I should be able to let it all unwind.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Back on the road

After the completion of my big goal of running a full marathon, it was interesting to get my mind back to other interesting running goals. I generally wanted to develop a better "aerobic base" for my running next year - this is to make the body more efficient and enduring for any kind of running. I had a few particular goals, too, I wanted to do more social running and also make breakthroughs in my running of particular distances.

For 5km running, my plan is to take part in "parkruns" from time to time to push for improvements in my 5km running. Parkruns are free, timed 5km runs in parks around the world. Auckland has about four different parkruns, and I've already been to Cornwall Park's and enjoyed it enough to go back. My goal is to be able to reliably break 20 minutes on most courses. As it is, I've only broken 20 minutes once on the waterfront.

For half marathons, I'll take part in some of the half marathon series that are around every month or two. My goal here is to slowly bring my time down closer and closer to 1:30, with my first goal being to reliably run a half marathon under 1:35. My last big race of the year was the Omaha Half Marathon, which I did this morning. I'd committed to it once I felt my recovery from Auckland Marathon had gotten to the point that I could train again. It was an interesting race.

I'm not sure if my pacing problems are any bigger than anyone else's. Pacing is thorny. Individual to races and individuals. I blew my chances of a good time at the Auckland Marathon through my over-optimistic pacing. Several other 5km/10km races this year failed too for similar reasons. To get to the intermediate target of a 1:35 finishing time, I had to average 4 mins 29 seconds per km over the whole race (4:29). But this race, I thought was the best most strategic pacing I've ever done. After the 5km, I wasn't overtaken; I overtook a lot of good runners. It went something like this: The race starts with small tracks near Omaha beach and near a reservoir. I was conservative, just using little bursts to get in front of people, keeping around 4:30 pace and then it was onto the beach. Sand-running is generally slower than track running and this section went for 2kms and my pace was about 4:55 for the duration. I was overtaken by some on the beach and I chose to not mind slipping back. From my recent training runs, I knew I could sustain 4:20-4:30 pace for the middle sections if I'm not too tired. My overall pace once I left the beach was 4:36 but then I relied on moving from one bunch of runners to the next making sure that I was cruising with a group before moving onto the next one to keep my desired pace. For the 14km after the beach, I maintained an average of 4:26 which dragged my overall pace to 4:29. Right on!

But that's when disaster struck. The route of the half marathon crosses many other race routes and somehow I got confused and went down the wrong road. I realised it pretty quickly but wasn't sure where I'd gotten it wrong and I managed to link up with some other runners. Unfortunately they weren't runners from my event. After 21km came up on my app, I knew I was nowhere near the finish line. I asked a few marshalls but they were unclear how I could get back. Instead, I decided just to run this second race path and get to the end... I ran 27.5km with a terrible half marathon time in the end.

It was embarrassing but I proved my theory and my fitness. I wish I could run it all over again.

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.