Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Overtaking one's self

Warning: Running-related blog

As my running career rises with training and falls back with injury, I go two steps forward and one step back. There are lots of different emotions on this rollercoaster - the frustration of climbing back from the depths and the thrill of rising towards a crest. The previous peak for me was the last quarter of last year. I ran my favourite TwinPeaks route in 1:40, ran 10km under 43 minutes, ran 5km below 20 minutes, ran a marathon and got to the point where I could run a half marathon under 1:35.

Two months was all it took to take it back to the bottom. That was first apparent at Coatesville where I barely finished a half marathon in March. Fortunately despite the niggly weirdness and a suspected hernia, everything has come back together fairly well. But now there are some more semblances with my peak last year and I think I might be approaching my previous fitness. The Rotorua half marathon might compare well to those last year. My parkrun last Saturday was faster than my best race 5km last year as well. It would seem that my speed for shorter races has returned. I'm pretty sure that my endurance at the longer end of the spectrum isn't there yet though. I may struggle to run further than 30km right now.

But I have the confidence that I'll be past there soon. The next run is a 10km race on Sunday. This time last year I exceeded my expectations and broke 44 minutes. I shouldn't have difficulty matching that at least. I look forward to possibly getting below 43 minutes.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Out of the thickets, running in the dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 06, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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