Wednesday, February 27, 2019


At ease. At will. In control. In the driver's seat. There is a certain feeling when you are feeling in full flow and master of your destiny, relatively speaking. Some aspects of the life might have this more often than not; for other aspects it could be temporary. Work for me at times feels like that. Cooking once did, too. It's always nice when one side of life has gone a little awry that something else is humming.

Work in this case has been a lot of work, to the point that it wakes me up. It is, on some days, so much work that it keeps me from noticing I haven't eaten, or from remembering that I already have. There is a lot to do. At least running is there to keep me sane.

And it wasn't long ago that I was paranoidly doubting my recovery from surgery and now I feel once more, relatively speaking, on track and at ease. Every week I have runs which match in part the best of last year. This morning my mind stirred at 4:22am. I tried to return to sleep but thoughts got to me first and so I'm upped it, geared up and outed the door. Yesterday morning I'd had an intensive run so I initially had planned to go easy, but by the time I'd finished the second kilometre I turned onto the motorway cycleway and I just felt good. I increased my pace to just under what I'd run my last marathon at. It was a stiff pace but I felt like I could maintain it, and then I turned onto the undulation of Mt Albert Road.

Mt Albert Road and Remuera Road both represent the toughest regular roads to run in Auckland. They just don't let you take it easy. The downhills don't feel down while the hills inclines hit you one after the other. But this morning they didn't bother me. In fact I sustained the same speed despite the hills. Then when they ease I sped up further to run the next three kilometres faster than I had run the Coatesville Half marathon two weeks ago. Then I sped up further to run two kilometres faster than any of the mile intervals I had run yesterday morning.

And then I slowed down to a cool down jog to take me home.

All the pace was instrumental - without going fast I would have been late home. I'd miscalculated how long the route was to be and realised three quarters of the way through that I'd have to pick up the pace anyway. But the fact is that I could. At will. At comparative ease.

Two and a half more weeks remain before the Maraetai Half Marathon. Six and a half till the Waterfront Half Marathon and nine and a half till the Rotorua Marathon (my earliest marathon in a year ever). Things are in the groove and I'm feeling rather confident that my training is triggering all the right changes and a few little habits are really helping progress things.

Now about work...

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Rage in the name of

We as a society have a long way to go to the utopia of "not seeing colour" and recognising the collective experience of minorities and weaker groups. For what it's worth, sometimes the discourse though often well-meaning doesn't seem to serve us well.

There have been a few high international profile cases. The first one is almost unintentionally comical in its aftermath but worth reflection on. In the US state of Virginia, the newly elected governor, Ralph Northam, had a scandal erupt. There was a photo from one of his school yearbook which had him either dressed up for a Halloween costume party in either a Ku Klux Klan hood or blackface. (Humorously at one point of his defence, he could not be sure which one he was, which, though understandable as it was over 30 years ago, made things worse; in the final wash, it would appear that he went to a party in blackface but not that one; but his answer also revealed that it probably wasn't the only time he'd done so.) There was uproar and near universal pressure for him to step down from the governorship. He has refused. Without going into the comedy of what he said and did later, I think the case bears some thought.

I don't believe someone should have to step down from their job on the basis of an uncontextualised photo, utterance, belief or action. Even the most despicable things can be viewed differently in any of the diverse contexts we find ourselves within. And time is one of the big contextual factors. The KKK hood and blackface are in our current time clearly in bad taste, and even at the time probably not the best. But university is a time when you might try to do edgy things. Blackface is an interesting case because it takes some knowledge and cultural maturity to see how it could be seen by those who are sensitive to it. If there were no people at the party who would be offended by it, nor was done with the knowledge of its offensiveness, nor the intent to be offend, is it really in bad taste? (Almost sounds like that unaccompanied falling tree in the forest.) Of course, ignorance or claims that doing blackface is "just a bit of fun" surely show someone whose beliefs are not as magnanimous to the full range of people he would be leading which, as a governor, is perhaps the biggest consideration. 

If you asked me whether I'd ever dressed in a way that could offend someone, I'd say I probably had. Not because there is a particular case I can remember, but that I'm not aware of all symbols and themes that could have associations. I've almost certainly said things that with a different audience would have come off in bad taste. And even with the audience I had, I have probably incidentally said things in bad taste that others copped without telling me. I'm pretty sure I haven't painted my face black but in NZ, we don't have some of the baggage of other countries - some people might paint our face black to support the All Blacks with no intent of offence. We have our own words, symbols and attitudes. In NZ we use the terms "crackers" and "wop-wops", without the racist meanings those words have in the US. A traveller here might get the wrong idea from seeing or hearing either.

To interpret correctly you would need to know the context something was in, or intended to be seen in; and if you have any doubt about how you're presenting something you might need to think widely how something could be seen from people who are in a context very different from your own.

This is quite clear in an example just this week where one of our regular cafes, Eiffel on Eden, also walked right into a wall of outrage. Like many cafes these days, they have a little sign outside with something witty, usually coffee-related, outside. On Thursday, they decided to put: "On Valentine's Day open the car door for her. After Valentine's Day open the car boot for her." I'm not sure whether they created this themselves or they picked it up somewhere else. I think if I'd run past this sign that day prior to hearing about any of the hubbub, I would say that it was a peculiar statement. I'd assume, probably in line with the person who penned it, that Valentines is all romantic chivalry, and after the day it transforms into a more banal, everyday chivalry, perhaps with a hit that she's just been on a shopping spree but perhaps just the groceries. If I someone were to ask me whether it could be seen as offensive, I'd say it definitely has a scent of sexism about depending what you think of chivalry, or pitching it from a man's perspective, or associating women with shopping. 

Overall, I would give the sign two stars out of five and not give it much more thought. But I'm a man and I didn't think much more about the juxtaposition of wife and car boot which. If you check the article, became a cause of outrage for its association with domestic violence and putting a murdered spouse in the boot. To be honest, I think the outrage is still a bit unfair but, like anything, a little bit of discussion would have ironed this out. For those aggrieved: it is Valentines Day. There is no hint of intention to associate violence so when it's read you'd normally think of romance, consumerism, gifts and chivalry. Wives and car boots both exist in ordinary life, too. As do toasters and bathtubs, cats and microwaves, Lime scooters and uncovered manholes, cucumbers and condoms, and teachers and whiskey bottles. The cafe in my mind didn't do anything wrong in putting out such a sign except for trying to say pithy and failing. Compare that with the horrid "joke" that I bumped into back-checking this story: "Wanna know who loves you more? Put your spouse and your dog in the trunk of a car and drive around for an hour. When you open the trunk, who's happy to see you?" That would be surely in bad taste to most audiences, unless you really know the person well. I asked my wife to interpret the sign without allowing her to know about the kerfuffle about it and she was confused exactly what it wanted to say, then abruptly said, "What are you going to kill her and put her in the boot?" with a laugh. Maybe it depends on who reads it and whether a case of a body in a boot had come up. 

That all being said, when there is an unintended response, it's always good to be humble, receptive and to listen. The cafe didn't do that the first time round. Probably not the second time round either. A lot of the "blackface" accused do not often seem to approach the offence in the right way either. There is no effort to understand, only to defend or explain their own intentions. 

The last example that is on my mind is that of Liam Neeson. In the promotion of a movie with a vengeful theme, he decided to reveal a very dark 40 year old secret to the public. After a close friend was raped by a black man, in anger he'd apparently gone through a very primal phase of wanting to kill a black man in retribution. The commentary has been a mix of criticism and some compassionate interpretation, and whether he was surprised by the response he has dug a deeper hole. To be honest, I'm not going to stick a knife into someone who is upfront and volunteers a dark secret. No one would condone the thinking that he had then, but it is understandable. Part of coming to terms with a dark secret is to put it out into the sunshine. Most people let their darkness fester. The question seems to be whether it was racist or just primal rage back then and whether he is racist now. When his friend told him about the rape, he apparently asked "what colour" the assailant was, which some have taken to mean that he approached things from a racist point of view, regardless whether it was primal rage or not. I guess I'd just think that it was 40 years ago in a particular moment of his life. We all evolve and should be given the chance to evolve our ideas. 

As for racism itself, almost every still "sees colour" to an extent, even if a bit blurrily. I remember a comment I made mid-last year which may have bothered my senior teacher. He was teaching a small class with some Indians. The room lacked good air conditioning at that time and when I covered a bit of the class the scent of unwashed men was rather overwhelming. It was a likely factor that they were living in an overcrowded situation to save money for courses such as the one that we were providing, without easy access to showers and regular clothes washing. I made what I thought was an objective comment on it, and also the need for them, in an interview situation to learn timeliness and not forget hygiene. He looked at me with an odd look. He might have thought I was being racist. Perhaps it was a bit racist. But the student stunk and if he came to me looking for a job, I wouldn't take him on. Chinese students also elicit many generalisations, too. But when we accidentally speak in generalisations, even when we acknowledge a more nuanced truth, it can come across as racist and offensive. 

Life is difficult and a little understanding and humility can go a long way to avoid offending and misinterpreting offensive behaviour and language.  

Sunday, February 10, 2019


I was rather selfish when I had scheduled my surgery. My main consideration was my running, not my work (for which I should have chosen almost any other time), nor family (as it became the time my parents-in-law were here). It was timed so it'd be shortly after the Omaha Half but leave enough time to be ready for the Coatesville Half, which was held this morning. Omaha was a disaster (the Half that is, not the landing during WWII which was a victory ;-). I fell pre-race and struggled to a rather disappointing 1:37:25.

Times are very relative. I cruised into the finish this morning at 1:37:53 which I'd take as a victory. I had plotted a minimum target of 1:45 last weekend, when I did my first long run since surgery. I was filled with more confidence from some mid-week runs to the point I thought I was capable of something in the range of 1:40-1:45. On the morning, after an initial hill I felt good enough for better and managed to keep up the effort to the end.

The Coatesville Half course is notorious. It is the hilliest course of the series with one significant incline at 3km, another at 10km, another at 14km and another at 16km. Last year with less preparation I pulled the pin at about 15km and started to walk. This year I observed the 15km marker and knew I was still strong. Last year it took me till the 5 May to record as good a performance so it has set me up quite well.

There was a humbling factor. During my convalescence my rival Jonno has switched to a structured training plan and is pretty strong now. He beat me for the first time. I'll say it's due to my recovery but it is quite possible that I won't be beating him again. With minimal training he was a handful. The good news is that considering the change in the perception of my progress just within a week, I might also be able to get on par with him. We're both competitive people so if I can keep my improvements coming I'll at least keep him honest.

The next event is the Maraetai Half in 5 weeks, which I'll say I'd like to get a 1:30-1:35 time and aim for a sub-1:30 in the final half marathon of the series, the Waterfront Half, in mid-April. Pre-surgery I was also thinking of an early marathon, the Kirikiriroa Marathon in Hamilton, which is just four weeks away, but considering the state of my training, it might be a waste of time. 

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Getting back on track

January and running have never really gone together for me. January 2015 was in Guangzhou and after a period of running along the Pearl River in the December cool, January got hot too quickly and I only ran once; January 2016 we'd just got back from China and I had tendonitis ever since a gym incident and it took me till May to get running again; January 2017 got off to a good start but perhaps too ambitious: by the 21st I went around a corner and gave myself a calf tear that put me out of running action for two months; January 2018 was impacted by an aggravated knee; and January 2019 I was coming back from both a fall and surgery in December. The fengshui is all wrong in January, it seems and is always a month of recovery. 

That being said, even with a gentle increase in mileage since the surgery, this January has been the most successful January of the lot - with more running than the previous four years combined, 178km in all. Even though that isn't much compared to an average month last year, I'm still more than satisfied that I've gotten off to a start. 

February will be a month of really getting back into it. In just eight days, I'll be running in the Coatesville Half, which will be more of a training run for me than an actual race. I've only run this course once which was last year, but in March briefly after returning from China. I had barely trained and recorded my worse half marathon time 1:54. Fortunately even though I'm undercooked I'll definitely be able to do better than that this time, and much earlier in the year. This morning in preparation I ran the same distance over a similarly difficult hilly course and got 1:48 so I'm feeling like I'm strong enough to get 1:45. While that is nothing glorious compared to past events (in fact it'd be my third slowest time), I'm pretty happy with the revival of my running.

The subtext to all this is that my recovery from surgery is mostly complete. Less than two weeks ago I finally got to see the surgeon as a standard post-surgical check. To be honest I was still filled with doubts, which I expressed. I respect her opinion but it felt that the check was a bit too routine and perfunctory. She was basically saying all the things I was experiencing were within the range of expectation, that things were fine, which of course could be right but after six weeks of recovery and still to be having discomfort and impact on some of my activities. Now of course I find her judgement to have been correct.

The biggest impact on my running right now is that during the recovery period I had the habit of not using my core to move, and relied on locking my spine and using my arms for a lot of everyday actions like getting up out of chairs, beds, etc. And in early January it was clear that I'd developed "a tummy". Of course part of that was probably the festive period's effect on one's weight. But it was also that a lot of the core muscle atrophied too. Core and glute muscles are important for being able to generate speed and I think that is the main trouble I'm experiencing. Once I'm confident enough I'll focus on those areas and I believe I'll be quickly up to pace and ready for a successful year.