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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Post mortem - Bunbury Three Waters Running Festival half marathon

I write these posts to clear my head after a race, to clarify an idea or thought, and today as a post mortem. The use of the latin phrase 'after death' feels particularly appropriate because I died in the arse out on course last Sunday. It was the hardest race I've done. True, in comparison to some I haven't done many races, but I've learnt from the mistakes I made at Bunbury.

1) I did not take much notice of the weather forecast in the weeks beforehand, or on the day. I'd done two Busselton half marathons in February and had absolutely no issue with either of them. This meant this time I wasn't concerned about the likely heat; in fact I hadn't looked at a forecast for Bunbury at all. Next time I'm going to take notice of the forecast weather and any changes in it. After the race another competitor said that they'd looked at the forecast maximum a week ago, and it said 26.C, but each day the forecast maximum for Sunday crept up by a degree - which I think is surely an indication that the temperature on the day was probably going to feel hotter than it was. Also, the temperature on the day increased by 2 degrees every hour from 6am, so combined with a headwind on much of the course we baked out there, despite things like a resident setting up a lawn sprinkler for us to run through, locals with jugs of water ready for dumping on the heads of runners and fortuitous placement of beach showers on the foreshore.

2) I decided against using my fuel belt. Whenever I've used it I've almost always had High 5 Zero in it and not straight water.  The slight effervescence in High 5 Zero tends to force it up through the lids on the bottles while I run. It gently bubbles out and leaks down my legs, annoying me hugely. I knew that the aid stations were about 5km apart, and thought that they would be sufficient, but with the heat I now realise that I did not take on enough water for the gels that I consumed. I didn't have any obvious issues on course but afterwards I did not feel good and wanted desperately to throw up. Next time I'm going to take my fuel belt, and just use straight water in it, assuming that the aid stations (as they did at Bunbury) have electrolyte drinks at them as well as plain water. If I'd done that on Sunday, I think my issues would have been resolved. Whilst I'm a prodigious sweater, I think given Powerade (the on course drink), the sodium in gels and a prepared pre and post run electrolyte drink I should be fine for a half marathon.

My gels were fine, flavour wise. I still haven't come across a gel that disagrees with my gastrointestinal tract, but my taste buds have been tested on occasion. I'm still afraid of ones with a large amount of caffeine so anything with a coffee flavour and more than 10mg of caffeine I've avoided. I know of one fast runner who when forced by slight exhaustion to have a single gel on the Six Inch Ultramarathon found he had to go to the toilet four times on course. I think my history of eating cheap lollies has given me the required tolerance of disgusting sugars to eat gels. I do promise to inform you if I've just managed to jinx myself and end up in a truly mortifying situation on my next race.

For the first time ever I used the virtual pacer on my watch. Thankfully I had the sense to decide as the wheels came off at the 12-14km mark I didn't much care that I had a constant reminder of precisely how far off pace I was (12 minutes slow in the end). At 5 km to go I found it amusing that on the way back in to the finish I finally had a tailwind and no real energy to make use of it. I also managed to lose further minutes in that stretch by stopping at a water fountain along the foreshore and scoffing down some water.

When you look at the elevation profile for Bunbury it appears to be a generally flat course, with a dirty great hill at around the five kilometre mark and not much past that. Except there is a lighthouse that you can't see on a Garmin elevation profile, and the path goes straight up and straight down. Then you get to skip through some sand dunes that at least have a concrete path on them, but still; sand dunes. For a flat course, I remember the hills the most. The voice in my head that notes how fast or slow I am going had no qualms about idly observing as I was running up to the lighthouse with probably 750 metres to go "if you just walked this section instead of tried to run, it's entirely possible that you'd be going faster than this." If you also sometimes have that voice appear in your head, I highly recommend telling it to fuck off. It's quite satisfying.

Jeremy was running the marathon, so part of my brain was occupied with calculating where he would be in relation to me. I came across him at 1km in to the half marathon (the marathon started 50 minutes before me) and we managed to high five, and I didn't see him again until 250 metres to go. He looked knackered and I desperately wanted to give him a hug but he didn't want to stop because he didn't think he'd start again. He had roughly 12 km to go and it looked like they weren't going to be easy. 

I finished, got my medal, downed the free Powerade then sought out our bag in the bag tent and fished out my post race banana. I ate that, and then my gut roiled for about 15 minutes. (Do you really want to know about post-race gastrointestinal disturbance? No, I thought not. Let's just leave it at "Over the space of about 3-4 hours I wasn't sure whether 'not vomiting or having diarrhoea' was necessarily a good thing.") It took me a good 4 to 5 hours until I felt well and hungry enough to properly eat something. I forced myself to have a very small nibble on a spinach and fetta sausage roll; I went to the canteen but they'd sold out of regular sausage rolls but still had those and I needed something savoury (something that wasn't a gel, really). You can tell that I wasn't OK because I didn't even twig that they were also making toasted sandwiches. Every other half marathon I've done I'm absolutely starving within an hour of finishing. The burger vetkoek Jeremy and I ate around 2pm at The Bread Pocket before we headed back to Perth was amazing though.

Despite my race plan crapping out spectacularly, I still enjoyed the day. There were something like 66 parkrunners on course; 6 people running the 50km, 10 in the marathon, 29 in the half marathon, 14 in the 10km, 6 in the 5km, with a fair swathe of other parkrunners and friends of parkrunners cheering. A lot of the competing parkrunners joined Sam Farman (one of the ultra marathoners) in supporting Team Mito and wearing green t shirts, raising awareness of mitochondrial disease. One of the best parts of the race was because it was mostly out and back stretches you would come across other parkrunners (some of whom I think I'd never met before!) in Team Mito shirts and high five them; which means you have to then high five the other non-parkrunners behind them. Afterwards some of the parkrunners complained of sore hands from the high fives they gave out. It was an amazingly friendly event. The number of 10km parkrun runners who are now contemplating half marathons is quite pleasing, to say the least. One of our team's marathon runners, Michael Ho actually won the race, with a brilliant PB time of 2h38m16s, and Pip Holmes came in as first female in the 50km race.

Just as my wheels were coming off, I was asked by a friendly supporter - I think it was Karen Hagen - "Is that a grin or a grimace?", I responded with "Always a grin!" I remember reading an article years ago about the cyclist Ivan Basso (before his drug scandal), who was called "The Smiling Assassin" because he would ride his bike and always smile, despite the difficult terrain. I remember thinking it was a good tactic of his, because his opponents never knew precisely how much he was suffering. I adopted that idea one day when I rode up a ridiculous hill and realised that it actually helped me mentally; I don't know the science but I believe there is some sort of positive brain chemical released because of that smile. The easiest description is "fake it till you make it". Smile, and someone will think you are enjoying yourself. Keep smiling long enough, and that someone will be you.

Going into Bunbury I didn't have many solid post-race aims, but afterwards I'm building quite a list.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Too long for Twitter, the first in an occasional series.

Target in Australia sell a small range of useful personal items; makeup sponges, cotton buds, packets of spectacle cleaning cloths. They have a nice simple design and in the case of their handbag sized packs of ten tissues, a cute name:  A tissue for your sniffle issues.

These tissue packs they sell singly or in packs of 12. They are ridiculously cheap too; a pack of twelve costs a whole $2.

I buy the 12 pack and keep a pack in my handbag. Sometimes they come in handy as a napkin if I'm eating and not in a restaurant, or if I go to a public loo that is completely lacking in loo paper; that sort of thing.

(Quick sidebar note: a number of Asian countries do not have toilet paper in public loos so these handbag packs are perfect for that. Don't buy the Target ones; just buy some random brand when you get there. A chemist, roadside stall or 7/11 will sell them.)

The best time to have them however, is on public transport. I am a huge advocate for public transport. The amount of cars it takes off the road is massive and the cost to passengers is relatively low, particularly in relation to the cost of city parking and general wear and tear on your vehicle. The convenience of being able to read on my commute to work is so very welcome.

There is a social compact on public transport. You can sit there and read and pretend you are in your own personal bubble. You can listen to music and ignore everyone else in the bus or carriage without appearing rude. For introverts like me this is glorious.

What I've never been able to do is ignore the sniffers. The people who conciously or unconsciously gently sniff their nose instead of giving it one good solid blow. Most of the time it's because they don't have a tissue, but sometimes they don't even realise that they are doing it. You sit there, on tenterhooks, waiting for the next bloody sniff. And it happens all year round, not just in winter.

But if you've got these incredibly cheap 10 pack of tissues in your handbag you can offer the sniffer a tissue (or the whole packet!) which fixes their problem and yours. Give it to them with a smile and you look like a pleasant friendly public transport neighbour all the while thinking "If you don't bloody stop sniffing I've going to stab you in the face."

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Catch-up after Busselton

So I did Busselton in nearly the same time as Fremantle, about a minute slower. Which isn't too bad as my intentions of doing serious training flew out the window around January. Also, the turn-around point marshal for the 21.1K distance apparently decided that he wanted to sit in the shade and moved the turnaround point 100m up the road, which took the 21.1K to 21.5K. So overall I was quicker at Busselton than Fremantle.

When I started out I was stuck in a mass of people and despite my best efforts to slow down I kept finding myself running at 4m50s pace. I'd look down at my watch, try and slow down, get back to about 6m00s pace, then look down again sometime up the road and I was bang on 4m50s again.  I hit the turnaround point (at the time I thought it was a bit further than last year, but I assumed that the finish line was in a slightly different spot, hence the change. Wrong!) and came across Jenny Lake a bit down the road.

Jenny was having a less than successful weekend; she'd forgotten her Garmin watch as well as her socks for race day and was in a pair of borrowed ones. Worse though, when I asked her how it was going in the socks, she said "Fine, but I left my Ventolin at the accommodation." I could hear her rasping as she ran and she explained that she'd never had an asthma attack when she was running, but not having the Ventolin on her person was freaking her out a bit and was causing her breathing problems.

I ran with her back down to the start line and she decided to do the second loop. We walked the aid stations as we came across them and it seemed to help her breathing, and when running together we kept around 6m00s pace. Every so often I'd randomly ask other runners if they had any Ventolin, but to no avail.  We ran back towards the turn around point and I passed a man in the dunes with a crowd of people around him. I didn't know it at the time, but Jeremy had been running towards the turnaround when a 10K runner (the man in the dunes) had been running towards the finish line and had seemingly lost conciousness while running. Jeremy and another runner crash tackled the man into the dunes as he nearly ran off the edge of the sand dune and down a 5 foot drop.

Jenny was running fine when we hit about 5km to go so I picked up speed to see if I could make up a bit of time. As it was I think I made up about 30 seconds. Jeremy was running back towards the turnaround point on a cool down lap with Cathy and Greg on bikes escorting him. He ran with me and I explained Jenny's breathing issues so he headed back towards Jenny with Cathy and Greg chasing, as Cathy was carrying Ventolin.

I hit the finish line and I don't recall if I had the legs for a quick sprint finish - I know that when Jeremy ran beside me for those few metres I'd managed to pick the speed up but I couldn't tell whether I'd managed to sustain it any. I do remember that the free watermelon at the finish area tasted as wonderful as last year, and I had a sudden desperate need for carbohydrates and devoured a muffin that I bought from the watermelon stall guys.

Sitting at the finish line I confirmed my lack of desire to do the Bunbury Marathon, but decided that I'd run the half marathon at Bunbury partly on feel - if I found myself running at 4m50s at the start, then I'd run 4m50s at the start. It might go horribly wrong at the 15km mark, but I've run the distance before, and if required I know I can walk the distance. The marathon course is two laps of the half marathon course, so next year if I decide I want to do a marathon I will have one option where I have already run the course. Jeremy is running the marathon which starts at 7am, so if it does go horribly wrong for me at the 15km mark, because I've started at 8am it might just mean that I get to run to the finish with Jeremy.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

My body is a lying liar and I love it.

For the week before race day I will almost always have aches and pains. That is a known known. A practical guarantee.

Nothing that requires treatment, but more like a vague sensation that generates unease.

I will have sore legs, an ache in the arch of my foot, or toes that feel close to broken. I will have constricted breathing, or that facet joint in my neck feels sprained again - not as bad as it was when it triggered four months of physiotherapy, but it will feel like it is on the way out again. My back will be tense and sore and I will be concerned that I am about to encounter 20 acupuncture needles again.

The first time I experienced this, stubbornness was my saviour. To be honest, stubbornness is usually my saviour, but more so this time. I flatly refused to forfeit my race fee. I can't precisely remember what felt wrong but I did not care that I was clearly falling apart - I was going to race, and it was a short distance, so I probably wouldn't make it worse.

Of course, there was nothing wrong. I raced, and I was fine.

The next time I raced I was already injured, so my concern was not with finishing or forfeiting my race fee, but in actually being allowed to race by the physiotherapist. He said that I could run, and that my left knee would probably hurt a bit, but I wouldn't re-injure it if I ran. So I ran, and it was awesome. Of course, five days later I discovered the joys of compensatory injuries with my right hamstring developing a slight tear, but that's another cautionary tale.

I started parkrunning, and after having volunteered or lined up on a start line at parkrun almost every Saturday, when faced with a 10k fun run (times two, one a bit hilly), pre-race aches and pains didn't appear. It was like I'd been desensitised to it.

Then I decided to do a half marathon. I trained diligently, doing every scheduled run, not skipping a day. I read up on the preparation that marathon runners do (because there didn't seem to be books for half marathoners, and I figured the principles were the same) and discovered positive mantras and envisioning your race, and what to do mentally when you have a few kilometres to go and you feel like stopping. That was when I discovered pre-race nerves.

That's not completely correct; I'd encountered pre-race nerves before, but I thought that it was the desperate need for the loo before the race precisely when it's much too late to go to the loo. Not wanting to eat breakfast, or wanting to throw up after breakfast. I didn't realise that they occur well before the event, and that my general aches and pains before that first race wasn't an incipient injury.

This discovery meant that the week before my first half marathon I encountered with delight the apparent reappearance of my shin splints. Jeremy can't remember what ailed him, but we both agreed that it was all nerve related. Sure enough, when we raced we were fine. Afterwards my hip was a bit clicky, but making sure that I fell asleep with my legs straight instead of curling up had that sorted by the next day.

In the lead up to half marathons since I've usually had some sort of niggle, and this week, before the Busselton Half Marathon on Saturday I was actually concerned because I didn't have some indication of nerves. I'm aiming for a bit of a PB - maybe a sub 2hr run if the weather is with me - so it was like a lack of nerves meant something must be wrong.

Until this morning when I woke up with a sore throat, and right now, my foot feels sore.

I like pre-race nerves.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Fast note

The problem with deciding to run to the train station so that you can do your long slow run around East Perth ahead of Claisebrook Cove parkrun is that when you leave the house with not quite enough time to get to the train station in your long slow run speed suddenly you have a quick tempo workout. Five minute kilometres. I don't do five minute kilometres for my normal tempo run!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fremantle Half Marathon

The Fremantle Half Marathon was signed up to as a whim by Jeremy and I. His three half marathons had all been 1h57mXXs, and that was Jeremy's indicator that he was up for a PB if he put some welly into it. My indicator was how wonderfully I'd pulled up two weeks beforehand in Sydney. I really had felt like I could have run the full distance again. It was such a positive experience that I knew if I concentrated on keeping to a specific pace (6m15s) I would definitely PB, particularly because Fremantle is a flat course, unlike Perth City to Surf and Sydney.

With this race I wanted to test out a theory regarding hydration - I'm normally very diligent about drinking before the race but I suspected that it was the reason that I was always heading for the portaloo on course. This race I knew wasn't going to be in such hot conditions so I could risk just reasonably hydrating the day before and sticking to my standard cup of tea in the morning with my weet bix, milk and a banana.

I made up a bottle of High 5 Zero and filled my Fuel Belt bottles to wear during the race but my cup of tea really was it for pre-race hydration. Because I drank some of the Zero in the car, I only carried three Fuel Belt bottles, which means all up I was carrying around 550mls of water. Logically I know I could probably make it through the race just on the water stations, but I love being able to run past the water stations at first and just rely on my bottles. Also, I like always having access to water when I want it, and not relying on the convenient spots on the course for the organisers.

I think that my nutrition strategy needs some work if I have had less fluid before the race. For the last four half marathons I've used the same nutrition schedule; a gel at 0Km, 5km, 10km and 15km. Logically I recognised at Fremantle that despite my intended increased effort I would probably require less gels than I did at Busselton, because I have noticed that despite running relatively similar times at all three events I have been increasingly less tired after each one. After Busselton, I slept quite soon after. After the City to Surf I went to the pub with Jeremy and the other parkrunners and then when we got home we had a nap. After Sydney I settled in at the Suncorp tent, ate some food, waited for the marathoners to finish and we went back to Ben, Simon and Katryna's place and swam in the pool and lazed in the hot tub. We didn't get back to the hotel until at least 2pm, and I didn't bother napping then.

During the race the gel at 10km didn't feel necessary, but I had it anyway. The 15km gel probably needed more water with it, but I had a slight stitch in my side and that was it. My long training runs around 14-16km I've just been having some Dextro Energy tablets and that is it. I ran my PB 10K with no gels in my system, just running off breakfast. I think I might go out and try and do a hard 20K training run and only have gels at the 10km mark to see what happens. My 0/5/10/15 strategy was born of a very bad final 4-6 km of an 18km run, so maybe I should test myself out and see how I do without the extra glucose. Perhaps some of my extra bellyfat can be my energy source.

Back to the race. The start of the race was on the grass out at South Beach, then you all get funnelled onto the footpath through the dunes.  It was packed, and if you weren't up the front you were not going to get out fast. Thankfully we all sprang free after a while at a carpark and headed down the road. I hadn't gotten far into my first lap when the frontrunners came heading back towards everyone. It doesn't matter how often I am overtaken by faster runners, it is always amazing. Some people find it demoralizing, and I suspect that if I was ever expected to be a fast runner I would be too, but to me, the fasties are a whole other species. Wilson Kipsang just recently managed a 2h03m23s world record marathon run at Berlin. That's my dream time for a half marathon! My standard parkrun barometer of my ability is whether I manage to get above 50% in the WAVA age grading. Anything above 50% and I am truly chuffed.

I managed to run for a while with a woman, Diane, who was training for the ING New York Marathon. She and I had matching footfalls, so we ran in rhythm for a while, just moving along. You loop back on the course multiple times, up and down the same long road. There is a bit of a rise to the corner of one part of road, and then there is a gentle rise further up the road after the corner. The first time I went up the hill I was disappointed to realise that my intended pace was out by 30 seconds, and then I realised that the roadway was a hill and I didn't feel so bad. Once I know that there is a hill, and I can expect it, I don't have any problem with them. 

With all the doubling back on yourself you can feel confused as to which way you should be going, because you do loops, then you head back into the start/finish area at the 10km mark and head back out again, then you do another few laps and go back to the start area. Because of the storms a few weeks ago the course had changed from the published map, so you couldn't really memorise the course and the instructions ahead of time, so I relied on the marshals to steer me right. The instruction at one corner was something like "people doing their 3rd turn go right, finishers go left", and I couldn't remember whether it would be my third or fourth turn so I called out "I'm at 16km, what is that then?" and the marshals directed me right. Damn it. I recall yelling out "But surely 16km is long enough for a half marathon?!"

One small thing I noticed was that I now tend to get more hot now that I'm running faster. At Busselton evidently the temperatures were a bit high, but I didn't really notice it because I wasn't running fast. At parkrun and running at home I've noticed that certain clothes mean that I overheat, so this time I ran in a singlet and running shorts, instead of a t shirt. Jeremy and I had discussed before we left the house which hats we were wearing. I'd washed a visor to wear but Jeremy could not find his so I gave it to him and grabbed the Road ID hat. Jeremy said that he had stopped wearing them because the dark fabric got too hot, but I hadn't had that issue so I said I was happy to wear it. Around kilometre 12 I noticed that my head was getting way too warm, and even though I was throwing the remainder of my water cups on my head it wasn't fixing things. I ended up clipping it to the back of my number belt for a few kilometres so that I could cool down. (I've since bought a few more Road ID visors instead of caps).

On the whole I was happy with my run. My only body issues was the stitch, which I ran through, and at no point did I need to go to the toilet on course (hooray!). When I finished I'd managed 2h13m28s which knocked 11m11s off my previous personal best time, and I've learnt a few things as well.

I've signed up to 12WBT again for the November-February round, because they have an advanced half marathon program and I have a new running goal - Wilson Kipsang's world record marathon time. Just for a half marathon instead. If I put in some serious training and not just run 12-20km on a Sunday as my sole run, restructure my nutrition strategy and lose the last of my bellyfat, given good conditions on the day in Busselton I think that goal is completely do-able.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sydney Running Festival half marathon

A few friends had signed up to do the Sydney Running Festival half marathon and marathon and the dates slotted in perfectly with us heading to NSW for Rally Australia, so we both decided to stay in Sydney for the week and signed up for the half marathon.

It was being held a month after the City to Surf half marathon, so Jeremy and I ran a few 5km runs after City to Surf, plus parkrun each week and a 14km run the weekend before we left for NSW. When we were in Coffs Harbour we ran a humid and sweaty five kms, then headed back south to Sydney where we did 6-7km from our hotel to the Opera House the next day. The Saturday before the half marathon we ran St Peters parkrun.

Getting up at 4.30am on Sunday morning to be on the first train from Kings Cross station guaranteed an interesting walk through the streets of Kings Cross. Most people ignored me but a few ladies approached Jeremy, despite his race number being clearly visible. The station platform was half nightclubbers, half runners and the nightclubbers looked most puzzled.

We got to Milsons Point at a couple of minutes to 6am ready for the start window opening at 6.15am. I shot straight to the toilet queue after waving goodbye to Jeremy and wishing him luck.

I then proceeded to be stuck in the portaloo queue for nigh on the full start window - I actually crossed the start line at 6.33am, with two minutes to go. I maintain that this was the best move I made all day. The roads were clear and at no point in the full 21.1km distance did I feel like my way was impeded by other runners.
What was absolutely lovely was that I'd really wanted to get a photo of myself on the Sydney Harbour Bridge but as I was wary of being the sudden obstacle in someone else's race I was prepared that it might not happen. As it was, it was me plus about 15 other people in a 50 metre radius around me on a six lane bridge. So I took my photo. Actually I think I took four.

The half marathon course is the first ten kilometres and last ten kilometres of the marathon course so the half marathoners started first and an hour later the marathoners headed out. Because I was in the back of the half marathon group I was overtaken by the wheelchair marathon participants and had the pleasure of seeing Kurt Fearnley absolutely destroy the opposition and come in 11 minutes faster than his closest rival. The full Sydney Marathon course was used in the Sydney Olympics, so it was lovely to know that I was running where Olympic athletes had run before.

There were several points where the course went out and back on itself so I could see the runners in the half marathon field ahead of me - they were a constant snake of runners, and it looked quite claustrophobic. I saw Jeremy on a number of occasions, and he looked good at all points. A couple of years ago, before he started running he would cycle along and always note that the runners he came across never smiled. He probably hasn't noticed that he never smiles when he runs either, he's always concentrating too much.

When I came in to the finish line I picked up the pace a bit, but I hadn't struggled in any way during the run, partly because I hadn't really tried to run hard. Indeed, I came in in my slowest ever time; 2h28m56s. At the end I felt like I could have run the whole distance a second time. My plan was to run as a tourist and enjoy the streets closed to traffic. Because I ran at the very back of the field I could look around and notice things like gargoyles on buildings and construction dates, I didn't have to worry about dodging other runners and weaving through traffic.

The only issue I had was some rubbing from my t-shirt on the inside of my left bicep, but I pulled into the aid station to put some vaseline on it and it was relatively OK after that. The course elevation seems less hilly in comparison to Perth City to Surf, but it felt harder than the Perth course. 

I really did enjoy the run, and I'd happily sign up and do it again - the support on course from spectators was more than you'd see at the City to Surf, and the privilege of running over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and through the streets of Sydney can't be beat.