Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Crazy Loves Company

I just need to have a little whinge.

Yesterday's speed session was hard!

Not that speed session is ever easy. You can't run fast (ish) for 45 minutes without wanting to toss up your pre-run banana on the odd occasion. And I'd be lying if I said that I'd never thought about faking an injury well before the end of a session. I have those thoughts on a very regular basis but have yet to act on them - I'm saving that for a very special case of desperation.

Yesterday's session was a little bit harder than usual because it was in a different location. It wasn't on our usual almost dead-flat stretch. It was up this enormous mountain!!

Slight exaggeration there. It was up a little bit of an incline. But I swear that incline felt like an enormous mountain by the end. And my legs are assuring me even as I sit here at the keyboard that there was extra work involved. Hello DOMS.

I'm still not back to where I want to be fitness-wise so that might have added to how hard it felt. And I certainly haven't done any hill sessions for probably two months. And I'm only running two or three times a week at the moment. But I'm pretty sure that it wasn't just me who found it a challenging session.

We started off with five sprints up the hill that turned into six because the back markers had to get their five done. Then it was a fun ten minute rep that seemed to be longer. Why is it that time goes so quickly when you're having fun yet so slowly when you're in pain?? Then we got to repeat the first five reps which again became six - despite me really taking those recoveries to the extreme.

I looked at my watch on the last rep and decided that we'd really be pushing it to get another ten minute rep done. My wish, at that point, was that we'd have to call it quits and do a slightly longer cool-down.

I've been running with Coach Chris long enough to have known better. I know he has a sadistic streak so I shouldn't have been surprised that he had an evil glint in his eye when he told us that the last rep would be fifteen minutes.

It always amazes me that despite us all being exhausted and in pain no one ever quits. There may have been dark mutterings from a certain Mr G and thoughts of revenge (the more painful the better) but to a man we all pulled on our big girl panties to finish off the session.

I like to think that it shows that we're a close-knit group of dedicated, hard-core athletes. But I sort of suspect that we're all a little crazy and we've worked out that our crazy doesn't seem so bad when we're surrounded by like-minded crazies.

And talking about crazy - my poor puppy has had an itch that has been driving him nuts. Poor Toby is allergic to something and whatever that something is it's around in abundance at the moment. So he's been spending a lot of time like this.

While the Cone of Shame has it's pluses - like storing food for a snack later on or keeping the rain off your head or making your bark sound so much more impressive due to the megaphone-like shape - it has a lot of minuses - like having your doggy sister snap at you when you make play overtures because you don't realise that the cone is almost a lethal weapon to a 6 kilo dog.

Because it's a pain to take on and off, we've gotten a bit lazy and stopped threading it onto his collar and this has worked pretty well. Until the other day. 

Toby picked up one of his toys to play with and shook it so violently that the cone came off his neck and ended up wedged over the rabbit's butt. 

Funniest thing I've seen in a long time!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Perfect Weekend

I've just had a perfect weekend.

I know that's a big call. Perfection isn't easily attained. A whole host of variables have to align the right way. But I would say that the weekend's perfection hinged on just one variable which made all the others appear to fall into place.

This person came home. 

Just for a flying visit. A friend's engagement party.

 It was so nice to have my whole family back together even if it was just for a weekend. We decided (well, really it was just me who decided and the boys humoured their mum) that it'd be nice to walk up Mt Coottha so Sam could see Brisbane from the top.

We set off having no idea how long it would take. I remember walking up it years ago at a birthday party when I was about ten. It had taken ages! And it had been so hard! And so steep! And my legs hurt!!! 

I guess my fitness level has improved a little since then. And my legs have gotten longer. It only took just over half an hour. Half an hour of enjoying the beautiful spring day and watching my man-children walking and talking and enjoying each other's company. They're the moments in life that make my mother's heart happy.

The only thing that could have made the day any better would have been to have had the two absent girlfriends with us. But work and uni commitments don't always make that possible.


And then the whole weekend was capped off by getting a visit from these two little guys. My twin great-nephews have a way of making the whole world a happy, funner (yeah, I know it's not a real word) place. There are way more smiles and laughter when they're around - and that's just from the adults.

Sam heads back down to Melbourne today but that just means that the countdown starts for his next visit. A week starting Christmas eve. Just thirteen weeks and two days to go. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Biting the Bullet

I finally bit the bullet last week.

I admitted to myself that Melbourne wasn't going to happen this year. Sure, I'd already decided that the marathon wasn't going to happen. But I was kind of, sort of, tossing up about changing down to the half.

And then I tried running two days in a row. Not even long distances. And certainly not fast. And I ended up exhausted. So tired that I could hardly get off the couch the following day. Almost too tired to sleep (if that makes any sense).

It felt the way it used to when I had over-training syndrome but this was not from over-training. This was from the result of sustained stress and raised cortisol levels. Our bodies can't distinguish between stress caused by physically pushing ourselves and stress caused by other issues. Stress is just stress and I've learnt the hard way that pushing through it can end up in tears.

So I officially withdrew. And I cancelled my flights.

A little aside here to sing the praises of Virgin Airlines. I'd bought the cheapest flights and certainly expected nothing back after the Jetstar debacle of 2013. Virgin, however, was much more empathetic and have refunded my fares totally as credit. I was astounded, amazed and very grateful.

So now I have nothing on my plate for the rest of the year. No pressure to get back to a decent fitness level quickly. And it feels really, really good.

I decided for last week's long slow run that I'd start towards the back of the group and try to stay there. Make myself go slower and finish the run feeling like I could have done more. I managed to do just that and in doing so had one of the most fun runs that I've had in a long time. These runners know how to really enjoy their running.

At Tuesday's speed session my aim was to work a little harder without killing myself. And I nailed that too - despite the session combining speed and hills. I finished the set still standing. And starving. 

I've always loved running to train for an event. I love having a focus to all the sessions. A reason to get out of bed at a time when Toby just ignores me putting on my running shoes because it's way too early to even contemplate a walk. I love being part of a group that's working towards something big - and Melbourne is going to be big for the GaleForce Squad this year. The excitement in the group is contagious and energising. Sure I'm a little bit sad not to be a part of it this year but I'm a lot bit relieved to be able to take my foot off the accelerator and just cruise for a while. I've totally accepted that it wasn't the right year for me this year. 

And on a totally unrelated note, I wanted to share this photo I got of a visitor to my parents' house. They've been leaving seed out in their feeder and word has spread through the avian community. This guy was so greedy that he didn't want to move even when I got up really close. The posturing was to scare me away.

I don't scare that easily. Well, not because of a cockatoo. Maybe if it had been a cockroach that had dropped on me unexpectedly when having a shower ... But that's a different story.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I've been having flashbacks a lot lately. Pretty much every time I go to the university (and that's at least twice a week).

The flashbacks have been triggered by the sight of uniforms and the sound of gunfire. They have me feeling this sense of nervous anticipation. Of being on edge - knowing that it's time to give it my all.

No, I've never been part of the armed forces. Or been in a military action. Although I was in Los Angeles when it was under martial law after the Rodney King verdict and the subsequent rioting.

The uniforms I'm talking about are more the sports kind. And the guns are starter's pistols. It's athletic season and the flashbacks I'm having were of my last year of high school and the pinnacle of my spectacular but brief athletics career.

I wasn't always a runner. Back at high school I was a thrower. Specifically a discus thrower. It was something that I'd been quite good at right from the start. In year 8 I'd come second at zones and from then on no one beat me. But in my last year of high school something had clicked and I started throwing even better and by the time the zone championships came around there was no one that could come within metres of me. I knew I had it in the bag and that zones were only a formality to getting into the state championships.

The day of zones came and I turned up at the venue to find that the event was manned by some very cocky boys from a rival school. They were really good throwers and had been roped into helping by a teacher. And they were a little scathing about having to help out at a girl's event. Because girl throwers were usually just fat girls who couldn't throw very far. I was a bit porkier then but I could throw a long way and I certainly didn't like the patronising way that they were acting. I specifically didn't like the way that they'd laugh whenever a girl threw badly - which was most of the time.

It finally got to be my turn to throw and they were only standing about 15 metres away from the circle. I'd thrown over 37m in a practice comp so I indicated that they should move back a bit. They looked at each other with sneering disbelief and a bit of eye-rolling and stepped back a couple of metres.

Yep, they were jerks but I didn't really want to kill either of them so I asked them to move further back. Again with the sneering disbelief, eye-rolling and the couple of steps back. Still way too close for my liking.

These days I'm a lot less shy than I was back then. These days I would have told them to get out of the way in no uncertain terms. Back then I just was too quiet to ever be so bold. And I kind of wanted to put them in their places so I decided that I'd just have to demonstrate how far they needed to get back. I wound up, spun across the circle and let it fly.

You've never seen two cocky teenagers run so fast. Those sneers had disappeared in the urgency of running for their lives. And for my following throws they stepped back respectfully to an appropriate distance.

It was one of my finest athletic achievements. And one of my fondest memories.

Third in the State Open Championships the following year.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Story Without A Moral

The thing about coming back to running after a break (a fairly decent break in my case) is that it can feel like starting over. It doesn't matter that I have run innumerable kilometres over the years - take long enough time off and muscles atrophy, aerobic fitness diminishes and the challenge becomes to get back to where you were. Preferably without hurting yourself in the process.

My challenge this weekend was to run both days. Early on Saturday morning with the group and late Sunday afternoon by myself.

The Saturday run was never going to be an issue. I had a pile of birthday cakes that needed to be handed out and I wasn't going to go to the effort of baking without making sure the baking got to where it was supposed to go.

It was the Sunday run that was going to be the challenge. Because it was in the afternoon and it's harder for me to motivate myself to do an afternoon run. And because it was warmer than I'd expected for a winter run. And because my legs were sore from the previous day's run.

Um, maybe not stretching after the run might have been the culprit. Or maybe it was going to happen regardless.

Tight calves. A knot in my glutes. And hamstrings that you could have played a violin concerto on. Punishment for taking time out of my usual exercise regime.

No worries, I thought. It'll improve as I warm up.

And it did. Mostly. Except for the hammies that defied the warm weather and the gentle pace for the entire run. They moaned and whined every time we hit an uphill - and there were a few of those. So I had to take my mind off my geriatric body and distract myself with the scenery.

There were lots of other runners. Although I wouldn't describe them as scenery. More like me - aging, red-faced and sweaty but still out there doing the best to stave off the inevitable decline.

There were lots of flowering trees and shrubs. Spring obviously took the hint from the warmer temperatures and decided to get started a bit early.

Spring hadn't stopped with the flora. New life everywhere.

And then there was the scrub turkey. A big Tom turkey intent on crossing Sir Fred Schonell Drive. 

These could possibly be the world's stupidest birds. Admittedly it was a Sunday afternoon and the traffic wasn't as bad as a week day. But there still was traffic and his escapades reminded me of a game we used to play on the Atari when we were kids - Frogger. Forwards, backwards, backwards, forwards, forwards, forwards.

My very minor psychic powers told me that it was not going to end well.

But he surprised me with his skill at dodging enormous four wheel drives. He managed to make it halfway across with all feathers intact. And that was the busy side. The other side of the road had very sporadic traffic. I checked over my shoulder and saw that if he kept moving he'd be safe in the little park scratching up a new mound in no time.

I felt like I'd witnessed a little miracle. And I scoffed at my melodramatic sense of calamity. So much for my very minor psychic powers. More like very non-existent psychic powers.

That's about when I heard the whack. The fluttering of wings against bitumen. My belief in my very minor psychic powers was restored. And the soreness in my hamstrings was put into perspective.

The moral to this story? None and lots. Be consistent when you exercise or you will pay a painful price. Always stretch at the end of a session. And look both ways before you cross.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Baby Steps

I'm reporting in after my first week on the come-back trail to fitness.

After my fairly successful run on Sunday I've run ... (drum roll please) ... once. Underwhelmed? Yeah, me too. But I'm listening to my body and doing what it requires of me and this week it's requiring that I not push too hard.

I went to speed session on Tuesday and it went a lot better than I thought it would. I decided ahead of time that I wouldn't bother with timing each of the reps. Because if I time them I compare them with previous sessions and there was going to be no positive outcomes in comparing. So my aim was to just run consistently for the session. Unfortunately, though, unless you time yourself you actually don't know if you're running consistently. So let's pretend that I did - even though I  seemed to get further and further away from my speed nemesis Bevan in the second half of the set. I'm pretty sure that was because he was running faster.

I finished the session pretty pleased with myself.

Until I realised just how much it had taken out of me. Oops. Always a little too optimistic about my ability.

I had to have a nap before work. And then I dragged through the rest of the day.

I didn't even try to run on Wednesday. It would have been a very poor choice. But Thursday seemed like it was do-able - until I heard the rain when I woke up early to go to the loo. Then I turned the alarm off. And I can't run on Friday with our long run on Saturday so I guess that it'll end up just being three runs this week.

I'm okay with that. I've put the rest of the year on the back-burner as far as events are concerned. Just so I can build up again without the pressure of looming races. I was supposed to be doing a half this weekend but I've canned that - I know that I'd be disappointed and it might put me back a couple of weeks if I pushed myself. And I've also decided against running the marathon in Melbourne.

There will be other races in other years.

But I have had one big success for this week. I've gained back one kilo.

Baby steps.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Slow And Steady

I've had a couple more running set-backs in the last two weeks - just when I thought I was going to get back into it. I got the flu. Like the vast majority of Brisbanites. And once I thought I was getting better I got hit with another round of fevers. Yay!

There has been very little running happening in my world. And the flu made me lose even more weight. Ughh!! Last week I weighed the lightest that I have since I was 13. Skinny is not a good thing to aspire to (although as a 16 year old I would have disputed that). Wallis Simpson was wrong.

You can definitely be too thin.

Being thin and getting over the flu has left me feeling weak and pathetic. Climbing up stairs is an effort that leaves me breathless. It's amazing to think that just two weeks ago I ran a 29k LSD. Fitness is hard to gain and so easy to lose at my age which makes consistency so important.

So this week it feels like I'm starting over. Easy running with good recovery. And a concerted effort to get my weight back where it should be.

I started on a good note with a run yesterday. It was going to be a short easy one. A single digit run. Mostly flat. 

It turned out to be a 10k with a few hills because I felt better than I thought I would. With a couple of breaks because my intestines get confused when I run in the afternoon. Confused intestines are not a runner's friend.

My first pit-stop was only 500m from home. In a toilet that had no lock - as I realised while sitting contemplating the folly of afternoon running. Luckily when someone opened the door I'd already managed to get my shorts up and she was more surprised/embarrassed/horrified than I. 

The second pit stop was only a couple of kilometres later and was more to stop a wardrobe malfunction than anything else. Shorts don't fit the same way when you've lost 5 kilos. Thank goodness for drawstrings.

The rest of the run was as a run should be. And this morning when I got out of bed it felt strangely satisfying to feel the slightly stiff muscles and sore feet. Tomorrow I'm hoping to be back at speed - although there is a certain irony in my use of the word 'speed'. 

I've been here before. Building up again after a lay-off. My body knows what to do. I just have to be patient and it will come. Slow and steady will win this race.