Thursday, June 16, 2016

Training The Brain

Two weeks till Gold Coast marathon and I'm ready to taper.

I've been training so, so hard for this one. For the last couple of weeks anyway. Since I surprised myself at Noosa and realised that a sub-1:40 was possible. Remotely possible. If I gave it my best shot. Work hard for a few weeks and just see what happened on the day.

Working hard hasn't meant changing things too much. Speed is still speed and it will always be done as hard as I can on the day. Friday will still be my recovery run - and I'm needing that more than ever. Saturday's long run is still a long run. Done at long run pace. Except maybe the last couple of k where I might push the pace just a little. It's the Wednesday runs that have changed.

Wednesday runs have been reinstated to tempo status. They were tempo runs last year but once summer hit they just became another longish run. But now that it's cool and I have a goal in mind, they've become a little bit faster. Actually, a lot bit faster.

These were the runs that I'm certain that made the difference to my running last year. The ones that taught me to trust my body again. The ones that retrained my brain to cope with discomfort for longer. So it was an obvious step to bring them back. But, man, they're hard work!! I'm doing 16k total and at least 10 of those will be at tempo pace - which for me is the pace that I'd like to run come GC half marathon.

This week's tempo run was particularly hard. We'd done 500m reps the day before and that had been a solid session. That'll happen when you're chasing the fast boys. And believe me - they were fast on Tuesday! Then I'd gone home and done my strength work. Speed session + strength work = very tired legs. It was raining on Wednesday when I woke up and I almost pulled the pin. I almost convinced myself that my legs were too tired and I really needed the rest day but the nagging voice in my head made me look at the weather radar. Damn, the rain wasn't going to last much more than a few minutes and I couldn't risk being called soft by my running posse so I went.

We did the first 4k easy and then I got the prod to get moving. Ughh. Wasn't feeling it at all. I just wanted to run with the group at that nice, easy, comfortable pace instead of having to push on alone. Out on my own. Out of my comfort zone.

But I did it and I was so glad that I did. Because I will be feeling tired and heavy-legged in the latter parts of the GC race. I will want to mentally quit - and if I mentally quit, I generally quit physically as well. I will wonder why the hell I even wanted to set myself a stupid goal in the first place. And when I do feel all the feelings I'll be able to remind myself about this run. About how I could still push to do what I'd set myself to do even though I was tired and hurting and didn't want to do it.

Training seems like it's a purely physical exercise but it's so much more than that. Training the brain is just as important as training the body. If you think you can't then you won't. But if you think you can, you might surprise yourself with what your body can do.

These tempo sessions are doing just that. As I run them I'm practising things I'll need come race day. Things like ignoring negative thoughts. Concentrating on where I am and what I have to do now rather than anticipating how I'm going to be 3, 5 or 10k from now. Finding out what self-talk works for me. 'Feeling strong' worked for me on Wednesday so I might stick with it and use an expletive every so often - just for effect.

Roll on Gold Coast Half. I'm as well prepared as I've ever been before a half marathon. Just have to turn up on the day and see what happens.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Failures, Foundation Garments and Fanciful Goals

Last weekend was the City to South race. And because the course was going so close to my house I decided that it might be nice to get out and cheer on the suckers dedicated athletes who'd decided to run it.

Last weekend was also when I found out that I truly suck as a cheerer/spectator/photographer.

It started off okay. Watching the frontrunners go through. Genteel clapping while clutching my takeaway cup of coffee. So very civilised. But then the runners started to come through thick and fast. I'd wanted to get shots of all my friends running but to do that I needed to spot them early enough to actually take aim and shoot. Here's how I went.

I wanted a picture of Clare. The little dot at the pack of this group of men. She's wearing my Run Amok tights. You can tell, right?! So a fail there. But what's worse is that I know the runner on the right of the pic. Totally didn't see that he was there until an hour after the race when I was checking my photos. Sorry Rob, I don't know how I missed you.

Katie yelled at me and that's the only reason why I've even got a picture of her. I'd like to say I'd meant to take a photo of her great running form. But honestly I didn't.

Youngie also gave me fair warning of his arrival. A good 50m of warning is what I need for a shot that shows the front of the face. 

See - Elio didn't give me 50m of warning. Only got the side of his face.

Didn't zoom in on Heather so I missed another opportunity to get a good Run Amok photo. But at least you can see her. Which is more than I can say for Sue.

Poor Sue - that's her foot just visible to the right. 

And finally another butt shot. This time of Mellie. Seemed appropriate to finish the morning on that note.

But it wasn't only my photos that failed. My brain had a little processing issue - fairly normal for a person of my vintage but really inconvenient when you're trying to cheer people on by name. There were no less than ten people whose names I remembered only once they were well out of earshot. I'm sorry. And I'd apologise to all of you individually but I've already forgotten who you are. Sorry for that too.

But, luckily, my brain is the only thing that's failed me this week. My body seems to be working just fine - at least as far as running's concerned. We did a 3k time trial at speed and I've managed to improve from my January time by 12 seconds. This could be because it's a lot cooler. Or it could be because I've been training diligently and consistently since then. OR it could be because I bought a new running bra. Which promised up to 50% less bounce. Less bounce = less turbulence created while running = greater speed. At least it does in my head.

I only bought the high impact bra but apparently Berlei make a bra for extreme impact. What on earth does extreme impact involve? Running into a brick wall while doing your best Usain Bolt impersonation??

I'll definitely be wearing that bra come Gold Coast half marathon. I'm going to need as much help as I can get to achieve what's been festering in my head ever since I ran Noosa half. My big audacious goal for this race is to go sub-100. 

There it is. I've said it out loud. That would have freaked me out a year or so ago - to lay it on the line like that. But today it doesn't worry me. I might make it. I might not. If I don't, the world will still keep turning. People won't turn away from me in horror because I'm a failure. And I'll get to try again another day. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Noosa Half Marathon

If I only had one word to describe my race on Sunday that word would have to be satisfying.

I had no real goals or expectations leading into the race. I just wanted to go sub 1:47 because it's a New York qualifier. And I wanted to be able to walk away from the race knowing that I hadn't given up mentally at all during the race. Because I feel like I had given myself permission to ease up in every race that I'd run this year. Not proud of that - but it is what it is.

I raced in Noosa last year and ended up shocking myself with a 2 minute PB. There's nothing like a PB to make you feel warmly towards a course. It's pretty flat. And it's in a lovely part of Queensland. Didn't take much to convince Iven that it was a good idea. Iven also thought carb-loading was a good idea. The bit about him not actually running didn't really factor into it.

The race started at 6:30 Sunday morning and I'd organised to meet my posse at 5:45. Enough time to check out the loos, go for a short warm up jog up Hasting Street and pose for a couple of pre-race pics. Ten minutes to start time and we wove through the runners lining up to get a decent starting position. Just a short wait and we were off.

I didn't really have a plan apart from holding it together mentally. No pace goal apart from staying under 5:00 minute k's. The 1:40 pacer balloon ran up past me in the first kilometre and stayed just in front of me for some distance. The temptation was to stick with him but I was pretty sure I wasn't in 1:40 shape so I suppressed the urge to kick it up a half a notch. It was way too early and I wanted to stay strong till the end. 

I've given up racing with music most of the time. So it was just me with my thoughts. And a few hundred other runners. Trying to stay relaxed but strong. Trying to keep my head conversation positive. Not a hard task in the first couple of kilometres. But telling yourself that you're feeling strong when you've only run 4k is a whole different ballgame to believing it at 17k. 

I couldn't spend the entire 21.1k telling myself I was feeling strong so I looked for distractions. Like the dead possum in the middle of the road on the way out. Pretty sure it was a ringtail. The dead possum on the way back was more likely a brushtail and probably hadn't been dead quite as long. CSI Noosa - the animal episode. A moment of silence for remembrance - not that I actually knew either of them - but it seemed like the right thing to do and I didn't have anything more pressing at that moment. Apart from running and breathing.


Noosa is a double loop course. I'd run through the 10k marker at 48:30-something and I was happy with that. By the 11k marker we were heading back out again. I was still feeling fairly strong. Surprisingly strong. But my 'surrender' point is always about 3/4 of the way through any race and that was still a while off so I wasn't congratulating myself yet. I've had the wheel fall off my cart too many times not to know that it's not over until you press stop on your Garmin.

I was running around the 4:50 mark. With a few high 4:40s thrown in for fun. I wasn't watching my watch except to look down whenever it beeped to see that I was still under the magical 5:00 mark. I had no idea of cumulative time but I knew I'd go under my 1:47. Way under my 1:47. Probably under 1:45. I just had to keep pushing as hard as I already was. 

The far turnaround point was a welcome sight. Just a little over 5k to run. That's like running back to Southbank from New Farm Park - just without the water stop under the Storey Bridge or in the Botanical Gardens. Trying to chase down Jodi and Andrew. Less than 25 minutes more of pain. Or should I say discomfort because that's less negative.

I started to count down around this point. And, paradoxically, my paces were starting to count up - just a little. I was working really hard now and it was hurting but there was no way I was giving up now. I wanted to see how close I could run to last year's time even though I was convinced that I wasn't quite in the same running shape. 

Three kilometres to go. That's just like a three k time trial. Yep, they suck and I hate them but I can run 3k hard if I have to. Generally not after I've already run 18 k - but no excuses. Damn, a photographer and I've got no one to hide behind. Do I want to look like I'm dying? Hell, no. Let's make it look like it's fun. Let's fool the masses into thinking that they too will have a great time if they run hard for over 90 minutes.

Two k to go and I started to feel an embryonic stitch. Oh crap - not now. Breathe out hard. Push against the diaphragm. Yep, that helped for just a couple of minutes and then it was back. Whatever. Just have to suck it up and make the best of it. No one ever died from a stitch. That I know of.

And then there was just one kilometre to go. I still had no idea of my overall time and I didn't really care. I was tired, I had a stitch but I was still giving it all I had. I could hear the loudspeaker. Getting closer. Iven cheering me in. The finishing arch. Sprinting (okay not actually sprinting - just pushing it up a gear). And then I could finally stop my watch.

1:40:37. Only 8s slower than last year. Maybe I'm in better running shape than I thought I was. At least my head is in good running shape - if that makes any sense. I didn't wave the white flag once. No retreat, no surrender!

Seriously nothing beats the feeling of achieving better than you'd believed yourself capable of. Except maybe seeing your friend smash her PB. Awesome run Jess! And then meeting a celebrity vet who turns out to be as nice as he seems to be on TV. Dr Chris was pretty impressed with how fresh we looked after running a half marathon. Probably didn't quite smell as fresh as we looked but the man spends his days smelling poo, pus, farts, wee and vomit so I'm guessing his nose might be forgiving when it comes to sweat.

What? You've already run? I don't believe it! 

So that's half marathon #22 done and dusted. #23 happens in just over four weeks time and I've got goals for this next one. Goals that I'll pretend aren't goals because I don't like the pressure of goals. A few more weeks of solid training and we'll see just how close I can get.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Moments Of Clarity

I had a moment out on my run yesterday. A moment of stunning clarity.

I will not be able to do this forever.

No, I'm not sick. Not injured. Not psychic. Just 53 and realistic. And I know realistically that something, someday will most likely happen and I will have to give up running before I die. Unless I die while I'm out on a run - which really doesn't seem like that bad a way to go.

It'll be a sad day when that happens. No more early morning alarms (hmm, maybe that bit's not so sad). No more taking in the morning as the sun comes up. No more feeling the freedom and joy of running fast. No more laughing until I pee myself just a little at something that someone's said (which really doesn't happen very often - honestly). No more post-run coffee. No more feeling the satisfaction of having worked out before most of the city is even awake.

But rather than dwell on what I'd be losing, I looked clearly at what I had. There. At that moment. Right in front of me. A magical crisp, clear morning. A flat mirror-like river that still looked pretty with the lights of the city reflected in it. The Story Bridge lit up like a rainbow.

Friends around me. Feeling strong. Running strong. Without any niggles or pains. An undeniable feeling of contentment. Of satisfaction. Of joy - probably endorphin related. 

So I took a mental picture to tuck away in my head with the other mental pictures of special moments. I'll bring it out and look at it when I can no longer do what I can do now (assuming that dementia hasn't hit) and try to remember the gratitude I felt on this day. Not focus on the loss but focus on how lucky I've been to find a passion that endured.

Yep, yesterday's run was one of the best.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My Tip For A More Youthful Appearance

I freaked out some of my running friends last week.

Back story is that I've been kind of slack lately. I haven't been bothered with a few of the things that most women bother about. Personal grooming things. Hair cuts to be perfectly honest. It just seems like too much effort to try to fit it in when I've got other things occupying my brain space. So my hair is starting to get longer.

But longer, to a runner can be a bit annoying. For a while a cap was enough to keep it from bugging me on the run. But it grew past the length that even a cap could control and those long scraggly bits at the back of my neck were really starting to piss me off so I did something radical. I put it up in the littlest ponytail ever. 

Actually it's two ponytails because some of the top stuff is still too short to reach around the back of my unusually large head. It's not stylish or pretty but it's really practical and my hair is no longer pissing me off. And once my friends got used to it (took a full run and a whole coffee conversation) it was pronounced to make me look more youthful.

I was a bit dubious. Until I saw this clip from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

A tight ponytail can have some advantages. Good-bye jowls and wrinkles.

Just have to work out the right amount of tightness to get the youthful appearance without the too-tight headache.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ambivalent Racing - Mother's Day Classic '16

I know. I've been MIA for the past few weeks. I blame it on the public holidays and the facts that I can't blog when there's people hanging around and my computer is in the kitchen so there's always people hanging around. And it could be that there's nothing blog-worthy that's been happening in my life. Just running, working, sleeping and eating.

But then this weekend happened.

It started as all good weekends do. Meeting at 5 am for a nice 22k trot around the river. An entertaining 22k trot around the river due to the higher than average amount of public nudity on display. A few half naked blokes and a girl who'd decided that clothes are for losers and she is not a loser. Just as well it's been a very extended summer so their sensitive bits didn't shrivel up and drop off.

Saturday was also the day that I got to use the birthday voucher for a massage that I was given. Talk about being spoilt. It was the fanciest massage I've ever had. Such a beautiful day spa. And a very competent masseuse. The only downside to the whole thing was having to hold in a fart for the full hour. My boys still don't believe that I did it but I actually do have better control and decorum than they ever believed possible.

I'd registered for the Mother's Day Classic again this year and that was on Sunday. I kinda didn't really want to do it. I'd run Friday. I'd run Saturday. My Sunday was looking like it was going to be a big one and adding a race was only going to make it bigger. But I'd paid for it and I'm a bit of a tight-wad so I posted up something on Instagram to make me accountable and I set my alarm once again for an early morning.

I'd roped Iven in for job of chauffeur, bag-holder, photographer and post-race coffee companion. I only had to mention coffee and he was in - he's easily manipulated. He did a great job finding a good car park and walking me to the loos and the start line. I was still extremely ambivalent about running the event. But when you're dressed in your running clothes with a race bib on your chest standing on the start line you've really backed yourself into a corner. Of course I was going to run. And of course I was going to run hard. It's what I do in a race. It was going to be an interesting exercise in keeping it all together mentally when I wasn't altogether there mentally in the first place.

The Mother's Day Classic is an interesting event. Sooooo many non-runners do it and that means that there's sooooo many people who have no idea about race etiquette. Like not wheeling your pram up to the start line of the 8k run when you're there for the 4k walk. And not letting your entire family of four little kids stand in front of the elites. So little common sense on display. What hope is there for humanity?!!

We had to endure another really bad warm up session. Again - no common sense!!. Don't encourage us to all crowd together and then make us do windmills with our arms. That is not going to end well. And no choreographed sideways movements. We're runners - not dancers. Someone is going to go the wrong way.

And then finally we got to run. And because I'd snagged myself an awesome start position I could run freely from the start. Not always the best thing for a runner who has a very poor but optimistic ability to pace. I also didn't warm up. Part of my ambivalence. Not a smart move. By 500m I was in oxygen debt and I only hoped that it meant I was running fast-ish. First k - 4:32. Fast-ish. I'd earned my discomfort.

Kilometre 2 felt a little better. My body was getting over the initial shock of moving fast. That little lady who'd shot past me in the first k must have had an even worse ability to pace than me. Who'd have thought it was possible? I was reeling her in. Good for my ego cause she looked older than me. 4:36. Only 6k to go. Surely I can hold on for 6 more k??

Passed my nemesis in the third kilometre and then saw the boy with the bandaged thumb I'd been chatting to before the race. Wondered why his thumb was bandaged until I passed him and then he was forgotten. Wished I'd brought music to distract me from what was happening to my body. The beep of my watch once a kilometre wasn't cutting it. 4:40. Oops slowing down.

I know this route so well. We run it almost every week. Sometimes twice a week. I knew there was a rise coming up. Let's call it a hill to make me feel better. Keep pushing. Stupid hills! And we got to run just far enough that the turnaround was past the bottom of the hill and I was going to have to run it again. I remembered my mantra - we don't train so races won't hurt, we train so we can cope with the pain. Kinda wish that training meant that it wouldn't hurt. 4:45. I'm starting to see a trend here and it's not good. But hey, over half way. Less than 20 minutes more and then the hurt will stop.

Getting to the halfway point gave me a little lease on life. Picked it up for the next k and managed to nudge in under 4:40 again. 4:37. Three more k at that pace?? Maybe? Probably not!

From there it was a matter of encouraging myself to just run the kilometre I was in. And that was fine for the first 200m of each kilometre. Then I'd remember that a kilometre was quite a long way. And there were more little inclines and maybe I need to preserve some energy just to make it to the finish line. 4:50, 4:51.

Only 1k to go. Time to start trying to pick off runners ahead. But I wasn't the only one playing that game. I passed a couple of runners but more passed me. Que sera. Saw a few photographers and could barely raise a smile but I managed one for Iven who yelled at me from under a bridge - the man is part-troll.

My watch beeped the final kilometre just before I crossed the line. 4:43. Done!! Cumulative time - 38:02. Not so bad. Or at least I believed that until I saw last year's time which was almost a minute faster. Whatever - I don't think I could have run any harder. Maybe age is catching up with my times.

I found Iven at my meeting spot and we headed off for our coffee. Got the message that I'd placed first in my age group over my soy cap and raisin toast. Sometimes it's just about turning up - not speed.

Not sure if I'll run this one again. I might give it a break for a year or so and then see how I feel. Or I might have forgotten my ambivalence by next year. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Racing With Friends

I had a revelation on Saturday night.

I was reclining on the chaise watching the Broncos flog the Bulldogs and counting up votes for which outfit I was going to wear in the following day's race when I realised that I had zero anxiety about racing. No little flutters when I thought of the race. Nothing at all. Racing has become a non-event. I have finally got to a point in my life that something that I choose to do, pay to do, love to do, doesn't fill me with so much stress that I'm taking prescription drugs and spewing into the toilet.

Hallelujah! I'm slightly less crazy than I used to be.

I was actually excited about the event. Not the running part necessarily because running hard hurts and if I like pain that makes me a masochist and masochists are crazy so that would have me sliding back up the crazy scale. Running hard makes me feel satisfied. Like I've achieved something. Which I have. I've achieved ignoring the voice in my head that says to stop because it's hurting.

The excitement was because I was getting to do the event with a car full of friends. Yeah, road trip!

It was an early start on Sunday. 4am alarm. Trawling the streets of Bardon to find the right number in the right street then picking up a couple of dodgy looking characters over in Highgate Hill. We got to C-Bus Stadium in Robina in plenty of time, made use of the facilities and then just hung out until the races started. I used the facilities twice because (a) I needed to, (b) there was no queuing, (c) I am and over achiever and (d) three babies. I would do this race again and again because of the toilets. Plenty of them! Real toilets - not portaloos!!  

The half marathon started at 6:30 and we waved Jess off. Then Ian and I contemplated a warm-up and while we were contemplating heard the call for the 10k runners to line up. Oops. Decision made for us. There were less than 600 in the race so we were close to the start line. A little waiting and then we were off.


Or kind of off. There were a fair few runners ahead of me who'd done a pretty ordinary job of working out where they should be in the pack. Slow, slow runners up near the front. But I was feeling pretty Zen about the race so I decided it wasn't a bad thing to not run too fast in the first kilometre, like I sometimes have a tendency to do, so I didn't mentally taser any of them. 

The first kilometre ticked over and then the hill loomed in front of us. I remembered the hill from last year when I did the half marathon. It's short and sharp so it was just a matter of sucking it up and sucking the big ones in then enjoying the downhill on the other side. And once that was over with it was a fairly flattish run to the 5k turnaround. 

I can't say it's a terribly scenic course. Kind of a pity to have a race down at the Gold Coast and not see any of the beaches. But then we wouldn't get those awesome toilets at the start so I guess that's the trade-off. There was nothing to distract me from the pain of running hard except the thoughts in my head and the other runners. There was one runner in particular that I'd noticed at the beginning. Hard to miss because he would have been at least 6'5" in a red singlet. He'd been just ahead of me in the first couple of kilometres then had pulled away but once I'd passed the 6k mark I could see him up ahead of me. And I was starting to close the gap.

Kilometre 7 came and the gap was getting really small but I had this vivid memory flash from last year. My memory's pretty crap these days so to remember something so vividly means that it was pretty significant. There was big pain ahead. In the form of three longish (for me) inclines and then the climb to the traffic lights. I just wanted to slow down. To save myself for what lay ahead. But I've mentally given up in races before and I hate the regret afterwards so I told myself to suck it up and keep putting in the effort. The hills would slow me down a little but it's effort that counts. 

The first bump wasn't too bad. Then the second bump came and I managed that okay. The third one bit hard and I was hurting when I hit the top. Then there wasn't the normal downhill to recover. It was flat until I reached the last hill. But at this point there was only 2k to go and, miraculously I'd passed my giant in red so all I had to do now was stay ahead and see what I had left.

Soon we were running through the 1k race. It was like I'd gone from running with giants to running with dwarfs. Time to keep my wits about me. Little people have no idea about running in a straight line so I tried to keep a wide berth. I found it a bit inspiring to see these future runners giving it their all and I loved the wisdom of the mother who told her daughter that if her brain told her that she couldn't do it then she wouldn't be able to but if her brain told her she could do it she would. I made my brain use that message all the way back to the finish. 

And then it was over. I stopped my watch. 48:12. Not too bad considering the hills. The work was done. Now it was time to kick back and relax. Wait for Jess to finish her half. Enjoy that post race euphoria and wait for the results.

I'm still confused about the time difference between my watch and the official time. But whatever. 

Nice to get the age group win but honestly the best part of the whole day was the time spent with my posse. Support, encouragement and laughing till your cheeks hurt.

When can we do it again?