24 January 2017

Takatsuki City 10k ... 2017

I’d run just 8 times since the Sakai 10k, 2 weeks earlier. No speed work either and yet somehow I felt stronger. Perhaps it had something to do with the familiarity I now had with the 10k distance. The mystic was gone and with that came a confidence that perhaps the sub 40 was there for the taking.

I was lighter too. For the past 3 weeks I’ve been experimenting with the ‘two-meal a day’ lifestyle philosophy. Why? Well the obvious weight loss and weight control has its advantages. You see at my age having lunch in the middle of my sedentary working day didn't make a lot of sense to me anymore. I also liked the concept and rationale around intermittent fasting after watching a documentary called ‘Eat, Fast and Live Longer’. I read a fair bit about the topic online and liked what people were saying.

After a week of moderate struggle my body has adapted surprisingly well. Now, I only get hungry after my morning run when I have brunch at about 10.30am. I then eat nothing nor desire to until dinner at around 8.30pm. I’m down 4kg and couldn't be happier or feel better.

Or perhaps this perceived strength has something to do with the Zinc supplements I’ve been taking to help with muscle growth and repair. And perhaps I need to stop reading every fad online!

Maybe it’s all in my head which isn’t necessarily a bad thing I thought to myself as the gun went off. With my new-found self-belief, I started faster than I had a fortnight ago and ran the first kilometer in 3.47. A 4.02 followed and then a 3.49 and 3.58. I felt good too as I navigated the numerous short rises, falls and hairpin turns that dotted the picturesque course running parallel to a river.

The Charlie Horse does have a benefit if used correctly. Generally, they occur at the end of a race when leg muscles, which are so fatigued, relax and then painfully go into spasm. I’ve only ever had one incident before and if it were caught on tape it would be bloody hilarious to watch. Picture two arms and one leg thrashing about on the floor in every direction while one leg remains painfully contorted and rigid like a horseshoe.

When you feel one of these little devils coming on you do the only thing left to avoid disaster. Run like hell. I ran that last kilometer in around 3.40 crossing the line in … 


12 January 2017

Sakai New Year 10k ... 2017

It was nice to be moving my legs again after the 90-minute train ride. My left ankle felt good too after the slight strain I suffered a week earlier. Walking from the Shinkanaoka Station to Oizumi Ryokuchi Park took around 15 minutes. This is Scott Brown territory and with the exception of the lousy weather with rain now bucketing down, the township looked really nice. Trees lined the wide-open streets and dotted around were carefully manicured gardens.

It was cold and I contemplated wearing compression longs for the race. I found it hard to get motivated. The thought of running near my goal time of a sub 40 seemed bloody ridiculous. “I have another 10K race in two weeks” I announced to my family. “This is just a warm up race so don't expect too much. Oh … and I’m recovering from injury you know!” “Yes Dad” my girls replied in perfect chorus as if they’d heard it all a thousand times before and knew the drill.  I want to go home, I thought to myself.

My mood changed once I caught up with Scott and his wife. He apologised for the weather which I thought highly appropriate given it was getting worse. To deflect my attention, he insisted we warm up and in shorts! I never warm up with a run but after the start I had I’ll never not in any future race. Ewen wanted me to include a series of short strides but on this day, that was a bridge too far.

In the build-up to this race I’d worried a lot about my first 1K split. I thought a 4.15 to 4.30 would be acceptable and I’d build from that. Running a 3.55 surprised me and if Scott had been nearby I might have thanked him for the pre-race warmup but he was long gone and finished well ahead of me.

On reflection, I love this distance. It’s tough for sure but not in a physically debilitating way. If there is such a thing as a lactic euphoric high, then that's what I had endured the whole way. By 8K I’d run splits of between 3.55 and 4.08. I’d given away the sub 40 and set my sights on a guy in yellow up ahead. I also craved my first age group prize of any sort and felt that the man I was now pursuing was lucky last on the podium. For two kilometers I chased and at least twice I closed to within a few meters only for him to sense my unwelcomed presence and then extend his lead.

Settling 20m behind him I rethought my strategy. I was bigger, stronger and had the stride length of a gazelle damn it. I needed the element of surprise. Then, out of thin air, an image of Rod Dixon running down Geoff Smith to win the 1983 New York Marathon filled by consciousness. That’s it! I’d conserve a little more, then at the final turn catch him by surprise with a burst of speed Rod himself would be proud of.

Scott’s wife Emiko is my new hero. She took the above photo that shows the effort required to overtake the man in yellow on that final stretch.  I finished 5th in my age group, 12/140 overall in a time of 40.11. The guy in yellow, 6th. Top 6 in each age group got special commendation certificates. My first 10K race but more importantly my first running prize ever. 

I love running.

Note: I apologise for any embellishment this post may have been subjected to … you understand.

14 December 2016

Odds and sods

After running the Osaka Marathon, I made the following comment to our good mate Ewen saying “Haven’t run for 10 days. I need to get back out there. I wonder at what point will I start losing fitness?”. “About 3 days ago” he replied.

My comeback run didn't happen for a further 11 days! I’m such a lazy sod, I thought to myself as I leapt back into it bounding along at great pace defying my age of course and still basking in my earlier marathon PB. 10k at 4.38 min/km pace didn't seem too hard in the slightest I scoffed. After 3 weeks without running, had my fitness (VO2 Max) suffered like Ewen had suggested?

… buggar

I’ve never run a 10k race before. Consequently, I don't have a 10k PB. I reckon there’s a very high probability I’ll have a new PB shortly given I’ve just entered the Sakai City 10k and Takatsuki City 10k both in January.

So, what to aim for. A quick bit of research suggests that the World Record time of 26:17.53 set by Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia in 2005 might be a little tricky. I say this given I only have a month to train you understand!

I’ve targeted an ambitious sub 40. At this stage I fear I’m still a little unfit for the milestone. I’ll need to run consistently from here on if I’m to get anywhere near it. In addition I'll need to try something new ...

I’ve never run to warmup prior to any race in the past. Lazy I guess. At my age however it takes a good 2k to transition from ‘old man shuffle’ to, well ‘old man shuffle’. That said, I just won’t have the luxury to ease into such a short race chasing a time so I’m thinking about a 2k run at 5min pace 30 minutes before the gun.

7 November 2016

Osaka Marathon 2016

I’ve had a number of days now to reflect on my latest marathon. The rollercoaster of emotions one experiences after such an event seems to run a very predictable course. Race day, elation and relief. The day after, depression. Two days later, pain and numbness followed by a heightened period of self-evaluation, determination and resolve to do better.

If you’d offered me a PB at the start line, I’d have taken it for sure. My previous best was a 3.18.24 in the fast downhill Mountain to Surf course designed to smash personal bests. A better comparison however may have been my last marathon in Rotorua which is touted as a relatively flat course where I finished in 3.21.01.

Crossing the line on Sunday in 3.16.14 felt good. A kind of relief I guess. I’d toiled hard the past few months training throughout a hot Japanese summer. I’d dodged and got caught with the occasional bout of heat exhaustion. I’d learnt to run before the sun rose, drink lots and consume miracle salt tablets along the way. Achieving a PB however was probably more about breaking stubborn habits. Training differently with a new mindset. How you ask? I have a coach now.

Scott Brown was the first to text me with “Great job! Saw you come in. Screaming my lungs out but you were head down pushing towards the goal. How was it?”

As a seasoned runner I thought I’d timed my last toilet run to perfection. But with still 15 minutes to the start I found myself being urgently ushered along by an official. She found room for me in my assigned block ‘B’ but it was at the arse end, a good 400m from the start line. With 32,000 runners these blocks ranged from ‘A’ (elite, good runner) through to ‘M’ (I’m here for shits and giggles and hoping to finish sometime today).

I literally walked across the start line 2 minutes and 22 seconds after the gun. Soon after I broke out into a jog and before long I was running weaving in and out, in and out. My Osaka Marathon had begun. The excitement I felt was no different from what I’d experienced in my first marathon, 19 years earlier. That didn't surprise me at all. I feel the same way in every race. The drug that keeps on giving in the best possible way.

In a city meticulously designed and ordered beyond approach, its streets accustomed to the 2.6 million inhabitants were for now at least owned by a lucky few. At one point I felt a little like Rick from the TV series ‘The Walking Dead’ as I found myself pounding down a famous main road past significant city landmarks all the while being chased by crazed runners from behind. A surreal experience for sure and one I’ll never forget. How fortunate we all were on a day where even the weather could only be described as perfect.

My plan had always been simple. Survive the first km. Run thereafter at even 5k splits of between 22 and 23 minutes to 40km. From there, give it absolutely everything to the finish. To the 25k mark I’d run 23:10, 22:33, 22:20, 22:05 and 22:38. The only thing bothering me at that point were my stupid sunglasses that refused to stay above the brim of my cap. That's right, they were decorative. A coolness symbol which in my case were rarely worn.

To distract my mind from the fatigue starting to creep in, I began my search for a deserving future marathon champion. A cool kid much like I’d been I thought to myself with an air of grandiose and obvious delusion. Having identified my target up ahead I mentally prepared myself. Without hesitation and with surprising agility I stooped down while in full flight and dropped my annoying sunnies into the lap of an enthusiastic boy. To my surprise and for the next 400m at least, he and his two mates ran behind me trying to catch up all the while shouting “arigato, arigato, ganbatte, ganbatte” … “thank you, thank you, try harder, fight” …

Splits for the next 15km went 23:05, 24:09 and 25:35. Certainly not horrible but not what I wanted. I’d hoped to truly smash my PB but didn't. For the past few days I’ve thought very hard about this period of the race. At the time I knew I was falling off pace and incredibly I didn't really know why.  Sure I was tired but who isn’t at 35k? That can’t be a reason or an excuse. I’d done the training and should have lasted the distance. I suspect it’s me. A mental thing that I need to address somehow.

Over the weekend I did a little therapeutic shopping at our local mall. A giant complex with hundreds of modern shops and thousands of shoppers at any one time. To finish any marathon is also very therapeutic and good for the soul. To bask in this personal accomplishment should be a private matter. However, from time to time it doesn't hurt to let an outsider in to experience the euphoria. And so I did. As we entered the mall I turned and said to my wife with total conviction “I reckon that if all these shoppers were to line up and run a marathon this very night, I’d win”. “Of course you would honey”, she said with a smile.

It was great to finally catch up with Scott at the finish line after getting my medal. I owed him my PB for sure and it was nice to tell him so. Later on, walking away from the park I got to answer his text question ‘how was it?’

“I think I can do better” I said. He nodded which was just the inspiration I needed. Right, what’s next I thought to myself?

31 October 2016

Osaka Marathon race report coming ...

3.16.14 and no where near a podium finish in the land of the fanatic marathon runner. In fact my overall place was 1,927th! A lot to talk about in a race that shuts down the central city of Osaka to accomodate the 32,000 runners entered in this years marathon. 

A PB achieved but my coach reckons I could have done much, much better ... 

11 October 2016

Scott's wall buster

Two Sundays ago Coach Brown texted me with what I’m hoping is a magic bullet.

Of all the distances the marathon has to be the ultimate. Incredibly I’ve had a go at 11 of these and in every single one … I’ve hit the dreaded and legendary wall. Bloody stupid wall. Every single time. With 8 or 9 kilometers to go the wall devastates and shreds any hope of a time I just know I’m capable of. It’s probably become psychosomatic? I conjure up the damn thing mentally now like some saboteur. Will I ever be rid of the wall?

Post race I usually blame shitty workouts, race plans and nutrition then vow to do better. Later, I tinker and tweak and then find myself doing it all pretty much the same as before! It’s so frustrating because deep down I know I have a time worthy of the distance. One I could quite happily retire with. It’s there. I can see it on the horizon. Hell I can almost touch it. Wretched wall!

Scott’s text read as follows. “For tomorrow’s long run of 2.5 hours can you do the following: Run the first hour at an easy pace (5.15/km). For the second hour run at a moderate pace (4.45/km). For the last 30 minutes run at close to marathon pace (4.25/km). As instructed my dutiful self obeyed with all the accuracy of a Patek Philippe timepiece.

I’ve been given a few of these ‘build-up’ workouts over the past few weeks and I know they’re designed to mimic that flagging desperate feeling one gets toward the end of a marathon. Knowing the pace required is only ever going to get tougher in a workout is a challenge mentally. I figure the more you do it the easier they become.

With Osaka Marathon less than three weeks away that looming wall doesn't seem so high anymore. More like a tall hurdle. That said there’s the heat, humidity, wind … well you get the picture. Marathons are like a box of chocolates … part of their appeal I guess. 

It’s why I love them to death.

26 September 2016

Tango Ultramarathon 2016

Kyotango, a collection of coastal towns overlooking the Sea of Japan. Looking across the water I could nearly make out the two Koreas and further up, the Great Wall of China. The region is famous for its breathtaking ocean views, seafood, hot springs and silk fabric (Tango Chirimen).

All very nice but for me the place was most notable for Jiroemon Kimura. Born in 1897 Jiroemon spent most of his life in the area. As a postal worker he toiled diligently providing everything he could for for his family until his mandatory retirement at age 65. Not ready to lie down, Jiroemon turned his hand to farming. 25 years later at the ripe old age of 90 he decided to finally take things easy. He lived a further 23 years until his death in 2013 at age 116. He had held the Guinness record for the oldest man alive and given the horrendous hills and climbs in the area I’m not surprised! He must have been fit as a bloody fiddle.

Last Sunday I ran one of those hills in this years Tango 60km Ultramarathon and unlike Jiroemon it nearly killed me at age 48!

My good mate, mentor and coach, Scott Brown texted me at exactly 11am with the message ‘At the station but can’t see Mr Donuts’. I texted back with ‘You must be on the other side of the tracks, wait there, we are on our way’. Lugging my wife’s overnight bags a further 10 minutes in 28C heat and humidity was just asking for trouble, I muttered to myself. That morning the unmistakable signs of a cold or flu were beginning to show. Then there was my dodgy upper right calf to consider and out of nowhere my right IT band began to flare up. “Hurry” my wife yelled, we don't want to keep Scott and his lovely wife waiting”.

Being driven as opposed to taking the train was just brilliant. Scott’s late decision to run had made our weekend. There was so much to talk about on the way over. The girls were looking forward to a nice hotel, the sento (Japanese Bathhouse) and local seafood. Scott and I on the other hand talked all things ‘running’. For Scott, the Tango Ultramarathon would be his first at that distance and considering he hadn’t trained for it, I thought an upset was definitely on.

At 8.45 the music intensified. On stage a rather youthful, attractive and agile dancer began her aerobic routine while at the same time screaming out instructions. Without hesitation, everyone submissively began these impossible and reckless moves. Where was the simple crossover leg calf stretch, plank or quad pull I was in need of? Mercifully the countdown began and in no time we were off in calm, overcast conditions with the threat of rain in the forecast.

Days earlier, I’d worked out that to run around 5 hours and 30 minutes, a top 50 placing might be possible. Running 5 minute per kilometer splits and allowing 30 minutes at drink stations was a brilliant plan. It seemed simple enough but an ultra is a long way. A very long way.

Maybe I hadn’t acclimatised as much as I thought I had because the first 2 hours felt really humid. I was drenched early on and sweat dripped continuously from my fingertips. These days I understand the importance of hydration. I was determined to stay healthy and drank plenty of fluids and salts at every aid station along the way.

The Tango Ultramarathon has two options. The 60km or the more demanding 100km distance. For us 60km runners the hill (mountain) at 15km was tough. A climb of around 200m over 4 kilometers wasn't fun. Consolation was knowing that the 100km runners faced something far worse. A whopping ball breaking 500m over 10 kilometers. I’d imagine the run down the other side would have been quite exhilarating until the realisation they still had another 30 kilometers to run sunk in.

At 40km and now in torrential rain we merged in with the 100km guys and girls. Aid stations were very frequent from this point on. Every 3 to 4km which in hindsight might have been a mistake for me because I took full advantage of every one. If the race had been just the 60km distance you might have expected them to be spaced every 7 or 8km. At the time I never considered running past one which in all honesty I probably should have.

I felt every stride with 10km to go. Nothing serious just generally sore all over. I’d run two ultras previously and never felt quite like this. Running on the road as opposed to running on trails made a big difference. The constant ups and downs of the course and on tarseal had banged me up badly which left me hobbling for days after.

Up ahead waiting on the side of the road I recognised a familiar face. “You alright?” Scott asked as the rain continued to fall. I reckon he’d waited for me which was both a blessing and a curse. You see with 4km to go I was ready to run, walk it home. Instead, this was about to be the first time we’d run together, ever. Don't tell Scott but those were the most enjoyable and satisfying minutes of my entire race.

Long ago Scott had inspired me to take running a little more seriously. I even began this rarely read blog having followed his a few years earlier. As we turned for home with the finish line now in sight I considered picking up the pace. A John Walker, Nick Willis, Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Jack Lovelock or even Arthur Lydiard sprint to the line was definitely on.

‘Aussie Mentor Concedes to Kiwi Protege’. Yes, yes I thought as I began to surge then nah. That ending wouldn't have worked as well as this don't you think? Besides, on that day and at that time, I was absolutely positively buggered.

Time: 6 hours 13 minutes 43 seconds
Place: 107 / 1028

6 September 2016

The negative split miracle

Something magical happened to me two Sundays ago during my long run. Typing this while reliving the experience still sends chills down my spine. It hasn't happened since so before it’s lost forever, I’ve decided to write about it. You see two Sundays ago I ran my first negative split and it came out of nowhere!

30km at an easy pace seemed very doable on that morning given the temperature wasn't expected to climb too high. It was 6.37am and as usual these days I headed out very conservatively. A 5.50, a 5.15 followed by a 5.01 to begin warmed this aging carcass of mine ever so gently. It also gave me an opportunity to fully appreciate another Kyoto sunrise.

At the 4k mark Coach Scott Brown wanted me to run a 4.30 which I did without too much effort. Thereafter I slowed to run a bunch of 4.50’s which felt ‘rhythmical’. At 15k I’d run 1.14.11 at 4.57 pace.

After another prescribed 4.30 at 21k I do remember thinking how easy it was. The run had flown by without the strain and discomfort I had experienced throughout July and most of August. With 9k to run my hope was for that feeling to stay with me till the end.  30k and no wall in sight? How good would that be!

At 25k another required 4.30 which didn't bother me at all. So much so that I maintained that pace before running a 4.22 split to finish. I’d run the second 15k in 1.10.55 at 4.44 pace. I was thrilled to finish the morning so strong. Had I mistakenly been the benefactor of the much vaunted negative split?

In every race I’ve gone out hard, hung on in the middle then shuffled home for all I’m worth. They've never been that enjoyable, PB’s included. According to Jeff Galloway, running should be far more pleasurable and the negative split strategy should be trusted to provide the best results possible. He says “it works because it can take your body several miles to get warmed up. After that, your muscles are charged, your joints lubricated, and mood-boosting endorphins flood your system. You’ll find yourself running faster without feeling any more effort”.

Having the belief that this strategy won't fail me on race day is the key. What if I conserve at the start of my next race only to find there’s nothing left later on! Would Jeff take the blame for that then! I might be a unique individual where the negative split doesn't work. My wife reckons I’m unique and not always in a good way either!

My much heralded negative split has opened up a world of possibility. It’s given me a glimpse of how this sport can be mastered. However, committing to it now is completely out of the question. That’ll take some time, some faith and a number of successful training runs. That's just the way I am. Stubborn I guess. But it will happen. One day.

It suddenly dawned on me that I have a 60k race next week! Shit! Hard to exactly put into words how I feel about it other than to share with you this next video. He sums it up rather nicely.