Posts Tagged ‘running’

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2 weeks ago, I was in Melbourne for the Melbourne Marathon Festival. This post was initially meant to be titled ‘Riding the wave’, but was changed instead to what it’s now, considering the anticlimactic turn of events that stopped me from running the full race.

As a disclaimer to avoid wasting anyone’s time, let me state that I ended up running an easy half-marathon instead of the full thing, owing to a few factors in the lead-up to what was meant to be my jewel race (dramatic much?).

The post here is less for sharing and more for self-reflection and a bit of a humbling reality-check, which is why I’ll make a modest effort to keep this brief.

1. The Spark
Ecstatic after a 03:41 marathon in June, I was damn keen to keep going strong on the ‘gain train’ and shave off 11-12 min off this time within 3 months to have a sub-03:30 marathon. This would have implied a sub-5 (min/km) pace for the whole marathon which sounds stupidly stupid to me, but if the last 12 months have taught me anything, it’s to keep the sense of disbelief aside and to just pretend that it’s someone else doing the running for you. You just need to train for that person to get stronger.
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Bit of a friendly reminder around the house…

Melbourne Marathon was to be the race of choice, considering the timing of the race, the novelty of the MCG finish, and the fact that I’ve got some really good friends over there. Not to mention it’s a gorgeous city that I absolutely love visiting!

The original plan was to build up to 10 hours of running per week (~107 km/wk) during the last 2 weeks of peak training. This would mean some SOLID MILEAGE that would inevitably set me up for a good day. Alas, that’s not quite how it went down, and I have pretty much myself to blame for that. The first long run after a 2-3 week hiatus was gotten into with an overly enthusiastic effort which gave me the first few warning signs around the foot, that I promptly ignored. Subsequently, I jumped into my first ever major trail race on the weekend after. A 25km run that took me almost as long as my marathon in June.
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Perth Trail Series
The foot was in absolute agony on the day after, and this marked the beginning of a slippery slope. The next week had me with my friend Nina, an absolute gem of a physio, who did a stellar job of being thorough and making it a personal mission to get me back to 100%. Total kudos to her for going well beyond the norm to get the job done right! Dry needling, stress relief, strengthening exercises and regular follow-ups to make sure I was progressing as planned; I’m very grateful for the work she put in but little did either of us know that we had bigger problems heading our way. But more on that in a bit…
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Getting some expert hands to help with recovery (Nina Crowhurst Physio)

With 8 weeks to go and barely back to being good with my feet, I put a revised plan together with my mate, Dan, which unfortunately looked to peak at 7.5 Hours instead of the initial lofty 10 hours goal. I was disappointed but we both knew it would be stupid to get too ambitious and establish a long-term injury. Consistency over intensity, as they say. Or as Dan puts it, “softly softly catchee monkey”.

Now, I was also pursuing my skydiving certification through this time, which required me to be in York (90min from Perth) 1 day every weekend for around 8 weeks. This made efficiency in time management all the more critical.

With 5 weeks to go, a not-so-ideal foot, and constant travel for work, an expanding waistline was the cherry on the train wreck of a prep (so far).

2. The Downfall
The initial screw-up of not having the right transition into higher intensity running had compounding effects that I grossly underestimated then. Even an easy run was enough to give my shin a good beating and make me waddle like I was learning to walk.
With 4 weeks to go and consistent shin issues that I failed to address correctly in a rush to get to Melbourne Marathon fitness, the final disaster struck. While landing on my 4th solo skydive, my shoulder had a partial dislocation (‘subluxation’ as I later learnt) that gave me a bit of a scare since I couldn’t fully brake while landing and ended up making it a rolling crash land. Ironically though, this put a massive… brake (lol) on my running plans which were already in a pretty despairful state.
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Pre-trainwreck smiles

28 years of zero injuries and then 1 year to make up for it all, yay!

Take that for not wanting to be an obese little chubby and trying to actually do something with your life! The heart-attack-prone-female-repelling-kitchen-haunting-piggy teen me would be shaking his head so hard if he saw this.

So with that, my final two weeks of peak training turned into half-dead waddles, while I worked on strengthening my shoulder on the side with Nina’s help. In the end, I had to face reality and admit that there was no way I could run a competitive marathon, or even a slow one for that matter. However, considering the MCG finish, the social catchups and the fact that the tickets were already booked, I was keen on heading over nevertheless.

I focussed the final weeks on just having slow consistent runs and building back the shaken foundation. Running an easy half-marathon seemed to fit in with this new outlook, which is exactly what I did.

 

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The final weeks

 

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I had been warned by a few Melbourne Marathon veterans that this race was notorious for putting the runners through 5 different seasons in a span of a few hours. Thankfully, this was far from the case on the day, with the conditions being near perfection.

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The event itself was a lovely run through the iconic spots of Melbourne, running through the finish line of the Melbourne Grand Prix at Albert Park, and finishing with a lap of the MCG with crowds in the stadium making you feel like a superstar.

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The plan for me had been to start off a relatively easy pace, and shave off 10 seconds from my pace at each 5km split. I managed to pretty much do that and am content with that feat for now!
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Negative splits galore!

I also had three of my friends, Minh, Steph and Connie, run the event with a PB each, which was certainly the highlight of the day!

3. The Aftermath
So after this bit of mishap, I’d like to think that I’ve learnt a few lessons… maybe…
  • Build a strong base, but in slow increments (especially if you’ve had a hiatus)
  • Don’t keep eating like a pig that’s about to be slaughtered
  • Don’t umm… dislocate your shoulder?

Yeah, I realise that none of those sound like life-changing revelations, but the point here is that I’m now old and wise. So there’s that.

In the foreword in Craig Alexander’s (3 time Ironman world champ) book ‘As the crow flies’, Greg Welch (acknowledged as one of the greatest triathletes ever) talks about how Crowie not being selected for even the backup teams for the Australian Olympics was a likely reason for why he ended up becoming one of the greatest in the sport. Like so many other athletes, the rejection was a fuel to a fire that spread well beyond the initial goals.

So I guess what I’m saying is that since I didn’t get picked for the Aussie Olympics team either, Crowie and I have a lot in common and I’m likely to be a world champ.

Alright, maybe not the world champ but I’m certainly saying that this makes me want to do more than I’ve been able to before.

Have I figured out what I want to have a go at next? Yup.

Do I know how ambitious I want to be for that? Yup.

Am I going to talk about it? Probably so, but certainly not now. I think I’ve done plenty of talking with not much walking to back it up. So I’m keen on shutting up and first putting work on where my mind is.

FIN!

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3 weeks after running this event, I’ve finally come to terms that the months leading up to that day are important enough to be documented and immortalised.

This run has been a major milestone for me not due to the finish time (03:41) per se, but more so for the personal notion that it manages to break in my head regarding what was feasible for me in terms of endurance running; an attitude which, as many can appreciate, transcends into many walks of life. But let’s not get too deep here.

Considering this will be a reasonably wordy post, I’ll categorise it into 5 areas.

Let’s go!

1. Road to Boston

Before Perth marathon, I had run 2 marathons: the last one being around 2 years ago. This last one was a slow and painful 04:28 marathon that cemented the idea of me being a slow runner. Not too long after that, I told myself that I would focus on incremental gains with Boston marathon as my target. Considering the ambitious goal (Boston Marathon, at present, requires me to have a 03:05 qualifying time to attempt enrollment), I imagined this would take me around 7-9 years from then to get to.

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After Ironman Sweden in Aug 2016, I ended up gaining around 10kgs in 2 months and figured I better get my shit together and pick up some routine, before heading towards my next goal of Ironman Busselton 70.3.

Couldn’t quite afford another bike fit, so I worked on the aero bar and elbow pads positioning to what felt comfortable, and over a span of the next 2 months, worked on raising seat post height and taking off one of the spacers from the handle bars to get my positioning more aggressive without compromising too much on comfort.

With all set to roll ahead with some good will and determination, disaster struck on Boxing Day (26 Dec). To my dismay, a biking accident involving a snake and a desolate bike path put a spanner in the works.

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The grossest images were of the knees that I’ve conveniently excluded from here. A concussion ensured that I didn’t remember much from the crash. I recall riding, seeing a snake, being too fast to stop before the I got to the snake, the feeling of my tires climbing over it… and the next memory is me being catered to by some amazing cyclists that found me piled up on the side of the bike path and called an ambulance. The good part was that most of the damage on me was superficial. The best part was that my bike was still ok!! The not-so-great part, which I found out eventually after a CT scan, was that I had a fractured clavicle (collarbone). Although I had been darn lucky to not have it dislodged, so it was only a matter of giving it a couple of months of rest sans the need for surgery.

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Spent the time planning my return and JD helped forge my world domination plan MUHAHAHAHHAHAA!!!!!

 

2. Learning to suffer

After slowly crawling my way back to running as I wanted, I had a couple of instances withe the TEAM where I got distracted for whatever reason and ended up keeping up considerably faster paces at max intervals than what I perceived possible by me. This sparked a new mission between JD & I: learn to suffer and stop letting the head stop the body from doing what it can.

What followed were sessions where JD gave me ambitious paces that he believed I would be able to keep during interval runs, provided I stopped thinking about whether I could. The idea was to see pain as not something affecting you, but rather something willingly manifested by you. You hurt because you choose to be hurt, because you have created the situation where the pain is the desired result that gets you where you want. This shift in this mentality helps gain a sense of control. These sessions started paying off pretty quick, a lot of which I reckon was just from positive reinforcement after every successful run. Each interval session that went as per the new pacing plan was a layer of confidence upon the existing layers.

 

 

With this routine in place to break the walls around perceived limits, the next stop was to establish a routine in following the simple mantra: “run smart, run often”.

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This marked the rise of the weekly run mileages, hitting the 6 hour/wk mark for the first time (along with existing bike and swim routines that all added to around 19hrs/wk in the final month before tapering for IM 70.3 Busselton in May).

3. Revisiting Busselton

There’s a lot I could say here but I rather not since I wish this post to be focussed on the running aspect.

As I got closer to the Busselton half ironman, the greater was my desire to see more red on the bike (literally). However, with the amount of time triathlon training had been demanding of my day, I had been tinkering with the idea of stepping back from serious tri-training after Busselton and focusing upon running and other interests I’d like to see mature. This helped me keep the red-romancing at bay without too many new purchases.

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The bedroom whiteboard

 

The weekend at Busselton turned out to be an amazing one with the TEAM. Since I hadn’t been able to make it past the waitlist last year, this race seemed like a welcome closure.

Finish time (05:21) wasn’t where I planned it to be but considering the 36min improvement over my last half-ironman (Mandurah – 05:57) and the bike split of 02:36, I didn’t have much to complain about. I also took solace in knowing I pushed hard enough since the legs felt absolutely shattered the next day. Although I do admit the slow and hard run did make feel me with a bit heavy-hearted.

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I can see why this race is so sought-after. Gorgeous water (with a hint of sharkiness – the swim got cancelled around the end of the wave starts since a shark was spotted), flat as a pancake, well organised, and kept running smooth by some amazing volunteers. Glad to be finally one of the many that have tasted this race.

More than anything, I’ll remember this weekend for the good people I spent it with, and the crazy shenanigans that unfolded before and after the race. This sport for me is half – racing/training, and half – the company that makes it what it is.

 

 

4. The lead-up

The lead-up to the Perth marathon had heaps of running volume building up, much to my obvious glee. I have traditionally been pretty resilient to injuries, which I don’t take any credit for but am certainly very grateful for. JD, knowing this quite well, felt a tad more comfortable in pushing me past the 7-8 hrs/week mark in the final weeks. The long run Sundays started getting split up into ‘double-run Sundays’ to minimise the damage on the body and maximise recovery. The addition of trail running helped mix it up as well. Training with the TEAM and sharing the journey with like-minded individuals surely made a difference.

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Considering I had not had a proper shot at a half-marathon PB, and that the HBF half-marathon being 3 weeks from the marathon, it seemed like a good race to set a strong confidence-boosting PB and also practice steady pacing over an extended time. The instructions were clear: Stick to 04:55min/km for every km, re-evaluate at the 16km mark, and slowly start squeezing out whatever effort I had remaining in my body, towards a strong finish.

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With a finish of 01:42, it’s safe to say that my run volumes leading up to the race had been certainly validated!

The coming weeks had me peaking run volume at 9 Hours (~96km), a definite and exciting first for me. A couple of days before the marathon, I caught up with JD to plan out the little intricacies to world domination on race day. There was no disappointment as we determined a simple and effective plan to head towards our 03:40 marathon goal. Right after that, I took off for the WAMC pasta night to feast on some good carbs and listen to a couple of Aussie champs talk a whole lot about running. Food, legends and a whole lot of running talk. What’s not to like?!

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Just listening to these two legends, Steve Moneghetti & Jess Trengove, talk candidly about the world of running made me want to put on my runners and go get some more mileage under my feet!

5. Perth Marathon

The day started off with an exciting buzz starting at the first step out of bed. Pre-race playlist with thrash-metal set the mood for domination. I was pumped and ready to roll! It carried on to the WAMC centre, where I met Astrid who was awfully sweet to want to come over and support me, starting from before the race.
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Pre-Race ecstacy

After some exchange of pleasantries with familiar faces, we were off. It helped that the day was a lovely one, but my lack of confidence in pacing did not do me favours. The idea was to stick to 05:11 pace, run a “systems check” at a couple of markers along the run, adjust as required and slowly start letting out whatever I had in the final 7km. Since my running had only picked up the pace in the last 2-3 months, I would often associate the current paces as something beyond my ability. I had to constantly tell myself to do as per what the body felt and not as per what the mind perceived.
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There were a couple of spots where I seriously considered pulling out of the race as a myriad of “difficulties” and “problems” started bubbling in my head. All the different places my mind started to get to, all the reasons that I was convinced wouldn’t let me finish how I wanted to…. Eventually, I decided that if I didn’t finish as per my plan, it probably was indicative of me not having trained as hard as I should have. You’ve got to own your shortcomings just as you would own your successes. It’s the only way to grow.
I started spotting the TEAM at different spots around the course and their presence was absolutely heaven-sent! James, Kieran, Sonya and Siobhan had finished their long runs around the run course and were now on their bikes trying to find me at multiple spots and keep cheering me along. There’s so much gratitude I feel for these guys who gave me their support, not just on this day but through the time leading up to this. With mates like these, I reckon there’ll be a lot more goals to be ticked in the not-too-distant future.
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A great clip taken by Kieran while on his bike:
The course was flat, the support was lovely and the day looked gorgeous, but between the 20km and 30km mark, I started falling well behind my pace targets. I was about 2min ahead of schedule at the halfway mark, but past that, I recall looking at my watching screaming out 1km splits at around 05:22s and thinking to myself “Oh well, so much for that. Just do what you can now.” It was only after turning around and heading back from Matilda Bay that I realised that I had crossed the 30km mark and that made a big bit of difference. Not to mention I noticed the folks from TEAM around the same point.
They say the 32-ish km mark is where your mind goes into the dark corners and when you need to dig deep and find your reasons for pushing hard. Today, this wasn’t the case. After the 30km mark is when my mind started getting its shit together and telling the body what it will do, regardless of what felt could be done. Liberation!
With about 5kms to go, I spotted these guys again and JD went “It’s time, Fred. Do what you have to do.”. Until I heard this, I didn’t realise how much I wanted to hear it. Regardless of how many times I had convinced myself today that I was close to my limits, I was wrong all along. After this point, I was able to bring the pace down to sub-5s and pushed to stick to 04:55, which then moved to 04:50 and then to 04:45 on the last km. At this point, it wasn’t about finish time, it wasn’t about Boston, it wasn’t about impressing anyone; it was just a raw desire to put an end to this pain at the earliest.
I crossed the finish line reading 03:41, a number I wouldn’t have considered, a year ago, to be achievable this soon. A 40min PB that has done heaps to my perception of running and what is achievable with consistent efforts and the right support from the ones around you.
JD, Kieran, Shiv, Sonya and Astrid were all there waiting and it took some time to wipe that smile off my face. I was so freaking happy to see their faces. You know what’s better than accomplishing something you hold dear? Celebrating the accomplishment with close ones. It was only an hour later that I realised that my left shoulder wasn’t doing too well. All that swiminging on the previously fractured shoulder had it immobile past shoulder height. I take it the fractured clavicle still wants some time to itself. Wuss.
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A shout out to this man who helped me smash out my previously held running standards by a good margin and set new benchmarks for my future-self to beat!

Part-time coach, part-time friend, part-time token pommy; full-time top bloke!


So what now from here? Well, with this new time in my collection, my idea of what can be achieved has certainly taken a dramatic shift, and the idea of Boston at 35 (2024) seems a bit too far for my new impatient self. Regardless of all of that, I’m certain that with the support of the ones around me and a persistent attitude to do more, we’ll be smashing goals left, right and centre.
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KB later mentioned Melbourne Marathon in passing, which is 3 months away and a great course. Now that I think of it, it’s been a while since I’ve been to Melbourne, and did someone say sub 03:30……