Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sutherland to Surf to Sutherland

On Sunday I took part in the Sutherland to Surf race - an annual event that has been running since the 1970s, although this was my first go at it. The course goes from Sutherland to Wanda Beach, 11km of rolling hills with most of the run on main roads, partially closed for the event.

I was gobsmacked by the size of the field when I arrived at the race starting area. It was one of those "one, two, three... lots" moments - a few thousand runners crowded in together. I bunged my timing chip under the lace of my huarache sandal to shuffle across the starting mats, then pocketed it for the run so that it wouldn't irritate my foot.

As an aside, it's occurred to me that things would be easier for runners if we were all micro-chipped, like dogs and cats, rather than fussing around with timing chips which are especially cumbersome if you're running sans shoes. I mentioned this on CoolRunning and CR Crabby pointed out that not only could our implanted chips time our runs, but they could also work like an e-tag on the highway, automatically debiting your credit card account for the cost of the event. Remember - you read it here first.

The run was enjoyable - cool conditions, no wind and I was pleased to find that the hills didn't seem too bad at all. Once again I was running in fancy pants which provoked a few cheery comments but, unfortunately, more than the usual number of unfriendly taunts as well. I haven't yet worked out what it is about not wearing regulation black runner's tights or standard shoes that gets up some people's noses so much.

Just before I crossed the finish line I got the timing chip out again and, as gracefully and inconspicuously as I could manage, stooped to wave it over the timing mat. My guide in all things barefoot, Runbare, had advised me to do this, saying "it works well as long as you don't mind looking like a git". Well, when you've just run a race in foot flaps made out of a door mat what have you got to lose ?

To pad out the morning's distance for my marathon training quota I'd arranged to run back to Sutherland after the race with Crabby. I was a bit apprehensive about this because I couldn't quite see how she was going to keep down to my pace, unless perhaps she hopped. As it happened we lost each other in the finish area anyway and so I started my slow jog back to Sutherland alone. It was distressing to find that the hills had grown a lot bigger now and I was reduced to a trudge. Still, I eventually made it back to the start and despite feeling like I must have taken twice as long as I did on the run out, it had actually only been an extra ten or fifteen minutes. Best of all, no achilles problems - yeeessss !!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Do what you don't do well... the old song doesn't say.

Running is teaching me that there's a lot to be gained from doing something that, not only am I not very good at yet, but most likely I'll never be much good at it. By 'good' I mean able to run like those who are at the front of a race pack, those who run with a fluid grace and poise that is beautiful to see. I'm usually trying to catch up with the back of the pack and I've yet to be accused of running gracefully.

Because I know I'm going to be slow I don't worry about watching the clock. Saying that runners are generally interested in their times is a major understatement. Time, for most runners, is an obsession: time per kilometre, average pace, target time, personal best time... and all this monitored, tabulated, graphed against heart rate and distance data from the well-wired runner's armoury of strapped-on devices.

Don't get me wrong - I can well understand the fascination with time and measurement and I find it easy to relate to running gear-freaks who lust after the latest Garmin. I'm a geek loud and proud in other contexts and I love gadgets. But somehow with running I got onto the Luddite path and discovered that I like it: how it feels and where it takes you.

Time is just one facet of the everyday runner's experience and there's nothing wrong with measuring it, or challenging yourself in terms of it. But, as Kenneth Slessor says in Five Bells...
Time that is moved by little fidget wheels
Is not my time, the flood that does not flow.*
There are so many other facets to running - pleasures and experiences that don't slip away with age, as one's pace inevitably does, but actually come into sharper focus. The simple satisfaction of doing something for its own sake. The vividness of moments. The physicality of movement. The awareness of the natural world as we run through it. The opportunity for child-like joys, such as running through puddles, that most adults bar themselves from. These and many others, some that I would find hard to put into words adequately, are there to be had from running. Even from my slow, chugging version of it.

* For more on this great Australian poem visit ABC Radio National's Book Show web site

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cross that bridge, and again, and again...

The Sri Chinmoy Doll's Point half marathon

Photograph by J Bar made available under the Gnu Free Documentation License.
Original full resolution photograph available here

It's not the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which I hope to be running across in September, but it's still a significant water-spanning bump to run across... out and back... twice... This is the Captain Cook Bridge and it was part of the course for the Sri Chinmoy half-marathon held last Sunday morning together with 10km and 5km events.

What a great event: cool conditions, no rain, a lovely scenic course on the shores of Botany Bay, a good turn-out and a wonderfully friendly atmosphere. As this was my first lengthy run since annoying my achilles I planned to take it easy and walk at times if I felt that I was stressing my ankle at all. But, as it turned out, I managed to chug along at a comfortable pace over the whole distance. How happy ? Very happy !

As usual at a Sri Chinmoy race, the organizers cooked a fabulous pancake breakfast for all finishers. I also had the pleasure of meeting some other members of the CoolRunning community for the first time: Wildthing, Gadfly, Crabby, TKR and Kyliee, as well as saying hello again to The Keg who is a great supporter of community runs like this one.

Next day my achilles was a bit swollen and I was limping a little, but still smiling !


This week, my Sydney Marathon fundraising page for the Black Dog Institute ticked over to $1170 ! That's about $1160 more than I expected to raise when I began this. Thanks again to everyone who has supported me so generously with their sponsorship and encouragement.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Running technology

When people have asked about the sandals... well, when I say 'asked' what I really mean is that they've pointed at them and said, incredulously, "what are thoooooose ?" ...anyway, when people have asked about the sandals I've experimented with different replies. None of them have worked.

Responses that I've offered include:
  • I'm a beta tester for Nike and these are secret prototypes of the new Nike Free 0.05
  • I like the bondage look
  • I'm a member of the Brotherhood of Huarache, would you like to see some literature ?
  • Sh*t, what's happened to my shoes !!!
  • and even (pathetically) Wanna buy a pair ?
Once, after the Sydney Morning Herald Half-Marathon, a man tapped me on the shoulder and asked "hey mate, where did you get those ?". Wow, I thought, someone's really interested ! But he was actually asking about the two bananas that I was carrying because he hadn't been able to locate the fruit table.

However, like any other innovative trend-setter (or obsessive outlier) my confidence is not at all diminished by the overwhelming lack of interest shown by the high-tech shoe wearing majority... well, maybe a bit, but not enough to put shoes on and get injured again :)

I'm presently running in my second pair of sandals. They clap out fairly early, the first pair after about 100km. This is because of the tradeoff that I adopted for the prototype phase in which I felt it was most probable that the initial design turn-over rate would be high, thus rendering it uneconomic to invest in materials with a longer expected road life. Or, to put it another way, it's been hard to find cheap rubber door mats that last longer when you turn them into sandals.

The Mk II sandals feature non-slip tape as shown in the photo above. This is the same sort of tape that is used on exterior stair edges etc. and it stops the foot slipping fowards or backwards on the sandal, especially in wet conditions. So far it's worked a treat.

The Mk III sandal is already on the drawing board and represents a technological leap in very cheap low-tech running gear. With the help of the friendly folk at the new Australian branch of Algeos, who supply shoe materials, I am getting some proper soling rubber, made by Vibram, that I hope will give the sandals a road life of at least 500km. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

On the road again (really, truly this time)

After the buzz of running in the Bay to Bay 12km event I got back into training for the marathon, only to be foiled by achilles soreness after just two runs. Do you ever have the feeling that bits of your body are out to get you ? Just lying in wait, lulling you into a false sense of security, only to leap out... Yes, well perhaps that is a tad paranoid, but I felt dejected about the having to have yet more time off, especially having got the support of so many people who have sponsored me.

There was a topic recently on CoolRunning (Australia): 'what keeps you running now', ie. although you may have started for fitness or weight loss or whatever, what is it that motivates you today ? I posted a completely off-the-cuff contribution which, like spontaneous words sometimes do, expressed things in a way that surprised me, but that seemed right...

to feel part of something

These are my reasons for running. 'Pancakes' refers to the pancake breakfast served up to participants at Sri Chinmoy running events. I guess they also speak of the spirit of generosity that you find in the running community - although to tell you the truth, the only reason I mentioned them was that I really like pancakes. As for the first two reasons, they sum up what running gives me. When I can't run life is harder.

But this week things are looking up. Two days ago I did a very tentative 3km run. The achilles complained a bit at first but not too much and the next day it felt alright. Today I ventured out more confidently for a 5km run, including some gentle long inclines. There was nothing more than a dull ache from the achilles, and that was soon obscured by relief and pure pleasure. I think it's the closest I've got so far to experiencing the fabled runners' high.