Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You can't always get what you want

My big goal for this year was to undertake the Sri Chinmoy Peace Triathlon for the first time. But my preparation for the event has been less than ideal... in fact, dismal sums it up fairly well.

Ever since a bout of flu earlier this year, I don't seem to have been able to string more than a couple of weeks together before falling prey to some bug or other. None of them serious, just unpleasant enough to interrupt training.

So yesterday, with less than a fortnight to go before the event, I finally had to admit that I wasn't going to make it. I contacted Prachar Stegemann, who for many years has been the organizer of this and a host of other Sri Chinmoy events in Australia, and asked if I could drop down from the Peace Triathlon to the Classic event (1.5km swim, 40km cycle, 10km run).

Prachar replied with a typically encouraging email that cheered me up immensely. I hope he won't mind if I quote this line from it:
The best things are worth waiting for, so doubtless the longer you have to wait for that moment of crossing the finish line of the Sri Chinmoy Peace Triathlon, the more satisfying that moment will be!
Sri Chinmoy Prospect Creek 24km run, 13th September

I did this event last year and remember shivering at the starting line in the morning chill. This year it was just the opposite - unseasonally hot.

Only a very small field turned out for the 24km race although there were more for the 12km and 6km events. Right from the start it felt warm, even though it was just a little after 8am.

Getting to the end of the first 12km lap I was sorely tempted by the sight, sound and, above all, the smell of the pancake brekky being enjoyed by those who had already finished their events.

I plodded round the second lap at an ever slower pace. By this stage each water station was like an oasis in the desert. The finish line was a welcome sight when I reached it, but even more welcome were the pancakes, still being served by the wonderful Sri Chinmoy folk - better than any trophy !

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hat trick of trail runs

Well, the August triple treat of trail events has been and gone and it was wonderful...

Bankstown Hidden Half 16th August

I enjoyed this run when I did it last year. This year was even better ! Once again the organization of the course was terrific, as was the friendly welcome and encouragement by the Westies club (I particularly appreciated "get your arse into gear slowmo !" from one of the race marshalls). The hills on this course were just as challenging as I'd remembered but I was pleased to be able to run them all this year.

The weather was perfect for running - cool and still for the whole event. We even had music, with a brass and drums band belting out some cool tunes through the morning, not to mention the race marshall with Chariots of Fire on his ghetto blaster.

The photo above and those below are courtesy of Gemma Clarke Photography.

Chatting to Rob, one of the race organizers, after the race

The band was a great touch. Hope more events follow suit !

Willy to Billy 35km Bushrun 22nd August

I'd had this race pencilled in to my calendar for a long time and had been looking forward to it with a mix of excitement (longest and most serious trail run so far) and out and out fear (same reason). The race turned out to be both harder but also so much better than I thought it would be.

Everything about this event was special. The freshly baked scones at the start lived up to their reputation and really hit the spot on a chilly mountain morning. The course was both challenging and beautiful - a mixture of forest roads and single file rocky trails with stunning views to be had at some points. But the best thing of all was the sense of this being a community event. Every time I reached one of the aid stations, the local bushfire brigade members and other volunteers there were fantastically welcoming and encouraging, and had water, sports drink and pieces of fruit laid on.

There were some big hills and some very big hills. There didn't really seem to be any other sort. By the time I got to the last climb, which went up for around 7km, I'd jettisoned any hope of walk-running it and settled for walk-puff-stagger.

A nice treat was that, for the first time ever, I wasn't the only huarache-wearing runner in an event. There were two of us ! On the left, in the photo above, is Daniel in his ultra-marathon ultra-laced huaraches; on the right, me with the trusty pair that I wore for all three of the races this month.

There was a great atmosphere during the run with lots of chats and greetings between runners. It was a particular pleasure to run some of the course with Bert and Anne (on the right in the photo above).

Very special for me was having my lovely partner there to cheer me on at several points along the course.

Sutherland Half-marathon, Royal National Park 29th August

The third event of August's triple treat, and wonderful one to finish with. You have to love a run with the very civilized starting time of 1pm, especially if you are as dysfunctional in the mornings as I am.

Despite a little rain in the morning we were treated to a sunny afternoon for the run. If anything, a little too sunny - after a few kilometres I found myself wishing that I was wearing a singlet instead of a black t-shirt.

Apart from a short loop at the start, most of the race involves an out and back run on Lady Carrington Drive and there are fewer nicer places to run with its mix of sun and shade, dry woodland and moist forest, and rolling terrain. I started the race with CoolRunning friend Crabby and managed to stay with her for about 3km or so - a new record I think. After that I settled into a pace that was still a bit faster than my normal chug, helped a lot by the company and steady pace of other runners. Despite slowing down a little bit in the part of the race, I managed to finish just inside two hours for the first time - very chuffed with that*.

Catching up with people after the race I had the pleasure of discovering that one of the other runners was someone who I had worked with on a National Parks project twenty years ago and hadn't seen since. I'd swapped posts with him on CoolRunning but didn't twig that we knew each other until then.

Many thanks to all the folk from the Sutherland District Athletics Club for a really enjoyable and friendly event.

*Since writing this post I got my official time and it was just outside two hours. Oh well... I'll just have to try again next year :-)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

August triple treat

Three wonderful events over the next three weekends to look forward to...

First up is the Bankstown Hidden Half-Marathon on Sunday 16th. This is hosted by the very friendly folk of the Western Districts Joggers and Harriers, or 'Westies' as they are better known. I really enjoyed this race last year. The course is in a lovely parkland setting, part bike paths and part dirt trails, and includes what the organizers like to call some 'honest' hills thrown in.

The following weekend, on Saturday 22nd, is the 35km Willy to Billy, a bush trail run from Mt Wilson to Bilpin in the Blue Mountains. A major attraction of this race is the promise of freshly baked scones prior to the start of the race ! The course winds through some beautiful country, although it is another event with some honest hills, very honest in fact. I had a quick look at the elevation profile of the course on the race web site, but decided it was best not to think about it. This is also a qualifying event for the Six Foot Track and I secretly harbour a dream of finishing within the cut-off time of four and a half hours, though my main objectives are simply to enjoy the race and eat lots of scones.

Topping off the triple is the Sutherland Half-Marathon on Saturday 29th. It's hosted by the Sutherland District Athletics Club, who rival the Westies for friendliness and their ability to put on a great event, and are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. The race is held in Royal National Park with most of the course being on Lady Carrington Drive, a wonderful place for running. I did this event for the first time last year and wouldn't miss it for quids.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why does running help depression ?

A number of studies have found that moderate to vigorous exercise can benefit people who have clinical depression (follow this link for a Google Scholar search on the topic) and in Australia exercise is commonly recommended in public mental health campaigns and by health professionals. Although research published in the British Medical Journal found that shortcomings in many of the studies make it difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the benefits of exercise (see a summary of the paper

At an anecdotal level, I've talked to many people, in person and via the CoolRunning Australia forum, who find that running helps them to feel better and avoid, or at least temper, the effects of depression. This has been my experience too.

Running hasn't been a cure-all for me: several attempts to dispense with medication have ended with depression reasserting its hold. On the other hand, medication without running provides stability but also casts a sort of dull pall over everything, as if not only the lows but also the vibrancy and colour of life are being suppressed.

For me, running seems to complement other measures in some way, but I'm not convinced that this is wholly due to the effects of exercise. In my twenties and thirties I used to do a lot of cycling and was much fitter than I am now, but I was still prone to panic attacks and episodes of depression. So why does running help ? Here's what I think are my reasons...

Being outdoors

Running gets me outside. I find that, on a sunny day in particular, that's often enough to get a definite lift in my mood. Even when it's cold, windy and pissing down I still feel better for getting out into the elements - though perhaps in that case it's the slightly eccentric and ludicrous aspect of it that appeals to me.


I don't think I'd continue running for very long if I was only ever doing it alone. Regardless of the physical and mental benefits that it brings, and even the mild addiction that it can become, I'm sure my inherent laziness would prevail. This is where races come in. John Bingham, in his book The Courage to Start describes races as a public celebration of running. It's always exciting to turn up to an event, whether big or small. Each race provides a clearly defined challenge. You know what you have to do and, for the longer events, you've probably had to work through a structured preparation for weeks or even months previously. Races provide structure and purpose.

You don't have to be a great runner, or even a very good one, to enjoy races. I'm a slow, back-of-the-pack specialist but I find reaching the finish of a race is always a deeply satisfying experience, especially if I feel that I've done my best. There is also the pleasure of being part of an event, of running a particularly nice course, and of seeing and chatting to other runners. Some of my slowest races have been my most enjoyable for these reasons.

Being part of something

There is a community of runners. It's a broad church and includes people from all backgrounds, walks of life and points of view. Some runners are motivated almost solely by competition, be it against others or with their own previous best times. Others, like me, are in it for different reasons. All of us, fast or slow, are runners. We have a shared enthusiasm, a hoard of anecdotes about our successes and disasters, ambitions of races that we'd like to do or results we'd like to achieve, and an anatomists esoteric knowledge of running injuries !

In a nutshell...

Perhaps all of the above can be summed up very simply as: nature, purpose, and friendship.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sri Chinmoy Dolls Point half-marathon

This event, held last Sunday (12th July), was my come-back run after a few weeks lay-off with a bout of flu and one couldn't ask for a friendlier or more enjoyable event. Having only done a couple of tentative short jogs in the days leading up to the race, and still feeling a bit sluggish, I was pleased that this was a two lap course because I could drop out half way if I needed to.

In the end I managed to complete the distance and, although it was one of my slower runs, it was also one of the most satisfying. I credit this success partly to the magic of being in an event, that intangible extra boost that you get when participating in a race, but mostly to the fantastic encouragement of Prachar and all the other Sri Chinmoy folk marshalling the course.

The day was also an opportunity to catch up with running friends including Emjay and kb, as well as to meet some new faces.

For some terrific photos of the event, visit the gallery on the Sri Chinmoy web site.

There are two events left in this year's Sri Chinmoy Sydney Series: 24km, 12kma and 6km races on a lovely parkland course at Prospect Creek in September, and the Centennial Park half-marathon and 7km race in November. If you haven't tried a Sri Chinmoy event yet, come along and see why so many of us have become enthusiastic regulars.

Back in black (huaraches)

The half-marathon was my first run using new 'paracord' laces for my huarache sandals. I ordered some of this cord after seeing it mentioned in a post on Barefoot Ted's minimalist runners list. I'd never heard of it before, but the post mentioned that it was both comfortable and highly durable. There's a Wikipedia description of paracord here.

The black paracord certainly matches the black Vibram soling material that the sandals are made from very nicely: just the things for the fashion conscious freaky-footed runner :)

I found that I needed to adjust the lacing pattern that I use to avoid the heel portion slipping down while running. This is because the paracord is a lot smoother than other materials that I've used. So far though, the new laces have been stable and very comfortable.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Barefoot running t-shirt design

This is my first attempt at a barefoot running t-shirt design which I created with the very nifty wordle word cloud generator.

Feel free to use this design if you like it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Learning to be better at not running

Despite soaking up the blessings that were thick in the air at the Nun's Run, the little 4km trot turned out to be an instance of enjoy now, pay later. I'd had a particularly unpleasant bout of flu for the previous fortnight but by the day of the run it seemed to have faded to just a sniffle. However, on the way home ominous feelings of crumminess started to swirl in my innards and these turned out to be the first signs of the flu settling in for another two week season.

I remember someone commenting to me once: why don't life's inconveniences stick to the times allocated for them ?

To which I might add (in my most peevish tone): And why can't they stay in single-file rather than bustling in all at once ?

The flu had arrived at the same time that I'd finally weaned myself off anti-depressant medication. I thought perhaps this might be to my advantage in a perverse sort of way. The general line of reasoning was that if you already feel ghastly then whatever withdrawal symptoms arise will be drowned out like hecklers at a bad, but loud, concert. Actually, that didn't work. It turned out to be more like being trapped in a very bad concert where the hecklers get up on stage and join in.

Given all of this, running has been off the menu, replaced by feeble and pathetic shuffling around the house. I have noticed its absence. So have those around me. I've slowed down and an old black dog has caught up with me again.

So, it seems that as well as learning more about running I also need to learn how to be better at not running: because life is always going to be punctuated by stumbles and falls of one sort or another.

I've a way to go with this.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Running with nuns

Is this not the most wonderful road sign that you've ever seen ?

It was created for the Nun's Run: an epic 400km walk from Dubbo to Darlinghurst by Sister Leone Wittmack and Sister Helen Clarke to raise money for a new cancer research institute at St Vincent's Hospital.

The end of their journey was celebrated with a fun run in Centennial Park which attracted a wonderful turn-out. It's not every day that you see nuns dressed in traditional black and white habits with race numbers pinned on the front. Nuns are so cool...

The organizers stated that they wanted to put the FUN back into fun running and in this spirit there was no recording of times or placings, just the enjoyment of being part of such a lovely event.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Don't worry, be happy

Sydney Morning Herald Half-marathon - May 17th 2009


This year's Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon was a significant event for me, being the anniversary of my coming out as a foot-flap wearing freaky-footed runner. I remember how nervous I'd been last year. Not only was it the first time that I'd worn my huarache sandals in a race, it was also my first really big event with thousands rather than hundreds of runners, and only my second half-marathon.

As it happened, I had a great run last year and I was looking forward to an even better one this year. Not only did I now have several more big events under my belt, but I would be wearing my high-tech sandals. Admittedly, to the casual observer, they still resembled pieces of vandalized door mat tied to my feet with string, but to the minimalist-running afficionado they represented the epitome of traditional practice combined with space-age materials. Or so I liked to tell people anyway. Then again, I also liked to tell them that my circus pants are a new breed of compression wear.

But I digress...

The night before, I assembled my gear for the morning, checked the train timetable and carefully set my alarm. I felt organized. I felt confident. I completely failed to register these as warning signs.

I woke next morning to a quick succession of thoughts:
"I'm awake before the alarm - that's good."

"It's unusually light for this time of morning."

"I wonder what the time is ?"

Later I was to work out that not only had I set the alarm the night before, I'd somehow managed to set the time so that it was wrong by hours. My train had already gone. The race was going to start in 45 minutes. I was not there.

A few minutes later I was in the car with my partner driving us into the city at quite impressive speed. We made it to the Elizabeth Street side of Hyde Park just in time to hear the race start. I bolted across the park trying to work out where to go, spotted the gear stowing area and ran as fast as I could towards it. I will be forever grateful to the wonderful lady at the table who was already writing my number on a plastic bag as I approached. She even kept a straight face.

College Street was still packed with runners shuffling towards the starting line. "I've made it" I thought and relaxed, only to lapse back into panic again when I couldn't see how to get through the %#$@ fence separating the park, and me, from the race. Another minute of frantic running and I made it onto the road. To my relief, the back of the pack was still there, inching forwards. Also there was my brother Paul, who didn't make even the slightest effort to keep a straight face.

The race

The course seemed packed compared to last year. It also seemed to have much more life and excitement. After last month's Canberra Marathon, with its wonderful spectator support, performance artists and cheer squad, I must admit that I'd been expecting this event to be a bit ho-hum in terms of atmosphere. With the exception of the City to Surf, Sydney doesn't seem to get excited about its major road races. So the buzz on the course was a nice surprise. For the first few minutes there were cheering spectators rather than empty streets. We were entertained by a troupe of super-heroes with enormously wide shoulders and red masks, some of whom bolted along with the field shouting encouragement like deranged running coaches, whilst others performed bizarre body actions and pantomine gestures from various perches. It turned out that they were advertising some chain of fitness centres (this was Sydney after all) but they added colour and movement and hilarity, and I got a high five from one of them for being freakier than he was in my sandals and star pants.

It was great to run with Paul. He is one of the few people who can out-chat me in a race. We kept up what felt like a good pace, running steadily up the hills on Argyle and Hunter Streets and Mrs Macquaries Road while trying to keep a bit in reserve. On the first lap, half way up the Hunter Street ascent, we met the wonderful LuckyLegs, looking very comfortable trotting up the steepest section, smiling and chatting and being her inspirational self. Just as inspiring was seeing the race leaders up close, one of the benefits of a loop course, and admiring the grace and fluidity of their movement.

During the second lap I started to feel a little tightness in my chest from the snuffle that had been lurking for the previous couple of days, but it was easy to ignore this on such a perfect morning, with the sunshine, cool still air, and the buzz of being part of such a great event. When we reached Mrs Macquaries Road for the second time Paul asked if I'd like to have a go at finishing in under two hours. I hadn't been following our pace at all, content to just run at what felt like a solid but sustainable clip. But I felt comfortable and the idea of getting in under two hours for the first time sounded great. Paul said we just had to pick up the pace a little bit and offered to lead me out. I agreed. He darted through the runners in front of us and was gone.


I tried to work my way through the field, then skipped up onto the footpath and peered ahead, finally spotting Paul. a rapidly disappearing speck in the distance. I ran faster, ducking and weaving, but soon realized it was pointless. The last thing I wanted to do was spoil a good run by knackering myself before the last stretch. I dropped back down to my former pace. A couple of minutes later I met Paul, who was generously waiting for me (or perhaps he couldn't find anyone else to talk to). We rounded the turn at the bottom of Mrs Macquaries Road and headed back up the hill, picking up pace as we neared the top.

The last stretch was fantastic, running at speed into College Street, around the turning point, up the last incline (who put that there ?) and then flying (or so it felt) into the finishing straight and sprinting to the line.

How was it for you dear ?

I finished feeling that wonderful combination of fatigue, exhilaration and satisfaction that comes from a run where everything has gone just right, and from being part of a great event. I knew from the 'gun time' on the finishing clock that this had been my fastest half-marathon so far, doubly satisfying on this testing course.

Wandering around the park, I met several CoolRunning friends, including the lovely TKR who was there with her family enjoying the achievement of having run her first half-marathon. I wandered back into the city, still wearing my huaraches, and caught the train home feeling tired and happy.

The next day, my race-day snuffle had developed into a grotty head cold and was on its way to becoming a dose of flu, but I was still on a high from the race. I logged into the CoolRunning forum to read everyone's race reports and post my own. To my surprise the race thread was a litany of unhappiness and disatisfaction...

The field was too large. The course was too narrow. The drink stations were too crowded. It was no longer a race for real runners (so what did that make me ?).

Someone railed against those idiots who were dressed up as super-heroes (I thought back to the Canberra Marathon with the 'Shower Scene from Psycho' on the sidelines and the 'Ghost riders' cheering the runners on Parkes Way).

Limit the numbers ! Ban walkers ! It went on and on.

In amongst all the sturm und drang there were some posts from people who had enjoyed the race as much as I had, but they were a minority. My sails sagged. I switched the computer off.

I'm mindful that I can be vulnerable to feelings of depression during the onset of a bout of flu. But on this occasion I don't think that was all that was going on. Look at our world. Listen, watch or read the news on your favourite medium: war, disease, poverty, tragedy. Here in Sydney we have the good fortune to live in a safe, prosperous place; to have free time and the opportunity to spend it doing something that we love, like running in a great event. Reading reports of how unbearable, how truly unacceptable it was to be held up by slower runners on some part of the course or other, I wondered how it is that running can be so fraught for some.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sri Chinmoy Iron Cove 16km

I had very low hopes for this run. For much of the previous week I'd felt low-grade crummy, my legs were leaden during my weekday runs, and on Sunday morning, the day of the race, I stayed in bed for as long as I possibly could. When I eventually left the house I felt as sluggish and unathletic as I ever had.

Things got better when I arrived at Iron Cove. Sri Chinmoy events are guaranteed to lift one's spirits with their friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Plus there are always running friends to catch up with and Iron Cove is a lovely setting. Still, I thought it was likely that this would be one of my slowest slow runs.

When the field for the 16km event assembled I self-seeded at my customary position behind everyone else. When we started, I was a bit shocked at how fast everyone else seemed to be going. I continued to chug along at the back. It was a lovely morning, cool and still, with the bay as calm as a millpond. There was no need to fret about being slow.

Gradually I started to enjoy the run more and noticed that my pace had picked up a little. By the time I reached the half-way point I was feeling very good indeed and was surprised to find that I'd caught up to my friend Linda who is normally a long way in front of me. We ran together and chatted for the next few km and Linda told me that she was taking it easy on this run because of some foot pain.

In the last part of the run I found myself a little way ahead of Linda and still feeling very good. It now occurred to me that I might even have a chance of getting in under my previous time for this event of 90 minutes, a time which I'd been extremely happy with. So I did my best to summon up a bit more pace. I could hear Linda behind me and was waiting for her to go past me, but as it happened we stayed in that order until the finish, getting there in just under 85 minutes - a big PB for both of us !

And the moral of this story ? Well, the only one I can think of right now is that I'm crap at predicting how a run is going to go :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

First marathon finish

Yet another race report lagging far behind the actual race. Ah well, slow by name, slow by nature.

Canberra Marathon - Sunday 19th April

The Canberra Marathon was definitely one of the best events that I've ever been in. I went there hoping for an enjoyable run and, of course, to make it to the finish this time, but I had no idea it was going to be so much fun.

It was a lovely day for running, cool but not cold. The race followed a very scenic course looping (as you do in Canberra) around Capital Hill, taking in the National Library, the Carillon, the War Memorial and providing lots of views of Lake Burley Griffin. The course layout, with its double out and back main section, meant that even those of us at the slow end of the field felt part of the event with lots of other runners in view for much of the time.

For me there was also the pleasure of running with another freaky-footwear enthusiast for the very first time - doubly nice because it was my inspiration in all things barefoot, Sharene (on the right in the photo above).

However the real highlight of the day, the thing that made it so much fun, was the unbelievable spectator support along the course. From my experience of the Sydney Marathon last year, I had formed the idea that unless one was running in a mega-event such as London, Paris or Boston, a marathon involved a long run through a void of mostly empty streets. This certainly wasn't the case in Canberra where the run was enlivened by the claps, cheers, jokes and banter of the spectators and wonderful race volunteers, not to mention some surreal performance artists. Then there was the overwhelming noise, colour and movement of the CoolRunning cheer squad - guaranteed to lift the spirits and put a spring in the step.

I ran the the event in my favourite pair of thin-soled huaraches and they were comfy for the whole distance. As usual there were lots of comments and question from people who doubted that my feet would survive without being battered and bruised by the run. It seems that the "new" wisdom that expensive, cushioned running shoes are not actually required for running is a little slow to catch on here.

This photo of my (sensitive and delicate) feet the day after the race proves, I hope, that my soles were none the worse.

As for my own marathon run: it was both easier and harder than I had expected. It was easier in that with the scenery, sideline support and good company of other runners along the way, the time seemed to pass very quickly. It was harder due to hitting the dreaded wall at around 32km which made for nausea, heavy legs and quite a few walking breaks.

The last stretch of the run was magic. Firstly, my gorgeous partner Annie and kids were there to meet me about 2km from the finish. Then, 1km further on, a much appreciated final boost from the CoolRunning cheer squad, and my running friend Emjay calling out "your going to finish this one". After that, a last corner, and a short run to the finish line, which I crossed with a time of 4 hours, 50-something or other minutes, slightly stunned and bemused but happy.

The Answer is 42

As Douglas Adams told us, 42 is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, although the actual question is still a little hazy. Can it be mere coincidence that the marathon distance is 42 (and a bit) kilometres ?

Ermmmm.... yes.

But still, I like thinking of the marathon as being to running what 42 is to the Universe, namely an answer begging a question from those who attempt it. And that question is: What am I doing this for ?

My entry in the Sydney Marathon last year became a fund raising effort for the Black Dog Institute and, I suppose, a way to become comfortable with being open about living with depression.

My answer for why I wanted to attempt another marathon only started to become clear to me towards the end of my training for Canberra. It has to do with travelling somewhere new, physically and emotionally. For me, depression is, more than anything, an overwhelming desire to retreat into oneself, to hide away from everyone and everything. In contrast, running takes you outside, encourages you to set out for points beyond the borders of the comfortable and the known. For me, reaching the finish line of the Canberra Marathon was proof to myself that I could do that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Second first marathon attempt

Four more sleeps to go and then it will be time for my second attempt to run 42.195 km (plus a bit more) in the 2009 Canberra Marathon / 50 Km Ultra-marathon. My first attempt was the 2008 Sydney marathon where my finish was, ahem, unexpectedly premature.

This time around my plan had been setting my sights on completing the 50km ultra-marathon, scoring a marathon finish along the way. Whether I'll have the stamina or the stomach to do the extra 7.805 km after reaching the marathon finish line for the first time remains to be seen. But I've been trying to visualize myself breezing effortlessly across the line as I set out for the extra bit and a glorious double finish. Positive waves... positive waves...

I'll be running in the sparsely contested, circus gear and sandals category, opting for my favourite pair of Vibram cherry huaraches. But for most of my training runs in preparation for Canberra over the last few months I've worn my FiveFingers Classics which were kindly supplied by Max and Sally, local FiveFingers pioneers here in Sydney. The more I ran in them, the more I grew to like them. In fact, I've now run far enough that they've recently become more authentically barefoot then they used to be with the soles finally giving out. So, sadly, it's time to retire them - though of course there's the fun of choosing the next pair to look forward to !

Monday, January 26, 2009

Canterbury 2009 Australia Day 5.5km fun run

This has to be one of the nicest community runs in Sydney. Organised by Canterbury Council as part of their Australia Day fair, it attracted a great mix of entrants from the very young, running or walking with their parents, to the inspirational veteran Derek White of Woodstock Runners. The course is through parkland, nicely flat and following the Cooks River for most of the way. This morning the river was looking particularly scenic in soft light under a cloudy sky. The clouds also helped to keep the temperature down - a real blessing after the recent 40+°C days.

Once again the event was free to enter ! I don't know quite how Canterbury Council manages this - especially as they provide a generous show bag and icy cold drinks after the run. But all power to them - it's such a good way to encourage people to take part, enjoy some running, and discover what the Cooks River parklands have to offer.

I lined up at the start feeling very ordinary. I'd done 15km and 22km training runs in the previous two days as part of my preparation for the Canberra 50km event in April. So I planned to take it easy and just enjoy the morning. At about the 1km mark I started to feel better and found a rhythm that felt good. I was conscious of running a bit quicker than usual now, but decided to stick with it for a while and see what happened.

At the half way mark I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see that I'd gotten there in about 14 minutes. I began to think that I had a chance of finishing in under 30 minutes, but I'd never run more than 1km that fast before and I didn't want to get carried away (metaphorically or literally). So I just concentrated on keeping my rhythm, enjoying the feeling of skipping over the ground in a way that I hadn't quite experienced before. I'd chosen to wear my Five Fingers Classics for the run and they felt just right. They also provoked a good humoured "why don't you get a pair of proper shoes ?" from the sidelines.

With about 1.5km to go I started to feel a bit puffed but once again just tried to focus on the rhythm of my foot falls and this seemed to help a lot. Then the finish line was in sight and I crossed still feeling good. I felt even better when I learned that my time was 28:15 - my fastest few km ever !

One of the nice things about being habitually slow is that when, for whatever mysterious reason, everything comes together to make for a really good run like this one you really appreciate it.

After the run I joined my family for more fun at the Australia Day fair - with yet more free entertainment including my daughter's favourite: the camel ride !

Many thanks to Canterbury Council for a really enjoyable and friendly day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Kiva is a wonderful initiative that allows folk in rich, fortunate countries like Australia to invest in micro-credit schemes in developing countries. I first heard about it on a BBC Worldservice radio program and the first time I visited the web site I was hooked :)

Have a look at this wonderful video, made by a Kiva volunteer from the UK, and then visit www.kiva.org

(What's this got to do with running you ask ? Well, for me, running is about a community of people sharing a common passion and helping and encouraging each other to achieve their best. It's a short hop from that to Kiva)

A Fistful Of Dollars: The Story of a Kiva.org Loan from Kieran Ball on Vimeo.