Saturday, September 18, 2010

Overcoming pre-marathon fear through displacement behaviour

I've been counting down the days until the Sydney Marathon and feeling relaxed and comfortable about it thanks to a mental technique that I've long used to deal with life's big challenges. A very tiny part of my brain registers the event getting closer but the rest of it simply repeats "no problem - plenty of time". The bigger the challenge, the more I do this. However, despite my best efforts and with one day to go before the marathon, I fell prey to a sudden and unwelcome attack of reality today.

To settle the nerves I busied myself happily breaking the first rule of running...
Never get new footwear just before a race. Never ever. It will end tears.

But I'm choosing to belieive that there's a loop-hole in this running law (another trusty mental technique here) that applies to those of us whose footwear consists of rubber flaps tied on with string, especially if said flaps have got to the point where they've been colonized by what feels like a slippery algal growth that thrives on foot sweat.

Luckily I had some spare pieces of Vibram soling so it was a simple matter of tracing around my old huaraches and cutting out the new ones...

Punching the lace holes...

Making a recess for the bottom lace knot...

Lacing them up (that's the old pair festering on the right)...

And we're ready to race !

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Super athletes of the Sierra Madre

I found this video of the Copper Canyon ultra-marathon via Caballo Blanco's web pages. It has beautiful scenery, images of the local people and (of course) lots of huaraches. It also has one of the most wonderful evocations of running as sharing, friendship and simple joyfulness that I've found anywhere.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Time for a run

I've been in the habit of wearing a watch when running. It's the same mechanical watch that I wear most of the time. I like it, not only because it never needs a battery but because it's only accurate to within a few minutes a day. Such good-enough timekeeping makes it seem a lot friendlier than the authoritarian, microsecond precision of a quartz watch. But lately the watch has become a bit too much like its owner, prone to unreliability and frequent stopping, and so it's sitting on the shelf waiting for me to get round to putting it in for a service.

This prompted me to think about buying a running watch. Not a GPS one that nags you about running too slowly, but a cheap one with big, easy to read numbers. Also, since I've had a few falls while running lately, the most recent one being a swan-dive over the dog who, up until that point, had been trotting very politely by my side but had caught sight of a small brown pooch to our right, upon which she swerved in front of me to say hello to it (which she subsequently did, seeming quite unconcerned that her owner was lying on his back, gasping, whimpering and bloodied next to her), I was worried about breaking my much-loved mechanical watch.

I had a look at some Timex running watches but they didn't seem to be for me. What's the point of having a 100 lap recall function when there's no chance of me ever running 100 laps of anything, or 10 laps, or even 2 to be honest, being someone who closely equates the word "lap" with the word "pain".

I considered going to the local shopping centre to find a cheap digital watch since the only thing I really wanted to know was how long I'd been running for. But after doing a few runs without a watch I began to wonder why I even needed that ? I'd slipped into the habit of noting how long each of my day to day runs were, but I didn't actually do anything with that information other than forget it after a day or two.

Then I read a post on Barefoot Ted's mailing list where someone was ruing the fact that they'd recently got injured after letting themselves be seduced into going a bit too fast, and doing a bit too much, by focussing on their running watch more than their body. I could imagine myself doing that, even with a K-mart cheapie rather than a Garmin, being lulled into competing with time. The last skerrick of interest I had in buying a new watch disappeared there and then.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Some highlights of the year so far

Although I've had the pleasure of taking part in some great running events this year I've been far too slack to blog about them individually. So here are a few of the highlights...

April: Not the Canberra Marathon

The 2010 Canberra Marathon was cancelled due to an unresolved legal dispute over the ownership of the event. This was disappointing for those of us who had been looking forward to it, but not nearly so much as it was for CoolRunning Australia member LindyK who had was using the event as a fund-raiser for Parkinson's disease support. Lindy is both a former elite marathoner and a Parkinson's disease sufferer, and the date of the marathon, April 11, was World Parkinson's Day. Lindy and her sister Heather had been planning to walk the 50km ultra-marathon course.

Enter some other CoolRunning members, particularly SuperSam1979 and ChrisG, with a very simple idea: let's run it anyway ! And thanks to the wonderful collective enthusiasm of about 30 runners, plus their families and friends, together with a very professional course measuring and marking effort by Chris, that's just what we did.

My own plan to take part in the run was scuppered by an ill-timed dose of flu. Instead I spent the day helping on the fruit, snacks and drinks table which the runners and walkers passed every 5km, thanks to the ingenious course design, along with others including Chris himself who couldn't run due to injury. This was easily one of the most enjoyable, friendly and meaningful events I've ever been part of and it more than made up for missing out on the official marathon. Lindy's determination and cheerfulness were inspiring. It was also a great pleasure to meet the other runners, some of whom were preparing for the Comrades marathon in South Africa. All in all, a very special day.

The event got some nice coverage in the Canberra Times with one article featuring some of those involved and another with a lovely photo of Lindy and Heather on the course.

May: Two runs at Lake Gillawarna

Beatty Reserve is a parkland setting with a great network of hard and soft paths. It's a terrific place to run and May provided two opportunities on successive weekends: the Sri Chinmoy Mirambeena 16km and the Heart of the Lake 10km. Both events were blessed with perfect conditions: cool and still with lovely winter sunshine.

I love all of the Sri Chinmoy events but I think this is my favourite of their Sydney series, both for its beautiful setting and also for the smaller, more informal atmosphere compared to the larger events at Centennial Park and other venues. The 16km course sticks to the hard paths and involves two out-and-back legs with several short but testing hills. I remember walking a couple of these when I first did the event in 2007, so it's satisfying to be able to run them now, albeit slowly and with enough leg pain and puffing to ensure I remained firmly "in the moment". The post-race pancakes were very welcome !

The Heart of the Lake course takes in some of the soft paths in the park as well as another selection of testing hills, including one particular leg-torturer that seems to get ever steeper as you puff and struggle to the top. The Westies, as usual, went out of their way to provide a great race-day atmosphere and plenty of friendly encouragement. After taking a couple of kilometres to warm up I settled into a rhythm and had one of those lovely runs where all of my bits actually seemed to be working together. As a result I finished quite a bit sooner than I was expecting, feeling all in but happy.

July: Shoalhaven King of the Mountain

In preparation for the M7 Cities Marathon at the end of July I planned to do a 32km training run early in the month. Lo and behold, I discovered this wonderful event not too far from Sydney, with what sounded like a lovely farm and bushland course that was just the right length. So much nicer than grinding out a long run in the local suburbs on my own. The only hitch I could see was the bit about 'mountain'...

As it turned out, this was one of the nicest runs I've ever done. Actually, run-walk would be more accurate because running up the mountain, or even some of the lower foothills, was beyond me. The race field was small (about 130) and very friendly with lots of chats when breathing allowed. I really enjoyed catching up with my running friend Sonia, who I hadn't seen for ages, and meeting CoolRunners Tim and Mani (doing the run in his FiveFingers) for the first time.

The aid stations were fantastic: each one providing plenty of encouragement and fine humour along with the drinks and fruit. The aid station at the top of the biggest climb, Mt Scanzi, even offered a shot of Bundaberg rum as a reward for reaching the summit ! Not only did it deaden the pain, it warmed my insides very nicely on the subsequent cool, shady downhill section. Approaching the finish at the Kangaroo Valley showground, runners were greeted by a bagpiper, apparently another long standing tradition of the race and not one that I've struck at any other event. After that it was just a short run across the showground to the finish line where, best of all, my family were there to greet me.

I wore my huaraches for the run and they attracted a lot of comments and even a photo request from a lady at one of the aid stations - I guess they were the weirdest thing she'd seen for a long time. I'm happy to report that they were comfy the whole way on the gravel roads and my feet were in fine nick at the end.

Many thanks to the Nowra Athletics Club and everyone involved in putting on such a terrific event.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Getting faster despite my best efforts

I think it's already safe to say that this has been my best running year so far in terms of actually feeling like a runner. I'm still slow but now I'm slow and comfy rather than slow and gasping for breath. Sometimes I've even caught myself enjoying running up a hill.

There's no special reason for this new found runner-ness, no magic training regimes or nutritional supplements or motivational mantras have made the difference. And I haven't bought a Garmin. It is, I suppose, just the very gradual improvement that comes from running regularly over the last couple of years. This is all very nice except for one thing: I'm no longer always at the back of the pack.

I'd grown very used to being somewhere near last in every race, whereas now I find myself flirting with the slower middle class and reaching the finish with, or sometimes in front of, people who I've always thought of as much speedier than me. I know you're supposed to be pleased when your times get better. On the CoolRunning Australia forums it sometimes seems that the only topic of conversation is one's Personal Best Time and the endless quest to lower it, but I've never felt much affinity with this. I've always been more interested in how much I enjoyed a run rather than how long it took me. And since I started running to manage depression, the last thing I wanted to do was obsess about time targets, race placings and Continuous Improvement.

At the recent Sri Chinmoy Centennial Park half-marathon I finished in a bit under 1hr 55min - the first time I'd run the distance in less than two hours. I've absolutely no idea why I ran that well, especially since I woke up feeling particularly sluggish and unathletic. But during the run everything seemed to come together and it felt good to push a bit harder than I normally do. Afterwards however, I felt distinctly uncomfortable about people commenting on my time and suggesting I'd have to change my running name from 'slowmo' to something else.

John Bingham, author of one of my favourite running books 'The Courage To Start', wrote about this same discomfort. Despite years of deliberately run-walking at a leisurely pace in his races, based on the notion that more time means more fun, he found himself getting faster. For someone who had made a living out of his public image as a very slow but happy runner, no longer being at the back of the pack was something of an identity crisis.

Where is all this leading ? I don't know yet. Running takes one onto surprising and unknown paths inwardly as much as it does outwardly.

Monday, February 15, 2010

slowmo in slowmo

To the bemusement of neighbours and passers-by I spent a few minutes the other day filming myself running backwards and forwards past my house in an attempt to discover what my feet are doing when I run. To try to capture my typical running form I did the filming after I'd got back from an easy 5km run. I arranged each "pass" so that there were a few metres of running either side of the camera's view and I tried to keep to my usual slow-ish pace.

I don't own a video camera so I set up my trusty little Panasonic Lumix snappy camera, which has a movie mode, on a tripod at the bottom of my driveway. The camera saves the movie as a .mov file. To create a slow-motion sequence I loaded the file into QuickTime, exported selected bits to image sequences (sets of jpeg still images), then imported each of these back into QuickTime at 6 frames per second.

And here is the result...

The verdict ? Well, it seems that I land with a mid-foot strike. This came as quite a surprise. When I'm running, I feel like I'm landing towards the front of my foot. But the camera doesn't lie and it could be that my impressions were influenced more by what I thought I should be doing rather than by what I actually was doing.