Wednesday, December 30, 2009


2009 is almost over. For me it's been a year of happiness and sadness; of Yin and yang; of pleasure and pain; of fast and slow. In short, the year has been just like running.

December 16 was the saddest day. After returning from a run with the Wednesday group I received a phone call from my sister Jane. Dad had passed away — he finally succumbed to complications following heart valve surgery. His passing came as something of a shock, as he had seemed to be rallying after many weeks of intensive care. He was 84.

I ran my first marathon with Dad back in '81. It was also his first. We completed our weekend long runs together on quiet roads through the flat farmlands south-east of Wagga. On other days Dad would sometimes accompany me on his Malvern Star 10-speed and urge me to run at 14 or 15 kilometres per hour. I think he was impressed with such running speeds because at age 55 they were beyond him. They are now beyond me! In the marathon I ran 3:41, and Dad 4:38. Both our marathon careers soon stalled, although not before Dad had improved his PB to (I think) 4:10. He took up competitive kayaking while continuing with sailing and 'fun running'. He completed many City-to-Surfs during the 1980s and early '90s. I gave away marathoning in a quest to improve at shorter races.

The funeral was on December 22 near Chinderah in northern NSW. I arrived on a flight from Sydney and Jane from Tasmania via Melbourne. My brother rented a holiday unit near Coolangatta beach for a few days. It was great to spend time with him, Catriona and the kids — Nathan and Claire, now teenagers — how fast they've grown! Also, a rare meeting with some of the cousins — Mike, Col, Jan, Wendy (Granny Lulu), Rob, and Rob's wife Sherry. We don't see them very often, so enjoyed their company in spite of the circumstances.

Anyway friends, back to running — which I guess this blog should be about. In terms of Yin and yang, the year was a failure — although not as disastrous as the year experienced by Julie. I wanted to run 11:39 for 3000 metres, but could only manage 12:26. Are times that important? Yes. And no. Enjoying racing and training is important to me, and I had fun with both. It was also my good fortune to meet some new friends, while trying to keep up with the old ones — they all run so fast! Here's to more of the same in 2010, and here's to you too — may you enjoy a year of happy and successful running.

Us and the cousinsJan, Jane, Ewen, Wendy (Granny Lulu), Graeme, Dot, Nathan, Rob, Sherry, Claire, Mike, Catriona, Col

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


It's been a while since I've blogged. Do I have permission to say 'It's that time of the year'? You know — parties; shopping; chat over coffee; BBQs; running. My apologies in advance for absent comments on your blogs for the next few weeks. I'll still be reading, so keep writing!

We all have our preferred race distances. For many of my readers, it's the marathon. I like track races — from 800 to 5000 metres. Of those, my favourite these days would have to be the 3000 — short enough to need some speed, yet long enough to require endurance. In spite of my love of track, I've habitually run one long race during each of the past six years. It's Australia's major trail race — The Six Foot Track 45k 'Marathon'. If you have a spare 10 minutes, this video will give you some idea of why Six Foot is so popular.

The 2009 race was fully subscribed over a month prior to the March race weekend (there's an 850 runner limit). I arrived home from work on December 1 (online registration for the 2010 race opened at one minute after midnight), to find the race had 'sold out' by mid-morning. Six Foot had out-Bostoned the Boston Marathon for popularity! So I'm out. I'll have to console myself with frequent track racing for the remainder of the summer season and regular coffee talk-fests with friends after training.

I hope everyone has had fun with their year of running. Catch you all (if I'm fast enough) in January.

The swim leg is one of my favourite parts of Six Foot!Crossing the Cox's River in 2005

I finish this year in 6 hours 23 minutes!A low-five coming up in 2009. After 45k, am I permitted to be a heel-striker?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Wanting Comes In Waves

I did a boy-thing last week — made a bet with Steve on the outcome of the Vets' 5000 metre race. If he managed to lap me, he'd win a beer. I thought I was safe. Surely Steve's tired ultra-running legs would struggle for track speed and he'd run about 20:30. Therefore I'd need to clock 22:15 — a time I was confident of running.

Now then, I'm very serious about track races — my PBs in this most universal of racing locations mean the most to me. I didn't think the beer-bet would come into play. So, it came as quite a shock when I heard Steve's pitter-pattering feet closing fast when I still had a lap and 150 metres to run. Steve was on his final lap, and he drew alongside as we entered the home straight. I sprinted as if the beer up for grabs would be my last! We ran shoulder-to-shoulder towards the 'finish', but the bastard got the better of me in the final metres. He'd run 20:10! Feeling sheepish and deflated, I then dragged a pair of protesting legs around my last lap for a time of 21:59. Although losing the beer, I was happy enough that running 30 seconds faster later in the season seems possible.

The above video is a day in the life of Jennifer Barnes, produced by her loving husband Zach. I've been reading Jen's blog for a couple of years (we have similar running PBs). She's raced the Boston Marathon, and is now an Ironman. A warning though — have some tissues handy, if like me, you're touched by emotional stories. Yes I admit it, there was moisture in my eyes.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'm no Herb Elliott

I raced in the 1500 metres at ACT Vets last Thursday night. I ran in heat 2 (slower runners), which was a good choice — I would have finished last by a long margin in the first heat. Prior to the race I was thinking a time of around 5:50 might be possible, but I was nowhere near that. Ran 6:01.36 for 4th place out of about 12 starters.

I enjoyed the racing aspects of the race. It felt like a 5:30 1500! I started on the very outside of the curved line and when I joined the inside runners found myself next to Bronwyn. Roger and Amanda were well ahead, followed by Kathy Sims. On the first curve I clipped Bronwyn's feet but thankfully she stayed upright — sorry about that Bron. At this time I think Helen got inside me so I followed her through the first lap in 94 seconds.

Up the back straight for the second time I managed overtake Helen. I focussed on trying to reduce the gap to Kathy, and could hear Helen following me closely. The second lap was 98 seconds. Heath then went decisively ahead, so I tracked him through the third lap — 99 seconds for that 400. With 200m to run I could sense Heath struggling, so I eased past and sprinted (figuratively) the last 100 metres. 70 seconds for the final 300m.

I want to improve in the 1500. As yet, I'm not feeling the benefit of the Pete Magill drills, but I still have faith that they'll help me become a better runner. I ran a good session of them this morning with Ruth on the lovely shaded grass opposite the National Portrait Gallery. Finished off with 5 x 10 second steep hill sprints back at Parliament House, followed by coffee and 'people-watching' down by the lake.

1. Roger Pilkington 5:31.30, 2. Amanda Walker 5:44.33, 3. Kathy Sims 5:58.40, 4. Ewen Thompson 6:01.36, 5. Heath Pearce 6:01.97, 6. Helen Larmour 6:02.64.

Running steep sandhills helped HerbWatch the video of Percy Cerutty and Herb Elliott running up steep sandhills

Friday, November 13, 2009

Counting down the laps

There are certain things I don't like hearing when racing 10,000 metres on the track. Things like, "Eighteen laps to go!" It's a long time from that point until the sweet sound of the clanging bell when there's one lap to go.

I ran the 10,000 last night mainly as a test of my fitness. I knew from the previous few days' training that my heart-rate wasn't where I'd like it to be for a race of this length. After my fight with the chicken last week my legs felt sprightly during the Speedygeese hill session on Monday, but while running I was wheezing like an old man walking up a steep flight of stairs. Good legs, not so good heart and lungs.

At the start of the race I slipped into 4:30 per kilometre pace — just in case the running gods were benevolent enough to allow me to run under my 50-plus PB of 44:54.57. I settled in behind Burkie and Roger for a couple of laps, then started to drop back — just as Speedygeoff cruised past. For the remainder of the race I was running alone — keeping alert by trying to guess the identity of lapping runners from the sound of their feet. The 5k split came up in 22:44. It was about this time that an unusually slow starting Pete Cullen overtook me and steadily drew ahead. He'd go on to run 44:54.42! I plodded a bit in kilometres 7, 8 and 9 before managing some semblance of a kick-down over the last two laps. Final time was 46:38.11 — not too bad under the circumstances, but it leaves me wanting more. Don't competitive runners always want more?

My plans for the rest of the summer are to "get into good shape" and race 1500, 3000 and 5000 metres on the track. Perhaps some 800s too — an M50 PB for that extended lung-burning sprint has to be doable!

Splits: 4:27, 4:29, 4:32, 4:35, 4:41 (22:44), 4:44, 4:50, 4:53, 4:49, 4:38 (23:54).

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Why did the Wombat cross the road?

I'll give you one possible answer to the title question of this post, but feel free to come up with something more humorous. Answer: I crossed the road to exorcise the chicken.

A bit of unintended drama this week. I should have listened to my mother when she told me to thoroughly chew my food before swallowing! On Wednesday evening I ran with friends around the Wetlands — somehow managing to miss out on some interesting conversations by running behind Chris and Andy but ahead of Jen and Ruth. I'm always missing out! On the way home I bought take-out roast chicken for dinner. I took a phone call during dinner, then was rushing to finish eating before bedtime. Long story short... I ended up in casualty at Canberra Hospital early Thursday morning — admitted for an operation that evening to remove the evil piece of chicken from my throat. All good now after being collected from hospital by Joy (my mate Mal's wife) on Friday afternoon.

Three days off running have left me feeling unfit. How can that be?! I ran a Pete Magill drills session this morning and finished with a trial run of three repeats up a 60 second hill (as recommended by Kathy in my last post). My legs felt good during the drills and semi-good for the hills, but the heart-rate was quite high for the whole session. I'll wait until Thursday before deciding whether or not to race the 10,000 metres.

Kathy's hillA good hill near home for 60-second hill repeats

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Which training plan is the best?

Robert Song wrote a comment on my last post (The Secret to Running Faster) which I thought worthy of discussion. Yes friends, there's not a lot happening in this Australian territory of running heaven. Spring has finally arrived — sunny days in the 20 to 30° C range have replaced the wet and windy ones of less than 10° C. I continue to train — weeks of 63, 71, 64 and 90 kilometres have included 3 sessions of Pete Magill drills. I sense a slight improvement in my stride, but it's a work in progress. Fingers are crossed that this particular work isn't of Sagrada Família proportions.

Anyway, back to Robert Song's comment: "Maybe if you shaved off your beard and hair, it could make all the difference to your performance ;-) You seemed to have tried every other plan going around."
This is true! The bit about trying every other plan, not the bit about running sans beard and hair — that's not going to happen! I like trying different training methods out of curiosity. I want to see what effect they have on my body. I'm not in a desperate quest to find the holy grail of training methods. I don't particularly mind if a training method produces slow racing. I spent the year of 1984 doing "high quality, low mileage" training (two track sessions, a race and other runs at a good clip), which produced unspectacular races. In that year, my 3000s were around 10:30, whereas when I ran with higher mileage I was usually in the 10:00 to 10:10 range. Such is my curiosity for experimentation.

Now I also know that "high quality, low mileage" works brilliantly for runners of a certain body-type and talent. So I don't dismiss this type of training out of hand. The drills sessions that I'm now doing would work well within any type of training plan. In a high mileage plan they'd have to be on a day/run when one's legs are feeling good, so that would need a little finessing. I'm finding myself waiting for such days even on my current moderate mileage. Doing drills with dead legs isn't a great idea!

The following photograph is from this year's Lake to Lagoon Fun Run. My sister Jane took it, and the location is just two blocks from the family home of my youth. I ran this race in the late '70s when it used to go in the opposite direction. I like the ever-so Australian EH Holden in the background. Our family car was a slightly newer HK Holden station wagon.

Racing on a sunny day in Wagga Wagga#1656 hangs with the mid-pack 3k into the 2009 Lake to Lagoon Fun Run

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Secret to Running Faster

I'd like to run faster. There are two things in particular that I plan on doing to achieve this seemingly simple goal. The first is to do regular "running drills". By 'regular', I mean at least once per week. I've done these haphazardly in the past, often joining in with the kids who train at Calwell. The drills that I'll do will include those demonstrated in this video on the Running Times website.

Why this new enthusiasm for drills? I think it was Rick who pointed out a podcast by Peter Magill where he lucidly explains the importance of drills for older runners. Pete mentions studies that show runners do a great job of retaining their stride frequency into old age. An 80-year-old runner can run the same number of strides per minute that they ran with at age 30. What they can't do is run with the same stride length. Pete says, "that by not doing things to maintain your stride length you're just getting slower."

This loss of stride length is a particular problem for long distance runners — especially those who never do speedwork or shorter races. It's pretty obvious that my stride has become shorter over the years. How short? About 25 centimetres (9.84 inches) shorter for each stride during a 3k race! If I could regain just a fraction of that stride length I might be able to run an age-50 PB for the 3000.

The other thing I plan on doing is to get the Goldilocks training happening. Joe Garland talked about this in a recent blog post about Charlie Spedding. Goldilocks training is running a workout not too hard, not too easy, but just right. Apparently this is the effort that Kenyan runners fall into naturally during their workouts. Marius Bakken took lactate measurements from Kenyan runners and discovered they always run at around anaerobic threshold. This intensity is from 87 to 88% of maximum heart-rate, with variations from 80 to 88%.

So, that's the plan. My next big thing is a 10,000 metre track race on November 12. A time of 44:54 or quicker is what I'd like to run — that would be an M50 PB. Is there time to perfect my new longer stride?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The 2009 Melbourne Half Marathon

In August I wrote a story about a half marathon being a long way to run. Well, on Sunday I raced in the Salonpas Melbourne Half Marathon and it didn't feel quite that far — I was wanting it to finish at 17k, not 14k! I think the lovely Melbourne weather helped immensely, as did the picturesque course — the shaded St Kilda Road, the Albert Park Lake, the city skyline and the spectacular finish location inside the MCG.

I didn't receive an official time or place as my timing chip appears to have malfunctioned. I timed myself between the start and finish mats at 1:43:00. Perhaps it was a second or two faster, as I have a habit of waiting until I've crossed the finish mat before stopping the watch. Anyway, I'm reasonably happy with that. I'd loved to have been a couple of minutes quicker, but I think I got the most out of myself on the day.

My starting speed was about perfect. Nothing Pre-like about this one! I was behind the 1:45 pacing balloon up the hill at the start and around to Federation Square. I gradually drifted ahead and was feeling good, passing the 5k sign in 23:33. Onto the smooth, flat bitumen of the Grand Prix circuit I was still entertaining thoughts of an M50 PB and possible sub-1:40 at the 10k sign — 47:16. Running up the slight hill out of the park I lost some momentum, but failed to realise I was now running 4:55 kilometre splits rather than 4:45s. I was being overtaken by runners but didn't feel like I was slowing that much. Strange! By 15k I knew the M50 PB was out of reach, but thought the final time would be about 1:42. Running through the dark tunnel into the huge stadium and onto the hallowed turf of the MCG was a special moment. There was even an unknown spectator who yelled out, "Go Ewen!"

Even though I'm not a huge fan of long races, I think I'll run this one again. I like it — and how could one not like Melbourne? The weekend is also a welcome respite from the cold and wet of Canberra. I enjoyed catching up with friends old and new, including the famous 800m runner Jo and Western Australia's Jonathon. Sorry I missed others. Next time!

5k splits (Av HR): 23:33 (148), 23:43 (149), 24:44 (149), 25:27 (149) + 5:33 (151).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Turning Point

I've reached an age where rational decision making tends to override spontaneous what-the-heckisms. After reading Duncan Larkin's piece in Running Times about the value of long runs for short racers, I decided to head out on Saturday morning for my one over-distance run prior to the Melbourne Half Marathon.

So it was that I arrived at the Cotter Reserve at the crack of dawn on a decidedly bleak and threatening day. I was going to run 15 miles (23.9 Garmin kilometres), over some big hills, in a spectacular location. On a clear day there are panoramic views that hearten the soul — largely the result commercial forestry and the 2003 bushfires. Fifteen years ago "The Cotter" was the perfect location for a summer run — the three courses (15, 18 and 21 miles) being shaded by towering Radiata Pines.

I set off with the impetuous intent of keeping the other (faster) runners in sight. Not an easy task on a course that climbs steadily for the first 20-odd minutes. Dumb idea! I was at close to racing effort, yet the three leaders steadily increased the gap. Steve must have felt some pity, as he waited patiently at the top of the first hill while I breathlessly caught up. "You go on and catch the others," I said. "I know my way, and need to slow down."

Half an hour later I was climbing the aptly named Jellylegs hill, battling into a headwind under steady rain. It was a miserable day. When I reached the gate at the top of the climb I took a drink. I stood there in the cold rain for what must have been a good five minutes, debating with myself about whether to turn right or left. Right was a short-cut home that would reduce the run to about 17 kilometres. Turn left and I'd be committed to the 24. In the end I thought "what the heck", and turned left. Fifteen minutes later I crested the rise on Bullock Paddock Road wondering what I'd done. The wind was biting and there were snow clouds blowing down from the mountains. I was freezing.

I can only remember a couple of times when I've been worried about my safety whilst out running. Once I was jogging beside a quite road towards Crater Lake in Oregon — just me and my thoughts, having a great time until I heard something moving in the forest. Immediately I recalled the stories about joggers being attacked by cougars or black bears. Needless to say I ran with adrenaline inspired urgency for the last 5k back to our lodgings.

What saved me on Saturday was a fortuitous break in the weather. Weak shadows appeared on the ground just after I reached Padovans Crossing. I'd never been so happy to see shadows! I was still cold and wet, but the rain had stopped and I was slowly jogging. At Vanities Crossing my legs were numb and dead from the cold. I was only 7k from home, so I walked the long hill towards Pierce's Creek then jogged the last 2k down to the cars, thinking all the while that this was one run I'd remember for a long time!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Sydney Half and Lloydy

I raced in the Blackmores Sydney Half Marathon yesterday. I was wide-eyed in wonderment at running over a traffic-free Harbour Bridge amongst a crowd of 7,000, and some time later, past the tourists of Circular Quay to finish near the steps of the Sydney Opera House. I had a great time! It was a perfect shining Sydney day.

I kept an eye on the heart-rate monitor in the early stages, just as Canute had done in the Robin Hood Half. I eased the throttle when the heart-rate went over 145. This method seemed to work pretty well, as the first 10k felt comfortable enough. After the turn I picked up the effort, but as I checked each kilometre split, realised that I wasn't producing any extra speed. Maybe it was just a bad hair day? Who knows? Anyway, my chip time was 1:46:10, so a little slower than for the Vets' Half, but on a warmer morning. My result doesn't fill me with confidence that I can run 1:40 in Melbourne in three weeks' time.

At the race expo on Saturday I bumped into Andrew Lloyd. For those who may not know, "Lloydy" ran in one of the most exciting 5000m races ever, when he came from behind to beat John Ngugi in the 1990 Commonwealth Games. I remember watching the race on live television, urging Lloydy on over the last thrilling lap. Steve Moneghetti in commentary was almost as animated as I was — it was a moment I'll never forget.

5k splits (Av HR): 24:43 (143), 24:42 (146), 25:26 (148), 25:41 (145), 5:38 (150)

With Andrew Lloyd between the Harbour Bridge and the Opera HouseWith Andrew Lloyd at the Expo on Saturday

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Hometown

Last Saturday dawned with weather perfect for motorcycling. Unfortunately the GSX needs a new rear tyre, so I drove the car to my old hometown of Wagga Wagga. I had planned to race the Canberra Times 10k on Sunday, but my sister was staying with Mum in Wagga, so it was a good opportunity to see them both before Jane's move to Tasmania. Jane had recently returned from an overseas trip where she visited the UK and later caught up with my other sister (now living in Minnesota) in New York City.

Lucho has ten rules of running. Rule #1 is "Family comes first". Rule #2 is "Did you read #1? If not, please read again". So, it was a family weekend. As serendipity would have it, there just happened to be a race in Wagga on Sunday morning — The Lake to Lagoon 9.5k Fun Run. I put in a late entry and ran while Jane and Mum went to church. Running is my church.

I enjoyed the race — well, the first 6k — having made a strategic decision to put my Prefontaine tactics on hold for this one. It was hot. In truth, the temperature was only 26°C, but having spent a Canberra winter running in temperatures south of 10°C, I was psyched out by the unseasonable gloriousness. I'm not a good hot-weather racer. There was also a fresh northerly wind whipping up waves on the normally placid Lake Albert. It was a headwind for much of the race distance.

With the weather conditions in mind, I raced with a little space between the throttle and the floorboards — perhaps starting at half marathon effort. Even so, I didn't have much in reserve for the last flattish 3k beside the river to the downtown finish. I enjoyed dicing with the local runners. There were a couple of small boys — one who surged Pre-like whenever I edged alongside — you've got to love that! There were two grey-haired old blokes, some footy players, and a couple of 20-something girls — one who had a mesmerisingly perfect running style.

My time for the race was 46:05, so not great, but safely home and living to look forward to the next one — which happens to be this coming Sunday in Sydney — The Blackmores Half Marathon. I get to run over the Harbour Bridge — Woo-hoo! I want this race to be a good trial for Melbourne in October, so I'll run as Canute did in the Robin Hood Half — keeping the heart-rate under control for the first 12 to 15k. If the shiny side is still upright for the run back to the Opera House I might bring in a little Pre-work. We'll see!

The 2006 Lake to LagoonReady to go in the 2006 Lake to Lagoon

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Learning to run like Pre

I've been thinking about Canute's comments in my last post where he mentions the central governor theory. Is it possible for me to cajole the pesky governor into allowing a slacker rope, such that I can run with the abandonment of Steve Prefontaine? Speedygeoff also mentions running a Pre-style 70 minute half marathon when he latched onto 2:15 marathoner John Andrews.

Jonathon, in a recent blog post, pointed out Pre's 5000m race in the 1972 Munich Olympics. It shows the final three laps of what is a fascinating race. Pre is leading and has set such a pace that all but four runners have been dropped. When he's finally overtaken, he bursts back into the lead only to be overtaken again. He manages to regain the lead once more, yet loses the bronze medal to a fast finishing Ian Stewart. My take on his thought process is that it goes something like: "bugger you mate, you're not going to lead my race!" I think Pre's accommodating central governor may have cost him a silver medal behind Lasse Virén.

Anyway, I'm never in the running for medals, so I'm open to suggestions for training sessions that might teach my pompous central governor a lesson — just as Gough Whitlam promised in 1975 when he said: "Well may we say God save the Queen, because nothing will save the governor-general!" Thanks Scott for mentioning that apt quote.

For 'Pre practise', I've done one 10k run where I warmed up for 2k, then alternated 'hard' and 'harder' 2k sections. 'Hard' was at about marathon race effort, while 'harder' was at about 10k race effort. This seemed to be a somewhat effective central governor humiliation strategy, as he tried mightily (but failed) to prevent the final 2k 'harder' section.

Me doing a Pre at the start of the HalfEarly in the ACT Veterans' Half Marathon

Monday, August 24, 2009

A half marathon is a long way

I raced in the ACT Veterans' Half Marathon on Sunday. It was a cool and sunny morning, with a yacht-friendly breeze blowing across Lake Burley Griffin. I decided in advance to make good on my promise to Pre — I'd start fast and hold the pace for as long as possible. Somewhere around 16k I found out that a half marathon is a long way.

The race has three separate starts, and I was in group two (for runners expecting to finish between 1 hour 40 minutes and 2 hours). Surprisingly, my quick start had me nowhere near the lead of the group! I was probably in around 12th place after the 2k sign, which I passed in 9:04 (1:35:40 pace). I kept running as hard as possible, but inevitably began to slow down.

After 5k I was overtaken by Roger, then Speedygeoff. Approaching the Governor General's residence Helen caught me — I managed to run with her until the aforementioned 16k mark. Gary also went by around here, saying something typically cheery. I found myself thinking about Malcolm Fraser, and did he really say "a half marathon wasn't meant to be easy". Anyway, I finally made it up the last hill, and down to the finish-line in 1:45:18. A very welcome finish-line indeed! Obviously I have a lot of work to do if I'm to get down to 1 hour 40 minutes for the Melbourne Half in October. Some long training runs will help — let's get this party started!

5k splits: 23:40, 24:33, 25:14, 26:08 + 5:43 (1.0975 km).

Into the wind [photo by D Appleby]Being blown backwards near the finish of the Ski-jump 5k

Friday, August 14, 2009

A brief apology to Pre

Last Sunday I finished my 26th City to Surf. Aside from the rather esoteric 3000 metres on the track, the City to Surf is my favourite race. At 14k, it's long enough to require some endurance, but short enough that it doesn't resemble a slow and painful tooth extraction.

New sub-3 man Scott Brown has been kind enough to nominate me as southern Canberra's answer to Steve Prefontaine. I've taken this on board and have decided to run all races out hard, in front — because (in the words of Pre) "winning any other way is chicken shit!"

This is the tactic I used in my recent Calgary ski jump 5k. Except that I wasn't "in front" — I'm too slow to ever be in front, but I can still race out hard, and bugger the consequences. These were my thoughts as I was chatting to Adam prior to the start on a beautifully cool and sunny day.

Sometime between that chat and the gun firing to send 63,000 runners charging down William Street, I reverted to type. I couldn't force myself to race out hard, so as I ran up to the Kings Cross tunnel, I said under my breath a brief apology to Pre — "forgive me this one time".

My conservatism resulted in a good race. I was relaxed and enjoying the day. I even threw my arms in the air in time to Enter Sandman, belted out by the band on the roof of the Golden Sheaf Hotel. I didn't die running up heart-break hill! I had time to look around and marvel at the people I was running with — from young teenagers to grey-haired ladies and a man pushing his child in a three-wheeled stroller.

I ran a strong last 4k, rushing down Military Road with my friends, and even managing something of a sprint for the 300 metres of Queen Elizabeth Drive to the finish. A 67:18 chip time was slower than last year, but I was happy. Maybe next year I'll listen to Metallica before the race, and that'll fire me up enough to race like Pre!

That's me in the middle!Me with my friends! This photo was in the C2S gallery but now it's gone. Was I too ugly?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The ski jumps at Calgary

One day I'll get the hang of this racing game. Last Saturday I placed 40th in a local 5k "road" race — it was actually an out and back run on a flattish bike path next to Lake Burley Griffin.

I started with the intention of running something close to 21 minutes (I would have been happy with 21:30). After 500 metres or so I thought I had an achievable pace going and was feeling good. Then Roger (20:27) and Geoff (21:20) glided past. I ran more or less with Heidi for 3k, and was managing to hold a gap of 30 metres or so to a couple of young girls from my club, Lili and Caitlin.

The last 2k was not a pretty sight as Heidi and the two girls disappeared over the horizon. I've made a chart of kilometre splits — it dramatically shows my wheels falling off one by one. My race looks like the profile of one of the big ski jumps at Calgary. I know because I took the lift to the top of the biggest one in 2003.

The other two lines on the chart show a better way to race a 5k. The middle one is from my all-time 5000m PB. The bottom line shows the splits Ron Clarke ran in 1966 on his way to a World Record. I'd like to run an M50 PB this coming track season. To do that, I need something under 4:15 kilometres. I'm inclined to keep my starts like the lower slopes of the Calgary ski jump, and hopefully flatten it out as my fitness and speed improves.

Running up a ski jump is slow!Running up the big ski jump at Calgary is not easy!
[ Splits - 4:11, 4:13, 4:35, 4:43, 4:51 ]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Something Borrowed, Something New

The toasty smoke has gradually cleared from my kitchen these past two weeks. It's taken awhile, because I tend to leave windows closed on frosty Canberra mornings.

Until I can scrape together enough cash for the uber-expensive Polar or Suunto HRV watches ($699 online for the latter), I've decided to implement a rather conservative training program. This is a borrowed plan, but it's new for me. It comes from the training diary of Sean Wade. Basically it calls for two easy days between hard sessions. The easy days for me will be an hour or so of running at 76% or less of maximum heart-rate (about 5:45 to 6:00 per km). The hard days will be whatever I feel I need — most likely long hard efforts, such as marathon-pace runs, longer tempo runs, or intervals with minimal recoveries.

I scanned the photo below from a Kodachrome slide. It shows Adam Hoyle and Steve Moneghetti (792) racing in the 1986 World Cross Country selection trial in Canberra. The 12k race was won by Rob de Castella in 36:30, with a fresh-faced Moneghetti placing 4th in 37:18. It occurred to me that Mona has the longevity of my chrome-plated Chinese-made toaster. Just the other day he ran 30:00 for a road 10k in Launceston, two months shy of his 47th birthday. What an example to keep on running!

Mona, six months before his first marathonSteve Moneghetti - Canberra, 1986

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Burnt Toast and HRV

My toaster refuses to die. I purchased it in 1989, the year I bought my house. It was made in China — the country that produces most of our running shoes and LCD screens. It's chrome plated, and such are the whims of fashion, this virtue has transformed it into a totally modern, "must have" kitchen accessory.

So all is good with my toaster! Or is it? Occasionally I'll forget to adjust the timer and be presented with two pieces of charcoal encrusted raisin toast. I was thinking the other day that I'd love to have the longevity of my toaster. To be running with the same speed that I had (and took for granted) in 1989. The unpredictable burning of raisin bread, I see as a metaphor for my (I suspect) recent problem with over-training.

At some point during my 12 weeks of Hosaka-Hadd training my body started to object. I slowly went from continual gains in fitness to struggle-mode. I was becoming burnt toast. Looking back at my training diary, I can see the point where smoke started rising to the ceiling. For 10 weeks, my heart-beats per kilometre (the RS scale), had been steadily decreasing, showing gains in aerobic fitness. I was running my 7k kangaroo/wombat course at below 700 heart-beats per kilometre. At the point of over-training my heart-beats per kilometre climbed, reaching 715 to 720 beats per kilometre.

Is there a way of predicting the onset of over-training, or better still, preventing it from happening in the first place? I've been following with great interest a series of posts from Canute which tackle this issue. Heart rate variability (HRV), or more pertinently the lack of HRV, is a good indicator of over-training stress. "What is HRV?" I hear you asking. Simply put, it's the beat-to-beat timing of the heart-rate. If your heart is beating at 60 beats per minute and you have little HRV, then each of those beats will be extremely close to one second apart. This indicates a highly stressed (or over-trained) state. If you have good HRV, then some beats might be 0.9 seconds apart, with others 1.1 seconds apart.

So it seems you can use the HRV result on any particular day to indicate what sort of a training session you should do. If one's HRV is low, then it may pay off in the long term to postpone a planned hard training session. There are two heart-rate monitors (that I know of) capable of measuring HRV: The Polar RS800CX and the Suunto t6c. Now all I have to do is figure out if I should invest the money I've saved on toasters over the years into one of these high-end heart-rate monitors.

I hope everyone has had a great weekend. May your coming week be stress-free and full of happy running memories!

herb elliott sandhills at surfersOn the Beach at Surfers Paradise, July '09

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

On the Beach

After an all too brief five days in the blazing Queensland sun, I'm back in cool quiet Canberra. To tell you the truth, the sun lacked the intensity of the one now burning over the desert in Arizona — in fact the weather was as perfect as can be — and especially perfect on race-day.

In the end, I didn't run the fast half marathon I was hoping for. A late rush to regain some fitness resulted in a worrying injury gatecrashing the party. It wasn't the left shin — that was rather docile. It was a tight right hamstring. When we visited the expo, I transferred my entry to the 10k race, such was my concern about the leg surviving 21 kilometres of hard running.

After all that, the 10k went surprisingly well, although the tight right leg refused to lay low. My chip time was 45:44 — 37 seconds slower than last year — but the race felt quite different. Aside from the bothersome hamstring, the legs were good throughout. Strained breathing and a high heart-rate during the second half indicated some lost fitness. I was a minute slower on the return journey from Surfers Paradise — running the first 5k in 22:22 at an average heart-rate of 152, with the second 5k a fading 23:22 at 155.

Thinking about it now, two days later, I can see some good racing happening in the months ahead — perhaps in the City to Surf, or the Melbourne Half Marathon. I do feel rejuvenated after my holiday, and can't wait to resume training. There's something about catching up with old friends and witnessing some inspirational racing that's good for the soul.

At the Jolly Chinaman with Plu (photo by Luckylegs)Dinner with Plu outside the Jolly Chinaman in Main Beach

Room with a viewView north of the marathon and 10k course from the 22nd floor

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Running again

I've had song lyrics going around in my head this week — lines from two songs in particular: From Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi, I've been singing "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone"; and from Paul Simon's Slip Slidin' Away, "You know the nearer your destination, the more you're slip slidin' away".

I'm running again. Hallelujah! Okay, that's over the top — but I'm so happy to be running. Have I told you that I like running? Twelve weeks of averaging 112 kilometres per week have been followed by two weeks which included eight days of "nil" in the diary. I ventured out yesterday with great trepidation to huff and puff my way around the Kangaroos & Wombats course. Apart from the high heart-rate and particularly rusty form, it was all good.

Next Sunday I hope to be a starter in the Gold Coast Half Marathon. The nearer this race has come, the more my condition has been slip slidin' away. Nevertheless, I intend to thoroughly enjoy my brief few days in the blazing Queensland sun! I'll take a few Kodachromes while I'm there, and catch up with you all on the other side.

Me on the beach at Surfers Paradise, 2007On the Beach at Surfers Paradise, July '07

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Off the rails

You might have guessed correctly that my running has sailed into a bit of a lull this past week. At least I hope it's just temporarily becalmed. Last Sunday during my long run I noticed a slight niggle in the left shin. On Monday it was aching enough that I cut short my run with the Speedygeese. I rested Tuesday and Wednesday, then ran a not entirely comfortable 7k on my Fire Trail course on Thursday — 5:08 per km pace at 84% of maximum heart-rate.

On Friday I went for a walk, and made my first YouTube movie, Looking for Kangaroos and Wombats, which you can view below (if you have a spare 5 minutes) — I walk around my 7k course and manage to get some good film of the local wildlife. Yesterday I rested again (the shin was feeling better), and this afternoon I might test the leg with a short run at Fadden Pines.

I think my recent tiredness and higher heart-rate on the 7k runs was an indication that I was teetering dangerously on the Hosaka-training tightrope. I'm thinking of scaling back the volume for a while (to around 90-110 km per week) in order to regain my balance. I hope everyone is having a great weekend, and is doing better than me at staying balanced!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Racing tired

I raced 6k with the ACT Cross Country Club this afternoon. I didn't run that well! The race used the "old" Jogalong course in Stromlo Forest. It's a slightly slower course than the "original old" Jogalong course, due to the fact that the last kilometre of the race is uphill, whereas it used to be downhill.

It's one of the courses I ran in the old days — as a 32-year-old whipper snapper I placed 41st in 22:54, splitting sub-3-hour marathoners Carol Ey and Mary Silver. Today, 19 years later, I was a little over 6 minutes slower — 29:05 for 51st place.

As a race, it was good and bad. I felt I was running well during the first 3k, and actually closed to within 10 seconds of my habitually fast-starting rival Jim (who would finish just over a minute ahead). I was thinking 'gee, I'm going to catch him today!' before the wheels promptly fell off as I hit the rutted uphill bit. From then on it was a struggle. A woman in black passed me, as did Andrew G, and during the last long uphill kilometre, Burkie. Heidi would have been next, but thankfully the finish-line arrived in the nick of time.

I'm not enjoying racing tired. Two weeks ago my race at North Lyneham was pretty uninspiring. As for training, yesterday was another 7k + 10k Hosaka double. Now these training days have been going well! I'm enjoying them — even in the 2 degree temperatures we've had recently. I just about have the repeatable balance right. Not quite Zen days, as Scott suggests they should be, but getting close. Tomorrow will see another 120k for the week under the Frees/Asics, for a 4-week total of 480 kilometres. I'm thinking about racing the Canada Day 5k next Sunday, but with a week of easier running first! I'd like to feel fresh for a change.

The Jogalong course in Stromlo 'forest'Follow the yellow dirt road!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

A training day, repeated

I'd like you, my readers, to consider something which may at first seem absurd: What is the type of training day you could repeat ad infinitum, à la Yoshihisa Hosaka?

Why I ask, is that after doing quite a few Hosaka-style days, I'm learning something new about myself as a runner. You see, taking 24 hours and repeating it requires a certain tightrope-like balance. Get it wrong and you teeter to one side, and find yourself suddenly shifting weight to the skyward end of your flailing balance pole. Of course, under ideal circumstances, these adjustments would be subtle, and undetectable to gasping onlookers. You won't suddenly need a rest day from running to regain your balance.

Now some of you will be clever, and say something like "I could run 5k per day ad infinitum", or if you're a speedster like Jo, you might say "My repeatable training day would be a 5-lap warm-up and 5 x 200m sprints". That's the easy way out! I want you to think about a day that might be close to your limit. A day right on the edge of your comfort zone. Let me know, hypothetically, what this day might be.

For myself, I've zeroed in on about 17 kilometres per day. From Tuesday through to Friday I run this in two sessions: 7k after work, which I run on trails at mid to upper aerobic effort, then an hour or so later an easy 12k out and back towards Rose Cottage Inn. I've learned rather quickly to rein myself in during the 7k run, lest the 12k become an excruciatingly slow plod, and I find myself sleeping for 9 hours instead of 8 — not a good look when I stagger into work all bleary-eyed, half an hour late! I run the 7k at between 5:10 and 5:25 per km, although if my aerobic condition improves, these paces may become faster. On the weekends, although I could do the same, I usually run once per day for around 17 kilometres. On Monday afternoons I run an easy 14 or so with the Speedygeese.

Now is this a logical, sensible or effective training plan? To tell you the truth, I'm not sure. Perhaps you can offer an opinion? I'm doing it in essence, as an experiment. I'm trying to understand Hosaka, and what made him the fastest 60-year-old marathoner in the world. I don't have an overwhelming desire to break 21 minutes for 5k or 1:38 for the half marathon, although as a side-effect of this unusual training plan, that would be nice. I'm quite enjoying the simplicity of running the same amount and effort during 24 hours, for day after day.

My last training week went — 14, 7-12, 7-12, 7-12, 7-8, 18, 9-8. The last 7 weeks in kilometres have been — 126, 124, 123, 69, 113, 126 and 121 — so not quite the beautiful set of numbers that Hosaka records, but I'm working on it.

The 3 Amigos - David Appleby photoThe good, the bad, and the ugly. This photo proves bearded runners are faster. In this recent "race" at North Lyneham, both bearded runners finished well ahead of the clean-shaven one!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hosaka for Ewen Average

Earlier this week my eyes lit up when I read Sling's latest blog post. It described the finer details of Yoshihisa Hosaka's unique and somewhat repetitive training, as told in the June edition of Running Times magazine...
"His training is as follows: AM: 2.5k warm-up, 5 x 1 km from 4:00/km to 3:20/km pace, 2.5k warm-down (10k total). PM: 12k (6:00 - 5:00/km pace), 5 x 1 km downhill from 3:40/km to 3:20/km pace, jogging uphill for recovery (22k total). Essentially, Hosaka does these two workouts every day, all year around, aka 32k per day in doubles (no long runs). He said intervals are the way to go for old runners since long runs are very taxing on the body. When asked about the lack of variety, he said that the marathon is all about running at constant effort, therefore a runner needs to train to manage that constant."

What does this mean for your humble blogger, an admitted fan of Hosaka? I'd like to report that I'm cruising down the highway logging just the hours that Hosaka runs (46 minutes for the first session, 1 hour 45 minutes for the second), but I'm not. I'm running about 34 minutes for my first run then a couple of hours later 1 hour 15 minutes for my second. I haven't even thought about attempting his twice-daily sessions of speedwork.

The times that Hosaka runs for the 5 x 1 km repeats are fairly moderate for a man who, as a 60-year-old, has run 2:36:30 for the marathon. His marathon race-pace is 3:42 per km, so for the morning repeats he starts at M-pace plus 8% and finishes with M-pace minus 10%. If I were to attempt such a session, and presuming as a 50-54 Master I could run 3:30 for the marathon, my interval goal times for the kilometres would be something like 5:23 down to 4:29, which seems feasible. What doesn't seem feasible is doing a similar thing for my second run and then repeating it day after day, week after week, month after month. Instead, I plan to keep running around 125 kilometres per week of Hosaka-Hadd, perhaps less for the third week, and eventually bring in a session of Hosaka-style speedwork to go with a weekly Cross Country Club race or High Noon track race. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 18, 2009

One quarter of a good Half in Sydney

I enjoyed my weekend in Sydney — all of it but for the last 30 minutes of the SMH Half Marathon on Sunday. The morning dawned with stunning perfection. I managed to squeeze sufficiently close to the front of the 8,400-plus field prior to the start — it only took 22 seconds to cross the timing mats. Soon enough I was able to find space to run at the speed I wanted. It was exciting to be running through the city amongst thousands of like-minded people, all following 2000 Olympic steeplechase gold medallist Reuben Kosgei.

We turned left into Hunter Street, then sped downhill towards Circular Quay and The Rocks. I must have been channelling Scott Brown's positivity as I ran at M50 PB pace. 23:13 at 5k. If I could keep that going I'd run 98 minutes! Unfortunately it was not to be — I felt sort of okay through the next 5k (24:58) but just as JD and Tesso blew past I felt suddenly tired. The rest of my race was spent trying to preserve the pace I happened to be running at the time. The 5k to 15k took 24:57 but the next 5k was a very pear-shaped 26:50. I knew I was slowing by the hundreds of runners that went past. I was extremely happy to finally see the finish line in beautiful Hyde Park. My chip time was 1:45:36 (2,339th place).

So, it was a pretty ordinary race. I think I'll run the half marathon at the Gold Coast. I want to run faster!

5k splits and average heart-rates: 23:13 (150), 24:58 (150), 24:57 (147), 26:50 (145), 5:38 (151).

view of st mary's and hyde parkHotel room view of Hyde Park and St Mary's Cathederal where the race started

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ghosts of Races Past

I run what seems like a million kilometres per week and I'm still here. It's amazing what the body will put up with! Three weeks of the Hosaka-Hadd Training Plan are in the diary — 126k, 124k, and this past week, 123k. I have a half marathon race in Sydney next Sunday but I'm over it already. I've read there are 10,000 runners entered for the race on a course which is too narrow in places for the former limit of 5,000.

Last Sunday I had a surprisingly good race in the Nail Can Hill Run — an 11.3k trail race in sunny Albury which attracted almost 1400 runners. I ran a recent PB of 55:51, placing 176th. More importantly, I beat my friend and long-time rival Jim! Now, I know he had a bad race, but who cares? I beat the bastard! I caught him 1k into the race and ran scared for the next 10.3k, thinking he might catch up at any moment.

Here are my kilometre splits for the race, which clearly shows "the hill": 4:28, 4:37, 7:38, 6:26, 4:36, 4:37, 4:29, 4:42, 3:45, 4:53, 4:28, 1:12 (300m). Here are the ghosts of races past: 1981 - 50:40, 2006 - 60:56, 2007 - 59:17, 2008 - 56:53. Photos from last year's race.

Old folk from CanberraJim - back row, 5th from left.
Kathy (adidas top) placed 4th female and 1st W50.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Fistful of Running

My first week of the Hosaka-Hadd Training Plan is behind me — 125 kilometres of running in eleven sessions. My shower is starting to go mouldy! For the future, this volume of training seems doable, but not something that will be despatched with the certainty of my mate Scott demolishing a personal-best time whenever he finishes a race.

Speaking of the 3:00:08 marathon man, he recently wrote a post that caused me to spray a mouthful of Twinings Earl Grey all over my keyboard. Scott reckons I could pass for Clint Eastwood's better looking younger twin brother. Do you really think so punks? Go ahead, make my day! If you don't think so amigos, I'll order three — no four — coffins.

Avid Six Footer and ultra runner Two Fruits is wondering how I'll hold up to the double running and high mileage. It's too early to say, but I hope I have the miles/recovery/sleep balance right. Runner Susan wants to know if I was stuck for a blog idea. Not stuck Susan, just falling asleep on the couch when I'd normally be typing! One thing I can say already is that my aerobic fitness signs are promising.

I'm a big fan of the Robert Song Scale for tracking how aerobic improvement is progressing. Robert Song multiplies average heart-rate by the average pace of a run on a particular course to come up with a number, which I call the RS result. For example, if I run my 12k course at 5:12 per km with an average heart-rate of 136, this equates to an RS number of 707. This happened to be the first run I did yesterday afternoon. The lower the RS number, the better. On January 22 I ran the same course at 5:25 per km with an average heart-rate of 134, giving an RS number of 726. To me, yesterday's run seems like a significant improvement, even though it was 21°C in January, and 9°C yesterday.

Seconds later I was flat on my back after a belly punch from TessoLike Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, I wear black! [Tesso took this photo of Helen, Robbie and myself just prior to the start of the Canberra Marathon-Eve 10k — then she gave me a punch in the guts for good luck]

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Putting in the hours

I raced 10k yesterday afternoon. It was a spectacular day — the sky suitably blue and free of clouds. The gentlest of breezes disturbed the tall grasses in the paddock I have for a back yard. I was excited to be racing again and curious to discover how I'd react to 3 weeks of distance training. I've run weeks of 118, 112 and 108 kilometres. In the end, I had what I'd call an "okay with it" type of race. I ran 46:56 — 18 seconds slower than for last October's Melbourne 10k, but on a harder course. It was a 5-lap course — the first two laps included a short gradual hill, with the next three laps a long gradual hill. I had a fun race with JD (who caught me on the third lap) and an unknown girl in pink. It came down to a sprint finish. I managed to get the better of JD, but the UGIP came with a late rush and surprised the both of us!

I've been following what I like to call the Hosaka-Hadd Training Plan — running as many 'doubles' as I can — usually 6k in the early afternoon followed by 12k a couple of hours later. I've decided that a morning run at 4:30 a.m. isn't going to work for me through a Canberra winter. Running under a cool sun is a far more enjoyable prospect, so I've advanced my clock-on time at Tiny Global Corporation by an hour to 5:00 a.m. This means if I'm not working overtime I can be home by 1:15 p.m. and off for my first run of the day shortly thereafter.

I'm going to make a concerted effort to run what I consider to be "high mileage training" — at least for a number of months. For me that means running consistent weeks of 125 or more kilometres (78 miles). It's something I've never attempted before. Ever. In my wild youthful days there were some weeks of 110 to 130 kilometres, but never for weeks and months at a time. I want to do significantly more running than I'm used to in order to see if it has any positive effect on my aerobic fitness. There will be races during this period, but I'm not planning on tapering for these races.

I don't expect the Hosaka-Hadd Training Plan will be easy, but as Bryan Brown said in the following song by Karma County: "You've got to want, you've got to need. But most of all, you've got to put in the hours". I like this video-clip because it's quintessentially Australian — there's the Hills Hoist and the BBQ; and just like at the home of my youth, the car gently scrapes it's exhaust as it's driven into the driveway.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Hosaka is my new Hippie Steve

I decided not to race on Thursday night. I was tempted by the final 3000 metre event of the season, but lethargy got the better of me and I stayed down south and ran on the sumptuous grass at Calwell. There will be plenty of opportunities to race on the track during winter in the "High Noon" meetings. I've commenced base training, running 118 kilometres last week and what looks like being 115 this week if I manage to do the 16k run planned for Sunday.

My favourite running heroes are what I like to call "blue-collar runners". They work in ordinary jobs, fit in their running when they can, and often do amazing things with modest talent. In the 1980s I admired Hippie Steve, who ran with our group in Sydney's Lane Cove River Park [number 8 in the photo on this page]. Steve was a great enthusiast and I was forever impressed by the way he could run 35 to 36 minutes for 10k at Lane Cove without even thinking about it, and also be happy enough to jog the bush track on Fridays with snails like myself.

Now I have a new hero, although I'll never get to run with him, and his talent may be slightly superior to Hippie Steve's. Thanks to Bob, I've become fascinated by Yoshihisa Hosaka — the 60-year-old Japanese runner who in February ran 2:36:30 for the marathon. Yes, Hosaka is even quicker than my other hero — that connoisseur of black fish and huge exotic marathon PBs — Scott Brown. Apparently Hosaka tries to average 30 kilometres per day when training for marathons — 10k in the morning before work and 20k in the evening.

I've tried to emulate Hosaka by running 6k in the morning and 12k in the evening on eight days in the past fortnight. Now before all you brilliant mathematicians jump in and say that only adds up to 18k, I'll quickly add that I'm a much slower runner than Hosaka, and my kilometres take longer to run. A hard 6k for me takes around 33 minutes to complete, whereas a hard 10k for Hosaka would have him on the road for perhaps only 35 minutes. My 6k course follows a 2k loop through and around the suburb where I live. About half the course is on a lovely dirt track and it climbs about 50 metres in the first kilometre of each lap.

One interesting thing I've noticed on these "double" runs is that my resting heart-rate prior to the afternoon run isn't as low as it would be if I'd had a normal break of 23 hours between outings. It's been about 4 beats higher and consequently has remained high during the second run, even when my legs are telling me I'm running easily. I'm not quite sure what to make of this. Is it a good training effect, or am I overdoing things?

Anyway, good luck to all who are racing this weekend. Run like Hosaka!

View from space of my 2k loop near home

It's not exactly flat!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Weakness In Me

My recovery from Six Foot has been faster than last year, perhaps because I walked so much of the 19k journey from Pluvi to Caves House. The slow death march did reveal a weakness in my running — poor endurance. I suspect the recent track season and associated lactic-acid-intense running has eroded my aerobic ability. Average heart-rates on the various courses I run are higher than they were when I was following Hadd.

Perversely, the speedwork and racing I did over summer actually made me slower. I'm one of those runners who don't respond well to fewer weekly miles. Especially when an ever increasing percentage of those miles are run anaerobically. My fastest 1500m race last year (5:38) came after 4 weeks of around 95 kilometres (59 miles) per week of mostly aerobic running. The day before that race I ran an easy 17.6k at 5:52 per km for an average heart-rate of 123. If I were to run the same course now at the same pace, my average heart-rate would be a solid grey 129.

Can I run faster for 3000 and 5000 metres? I hope so! My aerobic condition is less than it could be, which means my speed at 5k racing heart-rate (92-93% of max) is too slow. That's one obvious weakness. Another weakness is my lack of speed. I'm naturally slow and always have been — my 20-something PB for 200 metres is a modest 28.7 seconds. If I were to race 200 metres now I'd be around 5 seconds slower. But how much basic speed do I need? Which of my weaknesses should I work on? My 11:39 goal for 3000 metres only requires a pace of 46.6 seconds per 200 metres. Will improving my 200 speed by 3 seconds, say from 34 to 31, make me faster at three and five kilometres, or am I better off going back to a more Hadd-based aerobic programme? I think the latter. So, I'm modifying the programme I outlined in 'The 11:39 Plan'. I'll replace the 1000m intervals with another aerobic run, finishing with some short sprints. Sprints of less than 10 seconds use the alactic system so don't produce lactic acid, which makes them ideal for building strength and speed without damaging aerobic condition. I'll also try and run 100 kilometres per week — perhaps more if possible. If I get bored I'll listen to the Tower Of Robert Song album or tunes like this on my miniature portable music player.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It must be the Bellbirds

Saturday, 2:20 pm. At this time a week ago I was commencing the final two kilometre treacherous descent to the most welcoming finish line of any race in Australia. Well, the word race is a misnomer, as Six Foot is an event with no peer. It's an event where a sold-out field of 849 runners tested their endurance against 45 kilometres of the toughest terrain in the Blue Mountains.

Last year I finished with an unexpected PB. This year my 'Plan-A' was to run a similar sort of race, while 'Plan-B' was to make it safely to Caves House inside the 7-hour time limit, thus securing the mysterious and coveted belt buckle for six finishes. I was eight minutes behind PB schedule at the Pluviometer — 26 kilometres down and all the big climbs were over. Just 19 kilometres remained. Once the track along the Black Range became runable I broke into a Cliffy shuffle but as soon as I hit the next small rise I reverted to walking. I was gone. Time for 'Plan-B'. Lots of walking, slow running on the downhills and an eternity of time for thinking...

I wondered about what it is that draws me back to this event. It can't be the satisfaction of putting in a maximal all-the-way effort, for I don't have the endurance and hill running ability to do that. Maybe it's both the familiar and the different things you notice each year — like the soothing cool waters of the three streams after the Alum Creek aid station. Or the distant view of a line of people walking up to Pinnacle Hill. Or chatting to fellow runners before the start and on the dark, cool, damp steps of Nellie's Glen. This year there was enthusiastic ear-piercing screaming from a small cheer-squad on the Deviation which lifted me into a run until I was safely out of sight.

I just love the first 16 kilometres of Six Foot. It has such a variety of running and I like it all. It's an adventure! My favourite part is the final five kilometres down to the Cox's River — a narrow single-track of twists, turns, steps and rocks — running in a line of people all enjoying the same thing. There are many reasons why I keep coming back, but if pushed for a single one I'll just say "It must be the Bellbirds". For they have a song which is surely made in heaven — tinkling and shrill. I hear it from what must be hundreds of birds and I look high into the tree-tops for the source of such delightful sound. No wonder they inspired Henry Kendall to write his most loved poem.

Splits 2009: Nellie's (1.7k) 21:45, Megalong Valley Rd (8.1k) 53:36, Pinnacle Hill (10k) 1:04:37, Cox's River (15.5k) 1:42:22, Mini-Mini summit (20k) 2:30:33, Pluviometer (26k) 3:30:50, Caves Rd (37.9k) 5:18:20, Finish (45k) 6:23:23.

Splits 2008: Nellie's (1.7k) 19:25, Megalong Valley Rd (8.1k) 52:14, Pinnacle Hill (10k) 1:03:07, Cox's River (15.5k) 1:39:40, Mini-Mini summit (20k) 2:25:24, Pluviometer (26k) 3:22:28, Caves Rd (37.9k) 4:49:42, Finish (45k) 5:41:07.

Smiling after Six FootIt's not easy to walk, but easy to smile on the day after Six Foot

The hard earned buckleIt took six years and 270 kilometres for the buckle

Saturday, March 07, 2009


I'm touched with nostalgia after stumbling across a fascinating documentary film from 1964. A year from my childhood. I was seven years old and remember all too distinctly the houses, the cars, the simple life, and Mum's cooking. I wasn't a runner, but did lots of running — playing games of hide and seek; chasing; British bulldog; cowboys and indians; backyard cricket and soccer. Like all children, we ran and walked to get places.

The film is about Peter Snell, "a tennis player who tried his luck at running". It's in two parts, and can be seen here. It shows Snell running in the Waiatarua hills, over farmland, up steep bush tracks and through suburban streets. You also get to see some of the races he ran on the grass and cinder tracks of the day. There's footage of some world records, including the 3:54.4 mile he ran on a grass track in Wanganui. In one particular race he finishes a distant third and says "I made up my mind after this disappointment I was going to get right into a build-up of 100 miles a week as soon as possible".

Most runners would know that Snell was a pupil of the legendary New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard. Although Snell was a middle distance runner, with the one mile his longest race, Lydiard convinced him to follow training methods which included a base-building stage of many weeks of running 100 miles per week. In the documentary it's revealed that the 100 miles per week in seven sessions was supplemented by morning runs of five miles.

My training diary shows I've only missed a little running with my dodgy back. The stretching and strengthening exercises seem to be doing the trick. I'm yet to attempt any hard workouts or races. The ACT Masters' 5000m Championship race is on this coming Thursday. I may not run though, as I'm doing a long run and walk through the Blue Mountains on Saturday morning.

Mmmm, home cooking!Mum's kitchen looks just like this one from New Zealand!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Buckled Wheels

Have I told you lately how much I love running? In the 1980s I ran with a group in Lane Cove National Park. When we talked about runners who were injured, we'd refer to their wheels — as in "Hippie Steve's wheels have fallen off." We'd say the same thing if a runner failed to finish a race — "Jenny's wheels must have fallen off." Yes, we were indestructible heartless bastards!

Well, since Saturday afternoon my wheels have been off and on like those of a Formula One car. When on, they've been buckled. I've done two short runs — both Cliffy shuffles that had me feeling like Walt Kowalski chasing the neighbours from his front lawn. I did something to my back. I'm pretty sure it's a pinched sciatic nerve.

Today, standing up and walking is less painful, so I'll try another easy run this evening. This minor drama makes me think about how much I'd miss running if I were unable to do it. I'd miss it a lot. I first had this realisation after my second marathon in 1981 — a knee injury made me a spectator for five months. Since that time, I've always trained conservatively, hoping that keeping something in reserve will extend my time as a runner. I'd like to run until I'm old enough to say to the Walt Kowalskis of my neighbourhood "Hey young fella — back in my day we used to chase kangaroos to exhaustion around the grass track at Stromlo!"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bad, mad, glad

I've been glutinous this week, finishing three races — all were ACT Masters Championship events. On Thursday evening, in astonishingly cool conditions after last week's heat-wave, I raced the 1500 metres. The 50-59 males were grouped together and I finished 6th (last) in a confusingly slow 6:03.49. I was hoping to run around 5:45. An hour later, still mad about my poor result, I competed in the 5000 metre race-walk. With no expectations, I was more than happy to place 2nd M50 in 29:49.61.

Yesterday morning, Canberra's soothingly cool weather was just about perfect for distance running (except for a persistent breeze which was a home-straight head-wind). I decided to race the 3000, rather than run for a time, having thought about Canute's comments in my last post: "maybe you are paying a bit too much attention to the stop-watch at the moment. Your ‘epic’ battle with Lily in the 800m last year demonstrates that it can be fun to set a different sort of race target from time to time". Fortuitously there were a number of runners with similar form to myself, which made for good racing.

Kilometre 1: I took up a position on the outside of the curved start-line, next to Speedygeoff. At the gun, I moved towards lane two, slotting in behind Gary and Nadine, with Carol and Amanda just behind. Gary was following Geoff, and set a perfect pace for the first kilometre, which we passed in 4:05.

Kilometre 2: This is the part of a 3k where I usually lose time. I was determined not to let any gaps open to my pace-makers ahead. Gary's pace slowed slightly running up the back straight, so Nadine went past, with myself and Carol following. Carol then overtook me, so I sat behind for half a lap before resuming a spot behind Nadine, who was running with great strength. I would have loved to have shared some of the pace-making with her, but I was at my limit and barely hanging on. 4:09 for the second kilometre.

Kilometre 3: Nadine drew inexorably ahead, stretching the elastic band until it snapped with the finality of Sylvester Stallone dropping Michelle Joyner in Cliffhanger. I was all alone for the last two laps, running with urgency, hearing frequent encouragement from spectators for my pursuer Gary. I looked around briefly with 300 metres to run and could see that he was gaining. I ran down the back straight as hard as my lactic-filled legs would allow, before going into full sprint mode for the last 100 metres. I could hear Gary raising a similar effort, and I didn't feel 'safe' until 20 metres before the finish-line. 4:12 for the last kilometre for a pleasing 12:26.26. It had been a fun race! Interestingly, the sprint-finish off a fast pace produced the highest maximum heart-rate I've recorded in recent years (167) — I had thought my maximum was around 164 to 165.

Afterwards I was presented with a silver medal for placing 2nd in the M50s — a great memento for what had been a memorable race!

Bling for a small fish in a small pondACT Masters Athletics present lovely medals to almost anybody!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A hot 3000

I ran in my first 3000 metre race for the year on Thursday evening. It was a Dog Day Evening — 33°C (91.4°F for Imperial readers). I'd spent the day working in higher temperatures, so was suffering an alleged "attitude problem" before the race even started.

I ran with restraint in the early stages, zeroing in on "slow Stromlo km repeat pace" — 4:10 for the first kilometre. Inexorably I drifted further behind the Katie/Geoff group, running a second kilometre that was more like 10k race-pace (4:28). With just over a lap to go, Bronwyn came flying past (on her way to a 15 second PB), so I chased with all my legs had (not much), finishing with a time of 13:00.05.

I'm fairly philosophical about the result. My hot weather racing has never been pretty. The effort was there, but the speed was absent. I should have a better idea of how I'm going when this heat-wave subsides. This morning I ran 5k at tempo effort on the lovely manicured grass at Stromlo which compared favourably to a similar session this time last year. Before the run I watched Australia's best distance runners racing for a place on the team for the World Cross Country Championships. Local runners Marty Dent and Emily Brichacek were inspirational, winning the senior men's and junior women's races.

I'd rather be swimming in the damStromlo's dam was more inviting than it's manicured grass this morning

My Sony phone photo of the elite menCollis Bermingham and Lee Troop lead after 2k with Marty Dent in 8th place

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Dog Day Afternoons

This heat is starting to get to me. Canberra summers are supposed to be mild. If I wanted heat I'd move to Queensland! For the last few weeks, maximum temperatures have hovered in the mid-30s Celsius (95°F). Attempting to do quality training in those temperatures is no fun at all. As for racing any distance longer than 400 metres — forget it!

I must be going mad, as I find myself pining for a location-swap with up-over runners like Julie and Mike, who in a bleak northern winter are battling through snowy blizzards and slipping on icy footpaths.

The 11:39 plan is stumbling along, although my intervals at Stromlo are yet to produce the desired 3k race-pace speed. As the mercury rises, my times are becoming hysterically slower. On January 10 — 3 x 1000 metres in 3:53, 3:54 and 3:58. On January 17 — 3:58, 3:59, 4:05. On January 24 — 4:04, 4:00, 4:03. Yesterday — Speedygeoff decided to do something different — 1000, 2000 and 1000 metres. My times were 4:10, 9:23 and 4:13.

Thanks all for your thoughts about my training plan. Bob from Tokyo suggested taking scheduled rest days (one per week) as a way to ward off injury. Now Bob's a very fast runner (1:23 for the half marathon at 60), who's also training for a sub-3 hour marathon. In the 80s I used to always take the Friday off before the weekly Saturday cross country club race. However when I started running 7 days per week, my times improved. Now as a 51-year-old runner, I try to listen to my body, and do take a day off if I feel I need it. I am inclined though to perhaps schedule Friday for very easy running of 4 to 6 kilometres, instead of the 12 to 14 I've been doing.

I hope everyone has a great week. Stay cool!

46 in the shadeIn Death Valley it's 46 Celsius in the shade. In Canberra it's 10 degrees cooler!