Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fresh running legs for a fresh year

Bring on 2016! Firstly though, a summary of my running for 2015. I feel a little like 'You Had One Job' on Twitter (in that I had one goal for 2015 and missed it by 'that much'). My goal was to run 5k in 21:59 or faster and as the year ends, my best time remains the 22:31 I ran at the Tuggeranong Parkrun back in April. Despite this failure, I'm ignoring the pleas from my friends to find a new job. My goal for 2016 remains the same: break 22 minutes for 5 bloody k!

I'm excited about my prospects for achieving this singular goal and I'm about to tell you the reasons for my enthusiasm. Two things really. Firstly, a revelation from my holiday in the good old U S of A. During those six weeks I did minimal running (and no cycling) and as if by magic my legs recalled a feeling from long ago: freshness, youthfulness and springiness. I wrote a blog post back in 2011 about the undeniable value of having springy muscles. If you have springy muscles and tendons you travel further with each stride (a free ride if you will, that all young runners enjoy). Towards the end of the US trip my legs were feeling youthful again, even though my lungs began to feel old due to declining aerobic fitness. The second thing is a chat I had recently with a bloke in my age-group (55-59) who runs the Parkrun in the mid-18s (and is surely on his way to breaking 18). Paul told me he thought I had the ability to run 20 minutes for 5k and was very confident I'd easily break 22. He then told me about the minimal running he does; how he combines it with cycling and how he always races with 100% effort on fresh legs.

The deliciously exciting conundrum I'm now faced with is to figure out how to arrange my cycling and running training so as to always be racing with 100% effort on fresh legs. I've been reading The Time-Crunched Cyclist and wondering how to combine that type of cycling training (high intensity, low volume) with my running training. I'm unsure at the moment how to do this and can foresee some experimentation in the early part of next year. The temptation I'll be trying to resist will be to do more volume, as the other exciting news I have for you is my decision to continue my Professional Runner's Lifestyle experiment indefinitely! I'm retiring permanently from wage slavery on the 8th of January, 2016. I apologise to Mark and others for being a total prick in the jealousy-inducing stakes. The low stress and ample recovery time available to the professional runner IS all it's cracked up to be. It's been a very long time indeed since I've felt this relaxed.

I'd like to wish my readers all the best for 2016. May your running goals be challenging and achievable. I'll let you know how my training plan evolves in future posts. Now, back to my rest day!

Cycling beside the Murrumbidgee River at Wagga over Christmas

Monday, December 07, 2015

Successfully avoiding the excesses of an American diet

I've been back in Australia since Thursday afternoon and feeling recovered enough now to get back into the running routine. We enjoyed a wonderful holiday (just short of six weeks), but man, the typical American food on offer was hard work. So much meat; so much cheese; so sweet and salty; so big! Possessing a sweet tooth, I also enjoyed more than my fair share of desserts, including the wonderful key lime pies of the south. I'm also taking a while to catch up on blog reading (computer time was limited in the U.S.), so please excuse my slackness in that area.

So, what is my physical state after such a long holiday with minimal running (and no cycling)? Not too bad is the short answer, but the actual statistics reveal the brutal truth: race fitness does decline, if ever so slowly, when one cuts back on training. The legs may feel fresh and your body energetic, but you run slower. 'Use it or lose it' is a true adage when it comes to running and a good bank of aerobic fitness only lasts so long.

What exercise did I do? Well, over 41 days I ran on 22 occasions — an average of 23k per week (supplemented by lots of easy walking). Prior to the holiday my 'normal' training routine was around 50k per week of running and 160 to 200k per week of cycling. Leading up to my good 10k in Melbourne I raced the Tuggeranong Parkrun in 22:41 at an average heart rate of 144, feeling pretty happy with my race. On Saturday 5 December I raced the same course (similar conditions) in 24:12 at an average heart rate of 148 (maximum of 158 — very close to my actual maximum of 162). Ouch! My legs felt good and fresh but I was huffing and puffing like the Chattanooga Choo Choo pulling out of Baltimore Station.

As the year draws to an end, I hope the few readers of this blog are doing well. Enjoy your running and don't over indulge in key lime pies! See ya'all in 2016.
Unusually mild (14C) for my run in Central Park on 26 November. Way too hot for ice skating!
Central Park NYC as the sun sets. Love it!
Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge the previous afternoon. Beautiful!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Melbourne Marathon 10k: A good race, but not perfect

Of all the active running blogs that I read, Bob's, Geoff's, Joe's and Liz's would be the only ones that could answer the following question: Did you run to your absolute physical potential when you ran your PB time for a certain race distance? My own answer to that question would be "No" for most lifetime PBs that I've run. All of the other blogs that I read are written by runners who can still run faster. My PB that came closest to 'as good as it gets' was the 9:56.3 I ran for 3000 metres at age 34 (which happens to be the speed one needs to run to finish a marathon in under 2 hours 20 minutes). After finishing that race I remember thinking that given perfect training and weather conditions, it wouldn't be long before I'd run 3k in 9:45.

In Melbourne on 18 October I raced a good 10k, but not perfect. My time was 47:39 (a minute slower than the time I ran in 2008). My legs felt good during the race but not totally energised and fresh. My pacing was pretty much spot-on — the effort felt even (the course is undulating, so dead-even splits aren't going to happen) and I finished strongly over the last 2k with a sprint for the final 200 metres. Executing a perfect race would have seen 47:00 on the finishing clock in the M.C.G.

I enjoyed Melbourne, in spite of not having run the perfect race. Lunch with Liz, Bev and Al on Friday had been fun, so too the pre-race dinner on Saturday evening. I was pretty satisfied with the whole long weekend. But still (as a competitive runner) I wasn't super-satisfied or ecstatic with my race performance. I guess this whole post is a roundabout way of saying that one never knows at the time it happens, that a PB will never be improved upon. One always has optimistic expectations to run faster. Because the perfect race is a very rare thing indeed. If you happen to be in the perfect race (and have the awareness to realise this as it's happening), then give it everything you've got. Everything.
I'm behind in reading blogs (and running) as I've been holidaying in the U.S. Here I am practising my discus technique. Everything is big in America.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Lots of racing, mostly good

I like racing. Especially the one-on-one kind of racing, rather than the 'run fast in a big field trying for a good time' kind of racing. This post is a catch-up on what I've been up to over the past month.

1. The ACT Duathlon Championships (10k run, 40k bike, 5k run)
Held on the September 27 — prior to the event I felt daunted by the prospect of racing hard for such a long time (over two and a half hours). My pre-race plan was to spread out my effort/energy over this amount of time and the plan worked well. For the first 10k run I allowed the fast-starting Bron to get away then gradually pegged her back, not quite catching her before transition. 46:14 for the run (yes, it was around 400 metres short). Passed Bron early on the bike leg, riding hard with the aim of time-trialing to a good time. 1:24:51 for the ride (around 28 kph). My legs felt awful for the first 500 metres of the 5k run, but gradually came good — 26:23 and very happy to see the finish arch. Final place was 72nd out of 96 in 2:39:28, around 9 minutes ahead of Bron. A fast bike makes a big difference!

2. Tuggeranong Parkrun 5k
Held on October 3. For once, I arrived in time to do a proper warm-up including 5 strides. During the run my legs felt really good! Caught Pieta just before 1k, before running with/behind Scott until 4k before moving ahead. Bron had made her usual fast start and ran a 'New PB!' of 22:24. I was pretty happy with 22:41, only 10 secs off my Parkrun PB. My splits had been 4:33, 4:29, 4:33, 4:36 and 4:30.

3. Greater Goulburn 10k Fun Run
Held the next day, October 4. Drove up early in the morning with my mate Jim. We enjoyed a really friendly, well-organised country fun run. The course had two hills, one gnarly trail climb with steps and a shorter steep trail hill. I ran with the aim of having a good hard training run and trying to beat Jim if possible. He started fast; I gradually made ground on the first climb before overtaking on the steep road descent to the start of the second climb. Ended up finishing comfortably ahead — 53:59 to 55:51. Good average heart rate too — 130. Woohoo! The race was won by Marty Dent (32:31) and young Steph Torley (43:07).

4. Run with the Wind 10k
Held on October 11. Fantastic event! Beautiful views and a challenging (hilly) course with the magnificent wind turbines looking over us. Drove up with Jim, Maria, Suzanne and Fran. Once again I wanted a hard training run (got that!) and ran with the aim of finishing ahead of Jim. The course was held on the excellent gravel access roads of the Windlawn Wind Farm. We started down a long gentle hill — Jim got away even though my first (easy feeling) k split had been 4:43. I caught him on the return run as we climbed 84 metres to the first turbine. Then it was one hill after another and windy! Funny, that. I had to make an effort to run down one hill such was the wind. I could see Liz's running skirt in the distance but it never got any closer. Finally we were at the last turbine and the downhill run for home (10th k in 4:32). Liz ran 53:34 to win the 50-59 age-group. My time was 54:34, with Jim finishing 4th 60-69 in 59:43. My friend Rachel finished 3rd female and described the race as 'the hilliest 10k ever!' — she ran 45:04 and is a 2:49 marathoner. Hubby Joel placed 3rd in the earlier 5k in 19:35 and thanks to Joel's description of the 'brutal' course, I got my pacing effort pretty spot-on.

My next race is the Melbourne 10k on Sunday — not sure whether I'll continue to race well or be all worn out from all that racing. Anyway, it's all good fun. Looking forward to it!

 5k race start (thanks John Harding for the photos)
 This young girl won the 5k in 21:18. Amazing!
 Running with the wind and against the wind. Did I tell you it was windy?!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Harbour Bridge run, Sprint Duathlon and a 5k

Last Sunday I competed in the Blackmores' Sydney Harbour Bridge run and the Sunday before, the Stromlo ACT Sprint Duathlon. The duathlon was lot of fun — I think the result is further proof that these days my running and cycling are equally strong. Interesting, as when I was dabbling in triathlons in the mid-1990s, the run was by far my strongest leg, followed some way back by the bike with the swim a 'finally we can pack up the swim course' third. This race was a 5k run, 20k road ride, 2.5k run duathlon and my places for all three legs were similar — 61st, 57th and 58th. My place for the race was 55th (out of 83 finishers) and 2nd in the 55-59 age-group.

My plan for the Sydney Harbour Bridge run was to enjoy myself, not bust a gut, and recover quickly to resume my normal training. In the end, all went to plan and I actually ran a 20 second course PB. Very surprised at that! I started mid-pack in the A-group and as per usual, spent the first kilometre up onto the bridge weaving around people who started too fast. Luckily the bridge is nice and wide, providing plenty of overtaking room. I'd forgotten to pack my Garmin so used my trusty Casio to record splits for later analysis. I ran at a steady (hard tempo) pace for the first 5k, then got motoring, smiling inwardly as I overtook people for the next 4.23k. I was running this section pretty much all out, but there were times when it was simply impossible to run as fast as one would like, due to the crowded nature of the out/back section down to Mrs Macquarie's Chair. My final time was 45:03 (4:53 per km), for 790th place out of 11,481 finishers.

The 5k race was the Customs Handicap lunch run on the Friday before Sydney. The 'Floriade' course is a flat double out/back with only the two U-turns (and wandering tourists) slowing things down. I ran with my mate Jim for the first kilometre, feeling very easy. I then accelerated, pushing quite hard with a rough goal of breaking 23 minutes. Only just made it! 22:58, with my average heart-rate being 144. Kilometre splits had been 4:38, 4:29, 4:32, 4:45 and 4:34. I was most happy with how I felt during the run which gives me confidence that averaging under 4:30 per k for a 5k race isn't far off. This coming Sunday I'm racing the in ACT Duathlon Championships (10k/40k/5k), with no goals besides enjoyment and not crashing.

Helmet on after the first run leg (had a good race with the lady in purple), and there are still bikes in the transition area! Thanks Ruth for the photos.

Balance test, putting on my cycling shoes. Not sitting down!

Finally out on my trusty 14-speed 'Aluminum' racer, chasing down cyclists for 20k :)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Perfect running form, and other thoughts about cycling

I used to run with a bloke who, when he ran, reminded me of Henry Rono. My friend ran with beautiful form that made me, a marathon shuffler, extremely jealous. The funny thing is, my friend wasn't that fast — he ran around 20 minutes for 5k when I'd run 19 (this was a long time ago!). I suspect my friend's exquisite form was part natural and part emulation. He had a high heel-lift and loped along with ease — his cadence was slow, in the manner of Mo Farah, but with a stride quite a bit shorter than Mo's two-plus metres. Lovely running form isn't everything, but I still wish I could run like my friend.

There are many reasons why I like cycling, one being there doesn't seem to be such a thing as 'perfect cycling form' — no high heel kick, hip and knee drive, elastic (Paula Radcliffe-like) recoil off the ground of the perfect runner. My feet are attached to the pedals just the same as Chris Froome and my legs go round and round and round. I can even spin at the high cadence of Froome — in fact if I were to ride next to the great man (at a speed I was capable of, say 30 kph), no spectator would think 'that man's form is terrible, yet he's keeping up with an elite athlete.'

As a professional runner, I think I'm close to zeroing in on my ideal training day. In previous posts I've mentioned Jack Farrell's article: 'Re-Thinking The Hard-Easy Myth' where he explains why too much rest has just as negative an impact on development as over-training, by violating the principle of balance. Jack's runners train at the same intensity level every day, with no really hard days, but also no easy or rest days. Variety is achieved by running on different courses. "The goal of this training is to lower the comfort zone, that is the pace at which an athlete can run gradually longer distances at a steadily decreasing pace." I think my ideal training day is 50 to 60 minutes of running in the (late) morning or at lunch time, followed by 90 minutes to 2 hours of cycling in the late afternoon. This is something I can repeat day after day, week after week... Cycling in the morning and running in the afternoon doesn't work! I've tried it and my runs have been ordinary to terrible on those days.

Just recently, with all this volume of aerobic exercise, my running has started to feel really good — today 5:10 per k pace was only producing a heart rate of 132, slightly above my MAF heart-rate. So the legs have been strong and the heart has been cruising. On Sunday for a slight change from day-after-day training, I'm competing in a duathlon out at Stromlo — 5k run, 20k bike, 2.5k run. Should be fun!

Shuffling along with less than perfect form at the Tuggeranong Parkrun

Testing the old Aluminum bike at Lake Tuggeranong this arvo

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Professional running is not all beer and skittles

Just as I'm starting out on my professional running career, an unexpected speed-bump appears on the smooth Mondo road to success. Yes, an injury — embarrassingly self-inflicted, but now, a week after the fact, feeling like it's almost not worth writing about. However, I will.

I visited my old home town of Wagga Wagga on the 14th of August to race the 'Trail Marathon 10k' the following day. The race went better than expected — I felt strong and reasonably speedy, finishing 17th (from 71 finishers) in 48:01. For a trail race, it was a fast course (the marathon on the other hand, is tough!), perhaps only a minute slower than a fast 10k road course. I was happy with my time. The following day I rode my mountain bike in the 'Mountain Bike Marathon', getting beaten up a bit by the hills, finishing 41st in 2:35:42. It was good fun though! Beautiful trails and river-side single tracks.

I recovered well and enjoyed some good training in Wagga over the next few days. On Thursday I took my scooter (Xootr) out for some x-training. I was rolling down the footpath having a great time — until I moved to the left to give an oncoming old pedestrian elbow room. My front wheel sunk in the grass and I fell heavily (and embarrassingly) on my left side. Ouch! Only a little skin off one finger, but I'd wrenched my lower back. The following day I jogged 10k with the shortest stride ever, 6:10 per km pace, the right hamstring also feeling tight and uncomfortable. Since then I've been easing back into training — short runs of 3 to 4k and long bike rides. The injury, today, feels like it's about 90% right. I hope to resume 'normal' training this weekend, with the Blackmores Sydney Harbour Bridge 9k on September 20 my next major race. No scooter cross-training has been penciled in to the training schedule.

Very cool 'rusty crow' trophies (Wagga Wagga means place of many crows)
Lovely trail beside the Murrumbidgee River used for the Marathon, Half and MTB Marathon races

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My first two weeks as a professional runner

Had a fantastic sleep last night — 10 hours, solid. The lifestyle of a professional runner is tiring! My body is telling me something: "Listen here stupid! Waking up to an alarm at 5 A.M. every morning is not healthy. You need more rest!"

As Canute mentioned in a comment on my last post, 'increased time for recovery will probably be at least as valuable as the increased time for training'. So true. Nevertheless, I have modestly increased the volume of training over the past two weeks. Running is up to 40k per week from a recent average of 25k per week and cycling is up to 266k per week (from 197k).

On Sunday I ran my 31st Sydney City to Surf and had a surprisingly good result. Surprising because I'd decided to 'train through' the race, not wanting to do a one-week taper as I've only just started increasing my training. My 'taper' was a rest day on the Saturday. I knew I wasn't going to break 70 minutes (5-minute km pace) as I'd raced a hard 5k on Friday for 24:11 (4:50 pace) on a fairly flat course. The City to Surf is anything but flat. Sunday dawned cool, sunny and breezy — great conditions for racing. I was very relaxed about the whole show, starting near the back of the 'Red' group and settling into a steady pace down William Street. I only saw a couple of runners I knew during the run: Bridget from the YMCA Running Club, Elle and Kathy Sims (who finished 4th in the W60 age-group). I ran by feel, trying to keep stress levels low on the hills. At 10k I took a quick look at the Garmin, saw 51:16 and thought I might finish close to 70 minutes after all. After that I ran faster, confident that I'd make the daunting 14k distance and actually sprinted the final 300 metres. 70:17! Very happy with that. I placed 7,900th out of 65,477 official finishers and 480th in the rather tough 50-59 age-group. Simon Claringbold from Canberra, probably our fastest M55 runner, placed 7th in 52:31.

Well, it's finally stopped snowing, so I should get out for my run — or ride, or indoor row, or gym session, or treadmill run. So many difficult decisions for the professional runner.

Crossing the City to Surf finish line on a sunny Sydney day 

Happy Speedy goose stops Garmin after a Sunday long run

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A professional runner's lifestyle experiment

Today happens to be the first day of an 'experiment of one' — the outcome of which I've wondered about ever since I laced up my first pair of Nike LDVs, 35 years ago. The question I'd like to answer is "Will I run faster if I train full-time?" — by adopting the lifestyle of the professional runner? If you're a serious competitor you've probably asked yourself the same question.

I know there are elite runners who work full-time jobs but at the top level they're a rarity. I read recently on Runner's World about Nicole Tully, who works full-time and won the U.S. national 5000m title recently in 15:06.44. She said "running isn’t something that I need to be doing for survival. It’s really just something that I want to be doing." Running is something I want to be doing too! Tully works full-time (with flexible hours) in advertising and public relations. Until yesterday I've been working full-time with inflexible working hours. Therein lies a problem — missed training sessions and tiredness due to 9 and 10-hour working days (longer in December). My day starts at six in the morning (I cycle to and from work), so I'm an afternoon runner, but if we're particularly busy at work I'll miss training sessions here and there — not ideal for maximising athletic performance.

Now I'm on Long Service Leave until January 2016! Woohoo! I can see for myself if the lifestyle of the professional runner (minus the distraction of sponsor commitments) will improve performance. Does sleeping 9 or 10 hours a day (I'm not trying the 12 or 14 of Paula Radcliffe!) help with recovery? Does discarding the stresses of a full-time job help one cope with a difficult and stressful training session? Is running in the warm part of a Canberra winter's day all it's cracked up to be? Will I be able to avoid the temptations of the couch, a glowing fire and my box-set of Survivor DVDs? I'll update readers with progress reports — especially about my goal of running under 22 minutes for 5k. I'm excited!

Speedygeese flew at the 2015 Nail Can Hill Run

Sunday, July 12, 2015

2nd O50 in the Sri Chinmoy short course Off-Road Duathlon

This is an annual event and the good folk at the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team provide both short (for 5k runners like me) and long course races. It's a run/ride/run duathlon with the first run a road course around the Botanic Gardens, the mountain bike held in Black Mountain reserve which is also used for the second 'mountain' run. Leg distances were 2k, 7k and 2.5k although the first leg was a little short of what was advertised, at about 1.4k.

It was a cold and foggy morning and it took me the first run to get fully warmed up. I ran with Bronwyn early and got ahead a little into transition. The mountain bike course was tough! Straight up a steep hill before following undulating fire trails within the reserve. I enjoyed the ride, moving up in the field and only having to run my bike on a couple of steep pinches. I was having a battle with another 'old bloke', managing to break away on the last uphill section. My second transition wasn't the quickest, frozen fingers not wanting to unbuckle my helmet (stood there like an icy statue for about 30 seconds). The second run went straight back up the mountain on a rough single-track trail, then followed a long fire-trail section before plummeting back down to the finish. My rival closed the gap (I could hear his footsteps ever closer), but before he drew level I made a run for home down the last hill. The sneaky bugger matched my change of pace before sprinting away within sight of the line. Damn!

A nice '2nd Place 50 & Over' trophy for the mantelpiece and some very interesting stats from the event. I placed 5th overall; 16th (out of 27) for the first run, 6th fastest on the bike ride and 8th fastest for the mountain run. Perhaps I'm a better cyclist than runner? I think cycling is more forgiving of body weight (unless you're cycling up a 10k climb) — not that I'm over weight for my height. My BMI is 20.8 (within 'normal weight' range), but 72 kg is 'heavy' when compared to the average weight of elite distance runners. The bike 'carries' weight well — I guess in a similar way to water with swimmers. Anyway, my immediate plans are to continue cycling for fun and cross-training, while at the same time developing some end-of-race sprinting speed. Or maybe employ different race tactics against kickers!

At the back chatting to Bron when the race started
 Cold and foggy on the first run leg
 A nice trophy from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

Monday, June 15, 2015

Last in the ACT Cross Country Championships

I knew when I looked at the sign-on sheet that I had last place sewn up. Thommo was the second slowest runner and he's in 20-low 5k form. I was resigned to a solo 12k time trial on Stromlo's undulating grass track. David ran with me for the first k (he'd raced 5k earlier that morning in 19:45) before taking off and winning the M55s in 54:00.

My laps progressively got slower but I didn't feel awful at any stage. My 25k per week running legs survived! My heart and lungs had been comfortable enough — average heart rate of 145 and a maximum of 154 as I pushed to get under 59 minutes. I finished 18th and last in 58:44, Thommo ahead, almost out of sight, running 57:05.

If you race a lot, one day you'll start a race as the slowest runner and finish last. If a 15-minute 5k runner started in a 5000 metre heat at the Olympics he'd get lapped and finish last. Aside from the memorable placing I was quite pleased with my race. Beforehand I'd been nervous about the step-up in racing distance from 5k to 12k but it didn't turn out to be so bad. As I was running I enjoyed the sunshine, my niggle-free legs and the mild (for winter in Canberra) temperature. It had been a good day.

I make sure my Garmin is working for my longest run in more than a month. The 12k race was won by Joshua Johnson in 36:39.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Treadmill running in slow motion

My treadmill has been working overtime lately — no, I'm not going soft (I hope!), just not feeling inclined to run in the dark and cold after I've cycled to and from work. According to Strava my cycling mileage is averaging 189 kilometres per week. My running mileage over the past six weeks has averaged 26 kilometres per week — scarily low for a person who used to thrive on 80 to 100 kilometres per week. I'm sure the cycling mileage is preventing my aerobic condition from declining, while I'm doing just enough running so the legs don't forget how to run!

The video below shows me running on the treadmill at a speed of 12 kilometres per hour (5-minute ks). I normally run intervals, strides and short tempo runs on the treadmill. With the machine set at a steady speed I've been playing around with varying my cadence and stride length. A fast cadence (180 plus) feels rather stressful on the treadmill. When I run with a slower cadence, pushing harder off the belt (not over-striding) I feel more relaxed and less in danger of flying off the back of the bloody thing!

I'm still racing okay — 6k at Stromlo yesterday in 28:40 at an average heart rate of 143. I ran a bit soft in the last 2k lap as I wasn't being challenged from behind and Speedygeoff was almost out of sight ahead. The course was slightly long as rope barriers were in use on two corners to give the trampled grass a break. Lap splits had been 9:26, 9:26 and 9:48. Next Saturday I'm racing 12k on the same course — man is that going to be hard!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The rival who is hard to beat

Half Marathon Eve 5k Race

I'd been looking forward to the Canberra Half Marathon Eve 5k as an event I'd try to peak for and run as fast as possible. My expectations crashed on the Monday prior to the Saturday, 23 May race date. I was warming up for a Speedygeese session at Parliament House when I tripped on the most minuscule step from grass to a concrete path. Down I went, landing heavily on my left hip and knee (but  being aware enough to keep my Garmin hand from smashing into the ground).

No running for two days (stiff and sore) then still bothered during a treadmill run on the Thursday. My confidence was shot well before jogging a short warm-up on Saturday afternoon. I started next to Brian Wenn, a rival of mine who has always been very hard to beat. When I was in my twenties it was virtually impossible — Brian was a sub-35 10k runner when I was running 37 minutes. As we aged, the performance gap narrowed (helped by Brian's injury-prone stop/start training leading to him spending more time on the golf course and less on the running tracks and trails). Brian is 66, so more experienced than myself to the tune of eight years. Is that why he's so good? His recent form was a little intimidating — 22:14 for the Stromlo 5k in March.

We raced off, together for the first 400 metres, in (distant) pursuit of the fast starting Jim (who would split 4:17 for the first kilometre). Brian gradually edged ahead, metre by metre. I was running ragged, feeling close to my limit. After 1k I found myself closing on a couple of kids and Jim. Woohoo, he's slowing! But not Brian! The third k up the little hill past the Yacht Club was my slowest, but I was now holding the gap to Brian. On the return journey there was nothing I could do to close in, even though I passed a slowing young boy. This race is hard! Even though I was unaware of time splits, I felt we were running quickly — faster than the "I'll be happy with 23" Brian declared on the start line. The last k was a slog but I still 'sprinted' the grass finish straight. 29th place (out of 56 finishers) and 22:55, with Brian running 22:46. Another 'loss', but it had been good fun. Love racing!

Afterwards, the Garmin showed my splits: 4:32, 4:34, 4:49, 4:34 and 4:24. It had been a lovely warm, late autumn afternoon race (more to my liking than the freezing Parkrun early morning starts). A week later, my hip and knee are feeling normal and I'm looking forward to more battles with Brian — hoping we can both edge down to a sub-22 5k.

 Myself (yellow shirt) and Brian (blue) shortly after the start of the 5k

Passing Jim between 1 and 2k. Brian's gone!

Brian finishes 9 seconds ahead, with Jim in the distance. [David Appleby photos]

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Two good Parkruns and a Cyclocross race

On the 18th of April at the Tuggeranong Parkrun I was racing Geoff, Julia and Scott. All three started fast (too fast I thought), and had a good lead by the 1k mark. My split there was 4:30, so right on Parkun PB pace. I tried hard, more or less holding the gap to Julia and Geoff until 4k, while gradually closing on Scott. Geoff took off and ran a very good time for an almost 67-year-old of 22:06. Julia finished 10 seconds back while I got close to Scott (22:37), finishing in 22:45. A good time for me, but not great. I'd define 'great' as sub-22 and 'very good' as 22:15.

The following day I rode in my second cyclocross race, which used the Narrabundah Velodrome infield and surrounds. Love it! Love it! Love it! If I'd been born in Belgium, cyclocross would have been my sport. It has all the things I like in racing: Nice and short (20 minutes to an hour); the thrill of speed and close competition; the need for skill and technique; relative safety (no rocks or trees to crash into if you get it wrong, like mountain bike racing); not too much mud (we're in Australia!) and a supportive friendly atmosphere. It's the cycling equivalent of the 3k steeplechase and traditional (fence hurdling, creek jumping) cross country running. Although I was feeling a little off-colour that morning I still enjoyed myself — finishing 9th in C-Grade out of 15 riders (12 men and 3 women). The only problem with cyclocross racing in Canberra is not enough races!

On the 2nd of May, back at Tuggers for the Parkrun, I was racing young Isaac again. The poor lad wasn't feeling the best and I was much closer to his heels than the last time we raced. Jen ran a few metres ahead, encouraging him to get a move on and try to run a PB. I closed to within 20 metres on the bridge before the 4k mark but was unable to increase my speed in the last kilometre. Another win to Isaac! 22:30 to my 22:41. I placed 30th out of 180 (quite a small field for Tuggeranong, due perhaps to the inclement weather). My splits were even once again — 4:35, 4:30, 4:34, 4:32 and 4:30. I'm confident if I keep at it there will be a race where 4:27 k splits are doable.

GoPro camera view of my race (just the one crash)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chasing Isaac to a Parkrun 5k PB

It was a stunningly beautiful morning down at Lake Tuggeranong on Saturday. Conditions were perfect for running fast: cool (about 10 degrees C), dead calm and sunny. I was determined to run a course PB so made a point of having a rest day from running on Friday and only cycling an easy 24k. My warm-up was a tad shorter than ideal (1k of jogging rather than 2 or 3) but the legs felt good during the four strides.

As it was 'Australian Running Festival' weekend, start congestion was less than usual — there were 232 finishers rather than the 300-plus of a normal Saturday morning. I placed myself (a little impetuously) three rows back from the front and lost no more than 2 seconds crossing the start line. Started quickly then settled into a steady pace out of the park. Passed my mate Jim earlier than usual at the rowing pontoon (600 metres) then smoothly negotiated the left-right-left corners near Maccas.

Just beyond Maccas, Jen and son Isaac ran past — "I think we'll run with you" said Jen. If I can keep up was my immediate thought! And so it transpired — Jen and Isaac put about 40 metres into me over and off the footbridge. My legs, energy levels and breathing were all okay so I kept the speed at what I presumed was about 4:30 kilometres. Jen was obviously doing it easy (being a sub-20 5k runner) and was encouraging 11-year-old Isaac to keep a steady pace. Their lead was reducing up to and beyond the turn, but ever so slowly. On the downhill run to the 4k mark I started to feel confident of 'victory', closing to within 10 metres. I was psyched up to run a strong last kilometre. I ran hard, but Isaac surged with 800 metres to go and the elastic was broken. Although the 'race' was lost, I kept running hard, managing a modest sprint off the last 'speed bump' into the park. 30th place and 22:31 — a new Parkrun PB!

Isaac had run a 2-minute PB of 22:18, a fantastic run. I was feeling happy with my time and excited by the thought of running faster in coming months. I'm sure the cycling and sessions of 'strides' are making a difference. My only worry is the sharp drop-off into lactic acid pain (which I also notice when cycling). I don't have any leeway — 4:30 ks in the middle of a 5k feel fine but if I push just slightly faster my legs start protesting. I'm not quite sure what to do about that.

Jen and Isaac surge away from the old wombat

Wear a Speedygeese shirt and you'll run a PB!

Happy running friends after the Tuggers Parkrun

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Parkrun PB, cyclocross race and a tired 5000m

I raced in the ACT Vets' 5000m Championship last night — it was one of those awful races where the wheels fall off very early. After passing 1k in 4:31 (way behind Kathy, Roger and Geoff), I realised the pace would have to slow dramatically if I were to keep running. I was tired and feeling off-colour. I dragged myself to the finish at a much reduced pace, placing 20th in 23:57.17 — well off my goal of 22 minutes. This was disappointing as last Saturday morning I'd run a PB for the Tuggeranong 5k Parkrun.

I was quite excited after Saturday's Parkrun — not only had I run a Parkrun PB, but the racing itself was fun. I was psyched up to run quickly and positioned myself closer to the front row of the corral, losing only 2 seconds before crossing the start. There was the usual chaotic shuffling of bodies after the start, then I settled into a nice smooth pace, passing my mate Jim unusually early — near the rowing pontoon at 600 metres or so. Just beyond the 1k mark Adam drew up beside me, saying "We're on!" which I knew to mean 'on for a sub-23', Adam's PB goal. I followed Adam over the footbridge, around the ess-bends and under the road bridge, drawing beside him up the little incline before 2k. I was feeling good! Caught up and overtook Sophie before the U-turn and was surprised to see Adam just a few metres behind. He pushed ahead on the return journey but I was able to draw alongside on the little downhill to the 4k marker. This was where I began my 'run for the finish', passing (and keeping pace with) some younger men and women. Over the little hill into the park I sprinted for the finish — 22:38! Yes! Very happy with the time and the race. Average heart rate had been 145 and splits: 4:37, 4:33, 4:32, 4:33 and 4:34. Adam ran well for a PB of 22:50.

That afternoon I rode the mountain bike in my first ever cyclo-cross race. What fun! The course was bone-dry and dusty, unlike European cyclo-cross races which often traverse stretches of thick mud or slushy snow and ice. This course had many sharp turns, made slippery by leaf and bark litter and four areas where jumping off and carrying your bike was needed. Three of these were over low hurdles, about 30cm high and one was a very steep off-camber U-turn (which some skilful cyclists were able to ride). As a beginner, I was in the C-Grade race along with other novices and slower riders. I think there were 11 or 12 riders in our race. The race was '20 minutes plus one lap' — quite short, so no surprise the start was fast. I was left in a cloud of dust and only had one rider behind me at the first set of hurdles. After that I made up time on the turns and 'off bike' sections, passing riders and eventually having a good race with the lady who came 2nd and another old bloke. The bell was a little soon for me (being more of an endurance rider) but I managed to pass the lady and old bloke on the last lap. I know there were five riders behind me so maybe I was 6th or 7th. Anyway, it was great fun and a sport I'm keen to try again.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cross country and track racing

My running (and cycling) is going well. I'm comfortably managing to do around 40 kilometres per week of running and 220 of cycling. I reckon the cycling is keeping my aerobic condition at the level it would be if I were running twice that much and doing no cycling. I'm enjoying the cycling — it's fun and less sweaty than running. In the past two weeks I've had a couple of races that excite me to the possibility of running really fast. For me in 2015, 'really fast' is 22 minutes for 5k. A time that once was so easy!

The first race was a cross country 'Summer Series' event at Barrenjoey Drive — 3 laps for 5k around a dirt road and bumpy, sandy track course near Lake Burley Griffin. I felt good during the race, running evenly, catching and passing people during the second and third laps. Maria said afterwards "You're running well!" My time was 23:29 at an average heart rate of 143, only marginally slower than the 23:17 I ran in February 2012 (AHR 148). Four weeks after the 2012 Barrenjoey I raced a 5000 on the track in 22:14.

The second race was the 'Pennington' 3000 metre event on Thursday afternoon. It was an 'age handicap' with start groups based on WAVA A/G % tables. I took off with Roger as Sue was about to complete her first lap. Rog bolted, so I settled into my 'run-by-feel' race pace with Sue breathing down my neck after her first lap. I gradually cut into Roger's 30 metre lead over the next 2k. Sue went past when she had 1 lap to go (2 for myself and Rog). I got to within 3 metres of Rog but he sprinted hard over the last half-lap, beating me to the line by 2 seconds — 13:22 to 13:24. Not a brilliant time, but it was a warm afternoon and I'd felt good during the race. Really good! Cross country and track racing are the two types of running I enjoy the most. I'm looking forward to further solid training before the ACT Vets' 5k Championship in a month's time.

 Cycling back along the Tuggeranong Parkrun course after volunteer duties

Monday, January 26, 2015

The most exciting thing I've read about running in a long time

A very long time! I've been following the running career of American 2:14 marathoner Nate Jenkins for many years. He has kept 'training diary' style blogs on various websites (including Running Times online) and has recently resurrected his own blog. He tweeted two weeks ago about one of his blog posts titled 'Strides' — immediately I followed the link and my eyes widened; brain ticked over (slowly) as I read words that made so much sense, thinking to myself: Yes! Yes! Yes!

I expect you'll click the above link to read all about strides and return to this post later. That's okay. Do it!

Strides are very short runs. You jog into them, accelerate over a distance of 75 metres or so to 'near top speed' then ease off to a stop. You then walk until fully recovered (this depends on how fit you are) and repeat. Nate mentions the numerous benefits that come from running strides regularly and often —"every single day if you can." In the 'old days' I used to run strides prior to every track workout and race, which would be roughly three times per week. I've done six 'sessions' of strides (mainly following runs or races) over the past two weeks and am starting to feel some fluidity returning to my running movement.

Strides also fit in perfectly with my mostly steady MAF heart-rate zone training. Being so short (and untimed) they're not stressful in the least. Lactic acid isn't produced and my heart-rate during a stride (if recovery is sufficient) only just reaches the top end of MAF heart-rate (around 130 for me (about 80% of my 162 maximum). After 100 metres of walking between strides my heart-rate has recovered to around 94. My intention is to run strides following every run (and before races) if I can. I'll let you know how it goes.

Strangely alone during the last k (4:36 split) of the Tuggeranong Australia Day Parkrun 5k on a very warm and muggy morning.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

4th place at the Bowral Parkrun

Yesterday I raced the Bowral 5k Parkrun in the beautiful Southern Highlands of NSW. Seven runners from Canberra made the trip — Jim (driving), myself and Bryan leaving at 5AM for the 2-hour journey to Bowral. We'd had a lot of rain on the Friday and overnight but thankfully the day remained overcast and mild. In the carpark of the Briars Country Lodge and Inn (run venue) we met the famous Norma Wallett (W85) as well as Ruth and Marg, having already surveyed the notorious damp grassy 500 metre finish hill.

At the start, Jim took off like a man on a mission to break the M65 course record, vying for the lead of the race down the grassy slope towards the bikepath by the river. 'Go Jim!' I thought, 'he can't last at that pace!' I settled into a smooth rhythm once on the bikepath, running in step with a young girl for quite a while. Jim was a good 150 metres ahead, but starting to fall back through the field. I caught up to Jim well before the turn on the out/back course and then tried to catch other runners. Ran with a young bloke in a black shirt for quite a while (Luke I see from the results). On the run back towards the grassy hill we were slowly catching the first lady (Lorraine). Half way up the hill I overtook Luke, then Lorraine with a 'sprint' over the last 100 metres. 4th place! 24:13 was my time (ave HR 143), but the course was considerably harder than the Tuggeranong Parkrun!

Others in our group ran very well — Norma's time of 35:20 was just outside her W85 course record; Marg broke the W65 record; Bryan the M70 record and Ruth was within shouting distance of the W60 record. Before driving back to Canberra we celebrated with breakfast at Maccas in Mittagong.

I'm happy with how 2015 has kicked off. The previous week I ran 23:23 at the Tuggeranong Parkrun on a warm, humid morning. My running goal this year remains the same — to race 'a good 5k'. Yesterday was a good 5k, but the finishing time was less than good! I'm confident of running under 23 minutes soon, but the ultimate goal of a sub-22 Parkrun "isn't meant to be easy!" as my old running mate Malcolm Fraser once said. I'm very much looking forward to enjoying the process of trying to achieve that goal. After all, that's what it's all about.

 Jim finishing the Bowral Parkrun!
The amazing Norma Wallett races up the grassy finish hill at the Bowral Parkrun
Happy Canberra group after the Bowral Parkrun