some days are hard

strava screenshotSome days take you by surprise.

As training for the marathon ramps up, and the impact on my legs bites hard with the higher workload, I’m discovering that not every day is a “feel good” kind of day.

On Friday morning I hit the road with my brother for an early morning bike ride.  A bit of cross training is helpful and bike riding is my cross-training weapon of choice.

We went for a not-too-hilly route of around 30km with time limiting our options (and that time was limited even further when it took us 15 minutes for us to decide that yes, we could indeed ride in the rain!).

It was our first ride together for a while and I was excited to get out and about…but that quickly turned to frustration as I discovered a pair of legs that just wouldn’t do what they normally can.  An average speed nearly 15% lower than normal on a fairly short ride told the story.

It seems to me, that can be just as true in other aspects of our lives as well.  Some days things just don’t go according to plan.

We head out the door feeling fine only to run into a day that just doesn’t work. Words don’t flow, jobs don’t turn out right, the kids are even more off-the-wall than normal.

Some days are hard.

The next morning I had a longish run scheduled, but definitely didn’t feel like going running. It was early, cold and dark and that memory of dead-leg day was fresh in my mind.  I lay in bed for quite a while in the pre-dawn, arguing with myself.

I knew I’d beat myself up all day if I didn’t go, so dragged myself off the pillow and staggered off down the street.

It didn’t start much better than the day before, but over the first km or two, things loosened up and I started to find my rhythm again.

By the end of the run I was cruising, enjoying the crisp early morning air, saying g’day to the other early morning runners and cyclists, and thoroughly enjoying myself.  I can’t put a finger on what had changed, but the difference was stark. I even had enough energy for a little hard push at the 15k mark to see what speed I had in the legs.

Some days are great.

It got me to thinking that sometimes, even as we get moving in the morning and head out the door, we can’t know what the day holds.  The key for me, I think, is to breath deeply, lean into God, and stagger forth into the day, determined to deal with whatever comes my way.

Training this week:

Riding: 28km @ 23.2km/h, 362m climbed

Running: 18.1km @ 5.34 p/km, 105m climbed (a shorter “long run” after 4 weeks of 20k+)

Running: 8.0km @ 5.16 p/km, 77m climbed

Riding: 39.5km @ 27.5km/h, 257m climbed

Running: 10.1km @ 5.22 p/km, 88m climbed

The Week Ahead:

Aiming for 22-24k long run this Saturday, normal mid-week 8-10k runs, and hopefully a 40-50k ride Monday.  End of next week I’m in Cairns for work for a couple of days so might pack the shoes for some tropical warmth!

Looking forward to cheering from the sidelines as Sheri, Riley and a whole bunch of friends and family members run and walk the Mother’s Day Classic this Sunday.

The Preparation:

This week I’ve been thinking about food. What to eat before I run, what to carry with me (in the form of energy gels) to avoid going into shutdown due to lack of energy.  I’m going to start using the same brand that the Gold Coast Marathon provide…just to make sure they taste ok (well, as ok as energy gels can taste).

Body is in good shape. No trouble with feet, shins, or the eternally dodgy left knee.  So, so tired…but otherwise good.  The only real training questions are whether (a) my training plan has enough mileage in it; and (b) I can keep the feet and legs in good shape.

T-8 weeks!


the long run

Several times a week I find myself thinking “what the hell am I doing?” and “who am I, and what ever happened to the me I used to know?“.

For the first 40ish years of my life, I lived happily sure in the knowledge that running was only useful in organised team sports, and then only when absolutely necessary. I’ve never seen anybody out running with a smile on their face, and “real athletes” (like olympians) aren’t human so don’t count (plus they’re probably on steroids…right?).

I therefore knew, without having to try for myself, that running sucks and nobody normal would voluntarily do it.

And then, approaching 40, I found myself consciously avoiding mirrors, dreading trips to the park to run around with the kids, and huffing and puffing unreasonably on the basketball court.  So with a little motivational support from my family I started dragging myself down to the local park before sunrise and joining in a boot camp.  It started great, nice people, encouraging, motivating, fun variety of exercise.

Until “Week Two”.

We arrived one morning in the cold and dark as usual, but there was no gear set-up in the park, no exercise equipment. Just the trainer standing there, smiling his evil smile.  “It’s a running day” he said, before briefly describing the course and sending us on our way.  The shortest course he outlined was 5km, but there were 8km (you must be joking) and 10km (don’t be ridiculous!) options as well.  “10k in an hour boot camp session? That’s not possible.” I thought to myself.

That first morning I made it 1km before grinding to a halt, and shuffling along for the rest of the 5k loop, arriving back to see the rest of my crew getting in their cars to head for home.  I hated running that day just as much as I ever thought I would.

But little by little, the boot camp worked, fitness improved, and with one dedicated running session a week I gradually got better at it.  In the final week of my 8-week boot camp experience I ran 5km non-stop. I have to tell you, I skipped, danced, sung and laughed out loud on that last half-kilometre through the deserted pre-dawn streets of Launceston – pity the early morning shift workers who had to witness it. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined running 5k and here I was, about to do it.

A couple of weeks later I heard about the Launceston Ten – a dead flat mass participation “fun run” (oxymoron alert!) a few months away.  I kept up the training, increased distances little by little and had a crack at it, finishing in a faster time than I dared think possible, and running the whole way (the first time I managed that over the 10km distance).  It was such an adrenaline rush to set out in a field of over 1500 runners, all tackling their own internal demons and trying desperately for a personal best, or even just to finish.  I loved every step of that run (my first and last ever “competitive” run).

Stupidly as I crossed the finish line I heard a little voice inside my head say “that wasn’t so bad, what about a half marathon?”  That’s as good a reason as any never to trust the little voice inside your head.

Life intervened and we ended up moving back to Brisbane – so it wasn’t until 12 months later I had my first “half” experience – at the 2013 Gold Coast Half-Marathon.  I chose that race for one reason: the course is dead flat (see a theme here?).  I trained fairly well, including a pre-race “long” run of about 17km and set off to the coast to run 21.1km (not for the first time thinking those same thoughts I mentioned right up the top of this little story) in my second ever competitive running race.

Like many rookies I went out too fast and paid the price – hitting the invisible (but very real) “wall” at 17k and struggling home.  I crossed the line, collapsed on the ground and (I’m not ashamed to admit it) wept. The emotions of the moment overpowered me. I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe that less than two years after getting off the couch I had just run 21.1km.  I was also mighty relieved, having now run that distance and got it out of my system, I could head home, keep doing a couple of 5-7k runs a week and just go bike riding with my mates for fun and fitness. It (my two-race old competitive running career) was over. Thank goodness.

Except I made the mistake of going back to the finish line a few hours later to watch the marathon runners coming in.

Not the elite non-human athletes, but the “normal” people, finishing in 4 or 4 1/2 hours. People that (while clearly fit) look like you and I, come in all shapes, sizes and ages. And the sense of achievement written all over their faces at that finish line (along with other things like “I feel like vomiting” and “I hate running”) stirred up that little voice inside my head one more time:

I wonder what it would be like to run a marathon?

What is it that makes people think things like that? What is it that makes people run?

I’ve discovered many things about running, and about myself while running. Sometimes it’s the peace and quiet. Sometimes its the amazing sunrises on an early morning outing. Sometimes its the chance to ponder work challenges. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I just listen to the rhythm of my feet and breath, and don’t think about anything at all. Sometimes its the sheer blessed relief of sitting down after a long, painful run.

Sometimes I do hate it, but mostly I’ve come to love it.  Lacing up the shoes, slipping into something light, breathable and non-chafing (now that’s a challenge!) and heading out the door in the quietness of the early morning….I don’t know, I guess I breathe differently when I’m on the trail.

And so I run, and (so far) keep on running.

Which brings me to this point, the start of May 2014 and now just 9 weeks until I find out the answer to that last little question: “I wonder what it would be like to run a marathon?”.  I’m entered in the Gold Coast Marathon (it’s flat remember!) and will have a crack at the full 42.195km on July 6th for my third (and last!) competitive running race.

Training has been going well, I’ve been racking up lots of miles and my longer runs are building in distance – up to a 25km outing last weekend for my third weekend in a row of running half-marathon distance or more.  My training schedule (concocted with the help of My Asics and tweaked a little after some running forum conversations) takes me out to 32-35 over the next 6 weeks before a 2-3 week taper ( I know…I get to taper as if I’m a real athlete!). I hear it’s what happens beyond 30km and when you’ve been on the road 3 to 3 1/2 hours that really tells if you’re ready for a marathon.

I have to say, my family have been fantastic. There’s a lot of hours on the road, and while I mostly try and go early in the mornings, it inevitably creeps into family time…and they’ve been nothing but supportive.

So far I’ve suffered no significant injuries, just a constant state of exhaustion, dead legs and the never-ending desire to crawl into bed and sleep for a year.  I’m constantly dreading and at the same time aching for my next long run.  I sure hope that’s all normal (it definitely doesn’t sound like it to me!).

So here I am, inviting you (my 2 friends, and 2 relatives who read this!) to join me for the next few weeks.  For that period I’m going to use this blog as something of a training diary, keeping track of how I’m going, how often I’m thinking “what the hell am I doing?” and how many times I’m tempted to withdraw my entry. I promise this isn’t going to turn into a fitness blog for the future…just for a few weeks.

And if you want, come and join my on the running track for a few km to keep me company or teach me some things about running (for I am a rookie….making it up as I go along!). If you want to check in with the training runs in a little more detail, you can find all my info over at strava. If you know stuff about running, I will gladly hear your wisdom.

I have two main goals for the next few weeks. First to learn to run a little slower – to make the pace sustainable over the distance.  And second, to figure out how to shut down that little voice in my head….in case it says something genuinely stupid like “what about an iron-man distance triathlon?

I fear I’m in this for the long run.

step away from the golf ball….

golfThe other night I was out at a golf driving range, with a couple of mates.

It’s something we do whenever we get the chance, meet out there, smash some golf balls out into a paddock, tell stories, listen to each other.  Really its just an excuse to hang out together, but there is a little golf as well.

When you’re the kind of golfer I am (most accurately described as a hacker!) there are lots of experiences that are common.

There is the experience of spending long frustrating periods searching for a golf ball in the long rough.

There is the experience of watching putt after putt miss left, right, short and sometimes go straight over the hole.

There is the experience of that mysterious slice, seemingly un-correctable.

There is the experience of the ball screaming along inches above the ground instead of launching skyward in a truly beautiful arc (a phenomenon we hack golfers call “the worm burner”).

On this particular night, I was reminded of another regular experience for hopeless golfers. Continue reading

the life of the international athlete ;)

Have you heard the one about the lawyer, the architect, the social worker, the restaurateur and the minister?

Sounds like it would be a terrible joke to me!  But that’s the mob with which I travelled to New Zealand recently for my first tilt at being an international athlete.

We were making the trip to NZ to ride in the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge  – a weekend cycling festival that draws in over 8000 entries for a variety of events. The majority, like the five of us, were there for the “Solo” – a 154km circumnavigation of the stunning Lake Taupo.

In the field of somewhere between 4000 and 5000 “Solo” riders is everything from semi-professional to barely prepared, from bikes with price tags that would make your eyes water, to K-Mart quality mountain bikes.  It’s not a race, but a challenge (yeah….right!).

For some the challenge is to beat a personal best time, for others to beat their mates.

For some it’s an endurance event. A very small group go out to complete 2, 4 or a staggering 8 laps of the 154km course.  There are shorter (family friendly) rides too, along with relays and some spectacular mountain bike events.

For many, and for most of our group this is true, the challenge was to complete the Solo course and enjoy the experience.

We were at the ride as a celebration of my brother Paul’s 40th birthday.  Rather than a giant party, it’s becoming more and more common these days (at least in our circle of friends/family) to mark the momentous birthday with a special experience – and because there’s no fun doing something like the Taupo ride with a bunch of strangers (and to make sure he got home in one piece), a few of us joined the expedition.

As our trip to NZ was all about the ride it was a pretty short one – but we did manage to pack in a round of golf at Taupo Golf Club (where the rough was unbelievable, and the golf not much better!) the day before the ride.  And then a hilariously out of control encounter with the concrete luge racing track at Rotorua Skyline the day after. Less said about that the better in case word gets back to them of our shenanigans and we get blacklisted!

The ride, of course, was the main event.  It was hilly (somewhere around 2000m of climbing over the course) and made all the more difficult by what started as a stiff breeze and got steadily stronger as the day went on.

Most frustratingly, the wind backed around over the course of the day, meaning that for 90% of the ride we either had a headwind, or a nasty cross-wind. Neither is much fun to ride in! A little rain occasionally wasn’t too much to worry about and temperatures were pretty nice for cycling all day – hovering between 15 and 20 C.

Weather aside, it was a wonderful experience to ride with more than 4000 other cyclists, to find groups in which to draft, hide, lead and chat, to meet and talk with so many cyclists from every corner of NZ and a few other places further afield (about 300 Aussies for example).

We tried to set a realistic pace and all got through the ride pretty comfortably in the end. Paul suffered a couple of punctures which slowed him a little, and Tony some drive-train issues on the downhill sections – but otherwise we were trouble free.

The scenery was beautiful, our loop taking us through lush green pastures, rolling hills, lovely forest and the stunning lake-side drive along the southern edge of the lake.

View from the 92km rest stop looking over Lake Taupo

There was plenty of climbing to do, most of it in the first 90km, but nothing too serious. Grades were moderate and the pace comfortable enough. The notorious Hatepe Hill at the 130km mark turned out to be pretty manageable – with our only tailwind of the day helping us up the long grind.

Tucking into a group and blasting along the rare flats at around 40kmh was definitely a highlight, along with some very fast descending. My speedo registered a top of 70km/h during the ride. For a proper cyclist that’s unremarkable, but for me….let’s just say I knew I was alive!

Our group split up a little over the course of the day. Dug is much faster than the rest of us so set off early in one of the fast groups. The rest started together but splintered a little on the first 12km (pretty much all uphill!) section.  And then Paul’s second puncture split us again so we all came in solo. Dug hit the 154km in around 4hrs 48 mins, myself 6.26, Simon 6.29, Paul 6.34 and Tony 7.04.

I couldn’t have been happier with my own ride. I felt good all day and did plenty of leading as well as some following and hiding out of the wind. There were some fast groups that we couldn’t quite hang on to, but not for want of trying!

I hadn’t cranked out huge rides in training (my longest training ride went around 90km) but I spend plenty of time lapping Mt Cootha and a couple of trips over to Mt Gravatt…and that really helped. I had no trouble with the hills and felt very strong on the flats.  Maybe it helps that I do most of my training rides solo, with no group to tuck in behind…who knows.  A freshen up of the bike (Giant Defy 3) with some new light/fast tyres definitely sped things along as well.

It should be said that the last 20 km was awful.  Gusty, nasty side winds, narrow road, lots of traffic and then a turn into a blunt headwind for most of the last 3-4 km just plain hurt.  It would have been nice to ride in with the sun shining and a gentle breeze at our backs for that last half-hour…but not to be!

So the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 154km Solo ride is done and dusted.

Would we do it again?  Absolutely.

Will we actually do it again? Who knows.

If you’re a cyclist, put this ride on your list as a fantastic experience and a very well organised event.

And besides, there’s nothing quite like being an international athlete.

PS: Paul, in case you read this. There is no way, not now, not in 2015 that I am riding the Victorian Three Peaks ride.  4000m of climbing over 210km in a single day? I hope you enjoy it!

I don't like third umpires

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Ashes test this morning, watching Australia take on England in that most time honoured cricketing contest.

Apparently it’s been a while since I watched cricket, because I discovered that the “third umpire” has been introduced to cricket. Each team has the opportunity to object to an umpires decision and ask for it to be reviewed.  The system allows each team two unsuccesful challenges each innings (and presumably an unlimited number of successful challenges).

At face value, it seems reasonable.  We have the technology, and it only holds the game up for a little while, so why not? “Third umpires” and the capacity to challenge have been succesfully introduced in other sports – tennis and rugby league to name a couple, so why not cricket?

Because life isn’t perfect.

We all make mistakes.

Part of the challenge facing us is how we cope in our humanity, how we give expression to our emotions when life doesn’t go as planned.

The ‘third umpire’ sets an impossible standard of perfection, and sets up expectations of sporting officials that cannot possibly be lived up to.  It effectively says to the sports officials “we don’t trust you”.

Life is imperfect, and messy.

Sport is too.  And as a reflection of life, that’s just the way it should be.

one small crack in the elbow

So it’s “le tour” time. That time of year when my sleep patterns are destroyed by SBS coverage of .

It’s truly one of the world’s great sporting epics, and I’m years into my annual addiction to it.  If you missed last year’s reflections, here’s some stories you might find interesting:

This year’s tour has been unbelievable – and we’re not yet half-way into the race. Massive accidents, favourites falling by the wayside, the inclusion of seriously tough cobblestone stretches and plenty more.

But last night’s stage took the cake. After already covering 145 km and topping three big mountains, the pack hit the foot hills of a monster 27.5 km climb (gaining over 1600 vertical metres) up the famed Col de la Madeleine.  With the front running teams pouring on the power up front, the peleton split apart, with race leader and Australian Cadel Evans one of the biggest casualties – dropping out of the battling pack and destined to lose so much time that any hope of winning this year’s Tour was gone.

Later it emerged that Evans was carrying an injury – a fractured bone in his elbow suffered in a crash two days earlier (the day he took the race lead).  While seemingly a relatively minor injury, the cracked bone hit Evans where it hurt the most – stopping him from being able to stand up out of the saddle and power up the mighty Madeleine. Continue reading