Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Egg Came First

Running, like riding a bike, is a fairly easy thing to remember to do. As is the knowledge of how far you’ve run in one go on previous occasions, which is 13 kilometers for me. This is unfortunate; it makes you say things like “yes” when you’re asked by your better half if you’ll run the 10k race on Wellington’s Marathon day.

Some chickens have all the fun...

I knew I wasn’t fit enough when the idea was thrown at me a couple of weeks ago and I continued, through lack of effort, to remain just as unfit, in fact more unfit because my birthday landed a bounty of cake on my doorstep, which travelled to the kitchen, then onto a plate, and finally into my belly.

Running has been an irregular event this year: My globetrotting shoes finally got some speed up in foreign climes (the UK in February), where they returned the verdict that it was far too cold, and my lungs concurred. Back in NZ for the arse end of summer I put in the odd few kilometres, not enough to be fit but enough to keep me accustomed. Or so I thought.

Or at least half thought, because there was a twist in the mix that I suspected would create problems – I had to dress as a chicken. The purpose of the costume was to help in the campaign to put and end battery hen farming in NZ, please buy free range eggs. Technically this suit was a pretty good excuse for any kind of poorness, its extra weight, heat insulation and wind resistance all being high grade A excuses.

So, on Sunday morning I stepped out as a human turducken  on the outside a chicken, then inside that a fat, then inside that a skinny lad who's too lazy to get out.

I was not the only chicken, there were several of us but I’m not a pack animal when it comes to running, I like to go at my own pace – slow enough not to hurl, which is very slow indeed. And I pecked and scratched my way around that course. That’s a metaphor for grim determination, I didn’t actually act the part of a chicken.

Running makes you look like you've lost your teeth...

Wellington knows how to do fancy dress, the whole town wears costumes for the Rugby 7s, but us chickens seemed to be the only people in costume. And partly because of this I got a huge amount of support from people, both crazy bystanders, lounging about in the rain and fellow runners, on a mission to get out of the rain. If it wasn’t for the crowd and kids shouting out ‘go chicken man’, people jogging past and saying how much they admired the message and the marshals flat out lying about how well I was doing, I think I might well have just ground to a walk.

Mind you, that might not have been much slower, at one point I was passed by the 80 minute pace setter, and they were walking.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Run Like You Mean It... I'm Not Sure What That Means

As you can surely ascertain from the paucity of posts on this blog, I haven’t really been doing all that much running of late. Ironically, the cause of this has been the fact that my car, a Volkswagen, has been demonstrating something that I have always suspected – that the German reputation for reliability has as much to do with good spin as it does with fact.

After my last post, and the excellent globetrotting combined with abject non-usage of the ugly shoes, the end of June and the beginning of July saw something of a resurgence of their favour. Where could such motivation come from when the glory of a half marathon and wanting to be the bestest (i.e. not too fat for photos) best man ever, had failed?

There were two unrelated, and unexpected, sources. Firstly, my better half suddenly decided that running might be boring (which it is) but it’s not too bad if you’re running round Wellington’s waterfront. There is no denying that it is nice to run along the prom, even in the dark, in the middle of winter; the large trees are rigged with lights and there aren’t too many people around. In some ways though, I don’t think I’m built for running on the flat, I think I actually need some up, so I can have some down and get some pace. The other big motivation was an invite to speak at a conference in Europe. This makes me sound really important but I had to submit an abstract to a committee and then I got lucky. I had no desire to stand at the front of a hall of people and look tubby. With these two motivators I had a perfect storm for running inspiration.

Things went well, I even ran with a cold at one point, which felt a bit like someone pulling bramble bushes through my lungs and I went so slowly I found it hard to catch up with quick paced walkers. Then the car developed a really neat fault where it would cut out and then not re-start. Without the car it became unviable to drive down to the waterfront, or more importantly, drive away again, up the long vertiginous road to our abode. Once you’ve flat, there’s no going back.

I missed the fairy lights too.

Still, when it came time for the conference I dragged the ugly shoes around the world for a second time. At least on this trip they got worn, although admittedly that was for a walk in the woods with my mom and my brother’s dog, when I paid a flying visit to Blighty and my parents’, in fact all my family. After this stroll I forgot to clean the shoes again and managed to smuggle a very small amount of European dirt into New Zealand on my return. It was a genuine mistake and one I was fortunate to get away with without being banged up – they say the sniffer dogs are for drugs but I suspect they’re really for mud. Think I’m being crazy? Just you try it, and don’t ask me to pay your fumigation bill.

However, I despite only bog trotting in the shoes I did actually do some running while I was in Germany, although this was entirely unplanned, hence the fact that I wasn’t wearing the shoes. It was raining in Cologne when I arrived and my initial thought was to hunker in my hotel room until the evening. After faffing about for a bit I suddenly thought, no, I should go and register for the conference, then I’ll at least know where the conference centre is and do some exploring on the way. So I went out onto the streets, heading in the rough direction of where I knew the centre was. I walked across a bridge, spanning the Rhine; that’s a really wide river when it’s raining and you have no cover, I can tell you.

Eventually I reached the conference centre, about a minute too late to register, but having learned that it took about half an hour to get there, so not a bad walk. It had been raining hard for my entire walk and the rain was now starting to seep through from my collar and drain through my t-shirt. My jeans were also starting to wick water from any contact point. Inside my jacket was my camera and I figured the water would get to it from my t-shirt, through the lining. That was worrying. Even more worrying though was my passport. It was in the pocket of my jeans, which was probably the safest place, but there wasn’t any part of me that wasn’t starting to feel damp, and I knew as soon as the water got into the paper the photo page would lift it and void the passport.

So I figured I should run back to the hotel. I hadn’t really eaten all that much food during the day and wasn’t particularly hydrated either, but the desire to save my precious belongings, and the money they’d cost to replace, drove me on. I darted along the railway bridge, fording the fast flowing river with bounding steps. I even overtook another runner, which was a first. I could barely see where I was going, my glasses covered in droplets of water. Running... pant... too... pant... fast... pant, pant, pants wet! Run faster! Finally I got to the hotel and turned out my pockets. Everything was fine. I collapsed on the bed.

I wonder if, this time last year, I would simply have let my passport get wrecked, or perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to run back fast enough to keep it safe?

As for gut mitigation, I used a favourite trick of gentlemen through the ages: I wore a suit.

That was nearly two months ago and we’ve had the car back a few times since, but it always breaks down. One time we were on our way for a run. We did do the run, then had something to eat then dumped the car unceremoniously at the garage. We have the car back again and with the prospect of being in the Hutt Valley on Saturday night, the location of my two longest ever runs, I couldn’t resist bringing the shoes along.

Before I could run though, I had to go and buy a lottery ticket, as it was some mega payout to celebrate taking money off the poor for twenty years, or something. The sun was shining and lighting up the hills an orangey gold and I was really looking forward to a nice relaxing jog. When I came out of the supermarket, with my little ticket of waste in my hand, it had started to rain. I drove to the place I start my run from and the rain seemed to be easing up. So out I went, and I went out hard. The rain picked up again and for some reason this made me run faster.

Within no time at all I was knackered but I had run way above my normal pace. When I turned around I discovered that I’d had the wind to my back, and there was me thinking I was really quick. But even with the wind in my face I decided to charge into it as hard as I could. In fact, far too hard and ended having to walk, then run, then walk, then run. But the runs were quick, and I felt like crap, like a man who’s used to jogging, not powering along, in fact it took about quarter on an hour to stop feeling sick after I finished. Although, I have discovered that chewing on Tic-Tacs is a wonderful distraction in this situation. Top tip there Paula, you can thank me next time you win a marathon.

Most importantly, it made me feel like a rubbish runner. Which was important, as it’s this kind of self loathing that I need to motivate me. On Sunday I ran again, once more short, about 25 minutes, but hard; then played video games for an hour to help me forget that I felt wrecked. That’s what I call balance.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Round the World Fail...

This weekend just passed saw plenty of running in Wellington, including the half marathon, but I wasn't a part of it. Despite insufficient training in April and May I was still resolved to grind it out, but things did not go according to even this shoestring of a plan. I knew the lead up to the 21k would be tough because I had a trip to the UK planned from the 4th to the 14th of June, during which it would be hard to fit in any running in at all. However, on the way back to Blighty I did have six hours between flights, and the interwebs told me that Changi airport has a gym. With this in mind I made sure my hand luggage contained all the things I needed for some running, including, of course, the ugly shoes.

However, this plan became susceptible to change because Rach had to book flights back to the UK with me at the last minute and through the strange mists of international travel ticket booking she was on a flight out of Singapore three hours before me. Flying into Singapore together we decided to see if I could get the earlier flight. We weren't hopeful but we had nothing better to do than hang around an information desk. To our surprise I was able to switch flights, and for free! Which was a lot better for me time wise, although my heart and lungs may never forgive me.

Still, I thought I'd get some running done while in the UK and really I should have, it was abject foolishness that stopped me. I was knackered all the time but I could have put in a couple of twenty minute runs, as it was I don't think I even walked for 20 minutes. I was driving a lot while I was over there and running would have been a great counter to the knotted back, but I failed to act.

Over the course of the week I was in the UK I had a wicked cold come on, which really slayed me on the way back, and I didn't have as long a time in the airport so, once again, the shoes stayed in my bag, primed, ready to go off, but ultimately unused, unloved. Back in Wellington I pretty much worked and slept for a week, jet lag and the cold that killed Wellington (seems I contracted it before I left NZ, and not from the snotty guy sat next to me on the outbound journey, like I told everyone) leaving me with little energy and just enough sense to realise that running in the wet might rate as a stupid idea.

So, the ugly shoes have been halfway around the world and back again without being used once. In fact, the closest I got to running was watching a documentary on the plane, about three guys running across the Sahara. I feel shame but I still haven't been running for an age. In fact, the last time they got used for any real exercise was when I tried wearing them for fencing, and they were pants for that, or at least I like to blame them for how bad I was that night. Running though, is this the end? Will I ever run again? Will I ever do the half marathon? Is this the end of the ugly shoes? Will I have to change the name of this blog? Tune in next time to find out.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Smell of Success...

With the onset of winter in the southern hemisphere stench has become a bit of an issue. With reduced sunlight our house has become significantly more damp, meaning the ugly shoes are a breeding ground for smell, or whatever bacterial thing it is that creates the smell. Last week I made the terrible mistake of wearing them to work, where I became so overpowered by the honk that I went out to buy something to deodorise them before any of my colleagues complained. Instead of going to the chemist or the shoe shop next to it for something proper for doing the job I reverted to the mindset of a teenage boy and bought some Lynx. Despite profuse spraying I failed to allay the odour but I did make the office smell like, and I quote a workmate, a “sixth formers changing room”. Although I think Lynx must have changed its formula since I was at school, as the cloud it creates is no longer quite so caustic to the back of the throat.

So now the ugly shoes live outside and can only be worn for exercise. Which is good for the eyes and noses of folks around me but I miss having the option to walk into work in them, they are very comfortable for the locomotion.

I also have a blue hooded top, which is completely wrecked. There are holes in the sleeves so large that my elbows stick out. This makes it an excellent top for exercise though, and when it’s raining I like to wear it with the hood up and pretend I’m Rocky. Although he clearly had enough self respect to have a hoodie without holes in the elbows. There’s probably not enough space on the intertubes to list all my deficiencies in comparison to Rocky here, so I’ll stop before this turns all Spanish Inquisition. Anyway, my hoodie got wet, with my sweat I think, and I left it in the laundry, which is a damp and musty room itself. Then I wanted to go out for a quick run, so I put it on the radiator to dry it out. Well, what a weird smell that created! It completely stank out the bedroom and I had to do some emergency airing before Rach noticed.

Yes, smell that people, that’s the smell of effort; I’m paying in sweat, and so is everyone else.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Too Much Too Young...

I should be running, but instead I'm writing. I haven't been running for two weeks now, because I got a little bit over excited.

I started to build up quite a good routine of jogging at lunch time, covering about 4 kilometers. These runs were done along Wellington's amazing waterfront and, along with plenty sunny weather, the setting really motivated me to put the leg work in. That said, New Zealand's ferocious sun is a killer when you're used to running at dusk and in the dark and I always longed for shade. There's also no shortage of other runners, some faster, some slower, mostly faster. These other runners should motivate me but they only really make me feel slow. Talking to Brett, our HR guy at work, who was a professional athlete in a previous life and a man of brutal self motivation, he was saying how much he likes to smile at other runners, because it messes with their heads. He also reminded me that no one knows where you began your run, so for all they know you've been running for the past hour and covered a significant distance.

But it wasn't the running that forced me to rest up for two weeks, it was my other forum for extreme slowness that generated the problem. I am a super slow swimmer and always feel inferior when covering distance in water but I love the open air pool in Thorndon. It's probably my favourite place in the whole city. My speed impediment isn't helped by my penchant for dong the breaststroke, the slowest of all the strokes. Alas, this is a summer pool and, at these latitudes, that season is technically over. With only a few weeks to go before the pool closed I went into overdrive on visits, gorging on its outdoorsy goodness. And each time I went I had the sensation of increased riving in my poor left knee, like it the whole joint was getting looser. If I had a good technique or did the freestyle like sensible folk I probably wouldn't have a problem. Or, I could have stopped swimming, but as I said, its season was coming to a close.

The swimming also had another angle of awkwardness. Sometimes swimming and running on the same day I couldn't be bothered to lug too much stuff to work each day. So I started using the same shorts for both activities. One day I went out running before the shorts were dry - it was sunny and breezy, I knew they'd dry out pretty quickly. Hmmm... not quickly enough. They were chafe-o-matic, rubbing away the hairs and skin on the inside of my leg and making me look weird as they knotted up under my crotch. Despite constant manual intervention, it only took seconds for the knot to reform time and time again. At work everyone found these shorts deeply amusing, which I did expect. I once wore them to the shop and someone asked me if I was too hot - I think he thought I'd stripped down to my boxer shorts. They have that kind of look.

Oddly, the biggest effect of not running has been increased tension in my shoulders. I've always suffered from headaches but I think they must originate in my shoulders and neck and running shakes that tension out. I now have a headache, for the fourth day in a row, so I think it's time to start running once more.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Water, Water...

Having been caught short of the dunny destination on my first attempt, there was nothing for it other than to attempt it once more the following weekend, whence Rach was next working in the Hutt. This time my MP3 player was flat out of juice and I knew there was no time to charge it, so Gogol Bordello did not join me. However, a recently eaten tea did join me, which was a tasty mistake; more on that later.
Setting off I soon realised that I hadn't drunk enough water throughout the course of the day, not by a very long way. The slight uphill soon created a greater than expected ache in my calf muscles. This caused me to contract my stride more than usual, which made the whole aching thing worse. I tried bigger steps but my body refused, so I shambled on regardless, lurching along like a sweaty zombie, mumbling "water, water" as I went. Ironic when running next to a river.

Despite the fog of the run I couldn't help noticing that, compared with the previous week, there were a lot fewer folk around. No hockey was being played, no bunches of kids walking back from a day swimming in the river, no psychic name guessers, no girls walking past then laughing hysterically and no man on a mountain bike, out with his family, looking at me in a way which I couldn't work out - was it admiration for my pained running effort or jealousy that I could at least go at whatever pace I wanted. This is Wellington on a public holiday weekend, everyone leaves. Although, I did see two separate cars walking their dogs, in both cases small poodles. Yep, you read right, cars. The dog walkers were in cars, driving along a dirt track, with their dogs sprinting hell for leather behind, not, I might add, on a leash. I have been unable to decide if this was cruelty or abandonment. For sure, the dogs will have had awesome cardio workouts, but they may have whimpered all the way.
After a lonely run I was up to the point I had turned back from before but, of course, kept running. In a matter of minutes I arrived at the sacred toilet spot. The sense of accomplishment was tempered though: I had been drawn this far as much by the belief that there would be a water fountain near the toilets as the sense of pride, but my hopes were dashed, there was no such facility, and the toilets were much more scuzzy than I had built them up to be in my head. Yes, I had been fantasising about this location for pretty much the entire run so far and the whole place was splendid in my head. Instead, all I found was a really rather simple single toilet brick building. Before setting off I had the feeling that I needed a poo. This had happened the previous week, which might have been why I chose the toilets as the turning point in the first place. However, once I was trotting along the sensation had abated. The same was true the second time around, which suggests that these longer runs make me a little nervous. I'm glad that neither time have I had to do a Paula Radcliffe and facilitate the gutter in full glare, although she can run a marathon in only 30 minutes longer than it takes me to cover 12 kilometers, so perhaps I should have a go at going. Anyway, with no water to be drunk I thought I might at least hop in the bog for a number one, and it's a good job I did, I had a full tank in there, no wonder it had been such a slog going uphill.
Lightened and thinking stuff like "hell, I was kind of banking on there being a water fountain, if I don't put some strides into this then my legs are going fall off before I get back" I picked up the pace. Going downhill and knowing I was past the halfway point made everything a little bit easier and I dashed away from the bogs with a new spring in my step. I'm not sure if anyone could see this from the outside, but it was there on the inside. As I sped (ahem) along the light faded fast, the previous week had been the last Saturday of daylight savings and now I knew it would be dark quite some time before I got to the end. The fading light can have a slight demoralising effect, but on the flip side it allows one to wear the ugly face of the exercise pained without fear of scaring small children. The increased speed also churned the undigested food in my belly, creating a wicked stitch. Not wanting to sacrifice speed I instead held the afflicted area with one hand, which seemed to do the job quite nicely. And the tyre of fat I cradled helped to remind me why I needed to go out running.

Finally I got back to the car and checked my time. Hmmm, the extra distance and slash cost me an extra 5 minutes on my time, which was a shock, I thought my return leg was faster than before, despite the lack of music. Clearly I had underestimated the power of a thumping tune. Thinking back it might have been the banging beat coming through the vent of the toilet from car parked next to it that had given me that spur, post potty break. Perhaps those lads could drive alongside me next time, that would save me some music device weight. Although they'd probably want petrol money, which they'd waste on pop and crisps, no doubt. The cheeky young tykes.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Suburb Far, Far Away...

It's shameful how much I've neglected this blog of late. After my last post I actually went running twice more that day - once at lunch time and then again in the evening. The idea behind this madness was to give my body such a shock that the dragon boating final that week would feel super easy. It kind of worked and it certainly shocked the hell out of my body. However, after the pressure of dragon boating abated with the hard fought festival day I continued to run but, I'll be honest, it seemed less important to push myself. I even deliberately took a week off at one point, which was a severe blow to the routine, although my knees were extremely thankful.

But, even when not running, I thought about it a lot. You see, the day after the dragon boat festival me and Rach were at a friend's house for a Christening and one of the other guests was talking about his training for an iron man triathlon event. I'm not sure how it came up but it was suggested that I run the Wellington half marathon in June, as the event helps you focus. Of course, I didn't really set my efforts to accomplishing the 21 kilometers of a half marathon, but I didn't stop pondering the idea.

So, after dropping Rach off at work last week I looked at the map we have in the car and picked a spot to run to, some public toilets, a spot much further away than any distance I had run before, and that was just one way. Of course, it didn't look all that far on the map. If I finished the run then the half marathon was on, if not then I could eat some chocolate, or something.

Away I went, running through a sports park (Fraser Park, where kids were playing football and a hockey match was in progress) at a pace I suspected I could manage for a while. I don't normally listen to music while running around but this time I had my MP3 player on me, loaded with some fine Gogol Bordello, a supreme Ukrainian band whose music forces you to dance. Frankly, it was too much for me and made me feel all panicked and weird, so I turned it off again and listened to the blood pounding in my ears instead.

I knew my destination loos were ambitiously far away but after a while I kept thinking that they must be just around the next corner. I thought they were near Stokes Valley somewhere, but when I got there I saw no toilets. I carried on jogging along, and Stokes Valley ended up behind me. All right, just one more corner. Eventually I came to the sign remarking the outer limits of Upper Hutt City, which is a fair trek from Lower Hutt, where I started. I was sure the toilets weren't this far, damn, I must have missed them. So I took note of my surroundings, so I could pinpoint them later, and wheeled around.

The journey back seemed even longer than the journey there and jogging along for that kind of time is, I must confess, kind of boring. Along that final stretch I could only see the big long track of where I'd come from and figured that, my legs plodding along far too slowly and in pathetically close step I should, once again, attempt to invoke the spirit of Gogol Bordello and this time they were much more value to my brain. Their gypsy punk joy rattled me into the same beat, which forced me to stretch my gate, although I probably didn't go much faster.

Of course, as is the way of the world, once you are listening to good music, someone wants to speak to you. Passing some kids one hailed me to ask a question "Is your name Jon?" she asked (she may have asked if it was John I guess). "Yeah, how did you know?" It turned out it was her friend that got it right, but he had simply guessed. I wished him luck using such skills to get rich and was on my way. While talking to the kids I did that dickish running on the spot thing, fearing my legs wouldn't start again if I stopped. It took ages to cross into Fraser Park again, and interminable age, I really need to get faster at this game.

Then my MP3 player ran out of juice, but I was nearly back. Vaguely pretending to accelerate towards the finishing line I noted people were still playing hockey, but I can't tell you if it was the same game though. And then the end. I don't remember feeling exhausted like I do after shorter runs, where I feel like I'm going to hurl. Perhaps because the end wasn't uphill, perhaps because I didn't sprint final 20 meters.

Hopping in the car I grabbed the map. Balls, I hadn't read it wrong, I had remembered it wrong. The toilets were at Silverstream, not Stokes Valley and I wasn't far off when I turned around. Satoru Nakajimaaaaa!

I did a quick guesstimate on the route though and the number seemed as big as it felt. several times longer than I'd ever run before. Really? Had I honestly been that ambitious. The only way to know would be to consult Map My Run. Once home I grabbed the computer and crunched the distance. Nearly 12 kilometers, wow, that really was about four times further than my longest effort. Well, I guess that does it, if I can do that without much training and just time and stupidity on my hands I reckon the half marathon is definitely possible. Perhaps even the marath- no, 12km might be four times longer than my previous efforts but 4x4x4 (ish) is probably just plane stupid. Oh...

Of course, it took me about one and a half hours to run this distance, which gives me a rate of 8km per hour. Record breakers? You should probably sit this one out Norris.