When love goes sour

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Dear Running

There’s no easy way of saying this so I’ll be blunt – I think we need a break from each other. Just for a little while. I imagine this comes as a bit of a shock. At least, I didn’t see it coming. Yet, today, I know that if our relationship is to survive for the long-term – and I hope it does- some time apart is essential. I need time. Time to recover from yesterday’s race, time for my glutes, hips and back to relax, time away from you to rekindle what really has been an amazing mid-life romance.

We’ve had a great year! No injuries, ten joyous races, and PBs in 5km, 10km and 21.1.km distances. Until last week, things had never been better between us. Maybe it was the effort of that 5km PB at Champion Lakes parkrun last weekend, or it might have been the half marathon PR I inadvertently set at the WAMC Fremantle Half four weeks back. Or maybe I’m just too old and tired for a full-time commitment. It was probably a combination of these things that turned last week’s short, easy taper runs into drudgery on legs that felt like steel (as in stiff, not strong). Yet, despite these poor training efforts, I thought we’d get through yesterday’s Ironman 70.3 Mandurah race with our love intact. I believed in us. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

The first 10km went according to plan – 49 mins. Then, something went wrong. My legs turned to lead, and took my heavy heart with them. We let each other down. And you know, these things happen. I get that. After all, I’ve been married 17 years, so I know that you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, but did you have to let me down on such an important event? Did our bust-up have to be the only race where my family stood by the sidelines cheering me on, telling me they loved me and that I was doing really great (when I really, really wasn’t)? Did it have to be the team event where my poor performance cost us a place in the rankings? I know, I know, 5th place is still pretty amazing when you show up vaguely hoping to make the Top 15, and my swimmer and cyclist really couldn’t have been more supportive, but still. Your timing was off – excuse the pun. And telling me that my time (1:52) wasn’t that bad is missing the point too so please stop saying that.

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The point is that I hated you for 11km yesterday. I hated you enough to walk a little bit. Yes, walk! Every step I took was miserable. All those cardio workouts were for nothing; my legs wouldn’t move fast enough to get me out of breath. By the end, I was running slower than an easy training run, and I loathed every step. I watched so many other runners, their mojo intact, their legs springing them across the finish line, and couldn’t help feeling slighted. What had I done wrong? All the time and energy I had invested in our relationship, and for what? To be grateful that at least the ice cubes at every fuel station kept my nausea at bay and I didn’t need to stop at the portaloo? I really thought we’d moved beyond that stage.

I’m going to take a few days rest. I might go for a walk or two. I will probably try a gym session to revive my weary muscles. I will analyse over and over what went wrong between us without much hope of an answer. I will avoid uploading yesterday’s run to my Strava profile until I feel resilient enough to review the graphic representation of our first major argument since we moved to Australia. Today, I honestly feel too fragile.

This morning, for the first time in three and a half years, I actually looked at runners, and felt meh, as if they belonged to another tribe. Ok, so I did go for walk. You can’t expect someone as passionate as I to turn into a total couch potato whatever our difficulties. A girl has her needs. I’m flying to Singapore on thursday for the weekend. I’m hopeful that I’ll feel like taking my Garmin with me. I’m guessing that by Friday, I’ll be checking out Active Wear in Under Armour. Maybe by Saturday, I’ll be missing you enough to get up at 5:30am and do a tropical parkrun, though to be honest, the way I’m feeling today, I think that’s highly unlikely. My Facebook feed (where I won’t change my relationship status – it’s just a break – honest!), so cluttered with running advice and anecdotes, has given me a headache – though this may also be due to dehydration. Today, I will tend to what are left of my toenails (don’t take this as a criticism!) and try make them look less repulsive – assuming I can bend down far enough to brandish tea tree oil and nail polish. I hope you understand that I need time to reassess our relationship and my expectations, to work through my fatigue and ennui (and bruised ego), and do the laundry created by five people going to Mandurah for one night. Be patient. I know we’ll get through this.

Best regards,

Jo

Busselton 70.3 Relay 2015

Finally I ran a half marathon in which I felt undefeated by the distance. That’s HM:9-Me:1 Yay! It was the run leg of the Busselton Half Ironman Relay and it finally put to bed the threat of my headstone reading: Here lies the Expat Runner who never ran a half marathon without a tonne of excuses for why she should have done better. 

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Last saturday, not only did I put one foot in front of the other without stopping for 21.1km, but I didn’t complain about doing so either. For once, I was not swearing ‘never again’ under my breath – or worse, aloud. I didn’t stop to go to the toilet either which alone merits a medal. I shouted out ‘so far so good’ to my team mate around the 15km mark which I can absolutely, categorically say never occurred to me to even think, not to mention say, during any other race ever before. Her reply, by the way was ‘remember the roos’ referring to the fact that we needed to get on the road for the three-hour journey back to Perth before twilight to avoid colliding with kangaroos, several of which we’d seen in the form of roadkill on the journey to Busselton. I laughed and ran on with renewed, roo-avoiding, determination. Love my team!

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Finish line HAPPY!

The course was very flat which helped. The weather conditions were also perfect – sunny, with a breeze, and low humidity. Our team name, ‘I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in KL Anymore’ couldn’t have been more apt. Unlike the other two Half Ironman team events I have done, the Busselton race holds the teams back from starting until most of the triathletes have finished the course. I anticipated this as a negative as I’d previously loved running amongst tough  – and slightly insane- triathletes. On saturday, most of these guys and gals were knocking back a beer or two by time I started running, turning the team event into a team race. Which worked out pretty well in the end as it obliterated the guilt over being a lightweight and not attempting the full triathlon. The fact that the course was three loops turned out to be mental bonus rather than a challenge too as once one 7km loop was complete, you knew exactly what lay ahead.

And so finally, I ran a half marathon that felt like a celebration of my training, that relied on my legs, lungs and mind without being undermined by a miserable digestive system.  I crossed the finish line happy, even before looking at my watch. The fact that I knocked over 2 minutes of my previous HM time was a bonus though it really felt like it was my due. I was capable of running that time – 1:47:45 – a year ago at Borneo International Half Marathon in much higher temperatures and humidity but my stomach let me down, I suspect because of dehydration, leaving me limping over the line at the end.

At Busselton, I was very, very diligent with my hydration. Perhaps starting at 13:45 helped too as I had hours of fuel – and nervous waiting – in me as I started which is never the case for a morning race. And of course it wasn’t really hot or humid.

I actually could have run faster but didn’t want to risk it lest it backfire in my intestines. I finished strong, passing a guy only a few hundred metres from the finish chute. I managed the same at the ASICS Bridges 10km a few weeks ago, passing people on the home Busso_finish2straight whose butts I’d been eyeing up for several kilometers. Mind you, at Busso, a girl half my age if even, ran past me 200m from the finish line, robbing my all-female team of a top-10 finish by 9s so I can’t be smug. Still, to get 11th out of almost 70 teams for three women in their mid-forties, with seven children between them, in an environment as competitive as Western Australia, racing against ‘kids’ in their twenties and thirties, was astounding. I’m certain we got first place for the team, irrespective of gender, with the longest team name. I was lucky to have a really supportive, sporty and good-humoured team.

So, the easy course and weather and the mid-day start aside, why I am feeling stronger than before towards the end of a race, when I have a history of flagging, and flagging badly at that?  I certainly didn’t train any harder for this event than for previous races though I was free of the ITB injury that affected my previous two half marathons. Essentially, I think I trained smarter.

Running 80% of my runs slowly, and 20% fast seems to be paying off. Besides giving me the ability to run faster on race day, the 80:20 system has improved my fatigue resistance and kept me injury-free. I’m also doing one or two gym sessions a week to build up my core, upper body, and glute strength.

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Will I be trying to run faster next time? Of course I will try but I won’t be disappointed if I don’t achieve another PB. If I run a good race that reflects my training efforts, that doesn’t upset my stomach, that allows my legs to do their best, I’ll be happy. If I run another 21.1km without saying ‘never again’ at the 14km mark, I’ll consider that an achievement. If I cross the finish line smiling, instead of grimacing and complaining, I’ll be feeling like it’s a personal best, irrespective of the numbers on my watch. Roll on Perth Half Marathon in August.

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Running Slow to Get Faster

Yesterday I started a Training Peaks Half Marathon plan designed to get me across the finish line at the Busselton Half Ironman relay in 1:45. Well, I signed up for the plan two months ago when May seemed a long way off and I still believed in miracles! The schedule for Monday said 8km easy, so I ran 8km maybe not easy but strong, but not pushing too hard. It was one of the best training runs I had done in weeks. My Garmin watch, which is still under warranty, is out of action at the moment. I had to send the faulty charging cable to Garmin Australia in NSW for repair/replacement. So yesterday, I couldn’t actually see my pace as I ran. I was running purely by feel, recording the run using the Strava App. I felt great! My average pace turned out to be 5:10min/km. My last kilometre was sub 5mins. I guess I got a bit carried away with myself but it felt so good!

When I got home I checked the training plan again and noticed for the first time that the pace indicated for the run was just under 6min/km. Not only that but this pace doesn’t increase for any of the non-interval runs throughout the 10-week plan. Surely this must be a mistake. How can you go out and run 21.1km at 5min/km pace or faster when most of your training runs are done at a minute slower per kilometre!? I dismissed the plan as lightweight.

As Monday progressed, my energy levels did the opposite. I was zonked. Today’s planned interval session didn’t happen at all. It’s almost 3PM and I’m still dressed to run but the only run I’m doing soon is the school run, in a car. So as fabulous as I felt in the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s 8km, I’m not feeling somewhat deflated. Day two of a plan and I’ve already skived. Day 1 and I’ve already over-trained. So what to do?

Well, buy a book of course! And finish a novel. I should slip that in too that instead of running today, I had a little nap then finished a novel I’ve been working on for three years. No one has read it yet so it could be complete tosh but at least it is completed tosh.

Back to my purchase. It’s called 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower. Its main message is that in order to run faster, runners need to train slower. Yes, its counter-intuitive but the premise is based on scientific studies and analyses of athletic performance. I’m still sceptical but I think it’s worth a read. Certainly, the press coverage for the book has been very positive.

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It’s hard to run slow when you feel you can run faster. It’s also hard on the ego to deliberately run slower that you are capable of 80% of the time, then display the fact on Strava. Well it is for me! That said, my constant attempts to run every run as fast as is comfortable without pushing too hard isn’t paying dividends other than in measures of frustration as I’m not actually getting any faster. I’m feeling tired and heavy legged a lot of the time, and I am developing new aches and pains on a weekly basis.

So, I’m ready to try something new, ready to slow down if it really means I’ll stay injury-free and run faster in the long run. I’ll let you know what I think of the book. I’ll let you know too how long it takes Garmin to return my cable!

Race report: Angkor Wat Half Marathon 2014

AngkorWat3At the start line of this year’s Angkor Wat Half Marathon, rather than worrying about the 21.1km ahead, my mind was preoccupied with the issue of gender inequality. Lofty thoughts however they were not. I was eyeing the back of a runner, a male runner, who was peeing against a tree. Not fair! I needed the loo too, despite having just been to the portaloo, but with only minutes to go to the starting gun, I wasn’t going to risk missing the start of the race. Been there, done that! While I was feeling hard done by, other runners were climbing a mound of rocks to view Angkor Wat temple in all its sunrising glory. There can’t be many start lines to match this one but as ever my mind was (wishing I was) in the toilet.

The outfit. During the first km I saw a woman wearing the same skirt.
The outfit. During the first km I saw a woman wearing the same skirt.

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Blinking bladder aside, the race went very well. I got stuck behind a thousand runners at the start, but managed to weave through so that by the second kilometre I was doing a comfortable pace. I wasn’t going to risk ruining the race by racing; this was my chance to exorcise the misery of the previous year and savour the delight of running in such a special, and thankfully flat, place. Unfortunately after much mithering, I had opted not to take along my phone to take photos as I was already carrying a fuel belt. I sort of hoped I’d meet lots of people who’d take pictures and share them but that didn’t happen so here I am writing about running in a beautiful, special place with little photographic evidence. The photos I do have are from a family trip back in December 2012.

As usual, crowds of locals cheered on runners. I high fived as many kids as I could. My eight-year-old’s index finger spends a lot of time tucked into his right nostril but I put thoughts of hygiene aside; these kids probably had better manner’s than mine anyhow. Water stations provided small water bottles which is a waste really as most runners ditched the bottles after only a few sips. The volunteers were excellent at opening the caps and handing the bottles over and there was no issue of crowding at water stops as the route is wide and the runners were well spread out after a few kilometres. Kids collected the bottles for recycling all along the route so at least someone was benefiting from the excess of plastic.

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Typical road along the route. My socks turned orange from the dust.

I didn’t stop. I counted my steps to distract me from negative thoughts and worries. I barely looked at my watch. And until about 17km, all was going really well. I dared to think that I was actually enjoying myself. Then I started to feel a bit whoozy, a bit like motion sickness, a too familiar feeling from previous half marathon races. At least this time, the race was almost done when discomfort hit. I kept going, a little slower, but determined that I wasn’t going ruin yet another race. I can see from the official race photos that I must have been hurting by the end as my head is hanging and I’m staring at the ground, willing one foot in front of the other. At this stage, the 21.1km runners had merged with the 10km runners/walkers so more and more supporters – friends, family and fellow runners – stood along the verge, cheering people on. I seriously could have given one particular cheering American lady a big hug for telling me I was ‘awesome’  – I felt like sh*t – but that would have meant stopping and that wasn’t an option if I wanted to finish. Around the same time, I spotted monkeys hanging out of a tree. After all my years in Asia, monkeys are still a novelty and they served as a timely reminder that for an Irish ‘girl’ who discovered running mid-life, running around 12th century temples in Cambodia is a freakin’ amazing experience even with a nauseous stomach and heavy legs. Such thoughts got me to the end.

The south gate of Angkor Thom at the 19km mark.
The south gate of Angkor Thom at the 19km mark.

And I finished, happy for once. It was the fastest half marathon I had run but more than anything I was relieved that I hadn’t had a miserable race experience, only one that got mildly miserable near the end. When the official race results came out, my chip time was 1:50:59, a few seconds under what I had on my Garmin. I cared but I didn’t. I’d done such a good job of telling myself that my time didn’t matter that I had come to really believe it. I never run my fastest on race days but at least on this race day I had managed to run faster than on others without totally losing the gut plot (as I did last year at Angkor Wat and back in May at Borneo International Marathon.) I think the problem is low fuel and hydration which next time I will try remedy with a second gel at 14km.

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I’m still injured of course. My ITB hurt from 9km but I could run. It hurt a hellava lot more once I crossed the finish line. I was limping for the rest of the day. But it was worth it because for the first time in 7 half marathons, I didn’t wish I was somewhere – anywhere! – else. You could say that I took the endure out of endurance. The phrase ‘never again’ did not even enter my mind; that certainly was a first!

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Finisher medals from 2013 and 2014.

As for the bladder? Well I showed it who was boss. After bargaining with it that I would stop behind a tree – as I saw numerous men do along the route – it gave up nagging at about 10km. In fact it went into a coma and didn’t bother me for another six hours. If I ever run in Cambodia again – it really is a long trip from Perth but this year it was certainly worth it – I’ll make the effort to climb up and gaze at Angkor Wat as the sun rises. I might even take my phone along to take photos. For the record, I don’t really have any desire to be a man, though on my arrival in Cambodia, my wish was momentarily granted.

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For a  Buddhist country, the Cambodians certainly make a massive effort for Christmas. The decorations in Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, were also amazing. (I stopped of in KL on my way to and from Siem Reap).
For a Buddhist country, the Cambodians certainly make a massive effort for Christmas. The decorations in Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, were also amazing. (I stopped of in KL on my way to and from Siem Reap).

The Art of Finishing

I’m getting lazy. Not about running but about blogging. I half wrote a post about the Mandurah Half Ironman which I ran a few weeks back but I didn’t finish it. The blog post, not the race. I finished the race, despite the heat which matched that of the other Half Ironman run I did in Putrajaya back in April. It was a freakishly hot day, and only the second day during which I can honestly say that I have felt warm since moving to Perth.

IMG_8241I’ve never been a good finisher which is possibly one of the reasons why I like racing – it forces me to finish something that I usually regret starting. Crossing the finish line is like waving a magic wand – ‘what was I thinking?’ and ‘OMG I can’t run another step. I want to stop!’ transforms into ‘Wow. I did it. I feel fantastic!’. And so it was at Mandurah. I spent 1hr 54 minutes thinking ‘This is crazy! How do people swim, bike and run without dying?!’ but once I crossed the line, and limped, medal in hand, with my outraged ITB screaming at me, to meet my husband and kids, I felt euphoric. I hadn’t done a personal best but I had finished! I don’t think the power of finishing a race will ever diminish, even though I rarely perform as well as I’d like. I’ve decided I won’t die disappointed if I don’t break the 1:50 Half Marathon barrier but I will keep trying.

As I often have things to say about running but I don’t always have the time to finish blog posts, I’ve set up a Facebook page to which I can post shorter snippets, as well as links to running articles and information about running events. It will also allow people to comment on Facebook and the comments will appear here on the blog. I’m still very disconnected from the running community in Perth but instead of just pining for my running buddies back in KL, I’m hoping that this new page will allow me to connect to new runners as well as old, until I figure out how to get my butt to a gathering of real runners as opposed to the virtual kind.

Please like The Expat Runner Facebook page 🙂

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