Magpie Menace

pd_the_birds_movie_nt_111228_mainAfter almost two months back on the road, I’ve been enjoying the change of environment. While I miss the running community and the races in Malaysia, I’ve adjusted well to the fresh air, running tracks and free water refill stations. Sorry KL friends if I’m making you a tad jealous. I’ve also got used to not looking over my shoulder constantly, on the look-out for muggers on motorbikes. I rarely see a motorbike and have yet to hear of a mugging. Pedal power dominates the two-wheel transport scene and I’d imagine that it’s quite hard to mug someone while balancing on a bike, unless it’s a tandem with an accomplice.

That said, yesterday I was viciously attacked while running – by a testoserone-fuelled magpie. I remember noticing the bird out of the corner of my eye, before it swerved up in the air – away from me I presumed. I could see its shadow and was stunned when that shadow, rather than move away, headed straight for my head. The damn bird swooped down and pecked my hat. Talk about a true WTF moment! Thankfully, I was wearing a cap. If 2XU ever needs a spokeswoman for their Magpie-proof peaked caps, I’m their woman. I tried to dodge the menace, but it continued to dive-bomb at my head, stabbing me with its beak. The fact that I could see its shadow heading for me each time totally freaked me out. Luckily, the psycho bird which chased me across a four-lane road and back again, much to the bemusement I’d imagine of passing traffic, did not aim for my bare shoulders or my ears. At one point I stopped moving, and the bird just sat on a telephone line looking all innocent. I should point out that this was a suburban residential street and if there was a nest I certainly didn’t hang around long enough to see it.

Anyway, as soon as I moved again, swoop and attack, over and over! This was one vicious bird! I eventually outran the feathered fiend  – or at least ran out of the territory it was trying to protect. The whole incident lasted just over a minute but left me feeling somewhat rattled. I ran the 6km back to my car which incidentally I’d noticed when parking, was under a tree full of magpie nests. Thankfully this flock hadn’t eaten their crazy worms that morning.

Of course, the only thing to do after a traumatic incident such as this, at least when it’s too early to turn to drink, is to turn to Google. It turns out that not only was I not the first victim of magpie assault in Australia, but that magpie attacks are a THING, a big enough thing to merit a WikiHow page entitled HOW TO KEEP SAFE FROM SWOOPING AUSTRALIAN MAGPIES. Apparently, Ozzy magpies are notorious for swooping attacks on runners and cyclists at this time of year which is nesting season. Notorious! Strangely though, no one has mentioned it.

IMG_7893So what should I have done yesterday instead of flailing about, panicked by this unprovoked nasty attack? Well besides avoiding that stretch of road, I should have slowed to a walk, and calmly looked the bird in the eye whilst walking backwards. Yes, right, of course. I am genetically incapable of remaining calm in the face of wildlife, so that’s never going to happen. WikiHow recommends carrying an umbrella while walking or running so that it can be deployed as a head protector should a magpie swoop. For cyclists, the recommended protection is a helmet adorned with plastic cable ties when cycling. It doesn’t mention how to protect one’s dignity whilst wearing such headgear but then again, there was nothing remotely dignified about my panic dance yesterday, so it’s probably worth it. You can imagine the danger of falling off a bike or swerving into traffic if a magpie swooped.

Interestingly, WikiHow warns that I should ‘not return to the area after the encounter’ as magpies are so smart that the bird will remember me and attack me again. So yes, it was as personal as it felt! Apparently, even looking like me may be enough to trigger the magpie’s ire.

Interactie map of Perth on MagpieAlert.com.
Interactie map of Perth on MagpieAlert.com.

Back in KL, I remember people discussing the merits of a website on which people could map muggings, to help mark crime blackspots and alert people to be extra vigilant in affected areas. Well, MagpieAlert.com does exactly the same thing for magpie attacks. Yes, it’s that prevalent!

There’s also a Facebook page for the site on which a cyclist posted the clip below of a swooping magpie just like the one that attacked me.

So it looks like I’m back to running with one eye on the road (for snakes) and the other in the back of my head (for nasty birds). Oh my poor nerves!

Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya

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One of the best ways to cheer yourself up, besides going for a run, is to convince yourself that it could always be worse. All ten of your toenails could have fallen off, instead of only one, for instance. Or, you could have broken your wrist when you fell face-first on the pavement instead of only your pride and a few inches of skin. I found this ‘could be worse’ philosophy very useful on Sunday during the Putrajaya 70.3 Ironman triathlon competition. It could have been a LOT worse. I could have been a triathlete and not a mere runner.

A triathlete is a person who doesn’t understand that one sport is hard enough. This is a definition I saw posted on Facebook before the event. After Sunday’s competition held in sizzling temperatures that edged up to 40 degrees C, I have come to the conclusion that it takes a certain level of insanity combineded with masochistic tendencies to attempt to swim, cycle and run any distance in succession.

Putrajaya 70.3 was ONLY a Half Ironman  which is the shorter version of the suffering in lycra known as the Ironman. 70.3 is the total distance (in miles) covered: a 1.9km swim, followed by a 90km cycle, topped off by a half marathon, 21.1.km which must obliterate all hope of walking normally for at least a week afterwards. Several of my husband’s cycling buddies signed up for the full event and suggested that my husband and I form a team with a swimmer to compete in the Mixed Relay. He loves cycling, I love running. Why not? Team PJJ Express was formed – the name was my husband’s doing, a play on our initials, the name of an area here referred to as PJ, and the need for speed. He’s an engineer so logic reigns supreme.

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Putrajaya for those who have never been there is a modern, purpose-built city 30 km south of Kuala Lumpur that serves as the federal administrative centre of Malaysia. It is new, clean and uninhabited at the weekend except for water-skiers, runners and cyclists. It has wide boulevards, a lake, lots of well-paved footpaths and is an ideal venue for races, especially on Sundays, when traffic is minimal.

But Putrajaya is hot! It’s like a sponge, sucking heat from the sun, radiating it back at you, so that running there at midday is akin to running while being roasted in a massive oven. When you’re wilting after just strolling from the car to the start-line, you know you’ve got 21.1 very challenging kilometres ahead.

The strange thing about running a relay is that you don’t have an exact start time but must wait on the return of your team mate, in this case my husband. I thought this hanging about at the transition area would be tortuous but it helped to have friends to chat with – the hot weather was the main topic of conversation – and lots of portaloos with no lines. There wasn’t the usual stress of timing a trip to the loo just right to make it to the start line on time. A major plus for toilet-obsessed moi.

My husband hobbled into the transition area after his cycle and parked his bike before passing the timing chip to me. On hindsight, I realise that he was one of the first team cyclists to arrive, but I wasn’t really thinking about placing and prizes. I didn’t think we had a chance; we were just there to have fun. So I was less nervous than in any previous race. Once the timing chip was secured around my left ankle – as instructed in the very comprehensive Athlete’s Guide – I was off. At midday! Fun?! After 500 metres I realised that I’d been deluded.

What followed was the hottest 21.1km of my life, two loops of a very pleasant course, much of it waterside, with absolutely no traffic to worry about. There were numerous water stations which were well laid out with warm water, isotonic drinks, food, flat cola, iced water and ice – always in the same order so you could sip some water or 100Plus, grab a gel/watermelon/candy then finish with some ice as you passed through each station. Normally I wouldn’t stop at fuel stations but the heat made it a necessity. At every station, I poured iced water over my head – though by the end of the second loop the water was almost warm enough to make a cup of tea – and managed a fast kilometre half way through the race with the help of a cube of ice which I rolled over my neck until it melted. Unfortunately the ice cubes ran out after 9km.

This was not an event to try and push the pace for fear of total heat exhaustion. And, despite the conditions, I couldn’t complain; I knew it could most definitely have been a lot worse, I could have been a triathlete out under the scorching sun for six hours plus! It’s the least complaining I’ve done in my five half marathons and, in the process, I learned a lot about the importance of psychology in completing a tough run. No matter how bad I felt in the heat, almost every single person I passed, felt a hell of lot worse so I had no excuse not to keep going.  In fact, as I ran past participants who had been racing since before my leisurely breakfast in an air-conditioned room, I called out encouragement to a few, and felt like apologising to all. That, and telling them what crazy fools they were for doing this triathlon lark.

(L) Approaching the finish line. (R) Two-thirds of Team PJJ Express
(L) Approaching the finish line. (R) Two-thirds of Team PJJ Express

I did my 21.1km in 1:53 which was fine given the temperature and all the stops I made to throw water over my head. I had hoped to do 1:50 and was ahead of this pace for the first 10 kilometres but I knew I risked not finishing at all, if I tried to keep it up. Crossing the finish line, I was wrapped in an ice cold towel which felt sublime, and bestowed with three medals – one for each of my team members. Not fair I know; we only did a third of the event yet got a full medal each. The towel provided welcome shelter for my poor shoulders which despite the SPF110 slathered on a few hours before, were starting to feel the sting of the sun. I wandered about, medals jangling like a bell on a cow, finding my husband and friends, waiting for others to cross the line, congratulating the crazy men and women, half made of Iron who had miraculously not melted in the sun. There was plenty of fruit, water and isotonic drinks available in the recovery area and many people availed of the sports massage on offer. Medical facilities seemed plentiful, and well used, too.

Out of interest, I asked at the finish line how my team had placed, and was told by a Norwegian lady manning a laptop that we had come fourth. We were surprised and delighted as we had no expectations of making it into the Top-5. At least I certainly hadn’t. Our team time was 5 hrs 15 mins which wasn’t too shabby but just a little bit slower than the winning pro athletes. Ok, a lot slower. Australian Brad Kahlefeldt (34) won the men’s division in 3:55 and Czech triathlete Radka Vodickova (29) was the first lady over the line in 4:23. What amazing achievements!

Only later, did I discover that PJJ Express had come third in the Mixed Relay, the highest ranked team with two females. A combination of misinformation, hurrying to get home to the kids, and the total non-expectation of winning anything, meant we missed a photo opportunity on the podium. Forget the photo, we missed a unique chance to be on a podium and to hang out with the fastest triathletes on the planet! Unlike the individual athletes, the team competitors weren’t provided with live online tracking so I still can’t see our official timings, though a friend sent me a photo of the results posted at the prize-giving ceremony. We’re listed here as second but I know that this is a mistake; according to the runner on the team that came second, who happens to be my running coach, we came third. Their swimmer swam in 31 not 1:31, hence the ranking mistake.

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I’m still trying to chase down our trophies before they are shipped back to Ironman headquarters in Australia but my calls and emails have so far gone un-answered. Given how well organised the whole event was, I’m hopeful that the trophy issue can be resolved without having to pay for them to be shipped back to Malaysia, to no doubt arrive after we leave. I’m not really too bothered about the trophies though it would be nice to have a couple for the kids to fight over when they’ve sent us off to nursing homes or the great running/cycling track in the sky. Look what Mum and Dad won before they started to use adult nappies! Back when we lived in Malaysia.

So I’ve done one-sixth of an Ironman which is more than I ever anticipated and about as much a I’m ever going to try. Kudos to those who pushed their endurance in all three disciplines; I am in awe of your drive and stamina. You totally rock, whether you managed to finish the course on Sunday or not. It was inspiring (but not tempting) to run amongst you, to watch you suffer (though the vomiting was tough to watch) yet still push on forward to the finish line. My next event is the Borneo Half Marathon in just under three weeks time. Already I’m thinking it could be worse. I could be running the Full!

P.S. Thanks to DK for directing me to the results here. We definitely came 3rd in the Mixed category and were the 5th team overall (out of 52 teams). Amazeballs!

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The Danger Zone

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I’ve returned to the danger zone. My foot no longer feels sore, so my body keeps sayin’:
‘Go for a run, just a little run, wearing your Aircast brace, why don’t ya, go on, just to see how it goes, you’ll be fine, run, run, run! What’s the harm?’
The harm, my brain keeps reminding me, is that if I go back out too early as I did two weeks ago, I will probably end up even more injured than before, and benched for months. That’s the harm, you darn run devil!
On the bright side – and believe me with the dream of having my name appear for posterity or at least until terrorists destroy the Internet, on the results of the Standard Chartered Half Marathon website now destined to remain just a dream that can now never come true, bright is far from how I felt yesterday – but on the bright side, I’ve been trying new things instead of running.
Here they are in no particular order of preference-they all suck compared to getting out on the road but can be categorized ‘better than sitting on your ass all day, with ice on your ankle’:
Pool running-this one I had never heard of until three weeks ago, but since discovered to be a favourite amongst injured runners or people who write about activities for injured runners online, and Australian marathon runners (according to my friend Deb). Please search YouTube for a demo video as I’m certainly not making one. No impact in the pool makes this a winner but gosh is it boring. I’m lucky enough to have a pool only 3 mins walk from my house, and in the mornings it’s usually empty (and 27 degrees C). I guess any smidgen of sympathy those of you in Northern Europe might have felt for me has totally evaporated now, hasn’t it? Still please, swallow your envy, and read on.
Pool running looks weird – sort of high-legged running on the spot except floating in the pool while moving slowly forward – so it’s not something one might want to do in front of an audience or indeed alongside proper swimmers. It requires an aqua

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 belt which is very like the belt Ursula Andress wore in a famous still from a Bond movie, except instead of a dagger tucked into the belt, there are six brick-shaped floats attached. This is the sexy version.
Another type is much bulkier and is made totally from styrofoam; it looks nothing like anything a Bond girl would be seen in and I suspect is popular among geriatric aqua aerobics fans. It might however last longer than my ‘sexy’ blue number. Over the four occasions on which I have used my belt, one float out of six has gone adrift, shearing off from the belt, unable to take the pressure I guess. At this rate, I will sink to the bottom of the pool by the end of October. The bottom of ‘my’ pool is unfortunately a bit too shallow for pool running so I wont drown. I am getting better at this pool running lark as this morning I barely stubbed my big toe at all on the tiles. belt
Cycling – now the first time I sat on a stationary bike for an hour watching Grey’s Anatomy was almost enjoyable but afterwards sitting on anything at all hurt for a few days. Having recovered normal sensation in my ass, I tried out a Spinning class. Definitely the nearest thing so far to an elevated heart rate was achieved with this one, and I sweated buckets, so I’ll probably do this again. I may even do a class a week when I get back to running. When!
Elliptical Trainer– I’ve tried this once and I suspect that, done properly, it’s of great benefit in keeping up cardio fitness as well as working leg muscles. The trouble with this one – and the bike really – is the same trouble I have (had!) with the treadmill. It’s boring and so it’s difficult to keep pushing oneself, instead of popping off for a coffee and a scone. It’s probably good training for racing though, as preparation for that point about 2 km from the finishing line -irrespective of whether I am running a 10km or a 21km – when I’m cursing my hubris in thinking I could race well and am fighting the urge to stop and stroll the rest of the way.
To be honest, other than the singular Spinning class, none of these attempted workouts have been anything near a good run in fitness terms. They’ve been of a very exploratory, non-focused nature.
I’m still icing my foot several times a day in case any of these moderate activities cause inflammation. I’m also wearing the Aircast brace when I have to walk a lot. I have my third Shock Wave Therapy session tomorrow and am toying with the idea of wearing my running gear. Nothing like getting dressed up in the hope of having somewhere to go – which in my case will be the treadmill at the clinic to have my running gait assessed. Yes, tomorrow I’m going to do something else I’ve never done before. I’m going to beg to be allowed go on a treadmill. Told you I was in the Danger Zone.