Beginners’ guide to parkrun: five top tips to get you started.

What if I told you that there exists the perfect community-based antidote to our fast-paced, achievement-oriented, internet-soaked, terrorist-fearing, climate-changing, politically precarious modern world? And it’s free. And there’s no catch or downside. Unless you count running as a downside; in which case you might have landed on the wrong blog. Or you’re one of my rare, lovely friends whom I have yet to convert. Yet.

parkrun is the name given to a collection of five-kilometre running events that take place every Saturday morning in fourteen countries across five continents. Each parkrun territory has its own sponsors. Because of the sponsorship all are free to take part in. (Wikipedia)

Today marks the 12th birthday of parkrun, which started with 13 people in a park in the UK and has since grown into a global phenomenen involving almost 1000 events and counting. How can I be part of this deceptively simple concept that brings so much joy and goodwill (and better health) to communities in 14 countries I hear you ask. Well if you check the parkrun website for your country and discover an event in your local area, you are not only exceptionally fortunate but also only a few steps from actually becoming a parkrunner

Here’s how to get started:

 1. Register and print your barcode. #DFYB

Online registration is easy and fast, after which you will need to print, then cut out a credit card-sized slip of paper containing your unique parkrun number and barcode. This barcode is the key to a new world of recorded times, which ultimately accumulate into free milestone t-shirts, and global parkrun tourism opportunities. When paired with the finisher token you receive crossing the finish line, and scanned by a volunteer, your barcode opens the door to a whole world of personal bests, milestones, progress, and borderless parkrun tourism. No barcode, no time. And please don’t offer the barcode scanner your smartphone to scan the screen. It doesn’t work. Ever.

 

Keep your barcode somewhere secure (and dry) so you don’t lose it during the run. As you can see I wore mine out and instead of cutting a new one from my printed sheet, I ordered a laminated barcode disk that attaches to my shoe (shown here with a finisher token). Barcode bracelets are also popular.

2. Show Up Early

img_4528Every parkrun event website contains comprehensive information on directions, parking, the course, and toilet facilities. Study it in advance. It’s a good idea to show up early, though not too early unless you’re happy to help the Run Director and other volunteers set up. img_8523All parkruns plant a flag to mark the gathering point for runners.  Getting there 15 minutes before start time allows for a little chat and the pre-run briefing from the Run Director during which he/she will explan the course (which you’ll already have scoped out online anyway, right?) and ask for first timers and visitors from other parkrun events to raise their hands. Raise that hand high with pride and bask in the ensuing grunts of approval/applause as you’re only a first timer once.

3. Bring a friend/child/dog..

If you are daunted by showing up alone, bring a friend, a child or even a dog. I opted for a child during my first few parkruns as I had no friends (who ran), nor a dog. Thinking that parkrun was some sort of race (see below), I was glad to have a slower runner in my care, providing an excuse for not having to run until I heaved. The daughter who fell and grazed her thigh during her first parkrun, recently celebrated my 50th (parkrun, not birthday) by gliding gazelle-like past me at the 300m mark with a ‘Hi mum’ and staying ahead of me for the entire course. This is the price to pay for spending time with her every Saturday morning. It’s more than worth it.

If you’re taking a child in a stroller, please check that your parkrun event is stroller-friendly. Most are but if there’s a beach-stretch as there is at my local parkrun, it may not be ideal. Unless you’re seeking a special Saturday-morning challenge. If you’re taking a child aged 11 or below, you need to accompany them on the course for their own safety.

parkrun is for the whole family, for people of all ages, and running abilities. Don’t worry about being the slowest. You most likely won’t be. And even if you are, you’re still a hell of a lot faster than the folks lounging around at home, scrolling through Facebook.

parkrun is such a simple concept: turn up every Saturday and run 5km. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. What matters is taking part. (parkrun.com)

4. It’s not a race

‘It’s a run not a race’ is a parkrun mantra. Some runners use it as a time trial and a test of overall progress in increOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAasing speed and fitness. For others it’s a trial to cover 5km at all. It doesn’t matter which category, or the many in-between, that you fall into; it’s all about having fun. And for some people, pushing through the pain barrier is fun. There is some emphasis on personal bests when the results are posted online (and issued via email) but ultimately parkrun is what you want it to be. I go every week on a course that varies depending on the wind and the tide so that even when I run my hardest, I don’t improve on the PB I set nine months ago. And I really don’t mind. What matters most is that I meet up with some great people (and meet new ones) every Saturday morning and enjoy good company and being active. It’s now a bonus if I can keep up with my children.

5. Volunteer

Without volunteers, there would be no parkrun. Donning a parkrun volunteer vest is the best way to make friends and there are numerous roles available so check out the online roster to see where you think you’d like to offer your services. It’s recommended that everyone volunteer at least three times a year and 25 volunteer commitments are rewarded with a free purple 25 t-shirt. The best volunteers cheer, applaud, and high five which you’ll discover during your first run is something much-appreciated.

If there isn’t a parkrun near you, you might consider getting a group of enthusiasts together and setting one up. I have friends in both Malaysia and Norway currently trying to get parkruns up and going. As for my non-running friends? I’m still working on them.

 

Perth Marathon 2016

There’s so much I want to say about Perth Marathon but travel and jetlag have delayed my race report a tad. The short version is that the race went so much better than I had hoped and turned out to be more enjoyable than most of the twelve half marathons I’ve run since October 2012. Crossing the line in 3:55:07  rendered me a sobbing mess in the arms of my husband and daughters who had managed the logistics of cheering me on, at various stages along the course, around a soccer match.

I learned a lot from this marathon, the biggest lesson being about pacing. And determination. At a certain point, around 34km, determination overcame fatigue, a headwind, and a sore ITB. I will write more in detail at some point in the future. In the meantime, here are some photos🏃🏻🏅😀

 

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!

Busso_Finish
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.

Busso

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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My 80/20 Update

I’ve been trying to implement the strategy advocated by Matt Fitzgerald in his book 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower. This week, I haven’t run any session, other than my interval session, faster than 5:50min/km which hasn’t been easy, especially when it means allowing lots of other runners to sail past. Yes, running slow means leaving your ego at home. To be honest, it’s been hard to shake the suspicion that all this slow running business is in fact making me, well, slower.

However, today I got a little boost and possibly an indicator that this 80/20 thing may be working, even though it is still early days. I took 40s off my 5km time at Bibra Lake parkrun this morning while feeling much more comfortable than on previous attempts (despite the ill-advised breakfast I’d had before heading out the door). I took it easier than usual at the start of the run – getting caught in a crowd kinda helps with that – and had enough strength in my legs to pass all the other women bar the one, a teenager whom I never even saw. She whizzed around in a ‘slow for her’ 21 mins. I’d like to come back as her in my next life.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with the 80/20 system; it still feels counter-intuitive most days, but it makes sense when you read the science behind it. I haven’t finished the book yet, but will post the salient nuggets of information, once I have.

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Not bad for an old bird.

Lessons Learned While Running

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For the past two days I’ve been more Angry Runner than Expat Runner, thought technically I guess I’ve been an Angry Expat Runner. I think I gained some insight into how my seven-year-old son feels when he doesn’t get to play on the iPad and he is frustrated that he has no control over a situation. So I’ve been a Childish Angry Expat Runner then.

The source of my frustration? I had a lousy race on Sunday, the kind of race that renders all your training redundant, the sort of race that make you actually hate running (a first for me), the sort of race that leaves you wanting to scream like a seven-year-old: “It’s – not – fair!’ No kids, the world isn’t fair, but mommy lives such a pampered life that she usually does get treated fairly, gets to feel in control sometimes, and usually does get her way.

With my friend Joanne who ran her first full marathon at Borneo. What an amazing feat - in the heat!
The night before the race, with my friend Joanne who ran her first full marathon at Borneo. What an amazing feat anywhere – in the heat it’s doubly amazing!

At Borneo International Half Marathon I most certainly did not get my way. I had great first 8 kilometres. The best I’ve ever had in a race. After two days rest, my legs were ready to go, my often-sore foot felt great, and I hit my target pace from the start line and felt strong and able to keep to it. I had managed to keep my nerves at bay too. I started to think that this might be my race. This might the one in which I break the 1:50 barrier and perhaps even make it to the podium.

Oh how fast things changed. A little heart flutter then the nausea hit. What?! No! Nausea and I are not strangers in races. Indeed in May/June last year we were bedfellows. During a half marathon and a 16km, I did 8-10 great kilometres, before what can be best described as puke syndrome hit. Puke syndrome feels like morning sickness. Yeah, try run through that! I figured out that it was gels causing the problem. At least I thought I figured out that it was gels causing the problem. I dropped my pre-race oatmeal too in case that made me feel sick. I ran on sports drinks alone. And I thought it worked. Sure, the 12km I did in January caused a nausea issue at 10km but wasn’t that caused by the salt capsule I swallowed at the last drink station? I thought so for months. Then there was the MWM Half Marathon. No nausea there. The lack of nausea alone made the run a triumph. Only three weeks ago, I did a PB in 39 degrees C at Putrajaya Half Ironman. No nausea despite the midday sun. I had put this niggling nausea issue behind me. I could run on Acclerade and a sip of something at the odd water station and I was finally going to be able to reap the rewards of my training.

I thought I was prepared...
I thought I was prepared…

Wrong! I can see that my pace at Borneo was only marginally faster in the first 8km than at Putrajaya so it wasn’t a case of going off too fast. The big differences were: I had breakfast several hours before Putrajaya; for Borneo I was up at 2:30 am and basically ran on a few ginger cookies at 5 am. Though the temp at Putrajaya was a good 10-14 degrees C higher than at Borneo, the humidity at 67% was 22% lower. The humidity (89% at the start) and lack of food were probably the dream killers. On Sunday, I was running so well, that I didn’t want to break my stride to take any 100Plus at a water station. Add a few sips of Accelerade, one Gu Chew, a crazy early start, mild dehydration before the start, and 8 sweaty, though blissful, kilometres together and what did I get? Puke syndrome. Except there was nothing in my stomach so I couldn’t in fact puke or eat or drink – just suffer the urge to vomit for the next few hours. I know no one else who suffers from puke syndrome, certainly none of the four women who passed me as I jog-walked through the last five km of the race, the four women who took the top five spots together with the winner who was in a different pace league altogether. Certainly no one else I know here in KL. I am unique but not in a good way. Unique in a way that forced me to change my running mantra from ‘I love to Run’ to a far slower ‘I must not give up’. What I really, really wanted to do was lie down on the side of the road in a foetal position until the nausea passed. I saw my PB and podium position slip away before my eyes but there was nothing I could do as much as I kept trying to move forward. It was a miserable, miserable feeling that had nothing to do with running as I know it.

I limped over the line sixth, in a personal worst (PW!) time that was almost the same as my first half marathon in Oct 2012 before I’d ever heard the words tempo, threshold or speed training. I may have felt like I’d come so far travelling to Kota Kinabalu on Saturday, but really by Sunday lunchtime, back at the airport, I felt like I’d gone nowhere and it hadn’t felt very pleasant either. All my training had been useless. My legs were fresh enough yesterday to do a 7km run as if it was just a normal Monday after a sunday 21km long run. In fact, I have done LSDs faster than I ran Borneo Half Marathon!

I won Rm150 and a pair of 2XU calf sleeves. I spent the money on my consolation proboscis monkey and kids t-shirts at the airport.
I won Rm150 and a pair of 2XU calf sleeves. I spent the money on my consolation proboscis monkey and kids t-shirts at the airport.

Anyway, that’s the story. I am almost over it. This morning I figured out why this episode of puke syndrome pissed me off so much more than the others. It’s because this time it robbed me of an opportunity to stand on a podium grinning while holding a fake cardboard cheque. It’s the kind of thing you really normally only get to see top runners do but in Malaysia, where walking for much of a race can still get you sixth place, such a thing was within my reach. And again no big deal. It’s only a photo op. So what if slower runners than me got their moment in the spotlight this past weekend. Why should I begrudge them their piece of cardboard?!

It’s because I realised this morning that too much of my self-esteem is wrapped up in running achievements. I’ve come to rely on running for external validation. I want people to think I’m good at something and to respect my hard work – which is supposed to pay off, right? Well this time it didn’t – and dammit I did work hard! As clichéed as it is to say, I realise that you learn more from failure than you do from success. I learned that I need to diversify my ego-boosting endeavours. Or as I try to teach my children, learn to be happy in my own skin and not rely on external validation from others to bolster my self-esteem. The other lesson is that some times things are just not within your control, and as my family enters a phase of tumultuous change, it’s easy to feel the ground shifting beneath our feet. I thought I could rely on running to get me through the next few months of not knowing where our home will be, who our friends will be, how we will feel in our new lives in Perth, and for the past two days, I felt that running had let me down.

But guess where I figured all this out? Why out running of course. I left the house this morning at 6:30 am an angry, frustrated runner who felt they had not got their due, but 10km later (in 92% humidity) I felt the metaphorical clouds clear. Running hadn’t let me down after all I realised. I had let myself down by placing too much of my self-worth on the outcome of a race. But I’m 43-years-old godammit, not seven, so I’ve got to be better than that. It shouldn’t matter what strangers think. I have good supportive friends whose opinions I value and who’ve been very forthcoming in offering their commiserations, suggestions and advice on what went wrong on Sunday. Emotional lesson learned. Now if only I could find a solution to puke syndrome (besides moving to Perth which may sort the whole thing out anyway)!

My friend KK, who'd did the full marathon, took this photo of my monkey and me in Kota Kinabalu airport. Did someone say weary?
My friend KK, who’d did the full marathon, took this photo of my monkey and me in Kota Kinabalu airport. Did someone say weary?

P.S. For anyone who arrived here looking for information on Borneo International Marathon, I do apologise for this bout of naval-gazing. For what it’s worth, the early start not withstanding, the event seemed very well run, the race flagged off on time, the route was mostly flat except for a couple of challenging long hills, and the traffic was well controlled. There were plenty of portaloos en route and the water stations provided water and 100 Plus in paper cups. Near the end, where the half marathon and marathon routes merged, there were also bananas and watermelons on offer. The finish line was inside Likas Stadium which if you had a good race was probably a great way to finish. I stayed at Horizon Hotel which was 10 minutes by taxi from the start point outside the stadium. The service was excellent, the room was very inexpensive when booked months in advance through Agoda.com, and my carbo-loading lunch on Saturday was delicious. A taxi to Kota Kinabalu Airport, which is very bright and modern, cost Rm 30 and took around 15-20 minutes.

When an LSD turns into a PB

Smothering with a head cold, and cursing the loss of my MacBook Pro which simply went to sleep last night and couldn’t be awoken this morning, it seems like the best thing to do between vicious sneezes and nose blowing is dwell on the past. The immediate past that is. Before my nose started to run, I had my best long run ever. Perhaps the two are connected. One was certainly more fun than the other.

laptopYesterday I ran 21km, for the first time since Dec 1, with only a brief stop at 7- Eleven to buy Gatorade, on a very hilly route, in just under 1:52. Yep my LSD was faster than any of the three half marathons I’ve run despite the route being much hillier than each of the race routes. So, why?!

Firstly, my husband ran with me for the first 10 km. At 6’4”, he’s just a bit taller than me, and his legs are at least a foot longer than mine, so he can run faster without having run more than a few kilometres in the past few weeks. It’s not fair I know, but it was helpful for keeping me paced around the dodgy 7-10km mark when there is still a LONG way to go.

The temperature was only a chilly  22˚C, the humidity a mere 88%, so the weather probably had a positive effect on performance.

I didn’t feel nauseous, nor did my stomach lurch as if a small animal had just awoken from hibernation in my stomach. This is excellent news as anyone who has spoken to me about running in the past few weeks has heard ad nauseum how mid-race nausea/stomach upset is my biggest concern.

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I had a cup of coffee and a few glasses of water, and munched on three thin gingersnap cookies before running. I ran with two 8oz bottles of Accelerade, slightly more diluted than manufacturer’s instructions, in a fuel belt, then refilled the bottles with Gatorade at 15.5km. I know the fuel stop of 2-3 minutes did allow some recovery but I couldn’t risk continuing another 6km without anything to drink. It may only have been 22˚C when I started running at 7:30am, but the temperature and sun were certainly edging up by 9:00am.

As it was Chinese New Year there was very little traffic and I did not have to stop at any road junctions; this is extremely rare and offered a great endurance training opportunity. I had a run-free day on Friday so my legs were rested. I guess this helped.

I ate two large pasta meals on Friday as it was a holiday so we ate out for lunch which I rarely do. I’m a lazy cook so lunch is often a bagel with peanut butter or if I’m feeling very culinary, I microwave two poached eggs and stick them between some toast. I’m sure Friday’s carb-rich combined with fish protein meals helped me on Saturday morning.

I drank no water during the run. I think this may be important as often I drink out of fear of getting dehydrated. I think though that too much water in the digestive system can be bad news.

What’s more, until this stinking head cold hit last night, I felt great for the rest of the day. I sprinted the last 500m of the run which means there was still something left in  my legs. All in all, yesterday’s LnotsoSD was a great confidence booster, and a worry queller, that I will dredge up from memory the next time I try race a Half Marathon (on March 16th if all goes to plan) to convince myself that yes, I can in fact do it – as long as my husband runs with me, I carry three bottles of Accelerade and Gatorade, drink no water at all, the weather is cooler than at any other time in the previous 50 years, I stuff my face with carbs, shrimp and spinach the day before, and run not too fast, on rested legs, after eating three cookies and a strong coffee for breakfast.

So that’s the post-mortem on the best run evva.

I’m hoping that a visit to a Mac store tomorrow will enable an equally essential post-mortem and file retrieval on the MacBook. I had just discovered some hilarious videos the kids had made while we lived in Norway, and was in the process of organising them to back them up, when the grim reaper from Apple heaven struck. I’ll be very upset if I’ve lost them. At least I had backed up my novel-in-progress though it was sobering to discover that in the past year, I added a mere 10,000 words to the draft. Yes, I’ve been 80% (and now 90%) finished the first draft for the past 12 months. Yikes! I blame this running lark for making me care much less about this fact than I should. Or maybe it’s the damn head cold that’s dulling my senses. Let’s see how I feel tomorrow.

P.S. In the very unlikely event that anyone from Accelerade or Gatorade’s distributor in Malaysia is reading, please don’t feel obliged to send me any freebies or testers. No, there’s no obligation at all. However, it is my birthday next month. Just sayin’. 

UPDATE Feb3: The mother board on my laptop is dead which means that effectively my MacBook Pro has gone to Apple Heaven after 5.5 years of service. The hard disk is however thankfully intact so I should be able to transfer its contents to another computer which I will fastidiously back up. I still have a wretched cold.

Strava to the Rescue (of my ego)

My husband is a very keen and competitive road cyclist who spends most Sunday mornings dragging himself and his hideously expensive (to a non-cyclist) bike up hills on the outskirts of KL. After each ride, he usually sits in front of a computer and analyses his ride data, and tells me that he’s just been declared King of the Hill, or fifth fastest ever on a stretch of road, that kind of thing. The ride data is assessed on a website called Strava. I will admit that my eyes have frequently glazed over at the sight of Strava, spotted over my husband’s shoulder. Until yesterday, that is, when it attracted my full attention for the first time.

Yesterday, being a holiday, the routine went as usual. My husband was on Strava, looking at the data from our run the previous day in Bukit Tunku. The website collates running data as well as riding. ‘You’d probably be Queen of the Hill on some of these route segments here,’ my husband said.

Whoa! Hold up a second? What!? Faster than it takes to set up a Facebook page, I registered on Strava, uploaded over 400 runs from my Garmin watch, and found that yes indeed, I had set course records (CR), personal records (PR), and even Queen of the Hill records on a variety of run segments that are popular locally. I received a deluge of virtual medals and trophies.

My Strava accolades
My Strava accolades

Now I’m not getting carried away with the glory of all this virtual ego-boosting as none of the fast runners I know are on Strava, but still. If you’ve read my previous post – no? – then off you go and do that now here and please come back.

Back? OK. Where was I? Race anxiety, that’s where I was, setting PBs in training but failing to come up with the goods on race day. Strava means that my training runs are recorded and visible so that when I do manage to run my fastest, the results are visible online, and if they are good enough, I receive a little virtual trophy for a course record, or a medal for a personal record. As someone who tends to run fast for short distances, way shorter than most races, it means I can still get recognition for my short, sharp bursts of speed. Unfortunately my happiness is a bit too dependent on recognition – other INFJs will understand 🙂

Strava is really a social networking site for people who love to run and ride, a place where it’s perfectly acceptable – indeed it’s de rigeur –  to advertise your latest athletic accomplishment, be it a 150m hill, or a 7km loop, without fear of alienating your sedentary friends. You can also comment on people’s training sessions and Like (give Kudos to) friends’ runs or rides.

Stravaprofile

I’m thinking too that it’s probably a great way of discovering new running routes too, something I’ll be facing when we relocate mid-year. The site is free, though Premium membership – my husband has it – provides lots of extras such as pace analysis and goal setting. I’m not quite ready to commit the money just yet but I suspect that like joining Facebook and Twitter, it’s probably inevitable now that I’ve discovered the site.

Here’s a link to my Strava profile if you want to follow me there, and I will return the favour. At the moment, I only have one Follower. My husband, of course 🙂

When Self-Doubt Takes Hold

Last week I blithely, yet proudly, mentioned to a friend that I had done a PB on the hilly 7km loop from my house through Desa Sri Hartamas/Mont Kiara. My father-in-law had just died suddenly and unexpectedly in Denmark, and my husband had flown home for the funeral, so I guess I was using my legs to blow out some mental cobwebs.

‘Oh I never run PBs in training,’ my friend replied matter-of-factly. A-ha! Of course she doesn’t. Just this past weekend she stood on the podium of a 15km race and received a well-earned trophy for third place. My friend, and probably most runners, keep their best for race day. Most runners, aided by adrenaline and motivation to succeed, can out-perform themselves when there’s a medal to be gained. However, I find that nerves get the better of me so that my adrenaline levels peak before the race begins, and I’m lucky to make it from the portaloo to the start line in time for the gun. For my last race, I didn’t even manage that!

In the run-up to the MPIB 2014 12 km race next Sunday, I have found myself crippled with self-doubt. I have a a severe case of performance anxiety, so bad, that yesterday I was wondering whether it was time to drop this whole racing lark altogether and just run for pleasure. (I’ve had similar anxiety issues about work in the past so it’s not as if my personality isn’t being consistent). Despite my injury, I’ve trained hard in the past 12 months, and I can see from my Garmin logs that my training pace is noticeably higher than it was in December 2012. I’ve also done speed-work since September, something I had never heard of a year ago. So, on paper, anyone would expect that I will run faster in this year’s race than last, when I was unexpectedly awarded 10th place and won some nice prizes and a trophy. This time, I’m terrified that on race day, I won’t be able to come up with the goods, that I will fail to get placed, that I won’t live up to expectations.

The philosophy about running for fun, running to be part of something whether it be a community or a race, has been somewhat overwhelmed by anxiety over whether I can out-perform myself (and others) in this upcoming race. I think it’s safe to say, that even if I’d been born with Paula Radcliffe’s lungs and pre-injury legs, my brain would have sabotaged any chance of World Championship medals. It must take an astounding level of mental toughness to withstand the expectations of a nation on top of one’s own expectations, at a task at which there is only one chance.

This morning, in an attempt at quelling my nerves, I ran much of the MPIB 12 km route with my husband. Last year I remember cursing aloud good-humouredly as I struggled up some of the hills. Despite the physical effort, I enjoyed the absurdity of the situation I had put myself in at sunrise on a Sunday morning. This morning I wasn’t cursing so much but aware that my suffering was self-imposed, I was metaphorically shaking my head at having signed up for a race at all! Darn, but it was hard going. Of course, running hard is similar to childbirth-once home I was hit by a sense of achievement and euphoria, the physical sensations felt en route slightly forgotten.

The route for the MPIB 12 km is very, very challenging with much of the first 5 km uphill. Anyone who completes the race in any time deserves a bloody medal – and should feel a sense of achievement and boost to their self-esteem! Somehow, in realizing this today, I recaptured a sense of why I run, and why I need to push myself through my fear of races. My body is capable of far more than my mind will ever give it credit for and my mind has been doing a fairly decent job lately of sabotaging my running joy. This morning’s run allowed me to stick two rude fingers up at the little voice that keeps undermining me, the voice that continuously tells me that I am never good enough. The endorphin effect was as short-lived as an epidural but strong enough to convince me to try to race on Sunday – with lower expectations. I’ve decided that I don’t need to do a PB on race day – even if I’ve managed to do one today in training – if the pressure to do so takes away every ounce of pleasurable anticipation and replaces it with dread. Who’s pressurizing me anyway, other than my own ego? I’m no Paula Radcliffe after all. Being capable of hauling my ass around a hilly 12km route next Sunday is simply going to have to be good enough, PB or not. Actually, getting to the start line in time, and near the front, will be the bigger achievement! No kidding!

Wherever you are, runner, walker, couch surfer, whether you’re facing a race or other less trivial challenges in your life, whatever your dreams and ambitions, I wish you all the best as we head into a new calendar year. Thanks for reading. Oh, and if you haven’t tried running, I recommend that you try it 🙂

Happy New Year.

Johanna x

 

 

Reclaiming My Runner’s Joy

Last night, after a nine (9!!) week break, I returned to my running club. It was the best evening I’ve had, well, in nine weeks (not counting of course my nights on the sofa watching Breaking Bad).

It was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that despite what I thought were ominous pains in my foot last week, the foot didn’t hurt (while I ran). Funnily enough, it was sore beforehand, when I arrived at Lake Gardens for the running clinic. An hour poised over the brake (mostly the brake) and the accelerator of a car on what in light traffic is a 12-minute journey is bound to make anyone’s foot complain. Right?

Last week, having found Nemo and discovered a rare Irish fish in the sea off the Gili Islands in Indonesia (see photos), I ran 7 km at 5min/km pace on the hotel treadmill. I didn’t ice the foot afterwards as I was too lazy to walk to the bar and ask for some. My foot really hurt. Despite rolling my arch several times a day on a tennis ball and being really attentive to my running form, it hurt. I worried, and dispensed with any intention of running again last week.

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Clownfish off the Gili Islands, Indonesia.

Now while, the downside of living in Kuala Lumpur may be the traffic, one of the many upsides is affordable healthcare. It costs me Rm85 (27 USD/ 20 Euros) for a physiotherapy session that often lasts an hour. On my return from Indonesia, I went for my rehab session expecting bad news. But there was none.

The amazing Akmal released the tension in my arch and toes, and spend a lot of time stretching out my calves and hips. There was no re-injury, just scar tissue which he will continue to work on over the coming weeks while I diligently do my prescribed exercises at home. Ok, well maybe not diligently but sometimes, when I remember, at least. He recommends I see him three times a week. On a per-week basis that’s cheaper than a facial (even in Kuala Lumpur). Sure, it makes me high maintenance, but given the fact that I never actually have facials (or manicures or massages), and that physiotherapy is in fact maintenance, I’m happy to oblige. One woman’s rehab is another’s pampering.

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Irish Buttfish (who appears to be trying to run?!)

So back to last night’s running clinic. We did 8 x 500s, the same exercise we did nine weeks ago. As expected, I’d lost fitness, so my average 500 m time dropped from 1.59 mins to 2.03 but still. I was happy! I managed to complete the 8 ‘sprints’. I had a lot of fun with the other runners. I got great advice on pulling my shoulders back and keeping my chin up when I run. My foot felt fine and I experienced a real post-run high which I can only describe as joyous.

I’m thinking of running the 2XU Compression 15 km race on Sunday as I need to get in a long training run and that’s about as long as I should be doing at this stage of recovery. There will be no PB but after an unplanned five month break from racing, it’s time to be brace and pin on a bib. (And get up at some Godforsaken hour to eat breakfast, drive and find a parking space, go to the loo, to be ready for the start whistle at 6 AM).

As a competitive person, who daily has unrealistic expectations of herself, my instinct is not to run when I’m not at my peak fitness but the rational side of me knows that there is still a lot to be gained from participating even when a PB is out of the question. The atmosphere at races here is always very positive and the race is an opportunity to catch up with a lot of runners I haven’t seen in ages. The route is very hilly so it will be an excellent training opportunity. If I have to run 15 km anyway, I may as well do it in company. And, at the end of the day, even competitive old me has to remember that running isn’t always about racing, even when you’re racing.

On Sunday, I’m going to try run joyously, and celebrate the fact that after injury, just being able to run is a gift. A finisher’s medal will of course make the ‘comeback’ all the sweeter.