11 October 2016

Scott's wall buster

Two Sundays ago Coach Brown texted me with what I’m hoping is a magic bullet.

Of all the distances the marathon has to be the ultimate. Incredibly I’ve had a go at 11 of these and in every single one … I’ve hit the dreaded and legendary wall. Bloody stupid wall. Every single time. With 8 or 9 kilometers to go the wall devastates and shreds any hope of a time I just know I’m capable of. It’s probably become psychosomatic? I conjure up the damn thing mentally now like some saboteur. Will I ever be rid of the wall?

Post race I usually blame shitty workouts, race plans and nutrition then vow to do better. Later, I tinker and tweak and then find myself doing it all pretty much the same as before! It’s so frustrating because deep down I know I have a time worthy of the distance. One I could quite happily retire with. It’s there. I can see it on the horizon. Hell I can almost touch it. Wretched wall!

Scott’s text read as follows. “For tomorrow’s long run of 2.5 hours can you do the following: Run the first hour at an easy pace (5.15/km). For the second hour run at a moderate pace (4.45/km). For the last 30 minutes run at close to marathon pace (4.25/km). As instructed my dutiful self obeyed with all the accuracy of a Patek Philippe timepiece.

I’ve been given a few of these ‘build-up’ workouts over the past few weeks and I know they’re designed to mimic that flagging desperate feeling one gets toward the end of a marathon. Knowing the pace required is only ever going to get tougher in a workout is a challenge mentally. I figure the more you do it the easier they become.

With Osaka Marathon less than three weeks away that looming wall doesn't seem so high anymore. More like a tall hurdle. That said there’s the heat, humidity, wind … well you get the picture. Marathons are like a box of chocolates … part of their appeal I guess. 

It’s why I love them to death.

26 September 2016

Tango Ultramarathon 2016

Kyotango, a collection of coastal towns overlooking the Sea of Japan. Looking across the water I could nearly make out the two Koreas and further up, the Great Wall of China. The region is famous for its breathtaking ocean views, seafood, hot springs and silk fabric (Tango Chirimen).

All very nice but for me the place was most notable for Jiroemon Kimura. Born in 1897 Jiroemon spent most of his life in the area. As a postal worker he toiled diligently providing everything he could for for his family until his mandatory retirement at age 65. Not ready to lie down, Jiroemon turned his hand to farming. 25 years later at the ripe old age of 90 he decided to finally take things easy. He lived a further 23 years until his death in 2013 at age 116. He had held the Guinness record for the oldest man alive and given the horrendous hills and climbs in the area I’m not surprised! He must have been fit as a bloody fiddle.

Last Sunday I ran one of those hills in this years Tango 60km Ultramarathon and unlike Jiroemon it nearly killed me at age 48!

My good mate, mentor and coach, Scott Brown texted me at exactly 11am with the message ‘At the station but can’t see Mr Donuts’. I texted back with ‘You must be on the other side of the tracks, wait there, we are on our way’. Lugging my wife’s overnight bags a further 10 minutes in 28C heat and humidity was just asking for trouble, I muttered to myself. That morning the unmistakable signs of a cold or flu were beginning to show. Then there was my dodgy upper right calf to consider and out of nowhere my right IT band began to flare up. “Hurry” my wife yelled, we don't want to keep Scott and his lovely wife waiting”.

Being driven as opposed to taking the train was just brilliant. Scott’s late decision to run had made our weekend. There was so much to talk about on the way over. The girls were looking forward to a nice hotel, the sento (Japanese Bathhouse) and local seafood. Scott and I on the other hand talked all things ‘running’. For Scott, the Tango Ultramarathon would be his first at that distance and considering he hadn’t trained for it, I thought an upset was definitely on.

At 8.45 the music intensified. On stage a rather youthful, attractive and agile dancer began her aerobic routine while at the same time screaming out instructions. Without hesitation, everyone submissively began these impossible and reckless moves. Where was the simple crossover leg calf stretch, plank or quad pull I was in need of? Mercifully the countdown began and in no time we were off in calm, overcast conditions with the threat of rain in the forecast.

Days earlier, I’d worked out that to run around 5 hours and 30 minutes, a top 50 placing might be possible. Running 5 minute per kilometer splits and allowing 30 minutes at drink stations was a brilliant plan. It seemed simple enough but an ultra is a long way. A very long way.

Maybe I hadn’t acclimatised as much as I thought I had because the first 2 hours felt really humid. I was drenched early on and sweat dripped continuously from my fingertips. These days I understand the importance of hydration. I was determined to stay healthy and drank plenty of fluids and salts at every aid station along the way.

The Tango Ultramarathon has two options. The 60km or the more demanding 100km distance. For us 60km runners the hill (mountain) at 15km was tough. A climb of around 200m over 4 kilometers wasn't fun. Consolation was knowing that the 100km runners faced something far worse. A whopping ball breaking 500m over 10 kilometers. I’d imagine the run down the other side would have been quite exhilarating until the realisation they still had another 30 kilometers to run sunk in.

At 40km and now in torrential rain we merged in with the 100km guys and girls. Aid stations were very frequent from this point on. Every 3 to 4km which in hindsight might have been a mistake for me because I took full advantage of every one. If the race had been just the 60km distance you might have expected them to be spaced every 7 or 8km. At the time I never considered running past one which in all honesty I probably should have.

I felt every stride with 10km to go. Nothing serious just generally sore all over. I’d run two ultras previously and never felt quite like this. Running on the road as opposed to running on trails made a big difference. The constant ups and downs of the course and on tarseal had banged me up badly which left me hobbling for days after.

Up ahead waiting on the side of the road I recognised a familiar face. “You alright?” Scott asked as the rain continued to fall. I reckon he’d waited for me which was both a blessing and a curse. You see with 4km to go I was ready to run, walk it home. Instead, this was about to be the first time we’d run together, ever. Don't tell Scott but those were the most enjoyable and satisfying minutes of my entire race.

Long ago Scott had inspired me to take running a little more seriously. I even began this rarely read blog having followed his a few years earlier. As we turned for home with the finish line now in sight I considered picking up the pace. A John Walker, Nick Willis, Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Jack Lovelock or even Arthur Lydiard sprint to the line was definitely on.

‘Aussie Mentor Concedes to Kiwi Protege’. Yes, yes I thought as I began to surge then nah. That ending wouldn't have worked as well as this don't you think? Besides, on that day and at that time, I was absolutely positively buggered.

Time: 6 hours 13 minutes 43 seconds
Place: 107 / 1028

6 September 2016

The negative split miracle

Something magical happened to me two Sundays ago during my long run. Typing this while reliving the experience still sends chills down my spine. It hasn't happened since so before it’s lost forever, I’ve decided to write about it. You see two Sundays ago I ran my first negative split and it came out of nowhere!

30km at an easy pace seemed very doable on that morning given the temperature wasn't expected to climb too high. It was 6.37am and as usual these days I headed out very conservatively. A 5.50, a 5.15 followed by a 5.01 to begin warmed this aging carcass of mine ever so gently. It also gave me an opportunity to fully appreciate another Kyoto sunrise.

At the 4k mark Coach Scott Brown wanted me to run a 4.30 which I did without too much effort. Thereafter I slowed to run a bunch of 4.50’s which felt ‘rhythmical’. At 15k I’d run 1.14.11 at 4.57 pace.

After another prescribed 4.30 at 21k I do remember thinking how easy it was. The run had flown by without the strain and discomfort I had experienced throughout July and most of August. With 9k to run my hope was for that feeling to stay with me till the end.  30k and no wall in sight? How good would that be!

At 25k another required 4.30 which didn't bother me at all. So much so that I maintained that pace before running a 4.22 split to finish. I’d run the second 15k in 1.10.55 at 4.44 pace. I was thrilled to finish the morning so strong. Had I mistakenly been the benefactor of the much vaunted negative split?

In every race I’ve gone out hard, hung on in the middle then shuffled home for all I’m worth. They've never been that enjoyable, PB’s included. According to Jeff Galloway, running should be far more pleasurable and the negative split strategy should be trusted to provide the best results possible. He says “it works because it can take your body several miles to get warmed up. After that, your muscles are charged, your joints lubricated, and mood-boosting endorphins flood your system. You’ll find yourself running faster without feeling any more effort”.

Having the belief that this strategy won't fail me on race day is the key. What if I conserve at the start of my next race only to find there’s nothing left later on! Would Jeff take the blame for that then! I might be a unique individual where the negative split doesn't work. My wife reckons I’m unique and not always in a good way either!

My much heralded negative split has opened up a world of possibility. It’s given me a glimpse of how this sport can be mastered. However, committing to it now is completely out of the question. That’ll take some time, some faith and a number of successful training runs. That's just the way I am. Stubborn I guess. But it will happen. One day.

It suddenly dawned on me that I have a 60k race next week! Shit! Hard to exactly put into words how I feel about it other than to share with you this next video. He sums it up rather nicely.

22 August 2016

Longing for autumn

Last week Dad sent me this gem of a picture. I reckon it's perfect. It captures the beauty and serenity of a winters day in the Bay of Plenty. Whale Island in the centre and I'm sure that's White Island further to the left. Looking at this I can almost taste the 12 degree sunny day on a calm morning in August, New Zealand. The best running conditions one could ever hope for don't you think?

I on the other hand woke to a 5am alarm call hoping that would ensure an outside temperature of no more than 26 degrees to start my long run. My wife had agreed to bike with me. I needed all the support I could get given the humidity was predicted to be well above 60 and the temperature was to reach 34. I had a long run of 30k to finish ... thank you very much Coach Scott Brown, and I wasn't about to dissappoint him. 

At 7k I stopped for a breather and drink, an ice pack for my neck, massage, a snickers bar, salt tablet, a towel down and of course a few words of encouragement. Everything a pro should expect only I wasn't. Of concern was how much I needed this and so early on. As I struggled to complete the day I made a mental note to check online the impact heat has on running performance. This is just a little of what I found out.

It seems heat and humidity hugely affect performance. Body temperature rises the hotter it gets. When this happens we of course sweat. No one more than I. Sweating or 'glowing' as my grandmother would say cools us down. However when it's humid, sweat or 'glow' can't evaporate into a saturated atmosphere and so it remains on the body. This in turn contributes to an ever increasing body temperature and heart rate. Our body's response when this happens is to divert blood and oxygen from muscles to blood vessels and capillaries in our skin for cooling. This is what causes our body to slow down and pace to fall away despite the increased effort we are putting in. 

Haven't the Olympics been fantastic! Tokyo's turn in just 4 years. No pressure but I'm sure they'll be the best yet.

Thanks for the memories Rio:

11 August 2016

Heat exhaustion and running in Japan

My second run back after the ‘tummy bug episode’ had been a torrid affair. It hadn’t felt like the 34C reported but that may have had something to do with the cloud cover. Bizarrely, I found myself struggling to catch my breath after just a few reps. I shrugged it off and put it down to the humidity and carried on. I eventually made it home as all aging champions should after running a few 4.20 splits over the 10k distance Coach Brown had assigned.

Now stripped to just my underpants I lent forward to untie my double knotted laces. Sweat profusely dripped from every peaked appendix and pooled on the floor below. The tip of my nose being the biggest contributor. Straining to free myself from the first shoe I noticed the unusually large amount of sweat covering both my legs. Beads of liquid multiplied by a factor of 100 is how I would describe it. Google couldn’t come up with anything better!

After a cold shower I sat down to the lightest of dinners. Cucumber, cheese, lettuce, ham and beetroot sandwiches. A cup of tea in front of the Olympics set the perfect evening mood. All I needed now was New Zealands first gold medal.

At around 10pm I found myself in the all too familiar little room downstairs bidding farewell to the meal I had earlier. And to make sure, I revisited that room a further 4 times over the next couple of hours. It can’t be my tummy bug back again I thought. It can’t be my wife either given we hadn’t taken out life insurance yet.

I hated being in that tiny room. Particularly in the heat of summer. After all, what 3 foot by 3 foot room is air-conditioned. It's a case of get in and get out as quick as you can. I on the other hand had spent a good 30 minutes in there which should have meant trouble. And then it dawned on me. I was bone dry yet my skin felt hot to touch. I knew a little about heat exhaustion, heat stroke and cursed myself for not recognising the symptoms earlier. Come to think of it … that tummy bug a week earlier … Well it may not have been that after all.

The next two days were a real struggle but thankfully my teeny room visits became less dramatic. On the third day I leapt for joy after noticing a damp patch under my right armpit. Sweating had finally returned.

In all honesty and joking aside I felt very scared there for a while. I’m really not sure where I was on the continuum of heat injury and at this point I’d rather not know. Heat stroke often kills and very quickly too. I reckon I’ve dodged a bullet. That doesn't excuse how utterly stupid I was. It wont happen again. 

Todays 5.15am run in 24C went well. I was home well before 7am propped up sipping a cup of tea watching the Olympics and still waiting for New Zealands first gold medal.

27 July 2016

Feeling a bit poorly

The running Gods must have looked down with delight on my most recent running week. They rewarded me with a visit on Monday from our local courier driver. Our first at this address. “It’s very narrow isn’t it?”. I thanked him thinking he was paying me some kind of compliment before the reality of our driveway width sunk in. “You have to study Japanese more!” my wife hollered.

Trying out my new Adidas Boost 3 shoes will have to wait a couple of days more I’m afraid. Monday evening marked the beginning of frequent toilet visits having caught some nasty stomach bug which is only now starting to settle and it's Wednesday night!

“Very good chance for you to study” my wife reminded me.

Good night …

11 July 2016

Running in Kyoto

The nasty back spasm I thought would take 10 days to get over took 3 long weeks. It meant that training under new coach Scott Brown had to be delayed and finally kicked off in earnest on Monday 4 July albeit rather gingerly. The image above captures me on Sunday at the end of my long run and the prescribed 76 km for the week. I really shouldn't have looked that bad but given the heat and humidity I’m surprised I had the energy to take that selfie at all!

In Rotorua, New Zealand runners are spoilt for choice when it comes to roads or trails to run. Giving that up and the opportunities they presented was so very hard to do. Regret … maybe, but with the discovery of the Katsuragawa Cycle Track here in Kyoto life may not be so bad after all.

Sundays long run gave me the perfect opportunity to run a large chunk of the 45km it offers and to my surprise, it was way better than I had expected. Starting in the very beautiful Arashiyama town, it meanders through Kyoto along the Katsura and Kizu rivers to finish somewhere near Nara. Here are just a few of the snaps I took so judge for yourself.

Nakamura san was just one of many highlights that morning. A fitness fanatic, an age defying (66) lover of life and all round good guy. The chat we had was a welcome distraction to the 30 minutes or so I still had to run in what was 31-degree heat. I certainly hope coach Brown reads this and cuts me a little slack for the week ahead.

Have a great week everyone. Oh, by the way ... check this out (here).