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Anniversary

Start of the 1978 Bay to Breakers
(Central Coast Express, 31 August 1978)
Terrigal Trotters is celebrating it's 30th Anniversary today and began with a Relay Race, boys vs girls, from Gosford to Terrigal tracing the old Bay to Breakers Fun Run course.  I wasn't part of the team, which consisted of eleven runners, each running a one kilometre leg, but I was helping with the organisation and this required being in Terrigal before 4:30am this morning.

The teams were handicapped to ensure a close finish and were hoping to beat the times posted in the 20th Anniversary Relay and the respective men's and women's records for the old race.  The race started around 5:20am in Gosford and the finishers were cheered into the car park at Terrigal Surf Club around 6:00am by the 100 or so runners assembled for the regular 6:00am Trotters Saturday morning run.  The men just beat the women and the 20th Anniversary time, but neither side beat the race records.

Rob De Castella on his way to victory
(Central Coast Express, 31 August 1978)
I actually ran in the old Bay to Breakers 35 years ago, so before Terrigal Trotters actually formed.  I can't remember why I journeyed from Melbourne up to Gosford to run, but it wasn't with any expectations of winning prizes.  Although I was a competent Fun Runner, I was rarely on the podium, and particularly not in races where the prizes included overseas air travel as was the case for this race in 1978.

As it turned out, I was a long way behind Rob De Castella who won in 32:24 for the 11km distance.  Rob went on to a stellar marathon career, including a World Championship win in 1983.  I finished in 18th place in 36:00, which would have seemed disappointing at the time, but seems very fast to me now.

1978 Bay to Breakers results
(Central Coast Express, 31 August 1978)
After this morning's Relay, we all set off for the 15km run to the top of Kincumba Mountain and return.  I had a couple of puffs of Ventolin before starting in the hope that it would facilitate my breathing after a couple of tough days with a tight chest.  It did seem to help but my legs remained heavy and I still felt off-colour, possibly not helped by the early start to the day.  Anyway, I persevered and tried to maintain a reasonable pace for the whole run, despite a very sore right Achilles, and finished happy that I had made the distance.

It will be a late night tonight, with further Trotters Anniversary celebrations, so I will have an easy day tomorrow and hope that I'm up for a long run on Monday morning.  I really don't want the minor health problems of the past week to derail my plan for returning to fitness, and that means getting in a long run in the next two days.

Chicago

Lincoln Park, Chicago
I only had a short jog scheduled for today, anyway, but I still found it hard, with the same issues as yesterday - breathlessness, excessive sweating and lead-leggedness.  I don't feel too bad when I'm not running, just a little fatigued, so I'm hoping I'll be healthy again shortly.  There is a tough 15km run scheduled for Terrigal Trotters tomorrow, so that will be a test.  As soon as I feel I'm healthy and running well again, I'll put together a training plan for the Hobart Marathon in January, my next best chance of running a sub-3 hour marathon, having given up on running well in the Melbourne Marathon, in just six weeks time.

Not having much to write about today, I thought I would revisit another of the regular morning running courses from my past.  Between 1987 and 1990, I held joint responsibility with a colleague for setting up the North American operation of my company in Chicago.  For a while, my colleague, who was based in Stockholm (I was based near London), and I alternated our time in Chicago and mostly stayed in a corporate apartment we leased.

Prior to this assignment, I had only visited Chicago once, briefly, and didn’t hold it in very high regard.  However, as I spent more time there I grew to love it and now rate it as one of my favourite cities.  I liked the cleanliness and professional bustle of the city, the friendliness of the people, and its classical stone buildings offset by the towering skyscrapers.  Tucked away everywhere were atmospheric little bars and bistros.  From our apartment on the southern edges of the central business district, I also grew to love my regular Chicago early morning run.

Along the Lake Michigan waterfront
to Chicago
The route headed north through the early morning quiet of the business district, known as The Loop (where I would be working later in the day), and joined LaSalle Street which took me across the very unimpressive Chicago River, more like a large drain, and out of the city.  After the river, North LaSalle Street traversed a couple of kilometres of quiet inner suburbs of picturesque old houses and apartment blocks to the famed Lincoln Park.  From there, my route followed a network of gravel paths and horse rides before skirting the north side of little Diversey Harbor to reach the vast Lake Michigan and turn south for the return to the city.

For five kilometres the route followed perfectly flat concrete paths along the Lake and I can remember flying along here, passing joggers at speed on my good days.  At the southern end, the path was squeezed between the busy multi-lane Lakeshore Drive and the Lake and one winter I vividly recall being hit hard in the chest by the stream of snow blasted from the side of a snow plough travelling the opposite direction along the Drive.  I could see it coming but there was nowhere to go.

The Chicago waterfront on a windy day
The snow plough experience paled, however, compared to another winter experience I had in the same area.  There was no path, but it was possible to run along a sort of wide sloping concrete shelf that bordered the lake.  At the edge of the shelf was a vertical drop of about half a metre into the deep lake.  If it had been windy, waves broke over the concrete shelf, and if cold, the breaking waves would freeze on the concrete.  One morning I was running along there in the winter pre-dawn darkness, trying to dodge the iciest sections, when I slipped and fell.  It was bad enough landing on the rock hard ice, but soon I became aware of a worse fate.  I was sliding, on my back,  down the ice-covered concrete slope towards the drop-off into the semi-frozen lake.  I spread my arms, trying to reduce my weight and catch one of the icy ridges caused by the waves.  After about five metres, with about ten to go, I managed to stop myself and then very gingerly got onto my hands and knees and crawled up the slope and off the ice.  It was dark, there was nobody around, and I have often wondered how long it would have taken for them to find my body if I had gone into the lake.  There was no way I could have climbed out or survived long enough to swim to safety.  I continued to use the same route in winter, but ran very carefully, and as near the top of the concrete ledge as I could go, walking if necessary.

The last part of the run crossed the open parks in front of the Art Institute of Chicago and back to the city and the apartment.

As far as “garbage” runs go, this was quite a long course (16.5km), but it was flat and fast and usually took around an hour.  I experienced it in the rank humidity of a Chicago summer and the way-below-freezing temperatures of a Chicago winter, and have very fond memories of both.

Can't take a trick

Better days......leading in the 1983
Stawell Marathon (1st, 2:29)

Another bad day at the office.  After last evening's abortive Six at Six race, I slept badly, waking up sweating several times, and rose early this morning feeling tired and unmotivated.

I journeyed to Terrigal Haven for the regular 6:00am track session and afterwards set out for my own planned run of 16km.  It didn't go well.  The two steep hills in the first kilometre are always a hard way to start a run, but usually, once I reach the ridge above Terrigal I start to feel warmed up and begin to move better.  That didn't happen this morning, when every step seemed a struggle and every breath an effort.  After a couple of kilometres, I began to question the wisdom of completing 16km, especially on the planned hilly course, and after 3km I made the decision to return to The Haven via the shortest route.

The last 3km, run at a very slow pace, were tough.  I was short of breath, heavy-legged and sweating profusely, especially round the head, and very glad I had chosen the short route back.  It took me about 37 minutes to run the 6km and I'm now convinced I have some kind of bug.  My chest feels weak and I lack energy.  Hopefully, it's just a short-term thing.  I can't really be bothered going to see the doctor.  My right Achilles tendon was also quite sore for the whole run, and I just don't feel like I can take a trick at the moment.  I would like to have just one day where I feel like I am running well and it seems like months (and is months) since that happened.

From experience, I know that I must keep running through this period, perhaps taking it a bit easier until I feel healthier, but generally sticking to my training regime, and eventually things will stabilise and running will become more enjoyable.  I also need to remind myself how unhappy I was when I couldn't run at all, and count my blessings.  I'm a believer in the body sorting itself out if you give it time and am hopeful that, in another month, the current period will be just a bad memory.









Pulling out


Extract from the Boston Globe on 20 April 1982 after
Salazar had won the Boston Marathon by 2 seconds from
Dick Beardsley in 2:08:51 (I was 49th in 2:22:39)
Tonight's Six at Six run didn't go so well.  Maybe it was the effects of my cold, or maybe it was that I ate lunch too late, but for whatever reason I was struggling to get the air I needed after just one lap (1.2km) of the 6km race, and briefly stopped before backing off and running the remaining four laps at a comfortable pace.

I had followed my plan of getting there an hour early and running 10km as a warm-up, but even in that warm-up, I didn't feel I was travelling well.  Plenty of coughing, hawking and spluttering to go with indigestion, so maybe I would have been wiser not starting.  However, as discussed in yesterday's post, I'm reluctant to back off from my planned training unless for a good reason.

Salazar in flight
As I drove home from the race, I examined my motives for pulling out.  Although I don't often pull out of races, I have pulled out of a number over the years, particularly in my early running career.  Whenever I do, it always awakens some deep-seated self-doubt about my toughness in the face of adversity.  I can always rationalise a decision to pull out at the time, but almost always regret it later.  There are some runners, such as one of my marathon heroes, Alberto Salazar, who have run themselves to the point of insensibility or collapse in races.  I have never run myself that hard, and it makes me wonder whether I have fully explored my physical potential as an athlete.

For today, however, I know I do have a cold, and that it is affecting how I feel when running.  I will trust that when it abates, I will feel and run better.  On the plus side, I barely felt my injured right arch tonight.

Running with a cold

The last part of the Cape Three Points Road climb
out of Avoca
I'm trying to gradually increase my training intensity, while taking care not to overtrain as I come back from the right arch injury.  This makes me reluctant to step back when something such as a minor cold comes along.  Since Sunday, my nose has been running, my sinuses are blocked and I'm coughing a lot.  Like most runners, I believe that running with a head cold is unpleasant but not such a big deal.  However, I also believe that it can risk bronchitis, or worse, if the congestion goes to your chest or you get too run down.  The rational thing would be to back off for a few days and avoid hard running and breathing, but that also means less mileage and a slower comeback when the cold may just pass by anyway.

I have never been very good at backing off for illness (or injury).  For many years, my personal rule was that, if I was too ill to run, then I was too ill to work, and because I always wanted to run, I was rarely sick enough to miss work (in fact, I can't ever recall missing a day through illness, though there were probably a few early in my career).  Of course, I was lucky to never suffer a serious illness, though I did run a few times with a high temperature and flu symptoms, and occasionally against medical advice.  It's hard to draw the line.  There's no point in ending up in hospital or worse, but none of us feel 100% every day and I don't want to miss training unnecessarily.

Copa beach
In recent years, I have modified my illness rule to be no running with a temperature.  I have heard a few horror stories of runners collapsing when training or racing with temperatures, and have no desire to join them.

With just a cold to worry about, I set off for this morning's 14.5km road run knowing that it might not be pleasant.  I ran a regular course, but in the opposite direction to usual, making it easier for the early kilometres and back-loading the toughest hill - Avoca's Cape Three Points Road.  It was yet another beautiful warm sunny morning as I crossed the lagoon sand bar to McMasters Beach and cruised along the shaded Scenic Highway.  After a few kilometres, I spied another runner up ahead and thought I might catch them, but wasn't running fast enough and suddenly they had disappeared.  The first hill elevated my cold symptoms, and I was soon coughing, hawking and wheezing as I struggled up the climb.  My head felt stuffed up and I was sweating profusely around the eyes, a tell-tale sign of sinus problems for me.

Despite all that, I was moving better than a week ago, and it really was a beautiful morning for a run.  Even the first part of the Cape Three Points Road hill wasn't too bad, but the hill has a concave shape, meaning it gets steeper as you get higher, and I really struggled up the last part, spluttering all the way.  The reward, of course, was the run down the other side into Copa with it's magnificent coastal views, and the icing on the cake was a brief stop on the beachfront to watch a whale wallowing just beyond the surf break a hundred metres from shore.  I finished in 1:17, which was an acceptable time, two days after a hard long run, and the good news was that  my right arch injury was barely noticeable (though my right calf muscle had a tender spot).

Unremarkable

Looking south from Zambia across the Zambezi River
towards Victoria Falls and the town
My right knee and Achilles tendon were both very sore yesterday afternoon following my long run in the morning, but they are very familiar injuries and I was optimistic that they improve overnight.  I was still stiff and a little sore this morning, but loosened up after my exercise routine.  Nevertheless, I was happy that I only had a 5km walk scheduled for today.

It was yet another beautiful winter morning on the Central Coast and my "no pressure" walk was a pleasure.  My Achilles tendon was stiff and sore to start, but I treated it gently and by the end was walking freely.  I thought briefly about tacking on a 5km jog to my walk, but decided to stick to my program.  I have some heavier training planned for the next few days.

Livingstone hasn't changed much in 25 years
Many years ago, on another sunny morning, my friend, Keith, and I were staying in the small town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe with our spouses.  It was early 1986, not long after Zimbabwe had gained its independence, and the country was quite prosperous, relative to it's northern neighbour, Zambia.  Keith suggested that, to add some interest to our run for the day, we take our passports and run across the Zambezi River into Zambia and to the town of Livingstone, thirteen kilometres away.  I readily concurred and we set off in the morning sunshine.

We first ran the three kilometres to the bridge over the Zambezi River, near the thunderous Falls, which also marked the border with Zambia.  We stopped at the very quiet Zimbabwean border post on our exit where our passports were methodically examined the black woman behind the counter who she showed no glimmer of interest or suspicion in the two white guys in running shorts and T-shirts with no baggage leaving the country.  Our papers were in order and we then transited the Zambian border control without incident and set off towards Livingstone.

The run was unremarkable, apart from some cat-calling (which we couldn't understand, but could guess at) from female farm workers in fields we passed, and Livingstone, which was very run-down, had nothing to particularly recommend it.  We had a quick look around and then reversed course and ran back to Zimbabwe, past the same field workers.  An hour or so after exiting, we returned to the same Zimbabwe border post and the same black female official.  She looked at us absolutely without any hint of recognition and proceeded to examine our papers again and ask us the purpose of our visit to Zimbabwe.  Obviously we weren't as unique as we thought.

Sunday morning long runs

Peter Snell
Sunday morning long runs are in my DNA.  Since my late teens, with some large gaps, Saturday has tended to be competition and Sunday the long run.  It would probably be smarter to have a recovery day after competition and do the long run on Monday, but there are few athletes with weekday commitments who can afford to do this, so the tradition has evolved.

The weekly long run had its genesis in the coaching philosophy of Arthur Lydiard, a New Zealander who coached a number of Olympic champions in the 1960s.  Even his 800m double Olympic champion, Peter Snell, ran 100 miles per week in his base training period, including a 35km long run in the hills outside Auckland each Sunday.

Near the top of the first Orchard Run climb
I read some of Lydiard's books early in my running career, and adapted his training programs for my own use.  The idea of running 100 miles a week had great appeal for me, and I especially enjoyed the long Sunday run in the Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne that became a regular part of my program.  Since that time, any Sunday morning without a long run seems somehow incomplete.  If Sunday doesn't work for some reason, maybe a race, then I try and schedule the long run for Monday or Tuesday.

Orchard Run
This morning, I decided to do the Orchard Run, one of the favourite long run courses for Central Coast athletes.  It's out-and-back along little-used forest roads, with a nasty climb early on (and, therefore, a steep descent on the return).  Part of the appeal is that it is quite accessible, starting outside the Palmdale Crematorium, which has, on occasions, felt like an appropriate finishing place for me.


Near the Orchard Run turn-around
I started under clear skies at 6:15am and found it cold during the first couple of kilometres along the valley floor, but soon warmed up as I tackled the most significant climb of the day, gaining 175m in 2km.  This is a great run to do when you are fit, because you can recover quickly from the hills and stride out on the flats and downhills, but today wasn't one of those days.  My plan was to try and run within myself, knowing that I would be very tired by the end, even at a slow pace.  My right Achilles was also painful after yesterday's hard run, so I was running a little awkwardly to protect it while it warmed up.  It was a beautiful sunny and still morning in the dense forest punctuated by occasional bird calls.  I could see different kinds of tracks on the sandy road surface as I ran, and tried to work out which animals had made them during the night.

Looking north to the Yarramalong Valley from near
the Orchard Run turn-around
Despite a fall after 8km, which took some skin off my right knee, I reached the turn-around point in 1:40, tired but still moving OK.  It always amazes me how many climbs there are on the return trip in this run.  In theory, the run is primarily up on the way out and down on the way back, but there are many descents on the way out that just don't seem to register.  My injured right arch became sore on the final descent and I took it gingerly, but it was OK for the last flat 2km which always seem to take forever on tired legs.  My finishing time was 3:10, which is about 30 minutes slower than my best for the course, so there's plenty of room for improvement.  However, though hard work the whole way, I know that these training runs are "money in the bank" and I will reap the rewards of the investment in the weeks and months to come.


Charles Kay Hill

The start of a Terrigal Trotters 10km Time Trial
Terrigal Trotters has a 10km Time Trial at the end of every month and alternates between a "flat" and "hilly" course.  "Flat" is a bit of a misnomer, as there are some hills, but it's certainly flat relative to the "hilly" course.  The latter has some significant early hills, but the grand-daddy of them all, Charles Kay Hill, comes soon after the 7km mark and climbs 75m over one kilometre.  That doesn't sound too bad, but after 7km of hard running, including the early hills, it's almost impossible to maintain any sort of momentum.  A helter-skelter descent, testing arthritic knees, bad backs and shoe grip, with a little over one kilometre to go, hardly makes up for the grind of the preceding ascent.
 
The Charles Kay Hill 10km Time Trial was scheduled for this morning at 6:00am, so I got to Terrigal at 5:20am and made sure I was well warmed-up, with an easy 4km through the darkened streets of Wamberal beforehand.  Running a race against your friends once a month makes for some longstanding rivalries.  I think all Trotters who regularly run the Time Trials have a pretty good idea of who they want to beat, and who wants to beat them.  Results are scanned and mental notes made.

Part of the dreaded Charles Kay hill
Based on my inadequate recent training background, and my mediocre City to Surf Fun Run and Six at Six performances, I had no expectation of running a good time this morning.  I still need another couple of weeks of solid training to get back within range of my best recent 10km times.  I did, however, expect to see signs of continuing improvement.

The longer warm-up certainly made me feel better for the first kilometre or two, and although I didn't feel I was running fast, I wasn't that far behind several of my old rivals.  I didn't expect to catch them, and was wary of forcing the pace, having done little fast running of late.  I resolved to settle into a pace that would get me comfortably to half-way and then see how I was going.  Perhaps the worst part of this particular course is the "foothills" that are encountered in the middle stages.  They cost you momentum, and it's hard not to think about the looming Charles Kay Hill.

Trotters socialise after a 10km Time Trial from a
few years back
As it turned out, my pace judgment proved to be about right and I ran steadily to bottom of the big hill.  From there it was a struggle up the hill, and then as fast as I dared down the hill to the finish.  My time of 44:18 (Trotters has calculated the course is equivalent to 10.4km on the "flat" course) was about what I expected, and my position relative to my rivals improved on two weeks ago.  My age-graded points score was about 800, which was OK, but a long way from the 900 I need for a sub-3:00 hour marathon.

Nevertheless, I do feel I'm on the way back to fitness and this hard run was a necessary step along the way.  I'm a great believer in hard running and hills as a way of building speed and this morning's race ticked both boxes.  There are no short-cuts, and there have to be runs and races where you perform below par relative to your benchmarks (aka friendly rivals).  Avoiding these runs and races just lengthens the process of regaining fitness.  The trick is to keep everything in perspective and remind yourself that things may well be different at next month's Time Trial.

Streaks

Ron Hill representing Great Britain against
the USA over 6 miles in 1963 (he won, note
the bare feet)
After two days of relatively hard training on the comeback trail (meaning my body is less able to absorb the training load), I found it hard to drag myself out for a run this morning, even though only a short easy run was planned.  What saved me from a missed day was "routine", and the promise to myself that I will not miss a day unnecessarily.

I think the value of routine is often underestimated, and sometimes "pooh-poohed" as reflecting inflexibility or a lack of imagination.  In my case, almost invariably, I dress for a run when I get up in the morning and know that breakfast will not happen until the run is done.  Just being ready to go, can help me get out of the door in the morning.

I also have an expectation of myself that I will spend some time training every day.  If you give yourself permission to miss a day when you don't feel like it, or you go to bed not really knowing what training you are going to do the next day, it is too easy to make a snap decision not to bother.

Ron Hill, still running every day, 48 years later
(courtesy The Independent, www.independent.co.uk)
Once you build up a record of sticking to your planned daily exercise, you are less likely to capriciously miss a day. 

Many years ago, apart from when seriously injured, I would not miss a day, but I never had the total dedication of one of my early running heroes, Ron Hill, who has run at least a mile every day since December 1964.  He's even done his mile on crutches after surgery.  Of course, he is an extreme example, but for a long time he was one of the best distance runners in the world and I'm sure his single-minded training regime was one of the reasons.

These days, I will only miss a day's training in exceptional circumstances, though the definition of "exceptional" is not as strict as thirty years ago.  I have also modified my definition of training to include walking when it seems more sensible than running.  In days gone by, walking didn't cut it, and the time spent running had to exceed the time spent getting prepared to run and showering and dressing afterwards.  In my heyday, that meant at least 8km, but these days it's closer to 5km, sadly.

My Achilles tendon was less sore than yesterday for this morning's 5km, but my arch was still sore.  I felt heavy-legged and stiff, so am not optimistic about tomorrow's Terrigal Trotters 10km Hilly Time Trial.  Another long warm-up will be required.

Never give up

Bill running in the 2006
Bay to Bay 12km Fun Run
I was a little anxious about how this morning's run would go after the running Six at Six last night, but wanted to go a decent distance to compensate for missing the originally planned long run yesterday.  So after the Thursday morning track session at The Haven, I set out to run my regular 16km course.  My legs were dead, and it felt like I needed new shock absorbers in my joints, but I plodded around at a slow pace, keeping myself going with the thought of a muffin and milkshake reward at the end.  My right arch was sore on the downhills and my right Achilles was sore on the uphills so that added to my misery, but I don't think either of these injuries is bad enough to stop my return to full training in the next few weeks.

I feel a sense of sadness today, because a much-respected Terrigal Trotter died yesterday after a relatively brief illness.  Bill had had a good innings, as they say, reaching his late eighties, but even a few months ago he seemed destined to keep recording his Saturday morning runs at Trotters for another few years yet (he was up to 658!).

In his mid-eighties, Bill was a regular at my Tuesday evening track sessions on the grass track in Gosford.  He was exasperated with how much speed he had lost in the previous few years, and annoyed that he wasn't making the official cut-off times in races that mattered to him.  We decided that it would be a good idea for him to focus on shorter repetitions, 200m and 300m, in the hope of improving his form, stride length and speed.  He was still quite capable of completing the regular Trotters Saturday morning runs, so stamina and determination weren't the issues.

Each week he would come down to the track and run his repetitions as fast as he could, which wasn't very fast.  I would see him coming down the straight, going as hard as he could, often leaning slightly sideways, with little kids from Frank's squad flying past him - the eight year olds vs the eighty year old.  As he crossed the line each time, he would fumble with his watch trying to press the stop button.  Sometimes, this would take up to ten seconds, and then he would struggle to read it and tell me his time for recording.  Almost invariably, he would be dissatisfied, and would "harrumph" disgustedly before trudging off across the ground to begin his next repetition.

He was everything I want to be in my eighties.  Determined not to give in easily to old age, unwilling to accept the standards society seeks to impose on octogenarians, and living his life to the full.  He knew, and we knew, that he couldn't go on forever, but that doesn't make it any less sad that he has gone.

Six at Six

I used to have more speed (taking
over from JB in the 1976
Pakenham to Healesville Relay)
A long run had been my plan for today, but the vagaries of washing machine repair scheduling and other commitments ruled out getting enough free consecutive hours for such a run.  As an alternative, I decided to run the weekly Six at Six (6@6) race held in Gosford every Wednesday evening for many years.  It requires five laps around a 1.2km circuit of mixed surface and involves one short sharp concave hill that knocks the stuffing out of you in each lap.  For some years now, Terrigal Trotters has had "ownership" of the event, but responsibility usually falls to one individual, at present Suzy, to manage it each week and publish results.  It is very low key, but provides a good opportunity to develop some speed endurance and for friendly rivalry.  More recently, a number of parents have been bringing their children along to run some, or all, of the laps, so a family atmosphere has developed, and hopefully, some junior athletic interest kindled.

I only got in one track training session before getting injured when initially preparing for this year's Melbourne Marathon.  It may not have been the cause of the injury, but the coincidence of track training and injuries for me in the last ten years is pretty damning.  As an alternative, I have decided to experiment with running the 6@6 as my speed work, even though Wednesday night is not optimal in my training week.  Of course, there was a time previously when I ran 6@6 regularly, but I gave it away when I got injured, so I'm not overly confident it will be a sustainable training option.

Anyway, I drove into the start this evening, arriving an hour before the race, and ran an easy 10km amongst the evening peak hour traffic as a warm-up.  I have vowed to myself that I'm going to warm-up properly before any faster running in my marathon quest, and the extra kilometres won't do my weekly mileage any harm.  It was a worrying that my right arch became a little painful in the last few kilometres, but I decided to run the race anyway.  Only about eight runners turned up, and I was soon well behind the leaders as we climbed the hill for the first time.  I tried to settle into a comfortable pace and completed my 6km in 25:44.  It wasn't a fast time (I really need to be running well under 24 minutes), but it was faster than I expected, and I was pleased that each lap was a little faster than the one before.

I think the long warm-up worked well for me, and I don't feel like I have aggravated any injuries, so I'm hoping to incorporate it into my weekly training program henceforward.

Hong Kong

Coombe Road
This morning's 10km run went a little better than expected.  I had been anxious about how my arch would be after Sunday's punishment, but although still sensitive, wasn't too bad.  My legs felt heavy, and I wasn't running particularly smoothly, but the time for my usual "garbage" 10km was an acceptable 54 minutes. 

On the subject of "garbage" runs, my favourite over the years is the 13km loop I used to run while working in Hong Kong.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I used to travel there quite often, sometimes for a month or two at a time.  Our corporate office was in the Pacific Place complex, and I usually stayed in one of the adjacent hotels.

Bowen Road
Hong Kong Island has many pedestrian pathways and minor roads criss-crossing the jungle-clad mountains, high above the sky-scrapers and sea.  When I first went there, I was quickly and pleasantly surprised to find places you could run that seemed far away from the hustle and bustle.

A run on my regular course started with turning the air conditioner to maximum power and minimum temperature as I left my room.  The usual heat and humidity, even in the early morning, meant that I returned over-heated and bathed in sweat.  The ritual became to strip off and stand under the air conditioning vent reading the paper for ten minutes or so until I stopped sweating.  Showering immediately after the run was useless, because I would still be sweating when I emerged, no matter how cold the water.

Looking over Hong Kong from near Bowen Road
The course was tough, climbing steadily for the first three kilometres, initially past apartment blocks (my favourite was called "Wealthy Towers"), and then higher along the main road to Magazine Gap.  There, I crossed to the south side of the Island and journeyed along the shady and quiet Coombe Road to Wan Chai Gap before joining Black's Link path.  This paved footpath contoured around a mountain, passing through one of Hong Kong's excellent regional parks, and provided fantastic views to the south coast.  It eventually reached civilisation again and then there was a steady downhill stretch alongside the busy Wong Nai Chung Gap Road past the Hong Kong Cricket and Tennis Clubs.  If I was feeling good, it was possible to fly down this section for a couple of kilometres before turning off on the famous pedestrian-only Bowen Road.

The Bowen Road follows a contour along the jungle-clad mountainside high above the main business district and the harbour.  The hum of a city starting a new day drifts up from below, but is offset by the peaceful routine of the Tai Chi practitioners and the smell of incense from the small wayside shrines along the Road.  In my opinion this is the best city running path in the world.  Again, if you are feeling good, it's possible to stretch out, and enjoy overtaking other runners.  After 4 kilometres of Bowen Road, the course turned downhill and returned to the hotel.

Why trail running

A group of Terrigal Trotters running the Patonga-
Little Wobby trail loop in 2012
The night after a long hard run is often punctuated by sudden awakenings with cramp or sore joints, and last night was no different.  My right knee, in particular, was sore, and my right arch as well.  After going through my morning usual exercises I felt a little more flexible and later went for a 5km walk.  The arch injury is definitely a little worse after yesterday's run, but not that bad that I'm contemplating time off running.  I'll try an easy 10km tomorrow and then play it by ear for the rest of the week, though optimally, I would like to do another easy long run on Wednesday as part of my program to regain lost fitness.

The Terrigal Trotters Facebook page was humming with comment about yesterday's trail run last night and today, most of it good-natured banter about those runners who lost their way at some point.  The growth in the popularity of trail running in recent years has been dramatic, and I often ponder on its drivers.

Another stop on the Patonga-Little Wobby loop
Is it a reaction to our claustrophobic urban life?  We live in an artificial environment, usually within the sound and sight of neighbours and traffic, and our training runs are through busy suburban settings.  I think there is something within many of us, maybe a kind of primeval instinct, that wilderness satisfies.  Almost a sense of belonging.  Trail-running evokes a sense of space and purity and an appreciation for the wild.  It rejuvenates the spirit, but also reminds us how small and transient we are in the scheme of things.  Running over mountains, through old growth forests and past ancient rock formations puts us in our place, as well as inspiring awe.

Sometimes a bit of swimming is involved
in trail running (also on the Patonga-Little
Wobby loop)
Maybe we have an unsatisfied need to face challenges and unknowns that have disappeared from our routine and molly-coddled lives?  I think the popularity of fun runs and marathon running grew out of a desire to test ourselves, realise our potential, and find our boundaries in a society where risks are minimised and physical challenges rare.  As these events have become commonplace and conquerable, runners have looked for something more.  There is a satisfaction in completing a run or event through an environment where dangers lurk, and help is far away.  Not so much the dangers from wildlife, which are generally minor, but the risks from falls, uncompromising terrain, weather conditions, navigation and inadequate nutrition and hydration.  There is seldom a trail run involving a group of people that does not yield adventures and stories of obstacles overcome.

Perhaps it's something as simple as trail-running being less damaging to the runner's body?  That's not to say that it's easy, but in trail running, there is a tendency to run slower and to have the footfall, muscle and joint demands vary with each step.  It's more of an all-round physical work-out, but not as tough on specific parts of the body.  In long road runs, the exact same footfall is repeated with every step, as is the very specific impact on muscles and joints.

Whatever the reason or reasons, I think trail running is here to stay, for very good reasons.

Old Great North Road Run

Terrigal Trotters getting ready to tackle the Old Great
North Road
I set out on the Terrigal Trotters 42km trail run along the convict-built Old Great North Road with some optimism, hoping that once I got onto the trail and amongst the beautiful and wild scenery of Yengo National Park, some kind of running form would return.  However, in the back of my mind lurked the thought that this might be wishful thinking.


Heading up Devines Hill
I started slowly, walking most of the first long climb, and then settled into a comfortable slow pace, glad to find that my right Achilles tendon was less painful than yesterday and that my right knee and arch were more or less behaving.  Around 20km, however, I started to feel quite tired on what was a warm and sunny day.  After that, it became a slog with plenty of walking on the hills and rockier parts of the trail, and I finished close to the back of the field in just over six hours.

Peter and Al tackling some single-track
In retrospect, I had no justification for thinking that I could run a solid 42km today, but it was disappointing, nevertheless.  I only resumed light running three weeks ago and haven't done any long runs, but I kind of hoped that the fitness I had before I got injured would have lingered longer.  At times like this, it is easy to think that good form and performances will never return.  As you plod along, an hour or more behind people you think you should be running with, it can be hard to fathom how you are going to make up that hour.

I just have to remind myself that a runner's potential is defined by their best performances, not their worst, and that if I stick to a well-thought-out program, and don't get injured, good form will return.  On the subject of injury, it was a bit worrying that my right arch began to get quite painful again in the last hour or two of the run, and I'm hoping I haven't set myself back.  I'll just go for a walk tomorrow and will have a better idea then.

Centre of gravity

The start of the Vicary Road hill on Mark's Run
After feeling so bad for what was only a short run yesterday morning, I decided it might be smart to run a few kilometres as a warm-up for this morning's Terrigal Trotters run.  So, at 5:30am, I headed off to the nearby Haven to run a few laps.  It was hard to imagine, as I hobbled along, that I would soon be running at five minute kilometre pace with my fellow Trotters.  My most recent injury, the right arch, seemed to be the least of my worries.  It was the older chronic right knee and Achilles injuries that were causing me the most grief.

I have a theory that if one of my Achilles tendons is sore, then I don't stretch it as much as I drive off with that leg, my stride shortens and my centre of gravity is further back than usual.  The consequence is that my running form is less efficient and it takes more effort to maintain a certain pace.  As the Achilles loosens up, the centre of gravity moves forward and running efficiency improves.  On my warm-up, my form was anything but efficient, and my Achilles was very sore, but I didn't try to force it (see earlier post titled "Managing a chronic Achilles").  Instead I just hoped that if I took it easy for the first kilometres of Trotters' "Mark's Run", the Achilles would loosen and I would be able to cope with the very significant hills later on the route.

Mark's Run passes through the very tranquil Erina Valley
As it turned out, the Achilles didn't loosen up to the point where I could stride out and feel balanced until after 10 kilometres.  Prior to that it was manageable running downhill and on the flat at slower speeds, but I was well back in the field.  When we reached the tough hills, which would normally be a strength, I just had to take them very gingerly and avoid putting any severe pressure on my right ankle, trying to prevent the Achilles from stretching too far.  It was frustrating and unpleasant.

The last 4km of the run were actually quite enjoyable as I finally began to run properly, and at a reasonable speed, for an old bloke.  The Achilles problem comes and goes, and it's not always possible to work out what triggers it.  Maybe I tie the shoes too tight and they grip too firmly on the tendon, or maybe it's running on an uneven or soft surface.  Eventually, I suspect more surgery will be needed.

Tomorrow's 42km trail run will be a challenge, but I will be running slowly and in a different pair of shoes.  I'm keen to do the run both because it's through a beautiful part of the world, and because I need some long runs to build fitness.  One bright spot today was that, although I could feel some sensitivity in my right arch, it continues to improve and seems to be the least of my current problems.

Frankfurt

The path along the Nidda River
Before returning to the golf course this morning, for the first time in a couple of months, I went for a chilly and very slow 5km jog in the pre-dawn darkness.  I never felt good running and was just glad to get it over.  I'm hoping some form and fitness returns before tomorrow's Terrigal Trotters 12km run, and the long bush trail run planned for Sunday.  It could be a tough and painful weekend.

Last night, at the track session I supervise at Adcock Park in Gosford, one of the runners, Jodie, was telling us about his daunting business travel itinerary for the next couple of weeks and we were discussing the challenges of running and minding your diet on such trips.  Europe was going to be part of his journey and it put me in mind of the time I was working and living, part-time, in Frankfurt in the early 1990s, and my favourite regular "garbage" run there (see post titled St Louis for the explanation of a garbage run).

My run took me close to the Bundesbank
For a year or two, I was assigned to manage our company's German operation while living near London and regularly spent time in Frankfurt, often travelling there on the first Monday flight and returning on the last Friday flight.  I either stayed in a small hotel, or in a company apartment, both near our office.  It was an exciting time to be in Germany as the Berlin Wall had just come down and reunification was in overdrive.

I grew to love my regular Frankfurt morning run which was a little under 14km and took me about an hour in those days.  It usually started in darkness as I headed west through quiet narrow apartment-lined residential streets for a few kilometres before reaching open parkland in the city's northwest.  My most vivid memory of this run is the loud twittering of thousands of birds in the trees each morning as the eastern skies brightened.  I don't know what type they were, probably something like sparrows or starlings, and they were there every morning.  Even now, when I hear the loud sound of thousand of birds all twittering at once, my mind immediately goes back to that dawn run through Frankfurt.

Grunebergpark
The middle part of the run followed the banks of the Nidda River before swinging back towards the city through a small forest.  The last few kilometres took me past the powerful Bundesbank, through the lovely manicured Gruneburgpark, and by the gates of a small American military base, before I returned to my hotel/apartment.  There were few hills in the whole run, and if I felt good, I often ran quite quickly.  The post-run breakfast of coffee and freshly-baked bread rolls with butter and jam in the little Turmhotel dining room also lingers fondly in my memory.

Familiar companions

As you get older, you get used to running with
 chronic injuries.  Nearing the finish of the
1991 Watford (UK) Half Marathon (~75mins)
After an "easy" day yesterday, I wanted to run a bit further this morning.  I'm still coming back from the right arch injury and my goal is to be back in full training by the end of August.  However, because the injury is still present to a degree, I'm reluctant to adopt my usual "get fit quick" plan of long runs every three or four days.  Instead, I'm alternating easy runs with "longish" runs and gradually increasing the distance.

So, despite feeling slow and unfit, I set out on a 16.5 km loop from The Haven after the Thursday morning track session.  I felt I was barely making forward progress up the first steep hills on the Scenic Highway, and my right leg was a bit of a basket case, with the knee, arch and Achilles tendon, all painful.  As it flattened out and I covered more distance, I began moving more freely, but the right leg problems remained extant.  It was never an easy run, and the hills were particularly tough, but my time of 1:26 was just a couple of minutes slower than last time I ran the same course two months ago.

A non-athlete might ask why anyone would not only continue to run, but increase their mileage, when they are carrying injuries.  I say non-athlete, because most sports people, and especially those past their prime, frequently train and compete while carrying injuries.  Often these injuries are as familiar as old friends, or maybe companions is a better word.

I don't enjoy the pain I get from my right knee and Achilles tendon, but they are well known to me and I don't expect them to stop me running, though accept it will happen some time.  My recent right arch injury is beginning to enter the same category.  For the last few weeks, the pain is always there, some times worse than others, but I now have enough experience of the injury to know that I can back up and run the next day without it getting worse.  The pain is becoming familiar and manageable.  It's more tolerable because I have less fear that it will become worse, or affect my running form enough to cause compensatory injuries.  The injuries are most likely connected, and my optimistic view is that my body will gradually adapt and the pain will diminish.

It would be nice to run injury-free, and I know there will be occasional purple patches ahead of me when everything is functioning well, but more often than not there will be some pain while running.  I judge the benefit from continuing to run as far outweighing the costs.  The pain generally stops, or is vastly reduced, when I stop running and I then enjoy the health benefits and sense of well-being that accompanies fitness.

Ridgetops Tour

Northern Flinders Ranges
All body parts seemed to be creaking when I rose this morning, and my bad knee had been painful at times during the night.  Such is the price of a longish (barely) run, up and down steep hills and along trails, when old and unfit.  I knew that this morning's "easy" 10km would not be very easy, and that proved to be the case.  The further I went, the looser my limbs became, but I was slow and my knee hurt.  Despite all that, and a slow time for my regular 10km, my mood was good.  Providing I don't slip back into injury, I can sense that I'm getting fitter and I know that the aches and pains will diminish in the next week or so if I soldier on.

In the absence of other news, I thought I would include another anecdote from my running past.  This one tells the tale of a long run during a camping trip to the Arkaroola section of the northern Flinders Ranges with another couple in the early 1980s.   See the St Mary's Peak post for the story of another run on an earlier vacation.  Below is an edited version of the story submitted to the Kew-Camberwell newsletter about the run.

_______________________________________
THE RIDGETOPS TOUR

The Ridgetops Tour trail
For those who haven't had the pleasure of travelling the Ridgetops Tour, a comparison of it with the Luna Park Scenic Railway is justified.  Pratty and I decided to run the length of the track and then to push on for another four or five miles along a disused, impassable trail to Paralana Hot Springs where we were to be met by our wives who were going to drive there via another route. We estimated the total distance to be about 20 miles (32km) and set off early to avoid the heat of the day after trying to memorise the wall map we had seen.  The track wasn't open to the public and the only access was via commercial tours, so there were no maps available and we were not sure we were even allowed to go there.

It is true that I wasn't at peak fitness for this little exploit, but I feel that I should point out that the reason I started to fall behind on the precipitous hills at an early stage in the run had more to do with the large hole which opened in the sole of my left shoe and continually filled with sand and gravel than Pratty's scintillating pace.

The northern turn-around point for the Ridgetops Tour
(we continued down the track at the bottom of the photo)
After ninety minutes, we were caught by that day's organised Land Rover tour.  The tourists expressed some amazement at our stupidity, but nevertheless, gave us some liquids, which were rather scarce (actually non-existent) in this part of the world.  Amongst the tourists, there were, almost inevitably, people who Pratty knew (he always meets people he knows in the strangest places).  The fact that they were schoolgirls was never explained to my satisfaction.

After two and a half hours, we reached the turnaround point for the tour at about the same time as the Land Rover (which had made some detours) and, after another beggared drink (it was now quite hot and the tourists were beginning to regret the drinks they had given us earlier), and next-to-useless guidance from the tour driver as to the direction we were to take to get to Paralana Hot Springs, we set off in the general direction of Cape York down a boulder-strewn trail.

I don't remember a lot about this last five miles, apart from heat, glare, thirst and circling birds of carrion as we pushed slowly on along dry river beds and across rocky clearings.  I do recall that Pratty was no longer pushing the pace.

To everybody's considerable surprise (including my own), we arrived at the Springs more or less on schedule and without getting lost.  Training was light for the next few days.

Getting out the door

The Bouddi Coastal Path
The day didn't start too well.  I was still processing Great North Walk 100s entries after midnight and didn't finish and get to bed until 1:30am.  After sleeping in to 8:00am, I woke to discover I had made an error in the payment details emailed to successful entrants and needed to send out a correction, and deal with emails and calls from those who had already tried to pay.  Ultra-runners are a friendly bunch, and fortunately everybody was understanding about my stuff-up.

Feeling a bit under the weather after such a long day yesterday and the late start and problems of this morning, I wasn't enthused by the thought of a late morning run, especially a longer one as planned.  Nevertheless, around 11:00am, on a beautiful warm and sunny day, I dragged myself out the door and set off for an easy 22km run following a course that gave multiple options for short-cuts if I felt bad, or my right arch was hurting too much.

Just a small section of the Maitland
Bay steps
The course incorporated some quiet roads and trails, much of it in the nearby Bouddi National Park.  As discussed in an earlier post, Small Explorations, I find that choosing a course with some interest is a good way of dealing with the "I really don't want to go for a run" problem.  My chosen route incorporated some stiff climbs, including the stairs up from Maitland Bay, but I took it slowly, enjoying the weather and stopping briefly a couple of times to take in the views (and once to help some tourists).  Some new blisters had developed during the City to Surf run on Sunday, a product of the new orthotic insoles I was wearing, so for today I reverted to the original insoles supplied with the shoes.  I was conscious of some occasional pain in my right arch, but it wasn't serious and I finished the run thinking that I will now stick with these insoles.

I finished tired and sweaty, with aching legs, but know this is what I need - some long steady runs that will help me regain the form I was enjoying a couple of months ago.  We have a 42km Terrigal Trotters trail run scheduled for Sunday, and this morning's run gives me confidence I'll be able to go the distance.  The wisdom of going for the run, even though I really didn't want to, was confirmed.

In my opinion, this is one of the testing times for all serious runners.  That is, forcing yourself to go for training runs when you really, really, don't want to.  It's worth persevering.  Not only do you get a training benefit from the run in question, but the experience goes into your psychological "bank".  That is, you gain self-confidence and self-respect by knowing that you can make yourself do things that other runners would not, and it becomes easier to get out for a run the next time it seems too much trouble.

Today's run finished around the edges of Cockrone Lagoon
I can recall a particular training run, sometime in the late 1970s, when I was working full-time and doing my Masters part-time.  It was a miserable wet and dark winter's Wednesday evening.  A tutorial at the University after work meant I didn't get home until about 7:30pm.  My training program (I was running over 200km per week) called for a 35km road run that evening.  Though hungry and desperate to have the night off running, I forced myself out the door and set off through the Melbourne suburbs, a lonely figure splashing along the dark footpaths.  Somewhere in the middle of that run, when I was passing through an industrial area in light drizzle, the thought suddenly came to me that few, if any, other runners in Australia would have been willing to do this run.  The thought buoyed me for the rest of the run.  I realised that I may not have the talent of some of my fellow marathon competitors, but I was sure none of them was training harder.

This is an exaggeration, of course.  There are many athletes, not all of them "elite", who force themselves to go out on training runs when they would rather be doing something else.  They will know what I'm talking about.

Day off

Delivering the pre-race briefing before the 2012 Great
North Walk 100s trail races
I never did manage to get out for a run or walk today, but I doubt that has done me any harm, given that I was stiff and sore last night after the City to Surf.  My right arch has been occasionally painful, but it's hard to know whether it is any worse for the weekend's running.
I was planning an easy day anyway, but the opening at 6:00am of entries for the Great North Walk 100s (GNW100s) trail races, for which I'm the Race Director, left me with a lot of processing and a reason to stay at my desk. 

What was already going to be a busy day, wasn't helped by a power cut in late afternoon, and I still have many entries to review as I update this blog.  Of course, we could pay for online entry processing, but given the small size of the field we'll accept (200 entries), the cost per entry is excessive.  Additionally, the extreme nature of the event, I like to try and review the entry qualifications of each applicant before accepting them.

The event is a labour of love, so I don't mind the extra work.  This will be the 9th running, and although there are times I regret ever having started it, I generally think it has been a worthwhile project for my retirement.  The relish the participants show for the challenge and the enthusiasm with which my Terrigal Trotters clubmates support the event is very rewarding.

While I was working full-time, I seldom had the time to help at community or sporting events.  Now I'm retired, I have the opportunity to make up for those years, and I'm lucky enough to have a number of running-related activities that I enjoy helping, including organising the GNW100s.

City to Surf

Waiting for the City to Surf start
  
It was a good day, and a frustrating day.  I journeyed into Sydney this morning for the annual 14km City to Surf Fun Run with my fellow Terrigal Trotters in a convoy of two minibuses after a 5:00am pick-up.  We had a very enjoyable day, along with 85,000 others, in excellent Sydney winter weather - cool to start, but sunny and warm by mid-morning.

Most of my club-mates ran very well, exceeding or meeting their goal times, and I was pleased for them.  It's not an easy race, and you have to prepare well and hang in there, to get a good time.  I don't think I did either particularly well.  Of course, I've only been back running for two weeks and only done any significant training this week, so I can rationalise my 63:03 time (4:30 mins/km) as about right for my fitness.  However, I didn't enjoy it.  From the start, where we stood around for over an hour in the cool morning air, I did not feel like I was travelling well.  My sore right arch hurt a bit, and my running form was poor, maybe partly due to the tempo run yesterday that left me a little stiff and sore.

Heading through the tunnel
I steadily lost ground to those around me early on, and kept telling myself that once I warmed up I would catch them on the hills later.  This never really happened.  I was still feeling rough up the major climb at half-way, and then just tried to relax on the run in to iconic Bondi Beach.  I never checked my watch en route, and was a little worried that my time would be slower than the 70 minutes required to qualify for the Red Start next year.  However, as it turned out, I was well inside that time, but I never threatened my usual Trotters' rivals, who all ran very well.

Bondi Beach
I don't think there's any way of avoiding these tough comeback runs, really.  You somehow have to get from doing nothing to good form and somewhere between the two are going to be some runs where you feel frustrated and unfit.  I just have to keep my eye on the main goal and not stress about these runs.

Some long easy runs would help me get fit more quickly, but I'm worried that my arch injury is still causing some pain and it might be unwise to test it further at the moment.  I will have an easy day tomorrow and then decide what is wise training for the balance of the week.