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Trying to freshen up

This morning's run followed Gardiners Creek.

Most of my running focus this week has been on recovery from last weekend.  After struggling through the 40km trail run on the Sunday with some kind of bruised heel, I know I need to get it right if I want to have any hope of running a marathon in ten days time.

Gardiners Creek wetlands.

On Tuesday, I drove down to Melbourne for a family occasion this coming weekend, so used that as an excuse to have a second day off running.  I was hoping that the 11km I ran yesterday would be easier, but my legs were stiff and the heel a little painful, though improving.  Today, I tried a relatively flat 16.5km run in Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs, and though I felt strong enough, my legs were still heavy and my heel a little sore.

My experience in the past has been that if I just train steadily and moderately for a couple of weeks I freshen up and the injuries abate.  With luck, that's what will happen this time as well.  I'll run an easy 5km tomorrow and then do a longer run on Saturday as my last before the marathon......if I run it.

Good and bad

Narrow windblown ridges.

My fears about running hard twice on the same weekend were realised, to a degree.  My first steps when I arose yesterday, were quite painful.  I expected my right Achilles tendon, which is chronically injured, to be sore, but was unpleasantly surprised to find my whole heel felt tender and bruised when I put weight on it.  It wasn't totally debilitating, so I crossed my fingers and left to join my club-mates for our annual Wakefield to Congewai 40km trail run along The Great North Walk.

Dank dark rainforest gullies.

Right from the start my heel was painful as I ran, and the further I went the more painful it got.  It wasn't bad enough to stop me running, but it made me limp and shorten my stride, both impacting my running efficiency and my speed.  I tried to avoid forcing it, and resigned myself to hobbling along at a slower pace.

Sandstone caves.

The pain wasn't sufficient, however, to distract from a challenging and rewarding run through beautiful forest terrain.  There were narrow windblown ridges, dank dark rainforest gullies, sandstone caves, breathtakingly steep hills, and glorious vistas.  It was fun to be out there and sharing it with like-minded friends.

Glorious vistas.

Also on the positive side, although running inefficiently, my legs didn't tire as much as expected.  Even towards the end, I felt I was strong enough to step up the pace if not for the painful heel.  This tells me that the previous two weekends of long road runs have yielded benefits.

I now have a decision to make about the Macleay River Marathon in two weeks time.  I still haven't entered, and will leave it a little longer.  I figure that I need to taper anyway, and am hoping that my heel will improve with two days of walking, and careful running thereafter.  I will also wear my Hoka shoes as much as possible in the hope that their extra cushioning hastens the healing process.  My sense is that if I can get to the starting line of the marathon with almost no pain in the right heel, I will be able to make the distance and finish with dignity.  That's the plan, anyway, and I'll enter the marathon later in the week if I feel significant improvement.

A single kilometre

Single track running on
Kincumba Mountain.

This morning's Terrigal Trotters "Erina Bush" 12.5km run is yet another of my favourites.  It has a variety of terrain, including roads, trail, hills and flat, and is a true test of fitness.  I usually look forward to the run and particularly the one kilometre of very technical single track that climbs gradually through the Kincumba Mountain Reserve.

It seems strange that there's a single kilometre I look forward to in a much longer run but this little kilometre is magic.  You have to keep your wits about you to maintain a good pace while carefully picking where you put your feet.  We run it at dawn so the forest is just waking up, with a few bird calls to accompany the heavy breathing of runners.  There is a fairly solid hill before this section is reached, so it's a challenge to maintain momentum when you are already tired.  But the clincher probably is, that as a sixty-three year old, if my fitness is good, it makes me feel young and competitive again.  I'm still quite good on technical track when running hard (though I usually avoid running hard unless it's a race), and the closeness of the bush on each side of the trail makes you feel like you are running fast.  When I'm in shape, I can still match it with most of my club-mates on this section, which is then followed by one of the best gradual fire-trail descents you can find on the Central Coast.

Unfortunately, for this morning, I worked hard not to be competitive on this favourite run, because I have a 40 kilometre trail run tomorrow.  I knew that if I exhausted myself on the uphills, and pounded my body on the downhills, I would struggle tomorrow.  I held back, though still probably ran a little faster than was wise.  Tomorrow will tell the tale.

Great Train Races

Runners set out to beat the Puffing Billy to Emerald in
a recent Great Train Race.

Some races have an extra dimension that gives them greater appeal, and I have run a few strange ones over the years.  I don't know how many Great Train Races there are in the world, but I have been fortunate enough to run in two on opposite sides of the planet.

Puffing Billy.

The first was the race against the Puffing Billy, a restored tourist steam train that runs from Belgrave to Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne.  I frequently ran in the Dandenongs in the 1970s and 1980s on a variety of trails including, occasionally, along the Puffing Billy track, literally.  It is a beautiful part of the world with mountains, towering trees, rain-forested gullies and small farms.

Commuter Train waits to leave New Canaan Station.

Someone had the idea of the The Great Train Race, 13.2 km in length, in the early 1980s.  I think I missed the first one or two events, running it for the first time in May of 1983 (there is a map of the course here).  As I recall, they modified the race format during those first years, as they learnt some lessons.  One time, I think, the train driver gave it his best shot and beat all of the runners easily, making it a bit of a non-event.  Another time, they had runners trying to beat the train to a level crossing, so they didn't have to wait for it to pass.  Nobody got hit, but heavy marshalling was employed thereafter!  From memory I ran it twice, but can only find a record of that first time, 18th in 42:44.  I believe I beat the train on both occasions, each time running back to the start along the track.  It was a fun event and is still on the running calendar today.

The Connecticut version of the Great Train
Race passes by Silvermine Pond.
(©Photo by rogerking)

When living in Connecticut in the late 1990s, I discovered another Great Train Race that ran from the commuter rail station in New Canaan, a nearby village, to the Wilton rail station, 6.8 miles away (there is a map of the course here).  It was much lower key than the Australian version, in several ways, but shared with it a hilly and scenic course, made more attractive by autumn foliage, and lots of fun.

The Connecticut version of the Great Train
Race runs along Old Huckleberry Road.
(©Photo by rogerking)

The first difference was that it was not against a single train, but instead against a notional commuter who, leaving on the train that signalled the start of the race, would have to change trains twice, at Stamford and South Norwalk, before getting to Wilton 59 minutes later.  It wasn't too hard to beat the train.  The second difference was the size of the field.  It was a small local race and you could enter almost up until the time the train left.  In the two years I ran it, there were only 60-80 runners.  I managed third place, in 42:01 in 1997, but was four minutes slower for 46:28 in 2000.  As in Australia, a number of us ran back to the start, at a slow plod, once the last runners had come in and presentations had been made.  Also like Australia, I see the event is still on the local calendar.

For my training today, I ran a very leisurely 5km, and felt OK by the end. but very rusty over the first few kilometres.  Another heavy running weekend coming up.

Leg strength and endurance

Reaching John O'Groats at the end of my hike from
Lands End in 2010.

This morning's 11.5km run was a bit of a grind.  Having had two relatively easy days in a row, I was hoping to feel a bit fresher, but my legs remain heavy with fatigue from Monday's long road run.  The slow recovery tells me I still have some way to go to full running fitness.  I'm simplifying, but my experience is that there are really three phases to regaining fitness after an extended period off running.

Camping while hiking the length of the Australian Alps
Walking Track in 2011.

The first phase, which takes me about three weeks these days (one or two weeks when I was younger), is getting to the point where I feel like a runner again.  It requires my joints and ligaments to loosen up, and my muscles to strengthen, sufficient to regain my running posture and balance.  At the end of the phase I can run smoothly again, but have poor stamina and slow recovery.

The second phase, which now takes me a couple of months, depending on how long I had off, sees the gradual return of cardiovascular capability and muscle strength sufficient to run reasonable times and perhaps be competitive, but my leg recovery rate is poor.  I can run hard one day, or up the first hill, but it's hard to back up for the second.  It is a frustrating time because I know the fitness has in large part returned, but I am still missing something.

Crossing a Swiss mountain pass while hiking the Via
Alpina in 2012.

The third phase is full fitness.  I will know when I get there because I'll comfortably back up from a tempo run with Terrigal Trotters on a Saturday morning with a long run on the Sunday.  I will be able to run up an early hill feeling like there's another gear if I need it, and then be almost fully recovered by the next.  There will be days when I feel like I can run forever.  Amongst my club-mates, there are some in this phase.  They run confidently, knowing they are competitive and can deal with whatever terrain and challenges come their way.

Taking a break while hiking the length of the Hume & Hovell
Track in 2013.

The main factor for me in transitioning from the second to third phases, is leg strength and endurance - the ability of my legs to absorb considerable pounding over a long period.  For me, it is achieved through long miles, usually on the road, and that's why I'm persevering with long road runs, even though they are knocking me around.  There have been occasions, on return from long hiking trips, when I've started my comeback with the leg strength/endurance already there and have achieved good competitive fitness much earlier.  That's not the case this time around, and I think it will be another few months and more long runs before I get there, all going well.

Lantau Island

Lantau Island.

Another place I would like to run again is Lantau Island in Hong Kong.  Although I worked in Hong Kong for a few months in the late 1990s, and travelled there for business on many other occasions, I regretfully failed to explore Lantau Island and the New Territories as running venues.  It wasn't possible to go there on working weekdays, and I always seemed to be working on the weekends as well.

It wasn't until Sharon and I visited there in 2008 that I ran any of the Lantau Island trails.  We made it part of a long day trip from Hong Kong Island where we were staying.  Firstly, we took the train to Tung Chung on Lantau Island, adjacent to the impressive Hong Kong Airport, and then rode the spectacular cable car up to the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha).  The Monastery complex, including the Buddha, lies on the shoulder of Lantau Peak (934m) and we spent a few hours looking around and having a light lunch in the Monastery refectory before setting out on our run.

The Big Buddha with Lantau Peak in the background.

The planned route followed hiking trails over Lantau Peak and then across the southern side of the island to the Mui Wo Ferry Terminal.  There were a lot of steps on the trail up to the Peak and in places it felt quite precarious, but the views were superb in all directions.  The descent from the Peak was positively scary in places, but we took it slowly and had no problems. After crossing the Tung Chung Road, which bisects the island, we followed the easier South Lantau County Trail, with occasional technical sections, and some landslide damage, to meet another road that led us down to our destination at Mui Wo.

Mui Wo and Silver Mine Bay.
(©Photo by Paul Chen)

We then enjoyed a very pleasant sunset ferry ride back to Hong Kong Island and our hotel, having had an excellent day.  It wasn't a long run, but it gave me a taste the delights of Lantau Island trails and it's another place on my bucket list.

For my training today, I ran a slow 10km, still feeling lethargic from Monday's long run, and perhaps from some strenuous yard work yesterday afternoon.  For some reason, I seemed to be more conscious of my heartbeat yesterday and this morning, but try as I might, I can't detect anything other than the usual slow regular pulse.  Probably just my imagination, but it shows the anxiety about a reversion to the Atrial Flutter persists.

Jacksons Track

Countryside near Jacksons Track.
(© Bardaster)

Looking through an old training diary, I was reminded of one of my all-time favourite running routes.  It was from our shack at Labertouche, about an hour's drive east of Melbourne, where we frequently spent running weekends and holidays with groups of running friends.  There were lots of opportunities for running on quiet forest trails and rural roads, and I previously wrote a post about another favourite course there, the Labertouche North Run.

Jacksons Track today.

The 19km Jacksons Track - Aqueduct Run started out with the same gradual descent out of the forest into a pretty rural valley along an unsealed road, before turning east and joining Jacksons Track, a quiet rural road (gravel in those days) made famous as the birthplace of the Lionel Rose, who in 1968 became the first aboriginal boxer to win a world title.  I never saw Lionel there or knew exactly where on the Jacksons Track he lived, but I liked the idea of running through this little bit of history.  Years later, a book was written about the history of the area "Jacksons Track" by Daryl Tonkin & Carolyn Landon, which is a good read in its own right, but which I particularly enjoyed because after years of running in the area I could identify and picture most of the locations referred to in the book.

Lionel Rose (left) on his way to the World Bantam Weight
Championship against Fighting Harada in Tokyo in 1968.

Jacksons Track incorporated quite a long climb before I would turn northwards towards the forested mountains on Nangara Road.  After a short distance, I would turn left on to what was known as the Aqueduct, which followed the course of a buried water pipeline running from Tarago Reservoir to the southern suburbs of Melbourne.  The Aqueduct trail was almost level, following the southern contours of the mountains and the Bunyip State Forest for 8km all the way back to our shack.  Some of it was in tall mountain ash forest, and some of it was in farmland offering beautiful views to the south.  It was probably mostly on private land and there were a few gates and the occasional cow to negotiate, but I stuck to the trail and never had any trouble.

I often used the course as a time trial to test my fitness, because it was both invigorating and fast.  I quite often ran it in around 67 minutes and can remember one time running it with friends in that time and then running a second lap in exactly the same time on my own.  Those were the days!

Looking at the satellite photos, I see that Jacksons Track is now paved and there are now some houses right on the Aqueduct, so the course is probably extinct.

After yesterday's long road run, I just walked 5km today.  I felt good, though my right Achilles tendon was quite stiff and sore.

Mind games

This morning's run crossed Narara Creek in Gosford.
(© WoollyMittens)

Even though I had an easy day yesterday, running a relatively flat 10km, I still wasn't looking forward to today's planned 36.5km Round the Bay road loop circling Brisbane Water.  The reasons probably included that I would be doing it solo, and that I'm over-familiar with the course, having clear memories of how hard the last 10km often is.  Of course, I could choose to run somewhere else, to get a change of scenery and a bit more motivation, but then I would feel I was giving in and choosing an easier option.  I often say that it is the sessions you don't like doing that are probably the ones you need.

The Spike Milligan Bridge was also crossed this morning.
(© WoollyMittens)

The tricks I employ to get me through a long tough solo run, will be familiar to many runners.  I start, these days, by carrying an iPod and listening to music, podcasts or the radio.  This helps, just a little, to distract me from thinking about how far I still have to go.  But the main technique to avoid focusing on the distance, is to set intermediate goals.  The Round the Bay course is very roughly an equilateral triangle, and I start at one corner.  The first objective is to complete the first side feeling comfortable.  The second objective is to complete the second side feeling like I have a little left in reserve.  Then comes the hard part.  By this time I'm very fatigued and just want it to be over.  I break up the third side into shorter and shorter sections with a milestone at the end of each - an intersection, top of a hill, or a landmark.  Having them get progressively shorter helps mentally because it takes less time to reach each milestone and I count them down to the finish.

Maitland Bay Road was part of this morning's run.
(© Maksym Kozlenko)

Of course, these mental tricks never really stop me thinking about how far and how long I still have to run, and the closer I get to the end, the more my focus changes to how great it will feel to stop and then walk the very leisurely one kilometre around the park at the finish.  Nothing beats that feeling of relief when I stop running, nor that sense of satisfaction I get as I stroll that warm-down kilometre knowing that I have achieved my goal, made a contribution to my near-term future fitness.......and that will be the last Round the Bay for a month or so because of other running plans.

My time this morning was about six minutes faster (3:18) than last week (3:24), which isn't a lot, but I did feel stronger, and if my right Achilles tendon and knee had behaved themselves, I would have been running faster in the last 12km.

Black Forest

Hiking near Titisee in the Black Forest in 2012.

Revisiting remote (from home) places, will often evoke memories of those earlier visits, even if scores of years later.  There are a number of places in the world where this has happened to me and one is the Black Forest in Germany, and Titisee, in particular.

I was most recently there in May of 2012, as a hiker traversing the Black Forest as part of a three-month trek, primarily in the Alps.  As I passed through, I thought fondly back to my two previous visits, the first as a teenager in the mid-1960s travelling with my family in a campervan, and the second in August of 1975 on another camping tour of Europe.  On this latter occasion, I was also supposedly in training for the Enschede Marathon just five days later, but had found it hard to get in any long training runs in the previous couple of months while travelling behind the Iron Curtain.

Looking over Titisee towards Feldberg in the far distance.

After setting up camp beside Lake Titisee, I decided that a long training run might be in order, and set out along forest trails to run to the top of Feldberg (1493m), the highest mountain in the Black Forest, and return, a distance of about 32km.  I don't remember exactly which route I used, but I do have memories of a dull overcast day, hilly terrain, and dark forbidding conifer forests with little undergrowth, ideal for scary fairy tales.  I also remember that the peak, which is above the treeline, accessible via road and had a large communications tower on top, was covered in cloud and seemed quite eerie with nobody about.  No views either, of course.

Crossing the line in the 1975 Enschede Marathon
(91st, 2:59).

I didn't hang around in the cold, and returned to Lake Titisee via the same route, reaching the campsite three hours later somewhat the worse for wear, ominously for the upcoming marathon.  In the race, I managed 91st place in 2:59, my worst marathon to date at the time, and resolved not to run another marathon without training properly.

After yesterday's tempo run, which left me with the usual sore right Achilles tendon, and some stiffness, I decided to just run an easy 10km today in the hope that I will be fresher for a long road run tomorrow.  I didn't get out until late morning when it was quite warm and felt lethargic and rough.  However, that's quite often the way when it's a bit warm and you didn't really want to go for a run anyway.


I was feeling OK this morning on Brush Road just
before the turn-around.

When it comes to running, and maybe some other things, I'm pretty "old school".  I'm skeptical about the value of "barefoot" running shoes, energy gels, low mileage and lots of other stuff.  Likewise, I have tended to look at runners who hare off at the start of social runs, or run fast down hills rather than hard up hills, as breaking some kind of running etiquette.  Of course, this is quite an arrogant perspective, and there are all sorts of reasons why runners run the way they do.  It is, after all, an individual sport.

The climb up Wycombe Road exposed
my fitness deficit.

The field for this morning's Terrigal Trotters "Keith's Run", was somewhat smaller because of members competing in The North Face trail races today or the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon tomorrow.  Before the start, I guessed that the pace might be slower early, and I was right.  These days, the Saturday runs are my only fast running each week, so I took the initiative and pushed the pace along a bit faster, and with a club-mate, soon broke away from the pack.  By the turn-around, we had a few hundred metres on the chasing pack and were running quickly, but I was tiring.  Soon, I let me club-mate go ahead and began concentrating on trying to maintain a good pace to the end.  A tough hill added to my fatigue and I was caught by several other club-mates over the remaining few kilometres.

After the run, several of them commented on how fast I had run this morning, but I knew that I had gone out faster at the start while they socialised, and felt guilty about getting unearned praise.  I got what I wanted, in terms of a hard, and for me, fast run, but I would have been further behind if I had run with them for the first five kilometres.

Chubb Trail

Chubb Trail.

St Louis is a long way from anywhere, be it beaches, snowfields or National Parks.  And of all the places I have lived, St Louis provided the fewest good trail running opportunities.  That's not to say there aren't any, but they are not particularly long, nor very inspiring.

Chubb Trail.

There were a few I visited regularly when I got sick of running in the suburbs and local parks, and perhaps my favourite was the Chubb Trail which was only half an hour's drive from our home.  It was about 7 miles in length and my usual run would be out-and-back for 14 miles, and occasionally I would tack on the Castlewood Loop for an extra 3 miles.  The Trail, which generally followed the course of the Meramec River, started with a hilly section in Lone Elk County Park and ended with a climb to the turnaround in West Tyson County Park.  In between, in the river valley, it was flat, passing through an old farming area which is now a mix of forest and prairie.  It was all very runnable and the hills weren't too bad.

I wouldn't call it an exciting course, but I have pleasant memories of running there late on a weekend afternoon, with the sun setting as I finished, and in very chilly autumnal weather on leaf-covered trail.  One of my old friends from St Louis still runs the Chubb Trail regularly and I doubt it has changed much in the seventeen years since I was last there.

Running for me today was around my regular Thursday morning 11km circuit after the morning track session I supervise at Terrigal Haven.  I was hoping to feel fresher, but the legs were heavy and motivation was low.  I didn't push it in the hope I will recover some zest by the weekend.

Thinking the unthinkable

Katandra Reserve this morning.

After dropping my car off for a service in North Gosford this morning, I ran an easy 20km home via a route that maximised trail and minimised suburbia.  It was another beautiful morning for a run - mild and sunny with wisps of fog in some valleys.  Despite residual fatigue from Sunday's 37km road run, my legs are feeling stronger and I spent much of today's run pondering my running objectives for the next six months.

Clyde Road, this morning.

Incredibly, I'm getting to the point where the sub-3 hour marathon goal is again entering the fringes of my thinking.  I can't quite believe I'm even contemplating it, but assuming my heart problem at Christmas was just a blip, resolved by the Cardioversion, then why is a sub-3 less likely this year than last.  I fully accept it's a remote possibility, but it makes no sense to rule it out.  But maybe a change of approach is needed.  Since resuming running eleven weeks ago, I have been remarkably (for me) sensible in my training.  I haven't aggressively ramped up my mileage, I took a few days off for a minor injury, and I have mostly avoided back-to-back quality (fast or long) training days.  Although it has taken a bit longer than in the past, there has been steady improvement in my speed and endurance and that seems set to continue.

View from Clyde Road this morning.

My new thinking is that I should avoid focussing single-mindedly on the sub-3 hour goal.  Last year, I was trying to run as many kilometres a week as my ageing body could handle, and feeling pressure to improve my base speed.  However, when I look at how I'm running at the moment, and what training I was doing when at my best early last year, I was pretty much running for enjoyment, without sweating on kilometres or speed.

Kincumba Mt this morning.

Although a sub-3 hour marathon is not easy, there were times in my life when I could do it comfortably.  Maybe I need to fine-tune my approach to have fewer quality sessions (fast or long) and run those sessions fresher.  Maybe I also need to avoid targeting a particular marathon and, instead, when I think I'm ready, find one.

It seems to be worth trying, though it runs counter to the approach adopted most of my serious running career.  Counter-intuitively, it may require more self discipline for me than the high-mileage run-regardless regime of the past.

Tommy Hafey

In his 70s, Tommy Hafey was used to advertize Jeeps,
which were celebrating their 70th birthday.

Tommy Hafey wasn't a runner, he was an outstanding Australian Rules Football coach and former player.  And he didn't even play for my favourite team, but he was a role model for anybody interested in a healthy lifestyle and an exemplar of self-discipline.  He was ever-present in the news in my formative running years in Melbourne, and some of my regular runs passed by the Richmond Football Ground where he was a celebrated coach.  Although I have no specific recollection of ever meeting him, I have a vague feeling that our paths did cross once or twice.

This morning, I heard the sad news that Tommy had died yesterday at the age of 82.  It was a bit of a surprise, because I had heard him interviewed quite recently, and he was very articulate, upbeat, and still religious about his early morning run, swim, and push-up routine by Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne.

Tommy doing his early morning push-ups by Port
Phillip Bay in Melbourne.
(Picture: Andrew Tauber Source: Herald Sun)
I admired him because he espoused many of the ideas that are dear to my heart.  Most importantly, perhaps, was his dedication to physical fitness and self-discipline.  Not only did he lead by example through his personal exercise regime, and never smoked or drank alcohol, but he was a trail-blazer in developing fitness programs for his football teams, including employing the ideas of cutting edge runners/thinkers such as Percy Cerutty and Herb Elliott in the 1960s.

He was passionate about the value of exercise generally and was an evangelist for a healthy lifestyle, changing the lives of many people for the better along the way.  Apparently it took a malignant brain tumour to finish him off, and mercifully it appears to have been a short illness.  His passing has tinged my day with a little sadness.

My exercise for today comprised a slow 10km run on stiff and tired legs.  It was a grind early, but once I warmed up became a little more enjoyable.  The good news was that my right Achilles tendon was much less painful.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park, London.

In October 1987, I started a new job, the first day of which saw my family and I on a plane to London from Melbourne.  Temporarily, my new company rented accommodation in South Kensington where we lived for three months, our five-month old baby sleeping on a small mattress behind the sofa in the tiny apartment.

We were close to Hyde Park, and my morning run became a double circuit of the historic park.  It was an interesting time to arrive in England, just two weeks after the Great Storm of 1987, which felled an estimated 15 million trees across the country.  Hyde Park had suffered greatly and walking around the park the weekend after our arrival, was both awe-inspiring, to see what nature was capable of, and saddening, to see so many gracious old trees upended.

Broad Walk, Hyde Park.

Fortunately for my running, the main paths were soon cleared, especially since it was winter and my morning runs were in darkness.  There was some lighting in the park, but not very much, and generally I just had to trust that if I stayed in the middle of the path, I wouldn't encounter any obstacles.  Occasionally, I would meet a runner or walker coming the other way, and a couple of times last-second evasive action had to be taken.  It was in the era before headlamps, and I never carried lights, or worried about light-coloured clothing.

As you would expect in a London winter, there were plenty of cold, foggy and/or drizzly, mornings but strangely they are the ones for which I'm most nostalgic.  That weather, darkness, London, and running, are inextricably linked in my memory.

Hyde Park at night.

The 14km course was relatively flat, and at the time I was quite fit, so usually ran it in around one hour.  The run to the Park along the broad Exhibition Road, passed between the historic Natural History and Victoria & Albert Museums.  It was very gradually uphill, and that always helped me warm up.  By the time I got to Hyde Park, I was rolling and always worked hard on the gradual climb up Broad Walk to Kensington Palace, and then, after cruising along the northern side parallel to Bayswater Road to Speakers Corner, would stretch out down the eastern edge of the Park next to Park Lane.  Occasionally, I would see horse guards exercising on South Carriage Drive in the early light before turning out of the Park and heading home.  In later years, when I no longer lived in the UK, I would always try and get in one run around Hyde Park whenever visiting London for work.

After yesterday's exertion, I walked an easy 5km today.  My right Achilles tendon is still sore, but I'm hopeful it will have improved enough to run tomorrow.

No fun

Gosford waterfront is on the Round the Bay course.
(© BigRay)

Nearly three and a half hours of running and can't say I felt good for, or enjoyed, a single step......except for the last one.  That's sometimes the way with long runs.

If I'm honest with myself, it was a bit stupid to try and run the 36.5km Round the Bay course the day after running 14km quite hard with Terrigal Trotters.  I'm not fully fit, and it takes time to recover from hard runs.  It would have been better to try tomorrow and have an easy recovery day today, but I sort of trapped myself by booking my car in for a service on Wednesday.  That matters because the service centre is about 20km from home, and I planned to run home for training (and catch the bus back later to pick the car up).  If I did my really long run tomorrow, then there would be just one recovery day before the 20km run, which is also not really enough for me these days.

The course crosses the Rip Bridge
(© Rob N_!)
Anyway, unpleasant as it was, the long run is done with no apparent ill effects.  The reason it was so hard primarily relates to gait.  Having run hard yesterday, I was dealing with two issues.  Firstly, there was general fatigue and stiffness.  Yesterday, I was running around 4mins/km for some parts, my fastest for months.  I was striding out more and holding my centre of gravity higher and further forward.  That was pushing the envelope of my current fitness, engaging muscles and stretching ligaments more than has happened for some time.  It's not surprising that stiffness and fatigue follows.  But that's good, because as my body responds to these forgotten stresses, by building muscle and increasing the range of movement, I will become a better runner.  In the short-term, however, the fatigue and stiffness impacts my stride length and I run less efficiently.  The consequence of that is a slower pace, discomfort, and even more fatigue than usual.

The course passes along the Tascott waterfront.
(© John Ford)

Secondly, my chronic right Achilles tendon was quite sore after yesterday's run and still painful this morning.  Stretching hurts it more, so subconsciously my gait alters to lessen the pain.  Generally, this means a shorter stride and splaying my feet more.  The latter has, over the years, caused chronic problems with my right knee, so I'm very conscious these days of not splaying the foot too much.  The result is more Achilles pain, a shorter stride, and an inefficient gait.

On the positive side, I'm pretty sure I will start to feel the benefit of today's run by the end of the week.  Three and a half hours of repetitive pounding on hard flat surfaces was hard on the legs, but I know from experience my legs will grow stronger as a consequence.

Fitter...and more anxious

I recently found this old picture of
me running a length of the original
stadium at Olympia in Greece in 1975.

This week, I have really noticed an improvement in my fitness level and the proof was this morning's relatively strong run on the Terrigal Trotters "Pony Club Run" course.  I'm still not running with the leading bunch, but they were within sight for much of the first half of the 14km course and I felt I was moving comfortably at a faster pace for most of the run.

I should be feeling fitter.  I have run most days for the last eleven weeks and have averaged 100 kilometres a week for the past month, so it's nice to know that I'm getting a benefit.  However, with the fitness, and returning competitiveness, comes some anxiety.  Almost certainly, I have recovered full lung function after the Pulmonary Embolism four months ago.  And, my heart continues to beat regularly and strongly following the DC Cardioversion back in February to correct my debilitating Atrial Flutter.  But, constantly in my mind, is the worry that my heart will revert, maybe as a result of running hard.  When writing last night's blog, I mentioned a famous and extremely talented English ultra-distance runner, Cavin Woodward.  In 1975 he set a new world record for 100 Miles of 11hrs 38mins 54secs and en route also became the holder of World Best times for 50miles, 100km and 150km!  When I Googled him, I was saddened to see that he died in 2010 of a heart attack at age 62!  Then this morning, a friend was relating the story of an athlete competing in last weekend's Port Macquarie Ironman not long after he had been treated for a heart problem.  He finished the triathlon but was complaining of chest tightness.  He's only in his mid-30s.

On the hills in this morning's run, I could also feel some tightness in my chest at the base of my sternum.  I have been aware of it over the past month when running hard, but have not discerned any related problems.  Did I always have this tightness, but never paid attention in the past?  Is it breathing- rather than heart-related?  It feels more like an airway constriction.  I guess time will tell.  For the moment, it's a very satisfying feeling to be getting faster and I'm enjoying my running in a way I thought would never be possible again four months ago.

London to Brighton

Article from a local newspaper
about my first ultra.

I can reasonably claim to have done my first ultramarathon at the age of 15.  A year earlier, my family had moved to London where my father had a three-year posting, and I joined a unit of the Boys Brigade at our local church.  There, I learned of an annual charity walk from London to Brighton, a distance of 52 miles, and quickly volunteered along with a friend.  My recollection is that the event started in the evening and we walked through the night.  My friend stopped after 33 miles while I finished the journey in 18½ hours.  I don't remember too much about it, other than lying on my back with my legs up against a tree to ease the pain in my feet on multiple occasions in the last twenty miles, and being very short-tempered in the final stages.  Nevertheless, I finished and it reinforced my growing perception that I could do well in endurance events.

The London to Brighton race started beneath Big Ben
and across Westminster Bridge.

It also fostered my interest in the journey from London to Brighton which has an iconic place in English folklore dating back to the early 1800s when people first walked it.  Since then, there have been all kinds of events over the route involving pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles, but the one that first captured my interest in the early 1970s was the running race.  Although the amateur running race began in 1951, it wasn't really until the 1970s that some highly-credentialled marathon runners, amongst them Cavin Woodward and Don Ritchie, began racing and six minute mile average pace was beaten.  This was also the time I was starting to race marathons at better than six minute mile pace, and I imagined myself (very optimistically) mixing it with them.

The climb over Ditchling Beacon with seven miles to go.

In the mid-1970s I returned to live in the UK for a year or two, but didn't get to run the race for some reason (can't remember why).  It wasn't until 1991, when I was again living in the UK, that I finally ran the race, at the age of 40.  I was no longer training twice a day, had a young family, and was spending a large part of my life on planes.  Hopes of running six minute miles for the distance were gone, but that didn't stop me heading out at a good pace from beneath Big Ben at the 7:00am start.  It was a race of two distinct halves for me.

The race finishes on the Brighton promenade.

I reached the halfway mark, 27.5 miles (this was the first year of an altered, longer, course that finished over Ditchling Beacon for safety reasons), in almost exactly three hours and going strong.  After a cool start, it had become a clear and warm day, and I began to suffer soon after.  I remember making a very brief pit-stop at about 40 miles and being almost overcome by a desperate desire to lie down on the road and sleep.  I continued on, with the daunting climb over Ditchling Beacon constantly on my mind.  It was every bit as hard as I feared, but I kept running, despite being overtaken by the first woman (it still mattered to me in those days).  The last few kilometres, though mostly downhill, seemed to take forever and I was totally spent when I finally crossed the line in 7:20.  Disappointment at my performance over the latter half (it took 4:20), was quickly replaced with satisfaction at finally realising a long-term goal, and I still cherish the memory.

I ran an easy 5km for training today, feeling in reasonable shape and looking forward to tomorrow morning's run with Terrigal Trotters.

Fred Lester

Fred Lester in full flight.

I like to think that I'm a self-coached runner, but know that there are people I have encountered during my running career who have had a profound influence on me, even though I might not have acknowledged it at the time.  One such person is Fred Lester, who was coach of the YMCA Amateur Athletic Club when I first joined at the age of 19 in 1970, and who remained a respected friend for the rest of his life.  He died in 2010 at the age of 87.

Although I didn't know it at the time we first met, and didn't bother to ask, Fred had already had a very interesting life.  All I knew was that he was also Secretary of the Victorian Marathon Club, wore an Australian Army slouch hat, spoke with a strong German accent, and was always willing to provide coaching advice.  As young twenty-year-olds, with the world at our feet, we were often cruel to the resilient Fred.  We jibed him about which side he fought for in World War II, when in fact he was a German Jew who had escaped Germany just before the war as a boy and ultimately ended up enlisted in the Australian Army.  He wore panty-hose in winter to keep warm, long before similar running-specific clothing was sold, and encouraged us to do likewise.  None of us did, but we certainly gave him a hard time about it.  He often prescribed a track session when we turned up at the old Yarra Park grass track in Melbourne for evening training and we would studiously ignore his advice, and do our own thing.

Fred Lester with his hero Emil Zatopek.

In my mind, the Fred story that impressed me the most was that he needed to make a pit stop during a marathon in his younger years, and rather than seeking cover, apparently just squatted in the middle of the road, did what was necessary, and continued on.  He had been a proficient marathon runner in his day, always looked superbly fit during all the time I knew him, and had an enormous passion for athletics.

He was an excellent coach of younger athletes and always had a few coming up through the ranks, mostly via the Catholic School system.  He drove them and us to races in his van and we often wondered what their Catholic parents would think if they knew their children were under the tutelage of a proud card-carrying member of the Australian Communist Party.  To his absolute credit he kept his running and political lives totally separate, though was always quick to rail against authority and bureaucracy.  Fred didn't tolerate fools, and I can remember hearing him say "Christ, you took your bloody head out there, why didn't you use it?" on more than one occasion after I had messed up a race tactically.  Many runners from those years have other favourite Fred sayings.

Fred laying down the law to some junior
volunteers at a running event.

Apart from encouragement, Fred's greatest impact on me during those days was perhaps via the Victorian Marathon Club which provided a range of road, and occasionally track, races for runners to augment the official VAAA races of the time.  I loved those races, which gave me a chance to shine in smaller fields, especially as I became a better runner.  Winning the VMC's King of the Mountains and being first Australian home in several VMC Marathons, the latter leading to trips to New Zealand marathons at a critical stage of my career, were highlights still bright in my memory.

I now also realise that Fred, leading by example, probably sparked my interest in creating events for runners of all standards, something which provides me with great satisfaction to this day.  One event he created, the annual Emil Zatopek 10,000m track race in Melbourne, continues to attract the very best runners in Australia each December more than fifty years since its inception in 1961.

I haven't done justice to Fred's contributions to me and running in this brief blog post.  You can read an excellent article published in the Melbourne Age newspaper about Fred's very interesting life here.  It's worth the read.  The collected volumes of the Victorian Marathon Club Newsletter, available here, give some indication of how much work Fred put into the running scene over many years.

For my training today, I ran an easy 11km.  I was tired after yesterday's 21km, but I was pleased with the underlying strength I'm starting to feel in my legs and my average training pace is gradually improving.