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New plan

After finishing a woeful 2004 Six Foot
Track Marathon (296th, 5:33)

Today has been another day for contemplating what next.  Do I still want to try and run a sub-3:00 marathon?  If so, what is a reasonable time frame for another attempt?  Do I want to keep writing a regular blog about running?  What of my other "bucket list" ambitions such as the Pacific Crest Trail and the Te Araroa Trail?

Also, it is now less than four weeks to the annual Great North Walk 100s (GNW100s), for which I am the Race Director, and most of my time in the next month will be devoted to preparation for that race.  I don't really want or need the pressure of keeping to a serious training program during this month when time will be frequently tight.

These are "First World Problems" of course, and I don't pretend otherwise.  Over the weekend, another good running friend from Terrigal Trotters was struck down with an unexpected and serious illness.  It looks like he will be OK, but it's a reminder to me to keep my issues in perspective.

Finishing the 1979 Canberra Marathon
(2nd, 2:23)

A tentative plan has evolved.  For the next six weeks, I will still run most days (and average about 100km per week), but won't train to a specific plan or for a specific race.  This will improve my fitness significantly, assuming I don't get injured, but will be without pressure.  I will not post any updates to this blog.  Apart from not having a "project" to write about, I will need the time for GNW100s preparation.

From the start of December, I will work to a training plan that prepares me for the Six Foot Track Marathon (45km trail race) on 8 March 2014 and the Canberra Marathon on 13 April 2014, with the goal of running a fast time in the latter.  I will resume posting to this blog at that time.

See you then.

Reality check

The start of the 2013 Melbourne Marathon
Last night's eleven hour drive back from Melbourne to Copa, punctuated by a collision with a large kangaroo just north of Gundagai which provided a few seconds of drama, gave me plenty of time to contemplate my woeful Melbourne Marathon performance.  In the lead up to the race, I never considered the possibility of running over four hours.  My finish time of 4:08 was so off the radar, it almost feels unreal.  But maybe that's a good thing, because I know in my heart that I'm still capable of running much faster than that.  However, I'm not sure in my heart that I still believe I can run a sub-3:00 marathon.  Maybe I'm fooling myself, and making a fool of myself.  But I'm not giving up on the idea just yet.

Soon after the start of the 2013 Melbourne Marathon
It's hard to put my finger on exactly what went wrong with yesterday's race.  My conservative start went as planned and it did take me a few kilometres to feel warmed up.  But contrary to expectations, I never settled into a free-running pace after that.  The adductor muscles (top front of thighs) of both legs felt strained early, and I believe this shortened my stride.  I held my 3:20 marathon pace to half way, but was running inefficiently and tiring.  As my running form deteriorated further, my lower back tensed up and soon I was just shambling along..."You can make it, Old Timer!"  The lower back problem has occurred in some other long races, and once it starts tightening up, my race is over.  My conclusion is that I wasn't really fit enough to run as I hoped (3:10 to 3:20).  Three weeks ago, I had thought those times were unlikely, but my training picked up recently and maybe I got carried away.

It was a humbling, demoralising and frustrating experience, but part of a runner's life.  Not every race is a good one, and some are downright bad.  I know my potential is not defined by such races.  I'm capable of running a faster time right now, and I know I'm a few months short of being in peak condition, so faster times lie ahead.  How fast, remains to be seen.

Last minute anxieties

Anticipation as the field lines up for the start of the
1978 Australian Marathon Championship
at Caboolture in Queensland
The anticipation for tomorrow's Melbourne Marathon is building, and as usual, some small hiccups are being encountered.

On checking my gear this morning, I discovered I had forgotten to pack my Terrigal Trotters singlet for the trip to Melbourne.  It's not a big deal, but it's a colourful and recognisable design making me easily identifiable to club-mates and others.  I may miss a few cheers along the way.

The weather forecast for tomorrow also looks a little dicey.  A cold front is forecast to move through some time during the day, and could be heralded with strong winds, rain showers, some thunderstorms and possibly hail.  Of course, this is Melbourne and there's every chance it could be fine.  If I thought I was a borderline chance to break three hours, I might be concerned.  However, without that pressure, I won't mind battling the elements if that's what happens.  Some of my most memorable running experiences involve outrageous weather.

Going OK (second from left) in the early stages of the
1978 Australian Marathon Championships
It's easy to lose your perspective as a big race approaches, and it's important not to be derailed by hiccups, or try do do anything special and/or different.  I have made mistakes in the past, and would hope I have learned some lessons, but still feel tempted to worry about little things or do something different.

I met yesterday with a friend's son who will be running his debut marathon tomorrow and much of our lunchtime conversation revolved around last minute race preparation and plans.  As usual, I'm good at telling other people what to do in such situations, and my advice was not to use "Goo's" during the race if he hasn't tried them before, not to buy some new socks for the race, not to drink too much, not to go out too fast, and so on.  He's a naturally talented athlete and I'm sure he will do fine and have some good stories to tell.  No doubt, within a week, he will be planning how to run a Personal Best in his next marathon.  There's no substitute for experience and we are all different.  He will work out over several races how best to get the most out of himself in a marathon.

Exhausted at the finish after a disappointing 1978 Australian
Marathon Championship (13th, 2:34:28).  [Three months
later I was 2nd in the first Melbourne Marathon in 2:23.]
For my training today, I walked an easy 5km.  My right Achilles was stiff and sore for the first kilometre or two, but loosened up after that and I enjoyed a sunny breezy Saturday morning.  I'm expecting the Achilles to be troublesome for the first 5km of tomorrow's race and I will need to avoid forcing it.  Hopefully, once it warms up, I will be able to settle into a good pace.

While walking, I thought about my race strategy for tomorrow.  If I feel I have lost ground in the early kilometres because of the Achilles, it will be tempting to try to make up time.  Overtaking runners can become addictive if you are running well, and I will need to avoid expending too much energy between 5km and half-way.  A guide will be the pacers provided by the organisers.  There is a group for every ten minutes between 2:50 to 4:30 (I do wonder about how accurately these groups will be able to judge their pacing given they are so close together), so my goal will be not to fall too far behind the 3:30 group at the start, and not to get ahead of the 3:10 group if I'm feeling good after the early kilometres.  This translates to no slower than 5:00 per kilometre average and no faster than 4:30 per kilometre average.

Now I just want the race to start.

1981 Melbourne Marathon

The lead bunch in the 1981 Melbourne Marathon at
about 5km.  I'm on the left and eventual winner, Andrew
Lloyd, is in the centre wearing the hat.
I ran a very gentle 5km this morning, telling myself that I was feeling fresh and in good form for Sunday's Melbourne Marathon.  It was very slow, but none of my chronic injuries were very painful, so that was a good sign.  Later I travelled into the city to pick up my race pack from the Runner's Expo and chatted with some friends I met there, before lunching with the son of a friend who will be running his debut marathon on Sunday.  All of these little events and meetings help build the anticipation for Sunday's run and are part of the marathon experience.  We're all wondering how things will turn out on the day, and just want to get running.

In yesterday's blog I wrote about how much the Melbourne Marathon was a part of my earlier running life and about my experience in the first Melbourne Marathon in 1978.

The leading bunch at around 5km of the
1981 Melbourne Marathon with me in
the foreground
By the time I ran the 1981 Melbourne "Big M" Marathon, I was recognised as an experienced marathon runner and a podium prospect in the races I ran.  I had also dealt with some career-threatening injuries, particularly a serious lower back problem, and was never sure I would make it to the start line of any particular event.  Another injury, to my left Achilles tendon, was serious enough to warrant anti-inflammatories and I was scheduled for surgery a month after the race.

My success in the 1978 "Big M", and subsequent personal best of 2:19 in the 1979 Victorian Marathon Championship, had also attracted a minor level of sponsorship with Brooks Shoes.  There was no money involved, but they supplied me with shoes and running clothing and I agreed to wear their running attire at certain events.  This was the case for the 1981 "Big M", and they had supplied me with their latest and greatest marathon running shoe a month before the event.  I wore them in lead-up long runs, including the week before the marathon on forestry roads from our weekend shack in the mountains about an hour east of Melbourne.  When I returned from that last long training run, while still wearing my running gear, I decided to cut up a fallen tree on our property before showering.  A log slipped as I was cutting and knocked the chainsaw down to my left foot where it neatly sliced through the top of one of my new shoes, but incredibly didn't draw any blood.  This is one of several occasions in my life where, but for some good fortune, serious injury or worse would have been incurred.  I had to sheepishly call the Brooks rep, explain my mishap, and request a replacement pair of shoes, which he supplied.

Around the 15km mark of the 1981 Melbourne Marathon,
Andrew Lloyd and I began to get away from the field
The race itself had a good field, including two-time winner, Andy Lloyd from Sydney, known throughout Australia as the "Fun Run King".  Andy later won the City to Surf Fun Run four times and represented Australia on the track, winning a Gold Medal in the 5000m at the 1990 Commonwealth Games (worth watching on Youtube).  He was a superbly talented and versatile runner who was probably wasting his time on the marathon at this early stage of his career.  Anyway, the pace was solid and steady from the start at about 16:00 per 5km, and a large bunch gradually thinned out until around half way, it was down to just Andy Lloyd and me.  After I had shadowed him for a while, he tired of my presence and began to throw in some surges, running faster for a few hundred metres and then backing off.  After a few of these, it had the desired effect and I dropped off as well.  With about 6km to go, his lead had stretched to about two and a half minutes, even though I was still running reasonably well.  At this point there was a slow climb on the course (Fitzroy Street) before a seemingly endless long finishing straight along the broad and tree-lined St Kilda Road.  The climb must have taken its toll on Andy because when I turned into St Kilda Road, I could see him and the lead car ahead and began making some ground on him.

Nearing the finish of the 1981 Melbourne Marathon
(2nd, 2:19:30)
My club, Kew-Camberwell, traditionally manned the 40km feeding station for the "Big M" Marathons, and one of the thrills of my life remains running through a tunnel of my screaming club-mates as I closed in on the tiring Andy.  Alas, I left my run too late and finished 27 seconds behind him in 2:19:30.

The postscript to this story is that Andy turned down the winner's prize of an all expenses paid trip to run in the 1982 Boston Marathon, and it was passed to me.  He had been the two previous years and apparently didn't feel the need to go again.  It was very generous of him to let me have the trip, and I took extra pleasure in watching his accomplishments in subsequent years.

1978 Melbourne Marathon

Leading the 1978 Melbourne Marathon
at about 16km from Kevin Rock, Bill Scott
and Jim Langford (partially obscured)
It was a lot cooler for this morning's easy 5km jog along some Melbourne suburban streets, and I felt better running, though a little disturbed my right Achilles tendon was stiff and sore, and restricting my movement.  I felt that if my Achilles had been more flexible I would have been capable of stretching out and running quite well.  Maybe I'll cut back to just a 5km walk tomorrow and/or Saturday, before the Melbourne Marathon on Sunday to give the Achilles more rest.  With luck, I'll run between 3:10 and 3:20 on Sunday, not the sub-3:00 I had been looking for, but OK if I can do it.

When I started this blog, the idea of book-ending my marathon career with a sub-3:00 hour marathon in Sunday's Melbourne Marathon had an appealing sense of symmetry.  Although the Melbourne Marathon was not my first marathon, it looms large in my marathon life for many reasons.  Most importantly because, although I had run faster and was known to the Victorian running cognoscenti, my second place in the first ever Melbourne Marathon, known as the "Big M", meant much more for my running profile and recognition as a serious marathon runner more broadly.  It was a good performance in an event that generated a lot of public interest in Melbourne.

Running in second place around the 30km
mark in the 1978 Melbourne Marathon
My memory of the actual race is somewhat patchy.  I do recall always being a bit suspicious that the course was long, maybe by nearly half a mile.  I don't know how Fred Lester, the Race Technical Director and a good friend and club-mate, measured it, but I had a sense that the start, which I recall as being south of Frankston, seemed somewhat convenient, organisationally.  I noted, that in subsequent years, the start moved to the north side of Frankston.  This could have been explained by a change of the course to follow the coast all the way on the point-to-point course, but only partially in my view.  The times of the leading runners in 1978 did seem slow to me.

For the early kilometres, there was quite a large leading pack, most of whom were known to me, and I remember moving along comfortably and feeling good.  The race was being televised live, and I remember getting a buzz from having the camera truck in front of us, complete with commentators, including Ron Clarke, one of my heroes.

I wasn't considered a contender for the race, but things went well for me and by about 15km I was one of a breakaway bunch of four runners comprising Jim Langford, the 1978 Australian Marathon Champion (2:19), Bill Scott, the 1978 Victorian Marathon Champion (2:16), Kevin Rock, a Kew-Camberwell club-mate and training partner and 4th in the 1978 Australian Marathon Championship, and me.  Apparently, Ron Clarke, commentating from the back of the truck, told the live television audience that my style was too bouncy for a good marathon runner and that I would not be there at the business end of the race.

Finishing the 1978 Melbourne Marathon (2nd, 2:23)
Soon after the half-way mark, Bill applied some pressure and Jim and Kevin dropped off the pace.  I followed soon afterwards, but maintained a margin over Jim and Kevin, which I held to the finish.  I don't remember much else about the race, except that it followed the main road between Frankston and Melbourne, the Nepean Highway, and there was only limited traffic control.  With about 10km to go, approaching St Kilda where the road was many lanes wide, my sister was riding shot-gun behind me on a bike to protect me from the traffic.

Bill's time was 2:21:04, and I followed in 2:23:06 for second place, two minutes ahead of Jim.  My then wife, Barb, was third in the female race in 3:07.  I don't think I won anything of significance for my efforts, but really savoured the minor celebrity status I enjoyed for a short while.  Bill, who was also a world class 10000m and cross-country runner, won a trip to North America where he later won the Vancouver Marathon in 2:15.  Sadly, he suffered from some serious injuries throughout his running career and I don't think we ever saw how good he might have been.

Having faith

Gardiner's Creek Trail
The plan for this morning's run was an easy 15km just to work up a bit of a sweat and let my body know I am still running seriously.  I chose a course that included a good chunk of the Gardiners and Scotchmans Creek bike paths that are a favourite running haunt of mine in Melbourne.  The excellent bike paths of Melbourne set it apart from other Australian cities, except maybe for Canberra, and the network is now vast, providing endless safe and scenic running options.

As it turned out, a warm and blustery pollen-laden wind made the run quite hard, exacerbated by a right knee that was more sore than it should have been.  By the half-way mark of what turned out to be a 16.5km run, I wasn't feeling very feisty and was glad I didn't have another 34km to go.  When you're tapering you expect to start feeling good, and when you don't it can be troubling.

Gardiner's Creek Trail
I kept telling myself that I must have faith in my fitness and not worry too much about how I feel on any particular day.  I was running strongly on Sunday and there's no reason why I would have lost any form since then.  Sometimes, after a long day's travel, as I had yesterday, you can be a bit stale and lack rhythm.  The pollen and warmth could also be a factor.  I know that on race day, Sunday, I will front up, full of adrenalin and ready to go.  Today's run will be forgotten.

I also know that having faith in your preparation is key during a race.  Most of my personal best times have come in races when I was absolutely exhausted at the half-way mark and running very fast by previous standards.  In those races, I somehow maintained the pace through the second half, though it was very hard work.  Success depended on staying mentally engaged and having faith that my preparation would see me through.  Of course, the preparation is the most important factor, but success also depends on having the confidence to deploy and fully utilise that preparation.


Penrose State Forest
Most of today was spent driving from Copa to Melbourne, a distance of about 1000km.  I left at about 5am so as to beat the peak hour traffic in the Sydney suburbs, and stopped at 7:30am at Penrose State Forest in the NSW Southern Highlands to go for an easy 5km run.  I have often driven past the Forest on the highway and thought it might be a good place for a run, so today was the day.

It was very enjoyable, though short, running along some logging roads through the pine plantation in the cool and sunny early morning.  I felt good and could have gone further, so was happy that I’m on track with my taper.  I’m following half of my usual taper recommendation.  Instead of 75% of distance and intensity two weeks out from the marathon and 50% of distance and intensity one week out, I’m just doing the second part.
Penrose State Forest

Not only did this morning’s run feel comfortable, but my right Achilles and knee injuries are only minimally painful, though I’m still nursing both.  One benefit of this taper week is that both injuries have a chance to mend a little.

For my tapers, I still like to maintain the same routine and will run each day from here up until the marathon on Sunday, just less.  Keeping everything the same as usual helps keep the body’s functions normal, including eating patterns, and I think that helps mentally.
I arrived in Melbourne in the late afternoon and plan on an easy 15km run tomorrow morning, my last run of any consequence for the week.  After that, just an easy 5km per day up until the race.

Bacchus 12000

Griffith today
A race which lives large in my memory, and probably in the memory of many 1970/80s runners, was the Bacchus 12000, a 12km race held at Griffith in the NSW Riverina every Easter.  Griffith is in the centre of a wine-growing area, and in those days, marijuana growing and organised crime as well.  Local identity and anti-drugs campaigner, Donald Mackay, disappeared in May 1977 from Griffith and his body has never been found.  One of my memories from the time is of vast vineyards with long driveways and Italianate mansions.  It was definitely a place of the 1970s.

Runners travelled from the cities of Melbourne and Sydney for the race because of the valuable prizes offered, generally airfares to the US.  Many camped at a local recreation ground designated for the purpose, and I can remember a youthful student, Rob De Castella, camping there having driven up in his old Peugeot.  Race day itself always seemed very hot and dry and the course included exposed gravel roads and a tough climb.  The field was always very high quality and would have done justice to any Australian distance-running championship.  I don't remember ever doing very well there.

The Kew Camberwell Athletic Club encampment at
Griffith prior to the 1979 Bacchus 12000
The first year we went, the post-race function was held in a winery and turned into a sort of Bacchanalian Feast, which didn't do much credit to the running fraternity.  In subsequent years, the organisers wisely held the function outdoors at the race finish, although that still ran some risks.  All finishers received a bottle of local specially-labelled port, and one year my club had a special event which was won by whoever was the first to finish their bottle of port (and keep it down for an hour) after running the race.  I'm a non-drinker, so didn't participate, but recall my brother came second.

My club, Kew Camberwell, usually had a large contingent of runners and partners attending, and apart from some running and the race itself, we spent our time playing pick-up cricket and soccer matches on the recreation field where we were camped, visiting wineries and patronising the local clubs.  I remember one hard-fought soccer match, played the day before the race, resulting in one of our best runners dislocating his shoulder after a rough tackle.  To the amazement of our colleagues from the Glenhuntly running club, camped nearby, we continued with our game after arranging for one of the girls to take the injured runner to the local hospital.

The victorious team, after a Kew Camberwell intra-club
pick-up cricket match at Griffith just prior to the 1979
Bacchus 12000
Another often-told story related to a year when the prize of a US return airfare was to be a lottery drawn from the first ten finishers in the race.  It was a very hot year, and one of our best runners was coming 10th as the race passed through some suburban streets approaching the finish.  Another member of our club was a little way behind in 11th place and noticed his club-mate ahead begin weaving all over the road before collapsing unconscious in the gutter with heat exhaustion.  The trailing runner had to make a quick decision about whether to stop and attend to his fallen friend, or continue on, now in 10th place, to the finish.  He chose the latter, but sadly didn't win the prize draw.  We all visited our dehydrated and heat-affected club-mate in hospital later, where he was kept overnight, but not until the post-race celebrations were over.  Those were the days.

For my exercise today, I just walked 5km as planned.  My joints were a bit stiff and sore after yesterday's long run, but I didn't feel very tired, which is a good sign.  The only visible cloud on the horizon before next Sunday's Melbourne Marathon, is that Sharon has a bad chest and sinus infection, and is being treated with antibiotics.  Selfishly, I hope it's not contagious.


Reaching for a sponge at a drink station
in the inaugural Melbourne Marathon
 in 1978 (2nd, 2:23:06)
It warmed rapidly today, so the small group of us who set out for a long run on local roads at 6am (the first day of Daylight Saving), were glad of our early start by the time we finished.  It was to be my last long run before the Melbourne Marathon next week, and another good test of my fitness level.  The run went well and I felt like I could have kept running when I finished, giving me confidence that, if I run sensibly next week, I won't disgrace myself.  My right knee got quite painful at times, but this was expected.  I was the only one of the group not carrying any fluids for the run, though I did have $10 in my pocket in case emergency hydration needed to be purchased along the way.  As it turned out, I did not need a drink during the 2:56 the 32.5km took me, and wasn't even that thirsty when I finished.

I don't like carrying gear, including fluids, nor do I like stopping during long runs to drink.  Maybe I'm a prima donna, but I find even short stops can break my running rhythm, and there have been times when this has cost me in an event.  My own layman's theory of hydration for distance runners, based on an experiment of one, is that the more long running you do without frequently hydrating, the more your body adapts by "camelling up", i.e., storing fluids in the body in anticipation of the next long run.  It's the same theory that applies to the muscles storing glycogen in response to repeated training runs.  It seems to be common sense to me that the more you do something, and the more you press against the edge of your body's envelope, the more your body adapts to the increasing load.

This morning's long run took in a roller-coaster section
of the Ridgeway
Of course, the trick is not to "tear the envelope", by pushing too far.  I have definitely finished training runs and races seriously dehydrated and in difficulties, though have never ended up on a saline drip.  If conditions are warm to hot, or you are running for many hours, you have to drink or you will cause yourself harm.  I am not advocating a "no drinking" policy and recognise that every individual is different and needs to find their own balance.  However, I would argue that runners who drink frequently in benign conditions are missing an opportunity to train their body to "camel up" and are condemning themselves to carry and/or stop for more fluids in races.  A side effect is that your stomach then has to do some work processing the fluids into the blood stream.  It seems to me that if you can avoid the need for this function, you are likely to run better.

In my best running years, I drank very sparingly during marathon races unless it was hot.  Usually, I would put out plastic sauce bottles containing some flat Coca Cola at each 5km feeding station.  Then I would run through, grab the bottle, and take a couple of well-spaced mouthfuls before discarding it.  If I didn't feel thirsty, or it was nearer the end of the race (does the body really process fluids into the bloodstream in any meaningful way in the last 30 minutes of a race?), or I was in a pack of runners making it difficult to get the bottle, then I wouldn't take a drink.  On average, I would have been lucky to drink a total of more than 400ml during marathon races, and sometimes nothing at all in cool conditions.  I was much more inclined to pour water over myself from a sponge or cup to keep cool.

Of course, for your body to "camel up" between runs, you have to drink a lot of fluids, and I do.  In my case, and I take a lot of flak for this, it's mostly diet colas with some fruit juice and black coffee thrown in occasionally.  Almost no water!  In total, about three litres of fluid a day.


Part of the "Erina Bush" run where it passes through the
Kincumba Mountain Reserve
This morning's Erina Bush 13km Run with Terrigal Trotters was always going to be a good guide to my current level of fitness.  It is one of my favourite runs, with a mix of road and technical trails and some testing hills.  In the past, when fit, I've run the course hard (after the initial 2km-3km of socialising) and been somewhere near the front of the pack.  However, today, the front-runners quickly left many of us behind, and despite running the first long climb comfortably and reasonably quickly, the leaders were long gone and I joined a few friends stretching out in pursuit.  It seemed we were running fast, but making little ground.  By the time I passed the half-way point, I could feel my lack of fitness beginning to kick in, and the long technical single-track climb up a spur of Kincumba Mountain, which I love to power up if I can, proved hard work.  From there, I just tried to maintain my pace and position, and finished very tired and coughing way too much, in 59 minutes.

Despite not running as well as I would have liked, the run had great value.  Not only did it confirm to me that I am on the way back to fitness, but it was hard enough to sober my time expectations for next week's Melbourne Marathon.  I won't get carried away thinking that somehow, miraculously, I have a chance of running near three hours, and will avoid (hopefully) setting out too fast for my fitness.  I would judge that I'm a couple of minutes faster over 10km than just a week ago, which is a welcome improvement, but that I'm still a month short of being competitive with the usual suspects on the weekly Trotters runs.

Roger Bannister (centre) led by Chris Brasher and tailed
by Chris Chattaway, his two pacers, on the way to the
first ever sub-4 minute mile in 1956
A number of my Terrigal Trotters club-mates are also running in the Melbourne Marathon and one, hoping for his first sub-3:00 marathon, has been training with another club-mate with a recent 2:40 to his credit, who is also running in Melbourne.  The rumour is that the latter will be pacing the former during the race to his sub-3:00, and there has been some banter, in person and on the club's Facebook page, about whether this is reasonable or if any time achieved will need to be asterisked.

Pacing is commonplace in running today from the 800m distance up to ultra-marathons, but there was a time when it was considered unethical.  Maybe this started to change with Roger Bannister's historic first sub-4 minute mile, where he was paced for the first three laps by colleagues, an approach which generated some criticism at the time.

For me, it's not an ethical issue, but a personal preference issue.  I think most runners, if asked, would say they valued a particular time achieved without pacing more than the same time if they had been paced.  However, if asked whether they would rather not run a certain time if the only way it could be achieved was with a pacer, most would choose the paced time.  You still have to run the time.

These days, in the larger marathons, the organisers frequently appoint experienced and identified runners to run the pace required to achieve certain benchmark times.  Knowing I would make use of this service during a race if I was struggling to reach my goal time, I can't afford to be righteous on this issue.  Achieving a time on my own, without the help of a pacer, would definitely satisfy me more, but I also hate asking for directions when lost. 


The Cornfield, John Constable (1826)
Another early start for golf this morning, so I squeezed in a slow 5km at 5:00am round Copa, before setting out.  For most of my working life, I was running within 30 minutes of rising, having dressed and completed my usual exercise routine (see post titled Transition from Hiker to Runner), but in the last ten years it has taken longer for my body to loosen up.  I usually now wait an hour or two before heading out, and this morning's run, less than 30 minutes after waking reminded me why.  My joints creaked, my limbs were stiff, and my right Achilles tendon was sore.  It took a slow and awkward 27 minutes to get round my usual course, not a very encouraging run.

One of the times during my working life when I always headed out for my regular morning run just 30 minutes after rising, was when I was living just outside the small village of Chappel in the UK in the late 1980s.  Chappel was in "Constable Country", near the county border between Essex and Suffolk, and at the time, my working days were divided between a huge renovated Tudor mansion my company owned nearby, and our London office, about an hour away by train.

One of the country lanes on my morning 17km run in Chappel
We lived in the lodge house for a manor farm in a beautiful location overlooking the rural Colne River valley.  In the summer, we were surrounded by wheat and golden rapeseed fields, but my most abiding memory is of the howl of the winds past the house on the bleak winter morning's before I set out for my run.  Sometimes the winds were accompanied by sleet and snow and it took a lot of willpower to step out the door into the pre-dawn darkness.

The railway viaduct across the Colne River Valley
at Chappel, Essex, UK
The countryside was a patchwork of fields, country lanes and public footpaths, dotted with picture-book villages, and there were many options for run routes.  Since a lot of my running was done before dawn and without a light, I tended to pick little-used country lanes I could run down the middle of without worrying about traffic or obstacles, and soon settled on a favourite 17km loop which generally took me a little over an hour.  Even now, I wish I had lived in the area for longer, though I think the years have dulled the memory of those blasting winds and freezing winters.  Despite limited protection offered by hedgerows and hills, much of the course was exposed to the elements.

Of course in the summer months, when the sun rose early and I still had the lanes to myself, it was just magical.  Agricultural smells filled the air, and I could watch the crops mature and be harvested.  My route passed by many quaint old farm-houses, often with thatched rooves and surrounded by archetypal English country gardens.  There was even an ancient high-arched viaduct across the valley along which a little two-carriage diesel train infrequently clattered.


Start of the 1977 ACT Marathon (I'm in there somewhere)
Tapering for a marathon used to be one of my favourite times.  The training pressure comes off, and you can run for less time and less intensely without guilt.  If your training has gone well, pleasant anticipation of the race builds and visions of success become almost palpable.  As your body freshens up and minor injuries abate, you feel stronger and more capable as each day passes.

Conversely, tapering can be a worrying time.  Rationality can go out the window and emotions can take over.  After training hard for months, you wonder about the wisdom of reduced training intensity and fret about losing your edge, or putting on weight.  A lot of self-examination goes on.  Small niggles becomes potentially serious injuries.  Every training run becomes a test of your readiness, and if the run is hard work, you question whether you are ill or over-trained, or maybe under-trained.  If anybody coughs near you, or complains of feeling unwell, your first thought is of your own health, and not theirs.  There is a temptation to modify your diet to include more carbohydrates and build your energy reserves, maybe even precede it with a depletion phase.

Nearing the end of the 1977 ACT Marathon (2nd, 2:32)
Over the years, I have fallen foul of all of these concerns, and maybe still do (see post titled The idea forms).  However, when asked by others for advice about tapering, my response tends to be more rational.  I think two weeks of taper is enough, with training distances and intensity reduced to 75% of full load in the first week, and 50% in the second week.  However, it's hard to generalise about the appropriate level of tapering, and some runners need not cut their training intensity by that much.  Having said that, I don't think I have ever felt, post-race, that I tapered too much.

Otherwise, I like to keep things as normal as possible, sticking with the usual training routines and diet.  The very act of tapering will lead to a build-up of the body's energy stores, and there is risk attached to changing diet and habits.  It's worth staying away from sick people and catching up on any sleep deficit.  Finally, I would advise having faith in the training you have done and not fretting about losing condition or feeling over-tired on any runs in the taper period.

For reasons discussed in yesterday's post, Get fit quick, I only plan a one week taper for the Melbourne Marathon on 13 October, and am still training relatively hard this week.  I expected this morning's run to be difficult after yesterdays 37km road run, but it went better than hoped.  It wasn't fast by any means, but the 11.5km  passed by easily enough and my legs did not feel too fatigued.  My right Achilles tendon was quite stiff and sore, but that was anticipated, and my right knee was less painful than expected.  Overall, the run was encouraging and I feel my short-term fitness strategy may be working.

Get fit quick

Runners lining up for the start of last night's Central Coast
10km/1hr Championship at the Mingara Athletic Track
(courtesy Judy Murray)
By my usual standards, it was a late night last night.  I had been helping officiate at the local Central Coast 10km/1hr Championships at the Mingara Athletics Club twilight meeting and didn't get home and finish dinner until 9:00pm.

It's about the only time I get involved in track meetings these days, as the event is jointly sponsored by my club, Terrigal Trotters, and I generally help out with the lap-scoring.  For some years in the early 1980s, I was secretary to the committee that organised all regular track and field competition in Victoria (involving thousands of athletes) and managed a number of track and field meetings, so saw plenty of track racing, as well as competing myself.

I keep saying I will run in the 10km one year, but don't really have fond memories of 10km track races and don't want to do it unless I'm running well.  Twenty-five laps of the track can be mentally tougher than the marathon, and I always preferred the latter.  I don't think I ever achieved my potential at the track 10km (despite winning an Australian Universities title in 1979) and often wondered whether it was a lack of mental toughness.

Part of the lap-scoring crew, ready to go for the Central
Coast 10km/1hr Championship last night
(courtesy Judy Murray)
Last night's racing was fun to watch and a number of runners achieved Personal Best times, while others ran their best times for some years.  I always find it inspiring to be present on such occasions and feel very happy for the athletes.  Others did it tough, but soldiered on to the end anyway.  Also inspiring.

My late night made it that much harder to get up at 4:00am, as I did this morning, to beat the heat for my planned 36.5km run around Brisbane Water (see Round the Bay).  The Melbourne Marathon is only eleven days away, so it might seem a risky strategy to embark on a third 30+km run within eight days, but I think it's appropriate for where I am of my personal fitness scale.  I know I am not currently capable of running anywhere near a sub-3 hour marathon in Melbourne, but would like to comfortably run faster than the 3:24 I recorded at the Macleay River Marathon on 9 June 2013.  I feel I am fitter than I was then and have been running better in the past week.  Whatever time I run in Melbourne, will be the base on which to build for a faster marathon in three months time.

The reason for the series of long runs every three or four days, is that this has worked best for me in the past to quickly return from injury.  I'll do one more long run this Sunday, a week before Melbourne, and then have a very quiet week in the hope that I freshen up and that the chronic injuries ebb away a little.  If I was fitter, I would have a longer taper, but at this stage I believe that the current series of long training runs has the potential to improve my marathon time by 5-10 minutes by Melbourne.  Assuming, of course, I don't get injured.

This morning's run was relatively comfortable for the first 24km, but my legs became very tired in the last 12km, and I slowed.  I messed up my timing, but think it was between 3:10 and 3:15.  I would like to be running faster, but have to accept that I had a hard long run three days ago, and my legs and chronic injuries are still feeling the effects.

More animal encounters

A troop of baboons
Despite overcast, warm and humid conditions this morning, not usually the best for running, I felt quite good for my 13km loop.  I expected to be a little tired and sore from Sunday's long run, but coped with the hills well and maintained a good pace.  The only cloud on the horizon was that my sore right knee gave way unexpectedly on two occasions while running down hills.  This was unusual and hopefully not a sign of things to come.

While grinding my way up the first hill this morning, I was baled up by a dog who snarled and barked at me for a while but eventually backed off.  There was no sign of an owner, though I suspect they would have heard me yelling at the dog.  I'm of the view that I should be able to run around the suburban streets without having to deal with domestic animal threats and I've written a post before about Canine Challenges.  Of course, when you run in the domain of the animals, you accept the risk of, and responsibility for, dangerous encounters.

The Zambezi River above Victoria Falls
I have previously written about the threats from snakes (Reptilian Encounters), bison and bears (Yellowstone).  However, the wildlife encounter that scared me most was with a troop of baboons while running near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe in 1985.  We were visiting the area with friends and I had gone for a run of about 10km on my own along some of the local rural roads.  I rounded a corner to find a large troop of baboons, comprising adults and infants, scattered across the road.  I had seen some baboons in the wild earlier on the trip, and also read about the damage caused by one in a village soon after our arrival in Zimbabwe.  They possess an impressive and intimidating set of teeth, which they tend to bare when angry.

I briefly considered turning back, but decided that, living in the area, they were probably comfortable with humans, so continued on.  They stopped their foraging to watch my approach, and I began to regret my decision to proceed, reinforced when some of the adults began snarling at me.  Bluff seemed to be the best option, so I choose a route through the troop that didn't go too close to any individual baboon and ran through, ready to start snarling and lashing out myself if necessary.  They continued snarling, but didn't make any moves towards (or away) from me.  I kept running, held my breath, and soon they were behind me and foraging again.

A lion in Hwange National Park
The same trip to Zimbabwe yielded some other memorable wildlife encounters and non-encounters.  Just a few days before the baboon scare, my friend, Keith, and then wife, Barb, and I had gone for an evening run along a foot-trail through jungle bordering the Zambesi River, upstream from the Victoria Falls.  Keith had warned us the river was inhabited by crocodiles and that someone's pet dog had been taken by a crocodile the previous year from the very path we were running along.  Our senses were heightened throughout what was a spectacular sunset jungle run, but we all jumped every time we startled something in the undergrowth or heard a splash in the river.  The biggest jump came, however, when Keith yelled loudly as bat flew out of the gloom and into the side of his head.

Earlier during the same trip, we stayed in a small compound in the Hwange National Park, protected from the wildlife by a high surrounding fence.  It was not safe to run in the Park outside of the compound because of dangerous wildlife, and particularly the lions which had been sighted nearby.  One day, Keith and I were keen to go for a run, so drove from the compound to the Park entrance and ran a somewhat boring out-and-back 10 miles along a road bordering the Park.  Keith pointed out that there was no fence around the outside of the Park and therefore absolutely nothing to stop the wildlife from venturing on to the road where we were running.  In fact, we had seen some wild elephants nearby.  As Keith said, if a lion spotted us, one of us was dead (and he was fitter and faster than me at the time).  Nothing happened.