The Wellington Round the Bays half marathon is coming up again soon and I’m excited. I have very happy memories of last year’s event; it was my initiation as a runner and the culmination of a whole summer of training. Just over a year ago I decided I was sick of feeling lardy and lethargic and it was time to get fit. So I set myself a target: running the Wellington Round the Bays half marathon in February 2012. This was a tall order at the time. When I started training I could barely run for ten minutes and the thought of running 5km was daunting, let alone 21km. But by the end of the summer, five months later, I was ready for my first half marathon and ran the whole thing comfortably in two hours with only a bit of a headache to complain about. The whanau were there with the “Go Daddy Go” signs. The weather was beautiful. I even got given a banana to eat at the finish line. It was one of the best days evah.
One year later and the Round the Bays is coming up again. What’s happened in the meantime and what are my goals now?
I think I’ve finally progressed from noob runner to someone a little more seasoned. I won’t say experienced, because I’m still flummoxed by what my legs will and won’t do, but I have pushed myself in ways that I couldn’t when still a noob. After finishing my first half marathon obviously the first thing I did was find the next event to sign up for: which happened to be the Adidas 10km in Wellington in June. I decided to go for the 10km rather than another half marathon because the weather in June in Wellington is almost always horrible and I didn’t fancy running for two hours in gales and rain (a combination that Welly excels at). Also, having just conquered Everest with an elephant strapped to my back and feeling rather invincible, I thought a mere 10km race would be an easy target for training. I’d knock the bastard off in 45 minutes no problem.
Except I learned that training in winter is fraught with problems. I wouldn’t say I’m a fair weather runner, but I don’t do gales and rain. Individually I can handle either rain or strong winds (up to a point; you just have to get used to it in Wellington), but together they are a massive turn off, like sausage and ice cream. The cold is okay. I got some leggings for the really cold days. But not surprisingly the weather frustrated my running aims more than it did in summer. However, on the good days I liked the fact that it was cool. Hot, sunny summer afternoons are probably the most challenging conditions for me.
But the biggest problem with winter is getting sick. Tis the season to be snotty. And it is pretty much impossible to avoid getting sick in winter when you have small children. They catch things, mutate them into something ten times as horrible, then pass them on. Training in crappy weather stresses the body anyway, as does shift work, so I had my fair share of bugs over winter. I learned that it’s a stupid idea to try and train if you’re ill. Quite apart from how unpleasant and frustrating it feels, you’re more likely to end up injured and it can even kill you. Viruses can attack the heart if you put yourself through a stressful training session resulting in a condition called myocarditis, which can be fatal.
There is a runner’s rule of thumb about whether it’s okay to train if you’re feeling sick:
If your symptoms are “above the neck”… runny or stuffy nose, sneezing or sore throat, a little easy running probably won’t do any harm.
(Marathonguide.com, and a load of other websites that say the same thing)
Note the “probably” there. On the other hand if the symptoms are below the neck, and especially if you have a fever, then do not run. Your body is already working hard to fend off illness, working microscopic miracles to eradicate invaders, so be nice to it. It’s also worth bearing in mind the following:
During a fever, your body releases chemicals that break down muscle protein to fight the illness. These chemicals also prevent muscle repair and building, making it almost impossible to build muscle.
So there is no benefit from training when sick anyway! Time off is necessary. I also found that being generally run down over winter left me more prone to injury. Shin splints and tight calves being the main problem. And I scuppered my knee somehow or other, which took over a week to come right. Overall winter was not a good period for ambitious running goals. I still enjoyed taking part in the Adidas 10km on the waterfront (cold southerlies and showers, but no gales!) and finished in 49 minutes, but it wasn’t the easy target I’d envisioned.
One upside to winter was that I developed new training habits to get around the poor weather. Rather than just go several days without any exercise, I made up a home workout that I could do in about half an hour and wouldn’t even have to venture outside. It’s nice to have up my sleeve for days when I’m looking after the kids and can’t go running or swimming on my own. I also figured it would help strengthen my legs and thus help to prevent injury. The recipe is:
OLAF’S RAINY DAY RUNNER’S WORKOUT
- Crunches (1 min)
- Jogging on the spot (1.5 min)
- Alternating lunges (1 min)
- Push ups (1 min) – I cheat here and just balance on my knees rather than my toes.
- Steps (1.5 min) – Up onto a dining chair. Mind the ceiling.
- Bunny hops (1 min) – This is the hardest one! I cheat and do one leg at a time like climbing rather than hopping.
- Kickbacks (1 min) – The kids call this “doing the dog” because it looks like a dog having a wee
- Stretches (1 min)
There are 15 second rests between each interval, and I do three sets for something like a 35 minute workout. It helps to have an interval timer app on the iPad keeping track of everything and announcing what to do next.
It’s hard to say how successful the workout has been for preventing injury. There was a period when I thought I really had conquered shin splints, but they came back. Maybe the stretching is the most beneficial part of it, though I’ve found I need about 5 minutes all up for a really useful stretching routine (there is a stretch with bent knees that’s very good for stiff lower calves). I feel like the workout is a nice complement to my runs. It’s low impact, low shock, and it keeps me ticking over. But there’s not much cardio work in it so I hardly feel like it’s making me any fitter. Still, on days when I can’t go anywhere it’s better than nothing!
Shin splints were something I wrote about a lot when I was training a year ago. I looked for, and thought I had found, all sorts of reasons and cures but they always kept coming back. Aaagh! I even read up on “good running technique”, realised that I was heinously guilty of heel strike and adjusted my running style accordingly (land on the midfoot, slightly shorter stride and faster cadence, head up, lean forward from the heel). I believe it made me a more efficient runner, but it wasn’t the end of my shin splints. Other stuff I’ve tried is: Post-run protein drinks, new running shoes, shin muscle exercises (feet going in circles) but with no lasting effect.
There have certainly been long happy periods when shin splints have not been a problem though, and the one thing I have discovered is that speed, not distance, is the problem. None of the longer races I’ve done were plagued by shin splints. But I’ll often have sore shins after a 5km. So maybe I’m not a sprinter. Or maybe I should work up to some faster interval running. Still thinking about that one because I do want to get faster.
Coming out of winter what have the highs been?
While back in the UK in September I took part in the Redcar half marathon. Redcar is a coastal town in the northeast of England with a famously cold sea breeze, a rocky beach with plentiful fossils, and a “vertical pier” (now rebranded the Redcar Beacon). Training while on holiday was a bit patchy but I managed to finish in 1.44, just inside my goal of one hour forty five minutes, feeling pretty good and with the added bonus of my family from home cheering me on. I was also handed a finisher’s medal, which really impressed the kids! The Redcar half was fun in itself, but it doubled as a warmup for the big event in October: the Auckland marathon.
I hadn’t envisioned doing a full marathon this year. What I really wanted to do was the Auckland half marathon so I’d get the chance to run over the harbour bridge, but it sold out in about three days and I missed my chance. I’d already booked the time off work so I signed up for the full marathon instead thinking pah, she’ll be right. I knew I could comfortably run a half marathon. You just do it twice! Training for a marathon presents new difficulties though. Long training runs are, well, long. I didn’t find time to do any runs longer than 25km leading up to the marathon, which put me in the stupidly unprepared basket. One week before the marathon I had one of my most depressing runs ever. I’d finally found time to go for a long run, but my calves had stiffened up and I was almost hobbling. I went out on the waterfront anyway, aiming to do 25km, but was in pain from my calves after just 5km. A cold drizzly southerly came in after about 15km, I gave up running after about 20km due to the pain and tiredness, and mostly walked the last 5km back to the car, shivering and wet. Boo hoo! But it made me realise I should adjust my expectations and treat the marathon as a matter of survival more than anything else.
On the big day I had very stiff calves again, but managed to run the first half in two hours. At one point I was passed by Kip Kemei, winner of the 2012 Wellington Round the Bays. He came bowling past and won the half marathon with ease. Amazing to see such talent in action. What’s even more amazing is that the elite marathon runners keep up a similar pace, but for twice as far! The first half of the Auckland marathon goes around the North Shore and is pretty hilly, then comes the harbour bridge (oooh, nice views), then it’s all flat out to Saint Heliers and back. I kept running til about the 26km mark, woo hoo! But then I’d had enough and my plan B kicked in to action. Plan B was simply to run/walk the rest. So I ran for one kilometre, and walked the next kilometre. That way I would at least survive, but the calves were painful and tiring. There was a nice crowd though and lots of encouragement, plus I bumped into a friend from work and had some company for a while. I kept necking some dextrose tablets to keep energy levels up, drinking all the water and Powerade I was handed, and finally crossed the finish line in 4 hours 30 minutes. They gave out finisher’s medals too and I have to say I feel mighty proud of that one. That afternoon and evening I felt a kind of exhaustion I’d not experienced before. A kind of deep down let-me-just-sit-here-for-a-minute-zzzzzzz feeling. The legs held up pretty well afterwards too, but not the rest of me and I came down with a terrible stomach bug which knocked me out for a week. It’ll be interesting to see if I can run the whole distance one day, but next time I’ll take the whole week off afterwards just in case.
The other high from the last year has been discovering Parkrun. Most of the time running is something I do on my own, and I’m happy with that, but Parkrun has given me a taste of running socially. Of course all the races I’ve done this year have been with hundreds of other people around, but they were hardly social events. Parkrun has more of a community vibe than a race. There are two Parkruns in New Zealand: Auckland and Lower Hutt (Wellington, my regular haunt). I haven’t visited the Auckland one yet, but I did check out a couple of Parkruns in the UK while I was on holiday. The York Parkrun goes around the racecourse at the Knavesmire and is a fast, flat course mostly on tarmac. I managed a new pb there of just over 21 minutes. It’s usual at the race briefing to ask if there are any visitors, so I stuck my hand up and said I was over from New Zealand and was greeted with a cheer and applause! I also visited the Bushy Park Parkrun in London. Bushy Park is where Parkrun started eight years ago and is by far the largest Parkrun I’ve been to. In Wellington there are usually around ninety people at the start line each Saturday. In York I was running with about 150 people. At Bushy Park it was more like 800! Such a large crowd made me feel a lot more anonymous than at the York or Wellington Parkruns, but it was a great experience. Bushy Park is a grassy deer park near Hampton Court, lined with beautiful huge horse chestnut trees. It is quite weird running with deer and stags roaming freely around, but they don’t seem bothered by the intrusion into their tranquil reservation. It’s best to leave them alone though, unlike this poor chap. I go along to the Wellington Parkrun most Saturdays when work allows. They’re a friendly bunch and always glad to see newcomers and regulars alike. A few months ago I even found myself running in a toga and laurel wreath – It was an Olympic themed event and just to be a smart alec I went along as Zeus ;)
So running is very much a part of my life now; another narrative unfolding each day alongside all the others that contribute to ‘me’. Whenever I go out for a run, whether it’s my regular 5km round the block or a longer run on the waterfront, I never just view it as a bit of keep-fit or a way to burn off the ice cream. I may have started running as a way to keep fit, but it soon acquired more meaning. It’s part of my story now, my quest. I have all sorts of goals in mind: a 20 minute 5km, a 45 minute 10km, actually running a whole marathon. And soon the Round the Bays is coming up again.
At the start of my first half marathon last February I remember looking at the 1.45 pace runner and overhearing someone behind me say “1.45.. you’d have to be pretty fit to keep up with him eh?”. And as the race wore on I remember how far ahead he soon was, and how unreachable. Well this time around I’ll not just be keeping up with him, I’ll be ahead of him, aiming for a 1.40 finish!
For anyone reading this getting ready for their first race, enjoy yourself and good luck! You’re the real heroes of the day. Numbers are boring really. It’s taking that leap into the unknown, seeing your training through to the big day, and crossing that finishing line for the first time that’s really exciting. Enjoy the moment! I may not know you but I’ll be cheering for you!
And for anyone aiming for a 1.39 finish, I’ll get you one day.