Friday, April 8, 2016

Oh, hi there

It's been a while since I last ventured into the blogosphere. I quit the PhD, worked as a receptionist at H&R Block for a couple of months before moving into a temp job in the public service via a recruitment agency. After eight months of that I picked up a fixed-term contract at the same place, but am now directly employed. Woohoo! So I know what I'll be doing for the next 12 months, which is a great place to be considering how pear-shaped everything became when I was struggling to finish the PhD.

I still have a lot of PhD-related work to do, and I'm hoping to clear most of that over winter while the weather is less favourable and staying in becomes the preferred option. It should also help that I won't be losing time looking for work in the immediate future.

So I'm going to try to get back into blogging, but we'll just have to see how everything goes.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Point Cook parkrun

The weather we've been having in Melbourne this week has not made going out for a run all that much fun. While I typically went out for a run whenever I felt like it, I am now trying to coordinate my running with other people. It's been an interesting experience as the most organised of those runs is also the hardest (trail running in the Dandenongs) and so I really need my weekday runs to contribute to base fitness in a way that the hilly trail runs can't as I'm the slowest in that group and so it's more of a threshold effort, and anaerobic in parts!

Meet the elevation profile of a "cruisy" run with the Dandenong Trail Runners. Note my heart rate. No Maffetone training here!
Image via SportTracks.

My weekdays runs this week were a bit hit-miss. I wanted to head out yesterday with a new running buddy, but it was raining heavily in the morning. In hindsight we might have been fine if we met up at 7am - although I would have been hit with hailstones on the way home. It's something I've encountered when on the bike and wasn't a problem, but I don't typically wear a helmet when running.

This evening I met up with my other running buddy for our laps around Gardiners Creek Reserve, which is a very easy flat 3km loop (although we run in the opposite direction to that Strava segment). I had planned to turn up a little earlier to squeeze in a couple of laps of the bumpy "Box Hill South loop" so that I could get a little bit of climbing into my legs, but had to run an errand beforehand and I only managed one sneaky solo loop. However, after one lap of Gardiners Creek Reserve and discussing the bumpy loop we headed that way instead of a second flat loop. It was a bit too dark after that to repeat it, but I am happy with my net run of 8.6km and 84m. It's not enough to assist me with the Dandenongs runs (Saturday was 10.8km and 472m!), but it's better than last week's 6.2km and 23m for the same run!

After the travel to faraway parkruns (or not, if I consider that weekend that I didn't go to Inverloch parkrun), I was looking forward to shorter trips in the car. While I enjoy my car-time as I get to catch up on podcasts and sing crappy songs to the top of my lungs, it does take a lot of time and concentration (which is perhaps the most tiring thing of all).

First, there are no photos from this day as I fell during a run the day before and my right shoulder copped most of the momentum. I suspect my goalkeeping training kicked in as my body decided to go with the momentum, stretch out and land on my side. The upside of this was no damage to my palms or risk of a wrist break as I didn't use my hands to break my fall (although I picked up three very small knicks on my left thumb and right pinky). The downside was the 4cm diameter circle of skin that was rubbed raw on my right shoulder and the soreness from absorbing all that momentum. I was also lucky that it was a cold day and so the shoulder was clothed - so I didn't get any nasty footpath/road debris in the wound. It still hurt a LOT in the shower, but at least I didn't have to scrub it clean.

The point is, my shoulder was too sore to comfortably lift my upper arm so I didn't bother bringing the camera. Actually, any movement was painful despite the dressed wound so when I made a comment about time to brave taking my jumper off I was misunderstood to be complaining about the chilly weather that morning!

Aeroplane arms was painful - and I couldn't even do them properly.
Image from Point Cook parkrun's Facebook page.

On first impressions, Point Cook parkrun is a flat course. This is true for about 4km, upon which you then realise that the finish line is actually a climb! It's not much, but it's enough to work tired legs. There's also a small kicker about 20m from the finish line in case you have anything left in the legs. And I have no complaints about the positioning of the turn-around point, it's in a flat section so it's not too difficult to get back to pace after slowing.

The satellite imagery may be a bit out of date, but the elevation is mostly correct.
Image via SportTracks.

The course is mostly concrete, which I don't personally love to run on, and there is very little shelter out on the course—it's an advantage of going on a parkrun tourism binge during a calm autumn period! Make sure you bring a hat and sunglasses if you drop by during summer or on a hot day (and suncream if you're very sensitive - the sun may not be that harsh at 8am but all I think about is how reflective concrete can be), and save some strength for any headwinds on windy days.

Amenities at Point Cook parkrun are fantastic with plenty of parking due to its location at a local sporting complex, along with an undercover area for barcode scanning, sorting and bag storage. There are also toilets at the undercover area, and a COFFEE VAN! It would have to be the most perfect parkrun I have been to... at least for a calm autumn morning.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Puffing Billy's 34rd Great Train Race

On Sunday I lined up with over 3400 others to take on Puffing Billy in the Great Train Race. Although I was only ever going against Puffing Billy 2, the second train, which beat me by 2:28 last year. I was hoping to improve my time from last year to catch the second train this year—and while I knew it would be difficult to do due to a lack of training because of the hamstring, I hadn't suspected that the train would be over 10 minutes faster than last year!

While I knew of multiple running buddies that were taking on the train, I only bumped into Brett from my now-dead Mullum Mullum trail runs before the race. Oh, and I saw the guy who lives across the street from me* multiple times. I also spotted Teslafox (he has a real name, which I know, but he'll always be Instagram/Twitter's Teslafox until I meet him properly) before the start, who sadly was not wearing the suit he had worn the previous day to Lillydale Lake parkrun's first birthday. 

As always, the start-line was packed and I went to the back to join the tail-ending pink (although the bibs were more of a purple/magenta, tom-ae-to, tom-ah-to) group. Eventually the race started and we all made out way through the start line. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. It was busy and my time at 1km was only 5:43. Given most people start fun-runs too quickly I knew that we were only going to slow down, and it was going to be difficult to get to and hold the steady 5:30 pace I had hoped to run at in the crowd.  Having a troublesome hamstring and a lack of conditioning meant I couldn't afford small accelerations to get myself out of traffic, and so I was just going to go with the traffic.

I didn't need my watch to realise I was behind on the trains. Even as early as 1.4km, which is where the railway track crosses Belgrave-Gembrook Road via a scenic bridge, I knew that I was behind. Last year I went under that bridge as the first train was crossing, this year it was nowhere in sight (or even within earshot). Similarly I didn't need to slow down at the Selby-Aura Road crossing (3.8km) as there was no stuck-at-the-crossing-waiting-for-the-train-to-pass traffic jam this year. It was completely clear. At the end of the day we found out Puffing Billy 1 was also significantly faster this year, so I don't think I ever had a chance of being stopped by it at that crossing this year. The Strava Comparison tool does show that I was 39 seconds behind on my time last year by that point (and that difference blew out to 50s at 5km, which is significant as the climbs begin at about the 4.5km mark).

50s behind at 5km! Although needing to go by every water stop this year as my Sjogren's was flaring also didn't help.
Image from Strava.

I can only attribute my slow start this year to the seeding process. Last year I started in the third (blue) group, and this year I was in the fourth and final one. So I had to go with the bulk flow until the numbers started to dwindle on the first hill, although I was still stuck most of the time. While I couldn't accelerate on the flat because of my hamstring, I couldn't accelerate on the hills because of gravity! I just had to slow down, wait for a gap, and then revert to my normal climbing pace. I did take comfort in the heavy breathing around me, while I was still feeling fine.

It was on this hill that I spotted my first familiar face. Actually, I noticed a familar shade of blue on someone's cap, and as I overtook it I confirmed that it was Luke from the Half Marathon Club Meetup! His blue cap was always his this-is-who-you-need-to-look-for message on the meetups. I said hello on my way past, but he looked a bit confused. It may have been that he didn't expect me there, or that he was busy working his way up the hill... or that he couldn't place me without the five30runners shirt I had worn to the Albert and Maribyrnong parkrun Meetups! 

The next person I spotted was Brett from Westerfolds parkrun, who overtook me last year on the first proper hill that starts at 4.5km. This time I overtook him on the approach to the same hill and told him he'd probably see me again on the actual hill. He said he hadn't trained for the run this year, so it was probably unlikely. I doubted it as I was going to have to walk up part of that hill, but he was right in the end! I didn't see any more familiar faces on course after Brett.

As expected, I needed to walk up a lot of that hill, but as I was making my way up I noticed that I was still running past sections that I had definitely walked last year. Also, my walking felt strong rather than last year's I am completely pooped style of walking and I was able to overtaking others that were also walking this time around instead of just keeping up with them. Interestingly I noticed that my hamstring was feeling the inclines, which is not what I had typically feeling, but it was more of a my hamstring is working to push me up the hills awareness rather than the woah you're overstriding again thing it had been doing. And I won't deny that the slow start helped to limit the overstriding pain that I often notice when I begin most of my runs (just for the first few steps).  

Last year the second train train caught me within the Emerald Lake parklands, but this time it was with about 5km to go as I could hear it approaching when at the Belgrave-Gembrook Rd crossing (7.8km). The next time we went near the tracks at Edenmont Road (8.8km) a marshall told us we could still catch it as it slows going up the hill. I wonder if he realised that we slowed down too! The second train finished 1:10:43. I had only just entered the Emerald Lake parklands at this point and still had 2km to go. 

Chris and Scott from Westerfolds parkrun were staking out the finish line, so it was nice to receive a small cheer from them (and I think another non-Westerfolds parkrunner who was with them) going up the short and steep hill to the finish line. While I had a strong finish at the end it wasn't the kind of finishing line sprint I usually go for as my hamstring had held up for most of the run and I had no plans to make it worse! 1:22:07 according to my watch (1:22:03 officially). Faster than last year, slower than intended, but happy as I knew I had gone a lot better on the hills.

Once I got home I was able to inspect how my run had gone compared to last year. The slow start definitely cost me time but I made up enough time (and a bit more) on the hills that I was able to pick up a PB for the run. By the official time it was only a 1:50 PB, but still better. It's probably not enough to get me out of the last starting group next year, unless being female somehow works in my favour (apparently the women had a different seeding arrangement, which doesn't actually make sense when you consider that it's a mixed race). My placing percentages improved as there were 300 more runners this year, likely due to last year being wet and the weather on Sunday being lovely - but I finished at the 76th/24th percentile overall (and 60th/40th percentile amongst the women) which means that seeding me in the final group made sense (I finished in the 82nd/18th percentile last year, 70th/30th percentile amongst the women).

The Strava segment treasures also show that I had a slow start this year. But I'll always cherish PBs climbing up hills rather than descending them.
Image via Strava.
I know that I can do a lot better on this run, I just need to not be injured so that I can train appropriately! And while my legs did a lot better on the hills this year, I'm not sure if it's because I added a couple of hilly runs over the past few weekends (one in the Dandenongs three/four weeks ago, and a less hilly Lysterfield trip two/three weeks ago) or because I was forced to start more slowly thus had more left in the tank once the hills started.

I felt a lot stronger at the Sussan 10km in December despite the tendonitis, so I want to take on Puffing Billy when I feel like I can run at that strength again**! Next time, Gadget!

Image originally from some Tumblr according to the file name, but I nicked it from here.

* He occasionally goes to Westerfolds parkrun, we're in some of the same Facebook groups, and I would say that he is the forum personality that I interact the most with on the Cool Runnings forums. He was the one who directed me to the best parking spot for Albert parkrun a while ago, and more recently we've both been venturing into the Puffing Billy and Asians at parkrun (release the trolls!) threads. In real life he has no idea who I am, which I find hilarious. In all fairness to him, I only put two and two together recently - and I don't have my face on my Facebook profile. 

** I'd run if I was injured like I currently am anyway as it's such a pretty course.