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. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Shepparton parkrun

The Puffing Billy fun run is on this weekend, and while I may not be feeling anywhere close to 100% thanks to my silly right hamstring, I am hoping to be able to run a PB simply because I am running more this year for the same timeframe than I was last year (which was the first time I ran the Great Train Race). Although I had more cycling fitness last year, so we'll see...

I've gone out on a couple of super-short runs this week, mainly just to see how the hamstring is going, but also to run without the tempo trainer so that I could settle into a "natural" gait on Sunday. I have changed my exercises since I saw the physio last week—daily exercises focussing on putting weight on the hamstring while holding it in the eccentric phase and on strengthening my left glute. The physio thinks my hamstring problem is a result of my relatively weak left glute, which itself is possibly a result of focussing on the right glute after the arthroscopy on the right knee. It's a bit like a game of dominoes. Anyway, the change in exercises means I have a different kind of soreness in the hamstring now - although I think it's a fatigue kind of soreness. I'll keep doing the glute strengthening through to Sunday, but I'm skipping the hamstring work until after.

I'm hoping that I can take it easy at the start of the run on Sunday for the first couple of kilometres, settle into 5:30 pace through the toughest part of the run, and begin a mini-wind-up run at the 10km mark. That last bit is going to depend a lot on my fitness and my hamstring. I'll have to be careful on a few descents (I still have nightmares from the time I slid down the gravel of this descent with a car behind me when I attempted to do a bit of route recon by bike last year), but I can hopefully manage as long as I remember to take short quick steps!


I took a week off parkrun after visiting Balyang Sanctuary as the Sjögrens flare and parkrun-mehness (sounds legit) set in, but visited Shepparton parkrun the following week.

Yes, it was a gorgeous day for a parkrun!

My hamstring had been annoying me at the time, but I had such a serious reaction to a mosquito bite on the my right calf that it numbed most of my right leg and I couldn't feel any hamstring pain. In hindsight I should not have "run by feel" and should have paid attention to my watch. It turned out that I pushed a little harder than I should have, and it was only as the inflammation died and numbing reduced over the following days that I could feel my overworked hamstring. Also, in the time between the onset of hamstring soreness and the passing of all the numbing, I managed to bruise my leg with the spiky ball by pushing into the soreness a bit more than I should have! At least this meant the podiatrist could see I was using the spiky ball when I saw him a few days later...

I figure that if you can see the inflammation on a low quality shot, then that tells you exactly how badly I reacted to that mosquito bite. I don't always react this way, and find I react to bites differently depending where I happen to be when I get bitten. #NotAllMosquitoes
Original image from Shepparton parkrun Facebook page.

It was a lovely morning for a parkrun, and I arrived with enough time to park near the local cafe, visit the parkrun starting area, scope out alternative parking options and move the car to the main road due to the limited car parking in the area around the cafe.

So that's my first bit of advice—if arriving from the south via the Goulburn Valley Highway, stay on the left-hand lane and park on the left after you've crossed the railway tracks and passed the Shell Service Station. Yes, the Shepparton parkrun website more or less tells you to park here exactly, but that Whyndam Street is the Goulburn Valley Highway isn't obvious when you're on the regional pages of the Melway. No, I don't use a GPS navigator. Also, Google Maps finds Whyndam Street accurately but only ever shows the "Goulburn Valley Highway" name. If you're arriving from the north via Goulburn Valley Highway, there's a right-hand-turn slip-lane before the railway tracks that you can use to enter Shell and then exit onto the parkrun-side of the Goulburn Valley Highway.

Coming from the north? Do what the Corolla's doing!
Yes, my only shot of the railway/Shell positioning happened to be instructional.

There are toilets near the finish area, although they're hidden from view if you're approaching from the south via the Goulburn Valley Highway because they're behind the Shell service station. There are two undercover areas immediately north of the toilets, and Shepparton parkrun meet at the second one.

This is the undercover area you should gravitate to if in search of Shepparton parkrun goodness on a Saturday morning.
The parkrun course consists of three loops - a preliminary loop that goes past that spot where we had lunch on the remote sensing ground-truthing field trip during my second-last year of undergraduate uni heads north, hugging the east-side of the lake until reaching the extension of Welsford Street before returning along the Goulburn Valley Highway, and two clockwise laps of Victoria Park Lake.

While the first lap of the lake looked to confuse travellers staying at the Victoria Lake Holiday Park as we passed them at the 1.7km mark, the second lap meant we had plenty of high-fives on offer from kids staying there (so stick to the left at 3.5km if you want some high-fives). Locals running around the lake are easy to train very friendly, with most returning my Good morning! calls even after coming across them multiple times. One even surprised me by calling out Good morning! after I'd finished running and was taking photos.

As the course is around a lake it is generally flat, with the only noticeable rises occurring after the Holiday Park bridge (at the spot where the terrain changes to gravel) and along the finishing straight. Most of the path around the lake is on tarmac, with short sections of gravel and concrete. Despite the combination of different loops, the course is easy to follow as it is well-marked and the north-end marshall who directs you to the correct path on the preliminary loop is the same one who directs you on the subsequent lake loops. It's very well organised and I didn't notice any pinch-points on the course as there is plenty of grass alongside the path and the preliminary loop helps to distribute the mass of parkrunners before hitting the bridge after the Holiday Park. And that bridge isn't really a pinch point either - I'm sure it's three-times the width of the Berwick Springs "bridge" that I'm not a fan of.

I ended up with a handy 25:37, met a few locals who originally lived in Templestowe (so they actually knew where Westerfolds was), and had a good coffee at Cafe on the Lake while other parkrunners had their breakfasts. The food looked good and the service was great, although I've noticed multiple negative reviews for the cafe that I don't agree with.