On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …

The Big Christmas Feast – A Greatest Virtual Run Challenge, raising money for kids on the spectrum

Date: 1-12 December 2017
Distance: 200km
Previous GVR: 2017

My middle name is procrastination. And Gerry’s first, middle and last names are procrastination. Maybe it is just a severe case of student syndrome? But, it only took us until well into the first of December, the day the challenge started, before finally entering. It might just be a classic case of an already out-of-hand hectic life, with work, this time of year, and all that jazz that the fun things in life tend to be ignored and end up falling by the wayside. Luckily we had two minutes of sanity to quickly enter.

Named after The twelve days of Christmas, a Christmas carol dating back to the 1700s, this Greatest Virutal Run Challenge is intended to keep accumulating kilometres to reach a certain target over a twelve day period. Whether you choose to do the Rudolph’s challenge 12km, the Great Santa Marathon 42km, Running with the Elves 60km challenge, or the 200km Big Christmas Feast, you are sure to “bank” some burned calories for the festive season. 🙂

Traditionally the twelve days of Christmas would start on Christmas day. The Christmas carol is a cumulative song, and was probably meant to be from a children’s memory and forfeit game. So on the first day, “my true love” would sent me one gift, on the second day it would be two, on the third day three gifts, and so on. The gifts would remain the same, except each day a new (different) gift will be added.

To go with this theme then, and to reach 200km in twelve days, we should have done the runs in a cumulative fashion as well. Starting at 11km the first day, 12km the second day, 13km the third day, and so on, you would reach 198km after 12 days, with the biggest final day being 22km. Not quite the correct distance, but what’s a couple of kilometres between friends. And if you’re a purist, you should keep to the same course and just add another kilometre each day. 😀

However, being a particularly difficult time of year, things don’t always go according to plan. We knew when we signed up that it was going to be hard, with Gerry’s working on weekends and week nights, just to reach the right amount of kilometres (it roughly boils down to about 17km per day) let alone follow a strict cumulative plan. Allowing flexibility, we sometimes had to almost double the daily average to make up for days when it was really impossible to get out the door. We also couldn’t (didn’t want to) run all those kilometres, and opted to walk at least half or more to make up the distance. Being pressed for time walking isn’t really the best way to add kilometres, especially if your walking muscles haven’t done much in the last year. But we just had to make it happen as running it all is not an option (you cannot jump from 60km/week to 120km/week – that would be stupid).

Here is how it panned out in our case.

1 December 2017 (Friday) – 20km
“Bunking school” so to speak, we decided to start off with a run/walk of 20km. It was a perfect day, sunny and just a slight breeze, and to make the most of it we chose to do our favourite course up in the wind farm on North Range Road. We parked our car where the 4X4 section starts, and ran out for 10km (down to the power station) and walked back. We knew it was going to be hot, so we slip, slap, slopped. Unfortunately, some of my sloppy sloppping were wiped off by my hydration pack, and other spots on my legs I’ve just applied the sunblock too half-arsed, therefore getting rather sunburned in spots. The result was something that resembled a vanilla and strawberry marble cake later that night. Roasted lobster anyone?

Overall it was a most enjoyable outing. Since we’ve been doing 60km+ weeks most weeks the last few months, these outings are not as daunting as before, and definitely much easier than when we were only doing between 30 and 40km weeks.

2 December 2017 (Saturday) – 15km
Gerry had a five-hour training session in Wellington, and with the four plus hours on the road, some preparation and packing up afterwards, it always turns into a very long day. One where the only thing you want to do when finally back home in the evening, is pour a glass and sit with your feet up. We knew the weekend was going to be a challenge, so we decided to do the Porirua parkrun on the way to work. Meeting Gary there, meant that we couldn’t bail last minute, even though it resulted in a very early start, having to get up before 5am. But, If all else fails and we only manage one run for the weekend, we would at least have 5km in the bank.

The course is a steady climb to the halfway mark, which makes for a relaxed and easy downhill back to the finish. A huge-ish field of 129 parkrunners and perfect weather to boot.

When we got back home at 6:30pm, we off-loaded the car and changed clothes, before heading back into the suburbs for a 10km walk. It was 7:30pm by the time we started, and at a 10min/km average pace, it took about an hour forty minutes to cover the distance. This was already turning into a huge challenge and it was only the second day!

3 December 2017 (Sunday) – 10km
Another working day in Wellington, so another ten hours of the day allocated to work and travel. We decided to leave half an hour earlier (to be sure to find parking in Wellington close to Te Papa on market day), and go for a walk around the bays on Oriental Parade before work. Apart from a strong-ish wind, the weather was good, so we managed to fit in a 4km walk in the morning.

Back home early evening, we forced ourselves to go out for another 6km walk. It was a good change from all the sitting while traveling and working on a laptop all day (in my case). It also was a pleasant evening out, although very muggy, but I’m glad we could manage to fit it in.

2pic1

We came, we ran, but we were still some way from finishing…

4 December 2017 (Monday) – 0km
What can I say – we’ve gone from bad to worse. Life got in the way and we could not find a single minute in the day to go out for a run. Two days (Monday & Tuesday) of First Aid training for Gerry, while I’m catching up on photoshop work that has fallen behind due to other work commitments. And still three hours photography training in Whanganui in the evening. What was meant to be a late night, turned into an early morning only making it to bed after 12am.

5 December 2017 (Tuesday) – 22km
With only 45km in the bank after four days, we were well and truly behind schedule. We still had 155km to go by the next Tuesday, meaning only eight days to get it all done. Fortunately, we’ve been having the most gorgeous weather with no rain and only light wind. Unfortunately, this drought also means our water tank is down to only a third and with no rain in sight, we will soon have to pay for showers at the pool or library! And with all the running and walking we’ve been doing, the laundry pile was also taking on monstrous proportions. Not good for our limited water supply.

And as if the water crisis isn’t enough, our laptop decided this was a good day to kick the bucket! Total meltdown and panic stations all round. It’s been a bad year for computers in the Le Roux household. First the Big Mac in June and now the laptop. Everything we do is on the laptop, and although we’re both fairly diligent with backing-up our work, we have been too flat out with bucket loads of stuff to do every day, that we’re about two weeks behind on backups. That’s many hours of work potentially gone. Including this story, that was an ongoing process…

For a few days we both went through the five stages of dealing with loss: denial (not even looking at the damn thing, let alone think about what to do next), anger (stupid stupid laptop, stupid stupid me for not backing up my work), bargaining (maybe just tell the client everything is gone and there’s nothing any one can do about it – a good, solid two weeks of work), depression (pour another tipple, please) and acceptance (shit happens. Walk it off).

A day later Gerry took it to the doctor, who diagnosed the hard drive to be buggered, installed a new one, charged an arm, and claimed they couldn’t retrieve any of the information. Another round of denial and anger on my side. Luckily Gerry has a colleague who is just amazing with technology. He has a wee gadget he created for just such an occasion, and thankfully Gerry could retrieve everything through Thursday night, even in the same folders and structure everything was before! Disaster averted. We owe said colleague big time.

Back to Tuesday’s run; one would think that a day off would make a huge difference as to how capable you feel physically, but boy o boy, stress takes it out of you. With nerves in a knot and having to fit in a longish run, we tried to find a course with a bit of everything while still being still being close to the car at any given point, just incase we needed to bail. We did the 4km Summerhill trail first, and from there on it was flat all the way, up and down the river on both sides. After 12km we called the running bit quits, and walked the remaining 10km.

6 December 2017 (Wednesday) – 20km

Still stressed about the laptop and all the potential lost data, we did not feel like having to think about anything (where to run, where to find water, toilets, the burden of taking a hydration pack), so we went for our usual 2km ring road circuit on Massey campus. It remains one of the easiest ways to get the job done. We could only fit it in in the evening, and with the car parked on the course, so to speak, we could hydrate and fuel every two kilometres. And, if at any point we needed more/less clothes, a change of shoes, whatever, we had it all right there. After 18km we were tempted to stop, but figured we might as well do another lap and get to 20km.

The intention was to run one lap, walk one lap. But, being constantly pressed for time, we ended up running most of the laps and only walking small bits.

7 December 2017 (Thursday) – 33km

Being in catch-up mode, and physically and psychologically exhausted (with still no good news in terms of our data recovery at this point), we decided to just “walk it off”. Gerry could get the day off of work, as he’s accumulated quite a lot of hours overtime.

The aim was to do about 30km over 6 hours. This was also the day that Jason (the challenge creator – bugger!) was going to run 60km at school with the kids, creating awareness and collecting money for the Running on the Spectrum charity. So we figured we should roughly be out on the road for the same length of time as he would be, but we would only be covering half his distance.

Again we opted to do laps, but this time went around two of our usual loops with the car in the middle. Two toilets on course (three, if you count the one that is about 200m out of the way) and at least two water points. Having the car in the middle, again meant that we didn’t had to carry everything with us in a hydration pack.

Walking is hard. It doesn’t come natural to me (not that running is much better!) and I have to work really hard to keep my turnover high. Although I love walking, I always find it a bit tough on shins and under-utilised muscles. Needless to say, this was one of the more challenging outings of the challenge so far.

8 December 2017 (Friday) – 10km

Another late night (had to get the Christmas cake done) and another early start. Lack of sleep is the last thing you want when you up your kilometres. We all know that rest/sleep is when your body recovers, so going without enough sleep, is a recipe for injuries. Apart from some niggles here and there (Gerry’s plantar fasciitis and shins being the worst offenders on the walks), we were holding up surprisingly well. Touch wood.

Before six in the morning we were on our way to meet Ian Argyle again to help for a few hours on Nae Nae Track. This new track is progressing well, and Ian and a bunch of other volunteers has already put in a lot of effort. Between the three of us, we managed to do three hand railings and a few steps on some of the steepest parts. One of the big issues is having to carry all wood, pegs, waratahs, tools, screws, drill, nuts and bolts, hammer, you name it, up the track. And the further the track progresses, the further you have to carry everything. A good workout which, sadly, we didn’t record as that would have added a few kilometres to our tally. But, never mind.

Back home some four hours later, we could fit in only a 10km run, before heading off for another commitment. The easiest option was to just do our usual on-road Massey loop, and some. So that is 132kms done.

9 December 2017 (Saturday) – 21km

Gerry had his final session in Whanganui with the short-courses photography students, so I decided to run the local club’s annual half marathon to kill some time while we were there.

More on the event here.

As Gerry was now behind on the kilometres, he went out for a quick 11+km run down the road once we got back home early evening. Only 10km more for him to catch up.

10 December 2017 (Sunday) – 20km

Meeting up with the Striders at 8am for their weekly club run, we were uncertain what to do. Not a lot of runners pitch up at these runs, and the ones that were there are too fast for my current state. We thought of going out with the walkers, but chose the slowest group, which I was led to believe would go at a 6km per hour pace, but it soon proved otherwise as they were clearly out on a very leisurely stroll.. So a few hundred metres into the walk, we decided to just do our own thing. Initially we thought of walking 10km in the morning and run another 10km or so in the evening, but once we got going, we just kept on going and managed to run a bit more than 15km, and walk back to the car (about 5km).

Back at the car, Gerry decided to run another 6+km to get closer to where he’s supposed to be. That left him with only about 3km still behind schedule. At this point I was on 174km and Gerry on 171km.

A bit more windy and cooler than any of the other days so far, but happy that we’ve done our bit for the day, we went home to get a Sunday roast in the oven and pour a glass of red.

11 December 2017 (Monday) – 21km
Hard to believe we are on the second to last day of this challenge. Being on the home-stretch, I feel like a horse that smelled home – I just want to get there already. Before Gerry had to clock in at work, we went out for a 15km run. The plan was to run 15km and walk another 5km or so. But, being in no state to make it out of bed early enough, we could only fit in the run.

After work (and my dental hygienist appointment) we had another nice walk of 6km around the duck pond and through the Esplanade. By the way, did you know that running is actually bad for your teeth? “’The triathletes’ high carbohydrate consumption, including sports drinks, gels, and bars during training, can lower the mouth’s pH below the critical mark of 5.5,’ Cornelia Frese told Runner’s World Newswire. ‘That can lead to dental erosion and cavities. Also, the athletes breathe through the mouth during hard exercise. The mouth gets dry, and produces less saliva, which normally protects the teeth.’” Read more.

But that’s a worry for another day. The bubbly is on ice. Only one more sleep. One more run.

12 December 2017 (Tuesday) – 7km
With only about 5km left to complete the challenge, we went for the easy way out. And what is less arduous than just covering our familiar Massey ring-road. But, unlike we usually do, we decided to go out the back of Massey and straight back to the car. Being only 5km, it took some serious motivation to get going. Why bother with only 5km? 😀

IMG_0246fixeds

Still warm, but with some cloud and light wind, we managed to finish the whole 12 days without a single minute of inclement weather – and not a drop of rain. As it turned out, NZ is in the midst of one of the biggest droughts we’ve seen in ages (as can be seen from the brown grass in some of the photos).

And so another challenge is done and dusted. We weren’t always equally excited about having to go out for long runs, but after a few days it started to get easier. And as is always the case, once you go long, your mind grows strong.

bubbly_shoes

These are the shoes that carried us through the 200km challenge. Evidently, I’m a bit of an Altra fan.

Thanks to Jason, Shona and the Greatest Virtual Run-team for dreaming up these challenges. It is a great way to get going and a good motivator. If I make the next 100km event, I will think back on some of these days and the word, Ultreia! It loosely translates to onward/forward. Which bring to mind the tale about this old man who lived in a very small village, and who was extremely lazy. One day the town folk decided he’s not worth the hassle anymore and they would bury him alive. Pleased with the decision, the old man was laying in his coffin while the bearers carried him to his grave. One old lady was particularly concerned about the decision to bury the old man alive and asked if there wasn’t maybe something the old man could do to pull his weight in the village? A small task like chopping wood or something? At which point the old man shouted from his coffin: “On-with-the-corpse!”, “On-with-the-corpse!”.

On ultras, this will be my new mantra – Ultreia! On with the corpse!

 

 

 

Advertisements

5 things no one tells you, bla-bla-bla …

Is it just me, or is everything your read these days on running forums and in running magazines, a number crunching game? For instance: “6 things you need to do right now”, “I did squats for 14 days and here’s what happened”, “do these 3 exercises right now”, “4 stretches that will fix all your problems”, “these 7 health foods aren’t so healthy”, “31 runner friendly recipes”, etc. You can almost not find an article that doesn’t contain a headline similar to these. But, I’m getting off topic.

getting_older_s.jpg

This post really is just a message I wish someone had banged into my head 20 years ago. And despite knowing what I know now, I still find it difficult to practice what I preach, but here goes nonetheless. Even if I fail miserably and have to say to myself 20 years from now, “I told you so!”.

You know how you sometimes do an event and think to yourself, hey, I’m doing all right, only to find a runner with a 60+, 70+ or 80+ age tag ahead of you? And every time you think, wow, that’s very impressive. I want to be that runner when I’m that age. All I have to do is to keep running.

We are a very (maybe unintentionally) obnoxious bunch, aren’t we? Without giving anything a second thought, you just assume that if you keep running the way you do, you will be fine for the rest of your life. Just look at you, you are running and keeping active while most people your age do absolutely nothing, not even the occasional stroll around the block. The fact that you have a few aches and pains, call it niggles if you like, you put down to “normal side-effects that come with the territory”. And, inexplicably, while you sometimes hobble your first few steps after getting up from a chair or out of bed, most non-running people your age seems not to have these issues? Or so it seems.

But, the truth of the matter is that no-one talks about these things. Maybe because we’re all in denial about getting older? Never has anyone told me that my strength will halve by the time I turn 40. By 45, what’s left will halve again. And by 50, that would halve again. And so on. Things go pear-shaped exponentially. I am assuming that by the time you reach 70, you can count your lucky stars if you can still open your own beer! Actually, according to “scientific studies”, you loose about 1% muscle strength each year from your 30th birthday onwards. “Scientifically proven” or not, I can promise you it is far worse. And the reason is simple – lack of maintenance. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

In my head I can, of course, do push-ups, pull-ups, climb trees and make wagon-wheels at nauseam. I could still do that “just the other day”. Heck, I remember a time when I could stand on my hands and do push-ups! (Granted, my legs were against a wall for balance.)  The other day I tried some of these things and I could only manage one normal push-up. One. Pull-ups? None! That was enough to give my self-esteem such a knock that I did not even try any of the other stuff that was second nature at some point in my life.

And here’s the other thing. Apart from your physical strength, your eyes go. As I’m typing this, I need to squint and blink my watery eyes constantly to see what is going on. And so too does your hearing. Say what? And your mind. Concentration? Memory? What is that? And memory is a very fickle thing at the best of times. And if you think you used to be a good wine snifter and can easily tell the difference between a Pinotage and a Shiraz, or a Cabernet and a Bordeaux Blend by taking one whiff, just be warned that it will all go to shit after you turn 40, as even your sense of smell seems to decrease exponentially. Nasty things start to grow everywhere, for Pete’s sake!

After being diagnosed with FAI (femoral acetabular impingement of the CAM type) and told to consider a different sport, as well as the prospect of having to have a hip replacement in the not too distant future, I was shocked to my core. Imagine never again being able to run, or hike with a backpack, or climb up a mountain, getting to places that you can only get to by foot. I could not even fathom the thought. I went from being numb to denial, to anger, to acceptance, and back to denial. Why does it always take a “disaster” for one to wake up and smell the roses?

What I can say now, in hindsight (what a wonderful thing) with the utmost certainty is, that if you think you can continue to run into your old age by just continually running, you better think again. Because that is the biggest misnomer in all of the running world. One tends to look at older runners and think they have probably been running all their lives, so it is “second nature” to them. All I need to do is keep on running and I will be sweet as. Not! I can promise you, emphatically, that all those oldies who seems to be just hardcore runners have a whole regime of other physical stuff they do on top of running. They will either go to the gym or do some other form of strength training. Or do some cross-training in one form or another. They most certainly all would stretch or do yoga or whatever it takes to stay flexible. And I bet they also have regular visits to massage therapists, or at the very least do some foam rolling, etc. You cannot in your wildest dreams think that you will be “fine” by just running. You will not. Your muscles will deteriorate and they will tighten up. That is a fact. Imbalances in your body are inevitable and if you don’t maintain (condition, strengthen, flex and loosen up) your muscles, you can forget about running for the rest of your life. There will come a time when you get so buggered in one place from immobility in another, that you will have to stop and think about where to from here.

In a way, I was lucky to be told I have FAI. At least I’m not that old yet, and there’s still time, I think. I hope. In the back of my mind, I knew all along that I needed to stretch and do some strength exercises, but I didn’t heed it. I would always think I’ll do it tomorrow, or start on Monday. And then usually put it off altogether. I have been doing that for a few years and the end result? A hip so stuffed that a specialist recommended an operation. But, stubborn as I am, I tend to side with The FAI Fix guys by also thinking that there must be an alternative. I find it curious that every second person you talk to, suddenly has FAI problems. Why would everybody suddenly have bone growth at the certain spot on their hips? And why does it hit people in their 20s and 30s already? Or is it one of those things that have always been around, but never been talked about? And only recently been named?

Granted, we all sit a lot more than what I, and most generations before me, used to. We only got TV when I was 7 years old. Computers only made it into my world when I was about 20. Mobile phones did not make it onto the scene for many more years. The Millenials (people born between 1980 and 2000) certainly got a raw deal in that regard, by being born into this crap. At least we still, almost, had a “normal” childhood, whatever that might mean. But, in terms of being physical, we were definitely better off, even if the only difference was having to walk to the library to get books for assignments. Nowadays, most information appears at the click of a button, whether you sit in your car, on a bus, in front of the TV, or on the loo. You don’t have to move your butt one inch to get what you want.

As with everything else in life, if you don’t maintain it, it will fall apart. Same goes for your health and physical abilities. Apart from eating healthy (which is a different can of worms), drinking less, not smoking etc, you have to maintain your muscle strength and flexibility in order to stay mobile. It really is as simple as that. And yet, the most difficult thing in the world to actually put into motion. We all know the adage – if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it – but we forever postpone getting our maintenance sorted for another day. Maintenance is always something “you will still do” (like having that mole checked out). Until it’s too late and the easy way or only way out is the “quick fix” by some or other medical professional.

If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to keep on living like a child. Jump off things, stand on your head, climb onto everything, run everywhere you want to go, even the bathroom, but do whatever it takes to keep your muscles working, be strong, stay flexible and be mobile.

 

 

The 5-in-5-in-5 Challenge

Many running books I’ve read talk about being passionate about running. How you can only be a dedicated, committed runner if you love running. And while I do love the idea of running and everything it represents, and without fail feel better after a run than before it, I must admit that I often have difficulty getting myself ready and out the door for a run. Once I’m out there, it’s great, but beforehand I often simply don’t feel up to it, and would much rather be doing something else. Continue reading

No frills, no fuss, marathon training programme for ordinary folk

For Cheryl

training_programmeWhen it comes to running, I like to keep things simple. This approach got me over many marathon finish lines, so if you just want to finish, relatively comfortably (not that the marathon distance is comfortable by any means), this might help. I’m not an official trainer and I’m not a professional, but rather just a normal person who likes to run. I think that setting goals that make you giggly, or scare you a little, is good! Continue reading

Hill (s)training

hills

Running hills are a pain in the butt for most of us and I’ll be damned if I would suddenly start doing hill repeats of any kind. In my world I have two choices: either make peace with walking all hills, always, or try to slowly trot to the top. Running hills, for me, is a contradiction in terms.

Admittedly I do walk most hills, especially the really steep ones. But as we know, hills make you strong so jogging up is definitely the better option. I will also acknowledge that the biggest gain in running hills is mental achievement, which in itself makes a massive difference in your perceived fitness levels.

As an average or slow runner, I’m as mentioned not in the market for hill repeats or hill training. I think you have to be able to run up a hill first before you can try to repeat it! If you can’t get up the blooming hill in the first place, how are you going to practise getting faster?

So here’s my 2cents worth of advice: the only way I can get myself up and over a hill is to just take it really really easy. Mimic the running action, but shorten your stride significantly. The aim is not to go out of breath or exert yourself to the point of no return. Use the same amount of effort as you would on the flat, keep your breathing and running rhythm the same, but progress s-l-o-w-l-y up the hill. When you get to the top, you should be able to continue running, while gradually increasing your stride length again to normal.

Hills should literally be taken in your stride. The confidence boost from getting to the top while still feeling okey, is phenomenal. Once you realise you can do it, hills are not so daunting and dreadful anymore. The key is to take it easy, really easy, even if it means running slower than what you could walk up a hill. The end result is you ran up the hill and didn’t succumb to walking. If you keep on doing this with every hill you encounter, it will automatically get easier! That I can vouch for, because hills are the necessary evil that makes you strong.

Now go out and tackle those hills head on with confidence. You can do it! 🙂

 

Change your breathing rhythm to fix/prevent ITB problems

DSC02764s

When we first took up running in 2001, I made all the classic mistakes: too fast, too far, too soon. The end result? ITB syndrome. I went from one physio to the next and finally one casually mentioned that my one leg is longer than the other. The said leg presumably is taking all the hammering resulting in ITB problems. No other explanation was given at the time. Continue reading