Monday, June 22, 2015

Spiritually, emotionally and physically...

..exhausting! I was going to write "satisfying", which the weekend was, on all accounts but the last one. I guess it was a bit too ambitious to expect to do a good time in the 10K on Sunday, when I had to get up at the same time as I had gone to bed the night (morning) before. That was because on Friday I briefly came out of retirement as a DJ, blew the dust off my favourite vinyl records and got behind the decks once more.

The crowd at Marula were great and, once I had warmed them up with some slow burning funk I was able to take them to more challenging territory like this trio of tunes I played around 3am:

So that was the spiritual part of the weekend (some physical, too, having to lug my box of records up several flights of stairs).

Then we drove down to Ciudad Real for my father in law's 80th birthday where my wife did a "This is your life..." on him, complete with book and presentation. That, of course, was very emotional not just for her father but for everyone.

The race on Sunday promised to be a fast one as it was more or less downhill all the way. My objective was to get back a bit of confidence after what has been a patchy season. Had it been the weekend before, it might have worked out differently, but the summer had decided to turn up in a big way and it meant business. I can't really blame anyone but myself for turning out a time that I might have been happy with 4 years ago, but was far from anything I had done since. It wasn't much faster than a typical training run and maybe that is part of the problem. I'm starting to think that I need to go back to the polarized training Jonathan used to bang on about, which I have never fully accepted. If I keep training at moderate paces of 15 kph (4:00 /km) for 40 minutes then I suppose I will become good at running at a moderate pace of 15 kph for 40 minutes. I have, of course, been doing interval training but probably not pushing myself enough on the high intensities. My main quibble with the whole 80/20 training idea (80 easy, 20 hard) is that the arguments for it seem to fall flat if your main constraint is time and not energy. I can appreciate that it is better to substitute moderately hard training for easy training if you then employ that liberated energy in high intensity training, but if you are already doing 20% at a very high intensity, surely it is better to do the 80% as hard as you reasonably can? I've bought Matt Fitzgerald's latest book "80/20 Run Stronger and Race Faster" in an attempt to convince myself. The other thing that Jonathan used to say was that I shouldn't abuse the treadmill too often. For sure, if I were to do more runs at an easier pace, it would by correspondingly easier to run outside and perhaps for longer. But there is a simpler explanation for the disappointment on Sunday: as I have been doing lately, I set off far too fast for my current level of fitness and the particular conditions, even considering the downhill advantage (I ran the first kilometer in 3:19 and the second in 3:29). Then the rest of the race was the usual revising downwards of projected finish times, which is always a motivation killer. At one point I thought I might just conceivably be able to break 35 minutes; at another, the balloon marking the 38 minute pace overtook me and I was unable to respond. Note to self: next race, start off slow and get faster.

If all that wasn't enough to fill a weekend, we also brought back a litter of 5 puppies from Ciudad Real, of which my wife managed to place all but one. Unfortunately our boxer, Ema, is extremely jealous and antisocial when it comes to members of her own race, so we had to be careful to keep them apart. It remains to be seen whether we can awaken her motherly instincts and keep the puppy... otherwise a home for her will have to be found.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Let's try that again...

After my failed attempt to run a 10K race ("run" being the operative word) a few weeks ago, I decided to enter another one this coming weekend. It is quite a popular one as it is run from point to point, over a course which has a negative gradient and yet has been "homologated" by the relevant authorities and thus serves as a fast qualifying race for the San Silvestre 10K on New Year's Eve.

It's not the best weekend for it though. On Friday I am deejaying again for the first time in about 8 years, since I started this whole running lark, and that will be from 1am to 6am!

That's me, Rob Smith (a.k.a Heavy Üsker)
Then, on Saturday, it is my father-in-law's 80th birthday - which I wouldn't miss for anything - and then, on Sunday, the race itself. If only the cool weather we have right now holds out! We were in Asturias over the weekend and it hailed!

The previous weekend, we were in Tétouan in Morocco and I found it to be surprisingly runner-friendly (outside of the medina, of course). As well as it being cool for this time of year, I found a long flat stretch with wide pavements (in better condition than those in London) to run along.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Yo Dona Run the Night 10K (5K?)

...or, as the webpage says, "Run the Nigth".

This really promised to be a great race. Everything was lined up perfectly: an early evening start to miss the brunt of the heat, a flat course near my house (a horse racetrack no less) and taking place the day before the Liberty Seguros 10K so that the best runners would be absent. The date also happened to coincide with my parents being here. The last time they saw me compete in anything was probably some rowing race in Cambridge when I was 17.

A not much fun queue for a fun run
What I didn't reckon on was it being the worst organized race I have ever taken part in - something of a feat considering how many I have done over the last 7 years. Admittedly, if it hadn't been for dragging my kids, my parents and my wife (who was running the 5K) along, I would have got there much earlier, but I didn't expect it to take ONE WHOLE HOUR to pick up the race number, by which time the race had already started. Also, rather than just giving the number and chip, they gave you the goodie bag with the commemorative t-shirt, so then you had to find somewhere to dump it before the race. It would have been much more sensible to give that to people as they finished, like they do in most races.

I've been living in Spain for 14 years now, but some things are so culturally embedded that they will never change - I'm referring to myself more than to the country. One of those things is how people go around roundabouts - something that still irritates me on a daily basis - but the other is how people queue. The queues were quite sensibly organized by race number but, unless you were at least as tall as me, there was no way of knowing that until you approached the desk as the signs were hard to see. But I think the real problem was that people were picking up numbers for themselves and all their friends who didn't necessarily have numbers corresponding to that queue, causing all kinds of chaos. There was a much higher proportion of people just running for fun than usual - at least, that was the impression I got from appearance and what people chose to run in - so I was very tempted to push to the front as it would make a big difference to me getting a good position at the start but I just couldn't bring myself to do something so un-English. To be fair, queue jumping is frowned upon in Spain, but its close relative - that of queuing for a large number of people - is not. I am perhaps a little bit extreme about this. My wife still laughs about the time I went to take out money from a cash point with my card and she asked me to take some out for her with her card (this was before we had a joint account). I felt bad about "having two goes" on the machine - I could imagine people who had based their queue calculation on just one turn tutting behind me - so I took the money out with my card and went to the back of the queue again. The funny thing is, this was in Spain, so everyone found my behaviour a bit bizarre (and perhaps they would have done in England too - I've yet to meet someone who does the same).

The setting for the race was ideal: it was the unused Hipodrome so the spectators could watch from the stands. They had gone to town with the audiovisuals, beaming live coverage of the race from drones and various cameramen to a huge screen. To cater for those who had been unable to get their numbers in time, there were several staggered starts. I might just have been able to salvage the situation if I had managed to get to the front of my wave, but I couldn't find my parents to give my bag to so in the end I had to leave it with a friend who I happened to spot. After all the faffing about, I just managed to get back to my wife as the gun went off (so to speak). I made a valiant but short lived attempt to get to the front but the course was very narrow and I ended up slowing to a walk. I decided instead to run the 5K "tranquilamente" with my wife.

I took up running initially as a way to channel my frustrations. The danger is that, if things go wrong, then it can end up compounding my frustration (like the lamppost incident in the Madrid Marathon). After training for this event and spending the day psyching myself up for it, not to mention loading myself up with energy in the form of cereal bars, M&Ms and red bull, it was extremely frustrating to spend an hour on a Saturday evening queuing up and then not even to have to chance to release all that pent up energy. It was the athletic equivalent of coitus interuptus. I had also looked forward to the idea of being able to run well in front of my parents. Anyway, I did my best to handle it with good grace and, even though the pace was easy for me, I tried to remember that it was a struggle for my wife. When my kids congratulated us, I didn't say anything about it not having been a challenge for me because, in some sense, it was a challenge to keep my cool (even though there were no lampposts to punch along the course).

Looking at the results, I think I would have had a good chance of a podium finish (out of 2,000 runners!). That would have been so cool in front of my family, with all the fancy media coverage. The course may have been flat, but it was quite sandy and it was a bit hot even at 9 pm, so I can't expect to have run a best time. Having said that, the third placed runner did a time of 37:21 (and the winner 36:30) which looks pretty attainable. It seems like it was more of a race to get the race number than a race to the finish line. On the other hand, another of the aspects of the race that was poorly thought out was that the 10K was two laps of the same circuit as the 5K, so the front runners undoubtedly ran into the slowest of the 5K runners. It may be that their times were relatively slow as a result, because the winner of the 5K race (an ex-Spanish Marathon champion) did a time of 16:45 which would have certainly been out of my reach.

Anyway, a bit of a shame because it was so promising. I'll give it another shot next year - if they decide to repeat the experience - and I'll pick up the race numbers during the day to avoid the crowd. Maybe they will have learnt from their mistakes too but I expect that it will attract more middling competitive runners like myself, when people see the results from the previous year.