Knee testing and course familiarisation

The past few days were marked by planning the marathon day, going easy with my knee, and jet lag. Today(*) I was up at 2:30 am and after failing miserably to get back to sleep, I decided that the knee had had enough break and it was time for it to be tested. So, I jumped out of bed and went for an early (5 am) run around the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon. Two laps with a progressive increase in pace was my plan and that’s what I achieved:


Loops around the lagoon and 1 km split times. Red arrow indicates the road leading to the nasty climb for the third marathon (see photo below).

It was the first run over 10 km since the second marathon a few weeks ago and I was quite happy with the run. The knee is still a bit uncomfortable but I managed my pace well and was able to run fast even after a decent distance. This gave me extra confidence that the knee will be able to cope with the challenging course that I have set for marathon 3.

A few hours after the run and the knee pain came back. Not severe but annoying enough to make me want to check the hardest part of the planned course by car. It was also a great opportunity to show Joe, a friend from work, great views from Rio. As soon as we started the ascent and the forest begun to dominate the surroundings, I was sure that I have made the right decision about the course. I felt so good already! Not even this sign that we found on the side of the road would made me change my mind:


Information sign just in front of the Vista Chinesa. The feeling of running surrounded by the forest certainly surpass any fear of hills (I say this now…).

I can’t wait to run up there on Sunday!

(*) the post was written on Monday but due to a problem with the internet at the hotel I could only post it today.


Run, Parkrun, run

This post could as well have been called “Do as I say, not as I do”.

“Negative split! Last half faster than the first.” “Don’t burn yourself in the beginning, finish strong!” “That’s how records are made!” How many times have you heard your coach saying this? How many articles and blog posts have you read about this? And yet, how many times have you disregarded this wise advice?

Sometimes when I’m coaching the Bilbys’ Friday night swim squad, I ask the athletes to swim a distance, say 150 m, in the pattern easy/medium/hard, and time them. At the end of the distance, the athletes look at the board and can’t believe that their easy lap was as fast or even faster than their hard lap. This happens all the time! You start fresh, you don’t feel the effort. You have to deliberately slow yourself down in the beginning.

But one thing is to fail to pace yourself, another is to knowingly push yourself in the beginning of your activity. Even worse, plan a 5km race in the middle of your long run! And I, ashamedly, have to admit, that’s what I did yesterday. Well, in my defense, it wasn’t all planned…

Yesterday was the last Saturday before my trip and the last chance to fit a long run before the first marathon. After my long with hills last week, I wanted something less demanding in terms of effort, although a couple of km longer. I could have gone for a double loop close to my place but, instead, decided that going south towards Lake Ginninderra would make a more interesting course. But Saturday is also Parkrun day. Parkrun is a free, weekly, 5km timed run. It is open to everyone and happens all around the world. Here in Canberra we have three options: Gungahlin, Lake Ginninderra, and Tuggeranong. I thought: “Why not combine my long run with the Lake Ginninderra Parkrun?” It would be a great opportunity to catch up with friends that are not up to the long distances. So I told some friends that if they were interested in a social timed 5 km run, I’d be at the start line at 8:00 am. No one confirmed but I had a couple of “maybes”. So, that was the plan: 12 km to Lake Ginninderra, 5 km easy Parkrun, 12 km back, and an extra km close to home to make the total 30 km distance. As you can see, I didn’t plan to mess up with my long run.

I woke up early but somehow managed to leave home just a bit later than I expected. I was already outside when I felt my wrist a bit light… “Wait! Where is my Garmin?” Back inside to get the watch… OK. Ready to go again. It is just a matter of time until the GPS finds the signal and…  “Wait! I can’t feel my hands! Where are my gloves?” Back inside to get the gloves… “Where are they? I was sure they were here!” OK. Third time ready. You are not forgetting anything, are you? Oh, yes. It is a 30 km run and you need… food! Forgot my muesli bar on the kitchen bench (wasn’t in the mood for gels). I somehow lost 10 minutes in these mishaps but I finally left home under this beautiful sunrise (at 0oC).


Leaving home a bit later than originally planned.


With the cold breeze, it took me 3 km to start feeling my face again. Come on sun, get up!

With the delay I was left with only 50 minutes to get to the start line. I wouldn’t be able to cover 12 km at the planned 5 min/km pace in time, so I took the shortest possible path to Lake Ginninderra. That saved me almost 2 km. To be on the safe side, I also decided to go harder in the first half of my long run, but still not that hard. Got to Lake Ginninderra with 7 minutes to spare but none of the “maybes” were there. The atmosphere, as always, was great and I was already praising myself for the wise decision of breaking the long run and being able to share the path with other runners. However, besides babies in prams, dogs on leashes, and kids running with their parents, there were also those looking on improving their PB. And that is dangerous because you can get carried away… and I did.

As soon as the race started I found myself following some fast people. My Garmin beeped and warned me: “3:46 in your last km”. I could have had two reactions: “Wow, too fast for what I have planned” or “Wow, can I run in under 20 min?”. That is one of the risks of getting addicted to our gadgets and the stats they provide (you may reconsider taking your GPS for every run or ride after reading this great post from the “Fit is a Feminist Issue” blog).

My reaction? Well, I slowed down, but just a bit. It was clear that I wouldn’t be able to sustain a pace under 4min/km, but that 10 year old kid in front of me kept me going at a decent speed. In the end I finished in 21:36, chatted with a friend, ate my muesli bar and headed back home.


Finishing the 5 km run. Photo from the Ginninderra Parkrun Facebook page.

That’s when all my mistakes came back to haunt me. The legs felt really heavy from the start and I knew I had to endure another 14 km along the (not always) gentle uphill towards Gungahlin. I hate when I’m much slower than I can be and felt like cutting it short. “Maybe 26 km is OK today”, I thought. I’m glad I didn’t. A lot of the benefits of the long runs happen at the mental level. You learn to be resilient, so I sucked it up and took a left turn towards the longer and hillier course option. From the 24 km I was again enjoying the run. I had learned to accept my slower pace, was appreciating the views, and this song from The Bamboos kicked in my playlist.


Pace and elevation profile from my run divided into the 3 stages: out (yellow), Parkrun (blue), and back (pink).

The course

Last long course before the first marathon!

Running on very tired legs was a valuable lesson, especially considering that this is a very likely scenario for the many kilometers that are ahead of me in the next year.

Run or pancakes?

As I’ve mentioned in this post, my usual strategy for minimising the effects that long training sessions have on the family life is to start early, really early. The girls like to sleep until late on the weekends so there is a big chance that when I’m done with my training, they are still sleeping or have just woken up.

I usually wake up by myself, no need for an alarm clock (unless a pre 6am start has been planned…). Having nothing planned for after the training, I decided to start whenever I woke up. 7:37 it was! Quite late, but given the freezing morning temperatures in Canberra, I thought it was actually a good outcome. A few minutes later and my wife woke up as well:

— Good morning love.
— Good morning. Going for a run?
— Yes.
— What is the temperature outside?
— Let me check… -2.5
— Brrrrr! Are you sure you wanna run now? I’m hungry, I think I’m gonna make pancakes.

I’ll be honest with you, I’m not really a big fan of pancakes but the word “pancake” is one of the few things that can take our 13 year old daughter out of bed before 9am on a Saturday. It was a choice between running in this weather


Really Canberra? -2.5oC and foggy?

or a family breakfast like this



And the winner was…
…the girls and the pancakes, of course!!!!

It turned out to be a wise choice. With a maximum temperature of 11oC today, the conditions at lunch time were perfect. Dry, cool, and sunny!


Quick stop at around the 6 km mark for a photo.

It was such a beautiful day that I decided to take our dog, Mel, with me. She is a big dog and gets really excited when she sees my running gear. No, I mean REALLY excited (I’ll make a video next time and you’ll understand). Mel’s longest distance running so far is 13km, but that was a few months ago and I haven’t been exercising her much recently. I took her anyway, knowing that I should probably do a shorter loop at the beginning of my long 28 km run and drop her home after a few km. I left not knowing the exact course we would do, just feeling like hitting some hills. That was my strategy: at any bifurcation take the road with the steepest climb, unless it would take me back home.

When we reached the first lake, after just 3.5 km, Mel gave the first signs that she wanted to go home. Made me stop for a little wee and when she was done, she turned back. Oh, no way! I pulled her and she continued at a slower pace. It was like that for another km but she forgot that she was tired when she saw the birds by the lake. Mel wanted to chase them all. It was my turn to hold the pace. She ran for 8.5 km and ended up like this…


Mel after the run. It is not as bad as it looks. When I got home she was ready to play fetch!

…a very tired dog. After the short break, I continued in my search for hills for the remaining 19.5 km. I went all the way to Bonner (see map below) just to check how Jiri, a colleague from work, was doing with the house he is building. The house is at the top of a hill and that was perfect for my “hit the hills” goal (see the peak at 17.5 km in the elevation profile). By the way, his bamboo flooring looks amazing! 🙂


The map and the elevation showing some nasty hills.

I won’t lie, including hills in my long run didn’t look like a good idea in the last 10 km. My legs were hurting, the pace dropping, and the mind reminding me that this would be more or less my weekend routine for the next 12 months! Too late to turn back, I’m already in my fifth post and already got one donation! I focused on the whys I posted here, and kept going.

Run or pancakes? Pancakes then run!

When friends call…

You have your training plan and all those workouts and runs decided weeks in advance. But a lot can (and will!) happen in the few months preceding your race. A sick kid at home, that unmissable party just the night before your toughest training of the week, unexpected work trips, you name it! Life will through things at you. But what to do? Stick to the plan or adapt?

Too much flexibility and you may find yourself skipping training sessions at the smallest hurdle, too much rigidity and you may risk wrecking your personal life.

On Saturday I had a long run planned but a friend needed help moving houses. What to do? My usual strategy when I have to give up on something is to give up on my sleep. This is because no one notices your absence while they are sleeping, and you can always catch up on your sleep later. Works beautifully when everyone else in your family enjoys that extra bit of sleep on the weekend ;-).

With 21km to run, a 6am start would do the trick, but with subzero temperatures I’d rather find another solution. A few minutes on the computer checking maps et voilà, the distance from home to their place was around 23km. And there was the solution right in front of me: run there! If you are tight on time and want to fit some extra training this is the rule to get to your destination: If you can swim, swim. If you can’t swim, run. If you can’t run, ride! If you can’t ride, do you really need to go that far?

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 9.58.33 pm

Running to my destination: Saturday long run map.

22.6km and 1:43 h later and I was ready for my core work: lifting boxes. The recovery? Pizza and beer with friends!

Balance is everything. Be creative and adapt to stick to the plan.

And before you ask, yes, I got a lift back home!