The Hip

Had I taken closer heed of this sign posted on the Yangjaecheon running path, perhaps I would not be taking the weekend off with an inflamed sciatic nerve in my right hip [diagnosed from the comfort of my own couch with assistance from the good Dr. Wikipedia].

But speaking of real doctors, a deeply reverent doff o' the hat to Monica [Prairie Chapter] on demolishing her Royal College exams and officially becoming the Sea Bass Running Club's in-house anaesthesiologist.


Training Break #7

You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming.
- Frank Shorter



We are now seventeen weeks away from our next marathon, held to commemorate the opening of the Incheon Bridge in September. It is not often one has the opportunity to run across one of the world's longest bridges, and if this artist rendering is even remotely close to being accurate, my usual absence of hill training should not be of great consequence. Having done nothing but a few long walks since the ultra, I am itching to get out in the morning for a gentle 40 minutes. The plan is to ease back into a routine over the next five weeks (two here, three on holiday in Borneo), then start getting serious about preparing properly. Not so distantly beyond this marathon looms another stab at 100km to wrap up the year.


Training Break #6

The weeks creep past,
form clouds, lose themselves,
conceal themselves in the sky,
come to rest there
like light faded.
- Pablo Neruda



Running at its essence is an individual pursuit. A runner can ultimately be responsible only for moving himself or herself forward, for living in each moment of exertion, and for ascribing meaning in his or her own way to the entire act.

All of that is girded by a strong sense of running community. A trusted partner, clubs, teams, a cyber-network of folks you like but will likely never meet - these imbue the solitary with the social. Running then becomes a tool to take on a more global sense of purpose, something outside the personal. One need only look at the money and awareness raised by different runners for a multitude of causes and charities to understand this need to make connections where once there were none.

Last week I read on Jamie Donaldson's blog that she had chosen the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association as her charity of choice in the run-up to Badwater in July. I have been reading Jamie's blog since her huge Badwater win last year, and had a chance to sit and chat with her husband David in October, as Jamie braved the heat and horrendous air quality that day to finish fifth in the 24 Hour World Championships. Reading about Tay-Sachs, and specifically about Elliott Schotz, the adorable little gaffer with an ultrarunning dad, moved me considerably.

Nothing beyond the idea stage yet, but look for the SBRC [Far East Chapter] to host some events in the near future to raise a pile of money for Elliott and NTSAD.



I had planned on writing a number of posts to chronicle/process/evaluate last weekend's run on Ganghwado, but will instead endeavour to get it all done in one fell swoop. Before I get into the details, I want to say how much the experience exceeded all expectations - of the humbling effects of distance, of the sense of camaraderie in the small but devoted band of Korean ultrarunners, of the levels of discomfort I knew I would feel, of the sheer pride I felt in her as Deanna ran twice as far as she ever had before, of the sense of accomplishment in moving forward for so long, and of the anticipation I now feel for future long races, in Korea or otherwise.

And in an editorial flourish, and since that was one of the most ungainly paragraphs ever written, I'll go newswire style from here:

- "Ultramarathon Festival" means just that in Korea. From the organizers to the volunteers, from the spectators to the other runners, everyone was very warm and went out of their way to make sure we always felt supported.

- Covering 100km was hard. Doing it overnight was really hard. I'm an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kinda guy, and have been for as long as I can remember. At 9:30, my usual bedtime, I still had miles to go before I slept.

- I massively overpacked. In my small running backpack, I crammed the following: my phone, my ID, a wad of cash, some ibuprofen, a flashlight and spare batteries, a stick of BodyGlide, four PB and Js, a huge bag of homemade Trail Mix (my recipe - heavy on the M&Ms, light on the nasty raisins), two bananas, a package of chocolate-covered espresso beans, a pack of tissue, two bottles of Gatorade, and a bottle of water. I needn't have bothered. There were more aid stations - each well-stocked with a goodly range of food and drink - than we thought there would be, and I ran past dozens of convenience stores.

- The organizers of this race have a fundamentally different working definition of the word flat than I do. On this particular flat course, I estimate that roughly half of it was legitimately flat - that is, flat according to my definition of the word. I usually don't require scientific precision in my choice of course descriptors, but flat to me means something between a tabletop and a slightly lumpy pancake. I'd have gone with mostly undulating, with periodic spikes of madness. There were rolling hills and plenty more rolling hills, and according to the road signage, five gradients of 7%, two of 10%, and then the heartbreaker at the 93rd km - 30% grade up for 2km, then 40% grade down for 1.5km. My dearth of hill training was very apparent.

- The three weeks of rest before the race seemed to be exactly what my knee needed. The first 22km of this run was flat, and I didn't even feel a twinge. Even as I walked up and down the hills through the night, my knee ached, but more from the distance and not from injury, I think.

- Of the 100km, I reckon I walked half and ran half. I actually sat in fifth place, just metres behind the leaders at the 22km aid station, running at the 58-60minutes/10km pace I knew I could hold for at least six or seven hours. The hills kicked in at 22km, and I crumbled like a stale cookie shortly thereafter.

- Carrying a phone and checking in with Deanna to see how each other was doing was an excellent [her] idea. We chatted plenty, and it was more than a bit of solace to know that she was dodging the traffic on shoulderless roads as adroitly as I was in the dead of the night.

- My legs hurt on Sunday and Monday, but by Tuesday felt no different than they do a few days after a marathon. I do know that I need to get back into the gym to work on my overall strength and flexibility, particularly my hamstrings and thighs.

This was the best running experience I've had in the fifteen years since I ran my first marathon. I liked how the distance negated the need to hurry. I liked that I had so much time to focus on nothing more than taking another few steps. I liked that the runners took time to take pictures, to chat, to eat, to laugh together. I liked that Deanna and I did this run and the training for it together - well, technically not side by side, but certainly together. I liked the challenge and I liked feeling small in the landscape. And I liked thinking about how to get ready for the next long run.


Training Break #5

As I run I tell myself to think of a river. And clouds. But essentially I'm not thinking of a thing. All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.
- Haruki Murakami



We are now only four days away from the run on Ganghwado. It hasn't been the most textbook of tapers, as I've only run three times in the last seventeen days, then spent this weekend fighting off a nasty stomach bug. My last run, all 19 minutes of it, was a week ago, and my knee would abide no more. Buoyed by the eternally positive and optimistic Deanna, I'm hoping that we actually managed to get the bulk of the training we had hoped for done before the knee issues arose. I'm also hoping that whatever is going on with my leg is from overuse, and that these last few weeks of ice, ibuprofen, and rest have been more beneficial than padding the monthly totals (1430.08 minutes on 14 runs, plus 865 minutes walking in April).

The plan for Saturday is to do a lot of walking, then run five minute blocks, slowly, as often as I can. Fortunately, my knee hasn't been hurting too badly when I walk, making the worst case for Ganghwado then 100000 metres of walking. We have 16 hours to get it done, so I'll push as far and as long as I prudently can. Perhaps not the 100km debut I feel I'm capable of doing (knee notwithstanding), but there will be many more races to run. Knee pain or not, I am very excited for the experience of my first overnight run and the opportunity to push myself through some discomfort. And for the box of Costco cookies I plan to devour within hours of crossing the finish line.