A half of two halves

The Solihull half marathon turned out to be horrendous. The weather was really unpleasant. I had no energy from the heat on the Friday and Saturday and I wasn’t sleeping much because of it, so by the time Sunday rolled around I wasn’t feeling my best. And of course, Sunday happened to be the hottest day of the heatwave.

I went out slower than my long training runs (huge achievement in itself) and I still imploded at 15km. I ran it last year too and remembered it being very hilly, but I put some of that down to being largely untrained at the time. Actually, it is very hilly. The first 12k is a downhill trend but with many sharp inclines along the way, and I was doing OK for that. Then a bit past the half way point there’s 2km of solid climbing and you’re still on an uphill trend for another 2km after that. So somewhere around 15km when I found myself at the bottom of yet another hill in 28 degrees and full sun baking the tarmac, I’d had enough and walked up the hill… And the next few hills.

The course is advertised as “PB potential”, which I can only describe as hilarious. Perhaps if all your other halves have been run scaling a mountain, yes…

I had tried to train for hills but the long uphill just past the half way point isn’t something I’ve had in training. I’m not aware of any routes accessible to me that replicate that kind of climb. Unless I head out onto country roads with low visibility and no footpaths then if I want to go up, I’m going to have to go down again shortly afterwards. E.g. here’s my regular Sunday morning medium run route, which I chose specifically because it has the most elevation change I could find around here. It’s very similar to the up and down of the first and last 6k, but no sustained climbs.

I can’t say I was very impressed by the organisation. Long stretches of the course were unmarshalled (not good during unusually hot weather), and there needed to be more water stations. There were three evenly spaced, but really it would have been better to have all three in the last half since that’s when the temperatures start to get you (though it would have been better still to just have more stations). Even then, the water bottles were tiny and pre-opened, so you couldn’t carry one with you because it would splash everywhere. I took water at the ~15km station, had a few glugs and threw the rest over my head… and then I was on my own for the next 6km. They gave out one bottle of water at the end, and people asking for more were told no! Supposedly they’d made adjustments for the weather but I’m at a loss as to what those were, other than sending an email reminding us to drink more the day before (very helpful, thanks).

Between that, the August date and the hills, I’m not sure I’d run this one again. I don’t really see the point of running such a hilly route over HM distance. It’s hard to train for and it’s not like you can run a good time on it anyway. I think I’d only do this one again as an easy effort training run for a flatter HM a bit later in the year.

I’m glad I didn’t push it though. A lady I don’t-know-but-recognise from Parkrun collapsed a few kilometres from the end (she’s OK now), and she’s a very strong and experienced runner.

Also, my ears blocked up about half way around. By the end I was largely deaf, apart from a very loud, bassy pounding in my ear every footstep… not ideal. It took a few hours for them to unblock. Not sure if that’s some kind of dehydration effect or hayfever or what. It’s never happened before…. (edit: Google says dehydration).

Urgh, heat

I can’t believe there is another heatwave! I have a half marathon on Sunday and the weather forecast is pretty grim, by which I mean glorious sunshine. A few weeks ago I was feeling very confident, now there’s a little part of me hoping they’ll cancel it (doubtful though, they’re not going to want to refund everyone). It’s not just the heat on the day, it’s the heat from now until the day as well. We have five consecutive days over 30 C, which is going to interfere with my sleep and generally fatigue me. It’s a bit frustrating because I think I’m in PB shape. Even so, the course is a bit hilly, so I wasn’t really expecting a PB. I think pushing for one given the heat could be quite dangerous, literally. So I won’t. You can get away with doing stupid things on a 5k and even a 10k but there’s a lot that can go wrong on a half marathon. I’ve done my long training runs at anywhere between a 4:45 and 5:00/km pace but I can’t really see me improving much if at all on that in the heat. The main thing is to start off conservatively and then speed up if possible, which is much more pleasant than the other way around.

In other news I had my salary review and my salary has been bumped up by a number that is quite big but less than inflation. I didn’t feel particularly strongly about this either way, but I think I am going to look for something else in the coming months. I’m not in a rush, I’m just a bit bored and a bit frustrated. In the last few days I’ve been annoyed by both my manager and the managing director. The MD has sent me some silly sarcastic emails that made me roll my eyes, and the reason he resorted to sarcasm was because he doesn’t know much about the concepts we were discussing. My manager annoys me because he goes poking around in databases and editing data here and there and then getting surprised when things don’t work properly. I don’t know what he’s expecting 🤷‍♂️ In November I will have been here for three years, so that’s probably a good time to think about broadening my experience.

Update: I’ve now just had another call with my manager, because the customer is complaining that their data is missing… because he has been fiddling around in the database and deleted it 😳

Runner’s knee 😠

After a few weeks of relatively heavy running load… I have runner’s knee 🤦‍♂️. Which is to say a vague ache around the kneecap. I don’t think I’ve ever had this before. My hip and hamstring had been tight for a week or so, so that’s probably what caused it, along with high volume. I did intervals on Wednesday (3x1km, 2x400m, 4x200m) which felt OK while I was running but on the dog walk later I could feel some pressure around the kneecap so I haven’t run since. I bought some resistance bands and have been doing lateral walks and monster walks all round the house to work my hips, so I’m hoping that will fix it. It feels OK again now, except it was a tiny bit achy when I woke up this morning. I’ll try a few kilometres later and see how it feels…

The Conservative leadership election! Is it just me or do the candidates seem a bit… low quality? And there are so many of them! We have Sunak, who raised taxes during a period of high inflation, while his wife was using non-domiciled status to avoid taxes. Oh and he also broke the law while chancellor, and he’s campaigning on a ticket of fixing the economy… despite being in charge of the economy for the last few years 😕. He has strong backing within the party 😕😕😕, which I can only infer is the result of widespread substance abuse in Westminster. Javid has previously avoided taxes by claiming non-dom status. Zawahi is currently under investigation over his tax arrangements. Then we’ve got Hunt whose entire thing is standing at the side trying to look like the adult in the room, rather than doing anything to prove that he is – remember how that worked out with Theresa May? Braverman seems to think the right to be horrible to trans people is the most pressing political issue of our time, which I find completely baffling because a) it’s really nasty, and b) it’s a total fringe issue that affects so few people. Grant Shapps somehow managed to be the only candidate to say something sensible on the trans matter (“I don’t think it’s important, let people live their lives”) but he has rather a dubious history in other matters. And then finally Liz Truss just comes across as a simpleton.

They go through multiple rounds of MPs voting until there’s only two left, then it goes to the membership, who tend to have substantially different (read: more insane) opinions than MPs. It looks like it’ll be Rishi Sunak vs someone else, and I think it’s fairly likely that Rishi will lose because he’s not insane. I hope it’s not Braverman.

Results

Running is definitely improving a lot now. My Parkrun times are consistently sub 21 in the last few weeks and they are feeling reasonably comfortable (for high effort, at least). Last weekend I ran a 13km race on Sunday and came in at 58:30. I paced it horribly and set off way too fast over a a hilly route that I hadn’t tapered for, so I was very pleased at keeping a solid 4:30/km pace over that distance.

I’m starting do to a bit more speed work now to try bring my Parkrun times down. Last week I did 3x1km repeats but I think I need shorter intervals too. Over a shorter interval you can get your speed up much higher, which means your legs turn over faster with a longer stride length. That’s what speed is – how long your stride length is and how many strides you’re taking per second. I think 1km intervals are too long to work on pushing those things. This week I’m going to try the 3x1km then after a few minutes rest I’ll do 2x400m then 4x200m. Let’s see how that goes…

The bad news is my foot (neuroma?) has been twinging a little bit yesterday but I think it’s just that my calf gets tight. It was kind of tingling yesterday morning like someone was prodding it gently with a needle, but then I stood up and realised my ankle was quite stiff in that way that it relaxes pretty quickly when you stretch it. I went to a physio about this last year and he recommended lots of calf stretching because he thought my windlass mechanism wasn’t working properly due to calf tightness and I was overpronating as a result. He also thought I didn’t actually have a neuroma, though I do get neurological symptoms so the distinction is a bit academic at the moment. Well, I was overpronating on that side and I could see it from the wear under the big toe on the insole in my running shoes. In my current shoes I’ve run about 500km and there’s no obvious wear, probably because I’ve been stretching a lot. Though the left calf is still a lot weaker than the right and it tends to cramp after about 25 calf raises. So I need to be a little careful but I think it’s manageable.

In other news… Goodness me, finances! So, inflation is crazy. And July is salary review time. Somehow I just can’t see my employer matching inflation, and if not, I won’t be able to shake the perception that I’m moving backwards by taking a pay cut. I flicked on the “open to offers” thing on LinkedIn yesterday and I’ve received about 25 messages from recruiters since then. Quite a few of those are junk, but even so, there’s no reason to accept sub-inflation pay adjustments.

To be honest though I hate interviewing, and now I have Monty I have less free time because he needs so much supervision. It is like having a baby, really. Yesterday on Hacker News there was a thread from someone who said they were struggling to recruiter senior developers and listed their interview process. It had three actual talking-to-people interview stages plus a “4 hour” take home test (which in reality could be anywhere from 2 hours to several days). Everyone in the comments was pointing out how silly this was for people with responsibilities outside of work. But that’s the minefield of interviewing and it’s what puts me off.

Not anaemic

It turns out that my iron levels are fine. Haemoglobin is 139 g/L and serum ferritin is 74 ng/mL. The haemoglobin reading is subject to ‘sports anaemia’ which is when your haemoglobin concentration reading is a bit lower because you really have more plasma, not because you actually have less haemoglobin. Or something. There is a lot of disagreement about what a low ferritin level is, some people say 10-15, some 20, some people say that under 50 is going to impact athletic performance. But 74 is good. That’s the highest it’s ever been on a blood test.

So really, I have no excuse for my rubbish running performance lately. Since I started running after work my average easy paces have improved though. Then last week on Parkrun I ran 21:15 and this week I ran 20:55, which is a post-lockdown PB and the first time post-lockdown I’ve gone sub 21. I pretty much just threw myself at it straight from the start. I usually try to run even or negative splits but sometimes I think you just need to go out faster than comfortable and then just try to hang on when it starts getting tough. Then next week you’ll probably be able to go a bit longer before you start questioning all your life choices that led you up to the point of wanting to die somewhere in the third kilometre of a 5km run. It also helps to have a running nemesis who is slightly faster than you. Next step: sub 20?

I have to be a little bit careful with this though because I spent all of Tuesday last week feeling slightly tired, slightly irritable and slightly hungry and I’m pretty sure it was just from running a bit further and a bit faster than usual last weekend and Monday.

So I think the reason I was feeling tired before was actually just because I have a crazy adolescent dog.

Progress

Despite my lacklustre half marathon performance on Sunday and my suspicion that I might need to take some time off for my hip, I ran down to the doctors yesterday to enquire about my blood test. It turns out that blood test forms expire after 3 months, so the one I had from last August was definitely out. So I have booked a GP appointment (again!) in a couple of weeks and I’ll see about getting another one, and actually having it done this time. Of course by the time it happens I’ll have been on iron tablets for four weeks, but I’ll just have to tell them that when they interpret the results.

So overall, going into the surgery worked a lot better than trying to phone them up. A few years ago I booked a lot of appointments over a period of about 12 months, and usually I would just do it at work by disappearing into the corridor for a couple of minutes. Or I could use the online booking… which is now disabled “because of COVID” (?????). Whereas now it’s at least 30 minutes on hold. I could understand if they had a GP shortage and couldn’t provide enough appointments, because a GP shortage is a hard problem to solve. But I am pretty sure that a shortage of people to answer the phones is not a hard problem to solve. This has been going on for a couple of years now, and every so often the local newspaper picks up on it and prints a scathing article… and nothing changes.

Anyway the running was OK. I was achy but that’s hardly surprising. Then today I went out again and did a 10km tempo, which was neither terrible nor great. My pace was a bit faster than the HM on Sunday, and it was really hot and I’m probably not recovered from Sunday yet, so overall it wasn’t bad, but my energy levels dipped quite a lot around the 8km mark.

I’ve been off work this week so I’ve been entertaining Monty. I took him to the town centre on Tuesday and sat in the square with a drink while he watched everyone walk past. Today we went into a dog friendly cafe and had a drink. He was quite stressed, or maybe just really excited. He was whimpering a bit to start with so I had him sat in my lap and I could feel him panting heavily almost the whole time. It’s funny how he’s so confident and boisterous in his comfort zone, but as soon as you put him in a new situation he’s quite timid. Before we got him, I had no idea dogs could be so expressive with the sounds they make.

HM

It turned out that 1:40 wasn’t realistic, and I came in with 1:47. There were some tough hills and my hip started tightening up on the first one, so it wasn’t ideal. But I mostly enjoyed it and I’m not too bothered about the time.

…but the time is a bit of a wake up call that I’m a lot slower than I was a few years ago. 3 years ago I ran a very similar course in 1:32 on roughly the same weekly mileage in training. Plus I did 1:53 on an even harder course last year with virtually no training (which was horrible, but that’s beside the point). So what’s going on here?

I’ve been thinking about it and there is a big difference in now versus then. I used to run most of my miles straight after getting home from work, whereas now I do it first thing in the morning before breakfast. I find running first thing tough and I struggle to hit paces on workout runs that I can hold easily a few hours later in the day. I think this is why my muscles today feel wrecked. Even though I’m putting in the physical effort, my muscles just aren’t being made to work that fast in training runs and they’re not used to going through as wide a range of motion. So I’m going to go back to running later. Something tells me I won’t miss dragging myself round the park at 7AM.

There’s also the issue of iron levels but unfortunately my local GP practice is no longer set up to let people access healthcare 😕 I have a blood test form from last August but I don’t know if 1) it’s still valid, 2) I can still get it done walk-in at the hospital like I used to (I don’t think I still can because of COVID), and if not it means I need an appointment at my GP, which means spending 40+ minutes waiting in a queue on the phone… which I need to do anyway to ask. Actually I’ll probably spend that 40 minutes walking there and back to ask in person. At least that’s more enjoyable than sitting on hold.

Parkies 🌳

I have a half marathon in three weeks and I’m feeling…. quietly confident? Training seems to have come together as well as it could have. The last one I did was in August and it was a bit of a disaster, but this time I’ve been running 16-18ks on Sundays for the past few months, intervals or hills once a week and parkrun tempo runs on Saturdays, so I’m probably in pretty good shape. Not as good as a few years ago, but maybe 1:40? 1:35 would be amazing but probably not. 1:40 is a 4:45 per km pace which is about 45s faster than I’m doing my long (comfortably) slow runs so it sounds achievable. I can feel my left calf is a bit tight but not worryingly so and my right hip has been tight too but I think the foam roller will sort that out.

Sundays are long run day and I usually manage to time it so I’m getting through the park just before they’re starting Junior Parkrun, but today my timing was not so good and I got accosted by one of the marshals… “Hey, I saw you yesterday? You looked like you were doing well? what was your time?”, so I stopped to speak to him and he proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes telling me his entire life history, including but not limited to: he used to run 21 minute 5ks but then he gained two stone and now he does 28 minutes, when he was younger he used to be really lazy but he’d always run up stairs “it must be something autistic in me that makes me want to run up stairs” (umm, ok 🤔). His daughter used to be the fastest runner of her age in the county but then she put on weight and now she runs 30 minute 5ks (hmmm), he runs as fast as elite runners up hills because hills just don’t bother him (hmmm), he doesn’t use a watch for running but he always know exactly how fast he’s running down to within a few seconds of his mile pace (hmmm), he decided to start doing triathlons a few years ago and the swimming turned out OK because he had strong shoulders from playing rugby and was coached by the former head coach of the British Commonwealth Swimming Team something or other (hmmm)…. and so it went on. Anyway after about 10 minutes of this I was starting to feel really cold so I made my excuses and left, but I’ll probably see him again at Parkrun next week 😕

Life and stuff

I don’t seem to have done very well with running lately. Actually that’s not entirely true. Two weeks ago I set a post-lockdown Parkrun PB, which I was pleased with (but still over a minute off my pre-lockdown PB!). But in general I feel slow and achy. My hip/groin has been bothering me for a while and last week I somehow strained both hamstrings a few days apart such that they really tightened up and made the back of my knees feel stiff. The groin issue has been getting quite painful at the weekends, with doing a fast Parkrun Saturday mornings and then about 18km on Sundays. The Sunday runs are generally a bit awful, my legs feel like they don’t want to move properly and I get achy in the front of my hips and groin by the end.

Last week I possibly made a breakthrough when I realised that the groin pain is actually groin pain rather than abdominal pain and it hurts when I stretch my adductors. My left adductor was in a real state and I could barely move my leg towards the right across the front of my body. So I keep stretching it and I keep doing cossack squats when I’m at my standing desk, and slowly but surely it hurts a little bit less to stretch. Will that translate to less running pain? We shall see, but I feel optimistic. Will it translate to becoming faster and being in better shape? Doubtful, but maybe.


My sister went to a Ukraine protest at the weekend. It seems kind of pointless to protest against Russia in the UK, but anyway, she did, because she was accompanying her Ukranian friend. The friend was born in and grew up in Kyiv and is very upset about it. I don’t really know what the right thing to do about it all is. People say that direct military intervention would trigger nuclear apocalypse but I think that’s a little bit hysterical. I imagine that a lot of western governments are very pleased that we are weakening the supposed superpower Russia and all we have to do is keep pushing weapons into Ukraine and they’ll sort it out for us, but is that ethical? It’s the Ukranian civilians who are really paying for it and they’d be in a much better position if there were western troops in there.

Every few days a news article pops up about how you can phone Russia or send them emails or text messages and explain to an average Russian citizen what’s going on, but I think that’s pointless at best. Imagine if you got phoned up by someone with a thick accent speaking broken English trying to convince you that he had special insight into your domestic politics. You’d say “errr” and hang up. I used to work with a Russian lady around the time that Russia invaded Ukraine the first time around in 2014 and despite living in the UK she was completely hyped up on Russian nationalism and propaganda. I’m not sure that average Russians are going to be as sympathetic to western messaging as you think…

The whole thing is desperately sad and horrifying.

Groom

He went to the groomers yesterday, for the first time. I think he’s feeling cute.

He went in looking a bit shaggy, and he came out looking like a giant bundle of fluff. She’s trimmed the hair on his face but left the length the same on the top of his head, so combined with the blow dry he ended up looking very 80s for a while. She also trimmed the fur around his paws so he looks kind of like he’s trotting around on tip toes. It’s not exactly what I was expecting… But he does look cute!

I don’t think I ever posted an update on my standing desk. I’ve been trying to keep a routine in my work day, which starts off with a run and then shower and breakfast, then a few hours standing at my desk. I like to stand first thing because I’m trying not to let things seize up after running. Then I try to stand again for a while after lunch and for the last part of the day. The non standing periods are sitting in the living room with my laptop to keep an eye on Monty, sat at the desk, or lying on my bed with my laptop depending on how tired I am.

The main things I found are:

  1. It didn’t really help my hip at all, but I worked out that my hip feels a lot better if I stretch my hamstrings. If I feel that annoying ache in my hip then usually a few minutes of hamstring stretching sorts it out. This seems slightly bizarre since the hamstrings are at the back and the ache was at the front and almost into my stomach, but anyway, that’s how it is.
  2. Standing is really tiring! At least to start with, I was feeling a lot more tired and hungry.
  3. Standing makes your bowels more active 😳