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 😳

100!

I did my 100th Parkrun this last weekend. I ran another post lockdown PB, beating my time two weeks ago by one second!

My knee is kind of ehh. It was fine after parkrun, but I also ran today and it wasn’t great. The problem now is that I have been stretching a lot, because my quads were very tight, and I’m not really sure exactly what I’m feeling. Like I’m pretty sure that a lot of the discomfort now is actually just above my knee in the quads, maybe the tendon, and that’s ok because it’s probably just the effects of stretching. Some of it seems to be down the side, probably the IT band, which isn’t really ideal, but is better than the kneecap.

I have a half marathon in four weeks and I’ve missed one long run now so I’m feeling a bit antsy about that. I’m aiming to do the next one on Wednesday, so I’ve got a couple of days to get it recovered and feeling stronger. But these muscle imbalance injuries can drag on at a low level for a long time. I might try ordering a knee brace…

The weather is supposed to be pretty ridiculous for the next two days. I’ve never known it go past maybe 33 degrees here, and yet we’re forecasting two days of 38. So I have no urge whatsoever to run in that heat.

Monty is going to hate the heat, but at least he’s been to the groomers recently. We took him out this morning for what will probably be his last long walk until Wednesday and met a slightly odd man who became very disapproving when he learnt that Monty is a cockapoo, not a poodle, and wanted us to justify our decision to get a cockapoo instead of a poodle and started on a diatribe about purebred dogs going extinct because of ‘fashion’.

Hmm, well, though it pains me to agree with him, poodles are amazing and maybe one day in the future…. But wait a minute here, purebreeding has its own set of ethical issues and I’m not sure you can really claim a moral high ground over supporting a eugenics program. And anyway, I’m just here to walk my little guy, not to be told his existence is an affront to nature. I will definitely be avoiding him in future.

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.

Just things

I had a weird email the other day sending me an invoice for an unpaid tenancy from a few years ago. Usually this kind of thing is just spam or has been sent to the wrong person, but, bizarrely, this one was addressed to my full name including my middle name which has a slightly unusual spelling. Plus it seemed to have been sent by a real company. I was a bit worried by that, because it looked a bit like identity theft and the last thing I need is a debt collector turning up. But it turns out that there is someone else with my full name! And I know this because it was published online that they were declared bankrupt around the same time that the tenancy ended, and their address given was close to the address of the property in question. How strange!

I had a very vivid dream last night about a woman I used to work with. She passed me in the street and I recognised her but ignored her. She did the same thing but I turned around to look back at her and saw she was staring at me. Anyway, some fuzzy dream events later, we were talking and apparently she had been married twice in the few years since I left that job, and her surname was now Pope. I don’t think this is important, but that’s the name my dream brain chose. I was slightly unimpressed by this especially as she was now taking an interest in me. My very practical dream self was a bit nonplussed about this and decided that I probably shouldn’t become involved with someone who remarries so often (as if that’s the only issue here). So I spent the rest of the dream trying to avoid her. Then I woke up at 4 o clock thinking it was real. And then I spent probably about half an hour frustratedly trying to remember what her real surname is, because it’s definitely not Pope and it was annoying me. I remembered in the end.

I think I sleep worse at the moment because it’s quite light and warm. But maybe also because of running later in the day. I do my weekly long run on Mondays now because it’s easier to fit it in around Monty duty than on the weekend. So I don’t seem to sleep too well on Monday nights. Yesterday I did 17km and according to Strava it was my second fastest 10 mile and 15km, not that I felt like I was really pushing. Today I felt a bit drained but dragged myself out for 9km this afternoon…. And it was terrible. My heart rate stayed low but I had no energy and no power in my legs at all. I think I need to eat more after the long runs. I don’t think I’ll be doing intervals this week.

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.

Energy

I started running after work this week and it actually does feel a lot better! I’m running faster and further with what feels like the same effort. And I don’t know if it’s because of not running in the morning or because I’ve been taking iron for about 3 weeks now, but I’ve been feeling a lot less tired this week, particularly in the afternoons. I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t for work then I’d have been having frequent post lunch naps for a few months now.

So I’m pleased about this and I’m hoping that my Parkrun times start moving in the right direction… It was a bit underwhelming today, but it was quite hot this morning and I really, really wasn’t feeling it when I started my warm up before hand.

I’ve also been reading up more on iron. The problem with iron isn’t eating it, it’s absorbing it. I already knew that things like tea, coffee, dairy, etc lower absorption. I was also vaguely aware that running is bad for iron levels because the physical impact destroys red blood cells. But what I didn’t know was that workouts cause the release of something called hepcidin, which lowers iron absorption. The hepcidin levels are highest around 3-6 hours after a workout. So on top of dietary iron blockers, you also have to time iron intake around this.

Anyway I have my doctor’s appointment on Tuesday so hopefully I’ll get a blood test to see exactly what my iron levels are.

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.