Coastal Classic: Entry is In

Coastal Classic 2015

Scenery-wise, the route is pretty average. Images from Maximum Adventure

I entered the Coastal Classic  today. I was the beneficiary of rain the weekend it was scheduled for and picked up a wait-list place from someone who can’t make the rescheduled date.The extra benefit of this is that the race is a qualifier for the Six Foot Track Marathon next year.

Since moving to Wollongong, I’ve looked at both these races and fancied doing them but not got my act together to be organised enough to enter or get a qualifier for either of them, so thank you cancelled Sydney Marathon plan and Illawarra rain.

The Coastal Classic is 29.1 km along the coast track from Otford to Bundeena, through the Royal National Park.

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I’ve cycled through the Park from Otford to Bundeena and I’m looking forward to taking the route along the coast this time. The course is overall downhill but there are a few significant climbs too. The largest of these coming right at the start. It’ll be interesting to see how well the quads handle things after that big downhill.

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The plan is to use the race to qualify for the 6 Foot Track Marathon and to do that I’ll need to run the 29.1 km course in 4h 15min or less. This works out at 8min 45sec/km. I’ve run a good bit faster than that over ultra-marathon distance before, so hopefully even with the small amount of training and very little of trails I’ve run recently it’s very do-able. It certainly feels more do-able than the Sydney Marathon qualifying time of 4h 20min that I was looking to do before getting bogged down in uni work and letting the training slip.

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I’ll also get to use some new bits of kit on the run. I received a Montane VIA trail vest from my parent s as a birthday parents and splurged on a new pair of Montrail shoes about the same time. So, all-in-all, lots to look forward to between new toys and a cracking trail.

montrail-bajada-ii_912_1_1326

Better Living Through Chemistry

Several weeks into my new medications and it’s fair to say the difference they’ve made is pretty profound. After almost 12 years of treatment, I seem to have managed to have finally arrived at some combination of drugs/exercise/circumstance that have me in a pretty good place. I don’t think it’s useful to go into what that combination is, just that after a lengthy process of iteration I’m now in a place where I have a working regime of medicine and supporting actions that are working for me.
I have a regular sleep/wake cycle. I couldn’t tell you when I last had one of those but suffice to say it’s deep into double-digit years since it has been a thing. I get up in the mornings and go for a run. Sometimes I don’t run and I get up and read or tidy the kitchen. Normal things that people who feel like sleep has actually done something for them do. The feeling of waking up in the morning and not wanting to immediately go back to sleep in the vain hope of being even slightly restored is amazing.
You’d have to ask Cazz and the kids but it even feels like my usual foul temper has abated to some degree. I’m not saintly by any means ut I can tolerate those minor irritations that would set me off in an irrational overreaction much better.
I’m not even particularly bitter about not getting to this point much sooner. I seem to be able to stay in the moment a lot better. Well at least not dwelling on the past, I still wander off in my thoughts to what’s coming up, but not in an anxious way, more like daydreaming.
So, since I’m in a good place I thought I’d make a record because there could be times when I need to remind myself that even after a long time of low mood it can still rise up. Who knows it might even help someone else to see that if you keep on trying different combinations you might come up with what works for you. You might have to fight a bit and get a bit shouty to get through to the services you need but sometimes, it turns out, if you push through they are there.

Foray into Aussie Politics – Closing the Gap

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So, in the long time since I posted there have been several votes of significance. Scotland stayed in the UK, the UK decided to go it alone from the EU, Australia got Abbott then Turnbull and then decided to stick with Turnbull.
In all of this, the thing that has struck me most palpably, now that I call it home is the inequity at the heart of Australia.
I’ve been literally struck dumb by the multiple inequalities facing Aboriginal Australians and this was brought home to me during the recent elections. I’m used to seeing Scotland as a minor footnote as far as Westminster is concerned but I was amazed that during the recent Federal elections that Aboriginal issues were almost completely absent from the debate.
So to use an Australian turn of phrase, it was basically giving me the shits and I wrote a letter to the PM to tell him.

Prime Minister,
After watching the ABC’s Q&A last Monday I was moved to write to you, as called for by Warren Mundine whilst he was talking about the rate of Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) in Indigenous communities. His call rekindled a latent need within me to do so on an issue which has troubled me since returning to Australia in 2013. Specifically, to call on you to do much, much more to achieve the goals of Closing the Gap

As a new resident of Australia, I have been appalled at what I have learned of the iniquitous situation of Aboriginal Australians. In my country of birth, I have been all too aware of social, health and wealth inequality but nowhere in the developed world have I seen such stark divides between the people of one race and the rest of a society. If the Australian government saw this situation being played out inside a neighbouring country or one of its close international partners it would surely decry the situation as one of institutional racism.

I have I have tried to inform myself about some of the many initiatives, local and national, that are supposed to ‘Close the Gap’ and I am staggered that so much money and effort is totally failing to achieve its stated outcomes in anything like an acceptable manner. Any such failure in other key policy areas, such as defence, health or education would not be tolerated and such a national disgrace would be wound down and an alternative program developed with great urgency.

Sir, the partisan nature of policy debate is an embarrassment and belittles both the office you hold and the institution of parliament and the people you serve. I implore you to dedicate you remaining term as Prime Minister to prosecuting what, despite your protestations on the economy, is surely the most critical issue facing Australia today

No society which allows such starkly racist inequality to exist within it can be truly fair, just, or prosperous, as we all suffer for the discrimination and no wealth, personal, corporate or national can be morally justifiable if it is achieved at the expense of an entire race of people.
I acknowledge the naivety of my suggestion, however, when the policy space becomes so narrow and partisan, sometimes it is necessary for members of the polity to stand up and make the arguments for justice for all of Australia’s peoples and to do so in clear and plain language.

• Make Closing the Gap meaningful: This annual piece of theatre has become nothing more than a parliamentary showpiece. It must become a forum where those responsible are held fully to account. Stricter targets and tighter timeframes have to be enforced. There must be real consequences if Governments and Agencies continue to perform poorly in this area. The rate, and sometimes lack of, progress is shameful. We are a rich and prosperous nation that has met significant challenges in the past. Bold politicians of the past have tied their nations to lofty ambitions that seemed impossible at the time. We should do so with Closing the Gap. The country needs to hear a bold an ambitious vision for the nation and it must come from the top
• We need some disruptive thinking on this issue. The current thinking and actions are clearly not working and the rate of success is too low and too slow when it does occur.
• The new parliament gives you a fantastic opportunity to break with the legacy of your immediate predecessor and begin again to engage anew with Australia’s first peoples. Use this opportunity to join with the leader of the opposition to introduce bi-partisan legislation that takes real, practical steps; for example, on trachoma reduction, tackling RHD, targeting resources at educational activities identified by empowered local communities and lowering incarceration rates

There are many more and many much better ideas within indigenous communities awaiting the encouragement to flourish. AS our Prime Minister we need to see you, in word and deed, put empowering these communities at the forefront of government policy for without that the fact that we have an otherwise prosperous and healthy nation means nothing when weighed against this stain on our collective consciousness.

Your Sincerely,

Al Marshall

Dumgoyne

I intended a slightly longer run taking in the West Highland Way on the return leg back to Strathblane. Unfortunately, I had a flare-up of a calf niggle that’s been troubling me of late so I thought it better to shorten things and just double back on myself. Dumgoyne’s not big but it’s plenty steep so a a nice way to get some hill work in this morning.

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Great views from up on top of the Campsies with clear skies giving a great 360 panoramas from the top of Dumgoyne and further over on Earl’s Seat.

Dumgoyne Stitch 1 Dumgoyne Stitch 2

I tried out the course feature on the Garmin 910 for the first time and it worked really well. I feel much happier about planning to use it for the Lakeland 50 now. Tried out a set of poles too. I really didn’t get on with them well at all but I’ll try them out on a few more runs before coming to any final conclusion whether to persist with them or not.

The new ultimate direction pack continues to impress but I’ll need to be mindful about taking some additional water carrying capacity if there’s limited access to streams or checkpoints as I’m likely to get through the two 1/2 litre bottles pretty quickly.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/324635051

Lakeland 50

I ran one ultra and one off-road marathon last year. At some point while training for these I thought it’d be a really great idea to do something longer, something more of a challenge. I attempted to sign up for the Lakeland 50 (http://www.lakeland100.com/) but there was a waiting list (which I put my name down on) and so I forgot about it. Last month the lovely people at the Lakeland 50 emailed and said there was a place available. ‘What the hell, why not’, I thought and took up their offer.

Admittedly, I had only run twice in the 6 weeks leading up to the offer and I’d had two periods of really bad health totalling about 3 months since the last time I’d run long. Oh, and I’d decided to cancel my entry to 2 other ultra-distance events because I had been feeling crappy. That day I decided this would be a ‘good idea’.

A week or so earlier I’d volunteered, at about 12 hours notice, to run a relay leg of the Highland Fling, one of the events I’d intended to run solo and bailed on months previously. I had a fantastic day and I felt great about it in all sorts of ways that triathlon wasn’t doing it for me at the time. So I checked in with Cazz, signed up and have been getting more and more excited about it since.

The race is about 7 weeks away now and I’ve managed to get up to 60km + each week so far without breaking myself too badly. This represents something of a minor miracle for myself, when I think that I spent most of the time between the ages of 15 and 30 managing a seemingly never-ending series of knee, shin and hip injuries whilst playing hockey.

This week I’m hoping to build on this base and take things a bit further and add in some extra vertical metres. and that’s what’s worrying me most, the vertical. Whilst the distance itself is daunting 50 miles (83km), the 9,728ft (2965m) will be what causes me the most bother. Even after last year’s training, at 85kg (on a good day), gravity is not my friend in these type of events. So, with that in mind, this week’s planned long run looks like coming in at about 30km and looks like there’ll be around 1000m of vertical.

I’ll also be trying out the new pack from Ultimate Direction (http://www.ultimatedirection.com/p-601-sj-ultra-vest.aspx), continuing to work on my nutrition and hydration and perhaps trying out a set of poles – every days’s a school day.

Ctrl, Alt, Delete

Well this year’s grand plans to get back racing have crashed and burned and it’s time to reboot and start again.  March has been a total right-off as far as training has gone. I’ve had a nasty throat infection that managed the neat trick of becoming an all-consuming sinus/ear/throat/chest infection. So not only have I missed a month’s worth of training I’ve also managed to go considerably backwards  in terms of fitness and will be off training for a wee while yet. And as far as swimming is concerned this could be even longer whilst a perforated ear drum resulting from the infection heals up.

This week should’ve seen me take part in the Stirling Duathlon. I did the sprint distance a couple of years back and really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to having a run out on my new bike at this year’s championship race. I was hoping to use this to help me gauge where I was and tweak my training in the lead in to the Chester Deva Triathlon in June.

Well that’s not happening any more  s, what to do? Well obviously I’m managing to be suitably sulky and grumpy but how about trying to get some positives out of this?

  • Reset this year’s goals
  • Look at what went wrong in the run up to getting ill
  • Buy more triathlon stuff on the internet (this will make me faster even though I can’t train, honest)

So the plan now is to concentrate on the British Championships race in Liverpool 6 weeks after Deva. Deva is now scheduled to be in a heavy block of training and a week after a 10k race on the Mull of Kintyre. Hopefully these do the job of some quality breakthrough session in the run in to Liverpool. Hopefully I’ll have a good run-out at Liverpool and then take a look at what to include later in the year. For now I’m thinking probably Gullane and maybe Aberfeldy Middle Distance which I’ve only done once, back in 2009

I’ve also used Training Peaks to go back over my training in the weeks before getting the infection. From looking at the Training Stress Scores and Training Stress Balance metrics it provides it looks like I was overdoing things with intervals on the turbo; so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the numbers when I get back to training and backing off early as a precaution when necessary. hopefully this will allow me to get the consistency of training required by reigning back a bit from volume or intensity as a preventative measure.

So, a slightly different focus to the year after a slightly delayed start but perhaps better to stop and re-assess things now than blowing up a week or two away from the year’s main aims.

Mindfullness

cycle that’s not stopping

Some of you reading this might know that I have depression. I’ve cycled through periods of deep lows back to a level where I function pretty well on a day-to-day basis for a long time now. These typically follow a pretty familiar pattern which I’ve tried to capture in at the end of the post.

I’ve worked hard to try to stay well now for a number of years and I’ve tried various treatments both on their own and in combination to do this. I’ve not found one thing that, on its own, seems to work but I know that I need to do the following to stay functional.

  • Have a regular sleep pattern
  • Exercise for at least 1 hr a day
  • Stick with my medication

I don’t say well, because even doing this I don’t feel at all like I’m firing on all cylinders. Also, I struggle with all three of these, particularly keeping a regular routine, so as well as doing all of these things I need something that will help me to do them in the first place.

So what next?

Well ,in the past, one thing that I’ve tried and found helpful has been Mindfulness meditation. So for the next eight weeks, at least, I’m setting myself the task of sticking with a Mindfulness programme.

The evidence seems to show that mindfulness can make a real difference, both physically and mentally. I have tried this for a brief period before as part of a set of group sessions. However once the sessions and support finished I didn’t manage to keep it up on a regular basis and gradually stopped altogether. So, this time around why do I think it’ll be any different? Well for one, I’m writing about it; I hope this will have a similar effect that signing up for a race and having to train for it has. I also hope that by taking things at my own pace rather than trying to achieve a lot in a relatively small and time limited number of sessions that I’m able to give each progression the time it needs.

The plan is to try to do each week’s practices at least 6 days out of 7 and only move on to a new week’s set of practices if I manage this. Each week I intend to recap and review how the mindfulness practices have gone for my own benefit but also for anybody else who might be thinking of trying this approach.

So Week 1 starts today and concentrates on becoming aware of the autopilot. Practices will include; eating raisins, breathing exercises, deliberate (but small) changes to break up an everyday routine and doing one or two everyday tasks mindfully. All of this shouldn’t take up more than 20-30 minutes a day and seems like a pretty reasonable investment of my time.

Hopefully next week I’ll manage to pull some thoughts together on how it’s going.

A personal take on depression

Each time I start to feel down I have the same familiar physical sensations of anxiety. These cause me to pause and reflect and I can usually look back over the months preceding this to see that I’ve been distracted, sleeping poorly and usually fairly run down. If I’m lucky I ride this out; it’s just a wee blip and I get back to trundling along fairly reasonably. If I’m not lucky, my mind gets to work on solving the ‘problem’ of why I’m down. It goes into an intensely logical state and analyses all it can to try and think my way out of this. The stream of, ultimately unhelpful, thoughts are constant; hyper-critical, self-absorbed, anxious and mildly paranoid. They shoot off tangentially to new avenues of inquiry all too frequently. I can’t focus or get even simple tasks done, which I then add to the list of failures and frustrations, and I get angry, agitated and more down on myself and everyone else.

Usually I can keep this in check. It stays internal, I fight it and quite often I win. Sometimes though I only think I’m winning and instead it’s gradually chipping away at me. Then it can be something small, apparently inconsequential, and not usually making any sense to anyone else, that floors me. In the past it’s been a regular meeting, a disagreement with someone and once even (and I kid you not) a failed attempt to wrap a sandwich in cling-film. That’s all it takes to finally break. It doesn’t seem much but really it’s the accumulation of countless of tiny self-criticisms and undermining thoughts. leading up to that point that does it.

Up until now I’ll have been depressed and anxious though outwardly appearing functional and pretty normal but when this hits I can’t function. The world becomes too busy, noisy, scary and unwelcoming a place. I can’t think. Even simple tasks will be beyond me.  It feels like a huge pulse of unwanted negative emotion. It feels extremely intense but usually doesn’t last at that level for all that long. Afterwards I’m left with a crushing low that’s experienced as a physical sensation as much as felt in the mind. It exhausts me and my brain feels sensitive, raw. I am left with no resilience and submit to the depression I can’t fight off any more.

I’m lucky, I’ve always managed to come back from this place. Sometimes it taken longer than others but every time, even if its only just fleetingly, I worry that I might not get well again.

So that’s what’s appealing about the mindfulness. It’s about looking for a release from that worrying and finding an acceptance about how I am at any given moment.