Back on the horse – so to speak.

By now most of you would have read my running ramblings on, well, running. And you’ve probably had a giggle or three at my expense. That’s ok! I exist only to entertain, or as an automatic teller machine for my children 🙂

Today though instead of dodging doggy doo and the usual shelob shenanigans, I though I would share something a little different – Injury.Injury

In August 2012 I was running between 30 and 40 kilometres per week. I had completed my first ever City to Surf at my fastest ever time per kilometre. My weight was a comfortable 82 kilograms and I was feeling fantastic. Then it all fell apart.

Injury 1: Calf Muscle Calamity.

In early September that year I was running through Port Meadow, just outside of Oxford in the UK, when I stepped in a divot and hurt my leg. I tried to run through it but the pain was too much, so we settled down at the Trout Inn for a couple of pints and an ice pack. The bar staff teased me mercilessly, but kept the amber fluid flowing so I didn’t really care. A few days later I hobbled out for a slow jaunt around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It was stupid, but there was no way I was going all the way to London and not take in a run. Abbey Road, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, too much to see and do. Injuries were sent packing, but when I got off the plane in Sydney they were waiting for me with reinforcements.

My Achilles tendon was damaged and, by pushing myself, I had strained my calf muscle. Diagnosis – several months to heal. Bugger!

So I spent the summer playing with the kids and taking it easy on my leg. We bodysurfed, jumped off jetties, rode waterslides, raised chickens and BBQ’d every day. Sunburn was inevitable as were mosquito bites, but it was a brilliant summer of relative inactivity. As the leaves began changing colour I began running again and by May I was on track to return to my pre-Oxford state. My leg nagged me a little, but it wasn’t anything to really worry about. Then it all fell apart again.

Injury 2: Nerve Wracking Neck

Cervical VertebraeWhilst moving house in May 2013 I managed to wrench the nerves in my neck. The resulting disc bulge between vertebrae 5 and 6 in my cervical spine caused numbness and strange pain sensations down my left arm and into my hand. My triceps ache as if I have just undergone a strenuous workout. My forearm is painful to the touch and my thumb feels as though it is recovering from a severe burn. There is no damage to my arm whatsoever, but my nerves think that there is and the feeling is surreal.

Exercise was out of the question. Wii bowling and PS3 Rugby League were the only sports I could play, and even that was limited to short bursts before my neck gave up on me. In spite of the fact that muscular definition was still there, my left arm could scarcely hold up my iPhone. Brushing my teeth was a chore and carrying my kids was impossible.

Eventually, thanks largely to a brilliant physiotherapist, opioid analgesics gave way to paracetamol and I was able to walk without wincing at every step.  Finally, thirteen months after my initial injury, I am back pounding the pavement.

My weight has gone up – I hate that.

My fitness level has gone down – I hate that too.

But I am back on the horse now and hoping its not headed for the glue factory.

My Friend Fraser

There is a common aphorism that simply states, ‘there are no friends in business’.  I have no idea who to credit the quotation too, nor am I going to argue its merits. Instead I would like to tell you about an exception to this ‘rule’.

Several years ago I was running my own company and one of the products we specialized in was a range of software for magazine and newspaper publishers. It was a fantastic solution, still is in fact, but it was new to the market place and needed quick traction in order to succeed. With that in mind I targeted the three biggest magazine publishers in Australia, a task that would involve frequent demonstrations, lengthy proposals and the bashing of my head against a solid brick wall of negativity.

Ah, the joys of being a sales representative 🙂

I hate cold calling! All sales people do. Show me someone who likes it, and I’ll show you someone in need of a visit to the loony bin. But in this instance I had no choice and eventually my constant chipping away at the stone wall called ‘NO’ lead to an introduction to an enigma named Fraser Crozier.

Fraser and Andrew Lomas in Berlin

Andrew Lomas and Fraser Crozier at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin

Fraser was larger than life. A giant man both in stature and personality, with a goatee like a rebel biker, a smile wider than the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and a laugh as wicked as any evil comedian. Fraser’s work persona was balanced by an intimidating knowledge of publishing software and a gentle kindness when explaining said processes to those that were not up to his level.

At first he frightened me. Not literally of course, but I was never confident in conveying my sales pitch to him purely because he knew more about my product than I did. Fraser surrounded himself with other brilliant minds and guarded his domain with the tenacity of one of Tolkien’s dwarves. He was a terrible target for cold calling and in the early days of our friendship I had to psyche myself up just to make another attempt to get through.

Fraser had a strong pre-press background, which is the same industry I had come through. As a result I knew many of the people he had worked with in the past and had done business with some of the companies who had employed him. With common ground established Fraser formed a strong friendship with myself, and my two business partners. We worked closely together and produced some incredible solutions, but more importantly we socialized together and shared some marvelous memories.

One of my fondest was the conference we attended together in Spain in 2007 with my business partner Andrew Lomas. Our hotel was a health spa on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and although the days were occupied in obtaining product knowledge, the evenings were spent drinking Tanqueray gin, sampling the various tapas restaurants in the backstreets of Calafell Village, and generally partaking in many other ‘unhealthy’ activities.

Fraser, Andrew and I solved the problems of the world during this trip, built ethereal publishing solutions that would make millions, argued about the vocal range of Billy Joel, laughed at the improbable antics of fellow conference attendees, and enjoyed each other’s company. By the time we returned to Australia a strong bond of friendship had been established.

In the years that followed dinner parties, Christmas parties, birthday parties and any other excuse to share a meal were easily and frequently found. Fraser helped us build our business, shared in our successes and generally became ‘one of the family’. He had truly transcended the boundary between client and friend.

Fraser Crozier passed away on Sunday 7th July 2013, 21 days shy of his 43rd birthday. Cancer is such an arbitrary disease.

The magazine publishing community mourns an industry gentleman, but I grieve for a friend taken way too soon.

Rest in Peace.

Fraser Crozier

Inner City Oink

I’ve written before about the pneuma of the urban dweller. Smokers desperately inhaling their last puff of poison before boarding the train to work. Boofheads going nun-bowling and smelly swearing students show boating in front of schoolgirls. That’s all part and parcel of life in the big city and it provides a vibrant backdrop for the upcoming eight hours of mundane office work most people endure. Public transport however, is not the only place in Sydney inhabited by ‘colourful’ characters.

I like to go for a run in the mornings and, whilst my usual route crosses some unpleasant roads, the overall experience is generally peaceful and serene. Today however was a little different.

Wyndham Street in Alexandria is a busy thoroughfare of commuter vehicles, buses and trucks heading for the fringe of the city and the north. From 6:00am onwards there is a steady stream of carbon monoxide belching from blackened exhausts and a cacophony of horns honking for no apparent reason. It’s enough to make you sick – literally. In the midst of this motorised chaos was a cyclist, weaving in and out of traffic, with headphones in his ears and no helmet on his head. Was he drunk, on drugs or just plain stupid – I don’t know. We call people like that ‘temporary Australians.’

A few minutes later I am jogging down Bourke Street in Waterloo and another cyclist almost cleans me up on the footpath. I ride a bike too and I don’t like battling for space with cars, so I understand the desire to get off the road. However, what you may not know dear reader is that the footpath I was on runs parallel to a purpose-built bike lane. Yes there is a lane dedicated to push bikes. Only push bikes! No cats, dogs, kids, cars, camels, goats or joggers are allowed on it. Just cyclists. Yet this fool figured he was better off bashing into pedestrians. Seriously fellow riders, it’s no wonder motorists hate us.

After a cursory spray of bad language from yours truly, which was met with a flippant flipping of the bird from the two-wheeled twat, I headed back towards Redfern Park. As I enjoyed a long cool drink from the bubbler I felt a dog snuffling around my feet. It’s a very family friendly park full of people and pets so I leaned down to give the little fellow a pat. But this weren’t no canine. Instead of a cute little puppy there was a huge black pig snorting and lapping at the water I had splashed onto the ground.

Pigs don’t scare me, but seeing one in the city is certainly a strange sight, especially one so at ease with humans all around. I plucked up some courage and gingerly touched his head. It was covered in thick bristly fur that felt more like a scrubbing-brush than the soft hair of a typical domesticated animal. His curly tailed wiggled. Suddenly high-pitched whistle shattered the serenity and Bacon Sandwich (or whatever his name was) oinked and shot off across the grass to play with his owner. He had a lead. He chased tennis balls. He wrestled with the other dogs. Clearly Porky was a pooch, or at least he thought he was. With a fat and happy hog frolicking in the fountain I headed home to shower and go to work.

The train ride was largely uneventful, until it began rattling its way out of Wynyard Station. A couple of girls, with foundation like Liquid Paper and teeth bleached beyond a whiter shade of pale, plopped their dainty derrieres in the chair opposite me and proceeded to critique my fellow passengers. With high-pitched squeaky voices and an annoying penchant for finishing their sentences with an inflection as if posing a question, where no question existed, these two little bimbos from Ella Baché squawked on about how grey hair makes you look old. Its called DISTINGUISHED ladies. Thankfully they got off at Milson’s Point and gave everyone’s ears a rest.

As I arrived at my destination I reflected on how my day had begun.

Out of the idiot, the ignoramus, the bimbos and the swine; piglet was the nicest person.

Pack Mentality

Apart from the obvious need to stay hydrated, one of the things that really gets drummed into you before a ‘fun run’ is not to start off too quickly. You have your own pace, your own comfort zone and your own technique, so don’t take off or you won’t make it.

It’s great advice however when you are part of a surging swarm of sweaty runners, buoyed by cheering fans and a flood of adrenalin coursing through your veins, it is almost impossible to follow.

My first foray into jogging for joy (sounds like a hippie commune sponsored by Gatorade) was the Blackmores Bridge Run. This was a simple 9km jaunt across the old coat hanger, around the Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair and finishing in Hyde Park. The gun went bang, my legs went boom and a little while later my lungs went pop. There’s probably a great photo of me somewhere, barfing up a kidney as I crossed the finish line. I hadn’t trained well enough and I paid the price. Lesson learned.

My next competitive outing was the Sydney Half Marathon. An apparently brutal race comprising over twenty one torturous kilometres through the streets of Sydney. I knew I could run this distance as I had done it many times before, so my confidence was high. As people all around me shot off like startled rabbits I remembered the rule and resisted the urge to emulate the Road Runner. Instead I held back, maintained a good pace with my running partner and as we turned the corner in the Domain, I had energy to spare. Unfortunately we had caught up to the group that started before us and had nowhere to go. I finished that race slightly faster that the Ugandan legend, Stephen Kiprotich. Of course he ran twice the distance, but why let facts get in the way of a good story 😉 My point is I had held back too much and failed to achieve my goal of breaking the two hour mark by one minute and one second. Lesson number two noted.

The City2Surf was my next opportunity to apply my recently acquired athletic education. Fourteen and a half kilometres from Hyde Park to Bondi Beach via the dreaded Heartbreak Hill. I had discovered how to dodge the slower runners and, thanks to my half marathon efforts, I had qualified for the faster group, so I decided to try a tactical approach this time instead of simply plodding one foot down in front of the other and hoping for the best.

Despite the weather the crowd was pumped. The threat of rain had not dampened the enthusiasm of sixty seven thousand runners, nor had it kept the fans away. Raincoats, umbrellas and blue painted ‘smurfs’ lined the footpaths ahead of us and when the starter pistol fired my partner and I exploded out of the blocks. We set a cracking pace, for us at least, achieving a personal best time for our fastest kilometre ever. As we approached Heatbreak Hill (a 2km vertical nightmare) I didn’t pull back. There is a drinks station near the bottom and I knew people would be slowing up for refreshment before tackling the looming tar leviathan, so I stayed my course down the middle of the road and left several hundred huffing, puffing hot shots in my wake.

Approximately a quarter of the way through the climb I eased down. There were still several thousand metres left to traverse and conserving energy was the key to finishing strongly. Besides, the apex of Heartbreak Hill is not the only lofty obstacle in our path. Just when you think the worst is over you find an equally monstrous mountain to ascend.

By the time we reached the run to the beach we had recuperated enough to give it a good shake. Unfortunately the crowds had begun to bunch up once more, as is the nature of a fun run, but we hit the home straight as hard as we could and finished the race with our fastest ever time over that particular distance.

So what knowledge have I gained that I can share with you? Here we have three races. One where I went hard and hurt myself. One where I took it easy and ended up disappointed. And one where I went hard again and everything fell into place. I guess the secret lies in three simple philosophies:

Train well, go hard and have fun.

Marathon Dad

Hills are just an excuse to run faster!

I’m talking uphill, not downhill of course because that would be crazy. I did it once. Tearing like a startled jackrabbit down the embankment at Moore Park where people used to grass ski, I hit the pavement at the speed of sound. My knee went backwards, my face went forwards and my head held a groundbreaking ceremony sans the ceremonial shovel.

Don’t worry dear reader I was fine, if just a little dirty. A mouthful of sod has many nutrients that the body requires as well as a uniquely crunch texture. Like peanut butter if it were made out of the shells instead of the kernel within.

But I digress.

The good thing about running uphill is the way your body reacts. Your heart gets a workout pumping oxygenated blood to your muscles, your lungs heave and expel the old stale air, your body sweats out all the toxins that accumulate from eating and drinking the wrong things, and your mind clears. I’ve not always been able to do this though. Eighteen months ago I weighed over 104 kilograms, and no, that was not muscle. A year or so before that I had had a little ‘scare’. Chest pains at forty are more frightening than a good zombie movie and a night in Prince of Wales Hospital with electrodes stuck all over your person is THE wakeup call to take notice of. Thankfully it was a false alarm but I decided to see a specialist anyway and see what sort of condition I was in.

The first test was to jog on a treadmill for fifteen minutes to see how my heart would react. After two minutes I was drenched with perspiration. Five minutes later I could no longer talk to the nurse. Within seven minutes my nipples were chafed and my lungs were screaming. By the eleven-minute mark I was hallucinating and had to stop. Not good at all. My heart recovered well – for a sixty year old man.

The second test was a blood sample and an x-ray of my neck. Thickened arteries – bloody hell.

The verdict: I was overweight, that was a given. My fitness level was a dismal failure though and that worried me, especially with five children, so I made a decision to get well.

I won’t bore you by repeating my initial escapades. If you would like to read about my first foray into jogging and the subsequent attack on my person by Tolkien’s Ents and Shelob the spider, click the image of the arachnid. Go on, I’ll wait for you 🙂

Suffice to say I had to do something and running for my life sounded like the best course of action. As I got fitter and the weight began to fall off, I found that I could push myself to longer distances. I did the Blackmores Bridge Run last September, a nine kilometre trip across the harbour and around the Domain to finish in Hyde Park. Beautiful!

Ten kilometres became fifteen. Fifteen became twenty. I began to run the coastal route from north Bondi to south Coogee and back. The stairs at Gordon’s Bay seem to go on forever and the hills around Clovelly and Tamarama are just plain vicious. My body responded well though and the fat cells continued to depart in droves.

Then I got cocky and decided to have a go at the half marathon.

This would be a test of endurance for a forty something year old that hadn’t exercised properly since his twenties and with daylight saving time now over it was becoming increasingly more difficult to find an opportunity to run the distances required to maintain my stamina. The outside track at Centennial Park was the nearest and best option however, although running the park in the dark is creepily cool, it is also a little unnerving. It is also very difficult to see the humongous piles of equine excrement at the Lang road exit. I don’t care if they are vegetarians, horse poo stinks!

As the distances shortened and the big day approached I started to worry, then I did something really stupid. After returning from work one evening I decided to test my mettle. The concept was simple, run from Erskineville train station to Centennial Park, two and a half times around the outside track and back again. The distance would have been between twenty three and twenty four kilometres and my stupid male pride would have been satisfied.

I made it there.

I made it around.

I didn’t make it back.

Somewhere in the dark, silent streets of Redfern my legs gave up on me. The cramping in my hamstrings was excruciating and my calf muscles felt as though they were about to liquefy. I could not walk more than a few steps before having to lie down on the footpath and I was getting cold. Foolishly I had left the house without a mobile phone or any money to catch a bus and so I ended up practically crawling home, my entire body shivering uncontrollably and frozen to the core. It took my physical being several days to recover, but the damage to my emotional and mental state was a lot worse. Running was no longer fun. It had become a painful chore and I was making up excuses to avoid it. With the half marathon only two weeks away, my campaign had ground to a halt.

Feeling more than just a little down in the dumps about my predicament, I headed over to my parents house for a few beers and a home cooked meal. As I passed by Booralee I saw an old friend whose name I never knew. The brunette with a bob haircut was still plodding her way round the park, looking fitter and faster than I remember. She had that smile on her face that a runner gets when they have conquered their demons and she looked like she was exercising for fun, and not because she had too.

Watching her I began to recall those feelings too. The sunrise over Wedding Cake Island. The silence of Waverly cemetery. Flocks of huge Puddle Ducks crankily quacking at me in Sir Joseph Banks Park. Rabbits, kookaburras, magpies, peace, solitude, tranquility.

I got my groove back.

I managed one more run before the big day. Thirteen kilometres. My legs were fine and my smile had returned.

I completed the half marathon a little slower than I would have liked. Twenty one thousand five hundred metres in two hours, one minute and one second. I felt fantastic.

A week later I headed out from Erskineville train station again.

I made it there.

I made it around.

I MADE IT BACK.

I’m still getting passed by blond hotties and bald dynamos, but I’ve beaten my demons and achieved something I never thought I could.

iDad did it and so can you.