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.

One Million Metres

Check it out guys, I made it.

Eighty six thousand six hundred and seventy calories and eighty runs later, I have chalked up a magic 1,000,000 metres.

It has been a hard slog at times filled with magpies and kookaburras, spiders and dog poo.

There have been ups, downs and plenty of days when the motivation to get out of bed was extremely hard to find.

I’ve watched my weight plummet and, at times, felt my confidence shatter.

I’ve broken toes, twisted knees and torn tendons (the plantar fascia tear was particularly uncomfortable).

But the effort has been well worth it.

According to the Nike Community I am running further and faster than most men my age. Go figure 😯

I’ve done the Blackmores Bridge Run, the Sydney Half Marathon and this weekend, to complete a year of firsts, the City-to-Surf.

You guys have teased me, taunted me, jeered me and cheered me. Slapping me down when I got a big head and picking me up when I needed it.

Its been a lot of fun.

Thanks for your support.

My knee hurts!

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.

British Golf Notice circa 1940

With thanks to El Presidenté of the BGC.

You have to hand it to the British, when it comes to golf…and “rules”

German aircraft from Norway would fly on missions to northern England; because of the icy weather conditions, the barrels of their guns had a small dab of wax to protect them. As they crossed the coast, they would clear their guns by firing a few rounds at the golf courses. Golfers were urged to take cover.

This notice posted in war-torn Britain in 1940 for golfers with stiff upper lips.

You have to admit — these guys really had guts!

And, you thought you were a tough weather golfer.

Its the 10th Anniversary Since Souths Were Reinstated Back Into The NRL

Today, 6 July 2011, marks ten years since the South Sydney Rabbitohs won reinstatement to the National Rugby League.

I remember that dark day when the Pride of the League, one of the few remaining foundation clubs, was banished for no other reason than they refused to capitulate to the arbitrary and unreasonable demands of the despots who controlled the game. Howls of protest echoed from Redfern and the surrounding suburbs as fans struggled to come to grips with the loss of their red and green heroes. Celebrities, high-profile businessmen and average joes, united in their pain and anger, flooded the mailrooms of our major newspapers and clogged the phone systems of callback radio shows.

We were not going to go quietly into the night.

Donations came in from wealthy benefactors. Lawyers agreed to work pro bono. Exhibition matches at Redfern Oval between a combined South Sydney Rabbitohs and North Sydney Bears side, and the visiting national sides of Lebanon and the USA (American Tomahawks), were staged to raise money.

Then we marched!

Some say there were over 80,000 people at Town Hall on that sunny Sunday afternoon in November. I reckon it was closer to 100,000. I was there with my son, my father and my brother-in-law plodding our way toward George Street, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of unhappy humans. An Eastern-Suburbs devotee in a brand new jersey was walking next to us. I thought he was there to gloat, so I asked him what he was doing. His reply:

“You think Roosters supporters don’t care what they did to you guys? Its a disgrace and should not be allowed to happen to ANY team.”

He was right, so I shook his hand and thanked him. We would be rivals again in a couple of years, but not today.

As the throngs assembled at Town Hall I noticed that the crowd was not just coloured cardinal and myrtle. Broncos, Bears, Bulldogs, Eels, Sea Eagles and Sharks made up some large numbers. Magpies, Tigers, Steelers and Dragons vented their anger at being forced to merge. Even the long extinct Jets were there. Whether they liked the Rabbitohs or not, Australia’s Rugby League community had come out in force to protest the injustice perpetrated upon on their game.

South’s legal team went back to court and, on the 6th of July 2001, they won the right to field a team in the 2002 competition and beyond.

We were back – finally.

It’s been a long, hard journey since reinstatement. There’s not been a lot to cheer about, but at least we have a team to cheer for.

Glory, Glory to South Sydney!