What Makes Me Run – Marathon de Paris 2013

7am: Michelangelo gets ready to start a brand new day.

7am: Michelangelo gets ready to start a brand new day.

My fantastic homemade third-rate costume that earned me dozens of high-fives from children during the run. It made me lots of runner friends too.

My fantastic homemade third-rate costume that earned me dozens of high-fives from children during the run. It made me lots of runner friends too.

Scanning the papers for crimes to fight...

Scanning the papers for crimes to fight…

Don't mess with the turtle. Don't feed the animals either.

Don’t mess with the turtle. Don’t feed the animals either.

What makes this turtle run?

My friends and family who have all believed in me. I owe you this photo. Yes, I did have fun. Yes, my feet are bleeding. Yes, I finished the race.

My friends and family who have all believed in me. I owe you this photo. Yes, I did have fun. Yes, my feet are bleeding. Yes, I finished the race.

My mates? a.k.a the support crew waiting for me at the finish line with beer and bacon sandwiches!

My mates a.k.a the support crew waiting for me at the finish line with beer and bacon sandwiches! Food and drinks made me run the last mile like my life depended on it.

The race I have run, this journey’s done
But my friends, we’re just beginning!
T’is but step one, and it was great fun
Now life goes on so let’s keep rolling
New goals in sight, new battles to fight
Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Hold on hang tight, we’re doing all right
So long as we don’t stop believing.

Three Lessons I’ve Learnt
Dreams do come true, so dream BIG.
Share your vision; journeys are more fun when you’ve got company.
Tick tock. (Make of this one what you will, all I’m saying is, everything has a deadline.)

This blog has served its purpose, and as such, this will be the final post. Another adventure warrants another blog, so as I fade into the digital stream as a phantom into the mist, we may just cross paths again in time. Thank you, all my readers and followers for sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience with me. I would never have done it without you.

Tick Tock, Watch the Clock

It’s 1 day 11 hours to Paris 2013.

I have eaten my final home cooked meal (once I hit the road tomorrow I shall be at the mercy of whatever I can find in Paris). I have packed my bags. I have trimmed my toenails, even the black ones. I have to calm down and try to sleep.

A big thank you to everyone who’s been sending me all their encouragements and show of support. Believe me, I’ll be thinking of every one of you while I deliriously stumble along. If you have a moment, please direct some of your love towards Rachel and Marc. Marc is a first-time marathoner like myself, and he’ll be running in the Blackpool (Paris of the north) Marathon on the same day I’ll be running the Paris (Blackpool of the south) Marathon. Rachel will be in Paris, running in the same event as myself. Every one of us are FREAKING OUT.

The next entry will come in from The City of Lights. Have a smashing Friday evening, y’all.

Pre-Race Carb Loading?

For many years I believe this was common practice for runners prior to a marathon. The gist of it is to count back six days before a race, and for three days, to eat a lower-carbohydrate diet, followed by another three days of eating low-residue carbohydrate-rich foods (i.e. refined carbohydrates). This wisdom dictated that glycogen would be stored in the muscles and liver, ready for use during the big run.

In more recent times, this has fallen out of favour. I don’t know if this trend coincided with the low-carb lifestyle, or that athletes simply found the entire routine unnecessary.

Personally, I had been giving the matter some thought for a couple of weeks, from the beginning of my taper. On the one hand, it seemed deceptively like a free pass to eat all the pasta, muffins, [insert favourite carbohydrate] one can possibly handle. Then I realized I already do eat all the pasta, muffins and whatever carbohydrate I fancy that I want.

Like the homemade breads I'm still not quite perfecting. This baby was a multigrain loaf, but it's not obvious as the grains were cowardly hiding in some mysterious corner.

Like the homemade breads I’m still not quite perfecting. This baby was a multigrain loaf, but it’s not obvious as the grains were clandestinely huddling in some mysterious corner, planning to stage a mutiny.

Upon closer inspection, carb-loading seemed to be rather precision-oriented, and unless one is a professional sportsman trying to set a PB or win a division, it seemed like more trouble than it was worth. In the end, I concluded that my regular diet has served me well for my months of training, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

They do say to not introduce anything new last-minute, but I could not resist trying a little packet I found loitering in the back of my pantry (I must have bought it a while ago and completely forgotten about it in my quest to bake good bread.)

Dinner tonight: stir-fry vegetables and pork chops on a bed of purple rice (though the French name "riz noir" is more accurate since the grains are black, while the purple ones were white rice that absorbed the cooking water).

Dinner tonight: stir-fry vegetables and pork chops on a bed of purple rice (though the French name “riz noir” is more accurate since the grains are black, while the purple-ish ones were white rice that absorbed the cooking water).

The thing about food is this – separately favouring one macronutrient on its own just doesn’t create as pleasant a dining experience. That’s why cheese alone is good but cheese on bread is better, and cheese on a seeded bread topped with sweet onion confit is the closest thing to gastronomic perfection I can think of (except a unicorn sandwich). Likewise, a plain green salad is deprivation, but salad with a good vinaigrette is a delight. A balanced meal is a tasty meal.

Ultimately, I guess one could say that I am indeed carb-loading, but I’m also protein-and-fat-loading. If one thing is definite, it’s that I’ll be running with a full tank on Sunday.

Post-script for my fellow runners: After taking just about all of last week off running, I managed 3 miles today. The niggle is still there but manageable. I just needed a final run to loosen up the body and feel my body at several different paces. I had a bittersweet moment of reflecting that this was my final pre-race training. The next time I find myself awkwardly propelling my body forward in a continuous motion, it will be down the Champs-Elysees.

“Just Enjoy the Run”

So I was told by a friend, when I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by nerves. Note to self: it’s not a good idea spending hours trawling the net for race day preparation tips. Sooner or later one is swimming in a sea of conflicting advice, and the confusion clouds one’s initial better judgement.

I reckon I’m just going to wing it pre-race as I will during the run itself. It’s not that I haven’t given any thought to planning, it’s that I have concluded The Plan is to have no plan. No special fixed plan, that is.

All the months of training has given me an idea of what effort I should be running at. I’ve long decided to let my body dictate how events unfold on the day. Also, my body should be conditioned to just run regardless of the food I eat (within reason, I’m not talking about inflicting last-minute nutritional abuse upon it), and wouldn’t really care if it’s sushi, sandwiches or steak. As for clothes and the weather, I’ll just have to toughen up.

We can only have one “first-time experience” for everything we do, and I’d rather choose to remember my first marathon as a big party rather than an examination. Running, like life, is what we choose to make of it.

In Which I Attempt to Redeem Myself

Happy April Fool’s!

I wasn’t joking about the bad weather, I wasn’t joking about the injuries, and I wasn’t joking about the fatigue. But if you think I was going to let these inconveniences stop me now, you’ve got to be joking.

I’m going to drag my sorry ass across the finish line no matter what it takes. I’ve seen Run Fatboy Run and I’ve told myself “if that’s what it comes down to…” Of course, I haven’t got a hypothetical fiancée and a son waiting for me at the finish line, but I’ve got mates armed with bottles of beer, whom I fear have no compunctions about starting a drink-fest without me, so that in itself is enough a reason for me to run as fast as my legs can carry me.

Anyway, it came to my attention that some people fell for my little prank, and I must apologise. It was all done in good humour, and I did not expect the displays of solidarity in response to a “fallen comrade”. Thank you for the encouragements and sympathy. I have no doubt they will give me the kick up the arse to survive the last 2 miles, which is far more than I deserve out of a joke.

In return I’m posting a little eye-candy and healthy-eating motivation since beach weather will soon be upon us, right? (Now please excuse me while I turn and shake my fist at the sky).

Food. It's much more than just fuel. Take that from a runner.

Food. It’s much more than just fuel. Take that from a runner.

That fruit plate was part of my breakfast prior to the Easter binge-fest. It took all of two minutes to chop the fruit, which is the time it takes to microwave oatmeal porridge. That is, if I had a microwave (I’ve given up waiting for one to magically appear in the kitchen.)

The one thing that struck me about pastries and cakes in France, is just how beautiful they look. They are literally works of art, that people are willing to pay good money for. I concluded that the same could be achieved with healthy foods; if we just make them “call our names” we’d be much more inclined to eat them.

So you see, Grandma was wrong after all. Sometimes, playing with your food is for the best.

It’s Just Too Hard

I give up.

I know I’ve built up a lot of excitement over these last few months and gained unprecedented support for my quest to run 42.195km. For that I thank you all.

But between the impossible weather, the injuries, the fatigue, it’s just… too much.

We gotta know where our limits lie sometimes.

Dancing For Rain

That’s what I suggest my Australian friends do as an attempt to fix their drought problem. I, on the wrong side of the world, have a whole other bag of problems to deal with and thus, require different solutions.

As every other Northern Hemisphere-dweller can concur, this winter has dragged on far too long. If I actually believed in justice in this world, I would pull my hair and rage “it isn’t fair! my first year in France and this is the welcome I get? thank you, omniscient being of [insert faith of choice] for this reminder of how awesome my life was in Australia, not a day goes by when I don’t wish I’m sunburning myself to a crisp on a beach, and I friggin’ HATE sand!”

But no, I don’t believe in justice in this world at all. So instead, I put on some Bossa Nova jazz in my apartment while I settled in to my current book in an attempt to blunt the pain of not training for a race only 11 days away.

Never underestimate the power of science fiction books. They take you to another world; one less grey, cold, and miserable.

Never underestimate the power of science fiction books. They take you to another world; one less grey, cold, and miserable.

As I sank my teeth into my 7th sablé du chocolat, a rendition of Fly Me To The Moon came on, and for a moment I thought to myself “sugary biscuits! a steaming mug of spiced tea! no sunlight! chilling on my couch under a pile of blankets! it’s Christmas already?” (I blame this on childhood exposure to jewellery commercials on TV that play this song at Christmas, Valentine’s and whenever their budget could afford, to encourage the purchase of metal fragments as an expression of everlasting love). Then the song Sous Le Soleil comes on and I am jolted back to reality. That I was actually happy for a moment with the winter experience made me want to stab the closest ballpoint pen into my jugular.

Of course, I wouldn’t do such a thing. Imagine the mess. That would be negating all my previous efforts of cleaning up the place (an activity I only occasionally indulge in when the amount of dust is beginning to affect my respiratory function, or when injuries dictate I cannot run and the surplus energy has to be burnt off doing something).

Yes, I’ve been cleaning. Ma will be proud of me, I suppose.

I even gave this thing a wipe-down. FSM knows it's got as much sweat on it as I do after a run.

I even gave this thing a wipe-down. FSM knows it’s got as much sweat on it as I do after a run.

I do have good reasons for wasting my time like this, though. Since it’s coming up to Easter, and I’m going to need to make a special effort at believing in the incredible (e.g. the Easter bunny, the Ressurection, etc.), I decided to come up with my own set of superstitious beliefs. I am going to perform rituals to herald the coming of Spring.

Spring is a shy virgin. This year, more than ever, she withholds her minty breath of new life. She averts her gaze, refuses to tread upon our lands, and will not grace us with her presence. Her blush and her bloom are denied us for reasons beyond my limited comprehension. Like any warrior worth his salt, I am dismayed, but not discouraged. I know what mission lies before me.

1. Spring clean. Right? RIGHT? I mean, the name says it all. What beats me is this: dust is essentially dead skin cells right? Then for the love of the FSM please explain why dust gets to places I’ve never been? Like the back of the sodding fridge, or behind the couch? I even gave the damn toilet a good scrub and disinfecting. Made my eyes water and all, and makes me want to ban anyone and everyone from using it ever again.

2. Since the sun refuses to make an appearance where it belongs (i.e. up in the sky), and the lack of sunlight is making me sad (but not as sad as reading the damn acronym SAD all over the internet because you guys are not helping at all; call the symptom “not GAY (Getting Adequate Yay-rays)”, at least that will also tick your homophobic box), I have resorted to this:

Sunshine on a plate. With EYES. It sees you.

Sunshine on a plate. With EYES. It sees you.

With blood oranges this time. Some bloody sun? Why, yes please.

With blood oranges this time. Some bloody sun? Why, yes please.

How do I like my eggs? SUNny side up, thanks.

How do I like my eggs? SUNny side up, thanks.

I think you get the idea. We need sun. Desperately.

3. Finally, as a last-ditch attempt, and I only recommend this to professionals (i.e. not myself), to call forth Spring, with all her delightful charm, by chugging down copious amounts of this:

It clearly says Spring Beer. If this doesn't work, I don't know what will.

It clearly says Spring Beer. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what will.

I beseech thee, O Spring, unveil thy visage and colour this barren landscape! Cast upon us thirsty souls thy life-giving warm rays of gold, and we promise not to eat ourselves into a chocolate-induced coma at Easter.

Shin Splints!

Turd flowers. Of all the times to get shin splints. This is despite taking last Saturday off training. I felt it yesterday, and had to abort my run after 3km (under 2mi), for what was meant to be an 8-miler. Today it is no better. I ended up slowing to a walk after the first 2.5mi (4km) of an easy run.

Bull’s balls. It’s the same damn injury that struck and interfered my training back in January. It resolved itself after a week off, so I am hoping it will go away with some rest and ice and ibuprofen like the last time.

Hell, I’m willing to make a bargain with the FSM that I’ll not run again until the race if it makes this m****f**** go away.

Right, I’m off to ice and sulk.

Preparation Anxieties

To be adequately prepared is to win half the battle. I believe Sun Tzu was the one who said that, although I will admit I am freely paraphrasing.

I have spent this last week going over the details of the race. Some of the issues are familiar to a lot of runners, and answers are found in abundance all over the internet. Nonetheless, for first time marathoners, the anxiety persists because simply put, what applies to others may not apply to you.

– What do I eat the night before the marathon? How do travelling racers find “familiar food” in a foreign city?
– How do I resist the breakfast buffet at my hotel? Anything more than coffee and yogurt will upset the race stomach, but I never say no to unlimited croissants with jam, bacon and eggs, and creamy hot chocolate, which I’m sure will give me the shits when I run.
– Will there be toilets on the route? I mean, we are in Paris…
– Do I carry toilet paper with me? If so, where do I keep it?
– Can we deduct toilet time from chip time? Please?
– How much time do I allow myself before the race to sufficiently empty my system? How much sleep will I lose?
– Will I even be able to fall asleep the night before?
– Has anyone ever toed a marathon starting line still half-asleep? Does your body wake up before Mile 5? Maybe I can sleep-run the whole event and feel no pain?
– What’s a suitable enough reason I can have to actually slow down and walk during the race? Shoe laces undone? Muscle cramps? Bleeding feet? Chest pains? Just because I don’t feel like running anymore? Will any of these lead to a complete loss of self-respect when I finish the race 8hrs later?
– How many people can I expect? 50,000? Oh. There will be MORE than 50,000 people at the starting point? Oh. What’s proper racing etiquette? Can we be friendly and chat with fellow runners, or will that be misconstrued as a personal challenge?

Above all, the biggest concern I have is perhaps, what to wear. I stress over this because aside from all the running and nutrition, it’s the only other thing I can prepare for before I get to Paris (i.e. packing my gear). I have been checking the weather forecast on a daily basis because like everyone else living this far north on Planet Earth, I am beginning to suspect we’re stuck in Narnia (where it’s always winter but never Christmas). Or rather, it’s always winter, even at Easter.

If only it were that simple. Let’s say it’s miserably cold, and we all put on some cold running gear and grumble about it. But no, the forecast has this to say:

You will start the race freezing off your gonads, and finish the race in sub-tropical heat. It will be drab, and you are running your first-half against the wind. Ready for this, soldier?

You will start the race freezing off your gonads, and finish the race in sub-tropical heat. It will be drab, and you are running your first-half against the wind. Quit whinging, at least there is no rain. Ready for this, soldier?

I’ve read that throwaway clothes are essential, so the layers come off as the race progresses, but I wonder on which layer we keep the racing tag if that’s the case? If the chips are attached to the tags, will the sensors read the chip when I start, under all those layers? BLARGH!

Ready, Set… Taper!

Seems like just as my mind is getting used to running double-digit distances, in miles no less, that I have reached the tapering stage of my programme. All I can say is: about bloody time!

I’m still trying to recover from Monday’s long run. In fact, I’ve learnt a few very useful last minute lessons that will serve me well on the day of the race and after.

For instance, I’ve always suffered insomnia following a long run training session. Lying in bed, I’d get boiling hot, toss and turn, and wonder what the hell is wrong with me, and why instead of conking me out, running 15mi seems to keep me up. Well, Prof. Google very kindly suggested at 12.30am that it could perhaps be the result of glycogen depletion. So there I was, sitting on the couch eating a bowl of cereal and milk, followed by a whole can of potato chips (yes, a whole can), and then pistachios. Alone. In my pyjamas. While the rest of civilized society was asleep. I felt sorry for myself.

What I don’t feel sorry for was the incredibly awesome sleep that followed soon after. I have never slept so well after a long run before. Ever. So runners, if you’re not sleeping after a long run, try eating some carbs and see if it helps. Maybe not a whole can of chips though.

I’ve also decided which pair of socks I will be wearing for the marathon. Not the ones I wore on Monday because not only have I developed a second black toenail, the first one is falling off. It doesn’t hurt, it just looks like I’ve got gangrene on my foot.

My next task is to sort out the running playlist on my new mobile phone. I’ve imported all the songs from my computer, but I wonder if changing the sequence of my normal running playlist will affect my performance. It’s a small quirk of mine, but since I’ve spent most of winter training indoors, I use the music as mile markers. While other runners may go “oh, I’ve just run past the library so I’m on Mile 7”, I tend to go “oh, Nightwish is playing and indeed, I’ve covered an EZ 10km according to the treadmill”. How will I know on Race Day if I’m running at the right pace if my music is on shuffle? Nope, I don’t wear a Garmin. Don’t even own a freakin’ watch.

Finally, I have started cracking on a task I deem to be a guilty pleasure – planning my post-marathon training plan. I’ve read about the post-partum depression that some first-timers experience after crossing that finish line, and it’s something I wish to avoid. I’ll be busy, that’s for sure – I’ve got a backlog of mail order books piling up and demanding to be read, which I will when I do nothing but lie on the couch for the one week after the race, icing my knees, swilling beer and eating cashews. Yet that week will inevitably come to an end, I will need something equally big and awesome to work towards to (depending on how I go, it may or may not be another race), and why lose the fitness I’ve gained these last few months? I don’t need to be running the same distance, even if it’s only 50% of peak training, it is pretty good for general fitness.

It’s a guilty pleasure because the distances are looking like this: 3mi tempo; 5x400m sprints; 3mi EZ, etc. Distances that for the moment, constitute “warm up” for my long runs. I literally rub my hands in glee, fantasizing how I can run little enough that I won’t need a shower straight after. Disgusting? You bet. Time-saving though.

For now, the taper is very much a pleasure because after my insatiable hunger was sated, I was clobbered by exhaustion. It was 11am before I could pull myself out of bed this morning, and the thought of 5mi (8km) made me want to cry. I skipped the tempo and made it an EZ recovery. In moments I wanted to just quit, I thought about the guys running this event:

Oh, so you've been running for 6hrs? Try running for 6 DAYS.

Oh, so you’ve been running for 6hrs? Try running for 6 DAYS.

Nothing like a little bit of perspective to make 42km seem completely achievable.