Thursday, January 28, 2010

Quick Cut

64 days to go

I'm proud to say I've slacked in the blogging but not the training. I've done a couple more 'Rewards' and have taken to running around town before work (I'm not disgusting, I shower at the gym). The city bowl itself is an unpleasant running environment, simply because it's dirty. But it is hilly and that's done wonders for my strength.

My 5km timed run is 23.2 minutes. Not as fast as ultimately desired but on track to get there all the same. I'll tryo to be a better blogger but for now, that's the update.

Back home, I’m so not loving it.

74 days to go

Circumstances forced me to take an early morning run today. Much as I should be doing more of these to get accustomed to the time of day, (as this is when most races happen) I’m a much happier evening runner. Also, to be fair, most races don’t start at 5.30am. But I was off and doing one of my more familiar routes. The route, which I’ve nicknamed ‘reward’ starts off at my house and winds (I’ve mentioned that I like starting off with a few turns before right?) around the neighbourhood for about 2km. The next two kilometres are a steady drag, with one drastic climb at the start and one short drop at the end. I then head left into a flat for about 700m before doing a drastic (easily 30 degree) climb for 400m. At this point I’ve done 5k with only climbing. And the reason I call the route ‘Reward’?

Because after all that climbing, this is what I get to see. Picture pending but I get the most fantastic view of the city, stretching all the way from Blouberg to Muizenberg It’s like I’ve pounded my way all over the city and get to look back at it with impunity. No, really, I marvel, every time. I’ll never regret living here. “I love this city tonight. I love this city always.”

So? The nitty gritty? Reward can be run quick or slow. I can drop immediately after the view for a close of little over 7km or I can drag it out and go back through the neighbourhood for 10km. Today I compromised because I was concerned about time. I’d guess the distance to be 8km. And my time was 35 minutes, still very very slow. Ideally I should run 8k’s in an even 30, well, between 30-32. Back to the speed work drawing board. I was right a couple of days ago about the flats being too easy. The 12k’s there felt much easier than the 8k’s here.

Anyhoo, I clearly have work to be done. Next run will be a timed 5k for speed, looking forward and dreading it all at the same time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What used to be my playground

76 days to go

I went for something of an unintentionally symbolic run on Sunday. Starting in Rondebosch East I headed over the M5 bridge, right into Milner all the way to the common, circled it (again) before heading down Campground until Lansdowne Rd which took me back over the highway and full circuit to my starting point. A total distance of 11.8 km.

What was interesting about this run (he said as everyone yawned) was that it took me past all my old schools and places of similar relevance when I was younger. Garlandale Primary, where I cut my teeth. Golden Grove Primary, where I lost them all. Groote Schuur High School, where I made friendships I retain to this day. The Vredenhof field where we played countless early morning hockey games. At the common I passed Rustenburg Girls High School, a school ground I’d only visited twice ever, but from which many exceptional girl friends (note the spacing) of mine hail.

It’s a complete novelty for me, running in streets so familiar but so distant. I live in the north but lived my school days in the southern suburbs. It’s entirely stimulating, I was so wrapped in my thoughts and nostalgia that the distance fell with relative ease. All the gripes mentioned in the previous blog were missing. Probably still a little slow, but I was aiming to put in the distance, not the time. It felt right though.

One note though. It may be the case that the Cape Flats are entirely too true to their name to be an effective training ground, much as they were a great playground for young me. There’s little challenge in the small climbs offered over the distance. There are no long drags, no true tests for the will. So I think I’m going back to my hilly north. Asap.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


79 days to go

The Rondebosch Common is a curious piece of land. At a the width of little more than a rugby field and not much longer than three, I'd wager it's one of the smallest conservation areas in the country. And certainly one of the more uninspiring, a dry patch of bush in the middle of a busy suburb.

See? Eat your heart out. Anyway, it's a popular spot for walkers, joggers and runners alike and it's flat all round, which was exactly why I chose this locale to do some speedwork in. I arrived at the Common on what turned out to be a sweltering evening. The Celtics Running Club use the Common for their time trials and, as I understand it, they circle the Common twice for a distance of 5km. So my aim was to circle the common at least twice and see how it felt. No timing, just spinning the legs out.

About 1.5 laps in, a few things started to go wrong. Firstly, my breathing was too rapid, a fact which might be attributed to the stifling heat but more likely came from a furious start and a festive season which was entirely too restive. Next my left hamstring started to pull, I've never had hamstring problems before. Cramping calves, side stitches and a bum knee yes, but no hamstring. It's a concern I'll have to keep and eye out for. Lastly I became increasingly aware of the feeling of the ground on my feet and my shoes began to creak, a sure sign that they (my third pair of Nike Air Pegasus in as many years) need to be replaced.

I didn't time myself but my guess is my time was around 25 minutes, terribly slow. I could blame the heat and will test the condiitons next week but it's likely the lazy holiday passed that's to blame. Ideally, the 5km time for a silver half marathon runner (and that's what I'm aiming for) should be 20 minutes or less.

So. Short term goals: Shave 5 minutes off 5km time; buy new shoes; resolve to stretch before runs and start slower.

Today I rest, going ice-skating with some friends, which should actually test out the leg muscles quite nicely. More after the next run.

80 days of Training

I begin this blog with a lie. There are, in fact, 79 days of training (including today) left before the Two Oceans Marathon on April 3 2010, but I started my training in earnest yesterday and that's the direction this blog will take until the race is over.

Whoops, my last paragraph was misleading. I'm not running the Two Oceans Marathon, I'm running the Two Oceans Half Marathon. The Half (as she shall now be affectionately known) is a scenic 21km run starting in Main Road Newlands and ending on UCT's main rugby field. She is extremely popular, fielding about 11 000 runners annually and widely considered to be the toughest half you can run in the beautiful city of Cape Town.

San Tzu advocates that you know your enemy and I know her well. Here's her profile:

You're looking at a rather twisty warm up climb for the first three kilometers, which makes for some excitement (there's nothing more dull that beginning a race on a dead straight). We even out near Wynberg and into Constantia. Around the 11k mark there's the 3km steady incline climb known as Southern Cross. It's here where the men are separated from the boys (I'm not trying to be sexist - I've had grannies beat me up that hill). Many will walk, many hit their 10k training wall, many lose their breathing rhythm and their pace. If you've never run a half before and decided on the Two Oceans 'just for the hell of it', this is the point where you start thinking 'baaaaaaad idea'. Once over, you're rewarded with a refreshing downhill at Kirstenbosch but don't be fooled, Union Avenue holds one last teasing climb before you ease into the finish. Anyone's whose run this race will tell you that, at least on the first try, that last climb caught them completely off guard.

So training for this race you need to bring your artillery. Pacework to take full advantage of the first 10ks, hill training for Southern Cross, and overall distance training to get the body acclimatised (so to speak) and the mind ready for a long haul.

Although the picture is not pretty, let it be said that there's an aweful lots of pleasure mixed in with this pain. An incredible sense of comeraderie amongst runners in the field, unwavering and enthusiastic support from the crowds, the beauty of our mountain and our city and, of course, the high that comes after the work is put in and the fruits of labour are yours.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Parly's alright

Over the last few weeks I've had the fantastic opportunity of working in Parliament for an NGO (part time) and, having sat in on a handful of meetings, I must express that I am surprised at the acuity, insight and commitment shown by our indirectly elected officials. This is something that I feel needs to be said. On a typical day in suburbia you get so used to the administration-bashing that you expect, at best, that there's a secret bordello lurking behind the black gates of Parliament *dum dum dum*...

While the MPs do wear pressed suits and drive silver Mercs, their attitudes could not be more humbled, for the most part they both do their work and kid around. Not kid around in the vein of Office manager David Brent (bi' of an obscure reference wot?). What I mean is: they take their work seriously but not themselves and that's novel for people wielding that much influence. I managed to approach several MPs and extract documents/information from them. Most met me with a smile and an unfunny, but well-intentioned, quip.

The meetings themselves are conducted in an ordered fashion, this I wasn't surprised at. I've seen some of the Parliament TV (speaker! speaker!) and there is not much tolerance for speaking out of turn. Contrary to what we are sometimes led to believe, ANC MPs do not toe-the-line while opposition parties rant and rave. Some time ago I read Andrew Feinstein's "After the Party" where he noted how there was a tendency among party MPs to not object to the government policy - he found it strange and now I see why. I saw none of that particular acquiescence in my sittings. The ANC members are as vigorously critical of policy as the opposition, sometimes more so. Most importantly, all parties place first the concerns of the everyman into question. The specifics would bore you to death but I was concerned with budget issues of late and, for example, the question of business and corporate concession was foremost in the concerns raised by the members. They would not see benefits granted without details on how this benefit trickled down to the workforce. Bravo I say.

And they are sharp as tacks to boot. I was overwhelmed taking on the challenge of trying to prepare critical questions of my own while paying attention to the presentations. They had more time to prepare than I had but still... I'd wager I haven't met an MP as dumb as I felt sitting in those meetings.

To be fair, it isn't all rosy, of course it isn't. There's an air of rhetoric to many of the processes “must investigate...” “will take further...” “should implement...” and the like. You also get the feeling that the business of government is very slow with all the delayed actions and interdepartmental references. I've arrived to find meetings cancelled quite abruptly. I've gone to presentations where departments have not pitched up. I've been to a presentation where the department was not properly prepared. In that instance though it was pleasant to have the chairperson dole out what-for on the unprepared party... or person rather, party is ambiguous in this context. People will let you down, occasionally but its far from the incompetent we're sometimes let to believe by the talk round the water cooler.

And again, I just thought I'd share that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Small thoughts on 'Happy-Go-Lucky'

So I had the distinct pleasure of watching 'Happy-Go-Lucky' yesterday and all I can say is... Sally Hawkins was robbed! I cannot believe that such a nuanced (yet altogether pithy) performance was missed by the Academy. On the whole it's a well structured film and, we can take some solace in this, received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, which I would be happy to see Mike Leigh walk away with. I mean, if Diablo Cody could get one....

For those not in the loop, Happy-Go-Lucky is a film that falls within the parameters of social observation... I think... I'm not a film student, the correct jargon is not at my disposal. Anyway, it's the kind of film that introduces a (pseudo) novel concept to an ordinary situation and attempts to find what develops organically. Our concept in this film is Poppy, an irrepressible 30-year old preschool teacher. She seems to be in a permanent state of joviality regardless of the gravity of a given situation. She is robbed, she has to cope with an abusive pupil, and an even more abusive driving instructor. We see the ways in which her particular brand of extroversion affects those around her, sometimes negatively, sometimes positively. More pertinently, it is a reflection on the dispositions of others when we encounter a friendly face. Do we seek do repress it? Do we reciprocate? Do we ignore it? Can we even understand it anymore?

And Hawkins carries the entire film, the camera is fixated on her for, easily, 90% of the running time. Its a weighty demand, even for a lead, and she's infallible. Poppy is an eccentric character with flighty quirks and phrasing. I once sat in on a conversation between some of SA's more esteemed critics: Barry Ronge, Leon van Nierop, ... that guy who I always confuse with Leon van Nierop... and they mused that the particularly eccentric characters were easier to pull off – they were talking about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker (which I also take issue with, but another time) – but I think it depends on how the eccentricity is carried out. Poppy is consistently irrepressible, yes, but when she finds herself in an unsafe situation, she visibly clutches her handbag to her chest and murmurs to herself. When she finds herself attracted to someone, her head bows and her voice trails. When she does find herself pulled into a confrontation, the smiling stops but the her message remains intact. That's really as much as I can say without spoiling it. Poppy is always a real character, the thing that makes her unique is we see her actively make the choice to be spirited and lively.

Eddie Marsan deserves a special mention for his turn as Poppy's racist, misogynistic, paranoid and altogether sociopathic driving instructor – a well-crafted foil to the exuberant Poppy, superbly executed by the actor.

So that's just something I thought I'd share, I felt like spoiling some virtual paper today, take it or leave it. I wouldn't recommend this film to most of my friends but if it sounds like your cuppa, you wont be disappointed. There are some incredible (looking) films opening within the next fortnight. Personally I cannot wait for The Wrestler, Slumdog Millionaire (especially), Changeling and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Let the good times roll!

PS. I don't mean to rag on Diablo Cody, I loved Juno. I just think if Juno was good enough this one should be too.