Run Melbourne 2015 - My First Half Marathon

Run Melbourne 2015 - My First Half Marathon

Half Marathon is a pretty stupid name for an event. Those in the know are suitably impressed at the ability of the athlete1 to run for 21.1km (13.1 freedom kilometers2), but everyone else wants to know why you're only running half a race.

I started running early in 2014 after 30 years of a pretty sedentary lifestyle. It only took a couple of months but a friend and I got to the point where we could regularly run 4-5km without any serious side effects. I finished Run For the Kids 5.4km in March 2014 and again in March 2015, but not much else. Something spurred me on to run the Beechworth Fun Run, a hilly 10k held over the Easter weekend in April 2015. It was the farthest I'd even run, and I finished in 57 minutes (with a couple of stints of walking - I got a bit enthusiastic running up out of the scenic Beechworth Gorge).

That led to my sister suggesting that if I could do a hilly 10k run, I could do a flat 21.1k "easily"... It turns out that while it wasn't overly easy, it's certainly possible: Two weeks ago I finished the Run Melbourne Half Marathon in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 40 seconds. 20 seconds shy of my target pace.


The run wasn't only about proving to myself that I could run that far.

After the shocking earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, my wife and I had wanted to organise a fundraising ball to raise money to help out how we could. We chose the Australian Himalayan Foundation as our charity of choice, found a venue, and built a website - but unfortunately circumstances dictated that we couldn't push ahead with the event in the timeframe where it would have been most useful.

To continue to do my bit for the people of Nepal, I decided to fundraise for the AHF as part of my Run Melbourne campaign. Using the ubiquitous Everyday Hero I set up a fundraising page named Ross Runs For Nepal and solicited donations from friends and family using Facebook and in-person guilting. Everyday Hero and their ilk have done a good job of simplifying this process, and I was able to raise $469 for the AHF by the time I started my run - funds boosted nicely by my promise to personally match every donation received before the run. Some generous donations afterwards brings my total at time of publishing to $626.50, which I'm incredibly happy with.


My training hadn't been ideal. I suffered a batch of episodes of Benign positional vertigo about 6 weeks before the race, followed by a headcold. We then got a bout of unseasonally cold weather that made me, a big softie, stay inside. All up I missed 3 of my long runs and a handful of speedwork / quality runs.

Regardless, I was mentally ready to run - until I went out with the Ballarat parkrun crew for a comfy (but cold, being Ballarat in July) 5k run while we were staying in town with some friends of ours. The run went great 3 but then I started getting pain - a lot of pain - on the outside of my knee. A trip to the physio quickly diagnosed Iliotibial band syndrome, a relatively common disorder in runners. In my case it's caused by weak legs - so there will be plenty of squats, lunges, and leg presses in my future.

A Pilates session, some acupuncture, some smart taping, and fistfuls of ibuprofen got me to the start line and, somehow, to the finish line. I walked for a total of maybe 300 meters, I managed to change my shirt4 whilst running, and I even managed to show some excitement when my wife took a photo at the 20.5km mark.

Best of all I've shown myself that I can do this, even with an injured leg. I'm going to recover properly (as I write I'm about to head to the physiotherapist. Again.) and get back into training for another half marathon, sometime before the end of the year.

And by then, I'll have figured out the right answer to "Why are you only running half a race?".

Photos: The pre-dawn starting line at The Age Run Melbourne, Sunday 26th July 2015, by Ross Poulton. Ross shows medal and hides pain, by Lauren Poulton


  1. Yeah, athlete is a pretty loose term when you're talking about a guy who runs a just-sub-2-hour half marathon. Sounds better than "runner", though. 

  2. Known to North Americans as "miles", for some reason 

  3. I almost set a 5k PB! That's not meant to happen a week before a big race... it speaks volumes about the dead-flat Ballarat course versus our slightly-undulating course at home in Diamond Creek 

  4. Yep. I'd misjudged the weather forecast and started with a long-sleeved running shirt and my race shirt on... by the 5km mark I was too warm, so whilst running removed my race shirt, removed my long shirt, and put my race shirt back on. I dumped the long-sleeve shirt at the next kilometer flag, to be donated to charity. I hope they can wash it first. 

Nice UX Touch from Dropbox

Nice UX Touch from Dropbox

This afternoon I tidied up my Dropbox account a little bit - I removed a folder with 80gb of photos I no longer needed stored there (they're backed up in a few other locations) and disconnected some old computers and phones that should no longer have access to my Dropbox.

When I later visited their Help page, I was prompted with two warnings. One, shown above, asks if I need help re-linking a computer I've recently unlinked. The other message said that I'd recently deleted over 500 files - would I like help un-deleting them?

What a nice touch, and a great way to deal with support issues before they arise. Dropbox is easily one of my favourite bits of software — I use it all day, every day, without even thinking about it.

(If you want to sign up to Dropbox, you should use my referral link. You'll get an extra 500mb of storage, and I'll get an extra gig)

Song Exploder: The story of "The Commander Thinks Aloud", by The Long Winters

Song Exploder: The story of "The Commander Thinks Aloud", by The Long Winters

From Episode 28 of the Song Exploder podcast - The Commander Thinks Aloud by The Long Winters:

On February 1st, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart while reentering the earth’s atmosphere. John Roderick, singer and songwriter of The Long Winters, wrote “The Commander Thinks Aloud” about that fateful moment.

Even after listening to numerous Roderick on the Line episodes I hadn't heard of The Long Winters until recently, and I've really enjoyed listening to their back catalogue.

This particular track, though, I came across by accident thanks to the Song Exploder podcast. It's helped, I think, by Roderick's fantastic storytelling, but hearing that almost magical drum track in isolation makes my inner music nerd (no matter how small said nerd is) rather happy.

Just wait for the lump in your throat - was that something in my eye? - when you hear that crew compartment line over and over again.

Move-O-Scope

Move-O-Scope

I've been using the Moves app for a little while to have a bit of fun with recording where I visit, when, and how I get around. At this stage I don't know exactly what I'll do with the data, but I've just come accross the Hello-O-Scope, a project of Halftone, that takes the Moves data and nicely maps it. Transit, running, and cycling lines show with higher intensity when they're more regularly used.

The image above is taken from my last few weeks of activity - I can't wait to see what this looks like after a few months or even a year.

The Benefits of a Lunch Hour Walk

The Benefits of a Lunch Hour Walk

The New York Times, on The Benefits of a Lunch Hour Walk:

A new study finds that even gentle lunchtime strolls can perceptibly — and immediately — buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work.

[...]

On the afternoons after a lunchtime stroll, walkers said they felt considerably more enthusiastic, less tense, and generally more relaxed and able to cope than on afternoons when they hadn’t walked and even compared with their own moods from a morning before a walk.

I've been a long-term fan of the lunchtime walk. Sometimes it's as simple as walking 10 minutes to get a sandwich, and when time permits it's 30-45 minutes with a brief lunch stop along the way.

My mid-afternoon productivity is severely lacking if I don't get even a short walk at lunchtime - and my back pain during the week becomes unbearable if I miss a few walks.

A short lunchtime walk is a critical part of my being able to contribute to society.

Self-Hosted Server Status Page with Uptime Robot, S3, and Upscuits

For quite a while I've had a public "Status" page online for WhisperGifts via Pingdom. It basically just shows uptime over the past few days, but given my site is relatively low-volume and not ovely critical to my customers, the $10/month for Pingdom was actually one of my largest expenses after hosting.

So, I started looking for an alternative.

Today I re-deployed the WhisperGifts Status Page using a combination of Uptime Robot, Upscuits and Amazon S3.

In short, I have Uptime Robot checking the uptime of my site (including it's subsites, such as the admin and user pages). The statistics are gathered and presented by Upscuits, which is entirely client-side JavaScript hosted on S3.

My basic todo list for next time:

  1. Sign up for Uptime Robot. I'd been using them for ages on their Free plan as a backup to Pingdom; this gives 5-minute checks. Their paid plan gives 1-minute resolution.
  2. Add your sites, make sure they're being monitored correct.
  3. On the Uptime Robot dashboard, click My Settings. Open the section labelled Monitor-Specific API Keys and search for your Monitor. Copy the API key to a text file for later; repeat this step for subsequent monitors you want to include on your status page.
  4. Download the latest Upscuits release to your PC.
  5. In the public folder of the upscuits package, rename config.example.js to config.js. Paste your API key(s) inside it.
  6. Create an AWS bucket called eg status.mysite.com and enable website mode. Setup your DNS etc to point to this bucket.
  7. Upload the contents of public/ to your AWS bucket
  8. Visit your new status page and view your last 12 months of Uptime Robot statistics
  9. Close your Pingdom account saving $10 a month Profit!

For a small site like mine this has a couple of obvious benefits. It's free (or $4.50/month if you want higher resolution - still half the price of the most basic Pingdom plan); it uses a tiny amount of S3 storage which is as good as free, and doesn't involve running any server-side code. The included index.html is also easily customisable if you like, since it's just plain HTML (using the Bootstrap framework, by default). This is a big win over hosted solutions, IMO.

How I use HuffDuffer as "Instapaper for Audio"

I like to listen to podcasts. There's the big names I listen to such as This American Life, their spinoff Serial, and Radiolab - but I also like listening to ad-hoc pieces of audio that I come across without subscribing to a whole podcast feed.

For a while now I've been doing this with Huffduffer. Huffduffer lets me have my own personal "podcast" feed made of individual audio files. In a way it's like Instapaper (another favourite of mine for collecting articles to read) but for listening.

I use the official Huffduffer Chrome extension. Whenever I come across a page with a link to an MP3 I want to listen to later, I hit the little Huffduffer 'hand' and the details are saved to my Huffduffer feed.

In my Podcast player (I use and like Overcast) I manually subscribe to my feed. It's at https://huffduffer.com/username/rss. Then, whenever I 'Huffduff' some audio, it appears as a podcast episode in Overcast.

A few places I've used this recently:

I've no idea if this is how Huffduffer is intended to be used, but it's bloody useful.

2014 In Review

What a year 2014 was. I know we're already a week into the new year, but there's a few things I wanted to list out - however terse some items are - so at least I can tell in the future what happened, when.

I won't go into details for most of these items, but it's safe to say I had a busy year.

Personal

  • In March, our second son was born. At four, our family is now complete.
  • Spent much of the early part of 2014 coming to grips with the loss of my father
  • On the last day of 2014, my uncle lost his battle with brain cancer.
  • Bought a Campervan, and enjoyed a bunch of fun trips away with my family. It's like camping, but with a fridge.
  • Took up running and improved my 5K time from almost 7 minutes per Km to around 5:25 per Km. We have a parkrun near home which I've only managed to get to once. I entered my first big event, the Run Melbourne and had a very respectible 5km time.
  • Did a better job with my diet and dropped 5 kilograms and two inches off my waist.
  • Renovated our house and made it a much nicer place for us to spend time
    • Replaced the entire kitchen, plus laundry cabinets
    • Re-tiled the floor
    • Painted everywhere
    • Block-out blinds to all bedrooms
    • Other minor stuff
  • Became Zoo Members and visited on two consecutive Christmases
  • Built my first Lego kit with my eldest son (he loves Duplo, and got some Lego for Christmas. His 3 year old patience isn't quite ready yet)
  • Tried meditating a bunch of times, particularly when I was struggling with various issues. It was peaceful and satisfying, and I'm not sure why I haven't done it more.
  • Took up Pilates to help deal with ongoing back pain. It's working bloody well.

Professional

2014 was a good year for projects at work. I've been fully booked and had a couple of nice milestones.

My day job is going well and I'm really enjoying it. Client relationships are better than previously and I'm getting really good feedback. That really makes work more enjoyable!

  • January: Completed a large project; the first I'd been pretty much solely responsible for from start to finish.
  • Mid-year: Worked with a large Charity, again solo from start to finish.
  • Since July: Things are going very well with one of Melbourne's racing clubs. The client is very happy and my co-workers have been fantastic, although being on-site by myself gets lonely after a while.

Work outside "work" was quiet this year and wasn't a major focus of mine. My open source contributions are way down, but projects like django-helpdesk continue to get good community input.

WhisperGifts is doing well. We've done some minor redesign work and added nice new features. It isn't making me rich, but people get real value from it and I see more paid users than free users (excluding those who sign up for free but don't go on to use it)

2015?

Right now my 2015 goals are relatively simple. The work on our house is pretty much complete and I need to spend more time with my kids and focusing on my mental and physical health. So I have just four things I will push hard to achieve:

  • Get back into running. At least 2 runs a week, including a 5K Parkrun at least three Saturdays a month.
  • Complete a 10km run.
  • Spend at least 30 nights away from home in the Campervan, including a trip with 5+ nights off the grid.
  • Meditate. Daily would be nice but I'll be very happy with 10 minutes twice a week.

I'm excited. Early 2014 was somewhat tumultuous, but things have settled down now and I'm ready for a happy and peaceful year ahead.

More...

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