At the start of 2016, I set myself some running goals. Although 2016 finished almost a half year ago, I thought I should revisit them and set some new goals. Most of this, particularly the goals, was written early this year however I didn't get around to hitting 'Publish' until the end of May. Oh bene.
In short, I kept running. Lots. Overall my year was pretty different to my assumptions at the start of the year - and I'm sure glad it did. The general theme of my goals for 2016 was "do what you did last year, but farther and/or faster". The reality was much more fun: I started running on trails, started to enjoy running up hills, and embraced the longer slower run.
So how'd I go?
I hit most of my targets for 2016. Here, in bold, are the goals I set for myself a year ago - followed by my progress through the year.
2016 was the year I discovered trail running. I've always enjoyed bushwalking and hiking, but for some reason had never really run through the bush. I live on the suburban fringe of Melbourne, and there are great trails right on my doorstep - including some epic technical mountain bike trails (which are on public land, ready to run!) and many fire access tracks otherwise closed to vehicular traffic.
Later in the year I ran the nighttime Afterglow Trail Half Marathon, starting a bit before dusk and finishing on the beach well after dark. The awesome Trail Running Rainbow Unicorn t-shirt in the above picture was from this run and I wear it regularly with pride.
Aside from trails, I also set a new parkrun personal best of 21:45 in August - going for a fastest time at the peak of event training is a great way to test where I'm at compared to previous training cycles.
I'm going to cheat a little bit here since we're already half way through the year...
Why I Hate Running by Brendan Leonard at Semi-Rad.com:
I hate running, three to four times a week if I have time. I hated it yesterday for a little over an hour.
Maybe the sickest thing about the whole idea of running is when you sign up for an organized run, like an ultramarathon, and in order to run 50 or 62 or 100 miles in one day, you basically have to spend about six months running all the time just so you can run that far in one day. You get to the finish line of a 50-mile race and people are like, “Congratulations, you just ran 50 miles.” And you’re like, “Fuck that, I just ran 750 miles—you just saw the last 50. Anyway, let’s go get a pizza.” And then you hate yourself and make strange noises every time you stand up from a seated position for about five days and then you start thinking, “That race was so fun, I should do that again soon.” Sometimes I like to say, “I’ve done dumber things for worse reasons.”
Most of the time I really enjoy running. But there are plenty of times I'm happy to go for a run just to justify stuffing my face with pizza. Or beer. Or steaks. Or burgers.
Since starting to run a few years ago, nearly all of my mileage has been on paved roads. My local parkrun course is on concrete, and most big running races are on the road.
A few months ago, on a whim, I ventured out to Plenty Gorge Park and had a great time exploring the bushland. I returned with a group from Diamond Creek Runners and had a fantastic time, and since then have slowly built up my trail kilometers including two races of 18 and 20km. Whew!
One of the more challenging things I've found with trail running is finding my way. Particularly somewhere like Plenty Gorge where there are dozens of intersecting mountain bike trails that are tricky to tell apart, having a preplanned route can be very useful.
Some in my running club have taken to using Suunto watches and the inbuilt navigation. I have no such luxury so rely on my iPhone. Here's how I plan and follow a map on unfamiliar trails!
Warning: Trail running can be dangerous. You're in (relatively) remote areas, on uneven land, in places that other humans seem to infrequently visit because they don't know what they're missing out on. Serious injuries can happen. Don't run by yourself. Don't rely on Google Maps - because it just doesn't include the level of detail trail runners need (ie most of Plenty Gorge is completely unmapped on Google and Apple maps - you need sport-specific info). Let somebody know where you are and when you expect to be home.
If you want the quick version, follow these easy steps. If you want to learn more, read on...
If I just drive to the park and start running, I often find I am back at the carpark sooner than expected because I've accidentally chosen short trails. If I want to make sure I'm out for a specific distance or time, I plan the route in advance so I know I'm going to cover enough ground.
I do this using Strava's routes feature. You don't have to use Strava to record your runs but their planner is really useful.
Once logged into Strava on your computer, navigate to the route builder. Do a search in the top left (ie I have searched for "yellowgum park" in this example) and the map will take you to that area. Just like Google Maps you can scroll around, zoom in and out, etc.
Clicking once on the map will set your starting spot, and a green dot appears (my starting point is next to the last car park on the road in). Continue to click at points along the trails to build your route. Each click adds a white dot, which you can move around if you want to alter things a bit. Don't worry too much if the line doesn't exactly follow the line.
Keep going until you have built a good run - I can see at the bottom of the screen this should be approx 2.2km with 75m of climbing (click the "Elevation Off" button at the bottom right to see a rough elevation profile if that interests you - but I've found it isn't 100% accurate).
If you mis-click or change your mind, you can use the Undo and Clear buttons at the top to start over.
Once done, hit the red Save button at the top right, give the route a name, optionally make it "private" so nobody else can see it, and click Save. You'll be shown a grey "View Route" button after saving - click it and you'll be complete.
There are three ways you can use your newly planned route once you hit the trails.
The first is self explanatory and quite possibly the most reliable - however you will need to know how to read a map, know how to find your current location, and be aware that if you stray too far you'll be off the edge of your printed map. This is, however, useful for long trail runs that are relatively defined (perhaps Two Bays Trail or something).
To print your route, just hit the "Print" button on the Strava page - it'll give you approximate waypoints and a copy of the map.
This is what I normally do.
If you're going to have mobile phone coverage this works really well. First, install the Strava app on your phone. It's available for both Android and iOS.
Once logged in to the Strava app, tap on Profile at the bottom of the screen. From the profile screen is a link to "Routes" - right down the bottom of the list. Tapping on routes will show you any routes you have set up, including the one you created in the steps above.
Clicking "Use Route" will load up the route and map on your phone. Click on the "Record" button and start running, and the screen will be replaced with your time/distance/pace - just click the map pin to return to the map.
On the map will be a blue line. This shows your planned route. The orange line is where you have already been - so you can use this to help find your way back to the blue line.
After returning to a place a few times I find I can make my way around much of it pretty easily, and just rely on the phone when I reach an unfamiliar or confusing intersection. It only takes a moment to figure out which turn to take, then I put the phone away and keep running.
If you are running somewhere without mobile phone coverage, the Strava maps won't be able to show. To work around this I have used an app called myTracks - I'm sure there are others available too.
Using this is a little more complex and not really necessary in most places but here's a high level summary of what I do. I can walk through it with you if needed.
I wouldn't recommend the fuss that myTracks needs unless you know you'll be running somewhere without mobile phone coverage. Strava does a great job.
You just ran along a trail, saw some awesome scenery, probably got your feet dirty, climbed a hill, and got scared by a kangaroo.
Have a hot shower and a cold beer. At the same time, even. You earned it.
Although the above notes are verbose it's only because I'm great at typing and poor at editing! I usually spend 10 minutes planning a run I haven't done before, mostly to adjust it to get the distance or elevation close to what I want to run. Getting it open in Strava is a real piece of cake.
I'm sure there are other ways to do this with different apps too - please let me know if you have any so that I can share them further :)
If all of the above sounds too difficult, just hit me up and I'll come and join you on the trails. Diamond Creek Runners are doing a group run at Yellowgum Park this weekend (September 18th 2016, see the DCR timetable for other runs) if you want to meet great like minded people - guests welcome.
If you're looking for some routes I've already created, these might be useful. I'm sure there's a way to take a copy of these for your own use - that's left as an exercise for the reader.
It doesn't seem that long ago that I wrote up my 2014 list - but it's obviously far enough in the past that I don't really remember what I was trying to achieve this year, but it's worth a review - even if we are already six weeks into the new year!
The big stuff in my life in 2014 - death, birth, and home renovations - were, relatively speaking, out of mind in 2015. I had no big personal or career changes, but lots of little things.
Here's my notes to my future self on what I did in 2015, and what I want to do in 2016. None of the following is overly exciting, but I want them recorded for my own future reference.
Gosh they change quickly, every week brings Below are a couple of stand-out memories for me from the past year:
Since mid-2014 I've been entrenched in two of Melbourne's horse racing clubs working on CRM projects for managing their members and raceday events. It's been interesting, but I'd be lying if I didn't look forward to a project in a new industry.
Both of those clubs "went live" with their new CRM systems with relative success, and both provided their own challenges: most of our projects tend to be back-office systems that don't directly interact with the public at large, so having the pressure of thousands of members of the public trying to scan tickets into a racecourse was a new experience for me.
Due to re-prioritisation of my time I've done pretty much no open-source work, nor have I spent much time on WhisperGifts. Both continue to tick along.
Based on what I hoped at this time last year I've done OK, but missed a couple of targets.
Photo: Morning mist at Sheepyard Flat campground, in October 2015
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
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. ↩
Known to North Americans as "miles", for some reason ↩
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 ↩
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. ↩
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.
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!
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)
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:
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.
Want to see more? Check out the yearly archives below.
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Opinions expressed here are my own, and not those of my employer or any other party.