Thursday, 25 September 2014

Our Balcony

One of the main reasons we moved to this flat in Prahran in May was that it had a decent sized balcony with a great view all the way to Port Philip Bay. Our last apartment had no outside space or view, which, in my opinion, is essential when you live in country that is actually warm for a large part of the year.

As we moved in to this place at the beginning of winter we haven't had much of a chance to enjoy our balcony yet. Aside from a few herbs, my new bike, and our drying laundry, we didn't have anything out there. Nothing to sit on or make it inviting. So this week we made the trek to IKEA to get a few outdoor basics. I always dread trips to IKEA as they inevitably lead to some sort of dispute. An English guy I work with has moved back and forth between England and Australia with his Australian wife 7 times. They have now decided to settle in Australia, as "there are only so many times you can go to IKEA without getting a divorce". Totally agree. Also, no matter how well intentioned, there is no such thing as a 'quick trip' to IKEA. We actually did this one in about an hour and a half which is probably a record, and only that fast as we had a birthday dinner to get to. Plus, being on school holidays meant we could go during a weekday, which... what a difference an empty IKEA makes! It's almost pleasant to check out all the design spaces without thousands of other people also in search of cheap Swedish furniture. We actually got through so fast that Andy thought we must have skipped a section. 

I have this idea in my head that our balcony is going to be this lovely little sanctuary, where I can peacefully read my book and have a coffee while gazing out to the sea. I've even started a Pinterest board with ideas for small balconies, which actually just makes me covet other people's homes. Pinterest is evil like that. Andy is more practical about the whole thing, probably because the balcony is not THAT big and also we are only renting this flat, so no point in putting too much effort into a place we will never own.

So we decided on just a small table and chairs for now, so that we could at least sit outside for a few meals or a glass of wine as the evenings start to get warmer. Best part about the table and chairs? They came already put together! No allen keys required! We also got a few plants and herbs which I will be adding to - I love growing fresh herbs, they are such a ripoff to buy in bunches in the supermarket.

I love our balcony! (And, I actually love IKEA. Here is a link to a post on the TED Blog with some hilarious parodies and homages to IKEA)

About to enjoy some Avo Smash out on the balcony

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Sydney Marathon

I made it though the marathon, woohoo! Now I can say 'I run marathons', plural, as I've done more than one... two to be exact!

We flew up to Sydney early on Saturday morning, feeling pretty exhausted as Friday was the last day of term for us. We stayed this airbnb place, which I would definitely recommend as an alternative to a hotel in central Sydney. Our host was a guy named David, who also happened to be running the half-marathon on Sunday, so it was nice to stay with a fellow runner. It also meant we didn't have to worry about making noise when we got up at 5am to have breakfast as he was up making his breakfast quinoa as well. His apartment was super close to Milson's Point train station, which was also where the start of the race was. It made for a much more relaxing morning prior to the race as we just had to walk around the corner to get there. I can remember a super stressful half marathon start we had for Run to the Beat in London. The tubes were delayed that morning, and the roads closed around the start of the race. We had to jump in a cab at the last minute that could only drop us off about 2 miles from the start, meaning before starting the race we'd walked 2 miles. After stressing that we would miss the race, the organizers decided to delay the start time because of the transport issues. We ended up standing around in the freezing cold for almost an hour waiting for the race to start.  That was not fun! This was much, much better.
Relaxing at the Opera Bar Kitchen with some seagulls
Once arriving in Sydney we met up with Dave, Charlotte and Adam. Dave and Charlotte were also doing the marathon, and Adam, along with Andy, made up our support crew. We stopped by the marathon expo to pick up our racing bibs and some Gu gels. My new favourite flavour of Gu is 'salted caramel'. Sounds like it would be gross but it actually tastes pretty good, for an energy gel. We got some lunch at the Opera Bar Kitchen, and then hopped on a ferry to Manly beach for the afternoon. At Manly we met up with Lauren and Steve, other friends from Melbourne who were doing the half marathon on Sunday. For dinner we ate at Fratelli Fresh, an Italian where we all loaded up on carbs in preparation for the race the next morning.

Race bibs collected!
The start point was under the Harbour Bridge and seemed pretty well organized. I didn't have to queue to long to use the toilet just before the start, which is a key priority for me before long runs! It was overcast and drizzling in the morning which made the start a bit cold, but frankly I'd prefer a cold start to a hot one.

Milson's Point where the race started
I really had no expectations for myself in terms of getting a good time, due to the knee problems I've been having. I hadn't done any running in the 2 weeks leading up the race, and my last long run was 30k, about 5 weeks ago. Over the last week or so I've been googling 'Runner's Knee' like crazy hoping I would find some magical overnight cure which would help me run the race pain free (I didn't). I did stumble across this youtube video of a way to use physio tape for runner's knee, so the night before the race Andy taped both knees for me. That, combined with my horse gel (Rapigel) and the anti-inflammatory Voltaren, were my weapons to combat my knee pain. And I must say, they did work pretty well! I had almost no knee pain the whole race and even now, two days later, my knee doesn't really hurt at all, and I haven't taken any more anti-inflammatory medical or applied any Rapigel. So really, I think the physio tape must have done a really good job of holding my knee in place.

Anyway, I started the race near the 4:30 pacer and thought if I stayed around him I'd be happy with my time. The course starts with a run over the Harbour Bridge which was pretty spectacular. The rest of the run is on the south side of harbour, where the Opera House is. We went through the Botanical Gardens, Centennial Park and then back towards the Opera House. There was a lot of looping around, so in many parts you were passing runners either ahead or behind you. This was kind of nice as it meant I could look out for Charlotte and Dave, and I did end up seeing them once each. It always gives you a bit of a boost when you see people you know during a race.
Running over the Harbour Bridge

I thought the course was pretty good, except for the 34-40km part, which was basically up part of a moterway towards Darling Harbour, and then back. This part of the run was pretty boring, with no shade, and by this point the rain and clouds had cleared up and the sun was out. Nice for the spectators, not so nice for the runners! My friend Dave, who did a 3:30 marathon, also thought parts of the race were too narrow. I didn't find this too bad but it was much more crowded where he was running, along with everyone doing a faster pace, so I can see how it would have been annoying.

I was really impressed with how many aid stations there were along the way, they seemed to be every 2-3kms and were well sign posted. HOWEVER there were meant to be 'Gu' gels at a couple of stations from 20km onwards, but by the time I got there they had run out! That really annoyed me! I had brought two of my own gels with me but had planned on getting at least one more from one of the stations. I know I am slower than the 'elite' runners, but us slow runners need energy too! I really think that if they advertise that they are going to have energy gels at a race they should make sure they have enough to last for all the competitors.

The last 5-6 kms were the hardest for me. My quads were aching (probably to let me know that they were not quite prepared to carry me as far as I was pushing them!) and then at 37km a blister on the bottom of my fourth toe popped! That was pretty gross, and ridiculously painful. I hobbled along wondering if I should stop completely and put a band-aid on it. Then I basically just told myself to suck it up and keep running, it was only a blister! It hurt for a few hundred meters and then felt ok again, the fact that it popped was probably for the best in the end. At least it took my mind off my sore quads for a few minutes.

The last few months I've been doing a lot of yoga, which I think helped in a way as I was able to stay 'in the present' during the race, instead of thinking ahead at how much I still had to go before finishing. Instead of thinking things like 'there is no way I can run 15 more km the way I am feeling right now' I thought things like 'I can keep running right now. I am in a bit of pain, but not enough to need to stop right now'. I think that really helped me focus on what was happening in the moment and not worry about what was going to happen later on. I think doing a marathon is both a physical and mental activity, and the moment you let doubts start creeping in, it becomes so much harder to continue on. (That said, it is still VERY physical and you need to listen to your body - nothing is worth causing yourself permanent damage to joints, muscles, or even your organs.)

I ended up finishing with a time of 4:19:14 which I was very happy with. It's a PB for me by 8 minutes, and I paced myself well, averaging about 9:40 per mile until about 22 miles in, where I then dropped back to about 10 minute miles...around the blister popping time! I know I keep switching back between kms and miles; I got used to measuring my pace in min/mile when living in the UK and that is what my Nike watch is set on! When I'm doing a race measured in km now I sometimes distract myself by calculating back and forth between my pace and distance in kms and miles... yes that's right, I do maths while running!

Dave, Charlotte and I celebrated our marathon success with a few beers at the Glenmore Hotel in The Rocks before Andy and I flew back to Melbourne last night. Andy has made an awesome iMovie video of race day, where at the end you can see me hobbling up some stairs at a train station in Sydney. That's pretty much how I felt all day yesterday! My legs were VERY sore and I spent a lot of yesterday 'resting' (ie surfing the internet). I am very happy we are on school holidays right now, as I was very tired yesterday morning and getting up for work would have been painful. Last night I went for a light swim in Prahran pool followed by a hot tub and sauna, and my legs are feeling a bit better today. Still no knee pain which is a good sign I think.

All in all I enjoyed the marathon and am glad I did it, although the lack of training at the end was frustrating and meant I couldn't aim for my original goal of 4 hours. I guess that just means I will have to do another... there is always Melbourne Marathon in 3 weeks time...

Monday, 15 September 2014

Hello Spring!

Over last few weeks we've been having some lovely spring weather here in Melbourne, and last weekend was no exception. Blue skies, no wind and temperatures around 20 degrees, making it seem more like summer to those of us used to UK weather! 

We took advantage this on Sunday by taking my new bike for a ride along the bay to Brighton. We started out slowly, heading south from our place, down Chapel Street to Balaclava. Chapel Street is, according to this article, one of the 10 most dangerous streets to cycle down in Melbourne! I think that is more based on the author's opinion than hard facts, but I would not be surprised if it were true. One lane of traffic each way (including tram lines), cars parked end-to-end along the curb, and a cycle lane squeezed in between, mean that you are constantly on the lookout for drivers opening their doors onto your and/or pedestrians stepping out into traffic to cross the road or board a tram. I have to cycle up and down Chapel and Church (which is what Chapel turns into once you cross the river North to Richmond) 5km everyday on my ride to work, and I breath a sigh of relief everyday I get home with no accidents!

St. Kilda beach
Once we made it, cautiously on my new bike, to the beach in St. Kilda, we headed East along Beach Road. Well, we actually stuck to the bike path as Beach Road is reserved for hard core cyclists in head-to-toe lycra, training for their next triathlon. Novice and casual riders take note: the ROAD part of Beach Road is not for you! Luckily the path along the beach has it's own cycling lane in some parts, and although there are some congested areas where you have to dodge pedestrians, the scenery on the way more than makes up for it. I got used to my new bike on the path and really enjoyed riding it - it was quite smooth and easy to ride, and soon I will hopefully get used to changing gears on drop handle bars. I've drawn the line at clip in pedals and shoes for now... perhaps I will upgrade to this once I've gotten used to the bike. 

In Brighton we met up with some friends for brunch at The Deck on Bay Street. Our friends have a new puppy, a chocolate lab named Maisie, who is very cute and every time we see her Andy begs me to get a dog. I am not a dog person, and am not sure I ever will be... is it horrible for me to admit that seeing the new puppy makes me want a dog even less? Yes, I am a terrible, heartless person. It just seems like a lot of work to own a dog!

Anyway, after lunch we wandered around Church street in Middle Brighton, which is a cute main street with lots of little shops and cafes. I have been looking for a cool backpack (rucksack for the Brits) that I can wear when riding my bike but that will also look ok when I am walking around, off my bike. I am not sure this type of thing exists, well at least not for under $100 it seems. That seems like an excessive price to pay for a backpack! The search continues...

Prahran Aquatic Centre
When I got home I continued the triathlon training-themed day with a swim at Prahran Aquatic Centre. This is a heated, outdoor 50m pool less than 5 minutes walk from our house! I did 1.2km with our friend Dan - a pretty good effort considering that was my first swim in months. Apparently the pool is a gay hangout most of the summer, however it wasn't very busy this weekend. It's not quite sunbathing weather yet I guess. I did enjoy having a lane to myself the whole time! That night we went to Dan and Laura's new place in Albert Park for a BBQ - the perfect end to a lovely Sunday!
Driving around Albert Park Lake at sunset

After such a nice weekend it was such a drain to have to get up at 5:30am and go to work. Today's weather was classic Melbourne spring weather, in that it was cold and rainy in the morning, but brightened up and was a mild 20 degrees during the day. I made myself ride to work in the rain and was rewarded with a stunning sunrise this morning. Four more days of term left until our school holiday (and the marathon... gulp!)

Sunrise during my morning ride to work

Sunrise over the Yarra River

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

2 Week Countdown...

Until the Sydney Marathon! And... I'm injured! How could this have happened?! I have been having some niggling knee pain for a while, ever since I started doing my very long runs, pretty much once I started doing more than 20k. But I kind of figured that's just par for the course when doing marathon training (probably a stupid assumption to make, more like I just ignored it and hoped for the best).  It's always gone away a few days later, and its never been THAT bad. I did my last long run a few weeks ago, 30k, and since then have been taking it easy, just doing some middle distance and shorter runs, along with a lot of yoga. On Saturday I did a fairly easy 8k run around Albert Park and my knee started hurting once I started walking at the end. Really hurting. Like sharp, intense pain, behind the kneecap, really bad pain. I can not believe this has happened. All my major training is over, I've had so many weekends that have revolved around my long run, and now I'm in a bit of denial. I can't not do the marathon!!

Saturday night Andy and I met up with some friends for dinner at The Prahran Hotel, and someone there mentioned trying Rapigel for my knee. I had never heard of it... and for good reason - it's actually for horses and dogs. It's meant to reduce inflammation and swelling in joints and tendons, and ease muscle soreness. The girl who told me about it works in a pet store and said that most of her sales are for people buying it for themselves, not for their pets. Anyway, I was feeling pretty desperate, so after doing minimal research on the internet, and finding this Today Tonight article, I headed to the pet store and bought myself a container of it. It's a topical gel that you rub on, and you get that tingly feeling, like when you apply something like 'Deep Heat'. I have to say, my knee pain is almost non existent 2 days after using it (and I was limping around in some serious pain on Saturday). I'm not sure if it's just a placebo effect, but whatever it is I am SO happy that my knee pain has gone - or at least its being effectively masked by this magical gel!

I think I am going to take it easy and not run for the rest of this week, then maybe try an easy run next week before the marathon. I am fairly certain I am still going to at least attempt the run, and my strategy at the moment will be to take walking breaks at every water station. I'm trying to ride my bike to work all week to get some cardio in - although this morning we had a crazy windstorm and I thought I was going to get blown into traffic - pretty scary. I ended up jumping on a train halfway to work as I actually thought I might die.

After this marathon I am going to take a LONG break from distance running. Andy and I have already signed up for a sprint triathlon in October, so I already have a new goal to work towards. Oh, and at the weekend I bought my first road bike! I bought it used off Gumtree, from a girl who also got it just as she was getting into triathlons (she is now obsessed and has upgraded to a carbon fibre bike) so its the perfect beginner road bike for me as I am tired of doing triathlons on my hybrid - it's just not cool!

Ok 2 more weeks... I just need to stay healthy for 2 more weeks... I can do this!

Me and my new bike!