Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tucson Marathon 2009

Good morning yesterday

you wake up and time has slipped away

and suddenly it's hard to find

the memories you left behind
(song by Nichols and Lane, sung by Joanna Wong - thanks Elaine!)

Luckily we have blogs these days. At least some ground truth for epic experiences like my struggle to come to terms with marathoning.

The good? A spectacular sunrise (captured on my iPhone) 4500 ft (1400m) up at the start in Oracle. What an awesome start and a dream course. Eliminating the Biosphere deviation (2008) meant uninterrupted panoramic vistas of the Santa Catalina mountains coming down Oracle Rd after mile 10.

(This course is nearly as good as when I ran it first in 2006 when there was the luxury of finishing at the Hilton El Conquistador.)

Also good. I bought a new pair of shoes after briefly trying them at the marathon expo on Friday. Newtons. They're quite different from ordinary running shoes. (And priced quite differently too.)

Decided against conventional wisdom to chance them on Sunday for the event. The soles of my feet haven't had the chance to get used to them but they're a dream shoe if you have decent running mechanics.

The final good thing was that I finished. Just under the psychologically important 4 hour mark. You can all stop reading here.

What follows below is a core dump for when this event becomes part of the "misty yesteryears" (song reference).


3:57 bracket. This was my slowest Tucson marathon out of the three I've done.

(In fact, I had a minor heart attack when I looked at my iPod and it said 4:15... turns out I'd left it running after crossing the finish line. Have always been looking to improving not sliding backwards. That would have been a major bummer. Glue factory thoughts. I've never done a marathon over the 3:59 mark, and I really don't want to start now.)

A tale of two Tucson marathons

(2008) Last year, I had nearly enough endurance but I noticed didn't have speed. Although I was unhappy that I faded late in the marathon, still I managed to post an almost respectable 3:41 time. (See report here.)

(2009) This year, I had no opportunity to do long runs. Instead, I hoped 30 min sessions with speedwork on a treadmill would address my lack of speed last year, boost my aerobic capacity and substitute for endurance. Outdoors, I ran 10Ks once a week to save time. The result? I ran with good form for about 18 miles and then suddenly crashed to a limp and robotic shuffle as my leg muscles locked up on me. Last 7 miles was excruciatingly long and pathetic. 3:57.

A Stupid Exercise

Afterwards, I realized this was a stupid exercise. I was also 3 kg overweight (good food in Doha). There is nothing heroic about completing a marathon when one's muscles have quit. It's extremely dispiriting to have to walk unnaturally mile after mile. And the damage to the undertrained and overworked muscles is counterproductive to recovery and fitness anyway.There is no point in entering.

Completing it in just under 4 hours: there is simply no value to this experiment. I've done the "just under 4" before. What possibly more could I learn? I really wish I hadn't run it this year.

Lessons for the Future

Memo to self: I believe there are two necessary and sufficient components to a successful marathon. One is sheer aerobic capacity from speedwork. The second is muscle endurance from long runs. Having just one out of two will only get you so far. But not having the 2nd will result in a total collapse like this time.

Speedwork can compensate for lack of endurance to some degree. In fact, I believe simple speedwork can substitute for half-marathon fitness. But there is something special about the marathon distance: 42.125 km or 26.2 miles of pounding overwhelms ordinary, everyday fitness. It imposes an endurance demand on the human physiological system that requires specific training.

Another way to look at it is total workload. A marathon is about 3000 kcal for someone of my weight. A 10K is about 800 kcal's worth. There is no way you're gonna scale up from 800 to 3000 kcal on race day.

Memo to self: Put another way, if you haven't put in the miles, don't bother to show up. Seriously.If you're gonna show up, respect the distance.

With that in mind, let's roll on and look forward to a decent showing in the Tokyo Marathon (2010)...

[Update: A week later, my left calf muscle is still hurting and my right knee (outside) twinges now and then. Simple overuse injuries. Definitely overdid it.]

Sunday, December 6, 2009

No ping pong in Doha?

I've been here a month in Doha working at CMU Qatar.

Like many unfamiliar cities with a large expat population, once you learn a few things and get to know Doha a little better, it's possible to find decent food and just about anything... except ping pong perhaps.

I've tried emailing the Qatar Table Tennis Association. I've put out feelers on the Table Tennis group on Never got a reply. There is an ITTF event in Doha every year. The Qatar Open attracts the best players in the world. Sport shops sells cheap paddles. Players? I haven't found any.

As a last resort, I went to the Table Tennis social hour scheduled for Monday nights at the Recreation Center in Education City. Predictably, the room was completely empty. Nobody showed up. They have truly excellent lighting and three tables. I'm sad.

So what did I do? No robot. And I only had two balls. I stared into the mirror and practiced my serve for an hour... Why did I make this blog entry? Well, a search engine will pick this up if someone is looking for table tennis in Doha. The Activity Room upstairs at the Recreation Center, Education City. Now you know.

Update: Something to think about...

My game declines when I'm not playing. The longer I'm without practice, the rustier I get. But to my surprise what I'd call the strongest parts of my game are not necessarily the parts that are best preserved or decline the least.

For example, most people who know me would say my forehand loop is the strongest part of my game. But after nearly two months without playing, I realize my forehand loop is off. Surprisingly, my reverse penhold backhand (a relatively new stroke for me) is still there.

I think there are two possible explanations:
  • My forehand loop is much stronger than my reverse penhold backhand. So there is less to deteriorate to begin with with the backhand stroke.
  • My forehand loop was developed through sheer practice and not from strong fundamentals. It relies on excellent timing. Without constant practice, it simply doesn't work. That is, the percentage landed is low.
    On the other hand, my reverse penhold backhand has been coached professionally from the beginning. So although it hasn't had the time to become as well-developed as the forehand, the fundamentals are better and don't require as much calibration.

Food for thought...