I was Mountain Biking at Fox Creek in the Adelaide Hills a few weeks ago and had an experience that lead to a thought, which lead to a blog. This blog.
The experience: At the bottom of a downhill run, that converges with a few other downhill runs, I intersected with a fellow rider.
I acknowledged him and he started talking in what sounded like an excited tone- his full-face downhill helmet was muffling his voice.
“Sorry I can’t hear what you’re saying mate!” said I.
The other rider removed his helmet and said something quite enthusiastically- I can’t remember what he said because I was in shock.
When this guy removed his helmet, what he revealed was long, wispy white hair, about shoulder length but with a bald top. He had wrinkled, leathery skin and squinty eyes. He would have had to have been about seventy years old- at the very least.
“Are they your mates over there?” he said.
“My mates don’t come out riding with me, they’re all bloody old wimps!” He exclaimed. Bear in mind he had just come flying down one of the Black Diamond Downhill runs- think massive jumps, tight bermed corners and terrifying drop-offs.
We chatted a bit as we walked our bikes back to our respective cars. His wife was waiting patiently in the passenger seat of his ute. She was knitting. I am not joking. This actually happened. Ask Max Martin if you doubt me.
This got me thinking about my wife’s recently deceased Grandfather. He died in his early 90s, and had been ‘living’ in a nursing home for about 7 years. Prior to that he existed on a lazy boy armchair plonked in front of the horse racing channel on pay tv. He had done this for the previous ten or so years.
When the Grim Reaper finally pushed his door open and signalled ‘time’ on his life, Grandpa’s response was probably ‘It’s about bloody time mate, I’ve been waiting 15 years for you!’.
When Death goes looking for my old mate from Fox Creek, he probably won’t be at home on the couch. Check the garage Grim. I bet his bike isn’t in there.
Old mate will be out at Fox Creek. If he gets the tap on the shoulder at the top of a downhill run, he’ll probably say ‘Come on Grim, can you just let me have one more crack at this track and catch me down the bottom?’
When it’s my time to shuffle off, I hope I am hiking up a Himalayan mountain, or wake-boarding, or kicking the footy with my Grandkids, or Great Grandkids. When Death comes looking, I’m gonna be hard to find!
This time of year many Adelaideans are in the final stages of their preparations for their big running goal for the year. The City to Bay is only two and a half weeks away- and The Yurrebilla and Operation Flinders Ultra-Marathons will be following shortly after.
If you are having a crack at one of these, I wish you the best of luck! I also encourage you to relax, and enjoy yourself. I train a lot of runners and help guide them to the start line for events like these.
I have noticed a trend in recent years which worries me a bit. The fun seems to be evaporating. These days it is very easy to track your running progress. GPS watches are getting cheaper and yielding more and more info.
Smartphones with Strava or RunKeeper or Movescount or any number of tracking apps are easily attained alternatives. These are great tools. They can give you objective data on your progress and can also log your training sessions- which is great for accountability.
But I am noticing more people evaluating the quality of a run, or of themselves as a runner based on what their numbers say. ‘I can’t wait to get home and download the data to see if that was a good run’ is a paraphrasing of a mindset I see often.
When I go for a run the criteria I use to judge it on are:
- Did I feel good?
- Was there a fun descent that I ran well?
- Did I see anything beautiful?
If my average 1km splits are 7 seconds slower than the same run I did last week, so be it. That is not one of my quality criteria. It is nice to see progress. And if you run regularly and are training appropriately you should see a trend towards improved performance.
But improvement is not linear. Sometimes you run after a stressful day at work; or a bad night’s sleep; or you are fighting a bug that is lingering just under the surface. If you don’t reach your standard every time your run, cut yourself some slack about it! And in the end, why do you run?
If you run the City to Bay in 61 minutes and you aimed for 59 minutes, who really cares?! You just ran 12km, give yourself a pat on the back! Unless you are aiming to win the bloody thing, the aim should be fun, I reckon.
Many of us lead busy lives and we juggle multiple deadlines from multiple sources constantly. Don’t let your leisure time become just another pressure you place upon yourself. In the end, no-one except yourself really cares about how well you run. So relax and enjoy the ride. That way, you can’t lose.
I was in Perth for work last weekend. I don’t know Perth very well at all, yet alone South Perth, where I was staying. This means that I did not know where I could find a good coffee on Monday morning, which is a problem as I am quite the coffee snob.
Fortunately I had recently been told about a phone app called ‘Beanhunter’, which can direct you from your current location to the closest good coffee vendor. Having a personal tracking device permanently on oneself has never been so useful. (more…)
Who would win a foot race between a man and a horse? Sorry if you are waiting for a punchline, it is a legitimate question.
To answer that, a clarifying question is needed- over what distance? Ok, let’s day Melbourne Cup distance- two miles. The race record for the Melbourne Cup is held by Kingston Rule (a horse) at 3min 16.3sec run in 1993. This equates to an average pace of 58.7km/h, or quite fast.
The world record over this distance for humans is 7 min 58.61sec held by Kenyan Daniel Koman since 1997 for the men, and 8min 58.58sec for women, a record held by Ethiopian Meseret Defar since 2007. These times equate to an average pace of 24.1 and 21.4km/h for Daniel and Meseret respectively. In a slow year the best humans in the world over this distance will only be about halfway done when the winning jockey is chatting to Johnny Letts about their victory.
OK, but what if we recruited our fastest human, Usain Bolt, and lined him up? Usain’s average pace for his world record 100m of 9.58sec is 37.58km/h with a top speed recorded at 44.7km/h. If he were able to maintain his best average speed over 3200 metres, he would still take a glacial 5min 7 sec to cover the journey- and unfortunately sprinting flat-out for 5 minutes is physiologically impossible for a human.
So compared to a horse, we suck at running fast.
But what if the distance increased? Others have asked this question, and then taken the next logical step and organised races over marathon distances and beyond to find out. Such events occur in Owens Peak in California, Mingus Mountain in Prescott, Arizona and Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales. These events are often tightly run affairs, with humans and horses frequently swapping the crown from year to year. So how do we as a species close the gap so dramatically when ultra-endurance is the challenge?
One of the main reasons is that we can cool ourselves effectively through sweating. We do not have to pant to cool our core temperature. Furry land-based animals that do pant are required to slow their pace dramatically or stop altogether to bring the temperature gauge down. This means that a race between a human and horse, or other fur-covered quadruped is a bit like the tortoise and hare race, with us being like a sweaty tortoise! Interestingly the Lanwrtyd Wells race in Wales has only been won by humans twice, in 2004 and 2007 when conditions were considered ‘hot’. The ability to sweat and hence cool ourselves whilst moving is one fantastic trait that humans have that leads to our tremendous endurance potential. Being upright on two feet is also advantageous as during the hottest part of the day, less our our body’s surface area is exposed to the sun, pretty clever hey?!
This Melbourne Cup there will be a few well-lubricated punters at Flemington who may think they can outrun the horses. They can’t. At least not over the two miles. Get them to continue on for another 20 or so laps of the track and they may be in with a shot. Our runners would just have to ditch the suit and expose their sweaty skin to the elements to really exploit our advantage. Actually, I think a few probably do at the end of race day!
Mark Lindsay, from Eliza Park Stud (where Black Caviar was conceived) was once quoted as saying of the great sprinter “she’s got an arse like a bus”, which he meant as an utmost compliment. Her generous rump was one of the physical gifts she possessed that gave her such a phenomenal turn of speed. A distant view of her powerful back-end was all she offered her competitors across her perfect career!
For a horse, their gluteals act as a powerful hip extensor- in other words they drive the legs backward in order to propel the body forward. So having big, chunky glutes is a good thing for a sprint-distance horse. Black Caviar was built for speed.
Our glutes perform much the same role, or at least they have the potential to. In walking and even slow jogging on flat ground, the glutes should activate when the foot hits the ground to stabilise the hip and pelvis- and that’s about it. Start accelerating or going up a hill however, and they (should) kick into power-house mode and start quickly pushing us forward from behind. For proof, next time you see top-level sprinters on TV, check out their backsides. They are impressive (I am strictly speaking from an anatomical, physiological and biomechanical perspective here!). (more…)