Thursday, March 26, 2020

Working with Social Distancing

Unless you’ve been hiding under a very big rock (and I hope you haven’t!), you’ll know about the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the virus that causes COVID-19 is easily transmitted, somewhat fatal and there’s no vaccine, governments around the world have implemented various social isolation and “social distancing” measures to try and slow the spread of the virus, to keep it manageable and save lives.

Here in Australia, the social distancing measures are changing every few days, progressively tightening restrictions as time passes.  At the time of writing, pretty much all public events have been cancelled, and there is no organised sport.  Training in groups is no longer feasible, due to the need to keep people apart as much as possible, and police and local bylaws officers have the power to enforce the rules.  These restrictions are necessary to maintain public health and protect the more vulnerable members of society, but they are also an impediment to training and maintaining fitness

At this time, I am still able to get out and train, provided I don’t meet up with a large group.  Training alone is a preferable option (from a health point of view), but informally training with one or two others is OK, provided I maintain at least 1.5 metres distance from others at all times.  In the open spaces I need, that’s a simple matter.  As I am now effectively out of season (with no meets at all in the foreseeable future), I will also be doing my longer runs.  Traditionally, that was the Parkrun (5k) and short cross country runs.  With social distancing, this now means finding someone with no one else around and heading out for a run of up to 5km.  Being in a city surrounded by bushland, there’s plenty of options for solo trail running.

The worst case scenario is a full lockdown.  If this comes to pass, there is some space here that can be used (with lots of laps!) for middle distance and longer runs, as well as starts.  The only workouts lacking are speed endurance and top speed, where the tight space will make it impossible to do.  However, I don’t really need to worry about those sorts of workouts for a few months at least.

A major issue is strength training.  I would normally be starting in the gym at this stage.  However, as you’d expect, gyms are closed due to the pandemic, which leaves me with a few dumbbells and bodyweight exercises left.  Plyometrics, which are of great benefit to sprinters are also an option.  However, I am getting in some external (online) guidance and monitoring for my strength development, to keep me on track under what are normally difficult conditions for me.  In the meantime, I am in the post season rest phase.

Another issue is my yoga, which I will be looking at online options for over the next few weeks.  I have extended WiFi coverage so that I now have reliable WiFi in the backyard for using portable devices, which will allow me to use online services while training, and without using mobile data.

I am also considering purchasing some equipment to help with training, to get around what I can’t access.  That will be considered on a case by case basis.

However, training and sport aren’t all there is to life.  The other area severely impacted is social connection.  I am one of those (apparently a minority) of social autistics who like to catch up with others regularly in reasonable numbers.  I would normally attend coffee and other social groups of a few to a few dozen people.  Again, this is not an option, with the need to keep physically isolated.  Also, cafes are closed, to prevent people congregating in large numbers, to avoid spreading the virus.  The lack of social connection is a potential mental health risk

Fortunately, in my struggles to overcome social isolation (back then due to undiagnosed autism) in my late teens and early 20s, I already had acquired the tools I needed to maintain a sense of social connection, as well as have other activities to occupy my time.  Back then, my first solution was CB and later amateur radio to connect to others with common interests.  So now, I am bringing my amateur radio station online, and have been spending time ironing out a few issues that have cropped up due to recent neglect.  The local amateurs have also organised on air “nets” to regularly check in with each other and have a chat.  These have been very enjoyable, and it’s been great to rediscover an old hobby of mine that perfectly fits the times.  I have also been participating in online meetings using Zoom with other local club members. 

Another old hobby back in the 90s was dialup bulletin boards.  These were independent message and file stores that allowed users on most of the time, but shut down in the wee small hours to exchange messages and files with each other via modem.  The modern BBS no longer uses modems, but uses the Internet instead.  The Internet allows the systems to be accessed anytime from anywhere, and mail/file transfers occur immediately after messages are posted around the clock.  While the BBS scene is nowhere near as active as it was in the 90s, it’s still a lot of fun.  I’m fortunate in that I am able to chat to a large number of people without leaving home, thanks to my hobbies.

So here I am, still able to do some training and also remaining well connected to other people, without having to go near anyone.  The government is saying that these measures will need to be in place for several months at least, and I now feel that I am able to use my knowledge and experience to not only survive, but thrive, and come out physically and mentally stronger on the other side of this.  A couple of weeks ago, I had concerns - both physically and mentally, but now I am fairly confident that I have enough means in place to ride out this crisis and make progress, while adhering to the necessary social distancing and isolation measures.

Stay tuned to see how this pans out.

- Tony via Tumblr

Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Track Fitness Test - 7 Events in One Day!I haven’t posted for a while. Summer track season...

A Track Fitness Test - 7 Events in One Day!

I haven’t posted for a while. Summer track season has been progressing fairly well so far, and my form has been good. I also finished the winter with excellent fitness. Today was to be a test of that fitness and preparation for next week’s pentathlon.

I had entered 7 events, the most I ever have at a regular 1 day meet. In addition, two of those events were particularly taxing. My events in approximate order were:

Hammer Throw, 400m Hurdles, 200m, High Jump, 800m, 100m and Triple Jump.

The hammer throw, while it did start 30 minutes earlier than any other event, was interrupted by the hurdles. I had my first throw early, which was a no throw, falling outside the sector.

Then it was off to the 400m hurdles. This was my first run over hurdles (even training) since the Australian Masters championships, 7 months ago. As a result, my goal was to simply cruise around and focus on hurdling technique. However, I had a good run, particularly into the wind in the latter half, and ran my third fastest time ever - 1:17.78. This was well in excess of my expectations, and a pleasing result.

Back at the hammer, after the hurdles, I had my final 2 throws. The best of these was 16.71, 2m short of recent efforts.

Next event was the 200m. Conditions were tough, with a headwind for the entire half of the track that the 200m is run on. As I was still fatigued from the hurdles, I took the first 50m steady, then opened up, once I was at speed. Found I was able to push through the wind to run 27.91. Unfortunately, the wind gauge didn’t record the wind for my heat.

The events continued back to back, with high jump next. I started at my usual 1.20m and cleared up to 1.30m, before failing to clear 1.35m. The 1.30m result equalled my PB and is setting a pattern of consistency for this season.

The 800 metres started shortly after the high jump. I started out steady, being careful not to go too fast in the first 200m. Crossed the break line and settled in behind a few, as I approached the 200m. Stayed in this position around the bend into the home straight. While it would have been advantageous to stay in this position to lessen the impact of the wind, I was able to see the clock at the finish line and worked out that I was slightly behind my target pace.

At this point, I decided to make my major tactical move, and take a risk by passing the other runners and taking the lead as I got the bell to start my last lap. Making my move then was a little risky, given that I am a sprinter, and I already had 4 events in rapid succession under my belt, but it was better than having to pass on the bend and having to cover more ground.

Once around the bend, I lengthened my stride and settled back to conserve energy while I had the tailwind in the back straight, before starting the wind up to the finish at the start of the last bend. The last 50m were a race to the line, with one of the other guys passing not long after. I had nothing left by this time, but finished with my fastest official track time of 2:35.13. My gamble at the halfway mark had paid off. While the 800m is a bit long for my physical capabilities, I do like the event, because it can be very tactical, which can make for an interesting race.

The rush didn’t end there. It was now off to the triple jump. I got one jump in at 7.41m, before the 100 metres.

With the 800m not long run, I had to be especially careful in the 100 metres, because in the past, high acceleration after distance has been a recipe for injury. Despite my better strength and fitness these days, I wasn’t taking any chances. For the start and acceleration of the 100m, I kept it back a bit, probably a little less than 90%. Once up to speed, I opened up and was able to achieve top speed safely, passing a couple of others along the way. Finished the race in a time of 13.78, which wasn’t bad, given the careful start and strong headwind.

Back at the triple jump, I had missed out on the second round while at the 100m. My third and final jump was a handy 7.88m. This was 44cm short of last year’s best jump, but as I haven’t done any triple jump for 10 months, I was happy with that result.

At the end of the day, I was still feeling like I had more in me, if needed. However, the club decided not to enter a team in the 4x200m relay, so I was done for the day. I’ve proven my fitness, especially with the 400m hurdles and 800m results. It was a tough combination of events with a good outcome. I feel quietly confident for the pentathlon next week, even the 1500 metres at the end.

- Tony via Tumblr

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Relays, PBs and Hills!

This past 5 weeks has seen a lot of activity.  With the winter season in full swing, cross country and longer runs are the order of the day.

Early in June, I did what’s become my “regular double” - running the 5km Parkrun first thing on a Saturday morning, then backing that up with a fast 1km cross country in the afternoon.  This pairing resulted in my Parkrun time reducing from 26:36 down to 24:56 in the course of a few weeks.  This stands as my PB on my home Parkrun course, and is only 34 seconds slower than my all time 5k PB on any course.  That is my next mark.

Meanwhile, my 1km times, while not PBs are quite good for the fact that I’ve already run a hard 5k in the morning.  I’ve got to around 3:45 for the 1k in this way.

A better indication of my middle distance capabilities was the Global Running Day virtual mile, which I ran in the first week of June.  Like last year, I ran this event at the athletics track, where I had access to a measured mile.  This year, my time was 6:22, 19 seconds faster than last year.  In addition, I made a mental note of my 1500m split as I rounded the home bend.  This was around 5:55, which is faster than my 1500m PB. 

The latter part of the month was dominated by bigger events, which meant taking a break from Parkrun for a while.

The first of these weekends was the Anglesea Ekiden relay.  In this event, multiple runners combine to complete a longer race between them.  I had the third of 3 legs, which was the shortest at 5.8km.  The first 2k was mostly an uphill grind from the seaside caravan park into the hills behind the town.  This was tough, forcing me to slow to a walk on 2 occasions.  Next was the run on narrow trails, before descending back down to seaside level.  Finished my leg in 29:45, which I was happy with under the tough conditions.

The following week was the Bendigo Harriers invitation cross country.  I had a choice of attempting a PB over 1km or running the 3km event.  As the weather was wet, with possible storms forecast later in the day, I decided to inspect the 1km course, which was around the pony club oval, near the pavilion.  With a lot of water on the course, I decided that it was too risky attempting to get my 78kg around at speeds of up to 20 km/h, and opted for the 3k course as the safer option, with slower speeds on a well drained route.

Started the 3k in light rain.  The course was mostly uphill for the first half, before turning around and coming back down.  While the hill was tough, as a grind like the previous week, I made it to the top in just over 7 minutes, which meant I was looking at a good time.  Finished the race in 13:41, after a fast downhill leg, making it my second fastest 3k time.

This weekend was a bit all over the place.  I had originally planned to go to Sandown in SE Melbourne yesterday (Saturday) to run a leg of the AV road relay there.  However, due to withdrawals and team rearrangements, I found myself without any teammates.  With that situation, I stayed behind and focused on local events.

I decided against the Parkrun due to lack of sleep, and slept in a little instead.  For the afternoon, I had the same choice as the previous week - attempting a 1k PB or running the 3k.  After initial indecision, I went with my gut and entered the 3km event.

Unlike the previous week, weather conditions were perfect, and in addition, the road that formed the first and last 650m of the course had been recently graded and was in excellent condition.  Got off to a good start and ran the first km in 4:23, and reached the halfway mark in 6:35.  The next 900m were mostly a slog, before starting the fast downhill run to the finish.  Finished in 13:32, which made the run a new 3km PB, beating the 13:33 PB that has stood for almost 3 years.

This morning was the first of our training sessions away from the track.  We ran a series of 200m hill repeats at a fairly good pace with walk recovery.  This fits perfectly with where I’m at, and should push my performance to the next level for the latter part of the cross country season.  In addition, I’m hoping it will improve my speed endurance for the 400m next summer.

Anyway, the winter season is progressing very well, with excellent progress.  I’m looking forward to seeing what I’m capable of.

- Tony via Tumblr

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Action shot from a recent Parkrun.

Action shot from a recent Parkrun.

- Tony via Tumblr

Cross Country and Other Updates for the Start of Winter.

With winter officially starting today (June 1), and the track season long over, focus has shifted to cross country and general base fitness.  Most of my training has been longer and slower work, combined with time in the gym for strength conditioning.  The remainder of my training has been some speed work, more focused on technique, some hill sprints and a lot of drills.
Competition wise, I have been doing a mix of things.  I started my cross country with a 6km leg of the XCR relays at Jells Park in Melbourne.  I’ve then been mixing things up, running either a 3km cross country, or combining the Saturday morning Parkrun (5km) with a faster 1km cross country in the afternoon.
Today, my club (Eaglehawk Athletics Club) joined forces with the Bendigo Harriers for the annual combined cross country relays.  I ran a leg of approximately 3km of the longer relay.
This ended up being my best longer run of the season so far, running 3.32km at an average of 4:40/km pace.  My first km was the fastest at 4:28.  This allowed me to overcompensate for the headwind encountered along the dam wall at this stage of the race.
Overall, I was very happy with my run, and this bodes well for the rest of cross country season and my general fitness for the coming season, which is still 4 months away.

- Tony via Tumblr

Saturday, May 04, 2019

AV Jells Park XCR Relays

Just back from my first run in the Athletics Victoria XCR cross country series.  In the past, I hadn’t considered running in the XCR series, because they are a distance event, but this year, I’ve decided on doing some longer work, mostly through Parkruns.  As a result, I decided to make myself available for some of the shorter XCR events this season.  As it turns out, with further examination of the XCR fixture, the only events that are suitable for me are the relays.  I’ve set myself a limit of 5k for distance running, and some of the relays are around 6km - slightly “long”, but close enough to be worth running.

After being approached by our regional cross country team manager to run in the season opener, I took a look at the program and offered myself on an “as needed” basis.  This allowed them to field an extra team and give more people a run in the event.

The event was run in Jells Park, which is a large area of parkland in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, and for my division, consisted of 4 legs, each 2 laps of the 3km circuit (6km total).  I was set to run in the second leg, which suited me fairly well.

The course was set in undulating parkland, with the biggest ascent starting just behind the start/changeover zone, and continuing 400-500 metres beyond the end of the zone, a total of almost 1km.  Th rest of the course meandered around the park, approaching the main assembly area on 3 sides.  This also made it an excellent spectating course.

I went down to the start to get a sense of the lay of the land, and get familiar with the changeover zone for our division, then proceeded to warm up for my run, which would start around 25 minutes after the start.  Once warmed up, I proceeded to the changeover area, got myself ready for the race and then waited.

My teammate came up the chute to the changeover area, and we hi fived to officially change runners, and I was off.  The first part was a 650m ascent to the highest point on the course.  Being fresh, I took it steady to the top, rounded the first of the sharp bends, then started the first downhill stretch.  Passed the 1k mark in 4:40, near the main assembly area, then continued down the winding route to the next major turn, around 500 metres away.  Lap 1 halfway done!

Next, it was back uphill another 500 metres to the 2km mark, also near the assembly area.  The second kn was run in 5:19.  The last km of the loop was a meandering course over relatively gentle gradients, before the start of the almost 1km grind, during which the second lap started.  This third km took me 5:13.

The second lap was pretty much identical to the first, except for being routed into the “middle lane”, away from the relay change zones.  The second run up the long hill slowed my 4th km down to 6:00, and my final 2 km splits were 5:30 and 4:43 respectively.  My ability to sprint finish shows there. :)  Finished my leg in 31:17, as I handed over to the third runner.

After my leg, I got changed, then proceeded to one of the marshaling points to assist our first runner, who had now taken up marshal duty.  I helped there for the next 45 minutes or so, then went to the finish to greet our last runner when he finished.  Once we were all together, we had a quick chat with the other Bendigo teams, before heading home.  Just checking the results, we finished in 9th place out of 13 teams.

Anyway, it was an interesting and challenging day.  I’m definitely out of my league over these distances, but in chatting with the other guys, they’re equally blown away by my capabilities on the track over short distances.

I’ve decided to give a few of the other XCR relays a go later in the season.

- Tony via Tumblr

Monday, April 29, 2019

2019 Australian Masters Athletics Championships - And some insights.

The past month, since the Victorian Police and Emergency Services Games has been spent in training for the 2019 Australian Masters Athletics Championships, which were held over the past few days from Friday April 26th to Monday April 29th at Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne.

Training during this time consisted of a lot of speed endurance work with some speed and hurdles practice for the first 2 weeks, then more speed in the third week, before tapering off in the 4th week.  During a speed session nearly 2 weeks ago, I achieved speeds I haven’t done before, since taking up athletics 4 years ago, but not in a way that I can (yet) use in a race.  More on that aspect later.

For these championships, I entered the same 6 events that I ran at the Victorian Masters - 60, 100, 200 and 400 metre sprints, as well as the 100 and 400m hurdles, and logistically, these events were on days 1-3 (Friday to Sunday), which meant I could get away with staying 2 nights in Melbourne, with an early departure on Friday. 

Unfortunately, when the final program came out, my start on Friday was earlier than anticipated - 8:55 AM for the 400m hurdles.  This meant I needed to arrive at the track by around 7:30, relying on public transport to run on time.  This meant catching the 5:41 express to Melbourne, which would save a little travel time.  Fortunately on the day, the train ran on time, and I arrived in Melbourne in pouring rain.  A short tram trip later, and I was at the track right on 7:30 AM.  I picked up my race pack and checked in for my 100 and 400m events, while I was there, leaving plenty of time to pin my numbers on and warm up for the hurdles.

After warming up for the hurdles, I arrived at the start, only to find that the program was running at least 15 minutes late, which made the race even tougher for everyone.  I got around without touching a single hurdle and getting my technique into the strong and gusty wind the best it’s ever been, only to struggle with some of the “easier” tail wind hurdles.  Being a bit cold, I also felt a little stiff when going over the hurdles.  Finished in 5th place (4th among the Australians) with a slow time of 1:22.53.

Next event was the 100m sprint.  This time, there were 3 heats.  To progress to the final, I had to be either in the first two finishers, or one of the next 4 fastest overall.  Unfortunately, a poor start saw me run a slow 13.64, and I failed to qualify.

My final run was the heat for the 400m.  Knowing the calibre of the field, it was always going to be a tough ask to progress to the final.  The first 3 placegetters in each heat, plus the next 2 best times were to qualify for the final.  I ran well in the windy conditions and finished strong, but my time of 1:05.08 was a long way from what was needed to qualify.  Still, I was happy with my time, considering the tough conditions, the fact I had run the 400m hurdles and a 4AM start and 2 hour commute.  

This ended day 1.  I left the track, walked to my hotel, checked in, found a place for dinner and settled down for the night.

Next morning was another early start, with my 60m heat at 8:40AM.  This time, I only had to travel 2km (instead of 160!), but with breakfast only available from 7AM, timing was still going to be tight.  Everything progressed well, until I missed my tram stop, due to a lapse in judgement.  Attempting to find the quickest way to the track using the official app were fruitless, because the app assumed walking speeds and shorter walking legs than I’m capable of!  In the end, a quick look at Google Maps and hopping on the next tram back did the trick, and I was able to use the 1.1km walk from the tram stop to the track as the first stage of my warmup to save time.

After a quick (but still thorough) warmup, I was ready and lined up for my race.  There were 2 heats this time, with the first 3 in each heat and the next 4 fastest times progressing to the final.  With a better start than the 100m, I finished 5th in my heat, but my time of 8.51 seconds was one of those “next 4 fastest”, and I qualified for the final.

In the final, I had another good start.  Finished 9th with a time of 8.48 seconds.  Slower than I hoped, but still my best time for the season.

My final event was the 100m hurdles, which, like the 400m hurdles the previous time was a straight final against time.  Started out OK, but for some reason, I got out of stride at hurdle 6, necessitating a quick shuffle to get over safely, then a hard acceleration to restore a better hurdling speed within several metres, before having to go over the next one.  I cleared the rest without any further incident.  My time was slow at 23.05, and I finished 7th.

With the early finish, just before lunch, I was able to spend the afternoon catching up with a friend, before settling down for my second night in Melbourne.

I had only one event on Day 3, with the 200 metres starting at 9:30 AM, a much easier starting time.  This time, it was 2 heats, with the top 3 in each heat and the next 2 best times progressing to the final.  Had a good run, finishing third in my heat with a time of 27.26.  My third place finish meant automatic qualification for the final.

Ran well in the final too, though finishing 8th (last!) by 0.01 seconds, with a time of 27.19.

Overall, I was pleased with my performances.  The competition was tough, with quality fields from all over Australia, with some international invitationals.  With my relative inexperience and still a fair bit to work on, I couldn’t expect too much, but qualifying for at least one final was one goal that would be a measure of success.  Qualifying for 2 finals was a bonus! :)

The events of the past season have given me some more insights into my training and performances.  My main challenges are:

Proprioception - getting inaccurate feedback about where my limbs are.  This has been evident when watching video of races in the past.  I am looking forward to seeing the video that was shot during these championships, to get some more feedback on my technique. 

Slow conscious processing of movement.  This makes it difficult to learn complex movements, and means I have to work on technique a small piece at a time.  This is also making self monitoring during starts and acceleration, where things are rapidly changing, very difficult.  I’m effectively on “autopilot” until about 30-40 metres into the race, when things stabilise enough for me to monitor and fine tune my technique.

Some interaction between my acceleration and top speed is limiting my top speed by at least 5%.  This was the minimum estimate of the higher speeds achieved at training with a “rolling start”, instead of the block start used in races.  This amounts to a considerable potential gain.

Now that this season has ended for me, my focus is on next summer.  I’m going to be doing more work in the gym with weights and plyometrics for strength and speed.  I’m also going to be using cross country and Parkrun for general fitness.  Of course, I will be training at the track throughout, as well.

The more difficult part will be finding solutions to my neurological issues.  I will need to find out more information on how best to deal with this aspect, and possibly consult with others.  Progress here could make a huge difference to my performance.

Anyway, now is a time to regroup.  Bring on the 2019-2020 season! :)

- Tony via Tumblr

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Medals from the Police and Emergency Services Games.

2019 Victorian Police and Emergency Services GamesYesterday, I traveled to Croydon in...

2019 Victorian Police and Emergency Services Games

Yesterday, I traveled to Croydon in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs to compete in Track and Field at the Victorian Police and Emergency Services Games. Unfortunately, the weather forecast wasn’t the best, with cold conditions and showers.

On the way down, the weather deteriorated as I headed towards the eastern suburbs. On arrival, it was raining heavily, and the rain persisted for the whole day.

First event was the 100 metres. Despite the weather, I had a very good run. The official time recorded was 11.66 seconds, which seemed a bit quick. However, I easily won the gold.

I immediately went to the long jump, where I won the silver with my third jump of 3.78 metres.

After an hour’s break, the 200 metres was next. Ran a steady race to take the gold with a time of 27.93.

After the 200, we broke for lunch and the medal presentations for the morning events.

After lunch, the high jump and 400 metres got underway. These clashed, because the high jump was postponed from the morning due to rain, and there was a break in the weather after lunch. Due to the clash, I was only able to clear 1 metre, before going to the 400 metres.

In the 400, I raced against mostly younger guys, which ended up being a good match. Started on the inside, which meant I was behind in the staggered start. I passed one of the others by the end of the back straight, and passed the other younger guy in the second bend, where I normally push hard the race finished with a close race for the line, I was beaten to the line by a fraction of a second, but easily won the gold in my age group.

After the 400 metres, I returned to the high jump to attempt 1.30 metres, but that height is right on my limit on a good day, and clearing it after 400m was a bit optimistic. I had to be satisfied with 1 metre and silver.

After the high jump, a thunderstorm forced cancellation of the rest of the program. The final medal presentations were conducted, before proceedings were wound up early.

Another successful Games. Now on to preparing for the Australian Masters in 4 weeks time.

- Tony via Tumblr