Friday, 31 August 2012

a friday evening at home

Too often I write of the long, and not often enough of the now. Here I sit on a Friday afternoon, in need of escapism, and finding it, in scribed fantasy with a side of G'n'T. The G has more effect, I'm sure but the T, cheap but freshly released, is more distracting, as it crackles on the roof of my mouth while I linger on the words that so well distract me from the dreary week.  

As I read of vivid characters doing great deeds, I reflect on my own small, pyrrhic victories fought over grounds devoid of consequence, and wonder which of the great boulders arrayed around me will descend next. Recently I seem to have managed those that matter, or at least those descending from hills nearby, pushing them back up their respective slopes to fall on me another day.

I had to make the hard choice this week to push one rock to the side, rather than back up a hill. Conferences are one of the things that really renew my energy for what I do, but a combination of onrushing time and a performance review pushing me to different priorities has made me delay what would have been a very stimulating and enjoyable conference tour through the Germanic-speaking parts of Europe, in favour of a less educational but hopefully more productive trip to oh-so-familiar parts a few months further distant.

I am revelling in my return to fantasy. It has been months since I last plunged deep under its crashing waves, but the characters, the lexicon and the pleasant rhythms of its lost words come rushing easily back. It is interesting, renewing acquaintances with characters first met on the screen, which faces survive into the mind's eye through the written page. Some appear instantly on their name as they I once saw them, but others reject their televised visages and come from the page in the abstract, in ignorance of their adapted provenance. Testament to casting, I suppose.

In a little while, Asha and Arya and Lord Snow (who knows nothing!) will release me, and I'll turn to my tarte (bacon and leek and zucchini and cheese, oh my!), but for now, its downtech and backtime and offworld to esapism...

Monday, 13 August 2012

more running

I had a few days away from running after the half marathon last weekend. Partly this was in order to allow my feet the time to recover from blisters, and partly it was because I was at uni late 4 out of the 5 nights, and couldn't find the time to run.

On Saturday, though, after a day walking around inside talking to 12-year olds, I decided a run was in order. So, profitting from another beautiful Brisbane winter afternoon, and headed out along  the Norman Creek greenway to blow out the cobwebs.

I had initially only planned to take it fairly easy, but I felt really good, so I actually kept up a strong pace, running up to Stanley St East and back, on what has become my goto route for about 8km. I took my phone, strapped to my arm, but it proved pretty useless, with first the mp3 player (perhaps because of dodgy headphone) and then RunKeeper both letting me down, the latter insisting I had run 830m at 7:23 pace, rather than 8km at (I reckon) about 4:40.

On Sunday afternoon, I found a few reasons to go out again. In recent times I've had trouble running two days in a row, with shin splints in my right leg causing me a lot of shin pain. A recent visit to the podiatrist, though, has given me some hope of alleviating that, so my first reason for going out was to see whether the exercises and new shoes would make it possible for me to back up. The second was that I have recently had my eyes on Toohey Forest Park as a promising place to go running, and wanted to scout it out. The third, and most significant, was that I had so enjoyed running the previous day that I wanted to make the most of another perfect afternoon.

I headed south down to Toohey Road, and followed it south up and over Weller's Hill (past the school of some of the students I'd met the day before) then up to the forest. Once there I headed along the Toohey Ridge track. I was feeling good, though, so I doubled back along the Sandstone circuit, before again following the Ridge track through the park before emerging on Monash Rd along what I think was the Tallowwood Track (although it wasn't signed as that). The park was everything I hoped it would be, isolated from the city bustle with only a few dog- and bushwalkers, with native birds calling and even a few native plants in bloom. The path was in good condition, and although I stumbled once, I quickly adjusted to running on a less stable and predictable surface, and really enjoyed the extra challenge. Its a bit of a hike to get there (4km each way over some reasonably significant hills, although I mucked around a bit on the way back winding my way through Tarragindi), so it won't be my regular run, but I can see myself spending a fair bit more time getting to know the other trails in the park. I may even consider riding my bike down so I can try some runs up and down the hills.

This was certainly the best couple days of running I've had since I ran in Berlin earlier this year, and perhaps beyond that.

Who knows, I may turn into a runner yet.

The bad and the good

Work has been pretty crazy over the last, well, 7 months or so. I think I can trace it back almost exactly to a point 2 weeks after returning from my Christmas holiday, since which point I've basically been constantly behind what I needed to do. At the moment I'm neglecting my paper reviewing duties, as well as a few hangover things from tidying up last semester's course. I'm fortunate enough to not be coordinating any courses this semester, but that will be more than made up for by my service duties.

Sometimes, though, there are some things that make it worthwhile. On Saturday I went along to serve as a judge at Young ICT Explorers, a competition held at UQ for primary and high school students. The competition, which has been running for a few years now, sees groups of students from grades 4 through to 12 present projects they have been working on over the last year. I served as a judge last year and was really impressed by so many things about the day: the quality of the students' work, their enthusiasm for working with ICT, and the number of students participating (and especially the number of girls participating - ICT needs more girls!). So I was keen to come back and help out again this year.

This year I was judging with Dan Angus, another lecturer from ITEE (actually a joint appointment with the school of journalism), and Mithila, a student in our multimedia and design degree. We had 7 projects to judge, but one didn't show, so we made very good time getting around talking to the students. The first five projects were pretty good, and once provoked, the students were enthusiastic about telling us what they'd enjoyed, what they'd found hard, and why they were proud of their work.

The sixth project was by just one girl, who had made a website providing maths and english exercises for other year 6 students. She had clearly put a lot of work into it, had thought about why it was useful, and had done a bunch of other things such as making a maths game with some quite well thought-mechanics linked to her theme. She was our pick as the best project we saw, and wound up in a tie for first place in her category.

Before the presentation of the awards, I heard she'd been having a cry because she'd had such a good day. Knowing that she was about to get some more good news, I was just so excited, and sure enough she had another cry when she was called up on stage. It was such a good feeling to be able to give her the acknowledgement she deserved for her hard work, and to see how happy it made her.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

personal bests and proxy bests

Finishing the 2012 Brisbane Half Marathon (photo courtesy of David Curnow)

Despite my lamentation a couple of weeks ago that I wasn't a runner, running played a reasonably significant role in my last two or three weeks, albeit more by significance than by actual time spent.

A bit over two weeks ago I popped over to inTraining to get myself some new shoes. My previous pair were a bit over a year old, and I reckon probably had 800-1000km on them. I had heard that this was about the useful life of a pair of running shoes, and I was seeing signs of this in the guise of some foot pain after my runs. After trying on a few pairs, and hearing my sob stories about sore feet and shins, the salesman suggested that I might be well advised to see their podiatrist before I rushed into buying something. I was able to get an appointment that afternoon, and he gave me a few useful tips in terms of some stretches/exercises to strengthen some muscles in my hip to try and lessen the stress on my feet and legs, and made a nice little cushion to protect my sore foot. I wound up buying one of the pairs of shoes I'd tried earlier, certainly the most colourful I've ever owned, with garish green splashed lavishly on the sole and upper.

This weekend just passed, I once again ran the half marathon in the Brisbane Running Festival. I was fortunate enough to get a lift in with David, an old college friend who has just gotten back into running in the last couple of years, and was running his first official half. He's actually a very handy runner, though, so I harboured no illusions of keeping up with him.

The start this year was on Alice Street near the botanical gardens' entrance, which was a marked improvement of last year's chaotic laps of the gardens. I fairly quickly fell in with the 1:45 pace runners, which hadn't been my plan, but I felt comfortable, so I stuck with them for the first 5 or 6 km. Although we started before the sun appeared, it turned into a sensational Brisbane winter morning - cool and crisp under a clear, deep-blue sky - and I was feeling really happy as we were going across the Story Bridge. The pace runners were running a bit behind 1:45 though, and when they lifted in order to make up some time, I couldn't and didn't go with them. I felt pretty reasonable for quite a long time, but whether from the fast start, or from my not having done many long runs, by around 16km I was really struggling.

I had a few walks between 16 and 19, and saw the 1:50 pace runners pass me somewhere just before the North Quay stretch. The route had the misfortune to run us right past the finish line with 2km still to run, uphill up Garden's Point Road then around the gardens. After a last walk up the hill, and looking regularly behind me expecting to see the caped, scythe-toting spectre of the 1:55 pace runner, I dug deep and finished strongly over the last km or so, and was delighted to see a time just a shade over 1:53. David had finished 20 minutes earlier, and was waiting for me at the line, which was great. The results were up within 5 minutes, which was super-impressive, and my chip time came in at 1:52:27, almost 3 minutes faster than I ran last year, on what I think is a more difficult course. Its quite possible that this will remain my PB for some time, so I lashed out and got my time engraved on my finisher's medal (photo to follow).

As well as my results, it was great to be able to have a group of friends also running good times. Dave Curnow ran 1:32-odd in his first official half, which he seemed to have mixed feelings about, but which I reckon is pretty impressive. I also caught up with Dave Coyle and Neil, who ran the 10km, in 50 and 47 minutes respectively, which I believe are both also PBs. Its been really interesting to see how the social systems built into RunKeeper (which we all use to track our runs) have kept us up to date with what the others in our "Street Team" are doing, and (in my opinion) encouraged us to keep running. I feel a definite sense of pride in their achievements as well as mine; their is an element, however small, of team success in them.

A few days on, I'm recovering from what was a fairly nasty-looking collection of blisters, and feeling good about getting out for another run in the next few days (when I find some time!). Like last year, I'm not sure that running half marathons is what I most like doing in the world, but I can see myself doing it again. Perhaps even more than last year, I'm really proud of having done a PB, especially when I don't think I was quite as fit as last year. At the same time, I'm still "running dumb", and with some better training and some better race-management (for lack of a better word), I reckon I can still improve.