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FIRST Things First

July 26, 2013 2 comments

Readers of this blog (yes, all three of you), already know that this (former?) lazy ass has caught the running bug. Yes, I’ve been running fairly regularly over the last year or so. I’ve done a couple of 10k races, and a half marathon. I run slow by most standards, but I can run far, and I enjoy it.

If you’ve not been in touch lately and are right now arching your eyebrows up as far as they will go, surprised about my foray into (and enjoyment of) physical activity, you’re not alone. Every time I think about the fact that after a year of running, I still enjoy it, my eyebrows do the same elaborate dance yours are doing at the moment. What can I say? Miracles do happen.

After my first half, when I just ran 3 times a week, by feel, increasing the distance I ran each week, I decided to follow a more structured approach to training. I tried to follow Hal Higdon’s intermediate training plan for my next half marathon, which was supposed to be on 7th July 2013.

True to tradition which I established with my first half, I woke up late this time too. Only this time, I did one better and woke up so late, so as to make it impossible to get to the start in time. So I did not run the race. One day, a kindly soul will have mercy on me, and organize a race in the evening. Surely, I am not the only evening person who runs?! Anyway, that tradition and its discussion is for later. This is more about the training plan.

For my second HM, I had in mind a goal time of 2:00 hours. Listening to popular wisdom, I decided I’d have to run often and more, to get faster. Higdon’s plan called for running 4 times a week. One day of the week was dedicated to “speedwork” – 400m intervals, or 30-45minute tempos. This was an aspect wholly abent from my earlier training. There were some “pace-days”, which called for running upto 8 kilometers at the pace I wanted to run in the race. I also incorporated (tried to anyway) some strength training into my routine.

However, the training was a bit hit and miss. Partly because of unforeseen commitments, laziness, work and also because I don’t think the plan worked for me, the way it was structured. Here were my grouses:

  1. Speed-work wasn’t enough, I thought. It led up to 10 laps of 400m or up to 45 minutes of tempo. The tempo run required you to hold 10k pace for only a few minutes. Considering that I was gunning for a lot more improvement, I am not sure how much it would’ve helped.
  2. While I ran more through the week, the individual runs were short. 5-8 kilometer runs every day didn’t really do it for me, except make me comfortable running that distance. I felt wholly unprepared for the long runs.
  3. In fact, my long runs became slower, and more difficult. They were slower than when I was training for my first half, and I didn’t feel ready enough to be able to complete it. A long run of 16kms when you’ve been running (mostly slow-medium pace) 8-10km at max through the other runs of the week, seemed impossible to do, and I had to give up and walk home a couple of times (oh the shame).
  4. This was compounded by the fact that the run of “sustained HM pace” was followed immediately by long-runs. So, in effect, the hardest workout of the week was followed by the longest. Did not get the logic, me.
  5. Higdon’s guidance on pace, is limited. Most runs are done @ slow / easy pace. How long to stick to tempo pace isn’t specified, and so on. Overall, I think “run slower, get slower” is what I suffered from.
  6. Time was a factor. 4-5 times a week seemed a little much. A lot of workouts were missed, because work, lethargy, other commitments. I frequently didn’t feel the urge to run, as opposed to earlier, when I really wanted to run. And given that I was running almost all week, a missed workout was a missed workout – There was no way of compensating. In the end, that affected the training.

So, in summary, Higdon’s intermediate plan was perhaps not right for me. While I had started out with a goal of 2 hours for the half, I wasn’t hopeful of doing any better than 2:15:00 – 2:20:00 at best, and realistically, I was looking at a time of 2:30:00. We’ll of course, never know, given that I didn’t do the half I registered for.

Anyway, I was looking at something else to try, for my next half, whenever that is. And I stumbled upon the FIRST half marathon plan.

What appealed to me was:

  1. There are only 3 days of running, with each workout being a quality, key workout, targeting a specific aspect of running – intervals for speed, tempos for lactate threshold, and (relatively) quick long runs for endurance. This means, limited outlay of time, which combats laziness, helps with recovery, prevents injury and accumulated fatigue (more rest time), and more importantly, because I run in the evenings, allows me to get my workout in during the week.
  2. Intervals are not just 400m intervals, but span a variety of distances (400, 600, 800, 1000 etc). This allows the body to get used to running quickly over a variety of distances
  3. The guidance on pace is very good, and based on your 10k pace. Even tempo runs are broken down into short and medium tempo paces. The paces are challenging, and there are no “easy miles”. Each workout is challenging and pushes you.
  4. Distances you run in each run, are longer, thus conditioning the body to go longer, and faster. This also works now that I have a year’s worth of running long distances under my belt. I don’t need to BUILD UP to the half-marathon distance, and I can focus on getting better.
  5. My shoes. When you spend ~8k ($150) on shoes, you want them to not die in 6 months. And I am not going to buy 2 pairs of shoes to alternate, given the cost. Running thrice a week, means the shoes get time to “recover” too, and (hopefully) they’ll last longer.

I’ve done this for a couple of weeks, and I like it so far. The workouts have been challenging and have kicked my backside. The interval workouts leave me feeling like roadkill, without damaging my desire to run fast. I look forward to running again, and that itself is half the battle.

There are of course concerns I have about, “not enough mileage” and reliance on cross training – which, frankly, I loathe – and I have no clue how not doing it religiously is going to change how the plan behaves (Because I don’t see myself doing it). As it stands, the plan puts my HM finishing time at 2:10. I’m going to aim for 2:05. If I can get to 2:05, I’ll consider this plan a success.

I’ll report progress. Hopefully, my laziness is going to prove helpful this time 🙂

* Starts looking for a half-marathon to sign-up for*

Book Review: The Source by James A. Michener

June 16, 2012 1 comment

The SourceThe Source by James A. Michener

Uses the background of an archaeological dig, to chronicle the rise of religion (specifically Judaism) from prehistory (30000 yrs ago), to the modern state of Israel (till 1960s, when the book was written). Defines the relationship of Judaism, with other derivative religions – Christianity and Islam.

The book moves and skips in periods of centuries, Each chapter defines an important period in the history of religion, and is based on the levels uncovered during the dig, by the archaeologists. It chronicles the adventures of the members (descendants) of a single family (of Ur) starting from the first shreds of civilization.

It’s a long read (1000 pages), but doesn’t get boring. Written in simple language, without being too judgmental about anything that happened during the time (Except towards the end, when it turns decidedly pro-Zionist). Each chapter relates modern attitudes (through conversations within the group at the archaeological dig) with the historical perspective and precedent of why the attitude prevails. Michener, while speculating on where the future might hold for Israel and Jews, doesn’t burden the book with his judgments, or force them on us, and largely sticks to the relating what happened. While the stories ARE fictional, the book is incredibly well researched insofar as the major events of times are concerned, and the generally accepted narrative of history.

If you do not know about Judaism, and it’s rise, and the attitudes it signifies, and like reading about the history of Judaism and Christianity, and history in general, give it a whirl, and it won’t disappoint. It’s a wonderful romp through a large swath of time, and definitely better than reading dry academic records of the time. All you must do, is keep reminding yourself, a lot of it is fiction. Because it is very easy to believe a lot of those stories actually happened!

So, if historical fiction and the history of religions interests you (like it does me), I recommend it wholeheartedly. You won’t be disappointed, as long as the book is. Just remember, it *is* fiction. Or read it as a collection of tales set in different historical times 🙂

My rating: Beautifully done. 4 of 5 stars

Categories: book, review, story, Uncategorized

Book Review: King, Queen, Knave by Vladimir Nabokov

August 26, 2011 Leave a comment

King, Queen, Knave (Amazon) is a Vladimir Nabokov novel, originally written in Russian (Korol’, dama, valet), and later translated (and modified quite some bit) in English by Nabokov himself, with help from his son.

The story is a love-triangle set in Berlin. Franz, a village bumpkin, goes to Berlin to work in the department-store of his rich eccentric uncle Dreyer. He has an affair with Martha – Dreyer’s wife (his aunt). They begin plotting the murder of their rich uncle – the only obstacle in the way of them being together. But things don’t quite go as planned…

Per se, the plot of the story is not brilliant or unique. However, where Nabokov excels (as he has done in all his books I have read so far) is in the treatment of the plot and the progress and development of the characters. The characters, and the plot are banal yet interesting, horrible yet charming.

Franz is a relatively simple provincial person in more ways than one. He is slightly built, and is not very intelligent. Neither has he grand aims and ambitions. But is also is an ungrateful wretch, who cannot stand up for himself. Uncle Dreyer is eccentrically smart, athletic and successful. But he is emotionally limited, quick to judge, unfaithful, and an egoist. Martha is the beautiful, cold wife of a rich man, bored by the dull monotony of life. But she refuses to stop living by the rules which cause the boredom. Her seduction of Franz illustrates this perfectly – for example. She is faintly repulsed by the fact that she feels any sort of attraction for this non-descript nephew of hers, and yet, she knows she must seduce him, out of the sense of a social duty to do so.

The conflict is not only external and between the characters, but also within them, as they change through the course of the book. Nabokov takes each of the characters on their own journeys throughout the novel, as seen through not only their own eyes, but also those of the other characters. And it is precisely this journey that makes the book a lovely read.

The writing style is typical Nabokov. In a word, descriptive. To me, it is reminiscent of Nikolay Gogol. However, it is not bland as Gogol sometimes can be. The prose is lyrical, wordplay clever, the metaphors and similes, quite brilliantly precise. Nabokov has a brilliant mind, and it shows. He knows exactly how to paint a picture he wants you to see, and immerse you in it to the point where even the most obvious of twists can take you by surprise. Transitions from feelings to tangible objects and vice-versa are effortless and natural. The opening sequence of the train leaving the platform is one of the loveliest examples of this.

The huge black clock hand is still at rest but is on the point of making its once-a-minute gesture; that resilient jolt will set a whole world in motion. The clock face will slowly turn away, full of despair, contempt, and boredom, as one by one the iron pillars will start walking past, bearing away the vault of the station like bland atlantes; the platform will begin to move past, carrying off on an unknown journey cigarette butts, used tickets, flecks of sunlight and spittle; a luggage handcart will glide by, its wheels motionless; it will be followed by a news stall hung with seductive magazine covers—photographs of naked, pearl-gray beauties; and people, people, people on the moving platforms, themselves moving their feet, yet standing still, striding forward, yet retreating as in an agonizing dream full of incredible effort, nausea, a cottony weakness in one’s calves, will surge back, almost falling supine.

I like to compare it with deep-sea diving. To see the beautiful corals, you have to be willing to immerse yourself in the sea. You will have to get used to the sea, so you can be comfortable. But the effort is worth it, for once you dive in, the diverse beauty of the multitudinous coral reefs in the sea will wow you.

This is, of course, usual for most of Nabokov’s novels. So, if you have recently read Nabokov, if you don’t like his (or in general, a too descriptive) writing style; you might find this book frivolous, or even boring. If you go looking for a complicated story, you might be disappointed. But for me, this was precisely what I enjoyed – the plot did not take away from the genius of Nabokov’s writing.

In summary, the book is a demonstration of his prowess in engaging the reader, in that there’s plenty to admire, plenty to keep the reader interested and engrossed. The plot takes a backstage to the form and style of writing, but KQK is one of those books where you do not mind the destination because you enjoy the journey so much.

Categories: book, nabokov, review