Month: March 2019

Shamrock Run 2019

It’s Been Too Long

Somehow, it has been four years since I last did the Shamrock Run.

The Portland Shamrock Run was the first organised run I participated in, all the way back in 2002. I’d done several bike events in Britain, and a few different walks around Portland, but that was the first run I did: 5K, very slowly. I’ve run around ten of these races, at four distances (5K, 8K, 15K, half marathon — 15K is my favourite).

I’ve always enjoyed Shamrock because it’s so well organised. There are tens of thousands of participants in the different races: multiple distances, sometimes multiple paces for very over-subscribed distances, and yet the whole thing works. There is the traditional beer afterwards (although I don’t like to drink that early myself), and the medals being handed out, all with a feeling of great good humour from the crowds and the organisers.

There are reasons to dislike the Shamrock: it’s often cold and wet in the middle of March, and since the spring time change was pulled forward this run is darker than it used to be. Also, I’m not Irish so my participation is in the event rather than the party. Call me a curmudgeon if you like; it’s certainly the right word.

But the energy is great, and they keep innovating around how to organise the event. The last time I ran was their first half marathon, and the routes and start management have continued to improve.

I was keen to run this year just because I am fitter than I have been in a long time, and this has always felt like a good race to set out your stall for the year (not that I have plans yet for races over the summer). The new route was interesting to me too. And honestly I wanted to see what I could do in a race now.

One of the things I liked a lot about this year’s race was the more humane start time. The 15K start was 08:55, easily an hour later than I have seen before, and a very pleasant time to run. This later start mitigates the time change issue very nicely. Conditions could not have been better, either: it was bright and clear, a bit chilly in the shade but a glorious spring day.

Portland is a runner-friendly city, and many events kick off in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a block-wide grassy area that stretches for a mile between the road and the river. From the park, there are options to cross the river (such as for the Bridge Pedal/Run), to wind through downtown streets, head north alongside the river into the industrial area, or to go south into the hills. Shamrock heads into the hills, for the most part, and the routes I have run in previous years took in many blocks of city streets before launching up Broadway towards the Terwilliger hill and returning to the waterfront via Barbur Boulevard.

The new routes go the other direction, following Barbur before turning and climbing up to Terwilliger. These changes also mean that there is much less time spent poddling around downtown: most routes start heading south, but those distances that head north stick to waterfront roads. Races not using downtown roads also meant that I could park close to the race start and be able to get out again afterwards!

The Race

Shamrock is still a very well-organised race with clear announcements and a well-designed timetable. I also like the way they do the gapped race start. They have a few hundred runners go then hold for a minute, then a few hundred more and hold again. It helps to prevent congestion on the course, and your official time is from when you cross the start line rather than when the gun goes off so you are not losing anything from this slight delay.

They also have pace groups within the start lanes. I picked the 8-9 minute pace group this year based on my training times, which put me closer to the front than I have ever been: I crossed the start line only half a minute after the race began. Early running was clogged, as it always is in these things, but I quickly found space to hit a comfortable pace. I cleared my first mile in 8m27, which I felt was a good beginning.

In fact, all of my first four miles went pretty exactly on plan. My lovely family came out to cheer me on* and they waited for me at the four mile mark (by The Chart House, a restaurant overlooking south Portland) and I saw them almost exactly when I said I would — it is always satisfying when these predictions are borne out! Then it was the long trundle back down the hill.

Terwilliger, however, is not a steady gradient. There’s a downhill for half a mile then up again before the last crest just up from the VA hospital. On one of my usual running routes I would then follow Broadway to downtown, but this 15K route carried us back down to Barbur past the Duniway Park track then south to rejoin Naito Parkway.

For some reason, that gentle slope on Barbur from Duniway Park back up to the Naito junction just killed my legs. Up to that point I had been able to keep a respectable turn over to maintain my pace, but on that section my push muscles decided they were done. I managed a tiny tiny spurt of speed over the last two or three blocks to the finish, but my last couple of miles were pretty slow.

The Outcome

My watch told me I ran at 9m01 pace, but the official race time gave 8m58. I’ll take that.

It compares favourably with my ten miler a few weeks ago (which was 8m52 pace, but over a well understood route), and although I could probably go faster with better preparation, my over-tapered run-up to race day meant that I lost some of the pace I should have had. There again, I was also less injured than I would have been if I had pushed harder; I think I made the right trade-off.

One reason I know this is because although my muscles are sore, they are not as sore as they were after previous races and (critically) only my muscles are sore: there is no new joint pain, and stretching after my run today showed that my tendons are significantly less inflamed (eg IT band stretch didn’t hurt).

I’m not sure I will do the Shamrock again, but this is a very exciting return to form so I will joyfully do more races in the future.

[*] and they bought me baked goods for later, which was a delicious way to refuel!

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The Failings of Todo Lists

When I was writing the March things post, it occurred that there is an emotional component to todo lists that can be discouraging.

When I am writing a todo list, I often put something like “write todo list” on the list, so that when I have finished making the list I have something I can cross off immediately. This seems healthy to me, a way to get a quick win and boost your confidence about accomplishing the rest of the tasks.

Those kinds of daily todo lists are also healthy in that you can see the whole thing at once, usually. A daily todo for me will be a single small sheet of paper, not usually as small as a Post-It but maybe a 3″x5″ index card, or a quarter sheet of Letter or A4 paper.

But the weakness with the task lists I use in my writing is that they are either too big to apprehend in one go (eg revision plans) or they are too verbose to fit into the window I have for them on screen. That means that I cannot get a clear visual sense of what the state of the tasks is, which means I have no immediate feedback when I do make progress.

An added complication with Three Things as a methodology is that the Things themselves above the daily level tend to be fairly coarse: they will include discovery, design, implementation and verification of something, for example. If I were putting them through an Agile methodology I would break them down into smaller, more bounded tasks with definite completion criteria.

In my day job task lists, I have tried to to mitigate this by listing my sprint tasks (which are bounded and measurable) in a window which fits them. They are always visible, and they can be marked complete easily so I can see my progress.

I need to find a way to do that with my writing tasks too.

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March Things, 2019

It was about ten years ago when I started to realise how much more allergic to cats I was becoming. I had good days but they were the exception rather than the rule: I felt like I was swimming through congestion most of the time. Whole days and weeks would pass without a clear sense of having accomplished anything*.

Honestly, February felt a bit like that again.

I am in a much better place than I was when we still had cats roaming over our bed, or even last winter when I had the cold that never went away, but I have still felt rather loose and weak all month, even as I have been exercising more efficiently than ever.

So, as we go through this monthly things post (which only really covers a couple of weeks anyway), I expect a lot of “no work” remarks, because I feel like I consumed time rather than produced meaningful writing.

Three Things for February

I made this a short goal list because the post came so late in February. What of even those goals did I manage?

  1. Song fourth draft — prep for crit group feedback session. Completed. The feedback I got was very helpful and enthusiastic, and honestly that might be the thing that helps me most: I have been struggling to find my enthusiasm about anything, even Song. Hanging out with crit group folks brought it back.
  2. short stories — two things:
    1. finish draft of next BSQ story
    2. plan story for submission this quarter

    Neither of these saw any work.

  3. workshop application — write draft of cover letter. Didn’t do this, but did clean up a sample chapter.

Score 1.5/3 — that’s actually better than I expected.

… which was another hallmark of the Bad Cat Fuzz Time — I was always surprised when I looked at what I had got done. It was never “all of it”, but at least it was more than I had imagined.

Three Things for 2019

February was not productive, so obviously my 2019 goals won’t have moved on much. Let’s take an unflinching look.

  1. query A Turquoise Song — a goal in three sequential parts:
    1. prepare a fourth draft — incorporate feedback, make it good. Target is to have this done by the middle of the year. I have collected more feedback which will help here, but I don’t have a revision plan yet.
    2. prepare query letter — obviously the initial targets are the agents I talked to at the conference in 2017, but I also want to prepare for querying other agents.
    3. query — get the book out there.
  2. short stories — I am finding my relationship to short stories becoming much less contentious, even fruitful!
    1. several stories to write for Boundary Shock Quarterly — the first one is begun, but I Need to finish it.
    2. write and submit four stories to other markets. So that’s one a quarter, and I will mark it as such.
  3. engage with the writing community — this is a nebulous label for a group of related goals that don’t warrant a top level item to themselves.
    1. workshop application — I’m going to apply for an intensive workshop. More on that once it’s in hand, which it isn’t yet.
    2. podcast — one of the things that came out of the inconclusive work on producing Livia as an audiobook was a desire to launch a podcast of some kind. This would be audio-only initially, although I am still searching for a good format.
    3. cons & confs — I need to be getting out there more. I just do.

Minor incremental progress only. Looking for better things in March.

Three Things for March

Time to get the train back on the rails.

  1. short stories — finish the BSQ story that is due in a few weeks. Hard deadline.
  2. Song fourth draft — revision plan is needed. Build that.
  3. workshop application — cover letter or sample chapters.

Trying to to keep things a bit punchier this month.

Now to punch harder.

[*] I was accomplishing things, really, but it was reactive rather than effective and I really had no clear awareness of how much I was getting done.

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