Saturday, January 23, 2010

Training by Running Update: Hoping for a Northerly

Since the last post on training for the half marathon, I've managed four training runs of 16 to 17 km. I managed to reduce my 17km-ish time from around 1 hr 11 to a little over 1 hr 09, and on the 14km section which tracks the actual course of the race I improved from 58 minutes to a little over 56.

However, to be fair, the last couple of runs have been in close to perfect conditions whereas the first one was in a howling northerly of extrordinary strength -- heading north back around Point Jeringham the gusts were so strong that at one stage I was actually making no progress despite pushing into the wind with all my force. So it's questionable how much improvement I've actually made.

The last week has been a bit of a write off for training purposes. I spent the weekend doing the Southern Crossing of the Tararuas, and then I allowed recovery time to be in reasonable shape for my two mid-week games of indoor football (they're close to the highlight of my week and take precedence over everything else). There's also been some non-optimum eating and drinking over the past few days.

I have one more training run tomorrow, and then that's it until race day next Sunday.

This brings me back to the issue of wind and wind direction. Presumably because it's an add-on to the 7km Round the Bays fun run, this half marathon is not geographically balanced, unlike the Harbour Capital race run in June, which is an "out and back" course. The course heads from Frank Kitts Park to Cobham Drive, up around the Miramar peninsula almost to Scorching Bay, then back to Kilbirnie Park. Two-thirds of the course goes essentially north to south, making a significant net movement south over the race as a whole.

This means that, while light winds would still be preferable, a moderately fresh northerly would still be ok, because it would be close to a tail wind for two thirds of the race, including the last leg. Even a light southerly would be ok: I've found I can still do the first 7km leg into the breeze in 28--29 minutes, and a tail wind would be useful in the 'difficult' middle part of the race. Where things would really come unstuck is in a fresh southerly, so I'm praying we don't get those conditions next Sunday.

The race starts at 8:30 am, so strong sun and warm temperatures should also be taken out of the equation (yes, we actually have had a little bit of those recently in Wellington). The ideal would be a light northerly, overcast, around 16 degrees and maybe the lightest of intermittent drizzle. Currently the forecast says fine with a high of 20 and a northerly at 30 km/h. That would be acceptable! But weather forecasts can of course change in a week.

It's been good to have a goal, but pounding up and down the pavements is not actually my favourite activity, and it does take a lot out of you. Succeed or fail in the half marathon, I'll be quite glad to get back to regular trips to the gym and of course the football.

Scooter Races

I had to put up these pictures, from Christmas Day at my parents' place in Rolleston. My almost-five year old niece Alex and almost-three year old nephew Tommy got scooters for Christmas. Tommy hasn't quite got the scootering thing figured yet, although judging by his trampolining and tricycling skills (including braking), it won't be far away.

Alex on the other hand hardly wanted to leave the scooter for a second, and was keen to take on all comers, including her uncle.

Needless to say, I was no match for a light and nimble almost-five year old. "You're too sloow", was the verdict from the finish line as I scrambled the last few metres down the driveway.

To be fair, I was hindered a little by not putting my whole weight onto the scooter, keen not to buckle the kids' Christmas present. Later, on a longer run down a footpath in Kaipoi, Alex's Dad Jeremy showed this was indeed possible and I was able to gather a bit more speed -- but not enough to catch up with Alex.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Latin America's Gifts to the World

Many thanks for the responses to my previous post from my regular readers (all three of you). Between you, you managed to name most of the major food products or ingredients that come from the Americas and were unknown elsewhere in the world until the 16th century. There's still a few more than didn't get named, but sufficient time has passed and it doesn't look like I'm going to get any more responses.

Here is the list I had in mind, after much consultation of Wikipedia. I may have missed a few myself, so feel free to point out any other products I might not have thought of.

Maize / corn
Chocolate / cocoa
Common bean (green, red, black, yellow, pinto, etc)
Squash family (including courgette, marrow, pumpkin)
Cashew nuts
Brazil nuts
Coca (as in Coca Cola, so yes it qualifies as a food ingredient or flavouring, as well as a narcotic).

Related to the last item, apparently Latin America is also home to about 85 percent of all known hallucinogenic plants. As far as I know no one has a really good theory about why that is.

The American origin of many of the above comes as quite a surprise (or at least it does to me), given how inherently globalised they seem. It's therefore interesting to reflect that none of the following are native to Latin America and were unknown there until the 16th century:


Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Joy of Chili

Today's interesting Wikipedia article: a summary of the biology, history and culinary uses of the chili pepper in all its varieties and permutations. I have to admit to being surprised that the plant family is native only to South and Central America (including the Caribbean). Who would have thought that with its importance to cuisine from East Africa to Italy to India to Southeast Asia to China, this marvellous source of piquancy only become known to the rest of the world through Iberian colonisation of the Americas in the 16th century?

If they haven't already, someone should surely write a sweeping historical biography of the pepper's rise to world domination, along the lines of such books on salt, sugar, and, um, cod.

A prize to readers who can name other major food products that are widespread staples or central ingredients in national and international cuisines yet are relatively recent gifts to the world from Latin America. (Actually, no prize sorry, but see if you can name some anyway).

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Mountain Climbing Preparations, No 1 -- Training by Running

Having a big, long-term, terrifying goal has flow-on effects. It motivates you to to do things which then develop their own sub goals.

One of the ways to train for mountain climbing (or anything that requires endurance) is running. The training web sites recommend that as much as possible you train "in kind", i.e. by actually carrying a heavy pack uphill. However, there's limits to how much or how often you can do this (viz, aborted tramping trip in the Tararuas, Dec 17--20). And in any case, it may not be possible to simulate the stresses you will be under climbing. The duration, pace, elevation and difficulty of any treks you get to do will depend on things like the time available, the terrain accessible, the preferences of your trekking companions, and the vagaries of the weather.

Running, on the other hand, allows you to destroy yourself at your leisure. And with my ability at cycling (distinctly mediocre) or swimming (close to non-existent), running is the obvious choice for sustainable, easy-access pain infliction.

Thus, it was the decision to aim for Aconcagua that provided the incentive to get back into running. I was long past due to replace my running shoes, since my existing ones were falling apart and never fit me that well anyway. When I finally made the trip down to the Shoe Clinic to have my gait analysed and buy some shoes, I'm not sure if I'd actually gone as far as saying it out loud, but the idea was certainly germinating somewhere in my mind.

At first I mainly ran on hills, or at least included a hill in the run. I managed to run for 1 hr 45 around the bays, with a loop up part of Mt Victoria. I did several runs up to the Brooklyn wind turbine. From my flat in Northland, that requires a descent to Aro St, followed by perhaps 280 metres of vertical ascent over a few kilometres.

In the most recent of these excursions, I pushed on past the windmill along the increasingly rough track that heads towards a mysterious radar station and eventually the sea. After about 25 minutes on this track, it started to get dark, the misty drizzle got thicker, and in the end I only just turned around in time to make it back to the windmill before the weather and the night closed in. I had been out nearly two hours -- not long by marathoners' standards, but seemingly a bridge too far for my body. I must have suffered dehydration, salt loss, or something, aggravated by being battered around in two indoor football games over the next couple of days (see future post on "training mix"). For about the next week I felt wiped out, even mildly depressed.

I was at risk of getting discouraged and allowing my training schedule to drift into haphazardness. Fortunately, I discovered that there is a half marathon scheduled for February 21 as part of the Wellington Round the Bays event. The opportunity to run under 1 hr 30 is something of a lifetime goal and a definite motivation. I have run three previous half marathons, in times of 1:34, 1:37 and 1:31. The last two were in strong northerly winds, and the last one may have been "worth" less than 1 hr 30, given that the winner didn't go far under 1:10 and I was 80th in a field of 800. But the time you did is the time you did, and it remains the case that I've never broken that magical figure.

I've now entered the race, and even just the anticipation of entering was enough to inspire a 16 1/2 km post-Christmas jog when I was down south at my parents' place. Since coming back to Wellington, I ran over the course last Thursday (appreciating the rata-splashed joys of the Miramar peninsula), and on Sunday did an out-and-back run of the first leg from Frank Kitts Park to Kilbirnie Park. I managed the course proper in 1 hr 35, while the 14km Sunday run took bang on an hour. That leaves substantial room for improvement if I want to reach my target.

Slightly worrying is that on both occasions there was a northerly tail wind on the first leg and I couldn't do it in less than 29 minutes: on Thursday my 7km splits were 31/34/30, and on Sunday approximately 29/31. It was somewhat odd that Sunday's last leg should be the quickest: on the positive side it shows good endurance, but on the negative, it could suggest that for some reason (encroaching age, poor technique?) I have no speed.

A consoling factor is that I think (based on my reading of the course map) that I have been adding some extra distance on to the first bit by doglegging around Te Papa. I have also been running with a small backpack carrying a little food, light pants and a sweater, and carrying a drink bottle in one hand. You don't want to run for an hour or more without liquid, but I think the bottle may be a slowing factor by restricting use of the arm which is carrying it. On Sunday, I ditched the bottle in a bin by Cobham Drive; it was notable that my time on the return leg was only 2 minutes slower despite running into a howling northwesterly that was so strong at times it was hard to stay upright.

Anyway, I'm off for another run tomorrow, and this time will be able to leave my things at work and run without a backpack, so we'll see how that goes. Also, although I know it's good practice, it would be nice to have a little bit less wind!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Non-Traditional Exports in the Andes

I'm a regular reader of Peruvian economist and La Republica columnist Humberto Campodónico -- for New Zealand readers, sort of a cross between Brian Easton and Rod Oram. Campodónico writes dense, detailed columns on the world and Peruvian economies, with particular attention to national policies on natural resources such as minerals, petroleum and gas. He is a trenchant critic of what he argues is the Peruvian government's unreformed neoliberalism, its lack of a coherent plan for development and its pandering to the whims of international investors in extractive industries.

Campodónico often resembles a traditional investigative journalist, as he strings together data and timelines to demonstrate how resources have been given away cheaply or tax revenue needlessly wasted. It's hard to imagine a columnist with such a wonkish, fact-based approach, which requires readers to really concentrate, getting such a prominent slot in a New Zealand newspaper.

A particularly interesting recent column compares the progress in developing "non-traditional exports" in Peru, Chile and Colombia. In Latin America, "traditional" exports refer to primary materials such as minerals and petroleum and unprocessed cash crops such as bananas and sugar. These have often been dominated by international coporations operating in economic "enclaves". "Non-traditional" exports are those with a greater value-added content: often, though not always, they are produced at a smaller scale, are more labour-intensive and tend to be locally owned.

A rise in non-traditional exports can be viewed as one measure of the strength of a developing country's economy. Exports are of course important because they provide the foreign currency needed to buy things that aren't produced locally and to pay for borrowing. A higher proportion of "non-traditional" products may indicate greater economic sophistication, resilience and broader participation. For Campodónico, they represent "the insertion of the local entrepreneurial classes in the world market".

In this respect Chile, Colombia and Peru are worth comparing because they are the medium-sized South American countries that have opted to continue with orthodox "market" economies, as opposed to the "Bolivarian" triumvirate of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, who have built strategies around greater state control and redistribution of the rents from raw materials.

According to the respective central banks, in 2008 Chile exported $65 billion USD, of which 41% was earned by non-traditional exports (mainly food products such as fish, fruit and wine). Colombia exported $37.6 billion, with 47% non-traditional (chemicals, paper, textiles, leather and food). Meanwhile, Peru exported $31.5 billion, with just 25% from non-traditional products (metallurgy, textiles and agroindustrial products).

Campodónico also notes that state-owned companies were responsible for about a third of the "traditional" exports in Chile and Colombia, whereas in Peru most mineral extraction is done by foreign, privately-owned companies.

These statistics show Peru to be significantly weaker than its two Andean neighbours -- a useful counter to triumphalism about its recent recent rate of growth in GDP. This perspective helps raise the questions: how much of this growth is being distributed among ordinary Peruvians? How much is being usefully reinvested? And, can it be expected to last?

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