Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Six Inch Trail Marathon



We woke up at 2:50am apparently. I'd woken up earlier in the night and had lain there expecting the alarm to go off at any second, then thought better of it and checked the time: 00:38. I sighed, got up and went to the toilet at the back of the chalet we were staying at in Dwellingup, had a wee and went back to bed, falling asleep again almost immediately. My hydration strategy was a little too effective it seemed.

When the alarm went off I got up and started dressing, ready to go. I went through to the kitchen where Jonathan, Julie, Cameron, Jennifer and Jeremy all were and made myself breakfast. We were all a bit sleepy still, but we'd all gone to bed relatively early the night before, so we could pretend we were sufficiently rested.

I wasn't nervous at all. The only bout of nerves I felt in the final week leading up to the race was the ten minutes after we left the house to go down to Dwellingup, and I think that was because if I had forgot anything that I thought crucial to my preparation I would have to drive an hour back home to collect it. At 3:30am we left the house to pick up another runner at the Dwellingup Information Centre carpark and then on to the Caravan Park to collect Kat and Simon, then drove straight down to North Dandalup to the Memorial Hall and registration.

There are a few things that feel quite absurd at 4am but carefully applying sun cream before you can even see a hint of the sun is one of them. It wasn't expected to be hot (indeed it only got to about 29.C) but having spoken to Dad the previous evening and had him tell me of another skin cancer removal it did bring careful application of sun cream to the front of my mind.

The hall was filled with runners and volunteers, and I quickly went and registered. I would later discover that I had made an epic fail and placed my Aid Station 1 drop bag with the finish area bags instead of the Aid 1 bags, but fear not! we were fine without it. I then nicked round to the toilets behind the hall as I had remembered from last year the horror that was the inside toilets and the remarkable number of runners who have very nervous bowels. I will declare Dave Kennedy (Race Director) the genius who put solar powered lights in each cubicle as the toilets had no artificial light source otherwise. I recognised them as the course markers for the Lark Hill Dusk till Dawn Ultra.

Having had yet another wee, Jeremy and I set off for the start line at Goldmine Hill in Julie's car. When we got there everyone was milling around, a bit buzzy with excitement. Paul van der Mey found some of us and took some photos. Unsurprisingly the race had to start about 10 minutes late - there were a number of people who had not read their instructions and hadn't registered at the hall first before proceeding to the start line. The shuttle bus had become a two way bus and therefore there was a slight delay. I didn't hear anyone who cared about the delay, I think we were all too busy chatting to notice. The relief about the weather was palpable, and seemed to be a popular topic - I remembered last year's heat at 4:30am all too well, and I had only volunteered.

I had already started the course on my Garmin when we set off, so I just hit start on my watch. I stuck to my plan of refusing to be swept up by everyone else and running at the start, and I will admit to laughing at the mass of people that broke off the back of the pack of runners when they hit the actual beginning of the rise of Goldmine Hill. It was like watching the City to Surf 12km in miniature when everyone hits the climb at the top of St Georges Terrace; the front runners carry on up the hill with no decrease in speed, while the back of the great mass slowed almost as fast as rally car hitting a tree. The fifteen or so of us at the back gently made back the 50 metres that we had lost on the runners quite easily.

I'd been playing with Garmin Courses for a few weeks and had learnt their foibles and pitfalls. One was that the Garmin course on the Six Inch website was from a 4 hour 11 minute finisher, so if you follow that course file at the moment you hit the fourth hour and eleventh minute on course your Garmin will cheerfully advise you that your Virtual Partner has completed the course. Which I was advised by many to be quite demoralising. I'd worked out a way to adjust the course file for a 7 hour finish, so I'd saved that to my Garmin. During training I was almost always on map view, but on race day the course markings were so obvious and with all the reconnaissance runs we had done after about 6km I decided the map view was superfluous and left it on the Virtual Partner page instead.

The final goal that I'd set was to get a finish time that started 'Six hours..." so the main aim with changing the Garmin file was to assist me getting that goal. I had thought about it beforehand; you see, the Virtual Partner keeps on running at 8m45s pace, up hill and down hill. He needs no refuelling, so he doesn't stop at aid stations. This meant I had to build in a buffer for aid stations and the Escalator and when I went down hill I had to try and move faster than 8m45 pace. Ideally I would run up a number of the more gentle hills as well, all to build the buffer. Finishing in 6h10m was unlikely, but 6h50m was do-able. We soon built up a mile buffer time, so I had 15 minutes up my sleeve for a large portion of the race.

I wasn't completely utterly glued to my nutrition strategy - my watch beeped for a 1 minute walk reminder then for a 14 minute run reminder, the idea was that I would eat every 15 minutes. If it beeped for the 1 minute walk (i.e. eat!) and we were thundering down a hillside I would wait until we had plateaued for a while or hit the next uphill before I grabbed food. It would wash out in the end I figured, and it did.

Jeremy and I had ran and talked and strategised and walked uphill, belting down hills with great joy for about 19 km when we were travelling along a roadside. I was distracted and didn't really take any notice of the camber of the gravel road and stepped on a pile of gravel on the edge. I slipped sideways as the gravel pushed out from underneath my foot. I'd run through loose gravel before but there was always something hard and flat underneath it, this time it was sitting on a slope and was piled up looking flat on top.

I landed on my left hip, putting my left hand out and down as I landed. I inspected my hand and it looked a bit grubby with some minute grazes. Then as Jeremy tried to get me to stand up in an attempt to forestall the shock setting in, I rolled slightly to pick the weight off my left hip. At that point the shock train left the station and with Jeremy coaxing me to stand up I just gazed out over the bush and took some very deep breaths. I stood up and lifted my shorts leg to see a large square of gravel, dirt and bloody scratches. I requested Jeremy get the antibacterial wipes out of my backpack and please clean it. He gently wiped it clean while I winced and cried. There was no gravel embedded and I looked down to see my hip start to bleed afresh. A few runners came across us at this point, Alicia, Caroline and Rob, and as we started walking on we discussed that while on the outside you are an adult, when you are injured it feels like you have a stroppy three year old trapped inside.

They carried on and Jeremy and I kept walking. It hurt a lot to run and I couldn't work out whether it was the fresh air on the wound, the movement of my flesh and skin on my hip when I ran, ripping at the grazing or if it was just the shock. There was no serious internal damage, no bones broken, just ripped skin. Earlier in the day I had made it halfway up Goldmine Hill when I thought of another goal. To "finish with all organs intact and functioning" had sounded like an excellent plan, considering skin is an organ. That goal was cactus now.

We ran and walked the next 5 km to Aid Station 1. I would run the downhills starting off with a big swear, and intake of breath all the while wincing regularly. I checked with Jeremy how much Fixomull he had packed in his First Aid kit and my plan was to have Jeremy apply it at the Aid Station, us to both run to Aid 2 and assuming I got there OK I would assess my chance of finishing the race. I cried with frustration at the annoyance of it all. I'd not crashed on any recon run, and it was a hazard I should have spotted but didn't. Jeremy held my hand while I cried and we walked on.

We ran into the Aid Station and Jeremy told me to get ready to remove my pack for refilling. We got to the number caller and she couldn't read Jeremy's number so I told it to her and she yelled it up the hill. Jeremy went to the water table and I went to the other, where the drop bags were and realised I couldn't see mine.

I think I was supposed to completely lose it at this point. I was dusty, bleeding, in a bit of pain and the refill of my massively overcatered 'feed an army' array of nutrition was evidently sitting at the finish line awaiting my arrival in about 3 hours. Tracy - a fellow parkrunner from the beginning of Claisebrook Cove parkrun - asked me what I needed from the station and told me that Simon and Kat had had the same drop bag problem as I. I said I needed to refill my pack with water, that I had some High 5 electrolyte tablets to drop in it and that I needed a hug. Someone filled my pack as Tracy gave me the hug, and then whipped out an array of gels from her pockets and asked me if I wanted some. There was a cool mint Endura gel in her collection so I requested that one, as they taste like toothpaste.

It's amazing what a hug can do: I felt better immediately. Tracy told me she was proud of me, Jeremy handed me the first aid kit and I dug out the Fixomull and tiny scissors and cut the strips down while he stuck them on my bleeding hip. After we finished the race Jeremy said that he was sure I was going to pull out at Aid 1. To be honest it had not occurred to me. I knew that there was no proper damage; my hip hurt, I was in a bit of shock but otherwise fine. My spate of crying was frustration but it didn't occur to me to give up there. I thought it was a better idea to use the next 11km to Aid 2 to see whether I needed to withdraw to allow Jeremy the ability to continue on and finish within the time cut off.

The time cut offs had weighed on my mind throughout training. I remember last year having to talk to runners as we were getting closer to 10:30am at Aid 2 that the time cutoff was nearing. I'd tried to deliver it in an upbeat way, sort of "You're going well! You've still got 23 minutes before cut off!" Jeremy and I had calculated expected finish times and speeds using our training runs for a baseline and he was confident that barring catastrophe we would complete the 47km, and that finishing within the 7 hour 30 minute time limit was more than feasible. As it was my first ever ultramarathon - heck, my first ever marathon - I had remembered my first half marathon goal, which was to finish within the 'time limit' (there really wasn't one, so I had chosen the time of the slowest runner from the previous year as my time limit) but noting that "you don't want to have run 21.1 km and consider yourself to have failed". My plan for Six Inch was quite similar: I really didn't want to be pulled out at Aid 2. I had signed up to run the event in July, we started training properly in September, and the time taken for our first recon run gave me more certainty that I could reach Aid 1 well before 8:30am, therefore Aid 2 well before 10:30am and the finish line before noon.

We ran out of Aid 1 and off into Jeremy's favourite part of the course. It was the most beautiful section - even a stretch of trail underneath powerlines was gorgeous. There was a slower runner ahead of us and as we got to the end of the powerlines stretch we could hear the sound of music coming from somewhere. It wasn't until we turned right out of the powerlines that I realised that it wasn't from a marshal point but was coming from the backpack of the runner ahead. I had been enjoying the birdsong earlier but suddenly it sounded like I was downwind of the Busselton Ironman finish chute. In retrospect I am grateful for it, because it annoyed me enough to realise that if I didn't pass this lady then I was never going to get away from the sound. I picked up my pace with Jeremy behind me and we powered through the stretch away from the lady, towards a dirt road crossing and up to the marshals directing people to the Aid 2 out-and-back section.

I must loudly thank the marshals here. They had supersoakers, and they weren't afraid to use them. It was absolutely glorious, and when coming back down the hill from Aid 2 I did think of their water guns waiting for me up ahead.

I call the start of the 5km out-and-back section the On Ramp, because you go slowly uphill for a reasonable grind until you hit some moonscape like rocks, then thunder down before you get to a sharp left downhill taking you to the base of the Escalator. I've written before about the Escalator. It's also called Hell's Gate, but I think Escalator suits it, as it seems to be about the same pitch and length as the escalators from Murray Street at Perth Underground station. It is badly rutted from water gushing down to the winter stream at the bottom of the hill. Needless to say on race day the stream had dried up, and as you go down the hill opposite the Escalator you are probably looking down at your feet to ensure you don't fall over. Later on I had slightly gleeful reports of some people who had not done recon runs, but had heard about the hill, and thought that they were already going down the Escalator as they went down the hill from the On Ramp, then as the trail turned and they reached the bottom they looked up and realisation flooded their face. Quite often interesting terms were used, and certain names were taken in vain.

I like the Escalator. I'm not a chess player, but I have read that if you play chess you have to plan your moves in advance - move my Knight to this square, then when they move their Bishop to that square move this Rook... and on. I think the Escalator is like that. I pick my way up it, and plan where I am going next - "If I walk up this side of the ruts, then I can get to there, move over to the other side, and when I get up to that join ..." I like climbing it, but I also think that I like climbing it because I don't try and run up it. I accept that it is a stonking great hill, and there is nothing I can do about it because I have to pass through the checkpoint at Aid 2 and that is at the top. At this point Jeremy and I split up and ran separately. He is swifter up that hill than I am - better depth perception I suspect, and he is probably less risk averse. I knew the split was going to happen and did not mind at all - the Escalator you have to traverse at your own pace, not someone else's.

Julie had driven to Aid 2 well before and had taken a drop bag there for us. When I got to Aid 2 Jeremy had been filling his bottles with the Staminade powder from the bag and had a refill of water. Rachel, the Carine Glades parkrun Event Director was volunteering on this Aid Station and offered me a Vegemite sandwich while her daughter Andie filled my hydration pack. I gratefully accepted the sandwich and scoffed it while I retrieved the few energy bars out of our drop bag. I also nicked Jeremy's funnel to donate to the cause because the guys at the water table didn't have one to use to dispense the Hammer Heed, and I wanted to fill my empty soft flask with that. We funnelled in the Heed, whacked the top on my soft flask and Jeremy and I both went back out.

Somewhere between Aid 1 and Aid 2 I'd lost the Fixomull on my hip, but I hadn't felt it hurt. As I reached the top of the Escalator I remembered I had some tampons and Panadol in the pill pocket of my hydration pack. I use Implanon, and am one of the lucky people who generally no longer have periods, but in the two weeks before the race there were signs that I was likely to have my period soon. When I have had my period, the cramps have been horrifically debilitating for up to a couple of days. There was an excellent chance that it was all my mind playing pre-race tricks on me, but I'd woken up the day of the Albany Port to Point once with my period and the only thing that got me through that race was painkillers. I had also read far too many tales of collapse and organ semi-failure from ibuprofen use during races, so I decided that it was probably a good idea to pack paracetamol (acetaminophen) and not ibuprofen.

At the top of the Escalator I had noticed that my hip had started to sting and ache again. I don't know if it was the slowing down, or trying to balance on the hill that caused it, but I popped two of the Panadol and thought that it probably wouldn't actually help, but the placebo effect might instead. I had called out to Jeremy that I was going to meet him at the top of the hill at the turn right to the On Ramp (or off ramp, in this case) and made my way gently down the hill and back up the other side. We walked up the stretch that we had run down before and then ran down to the marshal point where the glorious supersoakers fired upon us again. We turned right and then along up to the left turn where we started to climb again.

When we had got to the supersoaker marshal point the first time we had 15 minutes on the Virtual Partner, or 1.7km buffer, but when we started to climb again we were down to 1 minute 30 seconds. I told Jeremy I didn't mind missing the sub-7 hour goal and he said that we had a way to go, and we could make up time. I thought he was just trying to jolly me along, and I didn't mind - positive thinking is useful in any race. He also reminded me that the current climb was 'a dog of a climb' and that we did have a good downhill coming. We were a fair way along and we were making back a few seconds here and there but nothing of great consequence, then I happily remembered the Marrinup powerlines stretch coming up.

Just before we came up to the turn right to the powerlines we came across Dutch, Ian and Paul. Dutch is the Claisebrook Cove parkrun Event Director, and it was the first marathon and ultramarathon for all three. They'd set out to run together with a plan of minority rules. "No hill has to be run up, and any one person can declare a stretch of trail a hill, and therefore not to be run."

The Marrinup powerlines is a great downhill, and whilst it is very exposed to the elements, the weather was perfect and the breeze was cool. Jeremy and I belted down that hill, gaining back enough time for me to believe him that sub-7 was still plausible. We moved into the stretch of trail after the Marrinup Aid 3 station. It isn't an 'official' Aid Station as such, but last year it was the remains of the water supplies for the Aid 1 station after it had closed down at 8:30am, so I assume it was the same this year. I did spot a very familiar bag of Allens racing car lollies that I suspected was left over from the 7.8 kilos Jeremy and I had taken to the North Dandalup aid station we volunteered on in September for the WTF 50 and 100 Mile ultramarathon.

We got to some singletrack trail and Dutch, Paul and Ian were still ahead of us at this point. I tried to keep up with them all but it just wasn't happening. I slowed down with Jeremy, and he put me in front so that he would run at whatever pace I could manage. He had been doing calculations on pace, distance to cover, and time allowed and said that I just had to manage about a slightly faster than walking pace parkrun. I broke into a bit of a trot which from the inside felt swift, but from the outside probably looked like an ungainly shuffle.

My ungainly shuffle eventually took us past Dutch, Ian and Paul - as I came up behind them I told them that I hadn't stuck my butt in the dirt to not try and crack sub-7 hours, and they ushered us past. Up and down and around trees I wheezed and shuffled and kept an eye on my watch as the finish line drew closer. I was very aware of how my left hip felt, so I decided to concentrate on how good the right one felt. My rationale was that if the right one felt fine, the left one as probably also completely fine underneath all the stinging. I needed to keep my mind off running so I analysed the sound of my noisy exhale and decided it was like a combination of the sound of a metal chair leg scraping on a concrete floor, and the sound of a fat, old, overheated rottweiler dog. This breathing method was a bit of an issue as we came across a farm shed that either held pigs or pig manure, so as we passed I ever-so-classily breathed through the sweat cloth that I'd had looped onto my pack.

At one point we had built up enough of a buffer that Jeremy said we could slow down to a power walk for a while and still make it within the seven hours. We discussed the pitfalls of trying to start running again - i.e. I was fairly sure I'd fall over because my legs didn't want to pick my feet up any higher. We reached the final turn on the trail and Jeremy broke into a trot towards the finish line with me not far behind. He managed to cross the road but the marshal stopped me until he was sure that the traffic wasn't about to take me out. I waved a thank you to the cars who kindly stopped and ran on the grass to the finish chute where Jeremy was waiting just outside for me. I grabbed his hand and we crossed the finish line together.

Six hours, 53 minutes, 50 seconds.

I haven't decided if I want to do it again next year. Ask me again in July.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Breaking it Down

When you have what appear initially as completely unachievable goals, you have to break them down into manageable chunks - any book, coach, sensible friend or counsellor will tell you that. So my goal isn't just to complete the Six Inch marathon, it's actually a lot more detailed than that.
Over time thoughts have spun through my head and made each chunk of my goal ever smaller. I started off with a list of 3 goals that went: To finish; to finish within the time limit, and then to finish with a better time than Jeremy and Vince's time last year. That simple list of three goals has since been extended somewhat.
So, my goals are, in order:

1) To wake up in time for the race

It's a daft thought, but the race does start at 4:30am. We have to be at the volunteer fire brigade hall for registration at 4am, the briefing is at 4:20am. Waking up in time will be slightly easier because there will be two other participants in the house who will have to be up at stupid o'clock as well.

2) To make it to Aid station 1

Aid 1 is roughly halfway, at the 23km mark. It will be the furthest I've run in a race setting, and I know that I can do it. Also, if despite all the training and planning it all goes pear shaped, off the top of my head I can think of two different points (about 8km in and about 18km in) where the course reaches bitumen road, which would mean extraction would be easiest there. All I would have to do would be to get to those points.

3) To make it to Aid station 2

Aid 2 is at the 34 km mark, so only 11 km from Aid 1. This is simultaneously the most beautiful and most difficult section, as it includes two hills - the hill that runs parallel to the Alcoa conveyor belt through the arboretum, and the Escalator and on-ramp hill on the out and back spur to Aid 2. I've been up the Escalator two and a half times - the half was when it started raining and the small rivulets of water in the deep ruts on the steep hill suddenly began gushing quite quickly and we all upped and evacuated the area as quickly as possible. I've only been through the arboretum once, but there are signs next to the trees along the trailside in this section, and they are numbered from about 79 through to 29 at the top of the hill. The top is the highest point in the race, and it has a dirty great Telstra communications tower to emphasise the fact.
Actually 29 is an important number, because when you finish coming down from the arboretum hill and turn left to head over the conveyor belt you are at the 29 km mark in the race. When you go past the conveyor belt it marks the start of a stonking downhill where at one point in training I was making six minute pace when on trail I normally do 8 minutes 30 seconds.

4) To make it back down the Escalator without faceplanting

It's an impressively steep hill, it seems to increase in elevation by about 50 metres in the space of about 100 metres. It is also quite rutted from water gushing down it. Sensible descent will be slow and steady, without feeling pressured by other competitors and their speeds down the hill.

5) To finish

Once we pass the 29 km mark, it will be unchartered territory in that I've never run further than that in training. I had hoped to run a 35 km run or two long runs back to back but it never happened. However I have faith that I will make the finish.

6) To finish within the time limit

You have seven and a half hours to finish the race. I know that I can finish the race, but a reasonable chunk of my brain still won't let me think that I can finish the race within the time period. It may be that I will just have to complete it before I can believe it. It may also hinge on weather. If it is ridiculously hot - and it *is* December in Australia, so it's not exactly snow weather - I may have to just be happy with finishing.

7) To finish the race with a time that starts "Six hours..."

I would love this. I have set up the Garmin Course on my watch so that it is timed for a 7 hour finisher. This way I will know if I'm feeling good and I want to try for the time, I need to pull my finger out and push on or if I have time up my sleeve to allow for a longer than usual walk break in an attempt to regain composure and energy.
***
I've already run every centimetre of the 47 km course at least once. I've seen two snakes and a few lizards, I've got trail shoes that haven't caused blisters, and gaiters that have a Spider-Man design. I've trialled every piece of clothing that I will be wearing, and struggled with my nutrition until I felt I had a solid plan.
I know that if I want a competitive time, I haven't done nearly enough training, but as I just want to finish, I am sure I will.
I guess I'll find out next Sunday.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chat pace, recalculated.

I had a post in draft for a few days, and I finished it off the other night. It was heading close to 11pm, so I decided to post it the next day; my proofreading skills were probably going to be more accurate at 6am than at 11pm, so I scheduled it to post at 7am. I was pretty happy with it, but I always seem to publish a blogpost and then 15 minutes later spot where I've used the same word three times in the one sentence. I guessed the extra hour would allow me to proof read it one last time.

I hit save, and that appeared to work. There was no spinny wheel of death. I scheduled the post to publish at 7am the next morning, and there was a spinny wheel of death. Unthinkingly I refreshed the browser to fix it, and then saved again. I hit preview, and realised that all my careful edits and additions from that evening had disappeared. I was not amused. I went to bed, and figured I'd rewrite it on the weekend.

The post was all about my progression with my running. This week's Marathon Talk podcast mentioned the "sweet spot in running where to PB all you have to do is put your shoes on." I'd written about how I'd gone from taking 45 minutes to run 5km in May 2012 to being injured and not able to run through to my first ever parkrun in October 2012 where I finished in 33:09. When I really picked up the running I went from a parkrun PB of 30:18 to a PB of 26:55 in the space of 2 weeks. My most recent overall parkrun PB was 25:18 claimed at Claisebrook Cove parkrun last Christmas Day.

I distinctly remember running that 26:55 parkrun. I had asked Jeremy to pace me round to a sub-30, and preferably to sub 28:30, which was around the PB of a specific nine year old boy at Claisebrook Cove parkrun. I wore my watch -  I always wear my Garmin watch - but I started it and then didn't look at it again until I'd finished. I just ran.

I trusted Jeremy to pace me at a speed that I could sustain and enable me to reach my goals. I think he must have built in some "slowing down time" in his pacing; assuming that I would slow down in kilometres 3 and 4 so that he had a buffer to get us over the line in time. As it was, I don't think we'd used any of the slowing down time. I remember not really being able to speak, and making neanderthal-like grunts for most of the run, only speaking to ask him to count me in when we hit the cove, "500m to go, 400m to go..." up to the Heartbreak Hill finish line.

When I crossed the line, I hit stop on my Garmin, looked down and saw my time: 26:55. I semi-collapsed, chest still heaving and I'm pretty sure I sobbed. I didn't have enough energy to walk it off around the finish area, I just hit the deck. I was asked by Paul if I was OK, and I think I said something along the lines of "Yes, I just took 2 minutes off my PB", except I don't think I was that succinct, and I'm certain it didn't all come out in one sentence; there would have been pauses for breathing.

When you look at my recent results at parkrun, particularly the 22 that I've done at Pioneer, you would see some serious variation; my times run from 25:26 to 1:02:46. There is one that was 59:59, that was a spectacularly noisy stopwatch failure, but the rest are accurate times. I've run the course hard, run the course easy, walked the course and on a few occasions (including the 1:02:46) I was Run Director and then ran the course chasing the tail walker after Jeremy finished his run and took over RD duties; my official parkrun time will be 54:21, but Garmin will say 30:22.

So while I train for Six Inch I haven't really had the progress markers that I have had in the past. I can't really track specific parkrundays and say "There, that's where the stopwatch noticed I got faster." I've got one personal best (PB) time for Pioneer; 25:26 and just to mess with my chi I have the precise same PB time at Canning River. Considering the courses are completely chalk and cheese - Pioneer is the only hilly Perth metropolitan area parkrun course and Canning River is so flat it is considered to be prime PB territory, you can appreciate my annoyance. It isn't really a surprise, as I remember at Canning River just heading out for a run with no real ambition beyond enjoying my first parkrun at Canning River in ten months. Still, getting 25:26 was a bit galling, even if it did knock almost 40 seconds off my previous PB there.

On Tuesday nights a group of us meet up to do intervals and then afterwards we run a freedom run on the Canning River parkrun course, looping back after each kilometre marker to collect up the other runners so that no one is left behind in the dark. It's nicknamed darkrun. It started at the beginning of winter and has just grown from there. Like parkrun, you don't have to turn up every week, but you know that every week we'll be there, sweating as we run our intervals up and down the path, fast and slow, jog and sprint. 

This past Tuesday during the freedom run I ran for a while with a guy who hadn't been to Canning River before and didn't know the course. We were coming up to the 4.3km point on the parkrun course (it really is the only hill, and a small one at that), and because we'd been doubling back to collect runners I realised he wouldn't have known that he was 700m from home. That 4.3km point is roughly where people start to pick up the pace to give it a good sprint finish, so as we went up the hill I was giving him directions, telling him to stay on the path until he came to a T junction, to go left at the T junction and to stay on the path and not turn from it. I told him that the bitumen path would become wooden boardwalk, and then a long metal bridge, and when he ran off the other side of the metal bridge to keep to the right and the finish line was an enormous shoulder height boulder alongside the path.

Halfway through this monologue my brain registered that here I was, giving it a reasonable amount of welly (really, I was doing about 5 minute kilometre pace at that point) going up the teeny tiny hill, and giving someone coherent instructions. It was mindblowing. I had a new 'chat pace'. And it was fast!

Two days later on Thursday, Kat, Jeremy and I ran the Cool Night Classic, a 5km fundraiser run from the Belltower to the South Perth foreshore. Kat had done the run leg in a team at the Mandurah 70.3 in 36.C heat on the Sunday prior, so when at the half way mark she said she was just going to try and hang on to me, I told her to tuck in away from the headwind and we ran together. My Garmin had died before we started (massive lack of battery charge, despite having fully charged it), so I relied on her to tell me how far we had to go. There was a bloke with an official sign on the side of the path advising us that the finish was around the corner, and as we ran in I was encouraging Kat "You can see the arch! It's just there!" and we belted home in 25:56. I had felt really quite strong, and we were both really proud of our time, considering that we'd started in the fourth wave and had therefore had to navigate and zigzag around people.

As I finished up my post I noted that although I hadn't managed to crack my 25:18 PB from Christmas Day, I wasn't unhappy. I said that it probably helps to have the desire to get a PB; that most of the time I don't set out to try for a PB, I just set out to enjoy my run, and as long as I enjoy it, it is a successful run. When I began running my goal was just to manage 5km. When I reached that goal, it became to run the whole 5km. When I ran the whole thing, it was to do it faster, and after my first parkrun and 33:09, it was to go under 30 minutes. Once I was regularly running parkrun in under 30 minutes, I was starting to run 10k races, then half marathons, and getting a speedy parkrun time wasn't as big a deal for me. Yes, it was welcome - very welcome indeed, but it was enough for me to be able to run relatively swiftly and just enjoy myself.

This morning's parkrun was a slightly different affair. We had a 9.30am wedding at Caversham House we were due at, and Jeremy's plan was to run Aveley parkrun which was about 15 minutes drive from Caversham House. We rocked up ready for the 8am parkrun start time with our wedding clothes in the back of the car along with deodorant, a couple of very large towels, 4 litres of water and a jumbo pack of babywipes. If we ran 30 minutes at parkrun, we wouldn't be too sweaty to then find a secluded road (it's an area with a fair bit of bushland surrounding it), quickly clean up and change, and then head to the wedding. When we got there, Jon and Julie Storey were there with their children Cameron and Jennifer. They'd had the same idea, but had got access to some showers around the corner from Aveley parkrun, so Jeremy and my plans improved significantly. Cam and Jon are both fast enough that they could run and still make the wedding looking suitably tidy, but Julie and Jennifer didn't think that they'd manage it in time, and were going to spectate instead.

We started parkrun, and as per usual, I hit start on my Garmin and just ran. I had Jeremy in my sights almost the whole way. He was 'taking it easy' which meant he ran around 24 minutes. I knew that the more time we had at the other end the neater my hair would look at the wedding, so I just hammered along behind Jon, Jeremy and Jon's son Cameron. At the 4km mark Cam started to slacken the pace a bit, so I yelled out encouragement, and as we rounded the lake I was making inroads on the (nearly) 11 year old. At 100 metres to go I passed Cameron and was bolting for the finish line. As I crossed the line, I hit stop on my watch, grabbed my finish token and looked down at my time. 

24:58*.

OK. Getting a new overall parkrun PB is still a big deal.

*parkrun official time is 24:59. I'm still VERY happy with that.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Emotional resilience

I had another terrible run. Although calling it terrible really does depend on how you look at it. Yes, I went out to run the Six Inch course to the conveyor belt bridge, which is about 28km. Yes, I only managed 18km of that. I hit the wall; the first time ever while running. I've had unrelenting hunger, and I've had tiredness, but this time was different. My body rebelled. I could walk, but when I went to run it just wasn't happening. 

We had stopped at an intersection to regroup, and when we set off across the road to the next trail entrance I was the third runner up the hill, I stumbled a bit, and stepped aside to let the others past. Jeremy had been last because he had been directing Paul to the next meet point - Caroline was running with us, and Paul was meeting us at stops along the course, like Chase Service at a car rally. I asked Jeremy as he went up the hill if Paul would still be at the roadside. Jeremy squinted and said he could see him through the trees. I told Jeremy that I was going to catch a lift to the end with Paul, as my goose was cooked.

I made my way down the hill, and as I was getting close to the road I heard Paul drive off. I'm not ashamed to say at that point I swore. I was low on fuel, my intended saviour had sailed off down the road and everyone that I had been running with had gone off up ahead and I didn't have the energy to even try and chase them down. 

I stopped, bent over and hugged my knees for a second. In that second I decided that when Jeremy got to the next meet point he would see that I wasn't with Paul and would double back to find me, and Paul would wait for me. Also, I had the course mapped out on my Garmin and it was set at a scale of 300m so I was unlikely to take a wrong turn at walking speed. While I was carrying less fuel than would be ideal I also was not going to be running, so I would require less energy from food. I was low on water, but the course is on the Mundabiddi mountain bike trail, which goes all the way from Perth to Albany and I had seen signs pointing to water sources along the way, so chance was that I would see more. Also, the track is relatively well used, so I would probably come across other people. 

I started the trudge up the hill, and I don't know how far I managed, but I heard a call, a cooee. I returned it, and after a pause got another call, a different one. I called back again. Then Jeremy yelled out "Kelly! Walk up the hill!". I yelled back "I am! It sucks!" and a couple of seconds later I saw a most welcome sight. I hadn't realised, but the course cut through and met up with the road again. Jeremy had seen Paul, immediately realised I wouldn't have made the car as I am not Usain Bolt and had waved Paul down. When I got to the top of the hill I remember smiling at them both and saying "Computer said no".

We waved everyone off and I got into the car. The lovely lovely car. I had remembered to stop my Garmin, but I hadn't stopped the course directions, so we followed the course via my Garmin 910XT, Paul's iPhone and iPad which were showing the livetracking from Caroline's Garmin, and the map on the car's satnav system. We tracked the runners to the next meet point, and they were making good time. Then we drove down to where the Mundabiddi runs alongside the ALCOA refinery conveyor belt.  This section is the only straight bit on the Six Inch course. We also found out that despite being a mountain bike track this particular section was very drivable - then we passed the enormous Telstra telecommunications tower and worked out precisely why this part of the track is so wide and has very defined wheel tracks! 

I realised two things on Sunday. One is that while I have been following the 12WBT meal plan, I hadn't really been thinking about my day-to-day nutritional needs as I build up my running. We don't tend to swap out many meals - I tend to do my own thing for breakfast, but that is Weetbix and milk with a cup of tea and my snacks are usually fruit or yoghurt. We put the weekly meal plan on the fridge and often will on a whim just pick what to have that night for dinner, so sometimes we are left with meal like chargrilled beef  with avocado and corn salsa and we'll spectacularly cleverly have that for Saturday night dinner (we rejigged the plan so Sunday is my long run day and Monday is a rest day) when it has a total of 11.2 grams of carbohydrate. Don't get me wrong - it tastes amazing, but if you are heading out on a long run you want to have had a couple of days of chunky carbohydrate load in your body! So now we'll be rejigging the plan and searching the meal database for words like 'potato', 'pasta' or 'bread'.

Jeremy is fine with this sort of thing - he's still trying to lose a bit of weight but has been riding a bike excessively long distances since 2007 - over 2011 and 2012 he cycled a total of 50,000km - before he discovered running. All this means endurance and fatigue training are second nature to him, whereas I haven't been nearly as mean to my body in the past! I still have to develop the endurance to run these sort of distances easily. I have worked out that (normally) a half marathon doesn't take too much effort - more often than not I don't need a nap after a long run (not a race) if that long run is around 20km. 

The second thing that I learnt was that I probably have pretty good emotional resilience. I could see everything going south very fast for me, and I allowed myself a good swear, then I sucked it up and kept going. It bodes well for me - at some point in the race I think I will probably have a "quiet pity party for one, table by the window please", but then I will get on and get it done.

Best thing about all of this? Actually there are two. One is that there is another run coming up in a week or so that is essentially a repeat of what we were trying to do last Sunday, so I get a do-over. Second one is that because it was Jeremy and my anniversary yesterday we made pizza in celebration which gave me an excellent excuse to eat more carbohydrate. Homemade chick magnet pizza anyone?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Food. It's a trial.

I ran with Jeremy last weekend. We had a 25km run scheduled, and because he planned on going out on his bike afterwards, instead of going all the way down to Dwellingup we just ran from our front door Sunday morning at quarter past 7. We were doing a bit of a food trial as well. The previous day we'd stood in the baby products aisle of Woolworths and picked out two packets of baby food custard each, and I'd also packed us each a ziplock bag of Arnott's Shapes to eat as well. The race car lollies were deliberately left behind in this run.

We set out and the first 3km always seems to suck a bit on a long run. We had a couple of stops to adjust hydration pack straps and I had to extract a small rock from my left shoe, but on the whole the first 10km seemed to be pretty OK. We got to the toilet block at the Kent Street Weir and had one of our custard packs each, and that was when I realised it was not OK, and actually something had gone a bit wrong.

I finished my little pack of chocolate custard and it felt like I had tried to fill the Grand Canyon with a bucket. I hadn't had a gel before we started, but that hasn't been an issue on runs before. This time, I've never felt so hungry. When we've run that stretch in the past we usually stop at the Nicholson Road lights and wait for traffic which is when I would crack out the food but last Sunday we went straight through without stopping, so I hadn't actually eaten anything for the first 10km.

We went out from the Kent Street Weir the way we had come in, intending on doing the Canning River parkrun course in reverse to add in the extra 5km that we needed to make the course up to 25km. About 2km into the course I had a gel, and about 500 metres later I realised that it was pointless, I couldn't run on. Jeremy and I walked to Nicholson Road and we split up, he went back the way we had come, along the river, and I slowly walked up Spencer Road eating everything that I had, bar my second pack of custard. Once I could see the road rise up over Roe Highway I managed to break out a bit of trot and headed for home just nudging 20km.

The next day after I looked at my splits for the first 10km I added up all the spots where I had gone wrong. I realised that even though we had been chatting easily to each other, we were actually doing 6m05s pace. Considering my 10k PB is about 57 minutes I was essentially running at my 10k speed and intending on running for 25k. Which is not clever.

What also wasn't clever was that I wasn't really thinking about eating, and I did what I often used to do when cycling together with Jeremy. I am no good riding hands free on the bike, so when it came to opening an energy bar or gel I often waited until we reached an intersection or came to a natural stop because I didn't want to slow Jeremy down by my stopping to wrestle with a bit of plastic. This just means I would eat about 15 minutes or more after I should have. You need to be able to digest the food to use it, so by eating before you 'need' to it allows you to be always be in a bit of calorie surplus than calorie deficit. (This will only work to a certain point - I don't know that your body can digest enough calories on the fly to make up a deficit, which is why in really good runners an efficient running style and solid natural endurance come in so handy).

What wouldn't have helped my apparent calorie deficit was that Jeremy and I bolted down breakfast and then ran almost immediately afterwards - we gave ourselves no digestion time. If I run first thing in the morning, it's usually on an empty stomach but it is also only 5km and then I scoff breakfast and head off to work after a shower. For parkrun and pretty much any other run I have time to digest - in the car, or whilst I faff around and get ready to go. To digest a larger amount of food you need majority blood flow around your stomach. If you run you need majority blood flow around your limbs. There isn't enough blood in the body to do both at the same time.

This weekend's run was going to be up the Railway Reserve Heritage Trail, and I decided to do some better food planning. First off, I set the run/walk alert on my Garmin to act as a nutrition alert - DC Rainmaker gave me this idea. I set it to run for 15 minutes and walk for 1 minute, which gave me one minute to remember to quickly scoff some food.

We both had two ziplock bags of food - one savoury, one sweet. The sweet bag had some racing car lollies, some apricot delight (because I couldn't find those Bellis Apricot bars in the supermarket during the week), and chopped up Edens Sesame bars from the health food section (they have the same ingredients as the Europe Sesame bars from the confectionary aisle, but aren't nearly as sticky.) The savoury bag had some Arnotts Shapes and some pretzel sticks with big chunks of salt on them. In my pack I that second packet of custard from last weekend and I also had two mini bacon and cheese rolls from the Bakers Delight downstairs from work.

I had a gel before we started, I obeyed the alert on my watch - although I think I have to play with how the alerts work on my watch, because I sometimes didn't feel the alert, but as we had set off at 8:15 am I knew that I had to eat on the quarter hour. I think I'm so used to ignoring that kilometre auto lap alert that I just don't feel them anymore. I will keep the auto lap, but switch off the vibration for that if I can.

There was a group of 20 people who started off from Swan View, so we all split up into various groups according to our pace; some went off ahead, some were slower and more steady. I ran a lot with Didi, who we'd given a lift to, and I felt so much better than last week. I went through my ziplock bags of food, but didn't need to touch the bacon and cheese rolls. I felt really good all the way through, with no massive drops in energy. The track is a bit unrelenting, as you are going up a steady gradient the whole way, and the only downhill you can rely on is the one when we turned around and ran back to the start at the 12.5km mark.

When I ate something it was usually a small amount, but little and often seems to work quite well, the variety was welcome. Around the 16 kilometre mark I saw I was getting a bit low in food, and was mentally working out what extra I would need on race day to make it to aid station 1 (23km) and aid station 2 (34km) when I remembered the bacon and cheese rolls in my pack. I think that they could probably be swapped out with vegemite sandwiches. I was a tiny bit overjoyed at the thought that I was feeling so good without even having eaten those, and so now I feel like I have a better handle on food. Yes, a bit of my eating happened when I was stationary at regroup points on the run because they seemed to coincide a lot with 15 minute alerts, but I know in the unlikely event that I manage 15 minutes of solid running on the terrain at 6 Inch, one minute of walking will probably be very welcome.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Smashrun ran out of calories

I am asking for your assistance. I need a list of ridiculous meals. Really ridiculously large meals.

A parkrunner I know, Chris Hoy Poy, did the Waterous Trail on Foot 50 mile race a couple of weekends ago. It's a trail race, took him 12 hours and if you look at his Garmin details for the race on Smashrun you can see he used 6,593 calories throughout the race.

There is a nifty feature on Smashrun where it takes your calorie output and converts it into a more comprehensible form; a massive egg white omelette, a pint of Guinness, a pineapple, a bunch of bananas, 3 pitas and a ton of hummus, a giant steak dinner, etc.

When Chris loaded his race on Smashrun, the system listed it as the largest measurement it had - a giant steak dinner, at 1,850 calories. It shortchanged him 4,743 calories. So I submitted it as a bug to the Smashrun developers, and asked if they needed a list of even larger meals.



Chris Lukic, one of the developers responded almost immediately with "Yes." When Chris put the list together initially, there were no ultrarunners on the site. Now there are, and if one guy can burn through 6,593 calories over 50 miles, how many could you burn over 100 miles, or further?

So, that's where you come in. I'm trying to put together an extensive list of meals that we can use to build from 1,850 calories through to 15,000 calories (Yes, that's right, fifteen thousand.)

I've got an editable spreadsheet on Google docs, so if you fancy imagining some enormous or very calorie laden meals, please go ahead and add some meals in.

Beyond 1,850 calories I think we're going to have to 'multiply' meals to get some of the larger calorie counts. My first thought was Butter Chicken - that is glorious, and calorie laden. I found a recipe online and when I calculated the calories by searching through MyFitnessPal's food database and adding them together, one serve had 826 calories, so 18 serves of that butter chicken would be 14,868 calories.

Does anyone have any recipes for Elvis's favourite foods?

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Things I am learning when training for Six Inch.

We are training for Six Inch, and have run the course two of the past three weekends. The first weekend the wind around Dwellingup was gusting to 75km/h when I put the kibosh on driving down and running there, so we ran 22km in the rain along the Canning River instead.

1) Hydration Packs

A hydration pack designed for running is so much better than just a standard Camelbak. Accessible pockets are lovely, and there is a lot less bounce and therefore no chafing because of all the extra tie down straps.

2) Food

Lollies are good food for running, but sometimes your body wants real food like a Vegemite sandwich or some crackers like Savoury Shapes. There are moments when it doesn't matter how much fluid or lollies you take in, there is an ache in your stomach that will not disappear. I had an energy bar from Ben's stash, and it helped a lot, but I think I was too far gone when I had it. I noticed the ache in my stomach earlier, and just tried to take in more fluid and lollies but that hollow would not go away. I felt far more trashed at the end of this run than I did at the end of last week's run.

3) Wet Weather, 1

Showers forecast in Dwellingup can be torrential rain or actual showers. Pack a complete fresh set of clothes for afterwards - top and bottom. The week you don't will be the week that it is torrential, and you will have to wrap a towel around your bottom half to sit in the Blue Wren Cafe and eat the best pie in the world.

4) Wet Weather, 2

Pack a towel. A really big one.

5) Wet Weather, 3

If there is even the hint of rain, tuck a rain coat in your hydration pack. Most are light and can provide a bit of protection when it rains or at the end of the run you can put it on to keep some bodyheat in. Last week post run was the only time I used it, but it was very welcome. I know that the protective qualities were completely overwhelmed today, but it did give some assistance and I was glad of it at the end of the run.

6) Recovery

Covering over 20km three weeks running means that a lackadaisical attitude to massage and foam rolling will probably bite you on the bum or another body part at some point.

7) Group Running Technique

Running Collie Style does not involve heading into the bush and drinking a lot of beer whilst getting very cold, but rather refers to the collie dog and its tendency to run off up ahead, then loop back and 'round up' the slower people. Although in a way, today did involve heading into the bush and getting cold. There was just no getting drunk.

8) Recognise your limits. 

We were intending to run from the finish line at Dwellingup to Aid Station 2, going up the completely ridiculous hill, turning around at the Aid Station point and going back to the finish. We had discussed perhaps turning back early, but at 8km in we came up to the junction to the Aid Station. We decided to aim towards the aid station, and it began to gently rain. As we went up the hill the rain was pretty light but steady. We got to the downhill before the completely ridiculous hill and it was raining a bit harder, and tiny streams started developing in the ruts on the downhill.

The faster three had fired off up ahead, so we took it gently up the completely ridiculous hill, and as we did the four of us separated into Caroline and I and Jeremy and Crystal. Jeremy and Crystal were more surefooted than Caroline and I and moved up the hill further. The surface of this section was less gravel and more thick mud. Caroline and I both managed to not fall over when navigating the streams in the ruts on the hill, but suddenly the streams widened and flowed a lot faster. I yelled up the hill to Jeremy and Crystal that I was turning back and Caroline followed me. Jeremy and Crystal turned around as well, and I heard shouts as Ben, Hamish and Scott appeared at the top of the hill.

We all flew down the completely ridiculous hill, leapt the wider water crossing at the bottom of the hill and made our slower progress to higher, firmer ground, all while the rain pelted down around us. In December there won't be thick mud, it will be dry, hard and probably very smooth dust. Today did make me think that on race day I can honestly say that I've seen completely ridiculous hill in worse conditions. We are planning on running the stretch from Aid Station 1 to Aid Station 2 so it's quite likely that I'll be able to complete the climb, but I am perfectly happy with what I managed today.

9) Puddles, Princess Mode and Very High Knees

When your shoes and socks are dry, embrace Princess Mode, where you take dainty steps around the edge of puddles and miniature lakes along the trail. At some point you could lose your footing and slide into the puddle, but what is more likely in this weather is that it will suddenly turn and drop a Olympic swimming pool of rain on you in 4.5 seconds, soaking your shoes and rendering all attempts at Princess Mode pointless. That is when running socks and proper running shoes come into their own. They combined to wick a lot of the water out of my shoes and despite plunging ankle deep in puddles on the way back with wild abandon, my feet remained warm. A tip learnt from Ben was when plunging straight through the middle of puddles with wild abandon, it is worth using a stride that wouldn't go astray at a dressage competition, and pick up your knees quite high. If anything in the water is a trip hazard, it decreases the chance that your feet will catch it.

10) Sometimes reconnaissance will not help

There is a stretch of the course where you come across massive electricity pylons - they probably connect Collie with Kwinana. The bush underneath the powerlines is cleared and the area is very exposed, and at this point Jeremy recounted last year's Six Inch. It would have been about 42.C at this point, Vince was dealing with massive dehydration and was suffering constant nausea. Jeremy surreptitiously pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket ready to call me to collect them - Jeremy had had enough, Vince was struggling and Jeremy didn't know whether they would make it. But Jeremy's phone had overheated and shutdown. The stretch of powerlines continues off into the distance and you can see the track below. Jeremy wanted to cry and couldn't remember how far under the powerlines they had to travel. They kept going, turned a corner and found an impromptu Aid Station that had been set up where they were able to try and cool down a bit to make the last 5km into the finish. Both Jeremy and Vince finished, but having run the course before hadn't helped at the 40km point on a 42.C day.