Friday, June 13, 2014

The weight of water

Jeremy and I have been joking around about my entering the Malaysian Women's Marathon next March. It's probably going to be held the week before the Malaysian F1 race, so we could fly over there the week before the marathon, acclimatise in accommodation outside of KL - probably unairconditioned, run the marathon, then spend the following week recovering in five star comfort ready for the Formula 1 the following weekend.

I would enter, and then Jeremy could enter as my pacer - men are allowed to run, as long as they are running with a woman; as a pacer, or just a supportive partner. They're also eligible for the finisher's present - a running skirt!

Seems a genius idea, right?

Except I just remembered that one hot day I ran 14 km and loss 2 kilograms in weight.

A marathon is 42.2 km, and Malaysia isn't the coolest climate.

This could end badly.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Meditative breathing

Out, Out, In. Out, Out.

Out, Out, In. Out, Out.

That's my breathing pattern when I run. At least, that's what I hear in my head. I'm conscious that there is an intake after each of those 5 beat rhythms but I don't hear it - all I hear is "huh huh heer huh huh".

I didn't realise how important the way I breathe was until today. We were running in one of the regular Masters Athletics Western Australia Sunday Runs. This one was at Herdsman Lake, and there was a 5km, 7.5km or 15km option. I'm doing the Perth Marathon next weekend in a relay with another woman, Tracy. She's doing the first half, I'm doing the second half, which meant I needed a good long run this weekend to set me up for the 21.1 km next weekend, so the 15km option looked perfect.

Of course, I got a cold a week and a half ago, which has me well immured in the barrel of snot aftermath stage. I shot some spray decongestant up my nose before we left the house. That is usually sufficient for me at this point in a cold, and is enough to allow me to do most things, but today was not my day.

After the run briefing we set off around Herdsman Lake, and it is absolutely gorgeous around there. The path we took went from hardpacked white dirt and gravel to tarmac to mulch-like path and back. In the last part of the 7.5km circuit you looped through the bush four times, running through a small forest of paperbark trees.

I ran with Jeremy and I immediately found it difficult - it felt like we were going too fast, and after a short period I requested that we slow down some. We did, and it got a bit easier, but our average pace kept getting slower and slower. I realised I needed to blow my nose, but didn't have any tissues on me, and I wasn't prepared to blow my nose on my hand and wipe it on the grass. I just ran along like a major mouth breather, and struggled on. As we headed on through the third loop Jeremy asked me whether I was going to continue on the second lap. I said that I wasn't sure, but I'd decide at the Pony Clubrooms that were coming up and which was where the toilets were and therefore somewhere I could blow my nose. I then said because I needed to go further I'd probably slowly run out to the 5km option turnaround point and re-do the loops once I got back to the start, and that he could continue on.

He headed off, speeding up, and I ran slowly round the pony club paddock to the loos to blow my nose. Glory be, it was wonderful. The second I could breathe through my nose, I remembered the sound "huh huh heer huh huh". That was what had been missing. Because I couldn't get a rhythm going in my breathing, I was struggling.

I don't tend to run with music, and when asked why I always recall the run that I spent three kilometres trying to find a song that I liked on my iPod and that it wasn't until I switched it off that I realised that the music I wanted to listen to was silence. I realised today that that day I needed to hear me - my footfall, and my breathing. I need to run to my rhythm, not someone else's.

The Pony Club was about 200 metres from the finish line for the 7.5 km, which marked where you continued on for the second lap if you did the 15 km. The clock read 47 minutes something, and I decided that it wasn't a bad time, considering and that I would carry on. Had I known I probably would have stopped, but I didn't so I pulled in, refilled my little handheld water bottle, and set off, requesting to some parkrunners to tell Jeremy that I was going to run my second lap.

I made it round to the water station at about the halfway mark. I'd stopped and blown my nose a few times, and just enjoyed the scenery; the number of black swans, coots and moorhens around Herdsman Lake is high. I also found out that not only do ibis make an odd hooting noise, they perch high up in trees. They look very ungainly, but they do perch. I told the water station marshals that it wouldn't surprise me if I was the last runner. I kept on, probably for another kilometre and then at 11.91km my body said stop. So I stopped, and started to walk.

I was too tired; I think from running too fast at the beginning, and from not being able to breathe properly. Once I got to the roadside path, where the loops were about to start, I decided to shortcut the run, and skip the loop section, certain that I would cut at least a kilometre off my distance. My Masters Athletics number is attached to a racebelt, so I slid it high up under my shirt; if I was shortcutting, I wasn't competing and therefore I was out of the race.

I managed to run again for a little stretch, but had to walk again, and left the path heading into the last loop, around the pony club paddock and towards the finish line. Jeremy met me just after the Pony Clubrooms and we walked back to the finish line. I avoided the finish funnel and spoke to one of the organisers. I'd been overtaken on the pathway by two female runners, and they'd reported in that they thought "there was one more runner out there in yellow shorts". I advised that it was me, and that because I'd shortcutted I had pulled out of the race.

I managed 14.68 km, which is both good and bad - I've moved almost two thirds of the distance I need to run next Sunday, but considering the set course was 15 km, I only managed to shortcut 320 metres, so if I'd done the loops at walking pace I'd have one more race on the board with Masters Athletics. A terrible time, but it would be a run on the board.

I'm not disappointed with my run though; I ran as much as I could, I stopped when I recognised that I needed to stop, and I saw an ibis, awkwardly perched in a tall tree, hooting.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Red Bull Wings for Life World Run, Busselton

This is the first time I've been reluctant to post a race report, not because I didn't get a good time, or didn't enjoy myself, but rather because I'm afraid my writing doesn't do the event justice.

The Red Bull Wings for Life World Run was a completely bonkers idea that worked so well. The 2014 race took place simultaneously in 34 different locations around the world, everyone starting at the same time; 10am GMT. For Australia, Busselton was the only location taking part, and for us that meant a 6pm start on Sunday night. 100% of the entry fee went to spinal cord research.

The Busselton event local organisers were TriEvents, who had run the Busselton 70.3 the day before; so all the infrastructure that they had in place for the 70.3 was recycled by the Wings for Life run. A number of the 70.3 athletes used the WfL as a recovery fun run, because really you could run as far and as fast as you wished.

We all set off near the famous Busselton Jetty heading west to Dunsborough, and then the plotted route went south towards Augusta. Half an hour after we started, a 'catcher car' began to travel the route at 15km/h behind us all. The idea being as the car catches up and passes the back marker runners, they are deemed 'out'. Effectively, your finish line is behind you, and you have to try and outrun it. Following the catcher car are shuttle buses to take finished runners back to the party at the Busselton start line. The catcher car travels at 15km/h for 1 hour, then 16km/h for a further hour, then 17km/h for a third hour, then 20km/h, and then five hours after the car starts it travels at 35km/h. No one would be able to outrun the car; if you are a slow runner, or a walker, you are looking at 4-6km completed before you get caught. The faster you are able to travel, the further you will make it down the road.

Now, I can't remember where or when I read that there was a runner that was considered the 'favourite' at Busselton. Of course, Red Bull had some people that were 'ambassadors' for the run around the globe - Mark Webber ran at Silverstone in England, locally we had Steve Hooker, the Olympian pole vaulter and Courtney Atkinson the triathlete (who actually also competed the day before in the 70.3). But I read somewhere there was some obstacle course runner called Chief Brabon who was supposedly the favourite in Busselton, and I laughed. You see, Wings for Life had done some late promotion work for the run and we'd seen a video where a TV news mob interviewed a local ultramarathon competitor that Jeremy and I automatically assumed was going to win WfL Busselton; Dave Kennedy.

Now an ultramarathon is any distance over the standard 42.2km marathon, so there are 'short' ultramarathons and there are 'long' ultramarathons. Dave Kennedy runs both. Actually, he organises them too - he's the Race Director of the Six Inch Trail Ultramarathon that Jeremy ran last year, and also organises the WTF 100 Ultra, a 160km/100 mile race around the Waterous Trail mountainbiking loop - the 'Waterous Trail on Foot'. Dave Kennedy considers a half marathon a warm-up, runs a marathon as a constitutional and is the sort of person who doesn't look at a mountain range and say "race you to to the top", he looks at a mountain range and says "race you to the top, along the length of the ridgeline, down the other side and back again". Dave was going to win, it was just a question of how far he'd have to run in order to do it.

In the starting corrals we all stood and waited - there were five parkrunners that I knew of; Jeremy and I, Matty, Tim and Abdul. Abdul hadn't run his half marathon before he'd signed up so he had been placed in the starting corral behind us. Jeremy and I had previously discussed our plan for the race and he suggested that we run together, and Matty and Tim were going to do similar. About 3 minutes before the start I said to Jeremy "No, let's run separately - let's see what we can do." Almost simultaneously Tim said the same to Matty; we'd been speculating in the corrals as to whether the event was going to happen a second time, so I felt it seemed such a waste of an opportunity to truly test out what distance you could manage by running together and one person potentially slowing the other down.

Because the timing of the event meant that Busselton was starting after the sun had set we had all been equipped with complimentary LED Lenser headlamps. In the first kilometre the long snake of runners glowed as we ran. Jeremy and I had chosen our outfits carefully, because we knew that it was going to be quite dark and assuming we got that far we'd be running on Caves Road (which has a 110km/h speed limit) so we both had our high-vis Craft running vests on for extra visibility. Jeremy wore an amazingly bright headlamp that he'd bought earlier in the year over a hat and I wore my LED Lenser headlamp over the Wings for Life supplied buff - the problem with running with headlamps we had been advised was that you can end up with blisters on your forehead, which is not entirely comfortable or the best look.

The plotted route took roughly the same course as the February half marathon that Jeremy and I have run, travelling through the back streets of Busselton from the Jetty, eventually making it the 7km to Alan Street and onto Bussell Highway. Running through the suburban streets there were masses of people cheering; locals, tourists and the previous day's 70.3 competitors. I think it's partly because Busselton people embrace endurance sports, partly because of the time of day and partly because of the brilliant and daft concept of the event there was more support and cheering for the Wings for Life than I've seen at any running event I've ever participated in other than the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival. At the 5km aid station we came across Cathy, Greg, Claudia and Misia cheering on the runners. I found out later that at this point Jeremy had thrown his Craft vest at Greg to take because he was just too hot in it. We had experienced some very gentle rain by this point, but it wasn't sufficient to get you cold.

While the majority of the pack ran the 1.5km along the shoulder of Bussell Highway vehicle traffic was stopped - I did feel sorry for the Domino's Pizza driver - but spectator support continued, with clumps here and there where people had come out of hotel accommodation and stood on the corners of streets connecting with Bussell Highway. Once we crossed the massive roundabout to Caves Road vehicle traffic flowed around us while we ran on the wide shoulder of the road, but because there are no street lights along that road and the mass of runners had thinned out significantly, combined with the sparser spectators you found yourself running stretches by yourself in the dark, slowly catching blobs of light in the distance that became people-shaped and occasionally having your shadow appear defined on the road in front of you as someone overtook you.

Earlier in the race I'd been overtaken by Steve Hooker, so I was proud to later overtake him on Caves Road. As you ran along you'd fall into conversation with other people; encouraging them and being encouraged yourself. There were a number of 70.3 competitors who were running with complaining hips, knees and ankles and many were flagging after 10 kilometres - hardly a surprise as they'd put it all on the line the previous day. I later found out that Courtney Atkinson who the day before had had to pull out of the 70.3 race half way through the run leg was leading Wings for Life Busselton at around the 30km mark.

I'd played with a "how far can you run" device on the Wings for Life website and worked out that with my likely pace I could probably managed 15km before the car caught me, and sure enough I managed 14.66km. The first indication I had that the car was near was two support volunteers on mountain bikes who were warning runners of the proximity to the catcher car. When they told me I took off. I would have been around the 14.1km mark when they told me, and if you look at my Garmin file for the run my speed shoots up for about 500 metres. I just sprinted for as long as I could while the volunteer biked alongside encouraging me, but at 14.66km the car pulled alongside. The passengers in the car were cheering and clapping and one called out my distance travelled as I gently jogged up to the 15km aid station.

I scoffed down water and electrolyte drinks at the aid station while the volunteers manning the station were frantically pulling it down to leapfrog the field and set up an aid station down the road for the runners further away. Just as they cleared off the tables I grabbed an energy bar to eat on the shuttle bus back into town, and all the runners at the aid station clambered aboard to cheers of people who had been caught earlier. There were no seats left on the bus so rather than stand the 15km ride back into town I sat down crosslegged in the aisle, grabbed my phone from my spibelt and tried to find out how Jeremy and everyone were managing.

There was the most amazingly long thread on Facebook filled with comments from friends who had been following our progress during the race, and Cathy, Greg and Claudia had been tracking our progress and updated me with text messages. As the runners were caught the website showed our names and the distance run, and there was a live video feed from all the other locations of all the other runners. Bill advised me that I beat most of India and large chunk of Ireland, which I was rather chuffed with. While I was on the bus heading back into town Jeremy was caught at 20.58km.

I got back to Barnard Park and went straight into the marquee tent and picked up my backpack of clothes - the temperature was low enough to warrant the adidas tracksuit I'd packed to wear afterwards - and then I went straight to the food line. The array of food was wide, portions good and the butter chicken was brilliant; even factoring in endorphin supplied flavouring. I scoffed my food while watching the live feed on the screen; there is something quite wonderful about a crowd of people in Busselton, Australia cheering on an exhausted man in Colorado who is just trying to eke out a few more metres before the car catches him.

So: Jeremy managed 20.58km and Matty got 22.07km with Abdul just ahead at 22.58km. Tim thrashed us all with a mullet wig assisted 32.99km, which put him as the 9th male in Australia.  The women's race at Busselton was taken by Laoise Thuama, an Irish born local, and the men's race was won by Dave Kennedy who ran 43.89km, finishing just past Wilyabrup. The overall winners were - female - Elise Selvikvag Molvik in Norway who ran 54.79km, and - male - Lemawork Ketema in Austria who ran 78.58km.

One of the best parts of the run was knowing that you were competing with people all around the world, and it was easily checkable on the website as to where people came. For example, Mark Webber managed 28.36km, which isn't bad considering he apparently intended on 10km.

Happily next year's World Run has already been announced for May 3rd 2015, and I am crossing my fingers that TriEvents are able to put on a Busselton edition, because if so I will be there. I cannot recommend it more highly - that was the most fun I've ever had racing.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kilometres run

I signed up to Smashrun a few weeks ago, after seeing the Event Director from St Peters parkrun posting about it.

It's brilliant, and it's done wonders for my spirit.

It hoovered in all my Garmin running data, and will tell you handy things like "this was the earliest time you've run in six months" which makes you realise that you've laid in bed far too long far too often.

But it told me that the furthest I've run (cumulative total) in a month was in December 2012. I consider myself a better runner now, but the lead-up to my first half marathon was the only time I truly trained for a half. I've not bothered since, so my improvements in my speed, finishing times and recovery afterwards is all despite the half assed attitude I've had to my running.

It goes:

Oct 2012: 28 km (purchased Garmin this month).
Nov: 62
Dec: 115

Jan 2013: 114
Feb: 60 (first half marathon in this month)
Mar: 49
Apr: 64
May: 44
Jun: 56
Jul: 61
Aug: 69 (second half marathon in this month)
Sep: 95 (third half marathon in this month)
Oct: 72 (fourth half marathon in this month)
Nov: 75
Dec: 88

Jan 2014: 75
Feb: 81 (fifth half marathon in this month)
Mar: 89 (sixth half marathon in this month)
Apr: 76
May (as at 24th May): 84 so far, with another 12 scheduled tomorrow.

This slow ramp up could be interesting, assuming it continues.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Endorphin supplied flavouring

All food after serious exertion tastes amazing. It doesn't matter what that meal is, it just tastes extraordinary. After my last triathlon I had the best sausage in a bun that I'd ever had. After my first half marathon I ate the most incredible watermelon slices, and the pizza I had that evening was perfection.

Jeremy finished a duathlon (I was spectating on the run course, and came in a couple of minutes behind him). He got a finishers bag and it had an energy bar that he was already halfway through when I finally caught up with him to order post-event coffees (priorities, people). When he saw me he exclaimed "Oh this bar is great! We have to buy some!" About two months later I found them in a supermarket and bought a few. When Jeremy got to eat one a second time he wasn't as impressed, but after a solid training run for the Six Inch Trail Ultramarathon he had one and they were rated as "Amazing!" again.

I've absolutely no scientific or medical training but judging by what I've experienced, and what I've seen when Jeremy or friends finish sporting events and activities like endurance training sessions, "endorphin supplied flavouring" is a thing. I'm the first to admit that Rotary Clubs are well practiced when it comes to the sausage sizzle (I'm a solid supporter of the local sausage sizzle), and farmers market quality watermelon is always going to beat the mass grown version from the supermarket, but I think exercise adds a flavour to food that monosodium glutamate just can't compete with.

It's probably partly why people will go for a run and burn 600 calories and sit down and eat 1200 calories in replacement.

Does anyone else find this happens to them?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The memory of water

Since Bunbury I've done two long runs; one about 17km on the Kep Track and Heritage Trail, and another was a 15km (whoops, 14km if you turn a bit too early!) The Running Centre community run on Easter Monday.

Both done with my 3 litre Camelbak because I COULD. It was so nice running with an exceptional amount of water, available at all times. And in the case of the trail run, I actually used it all!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Post mortem - Bunbury Three Waters Running Festival half marathon

I write these posts to clear my head after a race, to clarify an idea or thought, and today as a post mortem. The use of the latin phrase 'after death' feels particularly appropriate because I died in the arse out on course last Sunday. It was the hardest race I've done. True, in comparison to some I haven't done many races, but I've learnt from the mistakes I made at Bunbury.

1) I did not take much notice of the weather forecast in the weeks beforehand, or on the day. I'd done two Busselton half marathons in February and had absolutely no issue with either of them. This meant this time I wasn't concerned about the likely heat; in fact I hadn't looked at a forecast for Bunbury at all. Next time I'm going to take notice of the forecast weather and any changes in it. After the race another competitor said that they'd looked at the forecast maximum a week ago, and it said 26.C, but each day the forecast maximum for Sunday crept up by a degree - which I think is surely an indication that the temperature on the day was probably going to feel hotter than it was. Also, the temperature on the day increased by 2 degrees every hour from 6am, so combined with a headwind on much of the course we baked out there, despite things like a resident setting up a lawn sprinkler for us to run through, locals with jugs of water ready for dumping on the heads of runners and fortuitous placement of beach showers on the foreshore.

2) I decided against using my fuel belt. Whenever I've used it I've almost always had High 5 Zero in it and not straight water.  The slight effervescence in High 5 Zero tends to force it up through the lids on the bottles while I run. It gently bubbles out and leaks down my legs, annoying me hugely. I knew that the aid stations were about 5km apart, and thought that they would be sufficient, but with the heat I now realise that I did not take on enough water for the gels that I consumed. I didn't have any obvious issues on course but afterwards I did not feel good and wanted desperately to throw up. Next time I'm going to take my fuel belt, and just use straight water in it, assuming that the aid stations (as they did at Bunbury) have electrolyte drinks at them as well as plain water. If I'd done that on Sunday, I think my issues would have been resolved. Whilst I'm a prodigious sweater, I think given Powerade (the on course drink), the sodium in gels and a prepared pre and post run electrolyte drink I should be fine for a half marathon.

My gels were fine, flavour wise. I still haven't come across a gel that disagrees with my gastrointestinal tract, but my taste buds have been tested on occasion. I'm still afraid of ones with a large amount of caffeine so anything with a coffee flavour and more than 10mg of caffeine I've avoided. I know of one fast runner who when forced by slight exhaustion to have a single gel on the Six Inch Ultramarathon found he had to go to the toilet four times on course. I think my history of eating cheap lollies has given me the required tolerance of disgusting sugars to eat gels. I do promise to inform you if I've just managed to jinx myself and end up in a truly mortifying situation on my next race.

For the first time ever I used the virtual pacer on my watch. Thankfully I had the sense to decide as the wheels came off at the 12-14km mark I didn't much care that I had a constant reminder of precisely how far off pace I was (12 minutes slow in the end). At 5 km to go I found it amusing that on the way back in to the finish I finally had a tailwind and no real energy to make use of it. I also managed to lose further minutes in that stretch by stopping at a water fountain along the foreshore and scoffing down some water.

When you look at the elevation profile for Bunbury it appears to be a generally flat course, with a dirty great hill at around the five kilometre mark and not much past that. Except there is a lighthouse that you can't see on a Garmin elevation profile, and the path goes straight up and straight down. Then you get to skip through some sand dunes that at least have a concrete path on them, but still; sand dunes. For a flat course, I remember the hills the most. The voice in my head that notes how fast or slow I am going had no qualms about idly observing as I was running up to the lighthouse with probably 750 metres to go "if you just walked this section instead of tried to run, it's entirely possible that you'd be going faster than this." If you also sometimes have that voice appear in your head, I highly recommend telling it to fuck off. It's quite satisfying.

Jeremy was running the marathon, so part of my brain was occupied with calculating where he would be in relation to me. I came across him at 1km in to the half marathon (the marathon started 50 minutes before me) and we managed to high five, and I didn't see him again until 250 metres to go. He looked knackered and I desperately wanted to give him a hug but he didn't want to stop because he didn't think he'd start again. He had roughly 12 km to go and it looked like they weren't going to be easy. 

I finished, got my medal, downed the free Powerade then sought out our bag in the bag tent and fished out my post race banana. I ate that, and then my gut roiled for about 15 minutes. (Do you really want to know about post-race gastrointestinal disturbance? No, I thought not. Let's just leave it at "Over the space of about 3-4 hours I wasn't sure whether 'not vomiting or having diarrhoea' was necessarily a good thing.") It took me a good 4 to 5 hours until I felt well and hungry enough to properly eat something. I forced myself to have a very small nibble on a spinach and fetta sausage roll; I went to the canteen but they'd sold out of regular sausage rolls but still had those and I needed something savoury (something that wasn't a gel, really). You can tell that I wasn't OK because I didn't even twig that they were also making toasted sandwiches. Every other half marathon I've done I'm absolutely starving within an hour of finishing. The burger vetkoek Jeremy and I ate around 2pm at The Bread Pocket before we headed back to Perth was amazing though.

Despite my race plan crapping out spectacularly, I still enjoyed the day. There were something like 66 parkrunners on course; 6 people running the 50km, 10 in the marathon, 29 in the half marathon, 14 in the 10km, 6 in the 5km, with a fair swathe of other parkrunners and friends of parkrunners cheering. A lot of the competing parkrunners joined Sam Farman (one of the ultra marathoners) in supporting Team Mito and wearing green t shirts, raising awareness of mitochondrial disease. One of the best parts of the race was because it was mostly out and back stretches you would come across other parkrunners (some of whom I think I'd never met before!) in Team Mito shirts and high five them; which means you have to then high five the other non-parkrunners behind them. Afterwards some of the parkrunners complained of sore hands from the high fives they gave out. It was an amazingly friendly event. The number of 10km parkrun runners who are now contemplating half marathons is quite pleasing, to say the least. One of our team's marathon runners, Michael Ho actually won the race, with a brilliant PB time of 2h38m16s, and Pip Holmes came in as first female in the 50km race.

Just as my wheels were coming off, I was asked by a friendly supporter - I think it was Karen Hagen - "Is that a grin or a grimace?", I responded with "Always a grin!" I remember reading an article years ago about the cyclist Ivan Basso (before his drug scandal), who was called "The Smiling Assassin" because he would ride his bike and always smile, despite the difficult terrain. I remember thinking it was a good tactic of his, because his opponents never knew precisely how much he was suffering. I adopted that idea one day when I rode up a ridiculous hill and realised that it actually helped me mentally; I don't know the science but I believe there is some sort of positive brain chemical released because of that smile. The easiest description is "fake it till you make it". Smile, and someone will think you are enjoying yourself. Keep smiling long enough, and that someone will be you.

Going into Bunbury I didn't have many solid post-race aims, but afterwards I'm building quite a list.