"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Friday, March 23, 2018

From Sea to Summit: Simultaneously Training for Track and Mountain Races

Being my own coach means a lot of things.

Autonomy. The freedom to stuff up totally in programming for myself. No independent, objective consultants to offer potentially disagreeable opinions on my "brilliant" training plan.

Internal Accountability. No one to answer to if I hit snooze and sleep through that early session. No one to notice if I change "Mona fartlek" in the program to "easy 10k."

Unique training: flag a trail race then run it hours later!
Improved Reading Skills. Scouring the research for the latest in training ideas*, injury prevention and management*, strength training for runners**, and recovery strategies also offers the opportunity to hold a paid-for UWA library membership for journal access.

I'm training for the Coburg 12hr. I'm in for the 6hr and 100km splits, followed by a pretty bad 12hr finish distance! Race day is 21 April. This has been one of the longest, most structured programs I've ever undertaken. It's got some new elements in it for me (which, as my own coach, I don't have to worry about any disapproval over!)

I've been at it for 8 weeks and am now 4 weeks out from race day. My "A goal" is to break the AUS W45 record held by Lavinia Petrie of 8.22.17 from 1992. I should also record a 6hr split that would better my CAN W45 6hr record. I don't think I've worked harder for a goal race outside of UTMB.

Other than the April 100k race, which was an obvious choice for me after coming within 5 minutes of the AUS record at January's hot and windy summer Australia Day Ultra, the rest of my year sat open before me. So many races, but I just couldn't find one that called me with an irresistible siren song. I can never be sure what the tune will be when I'm looking for a race. For example, UTMB held no allure for me for years. Finally, at the end of 2014, I found myself captivated by it. How well could my 46-year-old-me do, if I put everything I could into it?

The 2018 race that sang out to me back in December was Tenerife Bluetrail. Roughly 100km + 6800m from one side of Tenerife island (Canary Islands) to the other side, over Pico del Teide, a volcano that stands at 3,718m and counts as Spain's highest peak. Whoa! A race that's almost all uphill for nearly 60km?? On a volcano? Point to point? On a country's highest peak? Move over, sirens, I'm headed for shore!

But ...the date...only 7 weeks after the 100k track race. How could I recover properly and then train for a mountain race? A race with D+680m per 10k. That's more vert per 10k than UTMB.

I searched and searched for another siren song. A race at the end of June would be much better. Like Marathon du Mont-Blanc (91k+6220m). I've been sitting on that entry for 1.5 months.

So, the Tenerife date isn't perfect. But it calls. And if anything, trying to figure out how to train for a massive mountain race, whilst simultaneously recovering from a 100k track race adds to the alluring challenge. And if there's one siren call I always hear, it's CHALLENGE.

Hence, the unique training program. Which I shall not divulge the details of. Just in case I need to patent it later.

But here are some numbers from the past 21 days:

Distance run: 495km
Vertical: 14,275m
Number of days waking to an alarm because of work: 1
Number of days waking to an alarm because of running: 12
Nights slept in full compression tights: 5
Hammer Race Caps and Mito Caps consumed: 21 each
Udo's Oil consumed: ~26-30 tbsp
Number of one hour massages: 4
Sports chiro visits: 1
Treadmill runs: 1
Other altered runs: 2 (for heat)
Loads of laundry done: 295 (or thereabouts)

Tenerife Bluetrail profile

I must say, although this has been a very challenging program, made more so by it being summer, I'm happy to report that I still love running. I've had loads of whinges and a few bad words have been uttered about Perth summer heat, the insane humidity this year, and crazy winds that make holding speed work pace an impossibility some days. But my easy days have become an even better excuse to do rubbish collection on the trails. Mother Nature is winning!

My "single use" shop bags have become too small for my efforts!

*I still won't be investing in a pseudo altitude training mask or voodoo floss
**I have found great value in my purchase of Jay Dicharry's latest book Running Rewired.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Australia Day Ultra: Saved by a Donga and a Stampeding Herd in the Dark

I wrote my race plan. Then my partner showed me the detailed forecasts. The ones pilots use. Nothing like the wide-angle lens that our regular pedestrian forecasts provide. 71 to 77% humidity. Wind starting at 26kph increasing to 30kph at 3am. “That’s not record breaking weather!” I groaned.

Somewhere in Bunbury, this was the forecast. But not exactly where we were.
The midnight start provided a feeling of serenity that made the race start feel more relaxed. And I liked that it made me feel a bit more invisible. I’m always pretty quiet before a race. Introverts have to guard our energy. And I have a tendency to get excited around my tribe of MUTs.

Thirty seconds in, WA runner and NZL representative Richard Avery had shot out into the darkness and I was running beside two other locals, Kevin Matthews and Jon Pendse. Kev had an ambitious M50 national record goal, but appeared relaxed and was cracking jokes about our 4.22 pace. Yeah, we reeled that in in a hurry. But the boys were soon off in the distance as we all settled into our target paces.

The wind was forecast to be ESE and we were running a N-S out-and-back that was 6.25km one way. I wondered if the Bibbulmun Track was closer than I thought. Because the Bibbulmun Track always had lessons for me. And I was being served my first “acceptance” lesson. The gusty cross wind often had me feeling like I was running into a headwind both directions. It was so humidly hot I was pouring water on myself from 1.15am.

From 1:30am to 3:00am I mentally quit. I quit a hundred times. Silently, I ranted, I whinged, I spat the dummy and I threw all the toys out of the pram. I retired from racing. For sure this time. Really. At 2hr30 I was less than a minute off the plan. Not much, but I knew where it was headed. And then the wind picked up. In the next 6.25km section I lost another 30 seconds. I noticed my shoes felt a bit loose. Running in a half-size larger, as usual for this distance, combined with silicon Blistershield and Sportshield lube on my feet, I hadn't gotten the laces quite perfect. I fixated on whether I was getting hot spots on my soles and whinged about whether I'd have to stop and tighten my shoes, wasting a precious minute I didn't have. At 2hr05min, I was headed in for a headlamp swap when I was suddenly thrust into total darkness at a 4.45min/k pace. Not enough charge left to run the battery on full brightness. Another whinge. There is no room for errors and faffing about in any record-breaking plan I write.

Luckily, I had really crappy accommodation. Every time I pictured going up to my partner (the silent, steadfast sentinel crewing me all night) to tell him I quit, I imagined driving back to our crappy “cabin” (a.k.a., donga or ATCO trailer). And laying there all night in a worn out bed with a too-high pillow, amped up on Fully Charged and caffeine, whilst everyone else ran. I had no idea at the time, but now I know how strategic it can be to make quitting really off-putting!

I was coming into the start/finish line just after 3am, finishing my third 12.5k lap (of eight). The 50km runners were starting. I had a brief game of dodge-em, as the pack was using the width of the entire path, passing each other in the frenzy that usually accompanies a race start. Because the footpath had curves there, the ones passing couldn't see ahead that there was oncoming traffic in the form of a little redhead. I shouted, "Keep left, keep left!" as I ran into the herd of oncoming headlamps.

The unexpected. Like the Looney Tunes dancing singing frog
The adrenaline rush of not being knocked over by a full grown bloke with a 50km PB in mind turned out to be a good thing. It broke my perseverative internal tantrum. Ever seen your child having a tantrum and then stood on the coffee table and started singing the national anthem at full volume? Try it. Distraction. They taught us that in child psychology school :)

So, I had a sudden distraction that broke my tantrum. And then it hit me that I'd been so fixated on the 8.22.17 W45 AUS record time that I just wasn’t accepting the conditions. Tunnel vision. I widened my lens and remembered my mantra written on my toes: BESTDAYEVER. I held on to the aspiration of the 8.22 (maybe the wind would suddenly abate and the humidity would drop), but shifted my mindset to fulfilling my mantra. What would it mean to have the best day ever? Run as solidly as possible for the conditions. Don’t stuff up nutrition or hydration. Run efficiently. Don’t back off and slack off, but don’t get into a heart rate zone that will destroy me. Finish strong. Smile.

The birds sang and the sky started to lighten about 4.15am. The sun was well up at 5am and we got word to drop the mandatory night gear. I dumped my headlamp and high-vis vest with Rolf,  surprised at how heavy it actually felt in hand.

This one didn't sing. Stuffed kookaburras hidden in trees for points comp.
The routine of the morning continued. Soak myself with water at aid stations. Watch the splits, push as hard as I dared. Swap Perpetuem bottles every ~30 minutes when I passed Rolf and grab a 1/2 peeled pear at the same time. One word answers to his questions. "Want your sunnies or anything?" No. "Want some extra pear?" No. "Want a spray?" No. No time to stop and talk, no extra energy wasted on words. Though I did shout "Thank you!" sometimes as I ran off. And always felt grateful he was there and dedicated.

At the 6 hour mark, I passed the middle aid station - about 72km done. For the second time in three years, I had unofficially broken my CAN 6hr W45 record of 70.228km. Unfortunately, there were no stopwatches and no survey wheel to record my official split. 

As I headed for the start/finish line again to complete lap 6, the 25km runners appeared. Easier to dodge in the light. I practiced my Kipchoge smile as much as I could. Boy, that makes you feel good!

Eliud Kipchoge, 2.03.05 marathon PB. He knows how to use the power of a smile!
Completing lap 7 in just under 7hr21, the 8hr30 goal was still attainable. The support of everyone on the course was insane. It was one of the most encouraging "good mojo" events I've ever been to. I heard so many encouraging words as I passed runners, many realising I was on my last lap. The heat increased, my leg muscles became more tired, and my stomach was less able to process calories. There's only so much blood to go around. The stomach is the first to shut down when demand outstrips supply. I had to very carefully monitor my calories. Much as I wanted to stop fueling, I knew it would mean a massive bonk. So I continued to sip Perp and nibble pear, drip feeding the carbs in.

I passed Rolf for the last time at about 8.05am. 3.3km to go, shouting, "See you at the finish! I think I can make 8.30!" My last 6.25km was faster than the two previous, but just by a bit. I had paced well.

Final 2km.

I finished and kept walking it out a bit, as I often need to do after a big effort. If I stop too suddenly, I can seize up - or worse, get really dizzy as the calves have stopped pumping all the blood back up to my heart and head. A rush of emotion came over me as I reflected on how hard I'd worked to push through the long tough patch. How certain I was that I was going to quit. But not only did I not quit, I broke the 8.30 mark (achieving an A grade qualifier for World Championships), broke the CAN age-group record, broke the course record, and won. All on a day where I think conditions were tougher than 3 years ago.

Rolf went off to get my recovery powder, some water, and my sunnies, and I continued to walk it out, feeling another wave of tears briefly pass over me. After sitting for a few minutes, I realised Dave Kennedy was there offering recovery massages. I gingerly got on the table. When he told me to flip from my stomach to my back, my left calf went into a cramp. It was the only time I've cramped like that during or after a race. I've had calf cramps in bed on occasion and I never thought they could have been any worse than they had been. I was wrong. I set a new bar for what a 10/10 calf cramp was. For what seemed like at least 30 seconds, I screamed and breathed like I was giving birth (I actually have no idea what that's like, but I've seen videos. And actually, the two births I've witnessed were far more controlled and quiet than I was!) There was nothing in my world but blinding pain and Dave holding my foot in dorsiflexion. I would have run another two laps, puking, than have that pain.

The calf felt very fragile after that. Like it was ready to cramp again any moment. And then I got hungry. Really hungry. And started to get lightheaded. I told Rolf we needed to get me some food, so we headed for DongaWorld (the caravan park), 10 minutes away. By the time I got there, tensing my foot in dorsiflexion the whole way, I was starting to tingle. My face and lips were pins and needles. My stomach was tingling. Then my chest tightened such that it felt like my sports bra was two sizes too small. I actually grabbed it and pulled at the elastic strapping to confirm that it was indeed sitting normally on me and I hadn't somehow swollen into the Michelin man. I was getting a wee bit scared and wondering if I was about to find out where the local hospital was. Full on hypoglycaemia.

I got myself on the little sofa and got my head and heart on the same plane and my feet resting on the arm of the sofa. Rolf got me some applesauce and I felt like he couldn't get it to me fast enough. I started in on that, the whole time having to keep flexing, extending, and rolling my ankle joint around to keep my calf from cramping. The race was over, but my suffering was increasing!

Keeping the foot in dorsiflexion to prevent calf cramping
I continued to tell Rolf my symptoms. I was worried, but trying to maintain calm. It's tricky being your own first aid responder. I asked how my skin looked and he said very pale. I had a bit of a sweat going. I kept getting bites of food in and checked my heart rate. I check my HR every day, so it's quite a natural feeling. But it took me quite a while to get a read on it at the neck. It was weak, but wasn't racing. Rolf tried again to see if I'd try a Nudie beverage (fruit juice). I agreed. We needed to try to get more simple sugar in quickly. The Nudie went down in seconds and I literally felt the colour come back to my face. It stopped tingling, as did my stomach.

But I continued to watch the "python" crawling around inside my left calf. It was bizarre. The right calf muscles were pulsating, too, but nothing like the left. This thankfully gave me the opportunity to learn a new word: fasciculation. Muscle twitching. Essentially, a random firing of the muscles - like low-grade cramps. My poor calves had been going "fire-release-fire-release" for nearly 8.5 hours. The switch was stuck on.

At the same time, I was getting exhausted holding my foot in dorsiflexion. My tib ant was working to exhaustion. I asked Rolf to find a belt-like tool. He got a tie-down strap from the car and I used that around my foot to keep it tensed. Much easier. I had to lay that way for an hour.

I realised afterwards that having switched from the Hammer Nutrition Recoverite, which has protein and some carbs, to Hammer's Vegan Protein, I didn't get any carbs post-race. Normally after a training run, I have the protein powder and eat some fruit or something to get my 45g of carbs for the muscle glycogen. Post-race easily digestible carbs will be on the future post-race plan! I never want to go through that again!
Finishing smile to my crew. We did it! 8.27.39.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Best Day Ever: Australia Day Ultra

It's Friday morning. At midnight, I'll start running the 100km Australia Day Ultra (road race) in Australind, Western Australia. It's the middle of summer. So midnight is a practical time to race. Unless you want Badwater training. I don't.

We just had the edge of a cyclone come through, creating a few days of extreme humidity. We had our first big bushfire in the area, which destroyed one of the Bibbulmun Track's campsites and resulted in air rescue for a solo multi-day bushwalker.

Since the Emu 48 hour attempt at the end of September, I've done my recovery and re-built base mileage and endurance. Recovery was surely hampered (physically, but not mentally!) by deciding on a 10 hour trot up to the highest peak in Slovenia (Triglav, 2864m). Microspikes would have been helpful on the icy ridge. The descent is what really totalled my legs, though! I developed some pretty bad knee pain that was brought on by very tight muscles. Thankful to have self-assessed well enough to gauge that I should go for a few brutal massage sessions, rather than thinking I just had a grumpy patella that simply needed "rest." It came good within a few days with massage.

Headed for Triglav summit with one of my Emu race crew

Having some solid base again, I went to a parkrun on December 9th - 5k time trial. 20m32s. Well, that's good enough to work with, I thought. Time to start hunting for a race a few months out. But... I couldn't find a single race over the next few months in Australia I was really interested in (with entries available and relatively easy to access) other than the Australia Day Ultra (ADU) on January 20th. A bit too soon, really. I even looked abroad a bit, but having just returned from months overseas, I wasn't ready for big travel again.

In January 2015, I ran the ADU in 8hr32m00s. That broke the CAN and AUS W45 8hr47m54s national records (which were already held by me).

A few years ago, AURA (Australian Ultrarunning Assn) amalgamated their road and track records (choosing the best of either surface as the record - removing road or track surface records for ultra events). At the same time, they decided a long-standing W45 "asterisk" performance by Lavinia Petrie (year 1992, 8.22.17) would be accepted and my 8.32.00 would be deleted. Their digging into history gave them sufficient comfort that her performance had been accurately recorded on an accurate course.

Multiple W70 world record holder now, Lavinia Petrie continues to excel
So, despite having a shortened speed work/sharpening phase - and it being the middle of summer - I decided the 100k was still the only challenge that would sufficiently capture my attention.

The current records are CAN W45 8.32.00 (me, 2015) and AUS W45 8.22.17 (Lavinia, 1992). The A grade qualifying standard for women to be accepted to a national team for World 100km Championships (Sept 2018 in Croatia) is 8.30.00. I've never applied to go to World 100k - though my age-group performances are respectable, in the open category, many (mostly younger) women at the champs can run much faster. But achieving an A grade qualifier is still an interesting personal goal. And I'm three years older than in 2015.

It sounds cheesy, but it's true: I'm mildly terrified. I've been quietly (I hope!) on edge all week. I have the voice in my head that asks why, that tells me I'm stupid, that utterly freaks out. I've got one mantra after another playing in my mind to counter it.

And though it seems to stress me terribly more often than not when I go into an event, I keep going. It's one of the best ways I really understand (at this point) how to approach mystery. I need to set audacious goals for myself. And then feel my way through the experience of the doubt and the fright.

Running. As I've said before, it's everything and it's nothing. Of all my mantras, I think the stickiest this time around is #bestdayever. Because with that one, I just can't lose. It's a mindset.

Race day updates

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Emu 18 (not 48) Hour: When the Mystery is Complete

I cried. But I didn't cry right away.

At 4.50am Saturday, nearly 19 hours after starting the Emu 48 hour race, I stood in front of one of my crew persons. He handed me my usual bottle of Hammer Perpetuem. Instead of moving back into the darkness for another lap, I looked him in the eye and quietly said, "I think I'm done."

48 hour race start - a small, strong, and encouraging tribe to be amongst.

Only about 30 minutes before, I'd talked to my partner via Skype. I had wanted another opinion - someone outside of myself or crew, to provide another view of things for me. And I wanted some "Dr Google" advice.

From the moment the race started, I'd been a peeing machine. By every second lap (roughly 12 minutes), I'd have the urge to go. Sometimes I'd hold on as long as 5 laps, before I felt like a 3 year old about to wee their pants. We reduced my fluid intake from 500ml/hr to 400ml/hr or less. We stopped electrolytes (I wasn't taking much anyway), in case my body was trying to pee out excess it didn't need. There was nothing else I could think to do.

As I ran along in the dark, I started to reflect on the fact that the problem had actually started a few weeks prior. But I'd kept making excuses to explain it. Needing to pee 3 times during a 1 hour taper run, I'd try telling myself, "Oh, I must have had too much coffee - and it's cold out." I was sure that if I'd been out running longer, my body would have stabilised. But I also recalled how every time I walked up to town for groceries or another errand, I'd be looking for a public toilet within an hour. Urgently.

So I Skyped my partner back in Perth and explained what was happening in the race and over the past two weeks.

Early hours - the hand-off of fuel at the crew table

The problem was menopause. My pelvic floor muscles have changed due to decreased oestrogen. I had no idea this was a thing.

For the next 20 minutes, I went around the park and contemplated. In an ultra, we can expect that things will change. Get better, get worse, get better, get worse. Change. But this was not going to change. I could no longer hold my pace, as the stops took 45-60 seconds. Once the body gets a little fatigued (say after 14 hours of running), it's necessary to change from running to standing still in a gradual manner. Stop too quickly and one can get dizzy. Similarly, to get moving again after a stop requires a gradual speeding up, as the muscles loosen again. And mentally, the feeling of urgency was killing me. Ten minutes after going to the loo, I'd have the feeling back and then have to start "holding." You know the feeling. Like really holding. Like you've waited way too long. It's that feeling. I was often eyeing off the darker spots on the course, wondering if I might have to make an "emergency" stop. Everyone noticed my fondness for the toilet block.

I now knew that I could continue and nothing sinister would happen to me. I wasn't sick or injured. I had over 150km done. I had just started falling short of my plan. I calculated that even at a walk I could break at least one of the national 48 hour records I was aiming for. I had 29 hours to do less than 130km. If nothing terrible happened, I'd almost surely at least get over 300km by race end.

When you reach milestones like this, they punish you by making you carry a big stick for a lap ;)

But that number wouldn't reflect anything near what I would be capable of otherwise. Sure, these were the cards I was dealt with on the day. Some argue that an ultra runner should persevere no matter what. But I don't need to do that. I know I could. I'm heaps strong :-) For me, the magic is not in just grabbing at a record, but in finding the true potential of my endurance. Exploring. Whether it's running 6 hours, running the 1000 km Bibbulmun Track, walking across the sub-Arctic in the winter pulling a pulk, or running 48 hours.

I was not interested to know how much I could run in 48 hours with a menopausal peeing urgency. In fact, I'd kind of done the math and pretty much knew. There was no magic mystery left. I had my pot of gold for this adventure.

Before the race, I had the image of a mandala come to me. I felt that my race preparation had been like the creation of a mandala. Like it was a thoughtful, detailed, beautiful, attentive effort. A mysterious beauty unfolding. To continue running felt somehow disingenuous to my body and to the spirit of my 48 hour run. Grace could only be found in honouring what was present. Humbly bowing down before it and accepting that the mandala was complete. It was time to dissolve the mandala.

Tibetan Buddhist monks dismantle a sand mandala once complete and pour the sand into a river.

At 5am, my crew person and I went into our trackside cabin. I laid on the kitchen bench in my race gear, shoes on. I wanted to give myself time to change my mind. I didn't. A few times, the longing to be back out there would fill me. I would feel it viscerally in my gut. The craving. I love running. I love the mystery. But neither of those were really on offer. Stop-start running isn't running. I was craving an experience that wasn't on offer. I wanted to make something more out of something that was already complete.

On Sunday at 10am, the race ended for the others. As I walked along the now-still course towards my car, pulling my suitcase, the tears came suddenly and surprisingly. I was mourning, but I couldn't name it exactly. I just let it come. I didn't try to think about it, as I hadn't really slept yet. I was in no mind for deep reflective thinking.

On Monday, I climbed Triglav mountain, the highest peak in Slovenia on a perfect blue sky day. She's a beautiful peak, surrounded by so many others. I could see easily well over 120km from the top. It was a rather ambitious outing after running 153km two days prior. I still hadn't slept much. Occasionally, I felt a sadness/grief/disappointment arise, but didn't dwell on it. I just noted it and moved on.

30km + 2000m two days after a 153k run? Sure! Let's go up there! (Silly girl)

On Wednesday night, back in Switzerland, I finally felt ready to analyse my race and take away all the lessons I could. Other than learning about oestrogen-related pelvic floor muscle issues (which can be either too weak or too tight, for starters), I learned more about the amount of fuel I need when I run so slowly and the impact my body feels on asphalt in my favourite minimal shoes. I was also reminded that I should always, always read my race-debrief notes from previous races for tips going into another race.

I also learned why I cried. I cried for the loss of the mystery. And for the realisation that the mandala was complete and I had thought I could build upon the perfection of grace.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Emu 48 Hour: Creating a Mandala

Today it struck me. The five months of training to build up my running speed and economy after 850km of sub-Arctic walking, the search for the optimal 48 hour race event, the searches for and visits to massage therapists, sports chiropractors, and physiotherapists in Australia, Canada, England, and Switzerland, the daily nutrition for my body, the recruitment of an incredible crew team for the event...everything has been like the construction of one of those beautiful sand mandalas. Admittedly, I have not looked nearly so poised, composed, or mindful throughout the process! But I aspire...always aspire :)

Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala being created

Running for me is often an active meditation. It's a way I experience a calmness of being present in the moment. There is no before or after - just now. But I make no claims that it's always like that! And it took a few years of building up fitness to where I wasn't always just focused on the future - getting to that next hilltop or street light - or just getting home to drink that beer!

I find that running in what might be thought of as "challenging" circumstances gives me a superb opportunity to practice the skill of being in the present moment. There's a curiosity within me. To find a flow and stay in it, but somehow without trying. If I grasp at any particular mental state, I'm guaranteed suffering - either it isn't quite as I imagined it or it doesn't last as long as I want or or or....

The suffering of grasping at the right shoes to wear. At least it's not a colour choice ;)

A mandala is a symbol. It can be a symbol of the (a?) universe. It can be a symbol of a quality or principle, like compassion or wisdom. It can be an offering.

This weekend, I'm off to Hungary, one of my ancestral lands, to run around in circles for 48 hours, gratefully supported by two adventurous people. I have goals - national record-breaking goals, maybe even a world age best goal - but I also have a goal to not be caught chasing and grasping at the goals. Not to chase, but not to refrain from chasing. To see if I can notice that the experience I'm "having" is actually the experience I'm "being." Enjoyment without preconception. A dance like no one's watching.

In other words, to have the #bestdayever. I'll start with today :)

The Nuts and Bolts:

Time: Friday 10am (Central European Summer Time) - Sunday 10am
  Perth time: Friday 4pm start   Calgary and Moose Jaw time: Friday 2am start
Location: Füred Camping, H-8230 Balatonfüred, Széchenyi u. 24. (Balatonfured/Lake Balaton, Hungary)
Circuit: 926.82 metre "round," with plenty of trees and shade in a campground/park setting
Accommodation: Two bedroom cabins for each runner & crew "track-side"
Forecast: 6-8 degrees C by night and 18-19 C by day, no rain, light breezes
Will I sleep? Planned 20 minute catnap if needed on day 2
Crew: 2 amazing people, JC and Anna. JC has crewed me before. They're both athletes.

How do you follow?

Live broadcast link - scrolling down on that video page should also show real-time (within seconds) standings/distances run for all athletes
Facebook for news and photos - they have a 6 day race each May - don't be thrown off by the "6 day" name. This particular event includes only 24hr (starts Saturday) and 48hr

In between watching people run around in circles on your computer, you might find one of these links of value:

Rich Roll podcasts
Saying YES to Your Weirdness YouTube video by JP Sears
Smiling Mind website and Australian-based free mindfulness meditation app for all ages

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Yukon Quest: The After Story

Thanks to the #yukonquestbyfoot, I have a new skill. I can now leave the dirty dishes by the sink all night. Yup, that's right. I'm serious. I can let them sit there piling up all day and then tuck myself into bed and fall asleep easily, whilst all those dirty dishes sit by the sink.

This guy needs to go winter thru-hiking. Then he'll learn what a bad time is! ;)

And that's not all. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning when this has happened, and I eat my breakfast before I do the dishes. I can just turn my back to the dishes and eat my yummy cereal. My favourite meal of the day - with Udo's Oil, soy yoghurt, cinnamon, and chia or hemp hearts. Oops, sorry, I digress. I loooove breakfast!

The Yukon has given me a great gift in this new flexibility.

Maybe you were born with the gene that lets you leave your dishes unwashed, your clean laundry sitting in the hamper, or your car floor full of rubbish. I was not. I think this same gene allows people to leave emails in their inbox for more than a day, too.

A lot of my suffering in life, I have noticed, is when I rail against what is. When I have made a story in my head of what should happen next, of the way I think things should go. At times, I make tough situations or experiences worse through my intolerance to accept what is present - the inflexibility to go with the flow.

Starting at the lower right, I travelled northwest towards the Alaskan border

In the Yukon, I experienced a lot and I emoted a lot. My journey of 40 days took me physically from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to the Alaskan border, 530 miles (850km) northwest. Emotionally, I think I went a lot further.

I experienced temperatures ranging from about -42C to +2C. The weather was erratic this winter, with extreme highs followed by extreme lows. I started in a low and gave myself a bit of a scare. I got my mojo back and made it to Day 12, when the temperatures started to plummet again towards another -42 degree spell. I came off the trail and went to volunteer for the Yukon Quest sled dog race. It was a perfect fit, given the trail I was thru-hiking. I hitchhiked up and down the Klondike Highway with pulky for a week or so, whilst we helped the Quest race happen.

Day 12. The trail crossed the Klondike Highway and I chose to stop before the next -40C spell.

Once the race passed, the weather started to break (-20 to -25C), so I found myself back out on the trail on Day 22. The weather slowly warmed more, but sunk again by the time I reached Dawson. I sat it out again a few days before I filled pulky with 6 more days of food and made my way to the border.

So many experiences, from northern lights to lynx sightings to pulling all-nighters volunteering for the racing mushers, to stove malfunctions, to soaked feet, to drinking snowmobile-exhaust-laden water. I have enough memories and a diary large enough to write a book from.

For now, though, I'm doing up a series of short videos. As of writing this, two videos are up on YouTube - the "Freakin' Miserable Start" and "From Cold to Carmacks." Part 3 in the series will include my leaving the trail at the next cold snap, volunteering for the Quest, and the angst of wanting to get back on the trail again but without the extreme cold. I expect 5 videos will get me to Alaska!

In the weeks since I've been back in Perth, Australia, I've been teaching my lungs, heart, and tendons how to run again, getting tight muscles loosened with massage, and trying to remember that delicious feeling of peace that comes with letting go.

#yukonquestbyfoot was everything I hoped for. The competition with myself against my own weaknesses was one I couldn't really lose. It was just a matter of how good the PB would be.

Sunrise Day 29 with the moon still up. Exposed camp, but wind stayed down all night. Magic.

Hopefully, I'll take my mental development "PB" on to race a 48 hour event in the coming months.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Yukon Quest by Foot: The Back Story

Jan 14, 2017. In just under a week, I'll set out on a 1,000 mile* (1,600km) solo winter trek across subarctic North America. Though by definition it is an "event," it is my own. It is not a race. It is an event - an occurrence, a happening - in which I will attempt to hike the overland winter route from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, to Fairbanks, AK, USA, pulling a pulk with everything I need to survive.

It's not that green right now!
This route does have a race take place over it: the Yukon Quest (YQ) International Sled Dog Race. It's a race for mushers with their teams of sled dogs, who race every February for 9 to 12 days over the frozen earth, rivers, and lakes. The average temperature is -25C. One must be prepared to camp in -50C. Yes, really. My sleeping bag at last year's MYAU was rated at the extreme end (that means survival) to -40C and I was usually shivering within an hour. My sleeping bag this year, the Carinthia ECC 1200, promises comfort for a woman to -27C, comfort to a man curled up to -38C, and survival for a woman for 6 hours at -65C.

Although the YQ trail is roughly 1,000 miles and follows the same general route each year, it is "put in" each winter based on snow/ice/freeze conditions. Sections are sometimes rerouted for safety, depending on the conditions that year.

The traditional sled dogs

In February 2016, I raced the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra (MYAU). It follows 300 miles of the YQ trail out of Whitehorse (430 mile option in odd numbered years). I prepared vigilantly, researched carefully, and competed hard. I took over 24 hours off the female course record, finishing in under 5 1/2 days. I slept less than 8 hours in total. The sleep dep, hallucinations, -35C temperatures, canker sores, food repulsion, and foot neuropathy were agonising. They were met by beauty, solitude, quiet, serenity, and a deep feeling of connection to wilderness. I wanted to go back, to see more, and to savour more. But the competitor in me wasn't going to enjoy MYAU's 430 mile without going hard. Really hard. For the fastest time possible. I would sacrifice my savouring goal. I wouldn't get any video footage for memories. I'd be left with a few photos wherein I would probably look a lot like I did in MYAU 2016.

The human sled dog, enroute to Pelly Crossing, MYAU 2016. Quite sleep deprived, but still loving where I am.
I knew of an option, but was afraid at first to admit it. To myself or others. It was equal parts exciting and terrifying. And even in my need to savour this incredible extreme winter wilderness experience, I needed to figure out how to fulfil my competitive side. Though competition has always been with me. It's never mattered who has participated in the same race as me. I can't control their strengths. I can't race another person, I can only race to my training, my mental drive, my experience, and my tactical skills and knowledge. I can race the course and the time. I can compete with my strengths, against my weaknesses. My races, as varied as they have been, have always held a personal challenge. I just needed the personal challenge element to take me back to Yukon's winter. I'm literally just not very good with "a walk in the park" ;-)

I knew I wanted to attempt the entire YQ trail. Though the snow and ice route is broken in each winter, only small sections are more regularly used. Historically plied as a postal and goods route and by gold seekers and trappers, its use nowadays is limited mainly to localised trappers and during the two weeks of the YQ sled dog race. This is not a constantly groomed track.

The route always travels through these points, with exact trail set each winter based on conditions.
I went searching online for previous "thru-hikers" - for the fastest known time (FKT) if there was one. That search revealed that a former MYAU competitor, the German Joachim Rintsch, had apparently been first to dream of and complete the YQ on foot in modern times. In 2010, Joachim travelled by foot from Alaska to Whitehorse. I take my hat off to him for being the first modern "pioneer" to take this on - he had no one else to ask for advice and tips. And English is not his native language.

Joachim Rintsch (aka Fisse)
From online tracker data, blog posts and media articles, electronic communication with him, and information from his novel, I pieced together that he took 34 days 23 hours in total (Feb 4 ~11am - Mar 11 ~10am). But Joachim chose to start at least 45 miles east of the Fairbanks YQ start point. Later, he took a road section from Central to Circle, AK, bypassing another 40 miles of YQ trail. So Joachim Rintsch was the first known modern day pedestrian adventurer I could find traversing the YQ route, but he did not complete it as an FKT-type traverse of the entire YQ trail, beginning to end. Removing 80 miles of trail left his accomplishment in a category of its own.

One other person, also a multi-time MYAU racer, dreamed as well to travel YQ by foot. Mark Hines, a British adventurer (check out his books), completed the route over 39 days from YQ headquarters in Fairbanks, starting Feb 1st, 2016.
Mark Hines

Although he aimed for the YQ headquarters in Whitehorse, YT as his official finish line, a mild winter meant the Takhini and Yukon Rivers were unsafe from Takhini Hot Springs ~48km west of town. Though Mark's YQ by foot FKT of 39 days covers the YQ route excluding the easternmost bit, it comprised the official YQ route for 2016. So, it did constitute a complete traverse of the YQ2016. (The first few YQ mushers in 2016 got all the way to Whitehorse, but the rivers were so unsafe that remaining competitors were stopped at the alternate finish in Takhini.) The 2016 trail also contained a reroute along a Yukon River section west of Dawson City due to bad jumble ice, which the mushers were subject to and which Mark therefore followed. The reroute added a bit of distance, an ascent of 800m, and tough windblown side-slopes causing his pulk to do somersaults. I'm very grateful to Mark for generously giving his time and detailed information to help me in my own preparations. I'm going to heed his advice not to slip and crack my ribs at Scroggie Creek and not to try to carry all my food start to finish!

It didn't sound any easier to do the Canadian portion of the route by sleigh in the early 1900s! Brrr!

Though the weather dictates everything up north, it's possible that I might be the first one who gets from traditional headquarters-to-headquarters.... But it's still several days until I leave Whitehorse and though things froze up well here, we've got 4 very mild days of melting weather as I write.

YQ by foot remains a competition of sorts to me, regardless of whether anyone else is present or how fast I travel. It is a competition with one's own weaknesses - of mind and body. It is a competition in which one demonstrates their strengths in pulling a heavy pulk day after day, in organisation, patience, and injury prevention. It is a competition against impulsiveness, inflexibility, and intolerance to accept what is present. It is a competition of sorts with nature, only she is the teammate, rather than an adversary. I will not be victorious against nature, but only with her. If we work together - or more so if I work within the rules she sets out - she will try to see me to the other end of this 1,000 mile journey.

In this era when dystopian ideals seem to reign, when reality TV and social media seem to overwhelm us with disheartening images of the worst of humanity and reinforce a sense of division, perhaps what we need most is to develop a new sense of competition. To compete against our own inflexibility and intolerance and enmity. In extreme environments like the far north, people are generally renowned for their generosity and kindness. Perhaps it's understandable, then, that in my subconscious search to understand and develop these traits, I've come north again. These people and this place can teach me things. In my own "race," I hope to see negative traits fall off the pace and to find kindness and generosity running into the finish line hand in hand with me.

Oh, to hear this fellow's stories around a campfire under the northern lights....
Traversing the Yukon Quest by foot gives me the opportunity to become the first woman to complete the YQ route. I might make it faster than Mark. If I make it. Or I might not. Most importantly, no matter how far I get, I have the chance to compete against my own weaknesses. The prizes up for grabs might be intangible, but are also the most worthy. #yukonquestbyfoot #kindness

Online live tracking will be provided as batteries and charging opportunities permit via my delorme inReach mapshare page. A very short daily post will (battery-permitting) be posted to Facebook.

*My preference to use imperial over metric distance in this instance is a nod to the pioneering adventurers who first travelled these parts. Though, truly, the first peoples of this area, the First Nations/Native American peoples, would have had terminology reflecting distances measured in something other than either. Perhaps by topographical landmarks or sunrises.