"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

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Public Service Announcement

We interrupt this complete lack of posting for a brief word from our ultrarunner.

If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong.

That's what I said at the race briefing for WA's first night trail race - the Perth Trail Series' Moon Shadow event just over a week ago. The comment was meant to remind people that if they were nervous and freaking out on the trails running at night (many for the first time), they should slow down and enjoy the sights - get the fun back.
Having fun. Razorback Run 64km on the Victorian high plains 30 Nov.

Turns out, this little statement is a perfect adage for life as well. And for much of the last year, I've been doing it wrong. Thus, this past 10 days has involved some more radical "quitting" and readjusting on my part. I've got a vision developing of the future I want to see in 2014 and I've not been creating it!

Fulfilling this vision, you will see a lot more of the blog again, complete with my old research analyses, race reports, reflections, tips, and such. But I have to package up a few other projects this month and send them on their way first.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled program. I hope it's not a repeat ;)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Rest Month (Don't Try This at Home)

Prairie Mtn sunset with friends - the Leki poles in my pack, of course! ;)
After the Lost Soul Miler in early September, my plan was to keep running (or power slogging as need be) in the Canadian Rockies until leaving Canada. I thought the tendons and ligaments would be well due for a bit of repair time after the wonderful adventures of Swissalpine, Irontrail, and Lost Soul, but... I just HAD to squeeze out every last drop of alpine trail running goodness I could! Western Australia, I  love you, but your 200 metre pea gravel climbs just aren't the same as mountain running.

I took a few days off, then we ran/hiked up Prairie Mountain on Wednesday night (2210 metres). Saturday saw us on the spectacular Mt Bourgeau summit in Banff National Park at 2930 metres. It was only a week after the Miler, but I wasn't the only trail junkie with a problem - another girl in our group was just back from the Leadville Miler and with that had completed the Grand Slam. Then Monday we did a loop incorporating the North and South Buller Passes when a thunderstorm and hail came through - very exciting! And a good reminder why we need all that emergency gear in our packs! The rest of the week was rather tame, but then we were back out at the very famous Lake Louise, just west of Banff, for a tour of all the local trails, including some tea houses that date back to the early 1900s and Fairview Mountain (even with slightly foggy/snowy conditions, the views were still more than fair at 2744 metres).
On the way to Mt Bourgeau- the hangglider pilot looks for alt ways down

That left one day to recover and one more day to get out on the trails. Junction Mountain, a fire lookout at 2239 metres, was the final choice. Coincidentally, the only runner with a Tuesday off work I could talk into an outing was Dave Proctor, the bloke who won the men's division of the Lost Soul Miler. The two of us were a pair in recovery, that's for sure! I'm sure it was partly psychological, that my brain knew my legs were getting a break after that run, but I felt bagged! Yet it was still a glorious adventure, which started by fording the Sheep River (due to early season floods, the bridges were out in many areas of the backcountry). At the fire tower, we met the ranger woman, who had spent the season up there alone. The last person she'd seen had been a few weeks prior when she had a helicopter food drop - no one was coming in because the river was too high to ford. But we managed a late season attempt and though it was slightly intimidating for me (fast water to my thighs), a hand from Dave (much taller than I!) helped me get across before I was frozen numb! I have to take baby steps in swift and slippery conditions like that, so I don't lose my balance.
The Sheep River. More serious than it looks - at least at my size!

Back to merry old England, where autumn was in full swing. I pulled back the mileage, which wasn't hard, as I didn't feel like contending with the brambles and stinging nettles much, anyway. The sky was so low that I imagined it was like England tries to hug us with her skies, like a mother afraid we'll leave home! (As, in fact, many do leave that heavy, grey hug). The weekly mileage dropped to 48k, with just +1200m. 

And then another day of pseudo-altitude training on Emirates Air brought me back to Perth. My plan was to continue another three weeks of "relative" rest. In my head, I was thinking 50k/week was probably good. However, the reality was tougher to engineer! Just one run with mates on the weekend was giving me half my weekly distance. (Well, yes, you needn't point out that I should have been doing a shorter weekend run.) Add in a Wednesday night run and...well, that created a rather unbalanced "rest" of long runs combined with multiple days off. I do NOT recommend this! My body felt worse than ever. My back tightened up, my calves tightened up, and then I got a flu! My first flu ever. The flu wasn't bad, actually - it was kind of interesting. It was just an all-over muscle/joint ache, but my head was still clear. I learned that the muscle ache is theoretically caused by dehydration, brought about by fever. That made total sense, as when I woke up that day, my weight was down 800 grams from the morning before. I knew I hadn't calorie restricted by 3000 calories that day! So I gunned heaps of fluid all day and felt much better. The flu became a cold, but didn't stick around long. Not with my naps and cinnamon regime ;)
Don't be frightened, it's just a mulberry addiction. Anti-oxidants, you know.

And not long enough to make me miss out on WA's last rogaine of the season - the spring 12 hour. But how could I do a 12 hour event on a "rest" month? Hmmmm. Not easy, no, but I do like a challenge. So I paired up with a mate who had never run 12 hours straight before. I figured that would slow me down. And I picked the nastiest section of the mapped out area to start with, which I figured would be harder and keep the miles down. However, I didn't count on him being such a good navigator! Between us, we had pretty good luck finding the controls and managed to still net 54km + 850m with a lot of bush bashing.

And so, with that, I figured my ruse of a "rest month" was well and truly exposed and I might as well book my first brutal training session in 3.5 months. A few days ago I hit the gym for five rounds of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, and squats with weight. The next day, I struggled to get out of bed and cursed Rolf when he made me laugh. Those abs have been tucked away nicely into a kilo of fat again and let me know they were none too pleased with the new agenda!

So what is the new agenda? Well, I think it starts off with the Narrabeen Allnighter. After a delicious season on the trails, I feel the siren call of some speedy road and track goals (well, speedy for an old lady like me!). With summer on its way (the flies blown in on the easterlies this week are portending - at least I think that's what it was when one went up my nose today on the trail!), it gets hard to find road and track races in Australia. It's not the season for speed - or exposure. It's the season to run trails, shaded in trees (you hope). Nonetheless, one of my current A goals is to run a sub 9hr 100km again. For anyone who is interested in the numbers, that's a Category B level with the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) and current AUS "A" qualifier for team placement. My last official 100km was my 8hr52 CAN W40 record from Coburg in 2011. And the World 100k Championship is in Latvia next August. That's interesting :)
I wonder if Latvians use cobblestones. I don't like cobblestones.

Narrabeen Allnighter is an overnight 12hr event near Sydney NSW, where I could get a 100km split recorded. The million dollar question is: Do I go hardest for the 100k and stop (reality is, I learned, that if you go your hardest for that, there's nothing left to continue with the 12hr)...or go "hard enough" with the 100k but keep enough in reserve to nut out the best 12hr possible?? I've never done an official 12hr (my best 12hr distance is 122.649km as part of the World 24hr this year). So, the 12hr challenge sounds like the more interesting, doesn't it? How far could I go?

Time to ramp up the mileage and see if the body agrees there will be a party on 4 January. Assuming the weather fairies also agree to provide a nice, mild night conducive for 12 hour running parties.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Lost Soul 100 Miler: Trading Fat for Age

Different choices from the start...hydration systems, use of poles....
A civilised race start - 8 am Friday. Forty-four Milers and 91 Century runners toed the line. The 50k runners (actually doing 54k) would start at 7 am Saturday. Showers and thunderstorms were in the forecast. Despite this race being in September (autumn), temperatures typically hit high 20s to low 30s. That's not the same as a Perth high 20s. High 20s Alberta feels the same as low 30s Perth. I don't know why. Maybe it's the stiff breeze that often accompanies a high 20s Perth day - rendering the "feels like" temperature lower. Maybe it has to do with the ozone layer.

In this race, forecast rain is NOT a good thing, though. The climbs in the coulees are STEEP. So steep that in 2008 when it rained, they had to call it off, mid event. The organisers' rain plan for this year was to move everyone to the "Pavan loop" (16k) to do repeat laps. That wasn't the Miler I wanted to run. And I sure as heck didn't want to get shifted to the "rain course" mid event.

We started under a clear sky, with showers expected after 2 pm.

One lap. Like an ECG with a flat line getting kicked going again.
My original calculations for this race, based on elevation and distances, came in around 21 hours. Nice, except that's the male course record (CR) time! I knew I was missing two key things - a heat factor and a grade factor. Midday heat would take a toll. And I'd been warned about the hills. They are short (compared to mountain climbs), but so steep in places that they are hikes up and toe-crushing, quad-destroying, sliding-on-the-butt downs. You don't easily get in a groove in this race. The flats are sometimes in long grass, marsh, soft riverbank sand or river rock, and freshly mown straw hummocks.

I revised my plan to 23 hours. The female CR (26h08) was held by Shelley Gellatly, a hardcore Yukon Arctic Ultra runner - she set it in 2007, the year I ran the 50k.

Out from the hills as I approach an aid station.
With the mix of Milers and Century runners starting, I lost track of how many were in front of me, but I started as lead woman with perhaps 10 men increasing the gap out front. Less than a km in, however, on a steep bitumen descent, a lean woman passed. I didn't catch her bib and didn't know which race she was in. But I was on a 4.28 pace and that seemed already rather quick for a Miler! At aid 1, I asked my partner-crew Rolf and he didn't know anything about her. He set out to find out, whilst I ran on. At aid 2, I still didn't know anything, but Rolf said, "She looks good, but that's not a 100 mile pace." Encouraging, but perhaps it was her 100 mile pace! At aid 3 I had my answer: 100k. We could tell by the bib numbers and shading.

Lap 1 heated up and we initiated the heat management strategies - including lots of cold water soaks and ice at the aid stations. I was running on Hammer Perpetuem caffe latte in a pancake batter mix, with pears as a fructose source to augment caloric needs. I swapped UltrAspire packs at each aid station, which held enough water for that leg. Caffeine pills were at hand, but I also used the option of Hammer Espresso gels, which had the perfect 50mg hits I needed to top up stores periodically.

Somewhere around the 40k mark, I came through an off leash dog park. The day before, recce'ing the aid stations (Rolf was going to be driving solo on the right (wrong) side of the road with "crazy" things like 4 way stops!), we'd seen a dog chase down a truck, biting at the tyres at 25kph. Scary as heck. It wasn't the same dog, but I was chased by one as I passed through and had another do the "dazed-dog-in-the-middle-of-the-trail" routine. I had to veer around him at the last minute. I like dogs a lot, but I was starting to dislike this park's dogs.

As I closed in on the completion of lap 1, I noted that I was going to bank an hour on my projected lap 1 time. I was going to come in under the female CR time for the 50k (5hr49). That sounded decidedly unwise. I pulled it back a few notches and told myself to get some recovery from the increasing heat of the day by bringing my heart rate down. I came through lap 1, ~54k, about 5hr54. It was just before 2 pm.  [For those who looked at online splits, several are completely wonky and I have no idea why.]The sun had disappeared behind the clouds and a short shower ensued. Then the sun came back with a vengeance. A scan of the horizon indicated there would be no more clouds for the afternoon. More heat management. The shower had soaked my feet and they couldn't dry due to narrow trails with long grasses throwing more water on them with each step. The bottoms of my feet started to macerate - I took an important 8 minute stop to apply Compeeds and change socks. The descents had become temporarily slick in the wet. I was chased by different dogs in the park.
Closer up view of our terrain - photo by Lynne Chisholm

Perhaps around the 75k mark, I came upon a woman from behind, moving with some pain evident. I was confused, as it wasn't the 100k female I knew was in front. Then she told me that there were 3 or 4 more women ahead. Okay, so where was the bus that everyone else got in?? How did I end up behind 5 women? Rolf solved the riddle later for me. The 100k runners skipped a 7k loop on their second lap, in order to keep their race to ~100k, rather than doing a double 54k. So several 100k runners, men and women, were now in front of me. I finished lap 2 (108k) just after dark, 1 hour ahead of my projected time.

Although my beautiful trail mates, my Leki poles, were packed, the course did not lend itself to their use. The trails in the hill sections were so narrow and filled with long grasses that they would have snagged heaps and slowed me down.

Lap 3 allowed a pacer. Thus, Rolf could run out further from the aid stations to meet me in each section. He was amazed by the steep coulees, with their sharp drops off one side and the long grasses and cactuses. There was a "whump" behind me as he fell off the trail. I couldn't look back, as I was too dizzy and feared I'd go over with him. Rule #71 of having a pacer is that the help only goes in one direction ;)

Superhero goggles on another night-originally meant for my watery eyes
Little flying bugs appeared in huge clouds in the afternoon. With sunglasses and a cap on, I could keep most out of my eyes and breathe in gasps through clenched teeth. After dark, I was thrilled I had my superhero horse jockey goggles to keep them (mostly) out. The bugs continued to appear in swarms all night, literally smacking me in the face, they were that big and thick.

But it wasn't all suffering :) I heard coyotes yipping, saw fish jumping in the river, and saw a roo. Okay, my brain told me it couldn't be a roo, but for the life of me those glowing eyes in the dark looked like a roo. A small, fat critter waddled off my path later - raccoon or skunk, perhaps. I came through the dog park one last time in the dark and cheered aloud that there were no nocturnal dog owners.

I developed a blister on the end of a toe that had nail damage from earlier in the season. I loaded 2Toms anti-blister powder into my socks in the hope it would prevent what I thought was going to be a problem toenail. Sure enough, descents became torturous. I had to will myself to start down each time I stood at the top of a hill. Amazing how blindingly painful a little blister can be. I kept expecting the sudden warmth of it popping in my shoe, but it never did. My banked hour was donated to a lousy toe blister. But worst of all was the realisation after the race...why didn't I stop and pop it?!? A 5 minute stop might have saved 30 minutes of slow descents. Ahhh, the clarity of a rested mind! I put this one in the "learnings" basket... don't expect a blister to pop of its own accord.

6 Years On - Trading "Fat" for "Old" ;-)
At 7.21 am Saturday morning, (23h21) - 21 minutes after the 50k got underway - I crossed the finish line, taking 2h45 off the female CR. My Canadian massage therapist, Dave Proctor, had come in a few hours ahead of me, narrowly missing the male CR. Rolf and I hugged and he thanked me, saying he couldn't have done it without me :)

Back in the hotel room, we collapsed - one on each of the two queen beds. I didn't have the energy to undress and shower yet and didn't want to get the communal bed stinky. We laid there in silence for a few minutes and then Rolf said it:

"First you were fat, now you're old."

And we both burst out laughing.

With the benefit of the finish line in the hotel parking lot, I was able to go out numerous times Saturday to cheer runners in. As the cut off approached (7 pm), I stiffly hobbled out onto the course to cheer those who toughed out another day (or a long 50k day) in the coulees. I felt a strange sort of angst, not knowing how many were out there and whether they could stay ahead of the sweep. I breathed a sigh of relief and cheered aloud for each one climbing that last hill home.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Three Times in One Day

In 2007 I did my first ultra - 50k in the coulees of southern Alberta. Dry, hot, rattlesnake country. Short, but very steep hills, totalling about +1300 metres.

Throwing bales (strength work) during the taper.
On Friday morning (that's Saturday at noon in Perth), I embark on their 100 Miler. That's three laps of the 50km (actually 53km) course. (For those who know me, you can see that I was initiated into "bonus k's" very early on!)

Somehow it seems ironic after all the things I've done that this is my first 100 Miler. Thrilled to be here for it, back to dance with my first love... three times! ;) Let's hope the romance doesn't wear off too quickly. Sometimes we remember those old flames with rose coloured glasses!

Possibly, there will be updates here http://racepro.ca/lsu/

Monday, September 2, 2013

What's in the Carry On Bag?

Travelling internationally for nearly two months now, I have several items that comprise my "essentials." I've mentioned them before, but haven't made the time to talk much about why.

Dark hot chocolate with cinnamon. Perfect reward after a  chilly winter run?
Cinnamon. I came across reference to the anti-viral properties of cinnamon when I went to World 24hr champs in May. Keen to enlist whatever I could in good nutrition to help ward off the possibility of cold/flu viruses after 24 hours of flying, I tried it. Since then, I've stuck with it, sprinkling a bit of cinnamon on my yoghurt each morning. Cinnamon oil contains eugenol, and it's the eugenol that was found to inhibit the replication of the herpes virus. You know the smell of cloves? That smell is eugenol, as eugenol is really high in cloves. It's also found in nutmeg, basil, and bay leaves. Eugenol also has antiseptic/antimicrobial properties. Thus, it should also be useful against yeast, fungus, and candida issues. And it has anaesthetic properties, and is used by dentists and exotic fish vets/owners. What a super-food, eh? Of course, one needs to maintain balance in taking cinnamon/eugenol, as there are reports of sensitivity in a few cases (just like some people are allergic to eggs or strawberries) and toxicity can develop in the liver in extreme high doses.

Another benefit of cinnamon has been found in its apparent ability to reduce fasting blood glucose levels and LDL cholesterol, as reported in a few studies. This has been suggested as potentially helpful for those with Type 2 diabetes. Dosages mentioned seem to be under 6g/day, which would roughly equal 1 teaspoon in volume, I figure.

If only there was a superfood to cure fear of precipices!
Finally, cinnamon has been found to have catechins/epicatechins, the flavanol in green tea and cocoa that has an antioxidant effect. Woohoo! Cinnamon flavoured dark chocolate, anyone?

Turmeric. A plant from the ginger family. 'Nuf said, then, right? Antifungal and antibacterial properties. Of particular interest to me is its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric contains curcumin (not related to cumin), which also has antioxidant properties that seem to work against cancer cells (also found in studies with cinnamon). I try to get up to 1 teaspoon worth sprinkled on all my savoury foods, like stews, eggs, potatoes, and such. There is evidence it's a blood thinner, so those on blood thinning meds might be best to talk to their doc if thinking of mega-dosing. Also, if on NSAIDS, one might consider the effect of "double-dipping."

Udo's Oil (plus chia seeds and walnuts). If I am temporarily without a bottle of Udo's, I find some flaxseed or linseed oil to spread on my morning cereal and yoghurt combo. I'm crediting an increase in the omega-3 fatty acids found in these foods for a lot of the reason behind my decrease in injury rates over the past year+. My spending at physios this year is down by at least $1000. I should actually do a count at year end! (Other things I credit are the use of ice cup massages and ice baths, musculoskeletal adaptation, which just takes place over time, and regularly scheduled "rest").

Legal to grow in your backyard :)
Dark chocolate. For the antioxidant properties cited above. There was even one study done where they fed the participants 40g of dark chocolate for breakfast before their cycling test (nice!). This study and others have found connections between the catechins in the dark chocolate reducing free radicals, therefore "oxidative stress" therefore inflammatory responses/immune cell dysfunction and muscle fatigue. So, although there's generally nothing found saying it can directly improve performance (e.g., VO2max), it may indirectly improve performance by reducing fatigue and improving recovery. And the caffeine (stand alone or in dark chocolate) promotes lipolysis (increases free fatty acid concentrations), suggesting that at sub-maximal efforts (below 70% of VO2max), caffeine should help to promote use of fat burning vs glycogen. There's some interesting stuff emerging about the possible synergistic effects of combining catechins with caffeine. (Cinnamon sprinkled green tea leaves dunked in dark chocolate?!?) And, perhaps most importantly, it's truly a "feel-good" food that's not just a toxic, processed, engineered horror.

Peppermint tea. Particularly in the evenings, I find a cuppa helps me rehydrate when I don't feel like a cup of water. And there's evidence it sooths the digestive system. It's also supposed to give feelings of satiety, but I'm not sure about that one! I still feel like I eat non-stop! :)
Tapering's not so bad, if you have the right distractions!

Also in the carry on? A tennis ball for trigger spot treatment of tight back and hips. A trail magazine for easy, inspirational reading. And Tigger (I'm okay with being the only 44 year old woman on the plane with a stuffy - he makes a great lumbar support and occasionally I lend him out to a screaming overtired small child, too).

The things you won't find in my carry-on? Gluten, sugary high-GI processed foods, and alcohol. If I have to compromise something in my diet these last two months whilst travelling, trying to be a vegetarian, lactose intolerant, gluten free, no trans-fats/bad fat eater, I have chosen to compromise the vegetarian part first. That's just my personal choice, based on prioritising what makes my body feel best through to worst.

A new one I've been reading about that might prove a bit awkward in the carry-on is watermelon! Some new research just came out focusing on watermelon's antioxidant properties for athletes. There's an ingredient in watermelon called L-citrulline, an amino acid. But a bit of searching has shown me that the bodybuilding world has been onto L-citrulline for quite a while already. In addition to the antioxidant properties (which reduced post-exercise soreness in the cyclists given 500ml of liquefied watermelon an hour before their workout), it forms nitric oxide (think beetroot juice!). Thus, with its potential for dilating blood vessels, it is used to help lower blood pressure, too. I might try this out before the Lost Soul 100 miler this weekend. Nothing like trying something new before a race! :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's Just Running (or hiking, as the case may be): The Irontrail Story

The night before Irontrail, my partner and crew man extraordinaire said something to the effect of "No matter what happens tomorrow, I'm proud of you."

Pride: A feeling of satisfaction or pleasure over something regarded as highly honourable or creditable.
Day before. Turns out, this one IS beyond my (patience) limit! :-)

Thus, my reply: "It's just running."

And with that, we went to sleep.

In the morning, I woke and still did not feel like racing. It could have been a combination of several factors...the cool, rainy skies for the past two days, which tends to make one want to curl up with a book. Or it could have been my period (I don't mind being a girl, but in my next life, a boy body might be more convenient). Or, maybe it was just that I didn't feel like it. I considered whether it could be overtraining, but knew that wasn't it. My resting HR had dropped back below 40 within two days of Swissalpine and I was excited to be out running the trails again in no time. My stress levels were low, my mood was great, and I was well rested. 

I decided to stop over-analysing it. As I wrote earlier in my "eggs for breakfast" analogy... If I went to bed one night saying I was going to have eggs for breakfast, but woke up and didn't feel like eggs, the world would not go into microanalysis over why I simply didn't want eggs. I just didn't.

So, off we went to the race start to see what would happen. I had my UltrAspire pack filled with the mandatory gear - set of Icebreaker thermals, Icebreaker mid-weight layer, waterproof pants, waterproof jacket with hood, space blanket, compression bandage, whistle, headlamp, maps, mobile phone, 500 cal of emergency food (a bar of dark chocolate), their tracker device, and Icebreaker gloves. Although Inov-8 x-talons are usually my favourite trail shoes, I decided to start with the TrailRocs, as they provide a bit more protection under the sole and I thought I might need that layer over 36+ hours. But I brought the x-talons in case I wanted a change of shoes later. The TrailRocs worked, but the tongue of the right one isn't seated properly and shifted to the side all the time, causing me chafing in one spot - eventually I put a Compeed on the affected skin. Must be a flaw in the shoe.

The entry list indicated about 180 men and 20 women for the 201k (+11,150mtr) event, but I think only 122 men and 13 women started. Weather likely influenced a few decisions, after last year's storm caused a mid-race cancellation. But with a race this serious, many runners likely ended up overtrained and injured or undertrained and not prepared. The shorter distance events (141k, 81k, and 41k) started later in the day or the following day, further down the track; that is, everyone ran the same course, but skipped varying amounts of the beginning, depending on the length of their own event.

The gun went off and the race mojo hit! I immediately wanted to know how many women were in front. The pace was easy, so I slowly worked through the pack to get up to where I could see the front runners, as the lead men started to form a small pack. Just behind them, there was another group with two women. I settled in there and found my comfy pace. The comfy pace saw me then passing those women on the little climbs over the next km.

15km later (27k after adjusting for vertical) I was at the summit of Diavolezza, 3004 metres, where I had stayed for altitude acclimatisation for three days. That sure paid off! I felt fantastic climbing that peak - no dizzy rushes at all, in sharp contrast to the Swissalpine experience. I reached the aid station and got a lot of "erste Frau!" (first woman). I stopped for a sip of water and just replied, "It's a long day ahead!" and thanked them.

Back at Pontresina, km 35. Chipmunk pear cheeks!
Down to Aid 2, which was the cable car station at the bottom of Diavolezza (23km/35km corrected for vertical). I met Rolf there and quickly refilled water, emptied my pockets of rubbish, grabbed more Hammer solids, a gel, and a pear, and told him I was in the groove. I headed out for Fuorcla Pischa and Crasta Languard at 2927mtrs. Almost made one wrong turn on the switchbacks, but a fellow runner quickly corrected me. However, my Garmin would have beeped within 50 metres, as I was running with the course loaded. The organisers were very clear in saying we should use GPS, must carry the maps, and should expect markings to be only at junctions. In fact, the marking was quite plentiful in comparison to what they promised. I arrived back down at Pontresina, race start and Aid 3 (35km/56km corrected) with Rolf waiting for me just before the aid station. Looking later, I saw I was within about 5 minutes of my projected split time - not bad when you have to do a whole lot of guesswork about terrain, weather, elevation, pack weight, and such!

Coming into Station Murtel from Fuorcla Surlej. A rare bit of wide fire trail.

I grabbed a Perpetuem pancake batter mix (nice and thick is yummy and means I can still run with plain water in my pack bladder) and munched a pear as I ran through town, headed for Fuorcla Surlej at 2,755mtrs, then a small drop to Aid 4 - a cable car station (49km/80km corrected). Rolf was waiting there for me again, as was the RD, Andrea Tuffli. He had been everywhere, following the race leaders. Again, looking back, I was still within 10 minutes of my splits. Wow. I had a cup of bouillon - my first time trying this in a race. With the cold weather, it really seemed to set me up each time I arrived at an aid station - a cup of bouillon, then munch a bit of pear from Rolf, then alternate that with Hammer fuel.

Station Murtel aid station, complete with RD.
Naturally after the climb, a descent followed - the descents were often killers. Really steep and you couldn't dare to open up, as smashing the quads this early on would mean certain death! I used my lovely Leki poles "Nearer" and "Further" (named during the Bibbulmun FKT) as partial brakes in front on the steeper bits. I mused how this race really required one to be a quadruped, not biped! I needed my arms as much as my legs, and my poles were just an extension to make my arms longer :-) Heading out of Station Murtel, I let out a good ol' Canadian trail running "Yee Haw!" 

At the bottom, I arrived in Samedan, Aid 5 (67km/102km corrected). It was here, from memory, that the reality of the nature of this event took hold. It required a lot of power hiking. The summits were many (at least 9, even if you only counted the big ones) and often steep, particularly in the last few km. Just like running fast downhill meant disaster, running fast uphill would also mean disaster.

I was pacing myself well and best word we had was that my lead on females had opened to at least 5km. But there was still a long way to go. And I was losing interest in all the hiking.

Nevertheless, Rolf passed on my other Garmin 310, fully charged, and I headed out for a long "solo" section over Fuorcla Crap Alv (crap means rock in the popular Romansh language of the area, but yes I was later to enjoy my own private jokes about the various Crap I had to run/walk/stumble/slip over during the night ahead!). 

Have bouillon, will travel! Before the storm at Alp Spinas/Palud Marscha
A storm came in on my way to this summit. I stopped under a tree to put a second Icebreaker layer on under my jacket. And to put my gloves on again, still wet from the morning rain, but fortunately merino wool warms quickly when wet. I started again and quickly stopped. The brief stop had cooled my legs, which were only covered with Compressport full legs. With a lot more elevation to come on an open switchbacking slope, I stopped again to put on my Patagonia rainpants. (Yes, I'm name dropping, and doing it on purpose, because I'm wanting to emphasise the importance of quality gear for this kind of stuff). The field of racers had spread out well now and there was just one fellow I shared space with on this summit. We leap frogged quite a bit, as we took turns stopping briefly for bites of food and such. There was an easy encouragement between us, though only few words were spoken. I find it generally best to keep my energy close in terms of talking during a race.

The rain really soaked the trails, which made the uber crap (I mean rocky, of course) terrain around the summit very slick. The sun set on my descent to Naz and I donned my LED Lensor headlamp. Rolf had given me an awesome trick of putting a piece of plastic film between one of the connections so that it couldn't turn itself on in my bag during the day. 

I arrived at Naz - Aid 7 (Rolf skipped Aid 6, as it was hike-in only). I was now behind on projections. The storm had changed things. I mentioned quitting again. But the next two sections were short and mostly downhill. What the heck. I could try another - I'd run the 5k to Bergun.

The trail into Bergun was a bit tricky, as they had moved the course, compared to the GPX file they'd given us and hadn't warned us. I encountered orange chalk arrows on the ground for the first time. I knew the organisers were going to use chalk arrows, but I didn't know what colour they'd be and I'd not seen any yet. I wondered whether these were merely leftover from another race, as they marked a path through a camp/cabin area and I had a feeling I shouldn't be there. I saw two blokes heading off up a road in the opposite direction to the arrows and opposite to the direction of Bergun , so I called to them. They also had the GPX file, but their device showed terrain. They insisted we should be on the other side of the river we had just crossed. After more discussion and brief stop-starts, a few more blokes came by and insisted we should follow the chalk arrows. I could see we were paralleling the original course, but on the other side of the river. Soon enough, though, we came to a junction with a bridge and I saw how the original course joined our track there. We could see headlamps in the distance, with people approaching from different directions. Small oops on the race's part there with their flagging.

The Filisur "5 hour" commitment aid station.
I decided to carry on the 7km to Filisur next, also predominantly downhill and I expected it to be on wide firetrail, so fairly easy to travel in the rain and mud. I thought it might feel rewarding. It turned out to be a mix of terrain with mud and tree roots, too. I met up with a fellow from the 141k event, which had started at Pontresina at 8pm. The fastest blokes were slowly catching some of us. We ran a few km together and I chatted a bit with him, contrary to my usual quiet racing mode. He was very encouraging about my lead female status, but I told him I was quite sure I was dropping, as I wasn't enjoying the nature of the event, where so much hiking was required. He helped pass a few km quickly and then sped up on the descent, going ahead. At Filisur (98km/142km corrected), I sat down for a good think. Rumours were I was 13k ahead of the next female now.

The next section was over the "hardest" pass. A climb from 1,019 metres to 2,699 metres (+1700) over 10km. Essentially, a 17% grade. At the 8k mark of that climb, we would pass Aid 10, Chamona d'Ela (Die Ela Hutte). Two more km to the summit from there, then 12k down to the town of Savognin, where Rolf would be waiting. I expected this would take 5 hours. I needed to be committed. I had another cup of bouillon (I tell you, it makes a rainy night of racing so much better!). Again, the RD was there. He asked if anything was wrong and I tried to explain that I was fine, but I was learning that I didn't like hiking so much.

Rolf handled me awesomely (he said later he's improved his strategy after watching me crew others). He simply kept waiting patiently, trying to hand me my other re-charged Garmin and a pear. I kept saying, "But I haven't said I'm going again!" He would agree, then after a minute, try to hand me the things again :-)

A 10 minute sit made my tired feet feel great again (though still oh-so-soaked, but at least I'd opted out of my usual Injinji socks and used my Icebreaker ones that were so trusty on the 100km+ of inundated trail on the Bib FKT). I was hoping to avoid maceration of my feet. Off I went.

Yes, there's a reason 2k takes an hour! This was in the dark, too.
In the middle of nowhere along this climb, I passed 4 or 5 blokes on a firetrail section, having a huge bonfire in the middle of the road. There was one dirt bike beside them. They cheered massively as I went by, which was nice. I don't think they had anything to do with the race - just some crazy guys out on a Friday night.

I made it to the hut in under 2 hours and was pleased. Firetrail made good running, especially at night in the wet. The bouillon was almost cold, but considering the station was so remote, I felt grateful to get any kind of welcome :-) The bloke manning the hut pointed the way towards the summit, 2k away, and said "It is one hour to the summit."

No way! In my head I thought, "maybe for some people, but I am a fast climber. Surely 30-45 minutes is enough."

This wasn't one of "my" boulder fields, but gives a great example of them!
Exactly 60 minutes later, I reached the summit. It was the most torturous climb over and around giant soaked and slippery boulders that must have been on a trail at a 50% grade. The organisers had put very bright lamps along the way to the summit, to help guide us, along with orange chalk on some rocks. The lights were a wonderful safety feature, but also very demoralising, as you could see lights that seemed to climb all the way to the heavens! At the summit, winds hit in excess of 80kph and I pulled my Montane jacket hood tight. It wasn't raining at that moment, but the ground was soaked and muddy. One wrong move would mean a very quick and painful-ending slide down the near vertical hill into another boulder garden ahead - anywhere else this would have been a via ferrata. There were two tents set up - I assumed they were emergency bivys. One or two km down the pass I could see light of another apparent tent - the organisers had set up a bonus aid station. Fantastic reprieve for a moment to have 4 "walls" of tarp around me! I went in and there was the bloke who I'd run with for a few km near Filisur - he told me how proud he was that I was still in the race. I didn't know how to reply to that. I didn't need my ego stroked, but I knew he just meant well. It was better to simply be grateful for his attempt to cheer me on with kind words. I told him I was glad I had stayed in, just so I could have the memory of the most insane summit of my life!

The climb from Filisur to Pass digls Orgels - see that point?!?
I had a quick bouillon and took off my shoe to examine the sole of my foot. I felt like I had a rock under my sole for a few hours and couldn't shake it around - I wondered if it wasn't actually a rock but was perhaps a neuroma starting. In fact, it appeared to be slightly macerated skin starting to fold over on itself. A Compeed plaster to the rescue and I was on my way!

Rolf said later that watching my tracker online, he was sure it was malfunctioning, as it didn't seem to move off the summit area for ages. 5 1/2 hours after leaving Filisur, I landed in Savognin (Aid 11, 119km/180km corrected). The sun was up. It was a major aid station within a building, where one could get drop bag access (if you'd arranged one), a lie-down on a cot, and lots of warm food. They had pasta, bouillon, rice, cakes, chocolate, cured meat, peanuts.... Being vegetarian, gluten-free, and lactose-intolerant, I chose my usual simple bouillon (could have been a meat broth - I didn't ask but it tasted like veg to me). I sat down to rest my feet, which promptly started stinging and tingling.

Again, I announced my intent to quit. The next section was 12k up and 10k down. Another likely 5 hour journey. The weather was clearing, but the trails were like small rivers, with sections of deep, slippery mud mixed with cow pies. Unless they were boulder-strewn. Either way, they weren't going to dry fast. Rolf supported me and said, "Well, if there's no joy in it and you can't find a reason to continue, you should stop."

I said that the race had been really interesting, with some amazing trail and views and challenges. But the hiking was just not my cup of tea. And the storms had slowed everyone's progress down. The lead men's times also slowed. Projections of a sub-32 hour finish for the top man disappeared. It was going to be a full day on the slopes again and into the dark again. With a lot of hiking.

However, the next stage had a climb to Ziteil, the highest shrine in Europe. I'm not particularly interested in shrines, but generally when Christians, Buddhists, or other devout individuals decide to erect a building of homage or such, it's likely to be a pretty spectacular place. So I thought I might like to see it.

I'll go to Ziteil. Then I'll quit.
Another steep climb to Ziteil! Patience, patience....

Approaching the summit aid station, the cameras were again all over me and the support was fantastic. However, I told them not to bother with the fanfare, as I was quitting. They seemed so disappointed (and a bit confused!) and I felt kind of bad, as the volunteers really put a lot of effort in. I ran down the hill ("ran" being a generous term for the pole-braking jerky-quad thing I was doing!), smiling and greeting all the Saturday morning "pilgrims" on their way up. I was happy that I'd reconciled with quitting. The race wasn't for me. I should have entered a shorter distance, like the 81k or 141k event - some power hiking is good with me, but a 40 hour race with so much of it just wasn't. I am too impatient. I grew bored, despite all my attempts to enjoy the scenery, the smells of the pines, the marmots chirping on the rocks, the waterfalls and rivers flowing, the slugs hanging out on the trail trying not to get impaled by errant poles....

Coming into Tiefencastel 4 1/2 hours later, the course took us on overgrown trail for what seemed like 4km. It was frustrating, as it was hard to run in, it soaked the shoes yet again, you couldn't see any holes or rocks under the long matted grass, and the poles got in the way. It was the universe's way of making sure I didn't change my mind about quitting ;-)

The video cameras were again on me and I told them again not to bother. It was noon, I was at 141km, and had been racing for 28 hours. The last 60km would have to take at least 12 hours, especially as the sun would be down for the last summit or two.
Tiefencastel

The cameramen interviewed me as to my reason for quitting. Other racers questioned me. I waited 30 minutes to see if the second place girl would come, so I could cheer her on and wish her well. But I knew Rolf was shattered and it was time to go. We drove to Davos, the finish line. I showered, power napped for 30 minutes, and walked to the finish line.

One man from the 141k race was in. I saw two more come in over the next two hours. I tried waiting for the first 201 runner, but I just got too cold and tired. I left just after 9 pm and he came in around 10.10 pm. Over 38 hours! I watched the progress from my phone in my room. The first female made it in at 3.30 am - 43.5 hours.

I slept and woke and for a brief moment, I thought, "There's still time to drive back to Tiefencastel and finish the race before the 56 hour cut-off." But that moment passed! ;-) Instead, I went back down to the finish line and watched the presentations and cheered the occasional racer coming in. Only about 25 men and 3 women from the 201 were in. At final tally, they had a total of 31 men and 5 women finish. That's about a 27% finish rate.

I was a bit disappointed with the wording of the media release on the website regarding the male/overall winner, Andreas Allwang of Germany. It read (translated to English, but by my dodgy German still the same) that Andreas was an "amateur" and that the organisation had expected elite men (who were "ultimately lacking" at the race) to finish in times much closer to 32 hours. Though they did acknowledge that the stormy weather overnight took a toll on time predictions. Certainly, my own race predictions fell off the mark when the storms hit. What I thought might have been (very roughly) a 36 hour finish in perfect conditions was surely going to be a 40+ hour finish. For Andreas to hold his race together so well and to finish first in 38 hours in those conditions is no less than elite. Un chapeau, mate.

A day after the event, a dear person told me I was courageous to quit. Pondering that, I thought that courage can only arise from fear. So it could only have been courageous if I had been afraid of quitting. But I wasn't. That remark made me realise how grateful I am that I've reached a point where I know I run for myself and my own joy and not because I'm afraid my self-worth will be called into question if I quit a race. And yes, I still run to inspire others, too, if I can. So, somehow, I hope some will be inspired by the simplicity of my action. I exercised free choice, I was not bound by my ego or by fear. I have no regrets. I'm glad I went to the race, glad I saw those peaks, and glad I quit.

It's just running. It's everything and it's nothing and it's the space between the two.
Pass Digls Orgels - the space between

Thursday, August 8, 2013

This is Different

Race morning. I'm blogging. Where's my usual stress?

In fact, yesterday I developed a rather strange feeling that I just don't feel like racing. I woke with the same feeling. I've never had it before. It's not doubt, fear, apprehension, annoyance with the weather.... I just don't feel like a race today. Just like if one might wake up and not feel like eggs for breakfast.

So, let's see what happens! According to the waiver, I am in perfect mental and physical health.

http://event.tracker.com/Public/DeviceMap/Default.aspx

I'm bib 8, in the "longest and highest single stage mountain race in the European alps." A race that irunfar has determined is the "equivalent to a longer version of UTMB in terms of climb per mile." Does that mean I get an automatic finish time for UTMB, as well? ;)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Surprise Success in More Ways Than One: The Swissalpine 2013

A few things happened recently in my life that helped shape this race into what it was.

First, I had gone through burn out from being too passionate about too much, saying yes to too many things. That was a terrible time and had a negative impact on my performance at World 24hr in May. I am still far from reclaiming and reinventing the life I want to have (partly because I still need to better define what it is I want and what I'm willing to give up!), but things are certainly much better.

Second, I read a blog post of Timothy Olson's less than a week before the race. He's packed his life up into a car and has hit the open road with his family. This has been a rumbling desire of mine for the past several months. Yes, the idea of the freedom is appealing, but it's also about finding that old hippie of mine and letting her commune with nature again. The one who used to make her own moccasins and pick berries to make jam. So I wanted to run with my hippie nature - to try to enjoy the surrounds more and be more "with" the race rather than seeing it as an adversary to conquer.

Third, I was invited to compete in the Irontrail 201k race, which starts 13 days after Swissalpine. So, Swissalpine suddenly had to become a "taper run." Ummm, yeah, a 78km taper run.

So with all that in mind, I spied the list of female entrants and noted a couple also entered in the Irontrail 201. They were repeat Swissalpine runners and I believe one had run the abbreviated Irontrail 2012 edition (rerouted early, then called off after a half day due to severe weather). I thought I might take the approach of trying to sit just behind/near those females, who were also Swiss locals, provided their pace wasn't too fast for me to feel was sustainable.

The problem was at the start line, I saw only two other "elite" females and neither were those women I wanted to try shadowing. There were about 4 rows of runners still in front of me, perhaps 10 wide, so my view was really limited. I wasn't worried about my starting position, because the first 4km routed us through the wide city streets to allow the group to spread out. I knew I'd be able to settle into my own comfy pace and didn't have to worry about a congo line developing early on. But I couldn't see who all was in front of me and couldn't find my "pacers!" ;)

The other problem was the C42 event and K30 events also started at 7am. So, although I could see two women in front on the first road section, I couldn't see their bibs, worn on the front. I realised one was Lizzy Hawker, as she seems to wear her distinctive blue skirt to events. I was a bit confused as to why Lizzy was within eye sight and didn't expect it to last. I was aiming for top 10, thinking perhaps around 6th was achievable, depending on who showed up, who ran well (including me), the weather, careful pacing to try not to destroy myself for Irontrail....

Early hours, still shady and mild enough.
In my head, thus, I was around 10th place. When I passed Lizzy and another woman before the first major CP (Filisur, 29k), I mentally thought perhaps 8th place. Then another woman went past me and I couldn't read her bib easily from the side to catch her name - I started trying to chase her a bit, hoping that when we passed through Filisur and the timing mats, I would hear her name announced. From her name, I thought I might understand my pacing better.

But she was getting away on me on the descent and I was worried about smashing myself up so early on. Rounding the corner, I saw her peel off into the K30 finish line! Hilarious! Secret racing a girl in a different event! That was a reminder to run my own race and be careful. And what happened as I passed the timing mats? "GermanGermanGerman Bernadette Benson German Australia GermanGermanGerman." I tried to hear a number, but missed it. I looked back at the woman and she held up 4 fingers. My eyes most definitely widened, as I held 4 back up, making sure we were speaking the same sign language! I wasn't sure how to digest that news. Did I go out too hard? Was the heat wave taking its toll on others more than me because of my WA-Summer training? Was there just no depth to the field? I couldn't answer those questions, so decided to just get back to trying to find that hippie that was going to enjoy a gruelling 24k mountain climb in scorching weather.
I'm melting, but at least my gear is comfy! ;)

After the predominantly downhill 29k section to Filisur, it's a 24k climb to Keschhutte, where we are teased by a few km of descent before another climb to the highest point of the race, Sertigpass, at 2,739mtr. Probably around 44k, I passed a bloke who said "GermanGermanGerman." I said, "I'm sorry, only English" (which isn't strictly true, as I can get by with a bit of Spanish, French, and Mandarin, too, but that was too many words to say at the time!). He said, "The third place girl is only just close. You will win her!" (Love the way he translated from German to English!) I replied, "It's a long race, on a hot day" and settled back in to do my thing.

I didn't see her for probably 4km. Then I passed on a steeper section. I figured she must have flat-out speed, but perhaps lacked some hill strength. So it was my chance now to open a gap, as after the summit at 59k, it's 18km mostly downhill to the race finish. That's a lot of time for someone with fast turnover to catch up!

However, the further I got above 2,000 mtr in elevation, the more my world closed in. I found myself walking and didn't remember having to walk at all at the event 3 years ago. Yes, it was a hot day, but that wasn't a complete explanation. It was the lack of altitude acclimatisation. Last time, I stayed nights in Liechtenstein at over 1,700 mtr just before the race, which did help. This time, I chose not to due to costs of hotels and that I knew it was essential I get altitude adjustment for Irontrail. I had to compromise with this one.

I felt like an Everest climber, one foot in front of the other, deep slow breaths. My vision tunnelled and I focused on careful, deliberate placement of my feet so I wouldn't trip. I did not look around at all, for fear of falling over with dizziness. It was totally unlike the last event and unlike TransAlpine Run last year, as well, where I was running up these kind of climbs and loving the views!
Don't even remember seeing the cairn!

My mantra for the last km to Keschhutte became "Get me off this f'in mountain." Hardly Zen! The announcer and mats there indicated that "GermanGermanGerman Bernadette Benson German New Zealand German Third position." So that confirmed it. My nationality had changed, but who's going to complain about an extra star or two at this altitude? I hit the short descent and then saw the last 350mtr climb to Sertigpass. My mantra started up again. I knew every step on the descent would bring me more oxygen. When I got to the aid station at the pass, I grabbed my usual: 1 cup of water to dump over my head, 1 cup of water to dump down my throat, and 1 more cup of water to go, for sipping.

Not carrying hydration on a run of this nature - in this heat - required very careful monitoring. The race organisation is impeccable. There were over 30 aid stations, with aid planned every 2.5 to 7km. And with the heat, they added several more impromptu ones. Plus sprinklers! Amazing on-the-spot planning and the communities got behind it as well. Families came out of their homes with buckets and sponges and sprinklers. I have no idea how, in some places, on the tops of mountains and such, they even got the water to put in the hoses and spray at pressure! But despite dehydration, there's only so much water you can guzzle on procuring it. Too much and you'll puke it instantly! I saw that next to me! But this careful dance meant that despite water at EVERY aid station, plus the hoses, sponges, and sprinklers (on my legs, too, to help cool and prevent cramps), I did not pee once in over 8 hours. To keep systems simple, I chose to go with Hammer gels for the entire race - something I'd never tried before. It worked fine; I would generally crack a gel open just before the aid station, but I went through half my stash within 3 hours! Bites of banana, where available, began to supplement my fuel needs.

Now, back to the summit.... The aid station medicos said, "Bernadette, are you okay?" a couple times as I went by. I would not spare the energy to reply. I knew I was okay and was going to be even more okay when I got to start dropping off the edge of that mountain. If they stopped me, I would have made the effort to answer quickly and coherently, but at that moment, I really just wanted to conserve resources. A quick pause for one more sip, drop the cup, and bang! Over the edge to let gravity help me down to Davos!
Must be another aid station here, as I have another sippy cup!

My back, unfortunately, was not pleased with the jarring. I had a tightened back from just before leaving Perth and funnily enough, it did not improve with 24 hours of flights, sleeping in a strange bed in England, being removed from my sports chiro and massage therapist, and a drive to Switzerland. So, bang bang bang, I jarred my way down the steep descent. But at least with every breath, I felt psychologically better, knowing I was losing altitude.

The course I ran in 2010 had us finishing alongside a river, on the flat and in the open, for quite a while from memory and I remember this feeling like a very long, exhausting section of the race. I was mentally prepared for this. However, the new course (their course from 1986-1997, I think), had us finish predominantly in forest. That was fantastic. I was finally running in solitude, seeing no one in front or behind and it was hot, but shaded. It was hard, but the forest was comforting.

3rd female, 36th overall of 877 finishers in K78
I thought I heard footsteps a few times and kept looking back, waiting for "that girl," then realised my shirt had started to make a crinkly noise near the back of the neck (maybe from being so soaked?). I wondered what I would do if "that girl" caught me into the finish. Would I try to go for it? There was something left in the tank physically, but I didn't know if I truly cared or not. Probably, I would. But again, I decided just to run my pace and address it if it happened. I passed a spectator who smiled broadly and told me in German and with sign language that I was 8th. I knew she must be counting the K42 women, as well, who had started their race at about our 40k mark, at 10.30 am (about the time I passed that town). However, it left a seed of doubt and reminded me not to be greedy about my position and to just accept whatever I'd accomplished.

A drop off the paths into town and a quick 400 metres to the stadium, where I heard them announce, most definitely, Bernadette Benson from Australia was the 3rd female. I ran the half circuit of the stadium. For the first time I can recall on finishing a race, I did not find myself wanting to sprint over the line with a grimace and grunt, with a feeling of, "There! Take THAT you race!" Instead, I remembered where I had come from - the girl who ran 5k alone on bitumen, then the trail runner at the back of the pack, left for dead, who had "one pace" and ran for beer credits. I celebrated the joy of surprise and unknown, the joy of the unpredictability of life. The real success for me in this race was not achieving a podium place, but running with openness. I know no other word to describe it right now.

With my partner in life, running and crime! ;)
After the first "flower ceremony" for podium placers, I found out Rolf's time at Keschhutte (yes, he was doing his longest continuous ultra yet!) and started to make my way back out along the course. There were a lot of hot, suffering faces coming in. It had been a long day in the sun and it was a massive achievement for every one making it to the stadium under their own power. I cheered them all in, offering words of encouragement as best I could. I slowly walked about 2k back up the hill, cheering runners in. I was carrying a giant sunflower I got at the first ceremony and it brought a smile to many of the weathered faces out there. I clapped and reassured them that there was lots of "wasser" and "bier" waiting for them at the bottom. And when I saw my partner, I let out an even bigger whoop of joy!

Four days after Swissalpine, I ran again for the first time. I ran not because it was in my training program, not for beer credits, not because there was someone making me feel guilty, not out of boredom, nor trying to prove something. I ran to feel that fluidity of movement, the beat of my heart through my chest, the smell of the pine forest, the squish of the ground underfoot, the sound of birds, and the peace. I ran to see what might be around that next bend on the trail.

Run with wonder at where it will take you.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Play on Toes


Bib 25: http://davos.r.mikatiming.de/2013/index.php?pid=startlist_list

You can search by bib numbers and click any runners to "add to favourites" - should work for the live tracking on Saturday 7 am Swiss time (that's 1 pm Perth or late the night before in western Canada).

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Seasonal Migration

Other migrating animals have it easy. They just wake up one day, point their beaks or snouts north or south, and away they go! Nothing like humans, who have to figure out what bits of their nest to bring along, arrange others to look after the nest they leave behind, and spend days looking for the best flights (can you imagine a whale analysing jet streams and currents and fish stocks to decide what day to embark on the journey?). Then, because our nests cost money to maintain, there's the matter of accumulating enough of that to last (or bringing some work along, so the migration is essentially pay-as-you-go). And arranging for temporary nests whilst abroad. Can't just show up and build our own!
Goggles, headlamp, and sunnies - signs of a looong run ;)

So, that's where the last month for me got eaten up. High volume training, included. I backed up the 150k week with a 130k + 3800m week, then dropped mileage and added a few speed sessions, whilst keeping brutal strength training, brutal massage, and sports chiro going. The training was a constant joy, allowing me to hit "pause" on the seemingly non-stop arranging and organising and "DOING" of travel preparations. Except, of course, when my running mates would interrupt my interlude with those well-meaning questions, "Sooooo, how's the packing going?"

ACK!

Won't be seeing any "Snottygobble" for a while! (Love them Aussie words)
Training has continued to go well and it's now one week to Swissalpine, race #1 of the season. I'm a bit stuck as to how to approach this one tactically, considering I now have the Irontrail 201 to back up with 12 days later. I think I will take a "cautiously fast" approach...being careful not to destroy myself or unduly risk injury that would prevent me from fronting Irontrail in the best possible condition.

My extra ankle joint I inherited after my collision with the small log/large stick remains. It's the oddest thing, sitting essentially under the retinaculum. It pops out when I point my toes and disappears when I pull them back towards my knee. I get some wide-eyed looks when I demonstrate my new trick! And although it was causing me no grief, the fact that it was still there after nearly a month, with an overseas trip planned wherein I intend to run 201km over what could be 40 hours straight...I finally decided to check in with a foot specialist physio. He torqued my foot in all directions and could really see no reason why I shouldn't go ahead! He figures it's slower to heal because I keep running on it. Fair hypothesis :)

Track session in England's heat wave - even my visor seems to be melting!
With the decreasing running volume, I've been able to fit in a few complementary sessions, including yoga and swimming. Even had a "three-sports-bra day" this week! That was a first!

One more sleep and I'll pack up my jars of cinnamon and turmeric, leave the brambles and nettles of England behind, and head for Switzerland! Tomorrow's short trail run should be in the Champagne region of France. I love Explores!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Running into Nature

With the hills just outside my back door now, it's pretty easy to run into nature. Which is great, because I've decided on a season of trail racing for the "summer" (northern hemisphere summer, that is). It's getting a bit harder for me to be competitive on the trails now, being well flung into my 40s. But trails were my first love and one never forgets their first!

Race plans for the season will have me over to Switzerland first for the Swissalpine 78k on 27 July. This is a race I did back in 2010. I'm not usually one to do a race again, but I was keen to have another crack because it's a very well run, gorgeous race with the alps and cowbells, and fits well with our summer plans. And although older, I am fitter and stronger than that runner from 2010. However, the course has changed I found out, so a direct comparison won't actually be possible! Oh well! The other reason I'm keen to go back is because I happen to be particularly fond of someone who's decided to run the 78k as well and that will be special to share...at the finish line, as we sip on our alkohol-frei beers!
Swissalpine simplicity. A running start and one big climb.

After my three planned recovery weeks post-World 24s, I started ramping up the base mileage. Two weeks ago I hit 110k with +4000 metres of gain for the week. Last week I totalled 150k with +4500 metres! This is a major coup for me, personally. I never used to be able to go over about 85k/week without injury setting in. Over time, that weekly number has steadily inched up. 

I did have a minor setback at Km 52 of my 67k Sunday run, though. A bit of a literal run into nature. I did not heed the blatant example set by one of my running mates earlier in the day...as she demonstrated the inherent dangers of looking back over one's shoulder whilst running single track (I hear her bruises are coalescing and she has about a metre of Fixomul holding her body together). So, at Km 52 I ran my right ankle very firmly into a small but dense log. And then fell over it with full body weight to add a little inversion torque to the Trail Running Lesson of the Day.

Smashed ankle, but it's still a gorgeous day in the bush
I didn't think it was sprained, as I could still weight bear. Over the next few km, I could feel swelling coming on, but chose not to look and focused on maintaining good form so I didn't develop a compensatory injury. Mostly, I noticed that I was losing dorsiflexion. That made braking a challenge on the drive home. For those who don't know their dorsi from their plantar, the dorsi is the "toes up" movement to move your right foot up onto the brake pedal - plantar presses the accelerator. I had go, but no stop!

Anyway, an extra day or two off at this point with ice, Compressport socks, and elevation is likely a good thing for my entire body and may have been Mother Nature's plan all along ;)

But back to the season's racing plans...some of you might be wondering if such crazy mileage is really so essential for a 78k trail race? Certainly, when I look back at 2010, my mileage peaked at 100k (though there was the 201k Sri Chinmoy 24hr 6 weeks before, which was the peak week!).

After chatting to the organisers of the Swissalpine, they invited me to race their quite new IronTrail 201. Now here's the reason for 150k weeks of trail running madness! Irontrail is 12 days after Swissalpine and is 201km of continuous racing with over 11,000 metres of gain up and down over 8 peaks in the Swiss alps at an average elevation over 2000 metres. I sense some Type 2.5 fun coming, with my old pals, Nearer and Further (the Leki poles, remember them??)
IronTrail ECG.

If the body doesn't mutiny after the August race, I'll be fronting up to where it all started back in 2007. The scene of my first ultra, the Lost Soul Ultra in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. In September 2007 I ran the 50k. Faster female trail mates of mine didn't. I won. It was a total shock and I vividly recall spending the night on the phone to my mum, drinking whiskey in my room, completely excited, whilst all my mates, exhausted from their own races, slept. Now, I'm thinking it's the perfect place for my first 100 miler. Back in the motherland with the mates who first showed me trail running.
Lost Soul terrain. Hot, dry, steep coulees.

It's now five weeks to race one. The key things that I think have been holding me together are offered for your interest:

avocados, ice baths, Udo's Oil, brutal massage, brutal strength training, Compressport socks, calf guards, full legs, and the new trail shorts (basically, anything compression!), the foam roller, hill running (somehow, more is making me stronger), good long nights of sleep, cinnamon, turmeric, my amazing running mates, healthy home cooked dinners, and sports chiro. And carrots. (Well, I don't know if they can be classified as a super food or anything, but I love my carrots!)