Thursday, December 4, 2014

IAU 100km World Championship Review - In Numbers

Well it was a road race after all. So this review is one for the data lovers!

Quarter Split Rankings
  • 0-25km: 32nd
  • 26-50km: 32nd
  • 51-75:10th
  • 76-100km: 9th
  • 6:56:45
  • 12th out of 91 finishers (139 starters)
  • Seconds outside the Top 10: 74s
  • Missed PB: 1m19s
  • Lapped by: 2 (Max King and Jonas Budd)
Australian Teams Positions
  • Women: 6th out of 9
  • Men: 8th out of 18
  • Number of Hammer Gels consumed: 18
  • Average Carbs consumed per hour: 54g
Water and Electrolyte
  • Water: 600ml-800ml per hour
  • 1 Hammer Enduralyte Extreme per hour
  • Peed in my pants: 2
  • Temperature at start: 25
  • Humidity at start: 69%
  • Number of U Turns: 300
  • Shoes: Inov-8 233g, 6mm drop

Lastly, thanks to Rob Boyce and all at AURA for another opportunity to represent and be captain of the might Aussie Team. Thanks for the hosts Aspire Zone and the IAU of course for making this all possible. I will be back next year!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Coast2Kosci - Yikes!

It's D-day for my last event of the year, the epic 240km Coast 2 Kosci

I'm nervous as anything, this will by far the furthest and longest time I have gone 'out for a run'! Previously I've run the 175km Great North Walk and close to 22h at UTMF. I've been pouring over the details and my plan and think I have something in place that will see my finish and not be too broken!

It was nice of the boys over at Ultra168 to put me forward as a favourite, but to be honest, I'm going into an event like this very much a rookie and have only a small idea what to expect. 240km on the road is a long long way!

It looks even longer from space. See how zoomed out you have to make it just so the route fits into that space. That's freaking scary! You can probably tell how nervous I am by the excessive amount of exclamation marks in this post!

From all I've heard and from following the race in the past years, I know it will be a special journey. I can't wait to undertake it with all the other runners, crew and organisers.

I have my splits in place, my gear ready, my nutrition sorted and my Suunto loaded up with the race route. A race like this is never going to be to perfect but it's a blueprint of a plan and thankfully I have 3 wonderful crew that will be able to help me deal with issues as they arise. Thank you Stephane, Marcus and Lauren for giving up your weekend for me. I really hope I can repay the favour one day.

Last weekend I was down in the area hosting a trail running camp at Lake Crackenback Resort and the weather was superb. I hope it stays the same this weekend too. But I know too well the unpredictability of the mountains and will be preparing for blazing sun, rain, snow and wind. I've almost packed my whole wardrobe in preparation!

This is my last race for the year, and I couldn't think of a better way to end the year! Oh yes...I just did, sitting back on Saturday night downing a few Kosciuszko pale ales in the company of some extraordinary people.

Whichever way this race goes, it will sure make for one hell of an epic race report!

I believe you can track all the runners' progress here

Safe, strong running to all competitors and wishing all crew a wonderful experience with your athletes!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

100k World Championship Preview

Here we go! Finally after a few false starts and a cancelled 2013 event, I'm finally going to have another crack at racing at the IAU 100km World Championship event.

For someone that majored in Geography, you would think I'd know where Doha is. Wrong, but that's what Google is for and I soon discovered it's nestled nicely in the Persian Gulf in the State of Qatar. According to Wikipedia, 'Although tiny, Qatar wields significant clout due to its natural gas wealth and its sovereign wealth fund, which is one of the world's largest.' So no GFC here and no wonder they nailed the 2022 FIFA World Cup!

So while is may not be on the grand scale of the World Cup, this event is the only opportunity for ultra runners to test themselves and run for their country as much as themselves in a road 100k. The location is, well unique, the temperatures probably less than ideal but all that is what it is. At the start of the race every competitor will be running the same course in the same conditions.

At the end of 2013 when I was sitting down and timelining my year, I always start with two A races. I just don't think it's possible to peak properly for more than that. Sure you can run well in more, but you can never fully give over 100% commitment and dedication, tick off all the 1 percenters and mentally focus to the extent these races demand more than twice a year. Western States was a lay down misere as my number 1, but due to it's timing in late June, that left the first half of the year pretty much given over to that race and it's training build up.

So that left me with a race later in the year to target which would ideally allow me to have a break after WS (more mental than anything). When the IAU announced that the Worlds would be on in November, the decision was easy. I have donned an Aussie singlet every year since 2009 and only missed out last year after the IAU cancelled the World 100km Champs late in the piece. This was after I'd committed to this event and not the World Trail Champs and the World Long Course Mt Running Champs which I had also been selected for. I was pretty disappointed, that's for sure.

But this race now offered a new challenge and you know what, I'm really glad I made this decision to train up for a major road event again. After a huge year on the trails, the road has reenergised and refocused me; reconnected me with my love of rhythmical road running and made me appreciate even more every time I step on the trails ;-)

My training over the last 3 months has also had to change. I've tried to get back on the flat, black top as much as I can, which is pretty hard living up here in the Blue Mountains. I made it a mission to get as fast as I was on the road in 2012 when I ran 6:55 for Worlds in April that year. So long ago! Thankfully I managed to sneak under my 5km PB and get 'in the ballpark' of my 10k PB in my build up phase. This is all encouraging.

In amongst all this was a pretty solid mix of trail running for endurance purposes. I've always been a high volume trainer and to me the best way to prepare for 100km is to feel at ease with the distance and run it comfortably. So yes a few 100km trail ultras were also used for this purpose. The trail events I chose, the Surf Coast Century and the Heysen 105, were on the 'flatter' scale of trail ultras.

My last hit out was two weeks ago at the brilliant little 'throw back to yesteryear' event, the Carcoar Cup Marathon. I ran a very solid 2:51 on a course with close to 800m of vert. My legs ticked over really well up to the last big climb (where I was passed impressively by winner Matthew Carroll). It was very satisfying and a confidence building run nonetheless.

Since then it's been a little sharpening up on the track, doing a few more shorter rep sessions and trying to cross off the little extras. I've been riding my fixie bike a lot around the place, just trying to develop a few more of the muscle groups that cycling develops in order to bullet proof my legs for the pounding they will cop on the Doha course (a mix of pavers and bitumen surface). The rides have all been only around the 5-7km distance but these short and sharp sessions are anaerobically and from a fast twitch perspective, what I need at this point. I've also been working out a little more in the Altitude Chamber at Valley Fitness; I find that if I work out at an easy intensity in here it always feels like I get the benefits of a hard session.

Here is a video of the course

So what type of 100k road running form am I in? It's really hard to say. I think I'm definitely a stronger and more familiar runner over the 100km distance than I was in 2012 but the jury is out whether I have the leg speed and cruising pace I had on the road now compared to 2012.  But one thing I do know is that what I've dropped in pace, I've gained in experience; both strategically, pacing and adapting to conditions. I won't be trying to stay with leaders or run fast splits early on. The way to race these is to run in a gradual and sustained build up for the first 4 or 5 hours, and then stay strong at this pace to the finish. You have to be circumspect about your early pace and finish without dropping pace in the vital last 20km of the race. That's the recipe for a top finish. In these races it's not how much you speed up necessarily but more about how long you remain steady for. You have to fully trust your fitness and be brave too..., but the opposite of what you'd think. It's hard mentally and takes some courage to run 4:10-4:20 pace early on when you're used to 3:50s as your easy pace. You have to let the bunnies go off. You rarely see many of the guys who are pushing sub 4s in the first 50km of a 100km race still hanging strong at the business end of the 100. If they are, they fully deserve to be there!

It's an interesting field too. For a road 100k in a desert regions, it's attracted a fair share of trail runners; Max King, Zach Miller and the ever-present Michael Wardian from the US are a few that I recognised. The field also contains Steve Way, the Brit marathon runner who has one of the most interesting stories ever and a couple of Russians who have outrageously quick times! I don't think this is going to be a year for quick times though, and with the course and the heat, I'm feeling a certain 'levelling' affect may occur to bring the field a little closer together. Here's hoping anyway!

I look forwarding to captaining the team consisting of; Andy Hayden, Chris Truscott, Rick Cooke, Merita Eisler, Kerrie Otto De Grancy, Jodie Oborne and Nikki Wynd. If we all perform strongly on the day, we should as teams, also finish quite high up the teams category.

More (or less) information is here. If there is going to be live tracking of the race, it will be here somewhere or even maybe here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Heysen 105 - As quirky as it comes!

The Heysen 105 is an ultra-trail event put on by Ben Hockings through his Yumigo! venture. Yumigo! (pronounced as YOU-ME-GO) was created to promote physical activity and the diversity of the South Australian landscape. Yumigo, if you are curious as I was, is a pidgin English word used to inspire action to "do something together".

I had only previously been to South Australia when a child, and remember it fondly. As you do, I remember the strange little quirky things about the place; the strict border control measures for fruit fly, the gigantic children's playground that I visited that would surely not pass muster these days and the abundance of big things generally. I think I collected a rocking horse, lobster and orange on that one short trip.

For a while there it looked like Izzy and I were
going to race it out for victory! Then the others turned up!
So when I was offered the chance to go over to race the Heysen 105, it didn't take much convincing. One of my little life goals is to win an ultra in every state and territory in Australia, and South Australia was still to be crossed off. That and the wine. Well it was really the chance to drink some nice wine.

The Heysen Trail is the jewel in the crown of South Australia trails. It runs from Flinders Ranges via the Adelaide Hills to Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula and is approximately 1,200 kilometres long. The section of this trail that the race travels is particularly beautiful, with the course traversing many conservation areas, pine forests and farmlands. It is as unusual as it is beautiful. On Facebook, I gave a 25 word or less summary and it went like this:

"Sand, heat, paddocks, hay bales, cows, kangaroos, electric fences, galahs, stiles, ferns, snakes, rolling hills, pine forests, cow patties, country roads and the most friendly group of people one could want to spend time with."

Yes, quirky would be a word to describe this course! Even the distance 105km is a quirky addition in itself! But it is uniquely South Australian in every sense. I have never run a course anything really like it in Australia. The 6 Foot Track Marathon and some sections of the Great North Walk would be similar; but none can rival the Heysen105 for quirkiness. I mean I've never walked over so many stiles, dodged so many cow paddies and played the deadly game of straddling over electrified fences! Believe me, this task got increasingly challenging the longer the race went on. Guys, no one wants to ever fail at that task! 

Nadine and I were fortunate to stay with Paul Rogers and his lovely family at Mt Compass. Paul is manager of Fox Creek Wines in McLaren Vale. Paul, apart from making the most luscious Shiraz imaginable, also is a keen ultra runner himself and it was a joy to spend time with him both on this weekend and the training camp weekend a couple of months prior. He is as passionate about running as he is about making good wine and drinking good coffee! We also had another reason to visit, that being to visit Nadine's Godmother Carol and her husband Alan who also live on the Fleurieu Peninsula. We spent an enjoyable few days visiting Glenelg, Adelaide and Brighton with Carol and Alan before arriving at Paul's place.

Paul had generously offered to crew with Nadine. The night before Nadine had a premonition that I would get lost and run 110km. I was determined to prove Dan at Ultra168 wrong and show him that I can navigate a trail. I had loaded the map into my Suunto Ambit, and I was going to follow it to the T. I was thrown a couple of curve balls though with some last minute reroutes due to fire bans, a car rally taking place and a landowner who had not given permission for use of his land. So would Nadine be right? I'm afraid the answer is a resolving yes as it always is to that question.

Not 12km into the race and in the lead I was presented with a 50/50 challenge that I always seem to perform poorly in, and this case was no different! I don't think it helped that the car rally and the Heysen were using the exact same course marking ribbon as each other; and the car rally was following the actual Heysen Trail. Excuses excuses. In actual case the race at this point was taking a reroute to avoid the car rally, but I had seen one of the car rally ribbons first and just followed that. A couple of kilometres down this way and I was feeling that dreaded feeling I only know too well. So out came the maps and on the phone I got to Ben, yep I was definitely on the wrong trail!

So I backtracked and probably lost 15-20 minutes all up which of course put me back in the field and suddenly having to really think about how I was going to make up this ground up on the leaders Luke McLean and Dej Jamieson, both very handy runners. I met Luke at TNF100 and then at the 6 Inch Trail event in Western Australia last year and he was 2nd at the Heysen last year and is as impressive a person as he is a trail runner. I'm also currently coaching Dej at the moment and the last thing I wanted (well today anyway) was to be beaten by one of my athletes! 

So suddenly I went from running out in front to playing catch up which always has its traps. I kept reminding myself to be patient and resist the urge to catch them too soon. So I took my time but with a slightly higher than normal tempo trusting that they would come back to me. 

In hindsight, going off track was a blessing in disguise as it gave me the opportunity to run by and meet a lot of the field. I said g'day and they were all very encouraging. Someone asked if I was on my second lap already, to which I could only laugh. I was getting updated on how far Luke and Dej were in front and reports did vary! At CP1 at the Inman Valley I heard I was 20 minutes off Luke which sounded about right. I didn't hang around long in the CP in any case. From CP1 the trail then heads towards Sugarloaf Mountain, which I had ran on the training camp weekend. Unfortunately this was the section the landowner had not given permission to use, and as such we were rerouted around the mountain. This again made me question my navigation, and I was soon realising that following the route on my Suunto was a good idea in theory...that is if the correct route is loaded onto it in the first place. Along here I again second guessed myself and started doubling back to make sure I hadn't missed a marker! Thankfully Barry McBride, who was crewing for the female Race Ambassador Isobel Besbalov, soon drove by to confirm I was indeed on the right course. Thanks Barry! I probably would have run all the way back to the CP had you not turned up!

Just before CP2
Photo thanks to Gregory Jenkins
So off I chased again, and entering the beautiful Myponga Conservation Park, I was starting to pull in some of the other front runners and early starters. This is a cool single track section of the course, and  also contains the steepest, albeit short climbs. By the back of this section I had caught Dej, and I encouraged him to stay strong and power on as a podium was his today if he continued to race it smart.

Exiting Myponga, the course then traverses some cow paddocks, and up and over multiple stiles which was from now going to be a recurring feature of this event. By CP2 I had almost caught Luke, and after exiting the CP I spotted him on the road 100m in front. In single file we turned onto a single track and we began to run together and chat for a bit about our race to that point. Crossing a little footbridge, Luke suddenly leapt back at me and stopped in his tracks, and it was then I saw the reason why, a bloody big black snake had been on the trail. Luke had just missed stepping on it and it was as close a call to a dangerous encounter with a snake that I've had in quite a while. 

Not long after, on a climb approaching Yulte Conservation Park, Luke drifted back and I had the lead to myself again. This part of the course is also very beautiful; rugged and isolated and suddenly in my mind there was a snake hiding behind every log and corner. From Yulte, which is an all too short section of trail, the all too telling sounds of cows mooing alerts you to the dominating feature of the next section - farmlands. For about 15km the course runs on dirt roads besides, through, across and over cow paddocks. I was running through herds of bemused looking cows. I was definitely intimidated; up close cows are a big big animal and if any had decided they didn't like me, I would have been in trouble! 

The course here is really exposed and it was heating up; so I was carefully taking on board plenty of fluids and Hammer Enduralytes. I've recently been trying the new Extreme Enduralytes; basically a more concentrated form of the regular. It meant I only had to take one every hour and they were doing the trick nicely. It was an interesting part of the course with some great views of Victor Harbour and Encounter Bay but I was keen to get out of the sun and into the bush again.

The lovely fern covered trails of Mt Compass
After a bit of road running, which was a welcome relief, I arrived at CP3 where Paul and Nadine were waiting for me. I restocked my fuel and water, and ran off with Paul to the next section of the track. I think Paul was worried I would get lost again! I was on my own again soon after and running through Fern covered forests at Mt Compass. The trail was very sandy and I was seeing all sorts of wildlife such as lizards and kangaroos. To take my mind off the heat I had gotten my iPhone out and was blasting some Blind Melon tunes to keep me company. It was a couple of girls at the previous aid station dressed up as bees that gave me the idea to play their tunes. Although the girls had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned 'No Rain' to them (I showed my age...eek) the little simple act of hearing the tunes of this most underrated band was exactly what I needed to get my mind distracted enough to keep pushing on. I've never been a big music listener when I run, but I liked it now. I wasn't using earphones, so I think this made a big difference. Previously when I have tried using earphones they get tangled and sweaty so would rather avoid the hassle. Off the sandy trail and back onto farmlands; through paddocks again, running next to giant hay bales and over stiles, eventually back onto a road where Paul and Nadine had driven to offer me encouragement (or to check I was still on the right course)! I then turned left and began the tough uphill dirt road section of Stones Ford Rd towards Mt Magnificent CP in the Lofty Ranges. 

This section was tough, with its tough little douche grade climbs and rocky terrain, I was really beginning to feel the pinch of my effort earlier when chasing down Dej and Luke. I shuffled into CP4 and was pretty fatigued. I got that awful feeling that I hadn't left enough in the tank for the last 30km or so, and I made sure I took on enough Perpetuem and Gels to get me through the last 2 legs. Thankfully though, these were the flattest of all the legs which was a welcome relief as the little undulations earlier had definitely taken their toll on me.

I found Skippy!
The last 2 legs are dominated by pine forests and forestry roads. The smell of the pines reminded me of Western States and, excuse the pun, I pined just a little for a second go on that awesome trail again. I enjoyed the last two legs, mostly through the covered Kuitpo Forest and although my pace was dropping a lot, I was still very much enjoying being out there. Eventually I reached the last CP and reminded Nadine to have a few beers ready for me at the finish line as I was definitely needing some external motivation to keep me going at this point!

The last leg was very similar to the previous, alongside and through pine forests and after nearly 10hrs I crossed the finish line a very tired and relieved runner. The race was over and I immediately began recovery as best I could, which yes, included a few beers!

It was lovely to meet, some for the second time, the great little South Australian trail running community. There were some mighty efforts out there and everyone finished with a smile on their face. It was great chatting to everyone at the finish line and I can't wait to see many of you again for TNF100! Congratulations to all finishers!

Ben Hockings has put a lot of thought and effort into making the Heysen 105 a truly unique event. Congratulations to Ben, Paul and his team of marvellous volunteers for the smooth and successful organisation of the race. With it's mixed terrain and abundance of natural and quirky challenges to keep you both interested and entertained, it should be an event on your to do list. Oh, and don't forget to visit the wineries while you're over there!

Shoes: Inov-8 Trail Roc 245s
Nutrition: Hammer Gels and Perpetuem
Electrolyte: Hammer Enduralytes Extreme 
Timings and Navigation: Suunt Ambit 2
Shorts: 2XU Elite Compression Shorts
Socks: Injinji 2.0 Trail 
Pack: UltrAspire Omega

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

RIP Jackie Fairweather

Australian 100k Road Running Team in 2009
I have just heard of the passing of Jackie Fairweather. I am still in a little bit of shock. My thoughts go out to Simon and the rest of her family and friends. 

Jackie was someone I admired from a young age. When I was a young boy and teenager I was always glued to the triathlon series that they used to show on free to air TV every weekend in the Summer. You could bet that Jackie would be there leading the charge. I loved Jackie's style because, well she was just a damn great runner for a triathlete! I loved seeing her mow down the field on the leg run, time after time after time. 

The admiration continued after her triathlon days when she began her marathoning career. She was such a gutsy, determined and bloody smart runner. Not lightning quick for a marathoner, but when it came to strategy and gusting out a race, she would always show her class. I remember watching her grab bronze in the Aussie trifecta at one of the Commonwealth Games.

I feel very honoured to have gotten to know Jackie through her last competitive sport; ultrarunning. In 2009, we were on the Australian 100k road running team together for the first Commonwealth Ultra Distance and Mountain Running Championship, which was also my first time in an Aussie singlet. Jackie was a calming and influential part of the team and someone whose presence was particularly useful for me being a bundle of nerves and very green around the gills. She was very open with advice and was always willing to share her wealth of 'racing' knowledge with the team.

It will go unmentioned in a lot of tributes I'm sure this week in favour of her triathlon and marathon exploits (and rightly so), so I just want to remind everyone of some of her remarkable achievements in her relatively short yet successful ultra running career. That day in Keswick she easily won the 100k and just missed the Aussie women's record by 40 seconds or so. I remember afterwards that Jackie was filthy that she hadn't done her research on this as she later said she could have easily broke that - always the fierce competitor! Jackie was also the Australian 100k Road Champion in 2009 and is one of only 3 Aussie ladies to go under 8 hours.

Jackie still has the Australian road 50k and 6h records. But apart from all the victories, records and disciplines she performed at a world class level in, she was an inspiration and mentor to countless weekend warriors and someone we all respected for the way she carried herself throughout her career.

In three weeks time in Doha at the 100k World Championships, and as Captain of the Aussie team, I'm going to propose the team dedicate the day to Jackie. I know I will be.

RIP Jackie. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Surf Coast Century 2014

Latest post race post in history! Just been swamped with work which is both very exciting but it's leaving me quite time poor at the moment.

The Surf Coast Century course is just simply spectacular. This is definitely a case of a picture being worth a thousand words. Sit back and enjoy!

Well what about my race? Waking up to a gorgeous still morning and with a 'do or die' attitude; I decided it was the day to chase a time around the course record. Even though deep down I knew I was a long way off peak condition, I thought it may have been achievable, given a bit of luck.

From the get go, the pace was hot...Mick Donges and I basically ran the entire first two legs together, basically in the lead from the end of the first leg. Our split time to this point was exactly the same as Rowan Walker's course record run in 2012; 3h38min. So both Mick and I were right on track.

Around 60k Mick stopped to fill up on water from an on course water drop, I slowed to allow him to catch back up but he never returned. I found out later that he had unfortunately seized up and was undone by cramps. It was really a shock as I didn't see that coming at all. Up to then he seemed to be running really strong and if anyone was going to 'grenade themselves' I was sure it was going to be me first!

It was then I was on my own for the first time in the race and I was missing chatting and running with my buddy Mick. Not that we chatted much, I described it at the time as my longest tempo run ever!

By the 75km CP I had slipped 6 minutes back off Rowan's CR, but still had hopes of pulling that in over the last leg. I was dreaming. The mind was willing, the body wasn't up to it and I was hurting entering the last CP I think at 89km. I was told I had a big gap still on second, so mentally I think I switched off a bit and went into a survival type mode.

Well, survive I didn't. I 'grenaded' in the last 7km pretty badly, and hitting the soft sand beach run just sucked the little life I had left in me. I was also low on nutrition, and this was quickly turning very pear shaped. Thankfully there were a couple of generous runners who shared some nutrition with me. That was very welcome and shows the generous heart of trail runners!

Exiting the beach run with around 3km to go, I was caught by Dave Eadie. Maybe it was meant to be or maybe it was just the way it goes in ultra running from time to time, but Dave and I crossed the line together to take equal line honours in just a smidge under 9hrs.

So again I'll come back next year to try again for the perfect SCC race! Try and keep me away...this is just a spectacularly beautiful Australian course, and an excellently run event, led by Sam Maffett and his team at Rapid Ascent.

I'm also looking forward to the trip to New Caledonia for the Trail des Cagous trail race, my share of the prize pool, which I couldn't be happier with.

Onwards now to the World 100k.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Southern Highlands Challenge 2014

Most races in their first year of existence are all about building the foundations for their second year. As much as race directors would love to say they enjoyed the experience of organising a new event, it would be only a small percentage that would say it was an pleasurable and successful first year, and I'm not just talking about the dollars and sense (not a typo) of events. I'm talking more about the overall feel, feedback and goodwill that the event generated.

I've been fortunate to be involved in two new events this year where the Race Directors have excelled in these areas; by showing a real understanding of runners' needs, by making and utilising strong community links and by being true to their values of inclusivity and offering value for money.

The Buffalo Stampede is the first event I speak of. It was a true community event; it had the support of the local shops and businesses and local running groups. It had many special touches that the crews and runners would appreciate; from the cowbells to the KOM challenges. But ultimately it was a success because it delivered what it promised; a tough, uncompromising test of endurance. And from this success, the event will grow and become even stronger.

The Southern Highlands Challenge (SHC) is of course the other. For many, but for similar reasons to the Stampede, this race has left a smile on my face which has lasted all week. But why? I guess it's totally a personal thing and not everyone of course will share these reasons, and the easiest way I can describe it is that it touched and 'ticked' so many of my value systems. The easiest way for me to describe it is like this. I love racing. I race because I love the competition so it doesn't take much for me to get revved up for a race. However, the SHC was different. I found myself immersing myself more in the 'culture' of the event more than the racing aspect. I know this may sound a little nuts, but I could have just as easily hung out there in Wingello at the race centre than actually raced. It just had that really cool feel.

I was very fortunate to be the Youth Ambassador for this event, a role I would never take lightly, and thankfully April Palmerlee shared my belief that an active Ambassador is the best type. By profession, I'm a teacher and I feel most at home educating and encouraging children in what ever their pursuit may be. Throw in running and all my passions suddenly come together. This has recently led to the foundation of Trail Kids, a children's trail running initiative that I'm pursuing with my good friend, neighbour and gun trail runner Jo Brischetto.

Race Director, April Palmerlee
On the Saturday night, April had organised for a motivational talk with the children before dinner. I was worried my beard and long locks (both now gone thankfully) would have the kids running for cover. It wasn't to be however, and the kids and I shared a lovely discussion about their goals for the event, the ways which they can become more active in their day to day lives and how they can encourage their friends to put down the technology and get outside and play. I was absolutely blown away by the insight and answers the kids gave to questions. They knew all about 'screen time' and 'childhood obesity'. It was great to have that discussion and build relationships with those children. I've even received some feedback from parents this week whose children have asked to walk to school instead of being driven. Like wow!

So the next day, blurry eyed and sleep deprived from following Tucks's great run at UTMB online, Jo and I drove to the race hub at Wingello. I was immediately blown away by the support of the businesses, both local and afar. There were so many marquees and products to sample and everything from the car parking to the race briefing was seamless. I had entered the half marathon (starting at 8am) as this gave me enough time to get back for the start of the kids 6k at 9:30m. April had promised a pretty easy course, but from looking at the profile I was a little worried that I wouldn't make it back in time!

What happens when you take your
eyes off the trail!
So no wonder when the half marathon was set off by Race Patron John Fahey, I took off like a bull at the gate! I led the field out hard, and even took them down the wrong turn in the first couple of kms. This really did annoy me (although I should be used to it by now with my sense of direction!) and I got that  frustrated feeling that one gets when the lead that you've made has suddenly disintegrated.

I was probably taking for granted the consistent nature of the flat, smooth fire trail, and at about 5km or so into the race I proved that you should never, ever take your eyes off the trail. Rounding a sweeping left turn, I hadn't noticed the shimmering wet mud and I went down and slid in the mud puddle like a competitor in Tough Mudder! I couldn't believe it and I had to laugh or cry about it...I chose to laugh. Only one puddle on the entire course and I found it!

Around the 16km mark my reckless pacing, the hills taken too hard and my Oxfam legs began to give way and soon the long loping tallest trail runner in the history of the world, Alex Rogers took the lead and the win. It was a perfect paced race and I had no answer to his challenge. I wasn't wearing a watch and I began to worry that my time had blown out beyond the 90 minutes I had to make the start of the kids and womens 6k race. Thankfully, as I rounded the last corner, the race clock said 1:25 something. Thank goodness! Even enough time to swap race bibs (not muddy singlet though, I was wearing that with pride!) and give a quick pre race pep talk to the kids.

The Kids farm was a great hit!
And how much fun did I have in the kids race! From running up and down the field, I probably covered 8 or 9kms but it was so encouraging seeing so many mums and children running together, grinding it out, running and walking the entire way and all the time enjoying themselves immensely. There were children laughing, crying and toughing it out. But I'm always blown away by the resilience, perseverance of children and the way they are able to encourage each other.

I had some cool moments with the kids, from boys who challenged me to race them to 6 year old girl just needing a short walk to recover from the hill they may have just taken a little too hard too! It was just great to see them out there enjoying our great sport.

Post race, I was able to chat to many people. Having a big muddy back was a great ice breaker and I shared in the triumphs of whole families; mum, dad and the kids. For me, this will be the lasting impression I take away - it was a true family event.

Well done to April and the committee for all your handwork and volunteers who gave up their day. From the grass roots 1km kids race to the top end competition in the half and ultra, you had all the bases covered. It's difficult to see how this event can be even better next year but something tells me tit will be!

An event for the whole family!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Oxfam Trailwalker 2014 - Teaming Up and Teaming down!

Whilst not being so much a race as it is a fundraising event, Oxfam Trailwalker is one of the only 4 person team trail running events in Sydney. I have previously taken part in another 4 man team event; twice before at the 96km Kokoda Challenge on the Gold Coast. I enjoyed the experience there immensely, running with your mates and doing what we love for a good cause is always a great way to spend a day.

I have previously blogged how Team Hammer Nutrition came about, Ben Blackshaw, Jono O'Laughlin and Paul Robertson were originally in their own teams, but due to team drop outs, amalgamated to start their own. I was a late call up but could not resist the opportunity to race with, and not against, these guys for a change! Through some great acts of generosity, we reached our fundraising target which sealed the deal on our fate. We were now well and truly committed.

With very limited preparation (reading the event booklet in the car on the way to the start) and with only a few snippets of advice about the course from a late Facebook panic callout, I somehow found myself at Brooklyn at 6:00am in the teaming rain meeting Ben for the first time and having a very rushed initial team bonding session. Our team training runs together consisted a grand total of 10 minutes and that was us going through the rego tent together. I had no idea what laid ahead, both in terms of the course or the group dynamic. In some pre race group emails (although Robbo hasn't caught up on the whole email thing as yet), we threw around the idea of a record breaking time. Somewhere around 11 to 11:30 hours was decided upon, going by the fastest split times on record. Bonkers.

Hammer Nutrition had come on board and we were in good hands for our nutrition at least. All the boys pretty much used it anyhow, so it was a great fit. Blue Mountains local, Nathan from Warrimoo Kitchens, had generously given up his day to be our crew. The weather was sketchy at best and it was a huge act of kindness for him to put up his hand for that job.

As seven o'clock approached I found myself at the startling line (not a typo) ready to go. Mentally, I can pretty much talk myself into believing I can run 100k off my base fitness these days. Physically though I knew I was pushing the boundaries. I had already put a lot of kms into my legs the week prior and was going to now 'race' with no taper and a 3h sleep. I was hoping for a nice, easy straight forward course. What I got what anything but.

This is now, for mine, the toughest 100k course I've done. If it wasn't for the extreme gradients in and total elevation of Buffalo Stampede, I'd say it would be up there with the toughest trail ultras I've done in Australia. The course is a bone cruncher. Pretty much from the 6km mark onwards all I could think about was "when is this damn single track going to end?" Please don't get me wrong. I love single track. Give me technical, tough, challenging single track trail over fire trail any day of the week. But after 4 hours of it the romance was well and truly over. My brain was hurting from the mental challenge and my legs were screaming from the constant lunging, jumping, hopping, pivoting and scrambling that this course demands. Was I still hanging on to an ideal? Were the sweet memories of the buttery fast, smooth and flat, pine needle soft Western States trail clouding my mind? In every aspect, this was no Western States, or indeed no TNF100. What this course lacks in elevation (although +3000m is nothing to sneeze at), it more than makes up for it in its challenging terrain under foot.

When you start deliberately running through puddles ankle deep and pausing for a couple of seconds half way across creek crossings just to get the anti inflammatory sensation from the cold water, you know it's a tough course on your feet. My feet and ankles were mashed, my quads and glutes pulverised. This is the type of course where good flow; kicking off rocks smoothly and landing jumps softly, could be the difference between a stress fracture or not. The weather was also playing its hand. The rain had made the rocks very slippery and the moss was deadly. It was a real day for the technicians.

And the course was beautiful. Stunningly beautiful in every way. Early on the views down to the Hawkesbury River and running next to Jerusalem Bay were breathtaking. Running adjacent Calna and Cockle Creek, was both equally challenging and energising. I saw brush turkeys (one drag raced me down a single track for about 200m), rock wallabies and lizards. The Davidson and Lindfield legs were also spectacular in the afternoon light as we meandered along the creek line. Even crossing the Spit Bridge and seeing middle harbour close up was stunning in its own ways.

And I learnt a lot about being in a team event. It's much much more than just managing your own race, you have a massive part to play in your team mates' runs too. Although Paul, Jono, Ben and I were very equal in ability, there were still times when we had to drop the pace as one of the team were going through a bad patch. There were also times when the pace was too slow and we all agreed to get a move on. We kept checking in each other and honesty here was key. We used a simple 0-10 RPE type scale. Yes testosterone and ego were sometimes a hinderance to honesty, but mostly it worked. Highest RPE would lead the team so that person could run at their own pace for however long they needed in order to recover. We worked through the issues that arose, we pulled together as a team and encouraged each other, not just when things were tough, but from the get go. We shared strategies that we all used when things were getting hard, we distracted each other by talking about mindless topics when things were a bit easier and we buckled down and hardly spoke at all when things were tough and there was a job to be done. We utilised the Checkpoints to regroup and restock, we never panicked and we were always within striking distance of our goal.

And in the end we nailed it. On that course, in those conditions, I don't think we could have done much faster. Our official finishing time was 11h 22m. Movescount had us at 10h 47m moving time (so 35min in CPs). So we have set a new benchmark for this course. Sure, individually someone could run this quicker. But getting 4 men across the line together in this time is another challenge altogether.

It would be remiss of me not to mention how great my team mates were on the day. I enjoyed every second of the journey with them. I went into the race not in the best headspace but came out reminded why I love this sport so much. The camaraderie, the challenge, the suffering and the deep satisfaction of a job well done was just the ticket I needed. Jono...thanks again for the conversation about the recuperative powers of beer and the lessons in how to row a boat, your wicked sense of humour kept the group entertained. Robbo, mate, you're as strong as an ox and being behind you for most of the day was a lesson in how to run technical trail. Although towards the end of the day, being behind you was the also the worst place to can keep those shorts I gave you! Ben, it was awesome seeing you run. You were by far the 'man of the match' in my opinion, you looked mega strong from the get go and always had time for an encouraging chat. Look out GNW, I think you are going to give that a massive shake.

Lastly, a big thanks to Nathan Douglas for crewing for us. For someone who had never crewed before, by CP 3 you had it down pat. Seriously mate, you held the team together. Something as simple as buying a few litres of coke in advance is like scoring an A+ on a crew report card. If it hadn't been for you, it simply wouldn't have happened. Thanks also to Marcus Warner who came and offered support while on Ultra168 duties and all the wonderful Oxfam volunteers and supporters on the day.

It was a wonderful experience to be part of Oxfam Trailwalker. But it wouldn't have happened without the initial support of all the donators that enabled us to meet our fundraising target. So in no particular order, thank you to the following: Jenny Trotter, Judith McManus, George McManus, Val Smith, Shirley & Chester Clark, Katie McCormick, Bill Robertson, Jason Deakin, Luke Shelton, Ian Maxted, April Blackshaw, Mark McKibbin, John Sterling, Mark Andrew Pemberton, Margaret Sky, Paul Waddell, Steve Barnett, Peter McKenna, Violeta Jovanoska, Angus Cameron, Melanie Baxter, Samantha Cassells, Bronwyn Ferguson, Tonia Segon, Angela Paag, Maree Yong, Rebecca Westhoff, Lyndal Greig, Angela Higgins, Jesse Wickerson, Rodney Williams, Paul Panson, Fiona Bennett, Dick Allen, Andrew McGregor, Patrick Witter and all the donors that wished to remain anonymous.

Many people will be better off as a direct result of your generosity. All we did was run, but you all donated money to fight poverty and injustice around the world. As I sit writing this blog, I'm also well aware that there are teams still out there on the course, teaming up on their own fundraising journey. I wish you all strong and safe finishes too.

Suunto Movescount Move

Ben 'Blackie' Blackshaw, myself, Jono O'Laughlin and Paul 'Robbo' Robertson