Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010, A Year in Review

As 2010 draws to a close, it’s worth reflecting on what the year has dished out for good and bad. For me at least, it’s been one of those years where the good has seemed to outweigh the dramas of life, and I have running to thank for a lot of that.

Not having to work this year has obviously helped my running. Managing a Masters degree is easier than managing a job! Cycling the 12km to uni and back each day has also had the added benefit of extra cross training I would not have otherwise had time to do.

This year I’ve been able to significantly lower all my main PBs.

• 5000m – 16:14 at NSW Masters Championships

• 7km Bay Run – 23:52 at Woodstock Handicap #3

• 10K – 33:48 at Cooks River Fun Run

• Half Marathon – 1:14:35 at Penrith Lap the Lake Half Marathon

• Marathon – 2:33:45 at Melbourne

I’ve also had the honour of representing both NSW (Australian Marathon Champs) and Australia (World Long Distance Mountain Running Champs).

I’ve even managed a few fun run wins in there as well, and set the course record at the Deep Space Mountain Marathon in the process of winning that race. I’ve podiumed in many other races too, including Adventure Races (a triathlon, but in the bush).

My favourite race would have to be still 6 Foot Track Marathon. It is one event I really enjoy training for as it gets me out in the great Aussie bush and up and down hills. It doesn’t really sound like fun but let me tell you it is! This year I finished 6th and am hoping to go a few places better in 2011. That will be my target race for the time being.

One thing I must be grateful for is the fact that I have not been injured this year. The consistency in training and conditioning that this allows is a massive factor in the success I’ve had.

As I look around my running club and wider running community, I can see so many great runners of all ages, and that inspiration and encouragement contributes so much. I hope that 2011 is one that is injury free and you can also tick off some PBs, SBs, or age PBs.
Racing at the SMH Half. I set a NSW M30 state record in this race!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nice surprise

Got a letter from the university today with some good news - I won the silver medal in the University Distance Running (Marathon) Championships. This was part of the Melbourne Marathon. It is nice to take something away from a PB race! A long way off the gold though - Scott McTaggart took that out easily. Scott is a really nice guy that I've met a couple of times at M7 and also down in Canberra for some of the mountain running I've done down there.

Full results here

Article here

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pikes Peak Ascent - World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge

While some trail races are certainly longer (Leadville 100 miler, our own North Face 100km, to name a few) and some trail races incorporate higher altitudes and elevation gains (eg, Tour du Mont-Blanc), there remains one race that captures the attention of all trail runners across the world. Mention ‘Pikes Peak’ to a runner and it can only mean one of two things, the Ascent and the Marathon, held on a weekend in August starting in the town of Manitou Springs in Colorado every year.

Andrew Lee, Stuart Gibson and myself were fortunate enough to be selected this year for the Ascent, which was incorporating the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship. Unfortunately, Stuart withdrew with a stress fracture, leaving Andrew and I to fly the Aussie flag. I considered myself quite fortunate to make the team and be in such elite international company; 6th place at 6 Foot Track in a depleted 2010 field was my ticket over, but I was determined to take my opportunity and give it everything I had!

To prepare for this event is almost impossible in Australia. Sure you can run trails, run hills until the cows come home and prepare mentally; but the one thing we cannot replicate in Australia is the altitude. To give you some idea; the race starts at approximately 1920m and finishes at 4302m (almost double Kosciuszko), a total elevation gain of 2382m (higher than Kosci!). However, we were both incredibly lucky to have found an altitude chamber at a gym that was nearby to both of us. Although the chamber could only replicate atmospheric conditions up to about 3200m, we both put in considerable hours inside training on a treadmill to prepare ourselves for the challenge that awaited.

Flying into and touching down at Colorado Springs airport, you are immediately met with the menacing, imposing sight of Pikes Peak monstering the surrounding mountains. Clouds surround the peak, and the grey colour of her faces expose the jagged cuts of rock which give the Mountain Range their famous name. This race is going to live up to its reputation!

Although the World Challenge was originally chosen to be the Marathon event (up and back, run on the Sunday), the organisers made a late decision to change it to the Ascent run (on the Saturday). Bluntly, Andrew and I would have preferred to run the Marathon event on the Sunday. We both felt we had more to offer on the downhill section of the run where the altitude is not such a problem and doesn’t give the local runners too much of an advantage. However, the organisers had their reasons and we would have to go with it!

Andrew and I were billeted with a local guy, Rick Lourenzi, who besides his quirky nature and far fetched beliefs, was a cool guy who ensured our preparation was perfect. He himself had run both the races many times, and he gave us a very detailed course description. Andrew and I also spent some time on the summit and ran the last 2 miles of the race up there together 4 days out. In brief, that little run left me with an elevated heart rate; I knew then that this was going to be my ‘Ultimate Challenge”!

The course

When it comes right down to it races are about their courses and this course is one of the most challenging in the world. The 21.4 km course is essentially a single-track uphill trail, with a little bit of road thrown in at the start to spread the runners. The route follows the legendary ‘Barr’s Trail’ which was handmade in 1914. In took Fred Barr 7 years to complete the trail to the summit. We were hoping to run it under 3 hours! It is a well-constructed trail, that for the most part eases at a reasonable (11% average!), but consistent, grade up the mountain.

The race begins outside Manitou Town Hall, where an antique rail engine from the Pikes Peak Cog Railway is displayed - a massive mechanical reminder of what it is going to take to get up this mountain. From the start, 2km of paved road, leads to the train station, where the course pitches up a short but violently steep hill before turning to dirt. The course continues along a short section of rough double track, and the first aid station appears at 2.5km.

The next section of the course is known as the ‘Ws’ and is a series of 13 sharp switchbacks up Mount Manitou, which culminate in another aid station around 3.6km. This section is narrow and a poor place to pass, and Rick, advised us to makes sure we were in a good position to maintain a constant effort here.

After here, the trail turns to single track and climbs considerably, eventually widening into a relatively ‘flat’ section at approximately 9.6km. This section is known as ‘Bobs Rd’ and is probably one of the easier sections of the course and is a good time to recover, drink fluids and control the breathing. Soon, the trial leads to Barr Camp at 12.9km. The trail here consists of many water bars and step-ups.

Following Barr Camp, the trail leads to a series of switchbacks culminating in a long traverse northwest to a sign, which reads ominously ‘Bottomless Pit’. Fifteen short but steep switchbacks later, you reach the ‘A Frame’ which signals the start of the treeline and the huge east face of Pikes Peak rises up. The sheer size of the barren and rocky slope is intimidating, and the scarcity of oxygen at this level may prove to be the biggest obstacle. There is a good reason why no trees grow here!

From here, the 5km left is pure guts and hard work. A series of switchbacks called the ‘Golden Stairs’ require hands to scramble over rocks. Trying to maintain a constant momentum here is the most difficult. Finally the summit awaits and the view that inspired “America the Beautiful” is the reward.
Andrew and I. Pikes Peak can just be seen between our heads!

My race

A steady, consistent effort all the way was my mantra for this race. I knew that there was no place where I would be able to stride out and use my pace and agility (my biggest assets on trails). The best way to achieve a good time was just to keep grinding away and dig deep when the going gets tough.

From the start, I settled into a good rhythm, running very much within myself on the gradual climb out of town towards the trail. I was happy to let most of the elite guys, including Andrew, run ahead. I slotted into a pack of runners and after the first aid section, settled into an easy, short-striding, quick cadence rhythm.

Gradually, the pack thinned out up the ‘Ws’, but I found that I was passing just as many as were passing me. The leading females cruised by effortlessly here and trying to go with them would have been suicide. The pace and rhythm remained more or less constant to the tree line. I was running smoothly; avoiding any unnecessary step-ups and going around objects to save energy. I was taking on board plenty of fluid and my legs felt OK, even though this kind of running for such an extended period of time was new to me – I always seemed to be on my toes and using my calves to drive me forward. It was frustrating not to have hardly any flat or downhill sections to stride out in, and the sections that did decrease in gradient were a welcome relief. I used these to get away from those around me and I was happy with my time at Barr Camp (13km) of 1:25. The people in the know say that if you double your time here you have your finishing time. I would have taken 2:50 at the start of the race so I was happy with how I was going at this point.

Upon reaching the ‘A Frame’ and switchbacking out into the treeline, it was obvious to me that the hardest part of the race was to come. The effort increased; there were more rocks to step up onto, sharper switchbacks and a looser surface to confront. Made up of broken up granite, it was much like running on sand in sections. The toes dug deep and effort to push off was in vain as your footing slipped backwards up the steep inclines.

It was here that my heart rate was elevating and recoveries from efforts were taking much longer. The breathing had increased and at about the 4km to go mark I was forced to take my first walking break to settle the heart rate and recuperate. A strategy of ‘run when I could, walk when I had to’ was employed and this worked well. I reached the 3.2km to go mark (2 miles) and my watch said 2:23. I thought that surely a time under 3 hours was obtainable. It would have been a good time for my first attempt. At the 1.6km (one mile to go) mark, I heard the announcers loud speaker at the summit announcing that an ‘Aussie’ had made it. It was Andrew, and I was so happy to hear that he had run a great race (2:41). I was only a mile behind and surely would be at the top with 19 minutes to break 3 hours!
However, regardless of what I believed, Pikes Peak would be the one dictating terms. The altitude was heavily affecting my senses, and I was stumbling over boulders and my balance was unstable. I was walking most of these sections and only putting in sustained runs when the trail was clear of obstacles (which was very rare!) I knew my time was blowing out now, but I didn’t care. My new aim was just to finish in one coherent piece!

I must have looked a sight when I shuffled over the finishing line in 3 hours and 5 minutes. My strong finish, which I always try to do in races, was nowhere to be seen. I was just a beaten up mess. Thankfully, a sit down and some fluids and food did the trick and without the heavy effort of running, I recovered soon after to soak up the atmosphere on the summit.
The race taught me a lot of things that I am very thankful for. It was a humbling experience in so many ways. It showed me what the discipline of Mountain Running is all about (in fact, it redefines what I call ‘running’ in general), what it takes to train for a run of this magnitude and that competition is such a relative thing. It taught me that having a good road marathon time means nothing in this sort of race and that specific preparation is the key to success in this sort of race. Overall, I was satisfied with a time of 3:05:35 and 85th overall (1800 starters). Andrew Lee, the other Aussie, ran superbly and finished in 2:41:10 for 26th place. He is to be congratulated for such a great run on a brutal course.

The post-race party and presentation ceremony was the feature of the whole event. Seeing Andrew receive and age category award was wonderful, and for me the highlight was mixing it with athletes from all over the world. Andrew and I also were staying in the same house as a Scottish and Mexican runner, and I was glad to talk about what I love doing most with guys and girls from all around the world.

Where I go from here, I am not sure about. Although it was a great honour, I feel that as far as my running goes, I probably have my ‘thumb in too many pies’. I have to reassess and figure out what I am going to concentrate on...road, trail, mountain or ultra? But one thing is for sure, if I don’t ever do any serious Mountain Running ever again, I am at least going away with a fond memory and an experience that will stay with me forever.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Controlling the control card!

The last two Kathmandu adventure series races at the Royal National Park have yielded a consistent third placing for mens team ‘The Spirit Kickers’. Being from (or at some point residing in) God’s country which is ‘The Shire’, we were keen to go two places better this year on our home turf. We wanted it bad!

After collecting our race pack, we were relieved to see that the course was very similar to last year’s event. So confident were we of the checkpoint locations, that we stashed the map in the bag and did not intend to take it out during the race...opting for the less orthodox approach of using a permanent marker to write the locations and descriptions of the checkpoints on my teammate Lachlan’s (sizable) arms! We went through the course multiple times in our heads prior to the start, visualising the checkpoints and discussing strategy-Locky shouts at me to go faster on the bike leg, I return favour during the run leg and we shout at each other during the water legs! Surely nothing would get in our way of this well thought out strategy!

From the start, we knew we could only focus on the teams doing our course; we couldn’t control the teams doing the alternative courses. Thankfully, we saw last year’s champions also doing our course, which gave us a good gauge; not many, if any, finish ahead of the Armstrong brothers. From the gun, it was clear we would have a tough fight on our hand. Our first 1km run to the bike put us on our bikes first and we were away. However, the Armstrong boys are strong on the bike and it wasn’t long before they joined us along the scenic Lady Carrington’s Drive. With my partner Lachlan (a gym instructor and RPM specialist leading the way screaming ‘C’mon Brendan!’ every so often), we exchanged the lead all the way to the turnaround. From there, the Armstrong boys pulled away every so gradually on the muddy road and we were left with a minute or so deficit going into the canoe leg.

The canoe leg, like the bike leg, continued the ‘army sergeant’ style demands for harder and faster paddling but we couldn’t make up any ground on the team out in front. From there, the run leg was totally disheartening. My initial assumptions that this would be our strongest leg and the Armstrong boys’ weakest leg proved to be unfortunately totally unfounded, as we didn’t catch sight of them at all! At least, unlike previous years, we were finding all the checkpoints easily.

Going down the Honeymoon steps for the last of the run leg, I demanded one huge last effort from Locky, and throwing caution to the wind, we flew down those steps, determined to make ground on the leaders. Surely they had to be just around the next corner? Entering TA for our last leg, the Kayak, there they were, paddling away from transition. This spurred us to on like nothing else and Locky, caught up in a whirl of excitement and gusto ordered me to grab the life jackets and paddles while he grabbed the kayak!

And he literally did grab the kayak, in his best impersonation of the ‘Incredible Hulk’ and proceeded to lift it over his head and walk it down to the water! This astonished all present, with the normally calm race director Todd even calling for ‘safety first’ please. However great this feat of human kayak lifting was, it also unfortunately proved to be our downfall.

You see, I was in charge of the control card at that point, and after having it stamped at the TA was mentally focused on putting the life jacket on first, then the bib over the top etc in a systematic way. However, the ‘unorthodox’ approach of getting the kayak in the water had somehow left me frazzled and I forget to pick up the control card of the beach where I had placed it while I put on my life jacket. This was noticed about 2 minutes into our Kayak leg. So about turn and back to the beach we went to the bemused look of all present.

Although we gave it all we could from them on and gained on the leaders during the paddle, we could not rein them in and in the end finished 3 minutes behind, At least we did not lose any spots, still finishing second overall on the day, but I do think I will be buying Locky a small present at Kathmandu on account of my stuff up! It was a great result and gives us another excuse to come back next year to get the title!

Monday, April 5, 2010

6 Foot Track Marathon 2010

I started my 2010 6 foot campaign last November with the Deep Space Mountain marathon and knew that after that race I had a lot of work today to achieve the goal what I have set out, but unsuccessfully done at previous attempts; finish the 6 foot under 4 hours. It was after that run that I set my mind to the task ahead and planned a training regime that would get me there.

After that race, I knew that more specific, targeted training was needed to succeed on 1) trails and 2) big climbs. Up until then, I've always trained on the road and when taking this into mountain runs I have been found wanting. So over December and January a concerted effort was made to complement my usual mix of road runs and interval sessions with more hill sessions and long runs, preferably on trails. Fortunately 6 foot is at a very convenient time of the year for me to have no excuses; teachers after all are not needed over most of December and January (some may argue at all!) so I upped the training and for the first time ever was consistently doing double sessions daily and hitting mileage that averaged around 120km a week.

The fatass events were very convenient and provided great company and competition and motivator get out. The oz day fatathon was the one where I felt in control over the 30km mark and the mega mega gave me a truck load of confidence knowing that I could run all of mini and mini and pluvio and still feel good at the end. Throughout this training my body was getting stronger, I was leaner than I've ever been and the mental demons were disappearing. I knew that this could be the year I finally tamed the beast instead of it breaking me.

After mega mega however, the amount of hills and more specifically downhill running I had been doing (trying to toughen the legs up so the pounding on race day would not leave my legs a shot mess on the Black Range) finally took a toll and I developed an injury to my knee that left me in quite a deal of pain if I attempted to run quickly or over a mid range distance. The only thing to do was to rest so I had about 3 weeks off any intense running. Thankfully, as I am going back to uni this year, I now cycle about 26km a day (on a MTB) which maintained my fitness and proved a good tonic for my battered joints. The litmus test came with the SMC 25km where I resolved to race hard and, if pain hit or slowed me down, cancel my 6 foot entry. Thankfully I got through that fine and it was clear the worst of the injury was over.

With that giving me back my focus to the race, I decided that the remaining time pre race would be spent sharpening up my speed and tapering. I would just have to have faith in my endurance and strength to go 45km hard all the way. The Striders equaliser a couple of weeks ago gave me a great boost, finishing only a minute or so behind Fats and also gave me an opportunity to test my knee on rocky descents. I also 'trail tested' the shoes I was to wear too...Innov8 x talon 212s. The NSW Masters games was the last event pre race and feedback was great, a 'track' 5000m PB. I was ready to go!

Come race week, some very light runs and a good rest, with plenty of carbo loading. Very organised for once! Not so race morning! Remembered I had left my inner soles in the car while standing in the bus queue, then remembered I left my Garmin in the car while on the bus; a mad scramble through the baggage truck to retrieve my car key in order to get in the car, and I was worried I wasn't going to make the start! Thanks to RD Colin, got to the start to warm up and mentally prepare for the battle ahead. I had 3:50 splits written on my arm and was determined that this would be a 'credit' mark today with 3:50-4 being a pass mark.

Once the gun went I was off. I always think a quick start is crucial to get to the stairs without being held up and skipped down the steps in a good position. Once down the bottom, found myself running with Fats with only Andrew Lee out in front. Ran probably with the right intensity all the way to Megalong Rd and was passed shortly after by Tucks and then Uncle and then Cambell Maffett who I was sure would pay the price for wearing light road shoes (obviously wrong assumption)! From here, we held these positions in the single track to Coxes. Fats was showing how it was done by cruising in the last couple of k's before the crossing 'to give myself a breather before the hills', so I followed suit.

After the river swim Sam Walker passed and he looked very strong and thought that this boy could take it out, until Alex Matthews passed going up mini mini and it was obvious that he was the one to catch. He breezed past like he was out for a training jog. Meanwhile Fats and I were having our own KOM battle. Fats slowly inched away and consolidated on the little flat section half way up mini while my legs seemed to be stuck in uphill mode still! To my surprise I could see Andrew Tuckey getting closer, and I knew he must be suffering a bit for his quick start. After passing Tucks it was solo running for what seemed forever, only occasionally passing the odd early waver who all gave great encouragement and motivation.

Half way along the Black Range my Garmin died (a result of accidentally leaving it on the night before) so I had no idea how I was going, but just by the fact that I wasn't being passed by anyone as had happened in abundance in previous years, told me I was at the very least, holding my pace and position. I really was giving it pretty much max effort along the range, and once to the Deviation knew that I had run that section far better than ever before. That HILL, we all know the one, before Caves Rd was the only time I walked, and the short respite of about 20 seconds lowered the heart rate sufficiently in order to give the last section a big big effort. I wasn't going to leave anything on the track.

Nearing the cabins, I finally caught sight of a runner ahead, Sam Walker but thought he was running too well for me to gain any ground. When we hit the last downhill, surprisingly he was taking it very gingerly; and I love this section so just threw caution to the wind and gunned it. The X Talons were giving me sure footing and confidence and I was literally sprinting. Unfortunately while the shoes were more than great, the legs proved too fatigued to lift high enough over a rock and down I went, in the rubble. It was quite a shock, it happened so fast. But being so high on adrenaline I wasn't hanging around to view the damage; I was getting down the bottom broken leg or not (thankfully it was just a couple of grazes!)

When I turned the last corner, it was the first time I had seen a clock since the river crossing and I really couldn't believe the time. Post race, I quickly got my self showered and patched up and went and joined in the festivities for the rest of the day. I was, and still am, on a real high and even though it is only one race, it is a special race for me and to finally get one over the track is so satisfying!

Sitting back and watching everyone finish the race, is always a wonderful moment. I love how people from all walks are able to get together and share a common love. All thanks to Colin (my hug summed it up!), Kevin, the Striders and Firies vollies for putting on this terrific event. I'll be back next year...hopefully with a way to slice 5 minutes off my KOM time too!