Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The UltrAspire Omega at the Paddy Pallin 6 Hour Rogaine

I was stoked to receive in the mail a little package from barefootinc, the UltrAspire Omega Hydration Pack. Pity they didn't receive their order from the US prior to TNF100 as I definitely would've chosen to wear this baby over the flippety floppety one I chose to wear on the day. I was looking forward to giving this pack a thorough workout, and nothing gets more scrambly, scrubby and dirty than a weekend of hard core training in the Aussie bush. On Saturday I did a couple of reps of Mt Sol in the morning and then on Sunday I took part in the Paddy Pallin 6 hour rogaine out in the back of nowhere, body in the wheelie bin country near Kandos in the Clandulla State Forest.

I was able to test the pack on two different experiences. The Mt Sol reps showed how the pack handles on the fast firetrails and steep descents. The rogaine gave me the opportunity for best testing conditions; lots of bush bashing and scrambling amongst a bit of faster running on the trails.

The pack passed both tests incredibly well. There is something about the UltrAspire packs that feel so comfortable and snug on my back. The tag on the pack says it has 'Compressi-flex tension control', not sure what this means exactly but all I know is that it works really well to balance the pack and decrease sideways movement.

At the rogaine, I filled the pack with the full 2L capacity of water in the easy to use bladder, as well as carrying a rain jacket, thermal top, first aid kit, mobile, and a few other bibs and bobs. There was stacks of room left over and this pack will easily accommodate all the mandatory gear of races like TNF100. In fact I know it does as my friend and 2nd place getter from this very race Vajin Armstrong was using this pack (much to my envy!)

It has a couple of cool features. One is the side pockets on both sides of the pack that are there to fit a water bottle, but I used them to stow my beanie and gloves, a little into the rogaine as it started to heat up a bit. I found these pockets easy to access and would be great for a bottle of electrolytes or Perpetuem that you may want to use irregularly during a long race. The rest of the pockets are the same as those found on the smaller model, the Surge. These are all very well designed with long training or racing in mind. It has a large pocket for gels and the like and a pouch that can hold a small bottle too. All the things you regularly need to access are at very handy locations!

I guess what I am looking for in a pack is how it performs over a long period of time. I don't care if it's not the lightest (the Omega in any case is super light anyway) or the best looking or whatever, I just need a pack to be comfortable. Over the course of the 6 hours in the rogaine I didn't need to worry at all about the pack which is all I want. Believe me there is enough to think about in a rogaine already! The Omega didn't irritate my back or cause any problems. It didn't catch on any scrub or undo itself or anything like that. The bladder was filled once during the rogaine and that was quick and easy. This is another feature of the Omega, it has a separate space at the back for the bladder so you do not disturb anything in the main compartment when refilling.

The rogaine was super fun and it was great to team up with Jason, another Blue Mountains orienteer and super smooth navigator. We hit 90% of our checkpoints spot on and just made a couple of small errors that cost us a top 10 spot. While we weren't the fastest team on the course, we made up for it in smart route choice (most of the time!) and navigation.

I can definitely see myself moving towards competing in more orienteering events in the future. They are so mentally and physically challenging and seem to favour the 'more experienced' athlete! In any case, they are a welcome change from running events. I usually compete in a few of these each year, just to break up the routine a bit.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Macleay River Marathon 2012

This has always been a favourite race of mine and although I was in no shape to run another marathon after last weekend's doozy, the lure of a warmer climate and a road trip with the Woodstock Runners was too hard to pass up.

The Woodies are well known for their road trips away and we had around 16 pile in on the bus Saturday morning. There were 4 in the marathon, most in the half and a few others in the 10k. The last time I ran the marathon up here I won, and that is still my only marathon win to date. That was in 2009. In 2010 and 2011 Uncle Dave owned the event and expected him up again to complete the trifecta.

Race morning dawned and I made the short journey up from our wonderfully close house that we booked up to the start line. My aim was to enjoy the race and get through it with a smile if that was possible! I deliberately didn't want to run to a time or pace, but rather just to get in a groove and hopefully relax into the race. Lining up for the race, there were a few usual suspects; Bob Fickle doing his zillionth marathon, Jane Trumper, Michael McGrath, Ray James (Eagle) and Brick. Many Terrigal Trotters were there and I said g'day to Mick Miles, Darren and Charlie Brookes.

I could not see Uncle Dave so concluded that he finally left some scraps for the wannabees to pick up. I really love this course, despite it being my least favourite format of out and back (give me an A to B, then a looped course any day). It's very flat, only a couple of small hills that bite you on the way home and usually very fast. It's a very low key event, there were only 70 odd in the marathon, but the country hospitality and community spirit is massive and is what I love the most.

Easily the biggest trophy I've ever won!
So the race was pretty uneventful. I didn't look at my watch at all except at half way (1:17:xx). I thought I was going alright, except I was hurting big time. Aerobically no problems, it was my legs and my pain level. Although not severe by any stretch, I don't like feeling that much pain in a marathon until late in the race. The fact that I was that early on just goes to show that racing two marathons in two weeks doesn't allow nearly enough time for the body to recover!

I resisted the urge to jump on the nearest horse and ride back into town. On the way back I ran past the same cows, sheep, farmers and cattle dogs I had said hello to on the way out. At least there was no lightning strikes keeping me company this year as it had in 2009. On the way back into town, I began to pass more and more of the half runners and this did give me something to focus on for a while. I felt terrible passing some of my Woodstock team mates that were doing the half. The day before I had challenged them all to keep ahead of me.

The last 5km were very slow and I felt very flat. I knew that this was not going to be a great time and in my head thought it was a 2:50 run, well at least it felt that way. Entering the finish line I spotted the clock at 2:40 and seconds and was amazed. For the way I was feeling from so early on in the race too, I was a happy man. My BIG goal for the next little while is to get my marathon under 2:30. This race was a great confidence builder and I really think that if I focus, train and taper for another race in a couple of months time properly I can shed 10 minutes off this time and achieve this aim.

The public holiday the next day gave all the Woodies the opportunity to let their hair down and the celebrations went on into the night. Rebecca, another Woodie, won the major lucky draw prize of a TV/DVD combo and is going to raffle it on her Mt Kilimanjaro fundraising night (for charity).

A great event, a throwback to the old days of racing and wonderfully organised by the Trial Bay Tri Club. This type of event brings the whole community together.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon 2012 - A Tale of Two Halves!

The beautiful surrounds of the Wolgan Valley, so often spoken about in gleaming terms by Mick, drew me today to the inaugural running of the Glow Worm Trail Marathon. What a great new event this is. Newnes, the location, is an old mining town which once boasted quite a settlement; all that is left is the (dry) hotel. The miners must have taken all the beer with them when the left!

Travelling down the muddy dirt road to Newnes, you are immediately feeling in awe of the landscape; big tabletop mountain, sheer sandstone cliffs and wallabies everywhere. It has the feel of wilderness and that is basically what the Wollemi is. So close to Sydney but basically untouched.

Now about the running. This is definitely one of the most beautiful and physically challenging courses I've ever done. It's also a course that can be best described in halves, a fast one then a not so fast one! The first loop of 21km (also the Half Marathon course) takes you along creeks, along easy to view single track but the course would be best described at undulating. The running is fast for all but 500m through the old train tunnel (race rules) that was once used during the shale mining days. The trains and miners have gone and the glow worms have moved in. And you wouldn't want to run through the tunnel either as the sight of hundreds of glow worms, glowing a bright green on the tunnel roof was simply spectacular.

I led the field out and was first to the tunnel; affording me the full light show of the little larvae. Apparently once disturbed by many head torches, they 'switched off' for some of the runners further back. A little bit past the end of the tunnel, Tony 'Fats' Fattorini caught me and we ran the rest of the sneaky ascent together before I let loose on the long downhill to join the course proper on the return to the start/finish (see course below). Mick wasn't too far off the pace either, running a smart race.

I reached the half way about 2 minutes ahead of Mick in second but knew the real running was yet to come. I didn't know much about the 'pipeline track' to Glen Davis which was the next 21km out and back (minus 3-4 km to get to it and back). It started off pretty moderate and I was running the rough single track pretty well. Just before the summit Mick eased passed which I thought was pretty good for me, he is in a different class when it comes to techy uphill climbing and I had held off Fats, a great hill runner. Things were looking good. That was until the descent started. This was one of the most tricky, technical descents I've ever done; ferns, roots, rocks all obscured the trail, mud, slippery moss, and big drop offs really tested my risk taking maneuvers. This was a descent for the experts, and Mick showed his class on this type of terrain and flew out of sight. I couldn't believe his technical skill. It was beautiful to watch for all of the 20 sec or so I could see him!

Reaching Glen Davis at the turnaround, I was only a couple of minutes behind Mick but was pretty busted up. My legs were screaming and I was running low on energy. I downed a couple of GUs and headed back up the torturous trail which was now going to bite me big time the second time. If I thought the descent was tough, the climb back up was horrendous. A little way up Fats passed me and this wasn't surprising at all. The other runners started to come towards me on their way down, surprisingly 3 females; No Roads team mates Angela Bateup, then Beth Cardelli and Shona Stephenson. All were having great races and it was game on there as well.

But the way I was going, I was thinking that being 'chicked' was on! I continued the struggle up; and finally reached the summit allowing me to stretch the legs out! I descended the final bit of the tricky track and ran the little way back to the finish to sneak in just under 4 hours. Mick and Tony finished pretty close in the end  but stayed in that order. In the womens, not even a detour taken by Angela could stop her (although probably saved me from being chicked) from taking the line honours, followed by TNF100 champ Beth and then Shona. A great result for No Roads; both outright victories, Beth's second and my third. All three ladies and Mick were backing up from TNF100 too.

I think this is a great event, and kudos big time to Sean and Mel and the gang at Mountain Sports for having the vision for a great new event in a challenging, but breathtakingly beautiful part of NSW. I will be back, but as I said to Sean at the finish, I'll definitely stick to the half next year!

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