Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Centennial Park 50K

In three weeks time I am racing in what will probably be my last big 'A' race of the year, the Great Ocean Walk 100k. Although this time of year was meant to be a period of trying to get my marathon time under 2:30 (with the planned culminating effort being the flat and fast Melbourne Marathon), the hamstring injury I sustained a month ago really interrupted the speed work that is necessary to give the 42.2 PB a good crack. So all roads now are leading to GOW100.

I was keen to have a hard hit out at the Centennial Park Ultra, an event that I had only heard great things about from friends that participated last year. It might not be everyone's cup of tea; multiple laps on a dirt track around a big city park, but it is different and it is; despite it technically being a trail event and not a road event, a chance to post a pretty good 50K or 100K time.

It was obvious from the moment I viewed the website that this event was expertly managed by race director April Palmerlee. The effort she went to obtain sponsors and goodies and the great communication left me with no doubt this was a going to be a smoothly run event.

I was also keen to go and support a couple of others who were keen to knock off an Australian qualifier for the World 100k next year. I was excited to see Chris Truscott, Tim Cochrane and Beth Cardelli lining up, among others. I am pretty excited to see some classy runners putting their hand up for the Aussie teams. 

I met up with Alex Mathews in the morning and watched some of the 100k runners for a while as they had started an hour earlier. The weather at this stage was quite cool but the forecast looked ominous and was sure to test the reserves of all runners later in the day. Alex was no doubt going to be tough to beat in the 50k; his marathon PB is superior and he is much more conditioned to the marathon distance; while I was hoping the extra 8km at the end might test his endurance.

The start was a little quick and I soon realised that running 3:40ks was not going to be sustainable so backed it off while Alex powered on. He never really got out of sight though and thought that if he could stay in view I would be happy for the time being. I really was settling into the race as the half marathon distance clocked over in 80 minutes and was feeling like this pace could be held for the remainder of the race. All the other runners on the course were very encouraging and it was great to see so many out there having a crack at either the 50 or the 100k race. Chris Truscott and Beth looked very comfortable and were looking good for qualifiers (sub 8 and sub 9 respectively).

At around 30k I could see Alex really coming back to me and slightly increased the effort level. He didn't really look like he was suffering but he had definitely slowed down. So I vowed to pull him in; in the mean time I was trying to strategise in my head what would be the best tactic...hold off and just sit behind him and wait a little while longer or go for the pass now. It was race on!

In one lap I had bridged the gap and took the lead going up the slight hill on the cafe side of the course. My plan was to put in an effort to try and put a gap between us and break his spirit; it was a gamble. At 32k it is a still a long way from home and anything could still happen. Once I passed Alex I tried to put the pedal down but catching him only seemed to stir him out of his slumber and he was able to find another gear - he was able to go with me. So we ran a couple of km together at a quicker pace before I was blowing hard and starting to back off. He once again started to inch ahead. 

In my head I was thinking that all was not lost, there is still 15k to go and this could come down to who has the heart and legs left in the last 5k; I was hoping it may be me! With 10k to go he was about 200m ahead and still very much within striking zone. We both went through the marathon in 2:40 and some...pretty happy with that on what is not the quickest of courses.

With about 2 laps to go though things went a bit pear shaped just as I should have been putting in one last big effort. The legs were starting to cramp up and the splits were starting to blow out. I was going to have to settle with second. The last lap was horrid, very slow and the finish could not have come quick enough! The better man won no doubt about it.

But I take many positives out of this race, it is a 50K PB by 4 minutes and a World 50K Trophy qualifier, but most of all it's a great long hit for the flattish GOW course. The other positive was that it was a quinella for barefootinc athletes. Alex wore the f-lite 195s (check out this great review from the Ultra 168 boys here) and I wore the Inov-8 Road-X 233 which I was extremely happy with. I highly recommend this event. I will be back next year hopefully!

Top 3 in the 50K

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Bundeena!

My race in today's Coastal Classic had more twists than a bag of pretzels. The way my race played out was just bizaar, still can't quite get my head around it all. I don't often write race reports about low key events but a day so strange deserves a lengthy report so stick it out as it's worth it!

I've been battling a hamstring strain in my right leg for about 2 weeks now since the Mudgee Marathon. It was more a niggle that would flare up after any activity. In my efforts to even get close to my marathon goal this year I returned to speed training early this week, while I probably should have been in recovery mode. Anyway, on my last 400m rep with the Ewan and the Spilling Squad, I was brought to a sudden halt by the said hamstring. It was a tear, not a really bad one but definitely left me pretty sore. So anyway, all week it's been R.I.C.E and just doing everything I could to get to the start line today.

With Shona and Max DeLacy from barefootinc
I went for a short 2km run yesterday (Friday) to test it out; it was better but the hamstring was numb and restricted my natural gait and any speed was out of the question. Thought then I could probably get through the 30k today as long as I didn't push too hard. I wanted to run as barefootinc have been great to me and gave me a complimentary spot in the race. I wanted to support them by wearing their great products, particularly the INOV-8 shoes. It's also a very beautiful run and I like getting back to Bundeena where I once lived and catching up with my mate Lachlan.

Anyway, to the running. The start is a staggered start with runners going off in pairs in 5 second intervals. I went off with No Roads and barefootinc team mate Shona Stephenson who was backing up after last weekend's Oxfam victory and looking for her second consecutive Coastal Classic title. I thought that if I could keep up with Shona all day I'd be guaranteed an entertaining run so that was one plan. I cruised the first hill, a few guys had gone out too hard and were really suffering half way up but I maintained a steady and cautious pace. Last year I went out too hard and paid for it a bit later in the race at the headlands. At the top of the first hill at the Squeeze Way there is some lovely wide trail to stretch the legs out on except I couldn't, my hammy was restricting my stride length and power in the push off so I was really doing an easy pace run but was still up there in the top 10 or so. Vlad Shatrov, Sam Walker, Dani Andres and a few others were beginning to disappear out of sight fast though.

INOV-8 was a popular shoe choice!
Entering the Palm Jungle I was trying to be as careful as I could be to nurse the leg through this section; it's tough with ferns covering the narrow, tree root covered trail and vines hanging down ready to behead the unsuspecting runner. But the inevitable happened and I stumbled on a rock with my right leg which means that the next stride the right leg takes has to be a giant stride to catch up with the left leg. This stretched my hammy beyond what it was ready for and I was in a lot of discomfort. The thought of turning around and going back entered my mind but I soldiered on. I was thankful the section through here was dry. I've never seen it so dry, usually it's a bog.

I had slowed up quite a bit and a few guys passed me. Coming out of the Jungle and onto the tricky grasslands towards Burning Palms beach was very hard work. The track is super difficult, with the grass covering the track and hiding any hidden nasty obstacles and trenches. I struggled to keep to the track and was guessing which way the track went at some points. This led to a potentially very dangerous 'fall' that I took. I say 'fall' as I didn't actually fall over, it was more like a free fall! I got off track, and before I knew it I had run off the side of a rock face down a small gully. I had already tried to correct myself so while I was falling I was facing the wall. I had that dreaded feeling while falling of 'when am I going to hit the bottom?' The fall was about 2.5 metres, and thankfully a few branches slowed down the fall's momentum.. I was very lucky to land on my feet and only come away with a few scratched and bruised ego.

After getting myself back up the rock face I saw about 6 runners had passed me while I was down that gully, including Lachlan and Shona. Once up I was running gingerly and was glad to hit the climb at Burning Palms. I was pushing Shona up the steps here but she didn't need my help so I forged on ahead. A few guys were walking but I was pleased to be running up. Coming down onto South Era beach, I was taking the descent very cautiously. Along the beach I was able to increase the cadence a bit and was feeling much more comfortable. I was definitely still racing. In the back of my mind I thought any time near my 2:27 from last year would be great.

I got a little off track entering Little Garie, but I wasn't the only one. Probably could have been a bit more marking tape around some of these key points. Around here I caught James Kuegler, another barefootinc runner whom I had first met at the Coastal Classic last year and also competed against at the Commonwealth Championships last year. A great bloke and a top trail runner; was a little surprised to see him back off the leading guys. Running along the pebbly section right on the coastline approaching Garie is one of my favourite sections and I was getting a nice rhythm going here. I hit the long beach run  and headed straight to the wave zone where the hardest sand is. I could see the next pack up ahead and could tell that my pace was quicker and I was looking forward to passing a few of them in the next couple of kilometres and get myself back into the top 10.

Crossing the creek at Wattamolla
Up the headland at Garie North Head, the trail gets lost among the heathland and I found myself off track; probably not concentrating enough. Before I knew it I was on the cliff face staring down at the roaring Tasman Sea 20 metres below! I had found a great lookout but not the Coastal Track. I cut inland to find the trail but this didn't do anything except cost me more time and scratches as the heath was basically impenetrable. Eventually I swallowed my pride and backtracked all the way to where I went wrong originally. Probably cost me around 5 minutes. When I reached the track proper there was Shona again. With my race basically over I decided to run with Shona for the rest of the journey and enjoy her company.

It was amazing how comfortably Shona was going, we were running at a very easy, conversational pace. She didn't need to push at all, that's how dominant she was. It indicates how fit she is and also the lack of depth in the women's field to push her to the next level. I'm sure the leading men wouldn't have been able to talk very much! Evidentally, good mate Damien Smith must've been one of many that passed me on my little detour and he came into our sights. Shona and Damo have a very friendly rivalry happening, and Shona was yelling 'we're coming to get you Damo'. Damo had a great TNF100 this year, finishing 13th but this race was to be where Shona would get one back on him. He kept up for a while before dropping back off our pace.

Onto the metal walkways, Shona was stretching out and enjoying the gentle descent. I couldn't keep up, being restricted by my leg but knew that I would catch up to her on the ascents. I traded places with a few guys, yo-yoing with them between Curracurrong and Curracurrang. Shona and I ran into Wattamolla together where I filled my bottle and grabbed some GUs; Shona ran right through. I saw Sally from barefootinc who is always encouraging; even though I wasn't going to be competitive she is always there with a smile. Not once since being sponsored by barefootinc have I ever felt any pressure to perform.

The next section is great running along the top of the cliffs and down to Little Marley beach, affording brilliant views of the coast and ocean. I don't think we caught anyone but we were having a great time. Leaving Little Marley, my race suddenly took a very unexpected twist. Coming up to a T junction just before Marley, we saw a sign on the trail to the right (coast side) saying 'Wrong Way' with a cross on it and ribbons tied up to shrub going up to the trail to the North. Instead of the North East bearing we had been taking, it seemed the ribbons wanted us to head inland. Just as we were beginning to run up (the wrong trail) a whole heap of guys were running down, including Lachlan and Kuegs (who must've repassed me when I took my detour) and were yelling that it was the wrong way. I didn't know exactly what was going on it happened so quickly but Shona and I were fortunate we didn't head up the 'garden path' either. Had I not have taken my earlier detour off course, I surely would have also run up this wrong way. Even though logic dictates to keep to the coast, in the heat of battle and exhaustion it would have been an easy mistake to make even though I know this track pretty well.

Post race battle scars!
This was very reminiscent of the stolen course markings at TNF100 this year, although unlike there where someone had taken the markings away altogether, here someone had deliberately removed markings and replaced them in a different spot. My situation was a little different though, in TNF100 I was running in second spot and knew the correct way and it was guys behind me that went down the wrong trail. Suddenly now I knew a lot of the guys had come back to me in the field. I ran with a couple of these guys along Marley Beach. They were rightly 'very dirty' about it to put it politely and deservedly so. The extra effort they had put in on their detour could be seen on their faces. Running with these guys over Marley and up over the next headland climb had put me ahead of Shona and I was feeling very comfortable running at this pace. The hamstring had settled down a lot.

The Balconies section on the cliff top is spectacular and it reminded me of the times I used to run out this way when I lived at Bundeena. As I passed a photographer I asked him how many were in front to which he answered 'you're it!'. Bloody hell, I was in a real ethical dillema now. There was no way I deserved to be here in front but I didn't really know what to do except just run my own race. The longer the race went on the better I felt and hit the Jibbon Beach Loop at Bundeena full of running. The temperature was quite hot, but I ran straight through the last drink station knowing that I only had about 4km to go.

The run through Jibbon Point and along the beach was probably some of my fastest kms all day and hit The Lambeth Walk on the road knowing that I would cross the line first; albeit totally undeserving. After I had finished a few of the front runners like Dani Andres were already there; apparently they ran the wrong trail all the way to the road and had hitched a ride into Bundeena. Soon after a lot of the other runners began to finish, those that took the wrong trail and backtracked and those that didn't. There was a lot of talk at the finish what would happen with the results. I didn't care; I knew I didn't deserve it so was more than happy to accept any decision race director Garry would make. Talking to Sam Walker after the race, he had been in the lead at the time over Vlad, with Dani Andres probably in third, with the rest of the guys a little further back.

Relaxing with James Kuegler
Post race, I caught up with a lot of trail running friends and had a beer with Shona and husband Mikey, Lachlan, Kugs and a few others while waiting for presentations. It was here when the final twist to this tale was revealed! Matt Webster, who had started a lot further back in the stagger than I did at Otford, had actually run the course much quicker and had taken the victory and my time was actually equal second with Martin Pengilly. I had forgotten about this scenario potentially occurring but quickly remembered that last year the same thing had occurred with Terrence Bell and I.  It was quite a relief now knowing that at least I wasn't at the top of the leaderboard anymore. I was able to spread the INOV-8 love and gave the shoe voucher I won for coming second in my category to Lachlan who had run a great race before going awry. Shona did an awesome job winning her second consecutive Coastal Classic in a course PB time and also gave her voucher to her husband Mikey who now has no more excuses not to take up trail running!

You would think that the day's dramas would end here, but alas the trend continued. When I had gotten back to my car at Otford my car wouldn't start as I had left my lights on. I had jumper leads and after trying on Lachlan's car for a while to no avail, we flagged down a 'beefier' looking car and got mine going. Finally the day was over and was on my way home. It certainly won't be a race I'll forget in a hurry! Thanks to Max and Sally at barefootinc for sponsoring a great race and all at Max Adventure, particularly Garry Fairbrother for putting on a great event. Despite the sabotaging and some rightly annoyed runners, Garry remained calm and sympathetic.