Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 - Year In Review

2013 is quickly coming to an end and it's time to look back and reflect on what's been and done and remind myself of some of the memories, experiences and friends that I've met in this year's chapter of this running journey.

At the top of the list for experiences would have to be the great travelling I've been fortunate enough to do. I've travelled far and wide for racing, to New Zealand, Japan, Europe and Western Australia. It hasn't always been easy; juggling work and racing, but I wouldn't have had it any other way! The trip to stunning Chamonix in France with the Inov-8 athlete retreat is something I feel blessed to have experienced. I left a more informed and focused athlete. Likewise my two trips to Japan were equally as beautiful. To feel the Japanese charm, culture and hospitality is something everyone needs to to at least once. I definitely left a better person for it. 

New Zealand was also a great experience. It was the first time I'd raced with big international athletes that I've admired and respected for a long time; it was quite a buzz! From the media and Q & A panel I was part of I learned from these guys and girls how to be an advocate for our sport. I came away a better ambassador.

Apart from racing, my 'running' career has also gone in a slightly divergent direction this year. One of my big motivations is helping others achieve their own personal goals and I have taken some small steps building my UP Coaching business. Although I don't have a whole lot of time to dedicate to it, the handful of runners I coached and mentored this year kicked some major race goals. I feel just as great knowing I was part of their success as any of my own personal successes this year. I also have wonderful memories from the Trail Running camps I've cohosted this year; first with Ultra Training Australia and more recently with Hanny Allston at Lake Crackenback. I get inspired by hearing about other people's running journeys and seeing them improve.

But to get to the racing. As much as I love all the other things I do around running, racing was my main priority. In summary, it was a huge year. Lots of racing; lots of highs but also a few inevitable lows, the recent GNW100 miler being the one that wasn't to be. But this is the nature of racing and at the end of the year I can now look back with much satisfaction; knowing I stayed true to my principles and motivations - to be a prolific racer but have a handful of 'key' events, to be versatile over various distances and terrains, to set, work towards and achieve goals and to get joy from (and hopefully give back) to the running community.

I have to happy with the overall results too; 30 top 5 finishers including 13 race wins.

I love the Central West races. I was honoured
to win the inaugural Orange Marathon.

It wasn't a huge year on the road., but I took my opportunities when I could. The highlights:
- Winning the inaugural Stromlo Running Festival 50k
- 50k PB in 3:05 at the Australian Running Festival, ranking 10th on the Australian all time list.
- Half Marathon PB in 1:12 at the Bathurst Half
- Winning the inaugural Carcoar Cup 60k in 4:02

With the late cancellation of the 100k World Champs, I didn't get a chance to race 100k on the roads. It was disappointing that I didn't run for Australia this year, particularly since I chose this early on over the World Mountain champs and the World Trail champs. I have some unfinished business still and I know I can improve on my 6:55 from last year.

Running in France was a real eye opener!

The trails were good fun this year. Of course the highlight was winning my local ultra, TNF100 in course record time. It was one of those days where everything went right. But the one I probably got the most satisfaction from was at Ultra Trail Mt Fuji. It was just such a different and difficult race and I had to fight so hard for that 5th spot. It really gave me the self-belief that success at the international level is possible.

Some other highlights:
- Winning and running 75km at the Knapsack 6h race
- 4th at Tarawera 100k
- 2nd at the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon
- 4th at Hakuba Trail 50k in Japan
- 3rd at Surf Coast Century 100k, such a hard day at the office!
- Winning the Fitzroy Falls Marathon, which was my first trail race back in 2007

A big thank you and shout out to all my sponsors who have played a massive part in me being able to do what I do; I hope I've replayed the faith you've had in me as an athlete and been a good representative for what you and your products stand for. Cheers to Barefootinc, Hammer Nutrition Australia, Injinji Performance Products, Ferei Australia, Valley Fitness, Suunto Australia and of course Inov-8. Many thanks to Lake Crackenback and Mountain Sports who have given me opportunities as an ambassador. 

Shortly, I'll post my plans for 2014. It is already shaping up to be a big year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Praise for Race Directors - 6 Inch Trail Marathon 2013

I'm sitting at the airport awaiting the red eye back to Sydney after a wonderful but way too short trip to WA for their biggest off road event, The 6 Inch Trail Marathon. This event started out as a fat ass event 9 years ago hosted by mate and Australian 24h rep Dave Kennedy. I first met Dave in Wales when competing at the second Commonwealth Championships where I was contesting the trail event and Dave the 24h. As much as he loves the battle of the 24h, Dave is very much a trail runner deep down and does most of his training on the trails around Perth like the Mundi Biddi MTB trail, the Bibbulmun Track, Bluff Knoll and knows them all very well.

Soon enough the fat ass grew too big and Dave now puts this on as an official event and it's a beauty! It's very much what I would call an entry level ultra trail event and behind the Perth and City 2 Surf marathon is the 3rd biggest running event in WA, a figure Dave is very proud of. I had the privilege of staying with Dave and seeing just how much work goes on behind the scenes being a race director. Dave is literally running around doing every job imaginable. In one of his other races, the 100 km/miles Waterous Trail on Foot, he even ran the race himself. Up to a couple of years ago he was doing the same at 6 Inch too, but now 'it's gotten a bit too big for me to run it anymore'!

The 'Hokey' Nut
The most challenging feature of WA trails is not the terrain (although the pea gravel feel like you're running on marbles and the honky nuts are potential ankle snappers!), nor the elevation of which there isn't a great deal. It's more the climatic conditions. December in WA is hot and this weekend was a stinker. Dave wisely starts the race at 4:30, just as the first light is creeping in from the east. But with days prior reaching a baking 40 degrees, it was always going to be a challenge for all competitors (just ask the English cricket team that are over here at the moment!)

This is my last race of the year and went into the race wanting to end the year on a good note. Besides the heat, this race plays to my strengths being a faster type of race but it did attract the best of Western Australian road and ultra runners and lots of great up and comers. But this weekend was much more about just the race, it was about learning about a new playground, the subtle and obvious differences of running on the other side of Australia and meeting a whole new community of trail runners. Although my race didn't go exactly to plan, I'm going home with great memories and new trail running experiences and with a bunch of great new friends.

But to get back to Dave! During the course of the two days I spent with him, I got to see how privileged we are as weekend warriors to have race directors that put on events for us all. Dave marked the course over many days. Dave worked his guts out packing and repacking the bus 3 times with all the aid station gear. Dave drove the bus to drive the competitors from the finish to the start line in the morning. Dave then shuttled people from registration to the start line I the bus. Dave liaised with all the vollies and designated roles. Dave arranged drinks and food post race. Dave had less than 2 hours sleep in the 2 nights before the race. Dave had lists and lists...and Dave did not stop talking or doing the whole time!

Dave did everything but run his own race!
And the proof was in the pudding. So many runners loved the many people made an effort to personally heartily thank Dave after the race. Maybe they're thanking him because he was the one that allowed them to reach a goal. Maybe it's because Dave was the guy who, by organising the event, set them a new challenge, or maybe it was because Dave was the one that gave people a means to try something new. Whatever people's motivation, if it wasn't for Dave this great trail running mob in WA would be a little less likely and many wouldn't get the opportunity to immerse themselves in this great lifestyle of trail running.

Of course, this is the same sentiment for many other race directors out there. As trail running is a sport not regulated by an over arching body (and thank goodness for that) the sport does rely on our Race Directors for it to make it happen. Even with SkyRunning and Ultra Trail World Tour et the end of the day it is events put on by clubs or private enterprise that will ultimately dictate the future of the sport. I hope I hope I never forget to thank Race Directors for all their hard work.

Anyway, my first 6 Inch race was up and down. I do go away happy but with that irritating feeling of unfinished business! After a conservative start and surprisingly winning the first big climb 'King of the Mountain' challenge, I settled into a good pace with another Perth gun Gerry Hill. After about 6km I decided to break away on a long gradual descent and dropped the chasing pack that also included Scott Hawker; who really has a massive ultra running future ahead of him and another young local guy Tom Bakowski.

As I continued through the first leg I was consistently running in the 3:40-3:50 pace range with some of the quicker km in the 3:30s, I was well under threshold and feeling great at this point of the race. On some of the longer straight stretches I glanced over my shoulder and couldn't see any chasers; I'd opened up a pretty handy lead early on. At the 18km point, I met up with Dave who was out on the course checking on the aid station preparations and he later told me I'd opened up 2 minutes on the chasers. It was still very early in the morning and it was still quite cool with a nice little breeze. But it was early days still. I reached the 23km aid station and refilled my 1L UltrAspire bladder as I was using the smallest vest possible, the Spry. I downed a Hammer Gel and pushed on.

The next leg was a tough little section, this is where we reached the highest point of the course and there were some long exposed sections where the sun was starting to become quite punishing. But I shouldn't complain, at least 90% of the course in under shade and it could have been a lot worse. I was watching my hydration and I was happy where I was at in the race. With a couple of minutes lead I was in a good position but not home by any means.

Early on in the race
Towards the end of this leg there is an aid station at the 34km mark at the top of a short but steep climb. Dave had shown me this hill the day before as we were out marking the course. He showed me from the top of the hill where the aid station would be set up and he had offered to take me down and up again to offer me a feel of the hill, but I declined the offer. It hindsight I wish I had taken him up on it!

The whole out and back is 5km all up and as I started the 'out' leg I was noticing my pace dropping a bit but decided that this was probably a good thing given that the big climb was coming. As I reached what should have been the start of the climb I came to a junction where I could go straight on or left down a little gully. My gut was saying left as I knew the climb started at a dry creek bed from what Dave had told me but there was a little problem. There was a strip of pink tape lying across this trail on the ground of the trail I should have gone down and some marking tape tied to a branch on my right hand side of the trail that went straight on. So in my mind, with not much time to think intelligently I chose to go straight on. As soon as I headed up the trail I knew it didn't feel right but as it was still heading uphill it could have been it. Soon this trail began to level out though and knew that it wasn't the one. I had probably ran another 400m and by the time I had turned and returned to the right trail it was about 4-5 minutes lost.

As I started to climb the right hill back on the course, Scotty Hawker was already descending it. He must've been too far behind me and after the race he told me his support had it down to 30s as I turned off on the start of the out and back leg and this sounds spot on to where he was now in the race. Dave came down and asked me where I went wrong and he followed me back down the trail to fix the little problem with the ribbon. Evidently what had happened was a mountain biker or a kangaroo or something had snapped through the marking tape that was orinally stretched across the trail that I had incorrectly chosen to head up and had left the right amount of pnk tape on the right hand side tie point where it had snapped from. This happens in trail running and I stuffed up big time by not thinking it through fully and by not trying out both trails before choosing one. Had I just decided to head down the other trail as well I only had to turn the next corner down the gully and I would have seen another ribbon.

But it did not in any way cost me the race. Scott had paced himself beautifully and was warming into the race. Almost as soon as I started on the descent and the 'out' section to get back to the course proper, I began to drop pace a lot. I was feeling mentally a bit demoralised and physically was beginning to feel very low and my legs were going to jelly. I was feeling a little light headed and dizzy and the little pinches were taking their toll on me. 3km or so later, a couple of little walks to get my heart rate together and to get some food and water into me, I was passed by Tom Bakowski. I knew I'd be hard pressed keeping up with him the way I was feeling. The temps were now in the high 20s and it was now about surviving to the finish and holding on to a podium spot.

Dave Kennedy (RD), with Scott and Tom
And thankfully I did, the 4th placed guy at the out and back, Gerry Hill must have pulled and I held onto 3rd comfortably in the end. In the end there was 16 minutes between Scott and I and this is significant and shows what good form Scott is in before his big tilt at the HK100 and gives me something to think about going into a massive year next year about race preparation and pacing in the heat!

At the finish, everyone hung around and enjoyed the plentiful post race food and drinks, including midstrength beer and champaigne, and vegetarian subway! Dave did a short and sweet presentation and prize giving ceremony and what struck me was the generous applause each and every competitor received as they crossed the finish line. This race had a great little feel about it, from the time I met a bunch of athletes at Dwellingup Caravan Park the night before at the Q and A session, to the time I said goodbye I met so many lovely and approachable people. I'd like to see more and more easterners get over and run this event, it's well worth the trip over!

And we all have Dave to thank for it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Recently I had the privilege of being part of Movember, a fundraising cause which aims to raise awareness of Men's Health; particularly prostate cancer and depression. As part of my role of an Ambassador at Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa, I was invited to speak at their annual Movember Sportsman's Dinner which included an informal Q & A session with MC of the night Ben Ikin and included other guest speakers Jared Tallent and Nick Farr Jones. It also coincided with my second Trail Running Camp that I cohost with Hanny Allston at the resort.

I would like to sincerely thank all those that donated to the cause via my Movember Page. All up $436 was raised and the team I was part of raised $2000. A pretty good effort and worth carrying that hideous thing on my top lip for a month! I would like to thank Scott O'Neile, the GM at Lake Crackenback for the opportunity to be part of the wonderful night. Below is a bit of a talk that I prepared.

'Changing the face of Men’s Health'
I participate in a sport that is pretty hardcore, it’s an individual sport that pushes mind and body to the absolute limit. It’s called ultra marathon running. And just because I love it so much, I make it harder by doing it not on flat roads but on some of the toughest terrain imaginable; up and down mountain trails (if there is a trail), through creeks and mud and bog, sometimes over ice and snow and sometimes, if I’m lucky enough to be racing abroad, in literally quite breathtaking altitude. I’ve raced in snow blizzards (funnily enough in Canberra in Summer), thunderstorms, minus temperatures, on snow and on scorching hot days! This is ultra trail running! So really it’s a very diverse sport but it can be pretty much summed up in this way ‘athletes, do whatever you have to do to get you from Point A to ridiculously far away Point B. Or in the case of the most famous Ultra Trail race, Ultra Trail Mt Blanc 100 miles in and out of 3 countries), so you get it, it’s a long way usually via the hardest way possiblein the shortest amount of time’. Then there’s the chaffing, and all the peculiar places you can get chaffing. The only pain worse than chaffing is the feeling of that initial contact of hot water on the chaff of the post race shower. That’s my sport that I get so much joy from! And funnily it just happens to also be one of the fastest growing sports in the world right now, and thousands upon thousands of people are discovering the joy and challenges that this sport offers. Yes joy! That’s right! There is joy to be found in running these long distances. I’ve been in races in Japan where the pre race brief contained warnings about bears, Mountain Lions in the US and I’ve had Mexican standoffs with roos in Australia, but I’ve also encountered some amazing wildlife. Ultra trail running can be the most beautiful, serene and captivating experiences. It’s on the whole, a peaceful and pure sport which connects you with nature and our roots as human beings.

You know ultra runningis actually quite similar to life; instead of getting from A to B in a race, living in its most basic form is really about getting from birth to death. But where running and living differ is that we don’t want to go through life the hardest way possible in the shortest amount of time as is the case in ultra running, we often want to go through life living in an uncomplicated and fulfilling way, in the longest amount of time! We all go through good and bad patches in all the parts of our lives; personal, professional and the like, even through the difficult stuff, how often have we all heard others say ‘at least I’ve still got my health’.When we do happen to get sick we notice how even day to day tasks become hard and we feel vulnerable even if it is the dreaded man flu. This tells us that a big contributing factor of how content we are in our lives is of course how engaged you we are in our own health.

But I’ll pick up on this theme a little later.

When I was researching Movember, I watched a couple of YouTube clips that Adam Garone, the founder of Movember presented. Now here is a regular guy who has done an extraordinary thing. He’s brought about one of the biggest fundraisers in the world, and certainly the biggest fundraising event that supports Prostate Cancer research. But what is even more impressive in my opinion is that he has indirectly started hundreds of thousands of conversations all around the world. Even with my moustache, as strange as it is, it’s proven to be a wonderful conversation starter. (Once people are able to look at me face to face that is!)

When I’m not running, travelling, competing or recovering from chaffing related injuries, I work as a Special Education Teacher in a primary school in Western Sydney. This year I teach a colourful lot- a class of 15 year 5 and 6 children, some with emotional and behavioural disorders, of which 11 are boys…I’m sure you can visualise what my classroom is like during the day! The Mo has actually had a number of advantages; I’m sure there has been a positive correlation between the length of my mo and the compliance of the kids! But more importantly, the Mo has also been a way to talk to my colleagues about Movember. Which in a predominantly female workplace is interesting. Once they got over the shock of my Mo, they love nothing else than having a chat about the Mo. My fellow male chalkies, yes all three of us out of 35 staff, of which me and one other are doing Movember, would keep the conversation about the mo simple. ‘Your’s is growing quick’, or ‘I think I may curl mine at the end of the month’ or if we were getting really deep and emotional ‘geez it’s hard to keep it symmetrical when shaving in the morning’. But that was about it. The women staff on the other hand would cut straight to the chase. ‘What’s the cause again’, or asked about my motivation ‘Have you had friends or family affected by men’s health issues’, or were quite happy sharing stories of people they knew who had been affected by cancer or depression. It’s quite striking to realise how many men in these ladies’ lives have been impacted.

The Movember tagline is ‘changing the face of mens’ health’ and Adam Garone describes this as not only giving men the challenge of changing their appearance for a month but more importantly (and this gets back to the earlier theme I mentioned ‘getting men engaged with their health and having them have a better understanding of the health risks they face’. So suddenly I wasn’t just growing a moustache, which let’s face it men, is the easy part. I found myself in the staff room being an advocate for men’s health awareness and this made me think a lot about my own journey with my own health.

There was a definitely a period of my life where I was very disengaged with my own health, it was probably between the age of 25 to 30 that were particularly bad. I had just left university after a long and undistinguished undergraduate career, that only ended when I had out ‘unied’ all my friends who had graduated and moved on. I chose teaching as my career, not so much because I was drawn to it but more due to the awesome 9 – 3 hours and all the holidays you get (a big fallacy)! Anyway I soon found out that teaching is in fact one of the most time demanding jobs there is. I also met and married my beautiful wife Nadine, and I was keen to get established in my career. And I did, I put in big hours, worked back and usually had no time to cook and eat properly. I definitely didn’t prioritise any time for exercise either.

Only 7 years ago, almost to the day, I was pretty much in the worst spot I’d ever been in with my health. I did not run, nor was I particularly careful with what I ate, drank or did with my life. I played some squash, but mainly to be around mates and get a good workout once a week that would alleviate some of the guilt of my poor lifestyle. But even looking back at that, although I enjoyed the game a lot, I think it was the post match get together with the other teams that I looked forward to the most, and every comp night always seemed to end with party pies and beer. So much for the calories I’d burnt off on the squash court!

The crux for me came when I returned from a holiday to Vietnam, where I enjoyed all the local cuisine way to much and drank way too much (only due to the humidity in South East Asia of course!). I remember looking at a photo of myself and thinking WOW is this the road I want to go down in life? I was 87kg, that’s pretty much look at me now and add a half of me again. But you know what? I wasn’t just about how I looked, sure looking at yourself in a mirror is a big motivator of change, but for me it was more what was going on in my head and how I was behaving in my life. I was stuck in a rut; and my mental, as well as my physical health was suffering. I was irritable, I lacked patience, I lacked confidence and had low self efficacy. I was less resilient and became easily overwhelmed when things went wrong. I’m sure I went through bouts of depression; and Nadine is pretty confident that I did. My priorities were all muddled up, there was a lack of purposefulness and I had a sense of a foreshortened future. I was definitely taking my health for granted. The point is, it’s with routines and lifestyles like this when we doubt that change in our own lives is ever possible. We see others that make great changes in their lives as just being lucky, or they have the resources, the time and the money to do it, or they don’t have the commitments that I do.

It’s so easy to go on in life doing things in an unthinking and unplanned way, focusing on the day to day tasks without ever stepping back and thinking about how I want my life to be. This is how distracting life can be without making any goals. And after I looked at that photo of myself I made myself some small goals. I was now entering the phase when I was re-engaging with my health.

I chose to change. Of course initially it was a conscious choice because I saw what I looked like and I knew what I felt like on the inside but it wasn’t my plan to become to an elite runner, it was simply a choice to change. It was a choice to change my lifestyle, my eating habits, my routines, my philosophy, the time I spent at work, my belief in myself, my exercise routines and my commitment to health.

And the process of reengaging with my health has not been easy. It was hard to get into new routines of making healthy meals, instead of going for the convenient option of takeaway. It was hard to always choose the healthy options on the menu when I really wanted to go for the deep fried, salty, fatty option. It was hard living opposite an RSL club and not being able to go over the road for my regular afternoon beer and chat with the lads that I’d gotten to know. It was hard doing those initial runs in the beginning months not looking at all like a runner, being heckled and from car windows. Now I run too fast for them to even get the window down in time! It was hard to keep my meal sizes down and stay away from the sweet snacks between meals. I still struggle with this. It was hard to say no to people when I know what type of night they had in mind, when all I was thinking of was the fun run the next morning. It was hard to find the balance when I had a new found passion. It was hard for me to renegotiate my relationship with my wife. No more weekend sleep ins together as I’d be out training. Having this new passion meant I had to give other things. I had to negotiate with myself as well as Nadine and it was hard to give up these other things. It was hard to stick to my new priorities. At times it’sbeen hard not to have my cake and eat it too.

And in the process of reengaging with my health I have learnt that I like myself and my life more. And it’s not just because of the act of running and the success I’ve had in my running career so far.For me it’s more the fitness, the mental health benefits and the enjoyment of the environment. Running has taken me around the world to places I would never have chosen to go but have loved. It’s about the people I’ve met, so many wonderful, inspiring and generous people. I wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for people like Scott, who randomly sent me a question on Twitter after I won TNF100 this year. Now I’m here ad coaching him towards his first TNF100 next year. But principally, at the core, the reason I’m loving life more is because of the changed relationship with my body and my commitment to my health and sharing this passion with other people.

Which is what has brought me to this beautiful location at Lake Crackenback. Lately I’ve started taking on some coaching roles on board; running trail running camps and teaching children clinics, along with coaching people who have made a similar commitment to their health and have decided to set a big race as a goal to work towards. I enjoy sharing my passion and skills that I’ve picked up with others.

But back to the reason we are all here; Movember. I was trying to think of how I could bring ultra trail running and Men’s Health together, and you know what? There are many parallels between long distance running and Men’s Health.

In ultra trail running, it’s a lot more than just running and being an athlete. You have to be your own nutritionist, first aid officer when things go wrong, crisis counselor (when you get lost) and decision maker. Our journey with our own health is a bit like this. No one else has more control over your own health than yourself. No one is going to make you see a doctor about the new pain you have or the worries and anxiety that you’re experiencing. When things get bad, you’re the one that has to act.

However, thankfully we don’t always have to do everything ourselves. In big trail races, there are checkpoints where we can refuel your body, refill water and get some moral support from family and friends. Sometimes these checkpoints are the difference between finishing or not. Sometimes they can be the difference between making the right decision or stubbornly going on and doing damage.

Recently in what is one of Australia’s toughest ultra marathons the GNW100 I had an experience I’ll never forget, I was running a 176km trail race, a race that I’d won and set the course record the year before. But it was much different this year. It reached 38 degrees in the middle of the day and I was affected by heat stroke and then couldn’t hold any liquids or food down. I’d lost 7kgs by the 100km mark. I was determined to push on. Thankfully at this point my crew and medical staff spoke the sense I needed to hear and I called it a day.

Just like I needed a wise head that day from my crew and medical staff, sometimes in life we need the words of others help uschange a pattern or make a decision to do something about our health. The Movember message is just this, to spread awareness and encourage men to engage with their health.

The other message I learnt that day was that we can never take our health for granted. I was probably guilty of taking the race for granted, not factoring the external aspects that the weather was presenting and running a race plan that wasn’t suitable. I was reminded that day, in a very unpleasant way that we’re not indestructible.

Another parallel is about the dreaded feeling of ‘hitting the wall’. I definitely hit a couple of walls that day; and it was only pure stubbornness that even got me to my eventual retiring point in the race. Unfortunately for thousands of men who get diagnosed with prostate cancer or testicular cancer, or indeed any serious health issue, they would feel like life has suddenly hit a wall. Thanks to Movember, through the money raised that goes towards cancer research and early cancer detection, diagnosis and effective treatment and for their message of getting that annual check up and adopting a healthier lifestyle, the wall is going to impact people with less severity and intensity.

Last parallel- everyone goes through good and bad patches in ultra trail running. It simply comes with the sport. And everyone goes through good and bad patches with their health. With running I learned that most bad patches don’t last forever. I’ve won lots of races after going through significant low points, ever after getting lost! And our own health is exactly like that. For most of us we struggle with some form of health issue. The message here is that with applying more common sense strategies, like regular checkups, following up on the small things and becoming more aware of health issues we can also bounce back and get back on the right track.

I’m very proud to be just one of 100s of thousands of men and women worldwide who are part of this Movember movement. Not only has it refocused my commitment to my own health but this itchy protrusion on my top lip has given me the opportunity to spread awareness and start many conversations.

With Scott O'Neile from Lake Crackenback Resort

Monday, December 2, 2013

TNF100 2014 'New' Course Thoughts

With the change of start location to Scenic World in Katoomba, we say farewell to the familiar original course and welcome a significantly different course. I’m sure we all, as I do, have many fond memories of the old course; the sections we loved most, the views or the places we have become accustomed to running in the dark through…but change is change and I’m embracing the new course and see it as just another challenge put out there to conquer!

First thing to mention is that while there are changes, over half of the new course is exactly the same as the old course, run in the same direction, at similar points of the race as far as distance. This is the first loop that included Narrowneck, Medlow Gap, Dunphys, Iron Pot Ridge, 6 Foot and Nellies Glen. Further, the remaining half is still mostly on the old course, although the difference here is that we will be running this section in the opposite direction. In fact the only new sections that I can tell are a small 4km road run at the start (unfortunate but wisely necessary to spread the field before hitting the single track), the following descent down Furber Steps to Federal Pass and the final ascent up Furber Steps to the finish. There are also small variations around Wentworth Falls/Conservation Hut (no more Nature Track, instead replaced with the more direct track up stairs to Cons Hut) and the Leura section is different, with more trail through Pool of Siloam track and avoiding the road running that we’ve had to do in the beginning stages here on the previous course.

What does this mean in terms of race difficultly, average finishing times and race planning?

In terms of difficulty, this new course is no doubt tougher on the legs and runners should expect at best half an hour to anything up to 2 hour slower times than in previous years (that is given similar fitness levels etc). The sub 14 silver buckle is now much more difficult to achieve. But this is good. Nothing like the changing of goalposts to bring out the best in all of us!

The areas I see as having the most impact on longer finishing times are:
  • The change of direction of the single trail section around and up to Leura Cascades. Again, don’t underestimate how long this tricky trail takes in the opposite way. There are many small pinchy hills and…yes…stairs and steps are abundant through here! Remember all the steps we used to go down at the beginning? Well you're now going up them and after 60km in the legs!
  • The 8km descent down Kedumba Pass and 8km Sublime Ridge Climb. This massive descent now is later in the race and on already screaming legs, this could be a very slow and painful trip to the bottom. While the climb up Sublime isn’t technical at all, the incline is relentless. Just ask the 50km runners from last year how tough this was.
  • The final ascent along Federal Pass and up Furber Steps to the finish. After 97km and a massive climb up Sublime Ridge just completed, this could be at best a death march, more likely what I heard lately 'a scene from MASH' late in the race!
There are a couple of ‘faster’ replacements however; the most obvious being the initial descent to Federal Pass down Furber which will replace the longer, trickier (in my opinion) descent down from Leura that the old course did. The shorter section from Lilian's Bridge to Conservation Hut up the Empress Falls Track may be shorter and quicker but again, is stairs, stairs, stairs and your legs will be wishing it had gone the longer but less taxing way around!

The other factor to consider will be Checkpoints and planning your nutrition and hydration. The first CP will now be much earlier in the race (10km, almost rendering it superfluous), subsequently bringing all the remaining CPs 8km ‘earlier’. (There is some compensation with the Iron Pot Ridge out and back not as long but this would be pretty immaterial to race time and overall course difficulty).

The last leg is now 22km long instead of 12 and without doubt at least double in time. In response to this, there will be an ‘emergency aid station’ (foreboding choice of words!) in the Jamison at 91km (the ‘helipad’ area). This will not be accessible to crew nor dropbags, so essentially the last 2-5 hours of the race you will have to plan really carefully. Unlike in previous years where the last 12km could be achieved on adrenalin and some swigs of sugary drinks alone, do not underestimate how important nutrition and hydration will be through here as the last 10km are pretty much all uphills and stairs!

So to put on my coaches hat now, should your training change in response to this course change? ABSOLUTELY! My number one training principle is SPECIFICITY. Look at the course. Break it down and train for the new course. How are you going to condition your body for the large descent at 80km? Or, visualise the fatigue you’ll be feeling at 90km. How are you going to handle the final ascent? Most will probably walk a lot of it, should power walking be incorporated? Train accordingly for it. Prepare your body and mind. Get out on the course or find somewhere adequate and simulate it. A classic example of a suitable training session would be to finish up a long run with a Kedumba descent/Sublime/Furber Ascent for maybe 40-50km all up (hmmm....TNF50 course?). Also, don't ignore the stairs. Sad, but it's as part of TNF100 as sand is to MDS!

Personally, I am excited by this new challenge and will be aiming up for this race again next year. It will be a ‘A’ race for sure. While I would have loved at least one more year of the original course to see if some local young guns, grizzly seasoned vets, internationals or indeed myself could get close, break or obliterate my record from last year, it’s something that unfortunately may never occur and so be it. Life goes on.

I’ve been asked if this course is better than the original course. I’ll answer it with this; I’m not nostalgic enough to say ‘the old course is the original so is the best’. Nor will I say that the new course is better ‘because it's tougher’. The answer will come down to our individual preferences and running strengths and what we value about trail running. Personally, I think the only way I can answer it is by saying ‘the course will never be perfect until runners go up and over Mt Solitary!’ ;-)

I'd love to hear your thoughts too. Comment away!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bouncing Back

After having a week to lick my wounds and go over what went wrong in the GNW, I was keen to get back into some shorter racing, and it just so happened that two of my favourites were hosting races last weekend. How could I resist? These were both going to get me back into some shorter races and hopefully kick start my focus on speed over endurance in the lead up to my last big race of the year - the 6 Inch Trail Marathon in Western Australia.

On Saturday night I ran the local Running Wild Narrowneck Night Run. The conditions were the complete opposite from the GNW! Wet, foggy and a little chilly and I couldn't believe the difference a week made! It was totally deja vu from the last time I ran this race in 2011 when the runners were met with very similar conditions. Just like then, this meant the spectacular views that running along Narrowneck offers were unfortunately not available. In fact, once the sun went down the only view available was the one about 3 metres ahead of us!

The race start was very quick with Ewan, Wayne Bulloch, Matty Abel, Andrew Tuckey and I all taking off on the downhill start pretty quick. I think we all knew what would happen once the sun went down and were keen to get back ASAP to avoid as much as the night conditions as possible. After a km or so I couldn't match it any longer with Matty and Tucks and settled into a third spot and in a battle to hold it! At the turnaround Matty was leading but I knew he was going to have a tough time holding off Tucks who was just lurking and stalking him as is his style. No one runs you down better in a race than Tucks.

Thanks Running Wild! Not that I need any
more encouragement to have a glass!
Meanwhile I was in my own battle, with fatigue really kicking in, my legs were pretty unresponsive but I battled on. At the turn Ewan and Wayne were working together nicely and knew that it wasn't long before I would hear the pitter patter of Ewan's swift cadence and the huffing and puffing from Wayne that I know so well; I have trained so much with both these two gentlemen over the years.

Although I had my Ferei on, I decided that I would learn my lesson from 2 years ago and try and go as far as I could without the headlamp. It was only going to light up the fog as I learnt from that race. As the daylight faded, my eyes adjusted really well and I ended up going the rest of the way just relying on the dim moonlight which was more than adequate. It also helped that the firetrail had been recently graded too - there weren't too many trip hazards out there.

I managed to hold on to 3rd and recorded my quickest time for this race by a couple of minutes, so very happy with that. Congratulations to Tucks who took the win and a classy course record, and also to my Inov-8 Australia team mate Matty Abel who ran a stormer for second. This kid has loads of talent and will be a big force in future races.

Me and my Mo at STS!
The next day I went along to the last of the Mountain Sports Spring Trail Running Series at Centennial Park. I love these events, short and sharp and always loads of fun. It was great to see so many there in what where pretty miserable conditions. The 13km course was fast and reasonably flat but served up it's fair share of tricky terrain. I was definitely feeling the pinch from the night before and very happy to jag an extended podium spot of 5th place. After the race I tacked on another 6km demarking the course; and by the end of this I was pretty well worn out!

So what's install for the rest of the year? Well it's back to the track and short hills for me as I want to get some speed back into my legs before 6 Inch. I am really looking forward to this one; a new race for me put on by a great guy Dave Kennedy. But before that, Hanny Allston and I are hosting the 2nd Lake Crackenback Trail Running Camp which is going to be a real hoot! It ties in with the resort's annual Movember Sportsman's Dinner which I will be speaking at...eek!! The weekend will be wonderful I'm sure, it's just such a beautiful place to go and run and be around other great people!

By the way, my Movember page is here!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

GNW100 - 2013

"Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” 
― Rita Mae Brown

I've had a little while to go over the post mortem of this run. It was as hard a day I've ever had in my running career and it really was such a humbling experience to go through the journey I did that day. It was without doubt the hardest physical experience I've ever had in a race; it brought me to my knees and it reminded me that sometimes nature and our human limitations really do run the show.

In Europe they have really gnarly, technical climbs that go forever and demand nothing more than a power walk. In Australia we have the heat and humidity and it delivered this year. Both are difficult and challenging conditions to run in but I wouldn't have had it any other way. As trail runners we have to factor in all the variables of race day and execute accordingly in order to put out our optimal performance. I have to put my hand up here and plead guilty of not doing this adequately. Doing most of my running up here in the mountains, and having only run the GNW on the two of the coolest conditions in the race's history...well I am guilty of taking the weather for granted.

Early on and feeling good!
I think there were many combining factors that led to my eventual withdrawal at the 105km point. There's no way I am going to blame anything or anyone except myself. From a performance angle I simply neither came up with a smart enough race plan nor did I execute my race well enough on the day. It was not a day for fast running, it was a day for smart running, and on that count I have to score very poorly.

On reflection, I guess there were a couple of factors that really lulled me into a false sense of security. One was the cool and overcast morning we had at the start of the race. It felt very comfortable running with Pierre all the way to the first checkpoint as was our pre race plan. I never thought once that we were overdoing it. I was on top of my nutrition and hydration and things were going well. The second leg was mostly the same; and I only realised that it was starting to heat up when we were descending down to Congewai when the cloud broke up and the temperature just suddenly went up and up.

On the way to the CP at Congewai I was pretty much running my own race. Pierre had gone off and I was confident he would be able to find his way around the course as he was picking up his GPS watch at the CP. The climb up to the Comm Tower was tough but I did it comfortably enough. I think it was the next stretch of trail, that passes Flat Rock Lookout and down to Watigan Creek where I probably pushed way too hard. My second mistake - I wasn't taking enough water on and wasn't adjusting my pace to the worsening conditions.

At CP2 at Congewai. It was getting hot!
The climb after Watigan Creek was a really tough walk. So different to last year where I ran every step of the way; I was finding it hard to keep up a walking rhythm and the water at the top was a godsend. More so for Pierre though who was also struggling. I actually had caught him by here. After the water stop I felt OK, but the descent down to the little rainforest section where we had to crawl under some downed trees and start a little uphill slog is where I began to unravel pretty badly. My heart rate was spiking through the roof and I was feeling very dizzy. Every little effort was exhausting me and I had to take a couple or rests. Pierre went on while I attempted to recover. After a little while I got going again and took it very gingerly all the way to the Basin. Half way on the out and back Pierre came running back. He looked like he was doing fine again and I was very happy for my French Inov-8 team mate.

I reached the Basin and definitely needed to sit and take an extended recovery. Ewan, my crew and pacer, attended to me with ice, water, food and moral support and convinced me to just take it easy for as long as I wanted. I was there for 40 minutes altogether and was pretty shocked that no one came in at all during that time. I had a pretty handy lead.

Starting to feel the pinch here!
I got going again, very slowly and resolute on walking much more as survival was now the aim of the game. As I approached the turnoff to go back onto the course proper, two 100 mile runners came the opposite way; so guessed I still had a half hour lead or so! All was not lost after all. I was perked up by this.I was really happy how I ran the rest of the leg. It wasn't flash but it was consistent...all but the last 3km of it. Suddenly I went from feeling pretty great and running pretty smooth splits along the road to Yarramalong to feeling like death warmed up. I lost all the liquid and food I had put in at the checkpoint and during that leg, and was brought back to a slow walk. I went from feeling like looking forward to a cool night ahead of me, running with Ewan, to not knowing how I was going to go on.

To stop the negative thoughts I basically came up with the only plan I could think of....I would get to the checkpoint, quickly change my gear and put on my headlamp, restock my supplies and get going again with Ewan ASAP...even if I had to walk the next leg in order to feel better again for the rest of the race then so be it. Unfortunately things didn't turn out this way. Evidently when I was weighed in I had managed to lose over 6kg from the start of the race, and the medical staff, quite rightly, were not going to let me go on. This meant I had to have another big break where I had to prove to them that I could eat and drink and feel well enough to get going.

Somehow I bluffed my way through this half an hour, eating and drinking some and got the green light to go. I was, amazingly, still leading the race but it wouldn't be for long. As I started the technical trail after the little road bit on Bumble Hill, it was very clear I wasn't going to go any further in this race. I was stumbling around, wobbly and losing my stomach again. It was game over. It was disappointing but the right call to make.

At the 100k CP. This was to be my final
resting place!
Congratulations must go to all finishers, particularly the athletes at the top of the podium. Gavin Markey totally deserved the win. I was out thought and out run on the day. It was a day that I just have to learn from. In my running career of over 320 races this was only my 3rd DNF, one was in a local RunningWild race due to a popped calf, the other one was during the Narabeen Allnighter a couple of years ago for pretty much the same reasons as today. I have to learn from this, especially if I do get into my dream race, Western States100, where it is notoriously hot.

GNW proved to be Australia's toughest Ultra Trail race. With only 20% of the miler field and 40% of the 100k field finishing, the proof is in the pudding!

I have to say a big thanks to Ewan Horsburgh who looked after me all day, especially when I was at my lowest. I owe you one big time mate and good luck at C2K for the threepeat! Also a massive congratulations to Pierre who ran out of his skin in unfamiliar conditions to that he is used to back in France and took out the 100k race! I feel privileged to have run some of the race with him and he proved me very wrong, his navigational skills were excellent all day!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Carcoar Cup Ultra - 2013

I have to get this one out and tell you all just how good this little event in the quaint little town of Carcoar is. It's a real gem.

If you were like me and had no idea where or what was at Carcoar, let me educate you. Thanks to a wee bit of wikipediaing on the way I feel almost expert enough to tell you about this sleepy little village tucked away off the beaten track in the Central West of NSW. It is a town steeped in history, once one of the biggest trading centres west of the Blue Mountains and later a notorious hang out of infamous bushrangers such as Ben Hall and his gang. Times have been rough on this charming little town; with the main rail route bypassing it in favour of the neighbouring Blayney, it became a bit of a backwater town that one would only stumble upon it by chance it seems.

In these modern times however, the town has continued to keep itself chugging with a 213 population figure and mainly due to the very things it has most over other towns around - history. Entering the main street of Carcoar on Sunday morning I thought I'd stumbled across the movie set of 'Deadwood', or maybe in the Australian context, say 'The Man From Snowy River'. The original 19th century churches, court house, public house and shops are standing proudly along side the people that work and live here.

Everything about the running festival had really nice touches about it; from the 'enter now but pay later' registration system to the cracking of the stock whip starting signal. There was a kids race and a 'Creek to Carcoar' race too. So keen was he to have people involved the race organisers have made available a relay option and for the first time, and what drew me to the town, a 60km ultra.

While the fields weren't huge, the pointy end was stacked and why wouldn't they be? The race director Andrew has put a lot of incentives on the line for the top runners to come out give these races a good crack and while runners don't ever feel they race for prizes we all know there is no better way to bring out the best. Lining up in the marathon was current Australian Marathon Champion Alex Matthews and Aussie Reps Andrew Tuckey and Tim Cochrane. In the ladies, Aussie Rep Angela Bateup was going for a threepeat in the ladies race. In the 60k Ultra, there were Aussie Reps Ewan Horsburgh and Andy Hayden joining myself and then throw in ex Pro triathlete Sarah Fien in the womens field and it was ensured some cracking times were going to be run. The men's half marathon also featured gun road runner Harry Summers, who has represented Australia at the World Half Marathon Champs. So that's a pretty impressive list of names there across all the races!

Nadine and I stayed with Wes and Kellie Gibson the night before in their home in Bathurst, about 45mins from Carcoar. We left early in the morning and were blessed with a beautiful sunrise with pink and purple skies all the way to Carcoar. We registered and got into the final preparations. We were all running the ultra. The race wasn't originally on Wes and Kellie's hit list but had only entered after the cancellation of the Kanangra Classic. I was glad they still got to put utilise all the training had done for that event here. Unfortunately Kellie had cut her foot quite badly in the week leading up to Sunday and was really unsure whether she could race or not, so it was a massive effort for her to get to the start line.

The Ultra field assembled at 7am. There weren't many of us altogether, and we were told the course by Race Director Andrew. It sounded like a great course that played to my strengths; undulating and a mixture of dirt road and bitumen. Once the whip was cracked, it was Wes, Ewan, Andy and myself leading the charge out of town. It was cool and cloudy and I think we dodged a bullet with the weather as this is the way it pretty much stayed all morning. Soon enough we were on dirt road and I took the initiative and picked the pace up. No one wanted to come for the ride so I was on my own with a couple of lead cyclists showing me the way.

The route took us along country dirt road, past farms and paddocks and through to the tiny town of Neville, which as the sign indicated, has a population of just 100. We ran a small loop around the small town and I was given a nice reception by the half marathon participants who were waiting to start their event (their route would take them back to Carcoar). Neville did have an interesting kids playground; a few pieces of equipment probably wouldn't pass muster these days but good to see a throwback to the old days.

With Ewan and son post race
Back out on the dirtroads and heading back to Carcoar, ultra runners were shown a left turn which would take them on an alternative loop to make up the 60k. Once back on the main course, I got to run with a few of the marathon runners who had started an hour later. I ran about 1km with my old No Roads Expeditions team mate Angela Bateup who was winning the ladies event and would go on to win her 3rd straight Cup. I pushed on again towards Neville.

The second time approaching town I caught sight sight of Tim Cochrane and Andrew Tuckey running out of town in the marathon. I thought it would be a close finish with Tucks so good at just lurking back and pouncing on you towards the end. It's good to see Tucks back in Australia again after a holiday in the UK.
The rest of the race was pretty uneventful; the Mt Macqurie Hill climb was fun and I caught the 3rd placed man in the marathon Nick. The last 4km are nearly all down hill and I decided with GNW100 only a week later that I wouldn't thrash my legs here as much I would have liked to. This bit probably cost me a sub 4hour finish but so be it. I was happy with the run. The pace was very consistent and I felt comfortable all race.

Post race, I enjoyed lunch and some bevereges with Nadine, Wes and Kellie and a few others at the beautiful pub and watched others come in. The presentations were in the old courthouse and I took home a beautiful piece of pottery by a local artisan which Nadine was very happy about! Thanks to barefootinc, who sponsored the ultra, Nadine also got to take home a new pair of F-Lites! I really hope this festival continues to grow as it's got some very special touches and deserves a larger number of runners to experience them.

I wore the new Inov-8 F-Lite 240s, the 6mm drop was perfect for the mixture of terrain on the course.

My lovely prize!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Barefootinc has a new showroom!

Barefootinc are an Australian owned and run company and are the distributors of many great brands such as FiveFingers, UltrAspire and of course Inov-8. Their mission is simple; to help people reach their maximum potential for good health and a strong body - naturally. They believe in products that enhance training comfort and performance without compromising our natural movement. In short; they know what they believe in and they put it in practise very well! Some may call this a 'minimalist' outlook, but to me, stripping running back to it's most natural state is the only philosophy I will ever subscribe to and endorse in my own coaching.

I've been fortunate to have a relationship with Barefootinc for many years now, and they were instrumental in my early trail running career. Although they are a small company, they do an amazing job at the grass roots level; sponsoring many other athletes and events across a range of disciplines including road running, cross fit and obstacle course racing. But of course their heart and soul lies on the trails!

So it was exciting when I saw they were opening up a brand new showroom in Waterloo in Sydney to accompany their online store. In a time when online only shops and overseas sales threaten the existence of shopfronts it's great to see a company stand behind what they believe and give runners the opportunity to come in, try on the products, seek the advice and walk away with a smile. A couple of weeks ago I got to check out the new digs and it's looking great. There are plans for a treadmill so you can try on your shoes and a small crossfit 'box' for athletes to do some small plyometric drills.

The new address is:

Shop 1a, 52 - 54 Mcevoy Street
Waterloo NSW 2017

And now the good news! Anyone that purchases any products from the showroom will receive a 15% discount, simply by saying that I recommended Barefootinc!

With Sally and the amazing display of Inov-8s in the new showroom!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fitzroy Falls Fire Trail Marathon - 2013

Brad McGee opens up his property 'Twin Falls' each year
The FFFTM has a special place in the trail running part of my heart, and always will. It was the the first real trail event I entered in 2007 and it really sowed that lovely trail running seed that has continued to grow and blossom and is now such a big part of my life. Back in 2007 I was wide eyed and bushy tailed and full of anxiety about the mysterious sport of 'trail running'. 42.2km and 3h 24m later I finished, exhausted yet entirely overjoyed at the sensory experience that left me curious and eager to seek out new 'trail running' adventures. More than anything though, I remember the day as being incredibly friendly, no fuss and relaxed. I can vividly remember two things about the day; lounging around after the finish on the beautiful lawn with Nadine and some friends post race,and the burgers we all got to eat for free; food as a reward for finishing! I was in love.

Since 2007, I have been back twice. In 2008 I jagged a sneaky third behind two stars of the sport (and still are on their day); Tim Cochrane and Jo Blake. I remember talking to Jo after the race. I was a relatively new comer to the scene but I think he saw the enthusiasm and drive in me and he gave me a few training tips to take away. Fast forward to the following year and Jo and Tim would be my Australian team mates at the inaugural Commonwealth Championships. The following two years I pursued my road marathon goals; running for NSW both times at Melbourne which always seems to fall on the same weekend. The other year I ran this race was in a 2011; it was a wet, slippery affair. That year the field at the pointy end was super strong; Mick Donges, Andrew Tuckey, Tim Cochrane, Alex Matthews, Ian Gallagher and Ewan Horsburgh. Andrew and Mick smoked the field and I finished 4th.

These kept the kids (and me) entertained!
This year I had no expectations from this race except to knock out a solid long run. I've had a relatively light last 3 weeks with only a couple of short races and I think I decided that this weekend would now mark the start of my GNW100M big km weeks again. FFFTM was just the long run I needed to end a good training week of 80 odd km and, most pleasingly than anything, a couple of good speed sessions which have been put off since Surf Coast Century. Like always, I would run to my best ability that the preparation allowed me to and whatever place that got, well that is always the unknown but always a the bonus if it's a pleasing one!

Kick arse Wisteria in bloom
I only finalised my decision to enter the night before the race, and with race day entries allowed on the day I drove down and rocked up about 30 minutes before the start with my money and a smile. I said g'day to Max, the Race Director and he said I could enter but it was double the price! Of course he was joking but this really sums Max up. Just a friendly, relaxed guy. Although there's probably a thousand things he was thinking of he wasn't showing it one bit. The race HQ are on the property of Brad McGee, the former pro cyclist. He has an awesome place; the garden resplendent in gorgeous blossoming wisteria, dogwood and cherry blossom trees and there is even a few things there for the kids; a swimming pool, a sow with her half a dozen piglets and a friendly billy goat.

Anyway, I digress. Let's get to the run. The plan was to hit the first half of this course solidly; at a tempo pace without pushing the hills too hard early on. Although cool at the 8am at the start, the weather was warming up and I know the back end of this course is the business end and wanted to have running in my legs to kick me home. The event lives up to its name; it's entirely on wide fire trail from go to wo. The aid stations are pretty close together and I planned to have a drink at each one that were being manned by the friendly local bush fire brigades who would be receiving the bulk of the proceeds from this event.

I led the field out and didn't know how close anyone else was until the first little out and back in the course at the 21.7km mark. I thought Ian Gallagher and Paul Cuthbert would be close; other than those two I hadn't really had time in the morning to see who else had entered. Ian has been in smoking hot form of late, winning the Centennial Park 100k and then two weeks later winning the Glenbrook Marathon - breaking the course records in both events. A humble and fantastic athlete who will do great things in the years ahead. Paul, whom I coached to a terrific TNF100 and Sub 3 Canberra Marathon this year is also very much on the improve, recently finishing 2nd in the Canberra Centenary 100km event. I knew they would be hot on my heels and ready to pounce.

Indeed they were; as soon as I turned Ian came storming down a little descent and he couldn't have been more than 30s arrears. His cadence was cranking; he was in his road running rhythm and would have been going at least 5-10 strides a minute quicker. I knew if he kept that up I'd be passed in no time and then we would have a race on our hands. Paul came down soon after too and was looking very comfortable. With Ian's steam train like momentum halted at the U-turn, I decided then that I'd put in a big effort at least to the next out and back at around the 28km mark to try and snap the elastic. It was a bit of a make or break move very early in the race. If it worked and I managed to gap Ian and Paul it probably meant I 'd break their spirit a bit and things may be a little more comfortable for me. If I busted myself in the process and then Ian and Paul continued on the way they looked presently, I'd be pretty much resigned to losing to better men on the day. Things were interesting!

Yep, firetrail all the way!
After the first turn around, the surge commenced, pushing strongly on the flat and slight ascending fire trail towards the next little out and back leg. It's a tricky grade; push too hard and you'll blow a valve, but letting the slope dictate your pace is also a sure way of letting minutes slip by. So the limit is a fine line but I found it and pushed on. The second out and back is not as long, probably only 1500m to the U-Turn and by the time I had turned there was no sign of Ian and Paul. I was slightly relieved that the gap had grown. When they finally came down the trail the gap was probably 800m. I did my best to put on a relaxed and easy rhythm but c'mon...who was I kidding Ian and Paul have been around long enough to know that trick! Inside I was hurting.

I downed my second Hammer Gel and things started to improve. The day was getting hotter and the grade a little more douche like but I pushed on. I always try to concentrate on my technique in times like this. I was wearing the new coloured Inov-8 Trail Roc 235s; I've been gradually trying to transition down to zero heel to toe differential in the last couple of months as this is the best way to develop a strong and durable technique in my opinion. I'm not quite there yet for the full 42.2km but I'm getting there. The trail was hard and dusty; it was very similar to road running and I was saying to myself constantly 'road legs'. There is subtle differences to how I run on the trail and the road, but when you get on a trail that behaves like a road, it can be a hard training your brain to tell your body to do things in an instinctively different way.

Unfortunately Jane Trumper had to DNF. Didn't dampen
her appetite though! Best burgers around!
The last 5km are pretty tough but do bring some relief in the form of some short downhill sections to enable a bit of recovery. The big hill at 39km is no fun but that's trail running for you! I didn't know what time I was on for as I hadn't looked at my Suunto much all race, but I finished pretty strongly to sneak under 3 hours. At the finish I had a nostalgic moment and asked the marshall there for my little time ticket to take over to the recording desk as has been the custom in previous years. Alas, even technology has caught up with the sleeping corners of the Southern Highlands and they had electronic timing this year!

After the race I watched most of the other runners come home. Beth Cardelli once again showed her class to take out the women's race and her third FFFTM. There were many smiles on faces and it was clear that lots and lots had kicked goals in the race. There was friendly banter going on everywhere. Special mention to great mate and marathon tragic Jane Trumper, who, after thousands of marathons, had to succumb to a hamstring tear. It was her first marathon DNF in over 120! Get well soon Jane!

This event has a friendly and relaxed feel about it. It doesn't promise anything spectacular but delivers well above what you would expect. Thanks Max, his team of vollies, the McGees for giving trail runners a lovely little event and the firies for serving us drinks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Daylight Savings is here!

The beginning of the 'Festival of the Light' as I like to call it always brings about a fresh beginning and a time where I can be a lot more choosy and flexible with my training. No longer do I have to try and cram my training into that small window between when I leave school and before I get home, usually between 4:30pm and 6pm. With the shorter days, I'm often restricted to road running, or the treadmill on the work days. Not that I'm complaning. They both play a big part in my training. But now I can do what I love after work, play on the trails and get home before the sun has set!

It also heralds the thoughts of  the Great North Walk 100 miler that I'll again be competing in. It is Australia's only true A to B 100 mile trail running course (the way they should be!) and is tough as tough can get, expecially when the expected average temperatures and humidity play their part. Will we get another day like last year where conditions resembled a mid Winter's day? Not likely. In fact I would say that it's possible that we will never get a day like that again in the history of the race!

It's been a big month or so of racing, with the 'A' race result at Surf Coast Century just a little off what I would have liked, but under the circumstances I have to be happy with how everything has gone. I've decided to knock the distances back a bit in racing and so two weeks ago ran the 25km option of the Running Wild Glenbrook Marathon.
Running the 25km at Glenbrook in the 235s
and using the new Inov-8 handhelds

Although it was only 8 days after SCC, my body felt stronger than it has been in a long time, and I managed to get around the beautiful Lower Blue Mountains National Park in a very pleasing course record time. I wore the new model Inov-8 Trail Roc 235 zeros. These were perfect on the mix of fire trail and loose leafed twisty single track (and they look great too!). You may also notice in the photo that I'm using two little hand held collapsible flasks to ensure I carried the mandatory water requirements. These are a great new product from Inov-8 and are very suitable for this type of race.

The weekend past I went down with my friend Wes and his family to the Western Sydney Marathon. Originally when I was putting dates into my calendar earlier in the year I had penciled in this one as the marathon where I would have a crack at the elusive sub 2:30 marathon. Having trained at the Regatta Centre  A LOT over the years (it's half way between work and home) I have a strange affinity with the 5km looped track around the rowing lake. I feel like it is a PB course if the variables like wind, heat etc don't play their part. On a still, cool day, it's fast and predictable. You can really get a sense of your pace and rhythm very early on and use the looped format to really hit your pace and lap segment times.

However, with all the big long trail races I've been doing in the last month or so I decided to drop it down, watch Wes in the half and then myself run around for the 10k; in the process supporting a great Western Sydney event and get a sense where I am exactly with my speed in a good tempo paced run. By 10:30 the temperatures had begun to nudge over the 25 degree mark and were climbing. It was hot, but I had nothing to complain about seeing that there were lots of marathoners and half marathoners who had been out there, and were to be out there much longer than I.

With Australian Marathon Champion and Inov-8 Australia
team mate, Alex Matthews.
36 minutes flat later and I crossed the line in a surprising first spot. I did not expect it nor deserve the win; but one I'll take as 'just getting lucky'! I can only think that all the fast track runners had decided to go surfing or something else much more suitable to the weather! There were some positives to take out of the run, it was pleasing to run under 16 and half for the first 5km. The second lap however is probably best not spoken about. It was also my first 10k win in over a year, my last being at the Bathurst 10k in 2012. Pleasingly it means I've won at all the major distances this year; 5k, 10k, 21.1k, 42.2k, 50k and 100k . Only the 100M one left to get now!

Alex Matthews just continues to continue on. Only 2 weeks after being crowned the Australian Marathon Champion, he again ran a great sub 2:30 (2:28) marathon in conditions that were far from easy. He is in really good form and I hope next year he targets a race to nab an Australian B qualifying time for the marathon and gets himself in the green and gold. Wes and Kellie also tasted success, both coming across the line in 4th in their respective half and 10k. These two are rapidly improving and watch out for both of them at the Mountain Sport's 50K Kanangra Trail Ultra.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Toughing it out at the Surf Coast Century

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it's less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you've lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that's good.” 
― Elizabeth Edwards

As the quote alludes to, this race was pretty much the contrasting opposite of my last 100k race, back in May at TNF100. It was probably a very timely reminder for me to never to take this ultra running caper for granted, and there definitely can be such thing as 'too much of a good thing!' My own high expectations make me reflect back on this race, not so much as me racing it, rather me finishing it. Completing and not competing would probably be more fitting. It was a day however, that I probably gained more from than a day when it all comes together nicely.

Turn back the clock a bit...

I was offered the trip down to Surf Coast Century after TNF100 from the event organisers, Rapid Ascent. Since I heard about the race last year, and having experienced the similar GOW100 last year, I was keen to get back down again to this lovely part of the world and run this spectacular looking race. I accepted the offer and plans and bookings were made. I was very keen to knock out a great time and all things pointed this way. The course has only a relatively small amount of climbing (1800m), there are lots of fast, runnable sections which suits my strengths and there was a cracking field assembled which would ensure we had to bring our 'A' game. Then I got the invitation from Inov-8, my main supporters, to Japan to race the Hakuba 50k; and suddenly I was in a predicament! Only 6 days after Hakuba was SCC!

How much Hakuba took out of me? Well I'm not going to venture there. I'm glad I did things the way I did and wouldn't, even with hindsight, change a thing. It's given me a hard test, probably knocked me back into reality and retaught me how hard ultras should and can be.

Leg 1: The 'faking it' leg
The stunning first leg!
The race started half an hour before sunrise, to coincide with low tide, consisting of 21km of hard sand running along the beaches of the Surf Coast, such as Point Addis and Jan Juc, all the way along to Torquay. I call this the 'faking it' leg as I was doing just that. The legs were ticking over pretty well and weren't complaining too much. Without any real testing sections it was always going to be fast and furious and I had a great time running under giant sandstone cliffs, over rock ledges and reef platforms, avoiding rock pools and through channels and inlets. Andy Lee and I ran most of this first leg together at a pretty descent clip. I can't describe to you how beautiful and unique this leg is! Running along beaches, the rolling hypnotic waves of the ocean on the right and the giant cliffs on the left. We admired the surfers doing their thing on the curling lefh hand breaks at Bells Beach and I thought to myself that this is definitely the Australian flavour of trail running. Europe have their giant mountains but we have our majestic coastline! It wasn't all rosy though! I did have one moment early on when a small channel turned out to be quite a deep gully and I went over in the salty, sandy water. Serves me right for not starting with a headlamp!

Leg 2: The 'reality bites' leg
After leaving the well stocked and encouraging support at the aid station at Torquay Beach, Andy and I set off on the second leg which started off on gravel footpaths which ran adjacent to the beach - the 'Surf Coast Walk'. This has its lumps and bumps but at very best could be described as gently undulating. However, from my perspective, as soon as we hit the first few little rises I knew that it was going to be a tough day at the office. My legs had no drive and purpose and the lactic acid was hanging around way too long after each extra effort. Each little climb and Andy would pull ahead. I was just managing to hold on; the flats were keeping me in it but I knew pretty much then that this was going to be a battle.

Pushing through the Ironbarks section
Not long after the Bells Beach car park, Rowan Walker eased by and took Andy with him. I was kind of glad, I could fake it no longer and I settled into a much more circumspect rhythm. At around the 29km mark the course heads inland and through some beautiful Ironbark forests along twisty, windy single track. This is stuff I would usually love, but my legs were aching and the downhills were testing the already complaining quads and hamstrings. I was at best nursing myself down the downhills and crawling the ups. Andy, who had come back to me after losing Rowen, again pulled away on the ups but each time there was enough flat for me to bring him back. At around 35km Ben Duffus bounded past in his Hokas looking fresh as a daisy and he wasn't unexpected either. This is a young guy with loads of potential (7th in TNF100). He offered me some encouragement but I remember saying something about pulling the pin on the race soon. I wished him well for the rest of the race and off he went in the distance to chase down Rowan.

I limped in to the next checkpoint tired and frustrated. I was unable to capitalise on any of the fast sections of that leg. The support from all the Rapid Ascent crew at the checkpoint was amazing, offering me all the assistance I needed, but they didn't have what I really needed...a new pair of legs! All the thoughts of pulling out here were dashed; with all these lovely people encouraging me there was no way I could end it...well not there anyway!

Leg 3: The 'let the battles begin' leg
The next leg is the toughest leg of the race and took us out through the stunning Otway Ranges hinterland, through Eucalypt forests blanketed in wildflowers, past waterfalls and by some cool lookouts. It is the hilliest of all the legs and I knew that if I was to finish this race I had to somehow get through this leg come hell or highwater! There were so many sections of this leg when I wanted to end it but in my mind that was never going to be an option. I had decided that whatever it took to finish I would do it, even if it I had to stumble and bumble my way to the finish I would. On this leg I had somehow managed to creep ahead of Andy and so was still in 3rd spot. Not that position mattered, I was now simply surviving this race.

The beautiful bushland gave me plenty of stimulus to divert the negative thoughts, and I used lots and lots of mindfulness techniques to do anything but think about pain and fatigue I was feeling. While my heart was always in the race to finish, my mind needed some coaxing, and I'd already given up on my legs coming good! I began really focusing on the small but really uplifting things; the bird calls, the refreshing breeze against my body and the beautiful flora around me - grass trees and fern fronds were very abundant. Half way up the long slow grind at the 60k mark I was joined by a relay runner and we ran together all the way to the checkpoint at 77km. While we didn't talk each other's ears off, we offered each other the company that sometimes is what you need to keep plugging away. He was struggling a bit with some stomach issues, and like two wounded soldiers we encouraged each other all the way to the checkpoint. Thanks mate!

One of the short but tough climbs in leg 3
Reaching the checkpoint marked the end of the toughest leg and while my spirits had lifted somewhat, I was feeling very fatigued. In the rush of my trip down the night before, I had missed the opportunity to hand in my drop bag and so had to rely on the sustenance supplied by the event. But to my mind, that had been searching for excuses to give up all day, this was it! With an excuse ready made for me, I was just about to sit down and take a rest when I heard "Brendan...over here mate, we have all you need"! It was Shane and Belinda Simpson and Veronica Lee, three of the loveliest people you could ever meet, willing me over to have some of the supplies that they had on hand (they were crewing for Andy Lee). Deep down I though...damn have to keep going now, but also this generosity of spirit that they were showing uplifted me enough to shuffle off again. And so I did.

Leg 4: The 'reward for perseverance' leg
Not long after the 'douch grade' climb out of the checkpoint I reached Ocean Views Ridge, a breathtaking view of the coastline down to Lorne and scattered ocean rock monuments. It was here we finally headed back towards the coast and in an Easterly direction back to the finish line at Anglesea. At Fairhaven, around the 81km mark I was joined by George and Dion who were out doing a bit of a jog as a warm up before their sweeping and demarking the course duties they had to do later that night. Dion dropped back after a quick chat and George joined me for a leisurely (for him) couple of kms. He was great company as he told me about his exploits in the ultra running world and goals he's ticked off this year. At round 83km, James Roberts cruised past and finally I felt more relieved than anything that I was out of the top 3. With nothing, from a racing perspective, left to fight for, I could now enjoy some walking and relaxing, and pretty much succumb to my bodies every demands to the finish line!

But less than a km later I could see a figure walking ahead and it was Rowan Walker, who sadly, was struggling with a hamstring injury. From all accounts Rowan was looking really good for all of the race out in front and it was this injury that brought him undone. Ultra running can be a cruel beast! Finding myself back in 3rd, I was resolute now to hold this position and even, if there was a chance, try and get back into 2nd. After getting up to the lighthouse and over the pinchy headland at Aireys Inlet, we hit the cliff top track - just a supremely gorgeous trail, which winds its way over headlands and past rocky pinnacles such as Urquhart Bluff. I was running pretty well, at a consistent rhythm and was actually looking forward to the flat beach run coming up where I may have a shot at gathering in James.

With scenery like this, who wouldn't be smiling?
Down onto Urquhart Beach and 4km of sand running had me snaking around the watermark, chasing the hardest part of the sand on each wave of the incoming tide. I could see James ahead (I couldn't miss his flouro green shirt!) and knew it was a good couple of minutes and too great a distance to gather in. I really enjoyed the beach run, the salty air and sea spray, together with a tail wind was energising me to the finish. Off the beach and up and over Point Roadknight and down back onto Angleasea Beach; I was almost home. A bit of a run through the crowd of supporters and I had finished; broken but satisfied, tired but reminded of what ultra running is all about.

Congratulations must go to Ben Duffus and James Roberts, who both came to the dance ready to rumba and ran superbly well executed races. Commiserations to the reigning champ Rowan Walker, who was only stopped by a failing body. Both Ben and James are two young guys who are no doubt destined for much bigger things in the years to come. A big shout out too to my old sparring partner Andy Lee who dug deep and gutsed it out for a well deserved top 4th spot. He's been killing the shorter style races this year so it's great to see him finish strong in a longer one. But it was a day for the young pups. It was really great to see the 'new blood' dominate the placings, which can only be great for the sport in general. In the ladies event, less than 10 minutes separated the top 3, with Kiwi Whitney Dagg taking the win, only minutes ahead of 17 year old!!! Lucy Bartholomew. If this is an indication of the new breed of ultra runner in Australasia than the sport is in a healthy state.

I really enjoyed coming down and being part of the Surf Coast Century. It's great to see a race director take the local terrain, walking tracks and conditions and incorporate them into a uniquely Australian trail race. While this race has neither huge elevation gain nor overly technical sections, it makes up for it in its wide variety of truly Australian landscapes and environments that take each competitor on a journey of the Surf Coast's best features.

Champ Ben (centre), James 2nd (right)
In my post race interview after crossing the finishing line with the always smiling Adele from Rapid Ascent, I said that I had to dig deeper than I've ever had to dig before to finish a race. It was one of those days that never went to plan, but it was a day I'll remember forever as one of the biggest battles I've been in. But the battle wasn't against other competitors, nor the course, the battle was entirely with myself. And I won it and I''m really proud of that!

Inov-8 X -Talon 190s (great on the beach sections!)
Injinji 2.0 Original Weight Performance Socks
Inov-8 Debrigaitors
Inov-8 branded compression shorts
Hammer branded RaceReady Running Tank Top
Injinji Branded Headsweat Visor

Suunto Ambit 2

UltrAspire Surge Pack (great for the amount of mandatory gear required)

Ate and Drank...
Hammer Gels; Tropical
Hammer Perpetuem (solids and liquid form)
Hammer Enduralytes
Red Bull at 87km

Recovered with...
Hammer Recoverite
Chips and Beer
Good friends, new friends and randoms at the Anglesea Pub!
A 14.2 Trail Run on Sunday morning all for the love of a 'Concrete Shoe'!!
I worked hard for this Concrete Shoe!
All photos courtesy of