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!