Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Trail Shoes

I ran my first seven ultras all in road shoes, starting off with a heavy pair of Adidas Glides, and gradually progressing to lighter weight racing flats. My go-to shoe in the first half of 2014 had been the Adidas Adios Boost, which is worn by many of the world's leading marathoners.

I had been thinking for a while that I needed some more traction on some of the trails I was training on, and I struggled a bit on the steep climb up from Trig Track during Roller Coaster, with my feet slipping out from under me quite a bit. However, it was a bad experience with my feet at TNF that finally jolted me into action. There were quite a few technical sections that had me slipping all over the place, and the resultant pressure I was placing downwards on my toes trying to keep my feet was the major cause of losing both big toenails.

And so began the quest for the perfect trail shoe. So far since TNF, I have bought four pairs, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and each have found their own niche in the different sessions I do during the week.

Inov-8 Trailroc 255
The first pair of trail shoes I bought were the Inov-8 255's, and despite not being suitable for the task I bought them for (ultra racing), they are actually my most most-used pair. They live outside the front door, and go on my feet four mornings a week for an easy 9k trail with my Kelpie Billy. From the start I found them quite hard underneath my feet, possibly due to the rockplate, and they simply weren't going to give me enough cushioning for long training runs, but feel a little clunky for racing. Although they have found a purpose, I probably won't replace them when they wear out.
Weight: 280g
Heel: 22mm
Forefoot: 16mm
Drop: 6mm

Inov-8 Trailroc 255

Asics Gel Fuji Trainer 3
The second pair I bought, the Fuji's have been an exceptional workhorse for me, with many trips up Arthurs seat, and mainly being used on trail runs from 20-40k. They are light, flexible, and very comfortable, and provide good traction on all surfaces except extreme mud. The other things I like about them are the gusseted tongue which helps keep dirt out, and the lace garage at the top of the tongue for storing the laces while running - particularly good for overgrown trails. The more I run in this shoe, the more I like it, and will definitely get another pair when they wear out.

Weight: 272g
Heel: 18mm
Forefoot: 10mm
Drop: 8mm

Asics Gel Fuji Trainer 3

Mizuno Hayate
The Hayates I bought at pretty much the same time as the Kazans below. They are Mizuno's lightweight racing trail shoe, and I wore them at Surf Coast Century until I dropped at CP3. I don't wear them a lot as the plan is to keep them for racing, but I take them out occasionally for runs of 20k or less. I always feels very nimble and fast when I wear them, and they will be the ideal shoe for Two Bays, as the very tight weave of the upper, along with the surface coating is great at keeping sand out.

Weight: 252g
Heel: 21mm
Forefoot: 15mm
Drop: 6mm

Mizuno Kazan
The Kazans are the most cushioned pair on the list, and I generally keep them for 30k plus runs, or when there is a bit of tarmac involved. They are really comfortable, and the original plan was to get another pair for TNF, however I am re-thinking that due to some shortcomings. I've found them to be a bit unstable on technical terrain due to a couple of things. Firstly, the inside of the upper is lined with a very slippery material which causes the foot to move around within the shoe. Secondly, the upper material is quite stiff, especially at the rear, meaning there is not much flex or give on rough terrain. I've often found myself worried I was going to roll an ankle. Still a great shoe for 4+ hour training runs, and I may wear them for Two Bays if I think I'm going to go much over 5 hours, which at this stage looks likely.
Weight: 278g
Heel: 29mm
Forefoot: 17mm
Drop: 12mm

Next on the List:

Saucony Peregrine 4
The Peregrine's have been getting some great reviews, and I want to get a pair of these soon to try as a possible TNF option, as they are flexible but well cushioned.

Nike Terra Kiger
A lightweight trail shoe with minimal protection, I will probably look at these when the Inov-8's wear out for my morning Billy runs.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Diagnosis

Since my last post, a fair bit has happened on the injury front. After improving gradually for a while, I decided to test the waters with a couple of faster pick ups during a run, and straight away, the injury flared up to the point where I could barely walk the next day. The sharp stabbing pain in the abdominals that caused my drop at Surf Coast Century was back, along with the pain radiating down through my abductor, and a general soreness throughout the pubic region.

So I finally bit the bullet, and made an appointment with a sports physician, who referred me for an MRI. I got the scan done at the amazing Imaging @ Olympic Park, a fairly new facility located underneath AAMI Park. When the scans came back, the doctor was amazed at the quality of images generated by their state of the art machinery, and commented that 18 months ago my injury probably would not have been picked up by lesser equipment. So anyone who needs an MRI, I would totally recommend paying the extra cost to get it done properly.

The MRI report found that I have mild tearing of the insertion points where the main abdominal and abductor muscles attach to the pubic bone, a condition known as Athletic Pubalgia. This is causing the tendons to become inflamed, and pain being referred back up through the abdominals and down through the abductor. It is also causing a stress reaction to the pubic bone, resulting in inflammation and fluid build up in the marrow.

Location of the injury

The injury is really common in American NFL and ice hockey players where there involves sharp twisting and turning, so it appears that the culprit in my case was probably the stairwell repeats I was doing in my office building. At the bottom of each flight, I would be landing on my left foot and pivoting around to go down the next flight. At over 4000 stairs a session, this was a lot of stress on that area.

In serious cases, the injury may require surgical repair, and sometimes an abductor release, but given that I am at the lower end of the scale, that shouldn't be necessary, So to treat it, I am on a course of anti-inflammatorys, along with regular massage and icing of the area every night. I can still run, but have to make sure I start and finish each run really slowly, and keep the tempo well in my aerobic range. So far I have been really disciplined with this, to the point where the pain is steadily decreasing, and I have also been able to slowly build up my mileage.

I am pretty confident now I will still be able to run Two Bays, although I'm unlikely to be anywhere near my peak and will probably still be carrying some pain. The plan is to run really conservatively early, run a small positive split (2:35/2:45), and hopefully sneak under 5:20.

Unfortunately, the injury flared up at the time Cradle Mountain entries opened, so I didn't enter and that race is now off the table for 2015. I have already entered for Roller Coaster in March, and TNF100 again in May, and the lottery for Western States in America in June. That is a very long shot to get in - less than 5% chance I think - so most likely it will be a nice rest after TNF, and then get ready for another crack at Surf Coast.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Recovering with MAF Training

After my DNF at Surf Coast Century, I arrived home, threw my race number in the bin, and packed away my event t-shirt and buff with tags still attached, never to be worn until a return to the scene of my shame sees redemption on a grand scale. Or something like that.

In the month since, despite not getting an official diagnosis on the injury, I've been gradually building up my running time by keeping the pace slow, and my heart rate down. There was still slight pain towards the end of a run, and a flare up the next day if I pushed a little too hard, but by and large I've been fairly good, and every day there is the tiniest bit of improvement, to the point where today I had my first totally pain free run since August 1st.

What has helped has been the purchase of a book called The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Phil Maffetone, which has at its heart an approach called MAF Training (Maximum Aerobic Function). The idea is that all training during a base period (ideally 4 months) should be aerobic rather than anaerobic (tempos, intervals, etc). It provides a formula for 180 - your age as the maximum heart rate you should be training at, with some variable adjustments based on certain factors. For example I had to subtract another 5 as I am returning from injury.

Thanks Doctor Phil!!

This formula gave me a MAF target HR of 129, which turned out to be unbelievably slow. So slow that I would have to walk up hills I would normally easily run up. The discipline this took cannot be underestimated. Particularly on a recent hot day when I was overtaken uphill by an overweight bald guy, who commented as he passed "Hard work isn't it?" It took every ounce of self control not to scream at him "I'LL HAVE YOU KNOW I HOLD THE STRAVA CR FOR THIS CLIMB!!".

The theory is that gradually you will be able to run faster at the same heart rate, which will keep you in the zone that teaches the body to burn fat rather than glycogen as it's primary fuel source. So far this has proven to be fairly accurate, with the pace for my morning 8k trail run dropping by about 20 seconds in a month at the same effort. In the last week, I have ditched the HR monitor mainly because staring at my watch constantly was (a) making my HR go up, and (b) making me fall over a lot. I feel like I've got the effort needed to maintain a low HR dialled in, and losing the monitor has provided a more enjoyable daily experience.

This will hopefully make me a stronger, and more durable runner, although I accept in the short term there will be some performance trade offs. It may be 1-2 years before I can run at the same level, and I don't expect to be blasting out a 4:07 at Roller Coaster next year. But I love just running a lot more than I love running competitively, and taking a step back doesn't bother me as long as I can just get out every day.

The steps I took to improve performance through changes in running gait and increased training load proved to be ill-conceived, and I have to accept that I was probably running close to my level, and there simply wasn't any more left in the well to be found. Running slowly again has allowed me to examine my bio-mechanics, and it wasn't pretty. My left glute had stopped firing which was either the cause of, or a result of the injury, placing all the strain on the abdominals and abductors. In addition, I had developed a pronounced lean to the right, probably also because of the injury. Gradually, I'm getting everything back in balance, standing up straighter, and getting the glute driving the left knee forward again. Since doing this, the injury seems to be improving more rapidly.

It was great getting out yesterday for 20k on my local trails, cruising the Mt Eliza Quarry Circuit at an easy pace for my longest run since SCC, and just enjoying the warmth of the day, being by myself in the bush, and happy to be running. I will still try and race about 4 times a year, just to get that competitive buzz, but it's fair to say that the last two months have given me some perspective on its importance.

The start of the climb from Two Bays Road
up the Quarry track

View towards Western Port Bay from the Quarry Track lookout

Monday, September 22, 2014

Surf Coast Century - DNF

Well, I guess it had to happen sooner or later. You're not a real ultra runner until you've had a DNF! I suppose in the back of my mind I had real doubts about whether I was going to be able to get through a 100k with my current issues, but I tried to go in with a positive frame of mind and hope for the best.

All set to run 30% of my race!!

The race started promisingly enough, cruising through the 4k out and back feeling good, chatting with Stephen Rennick for a while, then settling into a nice pace with Andy Turner as we went back past the start line and started the long haul up the beach towards Torquay. The first sign of trouble came at the 8k mark, as we scrambled over rocks going over a small headland. I slipped a couple of times, and each time there was a sharp tug of pain in my stomach as the injury made itself known.

From that point on, a dull ache gradually became a sharp stabbing one each time my left leg came forward, and another couple of minor slips on the rocks at around 15k, further exacerbated the situation. By the time I reached CP1 at 21k, I pretty much knew my day was done, but in another one of my questionable in-race decisions, decided to press on to see if it got any worse. And sure enough, worse it got. By 28k, it was like a knife going into my stomach, and I could no longer run. I limped the last 4k into CP3 at the 32k mark, told a marshall I was dropping, and got a lift back to the start from a lovely couple who had witnessed my less than speedy arrival at the checkpoint.

Once back at the start, I sat down with Allie for a while, and we watched the leaders come through at the half way point. Andy was travelling beautifully, and went on to have a great race, finishing 7th in 9:27. He also raced in the Salomon series event the next day, and won the concrete shoe for the fastest combined time over the two events. A great effort and result from a bloke whose company I have really enjoyed in training runs over the past couple of months. Seeing him do so well was a silver lining to a pretty shitty weekend.

Winner of the concrete shoe - Andy Turner!

The Monday after the race I saw the surgeon my GP referred to me to. The consultation lasted all of 5 minutes, and was easily the quickest I have ever spent $150. He decided immediately that I didn't have a traditional hernia, which I had already worked out anyway, and referred me to a sports physician down the road. Before rapidly dismissing me from his esteemed presence, he mentioned possible causes which were already on my radar such as ligament damage, impinged nerve, and Osteitis Pubis, which had been my original self-diagnosis.

So far I haven't seen the sports physician, or even made an appointment. I've decided just to rest for a couple of weeks to see if it improves and go from there. I'm still getting out 3-4 mornings a week with our kelpie Billy, just for an easy 8k at 6+ min/km pace. I find if I don't run any faster than this, then the injury doesn't get any worse. Icing and Neurofen also seem to help, which does tend to suggest that inflammation in that area is the root cause.

Hopefully I can get this right within a month, which will still leave me plenty of time to get ready for Two Bays.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Surf Coast Century - Preview

With Surf Coast Century 100k only 5 days away, I'm well in to my taper, and gradually the accumulated fatigue is falling away. I went out for a cruisy 7k with our kelpie Billy this morning, and while still a bit tired, was starting to feel a bit of pep back in the legs.

The injury is still bothering me, but improves a bit with rest, so I'm hoping I can get through at least the first 20k relatively pain free. It appears I have a sports hernia rather than the regular type, which is a tear to one of the tendons that run from the groin through the inguinal canal to the abdominal area. This explains why I have no bulge though the stomach wall, and why the pain radiates down through the abductors and groin area. The upside is, I may be able to avoid surgery, though a long stint on the sidelines will be unavoidable. For now, it is what it is, and I'll just have to accept it on race day.

Apart from that, the training has been going reasonable well, although I have held back a bit in intensity, not wanting to risk too much damage. In August, I logged an all time high of 605k, with 62 hours of running. This may have put me over the top a bit, as I was pretty tapped out all last week, and ended up doing less than 50k in the first week of my taper, when I had planned to do about 70k.

The highlight for me was a great day out with Andy Turner and the guys from the Peninsula Trail Runners a couple of weeks ago. Andy and I started in in Greens Bush, Mornington Peninsula National Park at 6am, running the first half hour by head torch, until we climbed out of a little gully and all of a sudden we were running in the morning light, through the beautiful bushland, with not another soul around.

Andy and me. 6am Greens Bush.

We ran steadily through the park, out of the Greens Bush section, and across Boneo Road, then on to the Bushrangers Bay track towards Cape Schanck where we were meeting the PTR guys. We arrived at the car park with 14k done almost exactly at the planned time of 7:30, then we all headed along the Coastal Trail towards Gunnamatta. We then ran along the beach to Rye, before turning around and heading back to Cape Schanck. The PTR boys called it a day, and with a marathon already in our back pockets, Andy and I set off towards Greens Bush for the final 14k.

Mornington Peninsula - St Andrews Beach

And then, what I had been hoping was a casual jog back to the cars, turned into something completely different! Andy gradually cranked up the pace until we were absolutely hauling through the final 5k, dropping a 4:30 split for kilometre 56, and leaving me absolutely spent when we arrived back. In the end my Garmin said 57km in 6hrs 20min, but that didn't really reflect the effort, as the beach sections were very hard going on the soft sand.

In the end, it was probably a bit silly of me to chase Andy that hard. I had come off a big week, with that run putting me up to 175k, and he was a bit fresher, and is absolutely flying at the moment. I'm predicting a big race for him on Saturday, where I think he could potentially run top 6. As a result, I couldn't hit my sessions properly during the week, cutting my Wednesday long run short, but I was able to recover enough to go back to back the next weekend, with 37k on Arthurs Seat on the Saturday, then running the full 56k Two Bays old course on the Sunday to top out at 152k for the week.

I've never run this sort of mileage before, so it's a bit of a crap shoot whether it will work out for me or not. Whatever the case, I'm really looking forward to the race. The course is said to be stunning, combining beach, single track and forest, in a figure 8 that loops back to the start at the half way point. The scale of the event probably puts it up there as the biggest event in Victoria, although it has some way to go before rivalling TNF100.

Surf Coast Century Course Map

Allie and I will head down to Anglesea on Friday afternoon, and after I register, we'll just have a quiet dinner, and relax in the motel. I'm staying away from all the pre-race stuff, as I don't think it helped me at TNF, and hopefully I'll get some good rest and sleep, and be ready to go at 6am on Saturday morning. I'd like to run 9:30, but with my issues at the moment that could be a bit optimistic, and it might be closer to 10:30. If things go completely awry, I'll just be happy to sneak in under 12 hours and score the one litre beer stein, which apparently they fill for free at the Anglesea Hotel post race!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hernias & PBs

About 3 weeks ago, towards the end of a particularly hard treadmill threshold session, I noticed some pain in my lower abdomen/groin area. Thinking it was just a strain, I didn't worry too much about it, but it got progressively worse over a week, culminating with having to cut short an easy run while I was in Wollongong visiting a client.

After some internet research, I confidently self-diagnosed with Osteitis Pubis (I TOLD YOU, I'M NOT THAT KIND OF DOCTOR), and visited a massage therapist who had claimed some success with treating that sort of injury. He agreed that my ligaments seemed very tight through that area, and proceeded to subject me to all kinds of torturous manipulation that had me yelling in pain, for which I thanked him by paying him $80 and was on my way.

In the few days prior to seeing him, the injury had settled down enough to continue training, and in fact the Tuesday of my appointment, I broke my 14k lunchtime loop PB, an effort I improved on again two days later. The massage didn't seem to improve the injury though. Sitting up was difficult, coughing hurt as well, and sneezing was agonizing enough to have me doubled over in pain.

The running itself was bearable, with the pain at about a 5/10, sometimes worse. After a few kilometres though, I tend to be able to block it out, particularly as I get fatigued and concentrate more on keeping form and cadence. Apart from every stride being painful, it's actually been a pretty successful training block leading in to Surf Coast Century. The two 14k PBs came after a weekend where I did the 42k Arthurs Seat Triple on consecutive days, and by the Friday, I'd clocked 179k in 7 days, easily my biggest ever.

I treated myself to an easy weekend, hoping the injury would show signs of improvement, but by Tuesday, after a hard interval session on the Seaford Trail where I blitzed one of my splits in a quick (for me) 3:42, I was pretty sore again the next day, and decided I better go see the doc. Well it turns out, I almost certainly have an Inguinal Hernia, which wasn't the best news I have heard for a while. The doctor was pretty careful about advising whether I can keep running or not, but obviously once I got home, I jumped on the web again to suss it out.

The upshot is, the risks of doing serious damage are pretty low, and if I can cope with the pain, then I can probably keep running. The first available appointment with the surgeon was not until two days after Surf Coast Century, so I figured that was a sign to forge ahead. That decided, I celebrated by taking a couple of Panadol, and heading out for a hard 15k road/trail loop, which I completed in 1:03:18 at 4:13 pace. This is way quicker than I have ever done that loop before, which makes the injury news even more disappointing. Once I do have surgery, there'll be no running for 6 weeks, and at my age, it will take me ages to capture this sort of form again (if ever).

Given that I don't have private health cover, the waiting time for surgery could be at least 6 months, which means if it doesn't get substantially worse, I can probably still do Two Bays in January, but everything after that is up in the air at the moment. I'm trying not to be too despondent about it. There are plenty worse off than me, and I can still keep running for now. I'm fit, in form, and ready to give SCC a real shake, hoping to break 9:30, and run top 8. While it will be painful, I imagine that by 50k, it won't even be in the top 3 things bothering me, and by the end of 100k, probably not even top 5!

Two big runs coming up this weekend - back to the Arthurs Seat Triple on Saturday afternoon, then on Sunday morning, Andy Turner is coming down to join me for an epic 58k Greens Bush to Rye Back Beach return. It will be interesting to see how it holds up. Slow steady runs don't seem to bother it as much as the harder sessions, so if I get through the weekend OK, I'll have a lot more confidence for the race.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Leeches and Stingy Things

A couple of weeks ago we decided to go away for the night with the kids to celebrate my partner Allie's 36th 29th birthday. I'd seen some nice photos of Tarra-Bulga National Park in the Strzelecki Ranges about 2.5 hours drive south-east of Melbourne, so I booked a cabin at the nearby Tarra Valley Caravan Park, and after a lazy Saturday morning, we headed off about 11.

The caravan park was great, with a combination of cabins, powered and non-powered sites, and communal barbecue sheds where you could sit around an open fire and toast marshmallows, if you happen to like marshmallows and other people. It was also only 40 mins drive from Port Albert at Ninety Mile Beach, so really it is the perfect spot for winter or summer holidays.

As soon as we arrived, we drove about 10 mins up the road to the Tarra Valley Rainforest Walk, has some lunch in the shelters at the car park, then spent an hour walking through beautiful rainforest, including the lookout at Cyathea Falls. It was truly an amazing place, and we all agreed that we will definitely be coming back on a regular basis.

Tarra Valley Picnic Area

The next morning I got up at 5am for a run. Although it was a family getaway, there was no way I was going to miss out on a trail run in such a great spot! Rugged up with beanie, gloves and head torch, I headed out of the park, and ran up the road for about 10 mins before branching off on to the Link Track, which was supposed to take me up to the main Diaper Track, then on to Balook.

The track was heavily overgrown and basically headed straight up. My third km took me 18 mins as I battled up the hill, regularly losing the track in the dark and having to retrace my steps. Fortunately, there were track markers with reflective arrows along the way, which were easily picked up by my head torch, so I never got too lost. Also about half way up I started to see course flagging ribbons on the trees, which I assumed were left over from the Duncan's Run ultra held in the area last December. The other little surprise was the stinging plants which left nasty rashes on my legs for a few days, and the leeches which jumped on board for the ride!

Finally, I hooked up with the Diaper track, which was still overgrown in parts, but much wider fire trail, and settled into some easy running up a gradual climb. It was still dark through this section, and there was lots of tree debris on the trail so I had the head torch pointed down most of the time, trying to avoid a face plant. After a while, the fire trail widened into access road, and as the light peeped through, I found myself running through a plantation area. This was a bit boring, but after a another km, I was back in the park for the best part of the run.

The pay-off 

Huge Mountain Ash trees soaring into the mist, giant ferns hanging over the trail, soft and mossy underfoot, it was an awesome way to start the day. I ran on for another couple of kms, almost making it to Balook, but turned back, conscious of the time. The climb up Link had taken a lot longer than expected and I didn't want Allie worrying about me. The return journey back along Diaper Track in the light was lots of fun, leaping over the fallen branches, and hurling myself down the descent. Back on Link though, it was a scramble back down, slipping on mossy rocks, getting stung again, and picking up another batch of leeches. Maybe they were the same leeches just wanting a ride back.

I'm not smiling. I'm grimacing at the leeches ATTACHED TO MY LEGS.

I cruised back down the road to the caravan park, feeling very happy with the morning's work - 16.88 km in a very slow 2:30 - and washing my very muddy Trailrocs in the freezing Tarra River on the way back. Link to the run below:

After brekkie, we checked out, then drove up to the Balook Visitor Centre to do the walks from there, which were even more beautiful than the day before. Checking out the Corrigan Suspension Bridge and back through the Fern Gully walk. It was a great weekend, and I can't recommend it enough. In fact it could well become our regular family holiday spot, as we are planning on buying a camper trailer later this year, and the powered sites make it a cheap option for an extended stay. Duncan's Run will definitely be on the radar now, depending on how I recover from Surf Coast Century.

Corrigan Suspension Bridge

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Treadmills & Stairwells

Since finally shaking off my post-TNF fatigue, I've been gradually building up the mileage again, but carefully and with more rest days than I would normally have. I pulled out of You Yangs a while back, as I just wasn't going to be ready to race by then, and had also been giving Surf Coast Century in September second thoughts.

The last couple of weeks though, I seem to have turned the corner, and on the weekend went back-to-back for the first time in ages with 26k on the Saturday, then a very fun 30k on Sunday morning with the Peninsula Trail Runners in Red Hill. It left me tired, but not overly so, and I probably could have gone another 10k without issue. It's put SCC firmly back on the agenda, and if I can put in a solid 26/32 this weekend, then I will probably put my entry in next week.

I have also gone back to the basic training schedule I had used for a year up until March, when for some unknown reason I changed it leading up to TNF. After Roller Coaster, I started to do progressively longer runs for 4 days straight from Thursday-Sunday, I think with the idea that I would build up a level of fatigue that would replicate a race effort by Sunday. I don't really think it worked, and along with a too-long taper, may have contributed to my poor TNFort (see what I did there?).

So I have gone back to the following schedule which got me racing well in the first place. The distance ranges vary depending on where I am in my training cycle, peaking 2 and 3 weeks out from a race. I also drop back my mileage every four weeks to about 75-80k, either by reducing all runs, or simply missing my Sunday long run. The paces given are approximate, depending on the terrain, and how I am feeling.

Monday - Recovery run - 10-12k - 4:50p
Tuesday - Threshold/tempo 11-14k - 4:10-4:30p (six weeks out from a race this changes to speed intervals)
Wednesday - Either long trail run 18-20k - 4:40-5:00, or multiple stair repeats in building stairwell
Thursday - Usually another threshold same as Tuesday, but if tired I'll run a bit easier
Friday - Rest
Saturday - Long trail run - 20-32k (slightly above race pace)
Sunday - Long trail run - 24-56k (race pace, or slightly over)

Total - 90-140k

While usually I would do the weekday runs on the local trails, for the last few weeks I have basically been on the treadmill Mon, Tue, Thu, and in the stairwell on Wednesday. Partly, this has been because of the shitty weather lately, but also to help give my knee ligaments a chance to heal without the twisting and turning on the trails. The Wednesday stair sessions have helped strengthen my achilles tendons, which are already feeling much better, as well as starting the conditioning I will need when I return to TNF next May.

Last week was my first solid week with 92k, and I will gradually build this up, peaking at about 145k two weeks out from the race, which will be 8 weeks away on Saturday (Sep 13).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Still Recovering

TNF really did a number on my poor old body. Recovery has been slow, and 4 weeks on from the event on Sunday, I ran an awful 25k long run at a glacial pace of 6:43 min/km, where I felt pretty much shit from start to finish. Meanwhile, some of my usual sparring partners were running sub-3 marathons out at Traralgon.

The bad - my shitty Sunday long run

There are still the remnants of injury hanging about, including ITB soreness on the outside of my right knee, which got quite painful in the last 5k on Sunday. But the main thing is a weird kind of soreness that appears in my legs towards the latter part of any kind of effort run I do. It is not the normal kind of fatigue or burning that I am quite used to, but an almost nausea-inducing ache, that totally flattens me and is impossible to run through.

I suppose I just have to be patient and expect that as an over-40 runner, my recovery is going to take a little longer than I had hoped. I will certainly do things a bit different next year, including a full two weeks off post race. I started trying to run too early which has not helped things, and entering You Yangs 80k wasn't the smartest move either. Even though it is still 5 weeks away, it put additional pressure on me to ramp up my k's too soon.

On the plus side, I did get some new shoes - my first ever real life proper trail shoes - the Inov-8 Trailroc 255's. They're not an aggressive (big lugged) outsole shoe, but more suited to the hard packed and loose trails I normally run on. My feet were a bit sore as they are a bit firmer underfoot than my road shoes, but I think I will adapt, and the difference in grip I had was definitely noticeable.

The good - my new shoes!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The North Face 100 - Race Report

It's definitely possible to be disappointed and satisfied at the same time. Totally demoralised, yet absolutely exhilarated. The North Face 100 was an ongoing contradiction, both while running it, and in the days after. My lofty expectations for the race had been well and truly torpedoed before the halfway mark, but despite feeling miserable for a good portion of the day, I was still able to enjoy the incredible beauty of the country we ran through, and appreciate how lucky I am to be able to compete in such an event.

The weekend started with a Friday morning rendezvous at Melbourne Airport with my travelling companions Andy, Simon and Dave. These guys were great company all weekend. Lots of laughs, and I couldn't have imagined a better bunch of blokes to take on this monster with. At my insistence, we arrived an hour before boarding to ensure we enjoyed a pre-flight pint of Guinness at PJ O'Briens, and then it was off to Sydney. On arrival, we picked up the hire car for our drive to Katoomba with Andy at the wheel, and after a couple of wrong turns, I was quickly sacked as navigator, and Dave guided us safely to our destination.

Our cabin was right by the start/finish area at Scenic World, and as soon as we checked in, we all got our drop bags ready and headed up to the registration and briefing. At the expo, I had a quick chat to Stephen Rennick, who I had run with for a while at Roller Coaster. A really nice guy, and we wished each other well for the next day. The elite athlete forum was held on stage before the briefing, and as it was the first of these I had ever attended, I listened hard, hoping for some insights. It was a bit disappointing - I had hoped to hear more about shoe and gear choice, hydration/nutrition strategy, etc - and is probably something I wouldn't bother with again. What had become apparent though, was that my target time of 11:00-11:30 based on previous years was probably unrealistic. There was plenty of chatter about how the new course would add at least half an hour to times, and I decided that sub 12 would be my revised goal. I was also slightly disconcerted by the constant mention of stairs. I knew there were stairs, but I had possibly underestimated how many!

With Dave, Simon & Andy before the start.
Mick Keyte (42) on the left photo-bombing.

I slept pretty well, and was up at 4:30 for a quick shower and breakfast, then had a light jog to warm up before heading back to the cabin to collect my pack. Back at the start line, the energy was amazing, as people bounced on their toes, stretched, and got their game face on for the day ahead. At 6:30, start group 1 of 6, was sent away, with the rest of the groups to follow at intervals. It was a 4k out and back road section to break the field up, and the pace was solid early, and while I wasn't really pushing, I was definitely at the outer limits of how hard I wanted to be running at that point. I hit the top of the Furber steps descent in about 25th position, but as soon as we started down, I was quickly passed by a few people more nimble on their feet. Almost straight away, I was dripping buckets of sweat, and I had to stop and stow my beanie and gloves, which cost me another 10 places as people came hurtling down the steps. By the time the trail levelled out through the rocky Landslide section, I was stuck behind a long train of people with limited opportunities to pass. Stupidly, I became anxious about losing time, and wasted too much energy in passing, when I should have just sat back and conserved.

At 9k, we began the 250m ascent up the Golden Stairs, and I hiked solidly up it, passing a few people along the way, including Stephen, who I chatted with for a bit before heading on my way. Near the top, I got my first indication that things may not be going as well as I planned. I was already feeling some real heaviness in my legs which I was not expecting. This should have been an easy climb for me this early in the race, and I was surprised how much it took out of me. At the top of the ascent, I headed down a short track and through CP1 at 10.5k in 30th place, then onto Narrow Neck on a dirt road which undulated for about 9k. Along here I felt like I was running comfortably, but on the ascents started reeling a few people in, before joining a group of 5 at 13k which included Mick Keyte. We had a bit of a chat - it was his first 100 as well, and we both agreed it was tough to know how to pace. Eventually I decided the group was going a little hard for me, so I let them go, and was just cruising on a downhill section when all of a sudden I was on my face.

A little dusty after deciding to inspect some firetrail close up

Not concentrating properly, my toe had clipped a rock and I had flown forward, landing hard with my forearms and left hip taking the brunt of the fall. Stunned for a moment, I took stock. Nothing broken, some skin lost, bit of a gash on the right arm, but OK. I stood up, collected my drink bottles which had bailed out (cowards!), and continued on my way. Trying to stay composed, I attempted to run at an even pace, but my heart rate was through the roof, and I ran the next split way too quick. Both hands had gone numb, so I shook them as I ran along, trying to get the circulation going, feeling incredibly embarrassed at falling flat on my face on a straight stretch of dirt road, even though fortunately no one had seen. By the time I reached the Tarros ladders at 20k I was reasonably back under control, although the hairy descent did nothing to improve my mood. My view is, if you have to use your hands, it's not running, and if there's ropes involved, IT'S DEFINITELY NOT RUNNING.

After the ladders, there was  technical descent where a few people flew past me again, then more fire trail before CP2 at 31k. I refilled one of my bottles with water, and somehow, left the checkpoint in 29th position, and that was as good as it got for me for the rest of the day. I didn't feel too bad on the climb up to Ironpot Ridge, passing a couple of people, and then being joined by American Joelle Vaught (eventual 2nd female), who I hiked with for a while, enjoying her lovely chatty personality before she powered off. At the out and back section along the top of the ridge I started to really feel the pinch, and on the way back passed a group all looking strong in hot pursuit. Heading back down the ridge, it was very steep and slippy, and I once again cursed my ridiculous shoe choice. My toes were starting to hurt from digging them in trying to brake, and even my iron quads, fired hard in the heat of Maroondah Dam and Roller Coaster were starting to bother me. This I had not expected. Of all my body parts, I thought my loyal quads were least likely to fail me! At the bottom, we passed through some farmland, where I was caught and passed by Stephen (and others), who gave some encouraging words as he ran on, looking very strong and going on to have a great race, finishing 27th.

Then it was another 6k of dirt road, including a long grinding uphill, which should have been one of my strongest parts of the day, but instead I struggled up it, being passed by another few people, and finally jogging down to CP3 at 46k, trying not to think about the fact that I still had more than half the race to go. I had my first drop bag at this checkpoint, and swapped my bottles quickly, before heading back out in 40th place. Shortly after the CP I was joined by an English girl running in obvious pain, and with an obviously swollen knee. I had been carrying a couple of panadol for my own troublesome knee, but as it had been behaving itself, was happy to offer them to her. She was very grateful, and then proceeded to zoom off into the distance. Well, the knee can't be hurting THAT much I thought. I later found out it was superstar Claire Walton, who ran 95k with a fractured patella and finished 5th female. Talk about tough!

The next part of the course was on the famous Six Foot Track, and I ground away trying to get something going up the dirt road, but as it started to get steeper, the beginnings of cramp appeared, and by the time it turned into the walking track and the massive climb up through the stairs in Nellies Glen, I was cramping regularly, having to stop every few steps. Fortunately, this gave me plenty of time to admire this beautiful part of the course. Finally the climb was over, then it was a short road section before arriving at CP4 at 57k - Katoomba Aquatic Centre. The volunteers at this CP were great, one retrieved my drop bag, while the other filled my water bottle and grabbed me a chair. I sat down, but quickly sprang up as both legs started cramping again. So I just grabbed my fresh bottles and headed out again. I was 105th quickest on course through Leg 4, and dropped 7 places to 47th. But worse was to come!

Some sweet single track

Leg 5 was the most brutal, beautiful, agonizing and challenging part of the course. First through the streets of Katoomba, we passed back very close to the start line, then worked our way along the cliffs to the Three Sisters lookout, then began the long descent down the Giant Stairway. My quads were well and truly screaming by this time, and I was pretty slow down the stairs, still pausing occasionally when I cramped. At the bottom of the stairs, there was some track, then some more stairs that you went up, then some you went down, then some more you went up, and it went on like that seemingly endlessly, passing waterfalls, fern gullies, waterholes, then some more cliff top track, through Leura forest, then on to Wentworth Falls. The views were amazing, and despite progressing slowly and being passed regularly, I kept moving forward and made sure I enjoyed the scenery. I had pretty much given up my hope of sub 12, and was now just hoping for my buckle. Eventually, after another climb, and more stairs, there was another road section, and down the hill to CP5 at 78k. It had taken me 3 hours and 17 minutes to run the 21k leg. I was 155th quickest through the leg, and had dropped another 13 spots to 60th. On a positive note, I was pretty quick in and out of the CP, 24th quickest for the day at only 2:38! Also, after dogging me for 25k, the cramping had finally disappeared and didn't return.

Not far from CP5

The next part of the course I was not particularly looking forward to - a 650m descent in 8.5k of dirt road on smashed quads. At first I tried to descend smoothly and easily, but it was hurting just as much and was taking longer, so I just let the legs go and tried to ignore the pain. I never saw a single person for the whole descent, which was quite eerie, as if they had called the race off and forgotten to tell me. At the bottom of the descent, I crossed Jamison creek, rounded a corner, and three runners came into view ahead. I was pretty chuffed as it felt like I hadn't passed anyone in about 5 hours, and I was able to pick off a couple on the uphill with a combination of running/hard hiking. It was now getting pretty dark but I held off putting on my headlamp until the 91k water point. By the time I reached the stop, it was pitch black, and the vollie told me I needed to put on my light. Yeah, no kidding. I filled my bottles, and as I turned to leave, a massive pain shot up through the outside of my knee, and I was reduced to a hobble for the next half a kilometre until it settled down. We were still on dirt road, as we had been since CP5, and there was now another big climb where pre-race I had pictured myself flying up (in daylight), leaving the inferior climbers in my wake. Back in reality, I hiked mostly, and ran where I could, until finally we were back on a trail and I knew the end was close.

Clearly having a WTF moment.
Enlarge to get full value from expression.

On the trail it was a bit congested, as I had picked up the tail of the 50k field, and there was a section where the 100k runners were going back the other way at about the 60k mark. I had never run with  headlamp before and it was a bit tricky, managing my 4th fall of the day (although none like the first), but passing a couple and being passed by others. As I reached the base of the Furber Steps, even knowing I had 995 of them to go couldn't dampen my lifting spirits, and I went up them pretty well, passing 3 people on the way up and not being passed. Perversely, I probably felt as good as I did all day. At the top, I ran up the chute, and around the corner to the very crowded finish line, crossing in 12:44:24, and 60th place - exactly the position I had held at CP5.

Splits & finish details

I'm pleased I stuck the day out even though things went off the rails pretty early. There was never a time when I felt great, and ultimately I feel like I was about an hour outside what I was capable of. So where did that hour go? Firstly, it's hard to quantify what sort of effect the fall had, but maybe up to half an hour. It certainly rattled me, but more importantly I think it was the adrenaline that shot through me in the immediate aftermath that used up precious energy reserves.

Secondly, I was simply not conditioned for the amount of stairs in the race. There are a lot. I'm pretty sure this lack of specific conditioning was a major contributor to the cramping I experienced. Thirdly, I don't think my preparation was ideal. Two hard races in 13 days, followed by recovery, a quick build up, then taper again all within 6 weeks was probably not ideal. A slow build up with more specific long run training probably would have been better. I did one 6 hour training run, and at least 2 or 3 of these would have been preferable.

Finally, I just don't think I have enough experience yet. This was my 6th ultra, with my first only 16 months ago, and it was my first time over 56k. I really need some more long races to cope properly with an event like TNF. The bone-deep fatigue I am still feeling a week after the race is probably a good indicator that my body is still a work in progress when it comes to seeing these races out. I'm also not sure that I really put it together mentally for the task of running more than twice as long as I ever had before. I found myself quite overwhelmed with the job ahead at times, particularly from 35-50k when things weren't panning out for me. 

So, some things went right yeah? I was fairly happy with my nutrition and hydration, and my efficiency through the checkpoints despite not having a crew. The extra time on course meant I was down to about 230 calories an hour which is maybe a little low. I would probably take an extra gel per leg, but that is all I would change. I never had any stomach issues, which is always a bonus in long races. I loved my UD pack, and all my gear was fine except for shoes. I will definitely be looking at some trail shoes in the next month or so. I think the Inov-8 Trailroc series could be the go.

So will I be back? You bet. I still think I have a sub 12 in me, and I won't die wondering. From mid January on next year there will be plenty of trips to the 1000 steps in the Dandenongs for training sessions, and my build up will be aimed specifically at the race rather than having it tacked on as an end of season afterthought. Already, I can't wait to go back. The atmosphere of the event is a huge drawcard, and the set up with the start and finish at Scenic World is perfect.

My next race will be the 80k Trails+ event at You Yangs in July, which will basically be a training run for Surf Coast Century in September.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

TNF100 - Gear, Nutrition & Race Strategy

I don't really need to give an overview of the race itself. For anyone into trail or ultra running in Australia the TNF100 needs no introduction. But for anyone wanting to know more about next weekend's event, jump on over to the website, or watch the YouTube promo below. Instead this post will focus in detail on the gear I chose, and my nutrition strategy.

Assembling the mandatory gear for TNF, and developing a sound nutrition and hydration strategy, is an exercise that both emptied my bank account and chewed up several hours with intense spreadsheet analysis, as I counted calories, calculated leg times, and assessed fluid requirements.

Fortunately I love all that stuff, except for the bank balance bit. The gear was pretty straight forward, although I had to buy most of it, as well as a new hydration pack, as my tiny Nathan HPL008 just wasn't going to cut it. That was my major expense, along with the waterproof jacket. The gear is all listed below, and believe me, once you put it all together, plus 2 litres of fluid, it's bloody heavy. I decided I wasn't going to weigh it because I didn't want to know, but finally gave in to temptation before a fully loaded long run a couple of weeks ago, and it was over 4kg.
  • Long sleeve thermal top (polypropylene, wool or similar – not compression)
  • Long leg thermal pants (polypropylene, wool or similar – not compression)
  • Waterproof and breathable jacket with fully taped (not critically taped) waterproof seams and hood
  • Beanie, balaclava or buff
  • Full-fingered lightweight thermal gloves (polypropylene, wool or similar)
  • High Visibility Safety Vest that complies with Australian Standard AS/NZS 4602:1999 – D/N Class for day and night time wear
  • Headlamp
  • Small backup light in case of headlamp failure
  • Mobile phone.
  • Compass
  • Whistle
  • Emergency space blanket
  • Compression bandage minimum dimensions 7.5cm wide x 2.3m long unstretched
  • Lightweight Dry Sack to keep your compulsory clothing dry (Zip lock bags are fine)
  • Capacity to carry 2 litres of water (water bladder or water bottles)
  • 2 x bars / food portions
  • Ziploc bag for your personal rubbish
  • Waterproof map case or any other way to keep your maps protected such as map contact
  • Set of maps and course descriptions (provided by organisers)
  • A5 Participant Emergency Instructions card on waterproof paper (provided by organisers)
  • Full box of waterproof & windproof safety matches (provided by organisers)
  • Firelighter block for emergency use only (provided by organisers)
  • Race number with timing tags to be worn on your front and visible at all times (provided
  • by organisers)
  • Long leg waterproof pants*
  • 100-weight long sleeve synthetic fleece top (must not be made of wool)*
* Carried depending on conditions, or left in specified drop bag

After much research on hydration packs, I settled on the Ultimate Direction SJ 2.0. It's significantly smaller than the Salomon S-LAB 12 that will be the most popular pack on course, and it was a tight squeeze to get everything in, but it's very light and well constructed, and after 200k+ wearing it, I'm very happy with the choice. I'll use the 1.5 litre bladder out of my Nathan, as well as 460ml bottles (Sistema from Woolworths) in the front pockets, as I didn't like the 500ml ones that came with it - they were weird to drink out of and the shape of them stuck into my ribs a bit much.

The Ultimate Direction SJ 2.0

For the jacket, I went with the Outdoor Research Helium II, which is only 180g and folds up nice and small. It's been raining quite a bit lately, so I've been able to get plenty of practice packing and retrieving it on the go. I got caught in torrential rain down at Cape Schanck the other week, and with this jacket on, it didn't bother me a bit. With conditions likely to be a bit nippy at various latter stages of the race, I'll probably be pulling it out as a windbreaker occasionally as well. Both the pack and jacket I purchased from Bogong Equipment on Little Bourke Street, who have been supporting trail running in a big way lately.

The OR Helium II - packs up nice and small

For my kit, I'll be wearing my trusty Adidas Response shorts, which I wore at 30/50 and Maroondah Dam. I usually prefer to run in a singlet, but it can get pretty cold in the Blue Mountains, so I'll be in a tee for the first time in a race - Adidas Climalite. The shoes have been a difficult choice. For my last two 50k races I have worn the lightweight Adidas Adios Boost, which I love, but for 100k I felt like I might need a bit more cushion, especially towards the later stages. In the end though, the light and nimble feel I get with the Adios won out, and I'll be sticking with the shoes that have served me well. Socks will be Injinji Trail 2.0 Midweight Mini-Crew, which I bought from the TNF100 online shop at a discount, and I'll be wearing my lucky, battered, old white Climacool cap. Depending on weather, I'll probably start the race wearing my jacket, gloves & beanie, and shed them around the 20k mark, after the Tarros Ladders descent.

My Kit

My Adidas Adios Boost

For nutrition, I have been training with Tailwind electrolyte/carb mix, which I will be using on the day, supplemented with Shotz gels. All up I will take in about 3000 calories which works out to between 250-270 / hour. I will start with 1 litre Tailwind  (600 calories) in the bladder and 2 x 460ml (500 calories total) bottles of Tailwind, plus 2 x gels. I will have drop bags at 46k, 57k & 78k where I will swap my bottles, and grab a couple of gels. I will probably leave some coke in the last two bags as well. My full plan is below, and allows for the fact that I will have some extra in the bladder if some legs take longer than expected.

My Nutrition/Hydration Plan

Which I guess brings me to my race plan. Exactly how long do I think this thing is going to take? Common sense would suggest that over my first 100k, I should take things conservatively and make sure I get safely around. But I think I race best when I throw myself in the mix, then fight hard to keep my position. Obviously I won't be able to match strides with the top guys, but i'm going to try and put myself in the top 20 early without going too hard, cruise through the middle sections, put it all on the line from 57k - 78k (the tough Leg 5), then hang on for dear life the last 20k.

Hopefully this will get me a time somewhere between 11:00 and 11:30 and a top 25 finish. This will put me at risk of a big time crash and burn, but I don't want to die wondering, and I don't think I will ever get a better opportunity to perform well in this race. 4100m ascent/descent is not really that excessive over 100k, and the grinding last 15k uphill will play to my strength assuming I can still move. On the downside, I'm carrying quite a few niggles, any one of which could develop into a full blown issue over this distance. Hopefully if that happens, I'll be close enough to the finish to limp home in sub 14, and still get my silver buckle!

I'm incredibly excited for this event, but trying to keep a lid on it as much as possible. My last few races have gone so well that I feel like I'm due to have a bad one. I just hope it's not next weekend. But good race or bad, I'm just going to focus on staying in the moment - breathing, cadence, form, sustenance, environment. Bring on next Saturday! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter Extravaganza

With Easter falling a perfect 4 weeks out from The North Face 100, it was an ideal opportunity to log some serious miles. For my first time over 100k I felt like I needed to be running some long distance on very tired legs, and carrying my full TNF kit, so I set down the following plan for the four days:
  • Friday - 26k (run to Mt Eliza Regional Park - 6k, 2 loops of park @ 7k/loop, run home)
  • Saturday - 33k (as above, but with 3 loops)
  • Sunday - 42k (Dromana Info Centre - Waterfall Gully Road return on 2Bays Trail x 3)
  • Monday - 56k (Two Bays Old Course)

     Total - 157k

The idea was that by the time I finished the Arthurs Seat Triple on Sunday, I would be that stuffed that the next day's run would feel like the back half of a hundred. There was plenty of climbing involved, so I would get lots of of hiking practice, especially since I didn't want to totally flatten myself so that it would take a week to recover.

The first couple of days were pretty easy, keeping a pace around the low 6min/k mark. I actually felt better after Saturday's run than I did on Friday, so that was encouraging. There was a bit of rain about on both days, so I got some good practice at retrieving and stowing my waterproof jacket.

The next day I drove down to Dromana for my assault on Arthurs Seat. It was pretty hard going, particularly with the full pack, but after 4 hours and 52 mins and 1900 metres of ascent/descent, it was done. It was half an hour outside my best time, but considering the weight I was carrying and the previous days' runs, I was reasonably pleased.

Come Monday, and it was back down to Dromana at 8:30am for the full Two Bays trail. I felt pretty tired right from the start, and the first climb was very slow, but once the trail flattened out a bit, I got a bit of a rhythm going. At about 26.5k, I hit my three hour limit, and even though I was only about a kilometre from the Cape Schanck lighthouse, I was at a nice spot looking out over the ocean, so I paused the Garmin for a couple of minutes, then turned around and headed back.

The majority of the return journey was exactly how I imagine the latter stages of TNF100 will be. Barely moving at stages, trying to keep the legs turning over, wondering how I'm going to make it, lots of walking, wanting my mummy. Curiously though, with about 3k to go, I felt the best I had felt all day, and arrived back at the car feeling like I could run another 10k, with only a 5 min positive split for the second half.

Easter Monday on the Two Bays Trail

In summary, the four days were exactly what I needed both physically and mentally to prepare me. I would prefer another couple of weekends like it, but with a rushed preparation, it is as much as I could hope for. I've done a bit of damage to myself - ligament strains on the inside of both knees (right one was already there from Roller Coaster), strained right achilles, all of which were quite painful at times, but definitely bearable for the race as long as they don't get worse, and I'm hoping they'll improve.

Over the four days the stats were:
  • Distance: 153.89 km
  • Time: 17:11:39
  • Elevation gain: 5723 metres
  • Average speed: 9.0 km/h
  • Average pace: 6:40 min/km
This week, I will start to scale down and from Thursday to Saturday my runs will be 15km, 20km, 42km. Then next week, reduce again by about 25%, then the same reduction % the week after. Mondays I will do intervals or fartlek, and Wednesdays will be just easy jogs of whatever feels comfortable on the day. Tuesdays and Sundays I will just go for a walk to keep things moving.

A little worse for wear on Easter Monday