Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Duncan's Run - Race Report

I had been wanting to do Duncan's Run in South Gippsland for a couple of years, but the stars just hadn't quite aligned. In 2014, I was very fit, but decided to bypass the race to focus on Two Bays. And of course I tore my glute on Xmas Eve, putting me out of that one as well. Then last year, extreme weather had caused cancellation of the event due to fire danger, so the organisers had to postpone.

When the new schedule came out it was for 6 weeks before UTA and 3 weeks before Maroondah Dam, so it worked out well time-wise, however I decided to drop from the 50km race back to the 28km for an easier lead up. The postponement hadn't done the event any favours as the entries were fairly low due to so much else going on at the same time, but I hope it continues, as it is very well run in a beautiful location.

I had to get up super early for the two and a half hour drive out there, but fortunately the 28k race started an hour after the 50/100, so I had a little extra time. After check-in, I went on a little warm up run around the first part of the course, which is the rainforest loop from the Visitors Centre in Tarra-Bulga National Park. I had walked this loop with Allie and the kids when we had stayed in the area couple of years back, and it is definitely one of the hidden secrets of Victoria.

I began at a comfortable pace, and surprisingly found myself in the lead early, tracked by Gippsland running legend Ian Cornthwaite. We chatted for the first couple of k's until after we crossed the famous swinging bridge, when Ian decided I was going a bit slow for him, and put a little move on up a climb. I was happy with my pace, so I let him go, and he remained intermittently in sight for the next 5km, as he gradually built his lead.

Across the swinging bridge

After the enjoyable first part of the race, at the 6km mark the course joined some open logging roads through plantation areas where I continued to catch the occasional glimpse of Ian, and then at the 10km mark turned on to a dirt road for 6km of uninspiring downhill. When I finally reached the turn off at the 16km mark at the bottom of the road, I have to be honest and admit I was wondering why I got up so early after 10km of fairly boring solo running.

Last part of the loop before the logging roads

However, the pay off was huge. As I turned onto trail, I could see another runner closing quickly behind me, and about this time it also started to rain. After a short piece of trail, we started the homeward ascent up another dirt road, where I managed to hold off my pursuer in the now driving rain. After only 2km, we turned off the road onto trail again, and the final 10km of the race was absolutely brilliant fun. It got very technical, very quickly, and some of the downhill sections were so tricky I had to grab hold of trees to keep myself on the trail.

Losing 2nd place temporarily

The other runner (Greg Semmler) caught me pretty quickly, and we had a quick chat before he moved out of sight after a creek crossing as I hit a flat spot and backed off the pace a bit. Lots of the trail was quite overgrown in places, and it went up and down, with plenty of stairs, creeks and slippery rocks to negotiate, with the steady rain adding to the equation. I was absolutely having a ball, as I pushed hard on all the climbs, through my flat spot, and having a feeling that Greg hadn't dropped me by too much yet.

At about 21km, we hit what they call "The Wall". A climb that goes almost straight up and seemingly goes on forever. Perfect! I hiked hard, and very soon Greg came into sight, and I went past with purpose, putting as much gap as I could before the trail levelled out again. Every time there was a runnable section, I pushed hard and didn't look back, feeling probably as good as I had all day. The last few km were some of the most enjoyable I have ever had on a trail. The light rain made the rainforest spectacular as the sunshine peeped through, and everything smelt incredible. Lyre Birds ran across my path, and I continued to run as hard as I could while at the same time having a near-religious experience. Seriously, it was that amazing.

Finishing very wet and very happy

All too soon it was over though, and I arrived back at the visitors centre to the screaming cheers of, well nobody. That's how they roll at these community events! I trotted across the line, and wandered over to grab a coffee and get warm. I hung around for a while and enjoyed the sausage sizzle, watched some of the 50k runners finish, and the 100k runners coming through for another leg. I received a very nice engraved beer mug at the presentation for my second place, and then jumped in the car and headed home.

I summary, they have a great little event down there. I hope it continues for a long time, and I plan on being back to run the 50k if it goes back to its usual spot in early December.

Full results

Two Bays - Race Report

As I said to my regular training partner Andy a couple of days before Two Bays (17th Jan 2016), I don't think I've ever gone into a race with such low expectations. Certainly if I hadn't been a non-starter the previous two years, I probably would have bailed, but I couldn't miss my "home" race for the third year running!

The problem wasn't fitness, as I had been putting down some reasonable times in recent weeks, including a 14k threshold run that was not too far outside my best, but rather a number of injuries that were all reaching the point where training was becoming difficult. The groin was so bad I had arranged for another round of cortisone injections for late Jan, my left achilles was needing every second day off, and the pain in my right knee that had been around for 2 months was getting worse as well.

So when race day rolled around, I decided to simply just go for it, and try and hit splits for a sub 5 hour finish, hoping everything would hang together long enough. As it turned out, I simply wasn't in shape to run sub-5, particularly given the warm conditions which caused a lot of people to run below their best.

Greens Bush outbound journey

I started off pretty well, running in a group that included Kirstin Bull, Dan Langelaan, and Kevin Muller, but by the time we reached Greens Bush on the outward journey, my achilles was screaming and the pain was radiating all the way up my leg. The long stretch on Hyslops Road didn't improve the situation, and combined with the knee soreness on my right leg, every footfall had me wondering why I was doing this.

Through the Rosebud street section link up

The hike up Arthurs Seat was a welcome respite, but then it was more painful downhill to the turnaround point at Dromana, to ring the bell, and start the journey back to Cape Schanck. As I got to the top of the hill on the way back, I noticed the pain in both legs seemed to be easing off a bit, most likely due to more uphill hiking, but as I went down some steps, the first of the cramps started to appear.

Back along Duells Road

From pretty much the 33k mark to the finish, cramps in my calves, quads & hamstrings caused multiple stops and walking breaks, where I would have to stretch out or relax the leg until I could continue. Let me be clear - I don't believe cramps are caused by anything except going too hard for your current level of fitness or ability, and there was no doubt that today I had seriously overestimated what I was capable of.

Raising a shuffle for the photographer

Surprisingly, I hardly got passed at all for ages, only dropping 2 or 3 spots through Greens Bush, but after crossing Boneo Road, the cramping stops became more regular, and I probably dropped another 10-15 positions in the last 5km on the Bushrangers Bay track, as the smarter runners filtered by with monotonous regularity. Eventually, I hobbled across the line for a 5:44 28th place finish, and getting to go across with the kids was the highlight of my day.

Being helped across the line by my cheer squad

Much like Surf Coast, I didn't feel too disappointed with the run given my physical condition, but I knew I had to rethink my approach to training and racing. My body has just not been coping with the workload, and at some point I will need complete rest, get over the injuries as well as I can, and rebuild my gait and training program from the ground up. Running is simply becoming too painful to enjoy any more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Surf Coast Century - Race Report

Going into Surf Coast Century (19th Sep 2015), I was feeling fairly subdued about having a good day. The Wonderland Run had been 3 weeks earlier, and in an effort to maximise my chances at Surf Coast, I had trained fairly hard right through that period, so I could go in with my preferred 2 week taper.

In the end though, it was a poor gamble. By going in to Wonderland on tired legs, I had sacrificed my best possible finish there, and while I felt pretty good in the days after, I well and truly put myself in a hole with a 20km tempo run on the Thursday after. From there, I felt very flat and fatigued, and never recovered. To further complicate matters, my old groin injury had been playing up as the effects of January's cortisone treatments slowly wore off, and this would require further attention at the end of the year.

I was fairly committed to a finish though. My only ever DNF had been at this race a year ago when the injury was still undiagnosed (I thought it was a hernia at that point), and I was hoping for some revenge on the course. Unfortunately, it seemed as though it was going to be a long day. I had the family with me staying down at Anglesea near the start/finish, so on race morning we all got up and headed down to the beach where the start was. After coffee, a quick warmup, and a kiss for Allie and the kids, I lined up a few rows back from the front and we were away!

The first 21km leg of this race is quite magical, following the beach all the way from Anglesea to Torquay as the sun comes up. Skipping over rocks, wading around little headlands, and up and down boardwalk stairs, it is impossible not to have a good time. I ran well within myself through this whole section, just enjoying the morning and making sure I had plenty in the tank. I arrived at Torquay feeling great, and restocked from my drop bag before heading back towards Anglesea via the inland route which would see us back at the start/finish point at the half way mark.

 Leg 1 was fun at least!

Shortly after leaving the checkpoint at about 25k, I had my first warning sign. Still running super-conservative and going up a very mild climb, I found I had absolutely nothing in my legs, and the feeling of fatigue I had been carrying for the last two weeks seemed to wash over me. From there, the day went downhill pretty quickly. By the time I arrived at CP3 - Ironbark Basin (32k), I was already in the hurt locker, and with three quarters of the race in front of me, it was not a pleasant place to be.

Starting to not enjoy myself

I held hope that I might come good, but it was very different to a mid race flat spot or the sort of bonk you get when you run low on calories or are transitioning energy systems later in the race. This was the body basically holding up its middle finger and telling me where I could stick my ultra running. And fair enough too. So all I could do was put my head down, one foot in front of the other, and not think about how far I had to go.

To be honest, I don't really remember a lot of the rest of the day, but suffice to say, it was not my most enjoyable one! At CP6 - Moggs Creek (77k), I totally lost interest in eating, and didn't even re-stock from my bag, pulling on my lightweight jacket as I left the station, and pretty much resigning myself to walking it in. I was able to run some sections, but never more than about a kilometre at a time, and the final beach section I walked just about the whole thing.

Very much not enjoying myself

When I finally jogged it across the line in 10:57, I don't think I've ever been so happy to get a race done, and while I was a bit disappointed to have got my training and taper so wrong, I felt surprisingly upbeat. There's something to be said for grinding one out when you know early on it's going to be a tough one. Having said that, it took me a long while to recover from this event, and my injury was significantly worse after it as well. I also dropped down to under 63kg, which is way lighter than I should ever get.

Stick a fork in me

In short, I question whether it is the right thing to aim for two hundreds in a year. Certainly in 2016, I think UTA in May, then a nice long break and slow build up to a shorter race is preferable to rush a preparation to another long one. My passion for the big events seems to be waning somewhat, so my racing schedule may look very different in future.