Monday, 15 December 2008

Great way to finish the running year

I think the last blog post sums up the last week or so, the fact that it was written only 7 or so hours before my next race pretty much shows i wasn't happy with my performance at Kepler and took a while to come up with a positivish spin on it.
Simple reason for that Kepler numberwise would be easily one of my biggest Ultras (Six Foot Track, Great Ocean Road Marathon and Western States being the only ones comparable) and whilst i've performed well at the first two over the years, Western States was the infamous DNF (and with harsh provisions for overseas entries now one i'm unlikely to ever avenge) i was looking for big numbers to bring out the best in me (despite having won many a low key, low number race over the years my fastest times have usually been in big events like the Melbourne, Gold Coast and Canberra Marathons where i can usually lift a notch simply because of the crowds and atmosphere) and was realistically looking at somewhere between 6 and 6.5Hrs with under 7 at worst. It was an unexpected bump in what had been a last 8 months year racewise (as for those first 3 months of the year i have only one word "Sciatic Nerve") and just from the point of view of ego 99th place was more like the sort of number i'd be looking for in a 1,000 person or more marathon (whether i'll make it back there for another shot is questionable).
To be honest Kurrawa to Duranbah 50K, had sneaked up on me somewhat, i'd been focussed on finishing the year with Coast to Kosi and it was only in the last month or so that i'd realised that if i was to do Kepler i'd be struggling to get back in time to do it in any sort of shape (to some degree i think of NZ as more of a domestic trip than international and just didn't realise how few flights came back to my airport).
I'd actually only entered the week before but knew at least i'd have a permanent number awaiting me (you get this for 10 starts, Geoff Williams and Geoff Last had got theirs last year, so it was a case of whether me or Peter McKenzie would be No 3 or 4).
Having picked up my number (3) the day before didn't bother leaving home till 4:15 (i could sleep in till 3:30 !!!) and looking at the number of cars about it was easy to see that the 180 runners (solo 50, solo 25 and relay) was true, amazing those sort of numbers and a good sign of a healthy event.
Much different conditions pre race to last week though, certainly no need for a top (number pinned onto my shorts) and my headband was definitely all that was needed on top, really nice looking day although we hadn't managed to get the slightly cooler conditions of Saturday morning (which were as close to as perfect as you could have got in summer for a 50K race), only thing to weigh me down was a baggie of 8 salt tablets definitely could be needed the last half.
Caught up with a few people and had a chat and was probably a little more relaxed than usual pre race (after all this is my backyard so the course held no fears).
Watched some of the rocket like relay runners disappear into the distance (and hoped that none were solo runners) and took off at steady pace, pretty much a procession runners until Nobbys Beach and our first drink station at 5K's. Up the steps (something i always avoid in training runs here) and then along the Burleigh Esplanade, already astir with early risers. By then i was running with a fellow who knew me (and i knew by sight but names aren't my strong point !!) and we ran consistently and chatted. By 10K's it was getting warmer so i had two cups of Endura, for the next few K's i was essentially in my backyard so ran relaxed and fluid (after all how many times had i run along Jefferson Lane ), was thankful for a cup of water at Currumbin as the sun was getting warmer, looked like as usual it would be a real steamy one.
Once we'd got to Tugun i'd felt nicely warmed up and decided it was time to do some chasing down, the bike lane of Golden Four Drive being ideal (although it meant i got more sun than footpath runners as the taller units offered shadows), down Gibson St and onto Pacific Parade always get's awkward as not only us runners were out but other joggers as well as cyclists so was never quite sure if i was chasing people in the event. Two more cups of Endura and finally spotted a familiar figure, Chris Dixon (doing the relay), spurred me on as i remembered how easily he'd passed me at a similar stage in the Melbourne Marathon. He took the pathway through the markets (possible at this point but not on the return as too busy) and i followed catching and passing as we went up the Rainbow Beach hill, feeling good by now.
Heard footsteps on the steep downhill to Duranbah and couldn't resist pushing that little bit harder but once i'd made the flat was happy to let the girl (in relay) pass and settle again for the run back (wasn't sure if i had 2 or 3 solo runners in front as at times i misjudged when to concentrate on race bibs).
Another couple of cups of Endura and washed down a couple of salt tablets and now for the chase, feeling strong but with the fear that i'd seen a solo runner a good couple of K's ahead.
No footsteps behind me and was determined to let as few people (relay and solo) passed as possible on the return, only downside i had yet to spot another runner (i was kidding myself i couldn't see them as i was on the bike lane and they were on the footpath as i headed towards Tugun but that was closer to being a psychological boost than the truth i think. By Currumbin was beginning to feel the heat a little, and was relieved to find the drink station (cup of water over head was more needed than the drink to be honest) and pushed on strongly, first footsteps were as i headed up from 15th Ave to the GCH, tried to go with a relay runner (and again headed onto the road, hard to explain but i race way better on roads than footpaths), but she was too fresh and i resolved to ease down and have a good rehydration at the next drink stop before flogging myself the last 10K's (no aid station at last years 42.5K beer stop so knew i'd have to time it right). Up the GCH Hill and then the Goodwin Tce loop, now it was a case of running hard and dodging crowded walkways was calculating whether i was better off heading off path and using Burleigh Esplanade but recalled being passed in 2002 there and had less than fond memories.
Walked up North Burleigh hill as it gave me time to get the salt tablets out and i was thinking that the only way i could catch solo runners was once we were off the beachfront and i could spot them so it'd be a death or glory last 3K's.
Thankfully the steps down were uncrowded (unusual for this time of day) and even better the last drink stop had Gatorade in cups, the Endura had done it's work but i needed something more refreshing on the palate (albeit lemon/lime) now for the last shot.
Finally spotted a runner (and doubted i'd be catching relay runners) on Albatross Ave and with a breeze (a headwind but nevertheless air movement so rare in this event over the years) had picked him up before reaching Hedges Ave.
By now i could see the buildings near the finiah line and one other runner, i always think of Hedges Ave at this point as the "Cauldron" as usually it's sun beating down and with a skinny street and houses (worth millions) on either side no air reminiscent of a descent into Hell. Headwind or not the breeze was making it almost pleasant, finally spotted a runner doing it hard (i was doing it hard and my left calf was cramping but definitely was not going to show that as i passed) as far as i could work out i was now second. Hit the park and then the long haul to the other end, over the finish line and i was told i'd done 3:57:07, rather disappointing my third slowest performance in 10 starts (although way faster than last years injured 4:32:43), but rather shocked to find i'd won.

Of course at heart i'm not only an Ultra Runner, but a Data Analyst (and shelf stacker !), but looking back at previous results this was definitely my third slowest run here (even allowing that the course prior to 2006 was only 48.4K's).
1998: Second (to new race organiser Peter Hall): 3:37:42
1999: Winner: 3:29:47
2000: Second: 3:38:12
2001: Winner: 3:31:21
2002: Third: 3:35:00
2003: Fourth: 3:59:34
2004: Third: 3:49:07
2006: Fourth (3rd Male): 3:51:43
2007: Eighth: 4:32:43
2008: Winner: 3:57:07

Still trying to work out a conclusion from these (other than i'm getting slower !!!) but still whilst an unexpected win probably one of my best actual race performances for the year, 3 wins for the year so ultimately 2008 hadn't been the writeoff that it had been looking to be back in March (i have reread some of my rather whinging blog posts as sciatic nerve and back problems drove me to distraction and drink at various points early on), reckon i can give the year a 7 out of 10 and have a little break before the new year comes upon us.
Certainly after a year with 3,185 Race Kilometres including 2 Marathons and
23 Ultras shows i've still got a decent career ahead of me, certainly at the moment pretty much uninjured and feeling good i'm looking positively towards 2009.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Kepler - the race

A late Tuesday afternoon flight to Christchurch meant i could casually wander down to the airport and my next step would be onto overseas soil, not often you can do that !!. With a flight of just over 3 hours it was barely a longer trip than to Melbourne with the wind against us (a regular occurence), half empty plane and i was lucky to have 3 seats all to myself shame it was too early to lie down and have a nap !.
With time differences (+3 hours) arrived in Christchurch just before midnight but having to go through customs (and getting my muddy Free 4.0's washed as i'd be running in them) meant it was tomorrow before we (me and fellow Gold Coast Runners Peter Hall and his wife Leanne) picked up the hire car and headed off to the hotel in downtown Christchurch (easy to get to except the Rememberance Arch and pedestrian mall meant a few extra turns than expected (some of my better navigating).
The plan being to meet up at 8 and then drive down to Te Anau, by the time i'd eaten dinner (a couple of sandwiches i'd made at home and really didn't feel like on the plane) it was well after 1 and more tired than i thought i woke at 7:55 !!, so pretty much out of bed, repack and down to the car (so much for thoughts of a run in the city !).
Having successfully navigated out the city it was then the long drive south, mutton pie and cappucino (note to self never again say yes to chocolate on NZ Cappucino felt like i had to eat a block of chocolate before i made it to the actual coffee !) and then stocked up on groceries at a town along the way. Lovely scenery, alot of it reminding me of the Princes Hwy on the way down to Portland, as expected lot's of sheep and many green fields (have never seen so much irrigation though this seemed strange as it was looking quiet wet !!) strangely also saw some signs warning of wallabies (never saw any though).
By 4 we'd made it to Te Anau i was staying in a cabin a couple of K's out of town with a glorious view out my back window (3rd picture down) of the lake and the surrounding mountains. With a bit of rain in the air and a chill in the breeze
have to admit i was feeling the sort of cold i hadn't experienced since moving north, was only thankful i had a couple of days to acclimatize.
Certainly got colder once night fell (10 PM !) and was actually woken by the cold at around 6AM (this sleeping bag had been used by me in below zero mornings in German sports halls, surely it wasn't that cold !) so seeing rain it was on with the skins and a jumper and back to bed !!.
Had a better look around the town on the Thursday and, if not for the weather, an idyllic place bumping into Peter and Leanne at the info centre and joining them for lunch and organised a bit of a training run on the course the following day.
Later got in an hours running, certainly warm clothing was going to be an essential part of this event.
Friday morning we did the last 10K's of the course from Rainbow Reach, perfect track for running on, wide and soft underfoot, the Free's were definitely going to be my shoe of choice (they'd taken two days to dry after being washed in customs so was very careful to keep them dry the day before the race).
Picked up my number and race pack and returned later in the day for the race briefing, just how a race briefing should be, short, bit of humour and to the point so getting a lift home was ready for bed at 8:30 having set the alarm for 4.
Only wish i had brought my mixing bowl breakfast bowl as it meant i was having 2 to 3 bowls of cereal (NZ Hubbard Muesli, cornflakes concoction - quiet tasty) every time, still the important thing was having it.
My plan had been to run with my bike top and Moeben sleeves, with gloves on and using the bandanna "Beanie style" but once checked in just realised how cold it was so one thermal top as well as the Goretex jacket came out of my camelbak (bladderless this was one race i wouldn't need extra water) and were put on.
Managed to catch up with some other Aussies and the very low key start took me by surprise, was nowhere near the 7 hour pace time was actually positioned somewhere near the back of the field !!!.
First 5K's was pretty much spent passing runners and walkers whilst going at a very gentle pace (was bemused to see a couple of runners heading back towards me, apparently they had forgotten some of their compulsory gear and were heading back to pick it up), but reckoned this was a good way to start as it would, in theory, leave plenty in the tank for the easy last half.
Once out of the tree line, beautiful clear skies awaited us, only problem clear skies mean real cold and the breeze of surrounding snow capped peaks meant that even three topped and gloved i was damned cold. Finally made it to the hut and the gear check was just thankful there were no long queues and standing around, a couple of cups of leppin and i was ready to go.
The next stage of the run was basically a single file of runners at easy pace, giving me some time to enjoy the scenery, simply didn't feel as though the frozen legs really wanted to be pushed at this point. Sadly the cold was getting to me and i had quite a headache and was wondering whether the thermal beanie was a better option but never quite made that change (the Buff Bandanna had done such a good job on cold morning in France it was virtually my security blanket !!).
Finally we headed off the ridgelines and headed back into trees, by then i'd passed a few runners (helped by a one drink no food stop at the last aid station) and it was simple downhill running. I'd be honest and say i wasn't as sure on my feet on these foreign trails as i would be at home so went down rather more gently than usual, although was only passed by one way more daredevil runner.
At this point we were still running virtually in groups, can't really expplain why but simply you'd find a comfortable pace and just stay on it.
Had a good feed at Iris Burn Hut (nearly half way) and my plan was to then really push out as my legs should still have been really fresh. Unfortunately no one had told my legs this, not sure if the cold up top had just made the muscles too cold or what but the legs had simply lost their usual bounce and anything vaguely uphill reduced me to a walk.
Eventually we made it to parts of track under the sun (as opposed to under trees) and i was beginning to wonder whether all the layers of clothing were making me sweat too much and this was effecting me.
So 26K's to go it was off with the thermal top, the goretex jacket and the gloves and pop a couple of salt tablets, a little better but still was struggling (and it was still coolish - wasn't rolling the Moeben sleeves down). Had a vague idea where i was place wise as had heard the woman i was running with was 14th (should make me around 120 to 140th by my calcs) so was pretty much hanging on, looking for a second wind to at least get top 100.
Next aid station was my last roll of the dice, a couple of quarters of orange sometimes inexplicably a great aid. Finally was getting running consistently though not fast and just waiting to get to Rainbow Ridge (and in theory the easy familiar part). Couple of Leppins there and seemed to finally get my act together, not fast but consistently passing runners and no walking. One mistake at the last aid station grabbed a cup and drank it, unfortunately it was jelly beans, still not far to go so not a great issue. Finally the finish line in sight and i could stop.
Thankful i didn't realise the time (7:20:57) as i'd been confident of something between 6 and 7 hours (was only on seeing the full results i realised how i'd just sneaked into the top 100 99th place).
Absolutely stuffed post race, the complimentary orange juice washed down by the complimentary beer at the end were absolute saviours and for the first time since about 5K's i was feeling pretty good, wandered back to the car as i was sure Peter (and Leanne who was doing the Luxmore Grunt) would have well and truly been finished by now. Beautiful sunny day by now, much better than the weather had indicated in the previous few days, we were definitely lucky.
Wandered back and had a feed and caught up with some of the much better performed Aussies.
Despite this run being only somewhere between 61.2K's (official distance) and 58.6K's (Garmin measured distance) it was damned tough, probably more due to the fact i don't handle the cold well.
Next day (after 10 hour sleep - maybe my body was telling me something), wandered into town for the presentations and was lucky enough to win a spot prize (although the question has to be asked when i'll get to use my Milford Sound boat trip !), after that fish and chips and a leisurely lakeside walk.
That evening was reminded just how lucky we had been weatherwise with heavy rain which continued unabated till morning (goretex jacket and waterproof pants not usually what i'd wear to wander the 100 yards to the ablutions block !!).
This weather followed us all the way north back to Christchurch (picturesque Queenstown being essentially shrouded in fog and sleet i believe it has mountains !!).
Arriving back early evening in Christchurch did mean i would get a look around the town this time, and was fortunate to find a Pub with live music that night (acoustic guitar playing vocalist nice relaxing way to spend the night) and not being tired went for a walk of the block (3 or 4 miles) before bed.
One last chance of a run in town so that morning memorised the street map and headed towards the Gondola, by signs this was around 12K's (plus a little as had to avoid freeways) but with murky weather heading to the top wasn't going to be an option (and having worn a watch so i'd be back in time for a shower before checking out wasn't likely timewise), so headed back in time for breakfast and a shower before 10AM checkout.
With a few hours to kill before the flight out, went for a walk around town but again rain dogged us and eventually ended up in the the Canterbury Museum, so yes i did see plenty of Kiwis and Moas and all the unique birdlife although unfortunately only stuffed !).
First time i'd ever paid to leave a country ($25 Departure Tax) and then a quick (tailwind got us back 25 minutes early), flight home, actually it all went so smoothly i forgot to change my money at the airport (rather embarassing in the supermarket the next day).
A 3 hour run on Thursday, showed me that the Kepler legs were only a small blip and 90 minutes this morning makes me confident of a good 50K's tomorrow in the Kurrawa to Duranbah and return, my 10th start there. Not sure of the weather though, going by recent rain we may actually get good coolish conditions rather than the usual humid, mobile sauna conditions.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Training too hard now for a relaxing flight to New Zealand

Not much to talk about racewise since my last post, but seeing i head off to New Zealand for the Kepler Challenge on the 6th of December, doubt i'll be updating the blog till i return.
Very hard week training wise, unfortunately there are times when simply i forget that most of my career has been based on training runs of 2.5 to 3 Hours with no drink stops and just pure hard running and also simply that much of this has been in somewhat cooler climes than the Gold Coast (particularly in the recent very humid conditions we've had when it hasn't been raining !!).
Long runs Thursday and Saturday and both times was feeling too good when i got to my usual turnaround point unfortunately both times i was struggling by the end and even needed a drink of water (and dip under a beach shower) with still a couple of miles to go. I guess pushing it too hard is always better than training too easy but nevertheless i do have the odd feeling of mortality when i push it that hard. A litre of cordial and water mixture goes down so well when i get home it isn't funny, but really it takes a good couple of hours before i'm back in any sort of shape (interesting when i went off to work on the Thursday arvo !!!).
Decided to take it easier on Sunday and ended up doing a relatively easy 15K's with the Gold Coast Road Runners Club (having slept in had to drive there which worked out well as sausages and eggs for breakfast there would have been an interesting run back).
Today was desperate for one last hard run, but wanted to give myself the option of shortening it if i felt knackered, so dug out my old "Mt Woodgee" loop meaning i'd do the hard K or so uphill and then cruise around the Currumbin Beachfront and enjoy the beautiful sunny day before heading up my "hill from hell" again.
Seven laps was quite sufficient, was still feeling strong so decided was best to do an easy lap back to my bit of beach and a swim, looks like i picked it nicely today, 16K's of the loop as well as 4K's there and 5K's home seemed just what i needed today.
Not sure if i'll get a chance for a run tomorrow, but seeing i get to Te Anau on Wednesday i'd like to think i could do some trails around the Kepler course before Saturdays race.
Unfortunately not being able to get back to the Coast before the Tuesday evening means i've had to rule out a Coast to Kosi start (with a 15 to 20 Hour drive to the start at Eden really question whether i'd have run my race beforehand, think i really needed a QLD based crew so i could have had a good rest in the car rather than being stuck behind the steering wheel), i do feel it's really a bit of waste considering my fitness at the moment, whilst i wouldn't have been giving Tim Cochrane's record a shake i'm confident i'd have been well under my 39 Hours of 2005, still even i can't be everywhere.
Looks like the month of Magnesium supplement seems to have done me alot of good as i'm definitely recovering well and (unrelated i'm sure !! have had no back problems), however i have been happy to have the odd beer or wine in recent times after all we've only got one life and being permanently alcohol free has never been an option for me as for me it's always been part of a happy, well rounded life.