Sunday, August 29, 2010

Climbing while falling.

To the normal person, going from homelessness to living in a five-bedroom house in suburbia would seem like a very positive move. To me, it has been anything but.

The first week, I was comfortable - I hobbled around uni (as I was still recovering from Flinder's) contentedly in the knowledge that I would recover in a warm bed each night.

The second week saw my soul squirm within my body, as the desire to run again took hold. I started running on the Friday, attempting to rebuild my love of motion and the moment, which had been fairly well pounded out of me at Flinders.

The third week was going well, until I overheard something on the radio about the horror flick "the Human Centipede". Intrigued and misguided, I watched the trailer. "That Image" was burned into my retinas, and plagued my mind for many days. I had to keep reminding myself that it was only a film, and that no one would really do such things.

During the fourth week, when I had just about gotten over the centipede, my mind began to run away. The images from that trailer were replaced with worse ones of the horrific things human beings actually do to each other, and for inadvertently bringing them into my mind I felt inconsolably guilty. This seemed to be an attack of OCD, which was probably exacerbated by the Ibuprofen I was taking for my foot pain (I had had random anxiety after taking them for the first time).

In the fifth and current week the technological excesses of my current residence - two computers, four phones, three TV's etc... - caused me to have a small breakdown of sorts. It was at that point that I realised that I needed to get out of my Mum's house and back into the real world. The life experienced within the cozy walls of a well-equipped house is so abstracted from reality, so devoid of real emotion, that I hesitate in calling it life at all. So, by the end of the week, I have calmed my guilt/anxiety attacks by reading the words of the Dalai Lama, and have found a new place to live. It is about a mile from the trails in Chapel Hill, which is brilliant, but brings another another problem to mind - the spectre of injury. My left ITB has flared up like nothing else due to wearing soft shoes on a few occasions, reducing me to a pathetic 25km of running this week and I fear that I have the beginnings of a stress fracture on one of the metatarsals of my right foot. This is frustrating, and has left me feeling quite directionless, as far as running is concerned.

However, the positive is that this is how it should be. I have been re-reading "Born to Run" this weekend, and it has brought back some very fond memories. Those first five weeks of Uni this year, in which I logged 360kms (with two sumptuous 100km weeks and the same number of 50km long runs) may have been the most directionless that I have been in my life. Sure, I was supposedly training for a 12-hour track race, but I would roll out of bed each morning and hit the trail for no other reason than to become my surroundings and to relish in the joy of fluid, metronomic movement. I had no direction, as I was completely savouring the moment - the beautiful ecstasy at some points and the delicious fatigue at others. I now remember what I have to do to overcome my anxiety and to love life again: remove my material dependences, lose my direction, and be in the moment. First, I must let myself heal. Then I will build up slowly. Then I will run as much as my body wants, and as much as my joy permits. So with directionlessness in mind, I may not race at all next year, and if I do, it will be a spur-of-the-moment thing.

Additionally, during this time, Bogdan has introduced me to indoor climbing, which is becoming a fixture in my training routine, and will replace gym and possibly swimming aswell (atleast for the time being). The instinctiveness and childish joyfulness of the movement matches that of running the way it should be done.

It seems that my mental doldrums and despair over the last five weeks have served to set me back onto the road to this positive directionlessness. So with all this in mind, I will take a valuable lesson to my new home: everything works out for the best.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Glasshouse mini-adventure: recurring lessons.

We headed up to Tibrogargan on Sunday morning so that I could introduce Bogdan to the kind old grandfather.

I made a mess of the navagation, sending us on a backstreets course through the Northside, when we could have gone on the Bruce Highway. For some reason, I had thought that Old Gympie Road started near brisbane, and that we could follow it to Beerburrum. I was wrong.

We parked at the side of Steve Irwin Way and ran/walked to the base of Tibro (I had no shoes on. The beginning of the climb is the usually the hardest part, and today was no exception. Bogdan kept up really well (considering that, from his account, he was out of form), and we made it to the top in moderately good time. The view at the top was better when shared, but not as good as the climb down (at least in my opinion). It was at the summit that I suggested - forcefully - that we have a crack (with all due respect to the mountain) at Beerwah - the pregnant mother, as there really couldn't be a better day for it. Bogdan reluctantly agreed to have a go as we were making out way down. There were fewer people on the mountain this time around, so it was a lot safer and easier than the time before once we arrived at the most technical section near the bottom.

I put my shoes back on and we hightailed it back to the car, as I knew that we would be pushing it for time if we wanted to complete the climb of the Mother Mountain and get back to Brisbane in time for the start of Bogdan's shift at Coles (2:30pm).

We arrived at the end of the tarmac shortly thereafter, having snacked on the meager rashions that we had brought, then running to the trail-head and running/walking to the beginning of the climb. Like the first time that I climbed Beerwah, I shat my pants (figuratively) on the first small pitch of smooth rock with a few handholds. After that, we both made light work of the weathered and amply hand-holed (not strictly a word) section of the mountain. I kept encouraging Bogdan, but I probably did it frequently enough to make it very annoying for him. I then selfishly pulled away from him, as I really wanted to make it to the top before our pre-set turnaround time. Bogs caught up on the flat section, but I separated myself from him greatly on the final rocky-outcrop-filled section of the climb. When I saw the summit a few hundred metres ahead, I broke into a run/scramble, bloodying my big toe in the process (yes, I had removed my shoes at the base of the climb) without really noticing until I arrived at the top. I said hi to the people who were savouring the view, kissed the summit rock, and skipped back down to Bogdan to drive him to the top. He got there about two minutes after the turnaround time - seemingly exhausted, and had a quick glance at the beautiful 360, while I had started to descend. In doing so, I was full of arrogance, and not revering the mountain in the way that I should have been. As a result, she taught me a lesson. I stepped on to a boulder quickly with one foot, slipping, pivoting and then "SMACK", landing on my stomach knees and elbow. There appeared to be little damage, so I was able to keep going, with Bogs in tow. I should have been more alert, as if I had fallen a few metres ahead, it could have been off the side of the mountain. I had a lot of trouble finding the right trail down, so I let Bogdan take the lead, and we managed to take a wrong turn. We were making our way down the mountain, unknowingly, towards a cliff, when we should have been going across it. The scrub got thicker and thicker - Bogs suggested that we turn around, but I thought we could navigate our way back to the path. Eventually, after I had started to become a bit negative, we decided to head uphill again (I should have listened to Bogdan at first), and found the gradually sloping trail with a fair amount of effort. The rest of the descent was pretty uneventful, except for a few unintended bumslides, and some difficulty deciding the best way down for the final 20 metres of vertical. Hitting flat ground with no more mountain beneath me was quite a relief; we chugged down our water and ran/walked back to the car. Bogdan's knees flared up a bit, as I had predicted, and mine started to swell because of the fall. The one on the right was hit right in the middle and it feels quite sore when walked/run upon but it is responding well to ice.

I feel quite guilty that Bogdan may have missed the first few minutes of his shift because of me, in detail: 1. my poor navigational skills in the car, 2. Our poor concentration on the mountain (I was supposedly the experienced one and should have made better decisions) and 3. my forceful suggestion that we climb Beerwah. However, being the good bloke that he is, he seems not to be pointing the finger.

In any case, that was an enjoyable adventure with some important lessons (that I should have learnt by now anyways):
1. Read the map properly,
2. Bring more food and water,
3. Respect the mountain,
4. Stay alert for the right trail.

Anyways, here are the stats: about 7km in 3:50 (what an incredible time!) with approximately 620m of climb and the same of descent.

My feet were externally munched after this outing, but were structurally alright. They look pretty cool though.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I woke today feeling pretty average from the cold that I had picked up on Friday, so I thought it best to have a rest day. I played some easy tennis for a few hours with Benny early in the morning, and when I came back inside, it felt as if the cold had basically disappeared. As a result, I scrapped my plan of rest and did a bit of errand running. I went down to Graceville State School to vote first of all (Greens in Senate and House of Reps).
Making my way from there to the Oxley Common, I focussed on mastering my running form again, but it was hard in my Mizunos, as the inside of the forefoot is lower than the outside. Consequently, my left knee flared up a bit when I got to the common, as did the right hamstring, meaning that I had to stop to stretch fairly often. I really fell into a rhythm at the common - the surrounds made me feel like I was in the middle of the Lockyer Valley, not 6kms from the CBD. I was in a very positive place (mentally): I started contemplating racing Glasshouse in September, but then realised that I didn't want to miss out on another two weeks of running while recovering. Exiting the common on to the busy Sherwood Road, I realised just how peaceful it had been there.
I'm going to have to take trips out to that place more often - I might even make it a daily run when I have returned to full fitness. Or not: Mount Cootha is still much too appealing of a weekday morning.
From there, I went to the fruit shop in Sherwood, stocked up for the week and caught the train home. Total was around 10km in about :50 and change.

Errand-running: the most productive and enjoyable way to spend an hour.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mini-Adventure 2xTibro

On Sunday morning, I had to pop a few ibuprofen to calm my feet down after having run the roads for 50 minutes on Saturday barefoot.

I caught the train up to Caboolture, intending to get the connecting service out to Beerburrum and to cycle from there to Tibrogargan for a bit of a climb. The train was delayed, so I cycled from Caboolture to Beerburrum. My quads didn't like that at all, and I started to rue my lack of condition and fitness.

When I was walking up to the base of the mountain, my mind felt really hazy and I was becoming a bit unenthusiastic. All I had to do was to remind myself of the alternative - sitting on my ass in front of a book or a computer - and I was mentally back in the game.

Upon arriving at the mountain and beginning to climb him, however, my legs seemed to have plenty of juice - I warmed myself into it, completing the first climb fairly methodically and slowly, and scrambling the second at a sometimes-dangerous pace. I saw the other people (mainly bushwalkers) on the mountain, and remembered that I couldn't be in such a poor condition.

I decided to try a few more ambitious sections of rock face this time, the most notable being a 5-metre high section of vertical exposed rock, with a drop of about 15 metres. This would be nothing for a real free-climber, but I consider myself to be more of an ambitious trail runner than a mountaineer. I chickened out of a few others, but I will definitely be try a few more next time.

Plenty of people commented on my lack of shoes on the way up; one woman calling me crazy. Yes, it would be crazy if my feet were completely uncalloused, but since they are fairly thick-skinned they will be more responsive, flexible and gripping than any shoe on the market.

I was less impressed with the view from the top than I usually am, however, the climb was so fluid, beautiful and joyful. This probably signifies a paradigm shift more than anything else; from being focussed on the results to being focussed on the journey. I need this to translate to my running now - I would like to get a consistent four months of training into my legs before I start to focus on racing again.

50 minutes of cycling and 120 minutes of walking/climbing later, I am pleasantly tired - but not exhausted. This is a great substitute for fortnightly long runs, and I will use it to stop myself from going crazy until I can cruise through Brisbane Forest Park for hours on end again.

I'll take the camera next time too, and write a report which isn't as piecemeal.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Getting Back into it.

So, now after nearly two weeks without running (but with much hobbling), I am finally back into it. The first few outings are always a bit difficult; you don't have that same fluidity, efficiency and downright joyfulness that was there when you were at your peak. You have to focus your mind, to MAKE yourself enjoy it.

Today, on my sixth run back (barefoot, might I add), I felt indifferent before the run, normal once I got going, but when I hit the uphill near to my halfway turnaround, something happened. My feet stopped hitting the ground, and started brushing it - my back was straight, my head was not bobbing up and down, my legs felt weightless, and I smiled. I was running the way it should be done; with good form and joy.

Now begins the long path to build up my mileage again. I am looking forward to it.

Flinder's Tour 50km Race Report

Here is my ridiculously long and self-glorifying report of the Flinder's tour race up at Glasshouse a couple of weekends ago.

I cycled the 500 metres to the start line (at Beerburrum Primary School), under a light drizzle of rain, and checked in with the race director with a feeling of resignation. I took solace in the fact that, despite being the youngest 50km runner, I was not the most inexperienced. For many, it was their first ultra. Marina, a vegetarian living in Samford told me the she was pretty nervous, and seemed to doubt herself. I chatted to a few of the kind people whom I had met at Sri-Chinmoy – Suzannah (“Badwater Suzannah”), Nic, Tamyka and Libby to name a few –received a bit of advice from them (walk Mount Beerburrum, just take it easy, etc…), emptied myself and made my way to the start line. Ian Javes, our friendly race director, gave a few instructions, and then anti-climactically muttered “GO”. We were off.
I settled in at an uncomfortable pace with the lead group of about 10 people, telling myself to slow down, and that I could never run 50km at this pace. I ignored the voice of doubt, and instead listened to the Ibuprofen pills clacking together in my shorts. I talked to Stevie, who said he had run the Gold Coast Marathon a few weeks beforehand in 3:04. “Wow”, I thought. “There’s no way that I could run a marathon that fast, he’s going to toast me”. I moved up into about fourth or fifth on the ridiculously steep path to the top of Mount Beerburrum, alternating between walking and running. I was going much faster than I was used to, causing the problem calf to cramp badly. On the descent, I was passed by Jordan, who was really pounding it, and it seemed like I wouldn’t be seeing him again. When we hit the flat ground, my running technique fell apart, as I could no longer run on my forefoot due to the calf. That is not a good sign with 48kms to go. I fell in behind a hardy-looking veteran on the next section of trail, watched his feet, and just followed. My quads felt similar to how they had about eight hours into Sri Chinmoy at this point, but because I was intent on dropping out, I figured that I could keep going at a quick pace until the end of the first loop. I then pulled away from the veteran, after having been intimidated by his running experience and caught Jordan, chatting to him about a range of things as we tackled the wide fire-trail that circled Tunbubudla. We were caught by the veteran eventually, and continued to talk, the most interesting conversation topic being the idea of drafting while running (as it is done in cycling); its advantages, having to work less than the man in front of you; and its disadvantages, copping farts in the face. Jordan tried this technique, and the disadvantages were proven. We were now occupying positions 4-6, about 500 metres behind the leaders. Upon entering the next heavily wooded section, we were caught by the women’s leader Peggy Macqueen, who seemed to be in much better form than the rest of us. I pulled away from them on a gradual incline; I have no idea how or why, and went to see if I could get closer to the leaders. Peggy caught up to me and then went by as we hit a technical section of uphill. The rise was only gradual, but I was incapable of running it. I looked ahead wistfully, seeing peggy disappearing over the hill. The 24km runners then came past in the opposite direction, forcing me off the trail, but I was happy to receive some encouragement from them. Around this time, I was informed that the leader had gotten lost, and had dropped out; now there were only three in front of me! I arrived at the school, to see that Dave Coombs and Peggy were having a chat at the aid table. As soon as they saw me, they scrambled, and seeing this, I rushed through the aid station, eating some boiled potato with salt and half a banana, and refilling my water bottle. The thought of dropping out had all but left my mind – I wanted to see if I could hold my position. As I was leaving, Libby told me that I was doing pretty well; “don’t worry”, I replied. “I’ll blow up soon”.
On the dirt road past the school’s oval, I went past Jordan (who was running in the opposite direction), giving him a high-five, as I did to Lee. He must have been a few minutes back at this point – phew. I then was told that I looked strong by Nic, and ordered to keep going by Suzannah. Amazingly, my hip had not deteriorated at all during the time I had been running. Sure, it was painful, but it wasn’t anything that would stop me from moving forward – maybe the Ibuprofen had paid off. To my surprise, on the way down the rocky hill, I passed another runner. I was now in third. I had to work hard to really put some time on him, doing so by pounding the descents. This was not a good move, and my feet would pay for it later. I slowed to chat with the 24km runners when I passed them, which really refreshed my mind, and at one point even caught a glimpse of Dave and Peggy – about one kilometer in front. I really wanted to catch them, but after being informed at the first aid station that they were “too far ahead”, my mind narrowed to one thought: keep third place. I could see about five hundred metres behind me, and there was no sign of Jordan. I still had to walk many sections, but ran quickly when I could. Keep third place. I chatted to a few more runners before getting to the aid station 12.5km from the finish. At this point, my mind really started to unravel, the pain was really getting to me, but I was still thinking in the present. I thought about my Grandma (who has emphysema), and how I should cherish my ability to breathe and to run, in order to drive myself forward. I walked all of the hills, thinking that Jordan must surely catch me soon.
Amazingly, I arrived at the last aid-station still in third place. My hamstrings cramped immediately when I climbed the gate to get there, and I informed the volunteers of my poor condition. “Just 3.5km to go”, they said. The actual race length was 53.5km, so at this point; I had actually covered 50km. I was ready to finish then and there. I walked the next uphill section of dirt road, noticing that I had been in the same place two weeks earlier during my adventure. Just before the right turn onto downhill single-track, I looked back to the aid station, now about 400 metres away, to see that there were no 50km runners there. Keep third place. I kept passing 24km and 10km runners, receiving and giving encouragement. At some point in the last 3kms, I began to get bolts of pain shooting through my left foot every time I hit the ground. To mitigate this, I began running on my toes with that foot, noticing that my calves were now not nearly as bad as before. I really just wanted it to finish. I was counting the seconds, counting the metres. “When I get to that tree, there will be one mile left. Ok, now there’s only 1500 metres.” I kept looking over my shoulder for the fourth-placed runner.
With 1km to go, I passed an old fella in the 10km race, who reflected poetically that he felt “like something that’s come out of a dog’s behind”. That was probably the best way to describe it for me as well. I was still checking over my shoulder every ten seconds, after having decided to slow down, and maybe even to walk the rest of the way. And then I saw it; there was someone in a gray shirt behind me catching up; I thought it was the old fella, so tried not to worry, but eventually realized that it was Jordan. “You are Joking!” I exclaimed. With 400 metres to go, he was about 100 metres behind me, and by shouting, asked if I wanted to finish with him. I said yes, but immediately reversed the decision in my mind. I wanted to see who was stronger.
Being in front of him, I had the upper hand - all I had to do was to show my strength (being a relative term) in order to demoralize him, and then jog to the finish. I lifted the pace, and lifted it some more, until I was going basically all out. Jordan later said that after he had seen me, he just thought that he “didn’t have the sprint finish in him”, so he faded back, and must have taken the last 300 metres fairly easy. I on the other hand, ran for my life, not thinking about my form, or the structural damage that sprinting with destroyed muscles would do.
I only realized that I had really secured third place when I was 100 metres from the finish. I had stopped myself from being complacent earlier on, but now just let everything go. I tried to cry, but there were no tears, so I crossed the finish line moaning while sprinting, with my arms raised in the air. I kissed the earth and sat down. I had always thought of myself as a slow runner, never worthy of any quality times or placings. My personal best for 50km was somewhere between seven and eight hours (albeit on very tough courses, run by myself), completed with months of solid training behind me. I had STARTED the race exhausted, injured, and, undertrained, but had finished it in 4:44:08, a time that I thought I was not capable of. The winners had finished a good twenty five minutes before me, hand in hand, in an amazing time of about 4:20. I was happy with third though; my self-perception had been drastically altered.