Sunday, February 27, 2011

The best summer holidays ever

Today is the first day of uni, signifying the beginning of a period of reduced adventures and (hopefully) larger amounts of faster running. It also marks the end of the best summer of my life in many ways. I went running/cycling/mountain climbing more frequently than ever, spent time in five Australian states, and was much more social than usual. Purely for my own future reminiscence, here is a list of the things for which the past three months will be remembered, grouped and then ordered chronologically.

- Pb on Flat Taring Trail of Mount Cootha (9:54);
- Slow run/walk from doorstep to Mt. Glorious starting at 3am after not having slept (60km in 9:00);
- Kurrawa to Duranbah 50km in 4:37 (18th/69), struggling to the finish after having started wayyyy to hard;
- Fat's Festive Fatass 47.5km (1200m vert) in about 4:47 (2nd), meeting and chatting to Steve;
- Hares and Hounds 47.5km in 4:24 (5th/35), running with the leaders for the first 30km, meeting Dave, Jason and Jeff;
- Hard mountain run - 3x Mt Cootha without any walking 20 something km in 2:30;
- Run around a grass track with Nic and Mallani, 35km in 3:20 gross (3:05 net), stuggling to keep up with Nic in some places, hurting him in others;
- Triple Mt. Cootha night run.
- Running up/down and around the bottom of Kosciuszcko/Canberra 70km over three days with plenty of vertical;
- Racing 2km with Eleanor, winning in a very slow 6:45, on the day before;
- Mount Glorious 30km (1,000m vert.) in 2:52:40 (9th/100). Running the first 8km in 30:00, dying 1,000 deaths on the first climb, then doing it all over again.;
- Night run on Mount Cootha with Matt Meck;
- Caboolture Dusk to Dawn 12 hour, PBing 50km comfortably in 4:28, then exploding and falling short of 100km (97.297 - 9th/14), Meeting Stephen, Rosemary and Torrill, running with Nic, chatting to John P and Steve;
- Getting reluctantly and sluggishly back into training;
- Doing a hard run on the first Monday back at uni - 4.8km in 20:19 + 3.8km total of warm up/down.

Other Adventures
- 2-day cycling/hiking trip up to Caloundra over Mt. Mee + climbing West tunbubudla and Elimbah, getting my first real taste of bush-bashing;
- Climbing West and East Tunbubudla (no trails) with the boys and then going to the beach, a perfect day;
- Long cycle - Home, Beaudesert, Boonah, Ipswich (150km in about 8:00) - horrible conditions and scary trucks but loving every gruelling minute;
- 5-day cycling/hiking trip - Brisbane, Mt Barney, Ballina, Mt. Warning, Varsity Lakes - Suffering alot and in a good way;
- Trip to the Flinder's Ranges (SA) with Dad - hiking 33km over 3 days Mt. Ohlssen Bagge (950m) x2 and St. Mary's Peak (1150m), being incredibly impressed by my father's fitness;
- Cycling/MTBing around the Yarra River in Melbourne, some of which with Annie and Ian;
- Cycling through/helping out in the floods;
- Attempting to climb Mount Barney overnight with Mike - getting lost, nearly falling off of cliffs, surviving;
- Trip to Mount Kosciuszcko with Dad and Benno - hiking 50km over 3-days with a ridiculous amount of vertical - talking candidly and bantering with Dad for the first time ever;
- Aborted cycling trip South West - still managing 130km on my brother's hybrid with broken gears - paying $140 for a cab fare back to Ipswich from Boonah;
- Long cycling day - Home, Logan Village, Mt. Tamborine, Nerang, Broadbeach - discovering beutiful rainforest while on the climb up the mountain, which was much longer than I had anticipated;
- Climbing Mt. Beerwah with Jacoby and then going for a swim at Bribie Island - overcoming more of my fear of heights.

- Playing American Football and rugby with the boys;
- Playing hours of backyard cricket with Benno when I should have been tapering;
- 5-days of rest in Adelaide - watching as many Hispanic films as possible, going to the beach, getting accupuncture, eating Dad & Paula's awesome vegan cuisine;
- Staying with Annie and Ian in Melbourne and seeing all of the relatives;
- Christmas Day at the Newmans', even more backyard cricket;
- Staying with Nic and Mallani the night before almost all of the races;
- Dinners at mum's house;
- Reading plenty of books;
- Chatting to Liam & Darien;
- Eating plenty of curries;
- Watching the cricket with Matt;
- Working at the call centre;
- Playing 8-ball pool for 24 hours;
- Going to the RE with the boys, sometimes in an attempt to pick up;
- Doing so, and consequently dating for the first time in a year.

All in all, being happy.

Beerwah: the holidays end in style!

You walk slowly up the stairs, shielded from the sun's full force by the all-encompassing forest. Light pierces the treetops and falls in hard-edged pools at your feet.
The day, the week, is beginning to end. It's a lazy Sunday afternoon, and you're sauntering up a trail in the middle of the bush. Nothing could be more peaceful.
Glimpses of flat granite flash into view more and more frequently, and your stomach begins to churn. Up and up and up.
All of a sudden, you're blindsided by the sun, and a fortress of stone smacks you in the face.
Your eyes run slowly up the slope, and soon you must tilt your head back to get some elementary understanding of that upon which you are about to embark.
The idea of it is cool: scrambling up a bare mountainside at a near-vertical gradient.
The reality is less glamorous.

Hand on the wall, push off with the foot, get that fucking first pitch over with as soon as possible. This foot-hold is way too small! Can my hand really grip this flat piece of rock? Don't think about it, don't stop climbing, don't stop...

Jacoby and I went North today, the last day of the holidays, and made an ascent of Mount Beerwah. I thought that I had warned him sufficiently about the nature of the climb - turns out that I hadn't. This seems to be a recurring trend between my friends and I...

The first pitch (AKA the shit-my-pants section) was scary as always, before it became more fun when it flattened off. We took plenty of good photos ("FB profile pic right there"), and arrived at the top fairly quickly, without any serious hiccups. After chatting to a couple on the summit, taking more photos, and noting how incredible it is to be able to see Maroochydore and Brisbane at the same time, we started down.

It all went smoothly and quickly, until we got to that final section. I had wanted to navigate around the pitch which had kicked it off, and it appeared at first that we would be able to do so. We manoeuvred to the right, and were within fifteen vertical metres of the bottom when we came accross a crucial bit of rock which was not there. It had obviously come loose and slid off, leaving a bit of slate-like stone; flat, smooth and slippery; in place of the craggy piece which was there before. So we had to go down the shit-my-pants section, and I was not looking forward to it. In the end, it involved about seven risky limb movements and then we were safe. I had created a mental road-block at that section, but had now managed to push through it.

Jacoby, on the other hand, was bounding down the mountain in a carefree way, even after he had a potentially injurious slip. The rock ended and the trail began. It was good to be on level ground.
I feel bad for having misled Jacoby, and he was pretty pissed in the first section. However, after a while, he seemed to understand what we were doing and maybe even enjoyed it. He didn't mind the torn pants and arse rash from bum sliding either.

We then went for a quick dip in the sea at Bribie Island before heading home.

1:50 on the feet, 400m climb over the space of about 1.5km (plus 400m of loss over 1.5km on the way back). If I ever want to train for the Barkley Marathons, this'll be the place.

Back to uni tomorrow and (hopefully) back to consistent trail-time on Mount Cootha.

It's awesome to have a mate who's up for just about anything, and I'm so grateful to that beautiful mountain for teaching me yet another lesson.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

24hrs of pool

I wanted another adventure before the holidays ended, but due to a niggley ab muscle, it could not involve running or mountain climbing.
So, I suggested to Lucas that we play 8-ball pool for 24 hours. We recruited Jacoby aswell, and decided to use it to donate to charity.
The loser of each game would pay $2 to the winner's charity; we predicted about 150 games in total.
9am Tuesday morning, let the games begin.
In the first few hours, the reality of standing in the room and concentrating for such a long period of time weighed heavily on our minds. We mainly bantered and ate during this period, before Newman came over in the early afternoon to lift our spirits. During that time, we watched Fight Club on the room's TV screen, before turning it off after Newman had left so that we could concentrate on the task at hand.
It started to get difficult at about 1am, when we realised that there was still a standard work-day worth of pool left, and we had already completed two.
From that period onwards, whenever it was my turn to sit out, I would lie on the couch, attempting to go to sleep. As in running, the goals became ever smaller: win this game, get to your break, etc...
The sun came up properly at about 6am, at which point we were hysterical with laughter and anger at actually deciding to do such a ridiculous thing. We really just wanted to finish it.
9am - it was over.
Final scores:
Lucas Overman - 54
Zac B-S - 54
Alex Jacoby - 52.
Although I have not had time to mentally process the experience, I will not be doing that again. It took a serious toll on the mind and, to a certain extent, the body. I'll just stick to running ultras. It has given me an appreciation of just how long 24 hours really is. As a result, if I decide to enter a track race of this length, I will approach it with alot more respect.

Monday, February 21, 2011

On the road again

Another day glued to the road, mesmerised by the tarmac disappearing beneath me as I made my way along the hot plains to the South-West of Brisbane. The sun seared my back and penetrated my skin to heat my entire body. The bike rattled and screeched, but was doing well for a 6-year-old hybrid that is way to small for me.
I was pleased to be out in the country, I having ridden through heavy traffic on suburban roads for two hours as I made my way to Beenleigh. Logan village passed me by, and I leant forward, towards Tamborine Mountain.
I got glimpses of it here and there, realising that the climb was going to be alot bigger than I had imagined. And it was, however, the gradient was forgiving, and the high jungle was cool and spectacular.
Creeks, palms, boulders and ferns ambled by, as I ground my way slowly up the hillside. Eventually, I made it to the village at the top, stopping to soak my legs in the cool stream that flowed through it. On I went, through rolling hills, past magnificent views of Mount Barney and Mount Lindesay, and eventually, down. I yee-haw-ed and screamed in delight as I made my way downwards, coming to the bottom after what seemed like an age. I was rattled when the bike's seat came off randomly; that could have been dangerous.
After chatting to Keiran on the phone for about 15 minutes, I turned left, towards Nerang and then the ocean. The heat was even worse in the next section, as I wound my way up and down hills and accross the mighty Coomera River.
Eventually, I stopped at a fruit stall, slurping down a Gatorade with some grapes, a pear and a peach. 20kms to the Gold coast.
I ground along the scorching road, arriving at Nerang after what seemed like an age, and lunching on a breadroll with vegetarian sausages.
I then sprinted the remaining 10km to the coast along the world's most boring road - no hills, very little scenery (unless you count housing estates).
A quick dip in the sea, and then back the way I came, finally finishing the ride at Nerang Railway Station.
Due to huge storm, it took me three hours to get back to Indooroopilly Railway Station (whereas it would usually take about one and a half).
Left home at 7am, arrived back at 6:30pm. 8:30 cycling time (gross). All in all, a good day.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Aborted cycling trip

I headed out yesterday, attempting to put in 300km over two days on my bike. the first 150km would be relatively flat (from Brisbane to Ipswich to Boonah to the bottom of the range), followed by a 1,000m climb. I would then drop 400m into the town of Killarney, and stay there overnight.
The next morning would involve about 30km of long rolling hills over the border, through Woodenbong, and back into Queensland, before about 90km of dead flat through Rathdowney and Beaudesert, finishing up in Beenleigh.

The signs before-hand weren't good. The gears on my bike broke on Friday afternoon. I picked up my brothers 6-year-old hybrid that is way too small for him. I put my seat and wheels on it. However, the gear allignment was out of whack, allowing me only six gear options.

at 7:05, I rode up Moggill Road, seeing a sign that explained that College's Crossing was closed. My only way into ipswich. Ah well, let's see if we can get over anyways.

The first one and a half hours were horrible. I felt like I was six hours into a ride, and even walked a steep hill. On my road bike, I don't think I've ever walked a hill.

I started to relax into it as I made my way through the blisteringly hot plains between Ipswich and Boonah. The eventual cloud cover made it even better, before my choice of saddle was proven incorrect. Due to the sitting position on the hybrid, using a road bike saddle caused me some serious bum pain, to the point where I would prefer to be standing up in the saddle than sitting down. The 8kg backpack would not have been working to my advantage in this regard.

Stopping and having lunch in Boonah at 11:30 relieved this problem, temporarily. After floundering around for ten minutes, not sure of which way to go, I found the right road. I then proceeded to take a wrong turn, which ended in a dirt road, adding a couple of kms onto my total for the day. Following this were some long, long hills, most of which I walked.

I had been debating turning around and heading back to Boonah for basically this whole time. And then came the event which sealed it. I arrived at an unexpected crossroads, 110km and six hours into the ride. Right - Killarney way atleast 50km and 1,000m of vertical away. Left: Boonah - 21km. After hesitating for a long time, I decided to go back to Boonah. My reasoning was that I was clearly still recovering from the weekend before, and although I knew that I could make it up to Killarney and back home, it would probably push me into a deep deficit. I would live to die another day.
Just as well that I had turned around, I walked most of the hills back into Boonah.

I then had three options: cycle 40km into ipswich and catch the train home, stay overnight and then do much the same, or catch a cab home. I chose the third, which cost me $140.
In the end, it was worth paying that much, I really need the rest.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Significant failure at Caboolture Dusk to Dawn

Bandana on head, shirt off.
Nic Moloney to the left, John Pearson to the right.
500 metres of track in front.
Twelve hours running and walking.
Pretty simple, really.

We started out hard; I was attempting to keep to Nic's race plan. As a result, we clocked 12km in the first hour, and just under that in the second. After draining myself of excess fluid, I ran hard to catch up to Nic, causing my hamstrings/hips to flare up. As a result, it was just over 11.5 in the third hour, marginally ahead of Nic. The next one and a half were all centered on getting to 50km in under 4:30, which I did (4:28).
Such a strong focus on an interim goal is not desirable in a race of this type, and I payed dearly. I spent the next thirty minutes stumbling and waddling around the track, dazed and decimated. The enormity of the task ahead was playing on my mind, and I could not think of any good reason to keep running. I was fixed on dropping out after six hours.
As always, ego came to the rescue, reminding me that, when asked how I went, I would have to tell people that I dropped out after six hours. Why? There would be no plausible explanation.
No reason to keep going, no reason to quit.
So, I just moved forward, running where possible and walking otherwise.
I put in the headphones (to my disgust) after this and cranked out some good laps to the funky tracks on Blood Sugar Sex Magik, before crashing again.
The body was holding up pretty well, but the mind was not.
Hours 8-11 were largely hard to remember, but a few moments (maybe not even from this period) stick out:

Flirting with torill, the women's leader.

Me: Man, you're doing really well for your first 12 hour.
Relentless Caboolture Road Runner: Yeah...but the last two and a half hours have been...sad.

John Pearson (men's winner): I like the serenity of the back straight at night, it's just you and the demons.

Receiving encouragement from Steven, the 50km treadmill world record holder, and a great bloke.

Seeing the very attractive girl (sadly, the girlfriend of another young runner) sitting on the edge of the first/last curve every lap.

Me: My toes hate me.
Nic: Hate them back!

Trevor flying past every-so-often, exclaiming "Come-on!"

The most beautiful smile of encouragement that I have ever seen, coming from Eric's wife.

Walking laps with Libby, who put up with the nonsense that I was gibbering due to lack of sleep.

Finally getting to sleep...on a wooden bench for 20 minutes.

Realising, somewhere around 3am, that my life is perfect, and that there is no other place that I would rather be than here.

In the last hour, my feet became pretty unbearable, so I took my shoes off and just walked. I just wanted it to be over. And pretty soon it was. While Nic ran to get the first shower, I walked over to the benches, and sat down. After about half an hour, Mallani asked a question, and I gave some completely irrelevant answer. She stared at me blankly, then said "your eyes look different".

Because of the electronic lap-scoring, we didn't know the results immediately. I found out the next day; 98.797km. Wow, that was much below the 120 that I was hoping to achieve (or the 110-115 that I realistically believed that I could). The weekend before last at Kozzie, the two races the weekend before, and the 18km run with Matt Meck on Thursday night had all finally caught up with me. That, and I wasn't in the right mental place to give it a nudge when shit got real after I hit 50km.

I am so grateful to Mallani and Libby for crewing for Nic and I. I felt guilty yet thankful to have someone doting on my every wish for a whole twelve hours, another experience basically unique to ultras (atleast for non-royals). Everyone there was so nice and helpful, even if it was just a word or two of encouragement, or a quick chat.

For me, the race ended at 10:30pm. It was over. The weight of my arrogance had crashed down upon my shoulders, and relegated me to the middle of the pack.
I was reminded how much harder ultras are when you aren't running for a high position.
And, I was reminded why many people consider 50ks to be just a long marathon. It's true. Twelve hours is completely different; metabolically, muscularly, structurally and mentally. You have to break through the wall two or three times. You have to move forward; to will yourself to move forward; for more than a working day.

Despite putting up a lowly total, I am glad to have finished what was surely the worst race of my life. I didn't achieve what I had sought to; for that I've been humbled. I perseversed; for that I'm proud.

The day after, I feel great; my feet are intact, and my muscles aren't too sore, aside from the pesky hamstrings/hips and calf. The next two weeks will be pretty quiet. I may put in a climb of Mount Barney with Mike next weekend, but aside from that, it will be next to nothing training-wise.

I have decided that, once I return to uni, I need a certain measure of consistency/routine in my life. as a result, after this brief repose, I will start putting in 18-22km every weekday morning, running everything possible, doing 2km at sherwood on Saturdays, and some miscellaneous run at a harder pace on Sundays (or a rest if I need it). Then, in April, we'll start hitting the track on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a faster-paced long-run (20-30km) on Wednesdays, a race on Saturday, and easy 8km runs otherwise. The first half of April will involve a taper for Cook's tour, before running that one with serious intent. The rest of the month will be taken easy, before running alot of tempo stuff in June/July in preparation for Flinder's Tour. After that, running will be concentrated into a few days per week of long stuff in preparation for Glasshouse 100 mile. This plan is ambitious, to say the least, and could easily be derailed by injury. But I will stick to it if I am able.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Joys of tapering

Sitting here on a Saturday morning like any other, eating spicy white rice and tapping away at the keyboard, I am both resigned to and excited about the "track-meet" tonight.
Twelve hours is a long time to run in circles for, but I don't really care. It is the actual racing aspect that I am most concerned with.
My recent training has gone very well: I put in just over 230km over nine days, backed off (well, sort of), then raced twice last weekend. This level of mileage, and the vertical it entailed (about 6,000m) was really unprecedented for me, so I hope that it will yeild unprecedented results.
BUT (and there is always a but) I have not taken it as easy as I should have this week. I have only run twice, but that included an 18km hilly outing on Mount Cootha with Matt Meck at a good clip...on Thursday night. Not the best of timing, but what can you do.
When I recorded this run, I noted that my "niggles are manageable". And that they are. My hips are playing up a bit, after not having bothered me for a few weeks, and my foot feels guilty. These have yielded the conventional response; compression tights and ice; and a more unconventional one; a foot bath.
Keiran arrived back from England a couple of days ago, and allowed me to use these "foot fizzer" things from the body shop. They seemed to work well initially, but after bsathing my battered soles, the tendons on the outside of my left shin flared up really badly. This is puzzling, as I have never had a problem in this region before. Oh well, take what you get.
Then, as I was going to bed last night, I became itchy between my legs, and scratched myself into a minor rash. It was deserved, for wearing damp compression tights and not showering in a day.

Anyways, that was remedied by a quick shower, and after having a reasonable sleep, I'm feeling pretty ready to go for tonight.

Meanwhile, back at paragraph one... I think (hope) that I will be in the mix tonight, but there are some big players there who will all be vying for position. And I haven't heard of a few of the entrants, so there may be more that I haven't considered.
Here they are, in no particular order.

John Pearson - Runs 24 hours for Australia. Enough said.

Trevor Allen - Has been training well and improving quickly. Sub-4:30 for 50km at K2D, and then won the 5k at Hares and Hounds. If he can keep a consistent pace, he can do something.

Some South African Dude (might be Brad Kruger) - Holds the world record for 50km on a treadmill (3:10). Aside from being insanely fast (judging by his time), he must have serious mental strength.

Colin Solomon - Came in second at the 24 hour national champs. Won Hares and Hounds in 2010.

Nic Moloney - Holds the mens CR at this event, and is looking to break it. He's put in some solid 50km results of late, and has had a longer-than-expected taper.

Zac B-S - Has the stupidity to go out way too hard, and the ego to resist a chase.

Nic is the Obi-wan-kenobi to my Anikin Skywalker, and I would love to pull an episode four on him. That is some serious wishful thinking, but as the Finn Brothers sing "I will take my chances, because anything can happen". That anything includes the niggles getting the better of me, or a distance in the 120s. Let's hope that it swings towards the latter.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mt Glorious 33km

I stayed at Nic and Mallani's the night before, repeating what has now become my pre-race ritual. We had nachos and an awesome bean salad that left me feeling nourished and energized.

Unlike usual, I didn't think about the race at all that night - I had no fear or anxiety about what would happen on the next day. I remember waking at about 2am and pondering on how odd it was not to be fretting about the forthcoming challenge. Maybe because it wasn't an ultra, I believed that it would be easy.


After driving to the start and checking in, the race director explained the course: it would be two out and backs. We would first drop 500 metres in the space of about 8km, and then climb back the way we came. Then we would do it all over again plus a bit of single-track to the finish. This added a serious psychological challenge to the formidable physical one of climbing 1,000 metres over a pretty short distance.

We lined up at the start, and; after chatting with Steve, Jordan, Dave, and Jeff; I realised that by explaining my recent training to them, I had inadvertently assumed an air of confidence. This was reinforced by the fact that I was the only topless competitor, and was wearing my cap backwards due to my position in relation to the sun. They encouraged me to move nearer to the front of the pack for the start.

Three, two, one, go! We were off, charging down a short section of narrow trail, bumping elbows as we jossled for position. As is always the case (usually to the detriment of my finishing time) I fell in with the front runners, which included Dave and two young and incredibly fit-looking road runners. Pretty soon, the longer-haired of the two had gapped us, if only by twenty metres. Dave and I took turns at pulling the pack further towards him, until about 6km in, when I started to fade. Before the turnaround, I was passed by two others, who I subsequently greeted as they made their way back up the mountain, in the opposite direction.

I noted my time when I arrived at the 8km (approximately) mark. Just over 30 minutes. Far out, I don't think I've ever run that fast for that long.

After taking some food and drink from the Thompsons, who were manning the station, I started the climb. I ran as much as possible, to bluff the people who I passed into thinking that I was still feeling good and strong. I was not.

At about half-way up, I was almost sure that I would drop out at the top of the climb. To make matters worse, I was passed twice during this time, and found myself alone. The pain was pretty intense, and I doubted that my body could endure this for 33km. But I just tried to toughen up, and was aided when passing the rest of the field who were coming in the opposite direction; I gave and was given plenty of encouragement.

When the trail finally turned flat, I was in heaven. I cruised along, still pushing the pace, slowing once to ask a limping runner if she needed some help.

And then I saw it; Dave Coombs, the current king of the Glasshouse events was walking slowly and gingerly back to the top. Oh no! Dave explained that his foot was busted up from the rocks, and he didn't want to damage it any more. I felt sorry for him, but respected his wisdom in making what was certainly the right decision.

I arrived at the top, was informed that I was in ninth place (eigth, actually, seeing as Dave had dropped), had some grapes, and then burned my way back towards the bottom of the mountain. I felt sick almost immediately, probably due to the high sugar content (compared to other fruits) of the grapes, but it quickly dissipated. Then came the stitches in my side, which were a real nuisance.

Once again, I put on a brave face when running past my closest competitors, who were hurtling towards the top, before having the pleasure of saying hi to every person in the field, as I screamed downhill.

To my surprise, I felt great here, and pushed for all I was worth; the descent was over in almost no time at all.

An anzac biscuit, a rice bubble cake, some endura, and a sponge bath; I was in and out of the checkpoint in little time.

I tried to run that first pitch, but ended up walking, saving myself for the last five kilometres. This would have given alot of motivation to the runners behind me to try to reel me in, as I passed them looking like a newly-born foal. I was bent over at the torso to about 70 degrees, with my arms straight and flinging to give some assistance to my decimated legs. As it leveled off in places, I found that I could run quite comfortably while still maintaining a good pace. I was starting to enjoy myself despite (or maybe because of) the pain.

That is, until I glanced behind me. I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be an older male runner in a white singlet, and there began the intense psychological battle for which I will remember this day. At first, in my mind, I conceded my position to him. He's run a smart race, I thought. Just give it to him. But as time went on, and I wasn't passed, my confidence grew. Eventually, I decided to take the most courageous, egotistical and painful course of action. Show him that you're still strong; don't give him a sniff. Run. Run as much as you can, and as fast as you can. When you've gapped him significantly, you can slow down.

So, I pushed uphill, only walking when I had to, and going as fast as possible in exposed sections, where someone would be able to see me. To stop whoever it was from getting a look in, I clung to the most covered side of the trail, the inside of the bend.

After about 15 minutes, I came to a very open section, and reaching its end, I was suprised not to see anyone behind me. I was starting to think that I had imagined this person. It then became all about getting to the water station. Come on man, just get there, just keep pushing. I arrived, and then began the final five or six kilometres of the course.

As I was coming to the final hill, I once again spotted someone behind, and nearly went mental. I was angry and depressed, and kicked myself into a really hard pace to avoid them. I returned to the flats, relieved to be free of that intense lactic burn, and psyched to still be in the top ten. So I pushed really hard to hold my position. Dave welcomed me into the aid station, sitting comfortably in a camping chair.
Two k's to go Zac!
Two k's? Are you serious?
I didn't stop for food or drink, for fear of being caught, but was bewildered and disappointed that I had about ten minutes of running left. I really wanted it to be over.
But the next section was, by far, the best of the entire course. The gently undulating single-track skirting the mountain-side gave me strength, and I cruised along without feeling any pain. The jungle was thick, the birds were singing, I felt entirely at ease.

But, there was to be one more twist in the story. I glanced behind me to see...a woman! So either the old man was a hallucination, or I had just made a misjudgement in my stupor. I just about doubled my speed, rendering her shouts from behind inaudible (was it "let's finish together"? or "slow down"? or...). Then came the final uphill, which I just had to walk. Lucy Blaber, the leader of the women's race, did not. After unintentionally holding her up on some narrow steps, I let her pass with less than a kilometre to go. I then just ran nice and slowly through the forest, avoiding the precarious edge of the trail and the strong vines draped across it. I was a mildly scared that there was another person in pursuit, but after a few minutes I started to hear voices, and realised that I was close enough to the finish to stop worrying.

I burst out of the jungle, on to the grass. Finishing the hardest race of my life, Nic greeted me cheekily; "it's about time Zac!"
"I reckon, aye".

And it was. I can't remember having pushed myself more, but I was rewarded. Ninth place: 2:52:40 for 33km with 1,000m vert. But that wasn't really important; the fact that I had dug so deep was.

I am also really happy that none of my niggles gave me any trouble during the race. My calves were ok, as were my hips (aside from some residual soreness from the day before), and my feet seemed to be all good.
However, on the day after, I am currently feeling it in my quads, and all of my metatarsals are pretty beaten up (maybe a bit of bone stress). Every-so-often, I get little tickles of pain coming up from the tops of my feet.
I need to take a few days off. Then I'll have a couple of easy runs before Caboolture, if I feel ok. What I need to remember is that, by training this week, I can't really help my race, but I could easily destroy it. Let's be wise and rest up.

Friday, February 4, 2011

An unexpected and undeserved victory!

This morning, I decided to try a short race for the first time in my life; 2km to be exact.
I got a lift with Eleanor down to Sherwood Arboretum, and we jogged along the muddy concrete for a warm-up. After listening to a few veterans speak about the success of the running club (it was their 29th anniversary), we lined up at the start.
I wasn't too nervous, as I knew that I would be toasted by everyone. However, I started at a solid pace, moving to the front of the field after 100 metres, and feeling good. There was one kid in front of me who looked about 14, but that was it. I powered up to the top of the hill, and hit the 1km turnaround suprisingly quickly. I had just been caught by a few of the runners in the 4km and 6km events, and was disappointed to realise this when they didn't turn around with me. I was all alone. I waved to Eleanor on the way back, and then pushed pretty hard into the finish.
I won comfortably, in what must have been an incredibly poor field, as my time was 6:45. I mean,
come on, there are 50km runners who average that speed! It was still a good pick me up.
Eleanor came in about half a minute later, while I cheered her on from the finish line. She won the women's race by a huge margin - not bad for someone who says that they're unfit!
After warming down, we watched the 6km runners come in. It was a frightening sight; there were girls who must have been ten or twelve years old crying and wretching after sprinting over the line. Sheesh, I know you have to push hard in races, but running's supposed to be fun!
The whole experience has psyched me for future short races. I have always said that I am super-slow, but now I'm seriously wondering what I can do at a distance like 5km. Sub-20 for sure, maybe sub-18? Dare I say 16 minutes???
I'll have to keep racing these bad boys on Saturday morning, and putting in a track workout mid-week if I want to give it a serious go. I imagine that it would translate into better times for longer distances aswell.
We then had breakfast at Wray with Eleanor's parents, before I headed to Milton to buy a pair of Brooks Green Silence shoes for Mount Glorious, tomorrow (and hopefully for Caboolture 12 hour the weekend after).
After cooling down, my right foot seems to be very niggley, but I'll give it an ice and see what happens. It could be tendonitis or bone stress; I seriously hope it is the former!
Fingers crossed I don't make it worse tomorrow; if I can get through this race without major damage, I'll be able to just take it easy (aside from a possible track session) before Caboolture. If not, I will have to alter my schedule.
In any case, my training has been (somewhat accidentally) geared around Mount Glorious as far as terrain is concerned, so I'm not going to take it easy just to save myself for the weekend after. Carpe diem!!!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sendero Vacio

After something more than 1000km on the trails of Mount Cootha, I have found two new ones in the space of eight days.
The first one that I found skirts off the side of Powerful Owl, downhill into a gully and then uphill to the ring-road. I have decided to name it (if only in my training log) Barney's recovery, due to the fact that I found it on the day after that fateful night on the side of it's namesake's mountain.
This morning, my personal life had intruded into my running. I didn't feel like going outside. But, like always, I just closed the door behind me, and ended up flying down the single track (flying being a relative term).
I dunked my head in the cool trickle of water called, somewhat ironically, slaughter falls, and then continued around the Aboriginal Art Trail. I came to a fence which blocked access to what seemed to be a pearl of trail. I had seen it many times before, but had not dared to make a traverse.
For no apparent reason, I hesitated for a while before deciding to climb over the "no access" sign, and see what was there. I collected many spiderwebs as I climbed the big hill, running alongside a creek bed. It was an amazing trail, one of Cootha's best.
At the time, I debated calling it el sendero de la soledad (the trail of loneliness), and other more obvious and soppy names to match my current state of mind.
But as I got in the door, I knew exactly what it would be called; el sendero vacio, the empty trail. One interpretation; out there, I was able to empty my mind and just run, taking it all in.
Another, possibly more accurate, reading is that at the moment, I'm feeling pretty empty. This can be broken down further into a few possibilities; physically, I could be out of juice and in need of a rest. Aside from a few niggles (ankles, calf and hips on and off), I'm feeling pretty good.
Spiritually, I'm ok. I sense the presence of the mountains, the forest, the land. They nourish me.

That leaves my emotional and mental state. Well, I'll be try to be somewhat subtle here. Please ignore the massive cliches.

Like with everything, I don't hold back, I invest completely. I put the entirety of my inner-stability on the line, as I know nothing else.
The ebbs and flows of my mind become attached to the receival of off-handed agreements and the tone of a voice.
I am dangerously forward, eager, scaring even myself. Howabout tomorrow? Saturday? Monday?

I had fast-forwarded to the sharing of lives. In reality, it was five hours of conversation over two weeks.
I had been warned countless times. I told myself to recede, but it was too late, I was completely attached.

I am frustrated with indifference and ask a question. It's still alive!
A meeting, rejected advances. Still seems to like me.
Too early I push onwards again, because I need to know how far it can go.

At that point, hints of withdrawal had no effect.

So I force it out of her.

I have crushed a possible future. And now I feel a little bit empty.

Moral of the story: don't approach casual dating in the same way you approach ultrarunning.

Alright, there's my bit of self-indulgent wallowing for the day. It's time now to refocus, and look forward to a big weekend of running. Tomorrow is a 2km road race at Sherwood, which I am just trying to get through unscathed, and obviously do something under 8 minutes. Then Sunday is the Mount Glorious 30km race, that now has 880m of vertical (Note, ended up being 33km with 1000m vertical). Let's hit it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The hard days

I wake reluctantly, staring at the ceiling in a lethargic stupor. My muscles are stiff, my joints they creak, and my blood is tired. The damp, lazy heat closes around my almost naked body, and my mind wanders, loosening its once steadfast resolve to engage in reality.
No conscious thought is articulated, but there is a feeling. A feeling that tells me not to leave home, to stay inside, to remain inert.
I contemplate this feeling, dwell on it, and then break free from its hold.
I run.
I reluctantly run.
I run because it's a hot morning, and there is nothing else. I wish to cast a line into my mind's pond, and see what we can reel in.
I run to be.
My feet patter along the sidewalk, up and down hills, and arrive at the trail. I am not blessed with the feeling of homecoming as usual; the forest seems as indifferent as the cold tarmac of suburbia.
But all I do is run, and then walk when it gets too steep, and before I realise it, the lookout is a few steps away.
I can see the whole of the city.
I hop nimbly yet sluggishly down the rocks of my favourite Mountain Bike trail, and eventually I become the forest. I am the currawong with the grub in its mouth, the goanna grasping the tree, the turkey scratching through the scrub, the human running.
I am alive, and I am home.
I come accross barking dogs, and eventually their owner, and remember my other life. I am the forest, but I am a human estranged from it.
I lope lazily down the now wider trail, hopping accross the creek, and walking up to the road. My calf twinges slightly, hope it's ok...
I pick up the pace a bit; I'm feeling better. My body remembers, it never forgets.
See the driveway, touch the gate, press the button.
A beep of the timex, and the run is over.
I come inside, have a drink, and get out my log book.
The run is etched indelibly into eternity, with great satisfaction.

These are the days that are hard. The days when the commotion of your banal life interferes with your escape to pure existence.
But you run so that for a short moment you can experience that warm, familiar, lucid reflection.
You run so that for a short moment you can just "be".