Sunday, 10 April 2016


It’s Saturday night and I’m at home all alone, except for Rose…scrap that. It’s Sunday morning—time flies when the drugs are working, and no one needs to hear me feeling sorry for myself!

On Thursday night, I tried a relatively benign transition on the aerial cloud, from crucifix to a straddle (like this, only hanging and on a cloud that I'd twisted up, instead of a teardrop). As I was resting back with a lot of weight on my bottom ribs, I heard a loud pop and felt a sensation of something giving way. I didn’t fall, and I still managed to do a shoulder stand and a neck hang afterwards, but something felt very wrong. I think it was just the adrenaline keeping me going—once I’d cooled down, it was Painful. Yep, with a capital P.

I managed to do this after hurting my rib, but a few hours later I still couldn't move. This photo, which doesn't feature me, is from Maevy Aerial Arts.

I can move around a bit more this morning but I still can’t sneeze, cough or laugh without severe pain. The after-hours doctor ruled out major pneumothorax (a punctured lung), which would be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. But he said he couldn’t rule out minor pneumothorax, which wasn’t life threatening and would heal on its own…unless something happened to worsen the injury. And he also couldn’t rule out a fracture, which might worsen any pneumothorax or cause major pneumothorax. (I think that might have been reassuring…?)

He wanted me to go get an X-ray to check for a fracture, but he couldn’t give me a referral form because it has to be ordered by the doctor who will conduct a follow-up appointment. So diagnosing my problem would involve going to a GP (an action I try desperately to avoid; something about a history of misdiagnoses and near-death experiences) and then going to a clinic to get an X-ray and then going back to the GP. That seems like a lot of effort and money to almost certainly be told, ‘We can’t do anything to fix it, so just rest it and take pain relief as required. And If you become short of breath, go to the nearest emergency department.’

I think I’ll just rest, take pain relief, and visit the ER if things get worse. (But thanks for the tip on how to spend all my money.)

It well and truly spoiled my weekend, though. I’d lined up some friends to feed my dog, and cancelled on other friends’ social activities, in order to do a 24-hour mountain bike race with my AR team. Clive had even gone to the trouble of preparing his spare bike for me so I could test out a 29er. But attempting to race seemed like a really stupid idea, given that I couldn’t even lift a handbag without pain, and could only manage to take the dog for a slow walk. (And am a bit unco on the bike to start with.)

It’s a critical time for training—about when I should be peaking—so I’m pretty pissed about the injury. And it seems my team-mates are unhappy about it, too. The flow-on effect is that at least one of my them now thinks I’m a dirty-piker hypochondriac, which is a shame. Once upon a time, I would’ve found that really motivating, but I grew out of my ‘prove people wrong’ phase at some point in my late 20s and now I prefer to spend my time and energy on people who encourage and appreciate me. So I’ve just found this whole episode to be completely demoralising.

For now, I'm just popping Voltaren, marinating in arnica and hoping for a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Breaking-up-then-making-up isn’t sweet. It’s not romantic, either. It’s thoughtless.

I know what you’re going to say. (Well, unless you agree with me at the outset—then I’ll be very surprised.) You’re going to tell me I’m wrong, that it is romantic, and that sometimes you don’t really appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone.

That probably makes you feel better about some of your past choices, but you’re wrong. If you didn’t really appreciate it, you didn’t really deserve it.

If you were so quick to reverse your decision to break up, then maybe you didn’t really think it through in the first place, and that’s a thoughtless act that shows a lack of appreciation for yourself and your partner.

Way back in high school, I decided that I would always think hard before ending a relationship, and I would never, ever go back. Not in those weak moments when I only remembered the happy times. Not in those lonely times when I just longed for someone, anyone to be with. Never.

Instead, I clung to the knowledge that the break-up hadn’t been in vain—I had not impulsively ended the relationship, but instead felt and reasoned my way to the decision, so I knew it was the right thing to do. Sure enough, a few weeks later I would start to remember the sad times, the annoying times, the boring and unsatisfying times, the angry times, and all those other times that weren’t happy times…and I knew I had made the right decision.

I’m going to guess that a lot of people don’t ever give themselves that space to practise such thoughts. I’m going to guess that a lot of couples get back together because people are too scared to be alone. We’re told time and again—in the media, by our families, everywhere—that being alone is the worst thing that could happen to us, the very definition of ‘failing at life’. I think being in an unfulfilling relationship is worse.

If you couldn’t see what your partner brought to your life until they were gone, perhaps you should ask yourself why you were so blind. I don’t mean that in a blameful way. It’s an important question, because if you don’t appreciate someone for exactly who they are, and exactly where they fit in your life, then you both deserve something better.

I’ve been in that boat myself, with a kind man who treated me well. When I realised I wasn’t appreciating all he brought to my life, I spent some time beating myself up over it, and thought long and hard about what I could do to fix it. Then I jumped overboard. He deserved better, and so did I: I deserved to be a person who could appreciate someone completely. I wasn’t that person yet, so I set off to become her.

My travels were dark and violent. I suffered greatly. Strengthening my ability to love made me vulnerable to those who craved appreciation and gave none in return. Those are the hardest people to leave, because they break you down and leave you doubting your own logic.

But I achieved what I set out to do—I finally appreciated what he had given me. I also appreciated that it was in the past, and that the experience had changed us both for the better. I had no regrets about leaving; I only regretted the pain it caused him at the time. My consolation was knowing it minimised the pain we’d have both felt long-term.

We are taught from a young age that ending a relationship equals failure, but that’s just as untrue as the lie about being alone. Ending a relationship that we don’t appreciate frees both parties for relationships that can satisfy us completely.

Now I’m finally at a point in my life where I appreciate someone fully, and I feel fully appreciated by him. The thought of losing him from my life makes me feel physically ill, but the thought of callously throwing away such a wonderful relationship and then reinstating it is far, far worse: I will never let our relationship deteriorate to the point where we don’t appreciate what we have.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Adventure report: Coot-tha Burn + Dusk to Dawn

A few weeks ago I asked Susannah if she was doing anything at the Caboolture Historical Village Dusk to Dawn event and she responded that it was the same day as the Brisbane Coot-tha Burn—13 February. Or maybe I asked her about Coot-tha Burn. Or maybe she asked me. It didn’t matter.

What mattered was that neither of us thought doing one event should rule us out from doing the other. Why would it? She’s in training for Ultraman Australia (don’t even ask—it makes my events look trivial) and I’m headed off to Expedition Africa in a few months.

So that’s how we ended up spending our Saturday:

  • cycling from Bowen Hills to Mt. Coot-tha, then
  • time-trialling up Mt. Coot-tha as part of the Brisbane Coot-tha Burn, then
  • cycling to Caboolture (bringing the total to 80 km), then
  • running and walking in the six-hour event at the CHV Dusk to Dawn.

I was predictably dreadful in the Coot-tha Burn, but I did manage to finally meet the famous Jordana Blackman from Chicks Who Ride Bikes, and she was just as bubbly and intelligent as I'd expected—despite being hungover. I even recovered from death to the point I could answer some interview questions for the BrizTreadley podcast. (I recommend you listen to the whole thing as I'm not all that interesting, but my mother will want to know that I come in around 4:08.)

Maurice (left) looks pro, whereas Susannah (right) and I (front) look like we're about to ride another 60 km

Susannah was scheduled to compete half an hour after me, which meant she had no chance of catching me (which had been my greatest fear), so I'd originally planned to ride around the mountain and meet her at the bottom. But when I finished the interview, they opened the road to let our wave ride down…and how often do you get to descend Mt. Coot-tha without any car traffic? I zipped down at 57 km/h and didn’t regret a thing.

Well, not until I then had to ride up the other side of the mountain to meet Susannah. But it was still worth it. As we came back to the main T-junction with Mt Coot-tha Rd, I dropped my chain and she jammed her derailleur, but we survived and made it safely to the race village where she consumed something healthy (a salad) and I ate superfoods (a soft-serve ice-cream dipped in chocolate and sprinkles).

The rain dumped down on us as we headed to Caboolture, ruining yet another impractically pale-coloured jersey with ingrained road grime. That wasn’t a big deal for me, as I had a set of running clothes waiting for me in Susannah’s car, which she'd parked at Caboolture the previous day. But Susannah had decided to ride up in her running gear, and she was going to have very soggy feet. I’m not sure how she always manages to bring the rain; maybe it’s me. (Last time the rain washed that grinding noise right out of my rear hub, but I had no such luck this time around.)

Once we arrived we quickly sorted our bikes out, ducked out to buy some cold drinks and ice, and started getting organised for the run. For Susannah, this meant about 10 minutes of concentrated preparation and then some chill-out time, but I opted to fart about and chat to everyone for over an hour before frantically changing, laying out my gear and trotting to the start line.

Catching up with my six-day race buddies Karen (left) and Annabel (right)
(Photo by Dreamsport Photography)
Right from the start, I ran three laps (of 500 metres) and then walked one. It was a great strategy for my unfit legs and one I continued right until the last lap, except for a few small deviations:

  • When my iPod started playing up, skipping tracks or reading their titles out loud, I walked an extra lap to fix it. I accomplished nothing—I think it may have been caused by sweat in my headphones, because it's working again now.
  • When I drank Coke instead of taking a gel, I walked an extra lap to get the accompanying water down.
  • When the timing didn’t update properly and I lost count of my laps, somewhere in the last hour, I ended up running two extra laps.

It was a magical night where I got to catch up with old friends, including David Waugh (who has been off the scene since forever!) and my six-day race buddies Annabel Hepworth and Karen Chan. I enjoyed my whole time out there, and felt fitter than I’d feared. I was delighted to have clocked 51.522 km. I was also delighted to stop, and glad I’d only signed up for the six-hour and not the full shebang.

But, most of all, I was glad to have a buddy who is always up for adventure. Thanks, Susannah!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Race report: Alpine Challenge 2015

The thing about suffering is that you don’t really need to train to suffer. You just do it. — Alex Honnold, Sufferfest 2.

He may have been on the big screen at the Radical Reels World Tour, but Alex Honnold was surely speaking directly to me.

This year really didn’t work out how I expected it to, and I’m talking about the whole year, not just the Alpine Challenge. The race was the same race as last year; I was not the same runner.

But I’d committed way back on 4 December 2014—back when I’d just successfully finished the 100 mile event for the second time ever, over five hours faster than in 2010, and followed it with 90 km of the Coast to Kosciuszko course while crewing for Chris Knowles the following weekend. With a whole extra year of solid training in my legs, I was sure to have a dream run.

(Unless the environment decided to mess with me, which is always a possibility at Alpine. But the conditions were perfect this year.)

But that year of solid training didn’t happen, so neither would the dream run. I understood this—it had been made painfully clear when I tried to cram for the race with a 50 km training run a few weeks out—and I decided to start the 100 mile event anyway. I never expected to finish, but then I never expect that at Alpine. I just wanted to see how far I could get.

Alpine Challenge 'training'

I finally got to meet Catie Ecc on Friday evening. I’d chatted to her on Facebook for several months, and she was even bubblier in person…and less organised—she was still trying to pack her drop-bags. She saved my butt, though, by buying me a lighter (and getting to me before Chrissy, who had also bought me a lighter and would’ve earned the butt-saver title if she’d seen me first). Yep, I’d driven through Mt Beauty, bought all my supplies (except the lighter), and powered up to Bogong Village before I realised I’d forgotten that one item of mandatory gear.

My pre-race routine went surprisingly well, aided by some easy-to-get-along-with housemates, Donal Watters and Tarek Heiland. I went to bed early and slept well despite an upset tummy, which was almost certainly a bad case of nerves. When I woke up I trimmed any peeling parts of the Rocktape I’d put on my feet before bed. I even remembered to switch on my GPS before the start—that never happens! After a few start-line photos and very little ceremony we were off and running through the village at 4.30 am.

On Magazine Cable Track I stopped to strip off a layer—I refuse to be cold on the start line, as I never get warm again—and everyone ran past me. I expected to stay at the back for the rest of the day, but I’d caught a few by the time we got to the river crossing, so I had some company for the climb up Spion Kopje Fire Track.

I was surprised to feel stronger than I’d expected. Don’t get me wrong: I still felt like death. It was just a lesser form of death. My big toe was aching in the same spot I’d seen a podiatrist for a few weeks back; it was unbalancing my gait and, as she’d predicted, my left shin was sore, but it seemed manageable. And my tummy had settled; I was eating well.

As we passed the track to Howman’s Gap I breathed a silent thank-you that we get to defer that track for another year. (It’s so steep. So, so steep. And next year we’ll be coming up it.) I pushed on, stopping only to take some photos across to Falls Creek. My phone played up a bit but I waited, knowing I wanted the shot. Then I climbed again. After forever, I arrived at Warby Corner.

Falls Creek from Spion Kopje Fire Track at Little Spion Kopje

It was a struggle to fit all my food into my pack and pockets, and when I left the checkpoint I was barely holding my slow pace, aiming for a 44-hour finish—and I knew the highly technical section ahead would slow me down even further. Chrissy posted photos last week of all the trees down and I wasn’t sure I’d make the summit cut-off.

I raced out and head north along the Australian Alps Walking Track for a few hundred metres…and I realised I’d left my course notes at the checkpoint. I ran back up to look, but couldn’t find them, so I checked my drop-bag. No luck, so I checked my pockets again, and found it in the wrong one. Arrrrgh! The last thing I could afford to do was waste time.

Chrissy Lando near Roper Hut

I pushed on and passed Chrissy Lando near Roper Hut, up the top of Duane Spur. She’d been in the loo, and I went a little further along to one of my favourite spots and got my phone out, ready to take a picture when she caught up. Chrissy bolted passed me a few minutes later, all smiles and waves, and then disappeared into the distance. Duane Spur is quite a narrow track with soft edges and loose rocks. In 2011 I sprained my ankle badly on Duane Spur, so I’m particularly nervous about it—add the lack of training, and it seemed prudent to take it easy instead. I could hear Chrissy and some others down at the river as I got close, but she was long gone by the time I arrived.

Big River crossing

Natalie Wallace was there, though, filling up bottles. She’d run 100 metres or so ahead of her teammate, Scott Black, who was struggling with an iliotibial band injury (ITB). I sat down in the water to cool off as they finished up and headed out. I stayed as Bo Xing came and left, and I took off just as Kristy arrived. I was pleased to see she hadn’t taken the soft option up at Warby Corner, and disappointed to learn later that she’d pulled out on Mt Bogong.

Big River crossing

I spent the next few hours playing the slowest ever game of tag, first up T Spur with Bo, and then from Cleve Cole Hut to the summit with Natalie and Scott, watching Chrissy disappear into the distance. The storm damage wasn’t as bad as I had feared; it slowed me down, but not as much as my excessive photography (coupled with an occasionally obstinate phone-not-camera, which required multiple wake-up calls to actually get the camera working). I was delighted that it wasn’t so cold on the summit as previous years, and I didn’t need to get a jacket out when I sat at the summit to eat my Rafferty’s Garden Italian Lasagne (because I couldn’t find any apricot chicken)—delicious! I’d beaten Natalie and Scott to the summit but they pushed on straight away so I didn’t catch them until we were almost at the tree-line on Quartz Ridge.

T Spur

Chasing Natalie and Scott

Once below the tree-line, I hit one of the prettiest sections of trail (in my opinion). It has all these little grassy glades and the track is less distinct than Duane Spur—but it’s a bit treacherous, because the rocks aren’t as loose as elsewhere on the course and they’re hard to see and easy to land on. Real ankle-breakers, but not today.

Quartz Ridge track

I made it safely down to the Big River Fire Track and filled my bottles at the little culvert. Most runners fill up at the river crossing itself, but I prefer the water in the culvert. It’s clear and cool and fresh, and it pours out as neatly like water from a faucet. It doesn’t get the horses and the four-wheel drives like the river itself, and the extra weight isn’t an issue as it’s only a short distance and all downhill.

Bo at Big River Crossing

I took my time down at the river to get saturated again, and Bo snapped a photo that ended up on the race website. I was expecting the arduous climb to be hot in the afternoon sun, but it wasn’t as bad as previous years—probably because it was later in the day. It’s not a pretty section of track until you hit the top again, and I struggled to keep motivated. My back and intercostal muscles were aching and it was hard to breathe, even when I loosened the chest straps on my race pack.

And, for the first time during a race, I had a nose-bleed without other symptoms. (I had a severe allergic reaction once during the Razorback Run, but I was also puffed up all over with watery eyes, unable to breathe properly.) It may have been allergies or dry air, but it certainly made me nervous. Despite that, my legs still felt strong and I thought I’d make it to Warby Corner before the 6.30 pm cut-off. But then I got distracted, and frustrated with my pace, and frustrated with the hairpin turns that led me onto another long section of track (there’s always one more), and frustrated with myself for not training, and eventually I farted around with my phone sending some texts to my boyfriend when I should’ve been running.

Big River Fire Track, Timms Spur

By the time I realised how far I still had to go, it was too late. I mean, I should’ve known—the climb up Big River Fire Track is always longer than I think it is, and I try to factor that in, but I stuffed up. I missed the cut by a few minutes, and had a sneaking suspicion the Alpine Search and Rescue (SAR) guys would be negotiable, but I also knew there was no way I’d get out of the checkpoint in under fifteen minutes—I had to deal with the enormous task of getting all my night gear into my tiny pack—and then I’d be well behind the cut-off time for the 100 mile, and fast approaching the 7.00 pm cut-off for the 100 km.

At times like this, I always wish I was one of those runners who doesn’t feel the cold, but I do feel the cold, and I knew I’d need my layers on the Bogong High Plains. This year I was prepared, with a waterproof bag in drop-bag that was easy to attach to the bungee cord on my pack (and hopefully less fragile than the zip-lock bag I used last year). At times like this, I also wish for my old 20L Salomon Raid Revo backpack I took around the course way back in 2010. It was the perfect pack, comfortable and spacious with accessible hip pockets, and would be even better with a few bottle holders on the front. Ah, those were the good old days.

Catie was running out of the checkpoint as I arrived, and when she heard me question whether I had to drop, she asked the same question. She said she’d be OK with that. But the volunteers waved her on and encouraged her to continue, reassuring her she had cleared the checkpoint in time to stay on the 100 mile course. (She ended up dropping to the 100 km at Pole 333.) I got the impression she was considering waiting for me, but I’m glad she didn’t. I took too long to re-pack my gear and I was moving too slowly. Also, knowing she was ahead gave me an incentive to keep going and chase her down for some company overnight—once I’d eaten my tin of spaghetti.

The sweepers came in and lamented how slowly the remaining runners were moving. I couldn’t tell if they were annoyed or disappointed, but I felt a guilty pang when they mentioned a runner stopping to take photos.

Natalie and Scott came in and decided not to continue—Scott because he couldn’t, and Natalie because she didn’t want to trudge through the night again. ‘I did that last year,’ she told me. So they waited for a car to take them out to Langfords Gap.

I had left Warby Corner just before 7.00 pm, with four and a half hours to cover the 22 km to Pole 333. Easy, right? Except…

Then I needed a toilet break, but didn’t want to stop where they could see me from Warby Corner. So I kept stopping and checking if they could see me—I was no longer capable of running while looking back over my shoulder without risking a fall (am I ever?)—and spent a good few minutes finding somewhere suitable. I took my gloves off and tucked them in a pocket, answered nature’s call. Another minute or two gone, but then I was ready to go, and still able to beat the next cut-off. Except…

Approaching Watchbed Creek

Then I needed to take my next energy gel—doesn’t time fly? I stopped, pulled an empty Twisties packet from a pocket, and spat my gum into it. I inspected the first gel I grabbed and then chose a better flavour and downed it with a big guzzle of water. And once I’d taken it, I realised my hands were cold and went to put my gloves back on. They weren’t there. I patted down all my pockets, my pack, and even checked my shoes in case they’d somehow gotten caught in the laces or something. Nope. I’d dropped them. I spun around on the spot, but I saw nothing.

I had spares, but I wanted my Flux Zeros, so I ran back a few hundred metres to find them. It was almost dark and they were nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t afford to waste more time, so I gave up and turned back on course towards Watchbed Creek. After a few hundred metres I stopped a metre short of my gloves so I wouldn’t step on them, but they were already dirty—I’d been standing on them when I first dropped them, getting the gel out. More time wasted. I was on track, though, so I pushed on, thinking I should still be able to make the cut-off at Pole 333. Except…

Then I wanted to take some sunset photos, so I stopped to do that. Around this point I realised that my phone misbehaved most often when it got cold, and considered putting it in a different pocket, and then thought I better just run instead.

Sunset over Rocky Valley Storage

Then I needed another thermal shirt because I was getting too cold, so I stopped to unload one from my pack and get dressed.

Then my extra bottle was digging infuriatingly into my ribcage, so I stopped to adjust it.

Then I was too hot, so I stopped to fiddle with that extra thermal I’d just put on, and tried to let some air through.

Then last light looked so pretty that I took some more photos, trying to capture the colours. I had to apologise to the sweepers for being one of those annoying runners, stopping to take photos. They asked how I was doing.

Last light

‘Just enjoying the peace and quiet.’

‘Sorry—we’ll back off.’

I didn’t mean to sound so rude, but I do love my alone-time up on the high plains.

Then I arrived at Langfords Gap moments before the volunteers dropped Natalie and Scott at their crew car, but I only beat them because they didn’t have the Watchbed Creek gate key the first time around and had to go back for it. I knew I could go with them; I knew I should probably ask. I didn’t. I paused just long enough to drive the thought from my mind, and headed out along the aqueduct, followed by the new sweepers. If I could just make it to Cope Hut in an hour, I could make it to Pole 333 on time. I knew I could. Except…

Then I headed out along the aqueduct and I was very, very slow. I’d eaten heaps and my energy levels were great. My massage therapist’s efforts to ease my sacroiliac joints hadn’t been undone yet. My feet were sore but not as bad as I’d expected—the shin niggle had died down and, even though my left achilles tendon wasn’t playing, my legs felt strong. But my back—oh! It was so tight and aching from the weight of the pack, as were my intercostals, and it hurt to breathe. It was breaking my rhythm; I just couldn’t speed up.

When I got to Cope Hut later than expected, I knew I wouldn’t make it to Pole 333 on time, so I bailed out and told the sweepers, Gary and Jane, that I wanted to hide in the hut while I waited for Race Director Paul to collect me.  At first they tried to encourage me to continue but I stood my ground. I knew continuing was a bad idea—Paul wouldn’t want a fatigued, slow person on the exposed, windy high plains at night. It would be foolish.

So Gary radioed to get me a pick-up. They offered to wait with me as Paul wouldn’t arrive for 45 minutes to an hour. But I knew I’d be OK in the hut. I reassured them it was only a few hundred metres up to the road—it was the first time I’d pulled the map out all day! (I don’t recommend that for newbies, and I still looked at my trail notes very regularly.)

As I sat in the hut and put on every layer of clothing I’d packed (including a down jacket), I finally acknowledged that I’d been farting around and delaying because I didn’t want to run through the night and I wanted the decision taken out of my hands. I didn’t want to push myself that far when I knew I wasn’t fit. I’d rather save the risk-taking for when I’m doing really well in a race, like when I pushed through severe shin pain and bruising at the Adelaide 6-Day last year.

Paul showed up right on time. We went via Pretty Valley in case anyone else needed a lift out, as Paul was headed back to Bogong Village to sleep. I heard him tell the Pole 333 team that runners were right to continue through if they were doing OK and just missed the cut by ten minutes or so. I wondered if I could’ve made that 11.40 pm cut-off. I wondered if they would’ve stopped me there anyway, as I probably looked terrible. I second-guessed everything, but ultimately knew I wasn’t up to it.

I wasn’t exhausted—despite what Paul ‘remembered’ later—I was just tired. I missed the cut because i was unmotivated and untrained (not to be confused with undertrained), and because, while I was stupid enough to start, I was smart enough to recognise that continuing would mean putting myself at risk. Yes, if I’d pushed and not taken photos and farted around I’d have made Pole 333 and maybe been allowed to continue. But I didn’t really want to.

I messaged a few loved ones to let them know I was OK and had dropped out. My worries weren’t over, though. I thought about my housemates and wondered if 100 km runner Donal had made it back yet and whether he would’ve thought to put the key back in the key safe once he’d let himself in. Fortunately for me, he was on the finish line when I got there, so we headed back together. It was more fortunate for him, though, as he’d forgotten about the key safe and needed my help to get in! Donal seemed disappointed with his time and not reassured by my reminder of our discussions the night before. This really is a tough race, people! He told me that Tarek had looked awful at Pole 333 and he wasn’t sure he’d make it.

Donal had to be off by about 5.00 am so he was gone by the time I woke up to voices in the next room. It was Tarek—on the phone, explaining the outcome. He’d dropped at Mt Loch, feeling awful. His nutrition hadn’t worked out for him this time, even though he ate all the same things he usually did. I suspect this is common at Alpine, unless you train on the course. I was disappointed for him but some days things just don’t work out. I was delighted to discover he’d thought to collect my drop-bags from both Mt Loch carpark and Harrietville, though. What a champion; I’d only have to collect my Warby Corner one. (Then he headed up to chat on the finish line, and brought back that drop-bag for me, too. Best housemate ever. Sorry, Donal.)

After the race came the concerned question from all other runners and crews: ‘What happened?’ I was surprised and amused. It’s not like I have a particularly solid track record of finishing this race. A DNF is the norm for me!

A positive outcome was that I got some GREAT photos. One of my photos of Chrissy is even on the official race webpage. This is why, even when my phone was playing up, I stopped and persisted—so I could bring you these amazing photos. Please enjoy!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Race Report: River Run 100, 2015

The Caboolture 48 Hour Race had been a sterling event for me. Sure, I hadn’t achieved much in the athletic performance sense, but I’d certainly hit new heights in the hippy zen kind of way. In my ongoing enlightened state, I wisely decided to sign up as a late entry in the River Run 100, a local charity event that lets runners nominate their own start times, so we all finish together.

I was looking forward to spending some time with my audiobook, and alternating laps to Toowong (10 km) and Kangaroo Point (5 km) along the beautiful Brisbane River. I should’ve read the fine print—solo 100 km runners were only doing the long loops. Oh well, at least it would make counting laps easier.

With a cut-off time of 3 pm and the earliest start at midnight, I knew I was going to struggle to finish in the 15 hours. It was strange to think that just a few months back I’d done the same distance, faster, on technical trails, and that just over a year ago I’d done it in about two-thirds of the time on road. I started to wonder if I was being too hard on myself; maybe I could do better. Maybe I should aim for something faster…

Reality check, Tamyka: last weekend, you did it much slower.

A fair point. So, in the spirit of keeping it fun, and not taking myself too seriously, here’s how I prepared:

  • I downed a pint of beer and a pint of cola at the pub with my boyfriend, Raj, and some of his mates, and watched the rugby.
  • Then I went to a restaurant and downed a big serve of duck curry with rice.
  • I lazed around on the couch watching TV when I should’ve been napping.
  • I threw gels, cookies, soft drink, and sunscreen into a cooler bag. I also threw in a few comfort items, like an iPod and a hat, but not my sunnies. Oops.
  • I did one serious thing: I taped the toe that always blisters.
  • I donned a pretty white running dress with pocketed purple shorties (because a girl needs her phone and some cash) and pink, knee-high compression socks. Hey, it matters.
  • About 45 minutes before the event started, I got my boyfriend to drop me off just down the road. Close enough, right?

I needed to average 90 minutes per lap, which is a brisk walking pace, or a slow jogging pace. So I chose the former, walking my first lap with Cassie Smith, who had started at 3 pm and was going to run for a full 24 hours with a target total of 100 miles. She’d already hit 65 km by midnight, which was ahead of schedule, but wasn’t (as another competitor calculated) an average pace of 5:30.

Goodwill Bridge

We were pleasantly surprised by how warm it was, with just a cool breeze blowing over the water. Faster runners vanished into the distance, but we knew they’d be back soon—the benefit of a lap course—and new runners were consistently sneaking up on us. Cassie and I had several months of life to catch up on, but there was another benefit of sticking together: it was less scary.

Despite the course being well lit, it didn’t feel safe. Everyone on the Bicentennial Bikeway was, let’s face it, a little odd. That includes us, of course. There was a guy out running and shadow-boxing, a few drunks, a large group of youths having play-fights, a few more drunks, and us. I was a little worried about the table of water cups at the turn-around: did it look like an oasis to drunks making their way home from the city? Would they drink our water? Or…do other things to it?

Kurilpa Bridge from the Bicentennial Bikeway

Coming in from our first lap, Cassie and I mentioned this to the event staff and volunteers, and they immediately sent more safety cyclists out on the course with us, which was a wonderful response. We also wanted a quick toilet stop, but the nearby restaurant staff had locked everything up (which wasn’t expected). The only open toilets were the ones at the beach, we were told—over 300 metres away!

But when you need to go…so we took the detour, only to find that those toilets were also closed, and just the disabled toilet doubling as a parents’ room was open. By the time we got back to the start line, we’d lost 15 minutes! Good thing I wasn’t planning on setting a record…but I was planning on cutting it very fine at the finish line. I couldn’t afford to lose so much time.

At the turnaround on the second lap, Cassie sent me off on my own way. Walking was hurting me: I’m not fit for walking, and the camber was upsetting my shins. I was also a little anxious: I needed to move faster, both to keep warm and to make up for the 15 minutes we’d lost.

William Jolly Bridge from the Bicentennial Bikeway

As soon as I started running, I felt connected again. My legs felt strong, and I had a lot of energy. I made up a good chunk of time on the next couple of laps, and then reverted to the original plan of just keeping my laps under 90 minutes. I didn’t want to use the iPod while it was still dark, because it seemed important to be able to hear what was going on around me. I remained quiet with my thoughts, except when I was chatting to another runner or one of the safety cyclists.

Brisbane River at dawn, from the Goodwill Bridge

I’d had in mind that I’d celebrate the sunrise and the completion of 40 km with a small double shot flat white from the Café on the [Goodwill] Bridge. But there was a queue, and it was hard to tell how many people were ordering coffees and how many were just standing around, enjoying the view. Maybe it wasn’t worth waiting. Maybe it was.

CBD sunrise, from the Bicentennial Bikeway

I quizzed the staff, and the barista insisted he’d be quick. Gesturing to the race bib on the front of my pink thermal top, I countered that I needed him to be a little more specific. He came back with two minutes, which was good enough for me, so I dug some sweaty cash out of my running bra and handed it over.

I waited patiently for the two minutes (or thereabouts), enjoying the rest, and was soon rewarded with a hot cup of motivation. I walked the remaining few hundred metres to the timing area so I could really appreciate the indulgence, and I made sure to thank the café team as I headed back past them over the bridge. It was a seriously good coffee, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone (not just those running ultramarathons).

Double shot flat white and a very happy runner

The course was getting busier now, both with participants and the general public, and the day was getting warmer. Intermittent cloud cover kept me from getting too steamy, but it also made it really hard to judge when I should lose a layer of clothing. Some parts of the course were still quite cool, particularly when the breeze was in my face.

Rather than dwell on it, I just ditched my warm top at the 50 km mark and hoped for the best. I realised my error in wearing my pretty white dress: exposed shoulders. I carefully applied sunscreen to all the uncovered bits…except for one part of my back, which was a lovely shade of red by the end of the race.

By that stage I was really starting to get into the rhythm of running. As I saw the same runners lap after lap, a camaraderie formed, even though we only ever had a few moments to speak. We briefly touched each other’s joys and sorrows and then passed by. This is the spirit of the ultra, felt at every event, but felt strongest at those events where you see the other participants regularly.

I didn’t need music, an audiobook, or a companion. I just needed to run. I was having a wonderful time, and felt like I could run forever…except maybe for that little blister I could feel forming where it almost always does. I suspected the tape had slipped off my toe earlier, bunching up and creating extra blistering stimulus. I also suspected I hadn’t noticed it soon enough, and it was probably too late to do much about it. At any rate, I couldn’t be bothered fighting my way out of my compression socks. They’d been hard enough to get into in the first place.

At 60 km, a woman who was crewing for another runner asked me if she could “help with anything”. It wasn’t the first time—when she had asked at the start of the race, I’d explained to her how I just wanted to look after myself. And I’d repeated that message a few laps in. So when I declined again, I took the time to explain that I really wanted a no-fuss, self-crew sort of experience. She looked a little crestfallen, but I really didn’t need her help (except maybe with my sunscreen application—I could’ve done with some help there, apparently).

I didn’t really understand her reaction. If I offer help to someone—whether it’s giving them my seat on the bus or cooking them a meal or driving them home—I try to remember they’re allowed to decline. And if they genuinely don’t need my help, then I’m even happier than if they needed help and accepted it. I think that also applies when I volunteer to help at an ultramarathon.

But crewing at an ultramarathon is the next level: I’m not just helping any runner, I’m dedicated to my runner. Any help I offer to another runner is secondary. And, given that ultrarunning can be an intensely confronting personal experience, I understand if they decline, even if they’re blunt about it. No, I wouldn’t want a stranger in my face if I was vomiting on my shoes or applying pawpaw ointment to my butt crack, any more than I would want someone else’s husband to come over and hold my hand, wipe my brow and tell me to push if I was in labour.

In some races I demand help all the time. On that day, in that race, I needed to look after myself, which is why I hadn’t arranged for crew. I was perfectly justified in declining the help offered…but maybe I felt a little shitty about that crestfallen look on the woman’s face, because my next lap wasn’t so good. (Or maybe I was just fading.)

Bicentennial Bikeway, looking towards Toowong

It wasn’t until my eighth lap that I realised I hadn’t seen Cassie for hours. Another runner told me she’d switched to the 5 km loop (wait—we can do that?) because there were more bubblers and more toilets on that course.

It was a good point—there was only one toilet block on the 10 km course and it was right near the transition area. (At least it was open now.) Once the urge hit me just a few minutes after I’d passed the toilets on the way out. I spent the next 80 minutes learning just how far 10 km can feel.

The boredom of having already seen the course so many times in the daylight didn’t help, but a quick chat with Craig Mottram did. I called out as he flew past, heckling him for not signing up for one of the ultramarathon events. He slowed down briefly, and explained he was just running a couple of extra laps after his 10 km race. But I think the real reason is because he can’t count—every time he passed me after that (and it felt frequent!) he asked how far I had to go.

Rail bridge between Roma Street and South Bank, Brisbane

Raj arrived with a cheese and tomato toasted sandwich for me, just after I had headed out on my ninth lap. He texted me to let me know he was in position, as promised. Even though he was exhausted, and even though I was just running for fun—he’d come. I felt overjoyed that he’d made such an effort for me.

(Raj insists that boyfriends are generally expected to support their girlfriends and that his behaviour is quite normal. He says I’d recognise this if my ex hadn’t set the bar so low. That one usually only rocked up at the end of my races, and once went to the pub mid-race when he had said he’d meet me at a checkpoint to mix a drink for me.)

It was torture. I wasn’t sure I could wait another eighty minutes for that cheesy goodness. (And the sandwich. Har-dee-har-har.)

I texted back that I’d be there as soon as I could, and that I was pretty sure the toastie would make my last lap super-fast. That, of course, makes no sense. I’d be walking to eat it, and then I’d be slowed down by digestion. But it actually was a fast lap, despite the walk, and despite a toilet break to wash my hands before collecting my delicious toastie.

Competitors and spectators alike hassled me about my food choice: “Is that a pie?” “Have you got pizza?” “Mmm, is that a kebab?” I felt protective. It’s not “just” a toastie. It’s my delicious cheese and tomato toastie, prepared by my boyfriend, with bread I baked just yesterday.

I felt loved, so I ran hard.

Mottram saw me and asked how far I had to go: “What’s that, a lap and a half?”

“Half a lap.” He high-fived me, and I ran harder.

At the turn-around, I paused to enjoy my water, and thank the volunteer. I told him it was my last lap, that I had just five kilometres to go before my day was over. Just one more time over the Goodwill Bridge, my twentieth time that day. I continued to share the news with the other runners as I headed to the finish.

But it wasn’t until I was back under the Riverside Expressway that I realised, if I pushed hard instead of sticking to my usual shuffle, I might sneak in under 14 hours.

Could I do it? Only one way to find out…

And that’s how I came to cross the finish line looking like this, in 13 hours, 59 minutes and 13 seconds:

Racing to finish the River Run 100
(Photo by Trevor Ross)

Friday, 5 June 2015

Well, that was stressful…

That was the most horrendously stressful race preparation I've ever botched!

Let's look quickly at the different types of race preparations I do:

Short runs I barely bother with. I generally throw a gel in my pocket and away I go.

Track ultras are the best. I throw all the clothes and shoes into one tub, and all the food and gear into another tub, and I'm ready to go.

Road ultras are slightly more difficult because I need to distribute my gear. However, there are usually not too many checkpoints and they are generally regular, so it becomes a simple problem to solve.

Trail ultras are a little more difficult again, just because they tend to be slower and require more gear, and checkpoints may be irregularly spaced. Of course, there are some exceptions. The Alpine Challenge is one of them, but the checkpoints are far enough apart that I just figure I need to carry everything everywhere, and go with that.

Rogaining is usually over a set time window, making it easy to plan nutrition, even if I don't know where the hell I'll be. And, seeing as I have no option but to carry all my gear anyway, it's a no-brainer.

The thing all these races have in common is that there's only one element you lack full information about, and that's weather.

And then there are adventure races

In these races, you have some idea about what legs you're doing, but not how far each leg will be. You don't know whether you'll be kayaking once or ten times. You don't know how many times you'll want to change gear. You don't know how many pairs of shoes you'll need. You don't know whether you'll be cycling, kayaking or running through the middle of the night, so you don't know which lights to pack. Before you even leave home, you have no idea if you've got the right gear. But then you have to wait until 3.00pm the day before the race to know what gear to pack into what tubs. Then you might find out you don't have all the gear you need, and some of your gear hasn't dried from the competency checks in the afternoon.

And I found out that I worry WAY too much.

Fortunately I had Clive on hand to help me sort out my gear, though I won't know until tomorrow if I've got all the right stuff in the right places.

That said, I'm realy looking forward to the actual adventure race itself tomorrow. Enough of this prep nonsense — let's get down to business!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

I'm so excited!

This weekend marks my return to racing. I'm not running, but it's an endurance event anyway: the Half GeoQuest. It's my first long adventure race and I don't really know what to expect except for a healthy dose of sleep deprivation and way too much freezing!

I'm also not sure how my ankle is going to hold up. It's feeling a lot stronger, but with Sweden just seven weeks away I don't want to take any chances, so I'll be wearing my ankle brace. I've been doing some longer runs recently so maybe it will be ok. 

With Carol making a return as my crew, and her cousin and frequent adventure leader Clive on the team, I know I'm in good hands. Yep, even though I only met Dan last week and Howard tonight. We'll be fine! I won't be able to take my phone out on the course, so the photos won't be forthcoming (sadly), but I'll try to snap a few more before and after the race.

Tomorrow we've got gear checks and some competency tests. If they'd seen Susannah, Carol and my performance last weekend at the rogaine they wouldn't let us anywhere near the map and compass! I'm not looking forward to the cold weather and especially the cold water, but I'll make it.