Saturday, 19 July 2014

Life, too, is temporary

Last night I heard the news of a friend's death. It hit me hard; I felt stunned and disoriented, as if I'd been sucker punched by a stranger on the street. The news had gone around earlier in the day on Facebook, but I'd been busy and focused at work, and I'd completely missed it.

So the first I heard of it was while I sat waiting for my enchilada at Guzman y Gomez, nibbling on jalapeños and sipping a frozen margarita, and flicking away from a rather frustrating Skype conversation with some developers. Messages in his memory flooded my stream; I sent a few messages back and forth with some friends and then wandered around the CBD in a daze, struggling to come up with what a few hours earlier had seemed like a very simple public transport plan.

Roger was a permanent feature at Glasshouse events, and several other events in Australia. He was very much a part of my extended running family. He was a quirky runner—everyone had heard of his shirt-in-the-bucket trick—and humble, too. Many of us expected him to pass us (or just be ahead from start to finish) but he never made a fuss about it.

I'm generally pretty good at letting go of things. I dropped my bike the other day and I'm spewing to have damaged it, but ultimately I recognise that it's just a bike, a thing. Its perfect condition was only ever going to be temporary.

I am reminded that life, too, is temporary.

I am reminded that there is no guarantee of tomorrow. There is no guarantee of later today. There is only now.

If I want the important people in my life to know I love them, there is only now.

If I want to run another beautiful step, there is only now.

If I want to eat a scoop of gelato, even though it's 9 p.m. on a cold, windy night in Brisbane, there is only now—which I like to think is why so many people were queued up last night to do exactly that.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Top Ten Tips for Caboolture 48 Hour

Next Friday marks my third visit to the Caboolture 48 Hour race. I've greatly enjoyed both prior experiences, so I thought I'd share a few tips:

1. Take it easy

That means don't go out too hard. It's easy to do, but you'll want plenty of energy overnight. It's easier to stay awake and alert if you're running, which in turn makes it easier to run—it's like a magic upward spiral!

I like to nap if I'm falling asleep, too. But it has to be legitimately falling asleep on my feet, slowing me down to the point that there's no use to being on the track any more. This works well in those nasty hours between 1 and 6 a.m., when I fall asleep on my feet and spend more time zigging and zagging than progressing around the track. For me, if my pace drops to 4 km/h, I know I can spend 20 minutes off the track and still manage 4 km in the remaining 40 minutes (which is only 6 km/h). I rarely take that long off the track, though. I like 12 minute naps, and I sleep on my belly to stop my hip flexors from seizing up.

I take walk breaks on my eating laps. I try to run most of the event, not because I think it's faster but just because my body seems to hold together better. Most of my biomechanical issues were associated with my particular variation of heel-striking, so I switched styles, but walking is now an awful experience for me.)

2. Protect your feet

The track at Caboolture is made of decomposed granite (or something that sounds like that, and is effectively dirt and little gravelly bits). The dust has a way of getting into your shoes, as do tiny pebbles. So I highly recommend wearing trail gaiters—the kind that fixes to your shoe with Velcro and/or hooks.

I also like to clean and dry my feet when I change shoes and socks every 12–16 hours. I usually just bring ample baby wipes.

My feet swell by the end, so I bring some slightly larger shoes.

This year I'll also be using ENGO patches.

3. Be prepared for the heat…and the cold

Most people thing that, being in South-East Queensland, this race will be hot. It usually is, so be prepared to keep yourself cool. I like to keep ice in my esky for cool drinks, and I soak a Buff and wear it as a neck tube to help cool me down.

I also wear a hat and sunnies, and cover a lot of my flesh and wear sunscreen. I love this sport but I don't want to die for it—I'll skip the melanoma thanks. I use a spray sunscreen that doesn't need to be rubbed in, so it's quick to apply and doesn't get my hands greasy—the easier it is, the less likely I am to delay using it. I like the Neutrogena ones, and they offer some that can go on wet (i.e. sweaty) skin.

Caboolture is usually hot, but not always. It can be cool. It can be darn cold overnight, with mist. I've seen a foreign runner circling the track in a space blanket, which I don't recommend. When I first spotted him, I thought he was some angel of death wandering through the mist with gossamer wings. Yeah, I was pretty out of it.

I like a balaclava to keep my neck and face warm, and to cover my nose if the air is cold enough to unsettle my asthma. I wear windproof gloves and several layers, and I usually don't bother taking off the bottom layers until I start to get warm on day two. My favourite garment is a windproof soft-shell vest I bought at Kathmandu (similar to this one) because it keeps my core warm, and my extremities can do what they like.

4. Be prepared for the wet…and the dry

When the track at Caboolture is wet, it feels more like concrete. Maybe even like concrete that hasn't quite set. My feet swelled up on the wet year, which caused more blisters than grit ever has.

At the opposite extreme, this race occurs during the time of year we get our famous Westerly Winds. These winds will suck the moisture right out of you, even when it's not hot. I got quite dehydrated in the first few hours of my first attempt, because of these winds. Sweat evaporated from my skin before I noticed it was there, and I was constantly losing moisture with each exhaled breath, and needing to moisten my mouth all the time. I get around this by covering my face when the conditions are dry, but it takes some getting used to.

Be wary of drinking too much plain water when it's dry and windy. Often I find I'm not thirsty—I just have a dry mouth. So I rinse and spit, and save the drinking for when I can guzzle a good cupful.

5. Nutrition: have options

I find it easier to manage my nutrition if I can top up electrolytes, energy and fluids separately.

That said, I prefer solid foods in these long races, so I always have a plenty of options. Some of my favourites have been: Snickers bars, cheese and tomato sandwiches, felafel patties, plain yoghourt with raspberries, pasta, liquorice, cookies, chocolate-coated coffee beans, liquorice tea, baby custards in squeeze packs, flavoured milk, soft drinks, hot coffee with sweetened condensed milk, and Peach Tea GU Brew (I seriously can not get enough of this stuff).

I keep gels on the table, but I rarely want them. I force-feed them to myself when I don't want to eat at all but know I need the energy.

It's nice to plan everything out but sometimes you just need a quick fix. Fortunately, ultrarunners get a miracle cure for this: soup. It's got calories, electrolytes and fluids all rolled into one convenient and tasty package!

6. Be kind to your crew

If you're fortunate enough to have conned someone into sitting there and handing you food for 48 hours, and maybe even helping you change your shoes, you better show it. Be kind to your crew, even if they don't get things quite right first go. They'll be the ones waking you up when you're falling asleep at 3 a.m., so don't give them an incentive to leave you in the tent.

If you didn't bring crew, be extra-super-nice to anyone who helps you out along the way. They'll feel appreciated, and be more inclined to help you next time you need something. But if they're at the event specifically to crew for another runner, respect that and expect them to address their runners' needs first.

Warning: you're about to hit the hippy shit here.

7. Give and receive energy

It's the people that make these races special. Participate fully. Encourage others. Be encouraged by others. Get to know your competitors. Share stories. Share highlights and lowlights. Feel the energy that everyone brings to the race and contribute your part. It's these emotions that you'll remember long after the pain fades away.

8. Make every step beautiful

The harder it is to run beautifully, the more you need to do it. As we tire, our form may slip. If that happens, we are more likely to hurt our bodies. Forces become unbalanced, we end up with twisted hips or too much weight falling on one foot, and as we compensate it gets worse and worse. I often find I can fix these niggles by focussing on making every step beautiful. And if that fails, I get a massage.

9. Make every breath perfect

Nutrition is important, but it's got nothing on oxygen. Stand tall to make space for your lungs, so you can breathe fully and deeply. If the air is dry, cover your face or breathe through your nose when you can. I often find my intercostals and diaphragm are very fatigued at the end of the race. Breathing deeply helps me relieve some discomfort in these areas. More importantly, it helps me focus on something simple, and clear my mind of worry.

10. Enjoy every moment

There will be challenges. It's how we face those challenges that will determine how we feel about our race. Ultimately, most of us do this event for the challenge, so when these things crop up we should be delighted.

If you can find the humour in your discomfort, and take joy from small victories along the way (yours or others'), celebrate the sunrise, celebrate the sunset, dance to your favourite song, smile at someone, you will find this one of the most enjoyable experiences of your life. Not just in hindsight, but throughout the whole thing.

Have fun out there!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Race day is nigh

Another taper is upon me. I've tapered a little earlier this time, I guess, though not intentionally—just a few busy weeks.

I have big goals for this race, and no niggles (yet) to give me an excuse not to race. It's not that I don't want to race, of course—I'm just scared of these goals I've set. This fear has the potential to make the next couple of weeks far less pleasant than a taper should be.

Thinking more carefully on this experience, I realised: my goals for this race are fundamentally the same as for every race I do. The only difference is that, this time, I've actually encapsulated those goals in a model of my capabilities and printed a number on that metaphorical package. At the moment, the number is 340. It might change, which is OK, because the number is arbitrary. It doesn't really mean anything.

It's about the feeling.

So, here are my real, deep-down, honest goals for the Caboolture 48hr:

  1. Make every step beautiful.
  2. Make every breath perfect.
  3. Enjoy every moment.
To my fellow runners—

I look forward to bringing my energy and joy to this event, and to partaking in the energy and joy that you bring. I look forward to working with you to create meaning in these meaningless numbers with kindness, compassion, camaraderie and a darn good sense of humour. Because we all know we're going to need it ;)