Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Race Report: Queensland Mountain Running Champs

Unfortunately due to uni, this will be a very brief overview of what went down at the Queensland Mountain Running Championships.
Leading into this race I had no idea what to expect: what the competition would be like, what the hills would be like, what the actual trail surface itself would be like. I only knew that it was 8.3km in length and had about 300m of climbing (and descending). Also knowing how bad I am at short distances (I only have to look back at my disastrous Pinnacles Classic to find an example of this) I went into this race knowing that my heart rate would be sitting near it’s max for a lot of the race, and not knowing the competition, I figured a top 5 finish should be achievable along with going under 40 minutes.
So unfortunately with not owning a car my day started at 5.45 race morning, where I had to ride my bike for about an hour to be able to be picked up to make it out to the start line, but at least I made it out there, so thanks Dan! Once arrived I went through my usual warm up, but what was interesting to see was other people doing the same! For most trail races, there are hardly anyone who warms up beforehand (and I’ll admit I’m one of those people once the distance exceeds 30km) but for this race, there was at least 10! And during this period I figured out that there were two other serious opponents, which meant I revised my previous goal and aimed for a podium finish.
Elevation profile of the race
Anyways, I got to the start line warmed up and ready to go and as I expected, when the whistle blew, the two other guys shot off like a rocket. The first km was pretty much entirely uphill on a dirt, non-technical road. By the end of the first km I had lost sight of first, and wouldn’t see him again until I had crossed the finish line, but I never lost sight of second. He quickly gained about 50m on me in the first km, but I managed to get within 20m during the first downhill about 1.5km’s in. Then the race flattened out a bit and he managed to gain about a 100m on me (and I lost sight of him). Then the real climbing began.
By this point in time my heart rate was sky high (and I really wish I wore a HR monitor to reflect on how high my HR went) and I knew that if I didn’t slow down I would blow up, so as soon the hill started at around 3km I took to powerhiking. The 1km climb up Camp Mountain was brutal but to my surprise, halfway up it, I saw second. And then to my further surprise I managed to pass him and put myself into second place.
From the 4km point it was pretty much all downhill on 4WD track and I pushed myself downhill as hard as I could, with my S/Lab Sense 4 giving me great confidence. Unfortunately, I don’t do much downhill training at full speed (there’s no point as I’m training for an ultra, running downhill at full speed is a great way to kill your quads and ruin the rest of your race) and the constant jarring of each footfall really hurt my 11th and 12th ribs, so by the end of the 5th km my HR was back to manageable levels, but I had to back off the pace, the pain was just too great. By km 6.5 when it started to flatten out a little bit I was wrecked. My quads, hamstrings and calves had nothing left to give and when the course went uphill a bit at km 6.9, I got overtaken by the same person whom I overtook on the climb. I tried to keep with him but failed. By the time I crossed the finish line I was about 20 seconds behind second and a about 3.5 minutes behind first, and totally exhausted.  

Once I finished the race I found out that the runner who came first, David, had ran at the National Mountain Running Champs numerous times and was only 10 seconds off making the Australian team this year to compete at the World Champs. And the guy who came second, Osman, has a 16 minute Parkrun (I still don’t think I’ve cracked 18 minutes yet for my 5km), so to say I was pretty happy with how I went is an understatement. And the best part is I found out all this stuff while on a cool down with these guys, two complete strangers before I started this race. How awesome is the trail community? (Hell, Osman even gave me a lift back to where my bike was after the medal presentation, thanks mate!)
After a great race, all eyes are now firmly focused on Blackall 50km. I’ve started a new block of training with a much greater emphasis on running rather than doing stuff in the gym (I’ve been doing a lot of strength since the Gold Coast Marathon), although as I’m writing this two days since the race, I haven’t been doing much running, I’m still really, really sore 😫
I’m excited for what Blackall will bring, it will be my second ultramarathon so I don’t want to be too ambitious with my goal but I’m quietly optimistic.
Until then thanks to TRAQ for organising another great race, the other competitors and of course, the volunteers (these events wouldn’t happen without you guys!)
The TRN 

Monday, 3 July 2017

A Reflection on the Gold Coast Marathon and Failure

The Gold Coast Marathon: my first A race for the year and my first DNF. This is what happened.

I turned up to the start area an hour before the gun went off, did my usual warm up run, then half an hour before the gun was set to go, ate a banana, then 15 mins prior, ate a gel. All normal, and everything was feeling good. I then made my way to the start line, wearing clothes I had worn during training feeling confident with my ability to succeed in my goal. I put myself near the 3-hour pacing bus, which was at the front of the runners, only second to the elites. That meant it only took about 5 seconds to cross the start line after the gun went off, where I pressed start on my watch and I had begun my journey.
On this run I carried 1L of Trail Brew, 5 Vfuel gels and a double shot expresso Clif Shot, with the goal of drinking a mouthful of water at each aid station (which were situated about every 2ish km’s), maybe more if it got warm. Luckily for me, race morning was the coldest yet for the Gold Coast winter, and I didn’t have to worry about the heat.
The first 1.5km’s were quick, after being pushed a little bit by the runners behind me when everyone was still congested. I ran over a bridge and turned a corner that made us run along-side the beach when I finally realised that I was running too quick, luckily only about 2km’s had passed by and it was a lot less congested, so I slammed on the brakes and waited for the 3 hour bus to catch up, and was then able to get into a rhythm. Every half hour eat gel, swish it down with Trail Brew, drink some water at each aid station, see bitumen, see buildings, hear spectators, repeat. I’ll admit by kilometre 15 I was bored, this is the point I probably would’ve put headphones in, but unfortunately I left those back in Brisbane. By kilometre 16, just 4 and a bit minutes later, my glutes and hip tendons were starting to hurt from the constant pounding of the bitumen. Each new step from this point onwards was also new territory, I had never ran this far this fast before. But by kilometre 18 my race started going downhill. 
Gold Coast Marathon pace
 The ache of my glutes had been pushed to the back of mind, replaced by the much more painful ache of my feet. My peroneal tendonitis had returned. This injury usually only flares up on uneven trails, and is helped by doing some strength exercises and taping up my feet. Before this race I had done a 2 hour 40 mins training run in the shoes I was to race in, with no issues with my feet. This meant I went into this race without taping up my feet. Perhaps not a smart decision. Up until my 18th km I was maintaining about a 4.15 min/km average, by kilometre 20 I had slipped to 4.30min/km. From then on I slowed to a crawl, before finally at kilometre 24 I accepted defeat, took off my shoes and made the decision that I wouldn’t make it to the finish. I then walked in my socks for the next 5km’s seeing pacing bus after pacing bus pass me, when my feet felt a tiny bit better. I tried putting on my shoes and taking a few steps, before the pain returned to its previous levels. I then took my shoes off again before walking another kilometre back to the start-finish area. Race over.

Easing the pain in my feet by putting them in icy cold water after the race
I’ve been running competitively since I was about 14 when I joined my local athletics club and since then I don’t think I can say I’ve ever experienced failure. Disappointment? Sure, there’s been plenty of times when I didn’t quite get a time or position I wanted, but failure? I don’t think so.
Hindsight is one of those great things that I wish I could have before a race. I mean looking back on this race, should I have taped up my feet even though I was confident they wouldn’t be a problem? Yes. Should I have perhaps been doing the strengthening exercises that my physio has given me more often then I did? Yes.
I was lucky to have a supportive friend at the finish line who reminded me that (hopefully) I’ll be running competitively for the next 10-15 years of my life, and that I’ve only been doing these sort of distances for the past year and a half. This has definitely put things into perspective for me. While this is my first DNF, I’m sure that going forward, it won’t be my last.
After the GC race I’m pressing the reset button and trying something new. I’m taking a bit of a break this week, but will be finding out a few crucial bits of info. What my heart rate max is and what my one rep maxes are for a number of different strength exercises. I’m doing an exercise and sport science degree, and what I’ve learned over the past semester is that a training plan has to be tailored to an individual. I.e. From here on out I won’t be using a training plan found off the internet (what I did for this marathon). I’ve also found out that all aerobic training intensity should be based off heart rate, not off pace. So for this first time ever, my training plan won’t feature pace but percentage of max heart rate. And lastly I’ve also found that strength training can boost performance, and with my next race being a 50km ultra featuring 1500m of elevation, I figured getting a bit stronger couldn’t hurt. So over the next twoish months, I’m hitting the gym, a lot, and trying to maintain my current running fitness. It may work, it may not, but I’m excited to give it a try!
And finally to all of you who are reading this, liked my running posts and commented your support. I thank-you. It really does mean a lot to me having a great number of people backing me, through the thick and thin.
The TRN.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Race Report: Brisbane Trail Marathon

With Uni assignment deadlines looming and exams just around the corner, unfortunately I don’t have the time to make this race report as detailed as I would like. That being said, everything I’m going to include I feel is important to me to remember for future long distance races.
Every race I seem to do that involves the trails always has me waking up at a god-awful hour. For this race, it was 4.30am. I went through me usual pre-race breakfast of golden syrup on toast (2 slices) and an hour before the race, a banana. My parents drove me out to the start line, I collected my bib and I was ready to go.

This race was a training race, in preparation for the Gold Coast Marathon in about 4 weeks time. I wanted some confidence for the GC marathon that I would be able to make the distance. This race is only the second time I had ran the marathon distance, the first time was back in January as part of the Two Bays Ultra. In my training, my longest run is only about 2.5 hours in length. That’s not a lot of long distance experience. So any extra confidence I get is bound to be helpful in breaking 3 hours for GC.

Since my major race is only about a month away I couldn’t afford to be totally wrecked after running this, otherwise my road training would be impacted. As such I didn’t do any research on the race, I didn’t know where the aid stations were. I didn’t know where the major climbs were (or major descents). The only thing I knew was that there was about 2000m of climbing/descending. This meant I went to the start line with an estimated goal of finishing in about 4.5 hours, which was the time I crossed the marathon distance in during my ultra. I had no placing goals (I thought a top 10 might be nice, but didn’t think I would get it), and I was prepared to let that 4.5 hours blow out if it meant I would cross the line feeling fresher. I had another reason in crossing the line in about 4.5 hours. If I didn’t my parents wouldn’t be able to see me finish because they would miss their flight.
Elevation profile
Enough of the pre-race context! I started the race conservatively, using the first 30 mins as an effective warm-up. Which was good as the first 20 of those 30 mins was a gradual climb, gaining 100 metres along fire trail. We then dropped back down into a fairly technical single trail section around a lake, which was my favourite bit of the course. Lots of short, sharp climbs, lots of twisty goodness, and a few dry creek crossings for good measure. During this the pain I get in my right foot due to peroneal tendonitis reared it’s ugly head, but this wasn’t too unexpected as I haven’t done any weight training for my stabilising muscles (road is flat, so don’t need it!). However, once that section was done the pain went away as the rest of the race was fairly non-technical fire trail and I had my feet taped up to give that tendon some more support.
Coming out of the single track section I was probably sitting in about 7th and feeling good. There was another long gradual climb which I went up at a pace that felt comfortable and managed to grab another couple positions, before heading into a nice descent and coming across ‘Hellhole Break’. Working at a trail running shop I’d heard of this climb from customers, but had no idea what it would be like. Luckily its bark was worse than its bite. It was fairly steep, but short and early on in the race (about 15km in) which meant that I had plenty of energy to climb it. This was also the point I caught up to 4th, and we ran together for the next 6 or so kays.

Following Hellhole was a fairly long consistent climb and at the top was aid station 3, 27km into the race. At this point I was feeling good. Nutrition of consuming about 250 calories an hour with Trail Brew was on target, I wasn’t feeling dehydrated. No cramping. Just enjoying myself. So I asked the aid station people how far ahead 3rd was, contemplating increasing my pace a little bit to try and catch him. They answered with a few minutes. I made the decision then to keep on with my easy pace. Feeling good the entire way of the race was the original goal, I didn’t want to cross the line feeling wrecked. I didn’t want to enter the hurt locker.

After the aid was station was the biggest descent of the race, dropping down into a valley. Along this way a couple things happened.
1. I came across a friend of mine, Mike, who was out marking the course, telling me that 3rd was only just ahead of me.
2. My favourite part of the race, turning a corner and seeing a layer of cloud covering the fire trail. Spectacular. Just thinking about it now brings a smile to my face. This is one of the many reasons why I love running out on the trails. Completely unexpected moments such as that.
3. Passing 3rd and somehow putting myself into a podium placing.
So cool dropping down into the cloud!
Unfortunately what goes down must go up. In most cases that would be a bad thing, but for me I used it as a chance to catch my breath as I walked up the entire hill. Unfortunately my calf cramped once during this, but while super painful it went away quickly which I was thankful for. I also spotted 2nd a good 100 or so metres ahead of me during this climb, but when I reached the aid station at the top (33km into the race), where I got told that he was about 1 minute ahead of me I just reminded myself that I wasn’t to enter the hurt locker, and didn’t set off chasing him. However, it’s crazy just how much can change in 10 minutes. I went from feeling fine to feeling dehydrated and very hot, and the only thing that changed was I went from running in the shade to into the sun. My body wasn’t telling me it was thirsty at the aid station 10 minutes earlier. And I’m very much a fan of going off thirst ques my body gives me, rather than drinking a set amount of water each hour and risk over-hydration. I still wasn’t quite in the hurt locker yet though. I entered that at a climb at about 38km in. I knew it was coming, due to turning onto a trail that I ran on a couple weeks earlier during the Pinnacles Classic, but it didn’t make it any easier. This for me was the hardest climb of the race, and I had to pause for a good minute halfway up it to catch my breath. But there was a person marshaling there at the climb and I’m forever grateful for his encouragement in keeping me going. Without him there I could’ve be standing around not moving for a good period of time.

There was an aid station just after this climb which I was soo thankful for. With only a few kays left of the race I thought for sure the next time I would see some cool water would be at the finish line, but to my eternal gratitude there was one last aid station. I used it to pour water all over me to try and bring my body temperature down, and that was when I left the hurt locker and started to feel good again. I mean that and the fact that the rest of the race was pretty much all downhill. I ended up crossing the line in 4 hours 17 minutes and 43 seconds, and feeling pretty good, and into the congratulations of my parents. I had made back before they had to leave for their flight! It’s been a little while since my parents had seen me finish a race, so that was a special moment!
Thanks to the amazing people who volunteered and to TRAQ for putting on a great event! This course pretty much had everything and I enjoyed every moment, even the parts where it hurt.

Gold Coast, I’m coming for ya!


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Race Report: Pinnacles Classic

The dam the course runs around
This race report’s going to be short and sweet as I don’t have much time, and it goes something like this…

So two weeks ago I was fairly sick with the man flu, aka a cold, and didn’t do much training all week. In the week leading up to the race I had a few college and uni requirements that meant I couldn’t do the full week of training as specified by the plan, but the stuff I did do I was really happy with. And if you’ve been following me along on Strava you would’ve seen that I’ve been having a niggling quad problem. But after seeing the physio and getting some dry needling done they felt fine on race day, and I went into the race feeling confident. I had done the course before as a training run so I knew what I was in for, 18(ish) hills in 18km with halfway being the highest point of the run. However, as part of the marathon training I’ve been doing I haven’t been doing much climbing. Maybe one hill repeats session a week and bit of easy running around Mt Cootha, but certainly not to the extent that I was doing early in the year. Hence going into the race I was looking for at least a podium and hopefully even a first. Hahaha well....
Elevation profile of the run
I started off quick, taking the lead with no-one coming along with me. The idea I had since I was feeling good was take the lead from the beginning and try and hold it, taking the climbs relatively easy and smashing the downhills as fast as possible. What I didn’t take into consideration is just how unfit I am in relation to climbing. I held onto the lead until about 3km where 2nd and 3rd overtook me on one of the climbs, and then about a km later I fell into 5th where again I got overtaken on a climb, it made me feel like I was going backwards! I didn’t lose any ground on them on the downhills, but every time there was a climb I slipped further and further back. By 8km my calves were cooked and my race was all but over. By 9km I lost sight of 4th and it felt like every climb I did in the second half of the course lost me another place. And to top it all off my peroneal tendonitis came back with vengeance at about 12km in, and as I’m writing this (a few hours after the race) my foot is hurting like crazy. All this road running I’ve been doing made me think it might be gone because it hasn’t flared up in months, but unfortunately not. I ended up finishing in 8th in a time of 1.33.06 which was about 10 minutes slower than I had wanted. Oh well, in the scheme of things not finishing on the podium at a training race such as this isn’t the end of the world, but still a bit disappointing. Especially since at no point in the race did I feel aerobically tired, I could’ve done the ‘talk test’ no problems. It was pretty much my legs that let me down. I’ve learned my lesson, don’t expect big things from a race that you’re not specifically training for. 
Happy to see the finish line! Photo courtesy of Laura from The Trail Co
Next up on my calendar is the Brisbane Trail Marathon in 4 weeks time for a bit of fun and to try out a few different strategies in preparation for the Gold Coast Marathon. Until then this novice is out.