Friday, 20 January 2012

The Haircut

This week has been pretty interesting. Firstly thanks for everyone who read my blog, it was nice to receive some comments and emails about it. I know there are some of you that think I underperformed, whilst others are excited by my tenacity to complete. To set the record straight I still feel as though I had an awesome day and don’t consider it a failure, I have been taught a very valuable lesson that I won’t be forgetting quickly.
The other “big news” of the week is that my H&H training buddy Rodney broke his wrist last Saturday riding his bike and required surgery to put it all back together. I won’t go into the how’s and why’s – but this is a shout out to him to wish him a speedy recovery in time for Challenge Cairns and his other crazy adventures this year. I hope he has fun getting his boys to butter his toast in the mornings!
Onto this week’s rant; I got a haircut! That’s my first haircut since May 2011. Just a trim, not the whole lot cut off. When I walked into the hairdresser (which is literally under my office) she didn’t recognise me!
Now my hair has been a big talking point in our household, Bel hates it and now she has turned the boys against me to get my long locks cut. I keep saying that it is my “Ultra Hair”.
In writing it down it sounds absolutely stupid that I am growing my hair for The North Face 100. What sort of nut job am I to do this? I have been thinking about it a bit lately; I know it looks like shit, it is hot and Hayden says it smells – but for some reason I love it. I know Luke grew a monster beard when he was training for his Ultra last year. What is it that makes us do stupid illogical things like grow hair, beards or shave our legs?
My hair doesn’t define me as a person, so why keep growing it? All of this running must be starting to screw me up if I am getting obsessed with a haircut.
Bel said the other night that I have run an Ultra and proven a point with the hair growing, now it was time to cut it. I’ve promised Bel that I will after TNF; but I have a bad feeling that I am getting too attached to my scruffy look and may want to keep it post May. The more people who say it looks terrible the more I want to keep it. In the past I have just “had enough” and just put the clippers to it, maybe that will happen.
My hair certainly isn’t improving my performance, so all I can put it down to is that I was looking for a symbol of my new journey, my new life as an Ultra runner. My hair is an external reflection of my internal change. I guess it is a little bit like a marathon finisher’s shirt. Often I’ll throw one of my marathon finisher’s shirts on to give myself a boost, especially if I am tired and don’t want to run – I’ll put one on and head out the door. There is no way you are going to walk if you have a “Gold Coast Marathon Finisher” shirt on, but the shirt doesn’t make me a better athlete nor does my hair make me run like “Anton Krupicka” although I wish it did.  
The hair really is really just a symbol to myself of the hours, weeks and months of prep I am doing. The whole “taking it to the next level” in my training and preparation has included trying to give myself an external reminder also. The hair must be it. Maybe once I am more comfortable with my identity as an Ultra runner, I might cut it. Maybe the reason I didn’t cut it after H&H was because of the hydration issues and my crash in the second part of the race.
In “It’s not about the bike” Lance speaks about the gold cross he wears around his neck, and the quirk that he isn’t religious but it was a symbol of general faith and love, a symbol to his religious mum. I guess my hair is that symbol to my running, just as my tattoos are all symbols of love for my family. Sometimes we need symbols to hold onto, to make sense of what we are here for, what our purpose is and where we are going.
If you are out on the roads riding or running, be careful and stay safe.
P.S I’m trying out some Honey Shots over the next few weeks, so stay tuned for a review.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Best Race of My Life

Its probably easier to start at the end. The moment where I was sitting in the shower of our dodgy motel vomiting black stuff. I say “stuff” because it could not have been food as I hadn’t had anything for the past 5hrs. Wave after wave of black junk came out – I wondered where it had come from and was this rock bottom?

After the vomiting had finished – I was feeling much better. Again Ben was right. He said I probably needed to vomit again before I could eat anything. Ben had been Nostradamus all morning, quietly reassuring me that my stomach cramps were “normal” and just to try and keep sipping water to keep hydrated.

Starting a race in complete darkness with about 60 other runners, all with headlamps was an awesome experience. If you have ever run with a head lamp, you will know they never really provide enough light. As we started running the field spread out and little packs formed – Ben and Rodney and I were in a pack with about 6 or so others. 10 headlamps really light up the trail! It was awesome to run along and see the stream of lamps ahead all snaking their way in front of us.

Rodney looked really fresh and after a couple of easy km’s he put the hammer down. For his first hit out at a race longer than a half marathon, he really looked ready to kill it.

I settled into a much easier pace and Ben and I chatted about a lot of things, mainly running and family stuff. It was a nice day out. Early on we ran for 40 minutes or so with a 65 year old guy who is training for Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. I had just been telling Ben I was keen to run it, so I immediately took this as a sign that I should set my sights on it for 2013!

About half way through the first lap I met Ben’s friend Mat, an Ultra runner from Bundy and author of the great blog - Mat was running his first Ultra in his sandals. Ben and Mat had a few good laughs about their shoes, Ben wears Hoka “moon boots” Mat in his sandals. Ultra runners are a friendly bunch, we chatted, laughed and even had time to grab a quick photo with Mat along the trail and next thing you know it, we were at the half way point! 

The first 27km was some of the best running I have ever experienced, wide stable trails, spectacular views of Mt Beerwah, loving life and the trails.   

After hitting the aid station at 27km – my crew Monica and Roger got us hydrated, fuelled up, sunscreen and change of shirts. Then we were off. I was feeling very pleased with myself. My sister is a real champion, she drove me around all weekend, got up at 2.30am to take us to the start and baked cup cakes for the other runners.

What transpired over the next 4hrs wasn’t pretty. No need to write a page on my downward spiral but essentially my stomach shut down. In hindsight I hadn’t drank enough water in the early stages of the race, pretty sure I didn’t even get through my bladder which had 800ml in it. I had been having perpetuem, but no water to dilute it. My stomach couldn’t cope and by 3 hrs 30 mins I was starting to feel very sick. Over the next hour we were able to run/walk then due to no fuel it turned into walk/shuffle.

So here I am walking up this hill, back to the spot where we had the photo with Mat. Ben is walking in front of me. I am really feeling sorry for myself, more than ever I feel sorry for judging Ben on his previous DNF’s. Unless you have your stomach shut down on you, you have no idea how bad it is. You simply have no energy. I’ve thought a lot about how I have judged Ben on his stomach issues in the past, I always thought it would be an easy fix. I could never understand how he has “retired” from Ultra’s twice. I understood today, as if the Ultra Gods were teaching me a very important lesson in humility.  

“Just force yourself to vomit” – another pearl of advice from Ben. He didn’t need to ask again, I stuck my fingers in my throat and it was instantly better. We trudged on. It felt like a death march as the heat sapped the last of my energy…

I think a lot while I am running, I use it to self reflect, set goals and generally switch off from the outside world. Without sounding too clich├ęd I really found what I was looking for on Sunday. A world of self imposed hurt, a chance to suffer and look deep within myself to see if I had enough of the “right stuff” to go on. I do have the right stuff. I suffered and carried on. Two great lessons learnt, one about hydration, the other about embracing the suffering. If it was meant to be easy, everyone would be doing it.

By the time Roger found us with about 5km to go I had stopped talking, I was simply trying to use all of my frustration and suffering as motivation to keep moving forward. Relentless. Forward. Progress. Roger was great bringing some coke for me and being his ever motivating self. I am lucky to know such a great runner and selfless man.

Then all of a sudden we were finished, the trail cleared and Ben, Monica, Roger and I ran the last 400m of road up to the Woodford Pool where the finish is located. 54km and 7 hours 29 minutes after we started.

Its official I am an Ultra Marathoner. The problem with being so sick is that you can’t enjoy the moment. I sat with a bag of ice on my neck and one on my head, just sort of “out of it”. The next thing I remember is Ben presenting me with a gift, a Glasshouse Mountains Ultra Marathon Finishers Mug. It is Ben’s mug from his first Ultra finish – very special to receive such a great gift from a true friend. Friends like Ben are rare I am very lucky to have him as a running mentor.

Sitting in the shower vomiting black stuff, this was my defining moment. I had just run “the best race of my life”.

On a side note – my training buddy for the last couple of months an HRE 5km champion Rodney had an awesome run, finishing in the top 10. It is a massive accomplishment, great to see him get the rewards for the hard work he put in. 

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Unknown

It’s finally here – my moment of truth where I get to use my new running super powers out in a race. I say “race” but with Ultra running as I am learning, it is even more about how you pace yourself, fuel and cope with the distances and less about getting your heart rate up and smashing yourself.

If I am truly honest with myself I have underperformed in all of my 6 Marathons. Each race has a familiar look and feel, me being over confident, going to hard early in the race, then fading badly reduced to walk/running after 30km.

The past 5 marathons I have been trying to break 4hrs, which doesn’t seem that quick (5.41 pace) but I have always planned to “bank time” for later. Essentially I always burned myself out – really a lack of true endurance.

Looking back I had always cut corners with my preparation, always. I was the runner when the plan said to run 30km, I was happy with 27km. I missed sessions, slept through alarms, and ate anything I wanted because I thought I was “doing enough” to burn it off. Don’t get me wrong I did do a lot of training, but in hindsight it wasn’t enough for me to run a strong Marathon.

The contradiction is why I would essentially choose to race something much harder if I couldn’t even run a strong Marathon? I have been asking myself this for a while; a few people have even said it to my face.

The answer is choosing to run The North Face 100 in May next year was my catalyst to transform my training. After the Brisbane Marathon I had 40 weeks to build a body that would carry me over 100km of trail including 4500m of elevation. I knew that if I didn’t dramatically change what I did, I would be either broken in training OR broken on the race.

So a quick recap what have I done differently for the past 20 weeks;
Broke the problem down into different parts.
Volume. Efficiency. Strength. Nutrition. Gear.
    1. Volume. I needed to be able to run more km’s per week. On average I used to run 60km per week, not enough. I needed to be running 80-100km per week to be a chance of finishing. But my body couldn’t handle it. I had tight ITB all of the time, I could not do anymore (or so I thought).
    2. Efficiency. My running gait is terrible, my left arm swings across my body, my left leg sweeps around. Thus causing my ITB issues and wasting a lot of energy.
    3. Strength. With 4500m of elevation and descent at The North Face I needed strong legs so I didn’t get “blown quads” from the down hills. Blown quads, ITB and Nutrition are the 3 top reasons people DNF at The North Face.
    4. Nutrition. After hearing Run Benny Boy Run’s horror nutrition stories, I decided I needed to get my nutrition sorted. The right type of fuel and quantities are important. I’ll be running for 17hours or so, gels just won’t cut it.
    5. Gear. I needed the right hydration pack and a good pair of trail shoes to ensure my feet didn’t get smashed to pieces on the trails.

Once I had the problems I sought expert advice to find solutions and hear the hard truths.

I met with Professor Peter Reaburn, author of The Masters Athlete to develop a training plan with 4 different phases built into it. Pete’s best advice, work out how much time you have left after family, work and other commitments then build your training around that. I regularly touch base with Pete regarding my volume, and what is working and what isn’t, for an academic he puts things into very easily to understand terms.

Next I had my gait assessed by Anna McMurtie from Evolution Podiatry – the result is that I have no issues with my feet, but all of my troubles come from a lack of strength and stability in my glutes, knees and core. Anna was super supportive, gave me hope that I could be more efficient if I ironed my problems out.

I then met with Glenn Hansen from Vector Health – Glenn’s background is as a sprinter or “pure runner” as he calls it. Glenn took what Anna said and built me a plan. Glenn is great; no nonsense tell it how it is guy. I’ve been following Glenn’s plan for 20 weeks, 16 of those were pure strength building. I know that the program Glenn gave me combined with not missing one session has allowed me to build the capacity to run 100+km weeks without injury. Endless 1 leg squats, theraband clams, planks etc. has “fixed” my ITB issues, and believe it or not allowed me to run some mega weeks including a 111km week recently. I owe a lot to Glenn, he told me honestly that if I didn’t fix my weaknesses then I would not make it to the start line.

Next I spent a couple of coffee dates with Benny to discuss Ultra running. He said I needed to be consistent, don’t worry about mega weeks – just run consistently 80+km per week. Consistent blocks of training are what his advice was. Also to try and run longer, run back to back mid week and practice walking hills. All things I have been practicing religiously.

Nutrition is still a work in progress. I switched to Hammer and that seems to work well – although at the end of a 45km run the other week I had just lost my appetite to stomach any more perpetuem. So I’ll keep tweaking a few things to stay on top of my calorie intake. I’ve also been experimenting with caffeine, which has helped on the long runs.

Gear, I’ve fallen into love with Salomon gear (doesn’t help Killian and co wear it). I am running in Salomon XR Crossmax and wearing the XA 20 pack. I wish I had the cash for the Salomon S-Lab 12 Litre pack, it is the pack the elites wear and retails for about $200m, but for now I will be in my XA pack which I got from Wiggle. I’ve also switched from shorts to 2XU compression pants, that decision was an easy one after some terrible chafe after a 35km road run in the heat where I was using water to cool down. I love my Injinji socks, I wear nothing else, their trail socks with merino wool are also awesome – great company for the XR Crossmax, so no blisters on my feet!

Interestingly my volume went from 60km per week to 80km to 100km pretty quickly. I can comfortably run 100km per week now, which is really weird considering my volume of running pre-August. The other weird thing is that I am getting faster. I do ZERO speed work, just run a lot of hills and run a lot of km’s. When I go to run quick (like for the duathlon or recent 10km race here) I have another gear.

After putting pieces of my puzzle together, actually feeling like I have done enough work for once. I’ve run consistent and injury free since the Brisbane Marathon and that’s a great feeling.

On Sunday at 3.30am I start my Ultra journey, the unknown is exciting – stay tuned for next week.

“A goal is a dream with a plan” - Macca