Decisions, Decisions: 21km or 43km

The Roller Coaster Run - one of the many trails in the Dandenongs

The Roller Coaster Run – one of the many trails in the Dandenongs

I’m facing a quandary today, and although my mind knows the right choice, my heart doesn’t want to follow it.  I’m a determined sort of character – once I sink my teeth into something, I’m a bit like a bulldog – I don’t let go.  But in this running game – the long running game, not the 10km game I’ve been playing for many years – this quality can get people into big, big trouble.

So here’s the issue:  I signed up for the 43km Roller Coaster Race back in November last year, right after completing my first half-marathon.  It seemed a good event to pin my training on, given I was planning on the North Face 50km race in Sydney in May.  With little knowledge, and a quick trigger finger, I ticked off the 43km two-loop box, instead of the 21km one-loop box.  I expected I’d build up slowly and get there in time, as I’ve always done.  I’d complete the 28km Two Bays in January, and build up to the 43km Roller Coaster Run in March, culminating with the 50km North Face in Sydney’s Blue Mountains in May.

What complicated this plan was my decision, made two years ago, to pursue barefoot/minimalist running.  Before my Vibram Five Fingers, before my lower-heeled Asics Racers, I could only run 8km before searing ITB pain.  Minimalist running – running without pain – was a new treat, like a lolly to a toddler.

It became a bit of a game to see how far I could run without pain as I slowly, slowly built up my distance in minimalist shoes.  I did my first half-marathon, and my second.  I ran the 28km Two Bays Race.  Trouble was, I kept swapping shoes, having to move back to high-heeled trail shoes to go the final race distances, as I wasn’t up to those milestones in my minimalist shoes.

I knew somewhere along the line I’d have to make a final switch, drop all the heeled running shoes, drop the cushioning, and be either barefoot or at least minimalist in my race shoes.  I succeeded in this just after Christmas, doing my first 10km race in my Vibrams, feeling light as a feather, and happy as a kite (if a kite is, in fact, happy).

And here’s where my plans began to unravel.  I needed to train for this 43km race in the Dandenongs, in the hills, on the race course.  I joined a group of trail runners and, wanting to go the distance they were running, ran in my minimalist shoes for 21 km, when my longest run to date was 16km.  Two weeks later, I ran 24km.  I ditched my cushioned shoes a month before I intended to, and, with the introduction of speed training, hurt my foot.  I thought at first it was a stress fracture, but thankfully, it has come right again with a few days rest and some help from more experienced long-distance runners.

But it is too late.  I simply cannot get up to the distance I need in time to meet this 43km quest.  The longest I have run since Two Bays in January is 24km, and I needed to hit 39 km this week to be prepared.

Here’s a snippet from an email from the Race Organisers that arrived in my inbox last week:

“Without doubt, this event is one of the toughest courses used for an organised event.
For most people this 43km event will take anything from 1h15 to 2hrs+ longer than your normal flat road marathon. There are very few sections of this course where you will feel like you are running on flat ground, it is almost totally up or down.  Given the start at the top of the course at Sky High, the final 3-4km is a very tough slog to get back to the top, most entrants will walk most of this section.
For our 43km entrants, the first loop must be completed within 3hr15min in order to be allowed to continue on your second loop.
No entrants last year finished within the cut-off if they did not make this time.
In terms of how long the run will take you….
The midpoint of finishers (for the 21.5km) last year was 2hrs42min, for the 43km it was 5h45m (60 finishers) so depending on where you normally finish in an event field will determine how far either side of this you will be. The winner of the 43km took 3h49m but most were over 5hrs…..
The transition from Two Bays Trail Run 28km to the 21.5km Roller Coaster is that in general Roller Coaster will be about 15 to 20min quicker (but is 6.5km shorter)
A runner who does a half marathon in 2hrs is likely to take 3hrs+ to finish 1 loop.”

I tell myself I could just go out and smash it, push through, do the extra mileage in my old cushioned high-heeled trail shoes and see what happens.  And then this voice sounds in my head.  Idiot, it says.  You’re smarter than that.

So while my heart and soul wants to get out there, wants to complete my first-ever marathon distance race, I simply can’t this time.  There is too much to lose to injury, and it is not just a marathon-distance race.  It is something far beyond that, once I factor in the hills.  And there are too many thrilling but shorter races to be tackled this year.  Not to mention my huge goal of the North Face 50km race in May.

As I tell my young son, sometimes life is difficult.  We can only look for the best of things sometimes, even in the worst of things.  This decision is a hard one, but I will learn from it.

The lesson this time is to go at my own pace, and to listen to my body.  This body that offers up tremendous wisdom when I stop running long enough to hear.

So it will be one loop of the Roller Coaster Run for me in three weeks time, rather than two.

Now I am off to build myself a sensible, concrete plan for how to achieve the North Face 50km in May.

7 thoughts on “Decisions, Decisions: 21km or 43km

  1. Sensible decision. Running long is hard enough without the additional stress of worrying if you are well enough prepared or if you will make the cut off

  2. Well done – personally I think you’ve made the right choice. I’m struggling with the one loop concept, having only run 2 half marathons and one full and my times say I’m not going to make cut off. Enjoy the one lap safe in the knowledge that it is the right thing for the future.

    • Thanks for your support – having been training out there the last few weeks, I know exactly how hard those hills are! I feel very lucky to get to do one loop in such a pretty place. See you out there!

  3. Patricia you have made lots of valid points. But….

    What makes you adamant that you need to do 39k this week. A little secret I ran 2Bays 56k with no run over 20k sine the Melbourne Marathon in October. A 20k on Dec 9th.

    It is obviously good to have some long runs in but….. total k’s in the legs more important that how long your long run is.

    I seriously think you should think about it given you are wanting to achieve Northface 50. I would go with giving the 43 a go. Whats the worst thing that could happen you have to pull out partway through a 2nd lap.

    • Congratulations on your marathon and on Two Bays, and thank you for your encouragement! You have said it well, but sadly, the total k’s are not enough either. I’d gotten up to 50km weeks for about 8 weeks, but injury hit, and I’ve never gotten higher than that. I’ve yet to run a marathon -my longest to date is 28km Two Bays, hence the hesitation. I’m more concerned about running forever than about achieving this one goal. Perhaps next year…for now, I’ll have to be content with 21km of trail goodness. See you out there!

  4. Pingback: Superman and the Roller Coaster 21.5km Run | patriciaabowmer

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