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.

Back to health after injury

So, testing limits.  This has been about testing limits.  That is what I am telling myself.  And as someone wiser than me said, you can’t be sure where the limits are until you’ve stepped over them.

Well, apparently, I have.  According to my feet, my lower back, and my neck, that is.  It has been three days since I last ran.  Nearly four.  That, for me, is a lifetime.  But here’s the sad thing – I am just not missing it yet.  I’ve been pushing it too hard for too long.  Every aspect of my body has been saying no, too far, too much, and I’ve been trying to turn down the volume on that voice, to not listen, to soldier on.

Part of the troubles have come from experimenting with minimalist running.  I have been able to run further than ever before pain-free since I began using Vibrams and Inov-8 shoes.  I’ve taken it super-slowly, taken two years to get up to running 10km in these zero-drop shoes.  They’ve enabled me to run two half-marathons, and my first 28 km race ever.

And then, because I dangled a mountain marathon in front of myself, and I didn’t know how to run a marathon, I downloaded an App, input some details about myself and started to follow it.  To make life simpler, I started running in the minimalist shoes for all my training runs.  It is hard to change shoes half-way through a run in the woods, so I didn’t.  And things seemed to be going along okay (well, ignoring the achilles, foot, back and neck pain).  Well enough, let’s say.

Then I did last Tuesday’s tempo run.  It was a 13km run (part of a 60km week), with 10km of it at a pace of 5:03 per kilometre, or less.  In my new Inov-8 TrailRoc’s, I flew down that trail, ate it up, skirted around the walkers and the dogs, and ran my heart out.  It wasn’t until 11.5km that my foot started hurting.  Thinking it was just the usual ache, I ignored it, finished the run, and limped up the stairs to shower.  As the next day I was teaching BodyPump, and I never run on that day, I assumed I’d be okay for my usual Thursday Vibram Five Fingers 10km run.  And I was – I taught my classes, changed shoes and trotted off down the trail

Except I wasn’t all right.  It didn’t hurt when I was running – it felt good.

Later, though, just touching the top of my foot made me wince in pain.  I’d booked a run with a new friend for the next morning at 7:30 am, and it killed me to have to cancel.  We’d planned 21km up and downhill in the Dandenongs, and I knew he was fast, and that the terrain would be unforgiving.  So for the second time in a month, I cancelled a training run that I was seriously looking forward to.

So, is it a stress fracture? Is it tendonitis?  I don’t know.  I’ve had lots of valuable suggestions from other trail runners, I’ve googled all the possible injuries it can be, I’ve explored preventative exercises to fix it.  But I’ve gone, in the end, with the best solution I could find to overuse – UNDERuse (thanks for the idea,!  For three days, I’ve rested, resisted all offers for runs from clients, friends, kids and running groups.  I’ve made myself be smart;  I’ve thought;  ice-bathed my feet; cried a bit; felt sorry for myself; snapped at people; rested.

And today, I do believe I have figured out what is the matter.  I have always been a cross-training runner, a runner who runs because I love it.  But I love lots of other things too.  I’ve done the races that have fit into my training life, rather than trained for a specific race.  There were always thing I just couldn’t give up to run more – I love my gym, and my BodyPump, I love cross training with my iPod and my favorite music, riding my bike, doing random high-energy aerobic classes.  These things were, in hindsight, supporting, rather than getting in the way of my running.  What I really love is being strong enough (and healthy enough) to carry my kids up the stairs to bed when bedtime comes.

Somewhere along this journey to greater distance, I started down the wrong trail, one that does not suit who I am or what my body requires or enjoys.  Sure, I will continue to train for races.  I will continue to love my trails, and my trail running buddies.  But I’m not going to become the crazy lady who just runs all the time, the one who looks tired and drawn in the mirror, the one too exhausted to run around the block with my kids.  I’m not going to learn to hate running to be able to run further.

I’m done with all of that.  I’m coming back to sanity.

Here’s where I’m happy:  40 to 50 km per week, with my longest run being 20-24 km.  That’s already double what I was doing a year ago.  That’s enough.  I want to be healthy, to run forever – not to run far and fast and burn out and have to hang up my eighty-two pairs of running shoes forever.  I want to love my run every time I do it, like I used to.

I am going back on my own trail, the trail that makes me happy, healthy, and strong.

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

My feet feel better already.

Adventures on the trail from 2012 – what a great year it has been!

I was reflecting on goals last week, having bought my 2013 Mi Goals Diary, having a look back at what I said I wanted to have happen by the end of 2012, and what actually did.

My number one goal was to get my second book, Akilina: Out of the Woods, online.

Order Patricia A Bowmer's compelling new novel today on or as a paperback or eBook.

My second book, Akilina: Out of the Woods

But what I really wanted to achieve was to sell 10,000 books.  Somewhere in the course of the year, I upped this number to 3,000,000, just to choose a random, huge figure.  Did I achieve that?  Well, I got my book online, on, but, sadly, my US bank account, where I’m meant to get paid for the millions of books I’ve sold, is not accepting money.  So good thing I didn’t quite hit the 3,000,000 mark.  But I’m mighty pleased at how well the book has done, at the media profile it helped me generate, at the talks I got to do for Southern FM radio and appearing at the Bayside Literary Festival on a really scary stage.  For book club talks, and talks to writing groups, and talking to friends in the school playground, and forming a blog that seems to inspire others.

I think it is so important to celebrate what goes well.  Luke, of Chameleon Designs, did a fantastic cover and interior design for the book, and was helpful in finding me an e-book designer, so I could sell that way too.

Goal 2 – get my coaching business started again.  I was a coach for ten years before we moved back to Melbourne, but I’d taken some time out to raise my young children.  I wasn’t sure about going back to it after all this time, and I sort of forgot about this goal in all the book excitement.  But I did it in the end, with the help of the lovely business cards designed by (you guessed it!) Luke, of Chameleon Designs.  I completed a coaching course in the middle of the year, to remind me of why I coach, to see if I was still good at it, and to test whether I wanted to do it again.  It was with great delight that I welcomed my first clients again towards the end of 2012.  It was like coming home again to a skill set that is really who I am.

One of my other big goals, which I’d forgotten I’d even written was to “complete a series of personal and spiritual adventures”.  I’m not even sure what I meant by this, as I didn’t add the specific detail, other than to tick the categories of adventure, health/fitness, and travel.  Well.  This one I nailed.  It began with the Run Melbourne 10km race.

Run Melbourne

Just after Run Melbourne

Granted, travel was only by train to Melbourne, but it is always an adventure when my family meets me for a race.  And the joy of running fast on bitumen when I’d been training solely on twisty trails – well, I loved it!

Shortly after this was the Salomon Trail Series run by Rapid Ascent.  What tremendous joy it brings me, remembering the four races of that series.  Studley Park, close to suburbia, but a world away.

Studley Park with a new friend hot on my tail!

Studley Park with a new friend hot on my tail!

Plenty Gorge, where we were meant to cross some flooded rivers, but instead waded through a world of mud.

Plenty Gorge Race

Plenty Gorge Race

Silvan Reservoir, the hills that took my breath away but gave it back in exhilarating downhill.

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Great Joy at Silvan Reservoir Race

Oh, and meeting Scott and Ben and Chris and Adam and Dan and Stu, who would become Team Inspiration, as well as friends.  Together, we lived the greatest adventure of all, the Surfcoast Century Ultramarathon, that 100km monster that four of us tackled as a relay team, and finished.  That was the beginning of Team Inspiration, which just keeps growing, our mission to inspire others to get out there and live life.  After the Surfcoast Century, some of us tackled the last race in the Salomon Trail Series the next day at Anglesea, just to finish it off.

Team Inspiration: Dan, Patricia, Ben and Scott

Team Inspiration: Dan, Patricia, Ben and Scott

My leg of the Surfcoast Century, 21 km along the beach from Anglesea to Torquay

My leg of the Surfcoast Century, 21 km along the beach from Anglesea to Torquay

Anglesea Race, smiling all the way

Anglesea Race, smiling all the way

I sorrowed when that series ended, hit the expected down that comes after huge work and highs.  So I quickly signed up for the Marysville Half-Marathon, and felt my pulse lift again, and in November, I found my friends again two-and-a-half hours from the city, in the woods and near the waterfall.  Scott, Ben and Claire all competed in this one, and again, my family braved the long, wonderful day out.

Happily running in the Marysville Half-Marathon.  Thanks for the photo!

Happily running in the Marysville Half-Marathon. Thanks for the photo!

And then, just when I thought the year was wrapped up, we finally gained a swimmer for Team Inspiration and were able to complete the Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne, a relay event for our team with Mick swimming, Warren kayaking, me running and Ben mountain biking.  And yes, my family came along again.  We got up at 4:15 am to get to the start on time!

Me, Ben, Warren and Mick of Team Inspiration at the Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne

Me, Ben, Warren and Mick of Team Inspiration at the Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne

To say it has been a big year is an understatement.  It is a year in which I came alive again, a year when I drew a line in the sand, and reminded myself this is my one and only glorious life, and I had to grab it with both hands and live it.

Some of the adventures were smaller and more intimate, but rewarding in a different way.  Hikes in the Dandenong Ranges with my family, boogie boarding in Ocean Grove, holding my husband’s hand as we sat at Fairfield Park Boat House, on an “adventure date”.  And making a Princes Castle Cake for my 7-year-old daughter.  Cheering my son onto his soccer final, and watching him save goal after goal, to win the championship.  Oh, and adopting two kittens.

Baby Jake

Baby Jake

Baby Jessica

Baby Jessica

It has been an immense year, full of joy, challenge, sometimes heartbreak, and most often exhilaration.  I will be winding down, as we all are this time of year.  For me, the end of the year is a time to reap of the joy we have sown, and to plant the seeds we want to grow next year.

So here’s to 2013 – bring it on!

Training through Illness

In my early twenties, when I didn’t know better, I would routinely turn up to the gym with a sniffle.  I’d take cold medicine first, so that the sniffle wouldn’t impact my workout as much.  Smart, hey?  When I kept training as hard as I could, that sniffle often became an upper respiratory infection that lasted for weeks.  I thought that was what happened to everyone when they caught a cold.

Over the last twenty years, I’ve studied all about training.  I became a qualified fitness instructor and personal trainer in the US and Australia, trained clients in the gym, taught BodyPump.  I learned exactly how to shape, change, enliven and invigorate my body, and my clients.  In the process, I learned about training through illness.  I learned it was dumb.

But still I did it.Image

I could believe the scientists in theory, but this was my body we were talking about.  And I’d worked hard to get where I was.  So, sniffle; train anyway.  That was still what I did.

It wasn’t until I started to notice the difference between what I told clients to do when ill, and what I was doing, that I began to change.

I began to discipline myself not to train at the first sign of illness.  And believe me, for someone who loves the gym and trail as much as I do, it was discipline.  I’d check my face in the mirror every few hours to see if I looked well enough to hit the gym yet, wonder if coughing counted as a real sign of illness.

To drop the belief that I had to keep training at all costs was a leap of faith – a real test of what personal training had taught me.  But I did.  I stopped training when ill, and I watched what happened to my body.  Closely.  The result floored me.  Nothing changed.  Nothing!  Yes, I felt lethargic and slower, but I would have felt that way anyway simply from being sick.  Did I gain weight?  I don’t know.  I’d stopped weighing myself.  Weight was not the factor by which I wanted to judge myself any more.  When I stayed still, sniffles lasted four days, then, like a miracle, would simply go away.  I could hit the gym as hard as I wanted after the sniffles were gone, and train for my next event with gusto.  My resting heart rate stayed the same; ditto for my pace on the treadmill.

Training through illness?  I don’t think so. 

We wouldn’t do it to a racehorse or a greyhound.  We wouldn’t recommend it to our clients or our children.

Why in the world would we do it to ourselves?