Razorback 22km Run: here I come!

“Mount Feathertop?” he says.  “That doesn’t sound very scary.  Be downright embarrassing to die there.  It’s like what a mountain would be called on The Wiggles.”

I fight back the laughter, and try to tell him how scary this feather-topped mountain is going to be.  How I have to be able to navigate my way back by an “alternative route” if necessary.  How the map reveals how many times this particular landscape has been burnt up by bushfires.  Watching out for snakes.  Running for ten kilometres above the tree line on a narrow rocky ridge.

When I’ve scared myself enough, I shut up, and reflect on the fact that he’s right: the name Mount Feathertop is actually quite funny.

I remind myself that I’ve trained the 22km distance for the last three weeks, twice up the flanks of Mount Dandenong to get elevation gain right, and once along the Bayside Coastal Track to make sure I’ve got some speed in my legs.

Just before Christmas,there was something going around from Runner’s World Magazine, asking runners to reflect on what they’d enjoyed the previous year, to help set goals for 2017.  For me, the outstanding moments were the night trail runs I’d done.  They were new, challenging in a novel way, and their distance was perfect for the fast running I’d been enjoying.  In selecting my goals for 2017, I tried to keep this in mind.  I skipped both Two Bays and the Roller Coaster Run, two of my favourites, to have the form to try out some new terrain.

After perusing lots of options, and figuring out where exactly places like Mount Baw Baw and Mount Buffalo were, I came across the Razorback Run.  I quickly dismissed it as too terrifying.  Twenty kilometres along a narrow ridge; navigating; scary-scaries in the race description.  Then Sally messaged me and asked me, just after New Year’s, if I was up for a new adventure.

Of course I said yes.  Slowly.  Contemplating and planning for two weeks, and then finally finding the guts.

Now I’m eight days away from testing out these guts!  And the nerves are starting to kick in.  I’ve got the gear, the waterproof trousers and jacket, the beanie, the gloves. I’ve found my head-torch and changed the dead batteries.  Ordered a portable phone charger to keep in my pack for emergencies.  I’m geared up and trained up and getting scared half to death studying the contour map and trying to plan for emergencies like bushfires and snake bites.

But underneath it all, I have the sense that I can do this.  I will do this.  The next adventure is waiting for me on the razor’s edge of Mount Feathertop.  I respect this mountain – it is the biggest one I’ve climbed to date, and I hope it will be kind to me on the day.

 

Where did I go?

Good question! And one I find difficult to answer. I’ve been here, trying to focus on writing my next book, getting stuck, distracted, starting again and again. Worried that blogging was gobbling up my writing time and energy, so I stopped for a bit.

And that “bit” grew and grew until I forgot I blogged with passion and commitment, until writing itself began to slip away.

I’ve kept running, but changed focus after yet another injury. I rejoined a gym and began lifting heavy again, rediscovering my strength and muscles. I’ve focused on speed – tempo training and intervals, dancing lightly on trails rather than plodding.

I meant to blog about the wonderful 12km Afterglow Trail Run, but the week before that event we were robbed and I lost my voice and my confidence and my sense of safety.

And now months and months have gone, and my voice feels stale and atrophied and I want to write as I did before but like a weak muscle, I must retrain myself.

I ran with a new friend today, who spoke so kindly of my blogs. I’m grateful she recalled them for me.

And as I ran the last 4K of our run solo (she was up for 18, me 22), it occurred to me: perhaps I don’t have a novel to write right now. Perhaps I have a running/life memoir. Maybe one woman’s journey through the woods can reflect other’s, and perhaps shine light in the dark.

In any case, I’ll keep this short today. It’s simply a “hello” and an explanation of sorts.

More next week..

 

 

After the Roller Coaster (Run)…

The 2016 Roller Coaster 21k Trail Run: why has writing of you eluded me?  Did I love you, as I have in the past?  Or is our affair growing tenuous and thin?

The Sunday after the run, which I completed in 2:41 (six minutes faster than last year), I spent five hours cleaning my very dirty home.  We have two dogs, two cats, and two kids.  My husband does more than his fair share, and it was fair to say I’d been too tired to be much use around the home lately.  I’d completed a series of three half-marathons (Marysville 21k; Two Bays 28K; Roller Coaster 21k) in four months; the guilt over the dirty carpet had finally caught up with me, and I cleaned like a whirlwind.

On Sunday night,I sat back on the sofa, exhausted but feeling I’d accomplished two great big things in one weekend – an awesome trail race, and a clean home.

Monday, I awoke with a sore throat, a harbinger, a canary-in-the-coalmine.  Still, I taught my 7:30 pm Bodypump class.  It was too late to call for a fill-in instructor.  And really, if I was going to get sick, I figured I might as well go out with a bang.

On Tuesday the flu took me down at the knees.  I was sick for a full week.  No-exercise sick.  Don’t-even-contemplate-walking-down-the-road sick.  I got a fill-in instructor for my Wednesday class.  I slept in some, coughed a lot, and Life Went On.  It was recovery week anyway.

The second week, I gradually recovered.  Taught three Bodypump classes, swam, ran a total of 15k.

Now, in the third week post-race, I’m still coughing, still tired, but I’m world’s better than three weeks ago.  I’m back to my usual fitness schedule.

So why haven’t I written up the Roller Coaster Run?  Was it the illness?  Or something else?

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been listening to myself say the same things over and over since November last year:  I want my feet to feel great again;  I want speed and power;  I want to be able to jump high in the air and land without hurting.  I want to do something different.

And yet, I kept signing up for half-marathons.  The Roller Coaster Run was the last one I’d signed up for.  In a way, it was my line in the sand.

Did I love it?

21.5K Burkes Lookout-186Of course I did.

What I loved most is that I let go of expectation.  I don’t know why.  Suddenly it occurred to me, about five minutes into the run, that I had nothing to prove.  I didn’t want to kill myself running flat-out for three hours.  I wanted to push my pace, push my best, but I didn’t want to race anyone.

In my head, I was saying, I’m a 50-year-old trail running woman.  I’ve got nothing to prove.  I’ve run more than sixty trail races.  Adventure races.  Up and down mountains.  I’ve swam across tidal rivers the day after a typhoon.  Climbed waterfalls in a thunderstorm. I’ve navigated alone in the dark on trails.  Nearly stepped on snakes.  Abseiled down cliff faces on outlying islands in Hong Kong.  I’ve got nothing left that I have to prove.  I just want to run for the sheer pleasure of it.

And suddenly, running down the side of Mount Dandenong, I realised I wasn’t competing.  I wasn’t racing.  I was flying down my favourite trails, agile, confident, quick feet, no pain, and all was right with my world.  It didn’t matter if I got passed or if I passed someone.  I could afford to smile, to chat with volunteers, to high-five the kids cheering with the support crews.  Yes, the uphills were deadly tough.  That wasn’t a surprise.  I had the gels and salt tablets and water and confidence.  I’d run the whole course alone two weeks before.  I was going to be okay; I was going to be joyful.

My favourite moment of all in the run?  At about the 13k mark, right about where I tripped and flew threw the air during my first Roller Coaster Run, I saw a man stumble.

I was ten feet behind him, and watched him trip, then fly sideways through the air, and land hard.  Well, I thought he’d landed.  Just as I was shouting, “Are you okay?”, he, to my utter astonishment, continued rolling, all the way through, until he’d come around, landed on his feet, and simply kept right on running.  He is who I want to be when I grow up.

It turned out I’d met him a couple of weeks earlier on a training run (Ben and Brian were doing three loops of the Roller Coaster to my one that day), so when I caught up with him and congratulated him on his spectacular trip-and-roll-to-his-feet, it was like meeting up with an old friend.  That’s how this race is, how this mountain is.  We are all – in one instant, old friends.

21K KALLORAMA-156This photo was taken at about 20k into the run.  I can picture the section, right after a steep climb up gravel.  It’s where I’ve run alone so many times, staring at autumn foliage, or hidden by thick fog.  Usually, I’m elated that I’ve done the hard part of my training run (I typically start at the bottom of the mountain and it’s mostly downhill from this stage).

At this stage of the race, the 43k runners were headed back out in the opposite direction to us, and every now and then one of the front runners would bound by, mountain-goat-like, taking the downhill with greater speed than I could ever imagine.

But here, right in the moment this photo was taken during the Roller Coaster Run, I’m deep inside my head, feeling the flow of my feet on the single track, knowing the way I’m going intimately, because I’ve run it so many times.

On such a run, the oddity is the other runners everywhere, where usually I run in solitude.

And then there was the finish…

IMG_2650The race photographer captured these amazing moments.  Sharee encouraging me across the finish line in her amazing costume.

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And in the true spirit of the run, and her wonderful supportive nature, here she is, directing me homewards.  Kudos to the race photographers for capturing this moment.

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In the end though, we are all alone with our thoughts as we cross the finish line.

There is a moment, before we cross under the arch, before we collect our medal, where we know fully what we’ve just achieved. The challenges we’ve overcome to complete a big, gnarly mountain run.  I’d like to hold onto the sense of self this moment gives me, to take it out in challenging times in regular life, to say to myself, if you could do that, of course you can do this.  I’d like us all to hold onto that feeling.

Afterwards, after the changing of clothes, the brunch at Sky High sharing a table with seven women I’d never met who were celebrating a 40th birthday, after the elation, I stayed longer than I usually do.

I explored this wonderful secret garden, all alone.

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I felt a sense of calm descend on me that I hadn’t felt in a long time.  A sense of certainty that everything was going to be okay.

Since the run, now that the flu has abated, I have finally done what I said I am going to do.  Got back to the gym to lift heavy weights.  Started interval training to regain my lost speed.  Not signed up for any more races.

Will I be back?  Of course.  Mount Dandenong calls to me.  It speaks to me of home.

 

 

 

Coming soon: Roller Coaster 2016 Run Report

Bear with me please. After an awesome run last Saturday, and a full day of cleaning my very dirty home Sunday, Monday saw me laid low with the flu! Surprise, I know, that after three great races in four months, at the end of it all, like after university exams, my body shouted “enough!”.

I’ll have to give you the full report next week when I’m not sick, but here are a couple of my fave photos in the meantime…

And now I’m off to rest.

Hope all of you are keeping well!

   
    
 

Two Bays 2016: tail of the snake (part 2)

So my iPhone 4s perished.  But phoenix-like, in its place, my iPhone 6s arose, golden, beautiful, and larger than ever.  It would even synch to my computer, something my old iPhone had refused to do.  I wondered, belatedly, if I had done this thing on purpose.  I contemplated jumping in the pool with my very old HP computer, but only briefly, as sadly, the early photos of my new puppy Billy seemed to be gone, and their loss taught me to be more careful.  The photos remain, elusively, somewhere in iCloud storage.  If ever I find the courage, I will try to retrieve them at the Apple Store in Southland, but that is looking increasingly unlikely.

Meanwhile, Two Bays race day approached rapidly.

So did Christmas.

And it was seeming like one of the hottest summers I had ever experienced, at least in the pre-Christmas period.  I was officially signed up for Two Bays 28k, but still uncertain about my race fitness.

I should tell you I was trying a novel approach to long-distance running.  After the repeated injuries of the last couple of years, I had decided to go back to cross-training.  For most of my running life, I had only run once a week, 1o miles on a Sunday, and the rest of the week, lifted weights, cycled, did classes, swam.  I didn’t want to give up any of the things I loved doing in pursuit of just running.  Until I found ultra-running, and completed my first 50k event.  Then running took over.  I got faster and stronger, but I crumbled over time without cross-training to support my muscles.

So in 2015, I was experimenting with replacing 20-40% of my running kilometres with swimming, as well as teaching three Bodypump classes a week.  It worked for Marysville – I completed the half-marathon there feeling stronger than ever before.  But Two Bays?  I kept checking the online training guide, my mouth dropping open each time I looked at the suggested weekly distances.  I’d never reached them; I would never want to.

Still.

The week after the iPhone debacle and my 20k run, my feet hurt again.  I cut my long run back from the planned 23 in the Dandenongs, to 12 on the Bayside Coastal Track.  The next week, again, I aimed at 22, but my long run in my training diary at the end of that week was only 13, with the notes, “Too hot, too tired.”

Now, this was 17 December.  I was undecided if I would go ahead with Two Bays.  Christmas with two young kids was exhausting anyway – did I really need the extra stress of training hard?  I didn’t want to hurt myself, more than anything.

16 December came, the last week before school holidays.  I didn’t even dream of training in the Dandenongs, though I needed some hill training.  There were school parties and presents to buy and wrap, there was last-minute everything plus dozens of Christmas Carols to attend (maybe it just felt that way), and there was a new trampoline to build for the kids.

But I was getting a bit angry – my own goals kept slipping away.  So on Monday, I ran 16k Bayside.  It must have been hot; December seemed hot every time I ran, except when the cool changes happened every other day, and then it rained on me.  But I did it.

Now, I was obsessively checking on the distance one needed to run in training to complete 28k.  I quizzed my husband, who had done a half-marathon once in the late 1980s.  He thought 18k was far enough.  I doubted him.  I asked my Facebook Groups, pleading for reassurance and selecting the answers that fit what I wanted most to hear (thanks everyone!).

Then the unthinkable happened: the air conditioner in our car died.  You have to live an Australian summer to understand the drama – we traveled with our cats, dogs, and kids to our beach house two hours away.  Someone would die without that a/c.  So 23 December saw me at the car service centre, paying out a small fortune to fix the a/c.  And I had to get home.  Perfect!  I had a 10k adventure run from the middle of nowhere off a major highway, navigating my way home.

And something stirred in me.  Awakened.  The thirst for adventure; the quest had begun.

That’s about when I started taking some risks.  I made it through Christmas (joy, presents, blah blah blah), made it to Ocean Grove, and then dashed into the distance to complete a 22k run on the Surfcoast Trail from White’s Beach in Torquay to beyond Bells Beach and back.  Beautiful.  Brilliant.  People celebrating all along the trail (It was, after all, the 28th of December).  I was a tiny bit bereft to be all alone, running so far, but I was determined.  Celebrating in a different way.  I was utterly exhausted at the end, but thrilled.

This race was seeming do-able.  Some runners had said 20k was long enough to guarantee a finish at Two Bays, and I had conquered this.  It wasn’t pretty, and there weren’t enough hills, but maybe, just maybe I could do this.

After three years, and two DNS, perhaps I was going to make it to the start line.

I had just one more bright idea – a 24k run on 4 January, along the Surfcoast Trail again, just to be sure.  Because I don’t like to feel unprepared.

Race day was looming – the 17 of January, a few short weeks away.  I wondered if I was pushing too far, too late.  I wondered if it was safe to run so far alone along the Surfcoast Trail when the summer holiday crowds were dispersing.

And I wondered about snakes.  I’d read many people’s posts noting the increased presence of venomous snakes on every single trail this summer.

So much was riding against me.  Was I going to make it?

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The new logo for the Two Bays Trail Run. Fitting, somehow.

 

To be continued…

 

The long road to Marysville Half-Marathon 2015

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

That’s what I’m telling myself a few days before the Marysville Half-Marathon.  And oddly, it’s not even the running that has me scared.

It’s the two-hour solo drive.

I wish I could be one of those fearless people who just do things.  Like drive solo to a trail race without terror.  But I’m not from around these parts.  I’m from New York.  Place names and road names don’t mean as much and navigating alone to a new place is hard for me.

But so what?

I’ve been aiming at this race ever since the Roller Coaster Run Half-Marathon back in March.  Back then, I was running with a bad case of heel and calf pain, and right afterwards, I commenced a six-week break from running.  The plan was to cross-train and get strong again, in all the ways I had lost over my last two years of long-distance running.

A very gradual build from a 3k walk/run in late April has finally got me to the 20k mark, and relatively healthy.  My heel still hurts now and again, but the strength has returned to my gluts so I can power up hills in a brand-new way.  I managed my favorite run at Mount Dandenong two weeks ago, for 20k in 2:47 (heaps of elevation, though I was consciously going slow, I say defensively).  So I’m ready.

But always, at the back of my mind, there are these niggling doubts. Which hydration device to use?  Will there be snakes around and will I step on one?  Is Red Hill as bad as I remember from the Marathon a few years ago?  Will the roads be twisty and windy and scary to nagivate?  Will the cars back up behind me and beep and force me to go faster than I want?  Was substituting two swims a week for two runs a good cross-training plan or utter stupidity? Blah, blah, blah.

Usually, my family would go with me to Marysville.  My husband would drive, and I’d relax and nagivate.  This year, we’ve added a ten-week old Cavoodle to our home, an adorable puppy named Billy (a Cavoodle is a poodle and King Charles Cavalier cross – he looks like a tiny black teddy bear with sharp teeth but he thinks he is a Labrador-Kelpie because that’s what his sister is). He was going to the source of a blog called “The Stupidest Thing I’ve ever done: Part 2” but I’ve been too busy cleaning up after him, and laughing at the antics of the two dogs playing to write.

Anyway, strangely, my husband doesn’t fancy shepherding the two kids and two dogs around Marysville while I gallivant in the woods for a few hours. Go figure.

So I’m on my own (except for all the cool trail running friends I can’t wait to see!).

Trouble is, those cool friends won’t be in my car with me to tell me where to turn.  And where not to. So I’m going to have to harden up and do this on my own.

Screw my courage to the sticking place.  That quote is from Lady Macbeth, according to my Google search.  If I recall my Shakespeare from college correctly, that story didn’t turn out so well .

Perhaps I’ll think of this other old favorite from Mark Twain, that I’ve borrowed from http://www.quotegarden.com

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.  Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave.  ~Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, 1894

Please be kind if you see me on the road (I’ll be the one backing up traffic), and know I’m summoning up all my courage to get to the start line.