Not Panicking: 19 Days Out From The North Face 50km Race

Image from The North Face 100 Race Info Website

I am not panicking.  Deep breath, I tell myself.  But my stomach hurts in a queasy sort of way.  I’ve just spent the last hour scouring the North Face 50km race maps and course descriptions.  Five pages of maps and three pages of details about what tracks to run on, roads to cross, waterfalls to skip across, creeks to ford.  Trying to get my head around this massive undertaking while trying not to scare the bejesus out of myself is tricky.

I’ve done the training.  Five months of greater than 50km per weeks.  Long runs increasing from 27, 30, 35, 38, and 43 km.  Hill training.  Interval training.  Training to get the hydration and fuel right, to make sure my pack will carry all my gear, and that I can carry my pack for 7 or 8 hours.  I’ve gotten up every Friday at 5 am and driven an hour to the woods, sometimes to run with friends, sometimes to clock up the distance all alone.  I’ve navigated, cursed, laughed, sung out loud, got lost, got found, and marvelled at the beauty of the Dandenongs as summer has shifted to Autumn.  I’ve run through bushfire-ravaged forest after planned burnoffs, climbed over washed-out tracks, seen at least seven wallabees, one goanna lizard, hundreds of sulphur-crested cockatoos, scores of magpies, and lots of fast-moving skinks.  I’ve felt very blessed that my body has held out through all this training.  Sure, I have a couple of black toenails, but a little extra length in my newest pair of Inov-8 TrailRocs has sorted out the pain.  My hips have been grumbling loudly with the longest of runs, and afterwards I’ve been walking like an 85-year-old for several days.  But I’ve done the training.

Still, my brain seizes up when I consider the magnitude of what I have chosen to undertake.  I’ve never run in real mountains.  Hills, I think I’d have to call them.  Though Mount Dandenong sounds kind of mountain-like, and Wikipedia calls it a mountain, so that is reassuring.  And there was the 700m climb I did once on Lantau Island off of Hong Kong.  Here’s what I’m afraid of: hypothermia; of my training perhaps not being enough; of something going terribly wrong with my body; of not being sure how to use my head torch.  I could go on but I’m scaring myself more.

So.  Deep breath.  It is only fear.  I have felt fear before, many times.  At the start of each and every adventure and trail race.  At talks about my books, like last year at the Bayside Literary Festival Opening Gala, where I stood on the highest stage I’d ever been on, and spoke to hundreds of people.  That was fear.  Even driving to remote locations to race scared me.  Getting lost alone on a trail at dusk.  Having a bamboo snake slide across our path on an outlying island.  Facing the fact that trails have snakes and still running them.

Fear is my friend.  It is the wise part of me saying, hey, be careful, this is not a joke.  Still, I know I can rely on myself because I have before so many times.  I know I do not go into events half-heartedly, or half-trained.  Because this fear makes me prepare myself very well.  The race is now nineteen days away.  Plenty of time to get comfortable with this fear, to let it be, to let it rest.

For now, I will study the maps and make myself a mental picture of the easy bits, the harder bits, and the bits where I will run like the wind.  It would be foolish to be unafraid right now.  Disrespectful.  But under this fear, I must dig into the deeper layer of self-belief that I am sure is there.

And I will ponder the glory of what I will get to see.

All will be well.  I am off now to warm my slightly cold hands!  And if I’m brave enough, to watch the North Face 100 DVD that just arrived in the mail…

The Three Sisters

File:Mount Solitary From Ruined Castle.jpg

View of Mount Solitary

Adventures on the trail: 30 and 35km runs

I have been silent, but I have not been still.  School holidays always causes a long absence from my blog, but I’ve saved up some stories to share over the last ten days – sort of a “highlights of the trail”.  So here goes…

You might recall I’ve been training for the North Face 50km Race in Sydney’s Blue Mountains in May.  The last two weekends I’ve finally managed to break through a distance barrier, clocking up 30km on Good Friday, and 35km just yesterday.  The distances baffle my mind; to run that long seems insane, and yet, each moment varies so much – the emotions, the terrain, the sense of time passing – that while doing it, it seems normal.  I think partly it is the joy of the trail.  Having to be constantly aware of foot placement, of ascent and descent, of navigating and finding the right track.

But the last two weeks, there’s been an extra element.  I’ve run with groups of mainly men (and a few very fast women).  I’ve been the back-of-the-pack runner, the one that the others wait for at the top of the hills, and the bottom of steep descents.  Does this hurt my pride?  No.  It hurts my lungs, and my legs, and my butt, as I try to keep up with them.  Sometimes, during the course of the runs, it made me want to curse and swear and throw rocks at the group leader standing so calmly at the top of the hill, laughing and gesturing and not out of breath at all.

I envied (and seethed at) the look of his feet on the uphills, dancing away from me, making it look effortless.  But I loved him, and all of them, for waiting for me, for not making me feel less than them.  Emotions went all around, up and down, and back again.

The second run was with two men and me, and again, I was back of the pack.  They chatted, and I ran behind, and this was okay, because I was helping to navigate, and really, we were running so very far, that just getting there at all felt a tremendous accomplishment.

And now to the memorable moments – my two favorites anyway.

The first one was on Good Friday.  We were about 28km into the 30km run, and the leader decided on one more short-cut down this super-cool, narrow, single-track trail.  It was darker than most of the woods, moist, full of tree ferns, and it looked seldom used, like a secret trail.

This wasn’t the trail, but it looks like it!

Then one of our group (one who had kindly run with me at the back of the pack a few times) needed a rest stop.  He told me to go on ahead.  But I didn’t like the thought of leaving him.  He didn’t have a map; we didn’t know the route.  So I ran slowly, hanging back, trying to keep the last of the line of our group in sight, glancing over my shoulder to see if the other guy was behind me.  I turned down a mossy, steep staircase, and stopped.  I waited until he caught up, thinking this was a place he could easily go wrong.  We began running but the group had gone.  It was okay, there was only one track, and all was good, until we came to a four-way fork in the trail.  I stopped.  We had no idea which way to go.  We discussed what to do, and then I took out my phone and tried to call Ben, who was with the group.  No answer.  We shouted, loudly, and heard an answering woop woop, and then my mobile rang and it was Ben, who talked us down from the hill.  It was a heart-pounding, panic-inducing five minutes, but we found them, and continued on.  And I added another moment in my Journal of Memories of Scary Moments surmounted on trails.

The second highlight came yesterday, on a washed-out section of trail.  My husband called what the three of us did “dumb and irresponsible”, and then he admitted he would have done it too.  We climbed down over the broken section, scrambled across the stream, and pulled ourselves up the muddy bank on the other side.  One of the men reached down a large hand to help pull me up the slope, which I thought was very gallant.  The scramble was the highlight of the run for me, the moment where we broke through what we should be doing, and ventured into a bit of a risk, an unknown, an adventure.

Today, my headtorch for the North Face race arrived.

I ran around the playground in it, pondered life.  How ten years ago, I bought my first headtorch for an adventure race training weekend on Lamma Island, a small island a ferry ride away from Hong Kong island.

English: Ling Kok Sha, Lamma Island, Hong Kong...

English: Ling Kok Sha, Lamma Island, Hong Kong, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had no idea who I would turn into then.  How different the course of my life was about to become.

Ten years on, dozens of adventure races later, so many beautiful trails run.  I am 47 years old and about to run the furthest I ever have in my whole life.  Indeed, when I think about it, just yesterday, I ran the furthest I ever have in my whole life!

This new headtorch, my second, seems to be shining a light forward, and it makes me wonder what the next ten years of adventure will bring.  Life is good and I am still growing.

Oh, and very hungry and a little bit tired!

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!

We Did It! Team Inspiration Tackles the Anaconda

Great Ocean Road near Lorne

Great Ocean Road near Lorne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not many things in life can get people to voluntarily wake up at 4 in the morning.  The Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne is one of the few!  Ben, myself and my family were up at 4:45, but Mick and Warren, driving from suburban Melbourne, were up even earlier.  We were all converging on Lorne, a small beachside town on the Great Ocean Road, for the Anaconda Adventure Race.  For us, it was a four-stage event with swimming, kayaking, trail running, and mountain biking.  For the likes of the Banzai Adventurer, it was one very long solo experience!

I was nervous.  Rarely have I been the captain for a team event, and this was the first time my three teammates were doing an adventure race.  Warren, father of two, skilled bay kayaker, had never kayaked on the sea before.  Mick, also father of two, had completed 19 swimming races in Lorne, but we had never met (he was replacing our planned swimmer who had been sick), and he wasn’t very keen on the 1.2 km run at the finish.  Ben, of Team Inspiration, father of one with a second on the way, our mountain biker, was really a trail runner.  There was a whole big wide scope for disaster, and I pictured it all:  blood; drownings; car crashes; heart attacks during untrained-for running; terrible conversations with spouses.  It felt like my responsibility; after all, I had gotten us into this.

On race morning, I was the third member of Team Inspiration to arrive.  I registered, and our team number was promptly inked onto my upper arm by a surly man who had chosen the wrong line of work.  Perhaps it was my six layers of clothing that put him off?  There was something sinister about the process, and I quickly took my orange Anaconda water bottles and my young daughter (“Mom, that man wrote on you!”) away.

The team came together for introductions and race planning, and I found myself telling them the general plan of meeting by Ben’s bike in the transition area for the hand-over of the race bib and timing band.  It was strange to be in the role of leader and team member; I am much more used to being an individual racer, or leading a BodyPump class.

Once organised, we made our way down to the swim start, walking along the coastal rocks that would be part of my trail run.  We got Mick ready – the highlight of this was when he asked Ben to blow into his wetsuit sleeves (he called it “fluffing”) – I wish I’d had a camera handy to get a shot of Ben’s expression.  Mick explained it helped the suit to fit better, but Ben didn’t look convinced.  Back in the transition area, Warren awaited us, ready to dominate the kayak leg.

The swimmers get ready to go

As usual, I was horrified by the sight of the swimmers voluntarily entering the cold water while the frigid wind roared (okay, so I feel the cold!).  But they all seemed game, and we listened to the countdown from the pier.  One poor soul had left his warm-up swim too long, and was still swimming to shore to join the back of the pack a minute or two after the start, as we all looked on.  Poor guy!  Then they were off, a long, thin line of churning water on the otherwise calm ocean beach.  It was still hours before myself and Ben would be called into action.

Walking back along the path to race headquarters, we chatted about our upcoming 23 December training run in the Dandenongs, and plans to do the 43km Roller Coaster Run in March.  Below, on the coastal rocks, we spotted my family watching the swimmers and paused for a great photo.  What would you do to play on this coastline?

The beach at Lorne

Meanwhile, Mick swam strongly to complete his 1.9 km swim.  We got to the beach in front of the transition area, and waited anxiously for him to appear for the sprint down the beach.  Mick is not a runner, and this stage was a bit of a shock to him.  He faced it head on, and handed over to Warren to begin the 13 km kayak.

As I mentioned, Warren had never paddled on the ocean before.  But he is one of those quiet athletes who don’t talk themselves up a lot, so I was pretty certain he’d be okay.  It was after the race that he confessed to watching YouTube the night before, trying to figure out the technique to cross through the waves!

He was off, and I made my way to transition to await him.  This was one of the more difficult stages of the race for me, not knowing when to expect him.  Of course, there were the usual last-minute toilet stops, the application of sunscreen, the stowing of the mobile phone in the waterproof case.  And of course, that phone rang several times as Mick and Ben and my family searched for one another, and I tried to connect them.

It was with dreamlike terror that I saw our race number heading towards me – it was Warren with a huge smile!  It is hard to have the right amount of adrenalin handy when there is no starting pistol.  We geared me up, and off I ran.

My first thought on the trail run was it was easier than I remembered.  We crossed under the pier, over some boulders, then onto a moonscape of flat, sea-scrubbed rock.  The rock was interspersed with holes filled with sea water, with upraised edges, with tiny crevasses to leap across.  I was in my element, alert, focused, letting my body steer me forward fast.  Perhaps, I thought, I was really much more agile than last year.  Perhaps I’d mis-remembered those horrible coastal boulders, and it was only the boulders under the pier I’d been remembering.

Alas, the real boulders loomed up at me, and it was a 2km battle to keep my confidence up.  No one else seemed to use their hands on the rocks for balance, so I tried not to.  Then a small rock would move under my feet and I’d flail around and get scared and put my hands down and go too slowly again.  I had to remind myself to run my own race, to let the faster rock-scramblers pass me in favor of less blood on my exposed body parts.  I managed to stay upright, pretended to smile at the cameraman on the toughest section, and then I moved (all alone) across the river crossing under the Great Ocean Road.

And because I was all alone, all I could think of was snakes.  The front-runners are of great value in scaring these off for the rest of us, but they were long gone, and any confident snake would be sunning itself happily on this quiet trail.  And, unlike my usual trail races, the runners returning from their lap of this trail were not friendly.  They didn’t smile or reply to my enthused calls of “well done” and “I’m impressed”; they kept their eyes forward and I felt invisible.  It wasn’t until I was well within the middle-of-the-pack runners later in the race that idle chatter began again.

For maybe 3 kilometres I had the trail all to myself.  I followed pink ribbons, sucked down a power gel, watched for snakes.  And finally I saw an orange vest in the distance and knew I was on the right course still.  Phew.  Savage uphills, gentle downhills, a view of the lovely river on the left, followed by what, last year, was a slide down on our bottoms.  This year a rope had been slung, and I witnessed varying degrees of confidence on both this steep descent and the later rope-slung ascent, and loved that there had been so many ropes as part of my Hong Kong racing.  That part was fun – the greatest adventure of the whole thing.  That plus the few fallen trees I was game enough to leap over at full speed – foolish but fun, taking myself to a place of confidence I rarely visit.  I made sure to notice Phantom Falls this time, as I missed it last year because I was watching my feet too much!

Back down the trail, I made my way through the deepest section of the river crossing and was delighted to see the tide had gone out, so I could skip the hardest boulder section by running below it near the ocean.  Joy of joys!  Still, there were more boulders, more flat, sea-scrubbed rock.  But this year I had trained up to 26 km in my longer runs, and I had plenty left at 14km.  So much that I was dancing on those rocks, encouraging others, delighted in the doing of this.  A sprint down the beach to the transition area, high-fives from my team and family, and then I met Ben to set him off on the mountain bike.

Phew!  My clothes and shoes were soaked from the river crossing, and we guessed we had about an hour or so to get down to the beach transition area.  I prefer not to remember the wait there, but I will say that rocks do hold heat, and as I huddled on them, among the other racers feeling a bit like a penguin, I rested my hands flat on those rocks to warm them.  It was funny to see the varying reactions of mountain bikers to soft sand; some swore, throwing their bikes down.  Others smiled and laughed in obvious delight.  Ben came into view, walking his bike after a flat tire 2km earlier.  He was in good spirits, and the four of us were ready for the final sprint down the beach.

Team Inspiration

Team Inspiration at the finish: from left to right, myself, Ben, Warren and Mick.

Well, Ben and I were ready to sprint.  Warren and Mick had made it clear that they were not runners, so we kind of did intervals down that beach, laughing, congratulating each other, planning for next year’s race.  At the finish, my family was there to cheer us on and my son followed us across the finish line.  We finished in 5:22, the 30th of 50 teams, which makes me pretty happy, as last year my team had a DNF (did not finish).  There were twenty-eight women out there, and 321 men — no wonder it had felt a little male-dominated!

Here’s a shot of us just after the finish, with my support crew front and center (my husband took the photo).  We finished, and we finished strong.  No injuries, no blood or car crashes.  Just big smiles, and a solid effort from every single one of us.

Will we race again?  I was still driving home when the message from Warren arrived.  “That was great!  Let’s do it again!”

In the end, it is not about how fast we go.  It is the doing of these incredible things, the memories, the anxious moments, the fears, and the overcoming of all we had to overcome to get here.

Yes, we will no doubt do it again.  Will you join us?

Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne 2012

It is nearly upon us – the wonderful Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne.  I first found out about this race in 2009, when a group of trainers at my gym came in wearing race t-shirts.  I’d only lived in Melbourne for a little while at that stage, and I was missing my adventure races in Hong Kong.  Seeing their shirts, seeing the words “Adventure Race” – my pulse lifted.  I babbled some questions at the trainers, learning something that brought me great dismay.

A Hong Kong Sprint Adventure Race

“Adventure Race” in Australia didn’t mean the same thing as it did in Hong Kong.  In Hong Kong, the Action Sprint Series Adventure Races were flat-out trail running, interspersed with coastal rocks, climbing up waterfalls, swimming in reservoirs, jumping into the sea fully clothed and swimming ashore.  In Australia, more disciplines were added – mountain biking, kayaking, ocean swimming – and these were not my thing.  I was (am) a runner with a thirst for adventure.

Still, I gave it a go.  I took a kayaking lesson.  I bought a mountain bike.  I signed up for races that included orienteering and all the other disciplines.  But the Anaconda was elusive; I wasn’t strong enough to do all the disciplines myself (without dying), and I didn’t know enough athletes to field a team.  I watched the event go by, year after year, trying to find a way in.

Last year, the way in found me.  A friend I’d run with was chatted up by a team looking for a runner.  She hated trails but knew I loved them, and suggested me.  Oh the joy!  Though we left at 4 am, though we had never met before, though our kayaker was knocked out and we had a DNF though we really did finish, it was amazing (in 2011, the waves were huge, and most kayakers had trouble).  I drove home with my team, having just spend ten hours with them, elated, thrilled that I’d finally got to do this great adventure.

Our 2011 Anaconda Adventure Race Team – thanks for a great time guys!

Then 2012 came.  We formed Team Inspiration for the Surfcoast Century Ultramarathon.  I was finally getting contacts, forming friendships.  Way back in May, I harassed a swimmer dad from my son’s soccer team until I got him to commit to the race.  I talked up kayakers, mentioned the race on Facebook, and everywhere else.  Ben from Team Inspiration finally gave in (thanks Ben!) and agreed to do the mountain bike; Martin (also Team Inspiration) would kayak.  All was in place, way back in September.

Then our swimmer got sick.  Martin decided to put in a pool, so wouldn’t have time to train.  He put Warren from Team Inspiration forward (thanks Warren!).  We were back to almost a full team.  I spent the next months chatting up all the swimmers I met, emailing swimming groups, doing all I could to get back out there.  Finally, at the eleventh hour, Mick, a friend of our original swimmer, put his hand up and said he’d swim for us (thanks Mick!).

So we are finally set.  I’ve got my gels and my Camelbak, my first aid kit.  My race gear is on the drying rack, and my Garmin is charging.

But wow, it has been a long, long journey to get here.   So now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the fact that we’re in, we’re ready (relatively), and I’ve been really training for a 28km race in January, so hopefully 15km of trail running won’t feel too bad at all.  I can picture the course from last year, the coastal rocks, the river crossing, the gorgeous uphill trail.  I do believe there was a rope to climb up too, which will add a little adventure to my adventure race.

So joy…the Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne, 2012, is nearly upon us.  I can’t wait to get back to that glorious beach.  Thanks Team Inspiration, and Mick, for making it happen!