What’s next? After the 50…

Ah, that is the question.  Three weeks or so after the North Face 50km race, and my recovery is finally coming along.  It took some strong words from the Dandenongs Running Group to get me back on track, to realise I needed to slow down and heal, as I had come out pretty fast and hard.  The irony – in formulating my question the group, I almost laughed out loud:

“Okay experienced ultra-runners, can you help? It’s been nearly 3 weeks since North Face 50 and I am still so tired. I spent the first week after recovering and only ran 7k in total, last week I ramped it back up to 47k plus teaching 2 pump classes and 1 weight training day. This week I’m only up to 30k and 2 pump classes, and exhausted. What do I do? Should I be recovered yet? Feeling a bit of a dummy and wondering whether I am doing this right. (oh, and trying to gently train for the Surfcoast Century that will happen in September too). Any advice?”

Duh.  Slow down, they said, loud, kindly, and in unison.  I guess I kind of knew that, but somehow having real ultrarunners to validate my tiredness enabled me to take three days off running, to do a yoga session, and to finally, finally leap out of bed in the morning with a spring in my step.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still going slow for the next couple of weeks, with my only real challenge the first race in the Salomon Trail Series, a 15km romp in some lovely woods near home.

But my heart and soul are calling out for the next goal.  And I don’t just mean running.  I have been contemplating the fact that it is June already, and that novel, my second, that I’d promised to get started, well, I haven’t got started.  I’ve already written a non-fiction book, and a novel about a woman lost in the woods.  This third book has been harder to birth.  It began as a book called White Bird of Freedom, about a woman whose marriage had dissolved.  It featured a cowboy named Jake Wyoming (a hottie of course, and very good with horses), and lots of soul-searching.  The trouble was, I set out to write it as a call to environmentalism (the husband was the bad guy, destroying the environment while the wife wrung her hands in despair before he left her), and it became kind of talking-headish.  At least the bits that weren’t a love story did.  The bits about Jake and Carol sung.  I don’t want to leave those characters, but I can’t write about the environment, just like I couldn’t write a book about Life Coaching.  I can only write what I know.

Lately I’ve been contemplating making one of the characters an ultra-runner.  But where is the conflict?  And that is where my fingers stop moving, and I can’t go forward.

Similar to my choice of my next serious event.  I feel the ideas simmering (Two Bays 56km; Surfcoast Century 100km; Roller Coaster 43km; events in New Zealand) away, but find it hard to unleash them, to let them flow away from my control.

Perhaps, like the autumn here in Melbourne, things are astir under the soil, getting ready to bloom.  Like when we bought our lovely home, and the first spring, these wonderful bulbs burst forth that I hadn’t known were there.  They were bluebells, and they were everywhere.

Perhaps White Bird of Freedom is like that.  I need to let it simmer, and eventually it will flow freely.  Or maybe I need to start writing.  Build in some time when the kids are at school, lock my husband out of my office and find my soul-space again.

The words, just like the words of my blog, do not sing except in solitude.  And being a wife and a parent makes that solitude hard to come by.

Truth or excuses.  I found the time to train for a 50km trail race.  I think the truth is I am afraid to birth a book in today’s world without an avenue to sell it.  But that is not why we write – we don’t just write to sell.  We write because what we say needs saying, for both our spirit and the spirits who find the words just when they need them.  I’m going to write anyway, scared or not, just like I run.  The words will come.  It will take some work, but I am going to sing this book into life.  Just you watch…

Wouldn’t it be nice…if I were no longer scared?

Here’s what I wanted to write on my blog tonight:  I have found my inner confidence.  I have dug down deep since last Monday night, contemplated all the things I have achieved, overcome, faced down, and now I’m no longer scared of the North Face 50km race that happens in four days time in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney.

Not quite.

I will say I have tried.  Ok.  I haven’t.  I haven’t even been able to try.  This is one of the scariest things I have ever done, and I feel a bit rabbit-in-the-headlights-ish, to tell the truth.  Like it is too scary to even really contemplate.

Sure, I’ve been studying the maps and exploring blogs that go into detail about the trails we’ll travel.  I watched the North Face 100 DVD that has sat on my bookshelf for a month (I kept meaning to watch it over dinner at night, but it made me feel sick to my stomach each time I thought about it, so I watched it after school drop-off last Tuesday morning – the first time I have ever watched TV in the day!  And watching it was a good and bad idea – good that some of the trails didn’t look too hard; bad that some of the people looked like they might die, but thankfuly, didn’t).  I’ve tried on and put away the new Salomon backpack I panic-ordered last week (great idea, to consider using a new pack on race day – glad I came to my senses quickly on that one!).  I’ve done all the last-minute checks (salt tablets in abundance, lots of gels, sunscreen, BodyGlide, etc).  I’ve even bought two portable DVD players to entertain my non-travelling kids in the car for the ten-hour drive to the Blue Mountains (I’m sure I’ll be ready to run screaming into the woods after that drive!).  I bought new jeans today to put in my after-race bag, assuming I’ll need one, because my only other pair has the knee fully torn-out from a face-plant on the playground at my kids’ school when I was running too fast for my own good.  So I am truly ultra-organised (I didn’t even mean that as a play on words).

But I am also ultra-terrified!  This was the tipping point – the Facebook post from the North Face race organisers page, warning runners not to train on the course early this week because the powers-that-be were planning to SET FIRE TO THE WOODS in the areas where the race will be held.  Okay, here in Australia, we call it a “planned burn” and I’m sure it won’t even be smouldering by the time we drive up, but really?

(The actual post from the Facebook Page: Alert from National Parks: For any 100km runners planning a run on course from now until at least Monday, you won’t be able to do Leg 2 as there are hazard reduction burns occurring in the Wild Dogs (the area directly to your left as you run between Medlow Gap and Dunphy’s Camp). The Medlow Gap firetrail is closed for at least the next 3 days and will be reopened once the area is safe again.

For updates on track closures check the National Parks website or contact the NPWS Heritage Centre, phone 02 4787 8877 (open seven days 9.00am to 4.30pm).)

In full panic mode, I downloaded the New South Wales Fire App to my iPhone, and have been studying the little icon that says, “planned burn alight, under control”.  I’m waiting for it to say, “it is now out”.  Oh, and then I read the Emergency Instructions again about how there is really no mobile phone service down in the valleys we will be running in – gulp. So I won’t be able to check my FireApp to see where the fire is?

Today, the race organisers posted a picture of the Blue Mountains on their Facebook Page in a get-us-all-excited moment, and I swear there was a plume of smoke in that picture.

Photo: Cracking morning in the Bluies, course setting well under way. Track looking good, 5 days to go!

The actual picture from the North Face Page – see, doesn’t it look smoky?

Can I type any faster to tell you all how cowardly and scaredy-cat I feel right now?  When I took my maps to OfficeWorks to get them laminated (I know, overkill) I was too nervous to wait in the long non-moving line for service, and bought contact paper like you use for kids projects, and laminated the thing at home.  Of course, my husband walked through the house during the lamination, and my hand shook, and I didn’t get it perfect, and I nearly, very nearly, shouted at him, like a crazy, mad fish-wife (“Why did you have to walk by just then?  Don’t you know I’m doing something critical to my survival and now I’ve just messed it up and your children will have no Mom and I’ll freeze to death lost in the woods because of this stupid crease that obscures OBSCURES the trail name???).  Or some such thing.  I believe it is to my great credit that I said nothing, and put the map away.

So, no, I don’t have a non-panicked self to share with you tonight.

All I can say is that fear has not stopped me ever before, and this monster certainly won’t stop me this time.  I’ll keep having the stupid dream where I’ve forgotten to pack my gear until five minutes before the race, and the other one where the tidal wave is coming but no one notices but me (“Ah, hey guys, do you see that wave?”).  I know, there is no ocean near the Blue Mountains, but I was raised by the Atlantic, and I see waves when stressed.

In a few days time, I will front up to the start line of the North Face 50km race in the Blue Mountains.  I will face down this demon-fear again.  Until then, please bear with me.  Bear?  No, there are no bears here in Australia.  Don’t get me started on the other venomous creatures though…

(Not) Going Down In A Blaze of Glory: Two weeks out from the North Face 50km Race

Jon Bon Jovi

Doing speedwork on the treadmill this morning to my favorite Bon Jovi songs, I was letting the lyrics do the work of lifting the pace, trying not to sing out loud because there were other people running too.  “Blaze of Glory” came on – I was nearly at my maximum pace, flying, lip singing, holding back on punching my fist in the air, “I’m going dooowwwnnn in a blaze of glory…”, having a heck of a time, and then it hit me:

It is thirteen days until the North Face 50km Race in the Blue Mountains.  I don’t actually want to go down in a blaze of glory.  No blazing, no end, no “dying like a man” or woman, for that matter.  I want to finish this race strong, powerful, tired but capable of doing it again another day.  Maybe even going further.

So, I’m changing my playlist, especially the outdoor one.  Outdoors, I don’t use an iPod, but  I do run with an internal playlist going at all times, sometimes in my head (when I’m with a group, or passing other runners), but when I’m alone, I sing out loud.  As I told my husband, it’s so much easier to change the song than on an iPod.

One day recently, at the back of the pack, climbing a steep hill with the Dandenongs Trail Runners, about 25km into our 30km run, the song went something like this (from Bon Jovi’s new album): “Does anybody want, does anybody need, does anybody want what’s left of me…”.  Wasn’t much left at that stage – that’s why it was so perfect.  During the 28km Two Bays Trail Run, my longest race at the time, the song was by Frank Sinatra, My Way, but just the bit where he sings, “there were times, I’m sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew…”  I didn’t choose that one; it began playing in my head all by itself.  During the Surfcoast Century, which we did as a relay team of four:  “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller, doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.  What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter, footsteps even lighter, doesn’t mean I’m over ’cause you’re gone…”

The playlist matters.

It is thirteen days and counting down to the big day.  I have hit a more subdued frame of mind, where I am having faith that the training I have done is correct, and will pay off.  As I have begun tapering, dropping back from my longest run of 43km in training, to 30, and then 22 last week, I have noticed a new energy flowing in me.  I feel a bit like a coiled spring.  My fast runs have become lighter, more flowing, and the aches in my hips have mostly subsided.

Then, today, my race number (5113) arrived in the mail, along with a lengthy Emergency Instructions card, and a massive map.  I could barely read the Emergency Card, it was so frightening, though it was slightly reassuring that I’d thought of most of the potential emergencies already.  I even had a couple they hadn’t thought of!

I do wonder about the auspiciousness of my race number 5113.  It was at the 13km mark on the Roller Coaster Run back in March that I tripped and went flying through the air during my superman stunt.  But perhaps I have already used up the bad luck associated with that number?  In any case, it is better than the number 5114.  When I lived in Hong Kong, I learned that the numbers 14 and 4 were very unlucky, because they sounded, in Cantonese, like the phrases “certain death” and “death”.  So there are a few numbers that would be worse for me (sorry to those of you who got them, but if you’ve never lived in Hong Kong, I don’t think the unlucky bit counts!).

A typical elevator bank in Hong Kong – notice what numbers are missing?

So, this is how it feels two weeks out from the biggest race of my life, the race that I have spent eight months building for, that terrifies me one moment, and thrills me the next.  I have to remind myself that I have stood at many, many start lines, wondering what I was doing, wondering how I was going to face the challenge I had set for myself.

Each time, I have come through.

The theme song for this race?  Army of One, again from Bon Jovi’s latest album.  This will be my mantra, “Never give up, never give up, never, never give up, never let up, ever, never give in, never give up, never give up, never forget where you’re from, you’re an army of one….”  Set on repeat play in my head.  Find it on YouTube and listen.

The other words I’m tucking into my subconscious are by Malcom Law, author of “One Step Beyond”.  When he was running ridiculous distances in New Zealand, and the going got tough, his mantra was  “relentless forward motion”.  I like the feel of those words.  Thanks, Malcolm.  http://runningwildnz.com/


Now I’m off to laminate my map…and Emergency Card…