What do I do now?

I’ve spent most of today playing avoid-the-computer and I suspect I have something to say that I don’t want to say, so I’m sitting down now, at 8:04 pm just after the kids are in bed, and I’m going to say it.

Ah, but what is it?  A gnawing sense of “it’s not fair”?  The North Face 50 (TNF 50) trail race is happening this weekend, and like the Two Bays 56k in January, and the Buffalo Stampede 43k, it will be happening without me.  I’ve known that for ages, but I somehow kept hoping.  Hoping that despite the knee injury I suffered in November last year, the calf-strain in January, and the face-plant a week ago, that I’d get the mileage up to be able to do it.  I’ve done the math again and again (and again) and such an outing would no doubt lead to injury.  My biggest week since November has been 44km, and my longest outright run 23km.  That’s far short of what TNF 50 requires.

So it stinks.  And it isn’t fair (well, it is really, no one can hurt us but ourselves).  Last year’s TNF 50 was life-changing for me and my family.  We hadn’t stayed in a hotel in five years; we hadn’t traveled anywhere other than our beach house and back.  I finally managed to break us out of that pattern, by booking a race that required us to break it, and suddenly the world opened up for us again.

But part of me, to be honest, didn’t see the sense in returning to do it again.  It was a challenge I’d conquered already.  I had learned what the race had to teach me, and put the lessons into play by seeking the help I and my family required.  I’d seen what I went there to see.

Right after the race, I decided I needed an even bigger adventure, and planned that it would be racing somewhere in New Zealand.  There were places there that were calling me, vistas I longed to see.

Somewhere I’d love to see in New Zealand…3 ASICS Kepler Challenge 60K trail race in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park.


But I never sought out the races.  I got scared.  Time slipped by.  It seemed too big of a stretch.  And I’m a creature of habit; I tend to sign up for races I’ve done before, simply because I know them.  When TNF 50 registrations came up, I was one of the first to enter.

I’m at a funny place in my running, and I was even when I signed up for the events of the last year.  I’m not really enjoying the super long-distance stuff and I’m missing my speed.  For me, running has always been about an endorphin blast.  Today, I ran for 5k on the treadmill for the first time in ages, and did my favorite speed workout, one minute fast, one minute recovery, getting faster in speed by .2 for about 10 cycles.  I’d been too injured to do it recently.  My new “normal” pace has been 6 minute kilometers: that’s the one I’ve used for my long, slow distance, and it is comfortable and easy.  But my body doesn’t like it.

And when I translate that into the numbers I’m used to on the treadmill, I want to cry.  I used to run at a speed of 12 as a baseline and went only up from there.  This pace is more like 10.  Numbers matter to me; speed matters.  Today, I crept back up to 12, then did my one minute intervals, increasing by .2 up to 13.8, with rest intervals of 11 in between.  And suddenly, I came alive again.  The cadence felt right, my feet were flying, and I’d found the flow that has been absent for so long.

Now the question weighs heavy on me: what do I want to do?

I’ve signed up for the Surfcoast Century 50k (SCC 50) in September, but the thought of it fills me with dread.  I don’t want to run slow; I want to sprint like a Cheetah.  I’ve also signed up for all four long courses in the Salomon Trail Series, but “long” tops out at 23km, which is just a nice distance.  I’m planning to be fast in those, so that’s fine.  But do I do the SCC 50?  I’ve seen half of it already, having done the first amazing leg as part of a relay team; will the second leg and the extra time add so much?

I’ve been debating this question since the Marysville Marathon, when I declared at about 38k that it sucked and I was never going to do that kind of distance again.  I haven’t.  Due to injury.

Now it comes down to choice.  I think that is what I’m struggling with.  Not so much despair at the race I’m going to miss on Saturday, but where I’m going to next.

The other thing I did at the gym was lift some big heavy weights, to try to wake up the muscles that have disappeared from my arms.  It seems I’ve burned them off, an unwelcome side-effect of running far.

Where to next?  A question I’ll be contemplating carefully in the coming weeks…

Do I run far or fast or can I do both?

Funny, I thought the sense of unease I was feeling all day was about not doing the TNF 50 this weekend.  Really, that was the line I’d drawn in the sand to call an end to the ultra-running.  Because I don’t get to jump over that line, it seems I’ve drawn a new one in September.  Do I really want to do it though?

No answers right now, just questions…

And here’s the other thing:  I’m afraid the followers I’ve built up through my blog and other social media won’t find me interesting or inspiring if I cut back on my distances. That’s a hard thing to admit.


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