"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Man That Holds His Own is Good Enough

The team - JC, Rolf, me, Karen, and Dan - at the finish!
The C2K post-mortem....

Sexy new ultra fashion - Rock tape shins
The lead up to the event was great in terms of training and self-care, but about two weeks out, I started getting bilateral shin pain. A weird kind of pain that was new to me. Kind of a warm, zinging, flushing pain all over the shin bone - never sharp or stabbing. I self-diagnosed periostitis. A new injury, how exciting (insert roll of the eyes and sarcastic tone here please). My massage therapist and I were working hard with extra sessions to try to keep my right QL and psoas behaving, so there had been little time to attend to tib posts that seemed to have secretly tightened up.

Less than a week before I flew over east, I decided to consult my physio. She agreed it was almost certainly periostitis and needled the heck out of my tib posts and calves. Two days before I left, she saw me on an "emerg" basis and stuck a box of needles into my legs. She whispered 'stress reaction' and 'stress fracture' but then we both agreed there was too little evidence. She put some fancy black tape on the shins and they felt instantly better. If it was a placebo, it was a damn good one!

We decided I should skip my last few planned runs. With 6 days to go, there was almost nothing to gain and everything to lose. I was nervous that I was taking a crew of 4 people across the country to devote up to a week of their lives to get me up a mountain and I might be a DNF early in.

Rolf, me, Karen, and JC recce the course
Naturally, I kept this largely to myself and did the best I could to shut the negative thoughts out. They couldn't help. But the pre-race head games weren't nice.

Two of the crew flew from Perth over east to Canberra on the same day as me - Monday before race day (which was Friday). Tuesday morning, Rolf flew in to join us, coming back from his trip abroad. The four of us crammed the boot full of bags and headed for Jindabyne, which was the 183km mark of the race. Basing ourselves there for a day, we drove up the dead-end road to Charlotte's Pass, at the 222km mark. The last ~18k of the race is an out-and-back up to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko at 2,228 mtrs. It was 8 degrees, but felt like 0 with a biting wind and even some sleet-like snow. This was the kind of weather I'd been warned about. We headed back down the long 40k hill to the motel on Lake Jindabyne, where I would make a an attempt to find food for a gluten free vegetarian with dairy sensitivities. Yikes. I pack a lot of my own food these days!

On Wednesday we drive down the rest of the course to the start line. We note the 'tricky' bits for navigation, as there will be no course markings as far as we know. We pass through the quaint little villages of Dalgety and Cathcart. We go through what I think was called the "High Plains" section and I silently note that I don't really like the landscape for running - wide open ranch/farm vistas. That's unfortunate, as it's going to comprise my afternoon and early evening! I also expect it to be hot for me in here. Mentally, this all helps, though, as I recognise this as a potential low spot to be wary of.

Sand over right toes. Yes, I will regret it!
I get to see my very first goanna - an Australian monitor lizard well over a metre long. We stop and she ambles up a tree, baby following behind her. We see a rancher in a ute (truck) and his two sheepdogs doing their thing - herding the sheep down the road towards a gate. It's exciting for me to see sheepdogs at work! And I'm always encouraging the faster trail runners in our PHAT running group to sheepdog, so it's cool to see these "comrades."

We arrive down at Eden, NSW, the race start, and settle into our 'cabin' on the beach. Dan, our 4th team member, drives in on Thursday, bringing a second car to the team, plus eskies and other potentially useful bits we didn't have to haul on a plane. We have "show and tell" for an hour, where I go through my gear and the race plan one last time. Then it's off to the pre-race dinner, where I am overjoyed at the gluten free/celiac options on offer. The RD couple has planned well - their experience and dedication to the sport shows.

Race morning. 5.30 AM start on the beach. I line up and feel a sprinkling on my toes. Looking down, I see I've kicked a pile of sand on top of my right shoe. It's mesh. Crap. A wee bit of sand has just sprinkled down between my toes. I say aloud, "Crap, I've just gotten sand in my shoe." The bloke next to me says, "Well, you're going to have a long time to regret that."

We're off on a 24k solo section. Our crews can't join us at first or there would be too many vehicles on the road too close together. We're offered aid stations every 4-5k, though, which is great. I run with a 250ml bottle I plan to sip from and fill as needed and use Hammer Solids. I run to feel, though I do have a race split noted.

Indeed, I have calculated splits for the entire race - over 19 sections. It's the only way I can try to gauge my progress and estimate a finish time. Post-race I hear that many people were comparing my splits to course record holder Julia Fatton's, but I never ran to her splits. My understanding was that she probably ran too easily and then ran through the field. I wasn't willing to take that approach and go for a big "negative split" type approach. Instead, I looked at the splits of many other runners before me with measured results. And I looked at the elevation profiles for each section and came up with what I thought might be sustainable. But I also knew I'd have to be flexible and run to my heart rate/exertion level.
climbing Big Jack

It turned out that I came in to meet my crew at the 24k mark within a few minutes of split time. Wow. I hit Checkpoint 1 (CP1) at the 50k mark in 4hr 53min, again very close to projection. I grabbed the Leki poles (my named 'Nearer and Further' mates from the Bibbulmun track adventure!) and went into the 7k climb of Big Jack Mountain. It wasn't even 11 am and I already had an ice towel around my neck. I love the big climbs and this section of forest was pretty, but it was a bit hard to eat and push at the same time. At the top of the hill it took several minutes of running for my stomach to settle. Karen and Dan took off ahead to Cathcart (CP2/70k) for some lunch, as Rolf and JC had shown up after sleeping through the start (purposefully, yes!).

CP2 was attained at 7 hrs (12.30 PM), on schedule. I was still running to effort, though there was a lot of heat management involved. I later told my crew that if I EVER mutter an idea of doing Badwater, they need to punch me out. Besides the heat, I'm dealing with another issue, which is the camber of the road. I'd been warned about it and was trying to be cautious and attentive to avoid the worst of the slopes, but got my first nasty sharp twinges in the right medial knee going up Big Jack at 60k. I think it's the adductor magnus at the insertion to the tubercle (for those who like their anatomy). I was having to alter my gait and not fully bend my knee in order to avoid the pain. I think this had a flow on effect which caused a tightening of the right hip flexor/TFL as the race progressed.

Dan handing fuel off to me whilst officials check on me
73-80km were downhill, perhaps 140-150 mtrs. That necessitated a similar climb on the other side. Then another lower rollercoaster before a bigger climb of a couple hundred metres past the 100k mark. Someone had scratched a line and mark across the road. I noted that I passed this at 10h28 (3.58 PM). Two more km to the big dead tree. I am still tracking along with my splits. But the distances feel huge at this point and I have moments of terrible doubt that smacks of hopelessness. It hurts, it's too hard, and I want to stop. I know that if I can make it to Dalgety, I can finish. Somehow Dalgety is a pivotal point for me. To shut out negative thoughts, I hum at times - a meditative, monotonic hum that rather frightens those who haven't been initiated to it! CP 3 is a road junction with a livestock ramp at 107k. I hit that a few minutes behind, but not at all concerned with a few minutes over this distance. There is lots of time for things to change!

My world continues in 15 minute increments of Hammer Perpetuem servings. There's never a dull moment, though, as I seem constantly in need of an ice cube to chew on, sunscreen, water to be sprayed on my back, or ice cubes under my hat. My pace is slowing, as expected, and I need to get a few more calories in. I take intermittent bites of pear, which is divine. Darkness comes and Karen and Dan take off for the motel in Jindabyne where they can get petrol and a precious 3 hours of sleep. In the care of Rolf and JC, I roll into CP 4, the village of Dalgety (146k), at 9.57PM. The race officials joked that I made it just in time for last call at the pub! No stopping for me; my crew checks me in as usual as I continue out the other side of town, over the Snowy River bridge.

There's a fairly ridiculous climb from the 160k mark to 165k. I grab my poles again and hammer up. I feel great here. It's dark and I'm finally cooling off. I love the big hills. I power comfortably past a few runners. At the top, I lament it being over. A crew member, waiting for his runner, stands there in the dark and says encouragingly, "Well, at least that's over!" I reply, "No, I loved it! That was the best part of the race for the last 10 hours!"

And then things start to go wrong. I'm moving inefficiently. My right leg isn't rotating properly through the hip. Rolf notices and demonstrates to me how I look - sort of a Charlie Chaplin penguin waddle. We both know I can't run another 100 km like that - something else will blow. I stop and try to stretch - to figure out what's wrong. It's mainly the right knee. I just can't bend it fully without severe sharp pain. Same problem as before and everything is just tightening around the dysfunction. I attempt a self-massage.

I stop again to put more clothes on for the night, which takes some coordination between two of us, over big  shoes and stiff legs. It feels like forever to get down the last 5k section into Jindabyne, though it's downhill. Two crew in a truck see me and stop to ask if I'm okay. That unnerves me a bit, as I think my form must not be good if they're asking! Maybe they're just being nice and asking everyone they pass. CP 5, Jindabyne, is attained at 3:36 am. That's 183k done and 57k to go.

It's fairly flat to 190k and then a climb to the summit. My pace drops. I can't hold the necessary tempo. I'm like a piston working in a worn out cylinder - there's all kinds of slop, it's inefficient, and I'm firing at the wrong times. I burn more gas than necessary.

I start to fight fuel. The calories are needed and bring instant increased energy, but I struggle to get them in. 24 hours of mouth breathing has left me with a burnt, dry mouth. I can't eat anything solid for variety, as it just sits in a gummy paste in my mouth. I want pear, but there is no more. Rolf finds my second precious organic banana at the bottom of the icy esky. It's brown. I force it in, telling myself it's custard instead (as there's no way a banana tastes like that!). The crew offer me everything from their own fuel stashes. The Hammer gels go down best, but I only brought a few as emergency backup. They're quickly gone.

The attempt on the female course record is gone. I continue to push as hard as I can, nevertheless. I create a new A goal - sub 32hrs. I will still try to be the fastest Australian woman to run from the ocean to the summit (Julia is Swiss). I also try to hold my relative position - to not lose time to the women behind me, allowing them to close the gap at all.

Summit cairn
At the Pass I switch into my Inov-8 Roclites - a beefier shoe for the rocky summit trail and with more room in the toe box, since they are 1.5 sizes bigger than normal for me. It's a small comfort. Karen carries my pack with mandatory gear on her front, her own pack on her back. The whole team does the 18k summit section together. We go over the Snowy River again, pass Seaman's Hut and Rawson's Pass and do a short snow traverse. The traverse takes me back to my running roots with the Canadian Trailtrash group.

As we approach the top, I encourage the team to run ahead and enjoy the views and get their photos, as I won't linger. But they don't go more than a few steps ahead of me. More than 30 hours in, they are still 100% focused on my race, even though it's the first time to Kosci for all of them. I am in 4th place overall. On the descent to the finish line, I am frustrated with my inability to open up and run properly and I get passed by two blokes. One of them actually beats me to the finish line by 20 minutes, that's how slow my pace was coming down.

With 50 metres to go, I let out my instinctive battle cry and all body pains are drowned by one last flood of adrenaline and opiates. I sprint across the line, face grimacing, mentally giving the course a "Ha! I beat you!" I am happy to sit at the finish and cheer more people coming in, as well as those heading to the summit. My crew give me a few minutes, but they are beat and ask to go. They need real food and real rest. Rolf and Dan, who stayed up all night, pass out fully clothed on their beds before 7:30pm. I try to eat, but can't all day. I get my Recoverite in and sip water and weak peppermint tea.

Sunday trip to Thredbo for our own crew bobsled race!
By Garmin, it was 241k, +5423mtrs and -3597 mtrs. Finish time, at 31:49:21, was the fastest Australian female time by about 25 minutes. Julia's course record fell far from my grasp though, and I'll leave it to another AUS woman to bring the record back to our soil. At this point, I don't expect to go back to C2K next year, as there are just too many races to do and too much recovery time necessary between such major events.

The damage done? An amazingly bad blister over my middle toe - something I've never had, and which I can only think came from sand rubbing on the top of the toe from the start line. That nail will leave me. My lips are so chapped that 3 days post-race they stuck shut during the night and I had to tear them apart in the morning. The medial knee pain is slowly resolving, though I am still walking with a slight limp, as I avoid bending the knee much. My resting heart rate has come down from 59 post-race to 46 three days later to sub-40 last night. That's great, as my recovery from the Sri Chinmoy 24hr took weeks. But I'm in no way planning a run yet! I feel a bit fragile still and jet lagged. Sleep is restless, as when I shift, my knee hurts and wakes me. Plus I am having C2K dreams, recalculating splits and running the last section of the race over and over in my head. I am devouring fruit and salad and Udo's Oil. I lost 2kg of fat during the event so look a bit gaunt. But correcting that part will be easy! :)

In all, an amazing 29 of the 34 starters finished the race, with the last runner coming in just 5 minutes before the 46 hour cut-off. As I drove down the hill towards Jindabyne, I passed runner after runner and their crews, tackling a full second day in the heat. The finish line didn't make me want to cry, but seeing the determination and strength of these individuals did. I believe Banjo Paterson's poem, The Man From Snowy River, reflects those characteristics. No wonder we earn an Akubra hat for finishing.


"He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko's side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse's hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."

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