"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The 100 Mile Record Wasn't Painted in a Day (but 3 Canadian records were)

The clouds parted not long after the noon start. It's amazing how hot 20 degrees feels on a 400m track at a 5.15min/k pace. My soaking down with the sponge began.

The tools of the craft for my 'art project' (when asked about the knife, Rolf said it was to end the monotony of crewing)

Less than 1.5 hours in, I had a fatigued DOMS-like feeling in my glutes and high hammies. Runners know the feeling - the day after a big run or gym session and every time your glutes jiggle when you take a step, you feel a little "3-out-of-10" discomfort. That feeling. It was very worrying.

I ran along, doing some intermittent high butt kicks and hip 'looseners,' and lamented my pre-race internal debate over whether to wear compression on race day. I often find I need to remove quad guards after about 12 hours. But that seriously only takes a few seconds. So, in all my internal debate, I'd ended up forgetting to pack both my calf guards and my quad guards. Stupid. Very stupid. There was no option to put on compression I didn't bring.

One of the great times I didn't forget to take my compression (ADU 100k, January 2018)

Then there was the matter that my new shoes hadn't arrived the week before the event, as expected. I was wearing my favourite performance type Inov-8 f-lite 240s (which they stopped making). I had been hoarding two used pair. Both were over 2 years old. One pair had 160km in them and the other had 180km! My painting was being done with used brushes. Not necessarily bad, but it would remain to be seen if they would hold out.

The track was busy. 101 entrants in the various events. Lane 1 was for the thirty or so 24 hour runners (my event), with Lane 2 for passing. Lane 3 was for the ten or so 12 hour runners, with marathon runners joining them at 6pm. Lane 4 was their passing lane. Lanes 5 and 6 were for the walkers.

The 12hr and 24hr walk and run noon start line (marathon started at 6pm; 6hr race started Sunday at 6am)

24 hour crew tables set up inside the track on the grass. Other crews were to be outside in Lanes 7 and 8, but the reality was different, as crews darted in and out to Lane 3. Many competitors ran or walked and chatted side by side, leaving faster ones to run the gauntlet of trying to squeeze between the talker on the inside and the inside track rail or trying to squeeze between the two talkers or running to the outside of the pair. That often required going all the way into Lane 3, because the talkers wouldn't always run close to the inside, either. Sure, there was a rule stating we were to run "single file only please unless overtaking." But no one wanted to be the mean police. So I was trying to paint in a crowded room without anyone bumping my elbows. I was doing it, but it was adding to the mental challenges of the art project.

A few runners had huge crews - with five to eight people even. Some played loud music. The "no smoking, alcohol or pets" rules were broken. At least the dogs were on leads. One crew BBQ'd meat over a gas flame a few times, which I found nauseating to run by every few minutes (not against any rules to make smelly food). The "friends and family" festival feeling seemed to be appreciated by most. For me, a quiet introvert with a tough speedy goal, it was utterly overwhelming. I tried to go into my internal meditative "trance," where I really enjoy looking at the trees, creek, and hillside, watching the clouds, and listening to the birds, but feeling the need to be constantly alert for children, negotiating tight gaps between talking runners, trying to sponge down and fuel up, whilst running relaxed and calm amongst all the loud music and cheering.... it wasn't happening. The system supported the majority, but it was stressful for me.

I don't blame these conditions on my failed art. They simply were. Most people love the atmosphere of big races - UTMB, Comrades, the New York Marathon. I find those conditions exhausting, as my energy is sucked away by others. I became even more motivated to reach my goals and make this my last track race ever. I could take my easel and run off into the wilderness.

These are laugh-out-loud funny for me, that's how introverted I am.

Despite my challenges, I reached 6 hours with 67.531km. A new Canadian W50 6hr record (to be ratified), surpassing Patricia Sommers' 63.443km (set in 2003). I was still right on target for my 100 mile 15 hour world record goal.

Suddenly just after 6 hours, a giant blob of red paint got dropped on my canvas. Well, I must have dropped it, but I have no idea how. That is to say, my pace dropped about 10 seconds per lap. That's about 25 seconds per km! It was massive and inexplicable to me. I would spend the next 5 hours trying to figure out how to incorporate it into my beautiful painting.

Art installation in the vast silence and space on Cirque Peak, Canada, 2016

Certainly, I still felt the fatigued glutes and high hammies, which still reverberated with every step. My calves and shins were also now a bit achy, which I was guessing had to do with the old shoes. I told Rolf about my feelings of stiffness and he looked surprised, as he said my form still looked really good. I tried some paracetamol to take the edge off - at least it might make coping with everything else easier. And the sun had finally set, which was a relief.

I settled in for the 100k, my next interim goal. The program said I should be there almost right on 9 hours, but having fallen off pace, it was 9:12:31. Another Canadian W50 record to be ratified (Patricia Sommers, 2004, 10:01:46).

Painting a Canadian W50 100km record on the canvas

I knew from the 6.5 hour mark that the 100 mile world record was gone. I held the possibility of sub 15:15:00, which would still be a time I'd be very, very pleased to achieve, and would earn me back the CAN and AUS 100 mile open records, both of which I used to hold.

My pace took another tumble with about 10.5 hours on the clock. I'd been able to sit "comfortably" at ~2m18s laps for nearly 4 hours, but suddenly I dropped to 2m30'ish - a 6.15min/k pace! For me, with this level of fitness, at this point in the race, that was bizarrely slow. That was more like my finish pace in a 24 hour race, not at 10.5 hours in.

Around this time, I had ticked past 108km - the 12hr Canadian W50 record mark (Barbara McLeod, 1988, 108.038km). I realised it a few laps later, as I'd been so focused on trying to understand what was happening to my body.


The internet is a wonderful thing - to be able to find this pioneering woman who took up ultrarunning at 48 years of age.

Although it was tempting to stop - just claim the 12 hour record with 110km, I couldn't do it. I felt stiff - like I was on day 3 of a multi-day race - but I wasn't injured. I would honour the 12 hour with the full 12 hours - not stop just because I had another record. I was 95% sure I would call it quits at 12 hours, though. My estimate was it would take me roughly 16 hours to do the 100 miles - if I didn't get drastically slower. That time would still net the W50 age group CAN and AUS records. But I am capable of so much better. That wasn't a painting I'd be proud to hang on my wall.

But I didn't put the hammer down between 11pm and midnight, because I didn't want to close the door on 100 miles. Not yet. Just in case things changed. In case somehow my body "clicked" and that soreness and stiffness somehow (how?) fell so far into the background that I could run smooth. But that didn't happen.

So I took my heavy little sandbag in hand at 11hr51, and at the 12 hour whistle, I dropped it to the ground. I carried on to finish the lap. Couldn't get into the women's portaloo, so walked another lap and said my goodbye to the track and a most excellent timing guy, Brett Saxon, and a most excellent RD, Tim Erickson.

12 hour signal - I stop and reach back to drop my little sandbag with my name and number on it for measurement

Many months ago, I entered both Coburg 24 hour and Sri Chinmoy (Sydney, June), knowing a world record 100 mile shouldn't be expected to come easy. I will have my compression back on, my new shoes, colder weather, and a quieter track. Perhaps I will try a more reduced mileage in the taper, in case the 50 year old me needs that. Though given that 'DOMS' is usually limited to 48 hours (and I'd been resting pre-race), the feeling I had on race day remains a mystery. I have to assume the strange glute 'fatigue' was the cause of my massive slowing spells. I do recall that my legs kept going numb during the first night in the Jayco trailer bed at the caravan park we stayed in. That was two nights pre-race. I thought it was the wires in the electric blanket, which I removed from the bed Friday night. But maybe the problem is my wiring ;)

I love running.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Art Installation in Place at Coburg 2019

Over the past 10 years, I have been an ultra runner. That is, I run ultramarathon distances. Sometimes in races, sometimes in training. Sometimes apparently just for the joy of travelling long distances on foot.

I've explored a range of challenges and adventures. Or, I could say, I have explored my love of ultra running through different mediums. Terrain (sand, road, track, mountain, snow), distance, time, country, culture.... I've run in multi-day and team formats. I've run for national records. I've run for my CAN-AUS countries. I've run for FKTs.

A very special 6.5hr "run" of just 13k return to summit Mt Sneffels, Colorado, 4315m in 2015.  Highest reached by foot.

This exploration has been both a honing of and a continual expression of what I have come to realise is not merely a "sport" for me. It's an art and a craft. Over the years, I've dug deep into research papers, attended training camps, experimented, and listened to the experiences and advice of masters. Every bit of that has helped me learn and refine.

Art, as "a skill acquired through practice," seems almost synonymous with "craft" (as in "kraft" - force, strength). We use our art and craft to create something - that which may be a vocation, in the traditional sense. The creations that came from those kind of forces were, I think, primarily utilitarian at some point in the past. Clothing, spears, housing, all created by "artisans."

Moe 6hr, 2010. Hot day, pushing for 70k. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder ;)
Nowadays, we tend to think only of art as paintings, sculptures... things with no utilitarian value. By that, I mean, they are not essential to a human being's survival. Art is created to be appreciated for its beauty or its emotional power alone. But emotional power can support social causes, healing, or political change. Or it can simply be entertainment.


Avocado sandwich jumpy shot. It's art, man.

For me, ultra running has no "real" utility. I do not need to travel so far, so fast, at once, for my survival. I have no political or social justice cause I run for. I am not healing a wound or managing an addiction. And I do not do this for entertainment. I am thus left with the fact that ultra running for me is my art and craft. And I do know that I have felt the emotional power of watching other ultra runners. The same goose bumps and watery eyes I've gotten when hearing a particular piece of music. Interesting, that is.

Coast 2 Kosci, 2013, finish
Yet, I also have a feeling that the art I create is not outside of me. When my race ends, there might be a finisher's medal or a t-shirt. There will be a time and a distance stamped to that experience. But those are not the art.

So, do I create the art or does the art create me?

Perhaps I am creating my masterpiece. And it is me.

Art installation live in place on the Harold Stevens Athletic Track, Coburg, Victoria, April 13-14 2019!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

IBS: Iron Burn Syndrome

No, I'm not mistaken. I know it's supposed to be Irritable Bowel Syndrome. But I've just re-diagnosed myself.

In mid-January 2019 (last month), I was misdiagnosed with "IBS." It turned out - and I discovered this through my own "Dr Google" research - that I had iron-pill (Ferrograd-C) induced gut lining damage. I went from being a gut-mess to being 100% in a matter of a few days. It sounds like some exaggerated story, where I will now launch into my sales pitch on the magic crystals that cured me...which you, too, could have for just $29.99! Nope, this is for-real. And there's nothing for sale.

I share this story because it might help others. But don't read it if you don't want to read words like poo and gas/wind! 

A different kind of wind. 50kph on Prairie Mountain, Alberta, Jan 2019
At the end of September 2018, I developed bloating (like 4 months pregnant), lots of wind/gas which got worse as each day progressed, often resulting in my sleeping on the sofa. Accompanying symptoms: narrow stools and going to the toilet 4-5x/day for a "number 2". Never constipation. No blood ever seen. No reflux type symptoms until early January, when I oddly started sometimes getting a few hiccups or burps for a few minutes after drinking water when running.

I've chronically had slightly low white cell counts, which my sports doc said fits with my athletic level. Though the GP kept hinting "bowel cancer." Recently, on routine bloodwork, I had high ferritin, too, which is not just an iron marker, but an inflammation marker.

I had a poo test in November to see if I had giardia or crypto or something - negative.
Pulk-pulling hike February - no FODMAP diet, hooray! 

On December 1st, I had a crazy pain attack in my belly that put me on the floor for an hour. I thought maybe I was just really hungry when I ate and ate too fast, swallowing air. I had the sweats, it was so painful.

I tried no spicy food plus the very complicated and restrictive low FODMAP diet at the beginning of December for two weeks, logging all my food. There was no change.

In late December, the GP re-did the poo test, as sometimes a bug can get missed. All good.

The GP then sent me for an ovary ultrasound (I was sure it wasn't a cyst or similar - the symptoms didn't line up). Ovaries were good. Once they found them underneath the wall of poo in the way of the camera. But they found gallstones. Now, I learned that lots of people have gallstones and never even know. But then I realised what the attack was on Dec 1st! I understand that you can get stones from red blood cell damage, and ultrarunners damage their red blood cells.... so it seems likely to me that it's this type. But I still have to meet with a gallbladder specialist in late March. Anyway, gallstones wouldn't account for my wind and poo regime.

In mid-January, the next step was to go for a colonoscopy and gastroscopy. Though I was dreading the liquid laxative stuff I had to drink (3 times!) in preparation, that wasn't so bad. The bad part was the anaesthetist telling me, in my vulnerable, naked-except-for-the-gown, half-delirious fasted state, that it would all be done under "twilight" anaesthetic. I'd be "awake" for the whole thing, she said. Well, that brought out a sudden (but quiet!) swear word and a few tears. Shove a pipe and camera down my throat whilst I'm awake?!? F*cking hell. She promised me she'd increase the sleepy-meds if need be. The last words I heard in the theatre were, "Have a good sleep, B." Right on. Wake me up for lunch.
Wide-eyed look of Wasootch Peak I'm climbing. Better than wide-eyed fear of a gastroscopy while awake!
No, it wasn't bowel cancer. One tiny polyp was removed (I understand it's the polyps that turn cancerous sometimes - so they just removed it so it couldn't get a chance to go rogue). That little polyp wouldn't have caused my symptoms, either.

The findings I got before leaving the hospital, which felt hurried, especially given I was just coming out of my morning snooze:

1. "mild reflux oesophagitis" - Inflammation of my oesophagus. The "reflux" part seemed particularly strange, as I didn't get reflux/heartburn at all. The doc at the hospital gave me a script for some meds to take for a month for this "reflux".

2. "mild duodenitis" - that's inflammation of my duodenum (my upper small intestine was also inflamed).

They tested and excluded Coeliac disease and H pylori bacteria.

Snowmen never have these problems. 
The result was the doc thinking I had "IBS" and that I should try a low FODMAP diet (I told him I'd already done that though). In addition to the script he gave me for my non-existent reflux, he told me to see a dietitian for FODMAP advice and take something called Mintec before meals and when I get abdominal pain.

However, I had to keep telling people, I don't (usually) get abdominal pain. I just looked 4 months pregnant, got increasing wind all day, poo'd a lot (but no pain), and my intestines sometimes 'churned' with the wind thing. I could feel it when laying in bed. Like I had snakes in my belly. But no pain, typically (except for that gallbladder night).

Here's where my own detective work came in:

I had to go off my 2x daily Ferrograd-C iron pills for a week before the hospital procedures. I noticed that "ironically" my symptoms seemed to be decreasing that week (but didn't connect it to the pills yet). After the procedures, I went back on the pills. Within two days, the symptoms were getting worse again.

Sudden aha moment - the ONLY thing that had changed had been the iron pills.

Bring in Dr Google. It turns out that not only had I developed two "itis" conditions in my gut from my 7 years of daily Ferrograd-C (iron is almost 'toxic' to the mucous lining of the gut I found out), but I had been taking my iron in a very poor way....right before laying down to sleep and with the tiniest of sips of water. I could often feel the pills in my throat.

Cue face-palm slap moment. If others can learn from this story to never take any pills before lying down and always with plenty of water, typing out this long story of poo and wind was worth it :) And really, really try to think outside the box when it comes to gut issues. I'd been on iron pills for 7 years without problems, after all.

I've had a happy belly for three weeks now, without iron pills. I never took the reflux meds. I've got to see my sports doc to discuss long-term iron options, but things are good.
Cue happy ending. No crystals for sale.
Endnote: Please don't associate my low iron with my veganism - I've had low iron since years before that part of my health journey began - and back then I even tried upping my red meat intake, cooking in cast iron, adding vitamin-c foods to my iron-rich meals....all to no avail.