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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Setting 2012 Goals: Aww, mum, do I have to?

I'm not a "New Years" person. I don't try to stay up until midnight. I've never done the resolution thing.

Then someone suggested, with it being the new year, I should write a post on my goals for 2012. Sounded painfully tedious. Rather like list-making and I already do enough of that. But the seed was planted. I started to wonder ... What am I doing with 2012? What do I want to achieve? What am I aiming for this year? And next? Do I have a plan? Does it matter?

Every time I thought about it for more than a minute or two, I found myself distracted with something else. Crow brain. Easily distracted by shiny objects :)

But I remembered the saying, "If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting." Not that I mind much of what I've been "getting" this past year or so in my life, but I'd like to think I'm a proactive type. So maybe having some intentionality around things isn't such a bad idea. Maybe even worth a little mental "list-making." Blogging is the way I've decided to get my brain to focus on this for more than 120 seconds. (But I can tell you, this blog has taken about 4 days so far to write!)

Although I've been a runner for perhaps 7 or 8 years, my passion for the sport has become Frankensteinian over 18 months. In 2011 I somehow found myself vice president of the Australian Ultra Runners' Association (AURA), with its 400 members, and starting the Perth Trail Series (PTS), which has sold out for the first event coming up in 9 days. I found myself overseas racing at World Trail Championships and the Commonwealth 24 hr and running a record breaking 1000 km adventure on the Bibbulmun Track. Then in December, Rolf and I were having an innocent conversation about ordering some PTS tech shirts from our favourite tech clothing company and suddenly found ourselves starting a new company as the Australian distributors of RaceReady (you need pockets... and skirts - unless you're a boy, then maybe you just need pockets).

These running-related projects, combined with my very enjoyable child psychology practice and my not-so-enjoyable-but-bearably-interesting PhD, has the makings for an intense 2012.

Rolf and I are already committed to running the 320 km 3-country Transalpine stage race in Europe in September - not for sheep stations, though. In fact, precisely not for sheep stations. It's a chance to run together through some amazing terrain and cultures for the sheer joy of it.

As lead-up prep, I'm thinking of TNF100k in Australia's Blue Mountains mid-May. The goals for that one: some great mountain training, going as fast as possible, and having a grand adventure with a heap of my WA mates who are all going over east for it.

But I haven't finished with the 24 hr race yet, after the failure at Commonwealths. Sri Chinmoy Sydney 24 hr race in June? Looks like perfect timing - my fitness should be at peak after TNF100.

Then, find a way to disappear from WA winter - back to the Canadian Rockies or over to the Swiss alps for a few months before Transalps, would be nice. Hopefully my citizenship application will go in at this time, too.

To finish off the year - Coast to Kosci Ultramarathon - the race I couldn't fit in this past year due to the Bibbulmun. Speaking of which, that journey has whet my appetite for more. So for 2013, is a repeat in order? Or do I aim for a 6-day or 10-day track race? Or find another long distance trail I can tackle? My crow eyes are on the lookout for just the right shiny object to latch onto.

Excellent. I have heaps of goals now. But what's the mission statement driving them all? More than a resolution or two, I think I need a statement of purpose driving my actions. What if I fail at a goal? I'll need to be able to recover by knowing that I'm still in line with my mission statement. There can be other means to the end.

Gee, I actually wrote a mission statement about 20 years ago during one of those "find yourself" type workshops, but haven't much thought about it of late: To create exciting, challenging opportunities to use my brain in making a contribution to the world.

It still fits. I run for me, but far beyond that now, I use running to inspire. Why VP of AURA? Why PTS? RaceReady rep? Blogging? Maintaining a website? Child psychologist? To enable people to aspire. So that others can set their own goals, create their own mission statements. So there can be more happiness in the world.

So if you haven't set a new year's resolution to lose weight, cut down on booze, or stop smoking, that might not be a bad thing. What I mean is there's no point if it's not something you completely believe in and have put some intentionality behind. Otherwise, there will be nothing to keep driving it forward through to achievement. You need to know why and to believe in your answer. Or you'll just be left with that sad pit-of-the-stomach feeling if you fail at a goal. If you have a mission, you can just find another goal to achieve it.

Now, where does my PhD fit? Damn. I'm having an ah-ha moment.

Thanks, guys, for being my sounding board :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Branched Chain Amino Acids. Because Lentils Aren't Sexy

This one has suddenly been cropping up... Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs).

"BCAA's have a great deal of thorough and conclusive research surrounding them."

"Double your fat loss, double your muscle gain and double your strength..."

"...aid in an optimal muscle protein synthesis and recovery."

"BCAA, unlike other amino acids, are used to provide energy."

Obviously, as an endurance athlete, that's a supplement I must need. But let's just say it's Christmas day and all the shops are closed. I'm about to go for my long run. Where on earth will I find my essential amino acids?? What will I do?

Oh, I know. I can eat any source of protein.

Chicken, red meat, tofu, eggs, tuna, yoghurt, beans, lentils, almonds, soy milk, cheese.

I can even get fancy and have whey protein or chocolate milk ;)

Amino acids are simply the building blocks of protein. There are 20 of them. 12 can be made in the body from other things. 8 must come from our diet, including the 3 "branched chain" ones.

So, when you hear about how BCAAs are essential for endurance athletes, it's true. It's true for all people, actually, because they're essential to life. So is carbohydrate, fat, and water. You can fill your hydration bladder from the tap or you can buy Perrier. You can eat a healthy diet rich in legumes, low fat cheese, lean meat, and ocean fish or you can buy "SuperPlusMaxBCAA" at your supplement shop.

Just be sure to have 15 grams of your choice within 30 minutes of your long run :)

Food is fuel. As I read elsewhere today, "Food is an investment, not a cost." We can't outrun a bad diet and we can't out-buy a bad diet.

Lentils ARE

For an irreverent article (mini-book in pdf format) on calorie counting and general nutrition, see the recent link on the bottom of the page here http://bernadettebenson.com/nutrition.htm

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Permission Granted!

Last weekend I did some very short test jogs whilst volunteering at the 6 Inch Trail Marathon. The most I probably did any one day was 2k of jogging, but there was also a lot of time on my feet generally. There's still a bit of swelling in the ankle/shin (that doesn't hurt) and inflammation in my cuboid area (that does hurt).

I got a new tick bite, just to remind me of the horrors of the bites whilst doing the Bibbulmun end-to-end last month. The side-horror that comes with itching, oozing tick bites is that whenever you stop, 15 flies latch on and start laying eggs in your skin.

Well, okay, maybe they don't lay eggs. I don't know. But I do know it's gross looking at 15 flies sucking on your oozing skin.

Yesterday I saw Ali, my physio, and upon review, she said if I passed the knee-to-wall test, she thought it was time for me to start running again.

Oh-oh. I didn't know there was going to be a test! I would have studied...or stretched.

Anyway, I got a pass! My mobility in the ankle is sufficient for running. Short, slow, and easy.

Tonight I ran 4.5 kms. It was like learning to walk all over again. My hip was tight and my body felt awkward. An "easy" pace turned out to be a 6.35. Cardio-wise it was fine, but I didn't feel particularly fluid. In fact, I felt like the tinman in The Wizard of Oz who needs a can of oil.

It was my first entry into Garmin since 16 November, when I ran (limped) into Albany.

Looks like I might be in the re-building phase. I've got the yellow flag flying. Green and red are in the back pockets.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hamster Wheels for Alpine Runners

I started to get the craving last week. I noticed myself watching runners going by and thinking, "That looks nice."

Of course, I'm nowhere near running yet in my recovery. But 3.5 weeks had lapsed since the Bibbulmun run, my HR was nearly normal, and I was ready for some cardio work. Having been through this before (my surgery in late 2009), I knew exactly what I needed to do.

The hand crank ergometer. The Grinder. The Hamster Wheel.

According to the stats, I spun 28 kms the other day.

Sounds good, but if I equate the energy and time in running terms, I figure it was about 7k. Still, not a bad start. And it's an absolute mental challenge to keep inspired on those things, that's for sure.

But I've registered for a race, so the training has officially begun again. The first race in my 2012 calendar is now Transalps, an 8 day team stage race spanning three countries in the European alps next September. My plan is to forego the IAU World 24 hr event in Poland in 2012, as it's at the same time.

In terms of total training this past week, there have been a few more trips to the gym (where I took out a 1 month membership) and one yoga class. Although I got to hang upside down, which was cool, it was otherwise a bit frustrating, as I had to modify nearly everything. I had lost about 50% of the range of motion in my foot and ankle. So I can't do things like sit on the floor with my knees bent and my feet tucked under my bottom. Naturally, stretching and strengthening are happening several times per day, as I lengthen the muscles and teach the nerves how to fire on command again. Massage therapy has also been key, my compression socks are fantastic, and good dolups of Udo's Oil make me happy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Have Two Feet

I've been looking down at my feet a bit more than usual today. And instead of grumbling about numbness or muscles twitches, I'm feeling grateful that they're just there to grumble about.

I had a bone scan two days ago because there was still enough pain in my foot to question a stress fracture. The radiologist yesterday confirmed no stressie, so I was relieved. Today, I saw my sports doc for a detailed review of my injury.

She's good. Very good. And deals with Western Australian Institute of Sport athletes, so she's seen it all. She's not prone to drama. She's very practical, frank, and realistic.

So when she told me I was a very lucky girl and that she's seen anterior compartment syndrome result in amputation, I took notice. Forget fasciotomy, where they just relieve pressure with a few incisions that look gross. Amputation. From running.

There obviously seems to be a difference of opinion between the emerg doc I saw in Albany and my sports doc as to whether I should have continued running those last few hundred kms. In the end, I made it. I got the record and I get to keep both my shins and feet. And likely, any muscle/nerve damage should heal well by the new year.

I guess I felt a particular duty to post this, because since my event I've heard of 4 athletes who developed this condition during big events. They all healed and no one needed surgery. However, I don't want someone in the future to have read my story and think now that they should just push past this particular pain barrier.

At the time, I said I would only continue if there were no identifiable lifetime consequences, including surgery. And at the time, that's what I thought, with the information at hand. Knowing what I know now, I would have stopped on the South Coast Hwy. It wasn't worth the risk.

Play safe. It's a lifetime pursuit.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Does a 1,000 km Recovery Look Like?

1. Nightmares. Day 12 of being off the track. I continue to have nightmares every night. I guess it's not really fair to say they're "nightmares." They're just annoying dreams where I am back on the track, completing some section slower or faster than the time I did in reality. There's almost never a problem or dilemma, it's just me on the track every night in my sleep. Rolf has been having the dreams, too - only his are where he's trying to get to me on the dirt roads, never knowing if they're going to be passable, gated, under construction, re-routed, or inundated. For excitement, his brain added Mexican banditos to his dream the other night.

2. Elevated Heart Rate. After any event, my resting HR is up from its usual happy place (sub-40 bpm) to somewhere around 52 bpm. It tends to come down in chunks at a time. A short ultra - I'm back to normal within a week. The Sri Chinmoy 24 hr event - it was 3 weeks before it completely reduced to baseline. So, with this event I expected an elevated HR for a good 3 weeks. Throughout the event it was 52-54 and my blood pressure was normal (BP tested in the hospital). Since the event, my HR has actually increased. That was fascinating. It went up to the high 50s and then around Day 7 post-event it peaked at a RHR of 69. That was a bit discomforting, actually, because it's just never that high. I decided to work from home a bit more and juggled my schedule a bit to try to reduce the amount of time I needed to be walking/moving/dealing with stressors. My muscles feel great, but especially for the first week, I was easily physically exhausted.

3. Tick Bite Reactions. These seem to have finally stopped itching three days ago. Fantastic, as the itching was really making it hard to get to sleep. That's over 3 weeks since the actual bites. Next time I wear my 95% DEET.

4. Muscle and Nerve Spasms. These are still keep me from getting to sleep for about an hour each night. When I lay down, my adductors, calves, and feet go into spasms. Some is just twitchy stuff and some is painful "nervy." Some of my toes feel numb to touch - if you've ever had frozen toes (skiing?), it's like that.

5. Sunburn. My molt is nearly complete. The left ear, left tricep, and tops of both hands have mostly finished peeling and the itch is mild today.

6. Weight. My metabolism was on overdrive so I've been eating more than usual and more than necessary. My brain just seems to be getting the message now that I'm not running and is slowing down its hunger demands. That's good because I've probably put on a kilo.

7. Anterior Compartment Syndrome. Since completing the event, I've now heard from two people who raced Tor des Geants (if you think what I did was insane, look at that one) and both developed the same thing. And reading Jen Pharr-Davis's blog of her AT record breaking hike this year, she also got it. The difference with me, though, was that I only got it in one shin. With hindsight, I realised I've had a lump come and go on occasion in that shin over the past few years. And the day before I started the event, my new massage therapist noted the fascial tightness there. Understandably, he didn't want to work it aggressively. But I had no idea the writing was on the wall with that little comment of his. The swelling has decreased considerably but there is still a small tender lump on the shin. And I have an uncomfortable pain on the lateral/bottom of my foot that makes me limp. This is the "ball bearing" feeling I felt when running some days. Now that the shin has gone down, this has "turned up" in volume. Today I added the radioactive "bone scan" to my list of tests. I heard whispers of "cuboid" and "metatarsal"...we'll find out tomorrow if the original scan actually missed a stressie!

In regards to my general health, however, I'm very well. I'm really pleased with how my nutrition was throughout the event. Despite the massive sleep dep and the fact that Rolf got sick on Day 3 and one of my pacers had a cold, I didn't get sick during or after. I kept up with my probiotics (yoghurt every morning) and Udo's Oil and Rolf bought me antioxidants on the road (blueberries, yum).

But with all this negativity I'm ranting on about (sorry, it's cathartic), could I possibly miss anything about the track/event? Yes, after 12 days I can now say I do. I miss the beauty and peace of being in the bush (without biting, burning, and buzzing things it would be all the more). I miss the simplicity of knowing every day what my job was. I miss the routine. I miss the quality time with Rolf.

P.S. For photos with this post, I decided to highlight my mates who came out and shared some of the journey, plugging their ears to my whinging and staying ever so calm, happy, and helpful. Thanks, guys.

My donation page for Inclusion WA is staying open another week...Thanks to everyone, we're at $4,200 and I hope to hit $5,000 before I call it a day. If I have a stressie, maybe it'll earn me some more points ;)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bibbulmun Track Fastest Known Time: 15 days 9 hours 48 minutes

Type 1.5 fun Squared.

That's the best I can give it. 1.5 squared = Type 2.25 fun
My statistics reveal a total of 1,007 kms logged (Garmins tend to record slightly long), 18,900 metres of elevation gain, 19,100 metres of loss, and 213.75 hours of actual travelling time.

The stories from this record attempt have yet to end - we are both still having nightmares, my foot looks like an elephant's, and the car is still in Albany under repair. Yes, I think there will be a bit of a documentary made!

Here's a brief synopsis:

Day 1-2: Running 202 kms with 4,600 mtrs of elevation gain in unseasonably hot weather. Stopping at 30 minute intervals to soak my hat and shirt. Headlamp going out at 10.30 PM atop the summit of Mt Vincent. Ticks that were not deterred by DEET. Running with one or other eye closed, as there were invariably at least 10 flies stuck to my face (and corners of my eyes) at once.

Day 3: Pacer's dad ringing pacer to warn of torrential rain at Collie. That's okay, we're not going as far south as Collie today. Apparently torrential rain goes where it likes. Afternoon and evening spent in rain. Cured the fly problem. Tick bite reactions and numbing, stabbing pain in bottoms of feet allowed me 1 hr sleep that night.

Day 4: The running zombie after 10 hrs sleep in 4 days. Included a 45k solo stretch singing children's songs to keep myself awake and moving in rhythm. Saw no one, which was probably a good thing.

Day 5-6: Mates come out to pace with me around Collie/Balingup area. Left foot flares up badly, barely able to walk. Switch to sandals to try to deal with swelling and offer a gait change to legs. Pacers leave at end of weekend, looking like sad puppy dogs - their faces give away the sense of demise for the record attempt.

Day 7: Reach halfway point according to Bibbulmun Foundation - Donnelly River Village. Have small meltdown at having made it this far. Sun gives way to torrential rain again, which continues all night.

Day 8: Very hilly day. Right VMO now toast, as it is doing extra duty on the descents that the left shin cannot manage. Still powering uphills. A shot of frustrated anger at my slow pace in the late afternoon sees me power through a few hours, only to have shin flare up again at dark.

Day 9: Frustration that the track towns are often the hardest to negotiate through, due to a lack of waugals (markers) - this starts with negotiating Pemberton first thing (no locals on the street had any idea where the Bib track went, other than vague references toward the Gloucester Tree). Day ends with me navigating through Northcliffe, running around a picnic area, searching vainly for waugals. South of town, the track puts you into the ditch along the road, to stumble through overgrown, foot-grabbing weeds for 3 kms.

Day 10: Begin "seasonally inundated" section. Sitting on the ground in the late arvo, forcing myself to eat a Snickers bar. All food has become disgusting and must be negotiated down the gullet purely for the energy benefits. Staring at my shin and ankle, wondering if it's a stress fracture. Two kms ahead, find my second, larger pack hanging on a post. Note from Rolf, "Car and trailer bogged 2 kms back. Gone for help." I have my sleeping bag now and will camp at Mt Chance shelter without a mattress pad (read: 2 hrs sleep).

Day 11: Try various taping techniques on foot. More bogs. Wading with tadpoles over 500 mtr sections in knee deep water. Foot/ankle/shin pain disappears in the afternoon/evening and I wonder if I have solved the problem.

Day 12: Intermittent rain is enough to keep things annoying - jacket on/jacket off. Humid whenever the sun comes out. Shin gives out mid afternoon at nearly the exact moment that our jeep's starter motor gives out. Rolf left parking on hills in order to bump start vehicle. Drove into Denmark 40 mins away for the night, to recuperate in a motel and search vainly for mechanic and starter motor on a weekend in rural WA.

Day 13: Rose at 4.15 AM as usual. Got ready, but a test walk around car park quickly revealed a very angry shin. Day spent in Denmark and Albany hospitals for xrays and scans. Parking on hills. No stress fracture. Compartment syndrome. I need a break, but with "only" 175 k to go, I can try with anti-inflams. No long term damage expected if I choose to continue, so I make the call to try. Walk 11k that evening.

Day 14: Decent day, but make the call to stop just before summitting Mt. Hallowell, as I know it's a bouldery, technical climb that will be just that much slower in the dark when fatigued.

Day 15: Attempt to make final push to Albany. Nearly 100k, but Rolf and I willing and determined to take all night if need be. Frustratingly, I miss a hut in the morning and lose a few hours backtracking, as it is a hilly area. Shin suddenly blows up just before Shelley's Beach Rd. Cannot move at all for several minutes. Dusk, a chill sets in, space blanket comes out. Takes nearly 3 hrs to travel 5k off the hill.

Day 16: Coincidentally, a marathon in distance to get to the Southern Terminus. Able to jog in the arvo, but pay for it with shin flaring up in last km. In town, but unable to move, we pull out the chair and ice my shin, whilst media ring Rolf to ask where I am. Last km takes over 50 minutes.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Type 1.5 fun?

An ultra runner I know came up with a simple, very effective method of evaluating runs/races, based on a Fun Factor:

Type 1 fun - is fun during and after, good memories too
Type 2 - wasn't fun during, but was fun when you look back sometime down the road
Type 3 - was never fun, wasn't fun during, wasn't fun after

Looking at the Bibbulmun record attempt I start tomorrow at 5 AM, I think I will be looking for Type 1.5 fun.

The worst part today? Imagining the time the alarm will go off in the morning in order for me to be ready to go in Kalamunda for 5 AM!

Chiro? Check.

Massage? Check.

Bed on wheels? Check. This one was a stress for too long, until Australian Camper Trailers came to the rescue with a discounted offer on their superior off road trailer.

The Spot device should be up and running from Tuesday 1 November 5 AM (link on the right side of blog). Don't panic if you see weird things like drop-outs with sudden re-connections that look like I just flew cross-country. In trialling it last May I had a few such incidents.

My thoughts on last minute packing and emails? Type 3 fun.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Record Breaking on the Bibbulmun...Why?

A series of experiences in quick succession one day last week had me contemplating more about this Bibbulmun record attempt. So, why am I doing this? Because it's a challenge, yes, but sometimes the weight of the world bears down on me and I wonder what I can do to help. I get this feeling like I want to rush out into the street and take action. I walk a fine line between driving my passion and being driven by my passion.

I often ask myself how I can make a difference and bring some amount of joy to the world. Any amount, in any moment. Big or small. This time, it's big. Running for Inclusion WA is a chance to represent those such as my relative with Parkinson's and his carer, the children I've assessed with disabilities such as autism, spina bifida, or obsessive compulsive disorder, my running mates who struggle with depression or year-long injury....

I'm running for everyone reading this. Because you have surely all been personally affected somehow by disability in your lifetime - and the experience of sadness and loneliness that come from exclusion and isolation. We are doing this together. Send me messages, come out to the track, watch from the glow of your computer screen, make a donation. I won't get to Albany alone.

I'd like to add special thanks to Watermark Kilns and Nutkin Lodge this week. These are both brilliant regional companies, right on the track, who have been kind enough to offer us help in getting to Albany in record time. We'll be able to access luxuries like showers and laundry (unless we fall asleep too fast!)

Thanks to my brilliant physio, Ali, as usual, who also created the toenail theme for the event - 10 colours - one for each day on the track. And each day I'll paint my fingernails to go with the toes (I never paint my fingers). Rolf said he might even do it! I'll theme each day around that colour, which will give me something to "dissociate" with when it's tough (e.g., thinking of everything I know that's red, if it's red day).

And if you want to start something bold, find some paint or permanent markers and join me. I'm sure you can explain it to the guys at work ;)

Day 1:black (a serious colour for a serious day - get this day right to set myself up well; black also represents the absence of colour and there will be no colour on any of my other fingers)

Day 2: Orange Day 3: Green Day 4: Red Day 5: Blue Day 6: Yellow Day 7: Silver/grey Day 8: Purple Day 9: Brown (sandy day)

Day 10: White (the last day, the blending or absorption of all colour)

If I have to add on days...pink.

We don't want to go there, do we?!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fear Won't Help

This morning I chased 3 guys around Wungong, plotting the Perth Trail Series course.

On a sure-to-be sunny Sunday this coming February, 100 or so runners are going to tackle 14 kms with 438 metres of elevation gain. No matter the individual goal, approaching the day with fear will not help. One should, it would seem, adopt a most positive outlook, visualising success.

And that's how I have to approach the 1,000 kms that lie ahead of me. I find myself not even wanting to write the words "Bibbulmun FKT attempt." As daunting as the task is, it cannot be approached as an attempt in my mind. It is a journey that will be completed. In under two weeks.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Challenging Impossibly Dark Swamps

A running acquaintance of mine sent me some info on a great day of documentaries coming up in Perth - still time to get the morning long run in on Sunday 6 November before heading down to see these three films:

I will have to try to catch them later, since I'll be at km 563 of my own challenge that afternoon - near the town of Pemberton on my way south.

This past weekend Rolf and I went out for our own mini-challenge: the 12 hr WARA "Dark Swamp" rogaine, advertised as containing two "nearly impenetrable swamps." I'm not sure I've met an Australian swamp yet and certainly part of me was quite keen. But Rolf didn't share this curiosity with me and I had to admit it didn't sound like the way to a high scoring finish.

Although my body felt 100% healed from Commonwealths three weeks previous and my resting HR was back below 40 bpm, I found much of the day a mental and physical struggle. My feet swelled up early and a few toes started hurting (however, no blisters or toenail damage in the end). I've had a cold since Commonwealths and my ears still plug up at times - a mild ear infection, perhaps - the feeling you get when water gets in your ears while swimming. Then Rolf got the cold but worse because he coughs most of the night, bonding us in sleep deprivation. And the night before the event, while camping on site, his Thermarest developed a leak. So he slept (aka coughed) on the gumnuts all night.

With this lead-in, we headed out into our hottest day of the spring/summer season - something like 27 degrees. Within minutes I was too hot in the unknown-name-brand pants I had chosen. I ended up with a nasty case of heat rash all over my legs, but particularly on the backs of my calves where the too-thick hardly-breathable pants doubled over with the excess material of the wide legged bottoms. I had snake gaiters over the pants - I always wear the gaiters, but I've never worn those pants for a 12 hr (and hot) event before. Very painful! And some bonus welts and small cuts from parrot-bush bashing all day.

All that for 25th place ;) We would've qualified as 3rd mixed vet team if Rolf was just a few weeks older.

I must admit, 6 hours into it I was thinking, "This hurts. And I am going to do this for 1000 kms on the Bib in two weeks time. I didn't need this reminder so close to the event. This was a bad idea." 10 PM (the end) couldn't come fast enough for me, which is not at all like I usually feel about rogaines. I was stiff, limping, stinky, whingy, and crusty with sweat.

But morning dawned with the birds calling, the sun shining, and I was back to being that lucky girl laying there in my tent enjoying a weekend in the bush. I had great recovery overnight, which was a positive boost for my Bib thinking.

I think the dark swamp I challenged this weekend was in my mind. I got a good lesson out of that which told me I'd better do some more mental preparation. This record attempt is going to be a labour of the mind and I'm going to need amazing strength in this area. The body is trained. Now I need to sharpen the mind.

Time to dust off my meditation cushion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bib Prep

When I was little I liked to play librarian.

I know, I know. No, the other kids didn't get it, so eventually I jumped on my bike with them and tried to convince them that cops and robbers was more fun if you designated different leaves as having different dollar values. Anything to add an element of organisation and order ;)

As I prepare for the Bibbulmun 1000k FKT attempt on 1 November, the inner librarian gets to come out and play again. It's a good thing that training is more about easy k's and strength work than high miles...because there's a lot of organisation for something like this!

To start with, I have created a spreadsheet with all the cumulative and point-to-point distances and the vehicle access points. I have been adding details of where my support people are coming out to jog/slog/hike with me. I start on Tuesday morning (5 AM). So far I should have someone with me Wednesday through Sunday. I'm hoping I might find some company to come out and help Rolf and I the following week, Monday through Thursday, as we traverse from the Pemberton area through to that glorious finish in Albany.

I've also got a running list of supplies - some of my key ones include:

SPOT Tracker, which will log my continual progress in mostly real time and act as an emergency beacon (I will post a public link for this later).

Garmin e-Trex handheld with the entire Bib track loaded. I will likely keep this turned off and just use it when I'm having doubts whether I'm still on track.

All 8 Bib maps and the 2 booklets

Flip phone and tensor bandage

Udo's Oil (I'll keep up all my natural anti-inflammatories whilst away)

Compressport compression socks to wear overnight

Leki titanium trekking poles

Roclite 305 and Flyroc 310 shoes in 3 sizes

Hammer Race Ready shorts (love the amazing pocket storage in these)

Icebreaker thermals and gloves

rain jacket

Nathan 2 ltr
hydration pack

Hammer Endurolytes and bars for snacking

Hammock (somehow hoping my support person will be able to set this up for my rest breaks - I think it
would be a fantastic way to take the load off the legs for an hour)

Turtleskin snake gaiters

And I've set up the donation site for Inclusion WA, the charity I'm supporting in my attempt.

I can't wait to see what colour my toenails will be painted for this one! :)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cordyceps sinensis, epicatechin, and other hot tips for athletes

This week I had three different items hit my in-box that suggested benefits for runners. Naturally, I dug out my pseudo-researcher talons and went digging.

Exhibit A. Cordyceps sinensis. What, you ask? Fungi.

I was given a tip on a product that might keep my legs feeling fresh after hard workouts and increase my race performance, including VO2max. I'd never heard of it, but a quick search revealed a world of "cordygen" supplements, particularly in the body building arena. Cordygen supplements derive from cordyceps sinensis, the fungi.

Cordyceps really lives up to its science fiction-like name. Indeed, the spores like to attach themselves to insects and then slowly take over the insect's body, ultimately killing it, as it shoots new spores all over the earth in triumph. Creepy.

Time to research how this very smart fungi might improve my 10k time...without killing me as well ;)

First thing I found out is that there is actually a species of cordyceps called ciclosporin that is used as an immunosuppressive drug - it helps people's bodies accept donated organs. That's an interesting connection - a fungi that likes to kill its host can work to save a person from rejecting a new organ (something the body may try to reject as a 'parasite' of sorts). Hmmm... but how would this fungi improve VO2max?

Indeed, it doesn't appear to. On the athletics side, the resounding evidence from peer-reviewed papers was negative. Double blind studies have failed to provide any evidence of effects on oxygen consumption (e.g., measuring Vo2max, time to exhaustion) in cyclists. There was a slight hint from a 2010 article in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine that it may improve "wellness" in the "elderly" (age 50+), but still without an increase in their VO2max.

For those who want the details, in addition to my general online searches, I reviewed these two articles: Earnest CP, Morss GM, Wyatt F, et al. (2004). Effects of a commercial herbal-based formula on exercise performance in cyclists, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36 (3), 504-509 and Colson SN, Wyatt FB, Johnston DL, Autrey LD, FitzGerald YL, Earnest CP (2005). Cordyceps sinensis- and Rhodiola rosea-based supplementation in male cyclists and its effect on muscle tissue oxygen saturation. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 19 (2), 358-363.

They appear to be the most recent. It's not an active area - I think it saw its time - a time that probably rose out of the 1993 National Games in China. Five Chinese athletes broke world records at that event and their coach was cited as saying he had them all on cordyceps (a long-standing Chinese herb from what I saw online). Wiki says this coach had a long suspect history and several of his athletes were banned from the Sydney Olympics for failed doping tests. So the reason they broke records in 1993 may not have been cordyceps at all.

So, no quick fix there, but at le
ast I got to put my wallet back in my pocket.

Exhibit B. Epicatechin. And that is? A flavanol in cacao. And cacao is in dark chocolate.
Yummy potential there. Better than bugs with freakish spores shooting out of them, that's for sure.

A very recent study published in the Journal of Physiology has been making the rounds under banners such as "Eating Chocolate is as Good as Exercise." Gotta hope. So, I went to the source. Nogueira, Ramirez-Sanchez, Perkins, Murphy, Taub, Ceballos, Villarreal, Hogan and Malek. (2011) Epicatechin enhances fatigue resistance and oxidative
capacity in mouse muscle. 589(18), 4615-4631.

Mice (first problem, I am not a mouse) were fed 1 mg/kg of body weight of epicatechin twice per day for 15 days. Compared to mice not given this, they showed significant improvements on their little mouse treadmill tests - including duration and speed. Then they were sacrificed so we could understand what happened to their muscles. Denser capillaries and more mitochondria. Good things (not for the mice). The researchers certainly did not conclude that humans should now auction off their running shoes for some bars of chocolate, despite what the media wrote. They merely said that "these findings may have potential application for clinical populations experiencing muscle fatigue." Safely and appropriately vague.

Okay, I want to buy into this. How much epicatechin do I need? If 1 mg/kg works for mice, then that's 50 mg for me. Certainly, I don't want more than the
minimum effective dosage if I have to get my epicatechin from chocolate - at some point the negative effects of the sugar and fat contents will overcome any benefits of the flavanols. How much epicatechin is in a gram of dark chocolate?? Who knows. In fact, it might be none. I found out that flavonoids in cacao are bitter, so some manufacturers actually remove them. But they don't tell you that - suggestion: if it's not bitter, it might not have any flavanols. I found just one secondary source referencing the last author on the paper, Moh Malek, saying "5 grams" of dark chocolate would be enough. That's like one little corner off those big bars of Green & Blacks.

Right. So I'm left with one last ite
m from my inbox to bring me hope. No miracle pill to do the work for me. Just some good advice. Worth more to me and my training than a gram of 100% pure Tibetan-grown organic, pesticide free, free range flavanol infused fungus :)

A good mate has been off with a significant injury and surgery and I asked her whether, with hindsight, she had any warning signs. Her reply:

First lesson - if something starts hurting see someone, be it massage or physio but someone who may have some clues about what's going on.

Second lesson - races don't matter - if you're injured give the race a miss (even if you've pre-entered) and get it sorted out.

Third lesson - patience, patience, and more patience. Don't rush back into training just so you won't miss your race (see lesson #2).

Fourth lesson - if its not improving with treatment get a scan so you can find out what's going on.

The lessons sound pretty simple really, but it can be oh-so-hard to admit when our bodies are breaking down and we need time off from our hopefully-healthy addiction.

And how's my own addiction going, post-Commonwealths? Well, my resting HR was elevated by about 13 points the night after the event, came down by half the following day, and then held out a few more days, likely because of the cold I came down with. It's now sitting back at it's usual place. I'm doing easy paced 10-15 k runs, allowing my body (with said cold) more time to heal, but generally my legs feel well.

I'm now beginning to organise my Bibbulmun FKT attempt, likely to start on 1st November.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Llandudno Llearnings

Welsh, the language of the dragon, is alive and well in Llandudno, Wales, where we were hosted for the Commonwealth Championships.

As many have probably heard by now, things in my race did not end according to plan. Although I'm frustrated that I got some minor chafing (sports bra) and stiffness in my legs without the trade-off of a good performance, I'm not overly upset about the whole thing. I've had a stellar year and am really pleased with what I've accomplished, how much fun I've been having with my running mates, and that I have done it all without getting injured, despite the intensity.

A fantastic Canadian mate, in his first ever 24 hour race (extraordinary performer in 100 Miler trails), managed to break a M55 record at the event - that was pretty awesome to share in. Another mate from Perth took a silver medal at the event with a PB performance, too. And of course I was able to see Lizzy Hawker do her thing to set a world best performance (subject to ratification).

Some race detail (warning - there's a lot of detail, but that's because a lot of people are asking me for details and because when I fail I need to know why so the same mistake isn't made again):

The race started at noon in good conditions - about 16 degrees and mostly cloud, with a strong headwind for 500 mtrs before the turnaround on the 1 k loop. The headwind actually provided a nice cooling factor.

I ran at target pace for the first 6 hrs and was at the time in 4th female position with a 65km total. I was actually 1 km higher than planned at that point. I was trying to be careful not to go any harder, as I knew that could really spell disaster later. It was probably around the 5 hr mark that I started to feel the nausea. At 9 hrs there had been no change to my yucky stomach feeling and had slowed slightly more than planned. But with over a km in the bank, I was still fine for my goals. From 9-10 PM, however, my continued slower pace took its toll on my targets.

At midnight, where my goal was to be at 124k, I was only at 118. However, I was able to maintain my pace from 10 PM through to 2 AM, staying just 6kms below my goal each hour - no further slowing. By then we were trialling different fuel sources because I was having so much trouble getting the Hammer Perpetuem down. Anytime in the past, if I'd had any nausea, we just adjusted my fuel and water concentrations very slightly - as little as 10 cals/hr or 50 mls/hr - to get me right again within an hour. On this night, I'd had the same sick feeling since the 5 hr mark (5 PM) and couldn't make headway.

From 2 to 3 AM I lost another 2 kms off my goal - I was taking more breaks, trying to find a way to get the stomach to settle. I wasn't vomiting - just felt terribly queasy. Rolf and I did some brainstorming, running through my nutrition, hydration, electrolyte usage, toileting.... Then we hit on the only thing left - my Hammer Perpeteum fuel must have been spoiled. Way back in March or April, I had received a container in the post and it had been busted open - the seal was broken and loose - some powder was floating around the box. I noticed that it had little granules in it. I figured that was the result of moisture getting in. But I wasn't even thinking that the damage to the container may induce some kind of spoilage. I used this fuel for the next several months, but somewhat sparingly, as I wanted to make sure I wasn't sick of it for each competition. I took the tub to Canada, took a bit to Ireland's World Trails (also used Solids there), and then the rest to Wales. Before going to Wales, Rolf asked me whether I thought the lumps were bad - they wouldn't dissolve in water. I didn't think so - thought it was just some kind of moisture absorption with a sugar. The fuel smelled and tasted fine. But Rolf also told me later that when mixing it during the race there were grey "snotty" threads in it - which I've never seen or heard of before.

Since the event, I've had some e-chats with Hammer Nutrition people and have done a bunch of online searching, trying to understand what might have happened from a chemical perspective. We're all in agreement that the little granules were the l-carnitine amino acid having reacted to exposure to moisture - it's hydroscopic. That wouldn't have caused nausea though.

That leaves us with the carbohydrate and protein. The fuel wasn't exposed to heat, so the idea of some sort of negative denaturing effect of the protein doesn't hold up - and many proteins are denatured anyway (e.g., cooking an egg) with no ill effects to humans.

So, the best theories at the moment suggest that (1) the protein was degrading slowly over time, which caused the ill effects and/or (2) that the fuel was exposed to bacteria when initially broken open and likely increased with each subsequent opening. Bacteria would have fed off the sugars in the carbohydrates and perhaps somehow that could have caused an ill effect. The ill effect may have been caused by the fuel having less nutritional value (if the bacteria had consumed and converted many of the natural sugars my body needed as fuel) and/or may have been caused by the byproducts of this conversion - say if an acid was the byproduct of the bacterial process.

So, as of now, we still aren't sure of the chemical reactions that caused my pervasive nausea, but we feel confident it had to do with the container being excessively exposed to air/moisture. I certainly have no doubt that this fuel is still the one for me - nothing compares to its composition, in my experience. Switching to more 'simple' sugars during the later stages of the event made it more challenging to get the calories and nutrition necessary to keep my energy stable. But I will be more diligent about the storage of my product - and would not eat any "old" product that had been left open a long time or opened multiple times.

As a last resort at the comp, Rolf suggested we try to "reset" my system by making me vomit. He wanted me to down a huge load of calories, expecting me to chuck it up, but I couldn't make myself. Instead, I was willing to try to "sprint" to make it happen. I went out and ran 4 fast laps, but nothing changed.

It seemed all my personal goals were gone. I had a chat to the team manager - Canada had no chance for a podium position - our girls were not having a good day. So there was no point in me continuing to slog around the course. We had worked the nausea for over 9 hours with no change. It had mentally beat me down and physically taken a toll on my pace. It was the most challenging thing for me to run with that discomfort for so long - completely inward-focused, I did not have the mental energy to cheer on my fellow runners. I felt completely selfish - often the most I could do was offer a quiet thumbs-up to others. Physically, I know what I'm capable of, so beating myself up further seemed pointless. Better to stop and let the body heal.

Now I'm really looking forward to my Bibbulmun Track FKT (fastest known time) attempt in about a month's time. I was then planning to race Coast to Kosciusko (C2K) in December to finish off the year. But as I sit back and consider where I want to go with my running over the next year, my heart's not in C2K at the moment. My heart's in the FKT and in getting back to running with my Perth-mates and getting my Perth Trail Series off the ground well. So that's where my energy will go for the next few months.

If anyone has a food chemistry/nutrition background and has further theories they might suggest for what happened with my ruined fuel, please send me a private message. I'd love to chat about it.

I'm coming home, Perth!

Addendum (June 2017): I returned to Perth and continued to have random nausea episodes, even when not working out. A blood test in late October 2011 revealed extremely low iron stores. The sports doc was surprised I wasn't totally fatigued all the time. I've been on Ferrograd-C iron ever since, monitored with regular blood tests.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Creation and Dissolution

As I have run around frantically these past few days, preparing for my evening flight to Wales tonight, it struck me how much humans go through cycles of creation and dissolution. At the end of June, I arrived in Canada to "create" a little world for myself where I would work on my PhD, train, and connect with family and old friends. Now, mid-September, I am turning in my work keys, giving away my bear spray, and hugging people goodbye. This creation is ready for dissolution. An undoing.

No wonder we ultra runners crave mile after mile of running. It's a break from our mind's attraction to this. No craving, no creation. Break life down to the necessities - food and warmth. In the moment.

This last week of tapering has gone well. I had a chance to do some riding on my family's ranch. Late that night on a gravel road, we came within a foot of hitting a grizzly with the car. On all fours it was a foot higher than the bonnet. Sadly for Rolf, he was unable to try out his bear spray ;) I, myself, deployed an expired cannister after our last run on Saturday.... Let's just say none of us were feeling very comforted by the mist that came out. Hopefully it was a factor of it being expired!

With most of Rolf's Canadian wishes met, we managed to get one more in on Saturday...running in snow! Just rain at our starting elevation of 1900 mtrs, but it wasn't far into the climb that the snow appeared. A great ending to the summer season here, saying goodbye to the Rockies at 2600 mtrs. Altitude training complete :)

Here's the website for Commonwealths. If live updates are happening, they tend to be advertised on the IAU site.

The toes are ready. I decided to go blood red. Blood seems appropriate (though don't plan to spill any). Naturally, red is a Canadian colour, too. And it's the lucky colour in Chinese tradition. Since the Welsh flag has a dragon on it, I used that theme to draw the Mandarin character for dragon on my big toes. Also reminds me of the year I spent working in China. And the word for dragon happens to be "long" - which in English is a very good word for an ultrarunner!

It took over two months to re-create my Canadian accent and have my Aussie hint dissolve, but that will soon change again...just a warning to the guys at home - you might need your babelfish to understand me again for a while!

Pushup status: 30 in a row, rest 30 secs, do the last 10. Didn't get to 40 straight in time for the event, but not bad for a girl who couldn't do 5 three months ago.

Special thanks to the crew of professionals in Calgary who helped keep my body right through all the intensity these three months. Dave Proctor, my ultra running massage therapist, who made my right hip happier than it's been in months, Ian Goodwin, who connected my popliteus and gastroc tightness to my foot and fixed a problem in basically one session, and Patti Hort, who kept putting my errant rib back where it belongs.

Time to head to Wales, so I can be in the moment for 24 luxurious hours.