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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Mum is So Cool

Today, in Canada, my mum completed a 25km "baby ultra." She's obviously even more serious than me, as I can see she wore two timing devices! That's my sister, the power lifter just in front :)

I think I just got them all hooked on the Hammer Perpetuem Solids, too. My power lifting siblings think they have potential for when they have to "cut" (lose weight/dehydrate themselves) just before a comp. Interesting how different our sports are!

This week I enjoyed a bit of recovery time, mentally and physically. I know I'll be building up again now towards World Trails. It was nice that my regular sports chiro, Jon Tan is back from leave because he is really good at finding trigger points in my hips. I also had the usual painful but helpful massage and a good yoga session. It does take a lot to keep this body going!

Thanks so much to those who have offered support and encouragement for my trip to Ireland. I broke the trip down into cost per km of running. So far I can run 11.2 kms :)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Price to Pay

4 hours sleep. Another race done and another night of minimal sleep! It's so crazy what my body does after an event. Even just a 4 hour race, held first thing in the morning, and I have to go through "jet lag." I slept from 10.45 PM - 2.45 AM. Laid there until 4 AM and was just bored. My heart rate at bed time was same as always, so my endocrine system didn't take a big hit. Yet I obviously still had an assortment of extraneous chemicals running amok.

I tried to roughly tally the carbohydrates I ingested on Saturday, following the UWA alt-carb loading plan. As I wrote in the last post, I don't stuff myself to the point of discomfort, though. And I'm not a young male athlete with an average VO2max of 56 as in their study. They ate an average of 275 g/carb per day. I am lighter than those guys, so I eat about 200 g or less of carbs/day (approx 65% of my daily cals). The programme suggests that the guys should consume 4.6 g of carb per pound of body weight when loading. For me, that's 500 grams (4.6 x 110). When I calculated what I ate Saturday, I estimated I got about 320 grams. However, if I say that the guys consumed 80% more grams of carbs than usual (500/275), then I would be looking for about 360 grams for the day (200g x 1.8). So, all in all, those are numbers that I can live with.

The new Bunbury marathon/50k course is a great improvement in scenery to me. The half marathon loop divides nicely into sections, which gives the whole thing a more manageable feel, mentally. It certainly does have a huge number of twists and turns, particularly through a "cafe strip" section. My pace typically fell about 5-8 secs for that km, which had to be negotiated 4 times for the marathon distance. But it was worthwhile to me because of the crowd support through there. There were people sitting and cheering for hours on end - I saw many of the same people there all morning. They were great, calling out to us by name (which were on our bibs). For just those few minutes, I would imagine I was in Europe every time I passed through that section. Plus, the twists and turns are great fun for a trail runner - you had to apply a 30 degree lean at times. I took one turn a bit close at the 40k mark, though, and smashed my hip against a bollard. Ouch! But that just gave me something else to think about for a minute. Nicely bruised.

And despite the swirly race route, there were lots of PBs on the course. The weather was perfect. Probably 8-10 degrees at the start with minimal wind. Max temp might have gotten to 19 degrees, but then the clouds came over for reprieve. I carried a sponge, but only started to think of using it when the clouds came in.

Based on my predictions, I knew I had the potential for an approximate 4 hr race. A glance at the Canadian records showed me that the W40 50k record was 4.02.09. So I connected with the race director to confirm that the 50k course was accurately measured, as I might hit a record. He was brilliant. Despite having a race building to approximately 500 people (half, relay, marathon, and ultra), he was able to work with his course measurer to confirm that they had a course I could use. Now it was just up to me to not let him down after all his efforts!

My pace needed to be 4.48 to hit a 4 hr 50k. But with Garmins chronically over-reading, I thought I'd better aim for a 4.43 average by my watch. And that's how I trained - keeping my actual Garmin average lower, knowing it was over-reading every time. In addition to the Garmin, I wrote a few key splits on my arm, so that I could verify my pace manually. At the "32k to go" sign (that's 10.2k into the marathon), I needed to be at 48 minutes. At the half marathon, 1 hr 41 max. At the "12k to go" sign (30 k into the marathon), I was to be at 2 hr 24. At the marathon, 3 hr 21 max.

I hit the 10k about 45 seconds early, the half at 1.39.40, the 30k at 2.22 (2 mins in the bank), and the marathon at 3.20.05. My chief complaint was my quads. With my adductor enthesopathy recovering still, I am hesitant to wear my Compressport quad guards to race, so only wore the calf guards. (Quad guards and recovery socks worn all evening and all night in bed though!) I didn't get into the "business end" of things until the marathon mark, which was fantastic. Then I just focused on one km at a time.

I ran with Perpetuem solids for the first time. I needed 15. That's 33 cals per solid or 132 cals/hr. Same as what I do with the liquid formula for hard racing. I ate one every 15 minutes and did an Endurolyte every 30 minutes, even first thing when it was still cold. I burned 900 cals/hr according to Garmin.

The solids were great. I kept 4 or 5 loose in my Race Ready shorts (amazing pockets) and the remainder were in a ziploc. That was good because the moisture in the air actually made the solids get a bit sticky after an hour. I wouldn't want 4 hours of loose solids. They'd turn themselves into the liquid form.

I carried a tiny 300 ml Nathan handheld. I've always disliked handhelds, but knew I couldn't afford the weight of a hydration pack. This one was great because it hooks through the thumb so that you don't actually have to grip the bottle. I could still manipulate things with my fingers (e.g., getting electrolytes out of my pocket).

I took on water at every aid station and didn't need to start dipping into my hand held supply until after the half way mark when it got hotter. Then I used both - gulps at the aid stations plus sips in between. I had to refill at the 40k point and then the 47k point to make it to the finish. I had a brief spell of slight nausea around the 44k mark, but was able to beat it by easing off the pace by 8-9 secs/k for a couple kms and taking more sips of water. I think it was a bit of dehydration/overheating starting, as there was no aid station for 7k. They said there would be one at the marathon mark, but I don't remember it being positioned where the 50k'ers could access it when they came through.

Final result 3.57.51. A Canadian record, first female, and most importantly, a 20 minute improvement on last year's Bunbury 50.

Thanks to my running mates for the camaraderie and great laughs in training and to everyone else who's given me encouragement along the way. Even the girl on the course Sunday who yelled, "I love your orange shoes!" (I do, too).

A Note on the Beetroot Experiment:

I still think beetroot is an excellent performance aid, but I'm going to use it more sparingly now. In the past week, I started to develop an aversive reaction to it. Instead of finding it palatable, if not even slightly enjoyable, I began to feel nausea at the smell of it. Then after consumption, I would feel a bit of nausea. On Friday I could hardly choke down 100 mls, but thought perhaps it was because I was no longer peeling the beets (just scrubbing them). On Saturday I just had 100 mls, which went down all right. But 2 hrs later, driving to Bunbury, I suddenly felt nauseous. I broke into a sweat. I groped for a bag in the back seat while Rolf tried to figure out what to do. I felt myself about to black out, losing my peripheral vision and getting that tinny sensation in my hearing. Well, I'll skip the other details of the roadside stop, but suffice it to say that I think I developed a bit of beet toxicity either due to excess iron accumulation or perhaps related somehow to betaine accumulation (the alkaloid found in beets). I wonder if the beet researchers are interested in a case study ;)

Interestingly, I went back to old posts to see when I started beetroot - 24 March was my post on the topic. So that's 2 months. And I love my caveat:

...if you also decide to take on the beetroot experiment, I want you to appreciate there's still a factor of "we don't know if anything bad happens to humans after long term supplementation with high nitrate foods" in the literature.

Friday, May 20, 2011

B is for

beetroot and blue toes.

Colour choice was easy this time around, with the "3 Waters Marathon." Camouflage :)

Started my alt-carb loading programme this morning with my 3 minute sprint.

You'll find reference to it in Anita Bean's Athlete Guide (can't remember the exact title of her book, but it's referenced somewhere on my website) and can also read about it here. "Glycogen without Gluttony." I like the concept and have been using it since last year. Based on the science I've read, muscle glycogen stores are limited to about 400 grams, which is 1600 cals. So eating massive quantities in a 5 day loading programme (something I've never done), should only result in one of two things. The excess calories have to either get "eliminated" or stored as fat. And runners don't need more fat. We have enough fat in our bodies to keep us alive for days. Fat just makes you heavy, which makes you slow.

Signing off with a request...if anyone out there is running trails this weekend, could you jump a log or climb a hill for me? Thanks!

Monday, May 16, 2011

World Trail Team 2011!

Yesterday, just before heading out on my Sunday hill run, I glanced at my emails. There was a shocker.

I've been invited to be part of the national team at the IAU (International Association of Ultrarunners) World Trail Championships. The last one was 2009 in France. This time it's in Connemara, Ireland on 9 July.

You can see the website set up by the LOC (Local Organising Committee) here. The course this year is 71 kms, described as follows:

"The course will leave the Abbey for open ground and run to Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park, which consists of two circular loop trails conjoined in the middle in a figure eight fashion. Diamond Hill reaches a height of 442 metres and rewards athletes with expansive panoramic views of all of the Connemara area, including the Twelve Ben Mountains, Kylemore Abbey and Kylemore Lough, which the runners will encounter later in the course.the athletes will twice run a loop of approximately 32km where they will encounter open ground, bog, conventional trail paths, streams, forest and mountains for a true trail run in nature. They will have to negotiate Benbaun Mountain on each loop, which has a summit height of 729 metres."

The profile looks to have about 2100 mtrs gain to me.

As you can imagine, the rest of Sunday was a bit of a write-off. I was quite unfocused as I tried to process something that seemed so surreal. I still remember this girl, finishing her first trail marathon (indeed, first race ever) in 2007. Who continued to run up and down the Canadian Rockies with the best of mates in 2008, until moving to Perth to trade snow for sand and bears for snakes.

I have now said "yes" to racing at Worlds. But, as ultrarunners are aware, our sport does not come with "Athetics" funding. You don't have to pay $30 to go watch ultrarunners race (just thinking of the $30 I paid to watch Athletics Australia Nationals in Melbourne last month). But that also means there's very little funding for athletes. I will have to cover my own airfare and most other costs out of pocket. And...I'm a PhD student with a limited work visa.

I've thought about fundraising and have decided on this - I've added a "donate" button to the side of my blog. And I'll add one to my website later, too. I've never been good at coercing people to donate to causes. It's just out of my comfort zone, even when I feel very passionately about something. So, I'm doing this. It's a quiet way that I can ask for support - be it $1 or $10.

I can only promise to come back with even more knowledge and passion to share with everyone for the experience. Many thanks for your great kindness.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sleep Well!

First off, a small whinge. Or maybe it's a moment to pay respect. West Australian tick nymphs are no more than 1 mm in size, but I think they rank very highly in terms of size-to-power ratio. Two weeks after my Baby Bib fastpack and my huge red welts still inch, particularly when they get hot. At least they've stopped making those weird little yellow crystals. Here are two of the bites on my medial calf.

Alright, now that I've got mass sympathy, I can move on :)

This week was all about speedwork (with 15kms of hills thrown in) in the lead up to the Bunbury 50k. Thank goodness I was back to see my sports chiro on Friday morning. My mid back and shoulders get so tight when I do speed work, especially when I get out to the track races.

Rolf happened to take some video of me during a 4k race. I didn't realise he was doing it at the time, but it proved very useful. I caught lots of images of heel striking. So when I got home, I got out the Chi Running book for bedtime reading. Today, for my easy run, I decided I'd do well to get out the Vibram 5 fingers. They're excellent at promoting proper form. It took a few kms, but then I was running well, knees slightly bent to better absorb shock, body leaning slightly forward from the ankles, peeling my heels. It turned into one of those very relaxing runs. Then I popped into yoga and today's focus was mostly back stretching and core work, which suited me well.

I also had a confidence-inspiring Thursday night run. I ran 17k at Bunbury race pace. Every time I do those runs, I get into the mental battles. You know the ones.... This is too hard, there's no way I can sustain this for 50 kms, I'm too hot, my heart rate is too high.... But I had company for a change, which helped distract me from that annoying voice in my head. And then I realised, "Hey, I'm talking. I'm conversational!" That's a good sign. I mean, it wasn't that I was conversational like a normal person. There were still a bunch of those two-breath sentences, but that really inspired confidence against my nay-sayer.

I got very little sleep Thursday night and noticed a very interesting thing on Friday. I became a snacking/sugar addict. All day I wanted to eat. Especially sugar, but I'd settle for anything. It was fascinating. It must be chemical. And it really made me wonder about so many people out there working long hours, up with kids at night and the like...and being overweight. I bet there's already science on this, but I've just never realised this connection before. Even more reason to sleep late now - we'll save on the grocery bills :)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Polar Opposites

Last weekend, it was 90 kms of technical trail running with a 9 kg pack on my back.

This past weekend, it was a 5k road race (no PB, but there was a hill finish) followed by a recon of the Bunbury marathon course.

Both fantastic weekends, both at seemingly opposite ends of the running spectrum. I love the flexibility I have now without restricting myself to run "only" this or that kind of event or terrain. And I get to meet so many different people of different backgrounds this way, too. After the 5k, we were off to Bunbury, a scone in each hand! (How civilised it is to race and have a morning tea afterwards).

The Bunbury 50k course does look a bit flatter than the previous course, but I think there may be more sharp turns. Will just have to see how it's actually laid out on race day. It is a prettier course, I think, but I'm a fan of water. So the "3 Waters" name they've chosen makes sense. And it makes it dead easy to figure out how to paint my toe nails ;)

The recon will certainly help me over the next two weeks with my visualisation and other preparation. Projections have me very close to a 4 hr 50k (on track), which just happens to be Cdn W40 record time. It'll be a tough fight on the road that I'm not sure I can win, but it is a great goal to aim for. All things lining up on race day will matter - the temperature, wind, my hydration and fuel...there won't be any "extra" time to play with.

Last week, after my Bib run, I forgot to post something about the use of my SPOT device as a tracker. What it's supposed to do is send a message out every 10 minutes with your location. I had a look at the online log when I got home and there were a few very obvious gaps and anomalies. Sometimes it wouldn't get a signal out at the 10 min mark, so there would be a gap between two points and it would just draw a straight line between A and C. When I set my pack down at the end of the day on a picnic table, I got this:

I had left the unit on for perhaps an hour or two and it sent out all these slightly different coordinates that made it look like I was walking around in some sort of trance. In reality, the pack didn't move.

The next day, I mustered the necessary courage to run over Mundaring Weir (Yes, I still have that odd fear of dams, weirs, and submarines) and continued west towards Kalamunda for about 5 kms. However, the last point SPOT recorded was at Mundaring Weir. Certainly is important to appreciate that the technology on this unit isn't that crash hot. Better than nothing, but one might be looking for a while if a person's position can only be narrowed down to 25 sq kms.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


We have birthed a Trail Series, Perth!


Or, we will. With everyone's support. This is something a core group of us has been talking about since I moved here in 2008. It's time to make it happen. I'll need lots of support - people to race direct events, etc, but we can make this really special. To me, it's a bit akin to what a group does in Calgary with short trail races during their off season - the dead of their winter. This will happen during our off season - the dead of summer :)

My goals are really twofold:

-provide a more gentle means for newbies to get into trail running without having to enter an ultra as their first event

-provide some great training opportunities during the summer season for ultra runners, adventure racers, rogainers and orienteers, and maybe even the odd triathlete

Spread the word, please!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

9 kgs is 10 too many

Fantastic weekend. I had three takers for Day 1 of my 2-3 day Bibbulmun gear-testing weekend. It's quite remarkable to me that I can find 3 mates to come out on a 40 km/6hr trail run "for fun."

We tackled a section of the Bib that's difficult to access. I dubbed it the "commitment zone." I think it's the longest section of track where you can't get a vehicle to it. For 40 kms, there's no way out except your own two feet (or maybe someone else's two feet if you can get a piggyback ride). It took some time to set up the car shuttle - leaving a car at one end and driving to the start along corrugated gravel roads. Rolf's rearview mirror actually broke off.

We were finally running at 8.30 AM. And arrived south at the car 6hrs and 42.6 kms later, thanks to a few bonuses due to missed markers. About 45 minutes of our total time was spent getting water and faffing about at shelters. Showing the true trail runner spirit, one of the guys expressed his joy at our two mis-turns, so that we could technically claim an ultra ;)

After waving goodbye to the guys, I turned around and ran (term used loosely) another 10k back to one of the Bib shelters for the night. Total 1415 mtrs elevation gain for the day. With my 9 kg pack and all our water stops, etc, it was nearly an 8 hr day.

I inhaled my entree (pb & jam sandwich), washed the worst of the sweat off, and put dry clothes on right away so I didn't get a chill. Then I set up my Hennessy Hammock as the sun went down. Then it was time for dinner. PB&J bagel and an orange that I had laboriously carried 10k back from the car to that camp.

Over the course of the day I learned several things that are helpful for my end-to-end attempt in October. Things like:

- an eTrex unit with the route loaded is useful, despite the weight, as it saves you wasting energy going back and forth on the track, doubting yourself. Especially, I think, after several days solo when I'm truly shattered.

- my pack (female specific UD Speediva) isn't narrow enough at the waist. I've always had a problem with packs this way, but was sure the female specific would solve it. I was wrong. Cinched as tight as possible, I still couldn't shift enough weight onto my waist, so my clavicles copped it big time and are very bruised.

- I should pack my mobile phone in soft stuff, so that if I have my triennial massive stack, I won't damage it (mind you, I should be good til 2014 now).

- don't assume my favourite shoes in a size 0.5 bigger are the same shoes at all. They rubbed my lateral malleolus (pokey-out ankle bone) and created a huge swollen mass, still painful today. I measured the shoes and it so happens they changed the model just slightly between the two pairs I have, so that these new shoes are 1 cm higher along the sides. Another day on the trail and I would have had to cut the edges down and duct tape them.

- carry Deet for ticks. I found a tick nymph crawling on me on the way home and have already broken out in 3 more bites (they take a few days for me to react and then I itch for about a week).

- if my fuel is not readily available, especially when travelling with others, I will not eat.

Back to the night ... I also discovered that it doesn't really matter how many layers I wear, insulation works by allowing small bits of trapped air to hold heat against one's body. So when I laid down in the hammock on my back (so comfy, that hammock!), my bottom and back froze. The rest of me was fine. When I rolled to my side, my hip, knee, and arm froze, while my bottom and back warmed instantly.

I was wearing tights, Icebreaker thermal bottoms, and Patagonia rain pants below and sports bra, Icebreaker thermal top, TNF fleece, and Montane water proof jacket above. I also wore a fleece beanie and gloves. I wore my Injini socks and down "ski hut" booties. I actually slept with my headlamp still on my head - there was really no reason to take it off. It wasn't in my way.

Twice during the night I had to go outside and do 5 minutes of cardio to re-warm my system (the second time I grabbed my space blanket to try, to no avail). I'd crawl back into bed toasty warm but would immediately feel that cold hit me where my body touched the hammock. Glad there was no one around except the roos to watch my 500 star jumps. Very starry sky. A lovely way to do star jumps, actually.

Day 2 I ran/walked 36kms for another 1000 mtrs gain. Since I knew I wasn't staying out overnight again (nothing else to be learned from that!), I texted for a lift home.

Time to recover and get back into the speed work now.