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

Monday, July 18, 2011

Snippets from other World Trail racers

Maybe it's just that I need to commisserate, but I have found these posts reassuring...and funny

Ben Nephew, USA:

There was no trail, just random posts sticking up from the bog. We followed this for a while, and then headed across a large open stretch. I was watching the French runner 100m ahead of me when he suddenly disappeared in a splash of water. I thought he had tripped, and laughed as I asked how the water was. As I got to the spot where he fell, I was swallowed by the bog past my waist. There was a bit of a panic attack before I managed to pull myself out....The steepest sections required the use of your hands, and the easier grades were 20-25%.

John O'Regan, Ireland:

I'd never encountered anything as steep or tough in a race and even stopping had it's hazards as the steepness made it very easy to lose balance and it was almost like taking a break during a rock climb.
Total Ascent = 2950 M
Total Descent = 2989 M

Jason Bryant, USA:

Boggy areas are wet and muddy, but when you step in an actual bog it’s not like being in mud really. Nor is a bog like falling in a hole or a pool of water. It’s more like stepping into a tub of oatmeal. On the surface it looks like it might be solid, but once you step in the bog you sink to some random depth, completely surrounded by some type of earth.

Paul Tierney, Ireland:

The next undulating boggy section saw me fall flat at least 4 times, at one stage going straight in to a head over heels roll twice in quick succession. One of the Army boys must have been wondering if there was a points competition for acrobatics, running concurrently with the race.

I found this book and was thinking it might complete my recovery ;)

Too bad I was given a hot tip on race technique after the race.... apparently I should have had a snorkel and fins! That's how they do it at the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Wales every year.

Now a nice 24 hour race on a 'track' actually sounds appealing!

Drop and Give me 40!

Okay, how about 5?

Bear spray is heavier than the tensor bandage I usually carry in Australia (for snake bites), so I've decided I need to bulk up.

Nah, that's not it. Although the stuff is heavy!

Data has been coming in over the past 6 months or so suggesting to me that I should be doing some upper body work. Previous info had suggested to me that this was just a waste of time and certainly that runners didn't want bulky muscular arms to lug around for hours on end. Lighter is better.

Well, I've been coming across more data suggesting that strength training to the upper body (not just legs and core) can also improve running economy and oxygen efficiency. And I've been seeing anecotal reports that people like Ann Trason and Yiannis Kouros regularly did light weight upper body work. So, being careful not to add a bunch of bulk to my upper body (more muscle does mean more blood/oxygen will have to fuel the area during a race, leaving less for the legs), I've decided to add some upper body strength training to my strength programme.

On Friday, I started by seeing how many pushups I could do.

It turns out I have arms like a brook trout. If brook trout had arms. You can imagine. My brother suggested they were tyrannosaurus rex arms. Not a nice visual, either! The pushups are simple, yet seem to target the chest, triceps, biceps, and core all at once. I am now doing 40 pushups, but broken into sets of 5 pushups with rests between, where I pace, curse, and complain bitterly. My goal by September's Commonwealths is to be able to do 40 pushups in a row. We'll see!

In terms of running, I'm on a "recovery" month now - the rest of July is a half-mileage month, while I start to bring up the strength training. This allows my tendons and ligaments time to heal themselves before I ask them to prepare for Commonwealths.

So I skipped the 40k 7.5 hr Trailtrash weekend run in favour of a ~15k jog/hike with my brother-in-law and sister the powerlifter. I was "good" to them by suggesting we'd do the Cox Hill route in the "easy" direction (650 mtrs up and 800 down). Back up to 2,200 mtrs, where it feels like one lung was left in the carpark.

Although we really did have 6 lungs between us, we only had 4 shoes. Jer forgot his and had to do the entire run over the mountain rocks and roots in his 5 fingers!

On the way down, I heard a call of "bikes!" That's the alert that mtb'ers were on their way down behind me. Well, the race was on! I held them off as long as possible. It was heaps of fun and two of the four never did catch up to me. In honour of the great race, I gave the two blokes a Timtam each in the carpark. Of course, I didn't call them blokes, cuz that isn't a Canadian word ;)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Late Addition Photo

This photo seems to demonstrate some cultural differences between Canadians and French - or maybe if we had more colourful uniforms, we'd become more spirited, as well :)

Holding the flag next to the female team is the president of ACU and team manager, Armand, and the VP, Nadeem (also a representative of the IAU).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bronze for Team Canada!

I'm still waiting for some photos, but people have been asking for my report.... A few more photos to come soon.

16 DNFs out of 115 starters of the World Trail Championships. A 14% DNF rate for an ultra is probably considered pretty low, but considering the tough nature of this course, it's even more remarkable to me.

Except perhaps for the Irish and French runners who I heard reconned parts of the course, I don't think anyone expected the "bonus" 1,400 mtrs of elevation gain (advertised as under 1,900, but apparently 3,200) and the "bonus" bogs. Advertised as containing 7 percent bogland, the reality was that the 2% of “woodland trail,” 4% of "grassland trail" and 18 out of the 20% of "mountain trail" sections were also bog. That's a course that was about 30% bog. There was more water on that course than Western Australia sees through its entire winter.

The trip over to Dublin was quick compared to the day of buses that followed. Athletes from 20 different countries were spread throughout the Connemara region, billeted in homes, a village post office, B&Bs, and hotels. We had Friday morning to ourselves, which most of us used to sort gear and drop bags. Friday afternoon we attended opening ceremonies, where all the teams were introduced before the pasta dinner. Getting to and from the Canadian lodgings required a bus shuttle. It was only about 4 kms, but none of us was willing to put the extra miles into our legs before the event.

Saturday morning temps were probably around 14 degrees, cloudy and calm. We headed out for 4 kms of road, which was meant to separate the group a bit before getting onto the trails. The top men sped off. I settled into what felt like a 4.40 pace (Garmins aren’t allowed in these international competitions). Off the road, we started our first climb of Diamond Hill. It was a defined trail built with rocky steps, which were all wet and slippery. I had made the mistake of eating breakfast, which I never do. Although it was 2 hrs before the start it seemed to not have digested and caused me some nausea. I was passed by several women on this first climb as I had to temper my efforts. We descended the other side and came through the village of Letterfrack at the 12k mark, which was also to be the finish line. I had made some very rough calculations of paces and times and was just 7 minutes over my guess. The picture here from near the summit of Diamond Hill is actually of some Irish guys who reconned the course on a dry day.

The next section had us climb back up and over Diamond Hill. Then we hit our first bog section. The ground was full of “hummocks” – it was very spongy and presumably sheep had travelled through the paddocks many times over the years. Their weight punches holes in the sponge earth, leaving the raised bits of earth that aren’t particularly solid and supportive. Landing between hummocks guaranteed water to at least the ankle. Landing on a hummock gave no guarantee. Maybe a dry step (doubtful), maybe some sinking, or maybe your foot would slide right off into the water below anyway. Running it created a solid sucking sound and feel with each step, as the bog tried to claim your shoe. Indeed, the bog tried to claim me in my entirety at one point, as I stepped left foot into what I thought was going to be calf deep water. I went in to my armpit. Straight down. The guy behind me said all he could see was my hat!

Out of the bog, we hit a small potholed country road, which provided some relief. Though within a few kms, my hip flexors were expressing displeasure at the repetitive motion. I was in to Aid Station 2 (28k) about 30 minutes after my rough projected time. This was useful, as it continued to give me a bit of a gauge as to how long the race might take – for fuel needs, pacing, mental coping, etc. After Aid 2, we continued for 4 kms along a beautiful little road lined with pine trees. Great smell. My favourite section. An orange vested Irish National Defenceman signalled the way off the road to start the big climb up and over Benbaun, one of the 12 Ben mountains in the Connemara range. The ground – "mountain trail" section – was ... guess what? Bog. There was actually no defined "trail" at all - just wooden stakes placed in the ground to mark the route. It seemed that there was no solid grass to be had in western Ireland. It made me long to work towards the summit, as I felt the ground should get harder and rockier towards the top. I was thinking of Canadian Rockies, I guess, where the snowmelt comes down in the spring and soaks the lower areas, but the top areas have dried out. This isn’t what happens in Ireland. They have bogs right up to the top of their mountains. And sheep to punch holes in it to make it more difficult. I started to think the sheep were laughing at me as I heard their "ha-a-a-a-a" bleats when I went by.

Over Benbaun and down the other side. It took 2 hours to cover 12 kms into Aid Station 3. I had originally predicted this section to take 1h40. I headed out for the 4k out-and-back (i.e., 8k), which was supposed to be runnable gravel road. I had my doubts at this point, but there were only a few muddy bits. Back at Aid 3 in 45 minutes. I now had to reverse back to Aid 2 over Benbaun again. The second time around it took me an extra 15 minutes. It took the top women longer to go back as well, but overall they were just that much faster on the hands-and-knees steep bog scrambles up and down the mountain.

Somewhere in that first climb of Benbaun, as I passed a few female runners, including a British girl, I started to think that perhaps Canada could take 3rd place in the team event. I paid careful attention to the women passing me on the out-and-back section, as they headed towards the finish. French and Italian. More Italian. And more Italian. Wow, they had a big team. But only the top 3 finishers of each nation count towards the team score. So I used this possibility as my incentive to hold the pace. Into the finish, I passed one more British girl (and was passed by a Hungarian girl on a strong surge, but was sure her two teammates weren't in front of me).

As I rounded the last bend, with 200 mtrs to go, the Canadian team manager was there and handed me a giant flag to carry into the finish. It was just like the movies. Only it was me. The "diesel cat." A regular trail runner from 3 years ago, suddenly running across the finish line at a world championship.

The rest of the evening I found it hard to walk past that finish line without feeling tears well up. It was the hardest thing I've done. Thanks to everyone who's helped me - these past few days, months, and years.

Do not accept impossible.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Luckiest Girl in the World (even without a pot of gold)

Ahhh, the Irish weather is so consistent :)

Tomorrow it's into another cigar tube for some more altitude training en route to Dublin!

The toes are ready. I'm celebrating my Irish ancestry and channelling leprechauns. If I had three wishes, one of them would be to know which shoes - the Roclites or x-Talons - will be the better choice. Rocks, bog, streams, gravel, trail, grass. They've promised it all.

The IAU issued a press release today saying there will be more than 120 athletes representing 20 countries at the event. And the male and female winners from Serre Chevalier, France in 2009 will be there to defend their titles. Friday afternoon we have the technical meeting and Friday night they're providing a pasta dinner. The race starts 7 AM local time Saturday.

Most of the Canadian team is staying here. Athletes are spread throughout the Connemara region, which is comprised of little villages.

The IAU hopes to have live updates linked from their website. And there is a twitter feed @iaunews (no, I won't be tweeting - I could try to write my first FB post though).

But I don't expect you all to be sitting on your bottoms looking at this stuff all weekend - enjoy your own awesome runs! See if you can find yourself a "Category 1" :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

First Days in Canada

My 41 hour trip was...well, ... 41 hours. I think that says it all. Somewhat surprisingly, I wasn't all that shattered on arrival. I pretended to sleep as much as possible from Auckland to San Francisco and then stayed awake for the day, to arrive in Calgary at bedtime. I got to tour around Auckland and San Fran for a bit, hauling my 9kg laptop bag - will call it cross training.

Last time I was in Canada I received a lovely, "Welcome home!" This time? "You're in the wrong line." He wanted me in the "Visitor" queue, not the "Canadian" queue. Interesting. I am now an alien in Canada! And as for my accent, I've been told I sound like a mix of Australian, Texan, and Irish :) I just can't stop saying, "Yeaaahhhhh" in that quintessentially Aussie way. Canadians hardly say 'yeah,' as it's generally considered a bit crude - they usually speak a more formal 'yes.'

Driving hasn't been bad, although I have washed my brother's windscreen many times over (turn signals on the other side) and smashed my left hand several times into the door reaching for the shifter on the wrong side.

Now that I'm a science-addict, I've been able to observe some interesting phenomenon related to long distance flying. My weight was up 2 kg on arrival. And my resting HR was up 10 points. Within a day, my weight returned to normal. HR's taking longer.

19 hours after arrival, I was standing at 1400 mtrs, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, ready for my Wednesday night run up to 1900 mtrs. It was gorgeous, but a massive strain on the cardiovascular system to adjust to the altitude. At one point I thought, "I have no lungs, I should use my legs more." When I tried to do that, my legs screamed out to remind me that they also require oxygen to function!

And here's a warning to all you Garmin users out there who may travel....

When I finished my run, I noticed that the time was still set on Perth. So I adjusted it to local time. That meant that I went back in time. So Garmin naturally decided to erase my file! In its wisdom, it must have decided I couldn't have done a run in the future. I tried to change the time zone again to bring back the file, but to no avail. The past is dead. Or the future is dead. There is only the present moment. I guess Garmins are buddhist devices.

That night, my resting HR was up 15 points.

On Saturday, I ran a little 10k race here for one last hit at speed work. It was a fundraiser for kids with motor disabilities and it was cool to see so many kids out there. I just had to take a photo with Cornelius, the Canadian Pacific Railway beaver. My Hungarian grandpa worked for CPR his whole life and he always wore those exact overalls, even on his days off.

Saturday night I took my brother-in-law out to Prairie View. It's handy that it's light here until 10 PM. He's just taken up running and particularly loves trails. And now I have the data ... +559 mtrs 7.7% over 5.5 km. So it's time to compare that particular climb to what I'm supposed to see in Ireland and then see how scared I should be.