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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Torch Travesty

The torch is being driven around by a sugar drink company?
A few days ago my British rellies said they were going over to see the Olympic torch pass by. I'm one of four or five people in the world who don't get into the Olympics.

Major reason #1: I can't bear the injustice of it. I know the incredible work that athletes went through to get to that point. They are all world class. On one given day, given one chance, where the slightest cough or gust of wind can alter the outcome, most of them will not win. I can't bear to watch that. My heart cries for them.

Minor reason #1: I don't have a telly and find watching sport boring.

And the Lloyds bank cheerleading boys
After enjoying my run through the local downs, on the historical trails, I came 'home' and thought that perhaps I was missing an opportunity. The spirit of the Olympics I agree with. So watching the torch go by, along ancient trails, being carried from Greece to London...well, maybe I should go see that.

I had 20 minutes before the torch was supposedly coming by - within a km of the house, according to the map I'd seen. So I had a quick glance again at the website and got ready to bolt out the door, heading for the North Downs Way.

As they say in Australia, with a "you-lose" game show buzzer sound: Baw-Baw.

Look carefully and you can see the torch behind the bodyguard
The torch was, in fact, being driven into a village, then walked through the village by 3 to 5 people, over about 1km. On the other end of the village, the torch was packed into the bus and DRIVEN to the next village 10 or so km away.

Is driving an Olympic sport?

As an athlete, I am embarrassed.

My rellies went over to the nearest town to see it and they gave me these photos. There was also a Samsung bus with dancing girls, to go with the Lloyds dancing boys. Maybe bus dancing is an Olympic sport.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Un-pilgrim

Sign noting distance to Farnham, Canterbury & Dover
If you run a pilgrimage route backwards - that is, away from the pilgrim site instead of towards it, is it like playing your Ozzy Osbourne record backwards??

Today Rolf and I took the train to Canterbury (yes, you remember the name vaguely from school... Chaucer's Canterbury Tales). Then we ran "home" to Charing, a distance of 28km.

I've spent the past week in Kent, England, a stone's throw from the North Down's Way and the Pilgrim's Way, running every day on public right-of-way footpaths. Some of these go back to at least the 1200s. The 246km long North Down's Way is a newish national trail that incorporates bits of the ancient Pilgrim's Way, a historical pilgrim route that's partly eaten up by motorways now.

In the year 1170, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was hacked to death by disgruntled knights, apparently thinking they were doing King Henry II a favour (although Henry had actually hand-picked Becket for the job). The pope then canonised Becket (made him a saint) and Canterbury became a major pilgrimage site for Christians. You walked there, bought some Becket blood (seriously), kissed the shrine, and hoped for a  cure of any nasty disease or other suffering. Cool. I'm in for a panacea. My Bib foot still hurts.

Passing through Chilham village along the way
However, sadly, in the 1530s, King Henry VIII decided that it was no good that the monasteries owned over 1/4 of the cultivated land in the country (I'm sure he wanted it - or at least didn't want the monk monopoly). So, Henry started closing down hundreds of monasteries. As we all know, he also made himself head of the Church of England. He had Becket's shrine destroyed, right down to his bones. So no magic mojo left for anyone. Too bad for the Bib foot.

The whole idea of pilgrimages ... a long distance journey ... made me think of ultra running and fast packing and all things similar in our modern day. Are pilgrimages only spiritual? Are they sometimes moral quests? Is an ultra runner really a pilgrim of sorts? Are we pilgrims looking for a sacred place? Is the finish line - the destination - a "cure"? A panacea where we can kneel down, kiss the ground/rock, and have our sins washed away?

Alongside King's Wood
Well, if that's the case, I should come up pretty good after finishing the 320km +15,000 mtr (average 40km/day +2,000mtr) Transalpine Run in 40 days' time. Surely my Bib foot will be healed after that!

In other news, Aus Immi said no-can-do to my writing the citizenship test abroad, so I have to wait until October.

Back in the push-up arena, Rolf and I got into a competition and he won the first day, but then we got the smart phone app that makes you go "nose-to-phone" and his pecs were destroyed from day 1's competition. So now I am Push-up Master again :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Running Like a Drunk Cockroach

A good trail for x-talons
Day 4 in Kent, England and 67km logged. We landed in England after 30 hours of travel and did what any normal person would do...we went for a 21k shake out run :)

Tallying the three runs' elevation, we'd be lucky if there was 800 metres in it, though! Southern England is a flaaaaat place. Much flatter than Perth. But to make up for the flatness of it, we are high jumping brambles and nettles to keep the quads and glutes active. My legs are on fire and full of welts and slashes! I wear my Compressport as much as I can, as it also helps reduce the severity of the plant attacks. WA might have deadly heat and deadly snakes and deadly spiders and deadly sharks, but England gets the nod for attacking plants.

The zigzag nature of an explore-run

For those who haven't been to England, it's a unique place to run. There are a plethora of public right-of-ways for walking/running and as a result - considering the density of the population - many go right through the middle of farmers' fields and people's yards. Two days ago we literally ran into a farmyard where two teens were practicing their golf swings. The footpath is obviously rarely used, as one of the boys helped beat back the stinging nettles with his golf club and then had to point out the exit path on the other side of the house...behind the car, to the left of the chicken coop.

An old wagon with a Bernadette trap
We got home and looked at our track log in Garmin Connect and Rolf said, "We look like a couple of drunk cockroaches!" That's what happens when you zig zag around, looking for trails, running into dead ends or bitumen or private property. It's great adventuring for me, not really knowing where I'm going or how long I'll be. Not something most people like, though. Today we feasted on wild raspberries. A fair reward for going through more razor sharp stinging nettles.

Good stile technique
Getting in and out of private lands, there are stiles. When wet, the paper thin layer of mossy mildew atop the wood plank becomes a skating rink and makes for very focused crossings.

It's pretty hard to get a solid pace going on a trail run here. There's a lot of climbing over stiles, running through sometimes overgrown fields of beans in fields, then popping out onto a road and trying to guess where the next footpath will be. But for me, it's perfect right now. I'm focusing on getting my strength back in my core and upper body and letting my left foot (the Bibbulmun foot) and my right hammy (the post TNF100/Kep 100 hammy) heal. So slow speed is wise speed. I did pushups for the first time in months yesterday (no pushups after my dislocated shoulder). I managed 20 in a row before needing a rest (aka falling to my face). Now to get back to 28 (my all-time PR) and aim for 40!

One more week and I'm off to Canada to get in all the elevation I can before Transalps!

In news of AUS citizenship, I was offered a test on 24 July. In Perth. (Insert Aussie 'baw baw' noise here). I was just gutted that I was going to be abroad and miss it. I've put in a request to see if it's possible to do it at an overseas consulate so that I don't have to wait until October.

Monday, July 9, 2012

New Trail Jedi

Part of the night course 10k - this is going to look great with headlamps!
I had an atypical running weekend.

Friday, which is typically a day off (strength work day during non-peak times), was spent up at Yanchep National Park doing some recce work on the upcoming Perth Trail Series "Trailathlon." Our official approvals are all in place! Hooray! Now I just have to build the webpage and open entries. And then do all that other stuff that makes events happen.

We have an "A" plan for the event courses and a "B" plan in case there are any major changes to the trails over the next three months whilst we're overseas. I'm excited with the courses - not too many hills, since there's a lot of distance to cover (42k over a weekend), but some good, fun, twisty single track with some views, as well.

Then on to Saturday....
16km of hill repeats! Not as bad as it sounds, as it was spread out over several hours. I decided to lead a "Beginners+" trail running course. A three hour session, which included some basics on strength/core work, nutrition and hydration, and talk about gear or blisters or anything else of interest to trail runners. It sold out with 15 people. So I opened an afternoon one and it sold out, too. I guess there was a need!

Single track Jedi chicks
The day was fantastic. We had a few no-shows due to work and illness, but 23 people came out in total to run up and down the big hills around Wungong dam. It was incredibly rewarding to see people improving their technique, and thus their confidence, over the course of 3 hours. The smiles were great!

I tried to run down the hills with the faster ones for a bit, to give them ongoing feedback on technique, then would sheepdog back up to check on the others and do the same. On the climbs, I ran up and down to different people as well. At other times I was doing demonstrations of technique, so running short up and down short sections while they watched. My quads and hip flexors were fairly trashed on Sunday! I was a bit surprised, but when I looked it up on Garmin Connect, I saw it really was a bit of a 16k hill interval session. (Or maybe it was from when I demonstrated how NOT to run downhill, locking your knees and hips!).

Learning the steep hill climb "disco dance"

We got to run through brooks and watch the roos in the hills. I even saw a few winter butterflies still around. The sun shone for much of the day - winter days in Perth are still like a lot of summer days in Canada!

And guess what else unusual I did last week? I put in my citizenship application! Last time I checked, it said my application was "being processed further." Further is good. Ultra runners like further.

On Friday I'm off to the UK, for the beginning of a 2.5 month training/running/racing adventure in the northern hemisphere. Happy to leave my cold house, but unhappy to leave my trail mates.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Mandatory Adventure Gene

I have this need. I need to do things that are somewhat mysterious. Unknown. Sometimes challenging. It's a special gene I have, the "Mandatory Adventure Need" gene. If I don't let that gene express itself periodically, I find myself agitated.

Last weekend I had to do some work in Geraldton, 5 hours north of Perth. I stayed in a youth hostel. Not because I'm broke (though the cost savings were nice). But because it was a little adventure. It was a really cool old building that I thought might have been a brothel in days-gone-by. It was on the ocean and the patio was lovely. I was surrounded by mostly young travellers from around the world, on adventures of their own. There was an orange cat. It was a good vibe.... Though I much preferred running along the ocean and finishing my Scott Jurek book in my room Saturday night over downing a bottle of rum with loud music on the patio!
Nambung National Park - dunes on one side, ocean on the other

On my way back from "Gero" (ahhh, the Aussieness of words!), I took a different highway (for more exploring). I stopped at Yanchep National Park to do a little more adventuring. I needed a long run. There was a trail I'd wanted to check out for 3 years - the "Yaberoo Budjara" and no one would ever go with me! (I think I understand why now - keep reading).

It's a point-to-point run of 28km. Perfect. Only I didn't have a way to get back to my car.

Me on an Explore! It's not just for Pooh Bears.
I thought no one ever wanted to do it with me because I'd heard it was sandy. That, and the "unknown" component of exploring a new trail throws most people off.

I arrived ready to run at 2.30PM. That gave me 3 hours of sun. I didn't have a headlamp with me. I had just enough fuel for 3 hours (2 Hammer solids and 1 bag of chewys). But I was starving at the start.

I headed out with no exact plan and found several beautiful km of trail, some dirt and mud, some coastal dune-type terrain. I devoured much of my fuel within 45 minutes, having started hungry. Then I realised that somewhere, I had dropped one fuel packet! Things were going to get more interesting.

I debated the pros and cons of running the entire track and hoping to hitch a lift back to my car at the end. I decided it would be easier to just do an out-and-back. Of course, that meant seeing as much track as possible before turning around!

Secondary road crossings every 5km or so.
Fortunately, I got slightly lost around 10k. The trail is not that well marked after the first 5k, especially at junctions. I didn't know I was on the wrong trail at the time, but the fortunate thing about it was that it ran right near a highway and my eyes caught a servo through the bushes. Score! I bolted out of the trees, ran across the highway, past the 6 cars queued for fuel, and filled my pockets with biscuits and bars. Then I ran back across the highway straight into the bushes, leaving everyone there with confused looks, I'm sure!

At 15k, with 1hr40 on the watch, I forced myself to turn around. I now had 1hr20 to get back before dusk. And I'm not doing speed work because of my recovering hammy. Of course, I saw another parallel track and had to try that one. I still didn't know I wasn't on the real trail, but was continuing to enjoy the explore. Coming back out at a road crossing, I spotted a sign for the real trail! So I ran back another 100 metres on this great looking single track, agonising over the fact that I'd missed this section and didn't have any daylight left to go back again!

Interesting signs on the track - a lion park was here. Didn't end well.
With 5k to go, dusk hit. The last km was run in the dark and the last 500 metres required a bit of help from the Garmin map screen to find my route back. The bush was wide and sparse here, so not easy to see a trail. I loved it.

So maybe I know now why people don't want to come with me on "Explores!"

This weekend's adventure was the 24hr "Take Nothing for Granite" rogaine about 1.5hr south of Perth. It was to be Rolf's first 24hr event, other than crewing for me for 24 hours.

We got a rumbly start as we verbally duelled over route selection (we're both very headstrong and good at being right). Heading off at 12.00PM sharp, we spent the next two hours in a confused, frustrated state of mind (a.k.a., almost coming to blows) because we kept missing the controls by over 100 metres on my bearing. We were using contours to figure out where the control was. Then, the answer came to Rolf.... We were wearing our new UltrAspire packs with a glitzy little magnetic pouch. Every time I happened to bring the compass close to my chest, the magnet pulled my needle off 20 degrees, causing me to bear left without realising it! We tried walking with our arm outstretched, but that was annoying. Within an hour, we'd decided the magnets had to go, so I pulled out my knife and we performed minor surgery.
Contact (waterproof plastic) over the maps and we're ready to go!

The next 4 hours were awesome. It was warm and we were landing on the controls perfectly. My bearings were on and Rolf was learning to read the contours of the map, keeping us in touch with the terrain as we ran and power walked through the forest. Then, just as dark hit, we missed a control on a spur. That sucked because this rogaine was extremely tough. It was set with the State Championships in mind. It was all forest, so there were almost no handrails or attack points (fixed points like roads, powerlines, fences, dams). It was what the good guys called "an orienteering course." There weren't many hills, either, so even reading the contours was especially tough. So once you missed a control on this course, you were in fairly big trouble. We wasted 45 minutes looking and then finally decided to bear south to a gravel road. From there, we bagged another control and aimed back northwest directly on to the one we'd missed - from another angle, we'd have to find it.

Nope. Another 30 minutes gone there. We took a bearing due east and aimed for a minor track (they were quite unreliable). We then struggled to find the next control, without a proper bearing or clear knowledge of where exactly we were on the map. Then two lights approached. Before we could say a word, one called out, "Please help us. We're lost!" The couple was a mixed super vet team (both over 55 years, but the older of the two, the woman, was actually 72). They had been lost for over 3 hours! They were both experienced rogainers, but didn't plan to be out after dark (had minimal lighting) and the lack of features and handrails on the course made it too tough for them to get sorted. We spent some time talking to them, showing them their position on the map, trying to point them in the direction they needed to go. But the woman was quite distraught and basically pleaded with us to lead them the right way.
The look before the grumbly bickering part of the day!

We started to take them in the right direction and had a whispered conference between ourselves. There was nothing else to do - we both felt the important thing was to get them to a patrolled road close to the hash house (start/finish). We took the easiest route possible, rather than the most direct. Rather than getting frustrated about the lost time, I decided I should accept it as part of the adventure. We chatted a bit, which helped pass the time, and helped me confirm that they were not hypothermic or hypoglycaemic. They were articulate and healthy (one turned ankle), just rather shaken from being so lost and alone for so long, worried that they'd go right off the map (then you won't run into rogainers or patrol cars at all and there are no farms out there, either). Down at the road, we parted ways, feeling confident they'd get the 2km back. I was inspired at that stubborn, strong 72 year old woman, hauling herself through the bush and over logs with the dimmest of headlamps in 8 degree weather, having been out there 10 hours or more. She is now on my Hero list. May I be that strong in 30 years.

Off we went for the next 6 or 8 hours, through the cold clear night, with the temperature dropping to about 5 degrees and the dew soaking the bush. Rolf suffers from Raynaud's disease. It's a condition where the body constricts the blood vessels in the hands and feet when cold. How counter-productive, eh?!? I used to suffer symptoms myself along that line and always joked that the problem was I didn't have enough blood...so the blood is in my core to keep me alive and there's nothing for the fingers and toes. But people who really have it suffer badly. Rolf had merino wool glove liners and Polartec gloves over top. I dug in my pack and found one hand warmer, which he enjoyed on his more severe hand. His feet were in fancy Drymax socks, which he loves, but couldn't hold the cold at bay. It's a bizarre condition - the body shutting down blood flow to the extremities when cold! To cope, we started trying to bag just the controls near roads. That way we could run for a while, which warmed him up a bit. Then we would bush-bash to a control, which was slower going and therefore colder. Then back to the road, where he could run again and try to get the pain out of his extremities.

200weight Icebreaker thermal & Montane H2O were brilliant through the cold night!
Finally, at 5 AM, the coldest part of the night, Rolf had to make the call. His feet had gone from painful to numb to excruciating. No amount of running was getting them warm again. We headed for the hash house, both very frustrated. We sat around the hash fire with a bit of food, watching the sun rise. Then we hit the tent, which I had set up in anticipation of a nap before driving home later that day. We were up a few hours later to watch the 24hr rogainers come in. Rolf even offered to go out again to get another control before noon...but his feet were all swollen and had funny yellow patches of colour on the soles. When I said no, he then admitted that his feet felt like he was walking barefoot on a sharp metal slatted footpath with every step.

Despite all our disasters and being on the course for less than 18/24 hours, we still finished within the top third and were 3rd "mixed vets." That's all right. A PB in distance for Rolf (over 60k) and time on his feet (18hr) and a great chance for him to trial a bunch of things for the Transalpine Race. Fortunately for him, we'll get more chances to trial cold weather survival with the trip to the Canadian Rockies coming up!