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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Postscript: Putting on the Reading Miles

If you read my "Putting on the Reading Miles" post before Sunday the 30th of December, do go back and re-read The Paleo Diet section.... I've read a bit more of the book and Loren Cordain, PhD, just struck a major disagreement chord and I felt it was important to edit my post.

This little guy was the only one enjoying the heat this morning on the trails!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Putting on the Reading Miles

I've had a few quieter days to catch up on a variety of projects and that's also meant a bit of extra time to devour literature...mostly running-related. Waterlogged keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the pile, though I really do want to finish it. I got stuck into Grahak Cunningham's new e-book Beyond the Marathon. It's about his four (!?!) times finishing the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile race. It's held every New York summer around a roughly 1 km block - over 5,000 laps to finish. Grahak, a fellow Western Australian, won the event this year AND set a new Aussie 1,000 mile record. Great book that I polished off in a day, as I found it very cathartic having someone speak about things that were reminiscent of my Bibbulmun run.

I'm almost through the Paleo Diet for Athletes and must say I have been somewhat surprised. From the sounds of it, his original book was meant for "sedentary" people and the rest of us should only read this one. He's right up on all the latest good science about things like post-run recovery carbs and protein, caffeine use for runners, electrolytes and hyponatremia. Really, his argument about diet is essentially that you should eat lots of fruit and veggies - something many people miss out on, opting for a lot of 'fast food' like muffins, pasties/pies, and other nutritionally poor food choices. That's a good thing. Of course, he also advocates meat as a protein source, particularly wild game (leaner, no hormones) and fatty, cold water fish. Those are generally good, healthy choices that most nutritionists would agree with. His proportions of protein to carb to fat don't sound out there at all to me (in THIS book, that is - perhaps if athletes have tried to follow his 'sedentary' plan, they've eaten themselves into a major carb-depleted state).

However, there are a few points I'm disagreeing with him on - at least one minor and one major. A minor one? That in a 24hr event you need solid food...there was no science put behind that statement, either. It's not my experience of racing and I have found no other data that says it's necessary for any reason. A major point of disagreement? The acid/alkaline food thing. I was trying to "ignore" his rant on this, as it covered a mere page in the first third of the book. But then again just after the halfway point he gets into it again and offers up the dreaded threat that comes with the acid/alkaline theory - calcium loss from the bones causes bone problems if you eat too much "acid-producing food" (which happens to include dairy/cheese, grains, seeds, and meat ... interestingly, he's okay with meat-eating, but just not processed/cured meats - how does that work?!?). I was almost tricked by this acid/alkaline thing, myself. It's pretty prevalent in the ultra and trail and health-conscious circles. But I can't find a body of legitimate research to support it. Quackwatch sums it up pretty well: "No foods change the acidity of anything in your body except your urine." Also, "...systemic pH is not influenced by diet" and some hometown researchers from my alma mater, the University of Calgary, compiled the literature in a meta-analysis that stated

This meta-analysis did not find evidence that phosphate intake ['acid producing' foods] contributes to demineralization of bone or to bone calcium excretion in the urine. Dietary advice that dairy products, meats, and grains are detrimental to bone health due to "acidic" phosphate content needs reassessment. There is no evidence that higher phosphate intakes are detrimental to bone health.

So, if you read the book, take a black texter to pages 95 and 175. He seems pretty well-researched, I'm sure he'll come to the party in the next edition ;)

Was it a hint??
On Sunday a good running mate lent me Be a Better Runner, which has a lot to do with heart rate zone training - this is something I've been a little more curious about lately. So good timing - except that poor Tim Noakes is being neglected again! And meanwhile my American Ultrarunning magazine arrived....

In training, I'm still taking lots of days off to heal, though yesterday's run tipped the balance a bit! My big announcement for today's training was that I did not cry.

That might not sound like much of a goal to achieve in a day for most people, but you need to understand...today I had my first private strength training session.

I told a very tiny girl that I wanted to try a strength program to target my arms/upper body/core, with the goal of improving my endurance for 24hr-type events. So today for the first time in my life, I used a kettle bell. And did a burpee (and torqued my knee, which put an end to those, thank-freaking-goodness). And a "clean and press." And all manner of other gym-like and weight-like things, in seemingly faster and faster succession, completely burning me out over a matter of several minutes. That was an odd feeling - when I'm used to pushing myself for hours and hours before exhaustion.

But although I felt a brief moment of panic on burpee-dead-lift number 4 and thought I was going to cry in front of that little girl, I did not and so for that I still have some pride intact. Even though my arms are like a T-rex and I have no explosive power. I thought I could still legitimately blame a bit of Kosci being in my legs yet - and the matter of that 3.5hr 29km mostly-sand run yesterday :) Well, that has nothing to do with my arms, but might explain the shattered quads and glutes.

Not sure what excuses I can work up for next week's session.

Gorgeous trail in the setting sun, but a wee test of the recovering body!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hippy, Temporarily Assuaged

I went bush running today. Ahhhhh. That's better!

Massive empathy with all those who are injured right now - those who can't run. I definitely know that a lot of my grumbles now are being caused by lack of running. Reminds me why I get on that silly hamster wheel at times (like pre-C2K when the shins were acting up). Chemicals must be kept in balance.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Lost Hippy. If Found, Return to the 1960s

I've been in a low-level grumbly place for the past week or so. Why, I wondered? Was it post-race euphoria wearing off? Nope, I don't think so, as I didn't have a C2K post-race euphoria. Only post-race sluggish sleepiness!

Was it some kind of end-of-the-year blues? Again, I didn't think so, as I am the most un-Christmas, un-New Year's person on the planet. They are just another day for me. But I thought I'd go back to the last blog post of last year to see if I was in a similar mind set then....
First trail run post-C2K. Took the poles just in case....didn't need them :)

It was neat to see that I was planning to run TNF100, TransAlpine Run, and Coast to Kosci. Checked those off the list. I was also suggesting Sri Chinmoy 24hr in June...well, I did register for that one, but thankfully the RD gave me a refund, as I didn't think my "Bib foot" would cope with 24 hours. And mentally I wasn't in the right space. That can't bode well for a 24hr event! I got a last minute opportunity to register for the 100km Kep Ultra and grabbed it. Throw in a couple of rogaines (yum, rogaines) and a few 5k races, and there was the year.

Now it's time to shake the dice on 2013, shout out some numbers, and see how they land....

10 March - Coburg 6 hr. If I'm fit, I'm going to head over to Melbourne to have a crack at some PBs in the 50k and/or 6hr. I'm older, which isn't necessarily a good thing, but I'm also training and eating better and generally recovering smarter, I think. Me being me, my A goals will include age group records. And not getting injured - always a part of any of my goals.

11-12 May - World 24hr. If accepted to a national team, I'll head over to the Netherlands to run around in circles, eating my way through a tub of Perpetuem.

Then there's this big unknown comprising the second half of the year. I have a few ideas, but it really depends what continent I'm on! Usually a few months of the Aussie winter is spent in Canadian and European summer. It might be a bit early to do the hemisphere shift after Worlds, because I prefer to stay away until Perth has thoroughly warmed up (aka the end of September). That would mean May - September overseas. Not only would I need a money fairy, I think I might miss my running mates for that long!

So we'll all sit looking at this big mystery of June to December for now :-)
Last winter camping...2008. Minus 20.
But there's one more goal creeping pretty high onto the list...February 2014. Yukon Arctic Ultra. 300 Miles non-stop across the Canadian Arctic, pulling your gear in your own sled. It takes 6 to 8 days (there are a few short mandatory stops, but you choose how much extra to take). It has a 50% DNF rate. I read a couple race reports and loved this line, "My only strategy is not to die during the race." This was actually a race I was targeting before I got the scholarship to come to Oz and had to save my pennies (though at the time I was thinking of their 42km race option - times have changed!)

Back to the grumbles...could it be chemical imbalance caused by intense running followed by little running? Perhaps a bit. I am certainly edgy right now as I force myself into running only twice a week for a few weeks, letting the tendons get a good start on healing. I want to run!!! Argh. I know. This is good for me. I went to yoga today.

Would pulling a sled be easier or just different?
There's one last thing. It's my sport. My beautiful, bipedal sport. Moving through space and time on two feet.  Propelling myself around corners and to the tops of hills for the sheer curiosity of what's on the other side. To glimpse kangaroos and lizards on the trails. To catch the silhouette of a running mate ahead in the setting sun. To start an impromptu "race" up a hill, laughing and gasping at the top. To test myself against some perceived obstacle or to race towards some perceived reward, be it time, distance, or health. And to inspire others to find some of this joy for themselves.

There have been changes within the sport. I am getting this uneasy feeling, wondering where I fit in all this. It's the hippy. She's grumbling. And she's not sure she can wait 14 months in order to get 6 days to "go bush." Then again, I've been growing my hair out for 6 months and I'm still nowhere near being able to put it in plaits (braids). And we all know you can't really be a hippy without long hair ;)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Man That Holds His Own is Good Enough

The team - JC, Rolf, me, Karen, and Dan - at the finish!
The C2K post-mortem....

Sexy new ultra fashion - Rock tape shins
The lead up to the event was great in terms of training and self-care, but about two weeks out, I started getting bilateral shin pain. A weird kind of pain that was new to me. Kind of a warm, zinging, flushing pain all over the shin bone - never sharp or stabbing. I self-diagnosed periostitis. A new injury, how exciting (insert roll of the eyes and sarcastic tone here please). My massage therapist and I were working hard with extra sessions to try to keep my right QL and psoas behaving, so there had been little time to attend to tib posts that seemed to have secretly tightened up.

Less than a week before I flew over east, I decided to consult my physio. She agreed it was almost certainly periostitis and needled the heck out of my tib posts and calves. Two days before I left, she saw me on an "emerg" basis and stuck a box of needles into my legs. She whispered 'stress reaction' and 'stress fracture' but then we both agreed there was too little evidence. She put some fancy black tape on the shins and they felt instantly better. If it was a placebo, it was a damn good one!

We decided I should skip my last few planned runs. With 6 days to go, there was almost nothing to gain and everything to lose. I was nervous that I was taking a crew of 4 people across the country to devote up to a week of their lives to get me up a mountain and I might be a DNF early in.

Rolf, me, Karen, and JC recce the course
Naturally, I kept this largely to myself and did the best I could to shut the negative thoughts out. They couldn't help. But the pre-race head games weren't nice.

Two of the crew flew from Perth over east to Canberra on the same day as me - Monday before race day (which was Friday). Tuesday morning, Rolf flew in to join us, coming back from his trip abroad. The four of us crammed the boot full of bags and headed for Jindabyne, which was the 183km mark of the race. Basing ourselves there for a day, we drove up the dead-end road to Charlotte's Pass, at the 222km mark. The last ~18k of the race is an out-and-back up to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko at 2,228 mtrs. It was 8 degrees, but felt like 0 with a biting wind and even some sleet-like snow. This was the kind of weather I'd been warned about. We headed back down the long 40k hill to the motel on Lake Jindabyne, where I would make a an attempt to find food for a gluten free vegetarian with dairy sensitivities. Yikes. I pack a lot of my own food these days!

On Wednesday we drive down the rest of the course to the start line. We note the 'tricky' bits for navigation, as there will be no course markings as far as we know. We pass through the quaint little villages of Dalgety and Cathcart. We go through what I think was called the "High Plains" section and I silently note that I don't really like the landscape for running - wide open ranch/farm vistas. That's unfortunate, as it's going to comprise my afternoon and early evening! I also expect it to be hot for me in here. Mentally, this all helps, though, as I recognise this as a potential low spot to be wary of.

Sand over right toes. Yes, I will regret it!
I get to see my very first goanna - an Australian monitor lizard well over a metre long. We stop and she ambles up a tree, baby following behind her. We see a rancher in a ute (truck) and his two sheepdogs doing their thing - herding the sheep down the road towards a gate. It's exciting for me to see sheepdogs at work! And I'm always encouraging the faster trail runners in our PHAT running group to sheepdog, so it's cool to see these "comrades."

We arrive down at Eden, NSW, the race start, and settle into our 'cabin' on the beach. Dan, our 4th team member, drives in on Thursday, bringing a second car to the team, plus eskies and other potentially useful bits we didn't have to haul on a plane. We have "show and tell" for an hour, where I go through my gear and the race plan one last time. Then it's off to the pre-race dinner, where I am overjoyed at the gluten free/celiac options on offer. The RD couple has planned well - their experience and dedication to the sport shows.

Race morning. 5.30 AM start on the beach. I line up and feel a sprinkling on my toes. Looking down, I see I've kicked a pile of sand on top of my right shoe. It's mesh. Crap. A wee bit of sand has just sprinkled down between my toes. I say aloud, "Crap, I've just gotten sand in my shoe." The bloke next to me says, "Well, you're going to have a long time to regret that."

We're off on a 24k solo section. Our crews can't join us at first or there would be too many vehicles on the road too close together. We're offered aid stations every 4-5k, though, which is great. I run with a 250ml bottle I plan to sip from and fill as needed and use Hammer Solids. I run to feel, though I do have a race split noted.

Indeed, I have calculated splits for the entire race - over 19 sections. It's the only way I can try to gauge my progress and estimate a finish time. Post-race I hear that many people were comparing my splits to course record holder Julia Fatton's, but I never ran to her splits. My understanding was that she probably ran too easily and then ran through the field. I wasn't willing to take that approach and go for a big "negative split" type approach. Instead, I looked at the splits of many other runners before me with measured results. And I looked at the elevation profiles for each section and came up with what I thought might be sustainable. But I also knew I'd have to be flexible and run to my heart rate/exertion level.
climbing Big Jack

It turned out that I came in to meet my crew at the 24k mark within a few minutes of split time. Wow. I hit Checkpoint 1 (CP1) at the 50k mark in 4hr 53min, again very close to projection. I grabbed the Leki poles (my named 'Nearer and Further' mates from the Bibbulmun track adventure!) and went into the 7k climb of Big Jack Mountain. It wasn't even 11 am and I already had an ice towel around my neck. I love the big climbs and this section of forest was pretty, but it was a bit hard to eat and push at the same time. At the top of the hill it took several minutes of running for my stomach to settle. Karen and Dan took off ahead to Cathcart (CP2/70k) for some lunch, as Rolf and JC had shown up after sleeping through the start (purposefully, yes!).

CP2 was attained at 7 hrs (12.30 PM), on schedule. I was still running to effort, though there was a lot of heat management involved. I later told my crew that if I EVER mutter an idea of doing Badwater, they need to punch me out. Besides the heat, I'm dealing with another issue, which is the camber of the road. I'd been warned about it and was trying to be cautious and attentive to avoid the worst of the slopes, but got my first nasty sharp twinges in the right medial knee going up Big Jack at 60k. I think it's the adductor magnus at the insertion to the tubercle (for those who like their anatomy). I was having to alter my gait and not fully bend my knee in order to avoid the pain. I think this had a flow on effect which caused a tightening of the right hip flexor/TFL as the race progressed.

Dan handing fuel off to me whilst officials check on me
73-80km were downhill, perhaps 140-150 mtrs. That necessitated a similar climb on the other side. Then another lower rollercoaster before a bigger climb of a couple hundred metres past the 100k mark. Someone had scratched a line and mark across the road. I noted that I passed this at 10h28 (3.58 PM). Two more km to the big dead tree. I am still tracking along with my splits. But the distances feel huge at this point and I have moments of terrible doubt that smacks of hopelessness. It hurts, it's too hard, and I want to stop. I know that if I can make it to Dalgety, I can finish. Somehow Dalgety is a pivotal point for me. To shut out negative thoughts, I hum at times - a meditative, monotonic hum that rather frightens those who haven't been initiated to it! CP 3 is a road junction with a livestock ramp at 107k. I hit that a few minutes behind, but not at all concerned with a few minutes over this distance. There is lots of time for things to change!

My world continues in 15 minute increments of Hammer Perpetuem servings. There's never a dull moment, though, as I seem constantly in need of an ice cube to chew on, sunscreen, water to be sprayed on my back, or ice cubes under my hat. My pace is slowing, as expected, and I need to get a few more calories in. I take intermittent bites of pear, which is divine. Darkness comes and Karen and Dan take off for the motel in Jindabyne where they can get petrol and a precious 3 hours of sleep. In the care of Rolf and JC, I roll into CP 4, the village of Dalgety (146k), at 9.57PM. The race officials joked that I made it just in time for last call at the pub! No stopping for me; my crew checks me in as usual as I continue out the other side of town, over the Snowy River bridge.

There's a fairly ridiculous climb from the 160k mark to 165k. I grab my poles again and hammer up. I feel great here. It's dark and I'm finally cooling off. I love the big hills. I power comfortably past a few runners. At the top, I lament it being over. A crew member, waiting for his runner, stands there in the dark and says encouragingly, "Well, at least that's over!" I reply, "No, I loved it! That was the best part of the race for the last 10 hours!"

And then things start to go wrong. I'm moving inefficiently. My right leg isn't rotating properly through the hip. Rolf notices and demonstrates to me how I look - sort of a Charlie Chaplin penguin waddle. We both know I can't run another 100 km like that - something else will blow. I stop and try to stretch - to figure out what's wrong. It's mainly the right knee. I just can't bend it fully without severe sharp pain. Same problem as before and everything is just tightening around the dysfunction. I attempt a self-massage.

I stop again to put more clothes on for the night, which takes some coordination between two of us, over big  shoes and stiff legs. It feels like forever to get down the last 5k section into Jindabyne, though it's downhill. Two crew in a truck see me and stop to ask if I'm okay. That unnerves me a bit, as I think my form must not be good if they're asking! Maybe they're just being nice and asking everyone they pass. CP 5, Jindabyne, is attained at 3:36 am. That's 183k done and 57k to go.

It's fairly flat to 190k and then a climb to the summit. My pace drops. I can't hold the necessary tempo. I'm like a piston working in a worn out cylinder - there's all kinds of slop, it's inefficient, and I'm firing at the wrong times. I burn more gas than necessary.

I start to fight fuel. The calories are needed and bring instant increased energy, but I struggle to get them in. 24 hours of mouth breathing has left me with a burnt, dry mouth. I can't eat anything solid for variety, as it just sits in a gummy paste in my mouth. I want pear, but there is no more. Rolf finds my second precious organic banana at the bottom of the icy esky. It's brown. I force it in, telling myself it's custard instead (as there's no way a banana tastes like that!). The crew offer me everything from their own fuel stashes. The Hammer gels go down best, but I only brought a few as emergency backup. They're quickly gone.

The attempt on the female course record is gone. I continue to push as hard as I can, nevertheless. I create a new A goal - sub 32hrs. I will still try to be the fastest Australian woman to run from the ocean to the summit (Julia is Swiss). I also try to hold my relative position - to not lose time to the women behind me, allowing them to close the gap at all.

Summit cairn
At the Pass I switch into my Inov-8 Roclites - a beefier shoe for the rocky summit trail and with more room in the toe box, since they are 1.5 sizes bigger than normal for me. It's a small comfort. Karen carries my pack with mandatory gear on her front, her own pack on her back. The whole team does the 18k summit section together. We go over the Snowy River again, pass Seaman's Hut and Rawson's Pass and do a short snow traverse. The traverse takes me back to my running roots with the Canadian Trailtrash group.

As we approach the top, I encourage the team to run ahead and enjoy the views and get their photos, as I won't linger. But they don't go more than a few steps ahead of me. More than 30 hours in, they are still 100% focused on my race, even though it's the first time to Kosci for all of them. I am in 4th place overall. On the descent to the finish line, I am frustrated with my inability to open up and run properly and I get passed by two blokes. One of them actually beats me to the finish line by 20 minutes, that's how slow my pace was coming down.

With 50 metres to go, I let out my instinctive battle cry and all body pains are drowned by one last flood of adrenaline and opiates. I sprint across the line, face grimacing, mentally giving the course a "Ha! I beat you!" I am happy to sit at the finish and cheer more people coming in, as well as those heading to the summit. My crew give me a few minutes, but they are beat and ask to go. They need real food and real rest. Rolf and Dan, who stayed up all night, pass out fully clothed on their beds before 7:30pm. I try to eat, but can't all day. I get my Recoverite in and sip water and weak peppermint tea.

Sunday trip to Thredbo for our own crew bobsled race!
By Garmin, it was 241k, +5423mtrs and -3597 mtrs. Finish time, at 31:49:21, was the fastest Australian female time by about 25 minutes. Julia's course record fell far from my grasp though, and I'll leave it to another AUS woman to bring the record back to our soil. At this point, I don't expect to go back to C2K next year, as there are just too many races to do and too much recovery time necessary between such major events.

The damage done? An amazingly bad blister over my middle toe - something I've never had, and which I can only think came from sand rubbing on the top of the toe from the start line. That nail will leave me. My lips are so chapped that 3 days post-race they stuck shut during the night and I had to tear them apart in the morning. The medial knee pain is slowly resolving, though I am still walking with a slight limp, as I avoid bending the knee much. My resting heart rate has come down from 59 post-race to 46 three days later to sub-40 last night. That's great, as my recovery from the Sri Chinmoy 24hr took weeks. But I'm in no way planning a run yet! I feel a bit fragile still and jet lagged. Sleep is restless, as when I shift, my knee hurts and wakes me. Plus I am having C2K dreams, recalculating splits and running the last section of the race over and over in my head. I am devouring fruit and salad and Udo's Oil. I lost 2kg of fat during the event so look a bit gaunt. But correcting that part will be easy! :)

In all, an amazing 29 of the 34 starters finished the race, with the last runner coming in just 5 minutes before the 46 hour cut-off. As I drove down the hill towards Jindabyne, I passed runner after runner and their crews, tackling a full second day in the heat. The finish line didn't make me want to cry, but seeing the determination and strength of these individuals did. I believe Banjo Paterson's poem, The Man From Snowy River, reflects those characteristics. No wonder we earn an Akubra hat for finishing.

"He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko's side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse's hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Going Up?

Coast to Kosci. 240km. Up. But not straight up. Up and down and up some more and down and up some more...and a downhill finish :)

Live feed should be here: http://www.coast2kosci.com/live.php

Race start is Friday 5.30 am NSW time. But don't worry if you're not able to check in right away. You should have a good 30 hours to check in on my progress!

Thanks to my brilliant sport massage therapist, Nathan Doig, who suggested a mountain theme for my toes, which led me to create a replica of the C2K logo! I know they won't sue me for improper use of trademark or anything because you wouldn't even know what it was supposed to be unless I told you ;)

This is a complicated race. Much more complicated than I thought on registering. All I had to do is run in a relatively straight line on a road to the top of the mountain....

Well, I have four people coming to crew for me - that's 4 people to get one girl to the top of the mountain! I am obviously high maintenance ;) But seriously, it was recommended to me by someone who crewed this race virtually solo and nearly drove off the road with sleep deprivation at the end. So this way my crew will hopefully get at least a little down time/sleep time and be better able to get me to the top. I've thought many times how fortunate I am after moving here 4 years ago, alone, knowing no one, to being able to have 4 people put up their hands to give up time, energy, and money to help me with this goal. My crew is all kitted up in stink-free Icebreaker wool and Montane shells, mandatory gear for the wild weather they always promise competitors near the summit.

From a distance, with one eye closed, it almost looks like it!
I've been kept going through the training with all the support of my beautiful PHAT running group (Perth Hills And Trails), who were always so good at yelling at me to climb the hills faster. One lovely friend has dropped  more than one food care package at the door, too - mulberries, one day! My physio, Ali Low, used up a box of needles on my legs and Jonathan Langer came to the rescue when my regular chiro had to take sudden leave these past few weeks. I got a brand new tub of Hammer Perpetuem, ready to crack open on race morning and eat my way through! I was so pleased to reconfirm today when I packed the suitcase that it's gluten free, as I've embarked on a GF experiment these past two weeks (and feel fantastic for it, too).

So, I'm off to recce the course for 3 days with most of the crew - driving it in reverse - and then running back up!