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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Kep Ultra 75k: A Dance With Exertion

The Kep Ultra wasn't in my racing diary until about 10 days before the event. My plan after World 24hr was a month of recovery and then rebuilding. But after only running 100k in the mid-April event, I had fresher legs than expected and that bad taste in my mouth that a bad race can leave. It was a quick re-writing of a program to prep for the event!

Fortunately, I was privileged to be able to enter the popular sold-out race, having been a previous 100k event winner. I chose the 75k because I haven't run that option before. I like to do different races - though only 7km of the course is actually different to the 100k course, it would certainly be done at a speedier pace. So that's different, too ;)
Ice possible in Perth?!? Silly car.

It was a great feeling to be excited about and looking forward to an event. I hadn't had that feeling in a while. Though I try to keep those feelings tempered, as too much excitement can mess with my head.

I wrote my splits and nutrition plan gave it to Rolf, my crew. I wrote my affirmations down on paper and read them and thought of them regularly. I painted my toes. I wanted to write my "daring" time goal on them, but debated. Even though no one could see my toes, it would be there. Should I just write something more guaranteed? More safe? I paused with the permanent marker for a few moments. I thought perhaps of writing nothing and just leaving the "DARE" on the left foot. But it's not really daring to not follow through with that right foot, is it? So on it went, "6.30." A stretch, according to the number crunching science I'd done, but one that I could still aim for.
My personal dare. A 6hr30 finish. That would take 43 minutes off the CR.

7 am start. Such a fresh morning that Rolf's vehicle gave him a helpful "ice possible" warning (in Perth, seriously? That car doesn't know where it is!). I headed off with the front of the pack at near a 4.30 pace. As we settled into the first 600 metres and the group spread out further, I counted the blokes making a gap ahead. 12. I wondered how many I'd catch after Wooroloo (43k). In the next km, two more blokes came past. 14. One of the 75k girls ran near me to the first aid station, Clackline, at 19k. We were a close group of about 4 coming in.

Rolf the one-man pit crew was ready. I dropped my pack and gloves and threw on the one he handed me. I called out, "In and out!" to the aid station vollies and was gone. I was on my split time and running solidly but still easy enough (no high heart rate allowed this early in the dance).

It's 24km to the next aid station, Wooroloo. 2 hours. Thus, I had to carry more water, which I instantly felt on my back. I dug into the joy that is a peeled pear, before getting back to the long-burning fuel of Hammer Perpetuem. Rolf was able to pop in along the trail at a few points to take photos, which he couldn't do at aid stations, as they're too quick and all hands are needed to negotiate caps, packs, and such :)

I hit Wooroloo on target. Always hoping I might get to bank a minute (just one measly minute) that could be a cushion near the finish, that minute couldn't be found. I'd wrung out tight splits! Any harder and I'd blow myself up.

Wooroloo was another non-stop transition. 1 hour 41 planned to the next checkpoint, Mt Helena. But the increasing heat of the day meant I needed the same amount of water as last time. There's a long insidious climb from Wooroloo for 6km. In 2012, that's where I passed 3 runners who'd gone out too hard. I caught a few around this area, but they pretty much stayed with me the rest of the race. There were many well-paced people out there.

Until Wooroloo, I really enjoyed the scenery and terrain. Though a fairly flat race (600m in 76k), the low hills still eat you up because you're trying to run fast. After Wooroloo, the track widens and straightens for much of the next 19km to Mt Helena. It's a mentally tough section for me. Having Rolf appear to take photos made it easier to find joy :) The pace and heat made for a delicate focus on my nutrition, as the edge of nausea tried to toe its way in to my party.

All the aid stations were abuzz with spectators and crews. The cheering and encouragement was fantastic. I ran through Mt Helena 4 minutes off pace. Crap. I did my usual, "In and out!" call and one of the aid station crew chased me down because he needed to check a piece of mandatory gear - my mobile phone. I slowed, pulled it out, and held it up. I didn't even register until several hours after finishing and a girl told me it was the funniest sight - a bloke in a huge sombrero sprinting after me down the trail. I hadn't even really noted the sombrero until she said it!
Honky nuts and pea gravel. The unique WA trails.

I knew there was a 3k slight uphill grind in loose pea gravel out of Helena. And it was a grind, yes! It was warm and my legs were cooked. My quads were ready to be done and exerting on the uphill brought my heart rate up quickly. In those 3k, my pace fell 30 seconds off the plan for this 7k section. I wasn't going to make up for all that with the 4k little descent. But I did claw back enough to make it only a 17 second per k net deficit. But now I was 2 more minutes off projections. I had 34 minutes to run 7k of slightly downhill weaving trail. Not gonna happen. But what COULD I do?

Push. Experience from track running with Masters Athletics has really helped me learn how much I can push and how early. I pushed as hard as I could, running that delicate dance of exertion to avoid nausea or bonking. I had to keep the fuel going in, but not too much. I didn't bother looking at my pace for 3k. I knew I was doing my best. Then I looked. 5.14 pace. I was clawing some back! Push. More. Dance with exertion.

1k to go and I ran into a group of 8 out for a relaxing walk on the single track. "Excuse me, racer! Excuse me, sorry, racer!" I darted back and forth like a moth on a light. The last 500 metre climb came and I switched my Garmin to overall time. I watched 6.30.00 tick over. Okay, fine, but what COULD I do?

She wants me to stand still for my medal. I want to not puke.

According to my watch (still waiting for official time), 6.31.22. A 5.05 pace for the last 7k. I also finished 5th overall, as it turns out I had passed several guys at Wooroloo and Mt Helena aid stations without knowing.

Now, known for some crazy recoveries, I'm about to board a plane (short flight) to Indonesia to climb a 3,100 metre volcano. I've been in compression this whole time :) Poles are packed!

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Finally, I have some "daring" adventures in the works. It's taken some soul-searching. Interestingly, the answers often come to me on solo runs, halfway up a brutal climb. Does oxygen deprivation contribute to transcendence? ;)
Mt Solitary, NSW, AUS in the background - a good climb for soul-searching

It's been many months without much in the way of running goals. It was a feeling I wasn't used to. The challenges just kept coming; ever since May 2010 when I started to set myself some daring goals. I might just add "daring for me", though that should be assumed, since this particular blog is mostly all about me ;)

It was a rewarding four years. A good mix of exciting, exhausting, scary, and fun. That's what daring is about. Challenging expectations. Exploring. Defying fear. Questioning reality.

To help other runners with their own "dares," I started a trail running business, Perth Trail Series, in early 2012. Last month, looking to fill the void of daring I was facing, I decided I had to sell PTS to my brilliant assistant. This opened the door to freedom and flexibility in my calendar. I just had to figure out some new dares. We all know (well, if you read my last post you know) that the 2015 World 24hr Championships did not fill my criteria for daring. At this point in my life, eeking out a few more kilometres in a 24 hour race does not create sufficient personal exploration and challenge. Maybe it will again someday.

My upcoming daring adventures might break records, they might not. They might only break a record in my brain - some artificial limiting fear, a "win" in overcoming logistical challenges, weather challenges, distance challenges, training challenges, or the challenge to live more simply and surrounded by nature more often. Here's where I'm headed:

Kep Ultra: 31 May 2015; Western Australia; 76km + 600m

Stirling Range Ridge Top Walk (RTW) loop: June 2015; Western Australia; 46km (+ ~2,000m)

Dolomites Sky Race Vertical Kilometre: 17 July 2015; Canazei, Italy; 2.5km + 1,000m

UTMB training camp (running the race course as a recce over 4 days): 24-28 July 2015

Monte Rosa Walser Trail: 1 August 2015; Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Italy; 50km + 4,000m

Rifugio Guide del Cervino altitude acclimatisation: 24-27 August 2015; Swiss-Italy border; elevation 3480m

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB): 28 August 2015; Chamonix, France; 170km + 10,000m

Canyon de Chelly Ultra: 10 October 2015; Arizona, USA; 55km + 365m

Point to Pinnacle: 15 November 2015: Tasmania, Australia; 21.4km + 1,270m

Yukon Arctic Ultra: 4-12 February 2016; Yukon Territory, Canada; 300 miles pulling a sled. Rolf says this is the sled-dog race where I'm the dog. This race has been on my radar since 2007. In 2013 I wrote off the idea, but the idea won't wear off me!

Bibbulmun self-supported FKT attempt: April-May 2016?
Rim2Rim2Rim Grand Canyon: April-May 2016?
Patagonia fast-packing: April-May 2016?

Teaching myself to build a pole barn on my land, circa 2001

It's your turn. I won't dare you. Dare yourself. Do something audacious. In your own way. You define it and make your dream come true.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fate vs Destiny

Chance has little effect upon the wise man, for his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life - Greek philosopher Epicurus ~300 BCE

Yesterday morning, the day of my eye/nose surgery, a timely blog post appeared in my email inbox. Penned by Karl Hoagland, it was on the topic of fate vs destiny, particularly in relation to ultras. He tried to describe a subtle difference between the two, saying fate is:

...what happens to you. It's the cards you are dealt and the path that circumstances, family expectations and peer pressure send you on. Fate is the route that is well traveled, grooved and most of all - seems safest. But the reality is that the safe path is the most dangerous of all, because it can keep you from living your life to its fullest and happiest potential. Making difficult decisions and choosing the difficult path always entails risk, hard work, embarrassment and pain.... Listen to your gut and your heart when facing the big decisions, and choose your destiny.

The trouble with the article is that he didn't clarify to me how one can choose their destiny (but not their fate), when the definitions of both offer the other as a synonym. Though in common usage, destiny is more often used in a forward-looking context - it's more often used to indicate a future event. A positive future event. Whilst destiny can be interpreted in a "fatalistic" way, that's more so the case for fate. Fate pretty much says what's arisen was predetermined and is thus out of our control. When something bad happens, we tend to say it was "fate." When something good happens, we're more likely to say it was our "destiny." Perhaps this gives us an easy way to cope with the bad things in life ("Well, it wasn't my fault, there was nothing I could do, it was fate.") Yet, we can take all the credit for the good things in life ("It was my destiny to land that job" - implying some kind of inherent giftedness.)

So, going by Karl's article, watery eyes was my fate. It was something that just happened, getting worse and worse over the past two years. It's impacted my running, such that in cool and/or windy weather, tears stream down my face. My eyes get sore from the constant wiping with a cloth and I can't run with any kind of speed and confidence on trails when it happens. Even on cool mornings whilst indoors, my eyes can rain for hours. Blurry vision makes it hard to read the computer screen.

Thirteen months ago I had my first eye surgery - a less invasive (but still under general anaesthetic) attempt to fix my problem. It was five days before the Coburg 6 hr race. It didn't work and we were back to the drawing board. Trying to time such things to work with my training and international travel added to the challenge of making successful eye surgery my "destiny" over a watery eye "fate."

Although I wanted the surgery before World 24hr Championships last month in Italy, I was concerned about it being too close to the race...AND they wanted me to go off my Udo's Oil! (a blood thinner). That wasn't gonna happen in peak training.

UTMB, the one race I'm signed up for this year. Oddly, only my 2nd 100 Miler!
My race calendar currently has a lot of space in it. I'm looking to fill it, but may need a month to see how this surgery pans out. I now have holes drilled through bone to connect my tear ducts to my nose. Bigger gutters! Here's hoping! If nothing else, I will find a new career as a professional mourner or develop my party tricks.

And whilst on the topic of fate vs destiny.... It's time to talk about Worlds. Heavy sigh.

I found Karl's article timely considering my World 24hr flop. I'd like to say "disaster", but I'm trying to stop catastrophising :) given that it's "only a race." It's just that this race included an investment I calculated at 30 hr/wk for training time. Concordantly, I decreased work. Thousands of dollars not earned and thousands of dollars spent on the travel. Favours requested of mates and my partner, all to help me achieve my goal. But there's the rub.

The rub was that the 2015 World 24hr race was not my goal (my "destiny"), but my fate. By virtue of running 238.261km last year, I earned myself a spot on the Australian women's team. And everyone expected me to go. Circumstances, expectations, and pressure. I told everyone I didn't want to go. For eight months I told everyone. Expectations and pressure continued. I waited for the mojo to come. It didn't come easily. But if I was going to go, I was going to do everything in my power to make it worth my while. I researched more 1%'ers to use in training and recovery and wrote myself a minimum 240km plan (an achievable, not pie-in-the-sky plan). There would be a small PB and depending on which ladies toed the line, just possibly a medal. Admittedly, the medal didn't provide me much of a carrot, as most people thought it would. (If medals motivated me, I'd be picking lots of small, obscure races where I could almost guarantee a win.)

Arrival in Torino was good. In my view, the course was an excellent 2km loop (excellent as world champ events go). I was sleeping well (crap bed, but I padded it to mat the springs sticking out). I adjusted time zones quickly. Resting heart rate (HR) was down. I was foam rolling and doing my pre-event runs as normal.

Race day. 10am start. All good. Awesome spring weather. A touch hot mid-afternoon - around 20C - but given I'd just come from summer and many were coming from winter, I figured I had an advantage. A sponge station was available.

My first oddity was 2hrs in. I had a feeling of plugged ears and was running along trying to pop them. I thought, "How odd. We're only at 300m." About 4 hours in, the next odd thing happened, which I didn't associate with the first. I felt a dry, burning, scratchy throat that made me want to nose breathe. It's something I often feel after 20 or more hours or running whilst mouth breathing - not 4 hours. Overall, I still had a jig in my step and did a happy dance for Rolf as I passed the crew area for fuel. After scaring us with terrible tacky music (We Are the Champions, Eye of the Tiger) at the parade, they had quite agreeable modern music going when I ran though the stadium every 11 minutes or so.

Around 7 hours I started to feel a general malaise that I couldn't put my finger on. Rolf recorded a sad face in my program. HR didn't feel high. Nothing "pained" me. I wondered vaguely if it could be heat, so tried sponging more.

Then the lymph nodes in my throat swelled up. It became very hard to swallow. My breathing became laboured in a strange way. It felt like I couldn't get a deep breath. Like I was breathing only into my neck, but the breath wasn't going right down into my lungs. Is that how asthmatics feel? I was at 76km, just above my target for the 240k plan. But I felt like I was starting to work too hard to keep it - too hard for this early in the race - with restricted breath and throat restriction and difficulty swallowing. The shallow breathing must have been reducing oxygen to my muscles, hence the feeling I was working harder.

Much as I dislike taking pills, and felt it unlikely to work in this case, I tried paracetemol for the throat at 7.5hrs. It was a big event with a lot put in by so many people. And a great course in great weather with my best crew! The pills took the worst of the throat pain/swallowing problem for an hour or so. That's it. Then it was back.

At 9 hours, I saw the writing on the wall. At 9hr30, I came in shaking my head in the negative. I felt the great sobs of disappointment rise and I found a nice corner tent wall to have a semi-private moment with. After a talk to the team manager, he asked me if I could still run, but a lesser distance than planned.

At 9.5 hours, I had 101.7km (still just above my 240k pace plan). If I could run 120km in the next 14 hours, just hold a 6 min/k now and drop to a 7 min/k later, the Aussie women's team might still earn a team medal (combined total of three women). I agreed to go back out and try a couple laps with one of the other girls. I couldn't stay with her. She kept dropping me. Two laps (4k) later, at 105.650km, I called it again.

My mystery virus with its swollen glands, sore throat, short breath, and headaches, lasted over a week. Rolf had it, too, only with worse headaches and a sort of vertigo at times. When I second-guess whether I could have run more/better and gave up too soon, I remember the "easy" run I tried to do with mates two days later, where they dropped me running a 6.30min/k pace mainly because I couldn't breathe. Walking up a hill with my mother-in-law, I was more out of breath than her (no offence, as she's a fit swimmer, but hills are my thing!)

But the physical illness turned out to be nothing compared to my "mental" one. In going to World 24s, I had let fate dictate my choice and when the consequences were tough, it hit hard. Coping with the disappointment, both personal and to the team, has been painful. I've had competitions go wrong before. Commonwealth 24hr 2011 I had to stop with what turned out to be anaemia. Lost Soul 100k 2014 I got a cold after international travel. But I coped with those and I think it was because they were targets I had wanted. They were my dreams. I could dust myself off and look at how to fulfil that dream again - or in another way. This time, I had tried to fulfil others' dreams and when it failed, I didn't know how to dust myself off and find another way. I can't see it from their eyes because I'm not them.

I've always said that as long as you can take away some learnings, you've made something positive of an ultra gone wrong. I have three. One is that I have more 1%'ers for training and recovery, including Hammer Race Caps Supreme. Two is that with my dodgy immune system, I will have to start wearing a mask on planes, I expect. Three is that I need to have the courage to make the "destiny" choices. Not everyone will agree or understand. But ultimately, I'm the one living with the consequences. I have to choose my own personal journey. I still hope to inspire others to create, fulfil, and live their own dreams, but it has to be in my own way. I can't inspire from a place that isn't authentic.

I let myself go down the path of World 24 2015, seeing it as the path of least resistance. It turned out to be the opposite!

Fate or destiny, I don't know that I'm much of a believer in either, really. I think I'm more epicurean. In the traditional Greek philosophical sense, not the new-age "gourmand" misinterpretation of the term. The past is a combination of atoms, whether those belonging to beings or weather patterns or rock formations, that interact to create a "now." Then, as I think Epicurus would say, we need to apply our reason to "now" to help engineer the future flow of atoms in a way we'd like. At least some of them :)

Happy atomising!