The first race in my new home state of Washington is one that nobody seems to have heard of. Taking place in the town of Lynden, just 4 miles south of the Canadian border, even residents of the 12,000 population town had no idea that a race was taking place. While sitting down for a coffee prior to the race the waitress mentioned that she only realised the race (which ran straight past the restaurant) was taking place on her way into work that day, and vaguely recalled the first running of the event last year.
I signed up for the race as it offered a fast and flat course that is rarely available closer to home. I had initially been planning on attempting to break the 35-minute barrier, but the training disruption caused by an intercontinental relocation made that unlikely. After warming up I headed to the start line, noticing one other runner who had done likewise. It was the two of us that stood towards the front of the field as the countdown started.
Setting off from the start I needed to settle down into race pace, but I realised a problem. I had switched my watch from kilometres to miles earlier in the week, but had no idea of my required pace in min/mile. I was at the front of the race, using the first mile to perform some mental arithmetic to calculate what pace I should be running. It turned out I had set off slightly fast on the gentle descent out of town so I eased back as I ran alongside corn fields on the country roads with low-lying fog creating surreal, muted colours.
IMTUF is likely to forever hold its position as my craziest spur-of-the-moment, last-minute race signup.
With the difficulty in securing entry to popular and enduring races these days it is important to plan ahead, and I already have most of my key races for 2016 pencilled in. The problem is that you can’t know whether you will be able to secure entry into the race until much later. I will have my name in the November lottery for next year’s Hardrock 100, but if I miss out again (this will be my 3rd attempt) then it will be necessary to complete another qualifying race prior to next November in order to enter the lottery in 2016 for the race in 2017 (I hope you could follow that).
Only 23 races count as qualifiers for Hardrock, of which 10 are outside the US and one of them is Hardrock itself. Wanting to stick to US options gave me a list of 12 races to consider. Further looking into those races uncovered a number of already sold out options and some that didn’t fit in with other races already planned. I was struggling to find a 2016 race that was still available for entry and fit into my schedule. But why did the race have to be in 2016?
The day after my 15-km road race in Ballarat I woke early for the drive to the top of Mt Macedon for a 30-km trail race. It would be my first back-to-back race weekend since 2013. My legs felt strong after the first race so I decided that I would still run a firm (but not fast) race at Macedon.
Wet weather and a low single-digit temperature (Celsius) greeted me for the race start, which is at almost the highest point on the course. Obviously that meant that the race would finish with an uphill.
My watch refused to start and after playing around with it for a few hundred metres of running on technical trail I decided to give up on it before my lack of focus caused a fall, which some people consider worse than a run not showing up on Strava. After traversing around the mountain for the first few kilometres with just a slight drop in elevation we climbed to the top of Camel’s Hump, the highest point on the course. I ran the entire way up and then gazed out from the platform at the top to see nothing but mist in the miserable conditions.
I turned up for the Athletics Victoria 15 km at Lake Wendouree in Ballarat (90 minutes outside Melbourne) certain that I would record a best time over the distance. That certainty was heavily related to the fact that I had never raced 15 km, and had therefore never recorded a time.
It is a race in which a graph of my pacing really does tell the whole story.
Taking place on a 6 km circuit around the lake, the race started with 1.5 km in an anti-clockwise direction before turning around (the sudden dip in the graph), returning back to the start/finish area and then completing two complete clockwise circuits. Still working towards peak fitness I started at a slightly conservative pace, thinking that I would speed up somewhere between halfway and the 10-km mark.
After inconsistent pacing in traffic for the first 3 km (the many ups and downs on the left) I was able to settle into a rhythm. Heading away from the start/finish area we were pushed along by a tailwind (my pace increased to follow the dotted white line of my average), so that on the return journey along the opposite shore of the lake the headwind slowed many of the runners down. I only slowed down slightly (dropping just below my average once more), starting to consistently pass runners.
Continuing my slightly disordered race reporting of late, this is a report of a race from mid-April. Having rediscovered enjoyment in my running of late, and with it satisfaction in reflecting and blogging about the pursuit, I think I should now be able to return to orderly journalistic endeavours.
After deciding that I would not race the mountainous 75 km Ultra SkyMarathon at Mount Buffalo, with the 100-km TNF100 following just a month later, my race-day mantra was “hold back”.
Prior to the race I had a chat with Landie Greyling (who would win the women’s race), having caught up with her for a run in South Africa just a couple of months earlier. I mentioned that I was planning to take it easy, so she suggested that we could run together as she would also take it easy. We were definitely using different relative levels of easiness on this occasion, so perhaps I should have said that I was planning to take it extremely easy.
The race starts with two steep early climbs, so following my race mantra I walked every single step. On the gradual ascent I had dubbed “climb 2.5” I allowed myself to use a run/walk strategy before cruising down the hill into the aid station at the bottom of the long climb up Mount Buffalo. I ran some of the gentle sections of ascent, walked the rest, and by the time I approached the top of the mountain I was feeling extremely good. After a loop around the top I started the long descent, returning back along the exact same route.
Still feeling strong and knowing that I could easily fly down the hill I repeated my mantra frequently and held back on the pace until the last couple of kilometres, when I finally let myself pick up some speed. I returned to my run/walk strategy for the reverse direction of “climb 2.5”. The second-last climb on the return starts with a seemingly vertical wall, but it was the length of the climb remaining that seemed never-ending as I had miscalculated the ascent and kept expecting it to finish based on the readings from my watch. When I finally reached the top I lay down and stretched out my back on a picnic table, before taking in the view and then commencing on my journey.
After losing some of the motivation required to maintain the running volume for ultras, I decided that I needed a bit of a change. Therefore I signed up for the Athletics Victoria winter XCR season, which is comprised of a combination of cross country and short road races. I will start the season slightly out of shape and without any training towards shorter distances, but will now focus my winter training to set new fastest times on shorter distances I have never (or rarely) raced before.
My previous cross country race took place while I was in primary school, with a distance of 3 km. Strangely I ran a loop of the park where that race was held just yesterday.
My first XCR race took place at Lardner Park, offering two 4-km cross country loops with a number of ditches and a fence jump. Despite being an off-road event the vibe was very different to the trail races I am now used to. In trail races runners will normally congratulate someone overtaking them. In contrast I noted how aggressive other runners were when overtaking or turning corners.
I arrived in the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba feeling underprepared for a 100 km race. Therefore I set out running to feel with no specific target time in mind, but thinking it likely that I would struggle towards the end.
The weather at the start line felt milder than expected and an easy first 4 km of road running provided a good warmup. The race is known for its stairs and we descended the Furber Steps, which we would ascend many hours later to finish the race. At the bottom I followed a conga line of runners as we followed a contour along the base of the cliff, but as we commenced our first stair climb up the Golden Stairs I overtook the runners directly ahead of me and found myself in empty space so that I could set my own pace.
The North Face 100 2015
The North Face 100 2015
The North Face 100 2015
I ran easily past the first checkpoint and arrived at the famous Tarros Ladders. A temporary construction for the race each year replaces the metal spikes that normally allow the descent of this 17-metre cliff, so I queued behind other runners to make my way down. After passing through checkpoint 2 I tackled the steep climb up to Ironpot Ridge and during its short out-and-back section I was able to greet a number of other runners that I knew. Following checkpoint 3 I stepped foot on Six Foot Track – home to the most famous trail marathon in the country – for my first time. A long gradual dirt road climb took me to Nellies Glen, and the stair climb back into Katoomba. I was feeling really strong and overtook many people on the climb, before hitting the tar at the edge of town and continuing to push the pace on my way to checkpoint 4 at the aquatic centre. Mentally I was trying to convince myself that the 57 km loop completed was a great warmup for the trail marathon remaining, once more looping out of Katoomba.
My race along the Hillary Trail in New Zealand took place over 2 months ago, but it took me time to find the motivation to write about it. After a good early-year race at Two Bays, and with some good training in my legs I had arrived expecting to do well. However, in ultra marathons sometimes things don’t go according to plan.
A pre-dawn start provided some great running by headlamp through the forest, and rerouting due to a washed-out trail provided some extremely technical early sections. The first half of the race contains the bulk of the race’s climbing but it also contains some stunning views. The vistas on the climb out of Karekare were amazing and I briefly considered pulling out my camera to snap a picture, but it was tucked away and wrapped in two zip-lock bags, and I was focussed on time. In hindsight I should have stopped to take the photo, as the few minutes wouldn’t have really mattered.
The Hillary – Night running
The Hillary – Coastal Views
By the time I dropped into Piha at the 45 km mark my legs were a lot sorer than I expected. I took off once more but I was starting to struggle and my pace decreased. I started feeling twinges indicating the onset of cramping, and around 63 km into the race I stretched my foot out during a descent only to have my calf cramp. I put down the leg in a way to alleviate the cramping calf and then my quad cramped. I fell to the ground in an agonising cramp that I was unable to stretch out myself.
I arrived at Wilsons Promontory with two key objectives in mind. Firstly, I needed an enjoyable run after having lost some motivation in the two months preceding it. Secondly, it was important that I minimised damage as I had a 100-km race at The North Face 100 only two weeks later.
Wilsons Prom is one of the favourite parts of my home state, and an ideal trail running destination, so I expected it to deliver on my first objective. In order to ensure that I didn’t run too hard I had decided that I would stop at the lighthouse (37 km into the run) for a picnic lunch.
Starting in the dark with a road climb to the Telegraph Saddle carpark, I then stepped off the paved surface, and would remain on a combination of trails, beaches and gravel roads for the remainder of the run. I turned off my headlamp not long after starting the amazing descent towards the campsite at Saddle Cove. The beautiful run through temperate rainforest on soft trails in pale light conditions was magical, so despite running slightly faster than intended I was enjoying myself too much to consider slowing down.
As I ascended from the cove I encountered another runner stopped to take a photo, and offered to snap one of him. Soon enough there were four of us standing around like a bunch of trigger-happy tourists. We set off once again discussing that this was a run, not a race.
I continued to the stunning views of Refuge Cove and practiced my sand running with a long stretch along Waterloo Bay. I first glimpsed the lighthouse from a few kilometres away, feeling amazingly fresh and strong, but upon arriving I sat down at a picnic table as planned.
On Saturday I will run my furthest race of the year so far at The North Face 100, in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. In this case the 100 refers to kilometres rather than miles. After this race I will focus on some shorter races during the southern winter.
The competitor briefing proclaims that “this is one of the most amazing and challenging running courses around”. It is well known for containing a significant number of stairs, but with around 4000 metres of climbing I expect it might fall short of being one of the most challenging courses. Hopefully it delivers on some amazing views.