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.
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.
There are many possible ways to celebrate Australia Day. Barbecues and a couple of drinks is very common, and that would follow, but I started the day with a run.
As part of a new series of night trail runs organised by TrailsPlus, the Australia Day Midnight Rambler offered running options from 5 km through to 6 hours. All of the events were based on a 5-km loop, providing a great way to practice trail running at night, which is a very important skill for long-distance races. Opting for the longest option I would set out on January 25th at 23:00 for an hour of running, and then would continue for the first five hours of our national day. The plan wasn’t to run flat out, but to get in a solid six hours of training to end a week that involved good mileage, as well as a new 5 km PB at my local Parkrun.
I set out on the first lap behind a few guys setting the pace up front. Since I wasn’t racing I had decided to run down the batteries already in my headlamp rather than starting with a fresh set, but immediately realised that they were already nearly flat. I pulled out my spare hand torch but generally ran using just the dim light from my headlamp. At the end of the first lap I stopped to replace the batteries before leaving the aid station, now gapped by the runners ahead. I would run almost entirely solo for the remaining 5.5 hours.
I had been hosting friend and fellow runner Tamyka since Friday evening, as she had flown in from Queensland for the long weekend. Our race preparation had involved a few nice runs plus plenty of eating, not all of it ideally suited as pre-race nutrition (including a spicy pizza at lunch). As I thought ahead to the nearing toilet block halfway around lap four I missed sighting a rock and the resulting fall involved some grazing on my right hand and knee. On the following lap I noted the exact rock that had caused my fall, and I glared at it on each subsequent lap.
Since returning to Australia last May I have conducted almost all of my training as solo runs. That has included weeks where every training run has lasted at least 2 hours. It provided plenty of time in my own headspace but had become challenging to stay motivated at times. Having run with a great training group for a couple of years while living in South Africa I have missed the camaraderie (and peer group pressure) that training partners can provide.
Therefore I have started looking for some people to run with in earnest. Last weekend I went out for my first run with the Dandenong Trail Runners, a group of runners who organise regular informal runs in the hilly Dandenong Ranges National Park. Since I generally run in the park at least once a week, and sometimes as often as three times a week, it seemed like a great fit.
A week after my race at Two Bays I joined the group for a “flattish” 20ish km run. A group of 19 people met up in the carpark at the Basin Theatre, and we all set out together. The group would separate on the climbs and then regroup at junctions along the course. A number of people were locals to the area, but there were also others like me who had travelled quite a distance (over 30 km in my case) to be there. At the highest point on the route we stopped for a group photo, which apparently involves a jump that I still need to master. I am easily spotted thanks to the very bright green shirt I was wearing.
Completing my first race of 2015 during the second weekend of the year was always part of my plan. However as mentioned in my pre-race post I had trained for a mountainous race that would play to my strengths. I knew that the largest single climb at Two Bays was less than 300 metres of ascent, and that the total ascent would be considerably less than Bogong to Hotham. The race would be 8 km (and around 3 hours) shorter.
Two Bays – Logo
Two Bays – Course Profile
Standing in the starting chute I learned that we had a few hundred metres before reaching single track, and the conga line that would follow. Therefore, unlike my normally controlled starting pace I took off quickly in order to secure a decent position on the single track, slotting in just within the top 30.
I settled into pace in a line of runners, initially striding along happily but noticing a gradual slowdown. After just over 4 km I made my way past a stream of runners with the repeated chant of “on your right” and found myself with open trail ahead of me. This allowed me to set my own pace without any concern for those runners ahead. Occasionally I would pass, or be passed, by other runners as I focussed on my own run.
My first race for 2015 will be tomorrow (January 11th) at the Two Bays 56 km trail run. I have been preparing for this race for … 1 day.
Bogong to Hotham – Logo
Bogong to Hotham – Course Profile
I was signed up to run Bogong to Hotham on that same day, an iconic mountain run that includes the highest and third highest peaks in Victoria. But earlier in the week weather forecasts started coming in predicting a huge storm that was expected to drop a month’s worth of rain over the state, all within the period of race weekend. On Thursday night we were informed by the race director that there was a risk of the race being cancelled, and it was officially cancelled yesterday. The reason was due to the risk in the crossing of Big River as well as the high likelihood of tree falls due to the combination of bushfire-damaged trees, soft soil and high winds.
Having been up to that area, and knowing the remote nature of many parts of the course I totally respect the decision that was reached by the race director in combination with Parks Victoria. But I had put a lot of effort into training to peak for the race and had already tapered for race day. But luckily there was another race taking part on the same day, in the same state (actually closer to home), and race entries were still open.
Two Bays – Logo
Two Bays – Course Profile
Two Bays follows an out-and-back course along the 28 km Two Bays trail between Cape Shanck and Dromana. Having had no intention of doing the race until a day ago I didn’t know all that much about the race (besides its distance) when I entered my credit card details.
The race website warns of a steep climb rising 1,000 feet over 3 km, but considering Bogong to Hotham starts with a 1,300 metre climb within the first 9 km I am not too worried about that. I can also pack away the mandatory gear (including thermals, map and compass) that I had pulled out, since Two Bays only mandatory gear is 500 ml of fluid-carrying capacity. I guess everything else I need to know I will learn on the day.