Thursday, April 11, 2013
Simple. Easy. Get outdoors, take some water, jump in the puddles, smile, laugh, jump over things, climb on things and enjoy the freedom that comes from being in the moment without a care in the world.
(The picture above came from one of the kids that attended the Mountain Sports Junior Trail Clinics I co-hosted with Matt Cooper last weekend!)
The night was perfect for a run. The air had the beginnings of an autumn chill, the milky way above clearly visible without any interference from city lighting, and I was at one of my favourite trails in the Blue Mountains: an undulating fire trail that runs along a narrowing ridgeline, perfect for the faster session I had planned.
I started my run, head torch catching flashes of silver from the small gum trees lining the track. I was enjoying the peace, the quietness under a sky so vivid and clear, and the idea of being utterly by myself on a Sunday night, alone with the other nocturnal animals tending to their night-time business.
It was in this state that I passed a few parked vans. Nothing unusual for this fire trail where backpackers find a quite off-road area to bunk in for the night. The mind is a funny thing though, and the site of these vans started mental sparks. The questions started, the doubt crept in, the fight-or-flight response awakened. Soon I could not enjoy the peace of the darkness; it became a cloak to conceal any potential threat.
I am usually quite comfortable being alone. I drive a station wagon that I have "accessorized" so that I can sleep in the back when travelling or staying in a National Park for some running. I really love my freedom to just get away on a whim. That said, I always make sure that my trusty Swiss Army knife is under my pillow. It was this same Swiss Army knife I was cursing myself for leaving behind. Suddenly my speed session no longer felt like a speed session. My hearing sharpened, any crackle of leaves caused by an innocent wallaby cause a spurt of adrenaline. Before I knew it I was back in my car, and within 3 seconds I had the door unlocked, I was in, doors locked and ignition on.
Like a finely tuned Formula 1 pit stop I was in my car and off.
This whole experience had me reflecting on the ways in which the experience of running can change when the focused is narrowed under a head torch and the peripheries become dark. Why did I feel any more unsafe on the trail than when the sun was out shining? Would it have been different had I been a man? Rationally I knew that probability was on my side and that there was no reason for the emotional over reaction I was having, but I just could not shake my feelings of hyper-vigilance. Speaking to friends afterwards about the experience, many questioned the fact that I was running alone as a woman. This excerpt from a similarly themed blog really sums up my response:
Why is it, I wondered, that as a woman jogging alone at night, it is my responsibility to bring my phone and my dog, check over my shoulder regularly, and plan my route based on street lamps, and yet, young men feel no responsibility for not harassing me or behaving civilly?
If something had happened to me during my run – if I had been attacked – and the incident made the paper, do you think most people reading the story would have first thought, “Why do those men behave that way?” Or would their first thought have been, “Why was that woman running alone at night?”
Saturday, March 23, 2013
1 week ago I ran my personal best distance-wise for almost a year. It wasn't my fastest time by a long shot, but given the terrain, the absolute remoteness and self-reliance expected, and where I was at with my body and on-going achilles niggle, I was stoked just to make it back to the finish line. Even better, I felt strong, happy, and as if I could've run a little further.
It's an old story. The one of injury. Every runner will experience it at some stage, whether it's a toenail that falls off, a scratch or scrape, or something more insidious like an ITB inflammation or the dreaded achilles tendonopathy. When injury happens to you as a runner though, the implications become personal. No longer are you able to enjoy what gave you the most pleasure, that sense of freedom not found elsewhere. I would also argue that it is hard for non-runners to understand the absense of running in one's life.
For the last 3 months I have been carefully managing this niggle. Some days are great and I can run carefree, other days a simple 40min run at an easy pace really aggravates the injury. There is no rhyme or reason, just management and celebration after every run. Luckily, hiking hills and downhill running didn't seem to cause any problems, and so this is where I have focused my efforts! Going into this race I was really nervous of my own capabilities: the longest training run I had completed was 34km, so 100km seemed like a very long distance all of a sudden!
The Alpine Challenge 100km was a race I really wanted to do. I really wanted to run in the Australian Alps, to run in our own unique Alpine landscape. And it was an amazing journey. For the first 50km I was mostly running with a few friends, enjoying the scenery and being careful with my achilles. For the second 50km I was alone, surrounded by true mountain weather - mist, rain, passing sunshine, and feeling stronger as I got closer to the finish.
The team (myself, Nick, my sister Thea, and my brother Werner) at the Tawonga Gap lookout before race day:
Race morning, 4:15am, with Matt Cooper, feeling pretty surreal in the dark:
Waiting at the start:
The Victorian Alps waking up, a beautiful morning for running (photo: Werner)
Arriving on the summit of Mt Bogong. 35km and 6 hours later.. (Photos: Werner):
Quick check-in with my crew - here with my lovely sister Thea:
Heading off from the second checkpoint at Langford's Gap (at 63km). By now the weather had changed and it was cold and rainy (Photos: Werner):
Race presentation at Bogong Jacks (Photo: Werner)
With Matt Cooper (He set a new course record for the men in the 100km, and won outright in 12:31hr):
Arriving at the finish, with only a handful of people - the Alpine Search and Rescue representative, my crew, and Matt Cooper`s parents, I realised that in the end finishing your own personal journey is what matters.
I`m ever grateful to my amazing support crew: my brother, sister, and sister`s boyfriend. Thanks also to Salomon and Suunto Australia - your support of the sport is incredible.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
The Australian Alps in the distance through layers of mist and cloud:
The Australian Alps as seen on a beautiful twilight evening (Mt Bogong is on the right in the distance):
4 sleeps to go. 800km to drive to reach the race start. Bags to pack, gear to prepare, maps to study. On Saturday I'll be lining up with friends and my Salomon team mate Matt Cooper to run the Alpine Challenge, an event of various distances through the Australian Alps. While some runners will be competing in the full 100miles, I'm facing 100km and ~4900m+.
The event is tough. Maybe the toughest Australia has to offer. Not only are the trails very remote, the checkpoints are scant and most only accessible on foot after 4+ km of hiking. So, for much of the race I will need to be self supported, carrying enough food for 60km, grabbing water at streams and river crossings, and ensuring that my mandatory gear works as we will be running in conditions forecasted to range from sun to snow showers!
I have had an annoying lead up to the race, with my preparations having been constrained by an Achilles injury that flared up here and there. Interestingly, I have been able to enjoy as many hill sessions as I want, but on the flatter trails the tendon has often been inflamed and tender following a run. With this in mind, I just feel lucky that I can run, and that I have been able to continue training.
I am looking forward to seeing old friends come the weekend, and to share the journey with my amazing crew: My brother, sister and her partner. You guys rock!
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Only 2 weeks ago I was fortunate enough to join Matt Cooper from Ultra Made Coaching to host a "Mountain Ultra Race Ready" training camp. We had decided to approach the camp the way we would our own mountain specific training, with a focus on climbing and descending technique, lightness, and breathing! In between we just wanted to relax and enjoy Bright, a picturesque village at the foothills of the Australian Alps that we were using as our camp base.
I once again packed my trusty '94 Ford Fairmont with the essentials of any running road trip for my 800km journey south to Victoria - sleeping bag, cannister of water, my ever-faithful gas stove, plunger and coffee.
My faithful companion at a quiet spot I found to sleep the night on the trip down to Bright:
After a quick check-in of 15 very keen runners, many who had already been to previous Ultra Made camps, it was time to hit our first run as the afternoon cooled and the light started to glow twilight colours. Our first run was up a steep fire trail to Clear Spot, then across a ridgeline to Mystic Mt, before a lovely descent down switch-backing single track trail. It was a good start to the camp, with all the runners looking super light, tall and relaxed as they tackled the 1000m climb in 4km.
Arriving at the top of Clear Spot, Australian Alps in the distance (photo courtesy of Simon Ferraro):
Myself and Jo on the summit of Clear Spot:
NOTE: We were both loving the new Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab Belt. I found it super handy to tuck in a camera, some water, and a bar while still feeling light on the hills.
The mountain runners standing tall on Clear Spot's summit, a gorgeous Australian sky behind them:
The trail running along the ridge to Mystic Mt. was like an alley of gum trees begging to be run:
Saturday saw the runners waking up with the dawn and running back out of Bright and to another peak. This time we were going to run some reps up Apex Mt, a smaller but just as challenging climb. Again, we were working on our ability to feel light and relaxed while climbing steep terrain, and then to have a fast, flying descent.
Myself running up Apex Mt (photo courtesy of Marty from Team Coops):
After our morning run we jumped straight into the river running through Bright to cool off (and forgo a shower!) before heading to breakfast. This is where the routine became lazy! Coffees were drunk at the local, Cafe Velo, naps were taken, and dream races were shared. After lunch all the runners regrouped in the shade for a session on breathing technique and mind-body awareness. Diaphragms were worked, abdominal muscles discovered, and cells recharged and oxygenated!
Myself talking the runners through one of the breathing exercises (photo courtesy of Simon Ferraro):
On Sunday, our last run was on the Mt Buffalo plateau. Most of the runners had never explored this amazing alpine area before, and were truly taken away by the scenery. As we ascended out of the tree line the Australian Alps in all their glory stretched before us, peaking out through a carpet of mist. We felt pretty lucky to be privy to those sights. All the runners put in to practice the last 2 days of learning and had a solid morning of exploring on the plateau.
Ewan climbing up the granite of Mt Buffalo:
Once again, it was a beautiful weekend away with a group that soon became fast friends, joined by their passion for mountains, running, and good coffee.
Thanks to Matt Cooper for being so giving with your coaching, and to Team Coops for the unconditional support out on the trails!
Stay tuned for more running adventures and training camps to come this year!
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
The last 2 weeks I have been recovering from the most infuriating injury - a severe case of "gravel rash" following a lapse in concentration while out on a late afternoon run. My mind wandered, I was thinking about what to cook for dinner, and suddenly I caught my foot and tripped. My hands flew out and the next thing I knew, I had a huge hole in my palm thanks to a large piece of gravel that had embedded itself under the skin, and 45 minutes of running to get back to my car!
What proceeded was a night in the Emergency Department, antibiotics, a tetanus injection, severe pain as the piece of gravel was dug out, 4 days off from work, and hand therapy. I also had to explain to anyone who asked "well, I was out running..." and then listen to several jokes along the lines of "exercise can kill!"
It made me think of the "punishment" we put our bodies through by engaging in a sport that takes us off-road and onto more uncertain terrain. I often come home with scratches and cuts on my legs from running through uncleared trail, bruises from a fall, leech bites, damaged toe nails, and chafe. Nevertheless most runners would not give up the joy of a good run out on the trails just to avoid these injuries. I wouldn't. And as I learnt in the last 2 weeks of rehab, while a hand injury may prevent you from working, it doesn't stop you from running!
X-Rays showing the piece of gravel stuck deep in my palm:
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Race morning started with the Delatite River in my ears, the sun yet to reach into the deep valley where I was camped out at the start of the race.
After 2 days of training in the Australian Alps area, I wanted to finish with what must be one of the most scenic race courses in Australia. The La Sportiva Mt Buller Sky Run is put on by Running Wild in Victoria, and has a non-nonsense Race Director that prizes the runners' experience above all else. This makes for a fantastic day out in the mountains and on the trails.
The start was in Merrijig, at the trailhead to the Klinsporn (not King's porn) trail. The climb is immediate, but unlike some of the other trails in the area, this one is quite gentle and slowly winds it way up to the summit of Mt Buller.
Once above the tree line the views are never ending, the landscape incredible:
No need to rush when on the summit of Mt Buller:
From the Mt Buller Summit, the trail runs through the village and onto a trail that traverses across the saddle to Mt Stirling. The trail was dusty, rocky, and quite steep in sections, requiring good footwork and a large amount of guts and balls to let it rip downhill.
Short climb back up to Mt Stirling Summit:
Mt Stirling Summit:
Looking across to Mt Buller, the ski runs visible down its side:
Trail winding beneath skeleton gums:
For the 36km distance, the runners headed down the Big River Spur for 15km of downhill. By now I was so grateful that my legs were still working, still moving and enjoying the downhill. I was able to lengthen the stride a little and just enjoy the changing scenery brought by the drop in elevation.
The trail down crosses the Delatite River 15 times across beautiful bridges made from old trees. With the last crossing done, I arrived back at the start to a finish line complete with home made baked goodies and nutritious soup, and old and new friends to catch up with! I was pretty happy with a finish time of 4:06 and 1st female in the 36km distance. Congratulations as well to Salomon Australia teamate Mick Donges who set a new record in the 45km distance!
Thanks to Simon Ferraro for allowing me to use his pics for the blog!