Saturday, March 23, 2013

The long journey back at the Alpine Challenge 100km

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):

Tawonga Hut at 78km -  I had a quick check-in with my crew before the final leg of the race (Photo: 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

Alpine Challenge 100km Countdown

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

Mountain Ultras - Race Ready Training Camp

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!