Saturday, April 19, 2014

Stampeded!

I’ve been chipping away at this race report for a week or so, umming and ahhing about the content. I’m sure no one needs to hear again how tough the events over this weekend were. So from the beginning, I just want to congratulate each and every participant who had a crack at this race. There doesn’t get much tougher in Australia, simple as that. 

I was honoured to be a Race Ambassador in the event’s inaugural year. It was a role I love, and despite my big 'A' race for the first half of the year being Western States, I was very keen to put in a strong effort and be the best Ambassador I could be for Sean and Mel who have put their hearts, much time and many trips from the Blue Mts to Bright and back into the organisation.

It’s a real sign of the growing development of trail running in this country that Australia was able to host a truly epic SkyRunning event. There are only a few places in Australia that could host such a race with its specific requirements, and there is no better place than Bright. Beautiful, picturesque and pleasant; it has the right feel to lure anybody. Put on a running event and it’s a sure thing to be a winner.

For me, after Tarawera, I was keen to keep the gradual build up going. Whilst being a little disappointed with the result there, I knew that it was probably a pretty true indication of where I was in my journey to Western States. I’ve deliberately held back starting my big volume block until later than usual this year as I’m trying to time my peak period much more carefully this year and get to the big one in top shape.

But Buffalo was also an important race along the way. I’ve been gradually increasing my strength and hill work over the last month, and was confident I could put in a strong performance. I also knew in the back of my mind that this is the type of race where anything and everything could go wrong; but my goal was simple, to put in sustained effort, run to my strengths and gain feedback on some weaknesses to work on in training (and I discovered a few!)

Race eve saw me join the other Race Ambassadors; Anna Frost, Grant Guise, Dekota Jones, Reece Ruland and Beth Cardelli on stage for a light hearted talk hosted by Marcus Warner, president of the Australia/NZ SkyRunning Association. It was great to see so many other participants there smiling and sharing the experience. Sean Greenhill introduced the forum and the big guy stood ominously under the elevation profile of the Stampede proud in the knowledge that there would be no tougher challenge ever than his creation for many of the people in the room and soon there would be grimaces replacing those smiles!

Pre Race Forum
As Sean stood there, resplendent in his shiny Western States buckle, I took a minute to remind myself that tomorrow’s race was a significant moment in the journey of Australian trail running and we were all part of a little bit of making history.

I had a good dinner of polenta and lamb cutlets and slept well the night before in the very comfortable room at CafĂ© Velo. I awoke early and had a big breakfast at 4:30am and got dressed in my racing kit before lying down again for a little while. Soon, it was time to move to the start and I walked down with Wes and Kellie Gibson to the banks of the Ovens River. The vibe was electric at the start and I shook hands with many friends, the type of handshake that was quietly saying ‘we are going to go through hell today, I hope to see you at the finish’!

Before long the cowbell was rung and we were off, through Bright and towards Mystic Mountain. I settled into the lead pack and the pace was very cruisy. Leading them out, no one was keen to follow me down the wrong way which I attempted just before the first single track on the climb to Huggin’s Lookout. Thankfully Mick Donges took the tour guide role upon his shoulders from here and I was confident that he out of everyone would know the way! The congo line of runners running up to the lookout was a brilliant light show; at one point on the switchbacks I looked back down the trail and just saw a snaking line of glowing headlamps. Brilliant!

Once we hit the mountain bike trails leading up to the summit of Mystic Mountain, the field spread a little thinner and I was running well with the Kokoda Spirit team; Caine Warburton, Moritz auf der Heide and Ben Duffus (who seemed to be all on a similar race strategy), Mick, Blake Hose, Grant and Andrew Tuckey. As soon as we summited Mystic together, off shot the Kokoda boys and I thought that it was either a pretty gutsy move to lead out at that pace or they had no idea what was coming. For me the racing wasn’t going to start until the end of the loop on Buffalo on the return journey. My tactic was pretty much harm minimisation until then and I wasn’t keen to go with them this early.

Heading down the Mystic descent, I thought how lucky we were to have had a bit of rain in the past few days which softened up this mad drop down to the gully below. During the SkyCamp, the course was dry and this descent was very very treacherous; slippy and loose. The rain had made the earth more penetrable and the lugs on my X Talons 190s were eating up this stuff. This is the type of foundations that Inov-8 shoes were built on!

Summiting Clear Spot with the sissy sticks!
What acracking morning we had to!
Photo courtesy of Dan Bleakman from Ultra168
I followed Blake down and was impressed with his technical descending skills; this guy is no doubt a superstar of the future. He looked so comfortable throwing himself down and can climb like a demon too. Once at the bottom in the gully I went about getting my poles out of my kit for the Clear Spot climb. While doing this, Clarke McClymont appeared with Andrew, Mick and Grant and we got stuck into the climb together. My plan was to get to the top feeling like I’ve done a good climb but not busted. I managed to stick with Clarke and Tucks most of the way. Clarkey was using his poles to hurl himself up the hill; much more return from them that I was getting! Meanwhile around half way up Dekota Jones cruised by and went after the Kokoda boys. He seemingly wasn’t even working!

I summited Clear Spot well and felt like a job well done; I’d slipped slightly off the back of Clarke, Tucks, Grant and Mick but that was OK, hiking is definitely not a strength of mine but I wasn’t too far from the pack and now we had a big downhill. Giddyup!

Not quite. Stupidly, I’d neglected to think about how to stow the poles. So here I was belting down the hill, trying to keep my eyes on the trail to avoid going arse over and trying to jam these poles back into my pack and it just wasn’t happening for me. Half way down, I though I had it and was just about to clip the pack back up and get on with the descent properly until I dropped my bag and whooshka, worst case scenario time, out spilt all the mandatory gear and my bladder etc! Here I was losing time on a section that I should be gaining time on. Then of course, trying to play catch up I picked up all the stuff and kept running down shoving it all back in which led to me missing a turn and running about 200m down the wrong road…

Argghhh!! Eventually I got my pack sorted, turned around and retraced my steps, poor Andy Lee had followed me down the wrong turn too and I was very apologetic. In hindsight I could have avoided this whole mini debacle by stopping on the summit of Clear Spot and taking 20 seconds or so to do it there. Eventually we made it to Warner’s Wall and I attacked it vicously, hurtling down, the X Talons gripping the soft soil beautifully. I managed to catch Clarke by the bottom and hit the road section to Buckland Rd full of running.

I got to the Buckland Rd aid station a little behind where I wanted to be and resolved to hit Keatings Ridge a little stronger than I had planned to try and bridge the gap a little. The Keatings climb is my type of climb, I can do that sort of thing all day and night; and once at the summit threw myself down the long gradual descent to Eurobin Ck. I hadn’t seen anyone on this leg at all except the lovely Anna Frost who was out forerunning the course. She was as joyful as ever and gave me some good encouragement, telling me that a couple of the front runners were working way too hard and that I looked comfortable in comparison.

I emerged out of the bush and I hit the short downhill road section leading to the checkpoint well and caught a glimpse of Tucks, Mick and Guisey altogether on the road. By the time we got to the Checkpoint we basically all came in as a bunch. Nadine had all my stuff ready to go, I restocked water and Hammer Perpetuem, dumped my poles as per the plan and left quick smart with Tucks just behind me.

The Big Walk climb I knew was a crucial uphill and my plan was to get to the top feeling like I had worked, but not to the point of exhaustion or ever going over that threshold line. So I dug in, just small little grinding strides. By the first road crossing I’d almost caught Tucks (who had gotten ahead of me), Grant and Mick who were working together. Just before the second road crossing I had joined the group and we enjoyed each other’s company chatting away. I hadn’t realised at the time but all of us being over 30 had inadvertently started the ‘old man train’ as it was later to be dubbed. With 20 somethings Dekota, Blake, Ben, Caine and Moritz out in front it was becoming quite a battle of the age brackets!

Unfortunately at the next road crossing, Mick slipped back and I was later to learn was hurting quite badly from back issues so it was left to Tucks, Grant and I to dig in. We ran a lot of the climb together. I took a bit of a spill on the granite rock slabs, thinking the rock was much grippier than it ended up being, and this was a little reminder to take care of myself; there was a long way to go. A couple of km from the top Grant and Tucks pulled away and I was left to summit solo, which was good in a way as I didn’t want to get stuck running at their pace; they were both in fine form and climbing very well. It was great to see Grant especially at the top of his game; he had obviously aimed up for this race and talking to him he told me this was the best form he had been in in a long time. It was showing!

I was greeted with cowbells and claps at the top of Buffalo and ran through the aid station, deciding to restock on the return before the descent. The Underground River and Chalwell’s Gallery loop is a deceiving little loop, full of little up and down pinches and some of the stairs were now beginning to hurt a little and forced me to a hike. Just before finishing the Underground River trail section of the loop, Dekota came easing by on his way back and man did he look good! Blake wasn’t too far back either and had his race face on. Then shortly afterwards Ben Duffus came along. Wow this is definitely the next generation of ultra runners right there! They’d taken on Buffalo hard and with a pretty damn good prize for first Australian home it was game on it seemed!

Enjoying the Buffalo descent.
Photo courtesy Ian Hoad
I didn’t see anyone else before I started the Chalwell’s Loop and given that I’d lost around 3 minutes stuffing around down Clear Spot I was happy were I was positioned. The race definitely would start for me on the Buffalo descent, where I could run to my strengths a little more. On the return back to the Chalet, I loved seeing the other runners come up the trial. Near the entrance to the Gallery Loop, I saw Clarke who was just starting the loop, then a little back were the Lees (Andy and Mark), Wes and many others. We high fived and yelled words of encouragement to each other. There was a lot of camaraderie out there!

At the Chalet, I restocked my supplies and caught up to speed with Nadine about how the race was panning out in front. It was a little disappointing to see Moritz there having pulled from the race with ITB issues. He had run a brilliant Tarawera and I was keen to see what he could do on this type of course. I kissed Nadine goodbye and I hit the descent hard, resolute on catching Tucks and Guisey. I was told the gap was 4 minutes and I knew I could bridge that by the bottom. I ran hard all the way too, stretching out on the second half of the descent, throwing a bit of caution to the wind and no doubt hurting my quads in the process. I loved greeting all the runners coming up the climb and everyone was so courteous, moving to the side of the trail and giving room. I saw so many friends; some I’d met at the SkyCamp and others back from home or elsewhere, but they all so determined to get to the top. This was a real highlight of the race for me.

Back down at Eurobin Ck checkpiont, Nadine had mentioned that I was now only around a minute or two behind Tucks and Grant with Caine not too far in front but the others were ‘miles ahead’! I restocked on Hammer Gels and Perpetuem and Nadine asked if I wanted my poles. Having the earlier experience of trying to get them back in my pack in the back of my mind, I stupidly I said no. Leaving the checkpoint, I got stuck into the road section, wishing all the juniors on their road bikes who were participating in their National Champs the best of luck and it was good to see the a connection happening between sportspeople from different disciplines, albeit temporarily before I turned left to hit the trails. About a third of the way up Keatings, Brick and Gretal who were sweeping the race came by and I asked them how far Tucks and Guisey were and they said ‘just ahead’. There just happened to be a nice straight section of trail just then and I finally got a glimpse of them, surprisingly walking up the gradual ascent. I thought that finally some reward for hard work!

The Old man Train chugs towards Buckland!
So I got stuck in and slowly and surely reeled them in and by the very top of the ridge had caught them and once again the old man train was back rolling on. We descended Keatings well, I was keen to pull away from them to give me some breathing space but they both dug in and we hit the road to the Buckland aid station working well together. We got to see, on a long stretch of road, Caine running ahead and we estimated the gap was 3 minutes. The old man train made a pact to dig in and go after him!

It was at the this checkpoint that I made a big mistake, taking on too many cups of coke, and in hindsight I would have been much better off just running through there and not stopping. Immediately after drinking them, I began to get some stomach issues and knew I had taken on too many calories too quickly and I needed to back the pace off. Nadine was on the douche grade road section leading up to Warners Wall and I told her it was going to be a bit of a struggle now to hold onto Tucks and Grant who had already started to slip away a bit.

And Warner’s Wall sucked hard. Not long into the climb I came across Ben Duffus, laying flat in the middle of the trail motionless. I did have a moment of thinking the worst but this was put to rest when he was able to tell me that he had called for assistance and it was on it’s way. Later I was to hear his full story but it’s best to read his own open and honest account here.

About half way up the Wall of Death, all the Coke and banana I’d had at Eurobin came up and I couldn’t believe I’d made such a stupid mistake with my nutrition. I needed to press the reset button, give up on staying with Tucks and Grant and just get back to basics; water and Hammer Perpetuem as per the race plan. I marched on. I didn’t realise how long this climb was and every time I attempted to break into a run it was only short lived before my heart rate told me that I’d be better served power hiking this! It seemed like forever but finally I got to the top of Clear Spot to be told that Tucks and Guisey had opened up the gap to half an hour which really didn’t surprise me at all; I just felt so sluggish on that climb. I descended Clear Spot cautiously; my quads were now quite tenderised and fatigue was creeping in.

Finally I got to the final Checkpoint at Bakers Gully, a bit wrecked but knowing I’d get the job done. Tiffany McClymont and Ed Perry were both there, and Tiff told me I was in 5th, which didn’t equate so I inquired as to who was in front and she told me that Blake had dropped at this checkpoint a little earlier. This really was a shame as he had obviously put it all out there on the course and gotten so close. But it also meant that now Caine, Tucks or Grant were in line for the ticket to France with Caine in the box seat leading the way. I’ve known Caine for a little while now and have always been impressed with his work ethic towards his training and general enthusiasm for building the sport in Queensland. I couldn’t think of a more worth recipient.

So I came to the last climb, mentally thinking I’d at best slowly march up, but physically I was broken. Ultimately Buffalo would win and it was slow murder; it had me hung, drawn and quartered and then emptied me from the inside out. I was rueing not carrying my poles with me on the return journey; I was struggling to get purchase on the terrain and staying upright was hard enough. Finally I found the only strategy that worked; walking 30s and having a 20s recovery break. It was far from ideal but it was, step by slow step, getting me towards the finish!

About a third of the way up I could hear Clarke’s dog Cooba barking crazily from the general direction of Bakers Gully and knew that Clarkey must be there. I knew it was going to be a struggle holding him off if I didn’t get to the top of this damn climb. Sure enough, on the longest and slowest kilometre of my life, Clarkey began mowing me down. I was having a little sit down on a log when he was approaching; I was in my own little hurt locker and Cooba comes bounding up with a bloody big stick in his mouth and drops it at my feet wanting to play fetch. If anyone knows Cooba too, he doesn’t take no for an answer! I had to laugh otherwise I would have cried. I didn’t even have the energy to shoo Cooba away, and the little bundle of energy finally left me to finish off my pitiful walk as he followed Clarke up the incline.

The salt was well and truly rubbed in the wound when Amadeus, another friend from Sydney, came by. I was very happy for him, there were a couple of guys today who really stood up and showed they’re forces on the ultra trail scene and this bloke is one of them. He’s been getting closer and closer to a big result in a while and it’s very well deserved.

Finally I was at the top and out of my misery and my last hurdle was to get back into town down the last descent safely. I nursed myself down, my diaphragm was complaining big time from being worked so hard it was making deep breathing very difficult, and short, sharp shallow breaths was the only method I could manage. Entering the van park with about 600m to go the day was to take another strange twist.

Clarkey crossing the line after his misadventure!
As I was running through the park, I noticed Clarke with Cooba walking around. At first I thought he had come back out onto the course after finishing the race to see other runners come in, but I could tell from the look on his face that he wasn’t a happy man! He told me he had gone off course and was trying to find the finish. I told him were it was and that I would wait for him at the finish line; I was worried if I stopped to walk I would’ve seized up and I simply just had to keep jogging. It was then that Kellie Gibson came jogging up to me and asked me if I had scene Clarke. I told her that he was just behind me but he was walking it in. At the finish I pulled up and dropped around 5 metres from the finish to wait for Clarke and eventually he walked along and crossed the finish. It was the only fair thing and I guess me out of everyone knows the frustrations of getting lost! Clarke would have been 5th guy, unfortunately Amadeus had no idea about Clarke’s misadventure so crossed in 5th. I guess giving Clarke one spot back hopefully would have dulled his frustrations somewhat!

So came the end. 75.5km later, near 10h and 7th position.

Thanks again to Nadine for the wonderful crewing as always and to Sean and Mel for the opportunity to be a race ambassador. From the SkyCamp to the finish, I enjoyed every second of it!

Shod by: Inov-8 X Talon 190s, Injinji 2.0 Ultra Thin toesocks
Sustained by: Hammer Perpetuem and Hammer Gels

Hydrated by: Water with Hammer Fizz

Saturday, March 8, 2014

MSIG Sai Kung 50 and Tarawera Update

Late last year I was approached to take part in one of the MSIG Hong Kong Trail Races hosted by Action Asia Events. The second race in the series on Lantau unfortunately clashed with another event so I made sure I booked myself in for the last race of the series, the MSIG Sai Kung 50. Hong Kong has been a destination I've wanted to explore for a long time. Many friends have encouraged me to come over and play on the trails there; Australian Trail Runner and trail running writer Rachel Jacqueline, Grand Slammer Andre Blumberg, Trail Runner and photographer Lloyd Belcher and recently Scotty Hawker from WA who has just come back from a successful race in the HK100.

It seems quite odd that a big population in a sprawling metropolis on a relatively small plot of land can have space for trails at all! So I was very curious to see what exactly Honkers had to offer. I was there to represent Inov-8 x Descente (Descente are the distributors of Inov-8 in Asia) at the MSIG Sai Kung 50k Trail Race. I have previously only run in Japan in Asia, but all the buzz seems to be coming from Hong Kong. I was there for only a very short time, a typical FIFO job, but I really now am itching to get back there again for some other races.

What can I say about the race? A couple of things first. The weather was beautiful for running and many comments afterwards were along the line of 'we got lucky today' even 'we dodged a bullet' etc. Seems that it is usually much warmer, muggier and smoggy. Instead the day was overcast with a nice cool breeze, the air was clean and the humidity didn't reach any uncomfortable level. The race started on the very East of Hong Kong Territory, off the main island about 1 hours drive from the city. I was there staying with some other overseas guests; Cassie Scallon from the USA, Stuart Air from the UK, Alessandra Carlini from Italy, Rudy Gilman from the USA and Pavel Toropov from the UK. Both Rudy and Pavel live very interesting lives, both living in the far western high altitude Tibet region, living very basic lives through interpreting and translating but mainly living off race winnings. Seems that China has some very lucrative races and when internationals are allowed entry, these two are always nearly at the pointy end. With the top local HK runners also present (the first HK locals home would win a ticket over to the SkyRunning World Championships), it was a packed line up.

The course was a 50km route taking in some of Sai Kung's finest extensive trail network and its highest peaks, including the ominously named Sharp Peak. The route had 3 and a half main climbs, with a lot of steep, technical descents and a good dose of road and some flattish trail and beach running thrown in for good measure. I had no idea what to expect or what shoes to choose. Thankfully Rudy and Pavel, who had both run in the race before and Michael Maddess, the RD, gave me an extensive run through of the course. When I saw that Rudy, the current Champion of the White River 50 in the US, was wearing X-Talon 212s I was sold. Thankfully I had packed these in my carry on luggage.

What I can say about the HK trail network? In a word, they are very challenging! The trails are very rocky, hard and unforgiving on the legs...actually this was just the workout I needed with Tarawera coming up in 2 weeks. Nothing better to toughen up the legs than a good smashing a couple of weeks out. The first two climbs were in the first 16km and it was pretty clear from the get go that Rudy had a mission today and was out in front pretty much from the first climb onwards and that is where he was to stay. A very classy athlete indeed.

My race was all about covering the distance, running strongly the whole way, being a good ambassador for Inov-8 and Descente and giving myself a bit of an insight into HK trail running. From pretty much the first climb, I was to be in a ding dong battle all day with the top HK trail runner Siu Keung (Stone) Tsang. We must have swapped between 2nd/3rd spot half a dozen times throughout the day and in the end I was beaten to second spot by a runner with incredible downhill running skill. This guy just zipped away from me on the technical, steep descents and was out of sight before I knew it. Now I consider myself a pretty descent downhiller but this guy takes it to a whole new level.

Fortunately for me, my climbing legs and flat leg speed were on song and every time we hit this type of terrain I'd pull Stone back in pretty quickly. There were also thousands of steps in this race. If you think TNF100 is bad, come over to HK sometime. Thankfully, I'vebeen training a lot on the Blue Mts trails up in Katoomba a lot, taking my groups out as part of my UP Coaching TNF50/100 Preparation Days, so I handled the stairs pretty well.

The other feature of the HK trails is their love affair with concrete! Many sections were pavemented and this was to give me a lot of issues all day, especially in the super minimalist shoes I was wearing. In hindsight, if I had known about the amount of hardpack and concrete I probably would have settled for the Trail Rocs with a double inner sole!

At around 38km Stone and I were running together but with the last section of the race being downhill in nature I was a dead duck and pretty much was then concentrating on holding my form and finishing the race solidly. I was happy with third in my first big race of the year; it was a great last hard run before Tarawera and I had ticked most of the boxes I had set out to do. The race has conditioned my body well and I got through the day well with very minimal food as was the aim - I only went through 4 Hammer Gels all up so was a great fat burning training day. The Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest was comfortable and reliable as ever with me only needing one 500ml bottle and one hand held 250ml collapsible. The perfect combo all day and this will be my kit setup for Tarawera too.

There were some very memorable moments in the race. On a couple of occasions I had to stop dead in my tracks as cows were on the trails. Big cows too. There was some funny looks on their faces as I tiptoed around them. They were evidently used to people but I am not used to cows! Some of the views were stunning too; of coastlines and small grottos out in the ocean. We also ran through some small HK coastal villages and even had a chance to see the HK surfing scene along the beaches.

I really enjoyed this race; it was wonderfully organised and everything about it was done with a touch of class. The trails were properly tough and I felt every metre of the 2400m of up/down in the race. I'll definitely be heading back to Hong Kong again. The enthusiasm for trail running over there is electric!

This leaves me feeling very positively about Tarawera next weekend. I wouldn't say I'm at the peak of my fitenss but then again I don't want to be this early in the year. I want to leave all the little 1%s for Western States this year, but I am looking forward to racing the calibre of athlete that Tarawera has attracted. How's this for some names? Sage Canaday, Michael Aish, Vajin Armstrong, Martin Gaffuri, Yoshikazu Hara, Martin Lukes, Carlos Sa, Scott Hawker, Michael Wardian, Yun Yanqiao and Rob Krar just to name a few!

I guess the good news is that with the Tarawera course going back to its original route, it should suit my strengths a little more and may take some of the Mountain Goats out of the equation (unlikely). But one has to think positively! It's going to be huge, that's for sure. I'll report back after next weekend!
Mens 1st to 5th (L-R)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Snowy Mts Half Marathon

The Australian Off Road Multisport Festival is held each year on the beautiful grounds of the Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa. This whole weekend event involves the Off Road Triathlon Championship on the Saturday, followed by stand alone MTB and Trail Running Races on the Sunday. I was down to 'defend my patch' at Lake Crackenback in the Trail Half Marathon. I had run on these trails many times in my role as Ambassador at the resort hosting the Trail Running retreats with Hanny Allston. I knew them well and there was certainly an element of 'no one beats me at my game on my turf', especially a triathlete ;-)

I was probably in the poorest shape fitness wise I have been in a long time. I have been trying to rest my body and not rack up massive mileage totals so early in the year. With my main goal race this year being Western States, the high mileage training doesn't really kick off until late March. So this race would be one thing, a good indication of where I'm at! I had also taken out a big group for an UP Coaching TNF100 Preparation Day the day before which included a 40km (albeit leisurely) training run! So I had a few excuses already messing with my mental prep for this one.

Crossing the Little Thredbo River
The title of 'Dirt Master' would be given to the male and female athlete who could complete the fastest combined long course triathlon on the Saturday, the 75km MTB on the Sunday AM and finish it off with the PM half marathon! Surely there wouldn't be anyone that could back up that well to blast around my 'home away from home' and beat me to the finish? Enter Ben Allen.

This guy is just a machine; an ex pro triathlete who now travels the world on the X-Terra World off road triathlon series, usually winning most of these. He monstered the triathlon on the Saturday, won the 75km MTB and no doubt wanted to head home with a clean sweep by taking out the trail half marathon too. I had my work cut out for me! I was introduced to Ben before the race and his partner Jacqui too. Just a lovely couple but I could see from the glint in his eye he was there to race.

The race started in the mid afternoon, at the hottest part of the day and it was blasting rays down. I was glad we were in a dry heat though. There is nothing worse than humidity! The trail was an interesting course, taking us along side the Thredbo River on the first lap and then out to The Diggings Camp Ground on the second lap. There were also some trails around the resort utlised. It could be best described as a flat, singletrack course that had a few surprises, namely a couple of river crossings across the Little Thredbo River!

Away we went and I was thankful to have most of the first lap to myself. I was feeling comfortable out in front until I hear the quick footsteps of someone behind me approaching the end section of the first lap. It was Ben and he was on a mission. The way he came up from nowhere was pretty impressive and in any other race I would have just moved to the side and let the faster man pass. But not today. These were my trails and I had some pride to defend!
With Ben and Jacqui

We ran together for a bit and I was running on near full throttle but threw in a little extra that I had in reserve. Still Ben matched me and we went through the start/finish to start the second lap basically together. I had a real battle now. Starting the second lap, the little extra effort I had put in seemed to take it out of Ben and on the first couple of little lumps that we went up and over and I had stretched the elastic band a bit. This little breathing space was what I needed and I felt again like the race was in my control until that is if Ben surged again.

Along the Muzzlewood Track out to the Diggings, we ran along some twisty MTB track and it was flowing fun! I had managed to really break away from Ben by now and I could breath a sigh of relief knowing that I would take this one out on my home track! In the end, I'd managed to get 3 minutes in front of Ben, who obviously felt the effects of the big weekend in his legs. On fresh legs I would think the result may have been different!

The whole weekend looked like a really great event and I'm really pleased it was such a success with many triathletes, mountain bikers and trail runners combining and united together by the spirit of adventure. You just can't find a more stunning location than Lake Crackenback either!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Splish Splash: Running Wild Wentworth Falls

Trail running is just a damn fun thing to do at any time and I was reminded on the weekend why I love racing on trails too! The Running Wild Wentworth Falls race is just a ripping little course and when you throw in puddles and rain I felt just like a pig in mud.

It's been a long time between good drenchings up here in the Blue Mountains and I was very happy to wake up to showers on race morning. On went the Inov-8 Roc Lites. In the dry, I'd wear the X -Talons on this course but the Roc Lites offer a little more surface area that I thought would come in handy on the slick boardwalks along the Charles Darwin Walk section.

The start was pretty quick with Robbie Neill dashing off and showing remarkable ability to stay on his feet in road shoes on the boardwalks. My fellow Woodfordian and smiling marshal Jo Brischetto, who has just started running again after a bit of a knee issue, pointed us up the single track and up to Chester Rd. It was not long after here on the way back down to the Falls that I noticed Robbie pulling over to the side. I asked if he was lost (oh the irony) and he said he was a little sore in the achilles and that his day was over. He gave me some good encouragement and I was on my way.

Down the National Pass we went...deep down into the valley, down slippery steep metal staircases. You had to have your wits about you on this stuff. The sheer cliff faces around here are breathtaking. Once at the bottom, we ran under the Falls and continued on the Pass to the Valley of the Waters which was unsurprisingly wet, but is one of the most visually stunning trails in the whole Blue Mountains. Not that we had time to stop and read, but there are signboards along the way describing how the pass came to being with hardy men from a different era literally chipping and picking a pass along the middle of a cliff face. There's some photos on the boards of them doing this. Not one rope, safety harness, crash hat, risk assessment filing cabinet let alone a jackhammer in sight! Just a lot of smiling, sweat drenched faces. Couldn't think of a better work office myself...I'd be smiling too if that was my job!

From there I skipped along the stepping stones and joined the Nature Track past Lillians Bridge. It was pouring now and streams were running down the trail. I was making sure I didn't slip and fall as there are some drops off the side that would definitely be your last one ever!

Back up many bush steps and on to the section of the Nature Track on way to Conservation Hut which may be the flattest trail in the Blue Mountains. I put the hammer down. I know how fast Wes and Ewan would be along there. Once past here I hit the Short Cut Track (no joke...that is the name of the track!) for the journey home. I love this bit...fast and flowing and lots of big steps you can leap and bound down. This is where the photo was taken! Oh yeah!

From there it was onto the Breakfast Point Lookout Track down to Undercliff Track, I admired a few big drop offs and I had a few minor slips here but thankfully none at the same time! The last section was back onto the Charles Darwin Walk and I took a second to take in the lovely Jamison Creek. Last year someone dumped a whole heap of chemicals into the local storm water which drains into the creek and killed all the yabbies and water life. But I'm glad the creek is now back to a healthy state and the critters have returned.

Coming back to the finish I was smiling with absolute kiddie joy for that had been a lot of fun! I high fived RD extraordinaire Ian Sargeant as I crossed the line and gave Jo a hug. She would have loved to have run that course too, it must have killed her on the inside to see everyone there but it won't be long before she is back. Anne Mackie handed me my prize; a showbag of drinks and other no nos that I've been working off from Christmas. Oh well, just another reason keep training hard!

Racing this course is just such a different beast to training on it. This course has it's fair share of tricky stuff; boardwalks (ice rinks in the wet!), stepping stones, metal stair cases going deep down and high up, yuck stairs, stunning waterfalls and the odd rock overhang ready to concuss the daydreamers. Doing all this at race pace in the rain, and well by the end my brain was much more fried than my legs! I was very happy to take the win and share the podium with training buddies and mates Wes and Ewan.

Thanks to RunningWild for once again giving us a place to meet up and play on! See you at Kedumba!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A big thanks!

This is just a message of thanks to all the many friends that have passed on their congratulatory messages via Facebook etc regarding me receiving the award of 2013 Blue Mountains Sportsperson of the Year.

It was a huge honour to receive the award. I'm going to paraphrase a lot of what I mentioned in my acceptance speech but essentially I'm really humbled to be awarded and to have the support of so many people in the running and local Blue Mountains Community.

For a relatively small city, the Blue Mountains certainly produces its fair share of fine sportspeople. You only have to look at the back page of the local Gazette to see the plethora of fine performances right across the sporting spectrum; including those athletes with disabilities.

There are Olympians, National Team members and elite sportspeople at the top of their chosen sport. As an example, our 10,000m National record holder Ben St Lawrence hails from the Blue Mountains. There's never a shortage of junior champions as well.

So perhaps I was the only nomination for the award, who knows, but it's an award that means a lot nonetheless. I guess the one thing that I feel perhaps stronger than others is the connection my sport has with the local environment. I simply wouldn't be a trail runner if I didn't live in this runner's paradise. I feel that at times as though I'm gaining such an unfair advantage by living up here and having so many diverse and beautiful trails all around me.

But honestly, trail running for me rarely feels like a sport when I'm out and training. Yes, come race day it's game on, but for me trail running is as much as part of the essence of who I am as much as it is about the sport of trail running. The peace, the time to reflect and connect with nature and the energy of life is so much more important to me than any result.

But you know what? All this wouldn't be possible without the freedom and high standard of living we are blessed to have as people of this great country. The very fact that we can get out the door whenever we want, run through the bush and be safe while doing it should never be taken for granted. I am a proud Australian and love the Australian way of life; which in the Blue Mountains always involves the environment around us. It is, afterall, a city within a National Park.

Since moving up here 3 years ago, I've also had the pleasure of connecting with a welcoming and supportive running community. People were more than happy to bring me into their own little running community and I'm very grateful to all the local runners for the many training runs and coaches like Rob Spilling and Earl O'Brien who have helped me out along the way.

But I do believe that as much as you take you have to give back. As much as I can I've always tried to promote the Blue Mountains to others as a wonderful place to come and train or explore. I love nothing more than taking people out and showing them the trails and what the Blue Mountains has to offer.

I also have to say that without trail running event organisations there wouldn't be an opportunity for us as trail runners to get together as much as we do; so for all the event directors; groups like RunningWild and Mountain Sports, your involvement is very much appreciated too.

Oh and whoever it was that nominated me, thanks very much!
With Young Citizen of the Year Clair Brown,
Citizen of the Year Sergio Rosato

Thursday, January 23, 2014

2014 - The Year Ahead

2014 is already shaping as a big year of ultra running and I'm very excited about the year ahead. My big aim this year is to build on my experience of racing internationally last year and hopefully achieve a big OS result. It's a big schedule and it could all go up belly up any time. It's a fine line; looking after my body while still wanting to push the limits of what I ever thought was possible.

January
Narrabeen All Nighter
100km World Champs qualifier. Tick. Done a bit more for good measure.

February
Australian Cross-Triathlon Championships & Dirt Fest MultiSport Festival 
This is held at Lake Crackenback Resort. The Australian Cross Triathlon Championships are the main event but there will also be a 21km Trail Run of which I will be taking part in.

March
Sai Kung 50
I've read and heard so many good things about the trail running scene in Hong Kong that I had to go to experience it for myself. This is a formidable race with a lot of big climbs and descents.



March
Tarawera Ultra Marathon
This is my first race in the Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) and will be my second visit to Tarawera. I really love running in New Zealand and Paul Charteris does an exceptional job race directing this one.

April
Buffalo Stampede Ultra
SkyRunning comes to Australia! This promises to be pound for pound the toughest ultra-trail race ever held in Australia. Training up for this will put me in good shape for every other event this year. So the theory goes.


April
The second of my UTWT races. My second crack at this race and I'll be looking to improve on 5th from last year. Tough, tough race.

May
A great concept race over in WA, all money raised goes to the Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation. With UTMF it will be good to get back on the flat road and see what I can dish out.



May
Number 3 of UTWT. Will be tough to replicate what was a perfect race last year, but I wouldn't miss it for the world!

June
My last race of the UTWT and a dream come true race for me. 'All trails lead to Western'.
August
IAU 100K World Championships
I'll be aiming to improve on my 6:55 from two years ago.

October 
Heysen 105
I'm really looking forward to running in South Australia for the first time on this spectacular course. I will also be involved in this event as a race ambassador.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

2014 Narrabeen All Nighter 12h

"When one runs 45, 50 or even 100km, for me, is not an ultra runner"
- Yiannis Kouros, taken from "Forever Running" (A must see for any ultra runner; it will either inspire or give you a massive reality check!)

The Narrabeen Allnighter was meant to be a simple affair; but it turned out to be anything but. First some background.

This event was the race that started my 'ultra running' career. Back in 2009, I decided to try something different and run the 100km race that (back then) the event offered. I ran 8:07 and on the back of that was selected in the Australian 100km team for the first Commonwealth Ultra Distance Championships, even though the qualifier was sub 8h. The selectors had faith in me I guess. At the last World Champs I ran 6:55. I little grace can go a long way!

And so I headed back again this year; with one aim, to again run under 8 hours for the 100km and get myself qualified again. But this year was a bit different. They no longer offer the 100km as a race format, rather they just have the 12h race format, but as part of this race have sought the proper approvals and will measure to give a 100km split for qualification and record purposes. It's a bit messy but basically what it meant to me was that I would run to 100km, get the time, and then 'sit out' the rest of the 12h race (AKA go home and sleep) but still be placed in that race wherever the 100km that I ran ranked me. No big deal. I was not there to compete, but to tick a box. Or so I thought, and now it's left me wondering now what significance this has now had on my running future.

Having primarily run trails for the last couple of years, I've forgotten what it's like to run on the road and this is a different beast altogether. But I was confident nonetheless. I've run 3 previous 100km road runs so this should be in my comfort zone. Ewan Horsburgh, one of Australia's top ultra runners, was my crew for the night. It was a fairly easy course. A 3.33km out and back course, meaning 30 laps. I had planned my pace and my splits and aimed for a 7:45 finish.


Pre-race I had thrown around the idea of going on and doing the whole 12h run. Most of this was at my birthday drinks catch up the night before. We say some dumb things but actually like all things said, even after a few drinks, there's an element of truth. I've been inspired recently by Zach Bitter, an American Ultra Runner, who recently smashed the World 12 hour Track record, running 163.6km! Zach and I have pretty parallel lives. He is a Special Education teacher too, have pretty similar PBs and loves running trails and road and everything in between. It did get me thinking about how many kms I could knock out in 12h. The 7:45 finish aim for 100km put me in a really good place to have a crack at the Australian 12h road record of 139km. So I had it at the back of my mind but definitely the Number 1 goal was to get the qualifier. I also knew that I have done very minimal road running training in the last, well let's see, year, and that my legs would be rather unconditioned to take on the unforgiving bitumen and concrete.

Early on in the race.
Pre race, I had the pleasure of meeting Barry Loveday who is a big time track and road ultra guy from Victoria. I first met Barry three years ago at the same event when he smashed out 147km in the 12h while I had to pull out at 50km in the 100km event due to heat exhaustion. I saw then what a machine he was. He mentioned to me that his plan was to go for 130km, but I can decode runner's language. I knew he was going for a lot more. There were others in the race too capable of big totals; Kev Muller from Victoria and Pam Muston to name a few.

So the race started in light at 8pm but with no moon in the sky it would be dark quickly. I set out on 4:40 pace and went through most laps a little under. I shared a bit of banter with the early pack before stretching out a little and getting some clear path. There were lots of kids, drunk parents and dogs around the park that the path went through early on we all copped a little bit of heckling from the audience. I love it. Soon it was dark and they all disappeared. I grabbed my Ferei 600 Lumens headlamp and switched it to very very low mode, just enough to light the path so not to blind runners coming the other way.

Through 30km in 2h 20m and I was building a clear lead in a race I had not really intended to be in. I was hitting my 3:35-3:40 splits dead on. Ewan was crewing perfectly; one lap water, next Hammer Sustained Energy, next lap a Hammer Gel and repeat. I was taking on a bit of water at the mid-point turnaround which also helped. Through the marathon in 3:15 or so; it wasn't fast but it was comfortable. 50k came and went in 3:51 and things were starting to get a little boring. Thankfully there was at least enough wildlife out there to make me feel I was on a trail. There were ducks, possums, Tawny Frogmouths and a Barking Owl which I'm sure would have confused many as they sound just like a dog but dogs don't live up trees.

Getting the Sub 8 qualifier.
After about 60km I began to feel sleepy and called upon a Red Bull to give me wings to get around. It worked. I was also building my lead but as I never considered I was in a race with anyone it was a rather superfluous feeling. At 80km Ewan reminded me that this 80-90km was an important section to keep focused and so I buckled down. When one of Australia's best ultra runners gives advice you take it. My feet were pretty beat up; it's been a little while since I've subjected them to the road over this distance and I guess they have become too spoilt on the trails. Mentally I was beginning to count down the laps to 100km. I was letting myself look foward to the finish then.

On the last few laps I not once entertained the idea to keep going after 100km. I had got what I came for and I gave myself the luxury of some slower laps to finish up on and cruised into 100km at 7:48:30. I promptly started walking and went back to my crewing area with Ewan. This is when the night was to take a bit of a twist.

I won't go into all the detail but the short version is that I wanted to stop but Ewan talked me into keep going. He reminded me of a pre-race chat we'd had where I had someone agreed to keep going (the exact wording of what went on has been thoroughly lost in translation. The conversation after I stopped at 100km went something like this:

Me: 'But I have got what I came for'?
Ewan: 'That is just a bonus along the way, this is a 12h race'.

Me: 'My feet are aching'
Ewan: 'They are meant to'.

Me: 'My laps are starting to blow out'
Ewan: We had a deal'

Marcus (running past): 'Get him back out here!'

So after changing my shoes (same model Inov-8 Road X 255s to another of the same), I was back out there and in no-mans land. I've run further and longer on the trails but never this far or long on the road. Mentally I hadn't prepared at all for the next 4 hours; had no idea how my body would hold together but at least I was moving again. The 6 minute or so break I had actually had done me well. I felt a bit refreshed and after a little while my feet settled down. I was working on my foot fall so that it would just kiss the ground rather than plonk down and it was making a difference.

My mountains mate Marcus was out there and, although on a different lap, had passed me when I was having my little sit down. I was determined to catch him even though he was a km or so in ahead. I also knew my rest had shaved my 'lead' over Barry from close to 2km to maybe 400m and I knew it wouldn't be long before he passed. It didn't worry me one bit though. From now on this was going to be for the experience and not the victory. If victory happened that would be the ultimate bonus of all bonuses.

Soon enough Barry went by like a man on a mission. He was still pumping out sub 5 pace and mine was more in the 5:10 -5:20 range and slipping. It was then I decided that if I was going to experience this thing I wasn't going to become a plodder, I was going to work hard, learn through the experience and see what I could dish up. Many times I had to work on my form and technique, keep the cadence up and push on. But I wasn't in the mood to bust myself good and proper. There is too much going on this year to do that.

Then is started to rain. At least it kind
of felt like trail running !
The pace more and less stayed in this range; a couple of times I attempted to get the kms back under 5 minute pace but they weren't sustained more than a couple in a row. It was hard work and it was starting to get, well quite honestly, boring. I was tired of the same path, tired of trying the same things to give me a spark and just plain tired from being up nearly 20 odd hours. But I pushed on.

Daybreak brought a new lease of life and it was something new to break up the boredom. I began yearning for the last hour, just so something different would happen! (The laps were shortened to 1km in the last hour). I kept going; not really knowing why and without a clear finish line and was tempted to sit down and pull up stumps. But for some reason I just kept going. Part of it was having my mountains mate Marcus Cockshut running with me keeping me company at my heels. He ran a great last 4hrs and, behind Barry, put the most metres on the board in this period.

Eventually I got the call from my crew that the last half hour was upon us and I'd have to dig deep to get reach 145km. It started teaming down and it was welcome relief. I grew some wings and picked up the pace. Eventually the legs responded and suddenly I went from a dodgy actor in the Walking Dead to a runner again. I pumped out a couple of sub 4:45kms to finish on. Ron came around in his station wagon and blew the horn to end this race without a finish line We all stopped; like in a game of 'What's the time Mr Wolf' and waited to get measured.

I can't say I enjoyed it but it was different. In the end I ran 145.km which was enough to break the old Australian Record. Problem was Barry ran a screaming world class total, reaching 149.7 so is now deservedly at the top and I have to settle for second on the list. Will I do this again? Well wait and see. Thanks to Ewan and Dave for crewing all night. It made me accountable!
How good are those race shirts?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 - Year In Review

2013 is quickly coming to an end and it's time to look back and reflect on what's been and done and remind myself of some of the memories, experiences and friends that I've met in this year's chapter of this running journey.

At the top of the list for experiences would have to be the great travelling I've been fortunate enough to do. I've travelled far and wide for racing, to New Zealand, Japan, Europe and Western Australia. It hasn't always been easy; juggling work and racing, but I wouldn't have had it any other way! The trip to stunning Chamonix in France with the Inov-8 athlete retreat is something I feel blessed to have experienced. I left a more informed and focused athlete. Likewise my two trips to Japan were equally as beautiful. To feel the Japanese charm, culture and hospitality is something everyone needs to to at least once. I definitely left a better person for it. 

New Zealand was also a great experience. It was the first time I'd raced with big international athletes that I've admired and respected for a long time; it was quite a buzz! From the media and Q & A panel I was part of I learned from these guys and girls how to be an advocate for our sport. I came away a better ambassador.

Apart from racing, my 'running' career has also gone in a slightly divergent direction this year. One of my big motivations is helping others achieve their own personal goals and I have taken some small steps building my UP Coaching business. Although I don't have a whole lot of time to dedicate to it, the handful of runners I coached and mentored this year kicked some major race goals. I feel just as great knowing I was part of their success as any of my own personal successes this year. I also have wonderful memories from the Trail Running camps I've cohosted this year; first with Ultra Training Australia and more recently with Hanny Allston at Lake Crackenback. I get inspired by hearing about other people's running journeys and seeing them improve.

But to get to the racing. As much as I love all the other things I do around running, racing was my main priority. In summary, it was a huge year. Lots of racing; lots of highs but also a few inevitable lows, the recent GNW100 miler being the one that wasn't to be. But this is the nature of racing and at the end of the year I can now look back with much satisfaction; knowing I stayed true to my principles and motivations - to be a prolific racer but have a handful of 'key' events, to be versatile over various distances and terrains, to set, work towards and achieve goals and to get joy from (and hopefully give back) to the running community.

I have to happy with the overall results too; 30 top 5 finishers including 13 race wins.

Road
I love the Central West races. I was honoured
to win the inaugural Orange Marathon.

It wasn't a huge year on the road., but I took my opportunities when I could. The highlights:
- Winning the inaugural Stromlo Running Festival 50k
- 50k PB in 3:05 at the Australian Running Festival, ranking 10th on the Australian all time list.
- Half Marathon PB in 1:12 at the Bathurst Half
- Winning the inaugural Carcoar Cup 60k in 4:02

With the late cancellation of the 100k World Champs, I didn't get a chance to race 100k on the roads. It was disappointing that I didn't run for Australia this year, particularly since I chose this early on over the World Mountain champs and the World Trail champs. I have some unfinished business still and I know I can improve on my 6:55 from last year.

Trail
Running in France was a real eye opener!

The trails were good fun this year. Of course the highlight was winning my local ultra, TNF100 in course record time. It was one of those days where everything went right. But the one I probably got the most satisfaction from was at Ultra Trail Mt Fuji. It was just such a different and difficult race and I had to fight so hard for that 5th spot. It really gave me the self-belief that success at the international level is possible.

Some other highlights:
- Winning and running 75km at the Knapsack 6h race
- 4th at Tarawera 100k
- 2nd at the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon
- 4th at Hakuba Trail 50k in Japan
- 3rd at Surf Coast Century 100k, such a hard day at the office!
- Winning the Fitzroy Falls Marathon, which was my first trail race back in 2007

A big thank you and shout out to all my sponsors who have played a massive part in me being able to do what I do; I hope I've replayed the faith you've had in me as an athlete and been a good representative for what you and your products stand for. Cheers to Barefootinc, Hammer Nutrition Australia, Injinji Performance Products, Ferei Australia, Valley Fitness, Suunto Australia and of course Inov-8. Many thanks to Lake Crackenback and Mountain Sports who have given me opportunities as an ambassador. 

Shortly, I'll post my plans for 2014. It is already shaping up to be a big year!