Tag Archives: Ultra marathon

Washpool World Heritage Trail Run: A volunteer’s perspective

Waiting for the runners to arrive at CP2

The Washpool World Heritage Trail Run offered runners of all abilities an opportunity to explore the World Heritage listed Washpool and Gibralter Range National Parks. Runners could chose from 9km, 25km and 50km trail running events, depending on their abilities and intentions. Thirty-one intrepid adventurers chose to run the 50km option.

I was going to run the 50km event but had to withdraw due to injury so I decided, instead, to make the 450km (280 miles) trek each way to volunteer at the on-course aid stations for the 50km runners. I’m glad I did because the event was a fantastic opportunity to spend time in a beautiful part of the world and to be part of such a wonderful event.

A gorgeous quiet place to camp

For most runners and volunteers, the event started with an overnight camp at Mulligans Hut campsite. With a large area available for campers, this represented a unique opportunity to spend time with other runners and their families outside the usual race environment. It also allowed runners to relax in the lead up to their chosen event, rather than having to leave home early to drive anywhere.

A lot of logistics go into trail running events

Instructions and promise of a hot weekend

The finish line being prepared

A lot of preparation goes into an event like this. Beyond the acceptance of entry fees and scheduling of the event, the race director also has to negotiate access to the course and camping facilities, set up the course signage and remember to bring equipment for every possible eventuality. In this case, Washpool National Park is a remote wilderness area in which about half the 50km course was inaccessible by car and in which there is no mobile phone coverage. To make matters more challenging, the area is currently experiencing a heat wave with daytime temperatures reaching in excess of 35’C (95’F). This makes the provision of water and other fluids at aid stations even more important.

It’s wildflower season

More wildflowers

The event is held in October to make the most of the wildflower season. Washpool is blessed with an array of native Australian plants that burst into flower in the spring. While the blooms were slightly subdued this year due to a lack of rain, the area still had plenty of white, purple, yellow, orange and red flowers.

CP1: Food and hydration options

CP1: We lined the drop bags up and tried to keep colours together

As a checkpoint volunteer, I worked with the fabulous J, who is also an ultra runner who came to volunteer for the day, and K, who was a spectator who happened to have a campervan that was the perfect size to throw our mountain of gear into. Our first task was to take everything out to the 9.5km mark where we set up CP1. With a long 28km stretch of trail between CP1 and CP2, many runners had requested drop bags.

As this was our first stint as ultra marathon CP volunteers, J and I didn’t have any real plan about what to do until we arrived. But then it all became very natural to us: we set up the food and hydration table on one side of the track and lined all the drop bags on the other so that everyone had easy access to their gear. It seemed to work well when the runners arrived shortly after we set up.

Drop bags lined up in the shade at CP2

Other than cutting up fruit, our biggest task was filling waterbottles and bladders

After the final runner left CP1, we loaded K’s campervan and transported everything down to CP2, just 10km down the road but a long hot 28km run for the runners. We had plenty of time to set up the food and hydration table, and to line all the drop bags up in the shade of the trees. J, K and I then settled in to get to know each other a little better to pass the time.

While the first few runners cleared CP2 quickly, most of the field needed some assistance here to fill drink bottles and hydropacks. At times, we could focus all our attention on a single runner while there were also times when we would be moving between 5-6 runners at a time. It was a privilege to see the full field make their way through the checkpoint and to be part of their personal journeys.

One by one the runners left CP2 to tackle the final 15km

And then, one-by-one, they all left us to continue the final leg of their adventures. All we could do was hope they had taken on enough water, food and encouragement to help them reach the finish line, 15-17km away.

Thank you to Greg and TRAQ for putting on the event, and allowing me to be part of it in my own small way. And thank you to the runners who were so friendly and cheerful despite the obvious fatigue you were experiencing after so many hours out in the hot sun. I learned a lot from each of you and know that my experience as a volunteer will improve my abilities as a runner.

Committing to the 12-in-12 Challenge

The more I think about my 12-in-12 Challenge, the more I realise how exciting it is. I have been looking for a big adventure for some months now but wasn’t sure how to fit it in with work and home commitments. See, I thought an adventure meant that I’d need to go someplace else for an extended period of time. I was envisioning weeks of hiking some long lonely trail in a beautiful location. But, instead, fate and life have led me to this crazy 12-in-12 Challenge. And I am more excited about it than about the idea of going away alone for weeks or months at a time.

When I first came up with the 12-in-12 Challenge, it seemed like such a simple idea. I just have to put one foot in front of the other for 12 long running events in a year. And that’s what I like about it – the simplicity.

But the reality is, I have to approach this challenge with the same commitment and care as I would approach a thousand kilometre hike. I not only have to make sure I enter the right events, but I need  to ensure my body and mind are healthy enough for the challenge. And that they stay healthy.

Mentally, I know there will be times ahead when I wonder why I took up the challenge. There will be times when I forget what a blessing it is to be able to experience the places my adventure will take me. This is normal. I read a lot of books and blogs by adventurers and without fail, they all have their dark moments. For some, the darkness and hardship take over, while others embrace the hours of discomfort as part of the adventure. I want to be one of the latter group. And by mentally preparing for the hardships and acknowledging they will come, I will give myself the best chance of success.

Emotionally, this adventure is going to take me far inside myself. There is no one else who can run the long lonely miles of a race with me. When the going gets tough, we all shut down to those running around us and enter our own worlds. This is when I need to trust that I’ve come a long way from the anxiety riddled man experiencing deep depression to be the optimistic and peaceful man I am today. I no longer fear the solitude of my thoughts and draw strength from the memories of days gone by. Because I know the elation of success and the euphoria that comes with achieving the seemingly impossible.

Physically, I have a lot to balance. I have greatly improved my diet over the past three weeks. I have shifted from taking most of my calories from sugar, flour and meat to eating a largely plant-based diet that is supplemented by meat. I am eating five serves of vegetables for breakfast every day accompanied by herbal tea fresh from my garden. My lunches consist of vegetarian tortillas or brown rice with vegetables. Instead of eating cakes and biscuits for morning and afternoon tea, I am eating fruit and nuts. Today I supplied morning tea to work but brought in a date loaf instead of a mud cake. It’s a big change and my body feels better for it.

For race days, I have been experimenting with real food nutrition, rather than relying on bars and gels. I have found it works really well for me. I like oat bars with fruit or nut flavours, vegetarian tortillas or burritos, and fresh fruit. They fuel my body for longer, are lightweight and easy to carry, and contain lots of calories. I will probably always carry a gel or two for emergencies or late-race bonking. But they are now my backup not my ‘go to’.

Aside from food, I need to look after my bones, muscles and joints. For the past few months I’ve been receiving post-race massages from my daughter-in-law who is qualified to perform relaxation massage. The difference in my recovery has been astounding.

I have a long, painful history of shin splints and ITB syndrome in my right leg. The pain started between 1996-1998 and has been a constant in my life. It stopped me running for six years between 2005 – 2011 and is one of the reasons I run in bare feet or barefoot-style shoes. I have decided that rather than sticking my head in the sand, I am going to address the issues with my leg in three ways:

  • I am running slower than I might if I were training for triathlon and am trying to focus on technique, rather than on speed. My goals will only require me to average about 8-9kph in my races (6:40 – 7:30 min/kph pace) and I am not afraid to go slower if necessary. Because right now, it’s more important to finish than to get a good time.
  • I have made an appointment with a craniosacral therapist. I used to see him years ago and he helped me a lot, both with my emotional health and with my physical well-being.
  • I have made an appointment with a physiotherapist who is himself a runner and who treats many runners at my running club.

It’s not that I’m injured but I know I need to be sensible and honest if I want to remain injury free.

On a personal level, I am committed to the 12-in-12 Challenge because I am running for the transgender community. I want to show transgender men and women who are early in or struggling with their transitions that there is hope for the future. Our gender histories don’t have to limit our life options nor hold us back in any way. It’s not about success – it’s about being willing to try.

Sure, I might not achieve my goal. But it wouldn’t be an adventure if there was no risk of failure. The important thing is to set a goal, aim high, prepare properly, look after your body and soul, and just get out there and do it without fear of failure.

My 12 in 12 for 2012 Challenge

I don’t quite know where this crazy idea has come from. I get them from time-to-time.

In 2002, I decided to drive out to the Birdsville Races and then cycle home. The bicycle ride home was 1,600km (1,000 miles). I rode with my father while my mother, sister and grandmother supported us with a caravan. We didn’t train sufficiently for the ride but we had a fantastic adventure and succeeded in our mission.

In 2004, I decided to walk the Oxfam Trailwalker in Sydney. It was a 100km bushwalk. I walked with The Plovers, a team comprising of my father, mother and brother-in-law. Our goal was to complete the walk in 36 hours, well within the 48 hour time limit. Again, we didn’t train sufficiently and just ‘winged’ it. My mother got sick shortly before the event and had major surgery. But she still started with us, only withdrawing at the halfway point. She then joined my sister in the support vehicle, feeding us and keeping us motivated to the finish. We completed the walk in 36hrs 29mins.

In 2011, I decided to walk the Oxfam Trailwalker in Brisbane. This time our team, The Plovers Take 2, comprised my brother-in-law and me, and another pair of brothers-in-law who we met shortly before the event. Again, our goal was to complete the walk in 36 hours. While the rest of my team trained, I did only minimal training. We completed the course in 32hrs 58 minutes.

The day after Trailwalker Brisbane I decided to throw myself into triathlon, aiming to complete a six triathlons in 9 months. I ended up completing 9 triathlons, 1 ultra marathon, 2 half marathons and an 8 hour adventure race. And I loved it.

So I have a history of crazy ideas. But I think, perhaps, this crazy idea I have now is the craziest so far:

I want to complete 12 marathons or ultra marathons in 12 months.

Yes, you heard me correctly. And yes, I am sure I want to do this. I want to run 12 marathons or ultra marathons in 12 months. So that’s my challenge:

My 12 in 12 for 2012 Challenge.

I know I started late but it’s better late than never. I’ve listed my challenge runs in the left margin of my blog and also in my upcoming events page.

Glasshouse Mountains Trail Run: Flinders Tour

At 12.5km. I was feeling strong.

I did it! I completed my first 50km trail run today. And I did it the day after I completed the Conondale Range Great Walk so I am doubly proud of my efforts.

The Flinders Tour is part of the Glasshouse Mountains Trail Running series, which has a history dating back to 1990 when the Glasshouse 100 was the first 100 mile trail run in Australia. The Flinders Tour event, held every July, has a 10km, 25km and 50km option; I took the 50km options.

A lot of the course was on fire trail

I took the early start option because I wasn’t sure I’d make the cut-offs. I was moderately confident of making the 7 hours cut-off for the finish but didn’t think I’d make the 3:15 cut-off for 27km. I also didn’t want to run with the pressure of time chasing me. I wanted the luxury of knowing that I could totally bonk and walk half the course while still finishing within the adjusted 8 hour cut-off.

The course started with a nasty run up Mt Beerburrum. While the mountain is only about 289m high, the trail is bitumen and heads straight up. All but one of us in the early start walked the entire bitumen section of the climb. The views of the breaking dawn creeping over the Glasshouse Mountains were a brilliant way to start the run.

At 25km. Still feeling strong.

After Mt Beerburrum the course followed fire trails and short sections of single track through the pine forest plantations that surround the Glasshouse Mountains. I traveled well for the first 18km. I ran all the flats and downhills, and walked only some of the hills. At 18km I hit a small wall because my feet started to hurt a lot from the sharp gravel that covered much of the fire trail. But I walked my way through it for about 500m and then decided I was going to run to the 20km mark. That was all I needed because just after 20km I reached the third checkpoint where they had Endura, watermelon and salty pretzel sticks.

After the aid station I decided to run to 25km, take a photo and keep running to the 27km turn around. And that’s exactly what I did. I ran. I wanted to prove that I could reach 27km in 3:15. While I would have missed the cut-off if I’d started at the actual start time because I left the turn around checkpoint at 3:20, I was happy to have made it to the turn around in 3:15 and to be feeling strong. Just before the turn around I passed all the 25km runners who were running towards us. There were a lot of them and passing each other was difficult but it was a lovely change to running alone (I ran alone from about 8km to just before the 27km turn around).

A small stretch of single track through long grass.

After the turn around I felt strong as I ran towards the 30km mark but then started to get a bit lost in the enormity of the challenge. I had to fight my mind telling me that it was silly to be out there. But I was prepared for this eventuality and simply kept reminding myself what a blessing it is to be able to participate in this type of event. Just after 32km we ran down a short section of single track. I knew it was coming so for the 2km I was struggling I waited for the checkpoint so that I could enjoy the single track. It was rough and grassy; a fun area to run.

Occasionally we actually saw the Glasshouse Mountains

After the single track we ran on more fire trail. I was finding the going tough on my feet. While the Vibrams are great for my form, my feet definitely aren’t yet tough enough to handle this type of rocky terrain. I think it’s because I couldn’t move my toes to change the way they impacted against the rocks; they were just splayed in the shoes’ toes. So I decided to buy a pair of Merrel Trail Gloves as an alternate running shoe for this type of longer run where the surface will be too hard for my feet in the Vibrams. No doubt I’ll be able to run this type of course in Vibrams in future; I just need to give my feet time (you have all seen my training reports and probably realise I don’t really do enough miles to have tough feet yet).

This is where I hit the wall bad!

At 37.56km I hit the wall really badly. I had been running steadily more slowly since 30km with bursts of energy. I was still happy with my speed of 7.8kph. Fortunately, there were three ladies who were walking the 25km course who I came across as I hit the wall. I spent 2km walking with them. They kept me going by chatting to me. It was amazing. I was feeling horribly low and talking to them took my mind off the pain in my feet and the struggle in my mind.

And then I hit a checkpoint. I had eaten a Powerbar while I was walking, and stocked up on Endura, Coke, watermelons and salty pretzel sticks at the checkpoint. It did the trick. I started to run. And I felt so empowered and high that I took this short video clip to share with you all.

We had to run through this virtual obstacle course twice.

At the top of the hill I was walking up in that clip I had to navigate my way through an obstacle course of fallen tree trunks that were laying across the track. They were probably put there to stop dirt bikers from traveling on the trail but they also made life difficult for me. But not so difficult that I couldn’t keep going. After crossing the tree trunks I ran all the way down the next hill and then started to catch back up to the runners who had overtaken me when I was struggling with the wall.

The view back at the 50km mark

Exhausted at 50km and hating the fact that the course was an extra 1.64km long

And then it happened. I hit that sweet spot where I could keep running through my exhaustion. I caught up with and overtook five experienced ultra runners who I’d been trading places with all day (they had also taken the early start). And I just kept going! I decided that I wanted to finish the race in less than 7 hours. My mind took over and I was able to ignore the pain in my body (to an extent). The extra 1.64km over 50km was really tough but I pushed through. The mind is stronger than the body.

I took these two video clips with my phone to share the final stretch of my 50km trail run with you. Sorry about the quality though.

Total: 51.64km in 6:48.

Getting inspiration while I’m off sick

It’s a cold rainy winter’s day in Brisbane today and I still have that cold.

I’ve spent my nights coughing a lot and sweating so much that I’ve had to wake up a few times to change my t-shirt after being cold from the sweat. That’s a good thing though because it means my body is doing what it needs to do to get well again so that I can get back out running and cycling.

Thank you to Brian Beatty who shared this awesome link with me. It’s definitely one that motivates me to look after myself so that I can hit the trail running season in full health. It’s now just over 1 month until my first race (the 22km Lake Manchester Trail Run) and I am so excited that I keep visualising myself cruising along the trial around the lake.

Twelve months ago, I was barely running 500m at a time. On 15 September, just over two months away, I will be lining up at the start of my first 50km ultra. It fills me with such emotion when I think about how just a year ago I wasn’t fit enough (either physically or emotionally) to run 1% of that distance. Just toeing that start line will be such an achievement. I can already see myself finishing the event all puffed out after doing my run-a-bit, walk-a-bit routine with a huge smile on my face.

And it’s video clips like this one that help me remain focused on my goals during the frustration of forced rest days like today:

Making a commitment to ultra running

It’s now day 3 of my sickness-enforced rest. I am starting to feel much better and will probably head out tomorrow morning for a light jog to get my body moving again before the Tre-X off-road duathlon on Sunday.

Today I have used my rest day to evaluate my 2012-13 season goals. Over the past few weeks since the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane I have been thinking about how much I would like to complete a 100km trail run and work up to a 100 miler. My 100km bicycle ride on Saturday and meeting with the team I am support crewing for at the Kokoda Challenge 96km walk only increased my thirst for endurance events.

I started searching the internet to find trail runs in Australia and found there are a huge selection of exciting events to chose from. We have everything from the 3 Marathons in 3 Days event in tropical Cairns to a wide selection of alpine and beach ultras, including the famous 6 Foot Track and North Face 100. I felt rather like a kid in a candy store as I trawled through pages and pages of trail running options, most of which were ultras.

I subscribe to the online Trail Runner Magazine and every time I get a new issue I start to long for the trail. I am drawn by the freedom of single track mountain trails and long miles of beach stretching out in front of me.

I am not a fast runner. In fact, I am not even passionate about the act of running. I have not run a road marathon and the thought of doing so doesn’t entice me. But I like to explore. I like the simplicity of exploring on foot. I like the friendly social atmosphere of trail running. And I love how it feels when I find my running zone. My favourite thing about trail running ultras is that the sport is still young enough in Australia that it’s acceptable to ‘run-a-bit, walk-a-bit’ in many of the more low key events.

So today I made a commitment. I am going to work towards my 100km and 100 mile goals. And I am not going to wait until next season. Today I paid and entered the following events and set the following flexible goals:

  1. 12 August 2012 – Lake Manchester Trail Run (22km) – goal time < 2:45
  2. 14 October 2012 – Washpool World Heritage Trail Run (50km) – goal time < 8:00 – entered
  3. 9 December 2012 – Kurrawah to Duranbah Road Run (50km) – goal time < 6:00  – entered
  4. 21 April 2013 – Water World Red Rocks to Coffs (45km trail run) – goal time < 7:00  – entered

I based my goals on my results in the two half road half marathons (2:10 barefoot & 1:46 shod) I completed in January and March 2012, and my 7:32 for the 45km Rainbow Beach Trail Run in November 2011.

I have also scheduled other races for the coming season for which entries have not yet opened. I think the goals are realistic without forcing me to start training ridiculously hard. It just means that my weekend sessions will be more focused on endurance, whether running or cycling.

Here’s to backing myself. The 2012-13 season is going to be the year I become an ultra runner. And the year I qualify to enter a 100km event next year (most 100km events require entrants to have completed at least one 50km event in the previous 12 months but often don’t have time limits for those events).