Tag Archives: Ultra running

My next ultra marathon

I know I shouldn’t. But I’m going to.

I still have an entry into the Red Rocks to Coffs 45km trail run. I entered last year as a super early bird and then got injured so didn’t think I’d be able to participate. The race is being held on 21 April and I have decided that I miss ultra running too much to skip it.

My goal for the event is just to enjoy the experience and scenery, even if I have to do a lot of walking. That’s the great thing about the ultra trail running scene here in Australia; it’s okay to be slow.

I don’t have many miles in my legs yet this year but I also am moving well out on the trails. I figure that if I can run the first 10-20km at a slow trot and then walk/run the rest of the course (with stoppages to take photos) that it will be good training.

As I said, I know I shouldn’t; but I’m going to.

First session of the new year

Sun salutations

Sun salutations

Today is the first day of my journey to running a 100 miler. At this stage, that’s my ultimate running goal. The distance is calling me the way The Landy is called by Everest. I’ve spent the full southern hemisphere spring in rehabilitation mode but since this morning my physio and I have switched to ‘moving forward’ mode.

I have to give Paul Trevethan at Body Leadership Australia a big shout out because he’s been wonderful. From the moment I walked into his clinic he listened to my needs, fears and frustrations. He’s responded to my text messages asking for help and he’s squeezed me in when I’ve urgently needed his healing hands. He’s never told me I couldn’t do anything but has been honest about the areas of my body I need to look after (and he’s never said “I told you so” when I failed to listen).

Tonight I did my stretching routine for the first time since October. I also did two rounds through the Hatha Yoga Sun Salutations. I only did them gently and tentatively but it’s a start. I start yoga classes on Tuesday 18 December and have already told my instructor about my SIJ so she’s going to help me avoid exercises that might flare it up.

I have also done three sets of five exercises each of my pilates exercises: setting my stomach, clams, knee raises, rocking my knees side-to-side and hip raises. My core strength is terrible. But I am practicing these basic moves until I start pilates classes on Monday 17th December with my physio’s wife (also through Body Leadership Australia). The great thing about taking pilates classes with my physio’s wife is that she will know my limitations and core strength needs.

My physio is looking at ordering me a sacroiliac joint brace and has taped me up in the interim. It’s all systems slowly shifting into “go”. I’m being careful not to overdo it and will continue to be guided by both my body and my physio. But it feels good to be making the first step towards my 100 miler goal. A goal that might take a while to reach but one that promises an interesting journey.

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.

Off for bone scans

I’m off to see my doctor on Wednesday morning to ask for a referral to get bone scans. My left foot hasn’t improved so it needs to be checked for a stress fracture. My left shin is starting show signs of trouble so I’m going to ask for a scan on it too. And my right shin, which was responding really well to treatment before I overdid it in the garden 2 weeks ago hasn’t settled since.

While MRIs would be a more appropriate test to check for stress fractures, I don’t want to pay upwards of $280 per scan. I’ve heard from other runners that bone scans can be used to check for stress fractures and that bone scans can be bulk billed through Medicare.

I’ve never been one to do things by halves so why start now.

I’m seeing this holding pattern as an excellent opportunity to develop into a much stronger, fitter and faster runner in future. By taking action now I have a better chance of running into retirement, rather than being a cripple at 35.

This current injury situation doesn’t come as a shock to me. I’ve been expecting it and am surprised I made it through the past 15 months without coming a busta earlier. I’ve had extreme shin splints for 15 years and a bad ITB for over 10. Even after not running or exercising for 6 years, my right shin and ITB still hurt every time I walked.

The ITB doesn’t hurt at all anymore and after my 12 weeks off I know I won’t have to worry about shin troubles anymore because I’m still going to attend my physio to get the underlying causes of the stress fractures fixed. Long story short is that my muscles and joints are ridiculously tight (e.g. my calf is only just 6cm long and my ankles almost don’t flex at all).  Did I also mention I’ve neglected my core? Yoga, qi gong, pilates, weights and swimming are going to make all the difference.

My goal for 2013 is now much more modest. Rather than hoping to run my first 100 miler, I think I will spend:

  • January working on a recovery phase that includes 4min walk / 1 min run combinations
  • February and March completing the couch to 5km program (who would have thought given I’ve run a 50km and marathon this year)
  • April to August doing a kilometre buildup program in which I hope to increase my weekly mileage to 50km and my long runs to 18km.

After that, I’ll find a 50km or 60km race to train for and I will stick to a 20 weeks program to slowly increase my mileage.

It means I won’t run another marathon or ultra until 2014 but it’s the only real way to do it safely. And besides, I’ve now run two ultras and a marathon without proper preparation and I enjoyed them all. Imagine how great I’m going to feel when I am properly prepared for the events instead of being on the verge of physical break down.

Part of the reason I’m writing this is to remind myself later when I get impatient again.

Herbal remedy experiment

I’ve been growing comfrey in my garden for years. I grow it because it’s a great fertiliser but it’s also an old herbal remedy for bone fractures. The caveat is that it should not be used for more than 10 days in a row nor more than 4-6 weeks a year as a topical treatment because it has the potential to cause liver damage. It should also never be ingested or used on broken skin. This post is not providing medical advice. I am merely sharing my own personal experience. I have not studied natural medicine and do not recommend anyone use herbal treatments unless they have consulted their medical physician.

Caveat aside, comfrey contains allantoin, which can help repair cells. It has long been used to heal bone fractures (hence the common name ‘knit bone’) and it is reputed to be a good anti-inflammatory for deep bruises.

I have cooked up a comfrey poultice that I’m using on my foot and shin. I am not using it every day but am going to try it a few times to see whether it can help. I figure it can’t do any harm to try, so long as I head the warnings about limiting my use of the herb. I think I will use it 5-6 times over the coming fortnight. Hopefully it will start off the healing process.

1. Blend comfrey leaves and water

2. Add flour to form a paste

3. Spread paste on a cloth or pad

4. Wrap cloth or pad around injury

5. Tie cloth or pad around injury

6. Wrap in plastic and sports tape to prevent leakage

I’m also going to speak with my physio tomorrow about whether a set of crutches might be useful. I can’t seem to sit still so resting my foot isn’t going so well. But if I have a set of crutches I can still get around while resting my foot. I’ve pulled out of Tough Mudder because it seems silly to risk further injury when all I want to do is run ultras.

I mean, I’ve really fallen in love with the sport. There is only one other thing I’ve ever been ‘eat, sleep and breath’ interested in, and that’s my garden. I’ve cycled most of my life but haven’t ever been in love with it; my bike’s always just been a mode of transport. I love my motorbike but only ride it; I have only recently decided to learn how to service it myself.

But running … I am surprised to find I love it. I want to run long distances. I don’t need to be fast but I need to be out there in the bush running. And it’s trail ultras that I crave. Sure, I’ve now run a marathon but it didn’t give me the same buzz as the thought of being out on the trails for 7 – 20 hours give me. I can’t explain it; but I could eat, sleep and breath ultras quite easily. I know the names of some ultra runners while I’ve never known the names of any other sports people (not even triathlon).

So I’m going to try my comfrey poultice and perhaps use crutches. And when I can run again, I’m going to follow a progressive program to sensibly build my strength and endurance to reduce the risk of my leg injuries recurring. Because I just need to run.

Making lemonade from lemons

Serious food for thought

When I started running again last year, I knew the risks. I also stuck my head in the sand about the extent of my existing leg injuries: shin splints and ITB in my left leg, sharp pains in the arch of my right foot and a spot on my back that no one could touch. I’ve battled through this far (15 months) with my head buried in those tiny grains you find on the beach.

When I decided on the 12-in-12 Challenge my first stop was the physiotherapist. I knew that I couldn’t get through it without getting some attention on my legs.

What I didn’t expect was for my shin and ITB injuries to respond so well to treatment. They responded so well that I forgot about them long enough to overdo it in the garden last weekend. The physio strapped the calf this morning to help it rest and recover more quickly. I’m confident it will respond well to the ongoing physiotherapy and my homework.

I remembered to tell the physio about the pain in my foot this morning. It’s the first time I’ve remembered to mention it (I actually marked the painful spot with a pen before I went in this morning). After poking and prodding my foot, the physio told me he suspects a stress fracture. That’s pretty bad news for me. At the end of our session today, the physio also strapped my foot to help it rest. He’s going to have another look at it on Monday to see how it responds to a week of rest. MRIs are expensive here in Australia so he said he’d prefer to wait to see whether I need to shell out for the test.

So here’s my lemons: best case scenario I have a serious soft-tissue injury in my left foot and worst case scenario is that I have a stress fracture. Either way, I’ll be unable to run for 4-12 weeks.

Here’s my lemonade: these are chronic injuries I’ve had for years and I know I’ve found a physio who can help me fix them. Even if my 12-in-12 Challenge is off, I have gained so much confidence in the past two months and know that I have what it takes to run ultra marathons. The injuries are long-standing problems, they haven’t been caused by the ultra running. In fact, if it weren’t for the ultra running I probably wouldn’t have gone to see someone about getting them fixed.

I’m going mountain biking with friends this afternoon. I’m allowed to cycle so long as I take it easy. Tomorrow I will go swimming for the first time in months. I’m still doing Tough Mudder next weekend but will just be doing it for a laugh and will be walking up the hills. It will probably be my final event for the year. That means I have three months to work on endurance by swimming and cycling, strength in the gym and flexibility if I can find an affordable yoga class.

When I can run again I’m probably going to focus on either the Northface 100km trail run in May (solo run) or the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km trail run in June (team event). And this time I’m going to do it right rather than just jumping in. I’m enjoying reading two blogs by runners training for ultras (Run Nature and Run Bike Race) and am inspired by their systematic approaches to increasing mileage and running well, rather than just bumbling through.

I hope the news on Monday is good. But I am preparing for the worst. Either way, I can only grow from the experience.

A tough decision

That’s it! I’m calling it! This Saturday’s 50km trail race is off 😦 .

I was supposed to be running the 50km trail run at the Glasshouse 100. It was going to be my third event in the 12-in-12 Challenge. However, I aggravated my shin splints on Saturday. My leg hurts when I sleep and even hurts when I walk. Even if it did recover by Saturday morning, all I would be doing is risking further injury.

It’s totally gutting but at the same time, the Glasshouse Trail Runs are not that great. The course is not all that scenic and just follows sharp, gravelly fire trails. If I had a choice of events to pull out of, this is the one.

I’m not giving up on the 12-in-12 Challenge. I am still forging ahead. I already have two events scheduled for June so I still have 12 events in my 12 month calendar. And otherwise I can always do the Gold Coast Marathon in the first weekend of July 2013 to still have 12 events in 12 months (my first event was 29 July 2012).

But I need to be realistic. I can’t run this weekend and still be fit for the rest of my races. I need to get stronger. I haven’t done the miles and I was carrying a long-term injury into the challenge. I went in eyes wide open that this would be tough and that there would be set-backs along the way. The real challenge is to overcome those set-backs and make the best decisions for my success in the challenge.

Besides, I have Tough Mudder Sydney on 22 September and I would much rather participate in that than the Glasshouse trail run.

So my next 12-in-12 Challenge event is now the 50km trail run at Washpool on 14 October. I think that’s going to be a magnificent event. It’s a flat course with no cut-offs and beautiful wild flowers.