Monday, November 17, 2014

Mt Lofty 2 Murray Bridge 'Just Coz' Ultra

Once again, the wonderful, crazy cat Karen and I had drummed up another 'little adventure', as we continue to prepare for the big run from Melbourne to Adelaide.  The final 60-70km stretch into Adelaide was always going to one to navigate as we cannot head in along the freeway.  As such, we decide a few weeks ago to do a reccy run through there to check it out.  Don't want any surprises at day 9 of a 7km+ run.......

Initially thinking it would be just us, with maybe a couple of others coming along since we know some other crazy nutbags around, we put it out there on Facebook that anyone is welcome.  Well......... message after message, pouring in from all over the place, we end up with 19 people kicking off (including 2 running slightly late, intending to make up ground)

Having only punched in a very loose 'google map' route with 'walking' option clicked, the starting comment of "alright, let's go.  Which way do we start" really set the day in motion for what was to come..............  I know it's east and I know of 2 marked trails along the way, including the Pioneer Womens Trail, which runs past this starting point only 1-2kms down the hill.  That's good enough for me.......... lol

Taking our first step about 15 minutes after we'd planned was quite good considering the social, unofficial aspect.  It's been raining through the night, but outlook promised a cool, but dry day ahead.  For once, the weather reports were correct.  Cool, dry, and 50/50 sun/cloud.  Perfect!!!

The Pioneer Womens Trail offers some nice single track for most of this portion, with lush greenery, conversing through some nice parks and skirting through some well known and loved country towns.  Perfect for Karen to stop in for a coffee......

Once we leave Harndorf it's onto the navigation component until we pick up the Lavender trail near the end of the run.  Which way will offer the most gravel roads, over the bitumen?  Thankfully, we have a local on board, Lee, who sticks his hand up and offers some backroad options to head through.  Done! 

The next 30-35km is loosely 40% bitumen, 60% gravel.  A few rolling hills but nothing worth noting for the big day.  Somehow through this section, the distance left to go, seems to continue stretching to the point where the initial 63km estimate is blowing out to somewhere in the low 70's.  Of course Karen and I are finding this quite amusing, while some others may have kept a few expletives to themselves...... LOL

Eventually we stroll into Monarto, where we pick up the Lavender Trail, knowing it'll be a welcomed change getting back onto some single track.  No-one warned us it was 3-4 km of soft sand to begin with.  Grrrrr.  Navigation through here is a bit of hit and miss with the trail signs mostly missing.  Unsure if we're actually still on the trail, we stumble across some mountain bikers who confirm we are, but advise of an unmarked turn.  Lucky because we surely would've gone straight ahead.

Taking the turn, we head 2km up another dirt road, but didn't care because it was surely better than the bloody sand.  Hitting the end of this dirt road we finally turn right into Rocky Gully; a technical single track with some great looking rock faces.  We also know it's down to single figures to get into town.  Great relief!

After some very enjoyable km's through the rocky trails, we come out to the perimeter of Murray Bridge, and 1km after that, we get our first glimpse of the river.  Of course, the camera phones come out...........

Another 3kms, we're done!  But of course, runners OCD kicks in, and have another 400m to go until the rounding off of the full KM..... OK, now we're done!

What a day........... 

What was amazing; the support we received from my good friend Greg, Jon, and Darryl who met us at every 5-10km along the route, to top us up with food and fluids. In addition, we had a few others popping in and out to offer additional help. Thankyou so much as there is no way we could've done this without you all.

I can not believe the amount of amazing people I know in the running community here.  On a whim, say 'yeah I'll come along' for a 60km+ social run for no other reason than 'Just Coz'

Monday, October 13, 2014

Post race: The Danger Zone......

Thought for tonight:

How many times have you been part way through an event saying to yourself "Why am I doing this?". "Never doing this again", just to find yourself in the same event the next year, getting to the same point thinking, 'hang on, I said I wasn't doing this again!" lol

If you're like me, and most others, this is like groundhog day with runners on.  Don't get me wrong, I friggin love running and the buzz from events just make things more electric.  But there's something about those moments during the low times that can have you questioning your mentality.....  Have you thinking all those 'well meaning' friends maybe right to have you committed to the local support group because "you're crazy".

However.......... no matter how low those lows may be, and no matter how you struggled through, there is always the age old Newtons' saying "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction".  I believe this is true with distance running.  The lowest of lows in my past events have often had me coming out within 48hrs post race with the highest of highs.  I'm not going to bore everyone with nerdy talks on endorphins and blah blah.  All I'm going to say is we've all been there.......  The night of and up to the following 2 days is 'glory time' to reflect back on the day.  Even if you've had a shocker outcome, there's still something going on inside that makes you tick.

This is what I'm dubbing as "The Danger Zone"
By %, how many events do you think people sign up for whilst within the 48hr post event period?  If it's anything like me, it'd have to be somewhere in the 80% region.  I can't help myself.  My wife gets nervous when I go near a computer or smart phone within 2 days of an event.  She knows I'll be signing up all over the place.  I'm thinking it's not too long until my credit card is confiscated during this costly timeframe.  (note to self, write down my credit card details in advance)

But true to my nutbag character, my advice is, EMBRACE THE DANGER ZONE!!!! It's because of this that I've signed up for events that normally I should be thinking no way, just to find I had a blast, then hit the Danger Zone again.  And so the vicious cycle continues......

I don't know how to get off this rollercoaster, but hey, why would I want to?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Distance Running: Passion or Obsession?????

Vent time.........  I've just completed my second 48hr ultra marathon in 2 months, and am sick of the bombardment of negatively directed queries.  Especially along the context that I must have some sort of addiction to running......  (I'll point out firstly that none of this has come from close friends or family as those close to me, know me and my motives)

When it comes to your career, there's the common phrase "when you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life".  I believe this wholeheartedly.  I think that's also true when it comes to your fitness or lifestyle choices.  Too many times I see or hear of people who perceive their 'duty' to fitness or healthy life choices as a chore, or something they 'have to do'.......  WHY?  Why is it such a drag?  Maybe you're not doing it right.  Maybe you're not doing it for the right reason.  Or, maybe you've not found something you truly enjoy doing that ticks all the boxes for keeping your fitness in check.  But that's a whole other story....

Why is it always the un-informed always offer the most 'informed opinions'?
I know this is where I sit in terms of distance running.  If you're a long distance runner, I'm sure you've had all the same questions or concerns thrown at you that I have:
  • didn't you run yesterday?
  • isn't that bad for your knees?
  • how do you run so much?  I get tired/bored after 10 minutes
  • you ran a marathon? did you win?
The fact is, running is more closely aligned to our evolutionary development than most other common human activities in the 21st century so I find the naïve questioning almost insulting.  I know its generally not meant that way so it's easy enough to let it go.  By large proportions, I'd be comfortable to bet that more people watch television for one hour per day than people exercise for 1 hour per day.  Yet anyone who routinely exercises for 1 hour, every day without fail will be accused as being obsessive, addicted or somewhat controlled by their 'need' to do so.  However, how many people who sit in front of the idiot box for 1 hour a day are struck with the same arrow?  Few at best.

Am I obsessed?
It wasn't until recently when I was reviewing some of my Garmin data that I realised just how many long distance runs I've racked up in the last couple of years.  Why?  Because non were a chore.  I bet if I tried I could count how many times I've done weeding though..... lol

I started running around April 2012, with no particular intent or structure, just the fact that I wanted to maintain weight.  After a couple of months of settling into things, I soon came to realise how much I loved pushing the limits on distance, and moreso along the trails.  I remember back in the early days doing a fair bit of reading about all things running, such as how to train for your first half marathon, and how long should you allow to recover? etc.  I'm glad I decided to throw all this info in the bin and just go by my own studies in personal training and human movement.  + use 'fun' as my true guide to what I want to do and how I'm going to do it.

In quick summary, this has lead to the following runs since August 2012: (2 years, 2 months)
  • 16 @ 45km to 179km
  • 6 @ marathon distance
  • 28 @ half marathon to marathon distance
  • 376 activities in total @ an average of 12.35km per run
I genuinely had no idea that there were so many, however regret none of them.  Were any of these worthy of any accolades?  No, not by a long shot.  But, I've enjoyed every mile and have followed my passion for the reasons I choose.  Would some say it's too much for such a short period of time? Yep, many will, and many do.  Do it care?  F*%k no!

Some will no doubt see this as an 'obsession'.  I see it as doing something I love, guided solely by what makes me tick.  Furthermore, at no point do I let my choices in this area interfere with or create sacrifice in other important factors in my life; such as family, career, social life etc.  It is my belief that an action or activity crosses from 'passion' to 'obsession' when other facets of ones life are negatively distorted as a direct result.  ie, should your partner and kids feel neglected due to your repeated choices, and you know this, then continue down the same path anyway; maybe you need to consider what's most important.

I make no reservations to say that I love pushing the boundaries and get a real kick out of it.  But at no point, should it come at a cost.  At least not to other important facets of what makes up your existence.  It's about balance and understanding..........

So be obsessively passionate people.............

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

ULTRA MARATHON RUNNING: Run to compete or run to complete

Have you ever found yourself doing something, just to one day ask yourself "why am I doing this?"  I'm sure you have.  This is fairly simply explained, yet hard to avoid.  In basic terms, it's an internal battle we're constantly taking part in between what you personally want out of life VS social conditioning. Personally, I have my own clear understanding on what it is that I want out of life, and how I'd ideally wish to carry it out.  Yet, how is it I often find myself doing the exact opposite, until making a concerted effort to re-align myself?  By nature, humans are followers, yet consciously we wish to carry out our own agendas.  A clear conflict.

So where am I going with this ramble?  "C'mon Matt, I didn't come on here for a Dr Phil special".  This is my nerdy way of explaining that every single one of you have you're own agenda to why you run.  Why you started.  Why you've continued, or why you've come back to it if you've had a break.  While some people's verbal descriptions may sound similar to others, their own personal understanding and drive behind it all is somewhat personal and unique.

So what drives you to lace up?  Take a minute to think about it.  I challenge you to take a few minutes and write down and few lines........ Can you?  If it's something you haven't yet consciously taken time to think about, it may be slightly challenging.

Todays post isn't a personal development session so I'll move on.  Ultimately what I want to put out there is we need to align our activity with our purpose.  This is what I was referring to in the first paragraph.  I can't possibly list and provide commentary on all the possible options out there so I'm going to pick 2 common theme's that sit behind various motives I come across when discussing this topic with fellow runners.
  1. The Thrillers: Those who are completely enthralled by pushing for every second and will go to huge lengths to grab a PB at their next race.
  2. The Chillers: Those who care not (or very little) for their performance, but simply enjoy the social aspect or some personal time to relax. 
Do you run to Compete; or do you run to Complete? I'm sure you can immediately think of some running colleagues and begin to pigeon hole the majority of them into one of these.  And just to throw in a variable, sometimes the same person can have both of these on the cards, but at different times in their lives.  Maybe you personally have gone through stages between these.

I've been caught up across the 2 at the same time, which caused me considerable grief.  Going back to my earlier suggestion that we battle between internal motives VS what goes on around us, I've found myself on occasion blurring these together.  It's like mixing milk with vinegar. 

Personally, I run because I love the freedom and self fulfillment out on the trails.  A couple of hours up in the hills either alone or with others can always solve all of the worlds problems, (or at least until I get back in the car and grab my phone........)  Yep, I'm a 'Chiller'.  However, in almost all other aspects of my life I tend to be quite competitive by nature.  I'm sales and commercially driven and can be a little impulsive when I want to achieve something.  While I have no intention of chasing down a course record for TNF100, nor probably have the ability anyway....... lol, early last year I found myself almost hating putting the runners on.  Why?  I love running.  After a little while, it dawned on me that I had become so wound up in trying to become competitive, my whole focus in training had become about what my garmin displayed each mile, and the weekly reports I'd download to assess the improvements.  I'd let go of what truly interested and motivated me, and began to follow suit with others who were more results driven. 

In terms of Ultra Marathon running, even training to just complete can be an extremely intense process, coupled with huge investments in time and personal sacrifice. Training to compete however, takes somewhat more.  For many, this is their own form of joy.  Their drive to keep going.  And to those, I commend you.  It's always inspiring to watch or read a race report from the front runners on huge events; however I find it equally inspiring to see someone come out of nowhere, possibly pulling themselves out from some personal issues to work they way up and complete their first 100km event.  50km, 100km or more for some is an incredibly long way to push the body. Whether you come first or last in an ultra marathon, it's important to understand that you've completed an extraordinary task that puts you in a minute minority group that others cannot fathom how you did it. Let alone why!

From here on in, I make concerted efforts to refresh myself on WHY I do what I do.  Rarely do I carry out my LSR alone, purely because I know me.  After a few weeks, I'll end up losing focus on what's really important. 

So, my message today is:  Why do you run?  In years to come when you look back on your journey, what will give you the greatest satisfaction?  Once you know what this is, why would you do anything else?

Run well and happy trails........

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

FIRST ROGAINE: a trail runners 'playtime'

It's no secret that I favor the trails over hard surface running any day, in any condition.  That said, no matter how much you love something, there can come times where some variety can keep things interesting.

A few weeks ago a running friend, Sally, plants the seed about entering a Rogaine event coming up.  I'd heard of it before, but knew very little about it.  Rogaining, for those who know as much as I did a few weeks ago, is most easily described as ultra running mixed with orienteering.  This particular event had both a 6hr and 12hr event of which there were 50 secret checkpoints (called 'controls') spread across miles of countryside; each worth a variety of score points based on complexity, location and distance.  The concept here is, the team who can gather the most points by visiting the controls within the given timeframe wins.

After a couple posts and comments thrown around on Facebook, we had a team formed for the 12hr event and had committed to it.  OK, now what?  I don't even know what we need to do.  All I know is that I'll be spending 12 hours out in the bush with my running shoes on so I'm happy.  The 2 others in the team, Dione and Tania were equally novices to the concept as I.  So this can either be a complete disaster, or a whirlwind adventure......

Thankfully, Sally had planned a training night for beginners to gather some basic tips.  While I couldn't make the session, I was saved by Dione and Tania who did attend.  Based on the knowledge shared, we all did our best to equip ourselves with the required gear.  Even meeting a few days prior to go over our 'team plan' in some naïve attempt to look like we knew what we were doing on the day.

Of course it seems idiotic to enter the 12hr event, rather than the 6 when none of us had been exposed to the game before, but hey, what's an adventure without jumping in the deep end?

We agree to arrive around 8:30am to get set up, knowing that the course map identifying the control locations is given out 2 hours prior to the 11am start time, at 9.  This is the time to strategically map out your ideal route to take, maximizing the points you can gather in the set time.

We set ourselves down, put together 3 different plans allowing for variables we're yet to experience, and decide on one to start us off.

5, 4, 3 ,2, 1.... and we're off.  Knowing we have 12 hours ahead of us, we agree that we must take it as easy as possible from the outset.  Gently running the flats and downs, walking the ups, should ideally give us sufficient pace while conserving energy. 

A few minutes later, we come across our first control, #20.  Granted it was the closest and easiest to identify, it was great to get our first one ticked off.  We childishly hi-5 each other in celebration of our small yet exciting achievement.  OK, on to the next one.....

Well, here's our crash course in what rogaining is really about!  We get to the approximate location on the trail, knowing the control is located off the trail about 150m.  In thick, prickly, dense scrub.  Not a clear path in sight.  The only tip we're given is 'the spur'.  What the heck is a spur?  We spend around 20-30 minutes 'learning' what the hell a spur is, and more to the point, what to expect when looking for these controls.  At least it was worth a lot more points.

The next few controls come along fairly quickly, and thankfully without much hassle.  Awesome, we seem to be getting the hang of it.  Not to mention we are about an hour ahead of plan now.

Off we head towards the most valuable control on the course, #100.  A short time later, it becomes apparent that we've gone past the track leading down to the control, and in fact had headed completely out of the mapped area!!!!  Oops, thanks Matt for suggesting we follow the creek bed.....  At least it had some great views.  We turn back, and get back on course within 15 minutes, finding the control quite easily after clambering down one of the steepest descents I've seen.

A couple of hours later, after completing our first intended loop of controls and arriving back at base camp (called Hash House) we only missed out on 1 control we'd planned on.  Not to mention getting back about 2 hours before plan.  What an awesome day it's been so far.  Sure, our legs look like pin cushions from the shrubs but a fantastic time indeed.

We happily reward ourselves by resting for 45 minutes, sitting down to have a good meal.  Night time now; headlamps on, review the next circuit and off we go.

Night time navigation is something I've gotten used to with trail running, but heading off from the track into the bush was another story.  With no geographical points of reference to guide us, we begin to rely a bit more on the compass.  The last few hours during the day has prepped us well enough on the basics that we can focus more on 'not getting lost'.  Fortunately, this section treats us well.  Finding all intended controls without much of an issue at all. 

About 2 hours left, it's time to start heading back.  We'd deliberately left a couple of controls near camp as contingencies just in case we had time.  Awesome, we have time.  Cutting straight across to grab 1 of them took a few minutes navigating through a thick pine plantation forest, we head towards the our last one for the night to find the control had been stolen by local campers.  Oh well, it's been a whirlwind day in superb scenery with some extraordinary people.  Time to get back.

Arriving back at base with an hour left on the clock, the team equally agrees to call it a night and just relax.  We'd achieved more than we'd originally planned, so to sit back with a hot chocolate around the campfire was a perfect ending to an enlightening day.

During presentations we learn that the low expectations we had on ourselves, anticipating a dead last placing or close to, is countered by coming in 20th out of 33 teams.  Bonus!!!!!

I think I've found my 'cross training'.  There's so much to learn, and I will most definitely be back to take it all on board.

Big thanks to my team members Dione And Tania who made an unknown day such a wonderful experience.  Knowing how easy we took things, mixed with not knowing what the hell we were doing to begin with, I'm pretty sure next time around will be quite an improvement.

Until next time............