Sunday, August 4, 2013

Win a Free Pair of the latest Running Shoes from HOKA

If you want to treat your feet, get them into a shiney new pair of Hokas!  If you don't want to pay then there is way to get a pair for free, gratis, compliments of Hoka OneOne Australia.

You don't have to be in Australia to enter, but if you win they will only be shipped to an Australian address. So maybe find yourself a friendly Australian who'll forward them on for you, or come and visit!  

Simply send your entertaining running stories in and the best entry get's the booty :)

Go on be nice to your feet and enter...Good Luck!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The real cost of Running Shoes


I've written previously about using your shoes beyond the prescribed life suggested by the shoe manufacturers. My mantra has been if the shoes feel good, and you're not getting injured then keep going in them.  That said when you’re running Ultramarathons you do need to have a good running shoe that will go the distance. For me, it’s only when the uppers start falling apart and the soles when smooth that I have to retire the shoes to gardening duties.


For the past 3 years I've been running in Hokas since they arrived in Australia and have kept records of the distances done in each pair.  My "most experienced" pair have started to show signs that they too are ready to spend more time in the garden, having clocked up over 2500kms (1600 miles).

I am particularly hard on my shoes for a number of reasons: 

Firstly I run mostly on gritty trails, dusty tracks, bare rocks and sandy beaches. The sand really gets into the shoes and doesn't do anything to extend their life! 

I'm on the larger size for a runner at 85kgs, so there is a fair bit of force going through those shoes many millions of times in their lifetime. 

Finally, my poor shoes have to live outside (they have odour issues that makes them unwelcome in the house!) so they spend many hours subjected to the intense Queensland sun.

In short I give my shoes a hard time, even though they are very good to me (I've been injury free since I've been running in them, not even a blister).  

After about 1500kms I had to replace the laces and other than that they've just had the occasional rinse off when the mud got really thick.

You can see from the photos that they don't look their best, but don't be deceived, they still feel pretty good. I've managed to wear the soles flat, and even wear through them in a couple of spots. The upper has a couple of holes at the crease where the toe flexes. 

Given their unconventional appearance I am frequently asked about the shoes, how they feel, how heavy they are, the benefits over other shoes, and of course the price. The price always gets their attention. In Australia they are at the upper end of the specialist running shoes scale around $230 a pair, this is about the same as I used to pay for my Asics road shoes (back when I used to be a slave to the bitumen!).  Whilst this may seem a high price, when you consider it only costs about $9 per 100kms they're less than half the cost of the old road shoes which would give out after about 900kms! 
0kms v 2500kms

These shoes are the most fun you can have for $230 with your clothes on!!

I'll be putting 700kms into my new Mafate II's when we get out into the Kimberley next week for the "Outback Odyssey"

Run Happy!
Andy

"It's important to give it all you have while you have the chance"

Monday, April 29, 2013

33 Marathons - as it happened (and what's next)

33 Marathons was the first chapter of my Ultramarathon journey, to get a preview of the next chapter have a look here.

The report is obviously a considerable time after the event, but given the outcome I wanted to wait a little before I wrote it all up to give me a bit of time to get everything into perspective, and that took a lot longer than I would have thought.

I’ll start from the morning of day one, as I did manage to give a bit of a write up of the 3 day (3400kms) drive to Kalgoorlie. This probably wasn't the ideal preparation, but it was great to drive where I’d be running and get an appreciation of the task ahead.

Let's go!


Day 1
Kalgoorlie – Widgiemooltha (3 Golf Holes)
Weather: 25C Sunny
Distance: 103.1kms
Time:      11 hours 51minutes
Ave HR:   118 BPM

As we were camping in Kalgoorlie, and what with the excitement of getting started we were up early and full of beans on the first morning. I was pretty relaxed, probably more than I would normally be for a race. There was too much to do before we hit the golf course at 7am. So I loaded up on a hearty brekky of rolled oats and yoghurt, and toast and a few other tasty snacks confident that I’d burn it all off before lunchtime as there was 88km or possibly 103kms ahead of me.

Basically given the layout of the golf course, we had designed our running schedule around the convenient options to stop along the way. The better option for us was Widgiemooltha at 10kms, but I was very conscious that this was day one, and I didn't want to set the bar too high before we even set off. The benefit of going the extra distance was that the next day would “just” be around 95kms, rather than the 110km if we took the shorter day one option.

So we got the kit all packed up in the trailer, and headed for Kalgoorlie Golf Course, the first two holes of which are part of the Nullarbor Links Golf course. There was the excited conversation of school kids off on an excursion on the way there, not really knowing what the day, or next 2 weeks had in store for us.  When we pulled p at the golf course a large male Red Kangaroo was waiting for us on the first tee, which was to typify the Australian-ness of this adventure.

Before we did tee off, I remember thinking to myself to “make the most of these two holes, as you’re body isn't going to be in this sort of shape for the rest of the round” and that was a pretty accurate prediction.  Gloria from WIN TV had arrived so we had a little chat about the challenge and charities and then had to get on to my golfing TV debut. Clive, one of my crew, was also playing and had the pleasure of hitting off first, a shot that he admits he would rather have not made on TV, but it did restrain his language and saved my driver from being tossed into the bush!  My tee shot on the other hand was one I am particularly proud of, however the trouble with starting well is that it is easy to go downhill from there – which it did!

After we played the first two holes, we had the luxury of relaxing in the car park waiting for 8:45am to come around. The delayed start was so that I would be passing Kalgoorlie Primary School just after 9am, where the kids were going to be cheering me on, as well as providing another opportunity for WIN TV to get a shot of me actually running, and for the Kalgoorlie Miner (the local paper) to get some nice pictures too.

It was an odd feeling having to orchestrate the run for such events, where normally running is so low key. What it did for me though was make me realise that we were finally off and the memory of sending an email out to Clive and a couple of others asking if they fancied joining me for a round of golf 18 months earlier had become a reality.

Those first 4kms to the school were a little surreal, as in my mind we were very much off on a massive adventure, but to the occasional local that I ran passed I looked as if I was just out for a quite 10km before work!  I did almost take a wrong turning as I left the club car park, and reflected on how ironic that would be given that in the 1400kms there were only 2 junctions to negotiate and I could have been one for none in less than 500m!
Clearly the adrenalin had kicked in as I was running far faster than I had planned and my HR was about 20bpm faster than it should be. I rationalised at this point that it was just excitement and this normally calms down after 5-10kms anyway.

Approaching the school, I had to come up over a railway bridge, so I could see Bill and Clive up on the bridge from a way off as lookouts. I put on my Red Nose (representative of the SIDS charity I was running for) and crested the bridge to see the most uplifting sight. There must have been over 200 of the school kids lining either side of the road, many of them also wearing red noses that we had dropped in to them previous in appreciation of their support. Instinctively I ran along the lines of kids high fiving all the way. I felt like some kind of rock star, loving every minute of it. I even did it twice for the TV guys could get a better shot! The kids were just great, so full of excitement and enthusiasm that it really made me realise how non-runners perceive what we were doing, as most of my planning had been done with friends from the running community where expectations are very different.

I only hope that we may have inspired a few of those kids to get out there and give things a crack. I know from comments I later received from parents that they loved the
One of the best moments of the event.
opportunity to be part of the event, and that alone makes me feel great about embarking on the challenge.

As I left the school and continued running South it did go eerily quiet as I was alone again trotting through the streets of Kalgoorlie. Bill and Clive drove past and headed out to a spot about 5kms out of town that we had decided was a good place to make our first pit stop. I remember snacking on a muesli bar, thinking to myself that I must eat little and often, as I could not afford to fall behind with my nutrition or hydration.

Even though it was still before 10am, it was pretty warm on this first morning with a shade temperature of about 22c, but to me it felt like 28c. I run best in the cooler temperatures, and my concern was my hydration as I am a heavy sweater, and if I didn't keep hydrated I’d not make day 2, let alone day 16. To monitor this was took a set of bathroom scales with us, which I would use through the day to make sure there were no significant drops in weight (and hence hydration).  That and peeing frequently would be the best indicators that I was hydrated – I waited until I got out of town before I put that into practice!

Not long after leaving town (which finished pretty abruptly) I got my first experience of the road trains. These trucks with 3 or 4 trailers were up to 50m in length and would make a mess of me if I strayed in their path whilst they hack along at 100kmh. This is something I learnt from the number of Kangaroos who had given their lives as a warning and frequent reminder to me of the dangers of arguing with 50 tonnes of steel moving at pace, and I thank them for that, their lives were not lost in vane!

The first pit stop was great as it was the beginning of a big learning process for all of us. I don’t think I even asked for a chair, and that was probably the last time I didn’t either! So
A typical mid run dining selection
we kept it short and sweet, I had a fruit bar and a bag of chocolate coated fruit and nut, and swapped my drink bottle for a full one (with a nice Nuun tab in it – this proved a wise choice). Heading off I was in pretty good shape, but we hadn't really started.

The first milestone was 14km. A milestone as in my head it was like watching a computer download bar, and we had just moved to 1%!  Fortunately I didn't let this get to me, as it easily could have, but took it as a positive. In fact all the way I found little reasons to celebrate, such a marathon, 5 hours, 5% done, and so on. My mind was always focusing on the things which made me feel good, and on tasks that were manageable – basically getting to the next pit stop.  For day one this was every 5kms, as we were all finding our feet. From about 25kms in Clive joined me on his bike, how he managed to ride it so slowly for so long was an amazing feat in itself. It was great to have the company, especially on this first day as there was some much excitement and the need for all of us to establish routines and structure.

The conversations were in far more depth than you would probably have under normal circumstances, simply because we had time, and lots of it. I gave an unabridged account of one event in my life to Clive which lasted through two pit stops, and it was a really good feeling to not feel rushed or under pressure to have to get on an do something else. It was a very unusual situation and one that I very much appreciated.

The following week would create the opportunity for many more of these sort of events, and they are some of the more memorable moments.

Apart from nearly every passing vehicle being mining related, the most noticeable and sadly disturbing thing I noticed was the amount of rubbish along the sides of the road, especially in the Kalgoorlie to Norseman stretch. There wouldn't be 5 metres without a bottle, or shoe, or food wrapper. While the mining companies may be making the WA economy very healthy there was some (unnecessary) collateral damage in the process. Apparently it is cleared from time to time, but in my mind it shouldn't be happening in the first place. I’m glad to say that we didn't knowingly leave anything behind.

I was tempted to pick up some of the things we saw along the way, as they could have
had a use, although I did think twice with a welding mask. It was likely I may need some maintenance but probably not one that would require welding!

50kms in and a ute drove past and pulled over into the bush about 200m ahead of me.  As I got closer the driver got out and he was in running gear! Grant Wholey had been tracking our arrival in the previous weeks and decided to come along for the ride. It was great to know the number of (prior to then) complete strangers had taken an interest in what we were doing, and in Grant’s case, had gone out of his way to take an active part in the event. Grant joined us for about 14kms into Kambalda, the site of the next golf hole.

Grant is an experienced distance runner who was aspiring towards Ultramarathons and we had a lot to talk about. It was a really enjoyable couple of hours which helped take my mind off the task in hand. The trouble with running and chatting with another regular runner was that I found myself running a little faster than perhaps I should have, knocking off 5:45min kms repeatedly.  

The golf hole at Kambalda gave us our first exposure to Sand scrape greens, and in this case the entire course didn't have a blade of grass on it! Amazingly I still hit the ball really well off the tee, which I wasn't expecting after nearly 7 hours of running. One thing is for sure I certainly enjoyed the break from the running, and my heart rate dropped down into the 70’s in appreciation too. There was a disappointment though as I had it in my head to have an ice cream at this stop as I was expecting some shops nearby, but basically there wasn't anywhere near the course that we could get one, so I had to make do with my normal pit stop snacks.

Grant and Andy taking a breather at the next golf hole
We had a few photos with Grant, and he made a donation and I was back on the road again. This time the pace was a little more reserved as I still had another 20 or 40kms to go. We had left our overnight stop flexible depending on how things went given that it was the first day and we really weren't sure how I’d be travelling.

As dusk started to fall I went through the first of my lower spots and things were pretty tough for a while. This was what would become a regular experience, and I thought back on the advice I’d been given by Pam Reed during my training – “just keep putting one leg out in front” and that’s what I did. With a bit of engaging conversation with Clive the low spot was behind me and we had caught up with Bill for a pit stop.  This did the trick and with about 85kms under our belt for the day I was still travelling OK so we decided to push on to Widgiemooltha the longer option, but there was a motel which would be far easier than camping which was the alternative.

Being out in the dark so far from anywhere you really get to appreciate the stars away from light pollution. We were heading towards the Southern Cross, and under the Milky Way. The conversation and the occasional shooting star took our minds off the cold. The sun had ducked under the horizon very rapidly, and within minutes the temperature dropped equally as fast. If nothing else this was an incentive to keep moving and keep generating my own heat, it was better to run than even think about walking.

I genuinely enjoy running at night, I think it’s the perception of solitude and emptiness, and the emptiness is certainly a feeling you appreciate in such a remote area. On this night we were out in the dark for about 3 hours, the traffic drops off completely as many choose not to drive after dusk. At this time the wildlife comes out, and their road sense is about that of a 5 year old child – nonexistent.

Widgiemooltha is basically a campsite with a couple of cabins and a bar (apparently, as I didn't get to see that on this occasion!) and being so low key we didn't appreciate how close we were until we saw Bill’s torch light a few hundred metres up the road. The prospect of having a sit down with having to get running again was enticing me, and that’s pretty much what I did as soon as I got there.

Being the first night, there was a lot of teething going on for all of us. I was offered assorted foods, and opted for my favourite post run snack of noodles. I also put some ice packs on my legs, although they were not properly frozen so I’m not sure of their real benefit, but certainly better than doing nothing. I sat there eating and drinking with my feet up, watching Bill and Clive busily organising some food and making sure that I was comfortable. I found this quite awkward as I’m not used to being waited on, but had to keep reminding myself that it is there job to make sure I keep running, and being comfortable in rest periods is as important as the running itself. The guys were doing a great job, and we were all adjusting to this new routine.

After we eat, I’d take the opportunity of a shower, and it’s then that I discover some chaffing that I had not been aware of during the day. In all the excitement of the morning I had forgotten to apply the 2Toms anti-chaffing solution, and I was paying the price.  This is one of those lessons you learn very quickly as it’s not something you want to go through twice.  It’s something you need to attend to as soon as you realise there is a problem, if you wait until your next planned stop then the problem could be many times worse.

It’s been a long day, so with aching limbs I sit in the bed to download all the data from the Garmin and recharge it’s batteries to be ready for tomorrow. I attempt to recharge my batteries with some sleep too.


Day 2
Widgiemooltha - Norseman (0 Golf Holes)
Distance: 90.2kms
Time:      10 hours 48minutes
Ave HR:   104 BPM

You’ll be glad to know that my daily notes from here on were lost, so I’ll be less thorough with the report from here on in, basing this on my memory and other scraps of info I still have!

The first thing that hit me when I woke for day 2 was the pain in my left hip.  I’d had a big day yesterday, with some real highs, but this morning was a different story.  I was in uncharted territory, for I had run 100+kms previously, I’d never backed up with something similar. 

My training preparation had been built upon running tired, with twice a day training runs and running every day. I knew what it was like to run on tired legs and hoped I had conditioned my body for it. 

The trouble is that training is rarely like the real thing!

I was moving around gingerly and in a lot of pain, and hit by a wave of emotion.  I had been preparing for this for over a year and it looked as though I could be pulling the plug on day 2!  I phoned home for some emotional support and then called Tylana, my training partner and as luck would have it, Physio, for some practical advice. 

I was calmly told to suck it up, and work on a management plan, rather than thinking of doom and gloom, the focus was on what I COULD do, not on what I couldn't (a sound mantra in all areas of our lives).

The call did the trick getting me thinking straight.  I finished my breakfast, took a couple of Nurofen+ and left the guys to pack up.  The idea is that I’d take a pack with water and snacks to get me through 15-20Kms before getting into the routine.  The look on the Clive and Bill’s faces wasn't one of confidence as I hobbled off and I could well understand why.  I adjusted my running gait to more of a shuffle, which took the pressure off the hip and enabled me to move forward at faster than walking pace.  It turns out that this was what I did for the rest of the run.

About 30mins down the road and I was comfortably running with the shuffling gait, not fast, but without any other aches and pains.  This was a good thing. The wind was still in my face, so I took that as a positive, in that it was keeping me cool. 

Clive and Bill caught up with me after about 15kms and I refueled.  Early in the day I’d go for the Infinit sports drink, and a Milo bar. The plan was to keep eating and drinking all the way to avoid any drops in energy, and the associated mood drops.  I found that the 5km intervals from day 1 were too frequent, so we agreed to try 7kms.  I’d shuffle off, the guys would cruise past and then I’d watch them, often for more than 5 minutes as they became a dot on an over the horizon.  Typically it’s would take me 50mins to an hour to catch up, at which point I’d head for the chair and take my pick from the spread of snacks available to me.

There was no pattern to what I ate, it really was just what I fancied at each time.
The roadside diner
Sometimes fruit, other times, chocolate, sometimes a big bowl of pasta.  I let my body decide what it was I wanted rather than sticking to some scientifically prescribed formula.  Whilst doing that may have been better for my body, it certainly wasn't going to be best for my mind, and I needed my head to be happy if I was to keep going.

By lunchtime, and with about 50kms behind me for the day, the discomfort and worry of the morning had gone. I was still shuffling, but comfortably so, and covering ground at a decent pace.

Throughout the day I was doing mental arithmetic over how many marathons had been completed, how many were to go, anything to keep me distracted.  Even though we already had a significant distance behind us, it was insignificant compared to what lay ahead. At the time though I never really saw it as one big run, but really just focused on the next 7kms.

The rest of the day passed without too much event.  Clive came alongside on his bike for
Heading in for a pit stop
the odd section as the evening drew in.  The wind was still blowing in my face from the south east across the expanse of the salt pan of Lake Cowan.

We had slipped into the routine fairly quickly, where I demanded that Clive entertain me with stories of his youth in Ireland. Anything to make the time pass and great to hear too.  Clive asked me who my best friend was, to which my response was “Right now, it’s you!”
I could be pretty frank with Clive as ultimately the purpose of us being here was for the run.  Safety was paramount on the roads, and fortunately very few people venture onto the roads after sun down anyway. The risk of hitting a Kangaroo, Emu or Camel are pretty high, so most avoid travelling altogether.  I told Clive to turn his lights off as they were really annoying me, it’s funny how the slightest thing can take on huge proportions when you’re tired and energy depleted. There was little cloud and enough moonlight to see clearly, so the lights only came on when any vehicles came in sight.  Given the long, straight, flat roads you get plenty of warning, at times seeing the lights more than 10 minutes before they passed by.

So with lights off we trotted along to Norseman, enjoying the great outdoors, and the feeling of being a tiny insignificant speck on the surface of a huge ball in space.

At the cabin that night I put my feet up and lay ice packs on my thighs, in attempt to simulate an ice bath.  The only problem was that the packs weren't properly frozen, so the benefit was negligible. Another lesson learnt for the rest of the trip.



Day 3
Norseman – Frasers Range (2 Golf Holes)
Distance:  95.8kms
Time:       12 hours 12 minutes
Ave HR:    109 BPM

After the previous morning’s injury concerns this morning was a huge relief. The hip felt fine, the legs were in good shape, just a bit of tiredness which was to be expected.  I celebrated a little personal victory in having completed back to back ultras for the first time, but also reflected that I’d have to do it another 14 times to complete the job! 

The golf course in Norseman was a couple of kms from where we were staying, so I headed to the course on foot, while the guys packed up and then Clive me at the club.  I was surprised by how well I could swing a club given the physical battering I had given my body in the previous two days.

We played the two holes, and then with a small pack I headed off back into Norseman, before making the right turn, to face East, and running towards the finish line for the first time.  Clive went back to finish the packing with Bill, and they were then going to meet me on the road.

The terrain early on this section was a bit different to previous days. It was quite hilly,
Another straight!
with grass covered hills, stunted shrubs, and large boulders poking through.  I was loving seeing all the geography around me, getting to see a lot of the land forms I had only read about during my school and Uni years. Clive claimed to have been disappointed not to have shared this with me at the time, so I told him the science behind it all afterwards, and he soon changed his mind!

A good couple hours down the road, the terrain returned to the more standard Nullarbor form. My running gait remained unchanged – it was working, don’t try and fix it.  Just was my water and Infinit ran out, there was a tooting of car horns and the boys were back!  They pulled over down the road a little to get set up and I cruised in for a pit stop.

We were back in the 7km routine, and working like a well oiled machine.  By mid-afternoon the achievements of the previous days were starting to catch up with me, my legs feeling heavy.  As tired as they were, I kept a steady pace. Clive asked if I was tired and if I wanted to stop, to which I responded yes I am tired, but this is what I’m here for, I have a job to do.  I believe the conditioning of the training in preparation for this run was kicking in. It was like I was running on autopilot, and that while I consciously felt tired, the motivation to slow or stop wasn't there.  I also know that slowing down was only going to make a long day longer, which meant less recovery time.

This was tested as darkness fell.  When we were about 20kms from the finish of the day’s run, Bill went ahead to check the distance, drop some gear off, sign in at Fraser Range and would then come back out to meet us.  He’d been gone a good while, and it was tough running on tired legs.  Finally the lights appeared over the horizon and he came up alongside.  Clive and I had estimated that we had about 8-10kms to go, judging from the GPS.  Bill somewhat sheepishly announced we still had 20kms to go!  I didn't even slow down, while Clive stopped to chat with Bill. I wanted a minute or two alone to digest this news. This was a massive kick in the guts.  The prospect of 2-3 hours more was not all that appealing!

Somewhere along the line I had incorrectly measured the distances from the maps, that and the extra distance to and from each golf hole had added up to a bonus 10ks for the day.  It had been a long day, and we all agreed pushing on to the finish was not the sensible option. We agreed to continue on to the distance we were planning for the day, put down a marker and drive back out to start from there tomorrow.

After 95kms I gladly got in the warmth of the car. It was a cold night, and I think the psychological impact of that disappointing news had made it feel 10C colder.  Bill described his drive when he came to check in. Not paying 100% attention to the road (as there was no traffic for miles around) he was heading at about 90km/h towards 4 camels crossing in front of him.  He managed to avoid an accident by going between them. Given that he was towing a trailer loaded with 100s of litres of water and all our gear, he did well and it could have been very messy.


Day 4
Frasers Range – Balladonia (1 Golf Hole)
Distance:  106.4 kms
Time:       13 hours 11 minutes
Ave HR:    109 BPM

The morning started with a drive out to the marker some 10kms back up the road, where Bill dropped me off and headed back to pack up.  It was an enjoyable start, mainly
because it was a gentle downhill all the way to Fraser’s Range and the next golf hole.  The Range itself is about 2kms up a dirt track, which is something I dressed up mentally as bonus kilometres (there were a few of these that I wasn't expecting!).  Halfway along the dirt track there was a kettle and electric fan plugged into an electrical socket on a tree.  Part of the humour of the folk in these parts, along with the teddy bear and shoe trees we passed a hundred kms from anywhere!

The boys had packed up and we went to the golf hole, a nice little par three, standing alone in the middle of the wilderness.  There were emus running around and couple of red Kangaroos having a box with each other – it doesn't get much more Australian than this.  


All three of up played the hole and I had to get moving. We were already behind the planned schedule given yesterday’s miscalculation, so today’s target was over 100kms not the 90km originally planned.

It was an emotional and physical roller coaster of a day.  We stuck to the normal 7km run/rest routine, and by lunchtime my left ankle and shin were very tight and giving me some pain.  I resorted to Nurofen + and this made things a lot better.

The emotional challenges sparked me to run with music, the first time I've ever done this. Normally I prefer to listen to the world around me from a safety perspective, especially after hearing of a guy in my old town getting killed when he stepped out on to a road, not hearing the traffic because he was plugged into his iPod.

I was especially cautious on the road, and given how long and straight these sections were (over 40kms straight) I had plenty of warning of any coming traffic.  The music obviously did something as it was a lasting memory for Clive of the trip. Yesterday I had seemed like a broken man, deeply disappointed and hurting, and now I was running with a spring in my step and singing! Not only that, I was happy to keep pushing on and the last 30kms of the day went really well.

The temperature dropped about 15 degrees as the sun ducked below the horizon, and there was still plenty of running to do.  The wide open spaces, and clear skies are an amazing distraction. Clive cycled alongside me for the last few hours, and so far had not started recycling stories!

We experienced an amazing phenomenon of this wide flat expansive area.  We thought we were getting close to the end of the day’s running and could see the lights of the Balladonia roadhouse in the distance.  Looking ahead we saw what both of us swore was
Pristine Night sky with no light pollution
Bill standing in the road with a torch to guide us in (as he had done on previous evenings).  He looked to be about 500m ahead.  The torch went off and we assumed that he must have move back off the road.  We kept running, and no Bill. Still running and still no sign of the finish, then about 5 minutes after we had first seen the light a car came towards us. The light which we thought was Bill with a torch was actually a car some 6 or 7kms down the road. We had lost sight of it as the road in front of us rose up and kept the car out of sight. 

It was one of those bizarre scenarios showing that without any points of reference judging distance is incredibly difficult.

Whilst interesting at the time, it also signified that we still had a bit of work to do to finish for the day. A disappointment, but one which I took with pragmatism, as this was a far better day than yesterday’s mental challenges. Best of all we had made up for the shortfall and were back on track.

At the roadhouse I got the ice packs out and gave those sore muscles a good icing as I ate my way through more of chef Clive’s delights.


Day 5
Balladonia – Middle of the 90 Mile straight road (1 Golf Hole)
Distance:  90.2 kms
Time:       11 hours 48 minutes
Ave HR:    101 BPM

Balladonia has a claim to fame as being the place where the US space station “Skylab” fell back to earth in 1979. At the time the local shire council presented NASA with a littering fine, and President Jimmy Carter even rang the Roadhouse to make his apologies.


My day started less dramatically with a spot of golf! Given the physical strains of the previous 4 days I was still swinging pretty loosely, which was unexpected. Without heading to the bar as would be traditional, I set out on what was going to be a mentally very interesting day, as I was going to run along the 90 mile straight, a 146km stretch of straight road. I had to run along a 25kms straight to get to the corner before heading down the longer straight.


There is great camaraderie amoung road users on the Nullarbor, many being “grey nomads” taking the time to wave or even stop to find out what I was up to.  Along this section I was running on the right hand side of the road, towards the oncoming traffic, and with the road clear ahead I hear a car pulling up alongside (on the wrong side of the road).

The guy sticks his head out the window of a classic Ute and asks what I’m up to.  “Playing a round of golf!” I replied.  We chatted for a bit, and it turns out these guys were driving back from the Variety Club Bash on the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley (more on this later!).  Like many folk who stopped to say hello, they were keen to make a donation, so I sent them up the road to catch up with the crew as they’d be better placed to take the money than me.

They drove off and then stopped, did a u-turn, and came back to me.  “I run a bit, would you mind if I ran with you a bit, I've been eating a drinking for the past 2 weeks and need to get some exercise” I was more than happy for some company, but made it very clear that I was going to be going very slowly and wasn't going to be drawn into running too fast as I had with Grant on day 1. 
Mark and Lindy - now great friends

We got chatting and it was a welcome
distraction from the monotony of the day. Mark and Lindy were from Brisbane, and Mark is a Kiwi – another one mad enough to join me!  They are a great couple and do a lot of work for charities themselves.  I’m still in contact with them, and they will be crewing for me in future adventures.

These sorts of encounters are what the event was all about, and make up some of my fondest memories. They did leave me to it though and I was back into the routine.  Late morning we got to the corner, the last one for the next day and a bit!

I've often been asked about how I coped with this, running along the same straight road for such a long period of time. For me it wasn't really boring at all. When there is nothing obvious to see you look harder to find things, or see interest in the nothingness. It’s hard to explain, but I think it was driven by a focus on the bigger picture and the fact that running those stretches is what I was there for.

The 90 mile straight is over rolling terrain, so it isn't quite as bad as having the road disappearing over the horizon 20kms away, sometimes I could only see 3 or 4 kms in front of me before the road dipped out of sight!  There was one occasion which did bring a kind of smile to my face, but not one of pleasure.  I set off on a another 7km section after a brief pit stop, and Bill and Clive drove passed me with an encouraging toot of the horn.  I saw them getting smaller in the distance.  I put my head down and kept shuffling forward. I look up 5 minutes later and I can see that they have pulled over ready and waiting for me on the side of the road some 6 Kms down the road.  That didn't happen often thankfully, as seeing the end of each section was usually a motivator to push on, but when it’s in sight form the start, you just know it’s a bloody long way to go and it’s not coming quickly.

The rest of this day was uneventful, but the legs were getting tired and sore, so the
Nurofen got a bit of a workout. 

Given the length of the days spent running we made the decision to not camp that night and instead mark our position on the road and drive on to the next roadhouse to get a decent rest. So we drove the 90+ kms to Caiguna to rest up for the night.  It’s a long drive at the end of the day and it doesn't set you up all that well knowing that we were going to have to drive back out there again the next morning, only to run this section. A tough commute!


Day 6
Middle of the 90 Mile straight road – Caiguna (0 Golf Holes)
Distance:  93.0 kms
Time:       11 hours 46 minutes
Ave HR:    100 BPM

Knowing what was ahead today was not the best start as the body was starting to show signs of the work rate over the previous 5 days.  My right ankle was sore and was effecting my running gait, which I was managing, but wasn't quite how I had visualised the whole thing.

I picked the right day to be physically off my game.  An RV came up alongside offering a bottle of water and asking if I needed anything. The advertising on the vehicle made it clear these weren't grey nomads, but the support crew for another charity event – Ride for a Smile.  They had 6 cyclists a few Kms back down the road, who were on the final stretch of a run around Australia.

They asked if I needed anything and joked “yes, a physio would be good!”  "OK" they said “he’s in the other vehicle we’ll send him back for you”.  Although I was hurting I felt it wasn't their job to be concerned about me, but they insisted and they would pass the message on.

Shortly after the cyclist caught up with me, and it was great to chat with these guys. They slowed down to stay with me for a few kms, even though it must have been difficult to keep the bike upright at that slow pace. We chatted easily and freely sharing experiences, kindred spirits in the world of endurance (mad cap) events.

They had to leave otherwise they’d never finish their segment, and then about an hour later another branded up RV head back towards me, the physio, like a knight in shining armour!  They had driven back over 50 kms to help me out, I was stunned by their generosity, but maybe they were just curious to see who would be mad enough to be out here, without a bike!

He checked both calves and they were rock solid apparently.  He then asked about my stretching and warming up routine. I laughed.  I couldn't remember the last time I’d done
Love a mirage
either in 2 years of training!  So we had identified one area where I could help the problem. The icing with cold packs was as good as I could hope for in the circumstances too.  He gave me a painful rub down and released a lot of the stiffness that had built up.

To take my mind off the pain of the treatment I was taking in the interior of the RV – this was definitely the way to go.  Everything in the same place every night, checklists on every wall, and a Physio on the team!

I felt 10 times better back on the road as I waved a thankful wave to these good Samaritans.

Moving well I continued up the road across another section of the highway which is used as a runway for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. I do my own impression of a plane, much slower, but equally as graceful!


The afternoon saw a return of the pain and stiffness in the lower legs. Tiredness I was expecting and could handle, but when it was causing pain with every step and effecting my gait, I found it hugely frustrating. The mind became focused on getting this day behind me, and into Caiguna so I could put my feet up and get the ice on. Tomorrow would be a new day, with a new, refreshed and improved me.


When I finish the guys inform me that they can’t find the Spot GPS tracker. It would seem that it had been left on the car and forgotten about. Easily done, but given that this was one of the few things that was working well on this trip it did upset me. For me it was a connection to the people who were supporting me, and given that the guys who were planning to come and video the event and keep the social media updated pulled out the day before we left Sydney, I felt that I was letting everyone down. 

In retrospect it wasn't that important, but at the time I felt strongly enough about it to
Spot GPS + 18 wheel truck = This!
find its last logged position and go and look for it before we headed out the next morning (40kms up the road!).  Technology is a wonderful thing as we found it within a few metres of where it said it should be, on the downside it was in many pieces and wafer thin! I was tough, but not tough enough to resist the force of a road train going over it. 

There was nothing we could do about it now, so I had to forget about and focus on the job in front of us.


Day 7
Caiguna – Cocklebiddy (1 Golf Holes)
Distance: 65.7 kms
Time:      10 hours 05 minutes
Ave HR:   88 BPM

With yesterday’s advice fresh in my mind I started the morning with a hot shower, as hot as I could bear.  I even tried a gentle stretch, although I think that everything was too tight to move at all.

I started running pretty freely, the right shin and ankle were very tight and sore, but I could move OK. The early long section before the first pit stop wasn't too bad, the road
Swollen left Quad
had a few bends in it which change the feel of the road.  You would think it would have made it easier on the mind, but it actually made it tougher.  It broke each section up into many more shorter sections, each of which seemed to take the same effort to complete (mentally) as a long section would.

At about the 17km point my left quad started spasming.  Nurofen made little difference. Doing complicated mental arithmetic made no difference. Singing made a little difference, but it was clear I was in for a long day.  I walked for the next 23kms.  It wasn't much fun for me and it must have been incredibly boring for Clive and Bill. At each stop having to wait maybe an hour and a half for me to appear – and then to not all that cheerful when I did arrive!

They are a resourceful pair though and they found ways to entertain themselves.  They 
may be the only people to have ever played cricket on the middle of the highway across the Nullarbor.  A bit like school kids in a quiet Cul-de-sac, they would pause their game to let cars (and 50m road trains) pass.

This did bring a temporary smile to my face, but I wasn't laughing on the inside.  We had already made the decision to reduce the day to 65kms to the next road house at Cocklebiddy, where the plan had been to run on another 20 kms (easing the scheduled 114km day for two days time). 

I rationalised that it was hurting walking so I may as well hurt running and finish this day sooner. Maybe a decent sleep was all I really needed. As tough as things were physically, I was comfortable in my head to keep on going, and without the pain I felt I could run forever. Maybe this was some runners high kicking in, I’ll never really know.

I put in a good few efforts and managed to run another 17kms before the Nurofen must have worn off and the discomfort of the ankle, and spasming quad was too much.  It was now dark and cold.  With my jacket on and 8kms to go I sent the guys ahead, and walked the last, long and lonely Kms to the roadhouse.

Feeling pretty sorry for myself
I parked myself in the chair, put my feet up and like some ancient Egyptian Pharaoh had food brought to my in a continual relay, while I had the ice packs on my ankles and quads.










Day 8
Cocklebiddy

It was not a great way to start a day with 90kms of running to be done.  I struggled out of bed and could barely walk.  I felt like I was 150 years old.  I had breakfast and a hot shower with the hope it was a temporary situation.  We decided to play the golf hole conveniently close to the room and that would give me a chance to loosen up for the run.

I was hitting the ball well again, but shuffling and hobbling up the fairway. We waved at some folk we’d met the night before telling them of our plans.  They must have thought we were mad given the display I was putting up walking across the car park. I couldn't extend or flex my right foot without severe pain.

My no-longer slender ankles!
I had to make a decision on what to do.  I got on the phone to Tylana again, this time less emotional, but I think the 7 days of running had sucked that out of me. She gave me a plan one which was the best we could hope for give the tight schedule we had, and no significant time for rest.  I was to rest up all morning, doing a combination of massage, icing and heating the affected areas, most specifically the lower right shin.  At lunchtime I was to make a decision on what we would do that day based on how I felt. I took some Panadol and Nurofen as well to give myself every chance to get back on the road.

Clive and Bill took the opportunity for some sightseeing, which I was happy for, it must have been a hellish boring day yesterday, and I could just sit and recover without feeling guilty. Lunchtime came, and the buys returned. There had been no change with me. The swelling had not subsided and the pain no better.

We had to make a decision at that point. I considered borrowing Clive’s bike and cycling the remainder so at least I would cover the distance under my own power, but that wasn't what we were here to do.  I thought that maybe a full day’s rest would help, but really we had so little contingency time that Clive and Bill couldn't be here any longer than planned.

We made the call to end it there, but still play the golf course as we traveled back across the Plain. There was a myriad of emotions and thoughts going through my head.  What if I was fine the next day? What if I’d gone easy on the first day? What if I’d trained differently?

The fact was that if these answers were all known it would be easy and maybe everyone would be doing it.  Maybe there was too much testosterone on the team, maybe I was naive, but if you aren't prepared to give it a go you’d never know.


The Road Home

The journey back to Sydney was one of much reflection for me. Clive and Bill shared the driving over 3 days, which was still a 2800km trip.  We finished the golf in Ceduna, just the three of us on the whole course. I had in my mind at least a small gathering three to acknowledge the run, but of course that may have happened had things been different.

We called back in to stay at the Nullarbor Roadhouse on the return leg, where we stayed on the outward journey and met with Ben the barman who had been sending me messages of encouragement from long before the start. Just one of the great characters we met on the plain. One “small world” occurrence was meeting a guy in the next door room who used to be a rugby referee and remembered Clive from his playing days many years earlier (Clive did mention this was more likely because he caught the refs attention for his misdemeanours rather than his playing brilliance!).

It wasn't until we were well on the road that I got back into internet connection range and I could finally catch up with what had been going on at the online face of what we had been doing.  My wife, Angie, had been keeping everyone updated which was fantastic.  

The comments from friends and many strangers brought a lump to my throat – I wondered if I had seen those messages while out there if I would have somehow been able to keep running.

The sun setting on one adventure (Smoky Bay, South Australia - on the way home)
Of course it didn't take long to be thinking of “next time”, but that was well before I had been able to let everything sink in.

By the time I was back in Sydney (after 3 and a half days in a car with my leg up) I could walk without a limp. I felt like such a fraud! 

I still had to drive back to the Sunshine Coast myself, and I took a couple of days to do it. I booked myself in for a VIP appointment at Physio Noosa, where Tylana took great pleasure in inflicting all manner of pain to get me back on the road to recovery.  I’d had enough of roads, give me the trails for a while!




Thank you...
...to everyone who supported me through this journey, be it through your words, donations, or simply by watching and taking an interest. 

I was supported by a number of great companies who gave me some great kit, stuff that I swear by and still use to this day. Special mention goes to Hoka Shoes, LineBreak Compression Gear, Drymax Socks, and 2TomsAnti-chaffing products – I wouldn’t have made it to the start without your help.

There are a few who deserve individual acknowledgement.  Bill and Clive for never once questioning what it was all about, and just doing everything they could to keep me going.  Tylana for providing the essential remote physio support and taking calls at all hours from the injured and weary, giving rational advice at a time when I was far from rational.

Finally and most importantly my wife Angie and boys, Jack and Harry for not minding me being out training for hours on end and missing countless meals, for your rock solid support, and for doing all the stuff that I’d normally do at home in the month I was away. I’m a lucky guy :)


Wrapping up
It is amazing how emotionally different I would feel if the challenge had been to run 640kms in 7 days. Undoubtedly I would have been feeling pure elation, but instead I have felt disappointment, frustration, a feeling that I have let myself and many others down. Now whilst this may not be the case, these are emotions that I need to go through in order to move on.

It did have a far more significant impact on me than I first realised, and think that it is why it has taken so long to complete this write up.

When you put all your energy over a 2 year period into an event that you fail to complete, it does have a deep effect on you. I was thinking the world would be a better place if I completed the full 33 marathons, and felt empty when I fell short of this. Only now do I realise that the world has changed for the better. We helped families who have suffered the unexpected loss of a child, and helped kids who live every day with the challenges Autism throws at them. This is something to be proud of, but I too have gained a huge personal benefit in the form of many great new friends through this that I almost certainly wouldn't have if I didn't have this crazy idea about running the world’s longest golf course.
 

7 Days:
·         81 Hours, 40 Minutes
·         644.4kms covered
·         Over half a million heart beats while running!

 15.3 Marathons down 
           - that just leaves about 700kms to round off the 33... as Michael Caine says in the final line of the original Italian Job movie ...

“Hang on Lads, I've got an idea!” Click Here



Thursday, March 7, 2013

Making the best of a bad training session – dealing with the unexpected


Often a training run doesn't go to plan, and this can be out of your control.  It could be unexpected weather conditions, a gear malfunction, or even getting lost.  The trick is making the most of the situation.

Felt like running in this!
Last week was just such a case for me where I had planned to go for a long-ish steady training run, with a few hilly efforts along the way.  It was pretty warm, about 28C, which was expected (even at 4pm) but the humidity was not what I was prepared for.  It was between 88% and 98% for the entire time I was out.  The top of one of the hills I ran was shrouded in cloud, and although it desperately needed to rain, it didn't.

The upshot of these conditions was that I wasn’t cooling through sweating, and I was only getting about half the air into my lungs that I wanted.  It was like breathing through a straw.

On the steeper hill sections it was clear that running was not really an option if I was to survive the 3 hour session I had planned.  It would have been easy to turn around and go home, or just decide to walk, and just use it as “time on my feet” training. To be honest neither was an option I was happy with, and the thought of walking for that time would have been too boring to bear!

So I took the situation as an opportunity to focus on a different area of my training.  I still walked the steep hills but concentrated on my mechanics, ensuring that my alignment was right and that I was using the proper muscles.  In most trail Ultras, unless you’re elite, you’re going to be doing some walking, and it’s worth practicing. The key thing for me is making sure I’m feeling it in the calves, quads and glutes, and not in the hamstrings.  

In addition to running form I also used the time to practice effective breathing, taking 3 or 4 deep belly breaths in a slow and controlled manner.  This enabled me to reduce (or at least manage) my heart rate, whilst maintaining a steady pace.  It also helped time pass, distracting my mind from the discomfort of the conditions.

So what was looking like it was going to be a dud session, turned out to be quite beneficial, and certainly not the sort of session I would ever consider setting out to do.

Look on the bright side
Similarly, on another recent run, I had been nursing a strained ankle (non-running related I may add!) and on the fast single track downhills, I’d normally let fly.  To have done this with a weak ankle would have been asking for more trouble.  On this occasion I slowed up the pace, shortened my stride, increased the cadence and made sure that my foot – ankle – leg alignment was correct.

Without adopting this strategy, these sessions would have seemed useless and unrewarding.  Instead I felt a sense of achievement at the finish.

So if the goal posts are moved, you have to change your aim!

You can apply this to any aspect of running ultras and indeed it is often those who have the most flexibility of expectations who are the most successful.  Rather than see an excuse, ultilise the scenario to your own maximum benefit. 

Run Happy!
Andy