Friday, February 20, 2015

A Self-Supported Ultramarathon to start the New Year - Cooloola Great Walk

Sweat running down my arms in a constant stream, 35C in the shade (but no shade to be found on the beach) legs like lead,  drinking water warm – Happy New Year!  It seemed like such a good idea from the air conditioned comfort of home a week earlier.

Running the Cooloola Great Walk had been on my to-do list for over 3 years, waiting I guess for everything to be “right”. That situation rarely comes about when planning a self supported ultramarathon distance run and it was when fellow runner Chris Jacobsen completed this trail on Christmas day (!) I decided to just put a day in the diary and do it. 

What better day that New Years Day? Unlike Chris I wanted to take on the Coastal route of the Great Walk, which is about 14kms longer, and takes in the Double Island Point lighthouse as it looked an interesting place to visit.

Unicycling guru, adventure racing aficionado and friend, Andy Flanagan dropped me off at the Rainbow Beach trail head at 1:30pm...approaching the hottest part of the day! The original plan was to start a bit later to avoid the heat of the day, but at the same time I didn’t want to be running past the best scenery in the dark and this start time had the reward of a breakfast with other NUTRs (Noosa Ultra and Trail Runners) at the other end of the trail the next morning.
Thanks Andy for dropping me off 110kms from home!

The first 20m of the trail were an indication of what lay ahead. Stinking hot, gentle uphill, and I tripped on a tree root wrenching my ankle! In full desert gear I was getting some odd looks from the tourists taking in the 600m walk to the Carlo sand blow, they no realising that I would be on my feet until the next morning.

Crossing the soft sand of the sand blow was simple enough, finding the exit onto the trail however was not.  It was like a scene from Lawrence of Arabia, as I trudged up and down the edge of the expanse of sand, sun beating down and radiating back up at me, trying to regain the trail. It took me 15 minutes to get back on the trail, in which time I had been lightly fried, sweat already dripping off me. It was clear that this was going to be a lot tougher than I had initially thought, and that I was going to have to be sensible to complete the run without putting my health at risk.
Crossing the desert

The elusive trail marker from the Carlo sand blow

16 mins in and sweat dripping from me already

My planning for the run was brief, but focused on what was important. Being a self supported run I would have to carry everything I needed for the full 108kms. There would not be the luxury of a support crew or checkpoint volunteers. Weather conditions being what they were, my primary concern was availability of water. The walking trail is fairly remote and getting medically evacuated would be very difficult, not a scenario I wanted to flirt with. The trail has campsites at 15-20km intervals, all of which have rainwater tanks, but as the rangers informed me, there is no guarantee there will be water there and it’s not treated. 

Exposing as much skin as I could to help cooling - unsuccessfully
So at each available water source I had to fully load up to cover off there not being water at any campsite and potentially having to do 2 or more sections with what I had with me. This meant that my pack was fully loaded with 3 litres of water for much of the run. Here was I trying to reduce my workload so as not to sweat any more than could be avoided, but having to increase the weight I was carry to combat the same issue!  Ultrarunning is a constant balancing act, trying to optimise the input, throughput and output of your body.

The first available water I was aware of was to be at the Freshwater camping area, 25kms in. 5kms in to the run, sweating the way I was, no breeze, and intense heat, I was beginning to wonder if I would even get there. I made the decision very early on that this was going to be slow and was primarily a matter of self preservation, whilst continuing to make forward progress, until after sunset when it would cool down. 

After 10km as I dropped on to Double Island beach there was an unexpected opportunity for water at a toilet block, which I was very happy to take advantage of.  First up cool my head with a few handfuls of water, then to top up the hydration pack. As with all the water on this trail it is no suitable for drinking. I had been prepared for this and had brought with me one of the most pieces of equipment in my kit. My Sawyer Mini Water Filter System got its first real use in anger. In the past I have taken the gamble with
Every Ultra runner should have one
water out of rainwater tanks, and creeks to top up, and have been lucky. However, the prospect of severe gastrointestinal issues on a self supported remote run, where clean water would be limited was not a risk I was prepared to take.


This little filter, weighs next to nothing, takes up hardly any space in your pack, can give you thousands of gallons of clean water, filtering out all the nasties that could more than spoil your day.  So impressed was I by this piece of kit that I will do a full article on it. Like a compression bandage for bites and breaks, every trail runner should have one of these in their packs.

So with a full 3l in the pack again, and an additional 400ml drunk on the spot, I continued on along the shade-less beach for 3kms of sand running to the light house. The beach was packed with people enjoying the Public Holiday in a more traditional way, fishing, jet skis or sitting around drinking and eating – I didn’t need to wonder what they thought of me, they made it pretty clear!

I was careful to keep my feet dry along here as it was still early in the run. By the time I reached the lighthouse 15kms in my feet were sloshing in my shoes. Not from sea water, but from the sweat pouring off my body! The lighthouse did offer some respite though. I sat in the shade of the lighthouse, stripped off my sodden clothes and wrung them out, and enjoyed the warm breeze (which felt far better than the oppressive sauna like conditions I had be subject on the sheltered beach and bush trails).
Shade at last - Double Island Point Lighthouse



The views at Double Island Point lighthouse are pretty spectacular, until you spoil it by realising that the end of the run is a long way south over the horizon, and that the next 10kms are along the beach, soft sand, and full exposed to the searing sun. Perhaps the early start wasn’t such a good idea after all.

What lays ahead...sun, sand, but no shade until I'm over the horizon
With the clock ticking and a heavy heart I had to leave the relative comfort of the shade of the lighthouse and get down on to the beach for 10kms of sun, sand and suffering. The single track down to the beach is beautiful, great views, a gentle breeze and downhill! Only trouble was that is was too short, and all too soon I’m on the beach, the breeze dropped and the sun starts doing what it’s best at.
View back up to the Lighthouse...Downhill running, weeeee!


With the public holiday revelers the beach was like a motorway with a multitude of 4-wheel drives treating it like a speedway track. I do a lot of sand running in my training and am comfortable on this terrain. However, the amount of traffic it had over it churned up and rutted even the normally firm wet sand.  Running within the ruts was one technique, but very tricky as they were 6”+ deep and not wide enough for easy running. Running on the high spots between the ruts was as bad with every other step giving way under each foot, which was very heavy going and equally frustrating.  

Regardless of the footing difficulties the motivation to get off the beach and out of the sun was stronger, so I just had to make the best of it.  The occasional cloud drifted over offering a moment of shade, which I made the most of by walking. Back in the sun, I shuffled on.  It’s a tough choice to know what the best thing to do is. Do you run harder in the shade when you’re not so hot and then slow down in the sun to keep from overheating, or do the opposite and spend less time in the sun, but risk getting too hot? I've tried both and I’m not totally convinced either way.

The beach exit could not have come too soon which importantly meant that I was only a few hundred metres from the next water stop.  Sticking with my water filter process it was a longer stop than normal, and a very welcome one. I’d been getting through my fluids, which was good. I’d not eaten too much, but wasn't feeling like my energy was low, and I reflected that I have plenty of fat reserves to get me to the finish!

My pace was pretty sedentary now, and it was definitely a case of relentless forward progress, no matter how slow.  The next campsite was only a few kms away, and as the sun was getting low in the sky I was expecting the temperatures to drop.  Like getting a pair of socks for Christmas I was to be disappointed!  

The single track through the shelter of the trees, created the same sauna like conditions I had started the run in.  Stifling humidity and heat without a breath of breeze. I had resorted to run walk strategy by this stage, a very conservative version, running the down hills and walking pretty much everything else!

Trudging along a 3km climb into the Kauri campsite I take advantage of some phone coverage and post an update on progress whilst laying prostate on my back on a picnic table. While I enjoy the feeling of relief in my feet and legs, I look up at the stars against a black sky to the deafening sound of heat bugs. They attempt to kill me softly with their song, by reminding me how bloody hot it is!

I spend about 15 minutes restocking on water and resting, a reward I decide I shall give myself at each campsite. It’s partly a reward, but more importantly gives me a chance to cool my body a little. Reluctantly, with a full and heavy pack I remind myself that the quickest way to finish this is to get moving, so get on my feet and continue on the seemingly never flat track to the next campsite a little over 20kms away.

Dark but still hot.
The conditions are monotonously unchanging, offering no real relief from the heat and humidity. This stopped being fun about 6 hours ago! At least with the warmth it keeps the interesting animals active as I did my best not to stand on a python taking far too long to cross my path. The perfect excuse to take a breather and commune with nature. 

Much like Kauri campsite, Litoria is on a short spur track off the main trail. If I hadn't  been so fixated on my next break I could easily have missed this turn. The break was again welcome, and really just a chance to regather thoughts, top up my water and have a couple of minutes to take the weight off my feet.  At this point I’m starting to really yearn for something cold and fresh to eat. An icy slice of water melon, or an ice cream!  This is the biggest difference from running this distance self support over a race with checkpoints.  You can only eat what you carry with you.  I did have a small treat for myself, and decided that maybe they could lift my spirits. My magic beans were not going to grow into a vine leading me to the Giant’s riches and I’m certainly not an Englishman! These beans were better than that as they were coffee beans and were covered in dark chocolate. The effect was almost instant, and I felt the best I had on the run to date.  I took advantage by pushing on as best I could. The terrain did not help as there was a tough climb straight up out of the camp, but I was feeling a little better, and did for long enough to get me over the summit and on to a flatter and downhill section.  

After 9 hours of running there was the first noticeable drop in the temperature. Still hot, but it was nearly 11pm, so it was long overdue. The trail offered lots of shelter, which in the heat of the day would have been welcomed, but by night it just stopped any breeze which I was longing for.

The next stop was 15kms along the trail and at the lowest point of the trail at Dutgee camp, alongside the Noosa River.  Being close to the water the cooling effect was more noticeable, and the terrain was predominantly downhill. On fresh legs and in daylight I would say this would be a fast and fun section. I had to be a little more conservative.

Still wanting to keep moving forward I opted to walk by the moonlight as I had to replace the now flat battery in my Ay-Up, rather than stop to do it. I was on a sandy trail and could just make out the trail in front of me. I finally swapped the battery over, turned on the torch and came to an abrupt halt. About a metre in front of me was a snake curled up on the trail. Had I taken a few seconds longer to sort out my torch and walked another couple of paces...I would have been no worse off as it was dead!  It was a timely reminder though of the dangers you need to consider when you’re out in the bush, in the dark, a long way from everywhere and alone.

At the Dutgee camp I knew that I was less than a marathon from the finish, and this was an uplifting feeling. I also knew that I have a couple of decent climbs ahead of me, and the Cooloola sand patch to cross. It was 20kms to the next and final walkers camp, so again I made sure my bladder was pretty much full. Although it was cooler, it was only cooler than bloody hot, and the humidity was still off the chart.

I really enjoyed the run along the river for a few kms before the major climb out of the valley and up to the sand patch. This was to be a slow 200m vertical climb over 4kms of single track inconveniently crossed by tree roots every few steps. Another time to focus on “relentless forward progress” and “walking with purpose”, a technique I regularly use in races when the going gets tough.  I had also remembered my magic beans. A small handful of these and the time past a little quicker.


I was excited to reach the sand patch as it required some navigation skills. I hadn’t had to use these since my school days, and I was quite competent then, but that was 25 years ago! Given my difficulties at the Carlo sandblow 75kms earlier, in broad daylight, with fresh legs, a fresh head and only about a quarter of the distance for this one, I wasn’t quite so confident.

When I hit the sand there are a couple of landmarks to aim for and then you have to walk on a bearing for over a kilometer across undulating sand. I find the final trail marker from which to take the bearing with relative ease (aided somewhat by some windblown trails from recent hikers who had made “the crossing”). I set my compass up to 160.5 degrees and hoped that by walking on it I would hit the dead tree after about 250 metres. Sounds simple enough, but with sloping ground and no points of reference in the distance to aim for, I had to just keep my head down and follow the compass. I stopped a couple of time to check back at my footprints to see that I have been walking in a straight line, and I was happy with progress. No dead tree.  Perhaps it had been swamped by the windblown sands?

I continue on, with no other option that to trust the compass and hope I would eventually stumble back on to the trail. About 300m from the edge of the sandblow I’m having to part slide, part climb down a steep sand bank. This wasn’t in the guidebook, I had to accept that by now I wasn’t where I should be. I’m a man, I wasn’t going to stop and ask for directions. Just as well as I could have been waiting a while, so I have to resort to the next best option of referring to the map. I was only about 30 m off course, which over 1km walking on a bearing over that terrain in the dark was pretty good (I think anyway!). A few calculations in my head, studied the contours, I readjusted my course and hit the trail head again. Bingo, we’re back.

Ironically, the map says to take extra care here as there is no shade and you are exposed to full sunlight...not for me. I actually enjoyed an occasional breeze as this is exactly the reason the sand patch is here in the first place.

It’s about 2am, and while I’m very comfortable with running in the dark, it would seem that a person with a torch is not a common sight for the local wildlife.  As such all the little critters don’t seem that spooked by my presence and allow me to get a decent look at them.  I disturb what I believe to be a native bush rat who just sits looking at me from a branch of a tree in a very cute manner (unlike their disease spreading non-native cousins).

I take out two Arachnid related records. The first for the most number of webs run through in a 12 hour period, while at the same time claiming the record for avoiding the most number of webs in a 12 hour period. The webs are spectacular, spanning the entire trail, some over 6 feet across. If I saw it in time I would try and go around it. More often than not I was too late, and would not only feel the irritation of the silk fibres on my skin, but also the occasional wriggling of an unfortunate insect who earlier in the evening had stumbled into the web. This was fine, until I felt one on my lips as I took a sip of water, and I wasn’t sure if it was spider or something else. I think this one was a bettle.

On another occasion I felt a tickling against my leg, and thinking it was a bit of spider dinner stuck to my leg from another web encounter, I just stamped my foot to get it off. It didn’t go and the tickling increased. On inspection it turned out to be a giant centipede. I knew these to have a nasty bite or sting as most native animals do, so I had to make the split decision. Do I get it off me as soon as possible, or do I have time to get my camera before he heads up my legs to where it could do some serious damage. I chose the former as it started moving north faster than I was comfortable with.

Through this section, and through until the finish I had numerous wallaby encounters, as well as a run in with a wood cockroach. This time I did manage to get a picture, but just after I’d dropped this Goliath of a creepy crawly.


First light, looking south towards Noosa
My final pit stop was to be at Brahminy camp, an elevated campsite with a great view south towards Noosa. The trail here opened up and the lack of trees gave me some relief from the number of obstacles that I had to contend with across my path. Here my phone sprung to life. Ian was coming out to meet me for the last few kms, and he asked if he could bring anything. I responded “it’s a long shot, but anything cold, or at least not warm would be good”.  

Knowing that I only had about 20kms to go and that there would be a friendly face, the first person I have come into contact with since yesterday afternoon, was a big lift to morale. Whilst spirits were lifted, the legs were pretty much empty at this stage, and the effects of being dehydrated for so long were taking their toll. This is always the hardest part of such a run. The distance is no more than a normal training run, so it should be quick and easy. Training runs though are done with fresh legs and without a full pack! The next 2 hours of running would take closer to 4 hours!


Nutrition wise I didn’t eat a huge amount over the run, far less than I would have in a race of the same distance. For the second half of the run my gut didn’t feel too good and I put this down to the dehydration impact, reducing the blood flow to the gut and hence slowing the digestion process. I was moving at a pretty low intensity too, so the need for significant energy hits wasn’t really there.  What I did eat was “normal food” based, made up of dried fruit, and “at one” raw snack bars, some crystallised ginger cubes, and one gel when I was feeling particularly flat.  This has worked before, but with every run of this distance, conditions are rarely the same, and they do have a big impact on what you can, and what you feel like eating.

Sunrise and only about 10kms to go
I eventually meet up with Ian, after many false starts, thinking that he was just around the next bend, only to cruelly find there was another bend, and then another. I take a seat and enjoy a banana and a drink provided by the good Samaritan. Sadly the cold drink had got warm because I’d been so slow in getting there. Note to self to run faster next time (next time ?!).


At least now we were very much on the home stretch. A couple of kms along the beach, and then a dart on some single trail inland to the Trail head. Just to run salt in my wounds the last 2 kms of trail were baking hot again with no shade, but at least I had company to distract my mind. My Garmin tried to have the last laugh by warning me that the battery was low, but I had the last laugh by getting home before it died on me. 

Very happy to see that big lump of tree
The trail head couldn't have come soon enough, and I took great pleasure in the obligatory post run photos. A slightly odd feeling as the ferry to get back to civilisation is a 2.5km walk along the road. We walked as briskly as I could manage, with the promise of a tasty breakfast to follow. Had one of the passing cars offered a lift I would not have hesitated in taking it, but I’d already had the help one good Samaritan today.


Thanks Ian for getting me through the last few hours

We’re greeted from the ferry by Angie and the boys. I think they were more excited to go for breakfast than see me, and I could completely understand that. Stinking clothes in a plastic bag, a shower at the river and I felt close to human again.

Best breakfast ever, made even better by a small gathering of NUTRs, Howard, Claude and Tony, who had come to see what state I was in! Thanks guys.

"The loneliness of the long distance runner"  (Photo by Ian Rowe)

All in all it was a great experience and one I will do again, even though I swore to myself at 20kms that I wouldn't. When you run it on the hottest day of the year, through the hottest part of the day, you can’t expect an easy ride.  I learnt a lot about self supported long distance runs, not least the added achievement over completing the same distance in race conditions with support and cold stuff to drink.




The experience will be invaluable for me in my next major running challenge later this year. Similar, just a whole lot bigger and with a heavier pack!




I had been putting this run off for years, waiting for everything to be right, and when it came down to it I just had to put a date in the diary and make it happen. I decided to lock this run in with 5 days notice. If you have a trail you have been wanting to run, but excuses have got in the way, pick a date, and do what you have to do to do it. Don’t wait for everything to be right, just trust in yourself to complete the task, and handle whatever it may throw at you. You’ll feel a whole lot better for it!

Run happy!
Andy 

“What counts in battle is what you do when the pain sets in” – John Short

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gear Review - The North Face Enduro 13 Hydration Pack

I have been approached by an established UK based online retailer www.cotswoldoutdoor.com, who now has an Australian presence, to provide reviews on some of their products from a running, and ultramarathon running perspective.

First product of the rack is every runner’s favourite, the hydration backpack. The choice of packs is wide and varied, each appealing to different styles of event, runner’s requirements, and budget. I have seen many packs criticised on forums before, but typically this is because it wasn’t the right tool for the specific job.

Today I’m looking at the North Face Enduro 13 in which I have run over 300kms and through a range of conditions (although mainly hot and humid!) and multiple activity types (trail running and off-road unicycling).

This pack has been designed with endurance and adventure races in mind.  

The North Face Enduro 13
Its basic features include:

  • 13l of storage, which includes an internal pouch for a hydration bladder up to 2l in volume (not included).
  • 2 bottle holders (including 2x 500ml high quality NF bottles)
  • Fully adjustable shoulder, waist and chest straps with no loose ends
  • A lightweight foam back for breathability and comfort
  • 2x zip fastened waist band pouches suitable for snacks, phone, gels, etc and a key pouch on the broad Velcro chest strap
  • Multiple trekking pole attachment straps, and a mass of reflective accents to ensure you can be seen at night.
  • Weight - 533g (including 2 empty 500ml water bottles)


Positives:

  1. As with all North Face products the quality of the material and manufacture is second to none.  The fabric itself is tough yet lightweight, breathable and quick drying.
  2. Comfortable. The pack has minimal padding to keep weight down, but is sufficient to avoid discomfort from anything carried in the pack. This also makes the pack very flexible to mould to the shape of the runner.
  3. Secure. With fully adjustable straps, the pack can be adjusted to fit snugly without restricting breathing or rubbing creating hot spots on your skin, yet without the pack bouncing, even when fully loaded with gear. I do have a particularly long body (I have the legs of a midget, and the body of a giant!) so the chest strap was a little higher that I would like, and the wide waist strap was closer to my belly button than it should have been. That said it did not bounce and have had no issues, other than it not feeling quite right for me.
  4. A 2 litre bladder capacity gives a better range than you get from other comparable small packs such as this.
  5. The separate water bottles, which are easy to access without the need to dislocate your shoulders as in other similar style packs, allow for a variety of fluids to be carried during your run, which I find invaluable, preferring to have different flavours and compositions of drinks while running longer distances.
  6. The pack itself is narrow, leaving as much skin exposed as you could for a pack of this capacity, which was great to maximise cooling.
  7. All straps have loops or Velcro tags to negate annoying flapping of loose ends. Not a problem on a 5k run, a major irritation when you’re out for 2+ hours!
  8. With 13l of storage, including the bladder, I could comfortably carry multiple snacks, a phone, a first aid kit, a bandage, head torch, and rain jacket, and still had additional space for further small items.


Negatives:

  1. Whilst the bladder does have an internal compartment, it is still accessed via the same main zip, which I found awkward when you needed to refill mid run as some items needed to be removed to get to the bladder.
  2. The pack doesn’t come with a bladder. However that gives you flexibility over a preferred brand and capacity of bladder.
  3. Whilst there is sufficient storage space in the waistband pouches, they could do with being a little bigger (to accommodate the new iPhones 5 and 6) and perhaps could have used the shoulder straps for additional small item storage with a significant change to the pack design or balance.


Summary
The Enduro 13 is a high quality, well made, and well thought out hydration pack. It is best suited to events of 2-3 hours, or longer events with regular checkpoints, which do not have a large mandatory kit list.  The pack sits comfortably on your hips with no rubbing or bouncing, even with both water bottles full, provided the straps have been adjusted
The slim body of the pack keeps more skin exposed for better cooling
properly.

As with all North Face gear it is the attention to details, such as a Velcro loop to secure the loose end of the waist strap, or the whistle built into the chest strap buckle, or the plethora of reflective accents, that makes their gear stand out from the crowd.

Sorry ladies, but this one only comes in black!

I use this pack primarily for running, but also for off-road unicycling where a secure fit is essential. It performs very well in these disciplines, and would be equally effective for Mountain biking, walking, even climbing.


I’d recommend this to anyone who is serious about their trail running, where a 2l bladder is sufficient, and you only need to carry minimal food and gear.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Inaugural Blackall 100 – an Ultra hot way to see the Sunshine Coast!

After failing to make the start line of the Glasshouse 100 a couple ago because of a gardening induced back injury, I was keen to put that disappointment behind me in my first 100km ultramarathon race of the year. I’d not been completely idle as I had been sweeper at TNF100, run 270km along the Larapinta Trail in August and a local 90km run along the beach to raise some funds for one of our NUTRs (our local running group, the Noosa Ultra and Trail Runners) who was selected for the Australian Mountain Running team.


The Blackall 100 (with 50km option) is in its inaugural year, and the first Ultra distance running race on the Sunshine Coast. A local race has been long overdue, in an area well suited to trail running. This event took full advantage of the varied terrain and environments in the area making for a very interesting and challenging race.

I arrived at the start very early and bumped into Alun, fellow Welshman and Race Director, who looked like a man who had not slept. Appearances were not deceiving as he had been up most of the night sorting out final details – who’d be a race director?!

Before long I was joined by other NUTRs.  This was the main event of the year for us, with many members attempting their maiden 100km, adding to the excitement and energy in the atmosphere.


Meg, Dan, Me, Tylana and Ian pre-race
This for me is one of the most enjoyable times of a race. So much excitement, nerves, concerns over old injuries, have you tapered enough, or too little, have you trained enough, what if the conditions change.  It is the unknown that makes it so exciting, like waiting for the lotto numbers to be called and hoping that you have chosen well.

Ultramarathons are famous for minimal fuss, and Blackall 100 was no different. A couple of words from the organisers, and before you know it the big cow





Serious Business (Pic: Trail Running Australia)
bell (the signature of this event) was rung for the first time and we were off and running. It was something we were all eager to hear again, as the next time would be when we ring it ourselves as we cross the finish line.


The first few kms are nearly always too fast, especially as it seems wrong to walk the hills when you are still so fresh. Normally I would have stuck to this strategy, but the conditions dictated a change to the plan.  I was not familiar with the first of the three loops of this course, but had run on the second loop twice and knew what was ahead.

The forecast was for temps up in the mid 30s, and that would be at the start of the major hill sections. So the plan for this day was to push hard early while it was cooler and then ease right back in the heat of the day, building up again later as the temperatures eased.
Best support team ever


For the first 22kms it was relatively cool, with occasional light rain and fog – we were running in the clouds. Good news that it was cooler, bad news that we were in 100% humidity. Within the first hour my feet were almost sloshing with the sweat that had run down my legs into my shoes. This was a concern so early in the day. 

There were a couple of technical sections on this run as you dropped into Kondalilla Falls, and then climbed out again. With a layer of leaves on the trail, this was a death trap. I had a couple of “moments” when running fairly briskly on a tight bend, planting my foot to change direction and not getting the traction I was expecting.

I’d figured through at this point I was in about 9th position, and on the heels of Shannon, a very strong NZ female runner who was making the hills look annoyingly easy. I let her go and had to stick to my plan.

After the loop to the falls we passed some of the other runners as they were about to head into the falls, and I was greeted by 2 of our most dedicated NUTRs, Kate and Claude, powering along in their first 100km event.  Cheerful and consistent as ever, they looked in control...and they were.  These two have an extraordinary ability to create a realistic plan and stick to it, without letting the occasion effect their judgement.

There was a road section after the falls, before getting back on to my preferred surface of trail.  I caught up with Shannon here and we had the chance to chat. At the pace we were going I was confident at the time that we would both finish in under 12 hours, my initial goal based off nothing more than a gut feeling and a time that would not allow me to ease off.

The course has a couple of out and back sections into checkpoints, which is good and bad, depending on how you’re feeling. On the way into this one I worked out that I was about 1.5kms behind the leader and Shanon and I were in 7th and 8th place. This was a brisk stop, bit of watermelon, slice of orange, some coke and a handful of lollies. Probably done in less than a minute as I didn’t need to refill the bladder.


Feeling fresh early on (Pic - Trail Running Australia)
It’s a balancing act to work out which is best. My preferred strategy is fill the bladder at the start (3l) and then speed through CPs but have a heavier pack. The alternative is to  just have enough water to get to each CP and refill at each.  My philosophy is that the extra weight will only cost a few seconds per km which is easily regained by a quick CP stop. Also, it reduces the likelihood of running out of fluids and then having to manage your body over many kms to the next stop (which can be race and in extreme conditions, life threatening).

Back on the course and I am delighted to have another NUTR coming towards me, Dylan, another Welshman!  I knew he would be running hard behind me as we both had a similar goal time (although mine was one minute faster!).  We exchange hi fives and encouragement, and then you get your head back on the task.  It didn’t last, “Tall Geoff” was marshalling at the next junction, and he’s not known for being economical with his words. I think I was 200m down the track and he was still talking to me!

This was the familiar part of the course, and I am very grateful for having trained on it. I was well aware that I was running at my normal training pace, which is too fast for a race of this distance, but I also knew that I had about an hour before it started heating up.  It did not disappoint.


Cross training - NUTR style!
I drop down off the ridge from Ubajee Camp onto about 1.5kms of switchbacks to the valley floor. I had near sprinted down here in training, but it’s a different story with 30kms in your legs. I also had a weakness in my ankle, caused by a couple of over enthusiastic Unicycle rides in the previous 2 weeks (this is one of my cross training disciplines of choice, which I will cover in a future post) So had strapped it quite heavily, and was still cautious with it as it was still a long way to go.

On the descent I passed the back marker for the 50km race, who do a different first section and started an hour later. This is always encouraging as you have someone to chase, someone to chat to, and invariably they talk to you like you are superhuman as you’re doing twice the distance they are.

Another highlight as I’m plodding along the creek. I see a couple of clowns in big Afro wigs and even bigger sunglasses, it could only be Deb Nichol and Rob Whingfield (on his first 50km). These guys were amazing, having brought a picnic with them, and with the goal of making everyone else feel great and enjoy the event – mission accomplished!  I stayed with them for a few minutes, enjoying the walk and the company. Thanks guys.

Rob and Deb showing the importance of good race nutrition!

The next few Kms are the most technical of the course. You could feel the temps starting to climb and the sun was breaking through the tree cover, the clouds had been burnt off an hour ago. I ran about 90% of this as I knew that the CP was coming soon and I had a NUTR or two waiting there with cold drink and a warm demeanour.


42kms done
I ran passed the 40km marker in about 3:50, bloody hell, I had been pushing it. I was a little concerned at this point that I may have been a little over enthusiastic. 42kms and the CP looms out of the bush. Three blue shirts, three familiar faces, and when I arrived it was 4 NUTRs.

Jane fills my bladder with ice and water, Meg puts an ice pack on my neck and cold towel on my head, Dan cracks me a coke and I issue a few directions on what I need and what I don’t. These guys were awesome, and I mean that genuinely, not in some throw away Gen-Y way.  Treated like a king but three injured NUTRs who could easily have decided to stay at home in bed, but instead gave their time up to help the rest of us, and in style. They weren’t even crewing for me, they just saw me, got me what I needed and got me back out there.

So the buff was swapped for the full on Legionnaire’s hat, with ice underneath for good measure. It’s times like this that I wish I had some hair on the top of my head – ice hurts after a while! This was the start of 2.5kms of climbing, and it was getting hot, very hot. The ice didn’t last long, but it really helped.  In training I had thought that I could run much of this hill as the sections between switchbacks were very runable.  I did for the first 300m and then resorted to power walking. Far more efficient as it was keeping the heart rate under control, would generate less internal heat, and I was still making good progress.

I reflected how hard this was going to be for those behind me as the temps were like the trail in front of me, only going up.


The beginning of the climb to the Bluff
I continued to make progress through the 50km field, and it was great to bump into another NUTR, Lynda, with a cheery grin (it may actually have been a grimace in the heat, but I like to think everyone was enjoying themselves out there!)  She said that she thought I was in about 4th place, but by my calculations I thought I was in about 7th. Perhaps the heat had taken a few others out of the running?

In training on this part of the course I had planned to run from the top of the hill all the way back down to the creek, some 7-8kms of fairly gently sloping downhill, smooth running single track. That wasn’t going to happen the way I felt.  I walked with limited running to the camp at Thilba Thalba, where there was water available. I was greeted by the park ranger who was remarkably upbeat, or maybe appeared that way because of the handful of 50km runners stopping for water who looked in a bad way...I don’t think I looked any better.


The lookout from the Bluff
I had planned my water use well, so didn’t need to stop other than to regather my thoughts.  Mentally I was still quite switched on, my gut was taking fuel well and was pretty much full of my water with Nuun, but I was feeling light headed, and had the odd wobbly moment.  I reasoned that it could just be a combination of dehydration and the heat, perhaps with a bit of a mild bonk from the intensity of the hill climb. I couldn’t take any more fluids in, but did have a gel, which i very rarely use.  Within about 15 minutes my body was back in order, and although not running fast, I was running, and the downhill was too good to waste by walking!

I caught up with the next runner in the 100kms, and he said he was suffering with the heat, dehydrated and out of water.  I offered to share what I had, but he was happy to limp on to the next water stop, which I thought was about 4kms along the trail at the Ubajee camp, again at the top of a tough climb. He was happy to take it easy to get there, so I continued on.  200m later we come out on to Delicia road, and then it appeared like an oasis in the desert a table with two water urns. No cups, so I lay on the ground under it and took a couple of mouthfuls, the other guy took the time to recharge his bladder.

Having just past the 50km mark, I foolishly thought about the prospect of doing what I had just completed again, only this time feeling like I do now...not a good idea. Instead focus on the next landmark, and that was going back up the switchbacks on a 1.5km climb out of the valley.

Again, given the conditions of the environment and my legs, running was out of the question. It is remarkable how much ground you can cover though with committed purposeful walking. On the way up I met up with some of the 100km runners who had yet to do the loop I had just completed, only they were going to be doing it in much hotter conditions than me.

From the top of the climb it was a rolling fire trail for a few kms to the next checkpoint, so I made an effort to run as much as I could, given that I’d rest when I got there.  I passed a few other 50kms runners, including an inspirational guy, Frank Falappi, whose company I have enjoyed on many occasions. Frank is a former champion cyclist, and now at age 74 is still out achieving incredible feats of endurance. We chatted for a few minutes and he informed me that his lovely wife had entered him into the North Face event in Sydney next year, and he has to do as he’s told!

Checkpoint 4 was busy, not with runners but with volunteers and support crew, and a good dose of blue shirted NUTRs! Treated to a chair this time I was given the royal treatment. Can of coke, pot of fruit in syrup, ice cold towel across my back, ice pack on my neck...the only thing missing was a manicure!  Apparently the next guy in front was only a few minutes ahead and I was in 4th. I still wasn’t convinced, thinking they must have arrived after the front runners passed through.

I had 5 people looking after me here, Dan, Jane and Meg again, and Tara another NUTRs wife and Carol, one of our club who had rolled her ankle 8kms in, but stuck around with bandaged ankle, and walking on sticks helping the perfectly able bodied me! 

Leaving the CP I wasn’t feeling great, but I was feeling 10 times better than when I arrived.  I was at the stage of an event when I get quite emotional, and the amount of support I had received, got to me a bit in the first few kms after the CP. Don’t worry it didn’t last, but only because I saw another runner ahead of me. This was the guy in third place. It is amazing how the appreciation that you are moving forward in the field can help you find new reserves of energy.


We were getting on to quite rough downhill trails, which is my favourite terrain.  I took 
advantage and caught up and then had to dig in to make sure I opened up a decent lead. By the creek crossing I was probably 100m ahead, and could then settle back into a more comfortable pace – perfect as I now had a hard climb ahead of me.


Food and fluids were still going in and not causing any issues. Regular cubes of crystallised ginger with each bit of food seemed to be helping keeping the gut calm, and having Nuun electrolyte rather than just water (my normal strategy) was working a treat.

Arriving at CP5 I was very keen for a break. I sat on the step of the caravan there, in a rare bit of shade, and was offered a water spray to the face. This was very welcome. What a contrast to having 5 people helping you and covering you in icy cold towels, and feeding you whatever you needed, to this. I appreciated the value of a crew more than ever, especially as I was in a bit of a low.

The next section was all new territory to me, and I understood it was a 10km loop of a dam. Sounded easy, water’s flat right?  Apparently not, or maybe it was just because it was about 2:30pm on a sunny day and there was negligible shade, and even a speed bump seemed like a mountain.


Run, walk, and just keep moving forward. The last 1km into the CP is an out and back section, so I was wondering if I would see the leaders, and then reflected on how that would make me feel. Should I push on to try and catch them? I hoped I didn't see them as at this stage the last thing I wanted to do was be racing. Fortunately I didn't see them, they were too far ahead, instead a blue shirted Dan appeared on the road in front of me with incredible enthusiasm and excitement. That’s what I love about these guys, but to be honest, I wasn't in the mood.  When I got close enough I did have to let him know “As great as it is, it’s not really helping”. Fortunately Dan understood that I wasn’t being an ass, I was just tired with 80kms in my legs and was in a “serious” moment!

So the rockstar treatment was resumed, yay! This time Dan was assisted by Jackie (Dylan’s wife) who generously gave me some of his nutrition!  Meg and Jane that also appeared, and I was feeling the love.  Shannon, the lady I was running with earlier also arrived and left before me. I was happy to let her go as to do a quick stop would have done me a lot more harm than good. I needed a couple of minutes to regroup.

On the out and back section I got to see the next two guys behind me, Stephen and Ciaran (who I’d trained with here previously and tipped to do very well). They were 1-1.5kms behind and had to make a stop. They looked in reasonable shape, but no one was fresh!


Coming into CP5 for the second time
All I could do was walk hard on the hills and run where I could. Not an easy task as my quads, calfs and hamstrings had been cramping for the past 15kms (a reflection of the lower recent training volumes). The sun was starting to get low in the sky, and the animals started getting active. A fact I was made aware of as what must have been a 2m, fat and healthy Eastern Brown slithered out of my path. Just as well as I’m not sure I had any evasive action in me!

A relentless hill with many fake summits, just what you need at this stage of the day. The final CP (CP4 from 30kms earlier) came into view and again it was just me and the volunteers. One 100km runner was thinking of pulling out, he couldn’t keep any food down and had 40kms ahead of him.  I employed all the same strategies as I did with a number of people when volunteering at TNF earlier this year, and hope I had convinced him to carry on, rather than feel the inevitable regret and self loathing a few days later for pulling out!

I should have been eating and drinking, not chatting, as Stephen had caught up, so I made a hasty dash off for the last 8kms of the run. I had a horrible thought that he was feeling strong and would just “splash and dash” through the CP and be breathing down my neck. Not a prospect I relished as the cramps were hitting hard every time I put in any concerted effort.  


Little Miss Motivator :)
I passed Deb and Rob again who were well on the way to finishing their 50kms. Great fun chats, and plenty of encouragement, it really gave me a lift.

Of the remaining 8kms about 5 were technical single track. Bizarrely I seem to be able to run on technical trail when my legs were shot, but put me on the road and I was walking!  The technique was to run as if I had fresh legs until they cramped up, then stride out for a few metres and repeat.  I knew that Stephen was behind me, but I dare not look in case I saw him.  You mind plays some crazy games at these stages. At one point I’m thinking I’ll be catching Shannon and looking at 3rd place, then I’m worried about being caught, then I’m justifying in my mind that it’s been a good day either way, then I’m just focused on going under 12 hours.  That’s what I love about this sport, you get a lifetime of emotions in a day.

The primary goal was however to go sub-12hrs. The problem was I couldn’t do the maths to work out how I was travelling. It wasn’t until I was 2kms from the finish and I had about 11:30 on the clock that I worked it out! Basically I was going to cruise home, and just as well because there was only a little running left in the legs. 

Last few metres

Turning into the driveway of the finish venue I’m told that there is only a few hundred metres to go. I ran it all, and as I get in sight of the finish line Dan is there on his phone...he was texting  me to see where I was (an hour later I replied “here, standing next to you!”).

I ran under the finish arch to ring the cowbell in 11:44:xx and 4th place. Second male, so double “chicked” by Shona and Shannon, I can live with that.

On reflection I was very happy with the result. The conditions were far hotter than we had experienced in training, and my preparations were far from ideal for me. For me to get on the podium (for the boys!) is a very unusual and exciting experience. It gives you the desire to want to train harder and do better.




The biggest inspiration for me though was sharing the rest of the evening watching the other runners coming in (some at ridiculously fast pace), and enjoying the war stories from the day. I like to think our running group is pretty tight, but races like this really demonstrated this, not just with the runners, but their friends and families who came along to help out, and those family members who stayed at home so that we could all do what we enjoy. Thanks to all of you for your help, and congratulations to the NUTRs who all exceeded their own expectations, Dylan, Ian, Andrew, Tylana, Leigh, Robbo, Kate, Claude, Lynda, Carol, Amanda and John.

For the inaugural race, I’d say Blackall100 was very successful, with only minor suggestions for improvements. It has a scenic and varied course, with a variety of terrains (most of them upwards!), a great bunch of volunteers, and the friendly atmosphere of a group training run with mates. It’s a tough and challenging event which was shown by the fairly high attrition rate, around 25% in the 100kms.

Demonstrating the 20kg weight advantage I gave the other boys!

I’ll be back next year, and would recommend it to anyone.

Run happy!

Andy

"It never gets easier, you just get better" - Anon

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fusion compression running shorts - What's new Down Under?

It's widely accepted now that compression clothing for running is of benefit, particularly in ultramarathon events where any physiological benefit is multiplied over many hours (as covered in previous posts). There are a number of brands on the market where outwardly the only difference is the logo and stitching pattern, but they are not all same.

The biggest difference I have found is in the fit and the quality of the fabric and manufacture. I have recently been asked to try a new brand of compression wear, Fusion.

The brand itself has a strong presence and its roots in the triathlon scene in Europe and with the Noosa Triathlon next week, they will be there to showcase their range of triathlon and running apparel.
The company originated designing and making custom gear for the elite triathletes in Europe, and have expanded to offer their products to the less elite athlete, while keeping with the high end custom design and build quality.

They now share the love with the masses, and provide a range of gear for a variety of sports. I have tested the running shorts, where they offer two versions, with subtle differences.


PWR
Fusion PWR Short

The PWR short is very much like your classic compression short, offering excellent support and compression (without being restrictive). I won't go into the compression benefits, as I have covered this in previous posts. 


They have a lower cut around the waist to other shorts I have worn, and yet still feel secure. This maximises the exposed skin area, for increased cooling, in a part of your body which will not benefit from compression.


The manufacture quality is excellent, with all Fusion products being manufactured in Europe (not opting for the cheaper option of Asia). After over 400kms of testing the pants show no signs of wear, or weakening of the fabric. The logos are still bright and the all stitching is as new.  I follow the care instructions which recommend washing with no detergent, so you don’t want to be leaving them in your kit bag for a couple of days before washing! This is to maintain the wicking property of the fabric and these shorts certainly are very effective in moisture transport.

Rear key pockets in both styles of short


The PWR has a key/gel pocket at the back, with a zip, which I initially thought would cause a chafing issue, but was pleasantly surprised that it was clear of the bottom of my backpack.









COMP3

The Fusion COMP3 Running Short
The COMP3 is if a similar build quality and has two noticeable differences from the PWR. The low cut on the waist is the same, and is slightly longer in the leg.  


Secondly, the fabric is very different fabric to the PWR (see image below). It is thicker and softer with an almost fleece-like feel. I found these more comfortable than the PWR, and was my preference when heading out for a run on a cold morning. They had a similar excellent manufacture quality, and slightly less compression than the PWR. 

The softer fabric of the COMP3 makes for very comfortable running

The COMP3 also has a small key/gel pouch at the back, but without a zip on this model. The lower waistband cut mean that this is below the bottom of a backpack, so rubbing was not an issue.

The moisture transport of the fabric was again excellent allowing easy wicking of sweat, particularly during intense sessions.





My concern with any compression gear from a man’s point of view (it’s difficult for me to comment on behalf of the ladies!) is the placement of seams and sensitive areas. These Fusion running shorts both have a seam “down the front” which could be a potential problem from a chafing perspective. I have been pleasantly surprised that I have not had any issues in this regard, having worn the COMP3 on training runs of up to 45kms, during hot and humid conditions which I am very grateful for! I put this down to the soft feel of the fabric and flexibility in fabric and the seams. I am not so sure that the PWR would offer the same level of comfort over longer distances


The two styles have their own subtle differences with benefits in different areas. I'd base my preference for either style based on the weather conditions and length of the run. Longer colder runs in the COMP3, shorter warmer runs in the PWR.

All in all though Fusion make a great product, and is one I shall continue to wear, especially if they make a version in red!

Run Happy, 
Andy

"Victory belongs to the most persevering" - Napoleon Bonaparte