Trials and tribulations of the KSR trail running team.
In which Dan learns what he kind of already knew
After a Christmas season marked by consistent training through searing heat and mild illness, I was feeling a little flat by mid-January. But as often happens, by the time you’re over feeling run down, the payoff usually begins.
Australia Day’s torrential downpour meant that (like Ben) I could take advantage of the cooler weather with a sleep-in, and (like Ben) I headed up Mt Coot-Tha for a soggy three hours on the hills. The wind was just starting to whip up with the ex-cyclone on its way, which made running under the gums a bit intimidating at times, but it also took the apparent temperature down considerably. I’m not sure whether it was the cool conditions or whether it was just time for the training to kick in, but this was easily the strongest long run in months. Hills (95% of the run) felt good, and the flats felt sensational.
By the Sunday the weather had turned ridiculous. The previous night was spent at a mate’s 30th, so I was secretly happy to see that it was too wild for an early morning. I waited until a lull in the weather that afternoon before taking a 40min tour of the local destruction. All the local creeks had spilled over the footbridges, so I was restricted to circling just a few waterlogged blocks from my house.
A couple of busy days at work meant I could only squeeze two half-hour tempo sessions in early in the week – one running and one on the magnetic bike trainer. The trainer’s been a great investment, good for sore days and for building up quad strength, which I’ve been focusing on for a year or two.
I got out for an hour and a half on the Wednesday morning, which gave me an opportunity to survey the damage on the trails. The survey showed that the damage was considerable, perhaps a dozen big gums had been toppled across the same trails that I’d run out and back on the previous Saturday. Nice conditions again, but I never settled into a rhythm – perhaps because of the steeplechase work required.
The Thursday and Friday were busy work days again, just enough time available for a few hill sprints on the Thurs, then an easy half hour jog on Fri. In anticipation of our first KSR training run, I headed down the coast for a quick early morning surf. Vital cross-training for any serious trail runner, obviously.
The afternoon’s run (which has already been covered by Ben and Caine) was alright to start with – I was only a few paces behind the Dave, Caine and Ben at the top of the uphills, which isn’t too bad. But the downhills showed me just how much steeps work I need to do – the guys were covering the ground at more than twice my pace. I knew I had to work on my downhills, but this was a serious wake-up call. The guys offered a few tips for increasing quad strength and control, which I’ve started to take on. I finished with a little in the tank still, but relied on the others waiting for me at the bottom of the hills way too often.
For Sunday’s session I decided to throw everything I had at my already tender quads, taking on the ‘half-pipe’ of hills in my street in an down-up-return pattern for a hard half hour. I could still feel the fatigue in my quads through some easier mid-length tempo runs on the Monday and Tues.
The legs had relaxed by my Wednesday morning run, but I cut the length back to just over an hour to keep the legs fresh for the weekend. I avoided the same route I’d taken the week before – though this time those trailheads had been wisely blocked off with ‘closed tape’. Still managed to find enough rolling hills on the side of Mt Coot-Tha to make it a solid workout.
The Thursday and Friday sessions were simple maintenance runs – around half an hour with some easy flat sections and a couple of long hard hills, making it easy on the legs before the Dusk to Dawn 6hr on the Saturday night. They must have done the trick, because I got to the startline feeling very comfortable in the legs. I had planned to run to feel, but hoped that I might be able to stick around 5min a kilometre. I never race with a watch, but was pleased to see (where possible) that I was holding that pace easily, having a chat to some of Ben’s 2012 Kokoda Challenge team-mates along the way.
But even though my legs felt solid, my stomach wasn’t anywhere near as comfortable – a subtle pain crept into my abdomen at the end of the first hour, and no amount of pit-stops seemed to make it disappear. The more I drank, the worse the pain became, which wasn’t so much unbearable as it was concerning. My pace stayed strong, but I told myself if it hadn’t sorted itself out by the three hour mark, I’d cut the run short. Unfortunately, three hours rolled around and I made the decision to call it a day. Few things feel worse than quitting a race when you feel (relatively) fresh. I stayed around for a little while chatting to KSR’s own Ollie Zambon (donating his time to crew for a mate), hoping that the break might fix the pain. The break did no such thing, so I drove home, dejected.
As it turned out, my abdomen was excruciating on the drive home, which I was almost pleased with – because it meant I made the right decision to leave the race. The culprit turned out to be the ibuprofen I’d taken a few moments before the race. I’d run with ibuprofen a few times before, but never before a long run. I had ignored Ultra-Racing Rule #1 and changed up my routine on race day, with dodgy consequences.
So what did I learn at the end of that fortnight? Nothing I shouldn’t have already known. I need to hit the hills (and the cycle trainer) more, and I should never go into a race with a changed routine! To the mountains!