Trials and tribulations of the KSR trail running team.
Well it’s been a hectic last couple of weeks and I am not really sure where to start?. In the last 7 weeks I have been in 4 different counties, spent 50+ hours in airplanes, set 3 new PBs , won a marathon, had the worst race in my running life and won a bronze medal at an international athletics competition….phew…exhausted just thinking about it all.
It’s a lot to cover so I will keep it brief and start from the start.
In late April I went on a long awaited hiking/adventure trip to Canada with my wife Tymeka. We had plans for 20days in Canada, hiking and adventuring with the flights arranged to return to Australia the day before the TNF 100/50k of which I had planned to race. I had prearranged to race the Edmonton Police Half marathon whilst in Canada 3 weeks before the TNF 50k a perfect lead up I thought.
When we got to Canada it was freezing and the change in altitude in the Rocky Mountains meant my running was reduced to 60min stints on the mountain trails at a pace that felt blistering but in reality was more like a fast walk. The first week of the trip we hiked everyday for 4-6hours (most of which in deep snow) so I was relived when we took a rest day the day before the Half.
Standing on the start line of the Edmonton Police Half Marathon I wasn’t expecting much, my legs were thrashed from the hiking, my plantar fascia was still troubling me and it was FREAKING FREAZING…I am talking like 3-5 degrees!
The race was run over bike paths and roads around the Edmonton Ravines (river area), it was actually a nice course but perhaps not the fastest going around it had a few hills which weren’t big by trail standards but in terms of road running they where significant.
The race went well for me and I was surprised how comfortable 3:30 pace felt.
I ran most of the race with 3rd place on my shoulder and 1st off in the distance until 16km when we hit a 500m long hill, I maintained my effort and 3rd slid back about 20m. When I got to the top I put the foot down and opened up a decent lead on him. Comfortable I would get 2nd place but thinking I wouldn’t set a new PB due to the hilly course I settled in to finish the race. As I ran the last bend into the finish I saw the race clock at 1:13:00….What the hell I thought, I didn’t expect to have a chance to run under 75min on this course! I sprinted the final meters and crossed 2nd in 1:14:56 ecstatic with a new PB and sub 75min on such a hilly course.
I am not sure if it was the adrenaline of breaking 75min or the lack of brain function due to the cold but I picked up a brochure for the Edmonton Run Wild Marathon to held the next weekend from the finishes area of the Half – the seed was planted. That day we returned to the Rocky Mountains and continued on our hiking fest, slugging out some big 6hour days and tagging as many summits as we could. Two days before the marathon with some encouragement from Tymeka I decided that if I could get a late entry I would race the marathon. After a couple of frantic emails, pleading and playing the international runner card I was in.
With less than 30min of running under my belt after the Half marathon we drove back to Edmonton and with heavy legs, tight hamstrings and a sore butt from snowboarding I toed the line. The race was held in a similar region to the Half marathon on Roads and bike paths around the rolling hills of the river bank in Edmonton. My plan was to run 3:50-55min/km and see what happened, for the first 12km or so I ran with the previous race winner Mark and we nicely ticked off 3:50s on the dot chatting away.
At around 12km Mark made a move on a down hill section and being the rubbish road downhill runner I am I backed off and let him go, he gapped me out to about 200m and held that gap through to 24km where I started to reel him in on a few of the rolling hills. I caught, put on a surge and dropped Mark at around 26km, it was a strange feeling to be in the lead of a road marathon. I never looked back to see how much of a gap I had instead I just focused on running 3:45-50 pace as consistently as I could, I hit the 36km mark and hill feeling great but by the time I had hit the top of the hill I could feel the calves and hamstrings starting to cramp. Knowing I had the TNF 50k 2 weeks later I decided to back it off a bit and just try to run it into the finish. Turning the last corner it was great to see a massive crowd welcoming me to the finish, I couldn’t believe this raggedy ass trail runner was about to win a road marathon! How crazy. As it turns out I ran 2:44 put 5 minutes into Mark in 2nd and set a new course record by 3 minutes.
With two new Pbs and a win in the bag I was stoked and happily returned to our routine of hiking and adventure for our final two weeks in Canada. I didn’t run much in those last two weeks, mostly due to a combination of foot soreness and utter exhaustion from the hiking. As a side note my wife can hike! That woman can hike the legs off a freaking mountain goat…BEFORE BREAKFAST!
The next stop was the TNF 50k, this was meant to be a goal race and prior to leaving for Canada I had been doing what I could (in between nursing the foot) to prepare for it. I was meeting the manager of the Australian La sportiva team along with my fellow La sportiva team mates (Graham Hammond and Gill Flower) for the first time at the race so I was eager to do well. As we left Canada I picked up a bit of a cough and had trouble with my ears during the flight but didn’t think much of it. However when I started my warm up on the morning of the race I knew something just wasn’t quite right. My legs were unresponsive and my Heart rate elevated, I thought to myself that I felt rubbish before the last two races an went fine so perhaps that would be the case this time.
I started OK and settled into the back of the lead bunch and watched the show as Vlad ran off at 3:10 pace into the single track. I didn’t quite feel right as I ran along and struggled to find any other gear outside of slow. After the decent into the Jamison valley it was like someone pulled the power cord out, I couldn’t run up any hills and my maximum pace I could sustain on the flat was 6min/km it was a train wreck. I struggled through the last 30km even stopping a few times to sit and gather my thoughts. It used all my effort and energy just to finish and I learned lots of lessons about myself along way trudging home in 7th. As it turns out I did have a cold leading in and promptly got the worse cold/fever I have had in many years after the race.
The next event on the calendar for me was representing Australia and the Defence Force as part of the Regional Australia Team (RATS) in the 5000m at the Oceania Championships. The competition was to be held 2 weeks after the TNF 50k in Tahiti, yes that’s right Tahiti! I had grand plans of doing plenty of quality speed work before Canada/TNF50k and afterwards that were scuttled by my foot issues prior to Canada and my 12 days of cold, fever and ear infections that followed the 50k.
The trip to Tahiti was in doubt right up to 2 days before my flight due to the severity of the cold and the risk on being deemed not fit to fly by the doctor. Luckily for me my body rallied and I beat the worst of the cold with a day to spare. I arrived in Tahiti on the Sunday to meet the rest of the RAT team and promptly get smacked in the face by the 30 degree heat and 90% humidity.
Tahiti was WICKED, white sand, perfectly clear water, reef snorkelling 50m from my room, I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to come to this beautiful place yet alone for a race! Our team was made up of some sprinters and distance runners from the Defence Force along with some sprinters, throwers and jumpers from Athletics North Queensland.
Now I have never done a track event, yet alone even seen an athletics competition up close (I qualified with a road 5k time) and yet here I am at an international athletics meet and I had to learn quick…. call rooms, side numbers, drug testing, branding rules, disqualification criteria? It really was a world removed from my humble trails back in Queensland. Hyped up on the atmosphere of having over 20 countries competing, watching team mates dominating events and the sheer beauty of Tahiti it’s safe to say I didn’t sleep much those first two night before my race.
When day 2 rolled around it was my turn to race. My 5000m was on at 6:10pm (another foreign concept racing at night), I filled my morning with a quick snorkel and stretching on the beach before heading to the track to watch my other team mates In in the sprints and 1500m. I warmed up fine and managed to get most of the junk (from the cold) out of my chest before heading to the call room for check in. There where 12 people in my race and 2 others from the Australia team, the atmosphere was electric when we stepped out onto the blue tartan track. We lined up on the start line and heard the announcer call out our names and countries one by one, on my left Guam and my Right Fiji, I was so proud to be there representing Australia in front of the crowd and against the collective of the Oceania region.
For me I had two goals when I toed the start line, the first – not to come last and the second – to run the best race I possibly could. I knew that my residual cold would mean I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, however I would be damned if I wasn’t going to get out there and give it 110%. The race started swift but not hectic, and I was surprised when I wasn’t dropped by the first 400m. However as the race progressed and the faster boys increased the pace I found I didn’t have another gear, I slowly drifted back off the main pack and decided that I would try to maintain what pace I could and hopefully I would get lucky come the last 1500m. Sure enough with 1500m to go I started picking up a few places as those who spent too much to early paid the price, I even nearly caught fellow team-mate Thomas Briggs who (having just ran a stunning 2nd in the 1500m 2hrs before) started to falter towards the end. I crossed the line in 8th (not last, tick) and with a time of 16:26, which isn’t fast but considering the winners ran 15:30 (with Pbs of 14mins) I was happy with that.
That was meant to be it for me, just the one event but after the 5k things changed. Thomas was slotted in to run the 400m leg of the mixed medley relay (2×100, 200, 400) in our team however he pulled up very sore from the 5k. A period of discussion, form analysis and persuasion followed and before I knew what was happening I had become the replacement for Thomas in the 400m! Your probably thinking at this stage….wait a minute how does an ultrarunner turn into a 400m runner? I haven’t a clue and was thinking the same thing at the time. It was a bit of a joke, the team knew we wouldn’t be in with a chance with me brining us home in the 400m but the girls (Rita and Amanda ) wanted to run anyway, so we went down to the call room to check in.
Due to the number of teams entered in the relay the event was split into two divisions, East Oceania and West Oceania. Down at the call room I looked around to see a mix of super fit looking girls and guys checking in…all of which had quads that made mine look like a 10 year olds, everyone was sporting track spikes…me scrappy racing flats I had used on the trails, I had to laugh! What was this ultra runner doing here? Never the less again we stepped out on the track, again the atmosphere electric and about 1 hour after the 5000m I lined up ready to take the baton and run the fastest, hardest, most insane 400m I could.
Well what can I say, it was over faster than I thought, I took some advice from my sprinting team mates and went out hard, settled into the 2nd 100m and then tried to kick in the last 150m. It was a blur of legs, gasping , lactate and tears! I took the baton from Rita in 3rd and ran my ass off trying desperately to catch second and not let 4th catch up in the end I maintained 3rd and nearly caught 2nd it wasn’t fast in terms of 400m times but it was enough. I couldn’t believe it, I had just won a bronze medal at an international track meet! Who would have thought!
The rest of the Tahiti trip was brilliant our team did wicked and picked up a number of medals, the track is hard and different but I liked it. My eyes are already turning to Oceania 2014…but in the mean time I have the BIG DANCE in under a month the KOKODA CHALLENGE, so for now it’s back to my roots…long runs, trails and the enjoyment of distance!
I have to make a shout out to the awesome people who helped me achieve what I have in the last 7 weeks. Firstly my wife Tymeka for her unwavering confidence in me and support of my hectic schedule, Ron Hill Clothing for all I could need in race kit, Lasportiva for brilliant shoes and Science in Sport for all my fuelling and recovery needs.
Now for some more sweet pictures!