It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings

… but in my case, it was more like Roxette belting out “These boots were made for walking” with perfectly timed ironic angst.

After covering 315km in four days and finally feeling like I was on the home straight, my attempt at the 450km ANZAC Ultra was finished. I suddenly went from bouncing along the trail to having sharp shooting pains all up my left shin, unable to bear any weight on my left leg. When I saw that the swelling and redness had spread from my lower shin up my leg and around towards the achilles, I switched off the music and turned around on the trail.

Canberra is gorgeous!
Ready to start!

Four days ago, 8am on Easter Monday, a small group of runners set off on an epic challenge that sought to celebrate the centenary of ANZAC Day, and raise funds for Legacy, an ex-service organisation that looks after the welfare of former servicemen and their families. The original route was meant to re-enact the 320 mile Cooee Recruitment March from Gilgandra to Sydney, but red tape and logistical obstacles saw the final route manifest as a 6-laps of a 75km loop on the Canberra Centenary Trail. There’d be teams and runners doing shorter (300/150/75km) runs which started later in the week so ideally it wouldn’t get too lonely out there!

450km would be the furthest I’d ever attempted. For those of you who asked why, it’s because it was there. I chanced upon the race on one night, and after a few emails exchanged with RD Phil Essam,  I’d signed up. I like challenges, and this one was too good to pass up. I didn’t know too much about ANZAC, but I found out soon enough.

My official cheerleaders

Arriving in Canberra Easter Saturday weekend, it was a whirlwind of family (my cousin, Pinghan, and his gorgeous family had offered to take me in and also help crew me for the race), friends, logistics and crazy weather. The race start was at Stromlo Forest Park, where some runners and crew had already set up tents and campervans and our tent was tiny in comparison! I was so lucky to meet Gavin and Jeff from Tailwind (one of the race sponsors) who not only lent us a mallet for the tent pegs (super-hard ground there .. noted for next time!), but also very kindly gave me a bag of Tailwind to get me through the first day as my supplies wouldn’t arrive till Monday night via ‘Buzz Express’! πŸ˜‰

Race village – ours is the blue one on the left πŸ™‚
No such thing as bad weather …

Lap 1 – Monday 8am, 0km done
The race briefing was as expected, and lovely to see Aussie ultrarunning legend Wayne ‘Blue Dog’ Gregory again after far too many years! Almost everyone knew everyone else, and I may have been the only nutter outside of Australia who’d signed up, but certainly grateful for a familiar face.

Supplies tent!
450km or bust!

The forecast was for rain, and it was much colder than I’d expected. Anyway, life goes on and once I’d done my massive grocery shop, unpacked everything from the Iherb delivery and sorted out the squillion things on my race check list, it was Sunday night and time for bed. How on earth do you prepare for a 450km single-stage race? I was so excited I couldn’t sleep properly .. feeling good!

After discussion with Mile 27 coach Andy Dubois, the basic plan was to go as far as possible before collapsing from exhaustion, have a short sleep of 20-60 mins, restock, refuel, and repeat. I meant to average 15h per loop including rests and had a total target of 90 hours to complete. Nutrition was to be Tailwind throughout –  it worked well for me and I had a stack of snacks in case I felt like a treat. Best laid plans and all that.

Unmanned water point at Kambah Pool

There were 20 solo runners and four teams, so a nice little group. It was cold but dry at the start, and we were waved off without much fanfare, steady as you go. Pinghan would start meet me at the end of the first loop with some hot food and Buzz would take over when he arrived that night. I run with a tall chap named Geoff for some of the way, he’s got pink zinc striped across his face and only arrived at 3am this morning from Sydney, after all week in a yacht race, crikey! 23km to Checkpoint 1 at Tuggeranong went by way too fast, I know I should slow down but I’m running as I feel. My enthusiasm will burn off in a 100km or so, but for now lets go with it.

It’s not as flat as I thought it’d be, though. In fact, it’s bloody hilly for a 1000m D+ loop so far. The terrain is ok, hard-packed and not technical at all. There’s a beautiful gorge (Murrumbidgee River, I think) and lots of massive kangaroos along the way. Everyone who’s run past has been lovely and chatted for a bit, and I’ve already showed how sure-footed I am by tripping over nothing at all .. Andy Sewell runs past, amazed he’s found someone clumsier than himself. πŸ˜‰

Andy running past

The route marking is pretty clear so far, rain started around noon and the second leg (28km) from Tuggeranong to CP2 at Lennox Gardens had a few ‘nice’ climbs. Not the same adjectives on later laps for sure! Feeling great and chugging along, I meet Liz Stephens and Lisa Hussey (and Gonzo!) along Mugga Lane, and am rather envious of Matt Daniels’ welcome convoy compete with customised t-shirts just before we hit CP2.

Liz, Lisa and Andy πŸ™‚

I haven’t taken anything from the CPs so far, still good with water and Tailwind .. I’ll refuel at a water stop later on. I haven’t need to drink much so far due to the cold. I’ve been alone for most of the day (with Tiggs on my shoulder) and going round Lake Burley Griffin is the flattest section (8km), and possibly the most mind-numbing. Nearly get lost trying to find the bridge across to the other side, but it all works out and I’m at Black Mountain Peninsula before I know it. Skeeta (Matt’s crew) and a lovely elderly couple (Cheryl’s parents/crew) are there and I’ve seen Skeeta at so many places along the way so far that I thought he was a volunteer marshall and that they were either triplets or Phil managed to get loads of volunteers who really looked the same! I didn’t twig till later that he was waiting for Matt ..

Gorgeous afternoon by the lake ..

A loop of the peninsula and then towards the Arboretum, it was lovely inside the cork oak plantation, nice and soft underfoot and I couldn’t resist the temptation to poke one of the cork oaks to see if it was really that soft. Just 16kms to finish the first loop, it’s undulating again and I’m looking forward to the hot rice and salmon that’s waiting for me at Stromlo. It’s been a cold and increasingly wet day, but nothing I haven’t done before and time to get ready for Lap 2. It’s just gone dark by the time I get to Stromlo, and I’ve run in with Cheryl, who’s doing a great job so far. The 920XT’s battery gave up the ghost just before I got in, it’s taken me just over 10 hours for this first lap.

Lap 1 done!

Pinghan, Phil, Phoebe and Nellie are all there waiting, Tailwind mixed, chargers ready and jammies on. In the mad rush with kids and kit, the hot food was left behind, so Pinghan scoots back to get it while I try to stay warm. It’s just over an hour before I’m headed out again, had to hide in the ladies changing rooms to stay out of the wind, but all good. It’s raining heavily now and Phil wants to know if I’ll wait a bit? Nah. Might as well just plug on while I can. It’s about 7.30pm, Monday night.

Karen’s crew was well stocked and mobile πŸ˜‰

Lap 2 – Monday 8pm, 75km done
It’s quite different in the dark. The course markings aren’t very reflective, so I’m glad we got to do the first loop in daylight. My propensity to get lost is always a worry, but at least I get to do take the scenic route! I catch up to Matt not long after, he’s lost the trail and we amble ahead together. It’s nice to have some company at last, more so in the dark. We catch up with Liz a little further on, and she’s got enough energy to power all of us. I’m try to keep up with her powerhouse pace, whilst holding a conversation, answering her phone and generally distracting us from the fact that it’s cold and wet. She’s also carrying everything and the kitchen sink with her, I’m so impressed I think I have a girl crush for the first time in decades. And you should see her guns. I’m hitting the gym when I get back to HK.

Black Mountain in the distance .. Canberra is definitely NOT flat.
Still not flat. 

Somehow Matt drops behind, but we stop periodically to shout out and check he’s still on the trail. The highlight of the night had to be the massive wombat we saw … it was the same size as me if I was wombat-shaped! I was totally stoked to have seen that! Coming up to CP1, I get a message from Buzz to say he’ll be in Canberra soon – he was driving over from Sydney. He’ll meet me just after CP1 for a status check, yay!

Autumn colours enroute

Liz and I get through CP1 and head for McDonalds (I didn’t even know it was there!), hoping to get a hot drink .. we’re soaked through and freezing by now. No luck. The 24h Maccas is only open for drive-in customers and will only serve people in CARS. Not even if you’re freezing, wet and have just run 98km. We get rescued by a lovely chap who drives in and buys us both a hot drink. Bless! xx
Liz heads off with her coffee as she’s got her car parked about 20km away, and she’ll stop there for a sleep. Buzz arrives a few minutes later, swaps my two pairs of wet gloves for a dry set, gives me a hug and sends me on my way. Hot tea coming through!

A much needed hot tea

The next leg to CP2 is awful. I’m getting colder, wetter and slower, and the sleep monster has started his shift early. Once I’m in the bush, I’m bouncing off trees, walking with my eyes shut and suddenly desperate for a sleep. I can’t stop as I know I’ll freeze, so I just keep going. The bush is pretty sparse, so when I see anything big enough to sit on, or lean against, I do so, count to 20, then get going again. Oh, and check for spiders first.

Sunrise at last!

Its taken forever to get to CP2 – 11.5h, longer than my entire first lap! My crew are worried. I’ve been in contact so they know I’m ok, and are waiting for me at Lennox Gardens with a camp bed, dry clothes and hot food. I’m so grateful to see them! Quick refuel, they tuck me in and I’m out like a light for 60 minutes.

Coming into CP2 and FREEZING
Time for 40 winks .. I’m under there somewhere.

I’M UP! OK, recharged and ready to go! The sun is out at last, I’m fed and dry with fresh shoes and socks, then Buzz waves me off.  It’s the boring flat loop around the lake, but it’s slow and steady. The 920XT is dead and I’m on the 310XT now, but the readings are all wonky and taking it out of retirement was not the best idea.

Me and Tiggs on the run

The next bit is a bit fuzzy and I can’t remember who I did or didn’t see (not hallucinating yet) but I do know it was a bit of an effort to get back to Stromlo (150km done!) and things are starting to hurt. Both my Achilles are swollen and sore, I have another mystery sore lump on the top of my right foot and I’m completely wet and frozen again. Buzz makes me stand under the hot shower for 10 minutes as he updates me. Several runners were pulled off the course the night before with hypothermia, and it looks like the weather will get worse before it gets better. I’m cold and grumpy and not receiving this news very well. I change, eat, and see if the massage services by Michael Gillan would help. It’s nearly 2pm on Tuesday, and I faff around trying to get some sleep and work out what’s wrong with my Achilles. Laces are loosened on coach Andy’s advice, and hopefully that’ll sort out the pain and swelling on the top of my foot. Buzz and I decide I should head out just before it gets dark and cover as much ground as I can. I plan to do the full loop so it’s hi-vis vest and headlamp on, and out I go into the rain again.

Lap 3 – Tuesday 6pm, 150km done
It doesn’t seem to take long to get to CP1 again. With the exception of a near head-on collision with a large man-sized kangaroo on the trail, it’s pretty uneventful and the pain in my achilles is bearable. The rain got worse, and Buzz met me just after CP1 with a change of plans. I thought I’d try and get a quick 30mins kip and dry off before tackling section 2, but the weather had other plans. We end up sleeping fitfully in the car till daybreak – the rain was so heavy and it snowed at one point in the night .. Buzz took the executive decision to wait it out.

Ready to rock after a night in the car

SO. Wednesday 5am and back on the trail again. I was aiming for a 15h loop, and feeling good after some rest. The sun was out, I was keeping up a pace again and apart from my right ITB complaining a little (I guessed from trying to save my sore achilles) everything felt good.

Not so easy to get through these gates after 225km!

This was my favourite lap so far, everything felt great, mainly because the sun was out, and I was (relatively) flying. Had some company on the boring flat lake loop with superfast Liz, her friend and their dog (sorry, names all forgotten!). Looking forward to dry clothes and hot food waiting at Stromlo, I was having a great time. I think really need to stick to the warm, dry races. I was still on Tailwind and random snacks, looking forward to pot noodles or rice and salmon at the end of each loop. The last 4 km back into Stromlo didn’t quite go as planned, with achilles hurting again and this time my lower left shin feeling pretty wrecked as well.

Kangaroo spotting again
Blue Dog motoring on banana power

I pretty much walked the last bit in, passed by Liz who was powering ahead, Blue Dog, who was on banana power, and I limped into Stromlo just under 16h (minus the giant nanna nap in the car) feeling rather sorry for myself. There was a gorgeous sunset, and just enough warmth in the air to cheer me up a little. Buzz got Danny the medic to come take a look at my legs in the race office where it was warm and dry. Danny made all sorts of disapproving noises, but to be fair, he did his best to keep all of us going for as long as he felt was safe to do so. He thought I might have torn a muscle where my left shin was red, swollen and very sore to touch. At the very least it was some serious shin splints. I haven’t had shin splints for over 20 years! πŸ™

Feet up and sunset!

While Danny is sorting me out, Matt and Andy both come in. Matt seems like he’s holding up ok, and is off to rest for the night before going out again the next morning. Andy is hoping to go out again soon, but it looks like he’s got the same problems I have. Danny doses us both up, tells us to rest for the night and play it by ear in the morning. Or at least rest 4 hours or risk bleeding out from the meds. I’ll take the rest if it means I get to carry on, Andy does the same. I can’t face sleeping in the tent or car, so we get to Pinghan’s house and crash out for the night. It feels amazing to have a hot shower and a warm bed, I don’t think I’m going to wake up, and I owe my cousin big time for all his hospitality.

Lap 4 – Thursday 6.30am, 225km done
Amazing what some sleep can do … I’m ready for Lap 4! I start with Lisa (Harvey-Smith), but she’s not having a great time with it and I soon lose her. I asked Buzz to help find me some gaiters and poles, and bless him, he did! I had Sally’s awesome pink gaiters and he’d promised me a set of poles by the time I was done with CP1. What a star. I’m back on track, everything hurts and it’s 2km down the road before I ring Buzz, asking him to meet me enroute with a pair of scissors. We chop off the back of my Hokas, and it’s a world of relief. My sore Achilles hopefully won’t take too long to ease off now. I’m limping along quite happily till I get to the end of Kambah Pool Road. My endorphins seem to hit a black hole, fatigue crashes in and I’m falling into despair. I want to talk to someone but don’t know what to say. I deliberate for ages, still moving forward from force of habit (always useful), and then dial Andy’s (my coach) number. There’s no reply. I try again and then give up, hoping that he might call back. I’ve forgotten he’s at Buffalo Stampede.

Hacked off Hokas
Happy on the start of Lap 4 …
… and then much less happy.

I feel like I’m at the bottom of the barrel and I’ve got nothing left. I’m 240km in, with 210km to go. It feels too far to think about.

Then I remember the emergency ipod. Together with a hand delivery of Gurney Goo (indispensible anti-chafe solution!), John Ellis lent me his ipod with a ‘Jeri The ANZAC’ playlist. I’ve never run with music, in training or in races, but I’d been carrying it in my pack since Monday. Nothing for it. I plug in the earphones and realise I don’t even know how to turn this on .. duh. Tech dinosaur gets the hang of it after a while and I’m good to go.

Cow photobomb .. I think Matty started this πŸ™‚

It’s Fix You by Coldplay. Suddenly I’m crying like a baby and running. Well, running in comparison to my disheartened trudging pace before, anyway. My heart and spirit feel like they’ve been given a huge boost and my brain is completely distracted by the new soundtrack to my epic run. It’s like caffeine but better, and I know the words!

Sun’s out, yay!

“When your legs don’t work like they used to before” from Thinking Out Loud made me giggle, and then Angels by Robbie Williams got me into full on karaoke mode. I scared some kangaroos with my yodelling and was absolutely delighted with drowning out the pain and fatigue with some tunes. New secret weapon!! Plus it was such a surprise to see what the next song would be. I’m eating up the miles, at CP1 in good time and Buzz meets me further along with my new poles. He’s found some Black Diamond foldies, and they’re purple! I KNOW this is going to be a good day.

Pink and purple!

I’m off again, singing, clacking my poles and meeting a few people along the way including Andy and Julie. There are some faster runners now as the 300km runners have started, I do get startled by a couple coming past as I’m in Surround Sound Karaoke Land. ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ takes me up Red Hill,  ‘Mambo No 5’ takes me past Parliament House and ‘Titanium’ takes me into CP2 and 275km. Brilliant! I catch Liz up again and we power walk the second half of the lake, joined by one of her friends. I take off again as I need to move quicker, walking hurts more than running. 

It’s much colder by the time I get to the arboretum, time to layer up. Liz and her friend catch me up there and power on, my shin pain is back big time and I’m back to trudging. No worries, only about 10k to Stromlo! Just then, the magic ipod ran out of battery, and I felt bereft. I was too tired to want to think for myself, so I turned on Ian Corless’ podcasts instead and listened to Sage Canaday blathering on about something instead.
Recharged, refuelled and my shin is looking a bit worse for wear.

Grumpy, cold and finally back at Stromlo, I limp to the race office again for a status check with Danny. My shin is still red and swollen, hurts like a bugger to touch, I feel broken all over and we need a new plan. I’m 300km down, with less than a miler to go, there’s no way I’m giving up yet. Danny’s magic meds are dispensed with the proviso that I get at least 4 hours rest before heading out again, so that’s the plan. Sleep till 5am and then head out. Get another lap in, sleep, and finish the job on Saturday. Worst case I’ll finish Sunday morning. I’m on it.

Not good.
Buzz sets up the camp bed in the ladies changing room again and I crash out there. Except I can’t sleep. I want to go on. I’ve had some hot food, and a bit of banter with some of the other walking wounded – Andy, Matt and Liz all checked in, and now with an hour’s sleep I wanted to go again. I made myself rest a bit longer .. and I give up. I pull on the rest of my warm layers and head out, it’s still dark out but I can’t twiddle my thumbs till sunrise.
Lap 5 – Friday 4.30am, 300km done
I’m off in the dark, but it feels good to be making some progress. It’s slow to start, I’m cold and will need to ease into this. And everything still hurts. I pass Gavin, Jeff and Karen on the way out, and Gav gives me a big hug. His run is over, and I’m gutted for him. 
Just as it’s getting light, Matt comes bouncing past, looking great and we have a quick chat before he heads off again. It’s daylight now and I start taking some layers off, and get passed by Kristy and Colin from the 300km looking nice and strong together. I get new resolve seeing these guys go past, and now I’m stripped down to my skirt, top, poles and ipod. Off we go!
Canberra cloud formations are beautiful!

I love how the light of a new day and some music can make such a difference. Life is good again, the pain is forgotten and I’m clacking past Kristy and Colin, and then past Matt as he stops to refuel with his crew. So lovely to see everyone and I get the feeling I’ve nailed this.

The long stretch down Kambah Pool Road is happy enough, at this pace another 15h loop shouldn’t be an issue. Skeeta and Leigh (Matt’s crew) pass me on the road and stop at the trailhead to wait for Matt. 
I’m bouncing along, about a kilometre in on the trail, when there are shooting pains up my shin and I can’t support my weight. I would’ve fallen if not for the poles. Another 50m of hopping and I know what this means. it’s a different sort of pain. The kind that says ‘Sorry, this is serious.” But I don’t want to accept it. It can’t end like this, not when I’ve broken the back of it, the sun is shining and my ipod is fully charged!
But I can’t even walk. I look down and see the redness and swelling have much further up and around, something Danny told me to look out for. Matt comes by, and offers to call Skeeta to pick me up. I decline and say I’ll get my crew. No sense holding them up, I need to get this looked at first, no telling how long that will take. He gives me a hug and says he’ll finish for me. Everyone I’ve met, runners, crew and volunteers alike have been amazing like that. 
I’m hobbling backwards on the trail and it feels so wrong. It’s always been about moving forward, surely I could make it to CP1? That’s another 12km. No chance. Kristy and Colin pass and offer their sympathies, and so does Valastik.
In the end, Matt called his crew anyway. Leigh and Skeeta found me on the trail and drove me back to Stromlo. Such lovely, generous people I’ve had the privilege of meeting!
Pinghan and Buzz are at Stromlo, and Danny comes in to take a look, and pronounces the end of my run. My crew concurs. 315km and I’m finished, live to race another day.
Gav, Brick and Jeff

Despite the failure of my ANZAC Ultra attempt, seeing the dogged determination of everyone else out there on the course, the supportive marshalls and volunteers smiling no matter what time of day or night, and the generosity of both runners and crew all along the way have really made this an experience to remember. Matt, Blue Dog and Liz all promising to finish for me, Andy gutting it out in spite of an eventual stress fracture, Sam nailing the race with a torn VMO, and Brick finishing in second place despite some very impressive blisters.

No more running
Amazing ladies and 450km finishers!

Huge huge thanks to Buzz, Pinghan, Aimee, Phil and the gorgeous kids for all their help and hospitality, couldn’t have done it without you! xx Coach Andy for all the prep and advice leading up to this and putting up with my constantly changing schedule. So, so glad to have met Bek, Julie, Skeeta, Leigh, Phil, Sally, Cathie, Anya and everyone else I’ve forgotten to mention!

With Andy, Danny and Liz

Big hugs to everyone who sent messages on FB, whatsapp and text .. I got them all and even though I couldn’t reply, your thoughts and strength were very much appreciated xx

War historian C.E.W. Bean defined the spirit of ANZAC to have 
‘stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never own defeat.’ 

The hardy souls I met at the ANZAC Ultra certainly embodied these qualities, runner, crew and volunteers alike. Despite the challenges from the weather, cold, a lack of resources or unexpected obstacles, everyone did their best. That’s all that mattered.

This was the only edition to be held so there isn’t a chance to do this again, but there’s more challenges round every corner so I’ll just sort out my shin and get back on the trail. My race report was very much a personal account, but with these events, it’s all about pushing your own limits. I don’t think it’s ever really a race against anyone but yourself unless you’re at the very pointy end of the field. It was quite a lonely journey for the most part .. I had sections with great company, but mostly very long periods by myself.

Danny the medic was an absolute trooper, going well beyond the call of duty. I don’t think he ever slept and he must have boosted the local pharmacy sale a hundredfold with the amount of magic pills he dispensed. But you shouldn’t go round telling ladies they have cellulite! (For the record, he said cellulitis, which is completely different.)

There’s a great account by Rob Sharpe, Gav’s long-suffering crew, here:

Sam Weir’s race report here:

Pics of the event here: (I don’t seem to be in any of them!)

And for those who asked, my equipment list is here: (I did wear everything at the same time when it was cold, plus a few borrowed layers from Buzz and Pinghan!)
Cap – Raidlight
or Visor (daytime only) – Salomon
Buff (for warmth, wiping off Tailwind messes, and emergency boob tube services)
Sunglasses – Oakley zero
Base 1 – Arcteryx Phase SL crew
Base 2 – North Face FlashDry long sleeved base layer
Base 3 – Long sleeve ski thermal top
Armsleeves – Compressport
Mid-base – Marmot ThermalClime Pro 1/2 zip Long sleeve
Waterproof jacket – Marmot Nano and Marmot PreCip 

Gloves – Kalenji liner gloves and Dynafit thernal gloves
Skirt – Salomon Anna Frost Special Edition
Tights – North Face FlashDry
Rainpants – Patagonia H2No Rain pants
Pack –  Salomon S-Lab 5litre
Socks – Drymax crew or Under Armour
Shoes – Hoka Huaka
Anti-Chafe – Gurney Goo
Headlamp – Black Diamond Storm
Nutrition: Tailwind as main base, supplemented with snacks and a hot meal after each lap. I find on the longer events, I use treats as an incentive. They aren’t necessary but I like them so I reduce the amount of Tailwind to compensate.
Tailwind – (approx 1 scoop and hour with 250-500ml water)

Snacks: usually a nibble of something every couple of hours, I didn’t always carry everything, but restocked with what I felt like at each lap.
Clif Kids Organic Zfruit ropes
Salted/honey roasted nuts (macadamia, cashew, almond)
Gluten-free pretzels
Gluten-free shortbread cookies
Bak kwa
Plain salted crisps
Dried fruit – mango and peach
Ginger chews

My toes looked like this after 315km – should’ve gotten a gel pedi! But Gurney Goo was amazing πŸ™‚
These are Brick’s feet … I did give him a tube of Goo for next time! πŸ™‚
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UTMB training week 1

UTMB training has begun! I’ve faffed around with running random distances since recovering from my kite crash … anything less than 2 hours didn’t feel right … and thought I’d better pull my finger out and get started on a proper program.
I’ve been speaking to Pete Roper the ‘Off-Road Guru’, and he’ll be drawing up my training schedule for the next few months leading up to UTMB. I first saw Pete at the 2009 Endurancelife Classic Quarter. He took off like a shot at the start (bearing in mind this is a very challenging 44 mile trail run on the Cornish coast path), and finished with a convincing win and a new course record. Impressive stuff! So I figure Pete’s the right person to be helping me with my lead-up to UTMB.
So the next four weeks look pretty steady, 6 runs a week and a day off after a long weekend session. This is my base training so only 55-65 miles a week at the moment, but all runs except the speed session to be done with a full pack. I’ve loaded up with 3kg at the moment, bringing the weight to 5kg with 2 litres of water on board as well. Welcome back, boys! … I name my bags of rice/sugar after my favourite men to give me a little more motivation when they start to feel like a dead weight. I end up ‘talking’ to them on long runs as well .. it’s much more fun thinking I’ve got Hugh Jackman as a running companion, even though I have to ‘carry’ him! πŸ˜‰
This means RTI HK is off the menu .. too much too soon. I’ve had to give this one up in light of the bigger picture πŸ™ .. but there’s always next year! 

The Boys!
As you can see from the pic, my running mates will the the delightful Mr. Hugh J. (yes, if you say it fast it sounds like ‘huge’ … ;)), and my new hero, the Desert King (STILL waiting for the teapot dance, by the way!). They’re with me for the next 6 months or so whether I like it or not, so enjoy the ride, boys! πŸ˜€
Lovely and sweaty after a loop on the trail πŸ™‚
Had a lovely run yesterday on the trail with Ultrababe Paulina. She’s soon-to-be Ironbabe as well and will debut her transition skills at Ironman WA 2011. It was my first run with a fully loaded pack as well, I’ve got aching shoulders today to prove it! πŸ™‚ 
Took the cheetah skirt out for a spin as well, they’re working well and I find myself trying to get the skirts washed in time for the next run rather than pull on a pair of shorts … time to get some more skirts, then!
I’m attending a navigation clinic on Saturday for the Sabah Ultra Trail run. The route is entirely self-navigated and I’m likely to find myself in the arse end of nowhere if left to my own devices. The organisers have teamed up with Edge Adventure Sports to provide clinics for the adventure racers and runners, lucky for me! So fingers crossed by Saturday evening I’ll be able to find my way round the course in Sabah next month and not end up discovering a new tribe in the deepest part of the jungle. 
Saturday night is also the start of the Twilight Ultra Challenge, 16 hours on a 10km loop course at East Coast. Not quite my cup of tea (it’s completely flat) but kudos to those who have signed up! We’ll rock up during the night to offer some support, and grab some of Ah Hwee’s fabulous chicken wings from the Lagoon Food Centre, no doubt. Happy running, everyone!
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Altitude training … suggestions please!

The Atacama Crossing is underway! For the record, I am not racing in Atacama at the moment .. but I will someday! The previous post on the race was to drum up some support for the Singapore-based participants Thaddeus Lawrence and The Desert King. The race is run at altitude, the highest elevation being 3000m.

This got me thinking about my training for the UTMB .. where there’s about 9500m (yikes!) of positive altitude change. We start at 1000m, and the highest peaks are about 2500m, so training in pancake flat Singapore is a bit of a problem considering our highest ‘peak’ is 164m (no, I didn’t leave out any zeroes).

UTMB Course Profile

After some research, I figure I could go to Genting and train, hopefully an affordable option both time and money-wise, and the elevation is between 1000m and 1800m at the top.

So, here’s where I need some input. Anyone knows of any runs in that area (trail or road .. preferably trail) that would be safe to do alone? Any other locations which are possible for altitude training would be appreciated (Must be accessible and affordable from Singapore). Also, any recommendations for places to stay? I figure I could stay at one of the Genting resorts like First World Hotel and just run loops from there. Anyone keen to do this as well let me know! Cheers!

BTW, take a look at DO‘s post on barefoot running and this one at Birthday Shoes on starting barefoot running and barefoot running in ultramarathons. Still doing my daily barefoot runs and trying very hard to be patient about this!

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The Atacama Crossing, Chile

Training at 2400 ft of altitude
This year’s 4 Deserts series kicks off in March with the Atacama Crossing 2011, the world-renowned, 250km endurance footrace across the driest desert on the planet.

Competitors will spend seven days, from 6 – 12 March, moving through the stunning landscape of Chile’s Atacama Desert, on a grueling course that spans salt lakes, sand dunes, canyons and oases.

The racers will be carrying all of their own equipment and food for the week over the forbidding terrain and through soaring temperatures, with the added test of high altitude and severe aridity compounding the challenges they must endure. The Atacama Crossing is grueling not only because of the forbidding terrain which is rarely flat underfoot, and a harsh climate, but also because of the altitude that averages 2500m (8000ft) during the race.

Atacama’s ankle-breaking terrain

Many consider the Atacama Crossing to be the most difficult of the 4 Deserts series, thus always attracting top athletes — this seventh edition of the event is no different. The top contender for the 2011 race is 29-year old Anders Jensen of Denmark, who won the Sahara Race 2010, and is intent on repeating the feat.

Six competitors will also be setting out in Chile to finish the 4 Deserts series, which includes the Gobi March (China), the Sahara Race (Egypt) and The Last Desert (Antarctica), and join the prestigious 4 Deserts Club. Those competitors are Diego Carvajal (27) and Lady Lucy Tang (43) of the United Kingdom, Mayuko Okabe (29) of Japan, Alain Wehbi (42) of Lebanon, Devrim Celal (40) of Cyprus and Singapore’s Thaddeus Lawrence (38).

The Desert King
Anders (his mahjong ‘kaki’ call him the Desert King)  and Thaddeus are based in Singapore, and you can send them messages of encouragement and support here or leave a message on Anders’ competitor blog. They won’t get their mobile phones back till after the race so their only form of communication with the outside world are our email messages and blog comments. 

… so sign up for the email updates and send them a message to keep their spirits up! The race starts Sunday 6th March at 8am Chile time, which is 7pm Singapore time.

Sun 6th March, Stage 1: Navigation by Rock = 35 kilometers / 22 miles 

Mon 7th March: Stage 2: The Slot Canyons = 42 kilometers / 26 miles 

Tue 8th March, Stage 3: The AtacameΓ±os Trail = 40 kilometers / 25 miles 

Wed 9th March, Stage 4: The Infamous Saltflats = 43 kilometers / 27 miles 

Thu-Fri 10th-11th March, Stage 5: The Long March = 74 kilometers / 46 miles 

Sat 12th March, Stage 6: The Final Footsteps to San Pedro = 16 kilometers / 10 miles 
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Running skirts, anyone?

This week’s been a little crazy so far, lots of things happening and life is starting to get very interesting indeed!

Was worried I’d be paying dearly for the run (and stairmaster workout!) on Sunday without any training to speak of, but looks like my body’s remembered how to recover now and I’ve managed a 10-15 mile trail run everyday so far. I’m dreading starting the speedwork though .. scheduled to start next week. I’d much rather run 30miles steady than have to go at lung-busting effort for 300m! Still, no pain, no gain, right? And with TNF100 Oz coming up soon and my ultimate goal of UTMB in August … I’m thinking if I don’t suffer now I’ll really be paying the price when I do those events.

Time to suck it up, Fat Bird! … good thing I work well under pressure πŸ˜‰

I’m also working through my post-mortem list of the GNW100s to see what I need to change. First off was the shorts chafing issue … unpleasant to say the least! My Under Armour run shorts had been great throughout my training and racing, even for the TNF 100k, so I had no reason to expect them start chafing me at about 120km into the GNW100s. But, life’s no fun without challenges, right? So I ended up cutting the lining out of the shorts and that was enough of a remedy to get me through the last 54km or so.
Fab or what! (Picture: Running Skirts)

I’ve started looking at alternatives this week. I am averse to running in tights of any length due to potential camel-toe issues and just how inconvenient they’d be if I needed to answer the call of nature. Yes, I mean pee … or worse! πŸ˜€ When you run ultramarathons on trail it’s highly unlikely that the organisers will be able to put portaloos at regular intervals … some of the checkpoints are only accessible by foot! So it’s a reality that needs to be addressed .. keeping well hydrated does have it’s consequences, as well as deciding to have that second sausage sandwich at the last checkpoint.

Anyway, I only wear running tights when it’s cold. And since I live in the tropical paradise of Singapore, my alternative to shorts is the running skirt. Some of the top runners (mostly female :D) wear skirts to run … have a look at Catra Corbett  and Jamie Donaldson (both amazing ultra-runners) … and once you think about it, running in skirts does make sense. No chafing, no camel-toe, a flattering silhouette, great ventilation, no sweaty shorts sticking to your legs post-race (also contributes to the camel-toe problem), and no VPL (visible panty line). They’d be a great solution to the post-run clothing dilemma too .. you can go take a bus, MRT, sit in Starbucks for a double skinny macchiato and muffin …   

Catra Corbett in action (Picture: Dirt Diva)
I saw a couple of ladies at the NTUC run and asked their opinion. One said from her “Once you’ve tried skirts, there’s no going back!”. How you look affects how you feel, and if you know you’re looking great for your run, chances are you’ll be running better too. It’s a win-win situation. 

Okay, so I’ve looked at all the ones available, and there’s enough of a choice out there to make it interesting. You can get them locally from 2XU, Nike and Adidas, but the choice isn’t vast and the colours leave a lot to be desired. Training and racing gear doesn’t have to be boring .. once again the lovely Catra comes to mind … but she is at one extreme of the spectrum. Looking online, there are a few more options. Skirt Sports (by pro-triathlete Nicole DeBoom), Athleta (a part of the GAP group), Moeben, and Running Skirts

I’ve now ordered a couple of pairs from Running Skirts to try out (yes, one of them is cheetah print!), they should be arriving early next week! … I love receiving stuff in the post, there’s something about having a parcel or chunky package to open .. so exciting even if you already know what it is! I chose Running Skirts as they had a great range of colours and styles available, and they ship to Singapore. The Athleta ones looked a little boring and the Skirt Sports ones didn’t really appeal. I’d like to try the Moeben ones as well, but thought I’d wait for my RS delivery first. I’ll post a review once I’ve tested them out … can’t wait!

By the way, STARC ladies (and Bruce .. they do a purple plaid one!), this might be the solution to matching the lovely STARC vest! There’s a UK branch .. check out the colour combinations at Running Skirts UK, or maybe they’d do a custom one in purple and gold!    
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NTUC U-Run and OMB Challenge 2011

The 31-storey NTUC building …

Before the start (Photo credit: David Ong)

It’s definitely been too long since my last race. That was the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon way back in December. So waking up this morning at stupid o’clock wasn’t the most welcome way to start the day. Nonetheless it was the inaugural NTUC OMB (One Marina Boulevard) Challenge, a 10km run followed by a 31-storey climb of the NTUC building. They also had a competitive 10km and a 5km fun run available. I was looking forward to this, it would be a test of how much fitness I’d lost in the last month and how much my ribs might hurt if I pushed hard. 

What have I got to lose! (Photo credit: David Ong)
I think there were a thousand runners in total, with staggered starts for the OMB, 10 and 5k categories, it was all very relaxed at the start. Nice to meet a few familiar runners after what feels like a very long break. Quick mass warm-up session before the start, and then we were off. 
After the first 2kms I started to realise how much fitness I’d lost .. this was hard work! It was a flat 10k route and well marked out. Distance markers every 2km and water points well spread out. I thought I was keeping a steady pace, but by 5k I’d dropped from 3rd to 5th place, and coming in to the 10k finish I was in 7th place. I think I clocked a shocking time for the 10k, somewhere in the region of 47 minutes .. but happily enough no rib or back pain. 
The transition to the NTUC staircase took just over a minute and then it was headlong into a somewhat narrow stairwell with all the other sweaty runners. You know sometimes in a race when your thoughts are of the “Why did I think this was a good idea??” variety? Well, that was pretty much my frame of mind from the fifth floor onwards! Judging from the dazed / glazed / pained (insert appropriate adjective here)  expression on my fellow runners’ faces, I’m sure they thought the same too! 
The dreaded stairs … (Photo credit: David Ong)
Hands too sweaty to pull on the handrails, quads and calves completely knackered, I climbed as quickly as I could. The cold air vents on every other floor provided welcome relief for the fraction of a second when you climbed past it, but otherwise pretty hot work! Time to suck it up, Fat bird! I managed to pass a couple of ladies and think I made it to the top in about 8 minutes … I was so puffed out I forgot to stop my watch! 5th place .. not great but I’m chuffed to bits that nothing hurts (that doesn’t normally, I mean.) Lovely cool breeze on the roof-top, with a great view of Marina Bay on one side, and lots of sweaty, puffed out runners on the other.

With Roda (4th place) (Photo credit: David Ong)
Everything was well organised and pretty well laid out .. apart from the increasingly muddy field, which meant everyone stayed on the periphery of the field and did their best to avoid caking their trainers with lovely ochre mud. 
Mud, mud, and more mud!
Slight anti-climax end to the morning when I was told that the prizes went down to 5th place … result! … and then waiting 40 minutes for prize-giving only to be told “Oh, I’m so sorry but prizes are up to 4th place .. you missed out by 30 seconds.” There was no information on prizes or placings on the website so I relied on the information I was given … oh well, you win some, you lose some. At least I still had time to get to church and fall asleep during the sermon. And there was no way I could have pulled back another 30 seconds up those stairs!

Extra loud wolf whistles to the hardy bunch from Singapore who completed the Bataan Death March 160km today, well done!! And kudos also to the runners at the Tokyo Marathon today .. especially those who’d already done the HK marathon last week as well! 

We’re ALL winners! πŸ˜‰
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Give it some beans!

“Give it some beans!”

First race of the year tomorrow, feels like it’s been ages. I wish I could say I’ll be bouncing up to the line for the start of the Tokyo Marathon tomorrow, or in the midst of the Bataan Death March 160km Ultra, but I’m going local this weekend for the NTUC U Run. It’s a flat 10k with a 31-storey climb .. no doubt that’ll be enough hard work for me given I’ve done bugger all for the last 4 weeks. 
Looking forward to it, though. I think it’ll be the perfect kick up the ass I need to get back into the groove for serious training again. I’ve taken runs this week quite tentatively given my recent attempt at flying … and happily everything seems to be working just fine. Not even veering off to the left anymore, yay! Best give it some beans tomorrow, then .. that’s the English equivalent encouraging phrases like ‘jia you’ (Chinese), ‘gambate’ (Japanese) or ‘vamos’ (Spanish). 
So to all those at the BDM, Tokyo Marathon, NTUC Run or if you’re just out for a run on your own, remember the beans!
Here’s something I came across with all that extra time on my hands over the last few weeks .. food for thought for the ultra-nuts out there! The Track Outback Race … 590km over 10 days … guess I’d better start looking at getting a bigger pack! πŸ˜‰  

All clear …

Look what I found!
Saw the physio this morning for a quick assessment of the remnants of my kiting injuries .. and got the all clear! No major damage, the knobbly bit on my lower back should go away in time (with the help of massage, stretching and intervention from various physio-type machines. My ribs will continue to hurt until they get fed up with being a pain .. or for about another 3 weeks, whichever comes first. Brilliant news, now to start cranking up the miles for the coming events … starting with a nice long trail run tomorrow! Celebratory Powergel, anyone? πŸ™‚
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Happy trails :D

Out on the trail today!
Had a brilliant run on the Macritchie trail this afternoon, a steady 10 miles with very little pain .. woohoo! My ribs are still sore but I think I’ll have to put up with it for another couple of weeks.
Ran with the new Salomon pack and it’s absolutely brilliant! Nothing moved, fits like a glove and comes with more bells and whistles than you could dream of. Big thumbs up! There’s only a 5 litre space in the pack for a spare jacket or other kit, but it’ll carry 1.5 litres of fluid, has stretchy side pockets and two bottle holders in the front. It also comes with two extra kit pouches that velcro on. So if you use the bottle holders to stash your favourite things, it’s quite a tardis really. It’s even got pole holders which I’ll try on my next run. This is a pack for minimalist long runs and races, perfect for the Sabah Ultra-Trail Run in April! πŸ™‚
I’m so tickled about being able to run again … I’ve had a cheshire cat grin on my face all evening! Seeing a physio tomorrow to try and suss out what’s popped in my back, so fingers crossed it’s nothing serious. 
Might be able to rock up for King of the Hills Mountain Marathon in Sai Kung (HK) next weekend, I’m still thinking about it … we’ll see what the physio says tomorrow! Anyone else going? 
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Back in the running!

First off, well done to all those who ran the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Marathon in South Devon, and the Standard Chartered Marathon in Hong Kong this morning! Next, good luck to all those headed to the Tokyo marathon or the Philippines BDM 160 next week!

East Coast Parkway (ECP) sunrise
It’s now been just over three weeks since my kite surfing accident … and a miserable total of 3 pain-filled, short runs not worth writing home about … until today. Finally! A 9-mile run with Marnie at the beach this morning. Not feeling normal yet, but definitely bearable. Tried running in the pool, but got so bored after 45 minutes and kept losing count of the laps I was running. I gave up pretty quickly.

Will try to see a physio tomorrow to get my back looked at .. there’s a strange lump on the side I fell, possibly a popped muscle connector. That might explain why I feel I’m veering off to the left whilst running! Hopefully it can be easily fixed .. and without surgery! If not, I’m sure I’ll live.

One week to my first race of the year .. the NTUC U Run. It’s only 10km, but with a 31-storey climb up the NTUC building to finish. At least that’s a little more interesting! Feeling completely unprepared for it so we’ll see how I go. I know my quads will be burning on the stair climb for sure!

Now I know I can run again, it’s time to hit the trails … woohoo! Looking forward to a nice loop around the reservoir, even better with some new kit to try out. The Salomon Advanced Skin 5 S-Lab hydration pack (courtesy of the Desert King :)) looks super sexy and has had rave reviews so far!

Also have my Falke TR4 trail socks and Raidlight poles (see my previous blog post) to test drive .. can’t wait!