Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Virgin Triathlete

Gotta tell everybody about my first road triathlon! Yep, sorry; that's the virgin part.  Never thought I'd say it, least of all write about it.....but here it is.  Sure, I've done an off-road tri before, and that was a lot of fun.  But a road tri?  Too many pre-conceived ideas about road tris and triathletes.  We'll see!!

I'm very pleased to say that I joined a tri club to get into the mood for my 'transition' and I'm glad I did.  I joined our local club - Tomaree Tri Club, El Presidente is Graeme Chamberlain (Chambo or Yogi) - thinking that it would take months before anybody would talk to me.  Boy, was I wrong!!!  I entered an Aquathon (run/swim/run) prior to my first tri and it nearly killed me, mainly because my swimming leaves a lot to be desired.....drowning more like.  After it was over, a group of us BOP's formed (that's back of the packers) and we were congratulated by the elite guys and encouraged with advice on how to train and tricks on how to improve.  Fantastic!!!  First pre-conceived idea blown out of the water.  Of course, my effort was posted on facebook and again I got some wonderful comments from people, including El Presidente himself.  Anyway, that wasn't a tri so we'll see what happens next month.......

Next month rolled around and I found myself setting my beautiful bike, Rusty up in the T1 transition area with my T2 stuff, road running shoes with lacky laces.  I just realised that I can actually talk the talk now (and walk the walk cause I've done it), but I still feel like I've 'Got all the Gear and No Idea'.  Off to the start of the swim at the end of Salamander Shores jetty and looking out at the turn buoys, my thoughts turn once again to self preservation and drowning prevention.  The water looks like chocolate soup and I'm sure there are sea monsters just waiting to pick out newbie triathletes like me.  Hooooonnnkk!!! And we are off; needless to say I didn't drown or get eaten, but I did get a good look at the rear end of every other competitor as we exited the water to run up to T1.  The idea of a tri transition is to get your old clobber (in this case, swimming stuff) off and your new stuff (in this case, bike stuff) on as quick as possible.  Yeeaahh right!  Buggered from the swim, shaking like a dog pooping razorblades from the cold and excitement and trying to get bike shoes on and remember my helmet, it takes time (and I will need lots more practice, I've gotta tell you).  Off we go, Rusty and I, at least I'm heading in the right direction and not too far behind the next rider.  I'll make this short....I ping a couple of riders and manage to get my feet out of the bike shoes before I get back to T2 and roll into the transition area.  Soooo, not too bad on the bike.  Whewww!! with the bike stuff (already out of shoes, but musn't forget to take helmet off), and into the running shoes.  Funny feeling in the feet and legs as new muscles innervate and blood recirculates as I start to run (must look like a ballerina, cause I certainly feel like one).  I realise at this stage that I have nearly finished and am not going to die.  I also realise that duty athletes acting as Marshals have been cheering us newbies the whole way.  Fantastic......feeling good!!!  Running into the finish, I realise that I've got it all wrong...this is great, this is wonderful.....I've discovered a new sport....and I've joined another unique group of people.  It doesn't matter whether you are a newbie or an elite, we are in this together, and we are all winners.....and now, grinners!  Thanks all the guys and gals from the tri club.  Thanks Margaret and Wayne and Neil.  Incidentally, thanks Sonya for a yummy brekkie!  But most of all, thanks to my beautiful Jaci for encouraging and supporting me in my new venture to compete in a Half Ironman in October.  I know now that I can actually make least to the start line.  :~))

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Musings of an O/F!

I'm a Trail Runner and I'm an O/F!  I consider anybody over 60 years old, an O/F (Old Fart), and the following musings might encourage a few more O/F's to hit the trail (figuratively speaking of course), cause you're only too old if you want to be, and let yourself be..............
We just got back from a weekend of trail running in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.  This, as most trail runners know, is the venue for the world-renowned The North Face 100 (TNF 100), a brutal 100 km course from the Fairmont Resort in Leura, around to the start of the 6ft Track Marathon (up my nemesis, Nellies Glen), then around to and up Kedumba Walls track, back around to the Fairmont Resort.  This weekend 15 of us trail runners from NSW and QLD ran from Scenic Point (where the Three Sisters can sometimes be seen if there's no fog), down into the Megalong Valley, up Kedumba and then around to Conservation Hut. All in all we covered about 28-30km.  Not to be outdone by this effort, and after a day of rest, we all backed up for a 20km night run along another section of TNF 100 called Narrowneck Ridge (this section occurs straight after leaving Checkpoint 1).  The two runs were like 'chalk and cheese'; Kedumba is a relentless climb, while Narrowneck is comparatively flat with a few undulations.  The difference then??  The weather for Kedumba was ideal; cool to warm and even a slight breeze sometimes.  The weather for Narrowneck was cold, dark, foggy and raining.  So both runs had their challenges.  And everyone of our team met and accepted the challenges with guts and determination.  Now, here is where I start my musings.  Most of the folks who ran this weekend are under 55 years old, most are under 50, some are under 40.  Two of us are over 60 years old.  Now don't get me wrong!  I'm not the least bit jealous of the youngsters who are able to thrash my compression shorts off, and I'm not p.....ed off with always finishing up as a BOP (Back of the Packer), and always clocking a time that means everybody has consumed the snag sangers and coffee, packed up and had a shower and got changed, before I finish the run.  Oh OK, I am jealous and I do get p.....ed off.  But now I understand that I'm not going to be able to keep up with the younger runners, and I will probably always now be a BOP.  It's OK because I see my friends attack these runs and not only accept the challenge, but each time try for a PR......and they enjoy that.....and it's great for them...and me!  I realise now that I'm much happier trotting along at my own sweet pace, taking in the scenery, getting a few photos with the GoPro and watching everybody's face light up when eventually I do arrive.  Sometimes they even save me a sausage sanger (not often though).  I am a trail runner because I enjoy the trail, and the bush, and the surroundings...I love nature and all it, bush sounds, tranquility, and freedom.  Once again, don't get me wrong, I'd love to win my age group and I will win a Bronze Buckle in this years TNF 100, but the important things for me don't revolve around competition and fast times.  I can still train with the youngsters (albeit a bit slower), and we can still enjoy each others' company, so the important things for me relate to the facts that I can still run, I can still start with the rest of the youngsters (even though I don't finish with them), I am still able to enjoy my surroundings, I can still ruminate about the trail with the best of them and, I hope they all look to me for what I can do, not my inability to keep up with them, and most important of all.......even though I'm an O/F (Old Fart)...I can still say, 'I'm a Trail Runner!'  ;~))

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


This blog is a continuation of my previous one on supporting Jaci at the Glasshouse 50km; not so much about the run, more about the experience of crewing or supporting a runner.  This time Jaci and I supported our friend and mentor, Andrew Bowen at The Great North Walk 100 mile; Teralba to Patonga, north of Sydney. This experience proved to be not only an exercise in resupply of nutrition and hydration, but also a demonstration of physical and mental co-operation between runner and supporting crew.

Andy had asked Jaci and me to crew for him some months previously and we had spoken on the phone and texted only sporadically up until about a week before the event.  Then it finally hit us that the time was here and we'd better find out what Andy actually wanted us to do.  In true Andy Bowen fashion, we were provided with printouts of the course, directions and check point details, as well as Andy's requirements at each CP.

Andy arrived in our vicinity the day before the event and we spent the day going over the course (on paper), purchasing supplies and packing all the goodies into bags and Andy's pack.  I should mention that it is Andy's 40th Birthday on this preparatory day and he is far from his Family and getting ready to start a 100 mile ultramarathon the next day (100 miles normally converts to about 161km, but it turns out that the GNW100 mile is actually 175km.........and BRUTAL!!!).  That night we had friends join us and we took Andy out for a Birthday Dinner and cake with candles.  It was an early night since we needed to leave home at 4:30 the next morning.

The crowd had started to arrive, at Teralba Footy Oval, by the time we got there and increased while Andy registered and got sorted.  At 6:00am on the dot, Dave Byrnes the Race Director, quietly (because of the local residents) started the GNW100s with a whispered, 'GO!!' Just under 200 runners took off.......only half would finish!!

I took Andy's rental 4WD with all the supplies, while Jaci took our Barina and we headed to Freeman's Waterhole to see the runners cross the road and climb an almost vertical trail on the way to CP1.  Andy looked happy and strong.  

From here I'll cut the story a bit shorter and move on to CP3; suffice to say that Andy was way in front of expected times and was pushing on very strongly, although at CP2 he had lost 3.1kg at the weigh-in; there would be further weight checks at CPs 4 and 6 so he can't aford to lose any more weight.  Advise - keep drinking even when you don't feel like it, otherwise any further weight loss would result in being withdrawn on medical grounds and a DNF.  Note!!!!  Keep a check on your runner's hydration....and nutrition, when you replenish their hydration bladder and food stocks!!!!!!

Jaci had to leave us for a while so I pushed on to CP3 (The Basin, literally at the bottom of a valley in the form of a bowl), and set up for Andy to check in; chair to sit in, blanket down to keep dry (and keep the leeches off), clean, dry clothes to change into, electolyte drinks mixed and ready in bottles ready to change over with empty ones (I hoped), water bottles to replenish bladder, esky handy with pre-prepared food, dry towels, ice......check......all set!  Waiting, waiting, ready....jaunty conversation ready!  Then Andy comes bounding down the trail.  Oh boy, what's happened?

Andy comes through the check in, almost in a daze, glazed eyes, expressionless, and obviously shattered.  OK!!  Into action;  sit down, pack off, towel down, fill hydration bladder, get electrolytes and food ready.  No need?  Andy says that he's had it and needs to put his head down for 10 minutes.  Sure, that's fine; I'll take care of resupply while you snooze and I'll wake you up in 10.  Hokas and socks off (with great difficulty), and lay down on the blanket.  10 minutes later, back in the world of the living, Andy says that he is finished and wants to pull the plug.  I know how much this means to him, having had to terminate his '33 Marathons across the Nullarbour' Project in September, so it's a matter of counselling this gutsy athlete to continue and keep pushing through for a further 100 kms.  Ahhhhh, no problem!!!

Discussion followed; discussion about the 100kms yet to complete, discussion about current condition, discussion about dark, light, cold, heat, hydration, nutrition, self, potential regrets, and finally.....Family!  When it all boils down to it, it's not worth continuing a race if you're going to destroy yourself for future efforts.  It's also worth thinking about how much you'll regret not going on.  So much to weigh up!  The crew can talk and counsel until they are black in the face; but in the end Andy had to make the decision.  I believe he made the right one - he pulled the plug.  We talked to some friends for awhile, then we packed up and headed for home.  No point sticking around doing a post-mortem; that would no doubt come later.  Andy was in good company; 50% of the field DNFd.  Some of them were very unwell, some were badly injured, all were glad they had started the GNW100s.  Most would be back next year, that's just the way it is.  Andy would pack up his 'bongos' and head back to Queensland to review his run and get it down on paper, as hard as that might be, and continue training for the next ultra, wherever and whenever that might be.  That, also, is just the way it is.

Jaci and I learnt too, both as crew and as ultra-runners.  Don't accept anything on face value, be ready for anything, don't try to bullsh...... yourself or your runner.  Ultimately, if the situation arises and you just can't go on - pull the plug!!  There will always be another race, allow your body to mend so that you can go on to complete that next 50km....100km.....100mile.....whatever.  Good on you Andy; it was our pleasure and an honour to support you.  You made the right (read smart) decision and you have nothing to regret.  That's just the way it is!!  

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


We have just spent a wonderful weekend on the Sunshine Coast;  Mooloolaba, Noosa, Beerburrum.  We were there to run the Glasshouse 50km Trail Race, an annual event that also includes a 12km, 30km, 100km and 100mile (161km).  Jaci and I had decided to run the 50 because we thought that the 100's might be a bit too tough at this stage of our training and experience, while the 12 and 30 were a tad too short.  Well, as they say in the classics, 'The best laid plans of mice and men', or something like that, but anyway I developed bilateral inguinal hernias (double hernias in the lower abdominal region), and than managed to develop Piriformis Syndrome (a pain in the bum.......literally); in other words - I'm out of it!!!  I initially thought that I could drop back to the 30km and perhaps walk it, but after a 20km training run around our hills and trails, and doubling over with pain towards the end, I figured that I probably needed to withdraw my entry.  Bugger!!!!  Anyway, that's not what this blog is all about; this blog is about what you do when you can't run an support your Partner, or anybody else that is able to run and may need support.  Ahhhh, piece of cake, you say; anybody can do that, just hand em a drink and a GU and send em on their way.....WRONG!!!

As the support person for your runner, you are not only the water and food carrier, you become the cheerleader, counsellor, motivator, nurse and driving force when things get tough.  You've also got to know when to back off and not say anything, when to fill the bladder, when to only put a litre in and when to leave it alone; and most important, DON'T ASK STUPID QUESTIONS OR TRY TO HAVE A's all about your runner - not you!!.  You've got to be prepared for a change in nutritional plans and be able to produce a variety and combination of foods at a moments notice.....or less!  You'd better be able to produce things like vegemite sangers, fruit buns, chewy protein bars (not the nutty kind), water and electolyte mixed to the minutestly correct ratio and be able to perform intricate micro-surgery on a variety of chafes, blisters, cuts and bites (spider, sandfly, mosquito or snake) and be able to quell feelings of failure, fatigue, hallucinations and surrender.

You're probably thinking at this stage that you will never NOT be running, and I hope that is the case for you.  Personally, I am glad that this opportunity came up for me to be support crew for Jaci, just as I am glad that I was able to spend time with others who are runners (and Nullarbour Conquerors [Andy] and Ironman Extrordinaires [Scott]), and for various reasons had to support their respective wives/training partners.  It has now put my own running into an entirely different perspective and made me appreciate those who attempt to support us and who aren't runners.  Unfortunately, they have no idea what we go through, as much as they try.

It gave me a feeling of satisfaction to see 'My Runner' trotting off down the trail, all filled up with yummy vegemite sandwich and electolytic fuel; then to see her cross the finish line with a big smile having spent just over 6 hours running around the Glasshouse Mountain Trails.  The satisfaction is doubled because I know that even though I didn't run that particular event, I played an important part in the whole process and I will be running again, perhaps hoping that my support is as good as I was.    

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Nature Calls!

My launch into barefoot running actually started about 12 months ago, purely by accident.  Yeah, I know you're thinking this is going to be another rant about barefoot running.  Well it's not, although barefoot does come into it.  What I really wanted to address here is our relationship with Nature.  Chris McDougall talks about the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico in his book Born to Run, and how they are at one with their environment, their ability to run ultra-distances, almost effortlessly deriving from their close relationship with the trails.  Kilian Jornet, the super ultra-runner, says that he 'feels with the mountain, the trail, the stream.'  Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee devote a whole chapter in their book Barefoot Running to the fact that to reach our full potential as runners, we need to get back to feeling the trail beneath our bare feet, to become 'grounded', to be one with the environment that we are enjoying.  How many of us, during The North Face 100 took a few seconds to admire the scenery, to enjoy the spectacle of the Blue Mountains, the grandeur of Iron Pot Ridge or Kedumba?  How many of us were fortunate enough to be blessed by the Traditional Owners on Iron Pot Ridge with their music sticks?
We live in an electronic and cyberspacial age; everything is open to us one way or another.  We are literally 'wired for sound' and we become desensitised to our surroundings.  If nothing else comes out of this blog, I encourage you to open up your minds, look around, listen for the sounds, fully enjoy your runs.  I was running on a single track a few months ago, alone for a change, and a big grey buck Kangaroo bounded on to the track about 50m in front of me.  Usually they bound off into the bush, but this big bugger stopped, stared at me for a couple of seconds (I of course had screeched to a halt by this stage) and then started to hop towards me.  Oh sh....., I thought; but I stayed my ground and the Roo gave me a look of disdain and bounded off into the bush.  I reflected on this later and I realised how lucky I was to be able to share, albeit for a fleeting moment, the beautiful bush with one of the owners of that bush.  We don't realise, although I hope we do, how much beauty, peace, tranquility and spectacle there are surrounding our trails (and although I'm talking about my local trails, it could be anywhere in Australia, New Zealand or in fact anywhere in the world - just don't look for Kangaroos in Germany!), birds, animals, reptiles, insects; their sounds, the sounds of the bush!  Most of us will have experienced meditiation, but trail running for me epitomises the Buddhist concept of Mindfullness - filling our minds, not with how buggered we are or how far we've run or how far we still have to run, but enjoying, with our fellow runners, the trails and our surroundings - unplugged!

Monday, 13 June 2011

An Introduction to Dusty Boots

This is my first attempt at a blog and my first attempt at recording my running experiences;  believe me, there are heaps of them.  But it's OK, I won't go back to my childhood, just a few years further on at about the time I was in the Army.  I had always loved running and had always been involved in sport, one way or another.  But one day just after I turned 20 the Australian Government, in their collective and short-sighted wisdom, conscripted me into the Army - the only lottery I've ever won - and for the next two years (as a Nasho), and for the following 21 years (as a Reg) I spent in uniform, promoted up through the hierarchy to the rank of Major, where I thought that before they kick me out I'd better resign; so I did!  I had been in Artillery, but served most of my time as a Physical Training Instructor (PTI) and most of my time looking after the fitness of Infantry soldiers.  When I left the Army I HATED RUNNING!!!  It was only after about five years that I started running again, and enjoyed it - for all the reasons we, as runners, know and love.  My training was invariably on the beach, a really long beach, Birubi Point to Stockton in the Port Stephens area and I would run 5-7km in the soft sand and back on the hard sand.  Every Day!!  Talk about Overuse Syndrome, until eventually I re-tore fibres (bundles of fibres had been torn as a result of a squash injury years before) in my achilles.  That put me out of action for 12 months.  You would think that I would give it away after that, but 'not on your nellie'!  A beautiful Princess came along and kissed this wounded frog back to life.  A Long Story made short - We just completed The North Face 100 (TNF100 - a 100km race through the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney) and intend to complete it again next year - ONLY FASTER!!

This blog is all about my running experiences, starting from now and leading up to TNF100 next year.  It'll include my attempts into barefoot/minimalist running and I hope give inspiration to anybody who wants to get into running at any level, especially those folks who are over 50 and reckon they'd never be able to do it.  Believe me - YOU CAN!!!