Monday, April 25, 2011

"54km of Running in the Rain"

I was woken up late by my husband, at 4:52am my alarm was set for the wrong day! I quickly ate my pre-made quinoa, and grabbed my pack and headed for the Blue Mountains.
I drove for an hour and a half, knowing that I was going for a run alone for 54 km in the rain by myself, with no one to look out for me and I was not looking forward to it. It is dangerous, I don’t advise anyone to do it, but as I always say “The Training for an event does not happen all by itself, you have to go and actually do the training, not just say you are going to do it, or think you are going to do the training”, so I left my family at the crack of dawn to go for a training run so I can hopefully get back home before dinner time. For my safety I texted in to my friends and family every hour so they knew I was safe and so they knew where I was just in case something happened.
I am training for the North Face 100km. A difficult 100km Ultra Endurance Race in the Blue Mountains National Park NSW Australia. I started running at 6:40am from Katoomba Oval, headed down to the World Famous Echo Point, past The Three Sisters, not that I could see the amazing view, the flog was thick and the clouds were low, it was drizzling, I descended The Giant Stair Case, and quickly put on my thermal gloves, it was freezing my hands turned bright pink. I was running down the steep stairs holding the wet railing with one hand, swopping from side to side with the direction of my knees, hips and feet to limit the impact on my joints. There is so many tracks in the Blue Mountains, especially around the tourist areas, that I had to run with a map in my hand so I would not get lost. Or too Lost. I always find it really difficult to navigate when I am close to the start of the track, you never quite know if you are going the right way until you have run  for a kilometre the wrong way! I found another runner on the track, I showed him my map, he had just pulled out of TNF 100km due to work commitments, he was not wearing his glasses so we had a chat and he told me where to go, I was so close to the turn off, just a few hundred meters more. Although I thought I was somewhere completely different! So I ran to the turn off where he said to go. I thought about it, checked my map, and decided to ignore his directions......
So I ran for a kilometre the wrong way up a set of stairs towards the Leura Falls, on my map it indicated that the track turned just before the creek, so I descended down a tiny track, though some undergrowth, along a steep canyon along some wet rocks, I suddenly slipped and fell, but I just caught myself on some vegetation before above the freezing cold creek below. I moved onwards towards the cliff, where the Leura Falls flows off the side of the canyon. I realised that there was no way I could possible get through this way, the steep sand stone cliffs were a natural barrier. So I backed tracked the same way I came, tried to find myself on my GPS but I had no reception. I was at a point that if I did not get this right, I would ruin my entire day of training. So I ran back down the stairs I climbed and descended back down to the valley below.
After numerous stops for cross referencing maps to the landscape I found the path that the “Runner” said to follow. It was so obvious to see it was the correct way to go from that direction. It had a railing across it which had initially put me off, so I guess that did not want the tourist to follow it. After a few hundred meters the trail widened, and transformed itself from a small trail to a 12 foot wide fire trail. I laughed at myself for not trusting his advise. I waisted at least 50 minutes being lost and I almost injured myself form following the wrong trail and slipping. Pretty stupid Shona.
The next 15km were rolling hills along Sublime Point Ridge, so I made fantastic time, “Cooweeing” 3 other trail runners who were training for the race also. I was going too fast down a hill to attempt to stop and talk to them, they can catch me on the climb, I will chat to them then. I pasted Leura Creek then up another climb then down a hill to Jamison Creek, then I hit the bottom of the valley. I had an 8km climb ahead of me up to the Kings Tableland, over the Kedumba Walls. I gave myself a goal of completing the 8km climb with an elevation of 700m in an hour. I was happy when I reached the top in an hour and 5 minutes. Not bad. I was able to run the whole way. In my head the biggest climb of the race had been concurred.
I had to play with my foot a bit, changing positions, wriggling my toes, changing my shoe lace pressure. My stress fractures hurt a bit on the way down, and it was hurting in a different position on the way up. I am waiting for a new pair of shoes to arrive. The shoes I had on had been through “The 6 Foot Track” 45km race and “Coast Trek” , a 50km Race and all of the training for both of these races. The shoes I had on were cactus, there was no way I could wear them for a 100km. I ran though a creek, got my feet all wet and this seemed to do the trick. It was like taking an anti inflammatory for my feet. They felt batter after this. ( they feel good today too for those who are worried)
This was when it started to get tough again. I hit the suburbs, which is funny as the terrain is easier than the trails but and I had to navigate through the streets to find my way back onto the trail. The fog at one point gave me a visibility of only 5 meters. There was the occasional car on the roads, and I felt really venerable either I was in danger of being hit by an on coming car or getting kidnapped by some crazy mental case. I was in a pretty remote area, I passed what I thought was a fully functioning hospital Queen Victoria Hospital, thinking that I would be in a busy safe  area, but it was deserted, derelict and fenced off to the public. I followed the road along the Kings Tableland. Up ahead a utility truck pulled off to the side of the road only 200 meters away. A man got out walked around to the back of his truck and disappeared. At this point I crossed to the opposite side of the road, pulled out my mobile phone and sent a text saying where I was to my friends and family. I wanted him to know I had a phone on me, and I was ready to use it.
He re-appeared and got back in the truck did a U-turn and drove off back into the fog and disappeared.
I ran up to where his truck had parked see what he could possibly be doing. I found an electrical out station point. He was just a sparky doing some maintenance.
I was back on the roads, and they were hard. So hard,brutal on my joints and boring, I hated being on it and I knew I was bound to get lost. I ran on feeling still vulnerable, but I just had to trust my instincts. I ran past some houses, then found a track again, and some tourist. I asked them if they knew where they were, they had only just arrived, so they had know idea. So I again was lost, and I just had to run around to find the right track. I’d turned left instead of right and I was headed in the wrong direction to Flat Rock Look out. After finding two dead ends, I re-traced my steps and headed towards Wentworth Falls. The fog was playing absolute havoc with my navigation, I could not see any landmarks to tell me what way I was facing. (I should be carrying a compass) I followed the track to a fork in the road, and again I took the wrong turn and headed 500m in the incorrect direction. Again I retraced my steps. Making shocking time.
I found some tourist who seemed to know the way, but again they sent me on the wrong track. And of course it was up yet another set of bush stairs, just to make sure I was getting in all the stair training I could possible need. I felt I was going around in circles. I was so slow, having to stop every few hundred meters to check the map. The trails around the cliffs of the Blue mountains are like spaghetti, if you take the wrong one you may be sent in the wrong direction for an hour before you realise your mistake.
Eventually after some improvisation, lots of asking questions from fellow walkers I found the Fairmont Resort. But I was 2 hours slower than I predicted. I just hope on race day the race co-ordinator’s mark the track clearly. The 40kms took me 6 hours! Crazy.
I felt like going inside the Resort and having lunch. Stopping it there and calling it a day. I was so hungry. Felt a bit sick too. I had had a bad cough leading up to this training run, and I was exhausted even before I started in the morning. I was running out of Energy Gels and Home Made Muesli Bars.I really wanted to complete the task I set out to do, but I felt so tired, I had been on my feet for 6 hours and I felt it. I discovered my Hydrolytes. I ate 2 of them with some water, and started walking waiting for my mind and my body to re-start again. In the race this is the start and finish point so no wonder I was having problems starting again. I just had to keep going, I had to get back to my car. I tricked myself an said that I only had to do 50km, then you could walk.
After about 10 minutes I was feeling better. I just had to keep my head and keep putting one foot in front of the other. It is amazing what the right fuel can do to your mood. Again I had to navigate through the suburbs, but this time it seemed straight forward. I ran the hills and walked the climbs and I started to feel better. I worked out that I had about 10km to go and this distance seemed manageable to me. I had recovered.
After the hilling lush green streets of Leura I headed back into the bush. It was an absolute maze of trails , stairs, tourist and roads. Again I slowed down to avoid getting lost. I decided to stay on the Cliff Walk so I would not have to back track to get back to my car. I think this trail ended up being more difficult to navigate and provided me with more stairs to climb. The kilometres kept ticking over and every 500m that I travelled I was renewed with the new sense of achievement.
The Hydrolytes were working I got a second wind, but I was busting to go to the toilet. There was too many tourist on the track to do a quick “Bush Wee”, so I had to count down the kilometres until the next toilet, 2.4km was the distance to Echo Point, I kept thinking that I should just go, but when I did always another tourist would pop up out of the fog. So I did my pelvic floor exercises to help tighten the area to avoid any accidents. 1.6km until the toilet, then 850m that was only 2 laps around a big oval, then I hit foot path and I knew I was close, I ran up the hill, 2 young girls decided to run with me, too funny. I ran with them for a few hundred meters. They stopped at the tourist centre and I ran straight into the toilet. Ahhh Relief.
I had only about 2-3 kilometres until I got back to my car, or to the cafe, and after I had relieved myself I felt so much better, I was up and running again.
Again I got a bit lost, but I knew a few street names and some landmarks and I was not going to stop until I had completed 50km on my GPS and had arrived to the Cafe. The 50Km on my GPS came before the Cafe, so I was elated with my achievement. It probably meant that I would have covered 8-10% more than that, as I had counted 54km on the map. So I was happy, I still had some energy, and I felt like running not walking, I was so excited that I had finally completed the goal I set out to do I was prepared to do some more. So I ran the few kilometres more on to the Cafe, pulled out some money ordered a Latte, caramel slice and a Tofu Burger with baked Potatoes and salad as a side.
I ate the caramel slice and drank the coffee in the cafe, but had the rest to go. It was 2:40pm in the afternoon, I set off at 6:40am, it was an 8 hour day. A long time to be on your legs, a long time to be exercising continuously without a break, and with out proper food other than a few muesli bars, energy gels and hydrolytes. So I was so happy to get my first bite of that caramel slice.
I started coughing, coughing, and coughing, so much that after I had finished my cake and coffee I waited outside for my food order. I sounded terrible and I would not like for anyone to get what illness had. I usually cough badly after a big run, I think it is my lungs getting rid of any badness I had just breathed in, but I was sick, and my cough was phlegmy, so I was happy to be outside. It also gave me some time to stretch, spit and hydrate some more. At last the food arrived, I jumped in the car, called my husband and started the long journey home from the Blue Mountains back to Sydney.

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