This weekend was my planned PB attempt for a sub 21min 5k done at our local Park Run. After two weeks of phsycing myself up, reducing my weekly training for a bit of a taper to being in optimum form, managing a couple of sub 21mins in training for my 5km dash, I felt I was ready, and I was going to smash it!
The day arrived, got dressed, fed, stretched, sat on the balcony for a coffee watching the waves crashing in anticipation…The phone rang. Terrible news meant a cancellation of the attempt. I will not be in a position to do this for a couple of weeks again, but my training plan has shifted to strength training now in earnest for the 6 inch trail ultra, so not too sure if I can achieve this. So this brings home the importance of family and priorities. My PB for 5k is still a respectable 22:15min and what does it really matter when I do the sub 21? What difference will it really make? My races for the next few months are all trails and ultras. The sub 21 is just for my own benefit to say, yes I can do it. I do not regret cancelling. It does not mean I do not feel gutted. But another day and another time.
Sunday saw me back out on the trails. I really have to spend more time running in shoes. My feet burn so much and get so hot in them, I can manage about 15km comfortably in shoes now, which is a huge achievement for me, but then I really start struggling. We did a 30k (plus or minus a few 100m depending on whose garmin stopped and started where) point to point on extremely sandy (like hot fine black sand) with lots of grubby roots that could do a barefoot some serious damage. Fortunately I have run a section of this trail before, and had studied the route a bit more on google maps. Now, in trail running the number one rule is do not just follow the leader. Follow the trail. Secondly never leave the last man at the back alone. Third, know your route! Going in with a social group is a bit interesting.
The first section of the trail was fairly simple, then we cut into the next in bushland, which actually has a rough map marked at the signpost. The group start charging off another pathway. I call them back and explain we should be heading left, the trail goes that way, and the map indicates that as well, plus I recall tracing it on the google maps. This particular point has about 5 junctions – a foot path, a firebreak, a bush road, a MTB track, and another odd track. I get voted out en masse that the route goes straight. Well, as a group we stick together, so off we head. A couple of km’s in, another junction, no trail markers. I try to encourage the group to veer left, as I believed we were well in the wrong area. Nope, straight on we go. About 7km in another stop. Still on sandy recently ploughed trail. That sand is a killer! The group agree we see no sign of trail markers and are officially lost. Finally I decide to be more forceful and advise them we have to veer left for about 2km, then we will hit the trail head. With no other choice I take off and the rest follow. Hooray, we hit the trail head where I told them it would be! The correct trail run was awesome, lots of firm limestone, clear foot placement (bar rocks) and awesome scenery, with a few history boards along the way, and dodging a couple of groups of MTB riders.
One of the ladies in our group was running relatively slowly and being left further and further behind, causing a long wait at our marshall points. So I decide to hang back and encourage her to run in, the pace dropping from a steady 5:30 mins to 7:30 mins.. At the T junction the group are waiting for me for directions (yay!) and off we go again. I take a front group on this section and an awesome run kicks in. Oh dear. Next marshall point was a disaster. We waited nearly half an hour for the last lady, as it turned out different people assume others were running her in. I decide to run back down the trail and go find her. Once again on the next leg I hang back to keep the lady going – by now she really was struggling, feet were lagging, she had consumed all her 3 x 750ml bottles of fluid, and I gave her a refill of water from my pack.
Blow me down! The front group fall off trail again! Now seriously, I am no map reader, I cannot tell left from right or north from south, but this is getting ridiculous. They are too far ahead for me to call and stop them, and I could not leave my lady behind, so all I could do was keep going until they finally came to a stop. And so we were off course by another km again. These are national parks designated trails. Not fire breaks. Not bush cut survey roads. Ancient traditional trails! If you are running on a bush cut, or firebreak, think about it!
My patience is being tested. As much as I love being out there running, frustration was building up, which was putting me in the wrong frame of mind for a long trail run. Between keeping my lady going (who was very happy for me to run ahead, but I knew if I left her she would walk) and the front group wondering off route, the heat, humidity and sand, this was settling in for a very long day. And my stressful day the day before, was not helping my mood. Finally at 14km, the group get back on trail! Yay! Only it is clear this section of the trail was extremely under used and overgrown, and you could barely make out the trail line, more just the thinner tree line.
Then the front runner comes across a massive snake, I did not care to investigate, but believe it was about 5 foot, this is serious snake country, and we are far from assistance. As a group we make a decision to break trail and run parallel to the road on the burn cut. Excellent plan. 22km in, and we are met by a family support member for a check in. This was another trail head. Only it was so overgrown we could not run down it. We have to make a decision to add an extra 2k and take the road to the finish point. (we were only supposed to do 26km, and had already added distance with unplanned detours). We all opted for the road. My lady threw in the towel and gracefully accepted a lift in the support vehicle, along with one other group runner who had to get back a bit quicker. With the group more even in pace, we were able to set a steady pace to run in the remaining 8km of the route. Most of us had run low on water & hydrates, as it was extremely hot and very humid. Although I had brought extra fluid, having topped my lady up a couple of times, and consumed more than normal myself, I was well out of water. That last 5km was run with such a dry dry mouth and so so thirsty…for the last km, my nose started bleeding. All the stopping and waiting for the regroup was exhausting and waiting around kills my body, then having to kick off again. We had been out running for 4 and a half hours in that heat, with those flies and the dust. I do not think I would have been popular if I stopped to feel sorry for myself. So I held my sweat rag to my nose and just carried on running in. Fortunately that very last km was into the national parks again, so shady and DOWNHILL…, so it was just keeping one foot in front of the other. So our roughly 30kms took us about 3;20min of actual running time, plus another hour out with all the waiting at marshall points and regrouping. For trail time, 3H;20 mins for +- 30km is not to shabby! 4h20min is the longest I have been out time wise running, so good training, as I need to know I can hang in for up to 6 hours for the ultra. All the extra sand is good strength training. Happy to report I used some of my technical training from the last weekend to run through certain sections, and it was most beneficial. I still hate running in sand, but will get over it.
Running distances, especially long distances is painful. So painful. Yet as soon as it is over, we are all smiles, the high is awesome, and you just want to get out there and do it again. When we finished, all my frustration, stress and annoyance evaporated, and it was just thrilling to be finished with every one together, and to share in such an awesome experience. My lady was waiting for us too, and although she only did 22k, and we landed up doing 30k, I was so pleased to see her and just so pleased for what she had accomplished, and she was still smiling! I gave birth to my sons many many years ago, but I equate this to birth..so painful, but you forget the pain almost instantly and you are ready for the next one.. From today I am back in the gym to work on strength, so will cut my milage down to about 70-80kms per week, and add 3 strength gym sessions…Only I will be running less days, but doing roughly 70km on the weekends and only 10-15km during the week with more tempo and sprint runs incorporated. Should be interesting, but once the 6 inch Ultra is over, training for the Comrades Marathon kicks in, in earnest!
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