Monday, March 25, 2013

Mt Lowry Challenge

Aptly named, the Mt Lowry Challenge, was as its name suggests a challenge.  This race was good, and it was bad, and it reinforced the importance of positive mindset and attitude for challenging and difficult runs.

I left home while it was still dark, I love the early morning, it is the most magical time of day, watching the sky change colour, the mists clinging to the valleys and rising from streams and rivers, the pale, cold morning, the flush of pinks and orange as the sun rises, and the golden warmth of the early morning sun.

Days Bay
The race was based at Days Bay in Wellington, a place I have been meaning to visit for a long time.  The water side setting reminded me of the Otago Peninsular.  A lot of runners from the local community, family, business and running club groups, circulated and talked amongst themselves.  Mt Lowry, clad in thick, green native bush set the back drop.

I have recently purchased and received my Routeburn Nutrition plan, and put it to it's first test for this race. The plan is comprehensive, educational, and definitely value for money.  I hope to iron out the creases of implementing it in the next few weeks.  I ate more than I normally would for my pre-race breakfast (although I possibly should have eaten it earlier), and had Powerade in my Camelbak and a couple of gels to boost my fueling through the race.

We set of, the first part of the race designed to thin out the pack, followed the winding water-side road for about 4km before the off-road, bush track assent began.  The other athletes were fast, and belted off along the flat.  I must mention at this point that headphones and ipods were not allowed for this race (for safety purposes), but I like having the focusing factor of tuning into my music, and out of what the other runners are doing.

I ran the flat section quite fast, and it was a good warm up for my quads which were still quite sore from the Body Pump class that I did on Friday (note to self: avoid doing hundreds of squats and lunges with weights a couple of days before a hill race!).  Once we hit the hill, I changed down a couple of gears and got stuck into my hill running (nearly everyone else I could see in front immediately started walking).  The first part of the track wasn't too steep, but quickly gave way to very steep climbs (steeper than the Routeburn).  I toiled upwards for a long time, my breath seeming horrendously loud and ragged without the dulling effects of headphones, and I was sure that mostly I sounded like the death rattle of a slaughtered animal.  Not that it mattered, the walkers sounded the same.

One thing that I find really hard, is that when I get tired, if I see someone walking in front of me, I somehow feel that this gives me permission to walk too, and after a while I was gasping so hard that I gave in and walked, and then I started kicking myself (mistake!) (by the way, this was metaphorical kicking, not actual kicking due to some sort of misguided hill climbing technique).

Not much further on, the ridge was reached.  The track flattened out for a while, and I belted off again, grateful that I was fast to recover normal breathing, and able to run, even after such a tiring climb.  The track was shrouded from the world by thick bush, and it was a pity, as the views must of been stunning, although all I glimpsed was patches of blue.  It was probably just as well that I wasn't able to be distracted by views, as the ground became more pitted by rocks and roots, and concentration levels consequently increased to try and avoid injury, or worse, falling off the side.

A succession of steep (nearly hands and knees) climbs, followed by the more challenging and equally as steep descents carried me along the ridge.  Every time I slowed to a walk (or I was passed) I chastised myself and my lack of training (I have no equal training ground at home, although it would be very good if I did!), and worried about my preparedness for the Routeburn.

Tree-roots a plenty
I stumbled on (quite literally), hating having other runners behind me, as I felt they might fall on me, and that I was holding them up with my painfully slow downhill running-on-tree-roots-and-only-barely-managing-not-to-face-plant technique.  Mostly I felt really defeated, and that my training was amounting to nothing, the more I worried, the worse I felt (mistake!).  And it was ridiculous, because when I think back to my first race (Rimutaka Incline), and how difficult I had found that relatively gentle incline, and how I had managed to basically run up a mountain, I have actually improved heaps.

I think that the hardest part of the run, was just the highly technical nature of the track, it was hard to maintain rhythm over the roots and potholes, even at a walk.  Of all the tramps I have done, the difficultly of the Mt Lowery track was definitely up there, and I was attempting to run it.  Eventually I came to the descent, but this was so steep and slippery, that it was harder than the uphill.  About a quarter of the way down, I slipped and fell, my left leg under me, and my already sore quads given extra strain.  The three or four other runners behind me, just dashed on by without as much as an "are you ok?".  I grazed my hands, and bruised my ankle, but mostly my last bubbles of psychological strength were temporarily burst, and I started to cry (mistake!).  I quickly realized that trying to negotiate this hell-track descent with blurry eyes would lead to certain death, so I stopped crying, and kept going.

After scrambling down the cliff face, the track eventually gave way to a beautiful wide trail, that lead back to the start/finish area.  I could run again properly and started to feel a little better.  The two runners ahead of me, must have been famous locals, as their journey across the finish line was accompanied by cheers and clapping, by the time I had arrived behind them, the applause had dwindled to a solitary half-hearted hand clap.  Don't you people know, that it's the lone competitors and the people that no body knows that need the most support!

I thought that having the race coordinator shake the hand of everyone that crossed the finish line was a nice touch though.

There were worse casualties on the course than me though, with cuts, scrapes and pulled appendages a plenty.  I even saw a couple of place winners claim their prizes with bandages from shoulder to finger-tip, and bandaged heads.  And looking back on it, falling during a mountain race is a bit of a rite-of passage, so I suppose that a small baptism of fire may be beneficial for the sake of experience.

I finished in under two hours, a good achievement considering that I have to cover the same amount of distance over less steep, and from memory, less challenging terrain in the same sort of time for the first section of the Routeburn.  I just have to do as much hill training as possible, and keep working on my stamina and breathing and strength.  Every now and again, I have an unpleasant run, its not due to the course, or the terrain, it just due to what I tell myself while I am running, and its just a pity that it happened during a race.  But I never wanted to quit running, or stop trying so I suppose that is something.

Things I have learned:
  • Mindset can make or break you, keeping positive is vital, music helps this focus, but if I can't listen to my ipod, I need to praise myself and keep my spirits up
  • Focusing on my own performance and progress is key, the running is for me, there are always going to be fitter, faster people that have better or more appropriate training grounds, that doesn't mean that my training hasn't been useful or effective
  • Completing a challenge is more important than being fast
  • Crying + running = dangerous combination
  • Training on technically challenging terrain will improve my ability to compete on it

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