Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Big Four-Oh

As I am sure you can imagine (and as the Routeburn Classic draws closer), I am getting a bit nervous.  I have been training reasonably hard, but I am starting to panic that I am not doing enough, and wont have the fitness required to drag myself across the finish line with some dignity (hell, I don't even need the dignity, I just want to finish).

I know that I will require mental as well as physical stamina, and I know from my previous racing that the more practice I have at a distance, the more manageable subsequent attempts at the same distance become.  I obviously can't train regularly on the sort of terrain or with the same intensity that I will when I race, but the more I practice, hopefully, the better I will be prepared on race day.

With this in mind I have been running hills nearly every day, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, working on strength and balance.  But the mental and physical stamina side of things is not something that I have focused a lot of attention on.  So I decided it was time for me to go for a long run.  I thought that 40km over undulating terrain would be a good place to start.  Previously the longest distance I have achieved was somewhere around the 30km mark.  I was going to run 40km on Sunday.

My Saturday night sleep was plagued with the sort of dreams you get before a really important job interview or exam, urgently trying to get to run my 40km, but with constant glitches and plot twists, so that I didn't even get to the start!

My alarm went off.  I had with the best intentions, meant to get up and out the door as soon as possible so that I could maximize my time running in the cooler morning temperatures.  It was still pitch dark outside (where have the summer mornings gone all of a sudden?).  I re-set my alarm for 7.

Alarm. The sun was still below the horizon, but the sky was light. Time to get up and run.  As per usual my night-before-preparation-routine had been non-existent, but I got everything together pretty quickly (thanks to my new and very handy running gear organization system - essentially separate bins for tops, pants, socks and 'other') including my most recent acquisitions, a 1L bladder for my Camelbak (or Camel-Toe as my sister calls it)(thanks B), and my new roadies (what better way to break in a new pair of shoes than with a long run).  Breakfast, should I skip it? I decided I had better not, and made some very liquidy porridge for easy consumption and (hopefully) easy digestion.

Out the door.

After a quick reconnaissance in the general area, I located the start of the track I was planning to run, and was on my way.  The sun was peaking over the top of the mountains, the air was gloriously cool, and I was running.  The trail skirted the city perimeter, following a stream and later the river.  My plan was to run for 20km, then turn around and run back.  The first 8km of the track followed the top of the stop-bank, and my elevated vantage position gave me beaut views out over the city, the golden mountains and the dry arable plains.  The current droughty conditions has turned my local landscape the familiar colours of beautiful Central Otago, a picturesque reminder of home.  The height above people's houses also gave me some lovely glimpses into elegant gardens, abundant private vegetable enterprises, and of course the very opposite.

Post exercise swim - horsey style
The first 9ish km went pretty quickly.  The cool of the morning clung to the shadowed areas of the path, and I was feeling really good and comfortable.  The last section of the first part of the trail (which I had never run on before) circumnavigated the large horse racing course and stables (including horse pool), following the exercise pathways that trainers and jockeys were using in the cool morning.  Past the horses, the trail joined up with the main river track, which I was familiar with.  The day was starting to heat up a bit, but there were plenty of shade giving trees on the next section.

River side track
Wow, the day really was getting warm.  I was drinking a lot, but sweating far more.  I had slurped down my first gel of the day, but was worried about my electrolyte levels, so decided to pick up a Powerade on the return journey.  I was lovely to see so many families out enjoying the morning sun, and there were hundreds of people on bikes, kids on scooters and dogs racing their owners along the riverside esplanade. The path wound alongside the river, exposing me to the beating sun as I ran down the last 5km of my first 20km.  This area was new to me again, and is definitely an area for further exploration.

20km.  It had taken me an extra hour on my 1/2 marathon PB time to run the first 20km.  I wasn't pushing myself too hard, and I knew that the challenge of the day was yet to come.  I had my next gel, and gave myself a short walking break before cracking into the second half.  I was hot, but still feeling really good.

25km.  I was happily sucking away on my hydration-mouth-piece, when suddenly I was sucking on nothing.  I had drunk a whole liter and was still about a km away from where I could refill and reward myself with the earlier promised Powerade.  It is good to know that a 1L bladder will last me 25km on undulating terrain on a really hot day.

Bladder Aside: I have never drunk more than about 1.5L of my 3L bladder on a run.  If I only partially fill the 3L it sloshes about noisily, and the weight is carried very low down my back.  If I fill the 3L then I am carrying more weight than I tend to drink.  But the 1L sits up high on my back, and actually seemed to make the pack fit more comfortably - also leaves me with more volume inside for carrying other things.

I reached the cafe and refilled my bladder.  However, much to my disappointment, there was no Powerade or any such similar beverage for sale.  But I had promised myself a cold, sugary drink, so I was determined to have one.  I was tossing up between a carbonated (bubbles+running=probably a bad combination) and lemony juice drink, opting for the lemon.  I swigged back the lemony goodness, before hitting the trail again.

1300I was nearing the end of the River section, the sun was high over head, the merciful shade of earlier in the day had disappeared, and I could have sworn that as my timepiece struck one, the temperature notched up a couple more degrees.

30km.  My feet were starting to hurt, possibly a symptom of running, probably a symptom of the sole rigidity of the new shoes (which were in every other way amazing and comfortable), and it was that dull ache of bone-soreness that you get after being on your feet tramping all day with a 10kg pack on your back.  To circumnavigate the racecourse, or to shortcut across the front?  A shortcut would make me short of the 40km.  I decided to do the full distance.  But I gave myself another short walking reward-break. 

I had only about 7km to go, but I was sure that the temperature was still rising.  Even the wind was hot.  I figured that I was probably only about an hour away from finishing.  But I also knew that this was going to be the hardest part.  I was happy to note in my hot and tired state, that I had thus-far completed the 32km distance of the Routeburn Classic.  Wicked, I can do 32km when its not over a mountain range, a relevantish test.

My feet were getting sorer, but running (or at this point jog-shuffling) was less painful than walking.  I discovered this when I decided to take another short walking break just before the 35km mark.  My ipod changed songs and I walked, and I could hear whimpering, was there a tramped and injured animal near by?  No, that was me.  I resumed running and the pain receded to a comfortable ache.

At some point the GPS function of my watch gave up (it ran out of battery, more due to me not charging it before running, rather that it objecting to me taking so long).  I knew that I had less than 3.7km remaining (the last reading before it switched off), but I didn't know exactly how much.  I couldn't stop even if I wanted too - walking would mean more pain for longer, and besides I had to make it to my car to get home.  But I didn't want to stop.  I was tired.  I was way hotter and sweatier than anyone deserves to be on a Sunday.  My feet hurt.  My muscles felt fatigued.  My joints were aching.  But apart from that I felt ok.  I could keep going.  I was determined to keep going.

I found myself singing along to the music in my ipod "you can do it", it didn't matter which song was playing, the tune was just keeping the beat to my self encouragement.  (It was amazing how I could fit my mantra to a variety of tunes - Vivaldi's Spring, Temper Trap's Fader, Rudimental's Not Giving In - actually I just sang the original lyrics with that one).

I rounded a corner, and the last stretch of trail danced ahead of me in the perpetual heat haze.  There was no one else about.  The multitude of trail users from earlier in the day had evaporated (yes, I did use a heat related pun to emphasize my point), seeking cooler respite, while I completed the last few hundred meters of my 40km.  Large industrial buildings lining this portion of the track blocked the hot wind, and I baked even more as I headed towards the finish.

40km.  I reached my car (parked in full sun, and probably the only place that could offer me a further raise in temperature).  I just sat for a while.  It was nice to sit down.

Overall I am thrilled to have completed the 40km that I set out to run, I am pleased that I could go so long (running for nearly 7 hours), and keep myself going mentally.  I couldn't have asked for this run to go better.  I wanted to be challenged, I wanted it to hurt, I wanted to have to push myself, because I know that when I run the Routeburn Classic, I am going to experience all of that times a billion.  The only thing I can do is keep training, keep practicing, and keep enjoying it.

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