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Every now and then

Some of the Terrigal Trotters team on the way to the
Woodford to Glenbrook 25km Trail Race.

It is nine months since my last Woodford to Glenbrook 25km trail run (it was postponed three months last year because of flooding), and my life during those nine months has been quite eventful, particularly on the health front.  Five months ago, when dealing with the Deep Vein Thrombosis, Pulmonary Embolism and Atrial Flutter, I was telling myself that if I could just run again, even a few kilometres a week, I would be happy.  I did not give myself any chance of running Woodford to Glenbrook this year, so was very happy to not only be on the starting line yesterday, but feeling well enough to race.

My right Achilles tendon and heel remain very painful, but otherwise I have been feeling fit, so I was keen to see what I could do without any great pre-race expectations.  Last year I ran 2:01 and was second in the 60+ age group.  I hoped to go sub-2:00 this year and win the 60+.

It was a cold morning in the Blue Mountains with an icy wind, but the sun was shining and once we started running the cold didn't seem so bad.  I started steadily with the goal of running within myself for the first 10 kilometres, and that approach worked well, though left me weaving through many of the 380-strong field on the rocky undulating fire trail.  I didn't push it up the hills, trying to keep my breathing regular, but still sensitive to a pressure I could feel in the centre of my chest as my heart rate rose.  This pressure may always have been there, but would have been unnoticed a year ago.  A little worrying nevertheless.

A whale wallowed just off Copa beach during my
slow recovery walk this morning.

Even running within myself, I was gaining a few places on the climbs, but was doing even better on the flats and steep technical downhills.  As last year, I really enjoyed letting myself go down the hills, trusting myself to react quickly enough on the loose rocky track as I slalomed through slower runners.  It made me feel young again, though in a concession to my health issues, I was wearing a medical wristband alerting any paramedics to the Warfarin (blood thinner) I was taking.  Cuts would bleed profusely and a bad head knock could risk a brain haemmorhage.

The last 10 kilometres of the race was on a gradual downhill section that seemed never-ending.  By this time, my bad Achilles was very painful and I fought to maintain an even stride though every step hurt badly.  I still managed to catch a few more people, though lost a couple of places in the last few hundred metres on the race to the finish line.

I was surprised and pleased to see my time of 1:52, and later to find I had won the 60+ age group by 20 minutes.  A very satisfying day, though walking today has been very painful on my sore heel.  I see a specialist this week to review my blood clot issues and hopefully get off the Warfarin.  I'm not getting my hopes up.

You never can tell

Sunday morning, before my 28km run, was spent helping
at a drink station for Terrigal Trotters Bay to Bay
Running Festival.

When the alarm sounded at 5:00am, unusually for me, I lay in bed for a couple of minutes pondering whether I would get up.  I was tired, it was very cold and dark, and I dreaded putting my right foot on the ground, sure that the heel and Achilles tendon would be painful.  But, my car was booked in early for some repairs and I knew that if I was to get a run in this morning, I needed to get up.

The first runner through in the Half
Marathon was Olympian, Martin Dent.

I lay in bed rationalising.  It was easy to justify giving the run a miss.  Instead, I could go for a walk while the car was serviced.  After all, it was only nine days since I ran a marathon and there was nothing to lose by missing another day's training, especially after labouring through a 28km run on Sunday following the tempo 11km Trotters run on Saturday.  Also, my right heel and Achilles tendon have been particularly painful the last three weeks and would benefit from another day of not running.  It wasn't hard to come up with reasons to roll over for another hour or two of sleep, and the advice I was giving myself was the same as I would have given to another runner in my situation.

The leading runners in the later-starting 12km event
(yellow singlets) catch one of the slower Half Marathon

But a little voice in my head told me I was being soft.  That if I stopped thinking about it and just did what I needed to do, I would be home, with the run done, before I knew it.  I rolled out of bed, went through my usual exercise routine, did a few small chores and was out the door soon after 5:30am.  It was dark and cold, and in the far distance I could hear the surf pounding on the Copa beach.  My first few steps weren't as hard as I expected, nor was my right heel as sore as anticipated (I had switched to some older Nike Pegasus shoes that I hadn't worn for a while), and my spirits lifted.

I wasn't running very fast, but I was moving OK.  As the kilometres passed, I felt better and better and was actually enjoying the run through the dark suburban streets with just a glimmer of light beginning to brighten the eastern skies.  My heel got a little sorer, but was nowhere near as painful as it had been on the weekend runs.  I finished feeling refreshed and glad that I had run.  It's easy to justify a day off, and maybe it wouldn't have made any difference if I had missed the run, but I have seldom regretted forcing myself out the door.  And I know I will be happier today for having done it.

Just plain good fun

The scene just after Avoca Lagoon was opened to
the ocean on an earlier occasion.

I wasn't going to write a blog post today, but I enjoyed this morning's run so much, I wanted to recount the adventure.  To the north and south of Terrigal, from where the Trotters run at 6:00am every Saturday morning, are two coastal lagoons, Wamberal and Avoca.  Most of the time, they are separated from the ocean by sandbars, but occasionally they are open to the sea.  Following heavy rains and/or in very stormy conditions they sometimes open naturally, but if the lagoons get too high, the local councils (or, occasionally, enterprising kids with shovels) deliberately open them.

This morning's run, Avoca Amphitheatre, crossed the Avoca Lagoon mouth twice.  I knew the lagoon had been opened by the council a week or so earlier, but hadn't actually run that way since.  I also knew it was a full moon night, so the tides were likely to be high.  And, to make it more interesting, it was very dark and raining as we set out for the 11km run, with the sun not due to rise for another hour.

The front page picture in the Central Coast Express
Advocate Newspaper earlier this week was of the
just opened Wamberal Lagoon mouth.

A number of the runners, including me, were wearing headlamps in the pitch darkness as we approached the lagoon mouth in single file along the bordering trail.  On arriving at the channel it was comical to see the lights and shadows of runners swarming, like a flock of small birds, as they examined first one place and then another as possible crossing points.  It was absolutely impossible to determine the water depth in the darkness, and I headed towards the ocean opening where experience had taught me it was likely to be shallower.  To my right, I could pick out one earlier runner already halfway across in chest-depth water while most others milled on the bank to watch.  I plunged into the water nearer the breaking surf and found it wasn't nearly as shallow as I had expected.  Soon the water was above my waist and breaking waves were occasionally washing over my left shoulder as I struggled on in the turbulent water.  Nearer the other side, the channel was even deeper and very fast flowing as the incoming tide sought to fill the empty lagoon.  It was a struggle to keep my feet, but I made it across and was joined by a few other runners before we set off through Avoca Beach for the remainder of the run.

It was an exhilarating experience, and not really dangerous, so long as you were prepared to swim with your shoes on if you lost your footing.  I think I was running on adrenalin for the balance of the run, including the recrossing of the channel which was easier in the pre-dawn light.

I know that many Trotters turned around rather than risk the channel crossing, and everybody needs to make their own safety judgments.  But for me, one of the joys of running is dealing with whatever terrain or weather is encountered.  It yields a sense of empowerment and satisfaction, as well as being just plain good fun.


Sunrise over Canberra from Red Hill.

I have been in Canberra the last few days, sadly, for the funeral of a loved and respected uncle.  A silver lining to the trip was the chance to go for a few short runs in the southern suburbs of Canberra along roads and trails I used to run when staying with my Canberra relatives many years ago.

The trail atop Red Hill.

Canberra is an ideal running location, with an excellent network of scenic bike paths complemented by trails in some of the hill and mountain reserves that dot the urban area.  Even running along the suburban streets is a pleasure with their wide grassy nature strips and mature native trees, although you need to be navigationally careful.  Straight roads are a rarity and most roads swing in arcs in one direction or another.  It's easy to lose your sense of direction.  A bonus for Canberra running is the weather, which is perfect for much of the year.  Humidity tends to be low and temperatures generally moderate, though you so need to be prepared for some hot weather in summer and sub-zero temperatures in winter.

Canberra suburbs from Red Hill.

I ran the same 10km loop, but in alternate directions, on each of the last two days in temperatures of around 2°C.  The course was a nice mix of those suburban streets and trails in the Red Hill Reserve where I saw a number of kangaroos at close quarters.  From the summit of Red Hill I enjoyed the expansive views of Canberra and its landmarks.  The runs were most enjoyable, though I could feel some marathon fatigue in the quads.  I know there are many other options for great runs in Canberra, short and long, and I have still only sampled a few.

Parliament House and the Canberra Central Business
District from Red Hill.

After the Macleay River Marathon last Sunday, I walked for exercise the following two days and then have run without straining since.  My right heel still bothers me quite a bit, but it's hard to know what are the most significant pain exacerbators.  I have been swapping the shoes around that I wear during the days and have been running in my Nike Pegasus.  I'm starting to think that even wearing the heavily-cushioned Hoka shoes for casual wear is a bad idea because I'm getting pain just walking around.  I think I'll stick to the Nike Pegasus for both casual wear and running for the next week or two and see if that makes a positive difference.

A year on

Still moving well at the 12km mark.

This time a year ago, I ran the Macleay River Marathon after just two weeks training following three weeks of hiking.  I was pleased and surprised to finish in 3:24, a good kick-off in my campaign to run a sub-3 hour marathon four months later.  What a difference a year makes.

On Sunday, with not a lot of confidence, I fronted up for my second Macleay River Marathon.  This time, a sub-3 hour marathon was not on the horizon.  It was more about proving to myself that life had returned to normal after the DVT, Pulmonary Embolism and Atrial Flutter episodes of six months ago.  I was confident I had done enough training to complete a marathon, but wasn't sure how fast.  In the back of my mind was a faint hope that I would run faster than last year, but a bruised and painful heel, probably associated with my chronic right Achilles tendon injury, sobered my expectations.  I kept telling myself that finishing with some kind of dignity would be sufficient.

Not quite so smooth at 25km.

I try to resist last-minute changes to pre-race preparations, but a couple of days before the marathon I decided that my heel was bothering me sufficiently to warrant wearing more cushioned shoes - my Hokas - that I hadn't raced in before.  Not ideal, but I told myself I would regret it if my heel became very painful early in the race.  In retrospect, it's hard to know whether this was the right decision.  The race went more or less according to plan until half-way, although I never felt I was running smoothly.  I didn't watch the clock and I didn't start too fast.  Instead, I was near the back early and then gradually worked my way through the field as I warmed up.  By half-way I had caught all of the runners who I felt should finish behind me.  Competitive arrogance can be hard to restrain.

Happy to finish.

However, during the third 10km of the race, as I started to get tired, I had trouble maintaining a good rhythm.  It seemed the cushioned shoes were not sufficiently stable as my muscle fatigue grew, and worryingly, I even found it hard to maintain a straight line.  My heel was also becoming very painful.  Around 30km, I realised I needed to slow down if I was to still be running at the finish.

I plodded along, probably more than a minute per kilometre slower than I had been running, wondering how many people would catch me before the end.  I was particularly worried about Ray, a fellow 60+ runner and tough competitor, and clubmates Jacqui and Greg.  I had passed all three in the second 10km of the race.

Ray came past with nine kilometres to go, running strongly, and gave me a pat on the back, but despite my fears and my slow pace, Jacqui and Greg didn't catch me and I was pleasantly surprised to cross the line in 3:39.  Not as fast as I had hoped, but not as bad as I feared during those laborious and painful last ten kilometres.

Since the race, my heel has been very sore, and I lay in bed last night, kept awake by the pain, contemplating surgery.  I'll leave it another couple of months, but I think something will need to be done.

Hattah Lakes

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.

We have had two very wet days in Copa, with puddled roads and overflowing storm water drains.  Having succumbed to the temptation to enter the Macleay River Marathon on Sunday, I have been tapering my training and only had a short 5km run on the schedule for today.  I thought I would have a good chance of dodging the showers given it was such a short run, but after a dry first five minutes the heavens opened and five seconds later I was saturated.  The rain teemed down for the rest of the run and I was cursing myself for wearing the Hoka shoes I was planning to use for the marathon.  They were also soaked.

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.

I was wet and cold during the run and dreaming of running in warmer and drier places such as the Hattah Lakes in north-western Victoria where I have camped and run several times, many years ago.  Although there are lakes, it has a flat desert-like environment and is not particularly inspiring in a topographic sense.  But I have always enjoyed running somewhere different and have memories of mild temperatures, sparse scrub, sandy park roads and trails, and the occasional emu and kangaroo on the 22km run from the campground.  It must have been fairly easy running because on one occasion my training diary records that I covered the course at 6:00/mile (3:45/km) pace.

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.

I don't expect to be running at that pace or in those conditions on Sunday.  The weather is supposed to improve, but it is still likely to be cool, showery and windy on what is an exposed rural course.  My heel is still bothering me, and I have decided to risk wearing the cushioned Hoka shoes instead of my preferred Nike Pegasus, in the hopes my heel will be better protected.  We'll see.

Decisions, decisions

Tree Fern Forest in the Dandenong Ranges.

I'm agonising over whether to run the Macleay River Marathon this coming Sunday.  I have the fitness to finish, but feel that my right heel may still be a little bruised from a run ten days ago.

The marathon is a long way on hard roads and if the heel becomes more tender as the race wears on, it will impact my running form and shorten my stride length.  The run will become a slow and painful journey and it will likely take three weeks of easy, or no, running for the heel to repair.  The Woodford to Glenbrook 25km trail race, which I also want to run, is in three weeks so that would be jeopardised.  These are the arguments I would make to someone in my position seeking my advice.

Sherbrooke Forest trail in the Dandenong Ranges.

On the other hand, it may be fine and my confidence about my fitness and health will be boosted if I make it through unscathed in a reasonable time.  And I have nothing else planned for the long weekend.

I have set today as "decision day" because online entries close tonight.  At the moment I'm leaning towards entering.

My training has been less intense since my last blog post, apart from a very enjoyable 20km run in the Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne, and I am freshening up, but the heel pain is still perceptible.

Outside of running, I have been quite busy with a trip to Melbourne for a family celebration, the opening of entries for the Great North Walk 100s (of which I am Race Director), and a significant change in my domestic arrangements.  I will have less time for blog posts in the next three months, so they will become more irregular - maybe a few per week.  However, I enjoy documenting my running life and will try and make them interesting and meaningful.

Trying to freshen up

This morning's run followed Gardiners Creek.

Most of my running focus this week has been on recovery from last weekend.  After struggling through the 40km trail run on the Sunday with some kind of bruised heel, I know I need to get it right if I want to have any hope of running a marathon in ten days time.

Gardiners Creek wetlands.

On Tuesday, I drove down to Melbourne for a family occasion this coming weekend, so used that as an excuse to have a second day off running.  I was hoping that the 11km I ran yesterday would be easier, but my legs were stiff and the heel a little painful, though improving.  Today, I tried a relatively flat 16.5km run in Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs, and though I felt strong enough, my legs were still heavy and my heel a little sore.

My experience in the past has been that if I just train steadily and moderately for a couple of weeks I freshen up and the injuries abate.  With luck, that's what will happen this time as well.  I'll run an easy 5km tomorrow and then do a longer run on Saturday as my last before the marathon......if I run it.

Good and bad

Narrow windblown ridges.

My fears about running hard twice on the same weekend were realised, to a degree.  My first steps when I arose yesterday, were quite painful.  I expected my right Achilles tendon, which is chronically injured, to be sore, but was unpleasantly surprised to find my whole heel felt tender and bruised when I put weight on it.  It wasn't totally debilitating, so I crossed my fingers and left to join my club-mates for our annual Wakefield to Congewai 40km trail run along The Great North Walk.

Dank dark rainforest gullies.

Right from the start my heel was painful as I ran, and the further I went the more painful it got.  It wasn't bad enough to stop me running, but it made me limp and shorten my stride, both impacting my running efficiency and my speed.  I tried to avoid forcing it, and resigned myself to hobbling along at a slower pace.

Sandstone caves.

The pain wasn't sufficient, however, to distract from a challenging and rewarding run through beautiful forest terrain.  There were narrow windblown ridges, dank dark rainforest gullies, sandstone caves, breathtakingly steep hills, and glorious vistas.  It was fun to be out there and sharing it with like-minded friends.

Glorious vistas.

Also on the positive side, although running inefficiently, my legs didn't tire as much as expected.  Even towards the end, I felt I was strong enough to step up the pace if not for the painful heel.  This tells me that the previous two weekends of long road runs have yielded benefits.

I now have a decision to make about the Macleay River Marathon in two weeks time.  I still haven't entered, and will leave it a little longer.  I figure that I need to taper anyway, and am hoping that my heel will improve with two days of walking, and careful running thereafter.  I will also wear my Hoka shoes as much as possible in the hope that their extra cushioning hastens the healing process.  My sense is that if I can get to the starting line of the marathon with almost no pain in the right heel, I will be able to make the distance and finish with dignity.  That's the plan, anyway, and I'll enter the marathon later in the week if I feel significant improvement.

A single kilometre

Single track running on
Kincumba Mountain.

This morning's Terrigal Trotters "Erina Bush" 12.5km run is yet another of my favourites.  It has a variety of terrain, including roads, trail, hills and flat, and is a true test of fitness.  I usually look forward to the run and particularly the one kilometre of very technical single track that climbs gradually through the Kincumba Mountain Reserve.

It seems strange that there's a single kilometre I look forward to in a much longer run but this little kilometre is magic.  You have to keep your wits about you to maintain a good pace while carefully picking where you put your feet.  We run it at dawn so the forest is just waking up, with a few bird calls to accompany the heavy breathing of runners.  There is a fairly solid hill before this section is reached, so it's a challenge to maintain momentum when you are already tired.  But the clincher probably is, that as a sixty-three year old, if my fitness is good, it makes me feel young and competitive again.  I'm still quite good on technical track when running hard (though I usually avoid running hard unless it's a race), and the closeness of the bush on each side of the trail makes you feel like you are running fast.  When I'm in shape, I can still match it with most of my club-mates on this section, which is then followed by one of the best gradual fire-trail descents you can find on the Central Coast.

Unfortunately, for this morning, I worked hard not to be competitive on this favourite run, because I have a 40 kilometre trail run tomorrow.  I knew that if I exhausted myself on the uphills, and pounded my body on the downhills, I would struggle tomorrow.  I held back, though still probably ran a little faster than was wise.  Tomorrow will tell the tale.

Great Train Races

Runners set out to beat the Puffing Billy to Emerald in
a recent Great Train Race.

Some races have an extra dimension that gives them greater appeal, and I have run a few strange ones over the years.  I don't know how many Great Train Races there are in the world, but I have been fortunate enough to run in two on opposite sides of the planet.

Puffing Billy.

The first was the race against the Puffing Billy, a restored tourist steam train that runs from Belgrave to Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne.  I frequently ran in the Dandenongs in the 1970s and 1980s on a variety of trails including, occasionally, along the Puffing Billy track, literally.  It is a beautiful part of the world with mountains, towering trees, rain-forested gullies and small farms.

Commuter Train waits to leave New Canaan Station.

Someone had the idea of the The Great Train Race, 13.2 km in length, in the early 1980s.  I think I missed the first one or two events, running it for the first time in May of 1983 (there is a map of the course here).  As I recall, they modified the race format during those first years, as they learnt some lessons.  One time, I think, the train driver gave it his best shot and beat all of the runners easily, making it a bit of a non-event.  Another time, they had runners trying to beat the train to a level crossing, so they didn't have to wait for it to pass.  Nobody got hit, but heavy marshalling was employed thereafter!  From memory I ran it twice, but can only find a record of that first time, 18th in 42:44.  I believe I beat the train on both occasions, each time running back to the start along the track.  It was a fun event and is still on the running calendar today.

The Connecticut version of the Great Train
Race passes by Silvermine Pond.
(©Photo by rogerking)

When living in Connecticut in the late 1990s, I discovered another Great Train Race that ran from the commuter rail station in New Canaan, a nearby village, to the Wilton rail station, 6.8 miles away (there is a map of the course here).  It was much lower key than the Australian version, in several ways, but shared with it a hilly and scenic course, made more attractive by autumn foliage, and lots of fun.

The Connecticut version of the Great Train
Race runs along Old Huckleberry Road.
(©Photo by rogerking)

The first difference was that it was not against a single train, but instead against a notional commuter who, leaving on the train that signalled the start of the race, would have to change trains twice, at Stamford and South Norwalk, before getting to Wilton 59 minutes later.  It wasn't too hard to beat the train.  The second difference was the size of the field.  It was a small local race and you could enter almost up until the time the train left.  In the two years I ran it, there were only 60-80 runners.  I managed third place, in 42:01 in 1997, but was four minutes slower for 46:28 in 2000.  As in Australia, a number of us ran back to the start, at a slow plod, once the last runners had come in and presentations had been made.  Also like Australia, I see the event is still on the local calendar.

For my training today, I ran a very leisurely 5km, and felt OK by the end. but very rusty over the first few kilometres.  Another heavy running weekend coming up.

Leg strength and endurance

Reaching John O'Groats at the end of my hike from
Lands End in 2010.

This morning's 11.5km run was a bit of a grind.  Having had two relatively easy days in a row, I was hoping to feel a bit fresher, but my legs remain heavy with fatigue from Monday's long road run.  The slow recovery tells me I still have some way to go to full running fitness.  I'm simplifying, but my experience is that there are really three phases to regaining fitness after an extended period off running.

Camping while hiking the length of the Australian Alps
Walking Track in 2011.

The first phase, which takes me about three weeks these days (one or two weeks when I was younger), is getting to the point where I feel like a runner again.  It requires my joints and ligaments to loosen up, and my muscles to strengthen, sufficient to regain my running posture and balance.  At the end of the phase I can run smoothly again, but have poor stamina and slow recovery.

The second phase, which now takes me a couple of months, depending on how long I had off, sees the gradual return of cardiovascular capability and muscle strength sufficient to run reasonable times and perhaps be competitive, but my leg recovery rate is poor.  I can run hard one day, or up the first hill, but it's hard to back up for the second.  It is a frustrating time because I know the fitness has in large part returned, but I am still missing something.

Crossing a Swiss mountain pass while hiking the Via
Alpina in 2012.

The third phase is full fitness.  I will know when I get there because I'll comfortably back up from a tempo run with Terrigal Trotters on a Saturday morning with a long run on the Sunday.  I will be able to run up an early hill feeling like there's another gear if I need it, and then be almost fully recovered by the next.  There will be days when I feel like I can run forever.  Amongst my club-mates, there are some in this phase.  They run confidently, knowing they are competitive and can deal with whatever terrain and challenges come their way.

Taking a break while hiking the length of the Hume & Hovell
Track in 2013.

The main factor for me in transitioning from the second to third phases, is leg strength and endurance - the ability of my legs to absorb considerable pounding over a long period.  For me, it is achieved through long miles, usually on the road, and that's why I'm persevering with long road runs, even though they are knocking me around.  There have been occasions, on return from long hiking trips, when I've started my comeback with the leg strength/endurance already there and have achieved good competitive fitness much earlier.  That's not the case this time around, and I think it will be another few months and more long runs before I get there, all going well.

Lantau Island

Lantau Island.

Another place I would like to run again is Lantau Island in Hong Kong.  Although I worked in Hong Kong for a few months in the late 1990s, and travelled there for business on many other occasions, I regretfully failed to explore Lantau Island and the New Territories as running venues.  It wasn't possible to go there on working weekdays, and I always seemed to be working on the weekends as well.

It wasn't until Sharon and I visited there in 2008 that I ran any of the Lantau Island trails.  We made it part of a long day trip from Hong Kong Island where we were staying.  Firstly, we took the train to Tung Chung on Lantau Island, adjacent to the impressive Hong Kong Airport, and then rode the spectacular cable car up to the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha).  The Monastery complex, including the Buddha, lies on the shoulder of Lantau Peak (934m) and we spent a few hours looking around and having a light lunch in the Monastery refectory before setting out on our run.

The Big Buddha with Lantau Peak in the background.

The planned route followed hiking trails over Lantau Peak and then across the southern side of the island to the Mui Wo Ferry Terminal.  There were a lot of steps on the trail up to the Peak and in places it felt quite precarious, but the views were superb in all directions.  The descent from the Peak was positively scary in places, but we took it slowly and had no problems. After crossing the Tung Chung Road, which bisects the island, we followed the easier South Lantau County Trail, with occasional technical sections, and some landslide damage, to meet another road that led us down to our destination at Mui Wo.

Mui Wo and Silver Mine Bay.
(©Photo by Paul Chen)

We then enjoyed a very pleasant sunset ferry ride back to Hong Kong Island and our hotel, having had an excellent day.  It wasn't a long run, but it gave me a taste the delights of Lantau Island trails and it's another place on my bucket list.

For my training today, I ran a slow 10km, still feeling lethargic from Monday's long run, and perhaps from some strenuous yard work yesterday afternoon.  For some reason, I seemed to be more conscious of my heartbeat yesterday and this morning, but try as I might, I can't detect anything other than the usual slow regular pulse.  Probably just my imagination, but it shows the anxiety about a reversion to the Atrial Flutter persists.

Jacksons Track

Countryside near Jacksons Track.
(© Bardaster)

Looking through an old training diary, I was reminded of one of my all-time favourite running routes.  It was from our shack at Labertouche, about an hour's drive east of Melbourne, where we frequently spent running weekends and holidays with groups of running friends.  There were lots of opportunities for running on quiet forest trails and rural roads, and I previously wrote a post about another favourite course there, the Labertouche North Run.

Jacksons Track today.

The 19km Jacksons Track - Aqueduct Run started out with the same gradual descent out of the forest into a pretty rural valley along an unsealed road, before turning east and joining Jacksons Track, a quiet rural road (gravel in those days) made famous as the birthplace of the Lionel Rose, who in 1968 became the first aboriginal boxer to win a world title.  I never saw Lionel there or knew exactly where on the Jacksons Track he lived, but I liked the idea of running through this little bit of history.  Years later, a book was written about the history of the area "Jacksons Track" by Daryl Tonkin & Carolyn Landon, which is a good read in its own right, but which I particularly enjoyed because after years of running in the area I could identify and picture most of the locations referred to in the book.

Lionel Rose (left) on his way to the World Bantam Weight
Championship against Fighting Harada in Tokyo in 1968.

Jacksons Track incorporated quite a long climb before I would turn northwards towards the forested mountains on Nangara Road.  After a short distance, I would turn left on to what was known as the Aqueduct, which followed the course of a buried water pipeline running from Tarago Reservoir to the southern suburbs of Melbourne.  The Aqueduct trail was almost level, following the southern contours of the mountains and the Bunyip State Forest for 8km all the way back to our shack.  Some of it was in tall mountain ash forest, and some of it was in farmland offering beautiful views to the south.  It was probably mostly on private land and there were a few gates and the occasional cow to negotiate, but I stuck to the trail and never had any trouble.

I often used the course as a time trial to test my fitness, because it was both invigorating and fast.  I quite often ran it in around 67 minutes and can remember one time running it with friends in that time and then running a second lap in exactly the same time on my own.  Those were the days!

Looking at the satellite photos, I see that Jacksons Track is now paved and there are now some houses right on the Aqueduct, so the course is probably extinct.

After yesterday's long road run, I just walked 5km today.  I felt good, though my right Achilles tendon was quite stiff and sore.

Mind games

This morning's run crossed Narara Creek in Gosford.
(© WoollyMittens)

Even though I had an easy day yesterday, running a relatively flat 10km, I still wasn't looking forward to today's planned 36.5km Round the Bay road loop circling Brisbane Water.  The reasons probably included that I would be doing it solo, and that I'm over-familiar with the course, having clear memories of how hard the last 10km often is.  Of course, I could choose to run somewhere else, to get a change of scenery and a bit more motivation, but then I would feel I was giving in and choosing an easier option.  I often say that it is the sessions you don't like doing that are probably the ones you need.

The Spike Milligan Bridge was also crossed this morning.
(© WoollyMittens)

The tricks I employ to get me through a long tough solo run, will be familiar to many runners.  I start, these days, by carrying an iPod and listening to music, podcasts or the radio.  This helps, just a little, to distract me from thinking about how far I still have to go.  But the main technique to avoid focusing on the distance, is to set intermediate goals.  The Round the Bay course is very roughly an equilateral triangle, and I start at one corner.  The first objective is to complete the first side feeling comfortable.  The second objective is to complete the second side feeling like I have a little left in reserve.  Then comes the hard part.  By this time I'm very fatigued and just want it to be over.  I break up the third side into shorter and shorter sections with a milestone at the end of each - an intersection, top of a hill, or a landmark.  Having them get progressively shorter helps mentally because it takes less time to reach each milestone and I count them down to the finish.

Maitland Bay Road was part of this morning's run.
(© Maksym Kozlenko)

Of course, these mental tricks never really stop me thinking about how far and how long I still have to run, and the closer I get to the end, the more my focus changes to how great it will feel to stop and then walk the very leisurely one kilometre around the park at the finish.  Nothing beats that feeling of relief when I stop running, nor that sense of satisfaction I get as I stroll that warm-down kilometre knowing that I have achieved my goal, made a contribution to my near-term future fitness.......and that will be the last Round the Bay for a month or so because of other running plans.

My time this morning was about six minutes faster (3:18) than last week (3:24), which isn't a lot, but I did feel stronger, and if my right Achilles tendon and knee had behaved themselves, I would have been running faster in the last 12km.

Black Forest

Hiking near Titisee in the Black Forest in 2012.

Revisiting remote (from home) places, will often evoke memories of those earlier visits, even if scores of years later.  There are a number of places in the world where this has happened to me and one is the Black Forest in Germany, and Titisee, in particular.

I was most recently there in May of 2012, as a hiker traversing the Black Forest as part of a three-month trek, primarily in the Alps.  As I passed through, I thought fondly back to my two previous visits, the first as a teenager in the mid-1960s travelling with my family in a campervan, and the second in August of 1975 on another camping tour of Europe.  On this latter occasion, I was also supposedly in training for the Enschede Marathon just five days later, but had found it hard to get in any long training runs in the previous couple of months while travelling behind the Iron Curtain.

Looking over Titisee towards Feldberg in the far distance.

After setting up camp beside Lake Titisee, I decided that a long training run might be in order, and set out along forest trails to run to the top of Feldberg (1493m), the highest mountain in the Black Forest, and return, a distance of about 32km.  I don't remember exactly which route I used, but I do have memories of a dull overcast day, hilly terrain, and dark forbidding conifer forests with little undergrowth, ideal for scary fairy tales.  I also remember that the peak, which is above the treeline, accessible via road and had a large communications tower on top, was covered in cloud and seemed quite eerie with nobody about.  No views either, of course.

Crossing the line in the 1975 Enschede Marathon
(91st, 2:59).

I didn't hang around in the cold, and returned to Lake Titisee via the same route, reaching the campsite three hours later somewhat the worse for wear, ominously for the upcoming marathon.  In the race, I managed 91st place in 2:59, my worst marathon to date at the time, and resolved not to run another marathon without training properly.

After yesterday's tempo run, which left me with the usual sore right Achilles tendon, and some stiffness, I decided to just run an easy 10km today in the hope that I will be fresher for a long road run tomorrow.  I didn't get out until late morning when it was quite warm and felt lethargic and rough.  However, that's quite often the way when it's a bit warm and you didn't really want to go for a run anyway.


I was feeling OK this morning on Brush Road just
before the turn-around.

When it comes to running, and maybe some other things, I'm pretty "old school".  I'm skeptical about the value of "barefoot" running shoes, energy gels, low mileage and lots of other stuff.  Likewise, I have tended to look at runners who hare off at the start of social runs, or run fast down hills rather than hard up hills, as breaking some kind of running etiquette.  Of course, this is quite an arrogant perspective, and there are all sorts of reasons why runners run the way they do.  It is, after all, an individual sport.

The climb up Wycombe Road exposed
my fitness deficit.

The field for this morning's Terrigal Trotters "Keith's Run", was somewhat smaller because of members competing in The North Face trail races today or the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon tomorrow.  Before the start, I guessed that the pace might be slower early, and I was right.  These days, the Saturday runs are my only fast running each week, so I took the initiative and pushed the pace along a bit faster, and with a club-mate, soon broke away from the pack.  By the turn-around, we had a few hundred metres on the chasing pack and were running quickly, but I was tiring.  Soon, I let me club-mate go ahead and began concentrating on trying to maintain a good pace to the end.  A tough hill added to my fatigue and I was caught by several other club-mates over the remaining few kilometres.

After the run, several of them commented on how fast I had run this morning, but I knew that I had gone out faster at the start while they socialised, and felt guilty about getting unearned praise.  I got what I wanted, in terms of a hard, and for me, fast run, but I would have been further behind if I had run with them for the first five kilometres.

Chubb Trail

Chubb Trail.

St Louis is a long way from anywhere, be it beaches, snowfields or National Parks.  And of all the places I have lived, St Louis provided the fewest good trail running opportunities.  That's not to say there aren't any, but they are not particularly long, nor very inspiring.

Chubb Trail.

There were a few I visited regularly when I got sick of running in the suburbs and local parks, and perhaps my favourite was the Chubb Trail which was only half an hour's drive from our home.  It was about 7 miles in length and my usual run would be out-and-back for 14 miles, and occasionally I would tack on the Castlewood Loop for an extra 3 miles.  The Trail, which generally followed the course of the Meramec River, started with a hilly section in Lone Elk County Park and ended with a climb to the turnaround in West Tyson County Park.  In between, in the river valley, it was flat, passing through an old farming area which is now a mix of forest and prairie.  It was all very runnable and the hills weren't too bad.

I wouldn't call it an exciting course, but I have pleasant memories of running there late on a weekend afternoon, with the sun setting as I finished, and in very chilly autumnal weather on leaf-covered trail.  One of my old friends from St Louis still runs the Chubb Trail regularly and I doubt it has changed much in the seventeen years since I was last there.

Running for me today was around my regular Thursday morning 11km circuit after the morning track session I supervise at Terrigal Haven.  I was hoping to feel fresher, but the legs were heavy and motivation was low.  I didn't push it in the hope I will recover some zest by the weekend.