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Murray River.

Most of today was spent driving the 1,000km from Melbourne back to Copa.  I was on the road by 5:00am, after a night during which I woke several times.  I suspect the real reason for the disturbed sleep was that I knew I had an early start, but each time I woke, I found myself lying there, very conscious of my heartbeat and trying to determine whether the beat was regular.

After my 5km run yesterday morning, I was checking my pulse and it seemed that there was a double beat about every 20 to 30 seconds, although it could have been my imagination.  I hadn't experienced any breathlessness or palpitations while running, but nevertheless I'm now a bit worried that the double beat, if it's real, signals the early stages of the return of my Atrial Flutter.

Bike path along the Murray.

As I drove north along the Hume Highway in pre-dawn darkness, I wondered about the wisdom of running again today.  However, after three hours of driving and feeling a little tired, I stopped in Albury and set out along a bike path by the Murray River.  It was a pleasantly cool morning and I was pleased to feel more like a runner than earlier in the week, though somewhat apprehensive.  I wasn't running hard, but was moving faster with less stiffness in the muscles and joints.  The faster speed meant my lungs were working a little harder, and I was breathing in on two steps and out on one, but still controlled.  Nevertheless, I was constantly self-assessing myself, looking for any sign that my heart was racing or my blood pressure dropping.

Billabong at the turnaround.

After about 3km of following the full and fast-flowing river, I reached a billabong and the end of the bike path and turned round.  It was nice to see the Murray River looking so healthy after a number of dry years.

Hovell Tree Park.

The path returned through the Hovell Tree Park, where I had finished my 440km three-week hike along the Hume & Hovell Track about ten months ago.  The Hovell Tree was marked, nearly 190 years ago, by one of the explorers after whom the walking track was named.  I could vividly remember finishing there at dusk, completely exhausted after compressing the planned last two days walk into one 50km day.  Despite my exhaustion on that last day, I had a great trip, and being there again made me wish it was a year ago when I was preparing for the trip, with no heart or lung problems in sight.  Just another reminder to make the most of my time.

I was again checking my pulse again after the run, and still wonder if there's an occasional double beat.  Generally, it seems regular and strong (and back under 50bpm at rest), but I still have a nagging concern.  I have an appointment with the cardiologist next week anyway, and he'll confirm one way or the other.  For the time being, I think I keep running daily.


Looking towards Marina Bay, Singapore.

Another city I visited frequently for work during my 16 expatriate years was Singapore, which I found somewhat bland compared to, say, Hong Kong, in terms of topography, atmosphere and running opportunities.  The climate was also challenging, with the city state lying just north of the equator.  I remember one occasion, after flying in at noon and having no afternoon commitments, setting out in the early afternoon for a 12km run.  There was little shelter from the blazing sun and the humidity was extreme, but I considered myself indestructible.  Jet lag may also have been a factor, but for whatever reason, after about 8km I began to feel incredibly tired and light-headed and had to sit on a shaded park bench for ten minutes before I could continue.  I then slowly walked the remaining 4km back to the hotel.

The path along the Kallang River.

As hotel locations varied, so did my morning run routes, but the usual 11-12km started somewhere in downtown Singapore in pre-dawn darkness and headed down to Marina Bay from where I followed a path by the Kallang River northwards.  It was cooler in the dark, but that's relative, and it never took long to be dripping with sweat.  There would be a few early workers and exercisers about, but generally I had the place to myself.

East Coast Park.

After crossing the River, the run passed some darkened sports stadiums before entering a residential area of towering apartment blocks where the locals, including many schoolchildren, were setting out for their day.  At the manicured and verdant East Coast Park, which extends all the way to the airport, I turned right along a bike path back towards the city.  After crossing the river again, I ran past the historic Raffles Hotel into the CBD and the end of the run.  If I was smart, I had turned the air-conditioning up to the maximum in my room before I left, because it always took a long time to stop sweating, and it wasn't worth showering until I had.

Raffles Hotel.

I never tried a really long run in Singapore, but I'm sure it would be hard work, and I don't envy any serious distance runners living permanently in the country.

My 5km run went a little bit easier this morning, so I hope this is the start of feeling better.  I'm still checking my pulse all the time.  I don't know how long it will be before I take a regular heartbeat for granted again, if ever.


My usual 5km while staying in Melbourne passes along
some of the leafy Malvern streets.

After six days of running about 5km a day, following two months of no running, I'm about where I expected to be in terms of cardio-vascular fitness.  My diagnosis of Deep Vein Thombosis, Pulmonary Embolism and Atrial Flutter at the start of January, had me worrying whether I would ever run again.  It was a scary time.  Now that my heart is back in sinus rhythm and I'm taking Warfarin to minimise the risk of further blood clots, running is again part of my life.

I have resumed running after injuries many times in 45 years, and generally know what to expect.  There will be two weeks, or longer if I have added a few kilograms, of feeling like a fish out of water.  After that, I will begin to feel like a runner again.  Then, the return to full fitness is generally a function of how long I had been unable to run.

The run passes by the John Landy Oval
(see post here).  
I'm mid-way through the initial couple of weeks and there's no problem with my cardio-vascular system.  I'm breathing easily and my heart rate seems to be behaving itself.  What is bothering me, is how stiff and sore my legs are.  Every morning, I feel like all my joints and muscles need lubrication as I set off.  I'm surprised I don't hear squeaking!  It's worse than I expected, and I have been tempted to blame it on the Warfarin I am taking.  If my blood is slow to coagulate, maybe the inflammation that must be occurring in my ageing and cartilage-poor joints is slower to repair and then dissipate?  Maybe there is some other side-effect?

Looking across John Landy Oval in Malvern's
Central Park.

I have searched high and low on the internet for information about the effects of Warfarin on runners, but instead of finding clues to explain my aches and pains, I have found stories of endurance athletes successfully returning to serious competition while continuing to take Warfarin.  Seems like I will have to accept the ageing process is the main culprit.

Just another 5km this morning at an easy pace, with no problems apart from the above-mentioned stiffness and soreness.

Carp diem

A trail in the Yarra Valley in Ivanhoe.

While visiting Melbourne, and limited to about 5km a day, I have been running the same circuit in the Glen Iris/Malvern area.  The last part of the course takes me through streets adjacent to Malvern's Central Park, where a good friend, Tom, lived before his tragic death while cycling back in 2006.

He was another one of those people who was good at everything.  Highly respected as a lawyer, known especially for his pro bono work and support of worthy causes, he was also a very accomplished rower, having represented both the University of Melbourne and the University of Cambridge in his youth.

The Yarra Valley at Templestowe.

I can't remember when I first met Tom, but it was probably in the late 1970s, and we soon got to know each other well.  As you might expect for a rower, he was quite a big guy, but was a great all round athlete and ran some good marathons, getting into the 2:30s.  For a number of years, he was part of a small group of us who met in Kew each Sunday morning for a run on roads and trails in the Yarra Valley.  True to his nature, he also looked out for the well-being of one of our running friends who had occasional rough patches in his life.

Another trail in the Yarra Valley in Templestowe.

Although I lived outside of Australia for sixteen years from 1987, I always looked forward to visiting Kew for the Sunday morning run on home visits to catch up on all of the news, and Tom remained a good friend during all of those expatriate years.  He was a little older than me, and due to retire in less than a year, when the bike accident cut short his life.  We had toyed with the idea of doing some adventuring together after his retirement, and he would have been a great companion.  Carpe diem.

This morning's 5km passed without incident, although the aches and pains of the last few days are still there.  I'll just keep jogging the same distance for the next few days and expect I will start to feel better soon.

Realising potential

This morning's run passed by the famous Melbourne
Cricket Ground.

In a previous post, I wrote about the attributes I consider keys to reaching the top as a runner (and most fields of endeavour) - the right genes (natural talent), hard work and luck.  This is simplistic, of course, but in my chosen sport of long-distance running, the champions seem to have all three.

For this morning's run, I travelled into the East Melbourne apartment of an old friend, Bill, and we ran about 8km down to, and around, the Tan Track and back.  Bill is a formidable performer in any field of endeavour he chooses.  I first met him at University where we were both doing our Masters degrees, and he was way ahead of the class.  He is also an accomplished musician, has reached the pinnacle of his chosen academic profession, and is a quality cyclist and runner.

Looking up Anderson Street Hill on Melbourne's
Tan Track.

In all these fields, he has leveraged some good genes with fierce dedication and focus to explore his considerable potential and reach elite levels.  He's not a person who's going to die wondering "What if?" or whether he got the best out of himself.  I have always respected his attitude and sometimes wondered whether I could have been a better runner if I had his self-discipline.

Luck wasn't on his side in running and cycling, with crippling injuries shortening his competitive career, but he was hard to beat, especially over distances from 10km to 25km.  Nowadays, he's content to run for an hour most days, chronic injuries permitting, and doesn't run competitively, reasoning that this will extend his running life.  He has advised me to do the same, and I can see the wisdom of this approach.  Maybe that is what I will end up doing.

Melbourne's Tan Track.

Bill took mercy on me this morning, and we jogged our 8km at the princely speed of 6 minutes per kilometre.  The run included the famed Anderson Street hill, about which I was somewhat apprehensive, but it passed without incident and my pulse was still beating regularly when we finished.  My right calf was sore and my joints and legs ached, but it was great to be running with an old friend on a picture perfect morning around some of our old haunts.

Three days and counting

Pre-dawn on Glenferrie Road, Malvern, during this
morning's run.

My right calf was still sore after yesterday's run and it feels like a muscle strain.  I can't believe I have hurt my calf in one extremely slow run, but I guess it can happen, especially as you get older.  My usual test for the severity of calf or Achilles tendon strains is to do a few heel raises.  If, standing on one leg, I can raise my heel to stand on tip-toe without pain or weakness, then I usually continue running.  That was the case this morning, so I decided to go ahead with my planned 5km run, but to favour the sore leg and to start very slowly.

Crossing Central Park, Malvern, during
this morning's run.

The calf felt tight, but survived the 5km in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.  Actually, all my muscles and joints are quite stiff, as my body rebels against the resumption of running.  I was hoping that the walking I had done in the last two months would have made the transition to running easier, but it's still difficult.  However, I know that if I can persevere for another week or two, I will be moving more easily, and the runs will be more enjoyable.  Having said that, I already feel healthier as a result of running on three consecutive days and look forward to losing a couple of kilograms I have added since Christmas.

I was conscious of my breathing and heart the whole run, but my breathing was controlled and my pulse remains regular.  I'm gradually getting more optimistic about my prospects, but mentally preparing myself for a set-back should it occur.

Reef Hills

Reef Hills State Park.

Most of today was spent driving the 1000km from Copa to Melbourne where I will be staying for a week with family.  Because of the long drive, I wasn't committed to getting a run or walk in during the day.  However, around 3:30pm, when I was starting to feel a little tired, I pulled off the highway near Benalla in Victoria and stopped at Reef Hills State Park, where I knew there were some fire trails, and changed for a run.

It's good to be running again!

Warm sunny weather, stiffness from yesterday, and the kransky sausage roll I had less than two hours earlier for lunch, all conspired to make even a slow run hard work, but the further I went the better I felt.  Like yesterday, I was very focussed on my breathing and heart rate.  I was counting how many steps per breath (inhalation and exhalation) and the first couple of kilometres were easy with five steps per breath, decreasing to four steps as I climbed a gradual hill.  Usually, when running hard, I get three or two steps per breath, so comfortably getting more was a good sign.

Half way round, my right calf started to hurt quite a lot, but it's hard to believe that I have damaged anything given the slow pace of the run.  Tomorrow will tell the tale.  It's definitely good to be running again and generating some sweat.

So far so good

Second from left, with the University of Melbourne
Cross-Country team in Canberra for the 1979
Intervarsity Championships.

It was with more than a little trepidation that I set off for this morning's 6km walk/run after supervising the 6:00am Trotters' track session at the Terrigal Haven.  I walked the first 500 metres, which included a solid hill, then jogged a few hundred metres before walking up a second, steeper and longer, hill.  So far, so good.  Once at the top, on Scenic Highway overlooking Terrigal, I decided to jog the remaining 4.5 kilometres of the 6 kilometre course if I felt OK.

I was very slow, and felt very unfit.  At one point, I was passed by ultra-running friend, Darren, who was himself running very slowly as he came back from injury.  How slow can you go, and still be running?  My joints creaked and my chronic bad knee hurt, but my breathing remained steady.  All the time, I was examining my heart and chest with my brain, looking for signs that something was amiss, but nothing happened.

When I reached the last few small hills, hills that I had originally intended to walk up, I chose to keep running.  I felt a little reckless, but was gaining confidence, that so long as my breathing was comfortable, I was not stressing my heart.  Back at The Haven, I reached my car and stopped running.  It hadn't been any tougher than other first runs after two months off, and I felt a glimmer of hope that I was on the way back to recreational running, if not competition.

Murray Marathon

I just walked 5km today, again with no problems, and even jogged the last 100 metres to see how it felt.  I'm seriously thinking of jogging a few kilometres tomorrow, ever ready to stop if anything feels amiss.

In years gone by, when I couldn't run because of injury, I often tackled other endurance sports.  Browsing through some old magazines, I found this article I wrote for the Victorian Marathon Club Newsletter published in June 1985, about my first attempt at the Red Cross Murray Marathon (now run by the YMCA).


The start of a recent Murray Marathon.

Following my third left Achilles tendon operation in April 1984, I found myself under doctor’s orders to do little or no running for six months, the first two of which were to be spent on crutches.  After these two months, I abandoned the crutches for a bicycle, and after one more month, combined the cycling with a little jogging.  The combination didn't work and I found myself with a stress fracture in my left foot and orders to stay off my foot for six weeks.  So it was off to the Richmond pool for a mile of slow freestyle each morning - terribly boring.

After the required rest period passed I began jogging, but aware of the Byrnes’ penchant for sometimes slightly overdoing things, began to look for some other form of exercise to combine it with.  Then, brainwave (!), I would start canoeing and enter the Red Cross Murray River Canoe Marathon, a long held ambition of mine.  Inquiries revealed that entries for the five-day, 404km event from Yarrawonga to Swan Hill closed at the end of November, giving me a month to decide whether I could do it and a further month after that to sharpen up.

Competitors in a recent Murray Marathon.

By following up personal contacts I borrowed an old white-water kayak (stable, slow, difficult to steer) and entered my first race, a 20 miler, a few days later.  I never discovered where I came but I didn't fall out!  Soon after, Phil Hamer, an ex- Box Hill marathoner, lent me a touring kayak (TK1, unstable, faster, easier to steer) and I plunged into daily training.

Two weeks later I strained some ligaments in my upper back quite badly and had to give away completely all paddling and running for two weeks - I even had difficulty walking.  My illusions of being competitive with the best rapidly faded and it looked unlikely that I would be able to participate at all.  However, frequent physiotherapy got me back on the water and road in time for four more weeks training.  I should admit to falling out of the kayak into the lovely Yarra more than once in that time.

Competitors in a recent Murray Marathon.

Barb and two of her girlfriends agreed to be my land crew (together with one of their two-year old daughters) and we arrived in Yarrawonga ready and rarin' to go at Lunchtime on Boxing Day.  The remainder of the day was spent registering, checking equipment and some practice paddling.  After watching a few of the novices fall out in front of the assembled crowds, I refrained from the latter.  Equipment was in large part dictated by the hot sunny weather and comprised sunglasses, Arab-like headdress, pyjama pants, long-sleeved top and chamois gloves.  Into the kayak went two 2-litre drink containers from which long plastic tubes were connected by safety pins high on my chest so that drinks could be taken without stopping paddling, a mandatory life jacket (not worn) and a container of jelly beans.  My seat had two layers of foam rubber as well as a sheepskin cover.

Day 1 dawned bright and sunny and I arrived at the start with minutes to spare after watching some of the earlier, slower classes get under way.  There were 500 paddlers in 300 canoes, 69 of which were in my class - the Men's Open TK1.  Water turbulence caused by the frenetic early paddling was my biggest problem as the starting gun boomed and I only just avoided tipping out whilst dodging a capsized competitor.
The key to marathon paddling is 'wash-riding', i.e. sitting right on the tail (only inches away) of another competitor and effectively surfing on his wake.  This technique reduces the paddling effort required by about 10% but takes careful concentration and occasional sprints as the leader (who, not surprisingly, sometimes objects to giving people free rides) surges to get away.  I resolved to spend as much time as possible wash-riding and every time a TK1 passed me I would detach myself from one kayak and attach myself to the new one.  By paddling hard and wash-riding I found myself well-placed after 60km when some of the short-comings of my paddling technique began to manifest themselves in my right wrist, which swelled up, turned red and blue and became extremely painful - tenosynovitis.  I struggled on for the last 32km, finishing 14th for the day.

Day 2 was even longer, 96km, and soon after the start I damaged the deltoid muscle in my right shoulder and was reduced to virtually one-armed paddling.  Each day's paddling was divided into four or five checkpoints about 2 hours apart (with a medical post half-way between each).  Just prior to the first of these, five TK2’s (two men) swept past me creating waves which my weakened condition couldn’t cope with and I fell out much to my embarrassment in front of the assembled hundreds.  The day continued to deteriorate.  I felt I had reached the low point of my life - limping from medical post to medical post, administering ice packs, receiving massages, scoffing copious Aspros, falling out and generally wishing I was dead.  Only the embarrassment of sending my caring land crew back to Melbourne after 1½ days prevented my withdrawal.  After 10 hours I finished - 54th this time - dreading the next three days.

Day 3 is a bit blurred in my memory though I do remember falling out once for no particular reason in front of a group of fishermen.  The intensive medical treatment continued, and as I grew gradually used to my disabilities, my average speed improved.  Withdrawing, though pleasant to contemplate, was not an option since ex- Club member Mike Hall and his family and Ray & Marilyn Wilson were expected in Echuca, the stage finish, to see the spectacle.  I was 37th for the day.

Day 4 began with some optimism and I actually chased a few canoes to wash-ride.  The optimism was misplaced.  I strained the ligaments in my back again after four hours and limped across the line 24th for the day.  It was only the conviction of the doctors that none of my injuries would lead to permanent disabilities if I soldiered on that kept me going.

Competing in my second Murray Marathon
(possibly 1986).

I set out on Day 5, the final day, intent only on survival, slowly paddling down the river until, 20km from the finish, the old competitive spirit surfaced again.  In the distance in front of me, I spied another TK1 and set out in pursuit.  Unknown to me, he in turn was pursuing another TK1.  Two hours later, the three of us were together - exhausted- and straining for the finish 3km away.  The last 200m was a mad sprint (I nearly fell out twice) with me taking the silver medal in our little trio.  After 37 hours of paddling I came 32nd in my class and was a physical wreck, unable to even lift a toothbrush with my right arm.  Two and a half weeks passed before I would jog again.  The finish of the race was followed by a presentation and huge New Year's Eve in the Swan Hill Showgrounds.

The Red Cross organisation was superb.  In addition to the medical posts a large medical centre operated at each campsite until 10pm at night and from 5 .30am each morning where queues could be found for massages, physios, doctors and repairs to hands, bums, wrists and miscellaneous.  On the fourth night the team of about 12 masseurs massaged over 400 paddlers.  Including land crews and officials, the camp totalled near 3000 people, yet the special teams of volunteer marshals wearing colour-coded jackets ensured that everything worked smoothly and no-one got lost driving between check points.

To ensure no paddlers missed the start each day (the slowest left first at 7 .00am) the organisers kindly drove a loudspeaker van around the campsite at 5:00am playing 'Morning Has Broken' and 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life to the accompaniment of unprintable shouts and comments from roused paddlers and land crews.

No canoeist could complete the course without the aid of a land crew and I owe a great debt to mine.  The girls nursed me through each day, literally lifting me out of the canoe at check points, filling drink bottles, administering 2-3 Aspros each time and a couple of handfuls of jelly beans, massaging shoulders, offering words of encouragement to unreceptive ears and spending long hours driving and waiting in the hot sun.  Even after they had lifted my disabled body from the canoe for the last time each day they still had to put up the tents and prepare the meals whilst I lay down or sought medical treatment.  I can't say it was a pleasant experience but it was one not to be missed and I will be back - better prepared and more competitive - in a few years time.  Even the land crew said they'd come back though Barb thought it might be easier to be a paddler next time.

Walking and pondering

The backlots of McMasters Beach on this morning's walk.

I walked about 10km this morning in misty, drizzly, and almost autumnal weather along some less-travelled roads and trails around nearby McMasters Beach.  Walking gives more time to look at your surroundings, and I've enjoyed a closer examination of the forests and properties that I often pass more cursorily on the run.  It's all relative, of course, with walking better than running, and running better than biking, if you want to absorb your environment.  All are better than driving.

The gravestone of Allan McMaster, the first European
settler in the area named after him.

Another advantage of walking, for me at least, is that it is the best time for thinking.  I'm a stroller rather than a power walker, and the gentle perambulation seems to stimulate my analytical brain cells.  As I walked this morning, experiencing no breathlessness or heart palpitations, I wondered about the chances that my heart problems were behind me.  If not, how would the return of the Atrial Flutter (AFl) be triggered?  By running too hard?  And if it was triggered, would it suddenly be as debilitating as it was before the Cardioversion, or would the onset be slower?  What were the chances of reversion, and what were the risk factors?  Wouldn't the cells through which my heart was passing the errant electrical pulses still be there, just a dormant pathway waiting to be reactivated by stress or some other trigger?

Umbrellas were optional on a drizzly morning walk.

There was lots to think about, inconclusively, and I returned home to do some more Googling.  Nothing I could find gave me more certainty, but there were clues.  One study in particular, of men a similar age to me, found that 55% had recurrent AFl within six months of their Cardioversions.  Underlying heart disease, previous episodes of AFl, and enlarged left atriums all seemed to be statistically significant factors in those who reverted.  I'm not conscious of previous AFl events, and my cardiologist found no evidence of heart disease, but he did find "mild Left Atrial dilatation".

Cockrone Lagoon on an autumnal morning.

Other studies have found enlarged left atrial size to be more common in long-term endurance athletes, than others of a similar demographic, and that this seemed to be associated with great incidence of Atrial Fibrillation (AF) and AFl.  So, it seems reasonable to assume I remain at significant risk of reversion.  The great unknown for me, though, is whether the enlarged left atrium was the key factor in the development of my AFl, or was it the Pulmonary Embolism (PE) placing undue pressure on the heart's function that was the trigger.  Although I'm probably stuck with the enlarged left atrium, the PE should be gone soon, if not already.  Does that mean there's a good chance I won't have the problem again?  Probably not, but only time will tell, although there will never be a point at which I can say there is no further risk.

The Great North Walk

A track junction on the Great North Walk.

Yesterday's Terrigal Trotters trail run was along a section of the Great North Walk (GNW), and much of today has been spent working on applications seeking approval from various authorities for the GNW100s trail race in September, for which I am Race Director.

It's one of the wonders of life, that activities or places you had little or nothing to do with for most of your life, suddenly play a big part.  It has often happened to me that places visited for races or sightseeing many years ago, unexpectedly became a big part of my life at a future date.  I had never heard of the GNW before moving to the Central Coast ten years ago, and now I'm running on it frequently (when I can run), organising trail runs on it for the Trotters, and annually directing one of Australia's biggest ultra-distance races along a large section of it.  "GNW" has become one of the most frequently used acronyms in my life.

Part of the Great North Walk in the northern part of
the Watagan Mountains.

The GNW was an Australian Bicentennial (1988) project, building on the visionary idea of a couple of bushwalkers to develop a hiking route between New South Wales' two largest cities, Sydney and Newcastle.  It stretches 250km and cobbles together existing roads and trails, along with some new walking track, and predominantly travels through forested mountains and quiet rural valleys to the west of the more settled coast.  There are camping areas and small villages along the way, and it is estimated more than 40,000 people use it each year in some capacity.  Many of them are trail runners.

The section I have come to know very well is the 175 kilometres used for the GNW100s, the trail race I direct, which stretches from Lake Macquarie in the north to Broken Bay in the south.  Apart from lovely stretches of dry eucalypt forest, there are deep gorges of stygian rainforest, caves, waterfalls, sandstone plateaus, rocky bluffs and exceptional views.  The quiet, and seemingly isolated, rural valleys of Congewai, Watagan Creek, Yarramalong and Ourimbah Creek add another dimension to a varied and interesting journey.

Falls on Kariong Creek on the Great North Walk.

The guides suggest that bushwalkers allocate 12-14 days for the end-to-end hike, while friends Meredith and Jess (elite ultrarunners and past podium finishers in the GNW100s) have run the whole 250km in 54 hours and 52 minutes.  The record for the 175km GNW100s is an astonishing 19 hours and 27 minutes, set by Brendan Davies, another friend who was 2012 Australian Ultra-Runner of the Year.

I always look forward to the trail runs, and occasional hikes or mountain bike rides, along the GNW, but also enjoy just driving around the forest roads and fire-trails and visiting remote locations, as happens every year preparing for the GNW100s.  It's easy to forget the Sydney/Central Coast/Newcastle metropolis is often just a few kilometres away from the peaceful forests and birdsong.

I walked 5km today, including a few hills that gave me no trouble.  My pulse remains regular and I'm beginning to keenly anticipate a resumption of running at the end of the week.

Gender differences

The Trotters assembled in Yarramalong before running the
28km to Somersby.

In a perfect world, today's Terrigal Trotters trail run from Yarramalong to Somersby would have been my last hit out before the Six Foot Track 45km trail race in two weeks time, where I had given myself some chance of breaking the 60+ age group record.  Alas, it's not a perfect world, but I still enjoyed following my club-mates during their run.

I had time to walk into a few locations and take photos, so racked up a couple of kilometres on a very humid and occasionally showery day.  Some of the walking involved significant climbs and there was no recurrence of my heart arrhythmia, giving me more confidence that last Monday's DC Cardioversion is doing the job.  Running in the next Trotters' trail run in five weeks time, even if slowly, may even be a possibility.

The runners approach the top of
Bumble Hill.

About fifty runners turned out today, and for the first time in fifteen or so of these runs, a female was the first person home.  It wasn't a race as such, but most of the runners try hard, and Melissa not only finished first, but also looked the freshest.  She is an up and coming distance runner, and already one of Australia's best adventure racers.

Her club-mates were pleased, but maybe not surprised, to see her do so well, and the run got me thinking about the differences I have observed between the genders in the way they train and race.  I'm generalising - it's more shades of grey than sharp contrast - and I am not suggesting Melissa is an exemplar.

Melissa nears the finish in Somersby.

Firstly, men tend towards overconfidence, while women seem often to lack belief in their running ability.  It's not uncommon to see men enter events for which they are under-prepared, believing that everything will work out, and finding otherwise.  On the other hand, females tend to underestimate their capabilities, and this perspective leads to more methodical and cautious preparation and planning for their big events.  I don't think it's fear of failure, more that they want to give themselves every chance of success by preparing properly.

The same gender characteristics also show up in races.  Males frequently start too fast, with visions of glory, or through fear of being left behind, or both, while females tend to start more conservatively, mindful of the distance ahead, and seem better at maintaining a steady pace and sticking to their race plans.

These differences may account for at least part of the observed convergence between female and male performances in races as the distances get longer.

Derek Clayton

Derek Clayton, running with Japan's Seiichiro
Sasaki, in the 1967 Fukuoka Marathon which
he won in a world record time of 2:09.36.4.

Along with great Australian athletes such as Ron Clarke, Herb Elliott and John Landy who inspired me to start running and awed me with their achievements, was the perhaps lesser-known Derek Clayton.

I was still living in London, and running school cross-country races as a sixteen year-old when his name hit the sporting headlines as the first person to run under 2:10 for a marathon when he ran 2:09:36.4 in the 1967 Fukuoka Marathon in Japan.  This wasn't long after Ron Clarke had blazed a trail across the world with a series of phenomenal world records on the track (see post titled Ron Clarke) and it seemed to me that Australians must have some kind of genetic predisposition to long distance running.

Two years later, when I was at university in Melbourne, his home town, and getting more obsessed with running, Derek Clayton again broke the world record.  This time it was in Antwerp, and his time of 2:08:33.6, stood as the world's best time for twelve years, until bettered by Rob De Castella.  By this time I was regularly competing in the Victorian Amateur Athletics Association (VAAA) winter and summer events and would have competed in a number of events against Clayton, though I don't specifically remember ever meeting him.  I do have a vague recollection of passing him and Ron Clarke, speeding in the opposite direction, when I was out on a training run in Melbourne's eastern suburbs one time in those years, and it may have been more than once.

Derek Clayton leads in the 1969 Maxol (Manchester)
Marathon which was won by Ron Hill in 2:13.

For a while, Clayton seemed to run and win every significant distance race in Australia, including the Australian Marathon titles in 1967, 1968, 1971 and 1973.  He was a prolific racer and known as a hard man and focussed runner.  On one occasion, I think in September 1973, Clayton won the VAAA 25km Road Championships on a multi-lap course around the 6km Sandown road racing circuit.  I was 22nd in 89:26 in the same race, but never saw Clayton after the start.  It may be an apocryphal story, but apparently with about a lap to go, Clayton was in the lead but desperately needed a toilet break.  Stopping was not an option, and he finished with some ugly looking stains on the back of his shorts and down his legs, still in the lead.  Not surprisingly, the club-mate in whose car he had travelled to the event, refused to let him into the car for the home journey until he had been hosed down.

Even though I wasn't remotely in Clayton's class, running in the same races as the world's best marathoner early in my career, and seeing first-hand how dedicated and disciplined you needed to be to succeed, made a big impression on me.

I had a comfortable 6km walk this morning at Trotters and wasn't quite as conscious of how my heart was beating.  As each day passes, I get a little more confident that I will soon be running again.


Chess Valley, England.

For two short years in the early 1990s, I lived in Chorleywood, a village in the Chiltern Hills north-west of London.  The reason I say "short" is that it remains the best place I have ever lived for interesting running courses, and I would have enjoyed living there for much longer.  There was no limit to the number of public footpaths, public bridleways and country lanes that could be cobbled together to make a course of any length, many of which avoided any significant road travel at all.  An added bonus were the tiny villages, hedgerows, country churches, historic mansions, fairy tale woods and rolling fields that made up the Chiltern landscape.  For those unfamiliar with English public footpaths and bridleways, they are historic rights of way, often crossing fields or passing through farmyards, that crisscross the English countryside.  Most are very runnable, though the less frequently used can become overgrown with weeds and nettles.

Chess Valley watercress beds.

It was easy to come up with a different and interesting course for every morning of the week, and despite my relatively short life there, the memories still live large.  All the morning "garbage" runs were good, but if I had to choose a favourite, it would be a regular 13km which captured all of the best local elements.

Starting from home in the village, the route ran along a lane and a couple of back streets before turning onto a farm road and passing by some stables.  From there it crossed the dark Carpenter Wood, with its leaf-littered undulating floor, and under the rail line to London through an old brick arch.  Much of today's Chorleywood village was built by the owners of the railway as a means of encouraging population growth and consequently commuters, though signs of settlement date back to the Paleolithic era.

Chorleywood Common.

The route then travelled along a bridleway which could get muddy after rain, before crossing a road and skirting the historic village of Chenies with its Manor House.  From there it followed a bridleway overlooking the Chess River Valley then descended through West Wood and over a field to cross the river beneath
historic Latimer House.  The next five kilometres followed the river downstream on beautiful and well-travelled public footpaths, through green pastures and passing a water cress farm before crossing the crystal clear river again on a small footbridge and climbing out of the valley through woods and parklands.

Chorleywood Common.

After crossing a busy road, it traversed the superb Chorleywood Common, to reach the village and a solid climb along Shire Lane to home, completing a run that changed with the seasons, and I never tired of doing.  One of the things on my bucket list is to go back and spend a few months, or longer, staying somewhere in Chorleywood, running and walking through the surrounding countryside, and making the easy commute into London to enjoy its attractions.

Today's exercise was the customary Friday golf game, and I was pleased to get around without any of the breathlessness and heart palpitations I experienced last Friday.  After the game, I visited the medical clinic to get my weekly blood coagulability tested, and the doctor checked my pulse.  She thought I was on some kind of medication, it was so slow, but seemed happy when I told her it was usually around 40bpm.  Her opinion was that I could exercise so long as I didn't get my heart rate near maximum, but I'll stick to my plan of only walking until the end of next week.

Marine encounters

Hatteras Island, North Carolina.

Yesterday, as I finished my walk along the Copa beach, I was lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins just beyond the breaking waves.  It's always a thrill to encounter wild animals when out running, and I have written about some of those rare encounters in other posts (Katahdin, More animal encounters, Yellowstone).  Meetings with sea life tend to be even more rare, and yesterday's sighting got me thinking about other such occasions.

Probably the most exciting encounter was thirty years ago when we were touring the U.S. and camped on Hatteras Island, a very long and extremely narrow barrier island off the coast of North Carolina.  Two islands just to the north were Nag's Head, famous for the historic Kill Devil Hills where the Wright Brothers took the first powered flight, and Roanoke, where one of the earliest groups of English colonists in America, comprising 150 people, disappeared without trace some time between ship visits in 1587 and 1590.  Despite the local history, the running options on Hatteras were very limited - either a run along the boring road that traversed the length of the island or along the sandy beach.

Hatteras Island beach.

I chose the latter, and having run a 25 miler the day before, was just cruising southwards along the empty and monotonous beach, when I got the feeling I wasn't alone.  Looking into the small surf to my left, there was a pod of fifteen to twenty dolphins, little more than 20 metres from the water's edge, travelling south at exactly the same speed as me.  I have to believe they knew I was there, because for the next half mile, they maintained their relative position as we eyed each other off.  They then peeled off into deeper water and I was on my own again.  I had another "marine" encounter a mile or two further on, with a very large and very dead hammerhead shark on the water's edge, but that doesn't really count as wildlife.

A whale passes South Point on Wilsons Promontory.

Although not a running encounter, another meeting that lives large in my memory was at the start of a mountain bike ride from the southernmost point of mainland Australia, South Point on Wilsons Promontory, to the northernmost, Cape York, in 2006.  It wasn't possible to ride my bike all the way to South Point for the start because of National Park regulations and difficult trail, so I set out early one morning from the settlement at Tidal River to hike the 42 kilometre round trip.  At the isolated South Point, large and slippery boulders washed by occasionally large swells made it quite difficult to clamber down to the water's edge to fill a small jar of water I was planning to carry for the 4300km journey north and empty into the sea at Cape York.  At one point I wondered whether my journey was going to end where it started, with my body never found, but eventually accomplished the task.  As I climbed back up to a point of relative safety, I heard an incongruous noise just to my right, and there, moving very slowly through the water about 20 metres offshore, and occasionally spouting, was a large black whale.  It was close enough for me to see its eye and it seemed to be looking right at me.  I took the sighting as a good omen, and as it turned out, had a great trip.

I walked 6km today, including some hills, without any difficulty or breathlessness.  However, I am constantly conscious of my heart beating, and although my pulse seems regular, can't escape the feeling that something is not quite right.  I woke in the small hours and couldn't go back to sleep, just lying there hyper-sensitive to my heart beat, trying to work out whether it was functioning properly, and looking for signs that it was not.  It may be, and I hope it is, just some post-procedure anxiety.  If that's right, then my sensitivity will diminish in the next couple of weeks and my confidence will grow, but at the moment I still feel like I am walking on eggshells.


Cockrone Lagoon on this morning's walk.

As I approached the first hill on my walk this morning, I felt my heart was racing in anticipation of whether it would start racing as my effort increased.  Then, as my cardiovascular system worked harder on the steepening grade, I was constantly assessing my body's reaction.

Part of my walk through McMasters
Beach this morning.

The symptoms I had experienced when walking up steep hills prior to Monday's Cardioversion included breathlessness, lightheadedness bordering on fainting, a hollow pressure in the centre of my chest and, as described on some medical websites, a real feeling of dread or impending doom.  There would be a sort of tipping point, where in a matter of seconds, I would go from the familiar feelings of mild fatigue associated with walking up a hill to a sense of the clutch slipping and my internal engine spinning faster and faster in a fruitless attempt to keep my body functioning.  It wasn't a pleasant experience, and I was hoping, rather than expecting, this morning that the Cardioversion had done the trick and my Atrial Flutter was gone.

Bounty Hill steps on this morning's walk
through McMasters Beach.

Since the procedure on Monday afternoon, it has been hard for me to tell whether or not the Cardioversion has made a difference.  I had been taking it easy, and a head cold, blocked sinuses, and a mild headache have made it hard to judge my overall well-being.  However, regular pulse-checking, and a vague feeling that my body was working more efficiently, have been encouraging signs.  The possibility of reversion to Atrial Flutter remains very real, though it will diminish over time, but it will be a while before I stop worrying about the consequences every time I start breathing harder on a walk or run.

Pumice stones on McMasters Beach which
have floated more than 4,000km from an
underwater volcanic eruption north of
New Zealand.

I didn't push it too hard on the hills this morning, and so far as I can tell, my heart is still beating normally.  The 6 kilometre walk passed easily enough, finishing with the bonus of watching a pod of dolphins gambolling just outside the shore break on the Copa beach.  I would like to think it was a good omen, but I don't believe in such things.  Now I need to work out a training plan that will gradually return me to running in a methodical way.  Such a plan will help prevent me trying to do too much too soon, if I feel that things are going well, but I also need to have the common sense to back off the plan if it appears too optimistic as time passes.

Googling the future

Representing Croydon Harriers in a National League
3000m Steeplechase (4th, 9:43.8) at Brighton, England,
in May 1975.

Around 3pm yesterday, I had my DC Cardioversion (DCC) and Transoesophageal Echocardiogram (TOE).  Apparently the DCC went smoothly, and my heart is now beating regularly again (Sinus Rhythm).  It's a very routine procedure these days (you can see a video here), and the anaesthetist referred to it comfortingly as a "barbecue" as he prepped me.  I only saw the hospital cardiologist once, when he shook my hand before I went under, and I didn't get any feedback later apart from the discharge nurse who said my heartbeat was stable in Sinus Rhythm.  On the assumption that "no news is good news", I'm guessing the TOE, with which they were looking for clots and flaws in the heart structure, didn't reveal anything untoward.

I now have a follow-up appointment with my cardiologist in three weeks time, but don't really have any guide as to what I can do, or not do, before then, other than being told to take it very easy today.  Consequently, I have been Googling extensively, particularly on the subject of returning to running after DCC.

Competing in the VMC Marathon (2nd, 2:31) at Tyabb,
Victoria, in June, 1976.

There's no shortage of papers identifying long-term endurance athletes as having a much higher risk of Atrial Fibrillation or Flutter than people of similar age, but it's hard to determine what is the outlook for those returning to the sport after treatment.  There are opinions expressed that they are more likely to have future heart and related problems, but no studies I could find.  Every individual is different, and there would be few people in the world who have trained and run endurance events over as many years as me, so there are unlikely to be any specifically relevant medical studies, anyway.

A good friend and long-time endurance athlete, Bill, suggests I accept my lot and cut back to roughly an hour's non-competitive running a day and be thankful that I can do that.  Time and energy freed up can then be devoted to other interests, such as writing.  I can see the sense in this suggestion, but am not yet convinced that it is the best course for me.  I'm still in the "Bargaining" stage referred to in a previous post, and want to believe there's some middle ground.

Comparing hamstring flexibility with Bill after the VAAA
Marathon Championship (4th, 2:22) in March 1983.

Part of the problem is determining what sort of running increases the risks for me.  Racing, and training to race, definitely generates more heart stress than running as a non-competitive recreation.  A race gets my adrenalin pumping and I always perform significantly better than I could manage in a non-competitive time trial. Likewise, upcoming races, get me to training harder and longer than I probably would otherwise.  I love competition and the preparation for races, but believe I could live without it, if it lowered my risk of further heart problems.  I think I could be satisfied with moderate short runs during the week, the regular Saturday Trotters run without getting too competitive, and a relaxed long trail run on a Sunday.

I'll continue walking for the next couple of weeks and then try some jogging just before I see the Cardiologist.  The statistics show that DCCs are 99% successful, but have a 50% reversion rate.  I'm assuming that I will be one of those 50% reverting, and my Cardiologist has already said he thinks I may ultimately need a Catheter Ablation.