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Joys of trail running

Sunday, 2 June 2013

In the last two years, I have organised occasional runs along the Great North Walk (GNW) for interested Terrigal Trotters members.  We hire a bus, charge a small fee, and drop runners at one point on the GNW and pick them up at another.  The runs vary in length between 25km and 40km and we provide some drinks and nibbles somewhere along the way and at the finish.  The runs have become quite popular with usually 20 to 40 people participating.

Today was the GNW run from Wakefield to Congewai, a distance of 40km, with a shorter 30km option.  I planned to do the 40km as the next in my program of a long run every three days with the goal of turning myself from a hiker into a runner.  Although yesterday’s run indicated to me that I was making progress, I still didn’t feel like a runner and my right Achilles tendon, and now my right groin, were giving me some trouble.  It may have been safer to have a rest day, but I enjoy the GNW runs for the camaraderie and bush experience, and with two easier training days coming up, I decided to take the chance and run.

Finishing the Wakefield to Congewai 40km Trotters Trail Run
It turned out to be a wet, cold and windy day and I hung back early and tried to run within myself while enjoying the company of some fellow runners for the early kilometres.  This section of the GNW is particularly tough and it took about 4 hours to cover the first 23km that included precipitous ascents and descents on slippery muddy trail through very dark and gloomy rainforest valleys.  I wasn’t going fast, but the climbs and dangerous footing gradually wore me down anyway.  Much of the last 17km was on a saturated and puddle-strewn fire trail along a high windswept ridge in steady rain and gale-force winds.  I was only wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and began to get very cold with an hour to go and was dreaming of dry clothes and a warm bus.  I stopped to put on the rain-jacket I was carrying and this took longer than it should because of the difficulty I had in using my fingers.  I was getting clumsy and I knew this was a bad sign in these conditions.  As is my habit in challenging conditions, I kept reminding myself that I was still moving at an acceptable pace and that my brain was functioning.

Eventually I reached the point where the trail becomes single-track and drops off the ridge down into the Congewai Valley where the bus was waiting 5km away.  I caught a couple of the club’s female members, also ready for the bus, but still in good cheer after having been lost for a while.

I knew I was a bit cold-affected when I took an inordinately long time to dry off and change into warmer clothes, and I was still shivering 30 minutes later.  However, I had completed the run as planned, and although both Achilles and groin were quite sore at times, was optimistic that there was no serious damage done.  One after effect of the run lingered through the night during which I woke numerous times with itchy, painful and swollen feet reacting to the number of leech bites I had sustained.  Leeches are an occupational hazard of runs in the Central Coast bush in, or soon after, wet weather, but I have never reacted as badly.  It’s uncomfortable, but only a superficial problem that does not prevent me training and will be gone in a few days (although I have known people to have leech bites develop into significant infection problems).