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Slow progress

The Bouddi Coastal Track approaching Killcare.

I wasn't expecting the long run today to be easy, and it didn't disappoint.  Despite taking it very slowly from the start, and walking most of the step and steep sections I encountered, the Bouddi Coastal Track gradually wore me down as I suspected it would.  It's never a fast course because those bits that aren't technical are often sandy, but today would be the slowest I have ever travelled.  I kept remembering leading a group along here nearly ten years ago and not walking any of it.  Those were the days.

Looking towards Broken Bay and Lion Island.

Going slow, however, was also the plan to avoid putting any excessive strain on my heart, so I kept reminding myself that I was being sensible, not weak.  Another trick to keeping it slow was to take lots of photographs along the way.  Although it was overcast and humid, with only occasional sunny spells, the visibility was reasonable and it's truly a beautiful place to run with lots of overlooks and some magic trail sections.

Trail above Pretty Beach.

Around 12km, I tripped and fell twice in quick succession, perhaps an indication of my increasing fatigue.  The first fall took a small chunk out of the heel of my right hand which started to bleed.  Being on Warfarin, I'm hypersensitive to the risks of excessive bleeding or bruising from falls, and had toyed with the idea of carrying some first aid gear for this run, but decided against.  Fortunately, it didn't bleed too much, but unfortunately, the second time I fell, the impact was on exactly the same part of the hand.  It hurt, and filled the gash with fresh grit, but didn't bleed any more.  "Toughen up, princess!"

Looking down on Hardy's Bay.

I had drunk some water at a campground around 10km and stopped in at a small store for some Powerade at about 17km, which tasted good but was so cold it gave me a brain freeze.  I was tired and very sweaty, but plodded on, making myself run everything that wasn't steeply uphill.  At 23km, I had another drink of water from a tap at the Maitland Bay Carpark, and then just jogged most of the next 6km before walking the last 2km home.

It's disappointing to feel so unfit, and I'm still coming to terms with the possibility that I may never run these distances easily again, but two months ago I was wondering whether I would ever be running again, so I know things can change.........and even if they don't, I'm better off than I was.

Mount Rainier

Mt Rainier dominates Tacoma, Washington.

The post about running in the Grand Canyon of a couple of days ago reminded me of another spectacularly scenic run I did back in 1985 in the US.  Mount Rainier is a breathtaking mountain less than 60 miles from Seattle and the sea, rising to a height of 14,411 feet, and dominating the region.  It is located in a Mount Rainier National Park and skirted by a number of hiking trails, the best known of which is the Wonderland Trail, a 93 mile loop that encircles the mountain.

The Wonderland Trail approaches Mt Rainier
along the Cowlitz Divide.

When we visited, we did a few shorter hikes as high as we could go without guides and climbing equipment on the glacier-covered upper slopes, but didn't have the time to do the whole Wonderland Trail.  As a compromise, I found time one afternoon to run a 17 mile portion of the Trail over the mountain's eastern slopes from Box Canyon to the White River.

The Wonderland Trail.

It was basically an up-and-down route, with some very steep and technical sections.  After an initial tough climb away from the road and up onto the Cowlitz Divide ridge, the running became less difficult and the grandeur of the vista more easily appreciated.  It was a beautiful clear sunny and warm day, and the views were expansive in every direction.  Mt Hood, 80 miles away could be made out, as could the nearer, and recently-erupted (1980), Mt St Helens.  The trail, which passed through conifer forests at the lower altitudes and alpine meadows and bare rocky ridges higher up, headed towards the snow-capped peak of Mt Rainier, coming quite close to some of the glaciers and skirting the upper watershed of Boulder Creek before reaching the high point at Panhandle Gap (6,800ft).  Thereafter started a long descent and I remember falling heavily with just a few miles to go, escaping with some minor cuts and bruises, before reaching the park road at Frying Pan Creek and the end of a still-memorable long run.

Boulder Creek from Panhandle Gap.

I wished I had some of that 1985 fitness today as I circled Copa on a hilly 6km on a warm and sunny late morning run.  It was slow, but I expected that after yesterday's faster run.  I need to get rid of the extra 4kg I'm carrying, but of course it's not coming off as quickly as I put it on.  I'll do a longish run tomorrow, not at any great pace, and hopefully that will burn a few calories.  My experience in the past has been that weight doesn't start to come off until a month or two after training resumes following a lay-off, and that it is the long runs that make a difference.  If I wasn't worried about a recurrence of my heart problem, I would already be forcing myself to do long runs every three or four days to get fit and lose the weight, but this time I think I need to keep my approach more moderate.  Things will improve, but I have to be patient.

Not competing

Leading a 1500m Interclub event at Doncaster,
Victoria, in mid-1980s.

It's hard not to be competitive when you have been for your whole life.  Today's Terrigal Trotters 10km Time Trial was to be a test of my newfound resolve not to get competitive in the wake of my recent lung and heart problems.

Only a month ago, I had declared that I wasn't going to run any races for the next six months, at least, while I educated myself through experience about what I could and could not do.  That education is happening, faster than expected.  I'm not nearly as concerned now, when I head out for a run, as I was a month ago when I was anxiously self-assessing during and after each run.  Confidence in my heart health is growing with every safely completed run, though I still take my pulse multiple times each day to check the beat is regular and the rate low.

When I run a little further or harder, such as for last Sunday's long trail run, or today's 10km race, I'm gently pushing against the edge of my fitness envelope, putting a little more strain on my cardiovascular system while recognising that my musculoskeletal system also needs time to retrain after several months off.  Each time I push that envelope edge out a little, I gain confidence and am less anxious next time I run the same distance or speed.

Today, I started out with a gentle 3.5km warm-up around the same loop I had warmed up on for my last Trotters Time Trial at the end of December.  Vivid memories of breathlessness and heart palpitations on the first hill of the warm-up that time gave me a good benchmark against which to measure my current health, and it was pleasing to negotiate it, and the remainder of the warm-up, comfortably.

When the race itself started, at 6:00am, I eased into it, determined not to run faster than was wise, and watched the leaders disappear rapidly into the distance as even the slower parts of the field drifted past me.  I was expecting to be near the back, but it was still hard to watch friends who were unlikely to run faster than 50 minutes, slowly draw away.  I told myself to suck it up and keep running easily.

A couple of kilometres into the race, I began to feel more comfortable (how come I didn't feel that way from the start, having done a reasonable warm-up?) and to slowly catch some of the people who had passed me earlier.  Once that started to happen, I had to keep reminding myself not to consciously chase people down, but to keep my focus on maintaining a good rhythm with relaxed breathing.  Of course, I was only partially successful, and derived some competitive pleasure from slowly reeling people in as they emerged from the pre-dawn darkness ahead of me.

Approaching the turn, it was sobering to see how far I was behind the leaders, but I tried not too dwell on it.  Instead, I focussed on some of the people who were not so far ahead and who I might be able to catch if I maintained my present pace and form.  Among them was friend, Bruce, who had left me for dead on last Sunday's long run and would not want me to catch him today.  I concentrated hard on keeping my breathing and pace steady, but had a couple of moments on short rises where I may have detected some pressure in my chest, and backed off the pace a little.  It's impossible to know whether such moments are minor heart flutters, or just chest discomfort from running harder for the first time in months.  On each occasion, I quickly returned to my rhythm and didn't really lose any momentum. I caught Bruce with a few kilometres to go and finished tired, but not exhausted, in 47:36, maybe a little faster than expected.

I have checked my heartbeat a number of times since and it seems to be strong and regular so maybe the misbeats were just my imagination.  Historically, my time was slow, but the chances of running near 40 minutes, as was my target four months ago, have probably gone.  However, it's reasonable to think I will run faster without increased effort, as I lose the four kilograms of extra weight I'm carrying and my musculoskeletal system tunes up, and that's some comfort.

Grand Canyon

Sharon and I ran to the floor of the Grand Canyon
and back in 2012.  Starting down on Bright Angel Trail.

Although still not feeling great, my 11km run this morning went better than yesterday's and I'm feeling a little more positive about life.  I found it harder than the same run last Thursday, but sense improvement and think I'll be recovered enough to run with Terrigal Trotters's this coming Saturday morning and maybe even get in a long gentle trail run on Sunday or Monday.

In fitter days (1986), I wrote the article below for my running club newsletter
THE GRAND CANYON - AS TOUGH AS IT LOOKS!   Letter from Dave Byrnes

The Colorado River at the base of the Grand Canyon.
No runner can stand on the rim of the awesome, mile deep, Grand Canyon in Arizona without wondering if they could run down to the Colorado River and back again.  Prior to arrival, I hadn’t planned such a journey but a look down in the Canyon and a quick check of a map kindled my interest and I resolved to make the attempt before I left.  I'm sure many runners had preceded me, and I know there is an annual 'ultra' which runs from the South Rim to the North Rim and return (a forty mile, eight hour plus epic), yet there was still an immense challenge to contemplate. 

Encountering a mule train on the ascent up
the South Kaibab Trail.
The course I planned to follow involved a four mile, gradually uphill, run along the South Rim road from our campsite to the South Kaibab trailhead at 7300 ft; a steep descent along the trail (4900 ft in a little over six miles) to the Colorado River; a couple of miles downstream by the river on the other bank; an ascent of 4600 ft in just under eight miles along the Bright Angel trail; and finally, one and a half miles back to camp (also uphill).  The total distance was to be a little over twenty-one miles and despite my failure to perform well in marathons since leaving Australia, I was confident I would make it.  The real challenge of the run was to be an ascent up Bright Angel without stopping and I mulled over my chances as I set out before sunrise on a clear, cold Sunday morning.  Almost immediately, I regretted the intense physical activity of the previous three days that had seen Barb and I hiking, cycling and running around various parts of the National Park.  Fortunately, we had become accustomed to training at altitudes up to 10,000 ft during our travels, but resting up for long runs had not been one of our priorities.

Further up the South Kaibab Trail ascent.
I decided to throttle back as I ran along the Rim and focussed instead on the magnificent sunrise that was gradually illuminating the brilliant orange/pink cliffs of the Canyon.  Out of the sun, the temperature was still well below freezing and I was glad of my gloves and Goretex top.  After half an hour, I reached the trail head and paused briefly to wonder at the sanity of the venture - at least running downhill would be easy.  From the Rim, you could not even see the Colorado River, only the shadow of the smaller canyon on whose floor it flowed.  The Kaibab Trail zig-zagged its way down an almost sheer drop and I set off gingerly on the ice-¬covered surface; being particularly careful on the tight corners.  Even after the ice disappeared at lower altitudes, the going was slow because of the steepness and frequent turns.  The surface was a curious mixture of rocks and green dust, the latter composed of dust created by the mule trains coloured by their manure.  Lovely.

The top at last.  The South Kaibab Trailhead.
Mule trains are common on the trails and National Park rules require all pedestrians to stop completely if they meet with one.  Apparently, mules are easily spooked and may dash over a precipice carrying an unfortunate tourist.  I met a train on the descent just before reaching the river.  After crossing the Colorado on a suspension bridge, I climbed down to a sandy beach to ceremonially dip my hand in the broad, green, fast-flowing river.  It was just over an hour since I had left the rim, and I had a little less than two hours to complete the ascent in order to achieve my other goal of under three hours rim-to-rim.  I crossed the river on another bridge after stopping for a quick drink near the Ranger station at Bright Angel Camp.  I was feeling good - a result of much more oxygen (a mile lower) and the relatively level river trail that crossed some sand dunes.  I began surprising bushwalkers, who had camped on the canyon floor overnight, from behind which is always a bit of fun.  The trail turned away from the river and began climbing gradually along a small canyon.  The pace was steady and I was doing it easy.  Passing the hikers was exhilarating, but I was forgetting that the ascent was concave with the steepest parts near the end.  I reached Indian Gardens, four and a half miles and 3000 ft from the rim with an hour to go and feeling a bit weaker.  Two and a half miles later, I met a mule train descending and was forced to stop for the first time on the ascent.  Damn.  Feeling distinctly tired, I set off jogging again on the steepening trail and half an hour later met another one.  This time on resuming, I was exhausted.  I couldn’t believe how sapped I felt as I staggered on for another half mile before I had to stop and walk.  The trail was now zig-zagging up almost sheer faces and I even had trouble getting forward momentum to walk.  I looked anxiously at my watch and resolved to walk 50, jog 200 to the top.  It soon changed to walk 50, jog 50, but I made it to the rim, groggy, but with ten minuted to spare.


Near the start of the Avoca Steps.

Benchmarks can be useful in gauging your running fitness, and perhaps more importantly, signalling possible problems.

These days, I tend to judge fitness by the time taken to run a regular course, and how I felt doing it.  In earlier days, I often used a time trial on the track, or something like the average times achieved running multiple 400m repetitions in a track session, as guides.  They're not foolproof methods, and subject to the vagaries of small sample sizes, but if a benchmark is achieved it gives you confidence that your training is going to plan and that, in turn, gives you the confidence to go for the time or place aspired to in your target event.

More of the Avoca Steps.

I have also employed benchmarks to gauge the seriousness of an illness or injury.  One sort of reverse benchmark I used for years was that if I was too ill to run, then I was too ill to go to work.  Of course, I never wanted to miss a run, and never had any really serious ailments, so never missed a day of work.  However, I probably infected many work colleagues with colds, and occasionally, influenza over those years.

Further up the Avoca Steps.

Running a much slower time for the Terrigal Trotters 10km Time Trial at the end of December last year (56 mins instead of the 44 mins my fitness level indicated), alerted me to health problems later diagnosed as Deep Vein Thrombosis, Pulmonary Embolism and Atrial Flutter.  Now that I'm on the road to recovery from those conditions, I'm very attuned to sub-par training runs, anxiously analysing them as possible indicators of health problem recurrence.

The final section of the Avoca Steps.

Several of my local "garbage run" courses, have very steep climbs that I almost always run up, regardless of fatigue.  In fact, the only times I have failed to run up them is when I have been ill.  These are my current benchmarks.  One of them is the "Avoca Steps", which is actually a series of flights of steps and footpath climbing about 80m over 500m.  It's always a test to run up them, no matter what the speed, but I almost always do.  This morning, however, as I approached the base of the Steps, 7km into my morning 10km run, I just couldn't face the thought of running all the way to the top.  Ultimately, these things usually come down to mind over matter, and there have been many times on this hill, and others, where I have just refused to stop running and taken it a step at a time all the way to the top.  I have prided myself on my ability to do this, and attribute my relative strength running hills to my refusal to shirk them in training.  However, my recent health travails are fresh in my mind and the worst effects were brought on by running, and sometimes just walking, up hills to the point of serious breathlessness.

This morning, my rational self won and I walked up the Avoca Steps, but it hurt my pride and worried me some.  I can't put my finger on a single problem, but can think of multiple reasons, none of them individually important enough to explain my excessive fatigue.  For the moment I'm assuming that it is the combination of these factors - lack of fitness base, a total of 45km solid running on the weekend, and a head cold that is now beginning to affect my chest - that explains my troubles this morning.  However, if the fatigue persists through to the weekend, I'll be considering whether another visit to the doctor is required.

Chorleywood long run

Approaching Amersham.

In my "Chorleywood" post of 14 February 2014, I described why it was the best place I have lived as a runner, with a wide variety of trails, terrain and interesting sights.  In that post I outlined one of my favourite "garbage run" courses in Chorleywood, but I also had a favourite long run that matches any I have been able to run from home during my running life.

Crossing Hervines Park in Amersham.

Many London commuters live in the villages and towns of the surrounding Chiltern Hills, but amazingly, I could still find places to run where I was largely on my own and surrounded by countryside.  The 30km course was a loop that primarily followed public footpaths, bridleways and country lanes through dark woods, across fields and through some quaint villages.  The scenery varied continually along the route with another dimension added by the dramatic seasonal changes.

Looking towards Hill Farm, near Chesham.

Descending through a cornfield towards Amersham in oppressive early summer heat, slogging through deep mud in the cold drizzle of a dark winter's day near Chalfont St Giles, and passing daffodils on bright sunny spring days in the Chess River valley, are among treasured memories of this course.  However, maybe it's the dismal winters and colours of autumn that I miss most as a resident of Australia.

I look forward to enjoying some more runs on my Chorleywood 20 Miler some time in the future.

The Chess valley.

Still suffering from a bad head cold and the weekend's running, I chose to jog just 5km around Copa today.  It was very slow and my chronic right knee injury was painful, but I expected the latter after the stresses of the technical trail on Sunday.  Last year, I would have forced myself to run at least 10km today, and I feel a little guilty for doing less, but I know I have to give myself permission to "under-train" as I recover from the heart problem.

Heavy weekend

The runners gather at Somersby for the start
of the trail run.

The weekend proved to be a test of stamina, and not just running stamina.  It started with the Terrigal Trotters' run "Tegart's Revenge", a 14.5km course, early on Saturday morning.  I expected it to be my hardest run for some time, and it didn't disappoint.  It's not that I went out quickly, but it is one of those courses that has long stretches where you build momentum and then maintain it - good for tempo running - and I regretted not being fit enough or healthy enough to mix it near the front of the pack where I knew it would be fast and competitive.  Still with an underlying anxiety that my heart problem will return, I stuck to my pre-run plan of never stressing myself to the point where I was gasping for breath, but the long sections of concrete path and road were punishing for my unfit legs and I was very tired by the end.  It was a pleasant surprise to find I had averaged 5mins/km pace for the distance which also included some significant hills.

On the early part of the trail run.

The afternoon and evening were then spent at an outdoor rock concert in the Hunter Valley where many of the audience and performers were my vintage, though few looked capable of running 14.5km.  By my standard it was a very late night, and I didn't get to bed until after midnight.

The 4:45am alarm on Sunday morning was unwelcome, but unavoidable.  I was the organiser of trail run with my fellow Trotters and had to meet the bus at Staples Lookout, the finish point, soon after 6:00am for the drive to the start.  At Somersby we began for the 29km run back to Staples along The Great North Walk trail.  This section is a particularly nice run, but the terrain gets progressively harder, and the warm and humid weather had us all soon sweating.  I knew my legs would be tired from yesterday's hard run and that the lack of sleep would take its toll, so I started out very gently, close to last of the 30 runners.

Looking west from Mt Scopus on the trail run.

I settled into a gentle rhythm, my stiff and tired legs gradually loosened up, and I really began to enjoy the running.  I did have a couple of stumbles and two falls, neither of which did any apparent damage, perhaps because I was carrying my feet too low on the technical trail.  I reached the drink stop at 16km in good shape, but aware that the remaining trail was very challenging.  Even though I walked up the steep rocky stepped climbs, they took their toll in the heat and I knew I should have carried more fluids.  My tired legs began finding the descents just as taxing as the climbs, and with about 5km to go I began to feel a little light-headed, struggling to keep my balance at times.  Despite my disorientation, I was aware that my heartbeat was still regular and strong, so I wasn't too concerned.  I pretty much walked the last 3km, which was almost entirely uphill, but that was OK.  My time was slow, but it was a great feeling just to have finished.  I recovered quickly, very happy to think that trail runs of this length were now back on my agenda, even if slower than I would like.

After getting home in the early afternoon, I began sneezing a lot and my sinuses became congested.  It proved to be the start of a heavy head cold which was worse today, so I didn't bother going for my planned walk.  I usually wouldn't let a head cold stop me exercising, but after the solid weekend, I figured it would do more good than harm to have the day off.

A big day

Rolet de Castella (#95) on his way to his first
sub-3 marathon at age 57.

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about Robert de Castella and earlier this week, on ABC Radio, I heard him interviewed at length.  During the conversation, the running background of Rolet de Castella, Rob's father, was discussed.  I didn't know Rolet well, just enough to say hello, but I did know that he was one of those runners who had defied the odds and revived their running careers after severe heart problems.  Rolet had a stroke in 1974 at age 50, and a heart attack a year later, but loved his running so much he was soon back on the roads each time.  In 1975 he read about the Pritikin Regression diet, adopted it, and was soon running seriously again.  By coincidence, the 1979 Victorian Amateur Athletic Association Marathon Championship was a very big event for Rolet, Rob and me.  I found an article by Dick Batchelor in the Spring 1979 edition of the Victorian Marathon Club Newsletter about that day.

DE CASTELLA'S DAY - Dick Batchelor.

The remarkable 2:14:22 run by Rob deCastella at Point Cook on June 23rd means that Australia now has at least five world-class marathon runners (Chettle, Barrett, Scott & Wardlaw are the others).  These five enjoy a clear margin of four or five minutes over other Australian runners.  Australia must take its full quota to Moscow next year.

First event at Point Cook was the inaugural Victorian Women's Marathon Championship, starting at 12:30 in perfect conditions - cool and almost windless.  Very fittingly, the event was won by Lavinia Petrie, who has fought for such a race for several years.  It must be said that the women's times were rather slow, but we hear that such accomplished performers as Angela Cook are training for their debuts, so standards could rise dramatically.  Results: 1. Lavinia Petrie 3:02:07; 2. Kathie McLean 3:04:33; 3. Jacquie Turney 3:25:29; 4. Barbara Fay 3:25:55; 5. Glenda Humphreys 3:30:18.

Most of the 136 finishers in the men's event improved on their best times, with increments of 5 or 10 minutes not uncommon.  The "traditional" course was used, an out and back journey with only one hill (an overpass) to be negotiated!  When I saw the leaders after they had rounded the turn, Vic Anderson was striding powerfully in front (67:15 turn) with deCastella (67:29) and John Bermingham running side by side about 25m back, followed by Paul 0'Hare (67:31), Dave Byrnes (67:45), Graeme Kennedy (68:05), Bob Guthrie (68:22) and Neil McKern (68:35).

At 16 miles deCastella took the lead, Bermingham dropped out but big Vic and the others kept hammering away.  At 20 miles, from all accounts (your correspondent by then being several miles back down the road), Pat Clohessy urged de Castella to speed up and he cleared away from his pursuers, covering the final 3 miles in under 15 min!

The very consistent Dave Byrnes came through strongly in the closing stages to be second in a PB 2:19:06 with Vic Anderson third after doing so much of the early pace.  As the clock approached the 3½ hours cut-off, few people noticed a compact and mature runner who crossed the line in 127th place – 3:25:14.  Four years ago this man suffered a severe heart attack, despite having been a regular jogger.  Encouraged perhaps by the athletic achievements of his two sons, this man rehabilitated his health with a stepped up running program and careful dieting.  He completed his first marathon last year and June 23rd was his first time under 3½ hours.  His name? Rolet deCastella, and what a unique "double" he and his son achieved on June 23, 1979, at Point Cook!!
Rolet went on to run many more marathons, including a 2:58 at age 57.  He died of a heart attack while out running at age 73.

Just an easy 5km for me today.

Helping out

Looking towards Avoca from Terrigal Haven at the start
of this morning's run.

It's not a running story, but yesterday, as I was driving along our road, I was flagged down by two women whose friend had collapsed in a small park and stopped breathing.  After making a "000" call, I was joined by some local workers in applying CPR until the ambulance arrived twenty minutes later and the patient was then slowly resuscitated before being transported to hospital.  Apparently it was a heroin overdose.

The incident got me to thinking about some of the times when I have been out running and was called on to help someone.  Like all runners, I am quite often stopped and asked for directions to some place or other by passing drivers.  They usually assume you are running close to home and have local knowledge, but more often than not, I'm on a long run and don't know much about the area other than the route I am running.  Maybe it's a product of age, but even in Copa I couldn't tell you the name of many streets I run down frequently.  I like to think I see the big picture, and don't worry too much about the details, but that doesn't help the navigationally challenged.

Looking towards Terrigal Haven from Avoca Beach during
this morning's run.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s I was often in the habit of running at 9:00pm or later in the Melbourne suburbs. It was cooler in summer, the traffic was lighter, and it fitted with other commitments including part-time study.  One night, I was running through a park on a poorly-lit and lonely gravel path when I came up behind someone walking along the same path.  In such situations, I usually try to make a bit of noise as I approach to avoid scaring the daylights out of unsuspecting pedestrians and that's what I did in this case.  The person heard me coming, turned and waved me to stop.  It turned out to be a young woman, who seemed quite scared and shaken.  She asked me to walk her home.  I think her fear was more a product of the darkness and her imagination, than any particular threat, but I did walk her the kilometre to her home and saw her safely inside before continuing my run.

Circling around Avoca Lagoon this morning, I met Fiona,
a fellow Trotter, who is also resuming running after illness.

On another occasion, in early 1981, I set out for an early second run one Saturday because we were attending the wedding of good friends later that afternoon.  Part of my route followed the banks of a small creek/drainage canal adjacent to a railway embankment, and I was startled to see the body of an old man lying in the shallow water.  I stopped and was relieved to find he was conscious, but very disoriented and unable to get up.  This was in the days before mobile phones, and I was reluctant to leave the man where he was and seek help.  It was a little-used path and nobody was about, so I concentrated on getting him out of the creek and making sure he was comfortable.  All this took about 30 minutes before I had him safe on dry land and confident enough that I could leave him alone while I went for help.  I then ran to the nearest houses I knew of, and after a couple of "no answers", found a woman home who agreed to call an ambulance while I returned to the man.  The ambulance personnel eventually reached us on foot and it took more time to check him out and then get him back to the ambulance for a trip to hospital.  I was two hours overdue by the time I returned home and my wife had left for the wedding without me.  I was not in the good books when I reached the wedding reception, having missed the church service.

The path bordering Avoca Lagoon this morning.

The only other occasion I can remember helping someone out, other than with directions, was on an early morning winter's run from my home in Darien, Connecticut, through neighbouring south Norwalk, which had a somewhat seedy reputation.  As I was running along one darkened street, I heard the crash of breaking glass up ahead of me, and a few metres further on, made out the shape of two guys in dark clothing breaking the driver's window on a second vehicle with a hammer.  They hadn't heard me coming and I stopped about 30 metres away in the darkness, hid between a couple of cars, and yelled "Hey!" as loudly as I could.  The guys jumped and scurried off into the darkness while I waited silently and motionless for a minute or two, before continuing my journey homewards at top speed.

Today's run wasn't nearly as interesting, but I was pleased to get around my regular Thursday morning 11km at a reasonable pace.  My legs and lower back have definitely loosened up this week and I'm moving faster and more efficiently with the same effort.

Las Vegas Marathon

The early part of the 1986 Las Vegas Marathon course.

Running can add another dimension to travelling, whether for business or pleasure, and there are many posts in this blog describing the places where I have been fortunate enough to run.  Including races in travel plans can add even more to the experience.

In 1985 and 1986, my then wife, Barb, and I spent a year touring the US and Canada on a very tight budget ($20 a day plus fuel) in a campervan and ran a number of races.  Perhaps the most memorable was the Las Vegas Marathon in February 1986.  We arrived the afternoon before the race and collected our race numbers from a local running shop before going to the Polynesian Hotel ($15 per night!) on the recommendation of the running shop proprietor.  We were so poor we couldn't afford the pasta party, and instead, cooked some spaghetti bolognese in our campervan in the hotel car park and smuggled it up to our room.

The towers of Las Vegas began to take shape in the
far distance on the 1986 Las Vegas Marathon course.

On race morning, we joined our fellow competitors for the journey to the start on one of those cramped yellow American school buses.  The start was 42.2km south of town along the famed Las Vegas Boulevard, near a small local airport with minimal facilities in the middle of the desert.  By this point, the Boulevard was little more than a service road paralleling Interstate 15, the freeway to Los Angeles.  On arrival, competitors scattered in all directions into the desert looking for suitable bushes behind which to complete pre-race toileting with a modicum of privacy.

Crossing the finish line in the 1986 Las
Vegas Marathon (10th, 2:31).

To say the course was boring was an understatement.  It followed the virtually straight road all the way back to Las Vegas and the finish.  The first 13km involved a gradual climb, but then, after the course crested a rise, glimpses of the casino towers of Las Vegas were occasionally in view, shimmering in the distance.  We ran towards them, but as time passed, they never seemed to get any closer.  The scale of the vista was immense, with plenty of desert and few nearby topographical features. It was a soul-destroying place to race, but finally the city outskirts were reached.  After a few more kilometres and a few turns, we finished in the back lots behind the casinos.

Barb was second-placed female overall, and I was first in the Male 35-39 category and tenth overall.  We hung around the finish for a while, eating the free goodies, before returning to our hotel.  Later, we attended the race presentation in another hotel and discovered Barb had won $750 for her effort and I received $350 for my category win.  Neither of us had any interest in gambling but we splurged on some cheap restaurant meals before moving on the next day, one of the few couples to leave Las Vegas a lot wealthier than when we arrived.

For my training today, I ran an easy 5km around Copa, which was faster than expected.  I'm beginning to feel good.  How long can it last?

Cautious optimism

Part of the trail loop in Chiltern-Mt Pilot
National Park yesterday.

Yesterday was another day spent driving, this time the 1,000km back to Copa from Melbourne.  Even though it was supposed to be an easy day, I felt compelled to stop in at the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park en route to run a favourite 9km hilly single-track bush trail loop.  It's about three hours north of Melbourne, so is well-timed for a morning run after an early start and helps break up the journey.

McMasters Firetrail on this morning's run.

I ran very slowly, particularly at the start, and enjoyed the quiet bush solitude, disturbed only by some bird life and a few startled wallabies.  My legs were tired after Sunday's 15km, but not too bad, and I finished comfortably and refreshed.

Cockrone Lagoon on this morning's run.

My current training plan is to run longer every second day, with an easy day in between, so long as I feel my heart and lungs are good and I don't get over-tired.  So, for today's run, I again cadged a lift from Sharon to her school and then ran a somewhat circuitous 19km route, maximising the bush content, back from Erina to Copa.  It was yet another perfect day and I felt remarkably fresh as I negotiated Erina Valley, Kincumba Mountain and some of Bouddi National Park.  I ran up all of the hills, some of them quite steep and technical, but never pushed the pace to the point where I was gasping for breath.

I'm definitely fitter than a month ago when I resumed running after my two-month break, and I feel like my lungs and heart are functioning well again after the Pulmonary Embolism and Atrial Flutter scares.  I'm starting to enjoy my running again, and particularly, my ability to run longer distances on the trails.  The question now is how much further my fitness can improve and how much I can push it?  And how much is it safe to push it?  For the moment, I'll keep it "recreational".

Monument Valley

Approaching Monument Valley from the north.

One of the most spectacular places I have ever run is Monument Valley in the Navajo National Monument in Arizona.  The landscape is stereotypical "western" and a number of famous movies have been filmed there including The Searchers, How The West Was Won, Easy Rider, The Eiger Sanction and Forrest Gump.  When a runner visits, as I did in the winter of 1986, the temptation to go for a run is irresistible.

The Valley is on Najavo Indian land and there is limited access to tourists.  When we visited, you were not permitted to drive from the Visitors Centre down into the valley, though I think guided tours were available.  I didn't, however, see any signs prohibiting foot travel and didn't bother asking at the Visitors Centre in case I got an answer I didn't like (a tried and tested method).

Monument Valley.

We were out of season and I remember it being cold, but not freezing, so ideal for running.  I looked at a map and decided on a 12 mile route that would take me down into the valley and past the most spectacular outcrops.  It was a gravel road but easy running and I enjoyed the desert terrain and being dwarfed by the massive red rock spires.  Being Indian land there were a few houses down in the valley, just off the route I was running, but nobody bothered me, not even the dogs I could hear barking as I passed nearby.  The climb back out of the valley was strenuous, but I was running on a "high" and enjoyed every yard of the memorable run.

Monument Valley.

For my run today, I had arranged to meet the son of an old English friend and some of his friends for a few laps of Melbourne's 4km Tan Track.  As it turned out, the boys had had a "heavy" night and didn't make it for the run, but that was probably a good thing.  I would inevitably have become "competitive" with the youngsters and have promised myself to remain "recreational" for a while until I get more confidence in my heart's well-being.  I ended up running four laps for just under 16km and did it comfortably from a cardio-vascular perspective, but both knees ached and I never felt smooth.  I'm wondering whether the sore knees result from running too slowly, meaning the forces on my knees are different.  As I build confidence in my cardio-vascular health I will run a little faster, and hopefully, have less knee pain.  On the positive side, my adductor muscle strain was only mildly painful, so is getting better.

Old age is no fun

This bike path, suspended below the freeway, wasn't here
when I used to run this course.

I've said it before.  Old age is no fun.  I spent Thursday (two days ago) driving the 1000km down from Copa to Melbourne for a family occasion this weekend, and unbelievably, I've acquired some kind of injury.  When I left Copa I was whole and since arriving in Melbourne I have been limping around with a very painful strained adductor muscle at the top of my right leg.  I stopped for a 6km run at Reef Hills State Park to break up the journey and it's probable that after sitting in the car for so long, my ageing ligaments and muscles had trouble dealing with some very gentle running.  I did some stretching followed by about 0.5km of walking before starting my slow jog, but it wasn't enough.

Fairview Park was a favourite part of my one of my old
running courses.

It's an injury I have had before, and I'm hopeful it will come good quickly.  I took a chance yesterday morning and still ran my planned 12km along one of my old running routes.  It was slow and the adductor hurt, but not all the time.  It was a beautiful morning and I soaked it up, taking some pictures along the way, and remembering all of the times I had run some parts of the course going back more than 40 years.  Unfortunately the run aggravated the injury, or at least stopped it improving, and I was limping badly for the balance of the day.

The run travels both sides of the Yarra River.

After a good night's sleep, I decided I would still attempt a shorter run today.  The leg injury didn't feel quite so bad walking around and I drove to Wattle Park, another old training haunt, to run a couple of laps in warm and blustery conditions.  The nostalgia was enhanced by the sight of some good female distance athletes going through a track session on the park's oval under the direction of their coach.  I wondered if it ever occurred to them that runners were using the same oval for similar track sessions more than 40 years ago.  Probably not.  We never thought about earlier era athletes training on the same oval, and they probably did.  The adductor was better than yesterday and I completed the hilly course with less pain.  Maybe after another good night's sleep it will be even better.

These trees were planted just after I first
started running through here.

The whole story just reinforces to me the need to work into any run very gently if I want to avoid injury at my advanced age.  I wonder how slowly my runs will start out in 20 years time.  The signs are ominous.

Cadging a lift

Erina Valley this morning.

Running the same courses each week, month in month out, can get boring.  Of course, it's always possible to drive to another location to run, but that can be time-consuming.  I have written before about alleviating the boredom by doing some exploring (see posts titled "Getting out the door" and "Small explorations").

Climbing Kincumba Mt this morning.

Another method I have employed is to cadge a lift from a family member who is driving somewhere, get dropped off and then run home.  The distance can be varied according to taste, and of course, you don't have to take the most direct route home.  I've also done it when dropping the car off for a service, or similar, and there are other ways to work in a run somewhere different minimising the time cost.

Starting the technical descent from
Kincumba Mt this morning.

This morning, I asked Sharon to give me a lift to the school where she teaches near Erina so I could run home through Erina Valley and over Kincumba Mountain.  These are areas I know quite well, but I don't get to run through them that frequently.

It was a beautiful morning, yet again, and a number of times I reminded myself how lucky I was to have such great places to run, largely to myself, and to just be running again.  There were a few long climbs, and some technical descents, but the 14km passed easily, if slowly.  I'm starting to feel like a runner again.


The curious cassowary approaches.

Cassowaries are large flightless birds that live in northern Australia and New Guinea, ranking behind only the ostrich and emu in size.  They are reputedly hard to find, potentially dangerous and prone to chase people if disturbed.  Quoting Wikipedia: "A cassowary's three-toed feet have sharp claws. The second toe, the inner one in the medial position, sports a dagger-like claw that is 125 millimetres (5 in) long.  This claw is particularly fearsome since cassowaries sometimes kick humans and animals with their enormously powerful legs. Cassowaries can run up to 50 km/h (31 mph) through the dense forest. They can jump up to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) and they are good swimmers."

Up close and personal with the cassowary
before starting the run.

On several trips to North Queensland prior to 2011, I had only ever seen a cassowary once, glimpsed as it emerged from the jungle beside the road as we drove by.  So, when Sharon and I visited the region in 2011, an encounter seemed unlikely, though like most tourists we hoped to see one.

We visited Mission Beach, a town south of Cairns, on one day and planned to include a short 8km run through Djiru National Park along the Musgravea Trail in our activities.  The area was known for its cassowary population, and Sharon was a little nervous about the possibility of an encounter.  I, on the other hand, thought it unlikely and played down the risks should we be lucky enough to see one.

Sharon setting the pace after the cassowary
had departed.

We parked our car at the Licuala trackhead and were very surprised to find a curious cassowary wandering around the parking area, obviously not the least bothered by our presence.  It had probably been fed by tourists (discouraged) and now associated people with food.  Sharon and I stretched and walked around a little, taking some photos and waiting for the cassowary to lose interest.  It remained curious, and eventually I became impatient to start running, while Sharon remained reticent.  I set off down the trail and almost immediately the cassowary began chasing me while Sharon, who had remained stationary, called for me to stop.  I continued running, looking over my shoulder a little warily, and very conscious of the bird's sharp talons and potential speed.  The bird continued chase behind.

On the Musgravea Trail.

Eventually, I decided discretion was the better part of valour and stopped and turned around.  The cassowary also stopped, hesitated for a moment, and then just wandered off into the scrub.  We completed our run and there was no sign of it when we returned to the car park.  We had survived our cassowary encounter, and didn't see another on the trip.

I ran an easy 5km round Copa this morning, moving a little better, but with my bad right knee quite sore all the way.