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Human encounters


There are a number of posts in this blog about alarming and interesting encounters I have had with animals while out running, but only a few about human encounters.  Before going any further, however, I have to acknowledge that male runners face far fewer human threats than female runners. A number of females I know personally have been harassed and chased by men when out running, and we have all read stories about women runners assaulted and even killed.  I have always felt fortunate to be able to run almost anywhere I like without fearing human interference, and those few bad encounters I have had don't amount to much.

A few scary incidents have already been mentioned in this blog including being stopped by abusive Russian police while out running near Smolensk (see ‘No Visa’), being chased by two guys in a car and on foot while leading a half marathon (see ‘Unexpected Hazards’), and being followed by a guy whose car I had banged when he cut me off at a corner (see ‘A road rage story’).

Bucharest, Romania.

In the London suburb of Brixton, I sometimes felt quite intimidated by milling groups of black youths blocking the footpath during my evening running commute in the mid-1970s.  They never showed any inclination to move aside as I approached, and I always had to slow down and gently work my way through the group.  One time I received a good-natured whack across the butt with a cricket bat as I passed, but that was the worst that ever happened.

On another occasion in the mid-1970s, I was returning to our campsite from an evening run through the suburbs of Bucharest in Romania, when I met a group of loud young men and women walking towards me, line abreast, along a path.  They showed no sign of letting me pass.  I moved to the very left-hand side, where there just room to squeeze through, but as I passed one of the guys pushed the girl on the end of the line into my path.  I just had time to drop my shoulder to absorb the impact and knocked the girl heavily to the ground.  Pandemonium broke out and I didn't hang around to see if the girl was OK, instead accelerating off into the gloom.

Swan Street Bridge, Melbourne.

The only other physical encounter I can recall occurred when running across Swan Street Bridge in Melbourne one warm summer evening.  As I passed an intoxicated young guy coming the other way, he suddenly and unexpectedly swung his fist hard into my stomach.  Although briefly winded, I recovered and angrily approached him demanding to know why he had hit me.  Putting his bag down, he struck a defensive pose.  Rather than fight, I quickly grabbed his bag and ran further across the bridge.  A small crowd gathered as I hung the bag over the railing, threatening to drop it into the Yarra River below.  In the end, I cooled down, threw his bag back to him, and continued my run.

I have heard of runners being hit by objects thrown from cars, but that has never happened to me, although I did once cop a milkshake while out riding my bike.

Elwood coastline with Melbourne skyline
in the background.

Perhaps the most interesting human encounter I ever had was in the early 1980s during my regular Wednesday evening 20 mile run which incorporated a long stretch on paths along the coast of Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.  One very warm summer evening, on a more remote stretch of the path in Elwood, two young women were walking towards me along the path wearing towelling robes, apparently having been swimming or sunbathing.  I saw them exchange words and then just before I reached them, they said ‘Ta Dah!’ and both flung open their robes to reveal nothing was being worn underneath.  I must have looked shocked (and I was), and heard them laughing loudly behind me as I continued on my way.

I ran a slow and lethargic 15km this morning on the roads with a few hills.  My legs still felt heavy and stiff from Sunday's long run, although I was moving more freely by the end.  When breathing harder on the hills, I'm still occasionally getting a feeling of pressure in my chest at the base of the sternum, but there's no other evidence of a problem and I'm inclined to pass it off as just the result of breathing harder.  My resting pulse rate is now back below 40, where it was before I had the heart and lung problems late last year.

Runner's guilt

Circular Quay in Sydney this morning.

Almost every regular runner knows about runner's guilt - that feeling you have when you miss a scheduled run.  Thirty years ago, I felt runner's guilt if I did not run twice a day.  Once past my prime, the standard slipped to once a day, and in the last five or six years to six days a week as I have bowed to age and accepted that my body recovers better if I have a day off after a long run.  Each time I lowered the standard, I felt guilty for sometime, but eventually accepted the wisdom of the change.

Sydney Harbour Bridge this morning.

Yesterday, after Sunday's 47 km trail run, I walked 5km as planned.  Today, I should have run 10km.  I had an appointment in Sydney in mid-morning, which meant the run would have to be at 5:30am, but that's not a big deal.  I ran at that hour for decades of my working life.  As I went to bed, I got my gear out ready for the early start, but when setting the alarm decided that it would be better to get a good night's sleep and give the run a miss.

My rationale was that I still felt short of sleep after several days of early starts, and that my body still had some sore spots after Sunday's long run.  However, I know in my heart of hearts that you can always come up with a justification for any decision.  I suspect that I could have gone without the extra sleep, done the run, and be just fine.  Maybe even marginally fitter and lighter by the end of the week.  On the other hand, I also know that whether or not I ran 10km today will, in itself, make pretty much zero difference to how fit I am in a month or year's time.

Looking east up Sydney Harbour from the Opera House
this morning.

It's easy to say that runner's guilt is simply the manifestation of an obsession or addiction, and should be ignored.  However, this overlooks the positive aspects.  Firstly, the more days you run, the fitter you will get, so if you want to be a good runner then don't miss more days than necessary.  Secondly, the fewer days you do miss, the less likely you are to miss days in the future.  Guilt at spoiling a good record or failing to adhere to a plan will get you out running on days that you would otherwise miss.

It's not that you have to run every day, but you need a plan and then the dedication to stick to it.  My current plan is to run six days a week and to walk on the seventh, generally the day after a long run.  Today, I failed to adhere to the plan and just walked six kilometres around Sydney for exercise.  It was a beautiful sunny day, but I did feel a bit guilty.

How much is too much?

Waiting for me the first time on the Bush Bash.

Any rational analysis would suggest running 47km on trails yesterday would be tough for me.  I've only been back running for two months after two months off while I was treated for some heart and lung problems, and on Saturday, I ran our club's 10km race in 44:01, 3:30 faster than on the same course a month ago.  I hoped, rather than expected, that the 10km hadn't taken too much out of me and that by walking the steeper hills I would cope with the 47km Brisbane Water Bush Bash.

One of the smaller hills on the Bush Bash.
A week or so ago, Terrigal Trotters was contacted by the producers of a television program, Search4Hurt, to ask whether we would take one of their rookie ultra trail runners on a 40-50km run to gauge his preparation for The North Face 100km in three weeks time.  I suggested the Bush Bash because it was easily accessible in a number of places to film progress, and enlisted some friends from the club to accompany him.  As a point of pride, I wanted to do the run as well, perhaps hoping that the rookie wouldn't be that fit and I could hang on.

Misty views over Brisbane Water.

The run started with a brief on-camera interview about Terrigal Trotters and then we were off on a drizzly, misty and overcast morning for the first bike path section.  Sadly, my quads were very heavy from Saturday's run and my early pace was slow.  The leaders, including the rookie, disappeared into the distance.  I caught them at the first fire-trail junction, 8km into the run, but only because they were waiting.  Thereafter, I managed to stay in touch with the group, partly because I was moving a little better, and partly because my colleagues occasionally waited a short while for me to catch up.

The course is a real mix of terrain.  There are scenic, but boring and hard-on-the-legs, flat bike path sections, and some short road sections, but most of the course follows fire-trails along the mountain crests surrounding Brisbane Water, including very steep ascents and descents.  The intermittent rain combined with low cloud and mist made for some great scenery and atmospheric forest.  There's nothing quite like the eucalypt forests in rain and some of the views, with forested ridges interleaved with low cloud, were breathtaking.

One of the steep descents on the
Bush Bash.

The company was good, but I gave up on trying to keep up with the bunch after 26km and drifted back to run on my own.  I suddenly felt very fatigued and slowed to a plod, wondering how I was going to manage another 20km.  Fortunately, the rookie, who had found $70 on one of the trails, bought us all a drink at the South Kincumber store (they waited for me again!), and the Coke revived me a little.  I told them not to wait for me any more, and they quickly disappeared on the steep climb up Kincumba Mountain.

One of the bike path sections on the
Bush Bash.

I expected to be on my own for the last 15km, but instead developed a symbiotic relationship with Kirrily, who had not run the course before.  I tried in vain to keep up with her, causing me to run more than I would have otherwise, and she had to keep stopping at junctions, unsure of the way, to wait for me to catch up.  This worked well until the final descent, with just 2km to go, when I started to lose my equilibrium and couldn't do more than walk most of the time, taking great care on the steep descents and stairways not to fall, and cursing the unreliability of my muscles.  There was a background concern in my mind that my problems were heart-related, but it was beating regularly, and my blood pressure seemed OK.  Kirrily was concerned, but I was still thinking clearly and was confident I could finish.  I told her to go on ahead.

Another steep descent on the
Bush Bash.

I finished safely in six hours, about an hour slower than my best, and even managed to jog the last few hundred metres.  The TV guys, who wanted to go home, asked for another short interview with the rookie and me.  I was a little worried I would fall over, and hoped I was making sense.  Towards the end, I noticed Kirrily gesturing towards my feet in the background and looked down to find my shoes seething with multiple leeches looking for a feed.  The cameraman got a last close-up of the predators before I adjourned to a wet park bench and began trying to pick them off.  It took some time, but I was lucky and none drew blood.

The run definitely tested my current fitness limits, but it was satisfying to finish with all body parts, except for my very painful right Achilles tendon, in working order.  It will take me a few days to get over it, and I tossed and turned in bed with aching feet and legs last night, but when I do I will be stronger for the effort.  For today, I just walked an easy 5km.


The Terrigal Trotters crew at last year's
Macleay River Marathon.

It wasn't a big deal, but it's always good when a plan comes together.

For most of the past week I have felt stiff, sore and lethargic.  My right Achilles tendon has been particularly painful.  I have been paying the price for last Saturday's harder run, particularly the fast downhill technical sections, and Monday's 25km trail run.  Knowing I wanted to run the ANZAC Day run yesterday, the 10km Handicap today, and the 47km Bus Bash tomorrow, I decided after Monday to maintain my regular running routine this week, but to avoid pushing the pace, to run on roads and to tie my shoes more loosely.

Even surfaces and straight line running impose less strain on the Achilles, as does a slightly looser shoe, and the no pressure running was designed to address the lethargy and stiffness.  Even yesterday, I didn't feel that good, though there were some glimmers of better form near the end of the run.  But today, from the moment I started my warm-up, I felt looser and fresher, and my Achilles was the best it's been for five days.

Getting my timing chip removed after
last year's Macleay River Marathon.

Four weeks ago, on the same course as for today's 10km run, my time was 47:36.  My allocated handicap time today, based on performances last year before my heart and lung problems, was 44:00.  This ruled out any chance of a podium finish, which was a good thing. It eased what would otherwise have been self-imposed pressure to run as hard as I could.  Instead, I started the run believing that any time between 44 and 47 minutes would be good and was very happy to finish right on 44:00 after a slow start.  The plan had come together, though I still have to survive tomorrow's 47km Bush Bash.

After the run, a friend was talking about the Macleay River Marathon which is on in six weeks time.  Last year, fresh from three weeks of hiking, I ran quite well for 3:24 without getting serious about the race.  I can hardly believe it, but I'm entertaining the idea of running it again.  Three months ago, I was wondering whether I would ever run again.  Am I being stupid?  Today's race, not taken seriously, resulted in a reasonable time for my age.  With a few more miles, and a few less kilograms, it's reasonable to think I could knock a few more minutes off the 10km time and run a comparable marathon time to last year.  But am I pushing too hard?  I don't feel like it, my heartbeat has stayed regular, and I am healthy.  Perhaps I should just treat the Atrial Flutter episode as a bad memory and get on with my running life.


Terrigal Trotters head out for their ANZAC Day run.

My running club, Terrigal Trotters, has an ANZAC Day tradition of meeting at a club member's house at 6:30am, listening to a recording of Last Post and observing a moment's silence before heading out on a pack run.

Terrigal Trotters ANZAC Day Run.

Today is ANZAC Day, and about twenty runners met to continue the tradition.  It's a bit folksy, with a small wreath, a recording of Last Post, a few appropriate words from the host, and twenty runners standing around in their running gear observing a minute's silence, but poignant nevertheless.  We all take it seriously, and ponder on the twists of fate that meant many of our generation, and of preceding generations, never had the opportunity to grow families and pursue interests as we have fortunate enough to do.

Finishing the Terrigal Trotters ANZAC
Day run.

At such times, I always think of my maternal grandfather, who lied about his age to join the Australian Army in July 1917, was on his way to the UK a month later, and was wounded in the leg in France in March 1918.  He returned to the trenches a few months later where his best mate, an older soldier who had looked after him throughout their service, was killed in action.  I know the memory of this stayed with my grandfather throughout his later life which saw three children and thirteen grandchildren.  It could so easily have been my grandfather who was killed, and I wouldn't be here and nor would many of my very accomplished siblings and cousins.  It's hard not to think about the talent and opportunities lost to the world through war, and the lives directly and forever affected by the loss of loved ones.

The letter my great grandmother received informing her
that her son had been wounded in France.

Another ANZAC Day tradition seems to be rainy weather, and it was showery when we met, but the rain stayed away for a very pleasant 11km along firetrails and roads.  I'm sure we all appreciated how lucky we were to enjoy the camaraderie of friends and the health to run in such an environment.  A short time later, thunder, lightning and heavy rain arrived.

Fatty acid catalyst?

The usual source of caffeine.

I'm successfully sticking to the caffeine limit I imposed on myself of 200mg or less a day (see blog post titled "Caffeine") after being diagnosed with an Atrial Flutter at the beginning of the year.  I do miss the "feel good" surge I used to get from that strong mug of coffee on days with an early start, but I don't miss the feeling that my blood pressure and heart rate were up.  Generally, I feel healthier without that caffeine and don't think I'll ever go back.

At the time of the blog post about caffeine, I mentioned that it is a legal stimulant that may have benefits for long-distance runners.  Apart from the value of heightened alertness and positive mood, there is evidence it plays a role in energy derivation.  I don't know when the research was first published, but sometime in the 1970s I read about the value of caffeine in releasing fatty acids into the blood stream.  In simplistic terms, as I understand it, during any long distance race, the body primarily derives its fuel from its glycogen stores.  This is the most efficient source of energy but supplies are finite and likely to be exhausted before the end of a marathon.  When the glycogen stores are gone, the body begins to burn fats, a much slower process.

The fatty acids stimulated by caffeine ingestion have been shown to bring fats into the energy fuel process earlier than otherwise, so that a marathon runner's stores of the more efficient glycogen will last longer, perhaps to fuel a late surge in the race.  I read somewhere that two strong cups of coffee about an hour before running was the best timing and dosage and I did try that a number of times during my marathon running heyday.  Of course you never know whether it makes any difference, and the risk is that when you can't do it for some reason (perhaps large race logistics) it can negatively impact your mental state.

I may be smiling, but I was very sick
after this Six Foot Track Marathon.

In recent years, I haven't worried about pre-race caffeine ingestion.  One reason is the negative experience I had in the Six Foot Track Marathon a few years ago, when I was fit enough to do very well for my age.  I drank too much caffeine beforehand and was feeling "wired" by the time the race started.  I never felt good as the race progressed and had difficulty in drinking fluids at the feeding stations.  When I finished, I felt very sick, though didn't accept offered medical assistance.  I just sat in a corner for two hours not doing anything until I felt my equilibrium begin to return and I could start sipping some fluids.

I don't doubt that there are benefits as the research has shown, but to get them, there are factors such as runner weight, usual caffeine consumption, timing, etc., that need to be accounted for in developing the optimal plan.  Now that I'm sticking to my new caffeine-limited regime, I doubt that I'll worry about taking pre-race caffeine.  In fact, I have always felt that if you train over the distances you plan to race, your body will adapt to become more efficient at fuel stores and sourcing anyway.  The more you depend on some pre-race rituals - caffeine ingestion, carbo-loading, sleep - the more likely you are to come mentally unstuck if you can't follow them as planned.

I ran a variation on my usual post-track session 11km this morning, running the length of North Avoca beach and the steep climb up Coast Road instead of the usual climb up Tramway Road.  I felt fatigued right from the start, mostly in the legs, so took it easy.  I have a demanding running schedule for the next three days, and the fresher I can be tomorrow, the better.

Managing the Achilles

Today's flat even road run passing through Avoca Beach
took the pressure off my painful Achilles tendon injury.

For a year now, whenever I have been able to run consistently for a few weeks, my right Achilles tendon has become painful.  Achilles injuries have been the bane of my running life.  I guess there were deficiencies in my genetic design and an addiction to distance running didn't help.

The only long-term relief I have experienced came from major surgeries in which the tendon was cleaned up, the bursa removed, a heel spur removed and a corner of my heel bone cut off.  This was done to my left heel in my thirties and my right heel in my fifties and on both occasions it took a long time to recover.  Two earlier, less radical, surgeries on the left heel only gave relief for a couple of years each time.

Today's run included this flat section
approaching McMasters Beach.

Of course, surgery is the last resort, especially if it's going to stop you running for more than a year.  To avoid surgery, I have tried just about every possible treatment  - ice packs, massage, cortisone injections, post-run cold running water, anti-inflammatories, stretching, orthotics, heel raises, shoe heel cut-outs, running on flat surfaces, avoiding hills, doughnut bandages, alternating shoes - apart from retirement from long distance running.  My conclusion is that none of these non-surgical treatments provides a permanent solution.

At best, they are delaying actions, and that's what I feel I have been doing with my current right Achilles problem.  For a while the Hoka shoes seemed to place less strain on the Achilles (but more strain on my bad right knee).  Now, even they don't seem to provide relief.  My heel became very sore on Monday's long trail run wearing the Hokas.  For today's 15km run, I changed back to my Nike shoes and stayed on the road.  The heel was sore but didn't get worse, although I was running slowly.

I really don't want to have more surgery, so I guess I'll keep trying most things that provide temporary relief, short of cortisone or anti-inflammatories.  They just mask the problem while you do more damage.

Reliving Boston 1982

I walked 5km today to give me aching joints a chance to recover after yesterday's exertions.  My right Achilles remains quite sore and concerns me a little, but hopefully the day off running will see it improved tomorrow.

The results of this year's Boston Marathon were on the news this morning, reviving memories of the two times I have competed there (1982 and 1986).  Although I have previously written blog posts about the 1982 race, I thought I would use the occasion to reprint an article I wrote for my club, Kew Camberwell, newsletter after the event.

Crossing the line (2:22, 49th) in the
1982 Boston Marathon.

Early in February I received a telephone call from Ted Paulin at the 'Big M' Marathon Committee.  Apparently Andy Lloyd, winner of the 1981 'Big M' had declined his first prize of a trip to the 1982 Boston Marathon and as runner-up I was next in line.  Having had an Achilles operation in late November with little training since and none in the preceding three weeks I had some doubts as to whether the eleven weeks remaining to the ‘Boston' (19 April 1982) would be sufficient to get at least reasonably fit.  My surgeon gave me the green light so I mapped out a training schedule which saw me go from 0 to 120 miles per week in four weeks and totalling 1224 miles over the eleven weeks.

I took a few extra days leave and spent five days with clubmate, John, and his wife, Brenda, in California en route.  They were very interested to hear all the club news and send their regards to all their old friends.  Despite some injury problems, John is training and has recently started competing in a few fun runs.  They are living in a house in the Santa Cruz Mountains, an area not unlike the Dandenongs, where it seems to rain all the time.  In the first three months of this year they had 89" of rain (Melbourne has 26" per year) and roads were closed, rivers flooded, and landslides commonplace.  If rain wasn’t enough, John took me on some very muddy tracks and in three days I had used my entire supply of clean running gear.

The Prudential Center basement carpark
after the 1982 Boston Marathon.

From California I flew to Boston arriving four days before the race with the first vestiges of a heavy cold - the product of sunny California.  For four days I trained lightly twice daily, tried to fight off the worsening cold, watched television and attempted to read all the articles published in the press about the forthcoming marathon.  The coverage was of ‘VFL Grand Final’ proportions culminating in direct television coverage of the entire race by four different television stations.

Race day, a public holiday Monday, dawned bright and sunny and I set off by train to the Prudential Center in town from where a steady stream of buses was transporting runners to the start at Hopkinton, 26 miles away to the west.

Winner, Alberto Salazar, speaking at the medal presentation
after the 1982 Boston Marathon.

The atmosphere in Hopkinton was electric.  All roads leading into the town had been blocked by the police at 9 a.m. - 3 hours before the start - and the only motorised traffic was the buses delivering their cargoes of 'psyched-up', animated athletes.  In the town centre you could hardly move for runners and spectators whilst overhead circled four helicopters and four light planes beaming television pictures to the entire U.S.A. There were 7623 official entrants for the race plus an estimated equal number of unofficial runners (entrants must meet stiff qualifying standards before being accepted) on the narrow road for the start at midday.

The first 800 metres is steadily downhill and everyone sets off at a furious pace.  Despite holding myself back and despite it taking me 10-15 seconds to get past the starting line I still reached the first mile in 5:05.  I had resolved to run the first half of the race steadily because of the question mark over my fitness but this proved impossible.  I was literally passed by scores of runners yet went through 5 kilometres in 15:50.  It was very warm with the temperature in the low 20’s complemented by a bright sun and a slight following wind.  By 10 kilometres (32:00) I was holding my own but getting decidedly warm.  The course was lined by thousands of spectators who cheered, clapped and held out cups of water to the competitors.  For the first few miles the course passes through a series of villages which is where the crowds are at their thickest until the suburb of Wellesley is reached after eleven miles.  Here crowd support reaches new undreamt of dimensions as the runners pass the Wellesley College for women.  The girls leave a gap about one to two metres wide for the runners to pass through and scream.  If you can imagine what it is like to run quickly down a hallway lined with giant stereo speakers you may be getting close.  You start to lose touch with reality.  Unfortunately, reality just around the corner as I had feared when passing through 10 miles in 52:07.  My next seven miles were miserable as various ailments assailed me and the crowds witnessing my demise grew thicker and thicker.  By now every inch of the course was covered by onlookers often three or four deep and usually only a couple of metres apart.  At 17 miles I heard a time which indicated that at my present rate of decline I would run 2:25 or over and also that I was in approximately 130th place.

Showing off my "First Hundred" finishers
medal after the 1982 Boston Marathon.

My big ambition, apart from beating Greta Waitz, was to run in the first hundred and earn a medal.  The course now entered the Newton Hills, a series of four hills climaxing in the world-renowned Heartbreak Hill at 21 miles.  For some reason my pace began to pick up and I actually began passing people.  The heat was taking its toll and a lot at fast starters were now paying their dues.  The crowds on Heartbreak Hill were unprecedented and the noise indescribable.  To pass a runner was often difficult because of the narrow path left by the spectators who were reaching out to touch you and give you much needed cups of water.  I was really starting to motor now and set out to run the last five miles hard.  Coming down from the hills on the winding course the closeness of the crowd often meant that a runner only five metres in front of you could not be seen.  Thousands of people crowded around the last 400 metres and I found the energy to catch a few more competitors before crossing the line in 2:22:39.  My relief at the time turned to joy upon receiving a note congratulating me on being in the first hundred.  It took some hours to find out I had come 49th.

All finishers were directed into the cavernous basement car park of the Prudential Center where they could collect gear left at Hopkinton, get refreshments, have a shower and receive medical attention if necessary.  The warm conditions resulted in a lot of stretcher cases (about 600) and the underground hospital resembled a scene from the Crimean War.  The winner, Alberto Salazar, received intravenously three litres of fluid after his temperature had dropped to 88°F following the race.

Two old Kew-Camberwellians also competed in this year’s race – Trevor and Kishore – but, unfortunately, I do not have their results.

I cannot hope in this article to convey the atmosphere and excitement present at Boston. However, I do encourage all distance runners to take part in this unique event at least once for an unforgettable experience.

Pindar Cave

Climbing the trail from Wondabyne Station.

Nothing like the prospect of running somewhere new and interesting to get you out of bed in the morning.  One of my Terrigal Trotters club-mates had proposed an Easter Monday trail run with a difference, and I put my name on the list.  Nine of us met at Woy Woy Railway Station and caught the 7:23am Sydney-bound train, asking the guard to stop the train at Wondabyne as we boarded.  Wondabyne is unique, a request-only station with a platform just one carriage in length at the water's edge, accessible only by train, boat or on foot.

Looking towards the Hawkesbury River and Dangar Island
from the Pindar Cave trail.

It was clear cool and sunny as we set out from the station into Brisbane Water National Park and the chatter soon died as the steep climb took its toll.  We reached the plateau and after a kilometre, took an unmarked firetrail westwards towards Pindar Cave, a place I had never visited.

Pindar Cave.

The running became more challenging as the firetrail ended and we followed an unmaintained overgrown and scrubby foot trail.  It was narrow enough that I had to keep my head down to take the brunt of the overhanging scrub, ever ready to protect my eyes, while legs, knees and arms were scratched by prickly undergrowth.  It was dour slow running and seemed to go on forever, but it was an adventure.  There was an excellent view point en route looking south to the Hawkesbury River, and after a couple of unintended detours in the thick vegetation, we found our way to the very impressive cave, a massive sandstone overhang.  There, we surprised a family camped with a breakfast fire burning and took a break to enjoy the cavernous space, before starting the return trip.

Approaching Mount Wondabyne.

On the way out we rescued the balance of our party who had lost their way by shouting directions to help them return to the trail through the wiry scrub.  More good-natured banter.  Soon we were back on the familiar Great North Walk trail and heading eastwards towards Mount Wondabyne via a mix of technical single track, sandstone slabs, firetrail and the cool glen beneath Kariong Creek falls.

Looking down to Wondabyne Station from the top
of Mount Wondabyne.

We made the short detour to the top of Mount Wondabyne where the 360° views were exceptional.  Our starting point, Wondabyne Station, was visible way below, seemingly a stone's throw away, and it was hard to believe it had taken us so long to get to our present location.

The remainder of the run was a little ordinary, especially the sections past the Woy Woy Waste Transfer Station and the sewerage treatment plant followed by a couple of kilometres through the town, and it became quite warm.  By the time I reached my car, four hours after we had started running, I was ready to stop.  However, it was more the pain in my right Achilles and knee that were the problem rather than fatigue.  I didn't feel exhausted, and felt lucky to have enjoyed a beautiful day in the bush, visiting new places in the company of friends.  Wondabyne to Woy Woy via Pindar Cave 25km.

Bogong to Hotham

Some fellow runners at the summit of Mount Bogong
early in the 2005 Bogong to Hotham race.

The Bogong to Hotham trail race has a history dating back to 1984, and in relative terms, I am a newcomer, having run it for the first time in 2005.  However, as discussed in other posts, I have run numerous times on the Bogong High Plains and feel a special affinity for the race, especially now the Race Director is Andy Hewat, an ultrarunner and friend for whom I have great respect.  He stepped in to revive the iconic race when it was in some trouble a few years ago and it has prospered with him at the helm.

Mount Bogong (1986m) is the highest mountain in Victoria and Mount Hotham (1864m) lies at the opposite (southern) end of the Bogong High Plains making it an attractive challenge to run, or ski, between them.  An early skier, Charles Derrick, died of exposure in 1965 while trying to ski between the two when caught in a blizzard, adding to the legend of the course.

Most of the finishers of the 2005 Bogong to Hotham race.

There are several aspects of the race which I find hard to resist.  The first, as mentioned, is the history I have with the area, having hiked and run there since the early 1970s.  Many of the trails and mountains are evocative of past trips, runs and friends, dating from the times when we were young, fit and carefree.

The course is challenging in terms of both topography and meteorology.  You can get very tired very quickly on the precipitous climbs and endless tussocky plains, and the weather can be intimidating and debilitating.  However, the snow gum forests, alpine grasslands and the roaring Big River, have a remote wilderness feel to them, with brumbies plentiful and the views spectacular.

Nowadays, perhaps the most appealing aspect to me that it is a race for serious runners.  There is a cut-off point at Langfords Gap, 35km into the 64km race, of six hours.  This may seem easy, but it is not unless you are a good trail runner.  It has always been a challenge for me and I have just made it on two occasions and would have missed it on a third but for the race being cancelled because of diabolical weather.  No runners were allowed to proceed beyond Langford Gap and I was saved embarrassment.  There are other cut-offs, but this is the one that counts.

During the weather-shortened 2012
Bogong to Hotham race.

The run actually starts at the base of Mount Bogong, so it must initially be climbed along the almost completely runnable Staircase Spur before setting out for Hotham.  Being someone who fancies himself as a hill runner, I have usually gone out too hard and run as much of the climb as I can.  Thereafter comes a technical run along an exposed ridge before a steep descent through forest to the Big River Crossing which must be waded, sometimes necessarily hanging onto a wire cable for safety.  The steep switch-backing climb from Big River up Duane Spur to the treeline has often been my nemesis.  On several occasions I have reached the top too tired to pick up the pace along the relatively easy firetrail across the open High Plains and nearly missed the Langfords cut-off.

There is a different challenge after Langfords when you encounter a narrow tussocky trail for many kilometres, marked every forty metres by numbered snow poles.  It is barely a shoe-width wide and exhausting to try and land on the path with every step.  When you stray off, as you must, the risk of sprained ankles and strained muscles on the rough tussocks increases exponentially, exacerbating fatigue.  Compounding your misery can be the snow pole numbers, decreasing ever so slowly (No. 1 is near the Hotham summit), and reminding you of how far you still have to go.

During the weather-shortened 2912
Bogong to Hotham race.

There is a final helter skelter technical descent to cross the Cobungra River, this time on a footbridge, before a crushing ascent up Swindlers Spur, little of which I have ever run.  From the top of this climb, Mount Hotham seems tantalisingly close, but it's very deceptive and must be reached via a semi-circular route before a last climb to the summit cairn and the finish.  Usually it's very cold there and the joy of finishing is quickly replaced by the need to find warm clothing and shelter.

A final challenge can be the bus ride down the long switch-backed road from Mount Hotham during which the gastrointestinal fortitude of many runners, including myself, have been tested.

Today, I just ran a very easy 10km, recovering from yesterday's harder run and resting up for a trail run tomorrow.

Leon's Run

Yass Golf Club.

No running yesterday, just the drive back to Copa from the mountains with a stop for nine holes of golf at Yass on a beautiful day on a very pleasant course.  I knew I needed time to recover from Thursday's longish trail run and have found that an easy walk of five kilometres or so (even if punctuated by some terrible golf shots) is a good way to work out some of the stiffness.

It's confronting, in my sixties, to compare how long it takes to get over a long hard run these days compared to thirty years ago.  There was always fatigue and some stiffness the next day, but these days I'm practically immobile when I first get up, walking extra carefully and slowly downstairs and limping to avoid undue stress on damaged joints.  I sometimes wonder if it's a portent of life in my eighties, if I make it that far.

Glimpses of Gosford from atop Kincumba Mountain.

On the other hand, it's gratifying and often surprising to find how much improvement comes with just a day's rest or easy walking.  The thought of running yesterday had no appeal whatsoever, while today I was keen to see whether the improved strength I felt running up hills on Thursday was real or imaginary.  Although still moving gingerly after my 4:30am rising, I had confidence based on experience that once I started running I would loosen up and feel fresher.

Part of the level fire-trail atop
Kincumba Mountain.

Today's Terrigal Trotters run was the popular 14.7km "Leon's Run" from the beach to the top of Kincumba Mountain and return on a mix of road and fire-trail.  I think it's popularity stems not only from the sense of accomplishment in running to the top of the mountain (and the ensuing exhilarating descent), but also from the contrasts it offers en route - starting from the surf-lapped beach, often in the dark, and traversing sleepy suburbia to reach the forests of the mountain in the early light.  It's a serious climb, but then you get to enjoy three kilometres of  relatively level running to the turnaround point and back along the mountain crest during which you get to say hello to your clubmates travelling in the opposite direction.  If you're having a bad day, you get to see how far they are in front and who's catching you, and if you're having a good day, you get to impress those following and see who in front might be caught.

I had a good day today, considering the past four months, despite wondering a couple of times whether I could sense undue pressure in my chest during the harder parts of the ascent.  Each time, I backed off just a little so my breathing didn't become too laboured, but suspect it was just my imagination.  I definitely ran my best since the heart and lung ailments of Christmas, though there remains plenty of room for improvement.  The tank was empty for the last few kilometres.

Henry Angel

The Hume & Hovell Track.

Today's plan was to run another interesting section of the Hume & Hovell Track, this time about 18km return southwards from Henry Angel Trackhead (named after a member of the Hume & Hovell exploration party).  Both Sharon and I were quite tired after the previous two days of trail running, so we agreed to run outwards until we had had enough and then run back.

The Hume & Hovell Track.

The first part of the trail followed a creek downstream across farmland.  The foot trail was narrow and wet with dew, but the crisp sunny morning and the autumnal colours cloaking the trees bordering the creek, made it special.  The creek had been mined for gold 150 years ago, and there were lots of signposts pointing out where channels and a tunnel had been blasted out of the rocks to create races, and other mining-related artifacts.  This added another dimension to the lovely track.

At Big Hill Lookout.

After a few kilometres, we took a small detour to a lookout on Big Hill, where the Australian Alps could be seen in the distance, before returning to the trail and descending more steeply beside the cascading creek.  At 6km we crossed the Tumbarumba Creek on a shaking steel footbridge and then began a steady and often technical climb up the side of Mount Garland through Bogandyera Nature Reserve.  The trail was often precariously narrow as it made its way up the sides of steep ravines.  A trip and fall may not have been fatal, but it would be serious, and I took great care.

Crossing Tumbarumba Creek.

In all the climb was 330m over 3.5km and mostly runnable.  I was pleased that I felt fit enough to run steadily all the way up, even if it was not fast.  It was good to feel that my cardiovascular system was coping with the demands.  Eventually I reached a high point after 9.5km, and after a brief break, headed back down, chasing Sharon who had turned back earlier.  Actually, "following" might be a better word than "chasing", because it wasn't a trail for an old bloke with dicey joints to be racing down, but I enjoyed the long descent after the sweaty climb, taking in viewpoints here and there.

I was a little worried I might run out of steam on the climb back to the start point, given how technical the trail had been, but I finished strongly feeling that I am fitter than a couple of weeks ago.  Later we played nine holes of golf on a very rough and hilly country course and the fatigue started to kick in then, but it's been a great few days of running.

Blowering Damn

Crossing the Tumut River below
Blowering Dam.

After a 40km run yesterday, I would normally just go for a walk today.  But, since we are on vacation in a beautiful part of the world, I made an exception.

The plan was to run an easy 10-15km out-and-back along what I remembered to be a lovely section of the Hume & Hovell Track, following the contours high above the water of picturesque Blowering Dam surrounded by high forested mountains.  Unfortunately, little worked out as planned.

Setting out along the shores of
Blowering Dam.

Firstly, the road to the carpark beneath the dam wall, from where we hoped to start the run, was closed.  There was an alternative starting place on another road, but this meant parking two kilometres from the dam.  I was expecting to struggle, with a very sore right Achilles and knee along with general stiffness, so the thought of adding four kilometres to the run wasn't very appealing.

Dealing with bushfire deadfalls
along the trail.

The weather was again superb - cool, clear and sunny - which made my slow painful plod a little more bearable.  However, Sharon had recovered from yesterday's exertions better than me, and I was always trailing behind.  We reached the Dam wall and followed the hiking trail up the side to an overlook before connecting with the trail heading south high above the water line.

This was supposed to be the best part of the run, but unfortunately there had been a bushfire in the summer and it was totally different to my memory.  Apart from blackened trees and charred leaves and bushes, many trees had fallen across the trail causing us to make frequent stops to clamber around or through the charred trunks and branches.  It spoiled the run and we turned back earlier than planned.  Although I was very disappointed at the state of the trail, the shorter distance was probably to my advantage.  We will both be a bit fresher for tomorrow's planned run, and my chronic injuries should be less painful.

Paddy's River Dam

Paddy's River Dam.

Yesterday's exercise was just nine holes of golf at Tumut, about 5km of walking the way I play, after driving south from Copa for about six hours.  It was my plan to have a couple of days off running after hurting my hip on Saturday morning, and I was happy to find it didn't trouble me at all during the golf.

On the trail in Bago State Forest.

Today's exercise was much more ambitious.  Sharon and I are staying in Batlow (famous for its apples) for most of the week and plan to do some running each day.  Today's run was intended to be 31km loop incorporating a beautiful 15km section of the Hume & Hovell Track that I hiked a year ago, but it didn't quite work out that way.

Forestry Road in Bago State Forest.

Our start point was the serene Paddy's River Dam, a mirror smooth body of water reflecting alpine forest and clear skies, and I missed the first turn we had to make, adding 1.5km to our itinerary.  However, we were unconcerned as we tackled the correct single track trail which meandered through the snow gum forest and across grassy clearings on a cool, perfectly still, morning.  It was just a magic morning and we had it all to ourselves.

On the Hume & Hovell Track.

The run went to plan most of the way until we missed a trail, which was probably overgrown, and ended up following another firetrail which seemed to go on and on, much longer than expected.  Sharon began to doubt my navigation skills, but I was confident we were headed in the right direction, even if we were on the wrong trail.  Eventually we reached an intersection with the Hume & Hovell Track, further north than intended, and calculated we had about 10km to finish, making the total distance closer to 40km.

Although my cardiovascular system seemed to be coping fine, my back and joints had had enough, and it was a slow slog back to our car, made more tolerable by the continuing superb scenery and weather.

All in all it took us nearly six hours, but we stopped a few times and walked some of the hills in the last 10km.  Time wasn't a consideration as neither of us is as fit as we would like.  We just wanted a nice long run through some superb country and we got that.  As a bonus, Sharon disturbed a small group of brumbies (wild horses) at one point, and we saw kangaroos, an emu and an echidna while driving through the forest.