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Every now and then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You never can tell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just plain good fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunrise over Canberra from Red Hill.

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

The trail atop Red Hill.

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

Canberra suburbs from Red Hill.

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

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

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

A year on

Still moving well at the 12km mark.

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

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

Not quite so smooth at 25km.

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

Happy to finish.

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

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

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

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

Hattah Lakes

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.

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

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.

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

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.

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

Decisions, decisions

Tree Fern Forest in the Dandenong Ranges.

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

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

Sherbrooke Forest trail in the Dandenong Ranges.

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

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

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

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