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Some of my fellow Trotters ready for this morning's run

Terrigal Trotters held its first official Halloween Run this morning and it was a great success for the club.  A good number of members made the effort, and some made heroic efforts, to dress up for the occasion and we all had plenty of laughs.  It's rewarding to belong to a club with the critical mass of committed members sufficient to make such a social event a success.  Just another aspect of a club that plays a very large part in my life these days.  The friendly running rivalries that make runs competitive enough to be good training, and the collegial support offered by club mates have helped prolong my running career.  I have always belonged to running clubs, and most have provided a good blend of social and athletic opportunities, but Terrigal Trotters has come along at just the right time with its range of ages, genders, backgrounds, interests, abilities and inclusive culture to provide continuing motivation as my athletic capability declines.

After the run....that's me in the middle

Fortunately, the weather wasn't too warm, because running the whole 10km in my skeleton suit, including the full head covering, was a very warm affair.  I had resolved before running that I would run as fast as I felt comfortable, without worrying if I was further back in the Trotters field than usual, and that was how it worked out.  I could feel some pain in my troublesome heel, but it was hard to work out whether or not it was affecting my running efficiency, given I was running in the skeleton suit.  I've decided to go ahead with my scheduled 42km trail run tomorrow, hoping that it doesn't set me back.  If I get through it without the heel getting worse, I will gain confidence that I'm back on track.  Fingers crossed!


Running near Winter Park, Colorado

During a US road trip with Sharon and her children in June of this year, one of our early stops was a few days at Winter Park, a ski resort in the Rocky Mountains.  There was no snow, but it was still cold at night and there was snow visible at higher elevations.

Sharon and I did a few longish morning runs through the surrounding forests, including one memorable 20km run.  The runs from Winter Park tended to be all uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back and I tended to get ahead of Sharon on the climbs and get caught on the descents.  This particular run was following the usual pattern and I had a lead by the time we passed through the highest point and began our descent back to civilization.

The moose takes fright and runs off

Approaching the small town of Fraser on a gravel road, I thought I heard the tell-tale footsteps of Sharon coming up behind me, and after a hundred metres or so, turned to see how she was going.  It wasn't Sharon at all, but a young moose.  We both got a big fright and it scampered off into the forest while I tried to get a picture.

I had been telling my fellow travellers that it can be hard to see moose, and never expected to have one come to see me.  I suspect it was a young male checking me out, but don't really know.  It's always a thrill to encounter large animals in the wild.

For training today, I ran an easy 6.5km, still conscious of some sensitivity in my right heel, and followed that with nine holes of golf.  I will run a bit harder tomorrow.

Marking time

Some of the Thursday morning track group.

The day started with supervision (I use the term loosely) of the Thursday morning track session at Terrigal Haven in the light of a beautiful sunrise.  Pity about the flies!

I now live in Terrigal, having moved here from Copa nine months ago, so am within walking distance of the track sessions at The Haven.  Walking there and back, my right heel seemed OK, and I was hopeful my post-track session training run would show that it had improved.

Some of the new trail I explored this morning.

As a little more motivation, I decided to check out a pathway I had seen on the map but never run along in the 11 years I have lived on the Central Coast.  It wasn't very long, but could be used to add variety to other runs if it proved runnable.

The first couple of kilometres of running were much better, pain-wise, and my mood improved.  But by the last few kilometres of the 9km run, the pain was a little more obvious.  Nevertheless, it was better than yesterday, and with another couple of easy running days scheduled, I'm hopeful it will be ready for a long run on Sunday.

The new path was short and quite runnable, so will provide an alternative to running up or down the busy Terrigal Drive when I want a change.

Breaking the rules

This morning's short run circumnavigated Terrigal Lagoon

A common saying among runners is "listen to your body", but I've never been a great believer in this credo.  Whenever you are training hard and near the edge, you will frequently be tired and have chronic low-level injuries and other niggles.  If you didn't train on the days when these were issues, you would not be as fit.  It would be too easy to rationalise missing sessions.

These days, I almost always struggle for the first 4-5km of a run before I start to feel human, so it is important not to listen to my body or I would rarely run.  Instead, I always know what I'm going to be doing each day for about two weeks ahead, and more importantly, exactly what I am doing the next day when I go to bed.  If you are undecided, it's too easy to change your mind when you get up because of the weather, or someone else's training plan, or some niggle or fatigue

The entrance to Terrigal Lagoon

Having said all of that, today was a day when I broke my own rule.  I set out to run my scheduled 22km but after one kilometre my injured heel still felt warm and somewhat sensitive, though improved over yesterday, and much better than three days ago.  Even though I felt I could have run the distance without setting myself back, I began rationalising.  I have a 42km trail run planned for Sunday to scope out a new trail run for Trotters, and the three days before that were intended to be relatively easy.  If I took it easy today, I would only be missing one quality training session, and then have another three days for the heel to get even better before Sunday.  And the reality is that missing one quality session ten weeks before my target race (Bogong to Hotham) does not matter in the scheme of things.

So I cut my run to 6.5km, have felt guilty all day, and remain fearful that the injury is worse than I hope.  It's affecting my mood, but if I can get through Sunday's 42km "no pressure" trail run comfortably, optimism will return.

West Yellowstone

I have made several trips to the US this year and taken the opportunity to run in many different and sometimes exotic locations.  Often the runs made while travelling stick in my mind as much as any other aspect of the trips.

The view from the fire-trail south of West Yellowstone.

One from the small town of West Yellowstone, on the edge of the famed Yellowstone National Park (the best in the US in my opinion), tested me to the limit.  I had a long run in my training plan, and needed to do it from the hotel where we were staying to minimise family impact.  The few sealed roads passing through West Yellowstone were busy, given that it was peak tourist season, and often had narrow verges, making them unattractive for running.  I preferred to run on fire-trails or hiking trails anyway, though none of the latter were near West Yellowstone.

I pored over Google Maps via MapMyRun the previous evening to map out a course that would be easy to follow and give me the distance I needed (40+km). A forest road that headed south, parallelling the Montana/Wyoming state border and the western edge of Yellowstone NP, seemed the best option and I carefully examined the satellite images to verify the map information.  There was a saddle and track junction around the 22km mark that looked to be indentifiable and would mark the turnaround if I made it that far.  I tried to memorise other significant junctions, waymarks and the elevation profile since I didn't have any maps.

I set off around 7:00am on a cool and sunny morning, and despite the ideal conditions, was a little apprehensive for a number of reasons.  Firstly, to travel lighter, I wasn't carrying anything apart from my camera, so was planning to survive without fluids.  It was forecast to warm up to near 30⁰C during the day so it was going to be tough if I was out for too long.  Secondly, the run was at an average altitude of more than 2000m, high enough to affect performance, though I had been training at similar altitudes for the previous three weeks.  Thirdly it was bear country.

Looking towards Idaho from the trail.

Conscious of the distance, I started easily and enjoyed the early running along the very quiet gravel road, bordered by thick conifer forest.  If there were any bears in there, I wouldn't be able to see them, and soon I stopped thinking about them, enjoying the solitude.  The waypoints were recognisable, as was the climb up on to the plateau, and my navigational concerns also gradually abated.  After two hours, not having seen a single person or animal, the trail dipped into a grassy valley and began the climb to the saddle and my turn-around.  I was starting to feel tired and warm, and toyed with the idea of turning earlier.  However, I knew that although I would be cursing the extra distance on the way back, I would be glad I had persevered after the run.

I reached the track junction as expected and gratefully turned around, reminding myself that every step now was a step closer to the finish.  Although bordered by the forest, the road was mostly in the sun, which was now beating down.  In another hour, it was becoming a battle and by half-way back my pace had dropped to a plod and I was eagerly checking off the waymarks, which were coming way too slowly.  The last hour was ugly, but I never stopped moving, and finally made it back to town and the hotel shortly before midday.  Apart from two mountain bikers close to town, I didn't see anybody else at all on the trail, and no bears.  Though exhausted and dehydrated, I knew the training run would bring dividends, and happily set off for a day's sightseeing in Yellowstone.

My heel was tender during my run today though not as bad as I feared, and has become less painful during the day.  I will try an easy 22km tomorrow, but cut it short if necessary.


I met this guy on my walk today

The heel I hurt on yesterday's long run remains painful, but has improved.  By this afternoon, I was able to walk 5km without serious discomfort.  I'm hoping that by tomorrow it will have improved sufficiently to complete my usual Tuesday morning run with a group from Trotters.  It will be sore, but if I can get through without making it worse, some optimism will return.

However, I'm also trying to mentally prepare myself for a worse case scenario.  It's always important to know what your options are, and I have played out several in my mind.  One thing I don't want to do is to soldier on despite worsening pain.  All serious runners know the temptation when fit to keep on running, regardless of an injury, for fear of losing their fitness and wasting all the time and effort they have invested to get to that stage.

Thirty or forty years ago, I would have visited a doctor to get anti-inflammatories prescribed so that I could continue to train and race.  In retrospect, I cannot remember a time when this proved to be a sustainable solution.  Either I ended up needing to have more time off running, or in the more serious cases, surgery.  These days, I don't feel any temptation to resort to anti-inflammatories.  Better not to mask the pain so that you really know the scale of the injury.  If the injury seems bad tomorrow, I will be scaling back my training.

Mixed fortunes

Good omen?

As I left my house at 5:00am in the pre-dawn gloom to start my 37km long run, I found a $50 note on the footpath.  I hoped that was a good omen, because I really wasn't looking forward to the next three plus hours.  I felt a bit tired and sore all over from yesterday's hard 10km, and had even brought along my iPod and headphones, so that I could listen to music as a distraction (something I rarely do these days).

Once I started running, I didn't feel as bad as I expected, and after the usual four to five kilometres of warming/loosening up, I settled into a reasonable pace.  The iPod took my mind off the time ahead as many of my playlist tunes are evocative of times and people I have known - a trip down memory lane.

Lake Tuggerah

After the undulating first 12km, the next 10km to The Entrance is flat, much of it along the bike path bordering Tuggerah Lake and my pace picked up to comfortably average sub-5:00/km on a superb early morning.  Even when I started hitting some more undulations after 22km, I was maintaining my pace well.  But as I climbed a gradual hill with 9km to go, I became conscious of my chronically-injured right heel becoming very tender and painful.  Within a kilometre my pace had dropped back to 5:30/km, I was favouring my right heel significantly, and I had lost the good running form I had maintained to that point.  I plodded on to the end, not enjoying it at all and hoping that my heel problem wasn't returning to dog my life as it had done up until six months ago.

The Entrance
It's now eight hours later, and the heel is still painful to walk on, though has improved somewhat.  I just have a 5km walk scheduled for tomorrow and a shorter run on Tuesday, so I'm hoping that gives it time to recover sufficiently for the 20-25km run I had planned for Wednesday.  If not, I'll have to re-evaluate my training and racing plans for the next three weeks.  Not happy!

Am I dreaming?

Approaching the first turn-around in this morning's Trotters'
Brooks Hill 10km Time Trial (that's me in grey).
[Photo courtesy of Judy Murray]
I ran the Trotters' Brooks Hill 10km Time Trial this morning in 42:39, a time that was a little disappointing.  Of course, it's a tough 10km, there's still some stiffness and fatigue from last Sunday's Girrakool to Patonga long run, and it's hard to get the adrenalin pumping at 6:00am on a Saturday morning, but I still hoped for a faster time.

The hard reality is that my average pace over 10km this morning was almost exactly the same average pace I will need to maintain to achieve a 3 hour marathon.  Sadly, I felt like I was running flat out the whole way, and no part of the race was comfortable or enjoyable.  My heart rate average for the 10km was just 5bpm below my maximum rate!

I believe that I could maintain a pace of 15-20 seconds slower per kilometre (i.e. 4:30-35) over the marathon distance at present, which would yield a time of 3:15.  Somehow, I need to get my 10km time down to 40 minutes or less to have any hope of a sub-3 hour marathon.

If I was 40 years younger, I would be including some track sessions and short fast races to work on my speed.  However, every time I have tried track training in the last ten years, I have injured myself.  I'm also hesitant to change my current training routine which has yielded steady improvement without injury over the last six months, even though it includes little fast running.

I do believe that training and racing yield a cumulative benefit over time without the need to consciously increase the quantity or quality of your work-outs.  As you get fitter, you find your training runs get faster anyway.  On balance, I think my best approach is not to meddle with my training program and trust that speed improvement will come with time.  Nevertheless, it's hard not to get a little depressed about where I am, versus where I need to be.

Next six months

Paul Every, Phil "Spud" Murphy and Jan Herrmann, running
legends all, at the summit of Mt Bogong on the way to Mt
Hotham in the 2005 Bogong to Hotham (I'm the photographer).

As mentioned previously, the reason I have restarted posting to this blog is that I'm now quite fit and think that if I can train consistently for the next six months, I can run a good marathon.  Maybe even near 3 hours.

I've always been a bit "old school" about marathon racing, believing that you need about three months between peak efforts  -  3-4 weeks to recover, 6-8 weeks of serious training, and 2-3 weeks of taper.  Of course, the running calendar is never that neat, so I will to focus on three races in which I want to do well over the next six months (the last being the marathon), and build my training around those.

Assuming I can get my entry accepted, the first will be the Rooftop Run (aka Bogong to Hotham) on 10 January, a 64km trail race across Victoria's High Plains.  The course is very challenging, with an aggressive cut-off at 34km, and the scenery is spectacular.  I have run it a few times before (see here), but not recently.

The second race will be the annual Six Foot Track Marathon (45km) in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney on 12 March, the largest ultramarathon in Australia, and a race I have run well a few times (and badly some others).  Like the Bogong to Hotham, the course is tough and the scenery beautiful.  It attracts the best runners in the state and has great atmosphere.

2005 Bogong to Hotham finishers.

For the marathon, I wanted to find a race that had a fast certified course, and plenty of sub-3 hour finishers.  However, one major factor has limited my choice.  For much of this year, I have been looking forward to spending three or more months hiking in Ireland during the northern spring of 2016.  Originally, I was going to fly out shortly after Six Foot Track, so I would be back in Australia around the end of June - plenty of time to prepare for the Great North Walk 100s (GNW100s) in mid-September, for which I am Race Director.  Now that a road marathon is on my agenda, my hiking will need to start later, but not too late or I won't be back in time for the GNW100s preparation.

I have decided that I can get by on four weeks recovery from Six Foot Track, arguing to myself that trail races aren't as hard on the body as road marathons.  I considered the races available in Australia, but none were suitable.  The Canberra Marathon is on 10 April, but the new course is undulating and not fast.  Looking to Europe, I found the Rotterdam Marathon and the Greater Manchester Marathon, also both on 10 April, and have decided that Greater Manchester is the best choice.  It's big (~8,000 finishers), but not as big as Rotterdam, has a flat certified course, and plenty of sub-3 hour finishers (~500).

Now I just have to get to the start in good shape and hope the weather obliges.


The Trotters ready for Girrakool to Patonga
I like to think one reason for my last six months of almost uninterrupted running is that I have been giving myself longer to recover from hard runs and trying to mix trail running with road running. (Of course, it might all be luck!).

Last Sunday, I ran the annual Terrigal Trotters' Girrakool to Patonga 25km trail run through Brisbane Water National Park. It's a course that has everything - views, waterfalls, rock ledges, mountains, fern-filled valleys, caves, single-track and fire-trail - and is very popular with club members and me. If you are fit, it is very runnable, and in parts, exhilarating.

Usually on trail runs these days, I'm careful not to run technical track too quickly or descend too hard for fear of jarring my lower back and/or damaging my right heel, not to mention the other obvious risks such as falling or crashing into a tree. However, with some trail races planned over the next three months, I wanted to run hard, and gave myself permission to take some risks. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, particularly on the descents, where landing decisions are made in mid-air, the trees and rocks whistle by, and the adrenalin pumps. Apart from some minor missteps, I survived without incident and recorded what for me was a fast time.

Reaching the bottom of the last descent at Patonga beach.
Since Sunday, my body has been stiff and sore, particularly when rising in the morning.  My legs feel lethargic and my training times have been slow. But all of this was expected and I have been telling myself that by Saturday, when I hope to run a reasonable time in the Trotters' monthly time trial, I will have loosened sufficiently to be competitive. After this morning's 10km plod, I'm not so sure, but I need to have faith in my plan and approach.

Having run long on the trail last weekend, I intended to run long on the road this weekend to give my ankles and heel a rest. However, I have just learned that friends are planning a long trail run through Bouddi National Park, one of my favourites, on Sunday morning. It's a big temptation to join them, and I would probably survive unscathed, but I know that I would be wiser to stick with the road run and my longer term strategy.  We'll see!


Running around 100 kilometres a week with a body that has absorbed many thousands of kilometres over the past 46 years, and knowing that it increases the chances of a future knee replacement or other terminal injury, is not rational.

I know it, yet pride myself on generally being rational and cool-headed.

The Mayo Clinic's website lists behaviours consistent with drug addiction as
  • Feeling that you have to use the drug regularly
  • Having intense urges for the drug
  • Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
  • Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
  • Spending money on the drug, even though you can't afford it
  • Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use
  • Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn't do, such as stealing
  • Driving or doing other risky activities when you're under the influence of the drug
  • Focusing more and more time and energy on getting and using the drug
  • Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug
I can substitute "running" for "drug" (with some grammatical flexibility) in the above symptom list and many of them apply to me. I am addicted to running.

But does the running addiction matter? It may bring my running career to an earlier end. I may be getting around on a walking stick by the time grandchildren arrive. My legs may not tolerate the hiking and cycling adventures still on my bucket list. It may dominate my social life.  All of these things do matter, but others matter more.

My father is now a nursing home resident with a quality of life I have no wish to emulate. His fate has reinforced a desire to live life to the full while I have the means. I'll be 65 in six weeks and there are many ailments that could claim me in the years to come. I only have to look around my demographic.  My legs can't be the only thing wearing out.

The last six months of running has given me rewards (highs) that I thought had been consigned to history. It makes me feel alive and younger. I believe that more may be achieved with determination and good management, and I want to see how far I can go.

Tempting Fate

Waiting for the start of my comeback race in
March 2015 near St Louis, Missouri.
It has been more than fifteen months since my last blog post and for much of that time I have been unable to run.  The right heel problem referred to in my last post worsened and scans revealed significant damage. I was told that my serious running days were over (not for the first time in the last 30 years!).  The best I could reasonably hope for was to jog 5km a few times a week.

The pain was significant in multiple areas of the heel and I stopped running and started mountain biking as a means of keeping fit.  In March of this year, I resumed jogging, strongly motivated by the opportunity to run, three weeks later, a favourite event in the US for the first time since the mid-1990s. Through experimentation and experience, I have learned to manage the heel in a number of different ways.  Much to my astonishment, I have been able to run, relatively uninterrupted, for the last six months and reached a level of fitness sufficient to resurrect the faint hope of running a good marathon time.

The heel still causes me problems, along with all of the other niggles a 64 year old runner endlessly gets, but I am enjoying my running and still seeing improvement.  I have picked out a marathon in April of next year, six months away, and will now chart my progress towards that race in this blog.  To run a good time, I will have to remain relatively uninjured for the six months, an unlikely prospect.  Just restarting the blog makes me feel like I am tempting fate!