Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Moment in Time

Something strange happened today.

I ran 8km barefoot on the road/footpath/grass. Just ran around my local streets. I've never done that the day after a long race. I usually walk or rest.

I had some kind of realisation about why we choose to push our bodies daily, even when we're tired. Not a logical 'write it down' kind of thing, but something in my head understood it. An inner awareness of my whole body, every muscle, tendon, blood vessel. I have never felt more alive. It felt like when I finished the 6 foot. It was weird, but really exciting.

I didn't want to stop running. The words that you wrote on your blog a while ago kept going over in my head 'I'm a runner'.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Backing up with SMC

This was never going to be easy. A 30km run at Sydney Marathon Clinic a week after the Six Foot Track. But if I want to run ultras and finish in the cut off times, I have to keep pushing.

I felt quite good until about 15km, when frankly I ran out of gas. Nothing hurt. My joints and muscles felt great, but I was just tired. Notions of laying down on the road and having a nap kept popping into my head (I'm sure I've seen someone do that somewhere??)

It was about this point that my good friend and often running mate starting keeping me company. He encouraged me/growled at me/told me to stop being slack/ encouraged me again, right through to the end. Thanks so much. He had also done the 6Foot Track the weekend before, so we chatted about this while running.

I find the looped courses so hard mentally. I hate running past the finishing line 2 or 3 times and knowing its not the end. Still it's a good challenge.

I wore the Five Fingers again for this one. By the end I longed to have my feet back on the gound, feeling the little rocks and the grass, the change in surface every so often. I miss barefoot when I need to wear shoes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Day to Remember

Warning... warning... long wordy emotional post ahead...

The Six Foot Track.

For years I've read about it. The toughest off road marathon in Australia. Not to be taken lightly, and with an entry criteria that many would struggle to make. Myself included. So I relegated this run to the 'dream' section of my world. I'd listen to any story about it and wish that one day I could be part of such a fabulous event.

Goal One: Gain a Place in the run

With the notion of running a 4 hour marathon to enter completely out of the question, I tried a different run to gain entry. Fitzory Falls Marathon in October last year. I've heard this referred to as a 'mini 6 Foot'. After about 40k and with the cut off time slipping away, my running buddy asked me how badly I wanted to do the 6 Foot in March 08. I told him in no uncertain terms that I didn't care if I never did it!! Fatigue talking. I didn't make the cut that day, but I was damn close. After a whole lot more events and with my times getting better I decided to put an entry form in a see if I would be accepted to run. I left it to the last minute to enter for fear of being rejected. But that wasn't to be... they let me in! One goal down, 4 to go.

Goal Two: Get to the start line

It sounds silly but to train enough to get to the start line the risk of injury becomes greater. As it is with any race, but this one meant so much to me. Fast forward to Saturday 8/3/08 at 6.30am and here I am, standing with other runners in the cold, talking tactics for the race. Mine consisted of starting at the front of the 4th wave (my allocation), running fast down to the River (I go ok down tricky hills) and put some time in the bank for the long uphills. My mantra for the run was to be "Forward Momentum ". Hmmm everyone else had more complicated ones, but I was so nervous I would have choked on a more tricky scenario.

While waiting for the start, the race director, Kevin Tiller did a quick interview with me about my unusual choice of footwear for the race. Vibram Five Fingers are now my first choice and today would be no different. Kevin shook his head at me, asking if I knew how rocky and harsh the course was. I assured him I did, but really I was slightly terrified. What if I stuffed up? What if I look like a fool, limping in at the end because of my choice? Too late now, trust your training.

Goal Three: Don't get swept off the course

This race has a pacer for each wave for the 7 hour cut off and after those a sweeper, whose job it is to clear the course of those who are too slow/injured/tired to finish within a reasonable time. I decided to never look back and with luck and good management, never lay eyes on either of them.

The gun goes and we're off. Adrenaline surged and I took off down Nellies Glen. I found myself in a good position, running right at my chosen speed, not having to pass others or let anyone pass me. I found myself very emotional even at this stage, realising I had made it to a point I had once thought impossible.

I ran strongly to Cox's River, passing people who I knew would soon pass me going uphill. I stumbled once and slightly twisted my ankle, but it didn't hurt too much. Into the river, which was freezing and a bit above waist deep for me. Very refreshing though. I looked at my watch. 1hr55 to this point and 15.5k into the race. I was happy with this time, but knew I could not afford to waste time.

The climb up Mini Mini and Pluvi was the section I feared most. Knowing I would have to walk most of it, I set about walking as fast and strongly as possible. Despite the terrain and steep slopes, I LOVE this course. Every step is a joy, every twist and turn in the road is exciting. The runners, the firies manning the aid stations, the supporters made me glad to be alive and experiencing this.

I got to the top of Pluvi in 3hr53. I was secretly thrilled with that, as I had figured it would take all of 4hr10. I jumped on the mat and declared to no one in particular "I haven't been swept off yet!".

I felt invincible, for about 10 minutes, when the realisation sunk in that there was 19km to go and 3 hours to get there. I decided to try to get to 40k by the 6 hour mark, leaving me only 5k to cover in the last hour. My strategy was to run when at all possible and if I had to walk, to make sure it FAST. No dawdling, no stopping, no feeling sorry for myself.

For years I have given up at some point in every race I enter. It hurts... slow down.. you can try harder next time... you have a sore leg... you're tired... no one will think less of you if you don't make it. I have always given in. I have always regretted it. Enough of that thinking. Today would be different.

Someone ran along side me and said "I don't think I can do this anymore" and I said (mostly to myself) "We didn't come this far to go home without a medal". I never saw her again, she took off like a shot! I found a part of me I didn't know existed. I ran, walked, ran, walked and with each km, the time factor was more on my side!! I got excited when at 35k I realised I had over 90minutes to finish. I can walk that in!

Then the final test for me... cramps. Not the odd little niggling cramp, but the "OH HELP ME, my legs are stiff and won't move" cramps. Once again, I surprised even myself by calmly stretching out the cramp and resuming a jog. This happened around every 500m or so. But by jogging in between the cramps, I kept time on my side.

Crossing the road with about 7k to go, I saw some people I knew. What a boost! I ran past as they shouted words of encouragment. I knew now that only a catastrophe would stop me. I teared up again, realising how much this meant to me. Then I berated myself for being soft and girly, telling myself I still had to actually finish.

Goal Four: Getting to the end in under 7 hours

I recall looking at my watch with 5k to go and seeing the accumulated time of 6:05. 55 mins to do 5ks WOOHOO!!! I can do that. I started to get excited and even the constant cramping didn't bother me. Part of me wanted to push hard for a better time, but my legs wouldn't cooperate. I think I spent most of the last few km crying and laughing, lucky there was no one around. I even passed 3 people on the last stretch, they looked spent.

Once I got to the cobblestones, I stopped to take off my shoes. I want to run in barefoot, I want to be the 'silly girl who runs with no shoes' and I want to show that somtimes you don't have to conform to succeed. I want my girls, who are waiting at the finish line, to see that you CAN do whatever you set your heart on. I want the friends who have supported me and encouraged me to see that I now believe in myself.

I ran down those paths with more joy than I have ever felt, I was bursting! Rounding the final corner and hearing the announcer call my name was amazing. Cheering, high fives, the odd bewildered look. I put my arms in the air and let the world know how thrilled I was to be alive at that moment. I saw people who I consider to be my heroes in the running community cheering me and I stored every milisecond of it in my mind.

Goal Five: The coveted Medal

Through the finish gate in 6:50. My friend Joanne was handing out medals and I fell into her congratulatory hug and sobbed. The emotion of years of failing was let go, I had achieved what was for me, the impossible. In my world, I'd won the race, not just scraped in. My legs turned to jelly and I felt dizzy. My girls were yelling, Tim ran over and hugged me, a huge grin on his face! Vic, Craig, Maurice, Luis and others congratulated me. All people I respect and admire for so many reasons, were genuinely happy for me.

It was a moment in time that will live with me forever. The pain and pleasure was for me like the birth of my children. A tremendous joy borne out of a physically painful and mentally challenging experience.