Happy anniversary! It has been one year since I started my trail running journey. Yeah, I had done a few small events and have been loping around the fire trails in training for most of my life, but I consider the 2014 Six Foot as being the real beginning of my love affair with dirt, bloody knees and terribly sore legs. It has been a steep learning curve, both literally and figuratively. Coming from a 800/1,500m track background, the ups, downs, uneven surfaces, river crossings, freezing cold and sapping heat encountered in a trail race was a different world.
The first few months were all about getting amongst it and testing the pins on a few tough events. My win at Six Foot in 2014 came as a shock, and also with some seriously sore legs. It taught me I needed to harden my pins up and try to do the occasional run in the mountains. Unfortunately, time didn’t really permit this to happen ahead of my second tilt at a serious off-road event, the Buffalo Stampede. This is a race that’s all about big, very steep climbs. Across the 42km journey I experienced the demoralising feeling of hiking large sections of uphill and even resorted to sliding down a couple of hills on my bum! The course was so steep I couldn’t even run and had to watch the field disappear into the distance. Thankfully I stayed positive and kept toiling, and as the terrain became more runnable I built momentum and eventually caught the leaders and stole a shared victory with Kiwi legend Vajin Armstrong. The lesson from this race was that you’re never out of the mix. Anything can happen in a long, hard trail run and as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other you’re in with a chance.
From there my next stop was The North Face 50. This is where I learnt the most important lesson of all. Thanks to a knee injury leading into the event I had missed a lot of running. But being there amongst the pre-race excitement I couldn’t help myself and decided I would still run. Setting sail at the front of the field I ran as though I hadn’t skipped a beat in the lead up and established a healthy gap at the front. However with each passing kilometre my knee got increasingly sorer until at the 40km point I could barely walk, let alone run. In the end I hobbled my way to the finish, pondering over my stupidity to think I was in good enough shape to race. The lesson learnt here was that you can’t bluff your way through these events. They require every ounce of fitness, strength and conditioning you have in you and any weakness will me exploited.
From here I had a break. My knee was rooted, I was busy with work and I had a holiday in Europe to enjoy. This holiday however, included a visit to Chamonix to check out the World Skyrunning Championships. I’d won the trip as a prize for taking out the Buffalo Stampede earlier in the year and originally intended on racing well there. Obviously, the knee injury meant I was never going to have a genuine crack at it, instead I just jogged around and enjoyed the spectacular scenery and atmosphere. Surprisingly I took a lot away from this experience. I saw how the European athletes race and the types of terrain they compete on. Also, I got to talk to many of them about training, nutrition and race tactics.
Returning from Europe I was starting to train again and ran the City to Surf for a bit of fun. I placed 5th, which came as a bit of a shock as I didn’t think I’d have the speed or fitness to do so well. From there I did a couple of small road races and picked up some wins to help regain lost confidence before tackling a new event, The Southern Highlands Challenge. The 50km of winding tracks with plenty of undulations was the perfect course to once again get back into trail running. I covered the course a little under 3 hours 20 minutes, winning comfortably and feeling great in the process. What did I learn here? Well, on this outing I tried a new tactic. Starting slowly and building into a race. I have a habit of running from the front and preferring to get out quickly and settle into a good rhythm. It’s a strategy best suited to road or track running, not the trails. The hills and uneven surface are relentless and you never really get into a steady state. It’s kind of like a fartlek where you are dipping in and out of your anaerobic zone.
From here, once again work and life meant I couldn’t train as much as I’d like and the ultra season came to an end. Summer saw a few niggles and lots of travel, as well as some good training, punctuated by a hamstring injury and subsequent rebuilding. A high note being the opportunity to race in Hong Kong at the Asian Skyrunning Championships. Here I did the 28km event, which featured a highly technical course with loads of very steep ups and downs. I ran like a dog, nursing my sore hammy and absolutely hopeless on the descents. I had my ass handed to me by the elites at the front who gave me a lesson in running on technical terrain. Placing fifth was a decent result in a strong filed and I came away from this experience knowing I had to learn to tackle the downs more aggressively.
This brings me to now – Six Foot Track 2015. I’ll be writing a race report in the next few days, but in a nutshell I put my new descending skills to the test and bombed my way down to the river, before suffering badly and dragging my energy depleted body to the finish in second place in a time of 3:20:12. A great result but well short of what I know I could run if I get the body in order.
After 12 months of running on the trails I have a new found passion for the sport and big goals for the year ahead. If the first year is anything to go by, year two will be a blast! Next stop – Mt Buller.