Friday, 26 August 2016

Glenbrook Trail Marathon

Running Wild - the race organisation
Most people may think it slightly crazy to get off a long haul flight (or 3) to Australia and then head out to run a race, but the purpose of my fortnight-long visit was to hang out and catch up with family, "almost" family, and friends. My plan was to get a good long run in before meeting up with them, and then I'd be happy to just chill for the holiday.

With that in mind, I found myself heading up to the Blue Mountains within 24 hours of arrival, in order to run the Glenbrook Trail marathon. I knew it was the end of "winter" but I was in Australia and it had been in the 20s during the day so I was rather shocked to see a layer of frost on the ground and see the thermometer registering -1.5 degrees.

Not the flattest run ever!
The race rules included carrying a 500ml container for water and your own silicone cup to avoid plastic cups causing litter at the feedstations. I did not think I was likely to suffer from dehydration/heat problems (hypothermia was a possibility as I was just wearing a t-shirt and skirt), so my aim was to keep my water container "collapsed" in my pocket after drinking the contents, and just use my cup at the feed stations.

It was also a first for me to have to read the pre-race notes about snakes and other nasty beasties (the course description mentioned a resident black snake), what to do in case of a bush fire and to sign a disclaimer!! I wondered what on earth I was letting myself in for.

The beautiful Blue Mountains
There were 3 separate races on the day - my 42.2K event headed off first at 7:30am with the 34K setting off shortly afterwards, and then the 25K runners leaving last.

As we were the first runners off in the early morning frost, we even startled a few wallabies as we headed out of the carparks of Euroka Clearing and up a steep sharp climb on single track which really got the lungs and heart warmed up. We passed a waterhole (but luckily it was too cold for the resident black snake to be in evidence) and turned onto a rough forest road. Although only about 5km into the race, this was the steepest section to run as the gradient was about 20% for about 350m. However, once up this slope there was a nice runnable firetrail along to the Mount Portal lookout (over the Nepean Valley....but I didn't actually stop to take in the view and see if I could spot the Sydney Harbour Bridge way off in the distance!!).

"What goes up must come down" so the steep slope had to be descended due to the out and back nature of this route segment. By this time, the 34K runners had started so although I got to see a couple of people in my race ahead of me after they had turned round at the lookout, it was more interesting to fly past (well not I;m such a poor descender) almost the entire field of the next race as they were slogging up the hill!!

The first aid station was at about 10K, but as I didn;t feel I needed a drink I carried onto the next 2K of "fast flowing single trail". This was really pretty but did consist of rather a lot of large steps (the Blue Mountains are famous for steps on their trails). Unfortunately my stride wasn't quite the right length to be able to negotiate them easily so it wasn't all that "fast flowing" for me.

The only tarred section of the race was 100m uphill along the main road before another steep descent into a valley. There were a couple of friendly marshals directing runners off the road and onto the trail, but I took fright as I heard them shouting something about snakes to me (as it turned out they were only asking if I had wanted a jelly snake, so how I wished I'd taken the time to listen properly).

The rock-hopping descent down to the creek was made easier by some "steps" carved into the sandstone, but at the bottom I wasn't quite sure which way to go. the trail to the right looked bigger so I started heading that way, only to be called back by two helpful guys who'd seen me heading off the wrong way, so I turned round and followed them up the creek.

Red Hands Cave
This was a beautiful section to "run" as we wound round rocks and trees, crossed the creek several times, dipped in and out of lush forest, skipped over sandy pools and dodged under sandstone overhangs for several kilometres. The trail gradually climbed up passing the culturally significant "Red Hands Cave". This cave is believed to have been a safe place for indigenous women and children (the Darug people) and contains axe-grinding grooves and hand stencils dating back 1600 years.

The next aid station was at the end of this narrow trail and so I grabbed a drink of water before hitting the fire trail which gradually rose over the next 5km to the highest point on the course. It was definitely starting to heat up as the sun rose higher and I was glad to be in dappled woodland. I passed a couple of runners and then linked up with Christian, an ex-pat Brit and so we ran together, happily chatting away.

Out on the wide fire trails
Another out and back section to Nepean Lookout along a gum-lined firetrail saw Christian drop back and me close down the man in front (Stephen) though I'm not sure how happy he was about this. We had to negotiate a couple of barriers on the firetrail and unfortunately I came a cropper on one of these. I tripped on some roughness underfoot while trying to get through the narrow gap and then next thing I knew was that I was lying on the ground having hit my head and grazed my right hand. I tired to get up and run on but realised that I had completely winded myself as I was gasping for air. Stephen ran off ahead of me but Christian came up to my aid and made me stop, catch my breath, wipe the blood off my hands and wash the sand out of my face and mouth before running on with me (yeay - you can count on Team GB to look out for each other!!).

The next section was purely for the marathon runners - another out and back stretch along Pisgah Ridge. Initially this was a relatively wide non-maintained firetrail so Christian and I could still run side by side and chat, but eventually it became very narrow with overhanging branches at heights that they could catch either your head or your ankles. This section was described as an "added bonus" as the route planners had extended the single track to include a steep descent to the turnaround point and taken out some boring loops around the clearing/carparks at the start/finish.

As I headed back up through the thick bush, my right hip started to ache and so I dropped off my the pace a bit, wondering if I had actually clattered it in my fall (sure enough a bruise did develop later). Due to the out and back nature of this section, I could see fellow marathoners behind me and realised that is was unlikely that I'd be caught by the next lady, which seemed to give me a new lease of life (as did finally overhauling the early leader of the race who seemed to have "blown up" big time).
Great medal

Back on the main fire trail again, I passed Christian and knew it was just a case of trying to maintain my pace to the finish. It was hard to know who was in what race at this point as all 3 race routes had converged, though I reckoned I could work it out from our relative running speeds.
Although the last 5K was reputed to be "fast", it did seem rather long to me, and I had to force myself to keep my cadence up and keep pushing on. The ladies' CR seemed to be within my reach, even though there was a "false" sense of approaching the finish. The course took us back to the car parks of Euroka Clearing, but we popped about about as far away from the finish line as it was possible to be. A steep downhill past picnic sites and parked cars led to a sharp turn and an final uphill sprint to the (very welcome) finish line.

Food and drink = made for me!
Prize giving
The finisher's medal represented the Red Hand's Cave which we'd run past so long ago, but it felt so well earnt. Despite the fall, I managed to finish second overall (behind Stephen) in 3 hours and 16 minutes, taking a good 12 minutes off the previous ladies' CR! The prize was a voucher for food and drink in the local town, and so as my relatives had driven all the way out there to meet me, what better way could I spend my winnings than on taking everyone out for lunch!!??

Run done - I could now chill for the rest of my fortnight's fact, that's all I could do, as I'd actually done myself a lot more damage than I thought in the fall, developing bony bruising and swelling in my knee, so much so that I couldn't walk without pain for the next fortnight!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Not your average Half Marathon....

Lowther Estate
As most people know, I've not had much inclination for training and racing recently, but thought I should test the waters of my declining fitness with a nice low key race. The Lowther Trail Half Marathon was on at the weekend, but I still couldn't summon up the motivation to go and run it. On Saturday however, my friend Ant told me that he was doing it to kickstart his running and racing training for the autumn and beyond. This spurred me on to actually enter and so I headed on over there on Sunday morning (after rather too little sleep due to watching the Rio Olympics for half of the night!).

My first clue that this was not your average half marathon were the signs directing people to the "Fell Race", and the next pointer was that a sportident dibber was attached to each competitor's wrist as they registered. This led to much more of a mountain marathon feel rather than a trail race though I hoped the route would be kinder to me, despite the "warning" about taking care at the river crossing.

Having been the race medic many years prior to this, I only had some vague memories of the route (some of which were clearly wrong as I'd recalled it being 10K long rather than over 13 miles!).

Looking back up the start section

The initial downhill start was fast and uneven across the grass of the showground and after half a mile, I wondered if I'd made the wrong decision in running the race. After crossing the river we started a long drag up through the [pretty village of Askham and onto the fells. I felt that I was really struggling by the 1.5mile mark and when I spotted a local swimming pool sign (and a pub) I was tempted to stop. Nevertheless, I'd entered the race to ensure that I kept running when I felt like quitting (as I thought I might do if I'd just gone out for a 13 mile run on my own) so I pushed on - despite feeling like it was much harder than it should be, others were clearly feeling this more as I gradually overtook men as we headed up and out onto the open ground.

The Askham Fells
Everyone had to "dib" into the control at the top of the first hill to ensure there was no cutting of corners or summits but we were "rewarded" with a nice runnable downhill stretch on a mixture of grass and trail. I tried to put into practice what I had been advised about downhill running - ie look a few metres ahead rather than down at my feet, relax and let myself go, rather than unconsciously braking due to a fear of tripping and falling. It may have been the increased mental effort, or it may have been that I was consciously putting in more of an effort than usual on a downhill section, or it may have having (or not having) a horizon in my eyesight, but it did make me feel rather nauseated. It crossed my mind how embarassing it would be if I had to stop to be sick on a downhill section rather than when working hard up a hill!.

I looked at my watch as I passed a "5 mile" marker sign....although we'd actually only gone 4.5miles, it would still have been a PW (personal worst) for me for the 5 mile point in a half marathon!

After some more "undulations" with bracken and tussocks making sure I kept picking my feet up, there was a brief road section (yippee) before an arrow directed us out across open ground. With no obvious path, it was a case of picking the best route through bogs and between reeds, tussocks and thistles. Instinctively picking out good routes comes with hours and hours of this type of running, which I clearly haven't done so I did get overtaken by a man who then disappeared off over the horizon. This was unfortunate for me, as it meant that I then had to test my own navigational and contouring skills on the rough ground. A splash through a 1.5m wide creek made me wonder what all the fuss was about the advertised river crossing, as it didn't even wash off the mud I was now clothed in.

A mile later, I found there was a 15m wide river to wade through. There were marshals at each side and a rope strung across it for use as a handrail (very useful when you are stumbling around on the river bed). I found it very hard to get back into a running stride with heavy, wet (though clean) feet and legs on the far side of the river, though a marshal tried to convince me that it was "not far to go"  (Ha....I thought....only about another 6 miles!!).
Not a bad profile for a hill race, but
testing for a road runner!

The next section was a tough "hands on knees and push" climb (after an initial scratchy thistle field crossing). I admit that I'm not very good at walking up hills as I find it hard to remember to keep putting effort in when I'm walking but I confess to walking up some of this one (though I did run for longer than the guys in front of me....small victories and all that!!). At the top, there was noone in sight again, and I found it hard to spot the next bit of tape marking the route. Luckily I found a sheep trod going across the plateau in the right direction, though I did doubt myself as I'd thought the next "dibber" was at about the 8 mile point.

It was my memory playing tricks on me again, as the marshals were there holding the control 9 miles into the race. From there, we had our final section of grass-running and ended up on another minor road. I was so happy to see some tarmac (even if it did go rather steeply downhill) that I just let myself go and somehow managed a sub 6-minute mile, so gaining a few places. The road was interrupted by several cattle grids, more easily negotiated by men with larger feet/shoes, so I had to brake rather abruptly on a few occasions to avoid my feet slipping in between the bars, and by the last few grids, I opted to run round them in the rough grass.

The last couple of miles were on forest roads and were also being used for the carriage racing that was part of the Lowther Show. The carriages had right of way, so it was important to remain alert and jump off onto the verges in time as they passed as some pace.
Everyone loves a
"consumable" prize!!

The final sting in the tail of the race was a steep climb back up from the river to the Showground before dibbing in at the finish. A definite benefit to the sportident timing and checkpoints was that after the we "downloaded", we could also see (and compare) ourr splittimes for each section.

I certainly proved that I'm not very good at judging my own pace or effort when the terrain keeps changing and I haven't raced in a  while, as it turned out that I finished hot on the heels of the 10th man. Although it felt tough at the time, I'm glad I did the race, as it forced me to keep going when I'd otherwise have slowed and stopped, and the course was beautiful, with stunning views and really, a little of of everything underfoot (and obviously the icecream followed by nutella and banana crepes at the Show helped!!!)!