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28 May 2017

Reflection: It's just one point of view - my UTA story

UTA 2017 has come and gone in what seemed like a blink of an eye, the flash of a camera or an explosion of fireworks. It was an intense few days in the beautiful Blue Mountains and a fitting curtain call on what was an epic 6 month build up to race day. 


With Beau and Charley just before their UTA race - Aurora
Ultra-running is a funny sport as often best laid plans can go to waste and with so many variables inevitably encountered, what is expected doesn’t always play out. This year was certainly no different for me both as an athlete and as a coach.

Being prepared and fit to go was always a goal of mine since I crossed the line in 2016 where I was well off my best but well aware of what needed to be done in the lead up to my 5th outing in this event. My coaching goal was simple, have my athletes prepared to achieve their individual goals and learn and grow from the experience as a coach.

Slippery board walks early on - Aurora
The week leading into the race I felt great, my training had been great post pneumonia in early February and I felt I had finally got back to my best form through consistent and effective training. I was approaching the race in my best shape physically, mentally and emotionally since 2013. In short I was good to go.

My clients were ready too. I had athletes in both the UTA100 and UTA50 and expected them all to run to their potential. I pride myself on preparing my athletes for their events in the best way for their goals and ability. Smart training for rewarding racing had me feeling good about holding onto my 100% finish rate from 3 years of coaching.

"Landslide" an addition to the 50 for 2017
Aurora 
"Sometimes you have to let go of what's gone, appreciate what remains and look forward to what comes next" (Unknown)

This is true of the 10th anniversary year for all involved. Weather had its way but thankfully the event remained a go, a modified go, but still a go! I was quite unsettled on the Friday as rumours were flying around of impending course changes, I found it hard to get my head around the changes until it was officially confirmed later in the day.

For the record - Tom, Alina and crew managed to pull it off and keep the race on which is testament to their organisation and the relationships they have formed with authorities, I'm not sure anyone else could have done this given the position of the race on Friday.

When news broke officially it was first important that I accepted the decision so that I could then ensure my clients had someone to fall back onto if they had any questions or concerns. Obviously there was some anxiousness around the course changes, primarily around timing and so forth but the general feeling was still positive and as a coach I was able to feel at ease that all would be well. Personally before the official announcement of the course change I was hoping for an out and back along the cliff tops to Queen Vic and back to Scenic World as I felt it would have played more to my strengths and what I had trained for but I was still feeling good and had run sections of the new course in the past so I was somewhat familiar with it.
Bring on the finish arch - K. Gibson

My race plan was to start with purpose and settle into the run taking advantage of the good spots and conserving in the tough ones. By the top of the Golden Stairs I was aware that my body was not too keen to play ball, my legs were not clearing the lactic acid accrued, and I was hoping that after some more time settling in I would feel better. I didn’t have the leg speed needed on the fire trail often finding myself hiking sections that I should have been running and at around 19km I was starting to cramp.

I was mentally very strong and found myself having to run according to how I felt but this meant I was at too low an output and by the Megalong Rd CP I had to stop for food because I was hungry, an issue that was made worse by a later start and not adjusting my pre-race nutrition accordingly and a reduction in my heart rate due to my lower output in the last hour or so.

Post break and ready to get it done - B. Duffus
I regathered myself here, taking 5min to refuel and readjust ready for the climb up to Nellies and over to the finish. I again battled cramps just out of the CP but once they cleared I was able to consistently shuffle along to the single track where I managed a strong and steady hike to the top of the stairs. I was feeling good and closing in on the finish maintaining a fairly good effort and this allowed me to push into Katoomba with some purpose.

I managed to get moving reasonably well again and when I approached the finish arch I was feeling content and satisfied that I had done my best on the day, a time of 5:17:42 and 37th overall. My body didn’t want to come to the party on the day, I had prepared very well for this race and while this aspect is slightly disappointing I was also happy that I had dug in and battled to the end salvaging a reasonable performance. I can only feel as though I definitely had more to give but on the day I just could not get things flowing in the manner I had prepared for, as frustrating as this was it just means I have more to learn and implement in the future.

Ultra-running is always tough, some days you run fast and others you do not, UTA was somewhere in the middle this time around.

As a coach I was basically blind of what was unfolding until shortly after I finished. Kellie had been keeping an eye on things during my race and informed me that my clients were all moving along well at that point in the afternoon. With runners in both the 50 and 100 ranging from the front to towards the end of the field I was hoping that they were all having a good day out and most of all backing themselves and their ability to complete the challenge they had taken on.
Finish with purpose - M. Reeves
With some variables being thrown their way before the start it was always going to affect some differently than others. With my original start time I had planned on getting across the various CP’s to support them but with the delayed start after I had showered an eaten I based myself at the finish to ensure I could see them cross the line. All in all, I was extremely proud of each individual performance, another 100% finish rate with 5 PB times. This is both a testament to their preparation and trust in my coaching to ensure they had what it took to meet their goals for UTA.

In the wash up and upon reflection I was very fortunate at UTA in 2017. I was able to share the experience with Kellie, although she couldn’t get out on course she was still right by my side across the entire weekend. I made big steps forward in my running and while I didn’t hit the bulls eye my shot was definitely much closer than in my last 3 previous efforts. As a coach I shared a journey from sign up to finish line with many amazing and determined athletes, a privilege I take very seriously. And finally once again I was blown away by the weekend, the atmosphere, the encouragement, this event is unique and like no other sporting event I had seen nor participated in.

On the home stretch - B. Berriman
Where else would you see the first place runner take the time to genuinely talk to the runner who came across the line in the final position? Only in ultra-running.

With this in mind, recover well, be kind to yourself and take the time to restore your body and mind. I am not sure what will be next on my radar, there are some penciled plans but I have definitely taken plenty away from this event that I intend on building upon. One thing is certain in 2018 I will be lining up in an Ultra Trail Australia event, once again chasing that elusive day out in the mountains.



Photo Credits



Meg Reeves - legend mountain crusher
Ben Berriman - legend BMMC man
Kellie Gibson - legend wife
Ben Duffus - legend ultra runner
Aurora Images - official photo supplier

27 April 2017

Which Kicks for UTA?

With Ultra Trail Australia just around the corner it's time to look at the potential shoe options for race day. Whether you are running the Scenic World 951 Stair Challenge, Pace Athletic UTA22 or UTA50/100 Inov8 has a shoe for all runners and all weather conditions on race day. Here are my thoughts on a few from the current range:


X-Talon 200 - Photo Inov-8
Inov X-Talon 200 - with super grip, excellent trail feel, additional protection in the wider toe box the 200 are a great option if the race is wet or you are after a bit more grip under foot. They drain well so they will be good for those cliff top tracks while offering a bit more protection with the rubber toe guard. The grip and feel of the X-Talon range is famous and the 200 will not let you down on the mixed surfaces of the UTA course. They are designed with mountain trails in mind and from coming down Ironpot to tackling the stairs of the cliff tops runners will definitely benefit from having the 200 under foot.

Perfect for a wet UTA 50 or 100


X-Claw 275 - Photo Inov-8
Inov 8 Trail Claw 275 - these shoes are for those after more grip and support while out on course. They provide runners a good amount of protection under foot, perfect for the rocky trails around the Megalong Valley with super grip for the technical and muddy trials in the cliffs of the Jamison Valley. For those looking at being out there for a long day into the night these shoes would serve you well in May. They have aggressive grip, sound feel underfoot and are pretty lightweight for a shoe in their class so they will benefit runners in the back half of their race.

Perfect for UTA 100


Trailroc V2 - Photo Barefootinc.
Inov 8 Trailroc V2 - while having only tried these on and yet to run in them, I have spent the last fortnight falling back in love with V1 on the UTA trails. They offer super grip, excellent trail feel, solid support/protection and are a more versatile shoe for varied trails across the mountain trail of UTA. They will handle both the fire-trails as well as the single track and with a rubber toe guard they offer the support needed on tired legs later in the race. The updated V2 are looking very comfortable and will give the runner a great choice for a good day out in the mountains.

Perfect for UTA 50 or 100

Trail Talon 250 - Photo Me :)
Inov 8 Trail Talon 250 - with a super responsive, grippy and minimal feel to the sole these are great racing shoes. I find they get a bit light on support after 50km so only those who are truely after a minimal feel should go with the Trail Talon for the 100km. Anyone in the 50, 22 or 951 will benefit as they perform well across most surfaces on offer in these events.


Perfect for PACE 22

X-Talon 190 - Photo Inov8
Inov 8 X-Talon 190 - I'll throw these in for the 951. They are light, grippy, drain well and offer great trail feel, perfect for the stair climb up Furber. They'll give those after more grip in the 22 or 50 something to look at too but as far as going up those dreaded stairs quickly, having light, agile and aggressive kicks on is a good start.





Perfect for UTA 951

5 March 2017

Thriving V Surviving - 6 Foot Track Marathon

This has been my 3rd run at 6 Foot and originally when I planned my 2017 racing it was to be a big one. This is a sentimental race for most and for me it offers many positives that help in motivating me as an athlete. 

On my way to a 1st place finish on what is becoming my favourite trail race
at Wentworth Falls. Photo - XThomas Photography
My build over summer was good and unfortunately right when I pushed go I was diagnosed with pneumonia resulting in a spell in bed, away from work and training. This meant my goals needed to be re visited and the plan adjusted. With upcoming races in February at Wentworth Falls and Orange I knew I would potentially be short of the chance to get a good long run in prior to the race. 

I managed a good 30km long run, jagged an unexpected quality performance at Wenty Falls where I felt good and recovered well afterwards. I then spluttered my way to the finish in Orange a week later taxing myself more than expected with recovery being far more difficult than my normal half marathon effort. After a small block of racing, my training needed to be altered and I was focusing on quality rather than quantity, with 6 Foot fast approaching I was fast running out of time. This approach has me in good shape and I do feel I'm making real progress, but I know I am missing suitable long runs and hill sessions in my legs. Going into a race like 6 Foot where the variety of terrain, level of competition and distance of the race mean runners are truly tested from start to finish, right now to me seems like complete madness. 
Below Pinnacle Hill - I knew here I did not have the required
additional 35km in my to get to the Caves. 

6 Foot is a race that I want to thrive at and not merely survive. As a coach I would advise my athletes to always only race if they were fit and ready, so as a runner should I heed this advice? I want to be able to run 6 Foot on my terms not just holding on hoping I finish off ok, running isn't like a team sport where when you start getting flogged the opponent can back off. It's you against the course and this course throws challenges from start to finish and I'm well aware of just how taxing it can be on a prepared body let alone one underdone! 

I often get asked "are you crazy running that distance?" To which I answer… I would only be crazy if I wasn't prepared properly for that event. This time around I am not, I know this deep down and while it's hard to withdraw I need to for my health and peace of mind.

At Pinnacle where a moment clarity came across my mind.
I am now truly focused on UTA50. Since I finished last year I have wanted to arrive at that start line fit, prepared, focused and ready to run to my potential. Running 6 Foot in my current state would throw far too many variables into my training leading into UTA, similar to what I have experienced with Buffalo in previous years. Too much compromise has led to my training not being consistent and specific enough in the past. For what I want to achieve in May I need to make sure I am not forgoing specific training for unnecessary racing. 

I'm not going to make this mistake again and not racing 6 Foot in 2017 is a tough but important decision I have to make. It's not made lightly and I'm sure I'll have mixed feelings next Saturday but it means I can keep building towards UTA on my terms. No compromise, no excuses but a chance to run in manner that I feel I'm capable of. 

Hurting all the way to the finish chute not willing to give up
one place. Photo - Orange Running Festival
So I choose to thrive not just survive in my races and this year 6 Foot is one that I just can't do. It will be there next year and if I focus on it and things go to plan I will arrive at the start ready to thrive there once again.

Running is part of my lifestyle and it's something I want to do for as long as possible and being able to make the right choices when it comes to my health and racing will only increase my longevity in the sport.


Photo Credit

XThomas Photography

Orange Running Festival Shutterfly