Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Peacock 100K ~ How I limped through a difficult 100km mountain trail race!

Training at Kealia trail
The morning of Peacock 100K promised to be a spectacular day. I awoke at 0330 to have a relaxed breakfast and drove the 45 minutes to Dillingham airfield located at Mokuleia on the north west corner of Oahu. I felt really good about the very difficult race that I was about to embark on. I had done my training with the guidance of coach Bill Wenner and the many, many hours I had spent up on the Peacock trails mostly by myself to condition myself for this mountain trail race rated "very difficult" over single track rugged trails, dirt jeep tracks and some paved sections. Some of the single track trails had sheer drop offs and the accumulated elevation gain was approximately 19,000ft, as well as 19,000ft of accumulated descent.

Kealia trail

The camaraderie at the start of the race was palpable,Stevo drove there to see me off and meet my awesome pacer Robert, who had agreed to accompany me back up the mountain after loop1. There was an option to quit after loop1 and be recognised as having completed an ultra marathon, but this was not part of my game plan, I had come here to run "Peacock 100km". The weather out at Mokuleia was absolutely perfect, with not a cloud in the sky and because this area is fairly undeveloped with minimal light pollution, the sky was illuminated by a trillion stars. I felt amped and the race started at 0600.

I had joked beforehand about the fact that I needed some serious "Jedi mind tricks" to complete the race and that I hoped that "The Force" was with me....little did I know that this was most definitely going to be the case. Ten minutes into the race whilst clambering up the initial steep and rocky Kealia Trail a runner brushed past me to overtake causing me to sidestep at which point my foot hit a rock and I went flying face first onto the rocks. I broke my fall with my right hand which caused a bloody gash and hit my right shin on the rocks but the worst damage I felt was the searing pain in my left upper hamstring which was excruciating. I shouted out a loud expletive but the other runner was either oblivious or in too much of a hurry to stop, so I got up, dusted myself off, wiped my bloody hand on my running clothes and had to make my first decision of the day as to whether to continue or not. It only took me a couple of seconds, other runners were coming up behind me and someone retrieved my sunglasses which had fallen on the trail. I decided to continue. I had heard before that if you encountered pain on a run for any reason, it was okay to continue as long as the pain did not get worse and I decided to follow this ideology. This had just been the most unfortunate accident but I was going to test the leg out and see if it could hold up.

As I continued I knew that whatever I had thought this race was going to be before the start was going to change. I basically could not run at all initially but kept marching up the next very steep section to the best of my ability. Once I reached the undulating jeep tracks at about 2000ft, I started to try to run and managed to develope a kind of loping limp of a shuffle type run but could not lift up my left foot very high and each time my foot hit a rock it jarred the injury and sent another searing shot of pain through my hamstring. As I went along however the injury itself did not appear to be worsening, I was still able to propel myself in a forward motion, so I made my second decision to keep going. I met some wonderful runners along the way who where fantastic company along the different sections of the trail and all the volunteers at the aide stations were absolutely awesome, without them I certainly could not have finished the race in the same way.

Some of the mind boggling eye candy up on the mountain

I can only imagine what a sight I must have been limping down the steep "Long Road" section covered in dirt and bruises from my fall and obviously not going at my normal pace in my normal stride. Aside from the hamstring, my system felt good and strong and I had been really consistent in my electrolyte replacement/hydration/calorie intake and felt otherwise pretty good. The paved and horribly steep Long road was a test in itself of every ones endurance. It plummeted down from a dizzy height along a hot, black, badly paved road to sea level at which point we had to turn around and go back up it.....at midday...the first time around.....there was to be a second repeat of this on loop 2 which would thankfully be in the dark and cooler.
'Long Road' going down

I completed loop 1 in approximately 9 hours which was fairly good going considering my circumstances and my pacer Robert was waiting to accompany me back up the Kealia switchbacks and onto Are's Loop which was also up, up and more up. Everyone at the base camp was awesome and so supportive. Cheryl gave me a cup of noodle soup which at that moment was the best thing I had ever tasted in my life. I had a moment of feeling overwhelmed as I knew that my decision to continue on to Loop2 would mean that I would have another 10 hours at least in 'the house of pain', but I quickly gathered myself together and embarked on the steep trek back up the mountain. It was awful trying to heave myself up the rocks and could only do it with my right leg. The heaving capabilities of my left leg were gone.
Second time up Kealia trail

I had a mental celebration after getting up Kealia and then Robert and I proceed onto Are's loop (named after a runner who died there after an unfortunate orienteering accident). This trail is also incredibly beautiful with the most awesome scenic vistas of the north shore coastline. It was slow going as the course was steep and I had to do all the work with my right leg again, but once at the top, another mini victory and I could start my limping style run again.Initially Robert was only going to pace me to this point but he volunteered to do the more challenging ridge section with me  which I was very grateful for.I knew how fast I needed to go to make the different landmark milestones in time and could tell that this was taking a lot longer than normal but we kept going. It was great having the company and not being all alone on the trails as dusk broke and darkness began to descend. This is where being in the moment is very helpful, I was in awe of my surroundings and at how fortunate I was to be able to be experiencing this spectacular mountain top in perfect weather at night with a clear sky, again a trillion stars and a very bright new moon which hung over the Pacific Ocean illuminating the inky blackness of the water so far below us. The trail would dip down into the darkened shroud of a lush tropical rain forest and then have us rise above the crest of the hill to be on top of the world, again to descend and be swallowed up by the the trees. I found a peacock feather and stuck it in my braid and the scene of the "ENTS" from "Lord of the Rings" came to mind, as it felt like the trees were alive and watching us. I kept shining my flashlight into the boughs of the trees to see if we were being accompanied my my aumakua, the Pueo (Hawaiian Owl).

We made it over the steep and narrow single track Makua valley lookout trail and back onto the jeep tracks where I was to continue by myself. I thanked Robert at the aide station and said goodbye at which point he said that he was going to pace me for the entire 32mile (50+km) loop. He said that he could not abandon me knowing that I was struggling so much and in such discomfort and although he had never  even run a marathon in his life before, he continued on with me. Mahalo nui loa Robert, you have no idea how much I appreciate this.
So far I had made all the aide stations before the cutoffs. There had been some discrepancy about how late the station at the bottom of Long Road would be kept open, the Peacock manual had said 11pm, but earlier on my first loop they had said 1030 pm. Thanks to Rob L ,Cheryl and the volunteers at Long rd,they ensured us that it would remain open until 11pm. We got there at 1040pm and turned around for the march of death back up Long Rd. This took an hour of very precious remaining time after which my injury just screamed "NO" every time I tried to run. I also kept hitting my left foot against rocks embedded in the track which wasn't helpful. I realized going along these last six miles that I probably wasn't going to make the cutoff, but I was so glad that I hadn't been taken off the course and that I would at least be able to complete the 100 kilometres that I had set out to accomplish. As we went through the densely forested trails we saw a pair of Pueos sitting in the bough of a tree, watching us as we traversed along in the pitch dark with our headlamps. I knew that they would be there and felt strangely comforted by this fact.
At the final aide station we knew I wasn't going to make it and Rob L who was one of the race organizers reminded me that a cutoff time is an artificial number that is made up and that I mustn't worry about it because I was going to complete the race in my own time. This definitely made me feel better. We made it to the picnic table at the start of the Kealia trail descent around 2 am which was the official race cutoff and I went back down the rugged and very technical trail at a snails pace to avoid further injury. In addition to this I had developed two huge blisters, one on each of the balls of my feet which hurt like crazy going down the sharp rocks.
We reached the bottom and were welcomed by fellow HURT members and Gordon (race director) gave me a "Peacock 100K" sun visor which was very nice. Benita packed a bag of ice for my hamstring.
I could not have done this as pleasantly as I did without Robert's fantastic pacing and the camaraderie and encouragement I got along the way from fellow runners was very much appreciated and helped to spur me on, as well as a few phone calls I made to Stevo, Bill and Sian who all sent messages out so that my friends and family could see how I was doing. All of you ROCK big time and I am one of the luckiest humans alive to know you all. I. would also like to especially send out a huge thank you to the race organizers and volunteers who did a phenomenal job of hosting a spectacular event, also to my friends that encouraged me and helped me through my training and my family who had me MIA for many hours at a time whilst I was out there training. I have never regarded myself as an athlete but rather as a person who likes to "live deep and suck out the marrow of life" and the reason why I do these races is not to try and place but rather to dig deep,push through my boundaries and discover those parts about the human spirit that are not normally tapped into and find out what's there. I certainly achieved these goals and learned a lot about myself and others. To be honest I did experience a feeling of disappointment at having not made the cutoff but due to the overwhelming show of  support and the awesome messages I received afterwards I can only say that I am grateful and stoked at having completed one the hardest 100k races out there.
My goal was to find my inner Peacock...and I did for sure!
The story has a happy ending, as I was acknowledged as a finisher (unofficial).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I want to go all the way, 'til the wheels fall off and burn'!

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."

— T.S. Eliot
Yay! I have a trainer for the first time in my life! Hopefully I can become a stronger and more efficient runner with his guidance. Thanks Bill Wenner!!

Monday, August 29, 2011

My biggest ultra training 'Bonk'

This weekend I experienced my first real ‘bonk’ on a long training run. I set out at 9am in 88 degree F/31C , hot, humid weather up the steep Kealia Trail  switchbacks on the Dillingham airfield side of the Waianae mountain range. My plan was to run ‘Loop 1’ a(30+ mile/50km )of the “Peacock 100km” race course. I was training by myself which I often do and had stashed some water and Coke under some bushes at the bottom of Long Rd which was a turn around point to go back up the mountain.

 I thought  this would be enough to get me through  the last 10mile/16km leg of the route.I had plenty of water, adequate electroltes and glucose in the form of Gu, Gu chomps and Shot Blocks as well as NUUN. Unfortunately I had only packed 1 Lara Bar in my camel back, thinking that this would be enough to sustain me in terms of solid food. I hoped that the run would last no more than 9 hours bearing in mind the heat, steep terrain (at least 9500ft accumulated elevation gain).
 The run started out really well as I managed to make it up the steep switchbacks and “Oh S#*t Hill” without feeling like I was being murdered. I was doing well for the first 22miles and then bonked in the most horrible way after having come down off the mountain on Long Road, replenished my water at the stash and turned to go back up in the searing heat of the only stretch of paved road on the entire course....I ate my snack bar at the turn around and started back up the hellishly steep hill, where ¾ of the way up I actually fainted ~ (my life went into a black tunnel so I lay down on the side of the road, lost consciousness, woke up, had a Shot Block and carried on to finish a very slow 30 miles).

After I had gathered myself together again at the Peacock Flats camp ground at the top of the hill I called my friends to excuse myself for being late to the birthday dinner party they had invited me to that evening. Upon explaining why my run was taking longer than I had anticipated, my friend offered to come and look for me to get me off the mountain or help. I declined the offer as I was sure I could still make it on my own steam. The last 7-8 miles just seemed to go on and on endlessly and I was jogging along at a painfully slow pace. The cell phone reception on the mountain is patchy and  finally Steve managed to get hold of me at one point, it must have been a very low point for me because I bust into tears. He also offered to come and look for me but I declined.

 Eventually after what seemed like an eternityI reached the Kealia switchbacks going down to where my car was parked and Steve called again saying that he was at my car and would come up the mountain to give me some moral support. This was really awesome of him as it was getting dark and he would be late for his gig in Honolulu at this rate.We witnessed a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean as we snaked our way down and stepped off the trail as it was getting dark....what a day!I ended the day with doubts as to whether I will ever be able to train enough to complete Peacock 100k within the 18 hour cutoff time, but I still made it to the dinner party on the beach!
I had made mistakes leading up to this event:

1) I stayed out late the night before at a party.
2)I drank a glass of wine the night before which I don't normally do before a long run
3)I started out late in the morning when it was already hot
4)I didn't pack in enough food. This was the biggest mistake.
The next morning I awoke with the following thoughts:
Peacock" is not like a bird, it's more like a brutal beast with sharp, gnashing teeth and long talons. Going back there now to show the mountain that I'm not scared...but will do a short loop of 14miles/22.5km today as a 'recovery' run.I had a big breakfast and no wine last night...

The second run was successful!I guess I'll keep on truckin'. There is magic up there....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Peacock 100KM : Ok, so I'm going to do this....

View from the trails at Peacock Flats overlooking Makua Valley

Oh my goodness...do I really want to do this? YES, the answer is YES, I want to run an ultramarathon on my home turf and Peacock flats is one of my favourite places to escape to on the north shore of Oahu. In the same breath I will say too, that every time I run the 14mile or 21 mile loop on these mountain trails, it kicks my butt without fail...and now I'm going to repeat that, multiple times to complete this inaugural 100km race. All I have in my favor at this moment in time is my stubborness i.e if I say I'm going to do something, I do it!

Unfortunately the fact that I ran a 250km (staged survival race in the Kalahari Desert) last year does not mean much in terms of my ability to complete this non-stop race within a specific cut off time this year. That was then and this is now. I am undertrained this year and have spent the past few weeks frolicking in Amalfi, Italy, sipping on Limoncello and then recovering from jet lag and once I hit the tarmac on my return to the Hawaiian Islands I have had to work, work, work multiple 12 hour shifts at the hospital...make that...I'm exhausted.

On the up side, I have 14 weeks to train. It will have to be a crash course in building up endurance and stamina and fortuantely I can also train on the actual terrain that the race is to be held on which is brutal by the way, with gnarly steep hills that seem neverending. The other major up-side factor is that I get to spend more time with the fantastic HURT (Hawaiian Ultra Running Team) runners. In fact that almost seals the deal for me.

Get ready, lace up those trail shoes, tie the hair in braids and let's go....another ultra adventure! Yay!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sad week in Hawaii over death of a trail runner


Above is a news report on the recovery of one of the HURT trail runner's body after he had been missing on the mountain trails above Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore of Hawaii. This is an area that I love and frequently run here by myself or with other members of the Hawaiian Ultra Running Team (HURT). Are went missing last saturday after running on the trails with a group of runners and then going on ahead by himself, never arriving back at the car park. We had a memorial gathering for him today at Dillingham Airfield which is the start of the trail up the mountain. It was very moving, Are's parents and sister were there from Norway and member's of HURT, the Hawaiian Mountain and Trail Club, the Hawaiian Mountain Rescue Team , the Honolulu Marathon clinic and University of Hawaii representatives.
It appears that he had taken the wrong trail, got lost and then slipped down a steep cliff. The foliage is very dense at the moment due to high rainfall.
I was very moved by the spirit of aloha which exists in Hawaii and espescially the support shown by members of HURT, who never gave up the search even though the official search had been called off after 3 days.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Big Sur Marathon and adventure May 2011

Big Sur Coastline
I just returned to Hawaii after a fantastic marathon adventure! I met my friend Sabine in San Francisco and we embarked on a road trip down Hwy 1 to Monterey for the Big Sur Marathon. This was a unique year due to the fact that the marathon course had to be changed from a point to point to an out and back race as a bridge along the marathon route had been damaged in a storm. We arrived at Monterey and explored this seaside town with it's history made immortal in a book written by John Steinbeck (Cannery Row).
Fisherman's Wharf

We visited Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row and had a wonderful evening in the neighboring town of Carmel which was the start and finish of the race. Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel-by-the-sea from 1986-1988. It's a quaint and gorgeous little village with interesting alley ways and shops as well as an abundance of art galleries and restaurants. We took in the sunset on the beach and watched as surfers clad in thick rubber from head to toe caught very small waves while the last glimmers of the sun shimmered on the golden hued ocean.

Marathon Maniacs

The Marathon: The morning of the marathon was excruciatingly cold for someone like me coming from a tropical climate... it turned out many of the other runners felt the same as at least 100 of us lined the floors of the local Safeway seeking warmth before the start of the race. A big thank you to the management and staff of the store for being so accommodating. The temperature was in the lower 40's degrees F, but we braved the elements and stripped off the layers to run in our Marathon Maniacs tops which turned out to be a great idea because we felt part of the "Maniacs Family" during the race. All the other maniacs out there in their running shirts acknowledged us en route and at the finisher's tent. As the day and the race progressed the weather turned perfect hitting a high in the mid 70's degrees F. I was on fine form due to the cooler weather and found the very hilly course to be easy, the natural beauty to be motivating and the catering to be the best I'd ever experienced in a race. All the way I felt completely stoked and was grinning from ear to ear. It was only at mile 23/37km that my plantar faciitis really flared up to the point of me slowing down quite significantly, but I knew that I only had 3 miles to go and so "bit the bullet" so to speak and ended with a personal best time of 4:20:01. After receiving our unique Big Sur marathon medals we made our way back to Monterey, caught up with my friends Cathi and Fred who had driven their RV up from San Diego so that she could also run the marathon. They had previously done a trip across the USA from west to east coast where Fred cycled the entire distance on his bicycle and Cathi had been the support crew in the RV. We ended the day with a fabulous dinner with them.

Carmel running vistas
 Marathon Highlights:
~ this is one of the most beautiful courses I've ever run a marathon on
~ everytime I looked seaward I was in awe of the beauty and of how lucky I was to be running this particular 26miles/42km
~this race had the most aide stations I've ever encountered on  race. Before I got thirsty another row of water, gatorade, GU, fruit, portapotties without long waiting lines were available with friendly volunteers.
~Music and entertainment along the course was fun with a variety of different bands and a solo Grand pianist playing on the edge of a cliff looking seaward with sweeping views ahead
~mother nature was kind and provided us with absolutely perfect weather
~farm fresh, delicious strawberries were given to us at around mile 20
~the post marathon goodie box of food was the best I've ever had after a race

China Beach, Point Lobos Reserve

Big Sur road trip: The next day we embarked on a road trip along Big Sur. This is one of my favorite places in the world. I had discovered the beauty and tranquility of these magnificent hills covered with their majestic Redwood forests with sheer cliffs plummeting into the Pacific Ocean on a previous camping trip and was once again in heaven being there. Big Sur was the one time home to authors Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac and draws many to her undeveloped serenity for different reasons. From Nephente, boasting a large wood carved Phoenix we gazed upon the spectacular views and drove further to visit the "Secret Garden" art gallery with exotic statues, carvings and 'tree nests' woven from branches, followed by a blissful hike through a Redwood forest. It is a beautiful world we live in!

View from Nephente, Big Sur

San Francisco: I rounded off the marathon adventure with 3 more days in San Francisco which included "Boot Camp" in Golden Gate Park ~ a fun way to keep fit in the city which involved running through the park and doing interval weight training.

The Marin headlands, a perfect place for trail running

 Sabine took me to her favorite trail running areas in the Marin Headlands, a spectacular place across the bay over Golden Gate bridge, very unspoilt and a world away from the concrete jungle of the city ending with a walk through Muir Woods which made my soul feel completely happy and content. The giant and majestic Redwoods in the forest have a very powerful presence and I could not help but feel gratitude towards John Muir, environmental activist in the early 1900's. This is one of my favorite John Muir quotes:
" Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

Family tree circle ~ Muir Woods

I also explored the fascinating city of San Francisco from Haight Street to China Town an ended my whole experience by dancing Argentine Tango to nuevo tango music and a live band at a venue called Cellspace in the Mission district. What a brilliant end to another epic adventure!!!

"Live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"~ Henry David Thoreau


Friday, March 4, 2011

Argentine Tango : Awesome X-training

It was during my 250km/150mile Extreme Marathon while I was somewhere in the middle of the Kalahari Desert that I decided that upon return to Hawaii that I was absolutely and without any uncertainty going to learn how to dance the Argentine Tango. This was going to be my reward to myself for running accross a desert in 114 degree F heat, without a bath or shower for 7 days and sharing an open sided gazebo with 30 men and 6 women, getting blisters on my feet and chapped lips....I was not going to use any excuses for not doing it, like the fact that I would have to commute 2 hours to get to Honolulu and back for lessons and that I would be attending the lessons without knowing anyone there. It was set then and there in the pink rose quartz stone that I was going to dance tango....

Somewhere in the Kalahari
I'm 3 months into learning the beautiful, awesome, addictive and challenging art of Argentine Tango. Friends of mine who are familiar with this art have given me the following descriptions : " Argentine Tango does not lie down for anyone"; "Argentine tango is a magificant obsession"; and "you'll do well at Argentine Tango because you're up for a challenge". This might give the reader some idea of what I've got myself into : firstly the learning curve is extremely steep and Argentine tango is not lying down for me.Secondly it is magnificant and has become somewhat of an obsession and thirdly I am loving it because YES, I am up for a challenge!
I think that being an ultra runner and a trail runner, doing the tango has completed the circle of my Yin and Yang and brought my activities in life to a beautiful balance. This can be proven by the following set of photographs:

Fancy footwear required for my yin yang passions:
"Comme il faut" tango shoes from Buenos Aires, Argentina and Inov8 trail running shoes with "dirty girl" gaiters

Next up, both activities require specialized clothing if you want to  go all the way:

Black and red dress : essential Argentine tango colours
Desert racing essentials

Hours and hours of training:
Both of these activities require complete dedication and many hours of practice. Subsequently one picks up friends along the way. There is a difference, I have spent many, many hours running solo whilst training for events. This has always been a time of introspection and meditation for me and at times the ultimate example of living in the moment. I have also shared many runs with running buddies and met interesting and wonderful people from all over the world. Sometimes I have spent just a few minutes with a complete stanger who has helped me through an extremely difficult patch during a race who then goes on to become a friend for life and other times I've spent hours with a friend or group of people on or during an event. With Argentine Tango it takes 2 to tango, so you are never completely alone but every tango is an incredible experience of being completely in the moment, absorbed by the emotion and passion of the music for the 3 minutes or so that it lasts for, and then it's "thank you very much" and then another 3 minutes with another dancer. I feel that I have been extrememly fortunate to have started ultra running and Argentine tango in Hawaii because both communities of people are extremely kind, non-judgemental and exude the spirit of aloha, espescially to newbies like myself. The only reason that I have progressed in tango dancing over these 3 months is that I decided that I was just going to "GO FOR IT" no matter what. I didn't care that I might appear to be a complete idiot on the first day and after only a 1 hour lesson I stayed for the 2 hour Practica and "danced' continuously not really knowing what I was doing and week after week I have been doing this and have already attended an intensive Tango festival which could have been rather intimidating if the tango community had been different, but they ROCK!...and now I have learned a whole lot and am still up for the challenge of learning more and getting better.
Some of my running buddies: there are many more and everyone has played a huge role in me achieving my goals.
Heather and Julie
Heather, Julie, Jan
Paul Hopwood
Mike Muench
Chanleigh and Heather

Some of my friends and instructors in Argentine Tango:


Noriko and George: instructors

Yoko, Bruce, Murat and Michelle: instructors

Then there's the excercise:
While running speaks for itself, I must mention that I never do speed training (which is not a good thing...I need to work on that one), so I'm always going along at a fairly comfortable pace and hence enjoying it.
Since I've started Argentine tango I have discovered leg muscles that I don't normally use. I've also discovered that if you don't use your core muscles, your posture sucks and that does not look good on the dance floor, maintaining the arms in the embrace requires the use of arm muscles that one doesn't normally use. Although the arms should be relaxed, they are still 'held' up....so perfect cross training all round right there and because I'm dancing for 3 hours continuously at any given practica or milonga (or more at workshops and festivals) I get a pretty good workout .

All I can say at this point is "viva Argentine Tango"! What a great epiphany to have had on my 7 days on foot in the desert...