trail running

BTU110

Leading into BTU110 I had done a few long runs on the weekend and started feeling some pains in my knee in the exterior of my left knee but just like under the knee cap. It only started to feel these pains when I bent it and only after maybe 3 or 4 hours of running. I thought I was just imagining and kept pushing on.

09 July 2022 at 5:00am the race began and I was in the top 5 or 6 people. I just happened to be running a similar pace with a legend – Alexi. I was feeling great even with the steep and constant undulation until around the 40k mark or ~4-5hour mark the similar dull but consistent knee pain. I tried to run it out for another 10Ks until it started becoming unbearable – I had made it to one of the larger aid stations and rested for a few minutes and downed some noodles. Started running again and within 2ks it had come back. At the top of a hill I decided to let my position slide and try to shake it out for 20-30 minutes with squats and stretches. It killed me just to let people pass. Similar to before, the pain came straight back but faster and worse than ever. I knew at this point that I was pulling out.

The walk of shame back to the aid station was the worst part as so many people were so encouraging and checking in if I was okay. At last I made it back to base and got a lift down to the bus stop with a nice support crew.

At the end of the day, I was sure I made the right call to pull out. It only kills me now as I look at the results to see and congratulate Alexi on coming overall 3rd. I still had a lot of gas in the tank and weirdly was walking fine, just couldn’t run. 

I steeled myself and knew I had something to learn from this experience. Sharks can only move forward, I need to channel my inner shark.

What's up doc?

Without ranting too much about how long and drawn out the process was to see doctors / physios / radiologists / etc…. I decided I should get some specialist medical assessments.

  • BAD: MUST see a GP to get a referral. Seems to take longer than a week to get a booking…
  • GOOD: Opted in to get an MRI scan ($500 cost but $380 returned through Medicare)
  • GOOD: MRI report comes back with a lot of detail. but quite complex. Google and youtube help diagnose
  • BAD: GP is supposed to interpret the results but literally has no idea so just reads back the report word for word and suggests seeing a specialise.
  • GOOD: Youtube / Google doctors and physios have lots of remedies which I was following most of the 3 weeks prior to finally getting the MRI report.

The words ‘Chronic’ and ‘ACL’ scared me to see them here – however I know they’re most likely from previous injuries and I was running with them earlier. So ruling them out it’s surely ITB syndrome and Google diagnosis suggested.

Rehab = Stretching and Strengthening

A few of the materials that really helped me.

  1. Stretch ITD with towel/belt
  2. Quad stretch
  3.  Strengthen for 1 legged squats
  4. Ankle / shin flexibility and mobility
I try to do most of these every day even if it’s short – better than nothing.

1 month later...

I rested for almost 4 weeks and maybe 5 cancelled physio appointments before deciding it was time to test it out. The stretching has really helped and no pain although I’ll admit I’ve probably overdone it with almost 60ks in the last 5 days.

The Race

Preparation

  • Run, a lot
  • Buy all the gear you need – ensure mandatory kit
  • Bag pack – make sure it all fits
  • Eating bulk food leading in and during
  • Preparing listening materials
  • Walking Kelli through the plan – start hard, consistent throughout the night
  • Get to the start line EARLY

Start 9am Saturday 21 May 2022

  • Very happy with the starting first 30Ks. Blitzed it and got out in a solid leading pack.
  • Kelli said she saw me on the tracker in first place at one point, yay
  • The trail disappeared and terrain very tough
  • Literally one point saying ‘this can’t be the way, it’s too insane’. Turns out it was the way and my hesitation cost me ~20mins
  • Razorback ridge AMAZING

Aid Station 1: Standley Chasm around 630pm and dark

  • Currently in 3rd place
  • First time seeing Kelli ~8-9 hours in
  • Maybe in darker spirits knowing it was almost certain I was running all night.
  • The next 40 to the aid station weren’t as difficult as the previous 60 but I struggled to keep a running rhythm.
  • Cain (4th) caught up and boosted me through a Canyon. One of the legends last races as he gives back time to his family.
  • Once he left it was just myself… Bit daunting, so started LotR 1 audiobook. Scary witch kings, orcs, forest, barrow downs, willow.
  • Lost on the track then mr Speed Dealer (5th) overtook me. He was on speed big time. The aid station person put his condition down as ‘Hungry’

Aid Station 1: 103K and around 3am

  • Currently in 5th or 6th place
  • Kelli was asleep in the car
  • Final big aid station I did a shoe change and caught a 2nd wind then lost it. Then caught a final in the 10k end.
  • Views probably would’ve been amazing and that’s the real loss here. Esp. near the end on euro ridge where I could see nothing.
  • Kelli paced me the final 5 and almost took me down the wrong road lol
  • End at sunrise. Wasn’t completely dead.
  • Good time but feel I left a lot out there with the lost running
  • Results

Post Race

  • Snuck into a campground to shower – that was hard
  • Smashed a huge KFC feast
  • I slept in the car as Kelli drove us to Uluru for our flight back to Sydney the next day – what a legend she is!
  • Ankle / shin muscle or tendon issues plagued me for the next few weeks, next race is BTU110K in ~6 weeks post race!
WMM 2022 Final
Thank you Support Crew Dinner

Set Your Ultimate Goals

By setting your race goals first you’ll be able to plan your calendar and races to achieve these. It’s usually best to set goals into Priority Tiers (A/B/C 1st /2nd/3rd). 

For myself, my (current 01/01/2022) goals are:

  1. Priority
    1. UTMB – Ultra Trail Mont. Blanc
    2. UTMF – Ultra Trail Mount Fuji
    3. Western Mac Ellery 128K
  2. Priority (or Qualification Races)
    1. BTU 100
    2. Tamworth Trail Blazer 60K
  3. Priority (if it won’t impede my other events)
    1. UTA (50 or 100K)

Race Requirements / Entry Process

There’s not much point in looking further into a race if you can’t even enter. Look at the official website and find out how to qualify.

My example is UTMB (170K) and from my research thus far it’s one of the most difficult races to qualify for (for the general public). So if I qualify for UTMB, I should be pretty safe for all other races (still worth checking each race though).

UTMB 2022 Entry Process lists multiple criteria just to enter the lottery.

  • ‘Unique’ to UTMB: Runners who have collected Running Stones by participating in the UTWT circuit. One Running Stone will provide one entry in the lottery. You can have up to 9 stones. They must also own a valid UTMB  Index for the distance of their choice (To enter the UTMB® lottery, runners must own a valid UTMB® Index in the 100K or 100M category).
  • More Standard: Runners who have acquired the requested qualifying points. UTMB: 10 points acquired between 01/01/2019 and 31/12/2021 (in 2 races maximum). 1 Entry for the lottery.
  • Charity: making a 2,000 donation to one of the charitable associations supported by the organization
  • Be an Elite (800+ ITRA score)

My UTMB Qualification

So it’s pretty clear that I will not be able to qualify for UTMB 2022. I have 0 stones, I’m ~120 points short of being ‘Elite’ and I only have 1 qualification point.

I will airm to qualify for the 2023 event.

The most efficient way to gain entry is through Running Stones as you can have up to 9 entries. I will opt for gain as many Stones as possible but also aim for qualifying points (as this will ensure I qualify for other events such as UTMF). 

I have organised my races as below:

       
1
Race DateCategoryPurposeLocationNameStones / Points
2
9 April 20223rdOtherTamworth, NSWTamworth Trail Blazer0
3
14 May 20223rdStonesSydney, AustraliaUltra Trail Australia (50K)3
4
21 May 20221stGoalAlice Springs, NTWestern Mac Ellery (128K)5
5
9 July 20222ndPointsBrisbane, QldBTU 1005
6
27 October 20222ndStonesChang Mai, ThailandThailand by UTMB (54 / 110K)9
7
18 November 20222ndStonesCheng Du, ChinaPanda Trail by UTMB9
8
26 April 20231stGoalFuji, JapanUltra Trail Mount Fuji3
9
22 August 20231stGoalChamonix, FranceUTMB0

Finally, just because a race is not in the list now doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Just ensure it fits into your goals and plans.

Timing and Registration

Don’t miss registration dates!

  • UTMB registration: January 6 to 18: pre-registration for the lottery & registration for priority runners
  • UTMF Registration: January 7, 2022 – January 14, 2022 Lottery.
  • Western Mac Ellery Monster 128K: Online Registrations for personalised bib close: April 30th , 2022

Where you have a race that may impact performance of another, rethink and maybe cancel the lesser priority race.

Resources

Running Form Assessment

One of the things I was most excited about when I signed up for a running coach was getting my form assessed. I’d never really seen myself run before even though I do it all the time so it was good to set aside some time and record and analyse my form.

In truth, I not-so-humbly admit I thought my form was pretty good, so I was a little surprised when I had received quite a few pointers.

I made a quick summary of my form assessment and where and how I could improve:

My Running Form Assessment

I made this set of slides myself. I filmed it, sent it to coach. He drew the wireframes then analysed it. We then we went through it together where I took notes so that I could quickly put something actionable together.

Final Thoughts

My takeaways from this whole process was that

  1. There is no perfect way to run
  2. If you are comfortable and free of pain you will go far
  3. You can (easily) make (slight) corrections to make yourself a more efficient runner by conserving energy if you plan on going far (probably +21K)
  4. You can probably do your own running for assessment with the help of Google & Youtube (see final slide)

Other Reading

Why I decided to get a Running Coach

I’ve always been stubborn, thinking I can do and figure out anything by myself with my trusty friend Google as my guide. I’ve never really had any issues to date with reaching goals and seeing parts of improvement, however only the other week, I realised that I was destined for greater distances which scared me. Instead of fumbling around in Google with slow progress, I wanted to fast-track my understanding and preparation to reach my newly established goal: to compete in true Ultra Marathons further than 100K. 

  • To compete and complete the holy grail of Ultra Marathons: Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) (171 km +10,040 m) in Chamonix, France
  • Run (one of) the most prestigious Ultra Marathons in my home away from home; Japan. Running the circumference of Mount Fuji 160+km and ~9,500m elevation.
  • Compete in the heart of Australia in what looks like a different universe: The Western Mac’s 128 km Ellery Monster on the Larapinta Trail

My longest run until writing has only been 50kms which took a bit under 5 hours. Looking at these races where the fastest elites run it in ~20 hours, saying I was concerned (but maybe to a more extent, excited) was understatement. Like when I first looked up protein powder, I was hit with an overload of information that I didn’t want to digest. I went googling for running coaches with the main aim to be information gathering rather than a typical 12 week training program. I found a few podcasts by Mile27 and listening to their podcasts on a long drive, I knew these guys had the breadth of knowledge I wanted. How to best prepare yourself to run long and run hard.

Review of Running Coaching

At time of writing I’m on my 4th week with my coach and I will not continue forward. I have gained a lot of drive and passion for running and specifically understanding how different training plans impact performance. 

As I mentioned, I went to a coach with the intention of learning and not to do simple weekly programs. I believe my expectations are actually that of hiring a running coach to become a running coach – not a runner. So probably my bad, but this has given me the drive to listen to most of the Science of Ultra podcasts (maybe 50 hours) and with what I have learned through doing these weekly session of which I’ve never really done before (intervals, hill effort repeats, recovery days, progression runs, etc) as opposed to just going out for a jog.

Another big piece of motivation I’ll take away from this is that running is hard, ultra marathons even moreso. If I’m able to learn all of this and self coach myself to successful ultra(s) then I’ll be even more proud of myself.

Final Thoughts

Running coaches can be a great tool especially for people wanting to get some variety in their game. You may be in for a rude shock if you want to be like me and learn so you can coach yourself, they are not too keen to share their coaching secrets! Many of the top endurance runners don’t have coaches (although they have had them historically and probably learnt what they needed from them to coach themselves @killianJornet). 

Running is hard. You are ultimately the best coach. Listen to advice and the body and learn from others to improve. If you lack discipline, coaches are probably amazing for you. If you are self motivated to get out running and also to learn, then maybe you’re better off alone.

Continue Reading

Why did I want to run 50K?

Why not? To be honest, being impressive is a big motivator for me. A lot of people have goals to run 5K or 10K, so why not just push for something ridiculous? Similar to what Goggins says ‘be uncommon amongst the uncommon’ is something that really resonates with me. Most people have goals – I prefer to have challenges, it makes them all the more rewarding when you achieve them. Other examples:

Why was this my time to run an Ultra Marathon?

Firstly, the plain definition of an Ultra is a long-distance running race that is longer than a marathon (42.2K). My definition is more like Trail Running for any distance 42.2K or longer. Some people think you need years or months of training to run this length. There are plenty of stories out there saying otherwise and I tend to stick with the belief that almost any semi-fit person can complete an ultra – the manner or time in which you complete it is to your own standard. It may take someone with next to no training 10 hours to walk the whole thing, but they will have still completed one!

With this belief, one late night I finally made the plunge onto the internet to find some challenges. I found this one: Warburton Trail Festival – Lumberjack 50K.

As I read through it, I thought I had seen it before. It took a while, but I remembered the Beau ‘Bean’ Miles ran this same one in his video: The Human Bean: 40 days on a tin-bean diet

As a giant fan of Beau, I knew this was the one. With next to zero training, I signed up there and then, locked and loaded for my first Ultra. Upon signing up, I just wanted to complete one in a decent time without walking – i.e not first, or at 5min/km pace. The goal / challenge of 50K was enough – or so I thought. 

My Preparation and Training

Checking through my emails, I signed up at: 

Date: 28/01/2021
Time: 11:17 PM

The race was on Saturday, 6 March 2021, so that gave me a massive 36 days to train up. After looking at my Strava history, it was clear that I had not put in the training yet to get anywhere near 50K. I knew that I would have to really start upping the KMs to even have the confidence to get down to Melbourne and to the starting line.

Extract of longer runs from sign up date:

It was clear that over the next few weeks I would have to put in a lot of time into running. I would usually write up a plan for these things, but I just knew I needed to put in the time. In hindsight I would suggest POST TBC: How to prepare for an Ultra Marathon. I had a look at the elevation profile and type of running that would be expected and tried my best to mimic my training around that.

Weight

Pretty simply, it’s easier to run long distances when you carry less weight. At registration I was around 78kg. I thought anything under 74kg would be good and that would naturally come through more running. I ended up coming down to 72kg.

Diet

Food provides you with energy. I needed energy so I was eating a lotttt. Breakfast usually consisted of muesli with some fruits (banana, mixed berries). I cannot stress how important bananas are for me. Lunch and dinner was usually 1 part vegetables, 1 part protein (meat or vegetable protein) and 1 part carb (flat bread). So 67% of my meals were a burrito mix 🌯.

Listen to your body

This is the most important. Listen and learn. I found that bananas really gave me energy. I made my own energy gels using bananas, BCAA capsules, caffeine pills, frozen berries, cinnamon, muesli, etc. I stored it in a chilli bottle

I went out the first day and ran 21K on trails. Knowing that’s not enough, I thought running on tired legs would help build strength. I think I pushed too hard as my knee started to feel pain towards the end of the 21K footpath run. In hindsight I should have stopped but being around 18K in, I couldn’t do it to my pride. It wasn’t anything serious, but to recover I had to keep it to the elliptical machine.

Training types and environment

I’m a firm believer in training in the environment you will compete in. Luckily for me, Lane Cove National Park is basically my backyard, so it was easy to run trails. I would recommend mixing it up to incorporate hills, long distance and short speed (maybe not sprints though).

Study the map

Load gps on watch.

Pre race

Probably better for another article – Working Holidays – making the most of COVID changes in workstyle.

  • Collect your bib! Day before if possible
  • Charge your GPS watch
  • Prepare your gear the night before
  • Prep your breakfast
  • Eat big eat early
  • Arrive with time

Race Day

The hardest part of the day was waking Kel up early to drive me there and back! We arrived early and I couldn’t believe my eyes, Beau ‘The Bean’ Miles was there, as the Lumberjack again! I walked straight over and introduced myself and wished him good luck with the race. 

As with anything that means a lot to me, I felt nervous at the starting line getting the racing brief. Unlike most races, the starting bell for this one is not a horn, but when the Lumberjack cuts through the log (see video). 

The run started well and I was probably towards the middle/front of the pack which was unexpected as the athletes looked very fit. Started at roughly 5:00mins per Kilometre until we hit the wall of elevation – roughly 700m of 20-30% incline. I had often thought of myself as a downhill specialist, however I was powering past my initial group and took off once we got to the top. 

It was cold which helped keep the heart rate down as I raced onwards through the more technical and wetter terrain. I had skipped past the first few aid stations as I wasn’t drinking as much water in the cold as I would during my Sydney training. I eventually caught up to a few others on the trail and actually made somewhat of a trail mate as we paced well together. At the 30K mark I had to let my running buddy go as I started to feel ill, a first. I quickly realised I hadn’t had anything at all to eat, so squeezed down my whole chilli bottle of Banana energy. After 10-ish minutes I was ready to roll and hammered down hill, barnstorming the next 15kms.

With only 5-10K’s to go, I realised I had this in the bag! From roughly 45kms, the course was mostly gravel. I kept looking back to ensure no one was trying to pip me towards the end. I had originally told Kel I would be roughly arriving after 5:00hrs assuming I was running a solid time. I had to text her mid water crossing to let her know I was ahead of schedule. As I was streaming down one side of the river I saw her running towards the finish line. Crossing the line I thought I would feel something – all I felt was exhaustion. Asking the officials for my place, they had surprised me to the extreme. I had come in 10th out of 152 athletes – for my first Ultra Marathon. There it was – that sense of accomplishment and jubilation that I had way overachieved on my expectations. 

www.strava.com/activities/4897209180

Post Race

Celebrated with an ice bath in the Yarra River. The freezing water I think helped with recovery and muscle soreness as I wasn’t completely gassed the next few days.

I never really started running until I went to Uni. I had always thought of myself as too stocky or thicc to ever get into long distance – ‘it’s just the way I’m built’ I would tell myself. After years of mediocre attempts at running around the neighbourhood (just 5km or so in 25ish minutes) I started living with a guy who was actually good at running, Carl Puchner. Even though the guy ate a full pizza every night for dinner and KFC for lunch he had the perfect runner’s physique.

We’d often go on short jogs together on concrete around Chatswood where I’d just be slowing him down. One fateful day I was exploring the neighbourhood and found a nice little jungle path and thought to take it at some pace. I took Carl back here and thought we could do it together and found out I was actually able to keep up (or even slightly ahead) of this milo fiend. He even mentioned it after the run saying I was flying and he was struggling to keep up. Not sure if this is yet a law but I’m going to claim it

Ross’ Law - You find more enjoyment in activities you are good at

And I think this is where it all began. Next thing I knew my brother Thomas sporadically asked if I wanted to try the Tamworth TrailBlazer in 2019 (15K +900m elevation) back in my hometown. Obviously I signed up, and didn’t put in near the effort required for a decent time, worst of all my knee starting playing up about 10Ks in, so I ended up walking / hopping the remainder of the course – still coming in a respectable 14th, I knew this could be the start of something. 

Realising I gained so much enjoyment and accomplishment from the race, I started more recreational running around my local tracks – Lane Cove National Park, Boronia Park to North Ryde and more. I finally decided to buy a Sports GPS watch – however that was more for my Japan Trip

The Benefit of Running & Trail Running

  • Fitness (or you can basically eat whatever you want guilt free!)
  • Time saving vs walking
  • Health – heart training
  • Amazing views – more trails
  • Explore places you wouldn’t usually visit
  • Something you can do by yourself or with friends
  • Meet plenty of great people out there with the same hobby and interesting stories
  • ‘Find that place in yourself’ – I find this happens any distance over 30 minutes where you find a comfortable rhythm, you’re in like as Sherlock Holmes calls it – a mind palace. Where you think just what you are thinking and nothing else really matters. Like a moment of calm or clairvoyance. 

In 2021, I really started picking up Trail Running as an enthusiast (one day I hope to call myself an athlete), signing up for multiple events every month and even winning a few. 

Get out there, explore and enjoy it!