15 Jan 2017
The Blue Mountains. It's a runners paradise. Located an hour west of Sydney, it's home to an abundance of mountains, valleys, wildlife, trails, killer trees (I'll explain later), and vegan pizza. I was in Australia for a wedding and decided to extend my stay and have a “running” holiday. Blue Mountains was the obvious choice. It is, after all, the home of the Ultra-Trail Australia, the Hounslow Classic, the Six Foot Track Marathon and various other races.
The Six Foot Track is a 45km trail from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves, the ascent is about 1500m and the descent is similar. This website describes it as a “challenging 3-day hike” - probably true, but I hate camping so I decided to run it in one day. I set off on a hot December morning from my motel and ran the 3km to the start of the track, as apparently 45km wasn't quite far enough for me in 32 degree heat. I only got lost once on the way there, so I was feeling a bit proud of myself.
The initial part of the track is a sharp descent into the valley. The drop is about a 10-15% gradient over some technical terrain, so by the time I reached the bottom my quads were sore. I had to remind myself to take it easy. I touched my nose as a reminder of the price of not taking it easy and felt a band-aid, before wincing in pain. I remembered the day before…
Ah the old running into a tree gag… We've all done it… Right??? When trail running in Australia it is really important to watch the path for killer snakes, or killer spiders, or killer ants. Killer something. So on my first run in the Blue Mountains, along Federal Pass, I was paranoid and playing a game of 'Branchy-Snakey'. It is a game I invented where you stare at the trail and try to work out whether that long brown thing ahead of you is a snake or a branch. It's almost always a branch but it is important to play so you don't get dead. I was playing and saying “Snake, no a branch, no a..” WHACK! My eyes blurred to a mixture of dead black and starry streaks. My head felt heavy and wet, as I raised my hands and felt blood. Nature has a way of humbling you. Just when you go getting a bit proud and feeling all significant, it brings you back down to size. Sometimes it shows an incredible view at the top of a mountain, sometimes it rattles you awake with an earthquake, and sometimes it puts a branch at head height when you are running at full tilt and staring at the ground.
After the descent into the valley, with my legs feeling sore and my face still a bit numb, I started to drift off into the internal vastness that distance running provides. The track was bare, wide (six-foot wide to be precise) and snake-free. I got thinking about the year that 2016 had been. Running wise, it has been incredible. I ran new PB's for the 5km (18.09), 10km (38.09), half marathon (1:24) and full marathon (3:14). The highlights were completing my first ultra-marathon in Taupo, the WUU-2k Marathon, and discovering the joy of trail running, while there weren't any lowlights to speak of… well, okay, running into a tree is up there. Outside of running, 2016 was my first full year as a vegan. I feel healthier, happier, and a lot friggin faster because of it. It has become much more than a dietary choice for me, it is best described as a lifestyle choice. I have also had a huge battle with anxiety this year, and it is a battle that will go on for a long time. I'm happy to say I'm facing it head-on and dealing with it, and it is something I get better at every day. I shook out of my inner slumber as I recognised the road up ahead, my watch projecting the 20km mark. It was hot, but I felt energetic and… Woah woah woah, back the proverbial truck up. I recognise that road? I've never run here before! A look at my GPS and, yep, I'd taken a wrong turn. I love my wandering mind, but it does get me lost too often when out in the bush.
A 6km 'detour' done and dusted, I got thinking about the year that 2017 might be. I am running the 102km Tarawera Ultra in February, a challenge I am daunted by. I'll run WUU-2k again in July, tackling the 60km option, and I'm keen to make it back to Taupo for the 100km event in October. I have a trip to America in May, so I'm searching for an interesting race or two over there. Plenty to look forward to, but what are my goals for 2017? - The Doable Goal Finish two 100km races: Tarawera Ultra in February will be, touch wood, my first 100km race. I'll need to run another by year's end to meet this goal, another two if I get a dreaded DNF at Tarawera. - The Hard Goal Run a sub-3 hour marathon: The challenge that started this blog! This will be tough to do, but it will be incredible. I am away for the Wellington Marathon, so I'll be looking at the Auckland or Queenstown events. - The Fun Goal - Hold 15 Strava Course Records: This one is just for fun. I currently hold six CR's, so I need to hold these and gain another nine by the end of the year. - The Impossible Goal Run a sub-17 minute 5k: I will need to take over a minute off my current 5k time and, if I'm being honest, is a bit of a stretch. But I reached so many of my goals a bit too easily in 2016 so I thought I should have something a bit less realistic.
As I waddled my way out of the bush and towards the Jenolan Caves, I decided to call it a day. I was about 7-8km short of the finish, but after the detours I had done it was still 43km or so. My stomach had refused food for a while and it was a very hot day. 2016 has been a super year for me, as I have achieved things I never thought I could. Setting goals for 2017 is something I've enjoyed doing, and it will provide me with plenty of motivation for the year. I encourage you to do something similar, even if it is not running related.
Anyway, too much talk. Time for a beer...