Covid changed a lot of things for a lot of people. One of the ways it impacted me was it pushed me into climbing more than I ever had. You can’t overfill a glass of water so to fit in the time for climbing there must have been something I let drain out. It didn’t really drain out from the glass, more I probably picked up the glass, realised it looked a bit old (who knows when it last had a re-fill) and tipped it over slightly but a few drips still remained when I turned the tap on to fill it up with my climbing time. So why did I tip the running water out? And why have I seemed to now do a ‘u-ey’ on myself and fill the glass back up with it, did I forget the taste or am I making a running/climbing mixer?
I’d been pretty keen on running throughout high school and university and really got stuck into it as I was finishing my university degree in late 2017. I’d finished a couple of ultra events and finished in top 3 of some local races but the first race I won in 2017 was a breakthrough. I had a few beers the night before and arrived without a few chips on my shoulder I’d been carrying throughout the year and just went out for it at the start. Worked pretty well for me. And this strategy continued to work well for the next few years as I fit in my training around outdoor ed work or ski seasons. As 2019 was drawing to a close my calendar began to have more days that were blank than were not. With the aim of stepping it up I began building my training and focus towards an iconic Victorian race called ‘Bogong 2 Hotham’ where you climb Victoria’s tallest mountain and then traverse the roof top of Victoria past Falls Creek into Mt. Hotham’s ski resort.
My ambitions at this race were one-half do well, one-half redeem myself from when I did the race in 2018. That time, I finished in the top 10 but spent the last 10-15km as the Mayor of Struggle Town. It was an awesome challenge to drag my heat exhausted corpse through the last part of the course and finish but the encore of my performance that day was vomiting in the back of a strangers car as they drove me back to the start line… yes poor form I know, but I did warn them! Finishing the 2020 version in a slightly less catatonic state was therefore one aim of my game.
Then, remember in the Before Covid (BC) era how a large part of Eastern Australia caught on fire? Yeah well, that included the Vic Alps so the race was a no-no in the end sadly, and I lost my entry fee. Sad times for me but I didn’t lose a house. And also, the race is the celebration of the training, the reward of the training is the fitter and healthier you feel so I still had that. Like anyone when they hit roadworks at peak hour, I quickly looked for a detour sign to test my legs out on something. A ‘personal’ ultra where I created a route that rambled between Mambray Creek, Melrose and Alligator Gorge for 70-ish km’s was an excellent replacement and one that Papa Kym (my Dad) helped me out with. It was a good detour option because the next destination I had selected was a 100km through the Ikara-Flinders Rangers National Park in May. My family were going to travel up as well to watch it as a bonus!
*Dah dah daaaahhhhh*. Not today junior. Covid came along and put a stop to that plan. Not to worry, I said. There’ll be another chance…(wrong, the race has never been re-organised). I’ll just do some running around St.Mary’s Peak and Rawnsley Bluff on my own accord to compensate when we’re allowed to drive outside of Adelaide. That ended up happening in June and was probably a big pre-cursor to eventually settling up in Quorn. Having a look down at my fuel tank, the motivation was about 1/3 full and but I’d built such a massive endurance engine since the end of 2019 but still hadn’t had a chance to race it. I was being held under safety car conditions for the whole year! WWWD! (What would Whincup do?)
The last shot I had before my fuel tank, or the glass of water I was drinking, ran out was a 50km out near Murray Bridge called Federation Ultra. Nothing special about this race except that they’d got the timing of it right to work around the restrictions. So, with all my chips in on this one I was keen to have a good hit out. Employing the start her up and let it rip racing strategy I went for it from the start. Two others ran with me, then it was just one other and then it was no others. The last few km’s dragged a bit but a sighting of former Coomandook local and friend Chad Freak sparked the last bit of NOS and I fired up to win! Hooray! A beer and some chippies at the pub watching the sport on TV with Chad was a great celebration but my overall feeling wasn’t joy, instead it was more, glad that’s over. I was sick and tired of training, making sacrifices for what was just really a hobby of mine and then having the opportunity to race be yanked away from me. I was like a kid who had begrudgingly finished their veggies to get to their meat. My veggies was my running and my meat was climbing.
The great thing about switching to climbing was that you don’t have to wait for one day out of a whole year to test yourself out. Your climbing project is always there waiting for you to try it. Spending more time on climbing allowed me to improve my capabilities in the sport but it also taught me a lot more about my body and how it functions, physically first, then mentally too. I had created a body that was really good at moving in a straight line for a long period but if my muscles weren’t running I felt pretty weak. Climbing improved all my stabiliser and antagonist muscles and also opened my eyes to the improvements you can make with dedicated strength, power, power-endurance and endurance training. Mentally I began to become wiser and more mature with my approach to failure, training, success and the ‘why’ I do these things. When the risk of failing during a climb could be a potentially injurious fall, you have to be sure of the ‘why’ you’re doing it to yourself. It can’t be for ego or for image. Fair to say I really enjoyed drinking the climbing water I added to my glass. I didn’t miss that old stale running water. I did however think what it would be like at times if I applied my lessons I learnt from climbing to running but I could never drag myself away from a project or the hangboard to experiment.
*Dah dah daaahhhhh*. Covid strikes back! Lockdown for Adelaide and for real this time in August 2021! No longer could I travel to the crag to fondle my proj. All I was allowed to do was exercise within 5km of my house which was situated on the edge of a reserve filled with fire-tracks and single-track (pretty lucky) and spend the other part of my time inside. And what was on TV at that time? The Olympics. And what did Australia do a lot better than usual at this Olympics in particular? Running. And what is the easiest activity to do given the constraints Mr. Marshall had placed on his constituents? Running. Oh my days. The universe (or is it now the metaverse?) was giving me the time to experiment with running and climbing together.
And it was really fun! Running didn’t used to be that fun, but now it was! I was so much stronger on the trails and could feel it in the air like Phil Collins. I started to run my old regular routes again just for enjoyment, not for training. When lockdown ended and I was allowed to climb and work again I kept up with it and realised it wasn’t having as such a detrimental effect on my climbing performance as I thought (you can’t run yourself to be a better climber is a common phrase in the climbing podcast world).
As 2021 drew to a close, and I went through the process of moving to and settling in to Quorn life I continued my running for enjoyment and climbing for performance routine. It was going well, I was still making progress with my climbing and my running wasn’t becoming overbearing yet. It was a tasty mix in my glass that I thought I’d keep buying. But like most things in 2022, Covid impacted the supply of the climbing water. Numero uno partner Brodie was struck down and I had to find other partners. Not being a huge boulderer, I rely on having mates to climb with and if I can’t find a mate to climb with I can’t climb. The situation of not having a regular partner was made ever more difficult as I settled into full Quorn life where climbing partners are scarce. So, taking a glass half-full approach (and with a glass that was only half-full without the regular top-up of my climbing water) I added more running water and picked a couple of local races to try out. It was important to me that I didn’t go full runner mode and kept up a little climbing maintenance as I now recognised the benefit of having a strong body had for my running.
Where does that leave me now? Well, almost three months into training for running goals as my number one priority I have ticked off a couple of short races, have a few medium ones on the horizon and have some long-term long races in sight too. (I talk more about my current training here). I’m approaching these goals from a different perspective than before however. I’m selecting the races I want to do not because I want to win them or because they fit well within my schedule. They all serve a purpose in my long-long-term development of becoming a better outdoor athlete.
My view of an outdoor athlete is one that can roll into any style of race off a short training block, that sits on top of a massive base, and go out and enjoy themselves. And I don’t mean enjoy by just taking it easy and laughing and smiling the whole way, no, I still want to go ‘to the death’ on these races but I just don’t want to suffer from a lack of training/race smarts. I also want to still be an outdoor athlete that can switch tack and head out climbing, bushwalking, skiing or whatever at the drop of a hat. If it isn’t clear to you yet, the aim is not to pigeonhole myself as one type of sportsperson. Instead I want to be adaptable to as many different environments as possible so I am not limited to what I can go see and do. 90% of car mechanics and chefs can work on any car, make any food etc. Yes, there are specialists in certain areas, German cars, electric vehicles, Pastry chefs etc. Just like there are specialist climbers, skiers etc. So am I giving up something by not necessarily specialising in something? No I would argue (I’m happy to debate it though) I’m widening my vision and specialising in the ‘Outdoors’. That’s what being an Outdoor Athlete means to me.
And so with my running component of my Outdoor Athlete journey, in this now After Covid (AC) era, I am drawing on the inspiration of how Michael Jordan and Ash Barty and lots of others came back to their chosen sports to dominate. Jordan had a bit of swing in baseball and then came back to the Bulls to win another three-peat. Barty had a year and bit off the tour and came back to win a French Open, the No.1 ranking and then Wimbledon and the Australian Opens. No-one would have guaranteed ether athlete these successes before they came back to their sports. And I’d like to think they weren’t coming back in a ‘do-or-die’ fashion to achieve these successes. My two cents on the matter and, what I’m drawing from their stories, is that they came back because they wanted to play and test themselves at the highest level again no matter what the result. They had an itch they needed to scratch.
I’ve got my own itch too. It’s on my back actually. And the only way I can get it scratched is if I have someone run next to me…
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