- This was the 4th race in 5 weeks for me (145km of racing all up).
- I had worked 27 days out of the last 37 with all those days being as an outdoor instructor.
- Averaged 115km of training across the 5 weeks
- Mt. Crawford is the 3rd race of the Trail Running SA Winter Series for 2022 and is the longest at 33km but has the flattest profile.
The above stats hopefully paint the picture that coming into Mt.Crawford at the end of this 5 week block I was feeling pretty cooked. My running fitness still felt pretty good but my ability to do anything but run (housework, climb, gardening etc.) felt limited. This little picture though is just one part of the overall training mural for the Heysen 115km in just under 2 months time. If I could get the best out of myself over this period then come race day I’ll be a little more confident I can get the best out of myself when I’m 80km’s deep in the Heysen in the mid-afternoon. So, I saddled up the Triton one more time, pointed it down towards Adelaide on a Friday night and tried to forget how tired I was.
The day before the race I got some energy back but also tested out a new watch that Snowys had hooked me up with. The Suunto 9 Peak is a top of the line sports watch and was going to be a game changer for my training and racing. My previous Casio watch told the time. The Suunto was telling me directions around Belair, my heart rate, my pace, my distance and then afterwards was giving me a ‘resources’ number and telling me my Training Stress Score! Unbelievable. (Even if some of that data is probably a bit off). Getting comfortable with the watch the day before the race was helpful to iron out any kinks with it but running as far as I did was probably not ideal. Not having ideal preparation and being able to perform at my best is always a sneaky challenge I like to put on myself as part of the overall ‘be a better outdoor athlete’ dream.
Race day came along and my routine is now so well automated after 10 other races this year that my brain wasn’t very switched on. Situation 1: I took off on a warm-up jog and then looked for my phone in my jacket…fuck, did I leave it in the Portaloo? Is it on the track somewhere?… No you idiot it’s right on your car bonnet where you last fiddled with it. Situation 2: Took off at the start at a fast pace on the downhill road and my vest was bouncing around like there was a child on my back. Tightened it up and it was back to normal but geez it was pretty amateur. Situation 3 (all things come in three’s): Needed the music inspo from the start because of the aforementioned cooked-ness I was experiencing and the bastard phone didn’t start playing because it thought I was trying to get Siri’s attention so there was more fidgeting around trying to get that sorted. So as you see dear reader, I was not in usual race mode at all for the first few km’s but luckily my new Suunto was keeping me on track.
After the first 5 or 6 km’s I settled into a good rhythm and worked out what I actually wanted from this race. I wanted a good fast long run because I hadn’t done one since the Adelaide marathon two weeks ago. I wanted to win because that meant I would be the winner, duh, but also meant I would be the winner of the 2022 Trail Running SA Winter Series. I’d thought about going for this back in 2017 but had never been able to commit to enough races around my work commitments. Been singing this tune all year now but it’s great that I’ve made the effort to prioritise races over work because I was finally able to complete some long term goals. Knowing what I knew about the course, flat and fast besides a couple of technical hills, my game plan was to run fast (3:40 per km fast) in the early stages, build a big lead and then that way if I die in the arse because I’m too cooked I might be able to hang on for the W. 10km’s in everything was going to plan.
15km’s in everything was still going to plan and my watch was looking good. Almost too good because at one point it distracted me, I missed a turn, realised it, confirmed it with my watch and then got back on track. The 15km-25km section had the main hills and some particularly muddy sections of trail so I focused on just being ‘strong’ through this section as opposed to ‘fast’. The difference here is not pushing the flat sections with fast leg turnover but just striding them out, recovering a bit and making sure I don’t do any damage on the technical single trails. Running this middle section like this also freshened me up mentally to blast off over the last 8km.
I finished the last of my fluids I was carrying in my Salomon vest at the 25km mark and knew it was 8km of solid fire trails to get back to the start. Instead of being an absolute picture of running technique I finally understood what it meant to run ‘like you’re wrestling an Octopus’ as Emil Zatopek was once described. (Look Emil up, absolute hero of running and good bloke). My hamstrings were tightening up and I was running low on energy so I was fighting my way along the track. At points like this in a race, or any activity when it starts to get ‘hard’, there is a clear choice on how to respond. Cower from it, ease up the pace and hope nothing bad happens OR welcome the challenge, tell yourself this is what you came for, to see whether you can handle this or not you pussy so go get running. I chose the second option and finished off what I feel was one of the hardest races of my year.
Coming into the finishing area I continued my wrestle with the octopus all the way in. It didn’t matter how big my lead was at that time but it mattered that I committed to the process of trying to ‘win’ the race the whole way through to the end. Win it I did. I was champion! (As Guangyi, my Port Augusta mate would say). And by over 13 minutes too. AND I was champion of the TRSA Winter Series yeooow! That’s what I’m talking about! And that’s 10x more emotion I showed then when I crossed the line haha! It’s always a funny atmosphere when I finish these events because for me I’ve just been running with one or two other people or just myself for a couple of hours enjoying my own company and then suddenly there’s all these people staring at me saying congrats! Even when I have family and mates there I still never know what to do at the end. Part of me wants to keep running for a warm down, part of me wants to celebrate, part of me is happy to chat and part of me wants to go to my car, stretch and do my normal post-run routine. This time, like most times, I usually do a bit of everything and that seems to be a pretty good way to wind down.
Speaking of winding down, it was good to chat with a few people after the race including Rob (of Mt. Misery and Mt. Abrupt fame) who was pumped after completing his 33km on the back of a 20km the day before and my Port Willunga mate Brad and his son Chase who’d done the 10km (Brad was the guy I mentioned in my Melrose report). Chatting with both of these guys made me realise how proud I was of myself, because that’s what I felt I kept telling them, for completing this little 5 week period of work and racing in the manner I did and also highlighted to me what I was focused on next…. The Heysen 115km.
Over the next 7 weeks (from Monday after the race) I’ll be focusing my training to ensure I line up confident in my ability to complete my longest race in a style I will be proud of. So far, I’ve been tailoring my running to try and get fast at that 30-50km distance and be able to handle a serious training load. Now with that in my bag I’ll be looking to extend my body to keep working for more than 5 hours and remain in a good mindset. One of the key ways I’m testing out this part of my body and soul is by trying my hand at fastpacking (Google it, saves me explaining it) along the Heysen trail. If Chad, friend of the blog and general outdoorsman and worm farmer, and I complete what we set out to do we’ll have covered a fair part of the Flinders Ranges and I’ll have another dose of confidence that my training is heading in the right direction. More on that trip later though. For now, thanks for reading and thanks to Snowys for setting me up with my new watch and for providing me with my gels for the race, Steffan and Laine you are both the man!