The final chapter of the SSSFFFTR. Don’t start here. Part 1 has the planning, Part 2 has the actual recount and Part 3, this part, will delve into the key lessons learnt and the recovery process. I’ve narrowed it down to my top five lessons or take-aways from the trip and an overall discussion on the recovery process.
Lesson 1: Food
The food I consumed on the trip was going well and was keeping me fuelled. This is confirmed by the minor calorific discrepancies for each day (which are a rough guide anyway). My strategy was to eat a variety of foods so I didn’t get bored of just one (peanut butter wraps for example) and I was still excited by the thought of each one in the rotation I had going. The lack of a stove also wasn’t a huge issue and I would be comfortable going on a 3-5 day trip without one provided I can find a better substitute for coffee. The espresso gel’s were good, the cold coffee was not but I wonder what a simple caffeine pill would be like too? Would that work all crushed up in some oats and protein powder? Or would it be simply better to learn to live without it? More experimentation is needed.
The other pleasing takeaway relating to food is I was able to smash a bunch of food at Wilpena and Hawker and not have any stomach issues during the running component afterwards. This will give me confidence for when I do the same at any big 100km or 100 mile races in the future. Overall, I was happy with how my food planning worked out.
Lesson 2: Pacing and Future Route Selection
The second major lesson for the trip was appreciating the different pace that is required along the way for a fastpacking trip. I probably expected more running than what we actually did and thus was impatient when walking. It was also hard to get into a rhythm where I could relax into the trail and just switch my brain off because of the constant change in pace and terrain in the trail. I have always struggled on trails like this and either need to work harder at relaxing into the ‘uncomfortable’ disjointed flow of the trail or just stop selecting routes like this. A contributing factor to this problem is probably the fact that I love my routines and appreciate the ability to run the same training loop day after day even though this rarely happens for more than four days in a row… A simple fix could be to mix up my training locations more so that I felt more comfortable ‘onsighting’ new trails or just trying to ‘forget’ any expectations or pre-conceived ideas about running before heading out fastpacking. When I race on new trails it’s easy to find the right pace (just follow someone or try and run away from someone) but when it’s just me and Chad out there I wasn’t sure if I should walk, run, shuffle etc if I couldn’t see where the trail was going. So, if I’m going to do a fastpacking trip again I would try and approach it with a different expectation on my pacing so I don’t feel pressured to reach the end destination as quick as possible.
Lesson 3: Self-Belief
When I was watching the US open recently, Carlos Alacaraz gave a pretty stern message that the only reason he won some of his tight matches was because he had self-belief. I think at times, especially when planning it, I had some good self-belief and self-motivation that I could complete the trip and in my own setting, win the ‘US Open’. But what about Carlos’s opponents did they not have self-belief, is that why they lost? And did I instead fail because of lack of self-belief? If we optimistically assume that both Carlos and his opponents had self-belief then is the ability to motivate yourself and believe you can do something cancelled out then? Or instead, is the ability to believe in yourself and hope you can do something, a sliding scale where the more you believe the more your talent and genetic ability you unlock? I like to think it’s the second scenario and would explain that Carlos’s self-belief unlocks a superior talent for tennis that he has compared to his opponents.
Where does this become relevant to my situation? Well, I think I had good self-motivation during the planning aspects, the first day and the first half of the second day. As soon as my feet started to hurt and the rain came down I lost some motivation but I still believed and hoped things would get better. Which they did on the morning of day 3 as I ran into and out of Hawker. The point at which I lost hope and self-belief was when my right foot/ankle became painful and using my medical knowledge of my own body, I thought that it would not get better. The trip became harder from here for the rest of day 3. However, day 4 was slightly easier as the closer I got to home, the more I again believed I would make it because of how far I had continued to make it despite the foot problem. The important lesson here is how clear my output was affected by my self-belief or the ability to motivate myself. This is pretty obvious I think to most people so isn’t a glass shattering revelation, I know. But, the more scenario’s I think I can demonstrate to myself how important self-belief is, the more I will, in future, try to foolishly believe in myself even when all hope is lost. I remember doing that in the Pichi Richi Marathon and it worked so maybe I need to work on doing it for longer on these trips.
The other aspect of self-belief I think worth mentioning is the effect that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation has on it. Things that were intrinsically motivating for me in this trip were; the learning process of what a fastpacking trip entails and the drive to become a fitter and more capable outdoor athlete. The extrinsic factors were; the ability to see more of the Southern Flinders Ranges (if you do something so you can win a prize or a better grade that’s the same as doing something so you can see a nice view or point of interest in my opinion), the potential kudos that might come from doing this trip. As I realised I was not going to finish what I started I reflected on the fact that yes, I had already learnt a good amount about fastpacking and so was not motivated by that anymore and secondly, pushing on through a small injury and given the little amount we could run I was probably not going to make any more inroads on being a fitter or more capable outdoor athlete. So, having lost my intrinsic motivating factors I could not give a shit about the rest of the trip (and the extrinsic motivating factors) and thus lost self-belief. Interestingly, these intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors were all set by me so I have only myself to reflect on their usefulness. I guess the lesson here is ensuring there is enough intrinsic motivation (or KPE’s from Part 1) in a personal endeavour to keep going when things get hard.
Lesson 4: Racing v Personal Endeavour
Following on from lesson 3, another takeaway from this trip in regards to my motivation was I wonder if things would’ve been different if it were a race as opposed to a personal endeavour? I really enjoy races because I like the competition and fact that there are organised aid stations to help me keep operating at a high level. But competition is only important against yourself and comparison is the thief of joy right? So am I an ego-hungry weak person by relying on races, and the competition that others provide, to get the best out of me as opposed to dragging the same level of effort out in a personal endeavour? I don’t think so. I mean my racing strategy of just going for it off the front doesn’t demonstrate the need for me to beat my competitors, I tend to only focus on myself but I do celebrate the fact I’ve won a race. I think the atmosphere of the race though holds me more accountable to my actions because I am afraid of failing in front of people and not giving my best effort. To me giving less than your best effort is, and makes stopping this trip early, the most embarrassing thing you can do. So how can I draw the same level of drive I have in myself at races out on personal extended walking/running endeavours?
For this, I look to my past and look at the satisfaction I received from ticking hard climbing projects. On these projects you’re only competing against yourself and your last effort to see if you can link two or three more moves together and maybe tick it the next time. If you climb worse than you did last time then you hate life and yell and scream like a petulant child (Google ‘Adam Ondra Tantrum’). When applying this strategy to fastpacking trips or future personal endeavours may be the best way to approach them is to do a trip knowing that one day I’ll come back to it and try again to compete against my previous effort. Or maybe I can compete against myself using the metrics from my watch by trying to go the furthest distance possible in one day, or by holding my average heart rate at a certain number for a long time or something else that removes the need for me to repeatedly test myself on the same route. This would make it easier to bring that ‘race-mode’ competitive drive to new adventures each time. Or, another way I could compete against myself is by qualitative analysis of my belief, mood, energy and ‘style’ throughout the trip. Kind of difficult but if done correctly would be very helpful in trying to get closer to the best possible version of myself.
The reason I think instilling this competitive drive in myself, even though I am competing against myself, is because it helps unlock that survival of the fittest mechanism deep inside the primordial part of me. Humans had to compete for food and friendships back in the day when we lived in caves so by arousing that competitive instinct I am getting help from my Caveman instincts which I believe (and we all know how important belief is now^) helps a lot.
And here’s the kicker folks, in Part 2 I mentioned frequently that ‘it’s just life’ a lot. Well, what I was hinting at there is not only is every experience just a part of life but in everything I do, trips, the washing, training, the goal is to have the same level of attitude and approach to it so that everything in life is training for everything else in life. Life doesn’t start and stop with different activities, it always keeps going. The stoic outlook of treating ‘triumph and defeat the same’ is an aspirational outlook of mine and one I failed to meet when I got down on myself during my ‘disaster’ of a sore foot… But, like I said earlier, every instance I put myself in that test my ability to maintain this approach strengthens my ability to hold it in the future. In conclusion, I endeavour to approach life and its challenges with the same Stotan (cross between a Stoic and a spartan) outlook and the more times I fail, the closer I get to maintaining success in this goal. Soooo in actual fact the failure of this trip might be the best thing that could’ve helped me reach another goal of mine!
Lesson 5: Gear Choices
Getting off the therapist couch for this one, the final major takeaway relates to my overall satisfaction with the gear I selected for this trip. The pack size and straps were still comfortable after four days, the clothes I took had me staying nice and comfortable despite the variance in temperature and precipitation. My battery pack allowed me to charge my phone and watch each night and probably would’ve lasted another night or two. The tarp/sleeping set-up I had was good, a better roll mat would be better but at least I demonstrated to those that it’s possible without one. The water capacity I had was good during the day but in future I reckon packing a spare 4L bladder would be a good idea to have so that it can be filled up at the last water stop of the day and then you’re free to camp anywhere. I didn’t quite enjoy the fact we had to make it to a site with water each night so bringing an empty spare bladder along would alleviate this problem. Finally, using walking poles was great and I highly recommend more Australians get on board with the Europeans and use poles.
Recovery Process and Where to from here?
So that’s my five biggest lessons. Good to get all those ‘learnings’ form the trip because that’s why I do these things, to learn more so I can get better. Sure it’s the not the learnings I was entirely after but that’s a part of life. As I write this, my days since finishing the trip on Sunday have been as follows:
– Sunday night: Ice and anti-inflammatories for my foot. A little bit of swelling around. Thongs were the choice of footwear to keep blisters happy. Watched the SANFL Grand Final and the Brownlow.
– Monday: Low key day, drove back via Wirrabara and the Bluff lookout to redeem Chad’s car. Foot was still sore and both Chad and my bodies were kind of stiff but not too bad. Stopped pretty regularly on the drive to get out and stretch the legs. No physical activity. Again, wore thongs all day.
– Tuesday: Another total rest day, only light stretching. Still some swelling and still wearing thongs. Kept my foot elevated for most of the day besides a small time I spent weeding.
– Wednesday: Got bored of resting so did some climbing specific exercises in my shed. Foot was still sore but getting better. Went for a walk around the block in some shoes (!) and felt my foot stiffen up a bit at night.
– Thursday: Easy 40 minute run (woohoo!). Felt the ankle the whole way but it just felt like a stiff joint, no sharp pains. Did some gardening, jobs around the house and then went for another easier run in the afternoon. Again the ankle was just a sore joint more than anything (i.e. no sharp pains) so things look and feel good.
– Friday: 1 hr 50 min run at my spiritual running home in the Flinders of The Dutchman’s Stern fire track. Also, I had an epiphany that my inflamed extensor tendons were probably because I was babying my sore bottom of my feet, thus constantly holding my foot in a more ‘upright and tight’ position than I was used to when I run on them. When running, the foot is powering off from the toes/mid-foot a lot more and spends less time in this ‘upright and tight’ position. Try it out and you’ll see what I mean. This epiphany did not miraculously remove the discomfort and crepitus in my ankle joint which still remains but isn’t too bad. I reckon I can strengthen it and manage it now (says the person with no medical degrees).
– Saturday: Had an after hours business phone call on late Friday night with someone with a medical/physiotherapy degree, my older sister, who backed up my opinions on why the injury occurred but unfortunately gave further instructions on resting the ankle. This was sad news and I consoled myself with a few beers at the pub with visiting climbing idols (The Three Wise Men of Moonarie). Woke-up, had no crepitus, minimal discomfort and felt ten times better than yesterday. Was it the beer, the Tele health consultation or magic powers of The Three Wise Men? A mystery that will remain unsolved for generations to come…
So it’s now a week since I finished the trip and from the above description you can see I’m back to ‘close enough is good enough’ normal operations which is a relief. I was anticipating a longer recovery process from the full five/six days planned so should be happy and not too surprised that I’ve been able to get back to normal running within a week off this lighter trip. I never felt my muscles or my joints (besides the obvious one) were overly cooked and needed the rest time but just needed those first few days to help rest my feet. The light stretching, wearing thongs and keeping my feet elevated were all pretty simple and important strategies I’ll repeat in future, and make time for, if I do an extended trip like this in the future. Hopefully there is now enough information between Parts 1, 2 and now 3 for anyone who thinks they too might want to fastpack between Parachilna and Quorn or try a similar length trip. Please learn from my mistakes and get out there if you’re that way inclined.
On a personal level, now I’m back to normal running my game plan is to focus on getting into peak physical shape again before the Heysen 115km in late October. If this means I kick around Quorn until then and stay in a ‘training camp’ mode until then, well so be it. If I get to the stage where I reckon I can enter the last TRSA Race of the Series on October 9 then I’ll pop down to Adelaide for it. But that’s not my priority, the priority is getting back to a level of fitness I am proud of and can be confident in AND HAVE BELIEF IN that will enable me to perform at my best for my first 100+km race. Thanks for reading!