Role models are important in life. Everyone looks up at the clock to check the time like they look up to their role models to check for guidance on what to do and how to do it. Now, selecting Jason Bourne, a fictional action-hero, as the tone for this trip could be slightly left-field but as always, read on and play along and you’ll get what I mean…
Pre-amble. The objective for this weekend’s mission was the Australian Mountain Running Championships in Orange, NSW (as a part of the Great Volcanic Mountain Challenge). 10 and a bit km’s, with 500 and a bit metres of elevation finishing at 1500m elevation above sea level. The Grand Final of my summer’s racing. Do well here and I may earn a spot on the Australian team to compete at the World Championships. That’s all very far away from where my week started so let’s back it up a bit further.
Monday and Tuesday. First couple of days at Port Augusta Secondary School. Desperate times call for desperate measures and it seems I’m the right length and width for a position as a Maths and Science Teacher. A transition to full-time teaching has come welcomingly early in my ‘life plan’ thanks to some hoops I can jump through courteous of my Engineering Degree. With this change I’ll be able to focus my running before and after work, have some consistency with my lifestyle, make a larger impact on my local community and increase my disposable income to fund my running ambitions (a business decision). No-one really knew who I was in the classroom except that I was Darcy Kildea’s mate (fellow teacher), had done some running and used to work in outdoor ed. Very much incognito in a way. I feel it’s important to expose yourself to new groups like I did on Monday/Tuesday every now and then. Whatever comes out of your mouth in the first thirty seconds tends to signal your current intentions and values in life. Your backstory will come out eventually but in the immediate moment the way you carry yourself is who you are. I like this feeling, it reminds me to not take life so seriously, not take anything for granted and to continually work hard to build new working relationships. Pretty much what Jason Bourne had to do with his whole life after waking up with amnesia…
Wednesday/Thursday. Back into rock climbing instructor mode for a couple of days. A bit of training but not too much. I want to be fresh for the Sunday race so my main aim this week was to run some hard 400m’s (which I did on Tuesday) and keep the frequency of my runs up (2 a day), the volume down a bit and the pace up (with some more strides thrown in). Feeling fast is the key, forget about pacing myself over a marathon like Mr.Bourne forgot about his life. Add to these two days the effort to plan and organise myself for:
– an Airbnb hosting of two guests from Canada
– the obvious logistics of travelling to a location 4hrs west of Sydney from Quorn
– a week’s climbing work at Mt.Arapiles departing on Monday morning at 7:30 (the day after the race)
– a half-marathon in Clare on Sunday April 2nd on my return journey back to Quorn.
It is here that I am grateful I am a one-man band as trying to organise that many moving parts with other compadres would be a bit of a challenge. Me and my little 7kg backpack though can slice and dice my way through Adelaide Airport onto the Sydney trains and through to my brother’s place all with minimum fuss. And that is where the story picks up on…
Saturday morning. The day before the big dance. Getting in the final shakeout run is nice. No more fitness gains can really come from it but acquainting myself with the ‘movement’ I want to achieve in the race is important. It’s also a good time to reflect on the past couple of weeks of training since the Donna Double (my last successful race).
Flashback to 1 week before. The days following the Donna I jumped straight back into full training. My quads were very sore from the downhill component of the race so these easy runs felt hard. As long as I got to my ‘sessions’ in this week I would be happy. I ticked off 6*1km+6*200m on the Tuesday, a hot mid-week long run on the Wednesday and then a hard 30-ish minute run on the Thursday. I felt good by the Thursday but my result on this run was 1 minute slower than when I completed it last time. Was it due to fatigue? Or was I overtraining? Uh-oh ring the confidence alarm bells. Although things might have appeared at their lowest here when they really weren’t, it was a signal that things needed to improve again.
An easy day on Friday, releasing the burden of completing my work at the pool, hearing about my approval to become a teacher and getting in two quality 18-20km runs at Dutchman Stern proved to me I wasn’t overtrained, I was just fatigued still. Which brings me back to the Monday where I started. Some easy running around my teaching debut and then into Tuesday where I smacked the best 400m reps I’ve ever done. Wednesday and Thursday’s climbing work impacted my freshness to train in the afternoon (hence why I am becoming a teacher) but I still got out there both days and was rewarded with two nice steady runs. The only downside to this week’s training has been my lack of elevation in my runs however Dutchman’s (my usual source of elevation) has been closed for feral pest control and working at Warren Gorge is a pretty good substitute for the effect hills have on the legs.
Monitoring this load over the past two weeks has proved interesting. Usually I’ve relied on the ‘Progress’ graph to show me as ‘Keeping Fit’ or in the ‘Productive Training’ zone. Having dropped off the cycling in lieu of time constraints and some of the walks I’ve been doing, a bit of volume has gone out from the Training Stress Score involved in that calculation for which zone I’m in. Now, this could be disheartening, but there are many ways to interpret any piece of data. Firstly, my running load has been consistent through the last 5-6 weeks so the absence of any peripheral activity should mean my body is purely adapting to running. Secondly, and more importantly, my training load can also be measured by the overall calorie expenditure (and to a lesser extent my daily step count). The graph below shows that since the Donna Double, the last obvious peak, I’ve been back at a fairly stable calorie expenditure. Same for the steps. The progress graph shows my Acute Training Load has dropped a bit compared to the Chronic Training Load but like I said, I’m not too concerned by that and really, it should indicate I’m fresh too. But, as you may have worked out, I feel more confident by getting more km’s in the legs whether I need it or not.
Lastly, to wrap up this little mid-blog training spiel, there is a graph available on the Suunto app that tracks my VO2 max. It’s not a great representation of my VO2 max I don’t think but it does accurately reflect the changes in whatever the value is. The longer and harder a run is, the higher the VO2 max number will go. If I go on a short easy run though and my heart rate is a bit higher than normal (indicating fatigue or just by being unfit) then my VO2 max will drop considerably. The other cool part about the way the data works is it’s a pretty cruel mistress in that if I run shit, my number will drop immediately, but getting it back up to a high VO2 max, 65-66, takes a few good runs. Anyway, pleasingly, this graph shows me at my peak VO2 max. Of course, these numbers and data are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to knowing how fit I am but it all helps.
By now in this timeline of the blog it’s up to Sunday morning. Race morning. How does one prepare mentally for what could be the biggest breakthrough of their running career? Fretting over whether they are good enough of course. Does this help? Of course not. So it is here I adopted the Jason Bourne mentality. My objective was to go to this race, do my best, run hard and nothing else. Forget about all the ‘Australian Champs’ stuff, forget about the expectations I had on myself. Just fucking run the damn thing as quick as you can. Allow the mind to be free of any ‘limits’ and just go bunta’s.
Which is exactly what I did for the first 2km’s of the race. Up the nicely graded fire track and with a ten second lead I thought, jeez, this is all going pretty well. Rolling down the next 1.5km I hoped to get my breath back a bit but couldn’t really catch it. As the fire track picked up between km’s 4-6km I was starting to really hurt and I was barely halfway. Oh I’ve fucked it I thought. I went too hard and the somewhat high altitude mountain air (we were racing at 1100-1500m elevation) was playing tricks on me. My lead was being eaten up and soon, heading into the first out-and-back up Mt.Towac I was not in the lead but in the lead pack of three.
This was what I wanted in some aspects though, to really be in the thick of competition and testing myself. As we bounced up Mt.Towac a runner passed me. Is this the beginning of the end?
Nahhh… it’s very easy to catch another runner and run behind them but taking the pace yourself is for big boys and girls. Old mate jumped in front for thirty seconds before I got him back, all before we got to the top of Mt.Towac. Straight back down the track I took off for the downhills are my specialty. My lead of 0m had grown to 100m or so in the space of 800m of running. I was back in the game.
If I could hold this lead, or somewhat of a lead to within the last kilometre or so I’d be pretty confident in myself. Pushing up the last of the fire track through the 8th km I felt ok, but not terrible. Pushing into the single track before the second to last summit I felt not great, but still not terrible. I was still in first place. Heading up the second last summit I started to feel more towards terrible but still not quite there. I made it to the top still in first as I had hoped and took off downhill. Second wasn’t far behind. Things were going to be tight.
Running up the last summit the fuel light was definitely on. I had hit the terrible feeling. Which was great in a way. To put myself in a position where I was absolutely thrashing my way as fast as I could (without feeling very fast at all) to get to the end was giving me the feeling I was right at my limit and pushing past it. There was no time to think about the lovey-duvy story of what it would mean to win and no romantic music in my head. I guess here was another Jason Bourne moment. I was being hunted and felt like my life was on the line. I was thinking about getting to the end and surviving and that was it. Crossing the line in first place was a relief. I could stop and breathe again.
But fuck yeah baby I’d won the damn thing!
I was now the Australian Mountain Running Champion for 2023 and had earned automatic qualification to represent Australia in the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships. Everyone has hopes and dreams and one of mine has been to always represent Australia at something. I’m a sports fanatic and to be able to now have earned the opportunity to go and compete for Australia in Austria of all places in early June is quite unbelievable. It is nice to be crowned the Australian Mountain Running Champion as a bonus too.
Straight after the race I had a couple of interviews, one with Channel 7 and one with the local newspaper. It was cool to share my story as the bloke from Quorn who travelled all this way to run and won. I enjoyed an extended cool down jog all the way back down the course with the biggest grin on my face. I was happy and enjoying feeling fit and getting to celebrate on my own with a run is the best way I think. I do 95% of my running on my own (everything except for parkruns and races basically) and that’s of course where I do most of my thinking about life and running. So to feel proud of the effort I went to to actually compete and then complete the race in the manner I did on a lovely jog down the hill was very nice.
Driving back to Sydney of course the win started to soak in a bit more too. A little over 18 months ago I started making choices around my life that put my self-interest first a bit more in the hope that I could be the best version of myself. Winning this race and becoming a teacher are two big milestones in the journey to get the best out of myself. While I’ve been banging on the Jason Bourne drum a bit, the movie moment that best encapsulates what I’ve been able to achieve off the back of the lifestyle I’ve created for myself is from A Knight’s Tale. Heath Ledger plays the character of a bloke who assumes the identity of a knight, wins some jousting tournaments and hopes to be the best damn jouster in the land. Only trouble is, he’s not of noble birth and the whole story relates around the fact that he left is home in ‘Cheap-side’ to go and ‘change his stars’ and essentially get more from of his life. Well, I think I’ve changed a few stars with this race win but there’s still more to come.
I’ll add some pictures to this as they get released but for now, I’m off climbing for a week at Mt.Arapiles in Victoria to earn some money for Austria. Thanks to all those people that have said congrats so far or shared something relating to my result. As long as you’re getting something out of my experiences I’m happy!
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