The Good, the Gap, and the Heartbreak of the Headphones

After realising my time and distance in the Tussock Traverse and Run Larapinta qualified me for the infamous 36km Wonderland Run at Halls Gap, it took me a couple of glasses of wine to book it… it was only three weeks away and my training had been mainly focused on duathlons.

My legs were grateful when I chose the 20km trail run instead of the 36km.

Still, there were mountains and pinnacles involved, and the duathlon training precedence as it was the week before.

In the three weeks I had, I upped my running distance (…I did two runs over 15km), and carefully monitored any knee pain.

The Monday after the duathlon, my legs felt almost normal, so I was back training by Tuesday (did I mention I’m awful at resting?). Knee pain flickered.

I saw a physio and he suggested that the location of the pain could only really be arthritis…but I also think he thought the pain was just in my head, and also just wanted to see how far he could bend my knee in all the wrong directions.

Anyway, I’ve heard wine is good for arthritis so that was the plan.

Friday – yep arms days again, which made the three hour drive up to the Grampians the next day that little bit more….fun? #sorryarms

I arrived to blue skies and checked into my hostel (I left it late to find anything except the YHA to stay at….which is actually incredible) and laid out my running gear for a 4.30am start on Sunday.

By 4.30am start, I mean my first meal.

I talked myself out of an afternoon hike and instead walked to where the race began, checked where I needed to be, grabbed my racing bib and took note of the compulsory equipment – a mobile phone, something to carry 500ml of water in and a compression bandage.

Check, had them all.

As I walked back, I saw the 19km marker they’d laid out for tomorrow’s race and wondered how I’d feel when I reached that point. How my body would feel. Relief probably, but also like collapsing and crying.

Back at the hostel there were blue skies, wilderness, a mixture of people who had run the shorter races that day celebrating their achievements….and an open fire – all good excuses to enjoy some wine (not to mention my arthritis).

I cooked dinner (and tomorrow’s breakfast – very important) with them, tasted their version of an espresso martini (very important), then headed to bed.

4.30am. Alarm. Argh.

Bleary-eyed I ate my pre-made brekkie (beetroot, sweet potato, boiled eggs and fish…yep) and had my tea bag coffee.

It was cold and dark outside.

I got ready, put everything on, made my gels, put all the compulsory gear in my bag. And then felt the race nerves kick in. So much so, I made it to the start line 45 minutes before the race started (7.00am). Oops.

The cold air made me change from a vest into thermals and a fleece, and I may even have put my pjs back on over the top of everything. It could pass as running gear anyway.

The hunt for real coffee began.

A coffee van.

I waited as the guy set up. His worrying looks meant I must have been staring a little manically at him. But who doesn’t when they need coffee?

6.55am. I made my way to the start, reluctantly took off my joggers / pjs.

Race plan? The first 10km was up hill so around 6min/km would be ideal, on the flats I’d push to below 5min/km if I could, and downhill I would fly as fast as my legs would take me without rolling down the side of a mountain.

Headphones in. Slash on. Game on.

We started, and I sprinted off – I’d been told there was a bottleneck in the first 500 metres so it was important to get ahead. So that’s what I did. 500m of sprinting. I was buggered, but continued.

I followed the only woman in front of me for the first 1km then moved to overtake… right when the hills started. Good one Jess. Sorry legs.

I was first female – mine to lose with 19km to go. The thought sounded horrendously daunting, so I picked up my pace as we hopped up boulders and steps and through single tracks.

It was all uphill. 10km and no exaggeration. We scrambled, we climbed, tight squeezes and large boulders. And steep drops. But absolutely beautiful.

I stopped briefly to take a photo of the ‘clouds’ resting above the lakes, we were above the clouds (it was condensation, I realise that now).

We hit the pinnacle, leaping between boulders, and traversed across.

I took a gel, and then spent at least five minutes choking on it. Clever.

We hit some flat single track and I wondered whether we were at the top. My watch said 10km, so maybe, just maybe.

Definitely flat single track. I flew along, my legs carrying me – just running.

Then the downhill. At first it was boulders, then came more track, wider track, track with small rocks on. Mini hazards everywhere.

My knee flickered in pain – it turns out putting the brakes on to slow down actually caused more pain. So…no brakes. I bounded, like a gazelle (probably not) and leapt down the mountain (I probably didn’t).

This was so much fun.

There was a pack of us, the pain train, running and gliding down along single track. We hit the flats and then back into single trail. Three of us, encouraging each other, motivating each other.

I love trail runners.

18km. A bridge onto cycle paths across the river from where we’d just run, back on ourselves. I looked for other runners, there were none.

Suddenly I was at the 19km mark I’d walked past. 1000m glorious metres left, I could do this. I might even get under 2 hours? Very few women had managed that.

As far as I knew I was still first, and I knew the prize – new trail running shoes. I needed new trail running shoes. I ran faster.

Impossibly possible. I picked up my pace and suddenly I was into Halls Gap village, people cheering. I ran faster. My legs carried me.

The finish line.

Usually I take my headphones off so I get to enjoy the atmosphere, but it just came upon me so suddenly that I didn’t have time.

I stopped my watch, 1:59:59. Happy.

A guy grabbed me “you’re the first girl and you’re well ahead”

Someone took my photo.

I needed water. Or wine.

Then a guy in a rabbit suit came up to me – looking too serious for the outfit he was wearing. There was bad news.

“Great time Jess, but I’m going to have to disqualify you”

I thought it was a joke, I waited for him to laugh.

“You’re wearing headphones. Headphones aren’t allowed. You’re disqualified.”

I waited again for him to tell me he was joking. It didn’t come.

I shook my head in disbelief. I asked, argued, disputed. Other runners were stunned, they didn’t know either.

My legs started to shake for all the wrong reasons.

I had all the compulsory gear. I had read the rules, hadn’t I?

Mr Rabbit guy told me he’d confirm with the event organizer.

I was speechless.

My legs hurt, my body hurt. And I literally went numb. Mr Rabbit guy was clearly not going to fight my case.

I asked to speak to the event organiser myself but he was out on course.

I checked the rules “No ipods or mp3 players” but no mention of phones or headphones, or that it would result in disqualification, but I was clutching at straws.

A woman told me they’d posted it all over Facebook. I hadn’t looked; I wasn’t following the event. I’d just come to race.

The race organiser eventually came across, wearing a top hat and suit. I knew straight away it was a no, I was disqualified.

Sub 2 hours. First female. 12th overall from 292 runners. Three minutes from the course record for a woman.

Devastation.

A harsh lesson.

There was nothing I could do.

Shoulders back, head up, this would not ruin my time in the Grampians. So, I spoke to other runners about the race and the course, what else could I do but try and enjoy and be positive?

Funnily enough (actually the opposite), the woman who came second was also disqualified – no compression bandage. We laughed and agreed to take photos on the podium anyway.

Third place female was going to take first place. She said she felt bad, but she still accepted the first place gift voucher of trail running shoes. I needed those shoes.

In all the numbness, someone asked me my surname: “Short”.

“Oh yes, I’ve heard of you. Your names been circulated in quite a few circles, you get to know the good ones”

Suddenly my day was made. I had run, I knew my time. And someone recognised my name.

We took our photos in the sun. I chatted and laughed and decided to see the funny side, and the lesson.

I’ll admit, pangs of disappointment still washed over me, but I reminded myself of where I was and it was hard not to just be grateful.

I made the mistake of not cooling down before I got in the car, and suddenly I was home after a three hour drive, after a two hour race.

I opened my car door and had to almost fall out, then slowly tried to stand up. Stiff jelly legs – if there’s such a thing. Oh dear.

The afternoon and evening were spent drinking prosecco – a celebration and consideration.

I knew already Monday would be agony.

Sorry legs.

The Dirtiest Duathlon

The forecast for the weekend’s duathlon was…not great – Hail, thunderstorms and rain.

I’d half expected it to be cancelled, or renamed a triathlon with some swimming thrown in. Either way, I tapered my training a couple of days prior to Sunday.

That’s actually a lie. I’m awful at tapering.

Friday involved doing an upper body strength session to the extent that I struggled to lift my arms at all on Saturday, and Saturday involved a two hour mini hike in between the torrential rain.

I’m awful at tapering.

I’d also been attacked (there’s no other word) by knee pain that I suspected was patellofemoral pain syndrome. Thanks Dr Google (but also I’ve had it before). It was causing a severe (ahem, attacking…) pain behind my left knee cap on uphill climbs on my bike, and when I rose from a squat or couching position (which is surprisingly more often that you’d think). Both meant I was stuck in said position until the pain subsided.

Anyhow, in preparation for Sunday, I willed it to go away, and pretended it didn’t exist.

I’ve recently been experimenting with fasting and low FODMAP eating (easier to google than explain), both of which have helped with being allergic to Melbourne (in very basic terms…fasting essentially allows the body to repair itself better, and low FODMAP eliminates foods I’m more prone to being sensitive too)….and both seem to help with energy levels as a result.

And I can still drink wine.

Anyway, Saturday night was spent falling asleep to the sound of torrential rain. Yikes.

6.00am. Awake, coffee. Bleary eyes even though I’d slept right through.

Mobility, rolling, more rolling. I wondered how my knees would handle today in the mud. Then I remembered I was ignoring them, and the wonder passed.

I had breakfast. Something else I’m experimenting with – training in a fasted state then competing in a fed state, so I have more glycogen in my body. To help me go a little bit faster? Or at least soak up the wine probably still in my blood….

I was nervous. A combination of a long race and the wind / rain and mud – I honestly didn’t know how today would go.

I loaded Bert up onto Betsy (my car), and patted them both, then put Tina Turner on and drove out to You Yangs – via Coles Express for my beloved $1.50 coffee.

I arrived, busyness, a crazy buzz around the You Yangs.

Intermittent rain and sunshine, expensive bikes and flashy gadgets, people warming up.

The ground was wet and puddled, maybe an advantage to having a 29 inch wheel bike instead of the usual 27? I had faith in Bert.

I chose my more aggressive Adidas trail shoes that had the more grip, both to stop slipping when running, but to give me grip on the pedals when riding too. Genius.

I packed two gels and my prescription glasses into my race vest – even though I’d put contact lenses in for the first time in case it rained too much, and I wasn’t able to see through my shades.

I registered and put Bert into the transition section – she had her own number and spot, and I was so proud of her amongst the shiny bikes, she was a beast.

I headed up to the start line with my coconut water coffee.

“Two minutes”

I chose that exact moment to loiter at the back of the pack and think about whether I needed to tighten my shoe laces. After 90 seconds of debating, I decided I should.

Just as I undid one the horn went. They were off.

They, not me.

I squealed, badly did up my lace and sprinted off to catch them.

Good work Jess.

My legs sprang into action, slipping a few times but I got up a good pace, just behind the lead pack.

I passed two women, one of which looked like she was running with high knees, excitable happy feet, the other was wearing a tri suit and looked serious. Competition.

The run was 8km – consisting of three out and backs, not just one, but three. Relatively flat, and I found a comfortable pace around 4km/h, wary of happy feet and tri suit behind me.

I was sure I was pulling away from them.

I saw the lead male fly past in the opposite direction, he’d already got to the out and back. Then a woman sped past, literally sprinting, like, faster than I could run 100m.

No more women. I was in second. I kept up the pace, trying to avoid the puddles and any bambi style slips / face planting.

Ironically, I discovered that wearing contact lenses and prescription glasses does not result in stronger vision as I’d thought, it actually made my vision blurry, so the shades came off.

We hit the second out and back, then the third, all flat, my legs felt good. Really good. No sign of happy feet or Tri suit. And all the Skrillex I needed to keep me going.

I saw the transition stage where Bert was, number 73. I ran in, helmet on, changed my gloves to biking gloves and half downed a caffeine gel – quite badly. I wanted to keep the pace.

We were off, some resistance from my thighs having to use different muscles, and keep going.

Golly I love the You Yangs trails, single track and winding, and beautiful ups and downs. On a sunny day, I could spend all day here, happy and free.

But there were huge puddles, and it was like we were biking through mud….because we were biking through mud.

Now, I’m very aware that during a duathlon, biking is currently my weakest section.
I know I’m slow, like slow motion, compared to some of the riders – no matter how hard my legs seem to bike. I don’t think it’s Bert bless her, I think it’s me, so I knew I’d lose pace and my placing – especially in rainy conditions.

It was about 5km into the bike ride that I remembered why I don’t wear contact lenses….mud from the trail flicked up and rested itself onto one my lens’ and blinded my right eye. Jazz hands, a silly nervousness as I rubbed my eye and tried to clear the mud.

Then the rain came, torrential, and hail? It felt hard enough to be. But it cleared the mud from my lens. Result, kind of.

But, I was soaked. My feet were soaked, my fingers were freezing. And Bert was flicking mud into my mouth like she thought I hadn’t eaten that day. Mud is low FODMAP right?

12km. “Passing on your right”

It was tri suit. She’d caught me – and we were only just over a third of the way through the bike section. I shook my head.

Then I mentally slapped myself, this was my race, it didn’t matter. I was in the middle of beautifulness. Granted I was soaked and freezing and could only taste and see mud. I was still grateful to be here.

And so I rode, and tried not to hit trees, and tried to will my legs to push through the mud. Bloody good fun actually.

We had two laps to complete and I honestly thought I was going to be biking all day – which I really didn’t mind, but I was wary that I had a 6km run to go and third place to lose / second place to try and win back.

A guy I knew passed me and I watched his biking style, he was crouched, streamline. Oh. Attack position? I did the same, and my speed seemed to creep up.

Attack was on.

I saw the transition stage, parked Bert in her spot, and jumped off.

I couldn’t feel my feet. Or my hands.

I tried to swap gloves, tried to stop my watch, tried to take off my helmet. All with limp fingers and little success. Oh dear.

I took a breath. Had a word with myself and slowed down.

Then I saw them, the happy feet, dance through the transition zone ready to run. She’d caught me, and her feet were dancing like an energiser bunny.

I downed my gel and threw my gloves down, then I ran.

I passed her, and ran, on ice blocks. Willing my feet to feel again.

Tried to find pace – the 6km was another out and back.

I pulled away but imagined she was quite close behind me, those tap dancing feet.

Then it happened, I saw tri suit ahead of me. Game on.

I picked up the pace, and passed her. Second. Mine to lose.

I found my pace, 4km/hr again. My legs felt….good? Not like the last duathlon, my lungs felt good. The gel was kicking in, and the feeling was returning to my feet.

I got to the half way mark and turned, tri suit and happy feet were a couple of hundred metres behind me. So I picked my pace up. 3km to go.

I ran, no more rain, no more mud on my contact lenses. Granted I could still taste mud but it was now a familiar taste.

I saw the finish line, checked behind me, no one. No happy feet, no tri suit.

I semi sprinted and attempted a jump on the finish line. I think most people thought I was falling over.

2 hours, 41 minutes and 55 seconds. Of nonstop. Of mud, and rain.

Second.

Soaked.

Exhausted.

Happy.

I shook some hands and clapped a few runners in. Then asked one of the guys how to improve my bike speed.

“You just have to practice. And get clip-ins.” (Clip-ins attach your shoes to your pedals so you’re pulling the pedals up as well as pushing them down. Actually. It’s a real thing people do.)

Jess + clip ins = face planting / disaster / injury. Practice it was then.

I went to get Bert, covered in as much mud as me. Everything was. I patted her, and thanked her.

I took a while to appreciate the scenery – from my car, with the heating on full. Defrosting my mud soaked body.

Regardless, trail running and biking are some of my favourite ways to spend any morning.

Which is lucky really, because it’s Wonderland next – 20km over the Grampians.

#sorrylegs

 

 

Do u athlon? Well, I do now.

It’s been a while…almost 6 months almost I raced in New Zealand. I missed it. But also my legs were grateful for the rest.

As planned my focus turned to adventure racing – starting with running and biking (kayaking and swimming will probably wait until Summer…or until I’m somewhere tropical. With a cocktail. Jazz hands)

I experimented with fasting too – to see if that increased my energy when training. I think it would’ve more rapidly had I not assumed I could eat anything I wanted during my eating window….but apparently too much wine counters the effects. Silliness.

I got the balance right eventually and now have a 10am to 7pm eating window. (Except on weekends – it’s all about balance.)

The results – I feel sharper and more focussed in the mornings, and the time I used to spend cooking breakfast I put towards meditation, mobility and a decent morning routine. Yep, I am that person.

The couple of pounds I’ve lost haven’t been the worst thing in the world either.

Anyway.

I’d entered the  PB Events Dirty Duathlon in August (8km / 33km / 6km – yikes)  as a goal to train towards. So I started upping my runs and bikes (and both combined) around the trails of Melbourne (You Yangs I love you). There are endless trails – runs and bikes – within an hour in Victoria, it almost makes me want to cry how beautiful it is.

By chance, I saw a duathlon pop up in Lysterfield – shorter distances so good prep for the one in August to see how the legs would fair in transition. But only four days away….challenge accepted.

My pre race preparation on the Saturday was an Iraqi lunch at Free to Feed (yep, with champagne) – beautifulness, and an espresso martini in the evening whilst trying to do my tax returns. A necessity in most occasions, but particularly for anything tax related.

Pre race you say? – champagne has the same antioxidant effects as red wine, and we all know caffeine has many benefits to training….winning.

I woke at 6am. Apple Cider Vinegar, and shot of turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and ginger (yep, every morning) and breakfast – oh and mobility work that makes me look like I’m drunk…which is never impossible.

The old beetroot juice reappeared. Hello race day, it’s good to see you again.

I drove to Lysterfield with a nervousness – it took three Coles Express’ to find one that was open for my usual $1.50 coffee.

I arrived, and as I walked Bert (the beast, my beloved second hand trail bike) down to the race start, kangaroos hopped across my path. Lysterfield had a magical feel about it.

I was met by people hooking their bikes up to the racks. Beautiful, expensive bikes with those drop down saddle things and front and back suspension forks, so shiny and colourful. I patted Bert, and lay her down on the ground so I knew where to find her (yes, Bert is a her).

I registered and the briefing took place. Orange ribbons for bike, pink ones for run. Come on Jess, even you can remember that. I wrote it on my hand anyway.

The race: 2km run, 18km bike, 8km run. All trail.

I knew the runs were relatively flat, so they’d be fast. I planned around a 4.4min/km, to try and save something for the bike.

We were off.

Two women sped off. One in a tri-suit super speedy, I called her the Olympian, and one in a blue jumper, whom I named blue jumper. I took third.

They were fast and the wind was strong. Like, breath takingly so. And god dam the Olympian was fast, because she was an Olympian of course.

I kept pace until my shoe lace came undone. Basics Jess. I lost ground and the front two sped off along the sand. Yes, sand.

The transition.

I reached Bert, and the first appearance of nervous jazz hands came out. I was unsure what I should do and looking to the others for guidance. My legs started doing this weird sideways crab walk around Bert as though I’d forgotten how to pick up a bike and ride it – so I just grabbed her handlebars, my helmet, jumped on, and started biking.

Hello quads.

18km of bike.

We started uphill through the car parks, then into the trails and beautiful single track. I was trying to go fast and not die. Squealing – a lot. I caught up with blue jumper and tried to keep her in my sights, mainly to make sure I didn’t take a wrong turn. We got stuck behind some bikers, she overtook and I didn’t. I didn’t. I waited, and lost ground. More uphill. Come on legs. Blue jumper was gone.

I’ve ridden as Lysterfield a few times, so I know it has tree roots and a few optional jumps that you need to be confident to go over, or prepared to go over the handle bars if not. The first came and I avoided it (there’s always the option to take a side route). They were sneaky, I knew I had to be careful.

On one of my most recent rides as You Yangs, a friend asked me whether I’d thought about what I’d do when I went over the handlebars. When. Not if.

Options appeared to be:

  1. Freeze and eat dirt / break face
  2. Try and get your legs over the handlebars and land on your feet
  3. Ninja roll
  4. Throw the bike from under you and jump to the side

I chose number 5. – Not to ever put myself in the position where I would need to consider 1 – 4.

But then I’d never raced before.

I reminded myself how to ride the trails – now and next. When biking you’re supposed to look at your now – what’s in front of you, and your next – what’s coming so you can prepare. I’m pretty awful at both. And when you go over rock gardens or roots you assume attack position, like a ninja on a bike if you like.

Skrillex came on just as I hit the downhills. I leaned back, my bottom narrowly hovering above my rear tyre, probably not quite the attack position I was taught. Bloody hell this was fun. And a little bit terrifying. Now and next, now and next. Attack attack attack. But no sight of blue jumper or the Olympian.

We hit flats and I decided to attempt a gel on  my bike for the first time (no, it didn’t occur to me to stop). One hand on Bert the other on the gel. I forgot my now and next, and didn’t see the jump in front of me. No choice but to go over one handed. Bucket list ticked. Didn’t die. And got some gel. Winning.

We hit the cornering that Lysterfield does so well. Some people call it hairpins corners but I call them horseshoe corners (erm, because they’re the shape of horseshoes…). The aim is to go into them and turn your body to turn the bike, and try not to brake. And try not to break.

These ones were more like Shetland pony shoes, tiny, tight – especially on a 29” bike. I shouted at myself a lot, and squealed. There would have been more nervous jazz hands but that wouldn’t have ended well on a bike.

More turns, more like My Little Pony shoes. Golly.

I took a Shetland Pony shoe corner too tightly and my back wheel hit a tree root and jumped up. I won’t tell you where my men’s saddle jarred into, but I ruled out walking, or being able to move, later.

Recovering, I made a mental note that Lysterfield was again, looking magical. And I was grateful to be here. Trees, wildlife, blue skies.

Always grateful.

Suddenly I knew where I was, and where the transition was. My legs felt good, bloody tired, but good. I went faster into the single track then out into the open. And suddenly I saw my resting place for Bert. I laid her down and took my bladder out (no, not that one) of my harness to lighten my run. I took a few steps on jelly legs and did a kind of Tina Turner in high heels shimmy. I stopped and shook them out.

As far as I knew I was still in third.

I began to run, familiarity of trail running returned and I started following pink ribbons amongst the trees. 8km, come on legs.

I stopped, toilet stop. Never been done before but somehow I’d drank too much coffee, then too much water during the bike ride. Yikes.

I recovered and began again, open fire tracks. And uphill. All the hills. I was at 4.5min/km on heavier legs than I was used too. I wanted the hills to stop.

I reached the top and blue jumper caught up with me. Wait. Caught up, with me.

I had been in second. Oh dear. Game on.

I ran faster. Downhill came and the right kind of jazz hands came out. I let go, my legs let go.

Blue jumper was right behind me. I dropped to 4.15min/km. 4km left. Holy moly. Sorry legs.

I kept pace and more downhill, I broke away, maybe about 100 metres in front. And then the flats. Open fire track flats, probably my least favourite because they’re fast and long and it’s harder to put any distance between you and the next person.

I kept my pace and we turned into the home straight, 800m to go. I figured blue jumper would have a strong finish as she looked experienced, so I upped my pace to just under 4.00min/km.

My lungs exploded, my mouth did this weird sideways thing. Maybe to get more air in. I felt like Sylvester Stallone.

I looked for the pink ribbons and my nervous jazz hands came out again at the thought of getting lost. Sylvester Stallone with jazz hands. It happened.

My legs and lungs were on their final….legs. I literally had nothing left in the tank, in my lungs. But I somehow carried on.

The finish line.

I pretty much dived over it. Sideways mouth,  jazz hands and all. Head first.

Second place.

I would’ve cried, but I didn’t have any energy too.

Blue jumper came in, about 20 seconds behind me.

We shook hands, I was unsure whether she’d seen my jazz hands or sideways mouth, so I tried to smile normally. I failed.

I went back to Bert and laid down next to her, patted her and thanked her. Blues skies and the water. What a magical place. What a magical race.

The organisers had put food on – amazing. So I filled up to try and alleviate the shaky feeling I had. My legs were on point but my nutrition has been lacking, good to know for the longer race.

My mouth returned to normal and I sat in the Winter sunshine watching the others come in.

Sunday morning spent well.

Sorry legs.

 

Tongariro Crossing – running up volcanoes.

So….After Lara Pinta, the Trail Series, and the rest – all the running, all the hills…I decided to  do the 4 Peaks Alpine Challenge.

Four days, four mountains. Sorry legs.

I didn’t write about it because it was more of a journey than a race – a journey that involved four runs up four mountains, but most importantly dancing to Nutbush City Limits and deciding that it was the perfect pre race warm up.

That kind of journey.

Having said that, from each mountain I learnt four different things:

  1. Always respect the mountain. Because it’s a mountain.
  2. Trail runners are legends. They will tell you to keep going, tell you when the last hill is, and most importantly, they will know when you’ve hit a wall and pick you up and throw you over it.
  3. Time your pre race toilet stop. Starting five minutes behind everyone else because you’re stuck in a queue means it’s likely you will get stuck behind the people who want to…enjoy the scenery more than they want to run.
  4. Nature is amazing. It is free and all around us. I’m allergic to most of it, but I still love it and am super grateful for it.

Semi profound statements over.

So I rested. And Christmas happened. The combination was quite dangerous.

I noticed knocks and aches I hadn’t felt before until I stopped running, and of course, ate and drank more because it was Christmas, but also because I love food and wine.

January came around fast so I devised a loose training program for the impending 26km in New Zealand.

Excruciating knee pain at any distance over 10km – and a quick trip to the physio – told me I had ITB Friction Syndrome (much better than anything related to the meniscus or collateral ligament as first thought).

The rehab for it involved dry needling…given the choice between dry needling on the ITB and giving up wine for a year, I’d choose the latter.

That’s how much it sucked.

Anyway, there was little training as a result. But I was confident that I could put in the rehab required to get my wayward knee back to good….in the eleven days I had.

We flew to New Zealand. Bloody amazing country.

Anyway….the race.

The course changed a few days beforehand due to some storms, resulting in park closures – instead of a variety of ups and mostly downs, it was 18km up then 8km up and down. Yikes.

I rested completely for the two days leading up to it – this was the second longest distance I’d ever run so I figured I owed my legs that. And yep, carb loaded with wine…because I was on holiday….?

The evening before the race we sat and enjoyed the sunset, even though it was behind us….so we sat and enjoyed some New Zealand wine and thought about how pretty the sunset behind us might be.

I headed to bed early. Then spent the night dreaming about missing the race. So no sleep for me then.

5.30am. Up. Bleary eyes, but awake.

Breakfast as standard – pumpkin, avocado, eggs and beetroot. All cooked in complete darkness and (attempted) silence to not wake everyone else in the house doing the later 13km.

Coffee (yep, tea bag)

It took over an hour for all the buses to get from the Chateau where we’d finish, to the start line in Rangipo. We drove along winding New Zealand roads a little like the Great Ocean Road but not near a sea line, or trees. So actually nothing like it. But just as beautiful.

As soon as I got to the start line I stretched and rolled (not literally), then took the time to take in the scenery.

Beautiful, rugged, hills and volcanoes, and blues skies and sunshine.

Perfect for a picnic.

Less so for a race.

5 minutes.

I took a gel and my heart beat echoed in my head louder than my music, then did some weird jumping lunges to try and keep my nerves at bay. And also scare fellow competitors of course.

I formed a plan – 5min/km on the flats (or faster if I could), aggressive lunging on the hills and flying as fast as my legs would take me on the down hills.

The whistle went and we began. The terrain – soft mud-like sand. Not good, not easy. More suited to being on a horse in a movie about hobbits in fact.

My knees hated me, and my thighs, and calves. I told them to shut up and run, and so we did.

I didn’t count the females. I made a point of making this run about my own race, and so it was. I sped up to the 5min/km, sometimes quicker as I found my place in the race, amongst the sand. Sorry legs.

5km passed and I was loving life, the sun was shining, my knee was fine and I had a good pace.

At around 8km we hit the uphills…steady gradual inclines of soft mud, and the heat began to beat down on us. Hello struggle town. A runner passed me in the opposite direction, and I wondered whether he’d gone back for someone, or had seen the impending volcano we would be climbing up. Then another passed me, and one more.

It dawned on me. This soft mud we were running up was an out and back. An out. Then a back. My mind went mad.

Out and backs are not my favourite – seeing who is ahead of you, and knowing you’ve got all this trail to run back over again before you hit new trails.

The first girl passed me in the opposite direction, flew by, then another not so fast. But no others, just one directly in front of me, probably also wishing she was on a horse.

Damn. Now I knew I was fourth, now I wanted more.

10km came and I took a gel. Out of practice so largely choking on it rather than swallowing it.

I picked up my pace….which wasn’t much in the sand. And made a move to over take the girl ahead of me and passed her.

We hit 12km. The out and back was over and we hit fresh and not so sandy terrain. I saw second place girl. Mine.

I stayed behind her for a while as more hills came. Stuck in between running and a farmers shuffle.

We hit undulating single trail. I think I shrieked.

I overtook. and pulled away. Second place. Still shrieking.

At around 17km we hit more soft sand, and I subsequently hit a wall. Not even hit it, ran full force and took a flying leap into it.

I was in trouble.

My knee flickered with a familiar someone-chopping-it-with-an-axe pain, and my legs suddenly felt very heavy in the sand. I almost wanted to cry, and stop.

I definitely wanted to stop.

I had a few words with myself. Stretched my knee out (in a half hop so I wasn’t technically stopping)

Then it happened. A female over took me – not one from the top four I’d seen.

I’m not sure why I was so surprised, I had dropped my pace so much.

This was not happening, I was not letting this slip away. I now wanted podium. If she had caught me, then the others weren’t far behind.

I took a gel, I slapped myself (it happened) and I took a moment to appreciate that I was in New Zealand, amongst volcanoes and beautifulness. This was not happening.

I sped up with the female still insight. Far away but in sight.

And then I saw some friends, walking the 13km walk (obviously) that was on the same route. I screamed out to them, more shrieking.

We laughed and I ran on, steeper ups but not so much sand. I ran.

At the top of one of the hills I asked a woman where the highest peak was. She smiled.

“You’re on it. It’s downhill from here”

If I could do somersaults, I would’ve done one there and then. Instead I did jazz hands – which is of equal calibre in my eyes.

I ran, my legs ran. I ignored my body aches and followed my legs.

We smashed it. Into trees, down steps, through beautiful forest.

I had lost sight of the female but had energy back in my legs and blood pumping through my veins, or something.

We went through rainforest, descending down into it and I caught sight of the chateau. I did a skip and a jig. Yep, happened.

1.5km by my watch, until the end. Until I could stop and sit down.

I ran, I encouraged. Then I ran som more and a guy called out to me. “200m”

I sprinted (most likely did not speed up at all), and crossed the line.

Third female in category, and overall.

24th finisher across both genders – from 480. I was happy.

But bugger me.

That was hard.

I shook hands, high fived, drank water and tried to cool down and stretch. But mostly ate my body weight in everything and anything I could. My watch said 1300 calories. Thank you watch.

We waited for the walkers to finish, and we celebrated in the sunshine, holiday time.

A friend turned to me.

“Jess, we can wait here four hours for presentations, or we can drive back to our place and drink wine and celebrate”

Wine won.

26km done.

Sorry legs.

And next?

The UTA in NSW is full this year, so that will have to wait until next year. UTMB calls me, but I’m not sure I can manage 50km, or even train for it right now.

So….adventure it is. Racing I mean, adventure racing.

Run, bike, kayak. Hells yes.

Sorry legs.

The Concrete Playground 

The Studley Park night run resulted in some unexpected knee and upper buttock spasms / pain. Quite amusing in private, quite embarrassing in public.

So I rested, and mainly focused on cardio based strength training (25-30 min workouts with a heap of equipment, tabata style). No runs though….probably not the best preparation for my first road race in a year.

The weekend of the race was suddenly upon me. It was Friday and I needed to rest for Sunday – and my mum was arriving. My rest day turned into a 17km hike around Melbourne and an evening of wine tasting. I love my mum.

Saturday was assigned official rest day….gardening….and wine.

5am Sunday morning came. I was up, standing in darkness in my pyjamas in the kitchen. I downed my beetroot juice (I have it every morning in the few days leading up to a race) and glanced over at the empty bottles of wine in the lounge. Shit.

Within the chaos and the calm of my morning preparation my mum sat down next to me “Jess. I need to tell you something…”. I stopped what I was doing. “…I’ve discovered how to tie shoe laces so they won’t come undone. Can I show you so yours won’t come undone during the race?”

I love my mum. And she showed me – double loop the bow.

I cooked a full breakfast (as I would have done a trail run) and got my Coles Express coffee on my way down to the MCG – it’s the only place that serves freshly ground coffee open before 6am, therefore a godsend in my book.

We (me and my mum, because she’s a legend and came with me) watched the sunrise at the MCG as I got ready for my race, and she walked me to the start.

My legs felt a little sore from the hike on Friday, and my mind was racing a little.

4min/km pace, on road. To some road runners I guess that sounds normal or even slow. To me it meant sprinting for around 41 minutes, hopefully less. Yikes.

I left my mum to walk up to the first part of the start line. She waved me off and told me she would see me in 40 minutes at the finish, I laughed.

Gel time. Music on – Slash, Apocalyptic Love. Come on legs.

The ten second count down.

Then go.

I ran, along flat, along concrete, with the masses. Dodging, jumping trying to get a clear path and out on the side.

We were running down a freeway, down closed roads. I found a comfortable pace and checked my watch. 4.20km/min. Bollocks.

I stepped up a gear into uncomfortableness. 3.50km/min. Yep, uncomfortable. But I found a rhythm, and some people to chase.

If I’m honest I can’t remember the first part of the course, I know I enjoyed the roads being closed, and appreciated the support of random strangers clapping and cheering.

Then the tan hill hit. Road hills – they’re not the same as trail hills. If you start to aggressively lunge like you can up the trails….you basically end up just actually lunging, which isn’t going to beat any PBs…and might look rather strange.

Pace maintenance….I dropped to 4.20km/min and it went through my mind – this was why I couldn’t get under 41 min, the dam gradual hills.

I refused, I pushed. I chased people, and I thought how disappointed my mum would be if she didn’t see me in 40 minutes. I pushed deeper.

Then the flats and a downhill. I flew, on jelly legs, and squealed, and let my legs guide me.

I hit 7km, and that was when I really struggled. My legs just wanted to stop, or slow down. And somewhere in my mind I reasoned that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to not beat my PB.

I shouted at myself (almost like bark, and I’m pretty sure out loud) It was all in my mind. I wanted this, my legs were fine. 3km to go, they were fine. I pushed.

3.50km/min. I was back. I found my rhythm again. The Prodigy came on. Game on.

I was on around 37 minutes when I passed the MCG to the awful out and back that comes before you actually go in to the finish. It seemed to never ever end. I saw people going back the other way and wanted to ask for a piggy back. But I knew the end was near.

I spotted a woman who had been with me the whole time and maintained pace with her (thank you random woman)

I turned into the entrance and it was incredible. The atmosphere and the feeling was worth even just entering the race regardless of the race itself. I was on just under 40 minutes. Never one for sprint finishes (they have resulted in many stumbles and face plants before), I began to pick up the pace.

And so did someone at least 40 years older than me. We raced (I’m not sure he knew), until I actually realised he was winning, so I eased off. Good work random man, good work.

The last 20 metres or so I realised I was coming in under 41 minutes. I laughed to myself. Maybe cried a little.

The line. I stopped my watch. 40.25 unofficial.

My lungs were heaving, my legs were shot and I was quite sure they would never forgive me, but I so happy. Six years in the making (or undoing as some might see it…thank you wine).

I looked for my mum in a sea of people. I couldn’t find her. (turns out she did actually watch me cross the line and took photos….of me and of a few other runners she also thought might have been me, just in case).

I took some selfies at the MCG, then went to meet my mum at a predetermined meeting point at 8.30am. We celebrated, then spent the morning watching the legends that were running the half and marathon come in. Amazing efforts.

And then?

We went to spend the evening at a winery in Yarra Glen, because why not?

Wine tasting and picnics galore. I love my mum.

My confirmed official time was actually 40.19. I was blown away, stoked, and very grateful. I still am.

4th female in category of 662

21st female overall from 4292

Ugh. If I’d known I was coming forth….

And next?

The 4 Peaks challenge in Bright over the Melbourne Cup weekend.

4 days, 4 mountains, 4 races.

Sound familiar?

Maybe not the 30 degree heat of Alice Springs though.

Sorry legs.

Lights, camera, darkness. And running. 

I felt so good during the last run at Anglsea that I began to believe a little more in the scribbled down training plan I’d put together from about ten different ones I’d read online or in magazines:

One long run, one short run and one hills or sprints per week, with 2-3 cross training / strength sessions. Yoga and Pilates are there too….but my holistic wellness often revolves around wine. So that won. A lot.

So I continued, exploring new trails and trying to motivate myself to find hills to run up and down.

The next race was different – in the evening, and in complete darkness. Neither I was fully comfortable with and only really had the experience of Lara Pinta to go off.

Let me expand: Evening races to me – or anything that’s after I eat breakfast – is a bit of a challenge. I generally like to graze throughout the day (by graze I mean have full meals and pretend they’re snacks), so my body is pretty sleepy and full by 8pm, which is when the race was scheduled.

Running in darkness poses the challenge that I should slow down and watch my step a little more. And I just don’t, I simply stumble a little more, and laugh at myself a lot more.

Anyway, race day.

I managed to rest and taper training (harder than it sounds) and eat a little less during the day (definitely harder than it sounds), and there was no wine with dinner (virtually impossible).

I parked a little away from the event and managed to get lost on the trails leading to the start line, so my warm up was a panicked jog along the trails themselves. My heart was pumping.

I had my contacts in so no need for sunshades. Because it’s evening Jess, and no one does that anymore.

For the first time before a 10km race I decided to take a gel – for the caffeine and sugar / energy hit. (But also for the general tiredness I was feeling from it being probably an hour or two before my usual bedtime….)

I considered running with no music – there was a lot of single track and it would be dark. That though lasted about two seconds before I realised I would hate my life for the entire race if I did that. One earphone. A compromise.

30 seconds to start. Head torch on.

The siren went and a few girls raced out ahead of me, this was going to be fast.

I realised I didn’t really have a planned speed for the race, or a plan at all. Just to not fall in the river.

I stayed at 4.20km/min (which I consider quite fast for trails) and felt ok.

We went along wide track and separated out, I could see a girl ahead of me. I kept her in sight, I knew there was single track coming up so it’d be hard to overtake her – if I could.

This was the last race in the trail series, and my last trail run for a few weeks, so I went for it.

I managed. Legs on fire. Feet stumbling on the downhill when I thought the ground was there but it wasn’t.

I continued and we hit the single track. Amazing. But terrifying. The moon lit the river and highlighted where I’d end up if I lost my concentration. I tried to aim my head torch at my feet, in my path.

There were a few of us running together, which helped. When they jumped or ducked I knew I should probably do that same. It became almost like a dance.

I also discovered two things from only wearing one earphone…

1) I’m a really loud breather and basically sound a bit like I’m dying

2) When you sing along to lyrics, other people can actually hear you. Sorry other people.

Before I knew it we’d hit 5km. Thank you gels, and singing.

We hit the short course runners along the single track (not literally). No overtaking. I decided not to panic and take it as forced rest, slowed down, recovered my breathing (see above).

Wide track, and I moved past them, all encouraging each other.

We went up onto high ground, above the tracks and along a road. I allowed myself to look at the moonlit outline of the City. I love you Melbourne.

3km left.

I sped up, trying to gain back some speed from the single tracks.

Suddenly I could see the lights of the finish line. In my mind I sprinted, but I really don’t think I sped up at all. Exhaustion was kicking in.

I crossed the line, not sure of my placing.

I stopped and stood still for a few minutes, The end of the Trail Series. In my mind I had worked out I could win the Trail Series if I won the race. That would be….amazing.

I took it in. The atmosphere, the live music, the happy runners. I love trail running.

I found friends, and found wine. And quickly forgot to cool down in any form.

The placings were announced.

Third, second…I wasn’t called up and I wondered whether they’d made a mistake, or whether I’d just not made it.

“And in first place and also the Series Winner…Jess Short”

Bloody hell.

I stumbled towards the stage (both in shock and maybe a glass or two of wine down)

Ecstasy. This feeling couldn’t get any better.

I stood on the podium and they gave me a sparkler. It got better.

I received a pint glass and a medal. They were kicking goals.

More wine.

Still no warm down.

Sorry legs.

What’s next?

Melbourne Marathon. Yep a road race. But mostly for work, and for the YMCA Open Doors Charity.

There is another reason I’m doing it though – I’ll be racing against my toughest competitor…the 10km PB I set 6 years ago…in my twenties….when I was a Police Officer…and definitely hadn’t fully discovered or understood the beautifulness of good wine and good food.

Oh, and my mum will be watching

No pressure.

Sorry legs.

Anglesea – beach running and beautiful trails…

I wouldn’t say that I chose to rest in the week after Lara Pinta. More that my body made me….all the cool downs in the world would not have made me ready to get back into recovery training straight away. So I drank wine instead.

I actually managed a couple of short runs, but gave in to mainly doing strength work and letting my legs and feet be mad at me for just a little longer.

First run back a week later – a 16km up to Coburg Reserve then down to Fitzroy along the Merri Creek. Beautiful, and fast…mostly because I was heading to brunch. Food is always good motivation for me.

Second run – not so good. The return of the meniscus / ITB / sharp unidentified pain in my right knee 8km into 13km. I should’ve listened to my body and jumped on a train home. But I had no wallet or phone so I stumbled on home and tried to stretch it off. Then spent the remainder of the day avoiding stairs….or walking.

My next run was a week Sunday and it was supposed to be a cracker. I could not be injured.

As torture, I spent an entire evening googling and planning a worldwide Trail running bucket list – planning holidays around them. I could not be injured.

Tuesday before the race….an 11km run without pain. I did the robot dance and many self high fives more than once that day.

Anyway, the race.

Oh, let me tell you about Friday night first. I learned a lot about dehydration…

Step 1. Sit next to a roaring indoor fire, literally almost in it.

Step 2. Ignore your body’s need for water

Step 3. Drink wine

Step 4. Drink more wine

A beautiful evening. Not so much a beautiful morning.

The answer? Day drinking of course. And making profiteroles. A very good pre race combination whilst watching the Surf Coast Century runners smash out some amazing distances.

On the plus side I drank so much water to combat the day drinking that when I woke up on Sunday for the race, my body was probably the most hydrated it’s ever been. Plus all that resveratrol. Winning.

I knew from the rec. run that the race started with 5km on the beach then up into the cliffs for some single tracks and rolling hills. I figured the faster (ahem, younger) runners would probably go ahead during the beach race but I could hopefully make up ground in the elevation. Hopefully.

I had a plan. 4.40 min/km on the beach then whatever pace I felt comfortable with on the trails.

We started, and I thought I could jump the 8-10 metre river running to the sea at the start to avoid wet feet. I was surprisingly confused when I made it about 1 metre in. Wet feet it was.

The beach opened out. 4.20 min/km. What plan? The sand was hard enough to run comfortably without completely messing up my calves, so I continued.

About 1km in I went out in front of the other females. I felt good. I did a few stupid jumps over rocks. I still felt good, just stupid.

We came off the beach and the pack I was with went the wrong way, the long course way. I watched in horror as the other females passed me. That hard work. That hard beach work with wet feet and silly jumps over rocks.

I shook myself. Just run you fool. Bloody run and catch up.

So I did. Uphill, I kept going until I was back to where I was before.

Sorry legs.

The trails were….have I mentioned I love single track? Without even noticing I was at 8.5km and going ok, feeling good. I’d had two full rest days which helped. I allowed my legs to explore the ground beneath me and went with it. Almost romantic.

Gel time.

Having lost my last gel bottle in Lara Pinta I had new bottles to contend with. Because why not try out new bottles in the middle of a race? At first nothing came out, I was on an uphill and nothing came out. I stopped, I looked into the bottle and squeezed in disbelief. It worked, and suddenly I had gel in my eye. I laughed at myself but mostly because I was grateful they worked. I wiped my eye, drank the bloody gel and carried on. Wet feet and a sticky face.

Knee pain struck around 10km on an uphill and I made a deal with it to go easy on the uphills, so I did my aggressive lunging and the pain lessened, then sped up on the flats and downhills.

I saw glimpses of views of the sea – stunning, then got distracted by the downhills. One part so aggressive and steep-stepped that my brain shook a little and my shades almost fell off. I definitely squealed, then put the breaks on. That’s how face plants happen.

The trail opened out onto dirt track then suddenly I was back on the beach heading towards the finish line….soft sand. Suddenly my calves were calling me an idiot and stiffening up. I willed them on, running a little like a penguin. Needs must.

Back through the river we started at. My almost dry feet were wet again but I welcomed the cold water on my calves, and almost thought about washing my face in case I had any remnants of gel on me. Nah.

Sprint finish. Yep, against myself.

First female. Grateful.

Thank you knee.

Straight back into the sea for the cold water therapy that worked so well in Lara Pinta.

Sorry legs.

Larapinta – the end of an amazing journey 

I won two wine glasses for my two stage race wins. This is why I love trail running.

Day 3 Race 3:

22km. 13km flat then 9km into around and out of a gorge. Another mountain. Also, hello 30 degree heat.

We woke at 5.30am. More pre workout. Awake.

22km. That’s the furthest I’ve ever run. My quads were on fire already. Uh oh.

We started at 9am. The sun was already high in the sky and preying on us.

13km of undulating trails – single track. I should’ve been in heaven. But I was struggling. The wine? No. Just a combination of the first two races and the heat.

The scenery was stunning, I used it to keep me going. Right foot, left foot.
I had my gel at forty minutes in the hopes it would perk me up. I put it back into my bag. Two minutes later I felt something running down my back, down my leg. Had my bladder burst?? (No, not my actual bladder)

I felt the back of my leg – sticky….my other gels. Uh oh. No more gels. No more sugar or caffeine. And 12km to go. Not good.

I got to the water station, tired. Through panting lungs I tried to explain to the water lady that I thought my bladder had burst. She looked horrified. She probably still is. I didn’t rectify her confusion.

Into the gorge.

Right foot, left foot. I kept going. The gorge was amazing. Red rock on blue sky on blue water. It was amazing. The gorge was amazing, that was my concentration.

I was alone at that point; I knew there were four guys ahead of me, and I knew there was a girl behind me at some point. I shouldn’t have cared, but I bloody well did.

I agreed with myself that I was struggling, so the plan was to run the flats and the downhills and walk the uphills.

Limp Bizkit came on – Rollin’. Suddenly Fred Durst was telling me to breath in and breath out, and keep rolling. So I did. And the plan went out the window. Hello legs. Thank you Fred.

I ran through the gorge, boulders, sand, trail. One more mountain to go then down hill to the finish. I climbed, I sang. I ran down the hill to Sweet Home Alabama.

Home. Finished.

First girl, somehow.

Happy. Exhausted. So many things.

I warmed down – I rolled out, I went in the cold pool and soaked. I never wanted to feel like that in a race again.

I don’t like talking about toes or feet, in fact I hate it. But sitting in the pool I noticed two toes looked very angry at me.

A flame and a needle later and they looked a lot less angry. 😱

Dinner was an all you can eat buffet. My Garmin watch told me I’d burned 2,000 calories during the race. Challenge accepted.

In bed by 9pm. Full.

Day 4, Race 4:

30km 14km undulating trails, one mountain to climb, 10km more trails. Once again the furthest I’d ever run. But what’s new?

We started an hour early to avoid the predicted 31 degree heat. So my alarm went off at 4.45am to get breakfast in early enough to digest. Yikes.

My legs? Felt great, refreshed, alive. Eager to get started. Pipe down legs.

We started, I dropped my phone. Someone picked it up. I restarted.

I ran with the lead pack in beautiful convoy through undulating (yes, I like that word) single track. I was in heaven (yes, I like that word too). 10km passed very quickly.

I jumped down into a river and my right leg buckled – pain shot down the outside of my knee. My meniscus. Shit. I continued through the pain for a few minutes and it went (dulled) so I carried on, luckily.

More amazing single track. Did I mention I like that? The guys were awesome. One was running on a twisted ankle. I won’t say what he was drinking to numb the pain but it definitely wasn’t water. I was in awe / jealous. I love trail running.

We hit the mountain and all walked up it. Kind of together but separating gradually.

Red rock, beautiful red rock. I love this place.

I got to the top of the mountain. Time to start running. I looked at the view, did a double take. Mountains and more mountains for miles. Breathtaking. Stunning. Lost for words.

I told myself to concentrate but I looked again….I fell. Less blood and less pain than the first / last mountain fall, but enough to bring me back to reality. Race jess, you bloody idiot.

I ran. And then came the downhill. A zig zag of red rock scree. Perilous. I loved it. Squeals and screams and maybe even some skipping.

This was bloody awesome.

Two lads joined me – so much better than me on the downhill, scarily so.

We got to the bottom. 10km to go. I felt good. I told my legs (yep, out loud) to imagine this was a normal 10km race. To go hard but steady. And they listened.

No girls in sight so far. I could do this. Sorry meniscus, I’m just not listening.

More single track, more in love with this place.

The last 6km were a mental battle. I felt good but a voice kept reminding me I’d already done 24km and I should feel tired….more ignoring.

Then more gels. I continued.

I could see home.

2km to go.

Skrillex came on. Yes.

The last 200m was soft sand. I sprinted. My legs almost gave out.

The finish of the 30km. The finish of the four day event.

First girl, forth overall. Stoked.

High fives all round then straight into the river. Hopefully no crocodiles….I had no fight in me.

Grateful.

11am – wine o’clock.

Presentations involved two more engraved wine glasses for the two further races I’d won. Then two medals – one for first female in category (20-39) and one for overall female winner of the four days.

Speechless.

More wine.

Total distance run: 81km
Total time running: 9hrs 26min
Total calories burned: 6,768
Total calories in wine consumed: 6,768
Total Bush bash injuries: 16 and counting
Total Toenails sacrificed: 3
Total Gratitude expended: More than can be put into words.

And now?

I told my legs I would take the week off…but I may have accidentally set my alarm for 5.30am tomorrow to get up and run. Because why not?

And next?

Angelsea 15km in September.
Although…there was talk of the Larapinta crew doing the Surf Coast Century 50km. Because why not?

Sorry legs.

Larapinta – The journey so far 

I arrived to blue skies and a heat I haven’t felt for a while. Holiday!! Oh with four races / 80km of trails…

We checked into our hotel and went to explore Alice Springs…everywhere I looked espresso martinis were the ‘cocktail of the week’. Uh oh.

Anyway. We had wine and food and more wine. Then to bed to prepare for a sunrise shoot.

Race day 1:

5.30am alarm went off to get up for some sunrise filming

5.31am Raw Protein pre workout taken

5.32am awake and ready.

Sunrise was epic, being in nature was epic. I’m still a little in awe.

The race wasn’t until 6pm – a sunset race through the trails of Alice Springs.

I’m not great with evening runs to be honest – I eat too much and I feel nervous all day. But I took myself on walks and meditated….and drank a lot of coffee.

The race began. It was still light when we took off and I decided to hang out with the lead pack to see how it felt. Legs felt good. Heart felt good (thanks coffee).

The trails were amazing – undulating single track. My favourite. I was in heaven.

Then sunset came.

My shades came off and the head torch came out (and the fear of kangaroos jumping out on me increased ten fold)

But I kept running, towards the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen. My motivation.

No gels to inhale / spill / choke on. Just trails …and darkness. I squealed. A lot. The downhills were pretty technical when you rely on torch light – and no prescription shades

1km away from the finish I knew I was first girl. I sped up (sorry legs) and made sure I finished with a sprint. First girl. High five.

That sunset.

One (ok two) glasses of wine then bed.

Race Day 2:

My alarm went off at 5.30am….

I’d been up since 4.30am wondering why I’d agreed to be interviewed by ABC News Radio at 6am as first female – and wondering how to not sound like a complete idiot.

The presenter called, totally lovely. Told me the questions she might ask, told me not to swear. Shit.

Then we were live…for ten whole mins. I sounded like an idiot I’m sure, but I was grateful to sing the praises of Run Larapinta, and life in general.

Anyway. The race.

Oh golly.

20km of hard technical terrain – up, along and down a mountain – then through a bouldery dried out river. Then, just to make sure you got your mountain fix, another mountain.

I started off with the pack I ran with the night before. Nice pace 4.45 min/km. I was happy.

10km later the mountain came. It was vertical. Literally. I climbed, I cursed, I almost cried. The hardest climb / hike / ascent I’ve ever done.

Then the top, stunning. Views over Alice springs. Again I was speechless, second almost crying moment of many. I took photos and videos, and fell over for my efforts.

Words escaped me.

The terrain was a combination of slanted jagged rock and scree. Yay, who doesn’t like that? I managed to get distracted looking at a sheer drop next to me and smashed my knee (trying to go through it instead of over it of course). The pain and the blood brought me back to reality. Race. You’re in a bloody race.

Time to focus.

I picked up the pace.

The descent was…tricky. Rocks, boulders, scree.

Thank you knife party for the downhill soundtrack I needed so badly.

Then came the boulders. Actual boulders. We climbed. We got lost, then we climbed some more. The guys I was running with were amazing. Motivational and encouraging.

No girls, I was first girl. Yikes.

Second mountain. Quads like jelly, calves like…I don’t even know what.

I just kept moving. To the top.

I passed my Red Door Productions comrades filming the runners, who told me that it was downhill from here. Not far….

Just very technical downhill on very very smashed and tired legs.

I kept going. My thoughts were all over the place, I can’t even remember.

The finish. The most grateful and amazing moment in any racing / running / sporting event of my life.

Wtf.

First girl.

Water.

Microscopic trauma galore.

I am grateful.

Two more races. Sorry legs.

 

All the hills. And then some more at Silvan.

I knew there would be hills and I knew it would be hard. The big give away was everyone saying “ooo Jess, this race is a hard one” 

But still, somehow, I was surprised how hard it was.

Anyway, the race….

We set off and almost straight away the hills began. I looked up at the infamous ‘hill from hell’ and some very English swear words came out of my mouth. Oh my legs. Then some more hills. 

About 4km in I knew I was in third place, and I was willing my legs to try and run a little faster, to see where second place was. I will admit, I wouldn’t call what I was doing up the hills running – more like aggressive lunging with some intermittent shouting at myself and my legs to lunge faster. They wouldn’t. I believe I just appeared more crazy to anyone who could see me, and scared off a lot of wildlife. I remained in third. 

Unsurprisingly, attempt number two at gels was undertaken whilst running up a steep hill. Clever Jess. Gasping for breath I had to assume that inhaling gel into my lungs might actually work. Another lesson learnt. 

My thoughts went back to the wine the night before (a necessary pre race ritual that I often label as carb loading) and whether that was why my legs were struggling…but then I remembered I’d done Body Pump the day before. And, although I’d promised myself to go light on the legs sections, the challenge to go heavier than everyone else in the class always wins over any common sense. So it was the Body Pump’s fault, not the wine. Or the hills. Argument won. 

The most amazing moment came as I reached the peak of the hills and realised it was largely downhill from there. Coupled with the rain starting, I was in heaven. 

Kind of. 

Some people (most) wonder why I wear sunshades during races – they’re prescription. They’re very important to be able to see with, especially on trails. (Yes, I have tried contact lenses. One fell out, into my mouth. I swallowed it and almost choked. Similar to my gel experiences but definitely less beneficial).

The problem with sunshades in rain is that they don’t have built in windscreen wipers – so when the rain comes I have the choice between running through blurred raindrop vision….or running without glasses and just blurred vision.

Of course, I chose the latter. And the downhill guess work began. Lots of screaming / sliding / slightly manic laughing. But so much fun. 

Finally I was enjoying myself and picking up the speed I knew I had in me (and berating myself for ever blaming any previous day exercise or wine consumption. Silliness.) 

All too soon the end came and my legs, like jelly almost collapsed as I crossed the line. 

I am always grateful to finish a race, always. And that one I was just a little more grateful. So I celebrated with a little more wine.

And now? 

It’s Thursday and my quads finally feel normal (running downhill is effectively eccentric loading, which is known to cause microscopic trauma to the quads. Who doesn’t enjoy that?) 

And next? 

Larapinta. Four days, four races. 

Hello microscopic trauma, let’s be friends.