The Speed Project – 550km of high, lows and everything in between. And some running too.

I arrived in LA at 6.00am on the Saturday morning, a week before TSP.

Sleep deprived, I wondered whether I’d over committed myself by trying to get to a 5km run organised by Blue Ribbon Sports (the original Nike)…at 10.00am…on the other side of LA.

I went anyway, surrounded by beautifully passionate runners – many of whom were racing in the LA Marathon the next day.

Hello Los Angeles.

The Speed Project had finally arrived.

TSP started five years ago when two runners decided to start…running together. Initially to each other’s houses, then further, challenging themselves, each time upping the distance. Finally they ran – from LA to Vegas, then created a race around it…because why not?

To compete for the win, or the challenge of setting a new record, you entered as a team of six – four males, two females or six females. Otherwise you could enter teams of as many as you liked, to race for the challenge. No rules, just get from LA to Vegas, non-stop, on foot. You were allowed a crew and vehicles to assist transporting those that weren’t running.

Crew members were, in essence, essential – to drive RVs and plan logistics, provide motivation, water, accompany runners when needed.

AM PM were an all-female team of six – Annabelle (Bramwell), me, Pip, Emily, Annabel (Fendall) and Julia.

We had four crew – Ben (photographer), Sam S, American Sam (local) and Dylan (training for an Ironman the week after the race – legend), and an RV to accommodate up to eight people…

I had only met Emily, Fendall – whom I’d trained with in Melbourne, and Sam S and Ben. This was going to be an interesting race for sure.

I spent the rest of the weekend running, exploring, walking, eating (hello Wholefoods) – and taking in LA and its beautiful madness.

Mesmerising.

Monday came and I was the first to check into our TSP Airbnb – greeted by Mary, who spent an hour debriefing me on how to use the house. And feed the fish.

Two of the girls and one of our crew arrived that afternoon – Em, Bramwell and Dylan, and we went for dinner in Venice Beach.

Em also brought all the kit Nike had given our team, so much, so beautiful. So grateful.

The next day we ventured out for a gentle 10km run…that turned out to be 15km after a few wrongs turns, and included two ascents to some epic lookouts. Sorry legs.

I promised myself I would rest tomorrow.

The next day, the rest of the girls and crew arrived – Julia, Pip and Fendall, Sam and Ben, mild hysteria and a disbelief that we were here, about to run The Speed Project.

We were a beautiful mixture of New Zealand and Australian (ahem, and English) runners. We all had the passion, and knew the freedom of running. We had all put in the training, made the sacrifices, and all been exponentially hungrier and mildly sleep deprived ever since we said yes.

Wednesday – we ran along the beach – our first run out all together, initially a slow 5km that turned into a faster than expected 7km. Yikes. We decided to spend the rest of the day on electric scooters to rest our legs. And eat donuts….to carb load, of course.

Thursday – the day before the race, we sat down and planned the race. No running allowed.

There were 39 stages of maps to review that covered the 550km race. The organisers had ranked the stages with varying degrees of difficulty 1 to 4. Then they had assigned the six runners to each leg based on their running strength.

I was runner 2 – my runs would include the more technical trails, mostly during the night – through the desert. Excitedly terrifying. I had done night runs before but not on my own in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the night.

The order to start: Bramwell, me, Pip, Em, Fendall and Julia.

We only planned the first few stages, and a few of the tougher ones. We knew that anything could happen out there and plans would need to be flexible and adaptable. That was the importance of the crew.

Then, we shopped. We would be on the road in the RV with limited stops for at least 45 hours, if not more. We needed food, water, energy, comfort, and we needed to pimp our ride.

We returned home, prepped our food – for me 2kg of baked sweet potato, almond butter and jam sandwiches (on GF bread) – 16 of them, and all the bananas in the world. My plan was to finish a run, have a sandwich straight after, then alternate between a banana or sweet potato an hour before I ran again, and a gel or coffee just before the run.

That was the plan.

We set up the RV (pillows, blankets, duvets), and went for one last meal at Whole Foods before an early night.

Friday – 2.00am.

My alarm went off, no sleep. Coffee (tea bag) and mobility. The house was nervous excitement. I was nervous excitement. Six months in the making was two hours away.

I ate – pre cooked sweet potato, eggs and avo as standard.

We packed our food, packed our RV, and set off for Santa Monica pier.

The vibe – electric. 43 teams, 43 RVs, at least 400 runners and crew. The count down was on.

I definitely wasn’t used to spending time with people the night before a race, let alone the morning of. My usual routine of drinking a few glasses of wine (self-sabotage I’m sure), sleeping, then listening to Slash all morning as race prep was nowhere to be seen.

This was different, this was a team event. There were six of us now, not just me. Ten of us in fact. It was important to communicate, and at least try to act relatively normal.

Terrifying.

3.55am, Bramwell, our first runner lined up, under the Santa Monica pier entrance.

4.00am, she was off. We watched as she flew, then raced to our RV to keep up with her, and get to the next check point to swap runners, 10km away, me.

We followed her when we could, cheering her, and others. The energy was amazing. The race was fast.

We arrived at the changeover, where Bramwell would tag me in. We waited, god she was quick.

We watched the road where she would be coming from, then heard shouts from her – coming from the road above the highway, she was manically climbing down the stairs to us. We laughed, this is how it would roll.

She held her hand out. I touched it.

My turn.

I turned and ran, energy in my legs, wanting to do well for the team, to run for them.

I knew some of the streets from running them over the weekend, and kept my pace with another runner, another female. I tried to take photos, failed.

The RV was there, the team were cheering, then it was gone, 10km, I didn’t want to get lost, so I stayed with the other runner, up a hill, right onto Sunset Boulevard. I knew the way from here, so I pulled away and ran the empty streets of LA, mesmerising.

I ran towards where I knew the RV would be. People lined the streets, waiting for their runner, but cheering others. Pip was waiting, ready to be tagged in, we touched hands, and she was off. Flying.

I climbed back into the RV, a hot sweaty mess. This was amazing.

And we ran. Fast and hard through LA, with the rising sun.

My next leg was not planned. We hit a hit, a windy hill. The kind of wind that takes your breath away even just walking in it, let alone running.

We swapped in and out for a few kms, to maintain pace and rest each other until the hills ended and we were more sheltered.

And we continued. The girls ran, strong, hard, tagged in and out, supported, cheered. Amazingness.

When we weren’t running we jumped out and high fived, gave water when we could. Then we rested, rolled, and used the Hypervolt to keep our muscles alive and kicking.

My next run was just before 9.00am, still windy, 7km. I had some sandwiches and gels, I needed my inhaler but that was expected. Dylan joined me on the bike we had brought, providing shelter from the wind.

We pulled off the highway and onto the long stretches of highway that would be our friend for the next few hours. Nothing but road and desert.

It was midday – and we were at 115km of the 550km when I had my next run – 8km.

I tried some new gels.

Something was wrong. My legs were fine, felt strong. My mind, strong.

My stomach.

Something was wrong with my stomach. I began to run, and it felt like I was running with a watermelon in my stomach, then suddenly like I’d eaten something that had disagreed with me. Neither were pleasant feelings.

I continued to run, hoping, praying it would pass.

I tagged out, talked to the others, the same, dodgy stomachs, gastro. This could not be trained for.

And so it happened, my first bush poo (sorry Mum). The RV had a toilet – but it had been filled already. So I disappeared into the desert.

We rotated through runners, kept eating despite the stomach cramps, because the fuel was important. And laughed through it, because that was all we could do.

We sat down, and the boys went through the plan for the next few stages. A few more runs along the wide open road. Then into a sketchy neighbourhood known for wild dogs, and wild people. Then we hit a petrol station where we could fill up gas, and dump our waste. Yikes.

The order of runners was staying the same. The first three – Bramwell, me and Pip, would do slightly longer runs throughout the rotations, and we would see how we went – we were also dropping the distances down to account for the growing heat, and would probably drop to shorter once night time hit.

Everyone was killing it.

My next run was through the sketchy neighbourhood.

I was on 26km so far, legs felt good. Stomach? Stomach was no good, and there was nothing I could do, or wanted to do, but run through it. I would not let the team down.

I tagged in for my first 5km, had the compulsory pepper spray, and one of the crew, Sam S, on the bike in front of me as we approached. One storey houses with large yards and gates around them – the kind you see in movies I guess with furniture and broken cars in the yard. These were real.

We turned into the town, nervous. I ran, a relatively slow pace to try and tame my stomach cramps – not ideal in a not ideal town. But it was that or literally lose my stomach in the not so ideal town, on the side of the road.

We continued, with the RV close by. A few dogs, a few people but nothing close to what we had planned, or expected. Relief.

A small dog ran over towards us, separated by a fence, cute. Then a huge, angry looking dog sprinted over shortly after, not so cute. Manically barking, definitely not so cute. I pulled the mace out of my pocket.

We continued.

5km passed relatively quickly and I tagged Pip in, and Sam stayed on the bike. A boy ran up to me. “Miss what’s your name?” “Jess:”, “And your number?” Yikes. “Runner number 2” He seemed satisfied.

Another boy shouted towards the RV “Are you really running to Vegas?”, Ben, our photographer nodded. “Why would you want to do that??”

Good point.

They were fun and we relaxed a little. Just a little.

Then we were through the sketchy area and back onto open road. Another 5km.

I got back onto the RV, went to the toilet, again. I had been feeling fine between races, but the first maybe 200-400m in I would need the toilet, and that would continue until I finished running, and I could disappear into the bush. Yikes. I couldn’t imagine doing this for another 40 or so hours.

The sun was beginning to set and we were about to hit the tougher trails.

We were leading into our first night of running. Em had brought us a reflective vest to switch over so the cars on the freeway could see us.

It wasn’t until we dropped down into the 3.5kms that I realised the only way this was going to get any more manageable, was to start running, to wait for the cramps and the need to go, and just go, in the desert.

8.30pm – my next 3.5km. 200m in, cramps. I ducked into the bush, behind a small tree…did the deed.

Sprang back onto the road.

Sprang. Jigged.

Immediately better, no cramps, lighter, faster. Shit just got real. Literally.

I picked up the pace and ran towards the sunset, shades on, reflective vest on and head torch ready.

Sunsets in America are…epic, flat land means they wrap around the entire sky and last a long time.

Now that I had worked out how to manage the cramps, I was happy. Running into the sunset. Bliss.

The girls and crew were in such good spirits, cheering us, cheering others. High fives, water. True team work.

280km in, along Ghost Town Road, we began to hit the more technical trails. Separate instructions accompanied the maps TSP had given us, detailing…detail.

One more 3.5km before I had a 6 hour rest. 43.5km in my legs, and with a 2.00am start, I was grateful.

But it was strange to think, as I was laying down to try and sleep, that the girls were out there running, continuing, in the dark.

I managed around 40 minutes in the whole six hours, restless. I got up. Baby wiped my body and changed into my third running kit.

It was dark in the RV, three of the crew were getting some much needed sleep. I sat down to look at my next leg, converted the miles to km to try and follow the instructions.

Cold brew was needed.

Section 30 was next for me, at 2.00am.

My legs felt rested, my stomach felt somewhat good. For now.

I put on my head torch, my bright yellow jumper and headed outside to be tagged in. I could see her head torch in the distance. We tagged and I was off, into the desert, in the dark.

I turned on my music, mainly so I couldn’t hear what was going on around me – and made sure I could only see the trail a few metres in front of me, that was fine by me.

I upped my pace and immediately felt the familiar stomach pains.

I stopped, dipped to the side of the trail, not too far off, turned my head torch off. Eight seconds later (approximately) I was back on the trail, ready.

I continued, buzzing.

My instructions told me to look out for a gully, and cross it. I wandered exactly what I was looking out for. Then I saw it, well, I saw darkness.

The trail dipped down, into complete darkness, like the edge of a cliff, into a gully.

I don’t think I slowed so much as maybe skipped a little, in nervous excitement. There was maybe even a heel click. Nervous indeed.

I entered the darkness, the gully. The temperature dropped and the crossing was deep and vast. I looked around in morbid fascination at what might be around me, lurking in the gully. Luckily not much. The trail turned to sand and my legs slowed.

I moved through it and ascended the other side, back onto the dirt trail. I picked up the pace, still no one else around me.

One more gully, smaller, then I was nearing the end of my run.

I could see a head torch in front of me. No stomach pain, just running, just trails, and the desert.

I was grateful. I was happy.

I returned to the RV, excitedly exhausted. I’d be racing again in a few hours, 10km through harder terrain – ankle breaking according to the section instructions.

Yikes.

Definitely no skipping.

I sat down with Pip, and we worked out distances for the instructions for my leg and her leg – a 15km trail run after mine.

One of us would be lucky enough to be running when the sun rose over the Nevada desert.

My instructions mentioned it being a long slow run, with rocks, boulders and loose stones. Challenge accepted. I was excited. More trails.

We drove through a small town and Sam S, the driver, shouted back to us that there was a crazy guy on the road and we should get out and support Julia, who was now running.

Dylan and I jumped out, my quads pinged as I shuffled along the road and we spotted the crazy guy, dancing and fist fighting to himself on the side of the road, and spotted Julia running towards him. We ran down the road, almost crossed the road to avoid him, and led Julia out in to the middle of the road with us – without explaining at all what was going on except to follow us. Probably not the best planning.

She followed us in time for the crazy guy to run out into the road towards us.

“Just keep running” and we did.

Back to the RV. And continued.

Night time in the desert indeed.

The girls continued to smash it, these were longer sections, in the dark, in the middle of the night. No one kicked up a fuss, we got up, we get out and we got around each other. It was amazing to be part of.

So proud, so in awe.

5.00am came and we arrived at the change over point for my next trail run. A quick gel.

Ben, the driver at the time, wound down the window. “God it smells like something is dead or dying out there”

Nice. I jumped out, and agreed, but warmed up anyway, ignoring the smell.

Dylan left on the bike to locate Emily and steer her towards me and soon I saw a familiar head torch bobbing up and down.

My legs were on 49.7km, my body physically felt good. My stomach was still doing somersaults and cramping – nothing a bit of trail wouldn’t sort out I’m sure.

We tagged, and I ran, along a dirt road, then cut up into the desert, keeping the telegraph poles on my right as the instructions said.

Hills – rocky, stoney hills to start. Fun. I picked up the pace.

The familiar stomach cramps began and I pulled over, not wanting to veer too far from the main trail, turned off my head torch.

Back on the trails, much better. And nothing ate me. Winning.

More rocks, buried into the ground – like running along a river bed, then soft sand and loose stones, tricky. But god this was fun.

Limp Bizkit came on, and I was rolling.

I saw a head torch in the distance, confirming I was heading the right way. I looked at the instructions, at 9.3km I had to duck right under the telegraph poles and follow what we would assume was the head lights of our RV.

I caught up with the other head torch – the Kings Cross team he was a little lost and couldn’t find the right turn. I looked at my watch, we hadn’t hit the distance yet. We ran together, Brad, and found the right turn. We both slowly got faster, a silent race. I provided encouragement, to him or me, I’m not sure.

I looked at the sky, turning orange, getting lighter. Beautiful.

Then we saw head torches up ahead, and somehow both picked up the pace to near sprinting.

“Pip!” I shouted out. “Jess!” Phew.

She was with Sam S, ready to run the 15km, her second long run that morning. Legendary. I tagged her in, wished her good luck and watched them run off into the sunrise.

Brad and I high fived, the energy from the pitch black trail run in the Nevada Desert still in us.

I looked up at the sky, grateful. Then headed back to the RV. Onwards.

The girls continued to run, to smash through tiredness, aches and gastro.

I tried to rest, tried to eat – terrified my stomach would get worse.

Daylight arrived in Death Valley – along with the heat and a never ending straight road that would lead us through the Valley into Vegas.

We had survived the night time desert.

We were 420km in, 130km to go.

Sam explained the revised plan to accommodate the heat and the monotony of running on a long straight road.

Three of us would do 4km stints – me, Bramwell and Pip, and three would do 2.4kms – Em, Fendall and Julia. If we needed to rest or sleep (some of the girls hadn’t had the chance) we would rotate among five of us whilst they did. We needed to be sensible, and honest about any niggles, conditions, struggles etc.

My next run was just before 9.00am, the heat hadn’t fully consumed the desert so it was bare able temperature.

My stomach? Still mild cramping, but better than yesterday

I stepped out of the RV, my quads. Oh dear lord my quads. From the trails, the downhill. The microscopic tears that running downhill or on uneven surface caused. I hadn’t cooled down, foolish.

I did some loose stretching, before I could see Bramwell in the distance, running towards the RV at pace. Incredible stamina.

She tagged me in, and I was off. I waited a few minutes until the RV had passed me then ducked into the bush. I had got the timing down to a tee, then I was back and running and felt so much better.

We rotated through twice on those distances before the heat came through thick and fast and we dropped down to 3.2km and 2km.

Shorter runs meant shorter rests, we made sure we had water, had our nuun, refuelled as much as we could, and rested as much as we could. Changed our outfits if we wanted, and baby wiped our bodies.

Our stomachs were still relatively unsettled, but we agreed that we needed to eat to fuel our runs, rather than not eat to rest our stomachs. It was a fine balance.

On one of the shorter runs, Sam joined me on the bike. I jumped out and started running, and suddenly I was battling something else – my breathing.

Short sharp breaths, I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs, the Vegas air was dry, and our ascension had made it thinner too – less oxygen.

I told Sam, and he biked ahead to get my inhaler. I kept it with me.

I had had a spirometry test before TSP, to check whether I needed another inhaler. The results showed my lungs actually performed better without the inhaler.

Oh the irony.

Early afternoon came and so did the gradual inclines leading up to the mountain we would be going over to get to Vegas.

The crew dropped our distances down to 1km runs, then 500m, depending on the hills.

My breathing struggles continued.

I felt like I was breaking, and had no control over it. I did not want to let the team down.

On the next run – 1.6km along the flat, it should have been a breeze. I had gone through my usual routine, taken my inhaler, but I knew the crew were worried about dehydration from the gastro, and now my breathing.

Fendall jumped out as I was running.

“They want to pull you in”

“I’m fine.”

I wasn’t.

I was broken.

Pride.

I continued, angry at my body.

I tagged Pip in and headed into the RV, I needed to be sensible – this was more than just about me. My quads were rocks and I knew I was dehydrated from the gastro, and eating less as a result. I rested, tried to eat, tried to breath. Got the hypovolt onto my quads.

An hour later, I was back on again, and told Sam could do 2km – at least I thought I had.

My legs were on around 85km at that point. My lungs were probably working at around 20%.

You couldn’t train for this.

I was tagged in and started running, slowly, and the RV pulled off along the straight road, into the distance.

1.6km in, only 400m left. I was in agony. Probably the worst I’d felt on any of the runs. So far.

Only 400m to go Jess. You can do this then you need to rest. I promised myself.

But the RV kept going. Past 400m, past 600m, to the 2.5km mark way into the distance. Sam had misheard me. Or I hadn’t said 2km clear enough.

It was the first time during any of the runs I literally stopped in my tracks. Stopped dead still, in disbelief? Maybe. In abandonment? Maybe.

I let out a small cry, and I think I stamped my foot at least once.

Defeat. But also surprise that this was the first time I’d let emotion consume me on such a big event.

No Jess.

Team.

You can do this for the team. You have to.

I shook my head, shook myself. A grown adult having a tantrum.

I took a step, then another, and knocked myself out of my pity party.

The girls. The crew.

I ran.

I was humbled – and ashamed. We had agreed to be sensible, and I hadn’t been.

I got to the RV, still teary. But more sensible.

Rest.

And food.

I ate, something proper. And drank as much water as I could, then stretched and rested.

Dylan went out on the bike, asking whether anyone would want hot chips or anything else if he could find a shop.

Hot chips. Oh my.

It didn’t occur to us that we were in the middle of the desert and there would actually literally be nowhere to buy hot chips. But the hype and the idea raised our spirits and provided some laughter when he came back empty handed.

I spoke with Em, about just getting the kms and going easy. We were still 40km out.

An hour later I ran again, relaxed, fuelled. 2.5km. Not a breeze, but no tears or tantrums.

I suggested we get the champagne out of my bag, and put it into the fridge.

Nobody refused.

Almost out of nowhere it got dark, and very cold. Colder than usual. Maybe because we were climbing?

We hit the ascent into Vegas, the last hill. 1,300m up. We dropped down to 1kms to accommodate the climb.

Then we hit the roadworks.

We knew up ahead that the road would suddenly have no side areas to for the runners for at least 1.6km – so the RV would have to follow the runner, or the runner would have to find another way, or hope there was one, then pull it at the next available place to stop – which was likely to be further than 1.6km.

We were advised by the organisers not to run, and to just drive the distance then make up the distance another way.

Not happening.

Bramwell jumped out and started running up the side of the freeway – in the road works section.

Safety was an issue, so it was agreed there should be two runners.

And I was next in line.

In hindsight I should have rested, should have been sensible. Should have listened to my body. I wasn’t ready, didn’t have my inhaler and hadn’t eaten.

“Sure.”

Stupidity.

I jumped out, it was fresh, cold. Colder than cold, and we were high.

Bramwell was already 200-300m away. God she was quick.

I started to run.

Breathe Jess.

I struggled.

The cold, the air.

I turned and waited for the RV, ready to tell them I couldn’t catch her.

“I’ll drive ahead and tell her to wait.”

Not the result I was looking for – totally my fault. The RV drove off and caught Bramwell.

So I continued up the hill until I was with her.

“I reckon we can run this side of the concrete all the way.” I nodded.

So we started.

And the breathing got worse, almost painful. So sharp and so shallow.

No inhaler.

“Are you ok?”

I looked at her. Shook my head. Had literally never experienced this before.

“I can’t breathe. I can’t get air into my lungs”

We slowed. She told me to relax and take my time.

“In through the nose, out through the mouth” her voice was calming, and I was calmed.

We picked up the pace until my lungs reached their capacity again.

“Easy pace, go easy.”

We jogged, picking up the pace when we could, then brought it back down until my breathing was under control again.

We knew there was no phone signal, we knew I had no inhaler and we knew the RV was long gone. It was mildly terrifying, and stupid on my part.

She directed me, pointed out objects on the floor – pipes and rocks from the roadwork.

I was grateful. All I could do was focus on breathing.

“When we get to the top I promise we will be able to see the Vegas lights.”

I nodded, maybe laughed, and we continued.

“Nice…Easy” She slowed us when I tried to pick up the pace. Sensible. Restrained.

Calming.

We got to the top, and the only lights we saw were the continued road works.

We definitely laughed. Which caused a coughing fit, but was still much needed.

“Downhill now.”

And we had signal.

“The RV is just past that yellow post.” About 500m away.

I had never loved the RV more.

We picked up the pace for the downhill. It seemed like slow motion – and probably was to Bramwell. But we made it, 3.2km later.

I thanked her.

In all my races I have never been so grateful and so indebted to someone for pulling me through a dark patch. A wall.

Humbled again.

Inhaler. Rest.

I skipped the next rotation of runs – and the girls absolutely smashed the downhill into Vegas, into the lights.

Beyond proud.

We were 20km out.

An hour later, around 10.30pm I had felt like I’d recovered – as much as I could. And jumped out onto the freeway for my turn at the 1km.

My legs were on 94km, my breathing felt much better, more oxygen, more salbutamol. I ran, as fast as I could on rock quads.

The gastro? Still there definitely, and nowhere to duck off really, so I turned my head torch off and found a place just off the freeway, forgetting I still had my high vis reflective vest on. Oops.

Better. Running felt good again.

We were amongst civilisation again, in Vegas, and so excited that we actually forgot to look at the directions that would lead us home. We got lost.

Concentration.

We decided to run the last 1.7km together, as a team, to the finish.

The finish.

I was mortified that I wouldn’t be able to keep up if my chest played up, but we agreed to go slow. I wasn’t the only one suffering at that point. We were all battling.

To run together, alongside each other was epic. We were exhausted, battered, bruised.

And four of us still had gastro.

But we were there, running in Vegas, five minutes from finishing.

Suddenly the Welcome to Vegas sign was in sight. I almost cried. Maybe I did.

We squealed (that might have just been me).

Touched the sign. The finish.

11.37pm.

43 hours, 36 minutes.

550km.

I had run 97.5km.

We high fived and hugged, and waited for our crew.

No more running. No more planning, or waiting.

It felt weird.

We opened the champagne, laughed, took photos, said thank yous. Drank the champagne, laughed some more, took more photos, said more thank yous.

 

I took a moment, between the madness.

Within the madness.

Consumed by emotion, consumed by pride for the team – and most likely delirious from sleep deprivation.

We had done it. The six of us, the ten of us. We had run 550km non-stop. Through the darkness, through the heat, through the desert. Against the odds.

This was everything – this was huge. This had been bigger than I could have possibly imagined.

My heart was full.

If I hadn’t been so dehydrated I would’ve cried.

I checked back in. More photos under the Vegas sign. Together.

We all agreed what our next stop was – burgers and chips. All the calories.

Hello Vegas.

Hello Mandalay Hotel.

Hello sleep.

**************

TSP was like nothing I’d ever done before, nothing my body had ever experienced – not just the amount of kilometres, but the eating and sleeping (or lack of both), the mental and emotional. Having a team around me, the support through the highs and the lows.

It still brings me to tears how magical it was, and yet still mildly traumatising.

 

And the learnings?

So many. Team work, gratitude, humility – they’re just a few.

I know I broke my body. But now I feel like those broken parts have been fixed stronger.

And I know I could not have done any of without every single person on our team.

I will be forever grateful and proud of to be part of AM PM.

 

And next?

UTA50 – my first 50km in six weeks time.

Sorry legs.

 

Spartan Elite – Trails, Obstacles, and all the Burpees

My training for Spartan mostly involved ramping up my mileage to account for the 13km+ trail running elements, and CrossFit workouts to help with the 29+ obstacles that would be on the course. A large part of which consisted of working on my (lack of) shoulder strength – stemming from a few too many sport related dislocations.

The week before, I felt strong – if not a little damaged. My ankle was still a little tender and puffy, but not overly painful, but I’d sprained my wrist trying to do a heavy (just the bar) snatch. I like to think I had just been way too explosive in my movement…but it was most likely just bad technique.

As a result, I hadn’t trained as hard as I wanted, but I was happy.

My aim was to get top 10 in the Elite Female Super to qualify for Spartan Regionals. And top 5 to qualify for OCR World Championships, both next year.

Yikes.

The Sunday before, I thought it’d be a good idea to get out on the Merri Creek trail and do a 20km run.

Righto Jess.

At around 15km I felt a few twinges in my ankle (not just the blisters from the support I was wearing). And then at 16km that all to familiar knee pain flickered through my left leg.

I stopped. Stretched. Carried on – mainly because I had to get home.

The pain began to increase but was still bearable.

Just.

I got home. Rolled out (everywhere). Iced (everywhere). Then spent the day trying to stretch and walk it off.

The next day I woke up. Pain.

I couldn’t get out of bed.

If anyone had to describe ITB pain they would probably relate it to feeling like someone was hacking at their knee with an axe.

It’s unpleasant.

I could barely walk without shooting pains – let alone run. There were long periods at work of just spending a few minutes bent over with my hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath after the pain struck.

Sorry work. And people who may have seen me.

Same again on the Tuesday, and I wondered whether I’d ruined my Spartan race.

I booked in to see a Physio – the head physio for Melbourne Victory Women’s team. He looked at me, at my ankle, then felt my knee and shook his head.

“All related”

I told him about that Spartan race in four days.

He left the room and came back with a cupping device.

Oh golly.

My ITB got ‘cupped’ – the toxins literally sucked out of the muscle.

It doesn’t even sound aggressive, but it is. Not quite as painful as dry needling. But still borderline scream worthy.

Then he put me in to a leg recovery pumps (like zip up trousers that sporadically fill up with air to flush out inflammation in the legs). I wondered what it would be like to dance in them.

Then I remembered I can’t dance.

I left with a black and blue quad, but the pain had lessened significantly.

I saw him two days later for more of the same. Less swelling, less pain. I mentioned Spartan again, and he looked at me, I couldn’t tell whether it was admiration, or sympathy. He told me I would need to strap up both ankles, tape my wrist, and monitor any pain in my knee and adjust my pace accordingly.

Was top 5 still possible?

Either way I was grateful to be walking.

Always grateful.

I drove to Bright on the Friday afternoon, in preparation for the 7am Elite race the next day.

I love Bright. It’s magical. Even if injury had completely ruled me out of racing, I’d have still gone up.

I picked up my bib, drank wine with other runners and generally just enjoyed being in Bright.

We checked into our Airbnb in Tawonga, laid out our race gear (I think I was the only person who did that) and drank more wine.

4.00am arrived. Yikes.

I was up. Eggs, sweet potato and beetroot.

Coco coffee.

I rolled, everywhere, but mostly my knee. Then strapped up both my ankles, and my wrist.

I was nervous.

I drove the winding 30 minutes over Tawonga Gap, listening to a Nike Trained podcast.

“Stop and breathe, take ten seconds to focus. And be where your feet are.”

So I did. I stopped at the top of the mountain, looked out over Bright.

Deep breaths. Focus.

I could only do today what my body was capable of. That would be enough. It would have to be. I was grateful.

I got back in Betsy. Less nervous.

The race festival was a mixture nervousness and excitement.

And seriousness.

People looked serious. This was Elite.

6.55am. Gel.

To get to the start we had to jump a 5ft wall, of course. I ran at it, didn’t quite make it, slid down.

Fail.

I laughed at myself and remembered to focus.

Second attempt. Easily over.

I had no race watch (we were encouraged to not use technology – but everyone else was wearing them), no headphones (I read the rules at least ten times) and no race vest – in case I got stuck in / under obstacles. Just me, two gels conveniently stored in my sports bra and at least one whole roll of sports tape to keep me in one piece.

The count down began, and we were off.

Straight over three small walls and then into the mountains. The trails. Single track around the mountains of Bright.

I was happy, my knee was happy.

I overtook a few people. Race etiquette was different to trail running, I tried to pass a few guys and they appeared reluctant to let me.

I had no idea where the girls were but knew there were a few that had flown off at the start.

First obstacle – crawling under a cargo net in mud.

Caked.

Across rivers.

Soaked.

I saw a woman, overtook, Then the next up ahead. Pigtails. Game on.

We went up into the forest, still single track. Our first significant obstacle – we had to carry sandbags up through the mountain, then back again, drop them off then continue on our run. I picked mine up, carried on running. Not sure why people were walking with them. I passed pigtails.

Beautifulness. Then uphill – the sandbag became heavy, but I refused to walk.

Downhill, careful. Aware that that’s when knee pain might kick in. I squealed a little and threw my sandbag across each shoulder to split the weight. This was fun. Exhaustingly fun.

Back to where we picked them up, I threw the sandbag down, grateful for the freedom, then continued.

More walls to climb over and a river to run along, not over, along.

Caked and soaking again.

We came to a clearing, back near the start of the festival.

I had no idea how far we’d gone or for how long – but was quite enjoying not knowing, and surprisingly enjoying not have music.

Even though Slash would have been a great soundtrack.

The Traverse Wall. My least favourite. A wall you had to climb sideways, with only awkward circles for hand holds – nowhere to put your feet, you just had to get them high enough to provide balance, and try and shuffle across.

I watched a guy do it, quite easily – tried to copy. Got my hands into the holes, and jumped my legs up, then fell almost straight away.

I knew what was coming.

The Marshall took me to the side.

“30 burpees, full hip extension and hands over your head at the jump. You’re being filmed so make sure you do them all properly.”

Yikes.

I began, and saw pigtails complete the traverse wall. Damn it.

20 burpees in quick succession is quite an acceptable number, 30 just pushes you into the hating your life zone where your body generally questions what the bloody hell you’re doing.

I ignored it. Done.

I ran on to the next obstacle where pigtails was. The barbed wire crawl. A zig zag of ankle height barbed wire to get through . I got down, crawled, rolled, scrambled through. Trying to make up ground.

I felt something in my knee, a flash of pain. Barbed wire of course. I looked down and suddenly there was blood everywhere. I tutted at myself. Inconvenient. I pulled up my knee sleeve and continued on.

Out the other side.

I continued, through wooden tunnels, over cargo nets – no burpees.

Then the route took us away from the obstacles, and back into the mountains.

I knew what was coming.

Mystic hill.

It’s not a hill. It’s a damn near-vertical never ending mountain.

I was probably the only one excited by it. This was my jam. I could gain some ground here. I also knew that the hill was 7.5km into the race. Halfway.

I began. Couldn’t even see the top. The sun beat down on us.

Aggressive lunging.

Now I could hear my own breathing. Now I wanted a soundtrack – or anything. I considered singing. But settled for talking to myself about…anything. Most likely which Prosecco I would be buying afterwards.

I refused to stop. 2km of uphill. I managed to pass people.

It was beautiful.

The top. A perfect picnic place. With my Prosecco.

If only.

I took it in for a second, you could see the whole of Bright, maybe even Victoria. I was happy.

And in a race. Oops.

I took a gel and began running along the path, grateful to be at the top – heavy legs and arms.

In the distance I could see a large wall. Like, twice the height of me. Maybe 8ft? Really tall.

Blimey.

The Marshall there was chirpy, and could clearly sense my unease. And probably the terrified look on my face.

“You can do it, you can take a run up”

So I did. And I jumped, pushed off and caught the top. It felt like I hung there forever.

Pull yourself up Jess.

So I did, and I growled. Climbed my feet up, got one elbow over, and a boob. Then the other arm and boob. I worked myself onto the top. This was not glamorous. I squealed – and I think the Marshall did too. Then jumped down.

Hello downhill.

I began carefully, then realised it would be better for my knees to not jar them with the stopping action. So I let go. And flew (probably slow motion to most).

All the way down into forest single track. Heaven. Flying.

An opening, and another obstacle.

An uphill tyre drag.

I grabbed the rope and began to run, the rope over my shoulder pulling me down. It was probably 500m of up before I saw the place we could turn and go back.

Lungs and legs aching.

I dropped the tyre off and continued down. Back towards the festival area – for more of the major obstacles.

I saw pigtails ahead of me on an A frame cargo net. I picked up my pace and threw myself into it. Onto it.

Another cargo net climb, trickier.

Then a rope climb.

I looked at the top and jumped up, pulled my legs as a high as I could and climbed, before my body could complain how tired it was. I hit the bell at the top and lowered myself down. Thank you Crossfit.

Then a sandbag attached to a rope you had to pull upwards to the top of the frame it was on. I lay down and pulled, no stopping.

Back to back obstacles.

The the atlas stone – I’d caught pigtails. We had to carry it about 20 metres, do five burpees, then carry it back.

I lifted the stone onto my knees and rolled it up my body, walked it to the other end, five burpees. Then picked it up again and walked back. Not too bad.

We both got to the next barbed wire crawl together – this one was a horse shoe shape, but you had to carry a 14kg 1-metre long torsion bar with you.

We began, scrambling, rolling. Dizzy, dirty. The end could not have come sooner.

A guy watching, filming, told us we were fourth and fifth girl.

I was top 5.

We were out at the same time and onto the zig zagged balance beam – surely not too hard.

I didn’t stop, didn’t take my time and literally jumped on and fell straight off. The wood was thinner than it looked, my legs were not as responsive as I thought they would be.

Silly Jess.

30 burpees whilst I watched pigtails take her time and complete the obstacle.

Silly.

Burpees over, I ran on to the next obstacle – wide monkey bars. I died inside. I had practiced monkey bars, but not ones that were almost a metre apart.

I jumped up to the first bar, the second one looked like it was a mile away.

I began to swing, to attempt to jump.

What if I caught the bar and my shoulder dislocated? Race over.

I dropped to the floor.

More bloody burpees.

Two failed obstacles in a row. 60 burpees, six minutes.

Dang.

Next, another traverse wall – this time with leg holds. Thank golly gosh. I took my time, rung the bell. Happy.

One final obstacle before we went back into the mountain – the bucket carry.

We had to fill it with stones, carry it across rough terrain then around a maze and back again. No dropping, no spilling, and front carry only.

The guy told me where to fill it too and said if the stones had sunk below the line by the time I got back I’d have to do it again. I filled it to the top, to the men’s line.

God damn it was heavy.

I began, as fast as I could. Tired arms, this was uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.

Any technique went out the window I just had to not drop it, that was hard. I may have cried for a few seconds.

Heavy breathing, arms aching. I was on the return.

Back to the start, I emptied the bucket and the guy commented on how full it had been. I stared at him, dazed.

Back to running. Rolling single track.

My arms were fried, everything hurt, the terrain was rough.

I was aware that if I was tired my form might be suffering and the last thing I needed was my knee to flare up. I was careful, purposeful. There was no sign of pigtails ahead or anyone behind me, so I enjoyed. The feel of running with no pacer and running with no music. Just me and Bright countryside, my favourite. Heaven.

Exhausted heaven.

Then.

A flicker. Some pain in my knee. I slowed, stopped, stretched. Pleaded with my knee to be ok.

Cautiously, I continued.

The trail took me back into the festival area, for more obstacles – then the finish.

I had no idea how long I’d been running for, or how far I’d gone.

I saw the festival area.

First, three walls each about 6ft high, one you had to climb over, one under (there were holes), one through (a raised hole).

Over and under – easy.

The ‘through’ wall. Well, I must have been delirious. An elevated hole – most people would’ve grabbed the plank above the hole and swung their legs through. Me? Well I grabbed the plank above it and tried to get my bottom through first.

I must have been stuck for at least ten seconds wondering what the bloody hell I’d been thinking, before I somehow managed to get my legs through.

No idea.

The Marshalls laughed “Never seen that before”

Confirmed. I was delirious.

We laughed.

The next? Hard to describe. Two vertical poles with 5 horizontal poles between them, starting from about 6ft high about half a metre apart. The whole structure leant back towards me. Just that little bit trickier.

You had to scale and climb over. But jump up to first.

Two of them.

Eek.

This is where my wrist might struggle. I breathed, focused.

I could do this.

I jumped, for the bottom bar. I swung, lifted my legs up and caught the bar with my feet.

Cramp threatened in my calves.

I pulled myself up, grabbed the next bar up, then the next. Two more. The top.

More squealing. I did this.

I climbed over and down, conquered the next one the same way.

So happy.

More running. Flashes of familiar knee pain.

Just flashes though.

Then I saw the next obstacle, monkey rings. Damn.

I tried to push down the fear of more burpees.

A guy started to shout encouragement, much needed.

“Take your time, just swing.”

Kind of useful. Technically correct.

So I did just that. Grabbed one ring, swung, the next, swung. Shoulder felt ok, wrist felt ok, I continued. The bell.

I made it. I did a little jig, High fived myself.

It happened.

Next? The spear throw. Literally. You throw a spear at a circular target about 10 metres in front of you.

How do you practice a spear throw? I don’t know any….javelinists? And I definitely don’t own a spear. Yet.

I steadied myself, I could see the finish line.

I had even watched a you tube video, raised my arm to aim, and threw.

Just short.

I missed.

The Marshall “Damn that was close”

I know.

“30 burpees”

I know.

I could see the finish line.

I smashed them out (probably didn’t)

Then, one last obstacle – ten metres of cargo net that was literally pinned down to the ground. I struggled to even get into or under it. This would take my last remaining energy.

I felt claustrophobic just moving through it, the resistance of it pushing me to the ground.

I struggled through, spurred on by the cheers, by the finish line.

Rope burn, everywhere. I continued.

Then suddenly I was free.

The finish.

I literally threw myself over.

2 hours and 9 minutes.

Happy.

Delirious.

Deliriously happy.

Grateful.

“Cider?”

Anything.

My legs, jelly.

I checked my placing.

5th Female, Elite Super.

I’d done it, the minimum to qualify for the OCR World Championships, and Spartan Regionals.

Despite all the hurt, the setbacks.

Despite everything.

I would be able to recover, regroup, retrain. And give Regionals and Worlds a proper shot next year.

Thank you body.

I drank my cider and watched everyone else race.

So happy.

So exhausted.

Then I rememberd. My knee, the barbed wire. I rolled down my knee sleeve, and went to the First Aid tent

“Oh gosh, that needs cleaning and closing”.

I didn’t disagree.

Three butterfly stitches and I was done.

I ate, everything.

Drank, Prosecco. Then everything else.

And next?

Two Bays is on the horizon. Maybe.

But for now I’m switching my training to focus on The Speed Project 5.0 in March 2019 – a team of six female runners running in relay from LA to Vegas.

550km.

Non stop until you get there.

Sorry legs.

Head over Heels….I mean Handlebars

A few things had happened since the Disqualification at Wonderland – I had quite a few words with myself, pushed down the disappointment.

This happened for a reason – there must be a bigger picture.

The answer? To ramp up my training in preparation for Spartan in November. Twice a day you say? Well ok then.

A curve ball.

A desire to compete sooner, to be part of something bigger – the infamous Surf Coast Century.

I joined a team of three others to cover the 100km. It included Ash Bartholomew – the legend, his son Josh who I’d raced against before (super fast), and Hannah, who had recently discovered a love for ultras, and was smashing them out.

My part of the race was on the beach…21km of beach running. Truly amazing, if not tricky with incoming tides, and ‘rock pools’ that turned out to be chest deep….sorry legs….and phone in my pocket.

Back into training, revived.

Then another curve ball.

Injury.

3 hours into trail biking around the You Yangs Bert decided she didn’t like the look of a tree on a sharp bend, and decided to hit it with her handlebar.

Bert lost, and buckled sideways, throwing me to the ground without me even realising what was going on. My ankle took the brunt of the force (my body weight) and my ligaments made the all too familiar sound of not being happy, of tearing, and maybe snapping.

Ice. All the ice, all the elevation.

Little rest – one day to be exact, then I was back, in the gym, on the rower, upper body.

The third curveball (they come in threes right?)

Three weeks after the injury, a spare ticket to the Melbourne Marathon 10km was offered to me. On the Tuesday, and the race was on the Sunday.

I said no. Then yes. Then saw a physio who, in my mind, said I’d be fine. But in reality shook her head and looked at me like I was her worst patient ever. Then she dry needled my calf. Revenge.

I raced. Pure bliss, no PB to chase, just enjoyment.

And swelling. Oops. But still I trained. The rest of my body felt the best it had in ages. So I still trained.

Ok, so  the race – a partner race consisting of a 3.5km run, 20km bike, 4km run, 3km kayak. Those who were ahead after the 20km bike would be given an additional loop. Yikes.

We learned a week before the race that it was actually an orienteering event too – not only were you racing, you were finding the course you had to race. I was already confused.

The night before? I resisted the urge to go to a house party, instead hosting for a dinner party. With wine of course.

4.30am. My alarm went off and I mobilised my body, and meditated, and stretched.

I ate my pre made breakfast of egg muffins, smashed avo and roasted pumpkin (thank you prepared me).

And drank coffee. All the coffee.

I left the house at 5.30am, with Bert clinging to the back of Betsy (my car, of course), ready to race.

The drive down – 3 Coles Express’, no coco coffee water, just two more coffees.

I only had two gels with me – but figured with the navigation involved, we probably wouldn’t have to do the second loop of the bike. I would be safe.

I arrived to drop Bert off at the transition area, and met up with Will, my cool calm and collected team mate. We laughed at how early it was, and how neither of us could really navigate. This was going to be fun / dangerous / terrifying.

We got to the start line, chose our kayak, she looked glorious, so I named her Gloria.

Not out loud.

We got the maps – with our directions on, squares on the map marked the check point, a triangle marked where we started. Thank god.

We plotted a route with a highlighter that looked feasible and relatively streamline.

Ten seconds.

No music.

We were off, we ran, together, all the teams together along the beach.

My legs asked me why we did two hours of squats on the Friday. I told them to shut up and run.

First checkpoint – relatively easy as literally every team ran towards it.

Then we split off, the lead pack, heading off the beach and onto the cliffs.

I managed to find the second check point, announcing it to the whole group – hoping they might return the favour later on.

One more checkpoint then we hit the transition point and tried to fix our map to the rather unique clipboard that you can mount on your handlebars.

Anyway.

We were off, hills at first.

It was hard, doing my now and next to make sure I knew where my bike was going, but also to look out for checkpoints, and other competitors.

We were two checkpoints in and decided to try and different route to get to the third, to see if we would be quicker. Up a hill, through clay rocked cliffs and onto lumpy flats.

That’s when I happened.

Will was ahead of me, scooping out where to go next (and just generally faster).

Some sticky crevices came up, small at first, then larger.

I hit the last one, the largest one, at speed.

My front wheel looked at me apologetically. She was not moving – she was stuck in the crevice.

Momentum happened.

I could feel my back wheel lift with some force.

This was it….I was going over the handlebars.

I needed to decide how to either make this graceful, or travel the path with least pain.

I did neither – because there was actually no time to think.

I could see the ground getting closer as Bert bucked me forward. Instinct. I curled into a ball, letting go of the handlebars and trying to distance myself from Bert (sorry Bert), throwing myself forward off her.

I landed in a heap, taking the brunt of the force on….oh everywhere.

Like a gymnastics display of lots of spinning, Bert flew into the air then came down on top of me, clearly just wanting a hug. And we skidded along the clay together.

Spokes, pedals, arms, legs.

“Bloody hell, are you ok?”

I wasn’t sure.

“That was spectacular”

I was sure.

I politely pushed Bert off me, and the guy behind me went to help.

“I’m fine.” Slightly more high pitched than planned.

I mentally scanned my body, physically scanned my body.

Bruised ego. Bruised confidence. Superficial scratches. I was fine.

I picked Bert up, jumped on and raced off to find Will. The gears making a few crunching sounds before clicking back into place.

I was fine.

Will was waiting at a cross roads, trying to figure out the best way.

We continued.

Up hills, down hills, single track, fire trails, beautifulness. Riding, walking, scrambling, carrying. People on bikes flying everywhere in a mad hurry to find the checkpoints first.

We somehow managed to find all the checkpoints and excitedly headed back to the transition area to prepare for the run. I would be grateful to get off Bert and run. We’d been on the bikes for an hour.

“You guys are within 15 minutes of the leaders….so you get to do the extra loop”

We looked at each other.

“It’s probably only a little bit longer that the one you just did”

Longer.

I took my second gel, uh oh.

We plotted our route – not realising until later that we could actually go to the checkpoints in any order, not numerical. But that would have been far too easy.

We started again out, the skies darker and our legs starting to stiffen (probably just mine actually, damn squats)

Now and next, checkpoint. On repeat. We missed one, had to go back. Couldn’t find another, literally thought it had been stolen.

We chose to laugh, to enjoy the experience. Be grateful. Again we rode, climbed, carried, scrambled, with less haste, more calm and conversation.

50 minutes later, we arrived back at the transition area.

I hung Bert up, still a little angry with her.

Come on then legs.

We ran, single track to the first check point, then back onto the cliffs, stunning. Second check point of three.

The third was along the beach – an out and back on soft sand and slippery thoughts. My thoughts went back to Surf Coast Century. Definitely grateful. But bloody hell my legs were feeling heavy on the sand. No more gels, just water. No calories or sugar.

We got to the check point at the bottom of some beautiful cliffs, and it occurred to me how nice it would be to sit and have a picnic on the beach.

You’re in a race Jess.

We ran back, back to the start to pick up Gloria and kayak.

We’d been out for 3.5 hours – I was nervous, not only because I had no gels but because I hadn’t really kayaked before. Sure I row at the gym, and I’ve canoed a little bit, but there was technique to this that involved hips and core rather than arms.

Who thought kayaking was core?? Not me.

I saw Gloria, she looked as glorious as ever.

We put on our required PFD (life jacket things) and took off our shoes then placed (threw) Gloria into the water. I jumped in the front and took the map. Eeek.

Three checkpoints. 3km.

We started to paddle, in time, fast and furious. Ready to finish. Hips and core, twist with the paddle. It required a degree of concentration. That I was lacking at that point.

We went under a bridge to find the first checkpoint, more furious paddling, there were others around us, racing.

The second check point was under a bridge as low as our kayak to the water, we ducked, almost got dragged out. Got the checkpoint.

One more.

Hips and core. I was concentrating so much, because at that point I realised I was not only lacking in energy. I was hungry.

Hangry.

Silly Jess.

Will called out – just wanted to check we hadn’t passed the final checkpoint. Because it would really suck to have to turn Gloria around and go back.

We had. Damn.

We turned, raced back to the bank where the checkpoint was – had to get out of the kayak and jump onto the bank. One at a time, careful not to jump in.

I wondered whether there was anything on the bank that was edible. Mud?

We jumped back in (not literally, that would be unwise).

Home straight.

Fast and furious, both laughing a little manically.

Four hours.

Hungry.

I could see the finish line, paddled faster, twisted more (I’m not sure if that helped or just looked weird),

I jumped out when it was shallow enough and pulled Gloria to the bank.

We lifted her, jumped up onto the bank and ran, soaked and exhausted, the 50 metres to the finish line.

4 hours and 13 minutes.

Two gels.

Silly Jess.

But grateful. Adventure, challenge, fun. A lesson.

We high fived and posed for a photo, then posed for a video we thought was another photo. Probably slightly delusional.

Food – there was a BBQ.

Warm clothes and food.

Suddenly I was in heaven. By the sea, in the sunshine. Having just competed in my first adventure race, my first over the handlebars experience, first navigation. My first race with no fuel.

So many learnings.

6th place.

Happy.

Sorry legs.

And arms.

Would I do it again?

100%. Maybe not the navigation – but maybe I just need to get better at it.

But golly what fun.

And next?

Spartan of course.

 

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.