GSER: The Reckless Ragdoll

I hadn’t originally signed up for the Great Southern Endurance Run – which took the 28km runners up it. I’d told everyone how beautiful it was because I’d hiked it a few weeks before.

But then FOMO crept in, why wasn’t I running it if it was so good?

Because.

Because I had the Surf Coast Century 100km in three weeks, because my breathing still wasn’t right and I was relying on a daily preventer inhaler, because I was still carrying some winter (ahem, Prosecco) weight.

Because of a million reasons…

But none that could stop the pull of wanting to race again. After so many months.

I pondered (stared into space a lot – which is actually no change from my normal self), entries had closed the Sunday before.

So I emailed the Directors on the Tuesday – if they let me enter late, I’d do it.

They replied within five minutes.

I was in.

Jess.

No.

Holy moly.

I didn’t tell my coach.

What was my plan? Was I racing or just running?

A combination of both, maybe. Push myself but not kill myself. No injuries.

No injuries, Jess.

I did things a little differently leading up to the race: I’d already told myself I’d give up wine until after the 100km (don’t worry there will be a glass bottle of prosecco waiting on the finish line…), and so why not just give up drink completely in the lead up to this race? And why not rest a few days before too? So that’s what happened.

Golly, that was hard.

Race day was upon me, and I woke to a clear head. I ate sweet potato, beets and eggs. And coffe-ed, all the coffee. Mobilised, journaled and meditated.

All before 5.30am.

We got to the start line around 6.15am – nervous excitement hung in the air, everyone was clearly excited to be back racing, regardless of the fact that it had rained all day Friday and was supposed to rain all day Saturday. There were still smiles all round.

I did something else I don’t usually do – a warm up jog. Slowly, trying to get my legs working and breathing under control. I did some skips, some jigs. Realised how silly I looked and headed to get ready. Feeling ready.

The course would take us out 5km along the rail trail to the trout farm, then the climb – the wall: 4km of pure steep up. I think I was the only one excited about that. We would then traverse across to Mount Feathertop – not summiting due to the inclement weather, before dropping down a gradual (but rocky) descent along Bungalow Spur back to the start where we would run a short out-and-back.

The perfect course. Steep up, gradual down. Trails, mountains, adventure.

I took a Gu gel – the only ones I could get hold of before the race. Crickey, it was like drinking a warm milkshake. Kinda nice though.

And suddenly we were off, my heartbeat pounding in my ears, adrenaline running through my body.

A race.

I tried not to get excited, to hold back on the flat, pick a pace.

But golly.

A race.

I looked at my watch – 4.10min/km.

Oops.

But I felt good, my breathing felt good. Finally.

I dropped back, remembering I had the 100km in a few weeks. I would need my legs for that. 4.30min/km.

Better.

The 5km seemed quite endless, until finally we hit grass and 2km of undulating trails that would take us to the wall and the climb.

We were guided across a log that I had previously bum-shuffled across over a wide river – grateful for a rope that was able to provide balance to shuffle across…on my feet.

And then the climb.

Hello.

4km of steep up to the MUMC hut. Through the trees, through the clouds.

I began.

I was soon behind two girls.

“Let me know if you want to pass.” said the leader.

We both wanted to, so she stepped aside and the girl ahead of me passed her.

I was just about to do the same, literally right behind the girl who had stepped aside. Right there. 

She hopped back onto the trail in front of me.

“You have to be right on my back if you want to pass, otherwise we’ll be in synergy.”

I was so confused.

I don’t think I could’ve been any closer to her.

And what if I wanted to be in synergy? That sounded fun.

I stayed silent, let five minutes pass, then tried again – making sure I was almost hugging her before I asked again.

Then I was off, on my mission: the mountain.

I lunged, pushed myself off my knees, climbed, sang, swore. There was a lot of talking to myself.

I loved every second.

I passed the 100-mile sweepers. 100 miles, six loops of what I was doing. That took my breath away.

More climbing and passing a few more people, remembering at certain points to stop and enjoy the view – even though the cloud obscured most of it. Still so beautiful.

It was about an hour in that I had some potatoes. As per previous efforts during races, I nearly choked on the potatoes as I tried to inhale air into my lungs and eat at the same time.

Jess.

I took a gel too, which wasn’t any more successful.

I laughed at myself.

We had been advised that when we arrived at the MUMC hut, we would need to stop and put our layers on, that there was wind and rain and coldness.

And I could feel it.

The temperature was dropping, faster, with every step. And the wind picking up.

Golly.

I arrived at the hut to the wind which literally took my breath away.

2.5km of this.

I put my gloves and buff on…which seemed silly given I was still in my shorts.

Jess.

The beauty of the single track along the side of the mountain took my mind off the weather, the views were still magical.

I was grateful – even when the wind whipped at my bare legs and forced the air out of my lungs.

The mountains were alive that was for sure.

I continued on, picking up the pace after the steep climb, kind of happy to be on the flat undulating trails.

I could see Federation Hut.

And now the downhill.

Oh, the downhill. My nemesis.

I had watched a YouTube video on how to run technical downhill the night before. The tips?

Fast feet – which I knew and had been practising (if on the spot counts…).

Be reckless.

Oh dear.

Like a rag doll.

Double oh dear.

I watched in awe of these people literally throwing themselves down steep technical rocky trails – and smiling whilst they did it.

Well.

If they can do it then so can I, right?

And the reckless ragdoll was born, so to speak.

I took a caffeine gel, a little more successfully than last time.

The first part of Bungalow Spur down I find quite rocky and rutty, hard to navigate at speed.

But I figured I’d try and loosen my body, took smaller steps and just leant forward and went…just like that.

And it worked, I picked up pace and found some sort of weird rhythm, flailing my arms around (yes, like a ragdoll).

And just like that I survived the first part of the descent. Granted not the fastest, but fast for me and that was enough.

I passed more 100km people that I knew “fourth girl Jess!”

Did that matter? Was I chasing?

Golly gosh, no. I was surviving (this bit anyway), and I wasn’t pushing myself.

I’d thought about what I wanted to achieve prior to the race. A good time? Top 5? I had seen the other competitors at the start line and knew that would be tough.

I had decided: happiness with my running. Comfortable going into my first 100km. And maybe under 4 hours would be nice.

No racing, no chasing.

Just run strong.

I continued as the descent flattened out and I was able to go faster and actually began to enjoy it.

But I kept getting caught in the beauty of the mountains and my surroundings.

Focus Jess, be a reckless ragdoll.

It was at that moment that my foot decided to kick a rather large rock.

There was literally no time between me being upright and me hurtling towards the ground. I didn’t even have time to swear.

My right knee took the brunt of the fall, catching on other rocks. And then in really fast slow motion, my body just automatically tucked, and suddenly I was rolling.

The ninja had returned.

Before I knew it, I was standing up again – in the ready stance.

Ready for what?

I did a body check, ankles were fine, shoulders were fine.

I was fine.

I looked around to see whether anyone had witnessed such an incredible….dance?

No, no one.

I laughed out loud.

My knee suddenly started throbbing and I looked down.

Bright red blood.

Oops.

I looked closer.

Just superficial holes, worse than it looked.

I continued, stretching out my body just to check I was ok.

A girl flew by me at an incredible speed. Just dancing down the trail.

“Follow me!”

Well, why not?

So I tried, picked up the pace again, flailed my arms and became reckless.

I must’ve kept her in my sight for all of five minutes before I lost her – I had a lot of work to do to get to that speed.

But I continued down, the reckless ragdoll.

Kilometres passed and I wondered how my quads would feel tomorrow, wondered how long I could keep focussed and not fall again.

And a part of me waited for more people to overtake.

But it never happened, and that to me was a small win.

Then I recognised where I was – the end of the trail, and onto the road.

Holy cow. Only one fall and some decent speed. No real injuries.

So happy.

I continued down the road, knowing we were running past the finish line to complete a 1.5km out- and-back, back towards the trout farm.

I could hear the finish, see the finish. And maybe my body felt that we should be finishing, as it tired, ached.

Oh dear.

And it wasn’t just me.

Runners on the out-and-back had started to walk – we had climbed the mountain, and the real wall we faced was the concrete.

I pushed on, almost there.

I looked at my watch: 3 hours and 10 minutes. Yikes.

Third and fourth girl passed me coming the other way – on their way to the finish. And a small part of me, tiny, wondered whether I could push myself and catch them.

That feeling quickly went.

No Jess, no chasing, no racing.

I got to the turn around point, where the photographer seemed more intent on photographing my knee than me running.

So I jumped for the photo.

Sorry legs.

Last push back, last 1km.

Golly it was hard.

The concrete was so hard on my already tired body.

Come on Jess.

Push.

Somewhere I found the energy and picked up the pace.

The finish.

3 hours 18 minutes.

Happy, so happy.

High fives and hugs and a jumping photo.

I washed my legs in the cold water of the nearby river before we watched and cheered on the other runners coming in.

God, it felt good to be back.

And next?

I run my first 100km in 5 days…

#sorrylegs

UTMB Virtual 50km Race

It’s been almost a year since I ran my first 50km race (Surf Coast Century in Australia with Jessica Short), which was a beautiful and brutal experience. I remember very vividly the excitement, atmosphere and the feeling of crossing the finish line.

The UTMB Virtual 50km in Hong Kong would be very different. It would be solo. It would be more elevation. There would be no aid stations. No finish line. No twin sister. It would also be 30 degrees and 85% humidity.

For most parts, it would be hell…

4am: I was up for mobility and coffee with Jess in Australia (and our new rescue pup Zeus, who enjoyed the downward dog on my yoga mat )

5am: I started the run with 15km on Hong Kong’s waterfront which was amazing. Cool, quiet and flat, with the sun and city rising around me. My legs felt good and I felt ready for what was ahead (spoiler alert: I wasn’t)

Feeling ready on the waterfront

15km: I made a quick pit stop at home to change my shoes and refill water, before heading up to the Bowen Road and then Parkview. The next 15km felt pretty dreamy. I had the trails to myself and most importantly, someone had run before me and cleared the way of spiders. Yey. Even Violet hill didn’t feel as violent as it usually does.

Feeling less ready on Violet Hill.

30km: I hit The Twins, twice. And this is really where things started to fall apart. I’d been making pretty good progress on the kms until that point. But the Twins made me think that my Garmin was broken, because the kms stopped moving (I don’t know why this was such a surprise: I’ve done the twins so many times before). I lay on the floor at the top of Twin 1 in a metaphorical pain cave.

32km: I made a pit stop at Repulse Bay and picked up 2litres of water and four bottles of Lucozade.

32.2km: I vomited Lucozade

33km: Back at Tze Kong Bridge I took the single trail towards Tai Tam Reservoir, which is one of my favourite, before hitting the steep concrete incline towards Quarry Pass. Up and up and up and up. And very little shade. The sun was fully out, and the humidity was high

40km / 1,500m+: my Garmin started blinking low battery so I knew I had to crack on and get this done, or the race wouldn’t register. So, I altered the last 10km of the course to do hill repeats on Mount Parker. Hill repeats. After 40km. Talk about pain cave. And existential crisis. And self-yodelling.

45km / 2,000m+: My Garmin was still blinking at me. The hill repeats hurt. I had to lie down in the shade every couple of kms. But I was close.

48km / 2,300m+: Garmin on 5% battery. I was at the top of Mount Parker and just started running in 50m loops. It rained, I think. I’m pretty sure I was swearing the whole way. Lucy and Jess were the steady voices in my head (aka on whatsapp) telling me to just keep going. Because I honestly thought about stopping. At 48km.

50km / 2,500m+: I’m pretty sure I burst into tears and then realised that a guy had been watching my entire 2km mania . It hurt all over. I had to lie down. I couldn’t speak on the phone.

Done.

 50km: I was at the top of a mountain. In a place where taxis couldn’t reach me. I had to walk 5km back down. Farmers shuffle. Pain cave.

5pm: Epsom salt bath. Burgers. Restless legs but a dawning sense of achievement (somewhere in the fog). I had finished.

UTMB Race results: 3rd in category, 7th female overall, 59th (out of 3,501).

Worth all the pain.

ATG Vertical Challenge – max elevation in Stage 4 lockdown

I’d love to say that when I was asked to join a team for the Asia Trail Girls Vertical Challenge, I didn’t know I would be in Stage 4 lockdown.

But no, I knew. I knew I’d only have one hour of power to smash out as much elevation as I could, within a 5km radius of my house.

I do thrive on challenges (especially in lockdown… and in winter). They give me the motivation I need to get out of my warm cosy bed, throw on my sports gear and get out into the cold dark morning (via some mobility, journaling and a really strong coffee, of course).

And if there’s a team involved? Accountability shoots up and I’m usually awake even before the alarm goes off

(…this is gin-dependent).

Ready.

The challenge was: teams of four, based around Asia, trying to complete as much elevation between them in ten days.

Imogen called me to ask if I would join two of the girls she regularly climbed the trails of Hong Kong with – I was definitely keen, my only doubt was that I would hold them back because I couldn’t get to the trails in Victoria.

We discussed. And I joined anyway. Super grateful.

I did some research, googled hills and steps around me (steps generally give you more bang for your buck on the elevation front) and asked a few running groups.

Suggestions came in: Hope street, a 400m stretch of road from Mooney Valley Creek Trail to Melville Road. I plotted it out – up to 27m gain for every 400m effort. Not a mountain, but enough.

I also had Allard Park where I usually did my hills training.

Game on.

On the first day of the challenge I had to contend with the small matter of a (flat) 10km virtual race to do (Lululemon SeaWheeze). One big fat spoonful of overload anyone? Oops.

The run went reasonably well – my optimism in trying to get a PB was a little skewed given the two hours of workouts I’d done the day before (running, Crossfit and Nike Training), and the zero rest days before that.

Optimism is always good though: I realised with only 600m to go that I wasn’t going to get my PB. 600m. That was a good enough effort for me (sub 40 mins, I’ll get you next time).

Feeling a little bad that the 10km only gave me 35m elevation I headed home to complete some steps and step ups in my apartment…for 4km, for 45 minutes.

All the sweat and some really quite tender calve muscles…

Day 1 done.

On Day 2 I thought I’d try this Hope Street to see what it felt like.

I can tell you, there was nothing hopeful about it. Long and steep.

Hope Street, no Hope

I started, leaning forwards, pushing off with small steps on the slight incline.

Angry music on. Not so bad.

I tried to fly down the hill as fast as possible – sometimes closing my eyes and imagining I was back on the trails (not advisable on a road).

50 minutes later I reached 10km of up and down – 12 hill repeats? My legs were done.

So of course, I went home and did some more steps and step ups inside. Juist for fun.   

Mondays are usually my rest days. But when there’s a challenge on…there’s no rest

#sorrylegs

My calves were pretty sore from the 2000% increase in hill training, so I rolled them out and put more focus on them in my morning mobility.

I woke and biked out to Allard Park, and the climbing began – around 220m of path up to the lookout point, and the view of Melbourne CBD is always beautiful incentive.

Views worth climbing for

55 minutes done and then home… for more steps, which I broke into two twenty-minute sessions. For the sake of my legs, and my sanity.

This time it was podcasts that got me through and I was able to zone out and tune in to voices (a mild risk of distraction and face planting, but I took my chances).

For some reason – maybe because it was my rest day and I was going rogue – I also chose to do Crossfit that evening.

Luckily, it was mostly arms. But in the bath afterwards there was a moment when I thought I might not actually be able to pull my body out of it….

The bath must’ve helped though (and staying in it longer because I couldn’t get out), because there was less pain in my calves afterwards.

Or maybe it was just masked by the pain everywhere else.

Day 4 – Tuesday, was hills with a friend. A real person to talk to (at 1.5m distance).

The session was shorter (I don’t think she would train with me again if I made her do a full hour).

More steps and step ups.

Yoga, rolling, cold baths.

Calves getting used to it now – or just giving up the protest.

Six days to go. Eek.

By Day 5 I was craving some flat running… anything. Just flat.

So, I rationalised with myself that I could take a day off, be ‘normal’. Run normal.

I chose the Mona Fartlek – my favourite workout. Short efforts, short recoveries – but lots of them.

I finished it, exhilarated (and exhausted).

And I found myself at the bottom of Allard Hill.

I sighed. Might as well.

And so the climbs began again; long at first, then shorter, then the steepest part I could find over and over again. Was I addicted? Maybe.

I looked at my watch: I had eight minutes to get home before my hour was up. I left the hills and the view, left the pain in my lungs and legs.

I was happy.

When I got home, naturally I did some steps and step ups.

Confirmed. Addicted.

Day 6.

When the alarm went off, I rationalised again with myself that I could take a rest day. Should take a rest day.

I peeked outside, blue skies.

Not today.

Suddenly I was up, mobilising, journaling, drinking my pre-run coffee.

Ready.

Then suddenly I was at the bottom of Hope Street with 400m of uphill in front of me.

I started, with angry music, and angry calves. But the sun, the sun was rising, the rays broke onto my skin, pushing me to go faster, to run towards it. Beautifulness.

Sunrise on Hope Street

10km, and I was done. Beautifully done.

Home.

The steps and step ups waited until lunchtime, then suddenly I’d done 3km of them.

Legs ached, arms ached (erm, jealous?).

Day six was done.

By Day 7 I actually think my legs were used to the hills, or maybe I just hurt all over even more.

I needed to mix it up so I went out to Allard Park. I knew I had 40 minutes (plus time to get there and back). So the first ten I went up and down 80m, steady pace. For the second 10 I swapped to a shorter steeper hill that I considered just rolling down on many occasions. For the third 10-minute set, I went back to the 80m. The last one – and I have no idea why I put this last – I went up to the 160m mark on the hill, the top.

Allard Park hill

Silliness.

Home, strength. Work. Steps. Work.

Gin.

Day 8 was my biggest day. The government introduced a new ruling that meant we could drive to where we train, so I could get to Fairfield (literally just within my 5km radius). I was so excited by the change of scenery.

From the top of the steps I could see the trails in the distance, the beautiful trails I had biked and run so many times on the other side of the river.

Soon.

Today though, I had 100 beautiful steps from the river to the top.

All the steps

There was one other girl doing them – either as training or punishment (we can never be sure right?). I promised myself I wouldn’t compete with her….

…but when you haven’t had any competition for months you pretty much make competition out of anything (or is that just me?), I chased her, passed her (safely) and began again.

24 repeats. 2400 steps. 40 minutes. Heart pumping, full of blood and full of joy, to be outside near trails.

Home. Breakfast, more step ups. Water. Then a crossfit charge WOD which included over 1,000 step ups.

1,600m elevation.

Sorry legs.

I took every opportunity throughout the rest of the day to duck down to the floor and get into pigeon pose + the world’s greatest stretch + corpse pose (my favourite). Anything I thought would be give my legs more life for the last two days…. not to mention the 75km virtual UTMB challenge I had planned for the following week. 

Sunday, Day 9. The home straight.

Torrential rain.

I waited.

More rain.

Steps it was.

One hour up and down up and down.

In all honesty it was supposed to be 30 minutes, but the podcast I was listening to was so damn good I forgot, and continued. (thank you Chasing Excellence)

Breakfast.

Second breakfast.

My legs were twitching for some flat running (they definitely weren’t, but I was), so I took myself out for a very chilled 7km.

A few tweaks and twinges, but otherwise happy.

Home to do steps… nothing left in my legs.

No steps.

Bath. Epsom salts. Aromatherapy oils, anything.

Day 10: the final day!!

I gave myself a beautiful sleep in…and even managed to turn off the alarm and sleep more.

Double training takes its toll. Hills take their toll.

Suddenly I was up and coffee-d, I had journaled and meditated, and found myself doing steps again, with my podcasts, followed by another one. Until I had done 5km of steps.

Work.

Lunchtime came. More steps. Up to 8km.

Was I satisfied? I rationalised with myself that I would do some more later, after work.

I went to make lunch, realised squatting down to get my saucepan out of the cupboard would take a while for me to get back up from.

No more steps.

Challenge completed.

Happy.

So grateful.

75km over five days starts tomorrow.

Our team managed 44,450m elevation, coming in second female team and 20th overall.

The results

So proud.

So grateful.

And next?

UTMB starts tomorrow…