I’d given myself an ‘easy week’ leading up to the running Festival, but after two days of rest I was itching to get back, which was a bad idea. Because something in my calf was hurting and I prayed it wasn’t shin splints. So, I rested. And waited.
And then Friday finally came.
Day 1: Happiness.
I mobilised, had my beetroot juice and coffee on my balcony and journaled. Excited.
A slow warm up told me that the problem with my calf hadn’t gone away, but actually got less painful when my speed increased. Right then, faster it was then.
And I was off, down the Upfield bike path. I hit Princes Park – early enough to not be busy, and glorious sunshine. Happy.
I continued, trying only to look at my heart rate and not my pace, enjoying. Just running.
I jumped out of Princes Park and onto the Capital City Trail, suddenly I was on 6km already – only 4km to go. A huge difference from the 13kms I’d been running last week (for UTMB Virtual), where 6km wasn’t even halfway.
At 8km my brain went into overdrive. Only 2km left so of course I should pick up the pace, right? So I did, regardless of the sudden hills I came across at the Merri Creek Trail.
500m was an all-out sprint. I realised I had no control over my legs, they just went.
10km and done 45:11 minutes. Not too bad for the first run. Not too uncomfortable.
Coffee and the walk home in the sunshine. Best way to start the day.
Home to yoga and a cold bath.
Friday night. I had my one day of wine I’ve given myself per week over a zoom call with my twin sister in Hong Kong. As with me and wine, somehow the whole bottle magically disappeared.
Day 2: I’ve never said I had any common sense.
Day 2 was upon me and I chose a different route: just Merri Creek up to Hardings Bridge then down past Arthurton Road. A loop I often used for some speed work, and the tiniest sections of trail I could access within my 5km radius.
I did actually have a game plan for the ten days – to run one day ‘faster’, then the next day slower, to ensure I lasted the ten days.
But this was not to be. The route, though a little hillier and more ‘technical’ (erm… much more technical compared to just concrete, but the only way I get my trail fix). I landed on exactly the same time as Day 1: 45:11. Very happy.
I realised I’d bonked a little bit at 7km, not sure whether it was the wine (unlikely – I always see this is carb loading with added antioxidants), or just that I needed to fuel my runs differently given that they were faster than normal.
At 8km though my legs kicked in and the sprint home happened… and so did some bodyweight exercises consisting of burpees, air squats and sit ups. 150 of each of them to be precise.
I’ve never said I have any common sense.
Yoga, cold bath. Gin.
Saturday, a friend’s birthday (Zoom) gin tasting. Five bottles of 50ml of beautiful gin.
Day 3: Crikey.
I expected to feel more than a little dusty (we didn’t really stop after the tasting). But my 9pm (ahem, actually 8.30pm…) bed time and the ten hours of sleep I had given my body seemed to have worked. Hello Sunday sleep-in.
Awake, mobility, coffee and more coffee, and the decision to fuel – sweet potato and beetroot juice. And water to negate the dehydration of yesterday.
Merri Creek, Princes Park then home, the opposite direction to day one.
60 seconds of strides and warm up seemed to ease the calf / shin pain in my right leg. Seemed to.
I was going to take it slowly, but I hit the Merri Creek and felt good, picked up the pace, felt the sun on my skin and Slash playing in my ears. Happy.
I hit Merri Creek and realised I was going quicker than day one and day two. Oops. But I continued and again, picked up the pace at 8km, then 9km and then suddenly I was sprinting up the Upfield bike path, grateful for the lack of traffic.
10km in 44:17. Crikey. I laughed. Not fast by some people’s standards I’m sure, but four minutes off my PB. And I’d felt comfortable. Maybe ten hours of sleep was the secret, or maybe gin was.
I stopped for an Acoustico coffee. Put on a podcast and shuffled home within my hour.
Happy Sunday (until I got back in the ice bath).
Day 4: It’s the little things.
I promised myself I’d go easy – just chill. Not look at my watch and just enjoy.
I paid extra attention to my calves, rolling them out, aware that the pain was still there front and back.
More strides, and some dosey does (haha is that what you call them?)… I’ve only done line dancing once in my life*
(*this is a lie)
I hadn’t eaten this time but took a Koda gel when I hit Princes Park, banana. One of my favourites, that seemed to do the trick. No walls were hit.
Zig zags of Princes Park, not too busy, beautiful sunshine.
I took myself out of Princes Park and back to Upfield just in time for a train to turn all the lights to green for me. It’s the little things.
281 Project coffee, podcast, and shuffle home.
Day 4 done.
Day 5: A huge wind tunnel.
The wind that kept me up through the night – that I knew would continue into the morning – was howling. Strong. Everything rattled.
I drank my coffee and ate some pan-fried pumpkin as fuel, while I watched a bright red sunrise appear then quickly disappear, swept away by the wind.
I decided to mix up the 10km this session, by adding in 15 x 1-minute effort and 1 min tempo, for both my body and my sanity. And because Tuesday’s were my usual speed sessions and I like to stick to plans 🙂
I shouldn’t have though. I should have reconsidered the wind.
The first 2km was a warm-up along streets – anything North-facing was a wind tunnel, so I zig zagged my way to Allard Park that leads to the Merri Creek.
The oval was an open battlefield against the wind, and I think I almost got blown off it.
I persevered, ducked down onto the Creek itself in seek of shelter, and started my first effort.
So far so good, body felt good.
My right calf felt ok, and my speed for the efforts felt comfortably uncomfortable as I’d expected.
Further up and I could see the Creek was closed, trees blown over maybe? Directions to the road, up and more up until I was eventually diverted onto Nicholson Street.
A huge north-facing wind tunnel.
I dug deep and pushed on, not knowing how long I had to endure the wind pushing me backwards.
Forever apparently – or at least that’s how long that section took.
I saw the diversion route pointing back down to the trail, and my jazz hands came out in excitement.
Once back on track the efforts continued. My lungs were trying to catch up with my pace as they recovered from the street running.
Suddenly I was on 5km, and 22 minutes. Not as bad as I thought, given the wind.
I continued, tried to find something flat but failed. Undulating would have to do.
I headed South, the wind behind me, and I enjoyed the brief sensation of flying before I turned back into the fury of the wind.
8km. Usually where I was able to pick up the pace for the sprint finish.
After 1km, I literally felt like I wasn’t moving, wasn’t gaining ground.
I ducked off the Creek into a street, ran along it. This was better.
I continued, sheltered. 400m to go.
I was faced with either Allard Park hill or heading back down the street and facing the wind.
I chose the wind and started my slow motion 400m run.
Forever passed, and I hit 10km.
Under 45 minutes.
I was surprised to say the least.
Day 5 done. Halfway.
Day 6: I’m getting better at not screaming.
I did a body check, everything felt good except the twinge in my calf. Twinge? More like a mild stabbing. But only during the first 30-60 seconds of warm up again.
My options within my 5km are quite limited; parts of the Upfield track north are closed due to track works and to try and find 10 different runs that don’t involve too much road (and therefore traffic) was going to be a challenge.
So today I decided to choose my favourite route of the five I’d already run, knowing that my body had endured enough in the last five days – especially the wind yesterday. Merri Creek, Capital City, Princes Park.
Beetroot juice, mobility, coffee and a gel – in that order.
I was off, so grateful for the lack of wind.
My body felt good, really good actually so I picked up the pace. Just a little.
I sprinted for any green man at the traffic lights I saw – and the ones I missed I ran up and down the pavement (yes like a madman) until I could get across.
Princes Park was beautiful, sunny, not too busy.
I looked at my watch again, 8km.
Time to pick it up (forgetting I already had).
Under five minutes to go Jess, keep going. Faster.
43:58 – my fastest time so far.
I spent the 2.5km home jogging to a coffee shop then walking home listening to Chasing Excellence. Happy.
Until I got into the ice bath of course.
But I’m getting better at not screaming.
That day I also managed some gymnastics and strength work because I felt like my body was missing movements that didn’t involve running.
The gymnastics largely involved upper body, and the intention with the strength was the same, or at least to go lighter on the weights. But whenever I program deadlifts… somehow, they just end up really quite heavy.
Day 7: Madness.
I hadn’t slept well (well – my sleep app had told me I hadn’t slept well) And I think I figured things would start to hurt more from today, start to get slower.
I spent a little longer on mobility, then rolling my calves to try and ease the building pain. There was tenderness around my right Achilles, which made me think (hope) it hadn’t been or wasn’t the shin splints I originally thought.
Beetroot juice, coffee (I even made a second cup but decided against it) and my Koda banana gel.
The plan today (as is always on a Thursday) was a tempo session – warm up during the 1km to Clissold Park, then run 2km laps with increasing speed on each lap.
I wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea – either to do laps again after the mental battle I’d endured doing the same for the UTMB race, or to try and get faster on tired legs.
I reasoned with myself that I wouldn’t clock watch, I would increase speed by feel.
I started off by easing my body into running. Feeling out the aches and twinges and trying to stretch my calves out a little.
I got to the track and maintained the warm up pace, reasoning with myself that I probably need to start slower if I was going to increase efforts.
The park was beautiful, lively with people walking their dogs and sunshine.
I looked at my watch after the second lap. 5km and 24 minutes.
I was behind.
Was I? Didn’t I need to go a little slower to start? Yes.
Either way, I picked up the pace for the third lap – my body felt good, my lungs felt good. Everything was ok, or more than ok.
It’s strange how you notice the smallest elevations when you’re trying to do a tempo sessions and running through the same park multiple times – the smallest inclines become mountains to avoid. Or maybe that’s me.
By lap four I had caught up with myself, and as usual at 8km I nodded to myself, most likely spoke to myself. Time to go.
At 9km I realised I could actually get a faster time than yesterday, which was madness to me.
Limp Bizkit came on (don’t ask). Game on.
My version of sprinting probably looked like someone else’s casual jog at that point. But I felt like I was flying.
Faster (again, probably still a casual jog).
Fastest time yet.
I stopped, checked my watch. Thanked my body.
The jog home was a slow jog in the sunshine, again happy to be out and have run and to have felt good running.
Yoga, longer holds, deeper breathing.
The bath – deeper than normal (it’s really when it hits my belly button that I lose my sh*t for some reason).
And then some upper body strength training with Imogen.
Because why not?
As the day went on my legs became stiffer, and I wasn’t sure whether it was the strength training, or the weights – or both.
I did some more stretching, and rubbing and rolling.
The shin pain had shifted round to the back of my calf – which almost confirmed it wasn’t shin splints – and just some muscular knotting. Did it though?
Day 8: Do you know how hard it is to get out of bed with legs like planks?
Blue skies and a little bit of wind. Knowing the weather was going to turn to crap over the weekend, I wanted to end at my favourite place for some yoga and meditation before returning to the daily grind.
Upfield, Princes Park to Merri Creek.
When I woke my legs still felt stiff, like planks. Do you know how hard it is to get out of bed with legs as planks?
Well, I do.
Mobility – I jumped on my spin bike to loosen up.
Coffee and gel (not together, although banana coffee actually sounds quite nice)
The warm up still felt like I was running with straight legs, toy soldier style. But as my mind relaxed into it, so did my body.
And I was off.
I hit a few traffic lights, which led to me running up and down the pavement until it was clear to cross. I put it down as agility training.
Princes Park, oh my so busy. So busy. People running on both sides at me.
More agility training.
One lap and I was out, onto the Capital City Trail, more traffic lights, more agility training.
Before I knew it, I was at 8km and 35 ish minutes.
I picked up the pace, my legs felt strong.
I had a choice between a steep descent or a gradual descent onto the Merri Creek. I chose gradual, and suddenly realised as I picked up my pace that this was where I needed to reign in my stride, shorten it and tip my body forwards – I’d sprained one to many ankles on long strides down a hill, essentially exposing my outstretched ankles at their weakest point, with little support.
Short strides, leaning forwards.
Less steep descent, 1km to go.
I took off.
The river was beside me, the sun gleaming off it. I was happy.
Happy to run, and happy to almost finish.
My fastest time, which again baffled me. But I went with it.
Yoga in the sun, bliss.
And Friday always has a place for gin.
Day 9: Shut up, Jess.
I knew a storm was coming, BOM radar said 95% chance of rain from 10m, which had shifted overnight to 95% chance of rain from 7am.
I’d set my alarm for 6.15am to assess the damage, but for some reason I was awake at 5.30am, waiting for daylight? Waiting for the storm.
I was awake, so I figured I might as well get up and get out when it was light enough.
Mobility, rolling the calves – they felt tight but I had spent some time massaging them the night before. (yes, even after the gin)
A cola gel – not my favourite, and I made a ‘why am I eating sugar at 6am face’ which didn’t disappear for at least five minutes.
I stepped out onto my balcony, reasoned with myself that it was light enough to run safely.
I was off.
My route had changed – not knowing whether Merri Creek had been flooded with the rain overnight, I headed towards Princes Park.
I had it to myself, the trail, Brunswick. Beautifully eerie.
Still, I managed to mistime a traffic light and run circles up and down the street. There were cars out this early at least.
I hit Princes Park, other runners, maybe five in total.
The lights were on and the sun was rising, it was almost romantic.
No sign of the rain so I picked up the pace – the sooner I finished the less chance of rain and wind beating me up.
The East side of the park was great but turning to face West then North was headwind galore. I knuckled down, tried to maintain my pace. Just slightly uncomfortable.
And I continued, in the slight humidity, clouds looming. Spits of rain.
Back down the East side, 7km.
I hit 8km turning back up North, the wind grew stronger, the storm closer.
Marilyn Manson came on. Game on.
I pushed through, got to the top of the park.
Realised my time – I could go under 43 minutes… no wait, under 42 minutes.
Down the East, the lights, the sunrising, the romance.
Shut up, Jess.
I was near sprint. That’s what I felt like.
I checked and checked again.
90 seconds away from my PB.
90 seconds – with 8 days of running behind me.
Farmers shuffle home to a Science of Ultra podcast.
No coffee shops open this early. The only fail of the morning.
Longer yoga, longer bath.
All the breakfast.
Day 10: I did a little jig.
The rain through the night confirmed that I wouldn’t be running the Merri Creek for my last run – there would be flooding for sure.
Safest option? Same as yesterday.
Physically, a good route. Mentally, a battle to repeat.
I was awake before my alarm, which may or may not have had something to do with the wine from the night before.
Mobility. I creaked. My calves – or my right calf – was on fire. Just a little, maybe embers. Enough for me to notice.
I warmed up for 100m. My calves weren’t really playing ball. Less like embers, more like tiny little fires.
I persisted. And started.
Upfield path was fairly empty, so it surprised me to meet traffic each time I hit a road. Grrr.
Finally, I was at Princes Park, free. No traffic lights, but lots of people.
I kept my head and down and pushed through. Less wind today and I was so grateful. More colour in the sky.
Last day, I told myself repeatedly.
I felt heavy though, or heavier than yesterday. But I still felt like I was going ok.
I passed a few runners a few times, we smiled, appreciated each other’s efforts.
I knew this course now… and I also knew I didn’t want to run it for a few weeks after this.
Yes, I was grateful it was flat. But I craved the trails, the mountains, the air. Maybe not on day 10 of a ten-day race though.
I remained grateful.
At 8km I moved to go faster. Moved.
I think I did.
Go faster I mean, I definitely moved.
I knew the last km was going to be painful, from experience. From multi-day races. When you’re so close, yet so far.
I tried to push through.
When I say I tried, I mean I did. With everything I had left in my legs. I pushed.
I even changed my song – which never happens – to Skrillex, for my last km.
I looked at the time, realising I was going to be outside the 42 minutes, but inside 43 if I continued (I had wanted between 42 and 44 minutes for my last day).
Son 43 minutes sounded pretty good.
Last 500m. I stupidly thought I’d turn around and head back towards home.
I changed my mind very quickly and suddenly didn’t care how far I was from home. Turned back around and continued.
People must’ve thought I was mad – mostly because I was chastising myself out loud.
All out sprint.
42:57. Second fastest time.
I looked around, wanting to high five someone, anyone.
Not going to happen.
I did a jig.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Farmers shuffle home to a Nike Trained podcast.
First place female, first place overall.