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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Suddenly I was up, mobilising, journaling, drinking my pre-run coffee.
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.
10km, and I was done. Beautifully done.
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.
Home, strength. Work. Steps. Work.
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.
Today though, I had 100 beautiful steps from the river to the top.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
75km over five days starts tomorrow.
Our team managed 44,450m elevation, coming in second female team and 20th overall.
UTMB starts tomorrow…