Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mt Glorious 33km


I stayed at Nic and Mallani's the night before, repeating what has now become my pre-race ritual. We had nachos and an awesome bean salad that left me feeling nourished and energized.

Unlike usual, I didn't think about the race at all that night - I had no fear or anxiety about what would happen on the next day. I remember waking at about 2am and pondering on how odd it was not to be fretting about the forthcoming challenge. Maybe because it wasn't an ultra, I believed that it would be easy.

Mistake.

After driving to the start and checking in, the race director explained the course: it would be two out and backs. We would first drop 500 metres in the space of about 8km, and then climb back the way we came. Then we would do it all over again plus a bit of single-track to the finish. This added a serious psychological challenge to the formidable physical one of climbing 1,000 metres over a pretty short distance.

We lined up at the start, and; after chatting with Steve, Jordan, Dave, and Jeff; I realised that by explaining my recent training to them, I had inadvertently assumed an air of confidence. This was reinforced by the fact that I was the only topless competitor, and was wearing my cap backwards due to my position in relation to the sun. They encouraged me to move nearer to the front of the pack for the start.

Three, two, one, go! We were off, charging down a short section of narrow trail, bumping elbows as we jossled for position. As is always the case (usually to the detriment of my finishing time) I fell in with the front runners, which included Dave and two young and incredibly fit-looking road runners. Pretty soon, the longer-haired of the two had gapped us, if only by twenty metres. Dave and I took turns at pulling the pack further towards him, until about 6km in, when I started to fade. Before the turnaround, I was passed by two others, who I subsequently greeted as they made their way back up the mountain, in the opposite direction.

I noted my time when I arrived at the 8km (approximately) mark. Just over 30 minutes. Far out, I don't think I've ever run that fast for that long.

After taking some food and drink from the Thompsons, who were manning the station, I started the climb. I ran as much as possible, to bluff the people who I passed into thinking that I was still feeling good and strong. I was not.

At about half-way up, I was almost sure that I would drop out at the top of the climb. To make matters worse, I was passed twice during this time, and found myself alone. The pain was pretty intense, and I doubted that my body could endure this for 33km. But I just tried to toughen up, and was aided when passing the rest of the field who were coming in the opposite direction; I gave and was given plenty of encouragement.

When the trail finally turned flat, I was in heaven. I cruised along, still pushing the pace, slowing once to ask a limping runner if she needed some help.

And then I saw it; Dave Coombs, the current king of the Glasshouse events was walking slowly and gingerly back to the top. Oh no! Dave explained that his foot was busted up from the rocks, and he didn't want to damage it any more. I felt sorry for him, but respected his wisdom in making what was certainly the right decision.

I arrived at the top, was informed that I was in ninth place (eigth, actually, seeing as Dave had dropped), had some grapes, and then burned my way back towards the bottom of the mountain. I felt sick almost immediately, probably due to the high sugar content (compared to other fruits) of the grapes, but it quickly dissipated. Then came the stitches in my side, which were a real nuisance.

Once again, I put on a brave face when running past my closest competitors, who were hurtling towards the top, before having the pleasure of saying hi to every person in the field, as I screamed downhill.

To my surprise, I felt great here, and pushed for all I was worth; the descent was over in almost no time at all.

An anzac biscuit, a rice bubble cake, some endura, and a sponge bath; I was in and out of the checkpoint in little time.

I tried to run that first pitch, but ended up walking, saving myself for the last five kilometres. This would have given alot of motivation to the runners behind me to try to reel me in, as I passed them looking like a newly-born foal. I was bent over at the torso to about 70 degrees, with my arms straight and flinging to give some assistance to my decimated legs. As it leveled off in places, I found that I could run quite comfortably while still maintaining a good pace. I was starting to enjoy myself despite (or maybe because of) the pain.

That is, until I glanced behind me. I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be an older male runner in a white singlet, and there began the intense psychological battle for which I will remember this day. At first, in my mind, I conceded my position to him. He's run a smart race, I thought. Just give it to him. But as time went on, and I wasn't passed, my confidence grew. Eventually, I decided to take the most courageous, egotistical and painful course of action. Show him that you're still strong; don't give him a sniff. Run. Run as much as you can, and as fast as you can. When you've gapped him significantly, you can slow down.

So, I pushed uphill, only walking when I had to, and going as fast as possible in exposed sections, where someone would be able to see me. To stop whoever it was from getting a look in, I clung to the most covered side of the trail, the inside of the bend.

After about 15 minutes, I came to a very open section, and reaching its end, I was suprised not to see anyone behind me. I was starting to think that I had imagined this person. It then became all about getting to the water station. Come on man, just get there, just keep pushing. I arrived, and then began the final five or six kilometres of the course.

As I was coming to the final hill, I once again spotted someone behind, and nearly went mental. I was angry and depressed, and kicked myself into a really hard pace to avoid them. I returned to the flats, relieved to be free of that intense lactic burn, and psyched to still be in the top ten. So I pushed really hard to hold my position. Dave welcomed me into the aid station, sitting comfortably in a camping chair.
Two k's to go Zac!
Two k's? Are you serious?
I didn't stop for food or drink, for fear of being caught, but was bewildered and disappointed that I had about ten minutes of running left. I really wanted it to be over.
But the next section was, by far, the best of the entire course. The gently undulating single-track skirting the mountain-side gave me strength, and I cruised along without feeling any pain. The jungle was thick, the birds were singing, I felt entirely at ease.

But, there was to be one more twist in the story. I glanced behind me to see...a woman! So either the old man was a hallucination, or I had just made a misjudgement in my stupor. I just about doubled my speed, rendering her shouts from behind inaudible (was it "let's finish together"? or "slow down"? or...). Then came the final uphill, which I just had to walk. Lucy Blaber, the leader of the women's race, did not. After unintentionally holding her up on some narrow steps, I let her pass with less than a kilometre to go. I then just ran nice and slowly through the forest, avoiding the precarious edge of the trail and the strong vines draped across it. I was a mildly scared that there was another person in pursuit, but after a few minutes I started to hear voices, and realised that I was close enough to the finish to stop worrying.

I burst out of the jungle, on to the grass. Finishing the hardest race of my life, Nic greeted me cheekily; "it's about time Zac!"
"I reckon, aye".

And it was. I can't remember having pushed myself more, but I was rewarded. Ninth place: 2:52:40 for 33km with 1,000m vert. But that wasn't really important; the fact that I had dug so deep was.

I am also really happy that none of my niggles gave me any trouble during the race. My calves were ok, as were my hips (aside from some residual soreness from the day before), and my feet seemed to be all good.
However, on the day after, I am currently feeling it in my quads, and all of my metatarsals are pretty beaten up (maybe a bit of bone stress). Every-so-often, I get little tickles of pain coming up from the tops of my feet.
I need to take a few days off. Then I'll have a couple of easy runs before Caboolture, if I feel ok. What I need to remember is that, by training this week, I can't really help my race, but I could easily destroy it. Let's be wise and rest up.

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