It’s highly likely that I spent more time thinking about how witty a title I could come up with for this post, than the time I spent pulling the actual musings together, but this has been sitting in my draft folder since Boxing Day and one of my goals for this year is to get a handle on my procrastinating!
Indeed, this was to be a tough, introspective look back at the 2011/12 season and all it’s highs and lows, but the more I remembered the more I realised that there were really only a few key moments that bear recounting - the races, both good and bad, that I learned things from.
This 40km race around Lantau Island overnight in late October was the first pairs race I’ve ever done, with my then girlfriend. We came in 5th for our category in 6h 30m, which we were both pretty happy with, but if she had been running by herself she’d probably have smashed a far better time than that. This would ring true for most of the races we ran together last year. We started out at my pace, which back then, as it was in the first few races of this season, was too fast, and we had a bit of a blow out after about 20km. As a seasoned triathlete she knew about pacing and had a good strategic approach to running races, so it’s a pity I didn’t spend more time listening to her advice. I cramped up big time at the 30km mark and we blew a lot of time dealing with that - at least 20 minutes. This too would be a recurring theme of my races last year.
What was learned?
Nothing, apparently, if the races that followed it are anything to go by. I should have spent more time looking into the cramping issues and experimenting with nutrition and hydration on training runs. More importantly, this should have been an indicator of how incompatible as running partners my ex and I were to be.
This 50km run along the Hong Kong Trail in mid-January 2012 was a run of two halves. I felt absolutely horrible for the first 25km - couldn’t find my flow, was tired and crotchety and running with my ex again, only we were entered as individuals rather than a pair. Things came to a head at the top of Mount Parker when we got into a pretty brutal argument and I seriously considered packing it in, but my ego got the better of me. It was pure anger and frustration that drove me the remaining 25km to Big Wave Bay and a strong finish - from memory I believe we came in at around the 5hr 15m mark, which was pretty good. I had a couple of minor cramping issues but on the whole seemed to manage my hydration and eating rather well, especially considering how broken I was feeling.
What was learned?
I tried salt tabs on this run, in unison with gels, every 40 minutes, and an electrolyte and water mix in my hydration bladder, and that seemed to help with energy levels and the cramping. I realised that no matter how low and how beaten down you feel, there is always more to give. You hit a wall, and you break through the damn thing. Persevere, believe in and push yourself, and you will reap the rewards. I had tremendous resilience on the last 8km of this run around the Tai Tam catchment and up and over Dragon’s Back, and it felt amazing to finish on empty and to have passed so many runners on the second half. Focus, focus, focus.
Vibram Hong Kong 100 Ultra
Ah yes, the race that almost broke me. This was the final nail in the coffin of my season. Previous to this my only other 100km race was the Oxfam Trailwalker that I had completed 2 years earlier in 22 hours, 3 hours over our goal. I had trained for months over the long hot summer to get in shape for that, never having run further than 20km before. Heading in to the Vibram, which last year was in February, I had managed about 1/3 of the training that I wanted to do and was out of shape in body, mind and spirit, dreading race day. A week before the race I managed to completely psyche myself out about the event, convinced I was not going to enjoy it and that I was underprepared. I had in fact, not really been enjoying running at all for a little while, though at the time I wasn’t sure why. My ex and I had discussed target times but in the end decided, due to our lack of training and planning, just to run it and see what happened, but in reality I think we were probably thinking, or hoping, that we would come in closer to the 17hr mark.
The first 20km I really enjoyed, the second 20km was tough, the next 10km was pure hell, but once I hit rock bottom at the top of Ma On Shan I slipped into auto-pilot, found my flow, and pushed my sorry self around the rest of the course to finish in 20h 02m. I think I felt every emotion under the sun on this one, but what stands out is running down Tai Mo Shan to Route Twisk in the thick fog, pushing so hard to get in under the 20 hour mark, but not having enough gas or will to achieve it.
What was learned?
You simply cannot run with no training and expect good results - fail to plan, and you plan to fail. With no defined goal other than ‘finishing’ and little preparation, we had nothing to aim for, nothing to strive to. I spent far too long at checkpoints and at my lowest point was again ready to pack it in. I pushed on though, I broke through that funk and found something inside me that I didn’t know I had - the will to carry on when things weren’t going the way I wanted them to. As with the GreenPower50, I found a source of strength that carried me through, but the source was anger, frustration, pain and disappointment again - I don’t really recall enjoying much of the race save for a few brief moments and memories. Too focused was I, on the destination, that I completely missed out on the journey.
I didn’t race again after the HK100 last year, I actually stopped running completely for a while. I needed to reset, take a long break, and learn to run again for the pure pleasure of it, not because I was training for anything, and not because I felt pressure to do well. Last season taught me a lot about my running, and about myself, and really it’s what has led to me becoming a better runner this season already, certainly in terms of how my body works and being more in-tune with it.
After a good summer break I started training again, with focus, drive, determination and passion. I found my limits again and again, and I smashed through them. I switched my diet to cut down on meat and eat more fruit and vegetables, I experimented with different nutrition on the trails, and I got stronger. My confidence grew and I started to enjoy running again for the pure pleasure of it, but in conjunction with pushing myself to be a better runner through a strict training plan that taught me to be disciplined. I have learned to run my own race, finally, and to enjoy the journey again. I’m done with running other people’s races.
I failed a lot last year, in many spectacular ways, but I learned from it, finally, in ways that have contributed to several personal successes already this season:
- Knocked 36 mins off my Moontrekker time from last year.
- Ran a 3-day Ultra Marathon (40km/40km/20km) in Nepal which taught me more invaluable lessons about pacing, race strategy, and post-race recovery.
- Won the Lantau MSIG50 (27km) Mixed Team Pairs.
- Came 7th in my category for the King Of The Hills Tai Po run, and 22nd overall.
I’ve also met a lot of fantastic new people through my running this past year, many of whom I now consider good friends both on and off the trail and who I look up to immensely as the dedicated, passionate and skilled runners they are - they’ve taught me many invaluable lessons and offered great tips and tricks.
My goals for the rest of the 2012/2013 season are simple: Run for the journey and the enjoyment of it, and don’t get caught up in results.
I believe in myself, what I am capable of and what I can accomplish, and I’m excited for the next few races I have coming up. I’m excited, because I’ll be running, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone, and that is what I love to do - just run.