Injury and a Change of Pathway

Injury sucks. Especially when it stops you from even being able to train let alone compete. Since May I have struggled with calf problems that have hampered my ability to run, to the point where I had to stop entirely. This was the also the reason why I had to pull out of the NZ Schools team. Multiple physio and specialist appointments later and there is finally a plan for moving forwards, involving 4 months of gentle rehabilitation before considering a return to training and racing hopefully in around April 2017. Despite this I have managed to keep myself busy this year with a change of code, to cycling. I have always enjoyed mountain biking, less so road cycling, and always considered it my “backup” sport should I not be able to run. Come late 2016 and a chance to prove myself on two wheels.

The first race of the year was the Mcleans 12hr Relay where our team of 4 school friends would try and complete as many laps as possible in the 12 hours available. Pretty tough spending the full day out there and trying to eat in the 1 hour of rest between each of your laps, but we managed a solid race and ended up 3rd in the junior category (Strava).

Next up was the 3 race short track series put on by the Christchurch Singletrack club. With Anton Cooper and the Oliver brothers racing each week this was never going to be an easy series and so I was fairly pleased to take 2 8th’s and an 11th.

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Pushing the speed on the singletrack

Next up was the Longbeach Coastal Challenge, a race that I also did last year. Sadly this years race also did not go quite to plan. The start was a  bit more relaxed this year and I managed to settle in to the front group just inside the top 10. We stuck together in a small group of 5 for the first 25km of the race. I attacked across the shingle beach section that everyone ran to create around a 30 second gap. Sadly this wasn’t to last as my chain snapped just past this section, 10 minutes of struggling with the chain breaker later and I was on my way but I had dropped well out of the top 10 and my position as first junior. I finished in 1:43:55, 69th place and slower than last year. A disappointing end to the race as I was feeling quite good.

Final big race of the year was the Bridge to Bridge, I only decided to enter this after Longbeach as I wanted to finish the year on a good note. This was a much longer race than most of the others that I had done at 58km but due to the high speed nature of the course it would only take around 2 hrs. From the start the whole race ended up as one long train,  I slowly worked my way up to be sitting in around 15th just in case a break did occur. Around 10km in a group of 10 split from the front and I managed to sneak onto the back of them. Sadly I couldn’t hold on to the bunch across a section of loose shingle and then I was caught out alone between groups grinding into a headwind. Eventually I just sat up and let the next group catch up. From there we just worked together to set up a bunch sprint finish. I had nothing in the legs for the sprint so I ended up 13th overall and 2nd junior, not a bad result all in all.

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Down the finish chute

Last up was the low key Mini XC series also run by the singletrack club. I had the opportunity to come for a warm-up ride with some of the top guys beforehand, got completely shown up but it was great training trying to stick on their wheels down the descents. Took a 5th and a 9th in the Elite grade which I was pretty happy with.

Overall I’m pretty pleased with my first serious attempt at some mountain bike racing. Some long weeks of training over the holidays to look forward to before the Canterbury schools MTB championships early next year.

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Mt Isobel Challenge 2016

The Mt Isobel Challenge is a race that I have done for the last 4 years. It has such a great local atmosphere, not to mention some very nice thermal pools. This year I decided to focus only on the run section by doing it in a team with local junior mountain biker Ben Friel. With some fast competitors entered (Nick Hann, Flavio Vianna and Cameron Jones) I knew I would have my work cut out to achieve my top 5 goal.

With reports of snow on the top of the mountain there was compulsory gear to carry and a shortened run route to contend with. Come race morning the temperature was near freezing and tension was in the air.

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Cruising out of the start line 

The pace from the start was settled with a front pack of 6 forming up the gravel road including Nick, Flavio, Cameron and me. Running off the road and into the trail it seemed I was in a good position to achieve my goal. But as soon as we transitioned into the forest Nick and Flavio shot up the trail, with Cameron not far behind. Because I didn’t want to lose to a 15 year old I tucked in behind and spent some time getting acquainted with the pain cave. That was, until he bent over double beside the track and said “Stitch” as I ran past. From there I set my own pace up the hill with only the glimpse of someone else behind me every now and again. And then we hit the final climb, 200m of vertical over 500m, an average gradient of 40%!!! From the bottom I could see the top 4 places ahead of me all strung apart up the trail. So it was hands on knees all the way to the top, pushing as hard as I could to make sure I didn’t get caught. I managed to gain 1 place up the climb and went over the timing mat in 4th, ready to gas it down the rocky ridge line into the transition.

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Chasing Flavio halfway down the ridge

From the top it was straight down the hill on the other side. I absolutely flew down there trusting my 190’s to grip the slope. With Cameron only about 20 seconds back as we went over the top I knew I had to keep pushing until the finish. It was about halfway down that I caught a glimpse of Flavio up ahead and realised that catching him might be possible. With that goal in mind I stepped it up a gear and reeled him in. He was descending gingerly down one of the many rocky sections with another guy when I went past, once again trusting my 190’s to carry me through unscathed. I went into the transition just as Nick was leaving, but all I had to do was tag Ben. No transition required.

I had the fastest descent time, 30 seconds faster than Cameron, 1:10 faster than Nick and a whole 2 minutes faster than Flavio. Overall I was just over a minute down on Nick on the run which I am pretty happy with, considering the 5 year age gap.

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Winning team meaning some nice Inov-8 gear to add to the collection

Ben managed to hold the lead all the way to the final climb where Cameron snuck past him on his full carbon hardtail, (Ben was on his full-suspension bike) and managed to stay 4 seconds in front at the line. We still came first team and picked up an Inov-8 race elite running pack, a pair of debris gaiters, and a free entry for next years event each. Looking forward to racing Mt Isobel again ,  might even be chasing after Nick Boss Hann next time?

Rediscovering my Inspiration

For me the holidays is a time to reflect on the year and look ahead to decide on my goals for 2016. Aside from JWOC and selection for the Aus schools team I had little else on my plan for the year before heading south for New Years. But a month spent in the Wanaka area has shown me just how routine my Port Hills training has become, running the same trails every week. It has inspired me to look towards the the foothills of the Southern Alps and plan long missions to take me away from the routine and put some spontaneity and adventure back into my life. The likes of Goat Pass, the Wharfedale track (as an MTB ride), and the Mt Roy-Alpha Peak track that I ran a few days ago (Strava) are all possibilities that excite me. As well as these there are the smaller trips in Canterbury foothills like Mt Thomas, and Mt Grey that are well worth a day out to do.

Leaving my watch and heart rate monitor behind when I go out also gives me a sense of freedom to explore and have an adventure without being a slave to my pace times which is something that I didn’t realise I was doing. This year I have decided to get rid of some of the specific goals that I had last year such as burning 3500 calories per week and just have the fairly open goal of doing 300hrs of “training” by December 31st.

I think that the key to being a successful athlete is not about doing your training, it’s about enjoying your training. That’s a message that I want to keep in mind going forward and as a lesson for younger athletes who might not have encountered this issue yet.

Longbeach Coastal Challenge 2015

Well that was crap.

Nah it wasn’t that bad, but it certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for. 56th was well outside my top 20 goal but I did get a $50 cash prize for coming in 3rd in the Junior category so that was nice.

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All 300 of us lined up at the start

From the start the pace was ridiculously high with Anton Cooper and the Oliver’s leading the pack. I was dropping backwards down to about 40th and I simply couldn’t get back into it after that. Part of the problem was my bike, while everyone (and I mean everyone) else was cruising along the rutted grass paths on their full suspension 29ers I was bumping along on my 27.5 hardtail simply unable to do the same speed as them.

Aside from that it went pretty well, I settled into a group at the 20km mark and we worked together to catch some other racers before the end. With about 5km to go on my Garmin I realised that we were right next to the finish and went for it. Sadly we still had another 3km loop to go before we actually finished. I managed to overtake about 5 people through the loop including another junior that had been in 3rd for the whole race. That was enough to get me on the podium and claim my $50 reward.

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Junior placegetters

Probably wont be back next year unless I can get a full suspension bike, or I need the money. Trail running is definitely my favourite non orienteering race discipline. Now it’s time for a relaxed week before camp starts.

Bell Hill Challenge 2015

This was going to be my first trail race since starting running seriously. Without elites like Tane and Vajin racing I knew I had a chance to place well and hopefully achieve my goal of a top 10 finish.

My Race

“Gps Tracking” of Competitors

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Nick Hann leading out with 213 people behind him.
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Front of the race with Nick in first, eventual winner Ben Aynsley in second and me in third.

The pace was hot from the gun with Nick settling into the early lead. After only  a few hundred metres on the gravel road the gradient went steeply upwards as we hit the main climb. As soon as we left the road some of the stronger adults came past and I began to slip backwards in the pack. I ended up forming a group with two of them. I dropped from 3rd at the bottom down into 7th when we reached the summit as my calves simply could not handle the ascent.

On the way up I lost all feeling in my feet which was unusual, but at least they didn’t hurt. As soon as we started to descend they were fine again. A large chase pack of 5 formed when some of the older guys ahead got confused as to the route down and stopped. Our group of 3 caught them and we continued down together. I established a small 10-20sec lead on the rough descent but that was closed quickly once we hit the flat again. A brief chat determined that our group covered 5th to 9th which meant I was in good company to achieve my top 10 goal.

We ran together for about 10 minutes before one guy decided to attack just after the aid station. He was joined by a masters guy and together they established a gap of around 1 min on the rest of us through the forest loop. Coming back to the aid station at the end of the loop the gap was still about a minute but the masters guy was clearly fading as he was dropped by the other guy and spent much longer at the aid station. From here it was a descent out to the gravel road and then a long slog to the finish. Another guy came past on the descent putting me back into 8th and I decided to let him go since he was running much faster than me. He made a gap of about 50m but over the next kilometer I reeled him back in. Together we pushed the pace hard down the road and caught the masters guy who was staggering along travelling at about 6min/km. I decided that 5th place was too far ahead and so settled back for the sprint finish. With 200m to go I kicked past and went for it, he had nothing left so I finished in 6th, 30 seconds behind 5th and 20 seconds ahead of 7th.

 

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Still running strong at the finish.

Really happy with my race, felt absolutely shattered at the end and couldn’t walk for the next day. Physio visit confirmed torn muscle fibres in my calf so no hard running for a few weeks. Kudos to Nick for finishing in a tight second place after having a bad fall earlier in the race. Bring on Longbeach next week!

 


South Island Orienteering Champs 2015

South island champs were down in Naseby this year which suited me very well indeed, I loved the physicality of the steep pine forest terrain when I first ran there during Junior Camp in 2013 and I was looking forwards to going back. Boy did the weekend live up to my expectations…

The first day was in a prologue/chasing start format and after a mistake free run in the first event I was seeded 3rd overall for the chasing start, 3 mins behind Nick H, 2 mins behind Chris Forne, with a 3 second lead over Nick S. Having watched Nick H and Chris fly into the forest ahead of me it was my turn. After losing my lead over Nick while attempting to pick up my map I was away, He went past straight away so I just sat in behind him for the majority of the race letting him control the pace and just keeping map contact so I knew where we were. We were clean and fast through the southern section of the map catching a glimpse of Chris as our paths crossed early on.

Control 12 to the finish.

A small error into the 12th control allowed Gene and Shamus to close the gap to us, but a mad sprint by me through the green and past the finish to get to the last control just kept me ahead of them, giving me a 3rd placing overall. Nick was passed by both Gene and Shamus just before the finish to slip back into 6th (Full map)

The next day was the long distance (my favourite) on the main Naseby map, which was where we trained during Junior Camp. I started out cautiously through the first couple of controls, very aware that there could be big time losses among the technical contours.

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My route to control 1

After nailing the first couple of controls I decided to drop low into number 4 around the stream, but the boundary of the forest was unclear around this area so I was unsure of exactly where I was, this lead to about a 2 minute mistake as I tried to relocate and find the control.

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Control 3 – 4

From then onto the map change I ran well and passed some of the female elites that had started on the same course earlier. I made another mistake on the control after the spectator/map change .

Map flip to control 10

I exited the path too early and ended up in the wrong valley costing me around 2 mins after eventually relocating off the vehicle track. I exited the track early again on number 10 and lost 1 minute fluffing around in the green north of the control.

Smooth running through the next 3 controls put me back into a good frame of mind ready to attack the monster 1.6km route choice leg. (Map) I decided to follow the water race for as long as possible as it made for very fast running and then link up some smaller tracks to lead me into the control. This worked well and suited my running speed. I won this leg by just around a minute from Ed and 1:30 from Nick who both took straighter routes through the forest.

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Control 14 – 17

A botched exit direction from 15 cost me a small amount of time but also my good mental state and caused a larger error on the next control. I under ran it and ended up searching in the first open detail area rather than the second, this cost me 2 minutes. After climbing back up to the top of the hill the course went through another technical section.

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Control 19 – 23

I lost about 2 mins through here, just due to a lack of speed through the forest despite nailing each control. From 23 to the finish it was all downhill and with easy controls I was able to run hard without worrying about the map too much. I finished in 3rd, 5:12 behind Ed and 1:50 behind Nick and another 15 mins back to Oliver in 4th.

The final event of the weekend was the middle distance on a new map by Nick Hann. I started 2 minutes behind Stephen and was hoping to catch him out on the course. I ran well for the first section of the course losing a few seconds through the scrappy forest but nothing major. I caught Stephen on the way to number 9 when he took a wide route.

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Big mistake at control 13

We were running together up until 13 when I entered the re-entrant slightly above the control and ran to the road to relocate, whereas Stephen looked left and saw it further down. I ended up doing a big loop before finding it that cost me about 2 minutes. From then on it was a straightforward run along some tracks to the finish. A strong finish was just enough to keep me in 2nd ahead of Stephen who ended up only 12 seconds behind, with Ed 40 seconds clear in 1st. Little bit annoyed that I could have just followed Stephen home for the win rather than ending up in second but still pretty happy with my race (map)

Overall a nice weekend with some good results that I can look to build on in future. Being able to compete with Nick and Ed on a regular basis is not far away. Bring on D squad camp 2k15!

Stitch

Perhaps my biggest problem when I run is stitch, despite my best efforts to avoid it (not eating before running, occasional core workouts and warming up properly) I still have runs like this connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/912277981 . From 30mins onwards I could not get any flow going and had to keep stopping to wait for stitch to clear.

Now this isn’t just a whine about the limitations of my body (although that is part of it) because there are probably other people out there suffering from a similar affliction. Despite the fact that these people will never read my blog, these are the key things that I have found over many hours of internet searching:

  1. Wait 1-2 hours before running after a large meal. Especially if you ate a lot of carbs or fibre.
  2. Drink only water or electrolyte drinks before and during runs, avoid coke or other high carbohydrate drinks.
  3. Do specific torso stretches in your warm-up such as chest rotations and torso reaches to relax your abdominal and oblique muscles before running.
  4. Core workouts especially for the abs, these help to strengthen the muscles around your torso and reduce the likelihood of stitch. Core exercises also help with running posture and efficiency so even if you don’t suffer from stitch you should do them anyway.
  5.  Some people say that breathing with your stomach or “belly breathing” is better than chest breathing in terms of avoiding stitch I can’t say that I notice a difference when switching between the two.

Edit: Since writing this post I did another run (connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/915035698) where I tried the belly breathing technique again and I worked very well. So perhaps there is some merit in it after all.

 

Business Time

As the sun  begins to shine on Canterbury again it’s time for the racing season to begin. This being my first seriously competitive year I have selected 3 very different races to focus on along with the usual orienteering in the background.

First up is the Bell Hill Challenge (chriscox.co.nz/bell-hill/) a chance to follow in Nick’s footsteps and see how I compare to some of the best trail runners in Canterbury. Aiming for a top 10 finish in this one. The course starts with a brutal 600m climb over the first 2.5 km then undulates around the edges of the dalethorpe orienteering map before coming onto the gravel road for a few km to the finish. Total of 19km with about 850m of climb.

Next its onto the 10km road race at the Selwyn running festival (selwynsportstrust.org.nz/mcmillans_drilling_10km/) here I am aiming for the overall win but that will really depend on who else races. Judging by last years results it should be feasible but if a real road runner were to turn up then I would be screwed.

Finally the Longbeach coastal challenge (longbeachcoastalchallenge.com) this is a 35km mountain bike race that has previously featured the likes of Anton Cooper and Ben Oliver. As this will be my first ever mtb race I’m not entirely sure what to expect. But my goal is to get in the top 20 overall, and hopefully get my hands on a share of the prize money if I can win the junior category.