Friday, May 30, 2014

100km of Bliss

How best do you begin to reminisce about an experience that has filled you with feelings of happiness, greatfulness and accomplishment, well, the best way is to head back out on the trails and let the memories run through your mind with every step.

Running TNF100 in the Blue Mountains, Australia, was not in my plan until two months before the event. Living in Switzerland I sporadically planned a trip to see my family and friends in Australia, realizing that the dates would coincide with the running of TNF100, a race that had tickled my curiosity for a while. Having had glandular fever in january, I wasn’t very ambitious about this running season, moreso living by the motto – if it‘s meant to be it will happen… and with exactly that attitude I went on the waiting list for a start at TNF100. Sure enough, only a week later, a spot had opened up, and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

The day had arrived… I greeted it with both anticipation and excitement. I gravitated straight towards the window in the hotel foyer, running my eyes from sky to valley, checking out the conditions and taking in the scene of where I would be running for the day. The sky was clear with stars still twinkling in the distance, and the colours of the rising of the sun becoming obvious out on the horizon. It was going to be a good day, I could feel it!!

My training and preparation for TNF100 was far from ideal with the limited time I had to train specifically for the event. I just ran by feel, aiming to run because of the fun and love of it, rather than because I was training for an event. I also felt that this approach might help me cope better with the expectation I might put on myself, allowing me to take things step by step, leading up to the race and durning the race. Living in the Swiss Alps I had the advantage of altitude and (forced) hill running, but because we were just coming out of the winter season and it was hard to get any decent long Km’s up, my longest run maxed at about 30km (I never run with a watch so its a bit of a guess), which did leave me a little worried as to if I had undercooked myself and I was taking the whole thing a bit too légère…

Standing at the startline the energy was tangible and spirits high! I watched the start of the first 3 start groups, before I gravitated towards the startline in wave 4. I checked in with my body, it felt ready… my mind was calm and focused on the task ahead and before I knew it we were off and the adventure had begun!

The beauty about ultra running is, that you always meet really cool people and you’re running at a pace that allows you to have a chat and share parts of the journey. Soon enough I was talking to other competitors as we looped our way around the road for the first 4km of the run before hitting the trails. I was in my element descending down the stairs into the depths of the bush then gliding over some lush and fun single track trails. But it wasnt long before the congestion slowed the flow of the moment and I was slowed to a stop/walk pace as we ascended back up some stairs. In hindsight i am incredibly grateful for that, as I could conserve energy to take on the next 90 or so Km’s.

Trail running is incredible, it‘s like a dance with nature as you tip toe over its surface, jumping over stones, constantly changing pace and always alert of your surroundings. Trails are always an adventure as they are never the same, depending on weather and other factors. The trails in the Blue Mountains were very playful on the day, nice and dry providing a grippy surface, sometimes technical and steep, other times slick and fast but ever changing.

I had passed checkpoint 1 & 2 making good ground, feeling comfortable, happy and chirpy. As we hit the top of one of the climbs the sound of a didgeridoo was obvious in the distance, and sure enough two fellas were there cheering us on and leaving a great tune with us as we ran past them. We then ran into an open field, cows grazing, horses watching us carefully as we passed by and birds chirping their happy song. At this point I was excited to hit checkpoint 3 soon, where my friend Shayne would be awaiting me and I could fuel up on some chocolate milk.

Finding the right thing to fuel you for a 100km is not the easiest thing. I was very aware of fuelling and hydrating properly in the days before the race, allowing my system to be stocked with reserves, so on the day all I needed to do was maintain. The North Face did an amazing job with providing the participants with a variety of food and drink options at every checkpoint. A banana, some lollies, a chocolate milk and a red bull were enough to fuel me along for the day, keeping my energy levels consistent and preventing me from ever hitting that dreaded wall.

Checkpoint 3 was in sight, people were cheering from far away and then I spotted Shaynes face and ran straight up to her with a huge smile. I was keen to keep running, keep the flow going, so I quickly refilled my water bottles and without much hesitation set of on the next leg of the race.

The going got a bit tougher as the first set of gnarly stairs approached after the 50km mark, but there was no other option other than to take it, literally, step by step and share the whingeing and pain with other participants on the many following sections of steps. I kept in mind that it was all part of the adventure, and so far it had been a great one. We passed some highly populated tourist areas, zigzaging through the masses of people, feeding on their cheering and kind words.

I had done a few ultras before, but never a 100km continuous run. I was very aware of the mental aspect of such a run. I often visualized how it would be running TNF100, allowing various scenarios to go through my mind always focusing on a positive mindset, having an exit plan should my mind run off into a negative area. Luckily I didn’t have to tap into that exit plan, as I was always in a good frame of mind.

The weather couldn’t have been anymore perfect, warm and sunny keeping the spirits high!! Checkpoint 4 came and went, the sun was descending slowly announcing the imminent arrival of the evening, and with that, the last leg of the run. I had made a quick transition through checkpoint 5, realizing that it would be the last time I would see Shayne (who had done the most amazing job at crewing me through the race) but also realizing that a tough 20km was still awaiting me.

Running downhill is something I love, letting yourself be pulled by gravity and your legs run free on autopilot. However, approaching the long downhill section after checkpoint 5  my legs were not loving it as much as they usually would. I struggled to find a rhythm for the first few kms of the descent, but it didn’t take them long to get back in the groove.

The last leg was filled with anticiapation for the finishline, digging deep and participants motivating one another along the way. It was like I had changed a gear, something else propelling me forward driving me towards that finishline. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, with the last km of the run being 933 steps to the finishline. There was no other option than to embrace the burn and keep on keeping on until the finishline came into focus.

Typical to my style I didn’t stack it, although there would have been plenty of opportunity on some of the sections, until the last 50m of the run, where  was so excited to be running up the last few stairs that I actually forgot to lift my legs. But i didn’t care, the finishline was a visible reality and I ran as hard as I could until I crossed that line. My elation was undescirbable.

Going into this adventure without expectation I didn’t have a specific time goal, but i did want to finish under 16hours. I didn’t wear a GPS watch, I wanted to run within myself and that appeared to work for me. I crossed the finish line in 12hours 44minutes placing me 8th female and finishing in the top 8% of finishers. This exceeded any expectation I could have ever had!!

I will forever hold that day, running TNF100, as a treasured memory close to my heart, allowing it to add fuel to the fire of my passion for running!!

„When you run on the earth and with the earth you can run forever“ … and that is exactly how I felt that day!!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Live Every Moment

There's something incredibly reviving about running as the seasons are in Transition. Running over vanishing snow as it washes itself of itself to reveal muddy trails and grassy fields ready to be brought back to life.

Under a pristine blue sky with the sun set high, warming up the ground, I wound my way up the backside of the mountain. At first I struggled to move Forward at a consistant pace in the slippery slush, but I soon realized that, if I adapted my stride to a quicker turnover, I could glide over the surface of the snow without too much Trouble.

In life it is easy to live one step ahead of the present Moment, focusing on what might be instead of what actually is. Running has taught me that I can't move move forward successfully if I'm already living in the next step, not focusing on the step that is the link to the next one.

As I was moving my way further and steeper up the back of the mountain, I could feel how my mind and Body were moving simultaniously in the same direction, enhancing all my senses. I felt the texture of the ground beneath my feet, smelt the earthy scent of spring that was drifting in the air and saw my surroundings with the wonderous eyes of a child.

Running fills me with a Feeling of freedom and an increased joy for life which is simply a reflection of how life should be lived and experienced every Moment.

I began descending the front of the mountain, first in heavy, slushy snow (ideal for shoe skiing down for a speedier descent) then moving on to muddy, slippery spring trails. My mind started running ahead of me, thinking about what needed to be done for the rest of the day. My mind and Body were no longer moving in the same rhythm, as my thoughts drifted from the present Moment, distracting me from where my feet were landing. I was rapidly pulled back into the present as I tripped over the root of a tree and ungracefully face planted in the mud. I picked myself up, chuckled at myself and marvelled at the irony of the lesson.

Live in the present Moment of your stride, be Aware of the next step, don't try and outrun yourself or your life... Live Every Moment.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Called out in the dark

"I was called out in the dark
By a choir of beautiful cheats"
I couldn't sleep, didn't want to sleep, something was pulling me outside into the Imperfect snow, under a perfect star covered sky. I began to walk aimlessly, planlessly up my endless backyard, which is my playground.
My senses were on overdrive - I saw clearly without extra light, I could hear the chatter of the snow as it crushed beneath my feet, I could smell the purity of the crisp, cool mountain air, I could feel the breeze on my Skin and in my hair, and how it was carrying me up the mountain.

"And how the heavens, they opened up
Like arms of dazzling Gold"
As I was drifting up the mountain, just as midnight hit, I glanced up at the sky and saw how the clouds had disappeared without a trace, revealing an army of majestic mountains illuminated by the glow of the rounding moon. I took a Moment to sit, far removed from any artificial light, allowing me to see the stars clear and Close. Hypnotized by the silence and Beauty, I saw something that resembled "arms of dazzling Gold" shoot by. Shooting stars, cementing the Magic of the Moment.
"Show me now, show me the arms aloft
Every eye trained on a different star
This magic
This drunken Semaphore"
Mesmerized by the stars, I kept walking... cross-countrying over whatever was left of, what was once, lush powder snow. My eyes drifted back to the heavens where I realised no one star is the same, the perfect metaphor for us living beings - all unique in our own right, passing through this life like a Shooting star. LIVE YOUR WISH.
"This drunken Semaphore" is the ultimate drug, and its called LIFE.
"We are listening
And we're not blind"
I crested the top of a steep hill welcomed by the comforting faces of the mountains. I pulled my iPod out of my pocket, lost all my apprehensions and began to Dance for, what seemed to be, an eternity, infront of an audience of mountains with the stars serving as natural Disco light.
Listen to the whispers of nature, they will not lead you astray. Open your eyes to the Beauty of life, it is perfectly Imperfect.
"This is your life
This is your time"