Trails and tribulations with the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 1.0

As I assemble my trail running gear and reach for a hydration pack, the SJ Ultra Vest presents a conundrum. On one hand, this is simply the most comfortable, lightest and least noticeable pack I’ve owned. But on the other hand, it sputters where it should shine: delivering hydration.

The Perfect Bag?

I bought the SJ Ultra Vest to replace my collection of Camelbaks which all take 2 or 3L bladders and were purchased primarily for mountain-biking. When it came to trail running they were “OK”, but the big Camelbaks were too big (and heavy), and the small Camelbak could carry a cell phone and that’s all. I wanted a bag designed for running – one that could carry 1-2L of water, but also accommodate my minimum trail gear (PLB, phone, first aid kit, survival blanket, pocket knife and jacket), plus have room for a bit more gear if I wanted to run longer and/or colder. The SJ Ultra Vest looked to be the perfect bag.

Front and back of SJ Ultra Vest

Light and Pocket-y

This bag is light and very packable. When my order arrived, I opened the box to see what appeared to be two bottles and a pair of socks – it packs down that small! The SJ Ultra Vest is a feat of design excellence. It has breathable hex-mesh back/shoulder panels, cuben fiber sides, and a stretchy power-mesh back compartment.  

The second thing I noticed is pockets. Millions and millions of pockets. Probably too many pockets to be honest! There’s four pockets for gels, two for bottles, two chest pockets, two side pockets, a waterproof key pocket, another small pocket, a back pocket. The first few times out on the trail,  it’d sometimes take me a few pockets to find what I was looking for. And when I got home from a run, it would take ages to go through all the pockets and unload everything. But hey, better too many pockets than too few, and after a while I got into a routine and knew exactly where things were, and which pockets to unload.

Jiggle, Jiggle, Splosh!

So, Day 1, I loaded it up, and out I went. I love the feel of this backpack! It sits nice and high on your shoulders, leaving your back ventilated and keeping you cool. It carries loads effortlessly and I barely notice it’s there. But, as soon as I started running, those full water bottles, sitting right over my breasts, started to wobble and bounce. It’s an unusual sensation (for a slim-ish guy) to have any weight in that location, and I wondered if  this is what it feels like to run with an ample bossum? Things felt a little… out of control! I really wanted to be able to cinch them down somehow.

A few months later and I’m still not convinced that it’s the right place to carry bottles. The jiggling settles down as the bottles get emptier, but then you’re faced with the other issue this bottle placement raises: the splashing noise. It’s noticeably louder having the bottles sloshing around just in front and under your ears. While you do get used to it, it can detract from the peace and stillness of an early morning trail run.


The SJ Ultra Vest comes with two 600ml “kicker valve” bottles. I’m not a fan of the kicker valve. The first time I went to take a drink, it took me a few minutes to work out that you need to pull the rubber valve out, and then bite the valve a little (but not too much) to get the water flowing. I’m constantly frustrated by the small volume of water that comes out (sometimes you just want a great big mouthful of water!) but I do like the big loop handles on top of the bottles, and I love how easily I can reach the bottles. I experimented with slicing the valve wider, but while that gave great flow, it also led to a leaky valve that showered me with water as I ran! So I’ve swapped off the lids for some Camelbak Podium bottle lids, which have been pretty good.

Leaky valve

I soon found that 1.2L of water is not quite enough. As I was slowly imploding on a hot 3 hour trail run, I realised that I need to be able to carry more water. To date I’ve resolved this by carrying an additional 750ml soft bottle in the back pocket. The bag promises to accommodate a 2L bladder, but I’ve yet to find one short enough to fit inside (it’s quite a short bag and certainly can’t take a standard length Camelbak bladder), and the Ultimate Direction bladder is difficult to source. Also, there is no separate internal pocket for the bladder, so it would have to sit in with your gear, making it difficult to refill.

Is that a House on Your Back?

I’m astounded how much stuff I can fit in this bag. Last month I decided to run the Tongariro Crossing in NZ. Although it was summer, this is an alpine crossing – the temperatures were sub-zero, and the weather forecast was not great. But I was there, and I had a window, so I was going to give it a crack. As I laid my gear out on the bed, I despaired that I’d be able to carry it all:

  • polypro top
  • long-johns
  • warm hat
  • warm gloves
  • wind-proof gloves
  • down jacket
  • waterproof jacket
  • waterproof overtrouw
  • map and compass
  • zip-ties (a throwback to my MTB days where a zip-tie could solve any problem!)
  • lots of bars and gels
  • and the rest of my standard running stuff (PLB etc)

Tongariro gear

Admittedly, I’ve got some very packable versions of these items, but that is still a LOT of gear to fit in a lightweight running pack. Yet the SJ Ultra swallowed the lot – easily – and (most importantly) comfortably! If anything, the bag felt even more comfortable with a full load of gear! Even if there wasn’t going to be rain, I knew there’d be plenty of sweat, so the things I wanted to stay dry (like the down jacket) I packed inside a plastic grocery bag. The rain jacket was attached to the outside via the bungee cords.

I still shake my head in amazement. It was a wonderful feeling to be on top of a mountain in adverse conditions, wearing warm gear, and knowing that, if I had to stop, I had plenty more layers of toasty, windproof gear I could put on. Ahhh, what a bag!

SJ Ultra Vest in action

(action photos courtesy of a car window reflection in the carpark!)


I’m not sure whether I’d recommend the Scott Jurek Ultra Vest or not. The load-carrying performance is phenomenal, and both comfort and quality are outstanding. Unfortunately, the water carrying capabilities don’t quite work for me. I found I like using water bottles, where I can easily see how much is left – but the breast-mount location and feeble kicker valves put me off.

I like this bag enough that I’m going to continue to experiment with it. I’ll try to track down a bladder (I see version 2 of this pack now has a separate bladder pocket), and I’ll also try to find some soft bottles for the front pockets to see if they sit better (and quieter). It’s frustratingly close to being the perfect bag, but its flaws cannot be overlooked!

Tongariro crossing

Posted in gear review, running | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

100 runs in 100 days

I’m 35 days into my – possibly insane – mission of 100 runs in 100 days.

To qualify as a run it must be either 6km long, or 30 mins – whichever comes first. I’m not worried if it gets split over multiple runs in the same day, although I haven’t done this yet. The idea is to build a habit of running, and to force myself to keep exercising over the Xmas holiday period.

Rocky trails Hemi Matenga

So far it’s been mostly great. I’ve been forced into a few late night head-torch runs, a few soggy runs, and a few headcold runs. But aside from that, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some new trails all over the North Island of NZ. The highlight so far has been an out-and-back run over the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but I’ve also explored several sections to the Te Araroa Trail (the length of NZ trail) near Kapiti, I’ve found new trails in the hills above Wellington, I’ve run down river to the Huka Falls in Taupo and I’ve circled around and over Mount Maunganui. With another 69 days to go, it’s exciting to think where else I might end up!

The new Strava training log is a very useful tool to monitor progress, with the picture below showing how many kms I’ve run each day (“Look Ma, no gaps!”):

Training log after 28 days

I’m happy to knock out a slow 6km run as a recovery session, but I’ve got to be careful not to fall into the trap of running everything at the same slow mono-pace. It’s a little tricky right now, because the legs rarely feel fresh enough to smash out a tempo session. Once I get back home from holiday, regular 5km parkruns and track sessions will help.

Meanwhile, I’ve somehow got to squeeze 6 hilly trail runs into the next 7 days. I’m not sure that I’ll manage, but it’ll be fun trying. Happy trails!

Emerald lake - Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Posted in motivation, running | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment


I went into this race SCARED, so scared that I almost didn’t go into this race at all! The biggest challenge I faced in my maiden 50km race was the mind games that happened before I even got to the start line.

Fighting the fear

It’s typical for me to get nerves in the final week leading up to a race. I’ll sometimes feel a few injury niggles come on, perhaps a head cold will threaten, and excuses why I shouldn’t race will start popping into my head. I’ve found that having a race plan helps reduce my nerves, and come race morning I’ll be pumped and looking forward to it. 

This time was different. This time I wasn’t racing. I was going to treat this as a 50km training run. I hadn’t trained specifically for the distance, but I’d been building my long run up to 3 hours, and three times I’d run 100km weeks. A 50km run might be achievable.

So when the nerves kicked in and I sat down to write my race plan, it all fell apart. My race plans are full of pace targets, time estimates and nutrition schedules. These are all geared to cove rein gthe distance as quickly and efficiently as possible – I immediately started thinking about it as a race and got caught up in planning my perfect 50km. The McMillan Running Calculator (which is accurate for my half marathon time) had me running 50km in 3:30 at 4:12min/km based on my recent 17:50 5km. This would have been 5 mins off the race record!

Mcmillan for 5k

Clearly I wasn’t being realistic about what I could achieve based on the training I’d done, and was setting myself up for a repeat of the Gold Coast Marathon implosion. I had to forget the race plan.  If this was going to be a training run, I needed to go in casually. But would I be able to stay casual once the race started? And more, would I be happy having a slow race against my name? I really needed to get my head around this whole social-racing thing!

Without my race plan blankie, the excuses arose; the niggles too. But this time they seemed very real. I was certain I had some minor injuries which were going to crystallise into “months off running” injuries under the pressure of 50km.

But the biggest obstacle was FEAR – fear of PAIN. The last 6km of the Gold Coast Marathon must have scarred me more than I’d realised.  The thought of putting myself in a situation where I would feel that same 6km of pain, and then an additional 8km of pain, filled me with dread. Yes, I’d made it through last time, BUT I’d had a clear mission: “Complete a Marathon”. Plus, last time I already knew I could run that distance because I’d run it in an ironman. This time I was heading into the unknown. 50km. And why? Without a strong goal, I would falter the minute it got too tough.

Why run 50km?

During the race I asked several people why they were running 50km. For one it was an opportunity to work on her mental toughness. For another it was for the pride of saying he had done an “Ultramarathon”. One guy was taking a break from longer distances!?!  

For me, there was a bit of soul-searching the night before the race. One reason I was doing it, was because it was too good an opportunity to miss – a 50km race covering much of the ground I run on every week, and me probably as run-fit as I’ve ever been with a good, solid month of running behind me. Secondly, I needed to erase the demons of the last 6km at the 2013 Gold Coast Marathon – and the only way I was going to do that was by having a strong finish in a marathon or similar distance. Thirdly, I felt obliged to run it because I’d told people I’d entered. This guilt was the main reason I didn’t withdraw during race week when the injuries were chipping away at me.

But the strong goal, that thing was going to drive me to the finish line, was that I wanted to go under 3 hours at the 2014 Gold Coast Marathon. I figured that running 50km would make 42.2km seem a doddle.

Lying in bed on race night, unable to sleep, I stumbled across my “Bucket List” on my phone. There I saw an entry that resolved my determination: “Run an Ultramarathon”. Game on!

The 50km Race Training Run begins

Race morning was yet another sunny and clear day on the Gold Coast. With a 5am start, temperatures were pleasant, but by mid-morning it would be unpleasantly hot. Clothes would get sweaty and heavy, so tight and grippy was the order of the day.  I made a last minute decision to run with my trusty Fuel Belt, rather than the Ultimate Directions SJ Ultra Vest I’d been using on my trail runs. I wasn’t completely comfortable with the bottles up front (I felt they slowed me down), and I thought a backpack might be a little too hot. Without a pocket that could fit 10 gels, I cut 7 open and pored them into one of the Fuel Belt bottles and tucked an additional caffeine gel into my shirt pocket. As it turned out, the Fuel Belt worked perfectly.

Tight and grippies

Walking breaks

I positioned myself at the back and set off at a very relaxed pace – 5:30-5:45min/km. In training I’d decided that this was my “run all day” pace (well, that was the plan anyway!). The run/walk alert on my watch was set to beep every 4 mins for a 1 min walk. Although I’d trialled this the previous weekend, it hadn’t been a great success and I’d found myself surprisingly spent after just 20km. I’m a big fan of the run/walk approach and have used it in all of my long races – but usually at a 9min/1min ratio. I’d recently read that Galloway reckons shorter, more frequent breaks are better, so I was going to give it a go.
But when the watch beeped at 4mins, I didn’t start walking. I was already near the back of the field and didn’t want to have the “tail-end Charlie” bike riding with me. “Next time.” I thought. When the watch beeped at 9 mins, I still didn’t stop. This time there were too many people around me and none of these veteran 50kmers were walking. At 14 mins the watched beeped a third time – just as the 2.5km aid station appeared. I grabbed a drink of water and walked as I drank it, letting the field flow past me. I took my time, emptied my cup, and watched my heart rate drop. “This will be my strategy.” I decided. “I’ll walk the aid stations.”  So I switched off my run/walk alert and walked every 2.5km aid station for the rest of the race (barring the one I missed at 7.5km and the final one at 47.5km).

Walking breaks

In total, I walked for almost 17 mins – roughly 1 min per aid station. I also walked all of the hills, but there were only a few little bumps. I ran a near-even split race: it took me 2:22 to get to the 25km turn around, and 2:23 to get back (excluding a 3min walk through the turnaround aid station, where I rather foolishly tackled a mammoth piece of watermelon which refused to go down!). I never timed my walk breaks but I did I occasionally check my walking HR to ensure that it had dropped below 70% of MAX (125 bpm) before I started running again. I felt the walk breaks were pretty consistent, so I was quite surprised to later find that they averaged a mere 30 secs on the way out and stretched out to 70 secs on the way back. I certainly enjoyed the walks on the return leg!

What fun!

This has to be my most enjoyable race, ever!  Yes, the scenery was gorgeous, the weather great, the volunteers friendly and the food and drink plentiful. But the real jewel in this race were the other runners. Everyone was relaxed, friendly and up for a chat. It was like a group training run! Perhaps it was because I was a bit further back in the field where people were more interested in finishing than winning, but I met some lovely people out there and had some very enjoyable conversations. I found myself disappointed when an aid station appeared and my walk break would kill the conversation. But sometimes the person I was chatting with would walk the aid station with me, and if they didn’t, there was inevitably another person to chat with just up the road. I spent the first 35km discussing everything from endurance running to raising children. But then conversations got shorter, faces started to tighten up, and this thing got a wee bit more serious. I had to be content with my own company for the final 15km .


What happened to the wall?

Being alone was OK, because I was waiting for “the wall”: that dead-leg feeling and crippling pain that had terrorised my marathon 5 months earlier. From chatting with a few of the seasoned racers, I knew that the two really tough parts of the course would be the hot and airless stretch along Jefferson Lane at around 35km, and then all of Hedges Avenue in the final 5km.  Jefferson came and went and I still felt fine. I was starting to pass more and more people as they faltered, and everyone looked very hot.  I’d barely broken a sweat on the 25km out (I was looking at my skin to see how sweaty it got), but now my pace was a little quicker and I was starting to warm-up. After carrying a full water bottle for the first 35km and not touching it, I began sipping from it between drink stations as I felt thirsty. Following another competitors lead, I stopped at one of the beachside showers and stuck my head under for a minute – it was delightfully cooling and left me feeling refreshed for the next 10 mins (once I’d gotten the salt out of my eyes!).

Finishing strong

42.2km was the next milestone, which I celebrated in exactly 4 hours. Still no wall, and now only 8km to go, all of which was along my weekly run route from Burleigh to Kurrawa. I knew I could run that stretch no matter what, so I suddenly realised that I was actually going to complete this run! It was a bizarre trot to the finish from here, as fading racers got curious looks from beach-goers, joggers and fitness groups. Still feeling strong with one km to go, I couldn’t help myself and strode out to a 4:25min final km (it felt like a sub 4 minute km but the legs were obviously a bit tight by then).

As I hit the finish line I felt a surge of satisfaction:

Ultramarathon? Check!


Lessons learned

  • I can now trust my gut on nutrition – I  didn’t take any nutrition in the first half but did in the second, and all went well.
  • I took too much stuff for a race with aid stations. I didn’t use any of this stuff in the first 25km! Next time forget the extra gels and suncream; reconsider the iPod; only take one water bottle and leave it empty until required; consider collecting nutrition at the halfway mark. 

    Stuff carried

  • The lycra triathlon top was ideal, but white is not flattering!
  • Racing can be fun! 
  • A post-race ice bath is gooood! 
  • Miles in the legs (eg. 100km weeks) makes a big difference!
Posted in race report, ultramarathon | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Two long years ago I was slumped forwards, hands on knees, gasping for breath and grinning wildly. I’d just run an 18:11 parkrun, dropped 1km from the line after a ding-dong duel that had been on almost from the start. Only two months before that, I’d run the inaugural Main Beach parkrun and an 18:XX time had seemed impossible. As I sucked in another almightly, yet insufficient, lungful of air, I tentatively wondered whether a 17:XX could be achievable.

As happens, the trajectory of results was interrupted – first by injury and then by life. The sub-18 idea waned and was soon left forgotten like an old suit gathering dust in the back of the closet. Attempts to return to parkrun were thwarted by injuries and by the busy weekend schedule of a family with four young children. It seemed my brief but bright dance with parkrun was over.

But the very nature of parkrun doesn’t lend itself to being so easily forgotten. A community-focused event that gathers lovers of fresh air and exercise together, to share tales and rivalries and soak up the happy positive energy of like-minded individuals, leaves a hook in your soul that reels you back in. As I grew bored of swimming, cycling and triathlon, I found myself rearranging my schedule to accommodate a Saturday morning 7am start – parkrun.

Two months ago I found myself standing under the tall pine trees at Main Beach, surrounded by a colourful crowd of chattering and fidgeting people – parkrunners. I was back. And as my parkrun adventure revived, so did the sub-18 idea. It became a target. My 2013 goal. Break the 18 minute barrier.

Six times I’ve battered myself against the 18 minute barrier. I got close, then I got further away. I was hopeful, then I was frustrated. Only two weeks ago I decided it was destroying my run fitness and I needed to forget it for a while. I started running to and from parkrun – 7km+ each way – clearly not the best way to smoke your parkrun PB! But, finally, I cracked it. A 17:53 at Varsity Lakes last week was a “pinch me, am I awake?” moment. And now a 17:50 at Main Beach has confirmed it: I’ve knocked the bugger off!

Main Beach parkrun results

What followed was a couple of days of elation. I told people who were interested. I told people who weren’t interested! I analysed, I hypothesised, and I generally felt quite chuffed. And then… well… I didn’t really know quite what to do anymore.

The sub-18 was my 2013 Goal. I suppose I’d imagined it would take right up until the end of 2013 to achieve the goal – but clearly I hadn’t really thought about that at all. Now there’s still a month and a half left of 2013 and I seem to be foundering somewhat – I’ve lost my drive to train. The post-goal blues?

So I’ve decided to take it easy this week. Give the body a chance to recover, and the mind a chance to latch onto something.

I keep thinking about running long. I’ve built my long run up to 2.5 hours. I still want to get it to 3 hours before Xmas. And maybe to 30km+ (if I can stomach 3 hours on the road!). The last three weekends I’ve totalled 40, 44, and 47km. This week I hit 100km for the first time ever. I’m finding it noticeably easier (and nicer!) to run for 90 mins. Running’s starting to feel like it did when I was a kid – effortless! I know that the other part of the equation is a healthy diet – I think it’s only a matter of time before I succumb.

One trail run which keeps calling to me is a round-trip on the 21km section of the Hinterland Great Walk, from Binna Burra to O’Reilly’s, along the caldera of the enormous Tweed Volcano. I figure it’ll be 2.5 hours each way, with a stop for a snack at O’Reilly’s. The distance is just far enough that I’m not game to tackle it on my own… yet. But it’s going to happen soon. Before Xmas I reckon.

Walking on the Hinterland Great Walk
Walking the Hinterland Great Walk with the kids. Look at that delicious trail!

But for now, it’s feet up, job done. Bugger – knocked off!

Posted in goals, racing, running | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 100km running week

I am edging tantalisingly close to cracking the sub-18 for 5km, with an 18:05 PB at Main Beach parkrun a few weeks back. Surely, it’s mine? Any week now!

Unfortunately, the desire to hit this goal has started to have a negative effect on my running. I’ve been concentrating on speed and strength training, and then resting my legs so they are fresh for the Saturday morning parkrun. This has seen my mileage drop away from 60-70km per week to about 40km per week. And that 40km pretty much consists of three hard-out threshold sessions: a hills run, a track session and then the 5km parkrun. With all of that hard running, my legs have been getting tighter and sorer, and although I’ve been getting faster, my endurance is in danger of falling away.

I was OK to let the endurance slide for a few weeks because the sub-18 5km goal seemed imminent. But I also want to build my long run up to 3 hours before Xmas. It seems these goals aren’t completely compatible! Having given the 5km a couple more cracks (and come up short with 18:30s), it’s time to work on the endurance again. And that means more runs, and longer runs.

Last week I was chatting with a fellow parkrunner who had a very similar record to mine, except he continued on where I blew up for a few years with dodgy calves. He eventually got his 5km time down to a low 17min, but even more impressively, his half marathon to 1:16 and his marathon to sub 2:40! My hopes – that my steady 40-60km per week would yield similar results – were dashed when he revealed that he was running at least 120km per week! (It’s also worth noting that he got a stress fracture when he built to 170km per week!) I’ve got no sub-2:40 marathon dreams, but sub-2:50 is one of my Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.

So I’m going to forget about the 5km for a month and try to build up to 100km/week. The easiest way for me to add mileage is to arrive an hour earlier to my regular Tuesday and Thursday runs and do an extra 10km warmup; on Saturday, I can run to and from the parkrun which will make that a 25km roundtrip. That gets me to 65km. If I add a 15km trail run on Sunday, all I need to get to 100km is a couple of 10km runs during the week – probably on Monday and Friday. I’m going to feel six runs a week!

I’ll need to decide which run I’ll build to 3 hours – either the Saturday 25km (with parkrun), or the Sunday trail run. Actually, there’s no choice there – it’s got to be 3 hours on the trails! As I increase that Sunday trail run, I can probably reduce the Monday 10km to give a bit more recovery.

100km run plan.jpg

So there we have it: a plan for a 100km running week! Sounds easy enough. All of the kms I’ve added will be run at easy/steady pace.

I’ve already started building towards this – last week I ran 90km over 5 runs. That brought on a few little niggles, so I’m being cautious and it might be a couple more weeks before I get to 100km.

Now, what to do with that run fitness? Interestingly, in five weeks there is the Kurrawa to Duranbah 50km (with options for 30km and 15km). Gold Coast. Summer. Hot. Humid. 50km. Hmmm…

Posted in running, training plan | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

There and Back Again

Five weeks ago I watched forlornly as my training partners disappeared up the hill; yesterday, on that very same hill, I set my all-time PB.

2013 fitness

It’s been an odd last few months. After a big push leading up to the Byron Bay Triathlon in May, I took 3 months almost completely off. I ducked out every now and then for a jog, but I barely touched the bike.

The main reason was my year-long niggling injury, which I self-diagnosed as a High Hamstring Tendinopathy (self-diagnosis, you ask? Well, that’s another story!). The niggle had been getting slowly worse so I decided to give it a good break.

I’ve always blamed the bike for this injury, as it first occurred after I started doing long rides for Ironman NZ. So my main goal was to get off the bike for a bit (never mind that I’d tried a month off the bike in January with no improvement at all – never let the facts get in the way of a good theory!).

By August, my fitness was at an all-time low. Well, as low as it’s been since I started recording fitness data anyway! And the real loser was my cycling fitness.

2013 bike fitness

By this time I’d realised that my injury still hurt just as much as it did before, even though I wasn’t training! So I donned the lyrca and headed back out on the bike, for my regular Wednesday morning hill ride. The first of these was very entertaining. I tried to power up the hills and watched as, one after another, my old training companions rode away from me. The only way from there was up! With each ride there was a steady improvement, culminating in yesterday’s ride where I had my best power figures for 2013 (over the 20sec to 1min range), and also set a new PB for the Guineas Creek Road climb.

This is puzzling because, according to the lore of fitness, fatigue and form, of power meters and Performance Management Charts, my current CTL of 12 (down from my peak of 43 in May) should not enable me to be performing all-time best efforts. According to the numbers, my bike fitness is crap!

So I reckon that must have been a soft PB – even though I’ve ridden that hill 70 times before!

But still, there is another, even more important factor at play here: mental freshness.

After a long break from the bike, I came back expecting that I would hurt on the bike; knowing that I would have to push really hard; knowing that I would inevitably blow-up. There was a willingness, almost an eagerness, to suffer. But once you’ve been on the bike for a few months, grinding out the same hard sessions, the desire to push beyond your limits, even when going head-to-head with someone, diminishes.

I’ll be interested to see how long this mental freshness lasts. I don’t have any key races planned this year, but I’d like to build my bike up to two rides/100km per week. I also have a vague desire to get my parkrun (5km) PB down below 18 (currently 18:11) by Xmas. And knowing that I’ll be in NZ over the Xmas holidays, I’d like to get my long run up to 3 hours, so I can explore some of the beautiful kiwi trails.

So that’s the plan of the rest of 2013: ride more, run longer, run faster. Too easy!

The Tararuas

Posted in comeback, trainin break | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Gold Coast Marathon 2013 Race Report


Happier times - The 10km mark

Ouch! I guess I’ve officially done a marathon now.

As expected, running a marathon, with no marathon training, meant a very painful final hour. It’s a familiar story: I was feeling great up to the 30km mark, and then my pace started slowing and the pain started growing. As everyone knows, this is the point where the race begins. Through sheer determination, I managed to maintain my pace, but with 5km to go, the race broke me… and devoured me. Pain, seized up limbs, a running pace slower than a walk, a walking pace slower than a crawl. The final 5km of a marathon is littered with broken bodies, and mine was one of them. I eventually shuffled across the line with a 10 min positive split (1:44/1:54) and a tremendous feeling of relief. What a daft idea!

It’s an almost out of body experience to watch yourself hobbling along at the side of the road whilst others happily jog past. Some are chatting, some are fiercely determined, but all are moving faster and more freely than you. They ignore you like a ghost, as if just by catching your eye they might become afflicted and reduced to hobbling along beside you. Their pace is no more than a slow training jog, but it is well beyond what your body can deliver. You hold no malice, in fact the opposite is true – their success brings a warm glow, knowing that their hard work has earned them their dreams. You know you’re going to make it to the finish – run, walk or crawl – and you know that the sooner you get there, the sooner the pain will end. But right now, this is all you’ve got, so this will have to do.

Pace and Heartrate - hitting the wall

It’s less like hitting a wall, and more like running into a steady deepening pool of acidic quicksand. I’d been popping gels every 5km so my energy levels were great, but my body wasn’t conditioned to the work. My heart rate dropped as my legs did less and less of what I asked of them. My muscles were exhausted and there was no immediate solution. It was too late to make things right. The solution needed to happen in the previous 3 months: training and conditioning my feet, legs and hips – building them up to endure 3 hours of pavement pounding.


I’d entered this race at the 11th hour, without any training, to experience how my body would cope with being pushed beyond what I’d trained for. I knew I could run a marathon, having done one at the end of Ironman NZ. But I’d trained for that and ran a very steady, even race. Lately I’d been getting excited about ultra-distance trail races, 50km+. But with no experience of running beyond my limits, I knew I needed to taste the pain and see if I revelled in it and embraced it, or hated it and feared it.

The answer?

I didn’t like it. I dealt with it. Twice I cracked and broke down to an unscheduled walk. But then I regathered myself and pushed on to the finish. It hurt. It sucked. But it also gave me confidence, and pride. I didn’t quit. I never thought I wouldn’t make it. I just kept thinking that it was a really stupid thing to do!

So now my finger has eased back off the ultra-running trigger. I want to train for a distance before racing it. I will run a 30km before entering a 50km. I will run a 50km before entering a 70km. I will slowly increase the distance and see if the enjoyment increases. And one day I will tackle a road marathon with training behind me, and have a crack at a good time.

18 month CTL

But for now, with my fitness at the lowest level it’s been for over a year, it’s time for me to get this year-old high hamstring tendinopathy sorted out. That means a couple of months off biking and running, and lots of rehab exercises. Hopefully this will see me back running and riding without pain later in the year.

The Finish

Posted in race report | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments