Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's like running in Death Valley during Winter.

The title of this post is more or less a quote from a book i was reading over the Easter break writtern by Marshall Ulrich about his trans american run in 2008 at the age of 57.

Before i headed off for the Tasmanian 3 Peaks Race before Easter, the general words of farewell from friends and family was good wishes for nice weather and smooth sailing. The weather was anything but that with, wild storms, 60+ knot winds and large swells. Only half the boats in the fleet would make it to the finish in Hobart.

The fact that the weather was so bad over the weekend made my experiences that much better and i'm sitting here, back in Melbourne, a very satisfied man. This is a long post but there is no way it can be shortened, quite simply too much happened that needs to be mentioned.

Pre Race
I'd probably gone into this a little more tired and run down that i was hoping but i've been putting in some relatively solid weeks of training lately and have also been enjoying running a little bit too much to back off to see me reaching the starting line feeling something that even remotely resembled fresh, and was a little worried to hear, after catching up with running partner John Winsbury, that he's training wasn't quite as impacted by the birth of his second daughter as he'd indicated it was in email correspondence is the weeks leading up to the event.

In Beauty Point after catching up with the crew and taking care of some necessary paperwork we headed up to the pre-race drinks at the Port Dalrymple Yacht Club (conductors of the race) and enjoyed that absolutely amazing spread of food they put on while catching up and talking running with Mick Donges, Clarke McClymont, Andy Kromar and John Winsbury amongst others. I also received the bitter-sweet news that the sleeping bag previously required to be carried while running was no longer part of the mandatory kit and left cursing myself that i hadn't packed my Salomon S-Lab 12 pack, that would now have fit everything in.
Team Peccadillo (l to r) - David Blake, John Winsbury, Chris Wight, Charles Meredith (skipper), Neville Boyd, Russell Zylstra (photo:
Start, Sailing to Flinders Island, Mt Strezlecki Run (Good Friday/Easter Saturday)
Last year, with decent winds at the start, Charles made the call to put up the spinnaker while still in the Tamar River, making for a very fast and very, very exciting start to the race. This year was a little different, with practically no wind at the sheltered start line, that saw boats either with the oars out rowing, or in our case with the runners out the back on the pedal powered propulsion system.
On your bike. John and I powering away from the fleet at the start of the race and have a laugh at how ridiculous we feel pedalling a 48' cat past a pier full of spectators. (photo -
Soon enough though, the wind picked up enough for us to put the bikes away and the fleet sailed off across Bass Strait, headed for Flinders Island and the forecasted storms due to arrive later that evening. As soon as the sun went down, John and i decided to head for bed and get some sleep to stave off the sea sickness and get some rest ahead of the 65km run around and up Mt Strezlecki.
Bed - not too shabby at all. Its about queen size and comfy as can be, definitely a lot better than what's on offer in a lot of the smaller boats.
At some point, after drifting off for a while, i was woken by an almighty crack and the flash of lightning. The storm was fully raging outside and the sound of wind, rain and the intermittent thunder claps were almost totally drowning out the yelling of the crew to one another as they did battle. I was actually amazed that i had managed to sleep through the storm as long as i had and despite my desire to head up into the above deck cabin to check out how crazy it was up there i dared not risk getting sea sick and stayed put observing the constant lightning strikes through the small hatch in the roof above my bed.

After, who knows how many hours, and countless numbers of tacks, the crew had to resort to motoring into the dock at Lady Barron on Flinders Island, assuming they'd have to take a time penalty using motors before crossing the finish line for the leg. Even under motors it was an effort to make ground and as we finally pulled up to the dock and John and i headed out of the cabin we finally began to appreciate the conditions they had been sailing in all night.

Immediately after setting off running it was quite clear that nobody would be getting near the (stout) run record of 5:10:04 set in 1996 by Andy Kromar and Tim Sloan. We were running into headwinds exceeding 50mph for the first 30km of the run as we made our way around to the base of Mt Strezlecki and had to deal with gravel whipping up off the dirt roads and trails and whipping our exposed skin. Still we, pushed on and we were pretty happy to reach the bottom of the climb in about 2:25 (4:50 min/km).
Mt Strezlecki - Not the most fun i had on the trip (photo:
Unfortunately, a number of factors conspired to make the trip up Strezlecki quite slow and very uncomfortable. I had reached the base feeling quite good but definitely knew we were working hard holding that pace into the headwind. I'd been taking Shotz Gels regularly and they were working well, however i should have taken one early at the base of Strezlecki to hold off on taking one up the climb, as once on the climb the dizziness (a hangover from being on the boat and a staring a the ground hiking uphill) had me feeling pretty terrible and not feeling like eating anything. The climb was a miserable trudge and unfortunately it was much too cold to really enjoy being at the top as well, so we just got back down as quick as we could, which happened to be not too quick as the dizziness from the trip up had yet to abate. I just focussed on getting down without any accidents and getting some calories in.

John smiles to be back down. Me looking a little more focussed and still feeling pretty terrible. (photo:
Once back on the flats it was only a few more kms before we turned the corner onto the gravel road that would take us back to the port and put the wind on our backs. By the time we made the turn i was back in control of my calories and we were once again making good time and knocking off the kms in well under 5 mins and finished stongly to post the fastest time for the leg of 6:04:22, ahead of Andy Kromar and John Kent from Mobile Travel Agents (6:39:00) and Clarke McClymont and Mick Donges from Appolonios (6:43:33) who would have been considerably faster if not missing a turn.

Only when getting back to the dock at Lady Barron had the severity of the previous evenings storms become apparent. Racing back onto our boat, as is customary at 3 peaks we found the crew hanging out and drying their sailing gear and informing us that race control had put a hold on the race to give teams a chance to make repairs and have a break after all boats (who made it to Lady Barron) were in fact forced to motor in. Other boats were much less lucky and had their races finished less that 24 hours after it all began.
Haphazard - This photo i think best illustrates just how crazy and dangerous it was out there. (photo:
Sailing to Coles Bay, Freycinet Run (Easter Saturday/Easter Sunday)
The race resumed at 2pm on saturday and having not sustained any damage in Friday nights storms, Peccadillo was one of the first crews to sail out of Lady Barron. John and i chatted a while and made sure we got some food into us after probably not eating enough before our run around Strezlecki. Some food in our stomachs, it wasnt too long though before the effects of the fatigue accumulated from a reasonably sleepless Friday night, a hard 65km run around Strez and the drowsiness from taking a Kwell (sea sickness tab) had me heading down for a nap at about 4pm. I had a couple of ok hours of sleep before getting up briefly about 8:30pm to grab a bit of food, but feeling a little uneasy headed back to bed. What seemed like a short time later the Skipper, Charles, was waking me up to see if i'd mind getting out back on the bikes as the wind had died down, "Sure, what time is it?" I queried in my groggy state. "6 AM". Awesome, i quickly chucked on my shorts, and told him i'd be out and soon as i threw down a bowl of muesli as my stomach had set about eating itself during the past 10 hours of sleep. By the time i'd got the muesli down (maybe 5 mins) the wind had picked up again and we were sailing through smooth waters for Coles Bay, which much to Johns and my excitement would have us running the incredible scenic Freycinet leg in the daytime.
A pretty happy John. 14 hours sleep, a beautiful sunrise, smooth sailing and the prospect of running around Freycinet in the daylight. Whats not to be happy about?
As we were pulling up to the dock at Coles Bay, Charles queried us on about how long we thought we take "best case" so that they would know how long they had to get everything organised before heading out again. John seemed to recall that on his 3 previous 3 peaks that he had completed the run in a touch over 4 hours, and given the it was 33km and very technical running, we figured that it might be possible to get around in about 3:30.

We set off on the run and after the initial undulating kms started the climb up over over the saddle to Wineglass Bay, where my legs indicated a degree of fatigue from the previous days run but still felt quite capable of putting in a good effort. The soft sand of Wineglass bay was pretty taxing, but nowhere near as bad as i recalled from last year and we hit the bottom of the climb up to Mt Graham at a touch over 5:30 min/km pace, and i felt confident of being around the 3:30 mark.
Wineglass Bay with Mt Freycinet (right hand peak). (Photo from Tourism Tasmania)
It didn't take long on the climb up to Mt Graham for us to start slowing down though, and we were reminded how technical and tough the running around here was. Despite the slow progress (we were running all but the very steep pitches) we were loving the running and once above the trees and onto of the plateau of Mt Graham i was wishing i had brought my camera along with me, while stealing glimpses of the amazing views and doing my best not to catch a toe and face plant.

I probably held John up a touch on the super steep, rocky decent off Graham, not being as accustomed to such terrain that John has been in his mountain running in NZ and Europe but in no time we made the turn off for the out and back pinch to the top of Mt Freycinet. We hit the top in 2:04, my garmin reading 16km, thinking 3:30 might have been a touch ambitious but sub 4 still on the cards. The next section of running was probably the most fulfilling for the whole race for me. John and i were flying along the technical single track, barely talking, just stepping aside every 10 minutes to let the other runner take a turn at the front, a brilliant idea of Johns to let provide a mental break and keep tabs on how the other runner is faring. Despite the good pace we kept for the next 17km, all the way to half way back up the last climb over to the Wineglass Bay carpark, it became evident that the course was longer than stated (37km) and that the sub 4 hour time was going to be out of our reach. It also became evident to John though that he may have been off on his recollection of his time being just over 4 hours last time he did it.

By the time we reached the last few km of undulating road and beach that would take us back to the boat we were both thoroughly cooked. We kept a solid pace but stopped pushing quite as hard and even stopped for a brief chat on the beach with Mick and Clarke as they headed out at the start of their run before making it back to the boat in 4:10:40, only a touch disappointed. After an exceptionally refreshing can of coke, i took the opportunity to make use of the phone reception and touch base with my parents as we were sailing away from dock, only for them to inform us that we had in fact just broken the Freycinet run record by a mere minute and 4 seconds. On informing John, all i got was a blank look of disbelief, before bursting out into laughter and jumping on Charles laptop to get confirmation. The 3 peaks blog confirmed that we had in fact got the record but also gave us a few slightly nervous hours as the blog also reported that Clarke and Mick had reached the Freycinet summit just 1 min behind our time. Ultimately, they faded a touch but still logged a very quick 4:21:38, while Andy and John took 3rd fastest in 4:38:35.

Sailing to Hobart, Mt Wellington Run (Easter Sunday/Easter Monday)
On leaving Coles Bay I was feeling a little cooked after a tough effort around Freycinet but in high spirits given the reward for our hard work. Bit of food and a snooze saw me over till dinner time and the an awesome stew of meat and vegetables that Nev had cooked up while we were out running. Unfortunately the combination of the Stews tastiness and my greediness had me eating way too much and feeling very average in the rolling waters, which seemed to be getting rougher as we progressed down south. For most of the race Mobile Travel Agents (aka Big Wave Rider) had been sailing splendidly and combined with solid running legs from Andy Kromar and John Kent had maintained a comfortable lead. Just before going to bed however, we determined from the race tracker that it appeared that they had been unable to get through the Denison Canal and had been forced to throw out the anchor and await more favourable tides before they could continue. Meanwhile, Charles had decided that Peccadillo would take the safer but longer route around Tasman Island and was now looking like it might pull off an improbable upset. The sailors were excited, but i was nauseous went to bed.

Lying in bed, i'm not too sure what it looked like up there on deck but it sounded terrible. There were crazy wind squalls, pouring rain and crashing waves, and even from down below in bed it was noticeably colder than it had been at any other stage during the race. At some stage after midnight, in my semi conscious state i heard the motors kick on and stuck my head out see what was happening. Evidently the weather had become so bad that the sailors were at risk of getting hypothermia and had steered us in to Port Arthur to seek refuge from the storm, get warm, dry and some sleep. The chance at the win had been snatched from their grasp but given the conditions it was the only safe option.

Awaking in Port Arthur on Monday morning after seeking shelter from the weather. It's hard to believe to contrast in conditions. What the picture doesn't illustrate through is how cold it is.
On continuing on to Hobart, the sailors were in much better spirits following their rest and the few hours in Port Arthur has given me a chance to get some uninterrupted sleep, which i was grateful for. It turns out all the boats had sought shelter either in Port Arthur or the Denison Canal. Mobile Travel Agents had managed to haul their boat through the canal and were nearing Hobart, while Advantedge and Storm Bay had got an earlier start than us, leaving us now in 4th place.
Mt Wellington. The summit is obscured from view by the clouds and reports had us preparing for -13 windchill and snow.
Before long we were in Hobart and John and i were on our way up Mt Wellington. I was skeptical about what  i had left in the legs but they seemed to managed the consistent uphill grade on the roads pretty well and before long we were turning off onto the steeper trails higher up towards the summit. We kept a good pace, running the lions share of the trail but i was working pretty hard to keep up with John the mountain goat. As we climbed higher we started to see the first signs of snow and i was once again wishing i had a camera and the time to take a photo as we climbed the rocky trail up through steady, but softly falling snow. It was absolutely amazing running conditions and has really increased my excitement and anticipation of getting in more snow running over the coming Winter.

John Kent (Mobile Travel Agents) summiting Wellington a couple hours before us. Noticeably less wind and snow in the above photo. (photo:
As we approached the summit, the moved out from the trail that had been protected from the wind and soon found ourselves running towards the summit structure in blizzard conditions. We quickly ran out of trail/path and scrambled the remaining metres to the summit and after a quick high-five, made our way about getting the hell off the mountain before getting hypothermia. The first few km's of the decent were unfortunately a touch slow while running head-on into the blizzard and trying to get my legs back after pushing hard to keep up with John on the climb up. Although we had summited in 1:25, i'd assumed any chance at the record (2:27) was out of our grasp as the route back down is slightly longer. We were still making good progress and i was confident of a good time which get us the King of the Mountains title and the fastest time on the Wellington leg.

About 5km down we rounded a corner and managed to just catch sight of the runners from Storm Bay. This served as huge motivation as passing them would move Peccadillo into third overall and second in the Multi-hull division. We let out a little cheer when we saw them and instantly the tempo lifted. We quickly caught and passed them and set of down the trail with renewed vigor and before long i was starting to do the math in my head about how long to go and the projected time. Turns out that the course is in fact a little shorter than stated and that just maybe we could get near the Mt Wellington record. Game on. John and i proceeded to give it everything on the way back down and like on Freycinet we were barely talking, switching turns and pushing hard.

Every time i looked down at my watch to check our pace it never read more than 3:25, getting down to 3:00 flat. It was going to be close. We kept pushing, I kept going through the math in my head "If it's less that 2km we might have it". That last 10 minutes seemed to go forever, we hammered down the hill, back into Hobart and down towards the docks. Stopping at traffic lights was out of the question, quick glance either way, throw up a big don't argue hand, the cars can wait for us. 2:27 passed, the second fastest time was 2:29:XX, keep pushing. We rounded the last corner and sprinted across the line, my watch stopped on 2:29:55, they clocked us at 2:30:00. Same diff. 3rd fastest time will have to do, our crew was already into the beers.

Very happy at the finish. 3rd Overall, 2nd Multi-hull, King of the Mountains Trophy.

It wasnt long after the finish that i had one of the longer showers of my life. It was cold in hobart and i longed for a shower that didnt resemble a closet with the kitchen tap coming out of the wall. Physically and mentally i was pretty shot for a couple days, the legs were still in good shape and i ran the day after i finished in Hobart and again in the Dandenongs with Mick D yesterday after getting back into Melbourne. I'm tired and feel jet lagged though from the unusual sleeping patterns and three days of storm interrupted sleep. Today was the first day that i didn't wake up at 3am. I'm happy i feel like this, it makes me feel like i've worked for that KOM trophy and i wouldn't be feeling this satisfied if it was easier. Like Marshall Ulrich not wanting to run through Death Valley during Winter, I don't think i'd want to do 3 Peaks without the adversity, though for the enjoyment and safety of the sailors i'm sure i'd manage just fine.

A massive thanks to Injinji and Shotz for the product they supply me with. There was lot of water, hard gravel and beach crossings over the 3 run legs and despite all the crap that went into my shoes I had zero issues with my feet. No blisters, no hotspots and i didn't take any preventative measures other than a fresh pair of socks for each run.

Although i have been using Shotz gels in training since January, this was the first time that i took them during long race intensities. Getting off the boat on Flinders Island i knew i hadn't eaten enough and that i'd need to stay right on top on my gel intake. I took them every 25 minutes the whole Strezlecki leg (except the climb up the mountain when i bonked) and despite us running hard they went down ridiculously easily. Same for when we were pushing in the second half of the Freycinet run and while trying to chase down the record on the Wellington Run. I never struggled even once to get one down. Back on the boat i drank water with Shotz electrolyte tabs while i was recovering. This easily allowed me to get my electrolytes back without having to take in lots of sugary drinks that generally make me feel bloated.

Thanks to Charles and the crew from Peccadillo, i reckon they have a harder job than us runners sailing those boats in those conditions with as little sleep as they get, and to John Winsbury, who was an awesome and inspiring running partner that kept me entertained with stories of races in NZ and Europe will kicking back on and off the boat.

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