Ultrarunner fighting Atrial Fibrilation (AF)

This blog has pretty much always been about running ultras, mostly Hardrock. It still is but now it is also about running with AF. I was forced to miss Hardrock in 2011 due to my AF but my long term goal was to get back to a level where I could enter the lottery for 2012. And hopefully help any other runners with AF who stumble upon this site. I never made it into Hardrock in 2012, or 2013, or 2014. I didn't have a qual for 2015. I ran Fatdog in Canada instead. That was tough. Now back to Hardrock.

The heart problems all started back on May 25: http://howmanysleeps.blogspot.com/2011/05/out-of-hardrock.html

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 7: Sunday 27th

Today was Grant-Swamp marking day. This is one of my favourite parts of the course so it was no easy decision to not go.  Well, actually it was easy. My head still hurt. I spent most of the day sleeping. Late in the afternoon I felt better so went for an easy jog along the Nute Shute which follows the highway on a nice 'flat' trail for several miles. I didn't take a full pack and just went easy for 4 miles before returning the same way. 8 miles in just over 2 hours. Felt good.

Day 6: Saturday 26th

Trail-marking begun today. Wow, so few turned up. I can't imagine coming to HR for the first time and not taking advantage of the trail-marking days to learn the course and acclimatise to the altitude. And I can't imagine as a returning runner not doing some of the course-marking to catch up with all the regulars. 

We drove a couple of miles out of town to the Mineral Creek crossing and a couple of cars were shuttled to our end point at South Mineral Campground. The guide line across the creek was fixed and we plunged into the fast flowing water. OMG it was so cold. Fortunately this year it is really low and at worst knee deep. It will be even colder on race day when we hit it at first light. Wet feet for the next 40 odd hours. Today wet feet for just 7 1/2 hours. 

The trail disappears into thick pine forest and starts climbing straight away. The low parts are used by horse riders. And according to the scats on the ground, bears. I guess that explains the name of the creek we were following up the valley: Bear Creek. 

The mixed group spread out quickly as the elevation gain sorted out those acclimated and those not. We stopped for a snack and allowed everyone to catch-up in the warm morning sun. The mozzies moved in so we moved out. The higher we got the thinner the trees until eventually we broke the tree line and Putnam Basin opened before us. Snow-banks, rocky outcrops, cliff-faces framed the lush green growth of the early summer. The wild-flowers were out in force. A myriad of colours dotting the mountains. The spectacular columbines with their pale purple petals surrounding the creamy white inner petals were my favourite. The tiny white and yellow daisy-like flowers were in abundance. 

Crossing out of Putnam Basin we reached over 12,000 feet as we climbed the grassy saddle that led us into the next basin. We spent some time here working out where the trail was supposed to go before we climbed over 12,000 feet again giving us a view across to Kamm Traverse where the first aid station would be. 

A long descent back into trees and we were on one of those classic rolling pine-needle lined single tracks all the way to the boggy South Mineral Creek crossing. Another short climb and we were at the site of the aid station. Given we got here in good time we continued up Kamm Traverse. The directions state that exposure is an issue here. It is steep and narrow but not as bad as other parts of the course. 

Off the steep traverse we were back in pine trees and some amazing huge conglomerate boulders. Looking up I could see the cliff that they had sheared away from. It was hard to imagine the impact of their fall. The geology here is spectacular and makes me wish I had taken more notice at Uni. 

Finally we were at the next big river crossing. A massive log jam provides a tricky but dry feet crossing. The waterfall above makes for an impressive backdrop. After a nasty steep climb we left the course and followed another trail for a few miles back down to our waiting cars.

A fantastic day covering 14miles in 7 1/2 hours. But I finished with a massive altitude headache.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 5: Friday 25th

What a difference some sleep makes. Felt great so headed out early to climb Mt Kendall again. It is close, convenient and constant climbing from the go. The plan was to go out a couple of hours and turn around. Not far up the climb I crossed paths with a lady coming back down so stopped for a chat. She knew my name and rather bewildered I inquired and turns out she is on the Hardrock Board so pretty much knows everyone. She told me if I find Rodger asleep at the top to wake him up. He has been pressed for time to train so got up in the early hours and was now on his third repeat of the mountain. Nothing like cramming at the last minute! Not long after leaving Caroline, he came flying down with another HR veteran, Rick Hodges. Rick looked in great shape despite being only a couple of months out of major surgery. Wow it was like Bourke/Pitt Street out here. 

I switched my ipod on and started plowing up the steeper incline climbing to 12,000 feet (from 9,200 in town) in just 4 miles. Another runner came towards me. Turns out he wasn't a Hardrocker but was on for a chat nevertheless. Despite all the people out here the little ground squirrels were still flitting across the road. Everything was so green. The big-leaved skunk cabbage plants were in flower and looked somewhat like triffids with their gangly stalks.

I turned around short of the top but with 5+miles and 2 hours up I was ready to go back. I tightened my pack and cranked up the pace a notch. When the Hilltop Hoods clicked onto my shuffle I had the perfect rhythm going and a smile from ear-to-ear. 

About half-way down another runner was slogging up towards me. Marcie, my saviour at the Putnam Aid station, mile 95, last year. We had a great catch-up and then I ran into her partner, John, further down the hill, trying to catch up with her. He is in the race this year and Marcie will pace the back half. It was really cool catching up with all these familiar faces. 

I ran the last part hard and my knee held together which is promising. 11 miles in 3+hrs. Trail marking starts tomorrow. Can't wait.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 4: Thursday

Crap, no sleep again. I thought I had beaten the jetlag. Apparently not. Late start and very tired so I only did some 'flat' trail today. And kept it short. I followed the start of the race out of Silverton to the first big river crossing. The trail winds along on a shelf above but mostly hidden by trees from the highway. I remembered running along here last year after 40 hours with lightning breaking across the night sky. Not today. It was sunny and hot. 

The river was the lowest I have seen it. The crossing rope was not up yet but we are marking this section on Saturday so it will be in by then. I retraced my path to the township and then across to the beaver pond trail again. Even the small undulations seemed huge today. Short but sweet, only 11 miles in 3 &3/4 hours. Hopefully I'll get some sleep tonight!

Day 3 Wednesday 23rd

Finally got some decent sleep. Well rested I headed out early onto the last section of the course: Silverton to Giants-Little Dives Pass. Being a clockwise year I was going against the grain but would retrace my steps as per the race finish. The start/finish this year is at the Ski Hut on the edge of town and climbing the open ski hill above it I was feeling the altitude already. The trail then undulates through spruce forest interspersed with some grassy openings and the famous beaver ponds. Crossing several small streams I was surprised how dry the track was, managing to keep my feet dry for the entire day. Very unusual at Hardrock. After a couple of miles the trail breaks from the single track and climbs steeply first up a jeep road, then up a rough track following a water pipe. 

After crossing the main Arrastra Creek on some convenient logs, I looked up the valley to the pass high above me. No way, that doesn't look passable. It took me a few minutes to realise we don't come down that valley but wind around to the next one. The hard-packed jeep road climbed steeply for a couple of miles until I reached the lower mine site then wound back around to the higher mine site above that. The adjacent lake was usually still frozen at this time of year but it was already thawed and presented as the most brilliant azure pool. 

I climbed above it onto single track, now well above tree-line and the view to the pass clear ahead of me. There were patches of snow but only one narrow bank to cross. Finally I was scrambling across the final steep scree slope that leads to the trail onto the pass. Wow, what a view. The sky was vivid blue punctuated only by the thin white streak of icy jetstream as a plane cut through the upper atmosphere. Craggy snow-capped peaks in every direction to the horizon. 13,000ft and the air was crisp. The breeze coming up from Cunningham Gulch on the other side was almost warm. I sat in the sun and ate a snickers bar and soaked in the endless views. Totally content.

Enough rest and I was plummeting back down the trail, sliding down the scree slope, flitting over rocks, slipping on the loose gravel. Hitting the jeep road and I settled into a rhythm that found me back at the river crossing in no time. Back into the forest and my preferred single track and I was in trail nirvana.

5.5 hours for 16 miles. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Silverton: home of Hardrock

2 days in Silverton and my head still throbs from the altitude and jetlag induced insomnia. After around 30 hours of planes, trains and automobiles, literally, I arrived in Durango on Saturday. After loading up with supplies and trying to find some new model trail-runners it was a short hop across the mountains to Silverton. Driving through the windy mountain pass my first glimpse of the old-west township sent a shiver down my spine. A potent cocktail of fear and excitment washed over me at the realisation that I am about to take on the Hardrock100 yet again. I have used this description before but I can find no more apt way to describe the emotions that Hardrock elicit within me: it simultaneously scares the crap out of me and excites me like no other race has ever done. Despite finishing in both directions, I take nothing for granted. There are a thousand ways to DNF this race. There are a thousand places to die on this course. There are a thousand emotions to be experienced throughout the race. It is a challenge I respect and invite. I am lucky yet again to be given this opportunity and humble in my approach to this daunting task that I hope to fulfill one more time. 

My trusty little travel laptop has failed me so updates on my progress towards race day in 2 & 1/2 weeks will be sketchy. But I will try to translate some of the adventure that comes with course marking and familiarisation. I have been out on part of the course (last 5km only) and it looks dry, although the locals tell me there is still a lot of snow up high. I covered 20km this morning (off course) up Mt Kendall that overlooks Silverton. In true Hardrock style what took 3 hours to climb (12,000feet) only took 1 hour to descend. I look forward to sharing my journey to the Hardrock and hope it is half as much fun as the last 2 years! And maybe just a little quicker? :)


Friday, June 18, 2010

Time to go

All the training has been done. Well, as much as I could manage, anyhow. My patella is still grumbling after an injury that forced a DNF at 90km into the Mind Alpine 100 back in April. But since then I have managed a solid training block of eleven continuous weeks over 100km, peaking at 145km last week. That is not big by most standards but it is by far the highest consistent mileage I have ever maintained for the longest period. And most of it was done carrying a weighted pack. And building up to a higher intensity and pace than I would normally achieve in training. Hopefully this all bodes well for Hardrock race day, 3 weeks from today. Yes, just 21 more sleeps!

Spud will be arriving in Silverton a little later than me but I am confident that the massive amount of training he has done will stand him in good stead despite the short acclimatisation period. We paired up and ran the Teams Marathon at The North Face100 in the Blue Mountains a few weeks ago. Neither of us tapered and treated it as a solid training run. The bonus was that we won the Teams event. Nice. That was 2 weeks after I ran the low-key Prom100km, and came equal first in that one. While the time wasn't my fastest over that course, I felt strong and pretty much cruised the last 20km.

Usually when coming into this sort of form I wait for an injury or illness to unravel things. Apart from the niggling patella and a couple of run-down days due to over-training, I seem to be holding it together. Injinji have come to the party again with some more of my favourite Silver Series socks. And I will be trying out the Zensah leg sleeves, which felt great in training. I have packed my trusty old Salomon pack and a new pair of Montrails. I am really looking forward to driving through the mountain pass where I get that first glimpse of Silverton and feel the goosebumps as realisation settles upon me that I am about to take on the Hardrock100 yet again.