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

Monday, June 27, 2016

A little older, a lot slower, a little wiser.

Given that my 3 finishes at Hardrock have all been really tough and each time I have come close to capitulating, I am definitely not taking anything for granted this time around. Add to that my dodgy back (still limits my downhill freedom), my nagging patello-femoral joint (I notice I had it taped back in 2010 as well), the fact that I am now well into my 50s compared to 40s for the last 3, and not the least my heart issues, and well, I am not overly confident of how this will go.

So, to realign the odds somewhat back in my favour, I have changed a few things this time.

Pacer: I don't normally use a pacer. I have had an impromptu pacer join me from Cunningham to the finish both times in this direction (2008 and 2010). The first was a great help. The second slowed me down until I dropped him on the climb. I have heard horror stories. But have also seen how much they can help a runner (no muling of course). So I bit the bullet and I have engaged the assistance of Russ Valdez, a total stranger who put his name on the Hardrock website dating service for pacers/runners to meet. Essential criteria: experience on the course (he has paced 6 times at HR). I have no idea how well we will get along and as Russ said, it is a bit like picking up a hitch-hiker, you never know what you are going to get. But I have a good feeling about him so I am sure it will work out great.

Training: I have done 2 things differently this time. While my weekly mileage is comparable to previous HRs, I have included far more long runs this time. I have aimed for a 40-50km weekly run. Preferably on hilly trail. These have generally been around 6-8hrs long. Plus a couple longer.

The other difference to my training is it has nearly all been done fully fasted. Yep, nothing to eat before or during the run. I now regularly get up and go out fasted and cover up to 9 hours without any calorie intake (since around 11pm the previous night). The reason for this is I always suffer from nausea for long, long periods at HR. Meaning I can't take on any calories. Meaning I bonk, and struggle with lack of energy. Now I have forced my body to seek out fat for fuel and it is working. The added bonus is I have shed around 6 kilos of body fat (aided by cutting intake of simple sugars and some refined carbs and increasing my fat intake). Less weight to carry up those big climbs. Hopefully, this means when the altitude turns my stomach sour I can maintain momentum until it comes good or I reach the next checkpoint. Hopefully both.

Counter to this, I am arriving a week later for acclimatisation but I couldn't avoid that. Here's hoping all the positive changes carry more weight. Did I mention I this one could be tough.


Taper time

You don't really taper for Hardrock. You train as hard as you can and then arrive in Silverton hopefully at least 2 weeks before the race to acclimatise to the altitude. The 3 previous times I have run I have arrived 3 weeks before. And then still suffered terribly with altitude problems during the race. This year I will arrive exactly 2 weeks before the race. Cutting it a bit fine and I am wishing I had scraped another week but work is chaotic and as it is I am leaving at an inopportune time. It also means I have no time off to pack and sort my gear. Fortunately, I have been doing that incrementally and pretty much finished packing today.

So instead of tapering in the last couple of weeks, you spend most of every day out on the course, mostly helping with the course marking. This gives you the benefit of familiarising with parts of the course, meeting other runners, and getting quality trail time climbing and descending at high altitude. This ends on about the Monday or Tuesday before race day (Friday). So the taper is just a few days.

Last long run yesterday, sweeping the Surfcoast Marathon. Not much elevation gain but 7 3/4 hours of trail was perfect. Backed that up with a solid 26km this morning for another 100+km week.

Feb
Week 24   65km  (Frenchman's Cap Tas 45km)
Week 23   75km
Week 22   71km
Week 21   88km
Mar
Week 20   93km
Week 19   88km
Week 18   84km   (Razorback 64km 12:15hr)
Week 17   76km
Week 16   96km   (Geelong Half Mara in 1:29)
Apr
Week 15   80km     (3hr)
Week 14   102km   (4:29hr)
Week 13   104km   (Maroondah Dam 50km -sweeping 9:27hr)
Week 12   102km   (5:32hr)
May
Week 11   102km   (5:43hr)
Week 10   96km     (Mt Macedon measure 54km 10:20hr)
Week 9     102km   (7:05hr)
Week 8     102km   (Mt Macedon 50km -sweeping 9:42hr)
June
Week 7     116km   (Prom100 17:32hr)
Week 6     111km   (5:32hr)
Week 5     109km   (7:09hr)
Week 4     111km   (Surfcoast marathon - 7:46hr sweeping)
July
Week 3
Week 2                    (course marking Hardrock)
Week 1                    (course marking and taper Hardrock)
Race

Monday, June 13, 2016

Countdown....howmanysleeps

Since the shock of scoring another Hardrock entry last December, my running focus has been solely around getting fit enough to have a chance of completing my third Hardrock. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since my last finish in 2010. Besides now being in my 50s, I have had a major health event with my year of AF (2011), I lost a year of running to plantar fasciitis (2013) and last November I suffered a low back injury that took months to overcome and still limits some of my movements, not the least my descending on technical trail.

With less than 5 weeks to go it is time to review where I am at, if for no other reason than to help reassure myself that I am on track. I have listed my weekly totals. Not the full picture as there is no measure of quality, effort or terrain but a good indication of volume. Pretty much all of the runs are at relatively low heartrate (except the 1/2 mara) and most of the long runs are done fasted (except Razor and Prom and latter parts of Maroondah). The non-event weeks I have listed the length in time of my long run for the week once they became significant. I look like achieving a solid block of around 3 months of averaging 100km per week. Not big miles but consistency is key and lots of long slow runs in there.

I have been supplementing the running with a physio guided pilates class most weeks and regular massage with Bengt. I wish I had started both of these sooner, they make a huge difference. I have no doubt that the pilates has improved my back massively. And the regular massage helps iron out niggles and helps with recovery heaps. Here's hoping it's all enough.

Feb
Week 24   65km  (Frenchman's Cap Tas 45km)
Week 23   75km
Week 22   71km
Week 21   88km
Mar
Week 20   93km
Week 19   88km
Week 18   84km   (Razorback 64km 12:15hr)
Week 17   76km
Week 16   96km   (Geelong Half Mara in 1:29)
Apr
Week 15   80km     (3hr)
Week 14   102km   (4:29hr)
Week 13   104km   (Maroondah Dam 50km -sweeping 9:27hr)
Week 12   102km   (5:32hr)
May
Week 11   102km   (5:43hr)
Week 10   96km     (Mt Macedon measure 54km 10:20hr)
Week 9     102km   (7:05hr)
Week 8     102km   (Mt Macedon 50km -sweeping 9:42hr)
June
Week 7     116km   (Prom100 17:32hr)
Week 6     111km   (5:32hr)
Week 5
Week 4                    (Surfcoast marathon -sweeping)
July
Week 3
Week 2                    (course marking Hardrock)
Week 1                    (course marking and taper Hardrock)
Race


Sunday, June 05, 2016

A date at the Prom

Given I have a trip planned to Hardrock again in just under 6 weeks I thought it was time to resurrect the blog to document the lead-up and the run itself.

Yesterday saw the annual pilgrimage to the Prom. After only managing 70 odd km last year going in off my ankle injury (avulsion with torn ligaments) and then walking a very sick runner out via the short route, I was back for another crack at the full 100.

Trying to work out how many Proms I have run is tricky as the old results are not on the website. First race was 2000 which is the only one I have missed. There have been 2 cancellations (fire and flood) and at least one shortened to 80km due to track closures. I ran 44, 60, 80 then started the 100s. So I think this year makes 9 x 100km from 14 starts. Happy to be corrected.

This year saw the date pushed into June (shorter day, likely worse weather), limit expanded up to close to 200, and the course reversed so we did the 20km loop first before the 80km. (Designed to stop people being able to pull out at the 80km mark-not a fan.)

I have experienced some pretty bad weather at the Prom. In 2003 only 2 of us started. I stopped at 80km borderline hypothermic after being soaked through all day in gale force winds with next to zero visibility after dark in the fog. The other runner, Amanda Allen, went back out in the early hours of the morning and hit snow on top of Mt Bishop. That was the worst year. This years race now ranks second for bad weather.

I have been doing 50km training runs most weekends for a few weeks but this was the first big one for the year. I started at the back of the field, planning to keep it very easy. I followed a procession of headlights onto the Lilly Pilly loop and they went the wrong way, heading clockwise. For many years runners randomly went either direction so I didn't worry, thinking the whole field had gone the wrong way.

Apparently not. The leaders started passing us half way up Bishop. Then we had fast runners coming down with slower runners going up. All under headlight. Not ideal. No views unfortunately and then on the way down my patella locked up painfully. I hadn't had that happen since it happened on the same descent back in 2007. That year it went on to be a major injury leading into Western States. Bugger. A short time later, I did it again climbing over rocks out on Pillar Point. This could be a problem.

Back at Tidal River I stretched my quad/psoas and repeated this a couple of time through the day. Apart from a little restriction all good. Better to discover this recurrence with time to address it.

The day was wet and windy. Very. I was soaked through from start to finish. I wore a long merino top with a full length jersey over that, plus polar fleece arm warmers, plus a windshirt over the top. I had my waterproof jacket on for the first couple of hours, off for the middle part of the day (out of the wind) and then on from afternoon to the finish. I had merino gloves with bike gloves over the top. I had waterproof mitts that I also wore in the night. I had a buff under my cap with the hood of both jackets up over my head all day. The first few hours I had a merino balaclava on as well. Bottom half were dryfit mini-shorts plus 3/4 running tights and long outer shorts over the whole lot. Feet, injinjis and I had my new Altra Olympus 2.0 and they were superb in the sloppy mud, wet rocks, sand, river crossings and hard packed access roads. And I was cold pretty much all day. Really cold.

I ran alone most of the day apart from a few stretches with Anthony Metcalf from Wagga and catching up with Paul Todd who I had helped out last year. Both these were early on. The rest of the day was a solo sojourn apart from passing, being passed or the out and backs.

The track across to Sealers was a skating rink with deep, slippery mud and soft leaf litter. It was really chopped up. After the dodgy knee thing I took it easy. The river at Sealers was deep. The tide was up when Anthony and I crossed. Mid to high thigh deep. What's a bit more water.

Sealers to Refuge to Waterloo was hard work and not much chance to get into any rhythm. But I was making solid progress.

The climb from Telegraph track junction to Roaring Meg junction seemed to take forever. With low cloud, rain and no views and my hood cinched close around my face, the world was a narrow focus of the track right in front of me.

The Roaring Meg singletrack was a river. It was deep and muddy. Impossible to run despite the gentle descent. Approaching the campground the heavens opened. By the time I got my waterproof jacket on I had cold rain water running down my back. It bucketed down. I started thinking about skipping Southpoint (and accepting a DNF) for safety reasons. There were 2 tents in camp. The bright yellow Macpac tent was sitting in a pool of water. When I came back they had packed up and gone despite it being close to dark. Poor buggers.

I headed down to Southpoint regardless and crossed path with a few runners. Susan Keith had just a tshirt on. We stopped to chat and I encouraged her to get her jacket on! Eventually I was at the bottom of mainland Australia. The rocky outcrop with the plaque 39* 08' 21' marking the southern most point was a lonely, cold, windy sentinel. I was glad I came down here. It is a special place, rugged, wild and isolated.

By the time I got back to the camp ground it was dark. I dug out my head lamp and headed for the lighthouse. It took forever to get there. The track past the heli-pad was confusing in the dark with wide puddles and gravel paths everywhere. The wind was howling and the warm lights from inside the buildings were very appealing.

The next section to Waterloo was tough. Overgrown, muddy, slippery and windy. And wet. With my head down I walked straight into a downed tree. Smack, bang into my forehead. I staggered for a bit to recompose and then ducked under the tree only to headbutt another branch on the other side and nearly knocked myself out. I then slipped and nearly went off the track. OK regroup and take things easy but having to look up now was a nuisance as the rain hit my face.

Waterloo beach seemed to go on forever. I am used to running this beach late afternoon. I love this beach. It was very different in the dark, wet, windy. A guy that was close behind me at the lighthouse was on the beach behind me and we leap frogged on the track back to Telegraph while we each had to change lights.

Finally on Oberon Beach, I caught up to Olivia, George and Mark for the 3rd time for the day. They were doing the 60km loop. I walked the beach with them to show them the crossing. It was shallow but really strong. But the wind and horizontal rain was unbelievable. It was hard to stand up yet alone walk into it. Visibility was terrible. I could see the boulders and just headed to the right, knowing we would find the track eventually. Yells of relief when we got out of the wind. I bid adieu getting too cold walking and started running.

I didn't realise there was no-one else still out on the course and that I was last in the 100. It was a quiet unceremonial finish in 17:32 with Paul awarding me a Freddo frog and a lamington. I wanted to wait for Liv to finish her first ultra but I was getting cold. Thank goodness I had a bed in a hut with a hot shower waiting for me.