Versus

Jeremy had wanted to do Perth Trail Series Eagle and Child for a fair few years, so this year we signed up – him to do Eagle and Child, the half marathon, with me doing Eaglet and Bub, the 10km option.

It was fun – I got a nice wide descent after the hill for me, and Jez running with Emma completing the half marathon in just under 3 hours. When Jez got his medal, Melina (the Race Director of PTS) showed him how the medal for Eagle and Child would connect up with the other two medals for the runs in the Winter Series; Jolly Jumbuck and Truth or Consequences making a circular shield. Jez was sold, he was signing up for the other two races.

Which brings me to this morning, and Jolly Jumbuck at Bells Rapids. I’m not stupid, I went the 13km short course option again.

People talk about trail running, and how much fun it is, and they’re not wrong, but I’ve got to wonder if people whom have never run trail before understand quite how different it is to road running.

On road, the only obstacle you have is the occasional stick, fallen gumnut, wandering stray pet or child. That’s about it. You might have a hill, and it might be an absolute corker, but that’s it, it’s bitumen or concrete. On trail, you have umpteen obstacles, but you also have terrain. Today I clambered up a hill in countless other people’s footsteps, through slick, slippery mud clay and great lumps of granite. The bonus was because I chose the short course option I didn’t have to climb it twice.

We went to Feral Brewery afterwards, where one of Jez’s mates, Jimmy, had reserved a table. We all had a bit of a race debrief over lunch, and Six Inch came up in the conversation.

Jimmy has done three trail races; a section of the Margaret River Ultra, Eagle and Child half and the Jolly Jumbuck short course. He said that we were all mad, doing Six Inch, but I firmly believe that even though Six Inch is 47km long, when you’re running it, I swear it feels easier than a short course Perth Trail Series race.

Six Inch is almost all wide fire trails, and where it is singletrack it’s generally not technical, it’s just beautifully runnable. Perth Trail Series are often technical singletrack, and steep, occasionally muddy hills. The elevation for Six Inch is around 1000m, whereas the elevation for the 13 kilometres I ran today was 445m. The ratios of elevation and distance are completely different.

Today’s run was in the bush around Bells Rapids, which is somewhere Jez had never been before, and if I have, I’ve no recollection. We started from the State Equestrian Centre, down the Orlov Trail to the bridge over Bells Rapids, and into the hills above. Around the four kilometre mark you headed left and up, up, up.

With thanks to Smashrun Pro for the elevation part of this graph.

The first few kilometres were runnable, with a queue and a four minute wait for your turn to navigate a scramble over and around a granite outcrop, but it was beautiful. Because I could trip on cloud, I don’t trust myself to run and look up far ahead on trail, I run along looking at the ground three to four metres ahead of me, for the inevitable rock that I’ll trip on, or – in a fun change today – where everyone’s studded footprints suddenly blur and become lines, indicating that the trail has become mud clay and very skiddy. Every time I wanted to see my surroundings I’d stop to look, and a few times I wasted between a good thirty seconds and a maybe more than a couple of minutes taking photos.

That fourth kilometre has at least two minutes where I stood chatting with The Vicar who was marshalling that spot, directing everyone up the most ridiculous hill; twisty singletrack, skiddy mud and steep. Like Snakes and Ladders’ Three Steps, you occasionally you had to grab the rocks along the laughable path in order to haul your way up.

I’m a much happier descender when I’ve got wide trail and options – let me bomb down a hill picking my way down. I’m still not as fast as others, but that’s where I have courage. If it’s technical singletrack I’m not nearly as good, and today at points I had to hike down. There were some bits today where I think if I were mountain biking I’d have been a tiny bit more confident descending, solely because I’d be wearing a helmet.

The last three kilometres were the reverse of the first three, and because I’d now seen Bells Rapids I didn’t feel the need to stop in wonder every three steps I finally made it a decent pace; that said, the amount of rain we’ve seen has made the whitewater very foamy, and I think this year’s Avon Descent race will be a cracker.

The next race is Truth and Consequences. It’s a 50km two lap ultra, a 25km single lap half and a 10km out and back. I’m of two minds – it’s on the Saturday of the Perth Half Marathon weekend, so there’s no earthly way I’d be able to do a PB at Perth Half after having done the Partial Truth 10km, but the thought of doing all three PTS Winter Series makes me so tempted to ditch the Perth Half and do Truth instead.

Perth Trail Series races are testing, but that sense of accomplishment is fairly addictive. And as Claire Bradstreet posted on her Instagram about today’s race “Lost for words and a little traumatised, but alive”.

Doing things that make you happy.

Back in January one of the pieces of advice the GP gave me was “do things that make you happy”. This was at the back of my mind when back in November I decided to withdraw from this year’s Six Inch.

I had signed up through FOMO (fear of missing out) instead of desire back in July when entries opened. While we’d been trail running for training, I hadn’t been enjoying it like I used to. For the first time ever I’d had a negative voice in my head – it had three specific chatty lines:

“Ooh, you won’t be able to keep up that pace on race day – that’s way too fast if you want to survive 47km.”

“Ooh, you want to be a bit careful here, you might wreck your ankles again on that surface. Better slow down.”

“Ooh, that pace is a bit slow, you won’t make the cut-off for the aid stations at that pace. You need to be a tiny bit faster.”

Marry those three lines together, and you have the funnest vicious circle ever!

It came to a head when we ran a training run on Yaberoo Trail near Yanchep National Park, and I had a tiny cry when I realised I needed to withdraw. We got to the National Park, and Vince, Didi and Jez ran on and did the Ghosthouse Trail, while I sat down under the trees at one of the tables and composed my email to Dave Kennedy, withdrawing from the race and offering my services as a volunteer.

I hit send, and instantly felt simultaneously relieved and stupendously excited – if I wasn’t doing Six Inch, then I’d be on fine form in February to do the Busselton Half Marathon, and then the new Runningworks Thornlie Half Marathon. After the last time I did Six Inch it took me until past April to do anything over 10 kilometres.

A couple of weeks later we did a loop of the Munday Brook trail in Karragullen and I loved every minute of it, and happily ran along without that chatty negative voice in my head. I’d done 29km on the Six Inch course with Marnie a couple of weeks before the Yaberoo run and in amongst that were some amazing downhills that I sped down and thoroughly enjoyed, but this time that joy was throughout my run. It was inspiring.

Dave gave me a few options for volunteering, and I accepted the finish line assistance role, which it turned out was being the presenter of finishers medals to everyone who had raced. This was just what I needed – I got to see everyone finish, and for the first time ever I got to see the fast guys run further than the trail dogleg at Aid 2. It was a surprisingly cold and wet December day, and Scotty Hawker and Nera Jareb both managed new course records – Scotty coming in in 3 hours 15 minutes, and Nera coming in 3 hours 42 minutes. I stood at that finish line for four hours, handing out medal after medal to the half and full marathon finishers, and enjoyed every minute.

One person crossed the line at 6 hours 53 minutes which was my finish time in 2014. I remember thinking while watching him barrel down the finish chute “That’s a really bloody long time to be out on course. It is definitely time to work on speed.”

So that’s my goal now – I need to be faster, probably over all distances, but definitely on trail. The negative voice in my head might have technically been correct, but now I have more of a concrete plan which has definitely quieted the negative spin. Jeremy is fully supportive of this plan – I have lots of road race plans this year, including my personal Kimetto Challenge, which is to get a half marathon time of 2h02m57s (or less!) because that’s the World Record time for the marathon and would make me half as fast as Dennis Kimetto. I also need to get out on trail and use Bickley and Munday Brook trails to give me 12 months of trail running practice, not the inevitable “four months before Six Inch” push. (Assuming I enter in 2018).

Interval sessions are also on the horizon – with one fun bonus that I had been previously vaguely conscious of, but unaware of official confirmation. Every time I’ve ever done intervals in the early morning I have felt wildly cheery afterwards. I thought it was just the inevitable early morning smug “I’ve totally exercised already, bitches! I don’t have to do anything more today!” feeling that you can sometimes feel, but no! It’s actually brain-derived neurotrophic factor!

We were at the launch of Yokine parkrun and our friend Sarah came along. We were talking afterwards and she mentioned that interval sessions are like DIY antidepressants (Sarah’s a psychologist). She later found me this Journal of Applied Physiology article: High-intensity interval training evokes larger serum BDNF levels compared with intense continuous exercise which explains it all, but how cool is that?

So I have a bit of a plan, inspiration, and a pretty positive outlook. And I intend to keep following my GP’s advice “do what makes you happy”, because if it doesn’t make you happy, why try and force something?