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”.

Qi Gong. Kind of.

When the doctor put the kibosh on Qi Gong after the first recurrence of my ear infection I was a bit disappointed, because I’d wanted to do the full Perth Trail Series Summer Series of races. The disappointment was relieved slightly by the knowledge that Qi Gong was the same weekend as Lark Hill. Jeremy was planning on doing Lark Hill 25km Saturday night, and I wanted to support him but also had Qi Gong the next morning, with Jeremy flying to Adelaide at about 3pm Sunday afternoon for work for a week. After all that I’d really really need the Labour Day public holiday on the Monday. With no Qi Gong we could both sleep in on Sunday morning. Indeed, when I did wake up I realised that I am far, far too old to stay up late and then get up early the next morning.

When I got my competitor information email for Swissmurdie I realised I’d forgotten about the Summer Series Finishers Medal, but had spotted some information about “make-up runs”. On race day morning Melina confirmed that I would be eligible for the Summer Series Finisher’s Medal if I ran Qi Gong as a make-up run, submitting my GPX file with a photo of me on course, and wrote a few paragraphs. Not exactly a hardship, is it?

So Jeremy, Ben Oxwell and myself ran Qi Gong this morning. OK, sort of. We ran Gnog Iq, actually. That’s Qi Gong in reverse.

aIMG_20160327_110420This is the problem with the Courses maps screen on Garmin – it doesn’t have navigation instructions, just the course marking. If you’re on an out-and-back course, or the path loops back on itself, you can’t really tell which one you should take. You don’t get an indicator that says “take this bit first, not that one”. You just get two lines. So when we descended and got to a point where it looked like a small rockslide, we should have taken the rockslide. As it was, we went right, and carried on, inadvertently running out and doing the finish of the course. That particular bit went down and then up, like the course description had said, but it turns out that it didn’t go nearly as far down and nearly as far up, and once we’d realised that while we were clearly on the Qi Gong course we must have gone wrong, we were too far in to bother to retrace our steps and start again. The middle of the course to the aid station turnaround and then to the finish is lovely easy trail, with the only sour note going through a section of the Wungong Regional Park that had been burnt out by bushfire.

aIMG_20160327_104911If you’ve run the Short Course properly, the major descent must be a cracker, because it was an absolute bastard to go up. And the major ascent; after all the rain we had over the past 24-48 hours, was cloying, clay mud. I took forever to come down. I’d walk about 100 metres and realise that with all the mud I now had shoes with a taller stack height than Hokas. I’d gingerly walk a bit more, practically on my tip toes because of the wodge of clay mud stuck under my heels, then when I saw a suitably large rock I’d stop to clout my feet against it, knocking the majority of the mud off, then start reapplying it with my next step. Walk, knock, repeat.

As we were making our way up the ascent that should have been the descent, we decided that if you could limit the race field to about 25% of what a PTS race normally is, Gnog Iq Short Course would be a corker race. You’d be torn between using the easy terrain at the start of the race to get ahead of your fellow competitors, but know that you’d have to scramble up this ridiculous hill, so you’d want to conserve your energy some. It would be a delight to spectate on.

We’re going to go out again and do Qi Gong as it ought to be done, but I still feel like I’ve done all five of the races. And yes, Snakes ‘N’ Ladders was the hardest one.