Sunday, 29 June 2014

From the local stomping ground

Jabulani Challenge 2012

What is the Jabulani Challenge?

The Jabulani Challenge is a 24km or 43km technical trail run through the bush in the northern suburbs of Sydney from Cliff Oval in Wahroonga to Lindfield Oval taking in parts of the Great North Walk, Sphinx trail, Bobbin Head Track and numerous firetrails throughout Kur-ring-gai and Lane Cove National Parks.

I competed in the event last year when the direction was in reverse (i.e. Lindfield Oval to Cliff Oval) and had a great time running on trails (despite running 52km owing to running up a wrong path instead of taking a sharp left had turn) that were almost my backyard as I had run them many times in training over the years owing to the great proximity and likeness to the some of the course for the Six-Foot Track Marathon. I also wanted to support the great cause – fundraising for the Stellenbosch Community Development Programme (SCDP), which is a local community run charity supporting the Kyamandi School in Stellenbosch, South Africa to help feed 1, 800 children at the school every day. Amazingly, all the funds raised this year we were told would be enough to feed every child at the school for an entire year!

A brief account of a great day out in the bush…

The course was very well marked this year with obvious red and white ribbons at all forks and turns to make navigation easy even for the challenged. I started off by chasing some fast starters up and down the steep and rocky firetrails behind Golden Jubillee Oval and soon I was in the zone and had my eyes focussed on the technical footing of the single track to avoid any injuries early in the course. I was greeted by some friendly cyclists at the gates of Bobbin Head Road before heading down towards Bobbin Head via a wide firetrail. This trail turned into a single track on reaching the marina at Bobbin Head and followed Cowan Creek up to Warimoo Road where I found the first check point with well stocked bananas and staminade – just what I needed!

Next I followed the firetrail (avoiding the turn off to the Wildflower Garden – a mistake I made last year resulting in a nice little 10km detour) and climbed up to Mona Vale road, which I darted across before decending to a firetrail which started as the Cascades Track before turning right into the Middle Harbour Track. This trail followed the creek and as it wound its way beside, I was met with friendly faces completing the 24km course. Soon enough, I reached Davidson Park (Checkpoint 2) where I was again greeted with smiles, food and staminade which was certainly in demand owing to the temperature rising (now close to 10am).

I knew I was on the homestretch as I ran across the Roseville Bridge and later followed a nicely groomed firetrail (Twin Creeks Track) all the way to Lindfield Oval where I could smell a BBQ awaiting and after a quick look at my watch, I could see a sub 4 hour time was assured – a pretty pleasing day out on the trails – I tried to up my tempo on reaching the oval and was greeted with confirmation of a time of 3:53.19 – a 15 minute PB – I was stuffed but satisfied! I was ready for a massage – provided free to all finishers!

What made the Jabulani Challenge for 2012 a great day?

·         The volunteers manning the drink/food aid stations had done an extremely good job supplying fresh fruit, sandwiches, lollies and staminade for the underprepared (like me) who had taken no sustenance en-route.

·         The weather was fantastic with perfect start at ~14 degrees at 7am and rising only to ~23 degrees by 11am at the finish.

·         The course was so scenic so the ~4 hours it took to complete the distance certainly flew by.

·         The other competitors in both the 24km and 43km events were all so considerate of other runners and so cheery the entire day.

·         The organisation in regards to race timing, bibs, course descriptions and pre-race briefing was so informative but appropriate to a community event in a relaxed atmosphere.

·         The finish supplies – fresh fruit, hydration, BBQ, coffee and massages all for FREE made Lindfield Oval a very welcoming place after the effort of the event.

Friday, 27 June 2014

My favourite race...Shoalhaven King of the Mountain

Time for some closure...
Coming up next weekend, Sunday 6th July is the running of the 40th Shoalhaven King of the Mountain 20 mile (32km) footrace from Cambewarra to Kangaroo Valley, taking in the challenging Mt. Scanzi and the beautiful finishing location of the Kangaroo Valley Showground. This is without doubt my favourite race, perfect length, undulating terrain and pristine location!

I have had mixed experiences at this event, coming away with wins in 2009, 2011 and a DNF in 2013 where I fractured my left proximal humerus attempting a water crossing at the 23km mark, falling off the stepping stones attempting to avoid wet feet (in my stupid trance-like state) into the causeway.

The race start from Cambewarra Public School...

From the race website:

"The "King" as it's known locally, travels from the quiet rural village of Cambewarra (10 minutes from the township of Nowra) via a series of bitumen and gravel roads to the historic township of Kangaroo Valley. A 32km journey that takes in the best sights and native sounds of the local area.
The "King" features several fresh water creek crossings (with concrete causeways), rolling hills through unspoilt bushland and glorious views of sheer cliff faces, valleys and ravines. The highest point of the race is Mount Scanzi - 24 kilometres from the start and approximately 360m above sea level. With breathtaking views at this point the course takes you down a steep descent and then on through the valley."

This is not how it was meant to end in 2013...I will need to return this year for some closure!

My race tips for a successful King of the Mountain:
1. Treat the race like a marathon, even though it is only 32km (owing to the course elevation, it feels like a marathon)
2. Wear comfortable road shoes (there is only minimal trail and mostly country firetrails and bitumen)
3. Don't overdress owing to the cold start at Cambewarra as you will regret it as you overhead throughout the race
4. Don't turn up to the start line overcooked as your legs will not thank you as you head up Mt Scanzi
5. Don't underestimate Mt Scanzi (a tester of a hill between 20 and 30km) as it is where all the hard training will pay dividends

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Weapons of choice for the road

Inov-8 Road Xtreme 178’s – setting the standard on the road

The Inov-8 Road Xtreme 178’s are certainly my go-to shoes for all racing on the road, be it from 5km right through to 50km ultra-marathons and beyond.

I have been racing over the past 12 months in the Inov-8 F-Lite 195’s which have been extremely comfortable and fast for the Hobart Marathon, the Centennial Park Ultra 50km and Penrith Lap of the Lake Marathon and am a huge fan, but the Road Xtreme 178’s are just that bit lighter and have become a favourite for me now that I have performed well in the Canberra 50km ultra-marathon and the Great Ocean Road 45km.

The Road Xtreme 178’s are a minimalist and lightweight running shoe, which are marketed as “next to ground performance shoe…to get you through your CrossFit workout and give you grip and support for that 5K run…quick drying, highly breathable mesh upper for a supremely comfortable environment”. I agree with this but feel you can stretch that 5K out a few more km’s!

Inov-8 details that the shoes have a “Met-CradleTM webbing ensuring a secure lock down over the footbed, while maintaining natural metatarsal alignment… and heel pull loop for an easier on and off…contoured heel cup for added comfort.

Details from Inov-8…

Heel/Toe Offset: 9 mm/6 mm (differential: 3 mm).
Sticky and Fusion rubber outsole materials deliver exceptional traction over hard packed surfaces.
Meta-Flex™ groove on the outsole is aligned with the metatarsal to maximize forefoot pliability.
Anatomic™ fit is based on the foot's shape, making for the most comfortable, relaxed fit.

I totally agree that these features provide excellent grip and comfort for racing on road surfaces and after two ultra-distance events, they are holding up extremely well – (both uppers and sole), certainly a durable last that will hold up well for a few more ultra’s!

In the past, I have needed to strap my feet with tape prior to races to ensure no unwanted blisters pop-up during the later stages of races. Due to the minimalist nature, lack of seams and no unwanted rigid toe-box, this is now no longer a necessity my feet have not screamed at me and my toenails have remained on both feet – quite unique in the ultra-marathon running community!


Weapons of choice for the Canberra Ultra 50km…

In the past, I have needed to strap my feet with tape prior to races to ensure no unwanted blisters pop-up during the later stages of races. Due to the minimalist nature, lack of seams and no unwanted rigid toe-box, this is now no longer a necessity my feet have not screamed at me and my toenails have remained on both feet – quite unique in the ultra-marathon running community!

The Road Xtreme 178’s are a shoe that has enabled me to ‘fly’ around the courses during my most recent ultra-marathons. I was able to make a smooth transition to the 178’s after 12+ months of re-training my running technique which has involved plenty of barefoot running, training in minimalist shoes, strengthening exercises and making a conscious effort to practice a mid-to-fore-foot strike. This alteration to my running technique, assisted by these minimalist racers have ensured I have remained injury free, without leg soreness and have been able to back up in two ultra-distance marathons within a month!
I would highly recommend the Inov-8 Road Xtreme 178’s as a minimalist shoe for road racing from 5km to any distance upwards! But, to ensure maximum benefit, running training dedicated to ensuring an optimal foot-strike is necessary to avoid injury and disappointment.


Vibram Spyridon review

Wow – these shoes are fantastic – running is now fun again!

Vibram spyridon’s are the new barefoot running shoe designed specifically for trail running over lush and not so lush off-road terrain – and certainly meet the purpose they are designed for. They enable a barefoot running style to be continued despite running on not-so-friendly barefoot surfaces owing to the mesh plate under the arch to minimise sharp rock from jabbing your feet causing bone bruise with negative impact on your performance

For the best part of 12 months, I had regularly been questioning the enjoyment of my running as I had been plagued with with intermittent episodes of all types of foot pain – I had continued to run but running had certainly not been pain-free. I had been provisionally diagnosed with all sorts of problems ranging from Achilles tendinosis to plantar fasciitis, and I was unsure of where to go next.

It was a difficult situation as some specialists recommended more supportive shoes/orthotics and the like but out on a whim, I decided to take the opposite approach as I had little success with previous recommendations and self-massage was going nowhere. Surprisingly from the moment I decided to ditch my traditional built up trail and road running shoes and run exclusively in minimalist running shoes, running became enjoyable again, and painless. The regular aches and pains I experienced in my legs is now a thing of the past and does not have to be accepted as normal. I have gradually increased my mileage in these shoes and have logged numerous 18-20km trail runs with no problems – and am looking to complete a trail marathon in these as the next step.


The benefits I have seen from wearing the vibram spyridons are:

1.       Increased strength of feet muscles/tendons and bones minimising injury

2.       Enhanced proprioception (sensation of where your feet are in space) and awareness of what lies on the running surface reducing the chance of having a fall

3.       Optimal running form/technique with a mid-fore-foot landing, maximising propulsion and limiting impact forces on your feet/knees and hips

4.       No need to worry about water crossings or puddles as there is no shoe ‘bulk’ to absorb the water and keep your feet ‘heavy’ for the rest of your run

5.       A very light weight shoe which should result in faster running times

I feel this shoe is certainly an improvement on the Vibram Treksport for trail and off-road running owing to the extra protection it provides underfoot for menacing terrain. It is now my go-to shoe!

Off-road barefoot running

Vibram Five Fingers – Treksport

For the trail runner looking for that ‘barefoot’ feel…

Here is just the thing for the ‘off-road’ barefoot runner – when things become a little rocky. The Vibram five fingers Treksports provide great protection to the feet when venturing from the suburban paths and footpaths and into the bush where the real running begins and the whole ‘feel’ experience of barefoot running goes to the next level. With a thicker sole with extra studded grip provided, these are perfect for single track with all sorts of roots, pebbles, sandstone boulders and puddles. They tolerate all these different obstacles with ease and prevent debris getting in but conveniently allow water to come in and then go straight out - great when negotiating water crossings and don’t want that extra weight when shoes absorb water and take a few kms to feel light again.

The Treksport experience…

The Treksports grabbed my attention when I felt the need to get back to nature and get ‘dirty’. I had done my time learning to run barefoot in the ‘Classic’ and this initial barefoot running experience had provided me with the confidence to take the next step – into the bush. I knew the ‘Classic’ just wasn’t going to cut it as I ran over small pebbles, gumnuts and roots. My first run in the Treksports assurred me that ‘offroad’ barefoot running was an option and what great time I had. I ran a few hundred meters until I came to Rumbalara Reserve, a great bushland area to the east of Gosford CBD, with numerous bushwalking tracks, horsetrails and single-track MTB – it was just the thing to test out the ‘Treksports’. My course involved taking the Casurina walk,  the Flannel Flower walk and the Mouat Trail that lead all the way to Katangra Reserve Picnic Area, approximately 7 km of single track mixed in with some fire trails and some stairs in about 45 minutes  – perfect to test how the Treksports handled different terrain. The time had flown by, certainly a sign of the fun I was having – with a quick drink break, I turned around and flew back along the same course to Gosford CBD with flair and a real feel for the earth beneath my feet. I had run through puddles, through rainforest and over rocky single track and had pulled up feeling strong and loving the ‘offroad’ barefoot experience – I was unscathed without any bark off, and had realised the enhanced ‘proprioception’ that barefoot running shoes give, certainly playing a big role in keeping me upright and moving with far less caution over the technical ground.

A hitch in the works…

The treksport provide great toe protection, the only drawback is the soft arch which provides no rock plate to protect against sharp objects that reflex action doesn’t have time to avoid when planting our feet. Hence the Treksport are great for a sandy or wooded trail with soft earth base but when it comes to mountain trails with sharp limestone for company, they are not so ideal.

A pretty good option all up…

Still, the Treksport offers a great option for the majority off-road trail running for up to marathon distances where a ‘feel’ for the ground is required to enhance the enjoyment of the trail and provide that proprioceptive edge to reduce the carnage of that fall that might not just take a bit of bark off but might put you out of action and on the couch!



The turning minimalism

Vibram Five Fingers Classic

Background – why would I want to change?

After years of running with regular injuries in my feet, legs and hips, I had hit a road-block and big decisions needed to be made.

I had persisted for the best part of 4 years with traditional built-up motion control running shoes with custom-made orthotics without improvement in my performance, no reduction in injury and without any enhancement of the enjoyment running and racing marathon-plus distance brings. Had the combination of all this foot support weakened my feet and legs or was I just not made to run?

Would I be a convert to another endurance sport, become a spectator on the sidelines and just be happy watching and enter a sedentary lifestyle and retire from running and accept that maybe the sport just wasn’t for me?

Frustration – thinking outside the square…

None of these options interested me and I put my thinking-cap on and thought hard if there were any other alternatives that would allow me to both compete successfully and get back to running injury-free and enjoying every minute of it.

I recalled a piece of advice given to me by my podiatrist about running intermittently in a pair of Dunlop volleys or even barefoot to make my orthotics work better. I had only run very occasionally on the beach and grass ovals barefoot but, it followed that there must be benefits of running without foot support that if taken in slowly might strengthen my feet enough to allow me to run without built-up running shoes and orthotics and enjoy running without injuries and frequent niggles.

Optimism – a glimmer of hope…

I read an article on barefoot running and saw the logic of running in minimalist shoes right away. It made complete sense to me that ‘man’ was not made to run in supportive shoes and traditional running shoes had enabled us to run however we pleased, usually heel striking – the cushioning and motion control compensated slightly for this but did no good for running longevity and injury prevention. It was logical that if we ran barefoot or with minimal foot support that we would have a more fore-foot strike with less heel-strike (as it would hurt too much), less force taken with our hips and knees and  with less impact hopefully less injury and more consistent training and enjoyment of running.  

The decision – my first barefoot running shoes…

That is when I ventured into a small camping shop and asked to try on a pair of barefoot running shoes. I had done my research on the web and was keen on the Vibram Five Finger ‘classics’ – they were the cheapest in store and seemed like a good choice if I was going to take the step into minimalist running shoes. This was to be my first pair of barefoot running shoes and certainly have not been my last.

I immediately enjoyed running in the ‘classics’ despite the inevitable sore calves initially as my legs got used to my new and more efficient technique of mid-to-forefoot running. I have now clocked up numerous kilometres in them, running up to 15km at a time around the pavements and parks of Sydney as well as Brisbane and Perth (they are great when travelling as they take up no space!), with countless enjoyment of the whole running experience.

They have great durability and are still going strong with many kilometres ahead. It is hard to capture in words but the closeness to the ground, the feeling of the terrain beneath your feet and the whole ‘barefoot’ experience is one that had increased the strength of my feet and legs and made me a faster and more efficient runner, but most importantly enhanced my enjoyment of running.

The ‘classics’ are indeed one of the most adaptable five fingers shoe available, great for many uses. They are perfect for a run around the suburbs, a track session at the oval, or even just wearing casually in place of a pair of thongs. They just might not enhance the experience for technical off-road trail running if you have soft feet!

The ‘classics’ are the best first barefoot running shoes, owing to their affordability, durability, adaptability, comfort and minimalist feel which gives the whole barefoot experience that must be experienced!

My favourite running shoes

Vibram Fivefingers SeeYa – performance-driven footwear

My feet are now free – these minimalist shoes are unquestionably not ‘over-engineered’!

Traditional running shoes indeed made me ‘soft’ – I had believed that the more high-tech foam to absorb the impact, the better...and each niggle or pain in my legs was a sign that it was time to upgrade to the next level of foam! Bulky shoes encouraged me to land on my heels as they protected me from the repetitive sharp impact of each heel-strike!

Stepping into the Vibram Five Fingers SeeYa is one of the most positive things I have done from an injury point of view – they allow my feet to flex and extend through the full range of motion rather than halt it! I feel that my stride is more efficient as I pronate far less in these minimalist shoes. They force me to run soft to the ground and allow my soles to sense and connect to the earth beneath. They ensure I feel mud, grass, pebbles and dirt – I can run appropriate to the terrain – effortless and the way nature intended!

This quote from John Van Tiggelen in his SMH article ‘Bare foot forward’ sums it up best:

"Running barefoot forces you to run lightly… that's why the Africans dominate world distance running; they know if you kick the earth, it will kick you back, through your heel, through your knee, through your hip and through your back."

The SeeYa has taken away the complex features of stability, motion control and structured cushioning…deleted all the ‘stuff’ and ensured that runners feet are given a good old ‘strength session’ each time they take a trot in these super-minimalist creations!


The SeeYas do two things extremely well – they allow you to run with a natural action so that the foot acts like a ‘spring’ but at the same time, they don’t allow you to land on your heels as it would be far too painful!

The SeeYas have changed the way I run – by taking a ‘paleo’ approach and leaving the high-tech foam behind, they have made me stronger and faster and allowed me to run with happy feet!

Features from Vibram FiveFingers:

·         The FiveFingers SeeYa has the same 3mm polyurethane insole and antimicrobial dri-lex sockliner as the Bikila

·         A super breathable polyester mesh upper

·         The upper has almost no structure around the ankle and heel cup to give a true barefoot feel

·         Minimum rubber thickness in the outsole maximizes “foot feel” and flexibility

·         A soft TPU midsole reduces thickness and weight for natural movement

·         A stitched-in polyurethane insole protects skin and foot tissue during longer runs.

·         For a snug fit, the lightweight, single-layer, stretch mesh upper has an adjustable hook-and-loop closure

·         3M reflective applications for night running

·         And like all FiveFingers, machine washable to keep housemates happy!


From the archives - 2010 Six-Foot Track Race Report

Greyhound’s 6FT race report

The biggest hurdle…

Luckily I was able to talk a close ally into entering me at 5am on 1st December (in the very unlikely case there was a ‘mad’ rush of entries). This proved an excellent decision as in 2010 just getting to the 6FT start line appeared to be the biggest challenge in race history!

Preparation in ‘the Alice’…

Initially I had planned to repeat last years ‘build-up’ to 6FT, with plenty of ‘Fatass’ runs which I felt was ideal preparation – Horrie’s Christmas Bash, BTBS, Australia Day Fatathon, Megalong Mega. I was worried that my training plan would be hampered, when I agreed to spend 6 weeks in Alice Springs in January/February 2010 – but what a training destination it proved to be! Alice Springs provided challenging training conditions (31 degrees at 5am, 41 degrees at 5pm), but endless ‘red dirt’ trails enabling injury-free consistent running. And one hill – Anzac hill…

Nellies’ Glen…

Once the gun went off, I figured that if I could get down Nellie’s Glen in one piece (trying to avoid the ‘verbal abuse’ being thrown at me – that I accept is in order as I am without doubt the slowest runner to negotiate the descent – not helped by size 13 feet), I had a chance of a win. I settled into about 20th place, feeling pretty happy with my progress when I had the full extent of my limitations confirmed when I saw ‘the world’s best downhill runner’ Damian Smith jump over me and put 75 metres on me in 10 seconds. Well, I did make it down without a fall and couldn’t have been more content with my effort – now my race could start!

To Cox’s…

I felt that although I was probably at least 5 minutes behind the leaders, as I was unscathed by Nellies’ I would see how many I could catch by Megalong – I think I counted 10 runners. I was certainly given a ‘kick up the bum’ by Marc Person who commented ‘aren’t you supposed to win’ ! I then tried the same to the Cox’s River, I think I passed 3, helped by Tim Cochrane setting a cracking pace from Megalong to Cox’s. Unfortunately, I dismissed the fact that the rope was in Cox’s for a reason and attempted to cross unaided (and hit a rock and totally submerged myself – watched directly by Tim who I think laughed at me – well I deserved it!)


Now came the test of whether 6 weeks of entirely flat running in ‘the Alice’ would help in negotiating the inclines – well luckily they did – I felt strong running past Tim Ashby, Sam Walker, then Brendan Davies and the mountain goat (‘Fats’). I had great assistance from one of the ‘7am early starters’ indicating that there were 4 runners ahead (all within view just around the corner) – this gave me a huge boost – when I saw ‘Tucks’, then Campbell Maffett a few moments later and was able to slip past into 3rd – I knew my pacing had been to perfection – forget all the ‘push & shove and tongue-in-cheek calls down Nellies’ ­­­– I felt every rise was my chance to gain a little bit.

Pluvio and the Black Range

I met Andrew Lee at the bottom of Pluvio (an sneakily ran past at the drink station) – unsure if he was feeling great and taking a planned hydration/nutrition stop before a huge effort up Pluvio – he is always smiling and looking fresh – and able to talk in sentences – he said just one ahead, its ‘Uncle Dave’!

I joined ‘Uncle Dave’ and ran side-by-side up Pluviometer (minimal talk – one word sentences at the most!). Then a ‘yeeaaah’ from Dave as we reached the top – followed by asking me how the time at the top of ‘Pluvio’ compared to last year – I then looked at my watch for the first time in 26km and realized that my watch had stopped – this was a little alarming but enabled me to run on feel rather than to the watch for the rest of the way – I think it’s the best way!

Then I remembered John Stevens­ – ‘self proclaimed-greatest 6FT runner of all time’ telling me last year (the race doesn’t begin until the top of ‘Pluvio’) – he is definitely right about that – you can’t be spent at 26km and if you have petrol in the tank – you can make a foot-race of it! For the next 6km Dave put in many surges (very sneaky) which luckily I was able to cope with (Dave obviously likes to sap the energy out of every sinew of muscle) – it hurts when you have only just reached the top of ‘Pluvio’. When we reached the whiteboard, with way too much writing for tired runners to even attempt to read: 30.1km from start, 12.9km from finish – sorry! I then struggled to do the maths to see if it would add up to 45km – and at the same time I found myself with a break on Dave (he too must have struggled with the maths – taking his mind off the race!).

Caves Road Xing…

Seeing ‘Sleep Train’ at the road – giving great support to all competitors – cheering me on gave me another boost – for the final segment. As my watched had stopped – I looked carefully to see if he had a worried look in his eye – was I in reach of his ‘record’ – he had his ‘poker’ face on – so I took it as a sign that I was going OK! I guessed that I had about 1 minute lead on ‘Uncle Dave’, so I set about trying to maintain this without falling off the side of the cliff on the descent down to Caves’ house (which happened last year – and Andrew Lee slipped past without a word!).

Well when I heard the ‘cowbell’ there was nothing to worry about – I was by myself – no need to race the stairs to the finish!

Fantastic day overall – will be back next year!

What I have learnt…

Start eating before getting hungry, start drinking before getting thirsty, BUT don’t start racing before the bottom of Nellies Glen!

Eat dinner at ‘The Niagara at Katoomba. I don’t know if it was by coincidence, but both the male and female overall race winners (Collen Middleton & I) ate there on Friday night at the same time – they certainly provide the right food for marathoners!