24 June 2019

RnR: 5 tips to maximize your soul for sole

Rock n Roll     :     Rest n Recover     :     Rude n Rowdy     :     Rad n Ragged

We live in a world that suggests that we can go full tilt all the time; "sleep when you're dead."

#SpoilerAlert!     .....     .....     .....     .....     We can't be all that... Sorry. (Not sorry). 

I went from "nothing" to running 4 x 100 milers inside 11 months. Washie (July '18), and Addo / UTD / Mac Mac (2019 March, April, May). This included a 147 day run streak between 5 Dec and 28 April. Now I am IPOS (an @UltraRunningMemes term: Injured Piece of... ?Steven?). (PS, if you don't follow them on #Instagram, do it now... you'll learn lots!)

Did it go wrong for me? Yes, and no. It was a challenge I couldn't resist: a first of its kind in South Africa. I was "ready", but not as ready as I hoped. (Read why with Ilona Hearne Biokineticist.)

The head is strong, the body is stronger than it was and showing its frailty. And part of the Reason: No Rest. The head is also tired, as was proved by running 3 hard, long runs in 3 months.

We're designed to rest and recover. Up and down, black and white, light and dark, race n recover. They go together, even if they're opposites.

1 - SLEEP: this is so important... get enough of it. Sleep has all the benefits backed by science. Good sleep is predicated by things like enjoying a solid routine that may or may not include sunsets like the headline photo here :)

2 - DIET: what you put in is what you get out... and each of us is different to a degree. Do what works for you (sometimes that will see you benefit from an extreme choice, but most times it is just "following your nose"). I do supplement. I have for nearly 20 years; and been on antibiotics 4 times in that period (twice when #LancasterLight brought home play-school bugs). Prior to that I was on them dang tings thrice a year at least! I hate sinus and generally eat and drink a diet that is sinus-friendly. Lower calories and higher vitamins/mineral/value content in your food is better in your recovery period. Brussel sprouts and beetroot are favorites of mine! And pizza... #JustSaying

3 - STRETCH & ROLL: Long distance running in particular is hard on the tendons and muscles... ease them out. It doesn't help if you sit a lot on the job (like me). Take the time... streeeetch!

4 - EXERCISE: There are benefits to varying exercise routines and to run streaks... find out what works for you, your family, your friends and your body! But most importantly in your "down time" recovering from "A/B events", take it easy... especially after multi-day events! Give your body time to catch up to itself.

5 - BRAIN: yes... you have to brain hard in a run/race. You need to find other ways now to embrace your brain. Engage different areas and interests... maybe you're a social runner? Now is the time to get some space. Maybe you're a lone runner? How about a party, Christmas in July? (Drop me an invite...). I throw myself into work: Cellucity business sales in Nelson Mandela Bay. There are special projects that keep me interested and engaged, like #RazeABar and the ONE12run... click the links... you know you want to support!

Now to answer a couple of questions...
a - how long does it take to "feel a spring in my step again"? After Addo 100 it took me all of 12 hours to playing with my toddler around the firepit at the prize giving ceremony! After Washie it took me 6 weeks... and after Mac Mac it is taking me just as long. I guess it comes down to 2 things: how prepared and fresh you were before, and how much time you've been able to put into your recovery in between. So 6 weeks between Addo and UTD wasn't really enough, and 4 weeks from UTD to Mac Mac was insane (in my case)... but for Rene Vollgraaff, who didn't get injured, she cruised Mac Mac. Her recovery strategy was also aided by support and modern equipment. I will add one or two things to my strategy for the future (like ice baths... or cryo recovery). But for now, I'm getting there nicely.

b - do I train for these runs? Yes. Definitely. Preparation is 90% of the success. However, it may be different to what you think... I'll be booking a half marathon to ultra training weekend in November! Be sure to look out of it and join me as I share my tips and tricks...

Go on... kick back in my favorite socks with some quality dark chocolate, coffee and a great day!

20 June 2019

Perspective... just words.

When the going gets rough, the rough get going; when the going gets tough, the tough get going; make hay while the sun shines; the world is your oyster; get an inch and take a mile.

There are lots of variations on this thought... One of my favorites is attributed to Winston Churchill:
"When you're going through Hell: don't stop".

The flip side to this was presented to me today (Thursday, June 20 2019). My friend said: "Steven, do you know you're so blessed?" Yip... yip I do.

You may have read that "my" word is perspective. And that is it... we may be down or up: Learn. Experience. Grow. It will pass (as will we).

What is your plumbline? There are things older than us and the mountains (folded, sedimented or flat) and the water in them gives me a sense of self. Fitted with the clothes of fynbos, pines or waving grass, what lies beneath is most important.

Let me know what you use to maintain YOUR perspective!

13 June 2019

Biokinetic realignment

If you didn't read up on why getting worked out properly was necessary, you can catch up by reading these two blogs (although, this stands alone as a great article, too!): The Washie 100 & Getting Straight 101. After that... our journey continues from Addo 100 to UTD 160, and then Mac Mac 100. Running is a team sport!

Grey hairs and journeys:

by Ilona Hearne Biokineticist (#Guestblog)

Boy oh boy I believe my grey hairs came faster in these few weeks leading up to Steven's training with new injuries from Ultra Trail Drakensburg (UTD) and Mac Mac. Thank goodness we have more time before his next 100 miler, Karkloof!

I am sure if you've read the blogs of UTD and Mac Man you will know all about his injuries. They might have been worse had we not started this journey together before Addo [I wouldn't have got through Addo...]. The commitment to training outside of his normal routine has strengthened him for these 100 milers.

Due to his fall at UTD we have had to do knee rehabilitation and keep his cardio-vascular fitness. Because Steven now knows his body better and how it's suppose to feel when "its working", he thinks about and stops compensation in as much as its possible. He does this due to the damage it will cause to that which we have worked to correct and fix.

When he returned from Mac Mac I was faced with more challenges on top a still sore knee... So not only knee rehabilitation but added to this was a left foot (bridge) that was injured, his ITB and compensation of the right foot due to the foot injury on the left.. Sjoe... So... right knee, left foot, left ITB and back! Rehab central here we come... My plan ahead is keeping his cardio-vascular fitness, increasing dynamic stretching, knee strengthening exercises, and because he had a sore back in the past (some days still a bit sore, less than before) his hamstrings and glutes need to be stretched [is that a rack and pinion I see in my future?]. 

In the previous blog I mentioned Steven's posterior sling and how all the imbalances in his muscles had affected his performance and how we then got his muscles to act in unison they are "behaving" better and his recovery and rehabilitation time has shortened. But I always work on the side of caution, some days adding a spanner in the works to make things interesting and push him just a bit more than normal, like the day I got him doing reverse lunges... I wonder if we should make that blindfolded next time, Steven?

After one particularly interesting session, and because of his body responses, I asked: "so, are your quadriceps tight?" With a grin he said, "yes"... My reason for asking was because all the muscles on the back of his legs were tight, and so we loosened them, but his knee was still "complaining". I then lengthened his quadriceps, et al (due to long periods sitting they become shortened and this affects stride length and causes Lower back pain due to the illiopsoas muscles, the pectineus, rectus femoris and TFL becoming tight again from the poster or sling the muscles in front and up around the hip become tight (glutes medius,  TFL, glutes maximus, glutes minimus, piriformis, and all the small muscles right in the glute all the way down into the hamstring, calf and foot become tight)... 

We are however retraining some muscle groups, strengthening others and stretching others to make then respond the way we would like them to so Steven will finish his next race stronger and faster... 

It's not easy but it's a challenge I'm enjoying and seeing the smallest results makes my heart smile. 

Your whole body works together in order for you to function, it will have compensatory responses. My ultimate aim is to work with the body to create high performance. You cannot work with a body that has faulty gait mechanisms and expect it to perform at its best.. Change the bodies faulty loading, faulty gait mechanism, faulty muscle contraction, faulty biomechanics and improve all round fitness and biomechanics. 

Ilona: "Remember small steps leads to huge results later."
Steven: "Yes, but when will I be able to run again?" <- The story of recovery...

01 June 2019

Mac Mac Ultra 100: Ear worms and elevators!

What are the effects you can expect from doing 100 miles on foot? Hunger. Tiredness. Hallucinations. Blisters. Bruises. Toenail funerals. Sleep monsters. And others... Nobody mentions EARWORMS... [definition: a catchy song or tune that runs continually through a person's mind. I might amend that...]

Legends are made from stories. Sometimes they are true. Sometimes they have music.

Make sure you pick a good tune if you choose an earworm as a pet. The Cranberries version of "Zombie" is a good tune. For the first 15 hours. Thereafter... you're the zombie! But, I'm ahead of myself. There were three sections to my Mac Mac adventure: the first part where I felt good: 11 miles. The second part where I wondered if I'd make it: 70 miles. The last part that I'll just call "Zombie": 19 miles.

Ideal race preparation goes "smoothly" and is "stress free". A few niggles that hampered recovery and training in the 2 weeks leading up to the race (at one stage I thought I might not make the start...) a sick wife, a sick and injured dog, 3 long-standing feet callouses coming off, and 3 late nights working in the week before leaving didn't exactly make the lead up ideal. And lest I forget, this was my 3rd 100 mile race in 3 months. Insanity for someone new to ultra-ultra distance running. Really, what was I thinking?! All in all, it was still a good lead-in compared to UTD.

Catching up with Andy Wesson, the O'Keeffes, and Sandra and Cindy was awesome... and of course meeting Stan and Rae properly, not just on social media was made pleasant by the shuttle from the airport. We pitched tents in a tight triangle, Rae, Cindy and I as darkness descended. We'd found a place under an autumnal glade of trees around a plug point to charge essential devices for our respective runs; me at 100 miles, Cindy at 50 miles and Rae at a more sane 46km. The other 2 of the trio crushed their courses! Yes, please and well done!

Kit check, strapping with the engaging Hanri Potgieter Physio and off to supper... a double burger. Delicious. And sleep... it is important the night before being awake for a long time. I was expecting 42 hours out there; nobody really knew the course and we were told close to 7500m of climbing and descent. Of course, I was also hoping to do about 33-35 hours if all went well.

Wake up too early... 5.30am. Have breakfast. Pack the last of my things (drop bag). Get dressed. Get on the bus to Pilgrim's Rest and the start... Have more food, and coffee. Have a medical assessment and swap notes with Dr Nakita, a triathlete who's interested in my nutrition (Tailwind & Neolife Bars... plus supplemented with real food at the aid stations)... and hang around for race briefing and the shotgun start. All fairly normal; filled with the usual pre-race anxiety and nerves... meeting other legends of trail, Andy's Munga-maatjie Nicky Booyens, Bennie Roux, and others. It was fun and part of why we do this.

Shotgun... and an easy start mid pack through the memories of yesterday in tin houses, shops selling wares from another time, and gold stores. Why does it always feel like I'm at the back when I see the racing snakes head off helter skelter into the distance? No pushing, just discipline; keep the heart rate down. Out of Pilgrims and the first climb starts almost immediately up, off and over a gravel road, through cuttings joining that road. It isn't testing so much as warning; a good warm up. Vegetation was green with a hint of brown, somewhere between the green Drakensburg and dry Addo. It may just be autumn because there seemed to be enough water on course. 

The first section of Mac Mac 100 goes over the Prospector's Trail, a look into history. The hazy view reminded me of sepia photographs and long ago memories. It isn't difficult to imagine pioneers pushing through bushes at this point, even today. Pushing hard... finding paths to cut for cattle and oxen pulling wagons. It would have been a sweat fest every day breaking trail, looking for gold, hunting and gathering food. Nothing like my first 11 miles. Easy, relatively. 

Until I stubbed my right big toe so hard it loosened the nail. I brought my left foot forward to stop my stumble and jabbed the trekking pole in my left hand down to prevent the fall. Except the pole landed on the bridge of my left foot... Sharp pain shooting along the top bone and sinew of my foot, a few stars in my eyes, and I may have used Sian's "special word" once or twice in a string of my own. Okay. Breathe. Stop. I'm 11% done. We're heading up. Can I walk? I can... Can I run... not yet. Stretch it a bit. Walk it out... Now into the plantations I could begin running slowly again.

Cramp! The first time in many years I've had cramp. More fun words. Okay, stand, stretch, ease it out. Done. Get going... slowly at first and then pick up the pace. As I round a corner to my right I
look out at the view and see three wild horses browsing the grass and green leaves of the bushes not 10 meters from me. What a pleasure to see, and a reminder I'm not as fit as a wild horse: not much running is going to happen going forward.

Section two of my Mac Mac... Doubt. "Can I make the end? Can I even make half way?" I walk the uphills and take it really slowly on the down hills now because of the pain in my foot. Also I am concentrating on my "form" and not compensating too much... I don't want to aggravate any of the niggles, although the "old injuries" are all behaving remarkably well. No pain or discomfort from them and for this I credit my biokineticist, Ilona Hearne, for exercising me to fill in the gaps that my body had created.

Darkness comes and Peter Koedyk and I have teamed up; we were to be the body guards for Mientjie Els until we reached Pilgrims Rest, where she took a sleep. Peter is an accomplished marathoner and ultramarathoner, including a sub 24 Washie 100 and last year's Karkloof 100 buckler. He is moving easily and I let him pull me along. Mientjie would prove just how strong an ultra runner she is, too! We're doing Scouts pace; running when we can and walking up and down. At about 10pm the temperature has dropped properly and my left knee siezes. It wasn't sore unless... the ITB won't let me bend it without pain. It is the second time today I wonder, "will I make it...?"

I was slow, feeling like I was keeping Pieter and Mientjie back, hoping that they wouldn't suffer the effects and get too cold. I forced myself to block out the pain and get going. It worked, sort of. My knee eased up, but here came that song: Zombie! For the next few hours I let the rythym of the song and our conversation carry my body. The foot and the knee took turns to feel the jolts of the path as we whiled away the night. There was the occasional light, and the friendly greetings of other runners as we passed on out and back sections, like the lead in to Pilgrims Rest. The Vine, by the way, has now become the only pub in the world through which a 100 mile race is run! I'll stop for that Jaegermeister next time, Johnny. Maybe. 

The even ground of plantation roads and jeep tracks meant I could keep pace relatively well. As soon as it got uneven or the gradient went over a few percent either way, I was off kilter and worried that if there was too much technical ground to cover that I would be pushing cutoffs again... as it was, I made it to Mac Mac Hut for the first time. There were biokineticists there and a medic. The care from the station was superb, although a single piece of kinetic tape MUST be anchored. I had to stop to anchor the tape she put on costing me 10 minutes later on for what would have taken her 1 minute. 

My second goal was now done (after getting to the start line): halfway. Graskop. At about mile 10 I'd hoped I could make it here before 5am and see the 50 milers off... At mile 12 that changed. Now I asked for a medic. I shared my woes... misery loves company. Sian and Tobie waltzed in looking fresh and focused. The medic suggested that based on his experience he thinks I should pull over and call it quits. I wondered if I'd qualify for a 50 mile medal... so I responded louder and more rudely than intended: Nooooooooo. Okay, so my mind was made up. I knew there were awesome, caring medics here. I also knew what I wanted: to finish. Next goal was to get back to Mac Mac Hut and have the bio dig deep into my muscles to release some of the strain, and strap me again. Properly.

Thank you, Peter K, for pulling this zombie on. I think you may be aware of just how great a contribution you made to my race, but if you're not... I'm telling you now that being able to ride on your coat tails that first night meant we got to half way in time for me to continue without pressure. That means the world to me in my efforts to #RazeABar. Running is NOT an individual sport... even if you have to do the effort by yourself. And so I was glad when Pieter felt he could head off into the sunrise without me... He'd played his part, motivated and encouraged me, given strength generously.

Somewhere around here I saw Frikkie and let him know that if I did break down he'd have to pull me off. I wasn't quitting. He said, "I'm not pulling you off". Such a lovely fellow.

As it warmed up, so did my knee. I could move more easily, although not run. Going uphill was definitely easier than going down, so I took advantage of that and pushed the flats and ups, while resting on the downs. I reeled in some of those that had passed me. At noon I reached Mac Mac Hut I saw Tarrin (aka Trail Physio)... who was to sweep. She chirped, "I hope I don't see you again". She didn't... fortunately, but their friendly faces gave so much energy. 15 minutes of nap. And then I had a poor strapping job again, and within 500 meters stopped to restrap my ITB. Anchor, anchor, anchor. That lasted me for the rest of the race... good job, Steven.

You will note I'm not speaking much about the terrain. From 10pm on Friday until about 1.30pm on Saturday is a little hazy as my zombie mind coped with the pain in my foot and transferred pain of a seized knee. But now whatever it was in my body switched off the pain receptors and moving upward through the biggest, most sustained climb of the race was actually pleasant. The views opened as we ascended out of the valleys. The birds chirped... prinias and cisticolas in particular came right up to me to say "hi". 

The biggest climb... when you see in your course pack that you're climbing Moore's Peak from the bottom, you make sure you have some energy for it. Eat. Drink. Drag yourself up. The foot pain has subsided, but the knee is still bothering me if I'm not careful about my form. Concentrate. On the view, too! Wow! There is a photo somewhere of me at the top... I'm not sure I'll ever get to see it, though.
As I got to the top (well, not quite... Frikkie and Eloff didn't get us there, did they!), I saw Sven, photographer par excellence. And of course we think he did get a pic of me at the top as his battery failed ;) . The views in all directions were breathtaking. With water nearly done, he offered me more and showed me the next check point... it looked 3km away and I refused. It was 6km away and I was a dumbass. At least it was all relatively easy going. 

Peter Purchase is another legend of trail. He's completed Munga... and others. One really should listen when one meets these guys. At this aid station he was going to take a nap. It would be the last place to do so for a while. But it was still light, and although tired I thought I could take advantage of the last 40 minutes and get going... without a torch, which I'd forgotten in my drop bag. What. A. Way. To. End. AMUK. No torch = DQ. In steps the generous aid station volunteers who loan me one of theirs. Relief washes over me! 

Repack my bag, stock up, head out... 35 minutes of light left. I'm moving with Sian and Tobie now. Having people to pull me along the roads and tracks helps motivate my pain tolerance. The views of forests, fields and plantations shorten as the light fades, until the view is limited to the circle of lights on our heads.
At the next station Peter P catches us... I should have slept properly for an hour, I think. But its a chilly wind up here with a 900m decent through "Towerbos" (Andy Wesson's name) or Satan's Forest (Cindy Mills's name) for the next section. We're fortunate it isn't too wet... but that 6.5km of trail takes over 4 hours. It sounded beautiful with water falling, burbling and crashing in choruses throughout those 4 hours; and the Cranberries chorus of Zombie in my head the whole way: Zombie. You never see more than the light of your lamp, but the photo's from Phonix and friends show what I want to see in the light next time...

And finally when we reach the bottom, Tobie and I, he is able to move off a little more quickly than I. My knee did not like that descent. I hobble through to the aid station another mile or so off and listening to live music on a half-sized guitar I sleep in white lodge linen under a down duvet. It wasn't a dream... and neither did I dream. 18 minutes and I'm awake again, dressing and eating and drinking. 

Mildly refreshed, noting the tallness of this forest section the road meandered through some indigenous and then plantation woods. The moon was now peering through trees. I heard an owl... I can't tell you what his name was, though. There was a breeze that occasionally came through. Two layers of clothes was too cold. Three was too warm. I was constantly lifting or letting sag my wind resistant shell to moderate my temperature. 

The zombie moved on with Zombie plugging my brain. Through the last check point. The road led to Frikkie's Folly. Upwards I marched... slightly more compos mentis. Breathing hard, beginning to sweat in the pine plantation, but enjoying the smell of needles. Undressing, getting cold, redressing, getting warm... cycling it on. Reaching the top you turn onto MTB paths. Repeating the cold and heat, dressing and undressing. Slowing down going downhill... seeing the same lights and wondering if your're wandering off the path, but no, there's a reflector. Shall I sleep here again; in the bush; on the side of the road or path; in the path? Zombie. Zombie. Zombie-ie-ie. In your head... 

Eventually finding the river to cross and knowing that the end is nigh... and I've beaten the sunrise. I might be alone, but I'm never alone and part of a greater family. Zombie will soon be sleeping.

To have Frikkie and Eloff greeting me with an almost forgotten medal... and the words that if he'd heard I'd bailed Frikkie would have driven out and beaten me over the finish line with a stick... well, at least it wasn't Eloff's shotgun! We all chuckled that tired laugh respecting, if not knowing the details, of organizing and participating in an event of this magnitude.That burger was the best meal I had all weekend, guys... you can cook again. You and the team have created something... I want to come back when I'm fresh and see what I can really do!

To have Riana, Stan, Sheena and Sian there... family. And Cindy... you're kinda my "AMUK person" now. Thank you. You didn't have to wake up after your phenomenal performance on the 50 miler... but you did... flatbois for life.

Rene Vollgraaff. We are not machines, but you are inspirational. Your ability to recover and press on through AMUK and more is currently unparalleled. I am in awe. I might just need your coaches number ;)

The beneficiaries of #RazeABar have kept my head in this game. Perspective is a wonderful gift. Knowing that there are others out there worse off than I was when in pain and zombie-mode kept me alert enough to keep moving to the next goal. And each of these beneficiaries will have their life changed by your support of this cause. Thank you.

To donate:comment or message me, or click this link. TYIA.
PS: There were no elevators, or even escalators. There probably won't be any next year either... but I thought I might have seen one going down near the mines at the end. Maybe.

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