Why am I running around in circles? A report from my 12 hour track race.

I started right on track (no pun intended) at 3 min/lap; this according to a race plan that would have me run 90 km in 12 hours. It wasn’t long before my little toe got sore, despite being taped to prevent such a thing from happening. I sorted out that problem but then, after only 2-3 hours everything seemed to start hurting; my toes, feet, hips. It was soon evident that I had dropped off the pace required to finish 90 km or even 85 km but I didn’t care. I sat down and whined to Clare, who was crewing for me, “I’m sore! Why am I running around in circles?” I think at that point I still had 7 hours to go! I sucked it up and carried on.

I distracted myself with my music, which helped keep my mind off my aching feet and sore toe.  I actually looked forward to when we had to change direction as it was something different and a chance to see people’s faces, instead of their butts!

At the 6 hour mark, I was slightly envious because for some their race had finished and I still had another 6 hours to go!  Mostly I wanted to know if I’d managed to reach the “marathon mark” of 42.2 km but, sadly, I had only managed 40.8 in the first 6 hours!

With four hours to go, my dear friend, Paul, did the math and told me what I needed to do to run the same distance I did last year. Unfortunately, he was talking in terms that my brain couldn’t compute i.e. 15 laps per hour or 6 kmh. I knew I couldn’t count laps and I didn’t trust that I could remember what mileage I was at to be able to add 6 to it! I told him that I was running 3 laps and walking 1 which was all I could manage, so, if I continued to do that, where would I end up? Poor guy had to go away and recalculate the math! But, recalculate he did, and he came back with instructions to run each lap in 3:40 and walk laps at 5 min.  In that way, I would get to 78 km.  At last I had something to really focus on and focus I did, as instructed, for the next hour.  The hour came and went and Paul was nowhere to be seen to help me recalibrate.  There was nothing for me to do but keep going with the same plan and I did that for the next hour. 

With two hours to go Paul reported back to me that I was doing really well and that the last two hours had been the best two hours of my whole race.  “Just keep going”, he said.  So I did.

I was aiming for 6 km/h so every half hour I checked in with Clare to see if I had managed 3 km.  Not only had I achieved it, I had actually gone further.  At this point I had moved up from 15th to 12th place, because people had pulled out.  Both Clare and Paul told me I was gaining on the two people ahead of me.  It took a while but eventually I was only 800m behind the woman in 11th place and she was walking.  I only had to pass her twice and I would be ahead.  Each time I passed her, I said “good job”.  She had no idea I was “hunting her down”. J Paul and Clare kept up their positive words as well as their updates on my position in relation to the woman in front.  Then I was told me she’d gone into the food tent for a rest so that put me into 11th place. I set my sights on the next person in front of me.  He took longer to pass but eventually I did and moved into 10th place, with Paul, Clare and others cheering me on. 

By this point, I had given up on trying to walk a whole lap since it was sorer to walk than to run.  Instead, I ran until something like a twinge in my foot or my adductor muscle told me I needed a break.  I was now focusing on getting as much distance as I could in the closing stages of the race.  I still had constant feedback from Paul and Clare, each one of them updating me on my distance every 2-3 laps.  I cheered as I reached and surpassed my distance from last year, I cheered as I reached 78 km then 79 km and then there was only a couple of minutes to go so I ran my heart out, even sprinting (or it felt like I was sprinting) in the final minute to see just how close to 80 km I could get.  The last 30 seconds felt like the longest I had ever run.  It turned out it was.  The loudspeaker had stopped working so I ran an extra 20 seconds because I didn’t hear the call to STOP! 

The funniest sight of the night was watching Paul running across the field towards me, chair in hand, trying to judge where I would finish!!  I plonked myself down into the chair and Paul wrapped a blanket around me.  Diane arrived to give me a hug. I lay down on the ground and put my feet up on the chair.  While we waited for the final measurements to be taken, Matt, the medic, stopped by to make sure I was okay.  I assured him I was fine and that rather than “needing” to lie down, I had “chosen” to do it, to give my legs a break. 

Once the officials had completed measuring my partial lap, Paul and Diane helped me up, which, in itself, was a hilarious event as I couldn’t seem to sort out where my feet needed to go in order to stand up! It was only as I started to walk that I noticed just how sore my toes and feet were and I could barely move!!  It never ceases to amaze me how our bodies can just keep on giving until we stop and then they say, “I’ve had enough!”

My official distance was 79.882 km in 12 hours (okay, 12:00:20) and I couldn’t help but think “if only I hadn’t stopped to sit and rest” and “if only I had skipped that last rather useless bathroom break” I would have reached 80 km.  Of course, there are no “if only’s”.  There is only what happened and what happened is that, after initially asking myself why I was running around in circles, I found something to focus on and before I knew it, 12 hours was up and I had a new PB for a 12 hr track race.  Something I was quite excited about and proud of myself for accomplishing!

March 18, 2017
Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, ACT
Kilted to Kick Cancer 12 hour track race



Have I lost my passion?

Have I lost my passion for triathlon?  Or have I simply lost confidence?  It was only a DNF.  Everybody has one.  Why is this one affecting me so much?  It’s because I’m left wondering if my body is done.  Has my body had enough of doing Ironman?  If I am not able to do Ironman, then what else do I do with my time? I always said that Ironman isn’t WHO I am and yet, within days of not finishing the World Championships in Hawaii on October 8, 2016, that’s exactly what was running through my mind.

When I recorded my Facebook video, immediately after getting back to the condo, after spending 2.5 hours in the medical tent (and not being given an IV!), I said (so easily) that not finishing this race doesn’t define me.  Intellectually, I know it doesn’t but somehow the feelings and thoughts that came up in the next couple of days made me realize that there is a part of me that has been defined by Ironman.  I felt this especially when I remembered how many times, when introducing me to people, my friends would say, “This is Kathryn.  SHE does Ironman!!”

I was never comfortable with that.  I don’t know why exactly.  I think a lot is because I always figured that the person I was being introduced to didn’t care that I did Ironman triathlon.  For the friend that was making the introductions, they were in awe and wowed by my efforts at Ironman so wanted to make a point of it (and is it also because they want people to know that they know someone who does Ironman?).  I think a large part of why I am uncomfortable with it is because I have never looked at myself as doing anything extraordinary.  After all, look at all the thousands of people who have done one, several, one hundred and even 212 Ironman triathlons?  Look at the age range of people doing it?  18 year olds!  Women and men in their 70’s!  Never mind that, what about Sister Madonna Buder who holds the record for being the oldest woman to ever finish an Ironman (at age 82)!  (NOTE:  CHECK THIS: 83 yr old just finished in Hawaii this year)  Not only that, I also look at all my ultrarunner friends (and friends of friends), who have run literally thousands of kms in their careers and accomplished more than I can EVER imagine doing myself.

Which reminds me “never say never”… There was a time in my life when I remember standing at the finish line of an Olympic distance triathlon in Esperance, WA, Australia in 1995 or 1996.  I had just completed my own try-a-tri distance race and I was watching this woman in my triathlon club struggling through the 10 km run, the last portion of the race, having completed a 1.5 km swim and a 40 km bike ride.  I remember looking at her and thinking to myself “I could NEVER run 10 km!!”

Look at me now!  Twenty years later, I’ve completed 17 Ironman triathlons, several “Long Distance” triathlons (which is ¾ of an Ironman), numerous ½ Ironmans, countless Sprint and Olympic distance races (and that is only my triathlons; I’ve done numerous marathons, ½ marathons and 10 km running races).

I’ve had no burning desire to go for a run or a ride or a swim since my race 11 days ago.  Well, that’s not quite true.  When it’s beautiful and sunny outside, then the first thing I always want to do is to run or ride but given that the temperature has cooled off now that it’s autumn back in Canada, there’s not a huge desire to get rugged up for a run or a ride, after living for 2.5 weeks in the heat (85-80F) and humidity of Hawaii.  Besides, I always had other things on my plate and, unlike other times, I didn’t feel like rushing to squeeze in a run or ride, choosing, instead, to take life more slowly.

Eleven days after my race, I decided the way to start back to running was on the trail.  I could go at my own pace and I love being on my own on this particular trail.  It didn’t quite work out like that because my friend and his dog decided to join me.  Off we went.  Less than 2 km into the run, which was feeling good, even though my HR was rising on the hills, the dog squealed behind us but then trotted up to us.  I noticed she was keeping weight off her back paw.  So I took a closer look and noticed a huge patch of skin had been pulled off.  She must have caught herself on something.  That was the end of that run.  Luckily, it wasn’t bleeding and she didn’t appear to be in distress and was trotting along comfortably.  We walked out of the trail and headed home; my friend on his way straight to the vet.

I was left with deciding whether to go back to the woods, do a road run or not bother with either.  My friend was insistent that I should enjoy the beautiful day and encouraged me to get out for a run so away I went.

I chose a 10km loop on a quiet, gravel road that I knew would have minimal traffic.  As I ran, I paid close attention to my body and how it felt.  I hadn’t run a step during the Ironman 11 days ago because I missed the bike cutoff by only two minutes so my legs weren’t sore from that at all.  It was more that I had been dehydrated and I still feel that my body hasn’t resumed its normal routine yet e.g. sleep patterns.  I also paid close attention to how my spirit felt.  What went through my mind was the question “Have I lost my passion?”  I was enjoying my run for sure; it was sunny, warm, a slight breeze, the autumn colours of the trees were still beautiful but was I feeling the same joy that I normally do?  Was I able to take myself off to that place where visions and dreams come to me?  I tried to let go of my rambling thoughts and pay attention to the sensations in my body.  My heart rate (HR) rose and I could feel my heart thumping.  I stopped to walk until my HR lowered again.  The thought occurred to me that one of the questions the doctors always ask you when they suspect a DVT is “Do you have shortness of breath?” so, of course, I got worried for a moment about the implications of my increased HR.  Then I told myself I was being silly and that there’s no way I have a DVT or that it has travelled to my lungs as an embolism!  It’s simply that I’m still tired and recovering from my race.  I finished the 10 km loop with slight twinges in my legs and I put that down to the fact that I haven’t run in almost two weeks.  I felt happy that I had “broken the barrier” and completed my first run.  I let go of worrying about whether or not I had lost my passion.  I allowed my run to be exactly what is was… my first run since the first time I’ve not been able to finish an Ironman, a triathlon, or even a running race!

And I know there’s still more to be processed around that fact…