Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gosh, I love Australians...

Being Canadian, I'm pretty much guaranteed to be hard as nails when it comes to cold weather. Our winters are long (6 months), we have snow dumped on us for what feels like years and we are regularly exposed to -20C (-4F) weather, with even stronger wind chills. So when I moved to Australia, I was seriously looking forward to the warmer climes. The weather is pretty much perfect for running year-round, and on a hot year (this WASN'T one of them), you'd only have to do your runs in the early AM for perhaps 2 months.

Now that autumn is unfortunately approaching, the temperatures are dipping into the, GASP, mid to high TEENS (that's 59-67F). It's sucky because I love the heat, but I could never truly say that it is so cold that it is unenjoyable to be outside. In fact, it's perfect running weather!

So, after I had gone for a 45' fartlek run today, I was showering and changing in the uni locker rooms. Then I overheard a rather astounding conversation between 2 Aussie girls:

Aussie 1: Hey! What are you up to?
Aussie 2: Yeh, just going for a run on the treddy. It's tooooo cold to run outside.
Aussie 1: Ah, yeh.

Me: MOUTH GAPING. I could understand her saying it was too cold outside if the activity was to stand stock-still absolutely naked. The light winds would probably chill you pretty quickly. But... running? Last I recall, that generates quite a bit of heat. Now, I know that I run year-round and my limit is "Canadian" rather than "normal", i.e. my outdoor run limit is -25C (-13F), maybe -15C (5F) if there were strong winds. What I overheard, however, was TRULY TOO RIDICULOUS.

Just thought I'd share and let everyone know, the Aussies are total wimps!! But I love them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another smashy weekend, yay!

It is time for another blog post! I thoroughly exhausted myself this weekend, and I couldn't be happier about it. I made huge strides in terms of pushing myself to the edge (something I am honestly afraid to do -- "give it your all" 5k run races freak me out more than marathons or even ironmans). 

I had a couple hiccups in my training last week because I had to get another injection into my knee (see this post). I get Synvisc One injections into my left knee every ~8 months to prevent the onset of arthritis and relieve pain. I've had my medial meniscus removed after a soccer injury and there's really nothing preventing bone on bone contact except for this Synvisc One synovial fluid. I usually bounce back from these injections after a day. This time, however, the swelling was massive and the range of motion in my knee was severely limited. Memories of 3 years ago were immediately brought to the forefront of my mind: unable to walk properly for months, exercise was out of the question. Soccer, the love of my life up until that point, was definitely out of the question. To say I was severely depressed was an understatement. In any case, I was feeling really down last week. I couldn't bike, I couldn't run. The swelling started to go down, but not in time for me to complete my long run of the week. It was meant to be on a gorgeous 4WD track in Lorne, a town on the Great Ocean Rd. Instead, I had to settled for a hike uphill and a delicate, slow jog on the downhill. At least I sweated for 1h30 that day. That's all I could ask for. And the forest was lush. All the rain in Victoria this year has meant amazing things for the vegetation -- you could smell the Australian bush, it was so powerful. 
5 Mile Track in Lorne. Gorgeous Aussie bushland!
Obligatory shot at the trailhead, taken after the hike/jog. 
I spent the rest of the day keeping my leg elevated -- the swelling needed to go down just a touch further for me to be able to bike the next day. So I relaxed on the beach at Lorne and watched some surfers surf on what were some arguably messy waves. It is so beautiful to watch them, though.
Beach at Lorne. 
On the Saturday, I got up early and made my way over to Torquay. I hadn't been on my bike in 2 days and 2 days prior, I could barely turn the pedals over, the knee was so swollen. Would I be able to today? More importantly, would I be able to ride 145 hilly kms? The answer was yes!!! And with gusto!! At first, I had been a little worried. The knee was stiff, and what I could only describe as "thick". But it soon loosened up. Low impact cycling might be good for it after all. Now, I wish I could have taken more photos of this event. It was the Great Ocean & Otway Classic Ride, a 145km event starting in Torquay, heading inland into the countryside, then taking a gorgeous long downhill into Lorne to finish the last 50km along the famous and beautiful Great Ocean Rd. What's even more striking about this event is that everyone wears the same jersey.

The jersey, here modeled by 2 kind (and exhausted) gentlemen.
Seeing 3500 cyclists, all in the same blue, yellow and white 2XU jersey was pretty spectacular. Of course, it could get confusing. I know I'm not the only one that had a conversation with a stranger thinking they were someone else!! It's not the biggest event I've done (that would be the 210km Around the Bay ride, where 16,000 cyclists take part... now THAT was organized chaos!!!!), but this event was truly the one with the greatest camaraderie. Everyone was willing to take the time and energy to organize nice pelotons. We were flying at parts, even up the hills everyone was making the effort to climb hard to stay in the group. Also, riding in a peloton sure is a nice way of distracting yourself from the cold and the wet. Descending into Lorne, I'm quite certain 9 out of 10 toes fell off from the cold. But it was a great day, and I pushed myself very hard. Focusing so hard on staying in a good, fast group had me neglecting my nutrition quite a bit, however. This was something I would sorely regret in the last 1h of riding... TOTAL BONK. I crawled back to Torquay, fell off my bike and slammed food into my mouth. I guess the last time I bonked didn't leave a big enough impression in my mind. 

I finished that day with my legs like jelly, but it was well worth it!! The rest of the day was spent eating, resting and recovering. 

The triathletes in the long course off-road tri get started!

On Sunday, I woke up early yet again to do a 10k trail run race in Anglesea. At the same time, off-road triathletes were also racing. The huge pull to don a wetsuit and get in there was almost irresistible. However, I came to my senses in time - I'd registered for the trail run, not the triathlon and besides, I don't even own a mountain bike!!!! I watched the 2 races begin (short and long course), then changed into my run shorts to warm up. My legs were absolutely exhausted from yesterday (it was tiring to even walk around). Furthermore, I didn't know the course beforehand, all I really knew could be summed up in these key words: "river crossing" and "beach run" and "steep hill". The 10k trail run went something like this: 
1k: easy, along nice flat trails, through a small forest
2k: on the beach through mushy sand, charge through a river
3k: ouch, that steep hill, bust up it and nearly die
4k: try to regain feeling in the legs, gentle downhill on nice trail
5k: running through really mushy sand (the kind that drains you of all forward momentum!!)
6k: hop rocks, avoid the slippery algae covering most of them, avoid the pools of water between the rocks, don't fall! Climb up a steep set of stairs
7-8k: regain composure, try to run through that sand as best as you can
8-9k: run through that river again, scramble up onto the grass
10k: back on flat trail, repeat to myself "JUST HOW MUCH CAN YOU SUFFER", i.e. don't lag now, really try and suffer, push push push!!!

I finished in 56:45, which for me is a very slow 10k time, but given the fact that I had exhausted myself in the last few weeks of training, the previous day's 145k ride and the fact that my knee was still a bit swollen/achy (OH, AND THE COURSE!!!), I'll take it. I finished 47/74 finishers (18/37 Women). It was an INCREDIBLY fun race where I learned how to overcome the negative energies I usually create in the last 3k of a 10k run race. I successfully embraced the suffering, and finished strong. I really want to sign up for a local 5 or 10k road race and see what I can pull off now (my PB is from a very long time ago, and is low 48'). I want to get it down to sub-45, which I think I can pull off on-road and on a flat to gently undulating course. One day, I'll go back to focusing on shorter distances and see what I can actually muster. Right now, however, I'm just having TOO MUCH FUN training and racing long distances. What a journey!!!! 

This weekend, I'm most likely staying in Melbourne and doing local training. Despite staying stuck in the city, I'm excited for two things: going for a ride with a friend I haven't seen in a couple months (and one I secretly have a crush on, shhhhh!), and trying out the ISM Adamo Road saddle, one I bought off a BTer who kindly sent it to me in Australia!! Pretty exciting!!!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Riding in the High Country

 What a fabulous weekend! At the moment, my life consists of 4 days hard-core non-stop, busy down to the minute whirlwinds of school-training-schoolwork-errands, and the other 3 days are my weekends in which I travel to places and have a fabulous time, training my butt off but seeing spectacular scenery I couldn't see had I stayed trapped in the city. This weekend, I went out to the High Country, otherwise known as the Victorian Alps. These are part of the Great Dividing Range, a mountain range skirting the eastern to southeastern coasts of Australia. Don't be fooled by the name, compared to other more famous mountain ranges, the Aussie mountains seriously lack height (the highest, Mt Kosciuszko is only 2228m, or 7310ft). That's okay, they try!!

I spent 3 1/2 days in Mansfield, just at the base of Mt Buller (1805m, or 5922ft). On my first day (the half day, after I rushed madly from school), I drove to Lake Eildon National Park to get my long run in. By the time I finally made it, it was past 6pm. I'd forgotten I wasn't in Wanaka (further south, on New Zealand's South Island) and it wasn't summertime anymore -- there, it would only really be dark past 10pm. The sun was setting, and quick. Nevertheless, I made it into the forested regions, and really got in my groove running up and down fabulous red earth paths.

Lake Eildon -- Victoria has had a 10-odd year drought and the lake was entirely dried up until this year. Even with all the rain we've received this year, no one expected it to fill up again so fast (it did, within approximately 3 months). To put this into perspective, this is the largest lake in Victoria and mere months ago cattle were walking across the bottom and people were on their 4WDs chasing each other around. Crazy!
Getting dark -- I had already missed the sunset over the mountains, but the sky was beautiful nevertheless. 
Getting seriously dark... in the middle of nowhere! Without a headlamp, too... what was I thinking!
You'd think those were gorgeous stars, but no... there were flies EVERYWHERE. I took a self-portrait and only after I looked at it on the computer did I realize about 20 bugs died on my face, LOL!
Disregarding my ridiculous facial expression, and the photo obviously doesn't do it justice but we had one of the largest moons in 80 years! Maybe that's how I made it out alive -- the moonlight was bright enough to let me see where I was going. 
On Friday, I had a day off from training. This gave me the opportunity to visit yet another National Park (Mt Samaria Nat'l Park), but this time letting me fully abuse my rental car by driving insanely across pock-marked, rugged roads. LOVED IT!!

Gorgeous red roads and eucalypts all around!
On the way out, across the horizon, I could see beautiful smoke formation. Someone was burning off some vegetation -- a common practice to reduce fuel load in an area. This reduces the risk of damage to property should a bushfire pass through. 
The next 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) contained the real meat of my trip. On Saturday, I joined a group of about 600 other cyclists on a 165km journey. It was the SCODY High Country Cycle Challenge. The real treat was climbing Mt Buller. HR zone 4 for 1h24, I tell you the quads were screaming -- especially the last 2 turns, one aptly named "Hell's Corner". After climbing for 1h15, you make some last few hairpin turns on the inside edge where it's painfully steep and you absolutely HAVE to get out of the saddle and punch it out. Disgusting but amazing!!! The first 47k is uphill (with the real heavy climbing the last 16k), then 47k back down. We continue onwards in rather hilly terrain to wrap up the 165km ride. In total, I climbed 2684m (8806ft), and had a fabulous time with a group of about 8 cyclists I met.

Before the ride... it was chilly in the AM but turned out to be a gorgeous 28C day!
Enjoying the brief downhills! 
Love this guy -- coke bottle at the ready!

Hell's corner (on the way down). I wasn't thinking about glamour shots on the way up!!!
I wrapped up Day 1 of my cycling adventure with a BBQ with newly-made friends (the group I cycled with) at a lakehouse overlooking the lake. They'd rented it for themselves, it is privately owned. We were surrounded by the true owners' horses and wild kangaroos. A spectacular evening, I'd say!!

Finally, on my last day in Mansfield, I rode with a couple hundred other cyclists up to Toolmie and back (a hilly 50k ride). By this point I was seriously aching, but there's no backing out now!! It's a painful slow uphill out there, then a gorgeous downhill. I took full advantage of the downhill to snap my last photos of the beautiful High Country.

After all the riding, I relaxed on the main street. A market, a food exhibition and a cycling/endurance sports expo were all going on at the same time. Am I in heaven, or what?!?! I did ask some main strip shops what they thought of the town being taken over by cyclists. There are always the outliers that respond in a totally negative way to lycra-clad cyclists (some cyclists got punctures because of tacks placed on the road), but overall the response has been highly positive. These types of events have people staying for several days. They enjoy the good food, the cafes, the excellent atmosphere. This is in comparison to winter, when Melburnians simply drive through Mansfield to get to the base of Mt Buller and other ski fields. The only people that benefit are the city-slickers getting access to a mountain and perhaps the petrol or ski shops. The positivity I experienced from everyone, both locals and visitors, really made this event a success. If I ever am in Australia again at this time of year, I know I'll want to come back and climb all day in the gorgeous Victorian countryside.

Next: back to the Great Ocean Rd for another smashy weekend: long hilly solo trail run, a 145k cycling event along the Great Ocean Rd and in the Otways, and a 10k trail run race! Yahoo!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Great Ocean Rd adventure!

I rearranged last week's training schedule to give myself time to go to the Great Ocean Rd over the weekend with some friends. We rented a van, packed 8 people and all their bags plus a surfboard in, and made our way out to the Great Ocean Rd early Saturday morning. The day was perfect -- already 30C at 8 in the morning. It would heat up to about 35C for the rest of the day -- a stunner of a day!!

On the Saturday, we made it out to some beaches, and I got some pretty awesome shots in. Here's a sampling:

Yes, despite living in Australia, I still can act like a tourist!
It's a frickin' kangaroo!!

Do you see the sea lion?? I thought it was dead -- I love seeing
dead animals -- but it flapped its tail at me. Very much alive!

On the first day, all I had in terms of training was a 35' run. 
Hill sprints! It was shockingly hot and humid, so I ran in my
favourite swim suit... then straight into the ocean!! There's
nothing better!!

We found this beach on our way to the Twelve Apostles. I'd 
never seen anything like it -- I thought I was in heaven.
Everything (and everyone) glistened in the brilliant white
sun. Even the fog glistened. It was spectacular!

On the second day, I woke up at 5:40am to get my long run in. I started in Port Campbell and ran for 2 hours to catch the sunrise. The entire Great Ocean Rd is pretty isolated, with small pockets of towns appearing every so often. In between, there are obviously no lights on the road. Once I got out of Port Campbell (a 5' run), I was in pitch black for an additional 40 minutes before the sun rose. I thought I would see a spectacular sunrise, but instead I was in the middle of a very serious fog. 

At the end of my run, when it had cleared up a bit. 
Visibility still pretty poor!

I couldn't see anything around me, everything was coated in a very sticky humid fog. Even my eyelashes and the hairs on my legs and arms had drops of water hanging on them. 

Returning into Port Campbell.

I ran towards the Twelve Apostles (pictured below), but couldn't see them. Instead, I was treated to a very surreal feeling of being absolutely enveloped in clouds. Very hot, sticky clouds. At one point, I ran so close to a sleeping kangaroo that I awakened it. It freaked out, jumped very high, freaked ME out to the point that I screamed hysterically, then it jumped off. On a more calming note, I did run into a baby kangaroo. It was casually in the middle of the road when I spotted it 5m away (yes, visibility was indeed very poor!!). We looked at each other, then it jumped across the road into the bush. There are some moments in life that you end up remembering for a long time, and on the rare occasion you recognize these moments as they occur. This entire run was one of them. There's nothing like being alone amidst the majesty of the ocean, the cliff faces and the Australian bush. 

After my run, we checked out of our hostel. By then the fog had burned off and the sun shone long enough for me to get some good quality shots of the Twelve Apostles. This is what I would have seen in my run had it been clear: 

Beautiful, no?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Swim squad

Last semester, I was part of a tri swim squad. Most of us were pretty much regular age groupers. The coaching was great but the squad wasn't big, nor was it particularly competitive. This semester, I was invited to join a swim squad at my university's pool. I don't know why a lifeguard invited me because I am *not* a full-on swimmer. I'm a triathlete that swims. Compare that to a swimmer, and that's like comparing a flailing cat in the water to a sleek and swift dolphin.

In any case, I went for a trial session last week and am back for more this week. It'll be a twice-a-week affair: Monday and Wednesday mornings 6:30-8:00am. Let me just say that I welcome the pain. Each session involves the most painful sets I have ever experienced. I am left dizzy and overwhelmed and my muscles are absolutely numb. Just yesterday, we had a fly session (which I interspersed with free, which was necessary to survive). Here was the main set:

[4x50 fly easy on 1:05
[2x100 fly medium on 2:00
[1x200 fly hard on 4:00

Repeat this FOUR TIMES. First of all, I didn't know there even were different butterfly speeds. I just try to make it to the other side in one piece. Sure, it might not directly improve my freestyle stroke (which is what I am after, being one of 'em triathletes...), but holy mother of god, this is seriously testing both my aerobic and anaerobic engines.

In other news, when I'm not in swim squad and doing tri-specific swim training, I'm at my favourite outdoor 50m pool in Fitzroy. On a cloudless, hot sunny day it just cannot be beat:

It's autumn now but in the springtime the entire poolground smells delicious because of the planted trees nearby. I've got a whole story regarding these trees (species name Pittosporum undulatum), but that I'll save for another occasion. A murder mystery, minus the murder (unless you consider the encroachment of invasive plant species on the native floral species a terrifying execution --- then you're in luck!)