Sunday, September 6, 2015

Coastal Classic - Shut up Legs!

Well that was an experience and a half!  Very glad to be done and what a tough day.

I have had the Coastal Classic on my radar for a couple of years.  Our first experience of the Coastal Track in the Royal National Park was about three years ago with Northside Running Group (NRG) when we had an away run for those who were training for the Coastal Classic.  It was a long training day for we back of the packers, taking over 5 hours to do a shorter version of the track (missing out a 4km loop at the end).  But the scenery and terrain was fantastic and the event itself sounded like a great one to do. The event tended to sell out very quickly each year, though, so I knew I'd need to plan well ahead if I was ever going to give it a go.  

In training: This is what happens when
you don't pay attention to the track...
This year presented that opportunity.  With an extended break over winter, between ironmans, the Coastal Classic came up on my radar.  I could do some trail running over winter in preparation and then the event was timed perfectly for the start of focused build up for IM Western Australia (Busso).

So the entry was done and training began. Trail running was a whole new experience and it was good to get out and challenge my legs with something new - and more difficult. You can't relax on a trail run - it requires 100% concentration all the way.

Anticipating the ground ahead, looking out for tree roots, loose rocks, camouflaged tree stumps hidden in the ground. But hard is good and the strength and balance required to successfully negotiate the single trail will hopefully stand me in good stead for Busso.

Race day arrived and it was an easy train trip down to the start at Otford.  St Pete farewelled me at Cronulla Station - he would take the ferry over to Bundeena where the finish was and was volunteering at the finish line.  

If I was lucky he'd be there to give me my medal.  From Cronulla I changed trains at Sutherland for the southbound train to Otford.  It was packed with runners and while several had to stand in the carriage for the 30 minute journey I was lucky enough to snag a seat opposite a girl with an Ironman 70.3 Worlds backpack.  It was great passing some of the time sharing stories with a fellow triathlete.

We arrive at Otford and make our way to the school where the start and registration areas are.  I registered and got ready, feeling pretty relaxed and ready for whatever the day was going to bring.  I had my running pack with water in the bladder, some chopped up dehydrated bananas, a piece of banana/carrot loaf and some chocolate covered coconut pieces.  Hopefully this would be all good to see me through to the end.
We were started off in pairs at 5 second intervals which was a good way to thin the field out and there was a climb for the first 500m up to the road and onto the track which also helped spread people out.  Once we got onto the track however there were still bottlenecks  for probably the first 5-6km.  You'd have single file lines walking up the climbs and then also the descents as there was no real opportunity to pass and, with 20-30 in a line, there wasn't much point.  So it was an easy/steady pace to begin with and I was happy with that - it was a good opportunity to warm up and I didn't want to go nuts anyway.  Everyone was in a buoyant mood and at one point one guy just ahead of me passed the comment "at least it's too cold for the snakes" ... turns out he spoke too soon!

The trail was pretty uneventful until around 22km in. Really nice single track - yes, technical, and looking more at the ground than the scenery, but every so often you'd get to glance at the surrounds and appreciate the area we were in.  I was walking the hills (as was everyone!) and had been taking in the bananas I had on me and had half a fresh banana at the 10km aid station.  
Nice snake....
(pic courtesy

The fun began at around the 20-22km mark.  First there was the snake.. We had just come up a rise when we saw a bunch of people standing around with cameras out taking photos.  OK, something interesting here I thought, and stopped to see what all the fuss was  about.  There, on the side of the track was this beautiful brown snake, head up looking at everyone, and everyone keeping their distance!  It was an Eastern Brown Snake, evidently common in these parts, but the second most venomous land snake in the world.  Not surprisingly, no one was game to just pass it on the path and so we proceeded to bush-bash a route around it, giving it a very wide berth.  

At 22km the real fun began.  We were climbing a big set of steps and I suddenly came to a screeching halt.  Cramp.  Standing frozen, in the middle of this set of stairs, my quads plus inner thighs decided they were done for the moment. I stood aside to let people get by me while I tried to ease it out and hobbled along slowly thinking it was going to be a slow trip home!  After a couple of minutes I'd gingerly start jogging again, but I could feel the seizing of my muscles ready to let rip at any moment.  Quads, hamstrings, shins, toes.  My legs were on an absolute knife edge, telling me in no uncertain terms that I had taken them to their limit and they had had enough, thank you very much.  Great.

Soon after I was buoyed by the appearance of an aid station.  This was an extra stop (7km from the finish), which hadn't been marked in our race info - but I wasn't complaining! As one of the volunteers topped up my water I told her about my cramps and she pointed me in the direction of the potato chips (salt). I grabbed a big handful and scoffed them down as I continued walking a bit and they were enough to get me running again. At the next and final aid station (4km from the end) I grabbed another handful of potato chips and they kept me going to the finish.  

It would be fair to say my legs were completely shagged though and I was comparing the experience to an ironman run.  Definitely harder - I couldn't zone out and go into ironman shuffle mode as you still had to watch where you were putting your feet. Rocks, sand, mud, tree roots - there was no relaxing!  

The final kilometre was along (yet another) beach and I was running reasonably close to the waterline to get the firmer sand.  The tide was coming in and so periodically there would be a wave come in ... and I couldn't be bothered getting out of the way, so ended up running through the water several times and getting sand all through my shoes.

Wet, sandy shoes.

It was a great feeling leaving the beach finally and coming along the road for the final stretch.  One of the best feelings was having a guy roadside give me a high five and saying "just 150 metres and one corner to go" - how good was that to hear!  I rounded that last corner and it was a blissfully short run on the grass to the finish chute where I saw St Pete on the other side, medals in hand and ready to catch me, 4:44:44 after starting.  And yep, he did almost have to catch me!  It would be fair to say my legs were pretty cooked.  
St Pete manning the finish line.

My report to coach that night included this: I'll be even happier when my legs stop sulking (a.k.a. cramping). Yikes - sitting on the couch with my feet up but if I sit too long and then go to move my legs they start cramping big time.  Quads, shins, feet, toes - I'm having to do slow laps up and down the hallway to try and settle them down.  

So what caused the cramping?  Was it a lack of sodium or just exhaustion in the muscles?  Normally on extended events I would have electrolyte fluids however this time around it was just a bladder with water in it.  And the salty chips possibly made a difference.  However the current research into cramping points toward it being a short circuiting of the muscle fibres in conditions of exhaustion. The current thinking is that the ingestion of salt probably just tricks the brain into relaxing the muscles (see this link for a better explanation: So it would seem more logical that I had well and truly found the limit in my legs at that point, however that didn't stop me from getting stuck into the salty chips!

Just to put it all in perspective, though, I had done a bike ride the weekend before and thought it was reasonably hilly with almost 970m of climbing over a distance of 65km.  The Coastal Classic, however, came up with just under 850m elevation gain over a distance of 29km.  That's a lot of climbing in less than half the distance.

No wonder my legs aren't talking to me...

No comments:

Post a Comment