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  • Writer's pictureMark J. Keenan

The Big Cheese

While the Three Steps is the hill most people talk about after running the PTS Summer Series, the long course event with the largest elevation gain is actually Swissmurdie. And, although it’s only an extra 40 metres or so, I think I can feel everyone of them as I write this recap.

It’s an awesome event to complete the series. The courses provide everything; from steep rocky climbs with sensational views across the coastal plain, to undulating single track along a tree-lined creek, to a mad-as stair descent past the falls, and a technical switchback to reach the finish.

If variety is the spice of life, then this run is definitely a jalapeno.

And it’s not just the run that was ‘hot’, the weather was too. The temperature rose quickly in the morning, reaching 30 degrees by the end of the event, while thunderstorms on the horizon added humidity to the conditions. There was a breeze at some points, coming and going as we moved through the course, but it was never consistent enough to keep you cool. Several times, as I ran along Whistlepipe Gully, I thought about dunking my head in the small stream flowing there.

And maybe I should have. It might have broken me out of the loop my mind had gotten itself into.

Let me explain.

Last year I ran Bloated Goat for the first time. I want to run it again this year. But I’m not as ready as I was in 2017. Injury late last year means I am starting from a lower base; I’m running considerably slower and not making the cutoff times in ‘goat’ is a real risk.

In the week prior to Swissmurdie, I discovered my time on the long course last year was almost identical to my time at Bloated Goat’s first aid station, where the initial cutoff applies. I also realised the distance and elevation of Swissmurdie and the first half of Bloated Goat were very similar. So, it seemed, whatever time I could achieve at this event would be a good indicator on how I’d go reaching the Bloated Goat first cutoff point.

It seems like a reasonable thought, so long as you don’t keep thinking it over and over, while you are actually running the event.

The uphills were hard, but okay. I could manage them, lean on my legs and grind them out. The downhills were good - great at times - gravity helping my legs to turn over at a good rate. But the parts which were mostly flat were awful. My legs just didn’t want to do what they were told. Instead they plodded along, complaining as they went and urging me to stop, as if we had all the time in the world. Which, my mind kept telling me, we didn’t.

I’m a mid-pack runner to back-of-the-pack runner. I’m here for the camaraderie, the personal challenge, the atmosphere. I’m not even bothered with trying to beat my last run. But the concern with my finish time clearly affected how I ran and how I felt and it would have continued if, at around the 9 kilometer mark, a running friend hadn’t told me to ‘relax, don’t worry about the time, and enjoy the run’.

It was exactly what I needed. A reminder to be in the moment.

I focused on my breathing, took more notice of my surroundings, letting my legs turn over at whatever pace they wanted. Slowly, but surely, my mind let go and I began to feel calmer. The run back through the gully, sloping upwards, felt good and though my legs were still disobedient, I just ignored them and went about enjoying the experience.

It was the best thing I could have done, and by the time I came to the downhill section at Lesmurdie Falls, I was feeling really good.

I finished within a minute of last year’s result and, even after accounting for the slightly shorter starting course this year, I now feel confident in tackling the ‘goat’ in a few weeks time and making the cutoff. More importantly though, I’ve been reminded running is as much about your mental state as it is your physical readiness, and I will be taking that with me to the start line.


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