2017 Thoughts and Musings

The last time I wrote was in late December, recapping the 2016 year and loosely setting some intentions and goals for 2017. I tend to stay away from ‘New Years Resolutions’ and the like, mainly because I am constantly goal setting, planning, forecasting and frequently setting up tangible plans of action to achieve them. It’s a constantly evolving practice I’ve found that yields positive results and doesn’t allow me to become complacent, because I am re-visiting and making self-assessments frequently. I’ll be the first to say that my ‘Type A’ personality and relentless drive for perfection (an arbitrary, unattainable and perhaps neurotic standard I set for myself), is a big part of that process too. I don’t have the patience to wait 12 months for something to succeed or fail, or to be bound by that timeframe of which I have to set traditional resolutions for the following year. Whilst it provides a great reference point for measurement and an apropos opportunity to reset and reflect, I find it also becomes too intense and more often than not, an unrealistic time of year for which to set up the coming year. I am now sharing my goals for 2017, alongside general thoughts about what the next 12-18 months looks like for me.

Back in 2014 I first discovered this beautiful world of ultra-running, via a short YouTube clip about Sally McRae’s 2014 Western States 100 mile race. That changed my life, and as I have written and spoken about previously (in both blog and my social media posts), I vowed then and there I would run the race in 2017. I planned everything to lead to 2017, which included qualifying at Tarawera in 2016, and then putting my entry into the ballot which was drawn in December of 2016. With a 2.5% chance of getting a spot, I missed out. Several hours later, I found out that I had been drawn as number Six on the Waitlist, something the Western States Board had implemented for the first time this year. I very quickly rose to the number one position, where I currently remain. The amount of dropouts from the last four years is as low as 15 and as high as the 40’s, so I have no doubt I am going. Western States was always meant to be my debut 100 miler in my mind, and it is a race that means so much to me. It was my first exposure to ultra-running, the race that introduced me to this incredible sport, and allowed me to go from liking running, to being totally in love with running. It is the original hundred mile mountain race, steeped in a rich history, and arguably the most competitive ultra on earth. It is a coveted event and for so many people, it is their dream goal and race. It was my dream, and I have been making it my reality since 2014, and as I have said on many occasions, everything I have done, all of my training, and all of my sacrifices, has been leading towards the 2017 race. I’ve grown and matured significantly as a person, runner and athlete since the first time I heard about it, and my love for ultra-running and mountains is now far greater than Western States alone. Saying that, this race means everything to me, and I am so excited that I am going to be out there, in what is shaping up to be the most competitive year in the races deep history. I have huge goals for Western States. I am not going out there to just finish the race. I am going out there to race, and to run as hard and fast as I can, against the best runners in the world. I have stout time goals, which are arbitrary to degree. What I really want to do is push, and find that point of discomfort and challenge, where I can find those deep places I’ve only ever unlocked via ultra-running. The nature of Western States is that it’s a fast 100 miler: Cumulative descending and a very run-able last 40 miles. If I can get through the brutality that is the American River Canyons, then the last 40 miles pose an opportunity to crank the speed and drive hard to the finish. June 25th 2017 I will get my chance to prove myself at that distance, a distance I have a strong feeling will be my speciality.

Before I head to Western, I return once again to the island of La Palma, to run Transvulcania for my second time. The island always brings a deep field of elite runners from across the globe, of which 2017 won’t be any different. A monstrous 8000m of elevation across 74kms, it was my first Skyrunning race, as well as my first high elevation ultra. I surprised myself and placed 110th last year, and loved the entire experience. I know I can run that course a lot faster, and with some experience in European racing under my belt, also know I can be far more competitive. It will be my debut race for 2017, and set the scene for this season of racing. I am so stoked to be returning, and this time I am taking some extra time to spend enjoying the Canary Islands. As a bonus, my sister and her husband will be out there supporting and will get to see me race for the first time.

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Chasing the finish at Transvulcania 2016

Whilst I always said Western States would happen in 2017, I was also vocal that a CCC spot would fall in my favour. The UTMB’s (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) sister 101km race, starts at Courmayeur in Italy, heads up to Champex-Lac in Switzerland, before heading to finish in Chamonix. The CCC course is the last 100km of the UTMB course, and similarly to UTMB, is rammed with the worlds best mountain runners. This year it also went to a ballot, and I was allocated a spot. To secure a Western spot and a CCC spot is extremely rare, yet something I believed I would get for several years now. In much the same fashion as Western, I never put it out to the world that I would’t get a spot. CCC is on September 1st, which means I’ll have just about eight weeks to recover from a tough 100 miler, and then do final preparations for a totally different mountain race. For all my races this year, I am intentionally taking more to spend in country, partly to reduce the affects of travel etc, but also to really soak in the experience of what is my second year of racing ultras. I have a friend who now lives in Chamonix, who is a world class alpine climber. He has kindly offered to put me up whilst I am there, allowing me the freedom to spend time out there training, scouting the course, and spending more time in the mountains. Additionally, it looks like I will also be spending up to a month out there before Western, using that time to train for both races, and dedicate more time and energy into specific training which I just can’t get in London. It will also give me an opportunity to hike and explore different parts of the mountain, accompanied by a phenomenal climber who has summited many of Europe’s (and the worlds) highest peaks, allowing me to experience the mountains in a new light. Whilst running is my primary medium for exploration and expression, I crave new ways to connect with nature and the mountains. Chamonix and UTMB are the pinnacle of European mountain and ultra running, and I have every intention of making my presence known during the race. I have friends running in many of the events, and look forward to experiencing the entire weekend as a competitive runner, and as a fan of the sport. I am so thankful that my health and life situation has given me these incredible opportunities to race and explore the world, and I have and continue to work hard for these opportunities. Racing both CCC and Western States in the same year, has been a dream and goal of mine for a long time. Regardless of my finishing times, how I run, how I place, or how ‘competitive’ I am, the fact that I get to be there and push myself to the limit, express myself in the best way I know how and communicate through running, is just brilliant. Whilst being competitive and testing myself against the worlds best is important, I’ll happily finish in last place if I know I gave it my all. The pursuit of all this really comes down to a deep desire to test myself, to push myself, and to walk right up to that line where I believe I am at my capacity, and jump off. I want to go deep into those places where it hurts, where the darkness sits, and where if I persist, the light shines and magnifies my soul, exposing me in ways I couldn’t imagine possible. That is ultimately why I run events of this nature, and why I have such grand and ambitious goals. They are the vehicle and mechanism with which I explore those parts of my psyche.

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Racing in the Italian Alps in 2016 (Lavaredo 119km)

I have a huge love for the wilderness, for travel, for adventure, for challenge and for exploring the world. The cities, the mountains, the trails, the forests, and everything in between, holds a large focus of my energy. I’m inspired by so many places on this earth, and that is a primary determiner as to where I go to travel and race . I will likely race Les Templiers in France to cap off my 2017 year, and look at building into 2018 with Tarawera once again. Tarawera is special to me for many reasons, and I feel compelled to head back there and spend time with my family and race once again (my step-dad grew up in the town that the race finishes in). Heading to UTMB for 2018 is another goal, which would also serve as a Hardrock 100 qualifier. Whilst I have yet to do a 100 miler, I am strongly attracted to that distance, and feel that is where I will see my best success. There are a multitude of 100’s in America I wish to race (Wasatch, Angeles Crest, Bear 100, Run Rabbit Run, Leadville, Hardrock, Cascade Crest) and plenty of international races that I have my sights set on in the next few years (Ultra Trail Mt Fuji, Transgrancanaria, Hong Kong 100, and some of the shorter North American races). I’m also looking towards qualifying for the Australian Team for the 2018 World Trail Championships (which is largely based on racing performances). 2017 looks to be a big year, and I am really excited to get out and race. With Alicia Vargo (nee Shay) as my coach, I am incredibly motivated to see what I am capable of for 2017, and beyond. Time exploring new countries, trails and landscapes both in and out of racing, is something I look forward too. As I grew into the ultra scene, I wish to take advantage of adventures that don’t necessarily fall around a race. Whilst running will always serve as my primary focus, I seek a range of expression that skiing, climbing and fast-packing have to offer. I am thankful for the opportunities that I have created that allow me to make these races and adventures a reality, and the support that I have been given thus far in relation to those particular goals. Whilst I have many uncertainties about my future, I know that being in the outdoors and being active is a big part of my value system and therefore something that will always be a priority .This will take many forms, and for now the majority of my focus is racing in the mountains. For now, I head into my debut 100 miler and my dream race, which is sandwiched between two phenomenal races which are both notoriously competitive in their own right. 2017 is shaping up to be my best year yet, across many spectrums, and I am excited to share part of this journey with the world.

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