The Golden Light
by Rejoover Juny Xi Yang
As a running enthusiast, I always strive to get better at running. This article is about my training and races in the last four months. It is a pleasure to share with you.
For me, the year of 2019 started with Boston Marathon, my first ever "big six" marathon races. I qualified for it last year in a truly kick-ass fashion (my own ass in that case), with a 20 minute PB in 3:18. With high hopes before going there, I finished it in 3:34, 16 minutes longer than my qualifying time. I won’t call it a failure. I had a fantastic time and learned valuable lessons. But it hurts my self-esteem to not get a PB for the first time in my races.
The truth was I went through some pretty tough personal times leading up to Boston. My trainings had been patchy. I struggled to eat properly (having your mum and dad who are amazing home cooks didn't help unfortunately). Along with the lacking of physical dedication, my mental strength waned as well. Sometimes I would go for a whole week without even thinking about training.
I didn't get Greta to write me a program for Boston (I bloody should have). Deep down I knew I would not be able to stick to it. Although it seems that I often talk about running as the only thing that matters, I had to accept that there are more important things in life. After all, you can never run away from life challenges. Boston was the result of my choices and I accepted it.
I always wanted go back to trail running after Boston, so I started running in the Blue Mountains again. Funny enough, I never much training on the trails, despite finishing my first 100k trail race a year ago. The first trip to Mount Solitary took almost 6 hours. It killed my legs. I was still going down the stairs with straight legs on the following Thursday.
The second trip was even harder and longer, done on a freezing day with lashing rain. Yet I recovered completely by the next Tuesday. I was amazed by how quickly our body could adapt to the increasing challenges.
The following week I went to Rejoov Whitehaven camp. I was still in my relaxing state, no race booked. Because of the trip I got off my usual Low Carb High Fat diet as well. My body felt heavy from eating all the carbs (and yes I got caught eating ice cream AND instant noodles at the airport after giving a nutrition talk on healthy eating….). But I was having an awesome time with the gang, discipline didn't come to the front of my mind at all.
As part of the trip, I did the beautiful Whitehaven 10K race on Whitehaven beach itself. Taking second female position was a complete surprise. I didn't feel I was in the shape to do well in any race, regardless how small it was. But I always get really competitive with random people during the race. After the fourth women overtook me, the dragon lady in me erupted. She started to yell at me with angry words I could not put down in the article.
So, I went from” oh I just want to casually jog on the beach and drink Champaign in the water later" to “ I am going to chase everyone down”. My hat and my hair tie were blown off by the strong head wind but I didn't care. I managed to came just seconds after the first lady, like a crazy woman.
Making to the podium and winning a small prize money (being Asian) gave me a much needed boost to my confidence and determination. Naturally I did something crazy even to my own standard:
I signed up a 165 kilometer race, with 9500 meter in elevation gain in China next March, Gaolinggong by UTMB. I have not done anything even close to that kind of distance or difficulty.
My hands were shaking after I received the confirmation email. I was excited and scared at the same time. I knew I need to start training, hard.
Two weeks into my training, I bumped into Lisa Mintz in the park. Within 10 minutes she convinced me I should pace her in You Yangs. After finishing an extremely tough miller in New Zealand earlier this year, she was going to do another 160 kilometer race there (yep that’s how she rocks). So I signed up for the trail marathon at You Yangs and agreed to pace Lisa throughout the night after my race.
Secretly, I dreamed about winning the female marathon race. It was an extremely small field, only 54 participants. Perhaps I could get lucky.
When I stood in the freezing morning at You Yangs, I could feel the difference between You Yangs and Boston.
Before the race started in Boston, I knew I was not prepared enough for the race. My legs were weak. My body felt heavy from all the eating in previous days (stuffing your face with ice cream, donuts, and lobster rolls two nights before the race was not the wisest choice).
I did lots of prep talk before the race trying to pump myself up. But when you didn't give everything you could for the race, you knew. That's why I went out way too hard in the beginning, just to take the chances. Of course I ended up blowing up at 16k.
Leading up to You Yangs, I trained well with a few consistent 100k-plus weeks. I went back to my normal diet, which kept me light and energetic. Despite Lisa buying half of the shop the night before, we cooked a simple dinner and consumed only the carbs that were needed for the day. I was calm, and ready.
When the race started, I went for my own pace. I kept energy in the tank. I let people overtook me without feeling bothered, although under my breath I whispered" I am going you catch you all" (Full disclosure: I am a chicken. I never felt that way towards the elite runners in bigger races....). In You Yangs most of the elevation was in the first 10K. After that there were really pleasant, flat fire traisl all the way to the bottom of the hill. I had to tell myself "slow the fxxx down" a few times.
One by one, I caught up with the ladies that were at the front. In true Juny style, when I tried to pass the second last lady, I stepped on a branch and almost fell right next to her. She told me after the race that she was pretty startled hearing me making all the noises. I promised never use this terrible racing tactic again.....
At the end I ended up the fifth overall and first in female, in 4:13. Since I overtook the last lady, I was able to put 10 more minutes between us in the second half.
I could not describe the feeling of standing on the top of the podium for the first time (although I still did not look much taller…..). Part of me was embarrassed that I even bragged about winning such a small race, but I knew I cherished not only the fact that I won, but also how I executed the race. I could finally put Boston behind me.
The real challenge in You Yangs was going out at night again to pace Lisa. We covered almost the same distance as I did in the morning, but it took us over 10 hours. I was surprised how tired it felt, even if we spent most time fast walking.
I was also surprised how tough Lisa was (well, I shouldn't, but you get to know someone a lot better when you spent 10 hours together). I could tell how much she was struggling, yet she kept on going. A few times she even left me behind while I tried to eat at the aid station (maybe that's more about me being a piggy....)
Running throughout the night with Lisa in You Yangs was really inspiring. It reminded me how much more resilient I need to be if I am ever going to finish a 100 mile race. I also learned two things: 1) my headtorch could last for the whole night without battery change. That's reassuring. 2) I could fall on any surface at any speed, including when walking on a flat surface. It sucks.
Over that Saturday I covered 87k in total. Apart from the bruises and cuts on my legs, I didn't feel nearly as bad I thought it would be. By next Tuesday I was back in the park running.
The next two weekends I did Megalong Mega and Royal National Park again. Both times I was able to run the courses a lot faster than previously. I talked about being competitive in the races, but that is not why I do trail races. When I am out in the nature, I feel free. Seeing mountains and the ocean fills my heart with joy and excitement , and I always fall for their beauty, literally.
Then, it came City2surf time.
After my preparation for Gaoligong started, I trained on the start of C2S route every week. I ran from home to Double Bay, then 40-50 minutes up and down Bellevue Road in all sorts of painful combinations. After the grueling session, I ran the same route back. The whole training was about 20 kilometers.
If I ever told you I enjoyed those sessions, I lied. I enjoyed FINISHING them, not when my head and chest felt like they were about to explode, which was most of the time.
When I started running down William Street, I wondered whether all of the hill training could make City2Surf easier?
It did not. Although now I always fondly call C2S as "baby hills" comparing to the mountains, running 14k on those hills in full speed could never, ever, be taken for granted. I, for one, did not believe I could do it under an hour, with an average pace of 4:15.
Soon, I realized although the hills did not become easier, I did grow stronger. I was able to climb with faster speed and descend with more control. I kept on practicing extending my stride, especially at hard times. Having run the route so many times, I stopped getting lost (it is a celebratable achievement for some, please don't judge me). Now I knew exactly what to expect at each corner. Although I didn't look at my watch at all, I knew I would definitely get a PB.
Going to races like this, I always play my favourite game: treasure-hunting Rejoovers. I loved seeing people wearing Rejoov singlet. It was like finding Easter eggs in the crowd. It was hard to exchange pleasant and meaningful conversations while on the go. But encouraging words through grinded teeth and broken breath were appreciated regardless.
Finally, I came to the top of Military Road. I knew there will be no more uphill, only 2k downhill and 1k flat left. I looked down on my watch, which showed 48 minutes. I have 12 minutes to run 3k. I ran this part many times. Normally I could do it between 4-4:15 minute per kilometer. At that stage, I was still not convinced I could make it sub 60 minutes.
"Come on babe. Bring it home." I said to myself.
I felt like a dog who was just been unleashed. Everything left my head, I just wanted to go to the finish.
Lucky it wasn't crowed at that time, I didn't feel like I need to do too much weaving. Very soon the descend ended.
Ah! How come it felt like going to the roundabout was an slight incline?!! It was so annoying when you were busting your lunges already!
A lady ran pass me. She had such cool leggings. I wonder where she got that from?
"Juny!!!!who the hell cares about leggings NOW!! Finish the bloody race!!" The sound of the dragon lady was deafening.
And I turned the last corner. I couldn't believe my eyes.
The clock was just about to tick over 59 minutes. Since I started at the middle of the pack, not only I was definitely under an hour, I could it make under 59 minutes!
The little cosmo inside me exploded (if you ever watched Saint Seiya you will get the reference). The dead legs were filled with power all of a sudden. I must have overtaken at least 50 people in that last 100 meter, including that legging lady.
After I crossed the line, I got the message. My official time is 58:53.
I never felt so good for underestimating myself and then overachieving my goal.
On my first trip to Bellevue Road with my friend, we followed his training plan then, which was 5x5 minutes hills (50 minutes in total including downhills). It was a dark and wet day. After a while, he said to me:" you should watch out for view of the city lights. It is beautiful." At that time, my system was so shocked by doing such hard hill training for the first time. I had no idea what he was talking about.
As I kept on going back there, gradually I was able to run faster and cover longer distance on that road. One day as I turned around, I saw it:
The city, hiding behind a high fence I just passed for the first time, was glittering on the rising sun. The gentle and warm golden light was shinning on every window in the high rise buildings . It was so gorgeous I couldn't help but smiled.
People always asked me what draws me into running and doing all these "crazy" things. I think running is one of the few rare things in life, which will always give you rewards if you put hard work into it.
Just like the golden light on Bellevue Road.