Great North Walk 100 Miler GNW100s 2014

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I know it sounds stupid to most people but I wasn’t worried about running 175km, I was worried about the sleep monsters.

I CAN RUN FOREVER*

*as long as I keep eating, drinking and moving forward there’s no problem. When I’ve helped out people like Joe Ward, Kirrily Dear and Jane Trumper I’ve typically taken the night shift and I’m quite happy run/walking through the bush at night and telling silly stories. These are the things that great adventures are built on. But some people get an extra buzz when the sun comes up and a new day starts. Not me, I get sleepy. So I had to consider the prime directive-

FINISH THE RACE

After the disaster of last year I had to take a long look at strategy and give myself the best chance of a finish. One of the reasons I do these long races is because you never know what is going to happen- a finish is never guaranteed. I am comfortable with a DNF, but I was pretty motivated to not collect another one this year. This year I have big plans. Yes kids, that means C2K. As far as I can tell, there are a couple of official requirements and a couple of unofficial ones. Officially you need to do 180km on road or a 100 mile trail race. Now I’ve done both this year. Unofficially you need to have crewed and have completed the GNW100 miler. Tick!

Normally I run with a head full of caffeine and breeze through the race. The major problem with doing this is my vocal filter (which isn’t very good to start) falls off completely. This means I say some fairly outrageous things but luckily I can usually get forgiveness from my friends! This strategy wasn’t going to work for this race. Even a 30 hour finish would mean kissing the post at midday- 6 or so hours after daybreak. I needed to be very conservative, assume I was going to just make the cut off at 6pm and try to make sure my caffeine intake didn’t spike too early or I was going to be spazzy with tiredness too early.

I do think that my subconscious was trying to destroy my plans though. by the week before the race I had not organised-

1. Transport to a hotel near the start
2. Getting to Warners for the pre race meal
3. Accommodation on Friday night
4. Transport to the start on Saturday morning

Australia’s toughest trail race? So, let’s see what we can do to make this a little bit more difficult….. how about we do it with no crew and have your pacer pull out with injury 3 days before the race? Now that’s a proper challenge!

I was gutted for my pacer as her injury has proven to be tough to shake, it was a little disconcerting when she dropped of a charging cable to hear her knee grinding as she moved it. Recover well!

I really wasn’t concerned about doing the race without crew, and the lack of a pacer isn’t as bad as it sounds. Yes it’s great if you don’t know the way, and you kind of need someone around in case you totally lose your shit, but I knew I could either pick up a pacer whose runner had pulled out or simply run with another runner for the last few sections. I know the way fairly well. Or so I thought…….

Massive thanks to Rob Mattingly who offered to share his room at Pippi’s. Luckily this was very close to the start. Unluckily it was Friday night and there were several bands playing. That’s ok, I don’t need sleep. Oh wait, yes I bloody do!

A Note from my coach. He expressed it a little differently......

A Note from my coach. He expressed it a little differently……

I also carried with me a note from my coach Andy DuBois. he said- ‘Believe a finish is possible until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it isnt – ie you have missed a cutoff or have been told not to continue  – if neither of those things happen then keep putting one foot in front of the other’. Wise words.

We woke at 4:10am, ate and dressed for a big day out. I slipped on my new Hoka One One Mafate Speeds (review coming soon) and we ventured off into the night. Brand new shoes for a 108 mile run? Yes, I’ve done 2 or 3x 100km runs in new Hokas and never regretted it. Michael Delgarno from Northside Runners didn’t even bat an eyelid at this stupidity. Thanks!

David, Marty & Adam at the start

David, Marty & Adam at the start

It’s amazing to be around the start. We collected our t shirts, got our wristbands and were weighed in, and waited for Dave Byrnes to do the race briefing at 5:30am. It was a very different feeling for me this year- last year we had a huge group but this year we were missing Rocco Smit, Adam Darwin and Jennie Sharland- Riggs. Although Jen would be with many of us during the race doing support, and getting to hang around for a while speaking to my mates and running heroes before the race is amazing.

At 6am I didn’t hear Dave give the go signal (as usual) but suddenly everyone started moving forward and we were off…..

Start to CP1 Watagan State Forest (28.6km)
The first few km are on the road and we were all very careful to go easy, and I drifted along chatting to Kurt Topper and Damon Roberts, both of whom I had met through the Unofficial TNF training group. I had drunk 600ml of sports drink before the start and had 2x 750ml bottles on the front of my pack containing electrolyte. By the time we got to Heaton Gap service station at about 15km I didn’t need to fill up but I went and had a pee, this being the last real toilet for some time…..

As I was crossing the road Martyn Dawson caught up, and the last I saw of him until the end was his bum disappearing up the monstrous climb.

It was right here that I was reminded of a couple of things-
1. Having a massage before the race is absolutely necessary, and I had absolutely not done it. Having run the 240km Larapinta last month and had 3 races in 4 weeks this month, I REALLY needed a massage. Time had conspired against me and it didn’t happen, so my legs started to complain on the first big climb. Bugger.

2. I really do have something wrong with my lungs/ heart/ body/ whatever. I was running comfortably until that first big climb but I lost about 35 places in 800m. I was gasping for air, sweating bullets and needed to stop constantly. It was really obviously a problem, and something I’m looking forward to working out. Why on earth do I enter races with so much vertical ascent?

As we came close to the rainforest section I tried to get a group of us together because of the difficult navigation. We did go a little bit wrong however Billy Bridle managed to show us the correct way!

I came into CP1 a bit behind David Brown but honestly the competition here was in my head, not with other runners. I had planned to go easy on the caffeine for as long s possible but I had a cup of Coke there, grabbed a bottle of gel and a pack of dried bananas and took off.

Time: 4:51
Time in CP: 12 minutes
Position: 138

This was dangerous, because average time for a 36 hour finisher was 4:55, meaning I was dicing with the cutoffs and it was only checkpoint 1!

Kurt & Adam at CP1

Kurt & Adam at CP1

Annabel Hepworth before Golden Compass award

Annabel Hepworth before Golden Compass award

Kirrily Dear at CP1

CP1-CP2 Congewai Public School (24km, total 52km)
Luckily Kurt Topper came with me and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours chatting. He’s a lovely bloke, quiet and considerate. Did I just hear you say he’s the complete opposite of me? Harsh but fair. I pulled my dried bananas out of my pocket and suddenly realised why these aren’t sold in supermarkets any more. They look like poo. It’s pretty much impossible to make them look like anything else except dried turds. But yummy turds, and great ultra food!

This stage is significant because it looks fairly flat in profile. But that’s a damn lie. Although it does have a few km of fairly pleasant groomed road as you come into the checkpoint. Except that you arrive at that point in the middle of the day and there isn’t any shade over much of the road. Coming into Congewai was a very different beast to last year- there was a bit of a celebratory atmosphere rather than the last rites of the previous year. No bodies on the ground, very few people needing medical attention and loads of smiling vollies.

Another cup of Coke, and Jennie was there to help me, as well as Zoe Howard and Jill Saker. Thanks ladies! I also ate a can of dolmades, the Greek rice wrapped in vine leaves. This worked well last year, and I’m pleased to say the same this year. It’s very difficult to get a product with a decent amount of protein in a non refrigerated drop bag but this seems to work nicely.

Time: 3:31
Time in CP: 24 minutes
Position: 124

A long checkpoint because I ate and fixed a blister, could have been much faster. A 36 hour finisher would do this in about 3:36- I wasn’t making up much time!

 

Joe Ward at CP2. he would go on to make 12th overall and 10th male!

Joe Ward at CP2. he would go on to make 12th overall and 10th male!

 

Kieron Blackmore at CP2. Another cracking run by a lovely bloke

Kieron Blackmore at CP2. Another cracking run by a lovely bloke

CP2 to CP3 (the Basin Campground (29km, total 82km)
Kurt came with me and we battled up the communications tower climb and used the downhills after that for the occasional trot. We crossed the farm with the little stream as the sun was fading and climbed up to the first unmanned water stop where a few people were having a well deserved top up. The fresh water was delicious! We got out our headlamps and at almost exactly 6pm switched them on. I have a new headlamp and I’d forgotten to program the output and burn time, so I was very worried that it would burn out too quickly on the factory settings. oh well, at least I had a spare battery. And also a spare torch. And spare batteries for the torch…… in the end it lasted until almost exactly 4am, so 10 hours burn time and very bright is really very good!

Shortly afterwards we had a couple of guys come back towards us complaining that they had gone the wrong way. After arguing with them for a while I accepted that they were right so we headed back and found a turn off that we had missed. Then there was a tree across the trail causing a bit of a back up, but great conditions for a bit of running after. I noticed Kurt falling further and further behind and he finally admitted that an old war injury was playing up. I was a bit rude to him in the hope it wasn’t serious and he’d snap out of it, but it wasn’t to be. So I continued by myself which isn’t so bad because the last few km of this section you have people coming back out to head over the hill for the next CP. I got to see a few people who were in front of me but not Martyn, so he must have been flying!

I sat down in the CP and the lovely vollies brought me several cups of soup and some Coke. I dumped some of the food I’d been carrying since the start and hadn’t eaten and picked up a gel flask and a Coke to take away. I picked up my battery pack and cables and started charging. When you charge the Garmin 910xt on the run it keeps recording but does not display any stats. Charging it to 100% just before CP4 gave me enough juice to record the entire 35 hour journey. Sweet.

Time: 5:43
Time in CP: 11 minutes
Position: 107

Made up some time here, a 36 hour finisher would be 6:24. Also this is the only checkpoint I did without waiting for anyone. Seemed slow to me, but 11 minutes is ok!

Brad and Martyn

Brad and Martyn

CP3- CP4 Yarramalong Public School (24km, total 103km)
There’s a massive climb out of the Basin and I didn’t really know the way so I was determined that I should have someone with me to share the navigation. Well, hopefully tell me where to go, in a nice way. So I dragged a lovely bloke called Pat along and we managed to have our first disagreement at the top of the hill. Something gave me the powerful urge to make my mark on the trail, so a few minutes later I came out of the bush pulling my pants up only to surprise one of the international runners, a Cuban lady called Nahila Hernandez who is doing the 5 continents challenge. This race is the 4th of the year with only Israel to go in 5 weeks. She was understandably a bit reluctant to shake my hand but I did assure her that the other runners were ‘just down this way. Yes, into the creepy dark bushland….’

We caught up with Pat and after abut half an hour of her following us we started up a conversation. She’s obviously a very tough woman, having completed Badwater in 58 degree heat last year, but when we asked her what the hardest challenge of the 5 continents was, she didn’t hesitate ‘this one!’

There’s about 10km of road into CP4 and yeah, I thought it would never end. But we eventually got to CP4 which is the end of the race for the 100km runners. I had 2 sausage sandwiches (they’d run out of soup) another cup of Coke and grabbed some stuff from my drop bag. I’d made a deal while on the way into the CP that we would leave together, but we’d lost the Cuban runner, she was having nasty foot trouble.

Time: 4:23
Time in CP: 25 minutes
Position: 115

Actually lost a couple of positions here because I spent too long in the CP. It was a bit of a disaster because I lost Pat for a while in the CP and when I found him he still had lots to do. Not his fault but I should have been more on top of things. 36 hour finish time for this section is 4:30.

 

CP4 to CP5 ( Somersby, 29km, total 132km)
Pat and I left Yarramalong and headed up Bumble Hill Rd towards the GNW track head. We were quickly caught up by Sarah Highfield and her pacer. They were going at a fairly quick (walking) pace and I advised Pat that we should try to stick with them because we were about to hit the infamous Dead Horse Creek section and it’s navigation challenges. This turned out to be a great idea because her pacer had the notes out and was reading and understanding them, unlike us. We managed to contribute a little bit by pointing the right way a couple of times, but my power of speech wasn’t all that great. Thanks for getting us through that section guys! We surged past before 40 Acre Farm, but they decided to run when we got out to the road and we didn’t see them for the rest of the race. I should mention that I’d pretty much given up running before CP3. Why? Because I could! I’d gone from being behind the time needed to finish before the cut, to well in front simply by having a fast walk. I really needed to finish this race so the choice was to take it easy and deal with the sleep monsters, or speed up, risk bonking and still deal with the sleep monsters. Under almost any other circumstances I’d probably be trying to catch up to Martyn Dawson, but not this time…….

Doing some sums, I knew that last year I had arrived at Somersby at 9am, and I had 9 hours to do the last 42km, which was ok, but not a lot of time. I was pretty keen to beat that to give us a bit of a buffer- late in the race, the key target is to make the last unmanned water stop by 3pm. Whilst it is unmanned for most of the race, there is someone there who will DNF you after 3pm on Sunday. If you make it by 3pm, you have 3 hours to do the last 12km.

I’d noticed that Pat was taking a while in the checkpoints and so we had a little chat ‘you know mate, those checkpoints aren’t an oasis of food and rest, they are a fierce dragon that sucks time out of your race and destroys your chances of finishing’. I’m sure he silently called me names after that little speech but we agreed that the next checkpoint would be only 10 minutes. Poor guy was starting to suffer too, this probably did not come at a good time. We arrived at 7:34am and my family was there! It was lovely to see them but in all of the photos I look really cranky because I was trying to concentrate on my tasks to get ready for the next section. It’s only 18km to the next CP, so I dropped a heap of useless crap and re packed my bag. We got out at 7:48am and now had over an hour buffer on last year! Yay!

Time: 5:54
Time in CP: 14
Position: 49

This section would take a 36 hour finisher apx 6:50 so we were comfortably ahead. not competing anymore with the 100km runners made us jump many places too. Could have shaved a bit off this CP time, but not much.

CP5 to CP6 ( Mooney Mooney 18km, total 150km)
Not much to tell here, I assured Pat that I still wanted to finish with him, despite me being a bit of a prick about time in checkpoints. the terrain and navigation isn’t particularly challenging which is nice. There’s some rolling fire trail before we walk/ run beside Mooney Mooney Creek and we caught up to David Brown and his pacer Bruce Craven. I think it’s a good thing having someone with you who is capable of thought, so we spent a bit of time with them. Bruce is taller than me and called out a low hanging branch. However I had lost the ability to bend down so I smacked my head right into it and landed flat on my arse. It was a pretty big smack and there was some blood spilled, but overall pretty funny. Except when I tried to stand up again, which was quite a challenge. Around this time David was having a bit of a low point and we got slightly ahead. I wasn’t expecting this, David has been training the house down and had been in front for something like 28 hours, but I figured if he wanted the position he’d come back and take it!

My wife Sarah was at Mooney Mooney and Adam Darwin and Joe Hedges turned up too! Adam is one of the 31 tough people who finished last year and Joe was his pacer. It was lovely to see them but quite unexpected. I felt very relieved to get into CP6 as I knew we absolutely had it in the bag. We arrived at 11:01am, meaning that we had 4 hours to get to the unmanned water stop, only 12.7km away.

Time: 3:13
Time in CP: 6 minutes
Position: 47

Average 36 hour time is 3:36 so we made up a bit. Luckily this CP is small, boring and there is only one stage to the end, which equals a fast transition time. They should all be like this!

Martyn at CP6

Martyn at CP6

Rob, Ross and Martyn

Rob, Ross and Martyn

CP6 to Finish (Patonga 25.5km, total 175km)
There’s no getting around it- the last section is beautiful, but brutal in so many ways. We rolled on for the first few km, then I think Pat decided that our progress was not fast enough, and he put on a spurt. I wasn’t 100% happy, but I realised that our progress had slowed considerably due to the terrain. It was taking ages to cover each km, and it wasn’t because we could smell the finish. In fact we couldn’t even smell Woy Woy rubbish tip because that was still 10km away……

We finally reached the unmanned water stop at 1:40pm- nearly 90 minutes to spare! A few swigs of cold water was just bliss as it was very exposed out on the rocks, and Pat sat down for a couple of minutes to rest his knees. I wasn’t concerned because I knew that unless I had an accident I was going to get my long desired finish.

The last 12km seemed to go on forever. Pat asked me what the sequence was, and because I know the area really well I could name all of the landmarks. But he kept saying them back to me in a much more abbreviated form- leaving bits out in the hope that the end would come sooner! I had a lot of sympathy for that attitude but yeah, it doesn’t work like that.

In the last 2 hours we probably lost 4 places but I was happy just chugging along. On one hand if I’d been by myself I might have gone faster, but I was so grateful to have someone to share the experience with, even if neither of us could talk much. I think having a fresh pacer would help a lot, but remember the prime directive- finish!

We got up to the final road crossing and there was Sarah, Alex (my son), Adam Darwin and Joe Hedges again. Alex started to run towards me like he was going to jump into my arms and I screamed out ‘don’t touch me!’ I was terrified that I would fall over and be unable to get up! I’d also spent quite a while reminding myself not to take any outside assistance- i.e.. don’t hand your wife any rubbish etc if it’s outside a checkpoint.

We crossed the road, walked the single track, and even had a bit of a trot down the fire trail towards the car park at Warrah Trig point. I said to Pat we should finish together but as it was about 34:40 into the race we shouldn’t try for sub 35 as it seemed too difficult. He replied that his knees were giving him grief and I should go down the final descent without him. I wasn’t altogether cool with this but I thought I should do what he asked in case he needed to experience the moment by himself.

So I bombed down the vicious final descent (how often do you hear that at the end of a 175km race report?) and arrived at the beach only seconds after another runner. I had no intention of beating him but I realised I could actually go under 35 hours if I hustled. I ran up to the car park and an old man in a beat up car said ‘the trail is along the beach’ and I replied ‘mate have a look at the gate I just came through, there is a GNW symbol on it- the correct path is through the car park’ so he just shut up and drove off……

Back on to the beach at the next GNW sign and Alex ran towards me for the big finish and I was running quite well- feeling fresh and in control (might not have looked that way) I blew a kiss to the finish post just before the next runner and gratefully accepted the finishers medal from Dave Byrne. total time 34:57:51

Pat came in about 3 minutes later and promptly disappeared. All I can say is thanks for your company for the last 100km my friend!

Time: 5:50
Time in CP: N/A
Position: 41

6:07 for a 36 hour finisher, so we just beat that!

Rob & Marty- age group podium!

Rob & Marty- age group podium!

This photo shows me finishing in front of the guy who was pronounced equal 49th, but he appears in the results above me. Complain? Not me!

This photo shows me finishing in front of the guy who was pronounced equal 49th, but he appears in the results above me. Complain? Not me!

Adam & Alex finishing

Adam & Alex finishing

 

attempting to bend down and accept the medal

attempting to bend down and accept the medal

I reckon there’s easily 90 minutes to be taken off this time, perhaps a couple of hours if I concentrate. Sub 30 hours? That would assume I’m doing it again….. I think I’ll wait for the swelling to go down first thanks!

Now I have 2 qualifiers for Coast to Kosci, but I could not have done any of this without-
1. My wife. Thank you Sarah for letting me get in the stupid hours of training
2. My coach. Andy DuBois, for helping me to race smart
3. Northside Runners. For providing the shoes, sponsorship, and more reason not to DNF!
3. My friends. I wouldn’t run if it wasn’t for you

Great stories- Rumour is that Martyn Dawson had to flag down a cyclist and borrow a knife so he could cut a hole in his shoe to relive the pressure from his blisters. He still managed to finish equal third in his age group with Rob Mattingly. Amazing effort guys! Nahila the Cuban runner got out of CP4 barely 2 minutes before the cutoff and still finished the race- 2 minutes before the 36 hour cut!

 

Thanks to Jill Saker, Jen Sharland- Riggs and Sarah Connor for the photos, and thanks to Joe Ward and MBRC for the video!

UPDATE 18.9.14- get the raw results, and everybody’s progress times.
Final statistics for the miler-
91 Entrants
57 finishers
4 DNS
30 DNF

More stats for me-
Runner number 31
Starting weight 74.1kg
Weight at CP2 73.2kg
Weight at CP4 73.1kg
Weight at CP6 72.9kg

Southern Highlands Challenge 50km 2014

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I love races in the southern highlands because we get to go and visit our friends Alison and Paul Hilliard and son Jamie. Staying with them for the weekend was amazing, however I generally drink too much which isn’t good for my performance…….

So it was kind of fortuitous that coach had said ‘don’t run this one too hard, just use it as a training run’ which may or may not have meant ‘fill your boots, you borderline alcoholic’. Ahem.

This meant that turning up on Friday night we got to say ‘Moet? I suppose it’ll do…’

A nice sleep in on Saturday (which is VERY rare) then a trip into Bowral for pies and a look around was fun, then home delivered pasta for dinner and well, cider, red, white and more champagne.

Larapinta Reunion- 2 weeks later!

Larapinta Reunion- 2 weeks later!

So you can guess I wasn’t overly impressed when the alarm went off at 4:50am, however I had pre organised all of my stuff and we had plenty of time to get to the start. On arriving we saw how impeccably well everything was set up. I shouldn’t have been surprised with April Palmerlee and Keith Hong  involved.

It was getting close to start time so we all assembled at the start for the race briefing, then we set off on the first of 2x 25km loops. I hadn’t paid much attention to the course description but I expected to be running a lot of fire trail. In reality there was heaps of single track all built for mountain bikes.

Jeez those bike people have it good! Luxury! When I was a lad we had to fight our way through undergrowth on indistinct trail and wade through knee high water. Oh No- these trails had gentle downs and climbs, loads of switchbacks and I was only slapped in the face by vegetation once- OK twice because it was the same plant on the second lap. I’d been a bit worried when April said we had a 7 hour cutoff however my first lap was over in 2:33 at an indicated 23.4km, so I could relax as I had heaps of time for lap 2. I don’t know how the course ws measured but I’d speculate that if it was accurately measured the difference would be because our Garmins did not measure some of the switchbacks due to the dense forest.

Here comes the dirt surfer

Here comes the dirt surfer

While it’s true that I wanted to quietly die in the first few km, my hangover quickly took a back seat to the lovely surrounds, it really was very pretty in parts. I got to have a quick chat to John Fan who had been pushing hard last weekend at Bilpin- I was certain he would beat me at SHC because I was simply enjoying myself and yes, slightly hungover. I met another runner named Adam (dude those calf guards need a volume control) and everyone was having fun. I’d seen Lise Lafferty towards the end of the first lap- she was having a difficult day and it was a privilege to help in a small way.

I came in to the start/ finish chute to the sound of Sarah and Alex ringing a cowbell- had a quick snog and went out for my next lap. I hadn’t had much fluid on the first lap so it didn’t matter much that the aid station wasn’t very visible to me as I came through. Really the race was very well provisioned but I missed the middle aid station on the first lap too! Not sure how this happened.

I settled in for the second lap, and was by myself for some time making sure I followed the ribbon. But all of a sudden a runner came along from a completely different direction so I slowed down to discuss. Neither of us could figure out who had gone the wrong way but our Garmins gave virtually the same distance so we agreed not to worry about it. I cruised around running some mental  calculations about finish time and realised I had slowed down by about 20% and was heading for a 5:30ish finish. For a little while I wondered if I should try to shave off a few minutes and go sub 5:30 hover that’s just a number, it was far more important to finish happy and uninjured.

I think the timing mat must have been dirty

I think the timing mat must have been dirty

Sure enough my final time of 5:35 was a bit better than expected but certainly not spectacular- I was in the top 30% of the field at Bilpin last week but bottom 30% at SHC! Oh well, the big one is in a few weeks (GNW), that’s more important…….

One of the best moments of the day was hanging around the Summit Sisters tent and chatting to Jo Brischetto and Brendan Davies- who made me all modest by mentioning the sponsorship deal with Northside Runners. Mate that beard is getting a bit wild, but it doesn’t seem to affect your running, best of luck in Doha!

As it turns out there was a whole bunch of NRG’ers at the race and I didn’t see any of them because they turned up after the 50km race started, did the 22km race and left before I finished!

Here’s a couple of photos from the 1km for kids- I think this is Alex’s first official race, and I’m very proud of him…..

 

Chris Johnson with kid

Chris Johnson, running dad

Alex 1km medal Alex 1km kids

Bilpin Bush Run 2014

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I was lucky to get a lift up to Bilpin with Doug Richardson, Gillian Russel and her flatmate Wayne. Arriving around 8am we got out of the car to be greeted by progressively more and more NRG’ers! There were only about 4 on the start list in the newsletter (and I wasn’t one of them) but it looked like someone had ‘put the band back together’ and we ended up making up about 20% of the entire field. I wandered around talking to people, had a couple of nervous wees and then we casually gathered around the start line for the race briefing and tun we were off!

I hadn’t looked very closely at the profile but it looked like an out and back run. These things normally aren’t very accurate the first time they are run so I was interested to see how far to the turn around……

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In the first km there was a big descent and the worry started to make itself felt ‘what if it’s all like this? I was hoping for a fast 32-34km run, don’t want to kill myself with 3 races in the next 4 weeks…’ and honestly it was a lot more hilly than I had expected, I just settled in and walked the hills, catching up many of the people who passed me on the flats. One thing that has improved in the last few weeks is my fast hiking up hills, a very good thing as this has been a major weakness in my trail running. If I had to call out the guys I would measure myself against in this race it would be Leigh Reynolds, Chris Johnson, David Madden and Chris Dawe. I also expected Steve Bruggemen to glide by at some stage…… Leigh has so much guts and determination and works so hard, he’s been on fire recently, Chris Johnson will typically pass me about half way through a race and I won’t see him again, David has youth (and natural talent) on his side. And the only way I ever finish in front of Chris Dawe is if he is injured. I thought I’d be able to pick him off today because he had run with the slower group on Thursday, and I had been blasting out some quick ones with a faster group. But maybe we’ll come back to that mistake later……

By 6km in I was having a good chat with Chris Johnson and we were passing each other regularly. I figured eventually one or other of us would get tired and let the other one go but I was having so much fun, Leigh called out from a turn a few hundred meters ahead and I thought he was gone for the day. At about 10km we caught up with David Madden and had a quick chat but he didn’t seem keen to come with us, and slowly but surely Chris J and I started reeling in Leigh. The three of us leapfrogged each other for a while and we were counting down the k’s to the halfway mark. Just before the turn around the front runners started coming past- a couple of guys I didn’t know then Beth Cardelli in 3rd outright, Jess Baker not too far back and our own Doug Richardson caning it along the back half.

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I caught up to Justine Medin along the fire trail and had a quick chat, and 400m before the turn around point we saw Gillian Russel and Chris Dawe coming the other way. This meant that I wasn’t too far behind but Gillian looked like she was about to bust a valve and Chris didn’t look too comfortable so I vowed on the spot not to try to catch them……The turn around point was at 17.25km by my Garmin so it looked like we might be in for a 34.5km run instead of the advertised 32.xkm, however I did later discover that the return route was slightly different and it was very accurate. Justine is remarkable because she actually runs all of the hills, so she slowly but surely started making a lot of extra progress on me. I put my earbuds in and punched up a John ’00’ Fleming podcast and prepared to knock out a few km and not worry about my position, just to enjoy the day. I hadn’t seen anyone for a while, and I was punching the air and dancing along to a particularly good song when The Man In Black came past- this was a guy who had been struggling earlier and I assumed he would fade away but he came back stronger tun ever and finished well ahead. I only picked up a couple of places in the back half, and I had lost a few more than that so it wasn’t my finest race. Going back through the last few aid stations, there was a sign that said ‘4.7km to go’ and I wasn’t sure whether I should believe it- they’ve been wrong before!

Then with about 4km to go I had another nightmare- another bloke coming up fast from behind in the distance! I decided if he got close I would let him go- as mentioned before I have a couple more races this month and can’t afford to do anything stupid. Then I thought ‘no, let’s not be defeatist. You have plenty of gap now, just push a little harder on the hills and you can hold your position’. I did this and the benefit was I started to gain on Justine. But it wasn’t early enough and she had me by about 200m at the end. A very well run race from her. I crossed the line at 3:24:57, 27th across the line and 20th male, which means I was only chicked 7 times. 10th in my age group is a nice surprise, you have no idea how demoralising it can be to be a middle aged male in these races, competing with all the other mildly crusty old coffin dodgers.

I swear it says 3:24:57!

I swear it says 3:24:57!

Although it’s a different course, I was about 17 minutes faster than 2011 so very happy. Congratulations to Doug, 4th overall first in age class and 3rd male, a podium!

The volunteers and marshals were all absolutely brilliant, happy to have a chat and a joke, really enthusiastic and the entire day was heaps of fun. You should come next year…..

Thanks to Tony Sharpe and Lucinda Rigby for the photos

Alice Springs Marathon 2014

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We rose at about 5am for the 6:30am start of the marathon. Breakfast and coffee and we all bundled into the cars for the short trip to Lasseters Casino which is the start/ finish. We set off while it was still dark, and the whole field (about 50 of us) started slowly drifting apart in the first few km. Of course I started to feel the need for a wee, and because I had read the briefing document I knew there was a toilet around the 6km mark. Unfortunately the drink stop people at 6km didn’t know where this might be- luckily it was just around the corner, a little sign directing us into someone’s front yard to use the dunny attached to their laundry……er thanks.

After 240km of running in the past 6 days, I was a bit worried about my ability to back up for another 42.2km in a decent time, so I’d pretty much decided to just beat the cutoff which was 5 hours, and with a vague target of 4:30. I set out at a pace I felt was comfortable and managed some fairly consistent 5:40 ish km. Of course pretty soon I wondered if I could keep this up for the half and go under 2 hours before fading. Turns out this was not too hard, I hit the half in 1:58. The next challenge was how long to keep this up for? I’d decided that I’d be happy with 4:30 meaning I could relax by about 25% and still make my target, but as the km started disappearing I wasn’t slowing down much, getting to about 6:06/km.

I figured if I was within a few seconds of a 4 hour finish by the time I hit 36km, I would pump out a few quick ones to go under that mark. This was also a bit stupid, because I have the Great North Walk 100s coming up in a couple of weeks and can’t really afford to kill myself chasing a time. Oh well, it wasn’t to be- I was pretty sure Jane Trumper would come breezing past me, and sure enough she did at around 37km. I was happy to have held her off for that long and watched her move off into the distance, and she’d mentioned that she was running 3rd female and could podium if she kept going. Well of course she was going to keep going!

I caught a couple of guys who were flagging badly in the last few km and encouraged them to come with me. Neither could, but strangely this gave me a big boost and I started putting on a bit of a dash- my final km of 5:16 means I probably could have gone under 4 hours for the marathon, however I’m still very happy with the result of 4:04:56.

Janet and Garry got us to the airport and I raced off to the Qantas Club for a shower and some food, (I hope they didn’t count how many rum & cokes I had) and we had our hugs and got on the plane for the ride home.

As it happened, Jess Baker and Meredith Quinlan were on our flight too- they’d just finished running the Larapinta Trail as well and had gone 21 minutes under the record for a time of 59 hours something. Which just goes to prove that no matter how crazy you are, there’s always someone crazier.

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Thanks to Lisa Hatzimihail for the photo

Sri Chinmoy 24 hour 2014

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Yes, my support table did include some motivation

Yes, my support table did include some motivation

I found it. The thing that makes even experienced runners give you the hairy eyeball. If I tell someone I’m helping out on a ridiculously long run, or that Jane Trumper is running the 2200km Pilgrim Trail I get adventure eyes, and looks of wistfulness if not envy. People are incredibly supportive.

But the moment you say ‘I’m going to run around an athletics track in Rooty Hill for 24 hours’ the ONLY reaction you get is

You WHAT?
Why the hell would you do that?
Won’t you get bored?
Is this some sort of Chinese water torture?
Did you lose a bet?
You have an appointment at the loony bin the next day?
WTF dude?

See- Notice all the NORMAL people?

See- Notice all the NORMAL people?

So why do it? Well, the big plan is to qualify for Coast to Kosciouzko in December, and the qualification standards are as follows (from last year)

First-time C2K Runners and Previously Unsuccessful C2K Runners:

  •   Completion of two ultramarathons in 2012/2013, of which one is to be completed 2013.
  •   Primary qualifying race must be of at least 100 miles (161 km) for trail courses or 180km within 24 Hours for track or road circuits.
  •   Secondary qualifying race must be of at least 100 km.

My best chance for making these quals would be to use TNF100 which I’ve done 4 years running and an ‘easy’ 100 miler. There being no such thing as an easy 100 miler, I could do Glasshouse. Problem- Glasshouse is on the same weekend as the Great North Walk 100s, and GNW100 is the only race I’ve DNF’d.

I NEED to get back and finish that race, so taking the ‘easy’ option can’t happen. At least this year.

Soooo, what’s that bit about a track or road circuit? 180km in 24 hours? Oh dear……. and it’s only 4 weeks after The North Face 100.

‘Luckily’ (is this lucky?) I’d had pretty bad cramps at TNF so I hadn’t run too hard, but I could still feel the race in my legs on my last long run. Really lucky was the fact that that Andy DuBois had agreed to take me on as a client (patient?) and he has forgotten more about running than I will ever know. I think he may have blanched a bit (OK a lot) when I said I needed to run 180km in 24 hours only a month after TNF100.

Nevertheless, he knows his stuff, and said ‘well, do you think you can run 100km in 12 hours and then 80km in the last 12 hours?’

To which I replied ‘yeah, cool, no worries’ which means ‘probably not’. The only performances I could compare were 2013 Poor Mans Comrades and Narrabeen All Nighter from January 2014, where my times for 100km would have been apx 13-14 hours and I wanted to die at the end. Do another 80km after that? Sure, no problem!

Andy developed a strategy of

0-12 hours run 55 minutes, walk 5 minutes. Average pace needed 21 laps per hour
12-24 hours run 45 minutes, walk 15 minutes. Average pace needed 17 laps per hour

on the 400m track.

So, now I had a strategy, how did I force my body into submission? I’ll explain that with a drawing-

Caffeine, I think I love you

Let’s look at a few benefits of this type of running-
– Food and drink every 400m
– Toilets every 400m
– No hills
– The best distance for effort you’ll ever get

And the downsides
– Can’t urinate wherever you want (male trail runners specifically)
– Scenery can be a bit ‘samey’. OK, a lot.

Annabel Hepworth carving it up

Annabel Hepworth carving it up

But I went there to do a job, and I was never truly bored- do you get bored of breathing?

We walked over to the start line, had a few quiet moments of reflection and Martin Fryer (the Race Director) gave a countdown from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and we were off.

I started slow and got slower, over the course of the first few hours I figured out that a running lap was under 3 minutes and a walking lap was under 4 minutes, meaning that I would only lose a minute or so if I had to walk for a while.

I knew that the hardest bit of the race was going to be from 7-8 hours until the 12 hour mark when I was able to slow down a bit.

Adam Brick and Jade

Adam Brick and Jade. 2 of these people got on the Podium, and one was a very happy but sore old man. Congratulations guys!

Hour 1 was a bit hard, it takes a while to warm up. Hour 2 spent a bit of time thinking that I was feeling better, hour 3 wondering how long I could put off having some delicious Coca Cola that Gordon (bless him) had put on the table. Hour 5 I started to think I was going to be able to make the 25% time mark without dying and hour 6 just trying to punch out those laps. Here comes the tough bit (or so I thought), I’m keeping an eye on the lap board- I’d started in the middle of the pack which put me in the second column of the results, but as time went on I gained a couple of places and went into the first column. This made me happy because I got my results a bit quicker, here’s how it goes-

On the hour, the timing people print out the current placings and send someone over to update the board. They re arrange the names so the placings are correct then update the number of laps done by each runner. Being in the first column of the results board meant that I got those figures within about 2-3 laps of the hour ticking over. Oh yeah, it also meant that I was in a top 10 placing, which spun me out a bit.

Annabel STILL carving it up

Annabel STILL carving it up

I’d pretty much made 21 laps or better each hour and was comfortably up on my target. I knew that I’d need some of those spare laps at some time so I was pretty happy. I also knew that going from 5 minutes of rest every hour to 15 all in one block was not going to suit me at all- I was having a real slump around the half hour mark of every hour. So I mentally decided to modify Andy’s plan and split my 15 minute break up like this-

Run 25 minutes, walk 5 minutes, run 20 minutes, walk 10 minutes. Which translates to- run until 25 past the hour, walk until half past, run until 10 minutes to the next hour, walk until the hour ticks over……

This gave me time to eat, drink and visit the toilet. But where was I? Hour 8- I promised myself that I’d have a coffee at hour 11, just to make sure I blasted my target before I got to rest. At hour 10 I needed a toilet stop and an official came out to ask if I had left the track. I said I had been to the toilet, but the next hour my lap total seemed to be down by about 3 laps. I didn’t really have time to yell out ‘My lap shouldn’t have been more than about 5:40 cos I only had a quick slash’. An hour later I was back on track but not sure if I was running faster or I’d had some laps credited back. By the time I got to hour 11 I’d pre loaded with a few cups of Coke and when Gordon delivered a lovely strong coffee I was ready to fly! That coffee grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and I punched out a couple of 23 lap hours. Coming in to hour 13 I was still feeling good, and decided to keep going on the 0-12 hour strategy for as long as possible in the hope of making up a few extra bonus laps. Needless to say this didn’t last long but I was still about 7 laps up and was starting to think I might actually make my target. By now I’d developed a habit where on my walking laps at 50 minutes into each hour I would stop and have a salt tablet, a perpetuem solid, a swig of sports gel and wash it down with lemonade or coke. Then a swig of gel and a drink on my next walking lap at 25 past the hour. I also made a few extra laps (or was that in my mind?) by convincing myself to keep running when passing the clock if it hadn’t quite got to my walking time yet……

Cunningly, it looks like I am running here....

Cunningly, it looks like I am running here….

In a few more hours I’d gone from skipping up the track singing ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ to merely grunting when other runners greeted me. But- I’d kept grinding out the necessary laps. As you may know, I’m not very competitive, so it totally gave me the sh!ts to have to push for such a long time. But it was working……

I was able to give much more than I thought I had to give, and by 4am I’d started making more bonus laps- a 354 lap target was a nice fat 369 actual. I put on the required 17 laps to make 384 by 5am, and at 6am turned over a century to have 401. I stopped having so much caffeine because I was worried about my sanity, and I couldn’t shake the thought that if I kept it up I’d be covered in medics at the end of the race. This of course made me slower, and I calculated that I could walk the rest of the way. After a few pathetic attempts at running, I did. I spent my newly relaxed time recalculating how long it would take me to finish. I knew I couldn’t walk off the course at 450 laps, but I needed at least one more in case there was a muck up in the calculations. Obviously it would be ideal to pump out the laps until the finish sounded but I knew this wouldn’t be possible.

Adam asking Cassie Smith for some tips

Adam asking Cassie Smith for some tips

When I realised I was going to finish an hour before the cut I got a bit emotional. I’d had a lot of trouble counting my laps during the race, relying on the updates every hour but when I got down to the last 35 laps I had extra motivation to make the count, and make them count!

As we got closer to zero I asked Gordon to help me with the count, we held up fingers to each other (in a nice way) as I passed each time, and on the last one I went out for ‘just one more’. I’d done my 450 laps in 22:58. I followed the white line around for my 451st lap, hit the finish line and signalled to the timing people that I was retiring at 23:03.

Go forth and conquer? Well, in that last hour where I left there track I’d slipped from 7th to 9th place, but I still felt like a champion, having make my target and with time to spare. It did seem quite surreal.

Gordon gave me a big sweaty hug and congratulations and I hid my leaking eyes by requiring help to sit down. A short time later we all decided to pack away and not wait for the official end, everyone was tired and I couldn’t see myself pretending to be normal for much longer- I was sure someone would ask a medic to take me out the back and shoot me.

Sure enough, I could not stand up, and needed 2 blokes to carry me to the car, possibly not my finest hour. I’ve never needed to be carried from the playing field before. I would have been completely screwed if I had tried to pack away myself, I’d probably still be there. While I sat in the car waiting, I could hear the countdown to the end as everyone left in the stadium yelled ’10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…….’ and it was over.

I’d been in 7th place when I quit, only a few laps up on the next guy, but I also knew that Annabel Hepworth could beat me if she just stayed out there…… which she did.

Let’s face it, the fact that I was in front at the 23 hour mark was an illusion. Annabel is a much tougher character, a much faster and consistent runner and I should have been chasing her- however many of the key people who should have eaten up this race had problems. I’d been planning on holding on to Cassie Smith because her 2012 total was 182km, but she had a tough day too. At times I variously saw Jade Crim and Kurt Topper in the gazebo fixing their ills.

This is definitely an event that rewards good running form. Gordon snapped a good photo of me swinging my left foot out as I put it down. You’re going to have a problem if you do that 90,000 times in 24 hours- and so it transpired. It seems to have caused a problem with my ITB bursa. A few times I was reminded to loosen up my shoulders, and it’s true- I do slouch badly when I run. Subsequent injury and a visit to Jason Wheeler showed that I am extremely lucky to do an event like that and not suffer more because of my poor running form.

We also saw history being made out there- Robert Knowles ran BAREFOOT and made over 212km- a new (yet to be ratified) world record!

A note about the volunteers (and the food). Everyone was really helpful, volllies- just in case you don’t already know- you’re enthusiasm really did make a difference. When you yelled encouragement, jumped up and down and waved, it made me stand a bit straighter and go a bit faster, thank you. And while I didn’t get to sample much of the food, what I did have was great. I had seconds of the mashed potato and it was brilliant. The pasta was great too and it looked like someone was cooking up a storm. Excellent.

Browsing the AURA records page, I found that Cliff Young (yes THAT Cliffy) had done this race 10 times, with a best of 235km. Obviously no slouch……

So what else went wrong? This might sound a bit silly since I did so well, but there’s always room for improvement. And if someone (NOT ME) wanted to do this event again, perhaps these things could help. I should have had a better plan for nutrition. I went to the race without a real plan. I had about 6-7 flasks of gel and RAN OUT. I should always buy the expensive lollies because the cheap ones are too hard and difficult to chew. Should have planned my caffeine intake a little more carefully. I also would have run SLOWER- knowing now that I can make the distance, I could have eased off a bit and hopefully gone until the final siren. I am a little bit disappointed that I could not rack up a few more laps, simply because I’d spent everything I had in the first 23 hours. I should have had a bigger container to mix up sports drink, and smaller containers to run with. There’s no reason to have a drink bottle more than 300-350ml because you only have 1x400m lap to drink it. I probably should have planned my food a bit better, eating real food seemed to have a positive effect on my performance.

Massive thanks to the unbeatable crew of Gordon Plunkett and Sarah Jane Marshall. They went above and beyond in keeping us all going- and by all I mean they helped everyone- even the strays I dragged into our gazebo. Outstanding effort and I would not have been able to succeed without your amazing help.

Fashion Sense. I lost mine somewhere.....

Fashion Sense. I lost mine somewhere…..

But the thing I’m probably most proud of is something that happened after the race- in one of the Facebook posts Martin Fryer actually called me a ‘warrior’. Thanks Martin, that one word will live with me forever, coming from such a legend it really makes my skin tingle.

By the way, did you know that walking 100 miles in less than 24 hours is a thing? If you can do that, you can call yourself a Centurion.

If you’d like to have a look at a short video of the race, and a really great race report by the race director, and also the results– still provisional at this stage. Interestingly it is this race that Yiannis Kouros still holds a world record for- have a look at the 1997 race here, and check out his first marathon time…….

I seem to have moved into this shadowy world where a 100km run is considered ‘middle distance’. It’s inhabited by strange people who say things like this about doing the Beer MileIt is a really fun event I should send you through the details and you can run your own…..I vomit every time…!!!’

But luckily they aren’t all completely crazy- I also read this ‘I lied down in the shower on Sunday night with a bottle of wine.’ Now that would be bliss!

So would I do it again? Don’t know- 24 hours is a long time, but the people were fantastic, the weather was kind, the crew were amazing. Perhaps my memories are clouded by the fact that I had a blinder, but when another competitor private messaged me the next day and said ‘how about 500 laps next year? 200km sounds like a good target, doesn’t it?’

My first reaction was to lose my lunch- but somewhere in there I thought ‘maybe she’s right, maybe I could’. Maybe…..

*Most if not all of the photos here are courtesy of Gordon Plunkett, they’re great aren’t they? If I have accidentally used one of yours and you would like it removed or credited please let me know via the contact page, thank you.

The North Face 50 2014- Guest Race Report- Sarah Connor

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My lead up to the TNF50 was very, very ordinary.

I had taken 3 months off after the Spiny Cray Ultra at the end of September 2013 to try and get rid of achilles tendonopathy.

After 3 months of physio and swimming training, we finally discovered that my post tibialis muscle is very weak and is causing pain in the achilles.

And then my back decided that it was its turn to be sore and painful. So another 3 months of physio – I don’t heal like I used too …..

So I finally start training for the TNF50 in March 2014.

Only 3-4 k per run, plus a strength session each week.

And then I lost my running mojo.
Things were looking grim.

 

Somehow in April I re discovered my running mojo after a great run with friends around Lane Cove.

And that is when my TNF 50 training started. A month out.

2 weeks out, I came down with a really nasty cold virus after a rather large night out on the piss for my birthday …..

I signed up for an adventure race with a girlfriend the week before the TNF50.

Why? Cos it was fun!! 8k of paddling orienteering and a 3k orienteering course.

My back was great and the running was pretty good too.

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So the week before the TNF – physio was happy with my back, achilles was behaving, my number arrived, the nerves started, I found all my gear, bought a new Nathan Vapour Wrap pack.

Sorted out my gear and wondered whether I should go and get a lighter rain jacket as I needed a bit of space, when lo and behold, I was lent a prototype Salomon Sense Flyweight jacket which was vacuumed packed and weighed about a ¼ of my Patagonia Torrentshell . Thanks Ben!

Pre race nerves meant for a crap sleep the night before – but I did manage at least 5 hours worth and that’s pretty good for me.

Got dressed, had breakfast (tea and toast) and set off to the start with Sarah (yes a different Sarah, she only has one personality called Sarah that I know of- Ed) about 30 mins earlier than planned….

Met up with the Summit Sisters and had some photos taken and jiggled up and down to keep warm.

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(photo credit Andy Bowen)

On the start line, I did wonder whether I had bitten off more than I could chew… ah well too late now.

Tom counted us down to the start and we were off. First 6k was good, walked the hills and took it easy on the bitumen.

I managed to get to the bottom of the Giant Staircase without freaking out too much – thanks to the guy in front of me who talked the whole way down about random stuff and kept my mind from the fact we were going down a cliff face.

The first big set of stairs did my quads and glutes in. Luckily I knew this bit quite well and was happy to have all the technical stuff at the start of the race when my legs were fresh.

At Olympian Rock, Gavin and Rebekah Markey were there cheering people on and it was great to see them and get some much needed encouragement.

Bek and Janis were at the 13k water point – I did not stop, but it was great to hear my name being called out!

At some point after the water point, I was the head of a very long conga line. I kept saying to the guy behind, tell me if you want to pass. He was happy for me to be in the lead. He asked what time I was aiming for and said 10 hours or less, he then replied that he was on course for an 8 hour finish at the pace we were currently doing.

Whoops. Just a bit too fast.

Sarah Jane Marshall caught me just past the Conservation Hut and it was lovely to hear her voice!  I tried to stay with her, but she was too fast , motoring along  to finish in under 8 hours .

Along Tableland Road had a chat to Brad who threw people out of helicopters for a living. His nickname was Nudge.

And that was really the last person I ran with until the Furber Stairs.

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(photo credit Bek Cramp)

Checkpoint went smoothly – had a chat to Jill, Bek and Janis  – thanks for letting me hug you both sweaty and all.

Ate some noodles, banana, filled my bladder, filled up with Clif bars and used the facilities. Tried to stretch as both ITB’s were very sore and I knew the 9-10k downhill was going to be tough.

And then the suffering began.

Walked out of the checkpoint and discovered my legs were not very happy about running, so I power walked down Kedumba. I was passed by many many people – that was very discouraging.

Nudge tore past down the hill – he was plugged into some tunes and looked much better than he had before CP1.

I tried to keep positive, took photos of the km markers, looked at the trees, said hi to people as they streamed past.

IMG_2977

Richo and Jess caught me about halfway down Kedumba. . I tried to stay with them, but my quads just did not want to know about running downhill.

Finally made it to the bottom – relief. And then the uphill. And a bit more slow downhill.

Uphill was good – I managed to keep up a consistent pace.  But boy I was in pain on the downhill bits into Leura Creek.

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I did catch a few people (ok 2) but as soon as the downhill bits came, it was soon reversed.  It was at this point I really wished I had someone to talk too just to stop my brain from feeling the pain.

Made it to the 41k first aid point, filled up the bladder just in case and kept walking.

I then noticed my fingers where very swollen – and my feet were not feeling much better. And I started to fantasise about finishing.

Stomped up the hill, through the Leura Forest, tried to smile for the camera.  Failed. Saw a Lyre bird and a King parrot – that was lovely and took my mind off the pain….

Then I saw the 4k to go marker. Oh boy. Did that make a difference. I stomped a bit faster.  Still being passed by other runners but at least I was moving a bit faster.

IMG_2982

An English girl caught me just before the Furber Stairs, and she was really positive and made me feel much better! Thank you to whoever you were!
We caught up to Emma, and she told us that it was her birthday.

So true to form I sung (very badly of course) whilst going up the stairs.  Great distraction.

At the top, a lovely man told us that we only had 150m to go. Of course I did not believe him. And he was right!

Managed to sprint up the finish chute and make a spectacle of myself. Richo gave me a big hug in the finish area which was much appreciated, English girl handed me a water and then the men’s winner and second place getter of the 100k finished – birds eye view or what!

Emma and I shared a hug for beating them across the finish line as we knew it was going to be close.  And then I looked at the time.

And almost died.  Under 9 hours.

My brain was so frazzled I could not do the maths to work out what my time really was as I started in Wave 3.  I just knew it was under 9 hours !

Turns out I was 8:47. Only 6 minutes slower than last year .  No real training and 6 minutes slower. This course suited me much better than last years.

 Gear

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(Photo credit Bek Cramp)

Bamboo knickers
Target bike cotton lycra bike shorts (for warmth not compression)
Salomon running skirt
Lorna Jane bra
Lulu Lemon singlet with built in bra
Salomon Summit Sisters technical t-shirt
Summit Sisters Buff
North Face 100 visor (nicked from Adam).
2XU compression socks
Hoka Stinson Trails
Nathan Vapour Wrap pack
Salomon Sense Flyweight jacket
Patagonia capilene top
Patagonia R1 gloves
Chapstick

Plus all the mandatory gear
Petzl Tikka XP
Patagonia midweight capilene long sleeved thermal top
First aid kit, compass , whistle , maps, instructions, waterproof zip lock bag x 2
And many tissues.

 

Nutrition

Clif Bars x 4
Cheesymite x 1 in quarters
Farex baby food x 2
Tailwind for first 28k and Hydralyte sport for next 22 k.
(Picked up 2 extra Clif bars at CP1, ate some pot noodles and banana).
Came back with 2.5 clif bars.

Unfortunately my body did not want Clif bars especially towards the end, but I forced myself to eat them.

Cheesymite was an experiment – I think I will make my own without cheese as there were a couple of times where my stomach was not happy. But a couple of big burps sorted me out.

Need to mix the electrolyte powders better in the bladder as it was very strong for the first few sips!

Would not wear the North Face visor again as it reflected the sun into my eyes and I had a headache by CP1.  (Its white underneath the visor).

Need to wear  knickers in a colour other than black as when I went to the loo, it was really hard to get things back on when they are all black

I chose not to wear my Garmin and I think it was a good choice. My phone was in easy reach to check the time for nutrition – which I did once. And then I just kept nibbling every 15 mins or so.

The Nathan pack was good, but I need to sit down and work out where things go – I broke the rule about not doing /using anything new on race day.

UPDATE: THANKS!!

How could I forget to thank the volunteers who gave up their time, to watch us crazy people run! And to AROC for such a wonderful event – thanks Tom and Alina! Jo and Gretel from the Summit Sisters for looking after all of us pre and post event , all my friends who supported us through the day and some new ones met along the way ! This event is very special and made more so by the people who organise, crew, support, run, volunteer,  sweep and photograph . THANKS !!

Adam and I the day after …. (photo credit David Brown)

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The North Face 100 2014- Stair Master Edition- Race Report

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‘But I thought you were fast!’

I’d walked past a lady who had just finished, and she said ‘I know you- you’re the guy that, that, um….’ So I heaped her out a little by mentioning the thing that I’m most known for ‘I run the Unofficial TNF training page on Facebook

Instantly she looks dubious ‘but I ran with you today- I thought you were FAST!’

I got a good chuckle out of that but- “Nope, I’m a middle aged bloke who haunts the middle of the pack, I write more about running than I actually run, and have no particular talent or ambitions. But I love to help others’

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Some of the NRG Runners- the ones who could still walk on Sunday

But let’s get back to the start. We’d done the final 2 sections a couple of times in training and decided that Brendan Davies was right- this new course was going to be about 1-2 hours slower. However when I actually looked at the course description I figured that they’d simply moved a bunch of the tough bits to the end. There is still a few ‘free’ road km at the start, and the only other difference is the soul destroying descents and ascents from CP4-5.

Who's the lucky boy who got to carry the unreleased Salomon Sense Flyweight Jacket? ME!

Who’s the lucky boy who got to carry the unreleased Salomon Sense Flyweight Jacket? ME! Thanks to Salomon Australia

I was reasonably well prepared, training had been spotty but I’d come good a few weeks before the race. I’d decided this was not going to be a big push as I have other stuff to do this year, but I think that’s the voice of a scared little boy worried about the new course. Then I also had to deal with the blasé old man who had done the race 3 times before and wasn’t worried about anything. Both of them got me into trouble.

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The dark dark night before the race

I’d decided that I’d be happy with a sub 18 hour time, and told lots of people. This took a lot of pressure off, but I should have been a bit more aggressive and put a bit more into training, I took the easy option.

Saturday morning arrives and we get up at 5am to get organised. Then couldn’t find my sunglasses. I always leave them in a very visible place and I freaked out a bit about not having them- I knew it was going to be a bright sunny day and I am susceptible to headaches from sun exposure. I also left my Ventolin puffer on the table at the accommodation. I don’t really need it most of the time, but I do get a tight chest when running in cold air and it does help. That took the wind out of my sails, then we were in a rush to get to the start, picked up Mike McGrath, Ben Rollins and Ian Rowe (and possibly one other?) and headed off. Then the sports field parking was closed off and we had to park on the street, I forgot my sports drink that I always drink at the start, went back to the car to get it and missed my start wave!

So I headed off in wave 4 instead of wave 3, my head a bit messed up because of all the mistakes, but I had one thing going for me- all the blokes in wave 4 who wanted to beat me would now have to finish more than 5 minutes in front instead of simply catching up to me……

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I think Joe Hedges added the motion blur- I wasn’t going that fast!

Off we went and I spent some time running with Tim Lyndon (who finished in 13:55 to get a silver buckle), and we settled in for some fun….. down the Furber steps and across Dardenelles Pass to the landslide, where someone (NOT me) dropped a fart that would have been banned by the Geneva Convention. This was the start of 16.5 hours of completely inappropriate conversations. Ultra running is such a glamorous sport.

We were held up maybe 1-3 minutes at the landslide, but not enough to destroy anyones race and it’s always nice to have a break!

Up the Golden Staircase I had my first bit of positive news. In previous years I’d struggled up here and had to step aside several times to let people past. This year I only had to do it because I was talking too much, rather than about to die. I know it is a few km earlier on this new course, but believe me, it’s not the extra 5km, it’s those bloody stairs! Running Curry Mountain reps definitely helped here, unfortunately looks like I have to keep them up!

My race plan was to carry no fluids for the first 10km, but my carrying capacity was made up of 2x front bottle 750ml each and a squishy hand held of 500ml. I carried 500ml of water in that but didn’t need it because of the 600ml sports drink I’d had at the start. As per my plan I filled the 2 bottles at CP1, grabbed some fruit and took off. Race time into CP1 was 1:26 but this was not recorded by the timing mats. I saw Martyn Dawson, Tanya Carroll and David Madden here looking happy so we all took off hoping to murder the others in the next section. So along Narrowneck we went, and this was where I met Duncan Bell, a former Melbourneite doing his first TNF. I had a fantastic chat with him, and although we finished only minutes apart hardly saw him for the rest of the day. In fact what happened was he was running faster than me but I was spending less time in checkpoints. Sometimes old age and treachery does win hey!

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I got talking to Damon Roberts who has come along to some of the training runs, and we descended Mt Debert into Medlow Gap and headed off towards CP2, Dunphy’s Campground. I hadn’t tightened up my shoelaces enough and my toes were bashing into the front of my shoes. I’d made a promise to myself to fix this at the CP, but got distracted by going to medical. I asked the guy if he had any Ventolin, which he did, and after a couple of puffs I was on my way. Adam Darwin had come over to see if I was ok and taken off. The Ventolin had very little effect but as the day was getting warm I just wanted it for prevention I guess. I caught Adam Darwin and we had a little chat to the bottom of Ironpot Ridge, then I steeled myself for this vicious climb.

I managed to get nearly half way up before my calves started to cramp, and I started screaming. This is only about 32km into the race but I’d forgotten my race plan which was to take 2x salt tabs at 20km and 1-2 every 10km after that. Another blow to the confidence! But why was it so bad so early? Maybe because I’d eaten some of my wifes’ hot chips the day before and needed to drink loads of water? Maybe because this year it was a little hotter than previous years? I don’t know. One more clue is this- although I felt I was taking in loads of fluid, my wee was telling me that I was dehydrated all day, and I did eventually get quite sick of drinking Endura.

Last year Andy DuBois had emailed me after the race and said ‘you could go 20 minutes faster along this section’ – he’s right, but it wasn’t going to happen this year either! Along the top I saw 3 runners helping a female who was on the ground screaming from cramps, I gave them 3 salt tabs and moved on. My cramps came back when coming back on the out and back which is a little scary with the sheer drops on each side but I made it without further incident.

The descent off Ironpot is horrible. It’s pretty much the entire reason why I was wearing my Hoka Mafates, but at least this year the dust was a little less like talcum powder and I only saw one or two falls. About 1km on I saw Kieron Blackmore who looked to be having a tough day, I couldn’t do anything to help so I moved on. After that there’s a couple of creek crossings and then a short, steep ascent to meet back up with Megalong Valley road. My whole leg seemed to seize up here, just as a whole bunch of runners passed me. I’m sure it looked pretty comical!

By this stage I was getting passed a lot and I knew that I couldn’t really push on too much without aggravating the cramps. I should point out that I NEVER thought I wouldn’t finish- I was managing the things that went wrong without too much drama. I’d already decided not to compete with the guys I normally dice with so I had no pressure, and apart from not being able to move very fast and my feet starting to hurt (I STILL hadn’t tightened my laces) I was having a good day.

I did finally catch up with one guy who did a massive power chunder right in front of me, so I asked if he was ok. He didn’t look too good but unfortunately he seemed to speak no English. I reassured him that it was only 5-6km to the checkpoint, which he seemed to understand and I carried on. Damon caught me on the big hill out of Dunphy’s and said ‘I don’t remember this hill!’ and I agreed that it’s not one of the epic climbs that you remember, but it’s bad enough to make you have a little cry inside. We made good time on the road into CP3, but again I couldn’t use any serious speed because of the cramps.

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Possibly the last time I looked serious during the race

Checkpoint 3 is great because it’s the first time you get to see a bag with your own stuff in it. I’d packed a 600ml coke and that was the first thing I knocked the top off. I dumped some rubbish, picked up a flask of gel and took off. This has got to be my fastest ever time at CP3, I’ve always been a bit slower before but I think this might be because it’s been a bit later in the race, and I mentally view it as an opportunity to rest, whereas this year I felt like I needed to get on and finish.

I’d walked out of CP3 still holding my Coke and realised I’d have to carry it to the next checkpoint. Probably should have spent an extra 20 seconds to drink the lot and dispose of the bottle, oh well. Along Six Foot Track I saw Nigel Huband, who I thought should be way ahead of me, but it was nice to chat for a minute. He was lamenting his decision not to bring along any bacon flavoured gels (yes they do exist), but I was trying to coax my shattered shell into running the flats and he soon took off to brighten someone else’s day.

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CP4, but not everyone likes my brand of comedy

It’s really nice to know that you’ll get into CP4 (Katoomba Aquatic Centre) during daylight. In my 3 previous attempts at this race, I’d only managed to get in AND out in daylight once. But of course it’s now at 57km instead of 65km so we were probably an hour earlier. I ran through my mental checklist when approaching the centre and then got really confused about what I was doing. Ended up having to go from one side of the centre to the other a couple of times before getting all of my stuff together. Picked up my fleece, head torch and spare battery (yes I had little ones for the daylight hours). Time- I knew from previous years that getting to CP3 at 54km within 8 hours was a good goal and would contribute to a good time, so this year with CP4 at 57km I figured 8.5 hours would be nice. Sure enough, I made it in 8:16, so pretty much on target. I also knew from doing the last 2 sections twice before that I could do them in 9 hours or 7 hours. Seven hours would get me sub 16, but 8 hours was much more likely! Drank my next coke and put the bottle back in my bag, picked up some noodles and headed out. Through the park, across the swamp and into another park where the track leads to Echo Point, where I saw Martyn Dawson sitting at a park bench. The poor guy had blown his ITB and was pulling out. He’s had a great lead up to the race, running strong and far, but sometimes it’s just things that we can’t control. He’s tougher than me, so I reckon he’ll be back. I sat down with him and ate my noodles, left, came back to collect the fleece that I’d forgotten and hit the track again.

Coming across the park was Beth Cardelli (who welcomed me by name! Wow!), she was in casual gear so I figured she had finished her race already. I later found out she was a DNS but whatever happened I’m sure she will be back stronger than ever.

Up at Echo Point all of the local tourists were making a big noise when they saw runners, it was excellent to get some recognition from these people who sometimes view us as a bit of a pain, it was a great buzz. Down the Giant Staircase I got behind a group of people including the legendary Greg Brown, who I met a C2K last year when he was running and I was crewing for Jane Trumper. He was pretty hard to miss as he had a koala teddy bear strapped to the back of his pack. Mate if you want to scare the tourists, paint some blood around its mouth…..

During this descent there were a couple of women behind us discussing if they were dehydrated so of course I yelled out to a bunch of compete strangers ‘what colour is your wee?’ I heard crickets.

Back on to Dardenelles Pass and into the most hellish part of the whole race. In the last 2 sections you go down into the valley more than 2.5 times (perhaps 800-1000m ascent and descent each time) and at least 1.5 of those is in this section. If you take out the 3km from Hordern Rd to CP5, that means you hit a possible 2000m of climbing in 18km. It’s f/ing hideous. But pretty. Did I mention how pretty? I got to the water stop near Conservation Hut and grabbed a few lollies, oops one of them was a black jelly bean. Normally not a problem, but this time it provoked gut problems that were to plague me for the rest of the race. Not bad, but enough to be uncomfortable. I shouldn’t complain though, I have iron guts compared to most people. Another bad cramp going up some stairs, more salt tabs and at 5:07pm I had to use my head torch for the first time when I went into a lush, slightly hidden under cliff ‘valley’. Just before 6pm the head torch went on full time. It was nice to see Wentworth Falls finally because that meant I would be climbing out Rocket Point Track to Hordern road and some actual running for the first time in a while.

Out onto Kings Tableland Rd a runner who had passed me several times said ‘I can’t really tell if we are going uphill’ and I replied ‘we are, but we go downhill after the next corner’. Sorry runner I meant ‘after the next 3 corners!’. I saw Allison Lilley along here, she was supporting, and when I got into Queen Victoria Hospital CP5, I was mobbed by helpers! That’s pretty good for someone who had no crew!

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Pick the NUTR

Tylana Woodward (who should have been running but pulled out with an injury and then decided to help- aren’t ultra runners awesome?) filled up my bottles, Kath Carty went through my checkpoint list with me, Andrew Bowen hovered in the background trying to look menacing as the grim sweeper, and Kate McElligott got the photos. It was like a Formula 1 pit stop- I knew that I had some food on my that I’d been carrying from the start, so I didn’t pick up much more. Andy said I didn’t have to carry the fleece as I was leaving before 7:30pm (it was apx 7:10pm) so I ditched it. ! drank my 600ml Coke, picked up some lollies and a (pre peeled) mandarin, snarfed down some watermelon and headed out into the night. The mathematical machinations were in overdrive now- to make a sub 16 hour time I needed to finish in 3:40 or less. I knew I needed 20 minutes to climb the last 976 stairs up Furber (for the pernickety- yes I counted them. This includes stairs that go down, does not include drainage channels, but does include one or two stairs that don’t have much ‘rise’. I’d say overall it’s pretty accurate, let’s say 976 +/- 2 stairs). So I had 3:20 to make 22km. There’s 8.5km down to Jamison Creek, I figured if I could make it to Jamison Creek in an hour, I would have 2:20 to do the last 13.5km. An average over this terrain of 10min/km would give me 5 minutes spare. Would my body rise to the challenge? Um, no.

Watch out for this guy. In fact, you can't really miss him......

Watch out for this guy. In fact, you can’t really miss him……

What actually happened was this- I made Jamison Creek in about 1:10 (I think, can’t be sure), but my average over those last 13.5km varied from 9:30min/km to 15min/km. I just couldn’t give a toss about going any faster, so my next challenge became beating my 2012 time of 16:34. I was pretty sure I had this in the bag, but I couldn’t relax. Happy to get to the old sewerage works and head into the single track again. There’s some sharp uphill then you head back along Dardenelles Pass to the foot of the Furber Stairs. I felt like I was moving pretty well here, but my speed was atrocious. At the bottom of the stairs I dumped my last fluids and hit the climb. It was a brutal as expected. My legs were not cooperating, so I had my gloves on and pulled myself up using the handrails. Distracting my mind by counting the stairs and looking up occasionally to see the bright lights at the top- you could hear the crowd, it was very comforting!

I finally hit the top of the stairs and went across the walkway, I turned off my headlamp kind of hoping I could make a quiet slink across the line, but then the crowd started to roar. I couldn’t believe that so many people were still so vocal at this time of night and so I lifted my hands up a bit higher and the crowd got louder! This encouraged me to do a heel clap across the line (I’ve never been able to do that before) and so it was over. A few seconds before the next minute ticked over got me a 16:25 and my second best result in this race from 4 attempts. Very happy as my aim was sub 18 hours. It did look like sub 16 was available at some stage, but I don’t care. I took it pretty easy and I do think that taking an hour off that time wouldn’t have been impossible- HOWEVER- People like Adam Darwin, Chantelle Farrely and Rocco Smit all did around 15:30 and they are all better runners than I am so that will remain unknowable!

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It didn’t FEEL like I was wearing hover shoes…..

Having so many cramps during the race really f’ed up my legs and I only managed to get them moving better by having a little run on Monday, but now my toes are the big problem- big toes and little toes on both feet are a bit black. I don’t think I’ll lose the toenails, but they are quite swollen and bruised which is new for me. No blisters though, which is nice. Oh yeah, my sunglasses were on the table in front of the TV, but they’d been covered by a plastic bag. Oh well! Eight hours 16 minutes for the first 57km, 8 hours 10 minutes for the last 43km. Sounds about right!

Nutrition
Start to CP1- carried 1 gel flask, 1 packet Clif Shot Bloks Margarita flavour, 6x Hammer Perpetuem solids, 1 packet Strawberry Gu Chomps, 1 packet Cranberry Apple Gu Chomps, 1 tube of 12 Gu Brew tablets, 1 Lemon Sublime Gu, 1x 140g packet of the Natural Confectionary Company Strawberries & Cream Bliss, 1 Gu Roctane for emergencies. 500ml water.
Actually consumed- about 2 sips of gel
Still in my bag at finish-  6x Hammer Perpetuem solids, 1 packet Strawberry Gu Chomps, 1 packet Cranberry Apple Gu Chomps, 1 tube of 12 Gu Brew tablets, 1 Lemon Sublime Gu, 1x 140g packet of the Natural Confectionary Company Strawberries & Cream Bliss, 1 Gu Roctane for emergencies
I filled up my bottles with Endura at CP1, and by the time I got to Tarro’s Ladders I still had most of it left, meaning I had 1.5l of sports drink for the next 11km. So I dumped the water from the soft flask and didn’t use it for the rest of the race. Couldn’t dump it though, because then I wouldn’t comply with the 2l fluid capacity requirements. I could have however swapped it for my 600ml Cokes at the last 3 checkpoints, and probably would have if I had a good spot in my pack.

CP1-2
Actually started taking in fluid and food here but it was too late, I was dehydrated for most of the day.
Consumed- 1 packet Clif Bloks Margarita, equiv 2 gels, 1 mandarin and 1 piece of banana at Tarro’s, watermelon and a toothpaste flavoured Endura gel at CP2.

CP2-3
Gel before Ironpot, 2 salt tabs halfway up, 2 more 10km later, more gel. At CP3 I drank 600ml coke, ate watermelon and a couple of lollies

CP3-4
I tried to eat a BSc Missile Bar along Six Foot Track, not very successful, ate about 60% of that and had some gel at the bottom of Nellie’s Glen. At CP4 I drank a 600ml Coke and grabbed some cup noodles and left.

CP4-5
Ate the noodles while stopped with Martyn Dawson. Ate some lollies from Conservation Hut water stop, more gel. Worried about running out of fluids so I took some water from this stop as well. I did consume some, but still had heaps when I arrived at CP5. At this CP I drank a 600ml Coke, grabbed some lollies, 1 piece of watermelon and a pre peeled mandarin. Filled bottles with Endura and left. Had this and some gels on the last section.

Totals
I was drinking an average of about 600-700ml fluids per 10km, which is a bit low for me. My consumption of gels and food was surprisingly low as well. I guess this could have something to do with my reducing my sugar intake for the last 4 weeks before the race. I’d forgotten to get the boiled eggs into my checkpoint bags so I didn’t really have anything with loads of protein except for the Missile Bars and for some reason had trouble getting these down. My home made gel consumption was about 3.5 of the 5 flasks I had available. There’s about 4 gels in each of these so I had about 12-14 gels in total. I probably could have saved myself from carrying about 400g with all of the extra food I didn’t eat!

A note about supporters- for NRG, we’ve had about 3-4 entrants in 2011, 6-8 in 2012, around 12 in 2013 and 45 in 2014! What an amazing result, and some really fast times too. I won’t even mention that I beat Robyn Bruins last year and she came back this year to make 12th Female. Oops. This huge increase in numbers has led to a massive increase in supporters and we love you. I’ve never exactly been lonely out there but coming into a CP and having a huge cheer go up really makes your day. It’s often cold and boring for those people, so a huge thank you for making the effort- see you next year as a runner?

I'm having a bit of trouble turning any of these into silver- know any alchemists?

I’m having a bit of trouble turning any of these into silver- know any alchemists?

Now, you’ve seen all of those names and you’re thinking ‘geez what a name dropper’. Well, you’d be right. Every one of those people, whether they know me or not, has contributed to my being there, and the happiness it brings me. I’m amazed that I can just casually have conversations with superstars like Brendan Davies, Gretel Fortmann, Jo Brischetto and others, but basically we’re all in it together…….Most comical part of the awards presentation was when Tom Landon Smith (the Race Director) was showing off the swollen knee of a female English competitor Claire Walton. She’d come 5th, but had fallen in the first 5km and fractured her patella. He leaned in and said ‘I just want to find out if your knee has anything to say about the fact that you dragged it along 95km while busted’ and he put the microphone down towards her knee and we heard a whispered ‘faaaaark youuuuuuu’

Brilliant.

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Photo credits- Tylana Woodward, David Brown, Kate McElligott, and the amazing and talented Joe Hedges!

Narrabeen All Nighter 2014

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Photo credits- I’ve stolen photos from all over the place but I think all but one of these were taken by Stefica Key. If anyone wants them taken down or attributed differently please let me know.

This is a really odd type of race- run as far as you can on an out and back track in a given amount of time. These races used to be much more popular, but as you might imagine from the 100 competitors lining up for this one, seem to be having a resurgence in popularity. I’ve recently read an early book about Pat Farmer- Running on a Dream, and it describes various 24 hour and 6 day races- I know Coburg 24 hour still exists, but I don’t think there are any 6 day races left in Australia?

Anyway I usually end with thanks, but this time it has to come first- I’m so grateful that my lovely wife Sarah came along and took such good care of me during the race. In the last few hundred metres of each lap I was concentrating on what I wanted so I could yell it out as I went past- and I often forgot my ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Sarah did it all without the icy stare she sometimes gives Alex when he forgets his manners………

Sarah Jane- still smilin'

Sarah Jane- still smilin’

I really had too many friends at this run to name everyone here, but special mention to Rocco Smit and Sally McIlwaine from NRG who also ran, friends from JORG, RunningGroups, Woodstock, BMMC, etc. Didn’t see many Striders, but perhaps I don’t know enough of them. And a very extra mega special thanks to the NRG’ers who turned up to support. There’s nothing quite like being a fairly uninteresting middle of the pack runner and yet having your name screamed out like a rock star every lap by a ute full of pissed runners.  Priceless.

So- why the hell would you want to run all night on a 1.666km track? I still don’t know for sure, but one of the keys to success at anything is knowing you can do it. Example- I’ve done a 15:28 North Face 100, but KNOWING that I can do a sub 14 hour 100km would be a huge psychological boost for the big one in May this year. So getting close to 100km in 12 hours would help a lot with this.

Back in November I’d done GNW100m and had a reasonable go- I didn’t make the end, but got further than most in difficult conditions. Unfortunately since then I’d had trouble keeping a fork out of my mouth and my running shoes on. People look at you funny when you say ‘I’m helping a mate do a 240km race in December’ but let’s face it- C2K is basically a 5 day party for the crew. It does have a serious side, but this year I wasn’t scared about the physical demands of the race, so I was working on alcohol poisoning rather than fitness.

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And then there was Christmas. Let’s just say that as NAN got closer, I got fatter. Until I realised that I hadn’t run more than about 20km in several months…….

Goal Setting
Well obviously my goal was 100km, however as time wore on, that became my stretch goal. My main goal then was to keep going until the siren sounded at 8am on 5 January, at the end of 12 hours. One hundred kilometres on an out and back that measures 3.333km is exactly 30 laps, at an average pace of 7:12/km. So, 30 laps of a fairly short course- how hard can that be?

I had a look at last years results and saw that in a field of about 44 last year, only about the top 10 did >100km. In an expanded field of up to 100 runners, this meant I would have to be about top 20 to make my stretch goal. That might sound nice, but how was an out of condition middle aged man going to get a top 20 position in a 12 hour race?

We arrived around 6:40pm to find that most people were already there and set up. Another runners crew kindly moved their car so we could fit in. Then we set up the NRG gazebo- holy carp that thing is huge! ….and heavy. The race briefing was very late so we only had 3 minutes from then until the start. I really hate being rushed at the last minute but I could have turned up a lot earlier and set up, and despite not having a proper dinner it didn’t seem to affect my race.

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And we’re off! I positioned myself about 3/4 back in the field, hoping to avoid all the people who take off like they’ve got a bug up their arse, and settled into some easy running with Gordon Plunkett and John Doughty. Brendan Davies had a bunch of other runners clustered around him, I think they all realised that he was going for a 100km qualifier and wouldn’t be making them cry for an hour or two, but the real surprise was a guy I’ve never really met but have seen before- John McQuade, he went off like a rocket and as far as I can tell, was in the lead for quite a while. That’s a gutsy move, and unfortunately he paid dearly for it- later in the race whenever I would pass him he would get a second wind, (and a third and fourth) and pass me right back. Then much later I saw him collapsed at the side of the track (or more accurately ‘resting’). to his immense credit he was up and running at the end.

so the run goes like this-

Out of the park and along the foreshore
turn the corner
past the ducks and geese
past the Scout hall
past the restaurant
through the mini forest of immense darkness
into the light
around a corner to the turn around point

then

through the mini forest of immense darkness
past the restaurant
past the Scout hall
past the ducks and geese
turn the corner
along the foreshore
into the park
yell out instructions to crew
around the start/ finish line
pick up stuff from crew…… and so on

Now I know you think this is pretty boring, but honestly it wasn’t really. This might point to me having no or limited imagination, however there was always plenty to do- run, think about what food you want for the next lap, chat to runners, vollies, scare geese, wonder if you should get a more powerful head torch, run etc.

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By 50km I was running well ahead of my 7:12/km target. I’d slowed from an average of 6:54 to 6:58 but I knew that the next 50km would be fairly painful if I decided to go for it. I had quite a lengthy stop (about 20-25 minutes). Then at 60km I had to go to the bathroom and my time target fell apart. All this was ok, because I figured I shouldn’t push too hard, Six Foot Track is only 9 weeks away and I need my legs to train with……

So I put on some tunes and just kept going. The major surprise here was being able to keep up a steady run after such a long time upright. In a lot of ways it was easier to run than walk, although Jane Trumper (somewhat unkindly) later remarked that I looked like I had stopped. She obviously didn’t see me when I was waving my hands in the air and singing along to some old KLF. I’m sure a few people were a bit surprised to hear me screaming out ‘F@ck the millennium- we want it NOW!‘ in a Scottish accent.

I slowed down to talk to a few people before realising that I was killing my own results. Smiling and sharing a few words was enough. Watching Brendan Davies go past me a billion times never got old- he has such a smooth, efficient style. People without names got nicknames- there was Dave, Natalie, Michelle, John, SJ and Adelaide, Blue Mountains Motorcycle Club, Silver Fern and Hot Runner. I swore I would ask her name before the end of the race so I wouldn’t have to confess to naming someone ‘hot runner’ but you’re all going to have to keep that vision of me as a dirty old man for a while longer. It’s not that difficult.

Early in the AM I became aware of 2 extraordinary efforts. John Doughty had been suffering horribly for a few hours but refused to give in. He has a lot of experience at distance events and knew that if he just kept going he might eventually come good. And so it transpired. He felt better and started passing me again- what a legend!

The other effort that needs some exposure is Lance Garbutt. When we started I saw this huge guy (he’s over 2m tall) in amongst the miniature racers, and wondered what his story was. It turns out that he had lost a lot of weight (200kg down to 140kg) and written a bucket list. The list included 3 items that he wanted to cross off that night- a half marathon, full marathon and possibly ultra marathon. That’s a very smart way of doing it- flat course, 12 hours and lots of support. As the night wore on, he was looking pretty crappy (like us all) and I stopped to have a little chat ‘you know what all these ultra marathoners respect? They respect that you’re out here doing it. They don’t care how far you get or how slow you go. They will give you respect if you’re still out there at the end’. To which he replied ‘I just want to get to a marathon distance, then I’ll go home’ and I said ‘finish your marathon, have a rest but don’t go home- you have heaps of time. Eat drink, rest and get out there again. Do one more lap. just think how great that will feel to just do one more lap’.

Lance gets his reward. For being a bloody legend of course....

Lance gets his reward. For being a bloody legend of course….

And he did. For the rest of the night he kept pumping out those laps, and in the morning he was given the award for the most courageous effort of the race, accompanied by a huge cheer and clapping from everyone else. See? You don’t have to be 4 foot tall and 40kg to be an ultra marathoner. Outstanding effort.

For me, the rest of the race turned out pretty much as expected. increasing levels of pain, and decreasing levels of speed from my unconditioned legs. At one point a goose wanted to play chicken with me , but I think it realised at the last minute that I had no intention of changing speed or direction. Lucy the goosey was huge though, probably could have made for a big spill. Paul Every wanted to sell me a skateboard at the turn around point, but I think the ‘mechanical assistance’ might have been a bit obvious in the morning light.

At 7am they decreased the course to a 500m each way, or 1km loop, and suddenly the heavens opened. I’d been losing what was left of my gruntle for a few hours. But when my sports headphones stopped working because of the amount of water in the atmosphere I became positively dis-f/ing-gruntled. Or perhaps that should be negatively. in this last hour a lot of people increased their pace, letting me know that they should have run faster during the night, the lazy bastards. On the odd occasion that I tried to increase my own pace, my body gave very swift and discouraging notification to desist. I’d gone through my last long lap at 86.666km so every lap after I was trying to figure out where the full km ended- in case I was close at the finish and could go for one last tick. A few more of these and everyone was getting keyed up about the end. With 15 seconds to go I went through the start/ finish for the final time, and managed to speed up a bit because I was very close to my crew! Managed to get within a few metres- good because when the horn blew I was shattered. To the point of asking Sarah to bring me a chair because I could not move one more step. We all had to take our bibs off and put them on the ground, then Ron Schwebel and Melanie Zeppel measured the distance from the start/ finish line to the bibs so they could later calculate our final distance. And it was over.

Yes, it hurt that much

Yes, it hurt that much

Brendan Davies had done his 100km qualifier in 7:48 and sat down to rest. At which point his crew- Ewan Horsburgh called him fat and lazy (OK I made that bit up)  and told him to go out and run for another 4.5 hours. And somehow, after a 6 minute rest he went out and did just that. His final total of 145.274km was a new Australian 12 hour record. Or would have been if he hadn’t had that 6 minute rest and allowed Barry Loveday to get past (ok I made that up too). Barry did 149.804km. Ouch, only 200m from 150km but a new Aus record. It’s just amazing to be around to watch these guys do their thing.

I don’t know any of the top 3 females, but the number of times Pam Muston flew past me was pretty humbling, and Natalie Watson again proved what a classy runner she is by keeping the pace and pressure up until the very end.

My final tally of 92.717km was good enough for 18th place overall, and 3rd in the mildly ancient old fart category, M40-49.

You all know that Rocco is a far better runner than I am, he stayed with Sally for a great deal of the night and still achieved 76.057km. Sally did her first ultra marathon distance and came home with an award for most disgusting feet. Her 63.056km was a fantastic result and her blisters could be seen from space!

Rocco & Sally

Rocco & Sally

What could I have done better?
I had no food strategy and no running strategy. As you can see from my Garmin, I stopped only a few times, but for too long each time. My average moving pace would have got me the 100km target. Probably being 1-2kg lighter or a bit fitter would have too. You might notice my Garmin recorded 94.28km is explained like this- as far as I can tell, the 3.3333km out and back for each lap is measured so that you CAN’T go under that distance if you stick to the route, but you CAN go longer if going around other runners etc. Also a GPS watch is only really accurate down to tens of centimetres anyway, and probably much less when swinging on your arm. However the excess distance was pretty consistent- about 1km over each 50km distance.

Things that went right
I didn’t change my shoes (Hoka Bondi B) or socks (Injinji) and had no blisters. Zero. I managed to hit my goal of still running at the death knell- I can’t express how happy this makes me feel. It means that I can have more confidence in running  something like C2K (hey I may qualify one day). In that respect making 100km isn’t as important because if I’d done that and then just quit it’s not as good a measure of endurance……..
Also I’m now getting some protein into my running snacks which seems to help a bit. Although I have to confess at 50km the combination of chocolate, boiled egg, orange juice and watermelon didn’t sit very well.

Do it again?
Yes, I definitely think that the start slow and keep going strategy was good. I’d love to see what I could do if I was properly race fit. Maybe next year.

It really did get pretty wet towards the end.....

It really did get pretty wet towards the end…..

Blackmores Sydney Marathon 2012

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Early on, still enough energy to smile. Thanks to Tony Sharpe for this pic

This race in 2010 was my first marathon, and I still had enough mental scarring to be very wary. In fact I’d decided to give up all hopes of a pb (not very likely anyway) and attempt to help Martyn Dawson over the line in under 4 hours. He’s a better runner than me, and very mentally tough but he’d never done a sub 4 hour marathon. I know he can do it, and it seemed like a simple task to pace him to victory. This would also make sure that I wouldn’t blow up and could get the monkey off my back about this particular race.
The weather was great, a little crisp but nice in the sun, and we started just behind the 4 hour pacers. We got in front of them and started hitting very consistent 5:20/km pace to give us a bit of time for drink stops etc (a 4 hour marathon is an average of 5:41/km) and things were flowing nicely until I heard Martyns ragged breathing over my shoulder. Normally it’s me who puffs like a train, but this was an early warning that I might not have everything go my way. Then the 4 hour group passed us again- I looked at my Garmin and they had sped up significantly, we were still on target so we let them go. As they went past I mentioned to Pat Farmer that they were going way too fast and he said he was going to swap places with the pacer in front and moderate the speed a bit. And yes I’m a name dropper, and no he has no idea who I am. By the way, he came across the line in 4:00:00 what an outstanding result for a pacer!
The original plan was ‘take it easy until 25-30km, see how much we’ve got left and go from there’ which quickly turned into ‘hang on for as long as you can’. It turned out that Martyn’s massive effort at Trailwalker only a few weeks back had sapped too much out of his legs, and by the time we turned back towards the city, he was very unhappy. I searched my mind for any way I could help him but came up empty, so at about the 27km mark and about the 5th time he’d encouraged me to go on, I did. I’d failed in my primary goal, but I still had a good chance of my secondary, which was a sub 4 hour time for myself. Coming down Oxford St we saw Keith Hong waving a sign that said ‘HTFU’ er, thanks Keith!
Through Hyde Park and the city and out towards Anzac Bridge I started to flag, but at the turnaround someone came up to me and started to chat ‘you look like you’re doing it easy’ ‘you look fresh and happy’ I pushed away the veil of pain and looked up to see one of the 4 hour pacers trying to engage me in a conversation. Normally that would make me very happy, but all I could think was ‘6500m, you only have to run another 6500m. It’s not that bad, it’s only 6400m from here’. So I did my best to try to be polite and then pushed on so I could save some energy for running. I saw Pete from the fast middies with about 4km to go looking a bit lost. He’s such a strong runner it seemed inconceivable that he might not make a sub 4 hour time. I think seeing a friendly face helped, and he came with me for a bit. Then with less than 2km to go Michelle Payne, who we’d been dicing with all day, came blazing past hoping to definitively crush me. It worked, she pushed me too close to the vom limit and I had to back off!
The natural order of things prevailed and I finished in about the time and order I expected to. My final time of 3:55:09 was a solid result considering my mental problem with this course. Maybe next year I’ll race it properly. I could claim to have beaten Pat Farmer, Jane Trumper and Tony Abbott however the first 2 were pacers and the leader of the opposition was running with a blind man…….. so maybe not. Chris Dawe put in an amazing performance to score a 3:41 but I’ll have to have a little chat about negative splits- he was setting himself up for a 3:34 if you look at his first half. Steve pulled another brilliant effort out while coming back from injury, and Colette who now claims to be a bush specialist (ooh, er Vicar) got a PB. The way she convincingly trounces me in the bush runs I think she can expect many more PB’s in her future.
It was truly beautiful to see so many friends lining the finish chute, sorry I couldn’t rustle up a smile. And a great party afterwards. Let’s just say that I would probably run 42km again just to share a few drinks with you crazy people!

Mt Solitary 2012

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It’s not how fast you run, it’s who spots your name on the entry list!

After the postponement of the Mt Solitary race early this year, you’d think I’d be well prepared. I was, but nothing could make me ready me for the relentless agony of hill after hill after…. (except I’ve done it before. I must be very good at blocking things out)

 

It all started well, several cars full of NRG’ers met at the start, the first photons of light just giving a little colour to the trees. The old Queen Victoria Hospital (I like to call it an ‘abandoned mental hospital’ to freak people out) sits at the end of Tableland Rd in Wentworth falls. Surrounded by tall forest, it’s quite a spooky place. After a quick gear check (the mandatory gear list is quite long) we had enough time to have a nervous chat amongst ourselves, and for me to find my Garmin wasn’t working. Then a medical briefing from Keith Hong ‘if you need help off the course, tell someone who will tell a marshall, if you have a little blister, maybe you need to toughen up’. Well said Buzz.

 

The air horn sounded and we were off down the fire trail towards Jamison Creek. A couple of km of fast downhill then we veer off into the single track and descend even further. This was a lot of fun, and I was feeling well prepared and confident. I also knew that there would be some monumental climbing, and I’ve have to absolutely nail my nutrition plan to do well. However I also knew this would be a problem, as I’d run out of my normal gels, and was using a whole bunch of random ones picked up from showbags etc. And with no Garmin, I’d be guessing my food slots.

 

I’d decided to practice my race craft in this race- I’m very prone to stopping to chat to people, hang around too long at checkpoints and do lots of stuff that doesn’t get me to the end quicker. The lack of a Garmin made it all a little more challenging.

 

When we arrived at the creek there was a pleasant surprise- a log that we could climb on! Very happy about that as it’s not fun to run for 40km in wet feet. After the creek we started the climb. It’s not bad at first with plenty of runnable bits alternating bits of scrub with bush. It was here I dropped off the back of the train driven by Michael McGrath, letting him go so I could suck down a gel. My critical mistake here was selecting an SIS (Science in Sport) gel. It didn’t taste very sweet, and I believe this is because they don’t contain sucrose/ fructose, all the carbs are from maltodextrin. Well, let’s just say it didn’t work. I rely heavily on sugar and gels to get me through these races, and this was a big slap in the face because by the time I’d worked out this failure, I was deep into the mongrel climb- 650m of vertical in 3km. I lost about 30 places here, getting passed by all the other NRG’ers. Martyn stopped to ask me what was wrong and I made light of it, but I was already wondering if the promised fruit cake at the checkpoint would help me at the same time as cursing every pie I’d ever eaten. I stopped on the top of the mountain for another nutrition break, then took off to see if I could catch Chris Dawe who was just ahead. I ran pretty hard but couldn’t find him. I figured there was no way he could be that far in front (we’d started and insanely steep descent that included some rock climbing) and I looked back and he was there! He’d taken a wrong turn. I looked up and asked if he could see any pink tape just in time to see another runner fall off the mountain. Luckily it wasn’t a big fall, but he’d badly sprained/ lightly broken his ankle. I can’t think of a much worse place for this to happen, we were still 10km from the checkpoint, but apparently he got down safely- you wouldn’t have been able to stretcher him out as it wouldn’t have fitted though the holes in the rocks.

 

A bit more single track, past the scenic railway and we were greeted by another long climb up the Furber steps to the only checkpoint of the race. I saw both Martyn Dawson and Jane Trumper coming back down, so I had an idea of how far in front they were. I’d told Chris Dawe I was going to spend a bit of time at the checkpoint and not to wait for me but after I discovered there was no fruitcake, had a couple of Pepsis, I filled up my bladder there was nothing left to do except go.

 

I was feeling much stronger now, and since running with the fast middies a few times I’ve realised that my redline is a bit higher than previously thought. Still not 100% but no longer wishing some supreme being to put me out of my misery on the trail. I told Chris and Tanya who I was running with that if you’ve got anything left, this is the time to use it. It was about this stage that Chris said ‘my doctor told me I shouldn’t run today’. I figured if I could keep up a decent pace to the abandoned sewerage works I could stretch my legs on the fast downhills along Federal Pass, push to Jamison Creek, then hang on for the last 8km hill up Kedumba. As a bonus if I could catch either Jane or Martyn I might be able to stay with them, they are both very consistent runners with a great ‘never give up’ attitude. It wasn’t to be, they both finished well in front of me but it was fun chasing them. I did make up about 10 spots in the last 20km, and only 2 of those came back and passed me again. One was a woman (don’t worry I get ‘chicked’ a lot) and the other was a guy wearing home made sandals. Sigh.

 

Here comes grumpy bum

Anyway I’m happy that my plan to ‘race’ worked (well, for the second half anyway) and that I was able to recover from a bad start (over confident? bad planning? bad luck?), I beat 8 hours, got a 48 minute PB and I finished within an hour of Rob Mattingly……… and went from 53rd of 56 finishers in 2011 to 88th of 112 finishers. And my Garmin was simply flat, both my wife and son had noticed that it was turned on but hadn’t mentioned it to me. My responsibility though, I’ll be sure to check next time!

 

On the way home one of our crew needed a powerchunder (do they put diced carrot in gels?) and we stopped off for a beer in Lane Cove where another of our runners walked in and said ‘Gday Maggot, how are you?’. Why don’t I have any friends called Maggot?

 

Anyway I’m incredibly pleased to report some outstanding performances- Kathy Madden and Colette Woodliffe came in 6th and 7th female respectively. Excellent!

 

In case you think I’m joking about how tough this course is, here’s a selection of quotes stolen from Facebook after the race (names withheld to protect the comedians). I did not make these up-

 

It’s too painful to live

man, that race was a pain in the ass, literally – I have never had my glutes so sore! Whoever wants to squeeze my bum, be my guest!
 Mt Solitary – at this stage of recovery I never want to hear those words mentioned again
I can’t walk or do anything else today
I saw the elevation chart, and cringed.Then laughed, long, and loud <<<(this person did not do the race)
 That is the meanest nastiest evil hill / mountain I have ever climbed!!

 

 

At the pointy end, the race was won by Matt ‘Coops’ Cooper, in a new course record of 4:41 This is a guy who believes that through some form of NLP you can access an unlimited source of energy. While I could probably make a joke about him being the fruitcake that was promised in the race description, you can’t argue with those results, what an outstanding athlete. Maybe if I remove the fruitcake joke he’ll show me how to access that energy, I sure could have used it on Sunday!

 

 

Stats

200 spots, 129 starters, 112 finishers, 17 DNF. Cut off time 9 hours, distance 45km

 

Rob Mattingly 6:54:13

Michael McGrath 7:04:44

Katherine Madden 7:12:06

Colette Woodliffe 7:25:26

Martyn Dawson 7:36:00

Adam Connor 7:49:12

Chris Dawe 8:01:58

David Little 8:54:17

Steve Tancred RET