Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) 2014 Guest Blog Tanya Carroll

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WARNING – this might be as long and as tedious to read as it was following me online during the run!   However it could be really useful if you suffer from insomnia.

Looking up towards Mont Blanc and the Aiguille du Midi cable car

Looking up towards Mont Blanc and the Aiguille du Midi cable car

Until now my longest ‘race report’ has been a paragraph or so on Facebook, where I would usually claim that “I will never ever ever do <insert race name> again”. Within 2-3 days I would be on the phone trying to book accommodation close to the event for the following year. Such is the addiction of ultra-running.

It was this compulsion to enter more races that led me to the UTMB website towards the end of last year. I was initially surprised to see that I had the 7 qualifying points I needed to enter, thanks to two North Face 100km races and Mount Solitary 45km. Having the points however was only half the battle. There are a lot more runners wanting to do UTMB than there are spaces, so they operate a lottery system. I had heard it is pretty common to miss out multiple times before getting a chance to compete. So I put my name in the hat, thinking that in a couple of years it would be good to do it. Then in January I found out I had fluked it and got in first time. I was pretty terrified as this would be my first 100 mile race, and it is not really known as a beginners course.

Now fast track to Tuesday 26th August 2014. My 13 year old son Joel and I arrived in Chamonix on a train (actually 3 trains) from Paris. It was 10pm and we expected we could get a taxi from the train station, but there were none to be seen. However I had forgotten how small Chamonix town centre is, and it took no more than 5 mins to walk to our accommodation. I knew we were staying near to the finish but I was surprised to see we were only around 50m from the finishing arch. I did splurge a bit on this hotel as back in June it seemed like the only place still available, but as it turns out I needn’t have rushed. There are a lot of places within 5-10 mins walk and my sister was able to find an AirBNB apartment on the main street just a week before the race.

The view from our hotel over the start/finish area

The view from our hotel over the start/finish area

The next morning I joined a group run hosted by Sebastian Chaigneau and Fernanda Maciel . There were around 40 others and we ran for half an hour on some flat trails around Chamonix. I had been quite worried about a hamstring injury that had been niggling me ever since TNF 100 in May. Luckily it felt good, and this short jog helped settle my nerves down a bit. It was great to see Tony Williams who is also coached by Andy DuBois.

My training partner for the day – didn’t push me as hard as David Brown on a Tues night hills session.

My training partner for the day – didn’t push me as hard as David Brown on a Tues night hills session though.

I picked up my race kit and bib later than day. Queues were long and it took about an hour, but it was a good chance to chat to other runners. I saw Andrew Tuckey there and wished him luck, not that he needed it. He ended up having a fantastic race, finishing 6th overall.

I then visited the race expo which is huge, and where I managed to spend around AUD $500 on miscellaneous running gear, despite only really needing to buy an $8 plastic tumbler and $25 waterproof gloves!!  I couldn’t see Hammer or Tailwind products there, but pretty much everything else I could have possibly needed was for sale. I also chatted to Shona Stephenson at the Innov8 stand and she was determined to have a good race this year. Like Andrew she absolutely smashed it, finishing 10th female.

My sister Amy arrived Weds night and the next day the three of us went up the Aiguille du Midi cable car to have a look around. It is one of Chamonix’s main tourist attractions and it is the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world. The view was pretty cool, but I did get a shock when we climbed the stairs to the café on the top terrace. I really felt the effects of the altitude (3,842 metres). I was short of breath and had a headache which lasted until late that night. I had asked a few people whether you needed to do altitude training for UTMB, but they said it wasn’t really necessary. The highest peaks in UTMB are only around 2,500m, but I was nervous nonetheless.

Photo I took from the cable car as we were approaching the top station

Photo from the cable car as we were approaching the top station

The view back down to Chamonix

The view back down to Chamonix. The hills at the top of the picture are where you run in the final stages of UTMB

In the top café I was left to mind our wallets and cameras while Amy and Joel went to get food. As I was waiting Killian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg walked past. Like a true groupie I abandoned all our valuables and chased them down for a photo. They were lovely and asked me about which race I was doing etc. I felt like a bit of a dork asking for a photo but now I have a profile picture that I can keep up forever (sorry kids you won’t get a look in now). I crouched down a bit as they are so cute and little, so I have a hunchback thing going on in the photo.

3 famous trail runners - yeah right!

3 famous trail runners – yeah right!

That night back in the hotel I heard the crowds roar as the winner of the 119km TDS race was approaching through the streets. I bolted down the stairs, and got to see Xavier Thevenard as he crossed the finish line (he also won UTMB in 2013). There are around 7,500 competitors across all five races, so the town is pretty jammed with runners & supporters, and the cheers and commotion was unreal.TDS2

I wanted to get a good nights kip on Thurs night, but I didn’t fall asleep until around midnight, and woke just before 8am. I fussed around all day, packing and unpacking, and depositing my single drop bag across town. I tried to lay down and have a snooze around 2pm, but just couldn’t nod off.


Start to Saint Gervais

0 – 21kms
Fri 5.30pm – 8.53pm

Position out of 2434 starters:
– Le Delevret      1715
– Saint Gervais   1849

The beauty of being so close to the start/finish was that I stayed in my room, went to the toilet a dozen times (you think I’m joking), and then finally went down to the line right on 5pm as the briefing started. They started playing the Conquest of Paradise which is the race theme song, and I really did feel like I could conquer anything (except my nerves). I gave Joel and Amy a hug and kiss goodbye and joined the crowd of runners as we stood waiting for the countdown. I have never got teary in a race before, not even on  finishing, but I found myself feeling very emotional. All the adjectives I could think of to describe the start seem too cliched, but take what you’ve heard and multiple it by ten. Maybe “choice” in a really exaggerated kiwi accent would be the best descriptor.

Joel and I just before it starting pouring down at the start- when did he get so tall

Joel and I just before it starting pouring down at the start- when did he get so tall?

Light drops of rain had been falling, but I hate running in a rain jacket, so I had resisted putting on my waterproof gear. But now five mins before the start it was bucketing down. I didn’t know how cold I would get in the mountains through the middle of the night so I decided I would cover up. Finally the countdown started and we were off. It didn’t take too long to cross the starting mat, and whilst it was fairly congested at the start it was only a few minutes until we were running.

Still from UTMB Video captured by Adam Connor

Still from UTMB Video captured by Michael McGrath

Photo from UTMB FB page, credit Franck Oddoux

Photo from UTMB FB page, credit Franck Oddoux

It seemed like half the males in the field stopped in the first few kilometres for a toilet break. I then rounded a corner to see one female competitor squatting down in front of me, the last remaining sunlight bouncing off her completely exposed bottom. No ducking behind a bush, just right there on the edge of the trail. I wondered if that’s just what you do in European races. The other interesting sight was a guy in a sumo suit. I think it was one of those plastic ones, great for moisture wicking I hear. Fine if you are doing City to Surf or the Bridge Run, but 100 miles in a plastic suit!

I had been told that the only flat part of the UTMB course is the first 8 kms and this is pretty close to the truth. I was running at a steady pace, and was soon in Les Houches where I just grabbed a banana and soup and ate on the move. The crowd support through the towns was very uplifting, especially as the rain was still coming down. I loved high fiving all the kids who lined the streets.

I started the climb up to Le Delevret (the first of nine major ascents throughout the course). I chatted to a runner from the UK who had trekked the whole thing just 10 days before. He thought that this first climb was harder than some of the other longer ones to come, so I prepared myself. It was definitely tough (around 900m ascent in 4.5kms), and I did feel a bit breathless towards the top, but overall I was pleasantly surprised. It was really muddy (for those of you who did Buffalo Stampede think of the first two hills) and my feet were soaked as the rain was pretty heavy at times.

Then came a 6km downhill. I love descents but Andy had wisely told me to look after my quads during the first half of the race, and to run lightly. As a result a lot of people did fly by, but I wasn’t concerned. I came into the Saint Gervais checkpoint pretty close to my expected time, but which was only 37 mins before the cut off. I did think to myself that the cutoffs must be pretty tight as I thought I was running OK. Whilst I knew I was near the back, there were still plenty of people behind me (585 to be precise).

Despite feeling really positive at this point, a couple of key things had already gone wrong. For some reason even though I had trained using Tailwind, it just wasn’t going down that well. It tasted too sweet, and I really didn’t feel like drinking it. At this early stage I wasn’t too worried because I was getting some good calories from real food, particularly from the delicious chicken noodle soup they had at most checkpoints. But I was conscious that it was a long race, and that I would have to be careful if I wanted enough energy to finish this thing. As it turned out, this first bottle of Tailwind was the only one I drank for the whole race.

The best ever Chicken Noodle Soup

The best ever chicken noodle soup

What was more alarming to me was that my iPod had stopped working after only 20 mins of listening to music. “What the <bleep>, <bleep> < bleep>” Oh and another <bleep> for good measure. I had spent months downloading all my favourite songs, sorting and resorting them into numerous playlists. I had a high tempo list when I really wanted to get moving up some of the hard climbs, more relaxed songs if I was cruising along in the middle of the race etc etc. I was also carrying a charger to recharge the iPod on the run, and I had another one in my drop bag – that’s how concerned I was that the battery would run out.

If you’d asked me prior to the run to rank my kit in terms of importance, I would have said my iPod was second only to my headlamp. I guess it must have got water on it during the downpour, despite it being in a ziplock bag. For about a minute I thought about how terrible it was going to be to run for around 40 more hours without music. But there wasn’t much I could do about it, so surprisingly I was able to put it out of my mind pretty quickly.


Saint Gervais to Les Chapieux

21kms – 49kms
Fri 8.53pm to Sat 3.32am

Position out of 2434 starters:
– Les Contamines            1642
– La Balme                       1410 – not sure how this happened or if it’s right?
– Croix du bonhomme      1649
– Les Chapieux                1696

Notre-Dame de la Gorge - Photo from Flickr, credit Nick Ham

Notre-Dame de la Gorge – Photo from Flickr, credit Nick Ham

This section was one of the most memorable of the whole course. It started off very gently and again I felt good and thought that perhaps people had exaggerated how hard this race was (it was a bit early to be thinking this as it turned out). In the early stages there were again lots of people lining the course, ringing bells and calling out our names.

Photos from UTMB FB page, credit Franck Oddoux – as you can see it was a touch wet on Fri night

Photos from UTMB FB page, credit Franck Oddoux – as you can see it was a touch wet on Fri night

rain2Eventually I came to a long steady climb up through a valley, and because it was so dark I couldn’t really see the mountains that surrounded us. What I could make out were hundreds of headtorches in a big zig zag pattern in front of me. They got smaller and smaller the higher up they got. Then if I really squinted I could make out a couple of insy winsy dots up in the sky. I honestly thought that they were so high up that they must be stars, or a plane, maybe a UFO, just please tell me they are not runners. Of course a couple of hours later when I thought I had reached the summit I realised that these were more headlamps still climbing up to the heavens. All up there is just short of 2,000 metres in elevation gain in this section, pretty much all in this one long ascent. For comparison purposes this is three times as much vertical gain as the climb up Mount Solitary, albeit it wasn’t quite as steep.

When I felt like this climb was never going to end (which was often), I turned around and looked back down into the valley. There were hundreds of lights stretched out behind me, and it gave me reassurance that I was probably doing ok if there were people that still looked like they were down in the flattish section of the valley. I didn’t realise it at the time but I now know a lot of those runners would not have made the next cut off. When I looked at the stats post race, already 275 people had dropped from the race by this 49km checkpoint, although it doesn’t separate out who was timed out vs injured etc.

Source unknown

Source unknown

copy Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 11.07.08 pmOverall I only gained 19 places through this section, but was now 1hr 13 mins ahead of the cut off when I arrived at Les Chapieux. I did find it slow getting through the checkpoints, and was here for 21 mins according to the results sheet. In the North Face 100 I am usually great at getting myself in and out of checkpoints quickly (2-5 mins, with about 10mins at CP4), but I was incredibly slow throughout this whole race. I put this down to three things:

  • A lot of the checkpoints are quite large, and the stuff you want can be really spread out – the sweet food is usually at completely different tables from the savoury for example. They were crowded and it often took a bit of time to get to the front of the lines, or to get through to the other side to exit. They definitely don’t look like they appear in the elite runners videos where there is just a handful of people standing around.
  • There didn’t seem to be many toilets (or maybe I was looking in the wrong place) so the queues were long – perhaps you were meant to go on the trail like the lady at the start!
  • There was a really relaxed, party atmosphere. A lot of runners would sit down at the many long trestle tables, and it looked like a huge dinner party (one where some guests nodded off from time to time, their head nearly in their soup). I am sure it would be completely different if I was further up the field, but no-one around me looked rushed or stressed about cut-offs. I never sat down to eat, but I do think I was overly relaxed with a sense that I was part of one giant adventure rather than a race.

    Source unknown

    Source unknown


Les Chapieux to Courmayeur

49kms – 77kms
Sat 3.53am to 10.57am

Position out of 2434 starters:
– Col de la Seigne                1837
– Lac Combal                       1851
– Arete du Mont-Favre         1847
– Col Checrouit                    1840
– Courmayeur                      1839

There were some stunning sections of running through this stage. It did get pretty cold through the night, and I put on my mid layer top, rain jacket and buff. I am usually in a singlet top and skirt even in 4 degree temperatures in the Blue Mountains, so it was chilly. The mandatory gear is similar to the North Face 100 in Sydney, and I certainly wouldn’t be trying to skimp on any items, given how ferocious the weather can turn over there.

Arete du Mont-Favre - Everyone seemed to be getting photos here so I swapped cameras with a fellow runner

Arete du Mont-Favre – Everyone seemed to be getting photos here so I swapped cameras with a fellow runner

Arete2It was gorgeous as the sun came up, and quite surreal to be running in areas where there was nothing but snow capped mountains as far as the eye could see. The Italian section of UTMB was definitely my favourite part, but every stage of the race was quite different. I don’t think you could ever get bored of the views and overall time passed quickly (even 45 hours of it).

Courmayer in Italy is one of the main checkpoints (77km), and it is where you have access to the one and only drop bag you are allowed for the whole race. If you have particular food or drink requirements that are not catered for at the checkpoints, then you need to carry enough on you to last at least 15-20 hours. You can have a support crew, although it seemed to me like the majority of people didn’t. I think there are only 5 checkpoints where you can have assistance, and they are strict about having only one person with you in the designated area, anyone else has to wait outside this section. Having said this, your crew could watch you run past at other viewpoints along the course, they just can’t help you.

The view from the trail overlooking the Italian town of Courmayer

Amy and Joel had caught the supporters bus from Chamonix to Courmayer, passing through the Mont Blanc tunnel to get there. It was great to see them, and they gave me a big hug even though I was really muddy and smelly. Amy said she thought I seemed a bit flat, but I felt OK.

At this checkpoint I dumped the six or so zip-loc bags of Tailwind I had been carrying, given I had only drunk one bottle, keeping one bag with me just in case. I also mixed up a bottle of Perpetuem to see if I would have more joy drinking that. If I thought I was slow at previous checkpoints, I took it to a new level here at 31 mins!. This was partly due to me just chatting, something you don’t really get to do much on the run because there are relatively few English speaking people. I wished I had learned a few more French phrases so I could have intiated conversations a bit more, as I felt rude just launching into English.

I changed over my headlamp batteries and my shoes and socks which were still saturated from the rain. I did notice that they have a few checkpoints where Petzl provide free batteries (possibly just AA and AAA?) but I had the Ayup headlamp which has its own unique ones. One thing I’d add in my drop bag in future is a toothbrush as my teeth felt sticky from Coke and sweet stuff.

I had arrived in Courmayer just over an hour before the cut off, but after my extended stay I left with just a 32 minute buffer. A few runners said that the gap between the cut offs gets more generous towards the end of the race. I had in my head that if I had one hour spare getting into Courmayeur, that I should be able to double that over the next 90kms, and therefore hopefully finish in 44 hours or less. All good bro, no worries.


Courmayeur to Champex-Lac

77kms – 122kms
Sat 11.28am to Sun 12.19am

Position out of 2434 starters:
– Refuge Bertone                1680
– Refuge Bonatti                  1646
– Arnuva                              1650
– Grand Col Ferret               1679
– La Fouly                            1695
– Champex- Lac                   1595

Amy and Joel kept me company for the first stretch out of Courmayeur. They left as I started the steep climb up to Refuge Bertone which has around 800m of ascent over 5kms. I think we would have resembled the Zombies from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, in a type of death march up the hills. I just didn’t have the energy to fast hike like I had been doing in training. Maybe this was because I wasn’t taking Tailwind or Perpetuem, and I didn’t have a gel for the whole race, but I’m really not sure. On the upside I was enjoying eating real food, felt mentally strong and I had no leg issues, so I wasn’t too bothered by this lack of oomph.

I was slowly ticking off the checkpoints, and kept thinking only about the next milestone. There were quite a few places where there were race officials at the top of a mountain pass etc where they would scan your bib, even if there wasn’t food or drink. These mini checkpoints also helped me break down the race mentally, so I was always reaching my next target within 2-3 hours at the most.

One of the mini checkpoints where they scanned your bib, and I guess you could shelter in emergencies

One of the mini checkpoints where they scan your bib, and they could provide medical assistance if required

I had laminated a card of motivational quotes or reminders that I could look at if I hit a really low point. But I never had a bad patch, and so only needed to think of one thing. If I did pull out, I could not have avoided the finishing chute because of the proximity to our hotel. I would have had to walk next to it, not through it, along with others members of the public. In contrast I thought about how amazing the crowd support was when I saw people finishing the TDS race. I envisaged myself running through the streets and across the line with Catherine Poletti the Race Director standing there as I have seen on so many of the UTMB videos. Pretty simple, but that was enough to perk me up every time.

I had also laminated my rough split times (for a 44 hour finish) and the checkpoint cut offs. But by around the 100km mark I had lost this card which was to become a bit problematic. At each checkpoint there were signs saying how many kms to the next stop, and the positive and negative elevation change. By asking volunteers I could also find out when the next time barrier (cut off) was, although I occasionally got given the wrong time. The biggest problem was that I didn’t know how long an average person would take to run each section, so couldn’t judge if the cut offs were going to be tough to beat, or if they were easy.

I eventually got to Grand Col Ferret, the highest point in the race and started the never-ending descent (never-ending = around 20kms in this instance). This is the cross over point into Switzerland. My Garmin had run out of battery so I was guessing how many kms I had travelled.

After running for a long time and expecting to get to the next checkpoint at any moment, I started to hear the cow bells that the crowds typically ring as runners approach. The bells were getting louder and louder, but after a while we started running away from the sound. Convinced we had somehow missed a turn, a few of us stopped. Some runners came up behind and said we were on the right track but a British guy was quite anxious and asked if I could please ring the organisers as his phone was dead. So I rung the number I had pre-programmed into my phone. When a woman answered I said that we may be off course and then went to explain the issue. The only problem was that because I’d lost my splits card, I didn’t even know the name of the checkpoint I was looking for, yet alone being able to describe where I was (on some trail on some mountain). I asked the other runner to speak to them but he went all shy on me and wouldn’t talk. I apologised to the woman on the phone, and hung up. I decided we weren’t lost (this was correct) and carried on when I couldn’t convince him. As it turned out the cow bells we heard were actually from cows, with bells on – who knew!

Source unknown

Source unknown

As time went on, and day became night again, I was getting more and more tired. I wasn’t unhappy, just struggling to stay awake. By 11pm (around 40 hours since getting out of bed on Fri morn), the sleep monsters were in full pursuit, and I now noticed quite a few people having naps on the side of the trail. Luckily I didn’t have any hallucinations, unlike one runner who was seeing Star Wars Stormtroopers.  Once we came down out of the mountains into a village called Praz de Fort I began to eye up places to rest. I resisted lying down where people could see me, as I didn’t want to be prodded by passing runners to see if I was OK. I was also worried some random weirdo might see me on the way home from a bar, so I started to watch out for safer locations to nap.

I won’t bore you with all the crazy options I identified (trust me there were quite a number), but I did arrive at a short list of two. The first one was a ute parked in a garage. I thought if I laid down in the ute, I would be hidden from view. What finally stopped me was the thought that the car alarm may sound and wake the owners who would have been in the house above. Less than 5 minutes later, and after trying to sleep while walking (quite tricky as it turns out), I found the perfect spot. A kids cubby house in someones front yard. Tiptoeing across their lawn I couldn’t wait to lay down and drift off into fairy land (or ultra runner land as the case may be). Imagine how devastated I was to see they had used it to store kids bikes, so there was nowhere left to lie down inside. THAT’S IT! I had to have a power nap at the next checkpoint no matter what. Plus I didn’t want to fall off the edge of some cliff when we got back into the mountains.

After what felt like 5 hours but was probably 90 minutes, I got to Champex Lac. I immediately asked where you could rest. I was ushered into a tent behind the main food marquee where they had around 25 thin mats laying side by side. There was only one spot left and I made my way there and lay down. As I did, I looked around and saw that I was the only female there. For a split second I wondered if there was a separate womens tent, but was too tired to check that out so lay down anyway. Only 8% of the UTMB field was female so I guess it wasn’t that surprising.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 11.06.07 pm

Source unknown

Source unknown

There were no volunteers waking people, so I set my phone alarm to give myself 15 mins rest. I didn’t fall asleep because there was a band playing in the main marquee next door, but it was still brilliant. It was like I had pushed a reset button and I got up feeling a hundred times more alert. However the whole process was time consuming. I had to take my shoes on and off (they didn’t want to co-operate), find my phone (which had shifted compartments in my backpack all by itself), set the alarm (challenging when sleep deprived and I thought I hadn’t changed the time zone), and by the time I went to the bathroom and got food I was there 42 long minutes.

Despite my rest, my overall position improved by 244 places between Courmayeur and Champex-Lac. I am sure that this was largely because of people who pulled out or were timed out, rather than any burst of speed on my behalf. I had arrived into the Checkpoint 1hr 11 mins before the cut off, but left with only a 29 min buffer. This was becoming par for the course.


Champex-Lac to Vallorcine

122kms to 149kms
Sun 1.01am to 9.24am

Position out of 2434 starters:
– La Giete       1483
– Trient           1471
– Catogne      1462
– Vallorcine    1452

The energy boost I felt as a result of having a rest was soon to be replaced with a fear that I had completely stuffed things up. As I left Champex Lac at 1am, I knew I had 6 hours to get to Trient before the 7am cut off. The problem was a volunteer had just told me that the average time for this section was around 5hrs 40 mins, plus I needed time in the next checkpoint to get food and go to the bathroom etc. I set about trying to make up some time, and was at least buoyed by knowing I had ticked off 6 major climbs so far and around 7,000 metres of positive ascent.

Given how close it was going to be, you would again think that people around me would be looking concerned and/or moving quickly to make up time, but still they looked so chilled. I even saw a couple of people pull out their emergency blankets and lay down half way up a climb for a sleep. I don’t see how they could have made the next cut off, but I guess they were feeling like I had been earlier.

I passed a few people through these sections who were having stomach problems. One poor runner was on his hands and knees dry retching. I stopped to assist as did others, but he waved us on. I also saw a guy who was completely bent over to the left. Not just a bit, closer to 90 degrees (only slightly exaggerated). I had read about ultra runners getting this leaning problem just recently, but thought it was the writer just having a laugh, but no sir-ee, this was the real deal. Wish I had taken a picture but this may have been a bit mean.

I started to overtake a few more people. I was hiking the uphills but was pretty consistent at running the flats and downhills. As a general comment the downhills were way more technical and slow going than I thought they would be. Even when I was running every bit I could, sometimes the pace was still only around 10 -12 mins per km. Overall I gained 124 spots in the 17kms into Trient and arrived at 5.36am, about an hour under the forecasted time and 1hr 24 mins before the cut off.

So I had dodged a bullet, was feeling great, legs were still strong and I had made up lots of time. So what do I go and do……decide to have another rest because the last one was so good. With hindsight this was ridiculous. There was no reason for me not to keep going. There was only 29kms left and everything was going well. I didn’t feel that tired anymore so it was indulgent to stop. It was like I was trying to use up every available minute that I had. Not exactly smart “racing” strategy, but that’s what I did.

At the Trient checkpoint the sleeping area was inside a hall and they had volunteers who told you where to lay down and then wrote on a clipboard when you wanted to wake up. I said I wanted to be woken at 6.00am (20 mins rest) but they thought I said ten minutes to six, so I was woken at 5.50am. I think I fully fell asleep in that time. When I got up and saw the time I lay back down for another ten mins and am pretty sure I fell asleep again. Finally I put my shoes on and off I headed. I couldn’t be bothered walking the extra 50 metres to the food tent so left without topping up on solid food. I ran down a small hill before I realised I had left my poles next to where I was sleeping so that was a bugger as I had to trudge back to get them. This reminded me of Buffalo Stampede where volunteers twice had to chase after me to give me back my poles!

The second to last climb to Catogne and down to Vallorcine was fairly uneventful but it was getting pretty hot, and I hate the heat. We really did have all types of weather conditions throughout this race, although we were obviously lucky compared to some years where the course has changed or being cut short due to severe storms.

copy 22256987I made up another 19 places from Trient to Vallorcine and came into this Swiss village knowing I had less than 20kms and just one major climb to go. The most memorable thing about this checkpoint was the portaloos which had sawdust in them, and a little trowel rather than flushing water. Funny what you remember (or not).

Amy and Joel were originally going to meet me at Vallorcine but Joel didn’t want to get out of bed at the stupidly early time of 8.30am (you’ve got to love teenagers) and so they didn’t make it. I wasn’t concerned about that as I wanted to keep on moving anyway.


Vallorcine to Chamonix (finish)

149kms to 168kms
Sun 9.37am to 2.43pm

Position out of 2434 starters:
– Tete aux vents               1456
– La Flegere                     1505
– Chamonix (finish)           1427

Near the top of the last big climb. Source unknown.

Looking back at where we had climbed up from

I stopped to look back at where we had climbed up from.

After leaving Vallorcine I ran along a track which ran parallel to a major road for around 5kms. Then it turns into a very sharp climb (I think they saved the steepest to last), around 800 metres in 3kms or so. It consists of a series of fairly short switchbacks and you have a great view back into the valley. I came across quite a large number of people doing it as a leisurely hike. I was particularly impressed by one couple who were carrying a 2 year old in a backpack and a baby in a sling up this huge mountain. We were in full sun and I’d been moving for 40 hours so it was definitely getting tougher. After around 30 -40 switchbacks (I was counting to begin with but then gave up with a huff), I finally reached the rocky summit. We travelled along on a flatter section for a short while before it started to gently decline. However it was so rocky that we had to walk and I couldn’t get any momentum at all.

Source unknown

Source unknown

We then came across some volunteers who had a tent set up on a summit, and they scanned our bibs. It was 12.19pm and for some reason I thought that this was the last checkpoint and that I now had 8kms of downhill to go. I reasoned that I might be able to do this in the next 70 mins, and just scrape in under 44hours.

before Flegere

Tete aux vents mini checkpoint

Coming towards Tete aux vents

So off I trotted for the next few kms which was still really slow going because of the technical nature of the track. After an hour I was then horrified to see another checkpoint. What the hell!!! Ok maybe this is just a midway stop and there is only 4kms or so to go? Just as I was processing this I got a text from my lovely friend Emma Brown telling me I was doing great with only 8kms to go. NOOOOOO!! there really WAS still 8kms to go! For the whole race I had been very confident that I was going to finish it, and now at 1.23pm I had just over 2 hours to get into Chamonix before the cut off. Yes this should be achievable, but it definitely added a bit of pressure that I hadn’t felt (but maybe should have) for the previous 160.7kms. Apparently 4 people were timed out at this final checkpoint and it was shown on the live video feed – how devastating would that be!

So with that, I was off. I tend to run with my arms sticking out and Emma and Dominic (another running buddy) often tease me about elbowing people out of the way. I didn’t obviously do this, but I did think of their jibes as I screamed off down the mountain as fast as I could. I was lucky as my legs (particularly my quads) still felt fantastic and I was able to pass 70+ people coming down the hill. I had covered around 100,000 metres of positive ascent (including treadmill sessions) in my training, and I felt like this paid off. I laughed when I looked at my time for this section after the race, and realised I was only ten mins slower than Shona, and as quick as some of the females in the top 20. Pity I didn’t get that sense of urgency a little earlier in the race.

Once you come off the trails there is a short section on the road before you get down into the town. Amy and Joel met me on one of the final bends with around 1.5kms to go. We were all so excited and they ran alongside me until right near the end. At one point I had a quick walk as Amy and Joel were running quite quickly and I think I got a bit carried away. The last part of the course winds around the centre of the town which seems designed to get you in front of as many people as possible. It reminded me of the crowds you see at the Tour de France, with so many people cheering, waving flags and slapping your hand. People are shouting out your name and it is hard not to feel like a rock star, even being at the back of the pack.

Finally I was on the home stretch and it was fantastic to be running under that arch and to see the race director standing there – 45 hours, 11 minutes and 24 seconds after I had left. I didn’t get emotional like I did at the start, but that is not to say it wasn’t every bit as incredible as I thought it would be. Joel rang my Mum in NZ despite it being 12.30am their time. She said she could see finishers on the Live Feed so we worked out where to stand and waved to her on camera.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 11.20.03 pmFor anyone who is even remotely considering doing this race I would say go for it. It was pure enjoyment from start to finish. With the benefit of hindsight, I do wish I didn’t muck around so much at the checkpoints, and think I could have also pushed a bit more, particularly in the second half of the course. However who knows if I had done that maybe I would have hit the wall, so I know I have to be happy with what I did achieve. It has definitely made me want another go at it though! (Ssshhhh don’t tell my family).

A couple of interesting stats. As mentioned earlier Shona was the 10th woman home in just over 30 hours. The next 30 females came in under 40 hours, and the remaining 74 finishers were all above 40 hours, with an overall DNF rate of 43%. If I was to finish exactly midway through the field of female runners, I would need to improve my time by 2.5hrs.

I got back to Australia just over a week after the race, to find out that my seven year old daughter had arranged for me to speak to her class about my run. When I arrived in her classroom she stood up and said “Good morning 2J, today my news is my Mum”. She beamed as she said how proud she was of me. She walked around the class carrying my pack to show how heavy it was, and interjected numerous times with all the bits of information she knew about the run. And in those moments I knew that it really had been worth it, and that it is an experience that I will never forget.


Thank you (yes this report will end soon I promise)

I know I haven’t won an Oscar or cured cancer, but I did want to thank a few people. I have been completely blown away by all the support and well wishes I received before, during and after this event. I am so grateful to be part of this running community and to have so many friends and acquaintenances who have helped me in so many ways. I know I haven’t listed everyone here, but I really appreciate what you have done for me.

With regards to coaching I was fortunate to have Andy DuBois develop my program and I was able to train with and tap into the immense knowledge of Joe Ward (aka Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo, my Yoda), Matty Abel (so wish I could be as speedy as you) and Adam Connor. Adam might be embarrassed at having his name listed with these other runners/coaches but he has helped so many people over the years in setting up training runs, providing advice and generally being an all round fantastic bloke.

Thank you Tayebeh who I have never met in person but who was always happy to provide advice having successfully completed UTMB in 2013.

Big hugs and kisses to Emma, Dominic, Roger and Hailey for letting me crash their Oxfam team training runs, and listening to my endless dribble about UTMB. The leadup to this event would have been a lot more boring otherwise. Scott, I love the way you connect to nature and take such pleasure from your running. David Brown, what can I say. Tues night hills sessions would have been very quiet if it wasn’t for you. You have an amazingly positive outlook on life, and it really rubs off on so many people.

Thank you to my lovely sister Amy who flew to France to keep an eye on Joel whilst I ran, and holidayed with us afterwards. They argued like a brother and sister (even ringing my Mum in NZ in the middle of the night – I will be in such trouble for writing that), but Joel was still in one piece at the end! Thank you!

Amy & Joel on our post race holiday

Amy & Joel on our post race holiday

Also thanks to Dave, and my Mum who flew to Australia to look after the urchins I left behind, and to Tash, Lucy and Michele who cared for them during numerous training runs and whilst I was away. I owe you guys lots of reciprocal babysitting time!

Finally to my gorgeous cherubs – thank you for letting me chase my dreams. I love you xxx

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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…..

Here is my official results- you get times for all of the major distances

Marathon:   4:39:57
50K:           5:35:42
50 mile: 9:32:44
100K: 11:55:17
150K: 18:33:40
100 mile: 20:03:46
24 hours 180.00km

*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.

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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.

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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!